The color of magic, p.4
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       The Color of Magic, p.4

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 4

  “What of it?”

  “I said this coin isn’t like ours. It is pure gold. ”

  After Broadman had left, at a run, the alchemist spent some time staring at the ceiling. Then he drew out a very small piece of thin parchment, rummaged for a pen amongst the debris on his workbench, and wrote a very short, small, message. Then he went over to his cages of white doves, black cockerels and other laboratory animals. From one cage he removed a glossy coated rat, rolled the parchment into the phial attached to a hind leg, and let the animal go.

  It sniffed around the floor for a moment, then disappeared down a hole in the far wall. At about this time a hitherto unsuccessful fortune-teller living on the other side of the block chanced to glance into her scrying bowl, gave a small scream and, within the hour, had sold her jewellery, various magical accoutrements, most of her clothes and almost all her other possessions that could not be conveniently carried on the fastest horse she could buy. The fact that later on, when her house collapsed in flames, she herself died in a freak landslide in the Morpork Mountains, proves that Death, too, has a sense of humour.

  Also at about the same moment as the homing rat disappeared into the maze of runs under the city, scurrying along in faultless obedience to an ancient instinct, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork picked up the letters delivered that morning by albatross. He looked pensively at the topmost one again, and summoned his chief of spies.

  And in the Broken Drum Rincewind was listening open-mouthed as Twoflower talked.

  “So I decided to see for myself,” the little man was saying. “Eight years’ saving up, this has cost me. But worth every half-rhinu. I mean, here I am. In Ankh-Morpork. Famed in song and story, I mean. In the streets that have known the tread of Hemic Whiteblade. Hrun the Barbarian, and Bravd the Hublander and the Weasel… It’s all just like I imagined, you know. ”

  Rincewind’s face was a mask of fascinated horror.

  “I just couldn’t stand it any more back in Des Pelargic,” Twoflower went on blithely, “sitting at a desk all day, just adding up columns of figures, just a pension to look forward to at the end of it… where’s the romance in that? Twoflower, I thought, it’s now or never. You don’t just have to listen to stories. You can go there. Now’s the time to stop hanging around the docks listening to sailors’ tales. So I compiled a phrase book and bought a passage on the next ship to the Brown Islands. ”

  “No guards?” murmured Rincewind.

  “No. Why? What have I got that’s worth stealing?”

  Rincewind coughed. “You have, uh, gold,” he said.

  “Barely two thousand rhinu. Hardly enough to keep a man alive for more than a month or two. At home, that is. I imagine they might stretch a bit further here. ”

  “Would a rhinu be one of those big gold coins?” said Rincewind.

  “Yes. ” Twoflower looked worriedly at the wizard over the top of his strange seeing-lenses. “Will two thousand be sufficient, do you think?”

  “Yarrrt,” croaked Rincewind. “I mean, yes sufficient . “

  “Good. ”

  “Um. Is everyone in the Agatean Empire as rich as you?”

  “Me? Rich? Bless you, whatever put that idea into your head? “I am but a poor clerk! Did I pay the innkeeper too much, do you think?” Twoflower added.

  “Uh. He might have settled for less,” Rincewind conceded.

  “Ah. I shall know better next time. I can see I have a lot to learn. An idea occurs to me. Rincewind would you perhaps consent to be employed as a, I don’t know, perhaps the word “guide” would fit the circumstances? I think I could afford to pay you a rhinu a day. ”

  Rincewind opened his mouth to reply but felt the words huddle together in his throat, reluctant to emerge in a world that was rapidly going mad. Twoflower blushed.

  “I have offended you,” he said. it was an impertinent request to make of a professional man such as yourself. Doubtless you have many projects you wish to return to- some works of high magic, no doubt…”

  “No,” said Rincewind faintly. “Not just at present. A rhinu, you say? One a day. Every day?”

  “I think perhaps in the circumstances I should make it one and one-half rhinu per day. Plus any out-of-pocket expenses, of course. ”

  The wizard rallied magnificently. “That will be fine,” he Said. “Great. ”

  Twoflower reached into his pouch and took out a large round gold object, glanced at it for a moment, and slipped it back. Rincewind didn’t get a chance to see it properly.

  “I think,” said the tourist, “that I would like a little sleep now. It was a long crossing. And then perhaps you would care to call back at noon and we can take a look at the city. ”

  “Sure. ”

  “Then please be good enough to ask the innkeeper to Show me to my room. ”

  Rincewind did so, and watched the nervous Broadman, who had arrived at a gallop from some back room, lead the way up the wooden steps behind the bar. After a few seconds the luggage got up and pattered across the floor after them. Then the wizard looked down at the six big coins in his hand. Twoflower had insisted on paying his first four days’ wages in advance. Hugh nodded and smiled encouragingly.

  Rincewind snarled at him.

  As a student wizard Rincewind had never achieved high marks in precognition, but now unused circuits in his brain were throbbing and the future might as well have been engraved in bright colours on his eyeballs. The space between his shoulder blades began to itch. The sensible thing to do, he knew, was to buy a horse. It would have to be a fast one, and expensive - offhand, Rincewind couldn’t think of any horse-dealer he knew who was rich enough to give change out of almost a whole ounce of gold.

  And then, of course, the other five coins would help him set up a useful practice at some safe distance, say two hundred miles. That would be the sensible thing.

  But what would happen to Twoflower, all alone in a city where even the cockroaches had an unerring instinct for gold? A man would have to be a real heel to leave him.

  The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork smiled, but with his mouth only.

  “The Hub Gate, you say?” he murmured.

  The guard captain saluted smartly. “Aye, lord. We had to shoot the horse before he would stop. ”

  “Which, by a fairly direct route, brings you here,” said the Patrician, looking down at Rincewind.

  “And what have you got to say for yourself?”

  It was rumoured that an entire wing of the Patrician’s palace was filled with clerks who spent their days collating and updating all the information collected by their master’s exquisitely organized spy system. Rincewind didn’t doubt it. He glanced towards the balcony that ran down one side of the audience room. A sudden run, a nimble jump - a sudden hail of crossbow quarrels. He shuddered. The Patrician cradled his chins in a beringed hand, and regarded the wizard with eyes as small and hard as beads.

  “Let me see,” he said. “Oathbreaking, the theft of a horse, uttering false coinage - yes, I think it’s the Arena for you, Rincewind. ”

  This was too much.

  “I didn’t steal the horse! I bought it fairly!”

  “But with false coinage. Technical theft, you see. ”

  “But those rhinu are solid gold!”

  “Rhinu?” The Patrician rolled one of them around in his thick fingers. “is that what they are called? How interesting. But, as you point out, they are not very similar to dollars…”

  “Well, of course they’re not-“

  “Ah you admit it, then?”

  Rincewind opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and shut it again.

  “Quite so. And on top of these there is, of course, the moral obloquy attendant on the cowardly betrayal of a visitor to this shore. For shame, Rincewind!” The Patrician waved a hand vaguely. The guards behind Rincewind backed away, and their captain took a few paces to the right. Rincewind suddenly felt very alone.
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  It is said that when a wizard is about to die Death himself turns up to claim him (instead of delegating the task to a subordinate, such as Disease or Famine, as is usually the case). Rincewind looked around nervously for a tall figure in black( wizards, even failed wizards, have in addition to rods and cones in their eyeballs the tiny octagons that enable them to see into the far octarine, the basic colour of which all other colours are merely pale shadows impinging on normal four-dimensional space. It is said to be a sort of fluorescent greenish-yellow purple).

  Was that a flickering shadow in the corner?

  “Of course,” said the Patrician, “I could be merciful. ” The shadow disappeared. Rincewind looked up an expression of insane hope on his face.

  “Yes?” he said.

  The Patrician waved a hand again. Rincewind saw the guards leave the chamber. Alone with the lord of the twin cities, he almost wished they would come back.

  “Come hither, Rincewind,” said the Patrician. He indicated a bowl of savouries on a low onyx table by the throne. “Would you care for a crystallised jellyfish? No?”

  “Um,” said Rincewind, “no. ”

  “Now I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say,” said the Patrician amiably, “otherwise you will die. In an interesting fashion. Over a period. Please stop fidgetting like that. Since you are a wizard of sorts, you are of course aware that we live upon a world shaped, as it were, like a disc? And that there is said to exist, towards the far rim, a continent which though small is equal in weight to all the mighty landmasses in this hemicircle? And that this, according to ancient legend, is because it is largely made of gold?”

  Rincewind nodded. Who hadn’t heard of the Counterweight Continent? Some sailors even believed the childhood tales and sailed in search of it. Of course, they returned either empty handed or not at all. Probably eaten by giant turtles, in the opinion of more serious mariners. Because, of course, the Counterweight Continent was nothing more than a solar myth.

  “It does, of course, exist,” said the Patrician. “Although it is not made of gold, it is true that gold is a very common metal there. Most of the mass is made up by vast deposits of octiron deep within the crust. Now it will be obvious to an incisive mind like yours that the existence of the Counterweight Continent poses a deadly threat to our people here-” he paused, looking at Rincewind’s open mouth. He sighed. He said, “Do you by some chance fail to follow me?”

  “Yarrg,” said Rincewind. He swallowed, and licked his lips. “I mean, no. I mean - well, gold…”

  “I see,” said the Patrician sweetly. “You feel, perhaps, that it would be a marvellous thing to go to the Counterweight Continent and bring back a shipload of gold?”

  Rincewind had a feeling that some sort of trap was being set.

  “Yes?” he ventured.

  “And if every man on the shores of the Circle Sea had a mountain of gold of his own? Would that be a good thing? What would happen? -think carefully. ” Rincewind’s brow furrowed. He thought. “We’d all be rich?”

  The way the temperature fell at his remark told him that it was not the correct one.

 
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