Field Trip to the Drakensbergs
v0.5 - Tidying odd bits and lingering typos. Possibly an orphaned opening to a tale yet to be written; sparked off by a discussion on Facebook about South African bearded lizards which look exactly like the Discworld imagining of a swamp dragon, except that they are wingless… A slight rewrite as I wasn't pleased with the first draft, which was carried over verbatim from its appearance on FB. I wasn't sure where to put it, but as it deals with wild animals and may spark off further chapters, then why not Zoo Tales? This revision because I missed an important Somebody.
City Zoo Director Doctor Johanna Smith-Rhodes wasn't exactly irked that her native country, by popular acclaim and general academic consensus, ranked second only to Fourecks in terms of irritability, lethality, and general bloody-minded disposition of its flora and fauna. She owned all twenty-nine volumes of "Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses and Lichens of Terror Incognita", plus updates and appendices as they were released. As time allowed, she was contributing to a parellel version which would be a definitive compendium of things to avoid in her homeland. However, she considered the only way it would exceed twenty-nine volumes was because it necessarily had to be bilingual:
"Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses and Lichens of Rimwards Howondaland/ "Gevaarlike soogdiere, reptiele, amfibieë, voëls, visse, jellievisse, insekte, spinnekoppe, skaaldiere, gras, bome, mossies en lichens van Straandworts Hovondalaand"
Johanna considered she could get quite a lot of pages out of the Parktown Prawn, just to bulk out the M-P volume. And then she could write a parellel article on die Koringkriek, a prime example of a gogga to be avoided.
She considered the Fourecksian research wizard Doctor Bruce Berwin, who was sitting opposite her at the table. Berwin was a typical younger product of Bugarup University; athletic, outgoing, extrovert; nominally a Visting Fellow at Unseen University's Department of Pseudo, Para, Neo and Cryptozoology, which these days was based at the Zoo. Sometimes, she thought, he could get annoying. what balanced this was that as a Zoo-based research fellow, he had a really entertaining way around the crocodiles that never failed to draw in an appreciative paying crowd. She had no illusions; in the Ankh-Morporkian way of people who really appreciated street theatre, the crowds were just waiting for him to slip up when wrangling his crocs. But he knew what he was doing. It made him an Asset.
They had also played the inevitable "Call that a knife?" game. There seemed to be no way of preventing this with Fourecksians. Johanna had sighed, had drawn her Howondalandian jungle machete, (1) and said, politely "No. I cell this a knife." Damn it, being around Fourecksians, if you were from Rimwards Howondaland, inescapably drew you into national rivalry and one-upmanship. If she stopped to think about it, Johanna put it down to the Springboeks versus Wallabies thing. (2) It sucked you in even if you were an otherwise sensible woman. You wanted to get one over on Fourecksians. You just could not help yourself.
She looked round the dining table at Ramkin Manor. She considered Sam Vimes, who normally didn't let Assassins get this far without things happening. Tonight, he had been forced to admit one of the buggers was here by invitation - Sybil's invitation - and she was therefore a guest. This evening, Lady Sybil, a Zoo benefactress, had invited senior people in the Zoo Trust and management heirarchy over "just for dinner and a social evening". Among other things, she was keen to ask about the health of the Zoo's swamp dragon population. Johanna had used the preservation of a population of endangered swamp dragons kept in their own natural habitat, in the marshy ground near the river, as a deliberate hook to draw in Lady Sybil's goodwill, and quite a lot of donated dollars. The Duchess of Ankh was also Patron of the Zoo Trust. Johanna was merely the Zoo Director. One provided finance for the other to budget and spend responsibly and with care. It was, Johanna thought, a good working relationship.
Sybil was listening, amused, as the Fourecksian-Howondalandian rivalry played out across the table in a friendly and mutually respectful way.
"I concede your country is more dangerous than mine." Johanna said. Bruce smiled. She worked up to the kill, with all the methodicity of a trained Assassin. "I elso concede thet our version of the encyclopedia of dangerous creatures will be a lot shorter than yours. No argument there. But, Doctor Berwin. In my homelend, we hev the Drakensberg Mountains. They are called thet for a reason. Does Fourecks hev enything et ell thet breathes fire?"
Johanna watched Sybil Ramkin working the translation out on her fingers.(3) Then realised she'd possibly made a little error here.
"Bergs... Mountains?" Sybil asked. "And... Draken... oh, my... Johanna, why have you never told me this before?"
"They are only little dregons, Lady Sybil..."
Johanna now realised Sam Vimes was scowling at her. It was his Number Nine Scowl denoting "seriously pissed off Watch commander who has realised his wife now wants a holiday in Howondaland. Which is not Ankh-Morpork. Which is, in fact, a LONG way away from Ankh-Morpork." Johanna Smith-Rhodes was also a Watch Special Constable. Who had just provoked a Number Nine Scowl from Mr Vimes. This was not a comforting thought.
"Sam?" Lady Sybil said. "We can be there in five days on the commercial Flying Carpet service. I'll get Willikins to book the flight, shall I? Send a chap to collect the tickets?"
Johanna just knew, from the look Sam Vimes shot her, that there would be words spoken later. She sighed, very deeply. It's a School holiday soon... no responsibilities... my family like Ponder, and Mother said she really wants to see him again...
"Lady Sybil? My country can be a dangerous place. End the Drakensbergs are wild country. I should offer to ect es your guide, if you wish to visit."
Sybil Ramkin beamed.
"That's jolly kind of you, Johanna. You might want to bring that young chap of yours along too? My treat?"
She smiled benevolently at Sam.
"All settled, then. Four tickets, I think!"
Sybil frowned, thoughtfully.
"Would young Sam qualify for a half-fare, do you think? He'd absolutely love it in your country, Johanna. Lots of elephants and things."
I don't know if I'll continue this. But it's a good the scene for a longer story, anyway. For those who are interested, look up Smaug Giganteus (the Sungazer Lizard, the Girdled Lizard, or in Afrikaans, the "Ouvolk", in Xhosa, the Zonure.) for more on the South African dragon. They grow to no spectacular size, 14 - 18 inches - but they are wingless dragons who cannot, alas, breathe fire.
Chronology? this glimpse might fit in shortly after Bungle in the Jungle but before Johanna and Ponder actually get married; I guess she'd still be a resident tutor at the Assassins' School, but winding that down, with Gillian Lansbury taking over more of the duties, as she and Ponder would be house-hunting, maybe with their eyes on a nice place on Spa Lane...
Also, despite the name the last thing you would do with a Parktown Prawn is to throw one on a braai. Also known as die Koringkriek or King Cricket, this is a species of insect that grows big and is symbiotic with humans: large cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg are plagued by them in summer. The Parktown Prawn can grow to four inches long, and when threatened or crushed, emits a fairly disgusting stench as a defence mechanism; they can jump up to six feet and are drawn to food waste left by humans.
(1) OK, it's been her machete for as long as Johanna has been a character, but can also be called a "panga" in the same way her "sjaemboek" whip is really a litupa
(2) Translation for those innocent of such matters - the TriNations Rugby Championship (2.1) which is serious business south of the equator, and pretty close to religious worship in South Africa and New Zealand..
(2.1) OK, new name now, and four nations... SA, New Zealand, Australia - and Argentina, in the Italy role.
(3) "translating on her fingers" - pretty much the same way Sam Vimes disentangles Dwarfish or Trollish when he has to, slowly and painfully dismantling the syllables, looking for bits he knows or can make an intelligent guess at, then reassembling it and having a stab at the meaning. A lot of translation work gets done this way...