Jingo Page 28


'I reckon they're slowing down, I said!'

'Good.'

'So what're you going to do when we catch them?'

'Er. ..'Vimes hadnt given this a lot of thought. But he recalled a very bad woodcut he'd once seen in a book about pirates. 'We'll swing across on to them with our cutlasses in our teeth?' he said. 'Really?' said Jenkins. 'That's good. I haven't seen that done in years. Only ever seen it done once, in fact.'

'Oh, yes?'

'Yes, this lad'd seen the idea in a book and he swung across into the other ship's rigging with his cutlass clenched, as you say, between his teeth.'

'Yes?'

'Topless Harry, we wrote on his coffin.'

'Oh.'

'I don't know if you've ever seen a soft–boiled egg after you've picked up your knife and sli–'

'All right, I see the point. What do you suggest?'

'Grapnels. You can't beat grapnels. Catch 'em on the other ship and just pull 'em towards you.'

'And you've got grapnels?'

'Oh, yes. Saw some only today, in fact.'

'Good. Then–'

'As I recall,' Jenkins went on relentlessly, 'it was when your Sergeant Detritus was chucking stuff over the side and he said, “What shall we do with dese bendy, hooky things, sir?” and someone, can't recall his name just at this minute, said, “They're dead weight, throw them over.”'

'Why didn't you say something?'

'Oh, well, I didn't like to,' said Jenkins. 'You were doing so well.'

'Don't mess me about, captain. Otherwise I'll clap you in irons.'

'No, you ain't going to do that, and I'll tell you why. First, 'cos when Captain Carrot said, “These chains, sir, what shall I do with them?” you said–'

'Now, you listen to–'

'–and, second, I don't reckon you know anything about ships, oh deary me. We don't clap people in irons, we put them in chains. Do you know how to splice the mainbrace? 'Cos I don't. All that yohoho stuff's for landlubbers, or it would be if we ever used words like landlubber. Do you know the difference between port and starboard? I don't. I've never even drunk starboard. Shiver my timber!'

'Isn't it “shiver my timbers”?'

'I've been ill.' Captain Jenkins spun the wheel. 'Also, this is a frisky wind and me and my crew know how to pull the strings that make the big square canvas things work properly. If your men tried it you'd soon find out how far it is to land.'

'How far is it to land?'

'About thirty fathoms, hereabouts.'

The light was noticeably nearer. 'Bingeley–bingeley beep!'

'Good grief, what now?' said Vimes. 'Eight pee em. Er... Narrowly Escape Assassination by Klatchian Spy?' Vimes went cold. 'Where?' he said, looking around wildly. 'Corner of Brewer Street and Broadway,' said the little sing–song voice. 'But I'm not there!'

'What's the point of having appointments, then? What's the point of my making an effort? You told me you wanted to know what you ought to–'

'Listen, you don't have an appointment for being assassinated!' The demon went silent for a moment, and then said: 'You mean it should be on your To Do list?' Its voice was trembling. 'You mean like: “To Do: Die”?'

'Look, it's no good taking it out on me just because you're not on the right time line!'

'What the hell does that mean?'

'Aha, I knew you didn't read the manual! Chapter xvii–2(c) makes it very clear that sticking to one reality is vitally important, otherwise the Uncertainty Principle says–'

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'Forget I asked, all right?' Vimes glared at Jenkins and at the distant ship. 'We'll do this my way, wherever the hell we are,' he said. He strode to the hold and pulled aside a hatchway. 'Detritus?' The Klatchian sailors struggled with the canvas while their captain screamed at them. 71–hour Ahmed didn't scream. He just stood with his sword in his hand, watching. The captain hurried over to him, trembling with fear and holding a length of rope. 'See, wali?' he said. 'Someone cut it!'

'Who would do that?' said 71–hour Ahmed quietly. 'I do not know, but when I find him–'

'The dogs are almost on us,' said Ahmed. 'You and your men will work faster.'

'Who could have done such a thing?' said the captain. 'You were here, how could they–?' His gaze flickered from the cut rope to the sword. 'Was there something you wished to say?' said Ahmed. The captain hadn't got where he was by being stupid. He spun round. 'Get that sail up right now, you festering sons of bitches!' he screamed. 'Good,' said 71–hour Ahmed.

Detritus's crossbow was originally a three–man, siege weapon, but he had removed the windlass as an unnecessary encumbrance. He cocked it by hand. Usually the mere sight of the troll pulling the string back with one finger was enough to make the strongwilled surrender. He looked doubtfully at the distant light. 'It a million–to–one chance,' he said. 'Got to be closer'n this.'

'Just hit it below the waterline so they can't cut the rope" said Vimes. 'Right. Right.'

'What's the problem, sergeant?'

'We headin' for Klatch, right?'

'Well, in that direction, yes.'

'Only... I'm gonna be really stoopid in Klatch, 'cos a der heat, right?'

'I hope we're going to stop them before we get there, Detritus.'

'I ain't keen on bein' stoopid. I know people say, that troll Detritus, he ficker than a, than a–'

'–brick sandwich–' said Vimes, staring at the light. 'Right. Only I hearin' it get really, really hot in der desert...' The troll looked so mournful that Vimes felt moved to give him a cheerful slap on the back. 'Then let's stop them now, eh?' he said, shaking his hand hurriedly to stop the stinging. The other ship was so close they could see the sailors working feverishly on the deck. The mainsail billowed in the lamplight. Detritus raised the bow. A ball of blue–green light glowed on the tip of the arrow. The troll stared at it. Then green fire ran down the masts and, when it hit the deck, burst into dozens of green balls that rolled, cracking and spitting, over the planks. 'Dey're usin' magic?' said Detritus. A green flame spluttered–over his helmet. 'What is this, Jenkins?' said Vimes. 'It ain't magic, it's worse'n magic,' said the captain, hurrying forward. 'All right, lads, get those sails down right now!'

'You leave them where they are!' shouted Vimes. 'You know what this is?'

'It dun't even feel warm,' said Detritus, poking the flame on the crossbow. 'Don't touch it! Don't touch it! That's St Ungulant's Fire, that is! It means we're going to die in a dreadful storm!' Vimes looked up. Clouds were racing across––No, they were pouring into the sky in great twisting billows, like ink streaming into water. Blue light flashed somewhere inside them. The ship lurched. 'Look, we got to lose some sail!' shouted Jenkins. 'That's the only way–'

'No–one touches anything!' shouted Vimes. Green fire skimmed along the tops of the waves now. 'Detritus, arrest any man who touches anything!'

'Right.'

'We want to go fast, after all,' Vimes said, above the hissing and the distant crackle of thunder. Jenkins gawped at him as the ship lunged beneath them. 'You're mad! Have you any idea what happens to a ship that tries to– You haven't got any idea, have you? This ain't normal weather! You have to ride it out careful! You can't try to run ahead of it!' Something slippery landed on Detritus's head and bounced onto the deck, where it tried to slither away. 'And now it's raining fish!' Jenkins moaned. The clouds formed a yellow haze, lit almost constantly by the lightning. And it was warm. That was the strangest thing. The wind howled like a sack full of cats and the waves were turning into walls on either side of the ship, but the air felt like an oven. 'Look, even the Klatchians are reducing sail!' shouted Jenkins, in a shower of shrimp. 'Good. We'll catch them up.'

'Mad! Ouch!' Something hard rebounded from his hat, hit the rail and rolled to a stop by Vimes's feet. It was a brass knob. 'Oh, no,' moaned Jenkins, putting his arms over his head. 'Now it's bloody bedsteads again!' The captain of the Klatchian ship was not an argumentative man when he was anywhere near 71–hour Ahmed. He just looked at the straining sails and calculated his chances of Paradise. 'Perhaps the dog who cut the sail loose did us a favour!' he shouted, above the roar of the wind. Ahmed said nothing. He kept looking back. The occasional burst of electric storm light showed the ship behind, aflame with green light. Then he looked at the cold fire streaming behind their own masts. 'Can you see that light on the edge of the flames?' he said. 'My lord?'

'Can you, man?'

'Er... no...'

'Of course you can't! But can you see where the light isn't?' The captain stared at him and then looked up again in terrified obedience. And there was somewhere where the light wasn't. As the fizzing green tongues waved in the wind they seemed to be edged with... blackness, perhaps, or a moving hole in space.

'That's octarine!' shouted Ahmed, as another wave sloshed over the deck. 'Only wizards can see it! There's magic in these storms! That's why the weather is so bad!' The ship screamed in every joint as it hit the waves again. 'We're coming right out of the water!' wept Jenkins. 'We're just going from crest to crest!'

'Good! It won't be so bumpy!' shouted Vimes. 'We should pick up speed again now we've got those bedsteads over the side! Does it often rain bedsteads out here?'

'What do you think?'

'I'm not a nautical man!'

'No, rains of bedsteads are not an everyday occurrence! Nor are coal scuttles!' Jenkins added, as something black crashed off a rail and over the side. 'We just get the normal stuff, you know! Rain! Snow! Sleet! Fish!' Another squall blew across the bounding boat and the deck was suddenly covered with flashing silver. 'Back to fish!' shouted Vimes. 'That's better, surely?'

'No! It's worse!'

'Why!' Jenkins held up a tin. 'These are sardines!' The ship thumped into another wave, groaned, and took flight again. The cold green fire was everywhere. Every nail of the deck sprouted its flame, every rope and ladder had its green outline. And the feeling crept over Vimes that it was holding the ship together. He wasn't at all sure that it was just light. It moved too purposefully. It crackled, but it didn't sting. It looked as though it was having fun The ship landed. Water washed over Vimes. 'Captain Jenkins!'

'Yes?'

'Why're we playing with this wheel? It's not as if the rudder's in the water!' They let go. The spokes blurred for a moment, and then stopped as the fire wrapped itself around them. Then it rained cake. The Watch had tried to make themselves comfortable in the hold, but there were difficulties. There wasn't any area of floor which at some point in every ten seconds wasn't an area of wall. Nevertheless, someone was snoring. 'How can anyone sleep in this?' said Reg Shoe. 'Captain Carrot can,' said Cheery. She was hacking at something with her axe.

Carrot had wedged himself into a corner. Occasionally he mumbled something, and shifted position. 'Like a baby. Beats me how he's managing it,' said Reg Shoe. 'Of course, any minute this thing is going to fall apart.'

'Yes, but dat shouldn't worry you, should it?' said Detritus. 'On account of you bein' dead already?'

'So? I end up at the bottom of the sea knee–deep in whale droppings? And it'll be a long walk home in the dark. Not to mention the problems if a shark tries to eat me.'

'I shall fear not. According to the Testament of Mezerek, the fishermen Nonpo spent four days in the belly of a giant fish,' said Constable Visit. The thunder seemed particularly loud in the silence. 'Washpot, are we talking miracles here?' said Reg eventually. 'Or just a very slow digestive process?'

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