Rincewind wasn’t about to trust what a hat said.
‘We need something to shut the lid,’ he muttered. ‘A knife or something. You wouldn’t have one, would you?’
‘Look the other way,’ Conina warned.
There was a rustle and another gust of perfume.
‘You can look back now.’
Rincewind was handed a twelve-inch throwing knife. He took it gingerly. Little particles of metal glinted on its edge.
‘Thanks.’ He turned back. ‘Not leaving you short, am I?’
‘I have others.’
Rincewind reached out gingerly with the knife. As it neared the leather box its blade went white and started to steam. He whimpered a little as the cold struck his hand – a burning, stabbing cold, a cold that crept up his arm and made a determined assault on his mind. He forced his numb fingers into action and, with great effort, nudged the edge of the lid with the tip of the blade.
The glow faded. The snow became sleet, then melted into drizzle.
Conina nudged him aside and pulled the box out of the frozen arms.
‘I wish there was something we could do for him. It seems wrong just to leave him here.’
‘He won’t mind,’ said Rincewind, with conviction.
‘Yes, but we could at least lean him against the wall. Or something.’
Rincewind nodded, and grabbed the frozen thief by his icicle arm. The man slipped out of his grasp and hit the cobbles.
Where he shattered.
Conina looked at the pieces.
‘Urg,’ she said.
There was a disturbance further up the alley, coming from the back door of the Troll’s Head. Rincewind felt the knife snatched from his hand and then go past his ear in a flat trajectory that ended in the doorpost twenty yards away. A head that had been sticking out withdrew hurriedly.
‘We’d better go,’ said Conina, hurrying along the alley. ‘Is there somewhere we can hide? Your place?’
‘I generally sleep at the University,’ said Rincewind, hopping along behind her.
You must not return to the University, growled the hat from the depths of its box. Rincewind nodded distractedly. The idea certainly didn’t seem attractive.
‘Anyway, they don’t allow women inside after dark,’ he said.
‘And before dark?’
‘Not then, either.’
Conina sighed. ‘That’s silly. What have you wizards got against women, then?’
Rincewind’s brow wrinkled. ‘We’re not supposed to put anything against women,’ he said. ‘That’s the whole point.’
Sinister grey mists rolled through the docks of Morpork, dripping from the rigging, coiling around the drunken rooftops, lurking in alleys. The docks at night were thought by some to be even more dangerous than the Shades. Two muggers, a sneak thief and someone who had merely tapped Conina on the shoulder to ask her the time had already found this out.
‘Do you mind if I ask you a question?’ said Rincewind, stepping over the luckless pedestrian who lay coiled around his private pain.
‘I mean, I wouldn’t like to cause offence.’
‘It’s just that I can’t help noticing-’
‘You have this certain way with strangers.’ Rincewind ducked, but nothing happened.
What are you doing down there?’ said Conina, testily.
‘I know what you’re thinking. I can’t help it, I take after my father.’
Who was he, then? Cohen the Barbarian?’ Rincewind grinned to show it was a joke. At least, his lips moved in a desperate crescent.
‘No need to laugh about it, wizard.’
‘It’s not my fault.’
Rincewind’s lips moved soundlessly. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Have I got this right? Your father really is Cohen the Barbarian?’
‘Yes.’ The girl scowled at Rincewind. ‘Everyone has to have a father,’ she added. ‘Even you, I imagine.’
She peered around a corner.
‘All clear. Come on,’ she said, and then when they were striding along the damp cobbles she continued: ‘I expect your father was a wizard, probably.’
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ said Rincewind. ‘Wizardry isn’t allowed to run in families.’ He paused. He knew Cohen, he’d even been a guest at one of his weddings when he married a girl of Conina’s age; you could say this about Cohen, he crammed every hour full of minutes. ‘A lot of people would like to take after Cohen, I mean, he was the best fighter, the greatest thief, he-’
‘A lot of men would,’ Conina snapped. She leaned against a wall and glared at him.
‘Listen,’ she said, ‘There’s this long word, see, an old witch told me about it …can’t remember it …you wizards know about long words.’
Rincewind thought about long words. ‘Marmalade?’ he volunteered.
She shook her head irritably. ‘It means you take after your parents.’
Rincewind frowned. He wasn’t too good on the subject of parents.
‘Kleptomania? Recidivist?’ he hazarded.
‘Begins with an H.’
‘Hedonism?’ said Rincewind desperately.
‘Herrydeterry,’ said Conina. ‘This witch explained it to me. My mother was a temple dancer for some mad god or other, and father rescued her, and – they stayed together for a while. They say I get my looks and figure from her.’
‘And very good they are, too,’ said Rincewind, with hopeless gallantry.
She blushed. ‘Yes, well, but from him I got sinews you could moor a boat with, reflexes like a snake on a hot tin, a terrible urge to steal things and this dreadful sensation every time I meet someone that I should be throwing a knife through his eye at ninety feet. I can, too,’ she added with a trace of pride.
‘It tends to put men off.’
Well, it would,’ said Rincewind weakly.
‘I mean, when they find out, it’s very hard to hang on to a boyfriend.’
‘Except by the throat, I imagine,’ said Rincewind.
‘Not what you really need to build up a proper relationship.’
‘No. I can see,’ said Rincewind. ‘Still, pretty good if you want to be a famous barbarian thief.’
But not,’ said Conina, ‘if you want to be a hairdresser.’
They stared into the mist.
‘Really a hairdresser?’ said Rincewind.
‘Not much call for a barbarian hairdresser, I expect,’ said Rincewind. ‘I mean, no-one wants a shampoo-and-beheading.’
‘It’s just that every time I see a manicure set I get this terrible urge to lay about me with a double-handed cuticle knife. I mean sword,’ said Conina.
Rincewind sighed. ‘I know how it is,’ he said. ‘I wanted to be a wizard.’
‘But you are a wizard.’
‘Ah. Well, of course, but-’
Rincewind found himself rammed against the wall, where a trickle of condensed mist inexplicably began to drip down his neck. A broad throwing knife had mysteriously appeared in Conina’s hand, and she was crouched like a jungle animal or, even worse, a jungle human.
‘What-’ Rincewind began.
‘Shut up!’ she hissed. ‘Something’s coming!’
She stood up in one fluid movement, spun on one leg and let the knife go.
There was a single, hollow, wooden thud.
Conina stood and stared. For once, the heroic blood that pounded through her veins, drowning out all chances of a lifetime in a pink pinny, was totally at a loss.
‘I’ve just killed a wooden box,’ she said.
Rincewind looked round the corner.
The Luggage stood in the dripping street, the knife still quivering in its lid, and stared at her. Then it changed its position slightly, its little legs moving in a complicated tango pattern, and stared at Rincewind. The Luggage didn’t have any features at all, apart from a lock and a couple of hinges, but it could stare better than a rockful of iguanas. It could outstare a glass-eyed statue. When it came to a look of betrayed pathos, the Luggage could leave the average kicked spaniel moping back in its kennel. It had several arrowheads and broken swords sticking in it.
‘What is it?’ hissed Conina.
‘It’s just the Luggage,’ said Rincewind wearily.
‘Does it belong to you?’
‘Not really. Sort of.’
‘Is it dangerous?’
The Luggage shuffled round to stare at her again.
‘There’s two schools of thought about that,’ said Rincewind. ‘There’s some people who say it’s dangerous, and others who say it’s very dangerous. What do you think?’
The Luggage raised its lid a fraction.
The Luggage was made from the wood of the sapient peartree, a plant so magical that it had nearly died out on the Disc and survived only in one or two places; it was a sort of rosebay willowherb, only instead of bomb sites it sprouted in areas that had seen vast expenditures of magic. Wizards’ staves were traditionally made of it; so was the Luggage.
Among the Luggage’s magical qualities was a fairly simple and direct one: it would follow its adopted owner anywhere. Not anywhere in any particular set of dimensions, or country, or universe, or lifetime. Anywhere. It was about as easy to shake off as a head cold and considerably more unpleasant.
The Luggage was also extremely protective of its owner. It would be hard to describe its attitude to the rest of creation, but one could start with the phrase ‘bloody-minded malevolence’ and work up from there.
Conina stared at that lid. It looked very much like a mouth.
‘I think I’d vote for “terminally dangerous”,’ she said.
‘It likes crisps,’ volunteered Rincewind, and then added, ‘Well, that’s a bit strong. It eats crisps.’
‘What about people?’
‘Oh, and people. About fifteen so far; I think.’
‘Were they good or bad?’
‘Just dead, I think. It also does your laundry for you, you put your clothes in and they come out washed and ironed.’
‘And covered in blood?’
‘You know, that’s the funny thing,’ said Rincewind.
‘The funny thing?’ repeated Conina, her eyes not leaving the Luggage.
‘Yes, because, you see, the inside isn’t always the same, it’s sort of multidimensional, and-’
‘How does it feel about women?’
‘Oh, it’s not choosy. It ate a book of spells last year. Sulked for three days and then spat it out.’
‘It’s horrible,’ said Conina, and backed away.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Rincewind, ‘absolutely.’
‘I mean the way it stares!’
‘It’s very good at it, isn’t it?’
We must leave for Klatch, said a voice from the hatbox. One of these boats will be adequate. Commandeer it.
Rincewind looked at the dim, mist-wreathed shapes that loomed in the mist under a forest of rigging. Here and there a riding light made a little fuzzy ball of light in the gloom.