The last continent, p.17
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       The Last Continent, p.17

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 17

 

  You want I should pour a bucket of water on yez? Rincewind recognized the chatty tones. His eyes unglued. Oh, not you! Youre a figment of my imagination!

  I should kick you in the ribs again, then? said Scrappy. Rincewind pulled himself upright. It was dawn, and he was lying in some bushes out behind the pub. Memory played its silent movie across the tattered sheets of his eyelids. There was a fight . . . Mad shot that . . . that . . . shot him with a crossbow!

  Only through the foot sos hed stand still to be hit. Wombats cant hold their drink, thats their trouble. More recollections flickered across the smoky darkness of Rincewinds brain. Thats right, there were animals drinking in there!

  Yes and no, said the kangaroo. I tried to explain . . .

  Im all ears, said Rincewind. His eyes glazed for a moment. No, Im not, Im all bladder. Back in a minute. The buzz of flies and a sort of universal smell drew Rincewind into a nearby hut. Some people would have liked to think of it as the bathroom, although not after going inside. He came out again, hopping up and down urgently. Er . . . theres a great big spider on the toilet seat . . .

  Whatre you gonna do, wait till its finished? Fan it with yer hat! It was odd, Rincewind thought as he shooed the spider out, that a human being would, er, use the bathroom behind a bush in the middle of a thousand miles of howling wilderness but would fight for a dunny if there was one available. And stay out, he muttered, when he was confident the spider was out of earshot. But the human brain often feels incapable of concentrating on the job in hand, and Rincewind found his gaze wandering. And here, as in private places everywhere, men had found the urge to draw on the walls. Perhaps it was the way the light hit the ancient woodwork, but under the usual minutiae from people who needed people, and drawings done from overheated hope rather than memory, was a deeply scored drawing of men in pointy hats. He sidled out thoughtfully and edged away through the bushes.

  No worries, said the kangaroo, so close to his ear that Rincewind was quite pleased that hed already relieved himself. I dont believe it!

  Youll see them everywhere. Theyre built in. They find their way into peoples thoughts. You cant outrun your destiny, mate. Rincewind didnt even bother to argue. Youre going to have to sort this out, said Scrappy. Youre the cause.

  Im not! Things happen to me, not the other way around!

  I could disembowel you with a kick, you know. Would you like to see?

  Er . . . no.

  Havent you noticed that by running away you end up in more trouble?

  Yes, but, you see, you can run away from that, too, said Rincewind. Thats the beauty of the system. Dead is only for once, but running away is for ever.

  Ah, but it is said that a coward dies a thousand deaths, while a hero dies only one.

  Yes, but its the important one.

  Arent you ashamed?

  No. Im going home. Im going to find this city called Bugarup, find a boat, and go home.

  Bugarup?

  Dont tell me the place doesnt exist.

  Oh, no. Its a big place. And thats where youre going?

  And dont try to stop me!

  I can see youve made up your mind, said Scrappy. Read my lips!

  Your moustache is in the way.

  Read my beard, then! The kangaroo shrugged. In that case, Ive got no choice but to carry on helping you, I suppose.

  Rincewind drew himself up. Ill find my own way, he said. You dont know the way.

  Ill ask someone!

  What about food? Youll starve.

  Ahah, thats where youre wrong! Rincewind snapped. Ive got this amazing power. Watch! He lifted up a nearby stone, extracted what was underneath, and flourished it. See? Impressed, eh?

  Very.

  Ahah! Scrappy nodded. Tve never seen anyone do that with a scorpion before. The god was sitting high up in a tree working on a particularly promising beetle when the Bursar ambled past far below. Well, at last. One of them had found it! The god had spent some time watching the wizards attempts at boat-building, although he had been unable to fathom out what it was they were trying to do. As far as he could tell, they were showing some interest in the fact that wood floated. Well, it did float, didnt it? He threw the beetle into the air. It hummed into life at the top of the arc and flew away, a smear of iridescence among the treetops. The god drifted out of his tree and followed the Bursar. The god hadnt made up his mind about these creatures yet, but the island was, unfortunately and against all his careful planning, throwing up all sorts of odd things. These were obviously social creatures, with some of the individuals designed for specific tasks. The hairy red one was designed for climbing trees, and the dreamy ant-stamping one for walking into them. Possibly the reasons for this would become apparent. Ah, Bursar! said the Dean heartily. How would you like a brief trip around the lagoon? The Bursar looked at the soaking log and sought for words. Sometimes, when he really needed to, it was possible to get Mr Brain and Mr Mouth all lined up together. I had a boat once, he said. Well done! And heres another one, just for—

  It was green.

  Really? Well, we can—

  Ive found another green boat, said the Bursar. Its floating in the water.

  Yes, yes, Im sure you have, said Ridcully kindly. A big boat with lots of sails, I expect. Now then, Dean—

  Just one sail, said the Bursar. And a bare naked lady on the front. Hovering immanently, the god cursed. Hed never intended the figurehead. Sometimes, he really wanted to just break down and cry. Bare naked lady? said the Dean. Settle down, Dean, said the Senior Wrangler. Hes probably just had too many dried frog pills.

  Its going up and down in the water, said the Bursar. Up and down, up and down. The Dean looked at their own creation. Contrary to all expectations, it did not go up and down in the water. It stayed exactly where it was and the water went up and down over it. This is an island, he said. I suppose someone could have sailed here, couldnt they? What kind of bare naked lady? A dusky one?

  Really, Dean!

  Spirit of enquiry, Senior Wrangler. Important bio-geographical information. The Bursar waited until his brain came around again. Green, he volunteered. That is not a natural colour for a human being, clothed or not, said the Senior Wrangler. She might be seasick, said the Dean. There was only the vaguest of wistful longings in his head, but he did not want to let go of it. Going up and down, said the Bursar. I suppose we could have a look, said the Dean. What about Mrs Whitlow? She hasnt been out of her hut yet.

  She can come too if she likes, said the Dean. I dont think we can expect Mrs Whitlow to go looking at a bare naked lady, even if this one is green, said the Senior Wrangler. Why not? She must have seen at least one. Not green, of course.

  The Senior Wrangler drew himself up. Theres no call for that sort of imputation, he said. What? Well, obviously she— The Dean stopped. The big leaves on Mrs Whitlows hut were pushed aside, and she emerged. It was probably the flower in her hair. That was certainly the crowning glory. But shed also done things to her dress. There was, for a start, less of it. Since the word is derived from an island that did not exist on the Discworld, the wizards had never heard of a bikini. In any case, what Mrs Whitlow had sewn together out of her dress was a lot more substantial than a bikini. It was more a newzealand - two quite large respectable halves separated by a narrow channel. Shed also tied some of the spare cloth around her waist, sarong style. In short, it was a very proper item of clothing. But it looked as if it wasnt. It was as if Mrs Whitlow was wearing a figleaf six feet square. It was still just a figleaf. Ai thought this might be a leetle more suitable for the heat, she said. Of course, Ai wouldnt dream of wearing it in the University, but since we appear to be here for a little while Ai remembered a picture Ai saw of Queen Zazumba of Sumtri. Is there anywhere Ai could have a bath, do you think?

  Mwaaa, said the Senior Wrangler. The Dean coughed. Theres a little pool in the jungle.

  With waterlilies in it, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Pink ones.
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  Mwaaa, said the Senior Wrangler. And theres a waterfall, said the Dean. Mwaaa.

  And a soap bush, as a matter of fact. They watched her walk away. Up and down, up and down, said the Bursar. A fine figure of a woman, said Ridcully. She walks differently without her shoes on, doesnt she? Are you all right, Senior Wrangler?

  Mwaa?

  O think the heats getting to you. Youve gone very red.

  Im a mwaa . . . Im . . . gosh, it is hot, isn t it . . . ? I think perhaps I should have a dip too . . .

  In the lagoon, said Ridcully, meaningfully. Oh, the salts very bad for the skin, Archchancellor.

  Quite so. Nevertheless. Or you can go looking for the pool when Mrs Whitlow comes back.

  I find it rather insulting, Archchancellor, that you should appear to think that—

  Well done, said Ridcully. Now, shall we go and look at this boat? Half an hour later all the wizards were assembled on the opposite shore. It was green. And it bobbed up and down. It was clearly a ship, but built perhaps by someone whod had a very detailed book of ship-building which nevertheless didnt have any pictures in it. There was a blurriness of the detail. The figurehead, for example, was certainly vaguely female, although to the Deans disappointment it had the same detail as a half-sucked jellybaby. It put the Senior Wrangler in mind of Mrs Whitlow, although currently rocks, trees, clouds and coconuts also reminded him of Mrs Whitlow. And then there was the sail. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a leaf. And once you realized that it was a leaf, then a certain marrow or pumpkin quality about the rest of the vessel began to creep over you. Ponder coughed. There are some plants which rely for propagation on floating seeds, he said, in a small voice. The common coconut, for example, has . . .

  Does it have a figurehead? said Ridcully. Er, one variety of mangrove fruit has a sort of keel which . . .

  And a sail with what looks very much like rigging? said Ridcully. Er . . . no . . .

  And what are those flowers on the top? Ridcully demanded. Where a crows nest would be was a cluster of trumpet-shaped flowers, like green daffodils. Who cares? said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Its a ship, even if it is a giant pumpkin, and it looks as though theres room for all of us. He brightened up. Even if it is a bit of a squash, he added. It has appeared very fortuitously, said Ridcully. I wonder why?

  I said, “Even if it is a bit of a squash,” said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Because, a squash, you see, is another name for—

  Yes, I know, said Ridcully, looking thoughtfully at the bobbing vessel. I was only attempting to—

  Thank you for sharing, Chair.

  Actually it does look pretty roomy, said the Dean, ignoring the Chairs pained expression. I vote we load up with provisions and go.

  Where to? said Ridcully. Somewhere where fearsome reptiles dont suddenly turn into birds! the Dean snapped. Youd prefer it the other way around? said Ridcully. He started to wade out into the water until, armpit deep, he was able to bang on the side of the hull with his staff. I think you are being a little obtuse, Mustrum, said the Dean. Really? How many types of carnivorous plants are there, Mister Stibbons?

  Dozens, sir.

  And they eat prey up to—?

  No upper limit in the case of the Sapu tree of Sumtri, sir. The Sledgehammer Plant of Bhangbhangduc takes the occasional human victim who doesnt see the mallet hidden in the greenery. Theres quite a few that can take anything up to rat size. The Pyramid Strangler Vine really only preys on other more stupid plants, but—

 
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