‘Spiked grill ready to skewer -?’
‘It’s a bucket,’ said Conina flatly, giving it a push.
‘What, of scalding, poisonous -?’
‘Whitewash. Just a lot of old, dried-up whitewash.’ Conina jumped down.
‘That’s grandfather for you,’ said Creosote. ‘Never a dull moment.’
‘Well, I’ve just about had enough,’ Conina said firmly, and pointed to the far end of the tunnel. ‘Come on, you two.’
They were about three feet from the far end when Rincewind felt a movement in the air above him. Conina struck him in the small of the back, shoving him forward into the room beyond. He rolled when he hit the floor, and something nicked his foot at the same time as a loud thump deafened him.
The entire roof, a huge block of stone four feet thick, had dropped into the tunnel.
Rincewind crawled forward through the dust clouds and, with a trembling finger, traced the lettering on the side of the slab.
‘Laugh This One Off,’ he said.
He sat back.
‘That’s grandad,’ said Creosote happily, ‘always a-’
He intercepted Conina’s gaze, which had the force of a lead pipe, and wisely shut up.
Nijel emerged from the clouds, coughing.
‘I say, what happened?’ he said. ‘Is everyone all right? It didn’t do that when I went through.’
Rincewind sought for a reply, and couldn’t find anything better than, ‘Didn’t it?’
Light filtered into the deep room from tiny barred windows up near the roof. There was no way out except by walking through the several hundred tons of stone that blocked the tunnel or, to put it in another way, which was the way Rincewind put it, they were undoubtedly trapped. He relaxed a bit.
At least there was no mistaking the magic carpet. It lay rolled up on a raised slab in the middle of the room. Next to it was a small, sleek oil lamp and – Rincewind craned to see – a small gold ring. He groaned. A faint octarine corona hung over all three items, indicating that they were magical.
When Conina unrolled the carpet a number of small objects tumbled on to the floor, including a brass herring, a wooden ear, a few large square sequins and a lead box with a preserved soap bubble in it.
‘What on earth are they?’ said Nijel.
‘Well,’ said Rincewind, ‘before they tried to eat that carpet, they were probably moths.’
‘That’s what you people never understand,’ said Rincewind, wearily. ‘You think magic is just something you can pick up and use, like a, a-’
‘Parsnip?’ said Nijel.
‘Wine bottle?’ said the Seriph.
‘Something like that,’ said Rincewind cautiously, but rallied somewhat and went on, ‘But the truth is, is-’
‘Not like that?’
‘More like a wine bottle?’ said the Seriph hopefully.
‘Magic uses people,’ said Rincewind hurriedly. ‘It affects you as much as you affect it, sort of thing. You can’t mess around with magical things without it affecting you. I just thought I’d better warn you.’
‘Like a wine bottle,’ said Creosote, ‘that-’
‘-drinks you back,’ said Rincewind. ‘So you can put down that lamp and ring for a start, and for goodness’ sake don’t rub anything.’
‘My grandfather built up the family fortunes with them,’ said Creosote wistfully. ‘His wicked uncle locked him in a cave, you know. He had to set himself up with what came to hand. He had nothing in the whole world but a magic carpet, a magic lamp, a magic ring and a grotto-ful of assorted jewels.’
‘Came up the hard way, did he?’ said Rincewind.
Conina spread the carpet on the floor. It had a complex pattern of golden dragons on a blue background. They were extremely complicated dragons, with long beards, ears and wings, and they seemed to be frozen in motion, caught in transition from one state to another, suggesting that the loom which wove them had rather more dimensions than the usual three, but the worst thing about it was that if you looked at it long enough the pattern became blue dragons on a gold background, and a terrible feeling stole over you that if you kept on trying to see both types of dragon at once your brains would trickle out of your ears.
Rincewind tore his gaze away with some difficulty as another distant explosion rocked the building.
‘How does it work?’ he said.
Creosote shrugged. ‘I’ve never used it,’ he said. ‘I suppose you just say “up” and “down” and things like that.’
‘How about “fly through the wall”?’ said Rincewind.
All three of them looked up at the high, dark and, above all, solid walls of the room.
‘We could try sitting on it and saying “rise”,’ Nijel volunteered. ‘And then, before we hit the roof, we could say, well, “stop”.’ He considered this for a bit, and then added, ‘If that’s the word.’
‘Or, “drop”,’ said Rincewind, ‘or “descend”, “dive”, “fall”, “sink”. Or “plunge”.’
“Plummet”,’ suggested Conina gloomily.
‘Of course,’ said Nijel, ‘with all this wild magic floating around, you could try using some of it.’
Ah-’ said Rincewind, and, ‘Well-’
‘You’ve got “wizzard” written on your hat,’ said Creosote.
‘Anyone can write things on their hat,’ said Conina. ‘You don’t want to believe everything you read.’
‘Now hold on a minute,’ said Rincewind hotly.
They held on a minute.
They held on for a further seventeen seconds.
‘Look, it’s a lot harder than you think,’ he said.
‘What did I tell you?’ said Conina. ‘Come on, let’s dig the mortar out with our fingernails.’
Rincewind waved her into silence, removed his hat, pointedly blew the dust off the star, put the hat on again, adjusted the brim, rolled up his sleeves, flexed his fingers and panicked.
In default of anything better to do, he leaned against the stone.
It was vibrating. It wasn’t that it was being shaken; it felt that the throbbing was coming from inside the wall.
It was very much the same sort of trembling he had felt back at the University, just before the sourcerer arrived. The stone was definitely very unhappy about something.
He sidled along the wall and put his ear to the next stone, which was a smaller, wedge-shaped stone cut to fit an angle of the wall, not a big, distinguished stone, but a bantam stone, patiently doing its bit for the greater good of the wall as a whole. It was also shaking.
‘Shh!’ said Conina.
‘I can’t hear anything,’ said Nijel loudly. Nijel was one of those people who, if you say “don’t look now”, would immediately swivel his head like an owl on a turntable. These are the same people who, when you point out, say, an unusual crocus just beside them, turn round aimlessly and put their foot down with a sad little squashy noise. If they were lost in a trackless desert you could find them by putting down, somewhere on the sand, something small and fragile like a valuable old mug that had been in your family for generations, and then hurrying back as soon as you heard the crash.
‘That’s the point! What happened to the war?’
A little cascade of mortar poured down from the ceiling on to Rincewind’s hat.
‘Something’s acting on the stones,’ he said quietly. ‘They’re trying to break free.’
‘We’re right underneath quite a lot of them,’ observed Creosote.
There was a grinding noise above them and a shaft of daylight lanced down. To Rincewind’s surprise it wasn’t accompanied by sudden death from crushing. There was another silicon creak, and the hole grew. The stones were falling out, and they were falling up.
‘I think,’ he said, ‘that the carpet might be worth a try at this point.’
The wall beside him shook itself like a dog and drifted apart, its masonry giving Rincewind several severe blows as it soared away.
The four of them landed on the blue and gold carpet in a storm of flying rock.
‘We’ve got to get out of here,’ said Nijel, keeping up his reputation for acute observation.
‘Hang on,’ said Rincewind. ‘I’ll say-’
‘You won’t,’ snapped Conina, kneeling beside him. ‘I’ll say. I don’t trust you.’
‘Shut up,’ said Conina. She patted the carpet.
‘Carpet – rise,’ she commanded.
There was a pause.
‘Perhaps it doesn’t understand the language,’ said Nijel.
‘Lift. Levitate. Fly.’
‘Or it could be, say, sensitive to one particular voice-’
‘You tried up,’ said Nijel. ‘Try ascend.’
‘Or soar,’ said Creosote. Several tons of flagstone swooped past an inch from his head.
‘If it was going to answer to them it would have done, wouldn’t it?’ said Conina. The air round her was thick with dust as the flying stones ground together. She thumped the carpet.
‘Take off, you blasted mat! Arrgh!’
A piece of cornice clipped her shoulder. She rubbed the bruise irritably, and turned to Rincewind, who was sitting with his knees under his chin and his hat pulled down over his head.
‘Why doesn’t it work?’ she said.
‘You’re not saying the right words,’ he said.
‘It doesn’t understand the language?’
‘Language hasn’t got anything to do with it. You’ve neglected something fundamental.’
‘Well what?’ sniffed Rincewind.
‘Look, this isn’t the time to stand on your dignity!’
‘You keep on trying, don’t you mind me.’
‘Make it fly!’
Rincewind pulled his hat further over his ears.
‘Please?’ said Conina.
The hat rose a bit.
‘Wed all be terribly bucked,’ said Nijel.
‘Hear, hear,’ said Creosote.
The hat rose some more. ‘You’re quite sure?’ said Rincewind.
Rincewind cleared his throat.
‘Down,’ he commanded.
The carpet rose from the ground and hovered expectantly a few feet over the dust.
‘How did-’ Conina began, but Nijel interrupted her.
‘Wizards are privy to arcane knowledge, that’s probably what it is,’ he said. ‘Probably the carpet’s got a geas on it to do the opposite of anything that’s said. Can you make it go up further?’
‘Yes, but I’m not going to,’ said Rincewind. The carpet drifted slowly forward and, as happens so often at times like this, a rolling of masonry bounced right across the spot where it had lain.
A moment later they were out in the open air, the storm of stone behind them.
The palace was pulling itself to pieces, and the pieces were funnelling up into the air like a volcanic eruption in reverse. The sourcerous tower had completely disappeared, but the stones were dancing towards the spot where it had stood and …