Pyramids Page 2

'I haven't the faintest idea, sir,' he said. Out of the corner of his ear he thought he heard the faintest intake of breath, the tiniest seed of a satisfied grunt.

'But if it were the other way up, sir,' he went on, 'it would be thiefsign for "Noisy dogs in this house

There was absolute silence for a moment. Then, right by his shoulder, the old assassin's voice said, 'Is the killing rope permitted to all categories?'

'Sir, the rules call for three questions, sir,' Teppic protested.

'Ah. And that is your answer, is it?'

'Sir, no, sir. It was an observation, sir. Sir, the answer you are looking for is that all categories may bear the killing rope, but only assassins of the third grade may use it as one of the three options, sir.'

'You are sure of that, are you?'


'You wouldn't like to reconsider?' You could have used the examiner's voice to grease a wagon.

'Sir, no, sir.'

'Very well.' Teppic relaxed. The back of his tunic was sticking to him, chilly with sweat.

'Now, I want you to proceed at your own pace towards the Street of Book-keepers,' said Mericet evenly, 'obeying all signs and so forth. I will meet you in the room under the gong tower at the junction with Audit Alley. And - take this, if you please.'

He handed Teppic a small envelope.

Teppic handed over a receipt. Then Mericet stepped into the pool of shade beside a chimney pot, and disappeared.

So much for the ceremony.

Teppic took a few deep breaths and tipped the envelope's contents into his hand. It was a Guild bond for ten thousand Ankh-Morpork dollars, made out to 'Bearer'. It was an impressive document, surmounted with the Guild seal of the double-cross and the cloaked dagger.

Well, no going back now. He'd taken the money. Either he'd survive, in which case of course he'd traditionally donate the money to the Guild's widows and orphans fund, or it would be retrieved from his dead body. The bond looked a bit dog-eared, but he couldn't see any bloodstains on it.

He checked his knives, adjusted his swordbelt, glanced behind him, and set off at a gentle trot.

At least this was a bit of luck. The student lore said there were only half a dozen routes used during the test, and on summer nights they were alive with students tackling the roofs, towers, eaves and colls of the city. Edificing was a keen inter-house sport in its own right; it was one of the few things Teppic was sure he was good at - he'd been captain of the team that beat Scorpion House in the Wallgame finals. And this was one of the easier courses.

He dropped lightly over the edge of the roof, landed on a ridge, ran easily across the sleeping building, jumped a narrow gap on to the tiled roof of the Young Men's Reformed-Cultists-of-the-Ichor-God-Bel-Shamharoth Association gym, jogged gently over the grey slope, swarmed up a twelve foot wall without slowing down, and vaulted on to the wide flat roof of the Temple of Blind Io.

A full, orange moon hung on the horizon. There was a real breeze up here, not much, but as refreshing as a cold shower after the stifling heat of the streets. He speeded up, enjoying the coolness on his face, and leapt accurately off the end of the roof on to the narrow plank bridge that led across Tinlid Alley.

And which someone, in defiance of all probability, had removed.

At times like this one's past life flashes before one's eyes. . .

His aunt had wept, rather theatrically, Teppic had thought, since the old lady was as tough as a hippo's instep. His father had looked stern and dignified, whenever he could remember to, and tried to keep his mind free of beguiling images of cliffs and fish. The servants had been lined up along the hall from the foot of the main stairway, handmaidens on one side, eunuchs and butlers on the other. The women bobbed a curtsey as he walked by, creating a rather nice sine wave effect which the greatest mathematician on the Disc, had he not at this moment been occupied by being hit with a stick and shouted at by a small man wearing what appeared to be a nightshirt, might well have appreciated.

'But,' Teppic's aunt blew her nose, 'it's trade, after all.' His father patted her hand. 'Nonsense, flower of the desert,' he said, 'it is a profession, at the very least.'

'What is the difference?' she sobbed.

The old man sighed. 'The money, I understand. It will do him good to go out into the world and make friends and have a few corners knocked off, and it will keep him occupied and prevent him from getting into mischief.'

'But... assassination... he's so young, and he's never shown the least inclination . . .' She dabbed at her eyes. 'It's not from our side of the family,' she added accusingly. 'That brother-in-law of yours-

'Uncle Vyrt,' said his father.

'Going all over the world killing people!'

'I don't believe they use that word,' said his father. 'I think they prefer words like conclude, or annul. Or inhume, I understand.'


'I think it's like exhume, O flooding of the waters, only it's before they bury you.'

'I think it's terrible.' She sniffed. 'But I heard from Lady Nooni that only one boy in fifteen actually passes the final exam. Perhaps we'd just better let him get it out of his system.'

King Teppicymon XXVII nodded gloomily, and went by himself to wave goodbye to his son. He was less certain than his sister about the unpleasantness of assassination; he'd been reluctantly in politics for a long time, and felt that while assassination was probably worse than debate it was certainly better than war, which some people tended to think of as the same thing only louder. And there was no doubt that young Vyrt always had plenty of money, and used to turn up at the palace with expensive gifts, exotic suntans and thrilling tales of the interesting people he'd met in foreign parts, in most cases quite briefly.

He wished Vyrt was around to advise. His majesty had also heard that only one student in fifteen actually became an assassin. He wasn't entirely certain what happened to the other fourteen, but he was pretty sure that if you were a poor student in a school for assassins they did a bit more than throw the chalk at you, and that the school dinners had an extra dimension of uncertainty.

But everyone agreed that the assassins' school offered the best all-round education in the world. A qualified assassin should be at home in any company, and able to play at least one musical instrument. Anyone inhumed by a graduate of the Guild school could go to his rest satisfied that he had been annulled by someone of taste and discretion.

And, after all, what was there for him at home? A kingdom two miles wide and one hundred and fifty miles long, which was almost entirely under water during the flood season, and threatened on either side by stronger neighbours who tolerated its existence only because they'd be constantly at war if it wasn't there.

Oh, Djelibeybi[3] had been great once, when upstarts like Tsort and Ephebe were just a bunch of nomads with their towels on their heads. All that remained of those great days was the ruinously-expensive palace, a few dusty ruins in the desert and - the pharaoh sighed - the pyramids. Always the pyramids.

His ancestors had been keen on pyramids. The pharaoh wasn't. Pyramids had bankrupted the country, drained it drier than ever the river did. The only curse they could afford to put on a tomb these days was 'Bugger Off'.

The only pyramids he felt comfortable about were the very small ones at the bottom of the garden, built every time one of the cats died.

He'd promised the boy's mother.

He missed Artela. There'd been a terrible row about taking a wife from outside the Kingdom, and some of her foreign ways had puzzled and fascinated even him. Maybe it was from her he'd got the strange dislike of pyramids; in Djelibeybi that was like disliking breathing. But he'd promised that Pteppic could go to school outside the kingdom. She'd been insistent about that. 'People never learn anything in this place,' she'd said. 'They only remember things.'

If only she'd remembered about not swimming in the river .

He watched two of the servants load Teppic's trunk on to the back of the coach, and for the first time either of them could remember laid a paternal hand on his son's shoulder.

In fact he was at a loss for something to say. We've never really had time to get to know one another, he thought. There's so much I could have given him. A few bloody good hidings wouldn't have come amiss.

'Urn,' he said. 'Well, my boy.'

'Yes, father?'

'This is, er, the first time you've been away from home by yourself'

'No, father. I spent last summer with Lord Fhem-pta-hem, you remember.'

'Oh, did you?' The pharaoh recalled the palace had seemed quieter at the time. He'd put it down to the new tapestries.

'Anyway,' he said, 'you're a young man, nearly thirteen-'

'Twelve, father,' said Teppic patiently.

'Are you sure?'

'It was my birthday last month, father. You bought me a warming pan.'

'Did I? How singular. Did I say why?'

'No, father.' Teppic looked up at his father's mild, puzzled features. 'It was a very good warming pan,' he added reassuringly. 'I like it a lot.'

'Oh. Good. Er.' His majesty patted his son's shoulder again, in a vague way, like a man drumming his fingers on his desk while trying to think. An idea appeared to occur to him.

The servants had finished strapping the trunk on to the roof of the coach and the driver was patiently holding open the door.

'When a young man sets out in the world,' said his majesty uncertainly, 'there are, well, it's very important that he remembers . . . The point is, that it is a very big world after all, with all sorts. . . And of course, especially so in the city, where there are many additional . . . ' He paused, waving one hand vaguely in the air.

Teppic took it gently.

'It's quite all right, father,' he said. 'Dios the high priest explained to me about taking regular baths, and not going blind.'

His father blinked at him.

'You're not going blind?' he said.

'Apparently not, father.'

'Oh. Well. Jolly good,' said the king. 'Jolly, jolly good. That is good news.'

'I think I had better be going, father. Otherwise I shall miss the tide.'

His majesty nodded, and patted his pockets.

'There was something. . . 'he muttered, and then tracked it down, and slipped a small leather bag into Teppic's pocket. He tried the shoulder routine again.

'A little something,' he murmured. 'Don't tell your aunt. Oh, you can't, anyway. She's gone for a lie-down. It's all been rather too much for her.'

All that remained then was for Teppic to go and sacrifice a chicken at the statue of Khuft, the founder of Djelibeybi, so that his ancestor's guiding hand would steer his footsteps in the world. It was only a small chicken, though, and when Khuft had finished with it the king had it for lunch.

Djelibeybi really was a small, self-centred kingdom. Even its plagues were half-hearted. All self-respecting river kingdoms have vast supernatural plagues, but the best the Old Kingdom had been able to achieve in the last hundred years was the Plague of Frog[4].

That evening, when they were well outside the delta of the Djel and heading across the Circle Sea to Ankh-Morpork, Teppic remembered the bag and examined its contents. With love, but also with his normal approach to things, his father had presented him with a cork, half a tin of saddlesoap, a small bronze coin of uncertain denomination, and an extremely elderly sardine.

It is a well-known fact that when one is about to die the senses immediately become excruciatingly sharp and it has always been believed that this is to enable their owner to detect any possible exit from his predicament other than the obvious one.

This is not true. The phenomenon is a classical example of displacement activity. The senses are desperately concentrating on anything apart from the immediate problem - which in Teppic's case consisted of a broad expanse of cobblestones some eighty feet away and closing - in the hope that it will go away.

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