Poor old Vimes, Vimes thought.
Poor old Vimes, here in gutter. But that's where he started. Poor old Vimes, with the water swirling in under breastplate. Poor old Vimes, watching rest of gutter's contents ooze by. Prob'ly even poor old Gas-kin has got better view now, he thought.
Lessee . . . he'd gone off after the funeral and got drunk. No, not drunk, another word, ended with 'er'. Drunker, that was it. Because world all twisted up and wrong, like distorted glass, only came back into focus if you looked at it through bottom of bottle.
Something else now, what was it.
Oh, yes. Night-time. Time for duty. Not for Gaskin, though. Have to get new fellow. New fellow coming anyway, wasn't that it? Some stick from the hicks. Written letter. Some tick from the snicks . . .
Vimes gave up, and slumped back. The gutter continued to swirl.
Overhead, the lighted letters fizzed and flickered in the rain.
It wasn't only the fresh mountain air that had given Carrot his huge physique. Being brought up in a gold mine run by dwarfs and working a twelve-hour day hauling wagons to the surface must have helped.
He walked with a stoop. What will do that is being brought up in a gold mine run by dwarfs who thought that five feet was a good height for a ceiling.
He'd always known he was different. More bruised for one thing. And then one day his father had come up to him or, rather, come up to his waist, and told him that he was not, in fact, as he had always believed, a dwarf.
It's a terrible thing to be nearly sixteen and the wrong species.
“We didn't like to say so before, son,” said his father. “We thought you'd grow out of it, see.”
“Grow out of what?” said Carrot.
“Growing. But now your mother thinks, that is, we both think, it's time you went out among your own kind. I mean, it's not fair, keeping you cooped up here without company of your own height.” His father twiddled a loose rivet on his helmet, a sure sign that he was worried. “Er,” he added.
“But you're my kind!” said Carrot desperately.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said his father.
"In another manner of speaking, which is a rather more precise and accurate manner of speaking, no. It's all this genetics business, you see. So it might be a very good idea if you were to go out and see something of the world.''
“What, for good?”
“Oh, no! No. Of course not. Come back and visit whenever you like. But, well, a lad your age, stuck down here . . . It's not right. You know. I mean. Not a child any more. Having to shuffle around on your knees most of the time, and everything. It's not right.”
' 'What is my own kind, then?'' said Carrot, bewildered.
The old dwarf took a deep breath. “You're human,” he said.
' 'What, like Mr Varneshi?'' Mr Varneshi drove an ox-cart up the mountain trails once a week, to trade things for gold. “One of the Big People?”
“You're six foot six, lad. He's only five foot.” The dwarf twiddled the loose rivet again. “You see how it is.”
“Yes, but-but maybe I'm just tall for my height,” said Carrot desperately. “After all, if you can have short humans, can't you have tall dwarfs?”
His father patted him companionably on the back of the knees.
“You've got to face facts, boy. You'd be much more at home up on the surface. It's in your blood. The roof isn't so low, either.” You can't keep knocking yourself out on the sky, he told himself.
“Hold on,” said Carrot, his honest brow wrinkling with the effort of calculation. “You're a dwarf, right? And mam's a dwarf. So I should be a dwarf, too. Fact of life.”
The dwarf sighed. He'd hoped to creep up on this, over a period of months maybe, sort of break it to him gently, but there wasn't any time any more.
“Sit down, lad,” he said. Carrot sat.
“The thing is,” he said wretchedly, when the boy's big honest face was a little nearer his own, “we found you in the woods one day. Toddling about near one of the tracks . . . um.” The loose rivet squeaked. The king plunged on.
“Thing is, you see ... there were these carts. On fire, as you might say. And dead people. Um, yes. Extremely dead people. Because of bandits. It was a bad winter that winter, there were all sorts coming into the hills ... So we took you in, of course, and then, well, it was a long winter, like I said, and your mam got used to you, and, well, we never got around to asking Varneshi to make enquiries. That's the long and the short of it.”
Carrot took this fairly calmly, mostly because he didn't understand nearly all of it. Besides, as far as he was aware, being found toddling in the woods was the normal method of childbirth. A dwarf is not considered old enough to have the technical processes explained to him until he has reached puberty.
“All right, dad,” he said, and leaned down so as to be level with the dwarf's ear. “But you know, me and-you know Minty Rocksmacker? She's really beautiful, dad, got a beard as soft as a, a, a very soft thing-we've got an understanding, and-”
“Yes,” said the dwarf, coldly. “I know. Her father's had a word with me.” So did her mother with your mother, he added silently, and then she had a word with me. Lots of words.
It's not that they don't like you, you're a steady lad and a fine worker, you'd make a good son-in-law. Four good sons-in-law. That's the trouble. And she's only sixty, anyway. It's not proper. It's not right.
He'd heard about children being reared by wolves.
He wondered whether the leader of the pack ever had to sort out something tricky like this. Perhaps he'd have to take him into a quiet clearing somewhere and say, Look, son, you might have wondered why you're not as hairy as everyone else . . .
He'd discussed it with Varneshi. A good solid man, Varneshi. Of course, he'd known the man's father. And his grandfather, now he came to think about it. Humans didn't seem to last long, it was probably all the effort of pumping blood up that high.
“Got a problem there, king. Right enough,” the old man had said, as they shared a nip of spirits on a bench outside Shaft #2.
“He's a good lad, mind you,” said the king. “Sound character. Honest. Not exactly brilliant, but you tell him to do something, he don't rest until he's done it. Obedient.”
“You could chop his legs off,” said Varneshi.
“It's not his legs that's going to be the problem,” said the king darkly.
“Ah. Yes. Well, in that case you could-”
“No,” agreed Varneshi, thoughtfully. “Hmm. Well, then what you should do is, you should send him away for a bit. Let him mix a bit with humans.” He sat back. “What you've got here, king, is a duck,” he added, in knowledgeable tones.
“I don't think I should tell him that. He's refusing to believe he's a human as it is.”
“What I mean is, a duck brought up among chickens. Well-known farmyard phenomenon. Finds it can't bloody well peck and doesn't know what swimming is.” The king listened politely. Dwarfs don't go in much for agriculture. “But you send him off to see a lot of other ducks, let him get his feet wet, and he won't go running around after bantams any more. And Bob's your uncle. ”
Varneshi sat back and looked rather pleased with himself.
When you spend a large part of your life underground, you develop a very literal mind. Dwarfs have no use for metaphor and simile. Rocks are hard, the darkness is dark. Start messing around with descriptions like that and you're in big trouble, is their motto. But after two hundred years of talking to humans the king had, as it were, developed a painstaking mental toolkit which was nearly adequate for the job of understanding them.
“Surely Bjorn Stronginthearm is my uncle, ” he pointed out, slowly.
“Same thing. ”
There was a pause while the king subjected this to careful analysis.
“You're saying, ” he said, weighing each word, “that we should send Carrot away to be a duck among humans because Bjorn Stronginthearm is my uncle. ”
“He's a fine lad. Plenty of openings for a big strong lad like him, ” said Varneshi.
“I have heard that dwarfs go off to work in the Big City, ” said the king uncertainly. “And they send back money to their families, which is very commendable and proper. ”
“There you are then. Get him a job in, in-” Varneshi sought for inspiration-“in the Watch, or something. My great-grandfather was in the Watch, you know. Fine job for a big lad, my grandad said. ”
“What is a Watch?” said the king.
“Oh, ” said Varneshi, with the vagueness of someone whose family for the last three generations hadn't travelled more than twenty miles, “they goes about making sure people keep the laws and do what they're told. ”
“That is a very proper concern, ” said the king who,
since he was usually the one doing the telling, had very solid views about people doing what they were told.
“Of course, they don't take just anyone, ” said Varneshi, dredging the depths of his recollection.
“I should think not, for such an important task. I shall write to their king. ”
“I don't think they have a king there, ” said Varneshi. “Just some man who tells them what to do. ”
The king of the dwarfs took this calmly. This seemed to be about ninety-seven per cent of the definition of kingship, as far as he was concerned.
Carrot took the news without fuss, just as he took instructions about re-opening Shaft #4 or cutting timber for shoring props. All dwarfs are by nature dutiful, serious, literate, obedient and thoughtful people whose only minor failing is a tendency, after one drink, to rush at enemies screaming “Arrrrrrgh!” and axing their legs off at the knee. Carrot saw no reason to be any different. He would go to this city-whatever that was-and have a man made of him.
They took only the finest, Varneshi had said. A watchman had to be a skilled fighter and clean in thought, word and deed. From the depths of his ancestral anecdotage the old man had dragged tales of moonlight chases across rooftops, and tremendous battles with miscreants which, of course, his great-grandad had won despite being heavily outnumbered.
Carrot had to admit it sounded better than mining.
After some thought, the king wrote to the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, respectfully asking if Carrot could be considered for a place amongst the city's finest.
Letters rarely got written in that mine. Work stopped and the whole clan had sat around in respectful silence as his pen scrittered across the parchment. His aunt had been sent up to Varneshi's to beg his pardon but could he see his way clear to sparing a smidgen of wax His sister had been sent down to the village to ask Mistress Garlick the witch how you stopped spelling recommendation.
Months had gone by.
And then there'd been the reply. It was fairly grubby, since mail in the Ramtops was generally handed to whoever was going in more or less the right direction, and it was also fairly short. It said, baldly, that his application was accepted, and would he present himself for duty immediately.
“Just like that?” he said. “I thought there'd be tests and things. To see if I was suitable. ”
“You're my son, ” said the king. “I told them that, see. Stands to reason you'll be suitable. Probably officer material. ”