The rumour spread through the city like wildfire (which had quite often spread through Ankh-Morpork since its citizens had learned the words 'fire insurance').
The dwarfs can turn lead into gold . . .
It buzzed through the fetid air of the Alchemists' quarter, where they had been trying to do the same thing for centuries without success but were certain that they'd manage it by tomorrow, or next Tuesday at least, or the end of the month for definite.
It caused speculation among the wizards at Unseen University, where they knew you could turn one element into another element, provided you didn't mind it turning back again next day, and where was the good in that? Besides, most elements were happy where they were.
It seared into the scarred, puffy and sometimes totally missing ears of the Thieves' Guild, where people put an edge on their crowbars. Who cared where the gold came from?
The dwarfs can turn lead into gold . . .
It reached the cold but incredibly acute ears of the Patrician, and it did that fairly quickly, because you did not stay ruler of Ankh-Morpork for long if you were second with the news. He sighed and made a note of it, and added it to a lot of other notes.
The dwarfs can turn lead into gold . . .
It reached the pointy ears of the dwarfs.
'Damned if I know. I can't.'
'Yeah, but if you could, you wouldn't say. I wouldn't say, if I could.'
It came to the ears of the Night Watch of the city guard, as they did gate duty at ten o'clock on an icy night. Gate duty in Ankh-Morpork was not taxing. It consisted mainly of waving through anything that wanted to go through, although traffic was minimal in the dark and freezing fog.
They hunched in the shelter of the gate arch, sharing one damp cigarette.
'You can't turn something into something else,' said Corporal Nobbs. 'The Alchemists have been trying it for years.'
'They can gen'rally turn a house into a hole in the ground,' said Sergeant Colon.
'That's what I'm talking about,' said Corporal Nobbs. 'Can't be done. It's all to do with . . . elements. An alchemist told me. Everything's made up of elements, right? Earth, Water, Air, Fire and . . . sunnink. Well-known fact. Everything's got 'em all mixed up just right.'
He stamped his feet in an effort to get some warmth into them.
'If it was possible to turn lead into gold, everyone'd be doing it,' he said.
'Wizards could do it,' said Sergeant Colon.
'Oh, well, magic,' said Nobby dismissively.
A large cart rumbled out of the yellow clouds and entered the arch, splashing Colon as it wobbled through one of the puddles that were such a feature of Ankh-Morpork's highways.
'Bloody dwarfs,' he said, as it continued on into the city. But he didn't say it too loudly.
'There were a lot of them pushing that cart,' said Corporal Nobbs reflectively. It lurched slowly round a corner and was lost to view.
'Prob'ly all that gold,' said Colon.
'Hah. Yeah. That'd be it, then.'
And the rumour came to the ears of William de Worde, and in a sense it stopped there, because he dutifully wrote it down.
It was his job. Lady Margolotta of Uberwald sent him five dollars a month to do it. The Dowager Duchess of Quirm also sent him five dollars. So did King Verence of Lancre, and a few other Ramtop notables. So did the Seriph of Al Khali, although in his case the payment was half a cartload of figs, twice a year.
All in all, he considered, he was on to a good thing. All he had to do was write one letter very carefully, trace it backwards on to a piece of boxwood provided for him by Mr Cripslock the engraver in the Street of Cunning Artificers, and then pay Mr Cripslock twenty dollars to carefully remove the wood that wasn't letters and make five impressions on sheets of paper.
Of course, it had to be done thoughtfully, with spaces left after 'To my Noble Client the', and so on, which he had to fill in later, but even deducting expenses it still left him the best part of thirty dollars for little more than one day's work a month.
A young man without too many responsibilities could live modestly in Ankh-Morpork on thirty or forty dollars a month; he always sold the figs, because although it was possible to live on figs you soon wished you didn't.
And there were always additional sums to be picked up here and there. The world of letters was a closed boo- mysterious papery object to many of Ankh-Morpork's citizens, but if they ever did need to commit things to paper quite a few of them walked up the creaky stairs past the sign 'William de Worde: Things Written Down'.
Dwarfs, for example. Dwarfs were always coming to seek work in the city, and the first thing they did was send a letter home saying how well they were doing. This was such a predictable occurrence, even if the dwarf in question was so far down on his luck that he'd been forced to eat his helmet, that William had Mr Cripslock produce several dozen stock letters which needed only a few spaces filled in to be perfectly acceptable.
Fond dwarf parents all over the mountains treasured letters which looked something like this:
Dear [Mume & Dad],
Well, I arrived here all right and I am staying, at [109 Cockbill Street The Shades Ankh-Morpk]. Everythyng is fine. I have got a goode job working for [Mr C.M.O.T. Dibbler, Merchant Venturer] and will be makinge lots of money really soon now. I am rememberinge alle your gode advyce and am not drinkynge, in bars or mixsing with Trolls. Well thas about itte muƒt goe now, looking forwade to seing you and [Emelia] agane, your loving son,
. . . who was usually swaying while he dictated it. It was twenty pence easily made, and as an additional service William carefully tailored the spelling to the client and allowed them to choose their own punctuation.
On this particular evening, with the sleet gurgling in the downspouts outside his lodgings, William sat in the tiny office over the Guild of Conjurors and wrote carefully, half listening to the hopeless but painstaking catechism of the trainee conjurors at their evening class in the room below.
'. . . pay attention. Are you ready? Right. Egg. Glass . . .'
'Egg. Glass,' the class droned listlessly.
'. . . Glass. Egg . . .'
'Glass. Egg . . .'
'. . . Magic word . . .'
'Magic word . . .'
'Fazammm. Just like that. Ahahahahaha . . .'
'Faz-ammm. Just like that. Aha-ha-ha-ha-ha . . .'
William pulled another sheet of paper towards him, sharpened a fresh quill, stared at the wall for a moment and then wrote as follows:
And finally, on the lighter Side, it is being said that the Dwarfs can Turn Lead into Gold, though no one knows whence the rumour comes, and Dwarfs going about their lawful occaƒions in the City are hailed with cries such as, e.g., 'Hollah, short stuff, let's see you make some Gold then!' although only Newcomers do this because all here know what happens if you call a Dwarf 'short stuff', viz., you are Dead.
Yr. obdt. servant, William de Worde
He always liked to finish his letters on a happy note.
He fetched a sheet of boxwood, lit another candle and laid the letter face down on the wood. A quick rub with the back of a spoon transferred the ink, and thirty dollars and enough figs to make you really ill were as good as in the bank.
He'd drop it into Mr Cripslock tonight, pick up the copies after a leisurely lunch tomorrow, and with any luck should have them all away by the middle of the week.
William put on his coat, wrapped the wood block carefully in some waxed paper and stepped out into the freezing night.
The world is made up of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. This is a fact well known even to Corporal Nobbs. It's also wrong. There's a fifth element, and generally it's called Surprise.
For example, the dwarfs found out how to turn lead into gold by doing it the hard way. The difference between that and the easy way is that the hard way works.
The dwarfs dwarfhandled their overloaded, creaking cart along the street, peering ahead in fog. Ice formed on the cart and hung from their beards.
All it needed was one frozen puddle.
Good old Dame Fortune. You can depend on her.
The fog closed in, making every light a dim glow and muffling all sounds. It was clear to Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs that no barbarian horde would be including the invasion of Ankh-Morpork in their travel plans for this evening. The watchmen didn't blame them.
They closed the gates. This was not the ominous activity that it might appear, since the keys had been lost long ago and latecomers usually threw gravel at the windows of the houses built on top of the wall until they found a friend to lift the bar. It was assumed that foreign invaders wouldn't know which windows to throw gravel at.
Then the two watchmen trailed through the slush and muck to the Water Gate, by which the river Ankh had the good fortune to enter the city. The water was invisible in the dark, but the occasional ghostly shape of an ice floe drifted past below the parapet.
'Hang on,' said Nobby, as they laid hands on the windlass of the portcullis. 'There's someone down there.'
'In the river?' said Colon.
He listened. There was the creak of an oar, far below.
Sergeant Colon cupped his hands around his mouth and issued the traditional policeman's cry of challenge.
For a moment there was no sound but the wind and the gurgling of the water. Then a voice said: 'Yes?'
'Are you invading the city or what?'
There was another pause. Then:
'What what?' said Colon, raising the stakes.
'What were the other options?'
'Don't mess me about . . . Are you, down there in the boat, invading this city?'
'Fair enough,' said Colon, who on a night like this would happily take someone's word for it. 'Get a move on, then, 'cos we're going to drop the gate.'
After a while the splash of the oars resumed and disappeared downriver.
'You reckon that was enough, just askin' 'em?' said Nobby.
'Well, they ought to know,' said Colon.
'It was a tiny little rowin' boat, Nobby. Of course, if you want to go all the way down to them nice icy steps on the jetty-'
'Then let's get back to the Watch House, all right?'
William turned up his collar as he hurried towards Cripslock the engraver. The usually busy streets were deserted. Only those people with the most pressing business were out of doors. It was turning out to be a very nasty winter indeed, a gazpacho of freezing fog, snow and Ankh-Morpork's ever-present, ever-rolling smog.
His eye was caught by a little pool of light by the Watchmakers' Guild. A small hunched figure was outlined in the glow.
He wandered over.
A hopeless sort of voice said, 'Hot sausages? Inna bun?'
'Mr Dibbler?' said William.
Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Ankh-Morpork's most enterprisingly unsuccessful businessman, peered at William over the top of his portable sausage-cooking tray. Snowflakes hissed in the congealing fat.
William sighed. 'You're out late, Mr Dibbler,' he said politely.
'Ah, Mr Word. Times is hard in the hot sausage trade,' said Dibbler.
'Can't make both ends meat, eh?' said William. He couldn't have stopped himself for a hundred dollars and a shipload of figs.
'Definitely in a period of slump in the comestibles market,' said Dibbler, too sunk in gloom to notice. 'Don't seem to find anyone ready to buy a sausage in a bun these days.'
William looked down at the tray. If Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler was selling hot sausages, it was a sure sign that one of his more ambitious enterprises had gone wahoonie-shaped yet again. Selling hot sausages from a tray was by way of being the ground state of Dibbler's existence, from which he constantly sought to extricate himself and back to which he constantly returned when his latest venture went all runny. Which was a shame, because Dibbler was an extremely good hot sausage salesman. He had to be, given the nature of his sausages.
'I should have got a proper education like you,' said Dibbler despondently. 'A nice job indoors with no heavy lifting. I could have found my nitch, if'n I'd have got a good education.'
'One of the wizards told me about 'em,' said Dibbler. 'Everything's got a nitch. You know. Like: where they ought to be. What they was cut out for?'
William nodded. He was good with words. 'Niche?' he said.
'One of them things, yes.' Dibbler sighed. 'I missed out on the semaphore. Just didn't see it coming. Next thing you know, everyone's got a clacks company. Big money. Too rich for my blood. I could've done all right with the Fung Shooey, though. Sheer bloody bad luck there.'
'I've certainly felt better with my chair in a different position,' said William. That advice had cost him two dollars, along with an injunction to keep the lid down on the privy so that the Dragon of Unhappiness wouldn't fly up his bottom.
'You were my first customer and I thank you,' said Dibbler. 'I was all set up, I'd got the Dibbler wind-chimes and the Dibbler mirrors, it was gravy all the way - I mean, everything was positioned for maximum harmony, and then . . . smack. Bad karma plops on me once more.'
'It was a week before Mr Passmore was able to walk again, though,' said William. The case of Dibbler's second customer had been very useful for his news letter, which rather made up for the two dollars.
'I wasn't to know there really is a Dragon of Unhappiness,' said Dibbler.
'I don't think there was until you convinced him that one exists,' said William.
Dibbler brightened a little. 'Ah, well, say what you like, I've always been good at selling ideas. Can I convince you of the idea that a sausage in a bun is what you desire at this time?'
'Actually, I've really got to get this along to-' William began, and then said, 'Did you just hear someone shout?'
'I've got some cold pork pies, too, somewhere,' said Dibbler, ferreting in his tray. 'I can give you a convincingly bargain price on-'
'I'm sure I heard something,' said William.
Dibbler cocked an ear. 'Sort of like a rumbling?' he said.
They stared into the slowly rolling clouds that filled Broad
Which became, quite suddenly, a huge tarpaulin-covered cart, moving unstoppably and very fast . .
Excerpted from The Truth by Terry Pratchett Excerpted by permission.
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