Going Postal

Page 22

'Cross-hatching. Makes them hard to forge. And when the letter with the stamp on it comes into the Post Office, you see, we take one of the old rubber stamps and stamp over the new stamps so they can't be used again, and the—'

'Yes, 'cos they're like money, really,' said Stanley cheerfully. 'Pardon?' said Moist, tea halfway to his lips. 'Like money. These stamps'll be like money, 'cos a penny stamp is a penny, when you think about it. Are you all right, Mr Lipwig? Only you've gone all funny. Mr Lipwig?'

'Er . . . what?' said Moist, who was staring at the wall with a strange, faraway grin. 'Are you all right, sir?'

'What? Oh. Yes. Yes, indeed. Er . . . do we need a bigger stamp, do you think? Five dollars, perhaps?'

'Hah, I should think you could send a big letter all the way to Fourecks for that, Mr Lipwig!' said Stanley cheerfully. 'Worth thinking ahead, then,' said Moist. 'I mean, since we're designing the stamps and

everything . . .' But now Stanley was admiring Mr Robinson's box. It was an old friend to Moist. He never used 'Mr Robinson' as an alias except to get it stored by some halfway-honest merchant or publican, so that it'd be somewhere safe even if he had to leave town quickly. It was for a con-man and forger what a set of lock picks is to a burglar, but with the contents of this box you could open people's brains. It was a work of art in its own right, the way all the little compartments lifted up and fanned out when you opened it. There were pens and inks, of course, but also little pots of paints and tints, stains and solvents. And, kept carefully flat, thirty-six different types of paper, some of them quite hard to obtain. Paper was important. Get the weight and translucence wrong, and no amount of skill would save you. You could get away with bad penmanship much more easily than you could with bad paper. In fact, rough penmanship often worked better than a week of industrious midnights spent getting every little thing right, because there was something in people's heads that spotted some little detail that wasn't quite right but at the same time would fill in details that had merely been suggested by a few careful strokes. Attitude, expectation and presentation were everything. Just like me, he thought. The door was knocked on and opened in one movement. 'Yes?' snapped Moist, not looking up. 'I'm busy designing mon— stamps here, you know!'

'There's a lady,' panted Groat. 'With golems!'

'Ah, that'll be Miss Dearheart,' said Moist, laying down his pen. 'Yessir. She said “Tell Mr Sunshine I've brought him his postmen”, sir! You're going to use golems as postmen, sir?'

'Yes. Why not?' said Moist, giving Groat a severe look. 'You get on okay with Mr Pump, don't you?'

'Well, he's all right, sir,' the old man mumbled. 'I mean, he keeps the place tidy, he's always very respectful . . . I speak as I find, but people can be a bit odd about golems, sir, what with them glowing eyes and all, and the way they never stops. The lads might not take to 'em, sir, that's all I'm saying.' Moist stared at him. Golems were thorough, reliable and by gods they took orders. He'd get another chance to be smiled at by Miss Dearheart— Think about golems! Golems, golems, golems! He smiled, and said, 'Even if I can prove they're real postmen?' Ten minutes later the fist of the golem called Anghammarad smashed through a letter box and several square inches of splintering wood. 'Mail Delivered,' it announced, and went still. The eyes dulled. Moist turned to the cluster of human postmen and gestured towards the impromptu Postman's Walk he'd set up in the big hall. 'Note the flattened roller skate, gentlemen. Note the heap of ground glass where the beer bottle was. And Mr Anghammarad did it all with a hood on his head, I might add.'

'Yeah, but his eyes burned holes in it,' Groat pointed out. 'None of us can help the way we're made,' said Adora Belle Dearheart primly. 'I've got to admit, it did my heart good to see him punch through that door,' said Senior Postman Bates. 'That'll teach 'em to put 'em low and sharp.'

'And no problem with dogs, I expect,' said Jimmy Tropes. 'He'd never get the arse bitten out of his trousers.'

'So you all agree a golem is suitable to become a postman?' said Moist. Suddenly all the faces twisted up as the postmen shuffled into a chorus.

'Well, it's not us, you understand . . .'

'. . . people can be a bit funny about, er, clay folk . . .'

'. . . all that stuff about taking jobs away from real people . . .'

'. . . nothing against him at all, but . . .' They stopped, because the golem Anghammarad was beginning to speak again. Unlike Mr Pump, it took him some time to get up to speed. And when his voice arrived it seemed to be coming from long ago and far away, like the sound of surf in a fossil shell. He said: 'What Is A Post Man?'

'A messenger, Anghammarad,' said Miss Dearheart. Moist noticed that she spoke to golems differently. There was actual tenderness in her voice. 'Gentlemen,' he said to the postmen, 'I know you feel—'

'I Was A Messenger,' Anghammarad rumbled. His voice was not like Mr Pump's, and neither was his clay. He looked like a crude jigsaw puzzle of different clays, from almost black through red to light grey. Anghammarad's eyes, unlike the furnace glow of those of the other golems, burned a deep ruby red. He looked old. More than that, he felt old. The chill of time radiated off him. On one arm, just above the elbow, was a metal box on a corroded band that had stained the clay. 'Running errands, eh?' said Groat nervously. 'Most Recently I Delivered The Decrees Of King Het Of Thut,' said Anghammarad. 'Never heard of any King Het,' said Jimmy Tropes. 'I Expect That Is Because The Land Of Thut Slid Under The Sea Nine Thousand Years Ago,' said the golem solemnly. 'So It Goes.'

'Blimey! You're nine thousand years old?' said Groat. 'No. I Am Almost Nineteen Thousand Years Old, Having Been Born In The Fire By The Priests Of Upsa In The Third Ning Of The Shaving Of The Goat. They Gave Me A Voice That I Might Carry Messages. Of Such Things Is The World Made.'

'Never heard of them either,' said Tropes. 'Upsa Was Destroyed By The Explosion Of Mount Shiputu. I Spent Two Centuries Under A Mountain Of Pumice Before It Eroded, Whereupon I Became A Messenger For The Fishermen Kings Of The Holy Ult. It Could Have Been Worse.'

'You must've seen lots of things, sir!' said Stanley. The glowing eyes turned to him, lighting up his face. 'Sea Urchins. I Have Seen Many Sea Urchins. And Sea Cucumbers. And The Dead Ships, Sailing. Once There Was An Anchor. All Things Pass.'

'How long were you under the sea?' said Moist. 'It Was Almost Nine Thousand Years.'

'You mean . . . you just sat there?' said Aggy. 'I Was Not Instructed To Do Otherwise. I Heard The Song Of The Whales Above Me. It Was Dark. Then There Was A Net, And Rising, And Light. These Things Happen.'

'Didn't you find it . . . well, dull?' said Groat. The postmen were staring. 'Dull,' said Anghammarad blankly, and turned to look at Miss Dearheart. 'He has no idea what you mean,' she said. 'None of them have. Not even the younger ones.'

'So I expect you'll be keen to deliver messages again, then!' said Moist, far more jovially than he'd intended. The golem's head turned towards Miss Dearheart again. 'Keen?' said Anghammarad. She sighed. 'Another tough one, Mr Moist. It's as bad as “dull”. The closest I can come is: you

will satisfy the imperative to perform the directed action.'

'Yes,' said the golem. 'The Messages Must Be Delivered. That Is Written On My Chem.'

'And that's the scroll in his head that gives a golem his instructions,' said Miss Dearheart. 'In Anghammarad's case it's a clay tablet. They didn't have paper in those days.'

'You really used to deliver messages for kings?' said Groat. 'Many Kings,' said Anghammarad. 'Many Empires. Many Gods. Many Gods. All Gone. All Things Go.' The golem's voice got deeper, as if he was quoting from memory. 'Neither Deluge Nor Ice Storm Nor The Black Silence Of The Netherhells Shall Stay These Messengers About Their Sacred Business. Do Not Ask Us About Sabre-Tooth Tigers, Tar Pits, Big Green Things With Teeth Or The Goddess Czol'

'You had big green things with teeth back then?' said Tropes. 'Bigger. Greener. More Teeth,' rumbled Anghammarad. 'And the goddess Czol?' said Moist. 'Do Not Ask.' There was a thoughtful silence. Moist knew how to break it. 'And you will decide if he is a postman?' he said softly. The postmen went into a brief huddle, and then Groat turned back to Moist. 'He's a postman and a half, Mr Lipwig. We never knew. The lads say - well, it'd be an honour, sir, an honour to work with him. I mean, it's like . . . it's like history, sir. It's like . . . well . . .'

'I always said the Order goes back a long way, didn't I?' said Jimmy Tropes, aglow with pride. 'There was postmen back inna dawn o' time! When they hears we've got a member who goes all that way back the other secret societies are gonna be as green as . . . as . . .'

'Something big with teeth?' Moist suggested. 'Right! And no problem with his chums neither, if they can take orders,' said Groat generously. 'Thank you, gentlemen,' said Moist. And now all that remains' - he nodded to Stanley, who held up two big tins of royal blue paint - 'is their uniform.' By general agreement Anghammarad was given the unique rank of Extremely Senior Postman. It seemed . . . fair. Half an hour later, still tacky to the touch, each one accompanied by a human postman, the golems took to the streets. Moist watched heads turn. The afternoon sunlight glinted off royal blue and Stanley, gods bless him, had found a small pot of gold paint too. Frankly, the golems were impressive. They gleamed. You had to give people a show. Give them a show, and you were halfway to where you wanted to be. A voice behind him said: 'The Postman came down like a wolf on the fold / His cohorts all gleaming in azure and gold . . .' Just for a moment, a flicker of time, Moist thought: I've been made, she knows. Somehow, she knows. Then his brain took over. He turned to Miss Dearheart. 'When I was a kid I always thought that a cohort was a piece of armour, Miss Dearheart,' he said, giving her a smile. 'I used to imagine the troops sitting up all night, polishing them.'

'Sweet,' said Miss Dearheart, lighting a cigarette. 'Look, I'll get you the rest of the golems as soon as possible. There may be trouble, of course. The Watch will be on your side, though. There's a free golem in the Watch and they rather like him, although here it doesn't much matter what you're made of when you join the Watch because Commander Vimes will see to it that you become solid copper through and through. He's the most cynical bastard that walks under the sun.'

'Yow think he's cynical?' said Moist.

'Yes,' she said, blowing smoke. 'As you suspect, that's practically a professional opinion. But thank you for hiring the boys. I'm not sure they understand what “liking” something means, but they like to work. And Pump 19 seems to hold you in some regard.'

'Thank you.'

'I personally think you are a phoney.'

'Yes, I expect you do,' said Moist. Ye gods, Miss Dearheart was hard work. He'd met women he couldn't charm, but they'd been foothills compared to the icy heights of Mount Dearheart. It was an act. It had to be. It was a game. It had to be. He pulled out his packet of stamp designs. 'What do you think of these, Miss D— Look, what do your friends call you, Miss Dearheart?' And in his head Moist said to himself I don't know just as the woman said: 'I don't know. What's this? You carry your etchings with you to save time?' So it was a game, and he was invited to play. 'They will be copper-engraved, I hope,' he said meekly. 'They're my designs for the new stamps.' He explained about the stamps idea, while she looked at the pages. 'Good one of Vetinari,' she said. 'They say he dyes his hair, you know. What's this one? Oh, the Tower of Art . . . how like a man. A dollar, eh? Hmm. Yes, they're quite good. When will you start using them?'

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