Below the elephant-Rincewind swallowed and tried not to think-Below the elephant there was nothing but the distant, painful disc of the sun. And, sweeping slowly past it, was something that for all its city-sized scales, its crater-pocks, its lunar cragginess, was indubitably a flipper.
“Shall I let go?” suggested the troll
“Gnah,” said Rincewind, straining backwards.
“I have lived here on the Edge for five years and I have not had the courage,” boomed Tethis. “Nor have you, if I’m any judge.” He stepped back, allowing Rincewind to fling himself onto the ground.
Twoflower strolled up to the rim and peered over.
“Fantastic,” he said. “If only I had my picture box.”
“What else is down there? I mean, if you fell off, what would you see?”
Tethis sat down on an outcrop. High over the disc the moon came out from behind a cloud, giving him the appearance of ice.
“My home is down there, perhaps,” he said slowly. “Beyond your silly elephants and that ridiculous turtle. A real world. Sometimes I come out here and look, but somehow I can never bring myself to take that extra step… A real world, with real people. I have wives and little ones, somewhere down there…” He stopped, and blew his nose. “You soon learn what you’re made of, here on the Edge.”
“Stop saying that. Please,” moaned Rincewind. He turned over and saw Twoflower standing unconcernedly at the very lip of the rock. “Gnah,” he said, and tried to burrow into the stone.
“There’s another world down there?” said Twoflower, peering over. “Where, exactly?”
The troll waved an arm vaguely. “Somewhere,” he said. “That’s all I know. It was quite a small world. Mostly blue.”
“So why are you here?” said Twoflower.
“Isn’t it obvious?” snapped the troll. “I fell off the edge!”
He told them of the world of Bathys, somewhere among the Stars, where the seafolk had built a number of thriving civilisations in the three large oceans that sprawled across its disc. He had been a meatman, one of the caste which earned a perilous living in large, sail-powered land yachts that ventured far out to land and hunted the shoals of deer and buffalo that abounded in the stormhaunted continents. His particular yacht had been blown into uncharted lands by a freak gale. The rest of the crew had taken the yacht’s little rowing trolley and had struck out for a distant lake, but Tethis, as master, had elected to remain with his Vessel. The storm had carried it right over the rocky rim of the world, smashing it to matchwood in the process.
“At first I fell,” said Tethis, “but falling isn’t so bad, you know. It’s only the landing that hurts, and there was nothing below me. As I fell I saw the world spin off into space until it was lost against the stars.”
“What happened next?” said Twoflower breathlessly, glancing towards the misty universe.
“I froze solid,” said Tethis simply. “Fortunately it is something my race can survive. But I thawed out occasionally when I passed near other worlds. There was one, I think it was the one with what, I thought was this strange ring of mountains around it that turned out to be the biggest dragon you could ever imagine, covered in snow and glaciers and holding its tail in its mouth – well, I came within a few leagues of that, I shot over the landscape like a comet, in fact, and then I was off again. Then there was a time I woke up and there was your world coming at me like a custard pie thrown by the Creator and, well, I landed in the sea not far from the Circumfence widdershins of Krull. All sorts of creatures get washed up against the Fence, and at the time they were looking for slaves to man the way stations, and I ended up here.” He stopped and stared intently at Rincewind. “every night I come out here and look down.” he finished “and I never jump. Courage is hard to come by, here on the Edge.”
Rincewind began to crawl determinedly towards the shack. He gave a little scream as the troll picked him up, not unkindly, and set him on his feet.
“Amazing,” said Twoflower, and leaned further out over the Edge. “There are lots of other worlds out there?”
“Quite a number, I imagine,” said the troll.
“I suppose one could contrive some sort of, I don’t know, some sort of a thing that could preserve one against the cold,” said the little man thoughtfully. “Some sort of a ship that one could sail over the Edge and sail to far-off worlds, too. I wonder…”
“Don’t even think about it!” moaned Rincewind.
“Stop talking like that, do you hear?”
“They all talk like that in Krull,” said Tethis. “Those with tongues, of course,” he added.
“Are you awake?”
Twoflower snored on. Rincewind jabbed him viciously in the ribs.
“I said, are you awake?” he snarled.
“We’ve got to get out of here before this salvage fleet comes!”
The dishwater light of dawn oozed through the shack’s one window, slopping across the piles of salvaged boxes and bundles that were strewn around the interior. Twoflower grunted again and tried to burrow into the pile of furs and blankets that Tethis had given them.
“Look, there’s all kinds of weapons and stuff in here,” said Rincewind. “He’s gone out somewhere. When he comes back we could overpower him and- and- well, then we can think of something. How about it?”
“That doesn’t sound like a very good idea,” said Twoflower. “Anyhow, it’s a bit ungracious isn’t it?”
“Tough buns,” snapped Rincewind. “This is a rough universe.”
He rummaged through the piles around the walls and selected a heavy, wavy-bladed scimitar that had probably been some pirate’s pride and joy. It looked the sort of weapon that relied as much on its weight as its edge to cause damage. He raised it awkwardly.
“Would he leave that sort of thing around if it could hurt him?” Twoflower wondered aloud.
Rincewind ignored him and took up a position beside the door. When it opened some ten minutes later he moved unhesitatingly, swinging it across the opening at what he judged was the troll’s head height. It swished harmlessly through nothing at all and struck the doorpost, jerking him off his feet and on to the floor.
There was a sigh above him. He looked up into Tethis’ face, which was shaking sadly from side to side.
“It wouldn’t have harmed me,” said the troll, “but nevertheless, I am hurt. Deeply hurt.” He reached over the wizard and jerked the sword out of the wood. With no apparent effort he bent its blade into a circle and sent it bowling away over the rocks until it hit a stone and sprang, still spinning, in a silver arc that ended in the mists forming over the Rimfall.
“Very deeply hurt,” he concluded. He reached down beside the door and tossed a sack towards Twoflower.
“It’s the carcass of a deer that is just about how you humans like it, and a few lobsters, and a sea salmon. The Circumfence provides,” he said casually.
He looked hard at the tourist, and then down again at Rincewind.
“What are you staring at?” he said.
“It’s just that-” said Twoflower.
“-compared to last night-” said Rincewind.
“You’re so small,” finished Twoflower.
“I see, said the troll carefully.”Personal remarks now.” He drew himself up to his full height, which was currently about four feet. “Just because I’m made of water doesn’t mean I’m made of wood, you know.”
“I’m sorry,” said Twoflower, climbing hastily out of the furs.
“You’re made of dirt,” said the troll,”but I didn’t pass comments about things you can’t help, did I? Oh, no. We can’t help the way the Creator made us, that’s my view, but if you must know, your moon here is rather more powerful than the ones around my own world.”
“The moon?” said Twoflower.”I don’t under-“
“If I’ve got to spell it out,” said the troll. testily, “I’m suffering from chronic tides.”
A bell jangled in the darkness of the shack. Tethis strode across the creaking floor to the complicated devices of levers, strings and bells that was mounted on the Circumfence’s topmost strand where it passed through the hut.
The bell rang again, and then started to clang away in an odd jerky rhythm for several minutes. The troll stood with his ear pressed close to it.
When it stopped he turned slowly and looked at them with a worried frown.
“You’re more important than I thought,” he said.
“You’re not to wait for the salvage fleet. You’re to be collected by a flyer. That’s what they say in Krull.” He shrugged. “And I hadn’t even sent a message that you’re here, yet. Someone’s been drinking vul nut wine again.”
He picked up a large mallet that hung on a pillar beside the bell and used it to tap out a brief carillon.
“That’ll be passed from lengthman to lengthman all the way back to Krull,” he said. “Marvellous really, isn’t it?”
It came speeding across the sea, floating a man-length above it, but still leaving a foaming wake as whatever power that held it up smacked brutally into the water. Rincewind knew what power held it up. He was, he would be the first to admit, a coward, an incompetent, and not even very good at being a failure; but he was still a wizard of sorts, he knew one of the Eight Great Spells, he would be claimed by Death himself when he died and he recognized really finely honed magic when he saw it.
The lens skimming towards the island was perhaps twenty feet across, and totally transparent. Sitting around its circumference were a large number of black-robed men, each one strapped securely to the disc by a leather harness and each one staring down at the waves with an expression so tormented, so agonising, that the transparent disc seemed to be ringed with gargoyles.
Rincewind sighed with relief. This was such an unusual sound that it made Twoflower take his eyes off the approaching disc and turn
them on him.
“We’re important, no lie,” explained Rincewind.
“They wouldn’t be wasting all that magic on a couple of potential slaves.” He grinned.
“What is it?” said Twoflower.
“Well, the disc itself would have been created by Fresnel’s Wonderful Concentrator,” said Rincewind, authoritatively. “That calls for many rare and unstable ingredients, such as demon’s breath and so forth, and it takes at least eight fourthgrade wizards a week to envision. Then there’s those wizards on it, who must all be gifted hydrophobes-“
“You mean they hate water?” said Twoflower.
“No, that wouldn’t work,” said Rincewind.”Hate is an attracting force, just like love. They really loathe it, the very idea of it revolts them. A really good hydrophobe has to be trained on dehydrated water from birth. I mean, that costs a fortune in magic alone. But they make great weather magicians. Rain clouds just give up and go away.”