Jingo Page 8


'They say Klatch needs to be taught a sharp lesson, sir. A Willikins has never been found wanting when his country calls. I thought that Lord

Venturi's Heavy Infantry would do for me. They have a particularly attractive uniform of red and white, sir. With gold frogging.' Vimes pulled his boots on. 'You've had military experience, have you?'

'Oh, no, sir. But I am a quick learner, sir, and I believe I have some prowess with the carving knife.' The butler's face showed a patriotic alertness. 'On turkeys and on...'said Vimes. 'Yes, sir; said Willikins, buffing up die ceremonial helmet. 'And you're off to fight the screaming hordes in Klatch, are you?'

'If it should come to that, sir,' said Willikins. 'I think this is adequately polished now, sir.'

'A very sandy place, so they say.'

'Indeed, sir,' said Willikins, adjusting the helmet under Vimes's chin. 'And rocky. Very rocky. Lots of rocks. Dusty, too.'

'Very parched in parts, sir, I believe you are correct.'

'And so into this land of sand–coloured dust and sandcoloured rocks and sand–coloured sand you, Willikins, will march with your expertise in cutlery and your red and white uniform?'

'With the gold frogging, sir.' Willikins thrust out his jaw. 'Yes, sir. If the need arises.'

'You don't see anything wrong with this picture?'

'Sir?'

'Oh, never mind.' Vimes yawned. 'Well, we shall miss you, Willikins.' Others may not, he thought. Especially if they have time for a second shot. 'Oh, Lord Venturi says it'll all be over by Hogswatch, sir.'

'Really? I didn't know it had started.' Vimes ran down the stairs and into a smell of curry. 'We saved you some, sir,' said Sergeant Colon. 'You was asleep when the lad brought it round.'

'It was Goriff's kid,' said Nobby, chasing a bit of rice around his tin plate. 'Enough for half the shift.'

'The rewards of duty,' said Vimes, hurrying towards the door. 'Bread and mango pickle and everything,' said Colon happily. 'I've always said old Goriff isn't that bad for a rag'ead.' A pool of sizzling oil... Vimes stopped at the door. The family, huddling together... He took out his watch. It was twenty past ten. If he ran– 'Fred, could you just step up to my office?' he said. 'It won't take a moment.'

'Right, sir.' Vimes ushered the sergeant up the stairs and closed the door. Nobby and the other watchmen strained to listen, but there was no sound except for a low murmuring which went on for some time. The door opened again. Vimes came down the stairs.

'Nobby, come up to the University in five minutes, will you? I want to stay in touch and I'm damned if I'm taking a pigeon with this uniform on.'

'Right, sir.' Vimes left. A few moments later Sergeant Colon walked carefully down to the main office. He had a slightly glassy look and walked back to his desk with the nonchalance that only the extremely worried try to achieve. He toyed with some paper for a while and then said: 'You don't mind what people call you, do you, Nobby?'

'I'd be minding the whole time if I minded that, sarge,' said Corporal Nobbs cheerfully. 'Right. Right! And I don't mind what people call me, neither.' Colon scratched his head. 'Don't make sense, really. I reckon Sir Sam is missing too much sleep.'

'He's a very busy man, Fred.'

'Trying to do everything, that's his trouble. And... Nobby?'

'Yes?'

'It's Sergeant Colon, thanks.' There was sherry. There was always sherry at these occasions. Seam Vimes could regard it dispassionately, since he always drank fruit juice these days. He'd heard they made sherry by letting wine go rotten He couldn't see the point of sherry. 'And you will try to look dignified, won't you?' said Lady Sybil, adjusting his cloak. 'Yes, dear.'

'What will you try to look?'

'Dignified, dear.'

'And please try to be diplomatic.'

'Yes, dear.'

'What will you try to be?'

'Diplomatic, dear.'

'You're using your “henpecked” voice, Sam.'

'Yes, dear.'

'You know that's not fair.'

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'No, dear.' Vimes raised a hand in a theatrical gesture of submission. 'All right, all right. It's just these feathers. And these tights,' He winced and tried to do some surreptitious rearranging in an effort to prevent himself becoming the city's first hunchgroin. 'I mean, supposing people see me?'

'Of course they'll see you, Sam. You're leading the procession. And I'm very proud of you.' She brushed some lint off his shoulder. 2 2 Women always do this.

Feathers in my hat, Vimes thought glumly. And fancy tights. And a shiny breastplate. A breastplate shouldn't be shiny. It should be too denied to take a decent polish. And diplomatic talk? How should I know how to talk diplomatically? 'And now I must go and have a word with Lady Selachii,' said Lady Broil. 'You'll be all right, will you? You keep yawning.'

'Of course. Didn't get much sleep last night, that's all.'

'You promise not to run away?'

'Me? I never run–'

'You ran away before the big soiree for the Genuan ambassador. Everyone saw you.'

'I'd just got news that the De Bris gang were robbing Vortin's strongroom!'

'But you don't have to chase everyone, Sam. You employ people for that now.'

'We got 'em, though,' said Vimes, with satisfaction. He'd enjoyed it immensely, too. It wasn't just the pursuit that was so invigorating, with his velvet cloak left behind on a tree and his hat in a puddle somewhere, it was the knowledge that while he was doing this he wasn't eating very small sandwiches and making even smaller talk. It wasn't proper police work, Vimes considered, unless you were doing something that someone somewhere would much rather you weren't doing. When Sybil had disappeared into the crowd he found a handy shadow and lurked in it. It enabled him to see almost the whole of the University's Great Hall. He quite liked the wizards. They didn't commit crimes. Not Vimes's type of crimes, anyway. The occult wasn't Vimes's beat. The wizards might well mess up the very fabric of time and space but they didn't lead to paperwork, and that was fine by Vimes. There were a lot of them in the hall, in all their glory. And there was nothing finer than a wizard dressed up formally, until someone could find a way of inflating a Bird of Paradise, possibly by using an elastic band and some kind of gas. But the wizards were getting a run for their money, because the rest of the guests were either nobles or guild leaders or both, and an occasion like the Convivium brought out the peacock in everyone. His gaze went from face to chatting face, and he wondered idly what each person was guilty of. 3 Quite a few of the ambassadors were there, too. They were easy to pick out. They wore their national costumes, but since by and large their national costumes were what the average peasant wore they looked slightly out of 3 The possibility that they were not guilty of anything was one that he didn't even think worthy of consideration.

place in them. Their bodies wore feathers and silks, but their minds persistently wore suits. They chatted in small groups. One or two nodded and smiled to him as they passed. The world is watching, Vimes thought. If something went wrong and this stupid Leshp business started a war, it's men like these who'd be working out exactly how to deal with the winner, whoever it was. Never mind who started it, never mind how it was fought, they'd want to know how to deal with things now. They represented what people called the 'international community'. And like all uses of the world 'community', you were never quite sure what or who it was. He shrugged. It wasn't his world, thank goodness. He sidled over to Corporal Nobbs, who was standing by the main doors in the sort of lopsided slouch which was the closest a living Nobbs could come to attention. 'All quiet, Nobby?' he said, out of the corner of his mouth. 'Yessir.'

'Nothing going on at all?'

'Nossir. Not a pigeon anywhere, sir.'

'What, nowhere? Nothing?'

'Nossir.'

'There was trouble all over the place yesterday!'

'Yessir.'

'You did tell Fred he was to send a bird if there was anything at all?'

'Yessir.'

'The Shades? There's always something–'

'Dead quiet, sir.'

'Damn!' Vimes shook his head at the sheer untrustworthiness of Ankh-Morpork's criminal fraternity. 'I suppose you couldn't take a brick and–'

'Lady Sybil was very speffic about how you was to stop here" said Corporal Nobbs, staring straight ahead. 'Speffic?'

'Yeah, sir. She come and have a word with me. Cave me a dollar,' said Nobby. 'Ah, Sir Samuel!' said a booming voice behind him, 'I don't think you've met Prince Khufurah yet, have you?' He turned. Archchancellor Ridcully was bearing down on him, towing a couple of swarthy men. Vimes hurriedly put on his official face. 'This is Commander Vimes, gentlemen. Sam... no, I'm doing this the wrong way round, aren't I, got the

protocol all wrong – so much to sort out, the Bursar's locked himself in the safe again, we don't know how he manages to get the key in there with him, I mean, it's not even as if it's got a keyhole on the inside...' The first man held out a hand as Ridcully bustled off again. 'Prince Khufurah,' he said. 'My carpet got in only two hours ago.'

'Carpet? Oh... yes... you flew . . 'Yes, very chilly and of course you just can't get a good meal. And did you get your man, Sir Samuel?'

'What? Pardon?'

'I believe our ambasssador told me you had to leave the reception last week...?' The Prince was a tall man who had probably once been quite athletic until the big dinners had finally weighed him down. And he had a beard. All Klatchians had beards. This Klatchian had intelligent eyes, too. Disconcertingly intelligent. You looked into them and several layers of person looked back at you. 'What? Oh. Yes. Yes, we got 'em all right,' said Vimes. 'Well done. He put up a fight, I see.' Vimes looked surprised. The Prince tapped his jaw thoughtfully. Vimes's hand flew up and encountered a little bit of tissue on his own chin. 'Ah... er... yes...'

'Commander Vimes always gets his man,' said the Prince. 'Well, I wouldn't say I–'

'Vetinari's terrier, I've heard them call you,' the Prince went on. 'Always hot on the chase, they say, and he won't let go.' Vimes stared into the calm, knowing gaze. 'I suppose, at the end of the day, we're all someone's dog,' he said, weakly. 'In fact it is fortuitous I have met you, commander.' lit is?'

'I was just wondering about the meaning of the word shouted at me as we were on our way down here. Would you be so kind?'

'Er... if I...'

'I believe it was... let me see now... oh, yes... towelhead.' The Prince's eyes stayed locked on Vimes's face. Vimes was conscious of his own thoughts moving very fast, and they seemed to reach their own decision. We'll explain later, they said. You're too tired for explanations. Right now, with this man, it's oh so much better to be honest... 'It... refers to your headdress,' he said. 'Oh. Is it some kind of obscure joke?' Of course he knows, thought Vimes. And he knows I know... 'No. It's an insult,' he said eventually. 'Ah? Well, we certainly cannot be held responsible for the ramblings of idiots, commander.' The Prince flashed a smile. 'I must commend you, incidentally.'

'I'm sorry?'

'For your breadth of knowledge. I must have asked a dozen people that question this morning and, do you know? Not one of them knew what it meant. And they all seemed to have caught a cough.' There was a diplomatic pause but, in it, someone sniggered. Vimes let his glance drift sideways to the other man, who had not been introduced. He was shorter and skinnier than the Prince and, under his black headdress, had the most crowded face Vimes had ever seen. A network of scars surrounded a nose like an eagle's beak. There was a sort of beard and moustache, but the scars had affected the hair growth so much that they stuck out in strange bunches and at odd angles. The man looked as though he had been hit in the mouth by a hedgehog. He could have been any age. Some of the scars looked fresh. All in all, the man had a face that any policeman would arrest on sight. There was no possible way it could be innocent of anything. He caught Vimes's expression and grinned, and Vimes had never seen so much gold in one mouth. He'd never seen so much gold in one place. Vimes realized he was staring when he ought to have been making polite diplomatic conversation. 'So,’ he said, 'are we going to have a scrap over this Leshp business or what?' The Prince gave a dismissive shrug. 'Pfui,' he said. 'A few square miles of uninhabited fertile ground with superb anchorage in an unsurpassed strategic position? What sort of inconsequence is that for civilized people to war over?' Once again Vimes felt the gaze on him, reading him. Well, the hell with it. He said, 'Sorry, I'm not good at this diplomacy business. Did you mean what you just said then?' There was another snigger. Vimes turned and looked at the leering bearded face again. And was aware of a smell, no, a stench of cloves. Good grief, he chews the stinking things... 'Ah,' said the Prince, 'you haven't met 71–hour Ahmed?' Ahmed grinned again and bowed. 'Offendi,' he said, in a voice like a gravel path. And that seemed to be it. Not 'This is 71–hour Ahmed, Cultural Attache' or 71–hour Ahmed, my bodyguard' or even '71–hour Ahmed, walking strongroom and moth killer'. It was dear that the next move was up to Vimes. 'That's... er... that's an unusual name" he said. 'Not at all,' said the Prince smoothly. 'Ahmed is a very common name in my country.' He leaned forward again. Vimes recognized this as the prelude to a confidential aside. 'Incidentally, was that beautiful lady I saw just now your first wife?'

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