Jingo Page 32


'Mr Vimes, I don't think–'

'Do it!' The D'reg looked into his eyes while Carrot hawked his way through the demand. The man was still grinning Vimes couldn't risk shifting his gaze, but he sensed some puzzlement and confusion among the tribesmen. Then, as one man, they charged. A Klatchian fishing boat, whose captain knew which way the wind was blowing, made its way back to the harbour of Al–Khali It seemed to the captain that, despite the favourable wind, he wasn't making quite the speed he should. He put it down to barnacles.

Vimes awoke with a noseful of camel. There are far worse awakenings, but not as many as you might think By turning his head, which took some effort, he ascertained that the camel was sitting down. By the sound of things, it was digesting something explosive. Now, how had he got here... Oh, gods... But it should have worked... It was classic. You threatened to cut off the head and the body just folded up. That was how everyone reacted, wasn't it? That was practically how civilization worked... Put it down to cultural differences, then. On the other hand, he wasn't dead. According to Carrot, knowing the D'regs for five minutes and still being alive at the end of it meant that they really, really liked you. On the other other hand, he'd just given their head man a Handshake, which influenced people without making friends. Well, no sense lying over this saddle bound hand and foot and dying of sunstroke all day. He ought to start being a leader of men again, and would do so just as soon as he could get this camel out of his mouth. 'Bingeley–bingeley beep?'

'Yes?' said Vimes, struggling with his bonds. 'Would you like to know about the appointments you missed?'

'No! I'm hying to get these damn ropes untied!'

'Do you want me to put that on your To Do list?'

'Oh, you've woken up, sir.' It sounded like Carrot's voice and it was the sort of thing he'd say. Vimes tried to turn his head. What he saw was mainly a white sheet, but it then became Carrot's face, upside down. 'They asked if they should untie you but I said you hadn't been getting enough rest lately,' Carrot went on. 'Captain, my arms and legs have gone to sleep . . Vimes began. 'Oh, well done, sir! That's a start, at least.'

'Carrot?'

'Yes, sir?'

'I want you to listen very carefully to the order I am about to give you.'

'Certainly, sir.'

'The point I'm making is that it won't be a request or a suggestion or some sort of hint.'

'Understood, sir.'

'I have, as you know, always encouraged my officers to think for themselves and not blindly obey me, but sometimes in any organization it is necessary for instructions to be followed to the letter and with alacrity.'

'Right, sir.'

'Untie me right now or you'll bloody well live to regret untying me!'

'Er, sir, I believe there is an inadvertent inconsistency in––'

'Carrot!'

'Of course, sir.' His ropes were cut. He slid down onto the sand. The camel turned its head, looked at him with its nostrils for a moment, and then looked away. Vimes managed to sit upright while Carrot busied himself cutting the rest of his bonds. 'Captain, why are you wearing a white sheet?'

'It's a burnous, sir. Very practical for desert wear. The D'regs gave them to us.'

'Us?'

'The rest of us, sir.'

'Everyone's OK?'

'Oh, yes.'

'But they attacked–'

'Yes, sir. But they only wanted to take us prisoner, sir. One of them did accidentally cut Reg's head off, but he did help him sew it on again, so no real harm done there.'

'I thought D'regs didn't take prisoners... ?'

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'Beats me too, sir. But they say if we try to escape they'll cut our feet off, and Reg says he hasn't got enough thread for everyone, sir.' Vimes rubbed his head, Someone had hit him so hard his helmet was dented. 'What went wrong?' he said. 'I had their boss down!'

'As I understand it, sir, the D'regs think that any leader who is stupid enough to be defeated so easily isn't worth following. It's a Klatchian thing.' Vimes tried to persuade himself that there wasn't a hint of sarcasm in Carrot's voice as he went on: 'They're not really very interested in leaders, sir, to tell you the truth. They look on them as a sort of ornament. You know... just someone to shout “Charge!”, sir.'

'A leader has to do other things, Carrot.'

'The D'regs think “Charge!” pretty well covers all of them, sir.' Vimes managed to stand up. Strange muscles twanged in his legs. He tottered forward. 'Here, let me give you a hand…' said Carrot, catching him. The sun was setting. Ragged tents clustered below one of the dunes, and there was the glow of firelight. Someone was laughing. It didn't sound like a prison. But then, thought Vimes, the desert was probably better than bus, He wouldn't even know which way to run, feet or no feet. 'The D'regs, like all Klatchians, are a very hospitable people,' said Carrot, as if he'd memorized this. 'They take hospitality very, very seriously.'

Their captors were sitting round the fire. So were the watchmen. They'd also been persuaded to dress more suitably, which meant that Cheery looked like a girl in her mum's dress, apart from the iron helmet, and Reg Shoe looked like a mummy, and Detritus was a small snowcovered mountain. 'He's gone very... insensible in all this heat,' whispered Carrot. 'And that's Constable Visit over there, arguing religion. There are six hundred and fifty– three religions on the Klatchian continent.'

'He must be having fun.'

'And this is Jabbar,' said Carrot. Exhibit A, who looked like a slightly older version of 71–hour Ahmed, stood up and salaamed to Vimes. 'Offendi,' he said. 'He's their... well, he's like an official wise man,' said Carrot. 'Oh, so he's not the one who tells them to charge?' said Vimes His head buzzed with the heat. 'No, that's the leader,' said Carrot. 'Whenever they have one.'

'So perhaps Jabbar tells them when it's wise to charge?' said Vimes brightly. 'It's always wise to charge, offendi,' said Jabbar. He bowed again. 'My tent is your tent,' he said. 'It is?' said Vimes. 'My wives are your wives.,.' Vimes looked panicky. 'They are? Really?'

'My food is your food...' Jabbar went on. 'Vimes stared down at the dish by the fire. It looked like a sheep or a goat had been the main course. And the man bent down, picked up a morsel and handed it to him. Sam Vimes looked at the mouthful. And it looked back. 'The best part,' said Jabbar, and made appreciative suckling noises. He added something in Klatchian. There was some muffled laughter from the other men around the fire. 'This looks like a sheep's eyeball,' said Vimes, doubtfully. 'Yes, sir,' said Carrot. 'But it is unwise to–'

'You know what?' Vimes went on. 'I think this is a little game called “Let's see what offendi will swallow”. And I'm not swallowing this, my friend.' Jabbar gave him an appraising look. The sniggering stopped. 'Then it is true that you can see further than most,' he said. 'So can this food,' said Vimes. 'My father told me never to eat anything that can wink back.' There was one of those little hanging-by-a-thread moments, which might suddenly rock one way or the other into a gale of laughter or sudden death. Then Jabbar slapped Vimes on the back. The eyeball shot off his palm and into the shadows, 'Well done! Extremely good! First time it have not worked in twenty year! Now sit down and have proper rice and sheep just like mother!'

There was a certain feeling of relaxation. Vimes found himself pulled down. Bottoms shuffled aside to make room for him and a big slab of bread dripping with meat was put in front of him. Vimes prodded at it as politely as he dared, and then took the usual view that, if you can recognize at least half of it, it's probably OK to eat the rest. 'So we're your prisoners, Mr Jabbar?'

'Honoured guests! My tent is–'

'But... how can I put this?... you want us to enjoy your hospitality for some time?'

'We have tradition,' said Jabbar. 'A man who is a guest in your tent, even if he is your worst enemy, you owe him hospitality for tree dace.'

'Tree dace, eh?' said Vimes. 'I learn language on...' Jabbar waved a hand vaguely, 'you know, wooden ting, a camel of the sea–'

'Boat?'

'Right! But too many water!' He slapped Vimes on the back again, so that hot fat spilled into his lap. 'Any road up, lots speaking Morporkian these dace, offendi. It is language of... merchant.' He put an inflection on the word that suggested it was the same as 'earthworm'. 'So you have to know how to say things like “Give us all your money”?' said Vimes. 'Why ask?' said Jabbar. 'We take it anyway. But now...' he spat at the fire with amazing accuracy '... they say, we got to stop, this is wrong. What harm do we do?'

'Apart from killing people and taking all their merchandise?' said Vimes. Jabbar laughed again. 'Wali said you were a big diplomatic! But we don't kill merchants, why should we kill merchants? What is the sense? How foolish to be killing gift horse that lays the golden egg!'

'You could make money exhibiting it, certainly,' said Vimes. 'We kill merchants, we rob too much, they never come back. Dumb. We let them go, they get rich again, our sons rob them. Such is wisdom.'

'Ah... it's a sort of agriculture,' said Vimes. 'Right! But if you plant merchants, they don't grow so good.' Vimes realized that it was getting colder as the sun went down. In fact, a lot colder. He inched closer to the fire. 'Why is he called 71–hour Ahmed?' he said. The murmur of conversation stopped. Suddenly all eyes were on Jabbar, except the one that had ended up in the shadows. 'Not so diplomatic,' said Jabbar. 'We chase him up here, then suddenly we're ambushed by you. That seems–'

'I know nothing,' said Jabbar. 'Why won't you–?' Vimes began.

'Er, sir,' said Carrot urgently. 'That would be very unwise, sir. Look, I had a bit of a talk with Jabbar while you were... resting. It's a bit political, I'm afraid.'

'What isn't?'

'Prince Cadram is trying to unite the whole of Klatch, you see.'

'Dragging it kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat?'

'Why, yes, sir, how did–?'

'Just a lucky guess. Go on.'

'But he has been having trouble,' said Carrot. 'What kind?' said Vimes. 'Us,' said Jabbar proudly. 'None of the tribes like the idea, sir,' Carrot went on. 'They've always fought among themselves, and now most of them are fighting him. Historically, sir, Klatch isn't so much an empire as an argument.' ,He say, you must be educated. You must be learning to pay taxes. We do not wish to be educated about taxes,' said Jabbar. 'So you think you're fighting for your freedom?' said Vimes. Jabbar hesitated, and looked at Carrot. There was a brief exchange in Klatchian. Then Carrot said: 'That's a rather difficult question for a D'reg, sir. You see, their word for “freedom” is the same as their word for “fighting”.'

'They certainly make their language do a lot of work, don't they... ?' Vimes was feeling better in the caller air. He took out a crushed and damp packet of cigars, pulled a coal out of the fire, and took a deep drag. 'So... Prince Charming's got a lot of troubles at home, has he? Does Vetinari know this?'

'Does a camel shit in the desert, sir?'

'You're really getting the hang of Klatch, aren't you?' said Vimes. Jabbar rumbled something. There was more laughter. 'Er... Jabbar says a camel certainly does shit in the desert, sir, otherwise you wouldn't have anything to light your cigar with, sir.' Once again, there was one of those moments when Vimes felt that he was under close scrutiny. Be diplomatic, Vetinari had told him. He took another deep draw. 'Improves the flavour,' he said. 'Remind me to take some home.' In Jabbar's eyes, the judges held up at least a couple of grudging eights. 'A man on a horse came and said we must fight the foreign dogs–'

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