Thud!


Chapter 15




"Captain Carrot tried talking to him for nearly half an hour, and you know he"s got a way with people," he said. "Didn"t get as much as a sentence out of him. I read him his rights but don"t ask me if he understood "em. He didn"t want his tea and biscuit, at any rate. That"s Rights 5 and 5b," he added, looking Bashfullsson up and down. "He gets Right 5c only if we"ve got Teatime Assortment: "Can he walk?" said Vimes. "He sort of shuffles, sir." "Fetch him out, then," said Vimes, and seeing Fred"s enquiring look at Bashfullsson he went on: "This gentleman is here to make sure we don"t use the rubber truncheon, sergeant: "Didn"t know we had one, Mister Vimes," said Fred. "We haven"t," said Vimes. "No point in hitting "em with something that bounces, eh?" he added, looking at Bashfullsson, who smiled, once again, his strange little smile. One candle burned on the table. For some reason Fred had seen fit to put another on a stool near the one occupied cell. "Isn"t it a bit dark in here, Fred?" said Vimes, as he pushed aside the debris of mugs and old newspapers that covered most of the table. "Yessir. The dwarfs came and nicked some of our candles to put round their heathe- that nasty sign," said Fred, with a nervous look at Bashfullsson. "Sorry, sir." "I don"t know why we can"t just burn it," grumbled Vimes, setting out the Thud board. "That would be dangerous, now that the Summoning Dark is in the world," said Bashfullsson. "You believe in that stuff?" said Vimes. "Believe? No, said the grag. "I just know it exists. The troll pieces go all round the central stone, sir," he added helpfully. Populating the board with its little warriors took some time, but so did the arrival of Helmclever. With Fred Colon steering him carefully by a shoulder he walked like someone in a dream, his eyes turned up so that they mostly showed the whites. His iron boots scraped on the flagstones. Fred pushed him gently into a chair and put the second candle beside him. Like magic, the dwarf"s eyes focused on the little stone armies to the exclusion of everything else in the jail. "We"re playing a game, Mr Helmclever," said Vimes quietly. "And you can choose your side." Helmclever reached out with a trembling hand and touched a piece. A troll. A dwarf had chosen to play as the trolls. Vimes gave the hovering Bashfullsson a questioning glance, and got another smile in return. Okay, you got as many of the little sods as possible in a defensive huddle, right? Vimes"s hand hesitated, and shifted a dwarf across the board. The click as he placed it was echoed by the one made by the movement of Helmclever"s next troll. The dwarf looked sleepy, but his hand had moved with snake speed. "Who killed the four mining dwarfs, Helmclever?" said Vimes softly. "Who killed the boys from the city?" Dull eyes looked at him, and then, meaningfully, at the board. Vimes moved a dwarf at random. "The dark soldiers," Helmclever whispered, as a little troll clicked smartly into place. "Who ordered it?" Again the look, again a dwarf placed at random followed by a troll that was moved so fast the two pieces seemed to hit the board together. "Grag Hamcrusher ordered it: "Why?" "They had heard it speaking." "What was it that spoke? Was it a cube?" "Yes. It was dug up. It said it spoke with the voice of B"hrian Bloodaxe." Vimes heard a gasp from Bashfullsson, and caught Fred Colon"s eye. He jerked his head towards the cell-block door, and mouthed a couple of words. "Wasn"t he a famous dwarf king?" said Vimes. "Yes. He commanded the dwarfs at Koom Valley," said Helmclever. "And what did this voice say?" said Vimes.And a third click from behind Vimes as Fred Colon locked the door and stood in front of it, looking impassive. "I do not know. Ardent said it was about the battle. He said it was lies." "Who killed Grag Hamcrusher?" "I do not know. Ardent called me to the meeting and said there was terrible fighting among the grags. Ardent said one of them killed him in the dark, with a mining hammer, but none knew who. They were all struggling together: All dressed alike, Vimes thought. Just shapes, if you can"t see their wrists ... "Why did they want to kill him?" "They had to stop him destroying the words! He was screaming and hitting the cube with the hammer!" "There are ... sensitive areas on a cube and it is possible that if they are touched in the wrong order all the sound will vanish," whispered Bashfullsson. "I should think the hammer would do the trick whatever it hit!" said Vimes, turning his head. "No, commander. Devices are immensely tough. "They must be!" Vimes turned back to Helmclever. "It"s wrong to destroy lies but it"s okay to kill the miners?" he said. He heard the hiss of Bashfullsson"s intake of breath. Well, yes, perhaps that could have been better put. There was no answering move. Helmclever hung his head. "It was wrong to kill the miners," he whispered. "And why not destroy lies? But it is wrong to think these thoughts, so I ... I said nothing. The old grags were angry and upset and confused, so Ardent took charge. He said one dwarf killing another underground, everyone knew that was no business of humans. He said he could make it all right. He said everyone must listen to him. He told the dark guards to take the body to the new outer chamber. And ... he told me to fetch my club. .." Vimes glanced at Bashfullsson and mouthed the word "club?" He got an emphatic nod in return. Helmclever sat hunched in silence, and then raised one hand slowly and moved a troll. Vimes tried to spare a few brain cells for the game while his mind raced and laboured to piece together the random information spilling out of Helmclever. So ... it all starts when they come here looking for this magic cube, which can speak ... "Why did they come to the city? How did they know the cube was here?" "When I went to begin my training I took a copy of the Codex. Ardent confiscated it, but then they called me to a meeting and said it was very important and they would honour me by letting me go with them to the city. Ardent told me it was a great opportunity. Grag Hamcrusher had a mission, he said." "They hadn"t even known about the painting?" "They lived under a mountain. They believe that humans are not real. But Ardent is smart. He said there were always rumours that something had come out of Koom Valley." I bet he is smart, Vimes thought. So they come here, do a little light pastoral work and rabble-rousing, and search for the cube in a very dwarfish way. They find it. But the poor bastards who were doing the digging hear what it"s got to say. Well, everyone knows dwarfs gossip, so the dark guards make sure these four don"t have a chance to. Then friend Hamcrusher doesn"t like what he hears, either. He wants to destroy this thing. In the struggle in the dark one of the other grags does the world a favour and fetches him a crack on the noggin. But, whoops, big mistake, because the mob is going to miss him and his jolly urging to wholesale troll slaughter. You know how dwarfs gossip, and you can"t kill "em all. So while it"s still just us together in the dark, we need a plan! Forward, Mr Ardent, who says "I know! We"ll take the corpse out to a tunnel that a troll just might have got into, and bash its head in with a club. "A troll did it. What right-thinking dwarf could possibly believe anything else? "Why the candles?" said Vimes. "The old grags were sitting in brilliant candlelight when I saw them." "The grags ordered it," Helmclever whispered. "They feared what might come for them in darkness." "And what was it that might come?" Helmclever"s hand stopped in mid-air. For several seconds nothing moved in the little circle of yellow light except the candle flames themselves; in the darkness beyond, the shadows craned to hear. "I ... cannot say," whispered the dwarf. Vimes glared at the board. Where"d that troll come from? Helmclever had whipped three dwarfs off the board in one go! "Ardent said there"s always a troll. A troll got into the mine," said Helmclever. "The grags said yes, that must have been it." "But they knew the truth!" Three more dwarfs gone, just like that ... "Truth is what a grag says it is, said Helmclever. "The sunlight world is a bad dream anyway. Ardent said no one was to speak about it. He said I was to tell all the guards ... about the troll." Blame it on a troll, Vimes thought. For a dwarf, that came naturally. A big troll did it and ran away. This isn"t just a can of worms, it"s a nest of bloody vipers! He stared at the board. Bloody hell. I"m running into a wall here. What am I left with? Brick saw a dwarf hitting another dwarf, but that wasn"t the murder - that was Ardent or someone giving Hamcrusher"s dead body that distinctive "bashed-by-a-troll" look. I"m not actually certain that"s a major crime. The murder was done in the dark by one of six dwarfs, and the other five might not even know who did it! Okay, maybe I can say they conspired to conceal a crime ... Hold on ... "But it wasn"t Ardent who said that the Watch should not be told," he said. "That was you, wasn"t it? Did you want me to be angry, Mr Helmclever?" He moved a dwarf. Helmclever looked down. Since no answer was forthcoming, Vimes captured the wandering troll and placed it beside the board. "I did not think you would come." Helmclever"s voice was barely audible. "Hamcrusher was ... I think ... I didn"t ... Ardent said you wouldn"t worry because the grag was such a danger. He said the grag had ordered the miners to be killed, and so now it was ended. But I thought it ... I ... it wasn"t right. Things were wrong! I heard you were full of pride. I had to get you ... interested. He ... he. . "You thought I wouldn"t be? A troll is accused of murdering a dwarf, at a time like this, and I wouldn"t be interested?" said Vimes. "Ardent said that you wouldn"t be because no humans were involved. He said you would not care what happens to dwarfs." "He ought to get out in the fresh air more!" Helmclever"s eyes and nose were running now, and dripping on the board. A storm stops the battle, Vimes thought. Then the dwarf lifted his head and wailed: "It was the club the troll Mr Shine gave me for winning five games in a row," he wailed. "He was my friend! He said I was as good as a troll so I should have a club! I told Ardent it was a war trophy! But he took it and bashed that poor dead body!" Water dripping on a stone, Vimes thought. And it depends on where the drops fall, right, Mr Shine? What good has it done this poor devil? He wasn"t in the right job to have doubt enter his life! "All right, Mr Helmclever, thank you for this," he said, sitting back. "There is just one thing, though. Do you know who sent those dwarfs to my house?" "What dwarfs?" Vimes stared into the weeping, red-rimmed eyes. Their owner was either telling the truth or the stage had missed a major talent. "They came to attack me and my family," he said. "I ... did hear Ardent talking to the captain of the guard," Helmclever murmured. "Something about ... a warning ..., "A warning? Do you call-" Vimes began, and stopped when he saw Bashfullsson shaking his head. Right. Right. No point in taking it out on this one. He"s had all the stuffing knocked out of him in any case. "They are very frightened now," Helmclever said. "They don"t understand the city. They don"t understand why trolls are allowed here. They don"t understand people who don"t ... understand them. They fear you. They fear everything now." "Where have they gone?" "I don"t know. Ardent said they would have gone now anyway, because they"ve got the cube and the painting; said Helmclever. "He said the painting will show where there are more lies, and those can be destroyed. But they fear most of all the Summoning Dark, commander. They can feel it coming for them." "It"s only a drawing," said Vimes. "I don"t believe in it." "I do," said Helmclever calmly. "It is in this room. How does it come? It comes in darkness and in vengeance and in disguise." Vimes felt his skin twitch. Nobby looked around the grimy stone walls. Bashfullsson sat bolt upright in his chair. Even Fred Colon shifted uneasily. This is just mystic stuff, Vimes told himself. It"s not even human mystic stuff. I don"t believe in it. So why does it feel a bit chilly in here? He coughed. "Well, once it knows they"ve gone I expect it"ll head out after them." "And it will come for me," said Helmclever, in the same calm voice. He folded his hands in front of him. "Why? You didn"t kill anybody," said Vimes. "You don"t understand! They ... they ... when they killed the miners one was not all the way dead, and, and, and we could hear him hammering on the door with his fists, and I stood in the tunnel and listened to him die and I wished him dead so that the noise would stop, but, but, but when it did it went on in my head, and I could, I could, I could have turned the wheel but I was afraid of the dark guards who have no souls and because of that the darkness will take mine..." The little voice died away. There was a nervous cough from Nobby. "Well, thank you again, said Vimes. Good grief, they really messed up his head, poor little sod. And I"ve got nothing, he thought. I might get Ardent on a charge of falsifying evidence. I can"t put Brick in the witness box because I"ll simply be proving that there was a troll in the mine. All I"ve got is young Helmclever here, who"s clearly unfit to testify. He turned to Bashfullsson and shrugged. "I think I"d like to keep our friend here tonight, for his own good. I can"t imagine there"s anywhere else for him to go. The statement he made is of course covered by. . Now his voice trailed off. He turned back in his chair to glare at the sorrowful Helmclever. "What painting?" "The painting of the Battle of Koom Valley by Methodia Rascal," said the dwarf, not looking up . "It"s very big. They stole it from the museum. "What?" said Fred Colon, who was making tea in the corner. "It was them?" "What? You know about this, Fred?" Vimes demanded. "We - yes, Mister Vimes, we did a report-" "Koom Valley, Koom Valley, Koom Valley!" roared Vimes, slapping his hand down on the table so hard that the candlesticks jumped into the air. "A report? What the hell good"s a report? Have I got time these days to read reports? Why doesn"t someone tell me these thi-" One candle rolled on to the floor and went out. Vimes grabbed for the other as it reached the edge of the table, but it spun away from his fingers and landed wick first on the flagstones. Darkness fell like an axe. Helmclever groaned. It was a heartfelt, soul-creaking groan, like a death rattle from a living mouth. "Nobby!" screamed Vimes. "Light a godsdamn match right now and that"s a godsdamn order!" There was a frantic scrabbling in the dark and then a matchhead was a sudden supernova. "Well, bring it here, man!" he shouted to Nobby. "Get those candles lit!" Helmclever was still staring at the table, where the ill-tempered thump had scattered the remains of the game. Vimes glanced down at the game board as the candle flames grew. If you were the kind to see things, you"d say that the trolls and dwarfs had fallen in a rough circle around the central rock, while a few more dwarfs had rolled away in a line. You"d say, in fact, that from above they formed the shape of a round eye. With a tail. Helmclever gave a little sigh and slipped sideways on to the floor. Vimes stood up to help him, and then remembered just in time about politics. He forced himself to back away, hands in the air. "Mr Bashfullsson?" he said. "I can"t touch him. Please?" The grag nodded and knelt down by the dwarf. "No pulse, no heartbeat," he announced after a few seconds. "I"m sorry, commander.! "Then it looks as though I"m now in your hands," said Vimes. "Indeed. In the hands of a dwarf," said the grag, standing up. "Commander Vimes, I will swear that Helmclever was treated with nothing but concern and courtesy whilst I was here. And perhaps with more kindness from you than a dwarf might have a right to expect. His death is not on your hands. The Summoning Dark called him. Dwarfs will understand." "Well, I don"t! Why"d it kill him? What did the poor bugger do?" "I think it"s more true to say that the fear of the Summoning Dark killed him," said the grag. "He left a miner trapped, heard his cries in the dark and did nothing. To all dwarfs, that is a terrible crime." "As bad as wiping away a word?" said Vimes sourly. He felt more shaken up than he"d care to admit. "Some would say it is far worse. His own guilt and fear killed Helmclever. It"s as if he had his own Summoning Dark in his head," said Bashfullsson. "In a way, perhaps, we all have, commander. Or something similar." "You know, your religion really messes people up, "said Vimes. "Not in comparison to what they do to one another," said Bashfullsson, calmly folding the dead dwarf"s hands across his chest. "And it is not a religion, commander. Tak wrote the World and the Laws, and then He left us. He does not require that we think of Him, only that we think." He stood up. "I shall explain the situation to my fellows, commander. Incidentally, I would ask you to take me with you to Koom Valley." "Did I say I was going to Koom Valley?" said Vimes. "All right," said the grag calmly. "Let"s say, then, that should the mood take you to go to Koom Valley, you will take me? I know the place, I know the history, I even know quite a lot about mine sign, especially the Major Darknesses. I may be useful." "You demand all that just for telling the truth?" said Vimes. "As a matter of fact, no. J"ds hasfak "ds": I bargain with no axe in my hand. I will tell the truth whatever you decide," said Bashfullsson. "However, since you are not going to Koom Valley, commander, I will not press you. It was only an idle thought." Fun. What is it good for? It"s not pleasure, joy, delight, enjoyment or glee. It"s a hollow, cruel, vicious little bastard, a word for something sought with an hilarious couple of wobbly antennae on your head and the words "I want It!" on your shirt, and it tends to leave you waking up with your face stuck to the street. Somehow, Angua had acquired a magenta feather boa. It wasn"t her. It wasn"t anyone. It had just turned up. The sheer fakery of it made her more gloomy. Something was nagging at the back of her mind, and it annoyed her that she didn"t know what it was. They had ended up in Biers, as she knew they would. It was the undead bar, although it tolerated anyone who wasn"t too normal. It certainly tolerated Tawneee. She just didn"t get it, did she? The reason why men never talked to her. The trouble was, thought Angua, that Nobby wasn"t actually a bad ... person. As such. As far as she knew, he"d always been faithful to Miss Pushpram, which was to say that when it came to being hit with a fish and then pelted with clams, he never thought of any other girl but her. He actually had quite a romantic soul, but it was encased in what could only be called ... Nobby Nobbs. Sally had accompanied Tawneee to the Ladies, which always came as a shock to people who hadn"t seen it before. Now Angua was staring at yet another cocktail menu, painted on a board above the bar, in a very shaky script, by Igor. [1] He"d done his best to flow with the zeitgeist - or would have done if he"d known what the word meant - but had totally failed to grasp the subtleties of the modern cocktail bar, so that the drinks on offer included: HAVIN YOUR TEEF SMASHED IN BY A BIG STINKIN FIST HEAD NAILED TO THE DOOR KICK INNA FORK LIKE BIG LUMP OF STEEL HAMMER FIN YOUR EARS NECK BOLT Actually, the Neck Bolt wasn"t too bad, Angua had to admit. ""scuse me," said Cheery, teetering on a bar stool, "but what was all that about Tawneee? I could see you and Sally nodding to each other!" "That? Oh, it"s the jerk syndrome: Angua remembered who she was talking to, and added: "Er ... dwarfs probably don"t have that. It means ... sometimes a woman is so beautiful that any man with half a brain isn"t going to think of asking her out, okay? Because it"s obvious that she"s far too grand for the likes of him. Are you with me?" "I think so." "Well, that"s Tawneee. And, for the purposes of this explanation, Nobby has not got half a brain. He"s so used to women saying no [1] Who wasn"t an Igor, but was merely called one. It was best not to have fun with him on this subject, and especially not to ask him to sew your head back on. when he asks them out that he"s not afraid of being blown out. So he asks her, because he figures, why not? And she, who by now thinks there"s something wrong with her, is so grateful she says okay." "But she likes him." "I know. That"s where it all gets strange." "It"s much simpler for dwarfs," said Cheery. "I expect it is." "But probably not as much fun," said Cheery, looking crestfallen. Tawneee was returning. Angua ordered three Neck Bolts while Cheery hopefully negotiated for a Screaming Orgasm. [1] And then, with occasional assistance from Sally, Angua explained to Tawneee the facts of ... well ... everything. It took some while. You had to keep changing the shape of sentences to get them to fit into the currently available space in Tawneee"s brain. Angua clung to the idea, though, that the girl couldn"t be that stupid. She worked in a strip club, didn"t she? "I mean, why do you think men pay to watch you on stage?" she asked. "Because I"m very good," said Tawneee promptly. "When I was ten I got the dancer of the year award in Miss Deviante"s ballet and tap class." "Tap-dancing?" said Sally, grinning. "Hey, why don"t you try that on stage?" Angua closed her mind to the image of Tawneee tap-dancing. The club would probably burn to the ground. "Er, let me try this another way. .:she said. "And I"m telling you this as another woma- female. . Tawneee listened intently, and even the way in which she looked puzzled was unfair to the rest of her sex. When Angua had finished she watched the angelic expression hopefully. "So what you"re saying, right," said Tawneee, "is that walking out [1] Patience is a key virtue amongst dwarfs. with Nobby is like going into a big posh restaurant and only eating the bread roll?" "Exactly!" said Angua. "You"ve got it!" "But I never really meet men. Granny told me not to act like a floozie." "And you don"t think that working at " Angua began, but Sally cut in. "Sometimes you need to flooze regularly," she said. "Haven"t you ever just gone into a bar and had a drink with a man?" "No." "Right," said Sally. She drained her glass. "I don"t like these Neck Bolts. Let"s go somewhere else and"- she paused -"open your mind to possibiliteesh." It was odd, having Sybil in Pseudopolis Yard. It had been one of the Ramkin family houses before she"d given it to the Watch. She"d been a girl there. It had been her home. Some apprehension of this crept into the chipped and stained souls of the watchmen. Men not known for the elegance of their manners found themselves automatically wiping their feet as they came in, and respectfully removing their helmets. They spoke differently too, slowly and hesitantly, anxiously scanning the sentence ahead for expletives to delete. Someone even found a broom and swept up, or at least moved the dirt to a less obvious place. Upstairs, in what had been until then the cash office, Young Sam slept peacefully in a makeshift bed. One day, Vimes hoped, he would be able to tell him that on one special night he"d been guarded by four troll watchmen. They"d been off duty but volunteered to come in for this, and were just itching for some dwarfs to try anything. Sam hoped the boy would be impressed; the most other kids could hope for was angels. Vimes had commandeered the canteen, because it had a big enough table. He"d spread out a map of the city. A lot of the rest of the planking was occupied by pages from The Koom Valley Codex. This wasn"t a game, this was a puzzle. A sort of, yes, jigsaw puzzle. And he ought to be able to do it, he reasoned, because he already had nearly all the corners. "Ettercap Street, Money Trap Lane, Crybaby Alley, Scuttlebutt Court, The Jeebies, Pellicool Steps," he said. "Tunnels everywhere! They were lucky to find it after only three or four. Mr Rascal must have had lodgings in half the streets in the area. Including Empirical Crescent!" "But hwhy?" said Sir Reynold Stitched. "I mean, hwhy dig tunnels everyhwhere?" "Tell him, Carrot," said Vimes, drawing a line across the city. Carrot cleared his throat. "Because they were dwarfs, sir, and deep-downers at that," he said. "It wouldn"t occur to them not to dig. And mostly it"d be just a matter of clearing out buried rooms in any case. That"s a stroll to a dwarf. And they were laying rails, so they could take the spoil out anywhere they wanted." "Yes, but sureleah-" Sir Reynold began. "They were listening out for something talking at the bottom of an old well," said Vimes, still bending over the map. "What chance that"d still be visible? And people can get a bit iffy when a bunch of dwarfs turn up and start digging holes in the garden." "It"d be very slow, sureleah?" "Well, yes, sir. But it would be in the dark, under their control, and secret," said Carrot. "They could go anywhere they wanted. They could zigzag around if they weren"t certain, they could home in with their listening tube, and they"d never have to speak to a human or see daylight. Dark, controllable and secret." "Deep-downers in a nutshell," said Vimes. "This is very exciting!" said Sir Reynold. "And they dug into the cellars of my museum?" "Over to you, Fred," said Vimes, carefully drawing another line across the map. "Er, right," said Fred Colon. "Er ... Nobby an" me found out where only a couple of hours ago," he said, thinking it wisest not to add "after Mister Vimes yelled at us and made us tell him every last detail and then sent us back and told us what to look for". What he did add was: "They were pretty clever, sir. The mortar even looked dirty. I bet you"re saying to yourself ahah, sir?" "I am?" said Sir Reynold, bewildered. "I hwould normally say "my goodness"." "I expect you"re saying to yourself, ahah, how were they able to build up the wall again after they"d got the muriel out, sir, and we reckon-" "Well, I imagine one dwarf stayed behind to make good, lay low, as you hwould say, and hwandered out in the morning," said Sir Reynold. "There were people going in and out all the time. We were looking for a big painting, after all, not a person." "Yessir. We reckon one dwarf stayed behind to make good, lay low and wandered out in the morning. There were people going in and out all the time. You were looking for a big painting, after all, not a person," said Fred Colon. He"d been very pleased to come up with that theory, so he was going to say it out loud no matter what. Vimes tapped the map. "And here, Sir Reynold, is where a troll called Brick fell through another cellar floor into their tunnel," he said. "He also told us he saw something in the main mine which sounds very much like the Rascal." "But, alas, you have not found it, "said Sir Reynold. "I"m sorry, sir. It"s probably long gone out of the city." "But hwhy?" said the curator. "They could have studied it in the museum! We"re very interactive these days!" "Interactive?" said Vimes. "What do you mean?" "Hwell, people can ... look at the pictures as much as they hwant," said Sir Reynold. He sounded a little annoyed. People shouldn"t ask that kind of question. "And the pictures do what, exactly?"





Back to Table of content


Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.