The last continent, p.32
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       The Last Continent, p.32

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 32

 

  Its going to be the only thing that is, in a minute, said Ponder. And what exactly will your role be, Arch-chancellor? the Dean snarled. I have defined your objectives, said Ridcully. It is up to you to consider the options.

  In that case, said the Dean, I move that we abandon ship.

  What for? said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. The sharks? That is a secondary problem, said the Dean. Thats right, said Ponder, we can always vote to abandon shark. The ship lurched suddenly. The Senior Wrangler struck a heroic pose. I will save you, Mrs Whitlow! he cried, and swept her off her feet. Or, at least, made the effort. But the Senior Wrangler was lightly built for a wizard and Mrs Whitlow was a fine figure of a woman and, furthermore, the wizards grip was limited by the fact that there were very few areas of Mrs Whitlow that he dared actually touch. He did his best with some outlying regions and managed to lift her slightly. All this did was transfer the entire weight of wizard and housekeeper to the Senior Wranglers quite small feet, which went through the deck like a steel bar. The boat, dry as tinder now, soft as wood punk, fell apart very gently.

  The water was extremely cold. Spray filled the air as they struggled. A piece of wreckage hit Ponder on the head and pushed him under, into a blue world where his ears went gloing- gloing. When he struggled to the surface again this noise turned out to be an argument. Once again, the sheer magic of Unseen University triumphed. When treading water in a circle of sharks, a wizard will always consider other wizards to be the most immediate danger. Dont blame me! He was . . . well, I think he was asleep!

  You think?

  He was a mattress. A red one!

  Hes the only Librarian weve got! How could you be so thoughtless! shouted Ridcully. He took a deep breath, and dived. Abandon sea! shouted the Bursar cheerfully. Ponder shuddered as something big and black and streamlined rose out of the water in from of him. It sank back into the foam and flopped over. Other shapes were bobbing to the surface all around the frantically treading wizards. The Dean tapped one. Well, these sharks dont seem anything like as dangerous as I expected, he said. Theyre the seeds out of the boat! said Ponder. Get on top of them, quickly! He was sure that something had brushed his leg. In those circumstances, a man finds unexpected agility. Even the Dean managed to get aboard a board, after a revolving, foamy period when man and seed fought for supremacy. Ridcully surfaced in a shower of spray. Its no good! he spluttered. I went down as far as I could. Theres no sign of him! Try and get on a seed, Archchancellor, do, said the Senior Wrangler. Ridcully flailed at a passing shark. They wont attack you if you make a lot of noise and splash around, he said. I thought thats when they will attack you, sir, Ponder called out. Ah, an interesting practical experiment, said the Dean, craning to watch. Ridcully hauled himself on to one of the seeds. What a mess. I suppose we can float to land, though, he said. Er . . . wheres Mrs Whitlow, gentlemen? They looked around.

  Oh, no . . . the Senior Wrangler moaned. Shes swimming for the shore . . . They followed his gaze, and could just see a hairdo moving jerkily yet determinedly towards the shore in what Ridcully would probably have referred to as a chest stroke. I dont call that very practical, said the Dean. What about the sharks?

  Well, theyre swimming around under us, in fact, said the Senior Wrangler, as the seeds rocked. Ponder looked down. They appear to be leaving now that were not dangling our legs in the water, he said. Theyre heading . . . for the shore, too.

  Well, she knew the risks when she got the job, said the Dean. What? said the Senior Wrangler. Are you saying that before you apply for the job of housekeeper of a university you should seriously consider being eaten by sharks on the shores of some mysterious continent thousands of years before you are born?

  She didnt ask many questions at the interview, I know that.

  Actually, we are worrying unduly, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Sharks have a very undeserved reputation as man-eaters. There is not a single authenticated case of a shark attacking anyone, despite what you may have heard. They are sophisticated and peaceful creatures with a rich family life and, far from being ominous harbingers of doom, have reputedly even befriended the occasional lost traveller. As hunters they are of course very efficient, and a full-grown shark can bring down even a moose with . . . er . . . He looked at their faces. Er . . . I think I might perhaps have got them confused with wolves, he mumbled. I have, havent I? They nodded, in unison. Er . . . sharks are the other ones, arent they? he went on. The vicious and merciless killers of the sea that dont even stop to chew? They nodded again. Oh dear. Where can I put my face . . . ?

  Some distance from a shark, said Ridcully briskly. Come on, gentlemen. Thats our housekeeper! Do you wish to make your own beds in future? Fireballs again, I think.

  Shes gone too far away—

  A red shape rocketed out of the sea beside Ridcully, curled through the air and slid below the surface again like a razorblade cutting into silk. What was that? Who of you did that? he said. A bow wave ripped its way to the cluster of triangular fins like a bowling ball heading down an alley. Then the water erupted. Ye gods, look at the way its going at those sharks!

  Is it a monster?

  Its a dolphin, surely . . .

  With red hair?

  Surely its not— A stricken shark barrelled past the Senior Wrangler. Behind it the water exploded again into the big red grin of the only dolphin ever to have a leathery face and orange hair all over its body. Eek? said the Librarian. Well done, old chap! shouted Ridcully across the water. I said you wouldnt let us down!

  No, actually you didnt, sir, you said you thought— Ponder began. Good choice of shape, too, Ridcully continued loudly. Now, if you can sort of nudge us all together, then perhaps you could push us towards the shore? Are we all still here? Wheres the Bursar? The Bursar was a small dot away on the right, paddling dreamily along. Well, hell get there, said Ridcully. Come on, lets get on to dry land.

  That sea, said the Senior Wrangler nervously, staring ahead as the seeds were jockeyed towards the shore like a string of overloaded barges, that sea . . . Does it look as though its girting to you?

  Certainly a very big sea, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. You know, I dont think its just the rain thats making the roaring. There may be a spot of surf.

  A few waves wont do us any harm, said Ridcully. At least water is soft. Ponder felt the board underneath him rise and fall as a long swell passed. An odd shape for a seed, he had to admit. Of course, nature paid a lot of attention to seeds, equipping them with little wings and sails and flotation chambers and other devices necessary to give them an edge over all the other seeds. These were just flattish versions of the Librarians current shape, which was obviously intended for moving through water very fast.

  Er . . . he said, to the universe in general. It meant: I wonder if weve really thought about this. Cant see any rocks ahead, the Dean observed. Girting, mused the Senior Wrangler, as if the word was nagging at him. Thats a very definite sort of word, isnt it? Has a certain martial sort of sound. It occurred to Ponder that water is not exactly soft. Hed never been much of a one for sports when he was a boy, but he remembered playing with the other local lads and joining in all their games, such as Push Poncy Stibbons Into the Nettles or Tie Up Stibbo and Go Home for Tea, and there had been the time at the old swimming hole when theyd thrown him in off the top of the cliff. And it had hurt. The flotilla gradually caught up with Mrs Whitlow, who was holding on to a floating tree and treading water. The tree already had its fair share of occupants – birds, lizards and, for some reason, a small camel trying to make itself comfortable in the branches. The swell was heavier now. There was a deep, continuous booming underlying the noise of the rain. Ah, Mrs Whitlow, said the Senior Wrangler. And what a nice tree. Even got leaves on, look.

  Weve come to save you, said the Dean, in the face of the evidence. I think it might be a good idea if Mrs Whitlow hung on to a seed, said Ponder. I really think that really might be a really good idea. I t
hink the waves might be . . . slightly big . . .

  Girting, said the Senior Wrangler, morosely. He looked towards the beach, and it wasnt ahead of them any more. It was down there. It was at the bottom of a green hill. And the green was made of water. And, for some reason, it was getting taller. Look, said Rincewind. Why cant you tell me her name? Presumably lots of people know it. I mean, it must be put on the posters and so on. Its only a name, isnt it? I dont see the problem. The cooks looked at one another. Then one coughed and said, Shes . . . her names . . . Dame Nellie . . . Butt.

  But what?

  Her name is Butt. Rincewinds lips moved silently. Oh, he said.

  The cooks nodded. Has Charley drunk all the beer, do you think? Rincewind said, sitting down. Maybe we can find some bananas, Ron, said another cook. Rincewinds eyes unfocused and his lips moved again. Did you tell Charley that? he said at last. Yep. Just before he broke down. There was the sound of running feet outside. One of the cooks looked out of the window. Its just the Watch. Probably after some poor bastard . . . Rincewind moved back slightly so that he was not obvious from the window. Ron shuffled his feet. I reckon if we went and saw Idle Ahmed and got him to open up his shop we might get some—

  Strawberries? said Rincewind. The cooks shuddered. There was another sob from Charley. All his life hes been waiting for this, said a cook. I call it bloody unfair. Remember when that little soprano left to marry that drover? He was miserable all week.

  Yeah. Lisa Delight, said Ron. A bit wobbly in mid-range but definitely showin promise.

  He was really pinning his hopes on her. He said a name like thatd even work with rhubarb. Charley howled. I think . . . said Rincewind, slowly and thoughtfully. Yes?

  I think I can see a way.

  You can? Even Charley raised his head. Well, you know how it is, the outsider sees most of the game . . . Lets go with the peaches, the cream, a bit of ice cream if you can make it, maybe a dash of brandy . . . Lets see, now . . .

  Coconut flakes? said Charley, looking up. Yes, why not?

  Er . . . some tomato sauce, maybe?

  I think not.

  Youd better get a move on, theyre halfway through the last act, said Ron. Shell be right, said Rincewind. Okay . . . halve the peaches, put them in a bowl with the other things, and then add the brandy and voila.

  That some kind of foreign stuff? said Charley. I dont think weve got any of that wollah.

  Just add twice as much brandy, then, said Rincewind. And there it is.

  Yeah, but whats it called? said Ron. Im coming to that, said Rincewind. Bowl, please, Charley. Thank you. He held it aloft. Gentlemen . . . I give you . . . the Peach Nellie. A saucepan bubbled on a stove. Apart from that insistent little noise, and the distant strains of the opera, the room fell silent. What do you think? said Rincewind brightly. Its . . . different. . , said Charley. Ill grant you that.

  But its not exactly commemorative, is it? said Ron. The world is full of Nellies.

  On the other hand, would you prefer it if everyone remembered the alternative? said Rincewind. Do you want to be associated in any way with the Peach Bu— There was a howl as Charley burst into tears again. Put like that, it doesnt sound too bad, said Ron. Peach Nellie . . . yeah.

 
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