Authors: Terry Pratchett
“Quite so. Could you tell me what has been happening, please?”
He was aware of other senior Assassins entering the courtyard through the hole in the wall. They were very carefully looking at the debris.
Dr. Cruces hesitated for a moment.
“Fireworks,” he said.
“What happened,” said Gaspode, “was that someone put a dragon in a box right up against the wall inside the courtyard, right, and then they went and hid behind one of the statues and pulled a string and next minute—bang!”
“’S’right. Then our friend nips into the hole for a few seconds, right, comes out again, trots around the courtyard and next minute there’s Assassins everywhere and he’s among ’em. What the hell. Another man in black. No one notices, see?”
“You mean he’s still in there?”
“How do I know? Hoods and cloaks, everyone in black…”
“How come you were able to see this?”
“Oh, I always nip into the Assassins’ Guild on a Wednesday night. Mixed grill night, see?” Gaspode sighed at Angua’s blank expression. “The cook always does a mixed grill of a Wednesday night. No one ever eats the black pudding. So it’s round the kitchens, see, woof woof, beg beg, who’s a good boy then, look at the little bugger, he looks as though he understands every word I’m sayin’, let’s see what we’ve got here for a good doggy…”
He looked embarrassed for a moment.
“Pride is all very well, but a sausage is a sausage,” he said.
“Fireworks?” said Vimes.
Dr. Cruces looked like a man grasping a floating log in a choppy sea.
“Yes. Fireworks. Yes. For Founder’s Day. Unfortunately someone threw away a lighted match which ignited the box.” Dr. Cruces suddenly smiled. “My dear Captain Vimes,” he said, clapping his hands, “much as I appreciate your concern, I really—”
“They were stored in that room over there?” said Vimes.
“Yes, but that’s of no account—”
Vimes crossed to the hole in the wall and peered inside. A couple of Assassins glanced at Dr. Cruces and reached nonchalantly toward various areas of their clothing. He shook his head. His caution might have had something to do with the way Carrot put his hand on the hilt of his sword, but it could also have been because Assassins did have a certain code, after all. It was dishonorable to kill someone if you weren’t being paid.
“It seems to be some kind of…museum,” said Vimes. “Guild memorabilia, that sort of thing?”
“Yes, exactly. Odd and ends. You know how they mount up over the years.”
“Oh. Well, that all seems in order,” said Vimes. “Sorry to have troubled you, doctor. I will be going. I hope I have not inconvenienced you in any way.”
“Of course not! Glad to have been able to put your mind at rest.”
They were ushered gently yet firmly toward the gateway.
“I should clean up this glass,” said Captain Vimes, glancing at the debris again. “Someone could hurt themselves, all this glass lying around. Wouldn’t like to see one of your people get hurt.”
“We shall be doing it right this minute, captain,” said Dr. Cruces.
“Good. Good. Thank you very much.” Captain Vimes paused at the doorway, and then thumped the palm of his hand on his forehead. “Sorry, excuse me—mind like a sieve these days—what was it you said was stolen?”
Not a muscle, not a sinew moved on Dr. Cruces’ face.
“I didn’t say anything was stolen, Captain Vimes.”
Vimes gaped at him for a moment.
“Right! Sorry! Of course, you didn’t…Apologies…Work getting on top of me, I expect. I’ll be going, then.”
The door slammed in his face.
“Right,” said Vimes.
“Captain, why—?” Carrot began. Vimes held up a hand.
“That wraps it up, then,” he said, slightly louder than necessary. “Nothing to worry about. Let’s get back to the Yard. Where’s Lance-Constable Whatshername?”
“Here, captain,” said Angua, stepping out of the alley.
“Hiding, eh? And what’s
“Woof woof whine whine.”
“It’s a little dog, captain.”
The clang of the big corroded Inhumation Bell echoed through the Assassins’ Guild. Black-clad figures came running from all directions, pushing and shoving in their haste to get to the courtyard.
The Guild council assembled hurriedly outside Dr. Cruces’ office. His deputy, Mr. Downey, knocked tentatively at the door.
The council filed in.
Cruces’ office was the biggest room in the building. It always seemed wrong to visitors that the Assassins’ Guild had such light, airy, well-designed premises, more like the premises of a gentlemen’s club than a building where death was plotted on a daily basis.
Cheery sporting prints lined the walls, although the quarry was not, when you looked closely, stags or foxes. There were also group etchings—and, more recently, new-fangled iconographs—of the Guild, rows of smiling faces on black-clad bodies and the youngest members sitting cross-legged in front, one of them making a face.
Down one side of the room was the big mahogany table where the elders of the Guild sat in weekly session. The other side of the room held Cruces’ private library, and a small workbench. Above the bench was an apothecary cabinet, made up of hundreds of little drawers. The names on the drawer labels were in Assassins’ code, but visitors from outside the Guild were generally sufficiently unnerved not to accept a drink.
Four pillars of black granite held up the ceiling. They had been carved with the names of noted Assassins from history. Cruces had his desk foursquare between them. He was standing behind it, his expression almost as wooden as the desk.
“I want a roll-call,” he snapped. “Has anyone left the Guild?”
“How can you be so sure?”
“The guards on the roofs in Filigree Street say no one came in or went out, sir.”
“And who’s watching
“They’re watching one another, sir.”
“Very well. Listen carefully. I want the mess cleaned up. If anyone needs to go outside the building, I want everyone watched. And then the Guild is going to be searched from top to bottom, do you understand?”
“What for, doctor?” said a junior lecturer in poisons.
“For…anything that is hidden. If you find anything and you don’t know what it is, send for a council member immediately. And don’t touch it.”
“But doctor, all sorts of things are hidden—”
“This will be different, do you understand?”
“Good. And no one is to speak to the wretched Watch about this. You, boy…bring me my hat.” Dr. Cruces sighed. “I suppose I shall have to go and tell the Patrician.”
“Hard luck, sir.”
The captain didn’t say anything until they were crossing the Brass Bridge.
“Now then, Corporal Carrot,” he said, “you know how I’ve always told you how observation is important?”
“Yes, captain. I have always paid careful attention to your remarks on the subject.”
“So what did you observe?”
“Someone’d smashed a mirror. Everyone knows Assassins like mirrors. But if it was a museum, why was there a mirror there?”
“Who said that?”
“Down here, sir. Lance-Constable Cuddy.”
“Oh, yes. Yes?”
“I know a bit about fireworks, sir. There’s a smell you get after fireworks. Didn’t smell it, sir. Smelled something else.”
“And there were bits of burned rope and pulleys.”
“I smelled dragon,” said Vimes.
“Trust me.” Vimes grimaced. If you spent any time in Lady Ramkin’s company, you soon found out what dragons smelled like. If something put its head in your lap while you were dining, you said nothing, you just kept passing it tidbits and hoped like hell it didn’t hiccup.
“There was a glass case in that room,” he said. “It was smashed open. Hah! Something was stolen. There was a bit of card in the dust, but someone must have pinched it while old Cruces was talking to me. I’d give a hundred dollars to know what it said.”
“Why, captain?” said Corporal Carrot.
“Because that bastard Cruces doesn’t want me to know.”
“I know what could have blown the hole open,” said Angua.
“An exploding dragon.”
They walked in stunned silence.
“That could do it, sir,” said Carrot loyally. “The little devils go bang at the drop of a helmet.”
“Dragon,” muttered Vimes. “What makes you think it was a dragon, Lance-Constable Angua?”
Angua hesitated. “Because a dog told me” was not, she judged, a career-advancing thing to say at this point.
“Woman’s intuition?” she suggested.
,” said Vimes, “you wouldn’t hazard an intuitive guess as to what was stolen?”
Angua shrugged. Carrot noticed how interestingly her chest moved.
“Something the Assassins wanted to keep where they could look at it?” she said.
,” said Vimes. “I suppose next you’ll tell me this dog saw it all?”
Edward d’Eath drew the curtains, bolted the door and leaned on it. It had been so easy!
He’d put the bundle on the table. It was thin, and about four feet long.
He unwrapped it carefully, and there…it…was.
It looked pretty much like the drawing. Typical of the man—a whole page full of meticulous drawings of crossbows, and this in the margin, as though it hardly mattered.
It was so simple! Why hide it away? Probably because people were afraid. People were always afraid of power. It made them nervous.
Edward picked it up, cradled it for a while, and found that it seemed to fit his arm and shoulder very snugly.
And that, more or less, was the end of Edward d’Eath. Something continued for a while, but what it was, and how it thought, wasn’t entirely human.
It was nearly noon. Sergeant Colon had taken the new recruits down to the archery butts in Butts Treat.
Vimes went on patrol with Carrot.
He felt something inside him bubbling over. Something was brushing the tips of his corroded but nevertheless still-active instincts, trying to draw attention to itself. He had to be on the move. It was all that Carrot could do to keep up.
There were trainee Assassins in the streets around the Guild, still sweeping up debris.
“Assassins in daylight,” snarled Vimes. “I’m amazed they don’t turn to dust.”
“That’s vampires, sir,” said Carrot.
“Hah! You’re right. Assassins and licensed thieves and bloody vampires! You know, this was a great old city once, lad.”
Unconsciously, they fell into step…proceeding.
“When we had kings, sir?”
“Kings? Kings? Hell, no!”
A couple of Assassins looked around in surprise.
“I’ll tell you,” said Vimes. “A monarch’s an absolute ruler, right? The head honcho—”
“Unless he’s a queen,” said Carrot.
Vimes glared at him, and then nodded.
“OK, or the head honchette—”
“No, that’d only apply if she was a young woman. Queens tend to be older. She’d have to be a…a honcharina? No, that’s for very young princesses. No. Um. A honchesa, I think.”
Vimes paused. There’s something in the air in this city, he thought. If the Creator had said, “Let there be light” in Ankh-Morpork, he’d have got no further because of all the people saying “What color?”
“The supreme ruler, OK,” he said, starting to stroll forward again.
“But that’s not right, see? One man with the power of life and death.”
“But if he’s a good man—” Carrot began.
OK. OK. Let’s believe he’s a good man. But his second-in-command—is he a good man too? You’d better hope so. Because
the supreme ruler, too, in the name of the king. And the rest of the court…they’ve got to be good men. Because if just one of them’s a bad man the result is bribery and patronage.”
“The Patrician’s a supreme ruler,” Carrot pointed out. He nodded at a passing troll. “G’day, Mr. Carbuncle.”
“But he doesn’t wear a crown or sit on a throne and he doesn’t tell you it’s
that he should rule,” said Vimes. “I hate the bastard. But he’s honest. Honest like a corkscrew.”
“Even so, a good man as king—”
“Yes? And then what? Royalty pollutes people’s minds, boy. Honest men start bowing and bobbing just because someone’s granddad was a bigger murdering bastard than theirs was. Listen! We probably had good kings, once! But kings breed other kings! And blood tells, and you end up with a bunch of arrogant, murdering bastards! Chopping off queens’ heads and fighting their cousins every five minutes! And we had centuries of that! And then one day a man said ‘No more kings!’ and we rose up and we fought the bloody nobles and we dragged the king off his throne and we dragged him into Sator Square and we chopped his bloody head off! Job well done!”
“Wow,” said Carrot. “Who was he?”
“The man who said ‘No More Kings’.”
People were staring. Vimes’ face went from the red of anger to the red of embarrassment. There was little difference in the shading, however.
“Oh…he was Commander of the City Guard in those days,” he mumbled. “They called him Old Stoneface.”
“Never heard of him,” said Carrot.
“He, er, doesn’t appear much in the history books,” said Vimes. “Sometimes there has to be a civil war, and sometimes, afterwards, it’s best to pretend something didn’t happen. Sometimes people have to do a job, and then they have to be forgotten. He wielded the axe, you know. No one else’d do it. It was a king’s neck, after all. Kings are,” he spat the word, “
. Even after they’d seen the…private rooms, and cleaned up the…bits. Even then. No one’d clean up the world. But he took the axe and cursed them all and did it.”
“What king was it?” said Carrot.
“Lorenzo the Kind,” said Vimes, distantly.
“I’ve seen his picture in the palace museum,” said Carrot. “A fat old man. Surrounded by lots of children.”
“Oh yes,” said Vimes, carefully. “He was very fond of children.”