Men at Arms
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Men at Arms



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Men at Arms

Copyright © 1993 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

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 could think in italics. Such people need watching.

Preferably from a safe distance.

“What’s so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work’s already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place, eh?”

The problem with Destiny, of course, is that she is often not careful where she puts her finger.

A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes “Boots” theory of socioeconomic unfairness.



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?”



“But he doesn’t wear a crown or sit on a throne and he doesn’t tell you it’s right 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!”

He has never, in his entire life, harmed a living creature. He has dissected a few, but only after they were dead,* and had marvelled at how well they’d been put together considering it had been done by unskilled labor.

* Because he was an early form of free-thinking scientist, and did not believe that human beings had been created by some sort of divine being. Dissecting people when they were still alive tended to be a priestly preoccupation; they thought mankind had been created by some sort of divine being and wanted to have a closer look at His handiwork.

A great many rulers, good and bad and quite often dead, know what happened; a rare few actually manage, by dint of much effort, to know what’s happening. Lord Vetinari considered both types to lack ambition.



Dwarfs were not a naturally religious species, but in a world where pit props could crack without warning and pockets of fire damp could suddenly explode they’d seen the need for gods as the sort of supernatural equivalent of a hard hat. Besides, when you hit your thumb with an eight-pound hammer it’s nice to be able to blaspheme. It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, “Oh, random-fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum!” or “Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept on a crutch!”




Murder was in fact a fairly uncommon event in Ankh-Morpork, but there were a lot of suicides. Walking in the night-time alleyways of The Shades was suicide. Asking for a short in a dwarf bar was suicide. Saying “Got rocks in your head?” to a troll was suicide. You could commit suicide very easily, if you weren’t careful.



If you had enough money, you could hardly commit crimes at all. You just perpetrated amusing little peccadilloes.



“Lord Eorle is a very old friend.”

“Is he?”

“Well, I’ve known him a long time. I can’t stand the man, actually. But you were making him look foolish.”

“He was making himself look foolish. I was merely helping.”

“Do you think there’s such a thing as a criminal mind?”

Carrot almost audibly tried to work this out.

“What . . . you mean like . . . Mr. Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, sir?”

“He’s not a criminal.”

“You have eaten one of his pies, sir?”

“I mean . . . yes . . . but . . . he’s just geographically divergent in the financial hemisphere.”


“I mean he just disagrees with other people about the position of things. Like money. He thinks it should all be in his pocket. No, I meant—” Vimes closed his eyes, and thought about cigar smoke and flowing drink and laconic voices. There were people who’d steal money from people. Fair enough. That was just theft. But there were people who, with one easy word, would steal the humanity from people. That was something else.




Phrenology, as everyone knows, is a way of reading someone’s character, aptitude and abilities by examining the bumps and hollows on their head. Therefore—according to the kind of logical thinking that characterizes the Ankh-Morpork mind—it should be possible to mould someone’s character by giving them carefully graded bumps in all the right places. You can go into a shop and order an artistic temperament with a tendency to introspection and a side order of hysteria. What you actually get is hit on the head with a selection of different size mallets, but it creates employment and keeps the money in circulation, and that’s the main thing.



So many crimes are solved by a happy accident—by the random stopping of a car, by an overheard remark, by someone of the right nationality happening to be within five miles of the scene of the crime without an alibi . . .

“C. M. O. T. Dibbler’s Genuine Authentic Soggy Mountain Dew,” she read. “He’s going to die! It says, ‘One hundred and fifty percent proof’!”

“Nah, that’s just old Dibbler’s advertising,” said Nobby. “It ain’t got no proof. Just circumstantial evidence.”



Klatchian coffee has an even bigger sobering effect than an unexpected brown envelope from the tax man. In fact, coffee enthusiasts take the precaution of getting thoroughly drunk before touching the stuff, because Klatchian coffee takes you back through sobriety and, if you’re not careful, out the other side, where the mind of man should not go.



If there was crime, there should be punishment. If the specific criminal should be involved in the punishment process then this was a happy accident, but if not then any criminal would do, and since everyone was undoubtedly guilty of something, the net result was that, in general terms, justice was done.



Consider orangutans.

In all the worlds graced by their presence, it is suspected that they can talk but choose not to do so in case humans put them to work, possibly in the television industry. In fact they can talk. It’s just that they talk in Orangutan. Humans are only capable of listening in Bewilderment.

Some people have inspired whole countries to great deeds because of the power of their vision. And so could he. Not because he dreams about marching hordes, or world domination, or an empire of a thousand years. Just because he thinks that everyone’s really decent underneath and would get along just fine if only they made the effort, and he believes that so strongly it burns like a flame which is bigger than he is. He’s got a dream and we’re all part of it, so that it shapes the world around him. And the weird thing is that no one wants to disappoint him.
“Last I heard, this thing had been banned in eight countries and three religions said they’d excommunicate any soldiers found using it!* Anyone got a light?”

* Five more embraced it as a holy weapon and instructed that it be used on all infidels, heretics, gnostics and people who fidgeted during the sermon.

“People ought to think for themselves, Captain Vimes says. The problem is, people only think for themselves if you tell them to.”

If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat.

They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.



Hold it in your hand, and you had power. More power than any bow or spear—they just stored up your own muscles’ power, when you thought about it. But the gonne gave you power from outside. You didn’t use it, it used you.



Personal isn’t the same as important. What sort of person could think like that?



text checked (see note) Apr 2005

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