The Last Hero Page 6

"Sort of," said Boy Willie. "I killed him."

"You couldn't have done! What was it he always said? "I shall revert to this vicinity!""

"Sort of hard to do that," said Boy Willie, pulling out a pipe and beginning to fill it with tobacco, "when your head's nailed to a tree."

"How about Pamdar the Witch Queen?" said Evil Harry. "Now there was-"

"Retired," said Cohen. "She'd never retire!"

"Got married," Cohen insisted. "To Mad Hamish."


"I SAID YOU MARRIED PAMDAR, HAMISH," Cohen shouted. "Hehehehe, I did that! Whut?"

"That was some time ago, mark you," said Boy Willie. "I don't think it lasted."

"But she was a devil woman!"

"We all get older, Harry. She runs a shop now. Pam's Pantry. Makes marmalade," said Cohen. "What? She used to queen it on a throne on top of a pile of skulls!"

"I didn't say it was very good marmalade."

"How about you, Cohen?" said Evil Harry. "I heard you were an Emperor."

"Sounds good, doesn't it?" said Cohen mournfully. "But you know what? It's dull. Everyone creepin' around hem' respectful, no one to fight, and those soft beds give you backache. All that money, and nothin' to spend it on 'cept toys. It sucks all the life right out of you, civilisation."

"It killed Old Vincent the Ripper," said Boy Willie. "He choked to death on a concubine." There was no sound but the hiss of snow in the fire and a number of people thinking fast. "I think you mean cucumber," said the bard. "That's right, cucumber," said Boy Willie. "I've never been good at them long words."

"Very important difference in a salad situation." said Cohen. He turned back to Evil Harry. "That's no way for a hero to die, all soft and fat and eating big dinners. A hero should die in battle."

"Yeah, but you lads've never got the hang of dying," Evil Harry pointed out. "That's because we haven't picked the right enemies," said Cohen. "This time we're going to see the gods." He tapped the barrel he was sitting on, and the other members of the Horde winced when he did so. "Got something here that belongs to them." Cohen added. He glanced around the group and noted some almost imperceptible nods. "Why don't you come with us. Evil Harry?" he said. "You can bring your evil henchmen." Evil Harry drew himself up. "Hey, I'm a Dark Lord! How'd it look if I was to go around with a bunch of heroes?"

"It wouldn't look anything," said Cohen sharply. "And I'll tell you for why, shall I? We're the last, see. Us and you. No one else cares. There's no more heroes, Evil Harry. No more villains, neither."

"Oh, there's always villains!" said Evil Harry. "No, there's vicious evil underhand bastards, true enough. But they use laws now. They'd never call themselves Evil Harry."

"Men who don't know the Code," said Boy Willie. Everyone nodded. You mightn't live by the law but you had to live by the Code. "Men with bits of paper," said Caleb. There was another group nod. The Horde were not great readers. Paper was the enemy, and so were the men who wielded it. Paper crept around you and took over the world. "We always liked you, Harry," said Cohen. "You played it by the rules. How about it... are you coming with us?" Evil Harry looked embarrassed. "Well, I'd like to." he said. "But... well, I'm Evil Harry. right? You can't trust me an inch. First chance I get, I'll betray you all, stab you in the back or something ... I'd have to, see? Of course, if it was up to me. it'd be different... but I've got a reputation to think about, right? I'm Evil Harry. Don't ask me to come."

"Well spake," said Cohen. "I like a man I can't trust. You know where you stand with an untrustworthy man. It's the ones you ain't never sure about who give you grief. You come with us, Harry. You're one of us. And your lads,too. New ones, I see ..." Cohen raised his eyebrows. "Well, yeah, you know how it is with the really stupid henchmen." said Evil. "This is Slime-"

"... nork nork," said Slime. "Ah, one of the old Stupid Lizard Men," said Cohen. "Good to see there's one left. Hey, two left. And this one is-?"

" ... nork nork."

"He's Slime, too." said Evil Harry, patting the second lizard man gingerly to avoid the spikes. "Never good at remembering more than one

name, your basic lizard man. Over here we have ..." He nodded at something vaguely like a dwarf, who gave him an imploring look. "You're Armpit," prompted Evil Harry. "Your Armpit," said Armpit gratefully. " ... nork nork," said one of the Slimes, in case this remark had been addressed to him. "Well done, Harry," said Cohen. "It's damn hard to find a really stupid dwarf."

"Wasn't easy, I can tell you," Harry admitted proudly as he moved on. And this is Butcher."

"Good name, good name," said Cohen, looking up at the enormous fat man. "Your jailer, right?"

"Took a lot of finding," said Evil Harry, while Butcher grinned happily at nothing. "Believes anything anyone tells him, can't see through the most ridiculous disguise, would let a transvestite washerwomen go free even if she had a beard you could camp in, falls asleep real easily on a chair near the bars and-"

"-carries his keys on a big hook on his belt so's they can be easily lifted off!" said Cohen. "Classic. A master touch, that. And you've got troll, I see."

"Dat's me," said the troll. "... nork, nork."

"Dat's me."

"Well, you've got to have a troll, haven't you?" said Evil Harry. "Bit brighter than I'd like, but he's got no sense of direction and can't remember his name,"

"And what do we have here?" said Cohen. "A real old zombie? Where did you dig him up? I like a man who's not afraid to let all his flesh fall off."

"Gak." said the zombie. "No tongue, eh?" said Cohen. "Don't worry, lad. a blood-curdling screech is all you need. And a few bits of wire, by the look of it. It's all a matter of style."

"Dat's me."

"... nork nork."


"Dat's me,"

"Your Armpit."

"They must make you proud. I don't know when I've ever seen a more stupid bunch of henchmen," said Cohen, admiring, "Harry, you're like a refreshin' fart in a roomful of roses. You bring 'em all along. I wouldn't hear of you staying behind."

"Nice to be appreciated," said Evil Harry, looking down and blushing. "And what else've you got to look forward to, anyway?" said Cohen. "Who really appreciates a good Dark Lord these days? The world's too complicated now. It don't belong to the likes of us any more ... it chokes us to death with cucumbers."

"What are you actually going to do, Cohen?" said Evil Harry. "... nork. nork."

"Well, I reckon it's time to go out like we started," said Cohen. "One last roll of the dice." He tapped the keg again. "It's time." he said, "to give something back."

" ... nork. nork."

"Shut up." Varieties of the Swamp Dragon 1 The Smooth Courser. Note elongation of the feems. 2 Rainkin's Optimist. Good-natured, seldom explodes.

3 The Nothingfjord Blue. Wonderful scales, but a tendency to homesickness. 4 The Smooth-nosed Smut. 5 The Big-nosed Jolly. Frightened of shovels. 6 The Rough-nosed Smut (elderly male). 7 Wivelspiker. Excitable. Walks into windows. 8 The Quirmian Long-ear. Mild-natured, but needs daily exercise. 9 Spiked Oncer. Rare, needs much attention. 10 The Classic Smut. A very popular dragon in the traditional mould. 11 Golden Deceiver. Makes a good watch dragon; should not be allowed near children. 12 Narrowed-Eared Smut. Nervous and therefore, short-lived. 13 The Lion-Headed Cowper. A large breed, easy to keep, but often afflicted with skipiets. 14 Tomkin's Neurovore. Handsome, but highly explosive due to nerves. 15 Porpoise-Headed Cowper. A breed for aficionados. 16 The Retiring Smut. Not often seen. 17 The Golden Rharn. 18 Birbright's Smut. Morbidly afraid of spoons. 19 Birbright's Lizard. Rare mountain breed, flightless. 20 Tabby Cowper. Best of the Cowpers, now quite popular. 21 Silver Regal. A classic breed, popular in Sto Lat. 22 Jessington's Blunt. Rare and very stupid. 23 Jessington's Deceiver. Small and better behaved than the Golden. Hoards pickle jars. 24 The Common Smut. The basic swamp dragon, familiar to all. 25 Pixy-faced Smut. Many congenital problem; for experts only. 26 The Flared Smut. Good with cabbage. 27 Homed Regal. Largely nocturnal, flightless, well-coloured, short in the wouters. 28 Smooth Deceiver. Good-natured, suitable for the smaller home. 29 Big-nosed Smut. Seldom breeds true. Attracted to mirrors. 30 Guttley's Leaper. Flightless, but can exceed 30 mph running over open ground. 31 Spike-nosed Regal. One of the most beautiful of the classic dragons. Hates shoes. 32 Broken-faced Cowper. Seldom seen these days. 33 The Pique. Small, flightless, lives indoors. Eats only chicken and furniture. 34 Curly-maned Slottie. Amiable, tendency to slimp, seldom explosive. 35 Avery's "Epolette", typical of the many miniature shoulder dragons. 36 Bridisian Courser. Not a very special dragon at all. 37 ,38 Male and female Spouters, a breed that flies very badly but makes a suitable pet for the less discriminating household. Explodes in the presence of mint. (from The Show Judges" Guide to Dragons, by Lady Sybil Ramkin, available from the Cavern Club Press, Ankh-Morpork, at AM$20) As night rays of light shone through holes and gaps in the tarpaulin, Lord Vetinari wondered if Leonard was getting any sleep. It was quite possible that the man had designed some sort of contrivance to do it for him. At the moment, there were other things to concern him. The dragons were travelling in a ship of their own. It was far too dangerous to have them on board anything else. Ships were made of wood, and even when in a good mood dragons puffed little balls of tire. When they were over-excited, they exploded.

"They will he all right, won't they?" he said, keeping well back from the cages. "If any of them are harmed I shall be in serious trouble with the Sunshine Sanctuary in Ankh-Morpork. This is not a prospect I relish. I assure you."

"Mr da Quirrn says there is no reason why they should not all get back safely, sir."

"And would you, Mister Stibbons, trust yourself in a contrivance pushed along by dragons?" Ponder swallowed. "I'm not the stuff of heroes, sir."

"And what causes this lack in you. may I ask?"

"I think it's because I've got an active imagination." This seemed a good explanation. Lord Vetinari mused as lie walked away. The difference was that while other people imagined in terms of thoughts and pictures. Leonard imagined in terms of shape and space. His daydreams came with a cutting list and assembly instructions. Lord Vetinari found himself hoping more and more for the success of his other plan. When all else fails, pray ... "All right now. lads, settle down. Settle down." Hughnon Ridcully, Chief Priest of Blind Io., looked down at the multitude of priests and priestesses that filled the huge Temple of Small Gods. He shared many of the characteristics of his brother Mustrum. He also saw his job as being, essentially, one of organiser. There were plenty of people who were good at the actual believing, and he left them to it. It took a lot more than prayer to make sure the laundry got done and the building was kept in repair. There were so many gods now ... at least two thousand. Many were, of course, still very small. But you had to watch them. Gods were very much a fashion thing. Look at Om, now. One minute he was a bloodthirsty little deity in some mad hot country, and then suddenly he was one of the top gods. It had all been done by not answering prayers, but doing so in a sort of dynamic way that left open the possibility that one day he might and then there'd he fireworks. Hughnon, who had survived through decades of intense theological dispute by being a mean man at swinging a heavy thurible, was impressed by this novel technique. And then, of course, you had your real newcomers like Aniger, Goddess of Squashed Animals. Who would have thought that better roads and faster carts would have led to that? But gods grew bigger when called upon at need, and enough minds had cried out, "Oh god, what was that I hit?"

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