The color of magic, p.23
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       The Color of Magic, p.23

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 23

  At the last minute he pushed Liessa aside, and felt the wild pain of the flame on his arm as he dived for safety. He rolled as he hit the ground, and flipped on to his feet again while he looked around frantically for the other dragon. It came in from one side, and Hrun was forced to take a badly-judged standing jump to escape the flame. The dragon’s tail whipped around as it passed and caught him a stinging blow across the forehead. He pushed himself upright, shaking his head to make the wheeling stars go away. His blistered back screamed pain at him.

  Lio!rt came in for a second run, but slower this time to allow for the big man’s unexpected agility. As the ground drifted up he saw the barbarian standing stock still, chest heaving, arms hanging loosely by his sides. An easy target. As his dragon swooped away Lio!rt turned his head, expecting to see a dreadfully big cinder. There was nothing there. Puzzled, Lio!rt turned back.

  Hrun, heaving himself over the dragon’s shoulder scales with one hand and beating out his flaming hair with the other, presented himself to his view. Lio!rt’s hand flew to his dagger, but pain had sharpened Hrun’s normally excellent reflexes to needle point. A backhand blow hammered into the dragonlord’s wrist, sending the dagger arcing away towards the ground, and another caught the man full on the chin.

  The dragon, carrying the weight of two men, was only a few yards above the grass. This turned out to be fortunate, because at the moment Lio!rt lost consciousness the dragon winked out of existence. Liessa hurried across the grass and helped Hrun stagger to his feet. He blinked at her.

  “What happened? What happened?” he said thickly.

  “That was really fantastic,” she said. “The way you turned that somersault in mid-air and everything. ”

  “Yah, but what happened?”

  “It’s rather difficult to explain-“

  Hrun peered up at the sky. Liartes, by far the most cautious of the two brothers, was circling high above them.

  “Well, you’ve got about ten seconds to try,” he said “The dragons-“

  “Yah?”

  “They’re imaginary. ”

  “Like all these imaginary burns on my arm, you mean?”

  “Yes. No!” she shook her head violently. “I’ll have to tell you later!”

  “Fine, if you can find a really good medium,” snapped Hrun. He glared up at Liartes, who was beginning to descend in wide sweeps.

  “Just listen, will you? Unless my brother is conscious his dragon can’t exist, it’s got no pathway through to this-“

  “Run!” shouted Hrun. He threw her away from him and flung himself flat on the ground as Liartes’ dragon thundered by, leaving another smoking scar across the turf.

  While the creature sought height for another sweep Hrun scrambled to his feet and set off at a dead run for the woods at the edge of the arena. They were sparse, little more than a wide and overgrown hedge, but at least no dragon would be able to fly through them.

  It didn’t try. Liartes brought his mount in to land on the turf a few yards away and dismounted casually. The dragon folded its wings and poked its head in among the greenery, while its master leaned against a tree and whistled tunelessly.

  “I can burn you out,” said Liartes, after a while. The bushes remained motionless.

  “Perhaps you’re in that holly bush over there?” The holly bush became a waxy ball of flame.

  “I’m sure I can see movement in those ferns. ”

  The ferns became mere skeletons of white ash.

  “You’re only prolonging it, barbarian. Why not give in now? I’ve burned lots of people; it doesn’t hurt a bit,” said Liartes, looking sideways at the bushes.

  The dragon continued through the spinney, incinerating every likely-looking bush and clump of ferns. Liartes drew his sword and waited.

  Hrun dropped from a tree and landed running. Behind him the dragon roared and crashed through the bushes as it tried to turn around, but Hrun was running, running, with his gaze fixed on Liartes and a dead branch in his hands.

  It is a little known but true fact that a two legged creature can usually beat a four legged creature over a short distance, simply because of the time it takes the quadruped to get its legs sorted out. Hrun heard the scrabble of claws behind him and then an ominous thump. The dragon had half-opened its wings and was trying to fly.

  As Hrun bore down on the dragonlord Liartes’ sword came up wickedly, to be caught on the branch. Then Hrun cannoned into him and the two men sprawled on the ground.

  The dragon roared.

  Liartes screamed as Hrun brought a knee upwards with anatomical precision, but managed a wild blow that rebroke the barbarian’s nose for him.

  Hrun kicked away and scrambled to his feet, to find himself looking up into the wild horse-face of the dragon, its nostrils distended.

  He lashed out with a foot and caught Liartes, who was trying to stand up, on the side of his head. The man slumped.

  The dragon vanished. The ball of fire that was billowing towards Hrun faded until, when it reached him, it was no more than a puff of warm air. Then there was no sound but the crackle of burning bushes.

  Hrun slung the unconscious dragonlord over his shoulder and set off at a trot back to the arena. Halfway there he found Lio!rt sprawled on the ground, one leg bent awkwardly. He stooped and, with a grunt, hoisted the man on to his vacant shoulder.

  Liessa and the Loremaster were waiting on a raised dais at one end of the meadow. The dragonwoman had quite recovered her composure now, and looked levelly at Hrun as he threw the two men down on the steps before her. The people around her were standing in deferential poses, like a court.

  “Kill them,” she said.

  “I kill in my own time,” he said. “In any case, killing unconscious people isn’t right. ”

  “I can’t think of a more opportune time,” said the Loremaster. Liessa snorted.

  “Then I shall banish them,” she said. “Once they are beyond the reach of the Wyrmberg’s magic then they’ll have no Power. They’ll be simply brigands. Will that satisfy you?”

  “Yes. ”

  “I am surprised that you are so merciful, Hrun. ”

  Hrun shrugged. “A man in my position, he can’t afford to be anything else, he’s got to consider his image. ” He looked around. “Where’s the next test, then?”

  “I warn you that it is perilous. If you wish, you may leave now. If you pass the test, however, you will become lord of the Wyrmberg and, of course, my lawful husband. ”

  Hrun met her gaze. He thought about his life, to date. It suddenly seemed to him to have been full of long damp nights sleeping under the stars, desperate fights with trolls, city guards, countless bandits and evil priests and, on at least three occasions, actual demigods and for what? Well, for quite a lot of treasure, he had to admit - but where had it all gone? Rescuing beleagured maidens had a certain passing reward, but most of the time he’d finished up by setting them up in some city somewhere with a handsome dowry, because after a while even the most agreeable exmaiden became possessive and had scant sympathy for his efforts to rescue her sister sufferers. In short, life had really left him with little more than a reputation and a network of scars. Being a lord might be fun. Hrun grinned. With a base like this, all these dragons and a good bunch of fighting men, a man could really be a contender.

  Besides, the wench was not uncomely.

  “The third test?” she said.

  “Am I to be weaponless again?” said Hrun.

  Liessa reached up and removed her helmet letting the coils of red hair tumble out. Then she unfastened the brooch of her robe. Underneath, she was naked.

  As Hrun’s gaze swept over her his mind began to operate two notional counting machines. One assessed the gold in her bangles, the tiger-rubies that ornamented her toe-rings, the diamond spangle that adorned her navel, and two highly individual whirligigs of silver filigree. The other was plugged straight into his
libido. Both produced tallies that pleased him mightily.

  As she raised a hand and proffered a glass of wine she smiled, and said, “I think not. ”

  “He didn’t attempt to rescue you,” Rincewind pointed out as a last resort.

  He clung desperately to Twoflower’s waist as the dragon circled slowly, tilting the world at a dangerous angle. The new knowledge that the scaley back he was astride only existed as a sort of threedimensional daydream did not, he had soon realised, do anything at all for his ankle-wrenching sensations of vertigo. His mind kept straying towards the possible results of Twoflower losing his concentration.

  “Not even Hrun could have prevailed against those crossbows,” said Twoflower stoutly.

  As the dragon rose higher above the patch of woodland, where the three of them had slept a damp and uneasy sleep, the sun rose over the edge of the disc. Instantly the gloomy blues and greys of predawn were transformed into a bright bronze river that flowed across the world, flaring into gold where it struck ice or water or a light-dam. (Owing to the density of the magical field surrounding the disc, light itself moved at sub-sonic speeds; this interesting property was well utilized by the Sorca people of the Great Nef, for example, who over the centuries had constructed intricate and delicate dams, and valleys walled with polished silica, to catch the slow sunlight and sort of store it. The Scintillating reservoirs of the Nef, overflowing after several weeks of uninterrupted sunlight, were a truly magnificent sight from the air and it is therefore unfortunate that Twoflower and Rincewind did not happen to glance in that direction. )

  In front of them the billion-ton impossibility that was the magic-wrought Wyrmberg hung against the sky and that was not too bad, until Rincewind turned his head and saw the mountain’s shadow slowly unroll itself across the cloudscape of the world…

  “What can you see?” said Twoflower to the dragon.

  I see fighting on the top of the mountain came the gentle reply.

  “See?” said Twoflower. “Hrun’s probably fighting for his life at this very moment. ”

  Rincewind was silent. After a moment Twoflower looked around. The wizard was staring intently at nothing at all, his lips moving soundlessly.

  “Rincewind?”

  The wizard made a small croaking noise.

  “I’m sorry,” said Twoflower. “What did you say?”

  “…all the way… the great fall…” muttered Rincewind, His eyes focused, looked puzzled for a moment, then widened in terror. He made the mistake of looking down.

  “Aargh,” he opined, and began to slide.

  Twoflower grabbed him.

  “What’s the matter?”

  Rincewind tried shutting his eyes, but there were no eyelids to his imagination and it was staring widely.

  “Don’t you get scared of heights?” he managed to say.

  Twoflower looked down at the tiny landscape, mottled with cloud shadows. The thought of fear hadn’t actually occurred to him.

  “No,” he said. “Why should I? You’re just as dead if you fall from forty feet as you are from four thousand fathoms, that’s what I say. ”

  Rincewind tried to consider this dispassionately, but couldn’t see the logic of it. It wasn’t the actual falling, it was the hitting he…

 
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