23,678
07.03.2019

“No,” he said. “No more running. I want these men arrested.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” said one of the men. Vimes peered at him.

“Clarence, isn’t it?” he said. “With a C. Well, Clarence with a C, watch my lips. Either you can be charged with Aiding and Abetting or-” he leaned closer, and glanced meaningfully at Carrot-“with an axe.”

“Swivel on that one, doggybag!” added Nobby, jumping from one foot to the other in vicious excitement.

Clarence’s little piggy eyes glared at the looming bulk that was Carrot, and then at Vimes’s face. There was absolutely no mercy there. He appeared to reach a reluctant decision.

“Jolly good,” said Vimes. “Lock them in the gatehouse, Sergeant.”

Colon drew his bow and squared his shoulders. “You heard the Man,” he rasped. “One false move and you’re . . . you’re-” he took a desperate stab at it-“you’re Home Economics!”

“Yeah! Slam ’em up in the banger!” shouted Nobby. If worms could turn, Nobby was revolving at generating speeds. “Doucheballs!” he sneered, at their retreating backs.

“Aiding and Abetting what, Captain?” said Carrot, as the weaponless guards trooped away. “You have to aid and abet something.”

“I think in this case it will just be generalised abetting,” said Vimes. “Persistent and reckless abetment.”

“Yeah,” said Nobby. “Can’t stand abettors. Slime-breaths!”

Colon handed Captain Vimes the guardhouse key. “It’s not very secure in there, Captain,” he said. “They’ll be able to break out eventually.”

“I hope so,” said Vimes, “because the very first drain we come to, you’re going to drop the key down it. Everyone here? Right. Follow me.”

Lupine Wonse scurried along the ruined corridors of the palace, The Summoning of Dragons under one arm,

the glittering royal sword grasped uncertainly in one hand.

He halted, panting, in a doorway.

Not a lot of his mind was currently in a state sane enough to have proper thoughts, but the small part that was still in business kept insisting that it couldn’t have seen what it had seen or heard what it had heard.

Someone was following him.

And he’d seen Vetinari walking through the palace. He knew the man was securely put away. The lock was completely unpickable. He remembered the Patrician being absolutely insistent that it be an unpickable lock when it was installed.

There was movement in the shadows at the end of the passage. Wonse gibbered a bit, fumbled with the doorhandle beside him, darted in, slammed the door and leaned against it, fighting for breath.

He opened his eyes.

He was in the old private audience room. The Patrician was sitting in his old seat, one leg crossed on the other, watching him with mild interest.

“Ah, Wonse,” he said.

Wonse jumped, scrabbled at the doorhandle, leapt into the corridor and ran for it until he reached the main staircase, rising now through the ruins of the central palace like a forlorn corkscrew. Stairs-height-high ground-defence. He ran up them three at a time.

All he needed was a few minutes of peace. Then he’d show them.

The upper floors were more full of shadows. What they were short on was structural strength. Pillars and walls had been torn out by the dragon as it built its cave. Rooms gaped pathetically on the edge of the abyss. Dangling shreds of wall-hanging and carpet flapped in the wind from the smashed windows. The floor sprang and wobbled like a trampoline as Wonse scurried across it. He struggled to the nearest door.

“That was commendably fast,” said the Patrician.

Wonse slammed the door in his face and ran, squeaking, down a corridor.

Sanity took a brief hold. He paused by a statue. There was no sound, no hurrying footsteps, no whirr of hidden doors. He gave the statue a suspicious look and prodded it with the sword.

When it failed to move he opened the nearest door and slammed it behind him, found a chair and wedged it under the handle. This was one of the upper state rooms, bare now of most of its furnishings, and lacking its fourth wall. Where it should have been was just the gulf of the cavern.

The Patrician stepped out of the shadows.

“Now you have got it out of your system-” he said.

Wonse spun around, sword raised.

“You don’t really exist,” he said. “You’re a-a ghost, or something.”

“I believe this is not the case,” said the Patrician.

“You can’t stop me! I’ve got some magic stuff left, I’ve got the book!” Wonse took a brown leather bag out of his pocket. “I’ll bring back another one! You’ll see!”

“I urge you not to,” said Lord Vetinari mildly.

“Oh, you think you’re so clever, so in-control, so swave, just because I’ve got a sword and you haven’t! Well, I’ve got more than that, I’ll have you know,” said Wonse triumphantly. “Yes! I’ve got the palace guards on my side! They follow me, not you! No-one likes you, you know. No-one ever liked you.”

He swung the sword so that its needle point was a foot from the Patrician’s thin chest.

“So it’s back to the cells for you,” he said. “And this time I’ll make sure you stay there. Guards! Guards!”

There was the clatter of running feet outside. The door rattled, the chair shook. There was a moment’s silence, and then door and chair erupted in splinters.

“Take him away!” screamed Wonse. “Fetch more scorpions! Put him in … you’re not the-”

“Put the sword down,” said Vimes, while behind him Carrot picked bits of door out of his fist.

“Yeah,” said Nobby, peering around the captain. “Up against the wall and spread ’em, motherbreath!”

“Eh? What’s he supposed to spread?” whispered Sergeant Colon anxiously.

Nobby shrugged. “Dunno,” he said. “Everything, I reckon. Safest way.”

Wonse stared at the rank in disbelief.

“Ah, Vimes,” said the Patrician. “You will-”

“Shut up,” said Vimes calmly. “Lance-constable Carrot?”

“Sir!”

“Read the prisoner his rights.”

“Yes, sir.” Carrot produced his notebook, licked his thumb, flicked through the pages.

“Lupine Wonse,” he said, “AKA Lupin Squiggle Sec’y PP-”

“Wha?” said Wonse.

“-currently domiciled in the domicile known as The Palace, Ankh-Morpork, it is my duty to inform you that you have been arrested and will be charged with-” Carrot gave Vimes an agonised look-“a number of offences of murder by means of a blunt instrument, to whit, a dragon, and many further offences of generalised abetting, to be more specifically ascertained later. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right not to be summarily thrown into a piranha tank. You have the right to trial by ordeal. You have the-”

“This is madness,” said the Patrician calmly.

“I thought I told you to shut up!” snapped Vimes, spinning around and shaking a finger under the Patrician’s nose.

“Tell me, Sarge,” whispered Nobby, “do you think we’re going to like it in the scorpion pit?”

“-say anything, er, but anything you do say will be written down, er, here, in my notebook, and, er, may be used in evidence-”

Carrot’s voice trailed into silence.

“Well, if this pantomime gives you any pleasure, Vimes,” said the Patrician eventually, “take him down to the cells. I’ll deal with him in the morning.”

Wonse made no signal. There was no scream or cry. He just rushed at the Patrician, sword raised.

Options flickered across Vimes’s mind. In the lead came the suggestion that standing back would be a good plan, let Wonse do it, disarm him afterwards, let the city clean itself up. Yes. A good plan.

And it was therefore a total mystery to him why he chose to dart forward, bringing Carrot’s sword up in a half-baked attempt at blocking the stroke . . .

Perhaps it was something to do with doing it by the book.

There was a clang. Not a particularly loud one. He felt something bright and silver whirr past his ear and strike the wall.

Wonse’s mouth fell open. He dropped the remnant of his sword and backed away, clutching The Summoning.

“You’ll be sorry,” he hissed. “You’ll all be very sorry!”

He started to mumble under his breath.

Vimes felt himself trembling. He was pretty certain he knew what had zinged past his head, and the mere thought was making his hands sweat. He’d come to the palace ready to kill and there’d been this minute, just this minute, when for once the world had seemed to be operating properly and he was in charge of it and now, now all he wanted was a drink. And a nice week’s sleep.

“Oh, give up!” he said. “Are you going to come quietly?”

The mumbling went on. The air began to feel hot and dry.

Vimes shrugged. “That’s it, then,” he said, and turned away. “Throw the book at him, Carrot.”

“Right, sir.”

Vimes remembered too late.

Dwarfs have trouble with metaphors.

They also have a very good aim.

The Laws and Ordinances of Ankh and Morpork caught the secretary on the forehead. He blinked, staggered, and stepped backwards.

It was the longest step he ever took. For one thing, it lasted the rest of his life.

After several seconds they heard him hit, five storeys below.

After several more seconds their faces appeared over the edge of the ravaged floor.

“What a way to go,” said Sergeant Colon.

“That’s a fact,” said Nobby, reaching up to his ear for a dog-end.

“Killed by a wossname. A metaphor.”

“Dunno,” said Nobby. “Looks like the ground to me. Got a light, Sarge?”

“That was right, wasn’t it, sir?” said Carrot anxiously. “You said to-”

“Yes, yes,” said Vimes. “Don’t worry.” He reached down with a shaking hand, picked up the bag Wonse had been holding, and tipped out a pile of stones. Every one had a hole in it. Why? he thought.

A metallic noise behind him made him look around. The Patrician was holding the remains of the royal sword. As the captain watched, the man wrenched the other half of the sword out of the far wall. It was a clean break.

“Captain Vimes,” he said.

“Sir?”

“That sword, if you please?”

Vimes handed it over. He couldn’t, right now, think of anything else to do. He was probably due for a scorpion pit of his very own as it was.

Lord Vetinari examined the rusty blade carefully.

“How long have you had this, Captain?” he said mildly.

“Isn’t mine, sir. Belongs to Lance-constable Carrot, sir.”

“Lance-?”

“Me, sir, your graciousness,” said Carrot, saluting.

“Ah.”

The Patrician turned the blade over and over slowly, staring at it as if fascinated. Vimes felt the air thicken, as though history was clustering around this point, but for the life of him he couldn’t think why. This was one of those points where the Trousers of Time bifurcated themselves, and if you weren’t careful you’d go down the wrong leg-

Wonse arose in a world of shades, icy confusion pouring into his mind. But all he could think of at the moment was the tall cowled figure standing over him.

❮❯