The last continent, p.38
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       The Last Continent, p.38

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 38

 

  The voice in the Bursars head thought: but a bird must fly. Where are the wings? This ones standing on the ground. You dont see the wings, said the Dean, and then looked puzzled at having answered a question no one had asked. Blast! You know, its harder than it looks, drawing on a rock . . . I always see the wings, thought the voice in the Bursars head. The Bursar fumbled for his dried frog pill bottle. The voices were never usually this precise. Very flat bird, said Ridcully. Come on, Dean, our friend here isnt very happy. Lets go and work out a really good boat spell . . .

  Looks more like a weasel to me, said the Senior Wrangler. Youve got the tail wrong.

  The stick slipped.

  A ducks fatter than that, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. You shouldnt try to show off. Dean. When was the last time you saw a duck that didnt have peas round it?

  Last week, actually!

  Yes, we had crispy duck. With plum sauce, I now recall. Here, let me have a go . . .

  Now youve given it three legs!

  I did ask for the stick! You snatched it away!

  Now look, said Ridcully. Im a man who knows his ducks, and what youve got there is laughable. Give me that . . . thank you. You do a beak like this Thats on the wrong end and its too big.

  You think thats a beak?

  Look, all three of you are barking up the wrong tree here. Give me that stick . . .

  Ah, but, you see, ducks dont bark! Hah! Theres no need to snatch like that— Unseen University was built of stone – so built out of stone that in fact there were many places where it was hard to tell where wild rock ended and domesticated stone began. It was hard to imagine what else you could build a university out of. If Rincewind had set out to list possible materials he wouldnt have included corrugated iron sheets. In response to some sort of wizardly ancestral memory, though, the sheets around the gates had been quite expertly bent and hammered into the shape of a stone arch. Over it, burned into the thin metal, were the words: NULLUS ANXIETAS.

  I shouldnt be surprised, should I? he said. No worries. The gates, which were also made of corrugated iron nailed to bits of wood by a man using secondhand nails, were firmly shut. A crowd of people were hammering on them. Looks like a lot of other people have the same idea, said Neilette. Therell be another way in, said Rincewind, walking away. Therell be an alley . . . Ah, there it is. Now, these arent stone walls, so there wont be removable bricks, which means . . . He prodded at the tin sheets, and one of them wobbled. Ah, yes. A loose sheet which swings aside so you can get back in after hours.

  How did you know that?

  This is a university, isnt it? Come on. A message had been chalked beside the loose sheet. “Nulli Sheilae sanguineae,” Rincewind read aloud. But your names not Sheila, so were probably okay.

  If it means what I think it means, it means they dont allow women, said Neilette. You shouldve brought Darleen.

  Sorry?

  Forget I mentioned it. Somewhat to Rincewinds surprise there was a short, pleasant lawn on the other side of the fence, illuminated by the light from a large low building. All the buildings were low but had big wide roofs, giving the effect you might get if someone stepped on a lot of square mushrooms. If they had been painted, it had been an historical event, probably coming somewhere between Fire and the Invention of the Wheel. There was a tower. It was about twenty feet high. I dont call this much of a university, said Rincewind. He allowed himself a touch of smugness. Twenty feet high? I could pi— I could spit from the top of it. Oh well . . . He made for the doorway, just as the light grew a lot brighter and was tinted with octarine, the eighth colour that was intimately associated with magic. The doors themselves were shut fast. He banged on them, making them rattle. Fraternal greetings, brothers! he shouted. I bring you— Good grie— The world simply changed. One moment he was standing in front of a rusting door and the next he was in a circle with half a dozen wizards watching him. He caught his balance.

  Well, full marks for effort, he managed. Where I come from, and you can call me Mister Boring if you like, we just open the door.

  Stone the crows, but were getting good at this, said a wizard. And they were wizards. Rincewind was in no doubt of it. They had proper pointy hats, although the brims were larger than anything hed seen without flying buttresses. Their robes werent much more than waist length, and below them they wore shorts, long grey socks, and big leather sandals. A lot of this was not the typical wizarding outfit as hed grown up to understand it, but they were still wizards. They had that unmistakable hot-air-balloon-about- to-take-off look. The apparent leader of the group nodded at Rincewind. Good evening, Mister Boring. I must say you got here a lot quicker than we expected. Rincewind felt intuitively that saying I was just outside the door was not a good idea. Er, I had an assisted passage, he said. He doesnt look very demonic, said a wizard. Remember that last one we called up? Six eyes and three— The really good ones can disguise themselves, Dean.

  Then this one must be a bloody genius, Archchancellor. Thank you very much, said Rincewind. The Archchancellor nodded at him. He was, of course, elderly, with a face that looked as though it had been screwed up and then smoothed out, and a short, greying beard. There was something oddly familiar that Rincewind couldnt quite place. Weve called you up, Boring, said the man, because we want to know whats happened to the water. Its all gone, has it? said Rincewind. Thought so.

  It cant go said the Dean. Its water. Theres always water, if you go down deep enough.

  But if we go any deeper were going to give an elephant a bloody nasty shock, said the Archchancellor. So we— There was a clang as the doors hit the floor. The wizards backed away. What the hells that? said one of them. Oh, thats my Luggage, said Rincewind. Its made out of—

  Not the box on legs! Isnt that a woman?

  Dont ask him, hes not very quick at that sort of thing, said Neilette, stepping in behind the Luggage. Sorry, but Trunkie got impatient.

  We cant have women in the University! shouted the Dean. Theyll want to drink sherry!

  No worries, said the Archchancellor, waving a hand irritably. Whats happened to the water. Boring?

  Its all been used up, I suppose, said Rincewind. So how can we get some more?

  Why does everyone ask me? Dont you have some rainmaking spells or something?

  Theres that word again, said the Dean. Water sprinkling out of the sky, eh? Ill believe that when I see it!

  We tried making one of these – what were they called? Big white bags of water? The things some of the sailors say they see in the sky?

  Clouds.

  Right. They dont stay up, Boring. We threw one off the tower last week and it hit the Dean.

  Ive never believed those old stories, said the Dean. And I reckon you mongrels waited till I was walking past.

  You dont have to make them, they just happen, said Rincewind. Look, I dont know how to make it rain. I thought any halfway decent wizard knew how to do a rainmaking spell, he added, as someone who wouldnt know where to start. Really? said the Archchancellor, with dangerous brightness. No offence meant, said Rincewind hurriedly. Im sure this is a very good university, considering. Obviously its not a real one, but its amazingly good in the circumstances.

  Whats wrong with it? said the Archchancellor. Well . . . your towers a little bit on the small side, isnt it? I mean, even compared to the buildings around here? Not that theres—

  I think we ought to show Mister Boring our tower, said the Archchancellor. I dont think hes taking us seriously.

  Ive seen it, said Rincewind. From the top?

  No, obviously not from the top—

  We havent got time for this, Archchancellor, said a small wizard. Lets send this wozza back to Hell and find something better.

  Excuse me? said Rincewind. By “Hell” do you mean some hot red place?

  Yes!

  Really? How do Ecksians know when theyve got there? The beers warmer?

  No more arguing. This one turned up
very fast when we did the summoning, so this is the one we need, said the Archchancellor. Come along, Boring. This wont take a minute. Ponder shook his head and wandered over to the fire. Mrs Whitlow was sitting demurely on a rock. In front of her, getting as close to the fire as possible, was the Librarian. He was still extremely small. Maybe his temporal gland had to take longer to work itself out, Ponder thought. What are the gentlemen doing? said Mrs Whitlow. She had to raise her voice above the argument, but Mrs Whitlow would still have said. Is there some difficulty? if she saw the wizards out on the lawn throwing fireballs at the monsters from the Dungeon Dimensions. She liked to be told these things. Theyve found a man drawing the most alive-looking pictures Ive ever seen, said Ponder. So now theyre trying to teach him Art. By committee.

  The gentlemen always take an interest, said Mrs Whitlow. They always interfere, said Ponder. I dont know what it is about wizards, they cant just watch. So far theyre arguing about how to draw a duck and frankly I dont think a duck has four legs, which is what its got so far. Honestly, Mrs Whitlow, theyre like kittens in a feather-plucking shed . . . Whats that? The Librarian had tipped up the leather bag lying by the fire and was testing the contents for taste, in the way of young mammals everywhere. He picked up a flat, bent piece of wood, painted in lines of many colours – far more pigments than the old man had been using to paint, and Ponder wondered why. He tested it for palatability, banged it on the ground in a vaguely hopeful way, and threw it away. Then he pulled out a flat oval of wood on a piece of string, and tried chewing the string. Is that a yo-yo? said Mrs Whitlow. We used to call them bullroarers when I was a kid, said Ponder. You whirl it around over your head to make a funny noise. He waved his hand vaguely in the air. Eeek?

  Ooh, isnt that sweet? Hes trying to do what you do!

  The Librarian tried to whirl the string, wrapped it round his face and hit himself on the back of the head. Oh, the poor little thing! Take it off him, Mister Stibbons, do. The Librarian bared some small fangs as Ponder unwound the string. I hope hes going to grow up soon, he said. Otherwise the Library will be filled up with cardboard books about bunnies It really was a very stubby tower. The base was stonework, but about halfway the builders had got fed up and resorted to rusted tin sheets nailed on to a wooden framework. One rickety ladder led up. Very impressive, sighed Rincewind. The views even better from the top. Go on up. The ladder shook under Rincewinds weight until he pulled himself up on to the planks, where he lay down and panted. Must be the beer and the excitement, he told himself. One short ladder shouldnt do this to me. Bracing air up here, isnt it? said the Archchancellor, walking to the edge and waving a hand towards the city. Oh, certainly, said Rincewind, tottering towards the corrugated battlements. Why, I expect you can see all the way to the gr— Aaargh! The Archchancellor grabbed him and pulled him back. Thats— Its— Rincewind gasped. Want to go back down again? Rincewind glared at the wizard and inched his way carefully back to the stairs. He looked down, ready at an instants notice to draw his head back, and carefully counted the steps. Then he walked back gingerly to the parapet and risked looking over the edge. There was the fiery speck of the burning brewery. There was Bugarup, and its harbour . . . Rincewind raised his gaze. There was the red desert, glittering under the moonlight. How high is this? he croaked. On the outside? About half a mile, we think, said the Archchancellor.

 
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