‘Hard to disobey, isn’t it?’ said Conina.
‘I’m trying,’ said Rincewind. Sweat prickled on his forehead.
Go aboard now, said the hat. Rincewind’s feet began to shuffle of their own accord.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he moaned.
Because I have no alternative. Believe me, if I could have found an eighth level mage I would have done so. I must not be worn!
‘Why not? You are the Archchancellor’s hat.’
And through me speak all the Archchancellors who ever lived. I am the University. I am the Lore. I am the symbol of magic under the control of men – and I will not be worn by a sourcerer! There must be no more sourcerers! The world is too worn out for sourcery!
‘Did you understand any of that?’ she said, cautiously.
‘I understood some of it, but I didn’t believe it,’ said Rincewind. His feet remained firmly rooted to the cobbles.
They called me a figurehat! The voice was heavy with sarcasm. Fat wizards who betray everything the University ever stood for, and they called me a figurehat! Rincewind, I command you. And you, madam. Serve me well and I will grant you your deepest desire.
‘How can you grant my deepest desire if the world’s going to end?’
The hat appeared to think about it. Well, have you got a deepest desire that need only take a couple of minutes?
‘Look, how can you do magic? You’re just a-’ Rincewind’s voice trailed off.
I AM magic. Proper magic. Besides, you don’t get worn by some of the world’s greatest wizards for two thousand years without learning a few things. Now. We must flee.
But with dignity of course.
Rincewind looked pathetically at Conina, who shrugged again.
‘Don’t ask me,’ she said. ‘This looks like an adventure. I’m doomed to have them, I’m afraid. That’s genetics for you.’
‘But I’m no good at them! Believe me, I’ve been through dozens!’ Rincewind wailed.
Ah. Experience, said the hat.
‘No, really, I’m a terrible coward, I always run away.’ Rincewind’s chest heaved. ‘Danger has stared me in the back of the head, oh, hundreds of times!’
I don’t want you to go into danger.
I want you to stay OUT of danger.
Rincewind sagged. ‘Why me?’ he moaned.
For the good of the University. For the honour of wizardry. For the sake of the world. For your heart’s desire. And I’ll freeze you alive if you don’t.
Rincewind breathed a sigh almost of relief. He wasn’t good on bribes, or cajolery, or appeals to his better nature. But threats, now, threats were familiar. He knew where he was with threats.
The sun dawned on Small Gods’ Day like a badly poached egg. The mists had closed in over Ankh-Morpork in streamers of silver and gold – damp, warm, silent. There was the distant grumbling of springtime thunder, out on the plains. It seemed warmer than it ought to be.
Wizards normally slept late. On this morning, however, many of them had got up early and were wandering the corridors aimlessly. They could feel the change in the air.
The University was filling up with magic.
Of course, it was usually full of magic anyway, but it was an old, comfortable magic, as exciting and dangerous as a bedroom slipper. But seeping through the ancient fabric was a new magic, saw-edged and vibrant, bright and cold as comet fire. It sleeted through the stones and crackled off sharp edges like static electricity on the nylon carpet of Creation. It buzzed and sizzled. It curled wizardly beards, poured in wisps of octarine smoke from fingers that had done nothing more mystical for three decades than a little light illusion. How can the effect be described with delicacy and taste? For most of the wizards, it was like being an elderly man who, suddenly faced with a beautiful young woman, finds to his horror and delight and astonishment that the flesh is suddenly as willing as the spirit.
And in the halls and corridors of the University the word was being whispered: Sourcery!
A few wizards surreptitiously tried spells that they hadn’t been able to master for years, and watched in amazement as they unrolled perfectly. Sheepishly at first, and then with confidence, and then with shouts and whoops, they threw fireballs to one another or produced live doves out of their hats or made multi-coloured sequins fall out of the air.
Sourcery! One or two wizards, stately men who had hitherto done nothing more blameworthy that eat a live oyster, turned themselves invisible and chased the maids and bedders through the corridors.
Sourcery! Some of the bolder spirits had tried out ancient flying spells and were bobbing a little uncertainly among the rafters. Sourcery!
Only the Librarian didn’t share in the manic breakfast. He watched the antics for some time, pursing his prehensile lips, and then knuckled stiffly off towards his Library. If anyone had bothered to notice, they’d have heard him bolting the door.
It was deathly quiet in the Library. The books were no longer frantic. They’d passed through their fear and out into the calm waters of abject terror, and they crouched on their shelves like so many mesmerised rabbits.
A long hairy arm reached up and grabbed Casplock’s Compleet Lexicon of Majik with Precepts for the Wise before it could back away, soothed its terror with a longfingered hand, and opened it under ‘S’. The Librarian smoothed the trembling page gently and ran a horny nail down the entries until he came to:
Sourcerer, n. (mythical). A proto-wizard, a doorway through which new majik may enterr the world, a wizard not limited by the physical capabilities of hys own bodie, not by Destinie, nor by Deathe. It is written that there once werre sourcerers in the youth of the world but not may there by nowe and blessed be, for sourcery is not for menne and the return of sourcery would mean the Ende of the Worlde … If the Creator hadd meant menne to bee as goddes, he ould have given them wings. SEE ALSO: thee Apocralypse, the legende of thee Ice Giants, and thee Teatime of the Goddes.
The Librarian read the cross-references, turned back to the first entry, and stared at it through deep dark eyes for a long time. Then he put the book back carefully, crept under his desk, and pulled the blanket over his head.
But in the minstrel gallery over the Great Hall Carding and Spelter watched the scene with entirely different emotions.
Standing side by side they looked almost exactly like the number 10.
‘What is happening?’ said Spelter. He’d had a sleepless night, and wasn’t thinking very straight.
‘Magic is flowing into the University,’ said Carding. ‘That’s what sourcerer means. A channel for magic. Real magic, my boy. Not the tired old stuff we’ve made do with these past centuries. This is the dawning of a … a-’
‘New, um, dawn?’
‘Exactly. A time of miracles, a … a-’
Carding frowned. ‘Yes,’ he said, eventually, ’something like that, I expect. You have quite a way with words, you know.’
‘Thank you, brother.’
The senior wizard appeared to ignore the familiarity. Instead he turned and leaned on the carved rail, watching the magical displays below them. His hands automatically went to his pockets for his tobacco pouch, and then paused. He grinned, and snapped his fingers. A lighted cigar appeared in his mouth.
‘Haven’t been able to do that in years,’ he mused. ‘Big changes, my boy. They haven’t realised it yet, but it’s the end of Orders and Levels. That was just a – rationing system. We don’t need them any more. Where is the boy?’
‘Still asleep-’ Spelter began.
‘I am here,’ said Coin.
He stood in the archway leading to the senior wizard’s quarters, holding the octiron staff that was half again as tall as he was. Little veins of yellow fire coruscated across its matt black surface, which was so dark that it looked like a slit in the world.
Spelter felt the golden eyes bore through him, as if his innermost thoughts were being scrolled across the back of his skull.
‘Ah,’ he said, in a voice that he believed was jolly and avuncular but in fact sounded like a strangled death rattle. After a start like that his contribution could only get worse, and it did. ‘I see you’re, um, up,’ he said.
‘My dear boy,’ said Carding.
Coin gave him a long, freezing stare.
‘I saw you last night,’ he said. ‘Are you puissant?’
‘Only mildly,’ said Carding, hurriedly recalling the boy’s tendency to treat wizardry as a terminal game of corkers. ‘But not so puissant as you, I’m sure.’
‘I am to be made Archchancellor, as is my destiny?’
‘Oh, absolutely,’ said Carding. ‘No doubt about it. May I have a look at your staff? Such an interesting design-’
He reached out a pudgy hand.
It was a shocking breach of etiquette in any case; no wizard should even think of touching another’s staff without his express permission. But there are people who can’t quite believe that children are fully human, and think that the operation of normal good manners doesn’t apply to them.
Carding’s fingers curled around the black staff.
There was a noise that Spelter felt rather than heard, and Carding bounced across the gallery and struck the opposite wall with a sound like a sack of lard hitting a pavement.
‘Don’t do that,’ said Coin. He turned and looked through Spelter, who had gone pale, and added: ‘Help him up. He is probably not badly hurt.’
The bursar scuttled hurriedly across the floor and bent over Carding, who was breathing heavily and had gone an odd colour. He patted the wizard’s hand until Carding opened one eye.
‘Did you see what happened?’ he whispered.
‘I’m not sure. Um. What did happen?’ hissed Spelter.
‘It bit me.’
‘The next time you touch the staff,’ said Coin, matteroffactly, ‘you will die. Do you understand?’
Carding raised his head gently, in case bits of it fell off.
‘Absolutely,’ he said.
‘And now I would like to see the University,’ the boy continued. ‘I have heard a great deal about it…’
Spelter helped Carding to his unsteady feet and supported him as they trotted obediently after the boy.
‘Don’t touch his staff,’ muttered Carding.
‘I’ll remember, um, not to,’ said Spelter firmly. ‘What did it feel like?’
‘Have you ever been bitten by a viper?’
‘In that case you’ll understand exactly what it felt like.’
‘It wasn’t like a snake bite at all.’
They hurried after the determined figure as Coin marched down the stairs and through the ravished doorway of the Great Hall.
Spelter dodged in front, anxious to make a good impression.
‘This is the Great Hall,’ he said. Coin turned his golden gaze towards him, and the wizard felt his mouth dry up. ‘It’s called that because it’s a hall, dyou see. And big.’
He swallowed. ‘It’s a big hall,’ he said, fighting to stop the last of his coherence being burned away by the searchlight of that stare. ‘A great big hall, which is why it’s called-’