Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(11)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(11)
Terry Pratchett

‘And yes, I am diamond through and through and therefore I cannot tell lies for fear of shattering. Furthermore, I have no intention of trying to do so. It appears to me, gentlemen, from what you tell me, that the two of you are in accord, neither wishing to play unfairly and both of you wishing to act decently with one another and so, on this occasion, much as my Guild colleagues might disapprove, I suggest I act as mediator and lawyer for both of you. Troll justice is remarkably straightforward – I only wish that this could be the case everywhere else. However, should you fall out then I would not undertake work from either of you subsequently.’

Thunderbolt smiled and little sparkles flashed around the room like a firework display.

‘I will put together a short document which might, in other places, be called an agreement to agree. And I am the judge not on the side of you individually but on the side of you both. I am diamond and I cannot allow injustice to happen. I suggest, gentlemen, that you continue with your project, which seems to me remarkable, and leave the paperwork to me. I look forward to seeing you at the compound tomorrow.’

Harry and Dick were silent in the coach until Dick said, ‘Weren’t he nice? For a lawyer.’

By the time they got back to the compound the goblin Billy Slick, who had worked for Harry for many years, was in a tizzy – although he didn’t know that, not knowing the word existed – and he was at the gate waiting for them when the carriage drew up.

Frantically, he said, ‘I closed the gate, Sir Harry, but it looks like they’ll climb over anything to see this … this … this thing! I keep telling ’em we ain’t running no fun house here.’

The light was fading and yet still the eyes of the onlookers were following Iron Girder as she travelled around the track while Simnel’s team put her through her paces, throwing off sparks in the twilight like signals to the universe that steam was here to stay. And when most of the sightseers had reluctantly left to go home for their supper, some of Harry’s goblins slunk into the compound to see the marvel of the age. They did indeed slink, Harry thought, not exactly like a burglar, but simply because the average goblin carcass was born slinking, except that right now they were dancing around Iron Girder, and the lads had their work cut out to keep skinny little goblin fingers out of dangerous places.

Iron Girder sat and occasionally gave out a puff of steam or smoke while all the time, in the twilight, Harry heard tiny staccato voices interrogating the engineers: ‘What does this one do, mister?’, ‘What happens if I push this, mister?’, ‘I see, mister, that this one connects to the blastpipey armature.’

Harry and Dick joined Dave and Wally as they stood by Iron Girder answering the barrage of questions. To Harry’s surprise, instead of the complaints he was expecting to be issuing from the lads’ mouths, he saw they were smiling happily.

‘They seem to get it, sir! Oh, aye!’ said Wally. ‘They’re into everything! We’re ’aving to keep an eye on them, but they seem to understand without being told, can you believe that?’

And Harry marvelled. He quite liked the little buggers, as any employer would quite like somebody who worked hard, but how does a goblin get the understanding of steam engines? It must be something in their nature. Their scruffy little faces were wreathed in smiles at the sight of something metallic and complicated. It was a sign of the times, he thought, and it looks like time for the goblins.

Simnel was silent for a moment as if waking up the internal steam for the next thought, then said, in a careful kind of voice, ‘You really would think they were born to it!’

‘I can’t say I’m surprised, Dick,’ said Harry. ‘The clacks people say the same thing. It’s uncanny but it seems that they automatically understand mechanisms, so be careful as they like to take things apart on the fly just to see what they do. But once they understand how whatever it is works they seem to put it all back together again. There’s no malice, they just like to tinker with the best and, you know what, sometimes they improve things. How can you explain that? But if I was you I’d have one of you three sleeping under Iron Girder of a night just so they don’t get creative.’

The following day Moist von Lipwig was gently awakened by Crossly, who as yet had failed to grasp his master’s attitude to sleep, a fact which was reinforced by Moist turning over in bed and saying, ‘Mumble mumble grunt mumble groan mumble off!’ The sequence was repeated three minutes later, with the same response, this time with the emphasis on the last syllable, uttered three times with increasing volume.

Subsequently – in fact and to be precise, fifteen minutes later – Moist von Lipwig was pulled out of the arms of Morpheus by the none too gentle prodding of a blade belonging to one of the Ankh-Morpork palace guards, a species he didn’t like very much in any case because they were stolid and dumb. Admittedly, so were the majority of the City Watch, in Moist’s opinion, but at least they were by and large creatively and, at least, humorously dumb, which made them a lot more interesting. After all, you could talk to them and therefore confuse them, whereas with the palace guards, well, all they knew was how to prod, and they were quite good at it. It was wise not to put them to any trouble, and so Moist, fully conversant with how this sort of thing worked, dressed grumpily and followed them to the palace, and undoubtedly an audience with Lord Vetinari.

The Patrician was, unusually, not at his desk, but paying attention to something on the large polished table that filled one half of the Oblong Office. He was, in fact, playing. It seemed ridiculous, but there was no denying it: he was watching a children’s toy quite intently, a little cart, or trolley of some sort, on a little metal rail, which allowed it to scuttle continuously in a circle for no readily apparent reason. He straightened up after Moist coughed loudly and said, ‘Ah, Mister Lipwig. It’s so kind of you to come … eventually. Tell me, what do you make of this?’

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