'And we eat anything,' said 71–hour Ahmed solemnly. 'PRIVATE BOURKE YOU ORRIBLE MAN SPEAKIN OF YORE COMMANDIN OFFICER LIKE THAT YOU WILL BE ON A CHARGE I apologize, sir, but we are feeling a little faint.'
'Long time between noses, eh?' said 71–hour Ahmed. 'Ahahaha, sir,' said Willikins. Vimes sighed. 'Willikins... when you've finished, I want you and your men to come with me.'
'Very good, sir.' Vimes nodded at Ahmed. 'And you too,' he said. 'Push has come to shove.' The hot wind flapped the banners. The sunlight sparkled off the spears. Lord Rust surveyed his army and found that it was good. But small. He leaned towards his adjutant. 'Let us not forget, though, that even General Tacticus was outnumbered ten to one when he took the Pass of Al–Ibi,' he said. 'Yes, sir. Although I believe his men were all mounted on elephants, sir,' said Lieutenant Hornett. 'And had been well provisioned,' he added meaningfully. 'Possibly, possibly. But then Lord Pinwoe's cavalry once charged the full might of the Pseudopolitan army and are renowned in song and story.'
'But they were all killed, sir!'
'Yes, yes, but it was a famous charge, nevertheless. And every child knows, do they not, the story of the mere one hundred Ephebians who defeated the entire Tsortean army? A total victory, hey? Hey?'
'Yes, sir,' said the adjutant glumly. 'Oh, you admit it?'
'Yes, sir. Of course, some commentators believe the earthquake helped.'
'At least you will admit that the Seven Heroes of Hergen beat the Big– Footed People although outnumbered by a hundred to one?'
'Yes, sir. That was a nursery story, sir. It never really happened.'
'Are you calling my nurse a liar, boy?'
'No, sir,' said Lieutenant Hornett hurriedly. 'Then you'll concede that Baron Mimbledrone single-handedly beat the armies of the Plum Pudding Country and ate their Sultana?'
'I envy him, sir.' The lieutenant looked at the lines again. The men were very hungry, although Rust would probably have called them sleek. Things would have been even worse if it hadn't been for the fortuitous shower of boiled lobsters on the way over. 'Er... you don't think, sir, since we have a little time in hand, we should look to the disposition of the men, sir?'
'They look well disposed to me. Plucky men, eager to be at the fray!'
'Yes, sir. I meant... more... well... positioned, sir.'
'Nothing wrong with 'em, man. Beautifully lined up! Hey? A wall of steel poised to thrust at the black heart of the Klatchian aggressor!'
'Yes, sir. But – and I realize this is a remote chance, sir it might be that while we're thrusting at the heart of the Klatchian aggressor––'
'––black heart–' Rust corrected him. '––black heart of the Klatchian aggressor, sir, the arms of the Klatchian aggressor, those companies there and there, sir, will sweep around in the classic pincer movement.'
'The thrusting wall of steel served us magnificently in the second war with Quirm!'
'We lost that one, sir.'
'But it was a damn dose–run thing!'
'We still lost, sir.'
'What did you do as a civilian, lieutenant?'
'I was a surveyor, sir, and I can read Klatchian. That's why you made me an officer.'
'So you don't know how to fight?'
'Only how to count. sir.'
'Pah! Show a little courage, man. Although I'll wager you won't need to. No stomach for a battle, Johnny Klatchian. Once he tastes our steel, he'll be off!'
'I certainly hear what you say, sir,' said the adjutant, who had been surveying the Klatchian lines and had formed his own opinion about the matter. His opinion was this: the main force of the Klatchian army had, in recent years, been fighting everyone. That suggested, to his uncomplicated mind, that by now the surviving soldiers were the ones who were in the habit of being alive at the end of battles. And were also very experienced at facing all kinds of enemies. The stupid ones were dead. The current Ankh–Morpork army, on the other hand, had never faced an enemy at all, although day–to–day experience of living in the city might count for something there, at least in the rougher areas. He believed, along with General Tacticus, that courage, bravery and the indomitable human spirit were fine things which nevertheless tended to take second place to the
combination of courage, bravery, the indomitable human spirit and a six–to– one superiority of numbers. It had all sounded straightforward in Ankh–Morpork, he thought. We were going to sail into Klatch and be in Al–Khali by teatime, drinking sherbet with pliant young women in the Rhoxi. The Klatchians would take one look at our weapons and run away. Well, the Klatchians had taken a good look this morning. So far they hadn't run. They appeared to be sniggering a lot. Vimes rolled his eyes. It worked... but how did it work? He'd heard plenty of good speakers, and Captain Carrot was not among them. He hesitated, lost the thread, repeated himself and in general made a mess of the whole thing. And yet... And yet... He watched the faces that were watching Carrot. There were the D'regs, and some of the Klatchians who had stayed behind, and Willikins and his reduced company. They were listening. It was a kind of magic. He told people they were good chaps, and they knew they weren't good chaps, but the way he told it made them believe it for a while. Here was someone who thought you were a noble and worthy person, and somehow it would be unthinkable to disappoint them. It was a mirror of a speech, reflecting back to you what you wanted to hear. And he meant it all. Even so, men occasionally glanced up at Vimes and Ahmed and he could see them thinking, in their separate ways, 'It must be all right if they're in on it.' That, he was ashamed to realize, was one of the advantages of armies. People looked to other people for orders. 'This is a trick?' said Ahmed. 'No. He doesn't know any tricks like that,' said Angua. 'He really doesn't. Uh–oh...' There was a scuffle in the ranks. Carrot strode forward and reached down, bringing up Private Bourke and a D'reg, each man held by the collar in one big fist. 'What's going on, you two?'
'He called me the brother of a pig, sir!'
'Liar! You called me a greasy dishcloth–head!' Carrot shook his head. 'And you were both doing so well, too,' he said sadly. 'There really is no call for this. Now I want you, Hashel, and you, Vincent, to shake hands, right? And apologize, yes? We've all had a rather trying time, but I know you're both fine fellows underneath it all–' Vimes heard Ahmed murmur, 'Oh, well, now it's all over...'