To his astonishment Carrot patted him companion-ably on the shoulder.
“I know how it is,” he said sympathetically. “I had this girl back home, her name was Minty, and her father-”
“Look, for the last time, there is absolutely nothing between-” Vimes began.
There was a rattle beside them. A small avalanche of plaster and thatch rolled down. The rubble heaved, and opened one eye. One big black pupil floating in a bloodshot glow tried to focus on them.
“We must be mad,” said Vimes.
“Oh, no, sir,” said Carrot. “There’s plenty of precedents. In 1135 a hen was arrested for crowing on Soul Cake Thursday. And during the regime of Psy-choneurotic Lord Snapcase a colony of bats was executed for persistent curfew violations. That was in 1401. August, I think. Great days for the law, they were,” said Carrot dreamily. “In 1321, you know, a small cloud was prosecuted for covering the sun during the climax of Frenzied Earl Hargath’s investiture ceremony.”
“I hope Colon gets a move on with-” Vimes stopped. He had to know. “How?” he said. “What can you do to a cloud?”
“The Earl sentenced it to be stoned to death,” said Carrot. “Apparently thirty-one people were killed.” He pulled out his notebook and glared at the dragon.
“Can it hear us, do you think?” he said.
“I suppose so.”
‘ ‘Well, then.” Carrot cleared his throat and turned back to the stunned reptile. “It is my duty to warn you that you are to be reported for consideration of prosecution on some or all of the following counts, to whit: One, (One) i, that on or about 18th Grune last, in a place known as Sweetheart Lane, the Shades, you did unlawfully vent flame in a manner likely to cause grievous bodily harm, in contravention of Clause Seven of the Industrial Processes Act, 1508; AND THAT, One, (One) ii, that on or about 18th Grune last, in a place known as Sweetheart Lane, the Shades, you caused or did cause to cause the death of six persons unknown-”
Vimes wondered how long the rubble would hold the creature down. Several weeks would be necessary, if the length of the charge sheet was anything to go by.
The crowd went silent. Even Sybil Ramkin was standing in astonishment.
‘ ‘What’s the matter?” said Vimes to the upturned faces. "Haven’t you ever seen a dragon being arrested before?
“-Sixteen (Three) ii, on the night of Grune 24th last, you did flame or cause to flame those premises known as the Old Watch House, Ankh-Morpork, valued at two hundred dollars; AND THAT, Sixteen (Three) iii, on the night of Grune 24th last, upon being apprehended by an officer of the Watch in the execution of his duty-”
“I think we should hurry up,” whispered Vimes. “It’s getting rather restive. Is all this necessary?”
“Well, I believe one can summarise,” said Carrot. “In exceptional circumstances, according to Bregg’s Rules for-”
“It may come as a surprise, but these are exceptional circumstances, Carrot,” said Vimes. “And they’re going to be really astonishingly exceptional if Colon doesn’t hurry up with that rope.”
More rubble moved as the dragon strained to get up. There was a thump as a heavy beam was shouldered aside. The crowd began to run for it.
It was at this point that Enrol came back over the rooftops in a series of minor explosions, leaving a trail of smoke rings. Dipping low, he buzzed the crowd and sent the front rank stumbling backwards.
He was also wailing like a foghorn.
Vimes grabbed Carrot and stumbled down the heap as the king started to scrabble desperately to get free.
“He’s come back for the kill!” he shouted. “It probably took him all this time just to slow down!”
Now Errol was hovering over the fallen dragon, and hooting shrilly enough to bust bottles.
The great dragon stuck its head up in a cascade of plaster dust. It opened its mouth but, instead of the lance of white fire that Vimes tensed himself to expect, it merely made a noise like a kitten. Admittedly a kitten shouting into a tin bath at the bottom of a cave, but still a kitten.
Broken spars fell aside when the huge creature got unsteadily to its feet. The great wings opened, showering the surrounding streets with dust and bits of thatch. Some of it clanged off the helmet of Sergeant Colon, hurrying back with what looked like a small washing line coiled over his arm.
“You’re letting it get up!” Vimes shouted, pushing the sergeant to safety. “You’re not supposed to let it get up, Errol! Don’t let it get up!”
Lady Ramkin frowned. “That’s not right,” she said. “They never usually fight like that. The winner usually kills the loser.”
“Right on!” shouted Nobby.
“And then half the time he explodes with the excitement in any case.”
“Look, it’s me!” Vimes yelled, as Errol hovered unconcernedly over the scene. “I bought you the fluffy ball! The one with the bell in it! You can’t do this to us!”
“No, wait a minute,” said Lady Ramkin, laying a hand on his arm. “I’m not sure we haven’t got hold of the wrong end of the stick here-”
The great dragon leapt into the air and brought its wings down with a whump that flattened a few more buildings. The huge head swung around, the bleary eyes caught sight of Vimes.
There seemed to be some thought going on inside them.
Errol arced across the sky and hovered protectively in front of the captain, facing the thing down. For a moment it looked as though he might be turned into a small flying charcoal biscuit, and then the dragon lowered its gaze in a slightly embarrassed way and started to rise.
It climbed in a wide spiral, gathering speed as it did so. Errol went with it, orbiting the huge body like a tug around a liner.
“It’s-it’s as though he’s fussing over it,” said Vimes.
“Add up the bastard!” shouted Nobby enthusiastically.
“Total, Nobby,” said Colon. “You mean ‘total’.”
Vimes felt Lady Ramkin’s gaze on the back of his neck. He looked at her expression.
Realisation dawned. “Oh,” he said.
Lady Ramkin nodded.
“Really?” said Vimes.
“Yes,” she said. “I really ought to have thought of it before. It was such a hot flame, of course. And they’re always so much more territorial than the males.”
“Why don’t you fight the bastard!” shouted Nobby, at the dwindling dragons.
“Bitch, Nobby,” said Vimes quietly. “Not bastard. Bitch.”
“Why don’t you fi-what?”
“It’s a member of the female gender,” explained Lady Ramkin.
“We meant that if you tried your favourite kick, Nobby, it wouldn’t work,” said Vimes.
“It’s a girl,” translated Lady Ramkin.
“But it’s sodding enormous!” said Nobby.
Vimes coughed urgently. Nobby’s rodent eyes slid sideways to Sybil Ramkin, who blushed like a sunset.
“A fine figure of a dragon, I mean,” he said quickly.
“Er. Wide, egg-bearing hips,” said Sergeant Colon anxiously.
“Statueskew,” Nobby added fervently.
“Shut up,” said Vimes. He brushed the dust off the remains of his uniform, adjusted the hang of his breastplate, and set his helmet on squarely. He patted it firmly. This wasn’t where it ended, he knew that. This was where it all got started.
“You men come with me. Come on, hurry! While everyone’s still watching them,” he added.
“But what about the king?” said Carrot. “Or queen? Or whatever it is now?”
Vimes stared at the rapidly shrinking shapes. “I really don’t know,” he said. “That’s up to Errol, I suppose. We’ve got other things to do.” . Colon saluted, still fighting for breath. “Where we going, sir?” he managed.
“To the palace. Any of you still got a sword?”
“You can use mine, Captain,” said Carrot. He handed it over.
“Right,” said Vimes quietly. He glared at them. “Let’s go.”
The rank trailed behind Vimes through the stricken streets.
He started to walk faster. The rank started to trot to keep up. Vimes began to trot to keep ahead.
The rank broke into a canter.
Then, as if on an unspoken word of command, they broke into a run.
Then into a gallop.
People scurried away as they rattled past. Carrot’s enormous sandals hammered on the cobbles. Sparks flew up from the scads of Nobby’s boots. Colon ran quietly for such a fat man, as fat men often do, face locked in a scowl of concentration.
They pounded along the Street of Cunning Artificers, turned into Hogsback Alley, emerged into the Street of Small Gods and thundered towards the palace. Vimes kept barely in the lead, mind currently empty of everything except the need to run and run.
At least, nearly everything. But his head buzzed and resonated manically with those of all city guards everywhere, all the pavement-pounding meatheads in the multiverse who had ever, just occasionally, tried to do what was Right.
Far ahead of them a handful of palace guards drew their swords, took a second look, thought better of it, darted back inside the wall and started to close the gates. They clanged together as Vimes arrived.
He hesitated, panting for breath, and looked at the massive things. The ones that the dragon had burned had been replaced by gates even more forbidding. From behind them came the sound of bolts sliding back.
This was no time for half measures. He was a captain, godsdammit. An officer. Things like this didn’t present a problem for an officer. Officers had a tried and tested way of solving problems like this. It was called a sergeant.
“Sergeant Colon!” he snapped, his mind still buzzing with universal policemanhood, “shoot the lock off!”
The sergeant hesitated. “What, sir? With a bow and arrow, sir?”
“I mean-” Vimes hesitated. “I mean, open these gates!”
“Sir!” Colon saluted. He glared at the gates for a moment. “Right!” he barked. “Lance-constable Carrot, one stepa forwarda, take! Lance-constable Carrot, inna youra owna timer! Open these gatesa!”
Carrot stepped forward, saluted, folded an enormous hand into a fist and rapped gently on the woodwork.
“Open up,” he said, “in the name of the Law!”
There was some whispering on the other side of the gates, and eventually a small hatch halfway up the door slid open a fraction and a voice said, “Why?”
“Because if you don’t it will be Impeding an Officer of the Watch in the Execution of his Duty, which is punishable by a fine of not less than thirty dollars, one month’s imprisonment, or being remanded in custody for social inquiry reports and half an hour with a red-hot poker,” said Carrot.
There was some more muffled whispering, the sound of bolts being drawn, and then the gates opened about halfway.
There was no-one visible on the other side.
Vimes put a finger to his lips. He motioned Carrot towards one gate and dragged Nobby and Colon to the other.
“Push,” he whispered. They pushed, hard. There was a sudden eruption of pained cursing from behind the woodwork.
“Run!” shouted Colon.
“No!” shouted Vimes. He walked around the gate. Four semi-crushed palace guards glowered at him.