It was beautiful. It sounded like wild silk looks.
The subject of wizards and sex is a complicated one, but as has already been indicated it does, in essence, boil down to this: when it comes to wine, women and song, wizards are allowed to et drunk and croon as much as they like.
The reason given to young wizards was that the practice of magic is hard and demanding and incompatible with sticky and furtive activities. It was a lot more sensible, they were told, to stop worrying about that sort of thing and really get to grips with Woddeley’s Occult Primer instead. Funnily enough this didn’t seem to satisfy, and young wizards suspected that the real reason was that the rules were made by old wizards. With poor memories. They were quite wrong, although the real reason had long been forgotten: if wizards were allowed to go around breeding all the time, there was a risk of sourcery.
Of course, Rincewind had been around a bit and had seen a thing or two, and had thrown off his early training to such an extent that he was quite capable of spending hours at a time in a woman’s company without having to go off for a cold shower and a lie-down. But that voice would have made even a statue get down off its pedestal for a few brisk laps of the playing field and fifty press-ups. It was a voice that could make ‘Good morning’ sound like an invitation to bed.
The stranger threw back her hood and shook out her long hair. It was almost pure white. Since her skin was tanned golden the general effect was calculated to hit the male libido like a lead pipe.
Rincewind hesitated, and lost a splendid opportunity to keep quiet. From the top of the stairs came a thick trollish voice:
“Ere, I thed you can’t go freu dere-’
She sprang forward and shoved a round leather box into Rincewind’s arms.
‘Quick, you must come with me,’ she said. ‘You’re in great danger!’
‘Because I will kill you if you don’t.’
‘Yes, but hang on a moment, in that case-’ Rincewind protested feebly.
Three members of the Patrician’s personal guard appeared at the top of the stairs. Their leader beamed down at the room. The smile suggested that he intended to be the only one to enjoy the joke.
‘Don’t nobody move,’ he suggested.
Rincewind heard a clatter behind him as more guards appeared at the back door.
The Drum’s other customers paused with their hands on assorted hilts. These weren’t the normal city watch, cautious and genially corrupt. These were walking slabs of muscle and they were absolutely unbribable, if only because the Patrician could outbid anyone else. Anyway, they didn’t seem to be looking for anyone except the woman. The rest of the clientele relaxed and prepared to enjoy the show. Eventually it might be worth joining it, once it was certain which was the winning side.
Rincewind felt the pressure tighten on his wrist.
‘Are you mad?’ he hissed. ‘This is messing with the Man!’
There was a swish and the sergeant’s shoulder suddenly sprouted a knife hilt. Then the girl spun around and with surgical precision planted a small foot in the groin of the first guard through the door. Twenty pairs of eyes watered in sympathy.
Rincewind grabbed his hat and tried to dive under the nearest table, but that grip was steel. The next guard to approach got another knife in the thigh. Then she drew a sword like a very long needle and raised it threateningly.
‘Anyone else?’ she said.
One of the guards raised a crossbow. The Librarian, sitting hunched over his drink, reached out a lazy arm like two broom handles strung with elastic and slapped him backwards. The bolt rebounded from the star on Rincewind’s hat and hit the wall by a respected procurer who was sitting two tables away. His bodyguards threw another knife which just missed a thief across the room, who picked up a bench and hit two guards, who struck out at the nearest drinkers. After that one thing sort of led to another and pretty soon everyone was fighting to get something – either away, out or even.
Rincewind found himself pulled relentlessly behind the bar. The landlord was sitting on his moneybags under the counter with two machetes crossed on his knees, enjoying a quiet drink. Occasionally the sound of breaking furniture would make him wince.
The last thing Rincewind saw before he was dragged away was the Librarian. Despite looking like a hairy rubber sack full of water, the orang-utan had the weight and reach of any man in the room and was currently sitting on a guard’s shoulders and trying, with reasonable success, to unscrew his head.
Of more concern to Rincewind was the fact that he was being dragged upstairs.
‘My dear lady,’ he said desperately. ‘What do you have in mind?’
‘Is there a way on to the roof?’
‘Yes. What’s in this box?’
She halted at a bend in the dingy corridor, reached into a belt pouch and scattered a handful of small metal objects on the floor behind them. Each one was made of four nails welded together so that, however the things fell, one was always pointing upwards.
She looked critically at the nearest doorway.
‘You haven’t got about four feet of cheesewire on you, have you?’ she said wistfully. Shed drawn another throwing knife and was throwing it up and catching it again.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Rincewind weakly.
‘Pity. I’ve run out. Okay, come on.’
‘Why? I haven’t done anything!’
She went to the nearest window, pushed open the shutters and paused with one leg over the sill.
‘Fine,’ she said, over her shoulder. ‘Stay here and explain it to the guards.’
‘Why are they chasing you?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Oh, come on! There must be a reason!’
‘Oh, there’s plenty of reasons. I just don’t know which one. Are you coming?’
Rincewind hesitated. The Patrician’s personal guard was not known for its responsive approach to community policing, preferring to cut bits off instead. Among the things they took a dim view of was, well, basically, people being in the same universe. Running away from them was likely to be a capital offence.
‘I think maybe I’ll come along with you,’ he said gallantly. ‘A girl can come to harm all alone in this city.’
Freezing fog filled the streets of Ankh-Morpork. The flares of street traders made little yellow haloes in the smothering billows.
The girl peered around a corner.
‘We’ve lost them,’ she said. ‘Stop shaking. You’re safe now.’
‘What, you mean I’m all alone with a female homicidal maniac?’ said Rincewind. ‘Fine.’
She relaxed and laughed at him.
‘I was watching you,’ she said. ‘An hour ago you were afraid that your future was going to be dull and uninteresting.’
‘I want it to be dull and uninteresting,’ said Rincewind bitterly. ‘I’m afraid it’s going to be short.’
‘Turn your back,’ she commanded, stepping into an alley.
‘Not on your life,’ he said.
‘I’m going to take my clothes off.’
Rincewind spun around, his face red. There was a rustling behind him, and a waft of scent. After a while she said, ‘You can look round now.’
‘You needn’t worry. I’ve put some more on.’
He opened his eyes. The girl was wearing a demure white lace dress with fetchingly puffed sleeves. He opened his mouth. He realised with absolute clarity that up to now the trouble he had been in was simple, modest and nothing he couldn’t talk his way out of given a decent chance or, failing that, a running start. His brain started to send urgent messages to his sprinting muscles, but before they could get through she’d grabbed his arm again.
‘You really shouldn’t be so nervous,’ she said sweetly. ‘Now, let’s have a look at this thing.’
She pulled the lid off the round box in Rincewind’s unprotesting hands, and lifted out the Archchancellor’s hat.
The octarines around its crown blazed in all eight colours of the spectrum, creating the kind of effects in the foggy alley that it would take a very clever special effects director and a whole battery of star filters to achieve by any non-magical means. As she raised it high in the air it created its own nebula of colours that very few people ever see in legal circumstances.
Rincewind sank gently to his knees.
She looked down at him, puzzled.
‘Legs given out?’
‘It’s – it’s the hat. The Archchancellor’s hat,’ said Rincewind, hoarsely. His eyes narrowed. ‘You’ve stolen it!’ he shouted, struggling back to his feet and grabbing for the sparkling brim.
‘It’s just a hat.’
‘Give it to me this minute! Women musn’t touch it! It belongs to wizards!’
‘Why are you getting so worked up?’ she said.
Rincewind opened his mouth. Rincewind closed his mouth.
He wanted to say: It’s the Archchancellor’s hat, don’t you understand? It’s worn by the head of all wizards, well, on the head of the head of all wizards, no, metaphorically it’s worn by all wizards, potentially, anyway, and it’s what every wizard aspires to, it’s the symbol of organised magic, it’s the pointy tip of the profession, it’s a symbol, it’s what it means to all wizards …
And so on. Rincewind had been told about the hat on his first day at University, and it had sunk into his impressionable mind like a lead weight into a jelly. He wasn’t sure of much in the world, but he was certain that the Archchancellor’s hat was important. Maybe even wizards need a little magic in their lives.
Rincewind, said the hat.
He stared at the girl. ‘It spoke to me!’
‘Like a voice in your head?’
‘It did that to me, too.’
‘But it knew my name!’
Of course we do, stupid fellow. We are supposed to be a magic hat after all.
The hat’s voice wasn’t only clothy. It also had a strange choral effect, as if an awful lot of voices were talking at the same time, in almost perfect unison.
Rincewind pulled himself together.
‘O great and wonderful hat,’ he said pompously, ’strike down this impudent girl who has had the audacity, nay, the-’
Oh, do shut up. She stole us because we ordered her to. It was a near thing, too.
‘But she’s a-’ Rincewind hesitated. ‘She’s of the female persuasion…’ he muttered.
So was your mother.
‘Yes, well, but she ran away before I was born,’ Rincewind mumbled.
Of all the disreputable taverns in all the city you could have walked into, you walked into his, complained the hat.
‘He was the only wizard I could find,’ said the girl, ‘He looked the part. He had ‘blizzard’ written on his hat and everything.’
Don’t believe everything you read. Too late now, anyway. We haven’t got much time.
‘Hold on, hold on,’ said Rincewind urgently, ‘What’s going on? You wanted her to steal you? Why haven’t we got much time?’ He pointed an accusing finger at the hat. ‘Anyway, you can’t go around letting yourself be stolen, you’re supposed to be on – on the Archchancellor’s head! The ceremony was tonight, I should have been there-’