“One minute walking along, the next minute dead. Why?”
THINK OF IT MORE AS BEING… DIMENSIONALLY DISADVANTAGED.
The shade of Beano the clown turned to Death.
“What are you talking about?”
“Yes. I know.” Beano relaxed, and stopped wondering too much about events in an increasingly irrelevant world. Death found that people often did, after the initial confusion. After all, the worst had already happened. At least… with any luck.
IF YOU WOULD CARE TO FOLLOW ME…
“Will there be custard pies? Red noses? Juggling? Are there likely to be baggy trousers?”
Beano had spent almost all his short life as a clown. He smiled grimly, under his make-up.
“I like it.”
Vimes' meeting with the Patrician ended as all such meetings did, with the guest going away in possession of an unfocused yet nagging suspicion that he'd only just escaped with his life.
Vimes trudged on to see his bride-to-be. He knew where she would be found.
The sign scrawled across the big double gates in Morphic Street said: Here be Dragns.
The brass plaque beside the gates said: The Ankh-Morpork Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons.
There was a small and hollow and pathetic dragon made out of papier-mache and holding a collection box, chained very heavily to the wall, and bearing the sign: Don't Let My Flame Go Out.
This was where Lady Sybil Ramkin spent most of her days.
She was, Vimes had been told, the richest woman in Ankh-Morpork. In fact she was richer than all the other women in Ankh-Morpork rolled, if that were possible, into one.
It was going to be a strange wedding, people said. Vimes treated his social superiors with barely concealed distaste, because the women made his head ache and the men made his fists itch. And Sybil Ramkin was the last survivor of one of the oldest families in Ankh. But they'd been thrown together like twigs in a whirlpool, and had yielded to the inevitable…
When he was a little boy, Sam Vimes had thought that the very rich ate off gold plates and lived in marble houses.
He'd learned something new: the very very rich could afford to be poor. Sybil Ramkin lived in the kind of poverty that was only available to the very rich, a poverty approached from the other side. Women who were merely well-off saved up and bought dresses made of silk edged with lace and pearls, but Lady Ramkin was so rich she could afford to stomp around the place in rubber boots and a tweed skirt that had belonged to her mother. She was so rich she could afford to live on biscuits and cheese sandwiches. She was so rich she lived in three rooms in a thirty-four-roomed mansion; the rest of them were full of very expensive and very old furniture, covered in dust sheets.
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes “Boots” theory of socio-economic unfairness.
The point was that Sybil Ramkin hardly ever had to buy anything. The mansion was full of this big, solid furniture, bought by her ancestors. It never wore out. She had whole boxes full of jewellery which just seemed to have accumulated over the centuries. Vimes had seen a wine cellar that a regiment of speleologists could get so happily drunk in that they wouldn't mind that they'd got lost without trace.
Lady Sybil Ramkin lived quite comfortably from day to day by spending, Vimes estimated, about half as much as he did. But she spent a lot more on dragons.
The Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons was built with very, very thick walls and a very, very lightweight roof, an idiosyncrasy of architecture normally only found elsewhere in firework factories.
And this is because the natural condition of the common swamp dragon is to be chronically ill, and the natural state of an unhealthy dragon is to be laminated across the walls, floor and ceiling of whatever room it is in. A swamp dragon is a badly run, dangerously unstable chemical factory one step from disaster. One quite small step.
It has been speculated that its habit of exploding violently when angry, excited, frightened or merely plain bored is a developed survival trait3 to discourage predators. Eat dragons, it proclaims, and you'll have a case of indigestion to which the term “blast radius” will be appropriate.
Vimes therefore pushed the door open carefully. The smell of dragons engulfed him. It was an unusual smell, even by Ankh-Morpork standards—it put Vimes in mind of a pond that had been used to dump alchemical waste for several years and then drained.
Small dragons whistled and yammered at him from pens on either side of the path. Several excited gusts of flame sizzled the hair on his bare shins.
He found Sybil Ramkin with a couple of the miscellaneous young women in breeches who helped run the Sanctuary; they were generally called Sara or Emma, and all looked exactly the same to Vimes. They were struggling with what seemed to be an irate sack. She looked up as he approached.
“Ah, here's Sam,” she said. “Hold this, there's a lamb.”
The sack was thrust into his arms. At the same moment a talon ripped out of the bottom of the sack and scraped down his breastplate in a spirited attempt to disembowel him. A spiky-eared head thrust its way out of the other end, two glowing red eyes focused on him briefly, a tooth-serrated mouth gaped open and a gush of evil-smelling vapour washed over him.
Lady Ramkin grabbed the lower jaw triumphantly, and thrust the other arm up to the elbow down the little dragon's throat.
“Got you!” She turned to Vimes, who was still rigid with shock. “Little devil wouldn't take his limestone tablet. Swallow. Swallow!, there! Who's a good boy then? You can let him go now.”
The sack slipped from Vimes' arms.
“Bad case of Flameless Gripe,” said Lady Ramkin. “Hope we've got it in time—”
The dragon ripped its way out of the sack and looked around for something to incinerate. Everyone tried to get out of the way.
Then its eyes crossed, and it hiccuped.
The limestone tablet pinged off the opposite wall.
They leapt for such cover as was provided by a watertrough and a pile of clinkers.
The dragon hiccuped again, and looked puzzled.
Then it exploded.
They stuck their heads up when the smoke had cleared and looked down at the sad little crater.
Lady Ramkin took a handkerchief out of a pocket of her leather overall and blew her nose.
“Silly little bugger,” she said. “Oh, well. How are you, Sam? Did you go to see Havelock?”
Vimes nodded. Never in his life, he thought, would he get used to the idea of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork having a first name, or that anyone could ever know him well enough to call him by it.
“I've been thinking about this dinner tomorrow night.” he said desperately. “You know, I really don't think I can—”
“Don't be silly,” said Lady Ramkin. “You'll enjoy it. It's time you met the Right People. You know that.”
3: From the point of view of the species as a whole. Not from the point of view of the dragon now landing in small pieces around the landscape.