Fan Fiction : Discworld : Fingers


Paul Catlow PLC1723 at

Prologue:- Four years after the Glorious Revolution

Lance-Constable Colon of the City Watch was disillusioned following the collapse of the Revolution and Mad Lord Snapcase's accession as Patrician. This led to the deaths of people close to Colon: Dai Dickens, Horace Nancyball, John Keele, and several others. In addition to this, the venal Quirke, dismissed from the Watch by Keele, was re-admitted and saw suspiciously rapid promotion to Watch Sergeant. He took great pleasure in busting Colon back down to the ranks from his temporary Sergeant's position.

Colon left the Watch, to take service in the Army for a three-year term. On his discharge from the Army and active service on one of Mad Lord Snapcase's brief and nasty wars with neighbouring city states, Colon was re-admitted to the Watch (manpower shortages and the nature of the work mean that only the desperate would take the job on, and Colon is desperate - he's newly married, and there is a little Colon on the way). Quirke, knowing Colon needs the job, uses his impending fatherhood as a lever to enforce conformity with Watch ethics. Knowing a little of his soul has been stripped away and the remainder tarnished with acquiescence to low-grade evil, Colon is not a happy watchman. But deep down in a natural-born copper's soul, his first and only point of reference in a difficult situation is What would John Keele have done here? Even if he cannot always live up to it, and he frequently doesn't, this remains the measure of his self-esteem in trying times.

One morning on the beat, he meets an old familiar face.


It was prudent to patrol Elm Street with all senses, except perhaps for that of smell, on full alert. Fred Colon mused that the most prudent way to patrol Elm Street might well be from the safety of a fully armed and equipped war chariot mounting a Klatchian Flamethrower, but that wasn't a luxury available to him and Herbert "Leggy" Gaskin. The voice was female, and sounded genuinely pleased to see him, which was a rarity on both counts. He turned in the direction of the sound, and smiled.

"Oh, hello, Maisie."

"I heard you were home from the war, Fred. It's nice to see you back in one piece"

("Yes", thought Colon, I'm glad to be back in one piece. And not in quite a few little ones scattered between here and Pseudopolis. That idiot Rust.)

"And back in the Watch, Maisie. Try keeping me out!" He looked further. He saw a woman perhaps in her middle thirties, but looking older. He saw faded, but not entirely gone, beauty. He saw a clean but much-repaired dress which was long past its best. And he saw the bruises.

"Where did you get that, Maisie?" He indicated the blue-black marks on her arm.

"I fell over the step, Fred". (pause) "You know they don't keep it light round here at nights. This new Patrician. He's taxing us more and cutting back on the street sconses. An economy measure, he calls it."

Colon's copper sense flickered a warning bell. She wasn't telling him the whole truth. Some things, a policeman knows.

"Well" she said, with brittle brightness, "I've got some distressed pudding left over from last night. Perhaps you'd fancy a bite, Fred? You and your friend here." Leggy touched a knuckle to his helmet.

"That'd be right kind of you, ma'am. It's getting near lunchtime"

"Well, let's knock off for lunch, then. How's the lad, Maisie?"

Back at the Watch House, just before the handover to the Night Watch, Fred Colon mused over the events of an otherwise unremarkable day.

The two watch captains and their respective sergeants were busy with the little things of the handover: this left a milling mass of outgoing Day Watchmen and incoming Night Watchmen trading the small currency of street coppers everywhere, the small coin of policing, the street gossip, the little snippets of information that could make all the difference. Was it true that Mad Lord Snapcase proposed to legitimize the Thieves' Guild? Not that this made a difference: there were so many thieves and so few Watchmen that the Guild had effectively been operating from a known headquarters, in broad daylight, for quite some time now. And anyway, it would be a brave or suicidal copper who tried to bring in Stren Withel, its veteran president, for multiple offences to be taken into consideration.

What had Maisie meant by "fallen over the doorstep"? Those bruises weren't accidental. And she'd been scared, but trying to paste it over with fragile good humour, when she'd mouthed Better not come in. He's sleeping it off from last night. Colon felt an uncharacteristic surge of anger. He knew about him, alright. So he and Leggy Gaskin had eaten a steaming bowl of Distressed Pudding each at the back doorstep, while making small-talk with Maisie.

"The lad's not in, then?"

"Oh, he'll be out somewhere." Then, concern: "He's not wanted, is he? He's not up to something again?"

"Nothing like that, Maisie. But when you see him, tell him Fred Colon says "hello", would you?"

"I can see how he'll take that, Fred. A Watchman, saying "hello"?"

"Maisie, I'm not asking because I'm Fred Colon, watchman. Just as Fred Colon. Who's known your lad since the. well, four years ago"

"Some Glorious Revolution that was. Huh! Lord Winder out, Mad Lord Snapcase in. Meet the new boss."

"Same as the old boss!" said Gaskin, but not distinctly, through a mouthful of Distressed Pudding. The words disconcerted him, as if they'd echoed out of somewhere else. Just for a second, Colon felt a strange metallic tinge in the roof of his mouth, and reflected he'd last had that in the presence of Wizards down at the University.

"Just tell him I said hello, Maisie."

Colon's memory was abruptly broken by a familiar young watchman.



Young Sam Vimes had filled in over the last four years, Colon thought. The boy had had four years of exposure to the streets: the gauche teenage recruit was gone, and he was looking at a hard-edged street-wise Watchman in his early twenties, a knurd sort of face, face that had already seen too much of the way life really is, rather than the way people try to pretend it is. He didn't get to see too much of Sam these days: that bastard Quirke had relegated him to the night shift, because Sam had learnt too well from John Keele in those brief weeks way back. A honest watchman who didn't take bribes, who in fact made a point of not taking bribes: that had been too much for a corrupt venal bastard like Quirke, who'd moved him on like a hot wahoolie.

"Something to tell you, Fred."

Fred Colon laid in bed, restless and unable to sleep. The memories were back, for one thing: those terrible stabbing fingers, shining dully in the gloomy winter light, and the screaming, and the sweat-smell, sharp and rank with anger and fear. And the Gentleman Ranker, radiating calm in the middle of it all. Had that man ever known fear?

Next to him, Mrs. Colon said "Wstfgl." and rolled over contentedly. The fingers fled back into the shadow and the shouting inside his head muted. Fred reached over and patted her rounded belly. Not long to go now, Mrs. Slipdry the midwife had said. She's a bonny healthy girl, Frederick. It should be an easy birthing.

Colon felt bowed by the weight of responsibility. Not just himself, then. Not even Mrs. Colon to protect and care about and provide for while she couldn't work. Very soon there'd be three. But you enlist for this for life, Colon told himself. Marriage and fatherhood commit you. You take the King's Shilling and go to fight a war. That's only three years in the Pheasant Pluckers, with the option of re-enlistment or a honourable discharge. I went there. I came out. The Watch was enlisting. I rejoined. And that bastard Quirke is still there.

"So he's still on the take, then?"

Sam Vimes' face hardened, visibly.

"It took FOUR of us to bring him in, Fred. Four. And he's only in the cells for two or three hours before Quirke comes in on the day-shift. Sarge details me for the bread and water run to the prisoners. And there is Quirke, talking to him."

It all came out then, how Vimes, taking round the stale half-loaves and the bucket of brackish water, saw the glint of gold that passed hand-to-hand between the prisoner and Sergeant Quirke. Quirke's strident shout to Vimes to get the Hells out of here. The triumphant grin on his face that said "I've won. I'm walking out of here". Vimes' disgust when the two Sergeants had said "The prisoner is free to go, as there is insufficient evidence", and the rumble of anger that had gone around the night watchmen as Public Enemy Number One walked free.

Quirke, later, looming over Vimes and hissing "You saw NOTHING, right, Slimes?" Sam had stared right back and muttered "how much gold will it take for you to get my name right - sergeant?"

Young Sam had wondered if he'd gone too far, but there were too many Watchmen about for Quirke to risk violent reaction. Instead he resorted to official punishment. "You'll never prove it - boy. You're patrolling the Shades tonight"

Colon knew that there were such things as perks.

You pull in a particularly violent prisoner. He might have broken a Watchman's nose, it takes four of you to subdue him and get him to a cell. Any bruises that prisoner gets, you put down on the report sheet as self-inflicted while resisting arrest. That's allowed, thought Colon.

If he comes quietly and gives you no trouble, well then, you respect that, maybe even give a bit back. The one who lays hands violently on a watchman - well, when you've put him under restraint, when he is in fact so restrained as to be unconscious, then you go through his pockets, ostensibly searching for weapons or for items he could do himself injury with. Any money you find. well, you've got a bonus. That gets split among the watchmen who arrested and restrained him, right? That's a perk, like patrolling around All Jolson's or Sham Harga's, around lunchtime. If a friendly citizen then offers a free lunch to a hard-working Watchman, then that's a perk.

But say your violent criminal in the cells, the one who broke Constable Barrell's nose last night, has a couple of gold dollars, concealed in a sock or.some other place. and the search missed them. He then spots that a certain Watch sergeant might not be unaverse to being a few gold dollars richer. He then offers that sergeant an inducement to scrub the charge and allow him to walk. That goes beyond a perk. THAT is. something else. That's graft. That's corruption. That spits in Barrell's face and tells him he don't matter and his broke nose counts for nothing. That's Mayonnaise Bloody Quirke all over. But at least Young Sam's worked out the difference. That's something.

Fred Colon sleeps.

"I'm not a pheasant-plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mate!
I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker's late!"

The column of marching soldiery, headed by an officer on a light grey charger, plodded on through the endless cabbage fields. The regimental song, a famously difficult one to master, was being performed to an indifferent audience made up largely of brassica, punctuated by an occasional wary rustic. Colon adjusted the weight of the pike on his right shoulder and tried to ignore the blisters on various parts of his body: he was glad of the gauntlets he'd been able to scrounge up, but he could still feel the rough wood against his hand through the thick leather. In a file of four, his nearest mates were Hoagy, Spud, and the Gentleman Ranker: a slightly built figure, not much more than seventeen, eighteen tops, who moved with surprising lightness under the weight of full pack and pike. Colon mused about the Gentleman. He, Hoagy and Spud had all joined up for the same reasons -Morpork street kids looking for the King's Shilling as a buffer against penury, and willing to take their chances in Mad Lord Snapcase's war. But the Gentleman Ranker?

"Well, I'm flattered you consider I could have been an officer, but let's just say I prefer to take my chances among the men" He had said this with an absolutely straight face, let's be fair to the boy - gentleman. And then he'd followed it through with And anyway I have absolutely no head for horses. I don't think I have the same saddle as Lieutenant Rust. It takes a special brain to get on with horses, and Mr Rust has that sort of brain in abundance. Colon, who had briefly been under Rust's command, such as it was, in the Watch, had laughed as appreciatively as anyone else, and the matter had been dropped. He knew there were many different reasons why a gentleman should enlist in the ranks, and the usual courtesy reason, when you didn't want to go digging too deeply for the truth, was that it was down to a romantic desire to see life at the military sharp end, and to share exactly the same day-to-day privations and hardships of the enlisted men.

Colon privately suspected this was horse-apples. If he, Fred Colon, had been born into a wealthy and influential family, he'd have seen that as a reason to avoid going to war in the first damn place. Or if he had to, he'd have taken every perk, privilege and convenience an officer's rank could give him, like for e.g. a horse to ride, and the privilege of his personal kit being carried in the company stores wagon at the back of the column. No, there was something else there. A year ago - had it really been a year? - there was the Glorious Revolution (bile rose at the thought) which had achieved almost nothing except the deaths of good people like Horace Nancyball, Dai Dickens, John Keele. There'd also been a change of Patrician: Winder had been assassinated in the most mysterious circumstances and Mad Lord Snapcase, a more methodical sort of maniac, had taken over. With the top nobs having changed sides and new factions arising, it occurred to Colon that maybe a lot of noble families, who'd backed the wrong horse, had had to leave Ankh-Morpork in a hurry. Or otherwise hide. He'd heard Snapcase was settling scores and arranging for inconvenient people to be discreetly disappeared. He looked at the Gentleman Ranker again. And a good place to hide might be as an anonymous pikeman in one of the Regiments. What did you do in the Glorious Revolution, mister? There seemed to be some sort of Arrangement between Rust and the G.R.. Rust got as near to embarrassment as a thick Rupert ever could get, when he was dealing with the G.R. He knows he's dealing with one of his own kind, and doesn't like having to treat him like an enlisted man.

The Gentleman Ranker looked back at Colon with a frank, appraising stare and a slightly raised eyebrow. Again, Colon had to remind himself the Gentleman was only eighteen, at most. If that. For an instant, he looked older, as if his metabolismical thingy had decided his appropriate age was fifty-something, and Colon again had that uneasy feeling of he knows what I'm thinking.

And this is Lance-Constable Colon, on duty, in the present, after a night of intermittent sleep, insomniac memories, and bad dreams.

Colon proceeded down Broadway in the company of Huxtable. It had been a bad morning: Quirke had said that he, Colon, was not shaping up and that he, Quirke, was actively considering a permanent transfer to the Night Watch, which as you know is where all the deadbeats and wasters end up - everyone who does not fit in, Colon, have you got that?

The bastard. Mrs. Colon had been advised that after a few weeks of nursing the infant, she could return to her old job at the jam factory, where they'd be glad to have her back, no problems. Say if Quirke follows through on his threat, I'll be on nights and Mrs. Colon will be on days - we'll hardly see each other. Any little bit of unhappiness and disruption he could inflict - because he could inflict it, there didn't have to be any other reason - made Quirke happy. Well - I'd better finish painting that blessed kitchen for her. At least I can do something about that.

"Morning, Mr Colon"

"Ah, good morning, Dr Lawn"

"You're looking well, Putting on a little weight, I see. And how's Mrs. Colon?"

"Doing just fine, sir. Mrs. Slipdry reckons she's eight months gone, now"

"I know Mrs. Slipdry is a good midwife and I doubt there'll be any complications. But if I'm needed, and Mrs. Slipdry will know if I'm needed, just send somebody to get me."

"That's very kind of you, doctor, but I'm not sure if I could afford."

"Just call me, Mr Colon. It's for free, understand? For John Keele. And the lilac"

The doctor nodded and walked on.

"What was all that stuff about lilac?" Huxtable asked, curiously. Colon frowned. He was unsure about Huxtable: was he one of Quirke's informants within the Watch? He took a deep breath.

"Lad, if you were there, you wouldn't need to ask. And if you weren't there, then there's no need for you to know." Then he softened: Huxtable wasn't a bad copper. "Let's say I knew Mossy Lawn, when.. Anyway, it's getting near lunchtime. Let's proceed down towards Sham Harga's."

Later in the afternoon. Elm Street.

"Maisie?" A little shock in Colon's voice. He took in the fresh bruising and the blackened eye. She saw where his eyes were going.

"It's nothing, Fred."

"That's nothing?"

"Maybe I walked into a door." There was a hard, brittle, edge to her voice.

Unwilling to talk, she walked on.

"You know what Sarge said, Fred." Huxtable reminded him. "What goes on between a man and his wife in his own home isn't Watch business. We don't get involved in maritals."

"He bloody well would. There's never been a Mrs. Quirke, has there?"

Colon watched the proud figure receding into the distance down Elm Street. She keeps her back ramrod-straight, does Maisie. But she always did.

There's at least one old woman in every street who makes it her business to know what's going on with all her neighbours. It's a hobby: it keeps the mind active and staves off the mental decrepitude of old age. Or, as Mrs. Gammage put it, cackling the while, "it stops me from going senile!" Fred nodded. The old woman, pleased to have been asked, told him what he needed to know. "She had watchmen round the back door. He wasn't standing for that, he said, what did they want to know? What are you doing bringing Watchmen home, woman? He's an animal, a filthy animal, he should be locked up, look at the beating he give her. look at the beating he gives them boys. The older lad, that Errol, such a nice boy he was, left as soon as he could. And that younger one's going to the bad all the time. Just an animal".

"Fred, remember what Quirke said. This is a marital! We can't interfere!"

"Somebody might have to. Or it's a murder we're looking at"

And in the back of his head, the question, the measure of him as a Watchman: What would John Keele have done? Fred Colon could guess. And he wondered if he was up to it.

And back then.

Sergeant Huw Hughes, his broad healthy face shining in the late afternoon sun. Colon thought back to Dai Dickens and wondered if Llamedos' main export trade was sergeants.

"Yew lucky, lucky, lovely boys! I has got a duty for two lovely boys! Mr Rust has instructed me to send out two scouts to look ahead of where we is marching, see, just to make sure we is not walking into any little problems. Now a problem Mr Rust foresees is the Pseudopolitanian Army, which to our best awareness and knowledge is over by there somewhere. And I am offering yew, young Colon, the chance to earn yourself the thanks of a grateful Army and maybe even a medal if you goes over there and takes a look!"

Hughes put a friendly paternal arm around Colon's shoulder. "Nothing to it, really" he said, in a normally loud tone of voice. Yew goes out by there, you takes a careful look, you notes down what you sees, you comes back by yere, and you tells me and the Lieutenant. And you treads carefully, boy, I don't want to lose a big strong solid pikeman like yew. Who is you taking with you?"

Before Colon had a chance to answer, a voice called out

"I'll go, sergeant. I volunteer"

It was the Gentleman Ranker.

Hughes said something short and spiky in Llamedosian. "O'r gorau. So what qualifies you for this mission, Private Niveau de Meserole?"

"Because I know where to look. I know what to look for. I know how to report it afterwards. Because I'm a lot smaller and lighter than Private Colon and I can move much more inconspicuously. Because I suffer from an education, Sergeant."

"Yes, you do, don't you". said Hughes, darkly, "Well, you've got ten minutes to assemble any kit you need and then you is out on patrol, both of yew."

Colon was surprised by what happened next. In the gathering twilight, the GR insisted he carry no weapon except for a short stabbing-sword, and that he should leave his red tunic off. Then he had insisted Colon jump up and down on the spot a few times. Anything that made an audible jingle was either removed or muffled with strips of dark cloth. Meanwhile, the Gentleman Ranker removed certain items from his pack and methodically changed into them or secured them to his person. As an afterthought, he found a pouch for his paybook, the last thing that would identify him as an Ankh-Morporkian soldier. A suspicion was starting to grow in Colon as he regarded the green-and-grey clad figure in front of him. But they normally wear black, don't they? They insist on it - it's their uniform.

Take that blanket with you. No, the grey one. Wrap it around you. It'll disguise your shape. It'll conceal you far better than a scarlet tunic. Did you know red is the colour that's most visible at night? It's the last piece of colour vision the eye retains, when everything else fades to shades of grey. No, I didn't think you did.

They set off in silence into the growing dark, leaving the comforting presence of their camp behind them. Here, the sea of cabbage fields was washing against the shores of some long low hills, crowned by shrubbery and the odd tree. And over those hills? Is that what we've been dispatched to find out? Wearing the grey blanket like a makeshift poncho, Colon followed in the light tread of the Gentleman Ranker, trying not to breathe too hard.

The rule of esses, the Gentleman Ranker had said. Shine. Wear nothing that gleams or reflects. Shadow. Know how to use it. A moving shadow draws the eye at night. But know how to move inside a shadow and you can move without detection. Shape. Try not to look human-shaped. If you can trick an observing eye into thinking it's a trick of the wind or a night animal, so much the better. And there'd been another two esses...

Colon barely took in the fact that the Gentleman Ranker had disappeared suddenly. Then something went whffft!, with a suspicion of feathers, at about chest-height: he heard a phunkkkt! sound from a nearby tree, as if a troll woodpecker had just chosen to attack it.

Bloody hellfire! He thought, and hit the ground.

"I saw someone moving over here!" He heard a voice shout. "On the slope, up against the skyline! " Morporkian, but strangely accented.

Oh shit. That's the fourth ess. Silhouette. Now I remember. Colon wanted to loosen the sword in his scabbard, but felt oddly rigid. He willed his fingers to move.

He sensed, rather than saw, something change its location; it did nothing as simple as to move. But a patch of hitherto unregarded greynesses that previously had been here was suddenly there.

Just as a second voice hissed a bunch of heathen foreign syllables Tais-toi! Tranquille, espèce d'idiot! , there was an almost imperceptible whooft! noise, closely followed by a second, receding to inaudibility in the direction of the sound. There was a gurgling choking noise, abruptly cut off.

Oh yeah. The fifth ess for moving and fighting by night. Silence.

Colon suddenly discovered he could breathe and move again. He cautiously half- crawled, half-scuttled, in the direction of the gurgles, even though his body was screaming Wrong direction! at him. The Gentleman Ranker gave him an affable nod, then went back to searching the bodies. the bodies.. Colon saw the dropped crossbow, remembered the suicidal woodpecker and the suspicion of feathers, and felt ill and shaky. He dropped to his knees.

"I believe this is their only patrol in the area. I rather fancy they were sent out on the same errand as us" the GR said, in a low voice.

"We saw them first?"

"No, Frederick, they saw you first, up there on the crest with the light behind you. I was happy for that state of affairs to continue, as it would save valuable time and energy expended in our searching for them."

"You mean I was bait?"

"Not so loudly! And you learnt a valuable lesson about exposing yourself un- necessarily! Some things cannot be taught, they can only be learnt, as the Master always was at pains to remind us."

"I was the bloody bait!"

"But you're still alive." The GR shrugged. "A little part of you knew that crossbow bolt was on its way and put you where it wasn't going to be. I believe you have a very well-developed survival instinct, Frederick. Trust it. Now if you'll be so kind as to angle the safety lamp this way."

Colon saw, in the lamp's light, the miniature barbed dart and the blue lips. The suspicion that had been growing all evening burst out as words before he could stop them.

"You're an Assassin! You're a bloody assassin!" Then silence, chilled by what he'd just said out loud - suppose the Gentleman Ranker had good reasons to stay undercover without his true identity being unmasked? The picture formed of the GR arriving back at camp with a story of having had to fight out of an ambush, "and regrettably Private Colon was lost in the engagement". Would his be the third body to be left here?

"You are of course correct, but I would be obliged, in the circumstances, if you were to keep it to yourself. Ah, this gentleman belonged to the Quirmian Army's Light Infantry. What does this tell us? If my memory serves me correctly, it tells me that eight hundred regular troops are billeted within patrolling distance of here, quite possibly over there somewhere, within two miles. Don't look so worried, Frederick, I believe there are military laws that advise me I cannot kill members of my own side in wartime! Unless, of course, I'm a senior officer spurring my men into a gallant, bloody, but pointless frontal assault, of the kind that inspires rather bad heroic poetry later. I believe an exemption clause applies there."

The pile of artifacts and personal items grew larger.

"Everything has a value. Paybooks tell us these soldiers are being paid regularly. Far more so than we are. Their uniforms are in good condition. Made of far better material than ours, I cannot help but notice. Their personal equipment is better than ours. They appear well nourished. Letters received from home tell me they are in good morale. Yes, the Master agreed that my studies were remarkably well-advanced and he was wholly in approval, in the circumstances, of my going out on a leave of extended absence for a field study. Perhaps you should take their boots? Let us be practical about this, those rather cheap cardboard things you were issued are beginning to deteriorate and you will need to march a long way yet. It appears I will have to write a dissertation upon my return, concerning what I have discovered about how amateurs in the field of inhumation go about the business. Take these things with you, please, they should please the sergeant. And of course, my aunt was all in favour of my enlisting. She believes it is vital for my future career path if I develop insights into life as it is actually lived by the majority of the people, not as we, who live rather privileged lives, fondly imagine it to be."

The Gentleman Ranker straightened up. "I'm glad we had this little talk. We just need to tidy this scene up a little and leave them guessing as to where their patrol disappeared to. Fortunately they were carrying these rather interesting folding spades. So much better than our issue, aren't they?" He handed one to Colon with a little mirthless grin.

Fred Colon jerked into full wakefulness, a bead of sweat trickling into his eye. Had he seen the Gentleman Ranker earlier today, down near the Assassins' Guild, and received just the tiniest nod of recognition in return? No point in approaching a gentleman as if I were his equal (a mutinous inner voice said But we were equals, at least for a time.) and risking embarrassment to both sides: best if he acknowledges me first as an old acquaintance. That must be why that night patrol returned, as a bad dream. What else was odd. Huxtable asking about the significance of lilac had stirred a distant memory. That first anniversary of May 25th. We marched past a lilac tree. The Ranker had been on the outside of the column: he'd broken off two sprigs of lilac and passed one to Colon. He knew about the lilac. He'd worn the lilac. He knew Colon was entitled to wear the lilac. How? Why? Sergeant Hughes had noticed - Sergeants see all - but had said nothing. Later, he'd confided in Colon that he'd known Dai Dickens, aye, it felt like he'd known Dai from before the ink was wet on the Shabinogion, aye, and a pity he never made it to honourable retirement. A nice remembrance, the lilac. (And Colon remembered. It was perfectly true. The last colour, the very last colour, you can see at night, when the rest of the rainbow fades to hues of grey, is scarlet.)

Quirke had been his usual bastard self down at the Watch House.

"Colon! Get your great fat arse up here now, at the double!"


"That bloody kid has been hanging around here again, Colon. Know anything about it? Well, you bloody well should, Colon, because apparently you told him that if he ever needed some soup and a spoon to eat it with, you'd see him right if he came to the back door of the Watch House around one o'clock! What the bloody blazing Hell are you doing, encouraging vermin like that to hang around Watch property?"

Colon could have said many things. He could have said Because that kid needs a break. Because that kid doesn't get much kindness. Because John Keele saw some good in him. For John Keele. For the lilac. Instead, he said "Where is he now, Sergeant?"

"How the hell should I know? I clipped his ear and sent him packing. As should you, Colon! Last warning. Any more infringements and it's the Night Watch. Now get out of my sight."

And then he'd met Maisie, and the kid, in quick succession. He knew better than to ask about the spreading purple-blue swelling that was disfiguring her face. Although he could see it had been done with an open hand rather than a closed fist: the four livid streaks spreading away from the mass of the palm imprint told their own story, purple fingers, gouged into what had been a startlingly handsome face. She acknowledged him with an embarrassed turn of the head, the unblemished side of her face glowing sudden red. In profile, on that side, her face carried the haggard ghost of the beauty she had once been. Colon turned away, suddenly feeling shame and sorrow. He remembered a time from before the Glorious Revolution, some years before.

Colon had been about ten years old. On the cusp of adolescence and dimly aware of issues that would become preoccupations in a few years, he had taken the usual sort of detached interest in the world of the older siblings and adults around him. In the usual sort of callous pre-adolescent way, he had taken note of which girls they were chasing and how well things were going. It was good intelligence - in the case of older brothers, this could be the difference between a scowling kick and a discreetly slipped halfpenny.

And some of the older girls were kind and pleasant, in a big-sisterly sort of way. But the one who really gave him a hazy, undefined, sense of warmth and contentment with the world was Maisie Wormborough. In her late teens, eight years and a whole world older than Fred, he quietly adored her. Everyone adored her: she was the local beauty. Fred's grandmother would look at her, shake her head sadly, and say A flower on a midden, then turn away. Old men would preen themselves when she passed. Middle-aged men looked at her and yearned for their lost youth. Young men would pose and strut and try to attract her attention, if only for a second. And Colon wished he were older.

And then he came along. To her face he had a rough charm and a ready wit. And he could charm, when he wanted, could Sconner. Behind her back, he was frightening away the competition with threats, and applying his fists to the slow learners. He took good care to ensure she never got to hear about this.

Old Sergeant Kepple of the Watch had seen what was going on: he pleaded with Maisie not to do it. Other people who knew Sconner's reputation pleaded with her to think again. Kepple had been vocal: Don't do it, Maisie. Don't marry him. He's a bad lot. He's trouble. He'll sink and he'll drag you down with him. You still have time to say no. Even on the day. He'll destroy you.

But they'd married. Colon had had his first taste of heartbreak to see her leaving and moving to another part of the city, half a mile and an impossible distance away.

"Fred? Sarge said - absolutely no getting involved in maritals!"

Colon returned to the present.

"But Sarge isn't here. Is he."

And then they'd encountered the boy.

He had tried to sidle out of the way, but Colon drifted, or perhaps anti-sidled, to his left, and blocked his path.

"Don't rush away, young Nobby" he said. There's a lot to catch up on since we last met. And what the Hell happened to your arm?"

"Sconner done it, dint'e" muttered the boy. He volunteered nothing else.

"And your eye? Was that Sconner too?"

"Nah, that one was Quirke. Couldn't dodge away fast enough"

Colon reached a decision.

"Walk with us, Nobby lad. I owe you something. You can tell me about life at home while we go, eh?"

Regard Cecil St John Wormsborough-Nobbs. He is four years older than the urchin who was adopted by John Keele, who gave him his first spoon, for reasons entirely of his own. He hasn't grown up much, and on an Elm Street diet, he hasn't really grown out all that far either. But inside his head, he is something approaching fifty in terms of street-smarts and cynicism. He is still wearing much the same clothes as he wore during the Glorious Revolution. Some of them may even have been washed at least once during the intervening four years.

Currently, he had an arm with an extra elbow in it, which Dr John Lawn very gently and carefully untangled from a mess of grimy rags that might, to an optimist, have constituted a sling.

"Sconner did this." A statement, rather than a question.

"I'm afraid so, doctor."

Lawn exhaled, with a weary sense of disgust. "Okay. Burn these, would you, constable? Right, lad. We're going to have to get that coat and shirt off. We'll try to do it without causing you too much discomfort. Then we'll reset that arm. I wish I'd seen this just after it happened. This is, what, three, four days old? I'll do my best but I'm afraid to say you might have a trick elbow for the rest of your life. And it's going to hurt, I'm afraid. I wish I could say it wouldn't. Mr Colon, could you stand just there, and support the lad just so? Thank you."

Colon would have been happier if the boy had screamed. But there was just a long, drawn-out, gurgling agonized burble of agony. Beads of sweat stood out on his grimy face as Lawn gripped wrist and upper arm and twisted until what had looked like a second elbow had gone and the arm, though swollen and purple, looked something like a normal arm again. Then, as Colon supported the limb, he expertly wrapped it in bandages soaked in Plaster of Quirm until they formed a rigid shell.

We'll let that set hard and then we can get onto the next bit of the prescription." Lawn commented. "It'll need both you constables to assist?"

Colon nodded. He thought he could see what was coming next: the air in the doctor's surgery had taken on a definite miasma of unwashed Elm Street urchin.

"My fee, young Cecil". The doctor said.

Nobby coughed, nervously. "I'll get it for you, doc, but it might take time.."

"No, nothing so simple. As it happens this is for the lilac. So you're spared having to go out there and acquire ten dollars. You're just going to get a bath, my lad."

Afterwards, Colon wondered if the tide mark was going to wash out normally, or whether it would need sand-blasting or dragonning off the enamel. Still, Dr Lawn had been very good about it, insisting that cleanliness was important to recovery. Dressed in old, serviceable but above all clean clothes - apparently a legacy of a previous patient - Nobby seemed almost human. He'd insisted on keeping the filthy and absurdly battered opera hat, and Lawn hadn't pressed the point. The bath, Colon mused, had been more traumatic than having a badly broken arm reset. he wondered how long it had been since the previous one, and how long would elapse before the next one. Huxtable had mentioned he'd heard somewhere that in the really old days, the old Latatians had built public bath-houses, where anyone could go, pauper or nob, for a good long soak and a clean towel afterwards. Apparently the old Latatians had really hated bodily odours and intimate pongs, so they thought providing a bath and a shave for free, for all, on demand, was worthwhile.

Colon had given that some thought.

"Wouldn't work here. They'd go bust".

"See what you mean, Fred. Too many people all at once."

"Nah. In this city? No bugger'd turn up."

Rust had been delighted with the intelligence brought back from Colon's patrol.

"Eight hundred of them, do you think? And you've neutralized their forward patrol, so they have absolutely no idea we're here?"

Hughes coughed, softly. "Not until their patrol fails to return, sir. Then they'll suspect. And sooner or later they'll find the bodies, and they'll know"

"Don't you see, Sergeant? This is our chance!" Rust excitedly pounded one fist into his other open palm. "A speedy night march and my eighty men will have the advantage of surprise!"

"Against eight hundred, sir? Not for very long. And pikemen ain't selected for speed and maneuverability. Sir."

Colon listened to all this with a mounting sense of horror. Was Rust seriously proposing a night attack on an enemy who outnumbered them ten to one? Hughes pressed his point.

"Far better to send a runner out to Colonel Monflathers, sir. Now we know approximately where the enemy are, he can dispose the whole Regiment to deal with the threat. Eight hundred light infantry running into eight hundred well-placed pikes, sir, they'll be leaping into a mincing machine. But let them catch us in the flank while we're moving, and we're in the sausage-meat!"

For some reason Colon thought of Claude Dibbler, and wished fervently he was back in Sator Square buying one of his nameless sausages-inna-bun, even if the price he had to pay for safety was eating the flaming sausage. nobody has ever died of one of Throat's sausages-inna-bun, at least, not yet...

"Permission to volunteer to be the runner to the Colonel, Sergeant!" the Gentleman Ranker said briskly, stamping to attention. "Your message, Lieutenant?"

Hughes beamed. "Best lad for the job, sir. He's young, lightly built, moves quickly and silently, and intelligent." He paused and added, with that special intonation that Colon now knew meant Assassin: "Well-educated, too."

Rust sighed. "Stand the men to, Sergeant".

"But what could you do, Fred? Sarge doesn't want us getting involved with maritals. And Sconner's your natural born bully. He won't back down, and he'll beat seven kinds of the living Ankh out of both of us put together. He's all muscle and bone, Fred, the worst kind!"

Easy Street. Just off the Shades, but a distinct step upwards, a mix of well-maintained small residences and small shops, more the artisan end of town, the makers and doers.

"We'll just pop in here, shall we?" Colon suggested. "Time we looked for an equalizer"

Goodbody's dealt in leather and wood. There was the earthy, but slightly metallic, tang of cured leather in the air, and a rack of recently manufactured walking sticks and canes near the door. A saddle and tack was exhibited on a vaguely horse-shaped stand to show that yes, we can do these things if you so wish. And there were other things, more discreetly presented.

"Gentlemen. It's so nice to have men of the Watch patronizing my shop again. Business became distressingly quiet for a time after the unfortunate business on Cable Street some years ago"

Old Goodbody looked as leathery as the animal hides he worked with. Colon wondered if the fumes from the tanning had somehow affected his own skin after years of permeation. The man must have been over seventy and he'd built an impressive expertise in a certain kind of leather-based product range. Which was why he was in there, of course.

"We're here to look at. well, you might call it non-standard Watch equipment, I suppose".

"Oh, yes". The old man brightened. "The term, I believe, is private issue. Mildred, would you be so kind?"

She was young, perhaps early twenties, and she had the sort of beefy-well-scrubbed Ankhian look about her that characterized the city's womenfolk.

"My apprentice, at least to begin with." Goodbody said. "And being a widower with no children, well, she consented to become my wife, and I know that when the time comes, the Goodbody reputation for quality manufacture will live on after me."

I'll bet she consented, thought Colon. An old man, no kids, and a business that'll set her up for life after he goes. In return he gets something to brighten his old age with, so it's a fair deal on both sides.

"This is what I call the Watch special. As you can see, it looks on the outside like a standard-issue Watch truncheon, with leather-bound grip and carrying strap. But feel the weight, constable..."

Colon took it, and swung experimentally in the air. He distinctly felt something shift inside, and the wooden body swung with more speed and mass than he'd have expected. Taken slightly by surprise, he had to steady himself with a quick pace to his left. Goodbody smiled.

"The inside is hollow. But as you swing it, a large lead weight moves in the hollow chamber with the momentum of the swing. Therefore the cudgel end lands with a greater force and a far more satisfying impact. To pass Watch kit inspections, if I may, constable, the weight can be secured by twisting the handle-stud thus, and all an inspecting officer will see and feel is a regulation truncheon which satisfies all requirements. Quite clever, is it not? One of Mildred's designs." he nodded at the girl. "She's really taken to this work, another reason why I feel the business is safe in her hands. She has a real flair for the product line!"

The next items were the Equalizer range of coshes and blackjacks, with the Goodbodies offering expert advice on whether solid fill or buckshot offered the greatest amount of persuasive power. Colon had to admit to himself that he was quite impressed by Mildred Goodbody's knowledge and sales patter, and suspected that the Goodbody emporium would remain market leaders in the trade for quite some time to come.

Having decided to go with the Ephebian Horse model of truncheon with the concealed lead weighting, Colon paid for his purchase and made ready to go. Huxtable, he noticed, had bought the sort of cosh that could be hidden in a sleeve and slipped down into the palm when the need was right.

Ah well, thought Colon, handing over the cash, I'll just have to get that paint for the kitchen next month.

"A wise choice, constable" said Goodbody. "We're looking forward to doing more business with the Watch, now normal circumstances have finally been restored."

"Normal circumstances?"

"I believe His Lordship is giving serious thought to re-forming the Cable Street Particulars. We used to do a great deal of business as a supplier to them in the old days. A great deal."

Rust had been persuaded not to go charging his men into the dark night with fifteen- foot pikes - Sergeant Hughes, improvising madly for reasons why not, had suggested that in the dark, sir, with you riding in front of the pikes, it's hard to see, and I would not want any of the men to put a hole in your horse, sir. And in the dark, sir, though I'm no cavalryman, have you considered that the poor horse might turn a leg on this rough ground? Not fair on the poor creature whichever way you look at it, sir. At least we're paid to take the risk. Sir.

Instead, Hughes had put half the company on guard and instructed the other half to find sleep as they could. Colon had only vague memories if the rest of that anxious night, of spending an indeterminate length of time staring out into the gloomy dark, where every shadow seemed to conceal an enemy army. Hughes had forbidden open fires or smoking on pain of pain, and even un-necessary talking was discouraged.

It felt like half a lifetime, but was probably only about three hours, before Hughes switched everything round so that Colon could stand down and somebody else took his place: he gratefully wrapped himself into his blankets and sank into a very deep sleep, in which he had confused nightmarish visions of confronting some sort of fire- breathing dragon, interspersed with some little Hublands bugger in saffron-yellow robes winking at him and placing a finger to his lips in the universal gesture for silence, and then of sailing beneath the sea in a fish-shaped craft which, for some perverse reason, was painted bright yellow. This image lingered when Colon woke up, and he thought "One of them dreams, then", as people generally do on waking up.

The world had changed since going to bed. Far from being part of the advance guard marching far to the front, the rest of the army appeared to have caught up with them. To either side of them stretched the Ankh-Morporkian army, a rather dingy wave coming to rest on a not very salubrious seashore and carrying the usual military driftwood with it: men, horses, carts, tents, even siege-weapons drawn by elephants.

Colon sat starting out at the spectacle, his mouth open. The Gentleman Ranker placed a hot mug in his hand.

"Inspiring, isn't it?" the G.R. said, amiably. You should be proud, Frederick. We were indirectly responsible for all this"

"How?" asked Colon. (The feathers. the fight. the gurgling last breath of the Quirmian soldier.)

"You would be surprised how elusive an entire Army can be. You may even be vaguely aware it's out there somewhere, but the world is bigger still. You could walk right past it, if a suitably large hill were in between, and you might never know it's there. So you send out scouting patrols. Possibly out of some vague feeling that if thousands of men can fail to locate each other and give the generals the battle they crave, smaller numbers, say two or three or four from each side, will almost inevitably be drawn to each other. And we were, last night. We brought back enough information for my lord Monflathers to make an accurate estimation of the position and disposition of their army, and it now appears that battle is imminent."

"What, here?"

"No, Frederick. I should imagine we'll march forward and occupy the line of those low hills there to gain a height advantage." The G.R. paused, then added further elucidation. "So that our arrows fly faster and further from a position of height. They, firing uphill, will be hampered by gravity acting against them"

"And they'll also have to run uphill to get to grips with us, right? In full armour and carrying those bloody big pikes. They'll be knackered before they start!"

"Exactly, Frederick"

"Poor buggers. I wouldn't like to be them!"

Lieutenant Rust strutted past to find Sergeant Hughes.


"Get the men ready to march in fifteen minutes" Rust said, and smacked his fist into his palm exultantly. "This is it, Sergeant, the battle! Oh, and select a cadre to remain here with the cart in the baggage lines, would you?"

"A cadre, sir?"

"Three men who regrettably will have to stand down from participating in the battle. I know it will be a sacrifice for them, but this is essential. In the event of our collectively meeting a valiant ending on the field, there should be a nucleus of men around whom this Regiment will be rebuilt, that although we die, the Regiment lives on. Continuity, sergeant, d'y'see! It matters nothing that we die as long as the Regiment lives! See to it, sergeant!"

"Yes, Sir!" Hughes responded, after a brief and meaningful pause.

"Jolly good, Sergeant. THEN we can march forward and knock the enemy off the top of those hills over there."

Back in the now, in the Watch House.

Quirke's face split into a wide grin as he walked towards Colon and unexpectedly slapped him on the back.

"I hear you've been to Goodbody's, Frederick, and you've made a little purchase!" he said. "I like to see initiative in my Watchmen!"

Then, in a lower voice, "I'm getting a feeling I might have mis-judged you, Frederick. Seems like you've got a bit of go about you, after all."

Quirke drew Colon aside, and said, conversationally, "His Lordship's keen to re-form the Particulars. He believes the organization was disbanded in too much haste, and that he could find people with, shall we say, particular skills and talents, to be useful to him in the management of the City. Now he appreciates that it would be difficult to replace Captain Swing, who was abso-bloody-lutely unique as a servant of the City, and he deplores the circumstances in which the Captain was killed. But then again, those were difficult times, weren't they, Frederick, and a lot of regrettable things were done, weren't they?"

Quirke let this sink in, and Colon felt a memory creep up to mug him. A bottle of moonshine brandy, a broken window, and a neatly placed flaming crossbow bolt. He'd been proud of that bit of archery, he had, and of Sergeant Keele's congratulations afterwards. Until now.

"Anyway, Lordship's not an unreasonable man. He accepts that the man who killed Swing is now outside the reach of the Law, and as for the Watchman who fired the flaming arrow that burnt down Cable Street, well, he was only obeying orders from his appointed senior officer, as a good Watchman should. Even if that appointed senior officer was that bastard Keele. Shame we don't know exactly who fired that arrow but it strikes me that if he were sensible, he might want to carry on obeying the orders of his lawfully appointed senior officers by transferring to the Particulars, and demonstrating his continuing loyalty there. But you think about it, Frederick, no hurry. No rush. Now let's see this new truncheon you've bought."

Colon then had to endure a technical discussion with Quirke, about the respective merits of lead-filled rubber hoses, five-ringed knuckledusters, and all the sorts of places where it was possible to inflict pain with a casually swung truncheon. And the patter, along the lines of "you can then suggest that if he's got a working left arm and wants to keep it, then he could make a contribution to the Watch Benevolent Fund, fiver or ten dollars. Start on the fingers to get him to make his mind up. Amazing things, fingers. Lots of pain in such a small area, for so little effort"

And back in the then.

It was true: the Quirmian Army had taken the hilltops, while Ankh-Morpork's leaders were in a council of war that had just concluded that maybe we should see about getting some of our men up on those hills before the enemy do.

Colon thought back to his own earlier words and wondered if he'd see the end of the day. Sergeant Hughes had formed the Company up to advance over a wide front: the pikemen were advancing, four deep, for an uphill climb on a steep uneven slope with Quirmian crossbowmen and archers waiting on the crest. Rust's company were on the extreme flank of the advance: to their left stretched the rest of the Regiment with pikes held at the "present". And, great, the sky was lowering and the day was gloomy.

Colon twitched his face again. That bloody, bloody moth or whatever it was that was trying to settle on his nose.. to his right, the Gentleman Ranker was muttering about it being stupid, stupid, unutterably stupid. Letting the enemy get the high ground was bad enough, but why aren't they advancing the siege weapons to bombard them and make it untenable?

Colon tried once again, and ineffectually, to shake the moth or butterfly or whatever the Hell it was from out of his field of vision. Rust's stirring pre-battle speech still weighed leaden upon him: as inspiration it had lacked a certain something, slanted towards Although we may all die this day, we can create a legend! The Duke of Eorle's Heavy Regiment of Foot will be seen never to retreat, though we march into all the arrows they can fire at us! Forward, to death and glory!

Rust's horse skipped and pranced in front of the pikemen.

We aren't even being allowed the usual choice, thought Colon, glumly. Isn't it usually Death OR glory? He felt oddly cheated.

"Look" he said to the G.R. "You're a young lad. You're educated. You've got a life in front of you. What I think is this. You're on the outside, right. We're coming up to a ditch. Pretend you've been hit, and roll down into the ditch. Then get yourself home when all the attention's elsewhere. Let us poor bloody arrow-fodder do what we're here for, hey?"

The G.R. had another of those odd little yellow moths, or butterflies, or whatever, perched on his helmet. He smiled a little tight smile at Colon.

"There may be no need for that, Frederick. If I'm not mistaken, this is the Quantum Weather Butterfly. They appear very rarely, but in Agatea they're considered to be a very auspicious portent. Any attempt on our part to desert might be precipitious. I have a feeling we may not in fact be called upon to surrender our lives."

Colon watched as a couple of hopeful long-range arrows came down from the men on the crest, barely three hundred yards away now. One buried itself in the ground, but the other brought down a pikeman in an adjacent company.

"Those were ranging shots. We're all going to die."

"I think not, Frederick. Regard the oddly yellow tint to that large black cloud above? Another thing about the Quantum Weather Butterfly is."

The skies suddenly opened. A wet drip or two on the face became a torrent down the neck.

" brings weather!"

As the advance suddenly halted, the GR nudged Colon to take his pike for a moment. Colon watched as the boy produced a blowpipe, and in one smooth motion aimed and fired. As he hid the weapon again, Rust's horse bucked and reared, screaming and suddenly launching into an uncontrollable gallop, sprinting off to one side while the hapless Rust sought to regain control.

"A powerful stimulant. And an irritant. And now." Rust fell from his horse, motionless on the field, "Sergeant Hughes is in charge of the Company".

Up on the crest, the Quirmian archers and crossbowmen were realizing what torrential rain does to bowstrings. Formerly taut killing machines had become sad little assemblies incapable of propelling an arrow more than a few yards. Viewing the Ankhian army advancing on them, they looked unhappy at the abrupt change in fortunes.

They looked less and less happy as the pikes got closer. At such points in the life of any military unit, an unspoken democracy will inevitably take over from the normally comforting hierarchy of orders passed down from above. Here, it suddenly appeared that the consensus vote was This House believes that our lives may be spared by a tactical re-alignment several hundred yards to our rear, passed nem con, with an amendment suggesting very great haste.

As Colon and the rest of the pikemen struggled up onto the crest of the hill,struggling and slopping in newly-laid mud, blowing hard, breathing heavily, and in Fred Colon's case seeing double from the exertion, the archers had streamed down the rear slopes, where, from the sound of it, they were impeding the progress of other troops who were trying to struggle up.

Hughes grasped the moment.

"Company - forward! Company - dress ranks! Company - halt and brace pikes!"

"It'll give yew boys a few moments to catch your breath. Which THEY won't have."

To his horror, Colon watched a ragged line of pikemen breasting the rise, made even more ragged by the last of the retreating archers and crossbowmen.

"They'll take a little while to form up. Everyone got his breath back? THEY haven't!" Hughes' voice carried easily down the silent line. Other blocks of Morporkian soldiery were now falling into line at the flanks of the pikes.

"Present... wait for it, that man! - Present PIKES!"

The voice of authority and the well-practiced drill took over. Suddenly the front of the Ankh-Morpork line resembled an attitudinous hedgehog, with bright metal points protruding at head, chest and waist height. Colon shuddered slightly as the enemy pike phalanx drew nearer. They paused, panting, as their sergeants straightened a ragged line. Colon heard somebody nearby whimper "Gods, Gods, Gods!" as the enemy line raised and levelled their pikes. The silver glitter of the pikeheads was hypnotic - hand after hand after hand of stabbing silver fingers, like that bugger Sergeant Hughes was talking about from them Llamedosian legends of his, what d'you call 'em, the Shabinogion, who got his hand cut off and replaced with one made of silver. OK for Llamedos, try going around the Shades with a hand made of precious metal and Gods, we're charging...

Fingers, metal fingers, sharp-bladed metal fingers, thrusting, stabbing, looking for the vital spot under a helmet or at the edge of a breastplate or behind a shield. Men screaming, not out of wounds but from fear or rage or a combination of both. The lock of shields with the enemy front line, the push, the sweat, the weight of men in the rear ranks piling up behind, and all around the stabbing shafts of the fingers. The slip and slide in the greasy mud, made more fluid by fear and blood. Hoagy going down, pierced front to back by a finger. Mixed with an unbidden memory of Horace Nancyball, ripped open by a cruel grappling hook. The stalemate going on for eternity, with Hughes yelling threats and encouragement. The weight of the pike on his left arm and the shield on his right was turning from uncomfortable to painful, and Colon wondered how much longer he could take this.

And then gaps started appearing in the enemy line. Imperceptibly at first, then faster and faster, the seeming impossible started to happen: they were breaking and running. The Ankh-Morpork push of pikes followed, and Colon received a practical education in why, when two pike phalanxes meet head-on, it is not wise to be the one that breaks first. You try to turn and run when the man you have just been fighting still has a twenty-foot pike in his hand and several ranks of his mates, similarly equipped, are piled up behind him forcing him to move forwards. well, you'd better be able to turn and run at least twenty feet, very very quickly.

Colon and the GR stepped over the slow runners from the other side, some of whom were still moving and feebly groaning. Hughes stopped the advance on the rear crest of the hill, from where they could see the enemy army retreating in ragged disorder. A hoarse and heartfelt cheer went up from the Ankh-Morporkian soldiery. There were no words, but what it said was "We're still here. We're still alive. And it feels so, so, good."

Returning to the now in the great city of Ankh-Morpork. Constable Colon is on a night shift partnered by Young Sam Vimes. Colon has volunteered to cover night shifts for a week while Leggy Gaskin is on holiday: it gives him a chance to catch up with Vimes and stay temporarily away from Quirke. It was a quiet night, with that sort of cold drizzly rain falling, which the whole wide multiverse over, is the copper's friend. (For even criminals prefer to work in the dry).

In the shelter of the stage door of the Opera House, long since closed at the end of the night's performance of Lebenshaak, Colon watched with fatherly concern as Vimes produced the flask and took a nip.

"It keeps the cold out" said Sam.

"I'd be careful with that stuff" Colon said. "It ain't like you to drink on duty, Sam".

Abashed, Vimes put the flask away. "I heard about Maisie Nobbs. And about the boy's broken arm. John Keele would never had stood for it. He'd have done something about it."

"And John Keele would never have taken a drink on duty. Just be careful, Sam, I've heard you're getting a taste for the stuff".

Sam was silent, and his head fell for an instant. Then he said "Let's get on patrol."

They moved off in silence and passed through the usual night trade around Pseudopolis Yard, deflecting half-hearted offers from duty Seamstresses doggedly trying to get something out of the night shift, and pausing for a chat to Claude Dibbler, who'd accepted that this was not a good night for trade and was on his way to wherever he called home.

"Can I interest you in a sausage-inna-bun, officers? No? Ah well, worth a try." And then, half-whispered: "Fred, not two minutes since, I saw Sconner Nobbs and Medium-To-Small Dave with a ladder and a box of tools. Going off down towards Lobshanks Alley. They could be doing legitimate carpentry at this time of night but somehow I doubt it"

"Thanks, Throat. But why are you telling us?"

"Normally I wouldn't. But I saw Maisie's face earlier. You lads put him in the Tanty for a fortnight, and she'll get a break from it, won't she? And then there's the lilac. You know how it is.Her lad with the broken arm wears the lilac."

The watchmen quickened their pace.

The cry of "Sausage-inna-BUN!" dwindled behind them.

Sam Vimes put out an arm to check Colon. From the shadows, they saw the ladder, extended against the side of a building. The distant squeal of roof lead being lifted and folded came down to meet them. Sconner Nobbs was nowhere to be seen - he must have been up on the roof lifting the lead - but night vision detected the hunched shape of Medium-To-Small Dave, huddled in a shop doorway smoking a roll-up and keeping out of the rain.

Vimes grinned.

"Now how would John Keele have played this?" he asked, drawing his truncheon. Slipping from shadow to shadow, he moved closer to the heedless Dave in his doorway. Colon followed circumspectly, and was in time to hear the muffled crack of the truncheon bouncing off a skull. Medium-To-Small Dave slumped forwards, and Vimes expertly got handcuffs onto him.

We wait, Vimes mouthed silently, pointing upwards. Colon nodded. A voice from above: Sconner Nobbs.

"Steady the ladder, Dave, I'm coming down with a load." Colon pulled the hood of his cloak over his face and made as if to steady the ladder. He felt the shock of a large heavy man with a roll of lead over one shoulder putting his weight on the upper rungs. A sense of exultant joy filled him. Somehow young Sam had worked out exactly how John Keele would have handled this situation and he, Colon, could see the way it was going to go... did the ladder, when he and Young Sam Vimes pushed and twisted it over to the right. The weight he could feel on the rungs abruptly vanished, there was a scream from above, and then the thud, first of a roll of lead hitting the cobbles, and then that of a large heavily built man landing heavily.

Sconner Nobbs, his back to the Watchmen, attempted to sit up, cursing the hapless Dave for his cack-handed-ness and vowing vengeance. "You broke my Gods-damned LEG, you clumsy..."

This was when Colon saw the chance to play catch-up, and a violent red rage filled him. He hefted the weighted truncheon he'd bought at Goodbody's, and a little memory in his brain replayed Quirke's voice: Now, the novice will aim at and swing straight for the head. This is not recommended, as if the perpetrator ducks, you stand a very good chance of missing. This not only means you are off your balance holding a swinging truncheon you can no longer control, it means he is then in the perfect position to get his retaliation in on you. No, you aim your truncheon here, at the thick pad of muscle at the top of the shoulder and the side of the neck. This offers a larger target with less chance of his ducking the blow, it will hurt, it will incapacitate, and may even knock him unconscious. And it causes pain, gentlemen.

Colon's first blow smashed into the left side of Sconner's neck. It was accompanied by a wordless scream of anger, which if it had words, would have been "That's for Maisie, you son of a bitch!" As Sconner was rocked to the side, Colon's second blow followed through to the right side of his head. THAT one was for Nobby's broken arm. There was no third blow, as by then Vimes had grabbed Colon's arm.

"Fred? Fred? I know you want to kill him right now, but you've got something Sconner doesn't have. You've got a conscience. And I bet you ain't killed anyone before and you don't want to start now, not even with a thing like Sconner."

Fred Colon calmed down. "Ye Gods, Sam, that felt like some kind of animal crawled into my head and took over. That was horrible."

"I know. I call it the Beast". Vimes said. There was a pause.

"What now?" asked Colon.

"Well" said Sam, reflectively, "We're still alone in this alley. We can't kill the bastard, but we can make it hard for him to beat up his wife and kids. What was it that Mayonnaise Quirke said about fingers?"

There was a knock on the door at Dr John Lawn's. At four in the morning, on a doctor's door, a knock always means an emergency, and Mossy Lawn had trained himself to be a light sleeper.

"Mr Colon. Young Sam."

"Doctor, you said I should call on you if there was an emergency?" Fred said, diffidently.

Mossy's eyes went to the groaning bundle on the makeshift stretcher that the two Watchmen had dragged , not always with care to the welfare of the patient, across the city. He sighed.

"Bring him in".

The two watchmen assisted Sconner Nobbs onto the operating table. Sconner raised pain-streaked and frightened eyes to the doctor. Colon reflected that it was true what they said about bullies - their own physical pain was the most terrifying thing to them.

"Let me guess. You found him on the street in this state, and being public-spirited Watchmen, you brought him here for medical attention. Am I right?"

"Well, circumstantial evidence suggests he fell off a ladder" said Sam. "Which doesn't look good at three in the morning without one of those new Thieves Guild licences"

Dr Lawn tutted. "So you intend to hand him over to the Thieves Guild for their attention? Is it, then, worth my while to do anything to attend to THIS set of injuries?"

Sconner was mewling with fear by then. Fred Colon said "No, Dr Lawn. We're not total bastards. Unlike some. A nice warm cell at the Watchhouse later, perhaps. Oh, and we checked his pockets for valuables. Would twenty-eight dollars cover your medical expenses?"

"Handsomely. But I'd do THIS one for free for other reasons." He turned to the trembling Nobbs.

"You know, Sconner, you're a nasty piece of work. A few days ago I set your son's broken arm. I've done what I can for your wife's bruises and fractures. She says you're a man with no feelings. No feelings at all."

He lifted Sconner's left arm and prodded a broken finger experimentally. The patient thrashed and screamed in agony.

"But you bloody well felt THAT, didn't you? Alright, gentleman, before I ask how all ten of his fingers and thumbs come to be either broken or seriously dislocated, we'll do something about resetting this broken leg. I need you both to restrain the patient. This, Mr Nobbs, is not going to hurt a bit."

"Quirke's going to be disappointed that Sconner's in the cells but without any money to bail himself out" Vimes reflected, towards the end of the shift.

"Very true, Sam. The only time you get out of jail free is when you're playing Exclusive Possession, and you get the card."

"So... Quirke wants you on the Particulars. Are you going?"

"No. I've given it a lot of thought, and I'm going to tell him to stuff it. Mrs Colon would rather have me on night shifts than torturing people. I ain't got it in me for that. Besides, on nights we're on the same shifts. That's a bonus"

"For the lilac"

"For the lilac"

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