GC21 – Glimpses into a darker world
Author's note:- Be warned, this is a necessary chapter, but a darker one, that won't have too many laughs in it. It fills a necessary gap in Assassins' exam procedure...
Lord Downey had quietly excused himself, for the moment, from the milling crowd in the courtyard and Great Hall, of the returned newly-licenced Assassins and of those who loved them and were quietly expressing relief at their return. The first invigilators were now returning from their stations and were handing in their paperwork to Mr Wimvoe and the Guild clerks in the Examinations Office.
He took time to congratulate his teaching staff by name on a job well done, shook hands with several, and made his way over to where the thin and neurovoric Wimvoe was surreptitiously ingesting a measure of dried frog pills.
He's getting too old for this and he's done this one time too many, Downey thought, looking at the old man with compassion. The dried frog pills are a good idea, and Ridcully assured me they work a treat for his Bursar so they should keep mine sane, but they can only go so far. And this particular Duty is one of those things that can drive a man Bursar over the years, being one of a handful who know this particular family secret. At least the new blood we started off in the Mature Students Class is getting the hang of the job now. In a year or two, we can give Wimvoe the retirement the poor chap deserves, and start with a newer, younger, Assassin-Accountant.
"The first Failure to Attend forms, Master." Wimvoe said in a neutral voice, passing them over. Downey took them with a word of thanks.
The approximate whereabouts of five Candidates who disappeared during the Exam and never made it to their next checkpoint.
"And in the spirit of the New Arrangement, several reports forwarded to us from the City Watch."
Two removed to the Watch mortuary and awaiting collection by the Guild. Identified as the Hon. Gerald Martlesham-Woodbridge. He was….. Viper House. Which makes him one of Grune di Nivor's. And…oh dear… Lady Susan Venturi. From a cadet branch of the family, nonetheless, but still a Venturi. She was… Black Widow House. One of Emmanuelle's, then. Cause of death in both instances, traumatic injury from falling. Failed on the Emergency Drop, I see. I note that Sergerant Littlebottom and the Watch Igor have both concluded in very large obvious letters MISADVENTURE. NO SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. One of Vimes' courtesy details. Damn him.
Downey shook his head.
And one removed under Watch guard to the Lady Sybil Free Hospital, with broken bones sustained by falling from a height. The Watch guard at the bedside is no doubt another courtesy.
"I have cross-referenced Watch reports and invigilator reports as I receive them, so that we can begin to account for the Fails. It saves the Housekeeping Squads having to go to two places to tidy up the same Fail." Wimvoe said, in a flat dead voice.
Downey nodded his thanks. He gestured to two black-clad senior assassins. Some Duties should only be undertaken by the Master of the Guild and very senior guild members. Essential housekeeping in the aftermath of a Final Exam was one of them.
"Let's go, gentlemen" he said, softly. "Mr Wimvoe, we'll be at the Old Pumping House in the Undercity in about an hour. Please have a messenger send the next batch of reports to me there".
They left without a word, but an unspoken agreement was let's have this done with as swiftly as possible.
Lady Susan Venturi, niece of the current Lord Charles Venturi, sat up and tried to rub various parts of her that had really been aching not so long before. She had hazy recollections of the recent past. Something about the plank bridge across Wixon Alley. A little voice had said "whoa, check this first", but she'd over-ridden it, knowing they wouldn't put the Emergency Drop so near to the start of her run. Then the half-rotten planks had creaked and given way and she'd been falling, shrieking rage and frustration until…
"I know you" she said. "You're the housekeeping squad. The broom wagon. The one they send out to clear up people who fail …their… Finals…. Oh."
Her voice tailed off. The tall figure dressed all in black let his hood fall back.
YES. YOU COULD CALL ME A HOUSEKEEPER. and swung his scythe.
Lady Susan stood up, unseen by the two Watchmen who'd been alerted to the alley by the sound of the falling plank bridge.
May the peace and mercy of Om be upon her….
That's all very well, Washpot, but you know our briefing. We find any dead Assassins in the street tonight, we get the poor sods back to the Yard and in the mortuary before the vultures have stripped them… oh Gods, she's really young, poor kid…
As Om commands, we must bend ourselves to the Seventh Corporeal Work of Mercy… (1)
Just do decently by the dead, Washpot. Dignity and kindness. Poor bloody kid.
So what happens now?" she asked, her non-corporeal body fading as the Watchmen gently bore her physical remains away.
IT'S UP TO YOU. SUSAN. IT ALWAYS WAS.
Downey and the Housekeeping Squad sped through the middle-night streets of Ankh-Morpork in the unmarked black coach known as the Broom Wagon (2). They found the first of what they sought in a mess of dustbins and scattered waste in a dark alley just off the Shades. While most night-dwellers had been put off moving on this night by an awareness the Assassins would be ought in force, just enough unlicenced thieves were stirring to, for instance, try to surround a student Assassin who had been unlucky in his Finals, with the intention of despoiling his clothing and weaponry.
Downey counted five dead thieves, sprawled out at varying distances from a dying student assassin who had nevertheless defended his honour as best he could.
"Sir? I am here!" the dying student breathed, recognizing Downey.
"Let's check you out, old chap." Downey said, exploring the broken body gently. "No sensation at all in your legs?" Well, there wouldn't be. But still capable of fighting a last stand with pistol crossbow and blowpipe. Downey weighed up the possibility of survival – he estimated at least two hours had elapsed since the Hon Martin Gower-Lacey had fallen, so shock and cold and internal bleeding, in addition to the broken back, made it less likely. And he'd be paraplegic, chair-bound, maybe even bedridden… Downey made a decision. From his inside pocket he produced a pink slip. Five Thieves: he deserved this.
"Thank you, sir!" Martin Gower-Lacy, Licenced Assassin (posthumous) breathed, bubbling blood.
Downey took out the special flask.
"Drink this, old chap. It'll make things better."
He waited until all signs of life had ceased, and then they gently placed the body in the back of the broom wagon. They left the other bodies where they had fallen, clearly inhumed by Assassins, as a wordless warning to other jackals.
One down. However many are to come? Downey exhaled.
The One who knew exactly how many more were to come bent down to one who had drowned in the Cloaca, a miserable, lonely, passing.
"I should never have worn boots with laces, should I? Miss Band warned me about that."
MISS BAND IS A VERY CAPABLE TEACHER. IN SOME RESPECTS SHE RATHER PUTS ME IN MIND OF MY GRAND-DAUGHTER.
"It was the best seven years of my life" the spirit of Timothy Walsham-Runton mused. "No regrets."
HOLD THAT THOUGHT.
The scythe gently swung.
"I just wish there could have been more of it…."
And Lucinda Rust, thought of as a thoroughly bitter, vicious, vindictive girl mired in arrogance, over-confidence and a mistaken idea of her own innate superiority, hangs in a limbo state where she is not at the moment capable of contemplating issues of life and death, Success and Failure. Fortunately for her, as Downey and his hand-picked associates travel around the city administering the ancient rite of the Misericordia where they can, she is not in a place where they can reach her with the time-honoured and somewhat twisted guild concept of what is right and merciful. Which is, of course, not to say she is in sympathetic hands. Nobody who has ever had cause to deal with a Rust girl for longer than five minutes is inclined to the emotion of sympathy.
(1) Of course, in the Roman Catholic Church, the seventh corporeal work of mercy is that of burying the dead.
(2) La voiture-balai. The Broom Wagon, is the last vehicle in the Tour de France procession, collecting those cyclists who are too exhausted or finished or just disheartened to cycle any more.