Pátý elefant

Beyond the door was a room of bookshelves, stretching up, stretching away. Here and there a candle merely changed the density of the darkness. There were lots of them, though, punctuating the distance. Vimes wondered how big this room must be
'In here is a record of every marriage, every birth, every death, every movement of a dwarf from one mine to another, the succession of the king of each mine, every dwarf's progress through k'zakra, mining claims, the history of famous axes . . . and other matters of note,' said a voice behind him. 'And perhaps most importantly, every decision made under dwarf law for fifteen hundred years is written down in this room, look you.'
Vimes turned. A dwarf, short even by dwarf standards, was standing behind him. He seemed to be expecting a reply.
'Er, every decision?'
'Oh, yes.'
'Er, were they all good?' said Vimes.
'The important thing is that they were all made,' said the King. 'Thank you, young . . . dwarf, you may straighten up.'
Cheery was bowing.
'Sorry, should I be doing that?' said Vimes. 'You're . . . not the King, are you?'
'Not yet.'
'I, I'm, I'm sorry, I was expecting someone more, er . . .'
'Do go on.'
'. . . someone more . . . kingly.'
The Low King sighed.
'I meant . .. I mean, you look just like an ordinary dwarf,' said Vimes weakly.
This time the King smiled. He was slightly shorter than average for dwarfs, and dressed in the usual almost-uniform of leather and home-forged chain-mail. He looked old, but dwarfs started looking old around the age of five years and were still looking old three hundred years later, and he had that musical cadence to his speech that Vimes associated with Llamedos. If he'd asked Vimes to pass the ketchup in Gimlet's Whole Food Delicatessen, Vimes wouldn't have given him a second look.
'This diplomacy business,' said the King, 'Are you getting the hang of it, do you think?'
'It doesn't come easy, I must admit . . . er, your majesty.'
'I believe you have been, until now, a watchman in Ankh-Morpork?'
'Er, yes.'
'And you had a famous ancestor, I believe, who was a regicide?'
Here it comes, thought Vimes. 'Yers, Stoneface Vimes,' he said, as levelly as possible. 'I've always thought that was a bit unfair, though. It was only one king. It wasn't as if it was a hobby.'
'But you don't like kings,' said the dwarf.
'I don't meet many, sir,' said Vimes, hoping that this would pass for a diplomatic answer. It seemed to satisfy the King.
'I went to Ankh-Morpork once, when I was a young dwarf,' he said, walking towards a long table piled high with scrolls.
'Er, really?'
'Lawn ornament, they called me. And . . . what was it . . . ah, yes . . . shortarse. Some children threw stones at me.'
'I'm sorry.'
'I expect you'll tell me that sort of thing doesn't happen any more.'
'It doesn't happen as much. But you always get idiots who don't move with the times.'

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