Jingo Page 35

'I suppose we had the right clothes on...'

'You didn't even tell them where we came from! And they spoke our language!'

'Well, they... I mean... anyone ought to be able to speak Morporkian,' said Colon, gradually regaining his mental balance. 'Even babies learn it. I bet it comes easy after learning somethin' as complicated as Klatchian.'

'What're we going to do with the donkey, Al?'

'Do you think it can pedal?'

'I doubt it.'

'Then leave it up here.'

'But it'll get pinched, Al.'

'Oh, these Klatchians'll pinch anything.'

'Not like us, eh, Al?' Nobby looked at the forest of masts filling), the bay. 'Looks like even more of 'em from here,' he said. 'You could walk from boat to boat for a mile. What're they all here for?'

'Don't be daft, Nobby. It's obvious. They're to take everyone to Ankh– Morpork!'

'What for? We don't eat that much cur–'

'Invasion, Nobby! There's a war on, remember?' They looked back at the ships. Riding lights gleamed on the water. The bit of it that was immediately below them bubbled for a moment, and then the hull of the Boat rose a few inches above the surface. The lid unscrewed and Leonard's worried face appeared. 'Ah, there you are,' he said. 'We were getting concerned...' They lowered themselves down into the fetid interior of the vessel. Lord Vetinari was sitting with a pad of paper across his knees, writing carefully. He glanced up briefly. 'Report.' Nobby fidgeted while Sergeant Colon delivered a more or less accurate account, although there was some witty repartee with the Klatchian guards that the corporal had not hitherto recalled.

Vetinari did not look up. Still writing, he said, 'Sergeant, Ur is an old country Rimward of the kingdom of Djelibeybi, whose occupants are a byword for bucolic stupidity. For some reason, I cannot think why, the guard must have assumed you were from there. And Morporkian is something of a lingua franca even in the Klatchian empire. When someone from Hersheba needs to trade with someone from Istanzia, they will undoubtedly haggle in Morporkian. This will serve us well, of course, The force that is being assembled here must mean that practically every man is a distant stranger with outlandish ways. Provided we do not act too foreign, we should pass muster. This means not asking for curry with swede and currants in it and refraining from ordering pints of Winkle's Old Peculiar, do I make myself clear?'

'Er... what is it we're going to do, sir?'

'We will reconnoitre initially.'

'Ah, right. Yes. Very important.'

'And then seek out the Klatchian high command. Thanks to Leonard I have a little... package to deliver. I hope it will end the war very quickly.' Sergeant Colon looked blank. At some point in the last few seconds the conversation had run away with him. 'Sorry, sir... you said high command, sir.'

'Yes, sergeant.'

'Like... the top brass, or turbans or whatever.. . all surrounded by crack troops, sir. That's where you always put the best troops, around the top brass.'

'I expect this will be the case, yes. In fact, I rather hope it is.' Sergeant Colon, once again, tried to keep up. 'Ah. Right. And we'll go and look for them, will we, sir?'

'I can hardly ask them to come to us, sergeant.'

'Right, sir. I can see that, It could get a bit crowded.' At last, Lord Vetinari looked up. 'Is there some problem, sergeant?' And Sergeant Colon once again knew a secret about bravery. It was arguably a kind of enhanced cowardice the knowledge that while death may await you if you advance it will be a picnic compared to the certain living hell that awaits should you retreat. 'Er... not as such, sir,' he said. 'Very well.' Vetinari pushed his paperwork aside. 'If there is more suitable clothing in your bag, I will get changed and we can take a look at Al–Khali.'

'Oh, gods...'

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'Sorry, sergeant?'

'Oh, good, sir.'

'Good.' Vetinari began to pull other items out of the liberated sack. There was a set of jugglers clubs, a bag of coloured balls and finally a placard, such as might be placed to one side of the stage during an artiste's performance.

' “Culli, Gulli and Beti”,' he read. “'Exotic tricks and dances”. Hmm,' he added. 'It would seem there was a lady among the owners of this sack.' The watchmen looked at the gauzy material that came out of the sack next. Nobby's eyes bulged. 'What are them?'

'I believe they are called harem pants, corporal.'

'They're very–'

'Curiously, the purpose of the clothing of the nautch girl or exotic dancer has –always been less to reveal and more to suggest the imminence of revelation,' said the Patrician. Nobby looked down at his costume, and then at Sergeant Al–Colon in his costume, and said cheerfully, 'Well, I ain't sure it's going to suit you, sir.' He regretted the words immediately. 'I hadn't intended that they should suit me,' said the Patrician calmly. 'Please pass me your fez, Corporal Beti.' The subtle, deceiving dawn-before-dawn slid over the desert, and the commander of the Klatchian detachment wasn't happy about it. The D'regs always attacked at dawn. All of them. It didn't matter how many of them there were, or how many of you there were. Anyway, the whole tribe attacked. It wasn't just the women and children, but the camels, goats, sheep and chickens too. Of course you were expecting them and bows could cut them down, but... they always appeared suddenly, as if even the desert had spat them out. Get it wrong, be too slow, and you'd be hacked, kicked, butted, pecked and viciously spat at. His troops lay in wait. Well, if you could call them troops. He'd said they were overstretched... well, he hadn't actually said, because that sort of thing could get you into trouble in this man's army, but he'd thought it very hard. Half of them were keen kids who thought that if you went into battle shouting and waving your sword in the air the enemy just ran away. They'd never faced a D'reg chicken coming in at eye height. As for the rest of it... in the night people had run into one another, ambushed one another by mistake and were now as jittery as peas on a drum. A man had lost his sword and swore that someone had walked away with it stuck right through him. And some kind of rock had got up and walked around hitting people. With other people. The sun was well up now. 'It's the waiting that's the worst part,' said his sergeant, next to him. 'It might be the worst part,' said the commander. 'Or, there again, the bit where they suddenly rise out of the desert and cut you in half might be the worst part.' He stared mournfully at the treacherously empty sand. 'Or the bit where a maddened sheep tries to gnaw your nose off might be the worst part. In fact, when you think of all the things that can happen when you're

surrounded by a horde of screaming D'regs, the bit where they aren't there at all is, I think you'll find, the best part.' The sergeant wasn't trained for this sort of thing. So he said, 'They're late.'

'Good. Rather them than us.'

'Sun's right up now, sir.' The commander looked at his shadow. It was full day, and the sand was mercifully free of his blood. The commander had been pacifying various recalcitrant parts of Klatch for long enough to wonder why, if he was pacifying people, he always seemed to be fighting them. Experience had taught him never to say things like 'I don't like it, it's too quiet.' There was no such thing as too quiet. 'They might have decamped in the night, sir,' said the sergeant. 'That doesn't sound like the D'regs. They never run away. Anyway, I can see their tents.'

'Why don't we rush 'em, sir?'

'You haven't fought D'regs before, sergeant?'

'No, sir. I've been pacifying the Mad Savatars in Uhistan, though, and they're–'

'The D'regs are worse, sergeant. They pacify right back at you.'

'I didn't say how mad the Savatars were, sir.'

'Compared to the D'regs, they were merely slightly vexed.' The sergeant felt that his reputation was being impugned. 'How about I take a few men and investigate, sir?' The commander glanced at the sun again. Already the air was too hot to breathe. 'Oh, very well. Let's go.' The Klatchians advanced on the camp. There were the tents, and the ash of fires. But there were no camels and horses, merely a long scuffed trail leading off among the dunes. Morale began to rise a little. Attacking a dangerous enemy who isn't there is one of the more attractive forms of warfare, and there was a certain amount of assertion about how lucky the D'regs were to have run away in time, and some extemporizing on the subject of what the soldiers would have done to the D'regs if they'd caught them... 'Who's that?' said the sergeant. A figure appeared between the dunes, riding on a camel. His white robes fluttered in the breeze. He slid down when he reached the Klatchians, and waved at them. 'Good morning, gentlemen! May I persuade you to surrender?'

'Who are you?'

'Captain Carrot, sir. If you would be kind enough to lay down your weapons no–one will get hurt.' The commander looked up. Blobs were appearing along the tops of the dunes. They rose, and turned out to be heads.

'They're... D'regs, sir!' said the sergeant. 'No. D'regs would be charging, sergeant.'

'Oh, sorry. Shall I tell them to charge?' said Carrot. 'Is that what you'd prefer?' The D'regs were all along the dunes now. The climbing sun glittered off metal. 'Are you telling me,' the commander began slowly, 'that you can persuade D'regs not to charge?'

'It was tricky, but I think they've got the idea,' said Carrot. The commander considered his position. There were D'regs on either side. His troop were practically huddling together. And this red–headed, blue– eyed man was smiling at him. 'How do they feel about the merciful treatment of prisoners?' he ventured. 'I think they could get the hang of it. If I insist.' The commander glanced at the silent D'regs again. 'Why?' he said. 'Why aren't they fighting us?' he said. 'My commander says he doesn't want unnecessary loss of life, sir,' said Carrot. 'That's Commander Vimes, sir. He's sitting on that dune up there.'

'You can persuade armed D'regs not to charge and you have a commander?'

'Yes, sir. He says this is a police action.' The commander swallowed. 'We give in,' he said. 'What, just like that, sir?' said his sergeant. 'Without a fight?'

'Yes, sergeant. Without a fight. This man can make water run uphill and he has a commander. I love the idea of giving in without a fight. I've fought for ten years and giving in without a fight is what I've always wanted to do.' Water dripped off the Boat's metal ceiling and blobbed on to the paper in front of Leonard of QuirmHe wiped it away. It might have been boring, waiting in a small metal can under a nondescript jetty, but Leonard had no concept of the term. Absentmindedly, he jotted a brief sketch of an improved ventilation system. He started to watch his own hand. Almost without his guidance, taking its instructions from somewhere else in his head, it drew a cutaway of a much larger version of the Boat. Here, here and here... there could be a bank of a hundred oars rather than pedals, each one manned – his pencil caressed the paper – by a well muscled and not overdressed young warrior. A boat that would pass unseen under other boats, take men wherever they needed to go. Here a giant saw, affixed to the roof, so that when rowed at speed it could cut the hulls of enemy ships. And here and here a tube... He stopped and stared at his drawing for a while. Then he sighed and started to tear it up.

Vimes watched from the dune. He couldn't hear much from up here, but he didn't need to. Angua sat down beside him. 'It's working, isn't it?' she said. 'Yes.'

'What's he going to do?'

'Oh, he'll take their weapons and let 'em go, I suppose.'

'Why do people follow him?' said Angua. 'Well, you're his girlfriend, you ought – '

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