“Of course, in the old days it was easy,” said Brother Doorkeeper happily.
“He just had to kill a dragon.”
The Supreme Grand Master clapped his hands together and offered a silent prayer to any god who happened to be listening. He’d been right about these people. Sooner or later their rambling little minds took them where you wanted them to go.
“What an interesting idea,” he trilled.
“Wouldn’t work,” said Brother Watchtower dourly. “There ain’t no big dragons now.”
“There could be.”
The Supreme Grand Master cracked his knuckles.
“Come again?” said Brother Watchtower.
“I said there could be.”
There was a nervous laugh from the depths of Brother Watchtower’s cowl.
“What, the real thing? Great big scales and wings?”
“Breath like a blast furnace.”
“Them big claw things on its feet?”
“Talons? Oh, yes. As many as you want.”
“What do you mean, as many as I want?”
“I would hope it’s self-explanatory, Brother Watch-tower. If you want dragons, you can have dragons. You can bring a dragon here. Now. Into the city.”
“All of you. I mean us,” said the Supreme Grand Master.
Brother Watchtower hesitated. “Well, I don’t know if that’s a very good-”
“And it would obey your every command.”
That stopped them. That pulled them up. That dropped in front of their weaselly little minds like a lump of meat in a dog pound.
“Can you just repeat that?” said Brother Plasterer slowly.
“You can control it. You can make it do whatever you want.”
“What? A real dragon?”
The Supreme Grand Master’s eyes rolled in the privacy of his hood.
“Yes, a real one. Not a little pet swamp dragon. The genuine article.”
“But I thought they were, you know . . . miffs.”
The Supreme Grand master leaned forward.
“’They were myths and they were real,” he said loudly. “Both a wave and a particle.”
“You’ve lost me there,” said Brother Plasterer.
“I will demonstrate, then. The book please, Brother Fingers. Thank you. Brethren, I must tell you that when I was undergoing my tuition by the Secret Masters-”
“The what, Supreme Grand Master?” said Brother Plasterer.
“Why don’t you listen? You never listen. He said the Secret Masters!” said Brother Watchtower. “You know, the venerable sages what live on some mountain and secretly run everything and taught him all this lore and that, and can walk on fires and that. He told us last week. He’s going to teach us, aren’t you, Supreme Grand Master,” he finished obsequiously.
“Oh, the Secret Masters,” said Brother Plasterer. “Sorry. It’s these mystic hoods. Sorry. Secret. I remember.”
But when I rule the city, the Supreme Grand Master said to himself, there is going to be none of this. I shall form a new secret society of keen-minded and intelligent men, although not too intelligent of course, not too intelligent. And we will overthrow the cold tyrant and we will usher in a new age of enlightenment and fraternity and humanism and Ankh-Morpork will become a Utopia and people like Brother Plasterer will be roasted over slow fires if I have any say in the matter, which I will. And his figgin.
“When I was, as I said, undergoing my tuition by the Secret Masters-” he continued.
“That was where they told you you had to walk on ricepaper, wasn’t it,” said Brother Watchtower conversationally. “I always thought that was a good bit. I’ve been saving it off the bottom of my macaroons ever since. Amazing, really. I can walk on it no trouble. Shows what being in a proper secret society does for you, does that.”
When he is on the griddle, the Supreme Grand Master thought, Brother Plasterer will not be lonely.
“Your footfalls on the road of enlightenment are an example to us all, Brother Watchtower,” he said. “If I may continue, however-among the many secrets-”
“-from the Heart of Being-” said Brother Watch-tower approvingly.
“-from the Heart, as Brother Watchtower says, of Being, was the current location of the noble dragons. The belief that they died out is quite wrong. They simply found a new evolutionary niche. And they can be summoned from it. This book-” he flourished it- “gives specific instructions.”
“It’s just in a book?” said Brother Plasterer.
“No ordinary book. This is the only copy. It has taken me years to track it down,” said the Supreme Grand Master. “It’s in the handwriting of Tubal de Malachite, a great student of dragon lore. His actual handwriting. He summoned dragons of all sizes. And so can you.”
There was another long, awkward silence.
“Um,” said Brother Doorkeeper.
“Sounds a bit like, you know . . . magic to me,” said Brother Watchtower, in the nervous tone of the man who has spotted which cup the pea is hidden under but doesn’t like to say. “I mean, not wishing to question your supreme wisdomship and that, but … well . . . you know . . . magic . . .”
His voice trailed off.
“Yeah,” said Brother Plasterer uncomfortably.
“It’s, er, the wizards, see,” said Brother Fingers. “You prob’ly dint know this, when you was banged up with them venerable herberts on their mountain, but the wizards round here come down on you like a ton of bricks if they catches you doin’ anything like that.”
“Demarcation, they call it,” said Brother Plasterer.
“Like, I don’t go around fiddling with the mystic interleaved wossnames of causality, and they don’t do any plastering.”
“I fail to see the problem,” said the Supreme Grand Master. In fact, he saw it all too clearly. This was the last hurdle. Help their tiny little minds over this, and he held the world in the palm of his hand. Their stupe-fyingly unintelligent self-interest hadn’t let him down so far, surely it couldn’t fail him now . . .
The Brethren shuffled uneasily. Then Brother Dunnykin spoke.
“Huh. Wizards. What do they know about a day’s work?”
The Supreme Grand master breathed deeply. Ah . , .
The air of mean-minded resentfulness thickened noticeably.
“Nothing, and that’s a fact,” said Brother Fingers. “Goin1 around with their noses in the air, too good for the likes a’us. I used to see ’em when I worked up the University. Backsides a mile wide, I’m telling you. Catch ’em doing a job of honest toil?”
“Like thieving, you mean?” said Brother Watch-tower, who had never liked Brother Fingers much.
“O’course, they tell you,” Brother Fingers went on, pointedly ignoring the comment, “that you shouldn’t go round doin’ magic on account of only them knowin’ about not disturbin’ the universal harmony and whatnot. Load of rubbish, in my opinion.”
“We-ell,” said Brother Plasterer, “I dunno, really. I mean, you get the mix wrong, you just got a lot of damp plaster round your ankles. But you get a bit of magic wrong, and they say ghastly things comes out the woodwork and stitches you right up.”
“Yeah, but it’s the wizards that say that,” said Brother Watchtower thoughtfully. “Never could stand them myself, to tell you the truth. Could be they’re on to a good thing and don’t want the rest of us to find out. It’s only waving your arms and chanting, when all’s said and done.”
The Brethren considered this. It sounded plausible. If they were on to a good thing, they certainly wouldn’t want anyone else muscling in.
The Supreme Grand Master decided that the time was ripe.
“Then we are agreed, brethren? You are prepared to practise magic?”
“Oh, practise,” said Brother Plaster, relieved. “I don’t mind practising. So long as we don’t have to do it for real-”
The Supreme Grand Master thumped the book.
“I mean carry out real spells! Put the city back on the right lines! Summon a dragon!” he shouted.
They took a step back. Then Brother Doorkeeper said, “And then, if we get this dragon, the rightful king’ll turn up, just like that?”
“Yes!” said the Supreme Grand Master.
“I can see that,” said Brother Watchtower supportively.
“Stands to reason. Because of destiny and the gnomic workings of fate.”
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then a general nodding of cowls. Only Brother Plasterer looked vaguely unhappy.
“We-ell,” he said. “It won’t get out of hand, will it?”
“I assure you, Brother Plasterer, that you can give it up any time you like,” said the Supreme Grand Master smoothly.
“Well … all right,” said the reluctant Brother. “Just for a bit, then. Could we get it to stay here long enough to burn down, for example, any oppressive vegetable shops?” Ah. . .
He’d won. There’d be dragons again. And a king again. Not like the old kings. A king who would do what he was told.
“That,” said the Supreme Grand Master, “depends on how much help you can be. We shall need, initially, any items of magic you can bring …”
It might not be a good idea to let them see that the last half of de Malachite’s book was a charred lump. The man was clearly not up to it.
He could do a lot better. And absolutely no-one would be able to stop him.
Thunder rolled . . .
It is said that the gods play games with the lives of men. But what games, and why, and the identities of the actual pawns, and what the game is, and what the rules are-who knows?
Best not to speculate.
Thunder rolled. . . .
It rolled a six.
Now pull back briefly from the dripping streets of Ankh-Morpork, pan across the morning mists of the Disc, and focus in again on a young man heading for the city with all the openness, sincerity and innocence of purpose of an iceberg drifting into a major shipping lane.
The young man is called Carrot. This is not because of his hair, which his father has always clipped short for reasons of Hygiene. It is because of his shape.
It is the kind of tapering shape a boy gets through clean living, healthy eating, and good mountain air in huge lungfuls. When he flexes his shoulder muscles, other muscles have to move out of the way first.
He is also bearing a sword presented to him in mysterious circumstances. Very mysterious circumstances. Surprisingly, therefore, there is something very unexpected about this sword. It isn’t magical. It hasn’t got a name. When you wield it you don’t get a feeling of power, you just get blisters; you could believe it was a sword that had been used so much that it had ceased to be anything other than a quintessential sword, a long piece of metal with very sharp edges. And it hasn’t got destiny written all over it. It’s practically unique, in fact.
The gutters of the city gurgled softly as the detritus of the night was carried along, in some cases protesting feebly.
When it came to the recumbent figure of Captain Vimes, the water diverted and flowed around him in two streams. Vimes opened his eyes. There was a moment of empty peace before memory hit him like a shovel.
It had been a bad day for the Watch. There had been the funeral of Herbert Gaskin, for one thing. Poor old Gaskin. He had broken one of the fundamental rules of being a guard. It wasn’t the sort of rule that someone like Gaskin could break twice. And so he’d been lowered into the sodden ground with the rain drumming on his coffin and no-one present to mourn him but the three surviving members of the Night Watch, the most despised group of men in the entire city. Sergeant Colon had been in tears. Poor old Gaskin.