Mrs Hedges ran the cheeseboards like a champion.
Mildred and Rachel, known officially on the payroll as the vegetable women, were good and reliable, and indeed it was Mildred who had come up with the famous recipe for beetroot and cream cheese sandwiches. Everybody knew their job. Everybody did their job. The Night Kitchen was reliable and Glenda liked reliable. She had a home to go to and made sure she went to it at least once a day, but the Night Kitchen was where she lived.
It was her fortress.
Ponder Stibbons stared at the page in front of him. His mind filled up with nasty questions, the biggest and nastiest of which was simply: Is there any way at all in which people can make out that this is my fault? Name rings a faint bell.
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Decent of him. Perhaps, sir, we should, ahem, start a tradition of checking on the health of the Master of The Traditions? Mark you, the spectators were nearly as bad! There were hundreds of men in a team! A game could go on for days! It was no longer a game for gentlemen. There are all sorts of other conditions.
Oh, dear. Oh, calamity. Oh, surely not The room craned as one neck. With that in mind, what the hells are you talking about? When was the last game we took part in, do you know? Something of that order. In the general vicinity of, so to speak. Round about then. You know.
Since I would imagine that the supporters and players easily outnumber the entire Watch payroll, I suppose it is better than having to turn a broken nose. He had in fact got it from a leader in the Times, which the wizards did not like much because it either did not print what they said or printed what they said with embarrassing accuracy.
Wizards are not supposed to take notice of such a ban. We are not subject to mundane law. The wizards nodded. I respect this, although I find it a bit creepy. Got a way to wriggle us out of this, have you? I thought we might, well, put up a team. Regrettably, it was also extremely humid and rather noisy in an erratic and unexpected way. That was only the start, however. There were also the huge pipes for balancing the slood differential across the university, the pipe for the anthropic particle flux suppressor, which did not work properly these days, the pipes for the air circulation, which had not worked either since the donkey had been ill, and the very ancient tubes that were all that remained of the ill-fated attempt by a previous archchancellor to operate a university communication system by means of trained marmosets.
At certain times of the day all this piping broke into a subterranean symphony of gurgles, twangs, upsetting organic trickling sounds and, occasionally, an inexplicable boinging noise that would reverberate through the cellar levels. Despite everything, Nutt felt at home down among the vats. Although Brother Oats had told him that this was silly, the gently bubbling tallow called to him. He felt at peace here.
He ran the vats now. Trev knew, of course, but since Nutt doing his job for him meant that he could spend more time kicking a tin can around on some bit of wasteground he was happy. It meant that you no longer had enough charisma to be a beggar. It meant that you were on the run from something, possibly the gods themselves, or the demons inside you. It meant that if you dared to look up you would see, high above you, the dregs of society. Best, then, to stay down here in the warm gloom, with enough to eat and no inconvenient encounters and, Nutt added in his head, no beatings.
No, the dippers were no problem. He did his best for them when he could. Life itself had beaten them so hard that they had no strength left to beat up anyone else. That was helpful. When people found out that you were a goblin, all you could expect was trouble. He remembered what the people in the villages had shouted at him when he was small and the word would be followed by a stone. It was a word with an ox-train-load of baggage. That had stopped on the day Pastor Oats rode gently into town, if a bunch of hovels and one street of stamped mud could be called a town, and he had brought..
But on that day, no one had wanted to be forgiven.
Nutt lit a fresh candle and wound up his home-made dribbling aid. It whirred away happily, and made the flame go horizontal. He paid attention to his work. A good dribbler never turned the candle when he dribbled; candles in the wild, as it were, almost never dripped in more than one direction, which was away from the draught.
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No wonder the wizards liked the ones he made; there was something disconcerting about a candle that appeared to have dribbled in every direction at once. It could put a man off his stroke. He worked fast, and was putting the nineteenth well-dribbled candle in the delivery basket when he heard the clank of a tin can being bowled along the stone floor of the passage.
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A moment later an empty tin can landed in front of him, on end, with no more ceremony than a jigsaw piece falling into place. You seem in good spirits, sir. How went the day? It could be dangerous not to fit in, not to be helpful, not to be careful. Another no-score draw.
Waste of time, really. But it was only a friendly. Nobody died. Trev slapped him on the back. Good job! But you gotta learn to speak more proper, you know. So what? I mean, goblins? What was that all about? No one could have been neutral when the Dark War had engulfed Far Uberwald. Maybe there had been true evil there, but apparently the evil was, oddly enough, always on the other side. Perhaps it was contagious. Somehow, in all the confusing histories that had been sung or written, the goblins were down as nasty cowardly little bastards who collected their own earwax and were always on the other side.
Smile at people. Like them. Be helpful. Accumulate worth. He liked Trev. He was good at liking people. When you clearly liked people, they were slightly more inclined to like you. Every little helped. Trev, though, seemed genuinely unfussed about history, and had recognized that having someone in the vats who not only did not try to eat the tallow but also did most of his work for him and, at that, did it better than he could be bothered to do it himself, was an asset worth protecting.
Besides, he was congenially lazy, except when it came to foot-the-ball, and bigotry took too much effort. Trev never made too much effort.
Trev went through life on primrose paths. No questions.
But the boy was standing there, just staring at him, as if trying to work him out. Best food you ever tasted. Always agree, always be helpful, always be becoming, never frighten anyone.