“Worl,” said the leader, “it’s the dragon, innit?”
There was a chorus of muttered agreement.
“Hwhat about it?” said Lady Ramkin.
“Worl. It’s been burning the city. They don’t fly far. You got dragons here. Could be one of them, couldn’t it?”
“So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to put ’em down.”
“Pro bono publico. ”
Lady Ramkin’s bosom rose and fell like an empire. She reached out and grabbed the dunging fork from its hook on the wall.
“One step nearer, I warn you, and you’ll be sorry,” she said.
The leader looked beyond her to the frantic dragons.
“Yeah?” he said, nastily. “And what’ll you do, eh?”
Her mouth opened and shut once or twice. “I shall summon the Watch!” she said at last.
The threat did not have the effect she had expected. Lady Ramkin had never paid much attention to those bits of the city that didn’t have scales on.
“Well, that’s too bad,” said the leader. “That’s really worrying, you know that? Makes me go all weak at the knees, that does.”
He extracted a lengthy cleaver from his belt. ‘ ‘And now you just stand aside, lady, because-"
A streak of green fire blasted out of the back of the shed, passed a foot over the heads of the mob, and burned a charred rosette in the woodwork over the door.
Then came a voice that was a honeyed purr of sheer deadly menace.
“This is Lord Mountjoy Quickfang Winterforth IV, the hottest dragon in the city. It could burn your head clean off. ”
Captain Vimes limped forward from the shadows.
A small and extremely frightened golden dragon was clamped firmly under one arm. His other hand held it by the tail.
The rioters watched it, hypnotised.
“Now I know what you’re thinking,” Vimes went on, softly. “You’re wondering, after all this excitement, has it got enough flame left? And, y’know, I ain’t so sure myself …”
He leaned forward, sighting between the dragon’s ears, and his voice buzzed like a knife blade:
“What you’ve got to ask yourself is: Am I feeling lucky?”
They swayed backwards as he advanced.
“Well?” he said. “Are you feeling lucky?”
For a few moments the only sound was Lord Mount-joy Quickfang Winterforth IV’s stomach rumbling ominously as fuel sloshed into his flame chambers.
“Now look, er,” said the leader, his eyes fixed hypnotically on the dragon’s head, “there’s no call for anything like that-”
“In fact he might just decide to flare off all by himself,” said Vimes. “They have to do it to stop the gas building up. It builds up when they get nervous. And, y’know, I reckon you’ve made them all pretty nervous now.”
The leader made what he hoped was a vaguely conciliatory gesture, but unfortunately did it with the hand that was still holding a knife.
“Drop it,” said Vimes sharply, “or you’re history.”
The knife clanged on the flagstones. There was a scuffle at the back of the crowd as a number of people, metaphorically speaking, were a long way away and knew nothing about it.
“But before the rest of you good citizens disperse quietly and go about your business,” said Vimes meaningfully, “I suggest you look hard at these dragons. Do any of them look sixty feet long? Would you say they’ve got an eighty-foot wingspan? How hot do they flame, would you say?”
“Dunno,” said the leader.
Vimes raised the dragon’s head slightly. The leader rolled his eyes.
“Dunno, sir,” he corrected.
“Do you want to find out?”
The leader shook his head. But he did manage to find his voice.
“Who are you, anyway?” he said.
Vimes drew himself up. “Captain Vimes, City Watch,” he said.
This met with almost complete silence. The exception was the cheerful voice, somewhere in the back of the crowd, which said: “Night shift, is it?”
Vimes looked down at his nightshirt. In his hurry to get off his sickbed he’d shuffled hastily into a pair of Lady Ramkin’s slippers. For the first time he saw they had pink pompoms on them.
And it was at this moment that Lord Mountjoy Quickfang Winterforth IV chose to belch.
It wasn’t another stab of roaring fire. It was just a near-invisible ball of damp flame which rolled over the mob and singed a few eyebrows. But it definitely made an impression.
Vimes rallied magnificently. They couldn’t have noticed his brief moment of sheer horror.
“That one was just to get your attention,” he said, poker-faced. “The next one will be a little lower.”
“Er,” said the leader. “Right you are. No problem. We were just going anyhow. No big dragons here, right enough. Sorry you’ve been troubled.”
“Oh, no,” said Lady Ramkin triumphantly. “You don’t get away that easily!” She reached up on to a shelf and produced a tin box. It had a slot in the lid. It rattled. On the side was the legend: The Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons.
The initial whip-round produced four dollars and thirty-one pence. After Captain Vimes gestured pointedly with the dragon, a further twenty-five dollars and sixteen pence were miraculously forthcoming. Then the mob fled.
“We made a profit on the day, anyway,” said Vimes, when they were alone again.
“That was jolly brave of you!”
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t catch on,” said Vimes, gingerly putting the exhausted dragon back in its pen. He felt quite lightheaded.
Once again he was aware of eyes staring fixedly at him. He glanced sideways into the long, pointed face of Goodboy Bindle Featherstone, rearing up in a pose best described as The Last Puppy in the Shop.
To his astonishment, he found himself reaching over and scratching it behind its ears, or at least behind the two spiky things at the sides of its head which were presumably its ears. It responded with a strange noise that sounded like a complicated blockage in a brewery. He took his hand away hurriedly.
“It’s all right,” said Lady Ramkin. “It’s his stomachs rumbling. That means he likes you.”
To his amazement, Vimes found that he was rather pleased about this. As far as he could recall, nothing in his life before had thought him worth a burp.
“I thought you were, er, going to get rid of him,” he said.
“I suppose I shall have to,” she said. “You know how it is, though. They look up at you with those big, soulful eyes-”
There was a brief, mutual, awkward silence.
“How would it be if I-”
“You don’t think you might like-”
“It’d be the least I could do,” said Lady Ramkin.
‘ ‘But you’re already giving us the new headquarters and everything!"
“That was simply my duty as a good citizen,” said Lady Ramkin. “Please accept Goodboy as, as a friend. ”
Vimes felt that he was being inched out over a very deep chasm on a very thin plank.
“I don’t even know what they eat,” he said.
“They’re omnivores, actually,” she said. “They eat everything except metal and igneous rocks. You can’t be finicky, you see, when you evolve in a swamp.”
“But doesn’t he need to be taken for walks? Or flights, or whatever?”
“He seems to sleep most of the time.” She scratched the ugly thing on top of its scaly head. ‘ ‘He’s the most relaxed dragon I’ve ever bred, I must say."
“What about, er, you know?” He indicated the dunging fork.
“Well, it’s mainly gas. Just keep him somewhere well ventilated. You haven’t got any valuable carpets, have you? It’s best not to let them lick your face, but they can be trained to control their flame. They’re very helpful for lighting fires.”
Goodboy Bindle Featherstone curled up amidst a barrage of plumbing noises.
They’ve got eight stomachs, Vimes remembered; the drawings in the book had been very detailed. And there’s lots of other stuff like fractional-distillation tubes and mad alchemy sets in there.
No swamp dragon could ever terrorise a kingdom, except by accident. Vimes wondered how many had been killed by enterprising heroes. It was terribly cruel to do something like that to creatures whose only crime was to blow themselves absent-mindedly to pieces in mid-air, which was not something any individual dragon made a habit of. It made him quite angry to think about it. A race of, of whittles, that’s what dragons were. Born to lose. Live fast, die wide. Omnivores or not, what they must really live on was their nerves, flapping apologetically through the world in mortal fear of their own digestive system. The family would be just getting over father’s explosion, and some twerp in a suit of armour would come plodding into the swamp to stick a sword into a bag of guts that was only one step away from self-destruction in any case.
Huh. It’d be interesting to see how the great dragon slayers of the past stood up to the big dragon. Armour? Best not to wear it. It’d all be the same in any case, and at least your ashes wouldn’t come prepackaged in their own foil.
He stared and stared at the malformed little thing, and the idea that had been knocking for attention for the last few minutes finally gained entrance. Everyone in Ankh-Morpork wanted to find the dragon’s lair. At least, wanted to find it empty. Bits of wood on a stick wouldn’t do it, he was certain. But, as they said, set a thief… 
He said, “Could one dragon sniff out another? I mean, follow a scent?”
Dearest Mother [wrote Carrot] Talk about a Turn Up for the Books. Last night the dragon burned up our Headquarters and Lo and Behold we have been given a better one, it is in a place called Pseudopolis Yard, opposite the Opera House. Sgt Colon said we have gone Up in the World and has told Nobby not to try to sell the furnishings. Going Up in the World is a metaphor, which I am learning about, it is like Lying but more decorative. There are proper carpets to spit on. Twice today groups of people have tried to search the cellars here for the dragon, it is amazing. And digging up people’s privies and poking into attics, it is like a Fever. One thing is, people haven’t got time for much else, and Sgt Colon says, when you go out on your Rounds and shout Twelve of the Clock and All’s Well while a dragon is melting the street you feel a bit of a Burke.
I have moved out of Mrs Palm’s because, there are dozens of bedrooms here. It was sad and they made me a cake but I think it is for the best, although Mrs Palm never charged me rent which was very nice of her considering she is a widow with so many fine daughters to bring up plus dowries ekcetra.
Also I have made friends with this ape who keeps coming round to see if we have found his book. Nobby says it is a flea-ridden moron because it won 18d off him playing Cripple Mr Onion, which is a game of chance with cards which I do not play, I have told Nobby about the Gambling (Regulation) Acts, and he said Piss off, which I think is in violation of the Decency Ordinances of 1389 but I have decided to use my Discretion.
Capt Vimes is ill and is being looked after by a Lady. Nobby says it is well known she is Mental, but Sgt Colon says its just because of living in a big house with a lot of dragons but she is worth a Fortune and well done to the Capt for getting his feet under the table. I do not see what the furniture has to do with it. This morning I went for a walk with Reet and showed her many interesting examples of the ironwork to be found in the city. She said it was very interesting. She said I was quite different to anyone she’s ever met. Your loving son, Carrot.X