'Damned if we will!' screamed Lord Rust. 'Right! And have everyone know we've been beaten?' said Vimes. 'Outwitted?' He looked at the Prince, whose gaze was hunting from man to man, but occasionally staring at nothing, as if he was watching some inner vision. 'A quarter of a million is not enough,' the Prince said. Lord Vetinari shrugged. 'We can discuss it.'
'There is much that I need to buy.'
'Things of a sharp metallic nature, no doubt,' said Vetinari. 'Of course, if we are talking about goods rather than money, there is room for... flexibility.. .' And now we're going to arm him too, Vimes thought. 'You'll be out of the city in a week!' Rust screamed. Vimes thought the general smiled briefly. Ankh–Morpork without Vetinaro... ruled by people like Rust. His future was looking bright indeed. 'The surrender will need to be ratified and formally witnessed, however,' said Ashal. 'May I suggest Ankh–Morpork?' said Lord Vetinari. 'No. On neutral territory, of course,' said the general. 'But where, between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, is there such a thing?' said Vetinari. 'I suppose... there is Leshp,' said the general thoughtfully. 'What a good idea,' said the Patrician. 'That would not have occurred to me.'
'The place is ours anyway!' snapped the Prince. 'Will be, sire. Will be,' said the general soothingly. 'We will take possession. Quite legally. While the world watches.'
'And that's it? What about my arrest?' said Vimes. 'I'm not going to–'
'These are matters of state,' said Vetinari. 'And there are... diplomatic considerations. I am afraid the good ordering of international affairs cannot hinge upon your concerns over the doings of one man.' Once again Vimes felt that the words he was hearing were not the words that were being said. 'I won't–' he began. 'There are larger issues here.'
'Sterling work, nevertheless.'
'There are big crimes and little crimes, is that it?' said Vimes. 'Why don't you take some well–earned rest, Sir Samuel? You are,' Vetinari flashed one of his lightning–fast smiles, 'a man of action. You deal in swords, and chases, and facts. Now, alas, it is the time for the men of words, who deal in promises and mistrust and opinions. For you the war is over. Enjoy the sunshine. I trust we shall all be returning home shortly. I would like you to stay, Lord Rust.. .' Vimes realized that he'd been switched off. He spun round and marched out of the tent. Ahmed followed him. 'That's your master, is it?'
'No! He's just the man who pays my wages!'
'Often hard to know the difference,' said Ahmed sympathetically. Vimes sat down on the sand. He wasn't certain how he'd been managing to stand up. There was some kind of a future now. He hadn't the faintest idea what was in it, but there was one. There hadn't been one five minutes ago. He wanted to talk now. That way, he didn't have to think about the Dis–organizer's death roll. It had sounded so... accurate... 'What's going to happen to you?' he said, to drive the thought out of his mind. 'When this is over, I mean. Your boss isn't going to be pleased with you.'
'Oh, the desert can swallow me.'
'He'll send people after you. He looks the type.'
'The desert will swallow them.'
'It shouldn't have to be like this!' Vimes shouted, at the sky in general. 'You know? Sometimes I dream that we could deal with the big crimes, that we could make a law for countries and not just for people, and people like him would have–' Ahmed pulled him upright and patted him on the shoulder. 'I know how it is,' he said. 'I dream too.'
'Yes. Generally of fish.' There was a roar from the crowd. 'Someone's scored a convincing foul, by the sound of it,' said Vimes. They slid and staggered up the side of a dune, and watched. Someone broke from the scrum and, punching and kicking, staggered towards the Klatchian goal. 'Isn't that man your butler?' said Ahmed. 'Yes.'
'One of your soldiers said he bit a man's nose off.' Vimes shrugged. 'He's got a very pointed look if I don't use the sugar tongs, I know that.' A white figure marched authoritatively through the mill of players, blowing a whistle. 'And that man, I believe, is your king.'
'Really? Then I am Queen Punjitrurn of Sumtri.'
'Carrot's a copper, same as me.'
'A man like that could inspire a handful of broken men to conquer a country.'
'Fine. just so long as he does it on his day off.'
'And he too takes orders from you? You are a remarkable man, Sir Samuel. But you would not, I think, have killed the Prince.'
'No. But you'd have killed me if I had.'
'Oh, yes. Flagrant murder in front of witnesses. I am, after all, a copper.' They'd reached the camels. One looked round as Ahmed prepared to mount, thought better of spitting at him, and hit Vimes instead. With great precision. Ahmed looked back at the footballers. 'Up in Klatchistan the nomads play a game very similar to that,' he said. 'But on horseback. The aim is to get the object round the goal.'
'Probably best just to think of it as an “object” Sir Samuel. And now, I think, I shall head that way. There are thieves in the mountains. The air is clear up there. As you know, there is always work for policemen.'
'You thinking of returning to Ankh–Morpork at any time?'
'You'd like to see me there, Sir Samuel?'
'It's an open city. But be sure to call in at Pseudopolis Yard when you arrive.'
'Ah, and we can reminisce about old times.'
'No. So you can hand over that sword. We'd give you a receipt and you can pick it up when you leave.'
'I'd take some persuading, Sir Samuel.'
'Oh, I think Id only ask once.'
Ahmed laughed, nodded at Vimes and rode away. For a few minutes he was a shape at the base of a column of dust, and then a shifting dot in the heat haze, and then the desert swallowed him. The day wore on. Various Klatchian officials and some of the Ankh– Morpork people were summoned to the tent. Vimes wandered close to it a few times and heard the sound of voices raised in dispute. Meanwhile, the armies dug in. Someone had already erected a crude signpost, its arms pointing to various soldiers' homes. Since these were all in part of AnkhMorpork the arms all pointed exactly the same way. He found most of the Watch sitting out of the wind, while a wizened Klatchian woman cooked quite a complicated meal over a small fire. They all seemed to be fully alive, with the usual slight question the case of Reg Shoe. 'Where've you been, Sergeant Colon?' said Vimes. 'Been sworn to secrecy about that, sir. By his lordship. 'Right.' Vimes didn't press the point. Getting information out of Colon was like getting water out of a flannel. It could wait. 'And Nobby?'
'Right here, sir!' The wizened woman saluted in a clash of bangles. 'That's you?'
'Yessir! Doing the dirty work as per the woman's role in life, sir, despite the fact that there is less senior watchmen present, sir!'
'Now then, Nobby,' said Colon. 'Cheery can't cook, we can't let Reg do it because bits fall into the pan, and Angua–'
'–doesn't do cookery,' said Angua. She was lying back on a rock with her eyes dosed. The rock was the slumbering shape of Detritus. 'Anyway, you just started doing the cooking like you was expecting to have to do it,' said Colon. 'Kebab, sir?' said Nobby. 'There's plenty.'
'You certainly got a lot of food from somewhere,' said Vimes. 'Klatchian quartermaster, sir,' said Nobby, grinning beneath his veil. 'Used my sexual wiles on him, sir.' Vimes's kebab stopped halfway to his mouth and dripped lamb fat onto his legs. He saw Angua's eyes slam open and stare in horror at the sky. 'I told him I'd take my clothes off and scream if he didn't give me some grub, sir.'
'That'd scare the daylights out of me, sure enough,' said Vimes. He saw Angua breathe out again. 'Yeah, I reckon if I played my cards right I could be one of them fatal femmies,' said Nobby. 'I've only got to wink at a man and he runs a mile. Could be useful, that.'
'I told him he could change back into his uniform, but he says he feels more comfortable like this,' whispered Colon to Vimes. 'I'm getting a bit worried, to tell you the truth.' I can't handle this, Vimes thought. This isn't in the book of rules. 'Er... how can I explain this... ?' he began. 'I don't want any of them in–you–endoes,' said Nobby. 'It's a good idea to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, that's all I'm saying.'
'Well, so long as it's just sh–'
'I've just been gettin' in touch with my softer side, all right? Seein' the other man's point of view, sort of thing, even if he's a woman.' He looked at their faces and waved his hands vaguely. 'All right, all right, I'll put my uniform on after I've tidied up around the camp. Will that make you all happy?'
'Something smells nice!' Carrot ran up, bouncing his football. He'd stripped to his waist. The whistle bounced on its string around his neck. 'I've declared half–time,' he said, sitting down. 'So I've sent some of the lads into Gebra to get four thousand oranges. Shortly the combined Ankh– Morpork regimental bands will put on a display of counter–marching while playing a selection of military favourites.'
'Have they practised counter–marching?' said Angua. 'I don't think so.'
'Should be good, then.'
'Carrot,' said Vimes, 'I don't wish to pry, but how, in the middle of a desert, did you find a football?' And the voice in the back of his mind insisted: you heard him die, you heard them all die.. . somewhere else. 'Oh, these days I carry a deflated one in my pack, sir. A very pacifying object, a football. Are you all right, sir?'
'Eh? What? Oh. Yes. Just a bit... tired. So who's winning?' Vimes patted his pockets, and found his last cigar. 'It's broadly speaking a tie, sir. I had to send four hundred and seventy– three men off, though. Klatch is now well ahead on fouls, I'm sorry to say.'
'Sport as a substitute for war, eh?' said Vimes. He rootled in the ashes of Nobby's fire and pulled out a halfconsumed... well, it helped to think of it as a desert coal. Carrot gave him a solemn look– 'Yes, sir. No–one's using weapons. And have you noticed how the Klatchian army is getting smaller? Some of the chiefs from distant parts are taking their men away. They say there's no point in staying if there's not going to be a war. I don't think they really wanted to be here in any case, to tell you the truth. And I don't think it's going to be easy to get them to come back–' There was shouting behind them. Men were coming out of the tent, arguing. Lord Rust was among them. He looked around, talking to his companions. Then he spotted Vimes and rocketed furiously towards him.
'Vimes!' Vimes looked up, hand halfway to his cigar. 'We would have won, you know,' growled Rust. 'We would have won! But we were betrayed on the brink of success!' Vimes stared at him. 'And it's your fault, Vimes! We'll be the laughing stock of Klatch! You know the value these people put on face, and we won't have any! Vetinari is finished! And so are you! And so is your stupid, mongrel, cowardly Watch! What do you say to that, Vimes? Eh?' The watchmen sat like statues, waiting for Vimes to say something. Or even move. 'Eh? Vimes?' Rust sniffed. 'What's that smell?' Vimes slowly shifted his gaze to his fingers. Smoke was rising. There was a faint sizzling. He stood up and brought his fingers up in front of Rust's face. 'Take it,' he said. 'That's... just some trick...'
'Take it,' said Vimes. Mesmerized, Rust licked his fingers and gingerly took the ember. 'It doesn't hurt–'
'Yes, it does,' said Vimes. 'In fact it– Aargh!' Rust jumped back, dropped the ember and sucked his blistered fingers. 'The trick is not to mind that it hurts,' said Vimes. 'Now go away.'