Soul music, p.11
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       Soul Music, p.11

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 11


  When I agreed to five dollars, you said you had a big band.

  Say hello, Lias.

  My word, that is a big band. Dunelm backed away. I thought, he said, just a few numbers that everyone knows? Just to provide some ambience.

  Ambience, said Imp, looking around the Drum. He was familiar with the word. But, in a place like this, it was all lost and alone. There were only three or four customers in at this early hour of the evening. They werent paying any attention to the stage. The wall behind the stage had clearly seen action. He stared at it as Lias patiently stacked up his stones. Oh, just a bit of fruit and old eggs, said Glod. People probably get a bit boisterous. I shouldnt worry about that.

  Im not worried about it, said Imp. I should think not.

  Its the axe marks and arrow holles Im worried about. Gllod, we havent even practised! Not properlly!

  You can play your guitar, cant you?

  Wellll, yes, I suppose . . . Hed tried it out. It was easy to play. In fact, it was almost impossible to play badly. It didnt seem to matter how he touched the strings - they still rang out the tune he had in mind. It was, in solid form, the kind of instrument you dream about when you first start to play - the one you can play without learning. He remembered when hed first picked up a harp and struck the strings, confidently expecting the kind of lambent tones the old men coaxed from them. Hed got a discord instead. But this was the instrument hed dreamed of . . . Well stick to numbers everyone knows, said the dwarf. “The Wizards Staff” and

  “Gathering Rhubarb”. Stuff like that. People like songs they can snigger along to. Imp looked down at the bar. It was filling up a bit now. But his attention was drawn to a large orang-utan, which had pulled up its chair right in front of the stage and was holding a bag of fruit. Gllod, theres an ape watching us.

  Well? said Glod, unfolding a string bag. Its an ape.

  This is Ankh-Morpork. Thats how things are here. Glod removed his helmet and unfolded something from inside. Whyve you got a string bag? said Imp. Fruits fruit. Waste not, want not. If they throw eggs, try to catch them. Imp slung the guitars strap over his shoulder. Hed tried to tell the dwarf, but what could he say: this is too easy to play? He hoped there was a god of musicians. And there is. There are many, one for almost every type of music. Almost every type. But the only one due to watch over Imp that night was Reg, god of club musicians, who couldnt pay much attention because hed also got three other gigs to do. We ready? said Lias, picking his hammers. The others nodded. Lets give em “The Wizards Staff”, then, said Glod. That always breaks the ice.

  OK, said the troll. He counted on his fingers. One, two . . . one, two, many, lots. The first apple was thrown seven seconds later. It was caught by Glod, who didnt miss a note. But the first banana curved viciously and grounded in his ear. Keep playing! he hissed. Imp obeyed, ducking a fusillade of oranges. In the front row, the ape opened his bag and produced a very large melon. Can you see any pears? said Glod, taking a breath. I like pears.

  I can see a man with a throwing axe!

  Does it look valuable? An arrow vibrated in the wall by Liass head. It was three in the morning. Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs were reaching the conclusion that anyone who intended to invade Ankh-Morpork probably wasnt going to do so now. And there was a good fire back in the watch house. We could leave a note, said Nobby, blowing on his fingers. You know? Come back tomorrow, sort of thing? He looked up. A solitary horse was walking under the gate arch. A white horse, with a sombre, black-clad rider. There was no question of Halt, who goes there? The night watch walked the streets at strange hours and had become accustomed to seeing things not generally seen by mortal men. Sergeant Colon touched his helmet respectfully. Evenin, your lordship, he said. ER . . . GOOD EVENING. The guards watched the horse walk out of sight. Some poor buggers in for it, then, said Sergeant Colon. Hes dedicated, you got to admit it, said Nobby. Out at all hours. Always got time for people.

  Yeah. The guards stared into the velvety dark. Something not quite right, thought Sergeant Colon. Whats his first name? said Nobby. They stared some more. Then Sergeant Colon, who still hadnt quite been able to put his

  finger on it, said: What do you mean, whats his first name?

  Whats his first name?

  Hes Death, said the sergeant. Death. Thats his whole name. I mean . . . what do you mean? . . . You mean like . . . Keith Death?

  Well, why not?

  Hes just Death, isnt he?

  No, thats just his job. What do his friends call him?

  What do you mean, friends?

  All right. Please yourself.

  Lets go and get a hot rum.

  I think he looks like a Leonard. Sergeant Colon remembered the voice. That was it. Just for a moment there . . . I must be getting old, he said. For a moment there I thought he sounded like a Susan.

  I think they saw me, whispered Susan, as the horse rounded a corner. The Death of Rats poked its head out of her pocket. SQUEAK. I think were going to need that raven, said Susan. I mean, I . . . think I understand you, I just dont know what youre saying . . . Binky stopped outside a large house, set back a little from the road. It was a slightly pretentious residence with more gables and mullions than it should rightly have, and this was a clue to its origins: it was the kind of house built for himself by a rich merchant when he goes respectable and needs to do something with the loot. Im not happy about this, said Susan. It cant possibly work. Im human. I have to go to the toilet and things like that. I cant just walk into peoples houses and kill them! SQUEAK. All right, not kill. But its not good manners, however you look at it. A sign on the door said: Tradesmen to rear entrance. Do I count as- SQUEAK! Susan normally would never have dreamed of asking. Shed always seen herself as a person who went through the front doors of life. The Death of Rats scuttled up the path and through the door. Hang on! I cant- Susan looked at the wood. She could. Of course she could. More memories crystallized in front of her eyes. After all, it was only wood. Itd rot in a few hundred years. By the measure of infinity, it hardly existed at all. On average, considered over the lifetime of the multiverse, most things didnt. She stepped forward. The heavy oak door offered as much resistance as a shadow. Grieving relatives were clustered around the bed where, almost lost in the pillows, was a wrinkled old man. At the foot of the bed, paying no attention whatsoever to the keening around it, was a large, very fat, ginger cat. SQUEAK. Susan looked at the hourglass. The last few grains tumbled through the pinch. The Death of Rats, with exaggerated caution, sneaked up behind the sleeping cat and kicked it hard. The animal awoke, turned, flattened its ears in terror, and leapt off the quilt. The Death of Rats sniggered. SNH, SNH, SNH. One of the mourners, a pinch-faced man, looked up. He peered at the sleeper. Thats it, he said. Hes gone.

  I thought we were going to be here all day, said the woman next to him, standing up. Did you see that wretched old cat move? Animals can tell, you know. Theyve got this sixth

  sense. SNH, SNH, SNH. Well, come on there, I know youre here somewhere, said the corpse. It sat up. Susan was familiar with the idea of ghosts. But she hadnt expected it to be like this. She hadnt expected the ghosts to be the living, but they were merely pale sketches in the air compared to the old man sitting up in bed. He looked solid enough, but a blue glow outlined him. One hundred and seven years, eh? he cackled. I expect I had you worried for a while there. Where are you?

  Er, HERE, said Susan. Female, eh? said the old man. Well, well, well. He slid off the bed, spectral nightshirt flapping, and was suddenly pulled up short as though hed reached the end of a chain. This was more or less the case; a thin line of blue light still tethered him to his late habitation. The Death of Rats jumped up and down on the pillow, making urgent slashing movements with its scythe. Oh, sorry, said Susan, and sliced. The blue line snapped with a high-pitched, crystalline twang. Around them, sometimes walking through them, were the mourners. Mourning seemed to have stopped, now the old man had died. The pinch-face
d man was feeling under the mattress. Look at em, said the old man nastily. Poor ole Grandad, sob, sob, sorely missed, we wont see his like again, where did the ole bugger leave his will? Thats my youngest son, that is. Well, if you can call a card every Hogswatchnight a son. See his wife? Got a smile like a wave on a slop bucket. And she aint the worst of em. Relatives? You can keep em. I only stayed alive out of mischief. A couple of people were exploring under the bed. There was a humorous porcelain clang. The old man capered behind them, making gestures. Not a chance! he chortled. Heh heh! Its in the cat basket! I left all the money to the cat! Susan looked around. The cat was watching them anxiously from behind the washstand. Susan felt some response was called for. That was very . . . kind of you . . . she said. Hah! Mangy thing! Thirteen years of sleepin and crappin and waiting for the next meal to turn up? Never took half an hours exercise in his big fat life. Up until they find the will, anyway. Then hes going to be the richest fastest cat in the world- The voice faded. So did its owner. What a dreadful old man, said Susan. She looked down at the Death of Rats, who was trying to make faces at the cat. Whatll happen to him? SQUEAK. Oh. Behind them a former mourner tipped a drawer out on to the floor. The cat was beginning to tremble. Susan stepped out through the wall. Clouds curled behind Binky like a wake. Well, that wasnt too bad. I mean, no blood or anything. And he was very old and not very nice.

  Thats all right, then, is it? The raven landed on her shoulder. Whatre you doing here?

  Rat Death here said I could have a lift. Ive got an appointment. SQUEAK.

  The Death of Rats poked its nose out of the saddlebag. Are we a cab service? said Susan coldly. The rat shrugged and pushed a lifetimer into her hand. Susan read the name etched on the glass. Volf Volfssonssonssonsson? Sounds a bit Hublandish to me. SQUEAK. The Death of Rats clambered up Binkys mane and took up station between the horses ears, tiny robe flapping in the wind. Binky cantered low over a battlefield. It wasnt a major war, just an inter-tribal scuffle. Nor were there any obvious armies - the fighters seemed to be two groups of individuals, some on horseback, who happened coincidentally to be on the same side. Everyone was dressed in the same sort of furs and exciting leatherwear, and Susan was at a loss to know how they told friend from foe. People just seemed to shout a lot and swing huge swords and battleaxes at random. On the other hand, anyone you managed to hit instantly became your foe, so it probably all came out right in the long run. The point was that people were dying and acts of incredibly stupid heroism were being performed. SQUEAK. The Death of Rats pointed urgently downward. Gee . . . down. Binky settled on a small hillock. Er . . . right, said Susan. She pulled the scythe out of its holster. The blade sprang into life. It wasnt hard to spot the souls of the dead. They were coming off the battlefield arm in arm, friend and hitherto foe alike, laughing and stumbling, straight towards her. Susan dismounted. And concentrated. Er, she said, ANYONE HERE BEEN KILLED AND CALLED VOLF? Behind her, the Death of Rats put its head in its paws. Er. HELLO? No-one took any notice. The warriors trooped past. They were forming a line on the edge of the battlefield, and appeared to be waiting for something. She didnt have to . . . do . . . all of them. Albert had tried to explain, but a memory had unfolded anyway. She just had to do some, determined by timing or historical importance, and that meant all the others happened; all she had to do was keep the momentum going. You got to be more assertive, said the raven, who had alighted on a rock. Thats the trouble with women in the professions. Not assertive enough.

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