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Authors: Terry Pratchett

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The Fifth Elephant

BOOK: The Fifth Elephant
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Terry Pratchett

The Fifth Elephant

A Novel of Discworld



They say the world is flat and supported on the…

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the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.

that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron, and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.

that the fifth elephant came screaming and trumpeting through the atmosphere of the young world all those years ago and landed hard enough to split continents and raise mountains.

No one actually saw it land, which raised the interesting philosophical point: When millions of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, but there is no one to hear it, does it—philosophically speaking—make a noise?

And if there was no one to see it hit, did it

In other words, wasn’t it just a story for children, to explain away some interesting natural occurrences?

As for the dwarfs, whose legend it is, and who mine a lot deeper than other people,
say that there is a grain of truth in it.

On a clear day, from the right vantage point on the Ramtops, a watcher could see a very long way across the plains. If it was high summer, they could count the columns of dust as the ox trains plodded on at a top speed of two miles an hour, each two pulling a train of two wagons carrying four tons each. Things took a long time to get anywhere, but when they did, there was certainly a lot of them.

To the cities of the Circle Sea they carried raw material, and sometimes people who were off to seek their fortune and a fistful of diamonds.

To the mountains they brought manufactured goods, rare things from across the oceans, and people who had found wisdom and a few scars.

There was usually a day’s traveling between each convoy. They turned the landscape into an unrolled time machine. On a clear day, you could see last Tuesday.

Heliographs twinkled in the distant air as the columns flashed messages back and forth about bandit presence, cargoes and the best place to get double egg, treble chips and a steak that overhung the plate all around.

Lots of people traveled on the carts. It was cheap, it beat walking, and you got there eventually.

Some people traveled for free.

The driver of one wagon was having problems with his team. They were skittish. He’d expect this in the mountains, where all sorts of wild creatures might regard the oxen as a traveling meal. Here there was nothing more dangerous than cabbages, wasn’t there?

Behind him, down in a narrow space between the loads of cut lumber, something slept.

It was just another day in Ankh-Morpork…

Sergeant Colon balanced on a shaky ladder at one end of the Brass Bridge, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. He clung by one hand to the tall pole with the box on top of it, and with the other he held a homemade picture book up to the slot in the front of the box.

“And this is
sort of cart,” he said. “Got it?”

“’S,” said a very small voice from within the box.

“O-kay,” said Colon, apparently satisfied. He dropped the book and pointed down the length of the bridge.

“Now, you see those two markers what has been painted across the cobbles?”


“And they mean…?”

“If-a-cart-g’s-tween-dem-in-less’na-minute-’s-goin-toofas’,” the little voice parroted.

“Well done. And then you…?”

“Painta pic-cher.”

“Taking care to show…?”


“And if it’s nighttime you…?”


“Well done, Rodney. And one of us will come along every day and collect your pictures. Got everything you want?”


“What’s that, Sergeant?”

Colon looked down at the very large, brown upturned face, and smiled.

“Afternoon, All,” he said, climbing ponderously down the ladder. “What you’re looking at, Mister Jolson, is the modern Watch for the new millenienienum…num.”

“’S a bit big, Fred,” said All Jolson, looking at it critically. “I’ve seen lots of smaller ones.”

“Watch as in City Watch, All.”

“Ah, right.”

“Anyone goes too fast around here and Lord Vetinari’ll be looking at his picture next morning. The iconographs do not lie, All.”

“Right, Fred. ’Cos they’re too stupid.”

“His Lordship’s got fed up with carts speeding over the bridge, see, and asked us to do something about it. I’m Head of Traffic now, you know.”

“Is that good, Fred?”

“I should just think so!” said Sergeant Colon expansively. “It’s up to me to keep the, er, arteries of the city from clogging up, leadin’ to a complete breakdown of commerce and ruination for us all. Most vital job there is, you could say.”

“And it’s just you doing it, is it?”

“Well, mainly. Mainly. Corporal Nobbs and the other lads help, of course.”

All Jolson scratched his nose.

“It was on a similar subject that I wanted to talk to you, Fred,” said Jolson.

“No problem, All.”

“Something very odd’s turned up outside my restaurant, Fred.”

Sergeant Colon followed the huge man around the corner. Fred usually liked All’s company because, next to All, he was very skinny indeed. All Jolson was a man who’d show up on an atlas and change the orbit of smaller planets. Paving stones cracked under his feet. He combined in one body—and there was plenty of room left over—Ankh-Morpork’s best chef and its keenest eater, a circumstance made in mashed potato heaven. Sergeant Colon couldn’t remember what the man’s real first name had been; he’d picked up the nickname by general acclaim, since no one seeing him in the street for the first time could believe that it was

There was a big cart on Broad Way. Other traffic was backed up trying to maneuver around it.

“Had my meat delivered at lunchtime, Fred, and when my carter came out…”

All Jolson pointed to the large triangular construction locked around one wheel of the cart. It had been made of oak and steel, and then someone had sloshed some yellow paint over it.

Fred tapped it carefully.

“I can see where your problem is, right here,” he said. “So how long was your carter in there?”

“Well. I gave him lunch…”

“And very good lunches you do, All, I’ve always said. What was the special today?”

“Smitten steak with cream sauce and slumpie, and Black Death meringue to follow,” said All Jolson.

There was a moment of silence as they both pictured this meal. Fred Colon gave a little sigh.

“Butter on the slumpie?”

“You wouldn’t insult me by suggesting I’d leave it off, would you?”

“A man could linger a long time over a meal like that,” said Fred. “The trouble is, the Patrician, All, gets very short about carts parking on the street for more than ten minutes. He reckons that’s a sort of crime.”

“Taking ten minutes to eat one of
lunches isn’t a crime, Fred, it’s a tragedy,” said All. “It says here ‘City Watch—fifteen-dollar removal,’ Fred. That’s a couple of days’ profits, Fred.”

“Thing is,” said Fred Colon, “it’ll be paperwork, see? I can’t just wave that away. I only wish I could. There’s all them counterfoils on the spike in my office. If it was me running the Watch, of course…but my hands are tied, see…”

The two men stood some way apart, hands in pockets, apparently paying little attention to one another. Sergeant Colon began to whistle under his breath.

“I know a thing or two,” said All, carefully. “People think waiters ain’t got ears.”

“I know lots of stuff, All,” said Colon, jingling his pocket change.

Both men stared at the sky for a while.

“I may have some honey ice cream left over from yesterday—”

Sergeant Colon looked down at the cart.

“Here, Mister Jolson,” he said, in a voice of absolute surprise, “some complete bastard’s put some sort of clamp on your wheel! Well, we’ll soon see about

Colon pulled a couple of round, white-painted paddles from his belt, sighted on the Watch House semaphore tower peeking over the top of the old lemonade factory, waited until the watching gargoyle signaled him, and with a certain amount of verve and flair ripped off an impression of a man with stiff arms playing two games of table tennis at once.

“The team’ll be along any minute—ah, watch this…”

A little farther along the street two trolls were carefully clamping a hay wagon. After a minute or two one of them happened to glance at the Watch House tower, nudged his colleague, produced two bats of his own and with, rather less élan than Sergeant Colon, sent a signal. When it was answered the trolls looked around, spotted Colon, and lumbered toward him.

“Ta-da,” said Colon, proudly.

“Amazing, this new technology,” said All Jolson, admiringly. “And they must’ve been, what, forty or fifty yards away?”

“’S’right, All. In the old days I’d’ve had to blow a whistle. And they’ll arrive here knowin’ it was
who wanted ’em, too.”

“Instead of having to look and see it was you,” said Jolson.

“Well, yeah,” said Colon, aware that what had transpired might not be the brightest ray of light in the new dawn of the communications revolution. “Of course, it’d have worked just as well if they’d been streets away. On the other side of the city, even. And if I told the gargoyle to, as we say, ‘put’ it on the ‘big’ tower over on the Tump they’d have got it in Sto Lat within minutes, see?”

“And that’s twenty miles.”

“At least.”

“Amazing, Fred.”

“Time moves on, All,” said Colon, as the trolls reached them.

“Constable Chert, who told you to clamp my friend’s cart?” he demanded.

“Well, Sarge, dis morning you said we was to clamp every—”

cart,” said Colon. “Unlock it right now, and we’ll say no more about it, eh?”

Constable Chert seemed to reach the conclusion that he wasn’t being paid to think, and this was just as well, because Sergeant Colon did not believe trolls gave value for money in that department. “If you say so, Sarge…”

“While you’re doing that, me and All here will have a little chat, right, All?” said Fred Colon.

“That’s right, Fred.”

“Well, I
chat, but I’ll be mostly listenin’, on account of having my mouth full.”

Snow cascaded from the fir branches. The man forced his way through, stood fighting for breath for a moment and then set off across the clearing at a fast jog.

Across the valley he heard the first blast on the horn.

He had an hour, then, if he could trust them. He might not make it to the tower, but there were other ways out.

He had plans. He could outwit them. Keep off the snow as much as you can, double back, make use of the streams…it was possible, it
been done before.

He was sure of that.

A few miles away sleek bodies set out through the forest. The hunt was on.

And elsewhere in Ankh-Morpork, the Fools’ Guild was on fire.

This was a problem, because the Guild’s fire brigade largely consisted of clowns.

was a problem because, if you show a clown a bucket of water and a ladder, he knows only one way to act. Years of training take over. It’s something in the red nose speaking to him. He can’t help himself.

Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch leaned against a wall and watched the show.

“We really must put that proposal for a civic fire service to the Patrician again,” he said. Across the street, a clown picked up a ladder, turned, knocked the clown
him into a bucket of water, then turned
to see what the commotion was, thus sending his rising victim into the bucket again with a surprising parping noise. The crowd watched silently. If it were funny, clowns wouldn’t be doing it.

“The guilds are all against it,” said Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, his second in command, as the clown with the ladder had a bucket of water poured down his trousers. “They say it’d be trespass.”

The fire had taken hold in a first-floor room.

“If we let it burn it’d be a blow for entertainment in this city,” said Carrot earnestly.

Vimes looked sideways at him. That was a true Carrot comment. It sounded as innocent as hell, but you
take it a different way.

“It certainly would,” he said. “Nevertheless, I
we’d better do something.” He stepped forward and cupped his hands.

“All right, this is the Watch! Bucket chain!” he shouted.

we?” said someone in the crowd.

“Yes, you must,” said Captain Carrot. “Come on, everyone, if we form two lines we’ll have this done in no time at all! What d’you say, eh? It might even be fun!”

And they did it, Vimes noted. Carrot treated everyone as if they were jolly good chaps and somehow, in some inexplicable way, they couldn’t resist the urge not to prove him wrong.

And to the disappointment of the crowd the fire was soon put out, once the clowns were disarmed and led away by kind people.

Carrot reappeared, wiping his forehead, as Vimes lit a cigar.

“Apparently the fire eater was sick,” he said.

“It’s just possible we might never be forgiven,” said Vimes, as they set off on patrol again. “Oh no…what now?”

Carrot was staring upward, toward the nearest clacks tower.

“Riot in Cable Street,” he said. “It’s All Officers, sir.”

They broke into a run. You always did for an All Officers. The people in trouble might well be you.

There were more dwarfs on the streets as they got nearer, and Vimes recognized the signs. The dwarfs all wore preoccupied looks and were walking in the same direction.

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

Whatever else the emergency had been, it had been a big one. The street was strewn with debris, and a fair amount of dwarfs. Vimes slowed down.

BOOK: The Fifth Elephant
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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