The Rumor spread through the city like wildfire (which had quite often spread through Ankh-Morpork since its citizens had learned the words "fire insurance").The dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...
It buzzed through the fetid air of the Alchemists' quarter, where they had been trying to do the same thing for centuries without success but were certain that they'd manage it by tomorrow, or next Tuesday at least, or the end of the month for definite.
It caused speculation among the wizards at Unseen University, where they knew you could turn one element into another element, provided you didn't mind it turning back again next day, and where was the good in that? Besides, most elements were happy where they were.
It seared into the scarred, puffy, and sometimes totally missing ears of the Thieves' Guild, where people put an edge on their crowbars. Who cared where the gold came from?
The dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...
It reached the cold but incredibly acute ears of the Patrician, and it did that fairly quickly, because you did not stay ruler of Ankh-Morpork for long if you were second with the news. He sighed and made a note of it, and added it to a lot of other notes.
The dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...
It reached the pointy ears of the dwarfs.
"Damned if I know. I can't."
"Yeah, but if you could, you wouldn't say. I wouldn't say, if I could."
It came to the ears of the night watch of the city guards, as they did gate duty at ten o'clock on an icy night. Gate duty in Ankh-Morpork was not taxing. It consisted mainly of waving through anything that wanted to go through, although traffic was minimal in the dark and freezing fog.
They hunched in the shelter of the gate arch, sharing one damp cigarette.
"You can't turn something into something else," said Corporal Nobbs. "The Alchemists have been trying it for years."
"They a can gen'rally turn a house into a hole in the ground," said Sergeant Colon.
"That's what I'm talking about," said Corporal Nobbs. "Can't be done. It's all to do with ... elements. An alchemist told me. Everything's made up of elements, right? Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and ... sunnink. Well-known fact. Everything's got 'em all mixed up just right."
He stamped his feet in an effort to get some warmth into them.
"If it was possible to turn lead into gold, everyone'd be doing it," he said.
"Wizards could do it," said Sergeant Colon.
"Oh, well, magic," said Nobby dismissively.
A large cart rumbled out of the yellow clouds and entered the arch, splashing Colon as it wobbled through one of the puddles that were such a feature of Ankh-Morpork's highways.
"Bloody dwarfs," he said, as it continued on into the city. But he didn't say it too loudly.
"There were a lot of them pushing that cart," said Corporal Nobbs reflectively. It lurched slowly around a comer and was lost to view.
"Prob'ly all that gold," said Colon.
"Hah. Yeah. That'd be it, then."
And the rumor came to the ears of William de Worde, and in a sense it stopped there, because he dutifully wrote it down.
It was his job. Lady Margolotta of Uberwald sent him five dollars a month to do it. The Dowager Duchess of Quirm also sent him five dollars. So did King Verence of Lancre, and a few other Ramtop notables. So did the Seriph of AI-Khali, although in this case the payment was half a cartload of figs, twice a year.
All in all, he considered, he was onto a good thing. All he had to do was write one letter very carefully, trace it backwards onto a piece of boxwood provided for him by Mr. Cripslock, the engraver in the Street of Cunning Artificers, and then pay Mr. Cripslock twenty dollars to carefully remove the wood that wasn't letters and make five impressions on sheets of paper.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Terry Pratchett. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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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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