Men at Arms Page 41


Vimes digested this. Detritus beamed at him.

'And where is Sergeant Colon?'

'Here, Captain Vimes.'

'I need a best man, Fred.'

'Right, sir. I'll get Corporal Carrot. He's just checking the roofs—'

'Fred! I've known you more than twenty years! Good grief, all you have to do is stand there. Fred, you're good at that!'

Carrot appeared at the trot.

'Sorry I'm late, Captain Vimes. Er. We really wanted this to be a surprise—'

'What? What sort of surprise?'

Carrot fished in his pouch. 'Well, captain . . . on behalf of the Watch . . . that is, most of the Watch—'

'Hold on a minute,' said Colon, 'here comes his lordship.'

The clop of hooves and the rattle of harness signalled the approach of Lord Vetinari's carriage.

Carrot glanced around at it. Then he looked at it again. And looked up.

There was a glint of metal, on the roof of the Tower 'Sergeant, who's on the Tower?' he said.

'Cuddy, sir.'

'Oh. Right.' He coughed. 'Anyway, captain . . . we all clubbed together and—' He paused. 'Acting-Constable Cuddy, right?'

'Yeah. He's reliable.'

The Patrician's carriage was halfway towards Sator Square now. Carrot could see the thin dark figure in the back seat.

He glanced up at the great grey bulk of the tower.

He started to run.

'What's up?' said Colon. Vimes started to run, too.

Detritus' knuckles hit the ground as he swung after the others.

And then it hit Colon – a sort of frantic tingle, as though someone had blown on his naked brain.

'Oh, shit,' he said, under his breath.

Claws scrabbled on the dirt.

'He drew his sword!'

'What did you expect? One minute the lad is on top of the world, he's got a whole new interest in his life, something probably even better than goin' for walks, and then he turns round and what he sees is, basically, a wolf. You could of hinted. It's that time of the month, that sort of thing. You can't blame him for being surprised, really.'

Gaspode got to his feet. 'Now, are you going to come on out or have I got to come in there and be brutally savaged?'

Lord Vetinari stood up as he saw the Watch running towards him. That was why the first shot went through his thigh, instead of his chest.

Then Carrot cleared the door of the carriage and flung himself across the man, which is why the next shot went through Carrot.

Angua slunk out.

Gaspode relaxed slightly.

'I can't go back,' said Angua. 'I—'

She froze. Her ears twitched.

'What? What?'

'He's been hurt!'

Angua sprang away.

'Here! Wait for me!' barked Gaspode. 'That's the Shades that way!'

A third shot knocked a chip out of Detritus, who slammed into the carriage, knocking it on its side and severing the traces. The horses scrambled away. The coachman had already made a lightning comparison between current job conditions and his rates of pay and had vanished into the crowd.

Vimes slid to a halt behind the overturned carriage. Another shot spanged off the cobbles near his arm.

'Detritus?'

'Sir?'

'How are you?'

'Oozing a bit, sir.'

A shot hit the carriage wheel above Vimes' head, making it spin.

'Carrot?'

'Right through my shoulder, sir.'

Vimes eased himself along on his elbows.

'Good morning, your lordship,' he said, manically. He leaned back and pulled out a mangled cigar. 'Got a light?'

The Patrician opened his eyes.

'Ah, Captain Vimes. And what happens now?'

Vimes grinned. Funny, he thought, how I never feel really alive until someone tries to kill me. That's when you notice that the sky is blue. Actually, not very blue right now. There's big clouds up there. But I'm noticing them.

'We wait for one more shot,' he said. 'And then we run for proper cover.'

'I appear . . . to be losing a lot of blood,' said Lord Vetinari.

'Who would have thought you had it in you,' said Vimes, with the frankness of those probably about to die. 'What about you, Carrot?'

'I can move my hand. Hurts like . . . heck, sir. But you look worse.'

Vimes looked down.

There was blood all over his coat.

'A bit of stone must have caught me,' he said. 'I didn't even feel it!'

He tried to form a mental picture of the gonne.

Six tubes, all in a line. Each one with its lead slug and charge of No.1 powder, delivered into the gonne like crossbow bolts. He wondered how long it'd take to put in another six . . .

But we've got him where we want him! There's only one way down out of the Tower!

Yep, we might be sitting out here in the open with him shooting lead pellets at us, but we've got him just where we want him!

Wheezing and farting nervously, Gaspode moved at a shambling run through the Shades and saw, with a heart that sank even further, a knot of dogs ahead of him.

He pushed and squirmed through the tangle of legs.

Angua was at bay in a ring of teeth.

The barking stopped. A couple of large dogs moved aside, and Big Fido stepped delicately forward.

'So,' he said, 'what we have here is not a dog at all. A spy, perhaps? There's always an enemy. Everywhere. They look like dogs but, inside, they're not dogs. What were you doing?'

Angua growled.

Oh lor', thought Gaspode. She could probably take down a few of 'em, but these are street dogs.

He wriggled under a couple of bodies and emerged in the circle. Big Fido turned his red-eyed gaze on him.

'And Gaspode, too,' said the poodle. 'I might have known.'

'You leave her alone,' said Gaspode.

'Oh? You'll fight us all for her, will you?' said Big Fido.

'I got the Power,' said Gaspode. 'You know that. I'll do it. I'll use it.'

'There's no time for this!' snarled Angua.

'You won't do it,' said Big Fido.

'I'll do it.'

'Every dog's paw'll be turned against you—'

'I got the Power, me. You back off, all of you.'

'What power?' said Butch. He was drooling.

'Big Fido knows,' said Gaspode. 'He's studied. Now, me an' her are going to walk out of here, right? Nice and slow.'

The dogs looked at Big Fido.

'Get them,' he said.

Angua bared her teeth.

The dogs hesitated.

'A wolf's got a jaw four times stronger'n any dog,' said Gaspode. 'And that's just a ordinary wolf—'

'What are you all?' snapped Big Fido. 'You're the pack! No mercy! Get them!'

But a pack doesn't act like that, Angua had said. A pack is an association of free individuals. A pack doesn't leap because it's told – a pack leaps because every individual, all at once, decides to leap.

A couple of the bigger dogs crouched . . .

Angua moved her head from side to side, waiting for the first assault . . .

A dog scraped the ground with its paw . . .

Gaspode took a deep breath and adjusted his jaw.

Dogs leapt.

'SIT!' said Gaspode, in passable Human.

The command bounced back and forth around the alley, and fifty per cent of the animals obeyed. In most cases, it was the hind fifty per cent. Dogs in mid-spring found their treacherous legs coiling under them—

'BAD DOG!'

—and this was followed by an overpowering sense of racial shame that made them cringe automatically, a bad move in mid-air.

Gaspode glanced up at Angua as bewildered dogs rained around them.

'I said I got the Power, didn't I?' he said. 'Now run!'

Dogs are not like cats, who amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw. Men made dogs, they took wolves and gave them human things – unnecessary intelligence, names, a desire to belong, and a twitching inferiority complex. All dogs dream wolf dreams, and know they're dreaming of biting their Maker. Every dog knows, deep in his heart, that he is a Bad Dog . . .

But Big Fido's furious yapping broke the spell.

'Get them!'

Angua galloped over the cobbles. There was a cart at the other end of the alley. And, beyond the cart, a wall.

'Not that way!' whined Gaspode.

Dogs were piling along behind them. Angua leapt on to the cart.

'I can't get up there!' said Gaspode. 'Not with my leg!'

She jumped down, picked him up by the scruff of his neck, and leapt back. There was a shed roof behind the cart, a ledge above that and – a few tiles slid under her paws and tumbled into the alley – a house.

'I feel sick!'

'Futupf!'

Angua ran along the ridge of the roof and jumped the alley on the other side, landing heavily in some ancient thatch.

'Aargh!'

'Futupf!'

But the dogs were following them. It wasn't as though the alleys of the Shades were very wide.

Another narrow alley passed below.

Gaspode swung perilously from the werewolf's jaws.

'They're still behind us!'

Gaspode shut his eyes as Angua bunched her muscles.

'Oh, no! Not Treacle Mine Road!'

There was a burst of acceleration followed by a moment of calmness. Gaspode shut his eyes . . .

. . . Angua landed. Her paws scrabbled on the wet roof for a moment. Slates cascaded off into the street, and then she was bounding up to the ridge.

'You can put me down right now,' said Gaspode. 'Right now this minute! Here they come!'

The leading dogs arrived on the opposite roof, saw the gap, and tried to turn. Claws slid on the tiles.

Angua turned, fighting for breath. She'd tried to avoid breathing, during that first mad dash. She'd have breathed Gaspode.

They heard Big Fido's irate yapping.

'Cowards! That's not twenty feet across! That's nothing to a wolf!'

The dogs measured the distance doubtfully. Sometimes a dog has to get right down and ask himself: what species am I?

'It's easy! I'll show you! Look!'

Big Fido ran back a little way, paused, turned, ran . . . and leapt.

There was hardly a curve to the trajectory. The little poodle accelerated out into space, powered less by muscles than by whatever it was that burned in his soul.

His forepaws touched the slates, clawed for a moment on the slick surface, and found no hold. In silence he skidded backwards down the roof, over the edge—

—and hung.

He turned his eyes upwards, to the dog that was gripping him.

'Gaspode? Is that you?'

'Yeff,' said Gaspode, his mouth full.

There was hardly any weight to the poodle but, then, there was hardly any weight to Gaspode. He'd darted forward and braced his legs to take the strain, but there was nothing much to brace them against. He slid down inexorably until his front legs were in the gutter, which began to creak.

Gaspode had an amazingly clear view of the street, three storeys down.

'Oh, hell!' said Gaspode.

Jaws gripped his tail.

'Let him go,' said Angua indistinctly.

Gaspode tried to shake his head.

'Stop ftruggling!' he said, out of the corner of his mouth. 'Brave Dog Faves the Day! Valiant Hound in Wooftop Wefcue! No!'

The gutter creaked again.

It's going to go, he thought. Story of my life . . .

Big Fido struggled around.

'What are you holding me up by?'

'Yer collar,' said Gaspode, through his teeth.

'What? To hell with that!'

The poodle tried to twist, flailing viciously at the air.

'Ftop it, you daft fbugger! You'll haf uff all off!' Gaspode growled. On the opposite roof, the dog pack watched in horror. The gutter creaked again.

Angua's claws scored white lines on the slates.

Big Fido wrenched and spun, fighting the grip of the collar.

Which, finally, snapped.

The dog turned in the air, hanging for a moment before gravity took hold.

'Free!'

And then he fell.

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