And we return to Darkest Howondaland chapter 13
In which the conflict comes to a head in a very short war. People will die, although they'll be the sort of very minor incidental characters who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There will be a tacit understanding between two nations to call it a "border incident" afterwards, however, which makes it all right. Except for the people who get killed. Johanna gets to be mischievous in a not entirely unpredictable way. Jocasta Wiggs lives up to her Guild nickname – well, it wouldn't be a Jocasta story if she didn't. And there will be a warming little epilogue, after the precarious peace in Howondaland is restored. If not at the end of these eleven thousand words, in the final short chapter...
The former slave camp. On the Howandalandian coast. Early afternoon.
"Oh, and by the way." Julian Smith-Rhodes said to Ponder Stibbons, in a carefully casual voice. "You haven't seen, er, a tall black-skinned girl pass you on the trail? Zulu. You can tell by the flat shield. She's about this tall."
Ponder considered. Julian estimated her height by lifting a hand. He realised it couldn't be Precious he was referring to. Or Julian would have needed to stand on a stepladder. One of the soldiers sniggered, in a muted way.
He paused. Johanna nodded. Ponder noted her face had gone very unreadable. He knew that look. It meant she was contemplating possibilities, like a chess player thinking several moves in advance.
"Ruth? She went back to the camp, I think."
"I understand the, er, camp has diplomatic status." he said. "Like an informal Embassy. So it counts as neutral ground and what we might call normal international relations cease to apply."
He glared at Verkramp, who looked like he was on the point of raising an objection. The political officer seemed to think better of it and remained silent.
"Just as well, really. I've seen Ruth fighting. You really wouldn't want her coming at you with an assegai."
"That's a consideration too". Julian agreed. "Best we agree to differ… Who are they?"
The party had turned a bend and the camp was visible. The first thing they saw was the prison compound, guarded by the two Matabelian prisoners of war who had been re-armed for this duty. Both sides went into the sort of frozen stand-off where body language screamed enemy. Weapons were reached for.
Johanna and Alice got between the two sides, very quickly.
"Stillgestaanden!" Johanna shouted. Alice shook her head at the two Matabeles.
Johanna fired off a quick and urgent explanation in Vondalaans to her country's soldiers. All except Verkramp slowly lowered their weapons. Prompted by Alice, the two Matabeles relaxed. But both sides still eyeballed each other.
"These men broke the Treaty." Verkramp said. "They entered our country. They offered resistance. Quite properly you defeated them and took them prisoner. And then you gave them their weapons back?"
Johanna caught the menace in his voice. She sighed.
"I remind you again this is temporary Ankh-Morporkian soil." she said. "Their laws and customs apply. The decision to re-employ and re-arm these two men was taken by Ankh-Morpork. As these men have proven loyal, I have no objection to that. If I were you, Liutnant Verkramp, I would consider these men are now auxiliaries of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and therefore outside your jurisdiction. And yes, they did break the Treaty. A day before your patrol did. And your point is?"
She repeated her point in Morporkian to keep the others informed. Sergeant Thiejsmann stepped forward and diplomatically pushed Verkramp's crossbow down.
"We don't want a weapon discharged, sir. Major's orders. And Mr Smith-Rhodes." he said.
"Agreed." Julian said, after a moment's thought.
He turned to the two Matabeles.
"If you can understand me, you are in no danger from my men. Please continue your duties. An extraordinary situation applies here."
The two natives looked at him, then at Johanna. She nodded, and smiled.
"Resume your duties, please. There will be no unpleasantness. Thank you."
They relaxed, and resumed guarding. Johanna explained to Julian and the newcomers about the prisoners, and how it made sense for them to be guarded by men who had no reason to be sympathetic and who could be spared for this duty.
"We went those men elive. To stend trial in a court of law. Our former prisoners cen be trusted to this duty end it spares our limited menpower."
"I agree." Julian said. "But if their friends return, can you trust them?"
"I'm not sure." Johanna said. "It may be esking too much for them to fight their former comrades from the same impi. In which case we will hev to make enother plen. But one step et a time."
And then they discovered the bigger threat, out at sea.
Inspector Pessimal was introduced as the senior representative of Ankh-Morpork and Vetinari's accredited personal envoy. He shook hands with Julian, and briefed him on the current situation. Julian Smith-Rhodes was allowed to read at least one directive from Vetinari. He read it slowly, assimilating the implications, and set it down with a sigh.
"It seems we are wisest to offer you our support, sir." he said. "Especially with…" he indicated the seaward threat, "that on the horizon."
"Between fifty and a hundred fighting men." Pessimal remarked. "Fortunately our airborne unit has delayed them."
"That's Prince Samuel himself out there." said a small ratty-looking coloured man who had insinuated himself into the discussion. "And I tell you, he ain't pleased. He's lost face. Your witch dumped all that shit on him from a great height. He's got to wash it all off his boat before it beaches. Appearances, see. If a mighty prince of Matabeleland disembarks to cow and awe an enemy, he ain't going to do it from a Royal Barge smothered in crap. Detracts from the majesty."
Julian allowed himself a smile.
"I've heard about witches." he said. "And that's a lot of shit. How did she manage it?"
"You can ask her yourself. It looks as if they're coming back."
The broomstick ran back towards the camp, losing height. Something spluttered audibly and it lurched in the air. Irena expertly glided it in to land. It dropped the last three or four feet with a dull thump. Irena swiftly unbuckled the belt and ran to them. Jocasta stood up and swayed slightly.
"Ponder! I need a refill. Ran out of magic. This thing eats magic like you wouldn't believe. Get me refuelled. Sorry. Can't stop. Urgent!"
She sprinted in the direction of the latrine, nodding to Johanna and the soldiers. "Introduce me later!"
Johanna took charge.
" Jocesta. Dreg thet thing to where the crossbow cen cover the beach. Then you cen refuel it! Jocesta. Get behind the bow. Make it obvious you're covering the lending. Cover them, but don't shoot yet! Julian, get your men behind the redoubt. Load and present but hold fire until you're told to. Ellice, get every Wetchmen who can point a bow. No firing till we hev to! End if thet's Emmanuelle end the rest coming out of the trees over there, get them over here, fest!"
Johanna strode off to oversee her defences.
"Where are the goblins?" Ponder asked, curious. Several hundred goblins had just disappeared…
"That concerns me too, Professor." Pessimal said, mildly. He frowned, becoming aware of an insistent tugging at the hem of his shorts. He looked down to see a small, ugly goblin who reminded him, in some indefinable way, of Nobby Nobbs, who had appeared out of nowhere and was trying to attract his attention.
"'Ere, I know you!" a passing Watchman said, stopping. "You're the little sod who stowed away on the convoy in Ankh-Morpork! You're not a local gobbo!"
"I go where my people need me." the goblin said. "I am also plisman, Mr P'lice. Constable Feeney made me Watchman. In Shires. Mr Vimes knows me. Call me Stinky."
Pessimal nodded downwards.
"I am aware of this, Mr…. Stinky. Why are you here?"
"I told you. I go where my people need me. I told them. Heads down. Be inconspick. Conceal yourselves until you are needed. Do as Red Fox-Hair tells you. And they will be needed, Mister Aye-Ee!"
Stinky presented a standard Watch truncheon for inspection. It had been augmented by pieces of broken glass embedded in the wood.
"NOT a standard issue weapon, Mr Stinky." Pessimal remarked, dissaprovingly. The goblin stared up at him.
"But in a battle. Is weapon." he said. "When I return to Watch, I take the glass out. For normal plis duty."
Pessimal studied the goblin. After a while he said
"Very well, Mister Stinky. But please tell your fellows to refrain from violence until or unless we are attacked. I am still hoping to resolve this situation peaceably. If I can."
"We will know if you cannot. But no Goblin will be slave again. Die, first."
Stinky trotted away towards the seemingly empty fields, and disappeared.
"They're moving again." Julian Smith-Rhodes observed. "Coming into shore."
Pessimal squared his shoulders. At least, he attempted to. Some shoulders cannot easily be squared, however willing the mind is to live up to a concept of squared-shoulder-ness. The people around him gave him credit for trying, though.
"Then we find out what they want. Try to keep this Prince talking, and delay any actual fighting for as long as possible."
He turned round.
"Constable Williams, what are you doing?"
The Llamedosian-born Watchman was industriously handing out sheets of paper to Assassins, other Watchmen, and Rimwards Howondalandian soldiers alike. Sergeant Thiejssman looked at his and grinned, then nodded at his men.
"I did hear you have a Watchman who hands out religious pamphlets." Julian Smith-Rhodes observed.
"Oh, no, sir, nothing so trivial." Williams said, earnestly. "This is music."
Olga watched activity in the garrison, and felt puzzled. Not all the crates and sacks being pulled out of Stores were being loaded onto carts and mules for the jungle march. Under the direction of sergeants, soldiers were building them into walls and barricades connecting the central buildings of the camp. Indeed, when Olga looked closer, it seemed as if the garrison buildings had been designed with this in mind; clear guidelines had been plotted in the paths and service roads which appeared to be there to indicate where the walls of crates, barrels and mealie sacks should go.
There was a crash as a group of straining men tipped a cart on its side that was clearly surplus to requirements. Others raced in to start building a firing-step of crates and sacks behind it.
"What the Hell are they doing?" she asked, louder than she intended. "And those outlying buildings out there… is that firewood? And are those exothermic alchemy charges?"
She shook her head, unbelievingly. A very unsoldierly-looking individual in a crumpled uniform, who had been politely disregarded by the soldiers, was leaning against the wall of one of the offices with his hands in his pocket. Uniquely, he was bearded, if you could call it a beard. And his bush hat had a certain pointiness to it. Olga called to him. He sighed, and slouched over.
"Could you, er, explain what's happening?" she asked, politely.
The newcomer sighed.
"Well, it's standard operating procedure." he said, with a slight Howondalandian accent. "Most of the Kommando – that's a regiment, round here – is moving upcountry to counter a Matabele incursion. We're leaving a small force here as a skeleton garrison. So as not to leave the base empty. Err. Tactical doctrine insists when you sent the bulk of your force out to face the natives, you leave two platoons plus a few odds and sods behind in the base. Just in case the natives get an overwhelming victory, slaughter everybody you send after them, and then they come chasing after you. You build a Redoubt, miss. Upturned carts and mealie-bag walls. Glorious Last Stand. Eleven Howondaland Stars won before breakfast. Native army broken on the walls of the redoubt, despite having overwhelming odds in their favour. Always worked for us, miss."
Olga did the face-palm thing.
"And the explosive charges and brushwood?"
"Outlying barrack rooms, miss. Wood and thatch. Too big a perimeter for ninety men to defend so if the invading native army got in among them… boom, boom, crackle, crackle. We got a herd of buffalo and oxen too, and men posted to open the gates and drive them into the enemy so as to disrupt his charge. Standard tactics, miss."
He saw her face.
"It worked for us before, miss." he said, defensively.
Olga dropped the subject.
"Pointy hat." she said, pointedly, indicating his headwear.
"And I can't help noticing a certain pointiness to your hat too." the scruffy soldier said.
"Olga Romanoff. Witch. Lancre-trained. Currently Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Air Division. And you, Mister Wizard?"
"Witch. Thought so. Edouard de Kockamaanje. Graduated Wizard from Witwatersrand. Currently doing National Service and my duty to my nation. Completely horrible. But at least it makes me a Captain. In the Rimwards Howondaland Esoteric and Magical Echelon. R.H.E.M.E., for short."
The two magic users shook hands. Buggy Swires made gestures from the Pegasus' mane.
Edouard looked curiously at the winged horse.
"Am I allowed to ask, or is this an Ankh-Morporkian secret weapon?"
"Ask away." Olga shrugged, glad of the distraction. "Buggy. Stop sniggering. Now."
Inspector Pessimal gathered the diplomatic contingent around him. The representatives of their respective nations formed a loose line behind him, as they prepared to meet the delegation from the boats which were beginning to beach. He noticed the oarsmen were trained and experienced, bringing their oars inboard in unison, stowing them, and leaping out to physically help the boats to beach. The craft ran ashore with hardly a bump.
He stole a glance over to his right. The two-seater broomstick had been hastily emplaced with the repeater crossbow facing backwards, pointing over the bristles towards the beach. Under Johanna's direction, a relay of mealie-bags had been run across and a sort of protective barricade erected to shield the gunner. He presumed it was still Jocasta Wiggs. The nose of the weapon was swivelling round to face the double file of warriors who were leaping off the boat and fanning out over the beach. Pessimal nodded and raised the white flag, swinging it horizontally from side to side, hoping the convention of "This does not mean we are surrendering. But we wish at this moment merely to talk" was known here. Above him, the hippopotamus flag of Ankh-Morpork flickered listlessly in the sea breeze. Others had thought to add the flags of Quirm, the Low Kingdom of the Dwarfs, Rimwards Howondaland and Kwa'Zululand, as a sign that other nations had an interest here too. It would not just be Ankh-Morpork that took offence if a Matabele army over-ran the camp.
He blinked, looking at the huge, tall, warriors, armed with assegais and the distinctive scaled-up-peanut-shell shield. He suddenly realised they were women. Precious Jolson had said something about an élite unit of women serving the Prince…
And then, at a word, eight of the women grounded their weapons and took station, four each side of the mountainous man atop the throne. As he made an imperious gesture, they bent and took up lifting bars at the throne's base, lifting it physically out of the boat. They marched forward in step, carrying the man forward until he was within ten yards of the Ankh-Morpork delegation. He spoke a single word, and they set him down, stepping back to retrieve their shields and weapons as the other armed women fell in on both sides.
Johanna Smith-Rhodes returned, leading Ruth N'Kweze. There was a tense moment passing the Rimwards Howandalandian army section when all eyes turned to appraise her. Ruth merely smiled and nodded at the men. They allowed her to pass. Then both took their place in the delegation. Ruth found herself standing between Johanna and the red-haired officer, who jumped, slightly startled. She chose to ignore him for the moment and both parties waited in a still silent mutual appraisal. Then the hugely fat man, sitting atop the dais, a huge pyramid of flesh, laughed.
"Right!" Buggy Swires commanded. His voice carried. When yiz hear the word o'command, ye grab the spog of the man in front, ye ken?"
"His backpack." Olga clarified. The four soldiers nodded understanding. The soldier at the front of the file, aware of the Feegle currently squatting on his shoulder, looked nervous.
"And ye hoatch hard on ye kitbag, those as has them! Ready? Yin! Tan! Tetra!"
Buggy performed a complex manoeuvre on the leading man's shoulder. Then all four disappeared.
The Kolonel whispered to Olga, who stood, looking impassive with arms folded, "They ere going where we want then, yesno?"
"Buggy is good." She assured him. "I don't understand it myself, but if you give clear instructions, they get you there. Ah…"
There was a pop in the air as Buggy returned, alone. He fell from about five feet up, hit the ground, and rolled.
"Have tae remember to do that from ground level, next time." he muttered. "Get aff the bigjob's shoulder first afore I crawstep."
He shook himself.
"Hey, china. Where do you want the next four tae go?" he affably asked the Kolonel.
Olga shook her head. They'd been asked to insert recce patrols ahead of the advancing force. Between her, Buggy, the Army wizard from the R.H.E.M.E. and the Kolonel, they'd worked out the best way of doing it. In the background, the rest of the Kommando was heading off into the bush and jungle in its companies, leading reluctant pack-mules laden with their equipment. It would be a long slog for them. Ensuring advance units were in place to scout, report and ease the way was essential.
And Olga had a job to do. It involved getting Pieter van der Graaf up to the camp quickly so he could brief the people there on new events, and report back. Buggy could be trusted to drop off a few more patrols at varying distances in convenient clearings and riverbanks. He would then rejoin them in his own way. The promise of a fight had ensured his unstinting assistance.
"Ready?" the Ambassador asked.
"Ready." Olga confirmed. She patted her pegasus' nose. Thirty miles would be a quick flight. She'd be there in about ninety minutes in normal flight, without needing anyone to crawstep her.
The laugh was low and betrayed a strange sense of humour. Watching and listening, Emmanuelle speculated that he would have laughed like that as a child when torturing small animals or pulling the legs of insects – just because he could. She decided she did not like this man. But she reflected on the Omnian holy text – taught as an example of overconfidence at the Guild school – of the Assassin sent to slay a hugely obese king in the name of an Om whom he had displeased. The Assassin had been surprised, fatally so, when not only the sword but his sword-arm had deeply penetrated the mounds of fat – without hitting anything vital. 1(1). Emmanuelle found herself wishing for a really long sword. She felt her favoured weapon would not be adequate for this.
"An international alliance, I see." The Prince said. "A Quirmian. Ankh-Morporkians. A Lawn Ornament. And a wonder. A Zulu and a Rimwards Howondalandian. Standing side by side."
Cheery Littlebottom winced slightly at the insult. A really close observer would have seen her beard twitch and her knuckles go slightly whiter at her axe-haft. The Prince appeared to miss this. His attention was fixed on Ruth N'Kweze.
"Greater wonders have happened, O prince." she said, evenly.
"Indeed. Indeed. And what, I wonder, can one Zulu princess do, alone and a long way from her father's royal kraal? It occurs to me your father would pay great amounts of gold to wash away the shame of your capture. It would go a long way towards compensating me for the revenue I am losing by your interference in this plantation. And I wonder where the ugly little slaves are? I see none."
"They are free." Ruth shrugged. "And you would need to capture me alive to claim a ransom. Kill me, and my father's impis will march in war on your nation."
Not a bad idea, Julian Smith-Rhodes thought. Our two greatest enemies wasting their strength fighting each other. Could I help this along?
Then he looked at Ruth and felt ashamed for thinking like that. He wondered if he could be as brave in the face of an enemy if he was alone and far from home. And there was something in the way she held herself…
"Whatever." The Prince said, with a disdainful wave of his hand. "Although the idea of breaking the pride of a Zulu princess has its appeal."
The implications of his words sank in. As AE Pessimal took a step forwards, Ruth said something contemptuous in a Howondalandian language. There were mutterings and angry shouts among the women warriors. And a giggle or two, hastily cut off. Johanna Smith-Rhodes smiled.
"What did you say?" Julian asked, turning to Ruth.
"You speak no native languages?" she replied, surprised. "You live on our continent and you don't speak our languages?"
She shook her head, disbelieving. "But I speak yours. Both of them. Listen. I told him I am surprised if underneath all that fat he can actually find anything to break my pride with, and it will take a long search."
Julian laughed, appreciatively. There's nothing like burning your boats.
"It seems I have much to learn, your highness." he said.
The Prince clapped for silence. He composed his rage, taking deep breaths.
"Pray for a quick death, girl." he said, dismissing Ruth.
Ignoring her reply, he turned to Julian and Johanna.
"Red hair. A family similarity. At least a decade separating you. You are both of the Smith-Rhodes clan, I believe. Normally careful to have an escape route when things go wrong. Well, Smith-Rhodes, you have stepped too far forward this time. There will be no retreat for you."
"I wasn't expecting one." Julian said.
"Steeds getrou op die pan." she said, quoting the Smith-Rhodes family motto. Stay true to the path. Wherever it leads.
"Ah. The woman known to the Zulus as The Red Death." The Prince said, with surface pleasantry. "We know much about you. Fortunately for you, there is no price on your head in Matabeleland."
"Yet." Johanna corrected him. "This cen be changed. End I am not standing in Matabeleland. This is Rimwards Howondaland. You are the trespesser."
"Your whole people are trespassers." the Prince said. "We and the Zulus agree on that, at least."
Johanna placed a hand on her machete hilt.
"So make us leave. If you dare."
AE Pessimal stood forward.
"Miss Smith-Rhodes is technically correct." he said. "But an agreement is in force whereby this area of land is temporarily ceded to Ankh-Morpork by the government of Rimwards Howondaland, and constitutes a diplomatic enclave. Into which, your highness, you have intruded without a welcome. Your continued presence here risks drawing the active disapproval of the city-state of Ankh-Morpork onto not only you, but also the nation you represent."
The Prince scowled down on Pessimal.
"You are Ankh-Morpork?" he demanded. "A small man in an overlarge helmet with a sword at his belt that he would struggle to lift? Am I to be frightened of you?"
Pessimal stared back, levelly.
"I agree I personally am not physically imposing." he admitted. "And my swordsmanship is indifferent, despite practice. But I ask you to reflect on the fact my direct employer is Sir Samuel Vimes, the Duke of Ankh. He chose to send me here. And behind Sir Samuel is Lord Havelock Vetinari, the ruling Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, who approved Sir Samuel's choice and accredited me as his direct representative here. That is all I choose to say on this matter."
Pessimal stepped back. He waited for the reply.
"I see." the Prince said, at length. "But I am Prince Samuel, heir to the Paramount Throne of Matabeleland. And here and now, I am nearer than either Vimes or Vetinari. They are thousands of miles away. I am ten yards in front of you. Now listen to my demands."
"He's mad, isn't he?" Cheery whispered to Emmanuelle. The Quirmian woman shrugged, trying to ignore the itch in her sword-hand.
"Il a une araignée au plafond, certainement." she agreed. "Une grande tasse des araignées." Seeing Cheery's bafflement, she thought in Morporkian. "That is, you are assuredly correct, chere amie." "A whole heap of spiders in the skull?" the Prince said, coldly. Ah. He is undoubtedly insane, but also educated. Quirmian is the international language of diplomacy, after all… "An idiomatic expression, mon prince." Emmanuelle said, suddenly oozing charm and sincerity. "It is untranslatable into Morporkian, but conveys recognition of your cogitative ability, your thoughts being likened to the purposeful activity of spiders on their web, planning ahead, setting traps for unwary flies, and acting with deadly purpose."
It also means being so insane that Igors would queue at your door, then pay you to allow them to work for you. But he may not know that.
"And you represent Quirm here. How typical of the nation."
The Prince then set out his demands.
These summarised as compensation for lost revenue from the slave fields. Ownership of the slave camp to pass to him, including the surrender of the slaves who would become his property. The slave overseers to be released without charge and permitted to continue their duties. The two deserters from his army to be returned for due punishment. The individual known as Bash Me Brains Out With Me Own Knobkerrie N'Dbhlwa, and his bearers, to be handed over for punishment. In return, the Ankh-Morporkians and others, with the exception of Ruth N'Kweze, were to be allowed to leave unmolested. The Rimwards Howondalandian soldiers could return home, but were to sign a confession of guilt that they had broken the Treaty of Windhoek, and were to surrender their weapons and personal equipment. Ruth N'Kweze would be a hostage in Matabeleland and would be treated in accordance with her royal status. And as he came to think of it, the Smith-Rhodes boy, son of an influential politician and one of a notable family, would also be a useful hostage to hold. Yes, I will take the boy.
"Come and get me." Ruth and Julian said together. They turned and looked at each other with surprise.
Inspector Pessimal asked for a moment to confer with his senior people. It only took a moment. He stepped forward again and flatly said
"No to all."
The Prince nodded.
"Very well. You have chosen…"
Then he broke off, mid-sentence.
"Who is she? Bring her forward!"
He indicated Precious Jolson with his ornamented fly-switch. His dead black eyes lit up. Pessimal sighed. But realised if he indulged the loathsome man, this might buy a few minutes more time. He went to Precious and asked her, stating this had to be her own free will, and was not an order. She nodded, walked forwards and stood in front of the Prince, who addressed her in the Matabele language.
She shook her head firmly and spoke in Morporkian, for the benefit of all.
"No." she said. "Absolutely not."
"DO YOU DARE TO SAY NO TO YOUR PRINCE!"
"I so dare. Because while I might be Matebelian enough to speak the language, I'm from Ankh-Morpork, your highness. You are not my prince. I owe you no loyalty. The man who is my prince, the man who pays my wages every month, is Havelock Vetinari. And I work for Sam Vimes. So no. I will not join your Amazon guard. Sorry."
Prince Samuel controlled his temper. It was clear this was costing him an effort.
"Jolson. Jolson. My father employed an Aldewayo N'Jolsonola as his chef. A good cook. A very good cook. Who absconded one day with his family. On a ship to Ankh-Morpork."
"My grandfather." Precious said. "Who by the way was not an employee. He was an indentured servant. A slave, in other words. He escaped. With my grandmother and my father."
"So your family owes me a servant. You will join my personal guard, girl. And repay that debt."
Precious looked at the amazons. They were all at least her own height and build. Many were larger. She wondered how personal the guarding went. Then recalled the gleam in his eye on seeing her. She shuddered.
"No." she repeated.
"So be it." The Prince said.
He clicked his fingers in the direction of one of the largest guards. A woman who made Precious look short and slight. She stepped forward.
"You have chosen death. Single combat with my chosen warrior. Ready yourself!"
Precious was glad she was holding her spear; she evaded to one side as the warrior woman attacked. She distantly heard Pessimal protesting. But drew on her Watch training and little things she'd picked up on desperate Saturday night beats after the pubs closed.
The amazon warrior woman might have been a veteran of wars and hard fighting. She might have been trained since childhood in weapon use and fighting drills. But she was innocent of things like the Vimes Sidesweep With The Quarterstaff that swept her legs from under her, as Precious used her spear-haft like a Watch truncheon. Getting up, she ran into the Vimes Elbow as taught to Watchmen. Dazed, she then received the Vimes Clenched Fist applied to the top of her head followed by the Nobby Nobbs Equaliser. After this, she did not get up again.
Prince Samuel scowled, then he beckoned another warrior forward.
"Hey, that's not fair!" Precious shouted, indignant. "I beat your champion, didn't I?"
"You did." Samuel conceded. "But can you beat all thirty?"
"She won't be alone!" another voice shouted. "You take on one Watchwoman, you take us all on!"
"Ah." Samuel said. "the b'zugda-hi'ara. The lawn ornament. I've often wondered how you people fight. Especially when your head is four feet nearer the ground."
The new warrior advanced on Cheery, grinning. An Assassin voice, possibly Alice Band, said "Oh dear. Overconfidence."
"It is, isn't it!" Samuel agreed.
"I'm sorry? Was I talking about Cheery being overconfident?" Alice riposted.
It was another short fight.
Cheery yelled "T'dr'duzk b'hazg t't!", and demonstrated the essential Dwarf tactic of ducking low under the spear and attacking the knees. There was a dull crack of breaking bone as the mattock-end of Cheery's axe connected with a knee. And suddenly the four feet of difference in height didn't matter any more.
"I used the blunt side." Cheery informed the Prince. "Don't want to dull the blade. Yet. By the way, hope you've got Igors."
Prince Samuel waved back his other warriors. The two stricken amazons were hauled to the rear. Johanna, restraining Ruth from stepping forward and throwing down a challenge, pointing out there was no need just now as the Amazons were being held back, noticed a black-cowled and hooded figure. Back there, among the ships' crews and others who were holding back, waiting at the boats. She frowned. That cloaked figure looked oddly familiar. And that looked like an Assassin cloak… she signalled Alice Band in finger-code. Alice acknowledged.
"I hope we're not too late." Pieter remarked to Olga, The scrub beneath then was deepening into impenetrable true jungle. Olga wondered how quickly seven hundred men, encumbered by having to carry necessary stores on pack mules, could push through it. Thirty miles could be covered in a day on foot. In any terrain except jungle forest. They had overtaken the first long lines of men, moving slowly behind continually rotating squads who were methodically hacking a way through the growth.
Olga knew that small squads were being inserted well ahead of the main army, their task to observe, recce and report back. Buggy Swires had obligingly crawstepped seven or eight such small patrols at five-mile intervals. At least two of them had been inserted within two miles of the slave farm. It was therefore essential to report this so that they could be intercepted by friends. And apparently an earlier patrol sent out to check was lost out there: six men commanded by a relative of Johanna's. Now that would be interesting. Especially as the father, some sort of distant-but-still-related-enough-for-it-to-matter relative of Johanna's, was a powerful minister of state who was understandably worried about a son in a war zone.
"They are moving very slowly." Olga observed. "Only a few men at a time can cut a path."
"There are established trecks." Pieter said. "These ellow for single-file movement. The tesk is to renew them, remove recent growth, end widen them so a mule mey be led. These will, however, diminish the further out the men go. Et least there is no need for stealth. Not with a force this size, which cannot be concealed. Ah well. Steeds getrou op die pan."
Prince Samuel appeared to be getting angrier and more frustrated. Pessimal considered this to be no bad thing. Angry, frustrated, men used to unquestioningly getting their own way tended to make mistakes and lose the ability to think clearly. And it was buying time. Every minute that passed was a minute closer to, for instance, Olga returning. The natives really were scared of the flying white horse. This could be used to advantage. And another carpet convoy was due. More fighting men had been requested with additional weapons. Reinforcements would be very welcome. If only as a deterrent.
"N'Dhblwa!" Samuel roared. He was really angry now. The independent international trader slouched unwillingly forwards. Pessimal gave his shoulder a reassuring pat.
"Envoy Pessimal." The Prince said, in a low threatening growl. "I want this man. You will hand him over."
"Under what charges, your highness?" Pessimal asked, smoothly. "What is he accused of? It is important to respect correct police procedure in these things. His Grace the Duke would insist on nothing less."
"Do I have to tell you?" Samuel asked, his voice oozing menace.
"I rather believe you do, your highness." Pessimal insisted. "You are requesting that I hand a man into your jurisdiction to face trial by unspecified means, under charges as yet undefined, to face a punishment, if found guilty after due and fair trial, which may be thought cruel and un-natural by Ankh-Morporkian standards. Before extradition can take place, we need to clarify these things. And suitable paperwork needs to be drawn up. It could take some time. And your suspect is currently in Ankh-Morpork. Where he has requested asylum."
"Give him to me, Pessimal." Samuel said, with low icy calm. "If you must know, he sold me spircles claiming them to be rubies. I was cheated on the deal. He will be sent to the Execution Pit to face public death."
"I know spircles." Pessimal said. "The chameleon stone. So for them to have masqueraded as rubies, there must have been some true rubies in the pouch with them? So you were not entirely cheated? And it occurs to me that such a pouch may be sold on, or the spircles extracted and placed in a pouch with, say, a few diamonds. The whole pouch then sold as diamonds by a skilled dealer. As they say, caveat emptor. Buyer, beware. And the Execution Pit? I hear an unfortunate thrown in there may find hundreds of gallons of boiling water tipped in after him. So he scalds, boils and drowns simultaneously. 2(2)"
"The method varies." Samuel shrugged. "And it has a deterrent effect. Nobody cheats me twice."
"I see." Pessimal said, thoughtfully.
"I also wish for the two deserters from my regiment to be returned to me for justice." Samuel said. "That at least is an internationally agreed right? To salve your conscience, you could call it repatriation of prisoners of war."
"Which is not customarily done until hostilities are clearly over, and some sort of armistice agreed on." Pessimal said. He turned to Precious and said "Please bring our two guests to me so we can decide the matter of their future. Set a new guard on the prison compound, if you will. Thank you."
There was a short lull in the proceedings. Johanna used it to step back to confer with Alice Band and Emmanuelle. They agreed the cowled, cloaked and unknown figure at the beach looked suspiciously familiar. Like somebody they'd all had the delight of teaching for seven long, long, years.
"Certainly one of us. An Assassin. But who are they working for? If they were on the same contract as us, they'd have introduced themselves by now."
"A name does suggest itself to me." Emmanuelle muttered. "Mes amies, there is a contract on this person. To detain them and return them to the Guild, preferably alive. If she is allied to this disgusting mountain of fat, it indicates her complicity in this sorry affaire."
"Elive is preferable. But not ebsolutely mendated." Johanna said, thoughtfully.
"We do need to know for sure." Alice said. "See if she takes the hood off. It can't be comfortable in this heat."
They agreed to watch and wait, as Precious returned leading the two reluctant-looking Matabel soldiers. When they realised who was present, both stopped dead. Precious moved behind them to block their escape. But both threw themselves flat on the sand in front of their Prince and babbled in terror. Samuel cut them off and spoke in a low, dead, voice. Precious translated for Pessimal. Who shook his head and said "This really will not do. Not at all. Get them to stand up, Precious. Mr N'Dbhlwa, get your two associates. I have decided."
Gathering the five natives together and using Precious as translator. Pessimal began;
"As the representative of lord Vetinari, Ruling Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, and his legally appointed voice here, I deem that the five people gathered here who have all requested citizenship within the twin cities of Ankh and Morpork are to be sworn in as naturalised citizens. Who then will have the full rights and obligations due to citizens of Ankh-Morpork, and can call upon its protection if under unjust threat by representatives of foreign powers…"
There was a lot more like this, Pessimal dragging out the formality for as long as possible and improvising extra time-consuming ceremonies such as Kissing the Flag. For added emphasis, the two Matabele soldiers were sworn in as Special Constables of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, subject to approval and ratification by Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson or His Grace Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh.
About halfway through, Prince Samuel, now in a fuming rage, exclaimed that this farcical parley was AT AN END, and you will now see the full force of my righteous anger.
His eight bearers lifted up his throne again and conveyed him down the beach to the boats, just out of arrow range. The warrior women fell in step with him and covered his retreat. Alice and the others noted that the cowled figure in black ran to the prince when beckoned, and they fell into deep discussion. And just once, the cowl slipped and there was a flash of long blonde hair as the mysterious Assassin stared at the other Guild members.
"Lucinda Rust." Alice said. "Explains why he knew so much about some of us."
"We need to make a plen." she said.
And then the bulk of the Matabelian army emerged from the tree line.
"We should be there in the next five minutes." Olga said to Pieter van der Graaf. Hopefully nothing much has happened since I was last there."
The pegasus' wings beat steadily on. Then van der Graaf tapped Olga on the shoulder. They both took in the scene below them.
"I believe the eccepted turn of phrase here is "Famous Last words"Miss Romanoff." he said, drily.
Appalled, Olga took in the scene. A hundred or so black soldiers on the beach, gathered around some large beached boats and canoes. The Matabelian main force trotting out of the edge of the jungle and forming up into a battle line. Hundreds of men. And a depressingly small number of people, most of whom she could recognise even from several hundred feet up, hastily piling into the makeshift Redoubt Johanna had insisted on building. Olga could see a determined-looking redhead standing on top of the makeshift wall, directing people and shouting them into position.
"Take me down there. Now." Van der Graaf said, insistently. Olga swooped round in a wide circle. She remembered how Irena had scared them on her Pegasus and took her mount low over the heads of the Matabeleian impi. It gave her the opportunity to make an estimate of numbers. A few arrows came back up, but went harmlessly wide. She expected that: it took an exceptional shot to hit a moving target in the air. Most people didn't know how to aim ahead, and pointed at where you were, rather than where you would be in the time it took for the arrow to get there. She retaliated with a couple of fireballs, detonating them in the trees above the soldiers. She grinned as many of them fell reflexively to earth and the forming battle line was disrupted. Glimpsing a few obvious sergeants kicking and yelling men to stand up and get back into line, she landed just behind the compound.
Van der Graaf leapt off and vaulted the wall in a manner that belied his years. Private Robert Maarlei ducked hastily, recognising all the signs of an annoyed senior rank in a hurry to make his presence felt.
"Report!" he shouted at Johanna.
"Looks like trouble." she said, laconically. She jerked a thumb in the direction of Prince Samuel.
"Fellow over there turned up making noise and threats. He didn't seem to like it that we told him no. Or at least. Inspector Pessimal told him "no".
Briefings were quickly exchanged. Pieter nodded understanding and approval. He knew Prince Samuel. And loathed him.
"I see." he said. By the way, thet chep over there. Whet's he doing?"
Julian Smith-Rhodes smiled, mirthlessly. "Handing out song-sheets, apparently. I thought it was wiser to let him get on with it."
Constable Dyddfrig Williams of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch felt a tremor of ancestral excitement as he moved among the defenders. There was a certain understanding among them, and he was invariably gracefully thanked.
"What do you sing, Miss Band?"
"Huh?" Alice said, lost for words.
"Let me see now. Tall lady. Good chest. I have it! You would be a contralto, now…"
Bemused, Alice took the song sheet. She frowned. But Williams had moved on. He was talking to a very tall defender in a hooded black cloak. Alice frowned. The newcomer looked like an Assassin. But the cloak was shabby, if black. And she didn't know any Assassins who were that tall… uncharacteristically, she let the issue drop.
THANK YOU. said the tall figure in the black cloak.
"Let me guess, now, sir." Williams said, wondering vaguely why his thoughts were slipping away. "You has to be a bass, mun. Can never get enough bass voices."
MORE OF A BASSO-PROFUNDO, TO BE EXACT.
Williams shrugged, and moved on to the next fellow, who was a heavily-built type whose hair and moustache appeared to be red. He shrugged. There did seem to be a lot of Smith-Rhodeses here. The songsheet was taken with robust thanks. Williams moved on.
"I do like a good sing-song before a battle, Mort!" the red-haired florid type said to the man in black, who shrugged. "Takes me back. Did I ever tell you about…"
LOTS OF TIMES.
"They seem to be forming up at the moment." Julian said, watching the battle line shaping at the far end of the tobacco fields, perhaps fifteen hundred yards away. "Hopefully all that growth should slow them down a bit."
"Not as much as you'd think." Ruth N'Kweze said, testing the draw on a crossbow. She'd ended up, somehow, alongside Julian in the battle line. Neither of them were contesting this. "The men in the front line will trample it down. It's not as if it's raw jungle. Those are mainly cultivated plants. Nothing to them."
"Ah. I forgot you were…"
"Zulu. Yes. We're frankly more used to fighting on the other side of a wall like this. You know? Being on the inside is new to me. I'll tell you how it goes. They spread out as they charge. Then wrap around you. Take you on all sides. Horns of the Bull. Classic impi manoeuvre on open ground."
She looked down to the songsheet Williams had given her. She did not know whether to be insulted or amused. Her people sang different songs in battle…
Pieter van der Graaf came over.
"Julian. You know there's a relief force on the way? I need somebody to go back and meet them. Tell them the situation here and to get some advance units up here as quickly as they can."
"I understand, sir. You're a married man. You're a father. You're also a politician. Not a fighter. Just see they get here soon?"
Van der Graaf shook his head. "Not me, Julian. I was part of the high-level meeting that committed us to fight here. I'm not running out on this. I helped make the decision back in Pratoria to send men to fight and die here. I should take the same risks."
"But it can't be me. Not while the men I brought here are fighting for their lives."
Verkramp, the political officer, perked up expectantly. He had been subdued when Johanna had brusquely informed him that if he was so bloody keen to fire his crossbow in anger, he now had a first-chance opportunity.
"Perhaps me, sir? I'm in the political service. I can make a report!"
Julian stood up.
"What was it you were saying to the men the other day, Verkramp? That every Rimwards Howondalandian should be proud to fight and die for his country? And that BOSS were in the front line like anyone else fighting for a white Howandaland? Well, you're in the front line now, you weasel! Bloody well fight!"
"I'll see he does, sir." Sergeant Thiejsmann promised. "Fight, I mean. And can I suggest? Send the boy back. Tuits. He's barely eighteen and younger than the rest of us."
"Good enough". Julian said, the family anger subsiding. "Tuits, go with the lady over there. You're flying out of here. For now."
Pieter van der Graaf was scared. He didn't want to die just yet. But…
"Friejda thinks I'm in Pratoria, safe and out of the way." he remarked. "One way or the other, she's going to get a surprise…"
Olga was reluctant to go. But she saw the sense of getting a message out of there. She performed a long lazy climbing spiral over the camp and threw out a spray of magical fire in the sky. Again the forming battle-line was disrupted as men threw themselves to the ground. A little more time had been bought. She heard the boy soldier behind her firing his crossbow downwards in the vague direction if the enemy, she supposed so he could later say he'd got at least one shot in. And then they were making speed to Rimwards. Those on the ground saw a dwindling dot in the sky.
"They're performing a war-song." Precious Jolson said. "They're happy now the bad muti's gone away and the bad omen of the white horse has run away. Personally I just think they're psyching themselves up to charge."
Johanna accepted this. She was crossing her fingers that the rest of Julian's unit could get here in sufficient numbers to make a difference. And quickly. She also hoped the things she'd asked the goblins to do would work. And several hundred goblins could make a real, immediate, difference here. Samuel had dismissed them as a cowed and stupid slave race. She hoped that would prove overconfident. Fervently so.
The battle song of the Matabele grew louder and angrier. The defenders waited in silence.
"No fireballs yet, Ponder." Johanna requested. "Keep an eye out for their megic users. Thet's your bettle. We know et least one was on the boat. There could be another out there in the jungle. Jocesta? No firing till I give the word. I went thet weapon to be in reserve. I think we cen only use it once before it's hend-to-hend."
Ponder gulped. He too was affected by the stoic determination seemingly shared by all, from Pessimal downwards, to go down fighting if they had to. But he was still terrified. Even though he suspected Johanna still held a couple of aces. He didn't think she was keen on dying young either. He took a deep breath, and a tighter hold on his staff.
"We're mad, aren't we?" he said to Irena Politek. She was leaning on the rampart, a Watch crossbow and a dozen or so quarrels to hand. A spare broomstick was within reach. If it came to a last stand, Irena was to get out and fly Rimwards for safety and report to whoever she could find. It was possible Rimwards Howondaland and Ankh-Morpork would then jointly take measures. But by then, it would be academic for most of the people currently standing here.
She nodded, gloomily.
"Totally insane." she agreed. "You know, in my country some generals take the point of view life is cheap, and just keep throwing kulak soldiers into the attack till an enemy breaks? "We have reserves", they say. Well, that bloody prince over there would fit in well in Zlobenia or Far Überwald. Look at him. Sitting there out of range and calling up a dinner, so he can have a picnic and watch the fun."
"If I get out of this, I went to see a contrect out on Prince Semuel." Heidi van Kruger remarked. "Unfortunately the Concordat says you cennot kill without taking money."
"So, er, how does it work for you people here?" Irena inquired. "I mean, you can't nip up to the other side and ask them to hold the charge, until you've got all their names and addresses, and worked out what each of them's worth."
"Oh, we're ellowed normal right of self-defence." Heidi said. "End if you're celled up to fight for your country, the Guild eccepts netionel service end petriotism mean the Rule cen be set eside. Pity. I hev a feeling if I'm still elive et the end of the dey, I'll have done a lot of pro-bono work."
The singing grew louder. Then a lone voice somewhere nearby was heard to clear its throat theatrically. There was a single ting of a triangle. And…
"Hear me, men of Pant-y-Girdl!
Do not let your courage curdle!
Though the foe they do encircle.
Unsteadily at first, and then with more strength and confidence, more and more voices took up the song….
Johanna looked at Julian and both shrugged.
"Some things are cultural." she said. "You must respect cultural sensitivities."
"I agree." Julian said. It was a part of Rimwards Howondaland's history too… he took up the song, referring surreptitiously to the words on the page.
Alice Band threw up her hands in exasperation.
"Damn!" she exploded. "Am I the only person here who isn't re-enacting the Battle of Lawkes' Drain?"
"Not quite, Miss Band." Ruth N'Kweze sighed. "My people sang different songs at that battle…"
They sat together, listening to the battle-song all around them.
"They're mad, aren't they?" said Ruth.
"Totally barking mad insane." Alice agreed. "And by the way, you can call me Alice. It's allowed."
Now you're heading hospital bedwards,
You thought you could get past Killer Edwards…
"It loses something on translation out of Llamedosian, doesn't it?" Alice said.
"You should hear one of our battle-chants." Ruth said. "There was a Paramount King who was learning Überwaldean. He so liked the sound of the word "Umschläge!" that he made it into a chant. Pity it only means "Envelopes". (3)
… you suddenly feel deathly; Iechyd-Da, your knackers are, over the hills and far from healthy!
"Our cue, I think." Alice said, reaching for her bow. Ruth loaded her crossbow. From somewhere, the first goblins had appeared, females and children; they were scuttling around behind the fighters, providing a relay of fresh bolts and arrows.
"Hold your fire!"
Alice called to her mixture of Assassins and Watchmen.
"When the moment is right." she said. "And you will know! We are going for an arrow storm here, ladies and gentlemen. You do not need to be accurate. Just fast. And…. Wait…"
Alice kept her own bespoke arrows in reserve in her quiver. They were dedicated to a purpose and expensive to replace. She took the standard-issue munitions issued to soldiers and Watchmen which were good enough for this purpose. You did not need to be an expert to hit a charging mass of troops. She called the range as the enemy attacked.
"Thirteen hundred yards!" Still too far. Wait.
"Twelve hundred! Nobody fire!"
"Eleven hundred! Who fired that? WAIT! You just wasted an arrow!"
"Nine hundred! Nock arrows to your bows! Wait for the word!"
"Eight hundred! Great Io, what the Hell just happened there?"
The ground appeared to open up in front of the first rank of charging tribesmen. Men dropped into the earth shrieking with surprise.
Johanna Smith-Rhodes grinned with relief. She really hadn't been sure. But the goblins had not let her down. The covered pits and trenches they had dug in the open ground were paying off. But it wasn't slowing the attack. Fresh soldiers were running over the backs of their unfortunate fellows. More carefully now, watching the ground as they ran, but pushed on by the men charging from behind them.
"Six hundred yards!" called Alice.
Here and there a fresh pit slowed part of the rush. But the leading fighters were avoiding them, learning to recognise the signs.
And then they discovered the caltrops Johanna had requested from Guild stores. A caltrop is a nasty little device consisting of sharp nails welded together so that whichever way you drop one, there's always a nail pointing up. The goblins had seeded the field with them. And more barefoot warriors were shrieking and dropping.
"Five hundred yards!" Alice called. Are we really going to come out of this alive?
And as the depleted charge got to less than four hundred yards…
"LOOSE!" Alice shouted. And the arrow storm began. Johanna and Alice saw the new complication together. Both yelled to cease firing as a sudden onslaught of goblins, shrieking and yelling in high-pitched voices, hit the Matabele impi in the flank. And those improvised weapons began to tell as tribesmen vainly flailed out against fast-moving, death-dealing, and very angry, former slaves.
One way or another, less than two hundred Matabeles, less than a quarter of the original attacking force, made it to the redoubt. There was a final flurry of projectile weapons. Then it was hand-to-hand fighting. The defenders were still outnumbered. But their attackers were up against Assassins, who know about fighting. Ankh-Morpork City Watchmen, who know about streetfighting. And a detail of Rimwards Howondalandian jungle infantry, with combat experience.
Ruth N'Kweze took out her first two foes easily enough, a Zulu battle chant ringing out so that they would know who had killed them. She had leapt over the rampart and was fighting in the open where she felt less hemmed in. Alice had dropped her bow, expended several readily accessible throwing knives, then drawn her sword and joined her. She was currently duelling a senior warrior with an iklwa sword, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Ruth slip and fall…
Ruth sprawled on her back and dodged the spear aimed at her. Then the grinning warrior looming over her jerked with surprise and blood trickled from his mouth. He fell forward, revealing Julian Smith-Rhodes withdrawing the bloody bayonet from his back and looking at it as if surprised. She scrambled to her feet, realised, and quickly stabbed the warrior working his way to Julian's flank.
"First kill? Don't just stand there admiring it! Wake up!" she snapped.
Julian shook his head and quickly reloaded his crossbow. Army crossbows had a fold-down bayonet underneath the stock so they could be used as a stabbing weapon of last resort.
"Oh. And by the way, thank you." she said.
"Well, we are fighting on the same side." he said, sheepishly.
Ruth quickly tripped a warrior rushing past her. She thumped him hard with the staff of her assegai. He grunted and fell over.
"Not his turn to die today." she said. The press of battle had thinned around them. Alice had dealt with her warrior. She nodded at a golden blur nearby. Matebele warriors, or at least those who were still standing, were getting out of its way.
"Cheery's doing well, isn't she? Then again, if you can say you've really seen a Dwarf fight, you're fighting on the same side."
"Or a Zulu." Julian said.
She looked at him suspiciously.
"I have just seen you kill three men." he said, simply. "That's really quite something."
"And you saved my life. And I saved yours." Ruth said.
"Better that rat of a political officer of yours doesn't get to know this." Ruth said.
"Ye gods, yes!" Julian said. He'd forgotten about the miserable Verkramp.
"Looks like it's finishing." Ruth remarked. The last few Matabele soldiers were either trying to retreat or were surrendering. The fact a Goblin army blocked their line of withdrawal was a consideration. And the two Matabeles who had been captured and granted Ankh-Morporkian citizenship were calling to their fellows. Ruth shrugged and remarked that it was getting out now that prisoners would be treated well.
Sergeant Thiejssmann was urgently calling Julian over. He excused himself, and ran over.
"Any casualties, sergeant?"
"Private Dekker took a stab, sir. That hechsen from Ankh-Morpork is doing what she can. But he'll live. Sorry to say Liutnant Verkramp is dead."
"I see." Julian said. He and his sergeant shared a long frank gaze.
"Well, we can say he died doing his duty as an officer of BOSS and in the front line, serving his nation. Write him a citation, or something."
"The wound went all the way through, sir. We can say it started in the front and came out of the back. Hard to tell, really."
"Could have been from either direction. I see. Well, carry on, sergeant!"
LIUTNANT HEINZ VERKRAMP?
He looked up at the towering black figure.
I HAVE TO TELL YOU THAT YOU PERFORMED YOUR DUTY. AS I AM PERFORMING MINE.
Death threw back his cowl. Bone gleamed.
AS YOU CAN SEE, I CLASS AS WHITE. THERE CAN BE NO ARGUMENT ABOUT THAT. NOW STEP THIS WAY. THERE ARE DISCARNATE SOULS OVER HERE WHO WANT A WORD WITH YOU.
Verkramp could hear ostriches. Angry ostriches. And they were getting nearer. 4
GOT TO GO. BUSY DAY.
The soul of Liutnant Verkramp screamed.
Johana Smith-Rhodes appeared, cleaning her machete. Her tunic and face were smeared in blood, none of it hers. She looked primal to her uncle's eyes, like a better class of battle goddess. Pieter recalled his own machete now needed cleaning. He felt suddenly very old and tired.
She patted her uncle's arm, leaving a handprint. He winced, wondering how to explain this to Frijda. Then he realised he would be able to explain this to Frijda. In person. The thought made him happier.
"Never too old for a war, oncle Pieter". she said.
"It's a dirty business." he said.
"Ag, that's why we have diplomats. Like you. So most of the time wars don't happen. You can go back to doing what you're best at, now."
"Is Julian alive?"
"Ja. I was thinking, oncle. He's from the rich end of the family. The influential end. He has career to look forward to. Now he's seen a fighting battle and he's been blooded, he's proven himself. His father might be relieved if his next posting were to be a safer one. I was thinking, the Staadt might want to hand out a reward or two for this. How would it be if he got a diplomatic posting? Junior defence attaché at an Embassy somewhere, perhaps?"
"Such as, for instance, Ankh-Morpork?" her uncle replied. "Just thinking aloud, you understand. Such postings are prestigious and hard to come by."
"A personal word from the Ambassador? On behalf of a Smith-Rhodes who is capable of intelligent thought and considered action?"
Pieter van der Graaf smiled as he considered the advantages.
"Leave the matter with me, Johanna. I believe I have friends who will be sympathetic."
Johanna smiled and thanked him. She walked away, thinking He will be far from Howondaland in a place where there is no apartheid law. Where he can see whoever he likes, and she also has freedom.
There was consternation in the beach encampment. Prince Samuel looked dispassionately at the ruin of his army. He gave orders for the boats to be made ready for sea before the victors looked his way.
He glared down at the handful of survivors who had made their way to his encampment, seeking safety, and who were kneeling in the sand before him. He nodded to his Amazon guard.
"They were unworthy, They were weak. Kill them." And signalled his bearers to lift his throne.
"Well?" he demanded of his retained Assassin. "There is no room on the boats for them. And I can get more soldiers. We have reserves."
Lucinda Rust turned away. What the Prince did to his slaves was no business of hers. Although not even her father would do this to the remnant of any Regiment he led out of battle. He might shoot a few for cowardice or desertion, yes. But that was different.
She considered the train of events that had led here here. Damn Vimes. And damn the jumped-up Boor farm girl. And damn Miss Band, prissy priest's daughter. And damn the silly unworthy fool of a girl Jocasta Wiggs, and the ignorant black native Ruth N'Kweze. She wished she had a weapon for inhuming them all, together here in the same place.
"You have lost the initiative." she repeated. "You must leave here. Return to a place of safety. They will send people after you. I know how they think and I can provide security against them. But not here." she repeated, eager to leave.
And then the two senior Assassins were walking openly over the sand together, fearless and assured. Lucinda recognised both.
It was Madame Deux-Epées who spoke.
"Lucinda. We are acting on Guild authority. I am to inform you the Guild has requested your presence in Ankh-Morpork to answer serious charges of conduct unbecoming and of bringing the Guild into disrepute. I stress these are not necessarily capital charges. You are to come with us. We would prefer this to be voluntary and of your own free will. The alternative is one you might find degrading and unpleasant."
Lucinda stood, unspeaking.
"But one way or the other, you will come with us." Miss Alice Band insisted. "We are prepared to use force. And there are a lot of us here right now."
She took in the fact both her former tutors were dishevelled and bloodstained and both carried unsheathed swords. And neither had been even wounded in the fight.
And then they looked up to see the magic carpet silently gliding down….
A rounded, but not obese, native stepped off the carpet. He was flanked by two officers of the City Watch. Both looked down on the sprawled corpses on the sand and went "ugggh."
The native bowed as far as was consistent with minimal respect, and raised what looked like an ornamented fly-switch at the Prince. There was a brief conversation in Matabelian. And for the first time, Prince Samuel looked defeated. He listlessly signalled to his remaining supporters.
Lucinda tensed herself as Alice and Emmanuelle drew nearer. She allowed her shoulders to droop as if in defeat.
"You are to surrender your weapons." Madame Deux-Epées said, not unkindly. Lucinda sensed her old tutor saw this as an unpleasant duty. She wondered how she might take advantage of this. But the two Watchmen, the ones she recognised as that disgusting zombie and the pamphlet-pushing religious freak, were also closing in. She decided to make one last appeal to the Prince…
And then she heard the splashing behind her.
"Hey!" she shouted, seeing the boats being pushed and pulled out into the sea. From his throne, Prince Samuel waved her an ironic farewell. She realised, with the tobacco farm gone and her brother forced into exile, she was now of no further use. And whatever had been said to the Prince, it had clearly meant his importance at court had been diminished…. For the moment, Lucinda Rust allowed herself to be taken into custody. But she'd passed through this jungle before….
Eleven thousand words. Wow. So one more short chapter after all…..
(1) Really "true", for a given value of true. It's in the Bible; Judges 3:12-30, in which the wicked, evil, and above all morbidly obese King Eglon is assailed by the Israelite assassin Ehud. Although Ehud does manage to inhume the king, he loses his sword: 20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, "I have a message from God for you." As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch[d]; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
(2). Really true. This was a favoured execution method which the sadistic and insane Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar delighted in.
(3). Watching the film "Zulu", there's a scene where the attacking impi at Rorke's Drift really does sound like it's chanting the German word for "Envelopes", as if their casus belli is the British blockade on the stationery delivery….
(4) A call-back to the original deranged BOSS agent called Verkramp, in Tom Sharpe's farce "Indecent Exposure". Who was responsible for a plague of exploding ostriches in the city of Piemburg, Natal. It all makes sense in context.