Soul music, p.34
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       Soul Music, p.34
 

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 34

 

  Right. Forget. Yes.

  So have you had any recent recruits who were a little, shall we say, odd?

  Might have done, said the voice slowly. Cant remember. The hatchway slammed shut. Albert hammered on it again. The hatchway opened. Yes, what is it?

  Are you sure you cant remember?

  Remember what? Albert took a deep breath. I demand to see your commanding officer! The hatch shut. The hatch opened. Sorry. It appears that I am the commanding officer. Youre not a Dreg or a Hershebian, are you?

  Dont you know?

  Im . . . pretty sure I must have done. Once. You know how it is . . . head like . . . thing, you know . . . With holes in . . . You drain lettuce in it . . . er . . . There was the sound of bolts being pulled back, and a wicket door opened in the gateway. The possible officer was a sergeant, in so far as Albert was at all familiar with Klatchian ranks. He had the look about him of someone who, among the things he couldnt remember, would include a good nights sleep. If he could remember to. There were a few other Klatchian soldiers inside the fort, sitting or, just barely, standing. Many were bandaged. And there was a rather greater number of soldiers slumped or lying on the packed sand whod never need a nights sleep ever again. Whats been happening here? said Albert. His tone was so authoritative that the sergeant found himself saluting. We were attacked by Dregs, sir, he said, swaying slightly. Hundreds of them! They outnumbered us . . . er . . . whats the number after nine? Got a one in it.

  Ten.

  Ten to one, sir.

  I see you survived, though, said Albert.

  Ah, said the sergeant. Yes. Er. Yes. Thats where it all gets a bit complicated, in fact. Er. Corporal? Thats you. No, you just next to him. The one with the two stripes?

  Me? said a small fat soldier. Yes. Tell him what happened.

  Oh. Right. Er. Well, the bastards had shot us full of arrows, right? An it looked like it was all up with us. Then someone suggested sticking bodies up on the battlements with their spears and crossbows and everything sos the bastardsd think we was still up to strength-

  Its not an original idea, mind you, said the sergeant. Been done dozens of times.

  Yeah, said the corporal awkwardly. Thats what they mustve thought. And then . . . and then . . . when they was galloping down the sand-dunes . . . when they was almost on us, laughing and everything, saying stuff like “that old trick again” . . . someone shouted “Fire!” and they did.

  The dead men-?

  I joined the Legion to . . . er . . . you know, with your mind . . . the corporal began. Forget? said Albert. Thats right. Forget. And Ive been getting good at it. But Im not going to forget my old mate Nudger Malik stuck full of arrows and still giving the enemy what for, said the corporal. Not for a long time. Im going to give it a try, mind you. Albert looked up at the battlements. They were empty. Someone formed em up in formation and they all marched out, afterwards, said the corporal. And I went out to look just now and there was just graves. They must have dug them for one another . . .

  Tell me, said Albert, who is this “someone” to whom you keep referring? The soldiers looked at one another. Weve just been talking about that, said the sergeant. Weve been trying to remember. He was in . . . the Pit . . . when it started . . .

  Tall, was he? said Albert. Could have been tall, could have been tall, nodded the corporal. He had a tall voice, certainly. He looked puzzled at the words coming out of his own mouth. What did he look like?

  Well, he had a . . . with . . . and he was about . . . more or less a . . .

  Did he look . . . loud and deep? said Albert. The corporal grinned with relief. Thats him, he said. Private . . . Private . . . Beau . . . Beau . . . cant quite remember his name . . .

  I know that when he walked out of the . . . the sergeant began, and began to snap his fingers irritably, . . . thing you open and shut. Made of wood. Hinges and bolts on it. Thank you. Gate. Thats right . . . gate. When he went out of the gate he said . . . what was it he said, corporal?

  He said, “EVERY LAST DETAIL”, Sir. Albert looked around the fort. So hes gone.

  Who?

  The man you were just telling me about.

  Oh. Yes. Er. Have you any idea who he was, offendi? I mean, it was amazing . . . talk about morale . . .

  Esprit de corpse? said Albert, who could be nasty at times. I suppose he didnt say where he was going next?

  Where who was going next? said the sergeant, wrinkling his forehead in honest enquiry. Forget I asked, said Albert. He took a last look round the little fort. It probably didnt matter much in the history of the

  world whether it survived or not, whether the dotted line on the map went one way or the other. Just like the Master to tinker with things . . . Sometimes he tries to be human, too, he thought. And he makes a pigs ear out of it. Carry on, sergeant, he said, and wandered back into the desert. The legionnaires watched him disappear over the dunes, and then got on with the job of tidying up the fort. Who dyou think he was?

  Who?

  The person you just mentioned.

  Did I?

  Did you what? Albert crested a dune. From here the dotted line was just visible, winding treacherously across the sand. SQUEAK. You and me both, said Albert. He removed an extremely grubby handkerchief from a pocket, knotted it in all four corners, and put it on his head. Right, he said, but there was a trace of uncertainty in his voice. Seems to me were not being logical about this. SQUEAK. I mean, we could be chasing him all over the place. SQUEAK. So maybe we ought to think about this. SQUEAK. Now . . . if you were on the Disc, definitely feeling a bit strange, and could go absolutely anywhere, anywhere at all . . . where would you go? SQUEAK? Anywhere at all. But somewhere where no-one remembers your name. The Death of Rats looked around at the endless, featureless and above all dry desert. SQUEAK. You know, I think youre right. It was in an apple tree. He built me a swing, Susan remembered. She sat and stared at the thing. It was quite complicated. In so far as the thinking behind it could be inferred from the resulting construction, it had run like this: Clearly a swing should be hung from the stoutest branch. In fact - safety being paramount - it would be better to hang it from the two stoutest branches, one to each rope. They had turned out to be on opposite sides of the tree. Never go back. That was part of the logic. Always press on, step by logical step. So . . . hed removed about six feet from the middle of the trees trunk, thus allowing the swing to, well, swing. The tree hadnt died. It was still quite healthy. However, the lack of a major section of trunk had presented a fresh problem. This had been overcome by the addition of two large props under the branches, a little further out from the ropes of the swing, keeping the whole top of the tree at about the right height off the ground. She remembered how shed laughed, even then. And hed stood there, quite unable to see what was wrong. And then she saw it all, all laid out.

  That was how Death worked. He never understood exactly what he was doing. Hed do something, and it would turn out wrong. Her mother; suddenly he had a grown woman on his hands and didnt know what to do next. So he did something else to make it right, which made it more wrong. Her father. Deaths apprentice! And when that went wrong, and its potential wrongness was built right into it, he did something else to make it right. Hed turned over the hourglass. After that, it was all a matter of maths. And the Duty. Hello . . . hells, Glod, tell me where we are . . . Sto Lat! Yay ! It was an even bigger audience. Thered been more time for the posters to be up, more time for the word-of-mouth from AnkhMorpork. And, the band realized, a solid core of people had followed them from Pseudopolis. In a brief break between numbers, just before the bit where people started leaping around on the furniture, Cliff leaned over to Glod. You see dat troll in der front row? he said. The one Asphalts jumping on the fingers of?

  The one that looks like a spoil heap?

  She was in Pseudopolis, said Cliff, beaming. She keeps looking at me!

  Go for it, lad, said Glod, emptying the spit from his horn. In li
ke Flint, eh?

  You think shes one of dem gropies Asphalt told us about?

  Could be. Other news had travelled fast, too. Dawn saw another redecorated hotel room, a royal proclamation from Queen Keli that the band was to be out of the city in one hour on pain of pain, and one more rapid exit. Buddy lay in the cart as it bumped over the cobbles towards Quirm. She hadnt been there. Hed scanned the audience on both nights, and she hadnt been there. Hed even got up in the middle of the night and walked through the empty streets, in case she was looking for him. Now he wondered if she existed. If it came to that, he was only half certain that he existed, except for the times when he was on stage. He half listened to the conversation from the others. Asphalt?

  Yes, Mr Glod?

  Cliff and me cant help noticing something.

  Yes, Mr Glod?

  Youve been carrying a heavy leather bag around, Asphalt.

  Yes, Mr Glod.

  It was a bit heavier this morning, I think.

  Yes, Mr Glod.

  Its got the money in it, yes?

  Yes, Mr Glod.

  How much?

  Er. Mr Dibbler said I wasnt to worry you with money stuff, said Asphalt. We dont mind, said Cliff. Thats right, said Glod. We want to worry.

  Er. Asphalt licked his lips. There was something deliberate in Cliffs manner. About two thousand dollars, Mr Glod. The cart bounced on for a while. The landscape had changed a little. There were hills, and the farms were smaller. Two thousand dollars, said Glod. Two thousand dollars. Two thousand dollars. Two thousand dollars.

  Whyd you keep saying two thousand dollars? said Cliff.

  Ive never had a chance to say two thousand dollars.

  Just dont say it so loud.

  TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS!

  Ssh! said Asphalt, desperately, as Glods shout echoed off the hills. This is bandit country! Glod eyed the satchel. Youre telling me, he said. I dont mean Mr Dibbler!

  Were on the road between Sto Lat and Quirm, said Glod patiently. This isnt the Ramtops road. This is civilization. They dont rob you on the road in civilization. He glanced darkly at the satchel again. They wait until youve got into the cities. Thats why its called civilization. Hah, can you tell me the last time anyone was ever robbed on this road?

  Friday, I believe, said a voice from the rocks. Oh, bugg- The horses reared up and then galloped forward. Asphalts crack of the whip had been an almost instinctive reaction. They didnt slow down until they were several miles further along the road. Just shut up about money, all right? hissed Asphalt. Im a professional musician, said Glod. Of course I think about money. How far is it to Quirm?

  A lot less now, said Asphalt. A couple of miles. And after the next hill the city lay before them, nestling in its bay. There was a cluster of people at the towns gates, which were closed. Afternoon sunlight glittered off helmets. What do you call them long sticks with axes on the end? said Asphalt. Pikes, said Buddy. Theres certainly a lot of them, said Glod. They cant be for us, can dey? said Cliff. Were only musicians.

  And I can see some men in long robes and gold chains and things, said Asphalt. Burghers, said Glod. You know that horseman that passed us this morning . . . said Asphalt. Im thinking that maybe news travels.

  Yes, but we didnt break up dat theatre, said Cliff. Well, you only gave them six encores, said Asphalt. We didnt do all dat rioting in the streets.

 
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