Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(4)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(4)
Terry Pratchett

After a while, and out of sheer curiosity, Drumknott said, ‘What happened this time, my lord? I didn’t hear anything.’

Beside him, Lord Vetinari said, ‘Neither did they, Drumknott. Dear me, it’s such a waste. One wonders why they don’t learn to read. Then they’d recognize the crest on my coach, which would have enlightened them!’

As the coach got up to what might be considered an erratic kind of speed, and after some thought, Drumknott said, ‘But your crest, sir, is black on a black background and it’s a very dark night.’

‘Ah, yes, Drumknott,’ Lord Vetinari replied, with what passed as a smile. ‘Do you know, I hadn’t thought of that.’

There was something inevitable about Lady Margolotta’s castle. As the great wooden doors slowly opened, every door hinge creaked. After all, there was such a thing as socially acceptable ambience. Indeed, what kind of vampire would live in a castle that didn’t creak and groan on cue? The Igors wouldn’t have it any other way, and now the resident Igor welcomed Lord Vetinari and his secretary into a cavernous hall with spiders’ webs hanging pendulously from the ceiling. And there was a sense, only a sense, that down in the basement somewhere, something was screaming.

But of course, Vetinari reflected, here was a wonderful lady, who had made vampires understand that returning from the grave so often that you got dizzy was rather stupid and who somehow had persuaded them to at least tone down their nocturnal activities. Besides which, she had introduced coffee to Uberwald, apparently exchanging one terrifying craving for another.

Lady Margolotta was always short and to the point, as was the nature of the conversation that followed a splendid dinner a few days later. ‘It is the grags. The grags again, yes, Havelock? After all this time! My vord, even vorse, just as you, my dear, prophesied. How could you have foreseen it?’

‘Well, madam, Diamond King of Trolls asked me the very same thing, but all I can say is that it lies in the indefatigable nature of sapient creatures. In short, they can’t all be satisfied at the same time. You thought the bunting and fireworks and handshakes and pledges after Koom Valley was signed and sealed was the end of it, yes? Personally, I have always considered this a mere interlude. In short, Margolotta, peace is what you have while incubating the next war. It is impossible to accommodate everyone and twice as impossible to please all the dwarfs. You see, when I’m talking to Diamond King of Trolls he is the mouthpiece of the trolls, he speaks for all the trolls. Sensible as they are, they leave it all to him when it comes to the politics.

‘And then, on the other hand, we have yourself, dear lady: you speak for all your … folk in Bonkfn2 and most agreements made with you are, well, quite agreeable … But the dwarfs, what a calamity. Just when you think you’re talking to the leader of the dwarfs, some wild-eyed grag will pop out on the landscape and suddenly all bets are off, all treaties instantly become null and void, and there is no possibility of trust! As you know, there is a “king” – a dezka-knikfn3, as they call him – in every mine on the Disc. How does one do business with people like this? Every dwarf his own inner tyrant.’

‘Vell,’ said Lady Margolotta, ‘Rhys Rhysson is managing quite vell in the circumstances and ve in higher Uberwald …’ now her ladyship almost whispered, ‘are very much on the side of progress. But, yes, how can vun vin vunce and for all, that is vhat I vould like to know.’

His lordship set down his glass carefully and said, ‘That, alas, is never totally possible. The stars change, people change, and all we can do is assist the future with care and thoughtful determination to see the world at peace, even if it means ushering some of its worst threats to an early grave.

‘Although I’m bound to say that subtlety and careful interrogation of the things the world puts in front of us suggest to me that the Low King – whom, as protocol dictates, I called upon before coming here to meet you – is forming a plan right now; and when he makes his play we will throw everything in to support him. He is taking a very big gamble on the future. He believes that the time is right, especially since Ankh-Morpork is now well known to have the largest dwarf community in the world.’

‘But I believe his people don’t like too much modernity. I must admit, I can see vhy. Progress is such a vorrisome thing when one is trying to maintain peace in the vorld. So … unpredictable. Can I remind you, Havelock, that many, many years ago, an Ephebian philosopher built an engine that vas very powerful, scarily so. If those people had persevered with the engine powered by steam the nature of life now might have been very much different. Don’t you find that vorryink? How can ve guide the future when von idiot can make a mechanism that might change everything?’

Lord Vetinari dribbled a last drop of brandy into his glass and said cheerfully, ‘Madam, only a fool would try to stop the progress of the multitude. Vox populi, vox deorum, carefully shepherded by a thoughtful prince, of course. And so I take the view that when it’s steam engine time steam engines will come.’

‘And what do you think you’re doing, dwarf?’

Young Magnus Magnusson didn’t pay much attention at first to the senior dwarf whose face, in so far as it could be seen, was definitely grumpy, the kind of dwarf that had apparently never himself been young, and so he shrugged and said, ‘No offence, O venerable one, but what I think I’m doing is walking along minding my own business in the hope that others would be minding their own. I hope you have no rat with that?’fn4

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