Authors: Terry Pratchett
Men at Arms
A Novel of Discworld
Other Books by Terry Pratchett
orporal Carrot, Ankh-Morpork City Guard (Night Watch), sat down in his nightshirt, took up his pencil, sucked the end for a moment, and then wrote:
“Dearest Mume and Dad,
Well here is another fine Turnup for the Books, for I have been made Corporal!! It means another Five Dollars a month plus also I have a new jerkin with, two stripes upon it as well. And a new copper badge! It is a Great responsibility!! This is all because we have got new recruits because the Patrician who, as I have formerly vouchsafed is the ruler of the city, has agreed the Watch must reflect the ethnic makeup of the City—”
Carrot paused for a moment and stared out of the small dusty bedroom window at the early evening sunlight sidling across the river. Then he bent over the paper again.
“—which I do not Fulley understand but must have something to do with the dwarf Grabpot Thundergust’s Cosmetic Factory. Also, Captain Vimes of who I have often written to you of is, leaving the Watch to get married and Become a Fine Gentleman and, I’m sure we wish him All the Best, he taught me All I Know apart, from the things I taught myself. We are clubbing together to get him a Surprise Present, I thought one of those new Watches that don’t need demons to make them go and we could inscribe on the back something like ‘A Watch from, your Old Freinds in the Watch’, this is a pune or Play on Words. We do not know who will be the new Captain, Sgt. Colon says he will Resign if it’s him, Cpl. Nobbs—”
Carrot stared out of the window again. His big honest forehead wrinkled with effort as he tried to think of something positive to say about Corporal Nobbs.
“—is more suited in his current Roll, and I have not been in the Watch long enough. So we shall just have to wait and See—”
It began, as many things do, with a death. And a burial, on a spring morning, with mist on the ground so thick that it poured into the grave and the coffin was lowered into cloud.
A small greyish mongrel, host to so many assorted doggy diseases that it was surrounded by a cloud of dust, watched impassively from the mound of earth.
Various elderly female relatives cried. But Edward d’Eath didn’t cry, for three reasons. He was the eldest son, the thirty-seventh Lord d’Eath, and it was Not Done for a d’Eath to cry; he was—just, the diploma still had the crackle in it—an Assassin, and Assassins didn’t cry at a death, otherwise they’d never be stopping; and he was angry. In fact, he was enraged.
Enraged at having to borrow money for this poor funeral. Enraged at the weather, at this common cemetery, at the way the background noise of the city didn’t change in any way, even on such an occasion as this. Enraged at history. It was never meant to be like this.
It shouldn’t have
He looked across the river to the brooding bulk of the Palace, and his anger screwed itself up and became a lens.
Edward had been sent to the Assassins’ Guild because they had the best school for those whose social rank is rather higher than their intelligence. If he’d been trained as a Fool, he’d have invented satire and made dangerous jokes about the Patrician. If he’d been trained as a Thief,
he’d have broken into the Palace and stolen something very valuable from the Patrician.
However…he’d been sent to the Assassins…
That afternoon he sold what remained of the d’Eath estates, and enrolled again at the Guild school.
For the post-graduate course.
He got full marks, the first person in the history of the Guild ever to do so. His seniors described him as a man to watch—and, because there was something about him that made even Assassins uneasy, preferably from a long way away.
In the cemetery the solitary gravedigger filled in the hole that was the last resting place of d’Eath senior.
He became aware of what seemed to be thoughts in his head. They went something like this:
Any chance of a bone? No, no, sorry, bad taste there, forget I mentioned it. You’ve got beef sandwiches in your wossname, lunchbox thingy, though. Why not give one to the nice little doggy over there?
The man leaned on his shovel and looked around.
The grey mongrel was watching him intently.
It said, “Woof?”
It took Edward d’Eath five months to find what he was looking for. The search was hampered by the fact that he did not
what he was looking for, only that he’d know it when he found it. Edward was a great believer in Destiny. Such people often are.
The Guild library was one of the largest in the city. In certain specialized areas it was
largest. These areas mainly had to do with the regrettable brevity of human life and the means of bringing it about.
Edward spent a lot of time there, often at the top of a ladder, often surrounded by dust.
He read every known work on armaments. He didn’t know what he was looking for and he found it in a note in the margin of an otherwise very dull and inaccurate treatise on the ballistics of crossbows. He copied it out, carefully.
Edward spent a lot of time among history books as well. The Assassins’ Guild was an association of gentlemen of breeding, and people like that regard the whole of recorded history as a kind of stock book. There were a great many books in the Guild library, and a whole portrait gallery of kings and queens,
and Edward d’Eath came to know their aristocratic faces better than he did his own. He spent his lunch hours there.
It was said later that he came under bad influences at this stage. But the secret of the history of Edward d’Eath was that he came under no outside influences at all, unless you count all those dead kings. He just came under the influence of himself.
That’s where people get it wrong. Individuals aren’t naturally paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian motion of society, which is a mechanism by which human beings constantly remind one another that they are…well…human beings. He was also spiraling inward, as tends to happen in cases like this.
He’d had no plan. He’d just retreated, as people do when they feel under attack, to a more defensible position, i.e. the past, and then something happened which had the same effect on Edward as finding a plesiosaur in his goldfish pond would on a student of ancient reptiles.
He’d stepped out blinking in the sunlight one hot afternoon, after a day spent in the company of departed glory, and had seen the face of the past strolling by, nodding amiably to people.
He hadn’t been able to control himself. He’d said, “Hey, you! Who are y-ou?”
The past had said, “Corporal Carrot, sir. Night Watch. Mr. d’Eath, isn’t it? Can I help you?”
“What? No! No. Be about your b-usiness!”
The past nodded and smiled at him, and strolled on, into the future.
Carrot stopped staring at the wall.
“I have expended three dollars on an iconograph box which, is a thing with a brownei inside that paints pictures of thing’s, this is all the Rage these days. Please find enclosed pictures of my room and my freinds in the Watch, Nobby is the one making the Humerous Gesture but he is a Rough Diamond and a good soul deep down.”
He stopped again. Carrot wrote home at least once a week. Dwarfs generally did. Carrot was two meters tall but he’d been brought up as a dwarf, and then further up as a human. Literary endeavor did not come easily to him, but he persevered.
“The weather,” he wrote, very slowly and carefully, “continues Very Hot…”
Edward could not believe it. He checked the records. He double-checked. He asked questions and, because they were innocent enough questions, people gave him answers. And finally he took a holiday in the Ramtops, where careful questioning led him to the dwarf mines around Copperhead, and thence to an otherwise unremarkable glade in a beech wood where, sure enough, a few minutes of patient digging unearthed traces of charcoal.
He spent the whole day there. When he’d finished, carefully replacing the leafmould as the sun went down, he was quite certain.
Ankh-Morpork had a king again.
And this was
. And it was
that had let Edward recognize this
when he’d got his Plan. And it was
that it was
and the city would be
from its ignoble present by its
past. He had the
, and he had the
. And so on…Edward’s thoughts often ran like this.
He could think in
. Such people need watching.
Preferably from a safe distance.
“I was Interested in your letter where you said people have been coming and asking about me, this is Amazing, I have been here hardly Five Minutes and already I am Famus.
“I was very pleased to hear about the opening of #7 shaft. I don’t mind Telling You that although, I am very happy here I miss the Good Times back Home. Sometimes on my day Off I go and, sit in the Cellar and hit my head with an axe handle but, it is Not the Same.
“Hoping this finds you in Good Health, Yrs. faithfully,
“Your loving son, adopted,
He folded the letter up, inserted the iconographs, sealed it with a blob of candle wax pressed into place with his thumb, and put it in his pants pocket. Dwarf mail to the Ramtops was quite reliable. More and more dwarfs were coming to work in the city, and because dwarfs are very conscientious many of them sent money home. This made dwarf mail just about as safe as anything, since their mail was closely guarded. Dwarfs are very attached to gold. Any highwayman demanding “Your money or your life” had better bring a folding chair and packed lunch and a book to read while the debate goes on.
Then Carrot washed his face, donned his leather shirt and trousers and chainmail, buckled on his breastplate and, with his helmet under his arm, stepped out cheerfully, ready to face whatever the future would bring.
This was another room, somewhere else.
It was a poky room, the plaster walls crumbling, the ceilings sagging like the underside of a fat man’s bed. And it was made even more crowded by the furniture.
It was old, good furniture, but this wasn’t the place for it. It belonged in high echoing halls. Here, it was crammed. There were dark oak chairs. There were long sideboards. There was even a suit of armor. There was barely room for the half dozen or so people who sat at the huge table. There was barely room for the table.
A clock ticked in the shadows.
The heavy velvet curtains were drawn, even though there was still plenty of daylight left in the sky. The air was stifling, both from the heat of the day and the candles in the magic lantern.
The only illumination was from the screen which, at that moment, was portraying a very good profile of Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson.
The small but very select audience watched it with the carefully blank expressions of people who are half convinced that their host is several cards short of a full deck but are putting up with it because they’ve just eaten a meal and it would be rude to leave too soon.
“Well?” said one of them. “I think I’ve seen him walking around the city. So? He’s just a watchman, Edward.”
“Of course. It is essential that he should be. A humble station in life. It all fits the classic p-attern.” Edward d’Eath gave a signal. There was a click as another glass slide was slotted in. “
one was not p-ainted from life. King P-paragore. Taken from an old p-ainting. This one”—
—“is King Veltrick III. From another p-portrait. This one is Queen Alguinna IV…note the line of the chin? This one”—
—“is a sevenpenny p-iece from the reign of Webblethorpe the Unconscious, note again the detail of the chin and general b-bone structure, and this”—
—“is…an upside d-own picture of a vase of flowers. D-elphini-ums, I believe. Why is this?”
“Er, sorry, Mr. Edward, I’ad a few glass plates left and the demons weren’t tired and—”
“Next slide, please. And then you may leave us.”
“Yes, Mr. Edward.”
“Report to the d-uty torturer.”
“Yes, Mr. Edward.”
“And this is a rather good—well done, Bl-enkin—image of the bust of Queen Coanna.”
“Thank you, Mr. Edward.”
“More of her face would have enabled us to be certain of the likeness, however. There is sufficient, I believe. You may go, Bl-enkin.”
“Yes, Mr. Edward.”
“A little something off the ears, I th-ink.”
“Yes, Mr. Edward.”
The servant respectfully shut the door behind him, and then went down to the kitchen shaking his head sadly. The d’Eaths hadn’t been able to afford a family torturer for years. For the boy’s sake he’d just have to do the best he could with a kitchen knife.
The visitors waited for the host to speak, but he didn’t seem about to do so, although it was sometimes hard to tell with Edward. When he was excited, he suffered not so much from a speech impediment as from misplaced pauses, as if his brain were temporarily putting his mouth on hold.
Eventually, one of the audience said: “Very well. So what is your point?”
“You’ve seen the likeness. Isn’t if ob-vious?”
“Oh, come now—”
Edward d’Eath pulled a leather case toward him and began undoing the thongs.
“But, but the boy was adopted by Discworld dwarfs. They found him as a baby in the forests of the Ramtop mountains. There were some b-urning wagons, corpses, that sort of thing. B-andit attack, apparently. The dwarfs found a sword in the wreckage. He has it now. A very
sword. And it’s always sharp.”
“So? The world is full of old swords.