Soul music, p.29
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       Soul Music, p.29
 

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 29

 

  Excuse me, said Big Mad Adrian, his voice cargoed with suspicion, I dont want to cause any trouble, right, but is this Death or not? Ive seen pictures, and they didnt look like her.

  We did the Rite stuff, said Ridcully. And this is what we got.

  Yes, but my fathers a herring fisherman and he doesnt just find herring in his herring nets, said Skazz. Yeah. She could be anyone, said Tez the Terrible. I thought Death was taller and bonier.

  Shes just some girl messing about, said Skazz. Susan stared at them. She hasnt even got a scythe, said Tez. Susan concentrated. The scythe appeared in her hands, its blue-edged blade making a noise like a finger dragged around the rim of a glass. The students straightened up. But Ive always thought it was time for a change, said Tez. Right. Its about time girls got a chance in the professions, said Skazz. Dont you dare patronize me!

  Thats right; said Ponder. Theres no reason why Death has to be male. A woman could be almost as good as a man in the job.

  Youre doing it very well, said Ridcully. He gave Susan an encouraging smile. She rounded on him. Im Death, she thought technically, anyway - and this is a fat old man who has no right to give me any kind of orders. Ill glare at him, and hell soon realize the gravity of his situation. She glared. Young lady, said Ridcully, would you care for breakfast? The Mended Drum seldom closed. There tended to be a lull around six in the morning, but Hibiscus stayed open so long as someone wanted a drink. Someone wanted a lot of drinks. Someone indistinct was standing at the bar. Sand seemed to be running out of him and, in so far as Hibiscus could tell, he had a number of arrows of Klatchian manufacture sticking in him. The barman leaned forward. Have I seen you before? IM IN HERE QUITE OFTEN, YES. A WEEK LAST WEDNESDAY, FOR EXAMPLE. Ha! That was a bit of a do. Thats when poor old Vince got stabbed. YES. Asking for it, calling yourself Vincent the Invulnerable.

  YES. INACCURATE, TOO. The Watch are saying it was suicide. Death nodded. Going into the Mended Drum and calling yourself Vincent the Invulnerable was clearly suicide by AnkhMorpork standards. THIS DRINKS GOT MAGGOTS IN IT. The barman squinted at it. Thats not a maggot, sir, he said. Thats a worm. OH THATS BETTER, IS IT? Its supposed to be there, sir. Thats mexical, that is. They put the worm in to show how strong it is. STRONG ENOUGH TO DROWN WORMS? The barman scratched his head. Hed never thought of it in those terms. Its just something people drink, he said vaguely. Death picked up the bottle and held it up to what normally would have been eye level. The worm rotated forlornly. WHATS IT LIKE? he said. Well, its a sort of- I WASNT TALKING TO YOU. Breakfast? said Susan, I mean- BREAKFAST? It must be coming up to that time, said the Archchancellor. Its a long time since I last had breakfast with a charming young woman.

  Good grief, youre all just as bad as each other, said Susan. Very well, scratch charming, said Ridcully evenly. But the sparrows are coughin in the trees and the sun is peepin over the wall and I smell cookin, and having a meal with Death is a chance that doesnt happen to everyone. You dont play chess, do you?

  Extremely well, said Susan, still bewildered. Thought as much. All right, you fellows. You can go back to prodding the universe. Will you step this way, madam?

  I cant leave the circle!

  Oh, you can if I invite you. Its all a matter of courtesy. I dont know if youve ever had the concept explained? He reached out and took her hand. She hesitated, then stepped across the chalk line. There was a slight tingling feeling. The students backed away hurriedly. Go on, get on with it, said Ridcully. This way, madam. Susan had never experienced charm before. Ridcully possessed quite a lot of it, in a twinkly- eyed kind of way. She followed him across the lawns to the Great Hall. The breakfast tables had been laid out, but they were unoccupied. The big sideboard had sprouted copper tureens like autumn fungi. Three rather young maids were waiting patiently behind the array. We tend to help ourselves, said Ridcully conversationally, lifting a cover. Waiters and so on make too much nois- this is some sort of a joke, is it? He prodded what was under the cover and beckoned the nearest maid. Which one are you? he said. Molly, Polly or Dolly?

  Molly, your lordship, said the maid, dropping a curtsy and trembling slightly. Is there something wrong?

  A-wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong, a-do-wrong-wrong, said the other two maids. What happened to the kippers? Whats this? Looks like a beef patty in a bun, said Ridcully, staring at the girls.

  Mrs Whitlow gave instructions to the cook, said Molly nervously. Its a-

  -yay-yay-yay-

  -its a burger.

  Youre telling me said Ridcully. And whyve you got a beehive made of hair on your head, pray? Makes you look like a matchstick.

  Please sir, we-

  You went to see the Music With Rocks In concert, did you?

  Yes, sir.

  Yay, yay.

  You, er, you didnt throw anything on the stage, did you?

  No, sir!

  Wheres Mrs Whitlow?

  In bed with a cold, sir.

  Not at all surprised. Ridcully turned to Susan. People are playing silly burgers, Im afraid.

  I eat only muesli at breakfast, said Susan. Theres porridge, said Ridcully. We do it for the Bursar because its not exciting. He lifted the lid of a tureen. Yes, still here, he said. Theres some things Music With Rocks In cant change, and one of thems porridge. Let me help you to a ladleful. They sat on either side of the long table. . Well, isnt this nice? Ridcully said. Are you laughing at me? said Susan suspiciously. Not at all. In my experience, what you mostly get in herring nets is herring. But, speaking as a mortal a customer, as you might say - Im interested to know why Death is suddenly a teenage girl instead of the animate natomy weve come to know and . . . know.

  Natomy?

  Another word for skeleton. Probably derived from “anatomy”.

  Hes my grandfather.

  Ah. Yes, you said. And thats true, is it?

  It sounds a bit silly, now I come to tell someone else. Ridcully shook his head. You should do my job for five minutes. Then tell me about silly, he said. He took a pencil out of his pocket and cautiously lifted the top half of the bun on his plate. Theres cheese in this, he said, accusingly. But hes gone off somewhere and next thing I know Ive inherited the whole thing. I mean, I didnt ask for it! Why me? Having to go around with this silly scythe thing . . . thats not what I wanted out of life-

  Its certainly not something you get careers leaflets about, said Ridcully. Exactly.

  And I suppose youre stuck with it? said Ridcully. We dont know where hes gone. Albert says hes very depressed about something but he wont say what.

  Dear me. What could depress Death?

  Albert seems to think he might do something . . . silly.

  Oh, dear. Not too silly, I hope. Could that be possible? Itd be . . . morticide, I suppose. Or cidicide. To Susans amazement Ridcully patted her hand. But Im sure well all sleep safer in our beds knowing that youre in charge, he said. Its all so untidy! Good people dying stupidly, bad people living to a ripe old age . . . its so disorganized. Theres no sense to it. Theres no justice at all. I mean, theres this boy-

  What boy?

  To Susans horror and amazement she found that she was blushing. Just some boy, she said. He was supposed to have died quite ridiculously, and I was going to save him, and then the music saved him, and now its getting him into all sorts of trouble and Ive got to save him anyway and I dont know why.

  Music? said Ridcully. Does he play a sort of guitar?

  Yes! How did you know? Ridcully sighed. When youre a wizard you get an instinct for these things. He prodded his burger some more. And lettuce, for some reason. And one very, very thin slice of pickled cucumber. He let the bread drop. The music is alive, he said. Something that had been knocking on Susans attention for the past ten minutes finally used its boots. Oh, my god, she said. Which one would that be? said Ridcully politely. Its so simple! It strolls into traps! It changes people! They want to play m- Ive got to go, said Susan hurriedly. Er. Thank you for the porridge . .
.

  You havent eaten any of it, Ridcully pointed out mildly. No, but . . . but I had a really good look at it. She vanished. After a little while Ridcully leaned forward and waved his hand vaguely in the space where she had been sitting, just in case. Then he reached into his robe and pulled out the poster about the Free Festival. Great big things with tentacles, that was the problem. Get enough magic in one place and the fabric of the universe gave at the heel just like one of the Deans socks which, Ridcully noticed, had been in some extremely bright colours the last few days. He waved a hand at the maids. Thank you, Molly, Dolly or Polly, he said. You can clear this stuff away.

  Yay-yay.

  Yes, yes, thank you. Ridcully felt rather alone. Hed quite enjoyed talking to the girl. She seemed to be the only person in the place who wasnt mildly insane or totally preoccupied with something that he, Ridcully, didnt understand. He wandered back to his study, but was distracted by the sounds of hammering coming from the Deans chambers. The door was ajar. The senior wizards had quite large suites that included study, workshop and bedroom. The Dean was hunched over the furnace in the workshop area, with a smoked-glass mask over his face and a hammer in his hand. He was hard at work. There were sparks. This was much more cheering, Ridcully thought. Maybe this was an end to all this Music With Rocks In nonsense and a return to some real magic. Everythin all right, Dean? he said. The Dean pushed up the glass and nodded. Nearly finished, Archchancellor, he said. Heard you bangin away right down the passage, said Ridcully, conversationally. Ah. Im working on the pockets, said the Dean. Ridcully looked blank. Quite a number of the more difficult spells involved heat and hammering, but pockets was a new one. The Dean held up a pair of trousers. They were not, strictly speaking, as trousery as normal trousers; senior wizards developed a distinctive 50“ waist, 25” leg shape that suggested someone who sat on a wall and required royal assistance to be put together again. They were dark blue.

  You were hammerin them? said Ridcully. Mrs Whitlow been heavy on the starch again? He looked closer. Youre rivetin them together? The Dean beamed. These trousers, he said, are where its at.

  Are you talkin Music With Rocks In again? said Ridcully suspiciously. I mean theyre cool.

  Well, better than a thick robe in this weather, Ridcully conceded, but- youre not going to put them on now, are you?

  Why not? said the Dean, struggling out of his robe. Wizards in trousers? Not in my university! Its cissy. Peopled laugh, said Ridcully. You always try and stop me doing anything I want!

  Theres no need to take that tone with me-

  Huh, you never listen to anything I say and I dont see why I shouldnt wear what I like! Ridcully glared around the room. This room is a total mess! he bellowed. Tidy it up right now!

  Sharnt!

  Then its no more Music With Rocks In for you, young man! Ridcully slammed the door behind him. He slammed it open again and added, And I never gave you permission to paint it black! He slammed the door shut. He slammed it open. They dont suit you, either! The Dean rushed out into the passage, waving his hammer. Say what you like, he shouted, when history comes to name these, they certainly wont call them Archchancellors! It was eight in the morning, a time when drinkers are trying either to forget who they are or to remember where they live. The other occupants of the Mended Drum were hunched over their drinks around the walls and watching an orang-utan, who was playing Barbarian Invaders and screaming with rage every time he lost a penny. Hibiscus really wanted to shut. On the other hand, itd be like blowing up a goldmine. It was all he could do to keep up the supply of clean glasses. Have you forgotten yet? he said. IT APPEARS I HAVE ONLY FORGOTTEN ONE THING. Whats that? Hah, silly of me to ask really, seeing as youve forgotten- I HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO GET DRUNK. The barman looked at the rows and rows of glasses. There were wine-glasses. There were cocktail glasses. There were beer mugs. There were steins in the shape of jolly fat men. There was a bucket. I think youre on the right lines, he hazarded. The stranger picked up his most recent glass and wandered over to the Barbarian Invaders machine. It was made of clockwork of a complex and intricate design. There was a suggestion of many gears and worm drives in the big mahogany cabinet under the game, the whole function of which appeared to be to make rows of rather crudely carved Barbarian Invaders jerk and wobble across a rectangular proscenium. The player, by means of a system of levers and pulleys, operated a small self-loading catapult that moved below the Invaders. This shot small pellets upwards. At the same time the Invaders (by means of a ratchet-and-pawl mechanism) dropped small metal arrows. Periodically a bell rang and an Invader on horseback oscillated hesitantly across the top of the game, dropping spears. The whole assemblage rattled and

 
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