Mort, p.25
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       Mort, p.25

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 25

  Oh, I know about that. My father told me all about that when we used to take the thargas to be mated. When a man and a woman —

  About the universe is what I meant, said Albert hurriedly. I mean, have you ever thought about it?

  I know the Disc is carried through space on the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of Great ATuin, said Mort.

  Thats just part of it. I meant the whole universe of time and space and life and death and day and night and everything.

  Cant say Ive ever given it much thought, said Mort.

  Ah. You ought. The point is, the nodes are part of it. They stop death from getting out of control, see. Not him, not Death. Just death itself. Like, uh — Albert struggled for words – like, death should come exactly at the end of life, see, and not before or after, and the nodes have to be worked out so that the key figures . . . youre not taking this in, are you?

  Sorry.

  Theyve got to be worked out, said Albert flatly, and then the correct lives have got to be got. The hourglasses, you call them. The actual Duty is the easy job.

  Can you do it?

  No. Can you?

  No!

  Albert sucked reflectively at his peppermint. Thats the whole world in the gyppo, then, he said.

  Look, I cant see why youre so worried. I expect hes just got held up somewhere, said Mort, but it sounded feeble even to him. It wasnt as though people buttonholed Death to tell him another story, or clapped him on the back and said things like Youve got time for a quick half in there, my old mate, no need to rush off home or invited him to make up a skittles team and come out for a Klatchian take-away afterwards, or . . . It struck Mort with sudden, terrible poignancy that Death must be the loneliest creature in the universe. In the great party of Creation, he was always in the kitchen.

  Im sure I dont know whats come over the master lately, mumbled Albert. Out of the chair, my girl. Lets have a look at these nodes.

  They opened the ledger.

  They looked at it for a long time.

  Then Mort said, What do all those symbols mean?

  Sodomy non sapiens, said Albert under his breath.

  What does that mean?

  Means Im buggered if I know.

  That was wizard talk, wasnt it? said Mort.

  You shut up about wizard talk. I dont know anything about wizard talk. You apply your brain to this here.

  Mort looked down again at the tracery of lines. It was as if a spider had spun a web on the page, stopping at every junction to make notes. Mort stared until his eyes hurt, waiting for some spark of inspiration. None volunteered.

  Any luck?

  Its all Klatchian to me, said Mort. I dont even know whether it should be read upside down or sideways.

  Spiralling from the centre outwards, sniffed Ysabell from her seat in the corner.

  Their heads collided as they both peered at the centre of the page. They stared at her. She shrugged.

  Father taught me how to read the node chart, she said, when I used to do my sewing in here. He used to read bits out.

  You can help? said Mort.

  No, said Ysabell. She blew her nose.

  What do you mean, no? growled Albert. This is too important for any flighty —

  I mean, said Ysabell, in razor tones, that I can do them and you can help.

  The Ankh-Morpork Guild of Merchants has taken to hiring large gangs of men with ears like fists and fists like large bags of walnuts whose job it is to re-educate those misguided people who publicly fail to recognise the many attractive points of their fine city. For example the philosopher Catroaster was found floating face downward in the river within hours of uttering the famous line, When a man is tired of Ankh-Morpork, he is tired of ankle-deep slurry.

  Therefore it is prudent to dwell on one – of the very many, of course – on one of the things that makes Ankh-Morpork renowned among the great cities of the multiverse.

  This is its food.

  The trade routes of half the Disc pass through the city or down its rather sluggish river. More than half the tribes and races of the Disc have representatives dwelling within its sprawling acres. In Ankh-Morpork the cuisines of the world collide: on the menu are one thousand types of vegetable, fifteen hundred cheeses, two thousand spices, three hundred types of meat, two hundred fowl, five hundred different kinds of fish, one hundred variations on the theme of pasta, seventy eggs of one kind or another, fifty insects, thirty molluscs, twenty assorted snakes and other reptiles, and something pale brown and warty known as the Klatchian migratory bog truffle.

  Its eating establishments range from the opulent, where the portions are tiny but the plates are silver, to the secretive, where some of the Discs more exotic inhabitants are rumoured to eat anything they can get down their throat best out of three.

  Hargas House of Ribs down by the docks is probably not numbered among the citys leading eateries, catering as it does for the type of beefy clientele that prefers quantity and breaks up the tables if it doesnt get it. They dont go in for the fancy or exotic, but stick to conventional food like flightless bird embryos, minced organs in intestine skins, slices of hog flesh and burnt ground grass seeds dipped in animal fats; or, as it is known in their patois, egg, soss and bacon and a fried slice.

  It was the kind of eating house that didnt need a menu. You just looked at Hargas vest.

  Still, he had to admit, this new cook seemed to be the business. Harga, an expansive advert for his own high carbohydrate merchandise, beamed at a room full of satisfied customers. And a fast worker, too! In fact, disconcertingly fast.

  He rapped on the hatch.

  Double egg, chips, beans, and a trollburger, hold the onions, he rasped.

  RIGHT.

  The hatch slid up a few seconds later and two plates were pushed through. Harga shook his head in gratified amazement.

  It had been like that all evening. The eggs were bright and shiny, the beans glistened like rubies, and the chips were the crisp golden brown of sunburned bodies on expensive beaches. Hargas last cook had turned out chips like little paper bags full of pus.

  Harga looked around the steamy cafe. No-one was watching him. He was going to get to the bottom of this. He rapped on the hatch again.

  Alligator sandwich, he said. And make it sna —

  The hatch shot up. After a few seconds to pluck up enough courage, Harga peered under the top slice of the long sarny in front of him. He wasnt saying that it was alligator, and he wasnt saying it wasnt. He knuckled the hatch again.

  Okay, he said, Im not complaining, I just want to know how you did it so fast.

  TIME IS NOT IMPORTANT.

  You say?

  RIGHT.

  Harga decided not to argue.

  Well, youre doing a damn fine job in there, boy, he said.

  WHAT is IT CALLED WHEN YOU FEEL WARM AND CONTENT AND WISH THINGS WOULD STAY THAT WAY?

  I guess youd call it happiness, said Harga.

  Inside the tiny, cramped kitchen, stratad with the grease of decades, Death spun and whirled, chopping, slicing and flying. His skillet flashed through the fetid steam.

  Hed opened the door to the cold night air, and a dozen neighbourhood cats had strolled in, attracted by the bowls of milk and meat – some of Hargas best, if hed known – that had been strategically placed around the floor. Occassionally Death would pause in his work and scratch one of them behind the ears.

  Happiness, he said, and puzzled at the sound of his own voice.

  Cutwell, the wizard and Royal Recogniser by appointment, pulled himself up the last of the tower steps and leaned against the wall, waiting for his heart to stop thumping.

  Actually it wasnt particularly high, this tower, just high for Sto Lat. In general design and outline it looked the standard sort of tower for imprisoning princesses in; it was mainly used to store old furniture.

  However, it offered unsurpassed views of the city and the Sto plain, whic
h is to say, you could see an awful lot of cabbages.

  Cutwell made it as far as the crumbling crenel-lations atop the wall and looked out at the morning haze. It was, maybe, a little hazier than usual. If he tried hard he could imagine a flicker in the sky. If he really strained his imagination he could hear a buzzing out over the cabbage fields, a sound like someone frying locusts. He shivered.

  At a time like this his hands automatically patted his pockets, and found nothing but half a bag of jelly babies, melted into a sticky mass, and an apple core. Neither offered much consolation.

  What Cutwell wanted was what any normal wizard wanted at a time like this, which was a smoke. Hed have killed for a cigar, and would have gone as far as a flesh wound for a squashed dog-end. He pulled himself together. Resolution was good for the moral fibre; the only trouble was the fibre didnt appreciate the sacrifices he was making for it. They said that a truly great wizard should be permanently under tension. You could have used Cutwell for a bowstring.

  He turned his back on the brassica-ed landscape and made his way back down the winding steps to the main part of the palace.

  Still, he told himself, the campaign appeared to be working. The population didnt seem to be resisting the fact that there was going to be a coronation, although they werent exactly clear about who was going to be crowned. There was going to be bunting in the streets and Cutwell had arranged for the town squares main fountain to run, if not with wine, then at least with an acceptable beer made from broccoli. There was going to be folk dancing, at sword point if necessary. There would be races for children. There would be an ox roast. The royal coach had been regilded and Cutwell was optimistic that people could be persuaded to notice it as it went by.

  The High Priest at the Temple of Blind Io was going to be a problem. Cutwell had marked him down as a dear old soul whose expertise with the knife was so unreliable that half of the sacrifices got tired of waiting and wandered away. The last time hed tried to sacrifice a goat it had time to give birth to twins before he could focus, and then the courage of motherhood had resulted in it chasing the entire priesthood out of the temple.

  The chances of him succeeding in putting the crown on the right person even in normal circumstances were only average, Cutwell had calculated; hed have to stand alongside the old boy and try tactfully to guide his shaking hands.

  Still, even that wasnt the big problem. The big problem was much bigger than that. The big problem had been sprung on him by the Chancellor after breakfast.

  Fireworks? Cutwell had said.

  Thats the sort of thing you wizard fellows are supposed to be good at, isnt it? said the Chancellor, as crusty as a week-old loaf. Flashes and bangs and whatnot. I remember a wizard when I was a lad —

  Im afraid I dont know anything about fireworks, said Cutwell, in tones designed to convey that he cherished this ignorance.

  Lots of rockets, the Chancellor reminisced happily. Ankhian candles. Thunderflashes. And thingies that you can hold in your hand. Its not a proper coronation without fireworks.

  Yes, but, you see —

  Good man, said the Chancellor briskly, knew we could rely on you. Plenty of rockets, you understand, and to finish with there must be a set-piece, mind you, something really breathtaking like a portrait of – of — his eyes glazed over in a way that was becoming depressingly familiar to Cut-well.

  The Princess Keli, he said wearily.

  Ah. Yes. Her, said the Chancellor. A portrait of – who you said – in fireworks. Of course, its probably all pretty simple stuff to you wizards, but the people like it. Nothing like a good blowout and a blowup and a bit of balcony waving to keep the loyalty muscles in tip-top shape, thats what I always say. See to it. Rockets. With runes on.

 
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