Mort, p.20
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       Mort, p.20

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 20

  I didnt know that. I thought gods were just gods.

  They dont like it talked about, said Cutwell, shuffling through the heap of books and parchments on his worktable.

  Well, that might work for gods, because theyre special, said Mort. People are – more solid. It wouldnt work for people.

  Thats not true. Lets suppose you went out of here and prowled around the palace. One of the guards would probably see you and hed think you were a thief and hed fire his crossbow. I mean, in his reality youd be a thief. It wouldnt actually be true but youd be just as dead as if it was. Belief is powerful stuff. Im a wizard. We know about these things. Look here.

  He pulled a book out of the debris in front of him and opened it at the piece of bacon hed used as a bookmark. Mort looked over his shoulder, and frowned at the curly magical writing. It moved around on the page, twisting and writhing in an attempt not to be read by a non-wizard, and the general effect was unpleasant.

  Whats this? he said.

  Its the Book of the Magick of Alberto Malich the Mage, said the wizard, a sort of book of magical theory. Its not a good idea to look too hard at the words, they resent it. Look, it says here —

  His lips moved soundlessly. Little beads of sweat sprang up on his forehead and decided to get together and go down and see what his nose was doing. His eyes watered.

  Some people like to settle down with a good book. No-one in possession of a complete set of marbles would like to settle down with a book of magic, because even the individual words have a private and vindictive life of their own and reading them, in short, is a kind of mental Indian wrestling. Many a young wizard has tried to read a grimoire that is too strong for him, and people whove heard the screams have found only his pointy shoes with the classic wisp of smoke coming out of them and a book which is, perhaps, just a little fatter. Things can happen to browsers in magical libraries that make having your face pulled off by tentacled monstrosities from the Dungeon Dimensions seem a mere light massage by comparison.

  Fortunately Cutwell had an expurgated edition, with some of the more distressing pages clamped shut (although on quiet nights he could hear the imprisoned words scritching irritably inside their prison, like a spider trapped in a matchbox; anyone who has ever sat next to someone wearing a Walkman will be able to imagine exactly what they sounded like).

  This is the bit, said Cutwell. It says here that even gods —

  Ive seen him before!

  What?

  Mort pointed a shaking finger at the book.

  Him!

  Cutwell gave him an odd look and examined the left-hand page. There was a picture of an elderly wizard holding a book and a candlestick in an attitude of near-terminal dignity.

  Thats not part of the magic, he said testily, thats just the author.

  What does it say under the picture?

  Er, It says "Yff youe have enjoyed thiss Boke, youe maye be interestede yn othere Titles by —

  No, right under the picture is what I meant!

  Thats easy. Its old Malich himself. Every wizard knows him. I mean, he founded the University. Cutwell chuckled. Theres a famous statue of him in the main hall, and during Rag Week once I climbed up it and put a —

  Mort stared at the picture.

  Tell me, he said quietly, did the statue have a drip on the end of its nose?

  I shouldnt think so, said Cutwell. It was marble. But I dont know what youre getting so worked up about. Lots of people know what he looked like. Hes famous.

  He lived a long time ago, did he?

  Two thousand years, I think. Look, I dont know why —

  I bet he didnt die, though, said Mort. I bet he just disappeared one day. Did he?

  Cutwell was silent for a moment.

  Funny you should say that, he said slowly. There was a legend I heard. He got up to some weird things, they say. They say he blew himself into the Dungeon Dimensions while trying to perform the Rite of AshkEnte backwards. All they found was his hat. Tragic, really. The whole city in mourning for a day just for a hat. It wasnt even a particularly attractive hat; it had burn marks on it.

  Alberto Malich, said Mort, half to himself. Well. Fancy that.

  He drummed his fingers on the table, although the sound was surprisingly muted.

  Sorry, said Cutwell. I cant get the hang of treacle sandwiches, either.

  I reckon the interface is moving at a slow walking pace, said Mort, licking his fingers absent-mindedly. Cant you stop it by magic?

  Cutwell shook his head. Not me. Itd squash me flat, he said cheerfully.

  Whatll happen to you when it arrives, then?

  Oh, Ill go back to living in Wall Street. I mean, I never will have left. All this wont have happened. Pity, though. The cooking here is pretty good, and they do my laundry for free. How far away did you say it was, by the way?

  About twenty miles, I guess. .

  Cutwell rolled his eyes heavenwards and moved his lips. Eventually he said: That means itll arrive around midnight tomorrow, just in time for the coronation.

  Whose?

  Hers.

  But shes queen already, isnt she?

  In a way, but officially shes not queen until shes crowned. Cutwell grinned, his face a pattern of shade in the candlelight, and added, If you want a way of thinking about it, then its like the difference between stopping living and being dead.

  Twenty minutes earlier Mort had been feeling tired enough to take root. Now he could feel a fizzing in his blood. It was the kind of late-night, frantic energy that you knew you would pay for around midday tomorrow, but for now he felt he had to have some action or else his muscles would snap out of sheer vitality.

  I want to see her, he said. If you cant do anything, there might be something I can do.

  Theres guards outside her room, said Cutwell. I mention this merely as an observation. I dont imagine for one minute that theyll make the slightest difference.

  It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork, but in the great twin city the only difference between night and day was, well, it was darker. The markets were thronged, the spectators were still thickly clustered around the whore pits, runners-up in the citys eternal and byzantine gang warfare drifted silently down through the chilly waters of the river with lead weights tied to their feet, dealers in various illegal and even illogical delights plied their sidelong trade, burglars burgled, knives flashed starlight in alleyways, astrologers started their days work and in the Shades a nightwatch-man who had lost his way rang his bell and cried out: Twelve oclock and alls arrrrrgghhhh, . . .

  However, the Ankh-Morpork Chamber of Commerce would not be happy at the suggestion that the only real difference between their city and a swamp is the number of legs on the alligators, and indeed in the more select areas of Ankh, which tend to be in the hilly districts where there is a chance of a bit of wind, the nights are gentle and scented with habiscine and Cecillia blossoms.

  On this particular night they were scented with saltpetre, too, because it was the tenth anniversary of the accession of the Patrician[7] and he had invited a few friends round for a drink, five hundred of them in this case, and was letting off fireworks. Laughter and the occasional gurgle of passion filled the palace gardens, and the evening had just got to that interesting stage where everyone had drunk too much for their own good but not enough actually to fall over. It is the kind of state in which one does things that one will recall with crimson shame in later life, such as blowing through a paper squeaker and laughing so much that one is sick.

  In fact some two hundred of the Patricians guests were now staggering and kicking their way through the Serpent Dance, a quaint Morporkian folkway which consisted of getting rather drunk, holding the waist of the person in front, and then wobbling and giggling uproariously in a long crocodile that wound through as many rooms as possible, preferably ones with breakables in, while kicking one leg vaguely in time with the beat, or at least in time with some other beat. This dance had gone on
for half an hour and had wound through every room in the palace, picking up two trolls, the cook, the Patricians head torturer, three waiters, a burglar who happened to be passing and a small pet swamp dragon.

  Somewhere around the middle of the dance was fat Lord Rodley of Quirm, heir to the fabulous Quirm estates, whose current preoccupation was with the thin fingers gripping his waist. Under its bath of alcohol his brain kept trying to attract his attention.

  I say, he called over his shoulder, as they oscillated for the tenth hilarious time through the enormous kitchen, not so tight, please.

  I AM MOST TERRIBLY SORRY.

  No offence, old chap. Do I know you? said Lord Rodley, kicking vigorously on the back beat.

  I THINK IT UNLIKELY. TELL ME, PLEASE, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS ACTIVITY?

  What? shouted Lord Rodley, above the sound of someone kicking in the door of a glass cabinet amid shrieks of merriment.

  WHAT is THIS THING THAT WE DO? said the voice, with glacial patience.

  Havent you been to a party before? Mind the glass, by the way.

  I AM AFRAID I DO NOT GET OUT AS MUCH AS I WOULD LIKE TO. PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS. DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH SEX?

  Not unless we pull up sharp, old boy, if you know what I mean? said his lordship, and nudged his unseen fellow guest with his elbow.

  Ouch, he said. A crash up ahead marked the demise of the cold buffet.

  NO.

  What?

  I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN.

  Mind the cream there, its slippery – look, its just a dance, all right? You do it for fun.

  FUN.

  Thats right. Dada, dada, da – kick! There was an audible pause.

  WHO IS THIS FUN?

  No, fun isnt anybody, fun is what you have.

  WE ARE HAVING FUN?

  I thought I was, said his lordship uncertainly. The voice by his ear was vaguely worrying him; it appeared to be arriving directly into his brain.

  WHAT is THIS FUN?

  This is!

  TO KICK VIGOROUSLY IS FUN?

  Well, part of the fun. Kick!

  TO HEAR LOUD MUSIC IN HOT ROOMS IS FUN?

  Possibly.

  HOW IS THIS FUN MANIFEST?

  Well, it – look, either youre having fun or youre not, you dont have to ask me, you just know, all right? How did you get in here, anyway? he added. Are you a friend of the Patrician?

  LET US SAY, HE PUTS BUSINESS MY WAY. I FELT I OUGHT TO LEARN SOMETHING OF HUMAN PLEASURES.

  Sounds like youve got a long way to go.

  I KNOW. PLEASE EXCUSE MY LAMENTABLE IGNORANCE. I WISH ONLY TO LEARN. ALL THESE PEOPLE, PLEASE – THEY ARE HAVING FUN?

  Yes!

  THEN THIS is FUN.

  Im glad weve got that sorted out. Mind the chair, snapped Lord Rodley, who was now feeling very unfunny and unpleasantly sober.

  A voice behind him said quietly: THIS IS FUN. TO DRINK EXCESSIVELY IS FUN. WE ARE HAVING FUN. HE IS HAVING FUN. THIS IS SOME FUN. WHAT FUN.

  Behind Death the Patricians small pet swamp dragon held on grimly to the bony hips and thought: guards or no guards, next time we pass an open window Im going to run like buggery.

  Keli sat bolt upright in bed.

  Dont move another step, she said. Guards!

  We couldnt stop him, said the first guard, poking his head shame-facedly around the doorpost.

  He just pushed in . . . said the other guard, from the other side of the doorway.

  And the wizard said it was all right, and we were told everyone must listen to him because.

  All right, all right. People could get murdered around here, said Keli testily, and put the crossbow back on the bedside table without, unfortunately, operating the safety catch.

 
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