‘Look, all right, but, look, they’re talking about shutting the Library!’
The silence grew louder. The sleeping cat had cocked an ear.
‘What is happening is all wrong!’ the bursar confided, and clapped his hand over his mouth at the enormity of what he had said.
It was the faintest of noises, like the eructation of cockroaches.
Suddenly emboldened, Spelter pressed his lips closer to the crack.
‘Have you got the, um, Patrician in there?’
‘What about the little doggie?’
Spelter lay full length in the comfort of the night, and drummed his fingers on the chilly floor.
‘You wouldn’t care to, um, let me in too?’ he ventured.
Spelter made a face in the gloom.
‘Well, would you, um, let me come in for a few minutes? We need to discuss something urgently, man to man.’
‘I meant ape.’
‘Look, won’t you come out, then?’
Spelter sighed. ‘This show of loyalty is all very well, but you’ll starve in there.’
‘What other way in?’
‘Oh, have it your way,’ Spelter sighed. But, somehow, he felt better for the conversation. Everyone else in the University seemed to be living in a dream, whereas the Librarian wanted nothing more in the whole world than soft fruit, a regular supply of index cards and the opportunity, every month or so, to hop over the wall of the Patrician’s private menagerie. It was strangely reassuring.
‘So you’re all right for bananas and so forth?’ he inquired, after another pause.
‘Don’t let anyone in, will you? Um. I think that’s frightfully important.’
‘Good.’ Spelter stood up and dusted off his knees. Then he put his mouth to the keyhole and added, ‘Don’t trust anyone.’
It was not completely dark in the Library, because the serried rows of magical books gave off a faint octarine glow, caused by thaumaturgical leakage into a strong occult field. It was just bright enough to illuminate the pile of shelves wedged against the door.
The former Patrician had been carefully decanted into a jar on the Librarian’s desk. The Librarian himself sat under it, wrapped in his blanket and holding Wuffles on his lap.
Occasionally he would eat a banana.
Spelter, meanwhile, limped back along the echoing passages of the University, heading for the security of his bedroom. It was because his ears were nervously straining the tiniest of sounds out of the air that he heard, right on the cusp of audibility, the sobbing.
It wasn’t a normal noise up here. In the carpeted corridors of the senior wizards’ quarters there were a number of sounds you might hear late at night, such as snoring, the gentle clinking of glasses, tuneless singing and, once in a while, the zip and sizzle of a spell gone wrong. But the sound of someone quietly crying was such a novelty that Spelter found himself edging down the passage that led to the Archchancellor’s suite.
The door was ajar. Telling himself that he really shouldn’t, tensing himself for a hurried dash, Spelter peered inside.
‘What is it?’ he whispered.
‘I think it’s a temple of some sort,’ said Conina.
Rincewind stood and gazed upwards, the crowds of AI Khali bouncing off and around him in a kind of human Brownian motion. A temple, he thought. Well, it was big, and it was impressive, and the architect had used every trick in the book to make it look even bigger and even more impressive than it was, and to impress upon everyone looking at it that they, on the other hand, were very small and ordinary and didn’t have as many domes. It was the kind of place that looked exactly as you were always going to remember it.
But Rincewind felt he knew holy architecture when he saw it, and the frescoes on the big and, of course, impressive walls above him didn’t look at all religious. For one thing, the participants were enjoying themselves. Almost certainly, they were enjoying themselves. Yes, they must be. It would be pretty astonishing if they weren’t.
‘They’re not dancing, are they?’ he said, in a desperate attempt not to believe the evidence of his own eyes. ‘Or maybe it’s some sort of acrobatics?’
Conina squinted upwards in the hard, white sunlight.
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ she said, thoughtfully.
Rincewind remembered himself. ‘I don’t think a young woman like you should be looking at this sort of thing,’ he said sternly.
Conina gave him a smile. ‘I think wizards are expressly forbidden to,’ she said sweetly. ‘It’s supposed to turn you blind.’
Rincewind turned his face upwards again, prepared to risk maybe one eye. This sort of thing is only to be expected, he told himself. They don’t know any better. Foreign countries are, well, foreign countries. They do things differently there.
Although some things, he decided, were done in very much the same way, only with rather more inventiveness and, by the look of it, far more often.
‘The temple frescoes of Al Khali are famous far and wide,’ said Conina, as they walked through crowds of children who kept trying to sell Rincewind things and introduce him to nice relatives.
‘Well, I can see they would be,’ Rincewind agreed. ‘Look, push off, will you? No, I don’t want to buy whatever it is. No, I don’t want to meet her. Or him, either. Or it, you nasty little boy. Get off, will you?’
The last scream was to the group of children riding sedately on the Luggage, which was plodding along patiently behind Rincewind and making no attempt to shake them off. Perhaps it was sickening for something, he thought, and brightened up a bit.
‘How many people are there on this continent, do you think?’ he said.
‘I don’t know,’ said Conina, without turning round. ‘Millions, I expect?’
‘If I were wise, I wouldn’t be here,’ said Rincewind, with feeling.
They had been in Al Khali, gateway to the whole mysterious continent of Klatch, for several hours. He was beginning to suffer.
A decent city should have a bit of fog about it, he considered, and people should live indoors, not spend all their time out on the streets. There shouldn’t be all this sand and heat. As for the wind …
Ankh-Morpork had its famous smell, so full of personality that it could reduce a strong man to tears. But Al Khali had its wind, blowing from the vastness of the deserts and continents nearer the rim. It was a gentle breeze, but it didn’t stop and eventually it had the same effect on visitors that a cheesegrater achieves on a tomato. After a while it seemed to have worn away your skin and was rasping directly across the nerves.
To Conina’s sensitive nostrils it carried aromatic messages from the heart of the continent, compounded of the chill of deserts, the stink of lions, the compost of jungles and the flatulence of wildebeest.
Rincewind, of course, couldn’t smell any of this. Adaptation is a wonderful thing, and most Morporkians would be hard put to smell a burning feather mattress at five feet.
‘Where to next?’ he said. ‘Somewhere out of the wind?’
‘My father spent some time in Khali when he was hunting for the Lost City of Ee,’ said Conina. ‘And I seem to remember he spoke very highly of the soak. It’s a kind of bazaar.’
‘I suppose we just go and look for the second-hand hat stalls,’ said Rincewind. ‘Because the whole idea is totally-’
‘What I was hoping was that maybe we could be attacked. That seems the most sensible idea. My father said that very few strangers who entered the soak ever came out again. Some very murderous types hang out there, he said.’
Rincewind gave this due consideration.
‘Just run that by me again, will you?’ he said. ‘After you said we should be attacked I seemed to hear a ranging in my ears.’
‘Well, we want to meet the criminal element, don’t we?’
‘Not exactly want,’ said Rincewind. ‘That wasn’t the phrase I would have chosen.’
‘How would you put it, then?’
‘Er. I think the phrase “not want” sums it up pretty well.’
‘But you agreed that we should get the hat!’
‘But not die in the process,’ said Rincewind, wretchedly. ‘That won’t do anyone any good. Not me, anyway.’
‘My father always said that death is but a sleep,’ said Conina.
‘Yes, the hat told me that,’ said Rincewind, as they turned down a narrow, crowded street between white adobe walls. ‘But the way I see it, it’s a lot harder to get up in the morning.’
‘Look,’ said Conina, ‘there’s not much risk. You’re with me.’
‘Yes, and you’re looking forward to it, aren’t you,’ said Rincewind accusingly, as Conina piloted them along a shady alley, with their retinue of pubescent entrepreneurs at their heels. ‘It’s the old herrydeterry at work.’
‘Just shut up and try to look like a victim, will you?’
‘I can do that all right,’ said Rincewind, beating off a particularly stubborn member of the junior Chamber of Commerce, ‘I’ve had a lot of practice. For the last time, I don’t want to buy anyone, you wretched child!’
He looked gloomily at the walls around them. At least there weren’t any of those disturbing pictures here, but the hot breeze still blew the dust around him and he was sick and tired of looking at sand. What he wanted was a couple of cool beers, a cold bath and a change of clothing; it probably wouldn’t make him feel better, but it would at least make feeling awful more enjoyable. Not that there was any beer here, probably. It was a funny thing, but in chilly cities like Ankh-Morpork the big drink was beer, which cooled you down, but in places like this, where the whole sky was an oven with the door left open, people drank tiny little sticky drinks which set fire to the back of your throat. And the architecture was all wrong. And they had statues in their temples that, well, just weren’t suitable. This wasn’t the right kind of place for wizards. Of course, they had some local grown alternative, enchanters or some such, but not what you’d call decent magic …
Conina strolled ahead of him, humming to herself.
You rather like her, don’t you? I can tell, said a voice in his head.
Oh blast, thought Rincewind, you’re not my conscience again, are you?
Your libido. It’s a bit stuffy in here, isn’t it? You haven’t had it done up since the last time I was around.
Look, go away, will you? I’m a wizard! Wizards are ruled by their heads, not by their hearts!
And I’m getting votes from your glands, and they’re telling me that as far as your body is concerned your brain is in a minority of one.
Yes? But it’s got the casting vote, then.
Hah! That’s what you think. Your heart has got nothing to do with this, by the way, it’s merely a muscular organ which powers the circulation of the blood. But look at it like this – you quite like her, don’t you?