23,656
07.03.2019

This normally did the trick. It didn’t appear to be working this time.

“But the dragon-” Brother Watchtower began.

“There won’t be any dragon! We won’t need it. Look,” said the Supreme Grand Master, “it’s quite simple. The lad will have a marvellous sword. Everyone knows kings have marvellous swords-”

“This’d be the marvellous sword you’ve been telling us about, would it?” said Brother Plasterer.

“And when it touches the dragon,” said the Supreme Grand Master, “it’ll be . . . foom!”

“Yeah, they do that,” said Brother Doorkeeper. “My uncle kicked a swamp dragon once. He found it eating his pumpkins. Damn thing nearly took his leg off.”

The Supreme Grand Master sighed. A few more hours, yes, and then no more of this. The only thing he hadn’t decided was whether to let them alone- who’d believe them, after all?-or send the Guard to arrest them for being terminally stupid.

“No,” he said patiently, “I mean the dragon will vanish. We’ll have sent it back. End of dragon.”

“Won’t people be a bit suspicious?” said Brother Plasterer. “Won’t they expect lumps of dragon all over the place?”

“No,” said the Supreme Grand Master triumphantly, “because one touch from the Sword of Truth and Justice will totally destroy the Spawn of Evil!”

The Brethren stared at him.

“That’s what they’ll believe, anyway,” he added. “We can provide a bit of mystic smoke at the time.”

“Dead easy, mystic smoke,” said Brother Fingers.

“No bits, then?” said Brother Plasterer, a shade disappointed.

Brother Watchtower coughed. “Dunno if people will accept that,” he said. “Sounds a bit too neat, like.”

“Listen,” snapped the Supreme Grand Master, “they’ll accept anything! They’ll see it happen! People will be so keen to see the boy win, they won’t think twice about it! Depend upon it! Now … let us commence . . .”

He concentrated.

Yes, it was easier. Easier every time. He could feel the scales, feel the rage of the dragon as he reached into the place where the dragons went and took control.

This was power, and it was his.

Sergeant Colon winced. “Ow.”

“Don’t be a big softy,” said Lady Ramkin cheerfully, tightening the bandage with a well-practised skill handed down through many generations of Ramkin womenfolk. “He hardly touched you.”

“And he’s very sorry,” said Carrot sharply. “Show the sergeant how sorry you are. Go on.”

“Oook,” said the Librarian, sheepishly.

“Don’t let him kiss me!” squeaked Colon.

“Do you think picking someone up by their ankles and bouncing their head on the floor comes under the heading of Striking a Superior Officer?” said Carrot.

“I’m not pressing charges, me,” said the sergeant hurriedly.

“Can we get on?” said Vimes impatiently. “We’re going to see if Errol can sniff out the dragon’s lair. Lady Ramkin thinks it’s got to be worth a try.”

“You mean set a deep hole with spring-loaded sides, tripwires, whirling knife blades driven by water power, broken glass and scorpions, to catch a thief, Captain?” said the sergeant doubtfully. “Ow!”

“Yes, we don’t want to lose the scent,” said Lady Ramkin. “Stop being a big baby, Sergeant.”

“Brilliant idea about using Errol, ma’am, if I may make so bold,” said Nobby, while the sergeant blushed under his bandage.

Vimes was not certain how long he would be able to put up with Nobby the social mountaineer.

Carrot said nothing. He was gradually coming to terms with the fact that he probably wasn’t a dwarf, but dwarf blood flowed in his veins in accordance with the famous principle of morphic resonance, and his borrowed genes were telling him that nothing was going to be that simple. Finding a hoard even when the dragon wasn’t at home was pretty risky. Anyway, he was certain he’d know if there was one around. The presence of large amounts of gold always made a dwarf’s palms itch, and his weren’t itching.

“We’ll start by that wall in the Shades,” said the captain.

Sergeant Colon glanced sideways at Lady Ramkin, and found it impossible to show cowardice in the face of the supportive. He contented himself with, “Is that wise, Captain?”

“Of course it isn’t. If we were wise, we wouldn’t be in the Watch.”

“I say! All this is tremendously exciting,” said Lady Ramkin.

“Oh, I don’t think you should come, m’lady-” Vimes began.

“-Sybil, please!-”

“-it’s a very disreputable area, you see.”

“But I’m sure I shall be perfectly safe with your men,” she said. “I’m sure vagabonds just melt away when they see you.”

That’s dragons, thought Vimes. They melt away when they see dragons, and just leave their shadows on the wall. Whenever he felt that he was slowing down, or that he was losing interest, he remembered those shadows, and it was like having dull fire poured down his backbone. Things like that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Not in my city.

In fact the Shades were not a problem. Many of its denizens were out hoard-hunting anyway, and those that remained were far less inclined than hitherto to lurk in dark alleys. Besides, the more sensible of them recognised that Lady Ramkin, if waylaid, would probably tell them to pull up their socks and not be silly, in a voice so used to command that they would probably find themselves doing it.

The wall hadn’t been knocked down yet and still bore its grisly fresco. Errol sniffed around it, trotted up the alley once or twice, and went to sleep.

“Dint work,” said Sergeant Colon.

“Good idea, though,” said Nobby loyally.

“It could be all the rain and people walking about, I suppose,” said Lady Ramkin.

Vimes scooped up the dragon. It had been a vain hope anyway. It was just better to be doing something than nothing.

“We’d better get back,” he said. "The sun’s gone down.”

They walked back in silence. The dragon’s even tamed the Shades, Vimes thought. It’s taken over the whole city, even when it isn’t here. People’11 start tying virgins to rocks any day now.

It’s a metaphor of human bloody existence, a dragon. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s also a bloody great hot flying thing.

He pulled out the key to the new headquarters. While he was fumbling in the lock, Errol woke up and started to yammer.

“Not now,” Vimes said. His side twinged. The night had barely started and already he felt too tired.

A slate slid down the roof and smashed on the cobbles beside him.

“Captain,” hissed Sergeant Colon.

“What?”

“It’s on the roof, Captain.”

Something about the sergeant’s voice got through to Vimes. It wasn’t excited. It wasn’t frightened. It just had a tone of dull, leaden terror.

He looked up. Errol started to bounce up and down under his arm.

The dragon-the dragon-was peering down interestedly over the guttering. Its face alone was taller than a man. Its eyes were the size of very large eyes, coloured a smouldering red and filled with an intelligence that had nothing to do with human beings. It was far older, for one thing. It was an intelligence that had already been long basted in guile and marinated in cunning by the time a group of almost-monkeys were wondering whether standing on two legs was a good career move. It wasn’t an intelligence that had any truck with, or even understood, the arts of diplomacy.

It wouldn’t play with you, or ask you riddles. But it understood all about arrogance and power and cruelty and if it could possibly manage it, it would burn your head off. Because it liked to.

It was even more angry than usual at the moment. It could sense something behind its eyes. A tiny, weak, alien mind, bloated with self-satisfaction. It was infuriating, like an unscratchable itch. It was making it do things it didn’t want to do … and stopping it from doing things it wanted to do very much.

Those eyes were, for the moment, focused on Errol, who was going frantic. Vimes realised that all that stood between him and a million degrees of heat was the dragon’s vague interest in why Vimes had a smaller dragon under his arm.

“Don’t make any sudden moves,” said Lady Ramkin’s voice behind him. “And don’t show fear. They can always tell when you’re afraid.”

“Is there any other advice you can offer at this time?” said Vimes slowly, trying to speak without moving his lips.

“Well, tickling them behind their ears often works.”

“Oh,” said Vimes weakly.

“And a good sharp ‘no!’ and taking away their food bowl.”

“Ah?”

“And hitting them on the nose with a roll of paper is what I do in extreme cases.”

In the slow, brightly-outlined, desperate world Vimes was now inhabiting, which seemed to revolve around the craggy nostrils a few metres away from him, he became aware of a gentle hissing sound.

The dragon was taking a deep breath.

The intake of air stopped. Vimes looked into the darkness of the flame ducts and wondered whether he’d see anything, whether there’d be some tiny white glow or something, before fiery oblivion swept over him.

At that moment a horn rang out.

The dragon raised its head in a puzzled way and made a noise that sounded vaguely interrogative without being in any way a word.

The horn rang out again. The noise seemed to have a number of echoes that lived a life of their own. It sounded like a challenge. If that wasn’t what it was, then the horn blower was soon going to be in trouble, because the dragon gave Vimes a smouldering look, unfolded its enormous wings, leapt heavily into the air and, against all the rules of aeronautics, flew slowly away in the direction of the sound.

Nothing in the world should have been able to fly like that. The wings thumped up and down with a noise like potted thunder, but the dragon moved as though it was idly sculling through the air. If it stopped flapping, the movement suggested, it would simply glide to a halt. It floated, not flew. For something the size of a barn with an armour-plated hide, it was a pretty good trick.

It passed over their heads like a barge, heading for the Plaza of Broken Moons.

“Follow it!” shouted Lady Ramkin.

“That’s not right, it flying like that. I’m pretty sure there’s something in one of the Witchcraft Laws,” said Carrot, taking out his notebook. “And it’s damaged the roof. It’s really piling up the offences, you know.”

“You all right, Captain?” said Sergeant Colon.

“I could see right up its nose,” said Captain Vimes dreamily. His eyes focused on the worried face of the sergeant. “Where’s it gone?” he demanded. Colon pointed along the street.

Vimes glowered at the shape disappearing over the rooftops.

“Follow it!” he said.

The horn sounded again.

Other people were hurrying towards the plaza. The dragon drifted ahead of them like a shark heading towards a wayward airbed, its tail flicking slowly from side to side.

“Some loony is going to fight it!” said Nobby.

“I thought someone would have a go,” said Colon. “Poor bugger’ll be baked in his own armour.”

This seemed to be the opinion of the crowds lining the plaza. The people of Ankh-Morpork had a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to entertainment, and while they were looking forward to seeing a dragon slain, they’d be happy to settle instead for seeing someone being baked alive in his own armour. You didn’t get the chance every day to see someone baked alive in their own armour. It would be something for the children to remember.

❮❯