Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(3)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(3)
Terry Pratchett

It was noticed in the locality that the two main co-workers of Mr Simnel, or ‘Mad Iron’ Simnel as some were now calling him, seemed somewhat changed, more grown-up and aware of themselves; young men, acolytes of the mysterious thing behind the doors. And no amount of bribery by beer or by women in the pub would make them give up the precious secrets of the barn.fn1 They conducted themselves now as befitted the masters of the fiery furnace.

And then, of course, there were the sunny days when young Simnel and his cohorts dug long lines in the field next to the barn and filled them with metal while the furnace glowed day and night and everyone shook their heads and said, ‘Madness.’ And this went on, it seemed for ever, until ever was finished and the banging and clanging and smelting had stopped. Then Mr Simnel’s lieutenants pulled aside the double doors of the big barn and filled the world with smoke.

Very little happened in this part of Sto Lat and this was enough to bring people running. Most of them arrived in time to see something heading out towards them, panting and steaming, with fast-spinning wheels and oscillating rods eerily appearing and disappearing in the smoke and the haze, and on top of it all, like a sort of king of smoke and fire, Dick Simnel, his face contorted with the effort of concentration. It was faintly reassuring that this something was apparently under the control of somebody human – although the more thoughtful of the onlookers might have added ‘So what? So’s a spoon,’ and got ready to run away as the steaming, dancing, spinning, reciprocating engine cleared the barn and plunged on down the tracks laid in the field. And the bystanders, most of whom were now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except, of course, for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that one day he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes indeed. A prince of the steam! A master of the sparks! A coachman of the Thunderbolts!

And outside, freed at last, the smoke drifted purposefully away from the shed in the direction of the largest city in the world. It drifted slowly at first, but gathered speed.

Later that day, and after several triumphant turns around the short track in the field, Simnel sat down with his helpers.

‘Wally, Dave, I’m running out of brass, lads,’ he said. ‘Get your mothers to get your stuff together, make us some butties, bring out the ’orses. We’re taking Iron Girder to Ankh-Morpork. I ’ear it’s the place where things ’appen.’

Of course Lord Vetinari, Tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, would occasionally meet Lady Margolotta, Governess of Uberwald. Why shouldn’t he? After all, he also occasionally had meetings with Diamond King of Trolls up near Koom Valley, and indeed with the Low King of the Dwarfs, Rhys Rhysson, in his caverns under Uberwald. This, as everybody knew, was politics.

Yes, politics. The secret glue that stopped the world falling into warfare. In the past there had been so much war, far too much, but as every schoolboy knew, or at least knew in those days when schoolboys actually read anything more demanding than a crisp packet, not so long ago a truly terrible war, the last war of Koom Valley, had almost happened, out of which the dwarfs and trolls had managed to achieve not exactly peace, but an understanding from which, hopefully, peace might evolve. There had been the shaking of hands, important hands, shaken fervently, and so there was hope, hope as fragile as a thought.

Indeed, thought Lord Vetinari as his coach rattled along towards Uberwald, in the rosy afterglow that had followed the famous Koom Valley Accord even goblins had finally been recognized as sapient creatures, to be metaphorically treated as brothers, although not necessarily as brothers-in-law. He reflected that, from a distance, the world might conceivably look to be at peace, a state of affairs that always ends in war, eventually.

He winced as his coach hit another most egregious bump on the road. He’d had the seats supplemented with extra mattress padding but simply nothing could turn the journey to Uberwald into anything other than a penance at every pothole, leading to fundamental discomfort. Progress had been very slow, although stops at clacks towers along the route had allowed his secretary, Drumknott, to collect the daily crossword puzzle without which Lord Vetinari considered the day incomplete.

There was a bang from outside.

‘Good grief! Must we hit every pothole on the road, Drumknott?’

‘I’m sorry, sir, but it appears that her ladyship cannot even now control the bandits around the Wilinus Pass. She has a culling every so often, but I’m afraid this is the least dangerous route.’

There was a shout outside, followed by more banging. Vetinari blew out his reading lamp moments before a ferocious-looking individual pushed the point of a crossbow bolt to the glass of the carriage, which was now in darkness, and said, ‘Just you come out here with all your valuables or it’ll be the worse for you, okay! No tricks now! We’re assassins!’

Lord Vetinari calmly put down the book he had been reading, sighed and said to Drumknott, ‘It appears, Drumknott, that we have been hijacked by assassins. Isn’t that … nice.’

And now Drumknott had a little smile. ‘Oh, yes, how nice, sir. You always like meeting assassins. I won’t get in your way, sir.’

Vetinari pulled his cloak around him as he stepped out of the coach and said, ‘There is no reason for violence, gentlemen. I will give you everything I have …’

And it was no more than two minutes later that his lordship climbed back up into the coach and signalled for the driver to carry on as if nothing had happened.

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