'And, er, what would be the purpose of it?' said the Patrician. 'I believe it could replace the horse,' said Leonard proudly. They looked at the stricken thing. 'One of the advantages of horses that people often point out,' said Vetinari, after some thought, 'is that they very seldom explode. Almost never, in my experience, apart from that unfortunate occurrence in the hot summer a few years ago.' With fastidious fingers he pulled something out of the mess. It was a pair of cubes, made out of some soft white fur and linked together by a piece of string. There were dots on them. 'Dice?' he said. Leonard smiled in an embarrassed fashion. 'Yes. I can't think why I thought they'd help it go better. It was just, well, an idea. You know how it is.' Lord Vetinari nodded. He knew how it was. Be knew how it was far more than Leonard of Quirm did, which was why there was one key to the door and he had it. Not that the man was a prisoner, except by dull, humdrum standards. He appeared rather grateful to be confined in this light, airy attic with as much wood, paper, sticks of charcoal and paint as he desired and no rent or food bills to pay. In any case, you couldn't really imprison someone like Leonard of Quirm. The most you could do was lock up his body. The gods alone knew where his mind went. And, although he had so much cleverness it leaked continually, he couldn't tell you which way the political wind was blowing even if you fitted him with sails. Leonard's incredible brain sizzled away alarmingly, an overloaded chip pan on the Stove of Life. It was impossible to know what he would think of next, because he was constantly reprogrammed by the whole universe. The sight of a waterfall or a soaring bird would send him spinning down some
new path of practical speculation that invariably ended in a heap of wire and springs and a cry of 'I think I know what I did wrong.' He'd been a member of most of the craft guilds in the city but had been thrown out for getting impossibly high marks in the exams or, in some cases, correcting the questions. It was said that he'd accidentally blown up the Alchemists' Guild using nothing more than a glass of water, a spoonful of acid, two lengths of wire and a pingpong ball. Any sensible ruler would have killed off Leonard, and Lord Vetinari was extremely sensible and often wondered why he had not done so. He'd decided that it was because, imprisoned in the priceless, enquiring amber of Leonard's massive mind, underneath A that bright investigative genius was a kind of wilful innocence that might in lesser men be called stupidity. It was the seat and soul of that force which, down the millennia, had caused mankind to stick its fingers in the electric fight socket of the Universe and play with the switch to see what happened – and then be very surprised when it did. It was, in short, something useful. And if the Patrician was anything, he was the political equivalent of the old lady who saves bits of string because you never know when they might come in handy. After all, you couldn't plan for every eventuality, because that would involve knowing what was going to happen, and if you knew what was going to happen, you could probably see to it that it didn't, or at least happened to someone else. So the Patrician never planned. Plans often got in the way. And, finally, he kept Leonard around because the man was easy to talk to. He never understood what Lord Vetinari was talking about, he had a world view about as complex as that of a concussed duckling and, above all, never really paid attention. This made him an excellent confidant. After all, when you seek advice from someone it's certainly not because you want them to give it. You just want them to be there while you talk to yourself. 'I've just made some tea.' said Leonard. 'Will you join me?' He followed the Patrician's gaze to a brown stain all up one wall, which ended in a star of molten metal in the plaster. 'I'm afraid the automatical tea engine went wrong,' he said. 'I shall have to make it by hand.'
'So kind,' said Lord Vetinari. He sat down amidst the easels and, while Leonard busied himself at the fireplace, leafed through the latest sketches. Leonard sketched as automatically as other people scratched; genius – a certain kind of genius – fell off him like dandruff. There was a picture of a man drawing, the lines catching the figure so accurately it appeared to stand out of the paper. And around it, because Leonard never wasted white space, were other sketches, scattered aimlessly. A thumb. A bowl of flowers. A device, apparently, for sharpening pencils by water power...
Vetinari found what he was looking for in the bottom lefthand corner, sandwiched between a sketch for a new type of screw and a tool for opening oysters. It, or something very much like it, was always there somewhere. One of the things that made Leonard such a rare prize, and kept him under such secure lock and key, was that he really didn't see any difference between the thumb and the roses and the pencil–sharpener and this. 'Ah, the self–portrait,' said Leonard, returning with two cups. 'Yes, indeed,' said Vetinari. 'But my eye was drawn to this little sketch here. The war machine...'
'Oh, that? A mere nothing. Have you ever noticed the way in which the dew on roses–'
'This bit here... what is it for?' said Vetinari, pointing persistently. 'Oh, that? That's just the throwing arm for the balls of molten sulphur,' said Leonard, picking up a plate of small cakes. 'I calculate that one should get a range of almost half a mile, if one detaches the endless belt from the driving wheels and uses the oxen to wind the windlass.'
'Really?' said Vetinari, taking in the carefully numbered parts. 'And it could be built?'
'What? Oh, yes. Macaroon? In theory.'
'No–one would ever actually do it. Raining unquenchable fire down upon fellow humans? Hah!' Leonard sprayed macaroon crumbs. 'You'd never find an artisan to build it, or a soldier who would pull the lever... That's part 3(b) on the plan, just here, look. ..'
'Ah, yes,' said Vetinari. 'Anyway,' he added, 'I imagine these huge power arms here couldn't possibly be operated without them breaking . . '
'Seasoned ash and yew, laminated and held together by special steel bolts,' said Leonard promptly. 'I made a few calculations, just there below the sketch of light on a raindrop. As an intellectual exercise, obviously.' Vetinari ran his eye along several lines of Leonard's spidery mirror–writing. 'Oh, yes,' he said glumly. He put the paper aside. 'Have I told you that the Klatchian situation is intensely political? Prince Cadram is trying to do a great deal very fast. He needs to consolidate his position. He is depending on support that is somewhat volatile. There are many plotting against. him, I understand.'
'Really? Well, this is the sort of thing people do,' said Leonard. 'Incidentally, I've recently been examining cobwebs and, I know this will interest you, their strength in relation to their weight is much greater even than our best steel wire. Isn't that fascinating?'
'What kind of weapon do you intend to make out of them?' said the Patrician. 'Sorry?'