Authors: Terry Pratchett
A Novel of Discworld
To all the fighters for peace
Other Books by Terry Pratchett
t was a moonless night, which was
for the purposes of Solid Jackson.
He fished for Curious Squid, so called because, as well as being squid, they were curious. That is to say, their curiosity was the curious thing about them.
Shortly after they got curious about the lantern that Solid had hung over the stern of his boat, they started to become curious about the way in which various of their number suddenly vanished skyward with a splash.
Some of them even became curious—very
curious—about the sharp barbed thing that was coming very quickly toward them.
The Curious Squid were extremely curious. Unfortunately, they weren’t very good at making connections.
It was a very long way to this fishing ground, but for Solid the trip was usually well worth it. The Curious Squid were very small, harmless, difficult to find and reckoned by connoisseurs to have the foulest taste of any creature in the world. This made them very much in demand in a certain kind of restaurant where highly skilled chefs made, with great care, dishes containing
no trace of the squid whatsoever
Solid Jackson’s problem was that tonight, a moonless night in the spawning season, when the squid were especially curious about everything, the chef seemed to have been at work on the sea itself.
There was not a single interested eyeball to be seen. There weren’t any other fish either, and usually there were a few attracted to the light. He’d caught sight of one. It had been making through the water extremely fast in a straight line.
He laid down his trident and walked to the other end of the boat, where his son Les was also gazing intently at the torch-lit sea.
“Not a thing in half an hour,” said Solid.
“You sure we’re in the right spot, Dad?”
Solid squinted at the horizon. There was a faint glow in the sky that indicated the city of Al-Khali, on the Klatchian coast. He turned round. The other horizon glowed, too, with the lights of Ankh-Morpork. The boat bobbed gently halfway between the two.
“’Course we are,” he said, but certainty edged away from his words.
Because there was a hush on the sea. It didn’t look right. The boat rocked a little, but that was with their movement, not from any motion of the waves.
as if there was going to be a storm. But the stars twinkled softly and there was not a cloud in the sky.
The stars twinkled on the surface of the water, too. Now
was something you didn’t often see.
“I reckon we ought to be getting out of here,” Solid said.
Les pointed at the slack sail. “What’re we going to use for wind, Dad?”
It was then that they heard the splash of oars.
Solid, squinting hard, could just make out the shape of another boat, heading toward him. He grabbed his boat-hook.
“I knows that’s you, you thieving foreign bastard!”
The oars stopped. A voice sang over the water.
“May you be consumed by a thousand devils, you damned person!”
The other boat glided closer. It looked foreign, with eyes painted on the prow.
“Fished ’em all out, have you? I’ll take my trident to you, you bottomfeedin’ scum that y’are!”
“My curvy sword at your neck, you unclean son of a dog of the female persuasion!”
Les looked over the side. Little bubbles fizzed on the surface of the sea.
“Dad?” he said.
“That’s Greasy Arif out there!” snapped his father. “You take a good look at him! He’s been coming out here for years, stealing
squid, the evil lying little devil!”
“You get on them oars and I’ll knock his black teeth out!”
Les could hear a voice saying from the other boat, “—see, my son, how the underhanded fish thief—”
“Row!” his father shouted.
“To the oars!” shouted someone in the other boat.
they, Dad?” said Les.
“What, even before we’ve caught them?”
“Just you shut up and row!”
“I can’t move the boat, Dad, we’re stuck on something!”
“It’s a hundred fathoms deep here, boy! What’s there to stick on?”
Les tried to disentangle an oar from the thing rising slowly out of the fizzing sea.
“Looks like a…a chicken, Dad!”
There was a sound from below the surface. It sounded like some bell or gong, slowly swinging.
“Chickens can’t swim!”
“It’s made of iron, Dad!”
Solid scrambled to the rear of the boat.
a chicken, made of iron. Seaweed and shells covered it and water dripped off it as it rose against the stars.
It stood on a cross-shaped perch.
There seemed to be a letter on each of the four ends of the cross.
Solid held the torch closer.
Then he pulled the oar free and sat down beside his son.
“Row like the blazes, Les!”
“What’s happening, Dad?”
“Shut up and row! Get us away from it!”
“Is it a monster, Dad?”
“It’s worse than a monster, son!” shouted Solid, as the oars bit into the water.
The thing was quite high now, standing on some kind of tower…“What is it, Dad!
What is it?
“It’s a damned weathercock!”
There was not, on the whole, a lot of geological excitement. The
of continents is usually accompanied by volcanoes, earthquakes and armadas of little boats containing old men anxious to build pyramids and mystic stone circles in some new land where being the possessor of genuine ancient occult wisdom might be expected to attract girls. But the rising of this one caused barely a ripple in the purely physical scheme of things. It more or less sidled back, like a cat who’s been away for a few days and knows you’ve been worrying.
Around the shores of the Circle Sea a large wave, only five or six feet high by the time it reached them, caused some comment. And in some of the very low-lying swamp areas the water swamped some villages of people that no one else cared about very much. But in a purely geological sense, nothing very much happened.
In a purely geological sense.
, Dad! Look, you can see all the windows and—”
“I told you to shut up and keep rowing!”
The seawater surged down the streets. On either side, huge, weed-encrusted buildings boiled slowly out of the surf.
Father and son fought to keep some way on the boat as it was dragged along. And, since lesson one in the art of rowing is that you do it while looking the wrong way, they didn’t see the other boat…
“Don’t you touch that building! This country belongs to Ankh-Morpork!”
The two boats spun in a temporary whirlpool.
“I claim this land in the name of the Seriph of Al-Khali!”
“We saw it first! Les, you tell him we saw it first!”
“We saw it first before you saw it first!”
“Les, you saw him, he tried to hit me with that oar!”
“But Dad, you’re waving that trident—”
“See the untrustworthy way he attacks us, Akhan!”
There was a grinding noise from under the keel of both boats and they began to tip as they settled into the sea-bottom ooze.
“Look, Father, there is an interesting statue—”
“He has set his foot on Klatchian soil! The squid thief!”
“Get those filthy sandals off Ankh-Morporkian territory!”
The two fishermen stopped screaming at each other, mainly in order to get their breath back. Crabs scuttled away. Water drained between the patches of weed, carving runnels in the gray silt.
“Father, look, there’s still colored tiles on the—”
Les caught Akhan’s eye. They exchanged a very brief glance which was nevertheless modulated with a considerable amount of information, beginning with the sheer galactic-sized embarrassment of having parents and working up from there.
“Dad, we don’t
to—” Les began.
“You shut up! It’s your future I’m thinking about, my lad—”
“Yes, but who
who saw it first, Dad? We’re both hundreds of miles from home! I mean, who’s going to
The two squid fishermen glared at one another.
The dripping buildings rose above them. There were holes that might well have been doorways, and glassless apertures that could have been windows, but all was darkness within. Now and again, Les fancied he could hear something slithering.
Solid Jackson coughed. “The lad’s right,” he muttered. “Daft to argue. Just the four of us.”
“Indeed,” said Arif.
They backed away, each man carefully watching the other. Then, so closely that it was a chorus, they both yelled: “Grab the boat!”
There was a confused couple of moments and then each pair, boat carried over their heads, ran and slithered along the muddy streets.
They had to stop and come back, with mutual cries of “A kidnapper as well, eh?” to get the right sons.
As every student of exploration knows, the prize goes not to the explorer who first sets foot upon the virgin soil but to the one who gets that foot home first. If it is still attached to his leg, this is a bonus.
The weathercocks of Ankh-Morpork creaked around in the wind.
Very few of them were in fact representations of
. There were various dragons, fish and miscellaneous animals. On the roof of the Assassins’ Guild a silhouette of one of the members squeaked into a new position, cloak and dagger at the ready. On the Beggars’ Guild a tin beggar’s hand asked the wind for a quarter. On the Butchers’ Guild a copper pig sniffed the air. On the roof of the Thieves’ Guild a
if rather deceased unlicensed thief turned gently, which shows what you are capable of if you try, or at least if you try stealing without a license.
The one on the library dome of Unseen University was running slow and wouldn’t show the change for half an hour yet, but the smell of the sea drifted over the city.
There was a tradition of soap-box public speaking in Sator Square. “Speaking” was stretching a point to cover the ranters, haranguers and occasional self-absorbed mumblers that spaced themselves at intervals amongst the crowds. And, traditionally, people said whatever was on their minds and at the top of their voices. The Patrician, it was said, looked kindly on the custom. He did. And very closely, too. He probably had someone make notes.
So did the Watch.
It wasn’t spying, Commander Vimes told himself. Spying was when you crept around peeking in windows. It wasn’t spying when you had to stand back a bit so that you weren’t deafened.
He reached out without paying attention and struck a match on Sergeant Detritus.
“Dat was me, sir,” said the troll reproachfully.
“Sorry, sergeant,” said Vimes, lighting his cigar.
“It not a problem.”
They returned their attention to the speakers.
It’s the wind, thought Vimes. It’s bringing something new…
Usually the speakers dealt with all kinds of subjects, many of them on the cusp of sanity or somewhere in the peaceful valleys on the other side. But now they were all monomaniacs.
“—time they were taught a lesson!” screamed the nearest one. “Why don’t our so-called masters listen to the voice of the people? Ankh-Morpork has had
of these swaggering brigands! They steal our fish, they steal our trade and now they’re stealing our land!”
It would have been better if people had cheered, Vimes thought. People generally cheered the speakers indiscriminately, to egg them on. But the crowd around this man just seemed to nod approval. He thought: they’re actually
about what he said…“They stole my merchandise!” shouted a speaker opposite him. “It’s a pirate bloody empire! I was boarded! In Ankh-Morpork waters!”
There was a general self-righteous muttering.
“What did they steal, Mr. Jenkins?” said a voice from the crowd.
“A cargo of fine silks!”
The crowd hissed.
“Ah? Not dried fish offal and condemned meat, then? That’s your normal cargo, I believe.”
Mr. Jenkins strained to look for the speaker.
“Fine silks!” he said. “And what does the city care about that? Nothing!”
There were shouts of “Shame!”
“Has the city been told?” said the inquiring voice.
People started to crane their heads. And then the crowd opened a little, to reveal the figure of Commander Vimes of the City Watch.
“Well, it’s…I…” Jenkins began. “Er…I…”
care,” said Vimes calmly. “Shouldn’t be too hard to track down a cargo of fine silks that stink of fish guts.” There was laughter. Ankh-Morpork people always like some variety in their street theater.
Vimes apparently spoke to Sergeant Detritus, while keeping his gaze locked on Jenkins. “Detritus, just you go along with Mr. Jenkins here, will you? His ship is the
, I believe. He’ll show you all the lading bills and manifests and receipts and things, and then we can sort him out in jig time.”
There was a clang as Detritus’s huge hand came to rest against his helmet.
“Er…er…you can’t,” said Jenkins quickly. “They…er…stole the paperwork as well…”
“Really? So they can take the stuff back to the shop if it doesn’t fit?”
“Er…anyway, the ship’s sailed. Yes! Sailed! Got to try and recoup my losses, you know!”
“Sailed? Without its captain?” said Vimes. “So Mr. Scoplett is in charge? Your first officer?”
“Damn!” said Vimes, snapping his fingers theatrically. “That man we’ve got in the cells on a charge of being Naughtily Drunk last night…we’re going to have to charge him with impersonation as well, then? I don’t know, more blasted paperwork, the stuff just piles up…”