Let’s juggle some knives, he says. It’ll be easy, he says. It’s just objects in time and space, he says.
Angua goes aboard the ship and comes upon 71-hour Ahmed while searching in her wolf form. He pets her and tells her that she will have a collar—he knows who she is and puts a silver collar around her neck so she can’t escape. Carrot rushes to tell Vimes that the boat to Klatch left with Angua on it, and Vimes has a moment of clarity where he realizes that staying in the city on bad orders is the wrong move. He tells Carrot that they’re going to get Angua, and they gather their regiment and blackmail Jenkins into taking them. Both Rust and Prince Cadram are informed of the move, with everyone revving up to fight. The submarine burrows into the Klatchian ship’s hull just enough to get pulled along for the ride while Vimes has Jenkins dump his cargo so they can try to catch the boat. 71-hour Ahmed is told that there’s a monster following the ship and does note something strange about the wake of the boat. Inside the submarine, they notice that the Klatchian ship has stopped, so Vetinari decides they should break off from the ship and go to see Leshp in the morning. Jenkins’ ship begins to catch up with the Klatchian ship, but they’re hit with St. Ungulant’s Fire, which brings a storm down on both ships—Carrot is sleeping through it.
Angua manages to escape her collar and attacks 71-hour Ahmed and his cohort when they enter the room next, rushing out into the room holding Prince Khufurah. Then she legs it out the window, leaving 71-hour Ahmed to believe she must have drowned at sea. The submarine arrives at Leshp and begins to dive around it and then underneath it, 71-hour Ahmed departs the Klatchian boat with another passenger (and is followed), and Vimes insists that Jenkins beach his ship to follow them. They have the world’s saddest shipwreck, and Vimes suggests they continue on despite Carrot suggesting they set up a defensible position on the beach. As they continue, Detritus starts slowing down, since trolls don’t do well in heat. Then the group is surrounded at swordpoint. The submarine emerges under Leshp, confirming Leonard’s hypothesis that the island is only floating briefly and will resubmerge within a week. The Watch crew are surrounded by D’regs. Carrot suggests Vimes check his book on Tacticus for a solution, which Vimes does as a cover to get one of the D’regs pinned. He tells Carrot to translate for him that the group needs to lay down arms—they charge instead. Vimes wakes tied up next to a camel and finds Carrot there; he told the Klatchians to leave Vimes tied so he could catch up on sleep. The group is all fine. While they’ve been captured, the Klatchians take hospitality very seriously, so they’re being treated incredibly well.
The D’regs’ wise man Jabbar offers Vimes a sheep’s eyeball which he refuses, knowing he’s being punked. The D’regs are impressed, and Vimes keeps trying his luck at being diplomatic to get a sense of the situation. Carrot explains that Prince Cadram is trying to unite Klatch into one nation and the tribes aren’t so happy with that. 71-hour Ahmed told the D’regs to hold the Watch here, and they’re doing so, even though they pointedly don’t trust the man. The submarine follows a Klatchian fishing boat to shore and finds a huge fleet of ship. Vetinari suggests that they go to shore to investigate further, which Colon and Nobby don’t like the sound of at all. At night, it’s cold enough that Detritus can think, and Angua comes in from the woods to let the group know that there’s a couple hundred soldiers nearby preparing to attack them at dawn. Carrot suggests using Tactitus’ advise and attacking with a small group at night in the dark to confuse the enemy and even up their odds. Vimes attacks his first in the dark and it turns out to be Janil, Goriff’s boy, so Vimes doesn’t kill him, just drags him back to camp. Colon and Nobby fail to steal Klatchian clothes on their first try at the docks, but manage it the second time.
Colon and Nobby give Vetinari their report, and the Patrician decides that they will reconnoiter and then find the Klatchian high command so that he can deliver a package that he believes will end the war. The sack of clothes that they stole turns out to be from a performance troupe, and the other costume is for a woman; Vetinari has Nobby swap with him. The Klatchians meant to attack the D’regs are surprised when no one attacks at dawn—they head to the camp and find it empty. Carrot arrives and asks them to surrender, noting that the group are surrounded by the D’regs, but his commander has asked them not to charge just yet. The group surrenders promptly. Angua and Vimes talk about Carrot, how he gets people to listen to him, and about what it’s like being someone else’s dog. Carrot lets the army go, but lets anyone stay who wants to join their side. Vimes has a revelation about 71-hour Ahmed and tells Jabbar that he’s leaving to find him. Carrot wants to stay, but Vimes points out that war is getting in his head, and he’s starting to think more like a soldier than a cop. Vetinari asks about getting in to perform for the prince and is asked for a demonstration, so he does a perfect juggling act. He tells Colon to mingle in a nearby pub and find out where the prince is.
I have a distinct memory of the first time I read the book being like “…the Patrician has never juggled before, I am certain of this” and feeling unaccountably smug at being right. Juggling is just knowing where things are and making sure they occupy the right places, oh of course, your lordship, not a skill at all. But the more important feature is that this entire section is quietly unhinged to delightful results because this is the book where Pratchett realized that sometimes you should let us into the shadows and corners so we can watch Vetinari operate in realtime (instead of hearing about it after-the-fact)—throw him into the chaos and see how he bends the world into shapes he finds suitable. And this time he does it with Vimes’ two best buddies, for that extra put-upon “ugh, fine, I suppose I should spend some time with my partner’s friends” energy to make it that much funnier.
…Look, Vimes and Angua are talking about being people’s dogs, this is no longer subtextual, I give up.
There’s a lot of focus on Carrot’s character here as well, and how his way of being trips other people up: Vimes actually agrees with Carrot that “personal isn’t the same as important” on an intellectual level, but finds it creepy that Carrot genuinely would live his life by those terms. What Vimes really means is that he has a hard time not allowing his emotions to dictate his entire life, which is something that he continues to note in their actions throughout this section. He’s not sure he’s made the right calls here, but he does know that he’s relying on how he feels to push him forward—something that Carrot never does.
In addition to that comparison, I remember once reading about the psychological aspects of what we label “charisma,” and funnily (or perhaps unsurprisingly) the description given is precisely how Angua describes Carrot. The point is that true charisma, at its core, isn’t about getting other people to pay attention to you—it’s about making other people feel special in your presence. And what’s more impressive, Carrot’s version of this attribute is genuine because he doesn’t employ this as a tactic, the way business savvy manuals encourage people to. He means it when he says he’s interested. He remembers because he cares.
But having said all that, Carrot’s still the one who gets so wrapped up in the task at hand that he forgets they’re not in Klatch to fight this war. Vimes is the one who remembers that. Again, the juxtaposition is telling and also needed—they’re both better when working together.
And to really drive the theme home, the commentary on Leshp is ultimately just a way of pointing out how poorly humans do when they refuse to work together. Solid Jackson manages to get fresh water on “their” side of the island and is relishing the idea of the Klatchians on the other side needing to get their water from the fish they eat. But his son wants to trade them some water for wood and flour, which is not coincidentally the reason why humans are pack animals, the reason why our greatest strength as a species is our ability to bond and cooperate. All of which keeps pointing to a fairly obvious conclusion: How about we put a pin in this war business permanently?
Asides and little thoughts:
- The Tommy Cooper patter for Vetinari’s street act, I’m just…
- I’m usually not one for arcs where a man dressing as a woman leads to hilarity and new understanding about women’s trials because there’s not much humor to me. This morphs for Nobby in a way that is ultimately more interesting later on in this book, but at this point I’m reminded of an interview Dustin Hoffman gave where he asked the costume and makeup designers if they could make him a more attractive woman for Tootsie and was told what he saw was what he had to work with—and Hoffman started to tear up, realizing how many women he’d never given the time of day for not being attractive enough to him. It’s… it’s not actually funny, is the thing.
- Watching Vimes continue to warm up to his “diplomatic” side, learn how to use it, is one of those things that ticks boxes for me. I love when characters reluctantly learn skills they don’t enjoy having a natural affinity for.
But… history was full of the bones of good men who’d followed bad orders in the hope that they could soften the blow.
And sometimes the avalanche depends on one snowflake. Sometimes a pebble is allowed to find out what might have happened—if only it had bounced the other way.
At which point, the sand stood up and drew a hundred swords.
Well, no sense lying over this saddle bound hand and foot and dying of sunstroke all day. He ought to start being a leader of men again, and would do so just as soon as he could get this camel out of his mouth.
Colon had always thought that heroes had some kind of special clockwork that made them go out and die famously for god, country and apple pie, or whatever particular delicacy their mother made. It had never occurred to him that they might do it because they’d get yelled at if they didn’t.
The docks of Al-Khali were like docks everywhere, because all docks everywhere are connected. Men have to put things on and off boats. There are only a limited number of ways to do this. So all docks look the same. Some are hotter, some are damper, there are always piles of vaguely forgotten-looking things.
Vimes, on the other hand, was prepared to hit anything with anything. The point was that the opponent shouldn’t get up again. Everything else was decoration.
There will be a pause next week, but the following one we will finish the book!