Interesting Times

Free Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Book: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett Read Free Book Online
Authors: Terry Pratchett
Tags: Fantasy:Humour
land of opportunity,” said Cohen, urging the horse into a trot. The embarrassed free men jogged behind. “Know what? Swords are banned. No one except the army, the nobles and the Imperial Guard are allowed to own weapons. Couldn’t believe it! Gods’ own truth, though. Swords are outlawed, so only outlaws have swords. And that ,” said Cohen, giving the landscape another glittering grin, “suits me fine.”
    “But…you were in chains…” Rincewind ventured.
    “Glad you reminded me,” said Cohen. “Yeah. We’ll find the rest of the lads, then I’d better try and find who did it and talk to them about that.”
    The tone of his voice suggested very clearly that all they were likely to say would be, “Highly enjoyable! Your wife is a big hippo!”
    “Lads?”
    “No future in one-man barbarianing,” said Cohen. “Got myself a…Well, you’ll see.”
    Rincewind turned to look at the trailing party, and at the snow, and at Cohen.
    “Er. Do you know where Hunghung is?”
    “Yeah. It’s the boss city. We’re on our way. Sort of. It’s under siege right now.”
    “Siege? You mean like…lots of armies outside, everyone inside eating rats, that sort of thing?”
    “Yeah, but this is the Counterweight Continent, see, so it’s a polite siege. Well, I call it a siege…The old Emperor’s dying, so the big families are all waiting to move in. That’s how it goes in these parts. There’s five different top nobs and they’re all watching one another, and no one’s going to be the first to move. You’ve got to think sideways to understand anything in this place.”
    “Cohen?”
    “Yes, lad?”
    “What the hell’s going on?”

    Lord Hong was watching the tea ceremony. It took three hours, but you couldn’t hurry a good cuppa.
    He was also playing chess, against himself. It was the only way he could find an opponent of his calibre but, currently, things were stalemated because both sides were adopting a defensive strategy which was, admittedly, brilliant.
    Lord Hong sometimes wished he could have an enemy as clever as himself. Or, because Lord Hong was indeed very clever, he sometimes wished for an enemy almost as clever as himself, one perhaps given to flights of strategic genius with nevertheless the occasional fatal flaw. As it was, people were so stupid . They seldom thought more than a dozen moves ahead.
    Assassination was meat and drink to the Hunghung court; in fact, meat and drink were often the means. It was a game that everyone played. It was just another kind of move. It was not considered good manners to assassinate the Emperor, of course. The correct move was to put the Emperor in a position where you had control. But moves at this level were very dangerous; happy as the warlords were to squabble amongst themselves, they could be relied upon to unite against any who looked in danger of rising above the herd. And Lord Hong had risen like bread, by making everyone else believe that, while they were the obvious candidate for the Emperorship, Lord Hong would be better than any of the alternatives.
    It amused him to know that they thought he was plotting for the Imperial pearl…
    He glanced up from the board and caught the eye of the young woman who was busy at the tea table. She blushed and looked away.
    The door slid back. One of his men entered, on his knees.
    “Yes?” said Lord Hong.
    “Er…o lord…”
    Lord Hong sighed. People seldom began like this when the news was good.
    “What happened?” he said.
    “The one they call the Great Wizard arrived, o lord. Up in the mountains. Riding on a dragon of wind. Or so they say,” the messenger added quickly, aware of Lord Hong’s views about superstition.
    “Good. But? I assume there is a but.”
    “Er…one of the Barking Dogs has been lost. The new batch? That you commanded should be tested? We don’t quite…that is to say…we think Captain Three High Trees was ambushed, perhaps…our information is somewhat confused…the, um, the

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