"I see. You will be travelling alone?"
"No, there will have to be eleven of us. Two coaches."
"My word! And disappearing in a puff of smoke to reappear elsewhere is-"
"Out of the question. I just need-"
"An edge," said the wizard. "Yes. Something magical in its cause but not in its effect. Nothing too obvious."
"And no chance of anyone being turned into a frog or anything like that," said Vimes quickly.
"Of course," said Ridcully. He clapped his hands together. "Well, commander, I"m afraid we can"t help you. Meddling in things like this is not what wizarding is all about!" He lowered his voice and went on:
"We will particularly not be able to help you if you have the coaches, empty, round the back in, oh, call it about an hour?"
"Oh? Er ... right," said Vimes, trying to catch up. "You"re not going to make them fly or anything, are you?"
"We"re not going to do anything, commander!" said Ridcully jovially, slapping him on the back. "I thought that was agreed! And I think also that you should leave now, although, of course, you have in fact not been here. And neither have I. I say, this spying business is pretty clever, eh?"
When Vimes had gone, Mustrum Ridcully sat back, lit his pipe and, as an afterthought, used the last of the match to light the candle lantern on the potting table. The gardener could get pretty acerbic if people messed about with his shed, so perhaps he ought to tidy up a bit
He stared at the floor, where a tumbled hosepipe and a fallen onion made what looked, at a casual glance, like a large eyeball with a tail.
The rain cooled Vimes down. It had cooled down the streets, too. You have to be really keen to riot in the rain. Besides, news of last night had got around. No one was sure, of course, and such were the effects of Fluff and Big Hammer that a large if elementary school of thought had been left uncertain about what had really happened. They"d woken up feeling bad, right? Something must have happened. And tonight the rain was setting in, so maybe it was better to stay in the pub.
He walked through the wet, whispering darkness, mind ablaze.
How fast could those dwarfs travel? Some of them sounded pretty old. But they"d be tough and old. Even so, the roads in that direction
were none too good, and a body could only stand so much shaking.
And Sybil was taking Young Sam. That was stupid, except that it ... wasn"t stupid, not after dwarfs had broken into your home. Home was where you had to feel safe. If you didn"t feel safe, it wasn"t home. Against all common sense, he agreed with Sybil. Home was where they were together. She"d already sent off an urgent clacks to some old chum of hers who lived near the valley; she seemed to think it was going to be some kind of family outing.
There was a group of dwarfs hanging around on a corner, heavily armed. Maybe the bars were all full, or maybe they needed cooling down too. No law against hanging around, right?
Wrong, growled Vimes, as he drew nearer. Come along, boys. Say something wrong. Lay hold of a weapon. Move slightly. Breathe loudly. Give me something that could be stretched to "in self defence". It"d be my word against yours, and believe me, lads, I"m unlikely to leave you capable of saying a single damn thing.
The dwarfs took one clear look at the approaching vision, haloed in torchlight and mist, and took to their heels.
The entity known as the Summoning Dark sped through streets of eternal night, past misty buildings of memory that wavered at its passage. It was getting there, it was getting there. It was having to change the habits of millennia, but it was finding ways in, even if they were no bigger than keyholes. It had never had to work this hard before, never had to move this fast. It was ... exhilarating.
But always, when it paused by some grating or unguarded chimney, it heard the pursuit. It was slow, but it never stopped following. Sooner or later, it would catch up.
Grag Bashfullsson lodged in a subdivided cellar in Cheap Street. The rent wasn"t much, but he had to admit that neither was the accommodation: he could lie on his very narrow bed and touch all four walls or, rather, three walls and a heavy curtain that separated his little space from that of the family of nineteen dwarfs that occupied the rest of the cellar. But meals were included and they respected his privacy. It was something to have a grag as a lodger, even if this one seemed rather young and showed his face. It still impressed the neighbours.
On the other side of the curtain children were squabbling, a baby was crying, and there was the smell of rat-and-cabbage casserole. Someone was sharpening an axe. And someone else was snoring. For a dwarf in Ankh-Morpork, solitude was something that you had to cultivate on the inside.
Books and papers filled the space that wasn"t bed. Bashfullsson"s desk was a board laid across his knees. He was reading a battered book, its cover cracked and mouldy, and the runes passing under his eye were: "It has no strength in this world. To fulfil any purpose, the Dark must find a champion, a living creature it can bend to its will ..."
Bashfullsson sighed. He"d read the phrase a dozen times, hoping he could make it mean something other than the obvious. He copied the words into his notebook anyway. Then he put the notebook in his satchel, swung the satchel on to his back, went and paid Toin Footstamper two weeks" rent in advance, and stepped out into the rain.
Vimes didn"t remember going to sleep. He didn"t remember sleeping. He surfaced from darkness when Carrot shook him awake. "The coaches are in the yard, Mister Vimes!" "Fwisup?" murmured Vimes, blinking in the light. "I"ve told people to load them up, sir, but-" "But what?" Vimes sat up.
"I think you"d better come and see, sir:
When Vimes stepped out into the damp dawn, two coaches were indeed standing in the yard. Detritus was idly watching the loading, while leaning on the Piecemaker.
Carrot hurried over when he saw the commander. "It"s the
wizards, sir," he said. "They"ve done something."
The coaches looked normal enough to Vimes, and he said so. "Oh, they look fine," said Carrot. He reached down and put his
hand on the door sill, and added: "But they do this." He lifted the laden coach over his head.
"You shouldn"t be able to do that," said Vimes.
"That"s right, sir," said Carrot, lowering the coach gently on to the
cobbles. "It doesn"t get any heavier with people inside, either. And if
you come over here, sir, they"ve done something to the horses, too." "Any idea what they"ve done, captain?"
"None whatsoever, sir. The coaches were just outside the university. Haddock and I drove them down here. Very light, of course. It"s the harnesses that are worrying me. See here, sir:
"I see the leather"s very thick," said Vimes. "And what"re all these copper knobs? Something magical?
"Could be, sir. Something happens at thirteen miles an hour. I don"t know what." Carrot patted the side of the coach, which slid
away. "The thing is, sir, I don"t know how much of an edge this gives you.
"What? Surely a weightless coach would-"
"Oh, it"ll help, sir, especially on the inclines. But horses can only go so fast for so long, sir, and once they"ve got the coach moving it"s a rolling weight and not so much of a problem."
"Thirteen miles an hour," Vimes mused. "Hmm. That"s pretty fast."
"Well, the mail coaches are making nine or ten miles an hour average on many runs now," said Carrot. "But the roads will be a lot worse when you get near Koom Valley."
"You don"t think it"ll take wing, do you?"
"I think the wizards would have said so if it was going to do something like that, sir. But it"s funny you should mention it, because there"s seven broomsticks nailed underneath each coach."
"What? Why don"t they just float out of the yard?"
"Magic, sir. I think they just compensate for the weight:
"Good grief, yes. Why didn"t I think of that?" said Vimes sourly. "And that"s why I don"t like magic, captain. "Cos it"s magic. You can"t ask questions, it"s magic. It doesn"t explain anything, it"s magic. You don"t know where it comes from, it"s magic! That"s what I don"t like about magic, it does everything by magic!"
"That"s the significant factor, sir, there"s no doubt about it," said Carrot. "I"ll just see to the last of the packing, if you"ll excuse me
Vimes glared at the coaches. He probably shouldn"t have brought in the wizards, but where was the choice? Oh, they could probably have sent Sam Vimes all that way in a puff of smoke and the blink of an eye, but who"d actually arrive there, and who"d come back? How would he know if it was him? He was certain that people were not supposed to disappear like that.
Sam Vimes had always been, by nature, a pedestrian. That"s why he was going to take Willikins as well, who knew how to drive. He"d also demonstrated to Vimes his ability to throw a common fish knife so hard that it was quite difficult to pull out of the wall. At times like this, Vimes liked to see a skill like that in a butler
"Scuse me, sir," said Detritus, behind him. "Could I have a word, pers"nal?"
"Yes. Of course," said Vimes.
"I, er, hope what I said yesterday inna cells wasn"t goin" too-" "Can"t remember a word of it," said Vimes.
Detritus looked relieved. "Thank you, sir. Er ... I want to take young Brick with us, sir. He"s got no kin here, doesn"t even know what clan he is. He"ll only get messed up again if I take my eye off"f him. An" he"s never seen der mountains. Never been outside der city, even!"
There was a pleading look in the troll"s eyes. Vimes recollected that his marriage to Ruby was happy but childless.
"Well, we don"t seem to have a weight problem," he said. "All right. But you"re to keep an eye on him, okay?"
The troll beamed. "Yessir! I"ll see you don"t regret it, sir!"
"Breakfast, Sam!" called Sybil, from the doorway. A nasty suspicion gripped Vimes, and he hurried over to the other coach, where Carrot was strapping on the last bag.
"Who packed the food? Did Sybil pack the food?" he said. "I think so, sir."
"Was there ... fruit?" said Vimes, probing the horror.
"I believe so, sir. Quite a lot. And vegetables."
"Some bacon, surely?" Vimes was nearly begging. "Very good for a
long journey, bacon. It travels well."
"I think it"s staying at home today," said Carrot. "I have to tell you, sir, that Lady Sybil has found out about the bacon sandwich arrangement. She said to tell you the game was up, sir."
"I am the commander around here, you know," said Vimes, with as much hauteur as he could muster on an empty stomach.
"Yes, sir. But Lady Sybil has a very quiet way of being firm, sir."
"She has, hasn"t she?" said Vimes as they strolled towards the building. "I"m a very lucky man, you know," he added, just in case Carrot might have got the wrong impression.
"Yes, sir. You are indeed."
They turned. Someone was hurrying through the gate. He had two swords strapped to his back.
"Ah, Special Constable Hancock," said Carrot, stepping forward. "Do you have something for me?"
"Er, yes, captain." Hancock looked nervously at Vimes.
"This is official business, Andy," said Vimes, reassuringly.
"Not much to give you, sir. But I asked around, and a young lady sent at least two self-coded droppers to Bonk in the last week. That means it goes to the main tower and gets handed over to whoever turns up with the right authorization. We don"t have to know who they are."
"Well done," said Carrot. "Any description?"
"Young lady with short hair is the best I could get. Signed the message "Aicalas"."
Vimes burst out laughing. "Well, that"s about it. Thank you, Special Constable Hancock, very much."
"Crime on the clacks is going to be a growing problem," said Carrot sadly, when they were alone again.
"Quite likely, captain," said Vimes. "But here and now we know that our Sally is not being straight with us."
"We can"t be certain it"s her, sir," said Carrot.
"Oh no?" said Vimes happily. "This quite cheers me up. It"s one of the lesser-known failings of the vampire. No one knows why. It goes with having big windows and easily torn curtains. A sort of undeath-wish, you might say. However clever they are, they can"t resist thinking that no one will recognize their name if they spell it backwards. Let"s go."
Vimes turned back to head into the building, and noticed a small, neat figure standing patiently by the door. It had the look of someone who was quite happy to wait. He sighed. I bargain without an axe in my hand, eh?
"Breakfast, Mr Bashfullsson?" he said.
"This is all rather fun," said Sybil an hour later, as the coaches headed out of the city. "Do you remember when we last went on holiday, Sam?"
"That wasn"t really a holiday, dear," said Vimes. Above them, Young Sam swung back and forth in a little hammock, cooing. "Well, it was very interesting, all the same," said Sybil. "Yes, dear. Werewolves tried to eat me."
Vimes sat back. The coach was comfortably upholstered and well sprung. At the moment, while it threaded through the traffic, the magical loss of weight was hardly noticeable. Would it mean anything? How fast could a bunch of old dwarfs travel? If they really had taken a big wagon, the coaches would catch them tomorrow, when the mountains were still a distant prospect. In the meantime, at least he could get some rest.
He pulled out a battered volume entitled Walking in the Koom Valley, by Eric Wheelbrace, a man who apparently had walked on just about everything bigger than a sheep track in the Near Ramtops.It had a sketch map, the only actual map of the valley Vimes had seen. Eric wasn"t a bad sketch artist.
Koom Valley was ... well, Koom Valley was basically a drain, And even then had been belabouring mountain goats on apparently sheer cliff faces and, while pebbles slid and bounced around him, was clearly accusing them of obstructing his Right to Roam. Eric believed very firmly that The Land Belonged To The People, and also that he was more The People than anyone else was. Eric went everywhere with a map, encased in waterproof material, on a string around his neck. Such people are not to be trifled with.
that"s what it was: nearly thirty miles of soft limestone rock edged by mountains of harder rock, so what you had would have been a canyon if it wasn"t so wide. One end was almost on the snowline, the other merged into the plains.
It was said that even clouds kept away from the desolation that was Koom Valley. Maybe they did, but that didn"t matter. The valley got the water anyway, from meltwater and the hundreds of waterfalls that poured over its walls from the mountains that cupped it. One of those falls, the Tears of the King, was half a mile high.
The Koom River didn"t just rise in this valley. It leapt and danced in this valley. By the time it was halfway down, it was a crisscrossing of thundering waters, forever merging and parting. They carried and hurled great rocks, and played with whole fallen trees from the dripping forests that colonized the scree built up against the walls. They gurgled into holes and rose again, miles away, as fountains. They had no mappable course - a good storm higher up the mountains could bring house-sized rocks and half a stricken woodland down in the flood, blocking the sinkholes and piling up dams. Some of these could survive for years, becoming little islands in the leaping waters, growing little forests and little meadows and colonies of big birds. Then some key rock would be shifted by a random river, and within an hour it would all be gone.
Nothing that couldn"t fly lived in the valley, at least for long. The dwarfs had tried to tame it, back before the first battle. It hadn"t worked. Hundreds of dwarfs and trolls had been swept up in the famous flood, and many had never been found again. Koom Valley had taken them all into its sinkholes and chambers and caverns, and had kept them.
There were places in the valley where a man could drop a coloured cork into a swirling sinkhole and then wait for more than twenty minutes before it bobbed up on a fountain less than a dozen yards away.
There was hardly any sound now. Perhaps sound was unable to keep up.
"Sir?" said Willikins quietly.
"Yes?" said Vimes, his eyes streaming.
"It took us less than a minute to go that last mile. I timed us between milestones, sir."
"Sixty miles an hour? Don"t be daft, man! A coach can"t go that fast!"
"Just as you say, sir."
A milestone flashed past. Out of the corner of his ear, Willikins heard Vimes counting under his breath until, before very long, another stone fell away behind them.
"Wizards, eh?" said Vimes weakly, staring ahead again.
"Indeed, sir," said Willikins. "May I suggest that once we are through Quirm we head straight across the grass country?"
"The roads up there are pretty bad, you know," said Vimes.
"So I believe, sir. However, that will not, in fact, matter," said the butler, not taking his eyes off the unrolling road ahead.
"Why not? If we try to go at speed over those rough-"
"I was referring obliquely, sir, to the fact that we are not precisely touching the ground any more."
Vimes, clinging with care to the rail, looked over the side. The wheels were turning idly. The road, just below them, was a blur. Ahead of them, the spirit of the horse galloped serenely onwards.
"There"s plenty of coaching inns around Quirm," he said. "We could, er, stop for lunch?"
"Late breakfast, sir! Mail coach ahead, sir! Hold tight!"
A tiny square block on the road ahead was getting bigger quite fast. Willikins twitched the reins, Vimes had a momentary vision of rearing horses, and the mail coach was a dwindling dot, soon hidden by the smoke of flaming brassicas.
"Dem milestones is goin" past real fast now," Detritus observed, in a conversational tone of voice. Behind him, Brick lay flat on the roof
of the coach with his eyes tight shut, having never before been in a world where the sky went all the way to the ground; there were brass rails around the top of the coach, and he was leaving fingerprints in them.
"Could we try braking?" said Vimes. "Look out! Haycart!"
"That only stops the wheels spinning, sir!" yelled Willikins, as the cart went by with a whoom and fell back into the distance.
"Try pulling on the reins a little!"
"At this speed, sir?"
Vimes slid back the hatch behind him. Sybil had Young Sam on her knee, and was pulling a woolly jumper over his head.
"Is everything all right, dear?" he ventured.
She looked up and smiled
. "Lovely smooth ride, Sam. Aren"t we going rather fast, though?"
"Er, could you please sit with your back to the horses?" said Sam. "And hold on tight to Young Sam? It might be a bit ... bumpy."
He watched her shift seats. Then he shut the hatch and yelled to Willikins: "Now!"
Nothing seemed to happen. In Vimes"s mind, the milestones were already going zip ... zip as they flashed past.
Then the flying world slowed, while in the fields on either side hundreds of burning cabbages leapt towards the sky, trailing oily smoke. The horse of light and air disappeared and the real horses dropped gently towards the road, going from floating statues to beasts in full gallop without a stumble.
He heard a brief scream as the rear coach tore past and swerved into a field full of cauliflowers where, eventually, it squelched to a flatulent halt. And then there was stillness, except for the occasional thud of a falling cabbage. Detritus was comforting Brick, who"d not picked a good day to go cold turkey; it was turning out to be frozen roc.
A skylark, safely above cabbage range, sang in the blue sky. Below, except for the whimpering of Brick, all was silent.
Absent-mindedly, Vimes pulled a half-cooked leaf off his helmet and flicked it away.
"Well, that was fun," he said, his voice a little distant. He got down carefully and opened the coach door. "Everyone all right in here?" he said.
"Yes. Why have we stopped?" said Sybil.
"We ran out of ... er, well, we just ran out," said Vimes. "I"d better go and check that everyone else is all right. .."
The milestone near by proclaimed that it was but two miles to Quirm. Vimes fished out the Gooseberry as a red-hot cabbage smacked into the road behind him.
"Good morning!" he said brightly to the surprised imp. "What is the time, please?"
"Er ... nine minutes to eight, Insert Name Here," said the imp. "So that would mean a speed slightly above one mile a minute," mused Vimes. "Very good."
Moving like a sleepwalker, he went into the field on the other side of the road and followed the trail of stricken, steaming greens until he reached the other coach. People were climbing out of it.
"Everyone okay?" he said. "Breakfast today will be boiled cabbage, baked cabbage, fried cabbage"- he stepped smartly aside as a steaming cauliflower hit the ground and exploded - "and Cauliflower Surprise. Where"s Fred?"
"Looking for somewhere to throw up," said Angua.
"Good man. We"ll take a minute or two to rest here, I think." With that, Sam Vimes walked back to the milestone, sat down
next to it, put his arms round it, and held on tight until he felt better.
You could catch up with the dwarfs long before they"re near Koom Valley. Good grief, at the speed we did earlier you"d have to watch out in case you smashed into the back of them!
Vimes"s thought nagged at him as Willikins drove the coach, at a very sedate speed, out of Quirm and then, on a clear stretch of road, unleashed the hidden horsepower until they were bowling along at forty miles every hour. That seemed quite fast enough.
No one was hurt, after all. You could get to Koom Valley by nightfall!
Yes, but that was not the plan.
Okay, he thought, but what is the plan, exactly? Well, it helped that Sybil knew more or less everybody, or at least everybody who was female, of a certain age, and who had been to the Quirm College for Young Ladies at the same time as Sybil. There appeared to be hundreds of them. They all seemed to have names like Bunny or Bubbles, they kept in touch meticulously, they"d all married influential or powerful men, they all hugged one another when they met and went on about the good old days in Form 3b or whatever, and if they acted together, they could probably run the world or, it occurred to Vimes, might already be doing so.
They were Ladies Who Organize.
Vimes did his best, but he could never keep track of them. A web of correspondence held them all together, and he marvelled at Sybil"s ability to be concerned over the problems of a child - which she"d never met - of a woman she hadn"t seen for twenty-five years. It was a female thing.
So they would be staying in the town near the foot of the valley with a lady currently known to him only as Bunty, whose husband was the local magistrate. According to Sybil, he had his own police force. Vimes translated this, in the privacy of his head, as "he"s got his own gang of thuggish, toothless, evil-smelling thief-takers, since that was what you generally got in these little towns. Still, they might be useful.
Beyond that ... there was no plan. He intended to find the dwarfs and capture and drag as many as possible back to AnkhMorpork. But that was an intention, not a plan. It was a firm intention, though. Five people had been murdered. You couldn"t just turn your back on that. He"d drag "em back and lock them up and throw everything at "em and see what stuck. He doubted if they had many friends now. Of course, it"d get political, it always did, but at least people would know that he"d done all he could, and it was the best he could do. And with any luck it would stop anyone else getting funny ideas. And then there was the damn Secret, but it occurred to him that if he did find it, and it simply was proof that the dwarfs ambushed the trolls or the trolls ambushed the dwarfs or they both ambushed each other at the same time, well, he might as well drop it down a hole. It really wouldn"t change anything. And it was unlikely to be a pot of gold; people didn"t take a lot of money on to battlefields, because there wasn"t very much to spend it on.
Anyway, it had been a good start. They"d clawed back some time, hadn"t they? They could keep up a cracking pace and change horses at every staging inn, couldn"t they? Why was he trying to persuade himself? It made sense to slow down. It was dangerous to go fast.
"If we keep up this pace we might get there the day after tomorrow, right?" he said to Willikins, as they rattled on between stands of young maize.
"If you say so, sir," said Willikins. Vimes noted the hint of diplomacy. "You don"t think so?" he said. "Come on, you can speak your mind!" "Well, sir, those dwarfs want to get there fast, d"you think?" said
"I expect so. I don"t think they want to hang around. So?"
"So I"m just puzzled that you think they"ll be using the road, sir. They could use broomsticks, couldn"t they?"
"I suppose so," Vimes conceded. "But the Archchancellor would have told me if they"d done that, surely."
"Begging your pardon, sir, but what business would it be of his?
They wouldn"t have to bother the gentlemen at the university. Everyone knows the best broomsticks are made by the dwarfs, up at Copperhead."
The coach rolled on.
After a while Vimes observed, in the voice of one who has been thinking deeply, "They"d have to travel at night, though. They"d be spotted otherwise."
"Very true, sir," said Willikins, staring ahead.
There was more thoughtful silence.
"Do you think this thing could jump fences?" said Vimes.
"I"m game to give it a try, sir," said Willikins. "I think the wizards put some thought into all this."
"And how fast do you think it could go, for the sake of argument?" said Vimes.
"Dunno, sir. But I"ve got a feeling it might be pretty fast. A hundred miles in an hour, maybe?"
"You really think so? That means we could be halfway there in a couple of hours!"
"Well, you did say you wanted to get there fast, sir," said Willikins.
This time the silence went on longer before Vimes said, "All right, stop somewhere. I want to make sure that everyone knows what we"re going to do."
"Happy to do that, sir," said Willikins. "It"ll give me a chance to tie my hat on."
What Vimes remembered most of all about that journey - and there was so much of it he wanted to forget - was the silence. And the softness.
Oh, he could feel the wind in his face, but it was only a breeze, even when the ground was a flat green blur. The air was shaping itself around them. When Vimes experimentally held up a piece of paper a foot above his head, it blew away in an instant.
The corn exploded, too. As the coach approached, the green shoots grew out of the ground as if dragged and then burst like fireworks.
The corn belt was giving way to cattle country when Willikins said: "You know, sir, this thing steers itself. Watch."
He lowered the reins as a patch of woodland approached. The scream had hardly formed in Vimes"s throat before the coach curved around the woodland and then swung delicately back on to its original course.
"Don"t do that again, please!" said Vimes.
"All right, sir, but it"s steering itself. I don"t think I could make it run into anything."
"Don"t try!" Vimes said quickly. "And I swear I saw a cow explode back there! Keep us away from towns and people, will you?"
Behind the coach, turnips and rocks leapt into the air and bounced away in the opposite direction. Vimes hoped they wouldn"t get into trouble about that.
The other thing he noticed was that the landscape ahead was strangely bluish, while behind them it had a relatively red tint. He didn"t like to point this out, though, in case it sounded strange.
They had to stop twice to get directions, and were twenty miles from Koom Valley at half past five. There was a coaching inn. They sat out in its yard. No one spoke much. Apart from the speedhungry Willikins, the only people not shaken by the journey were Sybil and Young Sam, who seemed quite happy, and Detritus, who had watched the world skim past with every sign of enjoyment. Brick was still face-down on the coach roof, holding tight.
"Ten hours," said Fred Colon. "And that included lunch and stoppin" to be sick. I can"t believe it ..."
But as it happened, it was all blamed on people from another world, so that was all right.
"I don"t think people are s"posed to go this fast," Nobby moaned. "I fink my brain"s still back home."
"Well, if we"re going to have to wait for it to catch up, Nobby, I"ll buy a house here, shall I?" said Fred.
Nerves were frayed, brains were jogging behind ... This is why I don"t like magic, thought Vimes. But we"re here, and it"s amazing how the inn"s beer has helped recovery.
"We might even be able to have a quick look at Koom Valley before it gets dark," he ventured, to general groaning.
"No, Sam! Everyone needs a meal and a rest!" said Sybil. "Let"s go into town like proper people, nice and slowly, and everyone will be fresh for tomorrow."
"Lady Sybil is right, commander," said Bashfullsson. "I wouldn"t advise going up to the valley at night, even at this time of the year. It"s so easy to get lost."
"In a valley?" said Vimes.
"Oh yes, sir," Cheery chimed in. "You"ll see why, sir. And mostly, if you get lost, you die."
On the sedate journey into town, and because it was six o"clock, Vimes read Where"s My Cow? to Young Sam. In fact, it became a communal effort. Cheery obliged by handling the chicken noises, an area in which Vimes felt he was somewhat lacking, and Detritus delivered a Hruuugh! that rattled the windows. Grag Bashfullsson, against all expectation, managed a very passable pig. To Young Sam, watching with eyes like saucers, it was indeed the Show Of The Year.
Bunty was surprised to see them so soon, but Ladies Who Organize are seldom thrown by guests arriving unexpectedly early. It turned out Bunty was Berenice Waynesbury, nee Mousefather, which must have come as a relief, with a daughter who was married and lived just outside Quirm and a son who"d had to go to Fourecks in a hurry over a complete misunderstanding but was now into sheep in a big way and she hoped Sybil and of course His Grace would be able to stay until Saturday because she"d invited simply everybody and wasn"t Young Sam simply adorable ... and so on, right up to "-and we"ve cleaned out one of the stables for your trolls," said with a happy smile.
Before Sybil or Vimes could say a word, Detritus had removed his helmet and bowed.
"T"ank you very much, missus," he said gravely. "You know, sometimes people forget to clean dem out first. It"s dem little touches dat mean a lot."
"Why, thank you," said Bunty. "How charming. I"ve, er, never seen a troll wearing clothing before . .
"I can take dem off if you like," said Detritus. At which point Sybil took Bunty gently by the arm and said, "Let me introduce you to everybody else . .
Mr Waynesbury the magistrate wasn"t the venal pocket-liner Vimes had expected. He was thin, tall, and didn"t say a great deal, and spent his time at home in a study filled with law books, pipes and fishing tackle; he dispensed justice in the mornings, fished during the afternoon, and charitably forgave Vimes for his total uninterest in dry flies.
The local town of Ham-on-Koom made a good living off the river. When the Koom hit the plains it widened and slowed and was more full of fish than a tin of sardines. Marshes spread out on either side, too, with deep and hidden lakes that were the home and feeding ground of innumerable birds.
Oh ... and there were the skulls, too.
"I am the coroner as well," Mr Waynesbury told Vimes, as he unlocked a cupboard in his desk. "We get a few bones washed down here every spring. Mostly tourists, of course. They really will not take advice, alas. But sometimes we get things that are of more ... historical interest." He put a dwarf skull on the leather desktop.
"About a hundred years old," he said. "From the last big battle, a hundred years ago. We get the occasional piece of armour, too. We put it all in the charnel house and from time to time the dwarfs or the trolls come with a cart to sort through it and carry it away. They take it very seriously."
"Any treasure?" said Vimes.
"Hah. Not that I get told about. But I"d hear about it if there was anything big." The magistrate sighed. "Every year people come to search for it. Sometimes they are lucky."
"They find gold?"
"No, but they get back alive. The others? They wash up out of the caves, in the fullness of time." He selected a pipe from a rack on his desk and began to fill it. "I"m amazed that anyone feels it necessary to take weapons up the valley. It"ll kill you on a whim. Will you take one of my lads, commander?"
"I have my own guide," said Vimes, and then added: "But thank you."
Mr Waynesbury puffed his pipe. "As you wish, of course," he said. "I shall watch the river, in any case."
Angua and Sally had been put in the same bedroom. Angua tried to feel good about that. The woman wasn"t to know. Anyway, it was nice to get between clean sheets, even if the room had a slightly musty smell. More must, less vampire, she thought; look on the bright side.
In the darkness, she opened one eye.
Someone had moved silently across the room. They"d made no
noise but, nevertheless, their passage had stirred the air and changed the texture of the subtle night sounds.
They were at the window now. It was bolted shut, and a faint noise was probably the bolt being slipped back.
It was easy to tell when the window itself was opened: new scents flooded in.
There was a creak that possibly only a werewolf would have heard, followed by a sudden rustling of many leathery wings. Little leathery wings.
Angua shut her eye again. The little minx! Maybe she just didn"t care any more? No point in trying to follow her, though. She debated the wisdom of shutting the window and bolting the door, just to see what excuses she came up with, but dismissed the idea. No good telling Mister Vimes yet, either. What could she prove? It"d all be put down to the werewolf/vampire thing ...
And now Koom Valley stretched away ahead of Vimes, and he could see why he hadn"t made plans. You couldn"t make plans for Koom Valley. It"d laugh at them. It would push them away, like it pushed away roads.
"Of course, you"re seeing it at its best at this time of year," said Cheery.
"By best you mean - ?" Vimes prompted.
"Well, it"s not actually trying to murder us, sir. And there"re the
birds. And when the sun"s right, you get some wonderful rainbows."
There were lots of birds. Insects bred like mad in the wide, shallow pools and dams that littered the floor of the valley in late
spring. Most of them would be dry by the late summer, but for now
Koom Valley was a smorgasbord of things that went "bzz!". And the
birds had come up from the plains to feast on all of it. Vimes wasn"t good at birds, but they mostly looked like swallows, millions of them. There were nests on the nearest cliff, a good half-mile away, and Vimes could hear the chattering from here. And where trees and rocks had piled up in a dam, saplings and green plants had sprouted.
Below the narrow track the party had taken, waters gushed from half a dozen caves and joined together for one wild waterfall into the plain.
"It"s all so ... so alive," said Angua. "I thought it would be just barren rock."
"Dat"s what it is like up at der battle place," said Detritus, spray glistening on his skin. "My dad took me up dere when we were comin" to der city. He showed me dis kind o" rocky place, hit me on der head, and said, "Remember"."
"Remember what?" said Sally.
"He didn"t say. So I just, you know, gen"rally remembered:
I didn"t expect this, Vimes thought. It"s so ... chaotic. Oh, well, let"s get clear of the cliff wall, at least. All these bloody great boulders must have got here from somewhere.
"I can smell smoke," Angua announced after a while, as they made their way unsteadily across the debris-strewn track.
"Camp fires from up the valley," said Cheery. "Early arrivals, I expect."
"You mean people queue up for a place in the battle?" said Vimes. "Watch this boulder, it"s slippery."
"Oh, yes. The fighting doesn"t start until Koom Valley Day. That"s tomorrow."
"Damn, I lost track. Will it affect us down here?"
Bashfullsson coughed politely. "I don"t think so, commander. This area is too dangerous to fight in."
"Well, yes, I can see it would be terrible if anyone got hurt," said Vimes, climbing over a long heap of rotting timber. "That would spoil the day for everyone."
Historical Re-creation, he thought glumly, as they picked their way across, under, over or through the boulders and insectbuzzing heaps of splintered timber, with streamlets running everywhere. Only we do it with people dressing up and running around with blunt weapons, and people selling hot dogs, and the girls all miserable because they can only dress up as wenches, wenching being the only job available to women in the olden days.