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The Fifth Elephant

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They say that diplomacy is a gentle art. That its finest practitioners are subtle, sophisticated individuals for whom nuance and subtext are meat and drink. And that mastering it is a lifetime's work. But you do need a certain inclination in that direction. It's not something you can just pick up on the job.

Which is a shame if you find yourself dropped unaccountably into a position of some significant diplomatic responsibility. If you don't really do diplomacy or haven't been to school with the right foreign bigwigs or aren't even sure whether a nod is as good as a wink to anyone, sighted or otherwise, then things are likely to go wrong. It's just a question of how badly...

The Fifth Elephant

They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle. They say that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron, and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.

They say 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 question: when millions of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, and 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 actually hit? 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, they 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 pair pulling a train of two wagons carrying four tons apiece. 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 travelling 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 round. Lots of people travelled on the carts. It was cheap, it beat walking, and you got there eventually. Some people travelled 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 travelling meal, but here there was nothing more dangerous than cabbages. Behind him, down in a narrow space between the loads of cut lumber, something slept.

Read The book extract online

He would be amusing in any form and his spectacular inventiveness makes the Discworld series one of the perennial joys of modern fiction

Mail on Sunday

Precisely balanced...excellent set pieces...a cracking comic thriller

The Times

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