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tower of light

April 2017

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Nil mortifi, sine lucre

Note to self: NEED TO ATTEND THIS.
The North American Discworld Convention
July 8 - 11, 2011
Madison, WI
Guest of Honor: Sir Terry Pratchett

Excerpts from Pyramids on the Assassin's Guild. God, I love that place.

There had been more than seventy of them enrolling that year. The Assassins didn't have a very strenuous entrance examination; the school was easy to get into, easy to get out of (the trick was to get out upright). The courtyard in the centre of the Guild buildings was thronged with boys who all had two things in common - overlarge trunks, which they were sitting on, and clothes that had been selected for them to grow into, and which they were more or less sitting in. Some optimists had brought weapons with them, which were confiscated and sent home over the next few weeks.


Masters moved among the boys like damp and slightly scruffy blackbirds, but he was eyeing a group of older students lolling near the pillared entrance to the school. They also wore black - different colours of black.

That was his first introduction to the tertiary colours, the colours on the far side of blackness, the colours that you get if you split blackness with an eight-sided prism. They are also almost impossible to describe in a non-magical environment, but if someone were to try they'd probably start by telling you to smoke something illegal and take a good look at a starling's wing. The seniors were critically inspecting the new arrivals.

Teppic stared at them. Apart from the colours, their clothes were cut off the edge of the latest fashion, which was currently inclining towards wide hats, padded shoulders, narrow waists and pointed shoes and gave its followers the appearance of being very well-dressed nails.

I'm going to be like them, he told himself.

Although probably better dressed, he added.

He recalled Uncle Vyrt, sitting out on the steps overlooking the Djel on one of his brief, mysterious visits. 'Satin and leather are no good. Or jewellery of any kind. You can't have anything that will shine or squeak or clink. Stick to rough silk or velvet. The important thing is not how many people you inhume, it's how many fail to inhume you.'



Teppic looked up. There was a senior assassin standing beside him, with a purple teaching sash over his robes. It was the first assassin he'd seen, apart from Vyrt. The man was pleasant enough. You could imagine him making sausages.

'Are you talking to me?' he said.

'You will stand up when you address a master,' said the rosy face.

'I will?' Teppic was fascinated. He wondered how this could be achieved. Discipline had not hitherto been a major feature in his life. Most of his tutors had been sufficiently unnerved by the sight of the king occasionally perched on top of a door that they raced through such lessons as they had and then locked themselves in their rooms.

'I will sir,' said the teacher. He consulted the list in his hand.

'What is your name, boy?' he continued.

'Prince Pteppic of the Old Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Sun,' said Teppic easily. 'I appreciate you are ignorant of the etiquette, but you should not call me sir, and you should touch the ground with your forehead when you address me.'

'Pateppic, is it?' said the master.

'No. Pteppic.'

'Ah. Teppic,' said the master, and ticked off a name on his list. He gave Teppic a generous smile.

'Well, now, your majesty,' he said, 'I am Grunworth Nivor, your housemaster. You are in Viper House. To my certain knowledge there are at least eleven Kingdoms of the Sun on the Disc and, before the end of the week, you will present me with a short essay detailing their geographical location, political complexion, capital city or principal seat of government, and a suggested route into the bed- chamber of the head of state of your choice. However, in all the world there is only one Viper House. Good morning to you, boy.'

He turned away and homed in on another cowering pupil. 'He's not a bad sort,' said a voice behind Teppic. 'Anyway, all the stuffs in the library. I'll show you if you like. I'm Chidder.

Teppic turned. He was being addressed by a boy of about his own age and height, whose black suit - plain black, for First Years - looked as though it had been nailed on to him in bits. The youth was holding out a hand. Teppic gave it a polite glance.

'Yes?' he said.

'What's your name, kiddo?'

Teppic drew himself up. He was getting fed up with this treatment. 'Kiddo? I'll have you know the blood of pharaohs runs in my veins!'

The other boy looked at him unabashed, with his head on one side and a faint smile on his face.

'Would you like it to stay there?' he said.


Octeday afternoons was Political Expediency with Lady T'malia, one of the few women to achieve high office in the Guild. In the lands around the Circle Sea it was generally agreed that one way to achieve a long life was not to have a meal with her Ladyship. The jewellery of one hand alone carried enough poison to inhume a small town. She was stunningly beautiful, but with the kind of calculated beauty that is achieved by a team of skilled artists, manicurists, plasterers, corsetiers and dressmakers and three hours' solid work every morning. When she walked there was a faint squeak of whalebone under incredible stress.

The boys were learning. As she talked they didn't watch her figure. They watched her fingers.

'And thus,' she said, 'let us consider the position before the founding of the Guild. In this city, and indeed in many places elsewhere, civilisation is nurtured and progresses by the dynamic interplay of interests among many large and powerful advantage cartels.

'In the days before the founding of the Guild the seeking of advancement among these consortia invariably resulted in regrettable disagreements which were terminated with extreme prejudice. These were extremely deleterious to the common interest of the city. Please understand that where disharmony rules, commerce flags.

'And yet, and yet.' She clasped her hands to her bosom. There was a creak like a galleon beating against a gale.

'Clearly there was a need for an extreme yet responsible means of settling irreconcilable differences,' she went on, 'and thus was laid the groundwork for the Guild. What bliss - ' the sudden peak in her voice guiltily jerked several dozen young men out of their private reveries - 'it must have been to have been present in those early days, when men of stout moral purpose set out to forge the ultimate political tool short of warfare. How fortunate you are now, in training for a guild which demands so much in terms of manners, deportment, bearing and esoteric skills, and yet offers a power once the preserve only of the gods. Truly, the world is the mollusc of your choice...'


A thumb pressed against two fingers, and the lean figure of Dr Cruces, head tutor, looming over the startled boys. 'We do not murder,' he said. It was a soft voice; the doctor never raised his voice, but he had a way of giving it the pitch and spin that could make it be heard through a hurricane. 'We do not execute. We do not massacre. We never, you may be very certain, we never torture. We have no truck with crimes of passion or hatred or pointless gain. We do not do it for a delight in inhumation, or to feed some secret inner need, or for petty advantage or for some cause or belief; I tell you, gentlemen, that all these reasons are in the highest degree suspect. Look into the face of a man who will kill you for a belief and your nostrils will snuff up the scent of abomination. Hear a speech declaring a holy war and, I assure you, your ears should catch the click of evil's scales and the dragging of its monstrous tail over the purity of the language.

'No, we do it for the money.

'And, because we above all must know the value of a human life, we do it for a great deal of money.

'There can be few cleaner motives, so shorn of all pretence.

'Nil mortifi, sine lucre. Remember. No killing without payment.'

He paused for a moment.

'And always give a reciept,' he added.