Mort, p.15
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       Mort, p.15

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 15

  I thought so.

  Cutwell patted her ineptly on the hand, and Keli was too preoccupied even to notice such flagrant lesè majesté.

  You see, everythings fixed. History is all worked out, from start to finish. What the facts actually are is beside the point; history just rolls straight over the top of them. You cant change anything because the changes are already part of it. Youre dead. Its fated. Youll just have to accept it.

  He gave an apologetic grin. Youre a lot luckier than most dead people, if you look at it objectively, he said. Youre alive to enjoy it.

  I dont want to accept it. Why should I accept it? Its not my fault!

  You dont understand. History is moving on. You cant get involved in it any more. There isnt a part in it for you, dont you see? Best to let things take their course. He patted her hand again. She looked at him. He withdrew his hand.

  What am I supposed to do then? she said. Not eat, because the food wasnt destined to be eaten by me? Go and live in a crypt somewhere?

  Bit of a poser, isnt it? agreed Cutwell. Thats fate for you, Im afraid. If the world cant sense you, you dont exist. Im a wizard. We know —

  Dont say it.

  Keli stood up.

  Five generations ago one of her ancestor had halted his band of nomadic cutthroats a few miles from the mound of Sto Lat and had regarded the sleeping city with a peculiarly determined expression that said: Thisll do. Just because youre born in the saddle doesnt mean you have to die in the bloody thing.

  Strangely enough, many of his distinctive features had, by a trick of heredity, been bequeathed to his descendant[3], accounting for her rather idiosyncratic attractiveness. They were never more apparent than now. Even Cutwell was impressed. When it came to determination, you could have cracked rocks on her jaw.

  In exactly the same tone of voice that her ancestor had used when he addressed his weary, sweaty followers before the attack[4], she said:

  No. No, Im not going to accept it. Im not going to dwindle into some sort of ghost. Youre going to help me, wizard.

  Cutwells subconscious recognised that tone. It had harmonics in it that made even the woodworm in the floorboards stop what they were doing and stand to attention. It wasnt voicing an opinion, it was saying: things will be thus.

  Me, madam? he quavered, I dont see what I can possibly—

  He was jerked off his chair and out into the street, his robes billowing around him. Keli marched towards the palace with her shoulders set determinedly, dragging the wizard behind her like a reluctant puppy. It was with such a walk that mothers used to bear down on the local school when their little boy came home with a black eye; it was unstoppable; it was like the March of Time.

  What is it you intend? Cutwell stuttered, horribly aware that there was going to be nothing he could do to resist, whatever it was.

  Its your lucky day, wizard.

  Oh. Good, he said weakly.

  Youve just been appointed Royal Recogniser.

  Oh. What does that entail, exactly?

  Youre going to remind everyone Im alive. Its very simple. Theres three square meals a day and your laundry done. Step lively, man.

  Royal?

  Youre a wizard. I think theres something you ought to know, said the princess.

  THERE is? said Death.

  (That was a cinematic trick adapted for print. Death wasnt talking to the princess. He was actually in his study, talking to Mort. But it was quite effective, wasnt it? Its probably called a fast dissolve, or a crosscut/zoom. Or something. An industry where a senior technician is called a Best Boy might call it anything. )

  AND WHAT IS THAT? he added, winding a bit of black silk around the wicked hook in a little vice hed clamped to his desk.

  Mort hesitated. Mostly this was because of fear and embarrassment, but it was also because the sight of a hooded spectre peacefully tying dry flies was enough to make anyone pause.

  Besides, Ysabell was sitting on the other side of the room, ostensibly doing some needlework but also watching him through a cloud of sullen disapproval. He could feel her red-rimmed eyes boring into the back of his neck.

  Death inserted a few crow hackles and whistled a busy little tune through his teeth, not having anything else to whistle through. He looked up.

  HMM?

  They – didnt go as smoothly as I thought, said Mort, standing nervously on the carpet in front of the desk.

  You HAD TROUBLE? said Death, snipping off a few scraps of feather.

  Well, you see, the witch wouldnt come away, and the monk, well, he started out all over again.

  THERES NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT THERE, LAD —

  — Mort —

  — YOU SHOULD HAVE WORKED OUT BY NOW THAT EVERYONE GETS WHAT THEY THINK IS COMING TO THEM. ITS SO MUCH NEATER THAT WAY.

  I know, sir. But that means bad people who think theyre going to some sort of paradise actually do get there. And good people who fear theyre going to some kind of horrible place really suffer. It doesnt seem like justice.

  WHAT is IT IVE SAID YOU MUST REMEMBER, WHEN YOURE OUT ON THE DUTY?

  Well, you —

  HMM?

  Mort stuttered into silence.

  THERES NO JUSTICE. THERES JUST YOU.

  Well, I —

  YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT.

  Yes, but —

  I EXPECT IT ALL WORKS OUT PROPERLY IN THE END. I HAVE NEVER MET THE CREATOR, BUT IM TOLD HES QUITE KINDLY DISPOSED TO PEOPLE. Death snapped the thread and started to unwind the vice.

  PUT SUCH THOUGHTS OUT OF YOUR MIND, he added. AT LEAST THE THIRD ONE SHOULDNT HAVE GIVEN YOU ANY TROUBLE.

  This was the moment. Mort had thought about it for a long tune. There was no sense in concealing it. Hed upset the whole future course of history. Such things tend to draw themselves to peoples attention. Best to get it off his chest. Own up like a man. Take his medicine. Cards on table. Beating about bush, none of. Mercy, throw himself on.

  The piercing blue eyes glittered at him.

  He looked back like a nocturnal rabbit trying to outstare the headlights of a sixteen-wheeled artic whose driver is a twelve-hour caffeine freak outrunning the tachometers of hell.

  He failed.

  No, sir,he said.

  GOOD. WELL DONE. Now THEN, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS?

  Anglers reckon that a good dry fly should cunningly mimic the real thing. There are the right flies for morning. There are different flies for the evening rise. And so on.

  But the thing between Deaths triumphant digits was a fly from the dawn of time. It was the fly in the primordial soup. It had bred on mammoth turds. It wasnt a fly that bangs on window panes, it was a fly that drills through walls. It was an insect that would crawl out from between the slats of the heaviest swat dripping venom and seeking revenge. Strange wings and dangling bits stuck out all over it. It seemed to have a lot of teeth.

  Whats it called? said Mort.

  I SHALL CALL IT – DEATHS GLORY. Death gave the thing a final admiring glance and stuck it into the hood of his robe. I FEEL INCLINED TO SEE A LITTLE BIT OF LIFE THIS EVENING, he Said. YOU CAN TAKE THE DUTY, NOWTHATYOUVEGOTTHEHANGOFIT. AS IT WERE.

  Yes. Sir, said Mort, mournfully. He saw his life stretching out in front of him like a nasty black tunnel with no light at the end of it.

  Death drummed his finger on the desk, muttered to himself.

  AH YES, he said. ALBERT TELLS ME SOMEONES BEEN MEDDLING IN THE LIBRARY.

  Pardon, sir?

  TAKING BOOKS our, LEAVING THEM LYING AROUND.

  BOOKS ABOUT YOUNG WOMEN. HE SEEMS TO THINK IT IS AMUSING.

  As has already been revealed, the Holy Listeners have such well developed hearing that they can be deafened by a good sunset. Just for a few seconds it seemed to Mort that the skin on the back of his neck was developing similar strange powers, because he could see Ysabell freeze in mid-stitch. He also heard the little intake of breath that hed heard before, among the shelves. He remembe
red the lace handkerchief.

  He said, Yes, sir. It wont happen again, sir.

  The skin on the back of his neck started to itch like fury.

  SPLENDID. Now, YOU TWO CAN RUN ALONG. GET ALBERT TO DO YOU A PICNIC LUNCH OR SOMETHING. GET SOME FRESH AIR. IVE NOTICED THE WAY YOU TWO ALWAYS AVOID EACH OTHER. He gave Mort a conspiratorial nudge – it was like being poked with a stick – and added, ALBERTS TOLD ME WHAT THAT MEANS.

  Has he? said Mort gloomily. Hed been wrong, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.

  Death gave him another of his supernova winks.

  Mort didnt return it. Instead he turned and plodded towards the door, at a general speed and gait that made Great ATuin look like a spring lamb.

  He was halfway along the corridor before he heard the soft rush of footsteps behind him and a hand caught his arm.

  Mort?

  He turned and gazed at Ysabell through a fog of depression.

  Why did you let him think it was you in the library?

  Dont know.

  It was . . . very . . . kind of you, she said cautiously.

  Was it? I cant think what came over me. He felt in his pocket and produced the handkerchief. This belongs to you, I think.

  Thank you. She blew her nose noisily.

  Mort was already well down the corridor, his shoulders hunched like vultures wings. She ran after him.

  I say, she said.

  What?

  I wanted to say thank you.

  It doesnt matter, he muttered. Itd just be best if you dont take books away again. It upsets them, or something. He gave what he considered to be a mirthless laugh. Ha!

  Ha what?

  Just ha!

  Hed reached the end of the corridor. There was the door into the kitchen, where Albert would be leering knowingly, and Mort decided he couldnt face that. He stopped.

  But I only took the books for a bit of company, she said behind him.

  He gave in.

  We could have a walk in the garden, he said in despair, and then managed to harden his heart a little and added, Without obligation, that is.

  You mean youre not going to marry me? she said. Mort was horrified. Marry?

  Isnt that what father brought you here for? she said. He doesnt need an apprentice, after all.

  You mean all those nudges and winks and little comments about some day my son all this will be yours? said Mort. I tried to ignore them. I dont want to get married to anyone yet, he added, suppressing a fleeting mental picture of the princess. And certainly not to you, no offence meant.

  I wouldnt marry you if you were the last man on the Disc, she said sweetly.

  Mort was hurt by this. It was one thing not to want to marry someone, but quite another to be told they didnt want to marry you.

  At least I dont look like Ive been eating doughnuts in a wardrobe for years, he said, as they stepped out on to Deaths black lawn.

  At least I walk as if my legs only had one knee each, she said.

  My eyes arent two juugly poached eggs.

  Ysabell nodded. On the other hand, my ears dont look like something growing on a dead tree. What does juugly mean?

  You know, eggs like Albert does them.

  With the white all sticky and runny and full of slimy bits?

  Yes.

  A good word, she conceded thoughtfully. But my hair, I put it to you, doesnt look like something you clean a privy with.

  Certainly, but neither does mine look like a wet hedgehog.

  Pray note that my chest does not appear to be a toast rack in a wet paper bag.

  Mort glanced sideways at the top of Ysabells dress, which contained enough puppy fat for two litters of Rotweilers, and forbore to comment.

  My eyebrows dont look like a pair of mating caterpillars, he hazarded.

 
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