Thief of Time

Page 19

Igor didn't much like the clock. He was a people person. He preferred things that bled. And as the clock grew, with its shimmering crystal parts that didn't seem entirely all here, so Jeremy grew more absorbed and Igor grew more tense. There was definitely something new happening here, and while Igors were avid to learn new things there were limits. Igors did not believe in forbidden knowledge and 'Things Man Was Not Meant to Know', but obviously there were some things a man was not meant to know, such as what it felt like to have every single particle of your body sucked into a little hole, and that seemed to be one of the options available in the immediate future. And then there was Lady LeJean. She gave Igor the willies, and he was a man not usually subject to even the smallest willy. She wasn't a zombie and she wasn't a vampire, because she didn't smell like one. She didn't smell like anything. In Igor's experience, everything smelled like something. And there was the other matter. 'Her feet don't touch the ground, thur,' he said. 'Of course they do,' said Jeremy, buffing up part of the mechanism with his sleeve. 'She'll be here again in a minute and seventeen seconds. And I'm sure her feet will be touching the ground.'

'Oh, thometimeth they do, thur. But you watch when thee goeth up or down a thtep, thur. Thee doethn't get it egthactly right, thur. You can jutht thee the thadow under her thoeth.'


'On her feet, thur,' sighed Igor. The lisp could be a problem, and in truth any Igor could easily fix it, but it was part of being an Igor. You might as well stop limping. 'Go and get ready by the door,' said Jeremy. 'Floating in the air doesn't make you a bad person.' Igor shrugged. He was entertaining the idea that it didn't mean you were a person at all, and incidentally he was rather worried that Jeremy seemed to have dressed himself with a little more care this morning. He'd decided in these circumstances not to broach the subject of his hiring, but he had been working that one out. He'd been hired before her ladyship had engaged Jeremy to do this work? Well, all that showed was that she knew her man. But she'd hired him herself in Bad Schüschein. And he'd got himself onto the mail coach that very day. And it turned out that Lady LeJean had visited Jeremy on that day, too. The only thing faster than the mail coach between Uberwald and Ankh-Morpork was magic, unless someone had found a way to travel by semaphore. And Lady LeJean hardly looked like a witch. The shop's clocks were putting up a barrage of noise to signal the passing of seven o'clock when Igor opened the front door. It always Did[10] to anticipate the knock. That was another part of the Code of the Igors.

He wrenched it open. 'Two pints, sir, lovely and fresh,' said Mr Soak, handing him the bottles. 'And a day like this just says fresh cream, doesn't it?' Igor glared at him, but took the bottles. 'I prefer it when it'th going green,' he said haughtily. 'Good day to you, Mr Thoak.' He shut the door. 'It wasn't her?' said Jeremy, when he arrived back in the workshop. 'It wath the milkman, thur.'

'She's twenty-five seconds late!' said Jeremy, looking concerned. 'Do you think anything could have happened to her?'

'Real ladieth are often fathionably late, thur,' said Igor, putting the milk away. It was icy cold under his fingers. 'Well, I'm sure her ladyship is a real lady.'

'I wouldn't know about that, thur,' said Igor, who in fact had the aforesaid very strong doubts in that area. He walked back into the shop and took up position with his hand on the door handle just as the knock came. Lady LeJean swept past Igor. The two trolls ignored him and took up their positions just inside the workshop. Igor put them down as hired rock, anyone's for two dollars a day plus walking-around money. Her ladyship was impressed. The big clock was nearing completion. It wasn't the squat, blocky thing that Igor's grandfather had told him about. Jeremy had, much to Igor's surprise - for there wasn't a scrap of decoration anywhere in the house - gone for the impressive look. 'Your grandfather helped to make the first one,' Jeremy had said. 'So let's build a grandfather clock, eh?' And there it stood - a slim, long-case clock in crystal and spun glass, reflecting the light in worrying ways. Igor had spent a fortune in the Street of Cunning Artificers. For enough money, you could buy anything in Ankh-Morpork, and that included people. He'd made sure that no crystal- cutter or glassworker had done enough of the work to give them any sort of clue about the finished clock, but he'd worried needlessly about that. Money could buy a lot of uninterest. Besides, who would believe you could measure time with crystals? Only in the workshop did it all come together. Igor bustled around, polishing things, listening. carefully as Jeremy showed off his creation.

'-no need for any metal parts,' he was saying. 'We've come up with a way of making the tamed lightning flow across glass, and we've found a workman who can make glass that bends slightly-'

'We', Igor noticed. Well, that was always the way of it. 'We' discovering things meant the master asking for them and Igor thinking them up. Anyway, the flow of lightning was a family passion. With sand and chemicals and a few secrets, you could make lightning sit up and beg. Lady LeJean reached out with a gloved hand and touched the side of the clock. 'This is the divider mechanism-' Jeremy began, picking up a crystalline array from the workbench. But her ladyship was still staring up at the clock. 'You've given it a face and hands,' she said. 'Why?'

'Oh, it will function very well in the measurement of traditional time,' said Jeremy. 'Glass gears throughout, of course. In theory it will never need adjusting. It will take its time from the universal tick.'

'Ah. You found it, then?'

'The time it takes the smallest possible thing that can happen to happen. I know it exists.' She looked almost impressed. 'But the clock is still unfinished.'

'There is a certain amount of trial and error,' said Jeremy. 'But we will do it. Igor says there will be a big storm on Monday. That should provide the power, he says. And then,' Jeremy's face lit up with a smile, 'I see no reason why every clock in the world shouldn't say precisely the same time!' Lady LeJean glanced at Igor, who bustled with renewed haste. 'The servant is satisfactory?'

'Oh, he grumbles a bit. But he has got a good heart. And a spare, apparently. He is amazingly skilled in all crafts, too.'

'Yes, Igors generally are,' said the lady distantly. 'They seem to have mastered the art of inheriting talents.' She snapped her fingers and one of the trolls stepped forward and produced a couple of bags. 'Gold and invar,' she said. 'As promised.'

'Hah, but invar will be worthless when we've finished the clock,' said Jeremy. 'We're sorry? You want more gold?'

'No, no! You have been very generous.'

Right, thought Igor, dusting the workbench vigorously. 'Until next time, then,' said Lady LeJean. The trolls were already turning towards the door. 'You'll be here for the start?' said Jeremy, as Igor hurried into the hall to open the front door because, whatever he thought about her ladyship, there was such a thing as tradition. 'Possibly. But we have every confidence in you, Jeremy.'

'Um...' Igor stiffened. He hadn't heard that tone in Jeremy's voice before. In the voice of a master, it was a bad tone. Jeremy took a deep, nervous breath, as if contemplating some minute and difficult piece of clockwork that would, without tremendous care, unwind catastrophically and spray cogwheels across the floor. 'Um ... I was wondering, um, your ladyship, um ... perhaps, um, you would like to take dinner with me, um, tonight, um ...' Jeremy smiled. Igor had seen a better smile on a corpse. Lady LeJean's expression flickered. It really did. It seemed to Igor to go from one expression to another as if they were a series of still pictures, with no perceptible movement of the features between each one. It went from her usual blankness to sudden thoughtfulness and then all the way to amazement. And then, to Igor's own astonishment, it began to blush. 'Why, Mr Jeremy, I... I don't know what to say,' her ladyship stammered, her icy composure turning into a warm puddle. 'I really... I don't know... perhaps some other time? I do have an important engagement, so glad to have met you, I must be going. Goodbye.' Igor stood stiffly to attention, as upright as the average Igor could manage, and almost shut the door behind her ladyship as she hurried out of the building down the steps. She ended up, just for a moment, half an inch above the street. It was only for a moment, and then she drifted downwards. No one except Igor, glaring balefully through the crack between door and frame, could possibly have noticed. He darted back into the workshop. Jeremy still stood transfixed, blushing as pinkly as her ladyship had done. 'I'll jutht be nipping out to get that new glathwork for the multiplier, thur,' Igor said quickly. 'It thould be done by now. Yeth?' Jeremy spun on his heel and marched very quickly over to the workbench. 'You do that, Igor. Thank you,' he said, his voice slightly muffled. Lady LeJean's party were down the street when Igor slipped out and moved quickly into the shadows.

At the crossroad her ladyship waved one hand vaguely and the trolls headed off by themselves. Igor stayed with her. For all the trademark limp, Igors could move fast when they had to. They often had to, when the mob hit the windmill.[11] Out in the open he could see more wrong things. She didn't move quite right. It was as though she was controlling her body, rather than letting it control itself. That's what humans did. Even zombies got the hang of things after a while. The effect was subtle, but Igors had very good eyesight. She moved like someone unused to wearing skin. The quarry headed down a narrow street, and Igor half hoped that some of the Thieves' Guild were around. He'd very much like to see what happened if one of them gave her the tap on the noggin that was their prelude to negotiations. One had tried it with Igor yesterday, and if the man had been surprised at the metallic clang, he'd been astonished to have his arm grabbed and broken with anatomical exactitude. In fact, she turned into an alleyway between a couple of the buildings. Igor hesitated. Letting yourself be outlined in the daylight at the mouth of an alley was item one on the local checklist of death. But, on the other hand, he wasn't actually doing anything wrong, was he? And she didn't look armed. There was no sound of footsteps in the alley. He waited a moment and stuck his head round the corner. There was no sign of Lady LeJean. There was also no way out of the alley - it was a dead end, full of rubbish. But there was a fading grey shape in the air, which vanished even as he stared. It was a hooded robe, grey as fog. It merged into the general gloom and disappeared. She'd turned into an alleyway, and then she'd turned into... something else. Igor felt his hands twitch. Individual Igors might have their particular specialities, but they were all expert surgeons and had an inbuilt desire not to see anybody wasted. Up in the mountains, where most of the employment was for woodchoppers and miners, having an Igor living locally was considered very fortunate. There was always the risk of an axe bouncing or a sawblade running wild, and then a man was glad to have an Igor around who could lend a hand - or even an entire arm, if you were lucky. And while they practised their skills freely and generously in the community, the Igors were even more careful to use them amongst themselves. Magnificent eyesight, a stout pair of lungs, a powerful digestive system... It was terrible to think of such wonderful workmanship going to the worms. So they made sure it didn't. They kept it in the family. Igor really did have his grandfather's hands. And now they were bunching into fists, all by themselves. Tick

A very small kettle burned on a fire of wood shavings and dried yak dung. 'It was... a long time ago,' said Lu-Tze. 'Exactly when doesn't matter, 'cos of what happened. In fact asking exactly “when” doesn't make any sense any more. It depends where you are. In some places it was hundreds of years ago. Some other places ... well, maybe it hasn't happened yet. There was this man in Uberwald. Invented a clock. An amazing clock. It measured the tick of the universe. Know what that is?'

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