Thief of time, p.26
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       Thief of Time, p.26

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 26


  A hovering grey shape said, Warning. Danger. The one calling itself Lady LeJean may give unsafe advice. Warning. Understood, said one of the incarnate ones. We know the way. We will lead. It walked into the door. The Auditors clustered around the door for a while, and then one of them glared at Lady LeJean, who smiled. Doorknob, she said. The Auditor turned back to the door, stared at the brass knob, and then looked the door up and down. It dissolved into dust. Doorknob was simpler, said Lady LeJean. Tick There were big mountains around the Hub. But the ones towering above the temple didnt all have names, because there were simply too many of them. Only gods have enough time to name all the pebbles on a beach, but gods dont have the patience. Copperhead was small enough to be big enough to have a name. Lobsang awoke and saw its crooked peak, towering above the lesser local mountains, outlined against the sunrise. Sometimes the gods have no taste at all. They allow sunrises and sunsets in ridiculous pink and blue hues that any professional artist would dismiss as the work of some enthusiastic amateur whod never looked at a real sunset. This was one of those sunrises. It was the kind of sunrise a man looks at and says, No real sunrise could paint the sky Surgical Appliance Pink. Nevertheless, it was beautiful. [15] Lobsang was half covered in a pile of dry bracken. There was no sign of the yeti. It was springtime here. There was still snow, but with the occasional patch of bare soil and a hint of green. He stared around, and saw leaves in bud. Lu-Tze was standing some way off, gazing up into a tree. He didnt turn his head as Lobsang approached. Wheres the yeti?

  He wouldnt go further than this. Cant ask a yeti to leave snow, whispered Lu-Tze. Oh, whispered Lobsang. Er, why are we whispering?

  Look at the bird.

  It was perched on a branch by a fork in the tree, next to what looked like a birdhouse, and nibbling at a piece of roughly round wood it held in one claw. Must be an old nest theyre repairing, said Lu-Tze. Cant have got that advanced this early in the season.

  Looks like some kind of old box to me, said Lobsang. He squinted to see better. Is it an old . . . clock? he added. Look at what the bird is nibbling, suggested Lu-Tze. Well, it looks like. . . a crude gearwheel? But why-

  Well spotted. That, lad, is a clock cuckoo. A young one, by the look of it, trying to build a nest thatll attract a mate. Not much chance of that. . . See? Its got the numerals all wrong and its stuck the hands on crooked.

  A bird that builds clocks? I thought a cuckoo clock was a clock with a mechanical cuckoo that came out when-

  And where do you think people got such a strange idea from?

  But thats some kind of miracle!

  Why? said Lu-Tze. They barely go for more than half an hour, they keep lousy time and the poor dumb males go frantic trying to keep them wound.

  But even to-

  Everything happens somewhere, I suppose, said Lu-Tze. Not worth making too much of a fuss. Got any food left?

  No. We finished it last night, said Lobsang. He added, hopefully, Er . . . I heard tell that really advanced monks can live on the, er, life force in the actual air itself. . .

  Only on the planet Sausage, I expect, said Lu-Tze. No, well skirt Copperhead and find something in the valleys on the other side. Lets go, theres not much time. But time enough to watch a bird, thought Lobsang as he let the world around him become blue and fade, and the thought was comforting. It was easier going without the snow on the ground, provided he avoided the strange resistance offered by bushes and long grass. Lu-Tze walked on ahead, looking oddly colourful and unreal against the faded landscape. They went past the entrance to dwarf mines, but saw no one above ground. Lobsang was glad of that. The statues he had seen in the villages yesterday werent dead, he knew, but merely frozen at a different speed of time. Lu-Tze had forbidden him to go near anyone, but he neednt have bothered. Walking around the living statues was invasive, somehow. It made it worse when you realized that they were moving, but very, very slowly. . .

  The sun had barely moved from the horizon when they came down through warmer woods on the Rim side of the mountain. Here the landscape had a more domesticated air. It was woodland rather than forest. The game trail they d been following crossed a creek at a point where there were cart tracks, old but still not overgrown. Lobsang looked behind him after hed walked across the ford, and watched the water very slowly reclaim the shape of his footprints in the stream. Hed been trained in time-slicing on the snowfields above the valley, like the rest of the novices. That was so they couldnt come to any harm, the monks had said, although no one actually explained what harm they might come to. Outside the monastery, this was the first time Lobsang had sliced in a living landscape. It was marvellous! Birds hung in the sky. Early morning bumblebees hovered over the opening flowers. The world was a crystal made of living things. Lobsang slowed near a group of deer cropping the grass, and watched as the nearer eye of one of them swivelled, with geological slowness, to watch him. He saw the skin move as the muscles underneath started to bunch for flight. . . Time for a smoko, said Lu-Tze. The world around Lobsang speeded up. The deer fled, along with the magic of the moment. Whats a smoko? said Lobsang. He was annoyed. The quiet slow world had been fun. You ever been to Fourecks?

  No. Theres a barman at the Bunch of Grapes from there, though. Lu-Tze lit one of his skinny cigarettes. Dont mean much, he said. The barman everywhere is from there. Strange country. Big time source right in the middle, very useful. Time and space all tangled up. Probably all that beer. Nice place, though. Now, you see that country down there? On one side of the clearing the ground fell away steeply, showing treetops and, beyond, a small patchwork of fields tucked into a fold in the mountains. In the distance was a gorge, and Lobsang thought he could make out a bridge across it. Doesnt look much like a country, he said. Looks more like a shelf.

  Thats witch country, said Lu-Tze. And were going to borrow a broomstick. Quickest way to Ankh-Morpork. Only way to travel.

  Isnt that, er, interfering with history? I mean, I was told that sort of thing is all right up in the valleys, but down here in the world. . .

  No, its absolutely forbidden, said Lu-Tze.

  cos its Interfering With History. Got to be careful of your witch, of course. Some of them are pretty canny. He caught Lobsangs

  expression. Look, thats why theres rules, understand? So that you think before you break em.

  But- Lu-Tze sighed, and pinched out the end of his cigarette. Were being watched, he said. Lobsang spun round. There were only trees, and insects buzzing in the early-morning air. Up there, said Lu-Tze. There was a raven perched on the broken crown of a pine tree, shattered in some winter storm. It looked at them looking at it. Caw? it said. Its just a raven, said Lobsang. Theres lots of them in the valley.

  It was watching us when we stopped.

  Theres ravens all over the mountains, Sweeper.

  And when we met the yeti, Lu-Tze persisted. That settles it, then. Its coincidence. One raven couldnt move that fast.

  Maybe its a special raven, said Lu-Tze. Anyway, its not one of our mountain ravens. Its a lowland raven. Mountain ravens croak. They dont caw. Whys it so interested in us?

  Its a bit. . . weird, thinking youre being followed by a bird, said Lobsang. When you get to my age you notice things in the sky, said Lu-Tze. He shrugged and gave a grin. You start worrying they might be vultures. They faded into time, and vanished. The raven ruffled its feathers. Croak? it said. Damn. Tick Lobsang felt around under the thatched eaves of the cottage, and his hand closed on the bristles of a broomstick that had been thrust among the reeds. This is rather like stealing, he said, as Lu-Tze helped him down. No, its not, said the sweeper, taking the broomstick and holding it up so he could look along its length. And Ill tell you why. If we sort things out, well drop it off on our way back and shell never know its gone. . . and if we dont sort things out, well, shell still never know its

  gone. Honestly, they dont take much care of their sticks, witches. Look at the bristles on this one. I wouldnt use it to
clean a pond! Oh, well . . . back into clock time, lad. Id hate to fly one of these things while I was slicing. He straddled the stick and gripped the handle. It rose a little way. Good suspension, at least, he said. You can have the comfy seat on the back. Hold tight to my own broom and make sure you wrap your robe around you. These things are pretty breezy. Lobsang pulled himself aboard and the stick rose. As it drew level with the lower branches around the clearing, it brought Lu-Tze to eye level with a raven. It shifted uneasily and turned its head this way and that, trying to fix both eyes on him. Are you going to caw or croak, I wonder, said Lu-Tze, apparently to himself. Croak, said the raven. So youre not the raven we saw on the other side of the mountain, then.

  Me? Gosh, no, said the raven. Thats croaking territory over there.

  Just checking. The broom rose higher, and set off above the trees in a Hubwards direction. The raven ruffled its feathers and blinked. Damn! it said. It shuffled around the tree to where the Death of Rats was sitting. SQUEAK? Look, if you want me to do this undercover work youve got to get me a book on ornithology, okay? said Quoth. Lets go, or Ill never keep up. Tick Death found Famine in a new restaurant in Genua. He had a booth all to himself and was eating Duck and Dirty Rice. Oh, said Famine. Its you. YES. WE MUST RIDE. YOU MUST HAVE GOT MY MESSAGE. Pull up a chair, Famine hissed. They do a very good alligator sausage here. I SAID, WE MUST RIDE. Why?

  Death sat down and explained. Famine listened. , although he never stopped eating. I see, he said at last. Thank you, but I think I shall sit this one out. SIT IT OUT? YOURE A HORSEMAN! Yes, of course. But what is my role here? I BEG YOUR PARDON? No famine appears to be involved, does it? A shortage of food per se? As such? WELL, NO. NOT AS SUCH, OBVIOUSLY, BUT- So I would, as it were, be turning up just to wave. No, thank you. YOU USED TO RIDE OUT EVERY TIME, said Death accusingly. Famine waved a bone airily. We had proper apocalypses in those days, he said, and sucked at the bone. You could sink your teeth into them. NEVERTHELESS, THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD. Famine pushed his plate aside and opened the menu. There are other worlds, he said. Youre too sentimental, Death. Ive always said so. Death drew himself up. Humans had created Famine, too. Oh, there had always been droughts and locusts, but for a really good famine, for fertile land to be turned into a dustbowl by stupidity and avarice, you needed humans. Famine was arrogant. I AM SORRY, he said, TO HAVE TRESPASSED ON YOUR TIME. He went outside, into the crowded street, all alone. Tick The stick swooped down towards the plains, and levelled off a few hundred feet above the ground. Were on our way now! shouted Lu-Tze, pointing ahead. Lobsang looked down at a slim wooden tower hung with complicated boxes. There was another one in the far distance, a toothpick in the morning mist. Semaphore towers! Lu-Tze shouted. Ever seen them?

  Only in the city! Lobsang shouted above the slipstream. Its the Grand Trunk! the sweeper shouted back. Runs like an arrow all the way to the city! All we have to do is follow it!

  Lobsang clung on. There was no snow beneath them and it looked as though spring was well advanced. And therefore it was unfair that here, that much nearer the sun, the air was frigid and was being driven into his flesh by the wind of their travel. Its very cold up here!

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