Lily woke up in the room she'd always wanted. Its walls were soft blue, the ruffled muslin curtains and coverlet were sprigged with more blue and the white furniture was painted with cornflowers and blue-birds.
Because she was the lady of the house - and nearly fourteen years old - she wore her skirts all the way down to the floor and did her hair up on top of her head. This latter operation was an admittedly difficult one requiring a great many pins and usually had to be redone at least once and usually twice as the day wore on. When it finally looked as if her hair meant to stay where she put it, at least for the moment, she went downstairs to the dining room.
She opened the big mullioned window to the mild outside air, spread the cloth and set the table, then filled two cups with chocolate from the gently steaming pot. The door opened at exactly the right moment and her guardian came in.
"Good morning, Uncle," said Lily.
GOOD MORNING, LILY, said Death.
Those familiar with Death's family history (if we may so characterize it) will wonder at him once again taking responsibility for a young girl. Death was quite surprised at it himself, but at the time there had seemed to be no alternative.
It had all begun with the annual epidemic of Putrid Fever in Pseudopolis. In a nice middle class home on Pseudoanonymous Street, Death had found a family of three all near expiring from the disease, but only the mother and thirteen year old daughter were due to come with him. This Mr. Grubb had flatly refused to permit. If anybody was to survive it must be their daughter Lily. She was just a child, she had her whole life before her.
Death was constrained to point out that, in fact, Lily had nothing whatever before her, and displayed her empty lifetimer as evidence. Horrified to discover that he, on the other hand, had forty-five more years of life stretching out in front of him Mr. Grubb had insisted on giving that time to his only child.
Death had been forced to admit that that was quite permissible and prepared to sever Mr. and Mrs. Grubb from their mortal coils. Whereupon the mother had raised the question of what was to become of the daughter as all their near relatives had also expired in the epidemic.
Somehow, exactly how he was never afterwards able to recall, Death found himself promising to look after the girl himself.
Albert, in the colorful Ankh-Morporkian idiom, had gone absolutely Bursar. "Are you stark, staring mad, master?" he shouted confronting Death and a bewildered Lily, still in her flannel nightdress, in Death's study. "Have you gone simple? Is there anything at all in that fine round cranium of yours?? Have you forgot what came of it last time? And what will Miss Susan have to say about all this?"
MISS SUSAN IS OFFENDED WITH US FOR INVOLVING HER IN OUR AFFAIRS, Death replied in eerily distant tones. SHE HAS MADE HER INTENTION OF LIVING A 'NORMAL' MORTAL LIFE QUITE CLEAR. I DO NOT THINK WE WILL BE SEEING MUCH OF HER IN THE FUTURE - PERHAPS NOTHING AT ALL.
Lily spoke for the first time, "Please, sir, who is Susan?"
Lily contemplated that for several seconds. "You have a granddaughter?"
"Thirty odd years back the master here adopted a little girl named Ysabell," Albert took it upon himself to explain. "It ended in tears, as you might expect, and begging your pardon, master, you must have gone wiggy to put yourself through all that again!"
Lily then elected to assert herself for the first - but far from last time. "I am not the master's daughter, Albert, merely a ward. And I am not a little girl. I've been properly educated, I know all about running a house -"
"Excuse me!" Albert drew himself almost straight in his ratty tartan dressing gown. "This house is my business, missy!"
"Of course, Albert," Lily answered in the firm tone Mummy had always used with the maids. "But I intend to lend a hand, as a good mistress should. After all, there's going to be more work for you now."
Lily had indeed proved herself to be a very different sort of girl from Ysabell. She favored blue rather than pink, limited her chocolate intake to a cup in the morning and a few bon-bons after dinner, and she had absolutely no interest in romance. The fact that she was thirteen rather than sixteen probably had a lot to do with that last.
Lily liked history and geography and books about kings and queens, wizards and heroes. She abominated anything to do with figures or sports. She was devoted to her new gray pony, which she named Silkie, and to the baker's dozen of cats that Death had - as Albert saw it - been weak enough to let her bring with her . Not only that but she seemed unable to make a visit to the Disc without picking up one or two more moggies. And finally she thought Death's domain was 'amazing' and 'cool' the last causing Death some confusion as the Winter Garden was in fact a very small part of the grounds.
Even more unlike Ysabell, who had not had a domestic bone in her body, Lily held decided views about how Death's house should be run - that is on normal, middle-class lines. She insisted on a dining room and a parlor and once they'd been created went shopping for the necessary furniture and ornaments in Ankh-Morpork as Lily liked color. She also imposed upon the two crusted old bachelors the first daily routine ever seen in the domain - despite the handicap of a total absence of either sun or moon or working clocks to measure the non-time.
Albert grumbled and sulked - until he discovered serving regular meals in the new dining room meant that he could keep his kitchen all to himself. Lily's announcement that she, of course, meant to look after the new rooms herself also went a long way towards reconciling Albert to the changes. Even better he found that Lily agreed with him entirely on the subject of nutrition - to wit, she wanted none of it.
Death himself remained a slightly bemused bystander, creating rooms and taking his new ward on shopping trips as requested and falling uncomplainingly in with her ways. He had wanted to live like a mortal hadn't he? To see how it felt and to try to understand humans better. And Lily was about the only mortal he'd ever met who was happy to help him do so.
Albert came in with the breakfast tray, trailed by several cats. He had scrambled eggs, lightly browned; hashed potatoes, also well browned; sliced ham, a covered muffin dish and a big bowl of fruit.
"Oranges, grapes, figs and pineapple, in the middle of Icke!" Lily exclaimed. "Albert you are a wonder."
Studying his man's face carefully Death was almost sure he saw rather more color than usual behind the stubble. "It's no credit to me, miss. You can grow anything you like in this climate."
"Only if you ask, Uncle for help," Lily returned. "And he told me you didn't over the pineapples." She smiled fetchingly. "Do let me be impressed, Albert."
He returned the smile baring nicotine stained teeth. Death was certain he heard the creak of unaccustomed muscles. "Just as you please, miss," said Albert and went back to the kitchen. The cats settled themselves on the empty chairs or the rug, eyes fixed with un-winking concentration on the table.
Lily loaded a plate and passed it to Death. Most of the food was meant for him. She seldom ate anything but muffins and fruit with her morning chocolate, but she insisted that a gentleman needed to fill up before his day's business.
Death occasionally wondered about this - surely the girl could see he had nowhere to put it? - but chose to humor her. In fact he found himself enjoying Lily's little attentions. Ysabell had been quite attentive too, in her different way. Death hadn't realized how much he'd missed that.
"Will you be lunching at home, Uncle?" Lily asked, as she did every morning.
Death's answer varied, some times were busier than others. Today he planned to see to the some routine work among the sub-sentients. He calculated and decided.
"Be sure to stop for a curry, or at least coffee and a bun then," Lily said, just as Mummy used to tell Dads.
Back down on the Disc it was nearly Hogswatch - or so Uncle said - and Lily intended to celebrate the feast as usual. Which was how she came to be decking the hall with boughs of Llamedos holly - fa-la-la-la - with Albert's assistance. Suddenly a door opened in the air, blue light and Uncle came through the latter dripping water all over the floor.
SOMETHING IS WRONG.
Albert looked around, sniffing the air dubiously. He frowned. "You know, master, I think you're right."
"You're soaked!" said Lily, then focused on the important issue. "What do you mean 'wrong'?"
THERE HAS BEEN A MAJOR ALTERATION OF THE DISC'S METAPHYSICAL FIELD.
"Must be huge if we're feeling the echoes here," Albert said worriedly.
Lily knew that metaphysics was something wizards did. "Magic?" she asked. "You mean something's gone magically wrong?"
IN ESSENCE. Death thrust his scythe into the umbrella holder and stalked towards the passage to his study, robes clinging damply rather than furling with the speed of his motion.
Albert looked at the puddles on the floor and muttered something about getting a mop. Lily splashed after her uncle. He'd gone right past the study and into the lifetimer room. this was a broad and long - very, very long - hall diminishing to a point in the far distance, and lined with tens of thousands of shelves holding million upon millions of lifetimers - magical hourglasses in all shapes and styles - measuring the times of all things' lives.
The huge room sounded with the susurration of flowing sand, punctuated by the pops and pings of lifetimers appearing and disappearing as Birth and Death went on in the usual way. To Lily's surprise a section of the shelving had swung out and behind it was another, rather smaller lifetimer room - this one being only the size and height of a standard cathedral - But the hourglasses were huge and somehow insubstantial - like so many oddly shaped soap bubbles.
Uncle stood in a spreading puddle, staring down at the floor. "You'll catch your death!" Lily scolded, unconscious of irony, then she saw what he was looking at. Shards of glass glittering in a pile of sand. A hand went to her mouth. She knew all about lifetimers, she'd even seen her own, this had to be bad.
"Is whoever it is dead?" she half whispered.
GODS CANNOT DIE. NOT TILL THE DEATH OF ALL. THEY CAN HOWEVER BE REDUCED TO A POINT SO CLOSE TO NON-EXISTENCE AS TO BE EFFECTIVELY THE SAME.
Lily looked around. A name flashed at her from the shimmering surface of a huge lifetimer, Blind Io. "These are the gods' lifetimers?"
GODS, ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATIONS AND SIMILAR BEINGS, Uncle confirmed.
Lily looked back at the shards and the sand. "How could a lifetimer in here be broken?"
"People just don't stop believing in a god all at once." that was Albert, pushing a mop and frowning. "Faith dwindles, believers die off or convert to other gods. The lifetimer shrinks, it doesn't shatter. We've seen it dozens of times, master."
WE HAVE, Death agreed. THIS IS SOMETHING NEW. SOMEHOW BELIEF HAS BEEN EXTINGUISHED ALMOST INSTANTLY...I WOULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT IT POSSIBLE.....
"Which god is it?" Lily asked.
THE HOGFATHER answered Death.