The last continent, p.5
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       The Last Continent, p.5

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 5

 

  My word! said the Lecturer in Recent Runes, who had been engrossed in a volume at the other end of the table. It says here that the people on the island of Slakki wear no clothes at all and the women are of unsurpassed beauty.

  That sounds quite dreadful, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies primly. There are several woodcuts.

  Im sure none of us wish to know that, said Ridcully. He looked around at the rest of the wizards and repeated, in a louder voice, I said Im sure none of us wish to know that. Dean? Come right back here and pick up your chair! Theres a mention of EcksEcksEcksEcks in Wrenchers Snakes of All Nations, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. It says the continent has very lew poisonous snakes . . . Oh, theres a footnote. His finger went down the page. It says, “Most of ihem have been killed by the spiders. ” How very odd.

  Oh, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. It also says here that “The denizens of Purdee Island also existeth inne a State of Nature” – he struggled with the ancient handwriting – “yette is in Fine Healthe & of Good Bearing & Stature & is Trulee a . . . knobbly Savage . . . ”

  Let me have a look at that, said Ridcully. The book was passed down the table. The Arch- chancellor scowled. Its written “knoble”, he said. Noble savage. Means you . . . act like a gentleman, dontcherknow . . .

  What . . . go fox-hunting, bow to ladies, dont pay your tailor . . . That sort of thing?

  Shouldnt think that chap owes his tailor very much, said Ridcully, looking at the accompanying illustration. All right, chaps, lets see what else we can find . . .

  Hes having rather a long bath, isnt he? said the Dean, after a while. I mean, I like to be as well scrubbed as the next man, but were talking serious prunes here.

  Sounds like hes sloshing about, said the Senior Wrangler. Sounds like the seaside, said the Bursar happily. Try to keep up, will you, Bursar? said Ridcully wearily. Actually . . . said the Senior Wrangler, there is a certain seagully component, now that you mention it . . . Ridcully stood up, strode over to the bathroom door and held up his fist to knock.

  I am the Archchancellor, he grumbled, lowering it. I can open any doors I damn well please. And he turned the handle. There, he said, as the door swung back. See. gentlemen? A perfectly ordinary bathroom. Stone bath, brass taps, bath cap, humorous scrubbin brush in the shape of a duck . . . a perfectly ordinary bathroom. It is not, let me make myself quite clear, some kind of tropical beach. It doesnt look remotely like a tropical beach. He pointed out of the bathrooms open window, to where waves lapped languorously against a tree-fringed strand under a brilliant blue sky. The bathroom curtains flapped on a warm breeze. Thats a tropical beach, he said. See? No similarity at all. After his nourishing meal that contained masses of essential vitamins and minerals and unfortunately quite a lot of taste as well, the man with Wizzard on his hat settled down for some housekeeping, or as much as was possible in the absence of a house. It consisted of chipping away at a piece of wood with a stone axe. He appeared to be making a very short plank, and the speed with which he was working suggested that hed done this before. A cockatoo settled in the tree above him to watch. Rincewind glared at it suspiciously. When the plank had apparently been smoothed to his satisfaction he stood on it with one foot and, swaying, drew around the foot with a piece of charcoal from the fire. He did the same with the other foot, and then settled down to hack at the wood again. The watcher in the waterhole realized that the man was making two foot-shaped boards. Rincewind took a length of twine from his pocket. Hed found a particular creeper which, if you carefully peeled the bark off, would give you a terrible spotted rash. What hed actually been looking for was a creeper which, if you carefully peeled off the bark, would give you a serviceable twine, and it had taken several more goes and various different rashes to find out which one this was. If you made a hole in the soles and fed a loop of twine through it, into which a toe could be inserted, you ended up with some Ur-footwear. It made you shuffle like the Ascent of Man but, nevertheless, had some unexpected benefits. First, the steady flop-flop as you walked made you sound like two people to any dangerous creatures you were about to encounter, which, in Rincewinds recent experience, was any creature at all. Second, although they were impossible to run in they were easy to run out of, so that you were a smoking dot on the burning horizon while the enraged caterpillar or beetle was still looking at your shoes and wondering where the other person was. Hed had to run away a lot. Every night he made a new pair of thonged sandals, and every day he left them somewhere in the desert.

  When hed finished them to his satisfaction he took a roll of thin bark from his pocket. Attached to it by a length of twine was a very precious small stub of pencil. Hed decided to keep a journal in the hope that this might help. He looked at the recent entries. Probably Tuesday: hot, flies. Dinner: honey ants. Attacked by honey ants. Fell into waterhole. Wednesday, with any luck: hot, flies. Dinner: either bush raisins or kangaroo droppings. Chased by hunters, dont know why. Fell into waterhole. Thursday (could be): hot, flies. Dinner: blue-tongued lizard. Savaged by blue-tongued lizard. Chased by different hunters. Fell off cliff, bounced into tree, pissed on by small grey incontinent teddy bear, landed in a waterhole. Friday: hot, flies. Dinner: some kind of roots which tasted like sick. This saved time. Saturday: hotter than yesterday, extra flies. V. thirsty. Sunday: hot. Delirious with thirst and flies. Nothing but nothing as far as the eye can see, with bushes in it. Decided to die, collapsed, fell down sand dune into waterhole. He wrote very carefully and as small as possible: Monday: hot, flies. Dinner: moth grubs. He stared at the writing. It said it all, really. Why didnt people here like him? Hed meet some small tribe, everythingd be friendly, hed pick up a few tips, get to know a few names, hed build up a vocabulary, enough to chat about ordinary everyday things like the weather – and then suddenly theyd be chasing him away. After all, everyone talked about the weather, didnt they? Rincewind had always been happy to think of himself as a racist. The One Hundred Metres, the Mile, the Marathon – hed run them all. Later, when hed learned with some surprise what the word actually meant, hed been equally certain he wasnt one. He was a person who divided the world quite simply into people who were trying to kill him and people who werent. That didnt leave much room for fine details like what colour anyone was. But hed be sitting by the campfire, trying out a simple conversation, and suddenly people would get upset over nothing at all and drive him off. You didnt expect people to get nasty just because youd said something like, My word, when did it last rain here? did you?

  Rincewind sighed, picked up his stick, beat the hell out of a patch of ground, lay down and went to sleep. Occasionally he screamed under his breath and his legs made running motions, which just showed that he was dreaming. The waterhole rippled. It wasnt large, a mere puddle deep in a bush-filled gully between some rocks, and the liquid it contained could only be called water because geographers refuse to countenance words like souphole. Nevertheless it rippled, as though something had dropped into the centre. And what was odd about the ripples was that they didnt stop when they reached the edge of the water but continued outwards over the land as expanding circles of dim white light. When they reached Rincewind they broke up and flowed around him, so that now he was the centre of concentric lines of white dots, like strings of pearls. The waterhole erupted. Something climbed up into the air and sped away across the night. It zigzagged from rock to mountain to water-hole. And as the eye of observation rises, the travelling streak briefly illuminates other dim lines, hanging above the ground like smoke, so from above the whole land appears to have a circulatory system, or nerves . . . A thousand miles from the sleeping wizard the line struck ground again, emerged in a cave, and passed across the walls like a searchlight. It hovered in front of a huge, pointed rock for a moment and then, as if reaching a decision, shot up again into the sky. The continent rolled below it as it returned. The light hit the waterhole without a splash but, once again, three or four ripples in something spread oui across the tu
rbid water and the surrounding sand. Night rolled in again. But there was a distant thumping under the ground. Bushes trembled. In the trees, birds awoke and flew away. After a while, on a rock face near the waterhole, pale white lines began to form a picture. Rincewind had attracted the attention of at least one other watcher apart from whatever it was that dwelt in the waterhole. Death had taken to keeping Rincewinds lifetimer on a special shelf in his study, in much the way that a zoologist would want to keep an eye on a particularly intriguing specimen. The lifetimers of most people were the classic shape that Death thought was right and proper for the task. They appeared to be large eggtimers, although, since the sands they measured were the living seconds of someones life, all the eggs were in one basket.

  Rincewinds hourglass looked like something created by a glassblower whod had the hiccups in a time machine. According to the amount of actual sand it contained – and Death was pretty good at making this kind of estimate – he should have died long ago. But strange curves and bends and extrusions of glass had developed over the years, and quite often the sand was flowing backwards, or diagonally. Clearly, Rincewind had been hit by so much magic, had been thrust reluctantly through time and space so often that hed nearly bumped into himself coming the other way, that the precise end of his life was now as hard to find as the starting point on a roll of really sticky transparent tape. Death was familiar with the concept of the eternal, ever-renewed hero, the champion with a thousand faces. Hed refrained from commenting. He met heroes frequently, generally surrounded by, and this was important, the dead bodies of very nearly all their enemies and saying, Vot the hell shust happened? Whether there was some arrangement that allowed them to come back again afterwards was not something he would be drawn on. But he pondered whether, if this creature did exist, it was somehow balanced by the eternal coward. The hero with a thousand retreating backs, perhaps. Many cultures had a legend of an undying hero who would one day rise again, so perhaps the balance of nature called for one who wouldnt. Whatever the ultimate truth of the matter, the fact now was that Death did not have the slightest idea of when Rincewind was going to die. This was very vexing to a creature who prided himself on his punctuality. Death glided across the velvet emptiness of his study until he reached the model of the Discworld, if indeed it was a model. Eyeless sockets looked down. SHOW, he said. The precious metals and stones faded. Death saw ocean currents, deserts, forests, drifting cloudscapes like albino buffalo herds . . . SHOW. The eye of observation curved and dived into the living map, and a reddish splash grew in an expanse of turbulent sea. Ancient mountain ranges slipped past, deserts of rock and sand glided away. SHOW. Death watched the sleeping figure of Rincewind. Occasionally its legs would jerk. HMM. Death felt something crawling up the back of his robe, pause for a minute on his shoulder, and leap. A small rodent skeleton in a black robe landed in the middle of the image and started flailing madly at it with his tiny scythe, squeaking excitedly. Death picked up the Death of Rats by his cowl and held him up for inspection.

 
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