War has come to Discworld . . . again.
And, to no one's great surprise, the conflict centers on the small, insufferably arrogant, strictly fundamentalist duchy of Borogravia, which has long prided itself on it's ability to beat up on its neighbors for even the tiniest imagined slight. This time, however, it's Borogravia that's getting its long overdue comeuppance, which has left the country severely drained of young men.
Ever since her brother Paul marched off to battle a year ago, Polly Perks has been running The Duchess,her family's inn -- even though the revered national deity Nuggan has decreed that female ownership of a business is an Abomination (with, among others, oysters, rocks, and the color blue). To keep The Duchess in the family, Polly must find her missing sibling. So she cuts off her hair, dons masculine garb, and sets out to join him in this man's army.
Despite her rapid mastery of belching, scratching, and other macho habits (and aided by a well-placed pair of socks), Polly is afraid that someone will immediately see through her disguise; a fear that proves groundless when the recruiting officer, the legendary and seemingly ageless Sergeant Jackrum, accepts her without question. Or perhaps the sergeant is simply too desperate for fresh cannon fodder to discriminate -- which would explain why a vampire, a troll, a zombie, a religious fanatic, and two uncommonly close "friends" are also eagerly welcomed into the fighting fold. But marching off with little (read: no) training, Polly (now called "Oliver") finds herself wondering about the myriad peculiarities of her new brothers-in-arms. It would appear that Polly "Ozzer" Perks is not the only grunt with a secret. There is no time to dwell on such matters, however.Duty calls. The battlefield beckons. There's a tide to be turned.
And sometimes -- in war as in everything else -- the best man for the job is a woman.
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August 30, 2004
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Excerpt from Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
The recruits tried to sleep.
Occasionally, someone belched or expelled wind noisily, and Polly responded with a few fake eructations of her own. That seemed to inspire greater effort on the part of the other sleepers, to the point where the roof rattled and dust fell down, before everyone subsided.
Once or twice she heard people stagger out into the windy darkness; in theory, for the privy, but probably, given male impatience in these matters, to aim much closer to home. Once, coasting in and out of a troubled dream, she thought she heard someone sobbing.
Taking care not to rustle too much, Polly pulled out the much-folded, much-read, much-stained last letter from her brother, and read it by the light of the solitary, guttering candle. It had been opened and heavily mangled by the censors, and bore the stamp of the Duchy. It read:
We are in .... which is .... with a ... big thing with knobs. On .... we with .... which is just as well because .... out of. I am keeping well. The food is .... .... well .... at the ..... but my mate .... er says not to worry, it'll be all over by .... and we shall all have medals.
It was in a careful hand, the excessively clear and well-shaped writing of someone who had to think about every letter.
She folded it up again. Paul had wanted medals, because they were shiny. That'd been almost a year ago, when any recruiting party that came past went away with the best part of a battalion, and there had been people waving them off with flags and music. Sometimes, now, smaller parties of men came back. The lucky ones were missing only one arm or one leg. There were no flags.
She unfolded the other piece of paper. It was a pamphlet. It was headed "From the Mothers of Borogravia!!" The mothers of Borogravia were very definite about wanting to send their sons off to war Against the Zlobenian Aggressor!! and used a great many exclamation points to say so. And this was odd, because the mothers in the town had not seemed keen on the idea of their sons going off to war, and positively tried to drag them back. Several copies of the pamphlet seemed to have reached every home, even so. It was very patriotic. That is, it talked about killing foreigners.
She'd learned to read and write after a fashion because the inn was big and it was a business and things had to be tallied and recorded. Her mother had taught her to read, which was acceptable to Nuggan, and her father made sure that she learned how to write, which was not. A woman who could write was an Abomination Unto Nuggan, according to Father Jupe; anything she wrote would by definition be a lie.
But Polly had learned anyway, because Paul hadn't, at least to the standard needed to run an inn as busy as The Duchess. He could read if he could run his finger slowly along the lines, and he wrote letters painfully slowly, with a lot of care and heavy breathing, like a man assembling a piece of jewelry.
He was big and kind and slow and could lift beer kegs as though they were toys, but he wasn't a man at home with paperwork. Their father had hinted to Polly, very gently but very often, that Polly would need to be right behind him, when the time came for him to run The Duchess. Left to himself, with no one to tell him what to do next, her brother just stood and watched birds. At Paul's insistence, she'd read the whole of "From the Mothers of Borogravia!!" to him, including the bits about heroes and there being no greater good than to die for your country.
She wished, now, she hadn't done that. Paul did what he was told. Unfortunately, he believed what he was told, too.
She put the papers away and dozed again, until her bladder woke her up. Oh, well, at least at this time of the morning she'd have a clear run.
She reached out for her pack and stepped as softly as she could out into the rain.
It was mostly just coming off the trees now, which were roaring in the wind that blew up the valley. The moon was hidden in the clouds, but there was just enough light to make out the inn's buildings. A certain grayness suggested that what passed for dawn in Pl�n was on the way.
She located the men's privy, which, indeed, stank of inaccuracy.
A lot of planning and practice had gone into this moment. She was helped by the design of her breeches, which were the old-fashioned kind with generous, buttoned trapdoors, and also by the experiments she'd made very early in the mornings when she was doing the cleaning. In short, with care and attention to detail, she'd found that a woman could pee standing up. It certainly worked back home in the inn's privy, which had been designed and built with the certain expectation of the aimlessness of the customers.
The wind shook the dank building.