Jingo Page 30


'Cor, you know everything, sarge,' said Nobby admiringly. 'That's what hieroglyphs are, is it? So, if we go any deeper, they'll be loweroglyphs?' There was something slightly off–putting about Nobby's grin. Sergeant Colon decided to go for broke. 'Don't be daft, Nobby. “Loweroglphys if you go lower...” Oh my me.'

'Sorry, sarge. 'Everyone knows you don't get loweroglyphs in these waters.' A couple of Curious Squid peered at them, curiously. Jenkins's ship was a floating wreck. Several sails were in tatters. Rigging and other string that Vimes refused to learn the nautical names for covered the deck and trailed in the water. Such sail as remained was moving them along in the brisk breeze. Atop the mast the lookout cupped his hands around his mouth and leaned down. 'Land ahoy!'

'Even I can see that,' said Vimes. 'Why does he have to shout?'

'It's lucky,' said Jenkins. He squinted into the haze. 'But your friend ain't heading for Gebra. Wonder where he's going?' Vimes stared at the pale yellow mass on the horizon, and then up at Carrot. 'We'll get her back, don't worry,' he said.

'I wasn't actually worrying, sir. Although I am very concerned,' said Carrot. 'Er... right...'Vimes waved his arms helplessly, 'Er... everyone fit and well? The men in good heart, are they?'

'It would help morale no end if you were to say a few words, sir.' The monstrous regiment of watchmen had lined up on the deck, blinking in the sunshine. Oh, dear. Round up the unusual suspects. One dwarf, one human who was brought up as a dwarf and thinks like a manual of etiquette, one zombie, one troll, me and, oh no, one religious fanatic– Constable Visit saluted. 'Permission to speak, sir.'

'Go ahead,' mumbled Vimes. 'I'm pleased to tell you, sir, that our mission is clearly divinely approved of, sir. I refer to the rain of sardines which sustained us in our extremity, sir.'

'We were a little hungry, I wouldn't say we were in extremi–'

'With respect, sir,' said Constable Visit firmly, 'the pattern is firmly established, sir. Yes, indeed. The Sykoolites when being pursued in the wilderness by the forces of Offlerian Mitolites, sir, were sustained by a rain of celestial biscuits, sir. Chocolate ones, sir.'

'Perfectly normal phenomenon,' muttered Constable Shoe. 'Probably swept up by the wind passing a baker's shop–' Visit glared at him, and went on: 'And the Murmurians, when driven into the mountains by the tribes of Miskmik, would not have survived but for a magical rain of elephants, sir–'

'Elephants?'

'Well, one elephant, sir,' Visit conceded. 'But it splashed.'

'Perfectly normal phenomenon,' said Constable Shoe. 'Probably an elephant was picked up by a freak–'

'And when they were thirsty in the desert, sir, the Four Tribes of Khanli were succoured by a sudden and supernatural rain of rain, sir.'

'A rain of rain?' said Vimes, almost mesmerized by Visit's absolute conviction. 'Perfectly normal phenomenon,' sneered Reg Shoe. 'Probably water was evaporated from the ocean, was blown through the sky, condensed around nuclei when it ran into cold air, and precipitated...' He stopped, and continued irritably, 'Anyway, I don't believe it.'

'So... which particular deity is on our case?' said Vimes, hopefully. 'I shall definitely inform you as soon as I have ascertained this, sir.'

'Er... very good, constable.' Vimes took a step back. 'I don't pretend this is going to be easy, men,' he said. 'But our mission is to catch up with Angua and this bastard Ahmed and shake the truth out of him. Unfortunately, this means we will be following him through his own country, with which we are at war. This is bound to put a few barriers in our way. But we should not let the prospect of being tortured to death dismay us, eh?'

'Fortune favours the brave, sir,' said Carrot cheerfully. 'Good. Good. Pleased to hear it, captain. What is her position vis a vis heavily armed, well prepared and excessively manned armies?'

'Oh, no–one's ever heard of Fortune favouring them, sir.'

'According to General Tacticus, it's because they favour themselves,' said Vimes. He opened the battered book. Bits of paper and string indicated his many bookmarks. 'In fact, men, the general has this to say about ensuring against defeat when outnumbered, out–weaponed and outpositioned. It is...' he turned the page, ' “Don't Have a Battle.” '

'Sounds like a clever man,' said Jenkins. He pointed to the yellow horizon. 'See all that stuff in the air?' he said. 'What do you think that is?'

'Mist?' said Vimes. 'Hah, yes. Klatchian mist! It's a sandstorm! The sand blows about all the time. Vicious stuff. If you want to sharpen your sword, just hold it up in the air.'

'Oh.'

'And it's just as well because otherwise you'd see Mount Gebra. And below it is what they call the Fist of Gebra. It's a town but there's a bloody great fort, walls thirty feet thick. 's like a big city all by itself. 's got room inside for thousands of armed men, war elephants, battle camels, everything. And if you saw that, you'd want me to turn round right now. Whats your famous general got to say about it, eh?'

'I think I saw something...' said Vimes. He flicked to another page. 'Ah, yes, he says, “After the first battle of Sto Lat, I formulated a policy which has stood me in good stead in other battles. It is this: if the enemy has an impregnable stronghold, see he stays there.” 'That's a lot of help,' said Jenkins. Vimes slipped the book into a pocket. 'So, Constable Visit, there's a god on our side, is there?'

'Certainly, sir.'

--- Read books free online at novel68.com ---


'But probably also a god on their side as well?'

'Very likely, sir. There's a god on every side.'

'Let's hope they balance out, then.' The Klatchian ship's boat hit the water with the gentlest of splashes. This was because 71–hour Ahmed was standing by the winches with his sword at the ready, which had the effect of making the men lowering the boat take some trouble over their task. 'When we are away you may take the ship into Gebra,' he said to the captain. The captain trembled. 'What shall I tell them, wali?'

'Tell them the truth... eventually. The commander of the garrison is a man of no breeding and will torture you a little bit. Save up the truth until you need it. That will make him happy. It will help you to say that I forced you.'

'Oh, I will. I will... tell that lie,' the captain added quickly. Ahmed nodded, slid down the rope into the boat and set it adrift The crew watched him row through the surf. This wasn't a nice beach. It was a wrecking coast. Ribcages of broken ships crumbled into the sand. Bones and driftwood and bleached white seaweed mounded along the high tide line. And beyond, the dunes of the real desert rose. Even down here sand stung the eyes and gritted the teeth. 'There's sudden death on that beach,' said the first mate, looking over the rail and trying to blink his eyes clear. 'Yes,' said the captain. 'Hes just got out of the boat.' The figure on the beach pulled the other, recumbent figure out of the boat and dragged him out of reach of the waves. The mate raised his bow. 'I could kill him from here, master. Just say the word.'

'How sure are you? Because you'd better be really sure. First, if you miss him you're dead and, second, if you hit him, you're still dead. Look up there.' On the high distant dunes, dark against the sandfilled sky, there were mounted figures. The mate dropped his bow. 'How did they know we were here?'

'Oh, they watch the sea,' said the captain. 'D'regs like a good shipwreck as much as anyone else. More, in fact. A lot more.' As they turned away from the rail, something leapt from the hull and entered the water with barely a splash. Detritus tried to lurk in the shade, but there was not a lot of it about. The heat came off the high desert ahead of them like a blowtorch. 'I'm gonna get fick,' he muttered. There was a shout from the lookout. 'He says someone's climbing the dunes,' said Carrot. 'Carrying someone else, he says.'

'Er... female?'

'Look, sir, I know Angua. She's not the useless type. She doesn't stand there and scream helplessly. She makes other people do that.'

'Well... if you're sure...' Vimes turned to Jenkins. 'Don't bother to chase the ship, captain. Just keep heading for the shore.'

'I don't work like that, mister. For one thing, that' s a damn difficult shore, the wind's always against you, and there's some very nasty currents. Many an incautious sailorman has left his bones to bleach on those sands. No, we'll stand out a little way and you can lower the– well, if we had a boat any more, you could lower it... and we'll drop the anchor, oh, no, tell a he, it turned out to be too heavy, didn't it–'

'You just keep straight on,' said Vimes. 'We'll all be killed.'

'Think of it as the lesser of two evils.'

'What's the other one?'

Vimes drew his sword. 'Me.' The Boat squeaked through the mysterious depths of the ocean. Leonard spent a lot of time looking out of the tiny windows, particularly interested in pieces of seaweed which, to Sergeant Colon, looked like pieces of seaweed. 'Do you note the fine strands of Dropley's Etoliated Bladderwrack?' said Leonard. 'That's the brown stuff. A marvellous growth which, of course, you will see as significant.'

'Could we just assume for the moment that I have neglected my seaweed studies in recent years?' said the Patrician. 'Really? Oh, the loss is entirely yours, I assure you. The point is, of course, that the Etoliated Bladderwrack is never usually found growing above thirty fathoms, and it's only ten here.'

'Ah.' The Patrician flicked through a stack of Leonard's drawings. 'And the hieroglyphs – an alphabet of signs and colours. Colours as a language… what a fascinating idea...'

'An emotional intensifier,' said Leonard. 'But of course we ourselves use something like it. Red for danger and so on. I never did succeed in translating it, though.'

'Colours as a language…' murmured Lord Vetinari. Sergeant Colon cleared his throat. 'I know something about seaweed, sir.'

'Yes, sergeant?'

'Yessir! If it's wet, sir, it means it's going to rain.'

'Well done, sergeant,' said Lord Vetinari, without turning his head. 'I think it is quite possible that I will never forget you said that.' Sergeant Colon beamed. He had Made A Contribution. Nobby nudged him. 'What're we doing down here, sarge? I mean, what's it all about? Poking around, looking at weird marks on the rocks, going in and out of caves.. . and the smell... well.. 'It's not me,' said Sergeant Colon. 'Smells like... sulphur...' Little bubbles streamed past the window. 'It stunk up on the surface, too,' Nobby went on. 'Nearly finished, gentlemen,' said Lord Vetinari, putting the papers aside. 'One last little venture and then we can surface. Very well, Leonard... take us underneath.'

'Er... aren't we underneath already, sir?' said Colon. 'Only underneath the sea, sergeant.'

'Ah. Right.' Colon gave this due consideration. 'Is there anything else to be under, then, sir?'

'Yes, sergeant. Now we're going under the land.'

The beach was a lot closer now. The watchmen couldn't help noticing that the sailors were all hurrying to the blunt end of the ship and hanging on to any small, lightweight and above all buoyant objects they could find. 'This seems close enough,' said Vimes. 'Right. Stop here.'

'Stop here? How?'

'Don't ask me, I'm no sailor. Aren't there some sort of brakes?' Jenkins stared at him. 'You – you landlubber!'

'I thought you never used the word!'

'I never met one like you before! You even think we call the bows the sharp en–' It was, the crew agreed later, one of the strangest landings in the history of bad seamanship. The shelving of the beach must have been right and the tide as well, because the ship did not so much hit the beach as sail up it, rising out of the water as the keel de–barnacled itself on the sand. Finally the forces of wind, water, impetus and friction all met at the point marked 'fall over slowly'. It did so, earning the title of 'world's most laughable shipwreck'. 'Well, that might have been worse,' said Vimes, when the splintering noises had died away. He eased himself out of a tangle of canvas and adjusted his helmet with as much aplomb as he could muster. He heard a groan from the lopsided hold. 'Is dat you, Cheery?'

Prev Next