This is an excerpt from Terry Pratchett's upcoming book, Snuff, read by his assistant Rob, at the Auckland talk he gave in April 2011.
It follows on from An Evening with Terry Pratchett Transcript: Part 1
Time up to 23:35/1:31:38
Pterry: I just need to say a few things. For reasons you'll easily guess at, Commander Vimes of the City Watch has been propelled into the countryside by his wife. And we all know what happens to policemen, detectives, if they go for a quiet time in the country. And Vimes is wandering around, kicking his heels, because he doesn't get the whole countryside bit. He thinks that trees are just stiff weeds and people make far too much fuss about them. And that's why he falls prey to the little anecdote, as it were, that Rob will be reading.
Rob: From the top. So Sam Vimes has gone into a little country pub, where he learns about a fascinating local hobby and meets an old adversary.
Vimes was becoming aware that the pub was filling up. Mostly with other sons of the soil, but also with people who, whether they were gentlemen or not, would be expected to be called so. They wore colourful caps and white trousers and spoke continuously. Outside, horses and carriages were filling the lane. Hammering was going on somewhere, and June's(?) wife was manning, or more correctly, womanning, the bar, while her husband ran back and forth with his tray.
Vimes could look out of the front pub windows. Regrettably, the pub was that most terrifying of things - it was picturesque. Which meant that windows consisted of small round panes, fixed into place with lead. They were for letting light in, not looking out of, since the light was bent so erratically that it nearly broke. One pane showed what was probably a sheep, but which actually looked quite like a whale, until it moved, then it became a mushroom. A man walked past with no head - until he reached another pane, and then the head had one enormous eyeball. Young Sam would have loved it, but his father decided to give eventual blindness a miss, and stepped out into the sunshine.
Ah, he thought, it's some kind of game. Oh well. Vimes wasn't keen on games because they led to crowds, and crowds led to work for coppers. But here in fact, he wasn't a copper, was he? It was a strange feeling, so he left the pub and became an innocent bystander. He couldn't remember when he'd last been one before. It felt... vulnerable. He strolled over to the nearest man, who was hammering some stakes into the ground, and asked
"Wot's going on 'ere, then?" Realising quickly that he'd spoken in Copper rather than in ordinary citizen, he added "...oh, if you don't mind me asking." The man straightened up. He was one of those with the colourful caps.
"Have you seen a game of Crocket, sir? It's the Game of Games!" Civilian Vimes did his best to look like a man eager for more delicious information. Judging by this young man's enthusiastic grin, he was about to learn the rules of Crocket, whether he wanted to or not. Well, he thought, I did ask.
"At first glance, sir, Crocket might seem like just another ball game, wherein two sides strive against one another by endeavouring to propel a ball by hand, or bat, or other device, into the opponent's goal of some sort. Crocket, however, was invented during a game of croquet at St. Otan's(?) Theological College at Ham on Rye, when the boy's [something] on the Jackson(?) field there, now the Bishop of Quirm, took his mallet in both hands, and instead of giving the ball a gentle tap..."
After that, Vimes gave up. Not only because the rules of the game were incomprehensible in their own right, but also because the extremely enthusiastic young man allowed his enthusiasm to take precedence over any consideration of the need for his explanation to take things in some sensible order. Which meant that the flood of information was continually punctuated by apologetic comments along the lines of "Oh, I am sorry but I should have explained earlier, the second cone is not allowed on the ones below exchange, and in all play there's only one tong - uh, unless of course you're talking about Royal Crocket..."
Vimes died. The sun dropped out of the sky, giant lizards took over the world, and the stars exploded and went out, and all hope vanished and gurgled into the sinktrap of oblivion. And gas filled the firmanent and combusted, and behold! There was a new heaven - or possibly not. And Disc, and Io, and and possibly verily, life crawled out of the sea - or possibly didn't, because it had been made by the gods, all the same to bystander(?), and lizards turned to less scaly lizards - or possibly did not. And lizards turned into birds, and bugs turned into butterlies, and a species of apple turned into banana, and a kind of monkey fell out of a tree and realised life was better when you didn't have to spend your time hanging onto something. And, in only a few billion years, evolved trousers and ornamental stripey hats. Lastly, the game of Crocket. And there, magically reincarnated was Vimes, a little dizzy, standing on the village green, looking into the smiling countenance of an enthusiast.
He managed to say "Well, that's amazing. Thank you so very much. I look forward to enjoying the game". At which point, he thought a brisk walk home might be in order, only to be foiled, again, by a regrettably familiar voice behind him, saying
"You, I say,you! Yes,you! Aren't you Vimes?" It was Lord Rust, usually of Ankh-Morpork, and a fierce warhorse, without whose unique grasp of strategy and tactics, several wars would not have been so bloodily won. Now he was in a wheelchair, a new-fangled variety pushed by a man whose life was, knowing his lordship, quite possibly unbearable. But hatred tends not to have a long half-life, and in recent years, Vimes had regarded the man as nothing more than a titled idiot, rendered helpless by age. Yet still possessed of an annoying horsey voice, that suitably harnessed, might be used to saw down trees. Lord Rust was not a problem anymore. There were, surely, only a few more years to go before he would, er, rust in peace. And somewhere, in his knobbly heart, Vimes still retained a slight admiration for the cantankerous old butcher, with his evergreen self esteem, and absolute readiness not to change his mind about anything at all. The old boy reacted to the fact that Vimes, a hated policeman, was now a Duke, and therefore a lot more nobby than he was, by simply assuming he could not possibly be true, and therefore totally ignoring it. So Lord Rust, despite his look, was a dangerous buffoon, but - here was the difficult bit - an incredibly, if suicidally, brave one. This would have been absolutely tickety-boo if it weren't for the suicides of those poor fools who followed him into battle. Witnesses have said that it was uncanny. Rust would gallop into the jaws of death, ahead of his men, and was never seen to blink. Yet arrows and morningstars always missed him, and quite invariably hitting the men right behind him. Bystanders, or 'other people peering at the battlefield from behind a comfortably large rock', testified to this. Perhaps he was capable of ignoring too the arrows aimed at him? But age could not be so easily upstaged, and the old man, well known for his arrogance, had a sunken look.
Rust, most unusually, smiled at Vimes, and said "First time I've seen you down here, Vimes, is Sybil dragging you back to her roots? What?"
"She wants Young Sam to get some mud on his boots, Rust".
"Well done her! What? It'll do the boy good, make a man of him! What?" Vimes never understood where those explosive "What"s came from. After all, he thought, what's the point of just barking out 'What!' for absolutely no discernible reason? And as for "What, what!?" well, what was that all about? What? "What?" seemed to be tent pegs hammered into the conversation, but what the hell for? What?
"So, not down here on any official business then, what?" Vimes' mind spun so quickly that Rust should have heard the wheels go round. It analysed the tone of voice, the look of the man, that slight, ever so slight, but nonetheless, perceptible hint of hope that the answer would be 'No', and it presented him with the suggestion that it might not be a bad idea to drop a tiny kitten among the pigeons. He laughed.
"Well, Rust, Sybil's been banging on about coming down here since Young Sam was born, and this year she put her foot down. And I suppose an order from his wife must be considered official. When?" Vimes saw the man, who pushed the enormous wheelchair, trying to conceal a smile, especially when Rust responded with a baffled "What?" Vimes decided not to go with "Where!?" and instead said, in an offhand way,
"Well, you know how it is, Lord Rust. A policeman will find a crime anywhere if he decides to look hard enough". Lord Rust's smile remained, but it had a congealed look to it.
He said, "I should listen to the advice of your good lady wife. I don't think you'll find anything worth your mettle down here." There was no "What?" to follow, and the lack of it was somehow an emphasis.
In other news, the cover image has been released, and is awesome.
You can learn more about Snuff here.