Vimes glared at him and threw the window open.
The fog rolled in, in a slow, yellow-edged waterfall.
“We reckon it must of flown away,” said Colon’s voice, behind him.
Vimes stared up into the heavy, rolling clouds.
“Hope it clears up for the coronation,” Colon went on, in a worried voice. “You all right, sir?”
It hasn’t flown away, Vimes thought. Why should it fly away? We can’t hurt it, and it’s got everything it wants right here. It’s up there somewhere.
“You all right, sir?” Colon repeated.
It’s got to be up high somewhere, in the fog. There’s all kinds of towers and things.
“What time’s the coronation, Sergeant?” he said.
“Noon, sir. And Mr Wonse has sent a message about how you’re to be in your best armour among all the civic leaders, sir.”
“Oh, has he?”
“And Sergeant Hummock and the day squad will be lining the route, sir.”
“What with?” said Vimes vaguely, watching the skies.
Vimes squinted upwards to get a better view of the roof. “Hmm?” he said.
“I said they’ll be lining the route, sir,” said Sergeant Colon.
“It’s up there, Sergeant,” said Vimes. “I can practically smell it.”
“Yes, sir,” said Colon obediently.
“It’s deciding what to do next.”
“They’re not unintelligent, you know. They just don’t think like us.”
“So be damned to any lining of the route. I want you three up on roofs, understand?”
“Up on the roofs. Up high. When it makes its move, I want us to be the first to know.”
Colon tried to indicate by his expression that he didn’t.
“Do you think that’s a good idea, sir?” he ventured.
Vimes gave him a blank look. “Yes, Sergeant, I do. It was one of mine,” he said coldly. “Now go and see toil.”
When he was left to himself Vimes washed and shaved in cold water, and then rummaged in his campaign chest until he unearthed his ceremonial breastplate and red cloak. Well, the cloak had been red once, and still was, here and there, although most of it resembled a small net used very successfully for catching moths. There was also a helmet, defiantly without plumes, from which the molecule-thick gold leaf had long ago peeled.
He’d started saving up for a new cloak, once. Whatever had happened to the money?
There was no-one in the guardroom. Errol lay in the wreckage of the fourth fruit box Nobby had scrounged for him. The rest had all been eaten, or had dissolved.
In the warm silence the everlasting rumbling of his stomach sounded especially loud. Occasionally he whimpered.
“What’s up with you, boy?” he said.
The door creaked open. Carrot came in, saw Vines hunkered down by the ravaged box, and saluted.
“We’re a bit worried about him, Captain,” he volunteered. “He hasn’t eaten his coal. Just lies there twitching and whining all the time. You don’t think something’s wrong with him, do you?”
“Possibly,” said Vimes. “But having something wrong with them is quite normal for a dragon. They always get over it. One way or another.”
Errol gave him a mournful look and closed his eyes again. Vimes pulled his scrap of blanket over him.
There was a squeak. He fished around beside the dragon’s shivering body, pulled out a small rubber hippo, stared at it in surprise and then gave it one or two experimental squeezes.
“I thought it would be something for him to play with,” said Carrot, slightly shamefaced.
“You bought him a little toy?”
“What a kind thought.”
Vimes hoped Carrot hadn’t noticed the fluffy ball tucked into the back of the box. It had been quite expensive.
He left the two of them and stepped into the outside world.
There was even more bunting now. People were beginning to line the main streets, even though there were hours to wait. It was still very depressing.
He felt an appetite for once, one that it’d take more than a drink or two to satisfy. He strolled along for breakfast at Harga’s House of Ribs, the habit of years, and got another unpleasant surprise. Normally the only decoration in there was on Sham Harga’s vest and the food was good solid stuff for a cold morning, all calories and fat and protein and maybe a vitamin crying softly because it was all alone. Now laboriously-made paper streamers criss-crossed the room and he was confronted with a crayonned menu in which the words “Coronasion” and “Royall” figured somewhere on every crooked line.
Vimes pointed wearily at the top of the menu.
“What’s this?” he said.
Harga peered at it. They were alone in the grease-walled cafe.
“It says ‘Bye Royarl Appointmente’, Captain,” he said proudly.
“What’s it mean?”
Harga scratched his head with a ladle. “What it means is,” he said, “if the king comes in here, he’ll like it.”
“Have you got anything that isn’t too aristocratic for me to eat, then?” said Vimes sourly, and settled for a slice of plebeian fried bread and a proletarian steak cooked so rare you could still hear it bray. Vimes ate it at the counter.
A vague scraping noise disturbed his thoughts. “What’re you doing?” he said.
Harga looked up guiltily from his work behind the counter.
“Nothing, Cap’n,” he said. He tried to hide the evidence behind him when Vimes glared over the knife-chewed woodwork.
“Come on, Sham. You can show me.”
Harga’s beefy hands came reluctantly into view.
“I was only scraping the old fat out of the pan,” he mumbled.
“I see. And how long have we known each other, Sham?” said Vimes, with terrible kindness.
“Years, Cap’n,” said Harga. “You bin coming in here nearly every day, reg’lar. One of my best customers.”
Vimes leaned over the counter until his nose was level with the squashy pink thing in the middle of Har-ga’s face.
“And in all that time, have you ever changed the fat?” he demanded.
Harga tried to back away. “Well-”
“It’s been like a friend to me, that old fat,” said Vimes. “There’s little black bits in there I’ve grown to know and love. It’s a meal in itself. And you’ve cleaned out the coffee jug, haven’t you. I can tell. This is love-in-a-canoe coffee if ever I tasted it. The other stuff had flavour. ”
“Well, I thought it was time-”
Harga let the pan fall from his pudgy fingers. “Well, I thought, if the king should happen to come in-”
Vimes’s accusing finger buried itself up to the second joint in Harga ‘s expansive vest.
“You don’t even know the wretched fellow’s name!” he shouted.
Harga rallied. “I do, Cap’n,” he stuttered. “Course I do. Seen it on the decorations and everything. He’s called Rex Vivat.”
Very gently, shaking his head in despair, crying in his heart for the essential servility of mankind, Vimes let him go.
In another time and place, the Librarian finished reading. He’d reached the end of the text. Not the end of the book-there was plenty more book. It had been scorched beyond the point of legibility, though.
Not that the last few unburned pages were very easy to read. The author’s hand had been shaking, he’d been writing fast, and he’d blotted a lot. But the Librarian had wrestled with many a terrifying text in some of the worst books ever bound, words that tried to read you as you read them, words that writhed on the page. At least these weren’t words like that. These were just the words of a man frightened for his life. A man writing a dreadful warning.
It was a page a little back from the burned section that drew the Librarian’s eye. He sat and stared at it for some time.
Then he stared at the darkness.
It was his darkness. He was asleep out there somewhere. Somewhere out there a thief was heading for this place, to steal this book. And then someone would read this book, read these words, and do it anyway.
His hands itched.
All he had to do was hide the book, or drop on to the thief’s head and unscrew it by the ears.
He stared into the darkness again . . .
But that would be interfering with the course of history. Horrible things could happen. The Librarian knew all about this sort of thing, it was part of what you had to know before you were allowed into L-space. He’d seen pictures in ancient books. Time could bifurcate, like a pair of trousers. You could end up in the wrong leg, living a life that was actually happening in the other leg, talking to people who weren’t in your leg, walking into walls that weren’t there any more. Life could be horrible in the wrong trouser of Time.
Besides, it was against Library rules. The assembled Librarians of Time and Space would certainly have something to say about it if he started to tinker with causality.
He closed the book carefully and tucked it back into the shelf. Then he swung gently from bookcase to bookcase until he reached the doorway. For a moment he stopped and looked down at his own sleeping body. Perhaps he wondered, briefly, whether to wake himself up, have a little chat, tell himself that he had friends and not to worry. If so, he must have decided against it. You could get yourself into a lot of trouble that way.
Instead he slipped out of the door, and lurked in the shadows, and followed the hooded thief when it came out clutching the book, and waited near the dread portal in the rain until the Elucidated Brethren had met and, when the last one left, followed him to his home, and murmured to himself in anthropoid surprise . . .
And then ran back to his Library and the treacherous pathways of L-space.
By mid-morning the streets were packed, Vimes had docked Nobby a day’s salary for waving a flag, and an air of barbed gloom settled over the Yard, like a big black cloud with occasional flashes of lightning in it.
“ ‘Get up in a high place’, ” muttered Nobby. “That’s all very well to say.”
“I was looking forward to lining the streets,” said Colon. “I’d have got a good view.”
“You were going on about privilege and the rights of man the other night,” said Nobby accusingly.
“Yes, well, one of the privileges and rights of this man is getting a good view,” said the sergeant. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“I’ve never seen the captain in such a filthy temper,” said Nobby. “I liked it better when he was on the drink. I reckon he’s-”
“You know, I think Errol is really ill,” said Carrot.
They turned towards the fruit basket.
“He’s very hot. And his skin looks all shiny.”
“What’s the right temperature for a dragon?” said Colon.
“Yeah. How do you take it?” said Nobby.
“I think we ought to ask Lady Ramkin to have a look at him,” said Carrot. “She knows about these things.”
“No, she’ll be getting ready for the coronation. We shouldn’t go disturbing her,” said Colon. He stretched out his hand to Errol’s quivering flanks. “I used to have a dog that-arrgh! That’s not hot, that’s boiling!”
“I’ve offered him lots of water and he just won’t touch it. What are you doing with that kettle, Nobby?”