Page 36

'That's different. I love him because he's kind without thinking about it. He doesn't watch his own thoughts like other people do. When he does good things it's because he's decided to do them, not because he's trying to measure up to something. He's so simple. Anyway, I'm a wolf living with people, and there's a name for wolves that live with people. If he whistled, I'd come running.' Vimes tried not to show his embarrassment. Angua smiled. 'Don't worry, Mr Vimes. You've said it yourself. Sooner or later, we're all someone's dog.'

'It's like hypnotism,' said Vimes hurriedly. 'people follow him to see what's going to happen next. They tell themselves that they're just going along with it for a while and can stop any time they want to, but they never want to. It's damn magic.'

'No. Have you ever really watched him? I bet he'd found out everything about Jabbar by the time he'd talked to him for ten minutes. I bet he knows the name of every camel. And he'll remember it all. People don't take that much interest in other people, usually.' Her fingers idly traced a pattern in the sand. 'So he makes you feel important.'

'Politicians do that–' Vimes began. 'Not the way he does, believe me. I expect Lord Vetinari remembers facts about people–'

'Oh, you'd better believe that!'

'–but Carrot takes an interest. He doesn't even think about it. He makes space in his head for people. He takes an interest, and so people think they're interesting. They feel... better when he's around.' Vimes glanced down. Her fingers were drawing aimlessly in the sand again. We're all changing in the desert, he thought. It's not like the city, hemming your thoughts in. You can feel your mind expand to the horizons. No wonder this is where religions start. And suddenly here I am, probably not legally, just trying to do my job. Why? Because I'm too damn stupid to stop and think before I give chase, that's why. Even Carrot knew better than to do that. I'd have just chased after Ahmed's ship without a thought, but he was bright enough to report back to me first. He did what a responsible officer ought to do, but me... 'Vetinari's terrier,' he said aloud. 'Chase first, and think about it afterwards–'

His eye caught the distant bulk of Gebra. Out there was a Klatchian army, and somewhere over there was the AnkhMorpork army, and he was a handful of people and no plan because he'd chased first and 'But I had to,' he said. 'Any copper wouldn't have let a suspect like Ahmed get ' Once again he had the feeling that the problem he was facing wasn't really a problem at all. It was something very obvious. He was the problem. He wasn't thinking right. Come to think of it, he hadn't really thought at all. He glanced down again at the trapped company. They had stripped down to their loincloths and were looking very sheepish, as men generally do in their underwear. Carrot's white robe still flapped in the breeze. He hasn't been here a day, thought Vimes, and already he's wearing the desert like a pair of sandals. '... er... bingeley–bingeley beep?'

'Is that your demon diary?' said Angua. Vimes rolled his eyes. 'Yes. Although it seems to be talking about someone else.'

'... er... three pee em,' the demon muttered slowly, '... day not filled in... Check Wall Defences...'

'See? It thinks I'm in Ankh–Morpork! It cost Sybil three hundred dollars and it can't even keep track of where I am.' He flicked his cigar butt away and stood up. 'I'd better get down there,' he said. 'After all, I am the boss.' He slithered his way down the dune and strolled towards Carrot, who salaamed to him. 'A salute would do, captain, thanks all the same.'

'Sorry, sir. I think I got a bit carried away.'

'Why've you made them strip off?'

'Makes them a bit of a laughing stock when they return, sir. A blow to their pride.' He leaned closer and whispered, 'I've let their commander keep his clothes on, though. It doesn't do to show up the officers.'

'Really?' said Vimes. 'And some want to join us, sir. There's Goriffs lad and a few others. They were just dragooned into the army yesterday. They don't even know why they're fighting. So I said they could.' Vimes took the captain aside. 'Er... I don't remember suggesting that any of the prisoners joined us,' he said quietly. 'Well, sir... I thought, what with our army approaching, and since quite a lot of these lads are from various corners of the empire and don't like the Klatchians any more than we do, I thought that a flying column of guerrilla fighters–'

'We aren't soldiers!'

'Er, I thought we were soldiers–'

'Yes, yes, all right. In a way... but really we're coppers, like we've always been. We don't kill people unless – ' Ahmed? Everyone's slightly on edge when he's around, he worries people, he gets information from all over the place, he seems to go where he pleases, and he's always around when there's trouble– Damn damn damn... He ran through the crowd until he reached Jabbar, who was watching Carrot with the usual puzzled smile that Carrot caused in innocent bystanders. 'Tree dace,' said Vimes. 'Three days. That's seventytwo hours!'

'Yes, offendi?' said Jabbar. It was the voice of someone who recognized dawn, noon and sunset, and just let everything in between happen whenever it liked. 'So why's he called 71–hour Ahmed? What's so special about the extra hour?' Jabbar grinned nervously. 'Did he do something after seventy–one hours?' said Vimes. Jabbar folded his arms. 'I will not say.'

'He told you to keep us here?'


'But not to kill us.'

'Oh, I would not kill my friend Sir Sam Mule–'

'And don't give me all that eyeball rubbish,' said Vimes. 'He wanted time to get somewhere and do something, right?'

'I will not say.'

'You don't need to,' said Vimes. 'Because we are leaving. And if you kill us... well, probably you can. But 71–hour Ahmed would not like that, I expect.' Jabbar looked like a man making a difficult decision. 'He will be coming back!' he said. 'Tomorrow! No problem!'

'I'm not waiting! And I don't think he wants me killed, Jabbar. He wants me alive. Carrot?' Carrot hurried over. 'Yes, sir?' Vimes was aware that Jabbar was staring at him in horror. 'We've lost Ahmed,' he said. 'Even Angua can't pick up his trail with the sand blowing all over the place. We've got no place here. We're not needed here.'

'But we are, sir!' Carrot burst out. 'We could help the desert tribes–'

'Oh, you want to stay and fight?' said Vimes. 'Against the KIatchians?'

'Against the bad Klatchians, sir.'

'Ah, well, that's the trick, isn't it? When one of them comes screaming at you waving a sword, how do you spot his moral character? Well, you can stay if you like and fight for the good name of Ankh–Morpork. It should be a pretty short fight. But I'm off. Jenkins probably hasn't got afloat again. OK, Jabbar?' The D'reg was staring at the desert sand between his feet.

'You know where he is now, don't you?' Vimes prompted. 'Yes.'

'Tell me.'

'No. I swore to him.'

'But D'regs are oath-breakers. Everyone knows that.' . Jabbar gave Vimes a grin. 'Oh, oaths. Stupid things. I gave him my word.'

'He won't break it, sir,' said Carrot. 'D'regs are very particular about things like that. lt's only when they swear on gods and things that they'll ever break an oath.'

'I will not tell you where he is,' said Jabbar. 'But...' he grinned again, but there was no humour in it, 'how brave are you, Mr Vimes?'

'Stop complaining, Nobby.'

'I'm not complaining. I'm just sayin' these trousers are a bit draughty, that's all I'm saying.'

'They look good on you, though.'

'And what're these tin bowls supposed to be doing?'

'They're supposed to be protecting the bits you haven't got, Nobby.'

'The way this breeze is blowing, I could do with some to protect the bits I have.'

'Just try and act ladylike, will you, Nobby?' Which would be hard, Sergeant Colon had to admit. The lady for whom the clothes had been made had been quite tall and somewhat full–figured, whereas Nobby without his armour could have hidden behind a short stick if you attached a toast rack to it about two–thirds of the way up. He looked like a gauzy accordion with a lot of jewellery. In theory, the costume would have been quite revealing, if Corporal Nobbs was something you wished to see revealed, but there were so many billows and folds now that all one could reliably say was that he was in there somewhere. He was leading the donkey, which seemed to like him. Animals tended to like Nobby. He didn't smell wrong. 'And them boots don't work,' Sergeant Colon went on. 'Why not? You kept yours on.'

'Yeah, but I'm not supposed to be a flower of the desert, right? A moon of someone's delight shouldn't kick up sparks when she walks, am I right?'

'They belonged to my gran, I ain't leaving 'em around for anyone to nick, and I ain't mooning for anyone's delight,' said Nobby sulkily. Lord Vetinari strode on ahead. The streets were already filling up. Al– Khali liked to get the business of the day started in the cool of dawn, before full day flamethrowered the landscape. No–one paid the newcomers any attention, although a few people did turn round to watch Corporal Nobbs. Goats and chickens ambled out of the way as they passed.

'Watch out for people trying to sell you dirty postcards, Nobby,' said Colon. 'My uncle was here once and he said some bloke tried to sell him a pack of dirty postcards for five dollars. Disgusted, he was.'

'Yeah, 'cos you can get 'em in the Shades for two dollars,' said Nobby. 'That's what he said. And they were Ankh–Morpork ones. Trying to flog us our own dirty postcards? I call that disgusting, frankly.'

'Good morning, sultan!' said a cheerful and somehow familiar voice. 'New in town, are we?' All three of them turned to a figure that had magically appeared from the mouth of an alleyway. 'Indeed, yes,' said the Patrician. 'I could see you were! Everyone is, these days. And it is your lucky day, shah! I am here to help, right? You want something, I got it!' Sergeant Colon had been staring at the newcomer. He said, in a faraway voice, 'Your name's going to be something like... Al–jibla or something, right?'

'Heard about me, have you?' said the trader jovially. 'Sort of, yeah,' said Colon slowly. 'You're amazingly... familiar.' Lord Vetinari pushed him aside. 'We are strolling entertainers,' he said. 'We were hoping to get an engagement at the Prince's palace... Perhaps you could help?' The man rubbed his beard thoughtfully, causing various particles to cascade into the little bowls in his tray. 'Dunno about the palace,' he said. 'What's it you do?'

'We practise juggling, fire–eating, that sort of thing,' said Vetinari. 'Do we?' said Colon. Al–jibla nodded at Nobby. 'What does...'

'...she...' said Lord Vetinari helpfully. '...she do?'

'Exotic dancing,' said Vetinari, while Nobby scowled. 'Pretty exotic, I should think,' said Al–jibla. 'You'd be amazed.' A couple of armed men had drifted over to them. Sergeant Colon's heart sank. In those bearded faces he saw himself and Nobby, who at home would always saunter over to anything on the street that looked interesting. 'You are jugglers, are you?' said one of them. 'Let's see you juggle, then.' Lord Vetinari gave them a blank look and then glanced down at the tray around Al–jibla's neck. Among the more identifiable foodstuffs were a number of green melons. 'Very well,' he said, and picked up three of them. Sergeant Colon shut his eyes. After a few seconds he opened them again because a guard had said, 'All right, but anyone can do it with three.'

'In that case perhaps Mr Al–jibla will throw me a few more?' said the Patrician, as the balls spun through his hands. Sergeant Colon shut his eyes again. After a short while a guard said, 'Seven is pretty good. But it's just melons.' Colon opened his eyes. The Klatchian guard twitched his robe aside. Half a dozen throwing knives glinted. And so did his teeth. Lord Vetinari nodded. To Colon's growing surprise he did not seem to be watching the tumbling melons at all. 'Four melons and three knives,' he said. 'If you would care to give the knives to my charming assistant Beti...'

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.