– thought so -, said Rincewind to himself.
‘These people, why did we have them brought here?’
The vizier twirled his moustache, probably foreclosing another dozen mortgages.
‘The hat, highness,’ he said. ‘The hat, if you remember.’
‘Ah, yes. Fascinating. Where did we put it?’
‘Hold on,’ said Rincewind urgently. ‘This hat … it wouldn’t be a sort of battered pointy one, with lots of stuff on it? Sort of lace and stuff, and, and-’ he hesitated-’no-one’s tried to put it on, have they?’
‘It specifically warned us not to,’ said Creosote, ’so Abrim got a slave to try it on, of course. He said it gave him a headache.’
‘It also told us that you would shortly be arriving,’ said the vizier, bowing slightly at Rincewind, ‘and therefore I – that is to say, the Seriph felt that you might be able to tell us more about this wonderful artifact?’
There is a tone of voice known as interrogative, and the vizier was using it; a slight edge to his words suggested that, if he didn’t learn more about the hat very quickly, he had various activities in mind in which further words like ‘red hot’ and ‘knives’ would appear. Of course, all Grand Viziers talk like that all the time. There’s probably a school somewhere.
‘Gosh, I’m glad you’ve found it,’ said Rincewind, ‘That hat is gngngnh-’
‘I beg your pardon?’ said Abrim, signalling a couple of lurking guards to step forward. ‘I missed the bit after the young lady-’ he bowed at Conina-’elbowed you in the ear.’
‘I think,’ said Conina, politely but firmly, ‘you’d better take us to see it.’
Five minutes later, from its resting place on a table in the Seriph’s treasury, the hat said, At last. What kept you?
It is at a time like this, with Rincewind and Conina probably about to be the victims of a murderous attack, and Coin about to address the assembled cowering wizards on the subject of treachery, and the Disc about to fall under a magical dictatorship, that it is worth mentioning the subject of poetry and inspiration.
For example, the Seriph, in his bijou wildernessette, has just riffled back through his pages of verse to revise the lines which begin:
‘Get up! For morning in the cup of day,
Has dropped the spoon that scares the stars away’
– and he has sighed, because the white-hot lines searing across his imagination never seem to come out exactly as he wants them.
It is, in fact, impossible that they ever will.
Sadly, this sort of thing happens all the time.
It is a well-known established fact throughout the many-dimensional worlds of the multiverse that most really great discoveries are owed to one brief moment of inspiration. There’s a lot of spadework first, of course, but what clinches the whole thing is the sight of, say, a falling apple or a boiling kettle or the water slopping over the edge of the bath. Something goes click inside the observer’s head and then everything falls into place. The shape of DNA, it is popularly said, owes its discovery to the chance sight of a spiral staircase when the scientist’s mind was just at the right receptive temperature. Had he used the lift, the whole science of genetics might have been a good deal different.
This is thought of as somehow wonderful. It isn’t. It is tragic. Little particles of inspiration sleet through the universe all the time travelling through the densest matter in the same way that a neutrino passes through a candyfloss haystack, and most of them miss.
Even worse, most of the ones that hit the exact cerebral target hit the wrong one.
For example, the weird dream about a lead doughnut on a mile-high gantry, which in the right mind would have been the catalyst for the invention of repressed-gravitational electricity generation (a cheap and inexhaustible and totally non-polluting form of power which the world in question had been seeking for centuries, and for the lack of which it was plunged into a terrible and pointless war) was in fact had by a small and bewildered duck.
By another stroke of bad luck, the sight of a herd of white horses galloping through a field of wild hyacinths would have led a struggling composer to write the famous Flying God Suite, bringing succour and balm to the souls of millions, had he not been at home in bed with shingles. The inspiration therefore fell to a nearby frog, who was not in much of a position to make a startling contribution to the field of tone poetry.
Many civilisations have recognised this shocking waste and tried various methods to prevent it, most of them involving enjoyable but illegal attempts to tune the mind into the right wavelength by the use of exotic herbage or yeast products. It never works properly.
And so Creosote, who had dreamt the inspiration for a rather fine poem about life and philosophy and how they both look much better through the bottom of a wine glass, was totally unable to do anything about it because he had as much poetic ability as a hyena.
Why the gods allow this sort of thing to continue is a mystery.
Actually, the flash of inspiration needed to explain it clearly and precisely has taken place, but the creature who received it -a small female bluetit – has never been able to make the position clear, even after some really strenuous coded messages on the tops of milk bottles. By a strange coincidence, a philosopher who had been devoting some sleepless nights to the same mystery woke up that morning with a wonderful new idea for getting peanuts out of bird tables.
Which brings us rather neatly on to the subject of magic.
A long way out in the dark gulfs of interstellar space, one single inspiration particle is clipping along unaware of its destiny, which is just as well, because its destiny is to strike, in a matter of hours, a tiny area of Rincewind’s mind.
It would be a tough destiny even if Rincewind’s creative node was a reasonable size, but the particle’s karma had handed it the problem of hitting a moving target the size of a small raisin over a distance of several hundred lightyears. Life can be very difficult for a little subatomic particle in a great big universe.
If it pulls it off, however, Rincewind will have a serious philosophic idea. If it doesn’t, a nearby brick will have an important insight which it will be totally unequipped to deal with.
The Seriph’s palace, known to legend as the Rhoxie, occupied most of the centre of Al Khali that wasn’t occupied by the wilderness. Most things connected with Creosote were famed in mythology and the arched, domed, many-pillared palace was said to have more rooms than any man had been able to count. Rincewind didn’t know which number he was in.
‘It’s magic, isn’t it?’ said Abrim the vizier.
He prodded Rincewind in the ribs.
‘You’re a wizard,’ he said. ‘Tell me what it does.’
‘How do you know I’m a wizard?’ said Rincewind desperately.
‘It’s written on your hat,’ said the vizier.
‘And you were on the boat with it. My men saw you.’
‘The Seriph employs slavers?’ snapped Conina. ‘That doesn’t sound very simple!’
‘Oh, I employ the slavers. I am the vizier, after all,’ said Abrim. ‘It is rather expected of me.’
He gazed thoughtfully at the girl, and then nodded at a couple of the guards.
‘The current Seriph is rather literary in his views,’ he said. ‘I, on the other hand, am not. Take her to the seraglio, although,’ he rolled his eyes and gave an irritable sigh, ‘I’m sure the only fate that awaits her there is boredom, and possibly a sore throat.’
He turned to Rincewind.
‘Don’t say anything,’ he said. ‘Don’t move your hands. Don’t try any sudden feats of magic. I am protected by strange and powerful amulets.’
‘Now just hold on a minute-’ Rincewind began, and Conina said, ‘All right. I’ve always wondered what a harem looked like.’
Rincewind’s mouth went on opening and shutting, but no sounds came out. Finally he managed, ‘Have you?’
She waggled an eyebrow at him. It was probably a signal of some sort. Rincewind felt he ought to have understood it, but peculiar passions were stirring in the depths of his being. They weren’t actually going to make him brave, but they were making him angry. Speeded up, the dialogue behind his eyes was going something like this:
Your conscience. I feel terrible. Look, they’re marching her off to the harem.
Rather her than me, thought Rincewind, but without much conviction.
There’s too many guards! They’ll kill me!
So they’ll kill you, it’s not the end of the world.
It will be for me, thought Rincewind grimly.
But just think how good you’ll feel in your next life –
Look, just shut up, will I? I’ve had just about enough of me.
Abrim stepped across to Rincewind and looked at him curiously.
‘Who are you talking to?’ he said.
‘I warn you,’ said Rincewind, between clenched teeth, ‘I have this magical box on legs which is absolutely merciless with attackers, one word from me and-’
‘I’m impressed,’ said Abrim. ‘Is it invisible?’
Rincewind risked a look behind him.
‘I’m sure I had it when I came in,’ he said, and sagged.
It would be mistaken to say the Luggage was nowhere to be seen. It was somewhere to be seen, it was just that the place wasn’t anywhere near Rincewind.
Abrim walked slowly around the table on which sat the hat, twirling his moustache.
‘Once again,’ he said, ‘I ask you: this is an artifact of power, I feel it, and you must tell me what it does.’
‘Why don’t you ask it?’ said Rincewind.
‘It refuses to tell me.’
‘Well, why do you want to know?’
Abrim laughed. It wasn’t a nice sound. It sounded as though he had had laughter explained to him, probably slowly and repeatedly, but had never heard anyone actually do it.
‘You’re a wizard,’ he said. ‘Wizardry is about power. I have taken an interest in magic myself. I have the talent, you know.’ The vizier drew himself up stiffly. ‘Oh, yes. But they wouldn’t accept me at your University. They said I was mentally unstable, can you believe that?’
‘No,’ said Rincewind, truthfully. Most of the wizards at Unseen had always seemed to him to be several bricks short of a shilling. Abrim seemed pretty normal wizard material.
Abrim gave him an encouraging smile.
Rincewind looked sideways at the hat. It said nothing. He looked back at the vizier. If the laughter had been weird, the smile made it sound as normal as birdsong. It looked as though the vizier had learned it from diagrams.
‘Wild horses wouldn’t get me to help you in any way,’ he said.
Ah,’ said the vizier. ‘A challenge.’ He beckoned to the nearest guard.
‘Do we have any wild horses in the stables?’
‘Some fairly angry ones, master.’
‘Infuriate four of them and take them to the turnwise courtyard. And, oh, bring several lengths of chain.’
‘Right away, master.’