Page 24

‘All right, what did you see?’

‘Well, I’m not exactly-’

‘You don’t know, do you?’ snapped Sconner.

‘I saw someth-’

‘You don’t know!’ repeated Sconner, ‘You’re just seeing shadows, just trying to undermine my authority, isn’t that it?’ Sconner hesitated, and his eyes glazed momentarily. ‘I am calm,’ he intoned, ‘I am totally in control. I will not let ‘

‘It was-’

‘Listen, shortarse, you can just jolly well shut up, all right?’

One of the other wizards, who had been staring upwards to conceal his embarrassment, gave a strangled little cough.

‘Er, Sconner-’

‘And that goes for you too!’ Sconner pulled himself to his full, bristling height and flourished the matches.

‘As I was saying,’ he said, ‘I want you to light the matches and -I suppose I’ll have to show you how to light matches, for the benefit of shortarse there-and I’m not out of the window, you know. Good grief. Look at me. You take a match-’

He lit a match, the darkness blossomed into a ball of sulphurous white light, and the Librarian dropped on him like the descent of Man.

They all knew the Librarian, in the same definite but diffused way that people know walls and floors and all the other minor but necessary scenery on the stage of life. If they recall him at all, it was as a sort of gentle mobile sigh, sitting under his desk repairing books, or knuckling his way among the shelves in search of secret smokers. Any wizard unwise enough to hazard a clandestine rollup wouldn’t know anything about it until a soft leathery hand reached up and removed the offending homemade, but the Librarian never made a fuss, he just looked extremely hurt and sorrowful about the whole sad business and then ate it.

Whereas what was now attempting with considerable effort to unscrew Sconner’s head by the ears was a screaming nightmare with its lips curled back to reveal long yellow fangs.

The terrified wizards turned to run and found themselves bumping into bookshelves that had unaccountably blocked the aisles. The smallest wizard yelped and rolled under a table laden with atlases, and lay with his hands over his ears to block out the dreadful sounds as the remaining wizards tried to escape.

Eventually there was nothing but silence, but it was that particularly massive silence created by something moving very stealthily, as it might be, in search of something else. The smallest wizard ate the tip of his hat out of sheer terror.

The silent mover grabbed him by the leg and pulled him gently but firmly out into the open, where he gibbered a bit with his eyes shut and then, when ghastly teeth failed to meet in his throat, ventured a quick glance.

The Librarian picked him up by the scruff of his neck and dangled him reflectively a foot off the ground, just out of reach of a small and elderly wire-haired terrier who was trying to remember how to bite people’s ankles.

‘Er-! said the wizard, and was then thrown in an almost flat trajectory through the broken doorway, where his fall was broken by the floor.

After a while a shadow next to him said, ‘Well, that’s it, then. Anyone seen that daft bastard Sconner?’

And a shadow on the other side of him said, ‘I think my neck’s broken.’

‘Who’s that?’

‘That daft bastard,’ said the shadow, nastily.

‘Oh. Sorry, Sconner.’

Sconner stood up, his whole body now outlined in magical aura. He was trembling with rage as he raised his hands.

‘I’ll show that wretched throwback to respect his evolutionary superiors-’ he snarled.

‘Get him, lads!’

And Sconner was borne to the flagstones again under the weight of all five wizards.

‘Sorry, but-’

‘- you know that if you use-’

`- magic near the Library, with all the magic that’s in there-’

‘- get one thing wrong and it’s a critical Mass and then -’

‘BANG! Goodnight, world!’

Sconner growled. The wizards sitting on him decided that getting up was not the wisest thing they could do at this point.

Eventually he said, ‘Right. You’re right. Thank you. It was wrong of me to lose my temper like that. Clouded my judgement. Essential to be dispassionate. You’re absolutely right. Thank you. Get off.

They risked it. Sconner stood up.

‘That monkey,’ he said, ‘has eaten its last banana. Fetch-’

‘Er. Ape, Sconner,’ said the smallest wizard, unable to stop himself. ‘It’s an ape, you see. Not a monkey…’

He wilted under the stare.

‘Who cares? Ape, monkey, what’s the difference?’ said Sconner. ‘What’s the difference, Mr Zoologist?’

‘I don’t know, Sconner,’ said the wizard meekly. ‘I think it’s a class thing.’

‘Shut up.’

‘Yes, Sconner.’

‘You ghastly little man,’ said Sconner.

He turned and added, in a voice as level as a sawblade: ‘I am perfectly controlled. My mind is as cool as a bald mammoth. My intellect is absolutely in charge. Which one of you sat on my head? No, I must not get angry. I am not angry. I am thinking positively. My faculties are fully engaged - do any of you wish to argue?’

‘No, Sconner,’ they chorused.

‘Then get me a dozen barrels of oil and all the kindling you can find! That ape’s gonna fry!’

From high in the Library roof, home of owls and bats and other things, there was a clink of chain and the sound of glass being broken as respectfully as possible.

‘They don’t look very worried,’ said Nijel, slightly affronted.

‘How can I put this?’ said Rincewind. ‘When they come to write the list of Great Battle Cries of the World, “Erm, excuse me” won’t be one of them.’

He stepped to one side. ‘I’m not with him,’ he said earnestly to a grinning guard. ‘I just met him, somewhere. In a pit.’ He gave a little laugh. ‘This sort of thing happens to me all the time,’ he said.

The guards stared through him.

‘Erm,’ he said.

‘Okay,’ he said.

He sidled back to Nijel.

‘Are you any good with that sword?’

Without taking his eyes off the guards, Nijel fumbled in his pack and handed Rincewind the book.

‘I’ve read the whole of chapter three,’ he said. ‘It’s got illustrations.’

Rincewind turned over the crumpled pages. The book had been used so hard you could have shuffled it, but what was probably once the front cover showed a rather poor woodcut of a muscular man. He had arms like two bags full of footballs, and he was standing kneedeep in languorous women and slaughtered victims with a smug expression on his face.

About him was the legend: Inne Juste 7 Dayes I wille make You a Barbearian Hero! Below it, in a slightly smaller type, was the name: Cohen the Barbarean. Rincewind rather doubted it. He had met Cohen and, while he could read after a fashion, the old boy had never really mastered the pen and still signed his name with an ‘X’, which he usually spelled wrong. On the other hand, he gravitated rapidly to anything with money in it.

Rincewind looked again at the illustration, and then at Nijel.

‘Seven days?’

‘Well, I’m a slow reader.’

‘Ah,’ said Rincewind.

‘And I didn’t bother with chapter six, because I promised my mother I’d stick with just the looting and pillaging, until I find the right girl.’

‘And this book teaches you how to be a hero?’

‘Oh, yes. It’s very good.’ Nijel gave him a worried glance. ‘That’s all right, isn’t it? It cost a lot of money.’

‘Well, er. I suppose you’d better get on with it, then.’

Nijel squared his, for want of a better word, shoulders, and waved his sword again.

‘You four had better just jolly well watch out,’ he said, ‘or … hold on a moment.’ He took the book from Rincewind and riffled through the pages until he found what he was looking for, and continued, ‘Yes, or “the chill winds of fate will blow through your bleached skeletons,’ the legions of Hell will drown your living soul in acid”. There. How dyou like them … excuse me a moment … apples?’

There was a metallic chord as four men drew their swords in perfect harmony.

Nijel’s sword became a blur. It made a complicated figure eight in the air in front of him, spun over his arm, flicked from hand to hand behind his back, seemed to orbit his chest twice, and leapt like a salmon.

One or two of the harem ladies broke into spontaneous applause. Even the guards looked impressed.

‘That’s a Triple Orcthrust with Extra Flip,’ said Nijel proudly. ‘I broke a lot of mirrors learning that. Look, they’re stopping.’

‘They’ve never seen anything like it, I imagine,’ said Rincewind weakly, judging the distance to the doorway.

‘I should think not.’

‘Especially the last bit, where it stuck in the ceiling.’

Nijel looked upwards.

‘Funny,’ he said, ‘it always did that at home, too. I wonder what I’m doing wrong.’

‘Search me.’

‘Gosh, I’m sorry,’ said Nijel, as the guards seemed to realise that the entertainment was over and closed in for the kill.

‘Don’t blame youself-’ said Rincewind, as Nijel reached up and tried unsuccessfully to free the blade.

‘Thank you.’

‘- I’ll do it for you.’

Rincewind considered his next step. In fact, he considered several steps. But the door was too far away and anyway, by the sound of it, things were not a lot healthier out there.

There was only one thing for it. He’d have to try magic.

He raised his hand and two of the men fell over. He raised his other hand and the other two fell over.

Just as he was beginning to wonder about this, Conina stepped daintily over the prone bodies, idly rubbing the sides of her hands.

‘I thought you’d never turn up,’ she said. ‘Who’s your friend?’

As has already been indicated, the Luggage seldom shows any sign of emotion, or at least any emotion less extreme than blind rage and hatred, and therefore it is hard to gauge its feelings when it woke up, a few miles outside Al Khali, on its lid in a dried-up wadi with its legs in the air.

Even a few minutes after dawn the air was like the breath of a furnace. After a certain amount of rocking the Luggage managed to get most of its feet pointing the right way, and stood doing a complicated slow-motion jig to keep as few of them on the burning sand as possible.

It wasn’t lost. It always knew exactly where it was. It was always here.

It was just that everywhere else seemed to have been temporarily mislaid.

After some deliberation the Luggage turned and walked very slowly, into a boulder.

It backed away and sat down, rather puzzled. It felt as though it had been stuffed with hot feathers, and it was dimly aware of the benefits of shade and a nice cool drink.

After a few false starts it walked to the top of a nearby sand dune, which gave it an unrivalled view of hundreds of other dunes.


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