The Last Hero Page 4

"You're saying that by falling off the world we - and by we, I hasten to point out, I don't actually include myself - we can end up in the sky?" said the Dean. "Um ... yes. After all, the sun does the same thing every day ..." The Dean looked enraptured. "Amazing!" he said. "Then ... you could get an army into the heart of enemy territory! No fortress would be safe! You could rain fire down on to-" He caught the look in Leonard's eye. "-on to bad people," he finished, lamely. "That would not happen." said Leonard severely. "Ever!"

"Could the ... thing you are planning land on Cori Celesti?" said Lord Vetinari.

"Oh, certainly there should be suitable snow-fields up there," said Leonard. "If there are not, I feel sure I can devise some appropriate landing method. Happily, as you have pointed out, things in the air have a tendency to come down." Ridcully was about to make an appropriate comment, but stopped himself. He knew Leonard's reputation. This was a man who could invent seven new things before breakfast, including two new ways with toast. This man had invented the ball-bearing, such an obvious device that no one had thought of it. That was the very centre of his genius - he invented things that anyone could have thought of, and men who can invent things that anyone could have thought of are very rare men. This man was so absent-mindedly clever that he could paint pictures that didn't just follow you around the room but went home with you and did the washing-up. Some people are confident because they are fools. Leonard had the look of someone who was confident because, so far, he'd never found a reason not to be. He would step off a high building in the happy state of mind of someone who intended to deal with the problem of the ground when it presented itself. And might. "What do you need from us?" said Ridcully. "Well, the ... thing cannot operate by magic. Magic will be unreliable near the Hub. I understand. But can you supply me with wind?"

"You have certainly chosen the right people," said Lord Vetinari. And it seemed to the wizards that there was just too long a pause before he went on, "They are highly skilled in weather manipulation."

"A severe gale would be helpful at the launch ..." Leonard continued. "I think I can say without fear of contradiction that our wizards can supply wind in practically unlimited amounts," said the Patrician. "Is that not so. Archchancellor?"

"I am forced to agree, my lord."

"Then if we can rely on a stiff following breeze. I am sure-"

"Just a moment, just a moment," said the Dean, who rather felt the wind comment had been directed at him. "What do we know of this man? He makes ... devices, and paints pictures, does he? Well, I'm sure this is all very nice, but we all know about artists, don't we? Flibbertigibbets, to a man. And what about Bloody Stupid Johnson? Remember some of the things he built?"*(*Many of the things built by the architect and freelance designer Bergholt Stuttley ("Bloody Stupid") Johnson were recorded in Ankh-Morpork, often on the line where it says "Cause of Death". He was, people agreed, a genius, at least if you defined the word broadly. Certainly no one else in the world could make an explosive mixture out of common sand and water. A good designer, he always said, should be capable of anything. And. indeed, he was.) I'm sure Mr. da Quirm draws lovely pictures, but I for one would need a little more evidence of his amazing genius before we entrust the world to his ... device. Show me one thing he can do that anyone couldn't do, if they had the time."

"I have never considered myself a genius." said Leonard, looking down bashfully and doodling on the paper in front of him. "Well, if I was a genius I think I'd know it-" the Dean began, and stopped. Absent-mindedly, while barely paying attention to what he was doing. Leonard had drawn a perfect circle. Lord Vetinari found it best to set up a committee system. More of the ambassadors from other countries had arrived at the university, and more heads of the Guilds were pouring in, and every single one of them wanted to be involved in the decision-making process without necessarily going through the intelligence-using process first

About seven committees, he considered, should be about right. And when, ten minutes later, the first sub-committee had miraculously budded off, he took aside a few chosen people into a small room, set up the Miscellaneous Committee, and locked the door. "The flying ship will need a crew, I'm told," he said. "It can carry three people. Leonard will have to go because, to be frank, he will be working on it even as it departs. And the other two?"

"There should be an assassin." said Lord Downey of the Assassins' Guild. "No. If Cohen and his friends were easy to assassinate, they would have been dead long ago," said Lord Vetinari. "Perhaps a woman's touch?" said Mrs Palm, head of the Guild of Seamstresses. "I know they are elderly gentlemen, but my members are-"

"I think the problem there, Mrs Palm, is that although the Horde are apparently very appreciative of the company of women, they don't listen to anything they say. Yes, Captain Carrot?" Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson of the City Watch was standing to attention, radiating keenness and a hint of soap. "I volunteer to go. sir," he said. "Yes, I thought you probably would."

"Is this a matter for the Watch?" said the lawyer Mr. Slant. "Mr.Cohen is simply returning property to its original owner."

"That is an insight which had not hitherto occurred to me," said Lord Vetinari smoothly. "However, the City Watch would not be the men I think they are if they couldn't think of a reason to arrest anyone. Commander Vimes?"

"Conspiracy to make an affray should do it." said the head of the Watch, lighting a cigar. "And Captain Carrot is a persuasive young man," said Lord Vetinari. "With a big sword." grumbled Mr. Slant. "Persuasion comes in many forms," said Lord Vetinari. "No. I agree with Archchancellor Ridcully, sending Captain Carrot would be an excellent idea."

"What? Did I say something?" said Ridcully. "Do you think that sending Captain Carrot would be an excellent idea?"

"What? Oh. Yes. Good lad. Keen. Got a sword."

"Then I agree with you," said Lord Vetinari, who knew how to work a committee. "We must make haste, gentlemen. The flotilla needs to leave tomorrow. We need a third member of the crew-" There was a knock at the door. Vetinari signalled to a college porter to open it. The wizard known as Rincewind lurched into the room, white-faced, and stopped in front of the table. "I do not wish to volunteer for this mission." he said. "I beg your pardon?" said Lord Vetinari. "I do not wish to volunteer, sir."

"No one was asking you to." Rincewind wagged a weary finger. "Oh, but they will, sir. they will. Someone will say: hey, that Rincewind fella, he's the adventurous sort, he knows the Horde, Cohen seems to like him, he knows all there is to know about cruel and unusual geography, he'd be just the job for something like this." He sighed. "And then I'll run away, and probably hide in a crate somewhere that'll be loaded on to the flying machine in any case."

"Will you?"

"Probably, sir. Or there'll be a whole string of accidents that end up causing the same tiling. Trust me. sir, I know how my life works. So I thought I'd better cut through the whole tedious business and come along and tell you I don't wish to volunteer."

"I think you've left out a logical step somewhere," said the Patrician. "No, sir. It's very simple. I'm volunteering. I just don't wish to. But, after all, when did that ever have anything to do with anything?"

"He's got a point, you know," said Ridcully. "He seems to come back from all sorts of-"

"You see?" Rincewind gave Lord Vetinari a jaded smile. "I've been living my life for a long time. I know how it works." There were always robbers near the Hub. There were pickings to be had among the lost valleys and forbidden temples, and also among the less prepared adventurers. Too many people, when listing all the perils to be found in the search for lost treasure or ancient wisdom, had forgotten to put at the top of the list: the man who arrived just before you. One such party was patrolling its favourite area when it espied, first, a well-equipped warhorse tethered to a frost-shrivelled tree. Then it saw a fire, burning in a small hollow out of the wind, with a small pot bubbling beside it. Finally it saw the woman. She was attractive or, at least, had been conventionally so perhaps thirty years ago. Now she looked like the teacher you wished you'd had in your first year at school, the one with the understanding approach to life's little accidents, such as a shoe full of wee. She had a blanket around her to keep out the cold. She was knitting. Stuck in the snow beside her was the largest sword the robbers had ever seen. Intelligent robbers would have started to count up the incongruities here. These, however, were the other kind, the kind for whom evolution was invented. The woman glanced up, nodded at them, and went on with her knitting. "Well now, what have we here?" said the leader. "Are you-"

"Hold this, will you?" said the old woman, standing up. "Over your thumbs, young man. It won't take a moment for me to wind a fresh ball. I was hoping someone would drop by." She held out a skein of wool. The robber took it uncertainly, aware of the grins on the faces of his men. But he opened his arms with what he hoped was a suitably evil little-does-she-suspect look on his face. "That's right," said the old woman, standing back. She kicked him viciously in the groin in an incredibly efficient if unladylike way, reached down as he toppled, caught up the cauldron, flung it accurately at the face of the first henchman, and picked up her knitting before he fell. The two surviving robbers hadn't had time to move, but then one unfroze and leapt for the sword. He staggered back under its weight, but the blade was long and reassuring. "Aha!" he said, and grunted as he raised the sword. "How the hell did you carry this, old woman?"

"It's not my sword." she said. "It belonged to the man over there." The man risked a look sideways. A pair of feet in armoured sandals were just visible behind a rock. They were very big feet. But I've got a weapon, he thought. And then he thought: so did he. The old woman sighed and drew two knitting needles from the ball of wool. The light glinted on them, and the blanket slid away from her shoulders and fell on to the snow. "Well, gentlemen?" she said. Cohen pulled the gag off the minstrel's mouth. The man stared at him in terror. "What's your name, son?" said Cohen. "You kidnapped me! I was walking along the street and-"

"How much?" said Cohen.


"How much to write me a saga?"

"You stink!"

"Yeah, it's the walrus." said Cohen evenly. ""It's a bit like garlic in that respect. Anyway ... a saga, that's what I want. And what you want is a big bag of rubies, not unadjacent in size to the rubies what I have here." He upended a leather bag into the palm of his hand. The stones were so big the snow glowed red. The musician stared at them. "You got - what's that word, Truckle?" aid Cohen. "Art," said Truckle. "You got art, and we got rubies. We give you rubies, you give us art," said Cohen. "End of problem, right?"

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