'And it was a Dimmer boy?'

'Yes,' he said. 'They heard he died, but you know how those Dimwell buggers lie.'

'Where are your boys now?'

For a moment the old man's eyes blazed. 'They're stoppin' indoors or I'll thrash 'em. You get some nasty gangs out when something like that's been happening.'

'One less now, then,' said Glenda.

Stollop's face was painted in pigments of misery and dread. 'They're not bad boys, you know. Not at heart. People pick on them.'

Yes, down at the Watch House, she said to herself, where people say, 'That's them! The big ones! I'd know them anywhere!'

She left him shaking his head and ran down the road. The troll would never expect to get a fare up here and there was no sense in hanging around and getting covered in paint. She might just about be able to catch up with it on its way down town. After a minute or two she realized that someone was following her. Chasing her in the gloom. If only she'd remembered to bring the knife. She stepped into a patch of deeper shadow and, as the knife-wielding maniac drew level, stepped out and shouted, 'Stop following me!'

Juliet gave a little scream. 'They've got Trev,' she sobbed, as Glenda held her. 'I know they have!'

'Don't be silly,' said Glenda. 'There's fighting all the time after a big match. No sense in getting too worried.'

'So why were you running?' said Juliet sharply. And there was no answer to that.

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The bledlow nodded him through the staff door with a grunt and he headed straight away for the vats. A couple of the lads were dribbling in their meticulous and very slow way, but there was no sign of Nutt until Trev risked his sanity and nasal passages by checking the communal sleeping area, where he found Nutt sleeping on his bedroll, clutching his stomach. It was an extremely large stomach. Given the usual neat shape of Nutt, it made him look a little like a snake that had swallowed an extremely large goat. The curious face of the Igor and his worried voice came back to him. He looked down beside the bedroll and saw a small piece of piecrust and some crumbs. It smelled like a very good pie. In fact, he could think of only one person who could ever make a pie quite so beguiling. Whatever it was that had been filling Trev, the invisible illumination that had made him almost dance here from the Watch House, drained out through his feet.

He headed through the stone corridors to the Night Kitchen. Any optimism he might have retained was dashed one hope at a time by the trail of pie crumbs, but the illumination rose again as he saw Juliet and, oh yes, Glenda, standing in what was left of the Night Kitchen, which was a mess of torn-open cupboards and pieces of piecrust.

'Oh, Mister Trevor Likely,' said Glenda, folding her arms. 'Just one question: who ate all the pies?'

The illumination swelled until it filled Trev with a kind of silvery light. It had been three nights since he had slept in an actual bed and it had not been your normal sort of day. He smiled broadly at nothing at all and was caught by Juliet as he hit the ground.

Trev woke up half an hour later, when Glenda brought him a cup of tea. 'I thought we'd better let you sleep,' she said. 'Juliet said you looked awful, so obviously she's coming to her senses.'

'He was dead,' said Trev. 'Dead as a doorknob, and then he wasn't. What's that all about?' He levered himself up and realized that he had been put to bed on one of the grubby bedrolls in the vats. Nutt was lying on the roll next to him.

'All right,' said Glenda. 'If you can do it without lying, tell me.' She sat down and watched the sleeping Nutt for a while as Trev tried to make sense of the previous evening. 'What was in the sandwich again? The one the Igor gave him?'

'Tuna, spaghetti and jam. With sprinkles,' said Trev, yawning.

'Are you sure?'

'It's not the kinda thing you forget.'

'What kind of jam?' Glenda insisted.

'Why ask?'

'I'm thinking it might work with quince. Or chilli. Can't see any place for sprinkles, though. They don't make any sense.'

'What? He's an Igor. It doesn't have to make sense!'

'But he warned you about Nutt?'

'Yes, but I don't think he meant "lock up your pies", do you? Are you gonna get into trouble about the pies?'

'No. I've got plenty more maturing in the cool room. They're at their best when matured. You have to keep ahead of yourself, with pies.'

She looked down at Nutt and went on, 'Are you really telling me he got all smashed up by the Stollop boys and then walked out of the Lady Sibyl?'

'He was as dead as a doorknob. Even old 'addock could spot that.'

This time they both stared at Nutt.

'He's alive now,' said Glenda, as if it was an accusation.

'Look,' said Trev, 'all I know about people who come from Uberwald is that some of them are vampires and some are werewolves. Well, I don't think vampires are much interested in pies. And it was a full moon last week and he didn't act odd; well, odder than normal.'

Glenda lowered her voice. 'Maybe he's a zombie - No, they don't eat pies either.' She continued to stare at Nutt, but another part of her said, 'There's going to be a banquet on Wednesday night. Lord Vetinari's up to something with the wizards. It's about the football, I'm sure of it.'

'Well?'

'For some plan, I expect. Something nasty. The wizards were at the game today taking notes! Don't tell me that's healthy. They want to shut down football, that's what it is!'

'Good!'

'Trevor Likely, how can you say that! Your dad - '

'Died because he was dumb,' said Trev. 'And don't tell me it was the way he would have wanted to go. No one would want to go like that.'

'But he loved his football!'

'So? What does that mean? The Stollop boys love their football. Andy Shank loves 'is football! And what does it mean? Not countin' today, how often have you seen the ball in play? Hardly ever, I bet.'

'Well, yes, but it's not about the football.'

'You're saying that football is not about football?'

Glenda wished she'd had a proper education, or, failing that, any real education at all. But she was not going to back off now. 'It's the sharing,' she said. 'It's being part of the crowd. It's chanting together. It's all of it. The whole thing.'

'I believe, Miss Glenda,' said Nutt from his mattress, 'that the work you are looking for is Trousenblert's Der Selbst uberschritten durch das Ganze.'

They looked down at Nutt again, mouths open. He had opened his eyes and appeared to be staring at the ceiling. 'It is the lonely soul trying to reach out to the shared soul of all humanity, and possibly much further. W. E. G. Goodnight's translation of In Search of The Whole is marred, while quite understandable, by the mistranslation of bewu?tseinsschwelle as "haircut" throughout.'

Trev and Glenda looked at one another. Trev shrugged. Where could they start?

Glenda coughed. 'Mister Nutt, are you alive or dead or what?'

'Alive, thank you very much for asking.'

'I saw you killed!' Trev shouted. 'We ran all the way to the Lady Sybil!'

'Oh,' said Nutt. 'I am sorry, I do not recall. It would seem that diagnosis was in error. Am I right?'

They exchanged glances. Trev got the worst of it. When Glenda was angry, her glance might just possibly etch glass. But Nutt had a point. It was hard to argue with a man who insisted that he was not dead.

'Um, and then you came back here and ate nine pies,' said Glenda.

'Looks like they did you good,' said Trev, with brittle cheerfulness.

'But I can't see where they've gone,' Glenda finished. 'Belly-busters, every one of them.'

'You will be angry with me.' Nutt looked frightened.

'Let's all calm down, shall we?' said Trev. 'Look, I was pretty worried, my oath, yes. Not angry, okay? We're your friends.'

'I must be becoming. I must be helpful!' This came from Nutt's lips like a mantra.

Glenda took his hands. 'Look, I'm not bothered about the pies, really I'm not. I like to see a man with a good appetite. But you must tell us what's wrong. Have you done something you shouldn't?'

'I should be making myself worthy,' Nutt said, pulling away gently and not meeting her eyes. 'I must be becoming. I must not lie. I must gain worth. Thank you for your kindness.'

He got up, walked down the length of the vats, picked up a basket of candles, came back, wound up his dribbling machine and began to work, oblivious of their presence.

'Do you know what goes on in his head?' Glenda whispered.

'When he was young, he was chained to an anvil for seven years,' said Trev.

'What? That's terrible! Someone must have been very cruel to do something like that!'

'Or desperate to make sure he didn't get free.'

'Things are never all they seem, Mister Trev,' said Nutt, without looking up from his feverish activity, 'and the acoustics in these cellars are very good. Your father loved you, did he not?'

'Wot?' Trev's face reddened.

'He loved you, took you to the football, shared a pie with you, taught you to cheer for the Dimmers? Did he hold you on his shoulders so that you could see more of the game?'

'Stop talkin' about my dad like that!'

Glenda took Trev's arm. 'It's okay, Trev, it's all right, it's not a nasty question, really it isn't!'

'But you hate him, because he became a mortal man, dying on the cobbles,' said Nutt, picking up another undribbled candle.

'That is nasty,' said Glenda. Nutt ignored her.

'He let you down, Mister Trev. He wasn't the small boy's god. It turned out that he was only a man. But he was not only a man. Everyone who has ever watched a game in this city has heard of Dave Likely. If he was a fool, then any man who has ever climbed a mountain or swum a torrent is a fool. If he was a fool then so was the man who first tried to tame fire. If he was a fool then so was the man who tried the first oyster, he was a fool, too¨Calthough I'm bound to remark that, given the division of labour in early hunter-gatherer cultures, he was probably a woman as well. Perhaps only a fool gets out of bed. But, after death, some fools shine like stars, and your father is such a one. After death, people forget the foolishness, but they do remember the shine. You could not have done anything. You could not have stopped him. If you could have stopped him he would not have been Dave Likely, a name that means football to thousands of people.' Nutt very carefully put down a beautifully dribbled candle and continued. 'Think about this, Mister Trev. Don't be smart. Smart is only a polished version of dumb. Try intelligence. It will surely see you through.'

'That's just a load of words!' said Trev hotly, but Glenda saw the glistening lines down his cheeks.

'Please think about them, Mister Trev,' said Nutt and added, 'There, I have done a complete basket. That is worth.'

It was the calmness. Nutt had been spinning, almost sick with anxiety. He'd been repeating himself, as if he'd had to learn things for a teacher. And then he was otherwise¨Ctotally reserved and collected.

Glenda looked from Trev to Nutt and back again. Trev's mouth hung open. She didn't blame it. What Nutt had said with quiet matter-of-factness had sounded like not an opinion but the truth, winched out of some deep well.

Then Trev broke the silence, speaking as if hypnotized, his voice hoarse.

'He gave me his old jersey when I was five. It was like a tent. I mean, it was so greasy I never got wet - ' He stopped.

After a moment Glenda pushed at his elbow. 'He's gone all stiff,' she said, 'as stiff as a piece of wood.'

'Ah, catatonic,' said Nutt. 'He is overwhelmed by his feelings. We should lay him down.'

'These old mattresses they sleep on in here are rubbish!' said Glenda, looking around for a better alternative to cold flagstones.

'I know the very thing!' said Nutt, suddenly all action and plunging off down the passage. This left Glenda still holding a rigid Trev when Juliet appeared from the direction of the kitchens. She stopped instantly when she saw them, and burst into tears.

'He's dead, isn't he?'

'Er, no - ' Glenda began.

'I talked to some of the bakery lads coming in to work and they're telling me there's been fights all over the city and someone got himself murdered!'

'Trev's just had a bit of a shock, that's all. Mister Nutt's gone to find something for him to lie down on.'

'Oh.' Juliet sounded a little disappointed, presumably because 'a bit of a shock' was not sufficiently dramatic, but she rallied just as a loud, rough and uniquely wooden noise from the other direction heralded Nutt pushing a large couch, which shuddered to a halt in front of them.

'There's a big room piled up with old furniture up the hall,' he said, patting the faded velvet. 'It's a bit musty, but I think all the mice have fallen out on the way here. Quite a find actually. I believe it is a chaise longue from the workshop of the famous Gurning Upspire. I think I can probably restore it later. Let him down gently.'

'What happened to him?' said Juliet.

'Oh, the truth can be a little bit upsetting,' said Nutt. 'But he will get over it and feel better.'

'I would very much like to know the truth myself, Mister Nutt, thank you very much,' said Glenda, folding her arms and trying to look stern while all the time a voice in her head was whispering Chaise longue! Chaise longue! When no one else is here you can have a go at languishing!

'It's a kind of medicine with words,' said Nutt, carefully. 'Sometimes people fool themselves into believing things that aren't true. Sometimes that can be quite dangerous for the person. They see the world in a wrong way. They won't let themselves see that what they believe is wrong. But often there is a part of the mind that does know, and the right words can let it out.' He gave them a worried look.

'Well, that's nice,' said Juliet.

'It sounds like hocus pocus to me,' said Glenda. 'Folk know their own minds!' She folded her arms again, and saw Nutt glance at them.

'Well?' she demanded. 'Haven't you ever seen elbows before?'

'Never such pretty dimpled ones, Miss Glenda, on such tightly folded arms.'

Up until that point Glenda had never realized that Juliet had such a dirty laugh, to which, Glenda fervently hoped, she was not entitled.

'Glenda's got a bee-oh! Glenda's got a bee-ooh!'

'It's "beau", actually,' Glenda said, swiping to the back of her mind the recollection that it had taken her years to find that out herself. 'And I was just helping. We're helping him, aren't we, Mister Nutt?'

'Doesn't he look sweet lying there?' said Juliet. 'All pink.' She stroked Trev's greasy hair inexpertly. 'Just like a little boy!'

'Yes, he's always been good at that,' said Glenda. 'Why don't you go and get the little boy a cup of tea? And a biscuit. Not one of the chocolate ones. That'll take some time,' she said as the girl shimmied away. 'She tends to get distracted. Her mind wanders and amuses itself elsewhere.'

'Trev tells me that despite your more mature appearance you are the same age as her,' said Nutt.

'You really don't talk to many ladies, do you, Mister Nutt?'

'Oh dear, have I made another faux pas?' said Nutt, suddenly all nerves again, to such an extent that she took pity on him.

'Would this be "faux pas" that looks as if it should be said like "forks pass"?'

'Er, yes.'

Glenda nodded, satisfied, another literary puzzle solved. 'Better not use the word "mature" unless you are talking about cheese or wine. Not good to use it for ladies.'

She stared at him, wondering how to pose the next question. She opted for directness; she wasn't very good at anything else.

'Trev is sure you sort of died and came alive again.'

'So I understand.'

'Not many people do that.'

'The vast majority do not, I believe.'

'How did you do it?'

'I don't know.'

'This is rather late in the day, I must admit, but you don't feel any hunger for blood or brains, do you?'

'Not at all. Just pies. I like pies. I am very ashamed about the pies. It will not happen again, Miss Glenda. I fear my body was acting on its own. It needed instant nourishment.'

'Trev says you used to be chained to an anvil?'

'Yes. That was because I was worthless. Then I was taken to see Ladyship and she told me: You are worthless but, I think, not unworthy, and I will give you worth.'

'But you must have had parents!'

'I do not know. There are many things I don't know. There is a door.'

'What?'

'A door in my head. Some things are behind the door and I don't know them. But that is all right, Ladyship says.'

Glenda felt like giving up. Nutt answered questions, yes, but really all you ended up with was more questions. But she persevered. It was like stabbing away at a tin can, hoping to find a way in. 'Ladyship is a real lady, is she? Castles and servants and whatnot?'

'Oh, yes. Even a whatnot. She is my friend. And she is mature like cheese and wine, because she has lived for a long time and is not old.'

'But she sent you here, yes? Did she teach you... whatever it was you used on Trev?'

Beside Glenda, Trev stirred.

'No,' said Nutt. 'I read the works of the masters in the library all by myself. But she did tell me that people, too, were a kind of living book, and I would have to learn to read them.'

'Well, you read Trev well enough. Be told, though: don't try that stuff on me or you'll never see another pie!'

'Yes, Miss Glenda. Sorry, Miss Glenda.'

She sighed. What is it about me? The moment they look downcast I feel sorry for them! She looked up. He was watching her.

'Stop that!'

'Sorry, Miss Glenda.'

'But you got to see the football, at least. Did you enjoy it?'

Nutt's face lit up. 'Yes. It was wonderful. The noise, the crowds, the chanting, oh the chanting! It becomes a second blood! The unison! To not be alone! To be not just one but one and all, of one mind and purpose!... excuse me.' He had seen her face.

'So you quite liked it, then,' said Glenda. The intensity of Nutt's outburst had been like opening an oven door. It was a mercy her hair hadn't frizzled.

'Oh yes! The ambience was wonderful!'

'I didn't try those,' Glenda hazarded, 'but the pease pudding is usually good.'

The scrape of crockery and the tinkling of a teaspoon heralded the arrival of Juliet, or rather of the cup of tea that she was holding in front of her as if it were a grail, so that she drifted along behind it like a comet's tail. Glenda was impressed. The tea was in the cup instead of in the saucer and it was the acceptable brown colour that is usually characteristic of tea and was usually the only tea-like characteristic of tea made by Juliet.

Trev sat up, and Glenda wondered how long he might have been paying attention. All right, he might be good in an emergency, and at least he washed sometimes and owned a toothbrush, but Juliet was special, wasn't she? All she needed was a prince. Technically that meant Lord Vetinari, but he was far too old. Besides, no one was sure which side of the bed he got out of, or even if he went to bed at all. But one day a prince would come, even if Glenda had to drag him on a chain.

She turned her head. Nutt was watching her intently again. Well, her book was locked down tightly. No one was going to riffle through her pages. And tomorrow she would find out what the wizards were up to. That was easy. She'd be invisible.

In the stillness of the night, Nutt sat in his special place, which was yet another room, very close to the vats. Candles burned as he sat at a rescued table, staring at a piece of paper and absent-mindedly cleaning out his ear with the point of his pencil.

Nutt was technically an expert on love poetry throughout the ages and had discussed it at length with Miss Healstether, the castle librarian. He had also tried to discuss it with Ladyship, but she had laughed and said it was frivolity, although quite helpful as a tutorial on the use of vocabulary, scansion, rhythm and affect as a means to an end, to wit getting a young lady to take all her clothes off. At that particular point, Nutt had not really understood what she meant. It sounded like some sort of conjuring trick.

He tapped the pencil on the page. The castle library had been full of poetry and he'd read it avidly as he read all books, not knowing why it had been written or what exactly it was supposed to achieve. But generally poems written by men to women followed a very similar format. Now, with a world's worth of the finest poetry to choose from, he was lost for words.

Then he nodded to himself. Ah, yes, Robert Scandal's famous poem, 'Oi! To his Deaf Mistress'. It surely had the right shape and tempo. Of course, there had to be a muse. Oh, yes, all poetry needed a muse. That might present a difficulty. Juliet, while quite attractive, was also, in his mind, a kind of amiable ghost. Hmm. Ah, of course...

Nutt pulled the pencil out of his ear, hesitated and wrote:

I sing, but not of love, for love is blind,

but celebrate instead the muse of kindness...

The fires in the vats cooled, but Nutt's brain was suddenly ablaze.

Round about midnight, Glenda decided it was safe enough to leave the boys alone to get up to whatever it was boys got up to when women weren't around to look after them, and made sure that she and Juliet were on the late cross-town bus. That meant she actually got to sleep in her own bed.

She looked around the tiny bedroom by candlelight and met the gaze, which was quite difficult, of Mr Wobble, the three-eyed transcendental teddy bear. It would have been nice to have a bit of cosmic explanation at this point, but the universe never gave you explanations, it just gave you more questions.

She reached down surreptitiously, even though there was only a three-eyed teddy bear watching her, and picked up the latest Iradne Comb-Buttworthy from the cache unsuccessfully hidden below. After ten minutes of reading, which took her some way into the book (Ms Comb-Buttworthy producing volumes that were even slimmer than her heroines), she experienced d¨¦j¨¤ vu. Moreover, the d¨¦j¨¤ vu was squared, because she had the feeling of having had the d¨¦j¨¤ vu before.

'They're really all the same, aren't they?' she said to the three-eyed teddy bear. 'You know it's going to be Mary the Maid, or someone like her, and there's got to be two men and she will end up with the nice one, and there has to be misunderstandings, and they never do anything more than kiss and it's absolutely guaranteed that, for example, an exciting civil war or an invasion by trolls or even a scene with any cooking in it is not going to happen. The best you can expect is a thunderstorm.' It really had nothing to do with real life at all, which, although short on civil wars and invasions by trolls, at least had the decency to have lots of cooking.

The book dropped out of her fingers and thirty seconds later she was sound asleep.

Surprisingly, no neighbour needed her in the night so she got up, dressed and breakfasted in what was an almost unfamiliar world. She opened her door to take breakfast to widow Crowdy and found Juliet on the doorstep.

The girl took a step back. 'Are you goin' out, Glendy? It's early!'

'Well, you're up,' said Glenda. 'And with a newspaper, I'm pleased to see.'

'Isn't it exciting?' said Juliet, and thrust the paper at her.

Glenda took one look at the picture on the front page, took a second, closer look, and then grabbed Juliet and pulled her inside.

'You can see their tonkers,' Juliet observed, in a voice that was much too matter-of-fact for Glenda's liking.

'You shouldn't know what they look like!' she said, smacking the paper down on her kitchen table.

'What? I've got three brothers, ain't I? Everyone bathes in a tub in front of the fire, don't they? It's not like they're anything special. Anyway, it's culture, all right? Remember when you took me to that place full of people in the nuddy. You stayed in there hours.'

'It was the Royal Art Museum,' said Glenda, thanking her stars that they were indoors. 'That's different!'

She tried to read the story, but it was very difficult with that amazing picture beside it, just where an eye might stray again and again.

Glenda enjoyed her job. She didn't have a career; they were for people who could not hold down jobs. She was very good at what she did, so she did it all the time, without paying much attention to the world. But now her eyes were opened. In fact, it was time to blink.

Under the headline 'New Light on Ancient Game' was a picture of a vase or, rather more grandly, an urn, in orange and black. It showed some very tall and skinny men¨Ctheir masculinity was beyond doubt, but possibly beyond belief. They were apparently struggling for possession of a ball; one of them was lying on the ground, and looked as if he was in some pain. The translation of the name of the urn was, said the caption, THE TACKLE.

According to the accompanying story, someone at the Royal Art Museum had found the urn in an old storeroom, and it contained scrolls which, it said here, had the original rules of foot-the-ball laid down in the early years of the century of the Summer Weevil, a thousand years ago, when the game was played in honour of the goddess Pedestriana...

Glenda skimmed through the rest of it, because there was a lot of rest to skim. An artist's impression of the aforesaid goddess adorned page three. She was, of course, beautiful. You seldom saw a goddess portrayed as ugly. This probably had something to do with their ability to strike people down instantly. In Pedestriana's case, she would probably have gone for the feet.

Glenda put the paper down, seething with anger, and as a cook she knew how to seethe. This wasn't football¨Cexcept that the Guild of Historians said that it was, and could prove it not only with old parchments but also with an urn, and she could see that you were on the wrong end of an argument if you were up against an urn.

But it was too neat, wasn't it? Except... why? His lordship didn't like football, but here was an article saying that this game was very old and had its own goddess, and if there were two things this city liked, it was tradition and goddesses, especially if the goddesses were a bit short on the chiffon above the waist. Did his lordship let them put anything in the paper? What was going on? 'I've got business to attend to,' she said sternly. 'It's good that you bought a decent paper, but you don't want to read this kind of stuff.'

'I didn't. Who's interested in that? I got it for the advert. Look.'

Glenda had never bothered much about the adverts in the paper, because they were put there by people who were after your money. But there it was, right there. Madame Sharn of Bonk gives you... micromail.

'You said we could go,' said Juliet pointedly.

'Yes, well, that was before - '

'You said we could go.'

'Yes. But, well, has anyone from the Sisters ever gone to a fashion show? It's not our kind of thing, is it?'

'Doesn't say that in the paper. Says admission free. You said we could go!'

Two o'clock, thought Glenda. Suppose I could manage it... 'All right, meet at work at half past one, do you hear? Not a minute later! I've got things to do.'

The University Council meets every day at half past eleven, she thought to herself. Oh, to be a fly on that wall. She grinned...

Trev was sitting in the battered old chair that served as his office in the vats. Work was proceeding at its usual reliable snail's pace.

'Ah, I see you are in early, Mister Trev,' said Nutt. 'I am sorry not to have been here. I had to go and deal with an emergency candelabra upset.' He leaned closer. 'I have done what you asked, Mister Trev.'

Trev snapped out of his daydream of Juliet and said, 'Huh?'

'You asked me to write... to improve your poem for Miss Juliet.'

'You've done it?'

'Perhaps you would like to have a look, Mister Trev?' He handed the paper to Trev and stood nervously by the chair as a pupil stands by the teacher.

After a very short while Trev's forehead wrinkled. 'What's ee-er?'

'That's "e'er", sir, as in "where e'er she walks".'

'You mean, like, she walks on air?' said Trev.

'No, Mister Trev. I should just put it down to poetry if I were you.'

Trev struggled on. He had never had much to do with poetry, except the sort that started 'There was a young lady of Quirm', but this looked like the real stuff. The page seemed to be crowded and yet full of space as well. Also, the writing was extremely curly and that was a sure sign, wasn't it? You didn't get that sort of thing from the lady of Quirm. 'This is great stuff, Mister Nutt. This is really great stuff. This is poetry, but what really is it sayin'?'

Nutt cleared his throat. 'Well, sir, the essence of poetry of this nature is to create a mood that will make the recipient, that is to say, sir, the young lady who you are going to send it to, feel very kindly disposed to the author of the poem, which would be you, sir, in this case. According to Ladyship, everything else is just showing off. I have brought you a pen and an envelope; if you would kindly sign the poem I will ensure that it gets to Miss Juliet.'

'I bet no one's ever written her a poem before,' said Trev, skating quickly over the truth that he hadn't either. 'I'd love to be there when she reads it.'

'That would not be advised,' said Nutt quickly. 'The general consensus is that the lady concerned reads it in the absence of the hopeful swain, that is you, sir, and forms a beneficent mental picture of him. Your actual presence might actually get in the way, especially since I see you haven't changed your shirt again today. Besides, I am informed that there is a possibility that all her clothes will fall off.'

Trev, who had been struggling with the concept of 'swain', fast-forwarded to this information at speed. 'Er, say that again?'

'All her clothes might fall off. I am sorry about this, but it appears to be a by-product of the whole business of poetry. But broadly speaking, sir, it carries the message you have asked for, which is to say "I think you're really fit. I really fancy you. Can we have a date? No hanky panky, I promise." However, sir, since it is a love poem, I have taken the liberty of altering it slightly to carry the suggestion that if hanky or panky should appear to be welcomed by the young lady she will not find you wanting in either department.'

Archchancellor Ridcully rubbed his hands together. 'Well, gentlemen, I hope we have all seen the papers this morning, or glanced at them at any rate?'

'I thought that the front page was not the place,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'It quite put me off my breakfast. Metaphorically speaking, of course.'

'Apparently, the urn has been in the museum's cellars for at least three hundred years, but for some reason it makes its presence felt now,' said Ridcully. 'Of course, they have tons of stuff in there that's never really been looked at properly and the city was going through a prudish period then and didn't care to know about that sort of thing.'

'What, that men have tonkers?' said Dr Hix. 'That sort of news gets out sooner or later.'

He looked around at the disapproving faces and added, 'Skull ring, remember? Under college statute the head of the Department of Post-Mortem Communications is entitled, nay, required to make tasteless, divisive and moderately evil remarks. I'm sorry, but these are your rules.'

'Thank you, Doctor Hix. Your uncalled-for remarks are duly noted and appreciated.'

'You know, it seems very suspicious to me that this wretched urn has turned up at just this time,' observed the Senior Wrangler, 'and I hope I am not alone in this?'

'I know what you mean,' said Hix. 'If I didn't know that the Archchancellor had his work cut out to persuade Vetinari to let us play, I would think that this was some sort of plan.'

'Ye-ess,' said Ridcully thoughtfully.

'The old rules look a lot more interesting, sir,' said Ponder.

'Ye-ess.'

'Did you read the bit that said players were not allowed to use their hands, sir? And the high priest takes to the field of play to ensure that the rules are honoured?'

'I can't see that catching on these days,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.

'He's armed with a poisoned dagger, sir,' said Ponder.

'Ah? Well, that should make for a more interesting game, at least, eh, Mustrum?... Mustrum?'

'What? Oh, yes. Yes. Something to think about, indeed. Yes, indeed. One man, in charge... The onlooker who sees most of the game... the gamer, in fact... So what move have I missed?'

'Sorry, Archchancellor?'

Ridcully blinked at Ponder Stibbons. 'What? Oh, just composing my thoughts, as one does.' He sat up straight. 'In any case the rules don't concern us at this point. We have to play this game in any eventuality and so we will abide by them in the best traditions of sportsmanship until we have worked out where they may be most usefully broken to our advantage. Mister Stibbons, you are collating our studies of the game. The floor is yours.'

'Thank you, Archchancellor.' Ponder cleared his throat. 'Gentlemen, the game of football is clearly about more than the rules and the nature of the play. In any case, these are pure mechanical considerations; the chanting and, of course, the food are of more concern to us, I feel. They seem to be an integral part of the game. Regrettably, so do the supporters' clubs.'

'What is the nature of this problem?' Ridcully enquired.

'They hit one another over the head with them. It would be true to say that brawling and mindless violence, such as occurred yesterday afternoon, is one of the cornerstones of the sport.'

'A far cry from its ancient beginnings, then,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, shaking his head.

'Well, yes. I understand that in those days the losing team was throttled. However, I suppose this would be called mindful violence that took place with the enthusiastic consent of the entire community, or at least that part of it that was still capable of breath. Fortunately, we do not yet have supporters, so that this is not at present our problem, and I propose we go directly to the pies.'

There was a chorus of general agreement from the wizards. Food was their cup of tea, and if possible slice of cake too. Some of them were already watching the door in anticipation of the tea trolley. It seemed like an age since nine.

'Central to the game is the pie,' Ponder went on, 'which is generally of shortcrust pastry containing appropriate pie-like substances. I collected half a dozen and tested them on the usual subjects.'

'The students?' said Ridcully.

'Yes. They said they were pretty awful. Not a patch on the pies here, they said. They finished them off, however. Examination of the ingredients suggests that they consisted of gravy, fat and salt, and insofar as it was possible to tell, none of the students appears to have died... '

'So we are ahead on pies, then,' said Ridcully cheerfully.

'I suppose so, Archchancellor, although I do not believe that the pie quality plays any role - ' He stopped, because the door had swung open to allow the ingress of a reinforced, heavy-duty tea trolley. Since it was not being propelled by Her, the wizards paid no further attention and settled down to the passing of cups, the handing round of the sugar bowl, the inspection of the quality of the chocolate biscuits with a view to taking more than one's entitlement and all the other little diversions without which a committee would be a clever device for making worthwhile decisions quickly.

When the rattling had ceased, and the last biscuit had been fought for, Ridcully tinkled his teaspoon on the rim of his cup for silence, although since he was Ridcully this only added the crash of broken crockery to the hubbub. Once the girl in charge of the trolley had sponged everybody down, he continued: 'The chanting, gentlemen, appears to be another inconsequentiality at first sight, but I have reason to believe that it has a certain power, and we will ignore it at our peril. I see the museum's translators say the modern chants were originally hymns to the goddess calling on her to grant her favours to the team of choice, while naiads danced on the edges of the field of play, the better to encourage the players to greater feats of prowess.'

'Naiads?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'They're water nymphs, aren't they? Young women with very thin damp clothing? Why would anyone want them around? Besides, didn't they drown sailors by singing to them?'

Ridcully let the thoughtful pause hang in the air for a while before volunteering: 'Fortunately, I don't think anyone these days would expect that we play football underwater.'

'The pies would float,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies.

'Not necessarily,' said Ponder.

'What about clothing, Mister Stibbons? I assume there will be some?'

'Temperatures were somewhat warmer in olden days. I can assure you that no one will insist on nudity.'

Ponder might have noticed the rattle as the girl with the tea trolley almost dropped a cup, but was gracious enough not to notice that he had noticed. He went on. 'Currently the teams wear old shirts and short trousers.'

'How short?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, urgency in his voice.

'About mid-knee, I believe,' said Ponder. 'Is this likely to be a problem?'

'Yes, it is. The knees should be covered. It is a well-known fact that a glimpse of the male knee can drive women into a frenzy of libidinousness.' There was another rattle from the tea trolley, but Ponder ignored it because his own head had rattled a bit, too.

'Are you sure about that, sir?'

'It is established fact, young Stibbons.'

Ponder had found a grey hair on his comb that morning and was not in the mood to take this standing up.

'And precisely in what books does - ' he began, but Ridcully interrupted with unusual diplomacy. Generally he liked little tiffs among the faculty.

'A few more inches to prevent mobbing by the ladies should present us with no problems, surely, Mister Stibbons? Oops... '

This last was to Glenda, who had dropped two spoons on the carpet. She gave him a cursory curtsy.

'Er, yes... and we should sport the university colours,' he went on, with a hint of nervousness. Ridcully prided himself on treating the staff well, and indeed did so whenever he remembered them, but the expression of intelligent amusement on the face of the dumpy girl had unnerved him; it was as if a chicken had winked.

'Um, yes, yes indeed,' he said. 'The good old red jersey we used to wear in my rowing days, with the big U's on the front, bold as brass... '

He glanced at the maid, who was frowning. But he was Archchancellor, wasn't he? It said so on his door, didn't it?

'That's what we'll do,' he declared. 'We'll look into pies, although I've seen a few pies that don't bear looking into, haha, and we'll adapt the good old red sweater. What's next, Mister Stibbons?'

'With regard to the chanting, sir. I've asked the Master of the Music to work on some options,' said Ponder smoothly. 'We need to select a team as soon as possible.'

'I don't see what the rush is,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, who had almost nodded off in the arms of a chocolate biscuit surfeit.

'The bequest, remember?' said the head of the Department of Post-Mortem Communications. 'We - '

'Pas devant la domestique!' snapped the Lecturer in Recent Runes.



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