The last continent, p.42
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       The Last Continent, p.42

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 42


  It takes a great deal of magic, sir. And the demons take about a fortnight per pint, sir.

  Ah. A significant point, Mister Stibbons.

  Yes, sir.

  However, just because it wouldnt work does not mean it was a bad idea – I wish theyd stop that shouting! The shouting outside stopped. Perhaps they heard you, sir, said Ponder. Pang. Pang, pang . . . Are they throwing stuff on to the roof? said Archchancellor Rincewind. No, thats probably just rain, said Ridcully. Now, I suppose youve tried evaporating— He realized that no one was listening. Everyone was looking up. Now the individual thuds had merged into a steady hammering and from outside came the sound of wild cheering. The wizards struggled in the doorway and finally fought their way outside, where water was pouring off the roof in a solid sheet and cutting a channel in the lawn.

  Archchancellor Rincewind stopped abruptly and reached out to the water like a man not sure if the stove is hot. Out of the sky? he said. He pushed his way out through the liquid curtain. Then he took off his hat and held it upside down to catch the rain. The crowd had filled the university grounds and spilled out into the surrounding streets. Every face was turned upwards. And those dark things? Archchancellor Rincewind called out. They are the clouds, archchancellor.

  Theres a hell of a lot of them! There were. They piled up over the tower in an enormous, spreading black thunderhead. A couple of people looked down long enough to see the group of soaked wizards, and there were some cheers. And suddenly they were the new centre of attention, and being picked up and carried shoulder high. They think we did it! shouted Archchancellor Rincewind, as he was borne aloft. Whos to say we didnt? shouted Ridcully, tapping the side of his nose conspiratorially. Er . . . someone began. Ridcully didnt even look round. Shut up, Mister Stibbons, he said. Shutting up, sir.

  Can you hear that thunder? said Ridcully, as a rumble rolled across the city. Wed better take cover . . . The clouds above the tower were rising like water against a dam. Ponder said afterwards the fact that the BU tower was very short and extremely tall at the same time might have been the problem, since the storm was trying to go around it, over it and through it, all at the same time. From the ground the clouds seemed to open up slowly, leaving a glowing, spreading chimney filled with the blue haze of electrical discharges . . . . . . and pounced. One solid blue bolt hit the tower at every height all at once, which is technically impossible. Pieces of wood and corrugated iron roared into the air and rained down across the city. Then there was just a sizzling, and the rushing of the rain. The crowd stood up again, cautiously, but the fireworks were over.

  And thats what we call lightning, said Ridcully. Archchancellor Rincewind got up and tried to brush mud off his robe, then found out why you cannot do this. Its not usually as big as that, though, Ridcully went on. Oh. Good. There was a clank from the steaming debris where the tower had stood, and a sheet of metal was pushed aside. Slowly, with much mutual aid and many false starts, two blackened figures emerged. One of them was still wearing a hat, which was on fire although the rain was putting out the flames. Leaning against one another, weaving from side to side, they approached the wizards. One of them said, Ook, very quietly and fell backwards. The other one looked Wearily at the two archchancellors, and saluted. This caused a spark to leap from its fingers and burn its ear. Er, Rincewind, it said. And what have you been up to while weve been doing all this hard work, pray? said Ridcully. Rincewind looked around, very slowly. Occasional little blue streaks crackled in his beard. Well, that all seemed to go pretty well, really. All things considered, he said, and fell full length into a puddle. It rained. After that, it rained. Then it rained some more. The clouds were stacked like impatient charter flights over the coast, low on fuel, jockeying for position, and raining. Above all, raining. Floodwater roared down the rocks and scoured out the ancient muddy waterholes. A species of tiny shrimps whose world for thousands of years had been one small hole under a stone were picked up and carried wholesale into a lake that was spreading faster than a man could run. There had been fewer than a thousand of them. There were a lot more next day. Even if the shrimps had been able to count how many, they were far too busy to bother. In the new estuaries, rich in sudden silt and unexpected food, a few fish began the experiment of a salt-free diet. The mangroves started their stop-motion conquests of the new mudbanks. It went on raining.

  Then it rained some more. After that, it rained. It was some days later. The ship rose and fell gently by the dock. The water around it was red with suspended silt in which a few leaves and twigs floated. A week or two to NoThingfjord and were practically home, said Ridcully. Practically on the same continent, anyway, said the Dean. Quite an intresting long vacation, really, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Probably the longest ever, said Ponder. Did Mrs Whitlow like her stateroom?

  I for one will quite enjoy bunking down in the hold, said the Senior Wrangler loyally. The bilges, actually, said Ponder. The holds full. Of opals, beer, sheep, wool and bananas.

  Wheres the Librarian? said Ridcully. In the hold, sir.

  Yes, I suppose it was silly of me to ask. Still, nice to see him his old self again.

  I think it may have been the lightning, sir. Hes certainly very lively now. And Rincewind sat on the Luggage, down on the dock. Somehow, he felt, something should be happening. The worst time in your life was when nothing much was going on, because that meant that something bad was about to hit you. For some strange reason. He could be back in the University Library in a month or so, and then ho! for a life of stacking books. One dull day after another, with occasional periods of boredom. He could hardly wait. Every minute not being a minute wasted was, well, a minute wasted. Excitement? That could happen to other people. Hed watched the merchants loading the ship. It was pretty low in the water, because there would be so many Ecksian things the rest of the world wanted. Of course, itd come back light, because it was hard to think of any bloody thing it could bloody import that was better than any bloody thing in EcksEcksEcksEcks. There were even a few more passengers willing to see the world, and most of them were young.

  Hey, arent you one of the foreign wizards? The speaker was a young man carrying a very large knapsack topped by a bedroll. He seemed to be the impromptu leader of a small group of similarly overloaded people, with wide, open faces and slightly worried expressions. You can tell, cant you? said Rincewind. Er . . . you wanted something?

  Dyew think we can buy a cart in this place NoThingfjord?

  Yes, I should think so.

  Only me and Clive and Shirl and Gerleen were thinkin of picking one up and driving to— He looked around. Ankh-Morpork, said Shirl. Right, and then selling it, and gettin a job for a while, having a look round, yknow . . . for a while. Thatd be right? Rincewind glanced at the others trooping up the gangplank. Since the invention of the dung beetle, which had in fact happened not too far away, it was probable that no creature had ever carried so much weight. I can see it catching on, he said. No worries!

  But . . . er . . .

  Yes, mate?

  Do you mind not humming that tune? It was only a sheep, and I didnt even steal it . . . Someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was Neilette. Letitia and Darleen were standing behind her, grinning. It was ten in the morning. They were wearing sequinned evening gowns. Budge up, she said, and settled down beside him. We just thought . . . well, weve come to say, you know, thanks and everything. Letitia and Darleen are coming in with me and were going to open up the brewery again. Rincewind glanced up at the ladies. Ive had enough beer thrown at me, I ought to know something about it, said Letitia. Although I do think we could make it a more attractive colour. Its so . . . she waved a large, be-ringed hand irritably, . . . aggressively masculine.

  Pink would be nice, said Rincewind. And you could put in a pickled onion on a stick, perhaps.

  Bloody good suggestion! said Darleen, slapping him so hard on the back that his hat fell over his eyes. You wouldnt like to stay? said Neile
tte. You look like someone with ideas. Rincewind considered this attractive proposition, and then shook his head. Its a nice offer, but I think I ought to stick to what I do best, he said. But everyone says youre no good at magic! said Neilette. Er . . . yes, well, being no good at magic is what I do best, said Rincewind. Thanks all the same.

  At least let me give you a big wet sloppy kiss, said Darleen, grabbing his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye Rincewind saw Neilettes foot stamp down. All right, all right! said Darleen, letting go and hopping away. It wasnt as if I was going to bite him, miss! Neilette gave Rincewind a peck on the cheek. Well, drop in whenever youre passing, she said. Certainly will! said Rincewind. Ill look for the pubs with the mauve umbrellas outside, shall I? Neilette gave him a wave and Darleen made an amusing gesture as they walked away, almost bumping into a group of men in white. One of them shouted, Hey, there he is . . . Sorry, ladies . . .

  Oh, hello, Charley . . . Ron . . . said Rincewind, as the chefs bore down on him. Heard you wuzzas was leavin, said Ron. Wouldnt be fair to let you go without shaking you by the hand, Charley said. The Peach Nellie went down a treat, said Charley, beaming broadly. Glad to hear it, said Rincewind. Good to see you looking so cheerful.

  It gets better! said Ron. Theres a new soprano just been taken on and shes a winner if Im any judge and . . . no, Charley, you tell him her name . . .

  Germaine Trifle, said Charley. A wider grin would have resulted in the top of his head slipping off. Im very happy for you, said Rincewind. Start whipping that cream right now, yhear? Ron patted him on the shoulder. We could always do with another hand in the kitchens, he said. Just say the word, mate.

  Well, its very kind of you, and when I pull another tissue out of a box Ill always remember you blokes at the Opera House, but—

  There he is! The gaoler and the captain of the guard were jogging along the quay. The gaoler was waving encouragingly at him. Nah, nah, its all right, you dont have to run! he shouted. Weve got a pardon for you!

  Pardon? said Rincewind. Thats right! The gaoler reached him, and fought for breath. Signed . . . by . . . the prime minister, he managed. Says youre a . . . good bloke and were not to . . . hang you . . . He straightened up. Mind you, we wouldnt do that anyway, not now. Best bloody escape weve ever bloody had since Tinhead Ned! Rincewind looked down at the writing on the official lined prison notepaper. Oh. Good, he said weakly. At least someone thinks I didnt steal the damn thing.

  Oh, everyone knows you stole it, said the gaoler happily. But after that escape, we-ell . . . and that chase, eh? Bluey here says hes never seen anyone run like you, and thats a fact! The guard punched Rincewind playfully on the arm. Good on yer, mate, he said, grinning. But well catch yer next time! Rincewind looked blankly at the pardon. You mean Im getting this for being a good sport?

  No worries! said the gaoler. And theres a queue of farmers sayin if you want to steal one of their sheep next time thatd be bonza, just so long as they get a verse in the ballad. Rincewind gave up. What can I say? he said. You keep one of the best condemned cells Ive ever stayed in, and Ive been in a few. He looked at the glow of admiration in their faces and decided that, since fortune had been kind, it was time to give something back. Er . . . Id take it kindly, though, if youd never ever redecorate that cell.

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