'I think I'd like to check a few things,' said the Master of The Traditions. 'I would not wish to worry you unduly.' He glanced down. 'Oh, hells' bells!'
'What are you talking about, man?'
'Well, it looks as though - No, it would be unfair to spoil your evening, Archchancellor,' Ponder protested. 'I must be reading this wrongly. He surely can't mean - Oh, good heavens... '
'In a nutshell, please, Stibbons,' growled Ridcully. 'I believe I am the Archchancellor of this university? I'm sure it says so on my door.'
'Of course, Archchancellor, but it would be quite wrong of me to - '
'I appreciate that you do not wish to spoil my evening, sir,' said Ridcully. 'But I would not hesitate to spoil your day tomorrow. With that in mind, what the hells are you talking about?'
'Er, it would appear, Archchancellor, that, er... When was the last game we took part in, do you know?'
'Anyone?' said Ridcully to the room in general. A mumbled discussion produced a consensus on the theme of 'Around twenty years, give or take.'
'Give or take what, exactly?' said Ponder, who hated this kind of thing.
'Oh, you know. Something of that order. In the general vicinity of, so to speak. Round about then. You know.'
'About?' said Ponder. 'Can we be more precise?'
'Because if the university hasn't played in the Poor Boys' Fun for a period of twenty years or more, the bequest reverts to any surviving relatives of Archchancellor Bigger.'
'But it's banned, man!' the Archchancellor insisted.
'Er, not as such. It's common knowledge that Lord Vetinari doesn't like it, but I understand that if the games are outside the city centre and confined to the back streets, the Watch turns a blind eye. Since I would imagine that the supporters and players easily outnumber the entire Watch payroll, I suppose it is better than having to turn a broken nose.'
'That's quite a neat turn of phrase there, Mister Stibbons,' said Ridcully. 'I'm quite surprised at you.'
'Thank you, Archchancellor,' said Ponder. He had in fact got it from a leader in the Times, which the wizards did not like much because it either did not print what they said or printed what they said with embarrassing accuracy.
Emboldened, he added, 'I should point out, though, that under UU law, Archchancellor, a ban doesn't matter. Wizards are not supposed to take notice of such a ban. We are not subject to mundane law.'
'Of course. But nevertheless it is generally convenient to acknowledge the civil power,' said Ridcully, speaking like a man choosing his words with such care that he was metaphorically taking some of them outside to look at them more closely in daylight.
The wizards nodded. What they had heard was: 'Vetinari may have his little foibles, but he's the sanest man we've had on the throne in centuries, he leaves us alone, and you never know what he's got up his sleeve.' You couldn't argue with that.
'All right, Stibbons, what do you suggest?' said Ridcully. 'These days you only ever tell me about a problem when you've thought up a solution. I respect this, although I find it a bit creepy. Got a way to wriggle us out of this, have you?'
'I suppose so, sir. I thought we might, well, put up a team. It doesn't say anything about winning, sir. We just have to play, that's all.'
It was always beautifully warm in the candle vats. Regrettably, it was also extremely humid and rather noisy in an erratic and unexpected way. This was because the giant pipes of Unseen University's central heating and hot water system passed overhead, slung from the ceiling on a series of metal straps with a greater or lesser coefficient of linear expansion. That was only the start, however. There were also the huge pipes for balancing the slood differential across the university, the pipe for the anthropic particle flux suppressor, which did not work properly these days, the pipes for the air circulation, which had not worked either since the donkey had been ill, and the very ancient tubes that were all that remained of the ill-fated attempt by a previous archchancellor to operate a university communication system by means of trained marmosets. At certain times of the day all this piping broke into a subterranean symphony of gurgles, twangs, upsetting organic trickling sounds and, occasionally, an inexplicable boinging noise that would reverberate through the cellar levels.
The general ad hoc nature of the system's construction was enhanced by the fact that, as an economy measure, the big iron hot water pipes were lagged with old clothing held on by string. Since some of these items had once been wizards' apparel, and however hard you scrubbed you could never get all of the spells out, there were sporadic showers of multicoloured sparks and the occasional ping-pong ball.
Despite everything, Nutt felt at home down among the vats. It was worrying; in the high country, people in the street had jeered at him that he'd been made in a vat. Although Brother Oats had told him that this was silly, the gently bubbling tallow called to him. He felt at peace here.
He ran the vats now. Smeems didn't know, because he hardly ever troubled to come down here. Trev knew, of course, but since Nutt doing his job for him meant that he could spend more time kicking a tin can around on some bit of wasteground he was happy. The opinion of the other dribblers and dippers didn't really count; if you worked in the vats it meant that, as far as the job market was concerned, you had been still accelerating when you'd hit the bottom of the barrel and had been drilled into the bedrock. It meant that you no longer had enough charisma to be a beggar. It meant that you were on the run from something, possibly the gods themselves, or the demons inside you. It meant that if you dared to look up you would see, high above you, the dregs of society. Best, then, to stay down here in the warm gloom, with enough to eat and no inconvenient encounters and, Nutt added in his head, no beatings.
No, the dippers were no problem. He did his best for them when he could. Life itself had beaten them so hard that they had no strength left to beat up anyone else. That was helpful. When people found out that you were a goblin, all you could expect was trouble.
He remembered what the people in the villages had shouted at him when he was small and the word would be followed by a stone.
Goblin. It was a word with an ox-train-load of baggage. It didn't matter what you said or did, or made, the train ran right over you. He'd shown them the things he'd built, and the stones had smashed them while the villagers screamed at him like hunting hawks and shouted more words.
That had stopped on the day Pastor Oats rode gently into town, if a bunch of hovels and one street of stamped mud could be called a town, and he had brought... forgiveness. But on that day, no one had wanted to be forgiven.
In the darkness, Concrete the troll, who was so gooned out on Slab, Slice, Sleek and Slump, and who would even snort iron filings if Nutt didn't stop him, whimpered on his mattress.
Nutt lit a fresh candle and wound up his home-made dribbling aid. It whirred away happily, and made the flame go horizontal. He paid attention to his work. A good dribbler never turned the candle when he dribbled; candles in the wild, as it were, almost never dripped in more than one direction, which was away from the draught. No wonder the wizards liked the ones he made; there was something disconcerting about a candle that appeared to have dribbled in every direction at once. It could put a man off his stroke.
He worked fast, and was putting the nineteenth well-dribbled candle in the delivery basket when he heard the clank of a tin can being bowled along the stone floor of the passage.
'Good morning, Mister Trev,' he said, without looking up. A moment later an empty tin can landed in front of him, on end, with no more ceremony than a jigsaw piece falling into place.
'How did you know it was me, Gobbo?'
'Your leitmotif, Mister Trev. And I'd prefer Nutt, thank you.'
'What's one o' them motifs?' said the voice behind him.
'It is a repeated theme or chord associated with a particular person or place, Mister Trev,' said Nutt, carefully placing two more warm candles in the basket. 'I was referring to your love of kicking a tin can about. You seem in good spirits, sir. How went the day?'
'Did Fortune favour Dimwell last night?'
'What are you on about?'
Nutt pulled back further. It could be dangerous not to fit in, not to be helpful, not to be careful. 'Did you win, sir?'
'Nah. Another no-score draw. Waste of time, really. But it was only a friendly. Nobody died.' Trev looked at the full baskets of realistically dribbled candles.
'That's a shitload you've done there, kid,' he said kindly.
Nutt hesitated again, and then said, very carefully, 'Despite the scatological reference, you approve of the large but unspecified number of candles that I have dribbled for you?'
'Blimey, what was that all about, Gobbo?'
Frantically, Nutt sought for an acceptable translation. 'I done okay?' he ventured.
Trev slapped him on the back. 'Yeah! Good job! Respect! But you gotta learn to speak more proper, you know. You wu'nt last five minutes down our way. You'd probably get a half-brick heaved at yer.'
'That has, I mean 'as been known to... 'appen,' said Nutt, concentrating.
'I never seen why people make such a to-do,' said Trev generously. 'So there were all those big battles? So what? It was a long time ago and a long way away, right, an' it's not like the trolls and dwarfs weren't as bad as you lot, ain't I right? I mean, goblins? What was that all about? You lot jus' cut throats and nicked stuff, right? That's practically civilized in some streets round here.'
Probably, Nutt thought. No one could have been neutral when the Dark War had engulfed Far Uberwald. Maybe there had been true evil there, but apparently the evil was, oddly enough, always on the other side. Perhaps it was contagious. Somehow, in all the confusing histories that had been sung or written, the goblins were down as nasty cowardly little bastards who collected their own earwax and were always on the other side. Alas, when the time came to write their story down, his people hadn't even had a pencil.
Smile at people. Like them. Be helpful. Accumulate worth. He liked Trev. He was good at liking people. When you clearly liked people, they were slightly more inclined to like you. Every little helped.
Trev, though, seemed genuinely unfussed about history, and had recognized that having someone in the vats who not only did not try to eat the tallow but also did most of his work for him and, at that, did it better than he could be bothered to do it himself, was an asset worth protecting. Besides, he was congenially lazy, except when it came to foot-the-ball, and bigotry took too much effort. Trev never made too much effort. Trev went through life on primrose paths.
'Master Smeems came looking for you,' said Nutt. 'I sorted it all out.'
'Ta,' said Trev, and that was that. No questions. He liked Trev.
But the boy was standing there, just staring at him, as if trying to work him out.
'Tell you what,' Trev said. 'Come on up to the Night Kitchen and we'll scrounge breakfast, okay?'
'Oh no, Mister Trev,' said Nutt, almost dropping a candle. 'I don't think, sorry, fink, I ought to.'
'Come on, who's going to know? And there's a fat girl up there who cooks great stuff. Best food you ever tasted.'
Nutt hesitated. Always agree, always be helpful, always be becoming, never frighten anyone.
'I fink I will come with you,' he said.
There's a lot to be said for scrubbing a frying pan until you can see your face in it, especially if you've been entertaining ideas of gently tapping someone on the head with it. Glenda was not in the mood for Trev when he came up the stone steps, kissed her on the back of the neck and said cheerfully, ' 'ullo, darlin', what's hot tonight?'
'Nothing for the likes of you, Trevor Likely,' she said, batting him away with the pan, 'and you can keep your hands to yourself, thank you!'
'Not bin keeping somethin' warm for your best man?'
Glenda sighed. 'There's bubble and squeak in the warming oven and don't say a word if anyone catches you,' she said.
'Just the job for a man who's bin workin' like a slave all night!' said Trev, patting her far too familiarly and heading for the ovens.
'You've been at the football!' snapped Glenda. 'You're always at the football! And what kind of working do you call that?'
The boy laughed, and she glared at his companion, who backed away quickly as though from armour-piercing eyes.
'And you boys ought to wash before you come up here,' she went on, glad of a target that didn't grin and blow kisses at her. 'This is a food-preparation area!'
Nutt swallowed. This was the longest conversation he'd ever had with a female apart from Ladyship and Miss Healstether and he hadn't even said anything.
'I assure you, I bath regularly,' he protested.
'But you're grey!'
'Well, some people are black and some people are white,' said Nutt, almost in tears. Oh, why had he, why had he left the vats? It was nice and uncomplicated down there, and quiet, too, when Concrete hadn't been on the ferrous oxide.
'It doesn't work like that. You're not a zombie, are you? I know they do their best, and none of us can help how we die, but I'm not having all that trouble again. Anyone might get their finger in the soup, but rolling around in the bottom of the bowl? That's not right.'
'I am alive, miss,' said Nutt helplessly.
'Yes, but a live what, that's what I'd like to know.'
'I'm a goblin, miss.' He hesitated as he said it. It sounded like a lie.
'I thought goblins had horns,' said Glenda.
'Only the grown-up ones, miss.' Well, that was true, for some goblins.
'You lot don't do anything nasty, do you?' said Glenda, glaring at Nutt.
But he recognized it as a kind of residual glare; she'd said her piece, and now it was just a bit of play-acting, to show she was the boss here. And bosses can afford to be generous, especially when you look a little fearful and suitably impressed. It worked.
Glenda said, 'Trev, fetch Mister... ?'
'Nutt,' said Nutt.
'Fetch Mister Nutt some bubble and squeak, will you? He looks half-starved.'
'I have a very fast metabolism,' said Nutt.
'I don't mind about that,' said Glenda, 'so long as you don't go showing it to people. I have enough - '
There was a crash from behind her.
Trev had dropped the tray of bubble and squeak. He was stock still, staring at Juliet, who was returning the stare with a look of deep disgust. Finally, she said, in a voice like pearls, ' 'ad your bleedin' eyeful? You got a nerve, largin' it in here wiv that rag round your neck! Everyone knows Dimwell are well pants. Beasly couldn't carry the ball in a sack.'
'Oh yeah right? Well, I hear that the Lobbins walked all over you last week. Lobbin Clout! Everyone knows they're a bunch o' grannies!'
'Oh yeah, that's all you know! Staple Upwright was let out of the Tanty the day before! See if you Dimmers like him stamping all over you!'
'Old Staple? Ha! He'll clog away, yeah, but he can't run above a canter! We'll run rings around - '
Glenda's frying pan clanged loudly on top of the iron range. 'Enough of that, the pair of you! I've got to clean up for the day, and I don't want football dirtying up my nice surfaces, you hear me? You wait here, my girl, and you, Trevor Likely, you get back to your cellar, and I shall want that dish cleaned and back here by tomorrow night or you can try begging your meals off some other girl, right? Take your little friend with you. Nice to meet you, Mister Nutt, but I wish I could find you in better company.'
She paused. Nutt looked so lost and bewildered. Gods help me, she thought, I'm turning into my mum again. 'No, wait.' She reached down, opened one of the warming ovens and came back again with another large dish. The scent of cooked apples filled the kitchen. 'This is for you, Mister Nutt, with my compliments. You need fattening up before you blow away. Don't bother to share it with this scallywag, 'cos he's a greedy beggar, ask anyone. Now, I've got to clean up, and if you boys don't want to help, get out of my kitchen! Oh, and I'll want that dish back as well!'
Trev grabbed Nutt's shoulder. 'Come on, you heard what she said.'
'Yes, and I don't mind helping - '
'Thank you very much, miss,' Nutt managed, as he was dragged down the stairs.
Glenda folded her oven cloth neatly as she watched them go.
'Goblins,' she said thoughtfully. 'Have you ever seen a goblin before, Jools?'
'Have you ever seen a goblin?'
'Do you think he's a goblin?'
'Mr Nutt. Is he a goblin, do you think?' said Glenda, as patiently as possible.
'He's a posh one, then. I mean, he sounded like he reads books and stuff.'
This was a discrimination that was, in Glenda's view, at practically forensic standards of observation for Juliet. She turned around and found to her surprise that Juliet had gone back to reading something, or at least staring intently at the words. 'What have you got there?' she asked.
'It's called Bu-bubble. It's like, what important people are doing.'
Glenda looked over her friend's shoulder as she leafed through the pages. As far as she could tell all the important people shared one smile and were wearing unsuitable clothes for this time of year. 'So what is it that makes them important?' she asked. 'Just being in a magazine?'
'There's fashion tips too,' said Juliet defensively. 'Look, it says here chrome and copper micromail is the look for the season.'
'That's the page for dwarfs,' sighed Glenda. 'Come on, get your things and I'll take you home.'
Juliet was still reading as they waited for the horse bus. Such sudden devotion to a printed page worried Glenda. The last thing she wanted was to see her friend getting ideas in her head. There was such a lot of room in there for them to bounce around and do damage. Glenda herself was reading one of her cheap novels wrapped in a page of the Times. She read the way a cat eats: furtively, daring anyone to notice.
While the horses plodded up towards Dolly Sisters, she took her scarf out of her bag and absent-mindedly wrapped it around her wrist. Personally, she hated the violence of the football, but it was important to belong. Not belonging, especially after a big game, could be dangerous to your health. It was important to show the right colours on your home turf. It was important to fit in.
For some reason, that thought immediately turned her mind to Nutt. How strange he was. Kind of ugly, but very clean. He had stunk of soap and seemed so nervous. There was something about him...
The air in the Uncommon Room had gone as cold as meltwater.
'Are you telling us, Mister Stibbons, that we should be seen to enter a game for bullies, louts and roughs?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'That would be impossible!'
'Unlikely, yes. Impossible? No,' said Ponder wearily.
'Most certainly not possible!' said the Senior Wrangler, nodding at the Chair. 'We would be trading kicks with people from the gutters!'
'My grandfather scored two goals in a match against Dimwell,' said Ridcully, in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice. 'Most people never managed one in their lives, in those days. I think the most number of goals scored by one man in his whole life is four. That was Dave Likely, of course.'
There was a ripple of hurried rethinking and retrenchment.
'Ah, well, of course, those were different times,' said the Senior Wrangler, suddenly all syrup. 'I'm sure that even skilled workmen occasionally took part in a spirit of fun.'
'It wasn't much fun if they ran into Granddad,' said Ridcully, with a faint little grin. 'He was a prizefighter. He knocked people down for money and pubs sent for him if there was a really dangerous brawl. Of course, in a sense, this made it even more dangerous, but by then most of it was out in the street.'
'He threw people out of the buildings?'
'Oh yes. In fairness, it was usually from the ground floor and he always opened the window first. He was a very gentle man, I understand. Made musical boxes for a living, very delicate, won awards for them. Teetotal, you know, and quite religious as well. The punching was just a job of casual work. I know for a fact he never tore off anything that couldn't be stitched on again. A decent chap, by all accounts. Never met him, unfortunately. I've always wished I had something to remember the old boy by.'
As one wizard, the faculty looked down at Ridcully's huge hands. They were the size of frying pans. He cracked his knuckles. There was an echo.
'Mister Stibbons, all we need to do is engage another team and lose?' he said.
'That's right, Archchancellor,' said Ponder. 'You simply forfeit the game.'
'But losing means being seen not to win, am I right?'
'That would be so, yes.'
'Then I rather think we ought to win, don't you?'
'Really, Mustrum, this is going too far,' said the Senior Wrangler.
'Excuse me?' said Ridcully, raising his eyebrows. 'May I remind you that the Archchancellor of this university is, by college statute, the first among equals?'
'Good. Well, I am he. The word first is, I think, germane here. I see you scribbling in your little notebook, Mister Stibbons?'
'Yes, Archchancellor. I'm looking to see if we could manage without the bequest.'
'Good man,' said the Senior Wrangler, glaring at Ridcully. 'I knew there was no reason to panic.'
'In fact I'm pleased to say that I think we could rub along quite well with only a minimal cut in expenditure,' Ponder went on.
'There,' said the Senior Wrangler, looking triumphantly at the first among equals, 'you see what happens if you don't simply panic.'
'Indeed,' said Ridcully calmly. With his gaze still fixed on the Senior Wrangler he added, 'Mister Stibbons, would you be so kind as to enlighten the rest of us: to what, in reality, does a "minimal cut in expenditure" equate?'
'The bequest is a trust,' said Ponder, still scribbling. 'We have the use of the significant income from the very wise investments of the Bigger trustees, but we cannot touch the capital. Nevertheless, the income is enough to cover-I'm sorry to be imprecise-about eighty-seven point four per cent of the university's food bill.'
He waited patiently until the uproar had died away. It was amazing, he thought, how people would argue against figures on no better basis than 'they must be wrong'.
'I'm sure the Bursar would not agree with those figures,' said the Senior Wrangler sourly.
'That is so,' said Ponder, 'but I'm afraid that is because he regards the decimal point as a nuisance.'
The faculty looked at one another.
'Then who is dealing with our financial affairs?' said Ridcully.
'Since last month? Me,' said Ponder, 'but I would be happy to hand the responsibility over to the first volunteer.'
This worked. Regrettably, it always did. 'In that case,' he said, in the sudden silence, 'I have worked out, with reference to calorific tables, a regime that will give every man here a nourishing three meals a day - '
The Senior Wrangler frowned. 'Three meals? Three meals? What kind of person has three meals a day?'
'Someone who can't afford nine,' said Ponder flatly. 'We could eke out the money if we concentrate on a healthy diet of grains and fresh vegetables. That would allow us to keep the cheeseboard with a choice of, say, three types of cheese.'
'Three cheeses isn't a choice, it's a penance!' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
'Or we could play a game of football, gentlemen,' said Ridcully, clapping his hands together cheerfully. 'One game. That's all. How hard would that be?'
'As hard as a face full of hobnails, perhaps?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'People get trodden into the cobbles!'
'If all else fails, we will find volunteers from the student body,' said Ridcully.
'Corpse might be a better word.'
The Archchancellor leaned back in his chair. 'What makes a wizard, gentlemen? A facility with magic? Yes, of course, but around this table we know this is not, for the right kind of mind, hard to obtain. It does not, as it were, happen like magic. Good heavens, witches manage it. But what makes a magic user is a certain cast of mind which looks a little deeper into the world and the way it works, the way its currents twist the fortunes of mankind, et cetera, et cetera. In short, they should be the kind of person who might calculate that a guaranteed double first is worth the occasional inconvenience of sliding down the street on their teeth.'
'Are you seriously suggesting that we give out degrees for mere physical prowess?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies.
'No, of course not. I am seriously suggesting that we give out degrees for extreme physical prowess. May I remind you that I rowed for this university for five years and got a Brown?'
'And what good did that do, pray?'
'Well, it does say "Archchancellor" on my door. Do you remember why? The University Council at the time took the very decent view that it might be the moment for a leader who was not stupid, mad or dead. Admittedly, most of these are not exactly qualifications in the normal sense, but I like to think that the skill of leadership, tactics and creative cheating that I learned on the river also stood me in good stead. And thus for my sins, which I don't actually remember committing but must have been quite crimson, I was at the top of a shortlist of one. Was that a choice of three cheeses, Mister Stibbons?'
'I was just checking.' Ridcully leaned forward. 'Gentlemen, in the morning, correction, later this morning, I propose to tell Vetinari firmly that this university intends to once again play football. And the task falls to me because I am the first among equals. If any of you would like to try your luck in the Oblong Office, you have only to say.'
'He'll suspect something, you know,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies.
'He suspects everything. That is why he is still Patrician.' Ridcully stood up. 'I declare this meet - this overly extended snack... over. Mister Stibbons, come with me!'
Ponder hurried after him, books clutched to his chest, happy for the excuse to get out of there before they turned on him. The bringer of bad news is never popular, especially when it's on an empty plate.
'Archchancellor, I - ' he began, but Ridcully held his finger to his lips.
After a moment of cloying silence, there was a sudden festival of scuffling, as of men fighting in silence.
'Good for them,' Ridcully said, heading off down the corridor. 'I wondered how long it would take them to realize that they might be seeing the last overloaded snack trolley for some time. I'm almost tempted to wait and see them waddle out with their robes sagging.'
Ponder stared at him. 'Are you enjoying this, Archchancellor?'
'Good heavens no,' said Ridcully, his eyes sparkling. 'How could you suggest such a thing? Besides, in a few hours I have to tell Havelock Vetinari that we are intending to become a personal affront. The unschooled mob hacking at one another's legs is one thing. I don't believe he will be happy with the prospect of our joining in.'
'Of course, sir. Er, there is a minor matter, sir, a small conundrum, if you will... Who is Nutt?'
There seemed to Ponder to be a rather longer pause than necessary before Ridcully said, 'Nutt would be... ?'
'He works in the candle vats, sir.'
'How do you know that, Stibbons?'
'I do the wages, sir. The Candle Knave says Nutt just turned up one night with a chitty saying he was to be employed and paid minimal wage.'
'That's all I know, sir, and I only found that out because I asked Smeems. Smeems says he's a good lad but sort of odd.'
'Then he should fit right in, don't you think, Stibbons? In fact, we are seeing how he fits in.'
'Well yes, sir, no problem there, but he's a goblin, apparently, and generally, you know, it's a sort of odd tradition, but when the first people from other races first come to the city they start out in the Watch... '
Ridcully cleared his throat, loudly. 'The trouble with the Watch, Stibbons, is that they ask too many questions. We should not emulate them, I suggest.' He looked at Ponder and appeared to reach a decision. 'You know that you have a glowing future here at UU, Stibbons.'
'Yes, sir,' said Ponder gloomily.
'I would advise you, with this in mind, to forget all about Mister Nutt.'
'Excuse me, Archchancellor, but that simply will not do!'
Ridcully swayed backwards, like a man subjected to an attack by a hitherto comatose sheep.
Ponder plunged on, because when you have dived off a cliff your only hope is to press for the abolition of gravity.
'I have twelve jobs in this university,' he said. 'I do all the paperwork. I do all the adding up. In fact, I do everything that requires even a modicum of effort and responsibility! And I go on doing it even though Brazeneck have offered me the post of Bursar! With a staff! I mean real people, not a stick with a knob on the end. Now... Will... You... Trust... Me? What is it about Nutt that is so important?'
'The bastard tried to lure you away?' said Ridcully. 'How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless Dean! Is there nothing he will not stoop to? How much did - '
'I didn't ask,' said Ponder quietly.
There was a moment of silence and then Ridcully patted him a couple of times on the shoulder.
'The problem with Mister Nutt is that people want to kill him.'
Ridcully stared into Ponder's eyes. His lips moved. He squinted up and down like a man engaged in complex calculation. He shrugged.
'Probably everybody,' he said.
'Please have some more of my wonderful apple pie,' said Nutt.
'But she gave it to you,' said Trev, grinning. 'I'd never 'ear the end of it if I ate your pie.'
'But you are my friend, Mister Trev,' said Nutt. 'And since it is my pie I can decide what to do with it.'
'Nah,' said Trev, waving it away. 'But there is a little errand you can do for me, me being a kind and understanding boss what lets you work all the hours you want.'
'Yes, Mister Trev?' said Nutt.
'Glenda will come in around midday. To be honest, she hardly ever leaves the place. I would like you to go and ask her the name of that girl who was up there tonight.'
'The one who shouted at you, Mister Trev?'
'The very same,' said Trev.
'Of course I will do that,' said Nutt. 'But why don't you ask Miss Glenda yourself? She knows you.'
Trev grinned again. 'Yes, she does and that's why I know she won't tell me. If I am any judge, and I'm pretty sound, she would like to know you better. I've never met a lady so good at feelin' sorry for people.'
'There's not much of me to know,' said Nutt.
Trev gave him a long, thoughtful glance. Nutt had not taken his eyes off his work. Trev had never seen anyone who could be so easily engrossed. Other people who ended up working in the vats were a bit weird, it was almost a requirement, but the little dark-grey fellow was somehow weird in the opposite direction. 'You know, you ought to get out more, Mister Nutts,' he said.
'Oh, I don't think I should like that at all,' said Nutt, 'and may I kindly remind you my name is not plural, thank you.'
''ave you ever seen a game of football?'
'No, Mister Trev.'
'Then I'll take you to the match tomorrow. I don't play, o'course, but I never miss a game if I can 'elp it,' said Trev. 'No edged weapons, prob'ly. The season starts soon, everyone's warming up.'
'Well, that is very kind of you, but I - '
'Tell you what, I'll pick you up down 'ere at one o'clock.'
'But people will look at me!' said Nutt. And in his head he could hear Ladyship's voice, calm and cool as ever: Do not stand out. Be part of the crowd.
'No, they won't. Trust me on that,' said Trev. 'I can sort that out. Enjoy your pie. I'm off.'
He pulled a tin can out of his coat pocket, dropped it on to his foot, flicked it into the air, toed it a few times so it spun and twinkled like some celestial object and then kicked it very hard so it sailed off down the huge gloomy room a few feet above the vats, rattling slightly. Against all probability it stopped in its flight a few feet from the far wall, spun for a moment and then started to come back with, it seemed to the amazed Nutt, a greater speed than before.
Trev caught it effortlessly and dropped it back into his pocket.
'How can you do that, Mister Trev?' said Nutt, astonished.
'Never thought about it,' said Trev. 'But I always wonder why everyone else can't. It's just about the spinning. It's not hard. See yer tomorrow, okay? And don't forget that name.'
The horse buses were not much faster than walking, but it wasn't you doing the walking, and there were seats and a roof and a guard with a battle-axe and all in all it was, in the damp grey hours before dawn, good value for tuppence. Glenda and Juliet sat side by side, rocking gently to the sway, lost in their thoughts. At least Glenda was; Juliet could get lost in half a thought, if that.
But Glenda had become an expert at knowing when Juliet was going to speak. It was rather like the sense a sailor has that the wind is going to change. There were little signs, as if a thought had to get the beautiful brain warmed up and spinning before anything could happen.
'Who was that boy what come up for his bubble and squeak?' she asked nonchalantly, or what she probably thought was nonchalantly, or again, what she might have thought was nonchalantly had she known that there was a word like nonchalantly.
'That's Trevor Likely,' said Glenda. 'And you don't want anything to do with him.'
'He's a Dimmer! Fancies himself as a Face, too. And his dad was Big Dave Likely! Your dad would go mad if he heard you'd even talked to him.'
'He's got a lovely smile,' said Juliet, with a wistfulness that rang all kinds of alarms for Glenda.
'He's a scallywag,' she said firmly. 'He'll try on anything. Can't keep his hands to himself, too.'
'How come you knows that?' said Juliet.
That was another worrying thing about Juliet. Nothing much seemed to be going on between those perfect ears for hours on end and then a question like that would come spinning towards you with edges on it.
'You know, you should try to speak better,' Glenda said, to change the subject. 'With your looks you could snag a man who thinks about more than beer and footie. Just speak with a little more class, eh? You don't have to sound like - '
'My fare, lady?'
They looked up at the guard, who was holding his axe in a way that was very nearly not threatening. And when it came to looking up, this was not a long way. The axe's owner was very short.
Glenda gently pushed the weapon out of the way. 'Don't wave it about, Roger,' she sighed. 'It doesn't impress.'
'Oh, sorry, Miss Glenda,' said the dwarf, what was visible of his face behind the beard colouring with embarrassment. 'It's been a long shift. That will be fourpence, ladies. Sorry about the axe, but we've been getting people jumping off without paying.'
'He ought to be sent back to where he came from,' muttered Juliet, as the guard moved on along the bus. Glenda chose not to rise to this. As far as she had been able to tell, up until today, at least, her friend had no opinions of her own, and simply echoed anything other people said to her. But then she couldn't resist. 'That would be Treacle Mine Road, then. He was born in the city.'
'He's a Miners fan, then? I suppose it could be worse.'
'I don't think dwarfs bother much about football,' said Glenda.
'I don't fink you can be a real Morporkian an' not shout for your team,' was the next piece of worn-out folk wisdom from Juliet. Glenda let this one pass. Sometimes, arguing with her friend was like punching mist. Besides, the plodding horses were laboriously passing their street. They got off without missing a step.
The door to Juliet's house was covered in the ancient remnants of multiple layers of paint, or, rather, multiple layers of paint that had bubbled up into tiny little mountains over the years. It was always the cheapest paint possible. After all, you could afford to buy beer or you could afford to buy paint and you couldn't drink paint unless you were Mr Johnson at number fourteen, who apparently drank it all the time.
'Now, I won't tell your dad that you were late,' said Glenda, opening the door for her. 'But I want you in early tomorrow, all right?'
'Yes, Glenda,' said Juliet meekly.
'And no thinking about that Trevor Likely.'
'Yes, Glenda.' It was a meek reply, but Glenda recognized the sparkle. She'd seen it in the mirror once.
But now she cooked an early breakfast for widow Crowdy, who occupied the house on the other side and couldn't get about much these days, made her comfortable, did the chores in the rising light, and finally went to bed.
Her last thought as she plummeted into sleep was: Don't goblins steal chickens? Funny, he doesn't look the type...
At half past eight, a neighbour woke her up by throwing gravel at her window. He wanted her to come and look at his father, described as 'poorly', and the day began. She had never needed to buy an alarm clock.
Why did other people need so much sleep? It was a permanent puzzle for Nutt. It got boring by himself.
Back in the castle in Uberwald there had always been someone around to talk to. Ladyship liked the night-time and wouldn't go out in bright sunshine at all, so a lot of visitors came then. He had to stay out of sight, of course, but he knew all the passages in the walls and all the secret spy-holes. He saw the fine gentlemen, always in black, and the dwarfs with iron armour that gleamed like gold (later, down in his cellar that smelled of salt and thunderstorms, Igor showed him how it was made). There were trolls, too, looking a bit more polished than the ones he'd learned to run away from in the forests. He especially remembered the troll that shone like a jewel (Igor said his skin was made of living diamond). That alone would have been enough to glue him into Nutt's memory, but there had been that moment, one day when the diamond troll was seated at the big table with other trolls and dwarfs, when the diamond eyes had looked up and had seen Nutt, looking through a tiny, hidden spy-hole at the other end of the room. Nutt was convinced of it. He'd jerked away from the hole so quickly that he'd banged his head on the wall opposite.
He'd grown to know his way around all the cellars and workshops in Ladyship's castle. Go anywhere you wish, talk to everyone. Ask any questions; you will be given answers. When you want to learn, you will be taught. Use the library. Open any book.
Those had been good days. Everywhere he went, men stopped work to show him how to plane and carve and mould and fettle and smelt iron and make horseshoes¨Cbut not how to fit them, because any horse went mad when he entered the stables. One once kicked the boards out of the rear wall.
That particular afternoon he went up to the library, where Miss Healstether found him a book on scent. He read it so fast that his eyes should have left trails on the paper. He certainly left a trail in the library: the twenty-two volumes of Brakefast's Compendium of Odours were soon stacked on the long lectern, followed by Spout's Trumpet of Equestrianism, and then, via a detour through the history section, Nutt plunged into the folklore section, with Miss Healstether pedalling after him on the mobile library steps.
She watched him with a kind of gratified awe. He'd been barely able to read when he'd arrived, but the goblin boy had set out to improve his reading as a boxer trains for a fight. And he was fighting something, but she wasn't sure in her own mind what it was and, of course, Ladyship never explained. He would sit all night under the lamp, book of the moment in front of him, dictionary and thesaurus on either side, wringing the meaning out of every word, punching ceaselessly at his own ignorance.