The Urban Safari c3
Lord Vetinari put down the copy of an intercepted diplomatic message that he had received. It was from the Union of Rimwards Howondaland's ambassador, and marked for the attention of the Foreign Affairs minister, BOSS, and the Staadtspresident. The cipher had been broken by Leonard of Quirm, and a suitably qualified Dark Clerk had translated it out of the Vondalaands language.
The City's iconic hippopotami are both elderly and in poor health. Roderick and Keith have represented Ankh-Morpork as its totemic animals for many years now, and no thought appears to have been given until now as to their eventual replacement. I consider this presents a unique opportunity to apply leverage on the Ankh-Morporkian administration. People are superstitious and irrational. It will be remembered that there is an old folk-myth that if the hippos die or leave, great calamity will befall the city and its people. It will certainly be remembered on the deaths of the animals. This has the potential to cause great civil unrest and will weaken Lord Vetinari's position as Patrician. We are currently raising procedural difficulties relating to export licences and availability of suitable animals to export to Ankh, and the ability of hippopotami to survive a long sea voyage is not known, so further delays may be caused if replacement animals were, most unfortunately, to die en route. I urge you to consider the possibilities this holds for negotiation with Ankh-Morpork, as Vetinari is surely not unaware of the danger this event will pose. What do we want from Ankh-Morpork and how can we get it on the most favourable terms? Then we can present ourselves in a good light as saviours of the city, with an unprecedented gesture of two hippopotamus calves – for free – as a goodwill present and a token of our friendship. This appears to me to be a small price to pay for the concessions we can receive. Please advise.
Pieter van der Graaf, Ambassador.
Vetinari frowned. There was a knock on the door.
"Mr Dibbler and his escort to see you, sir. Also the Howondalandian ambassador." said Drumknott.
"Capital!" Vetinari said, putting away the intercepted diplomatic note. "Bring them in."
Claude Maximilian Overton Transpire Dibbler was a medium-to-small man, with a furtive ratlike demeanour and darting shifty eyes. He was brought into the Oval Office flanked by Captain Carrot and Sergeant Colon of the Watch.
"Please remain and brief me, Captain. Sergeant, I believe there is a civic disturbance in progress at Hide Park, and your talents may be better employed there?"
"Sir!" Colon said, saluting and about-turning with relief. He left the office.
The fourth person to have entered was a man in his late fifties, in the classic Howondalandian dress of khaki bush-suit and floppy-brimmed bush hat. He also wore an orange and white sash, denoting his ambassadorial status with his national colours. He removed his hat in deference and said
"You wished to see me, my Lord?" in a clipped and guttural Howondalandian accent.
"Mijnheer van der Graaf. Please be seated!"
Vetinari let his attention fall on Dibbler, and said nothing. The silence ground on. A bead of sweat trickled down Dibbler's face.
"Look, m'Lord, it isn't my fault…"
Vetinari stared on.
"Do continue, Mr Dibbler. Of course, you realise I may not especially like what you have to tell me".
"Well, m'lord. I negociated with my business associate in Rimwards Howondaland for the animals..."
"Do go on."
"And he shipped them over to me, I hired a few lads who assured me they'd dealt with this sort of thing before and got them to set up cages and things...."
"And you thought you'd set up a... safari park. On currently vacant land outside the city where you have an option to develop. This is a new concept, mr Dibbler. Let me see if I have it correctly. You would have a large area surrounded by secure safety fences. Within which, the general public would pay to enter, and drive their carriages through, in order to safely witness exotic animals in what would be, as near as could be arranged, their natural habitat."
"That's broadly it, sir, yes" said Dibbler, looking relieved.
"The wildlife including lions. And baboons, which are a large predatory ape. And rhinoceri. And people would then drive carriages, possibly open-topped ones, through this park to see the animals at close quarters. Carriages drawn by horses. And you see no little…problems… with this picture?"
"The idea can always be fine-tuned, sir. In the light of experience"
"Indeed, mr Dibbler. Indeed. "
Vetinari paused, and steepled his fingers.
"But first, to raise extra cash, you exhibited your newly acquired menagerie in Hide Park."
"And the locks on the cages were a bit iffy. Definite bad workmanship there, m'lord!"
"Or a case of the zookeeper skimping on essentials. And they escaped. Or some of our more mischievous elements, and regrettably this city has them in abundance, sensing potential for amusement, undid the locks and bolts. Your workmen ran for it. And we now have a choice selection of Howondalandian wildlife seeking to colonise Hide Park and make it a home from home for themselves."
"Captain Carrot, why did you not take action earlier?"
"No laws had been broken, sir. Of course Watchmen were sent to the docks to investigate a dangerous cargo being landed, but the import licences and documentation seemed legal enough, and there's no bar on a citizen owning these animals – although we'd be obliged if you ruled on that, maybe restore the Dangerous Animals Act of 1648…"
"Noted. Carry on!"
"I elected to monitor the situation, sir, and sent a priority report to you at the Palace. Watchmen accompanied the animal cages to the Park and kept myself and Mr Vimes informed. When the trouble began, we evacuated the park, as far as we can ascertain.
"I've set a roadblock at every entrance or exit composed of a Golem and a Troll. Mr Vimes is down there now supervising. He reckons if the lions have enough meat to eat, they'll happily stay there and won't bother foraging into the city. Which should make it easier to recapture them. The rhinoceroses might be a different proposition altogether."
"Hence the trolls and the golems." Vetinari observed.
"Mr Ambassador, are there any other steps we should take? This is your country's wildlife, after all."
Pieter van der Graaf wiped his brow. He was near retirement age: maybe he should ask Pratoria to consider either a less demanding posting or early retirement back to the family farm, where he could just while away his days drinking cold beer on the stoep and looking out over the veldt. "My Lord, you hev esked for an expert in these metters to edvise es to the proper course of ection. I understand thet she will be here shortly. But what I would like to know is the name of the essociate in Howondalaand who illegally exported the enimels which are causing the trouble".
Dibbler looked guilty and even more rodent-like, if anything.
Drumknott discreetly returned.
"Clerk Richardson sends apologies, sir. He contacted the lady and expressed your wish that she attend you at her earliest convenience. But when he told her the situation, she ran to the Assassins' Guild, telling him she was going to organise the equipment she needed and get some people together to use it. She did vouchsafe to him that she would drop by as soon as she could to brief you."
"Good. She seems to be a most capable young lady, and I'd rather she was out there doing something practical to restore the situation. Captain, Commander Vimes has been instructed to give her every assistance, and I trust he won't let his personal prejudice against Assassins get in the way?"
"He did punch the wall rather hard, sir, yes, when I relayed your wish to put an Assassin in charge." Carrot said, looking uneasy.
"Has a plasterer been informed?"
"It was rather an old wall, sir, with weak mortar. I've taken the liberty of requesting a bricklayer."
Vetinari smiled a slight smile.
"Capital." he said.
Running feet were heard in the anteroom. A Dopplering shout came from a Palace guard of "'Ere, miss, you can't just go running in.." followed by a grunt and the sound of a body hitting the floor.
Johanna Smith-Rhodes ran into the Oval Office, and paused, reflecting that a fully-equipped Assassin running into the Patrician's office shortly after disabling an obstructive guard might not be giving quite the correct impression.
She rubbed her knuckles thoughtfully, and said
"Sir, you wished to see me?"
"Well, don't look at me like thet. Thet bleddy guard was in my wey! And I didn't inhume him, I just humanely incepeciteted him!"
"He will be spoken to when he regains consciousness." said the Patrician. A thought struck him. "He will regain consciousness, I trust?"
"Sir, you know yourself we never inhume the hired help. There are stenderds! "
"Indeed, miss Smith-Rhodes. Please be seated?"
Johanna looked around her, smiled warmly, and kissed the Ambassador on the cheek with a fond "Hi, Onkle Piet!", then sat down. She crossed her legs.
"I spoke to Lord Downey" she said, "who authorised me to use eny or ell Guild resources I need in support of the city."
Downey was also very happy that I've been put in to manage this above Vimes' head she thought. If he can help embarrass Vimes in any way, Downey can be relied on completely.
I hev ordered a quantity of meteriel to be sent to Hide Park, es well es thirty-five student Essessins who I know to be competent in enimel menegement. My colleague Madame Deux-Épées is supervising the students in getting it there, but I know she is not at her best in this sort of work. I hope thet within the next twelve hours, we will heve rounded up ell the enimels and hev them in a safe place. It would help if I knew how meny of each kind there are to be collected."
"By all means." Vetinari passed over a thin buff folder, which she accepted with thanks.
Then Johanna Smith-Rhodes looked across at Dibbler. She looked hard and her eyes narrowed, in a not especially friendly way.
"You've got femmilly in Howondaland, heven't you? Beck in Pretoria, there's a street trader who looks just like you do. Sells the sort of things you sell. His name is Klaus van Dijbbler."
"Kith and kin?" Dibbler asked, hopefully. "A lot of us have family in the colonies, miss."
"Sell-me-own-wife-to-the-Kwa'Zulu van Dijbbler." Johanna repeated. "He's the man who sold you these enimels, isn't he?"
Dibbler's uneasy silence said everything. Vetinari raised an eyebrow at the Ambassador.
"I will inform Pretoria, my lord." he said. Vetinari nodded.
"Capital. Captain Carrot, see to it that Mr Dibbler remains conveniently close at hand for the foreseeable future, if you please. Miss Smith-Rhodes, I will not detain you. You have a job to do."
Johanna nodded, excused herself, and set to work.
She found Commander Vimes at the Nonesuch Street entrance to Hide Park. The looming bulk of Sergeant Detritus was posed in the middle of the path, levelling his massive crossbow in the direction of a rhinoceros that was standing facing him three hundred or so yards away, both looking equally uncertain as to what to do about a creature it had never encountered before. Johannna reflected that there are no trolls in Howondaland: the climate is far too hot for their comfort, not to mention their sentience, all year round. Similarly, she was prepared to lay large bets that wherever Detritus was from, the black rhinoceros was not part of the local fauna. Uncharitably, she also compared two creatures, one of which was renowned for its default recourse to brute force and ignorance so as to physically sweep away obstacles, and the other was a large herbivorous pachyderm with a spike on its nose.
Vimes nodded sourly at her.
"So you're the gir…woman… Vetinari wants in charge?" he asked, in a carefully neutral voice. She smiled at him.
"Commender, I'm not going to give orders to your Wetchmen." she said.
"Glad to hear it!"
"I will, however, make recommendations. And because I'm from Howondaland and I heppen to be the person here who knows the most ebout those enimels, it would be prudent for you to eccept my edvice."
Vimes looked stonily at her for a moment, and then nodded.
"That makes sense." he said, at length, as if fighting an inner battle with himself. He nodded over to the two sergeants who had joined them.
"Angua, Cheery. Put it out that miss Smith-Rhodes here is advising us on how to deal with the wildlife. If she gives any Watchman her advice, I want that person to do as she tells…asks…them. If they don't and they're still alive afterwards, they're answering to me, OK?"
"Clear, sir." said Angua, who grinned and winked at Johanna. She smiled back, aware of having made an ally.
"My first request. Cen Sergeant Detritus be persuaded to put down thet crossbow? If at all possible, I wish to cepture that rhino elive. I really don't went to sweep up several tons of finely ground rhinoceros meat. Providing raw meteriel for Dibbler's sausage-in-a-bun business is not my greatest priority!"
"Ah yes. Dibbler." Vimes went silent for a moment.
"Your Ceptain Cerrot hes him. The Petricien hes requested Mr Dibbler be found a nice comforteble cell for tonight.. But first, the rhino? Sergeant Detritus' crossbow?"
"Of course." Vimes said. He strode forward to confer with the huge troll, who saluted and laid his weapon down. Then Detritus spat on his hands and rubbed his palms together, bracing his legs and flexing his silicon muscle.
Johanna overcame her fascination to see Emmanuelle waving frantically at her from a hundred yards away. Several laden carts had been parked up, their horses skittish at the sound and smell of distant lions. A group of student Assassins of various ages were waiting expectantly. She ran over to join them.
"I have brought you everything you needed. Now you're here as the expert person, may I perhaps leave?" Emmanuelle inquired. Johanna ran her eyes over the carts.
"Unhitch the horses!" she ordered the carters. "They know there are lions over there, they are already close to penic, and if they bolt, I do not went them to be pulling a cert with my equipment on it! But tether them, for when they will be needed again."
She selected one of the very largest animal cages.
"But first, take this cert over to where those Wetchmen are standing. I think it will be needed soon."
She selected six students.
"Go over there with this cage. Move!"
Emmanuelle gave Johanna another dignified nudge.
"Then may I leave? I am sure I'm needed back at the Guild."
"Poor Emmie. You really eren't enjoying this, ere you?"
Noises more suited to the Howandaland savannah came floating over from Hide Park. The chattering of chimpanzees, the distant roar of a lion, and the scream of a hyena. The horses trembled again as their handlers sought to calm them. Feeling quite at home and at ease with the situation, Johanna squeezed her friend's arm.
"Come and wetch this. You'll enjoy it!"
Back on the path, the confrontation between Detritus and the rhinoceros was just about to get terminal. Vimes and the two sergeants stepped aside for cover as the rhino began to lumber up to its maximum turn of speed. Detritus braced himself for impact and nodded at the animal. He took a pace forwards.
Johanna nodded to Emanuelle.
"Elpha males. Neither hes seen the other before, but each knows only thet the other is male, and a threat thet will not beck down. You cen see them squaring up for a big fight! It's in their genes, poor things!"
Emmanuelle giggled, despite being well outside her comfort zone.
"The poor boys. Too much testosterone, n'est ce que pas?"
The students joined them. Johanna said "Observe". They did.
A charging rhino is a magnificent and frightening sight. Ten tons of armoured pachyderm lumbering at you with fixed intent – and horn – while all the time squaring you up with its little piggy eyes, so as to get the horn just so – is usually quite intimidating. Most people tend to try to get out of the way.
But "most people" is not a set that includes Detritus as a member.
The troll stood his ground right up until the moment he caught the rhino's horn in both massive hands. Even so, the impact forced him backwards, his heels digging two huge gouges into the ground underneath his feet, until the two of them came to a halt several yards later, a vindicated troll and a puzzled-looking rhino, a rhino clearly processing the unfamiliar neural message of that wasn't meant to happen! And That's never happened before!
Detritus smiled, freed up a hand, balled a fist, and smacked it right between the eyes. The rhinoceros looked baffled and fell over to one side, impacting the grass with an audible and earth-shaking crash.
The troll looked over to Johanna and saluted.
"Where do you want der thing, miss?"
"Cen you lift it into the cage on the beck of thet cert, sergeant?"
There are limits even to troll strength: it took two trolls and a golem to lift the unconscious rhinoceros into the cage. Johanna noticed the golem was wearing what looked like an outsize fur stole… Constable Dorfl caught her eye and said
"The Large Cat Was Seeking To Leave The Park. I Subdued It And Kept It With Me For Safekeeping. Do You Wish Me To Place It In Another Cage?"
Johanna noticed the lion was conscious, but very, very, frightened at something outside its experience that had effortlessly lifted it off the ground by the scruff of its neck, as if it were a domestic tabby. No wonder it was playing dead as the safest strategy available to it.
"Yes, please. Bring it over here. To this cage, I think."
Vimes grinned at her.
"You might not need all those student Assassins you brought with you, miss!"
Johanna nodded and her eyes narrowed. This felt like a challenge. She called her pupils together and issued orders.
Then suddenly she sensed things moving in the air, and her skin prickled. She quickly retrieved her personal hunting crossbow from the back of a cart – thank you, Emmanuelle, for remembering – cocked and nocked, and swept the sky with its tip. The telescopic hunting sight brought things into sharper focus: two wizards on a broomstick, one brandishing a large hunting crossbow and bellowing "Tally-Ho!"
She swore oaths in spiky barbed-wire Vondalaans.(1) At least two of her students blushed.
"You were not meant to hear that, Miss van Kruger!" she said, not turning her head. "nor you, miss N'Gulate".
"We understand, miss!" the two students chorused together. She grinned.
"Do you sometimes forget some of your students speak Quirmian?" she asked Emmanuelle, who smiled.
The broomstick spiralled down and Arch-chancellor Ridcully leapt off the back, brandishing a huge hunting crossbow. He paused to admire the rhino in the cage.
"So it's true, then!" he said to Sam Vimes. "Ye Gods, Sam, I want one of those heads on me office wall! What a bag!"
"Er, Mustrum…" Vimes said, tapping him on the shoulder and indicating where a furious-looking Johanna Smith-Rhodes had emerged from the undergrowth.
"She's in charge. Patrician's orders."
Ridcully turned to see what looked like an avenging red-haired angel, if angels could be said to wear Howondaland safari suits, hands on hips and lips pursed in deep, deep, disapproval. The angel carried a variety of lethal-looking weaponry, with a hunting crossbow of her own slung across her back.
"Not on MY safari, Erch-chencellor!"
"Ah. You're the young lady from the Assassins' Guild, aren't you? The Howondalandian gel who teaches zoolology and nature studies. M'brother speaks approvingly of you. Says you've come on a treat since coming to the city."
Johanna, who knew the high Priest Hughnon Ridcully, and could testify to the devious corkscrew mind that laid underneath the bluff and harrumphing exterior, recognised much the same in his brother. All the same, she wasn't going to have this while she was in charge.
"If you think for one instent thet I'm going to let a bloodthirsty maniac loose on MY enimels.."
"That's a bit strong, m'dear!"
"Well, whet would YOU call somebody whose only interest in wildlife is having it stuffed and mounted to heng on his office wall es a trophy?"
"A hunter?" he said, hopefully.
"I can see a clash of cultures here!" Vimes said, grinning. "well, I can see you two are getting on like a house on fire, so I'll leave you to it. By the way, try not to shoot or trap any wolves you see? Segeant Angua might get annoyed."
"It'd need silver for that one, Sam. You've got her in there spyin' out the land for you?"
"Members of the Watch are on undercover operations, yes. Covert surveillence."
"Shall I take the broomstick home, sir?" a young wizard called. He was clean-shaven, bespectacled and had a look of perpetual anxiety.
"No! said Johanna. "Get up there, circle the park, end wetch. Elert me if enything serious sterts to heppen."
Ponder Stibbons looked to Ridcully for approval. Ridcully looked to Vimes, who said "Damn good idea. Do as she says, would you? Aerial observation would help a lot".
"Orf you go, Stibbons! Tell me where the rest of these rhinoceroses happen to be!"
Johanna took a deep breath. She addressed her students.
"Kommando one! You will come with me. Kommando two! You will go with Madame Deux-Épées, as directed. See she receives a crossbow for her personal defence. Kommandos three, four and five, you are under the command of the senior student as nominated. I think we cen safely leave our certs and heavier equipment here until they are called for. I do not think the equipment will be stolen or tempered with if it is mede clear it belongs to the Guild. Not even freelence Thieves would be so stupid. Mr Ridcully, you will eccompany me, if you please! It seems to be the only wey to keep an eye on you."
Ridcully tipped his hat in acknowledgement, a twinkle playing about his eyes.
Johanna paused, and said
"Preperation. Plenning. Good care of equipment. Evoiding overconfidence. You have all heard these things stressed in the classroom. We will take fifteen minutes to check and prepare our equipment. Then we will go in. We are stalking lerge dangerous enimels. There is no room for error. This is not an exercise. This is real. Good luck, everybody!"
Thirty-five student Assassins, two teachers, and a wizard set about checking their equipment for an urban safari.
(1) On Roundworld, the equivalent language is Afrikaans.