23,669
07.03.2019

He’d pulled a sack from under his chair, rummaged around in it and presented Carrot with a length of metal, more a sword than a saw but only just.

“This might rightly belong to you, ” he said. “When we found the… carts, this was the only thing left. The bandits, you see. Just between you and me-” he beckoned Carrot closer-“we had a witch look at it. In case it was magic. But it isn’t. Quite the most un-magical sword she’d ever seen, she said. They normally have a bit, see, on account of it’s like magnetism, I suppose. Got quite a nice balance, though. ”

He handed it over.

He rummaged around some more. “And then there’s this. ” He held up a shirt. “It’ll protect you. ”

Carrot fingered it carefully. It was made from the wool of Ramtop sheep, which had all the warmth and softness of hog bristles. It was one of the legendary woolly dwarf vests, the kind of vest that needs hinges.

“Protect me from what?” he said.

“Colds, and so on, ” said the king. “Your mother says you’ve got to wear it. And, er… that reminds me. Mr Varneshi says he’d like you to drop in on the way down the mountain. He’s got something for you. ”

His father and mother had waved him out of sight. Minty didn’t. Funny, that. She seemed to have been avoiding him lately.

He’d taken the sword, slung on his back, sandwiches and clean underwear in his pack, and the world, more or less, at his feet. In his pocket was the famous letter from the Patrician, the man who ruled the great fine city of Ankh-Morpork.

At least, that’s how his mother had referred to it. It certainly had an important-looking crest at the top, but the signature was something like “Lupin Squiggle, Sec’y, pp”.

Still, if it wasn’t actually signed by the Patrician then it had certainly been written by someone who worked for him. Or in the same building. Probably the Patrician had at least known about the letter. In general terms. Not this letter, perhaps, but probably he knew about the existence of letters in general.

Carrot walked steadfastly down the mountain paths, disturbing clouds of bumblebees. After a while he unsheathed the sword and made experimental stabs at felonious tree stumps and unlawful assemblies of stinging nettles.

Varneshi was sitting outside his hut, threading dried mushrooms on a string.

“Hallo, Carrot, ” he said, leading the way inside. “Looking forward to the city?”

Carrot gave this due consideration.

“No, ” he said.

“Having second thoughts, are you?”

“No. I was just walking along, ” said Carrot honestly. “I wasn’t thinking about anything much. ”

“Your dad give you the sword, did he?” said Varneshi, rummaging on a fetid shelf.

“Yes. And a woolly vest to protect me against chills. ”

“Ah. Yes, it can be very damp down there, so I’ve heard. Protection. Very important. ” He turned around and added, dramatically, “This belonged to my great-grandfather. ”

It was a strange, vaguely hemispherical device surrounded by straps.

“It’s some sort of sling?” said Carrot, after examining it in polite silence.

Varneshi told him what it was.

“Codpiece like in fish?” said Carrot, mystified.

“No. It’s for the fighting, ” mumbled Varneshi. “You should wear it all the time. Protects your vitals, like. ”

Carrot tried it on.

“It’s a bit small, Mr Varneshi. ”

“That’s because you don’t wear it on your head, you see. ”

Varneshi explained some more, to Carrot’s mounting bewilderment and, subsequently, horror. “My great-grandad used to say, ” Varneshi finished, “that but for this I wouldn’t be here today. ”

“What did he mean by that?”

Varneshi’s mouth opened and shut a few times. “I’ve no idea, ” he said, spinelessly.

Anyway, the shameful thing was now at the very bottom of Carrot’s pack. Swarfs didn’t have much truck with things like that. The ghastly preventative represented a glimpse into a world as alien as the backside of the moon.

There had been another gift from Mr Varneshi. It was a small but very thick book, bound in a leather that had become like wood over the years.

It was called: The Laws And Ordinances of The Cities of Ankh And Morpork.

“This belonged to my great-grandad as well, ” he said. “This is what the Watch has to know. You have to know all the laws, ” he said virtuously, "to be a good officer. ”

Perhaps Varneshi should have recalled that, in the whole of Carrot’s life, no-one had ever really lied to him or given him an instruction that he wasn’t meant to take quite literally. Carrot solemnly took the book. It would never have occurred to him, if he was going to be an officer of the Watch, to be less than a good one.

It was a five hundred mile journey and, surprisingly, quite uneventful. People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, “Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else. ”

He’d spent most of the journey reading.

And now Ankh-Morpork was before him.

It was a little disappointing. He’d expected high white towers rearing over the landscape, and flags. Ankh-Morpork didn’t rear. Rather, it sort of skulked, clinging to the soil as if afraid someone might steal it. There were no flags.

There was a guard on the gate. At least, he was wearing chainmail and the thing he was propped up against was a spear. He had to be a guard.

Carrot saluted him and presented the letter. The man looked at it for some time.

“Mm?” he said, eventually.

“I think I’ve got to see Lupin Squiggle Sec’y pp, ” said Carrot.

“What’s the pp for?” said the guard suspiciously.

“Could it be Pretty Promptly?” said Carrot, who had wondered about this himself.

“Well, I don’t know about any Sec’y, ” said the guard. “You want Captain Vimes of the Night Watch. ”

‘ ‘And where is he based?” said Carrot, politely.

“At this time of day I’d try The Bunch of Grapes in Easy Street, ” said the guard. He looked Carrot up and down. “Joining the watch, are you?”

“I hope to prove worthy, yes, ” said Carrot.

The guard gave him what could loosely be called an old-fashioned look. It was practically neolithic.

“What was it you done?” he said. “I’m sorry?” said Carrot. “You must of done something, ” said the guard. “My father wrote a letter, ” said Carrot proudly. “I’ve been volunteered. ” “Bloody hellfire, ” said the guard.

Now it was night again, and beyond the dread portal:

“Are the Wheels of Torment duly spun?” said the Supreme Grand Master.

The Elucidated Brethren shuffled around their circle.

“Brother Watchtower?” said the Supreme Grand Master.

“Not my job to spin the Wheels of Torment, ” muttered Brother Watchtower. “ ‘s Brother Plasterer’s job, spinning the Wheels of Torment-”

“No it bloody well isn’t, it’s my job to oil the Axles of the Universal Lemon, ” said Brother Plasterer hotly. “You always say it’s my job-”

The Supreme Grand Master sighed in the depths of his cowl as yet another row began. From this dross he was going to forge an Age of Rationality?

“Just shut up, will you?” he snapped. “We don’t really need the Wheels of Torment tonight. Stop it, the pair of you. Now, Brethren-you have all brought the items as instructed?”

There was a general murmuring.

“Place them in the Circle of Conjuration, ” said the Supreme Grand Master.

It was a sorry collection. Bring magical things, he’d said. Only Brother Fingers had produced anything worthwhile. It looked like some sort of altar ornament, best not to ask from where. The Supreme Grand Master stepped forward and prodded one of the other things with his toe.

“What, ” he said, “is this?”

“ ‘s a amulet, ” muttered Brother Dunnykin. “ ‘s very powerful. Bought it off a man. Guaranteed. Protects you against crocodile bites. ”

“Are you sure you can spare it?” said the Supreme Grand Master. There was a dutiful titter from the rest of the Brethren.

“Less of that, brothers, ” said the Grand Master, spinning around. “Bring magical things, I said. Not cheap jewellery and rubbish! Good grief, this city is lousy with magic!” He reached down. “What are these things, for heaven’s sake?”

“They’re stones, ” said Brother Plasterer uncertainly.

“I can see that. Why’re they magical?”

Brother Plasterer began to tremble. “They’ve got holes in them, Supreme Grand Master. Everyone knows that stones with holes in them are magical. ”

The Supreme Grand Master walked back to his place on the circle. He threw his arms up.

“Right, fine, okay, ” he said wearily. “If that’s how we’re going to do it, that’s how we’re going to do it. If we get a dragon six inches long we’ll all know the reason why. Won’t we, Brother Plasterer. Brother Plasterer? Sorry. I didn’t hear what you said? Brother Plasterer?”

“I said yes, Supreme Grand Master, ” whispered Brother Plasterer.

“Very well. So long as that’s quite understood. ” The Supreme Grand Master turned and picked up the book.

“And now, ” he said, “if we are all quite ready… ”

“Um. ” Brother Watchtower meekly raised his hand.

“Ready for what, Supreme Grand Master?” he said.

“For the summoning, of course. Good grief, I should have thought-”

“But you haven’t told us what we’re supposed to do, Supreme Grand Master, ” whined Brother Watch-tower.

The Grand Master hesitated. This was quite true, but he wasn’t going to admit it.

“Well, of course, ” he said. “It’s obvious. You have to focus your concentration. Think hard about dragons, ” he translated. “All of you. ”

“That’s all, is it?” said Brother Doorkeeper.

“Yes. ”

“Don’t we have to chant a mystic prune or something?”

The Supreme Grand Master stared at him. Brother Doorkeeper managed to look as defiant in the face of oppression as an anonymous shadow in a black cowl could look. He hadn’t joined a secret society not to chant mystic runes. He’d been looking forward to it.

“You can if you like, ” said the Supreme Grand Master. “Now, I want you-yes, what is it, Brother Dunnykin?”

The little Brother lowered his hand. “Don’t know any mystic prunes, Grand Master. Not to what you might call chant… ”

“Hum!”

He opened the book.

He’d been rather surprised to find, after pages and pages of pious ramblings, that the actual Summoning itself was one short sentence. Not a chant, not a brief piece of poetry, but a mere assemblage of meaningless syllables. De Malachite said they caused interference patterns in the waves of reality, but the daft old fool was probably making it up as he went along. That was the trouble with wizards, they had to make everything look difficult. All you really needed was willpower. And the Brethren had a lot of that. Small-minded and vitriolic willpower, yes, lousy with malignity maybe, but still powerful enough in its way…

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