Mort, p.3
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       Mort, p.3

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 3

  Mr who? said Mort.

  Mr . . . your new master.

  Oh. Him. No. No, I dont think so, said Mort slowly. I dont think hes the marrying type.

  Many a keen young man owes his advancement to his nuptials, said Lezek.

  He does?

  Mort, I dont think youre really listening.

  What?

  Lezek came to a halt on the frosty cobbles and spun the boy around to face him.

  Youre really going to have to do better than this, he said. Dont you understand, boy? If youre going to amount to anything in this world then youve got to listen. Im your father telling you these things.

  Mort looked down at his fathers face. He wanted to say a lot of things: he wanted to say how much he loved him, how worried he was; he wanted to ask what his father really thought hed just seen and heard. He wanted to say that he felt as though he stepped on a molehill and found that it was really a volcano. He wanted to ask what nuptials meant.

  What he actually said was, Yes. Thank you. Id better be going. Ill try and write you a letter.

  Theres bound to be someone passing who can read it to us, said Lezek. Goodbye, Mort. He blew his nose.

  Goodbye, dad. Ill come back to visit, said Mort. Death coughed tactfully, although it sounded like the pistol-crack of an ancient beam full of death-watch beetle.

  WE HAD BETTER BE GOING, he said. HOP UP, MORT.

  As Mort scrambled behind the ornate silver saddle Death leaned down and shook Lezeks hand.

  THANK YOU, he said.

  Hes a good lad at heart, said Lezek. A bit dreamy, thats all. I suppose we were all young once.

  Death considered this.

  No, he said, I DONT THINK so.

  He gathered up the reins and turned the horse towards the Rim road. From his perch behind the black-robed figure Mort waved desperately.

  Lezek waved back. Then, as the horse and its two riders disappeared from view, he lowered his hand and looked at it. The handshake . . . it had felt strange. But, somehow, he couldnt remember exactly why.

  Mort listened to the clatter of stone under the horses hooves. Then there was the soft thud of packed earth as they reached the road, and then there was nothing at all.

  He looked down and saw the landscape spread out below him, the night etched with moonlight silver. If he fell off, the only thing hed hit was air.

  He redoubled his grip on the saddle.

  Then Death said, ARE YOU HUNGRY, BOY?

  Yes, sir. The words came straight from his stomach without the intervention of his brain.

  Death nodded, and reined in the horse. It stood on the air, the great circular panorama of the Disc glittering below it. Here and there a city was an range glow; in the warm seas nearer the Rim there was a hint of phosphorescence. In some of thedeep valleys the trapped daylight of the Disc, which is slow and slightly heavy[1], was evaporating like silver steam.

  But it was outshone by the glow that rose towards the stars from the Rim itself. Vast streamers of light shimmered and glittered across the night. Great golden walls surrounded the world.

  Its beautiful, said Mort softly. What is it?

  THE SUN is UNDER THE Disc, said Death.

  Is it like this every night?

  EVERY NIGHT, said Death. NATURES LIKE THAT.

  Doesnt anyone know?

  ME. You. THE GODS. GOOD, IS IT?

  Gosh!

  Death leaned over the saddle and looked down at the kingdoms of the world.

  I DONT KNOW ABOUT YOU, he Said, BUT I COULD MURDER A CURRY.

  Although it was well after midnight the twin city of Ankh-Morpork was roaring with life. Mort had thought Sheepridge looked busy, but compared to the turmoil of the street around him the town was, well, a morgue.

  Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps its the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe its just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So lets just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.

  There were temples, their doors wide open, filling the streets with the sounds of gongs, cymbals and, in the case of some of the more conservative fundamentalist religions, the brief screams of the victims. There were shops whose strange wares spilled out on to the pavement. There seemed to be rather a lot of friendly young ladies who couldnt afford many clothes. There were flares, and jugglers, and assorted sellers of instant transcendence.

  And Death stalked through it all. Mort had half expected him to pass through the crowds like smoke, but it wasnt like that at all. The simple truth was that wherever Death walked, people just drifted out of the way.

  It didnt work like that for Mort. The crowds that gently parted for his new master closed again just in time to get in his way. His toes got trodden on, his ribs were bruised, people kept trying to sell him unpleasant spices and suggestively-shaped vegetables, and a rather elderly lady said, against all the evidence, that he looked a well set-up young lad who would like a nice tune.

  He thanked her very much, and said that he hoped he was having a nice tune already.

  Death reached the street corner, the light from the flares raising brilliant highlights on the olished dome of his skull, and sniffed the air. A drunk staggered up, and without quite realising why made a slight detour in his erratic passage for no visible reason. THIS IS THE CITY, BOY, said Death. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  Its very big, said Mort, uncertainly. I mean, why does everyone want to live all squeezed together like this?

  Death shrugged.

  I LIKE IT, he said. ITS FULL OF LIFE.

  Sir?

  YES?

  Whats a curry?

  The blue fires flared deep in the eyes of Death.

  HAVE YOU EVER BITTEN A RED-HOT ICE CUBE?

  No, sir, said Mort.

  CURRYS LIKE THAT.

  Sir?

  YES?

  Mort swallowed hard. Excuse me, sir, but my dad said, if I dont understand, I was to ask questions, sir?

  VERY COMMENDABLE, said Death. He set off down a side street, the crowds parting in front of him like random molecules.

  Well, sir, I cant help noticing, the point is, well, the plain fact of it, sir, is —

  OUT WITH IT, BOY.

  How can you eat things, sir?

  Death pulled up short, so that Mort walked into him. When the boy started to speak he waved him into silence. He appeared to be listening to something.

  THERE ARE TIMES, YOU KNOW, he said, half to himself, WHEN I GET REALLY UPSET.

  He turned on one heel and set off down an alleyway at high speed, his cloak flying out behind him. The alley wound between dark walls and sleeping buildings, not so much a thoroughfare as a meandering gap.

  Death stopped by a decrepit water butt and plunged his arm in at full length, bringing out a small sack with a brick tied to it. He drew his sword, a line of flickering blue fire in the darkness, and sliced through the string.

  I GET VERY ANGRY INDEED, he said. He upended the sack and Mort watched the pathetic scraps of sodden fur slide out, to lie in their spreading puddle on the cobbles. Death reached out with his white fingers and stroked them gently.

  After a while something like grey smoke curled up from the kittens and formed three small cat-shaped clouds in the air. They billowed occasionally, unsure of their shape, and blinked at Mort with puzzled grey eyes. When he tried to touch one his hand went straight through it, and tingled.

  YOU DONT SEE PEOPLE AT THEIR BEST IN THIS JOB, aid Death. He blew on a kitten, sending it gently tumbling. Its miaow of complaint sounded as though it had come from a long way away via a tin tube.

  Theyre souls, arent they? said Mort. What do people look like?

  PEOPLE
SHAPED, said Death. ITS BASICALLY ALL OWN TO THE CHARACTERISTIC MORPHOGENETIC FIELD.

  He sighed like the swish of a shroud, picked the kittens out of the air, and carefully stowed them away somewhere in the dark recesses of his robe. He stood up.

  CURRY TIME, he said.

  It was crowded in the Curry Gardens on the corner of God Street and Blood Alley, but only with the cream of society – at least, with those people who are found floating on the top and who, therefore, its wisest to call the cream. Fragrant bushes planted among the tables nearly concealed the basic smell of the city itself, which has been likened to the nasal equivalent of a foghorn.

  Mort ate ravenously, but curbed his curiosity and didnt watch to see how Death could possibly eat anything. The food was there to start with and wasnt there later, so presumably something must have happened in between. Mort got the feeling that Death wasnt really used to all this but was doing it to put him at his ease, like an elderly bachelor uncle who has been landed with his nephew for a holiday and is terrified of getting it wrong.

  The other diners didnt take much notice, even when Death leaned back and lit a rather fine pipe. Someone with smoke curling out of their eye sockets takes some ignoring, but everyone managed it.

  Is it magic? said Mort.

  WHAT DO YOU THINK? said Death. AM I REALLY HERE, BOY?

  Yes, said Mort slowly. I . . . Ive watched people. They look at you but they dont see you, I think. You do something to their minds.

  Death shook his head.

  THEY DO IT ALL THEMSELVES, he said. THERES NO MAGIC. PEOPLE CANT SEE ME, THEY SIMPLY WONT ALLOW THEMSELVES TO DO IT. UNTIL ITS TIME, OF COURSE. WIZARDS CAN SEE ME, AND CATS. BUT YOUR AVERAGE HUMAN . . . NO, NEVER. He blew a smoke ring at the sky, and added, STRANGE BUT TRUE.

  Mort watched the smoke ring wobble into the sky and drift away towards the river.

  I can see you, he said.

  THATS DIFFERENT.

  The Klatchian waiter arrived with the bill, and placed it in front of Death. The man was squat and brown, with a hairstyle like a coconut gone nova, and his round face creased into a puzzled frown when Death nodded politely to him. He shook his head like someone trying to dislodge soap from his ears, and walked away.

  Death reached into the depths of his robe and brought out a large leather bag full of assorted copper coinage, most of it blue and green with age. He inspected the bill carefully. Then he counted out a dozen coins.

  COME, he said, standing up. WE MUST GO.

  Mort trotted along behind him as he stalked out of the garden and into the street, which was still fairly busy even though there were the first suggestions of dawn on the horizon.

  What are we going to do now?

  BUY YOU SOME NEW CLOTHES.

  These were new today – yesterday, I mean. REALLY?

  Father said the shop was famous for its budget clothing, said Mort, running to keep up.

  IT CERTAINLY ADDS A NEW TERROR TO POVERTY.

  They turned into a wider street leading into a more affluent part of the city (the torches were closer together and the middens further apart). There were no stalls and alley corner traders here, but proper buildings with signs hanging outside. They werent mere shops, they were emporia; they had purveyors in them, and chairs, and spittoons. Most of them were open even at this time of night, because the average Ankhian trader cant sleep for thinking of the money hes not making.

  Doesnt anyone ever go to bed around here? said Mort.

  THIS IS A CITY, said Death, and pushed open the door of a clothing store. When they came out twenty minutes later Mort was wearing a neatly— itting black robe with faint silver embroidery, and the shopkeeper was looking at a handful of antique copper coins and wondering precisely how he came to have them.

 
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