Automatically, Ridcully turned again to look at Glenda, and got a distinct feeling that here was a woman about to learn a foreign language in a hurry. It was an odd but slightly exciting idea. Until this moment, he had never thought of the maids in the singular. They were all… servants. He was polite to them, and smiled when appropriate. He assumed they sometimes did other things than fetch and carry, and sometimes went off to get married and sometimes just… went off. Up until now, though, he'd never really thought that they might think, let alone what they thought about, and least of all what they thought about the wizards. He turned back to the table.
'Who will be doing the chanting, Mister Stibbons?'
'The aforesaid supporters, fans, sir. It's short for fanatics.'
'And ours will be… who?'
'Well, we are the largest employer in the city, sir.'
'As a matter of fact I think Vetinari is, and I wish to all hells I knew exactly who he is employing,' said Ridcully.
'I'm sure our loyal staff will support us,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. He turned to Glenda, and to Ridcully's dismay said, glutinously, 'I'm sure you would be a fan, would you not, my child?'
The Archchancellor sat back. He had a definite feeling that this was going to be fun. Well, she hadn't blushed and she hadn't yelled. In fact, she had not done anything, apart from carefully pick up the china.
'I support Dolly Sisters, sir. Always have done.'
'And are they any good?'
'Having a poor patch at the moment, sir.'
'Ah, then I expect you will want to support our team, which will be very good indeed!'
'Can't do that, sir. You've got to support your team, sir.'
'But you just said they weren't doing well.'
'That's when you support your team, sir. Otherwise you're a numper.'
'A numper being… ?' said Ridcully.
'He's someone who's all cheering when things are going well, and then runs off to another team when there's a losing streak. They always shouts the loudest.'
'So you support the same team all your life?'
'Well, if you move away it's okay to change. No one will mind much unless you go to a real enemy.' She looked at their puzzled expressions, sighed and went on: 'Like Naphill United and the Whoppers, or Dolly Sisters and Dimwell Old Pals, or the Pigsty Hill Pork Packers and the Cockbill Boars. You know?'
When they clearly didn't, she continued: 'They hate each other. Always have done, always will. They are the bad matches. The shutters go up for those. I don't know what my neighbours would say if they saw me cheering a Dimmer.'
'But that's dreadful!' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies.
'Excuse me, miss,' said Ponder, 'but most of those pairs are quite close to one another, so why do they hate one another so much?'
'That at least is easy,' said Dr Hix. 'It's hard to hate people who are a long way away. You forget how dreadful they are. But you see a neighbour's warts every day.'
'That's just the sort of cynical comment I'd expect from a post-mortem communicator,' grumbled the Chair of Indefinite Studies.
'Or a realist,' said Ridcully, smiling. 'But Dolly Sisters and Dimwell are quite far apart, miss.'
Glenda shrugged. 'I know, but it's always been like that. That's how it is. That's all I know.'
'Well, thank you… ?' There was no mistaking the hanging question.
'Glenda,' she said.
'I see there are a great many things we don't yet understand.'
'Yes, sir. Everything.' She hadn't meant to say that aloud. It just escaped of its own accord.
There was a stirring among the wizards, who were nonplussed because what had happened could not really have happened. The tea trolley might as well have neighed.
Ridcully banged his hand on the table before the others could summon up words.
'Well said, miss,' he chuckled, as Glenda waited for the floor to open and swallow her. 'And I'm sure that remark came from the heart, because I suspect it could not have come from the head.'
'Sorry, sir, but the gentleman did ask for my opinion.'
'Now, that one was from the head. Well done,' said Ridcully. 'So do, therefore, give us the benefit of your thinking, Miss Glenda.'
Still in a kind of shock, Glenda looked into the Archchancellor's eyes and saw that it was no time to be less than bold, but that was unnerving too.
'Well, what's this all about, sir? If you want to play, just go and do it, yes? Why change things?'
'The game of foot-the-ball is very behind the times, Miss Glenda.'
'Well, so are you – Sorry, sorry, but, well. You know. Wizards are always wizards. Not a lot changes in here, does it? And then you talk about some Master of the Music to make a new chant, and that's not how it goes. The Shove makes up the chants. They just happen. They just, like, come out of the air. And the pies are pretty awful, that's true, but when you're in the Shove, and it's mucky weather, and the water's coming through your coat, and your shoes are leaking, and then you bite into your pie, and you know that everyone else is biting into their pie, and the grease slides down your sleeve, well, sir, I don't have the words for it, sir, I really don't, sir. There's a feeling I can't describe, but it's a bit like being a kid at Hogswatch, and you can't just buy it, sir, you can't write it down or organize it or make it shiny or make it tame. Sorry to speak out of turn, sirs, but that's the long and the short of it. You must have known it, sir. Didn't your father ever take you to a game?'
Ridcully looked down the table at the Council and noted a certain moistness of eye. Wizards were, largely, of that generation from which grandfathers are carved. They were also, largely, large, and awash with cynical crabbiness and the barnacles of the years, but… the smell of cheap overcoats in the rain, which always had a tint and taste of soot in it, and your father, or maybe your grandfather, lifting you on to his shoulders, and there you were, above all those cheap hats and scarves, and you could feel the warmth of the Shove, watch its tides, feel its heartbeat, and then, certainly, a pie would be handed up, or maybe half a pie if times were hard, and if they were really bad it might be a handful of fat greasy pease which were to be eaten one at a time to make them last longer… or when times were flush there might be a real treat, like a hot dog you didn't have to share, or a plate of scouse, with yellow fat beading on the top and lumps of gristle you could chew at on the way home, meat which now you would not give to a dog but which was sacred lotus eaten with the gods, in the rain, in the cheering, in the bosom of the Shove…
The Archchancellor blinked. No time seemed to have passed, unless you count seventy years which had gone past like that. 'Er, very graphically argued,' he said, and pulled himself together. 'Interesting points well made. But, you see, we have a responsibility here. After all, this city was just a handful of villages before my university was built. We are concerned about the fighting in the streets yesterday. We heard a rumour that someone was killed because he supported the wrong team. We can't stand by and let this sort of thing happen.'
'So you'll be shutting down the Assassins' Guild, will you, sir?'
There was a gasp from every mouth, including her own. The only rational thought that didn't flee from her mind was: I wonder if that job is still going in the Fools' Guild? The pay wasn't much, but they do know how to appreciate a pie.
When she dared look, the Archchancellor was staring at the ceiling, while his fingers drummed on the table. I should have been more careful, Glenda whined in her own ear. Don't get chatty with nobs. You forget what you are, but they don't.
The drumming stopped. 'Good point, well put,' said Ridcully, 'and I shall marshal my responses thusly.' He flicked a finger and, with a smell of gooseberries and a pop, a small red globe appeared in the air over the table.
'One: the Assassins, while deadly, are not random, and indeed are mostly a danger to one another. Assassination is only to be feared, generally speaking, by those powerful enough to have a stab, as it were, at defending themselves.'
Another little globe appeared.
'Two: it is an article of faith with them that property is undamaged. They are invariably courteous and considerate and notoriously silent, and would never dream of inhuming their target in a public street.'
A third globe appeared.
'Three: they are organized and therefore amenable to civic influence. Lord Vetinari is very keen on that sort of thing.'
And another globe popped into life.
'And four: Lord Vetinari is himself a trained Assassin, majoring in stealth and poisons. I am not sure he would share your opinion. And he is a Tyrant even if he has developed tyranny to such a point of metaphysical perfection that it is a dream rather than a force. He does not have to listen to you, you see. He doesn't even have to listen to me. He listens to the city. I don't know how he does, but he does. And he plays it like a violin'¨CRidcully paused, then went on¨C'or like the most complicated game you can imagine. The city works, not perfectly, but better than it has ever done. I think it's time for football to change too.' He smiled at her expression. 'What is your job, young lady? Because you are wasted in it.'
It was probably meant as a compliment, but Glenda, her head so bewilderingly full of the Archchancellor's words that they were trickling out of her ears, heard herself say, 'I'm certainly not wasted, sir! You've never eaten better pies than mine! I run the Night Kitchen!'
The metaphysics of real politics were not a subject of interest to most of those present, but they knew where they were with pies. She was the centre of attention already, but now it blazed with interest.
'You do?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'We thought it was the pretty girl.'
'Really?' said Glenda brightly. 'Well, I run it.'
'So who does that wonderful pie you send up here sometimes, with the cheese pastry and the hot pickle layer?'
'The Ploughman's Pie? Me, sir. My own recipe.'
'Really? How do you manage to get the pickled onions to stay so hard and crispy in the baking? It's just amazing!'
'My own recipe, sir,' said Glenda firmly. 'It wouldn't be mine if I told anyone else.'
'Well said,' said Ridcully gleefully. 'You can't go around asking craftsmen the secrets of their trade, old chap. It's a thing you just don't do. Now, I am concluding this meeting, although what it has in fact concluded I shall decide later.' He turned back to Glenda. 'Thank you for coming here today, Miss Glenda, and I shall not enquire why a young lady who works in the Night Kitchen is pouring tea up here at nearly noon. Do you have any further advice for us?'
'Well,' said Glenda, 'since you ask… No, I really shouldn't say… '
'This is hardly the moment for bashfulness, do you think?'
'Well, it's about your strip, sir. That means your team colours. Nothing wrong with red and yellow, no one else uses those two, but, well, you want two big U's on the front, right? Like UU?' She waved her hands in the air.
'Yes, that is exactly right. After all, it's what we are.' Ridcully nodded.
'Are you sure? I mean, I know you gentlemen are bachelors and all, but… well, you'll look like you've got bosoms. Honestly.'
'Oh gods, sir, she's right,' said Ponder. 'It will make a rather unfortunate shape… '
'What kind of mind would see something like that in a pair of innocent letters?' the Lecturer in Recent Runes demanded angrily.
'I don't know, sir,' said Glenda, 'but every man watching the football has got one. And they would make up nicknames. They love doing that.'
'I suspect you may be right,' said Ridcully, 'but we never had any trouble when I was rowing in the old days.'
'Football followers are rather more robust in their language, sir,' said Ponder.
'Yes, and in those days we were pretty careless when it came to throwing fireballs, as I recall,' Ridcully mused. 'Oh dear, what a shame. I was looking forward to giving the old rag a bit of an airing again. Still, I'm sure we can change the design a little to save embarrassment all round. Thank you once again, Miss Glenda. Bosoms, eh? Narrow escape there, all round. Good day to you.' He shut the door after the trolley, which Glenda was pushing as if in a race…
Molly, the head maid in the Day Kitchen, was fretting at the end of the corridor beyond. She sagged with relief when Glenda came round the corner, teacups rattling.
'Was it all right? Did anything go wrong? I'll get into so much trouble if anything went wrong. Tell me nothing went wrong!'
'It was all fine,' said Glenda. That got her a suspicious look.
'Are you sure? You owe me for this!'
The laws of favours are amongst the most fundamental in the multiverse. The first law is: nobody asks for just one favour; the second request (after the granting of the first favour), prefaced by 'and can I be really cheeky… ?' is the asking of the second favour. If the aforesaid second request is not granted, the second law ensures that the need for any gratitude for the first favour is nullified, and in accordance with the third law the favour giver has not done any favours at all, and the favour field collapses.
But Glenda reckoned she'd won a lot of favours over the years, and was owed a few herself. Besides, she had reason to believe that Molly had been spending the welcome break in dalliance with her boyfriend, who worked in the bakery.
'Can you get me in to the banquet on Wednesday night?'
'Sorry, the butler chooses who gets those jobs,' said Molly.
Ah yes, the tall, thin girls, Glenda thought.
'Why in the world would you want to get in, anyway?' Molly said. 'It's a lot of running around and not much pay, when all's said and done. I mean, we get some decent leftovers after a big affair, but what's that to you? Everyone knows that you're the leftover queen!' She paused, too awkwardly. 'I mean, we all know you're really good at making wonderful food with always a little something left over,' she gabbled. 'That's all I meant!'
'I didn't think you meant anything else,' said Glenda, keeping her voice level. But she raised it again to add, as Molly scurried off: 'I can pay back the favour right now! You've got two floury handprints on your arse!'
The glare that came back was a small victory, but you have to take what you can get.
Still, that strange interlude, which she was sure she would regret, had taken up a lot of time. She had to get the Night Kitchen organized.
When the door had closed behind the rather forthright maid, Ridcully nodded meaningfully at Ponder. 'All right, Mister Stibbons. You were glancing at your thaumometer the whole time I was talking to her. Out with it.'
'Some kind of entanglement,' said Ponder.
'And there was me thinking that Vetinari was behind the business with the urn,' said Ridcully gloomily. 'I should have realized he's never that unsubtle.'
'Oh, I assumed it was going to be something like that right at the start,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
'Indeed,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'It crossed my mind as soon as I saw it in the paper.'
'Gentlemen,' said Ridcully. 'I am humbled that as soon as I have an idea about what something is, it turns out that you all knew what it was. I am amazed.'
'Excuse me,' said Dr Hix, 'but I don't have a clue what you're talking about.'
'You are out of touch! You've been spending too long underground, sir!' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes sternly.
'You don't often let me out, that's why! And can I remind you that I have to maintain a vital line of cosmic defence in this establishment here with a staff of exactly one? And he's dead!'
'You mean Charlie? I remember old Charlie, keen worker nevertheless,' said Ridcully.
'Yes, but I have to keep rewiring him all the time,' sighed Hix. 'I do try to keep you abreast of things in my monthly reports. I hope you read them… ?'
'Tell me, Doctor Hix,' said Ponder, 'did you experience anything unusual when that young lady was speaking so eloquently?'
'Well, yes, I had a pleasant moment of happy recollection about my father.'
'So did we all, I am sure,' said Ponder. There was sombre nodding around the table. 'I never knew my father. I was brought up by my aunts. I had d¨¦j¨¤ vu without the original vu.'
'And it wasn't magic?' suggested the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
'No. Religion, I suspect,' said Ridcully. 'A god invoked, that sort of thing.'
'Not invoked, Mustrum,' said Dr Hix. 'Summoned by bloodshed!'
'Oh, I hope not,' said Ridcully, getting to his feet. 'I would like to try a little experiment this afternoon, gentlemen. We will not talk about football, we will not speculate about football, we will not worry about football – '
'You are going to make us play it, aren't you?' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes glumly.
'Yes,' said Ridcully, more than somewhat miffed at the spoiling of a perfectly good peroration. 'Just a little kick-about to help us get some hands-on experience of the game as it is played.'
'Er. Strictly, under the new rules, by which I mean the ancient rules we are taking as our model, hands-on experience means no hands,' said Ponder.
'Well pointed out, that man. Put the word out, will you? Football practice on the lawn after lunch!'
One thing you had to remember when dealing with dwarfs was that while they shared the same world as you did, metaphorically they thought about it as if it were upside down. Only the richest and most influential of dwarfs lived in the deepest caverns. For a dwarf, a penthouse in the centre of the city would be some kind of slum. Dwarfs liked it dark and cool.
It didn't stop there. A dwarf on the up and up was really on his uppers, and upper-class dwarfs were lower class. A dwarf who was rich, healthy and had respect and his own rat farm justifiably felt at rock bottom and was held in low esteem. When you talked to dwarfs, you turned your mind upside down. The city, too. Of course, when you dug down in Ankh-Morpork you just found more Ankh-Morpork. Thousands of years of it, ready to be dug out and shored up and walled in with the shiny dwarf brick.
It was Lord Vetinari's 'Grand Undertaking'. The city's walls corseted it like a fetishist's happiest dream. Gravity offered only a limited supply of up, but the deep loam of the plain had a limitless supply of down.
Glenda was surprised, therefore, to find Shatta right at the surface in the Maul, alongside the really posh dress shops that were for human ladies. That made sense, however; if you were going to make a scandalous profit selling clothes, it made sense to camouflage yourself amongst other shops doing the same thing. She wasn't sure about the name, but apparently shatta meant 'a wonderful surprise' in Dwarfish, and if you started to laugh about that sort of thing then you would never have time to pause for breath.
She approached the door with the apprehension of one who is certain that the moment she sets foot inside she will be charged five dollars a minute for breathing and then be held upside down and have all her wealth removed with a hook.
And it was, indeed, classy. But it was dwarf classy. That meant an awful lot of chain mail, and enough weaponry to take over a city-but if you paid attention, you realized it was female chain mail and weaponry. That was how things were happening, apparently. Dwarf women had got fed up with looking like dwarf men all the time and were metaphorically melting down their breastplates in order to make something a little lighter and with adjustable straps.
Juliet had explained this on the way down, although, of course, Juliet did not use the word 'metaphorically', it being several syllables beyond her range. There were battle-axes and war hammers, but all with that certain feminine touch: one war axe, apparently capable of cleaving a backbone lengthwise, was beautifully engraved with flowers. It was another world, and as she stood just inside the doorway looking around, Glenda felt relieved that there were other humans in the place. In fact, there were quite a few, and that was surprising. One of them, a young human woman with steel boots six inches high, gravitated towards them as if drawn by a magnet-and given the amount of ferrous metal on her body, a magnet was something she would never pass in a hurry. She was holding a tray of drinks.
'There's black mead, red mead and white mead,' she said, and then lowered her voice by a few decibels and three social classes. 'Actually, the red mead is really sherry and all the dwarf ladies are drinking it. They like not having to quaff.'
'Do we have to pay for this?' said Glenda nervously.
'It's free,' said the girl. She indicated a bowl of small black things on the tray, each one pierced with a cocktail stick, and said slightly hopelessly, 'And do try the rat fruit.'
Before Glenda could stop her, Juliet had taken one and was chewing enthusiastically.
'What part of a rat is its fruit?' asked Glenda. The girl with the tray did not look directly at her.
'Well, you know shepherd's pie?' she said.
'I know twelve different recipes,' said Glenda in a moment of rare smugness. This was actually a lie. She probably knew about four recipes because there was only so much you could do with meat and potatoes, but the glittering metallic grandeur of the place was getting on her nerves and she felt the need to stick up for herself. And then realization dawned. 'Oh, you mean like traditional shepherd's pie,' she said, 'made with the – '
'I'm afraid so,' said the girl, 'but they're very popular with the ladies.'
'Don't have any more, Jools,' said Glenda quickly.
'It's quite nice,' said Juliet. 'Can't I have one more?'
'Just one, then,' said Glenda. 'That should even up the rat.' She helped herself to a sherry and the girl, balancing carefully as she managed three different things with two different hands, handed her a glossy brochure.
Glenda glanced through it and knew her original impression had been right. This place was so expensive they didn't tell you the price of anything. You could always be sure things were going to be expensive when they didn't tell you the price. No point in looking through it, it'd suck your wages out through your eyeballs. Free drinks? Oh, yes.
With nothing else to do, she scanned the rest of the crowd. Everyone, except the growing and, in fact, quite large number of humans, had a beard. All dwarfs had beards. It was part of being a dwarf. Here, though, the beards were a little finer than you usually saw around the city and there had been some experimentation with perms and ponytails. There were mining pickaxes on view, it was true, but carried in expensively tooled bags as if the owner might spot a likely-looking coal seam on the way to the shops and wouldn't be able to help herself.
She shared this thought with Juliet, who pointed down at the feet of another well-heeled customer and said, 'Wot? And spoil those gorgeous boots? They're Snaky Cleavehelms, they are! Four hundred dollars a pop, an' you've to wait for six months!'
Glenda couldn't see the face of the boots' owner, but she did see the change in her body language. The hint of preening, even from the rear. Well, she thought, I suppose if you're going to spend all of a working family's yearly income on a pair of boots it's nice that someone notices.
When you watch people, you forget that people are watching you. Glenda was not very tall, which meant that from her point of view dwarfs were not very short. And she realized that they were being approached in a determined kind of way by two dwarfs, one of whom was extremely expansive around the waist and wearing a breastplate so beautifully hammered and ornamented that taking it into battle would be an act of artistic vandalism. He¨Cand you had to remember that all dwarfs were he unless they asserted otherwise¨Chad, when he spoke, a voice that sounded like the darkest and most expensive type of dark chocolate, possibly smoked. And the hand he offered had so many rings on each finger that you had to look with care to realize that he was not wearing a gauntlet. And she was a she, Glenda was sure of it: the chocolate was just too rich and fruity.
'So glad you could come, my dears,' she said, and the chocolate swirled. 'I am Madame Sharn. I wondered if you could be of assistance to me? I really would not dream of asking, but I am, as you would put it, between a rock and a hard one.'
All this was, to Glenda's annoyance, addressed to Juliet, who was eating rat fruit as if there was no tomorrow, which presumably there had not been for the rat. She giggled.
'She's with me,' said Glenda, and, without meaning to, added, 'Madame?'
Madame waved another hand and more rings glistened. 'This salon is technically a mine and that means that under dwarf law I am the king of the mine and in my mine my rules go. And since I am King, I declare that I am Queen,' she said. 'Dwarf law bends and creaks but is not broken.'
'Well,' Glenda began, 'we – Hey!'
This was to Madame's smaller companion, who was actually holding a tape measure up against Juliet. 'That is Pepe,' said Madame.
'Well, if he's going to take liberties like that I hope he's a woman,' said Glenda.
'Pepe is… Pepe,' said Madame calmly. 'And there is no changing him, as it were, or her. Labels are such unhelpful things, I feel.'
'Especially yours, 'cos you don't put the prices on them,' said Glenda, out of sheer nervousness.
'Ah yes, you notice these things,' said Madame, with a wink that disarmed to the point of melting.
Pepe looked up excitedly at Madame, who went on, 'I wonder if you, if she… if you both would mind joining me backstage? The matter is a little delicate.'
'Ooh, yes,' said Juliet immediately.
Out of nowhere, other human girls materialized among the crowd and carefully opened a path towards the back of the enormous room along which Madame progressed as though propelled by invisible forces.
Glenda felt that the situation had suddenly got away from her, but it had been a good measure of sherry and it whispered to her, 'Why not let a situation get away from you every once in a while? Or even just once' She had no idea what she was expecting behind the gilded door at the far end, but she had not expected smoke and flames and shouting and someone screaming in a corner. The place looked like a foundry on the day they let the clowns in.
'Come on through. Don't let this disturb you,' said Madame. 'It's always like this at show time. Nerves, you know. Of course, everyone in this business is lowly strung and there is always this problem to begin with with the micromail. It's new, you see. According to dwarf law it must be hallmarked on every link and that would not only be sacrilege, but also bloody difficult to do.' Behind the scenes, it appeared that Madame became a little less chocolatey and a little more earthy.
'Micromail!' said Juliet, as if she had been shown the gateway to riches.
'You know what it is?' said Madame.
'She talks about nothing else,' said Glenda. 'Talks and talks.'
'Well, of course, it's wonderful stuff,' said Madame. 'Almost as soft as cloth, certainly better than leather – '
' – and it doesn't chafe,' said Juliet.
'Which is always a consideration for the more traditional dwarf who will not wear cloth,' said Madame. 'Old tribal customs, how they hold us back, always pull us back. We haul ourselves out of the mine, but somehow we always drag a bit of the mine with us. If I had my way, silk would be reclassified as a metal. What is your name, young lady?'
'Juliet,' said Glenda automatically, and then blushed. That was mumming, pure and simple. It was almost as bad as getting someone to spit on their handkerchief and wiping their face for them. The young lady with the drinks had followed them in and chose this moment to take Glenda's sherry glass and replace it with a full one.
'Would you mind just walking up and down a moment, Juliet?' said Madame.
Glenda wanted to ask why, but since her mouth was full of sherry as an anti-embarrassment remedy, she let that one pass.
Madame watched Juliet critically, one hand cupping the elbow of the other arm.
'Yes, yes. But I mean slowly, as if you were not in a hurry to get there and didn't care,' said Madame. 'Imagine you're a bird in the air, a fish in the sea. Wear the world.'
'Oh, right,' said Juliet and started again.
By the time Juliet was halfway across the floor for the second time, Pepe had burst into tears. 'Where has she been? Where was she trained?' he, or conceivably she, squeaked while clapping his or her cheeks with both hands. 'You must hire her at once!'
'She's already got a good steady job at the university,' Glenda said. But the sherry said, 'Once in a while isn't over yet. Don't spoil it!'
Madame, who clearly had an instinct for this kind of thing, put an arm around her shoulders. 'The problem with dwarf ladies, you see, is that a lot of us are a little shy about being the centre of attention. I also have to bear in mind that dwarf clothing is proving quite interesting to young humans of a certain turn of mind. Your daughter is human – ' Madame turned briefly to Juliet. 'You are human, aren't you, dear? I find it pays to check.'
Juliet, apparently staring rapturously into a private world, nodded enthusiastically.
'Oh good,' said Madame. 'And while she is exquisitely well built and moves like a dream, she is not too much taller than the average dwarf and frankly, my dear, some of the ladies would aspire to being a little taller than they are. This may be letting the side up, but that walk, my word. Dwarfs have hips, of course, but they seldom know what to do with them… I'm sorry, have I said something wrong?'
The half-pint of sherry so recently consumed by Glenda finally gave way under the pressure of her rage. 'I am not her mother. She is my friend.'
Madame shot her another of those looks that gave her the feeling that her brain was being taken out and examined minutely. 'Then would you mind if I paid your friend'-there was a pause-'five dollars to model for me this afternoon?'
'All right,' said the sherry to Glenda. 'You wondered where I was going to take you and here you are. Can you see the view? What are you going to do now?'
'Twenty-five dollars,' said Glenda.
Pepe clapped her, or possibly his, cheeks again and screamed, 'Yes! Yes!'
'And a shop discount,' said Glenda.
Madame gave her a long-drawn-out stare. 'Excuse me one moment,' said the dwarf.
She walked over and took Pepe's arm, walking him at some speed to the corner. Glenda could not hear what was said over some nearby riveting and someone having hysterics. Madame came back smirking artificially, Pepe trailing her. 'I have a show starting in ten minutes and my best model has dropped her pickaxe on her foot. We shall negotiate any future engagements. And will you please stop that jumping up and down, Pepe?'
Glenda blinked. I cannot believe I just did that, she thought. Twenty-five dollars for putting some clothes on! That's more than I earn in a month! That's just not right. And the sherry said, 'What exactly is wrong here? Would you dress up in chain mail and parade in front of a lot of strangers for twenty-five dollars?'
Glenda shuddered. Certainly not, she thought.
'Well, there you are then,' said the sherry.
But it will all end in tears, thought Glenda.
'No, you're just saying that because part of you thinks it should,' said the sherry. 'You know there are far worse things that a girl could do for twenty-five dollars than put some clothes on. Take them off, for a start.'
But what will the neighbours say? was the last despairing argument from Glenda.
'They can stick it up their jumper,' said the sherry. 'Anyway, they won't know, will they? Dolly Sisters doesn't shop in the Maul, it's far too grand. Look, we're looking at twenty-five dollars. Twenty-five dollars to do what you couldn't stop her doing now with a length of lead pipe. Just look at her face! She looks as if someone has lit a lamp inside.'
It was true.
Oh, all right then, thought Glenda.
'Good,' said the sherry. 'And incidentally, I'm feeling lonely.'
And as the tray was at Glenda's elbow again, she reached out automatically. Juliet was now surrounded by dwarfs and, by the sound of it, she was having a lightning education in how to wear clothing. But it wouldn't matter, would it? The truth of the matter was that Juliet would look good in a sack. Somehow, everything she wore fitted perfectly. Glenda, on the other hand, never found anything good in her size and indeed seldom found anything in her size. In theory, something should fit, but all she ever found was facts, which are so unbecoming.
'Well, we have a nice day for it,' said the Archchancellor.
'Looks like rain,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes hopefully.
'I suggest two teams of five on a side,' said Ridcully. 'Only a friendly game, of course, just to get the hang of it.'
Ponder Stibbons made no comment. Wizards were competitive. It was a part of wizardry. Wizards have no more idea of a friendly game than cats have of a friendly mouse. The college lawns stretched out in front of them. 'Of course, next time we'll have proper jerseys,' said Ridcully. 'Mrs Whitlow already has her girls working on that. Mister Stibbons!'
'You shall be the keeper of the rules and adjudicate fairly. I will, of course, be captain of one of the teams and you, Runes, will captain the other. As Archchancellor, I suggest that I pick my team first and then you will be at liberty to choose yours.'
'It isn't actually supposed to work like that, Archchancellor,' said Ponder. 'You pick a team member and then he picks a team member until you have enough team members or have run out of team members who aren't grossly fat or trembling with nerves. At least that's how I remember it.' Ponder, in his youth, had spent far too long standing next to the fat kid.
'Oh well, if that's how it's done, then I suppose we shall have to do it that way,' said the Archchancellor with bad grace. 'Stibbons, it will be your task to penalize the opposing side for any infringements they make.'
'Don't you mean that I should penalize either side for any infringements they make, Archchancellor?' he said. 'It has to be fair.'
Ridcully looked at him with his mouth open as if Ponder had mentioned a concept that was totally alien. 'Oh yes, I suppose it has to be like that.'
A variety of wizards had turned out this afternoon from curiosity, a suspicion that being there might turn out to be a good career move, and the prospect of maybe seeing some colleagues travelling across the lawn on their noses.
Oh dear, thought Ponder as the choosing began. It was just like school again, but at school nobody wanted the fat boy. Here, of course, it had to be a case of nobody wanted the fattest boy, which, since the departure of the Dean, was a matter of fine judgement.
Ponder reached into his robes and pulled out a whistle or, perhaps, the grandfather of all whistles, eight inches long and as thick as a generous pork sausage.
'Where did that come from, Mister Stibbons?' said Ridcully.
'As a matter of fact, Archchancellor, I found it in the study of the late Evans the Striped.'
'It's a fine whistle,' said Ridcully.
It was an innocent sentence that managed to hint quite silently that such a fine whistle should not be in the hands of Ponder Stibbons when it could be in the ownership of, for example, the Archchancellor of a university. Ponder spotted this because he had been expecting it. 'I shall need this to alert and control the behaviour of both teams,' he said haughtily. 'You made me the referee, Archchancellor, and I'm afraid that for the duration of the game I am, as it were,' he hesitated, 'in charge.'
'This university is a hierarchy, you understand, Stibbons?'
'Yes, sir, and this is a game of football. I believe that the procedure is to put the football down and when the whistle is blown each side will attempt to hit the goal of the opposing side with the ball while trying to prevent the ball hitting their own goal. Have we all understood that?'
'It seems pretty clear to me,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. There was a murmur of agreement.
'Nevertheless, before the game I demand a blow on the whistle.'
'Of course, Archchancellor, but then you must give it me back. I am the custodian of the game.' He handed over the whistle.
On Ridcully's first attempt at blowing he dislodged a spider that had been living a blameless yet frugal life for the last twenty years and deposited him in the beard of the Professor of Natural Studies, who was just passing.
The second blow shook free the fossilized pea inside and filled the air with echoes of liquid brass. And then…
Ridcully froze. His face flushed from the neck upwards at speed. The sound of his next drawn breath was like the vengeance of the gods. His stomach expanded, his eyes became pinpoints, thunder rolled overhead and he roared, 'WHY HAVEN'T YOU BOYS BROUGHT YOUR KIT?!'
St Elmo's fire roared along the length of the whistle. The sky darkened and fear gripped every watching soul as time reversed and there stood the giant, maniacally screaming Evans the Striped. The instigator of badly forged notes from your mother, the enthusiast for long runs in the sleet, the promoter of communal showers as a cure for adolescent shyness and the one who, if you didn't bring your proper gear, would make you PLAY IN YOUR PANTS. Venerable wizards who had faced down the most cunning of monsters through the decades trembled in damp adolescent fear as the scream went on and on, to be halted as sharply as it started.
Ridcully fell forward on to the turf.
'I do apologize for that,' said Dr Hix, lowering his staff. 'A slightly evil deed, of course, but I'm sure you'll agree that it was necessary in the circumstances. The skull ring, remember? University statute? And that was a clear case of possession by artefact if ever I saw one.'
The collected wizards, the cold sweat beginning to evaporate, nodded sagely. Oh, yes. It was regrettably necessary, they agreed. For his own good, they agreed. Had to be done, they agreed. And this verdict was echoed by Ridcully himself when he opened his eyes and said, 'What the hell was that?'
'Er, the soul of Evans the Striped, I think, Archchancellor,' said Ponder.
'In the whistle, was it?' Ridcully rubbed his head.
'Yes, I think so,' said Ponder.
'And who hit me?'
A general shuffling and murmuring indicated that by democratic agreement this was a question that could best be answered by Dr Hix.
'It was acceptable treachery under college statute, sir. Wouldn't mind the whistle for the Dark Museum, if nobody objects.'
'Quite so, quite so,' said Ridcully. 'Saw the problem, sorted it out. Well done that man.'
'Do you think I could be allowed an evil chuckle, sir?'
Ridcully brushed himself down. 'No. We shall forgo the whistle, Mister Stibbons. And now, gentlemen, let the game commence.'
And thus, after a certain amount of bickering, Unseen University's first football match in decades began. Instantly, from Ponder Stibbons's point of view, various problems arose. The most pressing one was that all the wizards were dressed as wizards, which was to say alike. Ponder ordered the teams to play hats on and hats off, which caused another row. And that particular problem was exacerbated further because there were so many collisions that even the officially hatted kept losing theirs. And then the game was paused because it was declared that the statue commemorating Archchancellor Scrubbs's discovery of blit was in fact three inches narrower than the venerable statue of Archchancellor Flanker discovering the Third Breakfast, thus giving an unfair advantage to the hatless squad.
But all these problems, foreseeable and inescapable, paled into insignificance compared with the problem of the ball. It was an official ball¨CPonder had made certain of that. But pointy shoes, even if they have a very long point, cannot absorb the impact of the human foot kicking what is, when all is said and screamed, a piece of wood with a thin cloth and leather wrapping. Eventually, as another wizard was helped away with a sprained ankle, even Ridcully was moved to say, 'This is damn nonsense, Stibbons! There has got to be something better than this.'
'Bigger boots?' suggested the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
'The kind of boots you need for kicking this would slow you right down,' said Ponder.
'Besides, the men on the urn had nothing at all on their feet. I suggest we consider this research. What do we need, Stibbons?'
'A better ball, sir. And some attempt at running about. And a general consensus that it is not a good idea to stop to re-light your pipe in the middle of play. A more sensible type of goal, because running into a stone statue is painful. Some grasp, however small, of the notion of teamwork in a gaming situation. A resolution not to run away if a member of the opposing team is rushing towards you. An understanding of the fact that you do not handle the ball in any circumstances; may I remind you that I gave up stopping play because of this since you gentlemen, when you were excited, persisted in picking it up and, in one case, hiding it behind your back, and standing on it. I would like to point out at this juncture that a sense of direction is worth cultivating vis-¨¤-vis the goal that is yours and the goal that is theirs; inviting as it may be, there is no point in kicking the ball into your own goal, and nor should you congratulate and pat on the back anyone who achieves this feat. Out of the three goals scored in our match, the number scored by players into their own goal was'-he paused and looked down at his clipboard-'three. This is a commendably high level of scoring, compared with football as currently played, though once again I must stress that issues of direction and goal ownership are of pivotal importance. A tactic, which I admit looked promising, was for the players to cluster thickly around their own goal so there was no possibility of anything getting past them. I regret, however, that if both teams do this you do not have a game so much as a tableau. A more promising tactic, which seemed to be adopted by one or two of you, was to lurk near the opponents' goal so that if the ball came in your direction you would be ideally placed to get it past the custodian of the goal. The fact that in some cases you and the opposing custodian leaned companionably against the goal, sharing a cigarette and watching the play up-field, showed a decent spirit and may possibly be a good starting point for some more advanced tactics, but I do not think this should be encouraged. On this general topic, I have to assume that retiring from the field of play for the call of nature or a breather is acceptable, but doing so for a snack is not. My feeling, Archchancellor, is that our colleagues' general desire to be never more than twenty minutes from some savouries may be satisfactorily catered for by a pause in the middle of the game. Happily, if they changed ends at that point, that would satisfy the complaints about one goal being larger than the other. Yes?' This was to the Chair of Indefinite Studies.
'If we change ends,' said the Chair, who had put his hand up, 'will that then mean that the goals that were scored into our own goal will now become goals scored against the opposing team since that goal is now physically theirs?'
Ponder considered the metaphysics of answering this one and settled for, 'No, of course not. I have a whole list of other notes, Archchancellor, and regrettably they add up to us not being very good at football.'
The wizards fell silent. 'Let's start with the ball,' said Ridcully. 'I've got an idea about the ball.'
'Yes, sir. I thought you would.'
'Then come and see me after dinner.'
Juliet had been sucked into the manic circus that was the backstage area of Shatta, and no one was paying Glenda any attention whatsoever. Just for now, she was a hindrance, surplus, no use to anyone, an obstruction to be worked around, an onlooker in the game. A little way away, a handsome young dwarf with a double ponytail beard was waiting patiently while a temporary rivet was put into what looked like a silver cuirass. She was surrounded by workers in much the same way as a knight is when his vassals must dress him for combat. Standing a little apart from them were two taller dwarfs, whose weaponry looked slightly more functional than beautiful. They were male. Glenda knew this simply because any female of any sapient species knows the look of a man who has nothing very much to do in an environment that, for this time, is clearly occupied by and totally under the control of females. It looked as though they were on guard.
Propelled by the sherry, she wandered over. 'That must cost a lot of money,' she said to the nearest guard. He looked slightly embarrassed by the approach.
'You're telling me. Moonsilver, they call it. We're even having to walk down the catwalk with her. They say it's the coming thing, but I dunno. It won't take an edge and it wouldn't stop a decent blade. You need Igors to help you smelt it, too. They say it's worth even more than platinum. Looks good, though, and they say you hardly know you're wearing it. It's not what my granddad would have called a metal, but they say that we have to move with the times. Personally, I wouldn't even hang it on the wall, but there you go.'
'Girl's armour,' said the other guard.
'What about this micromail stuff?' said Glenda.
'Ah, different pocketful of rats entirely, miss,' said the first guard. 'I hear they set up and forge it right here in the city, 'cos the best craftsmen are here. Just the job, eh? Chain mail as fine as cloth and strong as steel! It'll get cheaper, too, they say, and most of all it doesn't – '
'Wotcher, Glendy, guess who?'
Someone tapped Glenda on the shoulder. She turned round and saw a vision of heavily but tastefully armoured beauty. It was Juliet, but Glenda only knew this because of the milky-blue eyes. Juliet was wearing a beard.
'Madame says I'd better wear this,' she said. 'It's not dwarf if it don't include a beard. What d'you think?'
This time the sherry got in first.
'It's actually rather attractive,' said Glenda, still in mild shock. 'It's very¨Csilvery.'
It was a female beard, she could tell. It looked styled and stylish and didn't have bits of rat in it.
'Madame says there's a place saved for you in the front row,' said Juliet.
'Oh, I couldn't sit in the front row – ' Glenda began, on automatic, but the sherry cut in with, 'Shut up, stop thinking like your mother, will you, and go and sit down in the damn front row.'
One of the ever-present young ladies chose this exact moment to take Glenda by the hand and lead her slightly unsteady feet through the settling chaos, out through the door and back into fairyland. There was indeed a seat waiting for her.
Fortunately, although in the front row it was off to one side. She would have died of shame had it been right in the middle. She clutched her handbag in both hands and risked a look along the row. It was packed. It wasn't exclusively dwarf, either; there were a number of human ladies, smartly dressed, a little on the skinny side (in her opinion), almost offensively at ease and all talking.
Another sherry mystically appeared in her hand and, as the noise stopped with rat-trap sharpness, Madame Sharn came out through the curtain and began to address the crowded hall. Glenda thought, I wish I'd worn a better coat… At which point the sherry tucked her up and put her to bed.
Glenda only started to think properly again some time later, when she was hit on the head by a bunch of flowers. They struck her just over the ear and as expensive petals rained around her she looked up at the beaming, radiant face of Juliet, at the very edge of the catwalk, halfway through the motions of shouting 'Duck!'
… And there were more flowers flying and people standing and cheering, and music, and in general the feeling of being under a waterfall with no water but inexhaustible torrents of sound and light.