In your eyes
All of the promises,
All the lies.
Will you keep all of the promises
In your eyes?
– October Project, ‘Paths of Desire’
The crowd roared its adoration.
They cheered and shouted, clapped and stamped their feet; all of it melding into a noise so loud it could be felt, like a second heartbeat pounding through the blood. And in every face was the light of hope. No, no it was more than just hope. This was more like faith. A gift from the Gods. They had been given something to believe in and they trusted unquestioning in the man who had given it to them.
In the centre of it all, their savour stood. He gleamed in the torchlight, smiling and sparkling and so alive he made everything around him seem slightly less real by comparison.
The avatar of the Gods, their messenger... The one was changing the world even as they watched.
But for how long?
Even the liberal usage of her high heels on various feet, which had enabled her to secure a particularly good vantage point, was unable to keep Adora Belle from being jostled by the crowed around her. They were packed into Sator Square so tightly that even if they'd wanted to, her neighbours couldn't help but elbow her as they clapped and shouted and generally made fools of themselves.
She took a deep drag of her cigarette and immediately blew the smoke out again with the nervous energy that was so much a part of who she was now. It had always been there to a certain extent, growing worse in the days and weeks following her father’s loss of the Grand Trunk – and with it all his dreams, ambitions and, it seemed, something of his soul. However, the constant agitation had increased exponentially in the three months since her brother had been lowered into far too early a grave. Now, she seemed to vibrate with it every moment of every day, half-afraid herself of what would happen if she ever let it all out at once.
Adora Belle Dearheart had always been abrasive and cynical. And the Gods alone knew what her parents had been thinking when they’d saddled her with that name. She was willing to admit that it was probably partly because of her name that she’d always been curt and chilly. Still, there had clearly been some inborn part of her that made her disinclined to trust, to want to keep people at a distance.
Over the last year, however, what ability she'd had to hope, to believe in anything, had been systematically crushed under the weight of greed and tragedy until there was nothing left. The loss of everything her father and his partners had worked so hard for, the loss of their home and everything they owned, the loss of her own job because someone had to take the fall and it might as well be her... but most of all her brother's death and all that had come after. John had been one of the few people she loved and even fewer she’d actually trusted. The empty place in her life that was all that remained of that vital and vibrant friend ate at her. Living every day with the shadow that was all that was left of her father, of falling into fitful sleep every night to the sound of her mother's tears through the paper-thin walls of her aunt’s house, the only place they’d had left to go after their home had been taken from them...
No, Adora Belle knew better than to trust anyone any more and she had firmly buried the part of her heart that knew how to hope with John.
So, she’d felt nothing but weary indifference when she’d heard that Lord Vetinari had managed to sucker yet another idiot into attempting to re-open the Post Office. She only noticed it at all because one of her – or rather the Trust’s – golems had been assigned to protect the new Postmaster. It was a intelligent precaution on Vetinari’s part after all that had happened. However, one golem could do only so much and Adora Belle’s only real concern in the matter was whether Pump 19 would be damaged when Postmaster Number Five met his untimely end.
She had never expected to actually meet the man and hadn’t particularly cared to. Even if she had had any interest in meeting him, she would not have expected the energetic young man she almost sent a crossbow bolt through the head of when he burst unexpectedly into the Trust. Few people “burst” into the Golem Trust with good intentions. Few enough people even walked in with good intentions, come to that. Whether von Lipwig’s could be categorised as “good” or not.... Adora Belle was still withholding judgement on that one.
Whatever a Postmaster was supposed to be, he wasn’t.
While his interest in her golems wasn’t entirely welcome, she had ultimately allowed him to hire as many as where available. In the end, it was paying work, and the Trust wasn’t seeing nearly enough of that. And she had to admit the golems marching out of the Post Office to deliver the mail was an impressive sight.
However, it was with nothing but annoyance that she'd fielded his unwelcome and unexpectedly persistent interest in her. Even if she had been interested, which she wasn’t, the last thing she wanted was to get to know their new Postmaster. The simple fact was, that in spite of all his grand ideas and seemingly endless energy; Moist von Lipwig – a name she was willing to concede was nearly as bad as her own – was a walking dead man. Four Postmasters dead in five weeks? Reacher Gilt would see to his untimely end soon enough. This shiny new Postmaster wasn’t as much of a threat to Gilt’s little empire as John had been but that wouldn’t stop him from swatting him just as thoroughly.
None of them, though, not herself and certainly not Gilt, had anticipated anyone like Moist von Lipwig.
Nearly a week after becoming Postmaster he wasn't just still alive, he was doing the impossible — every day in a hundred surprising and awe-inspiring ways he was reshaping the world as they knew it. He'd galvanised the city, somehow made the simple delivering of mail into a heroic enterprise. He survived Gilt’s attempt on his life and in the aftermath had managed to turn the tables and make the man himself into a laughingstock.
But more than that, he'd performed a true miracle.
Not that silly trick with the money, of course, clever as that was — no, he'd done more than that. Lipwig had found a way to reach into the hard and cynical hearts this most cynical of cities and teach its people to feel wonder. He’d given them hope.
It was with mingled shock and disbelief that Adora Belle had found that in spite everything, she wasn't entirely immune to that magic.
Oh, she knew him for what he was, of course. Had known from the first time she’d met him.
Moist von Lipwig was a trickster to the core, she wouldn't have trusted him any farther than she could throw him. He was all show and charm, all quick words and too ready answers... a talented showman, nothing more. But like any good showman he knew how to energise people, how to make them believe in the impossible.
Shocking as all that was, what Adora Belle found even more unsettling was that the golems trusted him.
The connection between the Post Office and the Golem Trust had seemed to spiral out of her control and by the end of his first week as Postmaster most of the golems of the trust were working for the Post Office in one capacity or another.
And they believed in him.
Adora Belle couldn’t imagine what they saw that she didn’t but it was for that reason alone that she had attempted to dissuade him from his course of action. He honestly didn’t seem to realise how dangerous a game he was playing. And if only for the golems’ sake she didn't want to see Lipwig – with all his sparkle and vitality – crushed by the man who’d engendered her brother’s death.
It would have been easier somehow if her warnings had fallen on deaf ears. She could have walked away then, knowing him for a fool and not looked back. But he'd heard every word, had actually listened. Instead of driving him away from the Post Office, however, it had seemed to make him all the more determined to fight.
Then, in the face of Gilt’s attempt to destroy everything he’d worked to create, he’d shocked her — seemed even to shock himself — by putting his own life at risk to save those his actions had inadvertently put in danger. The careful act that was Moist von Lipwig cracked the night the Post Office burned and someone else shown through, if only for a moment.
Adora Belle knew him for what he was. Just because she couldn't see the cold calculation behind his ingenious charm, didn't mean she didn't know it was there. That night she’d seen that that wasn’t all that was there.
Still, there was no reason, no reason at all that he should have been able to reach inside her as well and rekindle a part of herself she'd believed dead. But lit by the smoldering embers of all that he’d built, he’d seemed to light up with an inner fire of his own.
When he'd spoken of his plans for the Post Office, she’d wondered — if only for a moment — if he really could do it.
As he'd spun her around the ruins of the burned out Post Office she'd felt dizzy. She hadn't danced with anyone in years, but Lipwig had merely swept her up and waltzed her around the destruction of all his work promising the impossible. And the oddest thing about it was that she found herself allowing him to spin her around, as he wrapped them both in his vision.
“We’ll bring the Post Office back, Miss Dearheart... And then I’ll bankrupt Reacher Gilt by the end of the week.”
A trickster and a liar, she'd known it in her bones... but she'd felt a tingle of something like hope nonetheless swept up in the power of his unshakable belief. However, it wasn’t until the next day when Pump 19 had told her that the golems would stand by him, that they believed he could do this... It was then that, in spite of herself, hope had taken definite root in her heart.
The man in the golden suit, the messenger of the Gods... No one in the city was immune to him. And no one in the city knew who he really was or where he had come from. Except for him and Lord Vetinari.
Until the day before, that was.
Hope was one thing, trust was another. Of all people in the city, people who adored him and would have forgiven him anything, Moist von Lipwig had chosen to trust the one person who didn't trust him. Perhaps it was because she didn’t trust him, had seen through his charade from the beginning. She didn’t know. Whatever the reason, she was the only one he chose to trust.
Sitting in a little café, Moist had thrown open his closet to her and her alone and had shown her all the sordid skeletons hidden within.
She’d been right from the beginning and really it wasn’t a surprise to find that the messenger of the Gods was nothing but a two-bit conman. He’d been forced into taking over the Post Office because it was that or be hanged – again – for his many, many crimes. He was no hero, no saviour. Someone who certainly could not be trusted...
“I’m not Reacher Gilt.” There had been something like desperation in his voice, in his eyes. Another crack in the façade, a glimpse of real emotion behind the show. “Some people might say there’s not a lot of difference, but I can see it from where I stand and it’s there. It’s like a golem not being a hammer.”
Gods, how much she had not wanted to understand him. He was everything she'd known he was and worse. And she knew what trusting men like him lead to. She had seen her father loose everything to a man like him, hadn’t she?
Except that he was right, damn him. Moist von Lipwig was not Reacher Gilt and Adora Belle, sure as hell, wasn’t her father.
What was more, he had trusted first. Sitting there she'd realised that he’d just placed everything, his very life, in her hands. All she'd have to do was go to the papers with what she knew. He’d handed her the power to destroy him because he needed to prove to himself that he wasn't like Gilt. He might forge cash drafts and make fake bills, he might run street scams and pick the occasional pocket – but Moist von Lipwig would never coldly make a decision that would cost people their lives simply because it would make him more money. Lipwig — Moist — would never do what Reacher Gilt had done to her family to anyone.
More than a hammer.
And another part of her she'd thought dead had stirred. He'd made her hope against her will but in that café he'd forced her to trust again, even if only a little. So, she’d done what she could; put him in contact with John’s old friends, let him sort through the papers left from Gilt’s take over of her father’s business.
She couldn’t help but wonder now, where would that trust take any of them. What he was trying to do now wasn't just impossible, it was practically suicide. The plan was ridiculous. She knew because Al had stopped by on his way back out to the tower to warn her what was coming. She’d wanted to strangle the whole lot of them.
Tonight, though, standing in the centre of Sator Square at the heart of an adoring crowd, no one would guess from the ease and confidence of his demeanour that Moist was playing for his life. He shown as he baited Gilt in front of half of Anhk-Morpork, making the chairman of the Grand Trunk look a fool as the crowd cheered him on.
But then that was the point, wasn't it? The con relied on the persona Moist had created in order to become what the city wanted – needed – him to be. And oh, did they love him for it.
And Gods help her, she was as bad as the rest of them now.
Adora Belle may have stood still, smoking her cigarette and looking unconcerned, but she felt it nonetheless – the thrum of her blood too fast in her veins, her eyes unable to look away from the shining figure at the centre of it all.
The suit alone was almost blinding in the light of the hundreds of torches which lit the square brighter than day. Only someone who'd seen it up-close would know that it was nothing more than the cheap, shiny fabric actors used to simulate cloth of gold. The golden hat with wings gleamed like a finely crafted piece of art. One would never guess that it was merely a very old postman's cap, with actual dried birds wings – which were musty and far too old – glued on and the whole painted over with cheep, goldish paint that flaked off with the barest touch.
Only someone who’d been close enough to see the worn nap that had already begun to develop at the elbows of the suit would know the lie. Only someone who’d used a small pot of cheap gold paint to touch up the worst of time’s depredations on the hat would know that it was all but falling apart.
Nonetheless, even to Adora Bell who had seen and done these things, the nondescript man in that suit and under that hat seemed transformed by them into something more than just a man.
Moist von Lipwig himself was nothing special to look at when you saw him in more normal clothes. In fact, he could walk through the streets without anyone noticing him at all when he wasn’t being the Postmaster. He was just so... average. Average in height, average colouring, average everything. He was forgettable, something Adora Belle knew he’d counted on in his previous profession.
But now, under the hat with wings and in a suit of gold — he wasn’t a conman anymore, however successful. Whether he liked it or not, he was the Messenger of the Gods now. The con had taken on a life of its own. An avatar, that wizard had called him, the living embodiment of a god. It was as though the strength of the faith in the thousands pressed into the square was forcing Moist to become everything they needed him to be.
He’d turned the world on its head and, in the end, it had taken him with it.
Adora Belle couldn’t help but wonder when exactly has his lies had become truths. When the con become had reality.
He'd given them all hope, even her. He'd made them all trust again, believe again, feel wonder again... He couldn’t have stopped now even if he’d wanted to. The con had taken over the conman as surely as it had taken over the rest of them.
It was because of that simple fact that one last emotion had reentered Adora Belle’s life.
Moist was pushing this confrontation too far. Everyone around them may laugh and cheer him on, but she knew just how dangerous the game he was playing really was. And he was pushing it farther, raising the stakes even higher, baiting Gilt more and more outrageously. She saw the moment he pushed Reacher Gilt just that bit too far and a cold stone settled in her stomach.
What in the names of the Gods was he doing? While most of the crowd around them probably saw nothing but cool dislike in the Gilt's expression, Adora Belle could see — as she was sure Moist could as well — that the plan had changed. At least, it had for Gilt. It wasn't about protecting the Trunk or his position in society or his ambition to become Patrician or even his precious profit margin. Not any more. It wasn't even about smacking down an upstart. With cold certainty, Adora Belle slowly realised that Moist had deliberately pushed it too far. For some reason, he had wanted this, wanted Gilt enraged, wanted him to care about nothing anymore but seeing the new Postmaster dead. All she could do was hope that Moist knew what he was doing.
By the morning it would all be over one way or another, but that thought didn't help much when failure on Moist's part would mean his life.
And facing the climax of this confrontation she found herself wondering what would happen if Moist did — impossibly — win. What then?
Against everything she was, she'd come to trust him. For whatever reason, he really did need to prove to himself — and maybe even to her — that he really was more than a hammer. But what about the next day? Could she dare to still trust him then?
With one last jibe and to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd, Moist leapt up onto the coach with rather more enthusiasm than grace. Still, in the eyes of his devotees he could do no wrong.
His gaze swept over the crowd and somehow found her among the hundreds there. His eyes nearly out-shown the golden suit. He lived for this; the danger, the excitement, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and turning the world on its head — even if it was only their minds. It was why he'd become a conman in the first place, after all. He’d said as much in that cafe, spoke of the thrill that drove him ever onward with all the fervent devotion of a religious convert.
And that, she’d realised, was why he wasn’t like Gilt. Moist was what he was, but he didn’t run his little cons out of greed or avarice. In fact, the money meant so little to him that he’d buried it in a field for the Gods’ sakes, not even bothering to use it. And when the con demanded it of him, he’d produced it like a magic trick to save to Post Office from ruin. She wondered if he himself fully understood that or if it was merely the obvious revulsion he felt for what Gilt had done, was doing, that drove him. For Gilt the money was everything, for Moist it was little more than a side benefit, and not a terribly important one at that. Moist ran his cons solely for the chance to make the world up as he went along and take everyone around him along for the ride. All he wanted was the thrill of it all to make him feel alive.
And he was alive in this moment, more alive than she’d ever seen him. He seemed to glow with some inner light, as though he himself made the suit shine instead of the lights around them. He was like a force of nature, sweeping them all along in his wake.
The thought rose unbidden in Adora Belle’s mind that she couldn’t face burying him too. She couldn’t bare to see him lowered into the ground like John.
She tried to push it away, afraid of the force behind it.
Moist was utterly reckless when he was like this. His thoughts flowed faster than any flood waters and he rode high on the euphoria of pushing the envelope of the world just to see how far it would go. He reached for whatever he wanted and damn the consequences. She knew that, had seen the results of it before. Still, she utterly shocked when his voice rang out over the crowd.
"Will you marry me, Miss Dearheart?"
For a moment, there was no thought, none at all. Adora Belle honestly didn’t know whether to be furious with him or not while the crowd all turned to look at her with awe.
She blew a smoke ring to buy herself time, staring into his fever bright eyes, knowing he could be dead by morning. Knowing that even if he wasn’t, he might still be gone, back to his games and his cons.
Even she didn't know what she was going to say when she at last opened her mouth to speak.
Two simple words, but something in his eyes told her he heard all she didn’t — couldn’t — say.
Not yet. Not until I know you'll live through this because I can't and I won’t stand at your grave side, too. I can’t go through that again.
Not yet. Not until I know you'll still be here the day after you've proved your point to yourself. Not until you're still here the day after you've won and the day after that and the week after that.
Not yet. Not until I know I can trust you beyond simply being “more than a hammer”.
There was something, a flicker of expression only, a twitch of a smile before he turned away, shouting for the coach driver to get under way. Still, Adora Belle was unnervingly sure he understood everything. And she already knew Moist von Lipwig never backed down from a challenge. Even one Adora Belle hadn’t actually intended to issue.
The coach disappeared quickly into the distance and the men of the Grand Truck left no less swiftly. The entertainment gone the crowd began to break up soon after.
For a long while, though, Adora Belle Dearheart stayed where she was, cigarette forgotten in her hand as she watched the road the coach had disappeared down.
She didn’t think anyone was more surprised by those words than her. If she’d meant no she would have said no, no matter who was listening or how it would have sounded under the circumstances.
Except, she hadn’t said no. Just, not yet.
What was she thinking? She didn’t even like him. At least, she didn’t think she did.
Finally, she dropped the cigarette end and lit a new one as she turned homeward. She hated waiting, but she done what she could and there was nothing else to do now but wait. So, she'd wait. Wait to see if she was going to have to mourn someone else — knowing now that she would mourn him. Wait to see if her trust was misplaced. Wait to find out if she was about to become engaged, of all the most absurd things...
Still, Adora Belle couldn’t repress a slightly giddy feeling as she walked the damp streets back towards her aunt's too crowded house because for the first time in so very, very long — she had hope.
Somewhere, that hope was flying through the night bent on the impossible, more full of life than anyone she’d ever known. And in spite of herself, of her nature, of everything she’d ever learnt of life, she found that some small part of her heart actually believed he could — maybe even would — win this. If only because she’d seen his eyes grow all the brighter with the new challenge she’d inadvertently placed before him.
Moist’s need to do the impossible, to reach into people’s heads and hearts and change the world inside them — everything that had made him a conman, in fact — might just end up being a promise she could trust.