There's not a fibre in my trembling frame
That does not vibrate when thy step draws near,
There's not a pulse that throbs not when I hear
Thy voice, thy breathing, nay even thy name.
When thou art with me, every sense comes alive,
And all I know, or feel is thee…
It is earlier.
A carriage enters the city if Ankh-Morpork. It bears no coat of arms, yet somehow emanates an air of importance.
Or at least, enough money to buy importance very quickly.
The carriage passes through the streets, as the rain pours down so hard that it bounces back up to about waist height, much to the discontent of Ankh-Morpork's smaller population, who receive a double dosage. The wheels of the carriage send up a fine spray as they pass, and thunder rumbles through the night sky.
Yes, it's that kind of night.
The carriage finally slows, and stops outside the gates of the palace, home to the patrician of the city and centre of political activity. The guards at the gate, who are none too pleased with being on duty on a night like this, saunter up to it. When you're not having a good night, it's the least you can do to ensure that nobody else does either.
One guard, (a dim-witted bully with a sadistic streak, and therefore a natural for the job) knocks the carriage door with the self-righteous tap of a bastard. The curtain on the window pulls back. A person within speaks, but we cannot hear them over the sound of the hissing rain. Whatever they say, however, is enough to wipe the smarmy grin off his face, and have him recoil so quickly that he falls over his own feet into a muddy puddle. His colleague, who is much quicker on the uptake, has already opened the gates, and stands to attention as the carriage goes swiftly past.
He turns and looks at his friend, lying on the ground and utters that phrase which, according to rules written at the dawn of time, must be said at all moments like this:
"Don't you know who that is?"
Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the Unseen University, the wizard Rincewind turns over in his sleep. The natural shape of a wizard is spherical, but this one is quite skinny. He also lacks the mark of a wizard, the long white beard of wisdom. Instead, his face is adorned with a pitiful, brown, straggly attempt, which is the mark of the unsuccessful beard grower. He is not having pleasant dreams, and his mattress is not helping. He has frequently requested a new one, but has been many times denied. It is now so full of life that it sways, giving a nauseous feeling, not unlike seasickness, to anyone who lies on it. Rincewind has had it for so long that when he gets up every morning, he falls over due to the stillness of the ground beneath him.
The room itself is so stacked with boxes that it has been reduced to a third of its size, and the wall is no longer visible. On one of the boxes, a large, faded hat sits, which has the word WIZZARD spelled out on it by someone whose needlework is only marginally better then their spelling. A large luggage trunk sits in the corner, somehow managing to look aware. Occasionally, Rincewind twitches.
Sometimes, he screams under his breath.
This is normal.
Vetinari examined the shivering figure in front of him. It was wearing a long, dark coloured coat cloak, and swayed slightly from exhaustion.
"Well, lets take a look at you."
The figure lifted a heavy arm and pushed back the hood from its face. The hood fell back, and the head was lifted slowly. A young woman stood where the figure once was, the details apparent now that the hood is removed. It was an expensive cloak, made not to be noticed, but it was worth it.
"Welcome back, my dear."
The Patrician of the city picked up some papers, and shuffled through them.
"I have some letters here. I hear you upset the Ambassador of Genua?"
She lifted her head quickly, all traces of drowsiness gone. An onlooker would have seen her face clearly in the light cast by an oil lamp. She was a young woman of indeterminable age, not conventionally beautiful, but with the type of features that could be described as 'handsome', with an 'excellent bone structure'. Her green eyes were flashing with fury.
"He was being patronising."
"Well, we can't have that. What did he do?"
Drumknott leaned over and whispered into his master's ear.
"Oh, I do beg your pardon, I meant to say, what did he do this time."
"I tried to explain Hervick's theory of socio-economics to him, and the old goat all but patted me on the head!"
Vetinari suppressed a smile. He picked up another page.
"I see here that you were the cause of a disturbance in Dame Leopold's summer house in Klatch?"
"Now, to be fair, I didn't cause the disturbance."
"No. That was the guards."
Vetinari's face remained completely impassive.
"Yes. The ones that were chasing me at the time."
"I see. I do hear they can be bothersome like that. Would you care to venture an opinion as to why these guards were chasing you?"
She shrugged. "I suppose they wanted to ask me some questions. Possibly about what I was doing climbing out of a broken window which happened to lead into the summer house of Baron Von Lieptenschtein."
"How fascinating. You have had a very eventful time then. I look forward to hearing all about it. But perhaps… "
Lord Vetinari noticed that now that the adrenaline provided by anger had worn off, the young lady was drooping visibly.
"Yes, perhaps tomorrow. Time to sleep, I think."
She smiled, and yawned.
"Perhaps I shall finally have an uninterrupted one. How novel."
Another carriage enters Ankh-Morpork. It is carrying a man who is travelling 'The Path of Righteousness'. How this path brought him to Ankh-Morpork, only time will tell. He pulls up the carriage at the side of the street and hops off, his long spindly legs bending as their feet hit a puddle. People who see him are put in mind of a human spider, though not many people do. See him, that is. Oh he loves the rain, yes he does, doesn't he pretty? My pretty, pretty golden girl…
He has taken out something out of the long black trench coat that encases him like the wings of a bat, and croons to it softly.
Pretty, pretty girl.
A man walking home after a late night shift shoots him a frightened glance and doubles his pace.
Our friend stands up straight, hiding the treasured item once again from sight. Enough. There would be time enough later.
With a grand gesture, he sweeps off the leather black top hat that sits on his head, revealing long white hair that went down past his shoulders.
He turned and looked into the night sky with an expression on his face that was terrifying to behold.
"Flanker is here. Flanker is here to cleanse the dirt. And he can see."
With that, he spat on the ground, swept into an alley, and was swallowed by the mist.
It is later.
One week later, to be precise.
It was morning time in Ankh-Morpork. The sun shone thinly through the windows of the palace, the birds in the trees were singing (or at least coughing in unison) and a servant, carrying a tray, was hyperventilating outside a doorway.
This, in itself, is not an unusual occurrence.
Many men have stood outside this doorway and known, deep in their souls that they were about to die, be tortured, or be spoken very sarcastically to. On the other hand, not all of them were delivering breakfast.
Gritting his teeth and steeling his nerves he turned the door handle and entered. After all, he had orders.
He walked quickly into the room, placed the bowls on the tray in front of their respective owners and hurried out of the room again, where he collapsed into hysterics.
Lord Vetinari peered around the page he was holding at the bowl that had just been placed in front of him.
Using his pen as leverage, he peered around the fruit that had somehow taken the place of his usual poached egg.
He placed the page he was holding down, an unimportant report on the rise in crime rates, and looked across the table at the young lady who was reading a novel while eating. The spoon had ground to a halt a few inches in front of her mouth, and her eyes were glued to the page.
"You know," Vetinari said slowly, "I'm sure I didn't change my order for breakfast."
The spoon moved a centimetre closer.
"Mmm…really? What did they give you?"
Vetinari poked the offending meal with his pen again.
"Fruit. The very thing, in fact, which you have been chiding me to eat more often." Byrony looked up from her book and flashed her uncle a dazzling smile.
"Now, isn't that a lucky coincidence!"
Vetinari gave her a Look, which she returned with interest.
"I don't suppose you met any of the kitchen staff this morning?"
Byrony appeared to think about it.
"Well, now that you mention it, I may have ventured down there early this morning. But only for a moment. I needed a drink of water and didn't like to disturb anyone."
"And did you, perchance, meet anyone in your travels?"
"You know, I really couldn't say. It was early and I was thirsty. People could have been met, breakfast orders could have been changed. Who can say, in this crazy world we live in?"
Vetinari pushed the bowl to one side and placed his pen on the table.
"Happily, it seems there is no harm done. I find myself quite content this morning, and will forgo breakfast."
He picked up the report and resumed reading. There was a small scraping noise, the type that a small porcelain bowl might make if it was being pushed back. Vetinari looked up.
"Or," said Byrony, hard steel in her tones, "You could just eat the fruit."
Vetinari looked down at the bowl again.
In times of combat, sometimes the passive aggressive route was the easiest.
Byrony settled back to her book.
"I really don't know what you would do without me."
Vetinai sighed, his spoon piled high with orange crescents and other suspicious shapes.
"I, unfortunately, do."
Rincewind woke up
He sat bolt upright in bed and drew in a deep breath, which he let out in a hissing noise when he realised there was nothing to scream about.
Old habits die hard.
He scrambled out of bed (or mattress), stood up, and promptly fell down again. When he had recovered, he stood again and, with great reverence, placed the battered hat on the box on his head. Then, he turned around and whistled to the luggage trunk.
"Come on, walkies!"
The trunk, much to the shock of any metaphorical watcher, suddenly sprouted hundreds of feet, and followed Rincewind out the door.
A few minutes passed, and then the door opened again.
Rincewind re-entered, put on the rest of his clothes and left again, daring the metaphorical watcher to snigger.
He wandered through the many corridors of the Unseen University, the Luggage trailing behind, menacing any students that passed its way. Rincewind examined his plans for the day.
Drop the luggage back in his room, go down to the Great Hall, eat a giant breakfast, report to the Library, stamp books for an hour or two, have a great big lunch, return to the Library for some light cataloguing, maybe file for a bit if he was feeling energetic, knock off at six-ish, have a gut bursting dinner, then retire to bed.
A long, boring day, interrupted by periods of lethargy and brief spells of ennui.
Rincewind was perfectly happy with this. Excitement, according to Rincewind, could happen to someone else. Preferably to someone who was very far away from Rincewind just in case he caught any.
Adventure was thoroughly overrated and he had experienced quite a bit more then his fair share, thank you very much.
Rincewind dropped a disgruntled Luggage back in his room where it would chase rats and break things, and continued on to the Great Hall to begin his fun-filled plan for the day.
Life, he reflected, really didn't get any better then this.
Maybe he'd even have potatoes for breakfast! After his years on the run, Rincewind cherished potatoes. They were like small, brown rays of sunlight…
Suddenly Rincewind stopped, and stared around wildly.
What was he thinking?! 'Life couldn't get any better?' His life never got any better! It only got worse!
Much to the confusion of the surrounding students, their professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography suddenly dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball, his hands wrapped around his head.
After a few moments, Rincewind risked a glance up. Everyone else took a step back.
Rincewind climbed to his feet and brushed down his robe.
He glared at the students, and a couple of faculty members.
"Well? What are you looking at? Go on, bugger off!"
Rincewind watched as everyone hurried away. It didn't seem like he was going to die just yet, but maybe he'd better go easy on the positive thinking, just in case.
The Commander of the City Watch stood to attention.
"He is keen, sir. Just transferred, but knows the city like the back of his hand."
"Yes, I'm sure he is Commander. But I was rather hoping for someone with more experience? Keenness is somewhat overrated, in my opinion."
Vimes hesitated. In truth, though he resented the fact that Vetinari was using a member of the watch to guard his precious niece as she toured Ankh-Morpork, he was damned if something was going to happen to her on his round.
"Well, Knecker is rather paranoid, sir. And I have…other precautions arranged"
Vetinari raised an eyebrow. "Such as?"
"Well, other watchmen will be around the city, and I have gargoyles positioned everywhere. They're all under orders to keep an eye out. Captain Carrot will also be surreptitiously in the background at all times, sir."
Both Vimes and Vetinari pictured Captain Carrot, who stood at over 6 foot tall, had flame red hair, and was as about surreptitious as a large rubber duck.
Vetinari coughed. "Perhaps we had better-"
"And a bit behind Captain Carrot, Sergeant Angua will follow."
Vetinari relaxed. "Ah. I see. Well done Commander. Very…astute of you."
Vimes ripped of a smart salute, something that he knew always annoyed Vetinari.
"Well, if you would have this Lance-Corporal Kenker come to the palace immediately, Commander, I can send my niece down to him and she can begin her tour of the city. I need not tell you, that it is of the utmost importance that she is guarded at all-"
Suddenly Drumknott, Vetinari's secretary, burst in the door and, panting passed a note to the patrician.
Vetinari read it, and sighed.
"How tiresome. It appears that Byrony has already left the building."
Byrony wandered through the bustling streets of Ankh-Morpork, totally unaware of the trouble she was causing. Well, she was aware of it actually, she just didn't care very much.
How was she supposed to see the city with a guard! Oh she'd see the city all right, but only the bits that had been pre-approved.
Byrony had a terrible habit of mixing up danger with fun. She wanted to be mugged! She wanted to have the chance to buy shady merchandise from a bloke in the pub! She wanted to kick a man with a crossbow and run away quickly! To the chagrin and annoyance of everyone who knew her and held themselves responsible for her wellbeing, Byrony spent her life seeking danger, and often found it.
She had robbed a bank once. She had been arrested, and escaped. She had pulled a ruby from the mouth of a dragon, and thrown a ring into a volcano in Howandaland. (She wasn't sure why she did the last one, but it was good fun all the same.)
She had been smacked across the back of the head by witches, cursed loudly by monks, and been thrown out of quite a lot of churches.
The amazing thing was, though she actively sought trouble, she never actually got into any of a permanent, life-ending nature. One could but this down to intelligence, cunning and guile, which she did have a lot of, or you could put it down to the two dark clerks that travelled with her everywhere she went. They followed her on Vetinari's orders, and though she tried to lose them, (her record was one week) they always found her in the end.
For this visit though, Uncle had promised. No dark clerks. She was fond of Clancy and William, but they frightened all the fun people away, and fun was one of the main things on her mind.
Right! Time to visit an old friend.
Byrony hitched up the hated silk skirt and began climbing the steps to the Unseen University Library. She used the public entrance, for reasons of her own, though normally trying to get in through any way that was barred to woman was high on her priority list.
Once inside, she walked quickly to the front desk. She had been here before and she knew the way. At the desk sat the Librarian.
First time visitors to the library have often commented on the Librarian, though only once. Due to a magic spell gone wrong, the Librarian of the Unseen University was in the shape of a large orang-utan. Funnily enough, he had since then resisted all attempts to return him to his original shape, and his new body made his job a lot easier. He could, for example, stamp four books at once.
Byrony grinned. "Well, hello there!"
The Librarian looked up from his files and grinned. No one can grin quite like an orang-utan.
With that he swung out over the desk, landed on the floor in front of her and threw his arms around her waist. No one can hug quite like an orang-utan either.
"Yes all right" laughed Byrony. "Okay! …Okay. That's enough. Really enough! All right, now I can't breath."
The Librarian let go, still grinning. Byrony tried to massage the feeling back into her ribs without him noticing.
"Yes, I know I look ridiculous. Thank you for the confirmation, it's very much appreciated. Are there any circuses nearby looking for new tents, do you think? I was halfway out the door in a perfectly serviceable pair of trousers before the head housekeeper caught me by the ear. She said I'd shame myself before I had even been introduced to society."
The housekeeper (or perhaps, palace keeper), an elderly lady called Mrs. Jenkins, was the bane of Byrony's life whenever she visited Ankh-Morpork. She was a woman with Views, and one of these views was that a well-bred young lady like Byrony shouldn't have an opinion of her own. Mrs. Jenkins believed that Byrony's natural beauty (Byrony didn't think she had any) was covered up by all the trousers and weapon's she insisted on wearing. (Byrony knew she had lots of these.)
"No I'm not sure who society is either, but he must be important."
"Maybe I'll get to stay for a month this time, if I'm lucky."
"Or if I don't blow anything up" she added.
Suddenly, an out of breath young man in a watch uniform burst through the Library doors and came running up to the desk. He had wiry, curly black hair, which sprouted out from under his helmet. The helmet in question seemed to rest on his ears and his armour seemed to be slightly too big for him.
He collapsed against the desk.
"Miss…Miss…Byrony" he panted. "Found…you…."
The Librarian and Byrony watched him struggle for breath with a mild interest. Occasionally the Librarian patted him on the back and gave an encouraging sort of "Ook".
Eventually, he stood up straight and saluted.
"Miss Byrony. My name is Lance-Constable Kneckner and I am honoured to be entrusted with the duty of seeing you safely through this fair ci-"
Suddenly he saw the Librarian.
"Cor, is that a monkey?"
He was a first time visitor.
Possibly, he wouldn't be coming again.
Rincewind was one single shelf away when he heard the screams. He froze, and began the debate in his head.
To or away? To or away?
Normally he would have absolutely no qualms about taking to his heels and running away from the source of the screams as fast as possible, but as this was a magical Library, where books about wildlife could be rabid, there was the slightest chance that the screams had nothing to do with him.
Hesitantly, every brain cell gearing up to flee at a moment's notice, he peered around the shelf.
The Librarian was dangling a young watchman by an ankle, much to the chagrin of a young woman standing beside him.
"Put him down this instant!"
The watchman's screams ceased, possibly because the Librarian dropped him on his head.
Rincewind relaxed. It was just a case of a new visitor saying the M word.
"I don't believe you!" The young woman brandished a finger at the Librarian.
"What am I supposed to say to Uncle? 'Sorry Uncle Havelock, here's your watchman back, oh, by the by, he might be a bit brain damaged?' Oh yes, I can see that going down very well, can't you?"
The Librarian had the decency to look a little embarrassed.
"What happened to first time offenders getting off lightly, hmm? Having a bad day are we?"
"I don't care what happened to all the books under the letter P! You just broke my watchman!"
Rincewind felt it was safe to venture a comment.
The young woman rounded on him, skirts swishing.
"You there, do you know where there's an Igor around?"
Rincewind, who had been having a good day up to this point, now felt like a small creature under a microscope. She stood there, hands on hips, and had an air about her that emanated impatience.
Her hair, which was curly and a dark chestnut colour, was tied into a bun at the back of her head, but rebellious tendrils had already worked free and were curling down around her face. She was wearing a very expensive looking red silk dress that somehow, despite the embroidered roses, managed to look tasteful, but she moved impatiently in it, swishing it aside, like someone who wasn't used to wearing dresses.
Rincewind's experience with women was…limited, to say the least. Quite a lot of his life that had been spent running away from certain death and uncertain deaths (which are a lot worse). The bits left over had been spent within the walls of the Unseen University, where woman, it being a college for wizards, were not really encouraged as a hobby. It was common knowledge that wizards were not allowed to marry, or to, as the colloquialism goes (often accompanied by a chorus of sniggers)…"you know…thing…"
On any occasion that Rincewind had spent some time with a young woman, it was so that she could kill him, or perhaps have someone else do it for her.
This young woman in particular however, was waiting patiently for an answer, though the tapping of her foot indicated that this patience was running in short supply.
"Er…the Watch-house has an Igor, actually"
She rubbed her hands gleefully.
"Perfect! We can return the damaged goods while we're at it!"
An unconscious watchman was thrust into Rincewind's arms.
"Wait…what do you mean we?"
Commander Vimes puffed on his cigar and moodily looked over the paperwork that covered his desk. He had recently embraced a clear desk system, but moved onto a messy floor situation. Now, unfortunately, he had a floor that no watchman would walk through without protective boots against paper cuts, and the paperwork had crept slowly back on the damn table. Again.
He stubbed out the cigar and picked up the chitty for the pay. Ye Gods, how many watchmen were they employing now? Of course Nobby always put himself down four or five times, but still…
There were those magical flares too. The wizards didn't want to admit it, but they were stumped. Magic had been increasing in spots all over the city, causing anything remotely magical to go haywire. Demons had bee materialising all over the place, for no reason, something which only happened in extremely high concentrated areas of magic, or so he'd been told at the meeting with the bunch of pointy hat wearing, staff wielding….
Normally Vimes had no problems with wizards, who might break the laws of time and space, but didn't get involved in crime, per se. He just really didn't like magic, and these flares were causing havoc in the city. The wizards had hinted that if the got worse, they could be looking at some dangerous situations.
And now he had to give up some of his best men to look after some simpering little noble girl as she toured the city?
Vimes stood up and rubbed a weary hand over his eyes.
There was a tentative knock on the door. Vimes waited a moment, and then realised the person outside was not going to come in.
"Come on then, I don't have all day!"
A dwarf officer peered around the door.
"A…Lord Vetinari's niece is downstairs sir…she's…um…she's brought Lace-Corporal Kenker back."
"What? Brought him back? What does she think this is, a shop?"
Vimes rolled his eyes
"Don't tell me, he doesn't match the colour of her frock, and she wants a new watchman, am I right?"
"Well…close sir. Very close."
Rincewind wasn't quite sure how it happened. One minute he was strolling peacefully along the aisles of the Library, the next he was carrying a watchman suffering from concussion through the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Funnily enough, Captain Carrot and Lance-Constable Angua appeared quite quickly and took over. This was perfectly all right by Rincewind, who wasn't built for heavy lifting.
As they manoeuvred the watchman through the streets, small children had come along and attempted to draw on him. The young lady's commands didn't help much either.
("Left. Left I said! No my left! Look out! A cart!")
Now he was sitting by her side as they waited for someone to confirm that they hadn't killed the watchman.
Rincewind risked a glance. She was watching the hustle and bustle of the Watch House with every sign of enjoyment.
"You know, it's funny," she said suddenly "normally when I see a watchman I get an urge to run, and here I am surrounded by them."
Rincewind stared. "Really? I get an urge to run too. Actually I get that urge every time someone with a weapon looks my direction. The fact that it may be a watchman is usually a coincidence. Which is terrible really, because they take the view that if you run away from a watchman you must have done something wrong."
She nodded emphatically
"And then it turns out when they catch you that the ruby that the nice man you'd been travelling with had slipped into your bag was what they all wanted in the first place"
"Right! And you try to explain that it's not yours but the buggers- oh, sorry miss, the blighters don't believe you!"
"So they bang you in a prison-"
"With no running water."
"Right, right, no running water and then-"
"And there's never any decent toilets."
"Yes, right, and then you find some mysterious way to get out and you think everything's fine but then-"
"Then at the last minute someone spots you and they shout 'stop them'! Or something so-"
"Right! So everyone joins the bloody chase!"
"And there's always some little bugger of a kid who tell them which way you ran."
"Always. Or some dog who barks, or a giant festival in your way."
"And the crowd behind you is after you, the crowd in front of you is getting completely pissed off."
"So naturally you dodge down an alley."
"Which is always a dead end."
"Always a bloody dead end!"
"And you climb over it, pulling some muscles in the process, and you dodge left-"
"Then left again, and then you turn a corner and then-"
"And then by some humorous coincidence it turns out you've just run out into the path of the giant mob that wants to kill you."
"Your feet hurt."
"Your head aches."
"You haven't eaten for at least three days."
"You don't know what you did or why they're chasing you anymore."
"So you just run!"
They stared at each other. They had said the last sentence in complete unison.
A pregnant silence ensued which gave birth to lots of little silences, each more horribly, hotly embarrassing then its parent.
Thankfully, Vimes chose this moment to cough.
"Sorry if I'm interrupting anything here."
Rincewind jumped to his feet. "No! Nothing! Nothing whatsoever being interrupted!"
Vimes gave him a funny look and turned to talk to Byrony, who seemed to be the saner of the duo. Marginally.
"Well, Lady Wi-"
She held up a hand, a pained expression on her face
"'Byrony' will do just fine Commander."
"Well, whatever you call yourself, you've lost a watchman."
Rincewind gulped. "What, he's not…dead?"
"Oh no thur!" Rincewind jumped as the voice came from behind him issued forth.
Vimes gestured wearily to a scarred…well…man might be too strong a word.
"Igor!" exclaimed Byrony delightedly "Well, now we know he's in good hands."
"Er…yes?" said Rincewind as he eyed those hands nervously. They had stitches all over them and a couple of fingers were a different skin tone.
Igor bowed. "Tho kind of you to thay tho mithtreth. But I'm afraid the young watchman will have to retht for quite thum time before he ith ready to accompany you around the thity again. Well, if you don't mind, I'll be off. Thcalps don't thtitch themthelveth up you know!"
With that, he lurched away at an alarming speed.
There was the slight pause that often followed an Igor's sentence, while the listeners untangled their brains.
"Well!" Vimes rubbed his hands together. "It looks like you need a new watchman. Might I suggest a troll? They don't break as easily."
"No thank you, Commander."
"Well, a dwarf then? I'm not giving you a human, you might break their leg this time, and I need men who can walk."
"I won't be needing a chaperone, thank you."
"Oh you wont, will you?"
For the first time, Vimes examined Byrony. He had expected one of two things. Either a pink, frilly, spoilt little princess, or a pale, black clad stern young woman. Byrony was neither. She was also smiling in a very disconcerting manner.
"Well, I'm sure you think you can take care of yourself in this city, but let me tell you, that Ankh-Morpork is-"
Suddenly Vimes broke off. Byrony had swished her skirt impatiently, and he had caught a glimpse of her footwear. Thanks to Sybil, Vimes was reluctantly up to date on the latest fashion, which included ruffles for young men and crippling heels for young ladies. Byrony's feet, however, were clad in a pair of thick, leather boots, the type Vimes had seen in many a bar room brawl, usually coming toward his face. Perfect for kicking, and then for legging it sharply when caught.
"I insist you have a guide, at least" he finished weakly.
Byrony grinned. This was, if possible, even more disconcerting then the smile.
"How fortunate! It would appear that I've already found one."
Rincewind realised he should have started running.
Mrs. Basling ran a respectable guest house, which was usually filled with confused tourists who couldn't understand where all their money had gone. She had seen people of all shapes and sizes and considered herself to be fairly open minded, but even she had to admit that her latest lodger was…odd. Well, that description could apply to a fair few of her lodgers, but this one definitely gave her the shivers. The thing was, when she went to explain to her friends exactly what gave her the shivers, she had to break it down. It wasn't the big leather cloak, though that was quite bad enough, and it wasn't the top hat, set at a rakish angle on his head. It wasn't the scar, which ran from the corner of his eye like a tear, forever falling, and it probably wasn't the weird green glass monocle he wore all the time. He spent all day in his room and only left at night, but that was all right. Some of the young men who visited the city often did that, though she couldn't think why. It wasn't even the muttering. Muttering she could handle. Mrs. Basling had dealt with champion mutterers in her time, and he barely made it into the top ten. No, what gave her the shivers was that whenever he looked at her, he seemed to look straight through her, as if she was merely smoke in the air, unimportant and vaguely irksome.
Now, Mrs. Basling was standing outside his door, listening anxiously to the muted voice inside. He was alone in there, she was quite sure of that.
She tapped on the door tentatively.
"Mr. Flanker?" she quavered. "Everything all right?"
At the sound of her voice, the voice had come to an abrupt halt. Now, there was a scraping noise, and footsteps. The door opened.
Flanker stood there, his tall thin frame filling the doorway, blocking Mrs. Basling's view of the room.
"Mrs. Basling!" His smile seemed to almost stretch pass the boundaries if his face. "What a pleasant surprise. May I be of assistance in any way?". Mrs. Basling hesitated. He seemed charming enough, but when he spoke, he sounded like a bad actor reading off a poorly written script. Flanker slapped himself on the forehead.
"Don't tell me, I need to pay rent?"
Mrs. Basling shook her head.
"No Mr. Flanker, I really don't-"
Suddenly, a small, clinking sack was dropped into her hand. Flanker winked. "Well, here's a couple of days in advance. Your rooms are so satisfactory, I feel obliged to reward you for your hard work."
Mrs. Basling's cheeks flushed. "Oh, well, I take pride in my housekeeping and-"
"Of course you do! Of course! But now, if you don't mind, I am quite busy so…"
He ushered her out of the doorway and onto the landing. Reassured, she turned and toddled down the stairs gazing with adoration at the bag of coins clasped in her hand.
Fletcher retreated into his room, and shut the door.
As soon as it clicked shut, his smile went out like a candle extinguishing. The room was dimly lit, as he had the curtains drawn, and in the gloom his face took on an altogether more unpleasant look. He walked over to his bed and pulled a long bladed knife out from under it. Slowly and methodically, he continued to clean the blood off it.
Outside the Watchhouse, Rincewind was losing an argument.
Well, he was going to go down fighting in any case.
"Oh come on! You'll just guide me around the city! Where's the harm in that?"
Rincewind recalled the last time he had 'just' guided someone around the city.
Byrony glared. There was a lot of effort put into it and probably a lot of practice. Rincewind could feel it boring into his head and sending icy shards of disapproval into his brain.
He eyed her nervously. Kindred spirits or not, he'd be well shot of her the moment she left. At first he had entertained all sorts of scenarios in his head. They could exchange running tips. They could have conversations about the people who had tried to kill them. Rincewind felt he needed a friend. The fact that Byrony was female completely escaped his notice. It was just a completely insignificant fact to him. But she made him…uneasy. He just couldn't place it. On top of that, she seemed to attract trouble like alcohol attracted drunks, and that was the last thing he needed. Suddenly, she changed her tactics. Byrony blinked her big, green eyes.
"So you'll just leave me alone, in this big city, surrounded by thieves, and assassins and…um…" she looked around quickly. "…Dragons?"
"That's the Sunshine Sanctuary for sick dragons. If you want to adopt one, feel free."
"Rincewind! Come on!"
"When did you learn my name? I am not comfortable with bossy young women who know my name!"
"I am not bossy! You just move too slow!"
Rincewind looked at Byrony again. She had give up the damsel in distress tactic and was now looking at him with a mixture of annoyance and…hope?
"That'll do! Come on!"
She reached out and grabbed his hand, and that was when he felt it.
There was a jolt.
It was not pleasant.
At that moment, as soon as her skin touched his, Rincewind knew that he would guide her around the city. He knew he would take her anywhere she wanted to go, to see anything she wanted to see. He would do anything she wanted him to do, even if he didn't want to do in the slightest. He knew, that if she asked him to, even if she didn't even ask very nicely, he would carry her barefoot across hot coals.
Rincewind had been in danger before. He had faced Dragons, demons, and nameless things from other dimensions. He had nearly died countless times, and had so many scars he had lost count. All of this had left him with a sixth sense for danger (or at least any danger to his immediate person) and at the first twinge of this, he would be up and running so fast, that he would be a blur on the horizon before anyone could shout, "Stop him!" Now, it was twinging like mad.
But for the first time in his entire life, Rincewind wasn't running away. In fact, he had had found a danger he was willing to run to...
It was a feeling he had hitherto only associated with potatoes.
Back in the Watchhouse, Vimes was worried.
He had just left the Patricians niece in the charge of an incompetent wizard. What worried him more was that he wasn't sure who was in danger, him or her. She was definitely one of those women who could be described as being 'feisty', not that Vimes ever would. Somehow, he felt she was going to be a lot more trouble then she was worth. On top of all this, there was unexplained magical outbursts plaguing the city. They had started small, like a couple of apples turning into fish, but had now increased. Last week, for example, a cart had become a flock of doves. Demons were evaporating or materialising all over the city and the magical quarters near the Unseen University would have to be evacuated any day now. The wizards seemed to have no idea what was going on, so the public turned to the next available scapegoat. The City Watch.
Vimes glared at the paperwork before him as if it had done him a personal injury, when there was another tap on the door. Lance-Constable Cheery poked her head around.
"Sir? I think you may want to see this."
"And here we have the, um, the shelves of lost books, misplaced books, books people thought they had but then realised they didn't."
Rincewind took a shaky breath as Byrony leaned in to inspect the dusty titles.
"Um. I'm sorry, but could you…not stand so close, please?"
Byrony stood up hurriedly.
"Oh I'm sorry. Am I too close to the books?"
"Ahhh…no. Could you not stand so close to…to m-me, p-please?"
Rincewind was aware that he had turned a horrible, bright red.
Byrony's eyes narrowed
What Rincewind didn't say was:
Because you smell like lilacs. Because your eyes flash when your angry. Because your skirt rustles when you move. Because I can see the play of light on your hair. Because you really are very, very pretty and I'm a wizard and there are rules about that sort of thing.
Rincewind was in uncharted territory. Thoughts, which had never previously entered his brain, had kicked the door and moved their furniture in.
Suddenly he became aware that he hadn't said anything in quite a while, and Byrony was looking over her shoulder, nervously marking the position of the exit. "No reason! " said Rincewind hurriedly "Just…an old library superstition!"
Byrony stepped to the left.
"Better?" she asked suspiciously.
"Er, yes. Thanks."
But she had already lost interest and was wandering away. "Not a problem!" she called back over her shoulder.
Rincewind gave a small shiver and followed her.
They wandered along the twisty path between the shelves of the Library. Byrony was looking around her interestedly, but Rincewind was keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the path ahead of them. Every time the air stirred, he caught a whiff of lilacs, and the path blurred.
Suddenly, the lights went out.
"I'm going to assume that this is normal." said Byrony calmly.
"Er…" Rincewind felt the air blow against him and heard the swish of her dress as she turned sharply around.
"You mean it's not?!"
Rincewind thought frantically. What day was it? What day was it!?
His question was answered as he heard a distant flapping noise grew ever closer.
"The books…" he began slowly and had to stop as Byrony pressed up against him. "What about the books?!" she hissed.
But Rincewind, who could now feel the pressure of every embroidered rose on Byrony's dress, had suddenly lost all powers of speech.
The flapping noises were getting closer. Once a month, due to pent up energy and magic, the books flapped their covers and rose up into the air in a huge tornado formation. Then they flew in a hard-backed river along the aisles of the Library, pulverising anything that go in their way. According to the meticulous calendar the Librarian kept, they weren't due to do so for another week, but it seemed they were early. The books were swarming, and Rincewind and Byrony were directly in their path. The flapping noises were very close now. Oh well, thought Rincewind, it's not like you'll get another chance to do this. He gathered Byrony up into his arms and, as every brain cell in his head shrieked for joy, threw himself on top of her.
"Gosh, I'm sorry" he lied.
Then the books a came around the corner, and any thoughts he had were driven out in a sea of hard-backed pain.
It was a nice day, really. It was slightly cold, true, but the air was clear and the sun was shining. It was not the type of day for this sort of thing to happen. Vimes stood over the body of the recently deceased Maggie Pewter. She was a seamstress, no arguing there. Her clothes and the fact that they were down a secluded alley testified the fact. He rubbed his eyes wearily as watchmen rushed around doing things like putting up ropes and drawing chalk outlines (On mud. Watchmen aren't recruited for their intelligence. ). Cheery stood beside him, taking notes.
"All right." Said Vimes. "Tell me about it."
"Her throat was slit sir. We have no motive as of present."
"Now tell me the bit you're not telling me."
Cheery hesitated. "There are no tracks leading away from the scene sir. It's like the murderer just…vanished."
The ground they were standing on had been muddy earlier this morning, but had dried in the sun. Now Vimes noticed that there was a line of rope sectioning off a set of footprints that did indeed vanish into thin air. This, he felt, was not good.
At the Palace, Vetinari put down the pen he was holding. The informer stood in front of him, shuffling nervously. He was a beggar, and gained quite a bit of extra income acting as a pair of eyes on the street for his lordship. He had been told to watch out in particular for a certain young woman, and had come to tell the Patrician what he had seen. And who he had seen her with.
Vetinari tapped his chin with one long finger.
"You said his name was…Rincewind?"
"Yes, m'lord." said the Really Infested Steve. He resisted the urge to scratch.
Vetinari seemed to ponder this a moment, and then smiled.
"How…interesting. Don't let me detain you." He resumed his paperwork.
Steve fled out the door and was back on the street as quickly as possible. Sometimes, his life was downright unpleasant, and he wished he was other people. Preferably people who worked inside and didn't have to do much heavy lifting. But now, he thought, as he scratched furiously, he wouldn't have been the wizard Rincewind for all the money in Ankh-Morpork.
Rincewind didn't particularly want to be him either.
When he came around, it was to the sight of a large leathery worried face, inches from his. "Ook?" Rincewind groaned. His back felt like an army of trolls had been dancing a war dance on his back. He tried to sit up, but collapsed again when his body sent a message to the brain that this would not be a good idea.
"You're awake!" The view of the Librarian's face was removed and replaced by the far more pleasing image of Byrony's. "Don't move. It will cause you excruciating pain. "
"To late." moaned Rincewind.
"Oh. Well don't move again."
"You know, I think I can manage that."
"Actually, do get up. You might as well get the worst of it over with. And I want to see the rest of the University."
"The rest of the…uh" Rincewind really didn't want to point out that women were discouraged inside the U.U. He felt that this woman wouldn't give a damn. He allowed himself to be dragged to his feet, wincing all the while.
The Librarian was busy herding the books back into their proper shelves and didn't have time to give them anything more then a cursory nod, so they left the Library and began to roam the university itself. At least, they would have, if they had not collided with a large group of wizards outside the Library doors.
"Look at that!" said the Dean. "They're alive! You see! I told you there was no need to go in and look for them."
"Yes you did," said the Lecturer in Recent Runes pointedly. "But you said there was no need to look for them because they were probably already dead."
"Oh I'm quite all right!" said Byrony cheerily. The wizards noticeably straightened when they realised there was a lady present.
"Oh well, if we had known you were in there madam, we would have rushed, rushed I say, to your assistance."
"Well as it transpired, I was in no danger. Rincewind protected me."
As one man, the faculty turned to look at Rincewind, who tried to sidle out of their sight as much as possible while staying exactly where he was.
"Really?" said the Chair in Indefinite studies in a disbelieving tone.
"Yes, and I'm sure he saved my life." said Byrony. "Now, where is Mustrum Ridcully?"
"Not around if we're lucky." shuddered the Dean. "We'll tell him all about this when he gets back, of course, but right now, I'm glad he's not here."
Rincewind raised a hand. "Er…I beg your pardon, but what is all this, exactly? The books weren't due to swarm for another month."
"It's another one of these blasted magical flares!" said the Chair irritably. "They're getting worse. They caused the build up in magic. Ponder has a theory, don't you lad?"
Ponder Stibbons, a bespectacled wizard and the youngest member on the faculty, was pushed forward. "Er…Well, I have come to the conclusion that these flares have to be stopped before they build to a critical mass. All objects around Ank-Morpork will become magical, while those of a magical purpose will be rendered almost useless, having been overloaded with magic. If this keeps up, the flares will spread around the Disc, eventually reaching Cori Celeste. When this happens, there will be an overload of approximately three million thaums of magic. This will cause magical plane over the Disc to collapse. Seas will dry, mountains will fall and something akin to one thousand years of darkness will reign."
There was a silence.
"And that is not good at all." she said calmly.
And so it began. For the next three weeks Rincewind was Byrony's guide around the wonderful city of Ankh-Morpork. It was a common sight to see them walking down the narrow streets, Rincewind trudging along, with Byrony dancing along beside him. Rincewind couldn't believe his luck, and sometimes, not in a good way. One thing, which he hadn't noticed about Byrony, was her intense intelligence, and her ability to narrow the beam of that intelligence down, and focus it directly on one person, frying them in the process. Each time Byrony was patronised by a guide, or curator or professor, she instantly released question after horrible, relentless question. Each question was specifically designed to bamboozle, and after the culprit was reduced to a spluttering, red heap, she would quickly answer the question herself and move onto another. The thing was, you couldn't get angry with her. Each question was asked in a politely enquiring tone of voice, and she was always completely charming. She was evil, but nicely so. However, it was not doing Rincewind's nerves any favours. He had developed an automatic response. As soon as he heard an elderly gentleman say something along the lines of "An interesting theory my dear, but-", he started flinching uncontrollably. Despite this, he was still perfectly happy to continue his services as a guide; sometimes even resorting to inventing new sights to keep his charge happy, as she chattered happily beside him.
Rincewind admitted to himself, in the deep dark depths of his battered soul, that he was besotted. Byrony, on the other hand, was having a fantastic time. She had come to be very fond of Rincewind, with his sarcastic comments and cynical outlook. He never tried to stop her having fun either. The closest he came was when he paused before the museum doors and said, wearily, "Just try not to make this one cry, all right?" at which point she would say "I don't try make them cry, it just happens." Then they would have an extensive argument lasting three street lengths on her ability to reduce grown men to tears. The point was, Rincewind could now stand to be around her without having to swallow uncontrollably, and could even argue with her. Which is what he was about to do.
Every morning, Rincewind met Byrony outside the Library, to embark on a new tour. After three weeks of this, Rincewind was worried that he was running out of new places. He had exhausted all major landmarks in Ankh-Morpork, and had, at one point, been forced to concoct an elaborate section of history that never happened just so he had an excuse to take her out for another day. He moodily kicked a stone as he waited for her. Why was he always waiting for her? Meeting Byrony was, to Rincewind's mind, a bad thing. It might seem good, it might look good, it might (he shivered) feel good, but anything that out his personal safety at risk was most defiantly not good. And she was one of those things.
At that thought, the thing in question announced her arrival by punching him on the arm. Rincewind politely asked her what she would like to do. Actually he said:
"Well, what fresh hell have you planned for today?"
Byrony laughed. "Stop being sulky. It's a lovely day, so we're going to enjoy it, even if you're not happy to see me."
"I didn't say that. I'm just pointing out that if I see one more curator have a nervous breakdown, I'm going to join him."
"Yes, well, at least stop sulking."
"I am not sulking!"
"I am not, I am not sulking! This is how my face normally looks!"
And so on. Eventually the argument turned to what they were going to do for the day. Rincewind was defending the case of the palace gardens heroically, mainly because he couldn't think of anywhere else to go. Byrony however, wanted to see more of the city. Rincewind couldn't understand why.
"Well, at least pick somewhere. We can't just wander around looking for interesting bits."
"Oh they're all interesting," said Byrony airily, "But there's one bit in particular I wanted to see."
Rincewind followed her gaze to a sign reading Sweetheart Lane.
"Oh, of course I'll take you down the Shades!"
"Why not? Come on. Three good reasons."
Rincewind laughed. It was not a happy laugh.
"First of all, you're an attractive young woman, and the men down there are not gentlemen. Secondly, you're wearing a very expensive looking dress yes I know you hate wearing it that's not the point that immediately marks us as people worth robbing. Finally, and this is very important, I would like to point out that I like all the parts of my body attached."
Rincewind looked at Byrony to see if she grasped the gravity of the situation.
"Really? You think I'm attractive?"
"Nice try." said Rincewind witheringly. He knew Byrony well by now, and her usual tactic was to take advantage of men's idea that women couldn't think about anything more serious then dresses and shoes. Then she would punch/insult/run away/steal from them.
"Fine." She shrugged casually. "It was worth a try. I could go on my own you know."
Rincewind went pale at the thought of Byrony in the Shades by herself. He had no doubt that she could take care of herself, and he knew she could run almost as fast as he could (they had a race one morning and she was disgusted when he won.) but could she defend herself alone in the Shades? The thought made him feel slightly ill.
"You could, but I'm asking you not to"
Byrony looked at him. He was looking warily at her. "Fine." she said. "I won't go alone." Then she grabbed his hand and with a grin, proclaimed that he would have to come with her.
At the actual touch of her actual skin, Rincewind went into a mild form of shock, which allowed Byrony to drag him a good three metres down the alley. As soon as he regained his senses, however, he began pulling in the opposite direction. "We can't be down here! People get mugged every five metres!"
"We've only gone three."
"Muggers can't count!"
Realising that she wasn't going to be moved, Rincewind gave up on pulling and settled for frantically scanning the shadows. Byrony was looking around interestedly. "Calm down. I'm sure nothings going to-"
Just then, she heard a small sound, one she had heard many times before, and recognised instantly. Someone unsheathed a knife. Much to her surprise, Rincewind seemed to recognise it too. He had told her a lot about his life, and sometimes she caught herself looking at him marvelling how he was still alive.
Meanwhile, Rincewind panicked. Okay, he thought frantically, we could run, but she's wearing that stupid dress so she'll be slowed down quite a bit. If I throw myself on her I could shield her from quite a few stabs but that's not really a realistic solution if I want to continue my career in the land of the upright and living. Also, my corpse could be rolled aside. Suddenly Rincewind realised with a shock that he hadn't run away. If he had been by himself, he would be a dot on the horizon by now. He wouldn't even have thought about it, the mere sound of the unsheathing knife would have sent him running. What was it about this woman?
Sidney Ratchett stepped out of the shadows. Rincewind knew him. He was an unlicensed thief, which meant that they probably weren't getting out of this alive. Unlicensed thieves don't like you telling tales.
"Well," he sneered "What have we here? A lady and a gutter wizard." He spat at Rincewind's feet. "I hate wizards." he growled.
Of course he does, thought Rincewind.
"I beg your pardon," said Byrony suddenly, "but are you planning on using that knife for a particular purpose?"
Ratchett looked at the knife in his hand, thrown by the question. He quickly regained his composure. "Yer, I am all right." he asserted with an evil grin. "So muggers can't count, eh? Tell you what, lets chop off the wizards fingers one at a time, and see how many I can count up to."
Rincewind whimpered and moved in front of Byrony. It was quite a touching gesture, but virtually useless. On one hand, Rincewind was very skinny, and wouldn't really be much of a shield. On the other hand, Byrony had no intention of being shielded.
"Right, that's quite enough of that, I think."
There was a rustling of skirts behind Rincewind, and after a moment Byrony stepped out from behind him. In her hand was a silver, evil looking thing.
"Now," she said pleasantly "where were we? Oh yes, you were threatening us."
Ratchett's world had suddenly become complicated. Byrony held a Burleigh and Strongintharm collapsible crossbow. And she was aiming it right at him.
"Don't get me wrong, it was all very amusing at first, but now you're trying my patience." She tilted her head to one side. "Tell you what. I'll count to three, and then I'll shoot. I think that will sort out the issue of your numerical abilities for once and for all, don't you?"
She won't, thought Rincewind, surely she won't.
Rincewind watched, mesmerised as she lifted the crossbow, aiming it for the swiftly retreating figure. She's bluffing. She has to be bluffing.
Byrony sighted down the length of the crossbow, her eyes focused. Even if she did, he's well gone, and down a dark alley at that. Admittedly it's a straight dark alley but you'd have to be a pretty impressive shot to-
There was a twang as the arrow left the crossbow. Then there was a small thwap and a yelp as it hit it's mark.
"Shoulder shot." said Byrony, her face relaxing into a smile. "But not bad all the same. He was just about to turn a corner."
She saw Rincewind's face. "What?" she said defensively. "Don't you like having ten fingers?"
Just outside the alley, standing unseen in the shadows, Sergeant Angua sat with her mouth open…well, jaws open, at least. She turned and quickly trotted back to the Watch House. The Commander would definitely want to hear about this.
Rincewind, when he regained use of his vocal chords, asked Byrony to lunch. It wasn't quite the reaction she had expected, but she accepted. Food was food and she was always ready to eat. They had gone directly to a small café type place, which had situated itself across from the Mended Drum, ready to catch hungry drunks looking to soak up the alcohol. As a result, it was the type of place that did pub food without actually having the added benefit of being a pub. Rincewind had pointed out the Mended Drum as his regular watering hole, and wasn't even surprised when Byrony had asked to come along some night.
They settled down with their respective meals and began to eat. Byrony was, at this stage, famished, and she tucked into her meal with gusto. After a few minutes, she became aware of a complete lack of movement from the other side of the table. Slowly, still chewing a morsel of unidentified meat, she looked up. Rincewind was staring at her with the gaze of a physicist observing a glowing particle of uranium, with a mixture of awe and fascination. If this was how she ate, with such life, such energy, how else did she approach things? How did she dance, run or…dance?
He suddenly noticed that the object of his thoughts was looking at him like he had lost leave of his senses, which, he reminded himself, he probably had. He reined his thoughts back from that twisty dark road they had been about to follow, and attempted to reacquaint himself with reality.
"Er…you have a piece of green stuff on your chin…"
Not the most romantic of statements, but it seemed to do the trick. Byrony relaxed and wiped her chin with a napkin. "Well, lets hope for both our sakes that its some sort of unnamed herb to accompany the unnamed meat."
She settled back in her seat and sighed. Rincewind, sweating slightly, noticed that it did all sorts of interesting things to the front of her dress.
"Did I mention…" he began, but suddenly had to swallow convulsively.
"Did you mention what?" she poked him with her fork. "Spit it out man."
"Did I mention that you really remind me of potatoes?"
It was not often that Byrony was thrown. This was one of those times. She put her head to one side. "Really? You mean I'm brown, round and sometimes covered in dirt?"
"No! I mean, well, you have to consider the natural nobility of potatoes."
"Potatoes have nobility?" Byrony said, with a type of fascinated horror.
"Oh yes!" said Rincewind eagerly. "In fact, I think potato's are beautiful."
He stopped, suddenly horribly, horribly aware of what he had just said.
Byrony grinned. Small animals in the jungle had seen grins like that. Followed by a lot of orange and black stripes. "And I remind you of them?"
Rincewind paused. Now what? It should be pointed out that though Rincewind's knowledge of romance was limited (i.e. non-existent), he did have an idea that you weren't supposed to let them know how much you liked them, while tactfully figuring out if they liked you at all. Since Rincewind had roughly about as much tact as a small baby rhinoceros, this should be interesting.
Thankfully, Byrony decided to put him out of his misery.
"So, what do you do when you're not being an incompetent wizard?" She was smiling when she said it, so it seemed she still didn't believe that he was totally un-magical, despite the many times she had heard people say it. Normally he would defend his magic to the death, but somehow, for the first time in his life, it seemed like a good idea to play up his total lack of talent in the hocus-pocus department.
"Oh. Er, well, you know, I'm not a real wizard, so certain rules don't apply to me. You know…like…the rule about…you know, certain rules."
Byrony looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Yes I gathered. But what do you do."
"Well, I do a lot really. Most things actually. I'm a very important person. Actually the University would be totally lost without me, come to think of it. "
"Is that why its called the Unseen University?" A smile was playing on her lips as she speared a sprout.
"Exactly!" exclaimed Rincewind, warming to his theme. "You wouldn't believe the incompetence! "
"I thought you were the incompetent one?"
"Yeah, right, obviously, but, where magic is concerned… actually, no, actually the thing is, right, the thing is, I'm actually really good at magic actually, right, and I'm just not allowed do it because I'm so good, right, and if I did any magic, the sheer force of my powers would rip a hole in the…thing, the space time continuinuim and all these things with tentacles would come in, so I'm not allowed to be a proper wizard."
Rincewind sank back in his seat, feeling very pleased with himself.
"It says 'Wizzard' on your hat" Byrony pointed out.
"I only point this out because it does look slightly home made."
"That…that's just for show. You know, the wizards want me on their side, obviously."
"Obviously." She agreed solemnly, and resumed eating.
Rincewind sat looking at her and tried to shake the feeling that someone was being made fun of here, and it wasn't her.
"I'm er…Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, you know."
"Is that so?"
"It's a very important position."
"I'm sure it is."
Byrony continued eating. One word used to describe her life was 'erratic'. She travelled so much, that often she woke up without an inkling of where she was. Or why these men were pointing crossbows at her. Erratic could also be used to describe opportunities for eating, so when she settled down to a meal, she ate every bit of it. Even though meals at the palace were a sight more regular, old habits died hard. Rincewind, she noticed, wasn't eating. He seemed to be searching his brain for conversation.
"Er…and you?" he attempted eventually. " What do you do when you're at home? I mean, I know you travel a lot, obviously. I meant while you're in Ankh-Morpork. Actually, where do you live, exactly?" Rincewind grinned a sickly grin and, oh the horror, gave a snorting nervous laugh." I feel guilty dropping you off in front of the palace every day instead of dropping you home."
Oh, why, why couldn't he be slick, suave, or some other impressive word beginning with ess?
Byrony looked up once again, a puzzled expression on her face.
"But that is my home. At least, it's where I'm staying while I'm here."
"Oh. I thought you said you were staying with your uncle. Does he work in the palace? "
"Well, yes. He's the patrician. I thought I had mentioned that."
In the following silence, the background sounds of cafe seemed to take on a presence of their own at the table.
"Patrician." Rincewind said tonelessly.
"Yes, didn't I say? I'm sure I said."
"You didn't say." said Rincewind, tones entering his voice now, and none of them happy.
"Goodness didn't I? I'd forget my own head if it weren't held on with skins and muscles and things. Are you eating that?"
Rincewind's voice grew louder and higher pitched. "Yes, I think I would have definitely have remembered if you had mentioned the small insignificant detail that you're uncle was the tyrant of the city!"
Byrony laid down her fork. "Now come on, that's a bit-"
"Patrician! Oh ye Gods!" Rincewind buried his head in his hands.
"I think you might be over-reacting slightly, don't you?"
"Oh really? Do you really think that?!
"Because I don't think I'm over reacting actually!"
"Rincewind sit down-"
"Actually, given the circumstances, I think I happen to be under-reacting, as a matter of fact!"
Actually, if I were to react appropriately to the circumstances, I wouldn't need to sit down! Because I'd be on a horse!"
"Put the knife down!"
"A fast horse! A fast horse who would be running as fast as possible in any direction away from the city! And I cant even ride!"
"Rincewind, everyone is staring!"
"That's because they've probably never seen a dead man walking before!"
"The knife Rincewind! The knife!"
At this point Rincewind was standing up, gesturing wildly with a butter knife, which he had happened to have in his hand at the time. He was staring wildly at nothing, and the whole bar was staring at him. Drunken rants were fine, practically part of the scenery, but this guy was just weird.
Byrony was standing beside him, trying to persuade him to sit down. She thought Rincewind was panicking, but the truth was that Rincewind had bypassed panic, sped through hysteria and now was viewing life via bright shiny terror.
"Patrician! Patrician! PATRICIA-"
Suddenly, he was cut off by Byrony swinging an arm around and fetching him a ringing slap on the side of the face. He collapsed gratefully into his chair.
Byrony slowly and calmly sat into hers. After a couple of minutes the buzz of conversation and complaints started up in the bar again, though slightly muted then before.
Byrony resumed eating her meal. Rincewind was staring into space, about three inches above her head. He opened his mouth. He closed his mouth. He tried again.
"You really didn't say."
"I was sure I did." Byrony speared a piece of green stuff and placed it into her mouth. Thankfully, it appeared to be cabbage.
"You know, you hit me quite hard."
"Sorry. Had to be done."
"What, that hard?"
"Well, I made a snap judgement, and given the situation, and you're behaviour, I hit with the force I felt necessary."
Silence once again took a leading role in the conversation.
"I can't hear anything out of my left ear" said Rincewind reproachfully.
"Look I did say sorry! In my defence you were being completely unreasonable."
Rincewind looked at her levelly, or at least as levelly as a man drunk on sheer terror can do. She was slightly pink around her cheeks, which meant she knew, however much she pretended otherwise, she damn well knew, that her uncle was the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork.
Suddenly Byrony grinned. "You know, you're much more fun when you're angry."
Rincewind slumped back in his chair, defeated. He couldn't stay angry with her. She knew where all his buttons were and the exact amount of pressure that was to be applied to his levers.
"Doesn't anything worry you?" he questioned weakly. Byrony frowned and pushed her empty plate to one side. "Oh no! Where's the fun in that?"
"Fun…" Weakly, Rincewind pushed himself up off his chair and gazed down on Byrony, who was looking at him as one might look at an elderly relative who started calling the dog Aunt Mabel and offering it tea.
"I'm leaving now. And while life without you might be a sort of living death, I'm afraid I'm going to have to point out that the emphasis in that sentence is on the word living. Goodbye."
With that he turned, a little unsteadily, and weaved out the door onto the street.
Byrony turned back to the table and looked at the chair that had been previously occupied by Rincewind.
Rincewind on the other hand, was walking swiftly down the street, with no signs of stopping.
This always happened! He'd find himself in a situation that seemed perfectly pleasant, (Actually, this situation had seemed downright pleasurable) and then along would come some fact that would boot him up the spine.
After two more streets and some muttering even Mrs. Basling would have flinched at, Rincewind slowed down. So. He had just walked out on the woman that had plagued his thoughts for the last three weeks because her uncle was an extremely dangerous man. This all seemed perfectly sensible to Rincewind's head, but his lower gut wasn't agreeing.
Go back! It screamed. Go back and get her before she leaves!
Oh sure, thought Rincewind, miserably. And then what?
Sweep her up into your arms and say…say…say something pretty damn memorable, that's what!
What, like 'if your uncle decides to torture me, could you please remind him I don't like spiders'?And then bring her back to your room and-
Hold on! Steady up!
Rincewind was quite shocked. Where on earth are you getting these ideas?
You. You're just too afraid to think them, so they all come down here. It's quite crowded you know said Rincewind's gut reproachfully.
Just as Rincewind decided to stop conversing with his body parts and to go back to the café and back to Byrony, a carriage pulled up. It held the patrician's coat of arms, black on black. Rincewind whimpered, but before he could run, the door swung open.
"Rincewind." said a voice, which was feared across the city. "What a pleasant coincidence."
Rincewind stepped into the carriage, not because he wanted to, but because some deep survival instinct told him that it was safer then running. It would be over quicker, anyway.
It was the Patrician's carriage, and the Patrician was in it. They had quite a little chat as it trundled through the city. Mainly on how Byrony visited Ankh-Morpork rarely, and how Vetinari had no wish to see her upset.
The carriage pulled up outside the Unseen University.
"Have we come to an …understanding?" said Vetinari.
Rincewind nodded. Only the whites of his eyes could be seen.
"Good. I'll presume that you will come to the Palace tomorrow morning to pick her up. She does enjoy your little outings. I can't think why."
Rincewind, deciding that this was a dismissal, scrambled frantically for the handle of the door.
"Oh, and Rincewind?"
Rincewind turned back, terror visible in his face.
"Do make sure she comes back before four o'clock, wont you? We play Thud at that time every evening."
There was a silence in the carriage.
"Well, don't let me detain you."
Rincewind fell out of the carriage and in seconds, he was gone. Vetinari smiled.
Around the corner, a young boy comes across a slumped figure in an alley. Further investigation proves it to be a body. Proper investigation by the Watch proves it to be the body of a seamstress. Fourth one this month. Now things are getting serious.
That night, Vetinari and his niece played Thud.
"Concentrate." he chided.
A few moments passed, punctuated only by the clicking of pieces on the board. Byrony kept her eyes on the game, frowning as she played, but Vetinari kept his eyes on her, barely looking down when it was his move. Her game had improved - she had been playing Thud singe her chubby hads could wrap themselves around the pieces. Against Vetinari however, she was a mere novice.
She wasn't his biological niece, a fact which few people were privy to, but her mother had been a close friend of his. The parents had died in a freak accident, and he had taken over her affairs. He didn't trust anyone else to do it. She was…unusual.
(When he had found out her parents were dead, Rincewind had said, "Oh, I'm sorry" to which Byrony had asked "Why? Did you release the camel onto the ship? No? Then don't be.")
"I heard you argued with Rincewind today."
Byrony's hand hesitated for a second over the dwarf piece she was playing. She had long since given up wondering how her uncle heard of these things.
"We had a disagreement."
"Is that so? Well, he spoke to me shortly afterwards and said he would pick you up at the palace tomorrow morning."
Byrony looked up suspiciously. "What did you say to him?"
"Nothing in particular. I just mentioned how I hoped you were enjoying your stay here."
"Oh." She moved the piece.
Click. Vetinari moved his.
"You do enjoy his company, don't you."
"I do, yes."
"Perhaps by way of thanks, you should invite him to tomorrow night's ball?"
"Yes. After all, he has been your guide for quite some time now."
"I suppose so…"
Byrony hated balls. Hated them. Not only did they require the wearing of ridiculously impractical clothing, uncomfortable shoes and painful hairstyles, it also usually meant that she would be forced to make conversation with extremely dull people. Byrony was, it has to be pointed out, a people person. She had been brought up to be a people person – It was practically a survival necessity. She was like a social chameleon, and could fit in with whatever crowd surrounded her, and have them accept her into their cloying folds almost immediately. That didn't mean that she like them, however. In fact, many's a night when she returned from a social outing wondering if her face had finally given in and frozen in a fake rictus once and for all. Having Rincewind there…She grinned to herself. Having Rincewind there would be a riot.
"All right, I'll see if he wants to go."
"Ah. It appears that the game is over." Vetinari leaned back in his chair. "You almost won that time."
Byrony opened her mouth to say something. It was probably a good thing that Drumknott, who tapped on the door before poking his head around, interrupted her.
"His Grace Sir Samuel is here to see you, my lord."
"Capital. Send him in."
Vimes walked stiffly into the office. How he hated his titles. Thankfully Drumknott had spared him the full list. He was stopped in his tracks by a voice, which said: "You're a duke?"
Byrony was looking at him delightedly. "But this is marvellous! That means you have to go to the bloody ball as well!"
This was much better! Commander of the Watch! The famed Sir Samuel Vimes, who was rumoured to loathe balls with the fire of a thousand suns!
Vetinari tapped her on the shoulder. "May I introduce you to-"
"Oh, we've met. I was returning a broken watchman."
"Ah yes. That had slipped my mind."
Vimes fought to keep the grin from his face.
Vetinari coughed. "Well, I hate to send you away like this, but I must discuss certain private matters with the Commander."
Byrony waved a hand. "Say no more!" she said airily, and made for the door. "Oh, lovely seeing you again Commander!" she called over her shoulder as she left.
"Ah…You too?" said Vimes. Well, what else could he say?
As soon as she was gone Vetinari turned to him. "Tell me, what news."
Vimes cleared his throat. "Two more seamstresses dead. The killer is leaving no traces behind. We're working on it."
Vetinari tapped a page before him with a pen. "I hear that he's being referred to on the street as Johnny Throat-Tearer?"
Vimes cursed inwardly. He had done everything he could to suppress the nickname. In his experience it was things like that, which encouraged hysteria amongst the mob.
"So I hear. Also, we're getting…concerned over the magical flares."
Vetinari waved a dismissive hand. "I have told you, I am completely confident that the flares will repair themselves Commander. I have spoken to the ArchChancellor if the Unseen University and we both think that there is no cause to be alarmed."
That's all well and good, thought Vimes, but you try talking to the Alchemists. Twenty-seven crucibles melted! They've gone spare.
"Is that all?"
Vimes paused. He wasn't quite sure how to broach this subject.
"Sir, do you…think it might be best to keep your niece indoors? At least until we've caught the man whose killing all these women-"
Vetinari nodded. "I understand your concern, and I would adhere to your advice if I could, Commander, but my niece is particularly…strong willed, shall we say." He let out a deep sigh. "In all honesty, it's all I can do to keep her wandering the streets at night, let alone daytime."
"Yes sir, I understand." said Vimes, though he didn't really. Surely the girl would have enough sense to listen to the Patrician? And then a slight shiver of apprehension ran through him as he contemplated the idea of someone that Vetinari couldn't control.
Sybil had a lot of friends with children, and Vimes had heard plenty of stories of grown men reduced to tears at the young women they once knew as their daughters, and now only knew by a rope made of sheets hanging from the upstairs window, but really. Byrony was past that stage, surely.
Rincewind walked slowly to the Palace. This is it, he thought. This is where I give up the nice boring life I've been leading and throw my lot in with the insane niece of a tyrant who Will Not Be Amused if anything happens to her. And if anything happens to her, you can be damn sure it'll be my fault.
He reached the gates of the castle, which were open. There were two extremely bored looking guards stationed outside them. One spotted Rincewind.
"You this wizard we've been waiting for then? Miss Byrony told us you'd be coming, didn't she Bert?"
The other guard paused in his task of industriously unearthing the deepest recesses of his nose. "Yer, she did an' all."
At the mere idea that two armed guards in the employment of Lord Vetinari would be even aware of his existence, Rincewind found himself to be quite overcome.
"Yaaargh…" he gurgled.
"Yeah." said the guard who wasn't Bert satisfactorily. "She said you'd say that. C'mon. Were supposed to show you around the back."
Rincewind found himself being ushered around the back of the Palace to a small door. He stood in front of it apprehensively.
Bert poked him impatiently with his pike. "Go on! Blimey, you don't wanna keep a proper lady like Miss Byrony waiting, do yer? She's a proper lady, isn't she Willburt?"
The newly (and unusually) christened Willburt nodded sagely. "Oh yeah. Top broad she is. The other night, she beat Little Dave so badly at Cripple Mr. Onion that she coulda taken everything he had. But she didn't. Said it was all just a bit of fun. She's got class she has. She can sure hold her liqueur too." he added approvingly.
"Here!" said Bert suspiciously. "You are here to see miss Byrony, right?"
Rincewind nodded frantically, still unable to speak and scrabbled frantically at the door handle. Just as he fell through he heard Willburt say "Cos if she's upset, we'll hear about it…"
Rincewind stumbled through and slammed the door behind him. Byrony was scary enough when she was just herself, but now she had a small army behind her. Then he saw her. She was sitting at a table in the small room, which looked like a type of clerk's office. She was avidly perusing a book, but when she looked up and saw Rincewind, her face lit up, something that had never happened to him before.
"Rincewind!" she said delightedly, "You actually came back!"
Rincewind was about to point out that he hadn't really been given a chance in the matter, but didn't. "Um…yes?"
"I was afraid you wouldn't. I really didn't want to get another guide. You know me by now, so it would've been a chore getting some other idiot to understand how I work."
"Um…yes?" Rincewind coughed. This was getting him nowhere.
Come on, said his gut, do what you resolved to do.
"Actually, I meant to ask…"
"Yes?" Rincewind closed his eyes, praying to any deity that happened to be nearby.
"Would you like to sample some ethnic Ankh-Morpork eateries this evening?"
"You mean, would I like to have dinner with you?"
"Yes! No! Not unless you want to!"
"Actually I'd love to." Rincewind opened his eyes in disbelief.
"Yes. I would. But I can't. I have to go to a wretched ball that Lady Salachii is holding in my honour. It means I'm going to have to be home a bit earlier then normal as well…"
"Oh." Rincewind pulled himself together. "Well, that's fine. No problem. I actually think that I'm doing something else this evening as well so-"
"I hadn't finished talking! I was about to say that you're invited. Since you've been such a wonderful guide, uncle Havelock asked that you be invited to the ball as a token of his gratitude."
Rincewind thought about this, and had to stop very quickly. "No. Oh please no."
"I can't dance! I have no social skills! I'll knock things over!"
"It'll be fun!"
"No, I mean it this time Byrony. Under no circumstances am I – Wait, what?"
"That's fine. I'll tell uncle you can't go."
"Are you feeling all right?" Normally Byrony would never let him get away with something like this. She'd argue until he'd give in
"If you really don't want to go, then there's no point in you going. I'd hate for you to be miserable for the night."
"Oh. Well, you'd better tell Vetinari that I broke my leg, or something. Hang on, maybe I had better really break my leg, you know, just in case-"
Then, Rincewind looked at Byrony. She had a funny expression on her face.
"You want me to go, don't you!"
"No!" she protested. "Well, a little bit."
"I knew it!"
"I just think it would be fun! I mean, I don't enjoy balls either. I'm usually found in the corner rolling my eyes, and when I think someone who I would like to roll my eyes to, I think 'it would have to be someone sarcastic and cynical who could truly appreciate the pointlessness of this entire event' …and your name just comes straight to mind.'"
"Oh. So basically, you want me to come along to something that you don't even want to go to so that we can not enjoy it together."
"You'd make it fun."
There was a brief pause.
Rincewind sighed. "What time?"
"What time is it on? Where do I have to go?"
"Oh! Have you changed your mind?"
"You want me to go." said Rincewind simply.
Byrony flushed a little. "You don't have to go."
"You don't want to, so you don't have to."
"But-" Rincewind stopped as Byrony held up a warning hand.
"No! No more! That's the end of it! Come on, I want you to do something for me."
Rincewind didn't like the sound of that very much. "Like what?"
"We have to wait for Captain Carrot, so I just want to do a little…experiment while we wait."
"What kind of experiment?"
Captain Carrot and Lance-Constable Kneckner knocked on the door that Rincewind had previously fallen through. Carrot looked sideways at the Lance-Constable, who radiated with so much keenness that he was almost vibrating. When no one seemed to be coming to the door, Carrot coughed and suggested that they open it. When they did, they were met with the confusing sight of Rincewind holding a large stick with a nail in it, standing over a bowl of steaming potatoes, being urged on by Byrony.
"Look, I really don't-"
Suddenly, they became aware of Carrot and Kneckner standing there, their mouth's open.
"Er…it's not what it looks like…"
Carrot cleared his throat. "I don't think that's there's a lot of other things it could be."
"Maybe…are you cooking?" Knecker volunteered
Byrony quickly stepped forward. "Nothing to be alarmed about gentlemen! Just a little experiment! You see, I think that Rincewind has misplaced sexua-mph!"
"What did you do that for?"
"What?" said Rincewind innocently.
"You clapped your hand over her mouth!"
"You're still doing it!"
Rincewind looked at Byrony, who was looking at him impatiently, hands on hips. He gave her a warning glance. "Oh how silly of me, I hadn't noticed."
He took away his hand gingerly, waiting for her to continue. To his relief, she simply smirked.
"Well anyway," continued Carrot "I'm here to-"
"Wait a minute!" said Byrony excitedly. "Aren't you that watchman the Librarian knocked out?" She nudged Rincewind. "Isn't he?"
"That's what I'm trying to say." said Carrot patiently. "Thanks to Igor, Lance-Constable Knecker has fully recovered. He's well enough to accompany Lady Wi- I mean, to accompany Miss Byrony around Ankh-Morpork."
Carrot later told Angua that Rincewind and Byrony didn't seem as pleased as he had anticipated. Angua, who had a much better sense for human emotions then Carrot, merely smiled.
Outside the Palace, Byrony and Rincewind sat on the steps, relaxing in the sun. They had been there for over forty-five minutes.
Byrony, her eyes closed against the sun, poked Rincewind.
"What's he doing now?"
"He's setting up gargoyles around the area to watch every corner."
A couple of minutes passed.
"I think he's sending a clacks to every tower to tell them where he is."
"But he did that ten minutes ago!"
"I think he's doing it every ten minutes."
The problem with Lance-Constable Knecker was his keenness. He was taking the mission of guarding the Patricians niece very seriously, and every precaution was being taken to ensure that the perimeter was secure. Knecker really wanted to be a bodyguard, but had been told he was too short.
Byrony sighed. "Are we going to have to put up with this idiot from now on?"
"Look on the bright side." said Rincewind. "We may die horribly in a carting incident involving pelicans and barbarians."
"No, we can't leave it up to chance."
Rincewind looked at her. "Are you suggesting we deliberately cause a carting accident involving pelicans and-"
"No, I'm suggesting we escape!"
"Oh. Well, how do you suggest we escape?"
"I say we do what we do best."
They looked at each other.
So they ran. They ran at the speed of wind, which is, on the Disc at least, a lot faster then the speed of light. They ran passed blurred faces, outpaced carts and horses. For the first time Rincewind wasn't running away. He wasn't even running to, which was only marginally better because it mean there was a reason you were running. He was running with, and he had never knew how enjoyable running could be…
As soon as they had walked through the doors, Byrony and Rincewind began their mission of wandering around the Post Office, poking their noses into things, knocking things over and generally being a nuisance. Rincewind did it because it was ingrained into his very soul and Byrony did it because Vetinari had said there would be someone to meet them, and that person had failed to materialise. There were lots of things to knock over, because the Post Office was in a much larger mess then usual. It had been the subject of a rather large magical flare, and very single letter had been triplicated. The result was that the Post Office was now filled with what looked like a giant snow fall, but was actually thousands of letters, piled high. The Post Office had hired extra people to sort through the letters, so the place was a hive of activity. The Post Office had naturally complained to the wizards, who had coughed and shuffled their feet. Ponder Stibbons, Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic and the other wizards in the High Energy Magic Building, then took it upon themselves to solve the problem. They built a large sorting machine, which could sense extra thaums of magic on envelopes, thus able to destroy the duplicates. The large machine sat it the middle of the Post Office, having letters poured into it, and spewing out letters from a sort of nozzle at the front.
Suddenly a rather flustered looking young man rushed down the steps, coming to a halt at Byrony and Rincewind.
"So sorry to keep you waiting your Ladyship."
"Just call me Byrony."
Rincewind turned to her. "I didn't know you were a lady."
"Did the dresses and body parts and things not give the game away?"
"No I meant -"
Antherton coughed loudly. He was under a lot of pressure, and now he had to give a tour to aristocracy while the Post Office filled with rogue letters.
"If you don't mind, will we begin with the tour?"
"Oooh yes!" said Byrony. "Can we go up on the balcony?"
"Excellent. Coming Rincewind?"
"Er…" Rincewind didn't like heights. No, he didn't like depths but it came to one and the same if you fell. "Er, no. No I think I'll just have a wander around down here."
"Well, it's just you and me then, your ladyship." Said Antherton, offering Byrony his arm and looking far too pleased with the situation for Rincewind's liking. To his satisfaction, she stomped right past the offered arm.
"I said call me Byrony!"
Antherton proved to be very knowledgeable about the history of the Post Office, including it's recent revival by one Moist Von Lipwig. It turned out he was really nothing more glamorous then a sort of clerk, seeing as all the major people were currently at the Palace, the Watch House or the University, complaining about the magical flares.
"I heard that last week an entire batch of magical swords melted," he told Byrony gravely, "and what are the wizards doing to help? Nothing?"
"Didn't they give you the sorting machine?"
"Oh that piece of junk?"
Antherton watched irritably as the large cumbersome sorting machine spewed piles of letters on top of a small figure in shabby robes and a pointy hat. "I mean, will you look at the wretched thing!"
Byrony leaned out over the railings. "Oh, Rincewinds not so bad, once you get to know him."
"No I meant the machine. Speed up efficiency! More like take anything that looks efficient and beat it to death!" Antherton tapped the railings with a cigarette holder, which he had picked up and still absentmindedly held in his hand. "And it doesn't even look good." He sighed. "I mean, if it added a bit of sparkle to the place, fair enough, but it just sits there, a great big grey thing."
Byrony was still anxiously watching the growing pile of letters.
"I suppose he can breath in there? Under the letters? Only, he hasn't come out."
Suddenly, a passing troll stuck an arm into the pile and dragged out a gasping Rincewind.
"Oh that's all right then." said Byrony. "Now, you were complaining?"
But Antherton was no longer complaining. Now he was eyeing Byrony with open curiosity.
"That wizard, is he your chaperone then?"
"What, Rincewind?" Byrony laughed. "Not bloody likely."
"No? Only, he watches every move you make."
Byrony kept her eyes on the lone figure wandering aimlessly amongst the hurrying people.
"Is that so." It wasn't a question. It was a warning.
"Why did you pick him as a guide anyway?"
"Interesting?" Antherton thought about Rincewind. Of the many ways he would have described him, interesting was not one of them. "How so?"
Byrony tried to explain it. "Well, he fascinates me, I suppose. I mean, he's told me about his life, and frankly, I've seen examples of his luck first hand. All this time and he still hasn't died! After everything he's been through!"
She waved her arms in Rincewinds direction, as if trying to draw an explanatory picture.
"You see, I think that Rincewind is somehow a magnet for trouble. Like…a drag current. If there's trouble around, he'll attract it. Look at him, walking among the piles of letters. See how he randomly picks up an envelope to read the front. Watch how all the letters that were being propped up by that single letter begin to fall on him and he begins flailing wildly in a ridiculous attempt to either catch them or stem the flow. Notice how one of his arms has just knocked a large troll carrying that pot of ink. Gaze on the troll, as it stands there, incandescent with rage, dripping ink as Rincewind tries in vain to wipe it off. See the troll pick Rincewind up by the scruff of his neck and start to shake hi- oh hang on a tick, back in a minute."
Quickly, she hurried off to save the wizard from decapitation, leaving a very confused Antherton behind.
Just then, his attention was distracted from Byrony by a large group of portly men, who had just burst through the rather grand doors of the Post Office
It turned out that the wizards had sensed a build up of magic in the Post Office, and had come to evacuate it. The sorting machine was shaking rather alarmingly, so no one needed any encouragement. Once outside, (and he had been the first out of the doors) Rincewind noticed the Luggage. It eyed him, or knotholed him to be precise, resentfully. He hadn't really been taking it out since he received the job as Byrony's guide. He gingerly made to pet it, but it snapped at him and he backed away. Meanwhile, the wizards were explaining how they happened to be outside the Post Office. At least, the ArchChancellor, Mustrum Ridcully was, and in a very loud voice, at that.
"A morning constitutional!" he was saying. "Nothing like it!"
Rincewind rolled his eyes and began scanning the crowd for Byrony. He spotted her pushing through the crowd, and grabbed her hand to help her through. (He didn't notice Ridcully noticing this, a gleam in his eye.) Just like every time he touched her, he felt a low jolt in his stomach. It was a forewarning that life would be a lot worse when he let go of her again. It was usually right.
"Are you all right?"
Byrony laughed. "That was fun, wasn't it? The crowd actually surged forward so hard my feet didn't touch the ground! Antherton helped me though."
"Oh?" Rincewind fought to keep the grimace off his face. "There's something I'd like you to meet."
Rincewind propelled her around until she was facing the Luggage.
"Luggage, Byrony. Byrony, Luggage."
"So this is the Luggage!" she bent down and put out a hand to pet it. It eagerly surged forward, but then stopped.
"What's wrong. Did I frighten it?"
Rincewind shook his head. The Luggage had faced a lot more frightening things then a pretty woman. He looked curiously at it. Was it his imagination, or did the wood seem to be…straining? Almost buckling?
Ridcully appeared by his side. "Ah, that proves it then."
"Proves there's a magical flare. The box is made of sapient pearwood man! It's reacting to the magic coming from the Post Office! Get it away or it'll buckle in on itself. Lord knows we've lost enough magical instruments over the last couple of weeks!"
Byrony stood up hurriedly. "Sapient pearwood? Rincewind, you never said! Send it away! Quickly!"
"Oh. Okay." Rincewind turned to the Luggage. He hated giving it orders when people were watching. "Er, go home?"
With what could only be described as a relived expression, the Luggage turned on its many feet, and hurried away.
"Well!" said Mustrum, rubbing his hands together. "That's that then." He turned to Byrony. "Now madam, I haven't seen you since you were ye high!"
Rincewind choked slightly. "You know each other?"
"Oh yes! Byrony used to spend summers on my farm! That was before I was called to run the blasted University, of course. She visits the University every so often too." He winked at her. "Got quite the fan base there too."
Byrony laughed. "You flatter me."
"Not a jot! When are you going to visit us at the U.U?"
"Well I-" Suddenly Byrony saw where the sun was in the sky and let out a small shriek. "Is that the time?! Ye Gods! I've got to run, Mrs. Jenkins will have my hair from my head!" She turned quickly to Rincewind. "What are you doing now?"
"Me? I'm going to go find a pub."
"Right. Have fun, I'll see you tomorrow." With that, she hitched up her skirts (causing quite a scuffle amongst the faculty of the University as they tried to get closer) and was gone. The crowd quickly dispersed. Rincewind was left alone with a man who, noticing his face, clapped him on the shoulder.
"Cheer up mate! It might never happen!"
"It already has." said Rincewind gloomily.
"Ah. What's the trouble then?"
Rincewind debated on whether or not to tell him. He had to tell someone, and a stranger on the street would probably offer more sympathy then anyone he actually knew.
"There's this woman-"
"Oh it's always a woman, isn't it!" said the man, cheerily oblivious of Rincewind's wizarding robes.
"Oh yeah. But it's sort of nice though, isn't it?"
"Oh, come on. It is a bit."
"No. It isn't."
"But…wait, are we talking about the same thing? You're after a young woman, right?"
"Well" said the man desperately, "that must be nice, eh? To have notions about a young lady?"
Rincewind kicked a wall gloomily. "You'd think so wouldn't you? You'd think it'd be all flowers and chocolates and… "
Rincewind, whose knowledge of romance ran out at exactly that point, waved a hand vaguely. "…things. But it's not."
"Isn't it?" the man asked nervously.
"No." said Rincewind shortly. "It's about feeling like an idiot. About following her to places you don't even want to go. About doing stupid things and then thinking 'ye gods, why did I do that?' You do whatever she says and then panic because you seem too keen. Its about worrying whether or not you've got spinach in your teeth. Spinach!" Rincewind shook his head bitterly. "I haven't eaten spinach since I was twelve! "
"Well, er…I suppose love can be trying at times but-"
"And other men! Let me tell you about all other men."
"They're all bastards." said Rincewind firmly.
"Except me obviously. And I'll tell you something else! I've always been a pacifist. Just run, I always say. But lately, right, lately, if I see a man go near her I'm over taken by this incredible urge to…to…"
The man, who was just an innocent butcher who really didn't deserve to have this sort of thing happen to him, watched in horror as Rincewind struggled to convey by means of flailing arms, what it was, exactly, that he would do.
"Hurt…them…" he finished lamely.
"Yes." Rincewind nodded glumly. "And even when I go home, she's in the back of my head all the time! I can't get away! Do you know what that can do to a man? In two months she's become the centre of my world, and its hellish. I'm like a moon orbiting a planet. A small, cold, miserable moon."
"Er…but I suppose there are perks? You know?" The butcher winked maniacally and nudged Rincewind. "Eh? Eh?"
Rincewind looked at the desperate man. It was a looked that conveyed that he, Rincewind, thought that the man was an idiot. "Don't be ridiculous. She doesn't love me." And with that he trudged gloomily away to find a bar.
Watching him as he walked away were two wizards, both enjoying a large pastry.
The Lecturer in Recent Runes and the Chair of indefinite studies had elected to stay behind by the Post office, to ensure that if there were another magical flare, someone would be around to predict it.
The fact that there was a rather fine bakery on the corner has nothing to with it.
The Lecturer in Recent Runes paused from the delicious strawberry muffin he was about to inhale and watched the scruffy figure trudge away.
"Look, there goes that Rincewind fellow."
"Mwaff?" The Chair of indefinite Studies had not paused, and was eating some sort of chocolate bread with every sign of enjoyment.
"I hear tell he's the Patrician's niece's chaperone."
The Chair of Indefinite studies swallowed. "Is that so?"
Recent Runes tapped his chin thoughtfully. Though he tapped it with a strawberry muffin, this did nothing to lower the solemnity of the action.
"Seems to be spending a lot of time with her, doesn't he?"
The Chair shifted uneasily, eyeing the rest of his chocolate bread. "Yes, well, I'm sure he has to, what with all this talk of young women being attacked and magical flares and that sort of thing."
"I suppose." Said Recent Runes reluctantly. "Still, he looks pretty miserable now, eh? I wonder why?"
He nudged the Chair conspiratorially, sending chocolate crumbs everywhere. "They do say that she travels the Disc. Goes on all sorts of adventures, doncherknow. Bit of a loose cannon there, wouldn't you say?"
"Is that so?" said a peevish Chair. He would be finding crumbs in his robes for days.
"Yes, and I'll tell you something else." Recent Runes leaned in and dropped his voice down low. "Rincewind doesn't seem to be doing much magic these days, does he?"
The Chair paused in his brushing. "But…er…he doesn't do magic anyway. At least, I've never seen him. Have you?"
Recent Runes sat back. "Oh. No…I haven't."
"Are you implying something?"
"What, me? No. Definitely not. Implying? No."
The Lecturer in Recent Runes looked down the street in the direction that Rincewind had wearily plodded down.
"Chaperone. Right, obviously."
With that, he turned with anticipation to the giant muffin before him.
"After all," he added, "If you can't trust a wizard with a young woman, who can you trust?"
It was later that night, and somewhere in the Ankh side of town, a ball was in full swing. This isn't as fun as it sounds. For one thing, the corsets are too tight for these ladies to swing anything. Byrony was sitting at a table with her uncle Havelock. She was wearing a delicate, gold coloured ball gown, which shimmered with her every move and her hair was done in an up-do, which tumbled her chestnut coloured curls down her back. She was stunning, in that if she caught the light for any extended period of time, you may have found your retinas on fire.
Naturally, she felt like an idiot. Being the social chameleon she was, and because she had promised her uncle to be nice, she was now well and truly ingratiated within the upper echelons of society but this did not mean she was having a good time. Chin on hand, she swung her foot idly in time with the music. No one was even dancing properly. A dance wasn't a dance unless you had to catch your breath at the end, in Byrony's opinion. Several young men had asked for a spin on the floor but she had rebuffed them in a polite yet icy manner. Vetinari watched her, amused.
"That last young man looked quite distraught." he remarked.
"Yes, well." she said. And that was all she said.
Vetinari watched her for another little while. She was obviously bored, though no one else could see it behind her carefully composed facial expression.
"Why won't you dance with anyone?" he asked. "I realise that I'm not exactly an expert on these matters, but I do believe it is what young people come to these balls to do?"
Suddenly she turned to him. "Will you dance with me uncle? I'd love to dance with you."
Vetinari smiled wanly. "Thank you my dear, but I'm afraid my dancing days are over." To Byrony, that somehow sounded terribly sad.
"Is it your leg?" she asked, in a concerned tone of voice.
"No, my leg is fine."
"Because if you want to go anywhere, feel free to lean on me."
"I find myself perfectly content, thank you."
"Or you could 'suggest' somewhere I might like to go, and you could come along, you know, just to make sure I arrived safely, and if, perchance, you had to lean on me just a little on the way, I'm sure no on would-"
"I'm fine Byrony." said Vetinari, struggling to keep the smile out of his voice.
"Well, if you're sure." she said, grudgingly.
They watched the people passing by a little longer. Vetinari enjoyed these moments, though perhaps not quite as much as their games of Thud. He saw his niece so rarely, and it was these moments of serendipity that made the wait for her return worthwhile.
"It seems you are the belle of the ball." he said a little later.
"Mmmm…" Byrony was watching the dancers dance their stiff, complicated dance. It was soothing, providing you were watching it, not dancing it.
Vetinari coughed. "Is there someone you're missing, perhaps?"
Instantly, Byrony became animated.
"Don't be ridiculous! Who could I possibly be missing? What's this?" she asked, as a smooth waiter placed a tiny flute of gold liquid in front of her.
"It's a delicious wine from Klatch. You should drink it… Though perhaps not that quickly." Vetinari added, as Byrony knocked it back.
"Sorry! Sorry." she said, placing the glass gingerly back on the table. "I'm just used to drinking stronger drinks. To keep out the cold, you know."
"Indeed. Although perhaps I would advise that you refrain from pointing out your functional alcoholism in the company we're currently keeping. I notice that the wizard Rincewind hasn't come tonight. Is he ill?"
"No. He didn't want to come."
"Ah." Vetinari looked sidelong at the young woman he called his niece. "Why do I seem to get the feeling that you could have made him come if you wished?"
"Because I could have." Byrony sighed. "I wanted to give him a choice. He hasn't been given enough choices in life, and I wanted him to have a choice in this."
Vetinari nodded, slowly, as if digesting this information.
"I think," he said softly, "that you would much prefer to be somewhere else. Don't you?"
Byrony looked up from her careful examination of the tablecloth, and stared at him. Had she heard correctly? And if so, was he really saying what she thought he was?
At that moment, another young man waltzed up.
"May I be so honoured as to have this dance, my lady?"
Vetinari expected to hear Byrony say something like "Whoever said I was your lady?" or "No thank you, I'm allergic to imbeciles" but to his concern, she merely fluttered her eyelashes and, simpering, accepted the proffered hand.
Oh dear, thought Vetinari hiding his smile behind a carefully raised hand. That poor young man.
The young man in particular was Rutheford Weverence the Third, soon to be duke of upper Ankh. He was looking for a suitable wife, and the patrician's niece had been unveiled to him that very night. She was not an uncomely creature, he mused, as he led her across the dance floor. She was pretty enough, not stunning, but pleasing enough to the eye, and no doubt she came with her own dowry. He chuckled gleefully in the recess of his brain. There were a lot of these recesses, as there wasn't an awful lot of brain.
Once they began dancing, he congratulated himself again on his find. Yes, this was going to be easy. She moved easily in his arms and they spun lightly in time to the music.
"I say, can you read, at all?"
For once, Byrony was thrown. "Er…yes?"
"That's all right then. I don't personally believe in educating women, but whatever keeps you occupied, I suppose."
Byrony stopped, and looked at him speculatively. "Are you serious?"
"No really! I think it's marvellous that you can read. Something to do in between knitting eh?" Rutheford was quite proud of himself for Showing An Interest in the mundane life of the female species.
"And there it is." said Byrony sadly. "With one simple sentence you have revealed yourself to be nothing more then a thug with a good tailor. I was going to confuse you with a riddle of repartee but I do believe it would send you into a stupefied state akin to a coma. I'll just have to do this instead."
"I beg your ngh!"
With a certain amount of delicacy, Byrony had kneed him into the crotch. She then used a special sleeper hold she had learned in the Counter-Weight Continent to knock Rutheford Weverence the Third into a dream-like state. Moving quickly, she deposited him behind a large, ugly potted plant.
Perfect! Right beside the door, away from all those annoying people who wished to make conversation and totally unseen.
Well, almost totally unseen. Not one meter away stood the Commander of the Watch, cigar in hand and shocked look on face. As soon as he saw her looking, however, his look became totally nonplussed. Byrony curtsied low to him, mouthing your Grace! Grinning, and totally ignoring the small fat man who was blathering on about something or other in front of him, Vimes raised his cigar in salutation.
Smiling to herself, Byrony bolted out the door. Right, she thought to herself, let the fun begin…
He waited in the alley, waited for another seamstress to come his way. They didn't deserve names, he thought. They weren't real people. In his home country, they would be beaten, locked away. Here, they were allowed to walk the streets at night without fear. This was not just. He would bring fear.
The woman sashayed easily around the corner. What with the Tearer about, here had been talks of taking the seamstresses off the street for their own safety, but a girl had to eat. Suddenly, a shadow loomed out of the dark. She tried to quell the thumping of her heart as a figure came towards her.
"Hello my love, are you looking for a good-"
There was a flash of silver, and then darkness. Fletcher stood over her body, panting slightly. He always felt good after ridding the world of another stain of dirt. But this was the last one. Now he had portals in all the alleys near the gates of the city. As soon as he was finished his Great Work, he could easily escape. He barked a short sharp laugh. The City Watch would be bamboozled, and he would be long gone before they even considered magic.
The darkest of magic is said to be that practised by a certain branch of monks. Priests and wizards both agree that religion and magic doesn't mix and, in this case anyway, they would prove to be right. These monks have found that there is a great burst of magic to be harnessed from a dying corpse, and if it is harnessed, it can cause a rip in the air it hangs in. There must be another rip for a person to walk back out of though, so to create a serviceable portal, at least two people must be killed, and their natural magic harnessed. This was not a fact that had ever bothered the Monks of Hysteria in the slightest. Certain brave men have ever wondered if this dark branch of monks even worship a god. It is generally thought that if they do, it's one of the ones with more then the regular amount of eyes, and possibly tentacles.
Chuckling darkly to himself, Fletcher used the harnessed life force and opened a portal, which pulsed green. He stepped through, and in a moment, he was gone.
Through the streets of Ankh-Morpork, Byrony ran. Dressed in shimmering gold, hair flying out behind her, she flew. She ran so fast, those who saw her would swear that her feet never touched the ground. Most of them wondered what she was running to, and thought it must have been something pretty damn special.
Oh but it is something special, her heart sang, it is.
Her skin was as pale as moonstone, and she tasted the night with every step. A light rain began to fall, causing her skin to glitter like her dress. She looked ethereal, wild, and untouchable.
And still, she ran on.
In the Mended Drum, Rincewind peered miserably into his drink. He wasn't anywhere near as close to drunk as he wanted to be, despite his best efforts. He kept seeing Byrony accepting a pink rose from some swarthy young man at the ball, which was ridiculous. Byrony hated pink roses. Lilies, now, lilies would grab her attention. He stared glumly at the bottom of his glass. It was empty. Maybe that was why he was so glum. Get a grip, he berated himself, as the background noise in the bar hummed (and occasionally screamed) around him. What chance did you have with her in the first place? None! Less then none! She was off in some swanky mansion being plied with the finest everything money could buy. What chance did a scruffy, scrawny wizard have? It's not as if he was even allowed think these sort of thoughts in the first place!
Rincewind tried and tried, but no matter what, he couldn't convince himself that the whole situation was all for the best. Behind him, the door of the bar opened, letting in a blast of air. He was still seeing her face everywhere, and it was doing him no end of damage. A hush fell over the bar, but he took no notice.
A hand landed on his shoulder. "Rincewind?"
He looked up. He seemed to be seeing her face in other people's faces now!
"Yes?" he said.
And then she smiled, and every single circuit of his brain shut down.
Clearly, his mind gibbered, a goddess had wandered into the Mended Drum. See how she glitters with every move? See how her shining hair falls down her back? See the glorious golden (and very low cut) dress she is wearing? See how utterly, utterly beautiful she is? This is a goddess, and you are…well…you are…
You are in big trouble my friend, said Rincewind's gut, as kindly as it could manage.
Byrony sat down in front of him. "Fantastic. I knew I had the right bar, but there's so many to choose from. Bartender! A shot of Bearhugger's please!"
Rincewind stared, and frantically tried to put together a sentence. "How did you know where I was?" he demanded. Not polite perhaps, but frankly, he was thrilled that he had managed to say anything without drooling.
"Well, you said you came here, remember?" said Byrony, accepting a glass from the bartender. She had been served, to Rincewind's surprise, and it was also the drink she had asked for in the first place. Such was the power of Byrony.
"Yes, but I didn't think you were actually listening to m- ye Gods woman! That's strong stuff!" he exclaimed, as Byrony knocked back the Bearhugger's with the ease of one who was drinking water.
"What, this?" she lifted the glass to the light. "Oh it's all right. You'd want to try being up a mountain with nothing but Scumble to keep you warm. Now that," she shuddered, "is strong stuff."
At that, the Librarian, who enjoyed the odd drink in the evening, distracted Byrony, and promptly engaged her in conversation ("Ook!"). Rincewind took the chance to do a quick survey of Byrony's effect on the bar. He was dismayed to find that directly to her left, a very large man was approaching her with the intention, Rincewind had no doubt, of grabbing her, throwing her over his shoulder and making away with her into the night where he would ravish and rob her. Rincewind had quite the overactive imagination, but he was 90% right. The man, drawn by the rich glitter in Byrony's dress, felt the urge to rob her of everything she possessed, and if that included her maidenhead, well, that would be a bonus wouldn't it?
True, Byrony could probably take him on. True, Rincewind was probably over reacting. But at the thought of her fighting this giant to protect herself, Rincewind felt bile crawl up his throat. The man grabbed Byrony by the arm.
The next events happened very quickly. There was a door to the storeroom to Rincewind's left, and an empty glass in his hand. With a quick, if rather ridiculous looking, spin, he hit the thug across the face with the mug. While he was still stunned, Rincewind propelled him through the door into the storeroom, where the thug fell in such a manner that his newly battered brain made contact with a large barrel of beer. The barrel won, and he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Rincewind sank to his knees panting heavily. After a moment, he was aware of Byrony's presence beside him.
"Why is it," he panted, "that every time I go anywhere with you, I end up being threatened, fighting larger men or running for my life?"
Byrony mused over this for a moment. "Come on," she said eventually. "I'll buy you a drink."
"That's avoiding the question. Wait, have you any money?" Rincewind asked as she pulled him back into the noisy bar.
"Well…no. No pockets, see?"
"Oh believe me, I see."
At the door of the bar, Vimes nodded to himself. He had been given leave to go track Byrony down by Vetinari, and now that he had found her he was pretty sure she wouldn't be going anywhere. After all, he thought happily to himself, no one said we had to go back to the ball. I just had to find her. Besides, she seems happy enough where she is. He turned and went out into the cold night.
"Now," said Byrony. "What shall we sing?"
A hush had fallen over the bar. She was standing on a stool, with the air of one who was about to commence with some extreme merry-making.
She turned to Rincewind. "Tell me, have you ever heard 'A Wizards Staff Has a Knob On The End?'"
Rincewind swallowed. "Er…no?"
Byrony clapped her hands together gleefully.
In the dark of the night, The Tearer sensed something. A warning? A foretelling? Was this it? Would this be the night? Is it here? Is it now? Is it you?
It was so late, it was almost early, and the Mended Drum was almost empty, save one or two die-hard patrons. A small table in the corner was taken up by young woman with an aura of satisfaction about her and a wizard who was, for once, not worried. This may have something to do with the amount of alcohol they had ingested.
Rincewind rested his head on his folded arms, dozing lightly as he reviewed the past couple of hours in his head. Whatever it was about her, Byrony just seemed to appeal to people, especially men. And while she couldn't sing very well, she could sing, and made up in enthusiasm what she lacked in talent. Her sheer magnetism meant that in moments she was conducting the entire bar in song and people were queuing up to buy them drinks. At one point, a very large, scarred man with an eye patch and clothing consisting mainly of leather stood up and sang a sweet song about missing home. Several grown men had wept.
That was the effect she had on people. She also seemed to have a never-ending supply of filthy songs.
Rincewind looked at her, though he was finding it difficult to focus properly. She was gazing into the fire and humming to herself. Rincewind had never known respite. The closest thing he had ever come to it was the mind dulling boredom of the filing in the library, but deep in his ragged soul, he knew that this was not the same thing. Here, in the warm corner of the bar, bathed in the glow from the fire, Rincewind put a name to the alien feeling in his heart. Peace. For the first time, he was at peace. He felt it whenever he was in her presence, but had only realised it for what it was now. Maybe the alcohol had helped.
"Rincewind?" Byrony turned to look at him. "Are you still conscious?"
"Yes? I think?" said Rincewind blearily.
Byrony smiled. "Well, before you pass out, I just want to say that the last couple of weeks-"
She paused. It hadn't been…surely not. "I mean, over the last two months…" Appalled, she realised she was right. It had been two months. She had stayed far too long. Why hadn't she left yet? Each day she stayed was more dangerous then the last.
"Well, the last two months have been extremely enjoyable. I may have to leave soon, and I think you should know that I -"
There was a snore. Byrony looked away from the flames at the wizard. He was sleeping peacefully, head in arms.
Well, she thought, It can wait. But, she added as she remembered the time she had stayed, not too long.
At that moment, the door opened, and Commander Vimes walked in, lighting a cigar as he went.
"Are we ready to call it a night?"
"Commander!" called Byrony happily. "Pull up a seat!"
"No can do I'm afraid. I'm to get you back to the palace. A.S.A.P, if not sooner."
Byrony sniggered. "We really ditched that ball, didn't we?"
Vimes tried not to smile. "I know you did. How do you know I did?"
"Oh, I saw you checking up on me." said Byrony airily, waving a hand with the scholarly air of the truly inebriated. "I don't think you'd go back if you had an excuse to leave. May I commend you an the speed at which you located my position?"
"Gargoyles." Vimes admitted. "We set them up with portable clacks. I probably knew where you were going before you did."
Byrony laughed, slightly bitterly. "Ah, but I long for the day when no one is constantly tracking my every move."
Vimes raised an eyebrow. But she travelled the Disc, didn't she?
"Still," she snorted, "I make an excellent excuse, don't I?"
"Yes you do, actually. I was about to bash someone's head in with a bowl of canapés when I received the order to track you down, so I suppose I should thank you."
Byrony waved an unsteady arm. "No need! Just pull up a stool and we'll-"
"We'll be going now." said Vimes firmly.
"Oh no." said Byrony, slowly shaking her head. "I don't think we will. I'm not done here, and I have to make sure Rincewind gets home safely."
"Carrot will take him back to the University in the watch-wagon. You will come with me in my carriage. I'll drop you off to the Palace on my way home."
"Great! But not just yet."
"Right now!" growled Vimes. He hoisted her bodily out of her seat as she strongly protested. Some deep, deep recess of his brain noted the sudden press of curves against him, and thought: A figure like that carries a collapsible crossbow?
Suddenly, Byrony gripped his arm urgently.
"Commander listen, are you listening?"
"Are you definitely listening?"
"I'm very, very drunk." she said firmly.
Vimes rolled his eyes. "I noticed." he said dryly.
"Good. Just as long as you know where I stand. Or don't stand." she added, as she slid to the floor.
Vimes gripped her shoulders and pulled her to her feet.
"I just wanted to get that cleared up, because so many men just won't admit when a woman is drunk!"
"Is that so?" Vimes struggled to keep her where she was. She was drunk, but seemed to still have retained most of her balance and she was extremely strong. She was currently trying to make her way make to the bar.
"Yes! They say a woman is in a delicate state, or we're indisposed or we're, we're, listen to this one, we're dishabille. Well excuse me for wanting to retain the right to get completely and utterly pissed!"
Vimes gave up. "I really need to get you home, and if you don't co-operate, I'll have Carrot carry you out over his shoulder. Would you like that? "
Byrony turned from the bar. "I'll be good, I swear."
"Fine. Now, what will we do with him?"
They both looked at the collapsed wizard, who was snoring on the table. Vimes glanced at Byrony. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Only if I can ask you one back."
"Why him? I mean, from what I hear, you could have your pick of escorts. Why a scrawny, incompetent wizard?"
Byrony was still looking at Rincewind. She had a fond expression on her face, but it was tinged with confusion.
"I don't know." she said eventually. "He listens to me. He knows exactly who I am. Well, not exactly who I am." she added. "I wouldn't want that. But he's the only person I've met who realises the world is insane. Completely insane. And he runs from everything. That's sensible in my mind. And he's funny. Well, he doesn't mean to be, but he is. And he's kind, he just doesn't want people to know about it."
Vimes stared at her. "Well," he said eventually, "If you want my honest opinion, I think he's a bit of a-"
Just then, the door to the back swung open. The large giant of a man that Rincewind had pushed in the back stepped out, nursing a huge purple lump on his head. He caught sight of the wizard. The giant went over and pulled him to his feet.
Rincewind chose that moment to come to.
"Right," he growled. "You slimy little gutter wizard. Lets see how magic helps you now!"
He pulled back his fist. Rincewind shut his eyes.
There was the sound of flesh meeting fist. Rincewind opened his eyes.
The man was lying on the ground, sporting a broken nose, and was very much unconscious. Byrony was standing beside him and she delicately kicked him in the groin.
"No one likes a bully." she said "I think I just broke a knuckle though" she added, and collapsed neatly on the ground, giggling to herself.
Forty minutes later, Vimes and Byrony trundles to their respective homes. Byrony was attempting to get Vimes to crack a smile by telling a succession of dirty jokes in a very innocent voice. She'd note his stony face, and start again. "Or maybe you can tell me what this one means, I just don't understand it. Ahem, there was a nun, and elephant and a large bowl of custard…"
And so on.
Eventually, Vimes had to give in. It was the expression on her face, like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, which made everything she said all the more funny. And she's related to Vetinari, he marvelled.
Just as she had finished regaling him with the tale of how she had accidentally set a baron's wig on fire, Vimes realised he needed to call into the Watch-house for a moment.
"It won't take long," he promised. "I just need to check if there's any updates on the Tearer."
"No problem." Byrony settled back into her seat. "I'm in no hurry."
Vimes left the carriage, and Byrony sat and waited, listening to the sounds of the night. No animals, just the occasional scream. The coach was sitting, untended in the blue glow of the Watch House lamp, because the driver had sneaked off for a sly smoke. Byrony swung her legs contentedly. All in all, it had been a good evening.
Just then, she heard the sound of sobbing. It had a heart-wrenching tone to it, as if the person doing the sobbing was past all hope. Curious, she leaned out the window of the carriage.
"Hello? Anyone there?"
The sobbing continued. Cautiously, she opened the door to the carriage. Byrony was no fool, but she couldn't leave someone suffering.
Byrony edged forward slowly. The sobbing was coming from a dark alleyway. Then she stopped. Fools rush in, after all, and here she was in a ball gown without a sword or crossbow to her name.
"I'll just go get help. I'll be back in a minute."
"Noooo…it huuurts." The voice was echoing eerily down the alley. It was impossible to tell whom it could belong to. Male, female. Adult, child.
Byrony hesitated. She couldn't stand the thought of leaving a frightened, hurt child in a dark alley.
"Are you alight?" She edged a little closer. "What hurts?"
Just then, Vimes came out of the Watch House. His face went pale as he took in the scene. Byrony was out of the carriage, in the dead of an Ankh-Morpork night, and seemed to be talking to someone in a dark alley. A dark alley!
Every one of the seamstresses had been murdered in similar places, and now the patrician's niece was about to enter one.
Her head jerked in his direction. She looked so small, so delicate in the gloom of the night. He started running towards her.
"Commander!" she called calmly, " Someone's hurt-"
As soon as she looked away, a long arm darted out of the black alley, and grabbed her neck, pulling her into the blackness.
There was a scream, and a flash of green light.
Vimes was too late.
Byrony was gone.
Rincewind woke up, and spent a couple of seconds making sure his head was still attached. He fell out of bed, then collapsed, then got up again. He had drunk his own body weight last night, and his body was making him pay. He scrabbled in the pocket of his robes for the sachet of herbs Byrony had pressed into his hand, as he was lead into the watch-wagon. Apparently, if he dissolved it into a mug of water, it would cure his hangover. Rincewind found a mug, and a bottle of what could be called, at a push, water. He tipped the contents of the bag into it, waited a moment, and then drank it. After all, it was bound to be good for him. It was herbal.
It was true that the bag contained herbs. But it is also true that most of the most potent recreational drugs in the world are herbs themselves. After a few minutes, when he felt well enough to get up off the ground, Rincewind reflected that it did seem to cure his hangover. It also really cleared his sinuses.
He left his room, after struggling with the doorknob for a little bit, and continued down to the Great Hall. The place seemed to be more muted then usual. Where were the huge clumps of wizards gorging on bacon?
A maid rushed past the doorway. (She could only go past the doorway, because no women were allowed into the great hall.) Rincewind rushed out and grabbed her. She shrieked, so he let go promptly.
"Oh bless me sir, I thought you was…The Tearer!"
Rincewind did a double take. "All right. Why would I be a homicidal maniac and why was there a significant pause before his name?"
The maid stared at him like he was an idiot. Which, it was fair to say, she thought he was.
"He's struck again sir! Right outside the Watch-House, and then disappeared into thin air! He's made off with a young lady and all!"
Rincewind rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had the suspicion that his hangover was creeping back, and this woman seemed intent on ending every sentence with exclamation marks.
"Well, that's terrible, obviously, but why would I be…The Tearer?" asked Rincewind, hating himself for doing it, but helpless from adding the significant pause to the name.
The maid leaned forward in a theatrical display of secrecy.
"Well sir, I figures, if he can make away with a well guarded lady as the Patrician's niece, then he can get anyone."
With that, she gathered up the washing that she had been carrying, and bustled off.
Rincewind stood completely still for a moment.
Then he ran.
Lord Vetinari's office was not crowded. It was not filled with every possible person in the city who could locate Byrony. It was simply filled with the Arch-chancellor of the Unseen University, Commander Vimes, Captain Carrot, and a panting messenger. They fell instantly silent, when the Patrician held up his hand.
"I feel," he said softly, "that there are things you need to know before we begin."
He brought his fingertips together and leaned over the desk.
"As the ArchChancellor is aware, Byrony is…not quite normal."
No one felt an urge to contradict him. Vetinari coughed.
"At least, not normal, in the day to day sense." He leaned back in his seat and viewed his audience.
"Byrony, gentlemen, is the reason for the magic flares that have been plaguing Ankh-Morpork."
Vimes opened his mouth, but the Patrician held up a hand.
"This information, Commander, is on a need to know basis. And you do not need to know. But you do need this."
Vetinari nodded to the messenger, who had spent the last five minutes regaining his breath. He briefly considered going into detail about how fast he had run with the information, but with one look at the Patrician's face he discarded the idea. He then stood up and cleared his throat.
"The man you call The Throat-Tearer is a member of an organisation called the Monks of Hysteria." Nervously, he glanced at the Patrician, who nodded at him to continue.
"These monks mix magic with religion, and believe that the world will be cleansed by a great reign of magic fire. They also don't like women. Flanker, or The Throat-Tearer, as you know him, has been sent to Ankh-Morpork to bring this about. He sees himself as a prophet, or a messiah. Thank you."
The messenger sat down, visibly relieved and sweating slightly.
"As you can see," Vetinari continued, "I have been keeping tabs on this man, but I couldn't be sure of his motives until yesterday. I have reason to believe that Byrony ran across him in Uberwald last year."
Vetinari surveyed the men before him. They had all met his niece. They all knew her.
"Imagine, gentlemen, that you are the avid follower of a religion that believes that a great burst of magic will cleanse the world. Imagine also, that this religion views woman as objects to be suppressed and destroyed. Imagine that you then ran into a young woman who was a catalyst for magic, and contained so much of it in her body that she could cause quite some harm. What kind of conclusion would you come to?"
Captain Carrot shifted. "But how could he cause her to, well, explode? I mean, a belief in magical explosions is all well and good, but a body doesn't just combust."
Vetinari rubbed his eyes wearily. "ArchChancellor?"
Ridcully, who had been staring into the distance, gave a start.
"Oh, well, er, after giving the students in the High Energy Magic Building a run down of the situation they've come to the conclusion that that this 'Fletcher' has a device upon his person which will drain Byrony of the magic in her body. He will then release the magic in a concentrated burst, which will subsequently blow up the Disc. Or so I'm lead to believe."
"This method of draining the magic from her body will be intensely painful for Byrony, and will kill her in the process." announced Vetinari. "Of course, if he succeeds, it will also kill every living thing on the Disc. No doubt he has already begun." He added pointedly.
Vimes rose to his feet. "I have every watchman on the job. We will find her."
Vetinari looked at him.
"You met my niece, did you not, Commander?"
Vimes nodded. "I did."
She had been taken before his very eyes. One moment, they had been laughing. The next, she was gone.
"She is…vivacious. I enjoy her company very much, you know."
Vimes nodded, unable to think of a thing to say.
"Bring her back, Samuel. Bring her back alive."
With that, Vimes gave a sharp nod, and turned to the door. As he reached for the door handle, there was a commotion behind the wood. The door burst open.
Rincewind stood in the doorway, panting.
Ridcully's face was incandescent. Here was a member of his staff (a particularly scruffy member at that) desecrating the name of the university. He opened his mouth to bellow, but Vetinari held up a hand.
"No. Rincewind deserves to know. He has spent much time with my niece. No doubt he is…fond of her."
Vetinari turned to the wizard, who was still panting defiantly in the doorway.
"Byrony has been taken." he said, "We don't know where she is. She is causing the magical surges. The man who has taken her means to kill her. If he does, the Disc and all life on it will be destroyed. That is all you need know."
Rincewind stared at him for a couple of seconds, opened his mouth as if to say something, but instead, dashed off, bumping into the guards that had just caught up with him. He sped past them however, before they registered who he was.
There was a silence.
"Well," said Vimes "we'll search everywhere. Everywhere. Carrot?"
Carrot, however, was staring at the doorway that Rincewind had just run out of.
"If you don't mind, Commander, I have a hunch I'd like to follow up on."
Vimes grunted. "Fine. Be quick about it. I want every man on this."
They left the office. The ArchChancellor followed, describing the methods the wizards were using to locate her all the while. When they had left, Vetianri signed some documents, and read some reports. Drumknott entered, and collected his in-tray.
Vetinari glanced up. "Thank you, Drumknott."
Drumknott hesitated in his secretarial duties.
"Your Lordship…I'm sure they'll find her before anything…unpleasant happens."
Vetinari nodded. "Thank you. Now if you don't mind?"
Drumknott hurried out, papers clutched to his chest.
Alone at last in his office, Vetinari stared at the small, framed iconograph on his desk.
In the eerily gloomy light of the midmorning sun, he covered his eyes with a hand.
Meanwhile, Rincewind was running.
He was good at it too. His life had been saved on more then one occasion by his ability to appear as nothing more then a blur in the air. As he ran, a plan was forming. So, Byrony was causing the magical surges? Right, we'll worry about that later, but for the moment, we might be able to use it.
He ran into the grounds of the U.U, where a frantic Ponder Stibbons and assorted wizards were pulling a giant machine, with various lengths of rope. Rincewind didn't have time to survey this, but he might have been interested to know that the wizards of the Unseen University had worked this machine on all night. Byrony had quite a fan base there, and for the first time, students and faculty had worked together to produce a machine which would, in theory, pinpoint her exact location. It was a giant wheel, resting on a large cart, on which over a hundred cats were strapped. In desperation, the faculty had agreed to build one of Ponder's pet projects, which he had modified to react when they were near a magical flare. It was working, but it wasn't working fast enough. Also, they had to be near a magical flare for it to work, so every wizard available was currently towing it out onto the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Rincewind, however, had a different idea on how to locate a magical flare.
He juddered to a sudden halt outside room 7a; his room, and flung the door open. The luggage stood there, guiltily ripping up a pillow. It had turned quite disobedient in its confinement.
"Come on." Rincewind panted, hanging in the doorway. "Walkies."
Rincewind ran out of the building, the luggage close behind him. Now it all made sense. The luggage wouldn't go near Byrony, because she was causing it to buckle, not the magic from the Post Office. Now all he had to do was run until the Luggage-
The Luggage had stopped. It was crouched on the ground and looked as though it should be whining to itself. Rincewind stared at it, and then turned slowly to view the building before him, the building in which Byrony was being held hostage. He swore.
He then let out a small scream as a hand fell on his shoulder. It was Carrot. "Have you found her?" the Captain of the Watch asked anxiously.
Rincewind collected himself. "What makes you think I'd be that unlucky?" he quickly reviewed that question in his mind. "Yes, well…why did you follow me?!"
Carrot shrugged. "I just thought, 'if anyone will find Byrony, it's that wizard.'"
"Why?" demanded Rincewind.
Carrot shrugged again.
"You want to the most."
Rincewind struggled to think of something to say, and couldn't. "Actually, I have found her."
He turned back to the building. "Ah." said Carrot.
They both stood for a moment and surveyed the Tower of Art. Standing 800 foot tall, it was…well, very tall.
They tried the door, but it was blocked by some sort of spell, which glowed a sickly yellow, and hung in the air.
"The wizard's won't find her there," said Rincewind urgently. "They're searching the city. We need to get to her now!"
"We will." said Carrot thoughtfully.
"Oh well that's all right then." said Rincewind waspishly. "And how, pray tell, do you propose we get to the top of the highest building in Ankh-Morpork?"
Carrot hefted up a long length of rope, left behind by Ponder and his wizards, onto his shoulder. "We climb."
Rincewind nodded miserably. "Yes, I knew you were going to say that. I thought, 'what would make me ridiculously terrified right now?' and that just popped straight into my head."
Forty minutes later and a quick signal to Buggy Swires, the air-borne traffic gnome who attached the rope at the top of the tower, Rincewind and Carrot were nearing the top. Carrot was actually surprised at how fast Rincewind climbed, given that his arms seemed to have all the strength of two wet pieces of string. What Rincewind lacked in strength, he made up for in sheer terror.
Rincewind was a coward. He knew this, and just because he was acting like a hero at the moment didn't make a blind bit of difference. The ground below him reeled away, and large birds that were intent on stealing his hat surrounded him. The thing was though, the actual thing was…he was a lot more scared of what would happen if they didn't reach the top in time.
"I think I'm going to be sick." he moaned.
Despite this, Carrot was actually impressed with the determined way Rincewind gripped the rope. It was a firm grip, which told anyone watching that he wasn't going to let go anytime soon. Despite his obvious terror, he was still climbing. Carrot could have asked Rincewind why he was doing this. He could have asked him why he felt responsible for the young woman at the top of the tower. He could even have asked him if it was true wizards weren't allowed to associate with young woman, but Carrot had to put a lot of effort into climbing, and instinctively felt that if he had to put effort into climbing, then Rincewind was positively pouring effort in. He needn't have bothered, because the same questions were fact the same questions were going through Rincewind's head. Why was he rescuing this woman?
Don't be an idiot, his gut said, you know damn well why you want to rescue her.
"Not you again!" Rincewind muttered, earning a suspicious look from Carrot, though a) he couldn't see it as Carrot was below him on the rope and b) he was so tired he wouldn't care if he had.
Yes me, said his gut. Just reminding you that however much you try to fool yourself, you know how you really feel.
Go away, thought Rincewind irritably.
Fine by me, though personally speaking, as your gut, I quite enjoy being on the inside of you, so try not to fall, all right?
Rincewind took another look downwards and let out a heartfelt groan. The ground spiralled away below them, and at this stage, they were passing through clouds.
Suddenly, a raven swooped down and snatched his hat off his head.
"My hat!" he didn't let go of the rope, but he very nearly loosened his grip.
"Keep climbing." Carrot grunted.
"It took my hat! My actual hat-"
"If you don't keep climbing you wont have a head to wear it on!"
Rincewind shut his mouth tightly, and resumed his climb, fuming internally.
Finally, they reached a window. Rincewind collapsed into it. It was either that or fall from a great height to a not very great death, unless being splashed upon cobbles stones can be described as great. He fell in through the open window, and collapsed on the ground, gasping. Then he looked up, and when he saw what he saw, he quickly stood up, as well.
By sheer luck, or something very like it, Rincewind had stumbled upon the exactly right window. Before him, sat Byrony on a very uncomfortable looking chair. Perhaps 'sat' is inaccurate. 'Strapped' would be better, as she was exactly that.
Rincewind stared at her.
A great many things disturbed him about her appearance, but one thing in particular chilled him to the bone. He walked over to her lifeless form.
It was not that she was as pale as snow, he thought, though that was worrisome, and it was not that she was exactly as cold as that which really bothered him. He contemplated all this as he touched her cheek.
Surprisingly, it was not even the odd angle at which she was slumped in the chair, nor (here, anger in his soul flared) the bruises which adorned her cheeks and the cut which caressed her forehead.
By now, Carrot had climbed through the window. "What" he said, "is that?"
Rincewind sighed. That was exactly what was worrying him. About a foot above Byrony's head a purple, transparent globe hung. Within that globe hovered a small, golden box, which seemed to have one side hanging open. Carrot could see all this. What he couldn't see was the octarine smoke, which was rising from the point between Byrony's eyes to the small box. Somehow, she seemed to be growing paler as more of the smoke was sucked up.
Again, Rincewind sighed, and turned to Carrot.
"That," he said, pointing to the small gold box, "is Curwen's Modulator. It sucks up excess magic. It seems to be sucking Byrony dry." He held up a hand as Carrot opened his mouth to explain. "No!" he said, frantically. " I don't want to know! I don't want to know how Byrony suddenly seems to have enough magic to blow up the Disc inside her system! It's not important!"
Carrot frowned. "Then what is?"
"What is important is that the magic also seems to be linked intrinsically with Byrony's life force, so as it is drained, she's slowly dying. "
Carrot looked scandalised. "Isn't there anything we can do?" He was absolutely horrified at the idea that there wasn't. Carrot, thought Rincewind bitterly, got things done. He was a 'can-do' kind of person.
Rincewind looked wearily at the woman who had complete and utter ownership of his being, including planning permission. "Yes." He said simply. "There is."
With the slightest of trembles, he reached out and grabbed the golden cube.
Buggy Swires scanned the streets below him anxiously. He was under strict orders, and knew the gravity of the situation. As soon as he saw Commander Vimes, he took a deep breath and dug in his knees. The bird dived. Buggy jumped off and began reporting as fast as humanely possible to the Commander. A few moments later, Vimes started running even faster.
Carrot had expected something. A flash of light, the sound of trumpets…Anything. What he hadn't expected was nothing. He opened his eyes to see Rincewind, still holding the cube up in the exact same position, eyeing it nervously like a man unwilling to have such a thing at the end of his arm. Carrot shifted slightly. When no strange lights seemed to be forthcoming, he moved swiftly to Byrony. As soon as Rincewind had grabbed the cube, she had slumped even further sideways in the chair, as if some invisible force which had propped her up had ceased to exist. Carrot untied her, and picked her up in her arms. Though he couldn't see it, the octarine smoke was no longer leaking out of her forehead. He turned to Rincewind, who was still standing there, watching miserably, the golden box still raised awkwardly within the globe.
"Well done" hinted Carrot, holding the unconscious Byrony. After a brief pause in which Rincewind made no effort to move he added, "Well…lets go then."
Rincewind sighed again, a noise that was beginning to take on nuances of its own within Carrot's mind.
"I can't." he said simply.
"Look, I know it's a long way down," Carrot began reasonably, "but it will go much faster this time and-"
"I'm not talking about the drop you piece of gristle! Don't you know what this is?" Rincewind jerked his head towards the box he was holding, but Carrot was used to dealing with the mentally imbalanced and merely shook his head.
"This beautiful piece of craftsmanship is known as Curwen's Modulator, as I have already pointed out." said Rincewind in a nasty tone of voice. "The purple shimmery globe is a containment orb. See how one side of the cube is open? As long as it is, the absorbed magic can leak out." Rincewind paused. 'Leak' didn't really sound impressive enough for what actually happened. He began to explain. The truth was, that Curwen's Modulator was often used in the olden days to soak up excess magic after wizards had been fighting. The magic was compressed into the small cube, which didn't, due to a flaw in design, close until it was full. This was not a problem when these tiny golden boxes had been used originally, as they would soon be full on excess magic. Until then, however, it was wise to keep them within a containment orb.
"It will…well, basically it'll explode." finished Rincewind, looking at the cube which he was holding with distaste. "Not enough to blow up the Disc, it would only do that if it was full, but definitely enough to blow up this tower."
"Fine." said Carrot, in a tone of voice that implied that they never had the time for that explanation in the first place. "Just move the orb and let's go."
"I cant. Containment orbs have to be very stable. They have to stay in one place. This one can't be moved with the modulator." Rincewind looked Carrot in the eye. "I have to stay here."
"But it was hanging by itself when we came in." said Carrot reasonably, shifting Byrony's lifeless form in his arms. "Why can't it do that again?"
"Byrony's magical field was holding it up. I broke the hold when I grabbed the box, now you've taken her…look, can we just accept this and move on?"
Carrot paused. He looked at the woman in his arms. He looked at the nervous wizard standing before him. "The Throat Tearer will be back soon." he said finally. "Do you have a plan for that as well?"
"Yes." said Rincewind firmly. "I'm going to throw the Modulator at him."
"But you said that moving it out of the orb will make it…oh"
Again, Carrot looked at Rincewind. He was looking at Byrony with a sort of longing on his face, like these were his last moments to look at her. Carrot drew himself up. "I'll take the modulator." he said "Just hand it to me in the orb."
Rincewind snorted. "Oh yes? And I'll carry Byrony down the rope, will I?"
Carrot briefly examined him. Rincewind's figure did not, when all's said and done, contain a lot of muscle. It didn't even contain a lot of Rincewind. He was tall, and skinny and made up of knees and elbows.
"I suppose not." said Carrot finally.
"Just make sure she's safe, all right? Just…all right?"
Rincewind was still looking at Byrony. In her sleep-like state, she seemed more innocent and untroubled then unusual. Her hair had come loose, and now streamed down her back in a shining wave. Here they were, final goodbyes and all that, and she was lying in someone else's arms. Admittedly, she was unconscious, but it was insulting all the same. After all, he was laying down his life for Byrony, but Carrot was the one who got to saunter out, her clutched in his arms. Carrot was the one who got to be there when she came round, and what was to stop Carrot from omitting Rincewind from the story entirely?
Instinctively, Rincewind tightened his grip on the modulator, scenes of Carrot's earnest face and Byrony's fluttering eyelids running through his brain.
Suddenly Carrot said: "I'll make sure she knows, you know."
Rincewind drastically changed his train of thought. "What?"
"What you did for her. I'll tell her how you saved her."
Carrot gazed seriously at Rincewind with a look that said :
I know. I know how you feel about her. I know what you would do for her. I also know that wizards aren't really supposed to do that sort of thing but it doesn't bother me in the slightest…because I know.
Rincewind, the man who was about to die, looked ponderously at Carrot.
"Look, just bugger off will you?"
Carrot nodded. There was not much more to do. He hitched Byrony up onto his shoulder, and climbed out the window. The tension in the rope increased as he descended. Rincewind watched his shake for a while.
Well. Here he was.
He shuffled his feet. For a man who was about to save the world by sacrificing his own life, he looked pretty stupid. I was hard to take a heroic stance when you have to keep one arm raised to shoulder length at all time. Not that Rincewind would take a heroic stance. First of all, he just wasn't built for it, and second of all, it seemed to attract unwanted attention in his experience. After a while he almost wished that the Throat Tearer would hurry up. His arm was getting sore. The rope went slack. A small part of Rincewind relaxed. They had reached the ground, then. That meant they would be well out of the way of the explos-
Rincewind frantically tried to change the subject.
Suddenly, with a horrible sound that seemed to happen in his head, a sickly green rip appeared in the air, interrupting his inner argument. A long, thin leg stepped out of it. This leg was followed by the body of the Throat Tearer, one Makievle Fletcher. He was grinning delightedly and fingering his beautifully polished dagger. The grin faded, however, when he took in the scene before him.
The abomination was gone, freed from the bind he had placed upon it. It had been strong, and it had struggled and sworn, and had even dared to strike him, but he had strapped it down and hit it until it stopped moving. Now, after all his hard work, some scruffy figure stood beside the chair, holding his Pretty, watching him nervously. How had he done it? Did it matter? Years of planning. Years of waiting. Fletcher raised his dagger and snarled. If Rincewind could have backed away, he would have.
Fletcher advanced. "Give it." he spat "You will die anyway, so give it to me now"
Rincewind looked at the golden cube, which glittered eerily within the containment orb. Well, here we go. Should I say something memorable?
I wouldn't his gut advised. No one is going to remember it.
"Um…no problem." Rincewind lifted his arm and gently tossed the Modulator. The look of joy on Fletcher's face instantly changed to a look of terror as he realised what Rincewind had done. One side of the cube was still open, which meant it was not full, which meant that as soon as it left the orb…
Fletcher caught it out of sheer ingrained habit. Besides, what else could he do? Rincewind knew exactly what he could do, and dropped to the ground where he immediately curled into a ball, hands over head.
The Modulator…vented. This was the technical term for the release of pent up magic, which was what the modulator contained in bucket loads. However, not all of it vented directly into that particular room. Due to his shock at seeing Rincewind standing there with his Pretty in hand, Fletcher had neglected to close the portal behind him. His point of entry was sealed, but the point of exit wasn't. Luckily, this meant that quite a lot of the magic was sucked into the portal, which naturally attracted it. For Fletcher, however this was very little consolation. He was at the very centre of the venting area. The force of magic which was left was just enough for a small, localised, explosion. Very localised.
After a moment, Rincewind got up. What was left of the Tearer was hanging in a small magic field. Since what was left of him basically comprised of chunks, this meant that it was not pretty viewing.
"Urgh" said Rincewind, though this didn't seem to cover it. Funny, he thought faintly, only his actual body seems to have exploded. His clothes and things are fine. He began to consider the sheer luck of the situation. He was alive! He was still alive! He was completely and utterly-
At that moment the magic field collapsed and the items hanging in suspension got on with the explosion. All the magic had been used up, but there was a certain amount of inertia that had to be fulfilled.
For the people who would later have to clean up the room, this was bad because the previously mentioned chunks were flung up against the wall.
For Rincewind, this was bad because of the long dagger that suddenly shot forward and buried itself neatly in his chest.
Inside Byrony's head, she drifted. She didn't particularly want to wake up. She had lost consciousness in protest against the blows that the thin man rained down upon her. She had met his type before, but always when armed. Byrony was actually a little indignant, because he had kept her awake for a while with some sort of smelling salts so she'd be awake while he hit her and monologued at her. They always monologued. This, to Byrony's mind was unsporting. If she couldn't pass out in defence, then what could she do? Mercifully, he had eventually let her sink into the darkness, as he talked on and on about how she was a stain on the face of the earth. She had blocked most of it out, focusing on swearing and calling him every possible name under the sun (In her travels, she had picked up quite a few and in several languages) but she had a haunting suspicion that it would bother her later. Probably at night. He had talked about other things, much darker things about the deep abyss to which her soul was headed and the tortures that waited. She wished Rincewind could have heard him. He always managed to make things like that funny. She hoped he wasn't too worried about her…
Just as her mind turned to Rincewind, she heard a sort of muttering.
Well, at least she's safe. I mean, fair enough, yes, I'm about to die but I've had a pretty good run. And I don't think I'd be very happy if I was alive and she wasn't would I? Admittedly I'd have a life to be unhappy in, but there you go.
Rincewind, where are you-
Be quiet. I don't have much time and there's something I have to say. I think I once said to you that…a life without you would be like a living death, but at least I'd be living.
Did you? thought Byrony bemused.
Yes. I don't think you were listening. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because I was wrong.
You were? Byrony was confused now. What was he talking about?
Yes. A life without you isn't a life at all.
Suddenly, Byrony realised that she did want to regain consciousness and very quickly. Hallucination or not, she didn't like the way Rincewind was talking.
As she sped towards the surface, she heard him say:
Well, at least I realised that. I'd look a right idiot if I died for her and hadn't realised that. At least I'm just imagining this conversation and I didn't actually-
800 feet below, Carrot rested Byrony on the ground. She was breathing shallowly, and he didn't like the colour of her complexion. Because this was Ankh-Morpork, a small crowd had gathered. Carrot heard the explosion above him, and tasted tin in the air. Looking up, he saw that the Tower of Art seemed to be still completely whole. So what had happened?
Just then, a hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. She may have just regained consciousness, but she gripped forcefully.
With nothing else to do, Rincewind got on with dying.
He'd been in tight situations before, it was true, but he had never had an actual dagger sticking out of his actual chest before.
The threat of the dagger, sure. Even the point of the dagger, pressed up against his skin, yes.
But the actual thing lodged into his flesh?
Something about the way it was cold and burned at the same time told him he wasn't going to be able to weasel his way out of this one.
Oh Gods, if only Byrony was here, Rincewind thought gloomily, taking in a painful gasp of air. I wouldn't exactly die happy if I could see her face one more time, but I'd be a damn sight less inclined to complain. Which I plan to do, loudly, to the first deity I come across. I mean, come on, but if I'm going to die, after saving the world again you'd think that Fate would intervene or something, and make her clutch my hand and profess her love for me as I died…or something.
At the very least, you'd expect that some deity wouldn't be able to resist rubbing it in my face if she didn't. At least she'd be here.
Gosh, what a lot of blood.
Suddenly Byrony was there. She burst in the door, collapsed by his side and, in a parody of the scene Rincewind had just imagined, she clutched his hand. Rincewind was gratified to see that she did look distressed. To his satisfaction, she could almost be described as hysterical.
"Talk to me, Rincewind, say something!" and because even in moments like this, Byrony was still Byrony, she added "Now!"
He took a deep, painful breath, looked deep into her eyes and said:
"You took your bloody time."
And then he died.
And then he woke up in a vast desert, where the sand was as black as night and as fine as water, which stretched on for centuries, and which could only be crossed alone.
"Oh." said Rincewind.
RINCEWIND. IT IS TIME.
A cowled figure walked towards him.
FINALLY, it added.
"Oh hello." Rincewind nodded glumly. "You must be pleased with yourself."
NO, Death said. I MERELY AM.
Rincewind shrugged. That was just the type of nonsense that only an anthropomorphic personification could get away with.
Death looked Rincewind up and down. It was true that he had waited a long time for this one.
"I suppose I am dead this time? No chance there could be a mistake? Only, it seems a bit unfair to die right when your life was going well."
NO. NO MISTAKE. COME.
"Well…er…what happens now?"
WELL, FIRST…Death hesitated, and turned to look at an unremarkable spot in the sand. He stared hard at it, as far as a skeleton with a complete shortage in the eyeball department can stare. After a moment, the sand seemed to swirl up and formed a mini whirlwind, around a shape that was swiftly becoming…
"No…" breathed Rincewind. The sands settled, and Byrony stood before them.
She paid no attention to Rincewind, but walked over to Death. She was wearing a white dress, which moved as though it was under water, and her hair flowed out behind her. She stopped, looked at Death and held something out in her fist. To Rincewind's shock, she was smiling. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
Death looked at the fist and then at her face.
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING.
She nodded slowly, but firmly.
"I've come to- Wait, what?"
Death turned to Rincewind, and despite his face being expressionless, it clearly wore an expression of disgust.
I DON'T BELIEVE IT. YOU'VE DONE IT AGAIN.
"Er…" Rincewind felt the situation had gone beyond him a little bit.
Byrony coughed. "As I was saying, I've come to stake a claim."
"This one is mine. You can't have him."
Death nodded in an impatient manner that said, yes I understand and this is vexing, but there is one thing I don't understand.
Rincewind, though he had no idea what was going on, gathered that he was being, in some way insulted.
"Excuse me," he said hotly "If you've quite finished deciding who I belong to, am I dead or not?"
Both Byrony and Death looked at him. Death looked back at Byrony.
ARE YOU SURE?
And Byrony, never once taking her eyes from the scruffy wizard, laughed loudly.
"No. But he'll do."
VERY WELL. He reached into his robes and pulled out a life timer that looked like it had been made with a glass blower suffering from the hiccups. Byrony raised an eyebrow. Death shrugged, something he was very good at.
THIS ONE IS…ODD. I HAVE WATCHED HIM FOR SOME TIME.
Byrony's lip twitched, as if she was fighting a grin.
"Is that so. Well, shall we?"
Death nodded, one craftsman to another, and removed the top of the timer. He bowed.
Byrony curtsied low. "My Lord."
She raised the arm with the fist at the end of it, and opened it slowly. Before Rincewind's eyes, a fine trickle of white sand poured from between her fingers, into his life timer. It seemed to shimmer as it fell, and Rincewind felt an odd tugging sensation in his stomach.
He took a step forward.
"Hold on a second, are you saying I can go ba-"
There was a jolt.
It was not pleasant.
Carrot lifted his arm, ready to bring it back down on Rincewind's chest again, when his eyes snapped open and he screamed a long loud scream.
"He's alive" Carrot announced needlessly to the surrounding crowd.
Rincewind screamed until the last of the air left his lungs, and then drew a great gasping breath to scream some more when a soft, cool hand touched the side of his face.
"That's enough." she said. "Sleep now."
She passed a hand over his eyes, and just before he sank into the forgiving silence of his dreams, he thought, What's she grinning about?
It was later.
There were clean sheets and pillows. It was a small room, with a window which over looked nothing much, but which did let in some of the golden glow of the evening sun. There was a large metal-framed bed, which looked comfortable, and felt just that way until you found out that it wasn't.
Rincewind had just woken up in it and realised that every single part of his body was competing with the other parts to be more painful.
Rincewind looked over to the corner of the room.
Byrony sat there, in the rich glow of the setting sun, book in hand, watching him. Her hair shone and her eyes glowed.
Rincewind tried to clear the muggy pink fog that seemed to have taken the place of his brain. She stood up, walked over to the bed and sat beside him.
"You were dead for five seconds. The shock of the stabbing caused you to have a heart attack and your heart stopped for five seconds before I got that nice Mr. Carrot to help me start it again."
Rincewind shifted, and tried not to whimper. He had a feeling that, were he to look at his chest later, he would find a fist shaped bruise.
"The sword itself, miraculously enough, bypassed any major organs and just got a lot of flesh. You'll have a very impressive scar though, or so Doctor Lawn tells me."
"Bypassed any major…hang on a second!"
Rincewind struggled into an upright seating position.
"The bloody sword was sticking out of my chest! What do you mean 'bypassed any major organs'!? Call me Mister Silly, but my heart is pretty major, don't you think?!"
Byrony shifted uneasily.
"Well, I mean, it may have looked serious but-"
Suddenly, Rincewind's memory kicked in, and horrible, horrible visions filled his head. With a shaking finger, he pointed at the young woman he had seen converse with Death.
"Mwaahh" he said.
Byrony looked at him glumly. "Oh you remember do you? I was hoping…well never mind. No use crying over spilt milk, eh?"
"I suppose I had better come clean then." She settled down comfortably on the bed. "As you know, I've been causing the magical flares around Ankh-Morpork. But you probably don't know why."
"I'm an enchantress. I'm the eighth first daughter of a first daughter. I'm a catalyst to magic and enhance any magic in the surrounding area. I tend to make magic swords melt too, which can be quite annoying. This means that I can't stay in any one place for too long, or the magic overloads and…well…lets just say I'm not liked very much by the natives of a certain tribe in Klatch."
Byrony paused and looked at her audience. She could have broken this news gently and slowly, but that really wasn't her style. Now, she was wondering if maybe she should have. Rincewind was grinning at nothing, and it wasn't a happy grin. It was the type of grin that was one muscle twitch away from a rictus of terror. Byrony, sensitive to the nuances of an upset mind, poked him.
"Hey. Are you listening?"
Rincewind blinked. The grin faded.
"You are an enchantress of untold power."
"If I ever learn how to control it, which I probably wont."
"And you can talk to Death."
At this, Byrony visibly brightened. "Yes, that was good, wasn't it? I'd been practising, but I wasn't sure if it would work. I mean, I've met him before and I had studied the theory, but I couldn't be sure. I had to cast a small change spell, so the sword bypassed your heart, before anyone saw it. In the end, the hardest part was looking for life force to replace all the sand you lost."
Rincewind's expression didn't change. "I see. And where, pray tell, did you find it?" Suddenly, he looked slightly panicked. "I'm not leading someone else's life, am I? You didn't kill anyone, did you? Because I know about that crossbow of yours!"
"Of course I didn't kill anyone! Don't be silly."
"Rats." said Byrony promptly.
"Rats?" said Rincewind faintly.
"I remembered Uncle Havelock complaining about the rats. So you see, I solved two problems really. You're not dead, and the rat population has been reduced. Although the dwarfs might not be too happy." she added thoughtfully.
There was a silence.
Rincewind dropped his head into his hands. "Just go."
Byrony's smile, a smile he had once compared to the glow of butter melting on potatoes, faded. "But I-"
Rincewind waved his arms frantically. "No! No more! Just…just…go. All right? Just…all right?"
Byrony rose. "Well, if you need to rest-"
"Of course I need to rest!" Byrony stepped back in shock. Rincewind was sitting bolt upright, and a vein was throbbing in his forehead.
"Who wouldn't need to rest after putting up with you for over two months? An enchantress? An enchantress!? You didn't feel the need to mention it?"
"But I couldn't! Uncle-"
Rincewind laughed bitterly. "Oh yes, don't even get me started on Uncle Havelock!" Rincewind pointed a shaking finger at her once more, though this time it was shaking out of anger. "You, you have lead me into every type situation I have tried to avoid. Since you got here, my life has been nothing but miserable. Well, it's usually miserable, but you added greatly to the misery! I knew I should have run the moment I met you! Now I discover you're a bloody human explosion, and that you replaced my life span with rat sand! Rats!"
"You had a sword in you bloody chest! What was I supposed to do!"
"I took that bloody sword in the chest to save your bloody life!"
They stared at each other. There's only so many times the word bloody can be used as an adjective.
"Fine." Byrony had two pink spots on her cheeks. She made for the door. Just before she opened it, she turned back.
"By the way, that was exactly why I didn't tell you. But you got a sword in the chest anyway"
She didn't slam the door. It closed gently with a click.
Still fuming, Rincewind turned to the bedside table. This was a place where sick people normally place get-well cards, grapes, flowers and other such things that they received from well wishers and have no use whatsoever for. Rincewind didn't have any well wishers, but still, there was something there, in a cardboard box. He lifted the top of it fearfully. Inside sat his hat. And yet, it wasn't his hat. It was so much better. Each sequin had been painstakingly sewn back on and all the rips had been delicately repaired so they were invisible to the naked eye. It had new gems, the colours seemed brighter and it was inlaid with silk lining.
There was a small note inside the box. In her practical and slightly messy script, it read:This took me ages! X
Byrony hated sewing.
Rincewind's brain finally caught up with him, and he stared at the door that the planet his moon orbited had just walked out of.
You are an idiot his gut said, fervently.
For the first time, Rincewind agreed.
"Tell me what happened."
Vimes leaned back in his chair. Carrot stood before him, radiating honesty and holding his helmet under one arm. They had just returned from the palace, where Vimes had been rewarded by the sight of Byrony playing Thud with her uncle, and losing too, by the look on her face. Vetinari had hinted that he would be less then pleased if word of her…uniqueness, as he put it, came to the ears of the general public. Vimes was now extremely fond of the little madam, who could hold her drink, hated dancing, and could punch like a soldier. He had been ever since he had seen her stick out her tongue at Lord Rust's back at the ball. Not that he would ever admit it.
Still, he needed to know.
Carrot took a deep breath. "Well, she came to the minute we reached the ground. I suppose it was only the force of the Modulator that knocked her out. The minute her eyes snapped open she said 'Where's Rincewind'"
Vimes rested his chin on his hands. "Did she now?" he said thoughtfully.
"Yes sir. And as soon as I told her, she started running up the tower's steps. I suppose the minute Fletcher had…exploded, the barrier must have collapsed."
"Well, she can definitely run, sir, that's for sure. A couple of people were behind me, you know what it's like, and I reached the door a couple of seconds after her, and a couple of seconds before everyone else."
"And what did you see?"
Carrot paused. Here was the sticky bit. "Well sir…the sword was in Rincewind's chest. Very definitely in his chest, if you know what I mean. Byrony was beside him. He said something to her, and she sort of gasped. Then they…well…they blurred for a second. After that, I was beside them and the sword was a lot less deep, barely a flesh wound. Byrony told me his heart had stopped so I thumped him. Then he screamed."
Vimes nodded. Cheery, the Watch's dwarf forensic analysts had mentioned that there was a large amount of blood on the floor. She knew it was Rincewind's because Fletcher had been all over the wall.
"I think…" Vimes began slowly.
"Yes, sir?" said Carrot anxiously.
"I think…well, you were exhausted Captain. Climbing the Tower of Art? Racing up all those steps? I think that tired minds sometimes play tricks. What do you think?"
"Couldn't agree more sir."
"Good. Did anyone else see anything?"
"I think that if they did sir, they're about to realise they imagined it."
"Good." With a grin, Vimes lit up a cigar. "Be persuasive about it."
A week later, Byrony was sitting in the Palace garden. This was not an unusual event in itself; she quite enjoyed sitting out there. The designs of Burgholt Stuttley Johnson always amused her. Now, however, she wasn't admiring them. She was staring into the distance, a blank on her face. For the past two weeks or so, she had been pale and listless. The Palace staff put it down to being kidnapped by a homicidal maniac, but that wasn't it. Vetinari knew that something was definitely wrong when he saw her that morning. Realising that she wasn't struggling, Mrs. Jenkins, the dreaded housekeeper (if you would refer to a Palace as a house) had seized the opportunity. Then she had to go for a little lie down. As a result, Byrony was a vision in a pale pink silk dress, which wouldn't have looked out of place in a ballroom. Mrs. Jenkins had even seen fit to do her hair in an intricate up-do. Byrony patted it in disgust. It had wire flowers braided into it. Vetinari taken one look at her, and had herded her out into the garden, to 'catch up on her reading'. He had pressed a book into her hands on her way out. So far, the book was sitting on her lap, unopened. Byrony looked at it. Lady Deirde Waggon's Prudent Advice For Young Women. She sighed. Her uncle's sense of humour, while normally enormously entertaining, was slightly misdirected here.
The thing was…she missed Rincewind. There. She said it. Well, not aloud because that would be all kinds of trouble, and mostly for him, but the mere fact that she admitted it meant something. She missed his sarcasm. She missed his cynicism. She missed his wry little comments and she missed how he always looked surprised when she laughed at his jokes. She missed how he twitched whenever she brushed against him. Most of all, he missed how he really listened to her. She missed how he was always there, right beside her. A tall, lanky and endlessly nervous space, which she had never missed until it had been filled. Now it was empty again, and it was as if there was a gap in the world. She kicked the ground irritably. People had shouted at her before, naturally, but she had never really cared until now. Life was so much easier when she was travelling. You ran, fought or asked for directions. There was none of this…confusion.
Unbeknownst to Byrony, she was being watched. A little further away, Rincewind stood, quivering behind a tree.
What was he doing? She wouldn't want anything to do with him!
Nothing gained, nothing lost suggested his gut.
Seriously. What have you got to lose? She can't possibly hate you any more.
Out of the corner of her eye, Byrony saw movement. Slowly, hesitantly and, above all, nervously, Rincewind was making his way across the lawn. Instantly, she buried her nose in the loathed book.
What did he think he was doing? She didn't want anything to do with him.
Rincewind came to a halt in front of her. She didn't look up. She was staring ferociously at the book.
Slowly, she looked up. She glared. If Rincewind thought that the glare she had given him on the first day they had met was bad, then this carried the promise of actual bodily harm.
"Well?" she said icily. It was amazing how much venom she packed into that one syllable.
Rincewind drew a deep breath.
"I'm er, just here to say that I didn't mean anything I said back then and I really am very grateful to you for saving my life. And that I don't regret saving you life in any way whatsoever. Also, I'm not resigning my post as your guide, because I thought that maybe you thought that I was going to resign because of the way I was shouting. So I just wanted to say that I'm not. Resigning that is. Unless you want me to resign. Which I could, I mean, I could leave, and I'd go away and you wouldn't ever have to see me again if you didn't want to, but I really hope I wont have to do that because, er, I think you're lovely and…um…so…that's all."
Mercifully, Rincewind ground to a halt.
There was a pregnant silence, which gave birth to lots of little silences, each more embarrassing then its parent.
Rincewind tugged on his robe. Here it comes, he thought, the blow to the gut where she tells you to stop being an idiot. Oh Gods, what if she laughs? What if she pulls out her crossbow?
"Rincewind?" said Byrony, in a thoughtful voice.
"Can you really rip a hole in the universe and let in ghastly creatures from the dungeon dimensions with your magic?"
She put her hands on either side of his face.
And then she kissed him.
It was, Rincewind later reflected, one of the only perfect moments in his life.
He wondered what he would have to do later to pay for it.
The next day started so well. Rincewind entertained thoughts of his life taking a turn for the better. Maybe this was a new start! A new life! He left the University earlier then usual and set off for the Palace. He'd meet Byrony there for the first time. A symbol, if you will, of new beginnings. He plodded happily through the streets of Ankh-Morpork, nodding happily to passers by as he went, who, in turn, eyed him suspiciously. This is it, he thought, this is the first day of the rest of my-
Suddenly, he ground to a halt, his brain finally registering what his eyes were seeing. Two coaches were standing outside the Palace, the horses stamping their feet restlessly, flanks shining in the rain. The coaches were laden with trunks and sacks, which were being added to by hurrying servants.
"What's going on?" demanded Rincewind.
"Oh there you are. You're late."
Byrony came out from behind the coach, a sack in hand. She was wearing trousers, and other such hard wearing travelling clothes. Her cloak was flung open around her shoulders, and despite the rain, she hadn't bothered to pull up the hood. The light rain fell on her hair, which curled gently into damp tendrils.
You can see the shape of her legs Rincewind's gut pointed out, but he firmly silenced it with some directed indigestion.
"What's with all the- wait, no, how can I be late? You never told me to come in the first place."
"Doesn't matter. You weren't here on time, so now you're late. Q.E.D"
Rincewind opened his mouth to argue with this absurd logic, but the small matter of the coaches prayed on his mind.
Suddenly, light dawned.
"You're leaving." It wasn't a question; it was a fact of life. The strong smell of the horses confirmed it. Rincewind wasn't surprised. Life had just started to improve. It was only natural that it should rapidly get worse.
"But…all right, but why?"
Byrony paused in the middle of sheathing a serious looking sword. It was stained in places, and had nicks all along the edge.
"Remember when you were in a coma?"
"No. I was in a coma."
"I went on a tour of the University. Ridcully himself guided me. It was a bit boring actually, until some students tried to keep me out of the Great Hall."
"Go on." Rincewind noted the 'tried' and filed it away for future research.
Byrony hesitated, something that happened rarely.
"Um. We…well, that is, The ArchChancellor stopped for a moment to view some paintings. Er…the Chair of Indefinite Studies, I think it was, seemed to think that it was a good time for a cigarette break."
Rincewind thought for a moment. He didn't smoke himself, it made him ill, but he couldn't really see how one coffin nail would be enough to cause a flee from the city. "Yes?"
"The explosion blasted through three walls and blew up Ponder Stibbons new device"
In times of strife, wizards used to use fireballs as arsenal against enemies. Today, however, they tended to use them for the purpose of lighting up small sticks of tobacco. Not as noble, perhaps, but handy when you didn't have a lighter.
"There was cat hair everywhere." said Byrony miserably.
"Oh…never mind. The point is, the build up of magic has already reached a critical point. If I stay any longer, the result will be a lot more serious then the creation of a new Great Hall. I only stayed this long because-"
Suddenly, her cheeks flared pink, and she seemed to take a great interest in the sturdy, yet lightweight, boots on her feet. Rincewind anxiously watched her shuffle for an instant, but then she turned abruptly changed the subject.
"Can you believe all this?" She gestured towards the many trunks and cases. "Presents from the upper-class families of Ankh-Morpork"
Byrony shook her head wearily at the sheer uselessness of the pile before her and began strapping down the cases already on the roof of the carriages.
After a moment Rincewind drew himself up.
"Right, I'll go get the Luggage."
"Yes," said Byrony distractedly. "You go get the- wait, what?"
She turned, not believing her ears, and stared at Rincewind. He was standing in what he thought was a determined and slightly heroic pose. Chin up and thrust out, chest inflated, legs apart and fists balled up. In truth he looked more like an angry pigeon.
"I'm coming with you."
Byrony's jaw dropped. "With…me?"
"Yep. That's what I said." He relaxed his stance for a moment, and looked worriedly at her. "That is what I just said, right? I didn't whimper?"
"Good." He stood tall again.
"But-" Byrony struggled to articulate the sheer insanity of this plan. "You left all that! You left it behind! Think about this. I you come with me, you'll be shot at again. You'll have to sleep on the ground, get frequently lost and eat irregular meals with dubious ingredients! You'll have to go back!"
"But the Library! Rincewind, your boredom! You'll lose it! No more filing, or stamping, or sorting bananas!"
Rincewind looked off into the distance, a steely glint in his eye. "I'll survive."
"No you wont!" Byrony looked at him exasperated. A different tact was required.
"Well…what about…potatoes!" She grinned like a poker player with a full house. "I can assure you, they won't be available in regular quantities."
Rincewind turned, looked her straight in the eye, and said:
"They're not all they're cracked up to be."
Byrony was lost for words, so she opened her mouth angrily to yell at Rincewind, who was once again looking off into the distance. Suddenly, her face softened. She looked fondly at the tall, thin wizard before her, who was willing to go back to the hell he had escaped, and she sighed.
"Rincewind. You 're not coming."
"I think you'll find that I-"
"No listen! You're the only person I've met who ever really listens so do it! I didn't say 'You can't come'. I didn't say 'You're not allowed come'. I distinctly said You. Are. Not. Coming."
The tone in Byrony's voice was so sharp it could have popped a balloon. This was probably why Rincewind promptly deflated.
Byrony gently took him by the shoulders and spun him around to face the Palace.
"Look. See those two men there? The ones carrying two cases each? That's Clancy and William. They were on holidays while I toured Ankh-Morpork, but normally it's their job to protect me. Clancy enjoys poetry, Morris dancing and the literary work of Leonard de Quirm. William enjoys hurting people who stand too close to me. I'm sure that if you took the time to get to know them, you'd get on fantastically."
"No, not really. They're a bit over-protective."
Rincewind's mind gibbered as he watched the two hulking mountains walk down the steps, each massive arm wrapped around two moderately large trunks. They had to be men. Trolls didn't wear clothes.
"They are one reason why you're not coming. The other is uncle Havelock. Now, while I'm sure that uncle is quite fond of you in his own way," (Rincewind considered this for a moment, then decided he didn't want to.) "I don't think he'd take too kindly to your accompanying me." Byrony paused.
Rincewind had lost all powers of speech at this point. He realised that the Patrician of the city was possibly aware that he, Rincewind, who was a wizard and therefore not allowed to do that sort of thing, had kiss-ngh ngh ngh….
"And then there's me."
"Wait, what?" Rincewind regained the use of his tongue. "You don't want me to come? Oh that's very nice, that is!"
"What did I say about listening?! Something like that episode in the Tower of Art happens just about every month to me. Quite a lot of people think the world would be a better place if I wasn't in it. Normally Clancy finds them and William dispatches of them…repeatedly…but this time they weren't there."
"No, but I was there." said Rincewind firmly "And I could be there the next time. And the time after that."
Byrony nodded, sadly. "That's right. You could be there. What will kill you the next time, I wonder? Will it be an arrow through the head maybe? A sword perhaps? Let's be imaginative, because the people after me certainly are."
"No you listen! I know what you've been through! I know what you've done! And I won't have you go back to it. Frankly, it's amazing that you're even alive, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"What if I follow you? You can't stop me!"
"No. No I can't stop you from following." She reached up a hand and gently touched the side of his face. He shivered slightly at her cool touch. "But I can ask."
The hand left his face as quickly as it had arrived, and she turned back to the carriage, busying herself with buckles and straps. Rincewind stared at the back of her head for a moment and then slumped dejectedly on a large trunk. Hearing the thump, Byrony turned and examined him.
After a moment she sat down beside him. After another one, she rested her head on his shoulder.
It was funny, Rincewind mused, a couple of weeks ago, his intestines would have been squirming like snakes at this, but now he felt…
No, they were still squirming, and he still felt awkward, and any minute now someone was going to clap a hand on his shoulder and ask him what the hell did he think he was doing, and yet…
That was it really. Their entire relationship was comprised of 'and yet.'
Brief, fleeting moments in which things were never done, thoughts were only thoughts and words were never said.
"You're really leaving."
"I really am."
Silence. The rain hissed down around them, and a small stream of dirty water flowed in a gutter in front of them. A small of indeterminable sex child ran past, a piece of sacking flung over its head as it galloped down the street. After a moment, it was gone, and the silence returned.
"We could move to FourEcks. We could get a farm and grow sheep."
"You'd hate it."
"It could work though. The Ecksians aren't so bad when they're not drunk or trying to kill you or both. No one would even notice a little build up in magic."
"I doubt that somehow."
"We could try it."
"No. I suppose not."
Silence once more took a leading role. Rincewind realised that while the rain wasn't heavy enough to pour on you, it did give you a thorough damping. His robes were soaked. It was even more depressing to realise he didn't care.
Byrony patted him on the arm. "I am coming back you know."
Rincewind brightened. "Really? When?"
"I'll come back as soon as the magic levels are stable enough for me to return."
"And that would be…?"
"In about two or three years."
Silence felt gratified at all the attention it was getting.
Rincewind coughed. "I just want to say…if I don't see you again I just want you to know that I-"
"There she is!"
Silence was pushed rudely to the side as a hoard of people streamed out of the Palace. To Rincewind's utter horror, Ridcully was at the front, followed closely by Vetinari. He leaped off the trunk as if scalded and clasped his hands behind his back. Byrony sighed in a very put upon manner and got to her feet. As soon as she stood up, her face lit up in a smile. Rincewind was the only one who could see its falsehood. Then he caught Vetinari's eye and realised he was the only one of two people. The urge to gibber overcame him again.
"Well m'dear, it looks like you're leaving us!" Ridcully clapped Byrony on the shoulder. He had stopped treating her like a lady ever since she had shown him her prowess with the four types of harpoons and twelve different crossbows. He would still call her 'my dear', however, until she proved to him that she could wield fishing rods with equal accuracy. "No offence, of course, but we're a bit relieved, if you know what I mean!"
To everyone's general embarrassment, he waggled his eyebrows in a conspiratorial manner. Ponder Stibbons, who had lagged behind looked scandalised at how close the ArchChancellor was to revealing Byrony's secret.
"Sir I don't think-"
"Of course you do think! It's all your type ever do!" Suddenly, he saw Rincewind. "What are you doing here? We've been looking for you all morning, man! You're to take part in the going away ceremony. You two have met before, haven't you?"
Rincewind cursed whatever god was laughing at this moment. Much to his chagrin, the Commander of the Watch was present, and he was chuckling while lighting a scar. Thankfully, Vetinari held up a hand. "This is not a ceremony. My niece requested that there be no fuss over her departure." He smiled wanly. "Otherwise, several balls would have been held, or so I am told."
Byrony let out a small but distinct groan. "Can we just accept that there is to be no balls, no fuss, no grandeur, and I must stress, no fireworks?" She glared at Ridcully, who shrugged. "Fine, but I've always enjoyed them."
Just then, a servant tapped a butler on the shoulder, who then whispered discreetly into Vetinari's ear. "Ah. It seems the coach is ready." he smiled, "It's time for you to commence your travels again, I think?"
He looked questioningly at Byrony, who looked back, unfalteringly.
"Yes. I think it is." There was a grim silence. Suddenly she threw back her head and laughed. "You know, I am really going to miss this city!"
Much to their embarrassment, she bowed low to Ridcully and Ponder, ignoring the scuffles of the other wizards who tried to get to the front. She winked at Carrot and shook Vimes' hand. "When you come back," he said, eyeing her through the cigar smoke "I'm sending some new recruits out with you. If they survive that, they'll survive anything."
Byrony grinned. "I look forward to it."
She made her way through the crowd, saying her goodbyes to everyone whose lives she had imposed on. She stopped at Rincewind. He had waited, growing more and more tense as she made her way to him. No one knew that he had risked his life to save hers… besides the wizards and a couple of watchmen and some other people who saw.
Basically, everyone knew he had risked his life to save hers. But only a few knew to take this information and apply it in a certain manner. Nevertheless, everyone was staring.
She held out her hand. He took it.
His skin was cold. So was hers.
There was no jolt this time, only a lurch in the pit of Rincewind's stomach.
"Thank you." she said, in the tones of one who was saying something else.
"No problem." His lips were numb.
No problem? his gut shrieked That's the best you can do?
She let go of his hand and turned to her uncle. Vetinari had watched this exchange with the air of one that was mentally taking notes, something which would worry Rincewind later, but not now.
"These visits are too short and too far between" Vetinari said, a faint smile on his face. Byrony grinned and kissed him on the cheek. "I will keep practising and I will beat you one day. I will be the ruler of Thud. The Queen of Thud."
"And I, for my part, expect nothing less. I shall be your Grand Vizier."
She brightened. "I could make you a hat!"
"No," Vetinari said.
"No," Byrony agreed seriously, and then kissed him on the cheek once more.
With that, she swung onto the side of the coach, which already inhabited the legendary William and Clancy. One of them took that reigns (probably Clancy, William didn't go much for delicate work) and the coach began moving at swift pace. She waved once more, and for a brief second, her eyes met Rincewind's. Then the coach turned a corner, and it was gone.
It was at that moment that Rincewind realised he had nothing of hers, nothing to hold, nothing to say she had ever existed in the first place. Not a necklace, or a ring or even a handkerchief smelling faintly of lilacs. Wasn't that the norm? Didn't fellows like him usually get some sort of keepsake? Oh, he had his hat, sure enough, and a brief note that couldn't really be described as love letter, no matter how you stretched your imagination, but nothing that once belonged to her.
Actually, that wasn't entirely true. He had his heart. Though it didn't feel like it at the moment, he was pretty sure it was still there. In him. Pumping blood and things.
The crowd began to disperse. Vetinari quickly re-entered the palace. People went back to wherever they were meant to be. Rincewind stayed where he was.
He heard Ridcully saying something about 'seeing him' later, and he thought he felt Ponder pat him on the back but other then that, he was given a wide berth.
For a weary traveller, the warmth of the sun is no substitute for the touch of a loved one. It is the true guiding star. The promise of home and the embrace of the one you hold dear to your heart. Mere words can hardly describe such feelings, the healing warmth of that home touch. Mere words cannot describe the desolation that is felt when it is taken away. But the poet within each traveller, be he the one leaving or missing the one who has left, demands an attempt.
"Bugger." said Rincewind.
Later that evening, Ponder Stibbons was called to an audience with the Patrician of the city.
"Now tell me, what have you found?" Vetinari held the small gold box in his hands and looked at Ponder. It was a look which said: You had better have found something…
Ponder swallowed. "Well my lord, we haven't seen one of these in quite some time. They're a lost art in themselves sir." He was twisting his hat frantically in his hands. He could sense something, a type of eagerness from the Patrician. It was unnerving, like watching a turtle run. "Modulators are temperamental at best, my lord. But, well, we think that we might be able to…adjust it."
"Er, well we could change it so it absorbs small amounts of magic from a source rather then draining it dry and…er…killing the asaidforth source."
"That would be very desirable. And once you do that, then what will you do?"
At this, Ponder became enthused. "Oh what won't we do my lord! We can store magic, save it, use it for other proposes, maybe even make more of these modulators! I mean…er…we…that is…"
Vetinari was looking at him, one eyebrow raised. The Modulator was nowhere to be seen. Ponder reconsidered.
"Er…once we've done that, we'll give it directly to you, my lord."
Vetinari smiled, and the Modulator reappeared in his hand, as if it had never left. He held it out to Ponder. "A wise choice I feel, Mr. Stibbons. You have my complete faith."
I know I do, thought Ponder fervently. And I could really, really do without it.
That night, it didn't rain. Instead the clouds cleared and the moon shone, turning the streets of Ankh-Morpork into a black and white iconograph. The air was sharp and clear, and each individual star was a brilliant pinprick of light against a velvet black sky. There are billions of stars in the sky, and many, many more in the distance of the night. They swirl into the endlessness of space, on and on into infinity, taking very little notice of the goings on of the inhabitants of the worlds which exist amongst them. They circle the Great A'tuin as he or she continues the steady trawl through time and space. They are, in a word, innumerable.
It would be completely impossible for two people, one in a shaky carriage disappearing into the inky blackness of a forest, and the other sitting alone, shivering, on the cold steps of the Library, to be looking at the same one.
But it would be nice if they were.
Have you forgotten what we were like then
When we were first rate
And the day came fat with an apple in its mouth?
It's no use worrying about Time
But we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
And turned some sharp corners.
I wouldn't want to be faster
Or greener than now if you were with me. Oh you
Were the best of all my days.