'Lobster,' said Victor.
She waved a hand irritably. 'Any shellfish you like,' she said. 'I was thinking of oysters, actually.' 'Were you? I was thinking of lobsters.'
I shouldn't have to run around like this at my age, thought the Bursar, scurrying down the corridor in answer to the Archchancellor's bellow. Why's he so interested in the damn thing, anyway? Wretched pot! 'Coming, Master,' he trilled.
The Archchancellor's desk was covered with ancient documents.
When a wizard died, all his papers were stored in one of the outlying reaches of the Library. Shelf after shelf of quietly mouldering documents, the haunt of mysterious beetles and dry rot, stretched away into an unguessable distance. Eyeryone kept telling everyone that there was a wealth of material here for researchers, if only someone could find the time to do it.
The Bursar was annoyed. He couldn't find the Librarian anywhere. The ape never seemed to be around these days. He'd had to scrabble among the stuff himself.
'I think this is the last, Archchancellor,' he said, tipping an avalanche of dusty paperwork on to the desk. Ridcully flailed at a cloud of moths.
'Paper, paper, paper,' he muttered. 'How many damn bits of paper in his stuff, eh?'
'Er . . . 23,813, Archchancellor,' said the Bursar. 'He kept a record.'
'Look at this,' said the Archchancellor. ' “Star Enumerator” . . . “Rev Counter for Use in Ecclesiastical Areas” . . . “Swamp Meter” . . . Swamp meter! The man was mad!'
'He had a very tidy mind,' said the Bursar.
'Is it, er, really important, Archchancellor?' the Bursar ventured. 'Damn thing shot pellets at me,' said Ridcully.
'I'm sure it wasn't, er, intended-'
'I want to see how it was made, man! Just think of the sportin' possibilities!'
The Bursar tried to think of the possibilities.
'I'm sure Riktor didn't intend to make any kind of offensive device,' he'ventured, hopelessly.
'Who gives a damn what he intended? Where is the thing now?'
'I had a couple of servants put sandbags around it.'
'Good idea. It's-'
. . . whumm . . . whumm . . .
It was a muffled sound from the corridor. The two wizards exchanged a meaningful glance .
. . . whumm . . . whummWHUMM.
The Bursar held his breath.
The Archchancellor peered at the hourglass on the mantelpiece. 'It's doin' it every five minutes now,' he said.
'And it's up to three shots,' said the Bursar. 'I'll have to order some more sandbags.'
He flicked through a heap of paper. A word caught his eye.
He glanced at the handwriting that flowed across the page. It had a very small, cramped, deliberate look. Someone had told him that this was because Numbers Riktor had been an anal retentive. The Bursar didn't know what that meant, and hoped never to find out.
Another word was: Measurement. His gaze drifted upwards, and took in the underlined title: Some Notes on the Objective Measurement of Reality.
Over the page was a diagram. The Bursar stared at it.
'Found anything?' said the Archchancellor, without looking up.
The Bursar shoved the paper up the sleeve of his robe.
'Nothing important,' he said. Down below, the surf boomed on the beach. ( . . . and below the surface, the lobsters walked backwards along the deep, drowned streets . . . )
Victor threw another piece of driftwood on to the fire. It burned blue with salt.
'I don't understand her,' he said. 'Yesterday she was quite normal, today it's all gone to her head.'
'Bitches!' said Gaspode, sympathetically.
'Oh, I wouldn't go that far,' said Victor. 'She's just aloof.'
'Loofs!' said Gaspode.
'That's what intelligence does for your sex life,' said Don't-call-me-Mr-Thumpy. 'Rabbits never have that sort of trouble. Go, Sow, Thank You Doe.'
'You could try offering her a moushe,' said the cat. 'Preshent company exchepted, of course,' it added guiltily, trying to avoid Definitely-Not-Squeak's glare.
'Being intelligent hasn't done my social life any favours, either,' said Mr Thumpy bitterly. 'A week ago, no prob lems. Now suddenly I want to make conversation, and all they do is sit there wrinklin' their noses at you. You feel a right idiot.'
There was a strangulated quacking.
'The duck says, have you done anything about the book?' said Gaspode.
'I had a look at it when we broke for lunch,' said Victor.
There was another irritable quack.
'The duck says, yes, but what have you done about it?' said Gaspode.
'Look, I can't go all the way to Ankh-Morpork just like that,' snapped Victor. 'It takes hours! We film all day as it is!'
'Ask for a day off,' said Mr Thumpy.
'No-one asks for a day off in Holy Wood!' said Victor. 'I've been fired once, thank you.'
'And he took you on again at more money,' said Gaspode. 'Funny, that.' He scratched an ear. 'Tell him your contract says you can have a day off.'
'I haven't got a contract. You know that. You work, you get paid. It's simple.'
'Yeah,' said Gaspode. 'Yeah. Yeah? A verbal contract. It's simple. I like it.'
Towards the end of the night Detritus the troll lurked awkwardly in the shadows by the back door of the Blue Lias. Strange passions had wracked his body all day. Every time he'd shut his eyes he kept seeing a figure shaped like a small hillock. He had to face up to it. Detritus was in love.
Yes, he'd spent many years in Ankh-Morpork hitting people for money. Yes, it had been a friendless, brutalizing life. And a lonely one, too. He'd been resigned to an old-age of bitter bachelorhood and suddenly, now, Holy Wood was handing him a chance he'd never dreamed of.
He'd been strictly brought up and he could dimly remember the lecture he'd been given by his father when he was a young troll. If you saw a girl you liked, you didn't just rush at her. There were proper ways to go about things.
He'd gone down to the beach and found a rock. But not any old rock. He'd searched carefully, and found a large sea-smoothed one with veins of pink and white quartz. Girls liked that sort of thing. Now he waited, shyly, for her to finish work.
He tried to think of what he would say. No-one had ever told him what to say. It wasn't as if he was a smart troll like Rock or Morry, who had a way with words. Basically, he'd never needed much of what you might call a vocabulary. He kicked despondently at the sand. What chance did he have with a smart lady like her?
There was a thump of heavy feet, and the door opened. The object of desire stepped out into the night and took a deep breath, which had the same effect on Detritus as an ice cube down the neck. He gave his rock a panicky look. It didn't seem anything like big enough now, when you saw the size of her. But maybe it was what you did with it that mattered.
Well, this was it. They said you never forgot your first time . . .
He wound up his arm with the rock in it and hit her squarely between the eyes. That's when it all started to go wrong.
Tradition said that the girl, when she was able to focus again, and if the rock was of an acceptable standard, should immediately be amenable to whatever the troll suggested, i.e., a candle-lit human for two, although of course that sort of thing wasn't done any more now, at least if there was any chance of being caught.
She shouldn't narrow her eyes and catch him a ding across the ear that made his eyeballs rattle.
'You stupid troll!' she shouted, as Detritus staggered around in a circle. 'What you do that for? You think I unsophisticated girl just off mountain? Why you not do it right?'
'But, but,' Detritus began, in terror at her rage, 'I not able to ask father permission to hit you, not know where he living-'
Ruby drew herself up haughtily.
'All that old-fashioned stuff very uncultured now,' she sniffed. 'It's not the modern way. I not interested in any troll', she added, 'that not up-to-date. A rock on the head may be quite sentimental,' she went on, the certainty draining out of her voice as she surveyed the sentence ahead of her, 'but diamonds are a girl's best friend.' She hesitated. That didn't sound right, even to her.
It certainly puzzled Detritus.
'What? You want I should knock my teeth out?' he said.
'Well, all right, not diamonds,' Ruby conceded. 'But there proper modern ways now. You got to court a girl.'
Detritus brightened. 'Ah, but I-' he began.
'That's court, not caught,' said Ruby wearily. 'You got to, to, to-' She paused.
She wasn't all that sure what you had to do. But Ruby had spent some weeks in Holy Wood, and if Holy Wood did anything, it changed things; in Holy Wood she'd plugged into a vast cross-species female freemasonry she hadn't suspected existed, and she was learning fast. She'd talked at length to sympathetic human girls. And dwarfs. Even dwarfs had better courtship rituals, for gods' sake. And what humans got up to was amazing.
Whereas all a female troll had to look forward to was a quick thump on the head and the rest of her life subduing and cooking anything the male dragged back to the cave.
Well, there were going to be changes. Next time Ruby went home the troll mountains were going to receive their biggest shake-up since the last continental collision. In the meantime, she was going to start with her own life.
She waved a massive hand in a vague way.
'You got to, to sing outside a girl's window,' she said, 'and, and you got to give her oograah.'
'Yeah. Pretty oograah.'
Detritus scratched his head.
'Why?' he said.
Ruby looked panicky for a moment. She also couldn't for the life of her imagine why the handing over of inedible vegetation was so important, but she wasn't about to admit it.
'Fancy you not knowing that,' she said scathingly.
The sarcasm was lost on Detritus. Most things were.
'Right,' he said. 'I not so uncultured as you think,' he added. 'I bang up to date. You wait and see.'
Hammering filled the air. Buildings were spreading backwards from the nameless main street into the dunes. No-one owned any land in Holy Wood; if it was empty, you built on it.
Dibbler had two offices now. There was one where he shouted at people, and a bigger one just outside it where people shouted at each other. Soll shouted at handlemen. Handlemen shouted at alchemists. Demons wandered over every flat surface and drowned in the coffee cups and shouted at one another. A couple of experimental green parrots shouted at themselves. People wearing odd bits of costume wandered in and just shouted. Silverfish shouted because he couldn't quite work out why he now had a desk in the outer office even though he owned the studio.
Gaspode sat stolidly by the door to the inner office. In the past five minutes he had attracted one half-hearted kick, a soggy biscuit and a pat on the head. He reckoned he was ahead of the game, dogwise.
He was trying to listen to all the conversations at once. It was extremely instructive. For one thing, some of the people coming in and shouting were carrying bags of money . . .
The shout had come from the inner office. Gaspode cocked the other ear.
'I, er, want a day off, Mr Dibbler,' said Victor.
'A day off? You don't want to work?'
'Just for the day, Mr Dibbler.'
'But you don't think I'm going to go around paying people to have days off, do you? I'm not trade of money, you know. It's not as if we make a profit, even. Hold a crossbow to my head, why don't you.'
Gaspode looked at the bags in front of Soll, who was furiously adding up piles of coins. He raised a cynical eyebrow.
There was a pause. Oh, no, thought Gaspode. The young idiot's forgetting his lines.