Chapter 15—Dwarfs

Vimes had runny soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, around five in the morning, after the midnight feast in Ohulan Cutash.

Vimes burped, excused himself and went to talk to the Queen. He left the armoured vehicle behind, as it was empty, and lowered himself over the side of the unmoving train to peer underneath.

A lot of dwarfs stared back.

"You make a lot of noise with your feet," said Aeron. "You're not very dwarfish." He made 'dark' of it.

The dwarfs tittered. "We're trying on dresses," joked the Queen. "We can use the new 'hatchway' as a surprise entrance on the 'catwalk'."

There was more tittering.

Vimes hoisted himself down onto the ground, and inadvertently stepped into a cowpat.

"Mind your feet, sir," called Cheery from above. "This used to be a field." She sat on the flatbed and swung her legs over the side. "Detritus is teaching Simnel how not to repair the Piecemaker, and Bluejohn is playing with the handcar."

"Carry on," said the Queen. She was moving awkwardly, but not with a human pregnant gait. Vimes gave up, and couldn't tell if she was injured or not.

"Aeron," he said. "I'd like a word."

Vimes led him over to a bush. Aeron watched Vimes poke his sword underneath the leaves and check that it was empty.

"The bush appears to be, uh, thoroughly poked through," he said after a while.

"I'm checking," said Vimes. "I've gone through all ten carriages, barring the coal wagon and woodpile, and," he added, "the large metal water barrel, and so forth. We've lost two prisoners and four witnesses. I've got men searching the tender."

"Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs?" asked Aeron. Vimes nodded.

Aeron said, "What do they look like? And how useful are they, because we'll shoot on sight. But," he added, "why do you think they're aboard the train somewhere? I would've escaped, and I'm a dwarf."

Vimes said, "They're wearing handcuffs, and two carriages contain anvils. One's yours, sir."

"I give you full permission with myself present to search our carriage, but my guards can do that, and very good work too. But I stress that even without an anvil, a dwarf can remove iron very well with a hammer. Metal twists easy under duress."

"Thank you, sir. Can we stop the catwalk hatchway…?"

"Ah, the fascination of the female psyche," said Aeron smoothly. "I wouldn't consider it."

Colon left Nobby in the woodpile with Of the Twilight the Darkness searching the privies as he scrubbed. Some of the other goblins were checking the coal and water.

"Oh deary me," called an eager voice from behind a corner. Colon investigated with his usual aplomb.

"What's all this fuss going on, eh? People you are blocking a corridor which is a health and safety crime zone aboard this train." Colon turned the corner, and saw Nobby lighting up fags with the goblins. One of those passed around was Vimes' cigar.

They looked up, perhaps guilty. Nobby sidled into a darkened corner and stood an inch taller than he normally did.

"Get off my foot," quietly shouted the corner. There was a brief "Yuck!" and Nobby was shoved off. A white handkerchief showed up and someone spat on their hands to rub off Nobby's strange-smelling ointment he'd been using since he was seventeen.

Fred Colon yanked Nobby back over by the collar and let go. "Nobby, goblins—what goes the provisions?"

"Sarge," said Nobby, pocketing the match-book, "who's biting you?"

Fred thrusted his elbows backwards and someone went: "Oof!"

He turned round and kicked the fanged person between the legs, then as some guy clutched him, kicked him in the hip, then the arse. Nobby dove in and kicked him in ribs for good measure.

A goblin sized up the scene between her fingers and thumbs, like a good shot for an iconograph. Colon had a brief realisation that she could be Nobby's girlfriend, the one he brought back to their shared room a few times. It had gotten awkward, being the one left out for a change.

The vampire stood up and punched a goblin in the face. Picked up another and threw their body through the window. The glass smashed, and a lone transfigured raven zipped out.

Of the Twilight the Darkness sprang around the room, checking people, and leaving the humans till last.

Colon found his voice. "Man overboard!" he called, and set off at a bad run. Nobby followed and caught him up. Together, they ran into the first seating carriage, where the engineers, drivers, and stokers hung out.

Chapter 16—Loss of the Flyer

With a whistle, Iron Girder set off, and they all adjusted their balance. One dwarf guard accidentally dropped her spear.

Vimes said, "Where?"

Aeron and Queen Rhys opened one door and led Vimes to a bigger than he expected smithy. There was one large iron, a petite anvil, and a dwarf stove. Laid on the anvil, were some pretty rocks and gemstones, and chipping tools.

"We're making rings," explained the Queen.

"Early stages," said Aeron, holding her hand. They looked in love.

Vimes turned round, and one dwarf guard had tears rolling down into their beard. Someone also sniffed in happiness. There was a spontaneous quiet clapping from servants at the back.

All appeared as it seemed, Vimes thought. They left the room, and as couples do, arguing about heat of the stove.

Vimes overheard and said, "You could try the firebox at the front."

Aeron frowned. "I heard it doesn't get stoked enough, but one stoker in particular keeps trying to beat the temperature gauge with frying bacon and eggs, and you know whom."

The Queen laughed, and they held hands again.

"I could, you know," she said. "We've been on the front footplate before, haven't we? I'm almost sure with Commander Vimes and the, er, infamous Stoker Blake we'll be safe enough to reforge the signet."

Detritus woke in the guard's van with the steam engine halting, and Moist von Lipwig dancing over his belly. He got up faster than him, as well.

As a watchman, he kept a clean mind for crime and looking for clues.

The current clue was Moist's shadow shortening as he leapt out the door, and letting a cool breeze in to wake up Detritus' faster thinking.

He sat up, and with a sigh, picked up his famous Piecemaker and checked the wind-up.

Detritus slammed his hand down and woke up his (really Vimes' old) disorganiser.

"Derlingerly-derlingerly-dat!" it cried. "Mission ten reminder: Wind Piecemaker. Mission nine reminder: Frisk Nobby for food. Mission seven-ay: Clean armour. Mission seven: Help Bluejohn remember cart. Mission six: Learning pedalling from Sarge Colon. Mission five: Find eggs. Mission four: Pat self on back. Mission three: Remember to sleep. Mission two: Miss Ruby and Brick. Mission one: WAKE UP, DETRITUS!"

Sergeant Detritus banged on the wall. Bluejohn hurried in.

"Bluejohn. Help me up." Bluejohn started laughing.

The Queen left Aeron bickering with the guards over wedding patterns. She hid, and the King was stuck out on the footplate talking to Simnel majestically.

All of a sudden, the train began to screech to a standstill. The current driver yelled, "We had to brake sharp, sir!"

Simnel grabbed an assistant who pulled out a Make-It-Bigger device. It honed on the lighted clackstower, where there were checkered boards flickering like naval flags. The Queen had heard Ankh-Morpork was using a centuries-old code. A clacksman deciphered it, with lips moving only.

"The Flyer's been derailed up ahead, sir!" he said to them quietly.

Simnel said, "I can't see a thing. It should have lights on."

The King said, "Allow me. Hoist me up." And Simnel's assistants obeyed.

"Dwarfs can see in the dark," she let on. "Yes, the track's now on fire, about eleven yards ahead. No octarine. You can put me down now." She thought quickly. "Brake harder!" she called to the driver.

He hauled on the line and flattened a fastened lever with his weight. The train slowed and stopped just before the pale flames. Most of the staff and engineering crew had woken up, and the Queen was surprised to find Moist was up first, pulling himself onto the footplate by the engine, and not looking like himself.

Chapter 17—Pickle

The next few days were very eventful. The loss of the Flyer, attack by delvers, and Iron Girder repaired by friendly gnomes. The goblins were still talking about them.

Moist von Lipwig had stumbled back after talking to Dick Simnel about sleep, and rest, and overworking everybody. Most of the engineers didn't have a decent bed anymore, while others that could were sleeping top-to-tail in the same bunk.

The prisoners were in two compartments, and the worst tied up in the guard's van, guarded by Detritus, Cheery and Bluejohn in long shifts.

Several of the 'delvers' were no longer on the grags' side, but were gradually reading a copy of Madam Shatta's fashion catalogue. Cheery had to show them her lipstick, after all, she was one of the few who started the feminine revolution, and was the first above ground to wear a skirt.

Dick Simnel was coming to terms over how quietly famous some of the police officers were.

Cheery Littlebottom was a former alchemist, turned forensics. She was the first female dwarf watchwoman out and proud as a feminist. The first to wear make-up and skirts, encouraged by Captain Angua.

Detritus first worked as a bouncer/splatter at the Mended Drum. Next, he starred in Holy Wood, largely in troll flicks but without knowing it. In the credits, he was usually Troll 7, and filmed dragging trees and flowers around silently. He'd saved a lot of people's lives by holding the ceiling up, and had to be rescued by that Victor guy who was the real hero after all, not just an actor.

Thereafter, he'd quit his role as a splatter and became a watchman. He, with Captain Carrot, employed more trolls and dwarfs in the Watch than anyone else. He was head of the entire troll squad in the Watch, and he'd risen to Sergeant naturally. He started the Care In The Community for trolls, namely troll street kids, and an anti-drug awareness scheme, which was well-known. He was the only troll to simultaneously go against Chrysophrase and use him to find other troll criminals, supplying worse drugs into the city.

Eh-up, they'd been helped by other people, like Captain Carrot, Captain Angua, and Commander Vimes. Everybody said so, trying to demean them. It hadn't helped, from Dick's point of view, that Detritus' wife used to formerly work as a stripper, and they'd adopted a drug-riddled teen.

Dick, on the other hand, knew how life worked. He was so pleased when he found himself heart-thumpingly in love with Sir Harry King's daughter, Emily, who looked fabulous in white. But everybody knew that women couldn't be engineers.

Vetinari, listened with half an ear, to Dick Simnel's speech about women. It was better than last time, because he talked about Cheery Littlebottom, and bizarrely Detritus' wife, Ruby. It sounded like lipstick was evil, skirts were pretty, and avoid strippers.

He then talked more about people's wives and mothers, and single lady compartments, and about the Moving Picture stars, Victor's and Ginger's encounter with a white dress and a hot air—Vetinari frowned at the technical term—ventilation cover.

It sounded like he was forbidding certain magazines from circulating around the 'break-time' Moist von Lipwig had granted, but Vetinari couldn't be sure.

Perhaps he needed the holiday, as well.

Moist von Lipwig caught Dick Simnel at an early stage, agreed the engineers. No one fancied women trolls apart from trolls, and Detritus was surprised at how much gossip was about his wife and kid.

Another copy of Madam Shatta's micromail fashion list had started to circulate round the humans.

Stoker Blake returned to his bunk to find his boyfriend reading it aloud to a small group of friends. The curtains were pushed back, and he excused himself before his boyfriend noticed him. He washed in someone's richer than 'he' currently was cubicle, smoothed his hair, inspected the stubble, and switched caps.

He was expected to keep to the same outfit four days a week, with laundry in the middle, and all eight days next before he could change again. Everyone smelled, but after the water compartment had been tampered with, and repaired by elves or gnomes or some weird specie, water was protected.

The next stop with a pond would find him swimming in it.

He turned his coat collar up, pulled down his brim, and made his way to the posher end of the locomotive where Moist von Lipwig stayed.

To his surprise, two injured personnel were there.

"Try the guard's van," they suggested. "Shut the door."

Vetinari limped into the diner carriage. The tables had multifunctional use as people were playing Thud, chess, and plain old eating. He left after picking up a cheese roll and a pot of pickle.

Vimes was surprised as fuck to locate Lord Vetinari eating a swiss roll in front of bound and gagged dwarf grags, who were imbeciles loaded with wrong-way Tak rhetoric, no metaphors, and possessing magic: mostly ring-making and imbuing. One twist, one curse.

The guards had all but severed their fingers off, and had to remove their shoes for toe-rings and ankle-bracelets. They activated at will, largely Tak's will, which was why the Iron Girder protectors had been lucky, very lucky indeed.

Vetinari looked as if he'd forgotten about magic, like Vimes did time to time and so did all of them apart from the wizards. Even witches who prohibited magic forgot about it. Dwarfs were known for mean spell-casting, broomstick-manufacture, and every last mining technique through the magical realms of the Ramtops and Uberwald.

They'd had to strip the dwarfs of everything, but out of respect, hadn't shaved off their beards. The ones in the guard's van were wearing sacks and shivering.

Vetinari dropped a crumb, and let it roll down his coat. He swept it away without thinking.

Vimes trod on it in case it turned into something. It was yellow, it was small, and it was cheese. When he'd removed his boot, it was pink, it was wobbling, and it was scaring Vetinari, who'd scooted into a shadow.

A dwarf guard picked up a stave and flew the pink wobbling thing out of the window. Uberwald could kill anything. The reports suggested fifty-one foot chickens were commonplace everywhere there were Igors. Pink wobbly things didn't scare vampires as they were easier to zap.

Bluejohn patted the wall gently. Vimes was puzzled about most of things trolls did; so were the dwarf guards.

Vimes never thought he would do this. But he went into the shadowy bit, grabbed Vetinari's ankle and dragged him out, grinning and clawing at the walls. He checked; it was Vetinari. 'Stoker Blake' was 'asleep' inside his mind somewhere.

Vetinari pulled himself up very quickly using Vimes' armour as a ladder.

Vimes yanked him through the door to outside. Vetinari moved into suave assassin mode, and balanced a pot of pickle atop the safety rail and tasted it.

"This is a perfect condiment for sausages," he suggested. "There's a very subtle flavour of onions, which is better than the fried onions we had yesterday."

Vimes smiled wanly. Stoker Blake was back, who was friendlier, nicer, creepier when fighting, and better dressed. He also ate more, weighed more (so Vimes stopped insulting him inside his head), and was attached to a member of the crew. He hadn't said anything, but there were a lot of men and very few women on board, and Vetinari was very happy.

Come to think of it, Vimes realised, all those pictures in The Times of Carrot with his shirt off made Vetinari praise them ever more for catching criminals and becoming the front page.

He didn't dare say anything. The icy creepy boss he'd been dealing with for, oh, about twenty years now may suddenly decide to assassinate him if he was wrong. Some people did that; he'd arrested them later for murder. Two were really high up, and… Vetinari had been upset, if that indeed was his upset behaviour. He went quiet, withdrawn, disappeared for days, slept in, didn't eat, and he'd been like that for twenty years working non-stop and marrying a city.

Oh gods, oh gods, Havelock Vetinari, thought Vimes, was giving off the strange weird air that Aeron and Rhys had after they'd walked through a corridor and were no longer there.

Damn it. The man was in love, but not in the eyes. Just the weird air. Vimes rubbed his face. If Angua was here, she would've described it as blue to purpley-pink grrrls.

Vetinari flicked the pot of pickle back into the palm of his right hand. "I take it you're not interested, Vimes."

Vimes stepped out onto a branch, a very thick one compared to what happens if you ask someone if they're in love with a man, and it turns out there are and would never admit it.

"Havelock?"

Vetinari stared at him. "I'm Stoker Blake," he confirmed. He was still staring. "Have you heard from Lady Sybil?" he asked.

"No." Vimes thought about laughing gleefully, but there was something stuck in his chest. Actually, there was something tight stuck in his chest. He placed a hand on his heart.

Vetinari was giving him a strange stare. He glanced at the hand and back at his face. "You're going pale," he said, holding his head steady. His poise changed to that of an elderly wound-up man.

Vimes' legs trembled and he sweated under the armpits and across his forehead. He gripped the rail and sank to the floor. Vetinari joined him at the same time, and set down the pot. He was still looking strange, and he checked for Vimes' pulse on his wrist.

"Poison, or, hmm, magic?" he asked. He was watching him with another stare.

Vimes thought back to a whirl of leaflets and articles Lady Sybil had read to him about heart attacks and healthy eating.

"Fry ups," he managed.

"I can't get to the… that fast…" Vetinari turned to kick the door behind him. "It's Mister Vimes!" he yelled as Stoker Blake.

Detritus burst out. "Sam, what's happening?" he shouted. "An arrow got you?"

Stoker Blake was almost swept off the train by Detritus, who was going motherly like a duck over a baby duckling.

"No," panted Vetinari. "Heart attack, I think." He must have had a whirl. "Arteries, fat build-up, oh fuck, the sausages—"

"The bacon," croaked Vimes, "tasted wonderful."

Vetinari tightly grabbed his wrist by the pulse points. "Fried eggs, too," he said, with a worried expression.

"Fried tomatoes and onions," said Vimes, feeling far away and heavy-chested.

"We didn't get as far as fried bread. The loaf was on fire. How people cook toast, I have no idea. They told me to try eggy bread next."

"Dat's healthy!" cried Detritus. He ripped Vimes' shirt open, got Vimes to lay flat, and placed both hands in troll-flick positions on Vimes' chest. He nodded at Stoker Blake. "You can breathe for him if he stops, can you?"

Vetinari nodded, and grabbed Vimes by the wrist again.

Bluejohn swung the guard's door shut. The opposite window opened and fireworks poured out. At least Vimes would have a good send-off.

Vimes drew in breath after shaky breath, whilst his face went grey and clammy.

They were interrupted by the other compartment's door opening. A goblin squeaked and hurriedly shut the door. Vetinari tried to block out the muted conversation, but the door opened again, and Nobby Nobbs showed up. His face paled at the sight of Vimes on the floor, and he did his trousers up.

Vimes must have spotted him because he stopped breathing.

Vetinari looked down feeling wretched, hoped he could remember Carrot's rather distant life-saving course when the dummy ran away, and he breathed into Vimes' mouth.

Nobby said, "You've got to pinch his nose." Vetinari complied.

Detritus was counting out loud, and flicked his chest.

"Again," Nobby commanded. "Igor said you've gotta do it twice before you breathe into 'em."

Vetinari and Detritus kept the pace up for what felt like over a minute. A shadow passed by overhead caused by a moving cloud.

SAM VIMES?

Vimes sat up, and stopped wincing. A very surreal scene was taking place around him. Nobby was giving the orders for once.

Vimes did the best thing he could think of and lay back down inside his body, but he could see his ghostly nose was out of place. The technique they were perfecting timing on was quite good, but bloody hell, Vetinari was out of practice. He'd have to tell Carrot about this.

Death tapped an hourglass. The top bulb was all right-ish. He was over fifty and had possibly enough left for eighty.

"Thank you for cooking the pizza the other day," said Vimes.

DON'T MENTION IT, COMMANDER. IT TASTED BETTER THAN THE PINK WOBBLY THING THAT ENDED UP IN MY MOUTH.

"It started life as cheese," was all Vimes could think of as way of explanation.

OH, said Death. IT TASTED LIKE SANDPAPER.

"Sorry about that," said Vimes cheerfully.

Death leaned forward. DROP SOMETHING LIKE CURRY NEXT TIME, SAM.

"It's Mister Vimes," said Sam Vimes, and drifted backwards.

"Wha?" asked Vimes. Vetinari stopped lip-locking and cried, "He's alive!"

Detritus sat back on his heels, and smiled. He gripped Vimes' arm in a gentle troll hug. "Well done, sir," he said. "Made it through again."

Vetinari stared. "How many times has he had a heart attack? Tell me!"

"Once before," grunted Vimes. "It's usually arrows."

"Hmm." Vetinari checked his pulse. "It's subsiding," he muttered.

Nobby undid his trousers and checked his underwear.

Vetinari started laughing. It wasn't relieved laughter, and sounded on the brink of an edge until Detritus tapped him on the back repeatedly.