Page 8

"It will certainly be a challenge to go where no one has gone before," said Carrot. "Wrong! We're going where no one has come back from before." Rincewind hesitated. "Well, except me. But I didn't go that far, and I... sort of dropped on to the Disc again."

"Yes, they told me about it. What did you see?"

"My whole life, passing in front of my eyes."

"Perhaps we shall see something more interesting." Rincewind glared at Carrot, bent once again over his sewing. Evetything about the man was neat, in a workmanlike sort of way: he looked like someone who washed thoroughly. He also seemed to Rincewind to be a complete idiot with gristle between the ears. But complete idiots didn't make comments like that. "I'm taking an iconograph and lots of paint for the imp. You know the wizards want us to make all kinds of observations?" Carrot went on. "They say it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

"You're not making any friends here, you know," said Rincewind. "Have you any idea what it is that the Silver Horde wants?"

"Drink, treasure, and women," said Rincewind. "But I think they may have eased back on the last one."

"But didn't they have more or less all of that anyway?" Rincewind nodded. That was the puzzler. The Horde had it all. They had everything that money could buy, and since there was a lot of money on the Counterweight Continent, that was everything. It occurred to him that when you'd had everything, all that was left was nothing. The valley was full of cool green light, reflected off the towering ice of the central mountain. It shifted and flowed like water. Into it, grumbling and asking one another to speak up, walked the Silver Horde. Behind them, walking almost bent double with horror and dread, white- faced, like a man who has gazed upon direful things, came the minstrel. His clothes were torn. One leg of his tights had been ripped off. He was soaking wet, although parts of his clothing were singed. The twanging remains of the lute in his trembling hand had been half bitten away. Here was a man who had truly seen life, mostly on the point of departure. "Not very insane, as monks go," said Caleb. "More sad than mad. I've known monks that frothed."

"And some of those monsters were long past their date with the knackerman, and that's the truth." said Truckle. "Honestly, I felt embarrassed about killing them. They was older than us."

"The fish were good," said Cohen. "Real big buggers."

"Just as well, really, since we've run out of walrus." said Evil Harry. "Wonderful display by your henchmen. Harry," said Cohen. "Stupidity wasn't the word for it. Never seen so many people hit themselves over the head with their own swords."

"They were good lads," said Harry. "Morons to the end." Cohen grinned at Boy Willie, who was sucking a cut finger. "Teeth," he said. "Huh ... the answer is always "teeth", is it?"

"All right, all right, sometimes it's "tongue"." said Boy Willie. He turned to the minstrel. "Did you get that bit where I cut up that big taranchula?" be said. The minstrel raised his head slowly. A lute string broke.

"Mwwa," he bleated. The rest of the Horde gathered round quickly. There was no sense in letting just one of them get the best verses. "Remember to sing about that bit where that fish swallowed me and I cut my way out front inside, okay?""

"Mwwa ..."

"And did you get that bit when I killed that big six-armed dancin' statue?"

"Mwwa ..."

"What're you talkin' about? It was me what killed that statue?"

"Yeah? Well, I clove him clean in twain, mate. No one could have survived that? "Why didn't you just cut 'is 'ead off?"

"Couldn't. Someone'd already done that."

"Ere, 'e's not writin' this down! Why isn't 'e writin this down? Cohen, you tell 'im 'e's got to write this down!"

"Let him be for a while," said Cohen. "I reckon the fish disagreed with him."

"Don't see why," said Truckle. "I pulled him out before it'd hardly chewed him. And he must've dried out nicely in that corridor. You know, the one where the flames shot up out of the floor unexpectedly."

"I reckon our bard wasn't expecting flames to shoot out of the floor unexpectedly." said Cohen. Truckle shrugged theatrically. "Well, if you're not going to expect unexpected flames, what's the point of going anywhere?"

"And we'd have been in some strife with those gate demons from the netherworlds if Mad Hamish hadn't woken up," Cohen went on. Hamish stirred in his wheelchair, under a pile of large fish fillets inexpertly wrapped in saffron robes. "Whut?"

"I SAID YOU WERE GROUCHY WHAT WITH MISSING YER NAP!" Cohen shouted. "Ach, right!" Boy Willie rubbed his thigh. "I got to admit it, one of those monsters nearly got me," he said. "I'm going to have to give this up." Cohen turned around quickly. "And die like old Old Vincent?" he said. "Well, not-"

"Where would he have been if we weren't there to give him a proper funeral, eh? A great big bonfire, that's the funeral of a hero. And everyone else said it was a waste of a good boat! So stop talking like that and follow me!"

"Mw ... mw ,.. mw." the minstrel sang, and finally the words came out. "Mad! Mad! Mad! You're all stark staring mad!" Caleb patted him gently on the shoulder as they turned to follow their leader. "We prefer the word berserk, lad," he said. Some things needed testing ... "I have watched the swamp dragons at night," Leonard said conversationally as Ponder Stibbons adjusted the static-firing mechanism. "And it is clear to me that the flame is quite useful to them as a means of propulsion. In a sense, a swamp dragon is a living rocket. A strange creature to have come into being on a world like ours, I have always thought, I suspect they come from elsewhere,"

"They tend to explode a lot," said Ponder, standing back. The dragon in the steel cage watched him carefully. "Bad diet." said Leonard firmly. "Possibly not what they were used to. But I am sure the mixture I have devised is both nourishing and safe and will have ... usable effect..."

"But we will go and get behind the sandbags now, sir." said Ponder.

"Oh, do you really think-?"

"Yes, sir." With his back firmly against the sandbags. Ponder shut his eyes and pulled the string. In front of the dragon's cage, a mirror swung down, just for a moment. And the first reaction of a male swamp dragon on seeing another male is to flame ... There was a roar. The two men peered over the barrier and saw a yellow- green lance of fire thundering out across the evening sea. Thirty-three seconds!" said Ponder, when it finally winked out. He leapt up. The small dragon belched. The flame was more or less gone, so it was the dampest explosion Ponder had ever experienced. "Ah," said Leonard, arising from behind the sandbags and peeling a piece of scaly skin off his head. "Nearly there, I think. Just a pinch more charcoal and seaweed extract to prevent blowback." Ponder removed his hat. What he needed right now, he felt, was a bath. And then another bath. "I'm not exactly a rocket wizard, am I?" he said, wiping bits of dragon off his face. But an hour later another flame lanced over the waves, thin and white with a blue core ... and this time, this time, the dragon merely smiled. I'd rather die than sign my name." said Boy Willie. "I'd rather face a dragon," said Caleb. "One of the proper old ones, too, not the little fireworky ones you get today."

"Once they get you signin' your name, they've got you where they want you," said Cohen. "Too many letters," said Truckle. "All different shapes, too. I always put an X." The Horde had stopped for a breather and a smoke on an outcrop at the end of the green valley. Snow was thick on the ground, but the air was almost mild. Already there was the prickly sensation of a high magical field. "Readin', now," said Cohen, "that's another matter. I don't mind a man who does a bit of readin'. Now, you come across a map, as it might be, and it's got a big cross on it, well, a readin' man can tell something from that."

"What? That it's Truckle's map?" said Boy Willie. "Exactly. Could very well be."

"I can read and write," said Evil Harry. "Sorry. Part of the job. Etiquette, too. You've got to be polite to people when you march them out on the plank over the shark tank ... it makes it more evil? "No one's blaming you, Harry," said Cohen. "Huh, not that I could get sharks." said Harry. "I should've known better when Johnny No Hands told me they were sharks that hadn't grown all their fins yet, but all they did was swim around squeaking happily and start beggin' for fish. When I throw people into a torture tank it's to be torn to bits, not to get in touch with their inner self and be one with the cosmos."

"Shark'd be better than this fish." said Caleb, making a face. "Nah, shark tastes like piss," said Cohen. He sniffed. "Now that..."

"Now that? said Truckle, "is what I call cookery? They followed the smell through a maze of rocks to a cave. To the minstrel's amazement, each man drew his sword as they approached. "You can't trust cookery." said Cohen, apparently as an attempt at an explanation. "But you've just been fighting monstrous mad devil fish!" said the minstrel.

"No, the priests were mad, the fish were ... hard to tell with fish. Anyway, you know where you stand with a mad priest, but someone cooking as well as that right up here - well, that's a mystery? "Well?"

"Mysteries get you killed."

"You're not dead, though." Cohen's sword swished through the air. The minstrel thought he heard it sizzle. "I solve mysteries," he said. "Oh. With your sword ... like Carelinus untied the Tsortean Knot?"

"Don't know anything about any knots, lad." In a clear space among the rocks, a stew was cooking over a fire and an elderly lady was working at her embroidery. It was not a scene the minstrel would have expected out here, even though the lady was somewhat ... youngly dressed for a grandmother, and the message on the sampler she was sewing, surrounded by little flowers, was EAT COLD STEEL PIGDOG. "Well, well." said Cohen, sheathing his sword. "I thought I recognised the handiwork back there. How're you doing. Vena?"

"You're looking well, Cohen," said the woman, as calmly as though she had been expecting them. "You boys want some stew?"

"Yeah." said Truckle, grinning. "Let the bard try it first, though."

"Shame on you, Truckle," said the woman, putting aside her embroidery. "Well, you did drug me and steal a load of jewels off me last time we met..."

"That was forty years ago, man! Anyway, you left me alone to fight that band of goblins."

"I knew you'd beat the goblins, though."

"I knew you didn't need the jewels. Morning, Evil Harry. Hello, boys. Pull up a rock. Who's the thin streak of misery?" This is the bard," said Cohen. "Bard, this is Vena the Raven-Haired."

"What?" said the bard. "No, she's not! Even I've heard of Vena the Raven- Haired, and she's a tall young woman with- oh ..." Vena sighed. "Yes, the old stories do hang around so, don't they?" she said, patting her grey hair. "And it's Mrs McGarry now, boys."


***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com