Jingo Page 33


'That's us, sir,' said Carrot helpfully. '–because you have stolen an island that is under the sea. But what is that to us? We know no harm of you foreign devils, but the men who oil their beards in Al–Khali we do not like. So we send him back.'

'All of him?' said Vimes. 'We are not barbaric. He was clearly a madman. But we kept his horse.'

'And 71–hour Ahmed told you to keep us, didn't he?' said Vimes.

'No–one orders the D'regs! It is our pleasure to keep you here!'

'And when will it be your pleasure to let us go? When Ahmed tells you? Jabbar stared at the fire. 'I will not speak of him. He is devious and cunning and not to be trusted.'

'But you are D'regs, too.'

'Yes!' Jabbar slapped Vimes on the back again. 'We know what we are talking about!' The Klatchian fishing boat was a mile or two out of harbour when it seemed to its captain that it was suddenly riding better in the water. Perhaps the barnacles have dropped off, he thought. When his boat was lost in the evening mists a length of bent pipe rose slowly out of the swell and squeaked around until it faced the coast. A distant tinny voice said: 'Oh no...' And another tinny voice said: 'What's up, sarge?'

'Take a look through this!'

'OK.' There was a pause. Then the second tinny voice said: 'Oh, bugger...' What was riding at anchor before the city of Al–Khali wasn't a fleet. It was a fleet of fleets. The masts looked like a floating forest. Down below, Lord Vetinari took his turn to peer through the pipe. 'So many ships,' he said. 'In such a short time, too. How very well organized. Very well organized. One might almost say... astonishingly well organized. As they say, “If you would seek war, prepare for war.” '

'I believe, my lord, the saying is “If you would seek peace, prepare for war,” ' Leonard ventured. Vetinari put his head on one side and his lips moved as he repeated the phrase to himself. Finally he said, 'No, no. I just don't see that one at all.' He ducked back into his seat. 'Let us proceed with care,' he said. 'We can go ashore under cover of darkness.'

'Er... can we maybe go ashore under cover of cover?' said Sergeant Colon. 'In fact these extra ships will make our plan that much easier,' said the Patrician, ignoring him. 'Our plan?' said Colon. 'People within the Klatchian hegemony come in every shape and colour.' Vetinari glanced at Nobby. 'Practically every shape and colour,' he added. 'So our appearance on the streets should not cause undue comment.' He glanced at Nobby again. 'To any great extent.'

'But we're wearing our uniforms, sir,' said Sergeant Colon. 'It's not like we can say we're on our way to a fancy–dress party.'

'Well, I'm not taking mine off,' said Nobby firmly. 'I'm not running around in my drawers. Not in a port. Sailors are at sea a long time. You hear stories.'

'That'd be worse,' said the sergeant, without wasting time calculating how long any sailor would need to be at sea before the vision of Nobby Nobbs would present itself as anything other than a target, '

'cos if we're not in uniform, we'll be spies – and you know what happens to spies.'

'Are you going to tell me, sarge?'

'Excuse me, your lordship?' Sergeant Colon raised his voice. The Patrician looked up from a conversation with Leonard. 'Yes, sergeant?'

'What do they do to spies in Klatch, sir?'

'Er... let me see...' said Leonard. 'Oh, yes... I believe they give you to the women.' Nobby brightened up. 'Oh well, that doesn't sound too bad––'

'Er, no, Nobby–' Colon began. '–'cos I've seen the pictures in that book The Perfumed Allotment that Corporal Angua was reading, and–'

'–no, listen, Nobby, you've got the wrong–'

'–I mean, blimey, I didn't know you could do that with a –'

'–Nobby, listen–'

'–and then there's this bit where she–'

'Corporal Nobbs!' Colon yelled. 'Yes, sarge?' Colon leaned forward and whispered in Nobby's ear. The corporal's expression changed, slowly. 'They really–, 'Yes, Nobby.'

'They really–'

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'Yes, Nobby.'

'They don't do that at home.'

'We ain't at home, Nobby. I wish we was.'

'Although you hear stories about the Agony Aunts, sarge.'

'Gentlemen,' said Lord Vetinari. 'I am afraid Leonard is being rather fanciful. That may apply to some of the mountain tribes, but Klatch is an ancient civilization and that sort of thing is not done officially. I should imagine they'd give you a cigarette.'

'A cigarette?' said Fred. 'Yes, sergeant. And a nice sunny wall to stand in front of.' Sergeant Colon examined this for any downside. 'A nice roll–up and a wall to lean against?' he said. 'I think they prefer you to stand up straight, sergeant.'

'Fair enough. No need to be sloppy just because you're a prisoner. Oh, well. I don't mind risking it, then.'

'Well done,' said the Patrician calmly. 'Tell me, sergeant... in your long military career, did anyone ever consider promoting you to an officer?'

'Nossir!'

'I cannot think why.' Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way. Life emerged from the burrows and fissures. Soon, the desert was filled with the buzz and click and screech of creatures which, lacking mankind's superior brainpower, did not concern themselves with finding someone to blame and instead tried to find someone to eat. At around three in the morning Sam Vimes walked out of the tent for a smoke. The cold air hit him like a door. It was freezing. That wasn't what was supposed to happen in deserts, was it? Deserts were all hot sand and camels and... and... he struggled for a while, as a man whose geographical knowledge got severely cramped once you got off paved road... camels, yes, and dates. And possibly bananas and coconuts. But the temperature here made your breath tinkle in the air. He waved his cigar packet theatrically at a D'reg who was lounging near the tent. The man shrugged. The fire was just a heap of grey, but Vimes poked around in the vain hope of finding a glowing ember. He was amazed at how angry he was. Ahmed was the key, he knew it. And now they were stuck out here in the desert, the man had gone, and they were in the hands of... quiet, likeable people, fair enough. Brigands, maybe, the dry land equivalent of pirates, but Carrot would have said they were jolly good chaps for all that. If you were content to be their guest then they were as nice as pie, or sheep's eyeball and treacle or whatever you got out here– Something moved in the moonlight. A shadow slipped down the side of a dune. Something howled, out in the desert night. Tiny hairs rose, all down Vimes's back, just like they had for his distant ancestors. The night is always old. He'd walked too often down dark streets in the secret hours and felt the night stretching away, and known in his blood that while days and kings and empires come and go, the night is always the same age, always aeons deep. Terrors unfolded in the velvet shadows and while the nature of the talons may change, the nature of the beast does not. He stood up quietly, and reached for his sword. It wasn't there. They'd taken it away. They'd not even– 'A fine night,' said a voice beside him. Jabbar was standing by his shoulder. 'Who is out there?' Vimes hissed.

'An enemy.'

'Which one?' Teeth gleamed in the shadows. 'We will find out, offendi.'

'Why would they attack you now?'

'Maybe they think we have something they want, offendi.' More shadows slid across the desert. And one rose up right behind Jabbar, reached down and picked him up. A huge grey hand dragged his sword out of his belt. 'What do you want me to do with him, Mr Vimes?'

'Detritus?' The troll saluted with the hand that still held the D'reg. 'All present and correct, sir!'

'But–' And then Vimes realized. 'It's freezing cold! Your brain's working again?'

'With rather more efficiency, sir.'

'Is this a djinn?' said Jabbar. 'I don't know, but I could certainly do with one,' said Vimes. He finally managed to locate some matches in his pocket, and lit one. 'Put him down, sergeant,' he said, puffing his cigar into life. 'Jabbar, this is Sergeant Detritus. He could break every bone in your body, including some of the small ones in the fingers which are quite hard to do–' The darkness went shwup and something whispered past the back of his neck, just a slice of a second before Jabbar cannoned into him and bore him to the ground. 'They shoot at the light!'

'Mwwf?' Vimes raised his head cautiously and spat out sand and fragments of tobacco. 'Mr Vimes?' Only Carrot could whisper like that. He associated whispering with concealment and untruth and compromised by whispering very loudly. To Vimes's horror the man came round the edge of a tent holding a tiny lamp. 'Put that damn–' But he didn't have time to finish the sentence because, somewhere out in the night, a man screamed. It was a high–pitched scream and was suddenly cut off. 'Ah,' said Carrot, crouching down by Vimes and blowing out the lamp. 'That was Angua.'

'That was nothing like– oh. Yeah, I think I see what you mean,' Vimes said, uneasily. 'She's out there, is she?'

'I heard her earlier. She's probably enjoying herself. She doesn't really get much of a chance to let herself go in Ankh–Morpork.'

'Er... no...' Vimes had a mental picture of a werewolf letting go. But surely, Angua wouldn't– 'You two, uh... you're getting along OK, are you?' he said, trying to make out shapes in the darkness. 'Oh, fine, sir. Fine.' So her turning into a wolf occasionally doesn't worry you? Vimes couldn't bring himself to say it. 'No... problems, then?'

'Oh, not really, sir. She buys her own dog biscuits and she's got her own flap in the door. When it's full moon I don't really get involved.' There were shouts in the night and then a shape erupted from the darkness, streaked past Vimes, and disappeared into a tent. It didn't wait for a door. It simply hit the cloth at full speed and continued until the tent collapsed around it. 'And what is that?' said Jabbar. 'This may take some explaining,' said Vimes, picking himself up. Carrot and Detritus were already hauling at the collapsed tent. 'We are D'regs,' said Jabbar reproachfully. 'We are supposed to fold tents silently in the night, not–' There was enough moonlight. Angua sat up and snatched a piece of tent out of Carrot's hands. 'Thank you,' she said, wrapping it around her. 'And before anyone says anything, I just bit him on the bum. Hard. And that was not the soft option, let me tell you.' Jabbar looked back into the desert, and then down at the sand, and then at Angua. Vimes could see him thinking, and put a fraternal arm around his shoulders. 'I'd better explain–' he began. 'There's a couple of hundred soldiers out there!' Angua snapped. '–later.'

'They're taking up positions all round you! And they don't look nice! Has anyone got any clothes that might fit? And some decent food? And a drink! There's no water in this place!'

'They will not dare attack before dawn,' said Jabbar. 'And what will you do, sir?' said Carrot. 'At dawn we will charge!'

'Ah. Uh. I wonder if I could suggest an alternative approach?'

'Alternative? It is right to charge! Charging is what dawn is for.' Carrot saluted Vimes. 'I've been reading your book, sir. While you were... asleep. Tacticus's got quite a lot to say about how to deal with overwhelming odds, sir.'

'Yes?'

'He says take every opportunity to turn them into underwhelming odds, sir. We could attack now.'

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