Fan Fiction : Discworld : A Bedtyme Storye

A Bedtyme Storye

Ian Goble listen_hear at rogers dot com

Being the true Hiſtory of that whych hath puzzled the ſeveral thees three Centuryes Paſt.

In the museum of the Assassins' Guild, a worn and ancient child's toy holds pride of place among the many trophies and treasures of precious and finely worked metals. All students are aware of the question it raises, but the answer has never been revealed.

Chapter 1

Baron von Wendletreppe-Steckenpferd [1] rode through the gate of Schloss Steckenpferd at a stately walk with his bloody lance aloft and a streak of blood on his forehead. The hunt had been successful, a glorious day even though his best enemy Freiherr Ignaz von und zu Sumpffäule had also killed a boar. It was not, den Göttern sei Dank, as big as the Baron's. A groom stood ready to hold his horse, a footman held a tankard of mulled wine on a salver and from the castle kitchens wafted the aromas of a sumptuous dinner. It could have been a perfect day, except that now he was going to have to listen to his chamberlain, old Friedrich, rattle on about etiquette and politics and the meddling bore would probably want him to take a bath, verrückter alter kakker!

The nearly perfect day would be spoiled by a visitor from Ankh-Morpork, a mincing snob in a powdered wig and silk stockings, surely. The Baron had never been so far from the valley of the Alte river as to meet an actual Morporkian before, but he had firm opinions about the pantywaists around the Circle Sea. The Baron had firm opinions about almost everything, regardless of any actual information. Business sometimes had to be done, unfortunately, and it was never so pressing as when it might be lost to that verdammt_ Sumpffäule.

"Please Baron! Not just to make a good impression on the Morporkian importer's agent, but for the reputation of your family and the country, you must not receive dinner guests while smelling of, well, your pardon, Baron, but pigs and horses are only the beginning…." The lean old chamberlain wrung his hands. "The fashion in Ankh-Morpork calls for fastidious cleanliness in the higher orders of society, despite surroundings which must make this extremely difficult. Why, King Lorenzo is known to bathe every day, and change his linen even more often."

"And likes his little boys scrubbed pink, too, no doubt", retorted the Baron, who did have some solid intelligence about goings-on in the great city, "the deviant swine [2]. But I shall, for family and country, and lest I lose to that louse Ignaz, risk my health and soak in water and caustic chemicals and cause no offense to the Morporkian ponce." And he went with a footman, having no more use for a valet than a bear for a bidet, to the place of ablution.

When he emerged, shades paler, dressed in clean finery which might have been the height of fashion in Schmaltzberg twenty years before and smelling of strong soap, he found Friedrich with a fresh horror: papers. Perhaps the one thing that made Friedrich essential to Schloss Steckenpferd and the Baronial estate was the ability to read and write. Literacy was not considered an important skill for the nobility like, say, swordsmanship or a fine seat on a horse; it could be hired. Keeping the money flowing in to maintain the castle and the stables and the hunting preserves meant doing business, however, and business was done on paper with distant places like Ankh-Morpork.

"Baron, I have considered the Morporkian offer for spruce and birch timber from the higher areas of your estates, and consulted with young Jürgen and we feel that you can expect no better offer", the old man proclaimed. "In fact, I suggest you attempt to curry favor with the gentleman and do your utmost to complete a contract; the price is more than fair."

Ankh-Morpork lay at the foot of the Sto Plains, which had been deforested long ages ago, but a large city with wide commercial and military interests needed timber both for local building and manufacturing as well as for shipbuilding. Some came from the Cutshade Forest, less from the Morpork mountains; the forest of Skund was useless for multiple reasons. Resources from farther afield were becoming necessary and the city was wealthy enough to pay.

As the sun began to set, a horn announced a carriage at the gate and this soon deposited a figure wrapped against the impending chill of an autumn evening in a black cloak and a wide black hat, with a small trunk bound in black leather. "Baron! I believe Herr Safrantal has arrived. Will you come to greet him in the hall"? "Safrantal! Scheiße! A pansy from the valley of flowers! Oh well, money calls!"

Chapter 2

The visitor, unwrapped from the great cloak, did indeed wear a peruke in the city style and silk stockings, but the wig was not powdered, nor ostentatiously tall. It was glossy black, and his suit blacker and glossier yet, the stockings of a dove grey. The only touch of color about his person was the deep and expensive-looking purple of his neckpiece and the matching handkerchief trailing from his sleeve. "Velcome, Sir Safrantal, it iss ze honor of Schloss Steckenpferd in greeting you to…." Herr Safrantal raised a hand. "Please, meinherr, permit me to exercise my limited Überwaldean while I enjoy the opportunity and your gracious hospitality", he interjected in a High Überwaldean accent that reminded Friedrich of elocution lessons in his youth at the University of Bugs (and made his master sound like a retarded stablehand). Friedrich was nonplussed for the first time in forty years; even the Baron was impressed.

This Safrantal was a slight and beardless youth, imposing only in his elegant dress and manner. Friedrich guessed he was little older than twenty-one. The Baron felt he was confirmed in his expectation of an effete limpwrist. He was a pale, indoor, salon-based, tea-drinking sample of soft city living; the Baron could pick him up and throw him some distance with one hand.

All the same, the incautious lasted no longer in Überwald than in lower Morpork, and Friedrich showed the visitor to a bedroom accompanied by two "footmen" who might have left careers in the army or perhaps prize-fighting. Safrantal was frisked thoroughly, with profound apologies from Friedrich, and relieved of a knife inside his coat. The only surprise there was that that was all he carried for a long and hazardous journey. A little later, a minute search of his trunk revealed only an amazing lack of anything resembling a weapon.

As soon as Safrantal had refreshed his already impeccable person, dinner was served. Here, at least, rural Überwald competed with cosmopolitan Ankh-Morpork: tenderloin of wild boar (not the morning's, of course, but well-hung) on fragrant red cabbage with smoky bacon, cloud-fluffy spaetzle, sweet white wine golden with age that rivalled Quirm's best, local and imported cheeses with powerful, sweet red wine from the banks of the Vieux, fruits and nuts from Brindisi with ancient brandy….

The evening wore on into the night and the Baron, plying the proposed source of wealth with food and, especially, drink, was becoming a little inebriated himself: stinking drunk, not to put too fine a point on it. His guest, who appeared to have enjoyed every bottle and cask as much as his host, continued in eloquent and witty discourse. Steckenpferd, never the sharpest saber in the battle, was having trouble keeping up and advancing boredom promoted more drinking until he lurched to his feet and, with no great courtesy, staggered off to bed.

"Please excuse the Baron, sir," the chamberlain apologised, "he has had a long day. Perhaps you would like to retire as well? I am sure your journey was also tiring. Allow me to see you to your chamber and then attend to the Master."

The door closed behind him and Hector Croydon, Esq. stood very still, listening. Footsteps to the left, six, seven, eight, nine….bless the great nailed boots everyone in this country seemed to wear….fourteen. Only two doors away. The door groaned and the Baron's voice rumbled in a drunken complaint about something missing. Consonants were muffled in the echoing hall…."wo is es?", or "wo is er? Where is …. muggle?, buggle? vuggle?…. some regional, rural word? Friedrich's faint voice was an unintelligible sigh from that range until he called much more loudly: "here he is, Baron!" The nearest thing to a squeal possible for a sixteen-stone, bearded, forty-three-year-old ruffian followed, and after another whisper from the chamberlain the door closed with a double thud. That would be a bar falling after the door closed, across a door nearly three inches thick in a stone wall. "Fairly defensible from this side" thought Croydon. He hadn't expected to just walk in.

That was why he was slightly delayed as he did a perimeter of the castle, counting the windows, noting some other features and estimating the overall size. The coach and driver and one or two other items of support had been provided by the client. Almost always, an Assassin takes complete charge of a commission and the client has only to pay quite lot of money, and sit back. This far back in the woods, Croydon needed means of escape and the only reliable source was the client.

Chapter 3

Hector Croydon was the youngest son of Aeneas Croydon, landowner and snuff magnate, who was the wealthiest man widdershins of Ankh. His eldest son Agamemnon was sent to the College of the Royal Guild of Assassins to add some society gloss to the mere vulgar wealth old Aeneas had accumulated in the Royal Bank. Agamemnon was a strapping lad, over six feet, well-muscled and athletic. He had some difficulty with the academic program and more with the requirement to play a musical instrument, but speed and strength got him through to graduation in 1682. His younger brother Ulysses (Croydon Medius) was another case altogether. Ulysses was quick, clever, witty, the pride and terror of his masters at mathematics and philosophy. He was a bit uncoordinated, and his fencing was not easy to watch, but intelligence got him around his deficiencies and he graduated in 1684, fully capable of planning a great inhumation, at least.

Hector, the third son, played sports like most boys and rode well enough, but he wasn't the athlete his eldest brother was. He read a bit and got through his lessons with decent marks, though he didn't dazzle like his intellectual sibling Ulysses. He followed into the College (as Croydon Minimus), and proceeded almost unnoticed to graduation in May, 1687.

Five days later Agamemnon accepted his first commission since the unfortunate encounter with the guardian geese. It was for a minor Überwaldean nobleman, but at a good price, considering the long and hazardous journey just to get there. Too hazardous: in a mountain pass he found the path blocked by a dragon [3]. Quickly spying a missing scale on the monster's breast, Agamemnon drew his sword and charged, whereupon the dragon crushed him under foot like a cigar butt.

Several weeks later word returned to Filigree Street of his fate. The client's agent wished to commission another attempt; this was arranged at a fifty percent increase in the fee, since it seemed to be an unusually dangerous assignment. Croydon Medius was given the opportunity to restore the family reputation. Ulysses set off to outwit dragon and commission and in the same mountain pass he met the same dragon. The clever brother knew that dragons were naturally loquacious and fond of riddles and he sought to bamboozle the beast and talk his way around. The dragon did speak five languages, but sadly they were all dialects of Dragon [5]. The beast soon grew tired of the yammering and flamed him to a cinder.

Late in August it appeared that another attempt had failed. The client was very keen on another try, even at twice the original amount, and Croydon Minimus, newly graduated and untried, was called to the Guild registry.

He set out on the quest on the first of Spune, with only the idea that the inhumation would have to be one of opportunity. He would be alone in strange country and likely watched fairly warily. In the mountain pass, of course, he met the same dragon. He tossed it a lump of coal and a bottle of strong brandy, and when it fell asleep he passed by and came to the valley of the Alte.

Chapter 4

Hector listened until the footsteps disappeared down the stairs. Then he discarded his coat, peruke and shoes. From his trunk he took his "bedroom slippers", with the very thin, tough, and adhesive soles, veterans of many wall climbs and Wall Games. A rug unravelled into a useful length of light rope and wound around his waist. Metal trunk fittings turned into pitons (not sporting, and he didn't expect to need them, but better safe….). Out the window and across the wall like a spider; they did harder walls in fourth form, he thought. This one was so rough it could be called steps.

A faint light flickered in the second window over, a single candle. From within issued a snore that the dragon could only have hoped to match. The window was open to the chilly night; not even a latch to slip or a pane to break. The least Croydon listened for a full minute, gauging the sincerity of the snore and the possibility of anyone else in the room. Over the sill and down without a sound, he crept around the great carved bedstead. He nearly guffawed, and had to relieve the hilarity under the tension in a faint hissing sound of escaping mirth.

The Baron von Wendeltreppe-Steckenpferd, mighty hunter, bulky, grizzled and ferocious, lay flat on his back, mouth agape, snoring like a demon and clutching a golden-brown plush Fozzie Bear [6] in his left arm. It had a gold earring and a sort of shirt on and looked well-worn. An idea formed in the young Assassin's mind. He had no effective weapon to dispatch the Baron quietly, and if the object of the commission awoke there could be noise, at least. Hector didn't like his chances if the Baron actually got a grip on him. The open mouth however, riveted his attention: plug it, and vocal response was removed while the adversary's attention was violently re-directed to the fundamental imperative of breathing. A cloth tube stuffed with straw, inserted with some force, it seemed to Hector, could achieve the multiple objectives the situation imposed.

The least Croydon eased the bear away from the inert body and drove its arm in one twisting thrust down the gaping maw of the sleeping ogre….erm, Baron and all hells broke loose. The Baron's first reaction on his violent awakening was to bite the arm off; the natural swallowing motion that accompanied the violent bite naturally engorged the arm further. Hector hung on while the great ursine body thrashed and convulsed for one minute and fifty-two seconds and then it was still.

Another minute's observation confirmed that the mass on the bed was definitely an erstwhile Baron. Hector looked at the mutilated bear. Its short-sleeved, T-shaped shirt bore the faded name "Herr Wuggle"; its eyes, uniquely, were asquint [7]. He stuffed the bear/evidence/trophy/dining-out-for- years ticket in his waistband and went down the wall like a trickle of water. The horse and the saddlebags provided by Freiherr Sumpffäule were waiting a mile and a half away and by dawn the valley of the Alte wist not of Croydon Minimus.

Chapter 5

It was customary for a graduate completing his first successful commission to take sherry and approbation with the Master of the Guild in his study. When Hector had expressed his gratitude and presented the Guild with an unusual trophy, a well-worn brown plush stuffed bear missing one arm, and closed the door behind him, the Master opened a great ledger and made a few notes. Then he replaced the sherry in the tantalus and poured himself a large, old, and costly brandy and leaned back in his chair. Students and graduates who had known him for years might have been amazed to see the smile on his face spread into a grin.

For the Master knew the story, and he knew that he knew the story because it was true so often. When three brothers of different strengths and weaknesses set out on a task or quest, the eldest often fails due to some basic fault, and perhaps overconfidence. The second brother is expected to fail for a different reason, but fail he should. If the older brothers fail, now, the youngest brother is assured of success and great rewards (including but not limited to princesses and rivers of gold). This is a well-known fact.

The Master had therefore been able to double the commission price, eliminate two incompetent and embarrassing "courtesy" assassins, and acquire a legend, with mascot, to inspire future generations. He hadn't been so pleased with himself in thirty years. "No more purchased licenses. Let them come and pay their tuition but they can study and take their chances. The slow and the stupid and the rash can die trying, or go back to Sto Baggidge or wherever they came from, but there won't be any more unfit graduates." He raised his snifter to the empty room.

"Vos Morituri, Salutamus!"

  1. Wendletreppe-Steckenpferd, by the way, translates to "spiral staircase-hobbyhorse". Make of this what you will; I only report. Go back to 1
  2. The Baron was not alone in his estimation of King Lorenzo the Kind. The following Grune Lorenzo was due to be deposed by the Ironheads and terminated by Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes (with extreme prejudice. And an axe.) Go back to 2
  3. This was in fact the last of its kind and the same one eventually killed(4) by Codice of Chimera. Go back to 3
  4. By feeding it a damsel laced with saltpeter. There was dragon everywhere. Go back to 4
  5. Consisting mainly of of burning questions, scathing comments, searing wit and hot gossip. Go back to 5
  6. So-called after King Fosdick the Limp, who disdained the dust and effort of hunting (or getting off his couch, for that matter), but would now and then have a bear cub staked outside his bedroom window where he might shoot it with a crossbow. Go back to 6
  7. Walleyed bears are very unusual; cross-eyed bears have been described. Go back to 7

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