He placed his hands together carefully. 'The situation is grave, gentlemen.'
'Whose?' said Mr Burleigh.
'What? Oh... I was thinking about something else, my lord...'
'I was referring to the fact that a number of our citizens have gone out to this wretched island. As have, I understand, a number of Klatchians.'
'Why are our people going out there?' said Mr Boggis of the Thieves' Guild.
'Because they are showing a brisk pioneering spirit and seeking wealth and... additional wealth in a new land,' said Lord Vetinari.
'What's in it for the Klatchians?' said Lord Downey.
'Oh, they've gone out there because they are a
bunch of unprincipled opportunists always ready to grab something for nothing,' said Lord Vetinari.
'A masterly summation, if I may say so, my lord,' said Mr Burleigh, who felt he had some ground to make up.
The Patrician looked down again at his notes. 'Oh, I do beg your pardon,' he said, 'I seem to have read those last two sentences in the wrong order... Mr Slant, I believe you have something to say here?'
The president of the Guild of Lawyers cleared his throat. The sound was like a death rattle and technically it was, since the man had been a zombie for several hundred years although historical accounts suggested that the only difference dying had made to W Slant was that he'd started to work through his lunch break.
'Yes, indeed,' he said, opening a large legal tome. 'The history of the city of Leshp and its surrounding country is a little obscure. It is known to have been above the sea almost a thousand years ago, however, when records suggest that it was considered part of the Ankh–Morpork empire––
'What is the nature of these records and do they tell us who was doing the considering?' said the Patrician. The door opened and Vimes stepped in. 'Ah, commander, do take a seat. Continue, Mr Slant.'
The zombie did not like interruptions. He coughed again. 'The records relating to the lost country date back several hundred years, my lord. And they are of course our records.'
'I hardly see how any others could apply,' said Mr Slant severely.
'Klatchian ones, for example?' said Vimes, from the far end of the table.
'Sir Samuel, the Klatchian language does not even have a word for lawyer,' said Mr Slant.
'Doesn't it?' said Vimes. 'Good for them.'
'It is our view,' said Slant, turning his chair slightly so that he did not have to look at Vimes, 'that the new land is ours by Eminent Domain, Extra–Territoriality and, most importantly, Acquiris Quodcumque Rapis. I am given to understand that it was one of our fishermen who first set foot on it this time.'
'I hear the Klatchians claim that it was one of their fishermen,' said Vetinari.
At the end of the table Vimes's lips were moving. Let's see, Acquiris...' "You get what you grab"?' he said aloud.
'We're not going to take their word for it, are we?' said Slant, pointedly ignoring him. 'Excuse me, my lord, but I don't believe that proud Ankh–Morpork is told what to do by a bunch of thieves with towels on their heads.'
'No, indeed! It's about time Johnny Klatchian was taught a lesson,' said Lord Selachii. 'Remember all that business last year with the cabbages? Ten damn boatloads they wouldn't accept!'
'And everyone knows caterpillars add to the flavour,' said Vimes, more or less to himself.
The Patrician shot him a glance,
'That's right!' said Selachii. 'Good honest protein! And you remember all that trouble Captain Jenkins had over that cargo of mutton? They were going to imprison him! In a Klatchian jail!'
'Surely not? Meat is at its best when it's going green,' said Vimes.
'It's not as if it'd taste any different under all that curry,' said Burleigh. 'I was at a dinner in their embassy once, and do you know what they
made me eat? It was a sheep's––'
'Excuse me, gentlemen,' said Vimes, standing up. 'There are some urgent matters I must deal with.'
He nodded to the Patrician and hurried out of the room. He shut the door behind him and took a breath of fresh air, although right now he'd have happily inhaled deeply in a tannery.