Jingo Page 43


'It would seem so, sire.' Prince Cadram shook his head. We can learn from AnkhMorpork, his father had said. Sometimes we can learn what not to do. And so he'd set out to learn. First he'd learned that Ankh–Morpork had once ruled quite a slice of Klatch. He'd visited the ruins of one of its colonies. And so he'd found out the name of the man who had been audacious enough to do this, and had got agents in Ankh–Morpork to find out as much about him as possible. General Tactitus, he'd been called. And Prince Cadram had read a lot and remembered everything, and 'tactics' had been very, very useful in the widening of the empire. Of course, this had its own drawbacks. You had a border, and across the border came bandits. So you sent a force to quell the bandits, and in order to stamp them out you had to take over their country, and soon you had another restless little vassal state to rule. And now that had a border, over which came, sure as sunrise, a fresh lot of raiders. So your new tax-paying subjects were demanding protection from their brother raiders, neglecting to pay their taxes, and doing a little light banditry on the side. And so once again you stretched your forces, whether you wanted to or not... He sighed. For the serious empire–builder there was no such thing as a final frontier. There was only another problem. If only people would understand... Nor was there such a thing as a game of war. General Tacticus knew that. Learn about your opposite number, yes, and respect his abilities if he had them, certainly. But never pretend that afterwards you were going to meet up for a drink and charge–by–charge replay. 'He could well be insane, sire,' the general went on. 'Oh, good.'

'However, I'm told that he recently referred to Klatchians as the finest soldiers in the world, sire.'

'Really?'

'He added “when led by white officers”, sire.'

'Oh?'

'And we are offering him breakfast, sire. It would be most impolite of him to refuse.'

'What a good idea. Have we got an adequate supply of sheeps' eyes?'

'I took the liberty of telling the cooks to save some up for this very eventuality, sire.'

'Then we must see he gets them. After all, he will be our honoured guest. Well, let us do this thing properly. Please try to look as if you hate the taste of cold steel.' The Klatchians had set up an open–sided tent on the sand between the two armies. In the welcome shade a low table had been laid. Lord Rust and his company were already waiting, and had been for more than half an hour. They stood up and bowed awkwardly as Prince Cadram entered. Around the tent the Klatchian and Ankh-Morpork honour guards eyed one another suspiciously, every man trying to get the drop on the others. ‘Tell me… Do any of you gentlemen speak Klatchian?’ said Prince Cadram, after the lengthy introductions. Lord Rust's grin stayed fixed. 'Hornett?' he hissed. 'I'm not quite certain what he said, sir,' said the lieutenant nervously. 'I thought you knew Klatchian!'

'I can read it, sir. That's not the same...'

'Oh, don't worry,' said the Prince. 'As we say in Klatch, this clown’s in charge of an army?’ Around the tent, the Klatchian generals suddenly went poker–faced. 'Hornett?'

'Er... something about... to own, to control... er... ' Cadram smiled at Lord Rust. 'I'm not entirely familiar with this custom,' he said. 'You often meet your enemies before battle?'

'It is considered honourable,' said Lord Rust. 'I believe that on the night before the famous Battle of Pseudopolis officers from both sides attended a ball at Lady Selachii's, for example.' The Prince glanced questioningly at General Ashal, who nodded. 'Really? Obviously we have so much to learn. As the poet Mosheda says, I can’t believe this man.’ 'Ah, yes,' said Lord Rust. Klatchian is a very poetic language.'

'Excuse me, sir.' said Lieutenant Hornett. 'What is it, man?'

'There's... er.. . something going on...' There was a column of dust in the distance. Something was approaching fast. 'One moment,' said General Ashal.

He came back from his saddle with an ornate metal tube, covered in the curly Klatchian script. He squinted into one end and pointed the other at the cloud. 'Mounted men,' he said. 'Camels and horses.'

'That's a Make–Things–Bigger device, isn't it?' said Lord Rust. 'My word, you are up to date. They were invented only last year.'

'I didn't buy this, my lord. I inherited it from my grandfather–' The general looked through the eyepiece again. 'About forty men, I'd say.'

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'Dear me,' murmured Prince Cadram. 'Reinforcements, Lord Rust?'

'They've... the rider in the lead is holding a... a banner, I think, still rolled up–'

'Certainly not, sire!' said Lord Rust. Behind him, Lord Selachii rolled his eyes. '–ah, now he's unfurling it... it's... a white flag, sire.'

'Someone wishes to surrender?' The general lowered his telescope. 'It doesn't... I don't... they seem to be in a great hurry to do so, sire.'

'Send a squad to apprehend them,' said Prince Cadram. 'We will do so too,' added Lord Rust hurriedly, nodding to the lieutenant. 'Ah, a joint effort,' said the Prince. A few seconds later groups of men detached themselves from each army and rode out on an interception course. Everyone saw the sudden glints of sunlight from the approaching cloud. Weapons had been drawn. 'Fighting under a flag of surrender? That's... immoral!' said Lord Rust. 'Novel, certainly,' said the Prince. The three companies would have met, had it not been that even experts find it hard to judge how much ground a running camel can cover. By the time both commanders realized they should start to turn, they should have already been turning. 'It seems your people misjudged things, sire,' said Lord Rust. 'I knew I should have had them led by white officers,' said the Prince. 'But... oh dear, it seems your men have been equally unlucky–' He stopped. Some confusion had resulted. The foray parties had their instructions, but no-one had told them what to do if they ran into the other foray party. And it was composed, after all, of men they were about to fight, and everyone knew they were treacherous greasy towel heads or perfidious untrustworthy sausage–eating madmen. And this was a battlefield. And everyone was frightened and, therefore, angry. And everyone was armed. Sam Vimes heard the shouting behind him but had other things on his mind at this point. It is impossible to ride a running camel without concentrating on your liver and kidneys, in the hope that they won't be pounded out of your body.

The thing's legs weren't moving right, he was sure. Nothing on normal legs could be jolting him around so much. The horizon jerked backwards and forwards and up and down. What was it Ahmed had said? Vimes hit the camel hard and yelled, 'Huthuthut!' It accelerated. The jolts ran together, so that his body was no longer being jolted but was in effect in a permanent state of jolt. Vimes thrashed it again and tried to yell, 'Huthuthut!' although the word came out more like 'Hngngngn!' In any case, the camel found some extra knees somewhere. There was more shouting behind him. Turning his head as much as he dared, he saw several of his accompanying D'regs falling behind. He was certain he heard Carrot yell, but he couldn't be certain because of his own screaming. 'Stop, you bastard!' he yelled. The tent was coming up fast. Vimes slapped the stick down again and hauled on the reins and, clearly now judging with special camel sensitivity that this was the most embarrassing moment to stop, the camel stopped. Vimes slid forward, flung his arms round a neck that was apparently thatched with old doormats, and half fell, half dropped on to the sand. Other camels were thudding to a halt around him. Carrot grabbed his arm. 'Are you all right, sir? That was amazing! You really impressed the D'regs, screaming defiance like that] And you were still shouting for the camel to go faster when it was already galloping!'

'Gngn?' The guards around the tent were hesitating, but that wouldn't last long. The wind caught the white flag on Carrot's lance, making it snap. 'Sir, this is all right, isn't it? I mean, usually a white flag–'

'Might as well show what we're fighting for, eh?'

'I suppose so, sir.'

'D'regs had surrounded the tent. The air was full of dust and screams. 'What happened back there?'

'A bit of fracas, sir. Our–' Carrot hesitated and then corrected himself. 'That is, Ankh-Morpork soldiers and Klatchians have started fighting, sir. And the D'regs are fighting both of them.'

'What, before the battle's officially declared? Can't you get disqualified for that?' Vimes looked back at the guards and pointed to the flag. 'You know what this flag is?' he said. 'Well, I want you to'

'Aren't you Mr Vimes?' said one of the Morporkians. 'And that's Captain Carrot, isn't it?'

'Oh, hello, Mr Smallplank,' said Carrot. 'Feeding you well, are they?'

'Yessir!'

Vimes rolled his eyes. That was Carrot again, knowing everyone. And the man had called him 'sir'... 'We just need to go through,' said Carrot. 'We won't be a minute.'

'Well, sir, these tow–' Smallplank hesitated. Certain words didn't come so easily when the subjects were standing very close to you, looking very big and tooled up. 'These Klatchians are on guard too, you see–' A stream of blue smoke was blown past Vimes's ear. 'Good morning, gentlemen,' said 71–hour Ahmed. He had a D'reg crossbow in each hand. 'You will note that the soldiers behind me are also well armed? Good. My name is 71–hour Ahmed. I will shoot the last man to drop his weapons. You have my word on it.' The Morporkians looked puzzled. The Klatchians began to whisper urgently. 'Put 'em down, boys,' said Vimes. The Morporkians threw their swords down hurriedly. The Klatchians dropped theirs very shortly afterwards. 'A tie between the gentleman on the left and the tall one with the squint,' said 71–hour Ahmed, raising both crossbows. 'Hey,' said Vimes, 'you can't–' The bows twanged. The men dropped, yelling. 'However,' said Ahmed, handing the bows to a D'reg behind him, who handed him another loaded one, 'out of deference to the sensibilities of Commander Vimes here, I'm settling for one in the thigh and one in the toes. We are, after all, on a mission of peace. He turned to Vimes. 'I'm sorry, Sir Samuel, but it's important that people know where they stand with me. 'These two don't,' said Vimes. 'They'll live.' Vimes moved closer to the wali. 'Huthuthut?' he hissed. 'You told me that it meant–'

'I thought it would prove a good example to all if you were in the lead,' Ahmed whispered. 'The D'regs will always follow a man who is in a hurry for the fray.' Lord Rust stepped out into the sunlight and glared at Vimes. 'Vimes? What the hell are you doing?'

'Not turning a blind eye, my lord.' Vimes pushed past and into the shade. There was Prince Cadram, still seated. And there were a lot of armed men. These, he noted almost in passing, didn't have the look of ordinary soldiers. They had the much tougher look of loyal bodyguards. 'So,' said the Prince, 'you come in here armed, under a flag of peace?'

'Are you Prince Cadram?' said Vimes. 'And you, too, Ahmed?' said the Prince, ignoring Vimes. Ahmed nodded, and said nothing.

Oh, not now, thought Vimes. Tough as leather and vicious as a wasp, but now he's in the presence of his king... 'You're under arrest,' he said. The Prince made a little sound between a cough and a laugh. 'I'm what?'

'I am arresting you for conspiracy to murder your brother. And there may be other charges.' The Prince put his hands over his face for a moment and then pulled them down towards his chin, in the action of a tired man endeavouring to come to grips with a dying situation. 'Mr–?' he began. 'Sir Samuel Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Watch,' said Vimes. 'Well, Mr Samuel, when I raise my hand the men behind me will cut you d–'

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