"Could be said to be a bit provocative, sir-" Carrot began doubtfully.
"Detritus is an Ankh-Morpork copper, captain, just like you and me," said Vimes. "I suppose I"m acceptable, am I?
"Yes, sir, of course. I think you worry them, though."
"I do? Oh: Vimes hesitated. "Well, that"s good. And Detritus is an officer of the law. We"ve still got some law here. And as far as I"m concerned, it goes deep. All the way down."
Bloody stupid thing to say, Vimes thought five minutes later as he walked through the streets at the head of the little squad. He cursed himself for saying it.
Coppers stayed alive by trickery. That"s how it worked. You had your Watch Houses with the big blue lights outside, and you made certain there were always burly watchmen visible in the big public places, and you swanked around like you owned the place. But you didn"t own it. It was all smoke and mirrors. You magicked a little policeman into everyone"s head. You relied on people giving in, knowing the rules. But in truth a hundred well-armed people could wipe out the Watch, if they knew what they were doing. Once some madman finds out that a copper taken unawares dies just like anyone else, the spell is broken.
Hamcrusher"s dwarfs don"t believe in the City Watch? That could turn out to be a problem. Maybe bringing a troll along was provocative, but Detritus was a citizen, gods damn it, just like everyone else. If you-
Ah, yes. No matter how bad things were, there was always room for them to get just that little bit worse ...
He pulled the smart brown box out of his pocket and flipped it open. The pointy-eared face of a small green imp stared up at him with that wistful, hopeless smile which, in its various incarnations, he"d come to know and dread.
"Good Morning, Insert Name Here! I am the Dis-Organizer Mark Five, "The Gooseberry"TM. How may I-" it began, speaking fast in order to get as much said as possible before the inevitable interruption.
"I swear I switched you off," said Vimes.
"You threatened me with a hammer," said the imp accusingly, and rattled the tiny bars. "He threatens state-of-the-Craft technomancy with a hammer, everybody!" it shouted. "He doesn"t even fill in the registration card! That"s why I have to call him Insert Nam-"
"I thought you"d got rid of that thing, sir," said Angua as Vimes snapped the lid shut. "I thought it had had an ... accident." "Hah!" said a muffled voice from the box.
"Sybil always gets me a new one," said Vimes, making a face. "A better one. But I know this one was turned off."
The box"s lid thrust upwards.
"I wake up for alarms!" the imp shrieked. "Ten colon Forty-Five Sit
for Damn Portrait!"
Vimes groaned. The portrait with Sir Joshua. He"d get into
trouble for this. He"d already missed two sittings. But this dwarf
thing was ... important.
"I won"t be able to make it," he mumbled.
"Then would you like to engage the handy-to-use Bluenose tm
Integrated Messenger Service?"
"What does that do?" said Vimes with deep suspicion. The
succession of Dis-Organizers he had owned had proved quite
successful at very nearly sorting out all the problems that stemmed
from owning them in the first place.
"Er, basically, it means me running with a message to the nearest
clacks tower really fast," said the imp hopefully.
"And do you come back?" said Vimes, hope also rising.
"Thank you, no," said Vimes.
"How about a game of Splong!TM, specially devised for the Mark
Five?" pleaded the imp. "I have the bats right here. No? Perhaps you
would prefer the ever-popular Guess My Weight in Pigs? Or I could
whistle one of your favourite tunes? My iHUM tm function enables
me to remember up to one thousand five hundred of your
"You could try learning to use it, sir," said Angua, as Vimes once
again shut the lid on the protesting voice.
"Did use one," said Vimes.
"Yup. As a doorstop," rumbled Detritus, behind him.
"I"m just not at home with technomancy, all right?" said Vimes.
"End of discussion. Haddock, nip along to Moon Pond Lane, will
you? Present my apologies to Lady Sybil, who will be at Sir Joshua"s
studio there. Tell her I"m very sorry, but this has come up and it needs careful handling."
Well, it does, he thought, as they headed onward. It probably needs more careful handling than I"m going to give it. Well, to hell with that. It comes to something if you have to tread carefully even to find out if there"s been a murder.
Treacle Street was just the kind of area the dwarfs colonized - on the edge of the less pleasant parts of town, but not all the way there. You tended to notice the dwarf outposts: a patchwork of windows testified to a two-storey house having been turned into a threestorey house while remaining exactly the same height; an excess of small ponies pulling small carts; and, of course, all the really short people wearing beards and helmets was a definite clue.
Dwarfs dug down, too. It was a dwarf thing. Up here, far from the river, they could probably get to sub-basement level without being up to their necks in water.
There were a lot of them out and about this morning. They weren"t particularly angry, insofar as Vimes could tell when the available area of expression between eyebrows and moustache was a few square inches, but it wasn"t usual to see dwarfs just standing around. They tended to be somewhere working hard, usually for one another. No, they weren"t angry, but they were worried. You didn"t need to see faces to sense that. Dwarfs as a whole weren"t happy about newspapers, regarding such news as a lover of fine grapes would regard raisins. They got their news from other dwarfs, to ensure that it was new and fresh and full of personality, and no doubt it grew all kinds of extras in the telling. This crowd was waiting uncertainly for news that it was going to become a riot.
For now, the crowd parted to let them through. The presence of Detritus caused a wake of muttering, which the troll cleverly decided not to hear.
"Feel that?" said Angua, as they walked up the street. "Through your feet?"
"I don"t have your senses, sergeant," said Vimes.
"It"s a constant thud, thud, underground," said Angua. "I can feel the street shaking. I think it"s a pump."
"Pumping out more cellars, maybe?" said Vimes. Sounds like a big undertaking. How far down could they go? he wondered. AnkhMorpork is mostly built on Ankh-Morpork, after all. There"s been a city here since for ever.
It wasn"t just a random crowd, when you looked closely. It was also a queue, along one side of the street, moving very slowly towards a side door. They were waiting to see the grags. Please come and say the death words over my father ... Please advise me on the sale of my shop ... Please guide me in my business ... I am a long way from the bones of my grandfathers, please help me stay a dwarf...
This was not the time to be d"rkza. Strictly speaking, most Ankh-Morpork dwarfs were d"rkza; it meant something like "not really a dwarf" They didn"t live deep underground and come out only at night, they didn"t mine metal, they let their daughters show at least a few indications of femininity, they tended to be a little slipshod when it came to some of the ceremonies. But the whiff of Koom Valley was in the air and this was no time to be mostly a dwarf. So you paid attention to the grags. They kept you on the straight seam.
And, until now, that had been fine by Vimes. Up until now, though, the grags in the city had stopped short of advocating murder.
He liked dwarfs. They made reliable officers, and tended to be naturally law-abiding, at least in the absence of alcohol. But they were all watching him. He could feel the pressure of their gaze.
Standing around watching people was, of course, Ankh-Morpork"s leading industry. The place was a net exporter of penetrating stares. But these were the wrong kind. The street felt not exactly hostile, but alien. And yet it was an Ankh-Morpork street. How could he be a stranger here?
Maybe I shouldn"t have brought a troll, he thought. But where does that lead? Pick your own copper from a chart?
Two dwarfs were on guard outside Hamcrusher"s house. They were more heavily armed than the average dwarf, insofar as that was possible, but it was probably the black leather sashes they wore that were doing the trick of keeping the mood subdued. These declared to those who recognized them that they were working for deep-down dwarfs and, as such, partook a little of the magic, mana, awe or fear that they engendered in the average, backsliding dwarf.
They started to give Vimes the look of all guards everywhere, which in summary is this: the default position is that you"re dead; only my patience stands in the way. But Vimes was ready for it. Any five hells you cared to name knew that he"d used it himself often enough. He countered with the aloof expression of someone who didn"t notice guards.
"Commander Vimes, City Watch," he said, holding up his badge.
"I need to see Grag Hamcrusher immediately." "He"s not seeing anyone," said one of the guards. "Oh. So he is dead, then?" said Vimes.
He felt the answer. He didn"t even have to see Angua"s little nod. The dwarfs had been dreading the question, and were sweating.
To their shock and horror, and also somewhat to his own surprise, he sat down on the steps between them and pulled a packet of cheap cigars out of his pocket.
"I won"t offer one to you lads because I know that you aren"t allowed to smoke on duty" he said convivially. "I don"t allow my boys to do it. The only reason I can get away with it is that there"s
no one to tell me off, haha." He blew a stream of blue smoke. "Now, I am, as you know, head of the City Watch. Yes?"
The two dwarfs, staring straight ahead, both nodded imperceptibly.
"Good," said Vimes. "And that means you, that"s both of you, are impeding me in the execution of my duty. That gives me, oooh, a whole range of options. The one I"m thinking of right now is summoning Constable Dorfl. He"s a golem. Nothing impedes him in the execution of his duty, believe me. You"ll be picking bits of that door off the floor for weeks. And I wouldn"t stand in his way, if I was you. Oh, and it"d be lawful, which means that if anyone puts up a fight it gets really interesting. Look, I"m only telling you this because I"ve done my share of guarding over the years, and there are times when looking tough works and there are times - and this, I suggest, is one of them - when going and asking the people inside what you should do next is a very good career move."
"Can"t leave our post," said a dwarf.
"Don"t worry about that," said Vimes, standing. "I"ll stand guard for you."
"You can"t do that!"
Vimes bent down to the dwarf"s ear.
"I am Commander of the Watch," he hissed, no longer Mr Friendly. He pointed at the cobblestones. "This is my street. I can stand where I like. You are standing on my street. It"s the public highway. That means that there are about a dozen things I could arrest you for, right now. That would cause trouble, right enough, but you would be bang in the middle of it. My advice to you, one guard to another, is to hop off smartly and speak to someone highe- further up the ladder, okay?"
He saw worried eyes peering out from between the rampant eyebrows and the luxuriant moustache and spotted the tiny little tells he"d come to recognize, and added: "Off you go, ma"am."
The dwarf hammered on the door. The hatch slid back. Whispering transpired. The door opened. The dwarf hurried in.
The door closed. Vimes turned, took up station beside it, and stood to attention slightly more theatrically than necessary.
There were one or two outbreaks of laughter. Dwarfs they might be, but in Ankh-Morpork people always wanted to see what would happen next.
The remaining guard hissed, "We"re not allowed to smoke on duty!"
"Oops, sorry," said Vimes, and removed the cigar, tucking it
behind his ear for later. This got a few more chuckles. Let "em laugh,
said Vimes to himself. At least they"re not throwing things.
The sun shone down. The crowd stood still. Sergeant Angua stared at the sky, her face carefully blank. Detritus had settled into the absolute, rock-like stillness of a troll with nothing to do right now. Only Ringfounder looked uneasy. This probably was not a good time and place to be a dwarf with a badge, Vimes thought. But why? All we"ve been doing in the last couple of weeks is trying to stop two bunches of idiots from killing one another.
And now this. This morning was going to cost him an earful, he thought, although in fact Sybil never shouted when she told him off. She just spoke sadly, which was a lot worse.
The bloody family portrait, that was the trouble. It seemed to involve an awful lot of sittings, but it was a tradition of Sybil"s family and that was that. It was more or less the same portrait, every generation: the happy family group, against a panorama of their rolling acres. Vimes had no rolling acres, only aching feet, but as the inheritor of the Ramkin wealth he was, he"d learned, also the owner of Crundells, a huge stately home out in the country. He hadn"t even seen it yet. Vimes didn"t mind the countryside if it stayed put and didn"t attack, but he liked pavement under his feet and didn"t much care for being pictured as some kind of squire. So far his excuses for avoiding the interminable sittings had been reasonable, but it was a close-run thing ...
More time passed. Some of the dwarfs in the crowd wandered off. Vimes didn"t move, not even when he heard the hatch in the
door open for a moment and then slide back. They were trying to wait him out.
Without looking down, maintaining the stolid thousand-mile stare of a guard, Vimes pulled the Dis-Organizer out of his pocket and raised it to his lips.
"I know you were turned off," he grunted.
"Pop-Up For Alarms, remember?" said the imp.
"How do I stop you doing that?"
"The correct form of words is in the manual, Insert Name Here," said the imp primly.
"Where is the manual?"
"You threw it away," said the imp, full of reproach. "You always do. That"s why you never use the right commands, and that is why I did not "go away and stick my head up a duck"s bottom" yesterday. You have an appointment to see Lord Vetinari in half an hour."
"I will be busy" muttered Vimes.
"Would you like me to remind you again in ten minutes?"
"Tell me, what part of "Stick your head up a duck"s bottom" didn"t you understand?" Vimes replied, and plunged the thing back into his pocket.
So, it had been half an hour. Half an hour was enough. This was going to be drastic, but he"d seen the looks the dwarfs were giving Detritus. Rumour was an evil poison.
As he stepped forward, ready to go and summon Dorfl and all the problems that invading this place would entail, the door opened behind him.
"Commander Vimes? You may come in."
There was a dwarf in the doorway. Vimes could just make out his shape in the gloom. And for the first time he noticed the symbol chalked on the wall over the door: a circle, with a horizontal line through it.
"Sergeant Angua will accompany me," he said. The sign struck Vimes as vaguely unsettling; it seemed to be a stamp of ownership that was rather more emphatic than, for example, a little plaque saying "Mon Repos".
"The troll will stay outside," said the figure flatly.
"Sergeant Detritus will stand guard, along with Corporal Ringfounder," said Vimes.
This restatement of fact seemed to pass muster, suggesting that the dwarf probably knew a lot about iron but nothing about irony. The door opened further, and Vimes stepped inside.
The hall was bare, except for a few stacked boxes, and the air smelled of- What? Stale food. Old empty houses. Sealed-up rooms. Attics.
The whole house is an attic, Vimes thought. The thud, thud from below was really noticeable here. It was like a heartbeat.
"This way, if you please," said the dwarf, and ushered Vimes and Angua into a side room. Again, the only furnishings were more wooden boxes and, here and there, some well-worn shovels.
"We do not often entertain. Please be patient," said the dwarf, and backed out. The key clicked in the lock.
Vimes sat down on a box.
"Polite," said Angua. Vimes put one hand to his ear and jerked a thumb towards the damp, stained plaster. She nodded, but mouthed the word "corpse" and pointed downwards.
"Sure?" said Vimes.
Angua tapped her nose. You couldn"t argue with a werewolf"s nose.
Vimes leaned back against a bigger box. It was comfort itself to a man who"d learned to sleep leaning against any available wall.
The plaster on the opposite wall was crumbling, green with damp and hung with dusty old spider webs. Someone, though, had
scratched a symbol in it so deeply that bits of the plaster had fallen out. It was another circle, this time with two diagonal lines slashed through it. Some passion there; not what you"d expect around dwarfs.
"You are taking this very well, sir," said Angua. "You must know this is deliberate discourtesy."
"Being rude isn"t against the law, sergeant." Vimes pulled his helmet over his eyes and settled down.
The little devils! Play silly buggers with me, will they? Try to wind me up, will they? Don"t tell the Watch, eh? There are no no-go areas in this city. I"ll see to it they find that out. Oh yes.
There were more and more of the deep-downers in the city these days, although you very seldom saw them outside the dwarf areas. Even there, you didn"t actually see any of them as such, you just saw their dusty black sedan chairs being muscled through the crowds by four other dwarfs. There were no windows; there was nothing outside that a deep-downer could possibly want to see.
The city dwarfs regarded them with awe, respect and, it had to be said, a certain amount of embarrassment, like some honoured but slightly loopy relative. Because somewhere in the head of every city dwarf there was a little voice that said: you should live in a mine, you should be in the mountains, you shouldn"t walk under open skies, you should be a real dwarf. In other words, you shouldn"t really be working in your uncle"s pigment and dye factory in Dolly Sisters. However, since you are, you could at least try to think like a proper dwarf. And part of that meant being guided by the deepdowners, the dwarfs" dwarfs, who live in caves miles below the surface and never see the sun. Somewhere down there in the dark was true dwarfishness. They had the knowing of it, and they could guide you
Vimes had no problem with that at all. It made as much sense as what most humans believed, and most dwarfs were model citizens, even at two-thirds scale.
But deciding that murder could be kept in the family? thought Vimes. Not on my Watch!
After ten minutes the door was unlocked and another dwarf stepped inside. He was dressed as what Vimes thought of as "standard city dwarf", which meant basic helmet, leather, chain mail and battle-axe/mining pick, but hold the spiky club. He also had a black sash. He looked flustered.
"Commander Vimes! What can I say? I do apologize for the way you have been treated!"
I bet you do. Aloud, Vimes said, "And who are you?"
"Apologies again! I am Helmclever, and I am the ... the nearest word is, perhaps, "daylight face"? I do those things that have to be done above ground. Do come into my office, please!" He trotted off, leaving them to follow him.
The office was downstairs, in the stone-walled basement. It looked quite cosy. Crates and sacks were piled up against one wall. There wasn"t much food in deep caves, after all; the simple life for dwarfs down below happened because of quite complex lives for a lot of dwarfs above. Helmclever looked like little more than a servant, making sure that his masters were fed, although he probably thought the job was rather grander than that. A curtain in the corner probably concealed a bed; dwarfs did not go in for dainty living.
A desk was covered in paperwork. Beside it, on a small table, was an octagonal board covered in little playing pieces. Vimes sighed. He hated games. They made the world look too simple.
"Oh, do you play at all, commander?" said Helmclever, with the hungry look of a true enthusiast. Vimes knew the type, too. Show polite interest, and you"d be there all night.
"Lord Vetinari does. It"s never interested me," said Vimes.
 Vimes had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks round, the whole board could"ve been a republic in a dozen moves.
"Helmclever"s not a common dwarf name. You"re not related to the Helmclevers in Tallow Lane, are you?"
He"d meant it as no more than a bit of non-controversial icebreaking, but he might as well have cursed. Helmclever looked down and mumbled: "Er, yes ... but to a ... grag, even a novice, all of dwarfdom is his ... family. It would not be ... really not be...e faltered into silence and then some other part of his brain took over. He looked up brightly. "Some coffee, perhaps? I shall fetch some.
Vimes opened his mouth to say no, but didn"t. Dwarfs made good coffee, and there was a smell of it wafting from the next room. Besides, the nervousness radiating off Helmclever suggested he"d been drinking a lot of it today. No harm in encouraging him to have more. It was something he told his officers: people got worried around coppers, if the officer knew his stuff, and jittery people gave too much away.
While the dwarf was gone he took in more of the room, and his eye spotted the words The Koom Valley Codex on the spine of a book, half concealed in the paperwork.
That bloody valley again, with added weirdness this time. Actually, Sybil had bought a copy, along with most of the reading population of the city, and had dragged him along to look at that poor man"s wretched picture in the Royal Art Museum. A painting with secrets? Oh yes? And how come some mad young human artist a hundred years ago knew the secret of a battle fought thousands of years before? Sybil said that the book claimed he"d found something on the battlefield but it was haunted and voices drove him to believe he was a chicken. Or something.
When the mugs were brought in, with just a little spilled on Helmclever"s desk because his hand was shaking, Vimes said: "I must see Grag Hamcrusher, sir."
"I"m sorry, that is not possible."
The answer came out flat and level, as if the dwarf had been
practising. But there was a flicker in his eyes, and Vimes glanced up at a very large grille in the wall.
At this point, Angua gave a little cough. Okay, thought Vimes, someone"s listening.
"Mr Helm ... clever," he said, "I have reason to suppose that a serious crime has been committed on Ankh-Morpork soil. He added: "That is to say, under it. But Ankh-Morpork"s, anyway."
Once again, Helmclever"s strange calm gave him away. There was a hunted look in his eyes. "I am sorry to hear it. How may I assist you to solve it?"
Oh well, thought Vimes, I did say I don"t play games.
"By showing me the dead body you have downstairs," he said.
He was obscenely pleased at the way Helmclever deflated. Time
to press home ... He took out his badge.
"My authority, Mr Helmclever. I will search this place. I would prefer to do so with your permission."
The dwarf was trembling, with fear or anxiety or, probably, both. "You will invade our premises? You cannot! Dwarf law-"
"This is Ankh-Morpork," said Vimes. "All the way to the top, all the way to the bottom. Invasion is not the issue. Are you really telling me I cannot search a basement? Now take me to Grag Hamcrusher or whoever is in charge! Now!"
"I - I refuse your request!"
"It wasn"t a request!"
And now we reach our own little Koom Valley, Vimes thought, as he stared into Helmclever"s eyes. No backing down. We both think we"re right. But he"s wrong!
A movement made him glance down. Helmclever"s trembling finger had teased out the spilled coffee into a circle. As Vimes stared, the dwarf"s fingers drew two lines across the circle. He looked back up into eyes bulging with anger, fear ... and just a hint of something else ...
"Ah. Commander Vimes, is it?" said a figure in the doorway.
It might have been Lord Vetinari speaking. It was that same level tone, indicating that he had noticed you and you were, in some small way, a necessary chore. But it was coming from another dwarf, presumably, although he wore a rigid, pointed black hood which brought him up to the height of the average human.
Elsewhere he was completely shrouded, and that was the wellchosen word, in overlapping black leather scales, with just a narrow slit for the eyes. Were it not for the quiet authority of the voice, the figure in front of Vimes could be mistaken for a very sombre Hogswatch decoration.
"And you are - ? said Vimes.
"My name is Ardent, commander. Helmclever, go about your chores!"
As the "daylight face" scuttled off at speed, Vimes turned in his seat and allowed his hand to brush across the sticky symbol, wiping it out. "And do you want to be helpful too?" he said.
"If I can be," said the dwarf. "Please follow me. It would be preferable if the sergeant did not accompany you."
"The obvious reason," said Ardent. "She is openly female."
"What? So? Sergeant Angua is very definitely not a dwarf," said
Vimes. "You can"t expect everyone to conform to your rules!"
"Why not?" said the dwarf. "You do. But could we just, together,
for a moment, proceed to my office and discuss matters?"
"I"ll be fine, sir," said Angua. "It"s probably the best way."
Vimes tried to relax. He knew he was letting himself get steamed
up. Those silent watchers in the street had got through to him, and
the look he"d got from Helmclever needed some thinking about.
"No, he said.
"You will not make that small concession?" said Ardent.
"I am already making several big ones, believe me," said Vimes.
The hidden eyes under the pointy cowl stared at him for a few seconds.
"Very well," said Ardent. "Please follow me.
The dwarf turned and opened a door behind him, stepping into a small square room. He beckoned them to follow and, when they were inside, pulled a lever.
The room shook gently, and the walls began to rise. "This is-"Ardent began.
"-an elevator," said Vimes. "Yes, I know. I saw them when I met the Low King in Uberwald."
The dropping of the name did not work.
"The Low King is not ... respected here," said Ardent. "I thought he was the ruler of all dwarfs?" said Vimes. "A common misconception. Ah, we have arrived." The elevator stopped with barely a jerk.
Ankh-Morpork was built on Ankh-Morpork. Everyone knew that. They had been building with stone here ten thousand years ago. As the annual flooding of the Ankh brought more silt, so the city had risen on its walls until attics had become cellars. Even at basement level today, it was always said, a man with a pickaxe and a good sense of direction could cross the city by knocking his way through underground walls, provided he could also breathe mud.
What had this place been? A palace? The temple of a god who"d subsequently slipped everyone"s memory? It was a big space, dark as soot, but there was a glow that managed to show up beautiful vaulting in the roof above. A strange glow.
"Vurms," said Ardent. "From the deep caves in the mountains around Llamedos. We brought them with us and they breed very fast here. They find your silt quite nourishing. I"m sure they shine more, too."
The glow moved. It did not illuminate much, but it showed up the shape of things, and it was heading towards the elevator, flowing over the wonderful ceiling.
"They head for heat and movement, even now," said the hooded dwarf.
"Er ... why?"
Ardent gave a little laugh. "In case you die, commander. They think you are some rat or small deer that has tumbled into their cave. Nourishment is rare in the Deeps. Every breath you exhale is food. And when eventually you expire, they will ... descend. They are very patient. They will leave nothing but bones."
"I was not intending to expire here," said Vimes.
"Of course not. Follow me please," said Ardent, leading them past a big round door. There were more on the other side of the room, and several gaping tunnel mouths.
"How far down are we?
"Not far. About forty feet. We are good at digging."
"In this city?" said Vimes. "Why aren"t we trying to breathe under water? And calling it water is giving it the best of it."
"We are very good at keeping water out, too. Alas, it appears we are less good at keeping out Samuel Vimes: The dwarf stepped into a smaller room, its ceiling thick with brilliant vurms, and motioned to a couple of dwarf-sized chairs. "Do sit down. Can I offer you refreshment?"
"No, thank you," said Vimes. He sat down gingerly on a chair that brought his knees up almost to his chin. Ardent sat down behind a small desk made of stone slabs and, to Vimes"s amazement, took off his headgear. He looked quite young, with a beard that was actually trimmed.
"How far do all these tunnels run?" Vimes said.
"I don"t propose to tell you," said Ardent levelly.
"So you"re undermining my city?"
"Oh, commander! You"ve been to the caves in Uberwald. You"ve
seen how dwarfs can build. We are craftsmen. Do not think that your house is about to collapse."
"But you"re not just building basements! You"re mining!" said Vimes.
"In a sense. We would say we are mining for holes. Space, commander, that is what we are digging for. Yes, we are mining for holes. Although our bores have found deep treacle, you will be interested to hear-"
"You can"t do this!"
"Can we not? But we are doing it, nevertheless," said Ardent calmly.
"You are burrowing under other people"s property?"
"Rabbits burrow, commander. We dig. And, yes, we are. How far
down does ownership go, after all? And how far up?"
Vimes looked at the dwarf. Calm down, he thought. You can"t
deal with this. This is too big. It"s something for Vetinari to decide.
Stick to what you know. Stick to what you can deal with.
"I"m investigating reports of a death," he said.
"Yes. Grag Hamcrusher. A terrible misfortune," said Ardent with a
calmness that was enraging.
"I"ve heard it was a vicious murder.
"That would be a fair description:
"You admit it?" said Vimes.
"I"ll choose to assume that you mean by that: "Do I admit there has been a murder?" commander. Yes. There has. And we are dealing with it."
"We are discussing the appointment of a zadkrdga," said Ardent, folding his hands. "That is "one who smelts" One who finds the pure ore of truth in the dross of confusion."
"Discussing? Have you sealed off the scene of the crime yet?"
"The smelter may order that, commander, but we already know that the crime was committed by a troll." Ardent"s face now bore an
expression of amused contempt that Vimes longed to remove. "How do you know this? Was it witnessed?"
"Not as such. But a troll"s club was found beside the body," said
"And that"s all you have to go on?" Vimes stood up. "I"ve had
enough of this. Sergeant Angua!"
"Sir?" said Angua, beside him.
"Let"s go. We"re going to find the murder scene while there"s still
any clues left to find!"
"You have no business in the lower areas!" snapped Ardent, standing up.
"How are you going to stop me?"
"How are you going to get past locked doors?"
"How are you going to find out who murdered Hamcrusher?" I told you, a troll club was found!"
"And that"s it? "We found a club so a troll did it?" Is anyone going
to believe that? You"re prepared to start a war in my city with a piece
of flim-flam like that? Because, believe me, that"s what"s going to
happen when this gets out. Try it and I"ll arrest you!"
"And start a war in your city?" said Ardent.
Dwarf and man glared at one another, while they got their
breath. On the ceiling above them, vurms congregated, feasting on
spittle and rage.
"Why would anyone but a troll strike down the grag?" said Ardent.
"Good! You"re asking questions!" Vimes leaned across the desk. "If
you really want answers, unlock those doors!"
"No! You cannot go down there, Blackboard Monitor Vimes!"
The dwarf could not have put more venom in the words "child
Blackboard monitor. Well, he had been, in that little street school
more than forty-five years ago. Mum had insisted. Gods knew where she"d sprung the penny a day it cost, although most of the time Dame Slightly had been happy to accept payment in old clothes and firewood or, preferably, gin. Numbers, letters, weights, measures; it was not what you"d call a rich curriculum. Vimes had attended for nine months or so, until the streets demanded he learn much harder and sharper lessons. But, for a while, he"d been trusted to hand out the slates and clean the blackboard. Oh, the heady, strutting power of it, when you"re six years old!
"Do you deny it?" said Ardent. "You destroy written words? You admitted as much to the Low King in Uberwald."
"It was a joke!" said Vimes.
"Oh? Then you do deny it?"
"What? No! He was impressed by my titles and I just threw that one in for. .. fun."
"Then you deny the crime?" Ardent persisted.
"Crime? I cleaned the blackboard so that new things could be written on it! How is that a crime?"
"You did not care where those words went?" said Ardent. "Care? They were just chalk dust!"
Ardent sighed and rubbed his eyes.
"Busy night?" said Vimes.
"Commander, I understand that you were young and may not have realized what you were doing, but you must understand that to us you appear to be proud of being complicit in the most heinous of crimes: the destruction of words."
"Sorry? Rubbing out "A is for Apple" is a capital crime?"
"One that would be unthinkable for a true dwarf," said Ardent. "Really? But I have the trust of the Low King himself," said Vimes. "So I understand. There are six venerable grags below us,
commander, and in their eyes the Low King and his kind have
strayed from the true seam. He is," Ardent rattled off a sentence in
staccato dwarfish too fast for Vimes to catch it, and then translated,
"wishy-washy. Dangerously liberal. Shallow. He has seen the light."
Ardent was watching him carefully. Think hard. From what Vimes could remember, the Low King and his circle had been pretty crusty types. These people think they"re soppy liberals.
"Wishy-washy?" he said.
"Indeed. I invite you, therefore, to derive from that statement something of the nature of those I serve below."
Ah, thought Vimes. There"s something there. Just a hint. Friend Ardent is a thinker.
"When you say "he has seen the light" you sound as if you mean corrupted," he said.
"Something like that, yes. Different worlds, commander. Down here, it would be unwise to trust your metaphors. To see the light is to be blinded. Do you not know that in darkness the eyes open wider?"
"Take me to see these people down below," said Vimes.
"They will not listen to you. They will not even look at you. They have nothing to do with the World Above. They believe it is a kind of bad dream. I have not dared tell them about your "newspapers" printed every day and discarded like rubbish. The shock would kill them."
But dwarfs invented the printing engine, Vimes thought. Obviously they were the wrong kind of dwarf. I"ve seen Cheery throw stuff in the wastepaper bin, too. It seems like nearly all dwarfs are the wrong sort, eh?
"What exactly is your job, Mr Ardent?" said Vimes.
"I am their chief liaison with the World Above. The steward, you could say."
"I thought that was Helmclever"s job?"
"Helmclever? He orders the groceries, relays my orders, pays the miners and so on. The chores, in fact," said Ardent disdainfully. "He is a novice and his job is to do what I tell him. It is I who speak for the grags."
"You talk to bad dreams on their behalf?
"You could put it that way, I suppose. They would not let a proud word-killer become a smelter. The idea would be abominable." They glared at one another.
Once again, we end up in Koom Valley, Vimes told himself. "They won"t-"
"Permission to make a suggestion?" said Angua quietly.
Two heads turned. Two mouths said: "Well?"
"The ... smelter. The seeker of the truth. Must they be a dwarf?" "Of course!" said Ardent.
"Then what about Captain Carrot? He"s a dwarf."
"We know of him. He is an ... anomaly," said Ardent. "His claim to dwarfishness is debatable."
"But most dwarfs in the city accept that he"s a dwarf," said Angua. "And he"s a copper, too."
Ardent flopped back into his seat. "To your dwarfs here, yes, he is a dwarf. He would be unacceptable to the grags."
"There"s no dwarf law that says a dwarf can"t be more than six feet tall, sir."
"The grags are the law, woman," Ardent snapped. "They interpret laws that go back for tens of thousands of years."