Mort, p.32
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       Mort, p.32

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 32

  The High Priest held up his hands for silence. Cutwell sidled towards him as the old man turned towards the Hub and in a cracked voice began the invocation to the gods.

  Cutwell let his eyes slip back towards the duke.

  Hear me, mm, O gods —

  Was Sto Helit looking up into the bat-haunted darkness of the rafters?

  — hear me, O Blind Io of the Hundred Eyes; hear me, O Great Offler of the Bird-Haunted Mouth: hear me, O Merciful Fate; hear me, O Cold, mm. Destiny; hear me, O Seven-handed Sek; hear me, O Hoki of the Woods; hear me, O —

  With dull horror Cutwell realised that the daft old fool, against all instruction, was going to mention the whole lot. There were more than nine hundred known gods on the Disc, and research theologians were discovering more every year. It could take hours. The congregation was already beginning to shuffle its feet.

  Keli was standing in front of the altar with a look of fury on her face. Cutwell nudged the High Priest in the ribs, which had no noticeable effect, and then waggled his eyebrows ferociously at the young acolyte.

  Stop him! he hissed. We havent got time!

  The gods would be displeased —

  Not as displeased as me, and Im here.

  The acolyte looked at Cutwells expression for a moment and decided that hed better explain to the gods later. He tapped the High Priest on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear.

  — O Steikhegel, god of, mm, isolated cow byres; hear me, O – hello? What?

  Murmur, murmur.

  This is, mm, very irregular. Very well, we shall go straight to the, mm, Recitation of the Lineage.

  Murmur, murmur.

  The High Priest scowled at Cutwell, or at least where he believed Cutwell to be.

  Oh, all right. Mm, prepare the incense and fragrances for the Shriving of the Fourfold-Path.

  Murmur, murmur.

  The High Priests face darkened.

  I suppose, mm, a short prayer, mm, is totally out of the question? he said acidly.

  If some people dont get a move on, said Keli demurely, there is going to be trouble.

  Murmur.

  I dont know, Im sure, said the High Priest. People might as well not bother with a religious, mm, ceremony at all. Fetch the bloody elephant, then.

  The acolyte gave Cutwell a frantic look and waved at the guards. As they urged their gently-swaying charge forward with shouts and pointed sticks the young priest sidled towards Cutwell and pushed something into his hand.

  He looked down. It was a waterproof hat.

  Is this necessary?

  Hes very devout, said the acolyte. We may need a snorkel.

  The elephant reached the altar and was forced, without too much difficulty, to kneel. It hiccupped.

  Well, where is it, then? snapped the High Priest. Lets get this, mm, farce over with!

  Murmur went the acolyte. The High Priest listened, nodded gravely, picked up his white-handled sacrificial knife and raised it double-handed over his head. The whole hall watched, holding its breath. Then he lowered it again.

  Where in front of me?

  Murmur.

  I certainly dont need your help, my lad! Ive been sacrificing man and boy – and, mm, women and animals – for seventy years, and when I cant use the, mm, knife you can put me to bed with a shovel!

  And he brought the blade down in a wild sweep which, by sheer luck, gave the elephant a mild flesh wound on the trunk.

  The creature awoke from its pleasant reflective stupor and squealed. The acolyte turned in horror to look at two tiny bloodshot eyes squinting down the length of an enraged trunk, and cleared the altar in one standing jump.

  The elephant was enraged. Vague confusing recollections flooded its aching head, of fires and shouts and men with nets and cages and spears and too many years hauling heavy tree trunks. It brought its trunk down across the altar stone and somewhat to its own surprise smashed it in two, levered the two parts into the air with its tusks, tried unsuccessfully to uproot a stone pillar and then, feeling the sudden need for a breath of fresh air, started to charge arthritically down the length of the hall.

  It hit the door at a dead run, its blood loud with the call of the herd and fizzing with alcohol, and took it off at the hinges. Still wearing the frame on its shoulders it careened across the courtyard, smashed the outer gates, burped, thundered through the sleeping city and was still slowly accelerating when it sniffed the distant dark continent of Klatch on the night breeze and, tail raised, followed the ancient call of home.

  Back in the hall there was dust and shouts and confusion. Cutwell pushed his hat out of his eyes and got to his hands and knees.

  Thank you, said Keli, who had been lying underneath him. And why did you jump on top of me?

  My first instinct was to protect you, your Majesty.

  Yes, instinct it may have been, but — She started to say that maybe the elephant would have weighed less, but the sight of his big, serious and rather flushed face stopped her.

  We will talk about this later, she said, sitting up and brushing the dust off her. In the meantime, I think we will dispense with the sacrifice. Im not your Majesty yet, just your Highness, and now if someone will fetch the crown —

  There was the snick of a safety catch behind them.

  The wizard will put his hands where I can see them, said the duke.

  Cutwell stood up slowly, and turned around. The duke was backed by half a dozen large serious men, the type of men whose only function in life is to loom behind people like the duke. They had a dozen large serious crossbows, whose main purpose was to appear to be on the point of going off.

  The princess sprang to her feet and launched herself at her uncle, but Cutwell grabbed her.

  No, he said, quietly. This isnt the kind of man who ties you up in a cellar with just enough time for the mice to eat your ropes before the flood-waters rise. This is the kind of man who just kills you here and now.

  The duke bowed.

  I think it can be truly said that the gods have spoken, he said. Clearly the princess was tragically crushed by the rogue elephant. The people will be upset. I will personally decree a week of mourning.

  You cant do that, all the guests have seen – ! the princess began, nearly in tears.

  Cutwell shook his head. He could see the guards moving through the crowds of bewildered guests.

  They havent, he said. Youll be amazed at what they havent seen. Especially when they learn that being tragically crushed to death by rogue elephants can be catching. You can even die of it in bed.

  The duke laughed pleasantly.

  You really are quite intelligent for a wizard, he said. Now, I am merely proposing banishment —

  You wont get away with this, said Cutwell. He thought for a bit, and added, Well, you will probably get away with it, but youll feel bad about it on your deathbed and youll wish —

  He stopped talking. His jaw dropped.

  The duke half turned to follow his gaze.

  Well, wizard? What have you seen?

  You wont get away with it, said Cutwell hysterically. You wont even be here. This is going to have never happened, do you realise?

  Watch his hands, said the duke. If he even moves his fingers, shoot them.

  He looked around again, puzzled. The wizard had sounded genuine. Of course, it was said wizards could see things that werent there. . . .

  It doesnt even matter if you kill me, Cutwell babbled, because tomorrow Ill wake up in my own bed and this wont have happened anyway. Its come through the wall!

  Night rolled onwards across the Disc. It was always there, of course, lurking in shadows and holes and cellars, but as the slow light of day drifted after the sun the pools and lakes of night spread out, met and merged. Light on the Discworld moves slowly because of the vast magical field.

  Light on the Discworld isnt like light elsewhere. Its grown up a bit, its been around, it doesnt feel the need to rush eve
rywhere. It knows that however fast it goes darkness always gets there first, so it takes it easy.

  Midnight glided across the landscape like a velvet bat. And faster than midnight, a tiny spark against the dark world of the Disc, Binky pounded after it. Flames roared back from his hooves. Muscles moved under his glistening skin like snakes in oil.

  They moved in silence. Ysabell took one arm from around Morts waist and watched sparks glitter around her fingers in all eight colours of the rainbow. Little crackling serpents of light flowed down her arm and flashed off the tips of her hair.

  Mort took the horse down lower, leaving a boiling wake of cloud that extended for miles behind them.

  Now I know Im going mad, he muttered.

  Why?

  I just saw an elephant down there. Whoa, boy. Look, you can see Sto Lat up ahead.

  Ysabell peered over his shoulder at the distant gleam of light.

  How long have we got? she said nervously.

  I dont know. A few minutes, perhaps.

  Mort, I hadnt asked you before —

  Well?

  What are you going to do when we get there?

  I dont know, he said. I was sort of hoping something would suggest itself at the time.

  Has it?

  No. But it isnt time yet. Alberts spell may help. And I—

  The dome of reality squatted over the palace like a collapsing jellyfish. Morts voice trailed into horrified silence. Then Ysabell said, Well, I think its nearly time. What are we going to do?

  Hold tight!

  Binky glided through the smashed gates of the outer courtyard, slid across the cobbles in a trail of sparks and leapt through the ravaged doorway of the hall. The pearly wall of the interface loomed up and passed like a shock of cold spray.

  Mort had a confused vision of Keli and Cutwell and a group of large men diving for their lives. He recognised the features of the duke and drew his sword, vaulting from the saddle as soon as the steaming horse skidded to a halt.

  Dont you lay a finger on her! he screamed. Ill have your head off!

  This is certainly most impressive, said the duke, drawing his own sword. And also very foolish. I —

  He stopped. His eyes glazed over. He toppled forward. Cutwell put down the big silver candlestick hed wielded and gave Mort an apologetic smile.

  Mort turned towards the guards, the blue flame of Deaths sword humming through the air.

  Anyone else want some? he snarled. They backed away, and then turned and ran. As they passed through the interface they vanished. There were no guests outside there, either. In the real reality the hall was dark and empty.

  The four of them were left in a hemisphere that was rapidly growing smaller.

  Mort sidled over to Cutwell.

  Any ideas? he said. Ive got a magic spell here somewhere —

  Forget it. If I try any magic in here now itll blow our heads off. This little reality is too small to contain it.

  Mort sagged against the remains of the altar. He felt empty, drained. For a moment he watched the sizzling wall of the interface drifting nearer. Hed survive it, he hoped, and so would Ysabell. Cutwell wouldnt, but a Cutwell would. Only Keli —

  Am I going to be crowned or not? she said icily. Ive got to die a queen! Itd be terrible to be dead and common!

  Mort gave her an unfocused look, trying to remember what on earth she was talking about. Ysabell fished around in the wreckage behind the altar, and came up with a rather battered gold circlet set with small diamonds.

  Is this it? she said.

  Thats the crown, said Keli, nearly in tears. But theres no priest or anything.

  Mort sighed deeply.

  Cutwell, if this is our own reality we can rearrange it the way we want, cant we?

 
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