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Scouting for Beginners

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"All right, you lot," Vimes said grimly, and felt a mild chill as sixteen potential criminals focused on him. Strictly speaking, most people might have referred to them as "children", but Vimes saw no reason why the terms should be exclusionary. "We'll have no wandering off, no rioting, and no unlicensed thievery - and yes, Nobby I am including you in that order."

Nobby Nobbs, admitted to the troop on the technicality of being the right size to fit in the uniform, gave an unrepentant grin as Vimes surveyed the group with suspicious eyes.

“Have you all got your armour on?” he said sternly, looking them over, conscious that their safety was his responsibility. Technically, as leader of the Watch, their safety was always his responsibility but that meant protecting them from things like murderers, rather than from suicidally flinging themselves in front of carts or spinning into each other out of the sheer excitement of being alive. Armour had not felt like something that should be optional; in fact, given the choice, he might have kept Young Sam in it permanently. “Helmets? No, you can’t pee in your armour, you’ll have to take it off – couldn’t you have gone earlier?”

Of course, none of them had. Vimes waited with at least an attempt at patience while sixteen small people struggled out of their armour and went to relieve a suddenly urgent need. He hadn't wanted this. He wasn't sure that anyone ever did, except perhaps Carrot who seemed to collect stray children in the same way old ladies collected stray cats. But it turned out that when children got older they wanted more than bedtime stories; they wanted friends and activities, they wanted to learn things and they wanted people to teach them and when there was no-one else available they asked their parents with the unshakable belief that somehow something suitable would be produced. Vimes would have walked over broken glass for his son; in fact, given the choice he might have preferred that to leading a weekly group of small children. The glass might well have been less likely to leave him with some terrible disease or injury too.

Carrot had advised him that the key to controlling groups of small children was something called "stickys" and had helpfully supplied him with a sheet. They had smiling faces on and were made with the same glue the press used on the backs of stamps. They also, as it turned out, stuck to clothing with a tenacity that meant they could not be removed no matter how many times you washed them. Mothers had complained. Mothers, Vimes was beginning to learn, were far more likely to be badly behaved than five year olds, and a lot harder to send to a corner until they learned their manners. Five year olds weren’t actually that bad if you were used to leading a Watch; they were similarly literal minded, had the same fierce sense of justice and could be bribed with doughnuts in a way that might even put Sergeant Colon to shame. They did however need a lot more toilet breaks. Vimes waited while helmets were solemnly replaced (the wrong way round) and armour was strapped back (upside down, and in one case inside out which should not have been physically possible but it did look as though the child might be a close relative of Igor so it was perhaps best not to ask too many questions.)

“Remember, we’re going somewhere dangerous so I need you all to stick close together and do exactly as you’re told. If you hear someone shout run, you don’t ask any questions. You do as you’re told, because on the job doing what you’re told is life or death, do you understand?”

Sixteen pairs of eyes widened in apprehension. Sixteen small heads nodded solemnly.

“All right,” Vimes allowed grudgingly, “if you want to earn your Dragon Care badges come this way.”