Feet of clay, p.1
Feet of Clay, p.1Part #19 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Feet of Clay
A Novel of Discworld®
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It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.
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 white velvet.
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…
There was 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.
“Well? What do you want at this time of night?”
The golem handed him a slate, on which was written:
WE HEAR YOU WANT A GOLEM.
Of course, golems couldn’t speak, could they?
“Hah. Want, yes. Afford, no. I’ve been asking around but it’s wicked the prices you’re going for these days…”
The golem rubbed the words off the slate and wrote:
TO YOU, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
“You’re for sale?”
The golem lurched aside. Another one stepped into the light.
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 kings, all haughty stance and imperious haircut. In fact, it even had a small coronet molded on to its head.
“A hundred dollars?” the man said suspiciously. “What’s wrong with it? Who selling it?”
NOTHING IS WRONG. PERFECT IN ALL DETAIL. NINETY DOLLARS.
“Sounds like someone wants to get rid of it in a hurry…”
GOLEM MUST WORK. GOLEM MUST HAVE A MASTER.
“Yeah, right, but you hear stories…Going mad and making too many things, and that.”
NOT MAD. EIGHTY DOLLARS.
“It looks…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?”
“I heard the priests banned making ’em years ago. A man could get in a lot of trouble.”
“Who’s doing it?”
“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…”
“Religion 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?”
“I’ve always 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?”
“Good. Tell your boss it’s a pleasure to do business with him. Get along inside, Sunny Jim.”
The white golem walked into the factory. The man, glancing from side to side, trotted in after it and shut the door.
Deeper shadows moved in the dark. There was a faint hissing. Then, rocking slightly, the big heavy shapes moved away.
Shortly afterwards, and around the corner, a beggar holding out a hopeful hand for alms was amazed to find himself suddenly richer by a whole thirty dollars.*
The Discworld 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.
People look 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 meteorology 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.
Geographically 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 life of its own.
And time moved on.
Autumn fog pressed itself against the midnight windowpanes.
Blood ran in a trickle across the pages of a rare volume of religious essays, which had been torn in half.
There had been no need for that, thought Father Tubelcek.
A further 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.
The room was spinning.
The door swung open. Heavy footsteps creaked across the floor—one footstep at least, and one dragging noise.
Step. Drag. Step. Drag.
Father Tubelcek tried to focus. “You?” he croaked.
The old priest watched as the books were retrieved and piled carefully with fingers not well suited to the task.
The newcomer took a quill pen from the debris, carefully wrote something on a scrap of paper, then rolled it up and placed it delicately between Father Tubelcek’s lips.
The dying priest tried to smile.
“We don’t work like that,” he mumbled, the little cylinder wobbling like a last cigarette, “We…make…our…own…w…”
The kneeling figure watched him for a while and then, taking great care, leaned forward slowly and closed his eyes.
Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Guard, frowned at himself in the mirror and began to shave.
The razor was a sword of freedom. Shaving was an act of rebellion.
These days, someone ran his bath (every day!—you wouldn’t think the human skin could stand it). And someone laid out his clothes (such clothes!). And someone cooked his meals (what meals!—He was putting on weight, he knew). And someone even polished his boots (and such boots!—no cardboard-soled wrecks but big, well-fitting boots of genuine shiny leather). There was someone to do nearly everything for him, but there were some things a man ought to do for himself, and one of them was shaving.
He knew that Lady Sybil mildly disapproved. Her father had never shaved himself in his life. He had a man for it. Vimes had protested that he’d spent too many years trudging the night-time streets to be happy about anyone else wielding a blade anywhere near his neck, but the real reason, the unspoken reason, was that he hated the very idea of the world being divided into the shaved and the shavers. Or those who wore the shiny boots and those who cleaned the mud off them. Every time he saw Willikins the butler fold his, Vimes’s, clothes, he suppressed a terrible urge to kick the butler’s shiny backside as an affront to the dignity of man.
The razor moved calmly over the stubble of the night.
Last night there had been some official dinner. He couldn’t recall now what it had been for. He seemed to spend his whole life at the things. Arch, giggling women and braying young men who’d been at the back of the line when the chins were handed out. And, as usual, he’d come back through the fog-bound city in a filthy temper with himself.
He’d noticed a light under the kitchen door and heard conversation and laughter, and had gone in. Willikins was there, with the old man who stoked the boiler, and the head gardener, and the boy who cleaned the spoons and lit the fires. They were playing cards. There were bottles of beer on the table.
He’d pulled up a chair, and cracked a few jokes and asked to be dealt in. They’d been…welcoming. In a way. But as the game progressed Vimes had been aware of the universe crystallizing around him. It was like becoming a cogwheel in a glass clock. There was no laughter. They’d called him “sir” and kept clearing their throats. Everything was very…careful.
Finally he’d mumbled an excuse and stumbled out. Halfway along the passage he’d thought he’d heard a comment followed by…well, maybe it was only a chuckle. But it might have been a snigger.
The razor carefully circumnavigated the nose.
Hah. A couple of years ago a man like Willikins would have allowed him into the kitchen only on sufferance. And would have made him take his boots off.
So that’s your life now, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes. A jumped-up copper to the nobs and a nob to the rest, eh?
He frowned at the reflection in the mirror.
He’d started out in the gutter, true enough. And now he was on three meat meals a day, good boots, a warm bed at night and, come to that, a wife too. Good old Sybil—although she did tend to talk about curtains these days, but Sergeant Colon had said this happened to wives and was a biological thing and perfectly normal.
He’d actually been rather attached to his old cheap boots. He could read the street in them, the soles were so thin. It’d got so that he could tell where he was on a pitch-dark night just by the feel of the cobbles. Ah, well…
There was something mildly strange about Sam Vimes’s shaving mirror. It was slightly convex, so that it reflected more of the room than a flat mirror would do, and it gave a very good view of the outbuildings and gardens beyond the window.
Hmm. Going thin on top. Definitely a receding scalp there. Less hair to comb but, on the other hand, more face to wash…
There was a flicker in the glass.
He moved sideways and ducked.
The mirror smashed.
There was the sound of feet somewhere beyond the broken window, and then a crash and a scream.
Vimes straightened up. He fished the largest piece of mirror out of the shaving bowl and propped it up on the black crossbow bolt that had buried itself in the wall.
He finished shaving.
Then he rang the bell for the butler. Willikins materialized. “Sir?”
Vimes rinsed the razor. “Get the boy to nip along to the glazier, will you?”
The butler’s eyes flickered to the window and then to the shattered mirror. “Yes, sir. And the bill to go to the Assassins’ Guild again, sir?”
“With my compliments. And while he’s out he’s to call in at that shop in Five And Seven Yard and get me another shaving mirror. The dwarf there knows the kind I like.”
“Yes, sir. And I shall fetch a dustpan and brush directly, sir. Shall I inform her ladyship of this eventuality, sir?”
“No. She always says it’s my fault for encouraging them.”
“Very good, sir,” said Willikins.
Sam Vimes dried himself off and went downstairs to the morning-room, where he opened the cabinet and took out the new crossbow Sybil had given to him as a wedding present. Sam Vimes was used to the old guard crossbows, which had a nasty habit of firing backwards in a tight corner, but this was a Burleigh and Stronginthearm made-to-measure job with the oiled walnut stock. There was none finer, it was said.
Then he selected a thin cigar and strolled out into the garden.
There was a commotion coming from the dragon house. Vimes entered, and shut the door behind him. He rested the crossbow against the door.
The yammering and squeaking increased. Little gouts of flame puffed above the thick walls of the hatching pens.
Vimes leaned over the nearest one. He picked up a newly hatched dragonette and tickled it under the chin. As it flamed excitedly he lit his cigar and savored the smoke.
He blew a smoke ring at the figure hanging from the ceiling. “Good morning,” he said.
The figure twisted frantically. By an amazing piece of muscle control it had managed to catch a foot around a beam as it fell, but it couldn’t quite pull itself up. Dropping was not to be thought of. A dozen baby dragons were underneath it, jumping up and down excitedly and flaming.
“Er…good morning,” said the hanging figure.
“Turned out nice again,” said Vimes, picking up a bucket of coal. “Although the fog will be back later, I expect.”
He took a small nugget of coal and tossed it to the dragons. They squabbled for it.
Vimes gripped another lump. The young dragon that had caught the coal already had a distinctly longer and hotter flame.
“I suppose,” said the young man, “that I could not prevail upon you to let me down?”
Another dragon caught some thrown coal and belched a fireball. The young man swung desperately to avoid it.
“Guess,” said Vimes.
“I suspect on reflection, that it was foolish of me to choose the roof,” said the assassin.
“Probably,” said Vimes. He’d spent several hours a few weeks ago sawing through joists and carefully balancing the roof tiles.
“I should have dropped off the wall and used the shrubbery.”
“Possibly,” said Vimes. He’d set a bear-trap in the shrubbery.
He took some more coal. “I suppose you wouldn’t tell me who hired you?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. You know the rules.”
Vimes nodded gravely. “We had Lady Selachii’s son up before the Patrician last week,” said Vimes. “Now, there’s a lad who needs to learn that ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘yes, please’.”
“Could be, sir.”
“And then there was that business with Lord Rust’s boy. You can’t shoot servants for putting your shoes the wrong way round, you know. It’s too messy. He’ll have to learn right from left like the rest of us. And right from wrong, too.”
“I hear what you say, sir.”
“We seem to have reached an impasse,” said Vimes.
“It seems so, sir.”
Vimes aimed a lump at a small bronze and green dragon, which caught it expertly. The heat was getting intense.
“What I don’t understand,” he said, “is why you fellows mainly try it here or at the office. I mean, I walk around a lot, don’t I? You could shoot me down in the street, couldn’t you?”
“What? Like some common murderer, sir?”
Vimes nodded. It was black and twisted, but the Assassins’ Guild had honor of a sort. “How much was I worth?”
“Twenty thousand, sir.”
“It should be higher,” said Vimes.
“I agree.” If the assassin got back to the guild it would be, Vimes thought. Assassins valued their own lives quite highly.
“Let me see now,” said Vimes, examining the end of his cigar. “Guild takes fifty per cent. That leaves ten thousand dollars.”
The assassin seemed to consider this, and then reached up to his belt and tossed a bag rather clumsily towards Vimes, who caught it.
Vimes picked up his crossbow. “It seems to me,” he said, “that if a man were to be let go he might well make it to the door with no more than superficial burns. If he were fast. How fast are you?”
There was no answer.
“Of course, he’d have to be desperate,” said Vimes, wedging the crossbow on the feed table and taking a piece of cord out of his pocket. He lashed the cord to a nail and fastened the other end to the crossbows string. Then, standing carefully to one side, he eased the trigger.
The string moved slightly.
The assassin, watching him upside-down seemed to have stopped breathing.
Vimes puffed at his cigar until the end was an inferno. Then he took it out of his mouth and leaned it against the restraining cord so that it would have just a fraction of an inch to burn before the string began to smolder.
“I’ll leave the door unlocked,” he said. “I’ve never been an unreasonable man. I shall watch your career with interest.”
He tossed the rest of the coals to the dragons, and stepped outside.
It looked like being another eventful day in Ankh-Morpork, and it had only just begun.
As Vimes reached the house he heard a whoosh, a click, and the sound of someone running very fast towards the ornamental lake. He smiled.
Willikins was waiting with his coat. “Remember you have an appointment with his Lordship at eleven, Sir Samuel.”
“Yes, yes,” said Vimes.
“And you are to go and see the Heralds at ten. Her ladyship was very explicit, sir. Her exact words were, ‘Tell him he’s not to try to wriggle out of it again’, sir.”
“Oh, very well.”
“And her ladyship said please to try not to upset anyone.”
“Tell her I’ll try.”
“And your sedan chair is outside, sir.”
Vimes sighed. “Thank you. There’s a man in the ornamental lake. Fish him out and give him a cup of tea, will you? Promising lad, I thought.”
The chair. Oh, yes, the chair. It had been a wedding present from the Patrician. Lord Vetinari knew that Vimes loved walking the streets of the city, and so it was very typical of the man that he presented him with something that did not allow him to do so.
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett / Fantasy / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes