"Mother," he asked, "why are all these dragons smaller than Twyla? She's nearly twice the length of most of them."
"Hen dragons are naturally larger than the males," Sybil replied, "rather like hawks and eagles. But Twyla is exceptional, I must admit. Either the diet you developed is unusually nutritious or, just possibly, she's a throwback toward the original line of Moon Dragons through her dam's side. Brenda Rodley up in Quirm insisted on retaining a pair from Captain Carrot's venture to the moon and has developed some very interesting strains that she was kind enough to share with me. Noble, here, is a splendid example. Just look at the silvery iridescence along his back. I'm giving some modest thought to seeing if I can intensify that coloration and possibly bring in Twyla's size. That would certainly get attention at the Cavern Club."
"If Twyla has whelps, may I keep one?"
"I should think so. It's the prerogative of the dam's owner though normally the sire's owner gets pick of the roost. But that's a way off, yet. Twyla is still young and I want to stabilize the male line first."
Overhead, Twyla had little interest in the males in the pens. She was playing tag with Rolf and blowing the occasional smoke ring. The males in the pens returned her indifference, being far more focused on Sybil's bucket of coke.
"And now that they are all fed, we better leave before one of them burps and singes Rolf's fur. That's another trait of Twyla's I'll want to see if I can stabilize. Her digestive tract is unusually benign which certainly makes her a much better house pet."
Across the city at the 'other' Cavern Club, Chrysoprase was being briefed by his assistant, Outcrop. "An' one more t'ing, Mr. Chrysoprase. Der is dis report dat a boy have bin seen ridin' round Ankh onna flyin' rug wif a dog an' a swamp dragon flyin' aroun' him. It seem unlikely, but Rhyolite swear it true."
Chrysoprase nodded. "It are. Dat would be Commander Vimes little boy, Sam. He growin' up so fine and if der Lady Sybil are lettin' him outside deir estate, I wantin' der word to go out. Nuffin' untoward are to happen to him! If someone so foolish as to so much as scratch dat boy, I gonna be very upset!! Der Guild of Bodyguards, Bouncers and Last Resort Lenders hab a cordial relationship wif der Watch, now, and I wantin' to keep it dat way. So youse passin' der word tru-out der Troll population. We keepin' young Sam safe. Dat be clear?"
"Clear like glass, Mr. Chrysoprase. I go start tellin' people now."
Chrysoprase nodded again. "You a good Troll, Outcrop. T'ank youse."
A somewhat related conversation was in progress in the Commander's Office at Pseudopolis Yard between the Sam Vimes and his right-hand troll, Senior Sergeant Detritus.
"A funny t'ing bin happenin' today, Mr. Vimes. Dat little dragon pet what belong to you son? Were she s'posed to be a bodyguard for him?"
Vimes put down his pencil and turned his swivel chair to face Detritus. "Twyla? No, she wasn't supposed to be—though her predecessor kind of tried. Why do you ask?"
"It were kinder 'musin', sir. You man Willikins were out at der butts teachin' der boy de finer points of knife t'rowin' and der puppy an' dragon was watchin'. I guess der dragon decided to join in der fun. After Mr. Willikins puttin' der knifes away, der little dragon scamper ober to der t'rowing station, stand up on her hin' legs, take a deep breath and shootin' a flame right t'rough der bullseye on der target bale. It eben scorch der grass on der odder side! Der little dragon so proud ob herself, she jump up in der air and do flyin' backflips. Den she go ober to young Sam so he can tell her what a good girl she bein' an' get scratch behind der ears and her tummy rub. Mr. Willikins were so impress' he gib der little dragon a treat."
"Clean through the target bale . . . "
"Yessir. I seen it myself."
Vimes took the cigar out of his mouth and tapped off the ash. "Those bales are reinforced to withstand troll officers practicing on them. They're supposed to stop a heavy crossbow bolt. And Twyla blew a flame clear through one? She's never done anything but light the barbecue before."
"Well, sir, it lookin' like she eeder bin practicin' lots or maybe have growed into her flame. I heerd rumors Chrysoprase hab told the entire community he don' wan' nobody eben tinkin' 'bout any trouble for you boy. I tinkin' we should let der word out dat anybody tryin' to cause troubles wif Sammy—well, Chrysoprase gon' be the least ob his worryin'."
Vimes exhaled and smiled. "Sergeant, that may be the best news I've heard all octaday! However, I might just bring this up with Archchancellor Ridcully. There must be someone at UU who can explain this."
Dr. Jonas Oswaldo, Reader in Obstreperous Zoology, absently scratched a purring Twyla under the chin as he examined the hole in the target butt. Shaking his head, he murmured, "Mm-mm. Mm-mm-mm! As your Grace well knows," he began to Sybil, "swamp dragon flames are remarkably hot. I am minded of the time when some miscreants misused a Golden Wouter to burn a hole in the back of a bank vault. However, little Twyla here is exceptional even for the species. Look, Master Samuel, the hole through the straw front is, as one would expect, charred. But where it continues through the reinforcing block behind, the hole is glass-lined! Twyla's flame is so intense it not only blew through the block but fused the sides of the hole. That's an unheard-of feat, especially for so young a dragon. Such a good girl!" He nuzzled the little dragon's head, eliciting a happy chirp.
Sybil looked aghast. Much as she loved and admired her dragons, getting an unguarded face that close to one was taking a tremendous risk, even with so mild-mannered a specimen as Twyla. Still, the little wurm looked to be enjoying the attention and no one in the family had yet lost so much as an eyebrow, so maybe the risk wasn't as bad as if he had tried that with, say, Rajah!
"Dr. Oswaldo, I'm not sure whether to be impressed or worried! A burn that severe would be lethal, even if it was only through the hand. The systemic shock would likely kill almost immediately."
"Which means, Your Grace, that what your son is flying around with is the ideal combination pet and bodyguard. She's as friendly as Rolf—and as lethal as an Orc. I would just let rumors of this performance filter out. In a month, young Sam will be able to not only navigate the Shades but probably empty a street just by showing up at one end."
Sybil sniffed. "That's as may be but he isn't going to try it—are you Sammy?"
"A sensible young man," Dr. Oswaldo nodded approvingly, "and I understand you have an interest in the biological sciences?"
"I do, sir. I shall be inheriting Ramkin Hall in time and I should know enough to properly manage the estate. I've heard that some knowledge of hedge wizardry can be useful in that regard."
(Being a privately educated young member of the aristocracy, Sammy's language is currently more formal than his parents'. He can be expected to grow out of it once he starts University.)
"Very sensible, indeed," the wizard grasped his lapels and smiled benignly, "so I shall get back to the library and see what manner of experiment I can find to determine just how hot his darling little dragon's fire is. I'm sure it will be the subject of a scholarly paper and since she is yours, Master Samuel, you will get proper mention in the footnotes. Thank-you so much, Your Grace, for bringing this event to my attention and now I must be going."
He bowed and departed to Rolf's annoyance. The dog thought he should have gotten some attention, too.
"What does 'mention in the footnotes' mean, Mother?"
"It means that when some other professor reads the paper, you name will be down at the bottom of the page in very small print. However, at your age it's rather a feather in your cap. I should think you ought to start a file just in case other mentions come your way. Even if you don't plan on becoming a wizard, it makes an impression on the admissions committee and is a perfectly good substitute for having set someone's pants of fire."
"Why would I do that?"
"Some boys tend to bully others in school, Sammy, and occasionally get their comeuppance when the victim turns out to have hidden magical talent. You won't have that problem, of course, because Twyla won't stand or it."
Twyla chirped and wagged her tail. Rolf yipped and wagged his. Looking at the pair of them, Lady Sybil wondered, as she so often had, just how smart those two really were . . .
Deep in the bowels of Copperhead mountain Shelger walked slowly along in the dark. It was night and all the dwarf miners were asleep, a perfect time for the golem to listen carefully for the distinctive tone of an Axle. Its fingers lightly brushed the walls of the tunnel and the red glow from its eyes lit the floor ahead. To a human or a dwarf the only sound was the crunch of the golem's feet and the drip of water. It suited Shelger perfectly to not have any singing, digging, hammering or arguing to disrupt its search. Weeks had passed since it was given access to the mine and it was running out of tunnels to search. Perhaps there was no Axle here. No matter. The labyrinth of mines under Copperhead was vast. If there was no Device here, there would be one somewhere else.
Suddenly, Shelger stopped. It turned to the wall and pressed its head against the stone. Yes! There it was, the very faint, very deep but distinctive note of an Axle turning on itself. Back and forth along the wall the golem crept, carefully and steadily zeroing in on the note. At last, it reached into its pouch and took out a large yellow crayon and made the sign of the Long Dark on the wall. "Dig here" it would tell the miners in the morning, "the Axle is here." Then, the golem turned and began its slow search again. Would there be another? Could there be another? There was only one way to know. Keep searching.
A while later the troll Ruby wound up the spring on a cooling helmet, placed it on her adopted son, Brick's, head, buffed his newly minted corporals' chevrons and gave him an affectionate right hook across the chops. (Trollish is a very physical language.) Then she stood in the window watching fondly as her men, Brick and Detritus, marched down Quarry Lane towards Pseudopolis Yard. The cobbles crunched martially to both boots and knuckles as the two proceeded, nodding congenially to everyone who (wisely) let them pass.
"Dis you firs' day as squad leader, Brick," Detritus began, "an' Sergeant Littlebottom hab set de rota so dat you has a easy breakin' in. Mos'ly you is jus' makin' der roun's ob der Street ob Cunning Artificers and won' hab to do much but smile an' greet der populace. Make sure you spendin' some time admirin' der work at young Hammerhock's shop, doe. Dat dwarf be showin' dat he are a true son ob his late fodder! Der liddle tings he make dat wind up and run aroun' are great fun. An' be very respec'ful when you stops in at Burleigh Stronginthearm. Mr. Vimes tink very highly of der products. I belieb he tinkin' of gettin' young Sam something from dem when he get to be twelve year old."
"I dunno, Dad," Brick responded, "I hearin' dat Twyla hab blown clear tru a practice butt and dat Mr. Chrysoprase hab put out de word dat anyone who get unfrien'ly wit der boy gonna end up in a rockery or down in der Cloaca Maxima. I tink Sammy not gon' need anyting from dem."
"Dat as may be," Detritus chuckled, "but some day der boy gon' be a fancy lord out inna countryside. He probably gon' turn out like Archchancellor Ridcully who are renown for huntin' and fishin' anyting what come wit' in range. A nice polished walnut crossbow wit' all der silber inlay an' dat be just der ticket for dat kinder life stylin'."
The two Watchtrolls checked in with Sergeant Littlebottom at the Duty Desk, signed for their day's assignment and then repaired to the lunch room to look them over and put down a mug of whatever the brew was that the trolls called tea. Cheery followed them with her eyes and shook her head. When Brick first came to the Watch's attention he was so emaciated from years of chemical entertainment that he hardly cast a shadow. But several years of training on the practice butts, patrolling the less savory parts of the city and packing down Ruby's fondly prepared meals had put enough mass on the lad that he was almost the equivalent of Dorfl or one of the other golem officers. The issue cooling helmet had sharpened his wits such that everyone in the room would have agreed that he was following in his foster father's foot (and knuckle) steps. It was astounding how many different types (and sizes) of citizen turned out to be born to the badge.
Upstairs, Commander Vimes was working on reports when he heard a scrabbling at his window. Shoving his chair back and shooting to his feet, he reached for his sword. But he stopped in mid-draw when the window popped open. Twyla and Rolf zoomed in hovered for a couple of seconds and then settled down in one of Vimes' office chairs with happy squeaks, yips and much wagging of tails.
"And just what are you two doing here?" he demanded.
Downstairs, Cherry looked up to see young Sam float in on his carpet, land it on the floor and roll it up.
"Sergeant," the boy asked, "would you please keep an eye on this for me. I have to go up to Father's office and chastise a pair of naughty pets."
He looked so serious the Desk Sergeant had do bite down on her lips to keep from laughing and the other officers in the room buried faces in reports, tea mugs, the wall and any other place they could hide. She took the rug and set it beside the adjustable chair (currently set at maximum height) and nodded. Sam took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, clenched his fists, set his jaw and marched as ominously as a ten-year-old boy can up the stairs. It was only when they heard the door to the Commander's office slam that everyone allowed their shoulders to shake in silent laughter.
Exactly what transpired in the Commander's office was never revealed but when young Sam came downstairs he looked more elated than triumphant and the pair of flying pets behind him gave every impression of two scamps who had gotten away with—something. Retrieving his carpet, he politely thanked Sergeant Littlebottom, carried the roll to the door and snapping it open, jumped onto it and sailed away standing upright.
"That's odd," Constable Hammerhand commented, "My cousin, Snorri Gustafsonsnephew told me that the chaps down in Worralorrasurfa in Fourecks ride boards in the waves just like that. I wonder what young Sam is up to . . ."
Purity rolled her velocipede out the garden gate and gave it a quick polish. It was, in short, her pride and joy. It had also become a necessity as Master Sam was far too old to be pushed around in a pram and, with his flying carpet, rather difficult to keep up with on foot. So the Duke and Duchess had, quite pragmatically, given the nanny the ability to travel the city keeping an eye on their heir (while the heir's pets kept both humans perfectly safe—the word had gotten out!) during his excursions. Today they were headed to the shop called Raey al'Sijjad, the most prominent emporium of Klatchian goods in the city.
The shop was located across Broad Way from the Royal Bank, possibly a deliberate move on the part of the proprietor, given the prices of much of the goods in the window. As far as the unmarked merchandise inside, well, the maxim beginning, "If you have to ask . . .", no doubt applied.
"Ah, Miss Purity," Makirat abn Altharwa steepled his fingers and bowed, "to what do we owe your charming presence in our humble boutique, today?"
Purity pursed her lips, then smiled. "Mr. abn Altharwa, you are a scoundrel, sir! But to answer your question, Their Graces have sent me here with Master Samuel because he has a desire for a specific flying carpet and if anyone in the city either has or can get it, you are the one. Tell him Master Sam."
"Please, sir," Sammy began, "I want a faster carpet that can fly higher. And—and I want it narrow. About like this?"
Makirat looked down at the boy. Much as he obviously was his father's son in facial features, there was no questioning the Ramkin in his frame. Not even eleven yet, and a couple years from puberty, he was already nearly as tall as his nanny and if the incipient shoulders were any indication, well on his way to being a serious problem in a bar fight. Right now, though, he was holding his hands shoulder width apart with a pleading look.
"Oho," the shopkeeper grinned, "the young Master wants a Cloudsplitter! Normally, I don't stock them because very few in Ankh-Morpork have ever heard on one. But fortunately for you, my last order of carpets included one by mistake. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it but, by Offler, here you are looking for such. Come into the back and let me show it to you."
"Cloudsplitter?" Sam whispered to Purity.
"That's what he said."
"Brilliant . . ."
The tunnel the golem had directed was now over a mile long. It wasn't exactly straight but each night Shelger came back to it and adjusted the direction. The rock was hard and the digging was slow because the Dezka-k'nick had come down like a hammer on the suggestion that some explosives might facilitate things. No one knew if there was any way you could damage an Axel but, given the probable value of the thing, the mine chief wasn't taking any chances.
"And that's assuming that there really is anything here!" Lars Glomgoldson grumbled, "All we have is the word of some animated flowerpot. How do we know it isn't a troll named something like Slate or Conglomerite? I think we're—hey!"
The drill he'd been holding for his hammerer Smarmy Doublejacksdottir suddenly disappeared into the wall clear up to its head.
"What the . . .?"
"We've hit a cavity. All the lore says that Axels are found in cavities. Tak be blessed, Lars. Quick, go get the Dezka-k'nick. If we find the Axel and he's not around to see it we'll be on mucking out detail for a year."
Dezka-k'nick Gustav Oresmiter had been a mine chief for over two hundred and fifty years and was renowned for demanding standards and zero tolerance for fools. Not an easy dwarf to work for, he still never had to work to recruit diggers and drivers because in all those centuries he'd never lost a single miner. Nor flood, nor gas, nor shaft collapse had ever taken a dwarf from his crews and the miners who worked for him took their regular chewing outs with a certain wry pride. If Oresmiter called you out for something, he had good reason and did it for your own good. So when Lars came running up to him panting about, "The Axel, the Axel! I think we've found it!" old Gustav grinned through his grey beard and clapped the lad fondly on the shoulder.
"Good work, Glomgoldson! You, Smythsnephew, put the word out and gather all the crew. Everyone must witness this. If young Lars is right, we shall all be rich!"
Soon after the tunnel was lined with eager dwarfs all hoping for a look at the near-legendry Device. An Axel! They only showed up every four for five hundred years and were so important that custom and law dictated that they be immediately taken to the Low Queen. It would be up to the Dezka-k'nick Council to determine how and where it should be installed and who should get first crack at its benefits but that was less important to the miners than how much they would get paid for finding it. The estimates varied from 'a lot' to 'even more than that'.