"Yes, but there's a limit, sir," said the hangman, annoyed at this breach of etiquette. "Otherwise you could go ah, er, um for days! Short and sweet, sir, that's the style."
"Right, right," said Moist. "Er ... oh, look, see that man there?
Waving at you?"
The hangman glanced down at the clerk, who'd struggled to the front of the crowd.
"I bring a message from Lord Vetinari!" the man shouted.
"Right!" said Moist.
"He says to get on with it, it's long past dawn!" said the clerk.
"Oh," said Moist, staring at the black coach. That damn Vetinari had a warder's sense of humor, too.
"Come on, Mr. Spangler, you don't want me to get into trouble, do you?" said the hangman, patting him on the shoulder. "Just a few words, and then we can all get on with our lives. Present company excepted, obviously."
So this was it. It was, in some strange way, rather liberating. You didn't have to fear the worst that could happen anymore, because this was it, and it was nearly over. The warder had been right. What you had to do in this life was get past the pineapple, Moist told himself. It was big and sharp and knobbly, but there might be peaches underneath. It was a myth to five by and so, right now, totally useless.
"In that case," said Moist von Lipwig, "I commend my soul to any god that can find it."
"Nice, said the hangman and pulled the lever.
Alfred Spangler died.
It was generally agreed that they had been good last words.
"AH, MR. UPWIG," said a distant voice, getting closer. "I ~~ see you are awake. And still alive, at the present time."
There was a slight inflection to that last phrase, which told Moist that the length of the present time was entirely in the gift of the speaker.
He opened his eyes. He was sitting in a comfortable chair. At a desk opposite him, sitting with his hands steepled reflectively in front of his pursed lips, was Lord Havelock Vetinari, under whose idiosyncratically despotic rule Ankh-Morpork had become the city where, for some reason, everyone wanted to live.
An ancient animal sense also told Moist that other people were standing behind the comfortable chair, and that it could be extremely uncomfortable should he make any sudden movements. But they couldn't be as terrible as the thin, black-robed man with the fussy little beard and the pianist's hands, who was watching him.
"Shall I tell you about angels, Mr. Lipwig?" said the Patrician pleasantly. "I know two interesting facts about them."
Moist grunted. There were no obvious escape routes in front of him, and turning around was out of the question. His neck ached horribly.
"Oh, yes. You were hanged," said Vetinari. "A very precise science, hanging. Mr. Trooper is a master. The slippage and thickness of the rope, whether the knot is placed here rather than there, the relationship between weight and distance ... oh, I'm sure the man could write a book. You were hanged to within half an inch of your life, I understand. Only an expert standing right next to you would have spotted that, and in this case the expert was our friend Mr. Trooper. No, Albert Spangler is dead, Mr. Lipwig. Three hundred people would swear they saw him die." He leaned forward. "And so, appropriately, it is of angels I wish to talk to you now."
Moist managed a grunt.
"The first interesting thing about angels, Mr. Lipwig, is that sometimes, very rarely, at a point in a man's career where he has made such a foul and tangled mess of his life that death appears to be the only sensible option, an angel appears to him, or, 1 should say, unto him, and offers him a chance to go back to the moment when it all went wrong, and this time do it right. Mr. Lipwig, I should like you to think of me as ... an angel."
From Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. Copyright Terry Pratchett 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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