'The goblin experience of the world is the cult or perhaps religion of Unggue. In short, it is a remarkably complex resurrection-based religion founded on the sanctity of bodily secretions. Its central tenet runs as follows: everything that is expelled from a goblin's body was clearly once part of them and should, therefore, be treated with reverence and stored properly so that it can be entombed with its owner in the fullness of time. In the meantime the material is stored in unggue pots, remarkable creations of which I shall speak later.
A moment's distasteful thought will tell us that this could not be achieved by any creature, unless in possession of great wealth, considerable storage space and compliant neighbours.
Therefore, in reality, most goblins observe the Unggue Had – what one might term the common and lax form of Unggue – which encompasses earwax, finger- and toenail clippings, and snot. Water, generally speaking, is reckoned as not unggue, but something which goes through the body without ever being part of it: they reason that there is no apparent difference in the water before and after, as it were (which sadly shines a light on the freshness of the water they encounter in their underground lairs). Similarly faeces are considered to be food that has merely undergone a change of state. Surprisingly, teeth are of no interest to the goblins, who look on them as a type of fungus, and they appear to attach no importance to hair, of which, it has to be said, they seldom have very much.'
At this point, Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, stopped reading and stared at nothing. After a few seconds, nothing was eclipsed by the form of Drumknott, his secretary (who, it must be said, had spent a career turning himself into something as much like nothing as anything).
Drumknott said, 'You look pensive, my lord,' to which observation he appended a most delicate question mark, which gradually evaporated.
'Awash with tears, Drumknott, awash with tears.'
Drumknott stopped dusting the impeccably shiny black lacquered desk. 'Pastor Oats is a very persuasive writer, isn't he, sir...?'
'Indeed he is, Drumknott, but the basic problem remains and it is this: humanity may come to terms with the dwarf, the troll and even the orc, terrifying though all these may have proved to be at times, and you know why this is, Drumknott?'
The secretary carefully folded the duster he had been using and looked at the ceiling. 'I would venture to suggest, my lord, that in their violence we recognize ourselves?'
'Oh, well done, Drumknott, I shall make a cynic of you yet! Predators respect other predators, do they not? They may perhaps even respect the prey: the lion may lie down with the lamb, even if only the lion is likely to get up again, but the lion will not lie down with the rat. Vermin, Drumknott, an entire race reduced to vermin!'
Lord Vetinari shook his head sadly, and the ever-attentive Drumknott noticed that his lordship's fingers had now gone back, for the third time that day, to the page headed 'Unggue Pots' and he seemed, quite unusually, to be talking to himself as he did so...
'These are traditionally crafted by the goblin itself, out of anything from precious minerals to leather, wood or bone. Among the former are some of the finest eggshell-thin containers ever found in the world. The plundering of goblin settlements by treasure-hunters in search of these, and the retaliation by the goblins themselves, has coloured human–goblin relationships even to the present day.'
Lord Vetinari cleared his throat and continued, 'I quote Pastor Oats again, Drumknott: "I must say that goblins live on the edge, often because they have been driven there. When nothing else can survive, they do. Their universal greeting is, apparently, 'Hang' which means 'Survive'. I know dreadful crimes have been laid at their door, but the world itself has never been kind to them. Let it be said here that those who live their lives where life hangs by less than a thread understand the dreadful algebra of necessity, which has no mercy and when necessity presses in extremis, well, that is the when the women need to make the unggue pot called ' soul of tears', the most beautiful of all the pots, carved with little flowers and washed with tears."'
Drumknott, with meticulous timing, put a cup of coffee in front of his master just as Lord Vetinari finished the sentence and looked up. "The dreadful algebra of necessity', Drumknott. Well, we know about that, don't we?'
'Indeed we do, sir. Incidentally, sir, we have received a missive from Diamond King of Trolls, thanking us for our firm stance on the drugs issue. Well done, sir.'
'Hardly a concession,' Vetinari observed, waving it away. 'You know my position, Drumknott. I have no particular objection to people taking substances that make them feel better, or more contented or, for that matter, see little dancing purple fairies – or even their god if it comes to that. It's their brain, after all, and society can have no claim on it, providing they're not operating heavy machinery at the time. However, to sell drugs to trolls that actually make their heads explode is simply murder, the capital crime. I am glad to say that Commander Vimes fully agrees with me on this issue.'
'Indeed, sir, and may I remind you that he will be leaving us very shortly. Do you intend to see him off, as it were?'
The Patrician shook his head. 'I think not. The man must be in terrible turmoil, and I fear that my presence might make things worse.'
Was there a hint of pity in Drumknott's voice when he said, 'Don't blame yourself, my lord. After all, you and the commander are in the hands of a higher power.'
Excerpted from Snuff by Terry Pratchett. Copyright 2011 by Terry Prachett. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins.