Soul music, p.40
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       Soul Music, p.40

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 40


  the other? Ridiculous. Itll fall over, depend upon it. And wheres the horse going to go, may I ask? The Senior Wrangler tapped him gently on the shoulder. Bursar? Word to the wizard, old chap.

  Yes? What is it?

  I think if you dont stop talking this minute the Dean will kill you. There were two small cart-wheels, one behind the other, with a saddle in between them. In front of the saddle was a pipe with a complicated double curve in it, so that someone sitting in the saddle would be able to get a grip. The rest was junk. Bones and tree branches and a jackdaws banquet of gewgaws. A horses skull was strapped over the front wheel, and feathers and beads hung from every point. It was junk, but as it stood in the flickering glow it had a dark, organic quality - not exactly life, but something dynamic and disquieting and coiled and potent that was making the Dean vibrate on his feet. It radiated something that suggested that, just by existing and looking like it did, it was breaking at least nine laws and twenty-three guidelines. Is he in love? said the Bursar. Make it go! said the Dean. Its got to go! Its meant to go!

  Yes, but what is it? said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Its a masterpiece, said the Dean. A triumph!


  Perhaps you have to push it along with your feet? whispered the Senior Wrangler. The Dean shook his head in a preoccupied way. Were wizards, arent we? he said. I expect we could make it go. He walked around the circle. The draught from his studded leather robe made the candle- flames waver and the shadows of the thing danced on the wall. The Senior Wrangler bit his lip. Not too certain about that, he said. Looks like its got more than enough magic in it as it is. Is it . . . er. . . is it breathing or is that just my imagination? The Senior Wrangler spun around and waved a finger at the Librarian. You built it? he barked. The orang-utan shook his head. Oook.

  Whatd he say?

  He said he didnt build it, he just put it together, said the Dean, without turning his head. Ook.

  Im going to sit on it, said the Dean. The other wizards felt something draining out of their souls and sudden uncertainty sloshing into its place. I wouldnt do that if I were you, old chap, said the Senior Wrangler. You dont know where it might take you.

  Dont care, said the Dean. He still didnt take his eyes off the thing. I mean, its not of this world, said the Senior Wrangler. Ive been of this world for more than seventy years; said the Dean, and it is extremely boring. He stepped into the circle and put his hand on the things saddle. It trembled. EXCUSE ME. The tall dark figure was suddenly there, in the doorway, and then in a few strides was in the circle. A skeletal hand dropped on to the Deans shoulder and propelled him gently but unstoppably aside.

  THANK YOU. The figure vaulted into the saddle and reached out for the handlebars. It looked down at the thing it bestrode. Some situations you had to get exactly right . . . A finger pointed at the Dean. I NEED YOUR CLOTHES. The Dean backed away. What? GIVE ME YOUR COAT. The Dean, with great reluctance, shrugged off his leather robe and handed it over. Death put it on. That was better . . . NOW, LET ME SEE . . . A blue glow flickered under his fingers and spread in jagged blue lines, forming a corona at the tip of every feather and bead. Were in a cellar! said the Dean. Doesnt that matter? Death gave him a look. NO. Modo straightened up, and paused to admire his rosebed, which contained the finest display of pure black roses hed ever managed to produce. A high magical environment could be useful, sometimes. Their scent hung on the evening air like an encouraging word. The flower-bed erupted. Modo had a brief vision of flames and something arcing into the sky before his vision was blotted out by a rain of beads, feathers and soft black petals. He shook his head, and ambled off to fetch his shovel. Sarge?

  Yes, Nobby?

  You know your teeth . . .

  What teeth?

  The teeth like in your mouth?

  Oh, right. Yep. What about em?

  How come they fit together at the back? There was a pause while Sergeant Colon prodded the recesses of his mouth with his tongue. It uh ah- he began, and untangled himself. Interesting observation, Nobby. Nobby finished rolling a cigarette. Reckon we should shut the gates, sarge?

  Might as well. With the exact minimum amount of effort they swung the huge gates together. It wasnt much of a precaution. The keys had been lost a long time ago. Even the sign Thank you for Nott Invading Our City was barely readable now. I reckon we should- Colon began, and then peered down the street. Whats that light? he said. And whats making that noise? Blue light glittered on the buildings at the end of the long street. Sounds like some kind of wild animal, said Corporal Nobbs. The light resolved itself into two actinic blue lances. Colon shaded his eyes. Looks like some kind of . . . horse or something.

  Its coming straight for the gates! The tortured roar bounced off the houses. Nobby, I dont think its gonna stop!

  Corporal Nobbs threw himself flat against the wall. Colon, slightly more aware of the responsibilities of rank, waved his hands vaguely at the approaching light. Dont do it! Dont do it! And then picked himself up out of the mud. Rose-petals, feathers and sparks fell softly around him. In front of him, a hole in the gates sparkled blue around the edges. Thats old oak, that is, he said vaguely. I just hope they dont make us pay for it out of our own money. Did you see who it was, Nobby? Nobby? Nobby edged carefully along the wall. He . . . he had a rose in his teeth, sarge.

  Yes, but would you recognize him if you saw him again? Nobby swallowed. If I didnt, sarge, he said, itd have to be one hell of an identity parade.

  I dont like this, Mr Glod! I dont like this!

  Shut up and steer!

  But this isnt the kind of road youre supposed to go fast on!

  Thats all right! You cant see where youre going anyway! The cart went around a corner on two wheels. It was starting to snow, a weak, wet snow that melted as soon as it hit the ground. But were back in the hills! Thats a drop down there! Well go over the side!

  You want Chrysoprase to catch us?

  Giddyup, yah! Buddy and Cliff clung to the sides of the cart as it rocked from side to side into the darkness. Are they still behind us? Glod yelled. Cant see anything! shouted Cliff. If you stopped the cart, maybe we could hear something?

  Yeah, but suppose we heard something really up close?

  Giddyup hiyah!

  OK, so how about if we throw the money out?

  FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS? Buddy looked over the edge of the cart. Darkness with a certain gulch-like quality, a certain suggestion of depth, was a few feet from the side of the road. The guitar twanged gently to the rhythm of the wheels. He picked it up in one hand. Strange how it was never silent. You couldnt silence it even by pressing on the strings heavily with both hands; hed tried. There was the harp beside it. The strings were absolutely silent. This is daft! shouted Glod, from the front. Slow down! You nearly had us over the side that time! Asphalt hauled on the reins. The cart slowed, eventually, to walking pace. Thats better- The guitar screamed. The note was so high that it hit the ears like a needle. The horses jerked nervously in the shafts and then shot forward again. Hold them!

  I am! Glod turned around, gripping the back of the seat. Throw that thing out! Buddy gripped the guitar and stood up, moving his arm back to hurl the thing into the gorge. He hesitated. Throw it out! Cliff got to his feet and tried to take the guitar. No!

  Buddy whirled it around his head and caught the troll on the chin, knocking him backwards. No!

  Glod, slow down- And a white horse was overtaking them. A hooded shape leaned over and grabbed the reins. The cart hit a stone and was airborne for a moment before crashing back down on the road. Asphalt heard the splintering of posts as the wheels smashed into the fence, saw the traces snap, felt the cart swing around . . . . . . and stop. So much happened later that Glod never did tell anyone about the sensation he had, that although the cart had definitely wedged itself uncertainly on the edge of the cliff it had also plunged on, tumbling over and over, towards the rocks . . . Glod opened his eyes. The image tugged at him like
a bad dream. But hed been thrown across the cart as it skewed around, and his head was lying on the backboard. He was looking straight into the gorge. Behind him, wood creaked. Someone was holding on to his leg. Whos that? he whispered, in case heavier words would send the cart over. Its me. Asphalt. Whos that holding on to my foot?

  Me, said Cliff. Whatre you holding on to, Glod?

  Just . . . something my flailing hand happened to snatch at, said Glod. The cart creaked again. Its the gold, isnt it? said Asphalt. Admit it. Youre holding on to the gold.

  Idiot dwarf! shouted Cliff. Let it go or were going to die!

  Letting go of five thousand dollars is dying, said Glod. Fool! You cant take it with you! Asphalt scrambled for purchase on the wood. The cart shifted. Its going to be the other way around in a minute, he muttered. So who, said Cliff, as the cart sagged another inch, is holding Buddy? There was a pause while the three counted their extremities and attachments thereto. I . . . er . . . think he might have gone over, said Glod. Four chords rang out. Buddy hung from a rear wheel, feet over the drop, and jerked as the music played an eight- note riff on his soul. Never age. Never die. Live for ever in that one last white-hot moment, when the crowd screamed. When every note was a heartbeat. Burn across the sky. You will never grow old. They will never say you died. Thats the deal. You will be the greatest musician in the world. Live fast. Die young. The music tugged at his soul. Buddys legs swung up slowly and touched the rocks of the cliff. He braced himself, eyes shut, and pulled at the wheel. A hand touched his shoulder. No! Buddys eyes snapped open. He turned his head and looked into Susans face, and then up at the cart. What . . . ? he said, his voice slurred with shock. He let go with one hand and fumbled clumsily for the guitar strap, slipping it off his shoulder. The strings howled as he gripped the guitars neck and flung it into the darkness. His other hand slipped on the freezing wheel, and he dropped into the gorge. There was a white blur. He landed heavily on something velvety and smelling of horse sweat. Susan steadied him with her free hand as she urged Binky upwards through the sleet.

  The horse alighted on the road, and Buddy slipped off into the mud. He raised himself on his elbows. You?

  Me, said Susan. Susan pulled the scythe out of its holster. The blade sprang out; snowflakes that fell on it split gently into two halves without a pause in their descent. Lets get your friends, shall we? There was a friction in the air, as if the attention of the world were being focused. Death stared into the future. OH, BLAST. Things were coming apart. The Librarian had done his best, but mere bone and wood couldnt take this sort of strain. Feathers and beads whirled away and landed, smoking, in the road. A wheel parted company from its axle and bounced away, shedding spokes, as the machine took a curve almost horizontally. It made no real difference. Something like a soul flickered in the air where the missing pieces had been. If you took a shining machine, and shone a light on it so that there were gleams and highlights, and then took away the machine but left the light . . . Only the horses skull remained. That and the rear wheel, which spun in forks now only of flickering light, and was smouldering. The thing whirred past Dibbler, causing his horse to throw him into the ditch and bolt. Death was used to travelling fast. In theory he was already everywhere, waiting for almost anything else. The fastest way to travel is to be there already. But hed never been this fast while going this slow. The landscape had often been a blur, but never while it was only four inches from his knee on the bends. The cart shifted again. Now even Cliff was looking down into the darkness. Something touched his shoulder. HANG ON TO THIS. BUT DONT TOUCH THE BLADE. Buddy leaned past. Glod, if you let go of the bag I ,;an-

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