Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(5)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(5)
Terry Pratchett

It is said that a soft answer turneth away wrath, but this assertion has a lot to do with hope and was now turning out to be patently inaccurate, since even a well-spoken and thoughtful soft answer could actually drive the wrong kind of person into a state of fury if wrath was what they had in mind, and that was the state the elderly dwarf was now enjoying.

‘Why are you wearing your helmet backwards, young dwarf?’

Magnus was an easy-going dwarf and did the wrong thing, which was to be logical.

‘Well, O venerable one, it’s got my Scouting badge on it, you know. Scouting? Out in the fresh air? Not getting up to mischief and serving my community well?’

This litany of good intentions didn’t seem to get Magnus any friends and his sense of peril began belatedly to function much faster. The old dwarf was really, really unhappy about him, and during this short exchange a few other dwarfs had sauntered over to them, looking at Magnus as if weighing him up for the fight.

It was Magnus’s first time alone in the twin cities of Bonk and Schmaltzberg and he hadn’t expected to be greeted like this. These dwarfs didn’t look like the ones he had grown up with in Treacle Mine Road and he began to back away, saying hurriedly, ‘I’m here to see my granny, right, if you don’t mind, she’s not very well and I’ve come all the way from Ankh-Morpork, hitching rides on carts and sleeping out every night in haystacks and barns. It’s a long, long way—’

And then it all happened.

Magnus was a speedy runner, as befitted the Ankh-Morpork Rat Pack,fn5 and as he ran he tried to figure out what it was that he had done wrong. After all, it had taken him for ever by various means to get to Uberwald, and he was a dwarf, and they were dwarfs and …

It dawned on him that there had been something in the newspapers back home saying that there were still a few dwarf societies that would have nothing to do with any organization that included trolls, the traditional and visceral enemy. Well, there were certainly trolls in the pack back home and they were good sports, all of them, a bit slow mind you, but he had occasionally gone to tea with some of them and vice versa. Only now he remembered how occasionally old trolls and older dwarfs were upset for no other reason than that after hundreds of years of trying to kill one another they, by means of one handshake, were supposed to have become friends.

Magnus had always understood that the Low City of the Low King was a dark place, and that was okay for dwarfs as dwarfs and darkness always got on well together, but here he sensed a deeper darkness. In this trying moment it seemed that here he had no friends apart from his grandmother, and it looked as though there was going to be a lot of trouble between him and the other side of town where she lived.

He was panting now but he could still hear the sounds of pursuit, even though he was leaving the deeper corridors and tunnels behind him and heading out of the underground city of Schmaltzberg, realizing he would have to come back another day … or another way.

As he stopped briefly to get his breath back, a guard on the city gate stepped into his path with a certain greedy expression.

‘And where do you think you’re going in a hurry, Mister Ankh-Morpork? Back to the light with your troll friends, eh?’

The guard’s spontoon knocked Magnus’s feet from under him and then the kicking started in earnest. Magnus rolled to get out of the way and as a kind of reflex shouted, ‘Tak does not want us to think of him, but he does want us to think!’

He groaned and spat out a tooth as he saw another dwarf coming towards him. To his dismay the newcomer looked middle-aged and well-to-do, which certainly meant that there would be no friendship here. But instead of administering a kicking, the older dwarf shouted in a voice like hammers, ‘Listen to me, young dwarf, you must never let your guard down like this …’

The newcomer smacked his original assailant to the ground with commendable ferocity and a gloriously unnecessary display of violence and as the guard lay groaning he pulled Magnus upright.

‘Well, you can run, kid, much better than most dwarfs I know, but a boy like you should know that Ankh-Morpork dwarfs are not in favour at the moment, at least not around these parts. To tell you the truth, I’m not that happy about them myself, but if there’s a fight it must be a fair one.’

At that he kicked the stricken guard very hard and said, ‘My name is Bashfull Bashfullsson. You, lad, better get yourself some micromail if you’re going to come calling on your granny looking all Ankh-Morpork. And it is ashamed I am that my fellow dwarfs treat a young dwarf so badly just because of what he wears.’ And the full stop to that rant was yet another blow to the recumbent guard.

‘I’ll hand it to you, lad, I really have never seen a dwarf that can run as fast as you were doing! My word, you can run, but it might now be time to learn how to hide.’

Magnus brushed himself down and stared at his saviour, saying, ‘Bashfull Bashfullsson! But you’re a legend!’ And he took a step backwards saying, ‘I’ve read all about you! You became a grag because you don’t like Ankh-Morpork!’

‘I may not, young dwarf, but I don’t hold with killing in the darkness like those bastard deep-downers and delvers. I like a stand-up fight, me.’

Saying this, Bashfull Bashfullsson kicked the fallen guard heavily yet one more time with his enormous iron-clad boot.

And one of the most well-known and well-respected dwarfs in the world held out his hand to young Magnus, and said, ‘Now let your talent take you to safety. As you said, Tak does not require us to think of him, but remember that he does require us to think and you might want a thought or two about adjusting your attire when you come back to visit your granny again. Besides, she might not appreciate Ankh-Morpork fashions. Nice to have met you, Mister Speedy, and now get your sorry arse out of here – I might not be around next time.’

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