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"What're you doing, lad?" he said. "I see you found a skull."

"It's going to be the sound box," said the minstrel. He looked worried for a moment. "That is all right, isn't it?"

"Sure. Good fate for a hero, having his bones made into a harp or something. It should sing out wonderful."

"This will be a kind of lyre." said the minstrel. "It's going to be a bit primitive, I'm afraid."

"Even better. Good for the old songs," said Cohen. "I have been thinking about the ... the saga." the minstrel admitted. "Good lad, good lad. Plenty of spakes?"

"Um. yes. But I thought I'd start off with the legend of how Mazeda stole fire for mankind in the first place."

"Nice," said Cohen. "And then a few verses about what the gods did to him," the minstrel went on, tightening a string. "Did to him? Did to him?" said Cohen. "They made him immortal!"

"Er ... yes. In a way, I suppose."

"What do you mean, "in a way"?"

"It's classical mythology. Cohen," said the minstrel. "I thought everyone knew. He was chained to a rock for eternity and every day an eagle comes and pecks out his liver."

"Is that true?"

"It's mentioned in many of the classic texts. "I'm not much of a reader," said Cohen. "Chained to a rock? For a first offence? He's still there?"

"Eternity isn't finished yet. Cohen."

"He must've had a big liver!"

"It grows again every night, according to the legend," said the minstrel. "I wish my kidneys did." said Cohen. He stared at the distant clouds that hid the snowy top of the mountain. "He brought fire to everyone, and the gods did that to him, eh? Well... we'll have to see about that." The omniscope showed a snowstorm. "Bad weather down there, then," said Ridcully. "No, it's thaumic interference," said Ponder. "They're passing under the elephants. We'll get a lot more of it, I'm afraid."

"Did they really say "Ankh-Morpork, we have an orangutan"?" said the Dean. "The Librarian must have got on board somehow," said Ponder. "You know what he's like for finding odd comers to sleep in. And that. I'm afraid, explains about the weight and the air. Er ... I have to tell you that I'm not sure that they have enough time or power to get back on to the Disc now."

"What do you mean, you're not sure?" said Lord Vetinari. "Er ... I mean I am sure but, er, no one likes bad news all at once, sir." Lord Vetinari looked at the big spell that dominated the cabin. It floated in the air: the whole world, sketched in glowing lines and. dropping from one glittering edge, a small curving line. As he watched it lengthened slightly. "They can't just turn around and come back?" he said. "No, sir. It doesn't work like that."

"Can they throw the Librarian out?" The wizards looked shocked. "No, sir," said Ponder. "That would be murder, sir."

"Yes, but they may save the world. One ape dies, one world lives. You do not need to be a rocket wizard to work that out, surely?"

"You can't ask them to make a decision like that, sir!"

"Really? I make decisions like that every day," said Lord Vetinari. "Oh. very well. What are they short of?"

"Air and dragon power, sir."

"If they chop up the orangutan and feed him to the dragons, won't that kill two birds with one stone?" The sudden iciness told Lord Vetinari that once again he hadn't taken his audience with him. He sighed. "They need dragon flame to ... ?" he said. "To bring their ringpath over the Disc, sir. They have to fire the dragons at the right time." Vetinari looked at the magical orrery again. "And now ... ?"

"I'm not quite sure. sir. They may crash into the Disc, or they may shoot straight out into endless space."

"And they need air ..."

"Yes, sir." Vetinari's arm moved through the outline of the world and a long forefinger pointed. "Is there any air here?" he said. That meal," said Cohen, "was heroic. No other word for it."

"That's right, Mrs McGarry." said Evil Harry. "Even rat doesn't taste this much like chicken."

"Yes, the tentacles hardly spoiled it at all!" said Caleb enthusiastically. They sat and watched the view. What had once been the world below was now a world in front, rising like an endless wall. "What're they, right up there?" said Cohen, pointing. "Thanks, friend." said Evil Harry, looking away. "I'd like the ... chicken to stay down, if it's all the same to you."

"They're the Virgin Islands." said the minstrel. "So called because there's so many of them."

"Or maybe they're hard to find." said Truckle the Uncivil, burping. "Hur, hur, hur."

"Ye can see the stars from up here," said Mad Hamish, "e'en though 'tis day." Cohen grinned at him. It wasn't often Mad Hamish volunteered anything. "They say every one of 'em's a world," said Evil Harry. "Yeah," said Cohen, "How many, bard?"

"I don't know. Thousands. Millions," said the minstrel. "Millions of worlds, and we get... what? How old are you, Hamish?"

"Whut? I were born the day the old thane died." said Hamish. "When was that? Which old thane?" said Cohen patiently. "Whut? I ain't a scholar! I canna remember that kinda stuff!"

"A hundred years, maybe," said Cohen. "One hundred years. And there's millions o' worlds." He took a pull of his cigarette and rubbed his forehead with the back of his thumb. "It's a bugger." He nodded at the minstrel. "What did your mate Carelinus do after he'd blown his nose?"

"Look, you really shouldn't think of him like that," said the minstrel hotly. "He built a huge empire ... too big, really. And in many ways he was a lot like you. Haven't you heard of the Tsortean Knot?"

"Sounds dirty," said Truckle. "Hur, hur, hur ... sorry." The minstrel sighed. "It was a huge, complicated knot that tied two beams together in the Temple of Offler in Tsort, and it was said that whoever untied it would reign over the whole of the continent." he said. "They can be very tricky, knots." said Mrs McGarry. "Carelinus sliced right through it with his sword!" said the minstrel. The revelation of this dramatic gesture did not get the applause he expected.

"So he was a cheat as well as a cry-baby?" said Boy Willie. "No! It was a dramatic, nay, portentous gesture!" snapped the minstrel. "Yeah, okay, but it's not exactly untying it, is it? I mean, if the rules said "untying". I don't see why he should-"

"Nah, nah, the lad's got a point." said Cohen, who seemed to have been turning this one over in his mind. "It wasn't cheating, because it was a good story. Yeah. I can understand that," He chuckled. "I can just imagine it, too. A load of whey-faced priests and suchlike standin' around and thinkin', "that's cheating but he's got a really big sword so I won't be the first to point this out, plus this damn great army is just outside". Hah. Yeah. Hmm. What did he do next?"

"Conquered most of the known world."

"Good lad. And after that?"

"He ... er ... went home, reigned for a few years, then he died and his sons squabbled and there were a few wars .. . and that was the end of the empire."

"Children can be a problem," said Vena, without looking up from carefully embroidering forget-me-nots around BURN THIS HOUSE. "Some people say you achieve immortality through your children," said the minstrel. "Yeah?" said Cohen. "Name one of your great-granddads, then."

"Well... er ..."

"See? Now, I got lots of kids," said Cohen. "Haven't seen most of 'em .. . you know how it is. But they had fine strong mothers and I hope like hell they're all living for themselves, not for me. Fat lot of good they did your Carelinus, losin' his empire for him."

"But there's lots more a proper historian could tell you-" said the minstrel. "Hah!" said Cohen. "It's what ordin'ry people remember that matters. It's songs and savin's. It doesn't matter how you live and die, it's how the bards wrote it down." The minstrel felt their joint gaze fix on him. "Urn ... I'm making lots of notes," he said. "Ook," said the Librarian, by way of explanation. "And then he says something fell on his head," Rincewind translated. "It must have been..."

"Can we throw some of this stuff out of the ship to lighten it?" said Carrot. "We don't need most of it."

"Alas, no," said Leonard. "We will lose all our air if we open the door."

"But we've got these breathing helmets," Rincewind pointed out. "Three helmets," said Leonard. The omniscope crackled. They ignored it. The Kite was still passing under the elephants, and the thing showed mostly a kind of magical snow. But Rincewind did glance up, and saw that someone in the storm was holding a card on winch had been scrawled, in large letters: STAND BY. Ponder shook his head. "Thank you. Archchancellor, but I'm far too busy for you to help me," he said. "But will it work?"

"It has to, sir. It's a million-to-one chance."

"Oh, then we don't have to worry. Everyone knows million-to-one chances always work." "Yes, sir. So all I have to do is work out if there's still enough air outside the ship for Leonard to steer it, or how many dragons he will need to fire for how long, and if there will be enough power left to get them off again. I think he's travelling at nearly the right speed, but I'm not sure how much flame the dragons will have left, and I don't know

what kind of surface he'll land on or anything they'll find there. I can adapt a few spells, but they were never devised for this sort of thing."

"Good man." said Ridcully. Is there anything we can do to help?" said the Dean. Ponder gave the other wizards a desperate look. How would Lord Vetinari have handled this? "Why, yes." he said brightly. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to find a cabin somewhere and come up with a list of all the various ways I could solve this? And I will just sit here and toy with a few ideas?"

"That's what I like to see," said the Dean. "A lad with enough sense to make use of the wisdom of: his elders." Lord Vetinari gave Ponder a faint smile as they left the cabin. In the sudden silence Ponder ... pondered. He stared at the orrery, walked around it, enlarged sections of it, peered at them, pored over the notes he had made about the power of dragon flight, stared at a model of the Kite, and spent a lot of time looking at the ceiling. This wasn't the normal way of working for a wizard. A wizard evolved the wish, and then devised the command. He didn't bother much with observing the universe: rocks and trees and clouds could not have anything very intelligent to impart. They didn't even have writing on them, after all. Ponder looked at the numbers he had scribbled. As a calculation, it was like balancing a feather on a soap bubble which wasn't there. So he guessed. On the Kite, the situation was being "workshopped". This is the means by which people who don't know anything get together to pool their ignorance. "Could we all hold our breath for a quarter of the time?" said Carrot. "No. Breath doesn't work like that, alas," said Leonard. "Perhaps we should all stop talking?" said Rincewind. "Ook," said the Librarian, pointing to the fuzzy screen of the omniscope. Someone was holding up another placard. The huge words could just be made out: THIS IS WHAT YOU DO. Leonard snatched a pencil and began to scribble in the corner of a drawing of a machine for undermining city walls. Five minutes later he put it down again. "Remarkable," he said. "He wants us to point the Kite in a different direction and go faster."


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