“Your daughter could do with more iron in her diet.”
Lady Hortensia Deference had reluctantly and in great discomfort taken the steam train with her thirteen-year-old child all the way from Lancre to Quirm.
Home of the Great Disc Baste -Off, Quirm was a centre of excellence in all things culinary; accordingly the Alchemists’ Guild had chosen this city for their innovative Academy of Ingesta which attracted aspiring dieticians from as far afield as Genua and Ur. The Honourable Chastity Deference was now on referral from the Creel Springs Doctor of Physick for a state of unnatural pallor.
“The young man down the corridor assured me that she was simply short of sleep and advised a broth of Malus Equilibria and Vul Nut at bedtime.”
The Dietician shifted his massive bulk in the equally imposing clinic chair and repeated, “More iron. Clearly this young lady has been the night prey of a Vampyr and needs to replenish her blood supply. Good red blood is what your daughter needs.”
Lady Deference bridled.
“How dare you insult our family! We have blue blood in our veins!”
“Well, I might suggest Cobalt, but it would shorten her life expectancy.”
“Iron? That’s rusty old metal! How is the Honourable Chastity supposed to get that inside her?”
“You just uttered the magic word, dear Lady - rust. This, I believe, may be available in Chymicall Preparations from the in-house dispensary, but as I am not”... did a tear form in the corner of one baggy pink eye? ... “a Doctor but a mere Dietician, I may not prescribe. Your daughter’s health is now entirely in your delicate hands.”
“Mummy, I think we should go to Ankh-Morpork.”
“That disreputable place? Indeed not, Chastity. You and I are going straight home.”
“But there’s nothing in Lancre to help me! You don’t surely want me to skewer a Vampyr and suck the blood back out of it? There’s a University in Ankh-Morpork with a huge library and a proper Librarian and ... I think a new system of information retrieval that is even cleverer than the Clacks. It’s a sort of web. Do let me try it, Mummy! I might find out how to eat iron, and even get hold of some, somewhere.”
Lady Deference put her finer feelings aside and followed her determined offspring into the nearest free Landau with Quirm - Ankh-Morpork on the side in peeling gilt. The driver, an Igor with impeccable manners, took them to the city’s finest hotel, the Saveloy. After a suitably expensive night’s sleep and a surprisingly good breakfast of lightly poached platypus eggs, Hortensia watched the familiar little ginger head bobbing away through the morning crowds on Kings Way toward The Prancing Pony which was now, they were told by the elegant Igorina on Reception, “a Web Hot-thpot.”
“What can I do for you, little girl?” The barman had a brass lapel badge that said ‘Danny,’ and the kind of face that without spectacles would have looked incomplete.
“I want to use the Web,” said Chastity.”I need to find out ... stuff. About Iron.”
“Ah!” Danny the barman beamed at his enterprising young customer.”Let me help you. I’m Webmaster-in-Residence. Have you brought your own spiders?”
“Then you will need to use ours. We charge fifty pence a session, as long as you also buy drinks. As you are under-age I can only supply you with apple-juice or Splot.”
“Can I have both?”
“A Splot highball? That could work.”
“Two dollars a glass.”
“OK. Now how do I work this Web?”
Danny disappeared through a brass and leather curtain. When he returned he had a shining tumbler of luminous green fluid in one hand and a smart, perforated box of sapient pearwood in the other. Chastity sat forward, trembling slightly with excitement.
“Now, here...” said Danny, drawing aside a sliding cover on the panelled wall,”... here is your Access Point.” Deep in the dark recess she could just make out pinpoints of light; these were openings to the outside world, and through these were fed the finest silk threads that terminated before her at polished buttons. On the shiny pearwood table another box held small sheets of the finest paper, ink and a quill. Danny opened his box.
“This is a Search Box, and these are trained, specially bred Net-Casting spiders,” he said, stroking one fondly with a forefinger.”What you need to do now is write your query on one of the slips, place it in your personal spider’s net, choose a launch button, and send the spider up the Web. All you could ever want to know is on-line in the Library, and your spider will come back on the same thread with answers to your questions. OK?”
“I’ve never picked up a spider!” This was an unanticipated issue.
“No problem,” said the ever-helpful Danny, “We’ll do it together. Incidentally we use sapient pearwood for everything Web-related, as it is totally secure against occult interference and magic attacks. Your private information is safe with us.”
Chastity took a large swig of her heady green cocktail and with greater clarity of mind than she had ever experienced wrote in tiny black letters ‘tell me all about iron.’
“Come on, Nettie,” Danny said, placing an inch-long spider as ginger as Chastity’s hair delicately in her palm. The fine white web between its forelegs was just broad and strong enough to take the folded note. Onto the centre button she went - and then was gone!
“It’ll take a while,” said Danny. “Have another drink.”
By the time her spider reappeared on its button Chastity’s brain was electric. She unwrapped the tiny tissue parcel with feverish fingers. Danny handed her the large magnifying glass that he kept clipped to his belt.
‘Iron. Chemical element, symbol Fe, atomic no. 26. Fresh iron surfaces appear lustrous silvery-grey, but in air readily produce the hydrated iron oxides we call rust. Smelted with carbon, iron becomes steel - far more useful for tools, shoeing and weaponry. Molecular iron is essential in protein-based bodies for the transport and use of oxygen. The richest deposits on the Disc are found in the Ramtops near Lancre ...’ Chastity whooped ... ‘and iron’s other name, Ferrum, is the root of the local family name Deference, from which derives the name of King Verence II.’
“I must tell Mummy at once! I can get iron at home! Danny, thank you so very very much for helping me use the Web ... let me pay you ... how much?”
“Fifty pence for the Web session and two dollars for each of your drinks adds up to ten dollars fifty.”
“I’ve only got a twenty dollar note. Do take it; Mummy always leaves a tip if she’s pleased.”
Mummy was less pleased than her daughter expected when she arrived back at the Saveloy high as a kite and completely cleaned out. They had also missed the noon train from Quirm, so went for a rather tense lunch at Le Foi Heureux before hailing another battered Landau and eventually reaching Lancre way past Chastity’s bedtime.
Over breakfast next morning Lady Deference found the Web page unfolded by her plate. She unfroze sufficiently to ask her daughter to read it to her.
“Well. Now you know.”
“That our family - originally De Ference - is directly related to the present King, who just like his father was severely dyslexic as a child and couldn’t spell his own name. Just like the former King, he has been known as Verence ever since he was thrown out of our family seat at Creel Springs and forced to scrape a living as Fool to the very ruler - the execrable Felmet - who murdered his father. His father never ‘ran away.’ You know the rest of the story of course, how Granny Weatherwax restored him to the throne at Lancre Castle.”
“What about the iron, Mummy?”
“De Ference used to be De Ferrous. It was our forbears who first mined the Ramtops. We are, in short, a family of iron-miners and workers who made good. We are the Nouveaux Riches of Lancre. All our wealth and position - such as it is - has come from sweat and pickaxes and forges, from mattocks and spoons and horseshoes. Just like the King - your cousin. We have just as much right to rule from Lancre Castle as he.”
“Am I a princess then?”
“Perhaps one day, darling. Verence’s Esmerelda may be prettier than you, but she doesn’t have your strength of character. Your blood is just as blue as hers ... but not as red. We really must get some iron down you somehow.”
“Mummy - look! I’ve found it! There’s a tiny final sentence on the Web page: ‘The best source of dietary iron is from eggs, meat, and dark chocolate.’ Chateau Chocolat is just down the valley at Blackglass and we’ve had iron running around us all the time!”
* * *
Lancre is now famous for specially bred chickens that lay chocolate eggs.
Oeufs De Fer are on the Web.