‘Who are those people?’ said Coin. He pointed with his staff. The assembled wizards, who had turned to watch him enter, backed out of the way as though the staff was a flamethrower.
Spelter followed the sourcerer’s stare. Coin was pointing to the portraits and statues of former Archchancellors, which decorated the walls. Full-bearded and pointhatted, clutching ornamental scrolls or holding mysterious symbolic bits of astrological equipment, they stared down with ferocious self-importance or, possibly, chronic constipation.
‘From these walls,’ said Carding, ‘two hundred supreme mages look down upon you.’
‘I don’t care for them,’ said Coin, and the staff streamed octarine fire. The Archchancellors vanished.
‘And the windows are too small-’
‘The ceiling is too high-’
‘Everything is too old-’
The wizards threw themselves flat as the staff flared and spat. Spelter pulled his hat over his ayes and rolled under a table when the very fabric of the University flowed around him. Wood creaked, stone groaned.
Something tapped him on the head. He screamed.
‘Stop that!’ shouted Carding above the din. ‘And pull your hat up! Show a little dignity!’
‘Why are you under the table, then?’ said Spelter sourly.
‘We must seize our opportunity!’
What, like the staff?’
Spelter emerged into a bright, a horrible bright new world.
Gone were the rough stone walls. Gone were the dark, owlhaunted rafters. Gone was the tiled floor, with its eye-boggling pattern of black and white tiles.
Gone, too, were the high small windows, with their gentle patina of antique grease. Raw sunlight streamed into the hall for the first time.
The wizards stared at one another, mouths open, and what they saw was not what they had always thought they’d seen. The unforgiving rays transmuted rich gold embroidery into dusty gilt, exposed opulent fabric as rather stained and threadbare velvet, turned fine flowing beards into nicotinestained tangles, betrayed splendid diamonds as rather inferior Ankhstones. The fresh light probed and prodded, stripping away the comfortable shadows.
And, Spelter had to admit, what was left didn’t inspire confidence. He was suddenly acutely aware that under his robes – his tattered, badly-faded robes, he realised with an added spasm of guilt; the robes with the perforated area where the mice had got at them – he was still wearing his bedroom slippers.
The hall was now almost all glass. What wasn’t glass was marble. It was all so splendid that Spelter felt quite unworthy.
He turned to Carding, and saw that his fellow wizard was staring at Coin with his eyes gleaming.
Most of the other wizards had the same expression. If wizards weren’t attracted to power they wouldn’t be wizards, and this was real power. The staff had them charmed like so many cobras.
Carding reached out to touch the boy on the shoulder, and then thought better of it.
‘Magnificent,’ he said, instead.
He turned to the assembled wizardry and raised his arms. ‘My brothers,’ he intoned, ‘we have in our midst a wizard of great power!’
Spelter tugged at his robe.
‘He nearly killed you,’ he hissed. Carding ignored him.
‘And I propose-’ Carding swallowed – ‘I propose him for Archchancellor!’
There was a moment’s silence, and then a burst of cheering and shouts of dissent. Several quarrels broke out at the back of the crowd. The wizards nearer the front weren’t quite so ready to argue. They could see the smile on Coin’s face. It was bright and cold, like the smile on the face of the moon.
There was a commotion, and an elderly wizard fought his way to the front of the throng.
Spelter recognised Ovin Hakardly, a seventh-level wizard and a lecturer in Lore. He was red with anger, except where he was white with rage. When he spoke, his words seared through the air like so many knives, clipped as topiary, crisp as biscuits.
‘Are you mad?’ he said. ‘No-one but a wizard of the eighth level may become Archchancellor! And he must be elected by the other most senior wizards in solemn convocation! (Duly guided by the gods, of course.) It is the Lore! (The very idea!)’
Hakardly had studied the Lore of magic for years and, because magic always tends to be a two-way process, it had made its mark on him; he gave the impression of being as fragile as a cheese straw, and in some unaccountable way the dryness of his endeavours had left him with the ability to pronounce punctuation. He stood vibrating with indignation and, he became aware, he was rapidly standing alone. In fact he was the centre of an expanding circle of empty floor fringed with wizards who were suddenly ready to swear that they’d never clapped eyes on him in their life.
Coin had raised his staff.
Hakardly raised an admonitory finger.
‘You do not frighten me, young man,’ he snapped. ‘Talented you may be, but magical talent alone is not enough. There are many other qualities required of a great wizard. Administrative ability, for example, and wisdom, and the-’
Coin lowered his staff.
‘The Lore applies to all wizards, does it not?’ he said.
‘Absolutely! It was drawn up-’
‘But I am not a wizard, Lord Hakardly.’
The wizard hesitated. ‘Ah,’ he said, and hesitated again. ‘Good point,’ he said.
‘But I am well aware of the need for wisdom, foresight and good advice, and I would be honoured if you could see your way clear to providing those much-valued commodities. For example – why is it that wizards do not rule the world?’
‘It is a simple question. There are in this room-’ Coin’s lips moved for a fraction of a second – ‘four hundred and seventy-two wizards, skilled in the most subtle of arts. Yet all you rule are these few acres of rather inferior architecture. Why is this?’
The most senior wizards exchanged knowing glances.
‘Such it may appear,’ said Hakardly eventually, ‘but, my child, we have domains beyond the ken of the temporal power.’ His eyes gleamed. ‘Magic can surely take the mind to inner landscape of arcane-’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Coin. ‘Yet there are extremely solid walls outside your University. Why is this?’
Carding ran his tongue over his lips. It was extraordinary. The child was speaking his thoughts.
‘You squabble for power,’ said Coin, sweetly, ‘and yet, beyond these walls, to the man who carts nightsoil or the average merchant, is there really so much difference between a highlevel mage and a mere conjuror?’
Hakardly stared at him in complete and untrammelled astonishment.
‘Child, it’s obvious to the meanest citizen,’ he said. ‘The robes and trimmings themselves
‘Ah,’ said Coin, ‘the robes and trimmings. Of course.’
A short, heavy and thoughtful silence filled the hall.
‘It seems to me,’ said Coin eventually, ‘that wizards rule only wizards. Who rules in the reality outside?’
‘As far as the city is concerned, that would be the Patrician, Lord Vetinari,’ said Carding with some caution.
‘And is he a fair and just ruler?’
Carding thought about it. The Patrician’s spy network was said to be superb. ‘I would say,’ he said carefully, ‘that he is unfair and unjust, but scrupulously evenhanded. He is unfair and unjust to everyone, without fear or favour.’
‘And you are content with this?’ said Coin.
Carding tried not to catch Hakardly’s eye.
‘It’s not a case of being content with it,’ he said. ‘I suppose we’ve not given it much thought. A wizard’s true vocation, you see-’
‘Is it really true that the wise suffer themselves to be ruled in this way?’
Carding growled. ‘Of course not! Don’t be silly! We merely tolerate it. That’s what wisdom is all about, you’ll find that out when you grow up, it’s a case of biding one’s time-’
‘Where is this Patrician? I would like to see him.’
‘That can be arranged, of course,’ said Carding. ‘The Patrician is always graciously pleased to grant wizards an interview, and-’
‘Now I will grant him an interview,’ said Coin. ‘He must learn that wizards have bided their time long enough. Stand back, please.’
He pointed the staff.
The temporal ruler of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork was sitting in his chair at the foot of the steps leading up to the throne, looking for any signs of intelligence in intelligence reports. The throne had been empty for more than two thousand years, since the death of the last of the line of the kings of Ankh. Legend said that one day the city would have a king again, and went on with various comments about magic swords, strawberry birthmarks and all the other things that legends gabble on about in these circumstances.
In fact the only real qualification now was the ability to stay alive for more than about five minutes after revealing the existence of any magic swords or birthmarks, because the great merchant families of Ankh had been ruling the city for the last twenty centuries and were about to relinquish power as the average limpet is to let go of its rock.
The current Patrician, head of the extremely rich and powerful Vetinari family, was thin, tall and apparently as cold-blooded as a dead penguin. Just by looking at him you could tell he was the sort of man you’d expect to keep a white cat, and caress it idly while sentencing people to death in a piranha tank; and you’d hazard for good measure that he probably collected rare thin porcelain, turning it over and over in his blue-white fingers while distant screams echoed from the depths of the dungeons. You wouldn’t put it past him to use the word ‘exquisite’ and have thin lips. He looked the kind of person who, when they blink, you mark it off on the calendar.
Practically none of this was in fact the case, although he did have a small and exceedingly elderly wire-haired terrier called Wuffles that smelled badly and wheezed at people. It was said to be the only thing in the entire world he truly cared about. He did of course sometimes have people horribly tortured to death, but this was considered to be perfectly acceptable behaviour for a civic ruler and generally approved of by the overwhelming majority of citizens. The people of Ankh are of a practical persuasion, and felt that the Patrician’s edict forbidding all street theatre and mime artists made up for a lot of things. He didn’t administer a reign of terror, just the occasional light shower.
The Patrician sighed, and laid the latest report on top of the large heap beside the chair.
When he had been a little boy he had seen a showman who could keep a dozen plates spinning in the air. If the man had been capable of working the same trick with a hundred of them, Lord Vetinari considered, he would just about begin to be ready for training in the art of ruling Ankh-Morpork, a city once described as resembling an overturned termite heap without the charm.
He glanced out of the window at the distant pillar of the Tower of Art, the centre of Unseen University, and wondered vaguely whether any of those tiresome old fools could come up with a better way of collating all this paperwork. They wouldn’t, of course – you couldn’t expect a wizard to understand anything as basic as elementary civic espionage.