Have You Noticed Every Time We Meet A Dragon Turns Up?
What exactly went through Sam Vimes mind with the evolving relationship and growing attraction between himself and Lady Ramkin?
"A voice immediately above him rumbled, "Say what you like, I still swear it's a magnificent specimen."
Vimes's gaze travelled upwards until it crested the edge of the fountain's top bowl.
"Have you noticed," said Sybil Ramkin, hauling herself upright by a piece of eroded statuary and dropping down in front of him, "how every time we meet, a dragon turns up?"
She gave him an arch smile. "It's a bit like having your own tune. Or something."
- Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett
Rating: K+ / T
Disclaimer: Pterry. Not mine.
Note: Guards! Guards! Some italicised quotes from the book. A closer look at all of the meetings between Vimes and Lady Ramkin in G!G!
For the life of him, Vimes could not remember how he and Lady Ramkin had actually managed to get behind the water trough. Perhaps, in extremis, the body shuts down and the brain decides that, what it really wants, is to stay alive and takes control of your cumbersome, stupid body and propels you to survival. What was nudging his consciousness in no small measure was that he was in exceedingly close quarters with Lady Ramkin. Her bedraggled ballgown was clinging to a body with far too many curves for Vimes to be sure his blood pressure wasn't permanently skyrocketing and the rain was creating interesting rivulets down her enormous cleavage.
What Vimes was marveling at was his capacity to surreptitiously ogle Lady Ramkin at a time when the great dragon had materialized in front of them both in the Plaza of Broken Moons. I'm a man, Vimes defended himself silently. I'd have to be bloody blind and dead not to notice her, er, finer points of note. Even in his mind Vimes blushed. He ducked further behind the trough to hide his cringing.
"I don't care what you say, I still think it's a magnificent brute." Lady Ramkin said beside him in a booming whisper – which meant, of course, that somebody standing on the other side of the Plaza would have heard her. Over a hurricane.
Vimes swallowed. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the rise and fall of her chest with each breath and he suddenly felt acutely aware of her proximity, of every single tiny movement and brush against him.
Underneath Vimes' arm, Errol was whimpering and fighting to be released, making little growling noises against his hand as he held Errol's snout shut. Why the little devil wanted to charge the behemoth in front of them Vimes couldn't imagine.
"I do wish you wouldn't keep saying that," Vimes said weakly. 'Magnificent' wasn't exactly the term that he would have used.
Out in the Plaza the dragon swung its great head around, scenting the air, moving with a finesse that belied its appearance. It began to move, talons scraping over the cobbles like steel being tortured under great stress.
"I knew it wasn't dead," growled Vimes. "It was too neat! A dragon this size would have left bits everywhere! Someone wanted us to believe it was dead. Look at it, it needs magic to exist, surely."
Lady Ramkin continued gazing at the dragon thoughtfully. "What do you mean?" She turned her head slightly towards Vimes, but never tearing her eyes away from the reptile for even the slightest moment.
Vimes paused. He didn't actually know what he meant. He just knew that the thing was all wrong, it wasn't alive, but it wasn't dead, and he wasn't at all sure how it existed.
"Um, well, what if it needs magic, like say, we would need food? Only magic could get that thing in the air, surely?"
"It's a thaumivore, you mean?"
"Well, just that it eats magic, say?" Vimes added, not having had a classical education.
"Yes, it could be," she agreed. Her own thoughts had taken her somewhere similar, the ratios of this dragon were mathematically impossible and would contravene most of the natural laws of physics. "There certainly used to be a lot of natural magic around once," she said thoughtfully, remembering the calculations she had made whilst observing the dragon up on the roof of her house.
All those thefts, he thought. A bit here, a bit there, nothing major, just insignificant enough to be left at the bottom of a list of priorities. Not that any sane person would concern themselves with what the Night Watch thought, he added to himself. Whoever it was has been feeding the dragon, now it's ripped the training cutlery away and feeding itself. Looks like they'll be in for a shock, then, whoever they are.
Vimes became horribly aware that Lady Ramkin had moved. In a kind of mental slow motion he saw her striding across the Plaza, shoulders back, back straight and head held high. He was even more horribly aware that his legs were rooted to the spot, and that he had absolutely no intention of being a have-a-go hero.
"What the hell are you doing?" He called across in a loud whisper.
Without breaking her stride, Lady Ramkin called back. "If it's descended from the swamp dragons then I can probably control it. They can't resist a stern human voice, they don't have the willpower. They're just big softies, really."
Big softies? The dragon in front of them wasn't exactly going to be getting awards for being the dragon most wanted as a family pet, or cutest firelighter. This was the killing people kind. The kind that attracts idiots in armour, with more brawn than brain, clad in their posing pouches and the light glints off their teeth just so *ting* bastards.
Vimes watched her progress across the Plaza with a mixture of horror and shame as he realized that he was going to have absolutely nothing to do with heroically pulling her back to safety. Through the fog of his terminal embarrassment, he heard her say: "Bad boy!"
The echoes of her stern, cut-glass vowels echoed around the square. The dragon lifted its head higher and lowered its snout. It seemed to have some difficulty focusing on her right underneath it. It appeared to be radiating some puzzlement. Vimes wasn't surprised.
Vimes cautiously peeped over the horse trough, trying to override his dented pride. There's no point in both of us being fried alive, he tried to convince himself.
"Sit!" bellowed Lady Ramkin in a voice that channeled almost a thousand years of leadership and authority, and was as undisobeyable as gravity. Even Vimes felt his legs sag in sympathy. His forebears would have been used to voices like that, one tiny part of his brain reflected.
"Good boy! I think I may have a lump of coal somewhere…." Lady Ramkin patted her pockets, slightly distracted. The great dragon shook its head slightly as the eye contact was broken.
Oh, you shouldn't have looked down…. Vimes half rose in horror as the dragon lifted one claw and pinned her to the ground, swishing its great tail in a leisurely fashion and tossed its head back, eyes half closed. It appeared to be quite relaxed. Vimes stared at it in a horrified fascination, so distracted that he didn't notice Errol wriggle free from underneath his arm. Lady Ramkin was squirming and writhing underneath the claw, trying and failing to gain any kind of purchase on the smooth surface. He really wished he hadn't noticed what an alluring maiden in distress she made.
Suddenly Errol broke the spell. He cleared the trough in one jump and through sheer momentum was bouncing his way across the Plaza, madly flapping his stubby wings with his mouth open trying desperately to flame. The only noises the little dragon could make were wheezing burps as random Brownian motion bounced him across towards the larger dragon.
He was rewarded by a jet of white blue flame carelessly directed in his direction that melted a great streak of cobbles several feet long. Undeterred, Errol continued his bouncing, flapping progress around the dragon, which seemed to be having difficulty following his progress. Even Errol didn't know where he was going to be from one moment to the next. Annoyed, the great dragon reared up with a noise like a terminal landslide and shot another gout of flame, raising one huge talon and attempting to bat the tiny challenger out of the air.
With the great dragon otherwise occupied, Vimes saw his chance to silence his pride. Drawing his sword, for what little defence it might give, he scurried quickly across the intervening space, eyes intent on the somewhat disoriented Lady Ramkin. Quickly sheathing his sword again, he grabbed a handful of bedraggled ballgown and one arm, slinging her unceremoniously across his shoulders. Off to one side he could see the whizzing, whirring shape of Errol buzzing around the larger dragon, drawing away its flame and, most importantly, its attention.
The incredible softness was the first thing Vimes noticed, in those miliseconds after having picked up Lady Ramkin. As he took his first steps back towards the shelter, such as it was, behind the horsetrough, he realized how bad his initial judgment was. Lady Ramkin was a lot of woman, of that there was no doubt. The Ramkins had not bred for beauty, they had bred for healthy solidity and big bones, and Lady Ramkin was a perfect embodiment of this. His legs began to shake with the pressure placed upon them and purple spots were dancing in his vision. Just as he considered putting her down, a stray gout of flame vapourised several feet of cobbles by Vimes' foot. He was sure he hadn't just leapt a foot into the air and actually ran to the horsetrough, but he must have done because he was now lying behind it and Lady Ramkin was a very soft, feminine presence in his arms. Crushing them, but in his arms nonetheless. He didn't seem to know what to say. He couldn't ever remember being in a similar situation. He wasn't well versed in what to say to aristocratic ladies lying in his arms. He began to blush again as Lady Ramkin stirred.
She grabbed the edge of the horsetrough and hauled herself up. "Right! It's the slipper for you…" she began before focusing on Vimes still lying on the ground next to her. "What the hell…?" Her mouth dropped open slightly and a pink tinge coloured her cheeks. She looked away hurriedly, pulling her dress down and trying not to catch his eye. Vimes noticed her hands were shaking slightly.
"Um," Vimes sat up, trying to massage some life back into his arms. "The dragon – " He really was at a loss of what to say.
Lady Ramkin wasn't listening to him. She was looking over his shoulder at the scene unfolding in the Plaza. "Oh sod, pardon my Klatchian."
Errol was tiring, he was flying much nearer the ground than previously and his reactions were slower. As they watched in horror the great dragon threw its head back and gave a leisurely backhander that sent Errol rocketing over their heads in a straight, rising line where he hit the roof of the building behind them and slithered to the edge where he dropped like a stone.
"Catch him!" Lady Ramkin shouted. "You must! It's vital!"
Vimes stared at her before leaping forward and catching Errol only inches from the cobbles. The little dragon was surprisingly heavy. His stomachs were making a sound more often associated with a blocked drain and he sneezed a cloud of gas that would have been at home in a morgue. He wriggled in Vimes' arms, pawed the air a few times and licked his face with a tongue like a hot cheesegrater and jumped down to the ground, stubby tail held high.
In the Plaza the dragon gave them a disinterested glance, before spreading its great wings and launching into the air. Vimes still couldn't believe the grace of the reptile – it flew as if it was weightless. As Vimes and Lady Ramkin watched, it flew out across the city, head held high. Well, it's not as if people are going to need warning, Vimes said to himself. A bloody great barn flying across the sky should be easy enough to spot. Another job for our erstwhile King, he smiled nastily as he imagined the reaction.
"Where's Errol off to?" Lady Ramkin emerged from the mist beginning to swirl, dragging the errant carriage and horses behind her. Unsurprisingly, they didn't want to come but they were fighting a losing battle, sparks flying from their hooves as they struggled.
"Is he, I mean, is Errol still trying to challenge it?"
"They fight like blazes," Lady Ramkin informed Vimes as he climbed on to the coach next to her. "It's all a matter of making your opponent explode." She peered ahead through the mists, trying to keep Errol in her sight.
"I thought in nature the defeated one rolled on its back and that was an end to it," Vimes said as they clattered along.
Lady Ramkin laughed, a rich, expressive sound that tingled up Vimes' spine, much to his surprise. He hunched his shoulders in his cape, and gripped his knees tightly, trying to control his breathing.
"Wouldn't work with dragons," Lady Ramkin smiled. "Some daft creature rolls on its back, they disembowel it. That's how they look at it." She paused. "Almost human really." She gave him a half smile and an apologetic shrug. "There's no losers with dragons."
The carriage continued towards the business district. Vimes leaned forwards – three indistinct shapes were meandering slowly up the road in front of them. Lady Ramkin turned to Vimes with her eyebrows raised. At his nod, she slowed the horses down to a walk, giving them plenty of time to eavesdrop on the conversation.
"The best bit is when you stick the knife in and crack the fat and all the browny gold stuff bubbles up," said Carrot dreamily. "A moment like that is worth a ki –"
"Shut up! Shut up!" shouted Colon. "You're just – what the hell was that?"
They felt the sudden down draught, saw the mist above them roll in to coils that broke against the house walls. A blast of colder air swept along the street, and was gone.
"It was like something gliding past, up there somewhere," said the sergeant. He froze. "Here, you don't think-?"
"We saw it killed, didn't we?" said Nobby urgently.
"We saw it vanish," said Carrot.
They looked at one another, alone and damp in the mist-shrouded street. There could be anything up there. The imagination peopled the dank air with terrible apparitions. And what was worse was the knowledge that Nature might have done an even better job.
"Nah," said Colon. "It was probably just some. . . some big wading bird. Or something."
"Isn't there anything we should do?" said Carrot
"Yes," said Nobby. "We should go away quickly. Remember Gaskin."
"Maybe it's another dragon," said Carrot. "We should warn people and –"
"No," said Sergeant Colon vehemently, "because, Ae, they wouldn't believe us, and, Bee, we've got a king now. 'S his job, dragons."
"''S right," said Nobby. "He'd probably be really angry. Dragons are probably, you know, royal animals. Like deer. A man could probably have his tridlins plucked just for thinking about killing one, when there's a king around."
"Makes you glad you're common," said Colon.
"Commoner," corrected Nobby.
"Men?" Vimes leaned forward on his seat, squinting through the fog, which was getting thicker by the second. He could barely make out Lady Ramkin next to him on the seat. Her presence, on the other hand, burned him to his skin. Stop that. Now.
He coughed, to hide his growing discomfiture.
"Did a dragon go past? Er, apart from Errol, that is?"
Colon swallowed. "Might have done. Possibly. Maybe?"
"Then don't stand there like a lot of boobies! Get in! Plenty of room!" Lady Ramkin said heartily. She gave a shout to the horses and they set off at a respectable trot.
Inside the carriage, Colon gestured silently to Nobby, in the direction of Vimes who was up on the seat with Lady Ramkin. Nobby gave what was possibly the most horribly knowing wink back.
"You reckon?" Colon hissed.
'Course," Nobby grinned. "It's obvious."
Nobby settled back in his seat.
"What do you think you're doing?" Colon said a moment later.
"Wavin'," Nobby gestured graciously to the billowing folds of fog.
Up on the seat, Vimes was getting exasperated. "It's impossible in this fog!" he exclaimed.
Down below, Errol's progress was slowing. He kept stopping and whining up at the fog above.
"Well, Errol looks like he thinks it's near," Lady Ramkin said at last.
Almost in acknowledgement the fog ahead lit up. It flamed like a chrysanthemum and went 'whoomph.'
Lady Ramkin and Vimes sat motionless. As one, they looked at each other, seeing their own horror mirrored in the other's eyes.
"Not again!" Vimes moaned.
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