23,659
07.03.2019

“Beg pardon, sir. That’s just a broken turret giving the effect.”

They watched it for a while.

Then Vimes said, “Tell me, Sergeant-I ask in a spirit of pure inquiry-what do you think’s causing the effect of a pair of huge wings unfurling?”

Colon swallowed.

“I think that’s caused by a pair of huge wings, sir,” he said.

“Spot on, Sergeant.”

The dragon dropped. It wasn’t a swoop. It simply kicked away from the top of the tower and half-fell, half-flew straight downwards, disappearing from view behind the University buildings.

Vimes caught himself listening for the thump.

And then the dragon was in view again, moving like an arrow, moving like a shooting star, moving like something that has somehow turned a thirty-two feet per second plummet into an unstoppable upward swoop. It glided over the rooftops at little more than head height, all the more horrible because of the sound. It was as though the air was slowly and carefully being torn in half.

The Watch threw themselves flat. Vimes caught a glimpse of huge, vaguely horse-like features before it slid past.

“Sodding arseholes,” said Nobby, from somewhere in the guttering.

Vimes redoubled his grip on the chimney and pulled himself upright. “You are in uniform, Corporal Nobbs,” he said, his voice hardly shaking at all.

“Sorry, Captain. Sodding arseholes, sir. ”

“Where’s Sergeant Colon?”

“Down here, sir. Holding on to this drainpipe, sir.”

“Oh, for goodness sake. Help him up, Carrot.”

‘ ‘Gosh,” said Carrot, “look at it go!”

You could tell the position of the dragon by the rattle of arrows across the city, and by the screams and gurgles of all those hit by the misses and ricochets.

“He hasn’t even flapped his wings yet!” shouted Carrot, trying to stand on the chimney pot. "Look at him go!”

It shouldn’t be that big, Vimes told himself, watching the huge shape wheel over the river. It’s as long as a street!

There was a puff of flame above the docks, and for a moment the creature passed in front of the moon. Then it flapped its wings, once, with a sound like the damp hides of a pedigree herd being slapped across a cliff.

It turned in a tight circle, pounded the air a few times to build up speed, and came back.

When it passed over the Watch House it coughed a column of spitting white fire. Tiles under it didn’t just melt, they erupted in red-hot droplets. The chimney stack exploded and rained bricks across the street.

Vast wings hammered at the air as the creature hovered over the burning building, fire spearing down on what rapidly became a glowing heap. Then, when all that was left was a spreading puddle of melted rock with interesting streaks and bubbles in it, the dragon raised itself with a contemptuous flick of its wings and soared away and upwards, over the city.

Lady Ramkin lowered her telescope and shook her head slowly.

“That’s not right,” she whispered. “That’s not right at all. Shouldn’t be able to do anything like that. ”

She raised the lens again and squinted, trying to see what was on fire. Down below, in their long kennels, the little dragons howled.

Traditionally, upon waking from blissfully uneventful insensibility, you ask: “Where am I?” It’s probably part of the racial consciousness or something.

Vimes said it.

Tradition allows a choice of second lines. A key point in the selection process is an audit to see that the body has all the bits it remembers having yesterday.

Vimes checked.

Then comes the tantalising bit. Now that the snowball of consciousness is starting to roll, is it going to find that it’s waking up inside a body lying in a gutter with something multiple, the noun doesn’t matter after an adjective like “multiple”, nothing good ever follows “multiple”, or is it going to be a case of crisp sheets, a soothing hand, and a businesslike figure in white pulling open the curtains on a bright new day? Is it all over, with nothing worse to look forward to now than weak tea, nourishing gruel, short, strengthening walks in the garden and possibly a brief platonic love affair with a ministering angel, or was this all just a moment’s blackout and some looming bastard is now about to get down to real business with the thick end of a pickaxe helve? Are there, the consciousness wants to know, going to be grapes?

At this point some outside stimulus is helpful. “It’s going to be all right” is favourite, whereas “Did anyone get his number?” is definitely a bad sign; either, however, is better than “You two hold his hands behind his back”.

In fact someone said, “You were nearly a goner there, Captain.”

The pain sensations, which had taken advantage of Vimes’s unconscious state to bunk oflF for a metaphorical quick cigarette, rushed back.

Vimes said, “Arrgh.” Then he opened his eyes.

There was a ceiling. This ruled out one particular range of unpleasant options and was very welcome. His blurred vision also revealed Corporal Nobbs, which was less so. Corporal Nobbs proved nothing; you could be dead and see something like Corporal Nobbs.

Ankh-Morpork did not have many hospitals. All the Guilds maintained their own sanitariums, and there were a few public ones run by the odder religious organisations, like the Balancing Monks, but by and large medical assistance was nonexistent and people had to die inefficiently, without the aid of doctors. It was generally thought that the existence of cures encouraged slackness and was in any case probably against Nature’s way.

“Have I already said ‘Where am I?’ ” said Vimes faintly.

“Yes.”

“Did I get an answer?”

“Dunno where this place is, Captain. It belongs to some posh bint. She said to bring you up here.”

Even though Vimes’s mind appeared to be full of pink treacle he nevertheless grabbed two clues and wrestled them together. The combination of ‘rich’ and ‘up here’ meant something. So did the strange chemical smell in the room, which even overpowered Nobby’s more everyday odours.

“We’re not talking about Lady Ramkin, are we?” he said cautiously.

“You could be right. Great big biddy. Mad for dragons.” Nobby’s rodent face broke into the most horribly knowing grin Vimes had ever seen. “You’re in her bed,” he said.

Vimes peered around him, feeling the first overtures of a vague panic. Because now that he could halfway focus, he could see a certain lack of bachelor sockness about the place. There was a faint hint of talcum powder.

“Bit of a boodwah,” said Nobby, with the air of a connoisseur.

“Hang on, hang on a minute,” said Vimes. “There was this dragon. It was right over us …”

The memory rose up and hit him like a zombie with a grudge.

“You all right, Captain?”

-the talons, outspread, wide as a man’s reach; the boom and thump of the wings, bigger than sails; the stink of chemicals, the gods alone knew what sort. . .

It had been so close he could see the tiny scales on its legs and the red gleam in its eyes. They were more than just reptile eyes. They were eyes you could drown in.

And the breath, so hot that it wasn’t like fire at all, but something almost solid, not burning things but smashing them apart …

On the other hand, he was here and alive. His left side felt as though it had been hit with an iron bar, but he was quite definitely alive.

“What happened?” he said.

“It was young Carrot,” said Nobby. “He grabbed you and the sergeant and jumped off the roof just before it got us.”

“My side hurts. It must have got me,” said Vimes.

“No, I reckon that was where you hit the privy roof,” said Nobby. “And then you rolled off and hit the water butt.”

“What about Colon? Is he hurt?”

“Not hurt. Not exactly hurt. He landed more sort of softly. Him being so heavy, he went through the roof. Talk about a short sharp shower of-”

“And then what happened?”

“Well, we sort of made you comfy, and then everyone went blundering about and shouting for the sergeant. Until they found out where he was, o’course, then they just stood where they were and shouted. And then this woman come running up yelling,” said Nobby.

“This is Lady Ramkin you’re referring to?” said Vimes coldly. His ribs were aching really magnificently now.

“Yeah. Big fat party,” said Nobby, unmoved. “Cor, she can’t half boss people about! ‘Oh, the poor dear man, you must bring him up to my house this instant.’ So we did. Best place, too. Everyone’s running around down in the city like chickens with their heads cut off.”

“How much damage did it do?”

“Well, after you were out of it the wizards hit it with fireballs. It didn’t like that at all. Just seemed to make it stronger and angrier. Took out the University’s entire Widdershins wing.”

“And-?”

“That’s about it, really. It flamed a few more things, and then it must of flown away in all the smoke.”

‘ ‘No-one saw where it went?”

“If they did, they ain’t saying.” Nobby sat back and leered. “Disgusting, really, her livin’ in a room like this. She’s got pots of money, sarge says, she’s got no call livin’ in ordinary rooms. What’s the good of not wanting to be poor if the rich are allowed to go round livin’ in ordinary rooms? Should be marble.” He sniffed. “Anyway, she said I was to fetch her when you woke up. She’s feeding her dragons now. Old little buggers, aren’t they. It’s amazing she’s allowed to keep ’em.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know. Tarred with the same brush, and that.”

When Nobby had shambled out Vimes took another look around the room. It did, indeed, lack the gold leaf and marble that Nobby felt was compulsory for people of a high station in life. All the furniture was old, and the pictures on the wall, though doubtless valuable, looked the sort of pictures that are hung on bedroom walls because people can’t think of anywhere else to put them. There were also a few amateurish watercolours of dragons. All in all, it had the look about it of a room that is only ever occupied by one person, and has been absent-mindedly moulded around them over the years, like a suit of clothes with a ceiling.

It was clearly the room of a woman, but one who had cheerfully and without any silly moping been getting on with her life while all that soppy romance stuff had been happening to other people somewhere else, and been jolly grateful that she had her health.

Such clothing as was visible had been chosen for sensible hardwearing qualities, possibly by a previous generation by the look of it, rather than its use as light artillery in the war between the sexes. There were bottles and jars neatly arranged on the dressing table, but a certain severity of line suggested that their labels would say things like “Rub on nightly” rather than “Just a dab behind the ears”. You could imagine that the occupant of this room had slept in it all her life and had been called “my little girl” by her father until she was forty.

There was a big sensible blue dressing gown hanging behind the door. Vimes knew, without even looking, that it would have a rabbit on the pocket.

In short, it was the room of a woman who never expected that a man would ever see the inside of it.

The bedside table was piled high with papers. Feeling guilty, but doing it anyway, Vimes squinted at them.

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