Soul music, p.7
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       Soul Music, p.7

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 7

 

  Oeuwa? He was in the loose-box next to Browny. I didnt knoeuwa you had a horse here. You have to get permission from Miss Butts, you knoeuwa.

  Hes a present, said Susan. From . . . someone . . . ? The hippo of recollection stirred in the muddy waters of the mind. She wondered why shed said that. She hadnt thought of her grandfather for years. Until last night. I remember the stable, she thought. So big you couldnt see the walls. And I was given a ride on you once. Someone held me so I wouldnt fall off. But you couldnt fall off this horse. Not if he didnt want you to. Oeuwa. I didnt know you rode.

  I . . . used to.

  Theres extra fees, you knoeuwa. For keeping a horse, said Lady Sara. Susan said nothing. She strongly suspected theyd be paid. And youve got noeuwa tack, said Lady Sara. And Susan rose to it. I dont need any, she said. Oeuwa, bareback riding, said Lady Sara. And you steer by the ears, ya? Cassandra Fox said: Probably cant afford them, out in the sticks. And stop that dwarf looking at my pony. Shes looking at my pony!

  Im only looking, said Gloria.

  You were . . . salivating, said Cassandra. There was a pattering across the cobbles and Susan swung herself up and on to the horses back. She looked down at the astonished girls, and then at the paddock beyond the stables. There were a few jumps there, just poles balanced on barrels. Without her moving a muscle, the horse turned and trotted into the paddock and turned towards the highest jump. There was a sensation of bunched energy, a moment of acceleration, and the jump passed underneath . . . Binky turned and halted, prancing from one hoof to the other. The girls were watching. All four of them had an expression of total amazement. Should it do that? said jade. Whats the matter? said Susan. Have none of you seen a horse jump before?

  Yes. The interesting point is . . . Gloria began, in that slow, deliberate tone of voice people use when they dont want the universe to shatter, . . . is that, usually; they come down again. Susan looked. The horse was standing on the air. What sort of command was necessary to make a horse resume contact with the ground? It was an instruction that the equestrian sorority had not hitherto required. As if understanding her thoughts, the horse trotted forward and down. For a moment the hoofs dipped below the field, as if the surface were no more substantial than mist. Then Binky appeared to determine where the ground level should be, and decided to stand on it. Lady Sara was the first one to find her voice. Well tell Miss Butts of youewa, she managed. Susan was almost bewildered with unfamiliar fright, but the pettymindedness in the tones slapped her back to something approaching sanity. Oh yes? she said. And what will you tell her?

  You made the horse jump up and . . . The girl stopped, aware of what she was about to say. Quite so, said Susan. I expect that seeing horses float in the air is silly, dont you? She slipped off the horses back, and gave the watchers a bright smile. Its against school rules, anyway, muttered Lady Sara. Susan led the white horse back into the stables, rubbed him down, and put him in a spare loose-box. There was a rustling in the hay-rack for a moment. Susan thought she caught a glimpse of ivory-white bone. Those wretched rats, said Cassandra, struggling back to reality. I heard Miss Butts tell the gardener to put poison down.

  Shame, said Gloria. Lady Sara seemed to have something boiling in her mind. Look, that horse didnt really stand in mid-air, did it? she demanded. Horses cant do that!

  Then it couldnt have done it, said Susan. Hang time, said Gloria. Thats all it was. Hang time. Like in basketball. [6] Bound to be something like that.

  Yes.

  Thats all it was.

  Yes. The human mind has a remarkable ability to heal. So have the trollish and dwarfish minds. Susan looked at them in frank amazement. Theyd all seen a horse stand on the air. And now they had carefully pushed it somewhere in their memories and broken off the key in the lock. Just out of interest, she said, still eyeing the hayrack, I dont suppose any of you know where theres a wizard in this town, do you?

  Ive found us somewhere to play! said Glod. Where? said Lias. Glod told them. The Mended Drum? said Lias. They throw axes!

  Wed be safe there. The Guild wont play in there, said Glod. Well, yah, dey lose members in there. Their members lose members, said Lias. Well get five dollars, said Glod. The troll hesitated. I could use five dollars, he conceded. One-third of five dollars, said Glod. Liass brow creased. Is that more or less than five dollars? he said. Look, itll get us exposure, said Glod. I dont want exposure in de Drum, said Lias. Exposures the last thing I want in de Drum. In de Drum, I want something to hide behind.

  All we have to do is play something, said Glod. Anything. The new landlord is dead keen on pub entertainment.

  I thought they had a one-arm bandit.

  Yes, but he got arrested. Theres a floral clock in Quirm. Its quite a tourist attraction. It turns out to be not what they expect. Unimaginative municipal authorities throughout the multiverse had made floral clocks, which turn out to be a large clock mechanism buried in a civic flowerbed with the face and numbers picked out in bedding plants. [7] But the Quirm clock is simply a round flower-bed, filled with twenty-four different types of flower, carefully chosen for the regularity of the opening and closing of their petals . . . As Susan ran past, the Purple Bindweed was opening and Love-in-a-Spin was closing. This meant that it was about half past ten. The streets were deserted. Quirm wasnt a night town. People who came to Quirm looking for a good time went somewhere else. Quirm was so respectable that even dogs asked permission before going to the lavatory. At least, the streets were almost deserted. Susan fancied she could hear something following her, fast and pattering, moving and dodging across the cobbles so quickly that it was never more than a suspicion of a shape. Susan slowed down as she reached Three Roses Alley. Somewhere in Three Roses near the fish shop, Gloria had said. The gels were not encouraged to know about wizards. They did not figure in Miss Buttss universe. The alley looked alien in the darkness. A torch burned in a bracket at one end. It merely made the shadows darker. And, halfway along in the gloom, there was a ladder leaning against the wall and a young woman just preparing to climb it. There was something familiar about her. She looked around as Susan approached, and seemed quite pleased to see her. Hi, she said. Got change of a dollar, miss?

  Pardon?

  Couple of half-dollarsd do. Half a dollar is the rate. Or Ill take copper. Anything, really.

  Um. Sorry. No. I only get fifty pence a week allowance anyway.

  Blast. Oh, well, nothing for it. In so far as Susan could see, the girl did not appear to be the usual sort of young woman who made her living in alleys. She had a kind of well-scrubbed beefiness about her; she looked like a nurse of the sort who assist doctors whose patients occasionally get a bit confused and

  declare theyre a bedspread. She looked familiar, too. The girl took a pair of pliers from a pocket in her dress, shinned up the ladder and climbed in through an upper window. Susan hesitated. The girl had seemed quite businesslike about it all, but in her limited experience people who climbed ladders to get into houses at night were Miscreants whom Plucky Gels should Apprehend. And she might at least have gone to look for a watchman, had it not been for the opening of a door further up the alley. Two men staggered out, arm in arm, and zigzagged happily towards the main street. Susan stepped back. No-one bothered her when she didnt want to be noticed. The men walked through the ladder. Either the men werent exactly solid, and they certainly sounded solid enough, or there was something wrong with the ladder. But the girl had climbed it. . . . . . and was now climbing down again, slipping something into her pocket. Never even woke up, the little cherub, she said. Sorry? said Susan. Didnt have Sop on me, said the girl. She swung the ladder easily up on to her shoulder. Rules are rules. I had to take another tooth.

  Pardon?

  Its all audited, you see. Id be in real trouble if the dollars and teeth didnt add up. You know how it is.

  I do?

  Still, cant stay here talking all night. Got sixty more to do.

  Why sho
uld I know? Do what? Whom to? said Susan. Children, of course. Cant disappoint them, can I? Imagine their little faces when they lift up their little pillows, bless them. Ladder. Pliers. Teeth. Money. Pillows . . . You dont expect me to believe youre the Tooth Fairy? said Susan suspiciously. She touched the ladder. It felt solid enough. Not the, said the girl. A. Im surprised you dont know that. Shed sauntered around the corner before Susan asked, Why me?

  Cos she can tell, said a voice behind her. Takes one to know one. She turned. The raven was sitting in a small open window. Youd better come in, it said. You can meet all sorts, out in that alley.

  I already have. There was a brass plate screwed on the wall beside the door. It said: C V Cheesewaller, DM (Unseen) B. Thau, B. F. It was the first time Susan had ever heard metal speak. Simple trick, said the raven, dismissively. It senses you looking at it. Just give-

  C V Cheesewaller, DM (Unseen) B. Thau, B. F.

  . . . shut up . . . just give the door a push.

  Its locked. The raven gave her a beady-eyed look with its head on one side. Then it said: That stops you? Oh, well. Ill fetch the key. It appeared a moment later and dropped a large metal key on to the cobbles. Isnt the wizard in?

  In, yes. In bed. Snoring his head off.

  I thought they stayed up all night!

  Not this one. Cup of cocoa around nine, dead to the world at five past.

  I cant just let myself into his house!

  Why not? Youve come to see me. Anyway, Im the brains of the outfit. He just wears the funny hat and does the hand waving. Susan turned the key. It was warm inside. There was the usual wizardly paraphernalia - a forge, a bench with bottles and bundles strewn over it, a bookcase with books rammed in anyhow, a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling, some very big candles that were just lava streams of wax, and a raven on a skull. `They get it all out of a catalogue, said the raven. Believe me. It all comes in a big box. You think candles get dribbly like that by themselves? Thats three days work for a skilled candle dribbler. `Youre just making that up, said Susan. Anyway, you cant just buy a skull.

  You know best, Im sure, being educated, said the raven. What were you trying to tell me last night?

  Tell you? said the raven, with a guilty look on its beak. All that dah-dah-dah-DAH stuff. The raven scratched its head. He said I wasnt to tell you. I was just supposed to warn you about the horse. I got carried away. Turned up, has it?

  Yes!

  Ride it.

  I did. It cant be real! Real horses know where the ground is.

  Miss, theres no horse realer than that one.

  I know his name! Ive ridden him before! The raven sighed, or at least made a sort of whistling noise which is as close to a sigh as a beak can get. Ride the horse. Hes decided youre the one.

  Where to?

  Thats for me not to know and you to find out.

  Just supposing I was stupid enough to do it . . . can you kind of hint about what will happen?

  Well . . . youve read books, I can see. Have you ever read any about children who go to a magical faraway kingdom and have adventures with goblins and so on?

  Yes, of course, said Susan, grimly. Itd probably be best if you thought along those lines, said the raven. Susan picked up a bundle of herbs and played with them. I saw someone outside who said she was the Tooth Fairy, she said. Nah, couldntve been the Tooth Fairy, said the raven. Theres at least three of them.

 
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