Location: Fantasy Books » Terry Pratchett
from Interesting Times
where the gods play games with the lives of men, on a board which is at
one and the same time a simple playing area and the whole world.
wins. Most of the gods throw dice but Fate plays chess, and you don't
find out until too late that he's been using two queens all along.
At least, so it is claimed. Whatever happens, they say afterwards, it
must have been Fate.*
take any form, but the one aspect of themselves they cannot change is
their eyes, which show their nature. The eyes of Fate are hardly eyes
at all -- just dark holes into an infinity speckled with what may be stars
or, there again, may be other things.
them, smiled at his fellow players in the smug way winners do just before
they become winners, and said:
the High Priest of the Green Robe in the library with the double-handed
And he won.
"No one likeh
a poor winner," grumbled Offler the Crocodile God, through his fangs.
that I am favoring myself today," said Fate. "Anyone fancy something else?"
said Fate pleasantly. "Star-Crossed Lovers?"
we've lost the rules for that one," said Blind Io, chief of the gods.
win," said Io.
Droughts?" said Fate. "That's an easy one."
fell across the gaming table. The gods looked up.
"Let a game
begin," said the Lady.
always an argument about whether the newcomer was a goddess at all. Certainly
no one ever got anywhere by worshipping her, and she tended to turn up
only where she was least expected, such as now. And people who trusted
in her seldom survived. Any temples built to her would surely be struck
by lightning. Better to juggle axes on a tightrope than say her name.
Just call her the waitress in the Last Chance saloon.
She was generally
referred to as the Lady, and her eyes were green; not as the eyes of humans
are green, but emerald green from edge to edge. It was said to be her
Fate again. "And what game will it be?"
She sat down
opposite him. The watching gods looked sidelong at one another. This looked
interesting. These two were ancient enemies.
she paused, "...Mighty Empires?"
"Oh, I hate
that one," said Offler, breaking the sudden silence. "Everyone dief at
Fate, "I believe they do." He nodded at the Lady, and in much the same
voice as professional gamblers say "Aces high?" said, "The Fall of Great
Houses? Destinies of Nations Hanging by a Thread?"
Fate waved a hand across the board. The Discworld appeared.
shall we play?" he said.
Continent," said the Lady. "Where five noble families have fought one
another for centuries."
Which families are these?" said Io. He had little involvement with individual
humans. He generally looked after thunder and lightning, so from his point
of view the only purpose of humanity was to get wet or, in occasional
the Sungs, the Tangs, the McSweeneys and the Fangs."
didn't know they were noble," said lo.
all very rich and have had millions of people butchered or tortured to
death merely for reasons of expediency and pride," said the Lady.
gods nodded solemnly. That was certainly noble behavior. That was exactly
what they would have done.
established family," said Fate.
wrestle one another for the Empire," said Fate. "Very good. Which will
looked at the history stretched out in front of them.
are the most powerful. Even as we speak, they have taken yet more cities,"
she said. "I see they are fated to win."
"So, no doubt,
you'll pick a weaker family."
his hand again. The playing pieces appeared, and started to move around
the board as if they had a fife of their own, which was of course the
said, "we shall play without dice. I don't trust you with dice. You throw
them where I can't see them. We will play with steel, and tactics, and
politics, and war."
across at his opponent.
move?" he said.
"I've already made it."
down. "But I don't see your pieces on the board."
not on the board yet," she said.
something black and yellow on her palm. She blew on it, and it unfolded
It was a
when people stick to the rules.
to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle, chaos is found in, greatest abundance
wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is
This is the
butterfly of the storms.
See the wings,
slightly more ragged than those of the common fritillary. In reality,
thanks to the fractal nature of the universe, this means that those ragged
edges are infinite -- in the same way that the edge of any rugged coastline,
when measured to the ultimate microscopic level, is infinitely long --
or, if not infinite, then at least so close to it that Infinity can be
seen on a clear day.
are always a little confused about this, as they are in the case of miracles.
When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of
circumstances, they say that's a miracle. But of course if someone is
killed by a freak chain of events -- the oil spilled just there,
the safety fence broken just there --that must also be a miracle.
Just because it's not nice doesn't mean it's not miraculous.
howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags
like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false
hissing furze bushes a fire blazed, the flames driven this way and that
by the gusts.
voice shrieked: "When shall we... two... meet again?"
more ordinary voice said: "What'd you go and shout that for? You made
me drop my toast in the fire."
sat down again.
I was just doing it for... you know... old time's sake... Doesn't roll
off the tongue, though."
got it nice and brown, too."
you didn't have to shout."
I ain't deaf. You could've just asked me in a normal voice. And I'd have
said, 'Next Wednesday.'"
cut me another slice."
nodded, and turned her head. "Magrat, cut Granny ano... oh. Mind wandering
there for a minute. I'll do it myself, shall I?"
Granny Weatherwax, staring into the fire.
no sound for a while but the roar of the wind and the sound of Nanny Ogg
cutting bread, which she did with about as much efficiency as a man trying
to chainsaw a mattress.
it'd cheer you up, coming up here," she said after a while.
It wasn't a question.
out of yourself, sort of thing..." Nanny went on, watching her friend
Granny, still staring moodily at the fire.
thought Nanny. I shouldn't've said that.
was...well, the point was that Nanny Ogg was worried. Very worried. She
wasn't at all sure that her friend wasn't well going well, sort of...
in a manner of speaking... well... black...
it happened, with the really powerful ones. And Granny Weatherwax was
pretty damn powerful. She was probably an even more accomplished witch
now than the infamous Black Aliss, and everyone knew what had happened
to her at the finish. Pushed into her own stove by a couple of kids, and
everyone said it was a damn good thing, even if it took a whole week to
clean the oven.
up until that terrible day, had terrorized the Ramtops. She'd become so
good at magic that there wasn't room in her head for anything else.
weapons couldn't pierce her. Swords bounced off her skin. They said you
could hear her mad laughter a mile off, and of course, while mad laughter
was always part of a witch's stock-in-trade in necessary circumstances,
this was insane mad laughter, the worst kind. And she turned people
into gingerbread and had a house made of frogs. It had been very nasty,
toward the end. It always was, when a witch went bad.
of course, they didn't go bad. They just went... somewhere.
intellect needed something to do. She did not take kindly to boredom.
She'd take to her bed instead and send her mind out Borrowing, inside
the head of some forest creature, listening with its ears, seeing with
its eyes. That was all very well for general purposes, but she was too
good at it. She could stay away longer than anyone Nanny Ogg had ever
almost certainly, she wouldn't bother to come back... and this was the
worst time of the year, with the geese honking and rushing across the
sky every night, and the autumn air crisp and inviting. There was something
terribly tempting about that.
reckoned she knew what the cause of the problem was.
the other day," she ventured, looking sidelong at Granny.
well. Queening suits her."
inwardly. If Granny couldn't even be bothered to make a nasty remark,
then she was really missing Magrat.
had never believed it at the start, but Magrat Garlick, wet as a sponge
though she was half the time, had been dead right about one thing.
a natural number for witches.
lost one. Well, not lost, exactly. Magrat was queen now, and queens were
hard to mislay. But... that meant that there were only two of them instead
had three, you had one to run around getting people to make up when there'd
been a row. Magrat had been good for that. Without Magrat, Nanny Ogg and
Granny Weatherwax got on one another's nerves. With her, all three had
been able to get on the nerves of absolutely everyone else in the whole
world, which had been a lot more fun.
was no having Magrat back... at least, to be precise about it, there was
no having Magrat back yet.
while three was a good number for witches... it had to be the right
sort of three. The right sort of... types.
found herself embarrassed even to think about this, and this was unusual
because embarrassment normally came as naturally to Nanny as altruism
comes to a cat.
As a witch,
she naturally didn't believe in any occult nonsense of any sort. But there
were one or two truths down below the bedrock of the soul which had to
be faced, and right in among them was this business of, well, of the maiden,
the mother and the... other one.
from Feet of Clay
It was a
warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges
A man opened
it and peered out into the street. There was mist coming off the river
and it was a cloudy night. He might as well have tried to see through
But he thought
afterwards that there had been shapes out there, just beyond the light
spilling out into the road. A lot of shapes, watching him carefully. He
thought maybe there'd been very faint points of light ...
no mistaking the shape right in front of him, though. It was big and dark
red and looked like a child's clay model of a man. Its eyes were two embers.
do you want at this time of night?"
handed him a slate, on which was written:
WE HEAR YOU
WANT A GOLEM.
golems couldn't speak could they?
yes. Afford, no. I've been asking around but it's wicked the prices you're
going for these days . . ."
rubbed the words off the slate and wrote:
TO YOU, ONE
lurched aside. Another one stepped into the fight.
It was also
a golem, the man could see that. But it wasn't like the usual lumpen clay
things that you occasionally saw. This one gleamed like a newly polished
statue, perfect down to the detailing of the clothes. It reminded him
of one of the old pictures of the city's lungs, all haughty stance and
imperious haircut. In fact, it even had a small coronet molded on to its
dollars?" the man said suspiciously. "What's wrong with it? Who selling
WRONG. PERFECT IN ALL DETAIL. NINETY DOLLARS.
someone wants to get rid of it in a hurry. . ."
WORK. GOLEM MUST HAVE A MASTER.
but you hear stories ... Going mad and making too many things, and that."
... new," said the man, tapping the gleaming chest. "But no one's making
golems any more, that's what's keeping the price up beyond the purse of
the small business-" He stopped. "Is someone making them again?
the priests banned making 'em years ago. A man could get in a lot of trouble."
"Is he selling
them to Albertson? Or Spadger and Williams? It's hard enough competing
as it is, and they've got the money to invest in new plant-"
The man walked
around the golem. "A man can't sit by and watch his company collapse under
him because of unfair price cutting, I mean to say...
is all very well, but what do prophets know about profits, eh? Hmm..."
He looked up at the shapeless golem in the shadows. "Was that thirty dollars
I just saw you write?"
liked dealing wholesale. Wait one moment." He went back inside and returned
with a handful of coins. "Will you be selling any to them other bastards?"
your boss it's a pleasure to do business with him. Get along inside, Sunny
golem walked into the factory. The man, glancing from side to side, trotted
in after it and shut the door.
moved in the dark. There was a faint hissing. Then, rocking slightly,
the big heavy shapes moved away.
and around the comer, a beggar holding out a hopeful hand for alms was
amazed to find himself suddenly richer by a whole thirty dollars.
turned against the glittering backdrop of space, spinning very gently
on the backs of the four giant elephants that perched on the shell of
Great A'Tuin the star turtle. Continents drifted slowly past, topped by
weather systems that themselves turned gently against the flow, like waltzers
spinning counter to the whirl of the dance. A billion tons of geography
rolled slowly through the sky.
down on stuff like geography and meteorology, and not only because they're
standing on one and being soaked by the other. They don't look quite like
real science. But geography is only physics slowed down and with a few
trees stuck on it, and is full of excitingly fashionable chaos and complexity.
And summer isn't a time. It's a place as well. Summer is a moving creature
and likes to go south for the winter.
Even on the
Discworld, with its tiny orbiting sun tilting over the turning world,
the seasons moved. In Ankh-Morpork, greatest of its cities, spring was
nudged aside by summer, and summer was prodded in the back by autumn.
speaking, there was not a lot of difference within the city itself, although
in later spring the scum on the river was often a nice emerald green.
The mist of spring became the fog of autumn, which mixed with fumes and
smoke from the magical quarter and the workshops of the alchemists until
it seemed to have a thick, choking fife of its own.
pressed itself against the midnight windowpanes.
in a trickle across the pages of a rare volume of religious essays, which
had been torn in half.
been no need for that, thought Father Tubelcek.
thought suggested that there had been no need to hit him either. But Father
Tubelcek had never been very concerned about that sort of thing. People
healed, books didn't. He reached out shakily and tried to gather up the
pages, but slumped back again.
swung open. Heavy footsteps creaked across the floor - one footstep at
least, and one dragging noise.
tried to focus. "You?" he croaked.
starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.
have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things.
They wonder aloud how the snowplow driver gets to work, or how the makers
of dictionaries look up the spelling of the words. Yet there is the constant
desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, raveling nets of
space-time on which a metaphorical finger can be put to indicate that
here, here, is the point where it all began ...
began when the Guild of Assassins enrolled Mister Teatime, who saw things
differently from other people, and one of the ways that he saw things
differently from other people was in seeing other people as things (later,
Lord Downey of the Guild said, "We took pity on him because he'd lost
both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have
wondered a bit more about that").
But it was
much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest
stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood
out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the
people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves
(who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by
the deserving*), and then wondered where the stories went.
still when something in the darkness of the deepest caves and gloomiest
forests thought: what are they, these creatures? I will observe
That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You
never quite know with some kids.
much earlier than that, when the Discworld was formed, drifting onward
through space atop four elephants on the shell of the giant turtle, Great
as it moves, it gets tangled like a blind man in a cobwebbed house in
those highly specialized little space-time strands that try to breed in
every history they encounter, stretching them and breaking them and tugging
them into new shapes.
not, of course. The philosopher Didactylos has summed up an alternative
hypothesis as "Things just happen. What the hell."
wizards of Unseen University stood and looked at the door.
no doubt that whoever had shut it wanted it to stay shut. Dozens of nails
secured it to the door frame. Planks had been nailed right across. And
finally it had, up until this morning, been hidden by a bookcase that
had been put in front of it.
the sign, Ridcully," said the Dean. "You have read it, I assume.
You know? The sign which says 'Do not, under any circumstances, open this
I've read it," said Ridcully. "Why d'yer think I want it opened?"
"Er ... why?"
said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
"To see why
they wanted it shut, of course."*
* This exchange
contains almost all you need to know about human civilization. At least,
those bits of it that are now under the sea, fenced off or still smoking.
to Modo, the University's gardener and odd-job dwarf, who was standing
by with a crowbar.
"Go to it,
saluted. "Right you are, sir."
background of splintering timber, Ridcully went on: "It says on the plans
that this was a bathroom. There's nothing frightening about a bathroom,
for gods' sake. I want a bathroom. I'm fed up with sluicing down
with you fellows. It's unhygienic. You can catch stuff. My father told
me that. Where you get lots of people bathing together, the Verruca Gnome
is running around with his little sack."
like the Tooth Fairy?" said the Dean sarcastically.
"I'm in charge
here and I want a bathroom of my own," said Ridcully firmly. "And that's
all there is to it, all right? I want a bathroom in time for Hogswatchnight,
a problem with beginnings, of course. Sometimes, when you're dealing with
occult realms that have quite a different attitude to time, you get the
effect a little way before the cause.
on the edge of hearing came a glingleglingleglingle noise, like
little silver bells.
the same time as the Archchancellor was laying down the law, Susan Sto-Helit
was sitting up in bed, reading by candlelight.
curled across the windows.
these early evenings. Once she had put the children to bed she was more
or less left to herself. Mrs. Gaiter was pathetically scared of giving
her any instructions even though she paid Susan's wages.
the wages were important, of course. What was important was that she was
being her Own Person and holding down a Real Job. And being a governess
was a real job. The only tricky bit had been the embarrassment when her
employer found out that she was a duchess, because in Mrs. Gaiter's book,
which was a rather short book with big handwriting, the upper crust wasn't
supposed to work. It was supposed to loaf around. It was all Susan could
do to stop her curtseying when they met.
made her turn her head.
flame was streaming out horizontally, as though in a howling wind.
up. The curtains billowed away from the window, which flung itself open
with a clatter.
was no wind.
no wind in this world.
in her mind. A red ball ... The sharp smell of snow ... And then they
were gone, and instead there were ...
said Susan, aloud. "Teeth, again?"
When she opened her eyes the window was, as she knew it would be, firmly
shut. The curtain hung demurely. The candle flame was innocently upright.
Oh, no, not again. Not after all this time. Everything had been going
so well --
was a moonless night, which was good for the purposes of Solid
fished for Curious Squid, so called because, as well as being squid, they
were curious. That is to say, their curiosity was the curious thing about
after they got curious about the lantern that Solid had hung over the
stern of his boat, they started to become curious about the way in which
various of their number suddenly vanished skyward with a splash.
of them even became curious -- very briefly curious -- about the
sharp barbed thing that was coming very quickly toward them.
Curious Squid were extremely curious. Unfortunately, they weren't very
good at making connections.
was a very long way to this fishing ground, but for Solid the trip was
usually well worth it. The Curious Squid were very small, harmless, difficult
to find and reckoned by connoisseurs to have the foulest taste of any
creature in the world. This made them very much in demand in a certain
kind of restaurant where highly skilled chefs made, with great care, dishes
containing no trace of the squid whatsoever.
Jackson's problem was that tonight, a moonless night in the spawning season,
when the squid were especially curious about everything, the chef seemed
to have been at work on the sea itself.
was not a single interested eyeball to be seen. There weren't any other
fish either, and usually there were a few attracted to the light. He'd
caught sight of one. It had been making through the water extremely fast
in a straight line.
laid down his trident and walked to the other end of the boat, where his
son Les was also gazing intently at the torch-lit sea.
a thing in half an hour," said Solid.
sure we're in the right spot, Dad?"
squinted at the horizon. There was a faint glow in the sky that indicated
the city of Al-Khali, on the Klatchian coast. He turned round. The other
horizon glowed, too, with the lights of Ankh-Morpork. The boat bobbed
gently halfway between the two.
we are," he said, but certainty edged away from his words. Because there
was a hush on the sea. It didn't look right. The boat rocked a little, but
that was with their movement, not from any motion of the waves. It felt
as if there was going to be a storm. But the stars twinkled softly and there
was not a cloud in the sky.
stars twinkled on the surface of the water, too. Now that was something
you didn't often see.
reckon we ought to be getting out of here," Solid said.
pointed at the slack sail. "What're we going to use for wind, Dad?"
was then that they heard the splash of oars.
squinting hard, could just make out the shape of another boat, heading
toward him. He grabbed his boat-hook.
knows that's you, you thieving foreign bastard!"
oars stopped. A voice sang over the water.
you be consumed by a thousand devils, you damned person!"
other boat glided closer. It looked foreign with eyes painted on the prow.
'em all out, have you? I'll take my trident to you, you bottom-feedin'
scum that y'are!"
curvy sword at your neck, you unclean son of a dog of the female persuasion!"
looked over the side. Little bubbles fizzed on the surface of the sea.
Greasy Arif out there!" snapped his father. "You take a good look at him!
He's been coming out here for years, stealing our squid, the evil
lying little devil!"
get on them oars and I'll knock his black teeth out!"
could hear a voice saying from the other boat "-see, my son, how the underhanded
his father shouted.
the oars!" shouted someone in the other boat.
squid are they, Dad?" said Les.
even before we've caught them?"
you shut up and row!"
can't move the boat, Dad, we' re stuck on something!"
a hundred fathoms deep here, boy! What's there to stick on?"
tried to disentangle an oar from the thing rising slowly out of the fizzing
like a ... a chicken, Dad!"
was a sound from below the surface. It sounded like some bell or gong,
made of iron, Dad!"
scrambled to the rear of the boat.
was a chicken, made of iron. Seaweed and shells covered it and
water dripped off it as it rose against the stars.
stood on a cross-shaped perch.
seemed to be a letter on each of the four ends of the cross.
held the torch closer.
he pulled the oar free and sat down beside his son.
like the blazes, Les!"
up and row! Get us away from it!"
it a monster, Dad?"
worse than a monster, son!" shouted Solid, as the oars bit into the water.
thing was quite high now, standing on some kind of tower ... "What is
it, Dad! What is it?"
a damned weathercock."
was not, on the whole, a lot of geological excitement. The sinking
of continents is usually accompanied by volcanoes, earthquakes and armadas
of little boats containing old men anxious to build pyramids and mystic
stone circles in some new land where being the possessor of genuine ancient
occult wisdom might be expected to attract girls. But the rising of this
one caused barely a ripple in the purely physical scheme of things. It
more or less sidled back, like a cat who's been away for a few days and
knows you've been worrying.
the shores of the Circle Sea a large wave, only five or six feet high
by the time it reached them, caused some comment.
from The Last Continent
stars a turtle passes, carrying four elephants on its shell.
and elephants are bigger than people might expect, but out between the
stars the difference between huge and tiny is, comparatively speaking,
turtle and these elephants are, by turtle and elephant standards, big.
They carry the Discworld, with its vast lands, cloudscapes, and oceans.
live on the Disc any more than, in less hand-crafted parts of the
multiverse, they live on balls. Oh, planets may be the place where their
body eats its tea, but they live elsewhere, in worlds of their
own which orbit very handily around the center of their heads.
get together they tell the story of one particular planet whose inhabitants
watched, with mild interest, huge continent-wrecking slabs of ice slap
into another world which was in astronomical terms, right next door --
and then did nothing about it because that sort of thing only happens
in Outer Space. An intelligent species would at least have found
someone to complain to. Anyway, no one seriously believes in that story,
because a race quite that stupid would never even have discovered slood.
in all sorts of other things, though. For example, there are some people
who have a legend that the whole universe is carried in a leather bag
by an old man.
say: hold on, if he's carrying the entire universe in a sack, right, that
means he's carrying himself and the sack inside the sack, because
the universe contains everything. Including him. And the sack, of course.
Which contains him and the sack already. As it were.
the reply is: well?
myths are true, for a given value of "true."
It is a general
test of the omnipotence of a god that they can see the fall of a tiny
bird. But only one god makes notes, and a few adjustments, so that next
time it can fall faster and further.
We may find
find out why mankind is here, although that is more complicated and begs
the question "Where else should we be?" It would be terrible to think
that some impatient deity might part the clouds and say, "Damn, are you
lot still here? I thought you discovered slood ten thousand years ago!
I've got ten trillion tons of ice arriving on Monday!"
We may even
find out why the duck-billed platypus.
and wet, tumbled on to the lawns and roofs of Unseen University, the Discworld's
premier college of magic.
It was sticky
snow, which made the place look like some sort of expensive yet tasteless
ornament, and it caked around the boots of McAbre, the Head Bledlow, as
he trudged through the cold, wild night.
bledlows stepped out of the lee of a buttress and fell in behind him on
a solemn march towards the main gates.
It was an
old custom, centuries old, and in the summer a few tourists would hang
around to watch it, but the Ceremony of the Keys went on every night in
every season. Mere ice, wind and snow had never stopped it. Bledlows in
times gone past had clam-bered over tentacled monstrosities to do the
Ceremony; they'd waded through floodwater, flailed with their bowler hats
at errant pigeons, harpies and dragons, and ignored mere faculty members
who'd thrown open their bedroom windows and screamed imprecations on the
lines of "Stop that damn racket, will you? What's the point?" They'd
never stopped, or even thought of stopping. You couldn't stop Tradition.
You could only add to it.
men reached the shadows by the main gate, almost blotted out in the whirling
snow. The bledlow on duty was waiting for them.
Goes There?" he shouted.
"The Archchancellor's Keys!"
Bledlow took a step forward, extended both arms in front of him with his
palms bent back towards him, and patted his chest at the place where some
bledlow long buried had once had two breast pockets. Pat, pat. Then he
extended his arms by his sides and stiffly patted the sides of his jacket.
Have Sworn I Had Them A Moment Ago!" he bellowed, enunciating each word
with a sort of bulldog carefulness.
saluted. McAbre saluted.
Looked In All Your Pockets?"
The gatekeeper saluted. A small pyramid of snow was building up on his
I Must Have Left Them On The Dresser. It's Always The Same, Isn't It?"
Remember Where You Put Them Down!"
Perhaps They're In My Other Jacket!"
bledlow who was this week's Keeper of the Other Jacket stepped forward.
Each man saluted the other two. The youngest cleared his throat and managed
"No, I Looked
In ... There This ... Morning!"
him a slight nod to acknowledge a difficult job done well, and patted
his pockets again.
Stone The Crows, They Were In This Pocket After All! What A Muggins I
I Do The Same Myself!"
"Is My Face
Red! Forget My Own Head Next!"
in the darkness a window creaked up.
Keys, Then!" said McAbre, raising his voice.
if you could--" the querulous voice went on, apologizing for even thinking
And Secure" shouted the gatekeeper, handing the keys back.
keep it down a little --"
All Present!" screamed McAbre, veins standing out on his thick crimson
Where You Put Them This Time. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Ho! Ho! Ho!"
yelled McAbre, beside himself with fury. He saluted stiffly, went About
Turn with an unnecessarily large amount of foot stamping and the ancient
exchange completed, marched back to the bledlows' lodge muttering under
from Carpe Jugulum
shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to
earth --the earth, that is, of the Discworld -- but unlike any star had
ever done before, it sometimes managed to steer its fall, sometimes rising,
sometimes twisting, but inevitably heading down.
Snow glowed briefly on the mountain slopes when it crackled overhead.
Under it, the land itself started to fall away. The fire was reflected
off walls of blue ice as the light dropped into the beginnings of a canyon
and thundered now through its twists and turns.
The light snapped off. Something still glided down the moonlit ribbon
between the rocks.
It shot out
of the canyon at the top of a cliff, where meltwater from a glacier plunged
down into a distant pool.
Against all reason there was a valley here, or a network of valleys, clinging
to the edge of the mountains before the long fall to the plains. A small
lake gleamed in the warmer air. There were forests. There were tiny fields,
like a patchwork quilt thrown across the rocks.
The wind had died. The air was warmer.
began to circle.
Far below, unheeded and unheeding, something else was entering this little
handful of valleys. It was hard to see exactly what it was; furze rippled,
heather rustled, as if a very large army made of very small creatures
was moving with one purpose.
reached a flat rock that offered a magnificent view of the fields and
wood below, and there the army came out from among the roots. It was made
up of very small blue men, some wearing pointy blue caps but most of them
with their red hair uncovered. They carried swords. None of them was more
than six inches high.
They lined up and looked down into the new place and then, weapons waving,
raised a battle cry. It would have been more impressive if they'd all
agreed on one before, but as it was it sounded as though every single
small warrior had a battle cry of his very own and would fight anyone
who tried to take it away from him.
"Ach, stickit yer trakkans!"
"Gie you sich a kickin'!"
"Dere c'n onlie be whin t'ousand!"
"Nac mac Feegle wha hae!"
"Wha hae yersel, ya boggin!"
The little cup of valleys, glowing in the last shreds of evening sunlight,
was the kingdom of Lancre. From its highest points, people said, you could
see all the way to the rim of the world.
It was also
said, although not by the people who lived in Lancre, that below the rim,
where the seas thundered continuously over the edge, their home went through
space on the back of four huge elephants that in turn stood on the shell
of a turtle that was as big as the world.
The people of Lancre had heard of this. They thought it sounded about
right. The world was obviously flat, although in Lancre itself the only
truly flat places were tables and the top of some people's heads, and
certainly turtles could shift a fair load. Elephants, by all accounts,
were pretty strong too. There didn't seem any major gaps in the thesis,
so Lancrastrians left it at that.
that they didn't take an interest in the world around them. On the contrary,
they had a deep, personal and passionate involvement in it, but instead
of asking "why are we here?" they asked "is it going to rain before the
A philosopher might have deplored this lack of mental ambition, but only
if he was really certain about where his next meal was coming from.
In fact Lancre's
position and climate bred a hard-headed and straightforward people who
often excelled in the world down below. It had supplied the plains with
many of their greatest wizards and witches and, once again, the philosopher
might have marveled that such a four-square people could give the world
so many successful magical practitioners, being quite unaware that only
those with their feet on rock can build castles in the air.
And so the
sons and daughters of Lancre went off into the world, carved out careers,
climbed the various ladders of achievement, and always remembered to send
Apart from noting the return addresses on the envelope, those who stayed
didn't think much about the world outside.
The world outside thought about them, though.
The big flat-topped rock was deserted now, but on the moor below, the
heather trembled in a V-shape heading toward the lowlands.
"Nac mac Feegle!"
There are many kinds of vampires. Indeed, it is said that there are as
many kinds of vampires as there are types of disease. And they're not
just human (if vampires are human). All along the Ramtops may be found
the belief that any apparently innocent tool, be it hammer or saw, will
seek blood if left unused for more than three years. In Ghat they believe
in vampire watermelons, although folklore is silent about what they believe
about vampire watermelons. Possibly they suck back.
have traditionally puzzled vampire researchers. One is: why do vampires
have so much power? Vampires're so easy to kill, they point out. There
are dozens of ways to dispatch them, quite apart from the stake through
the heart, which also works on normal people so if you have any stakes
left over you don't have to waste them. Classically, they spent the day
in some coffin somewhere, with no guard other than an elderly hunchback
who doesn't look all that spry and should succumb to quite a small mob.
Yet just one can keep a whole community in a state of sullen obedience
. . .
puzzle is: why are vampires always so stupid? As if wearing evening dress
all day wasn't an undead giveaway, why do they choose to live in old castles
which offer so much in the way of ways to defeat a vampire, like easily
torn curtains and wall decorations that can readily be twisted into a
from The Fifth Elephant
the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves
stand on the back of a giant turtle.
that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron,
and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.
that the fifth elephant came screaming and trumpeting through the atmosphere
of the young world all those years ago and landed hard enough to split
continents and raise mountains.
No one actually
saw it land, which raised the interesting philosophical point: When millions
of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, but there is
no one to hear it, does it - philosophically speaking - make a noise?
And if there
was no one to see it hit, did it actually hit?
words, wasn't it just a story for children, to explain away some interesting
As for the
dwarfs, whose legend it is, and who mine a lot deeper than other people,
they say that there is a grain of truth in it.
On a clear
day, from the right vantage point on the Ramtops, a watcher could see
a very long way across the plains, If it was high rock and iron in their
dead form, as they are now, but living rock and iron. The dwarfs have
quite an inventive mythology about minerals, summer, they could count
the columns of dust as the ox trains plodded on at a top speed of two
miles an hour, each two pulling a train of two wagons carrying four tons
each. Things took a long time to get anywhere, but when they did, there
was certainly a lot of them.
To the cities
of the Circle Sea they carried raw material, and sometimes people who
were off to seek their fortune and a fistful of diamonds.
To the mountains
they brought manufactured goods, rare things from across the oceans, and
people who had found wisdom and a few scars.
usually a day's traveling between each convoy. They turned the landscape
into an unrolled time machine. On a clear day, you could see last Tuesday.
twinkled in the distant air as the columns flashed messages back and forth
about bandit presence, cargoes and the best place to get double egg, treble
chips and a steak that overhung the plate all around.
Lots of people
traveled on the carts. It was cheap, it beat walking, and you got there
traveled for free.
of one wagon was having problems with his team. They were skittish. He'd
expect this in the mountains, where all sorts of wild creatures might
regard the oxen as a traveling meal. Here there was nothing more dangerous
that cabbages, wasn't there?
down in a narrow space between the loads of cut lumber, something slept.
It was just another day in Ankh-Morpork ...
Colon balanced on a shaky ladder at one end of the Brass Bridge, one of
the city's busiest thoroughfares. He clung by one hand to the tall pole
with the box on top of it, and with the other he held a homemade picture
book up to the slot in the front of the box.
is another sort of cart," he said. "Got it?"
a very small voice from within the box.
said Colon, apparently satisfied. He dropped the book and pointed down
the length of the bridge.
see those two markers what has been painted across the cobbles?"
mean ... ?"
the little voice parroted.
And then you ... ?"
to show ... ?"
"And if it's
nighttime you ... ?"
Rodney. And one of us will come along every day and collect your pictures.
Got everything you want?"
down at the very large, brown upturned face, and smiled.
All," he said, climbing ponderously down the ladder. "What you're looking
at, Mister Jolson, is the modern Watch for the new millenienienum ...
"'S a bit
big, Fred," said All Jolson, looking at it critically. "I've seen lots
of smaller ones."
in City Watch, All."
too fast around here and Lord Vetinari'll be looking at his picture next
morning. The iconographs do not lie, All."
'Cos they're too stupid."
got fed up with carts speeding over the bridge, see, and asked us to do
something about it. I'm Head of Traffic now, you know."
just think so!" said Sergeant Colon expansively. "It's up to me to keep
the, er, arteries of the city from clogging up, leadin' to a complete
breakdown of commerce and ruination for us all. Most vital job there is,
you could say."
just you doing it, is it?"
spread through the city like wildfire (which had quite often spread through
Ankh-Morpork since its citizens had learned the words "fire insurance").The
dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...
through the fetid air of the Alchemists' quarter, where they had been
trying to do the same thing for centuries without success but were certain
that they'd manage it by tomorrow, or next Tuesday at least, or the end
of the month for definite.
speculation among the wizards at Unseen University, where they knew you
could turn one element into another element, provided you didn't mind
it turning back again next day, and where was the good in that? Besides,
most elements were happy where they were.
into the scarred, puffy, and sometimes totally missing ears of the Thieves'
Guild, where people put an edge on their crowbars. Who cared where the
gold came from?
can turn lead into gold ...
the cold but incredibly acute ears of the Patrician, and it did that fairly
quickly, because you did not stay ruler of Ankh-Morpork for long if you
were second with the news. He sighed and made a note of it, and added
it to a lot of other notes.
can turn lead into gold ...
the pointy ears of the dwarfs.
I know. I can't."
if you could, you wouldn't say. I wouldn't say, if I could."
It came to
the ears of the night watch of the city guards, as they did gate duty
at ten o'clock on an icy night. Gate duty in Ankh-Morpork was not taxing.
It consisted mainly of waving through anything that wanted to go through,
although traffic was minimal in the dark and freezing fog.
in the shelter of the gate arch, sharing one damp cigarette.
turn something into something else," said Corporal Nobbs. "The Alchemists
have been trying it for years."
"They a can
gen'rally turn a house into a hole in the ground," said Sergeant Colon.
I'm talking about," said Corporal Nobbs. "Can't be done. It's all to do
with ... elements. An alchemist told me. Everything's made up of elements,
right? Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and ... sunnink. Well-known fact. Everything's
got 'em all mixed up just right."
his feet in an effort to get some warmth into them.
"If it was
possible to turn lead into gold, everyone'd be doing it," he said.
could do it," said Sergeant Colon.
magic," said Nobby dismissively.
A large cart
rumbled out of the yellow clouds and entered the arch, splashing Colon
as it wobbled through one of the puddles that were such a feature of Ankh-Morpork's
he said, as it continued on into the city. But he didn't say it too loudly.
a lot of them pushing that cart," said Corporal Nobbs reflectively. It
lurched slowly around a comer and was lost to view.
all that gold," said Colon.
That'd be it, then."
And the rumor
came to the ears of William de Worde, and in a sense it stopped there,
because he dutifully wrote it down.
It was his
job. Lady Margolotta of Uberwald sent him five dollars a month to do it.
The Dowager Duchess of Quirm also sent him five dollars. So did King Verence
of Lancre, and a few other Ramtop notables. So did the Seriph of AI-Khali,
although in this case the payment was half a cartload of figs, twice a
All in all,
he considered, he was onto a good thing. All he had to do was write one
letter very carefully, trace it backwards onto a piece of boxwood provided
for him by Mr. Cripslock, the engraver in the Street of Cunning Artificers,
and then pay Mr. Cripslock twenty dollars to carefully remove the wood
that wasn't letters and make five impressions on sheets of paper.
it had to be done thoughtfully, with spaces left after "To my Noble Client
the," and so on, which he had to fill in later, but even deducting expenses
it still left him the best part of thirty dollars for little more than
one day's work a month.
A young man
without too many responsibilities could live modestly in Ankh-Morpork
on thirty or forty dollars a month; he always sold the figs, because although
it was possible to live on figs you soon wished you didn't.
were always additional sums to be picked up here and there. The world
of letters was a closed bo- mysterious papery object to many of Ankh-Morpork's
citizens, but if they ever did need to commit things to paper quite a
few of them walked up the creaky stairs past the sign "William de Worde:
Things Written Down."
example. Dwarfs were always coming to seek work in the city, and the first
thing they did was send a letter home saying how well they were doing.
This was such a predictable occurrence, even if the dwarf in question
was so far down on his luck that he'd been forced to eat his helmet, that
William had Mr. Cripslock produce several dozen stock letters which only
needed a few spaces filled in to be perfectly acceptable.
from Thief of Time
to the First Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised, Wen stepped out of
the cave where he had received enlightenment and into the dawning light
of the first day of the rest of his life. He stared at the rising sun
for some time, because he had never seen it before.
with a sandal the dozing form of Clodpool the Apprentice, and said: “I
have seen. Now I understand.”
Then he stopped
and looked at the thing next to Clodpool.
that amazing thing?” he said.
“Er . . .
er . . . it's a tree, master,” said Clodpool, still not quite awake. “Remember?
It was there yesterday.”
“Er . . .
er . . . I think there was, master,” said Clodpool, struggling to his
feet. “Remember? We came up here, and I cooked a meal, and had the rind
off your sklang because you didn't want it.”
yesterday,” said Wen, thoughtfully. “But the memory is in my head now.
Was yesterday real? Or is it only the memory that is real? Truly, yesterday
I was not born.”
face became a mask of agonized incomprehension.
Clodpool, I have learned everything,” said Wen. “In the cup of the hand
there is no past, no future. There is only now. There is no time but the
present. We have a great deal to do.”
hesitated. There was something new about his master. There was a glow
in his eyes and, when he moved, there were strange silvery-blue lights
in the air, like reflections from liquid mirrors.
told me everything,” Wen went on. “I know that time was made for men,
not the other way around. I have learned how to shape it and bend it.
I know how to make a moment last forever, because it already has. And
I can teach these skills even to you, Clodpool. I have heard the heartbeat
of the universe. I know the answers to many questions. Ask me.”
gave him a bleary look. It was too early in the morning for it to be early
in the morning. That was the only thing that he currently knew for sure.“Er
. . . what does master want for breakfast?” he said.
down from their camp, and across the snowfields and purple mountains to
the golden daylight creating the world, and mused upon certain aspects
said. “One of the difficult ones.”
to exist, it has to be observed.
to exist, it has to have a position in time and space.
explains why nine-tenths of the mass of the universe is unaccounted for.
of the universe is the knowledge of the position and direction of everything
in the other tenth. Every atom has its biography, every star its file,
every chemical exchange its equivalent of the inspector with a clipboard.
It is unaccounted for because it is doing the accounting for the rest
of it, and you cannot see the back of your own head.*
of the universe, in fact, is the paperwork. And if you want the story,
then remember that a story does not unwind. It weaves. Events that start
in different places and different times all bear down on that one tiny
point in space-time, which is the perfect moment.
emperor was persuaded to wear a new suit of clothes whose material was
so fine that, to the common eye, the clothes weren't there. And suppose
a little boy pointed out this fact in a loud clear voice . . .
have The Story Of The Emperor Who Had No Clothes.
But if you
knew a bit more, it would be The Story Of The Boy Who Got A Well-Deserved
Thrashing From His Dad For Being Rude To Royalty, And Was Locked Up.
Or The Story
Of The Whole Crowd That Was Rounded Up By The Guards And Told “This Didn't
Happen, Okay? Does Anyone Want To Argue?”
Or it could
be a story of how a whole kingdom suddenly saw the benefits of the “new
clothes,” and developed an enthusiasm for healthy sports in a lively and
refreshing atmosphere that gets many new adherents every year, which led
to a recession caused by the collapse of the conventional clothing industry.
even be a story about The Great Pneumonia Epidemic of '09.
It all depends
on how much you know.
watched the slow accretion of snow over thousands of years as it was compressed
and pushed over the deep rock until the glacier calved its icebergs into
the sea, and you watched an iceberg drift out through the chilly waters,
and you got to know its cargo of happy polar bears and seals as they looked
forward to a brave new life in the other hemisphere where they say the
ice floes are lined with crunchy penguins, and then wham'tragedy loomed
in the shape of thousands of tons of unaccountably floating iron and an
exciting soundtrack . . .
. . . you'd
want to know the whole story.
one starts with desks.
This is the
desk of a professional. It is clear that their job is their life. There
are . . . human touches, but they are the human touches that strict usage
allows in a chilly world of duty and routine.
on the only piece of real color in this picture of blacks and grays. It's
a coffee mug. Someone somewhere wanted to make it a jolly mug. It bears
a rather unconvincing picture of a teddy bear, and the legend “To The
World's Greatest Grandad,” and the slight change in the style of lettering
on the word “Grandad” makes it clear that this has come from one of those
stalls that have hundreds of mugs like these, declaring that they're for
the world's greatest Grandad/Dad/Mum/Granny/Uncle/Aunt/Blank. Only someone
whose life contains very little else, one feels, would treasure a piece
of gimcrackery like this.
holds tea, with a slice of lemon.
desktop also contains a paper knife in the shape of a scythe, and a number
up the mug in a skeletal hand . . .
. . . and
took a sip, pausing only to look again at the wording he'd seen thousands
of times before, and then put it down.