The last continent, p.31
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       The Last Continent, p.31

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 31


  You know about this sort of thing, Ponder, he growled, as they hit the trough and then began the stomach-twisting climb to the next crest. Are we going to die?

  I . . . dont think so, Dean . . .

  Pity Rincewind heard whistles blowing behind him by the time he reached the corner, but he never let that sort of thing worry him. This was a city! Cities were so much easier. He was a creature of cities. There were so many places to— Whistles started blowing up ahead as well. The crowds were thicker here, and most people were heading in the same direction. But Rincewind liked crowds to run through. As the pursued, he had novelty on his side and could shoulder his way past the unsuspecting, who then turned around and milled about and complained and were definitely not in the right frame of mind to greet the people following him. Rincewind could run through a crowd like a ball on a bagatelle board, and always got an extra go. Downhill was best. Thats where they generally put docks, so as to have them close to the water. Dodging and ducking across the streets brought him, suddenly, to the waterside. There were a few boats there. They were on the small side for a stowaway, but— There were running footsteps in the dark! These watchmen were too good! This wasnt how it was supposed to go! They werent supposed to double-back. They werent supposed to think. He ran in the only direction left, along the waterfront. There was a building there. At least, it . . . well, it had to be a building. No one could have left an open box of tissues that big. Rincewind felt that a building should be a box with a pointed lid on it, basically, and it should be the approximate colour of whatever the local mud was. On the other hand, as the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle once remarked, it is never wise to object to the decor of a hidey- hole. He bounded up the steps and circled around the strange white building. It seemed to be some kind of music hall. Opera, by the sound of it, although it was a damn funny place to sing

  opera, you couldnt imagine ladies with horns in a building that looked about to set sail, but no time to wonder about that, there was a door with some rubbish bins outside it and here was the door open . . . You from the agency, mate? Rincewind peered into the steam. An I hope you can do puddings, cos cheffys banging his head on the wall, went on a figure emerging from the wisps. It was wearing a tall white hat. No worries, said Rincewind, hopefully. Ah, this is a kitchen, is it?

  You pullin my leg?

  Only I thought it was some kind of opera house or something—

  Best bloody opera house in the world, mate. Come on, this way . . . It wasnt a very big kitchen and, like most of the ones Rincewind had been in, it was full of men working very hard at cross purposes. The boss upstairs only decided to throw a big dinner for the prima donna, said the cook, forcing his way through the throng. And all of a sudden Charley sees the pudding staring him in the face.

  Ah, right, said Rincewind, on the basis that sooner or later hed be given a clue. Boss says, you can do the pudding for her, Charley.

  Just like that, eh?

  He sez, it ought to be the best one yet, Charley.

  No worries?

  He sez, the great Nunco invented the Strawberry Sackville for Dame Wendy Sackville, and the famous chef Imposo created the Apple Glazier for Dame Margyreen Glazier, and your own father, Charley, honoured Dame Janeen Ormulu with the Orange Ormulu and tonight, Charley, its your big chance. The cook shook his head as he reached a table where a small man in a white uniform was sobbing uncontrollably into his hands. There was a stack of empty beer cans in front of him. Poor bastards been on the beer ever since, and we thought wed better get someone in. Im a steak and prawns man, myself.

  So, you want me to make a pudding? Named after an opera singer? said Rincewind. Thats the tradition, is it?

  Yeah, and youd better not let Charley down, mate. Its not his fault.

  Oh, well . . . Rincewind thought about puddings. Basically it was just fruit and cream and custard, wasnt it? And cakes and stuff. He couldnt see where the problem lay. No worries, he said. I think I can knock up something right away. The kitchen became silent as the scurrying cooks stopped to watch him. First, said Rincewind, what fruit have we got?

  Peaches was all we could find at this time of night.

  No worries. And weve got some cream?

  Yep. Of course.

  Fine, fine. Then all I need to know is the name of the lady in question . . . He felt the silence open up. Shes a beaut singer, mind you, said a cook, in a defensive tone of voice. Good. And her name? said Rincewind. Er . . . thats the trouble, see, said another cook. Why? Ponder opened his eyes. The water was calm, or at least calmer than it had been. There were even patches of blue sky above, although cloud banks were criss-crossing the air as if each were in possession of its own bag of wind. His mouth tasted as though hed been sucking a tin spoon. Around him, some of the wizards managed to push themselves to their knees. The Dean frowned, removed his hat, and pulled out a small crab.

  s a good boat, he murmured. The green mast stem still stood, although the leaf sail looked ragged. Nevertheless, the boat was tacking nicely against the wind off— —the continent. It was a red wall, glowing under the thunder light. Ridcully got uncertainly to his feet and pointed to it. Not far now! he said. The Dean actually growled. Ive just about had enough of that insufferable cheerfulness, he said. So just shut up, will you?

  Enough of that. I am your Archchancellor, Dean, said Ridcully. Well, lets just talk about that, shall we? said the Dean, and Ponder saw the nasty gleam in his eye. This is hardly the time, Dean!

  Exactly on what basis are you giving orders. Ridcully? Youre the Archchancellor of what, precisely? Unseen University doesnt even exist! Tell him, Senior Wrangler!

  I dont have to if I dont want to, sniffed the Senior Wrangler. What? What? snapped the Dean. I dont believe I have to take orders from you, Dean! When the Bursar climbed up on deck a minute later the boat was already rocking. It was hard to say how many factions there were, since a wizard is capable of being a faction all by himself, but there were broadly two sides, both liaisons being as stable as an egg on a seesaw. What amazed Ponder Stibbons, when he thought about it later, was that no one had yet resorted to using magic. The wizards had spent a lot of time in an atmosphere where a cutting remark did more damage than a magic sword and, for sheer malign pleasure, a well structured memo could do more real damage than a fireball every time. Besides, no one had their staff, and no one had any spells handy, and in those circumstances its easier to hit someone, although in the case of wizards non-magical fighting usually means flailing ineffectually at the opponent while trying to keep out of his way. The Bursars fixed smile faded a little. I got three per cent more than you in my finals!

  Oh, and how do you know that, Dean?

  I looked up the paper when you were appointed Archchancellor!

  What? After forty years?

  An examination is an examination!

  Er . . . the Bursar began. Ye gods, thats petty! Thats just the sort of thing Id expect from a student who even had a separate pen for red ink!

  Hah! At least I didnt spend all my time drinking and betting and staying out at all hours!

  Hah! I bloody well did, yes, and I learned the ways of the world and I still got nearly as many marks as you in spite of a prize-winning hangover, you puffed-up barrel of lard!

  Oh? Oh? Its personal remarks now, is it?

  Absolutely, Two-chairs! Lets have some personal remarks! We always said that walking behind you made people seasick!

  I wonder if at this point . . . said the Bursar. The air crackled around the wizards. A wizard in a foul temper attracts magic like overripe fruit gets flies. You think Id make a better Archchancellor, dont you, Bursar? said the Dean. The Bursar blinked his watery eyes. I, er, the two of you . . . er . . . many good points . . . er . . . perhaps this is the time to, er, make a common cause . . . They spent just a moment considering this. Well said, said the Dean. Got a point, said Ridcully. Because, you know, Ive never liked the Lecturer in Recent Runes very much . . .
r />   Smirks all the time, Ridcully agreed. Not a member of the team.

  Oh, really? The Lecturer in Recent Runes put on a particularly evil smirk. At least I got higher marks than you and am noticeably thinner than the Dean! Although a great many things are! Tell them, Stibbons! Thats Mister Stibbons, fatman! Ponder heard the voice. He knew it was his. He felt as though he was hypnotized. He could stop any time he liked, it was just that he didnt quite feel like it. Could I just, er, say . . . the Bursar tried. Shut up, Bursar! roared Ridcully. Sorry, sorry. Sorry . . . Ridcully waved a finger at the Dean. Now you listen to me . . . A crimson spark leapt off his hand, left a trail of smoke past the Deans ear, and hit the mast, which exploded. The Dean took a deep breath, and when the Dean took a deep breath appreciably less air was left in the atmosphere. It was let out with a roar.

  You dare fire magic at me? Ridcully was staring at his hand. But I. . . I. . . Ponder finally managed to force the words out between teeth that were trying to clamp together. Er agics egecting ug!

  What? What are you gurgling about, man? said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Ill show you magic, you pompous clown! screamed the Dean, raising both hands. Its the magic talking! Ponder managed, grabbing one arm. You dont want to blow the Archchancellor to little pieces, Dean!

  Yes, I damn well do!

  Excuse me, Ai dont wish to intrude . . . Mrs Whitlows head appeared at the hatchway. What is it, Mrs Whitlow? yelled Ponder, as a blast from the Deans hand sizzled over his head. Ai know you are engaged on University business, but should there be all these cracks? The water is coming in. Ponder looked down. The deck creaked under his feet. Were sinking . . . he said. You stupid old— He bit down on the words. The boat is cracking up as fast as we are! Look, its going yellow! The green was leaching from the deck like sunlight from a stormy sky. Its his fault! the Dean screamed. Ponder raced to the side. There were crackling noises all around him. The important thing was to settle his mind and be calm and, possibly, think of nice things like blue skies and kittens. Preferably ones which werent about to drown. Listen, he said, if we dont sink our differences theyll sink us, understand? The boats . . . ripening or something. And were a long way from land, do you understand! And there could be sharks down there. He looked down. He looked up. Theres sharks down there! he shouted. The boat tilted as the wizards joined him.

  Are they sharks, do you think? said Ridcully. Could be tuna, said the Dean. Behind them the remains of the sail fell away. How can you reliably tell the difference? said the Senior Wrangler. You could count their teeth on the way down, sighed Ponder. But at least no one was throwing magic around any more. You could take the wizards out of Unseen University, but you couldnt take the University out of the wizards. The boat listed still further as Mrs Whitlow looked over the side. What happens if we fall in the water? she said. We must devise a plan, said Ridcully. Dean, form a working party to consider our survival in unknown, shark-infested waters, will you?

  Should we swim for the shore? said Mrs Whitlow. Ai was good at swimming as a gel. Ridcully gave her a warm smile. All in good time, Mrs Whitlow, he said. But your suggestion has been taken aboard.

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