The color of magic, p.10
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       The Color of Magic, p.10
 

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 10

  Rincewind considered this. There didn’t seem to be much he could say. Twoflower added: “A real brawl! Better than anything I’d imagined! Do you think I ought to thank them? Or did you arrange it? ” Rincewind looked at him blankly. “I think we ought to be getting down now,” he said hollowly.

  “Everyone’s gone. ”

  He dragged Twoflower across the littered floor and up the steps. They burst out into the tail end of the night. There were still a few stars but the moon was down, and there was a faint grey glow to rimward. Most important, the street was empty. Rincewind sniffed.

  “Can you smell oil?” he said.

  Then Withel stepped out of the shadows and tripped him up.

  At the top of the cellar steps Broadman knelt down and fumbled in his tinderbox. It turned out to be damp.

  “I’ll kill that bloody cat,” he muttered, and groped for the spare box that was normally on the ledge by the door. It was missing. Broadman said a bad word.

  A lighted taper appeared in mid-air, right beside him.

  HERE, TAKE THIS.

  “Thanks,” said Broadman.

  DON’T MENTION IT.

  Broadman went to throw the taper down the steps. His hand paused in mid-air. He looked at the taper, his brow furrowing. Then he turned around and held the taper up to illuminate the scene. It didn’t shed much light, but it did give the darkness a shape…

  “Oh, no” he breathed.

  BUT YES, said Death.

  Rincewind rolled.

  For a moment he thought Withel was going to spit him where he lay. But it was worse than that. He was waiting for him to get up.

  “I see you have a sword, wizard,” he said quietly. “I suggest you rise, and we shall see how well you use it. ” Rincewind stood up as slowly as he dared, and drew from his belt the short sword he had taken from the guard a few hours and a hundred years ago. It was a short blunt affair compared to Withel ’s hair-thin rapier.

  “But I don’t know how to use a sword,” he wailed.

  “Good. ”

  “You know that wizards can’t be killed by edged weapons?” said Rincewind desperately. Withel smiled coldly. “So I have heard,” he said. “I look forward to putting it to the test. ” He lunged. Rincewind caught the thrust by sheer luck, jerked his hand away in shock, deflected the second stroke by coincidence, and took the third one through his robe at heart-height.

  There was a clink.

  Withel’s snarl of triumph died in his throat. He drew the sword out and prodded again at the wizard, who was rigid with terror and guilt. There was another clink, and gold coins began to drop out of the hem of the wizard’s robe.

  “So you bleed gold, do you?” hissed Withel. “But have you got gold concealed in that raggedy beard, you little-“

  As his sword went back for his final sweep the sullen glow that had been growing in the doorway of the Broken Drum flickered, dimmed, and erupted into a roaring fireball that sent the walls billowing outward and carried the roof a hundred feet into the air before bursting through it, in a gout of red-hot tiles.

  Withel stared at the boiling flames, unnerved. And Rincewind leapt. He ducked under the thief’s sword arm and brought his own blade around in an arc so incompetently misjudged that it hit the man flat-first and jolted out of the wizard’s hand. Sparks and droplets of flaming oil rained down as Withel reached out with both gauntleted hands and grabbed Rincewind’s neck, forcing him down.

  “You did this!” he screamed. “You and your box of trickery. “

  His thumb found Rincewind’s windpipe. This is it, the wizard thought. Wherever I’m going, it can’t be worse than here…

  “Excuse me,” said Twoflower.

  Rincewind felt the grip lessen. And now Withel was slowly getting up, a look of absolute hatred on his face.

  A glowing ember landed on the wizard. He brushed it off hurriedly, and scrambled to his feet. Twoflower was behind Withel, holding the man’s own needle-sharp sword with the point resting in the small of the thief’s back. Rincewind’s eyes narrowed. He reached into his robe, then withdrew his hand bunched into a fist.

  “Don’t move,” he said.

  “Am I doing this right?” asked Twoflower anxiously.

  “He says he’ll skewer your liver if you move,”

  Rincewind translated freely.

  “I doubt it,” said Withel.

  “Bet?”

  “No!”

  As Withel tensed himself to turn on the tourist Rincewind lashed out and caught the thief on the jaw. Withel stared at him in amazement for a moment, and then quietly toppled into the mud.

  The wizard uncurled his stinging fist and the roll of gold coins slipped between his throbbing fingers.

  He looked down at the recumbent thief.

  “Good grief,” he gasped.

  He looked up and yelled as another ember landed on his neck. Flames were racing along the rooftops on the other side of the street. All around him people were hurling possessions from windows and dragging horses from smoking stables. Another explosion in the white-hot volcano that was the Drum sent a whole marble mantelpiece scything overhead.

  “The Widdershin Gate’s the nearest!” Rincewind shouted above the crackle of collapsing rafters. “Come on!”

  He grabbed Twoflower’s reluctant arm and dragged him down the street.

  “My luggage!”

  “Blast your luggage. Stay here much longer and you’ll go where you don’t need luggage. Come on!” screamed Rincewind.

  They jogged on through the crowd of frightened people leaving the area, while the wizard took great mouthfuls of cool dawn air. Something was puzzling him.

  “I’m sure all the candles went out,” he said. “So how did the Drum catch fire?”

  “I don’t know,” moaned Twoflower. “it’s terrible, Rincewind. We were getting along so well, too. ”

  Rincewind stopped in astonishment, so that another refugee cannoned into him and spun away with an oath.

  “Getting on?”

  “Yes, a great bunch of fellows, I thought language was a bit of a problem, but they were so keen for me to join their party, they just wouldn’t take no for an answer - really friendly people, I thought…”

  Rincewind started to correct him, then realised he didn’t know how to begin.

  “It’ll be a blow for old Broadman,” Twoflower continued. “Still, he was wise. I’ve still got the rhinu he paid as his first premium. ”

  Rincewind didn’t know the meaning of the word premium, but his mind was working fast.

  “You inn-sewered the Drum?” he said. “You bet Broadman it wouldn’t catch fire?”

  “Oh yes. Standard valuation. Two hundred rhinu, Why do you ask?”

  Rincewind turned and stared at the flames racing towards them, and wondered how much of Ankh Morpork could be bought for two hundred rhinu. Quite a large piece, he decided. Only not now, not the way those flames were moving… He glanced down at the tourist.

  “You-” he began, and searched his memory for the worst word in the Trob tongue; the happy little beTrobi didn’t really know how to swear properly.

  “You,” he repeated. Another hurrying figure bumped into him, narrowly missing him with the blade over its shoulder. Rincewind’s tortured temper exploded.

  “You little (such a one who, while wearing a copper nose ring, stands in a footbath atop Mount Raruaruaha during a heavy thunderstorm and shouts that Alohura, Goddess of Lightning, has the facial features of a diseased uloruaha root!)”

  JUST DOING MY JOB, said the figure, stalking off.

  Every word fell as heavily as slabs of marble; moreover, Rincewind was certain that he was the only one who heard them.

  He grabbed Twoflower again.

  “Let’s get out of here!” he suggested.

  One interesting side effect of the fire in Ankh-Morpork concerns the inn-sewer-ants po
licy, which left the city through the ravaged roof of the Broken Drum, was wafted high into the Discworld’s atmosphere on the ensuing thermal, and came to earth several days and a few thousand miles away on an uloruaha bush in the beTrobi islands. The simple, laughing islanders subsequently worshipped it as a god, much to the amusement of their more sophisticated neighbours. Strangely enough the rainfall and harvests in the next few years were almost supernaturally abundant, and this led to a research team being despatched to the islands by the Minor Religions faculty of Unseen University. Their verdict was that it only went to show.

  The fire, driven by the wind, spread out from the Drum faster than a man could walk. The timbers of the Widdershin Gate were already on fire when Rincewind, his face blistered and reddened from the flames, reached them. By now he and Twoflower were on horseback

  - mounts hadn’t been that hard to obtain. A wily merchant had asked fifty times their worth, and had been left gaping when one thousand times their worth had been pressed into his hands.

  They rode through just before the first of the big gate timbers descended in an explosion of sparks Morpork was already a cauldron of flame.

  As they galloped up the red-lit road Rincewind glanced sideways at his travelling companion currently trying hard to learn to ride a horse.

  Bloody hell, he thought. He’s alive! Me too. Who’d have thought it? Perhaps there is something in this reflected-sound-of-undergroundspirits? It was a cumbersome phrase. Rincewind tried to get his tongue round the thick syllables that were the word in Twoflower’s own language.

  “Ecolirix?” he tried. “Ecro-gnothics? Echo-gnomics?”

  That would do. That sounded about right.

  Several hundred yards downriver from the last smouldering suburb of the city a strangely rectangular and apparently heavily-waterlogged object touched the mud on the widdershin bank. Immediately it sprouted numerous legs and scrabbled for a purchase.

  Hauling itself to the top of the bank the Luggage-streaked with soot, stained with water and very very angry - shook itself and took its bearings. Then it moved away at a brisk trot, the small and incredibly ugly imp that was perching on its lid watching the scenery with interest.

  Bravd looked at the Weasel and raised his eyebrows.

  “And that’s it,” said Rincewind, “The Luggage caught up with us, don’t ask me how. Is there any more wine?”

  The Weasel picked up the empty wineskin.

  “I think you have had just about enough wine this night,” he said.

  Bravd’s forehead wrinkled.

  “Gold is gold,” he said finally. “How can a man with plenty of gold consider himself poor? You’re either poor or rich. It stands to reason”

  Rincewind hiccupped. He was finding Reason rather difficult to hold on to. “Well,” he said, “what I think is, the point is, well, you know octiron?”

  The two adventurers nodded. The strange iridescent metal was almost as highly valued in the lands around the Circle Sea as sapient pearwood, and was about as rare. A man who owned a needle made of octiron would never lose his way, since it always pointed to the Hub of the Discworld, being acutely sensitive to the disc’s magical field; it would also miraculously darn his socks.

  “Well, my point is, you see, that gold also has its sort of magical field. Sort of financial wizardry. Echo-gnomics. ” Rincewind giggled.

 
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