Work Header

Shovels and Pickaxes

Work Text:

There was no true silence in the streets of Ankh-Morpork, but a good snow did wonders for muffling them into a sullen sort of quiet. A small avalanche of the stuff had fallen overnight, cloaking the city in white from gate to gate. Carrot waded through the drifts in the muddled gray of the pre-dawn hours with a shovel balanced across his shoulders and his cloak catching in the frigid wind. The sharp air was a contradiction of the first order, cold enough to punch a man in the lungs, but warm with the mysterious tang of temporarily fresh bread from the nearby dwarf bakeries. It was...nice. There was something of home in it. When the air was this cold and the streets this empty, Carrot could almost pretend to be standing in different snow, smelling different bread in a very different place.

It wasn't necessarily that he missed the mountains and the mines he was raised in…Ankh-Morpork had opened its grubby arms to him, adopting him just as thoroughly and irrevocably as his parents had. Even without the whispers of destiny that had called him there, the city’s gruff welcome would’ve kept him anyway. It was home in its own way now. But that didn't mean that he'd forgotten the feel of mountain rock beneath his feet, the thump of cavern ceiling against his cranium, and the bite of cold, pure air in his lungs. The echo of them—even if it was a fleeting shadow of the thing rather than the thing itself—was nice to savor from time to time.

Carrot slogged to a halt at the mouth of a narrow street just north of Whirligig Alley. He slid the shovel off his shoulder and dug into the nearest snowdrift. Once he got into a good rhythm of digging and chucking, he could clear a city block of snow in ten minutes flat. It was all muscle memory, really—there wasn’t too much difference between hefting a pickaxe and a snow shovel. And Carrot had been raised with a pickaxe in hand. With that weight of experience behind him and the familiar weight of the shovel in his hands, shoveling this street wouldn't take long, and he knew the residents—these residents, in particular—would appreciate it when they eventually decided to brave the cold in search of breakfast or work or perhaps a nice mugging or cart crash or other offering of winter street theater to spectate. For now, they slept on.

Strictly speaking, Ankh-Morpork as a whole never truly slept. It took the night in shifts, just like the watchmen who looked after it. Scoone Avenue dozed a respectable ten to seven, the Shades snored through most of the daylight hours, there was serious doubt about whether the eyes of the Patrician's Palace ever fully closed, and all of the patchwork neighborhoods in between had their own unique schedules to keep, according to the profession, species, and preferences of the inhabitants.

Apart from Lord Vetinari, Carrot was perhaps the only person alive who knew them all down to the minute.

This one, for instance, wouldn't begin to stir for another three-quarters of an hour when the dwarf from whom Carrot bought his coffee rolled out his cart and the little old lady he paid to mend his uniforms stepped out for her toddle across the street to gossip with her sister and the venerable old gentleman at the end of the street let his dog out to widdle on his neighbor’s flowerpots. If anything, Carrot suspected the schedule might run a few moments behind today, with a foot or so of fresh snow blanketing the sidewalks that bordered the two rows of ramshackle little houses. That was good, he decided, as he flung another shovelful of snow over his shoulder in an effortless arc. He did enjoy his time spent on this street during its waking hours—the people reminded him of home almost as much as the winter air did, with the generally amiable community of humans and dwarves and the fact that nearly all the residents were…venerable*, just as his own parents were—but even Carrot could admit that a few moments of solitude were nice every now and again.

There weren’t many of those these days…There was a lot to balance in his schedule now, between the ever-mounting responsibilities of the Watch, these little extracurricular responsibilities he took on in looking after the city, and the few slivers of personal life he worked in around the edges. There were important things and there were personal things, and while he'd decided long ago that they weren't the same, he knew down to his bones that time had to be portioned out for both. For long evenings penning carefully worded letters to his parents. For those coffee breaks in the wee hours of the morning with Angua. For this, one of the quiet little echoes of one home that made the other that much more livable. Life's wobbly balance hinged on the little things, in Carrot's estimation. Duty took precedence, of course—that was only Right and Proper—but that just made the tasks like this where that line blurred all the better.

Mister Vimes was always very clear about what made up a watchman's duty. Keeping the peace. Being able to shout "all's well" at the appropriate strike of the clock and, more importantly, being able to mean it. Seeing as how the effect of little old ladies skating about the streets on icy cobblestones or being consumed by snow drifts that were taller than they were would almost certainly Disturb the Peace, Carrot would’ve felt compelled to pitch in where he could even if he didn’t enjoy the work. Most of the inhabitants of these streets had families of their own, of course—children and grandchildren and the like who would eventually meander in to clear the walks, but that would take time. And Carrot was here now.

Technically speaking, he'd gone off regular duty a few hours ago, at the end of second shift. There had been time to trek back to the Watchhouse in the falling snow to fill out his reports for the night, for a fortifying coffee and sandwich, and for a leisurely chat with Angua as she came on duty just as he went off. Time to retrieve the shovel from his locker and to make the slog here to get the job done before his long night's work could catch up to him, and he would have to head home for a good sleep. There was already a fine sheen of sweat steaming across his shoulders under the winter uniform. By the time he was done, he would be thoroughly ready to rest.

Carrot caught the distant clang of a bell over the scrape of his shovel against pavement, soon followed by the accompanying "Four o'clock and all's well!" from a few streets over. Constable Visit, if he wasn't mistaken. More bells jangled on the wind, wafting in from blocks away. The voices were usually harder to pick out than the bells, but sound carried better on brittle air. Carrot smiled at the chorus. Visit was joined by Dorfl four streets down. Angua another two to the west. Bluejohn from the north. It swelled in a brief, flickering reminder that yes, all was well, that the world was humming along as it should, and, in another few hours, Carrot would be back on shift. That nostalgia was all well and good, but that the present could be just as comforting.

He sucked in another lungful of bracing air and huffed it back out again, grinning as he watched it billow into fog. Before long, it would taste of nothing but cookfire ash and carthorse leavings and all the distinctive components of Ankh-Morpork zest, but for now it still tasted of cold ozone. Of snow and frost and fresh days. Lights were beginning to glow from windows here and there, but the street itself remained empty apart from Carrot, his shovel, and the voices of home on the wind.  He rolled the shovel handle in his palms and crunched another step further into the snowdrifts.

“Four o’clock,” he hummed to no one but himself. “And all’s well.”

* ”Venerable” is to “ancient” what “eccentric” is to “crazy.” Or, at the very least, Carrot had heard, it’s the word least likely to get you belted across the knees with a walking stick if you truly feel the urge to comment on someone’s longevity.