The last continent, p.3
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       The Last Continent, p.3

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 3

 

  Ponder looked at the Library doors. A big strip of black and yellow tape had been stuck across them, along with a sign saying: Danger, Do Notte Enter in Any Circumstances. It was now hanging off, and the doors were ajar. This was no surprise. Any true wizard, faced with a sign like Do not open this door. Really. We mean it. Were not kidding. Opening this door will mean the end of the universe, would automatically open the door in order to see what all the fuss was about. This made signs rather a waste of time, but at least it meant that when you handed what was left of the wizard to his grieving relatives you could say, as they grasped the jar, We told him not to. There was silence from the darkness on the other side of the doorway. Ridcully extended a finger and pushed one door slightly. Behind it something made a fluttering noise and the doors were slammed shut. The wizards jumped back. Dont risk it, Archchancellor! said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. I tried to go in earlier and the whole section of Critical Essays had gone critical! Blue light flickered under the doors. Elsewhere, someone might have said, Its just books! Books arent dangerous! But even ordinary books are dangerous, and not only the ones like Make Gelignite the Professional Way. A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless book about political economy and suddenly thousands of people who havent even read it are dying because the ones who did havent got the joke. Knowledge is dangerous, which is why governments often clamp down on people who can think thoughts above a certain calibre. And the Unseen University Library was a magical library, built on a very thin patch of space- time. There were books on distant shelves that hadnt been written yet, books that never would be written. At least, not here. It had a circumference of a few hundred yards, but there was no known limit to its radius. And in a magical library the books leak, and learn from one another . . . Theyve started attacking anyone who goes in, moaned the Dean. No one can control them when the Librarians not here!

  But were a university! We have to have a library! said Ridcully. It adds tone. What sort of people would we be if we didnt go into the Library?

  Students, said the Senior Wrangler morosely. Hah, I remember when I was a student, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Old “Bogeyboy” Swallett took us on an expedition to find the Lost Reading Room. Three weeks we were wandering around. Had to eat our own boots.

  Did you find it? said the Dean. No, but we found the remains of the previous years expedition.

  What did you do?

  We ate their boots, too. From beyond the door came a flapping, as of leather covers. Theres some pretty vicious grimoires in there, said the Senior Wrangler. They can take a mans arm right off.

  Yes, but at least they dont know about doorhandles, said the Dean. They do if theres a book in there somewhere called Doorknobs for Beginners, said the Senior Wrangler. They read each other. The Archchancellor glanced at Ponder. There likely to be a book like that in there, Stibbons?

  According to L-space theory, its practically certain, sir. As one man, the wizards backed away from the doors. We cant let this nonsense go on, said Ridcully. Weve got to cure the Librarian. Its a magical illness, so we ought to be able to cook up a magical cure, oughtnt we? That would be exceedingly dangerous, Archchancellor, said the Dean. His whole system is a mess of conflicting magical influences. Theres no knowing what adding more magic would do. Hes already got a freewheeling temporal gland. [6] Any more magic and . . . well, I dont know whatll happen.

  Well find out, said Ridcully brusquely. We need to be able to go into the Library. Wed be doing this for the college, Dean. And Unseen University is bigger than one man—

  —ape—

  —thank you, ape, and we must always remember that “I” is the smallest letter in the alphabet. There was another thud from beyond the doors. Actually, said the Senior Wrangler, I think youll find that, depending on the font, “c” or even “u” are, in fact, even smaller. Well, shorter, anyw—

  Of course, Ridcully went on, ignoring this as part of the Universitys usual background logic, I suppose I could appoint another librarian . . . got to be a senior chap who knows his way around . . . hmm . . . now let me see, do any names spring to mind? Dean?

  All right, all rightl said the Dean. Have it your own way. As usual.

  Er . . . we cant do it, sir, Ponder ventured. Oh? said Ridcully. Volunteering for a bit of bookshelf tidying yourself, are you?

  I mean we really cant use magic to change him, sir. Theres a huge problem in the way. There are no problems, Mister Stibbons, there are only opportunities.

  Yes, sir. And the opportunity here is to find out the Librarians name. There was a buzz of agreement from the other wizards. The lads right, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Cant magic a wizard without knowing his name. Basic rule.

  Well, we call him the Librarian, said Ridcully. Everyone calls him the Librarian. Wont that do? Thats just a job description, sir. Ridcully looked at his wizards. One of us must know his name, surely? Good grief, I should hope we at least know our colleagues names. Isnt that so . . . He looked at the Dean, hesitated, and then said, Dean?

  Hes been an ape for quite a while . . . Archchancellor, said the Dean. Most of his original colleagues have . . . passed on. Gone to the great Big Dinner in the Sky. We were going through one of those periods of droit de mortis. [7]

  Yes, but hes got to be in the records somewhere. The wizards thought about the great cliffs of stacked paper that constituted the Universitys records. The archivist has never found him, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Whos the archivist?

  The Librarian, Archchancellor. Then at least he ought to be in the Year Book for the year he graduated.

  Its a very funny thing, said the Dean, but a freak accident appears to have happened to every single copy of the Year Book for that year. Ridcully noted his wooden expression. Would it be an accident like a particular page being torn out leaving only a lingering bananary aroma?

  Lucky guess, Archchancellor. Ridcully scratched his chin. A pattern emerges, he said. You see, hes always been dead set against anyone finding out his name, said the Senior Wrangler. Hes afraid well try to turn him back into a human. He looked meaningfully at the

  Dean, who put on an offended expression. Some people have been going around saying that an ape as Librarian is unsuitable.

  I merely expressed the view that it is against the traditions of the University— the Dean began. Which consist largely of niggling, big dinners and shouting damnfool things about keys in the middle of the night, said Ridcully. So I dont think we— The expressions on the faces of the other wizards made him turn around. The Librarian had entered the hall. He walked very slowly, because of the amount of clothing hed put on; the sheer volume of coats and sweaters meant that his arms, instead of being used as extra feet, were sticking out very nearly horizontally on either side of his body. But the most horrifying aspect of the shuffling apparition was the red woolly bat. It was jolly. It had a bobble on it. It had been knitted by Mrs Whitlow, who was technically an extremely good needlewoman, but if she had a fault it lay in failing to take into account the precise dimensions of the intended recipient. Several wizards had on occasion been presented with one of her creations, which often assumed they had three ankles or a neck two metres across. Most of the things were surreptitiously given away to charitable institutions. You can say this about Ankh-Morpork – no matter how misshapen a garment, there will always be someone somewhere it would fit. Mrs Whitlows mistake here was the assumption that the Librarian, for whom she had considerable respect, would like a red bobble hat with side flaps that tied under his chin. Given that this would technically require that they be tied under his groin, hed opted to let them flap loose. He turned a sad face towards the wizards as he stopped outside the Library door. He reached for the handle. He said, in a very weak voice,

  k, and then sneezed. The pile of clothing settled. When the wizards pulled it away, they found underneath a very large, thick book bound in hairy red leather. Says Ook on the cover, said the Senior Wrangler after a
while, in a rather strained voice. Does it say who its by? said the Dean. Bad taste, that man.

  I meant that maybe itd be his real name.

  Can we look inside? said the Chair oi Indefinite Studies. There may be an index.

  Any volunteers to look inside the Librarian? said Ridcully. Dont all shout.

  The morphic instability responds to the environment, said Ponder. Isnt that interesting? Hes near the Library, so it turns him into a book. Sort of . . . protective camouflage, you could say. Its as if he evolves to fit in with—

  Thank you, Mister Stibbons. And is there a point to this?

  Well, I assume we can look inside, said Ponder. A book is meant to be opened. Theres even a black leather bookmark, see?

  Oh, thats a bookmark, is it? said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, who had been watching it nervously. Ponder touched the book. It was warm. And it opened easily enough. Every page was covered with ook. Good dialogue, but the plot is a little dull.

  Dean! Id be obliged if youd take this seriously, please! said Ridcully. He tapped his foot once or twice. Anyone got any more ideas? The wizards stared at one another and shrugged. I suppose . . , said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Yes, Runes . . . Arnold, isnt it?

  No, Archchancellor . . .

  Well, out with it anyway.

  I suppose . . . I know this sounds ridiculous, but . . .

  Go on, man. Were almost all agog.

  I suppose theres always . . . Rincewind. Ridcully stared at him for a moment. Skinny fella? Scruffy beard? Bloody useless wizard? Got that box on legs thingy?

  Thats right, Archchancellor. Well done. Er . . . he was the Deputy Librarian for a while, as I expect you remember.

  Not really, but do go on, he said. In fact he was here when the Librarian . . . became the Librarian. And I remember once, when we were watching the Librarian stamping four books all at the same time, he said, “Amazing, really, when you think he was born in Ankh-Morpork. ” Im sure if anyone knows the name of the Librarian its Rincewind.

  Well, go and fetch him, then! I suppose you do know where he is, do you?

  Technically, yes, Archchancellor, said Ponder quickly. But were not sure quite where the place where he is is, if you follow me.

  Ridcully gave him another stare. You see, we think hes on EcksEcksEcksEcks, Archchancellor, said Ponder. EcksEcks—

  —EcksEcks, Archchancellor.

  I thought no one knew where that place was, said Ridcully. Exactly, Archchancellor, said Ponder. Sometimes you had to turn facts in several directions until you found the right way to fit them into Ridcullys head. [8] Whats he doing there?

  We dont really know, Archchancellor. If you remember, we believe he ended up there after that Agatean business . . .

  What did he want to go there for?

  I dont think he exactly wanted to, said Ponder. Er . . . we sent him. It was a trivial error in bi-locational thaumaturgy that anyone could make.

  But you made it, as I recall, said Ridcully, whose memory could spring nasty surprises like that. I am a member of the team, sir, said Ponder, pointedly. Well, if he doesnt want to be there, and we need him here, lets bring him b— The rest of the sentence was drowned out not by a noise but by a sort of bloom of quietness, which rolled over the wizards and was so oppressive and soft that they couldnt even hear their own heartbeats. Old Tom, the Universitys magical and tongueless bell, tolled out 2 a. m. by striking the silences. Er— said Ponder. Its not as simple as that. Ridcully blinked. Why not? he said. Bring him back by magic. We sent him there, we can bring him back.

 
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