The color of magic, p.3
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       The Color of Magic, p.3

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 3

  The twin city of Ankh-Morpork, foremost of all the cities bounding the Circle Sea, was as a matter of course the home of a large number of gangs, thieves’ guilds, syndicates and similar organisations. This was one of the reasons for its wealth. Most of the humbler folk on the widdershin side of the river, in Morpork’s mazy alleys, supplemented their meagre incomes by filling some small role for one or other of the competing gangs. So it was that by the time Hugh and Twoflower entered the courtyard of the Broken Drum the leaders of a number of them were aware that someone had arrived in the city who appeared to have much treasure. Some reports from the more observant spies included details about a book that told the stranger what to say, and a box that walked by itself. These facts were immediately discounted. No magician capable of such enchantments ever came within a mile of Morpork docks.

  It still being that hour when most of the city was just rising or about to go to bed there were few people in the Drum to watch Twoflower descend the stairs. When the Luggage appeared behind him and started to lurch confidently down the steps the customers at the rough wooden tables, as one man, looked suspiciously at their drinks.

  Broadman was browbeating the small troll who swept the bar when the trio walked past him. “What in hell’s that?” he said.

  “Just don’t talk about it,” hissed Hugh. Twoflower was already thumbing through his book.

  “What’s he doing?” said Broadman, arms akimbo.

  “It tells him what to say. I know it sounds ridiculous,” muttered Hugh.

  “How can a book tell a man what to say?”

  “I wish for an accommodation, a room, lodgings, the lodging house, full board, are your rooms clean, a room with a view, what is your rate for one night?” said Twoflower in one breath.

  Broadman looked at Hugh. The beggar shrugged.

  “He’s got plenty money,” he said.

  “Tell him it’s three copper pieces, then. And that thing will have to go in the stable. ”

  “?” said the stranger. Broadman held up three thick red fingers and the man’s face was suddenly a sunny display of comprehension. He reached into his pouch and laid three large gold pieces on Broadman’s palm. Broadman stared at them. They represented about four times the worth of the Broken Drum, Staff included. He looked at Hugh. There was no help there. He looked at the stranger. He swallowed.

  “Yes,” he said, in an unnaturally high voice. “And then there’s meals, o’course. Uh. You understand, yes? Food. You eat. No?” He made the appropriate motions.

  “Fut?” said the little man.

  “Yes,” said Broadman, beginning to sweat. “Have a look in your little book, I should. ”

  The man opened the book and ran a finger down one page. Broadman, who could read after a fashion, peered over the top of the volume. What he saw made no sense.

  “Fooood,” said the stranger. “Yes. Cutlet, hash chop, stew, ragout, fricassee, mince, collops, souffle, dumpling, blancmange, sorbet, gruel, sausage, not to have a sausage, beans, without a hear, kickshaws, jelly, jam. Giblets. ” He beamed at Broadman.

  “All that?” said the innkeeper weakly.

  “It’s just the way he talks,” said Hugh, “Don’t ask me why. He just does. ”

  All eyes in the room were watching the stranger-except for a pair belonging to Rincewind the wizard, who was sitting in the darkest corner nursing a mug of very small beer.

  He was watching the Luggage.

  Watch Rincewind.

  Look at him. Scrawny, like most wizards, and clad in a dark red robe on which a few mystic sigils were embroidered in tarnished sequins. Some might have taken him for a mere apprentice enchanter who had run away from his master out of defiance, boredom, fear and a lingering taste for heterosexuality. Yet around his neck was a chain bearing the bronze octagon that marked him as an alumnus of Unseen University, the high school of magic whose time-and-space transcendent campus is never precisely Here or There. Graduates were usually destined for mageship at least, but Rincewind -after an unfortunate event - had left him knowing only one spell and made a living of sorts around the town by capitalising on an innate gift for languages. He avoided work as a rule, but had a quickness of wit that put his acquaintances in mind of a bright rodent. And he knew sapient pearwood when he saw it. He was seeing it now, and didn’t quite believe it.

  An archmage, by dint of great effort and much expenditure of time, might eventually obtain a small staff made from the timber of the sapient peartree. It grew only on the sites of ancient magic-there were probably no more than two such staffs in all the cities of the circle sea. A large chest of it… Rincewind tried to work it out, and decided that even if the box were crammed with star opals and sticks of auricholatum the contents would not be worth one-tenth the price of the container. A vein started to throb in his forehead.

  He stood up and made his way to the trio.

  “May I be of assistance?” he ventured.

  “Shove off, Rincewind,” snarled Broadman.

  “I only thought it might be useful to address this gentleman in his own tongue,” said the wizard gently. “He’s doing all right on his own,” said the innkeeper, but took a few steps backward. Rincewind smiled politely at the stranger and tried a few words of Chimeran. He prided himself on his fluency in the tongue, but the stranger only looked bemused.

  “It won’t work,” said Hugh knowledgeably, “it’s the book, you see. It tells him what to say. Magic. ”

  Rincewind switched to High Borogravian, to Vanglemesht, Sumtri and even Black Oroogu, the language with no nouns and only one adjective, which is obscene. Each was met with polite incomprehension. In desperation he tried heathen Trob, and the little man’s face split into a delighted grin.

  “At last!” he said. “My good sir! This is remarkable!” (Although in Trob the last word in fact became “a thing which may happen but once in the usable lifetime of a canoe hollowed diligently by axe and fire from the tallest diamondwood tree that grows in the noted diamondwood forests on the lower Slopes of Mount Awayawa, home of the firegods or so it is said. ”).

  “What was all that?” said Broadman suspiciously.

  “What did the innkeeper say?” said the little man.

  Rincewind swallowed. “Broadman,” he said. “Two mugs of your best ale, please. ”

  “You can understand him?”

  “Oh, sure. ”

  “Tell him tell him he’s very welcome. Tell him breakfast is - uh one gold piece. ” For a moment Broadman’s face looked as though some vast internal struggle was going on, and then he added with a burst of generosity. “I’ll throw in yours, too. ”

  “Stranger,” said Rincewind levelly. “if you stay here you will be knifed or poisoned by nightfall. But don’t stop smiling, or so will I. ”

  “Oh, come now,” said the stranger, looking around.

  “This looks like a delightful place. A genuine Morporkean tavern. I’ve heard so much about them, you know. All these quaint old beams. And so reasonable, too. ”

  Rincewind glanced around quickly, in case some leakage of enchantment from the Magician’s Quarter across the river had momentarily transported them to some other place. No - this was still the interior of the Drum, its walls stained with smoke, its floor a compost of old rushes and nameless beetles, its sour beer not so much purchased as merely hired for a while. He tried to fit the image around the word “quaint”, or rather the nearest Trob equivalent, which was “that pleasant oddity of design found in the little coral houses of the sponge-eating pigmies on the Orohai peninsular”.

  His mind reeled back from the effort. The visitor went on, “My name is Twoflower,” and extended his hand. Instinctively, the other three looked down to see if there was a coin in it.

  “Pleased to meet you,” said Rincewind. “I’m Rincewind. Look, I wasn’t joking. This is a tough place. ”

  “Good! Exactly what I wanted!”

  “
Eh?”

  “What is this stuff in the mugs?”

  “This? Beer. Thanks, Broadman. Yes. Beer. You know. Beer. ”

  “Ah, the so-typical drink. A small gold piece will be sufficient payment, do you think? I do not want to cause offense. ”

  It was already half out of his purse.

  “Yarrt,” croaked Rincewind. “I mean, no, it won’t cause Offense. ”

  “Good. You say this is a tough place. Frequented, you mean, by heroes and men of adventure?”

  Rincewind considered this. “Yes?” he managed.

  “Excellent. I would like to meet some. ”

  An explanation occurred to the wizard. “Ah,” he said. “You’ve come to hire mercenaries (”warriors who fight for the tribe with most milknut-meal”)?”

  “Oh no. I just want to meet them. So that when I get home I can say that I did it. ”

  Rincewind thought that a meeting with most of the Drum’s clientele would mean that Twoflower never went home again, unless he lived downriver and happened to float past.

  “Where is your home?” he inquired.

  Broadman had slipped away into some back room, he noticed. Hugh was watching them suspiciously from a nearby table.

  “Have you heard of the city of Des Palargic?”

  “Well, I didn’t spend much time in Trob. I was just passing through, you know-“

  “Oh, it’s not in Trob. I speak Trob because there are many beTrobi sailors in our ports. Des Palargic is the major seaport of the Agatean Empire. ”

  “Never heard of it, I’m afraid. ”

  Twoflower raised his eyebrows. “No? It is quite big. You sail turnwise from the Brown Islands for about a week and there it is. Are you all right?” He hurried around the table and patted the wizard on the back. Rincewind choked on his beer-The Counterweight Continent!

  Three streets away an old man dropped a coin into a saucer of acid and swirled it gently. Broadman waited impatiently, ill at ease in a room made noisome by vats and bubbling beakers and lined with shelves containing shadowy shapes suggestive of skulls and stuffed impossibilities.

  “Well?” he demanded.

  “One cannot hurry these things,” said the old alchemist peevishly. “Assaying takes time. Ah. ” He prodded the saucer, where the coin now lay in a swirl of green colour. He made some calculations on a scrap of parchment.

  “Exceptionally interesting,” he said at last.

  “Is it genuine?”

  The old man pursed his lips. “it depends on how you define the term,” he said. “if you mean: is this coin the same as, say, a fifty-dollar piece, then the answer is no. ”

  “I knew” it,” screamed the innkeeper, and started towards the door.

  “I’m not sure that I’m making myself clear,” said the alchemist. Broadman turned round angrily.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, you see, what with one thing and another our coinage has been somewhat watered, over the years. The gold content of the average coin is barely four parts in twelve, the balance being made up of silver, copper-“

 
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