Soul music, p.6
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       Soul Music, p.6

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 6

 

  Why?

  Because a raven sitting on a skull and going “caw” is as much part of your actual wizarding modus operandi as the big dribbling candles and the old stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling. Dont you know anything? I should have thought anyone knows that who knows anything about anything. Why, a proper wizard might as well not even have bubbling green stuff in bottles as be without his raven sitting on a skull and going “caw”- SQUEAK. Look, you have to lead up to things with humans, said the raven wearily. One eye focused on Susan again. Hes not one for subtleties, him. Rats dont argue questions of a philosophical nature when theyre dead. Anyway, Im the only person round here he knows who can talk-

  Humans can talk, said Susan. `Oh, indeed, said the raven, but the key point about humans, a crucial distinction you might say, is that theyre not prone to being woken up in the middle of the night by a skeletal rat who needs an interpreter in a hurry. Anyway, humans cant see him. `I can see him.

  Ah. I think youve put your digit on the nub, crux and gist of it all, said the raven. The marrow, as you might say.

  Look, said Susan, Id just like you to know that I dont believe any of this. I dont believe theres a Death of Rats in a cowl carrying a scythe.

  Hes standing in front of you.

  Thats no reason to believe it.

  I can see youve certainly had a proper education, said the raven sourly.

  Susan stared down at the Death of Rats. There was a blue glow deep in its eye sockets. SQUEAK. The thing is, said the raven, that hes gone again.

  Your . . . grandfather.

  Grandad Lezek? How can he be gone again? Hes dead!

  Your . . . er . . . other grandfather . . . ? said the raven. I havent got- Images rose from the mud at the bottom of her mind. Something about a horse . . . and there was a room full of whispers. And a bathtub, that seemed to fit in somewhere. And fields of wheat came into it, too. This is what happens when people try to educate their children, said the raven, instead of telling them things.

  I thought my other grandad was also . . . dead, said Susan. SQUEAK. The rat says youve got to come with him. Its very important. The image of Miss Butts rose like a Valkyrie in Susans mind. This was silliness. Oh, no, said Susan. It must be midnight already. And weve got a geography exam tomorrow. The raven opened its beak in astonishment. You cant be saying that, it said. You really expect me to take instructions from a . . . a bony rat and a talking raven? Im going back!

  No, youre not, said the raven. No-one with any blood in themd go back now. Youd never find things out if you went back now. Youd just get educated.

  But I havent got time, Susan wailed. Oh, time, said the raven. Times mainly habit. Time is not a particular feature of things for you.

  How-

  Youll have to find out, wont you? SQUEAK. The raven jumped up and down excitedly. Can I tell her? Can I tell her? it squawked. It swivelled its eyes towards Susan. Your grandfather, it said, is . . . (dah dah dah DAH) . . . Dea- SQUEAK! Shes got to know some time, said the raven. Deaf? My grandfather is deaf? said Susan. Youve got me out here in the middle of the night to talk about hearing difficulties?

  I didnt say deaf, I said your grandfather is . . . (dah dah dah DAH) . . . D- SQUEAK! All right! Have it your way! Susan backed away while the two of them argued. Then she grasped the skirts of her nightdress and ran, out of the yard and across the damp lawns. The window was still open. She managed, by standing on the sill of the one below, to grab the ledge and heave herself up and into the dormitory. She got into bed and pulled the blankets over her head . . . After a while she realized that this was an unintelligent reaction. But she left them where they were, anyway. She dreamed of horses and coaches and a clock without hands. Dyou think we could have handled that better? SQUEAK? Dah dah dah DAH SQUEAK?

  How did you expect me to put it. “Your grandfather is Death?” Just like that? Wheres the sense of occasion? Humans like drama. SQUEAK, the Death of Rats pointed out. Rats is different. SQUEAK. I reckon I ought to call it a night, said the raven. Ravens are not generally nocturnal, you know. It scratched at its bill with a foot. Do you just do rats, or mice and hamsters and weasels and stuff like that as well? SQUEAK. Gerbils? How about gerbils? SQUEAK. Fancy that. I never knew that. Death of Gerbils, too? Amazing how you can catch up with them on those treadmills- SQUEAK. Please yourself. There are the people of the day, and the creatures of the night. And its important to remember that the creatures of the night arent simply the people of the day staying up late because they think that makes them cool and interesting. It takes a lot more than heavy mascara and a pale complexion to cross the divide. Heredity can help, of course. The raven had grown up in the forever-crumbling, ivy-clad Tower of Art, overlooking Unseen University in far Ankh-Morpork. Ravens are naturally intelligent birds, and magical leakage, which has a tendency to exaggerate things, had done the rest. It didnt have a name. Animals dont normally bother with them. The wizard who thought he owned him called him Quoth, but that was only because he didnt have a sense of humour and, like most people without a sense of humour, prided himself on the sense of humour he hadnt, in fact, got. The raven flew back to the wizards house, skimmed in through the open window, and took up his roost on the skull. Poor kid, he said. Thats destiny for you, said the skull. I dont blame her for trying to be normal. Considering.

  Yes, said the skull. Quit while youre a head, thats what I say. The owner of a grain silo in Ankh-Morpork was having a bit of a crackdown. The Death of Rats could hear the distant yapping of the terriers. It was going to be a busy night. It would be too hard to describe the Death of Rats thought-processes, or even be certain that he had any. He had a feeling that he shouldnt have involved the raven, but humans set a great store by words. Rats dont think very far ahead, except in general terms. In general terms, he was very, very worried. He hadnt expected education. Susan got through the next morning without having to go nonexistent. Geography consisted of the flora of the Sto Plains,[3] chief exports of the Sto Plains[4] and the fauna of the Sto Plains. [5] Once you mastered the common denominator, it was straightforward. The gels had to colour in a map. This involved a lot of green. Lunch was Dead Mans Fingers and Eyeball Pudding, a healthy ballast for the afternoons occupation, which was Sport. This was the province of Iron Lily, who was rumoured to shave and lift weights with her teeth, and whose shouts of encouragement as she thundered up and down the touchline tended towards the nature of Get some ball, you bunch of soft nellies! Miss Butts and Miss Delcross kept their windows closed on games afternoon. Miss Butts ferociously read logic and Miss Delcross, in her idea of a toga, practised eurhythmics in the

  gym. Susan surprised people by being good at sport. Some sport, anyway. Hockey, lacrosse and rounders, certainly. Any game that involved putting a stick of some sort in her hands and asking her to swing it, definitely. The sight of Susan advancing towards goal with a calculating look made any goalie lose all faith in her protective padding and throw herself flat as the ball flashed past at waist height, making a humming noise. It was only evidence of the general stupidity of the rest of humanity, Susan considered, that although she was manifestly one of the best players in the school she never got picked for teams. Even fat girls with spots got picked before her. It was so infuriatingly unreasonable, and she could never understand why. Shed explained to other girls how good she was, and demonstrated her skill, and pointed out just how stupid they were in not picking her. For some exasperating reason it didnt seem to have any effect. This afternoon she went for an official walk instead. This was an acceptable alternative, provided girls went in company. Usually they went into town and bought stale fish and chips from an unfragrant shop in Three Roses Alley; fried food was considered unhealthy by Miss Butts, and therefore bought out of school at every opportunity. Girls had to walk in groups of three or more. Peril, in Miss Buttss conjectural experience, couldnt happen to units of more than two. In any case it was certainly unlikely to happen to any group that contained Prince
ss Jade and Gloria Thogsdaughter. The schools owners had been a bit bothered about taking a troll, but Jades father was king of an entire mountain and it always looked good to have royalty on the roll. And besides, Miss Butts had remarked to Miss Delcross, its our duty to encourage them if they show any inclination to become real people and the King is actually quite charming and assures me he cant even remember when he last ate anyone. Jade had bad eyesight, a note excusing her from unnecessary sunshine, and knitting chain mail in handicraft class. Whereas Gloria was banned from sport because of her tendency to use her axe in a threatening manner. Miss Butts had suggested that an axe wasnt a ladylike weapon, even for a dwarf, but Gloria had pointed out that, on the contrary, it had been left to her by her grandmother who had owned it all her life and polished it every Saturday, even if she hadnt used it at all that week. There was something about the way she gripped it that made even Miss Butts give in. To show willing, Gloria left off her iron helmet and, while not shaving off her beard - there was no actual rule about girls not having beards a foot long - at least plaited it. And tied it in ribbons in the school colours. Susan felt strangely at home in their company, and this had earned guarded praise from Miss Butts. It was nice of her to be such a chum, she said. Susan had been surprised. It had never occurred to her that anyone actually said a word like chum. The three of them trailed back along the beech drive by the playing field. I dont understand sport, said Gloria, watching the gaggle of panting young women stampeding across the pitch. Theres a troll game, said Jade. Its called aargrooha.

  Hows it played? said Susan. Er . . . you rip off a humans head and kick it around with special boots made of obsidian until you score a goal or it bursts. But its not played any more, of course, she added quickly. I should think not, said Susan. No-one knows how to make the boots, I expect, said Gloria. I expect if it was played now, someone like Iron Lily would go running up and down the touchline shouting, “Get some head, you soft nellies”, said Jade. They walked in silence for a while.

  I think, said Gloria, cautiously, that she probably wouldnt, actually.

  I say, you two havent noticed anything . . . odd lately, have you? said Susan. Odd like what? said Gloria. Well, like . . . rats . . . said Susan. Havent seen any rats in the school, said Gloria. And Ive had a good look.

  I mean . . . strange rats, said Susan. They were level with the stables. These were normally the home of the two horses that pulled the school coach, and the term-time residence of a few horses belonging to gels who couldnt be parted from them. There is a type of girl who, while incapable of cleaning her bedroom even at knifepoint, will fight for the privilege of being allowed to spend the day shovelling manure in a stable. It was a magic that hadnt rubbed off on Susan. She had nothing against horses, but couldnt understand all the snaffles, bridles and fetlocks business. And she couldnt see why they had to be measured in hands when there were perfectly sensible inches around to do the job. Having watched the jodhpured girls who bustled around the stables, she decided it was because they couldnt understand complicated machines like rulers. Shed said so, too. All right, said Susan. How about ravens? Something blew in her ear. She spun around. The white horse stood in the middle of the yard like a bad special effect. He was too bright. He glowed. He seemed like the only real thing in a world of pale shapes. Compared to the bulbous ponies that normally occupied the loose-boxes, he was a giant. A couple of the jodhpured girls were fussing around him. Susan recognized Cassandra Fox and Lady Sara Grateful, almost identical in their love of anything on four legs that went neigh and their disdain for anything else, their ability to apparently look at the world with their teeth, and their expertise in putting at least four vowels in the word oh. The white horse neighed gently at Susan, and began to nuzzle her hand. Youre Binky, she thought. I know you. Ive ridden on you. Youre . . . mine. I think. I say, said Lady Sara, who does he belong to? Susan looked around. What? Me? she said. Yes. Me . . . I suppose.

 
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