'But it's dark, man!'
'It's just as dark for the enemy, sir.'
'I mean it's pitch black! You wouldn't know who the hell you were fighting! Half the time you'd be shooting your own side!'
'We wouldn't, sir, because there'd only be a few of us. Sir? All we need to do is crawl out there, make a bit of noise, and then let them get on with it. Tacticus says all armies are the same size in the night, sir.'
'There might be something in that,' said Angua. 'They're crawling around in ones and twos, and they're dressed pretty much like–' She waved a hand at Jabbar. 'This is Jabbar,' said Carrot. 'He's sort of not the leader.' Jabbar grinned nervously. 'It happens often in your country, where dogs turn into naked women?'
'Sometimes days can go past and it doesn't happen at all,' Angua snapped. 'I'd like some clothes, please. And a sword, if there's going to be fighting.'
'Um, I think Klatchians have a very particular view about women fighting– ' Carrot began. 'Yes!' said Jabbar. 'We expect them to be good at it, Blue Eyes. We are D'regs!' The Boat surfaced in the scummy dead water under a jetty. The lid opened slowly. 'Smells like home,' said Nobby. 'You can't trust the water,' said Sergeant Colon. 'But I don't trust the water at home, sarge.' Fred Colon managed to get a foothold on the greasy wood. It was, in theory, quite a heroic enterprise. He and Nobby Nobbs, the bold warriors, were venturing forth in hostile territory. Unfortunately, he knew they were doing it because Lord Vetinari was sitting in the Boat and would raise his eyebrows in no uncertain manner if they refused. Colon had always thought that heroes had some special kind of clockwork that made them go out and die famously for god, country and apple pie, or whatever particular delicacy their mother made. It had never occurred to him that they might do it because they'd get yelled at if they didn't. He reached down. 'Come on up, Nobby,' he said. 'And remember we're doing this for the gods, Ankh–Morpork and–' It seemed to Colon that a foodstuff would indeed be somehow appropriate. 'And my mum's famous knuckle sandwich!'
'Our mum never made us knuckle sandwiches,' said Nobby, as he hauled himself on to the planks. 'But you'd be amazed at what she could do with a bit of cheese...'
'Yeah, all right, but that aint much of a battle cry, is it? “For the gods, Ankh–Morpork and amazing things Nobby's mum can do with cheese”?
That'll strike fear in the hearts of the enemy!' said Sergeant Colon, as they crept forward. 'Oh, well, if that's what you're after, you want my mum's Distressed Pudding and custard,' said Nobby. 'Frightening, is it?'
'They wouldn't want to know about it, sarge.' The docks of Al–Khali were like docks everywhere, because all docks everywhere are connected. Men have to put things on and off boats. There are only a limited number of ways to do this. So all docks look the same. Some are hotter, some are damper, there are always piles of vaguely forgotten–looking things. In the distance there was the glow of the city, which seemed quite unaware of the enemy incursion. “'Get us some clothes so that we'll blend in,” ' muttered Colon. 'That's all very well to say.'
'Nah, nah, that's easy,' said Nobby. 'Everyone knows how to do that one. You lurk in an alley somewhere, right, and you wait until a couple of blokes come by and you lure them into the alley, see, and there's a couple of thumps, and then you come out wearing their clothes.'
'That works, does it?'
'Never fails, sarge,' said Nobby confidently. The desert looked like snow in the moonlight. Vimes found himself quite at ease with the Tacticus method of fighting. It was how coppers had always fought. A proper copper didn't line up with a lot of other coppers and rush at people. A copper lurked in the shadows, walked quietly and bided his time. In all honesty, of course, the time he bided until was the point when the criminal had already committed the crime and was carrying the loot. Otherwise, what was the point? You had to be realistic. 'We got the man what done it' carries a lot more gravitas than 'We got the man what looked as if he was going to do it,' especially when people say, 'Prove it.' Somewhere off to the left, in the distance, someone screamed. Vimes was a bit uneasy in this robe, though. It was like going into battle in a nightshirt. Because he wasn't at all certain he could kill a man who wasn't actively trying to kill him. Of course, technically any armed Klatchian these days was actively trying to kill him. That was what war was about. But– He raised his head over the top of the dune. A Klatchian warrior was looking the other way. Vimes crept– 'Bingeley–bingeley beep! This is your seven eh em alarm call, Insert Name Here! At least I hope–'
Vimes reacted first and punched the man on the nose. Since there was no point in waiting to see what effect this would have, he threw himself forward and the two of them rolled down the other side of the freezing dune, struggling and punching. '–but my real–time function seems erratic at the moment–' The Klatchian was smaller than Vimes. He was younger, too. But it was unfortunate for him that he appeared to be too young to have learned the repertoire of dirty fighting that spelled survival in Ankh–Morpork's back streets. Vimes, on the other hand, was prepared to hit anything with anything. The point was that the opponent shouldn't get up again. Everything else was decoration. They slid to a halt at the bottom of the dune, with Vimes on top and the Klatchian groaning. 'Things To Do,' the Dis-organizer shrilled: 'Ache.' And then... It was probably throat cutting time. Back home Vimes could have dragged him off to the cells, in the knowledge that everything would look better in the morning, but the desert had no such options. No, he couldn't do that. Thump the bloke senseless. That was the merciful way. 'Vindaloo! Vindaloo!' Vimes's fist stayed raised. 'What?'
'That's you, isn't it? Mr Vimes? Vindaloo!' Vimes pulled a fold of cloth away from the figure's face. 'Are you Goriff's boy?'
'I didn't want to be here, Mr Vimes!' The words came fast, desperate. 'All right, all right, I'm not going to hurt you. Vimes lowered his fist and stood up, pulling the boy up after him. 'Talk later,' he muttered. 'Come on!'
'No! Everyone knows what the D'regs do to their captives!'
'Well I'm their captive and they'll have to do it to both of us, OK? Keep away from the more amusing food and you'll probably be OK.' Someone whistled in the darkness. 'Come on, lad!' hissed Vimes. 'No harm's going to come to you! Well... less than'd come if you stayed here. All right?' This time he didn't give the boy time to argue, but dragged him along. As he headed towards the D'regs' camp, other figures slid down the dunes. One of them had an arm missing and had a sword sticking in him. 'How did you get on, Reg?' said Vimes. 'A bit odd, sir. After the first one chopped my arm off and stabbed me, the rest of them seemed to Keep out of my way. Honestly, you'd think they'd never seen a man stabbed before.'
'Did you find your arm?' Reg waved something in the air.
'That's another thing,' he said. 'I hit a few of them with it and they ran off screaming.'
'It's your type of unarmed combat,' said Vimes. 'It probably takes some getting used to.'
'Is that a prisoner you've got there?'