Feet of Clay
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Feet of Clay



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Feet of Clay

Copyright © 1996 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

People look down on stuff like geography and meteorology, and not only because they’re standing on one and being soaked by the other. They don’t look quite like real science.† But geography is only physics slowed down and with a few trees stuck on it, and meteorology is full of excitingly fashionable chaos and complexity.

† That is to say, the sort you can use to give something three extra legs and then blow it up.



Vimes had protested that he’d spent too many years trudging the night-time streets to be happy about anyone else wielding a blade anywhere near his neck, but the real reason, the unspoken reason, was that he hated the very idea of the world being divided into the shaved and the shavers. Or those who wore the shiny boots and those who cleaned the mud off them. Every time he saw Willikins the butler fold his, Vimes’s, clothes, he suppressed a terrible urge to kick the butler’s shiny backside as an affront to the dignity of man.

“Couldn’t you have arranged a less awkward time?”


“It all seems very badly organized. I wish to make a complaint. I pay my taxes, after all.”


The shade of Mr. Hopkinson began to fade. “It’s simply that I’ve always tried to plan ahead in a sensible way . . .”




“But I was quite good at alchemy.”

“Guild member?”

“Not any more, sir.”

“Oh? How did you leave the guild?”

“Through the roof, sir. But I’m pretty certain I know what I did wrong.”

A long, low growl. It was the audible equivalent of a shortening fuse.
One of the advantages of a life much longer than average was that you saw how fragile the future was. Men said things like “peace in our time” or “an empire that will last a thousand years,” and less than half a lifetime later no one even remembered who they were, let alone what they had said or where the mob had buried their ashes. What changed history were smaller things. Often a few strokes of the pen would do the trick.



It was Angua’s mind that prowled the night, not a werewolf mind. She was almost entirely sure of that. A werewolf wouldn’t stop at chickens, not by a long way.

She shuddered.

Who was she kidding? It was easy to be a vegetarian by day. It was preventing yourself becoming a humanitarian at night that took the real effort.




It went tick-tock like any other clock. But somehow, and against all usual horological practice, the tick and the tock were irregular. Tick tock tick . . . and then the merest fraction of a second longer before . . . tock tick tock . . . and then a tick a fraction of a second earlier than the mind’s ear was now prepared for. The effect was enough, after ten minutes, to reduce the thinking processes of even the best-prepared to a sort of porridge. The Patrician must have paid the clockmaker quite highly.



“Horse doctors have to get results, Fred.”

And that was true enough. When a human doctor, after much bleeding and cupping, finds that a patient has died out of sheer desperation, he can always say, “Dear me, will of the gods, that will be thirty dollars please,” and walk away a free man. This is because human beings are not, technically, worth anything. A good racehorse, on the other hand, may be worth twenty thousand dollars. A doctor who lets one hurry off too soon to that great big paddock in the sky may well expect to hear, out of some dark alley, a voice saying something on the lines of “Mr. Chrysoprase is very upset,” and find the brief remainder of his life full of incident.



It was a cold and clinical kind of stability, but part of his genius was the discovery that stability was what people wanted more than anything else.

He’d said to Vimes once, in this very room, standing at this very window: “They think they want good government and justice for all, Vimes, yet what is it they really crave, deep in their hearts? Only that things go on as normal and tomorrow is pretty much like today.”



Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there underground, waiting to spring up again.

It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: “Kings. What a good idea.” Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.



When Nobby had gone Vimes reached behind the desk and picked up a faded copy of Twurp’s Peerage or, as he personally thought of it, the guide to the criminal classes. You wouldn’t find slum-dwellers in these pages, but you would find their landlords.

And, while it was regarded as pretty good evidence of criminality to be living in a slum, for some reason owning a whole street of them merely got you invited to the very best social occasions.



He sidled into places and pinched things that weren’t worth much. If only he’d sidled into continents and stolen entire cities, slaughtering many of the inhabitants in the process, he’d have been a pillar of the community.
History had wanted surgery. Sometimes Dr. Chopper is the only surgeon to hand. There’s something final about an axe. But kill one wretched king and everyone calls you a regicide. It wasn’t as if it was a habit or anything . . .


Capital punishment

Igneous, despite giving the appearance of not being able to count beyond ten without ripping off someone else’s arm, and having an intimate involvement in the city’s complex hierarchy of crime, was known to pay his bills. If you were going to be successful in the world of crime, you needed a reputation for honesty.

“Again? How many times have you been killed this week?”

“I was minding my own business!” said the unseen complainer.

“Stacking garlic? You’re a vampire, aren’t you? I mean, let’s see what jobs you have been doing . . . Post sharpener for a fencing firm, sunglasses tester for Argus Opticians . . . Is it me, or is there some underlying trend here?”

“But that’s just saying ‘get on with your work and don’t make trouble’.”

“Ceno was a rather liberal god, sir. Not big on commandments.”

“Sounds almost decent, as gods go.”

Visit looked disapproving. “The Cenotines died through five hundred years of waging some of the bloodiest wars on the continent, sir.”



In a way, it didn’t matter who they were. In fact, their anonymity was part of the whole business. They thought themselves part of the march of history, the tide of progress and the wave of the future. They were men who felt that The Time Had Come. Regimes can survive barbarian hordes, crazed terrorists, and hooded secret societies, but they’re in real trouble when prosperous and anonymous men sit around a big table and think thoughts like that.

People would probably say they had lived blameless lives.

But Vimes was a policeman. No one lived a completely blameless life. It might just be possible, by lying very still in a cellar somewhere, to get through a day without committing a crime. But only just. And, even then, you were probably guilty of loitering.

The tincture of night began to suffuse the soup of the afternoon.

Lord Vetinari considered the sentence, and found it good. He liked “tincture” particularly. Tincture. Tincture. It was a distinguished word, and pleasantly countered by the flatness of “soup.” The soup of the afternoon. Yes. In which may well be found the croutons of teatime.

He was aware that he was a little light-headed.



You got a confession and there it ended. You didn’t go around disbelieving people. You disbelieved people only when they said they were innocent. Only guilty people were trustworthy. Anything else struck at the whole basis of policing.
Her books on alchemy were marvelous objects, every page a work of the engraver’s art, but they nowhere contained instructions like “Be sure to open a window.” They did have instructions like “Adde Aqua Quirmis to the Zinc untile Rising Gas Yse Vigorously Evolved,” but never added “Don’t Doe Thys Atte Home” or even “And Say Fare-Thee-Welle to Thy Eyebrows.”


Books (general)

He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way.

And he distrusted the kind of person who’d take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, ”Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times,” and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man’s boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen* and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!

*These terms are often synonymous.

The real world was far too real to leave neat little hints. It was full of too many things. It wasn’t by eliminating the impossible that you got at the truth, however improbable; it was by the much harder process of eliminating the possibilities.

What a mess the world was in, Vimes reflected. Constable Visit had told him the meek would inherit it, and what had the poor devils done to deserve that?

Cockbill Street people would stand aside to let the meek through. For what kept them in Cockbill Street, mentally and physically, was their vague comprehension that there were rules. And they went through life filled with a quiet, distracted dread that they weren’t quite obeying them.

People said that there was one law for the rich and one law for the poor, but it wasn’t true. There was no law for those who made the law, and no law for the incorrigibly lawless. All the laws and rules were for those people stupid enough to think like Cockbill Street people.

“How do you mean, ‘hygienically prepared’?” said Carrot.

“The chef is under strict orders to wash his hands afterwards.”



When you’ve made up your mind to shout out who you are to the world, it’s a relief to know that you can do it in a whisper.
He must be over one of the numerous streams that flowed through the city, although they had of course been built-over centuries before and were now used—if their existence was even remembered—for those purposes to which humanity had always put clean fresh water; i.e., making it as turbid and undrinkable as possible.
“You’re deliberately seeing everyone’s point of view! Can’t you try to be unfair even once?”

It is traditionally the belief of policemen that they can tell what a substance is by sniffing it and then gingerly tasting it, but this practice had ceased in the Watch ever since Constable Flint had dipped his finger into a blackmarket consignment of ammonium chloride cut with radium, said “Yes, this is definitely slab wurble wurble sclup,” and had to spend three days tied to his bed until the spiders went away.



“When we find the man responsible,” he said, “somewhere at the top of the charge sheet is going to be Forcing Commander Vimes To Tip a Whole Bottle of Single Malt on to the Carpet. That’s a hanging offense.” He shuddered. There were some things a man should not have to do.



“And bring the search warrant.”

“You mean the sledgehammer, sir?”

Because of the huge obtrusive mass of his forehead, Rogers the bulls’ view of the universe was from two eyes each with their own non-overlapping hemispherical view of the world. Since there were two separate visions, Rogers had reasoned, that meant there must be two bulls (bulls not having been bred for much deductive reasoning). Most bulls believe this, which is why they always keep turning their head this way and that when they look at you. They do this because both of them want to see.

They’d ask for volunteers to do something “big and clean” and you’d end up scrubbing some damn great drawbridge; they’d say, “Anyone here like good food?” and you’d be peeling potatoes for a week. You never ever volunteered. Not even if a sergeant stood there and said, “We need someone to drink alcohol, bottles of, and make love, passionate, to women, for the use of . . .” There was always a snag. If a choir of angels asked for volunteers for Paradise to step forward, Nobby knew enough to take one smart pace to the rear.

When the call came for Corporal Nobbs, it would not find him wanting. It would not find him at all.




“Dis is police brutality . . .” Igneous muttered.

“No, dis is just police shoutin’!” yelled Detritus. “You want to try for brutality it OK wit’ me!”

“That’s blasphemy,” said the vampire.

He gasped as Vimes shot him a glance like sunlight. ”That’s what people say when the voiceless speak.”



These were dangerous thoughts, he knew. They were the kind that crept up on a Watchman when the chase was over and it was just you and him, facing one another in that breathless little pinch between the crime and the punishment.

And maybe a Watchman had seen civilization with the skin ripped off one time too many and stopped acting like a Watchman and started acting like a normal human being and realized that the click of the crossbow or the sweep of the sword would make all the world so clean.

And you couldn’t think like that, even about vampires. Even though they’d take the lives of other people because little lives don’t matter and what the hell can we take away from them?

And, too, you couldn’t think like that because they gave you a sword and a badge and that turned you into something else and that had to mean there were some thoughts you couldn’t think.

Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light.

“I suppose you won’t be able to find one of your famous Clues on the thing?”

“Shouldn’t think so, sir. Not with all these fingerprints on it.”

“It would be a terrible thing, would it not, if people thought they could take the law into their own hands . . .”

“Oh, no fear of that, sir. I’m holding on tightly to it.”

Lord Vetinari plunked the axe again. “Tell me, Sir Samuel, do you know the phrase ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’?”

It was an expression Carrot had occasionally used, but Vimes was not in the mood to admit anything. “Can’t say that I do, sir,” he said. “Something about trifle, is it?”

“It means ‘Who guards the guards themselves?’ Sir Samuel.”




“Who watches the Watch? I wonder?”

“Oh, that’s easy, sir. We watch one another.”




“You never get bad fortunes in cookies, ever noticed that? They never say stuff like: ‘Oh dear, things are going to be really bad.’ I mean, they’re never misfortune cookies.”

Vimes lit a cigar and shook the match to put it out. “That, Corporal, is because of one of the fundamental driving forces of the universe.”

“What? Like, people who read fortune cookies are the lucky ones?” said Nobby.

“No. Because people who sell fortune cookies want to go on selling them.”



text checked (see note T) Apr 2005

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