Monstrous Regiment

Terry Pratchett

Polly Perks has to become a boy in a hurry if she wants to find her brother in the army. Cutting off her hair and wearing the trousers is easy. Learning to fart and belch in public and walk like an ape takes more time. And there's a war on. There's always a war on. Polly and he fellow raw recruits are suddenly in the thick of it. All they have on their side is the most artful sergeant in the army and a vampire with a lust for coffee. Well... they have the Secret. And it's time to make a stand.

Polly went in to see what horrors breakfast would bring.
It brought stale horse-bread and sausage and very weak beer. She grabbed a sausage and a slab of bread and sat down.
You had to concentrate to eat horse-bread. There was a lot more about these days, a bread made from flour ground up with dried pease and beans and vegetable scrapings. It used to be made just for horses, to put them in fine condition. Now you hardly ever saw anything else on the table, and there tended to be less and less of it, too. You needed time and good teeth to work your way through a slice of horse-bread, just as you needed a complete lack of imagination to eat a modern sausage.

‘What’s the good of me trying to teach you stuff if you’re going to keep on asking questions?’

‘I done what I can,’ sighed the corporal. ‘I hammered stuff out and washed out the clothes but it’s been weeks since I had any coal for the forge and you can’t do nothin’ about the swords without a forge. It’s been months since I got any new weapons and, let me tell you, since the dwarfs buggered off the steel we’ve been getting is crap anyway.’ He rubbed his nose. ‘I know you think quartermasters are a thieving bunch and I won’t say we might not skim a bit off the top when things are going well, but this stuff? A beetle couldn’t make a living off this.’ He sniffed again. ‘Ain’t been paid in three months, neither. I guess one-tenth of nothing is not as bad as nothing, but I was never that good at philosophy.’

‘The captain looks pretty bad,’ he said. ‘What did he try to do to poor little you?’
‘Patronize me,’ said Polly, glaring at Maladict.
‘Ah,’ said the vampire.

The pen might not be mightier than the sword, but maybe the printing press was heavier than the siege weapon.