The Last Hero Page 2

"Why us?" said Mr.Boggis, head of the Thieves' Guild. "He's not our Emperor!"

"I understand the Agatean government believes us to be capable of anything," said Lord Vetinari. "We have zip, zing, vim and a go-getting, can-do attitude."

"Can do what?" Lord Vetinari shrugged. "In this case, save the world."

"But we'll have to save it for everyone, right?" said Mr.Boggis. "Even foreigners?"

"Well, yes. You cannot just save the bits you like," said Lord Vetinari. "But the thing about saving the world, gentlemen and ladies, is that it inevitably includes whatever you happen to be standing on. So let us move forward. Can magic help us, Archchancellor?"

"No. Nothing magical can get within a hundred miles of the mountains," said the Archchancellor.

"Why not?"

"For the same reason you can't sail a boat into a hurricane. There's just too much magic. It overloads anything magical. A magic carpet would unravel in midair."

"Or turn into broccoli," said the Dean. "Or a small volume of poetry."

"Are you saying that we cannot get there in time?"

"Well... yes. Exactly. Of course. They're already near the base of the mountain."

"And they're heroes!" said Mr.Betteridge of the Guild of Historians. "And that means, exactly?" said the Patrician, sighing. "They're good at doing what they want to do."

"But they are also, as I understand it, very old men."

"Very old heroes?" the historian corrected him. "That just means they've had a lot of experience in doing what they want to do." Lord Vetinari sighed again. He did not like to live in a world of heroes. You had civilisation, such as it was, and you had heroes. "What exactly has Cohen the Barbarian done that is heroic?" he said. "I seek only to understand."

"Well... you know ... heroic deeds ..."

"And they are ... ?"

"Fighting monsters, defeating tyrants, stealing rare treasures, rescuing maidens ... that sort of thing," said Mr.Betteridge vaguely. "You know ... heroic things."

"And who, precisely, defines the monstrousness of the monsters and the tyranny of the tyrants?" said Lord Vetinari, his voice suddenly like a scalpel - not vicious like a sword, but probing its edge into vulnerable places. Mr.Betteridge shifted uneasily. "Well... the hero, I suppose."

"Ah. And the theft of these rare items ... I think the word that interests me here is the term "theft", an activity frowned on by most of the world's major religions, is it not? The feeling stealing over me is that all these terms are defined by the hero. You could say: I am a hero, so when I kill you that makes you, de facto, the kind of person suitable to be killed by a hero. You could say that a hero, in short, is someone who indulges every whim that, within the rule of law. would have him behind bars or swiftly dancing what I believe is known as the hemp fandango. The words we might use are: murder, pillage, theft and rape. Have I understood the situation?"

"Not rape. I believe," said Mr.Betteridge, finding a rock on which he could stand. "Not in the case of Cohen the Barbarian. Ravishing, possibly."

"There is a difference?"

"It's more a matter of approach, I understand." said the historian. "I don't believe there were ever any actual complaints."

"Speaking as a lawyer," said Mr. Slant of the Guild of Lawyers, "it is clear that the first ever recorded heroic deed to which the message refers was an act of theft from the rightful owners. The legends of many different cultures testify to this."

"Was it something you could actually steal?" said Ridcully. "Manifestly yes," said the lawyer. "Theft is central to the legend. Fire was stolen from the gods."

"This is not currently the issue." said Lord Vetinari. "The issue, gentlemen, is that Cohen the Barbarian is climbing the mountain on which the gods live. And we cannot stop him. And he intends to return fire to the gods. Fire, in this case, in the shape of... let me see-" Ponder Stibbons looked up from his notebooks, where he had been scribbling. A fifty-pound keg of Agatean Thunder Clay." he said. "I'm amazed their wizards let him have it."

"He was ... indeed. I assume he still is the Emperor," said Lord Vetinari. "So I would imagine that when the supreme ruler of your continent asks you for something, it is not the time for a prudent man to ask for a docket signed by Mr.Jenkins of Requisitions."

"Thunder Clay is terribly powerful stuff." said Ridcully. "But it needs a special detonator. You have to smash ajar of acid inside the mixture. The acid soaks into it. and then - kablooie, I believe the term is. "Unfortunately the prudent man also saw fit to give one of these to Cohen." said Lord Vetinari. "And if the resulting kablooie takes place atop the mountain, which is the hub of the world's magic field, it will, as I understand it, result in the field collapsing for ... remind me. Mister Stibbons?"

"About two years," he said. "Really? Well, we can do without magic for a couple of years, can't we?" said Mr. Slant, managing to suggest that this would be a jolly good thing, too. "With respect," said Ponder, without respect, "we cannot. The seas will run dry. The sun will burn out and crash. The elephants and the turtle may cease to exist altogether."

"That'll happen in just two years?"

"Oh, no. That'll happen within a few minutes, sir. You see, magic isn't just coloured lights and balls. Magic holds the world together." In the sudden silence, Lord Vetinari's voice sounded crisp and clear. "Is there anyone who knows anything about Ghengiz Cohen?" he said. "And is there anyone who can tell us why, before leaving the city, he and his men kidnapped a harmless minstrel from our embassy? Explosives, yes, very barbaric ... but why a minstrel? Can anyone tell me?" There was a bitter wind this close to Cori Celesti. From here the world mountain, which looked like a needle from afar, was a raw and ragged cascade of ascending peaks. The central spire was lost in a haze of snow crystals, miles high. The sun sparkled on them. Several elderly men sat huddled around a fire. "I hope he's right about the stair of light," said Boy Willie. "We're going to look real muffins if it isn't there."

"He was right about the giant walrus," said Truckle the Uncivil. "When?"

"Remember when we were crossing the ice? When he shouted, "Look out! We're going to be attacked by a giant walrus!""

"Oh. yeah." Willie looked back up at the spire. The air seemed thinner already, the colours deeper, making him feel that he could reach up and touch the sky. "Anyone know if there's a lavatory at the top?" he said. "Oh, there's got to be." said Caleb the Ripper. "Yeah, I'm sure I heard tell about it. The Toilet of the Gods."

"What?" They turned to what appeared to be a pile of furs on wheels. When the eye knew what it was looking for this became an ancient wheelchair, mounted on skis and covered with rags of blanket and animal skins. A pair of beady, animal eyes peered out suspiciously from the heap. There was a barrel strapped behind the wheelchair. "It must be time tor his gruel," said Boy Willie, putting a soot- encrusted pot on the fire. "Whut?" JUST WARMING UP YOUR GRUEL, HAMISH!"

"Bludy walrus again?"



They were, all of them, old men. Their background conversation was a litany of complaints about feet, stomachs and backs. They moved slowly. But they had a look about them. It was in their eyes. Their eyes said that wherever it was, they had been there. Whatever it was, they had done it, sometimes more than once. But they would never, ever, buy the T-shirt. And they did know the meaning of the word "fear". It was something that happened to other people. "I wish Old Vincent was here," said Caleb the Ripper, poking the fire aimlessly. "Well, he's gone, and there's an end of it," said Truckle the Uncivil shortly. "We said we weren't going to bloody talk about it."

"But what a way to go ... gods, I hope that doesn't happen to me. Something like that... it shouldn't happen to anyone ..."

"Yes. all right," said Truckle. "He was a good bloke. Took everything the world threw at him."

"All right!"

"And then to choke on-"

"We all know! Now bloody well shut up!"

"Dinners done," said Caleb, pulling a smoking slab of grease out of the embers. "Nice walrus steak, anyone? What about Mr. Pretty?" They turned to an evidently human figure that had been propped against a boulder. It was indistinct, because of the ropes, but it was clearly dressed in brightly coloured clothes. This wasn't the place for brightly coloured clothes. This was a land for fur and leather. Boy Willie walked over to the colourful thing. "We'll take the gag off." he said. "if you promise not to scream." Frantic eyes darted this way and that, and then the gagged head nodded. "All right, then. Eat your your nice walrus ... er, lump," said Boy Willie, pulling at the cloth. "How dare you drag me all-" the minstrel began. "Now look," said Boy Willie, "none of us like havin' to wallop you alongside the ear when you go on like this, do we? Be reasonable."

""Reasonable? When you kidnap-" Boy Willie snapped the gag back into place. "Thin streak of nothin'." be muttered at the angry eyes. "You ain't even got a harp. What kind of bard doesn't even have a harp? Just this sort of little wooden pot thing. Damn silly idea."

"'s called a lute," said Caleb, through a mouthful of walrus. "Whut?"


"Aye, I used to loot!"

"Nah, it's for singin' posh songs for ladies," said Caleb. "About... flowers and that. Romance?" The Horde knew the word, although the activity had been outside the scope of their busy lives. "Amazin', what songs do for the ladies," said Caleb. "Well, when I was a lad." said Truckle, "if you wanted to get a girl's int'rest, you had to cut off your worst enemy's wossname and present it to her."



"Aye, romance is a wonderful tiling," said Mad Hamish. "What'd you do if you didn't have a worst enemy?" said Boy Willie. "You try and cut off anyone's wossname."" said Truckle, "and you've soon got a worst enemy."

"Flowers is more usual these days," said Caleb, reflectively. Truckle eyed the struggling lutist.

"Can't think what the boss was thinking of, draggin' this thing along," he said. "Where is he, anyway?" Lord Vetinari, despite his education, had a mind like an engineer. If you wished to open something, you found the appropriate spot and applied the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve your end. Possibly the spot was between a couple of ribs and the force was applied via a dagger, or between two warring countries and applied via an army, but the important thing was to find that one weak spot which would be the key to everything. "And so you are now the unpaid Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography?" he said to the figure who had been brought before him. The wizard known as Rincewind nodded slowly, just in case an admission was going to get him into trouble. "Er... yes?"

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