9 The Hermit

A richly dressed Wizard is walking out and is often seen ascending to a mountaintop, where he stands in lonely contemplation. A long way below him it is possible to see the lights of a city – this card is always a night scene – and moonlight reflecting off a distant river, meandering through countryside. The Wizard holds his staff before him, and illumination radiates from a jewel or globe at the end, by which he sees his way in the dark.

This card denotes a time-out, a period of retreat from the world, quiet reflection and contemplation. A necessary re-charging of batteries before returning to the fray, possibly a holiday or necessary time off work. Keen and attentive study is also indicated – perhaps the card for a student or an academic?

Or, for a student of the arcane arts, breathing space to revise before a test that takes you to the next level.

"Winged you, you bloody bugger!" bellowed Mustrum Ridcully, as the second string of his over-and-under(1) crossbow snapped back and the bolt flew true towards the luckless bird (which was actually a bustard, rather than a bugger),

He nodded with satisfaction as the hunting dragons waddled forward to retrieve the bird. There was nothing like getting' away into the country by yerself for a day or two, away from the University, away from the bloody Faculty, to recharge yer batteries and get a bit of precious thinkin' time. Stibbons was fit, after all, and he could be trusted to keep the machine tickin' over while he, the Arch-Chancellor, took a vacation. And the lad had been more than helpful in findin' him a broomstick to fly himself and his kit up into the mountains.

He paused. He hadn't got to be Arch-Chancellor without being a little bit paranoid and suspicious.

Strikes me the lad was a damn' sight too keen to see the back of me for a few days. He got me the broomstick fully charged with oomph, he made sure one of the kennel-masters from the family estates was up here with me hunting dragons to collect, everything's gone without a bloody hitch, and that's either good organisation – Stibbons is good at that, to give him his due – or he positively relishes not havin' me around and bein' in charge for a week. Wonder what Vetinari called him to the Palace for the other week? (2) No, I don't need to wonder - Havelock stirrin' things as usual. Well, I hope the other men behave themselves and I bloody well hope there's a University for me to come back to!

Ridcully shrugged. Nothing he could do about it, and with a bit of luck, the Faculty were being as fractious for the de facto Vice-Chancellor as they were for him, teach the lad a lesson or two in man-management.

He breathed in the rich mountain air and surveyed the river. The dragons waddled back to him, the body of the luckless bird carried between two beaks.

"Good lads!" Ridcully praised them. "We'll all eat tonight! If I bag me some salmon too, it'll be a turf 'n' surf!"

He'd go fishing in the afternoon, he reflected. A broad grin crossed his face. Mustrum Ridcully was enjoying himself, in his natural element, doing what he loved best – making nature even redder in tooth and claw, making life even more difficult for animal species from bears and eagles downwards.

In the fading light, Ridcully sat at his campsite, fowl and fish occasionally spitting fat in the flames as he turned their spits. The carcass of a deer laid nearby as a courtesy detail.

In he distance, he could see the light of a city on the plains, a coulpe of thousand feet below. But the urban noise and thunder down in the valley below was not his concern. He felt happily distanced from it as he contemplated his life.

Some people think a wizard should head up into the mountains to get away from life. I agree with that. A fellow needs his thinkin' time. But unless you want to say you've bagged the bugger, like I did at Copperhead when I was a lot younger, what's the sense of going all the way up? I only climbed the blessed thing to impress Esme, and blow me if the moment I get to the summit, she turns up on a bloody broomstick and tells me that much though she don't hold with flyin', it's an easier way up, and faster, too. And then she skips off talkin' to trolls and dwarfs for the rest of the day like it's no big thing!

He turned the meat again. The dragons looked up from their feed of assorted offal mixed with charcoal and their eyes turned expectantly to him. Ridcully returned to his reverie.

No, no sense in goin' right up to the pointy bit at the top. Though some wizards do, are used to, when we were more athletic and less addicted to twelve-course meals. Where's the sense? Nothin' worthwhile to shoot, all the decent animals are well below you, it's bloody cold, the air's too thin and there's always some bloody Hublandese monk in a cave talkin' rot about the sound of one hand clapping. Must be the altitude sickness getting' to them, makes them hallucinate.

In a tree by the brook, a songbird, possibly a nightingale, sang.

Ridcully shook his head.

Too late now to think about Esme. Waste of effort and a bit misgiven. But she's doin' well for herself. And she's happy, far as I or anyone else can tell. She never believed anyone else could build her a stairway to heaven. Mind you, she's never believed in heaven, either. Send her up there and she'd be criticisin' the quality of clouds, the incessant bloody harp music, refusin' wings on the grounds she's never really got on with flyin' so why should she start now, and hangin' the halo on a hatpeg cos' she'll never give up the witch's hat…

Ridcully looked to the Widdershins, and had an uneasy feeling. He noted the campfire was sending up perfect smoke rings. Association of ideas made him wonder about a pipe. He'd taken late to smoking(3), reluctantly accepting some things are mandatory for senior wizards, and had realised a pipe in hand gave you the appearance of looking wise, while the incessant fiddling with the bloody thing to stop it goin' out meant you could avoid inhaling the smoke.

He heard the hungry dragons howling as they looked on. Responding to their voices, he kindly said "Won't be long now, you men!"

Something too small to bother shooting was bustling in the hedgerow. A dragon padded off to investigate.

Ridcully frowned. Why had he thought of bagpipes all of a sudden? Infernal bloody noise they made. Or else Hoki the bloody jokester was near with his bloody drainpipes.

After a while, with no manifestation of godhood or bagpipes to trouble him, he relaxed.

And as he cooked, he had a flash of insight: perhaps an inspiration particle meant for somebody else had called on his brain.

To be a rock, and not to roll….. he turned the phrase over in his head. Neat, pithy. Good for me autobiography. It summed up the lives of people like him and Esme Weatherwax. But Esme might have added that sometimes even a rock has to roll, when it bloody well has to. The trick was knowing when.

He uncorked a brandy flask, looked Widdershins towards Lancre, and saluted Esme.

May the whisperin' wind take you me best wishes. May you find gold, in whatever form you value it most. He stopped short at white light. She would have thought that showy.

And a wizard and the dragons ate their collective fill. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe a bear.

(1) An over-and-under shotgun is a variant marketed for hunters, where the two barrels and operating chambers are one above the other, a double-decker, rather than side-by-side as on conventional guns. Upper-crust gunsmiths Purdeigh of London (think Burleigh of Ankh-Morpork) build bespoke variants for the price of a small family car. It is entirely in keeping with Mustrum Ridcully that he has a double-decker crossbow, for ease and speed of shooting.

(2) See chapter The Magician in this story.

(3) When we first see Ridcully in Reaper Man, he and his brother Hughnon are seen in discourse. The Chief Priest refuses Mustrum's offer of a brandy on the grounds that alcohol is a deceiver and bad for the soul, but offers Mustrum a cigarette, which he refuses, citing the damage they cause to the lungs. It is clear the early Ridcully is a rare thing, a non-smoking wizard. Yet by Unseen Academicals, he is craving a smoke only to find out that Mrs Whitlow has cleared away no less than three of what he fondly imagined were secret stashes of cigarettes and pipe tobacco. Clearly the pressures of being Arch-Chancellor have made him, uncharacteristically, succumb to peer pressure. You wonder if Hughnon has also succumbed and secretly drinks the communion wine…

Anyone familiar with the original good 'ol 12" vinyl version of Led Zeppelin IV (Untitled, Zozo, and other names) will have seen the gatefold LP cover opens out into a depiction of the tarot card, the Hermit. I have paid due homage to two tracks on the LP in this fanfic.