‘Gods, that was awful,’ he said. ‘Mind you, so is this.’
Crew members scurried across the deck, cutlasses in hand. Conina tapped Rincewind on the shoulder.
‘They’ll try to take us alive,’ she said.
‘Oh,’ said Rincewind weakly. ‘Good.’
Then he remembered something else about Klatchian slavers, and his throat went dry.
‘You’ll - you’ll be the one they’ll really be after,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard about what they do-’
‘Should I know?’ said Conina. To Rincewind’s horror she didn’t appear to have found a weapon.
‘They’ll throw you in a seraglio!’
She shrugged. ‘Could be worse.’
‘But it’s got all these spikes and when they shut the door-’ hazarded Rincewind. The canoes were close enough now to see the determined expressions of the rowers.
‘That’s not a seraglio. That’s an Iron Maiden. Don’t you know what a seraglio is?’
She told him. He went crimson.
‘Anyway, they’ll have to capture me first,’ said Conina primly. ‘It’s you who should be worrying.’
‘You’re the only other one who’s wearing a dress.’
Rincewind bridled. ‘It’s a robe-’
‘Robe, dress. You better hope they know the difference.’
A hand like a bunch of bananas with rings on grabbed Rincewind’s shoulder and spun him around. The captain, a Hublander built on generous bear-like lines, beamed at him through a mass of facial hair.
‘Hah!’ he said. ‘They know not that we aboard a wizard have! To create in their bellies the burning green fire! Hah?’
The dark forests of his eyebrows wrinkled as it became apparent that Rincewind wasn’t immediately ready to hurl vengeful magic at the invaders.
‘Hah?’ he insisted, making a mere single syllable do the work of a whole string of blood-congealing threats.
‘Yes, well, I’m just - I’m just girding my loins,’ said Rincewind. ‘hat’s what I’m doing. Girding them. Green fire, you want?’
‘Also to make hot lead run in their bones,’ said the captain. ‘Also their skins to blister and living scorpions without mercy to eat their brains from inside, and-’
The leading canoe came alongside and a couple of grapnels thudded into the rail. As the first of the savers appeared the captain hurried away, drawing his sword. He stopped for a moment and turned to Rincewind.
‘You gird quickly,’ he said. ‘Or no loins. Hah?’
Rincewind turned to Conina, who was leaning on the rail examining her fingernails.
‘You’d better get on with it,’ she said. ‘That’s fifty green fires and hot leads to go, with a side order for blisters and scorpions. Hold the mercy.’
‘This sort of thing is always happening to me,’ he moaned.
He peered over the rail to what he thought of as the main floor of the boat. The invaders were winning by sheer weight of numbers, using nets and ropes to tangle the struggling crew. They worked in absolute silence, clubbing and dodging, avoiding the use of swords wherever possible.
‘Musn’t damage the merchandise,’ said Conina. Rincewind watched in horror as the captain went down under a press of dark shapes, screaming, ‘Green fire! Green fire!’
Rincewind backed away. He wasn’t any good at magic, but he’d had a hundred per cent success at staying alive up to now and didn’t want to spoil the record. All he needed to do was to learn how to swim in the time it took to dive into the sea. It was worth a try.
‘What are you waiting for? Let’s go while they’re occupied,’ he said to Conina.
‘I need a sword,’ she said.
‘You’ll be spoilt for choice in a minute.’
‘One will be enough.’
Rincewind kicked the Luggage.
‘Come on,’ he snarled. ‘You’ve got a lot of floating to do.’
The Luggage extended its little legs with exaggerated nonchalance, turned slowly, and settled down beside the girl.
‘Traitor,’ said Rincewind to its hinges.
The battle already seemed to be over. Five of the raiders stalked up the ladder to the afterdeck, leaving most of their colleagues to round up the defeated crew below. The leader pulled down his mask and leered briefly and swarthily at Conina; and then he turned and leered for a slightly longer period at Rincewind.
‘This is a robe,’ said Rincewind quickly. ‘And you’d better watch out, because I’m a wizard.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Lay a finger on me, and you’ll make me wish you hadn’t. I warn you.’
A wizard? Wizards don’t make good strong slaves,’ mused the leader.
‘Absolutely right,’ said Rincewind. ‘So if you’ll just see your way clear to letting me go-’
The leader turned back to Conina, and signalled to one of his companions. He jerked a tattooed thumb towards Rincewind.
‘Do not kill him too quickly. In fact-’ he paused, and treated Rincewind to a smile full of teeth. ‘Maybe … yes. And why not? Can you sing, wizard?’
‘I might be able to,’ said Rincewind, cautiously. Why?’
‘You could be just the man the Seriph needs for a job in the harem.’ A couple of slavers sniggered.
‘It could be a unique opportunity,’ the leader went on, encouraged by this audience appreciation. There was more broad-minded approval from behind him.
Rincewind backed away. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said, ‘thanks all the same. I’m not cut out for that kind of thing.’
‘Oh, but you could be,’ said the leader, his eyes bright. ‘You could be.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake,’ muttered Conina. She glanced at the men on either side of her, and then her hands moved. The one stabbed with the scissors was possibly better off than the one she raked with the comb, given the kind of mess a steel comb can make of a face. Then she reached down, snatched up a sword dropped by one of the stricken men, and lunged at the other two.
The leader turned at the screams, and saw the Luggage behind him with its lid open. And then Rincewind cannoned into the back of him, pitching him forward into whatever oblivion lay in the multidimensional depths of the chest.
There was the start of a bellow, abruptly cut off.
Then there was a click like the shooting of the bolt on the gates of Hell.
Rincewind backed away, trembling. :A unique opportunity,’ he muttered under his breath, having just got the reference.
At least he had a unique opportunity to watch Conina fight. Not many men ever got to see it twice.
Her opponents started off grinning at the temerity of a slight young girl in attacking them, and then rapidly passed through various stages of puzzlement, doubt, concern and abject gibbering terror as they apparently became the centre of a flashing, tightening circle of steel.
She disposed of the last of the leader’s bodyguard with a couple of thrusts that made Rincewind’s eyes water and, with a sigh, vaulted the rail on the main deck. To Rincewind’s annoyance the Luggage barrelled after her, cushioning its fall by dropping heavily on to a slaver, and adding to the sudden panic of the invaders because, while it was bad enough to be attacked with deadly and ferocious accuracy by a rather pretty girl in a white dress with flowers on it, it was even worse for the male ego to be tripped up and bitten by a travel accessory; it was pretty bad for all the rest of the male, too.
Rincewind peered over the railing.
‘Showoff,’ he muttered.
A throwing knife clipped the wood near his chin and ricocheted past his ear. He raised his hand to the sudden stinging pain, and stared at in in horror before gently passing out. It wasn’t blood in general he couldn’t stand the sight of, it was just his blood in particular that was so upsetting.
The market in Sator Square, the wide expanse of cobbles outside the black gates of the University, was in full cry.
It was said that everything in Ankh-Morpork was for sale except for the beer and the women, both of which one merely hired. And most of the merchandise was available in Sator market, which over the years had grown, stall by stall, until the newcomers were up against the ancient stones of the University itself; in fact they made a handy display area for bolts of cloth and racks of charms.
No-one noticed the gates swing back. But a silence rolled out of the University, spreading out across the noisy, crowded square like the first fresh wavelets of the tide trickling over a brackish swamp. In fact it wasn’t true silence at all, but a great roar of anti-noise. Silence isn’t the opposite of sound, it is merely its absence. But this was the sound that lies on the far side of silence, anti-noise, its shadowy decibels throttling the market cries like a fall of velvet.
The crowds stared around wildly, mouthing like goldfish and with about as much effect. All heads turned towards the gates.
Something else was flowing out besides that cacophony of hush. The stalls nearest the empty gateway began to grind across the cobbles, shedding merchandise. Their owners dived out of the way as the stalls hit the row behind them and scraped relentlessly onwards, piling up until a wide avenue of clean, empty stones stretched the whole width of the square.
Ardrothy Longstaff, Purveyor of Pies Full of Personality, peered over the top of the wreckage of his stall in time to see the wizards emerge.
He knew wizards, or up until now he’d always thought he did. They were vague old boys, harmless enough in their way, dressed like ancient sofas, always ready customers for any of his merchandise that happened to be marked down on account of age and rather more personality than a prudent housewife would be prepared to put up with.
But these wizards were something new to Ardrothy. They walked out into Sator Square as if they owned it. Little blue sparks flashed around their feet. They seemed a little taller, somehow.
Or perhaps it was just the way they carried themselves.
Yes, that was it …
Ardrothy had a touch of magic in his genetic makeup, and as he watched the wizards sweep across the square it told him that the very best thing he could do for his health would be to pack his knives, and mincers in his little pack and have it away out of the city at any time in the next ten minutes.
The last wizard in the group lagged behind his colleagues and looked around the square with disdain.
‘There used to be fountains out here,’ he said. ‘You people - be off.’
The traders stared at one another. Wizards normally spoke imperiously, that was to be expected. But there was an edge to the voice that no-one had heard before. It had knuckles in it.
Ardrothy’s eyes swivelled sideways. Arising out of the ruins of his jellied starfish and clam stall like an avenging angel, dislodging various molluscs from his beard and spitting vinegar, was Miskin Koble, who was said to be able to open oysters with one hand. Years of pulling limpets off rocks and wrestling the giant cockles in Ankh Bay had given him the kind of physical development normally associated with tectonic plates. He didn’t so much stand up as unfold.
Then he thudded his way towards the wizard and pointed a trembling finger at the ruins of his stall, from which half a dozen enterprising lobsters were making a determined bid for freedom. Muscles moved around the edges of his mouth like angry eels.
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