Soul music, p.12
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       Soul Music, p.12

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 12

 

  Whyd you want to come here? she said. This is a battlefield, isnt it? said the raven patiently. Youve got to have ravens afterwards. Its freewheeling eyes swivelled in its head. Carrion regardless, as you might say.

  You mean everyone gets eaten?

  Part of the miracle of nature, said the raven. Thats horrible, said Susan. Black birds were already circling in the sky. Not really, said the raven. Horses for courses, you might say. One side, if thats what you could call it, was fleeing the field of battle with the others in pursuit. The birds started to settle on what was, Susan realized with horror, an early breakfast. Soft bits, sunny side up. Youd better go and look for your lad, said the raven. Otherwise hell miss his ride.

  What ride? The eyes orbited again. You ever learn mythology? it said. No. Miss Butts says its just made-up stories with little literary content.

  Ah. Deary me. Cant have that, can we? Oh, well. Youll soon see. Must rush. The raven leapt into the air. I generally try to get a seat near the head.

  What will I- And then someone started to sing. The voice swooped out of the sky like a sudden wind. It was a rather good mezzo-soprano Hi-jo-to! Ho! Hi-jo-to! Ho! And after it, mounted on a horse almost as fine as Binky, was a woman. Very definitely. A lot of woman. She was as much woman as you could get in one place without getting two women. She was dressed in chain mail, a shiny 46-D-cup breastplate, and a helmet with horns on it. The assembled dead cheered as the horse cantered in for a landing. There were six other singing horsewomen plunging out of the sky behind it. Isnt it always the same? said the raven, flapping away. You can wait hours without seeing one and then you get seven all at once. Susan watched in astonishment as each rider picked up a dead warrior and galloped up into the sky again. They disappeared abruptly a few hundred yards up and reappeared again almost instantly for a fresh passenger. Soon there was a busy shuttle service operating. After a minute or two one of the women trotted her horse over to Susan and pulled a scroll of parchment out of her breastplate. What ho! Says here Volf, she said, in the brisk voice used by people on horseback when addressing mere pedestrians. Volf the Lucky . . . ?

  Er. I dont know - I MEAN, I DONT KNOW WHICH ONE HE IS, said Susan helplessly. The helmeted woman leaned forward. There was something rather familiar about her. Are you new?

  Yes. I mean, YES.

  Well, dont stand there like a big girls blouse. Jolly well go and fetch him, theres a good sport. Susan looked around wildly, and saw him at last. He wasnt very far away. A youngish man, outlined in flickering pale blue, was visible among the fallen. Susan hurried over, scythe at the ready. There was a blue line connecting the warrior to his former body. SQUEAK! shouted the Death of Rats, jumping up and down and making suggestive motions. Left hand thumb up, right hand bent at the wrist, give it some wellie! shouted the horned woman. Susan swung the scythe. The line snapped. What happened? said Volf. He looked down. Thats me down there, isnt it? he said. He turned slowly. And down there. And over there. And . . . He looked at the horned female warrior and brightened up. By Io! he said. Its true? Valkyries will carry me off to the hall of Blind lo where there is perpetual feasting and drinking?

  Dont, I mean DONT ASK ME, said Susan. The Valkyrie reached down and hauled the warrior across her saddle. Just keep quiet, theres a good chap, she said. She stared thoughtfully at Susan. Are you a soprano? she said. Pardon?

  Can you sing at all, gel? Only we could do with another soprano. Far too many mezzo- sopranos around these days.

  Im not very musical, Im sorry.

  Oh, well. Just a thought. Must be going. She threw back her head. The mighty breastplate

  heaved. Hi-jo-to! Ho! The horse reared, and galloped into the sky. Before it reached the clouds it shrank to a gleaming pinpoint, which winked. What, said Susan, was all that about? There was a flurry of wings. The raven alighted on the head of the recently departed Volf. Well, these guys believe that if you die in battle some big fat singing horned women carry you off to a sort of giant feast hall where you gobble yourself silly for the rest of eternity, said the raven. It belched genteelly. Damn stupid idea, really.

  But it just happened!

  Still a daft idea. The raven looked around at the stricken battlefield, empty now except for the fallen and the flocks of his fellow ravens. What a waste, he added. I mean, just look at it all. Such a terrible waste.

  Yes!

  I mean, Im near bursting and theres hundreds of em untouched. I think Ill see if I can have a doggy bag.

  Theyre dead bodies!

  Right!

  What are you eating?

  Its all right, said the raven, backing away. Theres enough for everyone.

  Thats disgusting!

  I didnt kill em, it said. Susan gave up. She looked a lot like Iron Lily, she said, as they walked back to the patient horse. Our gym mistress. Sounded like her, too. She imagined the warbling Valkyries pounding across the sky. Get some warrior, you bunch of fainting blossoms . . . Convergent evolution, said the raven. Often happens. I read once where apparently the common octopus has an eye almost exactly the same as the human eyeb- caw!

  You were going to say something like: except for the taste, werent you? said Susan. Negger grossed by bind, said the raven indistinctly. Sure?

  Leg go ogg by beak glease? Susan released her grip. This is dreadful, she said. This is what he used to do? Theres no element of choice? SQUEAK But what if they dont deserve to die? SQUEAK. The Death of Rats contrived to indicate, quite effectively, that in that case they could apply to the universe and point out that they didnt deserve to die. In which case it was up to the universe to say, oh, didnt you? oh, well, thats all right, then, you can go on living. It was a remarkably succinct gesture. So . . . my grandfather was Death, and he just let nature take its course? When he could have done some good? Thats stupid. The Death of Rats shook its skull. I mean, was Volf on the right side? said Susan. Hard to say, said the raven. He was a Vasung. The other side were Bergunds. Apparently it all started with a Bergund carrying off a Vasung woman a few hundred years ago. Or it may have been the other way round. Well, the other side invaded their village. There was a bit of a massacre. And then the other ones went to the other village and there was another massacre. After that, you might say, there was some residual bad feeling.

  Very well, then, said Susan. Whos next?

  SQUEAK. The Death of Rats landed on the saddle. It leaned down and, with some effort, hauled another hourglass out of the pack. Susan read the label. It said: Imp y Celyn. Susan had a sensation of falling backwards. I know this name, she said. SQUEAK. I . . . remember it from somewhere, said Susan. Its important. Hes . . . important . . . The moon hung over the desert of Klatch like a huge ball of rock. It wasnt much of a desert to be graced by so impressive a moon. It was just part of the belt of deserts, growing progressively hotter and drier, that surrounded the Great Nef and the Dehydrated Ocean. And no-one would have thought much about it if people very like Mr Clete of the Musicians Guild hadnt come along and made maps and put across this part of the desert an innocent little dotted line that marked a border between Klatch and Hersheba. Up until that time the Dregs, a collection of cheerfully warlike nomadic tribes, had roamed the desert quite freely. Now there was a line, they were sometimes Klatchian Dregs and sometimes Hershebian Dregs, with all the rights due to citizens of both states, particularly the right to pay just as much tax as could be squeezed out of them and be drafted in to fight wars against people theyd never heard of. So as a result of the dotted line Klatch was now incipiently at war with Hersheba and the Dregs, Hersheba was at war with the Dregs and Klatch, and the Dregs were at war with everyone, including one another, and having considerable fun because the Dreg word for stranger was the same as for target. The fort was one of the legacies of the dotted line. Now it was a dark rectangle on the hot silver sands. From it came what could very accurately be called the strains of an accordion, since someone seemed to want to play a tune but kept on running into difficu
lties after a few bars, and starting again. Someone knocked on the door. After a while there was a scraping on the other side and a small hatch opened. Yes, offendi? IS THIS THE KLATCHIAN FOREIGN LEGION? The face of the little man on the other side of the door went blank. Ah, he said, youve got me there. Hang on a moment. The hatch shut. There was a whispered discussion on the other side of the door. The hatch opened. Yes, it appears we are the . . . the . . . what was that again? Right, got it . . . the Klatchian Foreign Legion. Yes. What was it you were wanting? I WISH TO JOIN. Join? Join what? THE KLATCHIAN FOREIGN LEGION. Wheres that? There was some more whispering. Oh. Right. Sorry. Yes. Thats us. The doors swung open. The visitor strode in. A legionary with corporals stripes on his arm walked up to him. Youll have to report to . . . his eyes glazed a little, . . . you know . . . big man, three stripes . . . on the tip of my tongue a moment ago . . . SERGEANT? Right, said the corporal, with relief. Whats your name, soldier? ER . . . You dont have to say, actually. Thats what the . . . the. . .

  KLATCHIAN FOREIGN LEGION? . . . what its all about. People join to . . . to . . . with your mind, you know, when you cant . . . things that happened . . . FORGET? Right. Im . . . The mans face went blank. Wait a minute, would you? He looked down at his sleeve. Corporal. . . he said. He hesitated, looking worried. Then an idea struck him and he pulled at the collar of his vest and twisted his neck until he could squint, with considerable difficulty, at the label thus revealed. Corporal . . . Medium? Does that sound right? I DONT THINK SO. Corporal . . . Hand Wash Only? PROBABLY NOT. Corporal . . . Cotton? ITS A POSSIBILITY. Right. Well, welcome to the . . . er . . . KLATCHIAN FOREIGN LEGION . . . Right. The pay is three dollars a week and all the sand you can eat. I hope you like sand. I SEE YOU CAN REMEMBER ABOUT SAND. Believe me, you wont ever forget sand, said the corporal bitterly. I NEVER DO. What did you say your name was? The stranger remained silent. Not that it matters, said Corporal Cotton. In the. . . KLATCHIAN FOREIGN LEGION? . . . right . . . we give you a new name. You start out afresh. He beckoned to another man. Legionary . . . ?

  Legionary . . . er . . . ugh . . . er . . . Size 15, Sir.

  Right. Take this . . . man away and get him a . . . he snapped his fingers irritably, . . . you know . . . thing . . . clothes, everyone wears them . . . sand-coloured- UNIFORM? The corporal blinked. For some inexplicable reason the word bone kept elbowing its way into the melting, flowing mess that was his consciousness. Right, he said. Er. Its a twenty-year tour, legionary. I hope youre man enough for it. I LIKE IT ALREADY, said Death. I suppose its legal for me to go in licensed premises? said Susan, as Ankh-Morpork appeared on the horizon again. SQUEAK. The city slid under them again. Where there were wider streets and squares she could make out individual figures. Huh, she thought . . . if only they knew I was up here! And, despite everything, she couldnt help feeling superior. All the people down there had to think about were, well, ground-level things. Mundane things. It was like looking down at ants. Shed always known she was different. Much more aware of the world, when it was obvious that most people went through it with their eyes shut and their brains set to simmer. It was comforting in a way to know that she was different. The feeling wrapped around her like an overcoat. Binky landed on a greasy jetty. On one side the river sucked at the wooden pilings. Susan slid off the horse, unshipped the scythe, and stepped inside the Mended Drum. There was a riot going on. The patrons of the Drum tended to be democratic in their approach to aggressiveness. They liked to see that everyone got some. So, although it was the

 
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