Sourcery (Discworld #5)

9,619
07.03.2019

‘I said, don’t you think it was made for me?’ said Carding.

Spelter turned back, his face blank.

‘Um?’

‘The hat, man.’

‘Oh. Um. Very – suitable.’

With a sigh Carding removed the baroque headpiece and carefully replaced it in its box. ‘We’d better take it to him,’ he said. ‘He’s starting to ask about it.’

‘I’m still bothered about where the real hat is,’ said Spelter.

‘It’s in here,’ said Carding firmly, tapping the lid.

‘I mean the, um, real one.’

‘This is the real one.’

‘I meant-’

‘This is the Archchancellor’s Hat,’ said Carding carefully. ‘You should know, you made it.’

‘Yes, but-’began the bursar wretchedly.

‘After all, you wouldn’t make a forgery, would you?’

‘Not as, um, such-’

‘It’s just a hat. It’s whatever people think it is. People see the Archchancellor wearing it, they think it’s the original hat. In a certain sense, it is. Things are defined by what they do. And people, of course. Fundamental basis of wizardry, is that.’ Carding paused dramatically, and plonked the hatbox into Spelter’s arms. ‘Cogitum ergot hatto, you might say.’

Spelter had made a special study of old languages, and did his best.

‘ “I think, therefore I am a hat?”‘ he hazarded.

`What?’ said Carding, as they set off down the stairs to the new incarnation of the Great Hall.

‘ “I considered I’m a mad hat?”‘ Spelter suggested.

‘Just shut up, all right?’

The haze still hung over the city, its curtains of silver and gold turned to blood by the light of the setting sun which streamed in through the windows of the hall.

Coin was sitting on a stool with his staff across his knees. It occurred to Spelter that he had never seen the boy without it, which was odd. Most wizards kept their staves under the bed, or hooked up over the fireplace.

He didn’t like this staff. It was black, but not because that was its colour, more because it seemed to be a moveable hole into some other, more unpleasant set of dimensions. It didn’t have eyes but, nevertheless, it seemed to stare at Spelter as if it knew his innermost thoughts, which at the moment was more than he did.

His skin prickled as the two wizards crossed the floor and felt the blast of a raw magic flowing outwards from the seated figure.

Several dozen of the most senior wizards were clustered around the stool, staring in awe at the floor.

Spelter craned to see, and saw-

The world.

It floated in a puddle of black night somehow set into the floor itself, and Spelter knew with a terrible certainty that it was the world, not some image or simple projection. There were cloud patterns and everything. There were the frosty wastes of the Hublands, the Counterweight Continent, the Circle Sea, the Rimfall, all tiny and pastel-coloured but nevertheless real …

Someone was speaking to him.

‘Um?’ he said, and the sudden drop in metaphorical temperature jerked him back into reality. He realised with horror that Coin had just directed a remark at him.

‘I’m sorry?’ he corrected himself. ‘It was just that the world … so beautiful …’

‘Our Spelter is an aesthete,’ said Coin, and there was a brief chuckle from one or two wizards who knew what the word meant, ‘but as to the world, it could be improved. I had said, Spelter, that everywhere we look we can see cruelty and inhumanity and greed, which tell us that the world is indeed governed badly, does it not?’

Spelter was aware of two dozen pairs of eyes turning to him.

‘Um,’ he said. ‘Well, you can’t change human nature.’

There was dead silence.

Spelter hesitated. ‘Can you?’ he said.

‘That remains to be seen,’ said Carding. ‘But if we change the world, then human nature also will change. Is that not so, brothers?’

‘We have the city,’ said one of the wizards. ‘I myself have created a castle-’

‘We rule the city, but who rules the world?’ said Carding. ‘There must be a thousand petty kings and emperors and chieftains down there.’

‘Not one of whom can read without moving his lips,’ said a wizard.

‘The Patrician could read,’ said Spelter.

‘Not if you cut off his index finger,’ said Carding. ‘What happened to the lizard, anyway? Never mind. The point is, the world should surely be run by men of wisdom and philosophy. It must be guided. We’ve spent centuries fighting amongst ourselves, but together… who knows what we could do?’

‘Today the city, tomorrow the world,’ said someone at the back of the crowd.

Carding nodded.

‘Tomorrow the world, and-’ he calculated quickly-’on Friday the universe!’

That leaves the weekend free, thought Spelter. He recalled the box in his arms, and held it out towards Coin. But Carding floated in front of him, seized the box in one fluid movement and offered it to the boy with a flourish.

‘The Archchancellor’s hat,’ he said. ‘Rightfully yours, we think.’

Coin took it. For the first time Spelter saw uncertainty cross his face.

‘Isn’t there some sort of formal ceremony?’ he said.

Carding coughed.

‘I-er, no,’ he said. ‘No, I don’t think so.’ He glanced up at the other senior mages, who shook their heads. ‘No. We’ve never had one. Apart from the feast, of course. Er. You see, it’s not like a coronation, the Archchancellor, you see, he leads the fraternity of wizards, he’s,’ Carding’s voice ran down slowly in the light of that golden gaze, ‘he’s you see … he’s the … first …among … equals …’

He stepped back hurriedly as the staff moved eerily until it pointed towards him. Once again Coin seemed to be listening to an inner voice.

‘No,’ he said eventually, and when he spoke next his voice had that wide, echoing quality that, if you are not a wizard, you can only achieve with a lot of very expensive audio equipment. ‘There will be a ceremony. There must be a ceremony, people must understand that wizards are ruling, but it will not be here. I will select a place. And all the wizards who have passed through these gates will attend, is that understood?’

‘Some of them live far off,’ said Carding, carefully. ‘It will take them some time to travel, so when were you thinking of-’

‘They are wizards!’ shouted Coin. ‘They can be here in the twinkling of an eye! I have given them the power! Besides,’ his voice dropped back to something like normal pitch, ‘the University is finished. It was never the true home of magic, only its prison. I will build us a new place.’

He lifted the new hat out of its box, and smiled at it. Spelter and Carding held their breath.

‘But-’

They looked around. Hakardly the Lore master had spoken, and now stood with his mouth opening and shutting.

Coin turned to him, one eyebrow raised.

‘You surely don’t mean to close the University?’ said the old wizard, his voice trembling.

‘It is no longer necessary,’ said Coin. ‘It’s a place of dust and old books. It is behind us. Is that not so … brothers?’

There was a chorus of uncertain mumbling. The wizards found it hard to imagine life without the old stones of UU. Although, come to think of it, there was a lot of dust, of course, and the books were pretty old …

‘After all … brothers … who among you has been into your dark library these past few days? The magic is inside you now, not imprisoned between covers. Is that not a joyous thing? Is there not one among you who has done more magic, real magic, in the past twenty-four hours than he has done in the whole of his life before? Is there one among you who does not, in his heart of hearts, truly agree with me?’

Spelter shuddered. In his heart of hearts an inner Spelter had woken, and was struggling to make himself heard. It was a Spelter who suddenly longed for those quiet days, only hours ago, when magic was gentle and shuffled around the place in old slippers and always had time for a sherry and wasn’t like a hot sword in the brain and, above all, didn’t kill people.

Terror seized him as he felt his vocal chords twang to attention and prepare, despite all his efforts, to disagree.

The staff was trying to find him. He could feel it searching for him. It would vanish him, just like poor old Billias. He clamped his jaws together, but it wouldn’t work. He felt his chest heave. His jaw creaked.

Carding, shifting uneasily, stood on his foot. Spelter yelped.

‘Sorry’, said Carding.

‘Is something the matter, Spelter?’ said Coin.

Spelter hopped on one leg, suddenly released, his body flooding with relief as his toes flooded with agony, more grateful than anyone in the entire history of the world that seventeen stones of wizardry had chosen his instep to come down heavily on.

His scream seemed to have broken the spell. Coin sighed, and stood up.

‘It has been a good day,’ he said.

It was two o’clock in the morning. River mists coiled like snakes through the streets of Ankh-Morpork, but they coiled alone. Wizards did not hold with other people staying up after midnight, and so no-one did. They slept the troubled sleep of the enchanted, instead.

In the Plaza of Broken Moons, once the boutique of mysterious pleasures from whose flare-lit and curtain-hung stalls the late-night reveller could obtain anything from a plate of jellied eels to the venereal disease of his choice, the mists coiled and dripped into chilly emptiness.

The stalls had gone, replaced by gleaming marble and a statue depicting the spirit of something or other, surrounded by illuminated fountains. Their dull splashing was the only sound that broke the cholesterol of silence that had the heart of the city in its grip.

Silence reigned too in the dark bulk of Unseen University. Except-

Spelter crept along the shadowy corridors like a two-legged spider, darting – or at least limping quickly -from pillar to archway, until he reached the forbidding doors of the Library. He peered nervously at the darkness around him and, after some hesitation, tapped very, very lightly.

Silence poured from the heavy woodwork. But, unlike the silence that had the rest of the city under its thrall, this was a watchful, alert silence; it was the silence of a sleeping cat that had just opened one eye.

When he could bear it no longer Spelter dropped to his hands and knees and tried to peer under the doors.

Finally he, put his mouth as close as he could to the draughty, dusty gap under the bottommost hinge and whispered: ‘I say! Um. Can you hear me?’

He felt sure that something moved, far back in the darkness.

He tried again, his mood swinging between terror and hope with every erratic thump of his heart.

‘I say? It’s me, um, Spelter. You know? Could you speak to me, please?’

Perhaps large leathery feet were creeping gently across the floor in there, or maybe it was only the creaking of Spelter’s nerves. He tried to swallow away the dryness in his throat, and had another go.

❮❯