There was a yell in the distance. And then a crash. Ridcully smiled. The day had suddenly brightened up.
When he and Ponder reached the Great Hall, most of the team were gathered around one of their members lying on the floor, with Nutt kneeling over him.
'What's happened here?' Ridcully demanded.
'Badly bruised, sir. I shall put a compress on it.'
'Ah.' His gaze fell upon a large, brass-bound chest. It looked at first sight like any other chest, until you saw the tiny little toes poking out.
'Rincewind's luggage,' he growled. 'And where that is, Rincewind can't be far in front. Rincewind!'
'Actually, it wasn't my fault,' said Rincewind.
'He's right, sir,' said Nutt. 'I have to apologize for the fact that this was a group misapprehension. I understand it is a remarkably magical chest on hundreds of little legs and I am afraid that the gentlemen here believed that it would play football like stink, as they put it. In which surmise, I have to say, they were proved wrong.'
'I tried to tell them,' said the former Dean from the edge of the crowd. 'Morning, Mustrum. Good team you have here.'
'All its feet do is get in each other's way,' said Bengo Macarona. 'And if it does get on top of the ball, it spins out of control and, alas, it crashed into Mister Sopworthy here.'
'Oh, well, we learn by our mistakes,' said Ridcully. 'And now, do you happen to have something nice to show me?'
'I think I have the very thing, Archchancellor,' said a cheerful but reedy voice behind him.
Ridcully turned and looked into the face of a man with the shape and urgency of a piccolo. He seemed to be vibrating on the spot.
'Professor Ritornello, Master of the Music,' Ponder whispered into Ridcully's ear.
'Ah, Professor,' said Ridcully smoothly, 'and I see you have the choir with you.'
'Yes indeed, Archchancellor, and I must tell you, I am thrilled and filled with inner light by what I have witnessed this morning! Without ado, I have penned a chant, such as you asked for!'
'Did I?' said Ridcully, out of the corner of his mouth.
'You will remember that chanting was mentioned and so I thought it best to alert the professor,' whispered Ponder.
'Another pp, eh? Oh, well.'
'Happily, it is based on the traditional plainchant or stolation form and is a valedicta, or hail to the winner. May I?' said Professor Ritornello. 'It is a cappella, of course.'
'Go ahead, by all means,' said Ridcully.
The Master of the Music pulled a short baton out of his sleeve. 'I've put the name of Bengo Macarona in there for a marker at the moment, because he has apparently scored two fine "goals", as I believe they are called,' he said, dealing carefully with the word as one might deal with a large spider in the bathtub. Then he caught the eyes of his little flock, nodded, and: Hail the unique qualities of Magister Bengo Macarona! Of Macarona the unique qualities Hail! Hail the! Hail the! The singular talent possessed by no other! Hail! Hail the! Hail the bountiful gods! Who to the, two the - SINGULA SINGULAR SINGULA!
After a minute and a half of this Ridcully coughed loudly, and the Master waved the choir into a stuttering silence.
'Is there something untoward, Archchancellor?'
'Er, not as such, Master, but, er, do you not feel that it is a bit too, well, long?' Ridcully was aware that the former Dean was not trying very hard to suppress a snigger.
'Not at all. In fact, sir, I intend that when it is finished it will be scored for forty voices and, though I dare to say so, will be my masterwork!'
'But it is something for football fans to sing, you see?' said Ridcully.
'Well then,' said the Master, holding his baton in a rather threatening manner, 'is it not the duty of the educated classes to raise the standards of the lower orders?'
'He's got a point there, Mustrum,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, and Ridcully felt his grandfather kick him in the heredity, and was glad that maid wasn't here-what was her name now? Oh, yes, Glenda, smart woman-but although she was not there he saw something of her expression in Trev Likely's face.
'During the week, possibly,' he snapped, 'but not on Saturdays, I think. But very well done, anyway, and I look forward to hearing more of your efforts.'
The Master of the Music flounced out with the choir flouncing out in perfect unison behind him.
Ridcully rubbed his hands together. 'Well, gentlemen, perhaps you could show me your moves.'
While the players spread out in the Hall, Nutt said, 'I must say that Professor Macarona is excelling at the game. He clearly has excellent ball skills.'
'I'm not surprised,' said Ridcully brightly.
'The Librarian is, of course, an excellent keeper of the goal. Especially since he can stand in the middle and reach either side of it. I believe that it will be very hard for any of our opponents to get past him. And, of course, you will be partaking also, Archchancellor.'
'Oh, you don't become Archchancellor if you don't get the hang of things quickly. I will just watch for now.'
He watched. After the second occasion when Macarona, like a silver streak, ran the length of the Hall to flick the ball into the opponents' goal, Ridcully turned to Ponder and said, 'We're going to win, aren't we?'
'If indeed he is still playing for you,' put in the former Dean.
'Oh, come now, Henry. Can we at least agree to just play one game at a time here?'
'Well, I think today's session should end pretty soon, sir,' said Ponder. 'It's the banquet tonight after all and it will take some time to get the place ready.'
'Excuse me, guv, that's right,' said Trev behind him, 'and we've got to get the chandelier down an' put new candles in.'
'Yes, but we have been practising a little demonstration for tonight. Maybe the Archchancellor would like to see it,' said Nutt.
Ridcully looked at his watch. 'Well, yes, Mister Nutt, but time is getting on and so I look forward to seeing it later. Splendid effort all round, though,' he boomed.
The night market was setting up in Sator Square as Glenda and Juliet arrived for work. Ankh-Morpork lived on the street, where it got its food, entertainment and, in a city with a ferocious housing shortage, a place to hang around until there was space on a floor. Stalls had been set up anywhere, and flares filled the early-evening air with stink and, almost as a by-product, a certain amount of light.
Glenda could never resist looking, especially now. She was very good at all sorts of cookery, she really was, and it was important to keep that knowledge at the calm centre of her spinning brain. And there was Verity Pushpram, queen of the sea.
Glenda had a lot of time for Miss Pushpram, who was a self-made woman, although she could have used some help when it came to her eyes, which were set so far apart that she rather resembled a turbot.
But Verity, like the ocean that was making her fortune these days, had hidden depths, because she'd made enough to buy a boat, and then another boat and a whole aisle in the fish market. But she still woman-handled her barrow to the square most evenings, where she sold whelks, shrimps, leather crabs, blossom prawns, monkey clams and her famous hot fish sticks.
Glenda often bought from her; there was the kind of respect you give to an equal who is, crucially, no threat to your own position.
'Going to the big bun fight, girls?' said Verity cheerfully, waving a halibut at them.
'Yes,' said Juliet proudly.
'What, both of you?' said Verity, with a glance towards Glenda, who said, firmly, 'The Night Kitchen is expanding.'
'Oh well, so long as you're having fun,' said Verity, looking, in theory, from one to the other. 'Here, have one of these, they're lovely. My treat.'
She reached down and picked a crab out of a bucket. As it came up it turned out that three more were hanging on to it.
'A crab necklace?' giggled Juliet.
'Oh, that's crabs for you,' said Verity, disentangling the ones who had hitched a ride. 'Thick as planks, the lot of them. That's why you can keep them in a bucket without a lid. Any that tries to get out gets pulled back. Yes, as thick as planks.' Verity held the crab over an ominously bubbling cauldron. 'Shall I cook it for you now?'
'No!' said Glenda, much louder than she had intended.
'Are you okay, dear?' Verity enquired. 'You look a bit ill.'
'I'm fine. Fine. Just a touch of a sore throat, that's all.' Crab bucket, she thought. I thought Pepe was talking nonsense. 'Erm, can you just truss it up for us? It's going to be a long night.'
'Right you are,' said Miss Pushpram, expertly wrapping the unresisting crab in twine. 'You know what to do, that's certain. Lovely crabs, these, real good eating. But thick as planks.'
Crab bucket, thought Glenda as they hurried towards the Night Kitchen. That's how it works. People from the Sisters disapproving when a girl takes the trolley bus. That's crab bucket. Practically everything my mum ever told me, that's crab bucket. Practically everything I've ever told Juliet, that's crab bucket, too. Maybe it's just another word for the Shove. It's so nice and warm on the inside that you forget that there's an outside. The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is you... The realization had her mind on fire.
A lot hinges on the fact that, in most circumstances, people are not allowed to hit you with a mallet. They put up all kinds of visible and invisible signs that say 'Do not do this' in the hope that it'll work, but if it doesn't, then they shrug, because there is, really, no real mallet at all. Look at Juliet talking to all those nobby ladies. She didn't know that she shouldn't talk to them like that. And it worked! Nobody hit her on the head with a hammer.
And custom and practice as embodied by Mrs Whitlow was that the Night Kitchen staff should not go above stairs, to where the light was comparatively clean and had not already been through a lot of other eyeballs. Well, Glenda had done that, and nothing bad had happened, had it? So now Glenda strode towards the Great Hall, her serviceable shoes hitting the floor enough to hurt. The Day girls said nothing as she marched in behind them. There was nothing for them to say. The real unwritten rule was that girls on the dumpy side didn't serve at table when guests were present, and Glenda had decided tonight that she couldn't read unwritten rules. Besides, there was a row already going on. The servants who were laying out the cutlery were trying to keep an eye on it, which subsequently meant that more than one guest had to eat with two spoons.
Glenda was amazed to see the Candle Knave waving his hands at Trev and Nutt, and she headed for them. She did not like Smeems very much; a man could be dogmatic, and that was all right, or he could be stupid, and no harm done, but stupid and dogmatic at the same time was too much, especially fluxed with body odour.
'What's this all about?'
It worked. The right tone from a woman with her arms folded always bounces an answer out of an unprepared man before he has time to think, and even before he has time to think up a lie.
'They raised the chandelier! They raised it without lighting the candles! We won't have enough time now to get it down and up again before the guests come in!'
'But, Mister Smeems - ' Trev began.
'And all I get is talking back and lies,' Smeems complained bitterly.
'But I can light them from here, Mister Smeems.' Nutt spoke quietly, even his voice huddling.
'Don't give me that! Even wizards can't do that without getting wax all over the place, you little - '
'That's enough, Mister Smeems,' said a voice that to Glenda's surprise turned out to be hers. 'Can you light them, Mister Nutt?'
'Yes, miss. At the right time.'
'There you are, then,' said Glenda. 'I suggest you leave it to Mister Nutt.' Smeems looked at her, and she could see there was, as it were, an invisible mallet in his thinking, a feeling that he might get into some trouble here.
'I should run along now,' she said.
'I can't stand around. I'm a man with responsibilities.' Smeems looked wrong-footed and bewildered, but from his point of view absence was a good idea. Glenda almost saw his brain reach the conclusion. Not being there diluted the blame for whatever it was that was going to go wrong. 'Can't stand around,' he repeated. 'Ha! You'd all be in the dark if it wasn't for me!' With that, he grabbed his greasy bag and scuttled off.
Glenda turned to Nutt. He can't possibly make himself smaller, she told herself. His clothes would fit him even worse than they do already. I must be imagining it.
'Can you really light the candles from here?' she said aloud. Nutt carried on staring at the floor.
Glenda turned to Trev. 'Can he really - ' but Trev was not there, because Trev was leaning against the wall some distance away talking to Juliet.
She could read it all at a glance, his possessive stance, her modestly downcast eyes: not hanky panky, as such, but certainly overture and beginners to hanky panky. Oh, the power of words...
As you watch, so are you watched. Glenda looked down into the penetrating eyes of Nutt. Was that a frown? What had he seen in her expression? More than she wanted, that was certain.
The tempo in the Hall was increasing. The football captains would be assembling in one of the anterooms, and she could imagine them there, in clean shirts, or at least in shirts less grubby than usual, dragged here from the various versions of Botney Street all over the city, staring up at the wonderful vaulting and wondering if they were going to walk out of there dead. Huh, she tagged on to that thought, more likely it would be dead drunk. And, just as her brain began to pivot around that new thought, a severe voice behind her said, 'Hwe do not usually expect to see you in the Great Hall, Glenda?'
It had to be Mrs Whitlow. Only the housekeeper would pronounce 'we' with an H and finish a plain statement as if it were a question. Besides, without turning round, Glenda heard the clink of her silver chatelaine, reputed to hold the one key that could open any lock in the university, and the creaking of her fearsome corsetry.
Glenda turned. There is no mallet! 'I thought you might need a few extra hands tonight, Mrs Whitlow,' she said sweetly.
'Nevertheless, custom and practice - '
'Ah, dear Mrs Whitlow, I think we're ready to let them through now. His lordship's coach will shortly be leaving the palace,' said the Archchancellor, behind them.
Mrs Whitlow could loom. But mostly only horizontally. Mustrum Ridcully could out-loom her by more than two feet. She turned hurriedly and gave the little half-curtsy which, he'd never dared tell her, he always found mildly annoying.
'Oh, and Miss Glenda, isn't it?' said the Archchancellor happily. 'Good to see you up here. Very useful young lady, Mrs Whitlow. Got initiative, fine grasp of things.'
'How kind of you to say so. She is one of my best girls,' said the housekeeper, spitting teeth and taking care not to meet Glenda's suddenly cherubic gaze.
'Big chandelier not lit, I see,' said Ridcully.
Glenda stepped forward. 'Mister Nutt is planning a surprise for us, sir.'
'Mister Nutt is full of surprises. We've had an amazing day here today, Miss Glenda,' said Ridcully. 'Our Mister Nutt has been teaching the lads to play football his way. Do you know what he did yesterday? You'll never guess. Tell them, Mister Nutt.'
'I took them along to the Royal Opera House to watch the dancers in training,' said Nutt nervously. 'You see, it is very important that they learn the skills of movement and poise.'
'And then when they came back,' said Ridcully, with the same, slightly threatening joviality, 'he had them playin' here in the Hall blindfolded.'
Nutt coughed nervously. 'It is vital for them to keep track of every other player,' he said. 'It is essential that they are a team.'
'And then he took them to see Lord Rust's hunting dogs.'
Nutt coughed again, even more embarrassed. 'When they hunt, every dog knows the position of every other dog. I wanted them to understand the duality of team and player. The strength of the player is the team and the strength of the team is the player.'
'Did you hear that?' said Ridcully. 'Great stuff! Oh, he's had them running up and down here all day long. Balancing balls on their heads, doing big diagrams on a blackboard. You'd think it was some kind of battle being planned.'
'It is a battle,' said Nutt. 'I mean, not with the opposing team, as such, but it is a battle between every man and himself.'
'That sounds very Uberwaldian,' said Ridcully. 'Still, they all seem full of vim and vigour and ready for the evening. I think Mister Nutt is planning one of those sunny luminair things.'
'Just a little something to capture people's attention,' said Nutt.
'Anything going to go off bang?' said Ridcully.
'Promise? Personally I like the occasional bit of Sturm and Drang, but Lord Vetinari is a tad particular about that sort of thing.'
'No thunder and lightning, sir. Possibly a brief haze, high up.'
It seemed to Glenda that the Archchancellor was paying some thoughtful attention to Nutt.
'How many languages do you speak, you... Nutt?'
'Three dead and twelve living, sir,' said Nutt.
'Really. Really,' said Ridcully, as though filing this away and trying not to think How many of them were alive before you murdered them? 'Well done. Thank you, Mister Nutt, and you too, ladies. We will bring them in shortly.'
Glenda took this opportunity to get out of Mrs Whitlow's way. She was not pleased to see that Trev and Juliet had already taken a slightly earlier opportunity to get out of hers.
'Do not worry about Juliet,' said Nutt, who had followed her.
'Who said I was worried?' Glenda snapped.
'You did. Your expression, your stance, the set of your body, your... reactions, your tone of voice. Everything.'
'You have no business to be looking at my everything¨CI mean the set of my body!'
'It is simply the way you stand, Miss Glenda.'
'And you can read my mind?'
'It may appear that way. I am so sorry.'
'And Juliet. What was she thinking?'
'I am not sure, but she likes Mister Trev, she thinks he is funny.'
'So have you read Trev's everything? Bet that was a dirty book!'
'Er, no, miss. He is worried and confused. I would say he is trying to see what kind of man he is going to be.'
'Really? He's always been a scallywag.'
'He is thinking of his future.'
Across the Hall, the big doors opened just as the last scurrying servants reached their stations.
This made no impression on Glenda, lost in thought as she wrestled with the prospect that a leopard might change his shorts. He has been a bit quiet lately, I must admit. And he did write her that lovely poem... That should mean a lot, a poem. Who'd have thought it? It's not like him at all -
With atomic speed Nutt was suddenly missing, and the doors stood wide, and here came the captains with their retinues, and all of them were nervous and some of them were wearing unaccustomed suits, and some of them were walking a little unsteadily even now, because the wizards' idea of an aperitif had bite, and in the kitchen plates would be being filled and the chefs would be cursing and the ovens clanging as they... as they... What was the menu, anyway?
Life as an unseen part of Unseen University was a matter of alliances, feuds, obligations and friendships, all stirred and twisted and woven together.
Glenda was good at it. The Night Kitchen had always been generous to other toilers and right now the Great Hall owed her favours, even if all she had done was keep her mouth shut. Now she bore down on Shiny Robert, one of the head waiters, who gave her the cautious nod due to someone who knew things about you that you wouldn't want your mother to know.
'Got a menu?' she asked. One was produced from under a napkin. She read it in horror.
'That's not the stuff they like!'
'Oh dear, Glenda,' Robert smirked. 'Are you saying it's too good for them?'
'You're giving them Avec. Nearly every dish has got Avec in it, but stuff with Avec in the name is an acquired taste. I mean, do these look to you like people who habitually eat in a foreign language? Oh dear, and you are giving them beer! Beer with Avec!'
'A choice of wines is available. They are choosing beer,' said Robert coldly.
Glenda stared at the captains. They seemed to be enjoying themselves now. Here was free food and drink and if the food tasted strange there was plenty of it, and the beer tasted welcomely familiar and there was lots of that, too.
She didn't like this. Heavens knew that football had got pretty disgusting these days, but... well, she couldn't quite work out what she was uneasy about, but -
' 'scuse me, miss?'
She looked down. A young footballer had decided to confide in the only uniformed woman he could see who was not carrying at least two plates at once.
'Can I help?'
He lowered his voice. 'This chutney tastes of fish, miss.'
She looked at the other grinning faces around the table. 'It's called caviar, sir. It'll put lead in your pencil.'
The table, as one well-oiled drinker, guffawed, but the youth only looked puzzled. 'I haven't got a pencil, miss.' More amusement.
'There's not a lot of them around,' said Glenda, and left them laughing.
'So kind of you to invite me, Mustrum,' said Lord Vetinari, waving away the hors d'oeuvres. He turned to the wizard on his right. 'And the Archchancellor formerly known as Dean is back with you, I see. That is capital.'
'You may remember that Henry went to Pseudopolis-Brazeneck, you know. He is, er... ' Ridcully slowed.
'The new Archchancellor,' said Vetinari. He picked up a spoon and perused it carefully, as if it were a rare and curious object. 'Dear me. I thought that there could be only one Archchancellor. Is this not so? One above all others and one Hat, of course? But these are wizardly matters, of which I know little. So do excuse me if I have misunderstood.' In the gently turning bowl of the spoon his nose went from long to short. 'However, it occurs to me, as an onlooker, that this could lead to a little friction, perhaps.' The spoon stopped in mid twirl.
'A soupçon, perhaps,' said Ridcully, not looking in the direction of Henry.
'That much, indeed? But I surmise from the absence of people being turned into frogs that you gentlemen have forgone the traditional option of magical mayhem. Well done. When it comes to the pinch, old friends, united by the bonds of mutual disrespect, cannot bring themselves to actually kill one another. We have hope. Ah, soup.'
There was a brief interregnum as the ladle went from bowl to bowl, and then the Patrician said, 'Could I assist you? I am without any bias in this matter.'
'Excuse me, my lord, but I think it might be said that you would favour Ankh-Morpork,' said the Archchancellor formerly known as Dean.
'Really? It might also be said that it would be in my interest to weaken the perceived power of this university. You take my meaning? The delicate balance between town and gown, the unseen and the mundane? The twin foci of power. It might be said that I could take the opportunity to embarrass my learned friend.' He smiled a little smile. 'Do you still own the official Archchancellor's Hat, Mustrum? I notice that you don't wear it these days and tend to prefer the snazzy number with the rather attractive drawers and the small drinks cabinet in the point.'
'I never liked wearing the official one. It grumbled all the time.'
'It really can talk?' said Vetinari.
'I think the word "nag" would be far more accurate, since its only topic of conversation has been how much better things used to be. My only comfort here is that every Archchancellor over the last thousand years has complained about it in exactly the same way.'
'So it can think and speak?' said Vetinari innocently.
'Well, I suppose you could put it like that.'
'Then you can't own it, Mustrum: a hat that thinks and speaks cannot be enslaved. No slaves in Ankh-Morpork, Mustrum.' He waved a finger waggishly.
'Yes, but it is the look of the thing. What would it look like if I gave up the uniqueness of Archchancellorship without a fight?'
'I really could not say,' said Lord Vetinari, 'but since just about every genuine battle between wizards has hitherto resulted in wholesale destruction, I feel that you would at least look a little embarrassed. And, of course, I will remind you that you were quite happy that Archchancellor Bill Rincewind at Bugarup University cheerfully calls himself Archchancellor.'
'Yes, but he's a long way away,' said Ridcully. 'And Fourecks doesn't really count as anywhere, whereas in Pseudopolis we are talking about a Johnny-come-lately of an organization and its - '
'So are we then merely arguing over the question of distance?' said Vetinari.
'No, but - ' said Ridcully and stopped.
'Is this worth the argument, I ask you?' said Vetinari. 'What we have here, gentlemen, is but a spat between the heads of a venerable and respected institution and an ambitious, relatively inexperienced, and importunate new school of learning.'
'Yes, that's what we've got all right,' said Ridcully.
Vetinari raised a finger. 'I hadn't finished, Archchancellor. Let me see now. I said that what we have here is a spat between an antique and somewhat fossilized, elderly and rather hidebound institution and a college of vibrant newcomers full of fresh and exciting ideas.'
'Here, hang on, you didn't say that the first time,' said Ridcully.
Vetinari leaned back. 'Indeed I did, Archchancellor. Do you not remember our talk about the meaning of words a little while ago? Context is everything. I suggest, therefore, that you allow the head of Brazeneck University the opportunity to wear the official Archchancellor's Hat for a short time.'
You had to pay close attention to what Lord Vetinari said. Sometimes the words, while clearly docile, had a tendency to come back and bite.
'Play the football for the Hat,' said Vetinari.
He looked at their faces. 'Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Do take a moment to consider this. The importance of the Hat is enhanced. The means by which the wizards strive are not primarily magical. The actual striving and indeed the rivalry will, I think, be good for both universities and people will be interested, whereas in the past when wizards have argued they have had to hide in the cellars. Please do not answer me too quickly, otherwise I will think you have not thought about this enough.'
'As a matter of fact, I can think very fast indeed,' said Ridcully. 'It will simply be no contest. It will be totally unfair.'
'It certainly will,' said Henry.
'Ah, you both feel that it will be totally unfair,' said Vetinari.
'Indeed. We have a much younger faculty and the brisk and healthy playing fields of Pseudopolis.'
'Capital,' said Lord Vetinari. 'It seems to me that we have a challenge. University against university. City, as it were, against city. Warfare, as it were, without the tedious necessity of picking up all those heads and limbs afterwards. All things must strive, gentlemen.'
'I suppose I have to agree,' said Ridcully. 'It's not as if I'm going to lose the Hat in any case. I must note, though, Havelock, that you do not allow many challenges to your position.'
'Oh, but I am challenged very frequently,' said Lord Vetinari. 'It's just that they don't win. Incidentally, gentlemen, I did notice in today's paper that the new voters of Pseudopolis yesterday voted not to have to pay taxes. When you see the president again, please don't hesitate to tell him that I will be more than happy to advise him when he feels it is necessary. Cheer up, gentlemen. Neither of you has got exactly what you want, but both of you have got exactly what you deserve. If the leopard can change his shorts, a wizard can change his hat. And the leopard must change his shorts, gentlemen, or we are all doomed.'
'Are you referring to the Loko business?' said Henry. 'You needn't look surprised.'
'I don't intend to. I am surprised,' said Vetinari, 'but please credit me with not looking surprised unless, of course, there is some advantage in doing so.'
'We are going to have to do something. The expedition found a nest of the damn things!'
'Yes. Children, which they killed,' said Vetinari.
'Pups that they exterminated!'
'Indeed? And what do you suggest?'
'We are talking about a very evil force here!'
'Archchancellor, I see evil when I look in my shaving mirror. It is, philosophically, present everywhere in the universe in order, apparently, to highlight the existence of good. I think there is more to this theory, but I tend to burst out laughing at this point. I take it that you are behind the idea of an expeditionary force to Far Uberwald?'
'Of course!' said the former Dean.
'It has been tried once before. It was tried twice before that. Why is there a certain cast of the military mind which leads sensible people to do again, with gusto, what didn't work before?'
'Force is all they understand. You must know that.'
'Force is all that's been tried, Archchancellor Henry. Besides, if they are animals, as some people claim, then they understand nothing, but if, as I am convinced, they are sapient creatures, then some understanding is surely required by us.'
The Patrician took a sip of his beer. 'I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.'
The two wizards exchanged a glance. Vetinari was staring into the depths of his beer mug and they were glad that they did not know what he saw in there.
'Is it me or is it rather dark in here?' said Henry.
'Good heavens, yes! I forgot about the chandelier!' exclaimed Ridcully. 'Where is Mister Nutt?'
'Here,' said Nutt, rather closer than Ridcully would have preferred.
'I said I would be ready when you needed me, sir.'
'What? Oh, yes, of course you did.' He's short and polite and amazingly helpful, he told himself. Nothing to worry about at all... 'Well, show us how to light the candles, Mister Nutt.'
'Could I possibly have a fanfare, sir?'
'I doubt it, young man, but I will bring the Hall to attention.'
Ridcully picked up a spoon and tapped the side of a wine glass, in the time-honoured 'Look, everybody, I'm trying to make a loud noise very quietly!' procedure, which has successfully eluded after-dinner speakers ever since the invention of glasses, spoons and dinners.
'Gentlemen, pray silence, an expectant one, followed by appreciative applause for the lighting of the chandelier!'
There was the silence.
As a round of applause was followed by some more silence, people turned around in their chairs for a better view of nothing to see.
'Would you please puff on your pipe and hand it to me, sir?' said Nutt.
Shrugging, Ridcully did so. Nutt took it, raised it in the air and -
What happened? It was a topic of conversation for days. Did the red fire come up from the pipe or down from the ceiling or simply out of the walls? All that was certain was that the darkness was suddenly fractured by glowing zigzags that vanished in a blink, leaving a total blackness which cleared like the sky at dawn as all at once every candle, in perfect unison, glowed into life.
As the applause began to mount, Ridcully looked along the table at Ponder, who waved his thaumometer, shook his head and shrugged.
Then the Archchancellor turned to Nutt, took him out of earshot of the table and for the benefit of watchers shook him by the hand.
'Well done, Mister Nutt. Just one thing: that wasn't magic, because we would know, so how was it done?'
'Well, initially, dwarfish alchemy, sir. You know, the kind that works? It is how they light the big chandeliers in the caverns under Bonk. I worked that out by tests and analysis. All the candle wicks are connected by a network of black cotton thread, which terminates in one single thread, which barely shows up in this Hall. You see, the thread is soaked in a formula which burns with extreme but brief ferocity when dry. My slightly altered solution burns considerably faster even than that, consuming the thread until it is nothing but gas. It is quite safe. Only the tips of the candle wicks are treated, you see, and they light as normal. You might be interested, sir, in the fact that the flame travels so fast as to be instantaneous by any human measure. Certainly faster than twenty miles a second, I calculate.'
Ridcully was good at looking blank. You couldn't deal with Vetinari on a regular basis without being able to freeze your expression at will. But, right now, he didn't have to try.
Nutt looked concerned. 'Have I failed to achieve worth, sir?'
'What? Ah. Well.' Ridcully's face thawed. 'A wonderful effort, Nutt. Well done! Er, how did you get hold of the ingredients?'
'Oh, there is an old alchemy room in the cellars.'
'Hmm. Well, thank you again,' said Ridcully. 'But as Master of this university I must ask you not to talk to anyone about this invention until we have spoken again on the matter. Now, I must get back to the events in hand.'
'Don't you worry, sir, I will see that it does not fall into the wrong hands,' said Nutt, bustling off.
Except, of course, that you are the wrong hands, Ridcully thought, as he returned to the table.
'An impressive display,' said Vetinari, as Ridcully took his seat again. 'Am I right in thinking, Mustrum, that the Mister Nutt you referred to is indeed, as it were, the Mister Nutt?'
'That's right, yes, quite a decent chap.'
'And you're letting him do alchemy?'
'I think it was his own idea, sir.'
'And he's been standing here all this time?'
'Very keen. Is there a problem, Havelock?'
'No, no, not at all,' said Vetinari.
It was indeed an impressive display, Glenda acknowledged, but while she watched it she could feel Mrs Whitlow's gaze on her. In theory Glenda's activities would merit another kind of firework display later on, but it wasn't going to happen, was it? She had nailed the invisible hammer. But there were other, if less personal, matters on her mind.
Stupid, silly, and thoughtless though some of her neighbours were, it was up to her, as ever, to protect their interests. They had been dropped into a world they didn't understand, so she had to understand it for them. She thought this because as she prowled between the tables she could make out a certain type of clink, clink noise, and, sure enough, the amount of silverware on the tables appeared to be diminishing. After watching carefully for a moment or two, she walked up behind Mr Stollop and without ceremony pulled three silver spoons and a silver fork out of his jacket pocket.
He spun around and then had the decency to look a bit embarrassed when he saw that it was her.
Glenda didn't have to open her mouth.
'They've got so many,' he protested. 'Who needs all those knives and forks?'
She reached into the man's other pocket and pulled out three silver knives and a silver salt cellar.
'Well, there's such a lot,' said Stollop. 'I didn't think they'd miss one or two.'
Glenda stared at him. The clinking of cutlery disappearing from the tables had been a small but noticeable part of the ambient noise for some time. She leaned down until her face was an inch away from his.
'Mr Stollop. I wonder if that's what Lord Vetinari is expecting you all to do.' His face went white. She nodded. 'Just a word to the wise,' she said.
And words spread fast. As Glenda walked on she was gratified to hear behind her, spreading along the tables, more clinking as a tide of cutlery flowed swiftly out of pockets and back on to the tables. The tinkling flew up and down the tables like little fairy bells.
Glenda smiled to herself and hurried off to dare everything. Or at least everything that she dared.
Lord Vetinari stood up. For some inexplicable reason he needed no fanfare. No 'Would you put your hands together for', no 'Lend me your ears', no 'Be upstanding for'. He simply stood up and the noise went down. 'Gentlemen, thank you for coming, and may I thank you, Archchancellor Ridcully, for being such a generous host this evening. May I also take this opportunity to put your minds at rest.
'You see, there appears to be a rumour going around that I am against the playing of football. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am completely in favour of the traditional game of football and, indeed, would be more than happy to see the game leave the fusty obscurity of the back streets. Moreover, while I know you have your own schedule of games, I personally propose a league, as it were, of senior teams, who will valiantly vie with one another for a golden cup - '
There were cheers, of a beery nature.
' - or should I say gold-ish cup - '
More cheers and more laughter.
' - based on the recently discovered ancient urn known as The Tackle, which, I am sure, you have all seen?'
'And if you haven't, then your wives certainly have.'
Silence, followed by a tsunami of laughter which, like most tidal waves, had a lot of froth on the top.
Glenda, lurking among the serving girls, was taken aback and affronted at the same time, which was a bit of a squeeze, and wondered... So, he's planning something. They're lapping it up along with the beer, too.
'Never seen that before,' said a wine waiter beside her.
'Seen what before?'
'Seen his lordship drinking. He doesn't even drink wine.'
Glenda looked at the skinny black figure and said, enunciating carefully, 'When you say he does not drink wine, do you mean he does not drink wine, or he does not drink... wine?'
'He doesn't have a bloody drink. That's all I'm saying. That's Lord Vetinari, that is. He's got ears everywhere.'
'I can only see two, but he's quite handsome, in a way.'