The Fifth Elephant
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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The Fifth Elephant



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The Fifth Elephant

Copyright © 1999 Terry and Lyn Pratchett

‘It’s over,’ he said, as they rounded a corner. ‘You can tell by the sudden increase of suspiciously innocent bystanders.’

‘What’re people going to say about rioting in the streets?’

‘They’ll say it’s another day in the life of the big city, sir,’ said Carrot woodenly.

It is in the nature of the universe that the person who always keeps you waiting ten minutes will, on the day you are ten minutes tardy, have been ready ten minutes early and will make a point of not mentioning this.

‘Where’s the money?’

‘I beg your pardon, commander?’

‘That’s what my old sergeant used to say when he was puzzled, sir. Find out where the money is and you’ve got it half solved.’

‘Uberwald is like this big suet pudding that everyone’s suddenly noticed, and now with this coronation as an excuse we’ve all got to rush there with knife, fork and spoon to shovel as much on our plates as possible?’

‘Your grasp of political reality is masterly, Vimes. You lack only the appropriate vocabulary.’

‘We do thank people for not smoking in here, sir,’ he said.

‘Why? You don’t know they’re not going to,’ said Vimes.



You did something because it had always been done, and the explanation was, ‘But we’ve always done it this way.’ A million dead people can’t have been wrong, can they?



Sam Vimes could parallel-process. Most husbands can. They learn to follow their own line of thought while at the same time listening to what their wives say. And the listening is important, because at any time they could be challenged and must be ready to quote the last sentence in full. A vital additional skill is being able to scan the dialogue for telltale phrases, such as ‘and they can deliver it tomorrow’ or ‘so I’ve invited them for dinner’ or ‘they can do it in blue, really quite cheaply.’



It was so thickly forested, so creased by little mountain ranges and beset by rivers, that it was largely unmapped. It was mostly unexplored, too.*

* At least by proper explorers. Just living there doesn’t count.

He was aware that a wise man should always respect the folkways of others, to use Carrot’s happy phrase, but Vimes often had difficulty with this idea. For one thing, there were people in the world whose folkways consisted of gutting other people like clams and this was not a procedure that commanded, in Vimes, any kind of respect at all.
It was funny how people were people everywhere you went, even if the people concerned weren’t the people the people who made up the phrase ‘people are people everywhere’ had traditionally thought of as people. And even if you weren’t virtuous, as you had been brought up to understand the term, you did like to see virtue in other people, provided it did not cost you anything.



‘Tact and diplomacy will be called for.’

‘You have come to der right troll for dat, sir,’ said Detritus.

‘You did push that man through that wall last week, Detritus.’

‘It was done with tact, sir.’



‘The name Vimes goes back a long time,’ said Wolfgang [...]

‘So does the name Smith. What of it?’

Compare to:

G. K. Chesterton

How quickly the future comes upon us, he thought.

He always suspected the poetic description of Time like an ever-rolling stream. Time, in his experience, moved more like rocks . . . sliding, pressing, building up force underground and then, with one jerk that shakes the crockery, a whole field of turnips mysteriously slips sideways by six feet.



The worried man in front of him, who was so considerate of life that he carefully dusted around spiders, had once invented a device that fired lead pellets with tremendous speed and force. He thought it would be useful against dangerous animals. He’d designed a thing that could destroy whole mountains. He thought it would be useful in the mining industries. Here was a man who, in his tea break, would doodle an instrument for unthinkable mass destruction in the blank spaces around an exquisite drawing of the fragile beauty of the human smile. With a list of numbered parts. And if you taxed him with it he’d say: ah, but such a thing would make war completely impossible, you see? Because no one would dare use it.




What would be the point of cyphering messages that very clever enemies couldn’t break? You’d end up not knowing what they thought you thought they were thinking . . .



Mr. Vimes had told him never to get too excited about clues, because clues could lead you a dismal dance. They could become a habit. You ended up finding a wooden leg, a silk slipper and a feather at the scene of a crime and constructing an elegant theory involving a one-legged ballet dancer and a production of Chicken Lake.
There was a typical Ankh-Morpork street scene outside, although people were trying to separate them.
A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.



It wasn’t that he was illiterate, but Fred Colon did need a bit of a think and a run-up to tackle anything much longer than a list and he tended to get lost in any word that had more than three syllables. He was, in fact, functionally literate. That is, he thought of reading and writing like he thought about boots — you needed them, but they weren’t supposed to be fun, and you got suspicious about people who got a kick out of them.

‘Not natural, in my view, sah. Not in favour of unnatural things.’

Vetinari looked perplexed. ‘You mean, you eat your meat raw and sleep in a tree?’

Vimes hated and despised the privileges of rank, but they had this to be said for them: at least they meant that you could hate and despise them in comfort.

‘There has never been an authenticated case of an unprovoked wolf attacking an adult human being,’ said Carrot. They were both huddling under his cloak.

After a while Gaspode said, ‘An’ that’s good, is it?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We-ell, o’course us dogs only has little brains, but it seems to me that what you just said was pretty much the same as sayin’ “no unprovokin’ adult human bein’ has ever returned to tell the tale”, right? I mean, your wolf has just got to make sure they kill people in quiet places where no one’ll ever know, yes?’

‘This is not a weapon. This is for killing people,’ he said.

‘Uh, most weapons are,’ said Inigo.

‘No, they’re not. They’re so you don’t have to kill people. They’re for . . . for having. For being seen. For warning. This isn’t one of those. It’s for hiding away until you bring it out and kill people in the dark.’



The really odd thing about human sex, though, was the way it went on even when people were fully clothed and sitting on opposite sides of a fire. It was in the things they said and did not say, the way they looked at one another and looked away.

‘Your grace, I did hear you express some negative sentiments about Ankh-Morpork on the way here, mhm, mhm.’

‘Yes, but I live there! I’m allowed to! That’s patriotic!’



‘And you had a famous ancestor, I believe, who was a regicide?’

Here it comes, thought Vimes. ‘Yes, Stoneface Vimes,’ he said, as levelly as possible. ‘I’ve always thought that was a bit unfair, though. It was only one king. It wasn’t as if it was a hobby.’

‘But you don’t like kings,’ said the dwarf.

‘I don’t meet many, sir,’ said Vimes, hoping that this would pass for a diplomatic answer.



‘When people say “We must move with the times,” they really mean “You must do it my way.” And there are some who would say that Ankh-Morpork is . . . a kind of vampire. It bites, and what it bites it turns into copies of itself. It sucks, too. It seems all our best go to Ankh-Morpork, where they live in squalor. You leave us dry.’

As castles went, this one looked as though it could be taken by a small squad of not very efficient soldiers. Its builder had not been thinking about fortifications. He’d been influenced by fairytales and possibly by some of the more ornamental sorts of cake. It was a castle for looking at.



‘I believe you ver an alcoholic, Sir Samuel.’

‘No,’ said Vimes, completely taken aback. ‘I was a drunk. You have to be richer than I was to be an alcoholic.’



‘Lord Vetinari, I know, believes that information is currency. But everyvun knows that currency has alvays been information. Money doesn’t need to talk, it merely has to listen.’



Well, he thought, so this is diplomacy. It’s like lying, only to a better class of people.



‘It’s got to have bounce. And rhythm. Like “Whadda we want? Dum-dee-dum-dee. When do we want it? Now!” See? You need one simple demand. Let’s try it again. Whadda we want?’

The watchmen looked at one another, no one quite wanting to be the first.

‘Another drink?’ someone volunteered.

‘Yeah!’ said someone at the back. ‘When do we want it? NOW!’

‘Well, that one seems to have worked,’ said Nobby as the policemen crowded round the bar.



‘You got to stand around warmin’ your hands over a big drum,’ said Nobby. ‘That’s how people know you’re an official picket and not a bunch of bums.’

‘But we are a bunch of bums, Nobby. People think we are, anyway.’

‘All right, but let’s be warm ones.’

‘I don’t really want to worry you, Sybil.’

‘Well, now that you’ve got me really worried, you may as well tell me. All right?’

‘I find this highly suspicious, Sam.’

‘Detritus will back me up on this,’ said Vimes.

‘Dat’s right, sir,’ the troll rumbled. ‘You distinctly said to say dat—’



In amongst the human guests the dwarfs moved and clustered. Five or six would come together and talk animatedly. Then one would drift away and join another group. He might be replaced. And sometimes an entire group would spread out like the debris of an explosion, each member heading towards another group.

Vimes got the impression that there was a kind of structure behind all this, some slow, purposeful dance of information. Mineshaft meetings, he thought. Small groups, because there wouldn’t be room for more. And you don’t talk too loudly. And then when the group decides, every member is an ambassador for that decision. The word spreads out in circles. It’s like running a society on formal gossip.

It occurred to him that it was also a way in which two plus two could be debated and weighed and considered and discussed until it became four-and-a-bit, or possibly an egg.*

* Vimes had once discussed the Ephebian idea of ‘democracy’ with Carrot, and had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there straight away.

Apart from the women, children, slaves, idiots and people who weren’t really our kind of people.




The news that they have nothing to fear is guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of innocents everywhere.



This was no time to play by the Marquis of Fantailler rules.*

* The Marquis of Fantailler got into many fights in his youth, most of them as a result of being known as the Marquis of Fantailler, and wrote a set of rules for what he termed ‘the noble art of fisticuffs’, which mostly consisted of a list of places where people weren’t allowed to hit him. Many people were impressed with his work and later stood with noble chest out-thrust and fists balled in a spirit of manly aggression against people who hadn’t read the Marquis’s book but did know how to knock people senseless with a chair.

If you want to get a prisoner out of the clink, then you give him a key, or a file. You don’t give him a weapon. A key might get him out; a weapon would get him killed.



The chafing qualities of frozen underwear can be seriously underestimated.


Amusing one-liners

‘Are you Death?’


‘I’m going to die?’


Possibly? You turn up when people are possibly going to die?’


‘What’s that?’




He ached all over. It wasn’t just that his brain was writing cheques that his body couldn’t cash. It had gone beyond that. Now his feet were borrowing money that his legs hadn’t got, and his back muscles were looking for loose change under the sofa cushions.
‘It wasn’t until ten years ago that they replaced trial by ordeal here with trial by lawyer, and that was only because they found that lawyers were nastier.’



‘This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine-hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y’know.’
He was never at ease with politics, where good and bad were just, apparently, two ways of looking at the same thing or, at least, were described like that by the people who were on the side Vimes thought of as ‘bad’.
‘Integrity makes very poor armour.’



It was the first coronation Vimes had attended. He’d expected it to be . . . stranger, touched somehow by glory.

Instead it was dull, but at least it was big dull, dullness distilled and cultivated over thousands of years until it had developed an impressive shine, as even grime will if you polish it long enough. It was dull hammered into the shape and form of ceremony.

It had also been timed to test the capacity of the average bladder.

text checked (see note T) Aug 2007

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