Mort, p.12
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       Mort, p.12

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 12

  There was a warming pan on the flagstones by the fire. Would it make a weapon?

  There was a faint metallic sound.

  Perhaps screaming wouldnt be such a bad idea after all. . . .

  The window imploded. For an instant Keli saw, framed against a hell of blue and purple flames, a hooded figure crouched on the back of the largest horse she had ever seen.

  There was someone standing by the bed, with a knife half raised.

  In slow motion, she watched fascinated as the arm went up and the horse galloped at glacier speed across the floor. Now the knife was above her, starting its descent, and the horse was rearing and the rider was standing in the stirrups and swinging some sort of weapon and its blade tore through the slow air with a noise like a finger on the rim of a wet glass —

  The light vanished. There was a soft thump on the floor, followed by a metallic clatter.

  Keli took a deep breath.

  A hand was briefly laid across her mouth and a worried voice said, If you scream, Ill regret it. Please? Im in enough trouble as it is.

  Anyone who could get that amount of bewildered pleading into their voice was either genuine or such a good actor they wouldnt have to bother with assassination for a living. She said, Who are you?

  I dont know if Im allowed to tell you, said the voice. You are still alive, arent you?

  She bit down the sarcastic reply just in time. Something about the tone of the question worried her.

  Cant you tell? she said.

  Its not easy. . . . There was a pause. She strained to see in the darkness, to put a face around that voice. I may have done you some terrible harm,it added.

  Havent you just saved my life?

  I dont know what I have saved, actually. Is there some light around here?

  The maid sometimes leaves matches on the mantelpiece, said Keli. She felt the presence beside her move away. There were a few hesitant footsteps, a couple of thumps, and finally a clang, although the word isnt sufficient to describe the real ripe cacophony of falling metal that filled the room. It was even followed by the traditional little tinkle a couple of seconds after you thought it was all over.

  The voice said, rather indistinctly, Im under a suit of armour. Where should I be?

  Keli slid quietly out of bed, felt her way towards the fireplace, located the bundle of matches by the faint light from the dying fire, struck one in a burst of sulphurous smoke, lit a candle, found the pile of dismembered armour, pulled its sword from its scabbard and then nearly swallowed her tongue.

  Someone had just blown hot and wetly in her ear.

  Thats Binky, said the heap. Hes just trying to be friendly. I expect hed like some hay, if youve got any.

  With royal self-control, Keli said, This is the fourth floor. Its a ladys bedroom. Youd be amazed at how many horses we dont get up here.

  Oh. Could you help me up, please?

  She put the sword down and pulled aside a breastplate. A thin white face stared back at her.

  First, youd better tell me why I shouldnt send for the guards anyway, she said. Even being in my bedroom could get you tortured to death.

  She glared at him.

  Finally he said, Well – could you let my hand free, please? Thank you – firstly, the guards probably wouldnt see me, secondly, youll never find out why Im here and you look as though youd hate not to know, and thirdly. . . .

  Thirdly what? she said.

  His mouth opened and shut. Mort wanted to say: thirdly, youre so beautiful, or at least very attractive, or anyway far more attractive than any other girl Ive ever met, although admittedly I havent met very many. From this it will be seen that Morts innate honesty will never make him a poet; if Mort ever compared a girl to a summers day, it would be followed by a thoughtful explanation of what day he had in mind and whether it was raining at the time. In the circumstances, it was just as well that he couldnt find his voice.

  Keli held up the candle and looked at the window.

  It was whole. The stone frames were unbroken. Every pane, with its stained-glass representatives of the Sto Lat coat of arms, was complete. She looked back at Mort.

  Never mind thirdly, she said, lets get back to secondly.

  An hour later dawn reached the city. Daylight on the Disc flows rather than rushes, because light is slowed right down by the worlds standing magical field, and it rolled across the flat lands like a golden sea. The city on the mound stood out like a sandcastle in the tide for a moment, until the day swirled around it and crept onwards.

  Mort and Keli sat side by side on her bed. The hourglass lay between them. There was no sand left in the top bulb.

  From outside came the sounds of the castle waking up.

  I still dont understand this, she said. Does it mean Im dead, or doesnt it?

  It means you ought to be dead, he said, according to fate or whatever. I havent really studied the theory,

  And you should have killed me?

  No! I mean, no, the assassin should have killed you. I did try to explain all that, said Mort.

  Why didnt you let him?

  Mort looked at her in horror.

  Did you want to die?

  Of course I didnt. But it looks as though what people want doesnt come into it, does it? Im trying to be sensible about this.

  Mort stared at his knees. Then he stood up.

  I think Id better be going, he said coldly.

  He folded up the scythe and stuck it into its sheath behind the saddle. Then he looked at the window.

  You came through that, said Keli, helpfully. Look, when I said —

  Does it open?

  No. Theres a balcony along the passage. But people will see you!

  Mort ignored her, pulled open the door and led Binky out into the corridor. Keli ran after them. A maid stopped, curtsied, and frowned slightly as her brain wisely dismissed the sight of a very large horse walking along the carpet.

  The balcony overlooked one of the inner courtyards. Mort glanced over the parapet, and then mounted.

  Watch out for the duke, he said. Hes behind all this.

  My father always warned me about him, said the princess. Ive got a foodtaster.

  You should get a bodyguard as well, said Mort. I must go. I have important things to do. Farewell, he added, in what he hoped was the right tone of injured pride.

  Shall I see you again? said Keli. Theres lots I want to —

  That might not be a good idea, if you think about it, said Mort haughtily. He clicked his tongue, and Binky leapt into the air, cleared the parapet and cantered up into the blue morning sky.

  I wanted to say thank you! Keli yelled after him.

  The maid, who couldnt get over the feeling that something was wrong and had followed her, said, Are you all right, maam?

  Keli looked at her distractedly.

  What? she demanded.

  I just wondered if – everything was all right?

  Kelis shoulders sagged.

  No, she said. Everythings all wrong. Theres a dead assassin in my bedroom. Could you please have something done about it?

  And — she held up a hand – I dont want you to say “Dead, maam?” or “Assassin, maam?” or scream or anything, I just want you to get something done about it. Quietly. I think Ive got a headache. So just nod.

  The maid nodded, bobbed uncertainly, and backed away.

  Mort wasnt sure how he got back. The sky simply changed from ice blue to sullen grey as Binky eased himself into the gap between dimensions. He didnt land on the dark soil of Deaths estate, it was simply there, underfoot, as though an aircraft carrier had gently manoeuvred itself under a jump jet to save the pilot all the trouble of touching down.

  The great horse trotted into the stableyard and halted outside the double door, swishing his tail. Mort slid off and ran for the house.

  And stopped, and ran back, and filled the hayrack, and ran for the house, and stopped and muttered to himself and ra
n back and rubbed the horse down and checked the water bucket, and ran for the house, and ran back and fetched the horseblanket down from its hook on the wall and buckled it on. Binky gave him a dignified nuzzle.

  No-one seemed to be about as Mort slipped in by the back door and made his way to the library, where even at this time of night the air seemed to be made of hot dry dust. It seemed to take years to locate Princess Kelis biography, but he found it eventually. It was a depressingly slim volume on a shelf only reachable by the library ladder, a wheeled rickety structure that strongly resembled an early siege engine.

  With trembling fingers he opened it at the last page, and groaned.

  The princesss assassination at the age of fifteen, he read, was followed by the union of Sto Lat with Sto Helit and, indirectly, the collapse of the city states of the central plain and the rise of—

  He read on, unable to stop. Occasionally he groaned again.

  Finally he put the book back, hesitated, and then shoved it behind a few other volumes. He could still feel it there as he climbed down the ladder, shrieking its incriminating existence to the world.

  There were few ocean-going ships on the Disc. No captain liked to venture out of sight of a coastline. It was a sorry fact that ships which looked from a distance as though they were going over the edge of the world werent in fact disappearing over the horizon, they were in fact dropping over the edge of the world.

  Every generation or so a few enthusiastic explorers doubted this and set out to prove it wrong. Strangely enough, none of them had ever come back to announce the result of their researches.

  The following analogy would, therefore, have been meaningless to Mort.

  He felt as if hed been shipwrecked on the Titanic but in the nick of time had been rescued. By the Lusitonia.

  He felt as though hed thrown a snowball on the spur of the moment and watched the ensuing avalanche engulf three ski resorts.

  He felt history unravelling all around him.

  He felt he needed someone to talk to, quickly.

  That had to mean either Albert or Ysabell, because the thought of explaining everything to those tiny blue pinpoints was not one he cared to contemplate after a long night. On the rare occasions Ysabell deigned to look in his direction she made it clear that the only difference between Mort and a dead toad was the colour. As for Albert. . . .

  All right, not the perfect confidant, but definitely the best in a field of one.

  Mort slid down the steps and threaded his way back through the bookshelves. A few hours sleep would be a good idea, too.

  Then he heard a gasp, the brief patter of running feet, and the slam of a door. When he peered around the nearest bookcase there was nothing there except a stool with a couple of books on it. He picked one up and glanced at the name, then read a few pages. There was a damp lace handkerchief lying next to it.

  Mort rose late, and hurried towards the kitchen expecting at any moment the deep tones of disapproval. Nothing happened.

  Albert was at the stone sink, gazing thoughtfully at his chip pan, probably wondering whether it was time to change the fat or let it bide for another year. He turned as Mort slid into a chair.

  You had a busy tune of it, then, he said. Gallivanting all over the place until all hours, I heard. I could do you an egg. Or theres porridge.

  Egg, please, said Mort. Hed never plucked up the courage to try Alberts porridge, which led a private life of its own in the depths of its saucepan and ate spoons.

  The master wants to see you after, Albert added, but he said you wasnt to rush.

  Oh. Mort stared at the table. Did he say anything else?

 
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