"You stoned our envoy!" shouted Vorbis. "An unarmed man!"
"He brought it upon himself," said the Tyrant. "Aristocrates was there. He will tell you."
The tall man nodded and stood up. "By tradition anyone may speak in the marketplace," he began.
"And be stoned?" Vorbis demanded.
Aristocrates held up a hand. "Ah," he said, "anyone can say what they like in the square. We have another tradition, though, called free listening. Unfortunately, when people dislike what they hear, they can become a little . . . testy."
"I was there too," said another advisor. "Your priest got up to speak and at first everything was fine, because people were laughing. And then he said that Om was the only real God, and everyone went quiet. And then he pushed over a statue of Tuvelpit, the God of Wine. That's when the trouble started."
"Are you proposing to tell me he was struck by lightning?" said Vorbis. Vorbis was no longer shouting. His voice was level, without passion. The thought rose in Brutha's mind: this is how the exquisitors speak. When the inquisitors have finished, the exquisitors speak . . .
"No. By an amphora. Tuvelpit was in the crowd, you see."
"And striking honest men is considered proper godly behavior, is it?"
"Your missionary had said that people who did not believe in Om would suffer endless punishment. I have to tell you that the crowd considered this rude."
"And so they threw stones at him . . ."
"Not many. They only hurt his pride. And only after they'd run out of vegetables."
"They threw vegetables?"
"When they couldn't find any more eggs."
"And when we came to remonstrate-”
"I am sure sixty ships intended more than remonstrating," said the Tyrant. "And we have warned you, Lord Vorbis. People find in Ephebe what they seek. There will be more raids on your coast. We will harass your ships. Unless you sign."
"And passage through Ephebe?" said Vorbis.
The Tyrant smiled. "Across the desert? My lord, if you can cross the desert, I am sure you can go anywhere." The Tyrant looked away from Vorbis and towards the sky, visible between the pillars.
"And now I see it is nearing noon," he said. "And the day heats up. Doubtless you will wish to discuss our . . . uh . . . proposals with your colleagues. May I suggest we meet again at sunset?"
Vorbis appeared to give this some consideration. "I think," he said eventually, "that our deliberations may take longer. Shall we say . . . tomorrow morning?"
The Tyrant nodded.
"As you wish. In the meantime, the palace is at your disposal. There are many fine temples and works of art should you wish to inspect them. When you require meals, mention the fact to the nearest slave."
"Slave is an Ephebian word. In Om we have no word for slave," said Vorbis.
"So I understand," said the Tyrant. "I imagine that fish have no word for water."
- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods