23,671
07.03.2019

told everyone that you didn’t belong to yourself. And he’d feel like a bird. It’d be the last straw.

His errant feet led him back to the Yard. After all, where else was there? His lodgings were depressing and his landlady had complained about the holes which, despite much shouting, Errol kept making in the carpet. And the smell Errol made. And Vimes couldn’t drink in a tavern tonight without seeing things that would upset him even more than the things he normally saw when he was drunk.

It was nice and quiet, although the distant sounds of revelry could be heard through the window.

Errol scrambled down from his shoulder and started to eat the coke in the fireplace.

Vimes sat back and put his feet up.

What a day! And what a fight! The dodging, the weaving, the shouts of the crowd, the young man standing there looking tiny and unprotected, the dragon taking a deep breath in a way now very familiar to Vimes . . .

And not flaming. That had surprised Vimes. It had surprised the crowd. It had certainly surprised the dragon, which had tried to squint at its own nose and clawed desperately at its flame ducts. It had remained surprised right up to the moment when the lad ducked in under one claw and thrust the sword home.

And then a thunderclap.

You’d have thought there’d have been some bits of dragon left, really.

Vimes pulled a scrap of paper towards him. He looked at the notes he’d made yesterday:

Itym: Heavy draggon, but yet it can flye right welle;

Itym: The fyre be main hot, yet issueth from ane living Thinge;

Itym: The Swamp dragons be right Poor Thinges, yet this monstrous Form waxeth full mightily;

Itym: From whence it cometh none knowe, nor wither it goeth, nor where it bideth betweentimes; Itym: Why fore did it burneth so neatlie ?

He pulled the pen and ink towards him and, in a slow round hand, added:

Itym: Can a draggon be destroyed into utterlye noe-thinge?

He thought for a while, and continued:

Itym: Whyfore did it Explode that noone may find It, search they greatly?

A puzzler, that. Lady Ramkin said that when a swamp dragon exploded there was dragon everywhere. And this one had been a damn great thing. Admittedly its insides must have been an alchemical nightmare, but the citizens of Ankh-Morpork should still have been spending the night shovelling dragon off the streets. No-one seemed to have bothered about this. The purple smoke was quite impressive, though.

Errol finished off the coke and started on the fire irons. So far this evening he had eaten three cobblestones, a doorknob, something unidentifiable he’d found in the gutter and, to general astonishment, three of Cut-me-own Throat’s sausages made of genuine pork organs. The crunching of the poker going down mingled with the patter of rain on the windows.

Vimes stared at the paper again and then wrote:

Itym: How can Kinges come of noethinge?

He hadn’t even seen the lad close to. He looked personable enough, not exactly a great thinker, but definitely the kind of profile you wouldn’t mind seeing on your small change. Mind you, after killing the dragon he could have been a cross-eyed goblin for all that it mattered. The mob had borne him in triumph to the Patrician’s palace.

Lord Vetinari had been locked up in his own dungeons. He hadn’t put up much fight, apparently. Just smiled at everyone and went quietly.

What a happy coincidence for the city that, just when it needed a champion to kill the dragon, a king came forth.

Vimes turned this thought over for a while. Then he turned it back to front. He picked up the quill and wrote:

Itym: What a happy chance it be, for a lad that would be Kinge, that there be a Draggon to sloe to prove beyond doubt his honey fiddes.

It was a lot better than birthmarks and swords, that was for sure. He twiddled the quill for a while, and then doodled:

Itym: The draggon was not a Mechanical devise, yette surety no wizzard has the power to create a beaste of that mag. magg. maggnyt. Size.

Itym: Whye, in the Pinche, could it not Flame?

Itym: Where did it come from?

Itym: Where did it goe?

The rain pounded harder on the window. The sounds of celebration became distinctly damp, and then faded completely. There was a murmur of thunder.

Vimes underlined goe several times. After further consideration he added two more question marks:??

After staring at the effect for some time he rolled the paper into a ball and threw it into the fireplace, where it was fielded and swallowed by Errol.

There had been a crime. Senses Vimes didn’t know he possessed, ancient policeman’s senses, prickled the hairs on his neck and told him there had been a crime. It was probably such an odd crime that it didn’t figure anywhere in Carrot’s book, but it had been committed all right. A handful of high-temperature murders was only the start of it. He’d find it, and give it a name.

Then he stood up, took his leather rain cape from its hook behind the door, and stepped out into the naked city.

This is where the dragons went.

They lie …

Not dead, not asleep. Not waiting, because waiting implies expectation. Possibly the word we’re looking for here is …

. . . angry.

It could remember the feel of real air under its wings, and the sheer pleasure of the flame. There had been empty skies above and an interesting world below, full of strange running creatures. Existence had a different texture there. A better texture.

And just when it was beginning to enjoy it, it had been crippled, stopped from flaming and whipped back, like some hairy canine mammal.

The world had been taken away from it.

In the reptilian synapses of the dragon’s mind the suggestion was kindled that, just possibly, it could get the world back. It had been summoned, and disdainfully banished again. But perhaps there was a trail, a scent, a thread which would lead it to the sky . . .

Perhaps there was a pathway of thought itself . . .

It recalled a mind. The peevish voice, so full of its own diminutive importance, a mind almost like that of a dragon, but on a tiny, tiny scale.

Aha.

It stretched its wings.

Lady Ramkin made herself a cup of cocoa and listened to the rain gurgling in the pipes outside.

She slipped off the hated dancing shoes, which even she was prepared to concede were like a pair of pink canoes. But nobblyess obligay, as the funny little sergeant would say, and as the last representative of one of Ankh-Morpork’s oldest families she’d had to go to the victory ball to show willing.

Lord Vetinari seldom had balls. There was a popular song about it, in fact. But now it was going to be balls all the way.

She couldn’t stand balls. For sheer enjoyment it wasn’t a patch on mucking out dragons. You knew where you were, mucking out dragons. You didn’t get hot and pink and have to eat silly things on sticks, or wear a dress that made you look like a cloud full of cherubs. Little dragons didn’t give a damn what you looked like so long as there was a feeding bowl in your hands.

Funny, really. She’d always thought it took weeks, months, to organise a ball. Invitations, decorations, sausages on poles, ghastly chickeny mixture to force into those little pastry cases. But it had all been done in a matter of hours, as if someone had been expecting it. One of the miracles of catering, obviously. She’d even danced with the, for want of a better word, new king, who had said some polite words to her although they had been rather muffled.

And a coronation tomorrow. You’d have thought it’d take months to sort out.

She was still musing on that as she mixed the dragons’ late night feed of rock oil and peat, spiked with flowers of sulphur. She didn’t bother to change out of the ballgown but slipped the heavy apron over the top, donned the gloves and helmet, pulled the visor down over her face and ran, clutching the feed buckets, through the driving rain to the shed.

She knew it as soon as she opened the door. Normally the arrival of food would be greeted with hoots and whistles and brief bursts of flame.

The dragons, each in its pen, were sitting up in attentive silence and staring up through the roof.

It was somehow scary. She clanged the buckets together.

“No need to be afraid, nasty big dragon all gone!” she said brightly. “Get stuck in to this, you people!”

One or two of them gave her a brief glance, and then went back to their-

What? They didn’t seem to be frightened. Just very, very attentive. It was like a vigil. They were waiting for something to happen.

The thunder muttered again.

A couple of minutes later she was on her way down into the damp city.

There are some songs which are never sung sober. “Nellie Dean” is one. So is any song beginning “As I was a walking …” In the area around Ankh-Morpork, the favoured air is “A Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End”.

The rank were drunk. At least, two out of three of the rank were drunk. Carrot had been persuaded to try a shandy and hadn’t liked it much. He didn’t know all the words, either, and many of the ones he did know he didn’t understand.

“Oh, I see,” he said eventually. “It’s a sort of humorous play on words, is it?”

“You know,” said Colon wistfully, peering into the thickening mists rolling in off the Ankh, “s’at times like this I wish old-”

“You’re not to say it,” said Nobby, swaying a little. “You agreed, we wouldn’t say nothing, it’s no good talking about it.”

“It was his favourite song,” said Colon sadly. “He was a good light tenor.”

“Now, Sarge-”

“He was a righteous man, our Gaskin,” said Colon.

“We couldn’t of helped it,” said Nobby sulkily.

“We could have,” said Colon. “We could have run faster.”

“What happened, then?” said Carrot.

“He died,” said Nobby, “in the hexecution of his duty.”

“I told him,” said Colon, taking a swig at the bottle they had brought along to see them through the night, “I told him. Slow down, I said. You’ll do yourself a mischief, I said. I don’t know what got into him, running ahead like that.”

“I blame the Thieves’ Guild,” said Nobby. “Allowing people like that on the streets-”

“There was this bloke we saw done a robbery one night,” said Colon miserably. “Right in front of us! And Captain Vimes, he said Come On, and we run, only the point is you shouldn’t run too fast, see. Else you might catch them. Leads to all sorts of problems, catching people-”

“They don’t like it,” said Nobby. There was a mutter of thunder, and a flurry of rain.

“They don’t like it,” agreed Colon. “But Gaskin went and forgot, he ran on, went around the corner and, well, this bloke had a couple of mates waiting-”

“It was his heart really,” said Nobby.

“Well. Anyway. And there he was,” said Colon. “Captain Vimes was very upset about it. You shouldn’t run fast in the Watch, lad,” he said solemnly. "You can be a fast guard or you can be an old guard, but you can’t be a fast old guard. Poor old Gaskin.”

“It didn’t ought to be like that,” said Carrot.

Colon took a pull at the bottle.

“Well, it is,” he said. Rain bounced on his helmet and trickled down his face.

“But it didn’t ought to be,” said Carrot flatly.

“But it is,” said Colon.

Someone else in the city was also ill at ease. He was the Librarian.

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