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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 07:10 am
Entry tags:

The Fire; PG.

Notes: This follows The Carving Lesson, chronologically. Set two years after the events in The Night Watch (some of them, anyhow) at the beginning of The Colour of Magic.
Summary: A fire in the city brings everyone together, even if only briefly.
Warnings: None.

Also available at AO3.

By now the whole of downtown Morpork was alight, and the richer and worthier citizens of Ankh on the far bank were bravely responding to the situation by feverishly demolishing the bridges. -- The Colour of Magic

Constable Sam Vimes -- a little wiser, a little wilier, and a good deal faster than the raw recruit of two years ago -- was woken from a deep sleep by Iffy Scurrick, who was shaking his shoulder frantically.

"Geddup, Sam, come on," Iffy said urgently. "Fire in the city!"

"Wha...?" Sam asked, tangling himself in the blankets. "Fir'?"

"Sam, it's fire!"

"Holy hells," Sam Vimes said, then looked about to make sure his mum hadn't heard that. "What time do you call this, then?"

"Almost five in the evening. I thought you'd be on duty -- "

Sam rubbed the stubble on his chin as he rolled out of bed. "It's my day off," he said, to point out the general unfairness of the universe.

"Everyone's being called back on to help the bucket chains." Iffy's eyes gleamed. "We're going to be heroes, Sam!"

Sam, who had less imagination than Iffy but a better sense of self-preservation, was pulling his britches on. "I doubt it," he said. "We're going to be steak. Rare."

"Come on!" Iffy tossed him his sword belt. "Serve and protect, remember?"

"Oh aye, on ten dollars a month and all the armour polish you can steal," Sam sighed. "All right, I'm coming." Only then did he notice the red glare cast over his tiny closet of a bedroom. He ran to the second-floor window and looked out.

Flames were already licking towards the river Ankh; most buildings, constructed after the last fire, were made of old, dry wood with thatch-and-tar roofs, which just showed that you could burn a man's house down without increasing his IQ one bit.

"Holy hells," he said again. "Where's mum?"

"I sent her up with our nan and the younger boys on the fishmonger's cart. They're going to try to get out through the Hubwards Gate."

"Thanks, Iffy." Sam picked up his helmet. "Sword, truncheon, badge, helmet, boots. All right."

The two men -- barely more than boys, though you grew up quick in Cockbill Street -- ran down the rickety stairs and into the flaming evening.


Sam never fully remembered everything that happened between waking and arriving at the Misbegot Bridge; it was mostly a blur of people fighting to get away from the flames, while he and Iffy moved upstream through the crowds. He did recall wondering why he was running in the wrong direction, but then the image of a young girl about to be trampled by a spooked horse crossed his vision. He still had a half-horseshoe scar on one leg, where he'd been kicked.

He also thought he recalled a wizard with a walking steamer trunk, but for a number of years he put that down to stress.

There wasn't much the Watch could do, save supervise the bucket chains and try to get the kiddies and grannies out of their burning houses. Some of the older folk wouldn't come, with that firm querelousness that arrives around the age of seventy. He found himself, along with Corporal Colon and the kid Nobby, standing on the edge of the Misbegot Bridge about two hours after waking. The flame hadn't reached here yet, and he saw torches on the other side of the river.

"They's plannin' on destroyin' the bridge," Nobby said, puffing from his run. "I just bin over there. Good pickins when the fire hits."

"Goddam," Sam breathed, hoarsely. He was pretty sure his eyebrows were gone. "Goddam nobs. Rich as pudding and not lifting a finger."

"What's stoppin' 'em wreckin' the bridge?" Colon asked.

"Dunno. Some old sod an' rich biddy standin' in the way. Girl's bleatin' bout savin' the city." Nobby sniffed, and glanced at the burning buildings behind them. "Bit late, I should think."

Sam could hear voices now, carried on the wind that was whipping the flames even higher. They were the cultured tones of a gentleman who had generations of good breeding to fall back on.

"Naow, Naow, let's not be fools," the man was saying. "A few well-placed buckets of sand on this side of the bridge, and the property need not be destroayed."

Sam felt red rage rising in front of his eyes. Even the people trying to stop the mob weren't concerned about the Morpork side of the city. "Come on, Nobby," he said. "Corp, go or stay?"

Fred Colon looked frightened. "Now young Sam, you know -- "

"They're going to maroon half the city in a firestorm!" Sam shouted.

"I'm your superior officer, Sam!" Fred answered sharply, but a sharp remark from Fred Colon was like a whipping with a damp tissue.

"Then act like it!" Sam shot back. He took off at a good turn of speed, towards the other end of the bridge. Nobby, after giving Colon a sullen look, followed.

"E's going to die," Colon muttered, but followed at a safe distance. Sam was always getting into this sort of thing. The boy didn't have an active thought in his head, half the time.

"What's all this, then?" he heard Sam asking, as he reached the far side. The gentleman that'd yelled about property damage was on an enormous grey horse, which reared. The woman holding the bridle, a well-proportioned lady, glared at Sam.

"We're not wrecking the bridge," she said defiantly.

"Glad to hear it, ma'am," Sam said, a slight edge of hysteria on his voice.

"We ought to be helping them!" the woman continued.

"Then join a bucket chain," said the constable nastily. "Who's in charge here?"

"I am," said the man on the horse. "We don't need the Watch."

"You and a horse against that mob? You need anyone you can get," Sam growled, ducking a thrown brick. Rich folk, he reflected, didn't bother with vegetables; they went straight for masonry.

"He's the Watch, father!" the woman said. "Let him help! He might do some good."

The man sniffed, waving a torch at an advancing attacker. "We don't need the Watch, Olga."

The woman ducked away from her father, and Sam grabbed her arm, pulling her back onto the bridge proper.

"I don't know if I can help anyway!" he shouted, over the roar of the mob.

"They've already cut off the Brass Bridge," she said, and he saw tear tracks down her face through the soot. "We ought to be helping!"

"There's nothing can be done. Unless you can bring the river over its banks," Sam said. The woman -- Olga -- stared at him, openmouthed, and the stray thought skittered across his brain a moment after.

"The river gate," he said. "The river's high already. If we close it -- "

"It'll flood the city!"

"Burn or flood, take your pick. Wet people dry," he said. "Come on, Nobby, let's go."

There was a paved place along the river from bridge to gate, which in happier times had been a sedate river walk, before having fallen into disrepair. Sam, with all the energy of the young, bounded over the cracked cobbles and heaved paving stones like a jackrabbit. Fred fell behind after a minute, and Sam didn't stop to wait; in the back of his mind he knew that even the combined strength of him, Nobby, and Fred could hardly close the big gates that stood over the river Ankh, which allowed it to flow unchecked out of the city.

He was somewhat surprised to hear the woman Olga running along behind him. She was keeping up better than Fred, he thought.

Sam halted in front of the River House, which protected the mechanisms that shut the gates. He ducked inside, avoiding cobwebs, and wondered when it'd been oiled last. There was the chain that drove the gates, and the wheel that drove the chain, and the walkway, crusted with years of Ankh-borne slime, that led to the mighty gates themselves.

Sam knew, deep down in the place where Watchman's intuition met simple cynicism, that the wheel was rusted solid. He knew they'd have to go up on the walkway and likely would fall into the river and, if not drown, then catch something really dreadful.

Might as well make a show of it, though.

"Nobby, find some oil," he ordered. "You help me move this wheel, miss."

Olga nodded and took a firm grip on one of the spokes.

"On my count we pull," he said. "And you'd best put everything you've got into it. Ready? One, two, pull!"

Nobby came running with an oil can as Sam and Olga strained against the wheel. Fred Colon, wheezing, reached the doorway before passing out.

"Oh bloody hell," Sam said, glaring at his Corporal's recumbent form. "One more try. One, two, pull!"

Nobby dumped half the can on the wheel, to no avail. This used to be a Watchman's job, Sam remembered. Closing the gates every night. Well, probably not this one, or the city would flood quite a bit more often. But gates in general.

"It's no good, mister," Nobby grunted. "Even if you do get it moving, it won't move the chain."

"Blast. I knew it," Sam groaned. "All right, miss, you'd better stay here."

"Where are you going?"

"Up," Sam answered, clambering up the ladder like a rat leaving a sinking ship. "It's no good you following, this is a man's job," he added. "I don't want you falling in."

In a few years, Sam would have been wise enough not to say this; in a few years more, he would have been wise enough to say it and add a few more insults on a woman's character before allowing her, quite politely, to assert that she could do anything he could do, and do it better.

Olga followed him anyhow. He saw her picking her way along the walkway as he put his shoulder to the moss-encrusted old wood. He hoped it was only moss, anyhow.

"I'll help," she shouted, moving to stand next to him.

"It'll never move! It's too big!" he yelled back, over the rushing water. Don't look down, Sam...

"Then why are you trying?"

"Too stubborn to stop!" he answered, through gritted teeth. "Anyway, the scaffolding doesn't go out far enough for us to push it all the way!"

"We only have to push it until it's in the current! The water'll do the rest!" Olga said encouragingly.

Oh, so we only have to move the entire world a little...

He strained until every muscle in his body twanged. Olga, next to him, gave a very unladylike grunt of effort.

He put his back to the gate and tried pushing that way, which was, as Nobby liked to recount in later years, the only reason Nobby Nobbs didn't die on the scaffold*. The lad was tugging a revived Corporal Colon up off the ladder, and when he saw Sam, he left the Corporal to his own devices and came running nimbly along the thin walkway. Sam watched in horrified slow-motion as Nobby's foot hit a particularly wet patch and he slid off the walk altogether.

* This sometimes garnered glares at Vimes from those who knew Nobby, but he shrugged them off. Adrenaline does strange things to people.

"HELP!" the boy shrieked. Sam ran to the edge, and felt the world reel as he looked down at the river, which boiled and frothed below. Nobby was clinging to a scaffold pipe, screaming bloody murder. Sam threw himself down and reached one hand over the edge. He felt Olga take a good firm grip on his legs.

"Come on, troublemaker," Sam said, trying to smile over the feeling of a metal walk cutting into his abdomen. "Grab hold."

Nobby, one hand slipping free, made a desperate waving grab for Sam's arm, and caught it. Sam was just about to pull him up when Nobby, monkey-like, shot up the arm, over Sam's helmet, and down his back. Sam pushed himself up and glared. Olga gave him a sharp tug to his feet, and the three of them, soon joined by a trembling Fred Colon, put their weight on the door.

"Shoulders up!" Sam yelled. "One, two, PUSH!"

"Sodding arseholes," Nobby grunted, using all of his ninety pounds to strain against the big wooden door. Sam saw black spots dance before his eyes --

The door creaked.

"Push!" Olga cried excitedly. The door creaked again. Something snapped, far up above, and the creaking became a groan as the door moved easier away from them. The other door, linked with this one by the thin rusty chain, also moved.

Sam slipped, caught himself on the open railing, and stared. Colon and Olga had stopped, as well. Nobby turned to push with his shoulderblades, saw them, and whirled.

The giant river gates, pushed by the current, were swinging shut. The walkway shook when they clanged together.

Sam glanced down and realised there was one more problem...

"Look at the river," Olga said, amazed. It was already spilling its banks, pounding rebelliously against the firmly-shut gates.

"It's rising, erm, sort'a quickly," Fred wheezed.

"We've got to get onto the wall," Sam said, glancing up. The city walls rose a good forty feet above them. Climbing was out of the question, but surely --

"Back to the gatehouse, there's a ladder from there," Olga pointed. Despite the water rising quickly below, they made their way carefully. One glance over the edge had been more than enough for Sam.

"Nobby can't climb that," Fred said, goggling at the rickety ladder. "He can barely reach the rungs!"

"I can so!" Nobby said hotly, but the hesitant look on his pinched face said otherwise.

"You go," Sam barked at Fred. "Then you, miss. Go on."

Fred and Olga began the long ascent. Sam looked up at wiggling bottoms, then back down at Nobby.

"When was the last time you had a bath?" he asked, keeping one eye on the foaming water. There was a hiss as the flood began to meet the fire.

"What year is it?" Nobby asked with a grin.

"I'm going to regret this. Hup, on my shoulders," Sam said. Nobby wrapped his grubby, grimy arms around Sam's neck, and a terribly organic smell engulfed him. He could feel the kid's toaster-rack chest against his back.

"If you fall, I'm not coming back down," Sam warned. "And I'm going to...well, I'll pay someone to hold you down and give you a good scrubbing, if we live through this."

"Ere, wot've I done to deserve that?" Nobby asked, as Sam began to climb. The water touched his boots.

Fred was just helping Olga onto the wide, solid expanse of the wall, easily eight feet across with raised battlements, when there was a teeth-rattling explosion. Sam, halfway up, suddenly found himself shooting over onto the wall, and turning to stare in horror at a cloud of curious blue smoke rising from the far side of the city.

"Oh no," he and Fred groaned in unison.

"What was that?" Olga asked, staring.

"Bearhugger's distillery," Sam moaned. He stared morosely at the blast site.

"There's whiskey prices up five dollars," Fred sighed.

"I could just go a drink, too," Sam added wistfully.

"I need a smoke," Fred agreed. Sam dug in his breastplate and passed him a roll-up; after only a moment's hesitation, he gave one to Nobby, too. Olga declined with all the graciousness of a queen.

"Matches're wet. Fred, you got any?"

"Sure." Fred lit Sam's cigarette. They were covered in slime from the walkway and Sam knew he was looking out at the world from a soot-blackened face, but they were safe now. He hoped Iffy'd had the natural sense to get out of the city. He hoped Mum had made it out with Nan Scurrick.

The quartet looked at the rising water in silence for a while, Olga leaning on the stone battlement. The flood, finally stopping about fifteen feet below, still flowed suckingly past, through the terribly narrow opening between the bottom of the gates and the riverbed.

"I can see my house," Olga finally said. She pointed to what now looked like an island in the sea that had once been Ankh-Morpork. It was the highest estate in the city, unless you counted the Unseen University grounds. Sam's eyes fell on a posh mansion, still dry, and he looked at Olga. She didn't look more than eighteen and had never had cause to worry, but she had still risked flame and drowning and Nobby to save the rest of the city. Not bad, for a posh biddy.

There was a sudden rain of hard, oblong shapes. One landed with a 'paf' noise, showering Sam with glass shards and liquid. The rest plunked down into the water, or further down onto the plains outside the city.

"Looks like y'got yer wish, Constable," Fred said, holding up a large shard. A label hung from it -- Bearhugger's...

Sam watched the rain of whiskey bottles with awe. "Explosion must've blown them out and up," he said, in a hushed voice. "Just hold my helmet, Nobby, there's a lad..."

He swung himself down the ladder again until his heels were inches above the water, and clung there with one elbow wrapped around a rung. He began harvesting the floating bottles, tossing them up to Fred who, with proper motivation, could be very nimble indeed.

The whirlpool created by the gap in the gates was sucking most of the debris towards them; a glance across the city told him that someone had closed the other gate, too, locking the water in until it all rushed out, or they could get a wizard out here to blow the door open again. Sam waved to CMOT Dibbler, floating past on his waterlogged sausage cart, and then managed to kick the merchant out of the way so that he could claim what turned out to be a lunch pail full of sandwiches, almost completely dry.

"Four bottles for you and four for me and one for Nobby," Fred said, as Sam climbed back up and handed him the pail. "The lady didn't want any. Oh, lovely. Any roast beef?"

"Could be." Sam took a paper-wrapped packet, and tossed one to Nobby.

"Might as well give it a go, miss," he said, offering her the largest. "Could be up here a while -- "


Olga pointed to what looked, on first glance, like a woman floating in the air; as it drew closer, Sam saw that it was a wizard, riding on a broomstick. They all waved, and the wizard touched down.

"Been sent to find you, ma'am," said the wizard. "Your father wants you up the house. Got to take you to him."

"Oh, father won't be happy with me," Olga said, giving the Watchmen a pleased grin. "I'd better be off. Thank you!" she called, over her shoulder, as they flew off.

"Wouldn't catch me on one of those in a million years," remarked Sam. "Tuck in, Nobby."

They ate the sandwiches in relative silence, broken only by Sam's struggles to open one of the bottles. The water level was definitely dropping, now, and soon the walkway would be above the river again. What Sam could see of the city looked like a charred, drippy mess.

"There's the Watch House," he said, warmed by a few shots of Bearhugger's finest, in the almost-certainty that they were off-duty and could be allowed a few vices. "Looks like it survived."

"It would," said Fred vindictively.

"Can't see home from here..." Sam trailed off, shading his eyes in the sunset. "If Mum's quilt got burned, I'm going to get such a telling off."

"Mrs. Colon took the china, the guest towels, and the baby," Fred said. "I'm almost sure they got out."

"I'm goin' down," Nobby said firmly. "Got looting to do 'fore the soldiers get there."

"This about does for me," Fred continued, as they Watched Nobby run off into the ruined city, coattails flapping. "It's the regiment from now on, I can tell you. Doing a proper job burning other peoples' cities."

"But we saved it. I mean, lots more would have burned if we hadn't shut the gates," Sam pointed out.

"Worl, yes. On the other hand..."

"The other hand? We put out the fire! Four of us! I should bloody well think it's medals-and-handshakes time!"

"Yeah,, there's goin' to be people mad about water damage, see? Wouldn't like to be known as the Man Who Pissed On Morpork. You're going to get a hiding from more than your mum once people find out."

The two men looked at each other. Sam scrambled for the pail, stuffing the whiskey bottles into it. Fred was already sliding down the ladder. Furtively, they followed Nobby's muddy tracks back into the city, away from the scene of the crime.

Sam had just enough time to sweep up the flat and hang his mum's quilt out to dry before she got back.

She took one look at him and shrieked; it would take days to get all the soot really and truly out of his skin. She didn't even want to think about the stains in his clothing. What had he been doing, rolling in the mud?

Sam bore it with good grace. It's easy to be an unsung hero when you've got four bottles of hard liquor under a floorboard in your bedroom.


Lord Ramkin spotted the dual-occupancy broomstick when it was still airborne, and was waiting on the perfectly-dry grounds of the Scoone Avenue house when it finally touched down.

"Sybil Deirdre Olgivanna Ramkin!" he shouted. "Where the hells have you been?"

"Found her on the city wall, long with some guardsmen and a monkey," the wizard said, accepting an absently thrown money-sack from Lord Ramkin and kicking off again. He looked her up and down, sternly.

"I've told you, Olga, you mustn't go running off like that. It's bad for the reputation."

"Yes, father," Sybil Ramkin answered, quietly.

"With Watchmen! Barely better than common thieves!"

"Yes, father."

"You could have been killed. Are you hurt?"

"No, father."

"Well. That's good. Have you eaten? I thought not. Up to the house with you, gel," he said, more kindly now. "You look knackered. The staff have all got at loose ends, I'm afraid, but there ought to be food in the kitchen and clean dry clothes."

Sybil smiled as her father's unceasing monologue on unreliable servants, dangerous criminals, and bloody stupid floods continued behind her. She had rather liked the whole adventure, and had looked forward to spending an exciting evening camped on the city walls. On the other hand, she wasn't about to say no a bath and a change of clothes.

They were certainly dashing, the Watchmen. Imagine clinging by the heels to a ladder just to get hold of some cheap alcohol! Shouting at father like that, and shoving those bloody great doors shut. It must be a wonderful, adventurous life.


[identity profile] 2005-09-19 11:35 pm (UTC)(link)
There's something wonderful about reading this while listening to [ profile] roz_mcclure's heroic pirate music.

[identity profile] 2005-09-20 04:40 am (UTC)(link)
"It's easy to be an unsung hero when you've got four bottles of hard liquor under a floorboard in your bedroom."

it's easier to be a lot of things. must pick some up...


[identity profile] 2005-09-23 09:14 pm (UTC)(link)
They were certainly dashing, the Watchmen. Imagine clinging by the heels to a ladder just to get hold of some cheap alcohol! Shouting at father like that, and shoving those bloody great doors shut. It must be a wonderful, adventurous life.
*laughs* Oh, Sybil's so funny when she's naïve! But I really like the way you portrayed her, standing on the bridge yelling about saving the city. Also loving this line:
It's easy to be an unsung hero when you've got four bottles of hard liquor under a floorboard in your bedroom.
*laughs* Oh, Vimes is awesome! And so're you, Sam! I hope I can write as well as you do someday! *hugs*

[identity profile] 2005-09-30 02:39 am (UTC)(link)
I loved this. It fits in with known events so well and its was such a great surprise for me to find out Olga is Sybil.
ext_93592: from astronomy pic of the day (Default)

[identity profile] 2008-09-13 01:09 am (UTC)(link)
Loved it! Go the unsung heroes and heroine! Go Olga/Sybil!