Going Postal

Page 25

'Yes, please,' said Moist. 'Voices? Strange events?'


'How can I put this . . .' mused Pelc. 'Words have power, you understand? It is in the nature of our universe. Our Library itself distorts time and space on quite a grand scale. Well, when the Post Office started accumulating letters it was storing words. In fact what was being created was what we call a gevaisa, a tomb of living words. Are you of a literary persuasion, Mr Lipwig?'

'Not as such.' Books were a closed book to Moist. 'Would you burn a book?' said Pelc. 'An old book, say, battered, almost spineless, found in a box of rubbish?'

'Well . . . probably not,' Moist admitted. 'Why not? Would the thought make you uncomfortable?'

'Yes, I suppose it would. Books are . . . well, you just don't do that. Er . . . why do you wear a false beard? I thought wizards had real ones.'

'It's not compulsory, you know, but when we go outside the public expect beards,' said Pelc. 'It's like having stars on your robes. Besides, they're far too hot in the summer. Where was I? Gevaisas. Yes. All words have some power. We feel it instinctively. Some, like magical spells and the true names of the gods, have a great deal. They must be treated with respect. In Klatch there is a mountain with many caves, and in those caves are entombed more than a hundred thousand old books, mostly religious, each one in a white linen shroud. That is perhaps an extreme approach, but intelligent people have always known that some words at least should be disposed of with care and respect.'

'Not just shoved in sacks in the attic,' said Moist. 'Hold on . . . a golem called the Post Office “a tomb of unheard words”.'

'I'm not at all surprised,' said Professor Pelc calmly. 'The old gevaisas and libraries used to employ golems, because the only words that have the power to influence them are the ones in their heads. Words are important. And when there is a critical mass of them, they change the nature of the universe. Did you have what seemed to be hallucinations?'

'Yes! I was back in time! But also in the present!'

'Ah, yes. That's quite common,' said the wizard. 'Enough words crammed together can affect

time and space.'

'And they spoke to me!'

'I told the Watch the letters wanted to be delivered,' said Professor Pelc. 'Until a letter is read, it's not complete. They will try anything to be delivered. But they don't think, as you understand it, and they're not clever. They just reach out into any available mind. I see you've already been turned into an avatar.'

'I can't fly!'

'Avatar: the living likeness of a god,' said the professor patiently. 'The hat with wings. The golden suit.'

'No, they happened by accident—'

'Are you sure?' The room went quiet. 'Urn . . . I was until right now,' said Moist. 'They're not trying to hurt anyone, Mr Lipwig,' said Pelc. “They just want deliverance.'

'We'll never be able to deliver them all,' said Moist. 'That'd take years.'

'The mere fact you're delivering any will help, I'm sure,' said Professor Pelc, smiling like a doctor telling a man not to worry, the disease is only fatal in 87 per cent of cases. 'Is there anything else I can help you with?' He stood up, to indicate that a wizard's time is valuable. 'Well, I'd quite like to know where the chandeliers went,' said Moist. 'It'd be nice to get them back. Symbolic, you could say'

'I can't help you, but I'm sure Professor Goitre can. He's the Posthumous Professor of Morbid Bibliomancy. We could drop in and see him on the way out, if you like. He's in the Wizards' Pantry.'

'Why's he “posthumous”?' Moist asked, as they stepped out into the corridor. 'He's dead,' said Pelc. 'Ah . . . I was kind of hoping that it was going to be a little more metaphorical than that,' said Moist. 'Don't worry, he decided to take Early Death. It was a very good package.'

'Oh,' said Moist. The important thing at a time like this was to spot the right moment to run, but they'd got here through a maze of dark passages and this was not a place you'd want to get lost in. Something might find you. They stopped outside a door, through which came the muffled sound of voices and the occasional clink of glassware. The noise stopped as soon as the professor pushed the door open, and it was hard to see where it could have come from. This was, indeed, a pantry, quite empty of people, its walls lined with shelves, the shelves filled with little jars. There was a wizard in each one. Now would be the right time to run, Moist's hindbrain thought, as Pelc reached for a jar, unscrewed the lid and rummaged around in it for the tiny wizard. 'Oh, this isn't him,' said the professor cheerfully, seeing Moist's expression. 'The housekeeper puts these little knitted wizard dolls in just to remind the kitchen staff that the jars shouldn't be used for anything else. There was an incident with some peanut butter, I believe. I just have to take it out so that he doesn't sound muffled.'

'So . . . er, where is the professor, in fact?'

'Oh, in the jar, for a certain value of “in”,' said Professor Pelc. 'It's very hard to explain to the layman. He's only dead for—'

'—a given value of dead?' said Moist. 'Exactly! And he can come back at a week's notice. A lot of the older wizards are opting for it now. Very refreshing, they say, just like a sabbatical. Only longer.'

'Where do they go?'

'No one's sure, exactly, but you can hear the sounds of cutlery,' said Pelc, and raised the jar to his mouth. 'Excuse me, Professor Goitre? Can you by any chance recall what happened to the chandeliers in the Post Office?' Moist was expecting a tinny little voice to reply, but a sprightly if elderly voice a few inches away from his ear said: 'What? Oh! Yes indeed! One ended up in the Opera House and the other was acquired by the Assassins' Guild. Here comes the pudding trolley! Goodbye!'

'Thank you, Professor,' said Pelc solemnly. 'All is well here—'

'Fat lot I care!' said the disembodied voice. 'Be off, please, we're eating!'

'There you have it, then,' said Pelc, putting the wizard doll back in the jar and screwing the lid on. 'The Opera House and the Assassins' Guild. Might be quite hard to get them back, I fancy.'

'Yes, I think I shall put that off for a day or two,' said Moist, stepping out of the door. 'Dangerous people to tangle with.'

'Indeed,' said the professor, shutting the door behind them, which was the signal for the buzz of conversation to start up again. 'I understand some of those sopranos can kick like a mule.' Moist dreamed of bottled wizards, all shouting his name. In the best traditions of awaking from a nightmare, the voices gradually became one voice, which turned out to be that of Mr Pump, who was shaking him. 'Some of them were covered in jam!' Moist shouted, and then focused. 'What?'

'Mr Lipvig, You Have An Appointment With Lord Vetinari.' This sank in, and sounded worse than wizards in jars. 'I don't have any appointment with Vetinari! Er . . . do I?'

'He Says You Do, Mr Lipvig,' said the golem. 'Therefore, You Do. We'll Leave By The Coach Yard. There Is A Big Crowd Outside The Front Doors.' Moist stopped with his trousers halfway on. 'Are they angry? Are any of them carrying buckets of tar? Feathers of any kind?'

'I Do Not Know. I Have Been Given Instructions. I Am Carrying Them Out. I Advise You To Do The Same.' Moist was hustled out into the back streets, where some shreds of mist were still floating. 'What time is this, for heavens' sake?' he complained. 'A Quarter To Seven, Mr Lipvig.'

'That's still night time! Doesn't the man ever sleep? What's so important that I've got to be dragged off my nice warm pile of letters?' The clock in Lord Vetinari's ante-room didn't tick right. Sometimes the tick was just a fraction late, sometimes the tock was early. Occasionally, one or the other didn't happen at all. This wasn't really noticeable until you'd been in there for five minutes, by which time small but significant parts of the brain were going crazy. Moist was not good at early mornings in any case. That was one of the advantages of a life of crime: you didn't have to get up until other people had got the streets aired. The clerk Drumknott glided in on hushed feet, so soundlessly that he came as a shock. He was one of the most silent people Moist had ever encountered. 'Would you like some coffee, Postmaster?' he said quietly. 'Am I in trouble, Mr Drumknott?'

'I wouldn't care to say, sir. Have you read the Times this morning?'

'The paper? No. Oh . . .' Moist's mind ran back furiously over yesterday's interview. He hadn't said anything wrong, had he? It had all been good, positive stuff, hadn't it? Vetinari wanted people to use the post, didn't he? 'We always get a few copies straight off the press,' said Drumknott. 'I shall fetch you one.' He returned with the paper. Moist unfolded it, took in the front page in one moment of agony, read a few sentences, put his hand over his eyes and said, 'Oh, gods.'

'Did you notice the cartoon, Postmaster?' said Drumknott innocently. 'It may be thought quite droll.' Moist risked another glance at the terrible page. Perhaps in unconscious self-defence his gaze had skipped over the cartoon, which showed two ragged street urchins. One of them was holding a strip of penny stamps. The text below read: First urchin (having acquired some of the newly minted 'Stampings'): '

'ere, 'ave you seen Lord Vetinari's back side?' Second urchin: 'Nah, and I wouldn't lick it for a penny, neiver!' Moist's face went waxen. 'He's seen this?' he croaked. 'Oh, yes, sir.' Moist stood up quickly. 'It's still early,' he said. 'Mr Trooper is probably still on duty. If I run he can probably fit me in. I'll go right away. That will be okay, won't it? It'll cut out the paperwork. I don't want to be a burden to anyone. I'll even—'

'Now, now, Postmaster,' said Drumknott, pushing him gently back into his chair, 'don't distress yourself unduly. In my experience, his lordship is a . . . complex man. It is not wise to anticipate his reactions.'

'You mean you think I'm going to live?' Drumknott screwed up his face in thought, and stared at the ceiling for a moment. 'Hmm, yes. Yes, I think you might,' he said. 'I mean, in the fresh air? With everything attached?'

'Quite probably, sir. You may go in now, sir.' Moist tiptoed into the Patrician's office. Only Lord Vetinari's hands were visible on either side of the Times. Moist reread the headlines with dull horror. WE DON'T BREAK DOWN, POSTMASTER VOWS Amazing Attack On Clacks Pledges: We'll Deliver Anywhere Using Remarkable New 'Stamps' That was the main story. It was alongside a smaller story which nevertheless drew the eye. The headline was: Grand Trunk Down Again: Continent Cut Off

. . . and at the bottom, in a heavier typeface to show it was meant to be light-hearted, and under the headline: History Cannot Be Denied . . . were a dozen stories about the things that had happened when the ancient post turned up. There was the rumpus that had turned into a fracas, Mr Parker and his bride-to-be and others too. The post had changed unremarkable lives in small ways. It was like cutting a window into History and seeing what might have been. That seemed to be the entirety of the front page, except for a story about the Watch hunting for the 'mystery killer' who had mauled some banker to death in his house. They were baffled, it said. That cheered Moist up a little; if their infamous werewolf officer couldn't sniff out a bloody murderer, then maybe they wouldn't find Moist, when the time came. A brain could surely beat a nose. Lord Vetinari seemed oblivious of Moist's presence, and Moist wondered what effect a polite cough might have. At which point, the newspaper rustled. 'It says here in the Letters column,' said the voice of the Patrician, 'that the phrase “stick it up your jumper” is based on an ancient Ephebian saying that is at least two thousand years old, thus clearly pre-dating jumpers but not, presumably, the act of sticking.' He lowered the paper and looked at Moist over the top of it. 'I don't know if you have been following this interesting little etymological debate?'

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