He'd tried it once, down at the Butts. Vimes had seen a target vanish. So had the targets on either side, the earth bank behind, and a couple of seagulls who'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case, the wrong place had been directly above Detritus.
"And you be careful with that thing," said Vimes. "You could hurt someone."
-- The Fifth Elephant
Sir Samuel Vimes, Watch Commander, took a step back and surveyed the yard. He lit a cigar, inhaled, and found life good.
Another man might have called the scrubby, much-trampled coach yard of the central Watch-house at Pseudopolis Yard his 'kingdom', but Vimes didn't like kings and didn't go in for being one. Another man might have called the various beings standing at something-approaching- attention his 'troops', but Vimes was not fond of soldiers either. Coppers kept the peace. Coppers stopped trouble from starting.
And you couldn't call them 'my men', not unless your definition of 'men' was very broad indeed.
But they were his Watch.
"It's not that I think they need it, mind," Carrot had said, days before. He had broached the subject on a patrol, when he and Vimes were walking damply but cheerfully through the rainy streets of Ankh-Morpork. "You won't find a keener group of me -- of beings in the city. But it does them a bit of good to see that someone, well, knows how hard they work."
"Commander's inspection. Sounds like some fool military idea. Shiny breastplates and plumes in their helmets, I suppose," Vimes had grumbled.
"I'm sure we could put out a memo regarding plumes," Carrot replied calmly. Vimes was never quite sure when Carrot was winding him up, but he strongly suspected that had been a prime example.
And of course, as with most of Carrot's schemes, he'd gone along with the idea. It wasn't such a bad one. Got the uniforms polished up, made sure nobody was wandering around with their trousers patched. He'd done that, when he was Captain of the Night Watch, but now the Watch was more than just four unwanteds in a forgotten treacle factory and it Didn't Do.
Besides, his wife had standing orders with the laundry girl to throw out any trousers that weren't up to what she considered Watch Standards, and because Lady Sybil had always believed the Watch to be gentlemen and officers*, her Standards were very high indeed.
* A harmless but sizeable blind spot.
It wasn't easy for the Watch to present anything resembling a uniform appearance, no matter what your standards were. For one thing, uniforms themselves were somewhat pick-and-mix in any organisation that had the seven-foot golem Dorfl on one end and Buggy Swires, six inches of rage made manifest, on the other. In-between you had Detritus, whose idea of Attention was chest-out and knuckles off the ground; Cheri Littlebottom, the first openly Female dwarf; Reg Shoe, who looked as though his face had patches, and various other dwarves, trolls, humans, and unknowns*.
* Nobby Nobbs.
Still, there were the requisite shining breastplates. There were no plumes, he was pleased to see. Each Watchman who could reasonably carry one had a sword and a truncheon. Most also had crossbows slung on their backs, and the wooden stocks shone.
It was his Watch, and it was good.
He turned to Carrot. The Captain was standing a little apart from the more-or-less line of Watchmen. Carrot had mustered them here at nine sharp, and he knew, in the way that one knows an avalanche is coming by the first flurries of snow, that Carrot had a Plan.
"Very good," he said slowly, not sure what else there was to say. "Very...orderly. Yes. Er..."
"Sergeants, forward!" Carrot cried, in drill-exercise tones. Vimes watched as Angua, Detritus, and Colon stepped forward. "Present, arms!"
Oh gods, thought Vimes. If I look Angua in the eye, I won't be able to stop myself laughing.
Colon liked pikes because the important thing, the really important thing, was that all the violence went on a good two metres away. He presented Vimes with a thick oaken stick, on which was bolted a mass of sharp metal. Vimes, for Carrot's sake, inspected it.
Angua held up her truncheon and sword, blade down. Neither looked as though she used them often. Angua didn't need weapons, really. She had a way of growling, low and back in the throat, that was as good as a blade on most would-be attackers. She gave him a smile -- it's Carrot, what can you do? -- as he examined both weapons.
Detritus was holding his crossbow, the iron bolt now polished to an evil gleam. It was enormous, and the point was not sharp; as a siege crossbow meant for attacking city gates, it didn't need to be. In deference to the inspection, Detritus had sanded the rough edges and varnished the wood of the bow.
"I wonder," Vimes said, as he kept well away from the point, "How long that bolt's going to scare people, Sergeant."
"What der yer mean, sir?" Detritus asked. "It are a six foot arrow. It don't stop bein' scary."
"Well, yes, that's fine, Detritus, but it's got a bit of a limited range, and the aim is terrible. And you have to go and fetch the bolt when you're done. It's not as though they sell those in armour shops," Vimes continued. Detritus pondered, quite slowly.
"It are something to consider," he said finally. "Thank you, sir."
Carrot called the corporals forward, and then the lance-corporals, the constables, and finally the lance-constables, most of whom were unfamiliar to Vimes, and who looked terrified to be in his presence. Vimes inspected the arms, feeling a bit of an idiot as he did so.
Not a bad weapon in the lot, though the gods alone knew if any of them could use them properly.
"DIS-MISSED!" Carrot shouted, and the assembled Watch looked uneasy. They didn't want to break ranks in front of their Commander, but they did want to get out of formation and come back inside, where there was hot tea waiting. It was a typically Watch quandry -- pride versus comfort -- and it made him grin as he waved them on.
"Go on then, you've earned it," he called, and watched as they ambled past him, something niggling in the back of his mind.
Detritus had looked almost...thoughtful. A thoughtful troll, Vimes believed, was an incitement to worry. It generally meant that you ended up with someone like Chrysoprase, who thought like a human with the added benefit of being twice their size and much less sensitive to things like arrows, swords, and truncheons.
But Sam Vimes was a busy man, and it didn't take long for the thought to slip from his head as he settled back into the groove of a Watch Commander, who has dozens of officers to worry about, not just one single troll.
"Here, who's been at my locker?"
Angua glanced up from the bench in the canteen where she sat, calmly leafing through an arms catalogue from several years before. Nobody seemed to bring them in, and they weren't delivered to the Watch house, but somehow they managed to turn up*. Reg Shoe's voice echoed back from the locker room, angrily. "I'm not paying for this, I can tell you."
* This is a cosmic wossname and a common occurrence in hotel lobbies, dentist's offices, and canteens across the multiverse. Wizards have theorized that there is a specialized tunnel in L-Space, that great dimension which links all large assemblages of books, through which old magazines and catalogues pass when their usefulness has ended. Perhaps, for them, it's a bit like the afterlife.
"Paying for what?" Angua called. Reg appeared in the doorway, holding a splintered locker door in his hand.
"I ask you!" he said, shaking the door. "Is it too much for a person to want a little privacy around the place? Look at what someone did to my locker!"
Angua stood and examined the door. "Ripped off its hinges," she said. "Was there anything valuable in there?"
"Everything in there was valuable!" Reg stormed. "That's why I kept it there! That's why we have lockers! So we can keep our valuables locked up! Otherwise Nobby'd have opened a shop by now!"
Angua sighed. "Sorry, Reg. Anything unusually valuable?"
"Not the bloody Jewels of the Ankh, if that's what you're thinking," Reg grumbled. "All right, nothing anyone'd want to steal, I suppose. Spare pair of socks, couple of notebooks, pair of old boots, a first-aid kit -- "
"First aid kit?" Angua asked. Reg was a zombie; nothing short of fire could do him any real damage.
"Well, most of my needs are more tailoring-oriented than your average vitally-enabled person, aren't they? Needle and thread, thimble, couple of safety pins...Visit keeps a stock of thread for binding those pamphlets of his, but he's always going on about me nicking his, so I brought my own. Good stuff, too, holds your ears on a treat."
"Anything missing?" Angua asked. There was a horrified fascination in her voice.
"Yeah, the kit's gone. Wouldn't think they'd steal that." Reg's eyebrows drew together. "You don't think Visit did it, do you?"
"I doubt it. He's got Beliefs about stealing, and this looks as though..." Angua frowned. "It wouldn't be one of ours, would it? Only, a troll could do this."
"So could you, miss," Reg said slyly. Angua flashed him a warning look. It was more than most people got. "Sorry," he muttered.
"You won't have to pay for the repairs, Reg, but I think you'll probably have to pitch in for another spool of thread," she said finally. "I'm sure it's nothing to worry about."
Reg sniffed sulkily. "Ain't right," he said, as he tottered off. "A man ought to be able to keep hold of a roll of thread around here..."
"Then the bunny goes through the hole..."
"Der bunny goes through der hole..."
Vimes watched, utterly distracted from his duties, as Fred Colon tried to teach knot-tying to Detritus. Trolls didn't have a lot of use for knots, generally speaking. They didn't wear ties or aprons, and binding a prisoner up was always secondary to thumping him alongside the head, in a troll's world.
Colon's teaching method, devised when his children were in some kind of scouting organisation, was just as entertaining.
Detritus tied the knot without snapping the rope in half (the floor was littered with his previous attempts) and gave Colon a toothy, gleaming grin.
"Der Square Knot!" he said proudly. Colon nodded.
"Try it again, without me," he said encouragingly. Detritus concentrated.
"Take der string an' make a loop. Dat's der hole. Der end of der string is der bunny," said Detritus laboriously.
"Sir -- " Constable Visit drew Vimes away from the lesson urgently. "You'd better come see this, sir."
Vimes followed him into the coach yard. Once upon a time, some scruffy shrubs had grown along the walls; these days they were dead and dry as kindling, and the Watch generally yanked off a limb when the stove was low on fuel. They'd become slowly thinner and thinner at about four feet off the ground, which was where the average Watchman* could comfortably pull a branch off. Now, to his surprise, he saw that every twig from six feet on up had been pulled off and was lying in a pile in one corner of the yard.
* The 'average' being what you'd get if you added up Cheery and Detritus, and divided by Swires.
"Don't suppose there's such thing as the Firewood Fairy," Vimes said slowly.
"Not to my knowledge, sir," Visit said conscientiously. "Fairies are mythological constructs and relics of -- "
"Thank you, Constable," Vimes said, hauling the vibrantly religous young man back to the topic at hand. "I'm sure someone simply got tired of watching Cheery try to jump up and pull down a branch when it's her turn to feed the fire. I'd get a dragon in, only Sybil's dead set against it. Says using a dragon to heat a kettle is cruel and unusual. I say the little buggers are looking for some good use, but there you are. Don't let it worry you, Visit."
"Yes, sir," said Visit dubiously. From inside, Detritus' voice boomed.
"Der bunny goes through der hole..."
Detritus kept his siege crossbow on a specially-built rack in one of the old horse-stalls, left over from when Pseudopolis Yard had been a great posh residence. There were six stalls, and the other five were used for storing the sort of odds and ends that build up over the years, which nobody wants but nobody is willing to throw out.
The crossbow wouldn't have fit anywhere else. It was mammoth, like Detritus, and also like the troll, didn't always fit places. Detritus regarded it for a moment, then dropped the armload of straight, sharpened twigs on the stall floor. He lifted up his special-made helmet, with its clockwork brain-cooling mechanism, and pulled out a roll of strong, twinelike thread. Then he removed the iron bolt from its slot, thrust it point-down into the dirt floor, and settled himself to work. Upstairs, those Watchmen who lived in the second-floor barracks rooms heard his voice, a distant soothing rumble, long into the night.
"...and den pull der string tight..."
The archery butts in Butts Treat were not reserved for the sole use of the Watch, though Watchmen spent the most time there. There were other archers -- grizzled little men who spent all their effort and a good deal of money on a sort of old-age hobby, businessmen who liked having a leg up on the Thieves' Guild, and several of Ankh-Morpork's nobility, who probably thought that they were keeping up the old traditions by running small animals down all over the countryside and shooting them with arrows.
Lord Vetinari sat, hands folded calmly, on a bench near one of the archers' stands. Nearby, Lord Selachii tried a whippy longbow, and nearly missed the target.
A small sigh escaped the Patrician. He found Selachii unimaginative, and worse yet, simply boring. But the man was a Guild brother, and they served together on the educational board of the Assassin's Guild, and Selachii had wanted his opinion on something. Still, he was trying Vetinari's patience.
"FIRE!" a Watchman yelled, down the line. A dozen arrows streaked towards targets. At least five of them hit, too.
"I think the curriculum's got a bit, well, technical," Selachii was saying. "Don't you agree?"
"I'm afraid I don't take your meaning," Vetinari said absently. Several Watchmen began retrieving the stray arrows, then danced in fear and agony as a second string of arrows were fired too soon.
"I mean, all this mucking about with...with trade. Economics, they're calling it. Lot of rot." Selachii wrinkled his nose and fired a second arrow. He wasn't too bad with a longbow, Vetinari thought, as long as his target was standing still and he himself had a good solid minute to take aim.
"Do you propose to bring it before the board?" Vetinari asked.
"Thought I might. Thought I might."
"May I interject a word of caution, in that case?"
"Caution?" Selachii clearly knew the meaning of the word, but something about the way he spoke suggested that he wouldn't admit to it.
"There are many...as you put it, tradesmen now on the board, and indeed, sending their children to the school," said Vetinari. "I am afraid that you may be over-ruled in the matter. Perhaps, biding one's time, one might -- "
"HALLOO!" Selachii shouted, ignoring him. Vetinari suppressed the urge to snap. "VIMES! HALLOO! OVER HERE!"
Over the rustle of arrows being fired, Vetinari heard the crack of Vimes' boots on the hardpan of the archery butts and, behind him, the thump of Detritus' knuckles.
"Selachii," said Vimes noncommittally. "Y'Lordship," he added, noticing Vetinari, who nodded. "This is Sergeant Detritus, in charge of new recruits. Detritus, this is Lord Selachii, you know Lord Vetinari."
Detritus saluted, silently.
"Quite," said Selachii stiffly. He didn't like trolls and Detritus, wearing a Watch uniform, seemed like a special affront to his sensibilities. "Listen, Vimes, you're a man of the world -- "
"Guess I'm a man of Ankh-Morpork," Vimes said frankly, and pulled out a cigar-case, selecting his smoke with care. He struck a match on Detritus, who was unslinging a large black mass from his back. "If you want a man of the world, well -- "
"What I mean is, you've been about," Selachii said vaguely. "You have experience with...the lower classes."
"We do occasionally descend to street level, in the Watch," Vimes said. Vetinari saw the dangerous glint in his eyes.
"Do you think it's appropriate to be teaching...teaching trade, in a gentlemen's school?"
"Couldn't say," Vimes shrugged. "Didn't go to one, myself."
"Yes, but don't you think it's inappropriate to -- "
"Damn," said a deep voice behind them.
Both men looked at Detritus, who was wiping something off of his helmet. "Seagulls," he boomed. Vetinari watched the trio with the attitude of a man at a particularly entertaining play.
"This is exactly what I mean," Selachii said. "I mean, are we training our young people to be tradesmen and Watch sergeants, or are we training them to be the leaders of tomorrow?"
"Nothing wrong with being a sergeant," said Vimes, who was actively chewing on the cigar, now. "It's a good education, these days."
Detritus had been watching the seagulls intently. One of them settled on a tree just behind Selachii's target. He pulled the cover off the siege crossbow. Other Watchmen had wandered over to see what was going on, and formed a sort of semicircle around Detritus.
"If yer would scuse me, sirs," Detritus said indistinctly, as he hoisted the crossbow to his shoulder. He cocked it, pulled the safety off, and there was just enough time for everyone to realize that something was different about it before --
A thick sheaf of twigs, bound with Reg Shoe's dependable thread, left the crossbow at quite a good speed. After a few yards, the thread snapped, and the twigs each became an individual bolt of death, headed straight for the seagull and a couple of his friends. In another few feet, the wind resistance on the twigs began to crackle, then to flame. With a booming, flaring sort of noise, the cloud of dry wood exploded into a fireball, twenty feet before hitting the tree.
It had all happened in three or four seconds.
"My word," said Vetinari, over the ringing in his ears. Vimes' eyes were clear and wide with surprise. Selachii was gaping. Detritus watched a small cloud of seagull feathers drift down over what had formerly been Selachii's target. There was a swath of singed grass and a burning smell in the air. A couple of the quicker lance-constables were running towards it, beating out small flames.
"What an unusual...weapon, Sergeant," Vetinari observed.
Detritus looked satisfied. "Thank you, sir," he said, as he shouldered the crossbow. "It der first time I have tried it."
"Gods," said Vimes, slowly. "That wasn't a weapon, that was a force of nature."
"It were a force of Detritus," said the troll smugly.
"I see no argument with that," Vetinari said, standing and moving past a small cluster of Watchmen, who were swearing as only Watchmen know how.
"You said der bolt wasn't scary enough," Detritus continued. "So I fought, worl, if I took a lotta little arrows an' tied 'em all together -- "
Vetinari knew, because he made it his business to know such things, that Detritus was not as stupid as he often appeared to be. In some specialized areas, which included mathematics and basic physics, Detritus was really quite bright.
"I think I can safely say, Sergeant, that you have definitely exceeded your previous fear quotient," Vimes murmured. "Look at that tree. Bigods."
"Perhaps we ought to be leaving, Lord Selachii," Vetinari said, taking the man's arm. Selachii's face was a mask of terror. Vimes, Vetinari felt, was enjoying that sight just a little too much, and it might be troublesome later. "My lord -- "
Selachii turned and ran, pelting over the butts towards his coach. Vetinari nodded.
"Good day, Sir Samuel," he said to Vimes, who was still staring at the wreckage. He turned to Detritus. "May I compliment you, Sergeant, on your ingenuity. And timing," he added. Detritus saluted.
"Bloody good show, Detritus," he heard Vimes say, as he walked away from the gang of Watchmen. "What do you call that monster?"
"Dunno," said Detritus, thoughtfully. "I was thinkin'...how 'bout Der Piecemaker?"
The roar of the Watchmens' amusement drowned out Vetinari's own dry laugh as he made his way towards his coach.