Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Copyright © 1997 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

As every student of exploration knows, the prize goes not to the explorer who first sets foot upon the virgin soil but to the one who gets that foot home first. If it is still attached to his leg, this is a bonus.

The Watch could tell you a thing or two about neighbours. So could lawyers, especially the real rich ones to whom ‘neighbour’ meant a man who’d sue for twenty years over a strip of garden two inches wide. People’d live for ages side by side, nodding at one another amicably on their way to work every day, and then some trivial thing would happen and someone would be having a garden fork removed from their ear.



Lord Vetinari looked attentive, because he’d always found that listening keenly to people tended to put them off.

And at meetings like this, when he was advised by the leaders of the city, he listened with great care because what people said was what they wanted him to hear.

‘Why are our people going out there?’ said Mr Boggis of the Thieves’ Guild.

‘Because they are showing a brisk pioneering spirit and seeking wealth and . . . additional wealth in a new land,’ said Lord Vetinari.

‘What’s in it for the Klatchians?’ said Lord Downey.

‘Oh, they’ve gone out there because they are a bunch of unprincipled opportunists always ready to grab something for nothing,’ said Lord Vetinari.

‘A masterly summation, if I may say so, my lord,’ said Mr Burleigh, who felt he had some ground to make up.

The Patrician looked down again at his notes. ‘Oh, I do beg your pardon,’ he said, ‘I seem to have read those last two sentences in the wrong order . . .’



‘Sir Samuel, the Klatchian language does not even have a word for lawyer,’ said Mr Slant.

‘Doesn’t it?’ said Vimes. ‘Good for them.’



‘Many of them don’t like Klatch’s current expansionist outlook, but they don’t like us much either.’

‘Whyever not?’ said Lord Selachii.

‘Well, because during our history those we haven’t occupied we’ve tended to wage war on,’ said Lord Vetinari. ‘For some reason the slaughter of thousands of people tends to stick in the memory.’

‘Oh, history,’ said Lord Selachii. ‘That’s all in the past!’

‘And when a lot of people are running around with weapons and talking daft stuff about war, accidents happen. Have you ever been in a pub when everyone goes armed? Oh, things are a little polite at first, I’ll grant you, and then some twerp drinks out of the wrong mug or picks up someone else’s change by mistake and five minutes later you’re picking noses out of the beer nuts—’

‘I heard this wizard down the University say that the Klatchians invented nothing. That was their great contribution to maffs, he said. I said “What?” an’ he said, they come up with zero.’

‘Dun’t sound that clever to me,’ said Nobby. ‘Anyone could invent nothing. I ain’t invented anything.’



‘You can’t trust ’em, like I said. And they burp hugely after meals.’

‘Well . . . so do you, sarge.’

‘Yes, but I don’t pretend it’s polite, Nobby.’



‘Well, that’s a nice start to the day,’ said Carrot.

‘Thank you, yes, I wasn’t hurt,’ said Angua.

‘It makes it all seem worthwhile, somehow.’

‘Just my hair messed up and another shirt ruined.’

‘Well done.’

‘Sometimes I might suspect that you don’t listen to anything I say,’ said Angua.

‘Glad to hear it,’ said Carrot.

She was familiar with the syndrome. They said they wanted a soulmate and helpmeet but sooner or later the list would include a skin like silk and a chest fit for a herd of cows.
It wasn’t proper police work, Vimes considered, unless you were doing something that someone somewhere would much rather you weren’t doing.
After all, this was a Traditional Ceremony. If you took the view that you were not going to do things because they were apparently ridiculous, you might as well go home right now.



‘You know what I always say,’ he said.

Carrot removed his helmet and polished it with his sleeve. ‘Yes, sir. “Everyone’s guilty of something, especially the ones that aren’t,” sir.’

‘No, not that one . . .’

‘Er . . . “Always take into consideration the fact that you might be dead wrong,” sir?’

‘No, nor that one either.’

‘Er . . . “How come Nobby ever got a job as a watchman?”, sir? You say that a lot.’

‘No! I meant “Always act stupid,” Carrot.’

‘Ah, right, sir. From now on I shall remember that you always said that, sir.’



‘A certain lack of imagination? An ability to get out of their depth on a wet pavement? A tendency to rush to judgement?’

‘I hope you are not impugning my men, sir.’

‘Vimes, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs have never been pugn’d in their entire lives.’



‘An experimental device for turning chemical energy into rotary motion,’ said Leonard. ‘The problem, you see, is getting the little pellets of black powder into the combustion chamber at exactly the right speed and one at a time. If two ignite together, well, what we have is the external combustion engine.’

‘And, er, what would be the purpose of it?’ said the Patrician.

‘I believe it could replace the horse,’ said Leonard proudly.

They looked at the stricken thing.

‘One of the advantages of horses that people often point out,’ said Vetinari, after some thought, ‘is that they very seldom explode.’




After all, when you seek advice from someone it’s certainly not because you want them to give it. You just want them to be there while you talk to yourself.



‘In theory?’

‘No one would ever actually do it. Raining unquenchable fire down upon fellow humans? Hah! [...] You’d never find an artisan to build it, or a soldier who would pull the lever . . .’



Ankh-Morpork no longer had a fire brigade. The citizens had a rather disturbingly direct way of thinking at times, and it did not take long for people to see the rather obvious flaw in paying a group of people by the number of fires they put out. The penny really dropped shortly after Charcoal Tuesday.

‘Just went straight in and saved everyone, in the finest tradition of the Watch!’

‘Fred?’ said Vimes, wearily.


‘Fred, the finest tradition of the Watch is having a quiet smoke somewhere out of the wind at 3 a.m. Let’s not get carried away, eh?’

Ramkin regiments had fought the city’s enemies all over the Sto Plains and had inflicted heroic casualties, quite often on people in the opposing armies.*

* It is a long-cherished tradition among a certain type of military thinker that huge casualties are the main thing. If they are on the other side then this is a valuable bonus.



‘People killing one another just because their gods have squabbled—’

‘Oh, they’ve got the same god, sir. Apparently it’s over a word in their holy book, sir. The Elharibians say it translates as “god” and the Smalies say it’s “man”.’

‘How can you mix them up?’

‘Well, there’s only one tiny dot difference in the script, you see. And some people reckon it’s only a bit of fly dirt in any case.’

‘Centuries of war because a fly crapped in the wrong place?’

‘It could have been worse,’ said Carrot. ‘If it had been slightly to the left the word would have been “liquorice”.’




At a time like this men like Rust rise to the top. It’s like stirring a swamp with a stick. Really big bubbles are suddenly on the surface and there’s a bad smell about everything.

‘To be frank . . . the city is to be placed under martial law.’

‘Yessir? What kind of law’s that, sir?’ said Vimes, staring straight ahead.

‘You know very well, Vimes.’

‘Is it the kind where you shout “Stop!” before you fire, sir, or the other kind?’


Two kinds

‘You seem to feel, Vimes, that the law is some kind of big glowing light in the sky which is not subject to control. And you are wrong. The law is what we tell it to be.’



‘This belonged to my great-grandad,’ he said. ‘He was in the scrap we had against Pseudopolis and my great-gran gave him this book of prayers for soldiers, ’cos you need all the prayers you can get, believe you me, and he stuck it in the top pocket of his jerkin, ’cos he couldn’t afford armour, and next day in battle – whoosh, this arrow came out of nowhere, wham, straight into this book and it went all the way through to the last page before stopping, look. You can see the hole.’

‘Pretty miraculous,’ Carrot agreed.

‘Yeah, it was, I s’pose,’ said the sergeant. He looked ruefully at the battered volume. ‘Shame about the other seventeen arrows, really.’

One of the universal rules of happiness is: always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual.

‘They say that if a D’reg is your friend he’s your friend for the rest of your life.’

‘And if he’s not your friend?’

‘That’s about five seconds.’



It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me?



‘It is always useful to face an enemy who is prepared to die for his country,’ he read. ‘This means that both you and he have exactly the same aim in mind.’

No one could remember seeing him handle a weapon, and a flash of unaccustomed insight told Sergeant Colon that this was not in fact a comforting thought at all.

He ought to stay here, and do the best he could.

But . . . history was full of the bones of good men who’d followed bad orders in the hope that they could soften the blow. Oh, yes, there were worse things they could do, but most of them began right where they started following bad orders.



71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans. He didn’t believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren’t true. He believed instead in the things that were true in which no one else believed. There are many such substitions, ranging from ‘It’ll get better if you don’t pick at it’ all the way up to ‘Sometimes things just happen.’



‘Fortune favours the brave, sir,’ said Carrot cheerfully.

‘Good. Good. Pleased to hear it, captain. What is her position vis à vis heavily armed, well prepared and excessively manned armies?’

‘Oh, no one’s ever heard of Fortune favouring them, sir.’

‘According to General Tacticus, it’s because they favour themselves,’ said Vimes. He opened the battered book. Bits of paper and string indicated his many bookmarks. ‘In fact, men, the general has this to say about ensuring against defeat when outnumbered, out-weaponed and out-positioned. It is . . .’ he turned the page, ‘ “Don’t Have a Battle.” ’



‘Ah, yes, he says, “After the first battle of Sto Lat, I formulated a policy which has stood me in good stead in other battles. It is this: if the enemy has an impregnable stronghold, see he stays there.” ’
‘ “Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” ’

‘Historically, sir, Klatch isn’t so much an empire as an argument.’

‘He say, you much be educated. You must be learning to pay taxes. We do not wish to be educated about taxes,’ said Jabbar.

‘So you think you’re fighting for your freedom?’ said Vimes.

Jabbar hesitated, and looked at Carrot. There was a brief exchange in Klatchian. Then Carrot said: ‘That’s a rather difficult question for a D’reg, sir. You see, their word for “freedom” is the same as their word for “fighting”.’




In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.




‘Tell me.’

‘No. I swore to him.’

‘But D’regs are oath-breakers. Everyone knows that.’

Jabbar gave Vimes a grin. ‘Oh, oaths. Stupid things. I gave him my word.



You had criminals and you had policemen, and there was a sort of see-saw there which balanced out in some strange way. But if you took a man who’d sit down and decide to start a war, what in the name of seven hells could you balance him with? You’d need a policeman the size of a country.

‘And I promise you this,’ he shouted, ‘if we succeed, no one will remember. And if we fail, no one will forget!’

Probably one of the worst rallying cries, Vimes thought, since General Pidley’s famous ‘Let’s all get our throats cut, boys!’ but it got a huge cheer.

‘I understand the motto of his old school was “It matters not that you won or lost, but that you took part.” ’

The Prince’s lips moved as he tried this out once or twice. Finally he said: ‘And, knowing this, people still take orders from him?’



‘Oh, my dear Vimes, history changes all the time. It is constantly being re-examined and re-evaluated, otherwise how would we be able to keep historians occupied? We can’t possibly allow people with their sort of minds to walk around with time on their hands.’



text checked (see note) Apr 2005

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Graphics copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen