'How long will it take to get there?'

'Well, this is the late-night bus, okay? It's for people who've got to be in Sto Lat early and haven't got much money, and there's the rub, see? The less the money, the slower the travel. We get there in the end. Somewhere around about dawn, in fact.'

'All night? I think I could walk it faster.'

The man had the quiet, friendly air about him of someone who had found the best way to get through life was never to give much of a stuff about anything. 'Be my guest,' he said. 'I'll wave to you as we go past.'

Glenda looked down the length of the coach. It was half full of the kind of people who took the overnight bus because it wasn't very expensive; the kind of people, in fact, who had brought their own dinner in a paper bag, and probably not a new paper bag at that.

The three of them huddled. 'It's the only one we can afford,' said Trev. 'I don't think we can even afford travel for one on the mail coaches.'

'Can't we try and bargain with him?' said Glenda.

'Good idea,' said Trev. He walked back to the coach.

'Hello again,' said the driver.

'When are you gonna leave?' said Trev.

'In about five minutes.'

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'So everyone who's gonna be riding is on the coach.'

Glenda glanced past the driver. The passenger behind him was very meticulously peeling a hardboiled egg.

'Could be,' said the driver.

'Then why not leave right now,' said Trev, 'and go faster? It's very important.'

'Late-night,' said the driver. 'That's what I said.'

'Supposing I was to threaten you with this lead pipe, would you go any faster?' said Trev.

'Trevor Likely!' said Glenda. 'You can't go around threatening people with lead pipes!'

The driver looked down at Trev and said, 'Can you run that past me again?'

'I told you that I had this length of lead pipe,' said Trev, banging it gently against the bus's door. 'Sorry, but we really need to get to Sto Lat.'

'Oh, right, yes,' said the driver, 'I see your lead pipe,' and he reached down to the other side of his seat, 'and I will raise you this battle-axe and would remind you that if I were to cut you in arf, the law would be on my side, no offence meant. You must think I am some kind of fool, but you're all hopping about like nits on a griddle, so what's this all about then?'

'We've got to catch up with our friend. He could be in danger,' said Trev.

'And it's very romantic,' said Juliet.

The driver looked at her.

'If you 'elp us catch up wiv him, I'll give you a big kiss,' she said.

'There!' said the driver to Trev. 'Why didn't you think of that?'

'All right, I'll give you a kiss as well,' said Trev.

'No thanks, sir,' said the driver, clearly enjoying himself. 'In your case I think I'll go for the lead pipe, although please don't try anything 'cos it's a devil's own job to get the bloodstains off the seats. Nothing seems to shift them.'

'Okay, I'll try to hit you with the lead pipe,' said Trev. 'We're desperate.'

'And we'll give you some money,' said Juliet.

'Sorry?' said the driver. 'Do I get the kiss, the money and the lead pipe? I mean, I'd rather forgo the lead pipe for another kiss.'

'Two kisses, a whole three dollars and no lead pipe,' said Juliet.

'Or just the lead pipe and I'll take my chances,' said Trev.

Glenda, who had been watching them with a fascinated horror, said, 'And I'll give you a kiss as well if you like.' She couldn't help noticing that this didn't move the stakes either way.

'But what about my passengers?' said the driver.

All four of them looked into the back of the bus and realized that they were the subject of at least a dozen fascinated stares. 'Go for the kiss!' said a woman, holding a large laundry basket in front of her.

'And the money!' said one of the men.

'I don't give a stuff if she kisses him or hits him on the head with the lead pipe, so long as they drop us off first,' said an old man towards the back of the bus.

'Do any of us get kissed as well?' said one half of a couple of giggling boys.

'If you like,' said Glenda viciously. They slumped back into their seats.

Juliet grabbed the driver's face and there was, for what seemed slightly too long, by the internal clocks of both Glenda and Trev, the sound of a tennis ball being sucked through the strings of a tennis racket. Juliet stepped back. The driver was smiling, in a slightly stunned and cross-eyed way. 'Well, that was pretty much of a lead pipe!'

'Perhaps I'd better drive,' said Trev.

The driver smiled at him. 'I'll drive, thank you very much, and don't kid yourself, mister, I know a dicey one when I see one and you don't come close. My old mum would be more likely to hit me with a lead pipe than you. Throw it away, why don't you, or someone will give you a centre parting you won't forget in a hurry.'

He winked at Juliet. 'What with one thing or another it's a good idea to give the horses a bit of a run every now and again. All aboard for Sto Lat.'

The horse buses did not usually travel very fast and the driver's definition of a run was only marginally faster than what most people would call a walk, but he managed to get them up to something that at least meant they did not have the time to get bored by a passing tree.

The bus was for people, as the driver had pointed out, who couldn't afford speed but could afford time. In its construction, therefore, no expense had been attempted. It was really no more than a cart with double seats all the way along it from the driver's slightly elevated bench. Tarpaulins on either side kept out the worst of the weather but fortunately still let in enough of the wind to mitigate the smell of the upholstery, which had experienced humanity in all its manifold moods and urgencies.

Glenda got the impression that some of the travellers were regulars. An elderly woman was sitting quietly knitting. The boys were still engaged in the furtive giggling appropriate to their age, and a dwarf was staring out of the window without looking at anything in particular. No one really bothered about talking to anybody, except a man right at the back, who was having a continuous conversation with himself.

'This isn't fast enough!' Glenda shouted after ten minutes of bouncing over the potholes. 'I could run faster than this.'

'I don't think he's gonna get that far,' said Trev.

The sun was going down and the shadows were already drawing across the cabbage fields, but there was a figure on the road ahead, struggling. Trev jumped off.

'Awk! Awk!'

'It's those wretched things,' said Glenda, running up behind him. 'Give me that lead pipe.'

Nutt was half crouched in the dust on the road. The Sisters of Perpetual Velocity were half flying and half flapping around him while he tried to protect his face with his hands. The passengers of the bus were quite unnoticed until the lead pipe arrived, followed very shortly by Glenda. It didn't have the effect she'd hoped. The Sisters were indeed like birds. She couldn't so much hit them as bat them through the air.

'Awk! Awk!'

'You stop trying to hurt him!' she screamed. 'He hasn't done anything wrong!'

Nutt raised an arm and grabbed her wrist. There wasn't much pressure, but somehow she couldn't move it at all. It was as if it had suddenly been embalmed in stone. 'They're not here to hurt me,' he said. 'They're here to protect you.'

'Who from?'

'Me. At least that's how it's supposed to go.'

'But I don't need any protection from you. That doesn't make any sense.'

'They think you might,' said Nutt. 'But that is not the worst of it.'

The creatures were circling and the other passengers, sharing the endemic Ankh-Morpork taste for impromptu street theatre, had piled out and had become an appreciative audience, which clearly discomforted the Sisters.

'What is the worst of it, then?' said Glenda, waving the pipe at the nearest Sister, which jumped back out of the way.

'They may be right.'

'All right, so you're an orc,' said Trev. 'So they used to eat people. Have you eaten anyone lately?'

'No, Mister Trev.'

'Well, there you are, then.'

'You can't arrest someone for something he hasn't done,' said one of the bus passengers, nodding sagely. 'A fundamental law, that.'

'What's an orc?' said the lady next to him.

'Oh, back in the olden days up in Uberwald or somewhere they used to tear people to bits and eat them.'

'That's foreigners for you,' said the woman.

'But they're all dead now,' said the man.

'That's nice,' said the woman. 'Would anyone like some tea? I've got a flask.'

'All dead, except me. But I am afraid that I am an orc,' said Nutt. He looked up at Glenda. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'You have been very kind, but I can see that being an orc will follow me around. There will be trouble. I would hate you to be involved.'

'Awk! Awk!'

The woman unscrewed the top of her flask. 'But you're not about to eat anyone, are you, dear? If you feel really hungry I've got some macaroons.' She looked at the nearest Sister and said, 'What about you, love? I know none of us can help how we're made, but how come you've been made to look like a chicken?'

'Awk! Awk!'

'Danger! Danger!'

'Dunno about that,' said another passenger. 'I don't reckon he's going to do anything.'

'Please, please,' said Nutt. There was a box lying on the road beside him. He tore it open frantically and started to pull things out of it.

They were candles. Knocking them over in his haste, picking them up in shaking fingers only to knock them over again, he finally had them upright on the flints of the road. He pulled matches out of another pocket, knelt down and once again got his shaking fingers tangled in themselves as he struggled to strike a match. Tears streamed down his face as the light of the candles rose.

Rose... and changed.

Blues, yellows, greens. They would go out for a few smoky seconds and then light again a different colour, to the oohs and aahs of the crowd.

'See! See!' said Nutt. 'You like them? You like them?'

'I think you could make yourself a lot of money out of that,' said one of the passengers.

'They're lovely,' said the old lady. 'Honestly, the things you young people can do today.'

Nutt turned to the nearest Sister and spat, 'I am not worthless, I have worth.'

'My brother-in-law runs a novelty shop down in the smoke,' said the erstwhile expert in orcs. 'I'll write his address down for you if you like? But I reckon that thing would go down very well on the kiddies' birthday circuit.'

Glenda had watched all of this open-mouthed, as the kind of democracy practised by reasonable and amiable but not very clever people, the people whose education had never involved a book but had involved lots of other people, surrounded Nutt in its invisible, beneficent arms.

It was heartwarming, but Glenda's heart was a little bit calloused on this score. It was the crab bucket at its best. Sentimental and forgiving; but get it wrongĘCone wrong word, one wrong liaison, one wrong thoughtĘCand those nurturing arms could so easily end in fists. Nutt was right: at best, being an orc was to live under a threat.

'You lot have got no right treating the poor little devil like that,' said the old lady, waving a finger at the nearest Sister. 'If you want to live here, you have to do things our way, all right? And that means no pecking at people. That's not how we do things in Ankh-Morpork.'

Even Glenda smiled at that one. Pecking was a picnic compared with what Ankh-Morpork could offer.

'Vetinari's letting all sorts in these days,' said another passenger. 'I won't hear a word said against the dwarfs - '

'Good,' said a voice at his back. He moved aside and Glenda saw the dwarf standing behind him.

'Sorry, mate, I didn't see you there, what with you being so little,' said the man who had nothing against dwarfs. 'As I was saying, you lot just settle down and get on with it and are no trouble to anybody, but we're getting some weird ones now.'

'That woman they put in the Watch last month, for one,' said the old lady. 'The weird one from out Ephebe way. Gust of wind caught her sunglasses and three people turned into stone.'

'She was a Medusa,' said Glenda, who had read about that in the Times. 'The wizards managed to turn them back again, though.'

'Well, what I'm saying is,' started the man who had nothing against dwarfs, 'we don't mind anyone, so long as they mind their own business and don't do any funny stuff.'

This was the rhythm of the world to Glenda; she'd heard it so many times. But the feeling of the crowd was now very much against the Sisters. Sooner or later somebody was going to pick up a stone. 'I'd get out of here now,' she said, 'get out and go back to the lady you work for. I should do that right now, if I were you.'

'Awk! Awk!' one of them screeched.

But there were brains in those strange-shaped heads. And the three Sisters were clearly bright enough to want to keep them there and ran for it, hopping and leaping like herons until what seemed like cloaks turned out to be wings, which pounded on the air as they sought for height. There was a final scream of 'Awk! Awk!'

The driver of the horse bus coughed. 'Well, if that's all sorted out then I suggest you all get back on board, please, ladies and gentlemen. And whoever. And don't forget your candles, mister.'

Glenda helped Nutt on to a wooden seat. He was holding his toolbox tightly across his knees, as if it would offer some sort of protection. 'Where were you trying to go?' she said as the horses began to move.

'Home,' said Nutt.

'Back to Her?'

'She gave me worth,' said Nutt. 'I was nothing and she gave me worth.'

'How can you say you were nothing?' said Glenda. On the pair of seats in front of them, Trev and Juliet were whispering together.

'I was nothing,' said Nutt. 'I knew nothing, I understood nothing, I had no understanding, I had no skill - '

'But that doesn't mean someone is worthless,' said Glenda firmly.

'It does,' said Nutt. 'But it does not mean they are bad. I was worthless. She showed me how to gain worth and now I have worth.'

Glenda had a feeling they were working from two different dictionaries. 'What does "worth" mean, Mister Nutt?'

'It means that you leave the world better than when you found it,' said Nutt.

'Good point,' said the lady with the macaroons. 'There's far too many people around the place who wouldn't dream of doing a hand's turn.'

'All right, but what about people who're blind, for example?' This from the hardboiled-egg man, sitting on the other side of the bus.

'I know a blind bloke in Sto Lat who runs a bar,' said an elderly gentleman. 'Knows where everything is and when you put your money on the counter he knows if it's the right change just by listening. He does all right. It's amazing, he can pick out a dud sixpence halfway across a noisy bar.'

'I don't think there are absolutes,' said Nutt. 'I think what Ladyship meant was that you do the best you can with what you have.'

'Sounds like a sensible lady,' said the man who had nothing against dwarfs.

'She's a vampire,' said Glenda maliciously.

'Nothing against vampires, just so long as they keep themselves to themselves,' said the macaroon lady, who was now engaged in licking something revoltingly pink. 'We've got one working down at the kosher butcher's on our street, and she's as nice as you like.'

'I don't think it's about what you end up with,' said the dwarf. 'It's about what you end up with compared with what you started with.'

Glenda leaned back with a smile as attempts at philosophy bounced their way from seat to seat. She wasn't at all certain about the whole thing, but Nutt was sitting there looking far less bedraggled and the rest of them were treating him as one of themselves.

There were dim lights ahead in the darkness. Glenda slipped from her seat and went up ahead to the driver. 'Are we nearly there yet?'

'Another five minutes,' said the driver.

'Sorry about all that silly business with the lead pipe,' she said.

'Didn't happen,' said the man cheerfully. 'Believe me, we get all sorts on the night bus. At least no one's thrown up. Quite an interestin' lad you've got back there with you.'

'You've no idea,' said Glenda.

'Of course, all he's saying is you've got to do your best,' said the driver. 'And the more best you're capable of, the more you should do. That's it, really.'

Glenda nodded. That did seem to be it, really. 'Do you go straight back?' she said.

'No. Me and the horses are stopping here and will go back in the morning.' He gave her the wry look of a man who's heard a great many things, and surprisingly seen a great many things, when to those behind him he was just a head facing forward keeping an eye on the road. 'That was a wonderful kiss she give me. I'll tell you what, the bus will be in the yard, there's plenty of straw around and if anyone was to have a bit of a kip, I wouldn't know about it, would I? We'll leave at six with fresh horses.' He grinned at her expression. 'I told you, we get all sorts on the late-night bus: kids running away from home, wives running away from husbands, husbands running away from other wives' husbands. It's called an omnibus, see, and omni means everything and damn near everything happens on this bus, that's why I have the axe, see? But the way I see it, life can't be all axe.' He raised his voice: 'Sto Lat coming up, folks! Return trip six o'clock prompt.' He winked at Glenda. 'And if you're not there, I'll go withoutcha,' he said. 'You've got to catch the bus at bus-catching time.'

'Well, this hasn't been so bad, has it?' said Glenda, as the lights of the city grew bigger.

'My dad's going to fret,' said Juliet.

'He'll think you're with me.'

Trev said nothing. By the rules of the street, being exposed in front of your want-to-be girlfriend as the kind of man who can so easily be seen not to be the kind of man that would have the guts to belt someone over the head with a length of lead pipe was extremely shaming, although no one seemed to have noticed this.

'Looks like a bit of trouble ahead,' the driver called back. 'The Lancre Flyer ain't gone.'

All they could see were flares and lantern lights, illuminating the big coaching inn outside the city gate, where several coaches were standing. As they drew nearer, he called to one of the skinny, bandy-legged and weaselly-looking men who seemed to self-generate around any establishment that involved the movement of horses. 'Flyer not gone?' he enquired.

The weaselly man removed a cigarette end from his mouth. ' 'orse frowed a shoe.'

'Well? They've got a smith 'ere, ain't they? Speed the mails and all that.'

'He's not speedin' nuffink on account of him just laminating his hand to the anvil,' said the man.

'There'll be the devil to pay if the Flyer don't go,' said the driver. 'That's post, that is. You should be able to set your watch by the Flyer.'

Nutt stood up. 'I could certainly re-shoe a horse for you, sir,' he said, picking up his wooden toolbox. 'Perhaps you had better go and tell someone.'

The man sidled off and the bus came to rest in the big yard, where a rather better dressed man came hurrying up. 'One of you a smith?' he enquired, looking directly at Glenda.

'Me,' said Nutt.

The man stared. 'You don't look much like a smith, sir.'

'Contrary to popular belief, most smiths are on the wiry side rather than bulky. It's all a matter of sinews rather than muscle.'

'And you know your way around an anvil, do you?'

'You would be amazed, sir.'

'There's shoes in the smithy,' said the man. 'You'll have to work one to size.'

'I know how to do that,' said Nutt. 'Mister Trev, I would be glad if you would come and help me with the bellows.'

The inn was huge and crowded, because as with coaching inns everywhere its day lasted for twenty-four hours and not a moment less. There were no meal times, as such. Hot food for those who could afford it was available all the time and cold cuts of meat were on a large trestle in the main room. People arrived, were emptied and refilled in the speediest time possible and sent on their way again because the space was needed for the next arrivals. There never seemed to be a moment without the jangle of harnesses. Glenda found a quiet corner. 'I tell you what,' she said to Juliet, 'go and fetch some sandwiches for the lads.'

'Fancy Mister Nutt being a blacksmith,' said Juliet.

'He's a man of many parts,' said Glenda.

Juliet's brow wrinkled. ''ow many parts?'

'It's just a figure of speech, Juliet. Off you go now.' She needed time to think. Those strange flying women. Mister Nutt. It was all a lot to take. You start the day and it's just another day and here you are, having mercifully not ended up as a highwayman, sitting in another city with nothing more than the clothes you're standing up in, not knowing what is going to happen next.

Which, in a way, was exciting. She had to analyse that feeling for several moments because excitement was not a regular feature of her life. Pies, on the whole, do not excite. She got up and wandered unheeded through the crowds, with the vague idea of seeing what the kitchens were like, but found her path blocked by someone whose sweating face, flustered air and rotund body suggested he was the innkeeper. 'If you could just wait a moment, ma'am,' he said to her and then addressed a woman who was emerging from what looked like a private dining room. 'So nice to see you again, your ladyship,' he said, bobbing up and down a little. 'It's always an honour to have you grace our humble establishment.'

Ladyship.

Glenda looked up at the woman who was everything she had pictured when Nutt had first talked about her. Tall, thin, dark, forbidding, to be feared. Her expression was stern and she said, in what to Glenda were posh tones, 'Far too noisy in here.'

'But the beef was superb,' said another voice and Glenda realized that Ladyship had almost eclipsed a smaller woman, quite pleasant, not particularly tall and with a slightly fussy air about her.

'Are you Lady Margolotta?' said Glenda.

The tall lady gave her a look of brief disdain and swept on towards the main doors, but her companion stopped and said, 'Do you have business with her ladyship?'

'Is she coming to Ankh-Morpork?' Glenda asked. 'Everybody knows she's Lord Vetinari's squeeze.' She felt instantly embarrassed as she said the word; it conjured up images that simply could not fit into the available space in her brain.

'Really?' said the woman. 'They are certainly very close friends.'

'Well, I want to talk to her about Mister Nutt,' said Glenda.

The woman gave her a worried look and pulled her over to an empty bench. 'There has been a problem?' she said, sitting down and patting the wood beside her.

'She told him he was worthless,' said Glenda. 'And sometimes I think all he worries about is being worthy.'

'Are you worthy?' said the woman.

'What sort of question is that to ask a stranger?'

'An interesting and possibly revealing one. Do you think the world is a better place with you in it, and would you do me the courtesy of actually thinking about your answer rather than pulling one off the "affronted" rack? I'm afraid there's far too much of that these days. People believe that acting and thinking are the same thing.'

Faced with that, Glenda settled for, 'Yes.'

'You've made it better, have you?'

'Yes. I've helped lots of people and I invented the Ploughman's Pie.'

'Did the people you helped want to be helped?'

'What? Yes, they came and asked.'

'Good. And the Ploughman's Pie?'

Glenda told her.

'Ah, you must be the cook at Unseen University,' said the woman. 'Which means that you have access to rather more than the average cook and, therefore, I would deduce that to keep the pickled onions crisp in the pie you put them in a cold room at very nearly freezing point for some time immediately before baking, possibly wrapping them in cheese for the sake of temporary insulation, and, if you have assembled your pie correctly and paid attention to temperatures, I think that would do the trick.' She paused. 'Hello?'

'Are you a cook?' said Glenda.

'Good grief, no!'

'So you worked it out, just like that? Mister Nutt told me her ladyship employs very clever people.'

'Well, I'm embarrassed to say it, but that is true.'

'But she shouldn't have told Mister Nutt that he's worthless. She shouldn't say that to people.'

'But he was worthless, yes? He couldn't even talk properly when he was found. Surely what she has done has helped him?'

'But he frets all the time and it's got out now that he's an orc. What's that all about?'

'And is he, in your mind, doing anything particularly orcish?'

Reluctantly, Glenda said, 'Sometimes his fingernails turn into claws.'

The woman looked suddenly concerned. 'And what does he do then?'

'Well, nothing,' said Glenda. 'They just sort of... go back in again. But he makes wonderful candles,' she added quickly. 'He's always making things. It's as if... worth is something that drains away all the time so you have to keep topping it up.'

'Possibly, now you put it that way, she has been a little too brisk with him.'

'Does she love him?' asked Glenda.

'I beg your pardon?'

'I mean, has anyone ever loved him?'

'Oh, I think she does, in her way,' said the woman. 'Although she's a vampire, you know. They tend to see the world rather differently.'

'Well, if I met her I'd give her a piece of my mind,' said Glenda. 'Muddling him about. Setting those wretched flying ladies on him. I wouldn't let her do that sort of thing.'

'She's immensely strong, I'm led to believe,' said the woman.

'That doesn't give her the right,' said Glenda. 'And shall I tell you something? Mister Nutt is right here. Oh yes, out in the yard, shoeing one of the horses for the Lancre Flyer. He really is amazing.'

'It sounds like it,' said the woman with a faint little smile. 'You certainly seem to be a vehement supporter.'

Glenda hesitated. 'Is that something to do with foxes?' she said.

'It means with great passion,' said the woman. 'Do you have a great passion for Mister Nutt, Miss Sugarbean? And remember, please, I do like people to do me the honour of thinking before they speak.'

'Well, I like him a lot,' said Glenda hotly.

'That is charming,' said the woman. 'It does occur to me that Mister Nutt might have achieved more worth than I had previously thought.'

'So you tell her ladyship what I said,' said Glenda, feeling her neck on fire with blushes. 'Mister Nutt has got friends.'

'Indeed I will,' said the woman, standing up. 'And now if you'll excuse me, I'm sure our coach is about to depart. I must fly.'

'Remember to tell her what I said!' Glenda shouted after her.

She saw the woman turn to smile at her and then she was lost as a party arriving from a new coach hurried in from the cold night air.

Glenda, who had stood up at the same time as the woman, sat down heavily. Who on earth did that woman think she was? Her ladyship's librarian, probably. Nutt had mentioned her several times. Altogether too many ideas above her station for Glenda's liking. She hadn't even had the decency to give Glenda her name.

The faint, distant hunting horns of sheer terror began to sound in the back of her mind. Had the woman asked Glenda her name? No! But she'd certainly known it and how would she know about the 'cook' at Unseen University? And she'd been so quick, she'd worked out the Ploughman's Pie with a snap of her fingers. That little part of her that had first been liberated by the sherry chimed in with, The trouble with you is that you make assumptions. You see something and you think you know what you've seen. She certainly didn't sound like a librarian, did she?

Very slowly, Glenda raised her right hand into a fist and lowered it into her mouth, and bit down very hard in an attempt to somehow retrieve the last fifteen minutes from the records of the universe and replace them with something far less embarrassing, like her knickers falling down.

Even here, late into the night, the forge was the heart of attention. Coaches were arriving and leaving constantly. The inn did not run according to the sun, it ran according to the timetable, and aimless people waiting for their connections gravitated to the forge as a free show and a place of comfort in the chilly night air.

Nutt was shoeing a horse. Trev had seen horses being shod before, but never like this. The animal stood as if transfixed, trembling very slightly. When Nutt wanted it to move, he clicked his tongue. When he wanted its leg raised, another click caused this to happen. Trev felt that he wasn't watching a man shoeing a horse, but a master demonstrating his skills to a world of amateurs. When the shoe was on, the horse walked backwards in front of the crowd, for all the world like a fashion model, turning as Nutt moved a hand or made a clicking noise. It didn't seem to be a particularly happy horse, but, great heavens, it was certainly an obedient one. 'Yes, that all seems fine,' Nutt said.

'How much is that going to cost us?' said the coachman. 'Wonderful job, if I may say so.'

'How much? How much? How much?' said Nutt, turning it over in his mind. 'Have I earned worth, sir?'

'I should say so, mate. I've never seen a horse shod as smooth as that.'

'Then worth will do,' said Nutt. 'And a ride for myself and my three friends back to Ankh-Morpork.'

'An' five dollars,' said Trev, coming away from his lounging spot near the wall with the speed of money.

The coachman sniffed. 'A bit steep,' he said.

'What?' said Trev. 'For a late-night job? To better than Burleigh and Stronginthearm specification? Not a bad deal, I think.'

A murmur from the other watchers backed Trev up. 'I never seen anyone do anything like that,' said Juliet. 'He'd 'ave 'ad that 'orse dancing if you'd asked 'im.'

The coachman winked at Trev. 'All right, lad. What can I say? Old Havacook there is a good lad, but a bit bad tempered, as it goes. Once kicked a coachman through the wall. I never thought I'd see him stand there and lift 'is leg up like a trained lap-dog. Your chum has earned his money and his ride.'

'Please take him away,' said Nutt. 'But hold him with care because when he gets a little way away from me he might get a tiny bit frisky.'

The crowd dispersed. Nutt methodically damped down the forge and started to pack his tools into the box. 'If we're going to go back, we'd better go now. Has anyone seen Miss Glenda?'

'Here,' said Glenda, advancing out of the shadows. 'Trev, you and Jools go and get us some seats on the coach. I need to talk to Mister Nutt.'

'Her ladyship was here,' said Glenda when they'd gone.

'I would not be surprised,' said Nutt calmly, snapping the catches shut on his box. 'Just about everybody passes through here and she travels a great deal.'

'Why were you running away?'

'Because I know what will happen,' said Nutt. 'I am an orc. It's as simple as that.'

'But the people on the bus were on your side,' said Glenda.

Nutt flexed his hands and the claws slid out, just for a moment. 'And tomorrow?' he said. 'And if something goes wrong? Everybody knows orcs will tear your arms off. Everybody knows orcs will tear your head off. Everybody knows these things. That is not good.'

'Well, then, why are you coming back?' Glenda demanded.

'Because you are kind and came after me. How could I refuse? But it does not change the things that everybody knows.'

'But every time you make a candle and every time you shoe a horse, you change the things that everybody knows,' said Glenda. 'You know that orcs were - ' She hesitated. 'Sort of made?'

'Oh, yes, it was in the book.'

She nearly exploded. 'Well, then, why didn't you tell me?!'

'Is it important? We are what we are now.'

'But you don't have to be!' Glenda yelled. 'Everybody knows trolls eat people and spit them out. Everybody knows dwarfs cut your legs off. But at the same time everybody knows that what everybody knows is wrong. And orcs didn't decide to be like they are. People will understand that.'

'It will be a dreadful burden.'

'I'll help!' Glenda was shocked at the speed of her response and then mumbled, 'I'll help.'

The coals in the forge crackled as they settled down. Fires in a busy forge seldom die out completely. After a while, Glenda said, 'You wrote that poem for Trev, didn't you?'

'Yes, Miss Glenda. I hope she liked it.'

Glenda thought she'd better raise this carefully. 'I think I ought to tell you that she didn't understand a lot of the words exactly. I sort of had to translate it for her.' It hadn't been too difficult, she reckoned. Most love poems were pretty much the same under the curly writing.

'Did you like it?' said Nutt.

'It was a wonderful poem,' said Glenda.

'I wrote it for you,' said Nutt. He was looking at her with an expression that stirred together fear and defiance in equal measure.

The cooling embers brightened up at this. After all, a forge has a soul. As if they had been waiting there, the responses lined themselves up in front of Glenda's tongue. Whatever you do next is going to be very important, she told herself. Really, extremely, very important. Don't start wondering about what Mary the bloody housemaid would do in one of those cheap novels you read, because Mary was made up by someone with a name suspiciously like an anagram for people like you. She is not real and you are.

'We had better get on the coach,' said Nutt, picking up his box.

Glenda gave up on the thinking and burst into tears. It has to be said that they were not the gentle tears they would have been from Mary the housemaid, but the really big long-drawn-out blobby ones you get from someone who very rarely cries. They were gummy, with a hint of snot in there as well. But they were real. Mary the housemaid would just not have been able to match them.

So, of course, it will be just like Trev Likely to turn up out of the shadows and say, 'They're calling the coach now - Are you two all right?'

Nutt looked at Glenda. Tears aren't readily retractable, but she managed to balance a smile on them. 'I believe this to be the case,' said Nutt.

Travelling on a fast coach, on even a mild autumn night, those passengers on the roof experience the temperature that can freeze doorknobs. There are leather covers and rugs of various age, thickness and smell. Survival is only possible by wrapping yourself in the biggest cocoon you can achieve, preferably with somebody else next to you; two people can heat up faster than one. In theory, all of this could lead to hanky panky, but the seats of the coach and the rockiness of the road mean that such things are not uppermost in the traveller's mind, which dreams longingly of cushions. Furthermore, there was a fine rain now.

Juliet craned her head to look at the seats behind, but there were just the mounds of damp rugs that were the coach company's answer to the cold night air. 'You don't think they're sweet on each other, do you?' she said.

Trev, who was himself cocooned in rugs, only managed a grunt, but then went on, 'I think 'e admires her. He always seems a bit tongue-tied when 'e's near her, that's all I know.'

This had to be a romance, Glenda thought. It wasn't like the ones peddled every week by Iradne Comb-Buttworthy. It felt more realĘCmore real and very, very strange.



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