Happy Hogswatch! When people working far away from home return to their loved ones, and sometimes even to their husbands…
The fencing ring at the Assassins' Guild School is quite possibly unique in the lists of sword-fighting arenas around the Multiverse. Unseen University also has its arena-cum-gymnasium, lined with rowan wood and octiron: but this is a space where wizards come to build up the mental muscle necessary for duels and mano-a-mano combat of a different, more cerebral, kind.
The ring at the Assassins' Guild is large, spacious, and, for just over half its length, entirely conventional in that it is a wide open indoor space, floored in well-laid smooth wooden parquet, with an ample supply of crash-mats available and a certain amount of padding on the walls to cushion those students who fall or are driven awkwardly. It is a "ring" in name only: the arena is more of a regular rectangle, with discreet doors leading onto armouries and store cupboards, and a clear run to the surgery in the event of life's little accidents. The room is high-vaulted, and at second floor level, is surrounded by a gallery which acts as a viewing platform. Up to sixty students at a time may train here, and the space is ample for taking new and intermediate students through basic learning, training drills and dummy combats.
The other half of the ring is what makes this training arena unique to Assassins. Normally roped off from learners and younger students, the Advanced Combat Arena consists of a reproduction of a castle interior. Fights of steps, banisters and rails lead to balconies, sub-galleries, or to nowhere at all. These allow sword-fights to flow excitingly through a third dimension, with the added attraction of being able to leap, vault and slide out of the opponent's reach and turn the tables on them. The walls are mounted with trophy shields and weapons which an enterprising student may harvest if they have been disarmed by their opponent. Curtains, tapestries, bell ropes and chandeliers offer ample opportunities for swinging and climbing and gaining that intangible little bit of advantage. There are plentiful items of furniture which may be kicked at an opponent, pushed in front of them to upset a heedless charge, or picked up and used as impromptu weapons. Sometimes, a bottle of champagne is left in an ice-bucket, for that moment when both fighters feel in need of refreshment and a time-out. (Or else one wants to employ a ballistic cork to the eye as a weapon – points are awarded in either case.) (1)
For these are Assassins, where swordfighting and duelling are done with style and panache.
If a duel is on in the Advanced Arena between two students showing exceptional promise, or if two Assassins are resolving a disagreement with swords, or if Madame Deux-Épées is fighting a demonstration bout with an almost-as-gifted swordsperson just to keep her hand in, then the gallery is generally packed. If time allows, word is sent out to the Gamblers' Guild, as a courtesy, as this is the sort of thing they find professionally interesting too. Besides, having trusted impartial professionals fix the odds and supervise the betting makes life that much easier, when it comes to a little side-wager as between gentlemen.
Routine training and lower-school lessons attract fewer to the gallery, although Lord Downey has been known to quietly sit and observe a lesson in progress.
Today, he has taken time out from his busy day to come and watch a class. From the gallery, he watched Madame Deux-Épées meticulously checking equipment in advance of her first class, tugging at a strap here, a buckle there, occasionally throwing something aside with a muttered Quirmian expletive, but finally laying out what was needed for the lesson. Two porters arrived with a stretcher; she greeted them amiably and hoped they wouldn't be needed, and to make yourselves comfortable just over there out of the way, please, mes amis. The porters, knowing they'd drawn an easy drill, smiled affably back and did as they were told.
They might have to carry a casualty to the surgery, Downey thought, and Emmanuelle's classes have more than the usual degree of hazard. Until then, they get to sit down in paid time and watch some of our more distinguished scions trip over their own swords. And the ones destined to be good at swordcraft are shining lights even at the age of thirteen. It's good to know who they are, for future reference.
Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignard les Deux-Épées was dressed slightly differently for this swords class. "Normal" usually meant soft flexible ballet pumps, loose baggy harem trousers, and a tight sleeveless top which – at first – male students found distracting. But only at first. Intelligent students soon discovered that they should be watching her sword, not her breasts. Any lapse in concentration soon turned out to be embarrassing and painful. Downey suspected this was an integral part of the unique training she delivered, which made her such a valuable asset to the Guild.
However, today she had soething slightly different in mind, and was dressed accordingly. She stood and waited, as a double file of students trotted in from their respective changing areas. It was a mixed class of second year pupils: sixteen boys and fourteen girls. All were wearing light upper body armour, simple leather front-and-backs, and mesh-fronted safety masks. They fanned out in a semi-circle in front of their teacher, and waited expectantly.
"Bonjour, mes élèves!" she greeted them, brightly.
"Bonjour, madame!" the class replied, with that variation of timing and intonation you only get from thirty schoolchildren, most of whom who aren't yet at home in Quirmian.
"I hope you are all fit and rested and your breakfast has had time to settle, as we will be working hard for the next two hours!" she announced, raising her helmet high onto her head, pushing the conical leather-and-metal helm up by its nasal bar.
She let the implication sink in, and smiled.
"Just to warm you up, three circuits of ze arena! Vite, allez!" She ran with the pupils to set the pace, noting who was eager and who was slacking slightly. Ah. She dropped back.
"Plus vite, s'il tu plait, monsieur de Montagnard!" she demanded. "You and I are the only Quirmians here! Do you wish to shame our nation? Avant! Vite, vite, vite! I am wearing chain mail and a helmet! Do you hear me breathing heavily?"
She finished the warm-up with a few bending and stretching exercises, and called the class to attention.
"Observations, please, concerning the way I am dressed and equipped. You first, Miss Dimbleby!"
"You're wearing chain mail, miss. Not good quality chain mail, either. The sort of heavy, crude, stuff a Watchman or a guard might wear."
Emmanuelle nodded, encouragingly.
"And you're also wearing a helmet. A basic conical, a boiled leather bowl strengthened by a metal frame. With a nasal piece to protect your face. And you're carrying a shield. Circular, of wood and leather construction, with a metal boss."
"And your deduction from my mode of dress is?"
Miss Dimbleby continued, hesitantly.
"Please madame, that's the sort of basic equipment a minor Lord, who is short of money, but who has several hundred years worth of old rubbish in his armoury, might issue to a newly recruited guard or footsoldier, so that the soldier has minimal protection."
"A good answer. And another word for minor lord or petty baron might be?"
"A knight, madame?"
"No, non, non, non, non, non!" Emmanuelle cut them short. "What are you aspiring to be, mes élèves? What is the purpose of this expensive education for which your parents pay good money?"
She paused and said "You are Assassins. Think like Assassins. Consider my question like Assassins. I repeat, another word for a minor lord or petty baron might be?"
This time they got it right. At least five voices all called out the correct answer at once.
"A client, madame!"
"Exactement. A client. A contract. And should you accept the contract to inhume a minor baron in Überwald, or a condottieri in Brindisi, or a hidalgo in Toleda – not to mention a chevalier in Quirm - then you may be sure he will employ his soldiers and guardsmen to prevent you from accomplishing your duty and calling.
"Now as the Concordat tells us, it is considered most, most, impolite and maladroit of style to inhume the hired help – who are, after all, only doing the duty for which they are paid. But they still stand between you and your client. So how can the Assassin deal with the armed guardsmen and low-level bodyguards, without actually being so rude as to annul any of them?"
"Happily for you, mes élèves, there are ways and means of engaging guards and soldiers. Today, I have adopted the typical dress of a guardsman so as to demonstrate to you the approved means of fighting them."
She paused, and ordered
"All of you pick up a practice sword and a shield from the wall there! Vite! Allez!"
Marshalling the class into two rows and checking the practice shields were buckled tight to the students' arms, she returned to the front of the class.
"Maintenant. Regardez." she said, briskly, locking her shield-arm close to her chest and using ten pounds of wood and leather to protect the largest possible area. She made herself small behind it, leaving only her sword-arm free.
"A difficult target, no? What is there about me that is vulnerable? Where can you hope to hit and make the blow tell? Speak!"
"Your legs, madame?"
"Your unshielded side?"
"Step forward… monsieur le chevalier de Montagnard!" she commanded. The pupil, the eldest son of a Quirmian knight and heir to family estates, stepped forward, sword in one hand, a round wicker-and-wood practice shield in the other.
Adopt the position!" she commanded, shaping him into the correct defensive attitude of a guardsman with shield. She faced the class.
"There are eight methods of attack that may be adopted against an opponent who is protected by the shield. Look upon the shield as the clock-face with eight numbers!"
She called "Gardez!" to de Montangard, and practically demonstrated the eight avenues of approach, calling them as she struck the boy's shield with her sword blade.
"Left shoulder! Left waist! Left hip! Left thigh! Right groin! Right stomach! Right shoulder! And the neck, where the shield does not cover! Now all of you pair off and practice! Allez! Vite!"
She moved among her class, correcting stances, swipes and thrusts.
"I wish this thing to be so automatic to you that the body learns while the mind forgets completely that it had to learn! Only then will you ever begin to become good with the sword!"
After changing over at least once, she took them through the defensive and offensive blows available to the guardsman with the shield.
"His defensive blows are to prevent your blade from striking him. His offensive blows are designed to hurt you while you are so occupied on doing him harm that you neglect your own defence. We have a word for this, mes élèves! Observe!"
She then called out de Montagnard again for single combat, taking it softly and allowing for his being a thirteen-year old boy. But she'd been watching him and he had been allowing his natural talent to ride too far ahead of a proper appreciation of self-defence. With no equals in his year, this had bred laziness and complacency. She considered taking him into the next class up – his talent outstripped that of his fellows and was giving him a false perspective of his ability. But for now…
She allowed him to cut and parry her into a defensive position and deliberately let the shield slip, exposing her neck and upper chest. De Montagnard was too good a swordsman not to miss the opportunity. But he should have wondered why one of the best swordwomen of her era, a woman never known to have been defeated in single combat, was making such an apparently elementary error…
As he lunged to thrust into the gap in her defences, several unwelcome things happened in quick succession. Her left hand and shield boss punched forward very quickly, lifting him off his feet and throwing him back by several awkward paces. As he struggled to regain his ground, Emmanuelle's shield locked behind his and then pulled out again, snapping his left arm wide and leaving him defenceless. Then, as he fell over backwards, unbalanced, her sword gently but insistently tapped underneath his hilt, flipping it out of his hand.
Propping himself on his left elbow, he felt the tip of her sword under his chin, lifting his face to hers.
"Observe! The fifth form of defence open to the guardsman! The shield itself is an offensive weapon, as the chevalier de Montagnard here has discovered to his cost! If you think of it as only a defensive weapon, you are not thinking, and you are depriving yourself of an advantage! Also, I showed him an opening. He did not ask why I was exposing my neck. He lunged for it. I said, mes élèves, we have a word for this! And the word is overconfidence!"
She turned to her pupil, and shook her head.
"Quel dommage. We have here the Chevalier de Montagnard, aged thirteen. Had he lived, he might have learnt from his mistakes and become a great Assassin. But alas, he died young because of his own regrettable overconfidence. I'm sure his mother cried for him."
She allowed a moment of uncertainty to pass over her young pupil's eyes, then grinned and lowered her sword.
"But happily, in this world he lived, and may reflect on his overconfidence. Get up and rejoin the class. Well done and thank you for your contribution!"
She drilled her pupils in the eight attacks and the four defences for the rest of the session, hoping that the brighter ones were beginning to realise she was teaching technique, not rules. In a real sword-fight, there were no rules and anything to give you an advantage could and would be used, including concussing your opponent with a big heavy shield-boss. She was also aware of Downey up in the balcony, but knew she was working well with a good class. She wasn't going to put on anything better than normal just because he was watching, anyway, best he sees us as we are.
Finally, satisfied, she had the class put their equipment away, and detailed a couple of the girl pupils to assist her in removing the chain-mail. She selected girl pupils only for this job because she was sensitive enough to know the effect she had on twelve and thirteen year old boys, and she sincerely had no wish to put them to embarrassment by asking them to lay hands on her body. She had no fear of being improperly touched – the boys were clever enough to know any deliberate liberties would be rewarded the next time they were in her swordfighting classes. Besides, they were, on the whole, painfully polite in these matters – they would be trying so conscientiously hard not to touch that they would fumble the job atrociously and, for instance, tangle the mailshirt in her hair, which was no laughing matter. The girls saw it as a matter-of-fact thing, and were capably businesslike about it, rolling the shirt up as she knelt between them, and drawing it up over her upraised arms without trapping her ponytail in the links.
"Merci bien!" she said, unlacing the quilted cotton undershirt she wore beneath mail to mitigate any heavy impacts.
"It's so heavy, madame!" Miss Louise Dimbleby observed, taking the full weight of the mail in her arms.
"A mere forty pounds." Emmanuelle shrugged. "You are, I think, sensible of the weight because you are holding it in your outstretched arms where it is not meant to be. Once on the body, the weight is evenly distributed and you hardly feel it. And this is crude quality mail, which as you so rightly said is issued to low-level siege cannon fodder such as newly recruited guardsmen. We Assassins have recourse to much better, lighter, stronger, mail, should we require it, and in a future lesson I will show you this, and offer you a chance to wear it."
"I believe the Dwarfs are making great technological steps forward with the production of light-weight mail." Lord Downey remarked, from behind them. "I've acquired samples, Madame, should you wish to see them."
Downey paused to speak to a couple of pupils and congratulate them on their application to training and their grasp of principle, and allowed Emmanuelle to dismiss the class.
"A very good lesson, as always, Madame Deux-Épées. You really are an asset to the Guild!"
"Thank you, Maitre!" she relied, coolly.
"I passed your request on to the Dark Council" he said, conversationally. "I am pleased to say it has been approved in all respects. Knowing your private circumstances and what with Hogswatch coming up – well, it seemed to be the least we can do, and of course you will also be on call over the vacation, supervising those pupils who will be staying on with us. Another pair of hands would be most welcome!"
Emmanuelle thanked him again, and made a mental note to tell her lover of the moment that for the next three weeks she would not be at home to him. Starting, she reflected, from later today…
The flying carpet stabilised at two thousand feet above the Circle Sea. It was a large "room-sized remnant" capable of easily lifting twenty people plus their luggage. In case of misunderstanding with the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, it had had large "Corps Diplomatique" plates sewn onto front, back, and undersurfaces. It was being steered by one of a team of two pilots, who consulted a lodestone on a string now and again, making subtle course corrections. No more than twelve passengers were seated or lying on the carpet, their luggage making no apparent dents or dips in the material, almost as if it was still sitting on a hard unyielding floor. It towed a large sack full of freight, with no apparent detriment to the aerodynamic qualities of the carpet. In the last few days before the hogswatch holiday, the crew expected this: they also knew they would be flying back home with a full passenger compliment, of Embassy and trading delegation staff who had secured leave for the holiday, together with Klatchian citizens electing to go home for Hogswatch. Similarly, the people flying out from Klatch were mainly Ankh-Morporkians, largely its Embassy staff who were surplus to need for the holiday season and who could pay the cost of a first class carpet flight.
The uniformed soldier sighed and made a philosophical Quirmian shrug. In some way known only to wizards, a shaped magical field of some sort surrounded the carpet, which compensated for the loss of air at heights and preserved something of the warmth of Al-Khali, from whence they had taken off some two hours ago. The passengers had been warned that this would gradually fade away as they approached a landing, and the purpose of this was to acclimatise them to Ankh-Morpork in winter as painlessly as possible. The resident wizard on board was managing this transition, and sat cross-legged in the centre making incantations and meditating.
The soldier looked curiously down at a…what was the word…camel of the sea… ship! underneath them, like a bent-wire thing for connecting two pieces of paper… paper-clip cast on the water.
Then he looked at his travelling instructions again.
There was an iconograph of a gorgeously beautiful black-haired woman with full lips and startling eyes, dressed as far as he could tell in black, with a purple sort of sash on.
Voici ta marie! The caption proclaimed in large letters. Elle s'appelle Emmanuelle-Marie. DEFENCE D'OUBLIER!
The most-helpful paperwork also told him where she lived, adding helpful remarks such as "you have been married now for eleven years. Your wedding anniversary is June 23rd. You have, as yet, no children. Children are defined as small immature adults. DEFENCE D'OUBLIER!
The rest of the documents were his leave pass, travel warrants, a reminder to himself that he commanded an Army regiment based in Klatch and was due back at the depot fort in three weeks, written in Klatchian and Quirmian, with a passport made out in Morporkian requesting he be given prompt and courteous treatment by the Ankh-Morpork civil government.
He took his…. Hat, looks like a truncated cylinder, black brim at one end, large handkerchief sort of arrangement to go over the back of the neck, dead handy in the desert, wonder who thought of it, képi, that's what it's called! All this gold braid around it and on the top, whoever owns this must be a senior officer of some sort, what's this cap badge. An exploding grenade sort of thing, and this motto, Obliviscor. Thing, whassname, Forgetfulness?
He shrugged, puzzled, and put the hat on, for want of a better thing to do with it. It felt right. He'd heard there was a Regiment out there that was proverbially famous for forgetting. He tried to think if he'd ever come across them. After a moment or two he went back to studying the face of the woman. And remembered. A warm glow filled him. He looked forward to spending his leave with her. Some things you do not forget. Even in the Klatchian Foreign Legion.
The carpet flew on. The co-pilot put the word out, through the fourth crew-member, a pretty girl in silken harem pants and blue jacket, whose sole function appeared to be that of moving among the passengers handing out small cups of coffee, copies of the Ankh-Morpork Times. and the little illustrated scrolls which demonstrated what to do in case of an emergency(2), that the estimated time of arrival in Ankh-Morpork was now in two hours' time.
"Two hours to landing, offendi"
A fellow-passenger on the carpet grinned at him.
"I believe, mon colonel, we are both going to the same place when we land." the swarthy, scarred, Klatchian warrior said, smiling and revealing a mouthful of gold teeth. "We are both guests of the Guild of Assassins for Hogswatch. Myself as a Guild member, and you because marriage confers certain privileges. As one who was a pupil there for seven long years, I cannot help considering that you have the easier of the two arrangements. Floreat Viper house, and all that! Up School!"
The army officer smiled. He remembered the D'Reg warrior had been useful in a fight on the Hersheban border, where La Legion had had to conclude a swift alliance with the D'Reg so as to expel a far larger punitive attack by the Hershebans. He shuddered at some memories that were extremely hard to forget, work on them though he did. But without 71-Hour Achmed's brokering a ceasefire and local alliance with the D'Reg to jointly fight the Hershebans, he strongly suspected he might be going to his widow in Ankh-Morpork in the form of a casket full of ashes. It had been a hard fight.
"I have some arak here" Achmed suggested. "It is only going to get colder and we are going to the great city in winter. Arak helps". He offered the bottle, and the colonel acccepted with thanks. Anything that made the next two hours bearable as the protective magic wore off and a continental winter began to intrude...
The carpet ascended to a comfortable three thousand feet above the circle sea. In the dwindling late afternoon light, the passengers could clearly see the beginnings of a coastline appearing on the far Hubwards horizon. As they approached it, the slightly distorted contours of the Ankh estuary began to shape themselves more clearly. A perma-haze of grey smoke and smog betrayed the presence of a city spreading out several miles to either side of the estuary. Snow had evidently happened: the landcape had taken on that stark monochromatic colouration that only happens after a heavy snowfall.
"The Great Wahoonie" said a Morporkian voice from behind the colonel, who was feeling the comforting warmth of the arak.
"We make our first landing at the Ankh-Morpork Royal Mail in fifty-five minutes" said the hostess, as she distributed more coffee. "For those who have never visited this city before, Klatchian Coffee and orakh can be made available to soften the culture shock, at an additional cost."
The Colonel, feeling the glow of the drink, settled down and awaited landfall. 71-Hour Ahmed grinned and quietly looked forward to meeting old acquaintances again. They had to be acquaintances: in his line of business, he rarely made anything as permanent as friends.
"But wasn't that cheating, miss?" a student Assassin said, nevertheless drawing gratefully nearer to the bonfire that had been lit in the snowy fields.
Johanna Smith-Rhodes fixed him with a narrowed disapproving eye.
"Whet em I teaching you ebout wilderness survivel?" she demanded, taking the opportunity to draw closer to the fire herself. "In perticuler, concerning intelligent end efficient use of resources?"
Johanna had learnt survival skills in deserts and jungles back home in Howondaland. After nearly nine years in the City she was proficient in the skills of winter survival, but did not pride herself on knowing everything. The cold, to her, was challenge and extra privation, an enemy to be vanquished and a friend to be made. She gave the questioning Assassin two sticks, which he took in his right hand. He held them in a gloved hand, looking puzzled.
"You can go off end make a fire of your own if you disagree with me." she said, pleasantly. "Just rub the stickkies together end friction will ignite a sperk. Eventuelly. But listen to me. If I hev metches to light a fire, I will not bother with two sticks. As our party today includes a wizard who can do fire spells, then es far as I em concerned, Mr Stibbons is a resource available to us, end I hev used him intelligently end effectively!"
Ponder Stibbons stepped back and leant on his staff. He still coundn't believe he'd come out on this wilderness survival class, out in the wild hills which were uncomfortably too far away from the city, just because she'd asked him to. But she had, and he'd followed her, and he was pretty sure that when he got to feel his feet again he'd be feeling some whopping blisters. Ridcully had encoursged him with booming cries of "Yes of COURSE, laddie! All the leave you need to establish good relations with our friends in the Assassins' Guild! Get out in the open air for a few days, do you good, what with that young woman of yours being most at home in the country!"
"As long as he's still got some spells left over for tonight, miss!" an anonymous girl Assassin called. Ponder coloured. That first night on the trail….
Johanna didn't turn round.
"I heard thet, miss Petley" she said, pleasantly. "Fortunately for you Hogswatchnight is near end I em minded to be lenient."
Ponder remembered, After a long march with forty student Assassins and three of their teachers – Johanna had called it a "little trek to warm us up. Let us say, twenty miles" they had set camp. All chores done, Ponder had taken his boots off and gratefully wrapped himself in blankets and a sleeping bag, wondering idly who was going to share the tent. Then Johanna had got in, sealed the tent behind her, shaken off her boots and got into his sleeping bag as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"Did nobody tell you we buddy up et nights? We share body warmth?" she had asked him.
"Nnnnngh." Ponder had said. He normally inhabited a world where beautiful redheads did not get into bed with you at night to share their bodily warmth. It took some getting used to, at least for the first thirty seconds or so. She rearranged her body and snuggled.
"This is nice." she said. "Kiff!"
Kiff. He loved that word. In Vondalaans, it meant "satisfactory", or "good", or "this is the best of all possible outcomes." From her lips, and about him, it was like a love letter.
With their clothes on it could be nothing other than chaste, but the idea of their relationship having arrived at the sleeping-together stage was fusing parts of Ponder's cerebrum. And it had been four nights now… they were due back in the city for Hogswatch. Johanna and Alice had reckoned on a forced march that would get the students back to the Guild in time to recover for a day, then be fit to celebrate the holiday. All Ponder needed to do was stand by with his broomstick to cas-evac any more frostbite or exposure cases to the Lady Sybil, another reason why Johanna had wanted him on the exercise: after the first emergency, the students had realised that having a wizard along wasn't just a case of their Teacher bending the rules to get her boyfriend along on the outing, and he was actually receiving respect from them. And he had to admit that under her stern chivvying, he was feeling more physically fit than he had done in a long time. He looked forward to the holiday, where for at least part of the time he'd be a guest of the Assassins. Then again, Johanna would also be a guest of the wizards for the other half of the time... it'd be like introducing your smart, civilized, sophisticated, girlfriend, the one you painfully wanted to impress, to your more eccentric, bad-habited, and generally embarrassing, elderly relatives. He shuddered at the thought. But at least he wasn't the only Wizard who was evolving a relationship with a lady Assassin...
"Explain the idea to me again, if you please, General" Lord Vetinari said, steepling his fingers. Behind him, Commander Vimes maintained a carefully impassive face. General Kiosk licked his lips, uncertainly, for once, and explained the Vision of the Divine Legion of Om.
The Divine Legion had survived the reforms initiated by Cenobiarch Brutha several hundred years earlier. Once the military arm of the Omnian religion, a division of pitiless religious fanatics and career soldiers dedicated to introducing potential converts to the benefits of Omnianism, they wouldn't just knock on the door and invite you to carefully read the pamphlets. No, they'd once have kicked the door in, set fire to the house, and converted any survivors at the point of a spear. These days, the Divine Legion and Army of Salvation in the Blessed Name of Om had to do things differently. Gone were the spears and swords, at least, except with full-dress uniform and for Watch-sanctioned self-defence in the Shades and other dubious parts of town.
General Kiosk (4) patiently explained.
"I see. The Omnian Church does not celebrate the religious aspects of Hogswatchnight, but it beleives it can come to a pragmatic arrangement with the social and ethical purposes of the festival." said Vetinari.
"Such as, my Lord, concepts of peace, goodwill, understanding and harmony between nations, which are also fruits of a happy personal relationship between man and Om. We see nothing to object to there and we beileve we can act with other faiths in an ecumenical mutual understanding, which of course brings the name of Om ever closer to the seeker after truth and eternal verity."
"And you intend to do this by having your massed brass bands playing all the old-time hymns, as well as the more wholesome Hogswatch carols, while the Legion of Salvation persuades the hungry, homeless and unlucky to join it for a nourishing seasonal meal, a hot bath and an opportunity to claim serviceable second-hand clothing. As well as a range of thought-provoking pamphlets and sermons which provide nourishment for the very soul. Commendable in principle."
"Except that the beggars in this city will sell the new clothes to the shonky shop for the price of a bottle of Bearhuggers, first chance they get, and they're temperamentally opposed to sleeping indoors in your spikes!"
"Hostels, Sir Samuel. Not spikes" said the General, quickly.
"And your bloody bands damn near caused a riot in Dimwell last night. The whole population was running into the neighbouring districts to get away from them!"
Kiosk sighed. Every so often he envied former Legion commanders like General Fri'it, who under Vorbis had only had to worry about getting food and ammo to the front line and conquering whole nations at spear-point for the Quisition to examine and process. It had been so much easier in the old days...
"Will this take long, sir? I need to be at the Klatchian Embassy for six. I hear an old friend's arriving on the scheduled flight and I want to remind him about what we agreed the last time time he was here."
"Oh yes" said Vetinari. "The concealed owner."
TIMED OUT - more will follow. On the Salvation Legion, on Death's court-martial, on home life a la Quirmienne, on the AG Guild and its hogswatch guests. Coming soon!
(1) An Assassin more skilled in poisons than swords may have other ideas at this point. Bonus marks are awarded for stealthily doping the other dueller's drink.
(2) The little scroll was in thick parchment, four major languages, and, following the heading In The Event Of Major Stress Event In The Fabric of the Carpet, had pictograms of passengers kneeling down and making one last fatalistic prayer to Offler, the All-Compassionate and Most Loving(3), in the hope of a blissful afterlife in His garden of heavenly delights. Any barbarian warriors on board are asked to refrain from picking a fight with other passengers in a last-ditch attempt to get to Valhalla.
(3) Fill In Name Of Deity Of Choice And Preferred Afterlife Here.
(4) The founder of the Salvation Army on Roundworld was of course General William Booth.