He sighed again, and picked up the transcript of what the president of the Thieves’ Guild had said to his deputy at midnight in the soundproof room hidden behind the office in the Guild headquarters, and …
Was in the Great Ha …
Was not in the Great Hall of Unseen University, where he had spent some interminable dinners, but there were a lot of wizards around him and they were …
Like Death, which some of the city’s less fortunate citizens considered he intimately resembled, the Patrician never got angry until he had time to think about it. But sometimes he thought very quickly.
He stared around at the assembled wizards, but there was something about them that choked the words of outrage in his throat. They looked like sheep who had suddenly found a trapped wolf at exactly the same time as they heard about the idea of unity being strength.
There was something about their eyes.
‘What is the meaning of this outr-’ he hesitated, and concluded, ‘this? A merry Small Gods’ Day prank, is it?’
His eyes swivelled to meet those of a small boy holding a long metal staff. The child was smiling the oldest smile the Patrician had ever seen.
‘My lord,’ he began.
‘Out with it, man,’ snapped Lord Vetinari.
Carding had been diffident, but the Patrician’s tone was just that tiny bit too peremptory. The wizard’s knuckles went white.
‘I am a wizard of the eighth level,’ he said quietly, ‘and you will not use that tone to me.’
‘Well said,’ said Coin.
`Take him to the dungeons,’ said Carding.
‘We haven’t got any dungeons,’ said Spelter. ‘This is a university.’
‘Then take him to the wine cellars,’ snapped Carding. ‘And while you’re down there, build some dungeons.’
‘Have you the faintest inkling of what you are doing?’ said the-Patrician. ‘I demand to know the meaning of this-’
‘You demand nothing at all,’ said Carding. ‘And the meaning is that from now on the wizards will rule, as it was ordained. Now take-’
‘You? Rule Ankh-Morpork? Wizards who can barely govern themselves?’
‘Yes!’ Carding was aware that this wasn’t the last word in repartee, and was even more alive to the fact that the dog Wuffles, who had been teleported along with his master, had waddled painfully across the floor and was peering short-sightedly at the wizard’s boots.
‘Then all truly wise men would prefer the safety of a nice deep dungeon,’ said the Patrician. ‘And now you will cease this foolery and replace me in my palace, and it is just possible that we will say no more about this. Or at least that you won’t have the chance to.’
Wuffles gave up investigating Carding’s boots and trotted towards Coin, shedding a few hairs on the way.
‘This pantomime has gone on long enough,’ said the Patrician. ‘Now I am getting-’
Wuffles growled. It was a deep, primeval noise, which struck a chord in the racial memory of all those present and filled them with an urgent desire to climb a tree. It suggested long grey shapes hunting in the dawn of time. It was astonishing that such a small animal could contain so much menace, and all of it was aimed at the staff in Coin’s hand.
The Patrician strode forward to snatch the animal, and Carding raised his hand and sent a blaze of orange and blue fire searing across the room.
The Patrician vanished. On the spot where he had been standing a small yellow lizard blinked and glared with malevolent reptilian stupidity.
Carding looked in astonishment at his fingers, as if for the first time.
‘All right,’ he whispered hoarsely.
The wizards stared down at the panting lizard, and then out at the city sparkling in the early morning light. Out there was the council of aldermen, the city watch, the Guild of Thieves, the Guild of Merchants, the priesthoods …and none of them knew what was about to hit them.
It has begun, said the hat, from its box on the deck.
‘What has?’ said Rincewind.
The rule of sourcery.
Rincewind looked blank. ‘Is that good?’
Do you ever understand anything anyone says to you?
Rincewind felt on firmer ground here. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Not always. Not lately. Not often.’
‘Are you sure you are a wizard?’ said Conina.
‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever been sure of,’ he said, with conviction.
Rincewind sat on the Luggage in the sun on the foredeck of the Ocean Waltzer as it lurched peacefully across the green waters of the Circle Sea. Around them men did what he was sure were important nautical things, and he hoped they were doing them correctly, because next to heights he hated depths most of all.
‘You look worried,’ said Conina, who was cutting his hair. Rincewind tried to make his head as small as possible as the blades flashed by.
‘That’s because I am.’
What exactly is the Apocralypse?’
Rincewind hesitated. ‘Well’, he said, ‘it’s the end of the world. Sort of.’
`Sort of? Sort of the end of the world? You mean we won’t be certain? We’ll look around and say “Pardon me, did you hear something?”?’
‘It’s just that no two seers have ever agreed about it. There have been all kinds of vague predictions. Quite mad, some of them. So it was called the Apocralypse.’ He looked embarrassed. ‘It’s a sort of apocryphal Apocalypse. A kind of pun, you see.’
‘Not very good.’
‘No. I suppose not.’
Conina’s scissors snipped busily.
‘I must say the captain seemed quite happy to have us aboard,’ she observed.
`That’s because they think it’s lucky to have a wizard on the boat,’ said Rincewind. ‘It isn’t, of course.’
‘Lots of people believe it,’ she said.
‘Oh, it’s lucky for other people, just not for me. I can’t swim.’
‘What, not a stroke?’
Rincewind hesitated, and twiddled the star on his hat cautiously.
About how deep is the sea here, would you say? Approximately?’ he said.
‘About a dozen fathoms, I believe.’
‘Then I could probably swim about a dozen fathoms, whatever they are.’
‘Stop trembling like that, I nearly had your ear off,’ Conina snapped. She glared at a passing seaman and waved her scissors. ‘What’s the matter, you never saw a man have a haircut before?’
Someone up in the rigging made a remark which caused a ripple of ribald laughter in the topgallants, unless they were forecastles.
‘I shall pretend I didn’t hear that,’ said Conina, and gave the comb a savage yank, dislodging numerous inoffensive small creatures.
‘Well, you should keep still!’
‘It’s a little difficult to keep still knowing who it is that’s waving a couple of steel blades around my head!’
And so the morning passed, with scudding wavelets, the creaking of the rigging, and a rather complex layer cut. Rincewind had to admit, looking at himself in a shard of mirror, that there was a definite improvement.
The captain had said that they were bound for the city of Al Khali, on the hubward coast of Klatch.
`Like Ankh, only with sand instead of mud,’ said Rincewind, leaning over the rail. ‘But quite a good slave market.’
‘Slavery is immoral,’ said Conina firmly.
`Is it? Gosh,’ said Rincewind.
‘Would you like me to trim your beard?’ said Conina, hopefully.
She stopped, scissors drawn, and stared out to sea.
‘Is there a kind of sailor that uses a canoe with sort of extra bits on the side and a sort of red eye painted on the front and a small sail?’ she said.
‘I’ve heard of Klatchian slave pirates,’ said Rincewind, ‘but this is a big boat. I shouldn’t think one of them would dare attack it.’
‘One of them wouldn’t,’ said Conina, still staring at the fuzzy area where the sea became the sky, ‘but these five might.’
Rincewind peered at the distant haze, and then looked up at the man on watch, who shook his head.
‘Come on,’ he chuckled, with all the humour of a blocked drain. ‘You can’t really see anything out there. Can you?’
‘Ten men in each canoe,’ said Conina grimly.
‘Look, a joke’s a joke-’
‘With long curvy swords.’
‘Well, I can’t see a-’
– their long and rather dirty hair blowing in the wind –
‘With split ends, I expect?’ said Rincewind sourly.
‘Are you trying to be funny?’
‘And here’s me without a weapon,’ said Conina, sweeping back across the deck. ‘I bet there isn’t a decent sword anywhere on this boat.’
‘Never mind. Perhaps they’ve just come for a quick shampoo.’
While Conina rummaged frantically in her pack Rincewind sidled over to the Archchancellor’s hatbox and cautiously raised the lid.
‘There’s nothing out there, is there?’ he asked.
How should I know? Put me on.
‘What? On my head?’
‘But I’m not an Archchancellor!’ said Rincewind. ‘I mean, I’ve heard of cool-headed, but-’
I need to use your eyes. Now put me on. On your head.
Rincewind couldn’t disobey. He gingerly removed his battered grey hat, looked longingly at its dishevelled star, and lifted the Archchancellor’s hat out of its box. It felt rather heavier than he’d expected. The octarines around the crown were glowing faintly.
He lowered it carefully on to his new hairstyle, clutching the brim tightly in case he felt the first icy chill.
In fact he simply felt incredibly light. And there was a feeling of great knowledge and power – not actually present, but just, mentally speaking, on the tip of his metaphorical tongue.
Odd scraps of memory flickered across his mind, and they weren’t any memories he remembered remembering before. He probed gently, as one touches a hollow tooth with the tongue, and there they were –
Two hundred dead Archchancellors, dwindling into the leaden, freezing past, one behind the other, watched him with blank grey eyes.
That’s why it’s so cold, he told himself, the warmth seeps into the dead world. Oh, no …
When the hat spoke, he saw two hundred pairs of pale lips move.
Who are you?
Rincewind, thought Rincewind. And in the inner recesses of his head he tried to think privately to himself … help.
He felt his knees begin to buckle under the weight of centuries.
What’s it like, being dead? he thought.
Death is but a sleep, said the dead mages.
But what does it feel like? Rincewind thought.
You will have an unrivalled chance to find out when those war canoes get here, Rincewind.
With a yelp of terror he thrust upwards and forced the hat off his head. Real life and sound flooded back in, but since someone was frantically banging a gong very close to his ear this was not much of an improvement. The canoes were visible to everyone now, cutting through the water with an eerie silence. Those black-clad figures manning the paddles should have been whooping and screaming; it wouldn’t have made it any better, but it would have seemed more appropriate. The silence bespoke an unpleasant air of purpose.