Read on for an exclusive extract from Snuff…
The goblin experience of the world is the cult or perhaps religion of Unggue. In short, it is a remarkably complex resurrection-based religion founded on the sanctity of bodily secretions.
Its central tenet runs as follows: everything that is expelled from a goblin’s body was clearly once part of them and should, therefore, be treated with reverence and stored properly so that it can be entombed with its owner in the fullness of time. In the meantime the material is stored in unggue pots, remarkable creations of which I shall speak later.
A moment’s distasteful thought will tell us that this could not be achieved by any creature, unless in possession of great wealth, considerable storage space and compliant neighbours.
Therefore, in reality, most goblins observe the Unggue Had – what one might term the common and lax form of Unggue – which encompasses earwax, finger- and toenail clippings, and snot. Water, generally speaking, is reckoned as not unggue, but something which goes through the body without ever being part of it: they reason that there is no apparent difference in the water before and after, as it were (which sadly shines a light on the freshness of the water they encounter in their underground lairs). Similarly faeces are considered to be food that has merely undergone a change of state. Surprisingly, teeth are of no interest to the goblins, who look on them as a type of fungus, and they appear to attach no importance to hair, of which, it has to be said, they seldom have very much.’
At this point, Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, stopped reading and stared at nothing. After a few seconds, nothing was eclipsed by the form of Drumknott, his secretary (who, it must be said, had spent a career turning himself into something as much like nothing as anything).
Drumknott said, ‘You look pensive, my lord,’ to which observation he appended a most delicate question mark, which gradually evaporated.
‘Awash with tears, Drumknott, awash with tears.’
Drumknott stopped dusting the impeccably shiny black lacquered desk. ‘Pastor Oats is a very persuasive writer, isn’t he, sir…?’
‘Indeed he is, Drumknott, but the basic problem remains and it is this: humanity may come to terms with the dwarf, the troll and even the orc, terrifying though all these may have proved to be at times, and you know why this is, Drumknott?’
The secretary carefully folded the duster he had been using and looked at the ceiling. ‘I would venture to suggest, my lord, that in their violence we recognize ourselves?’
‘Oh, well done, Drumknott, I shall make a cynic of you yet! Predators respect other predators, do they not? They may perhaps even respect the prey: the lion may lie down with the lamb, even if only the lion is likely to get up again, but the lion will not lie down with the rat. Vermin, Drumknott, an entire race reduced to vermin!’
Lord Vetinari shook his head sadly, and the ever-attentive Drumknott noticed that his lordship’s fingers had now gone back, for the third time that day, to the page headed ‘Unggue Pots’ and he seemed, quite unusually, to be talking to himself as he did so…
‘These are traditionally crafted by the goblin itself, out of anything from precious minerals to leather, wood or bone. Among the former are some of the finest eggshell-thin containers ever found in the world. The plundering of goblin settlements by treasure-hunters in search of these, and the retaliation by the goblins themselves, has coloured human–goblin relationships even to the present day.’
Lord Vetinari cleared his throat and continued, ‘I quote Pastor Oats again, Drumknott: “I must say that goblins live on the edge, often because they have been driven there. When nothing else can survive, they do. Their universal greeting is, apparently, ‘Hang’ which means ‘Survive’. I know other dreadful crimes have been are laid at their door, but the world itself has never been kind to them. Let it be said here that those who live their lives where life hangs by less than a thread understand the dreadful algebra of necessity, which has no mercy and when necessity presses in extremis, well, that is the . That is the time when the women need to make the unggue pot called ‘returning soul of tears’, the most beautiful of all the pots, carved with little flowers and washed with tears.”’
Drumknott, with meticulous timing, put a cup of coffee in front of his master just as Lord Vetinari finished the sentence and looked up. ‘‘The dreadful algebra of necessity’, Drumknott. Well, we all know about that, don’t we?’
‘Indeed we do, sir. Incidentally, sir, we have received a missive from Diamond King of Trolls, thanking us for our firm stance on the drugs issue. Well done, sir.’
‘Hardly a concession,’ Vetinari observed, waving it away. ‘You know my position, Drumknott. I have no particular objection to people taking substances that make them feel better, or more contented or, for that matter, see little dancing purple fairies – or even their god if it comes to that. It’s their brain, after all, and society can have no claim on it, providing they’re not operating heavy machinery at the time. However, to sell drugs to trolls that actually make their heads explode is simply murder, the capital crime. I am glad to say that Commander Vimes fully agrees with me on this issue.’
‘Indeed, sir, and may I remind you that he will be leaving us very shortly. Do you intend to see him off, as it were?’
The Patrician shook his head. ‘I think not. The man must be in terrible turmoil, and I fear that my presence might make things worse.’
Was there a hint of pity in Drumknott’s voice when he said, ‘Don’t blame yourself, my lord. After all, you and the commander are in the hands of a higher power.’
His Grace, the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, was feverishly pushing a pencil down the side of his boot in order to stop the itching. It didn’t work. It never did. All his socks made his feet itch. For the hundredth time he considered telling his wife that among her sterling qualities, and they were many, knitting did not feature. But he would rather have chopped his foot off than do so. It would break her heart.
They were dreadful socks, though, so thick, knotted and bulky that he had had to buy boots that were one and a half times bigger than his feet. And he did this because Samuel Vimes, who had never gone into a place of worship with religious aforethought, worshipped Lady Sybil, and not a day went past without his being amazed that she seemed to do the same to him. He had made her his wife and she had made him a millionaire; . Wwith her behind him the sad, desolate, penniless and cynical copper was a rich and powerful duke. He’d managed to hold on to the cynical, however, and a brace of oxen on steroids would not have been able to pull the copper out of Sam Vimeshim; the poison was in too deep, wrapped around the spine. And so Sam Vimes itched, and counted his blessings until he ran out of numbers.
Among his curses was doing the paperwork.
There was always paperwork. It is well known that any drive to reduce paperwork only results in extra paperwork.
Of course, he had people to do the paperwork, but sooner or later he had, at the very least, to sign it and, if no way of escape presented itself, even read it. There was no getting away from it: ultimately, in all police work, there was a definite possibility that the manure would hit the windmill. The initials of Sam Vimes were required to be on the paper to inform the world that it was his windmill, and therefore his manure.
But now he stopped to call through the open door to Sergeant Littlebottom, who was acting as his orderly.
‘Anything yet, Cheery?’ he said, hopefully.
‘Not in the way I think you mean sir, but I think you’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve just had a clacks message from Acting Captain Haddock down in Quirm, sir. He says he’s getting on fine, sir, and really enjoying the avec.’*
* The exchange scheme with the Quirm gendarmerie was working very well: they were getting instruction on policing à la Vimes, while the food in the Pseudopolis Yard canteen had been improved out of all recognition by Captain Emile, even though he used far too much avec.
Vimes sighed. ‘Anything else?’
‘Dead as a doorknob, sir,’ said the dwarf, poking her head around the door. ‘It’s the heat, sir, it’s too hot to fight and too sticky to steal. Isn’t that wonderful, sir?’
Vimes grunted. ‘Where there are policemen there’s crime, sergeant, remember that.’
‘Yes, I do, sir, although I think it sounds better with a little reordering of the words.’
‘I suppose there’s no chance at all that I’ll be let off?’
Sergeant Littlebottom looked concerned. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I think there’s no appeal. Officially Captain Carrot will relieve you of your badge at noon.’
Vimes thumped his desk and exploded. ‘I don’t deserve this treatment after a lifetime of dedication to the city!’
‘Commander, if I may say so, you deserve a lot more.’
Vimes leaned back in his chair and groaned. ‘You too, Cheery?’
‘I really am very sorry, sir. I know this is hard for you.’
‘To be forced out after all this time! I begged, you know, and that doesn’t come easy to a man like me, you can be sure. Begged!’
There was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. Cheery watched as Vimes pulled a brown envelope out of his desk drawer, inserted something into it, licked it ferociously, sealed it with a spit and dropped it on his desk, where it clanged. ‘There,’ he said, through gritted teeth. ‘My badge, just like Vetinari ordered. I put it down. It won’t be said they took it off me!’
Captain Carrot stepped into the office, ducking briefly as he came through the door. He had a package in his hand and several grinning coppers were clustered behind him.
‘Sorry about this, sir, higher authority and all that. If it’s any help I think you’ve been lucky to be let off with two weeks. She was originally talking about a month.’
He handed Vimes the package and coughed. ‘Me and the ladsWe had a bit of a whip-round, commander,’ he said with a forced grin.
‘You know, I prefer something sensible like Chief Constable,’ said Vimes, grabbing the package. ‘Do you know, I reckoned that if I let them give me enough titles I’d eventually get one I could live with.’
Vimes toreHe opened the package and pulled out a very small and colourful bucket and spade, to the general amusement of the surreptitious onlookers.
‘We know you’re not going to the seaside, sir,’ Carrot began, ‘but…’
‘I wish it was the seaside,’ Vimes complained. ‘You get shipwrecks at the seaside, you get smugglers at the seaside and you get drownings and crime at the flaming seaside!. Something interesting!’
‘Lady Sybil says you’re bound to find lots to amuse yourself with, sir,’ said Carrot.
Vimes grunted. ‘The countryside! What’s to amuse you in the countryside? Do you know why it’s called the countryside, Carrot? Because there’s bloody nothing there except damn trees, which we’re supposed to make a fuss about, but really they’re just stiff weeds! It’s dull! It’s nothing but a long Sunday! And I’m going to have to meet nobby people!’
‘Sir, you’ll enjoy it. I’ve never known you to take even a day off unless you were injured,’ said Carrot.
‘And even then he worried and grumbled every moment,’ said a voice at the doorway. It belonged to Lady Sybil Vimes, and Vimes found himself resenting the way his men deferred to her. He loved Lady Sybil to distraction, of course, but he couldn’t help noticing how, these days, his bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich had become, not as it had been traditionally, a bacon, tomato and lettuce and had in fact become a lettuce, tomato and bacon sandwich. It was all about health, of course. It was a conspiracy. Why did they never find a vegetable that was bad for you, hey? And what was so wrong with onion gravy anyway? It had onions in it, didn’t it? They made you fart, didn’t they? That was good for you, wasn’t it? He was sure he had read that somewhere.
Two weeks holiday with every meal overseen by his wife. It didn’t bear thinking about, but he did anyway. And then there was Young Sam, growing up like a weed and into everything. A holiday in the fresh air would do him good, his mother said. Vimes hadn’t argued. There was no point in arguing with Sybil, because even if you thought that you’d won, it would turn out, by some magic unavailable to husbands, that you had, in fact, been totally misinformed.
At least he was allowed to leave the city wearing his armour. It was part of him, and just as battered as he was, except that, in the case of the armour the dents could be hammered out.
Vimes, with his son on his knee, stared out at the departing city as the coach hurried him towards two weeksa fortnight of bucolic slumber. He felt like a man banished. But, to look on the bright side, there was bound to be some horrible murder or dreadful theft in the city which for the very important purposes of morale, if nothing else, would require the presence of the head of the Watch. He could but hope.
Sam Vimes had known ever since their marriage that his wife had a place out in the country. One of the reasons he knew this was because she had given it to him. In fact, she had transferred all the holdings of her family, said family consisting solely of her at that point, to him in the old fashioned but endearing belief that athe husband should be the one doing the owning.* She had insisted.
*And thenceforth would be glad to get a gentle second place in almost every domestic decision. Lady Sybil took the view that her darling husband’s word was law for the City Watch while, in her own case, it was a polite suggestion to be graciously considered.
Periodically, according to the season, a cart had come from the country house all the way to their home in Scoone Avenue, Ankh-Morpork, loaded with fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats; all the produce of an estate that he’d never seen. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing it now. One thing he knew about the country was that it squelched underfoot. Admittedly most of the streets of Ankh-Morpork squelched underfoot, but, well, that was the right kind of squelch and a squelch that he had squelched ever since he could walk and, inevitably, slip.
The place was officially called Crundells, although it was always referred to as Ramkin Hall. Apparently it had a mile of trout stream and, Vimes seemed to recall from the deeds, a pub. Vimes knew how you could own a pub but he wondered how you could own a trout stream because, if that was your bit, it had already gurgled off downstream while you were watching it, yes? That meant somebody else was now fishing in your water, the bastard! And the bit in front of you now had recently belonged to the bloke upstream; that bloated plutocrat of a fat neighbour now probably considered you some kind of poacher, that other bastard! And the fish swam everywhere, didn’t they? How did you know which ones were yours? Perhaps they were branded – that sounded very countryside to Vimes. To be in the countryside you had to be permanently on the defensive; quite the opposite of the city.
© Terry and Lyn Pratchett 2011