Bashfullsson was watching the attempt with a puzzled expression.
"What is the dwarf word for "open"; Mr Bashfullsson?" said Vimes.
"In the sense of "open a book"? That would be "dhwe", commander."
"Hmm. That won"t do. How about... "say"?"
"Why, that would be "aargk", or, in the peremptive form, "cork!", commander. You know, I don"t think-"
"Excuse me!" said Vimes loudly. The babble of voices stopped.
"Awk!" he said.
The blue and green lights ceased their sparkle and, instead, began to move across the metal to form a pattern of blue and green squares.
"I thought the artist knew no dwarfish," said the King.
"He didn"t, but he spoke fluent Chicken," said Vimes. "I"ll explain later..."
"Captain, fetch the grags," the King snapped. "The prisoners too, even the trolls. All shall hear this!"
The cube"s surface seemed to be moving over Vimes"s skin. Some of the green and blue squares rose slightly proud of the rest of the metal.
The box began to speak. There was a crackle that sounded like dwarfish, although Vimes couldn"t make out a single word. It was followed by a couple of loud knocking noises.
"Second Convocation Hubland Dwarfish," said Bashfullsson. "That would be right for the time. Whoever is speaking has just said: "Art thys thyng workyng?""
The voice spoke again. As the cracked old syllables unrolled, Bashfullsson went on: "The first thyng Tak did, he wroten hymself; the second thyng Tak did, he wroten the Laws; the thyrd thyng Tak did, he wroten the World; the fourth thyng Tak did, he wroten ay cave; the fyfth thyng Tak did, he wroten a geode, ay egge of stone; and in the gloamyn of the mouth of the cave, the geode hatched and the Brothers were born; the first Brother walked towards the light, and stood under the open sky-"
"This is just the story of the Things Tak Wrote," Cheery whispered to Vimes. Vimes shrugged, and watched as some of the bodyguards hustled the old grags into the circle, Ardent among them.
"It"s not new or anything?" Vimes said, disappointed. "Every dwarf knows it, sir."
"-He was the first Dwarf," Bashfullsson translated. "He found the Laws Tak had written, and he was endarkened-"
The crackling voice went on and then Bashfullsson, who had his eyes closed in concentration, opened them in shock.
"... uh ... Then Tak looked upon the stone and it was trying to come alive, and Tak smiled and wrote: "All things strive"," said the dwarf, raising his voice above the growing commotion around him. "And for the service the stone had given he fashioned it into the first Troll, and delighted in the life that came unbidden. These are the things that Tak wrote!" He was shouting now, because of the noise level.
Vimes felt like an outsider. It seemed that everyone except him was arguing. Axes were being flourished.
"I WHO SPEAK TO YOU NOW AM B"HRIAN BLOODAXE, BY RIGHT OF THE SCONE THE TRUE KING OF THE DWARFS!" Bashfullsson screamed.
The cave went silent, except for the echoing scream returning from distant darkness.
"We were washed into the caves by the flood. We sought one another, voices in the dark. We are dying. Our bodies are broken by the terrible water with teeth ... of stone. We are too weak to climb. Water surrounds all. This testament we will entrust to young Stronginthearm, who is still nimble, in the hope that it will reach the daylight. For the story of this day must not be forgotten. This outcome was not meant! We came to sign a treaty! It was the secret, careful work of many years!"
The box stopped speaking. But there were faint groans, and the rush of water somewhere.
"Sire, I demand that this should not be heard!" shouted Ardent from among the grags. "It is nothing but lies upon lies. There is no truth in it! What proof is there that this is the voice of Bloodaxe?"
Captain Gud is looking a bit uncertain, Vimes thought. The King"s bodyguard? Well, they mostly looked like the stolid kind who stayed loyal and didn"t pay much attention to politics. The miners? Angry and confused because the old grags are yelling. This is going to go bad really fast.
"City Watch, to me!" he shouted.
The background noises from the cube died and another voice started to speak. Detritus looked up quickly.
"Dat"s Old Troll!" he said.
Bashfullsson hesitated for a moment. "... er ... I am Diamond King of Trolls," he said, looking desperately at Vimes. "Indeed we came to make peace. But the mist came down upon us and when it rose some trolls and dwarfs cried Ambush! They fell to fighting and would not hear our commands. So troll fought troll, and dwarf fought dwarf, and fools made fools of all of us as we fought to stop a war, until the disgusted sky washed us away.
"And yet we say this. Here in this cave at the end of the world peace is made between dwarf and troll and we will march beyond the hand of Death together. For the enemy is not Troll, nor is it Dwarf, but it is the baleful, the malign, the cowardly, the vessels of hatred, those who do a bad thing and call it good. Those we fought today, but the wilful fool is eternal and will say-"
"This is just a trick!" Ardent shouted.
"-say this is a trick," Bashfullsson continued, "and so we implore: come to the caves under this valley, where you will find us sharing the peace that cannot be braken."
The rumbling voice from the box stopped speaking. There was, once again, a rustle of half-heard voices, and then silence.
The little squares moved about like a sliding puzzle for a moment, and sound came back. Now what issued from the box was shouts and screams, and the clash of steel ...
Vimes was watching the King"s face. Some of this you knew, right. Not all of it, but you didn"t look surprised that it was Bloodaxe speaking. Rumours? Old stories? Something in the records? You"ll never tell me.
"Had"ra," said Bashfullsson, and the cube fell silent. "That means stop, commander," the grag added.
"And so we are under Koom Valley," sneered Ardent. "And what do we find?"
"We find you," said Bashfullsson. "We always find you."
"Dead trolls. Dead dwarfs. And nothing more than a voice," said Ardent.
"Ankh-Morpork here is here. They are devious. These words could have been spoken yesterday!"
The King was watching Ardent and Bashfullsson. So was every other dwarf. You don"t have to stand and argue! Vimes wanted to shout. Just chain the bastards up and we can sort it out later!
But being a dwarf was all about words and laws ...
"These are venerable grags," said Ardent, indicating the robed figures behind him. "They have studied the Histories! They have studied the Devices! Thousands of years of knowledge stand before you. And you? What do you know?"
"You came to destroy the truth," said Bashfullsson. "You dared not trust it. A voice is just a voice, but these bodies are proof. You came here to destroy them:
Ardent snatched the axe from a miner and was flourishing it before any of the bodyguards could react. When realization caught up with them, there was a massed move forward.
"No!" said Bashfullsson, holding up his hands. "Sire, please! This is an argument between grags!"
"Why do you carry no axe?" Ardent snarled.
"I need no axe to be a dwarf," said Bashfullsson. "Nor do I need to hate trolls. What kind of creature defines itself by hatred?"
"You strike at the very root of us!" said Ardent. "At the root!"
"Then strike back," said Bashfullsson, holding out his empty hands. "And put your sword away, Commander Vimes," he added, without turning his head. "This is dwarf business. Ardent? I"m still standing. What do you believe in? Ha"ak! Ga strak ja"ada!"
Ardent jerked forward, axe raised. Bashfullsson moved quickly, there was the thud of something hitting flesh, and then a tableau as motionless as the brooding figures around the cavern. There was Ardent, axe raised overhead. There was Bashfullsson, down on one knee with his head resting almost companionably against the dwarf"s chest and the edge of one hand pressed hard against Ardent"s throat.
Ardent"s mouth opened, but all that came out was a croak and a trickle of blood. He took a few steps back, and fell over backwards.
The axe struck the white, wet, stony waterfall, and smashed through the drip of millennia. Time fell in shards around it.
Bashfullsson rose, looking shocked and massaging his hand. "It is like using an axe," he said, to no one in particular, "but without the axe..."
The uproar began again, but a dwarf, dripping with water, pushed through the mob. "Sire, there"s a band of trolls coming up the valley! They asked for you! They say they want to parley!"
Rhys stepped over the body of Ardent, looking intently at the hole in the waterfall of stone. Another piece fell down as he touched it.
"Is there something unusual about their leader?" he said in a preoccupied voice, still staring into the new darkness. "Yes, sire! He"s all ... sparkly!"
"Ah. Good," said the King. "He has his parley. Bring him down here." "Could that be a troll who knows some very powerful dwarfs?" said Vimes.
The Low King met his eyes for a moment. "Yes, I imagine it is," he said. Then he raised his voice. "Someone fetch me a torch! Commander Vimes, could you just ... look at this, please?"
In the depths of the revealed cave, something shone.
On this day in 1802, the painter Methodia Rascal dropped the glittering thing in the deepest well he knew. No one would ever hear it down there. The Chicken chased him home.
It would be a lot simpler, Vimes thought, if this was a story. A sword is pulled out of a stone or a magic ring is flung into the depths of the sea, and with general rejoicing the world turns.
But this was real life. The world didn"t turn, it just went into a spin. It was Koom Valley Day and there wasn"t a battle going on in Koom Valley. But what was going on here wasn"t peace, either. What was going on ... well, what was going on was committees. It was negotiation. Actually, as far as he could tell, it hadn"t even got as far as negotiation yet. It hadn"t got past talks about meetings about delegations. On the other hand, no one had died, except maybe of boredom.
There was a lot of history to be unpicked, and, for those who weren"t actually engaged in that delicate activity, there was Koom Valley to tame. Two cultural heroes were down there in the cavern, and all it needed was one good storm and a few misplaced blockages for a white flood laden with grinding boulders to wipe the whole place away. It hadn"t happened yet, but sooner or later the dynamic geography would get round to it. Koom Valley couldn"t be left to its own devices, not any more.
Everywhere you looked there were teams of trolls and dwarfs surveying, diverting, damming and drilling. They"d been engaged in this for two days, but it would take them for ever, because every winter changed the game. Koom Valley was forcing co-operation on them. Dam Koom Valley ...
Vimes thought that was a bit too pat, but nature can be like that. Sometimes you got sunsets so pink that they had no style at all.
One thing that had happened fast was the tunnel. Dwarfs had cut down quickly through the soft limestone. You could stroll down into the cavern now, although in fact you"d have to queue because of the long line of trolls and dwarfs.
Those in the line going down eyed one another with uncertainty at best. Those in the line coming up sometimes looked angry, or were close to tears, or just walked along looking at the ground.
Once they got past the exit, they tended to form into quiet groups.
Sam, with Young Sam in his arms, didn"t have to queue. News had got around. He went straight in, past the trolls and dwarfs who were painstakingly reassembling the broken stalagmites (it was news to Vimes that you could do that, but apparently if you came back in five hundred years they"d be as good as new) and into what had come to be called the Kings" Cave.
And there they were. You couldn"t argue with it. There was the dwarf king, slumped forward across the board, glazed by the eternal drip, his beard now rock and at one with the stone, but the diamond king had remained upright in death, his skin gone cloudy, and you could still see the game in front of him. It was his move; a healthy little stalactite hung from his outstretched hand.
They"d broken off small stalagmites to make the pieces, which time had now glued into immobility. The scratched lines on the stone board were more or less invisible, but Thud players from both races had already pored over it and a sketch of the Dead Kings" Game had by now appeared in the Times. The diamond king was playing the dwarf side. Apparently it could go either way.
People were saying that when this was all over they"d seal the cave. Too many people in a living cave killed it in some way, the dwarfs said. And then the kings would be left in the dark to finish their game in, with luck, peace.
Water dripping on a stone, changing the shape of the world one drop at a time, washing away a valley ...
Yes, well, Vimes had added to himself. But it"d never be that simple. And for every new generation you"d have to open it again, so that people could see that it was true.
Today, though, it was open for Sam and Young Sam, who was wearing a fetching woolly hat with a bobble on it.
Brick and Sally were on duty, along with a couple of dwarfs and two more trolls, all watching the stream of visitors and one another. Vurms covered the ceiling. The game gleamed. What would Young Sam remember? Probably just the glitter. But it had to be done.
The players were genuine, on that at least both sides agreed. The carvings on Diamond were accurate, the armour and jewellery on Bloodaxe were just as history recorded. Even the long loaf of dwarf bread that he carried into battle, and which could shatter a troll skull, was by his side. Dwarf scholars had, with delicacy and care and the blunting of fifteen saw blades, removed a tiny slice of it. Miraculously, it had turned out still to be as inedible now as the day it was baked.
A minute was about enough for this historic moment, Vimes decided. Young Sam was at the grabbing age, and he"d never hear the end of it if his son ate an historic monument.
"Can I have a word, lance-constable?" he said to Sally, as he turned to go. "The guard changes in a minute."
"Certainly, sir," said Sally. Vimes strolled off to a corner of the cavern and waited until Nobby and Fred Colon marched in at the head of the relief.
"Glad you joined, lance-constable?" he said, as she hurried up.
"Very much, sir!"
"Good. Shall we go up to the daylight?"
She followed him up the slope and into the damp warmth of Koom Valley, where he sat down on a boulder. He looked at her while Young Sam played at his feet.
He said: "Is there anything you"d like to say to me, lance-constable?"
"Should there be, sir?"
"I can"t prove anything, of course," said Vimes. "But you are an agent of the Low King, aren"t you? You"ve been spying on me."
He waited while she considered the options. Swallows swooped overhead in squadrons.
"I, er, wouldn"t put it quite like that, sir," she said eventually. "I was
keeping an eye on Hamcrusher and I"d heard about the mining, and then when it all started to heat up-"
"-becoming a watchman seemed a good idea, right? Did the League know?"
"No! Look, sir, I wasn"t spying on you-"
"You told him I was headed for Koom Valley. And the night we arrived, you went for a little fly-around. Just stretching your wings?"
"Look, this isn"t my life!" said Sally. "I"d joined the new force in Bonk. We"re trying to make a difference up there! I did want to come to Ankh-Morpork anyway, because, well, we all want to. To learn, you know? How you manage to do it? Everyone speaks highly of you! And then the Low King summoned me and I thought, where"s the harm? Hamcrusher has caused trouble up there, too. Er ... I never actually told you a lie, sir."
"Rhys already knew about the Secret, right?" said Vimes.
"No, sir, not as such. But I think he had some reason to suspect there was something down there."
"Then why didn"t he just go and look?"
"Dwarfs digging around in Koom Valley? The trolls would, er, go spare, sir."
"But not if the dwarfs were merely investigating why a copper from Ankh-Morpork was chasing some fleeing criminals into the caves, right? Not if the copper was good ol Sam Vimes, who everyone knows is as straight as an arrow even if he"s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. You can"t bribe Sam Vimes, but why bother when you can pull the wool over his eyes?"
"Look, sir, I know how you must feel, but ... well, there"s your little boy there, playing in Koom Valley, with trolls and dwarfs all round, and they"re not fighting. Right? I didn"t lie, I just ... liaised a little. Wasn"t it worth it, sir? Hah, you really worried them when you went to the wizards! Shine hadn"t left the city! Rhys had to fly him in by night! All they really did was follow your lead
. The only person who fooled you was me, and it turns out I wasn"t very good at it. They needed you, sir. Look around and say it wasn"t worth it
A hundred yards away, a house-sized rock rumbled across the stone, pushed and steered by a dozen trolls, dropped into a sinkhole and blocked it like an egg in a cup. There was a cheer.
"Can I mention something else, sir?" said Sally. "I do know Angua is standing behind me."
"It"s Sergeant Angua to you," said Angua, by her ear. "You didn"t fool me, either. I told you we didn"t like snitches in the Watch. But for what it"s worth, sir, she smells like she"s telling the truth."
"Do you still have a route to the Low King?" said Vimes.
"Yes, and I"m sure he"ll-" Sally began quickly.
"These are my demands. The grags and what"s left of their guards are coming back to Ankh-Morpork with me. That includes Ardent, though I"m told it"ll be weeks before he can talk again. They"re going before Vetinari. I"ve got promises to keep, and no one is going to stop me. It"ll be tough to make any big charges stick, but I"m bloody well going to try. And since I"ll bet my dinner that Vetinari is in on all this, I expect he"ll pack "em off back to Rhys in any case. I imagine he"s got a cell that"s deep enough for comfort. Understood?"
"Yes, sir. And the other demands?"
"The same as that one, repeated in a louder voice," said Vimes. "Understood?"
"Absolutely, sir. Then I"ll resign, of course," said Sally.
Vimes"s eyes narrowed. "You"ll resign when I tell you to, lance-constable! You took the King"s Shilling, remember? And made an oath. Go and liaise!"
"You"re going to keep her?" said Angua, watching the vampire disappear into the distance.
"You said yourself she"s a good copper. We"ll see. Oh, don"t make that face, sergeant. It"s all the rage in politics these days, spying on your friends. That"s what I"m told. Like she said: look around."
"This is a bit unlike you, sir," said Angua, giving him a look of concern.
"Yes, it is, isn"t it?" said Vimes. "I had a nice sleep last night. It"s a nice day. No one is actively trying to kill me, which is nice. Thank you, sergeant. Have a nice evening."
Vimes carried Young Sam back in late afternoon light. Just as well the girl had been working for Rhys. Things might have been a bit tricky otherwise. That was the plain fact of it. Keep her on? Maybe. She"d been very useful, even Angua admitted. Besides, he"d been practically forced to take on a spy, in times of more-or-less war! If he played that right, no one would ever again dictate to him who he took on in the Watch. Doreen Winkings could rattle her false canines as much as she liked!
Hmm ... was this how Vetinari thought all the time?
He heard his name being called. A coach was coming across the rock, and Sybil was waving from the window. That was another step forward; even wagons could get up here now.
"You haven"t forgotten the dinner tonight, have you?" she said, a hint of suspicion in her voice.
"No, dear." Vimes hadn"t, but he"d hoped that it might evaporate if he didn"t think about it. It was going to be Official, with both kings and lots of important lesser kings and clan leaders. And the Special Envoy from Ankh-Morpork, unfortunately. That would be Sam Vimes, scrubbed up.
At least there weren"t going to be tights and plumes. Even Sybil hadn"t been that farsighted. Regrettably, though, the town had a decent tailor who had been very keen to use all that gold braid he"d bought by accident a couple of years ago.
"Willikins will have a bath run by the time we get back," said Sybil, as the coach moved away.
"Yes, dear," said Vimes.
"Don"t look so glum! You"ll be upholding the honour of AnkhMorpork, remember!"
"Really, dear? What shall I do with the other hand?" said Vimes, settling back into the seat.
"Oh, Sam! Tonight you"ll walk with kings!"
I"d sooner be walking all by myself along Treacle Mine Road at three in the morning, Vimes thought. In the rain, with the gutters gushing. But it was a wife thing. She took such a ... a pride in him. He could never work out why.
He looked down at his arm. He"d sorted that out, at least. Exit wound indeed! It was just the way the burning oil had splashed on his skin. It might look a bit like that damn symbol, enough to put the wind up the dwarfs, but no floaty eyeball was going to get past him. Common sense and facts, that"s what worked!
After a while it dawned on him that they weren"t going into the town. They"d gone down almost as far as the lakes, but now they were heading back up on the cliff path. He could see the valley below them, opening out.
The kings were working their subjects hard, on the basis that tired warriors are less keen to fight. Teams swarmed over the rock like ants. Maybe there was a plan. There probably was. But the mountains would sneer at it every winter. You"d have to have squads here all the time, you"d need to scout the mountainsides to find and smash the big boulders before they caused trouble. Remember Koom Valley! Because, if you don"t, your history is ... history.
And maybe, behind the thunder and in the roar of the waters flowing underground, you"ll hear the laughter of dead kings.
The coach came to a halt. Sybil opened the door. "Get down, Sam Vimes," she said. "No arguing. It"s time for your portrait."
"Out here? But it"s-" Vimes began.
"Good afternoon, commander," said Otto Chriek cheerfully, appearing at the doorway. "I haf set up a bench and zer light is just right for colour!"
Vimes had to agree that it was. Thunder light made the
mountains gleam like gold. In the middle distance, the Tears of the King fell in a line of glittering silver. Brightly coloured birds skimmed through the air. And all the way up the valley there were rainbows.
Koom Valley, on Koom Valley Day. He"d had to be there.
"If her ladyship vill be seated viz zer little boy on her lap and you, commander, standink with your hand on her shoulder ... ?" He bustled around his big black iconograph.
"He"s up here taking pictures for the Times," Sybil whispered. "And I thought, well, it"s now or never. Portraiture must move on."
"How long is this going to take?" said Vimes.
"Oh, about a fraction of a second, commander," said Otto.
Vimes brightened up. This was more like it.
Of course, it never is. But it was a warm afternoon, and Vimes still felt good. They sat and stared with those fixed grins people wear when they"re wondering why a fraction of a second takes half an hour, while Otto tried to get the universe sorted out to his satisfaction.
"Havelock will be wondering how to reward you, you know,"
murmured Sybil, as the vampire fussed around.
"He can go on wondering," said Vimes. "I"ve everything I want." He smiled.
"Sixty new officers?" said Lord Vetinari.
"The price of peace, sir," said Captain Carrot earnestly. "I"m sure that Commander Vimes wouldn"t settle for anything less. We are really stretched."
"Sixty men - and dwarfs and trolls, obviously - is more than a third of your current complement," said the Patrician, tapping his walking stick on the cobbles. "Peace comes with a rather large bill, captain."
"And a few dividends, sir," Carrot said.
They looked up at the circle-and-bar symbol over the door of the mine, just above the yellow and black rope used by the Watch to warn off intruders.
"The mine falls to us by default?" said Vetinari.
"Apparently, sir. I believe the term is "eminent domain"."
"Ah, yes. That means naked theft by the government," said Vetinari.
"But the grags bought the freehold, sir. They"re hardly going to contest it now."
"Quite. And the dwarfs really can make watertight tunnels?"
"Oh, yes. The trick is almost as old as mining. Would you care to step inside? I"m afraid the elevator is not working at the moment, though."
Lord Vetinari inspected the rails and the little carts the dwarfs had used to shift spoil. He felt the dry walls. He went back upstairs and frowned as a one-ton slab of iron came through the wall, whirled past his face, passed through the opposite wall and buried itself in the street outside.
"And was that supposed to happen?" he said, brushing plaster dust off his robe.
An excited voice behind him shouted: "The torque! It"s impossible! Amazing!"
A figure climbed through the wall, holding something in one hand. He rushed up to Captain Carrot, vibrating with excitement.
"It spins once every 6.9 seconds but the torque is immense! It broke the clamp! What powers it?"
"No one seems to know," said Carrot. "In Uberwald-"
"Excuse me, what is this about?" said Lord Vetinari, holding out a hand imperiously.
The man glanced at him and then turned to Carrot. "Who"s this?" he said.
"Lord Vetinari, ruler of the city, may I present Mr Pony of the Artificers" Guild?" said Carrot quickly. "Please let his lordship see the Axle, Mr Pony."
"Thank you," said Vetinari. He took the thing, which looked very like two cubes, each about six inches on a side, joined together on one face, like a pair of dice joined at the sixes. In relation to the other, one turned - very, very slowly.
"Oh," he said flatly. "A mechanism. How nice."
"Nice?" said Pony. "Don"t you understand? It won"t stop turning." Carrot and Pony looked expectantly at the Patrician, who said:
"And that"s a good thing, is it?"
Carrot coughed. "Yes, sir. One of these drives one of the biggest mines in Uberwald. All the pumps, the fans that move the air, the trucks that haul the ore, the bellows for the forges, the elevators ... everything. Just one of those. It"s another type of Device, like the cubes. We don"t know how they"re made, they"re very rare, but the other three I"ve heard of have not stopped working for hundreds of years. They don"t use fuel, they don"t need anything. They appear to be millions of years old. No one knows what made them. They just turn."
"How interesting," said Vetinari. "Hauling trucks? Underground, you say?"
"Oh, yes," said Carrot. "Even with miners in."
"I shall give this some thought," said Vetinari, avoiding Mr Pony"s outstretched hand. "And what could we make it do in this city?"
He and Carrot turned questioning faces to Mr Pony, who shrugged and said, "Everything?"
Plink! went a drop of water on to the head of the very, very late King Bloodaxe.
"How long are we going to have to do this, sarge?" said Nobby, as they watched the line of visitors shuffle past the dead kings.
"Mister Vimes has sent for another squad from home," said Fred Colon, shifting from one foot to the other. It seemed quite warm when you first came into the cave, but after a while the clamminess could get a man down. He reflected that Nobby wasn"t affected by this, being blessed by Nature with natural clammy.
"It"s starting to give me the creeps, sarge," said Nobby, indicating the kings. "If that hand moves, I"m going to scream."
"Think of it as Being There, Nobby."
"I"ve always been somewhere, sarge:
"Yeah, but when they comes to write the history books they"ll-" Fred Colon paused for thought. He had to admit, they probably wouldn"t mention him and Nobby. "Well, your Tawneee will be proud of you, anyway."
"I think that"s not to be, sarge," said Nobby sadly. "She"s a nice girl, but I think I"m goin" to have to let her down lightly."
"fraid so, sarge. She cooked me dinner the other day. She tried to make Distressed Pudding like my ol mum used to make."
Fred Colon smiled all the way from his stomach. "Ah, yes. No one could distress a pudding like your ol mum, Nobby."
"It was awful, Fred," said Nobby, hanging his head. "As for her Slumpie, well, I do not wish to go there. She is not a girl who knows her way around a stove."
"She"s more of a pole person, Nobby, that is true."
"Exactly. An" I thought, ol Hammerhead, well, you might never be sure which way she was lookin; but her buttered clams, well ... He sighed.
"There"s a thought to keep a man warm on a cold night," Fred agreed.
"An, y"know, these days, when she hits me with a wet fish, it doesn"t sting like it used to," Nobby went on. "I think we are reaching an understanding."
"She can crack a lobster with her fist," Colon observed. "That"s a very portable talent."
"So I was thinking of speaking to Angua," said Nobby. "She might give me a few hints on how to let Tawneee down gently."
"That"s a good idea, Nobby," said Fred. "No touchin, sir, otherwise I shall have to cut yer fingers orf." This was said, in a friendly tone of voice, to a dwarf who"d been reaching in awe towards the board.
"But we"ll still be friends, of course," said Nobby, as the dwarf backed away. "So long as I can get into the Pink PussyCat Club for free, anyway, I"ll always be there if she needs a helmet to cry on., "That"s very modern of you, Nobby," said Fred. He smiled in the gloom. Somehow, the world was back on course.
Wandering through the world, the eternal troll ...
Brick headed after Detritus, dragging his club.
Well, he wuz goin" up in der worl" an" no mistakin"! Dey said it hurt if you come off of der stuff, but Brick had always hurt, all his life, and right now it wasn"t too bad at all. It wuz, like, weird der way he could fink to the end of a sentence now an" still remember der start of it. An" he wuz bein" given food, which he wuz gettin" to like once he stopped frowing it up. Sergeant Detritus, who knew eveythin" had tole him if"n he stayed clean an" smartened up he could rise as high as Lance-Constable one day, makin" heapo money.
He wuzn"t too sure what had been happnin" to cause all dis. It
looked like he wasn"t in der city any more, an" dere had been some fightin, and Sergeant Detritus had showed him dese kinda dead people and smacked him aroun" der head an" said "Remember!" an" he wuz doin" his best, but he"d been smacked aroun" der head a hole lot harder many, many times and dat one was nuffin". But Sergeant Detritus said it wuz all about not hatin" dwarfs no more and dat was okay cuz really Brick never had der energy to waste hatin". What dey had been doin" down dat hole was makin" der worl" a betterer place, Sergeant Detritus said.
And it seemed to Brick, as he smelled the food, dat Sergeant Detritus had got dat one dead right.
Trolls and dwarfs had raised a huge roundhouse in Koom Valley, using giant boulders for the walls and half a fallen forest for the roof. A fire thirty yards long crackled inside. Ranged around it on long benches were the kings of more than a hundred dwarf mines, and the leaders of eighty troll clans, with their followers and servants and bodyguards. The noise was intense, the smoke was thick, the heat was a wall.
It had been a good day. Progress had been made. The guests were not mixing, that was true, but nor were they trying to kill one another. This was a promising development. The truce was holding.
At the high table, King Rhys leaned back in his makeshift throne and said, "One does not make demands of kings. One makes requests, which are graciously granted. Does he not understand?"
"I don"t think he gives a tra"ka, sir, if I may be coarse," said Grag Bashfullsson, who was standing respectfully beside him. "And the senior dwarfs in the city will be right behind him on this. It"s not my place, sir, but I advise acquiescence."
"And that"s all he wants? No gold, no silver, no concessions?" "That"s all he wants, sire. But I suspect you will be hearing from Lord Vetinari before long."
"Oh, you may be sure of that!" said the King. He sighed. "It"s a new world, Grag, but some things don"t change. Er ... that ... thing has left him, has it?
"I believe so, sire."
"You are not certain?"
The grag smiled a faint, inward smile. "Let"s just say that his reasonable request is best granted, shall we, sire?" "Your point is taken, Grag. Thank you."
King Rhys turned in his seat, leaned across the two empty places and said to the Diamond King: "Do you think something has happened to them? It"s past six o"clock!"
Shine smiled, filling the hall with light. "I suspect they"ve been delayed by matters of great importance."
"More important than this?" said the dwarf king.
... and, because some things are important, the coach stood outside the magistrate"s house, down in the town. The horses stamped impatiently. The coachman waited. Inside, Lady Sybil darned a sock, because some things are important, with a faint smile on her face.
And floating out of an open upstairs window was the voice of Sam Vimes: "It goes, "Hruuugh!" It is a hippopotamus! That"s not my cow!"
Nevertheless, it was close enough for now.