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26.12.2018

“I may as well tell you, Rincewind, that there is some contact between the Lords of the Circle Sea and the Emperor of the Agatean Empire, as it is styled,” the Patrician went on. “It is only very slight. There is little common ground between us. We have nothing they want, and they have nothing we can afford. It is an old Empire, Rincewind. Old and cunning and cruel and very, very rich. So we exchange fraternal greetings by albatross mail. At infrequent intervals.

“One such letter arrived this morning. A subject of the Emperor appears to have taken it into his head to visit our city. It appears he wishes to look at it. Only a madman would possibly undergo all the privations of crossing the Turnwise Ocean in order to merely look at anything. However, he landed this morning. He might have met a great hero, or the cunningest of thieves, or some wise and great sage. He met you. He has employed you as a guide. You will be a guide, Rincewind, to this looker, this Twoflower. You will see that he returns home with a good report of our little homeland. What do you say to that?”

“Er. Thank you, lord,” said Rincewind miserably.

“There is another point, of course. It would be a tragedy should anything untoward happen to our little visitor. It would be dreadful if he were to die, for example. Dreadful for the whole of our land, because the Agatean Emperor looks after his own and could certainly extinguish us at a nod. A mere nod. And that would be dreadful for you, Rincewind, because in the weeks that remained before the Empire’s huge mercenary fleet arrived certain of my servants would occupy themselves about your person in the hope that the avenging captains, on their arrival, might find their anger tempered by the sight of your still-living body. There are certain spells that can prevent the life departing from a body, be it never so abused, and- I see by your face that understanding dawns?”

“Yarrg.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Yes, lord. I’ll, er, see to it, I mean, I’ll endeavour to see, I mean, well, I’ll try to look after him and see he comes to no harm.” And after that I’ll get a job juggling snowballs through Hell, he added bitterly in the privacy of his own skull.

“Capital! I gather already that you and Twoflower are on the best of terms. An excellent beginning! When he returns safely to his homeland you will not find me ungrateful. I shall probably even dismiss the charges against you. Thank you, Rincewind. You may go.”

Rincewind decided not to ask for the return of his five remaining rhinu. He backed away, cautiously.

“Oh, and there is one other thing,” the Patrician said, as the wizard groped for the door handles.

“Yes, lord?” he replied, with a sinking heart.

“I’m sure you won’t dream of trying to escape from your obligations by fleeing the city. I judge you to be a born city person. But you may be sure that the lords of the other cities will be appraised of these conditions by nightfall.”

“I assure you the thought never even crossed my mind, lord.”

“Indeed? Then if I were you I’d sue my face for slander.”

Rincewind reached the Broken Drum at a dead run and was just in time to collide with a man who came out backwards, fast. The stranger’s haste was in part accounted for by the spear in his chest. He bubbled noisily and dropped dead at the wizard’s feet. Rincewind peered around the doorframe and jerked back as a heavy throwing axe whirred past like a partridge. It was probably a lucky throw, a second cautious glance told him. The dark interior of the Drum was a broil of fighting men, quite a number of them -a third and longer glance confirmed – in bits. Rincewind swayed back as a wildly thrown stool sailed past and smashed on the far side of the street.

Then he dived in.

He was wearing a dark robe, made darker by constant wear and irregular washings. In the raging gloom no-one appeared to notice a shadowy shape that shuffled desperately from table to table. At one point a fighter, staggering back, trod on what felt like fingers. A number of what felt like teeth bit his ankle. He yelped shrilly and dropped his guard just sufficiently for a sword, swung by a surprised opponent, to skewer him.

Rincewind reached the stairway, sucking his bruised hand and running with a curious, bent-over gait. A crossbow quarrel thunked into the banister rail above him, and he gave a whimper. He made the stairs in one breathless rush, expecting at any moment another, more accurate shot.

In the corridor above he stood upright, gasping and saw the floor in front of him scattered with bodies. A big black-bearded man, with a bloody sword in one hand, was trying a door handle.

“Hey!” screamed Rincewind. The man looked around and then, almost absent-mindedly, drew a short throwing knife from his bandolier and hurled it. Rincewind ducked. There was a brief scream behind him as the crossbow man, sighting down his weapon, dropped it and clutched at his throat.

The big man was already reaching for another knife. Rincewind looked around wildly, and then with wild improvisation drew himself up into a wizardly pose.

His hand was flung back. “Asoniti! Kyoruchal Beazleblor! “

The man hesitated, his eyes flicking nervously from side to side as he waited for the magic. The conclusion that there was not going to be any hit him at the same time as Rincewind, whirring wildly down the passage, kicked him sharply in the groin. As he screamed and clutched at himself the wizard dragged open the door, sprang inside, slammed it behind him and threw his body against it, panting.

It was quiet in here. There was Twoflower, sleeping peacefully on the bed. And there, at the foot of the bed, was the Luggage.

Rincewind took a few steps forward, cupidity moving him as easily as if he were on little wheels. The chest was open. There were bags inside, and in one of them he caught the gleam of gold. For a moment greed overcame caution, and he reached out gingerly… but what was the use? He’d never live to enjoy it. Reluctantly he drew his hand back, and was surprised to see a slight tremor in the chest’s open lid. Hadn’t it shifted slightly, as though rocked by the wind?

Rincewind looked at his fingers, and then at the lid. It looked heavy, and was bound with brass bands. It was quite still now. What wind?

“Rincewind!”

Twoflower sprang off the bed. The wizard jumped back, wrenching his features into a smile.

“My dear chap, right on time! We’ll just have lunch, and then I’m sure you’ve got a wonderful programme lined up for this afternoon.”

“That’s great,” Rincewind took a deep breath. “look,” he said desperately, “let’s eat somewhere else. There’s been a bit of a fight down below.

“A tavern brawl? Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Well, you see, I – what?”

“I thought I made myself clear this morning, Rincewind. I want to see genuine Morporkian life-the slave market, the Whore Pits, the Temple of Small Gods, the Beggars’ Guild… and a genuine tavern brawl.” A faint note of suspicion entered Twoflower’s voice. “You do have them, don’t you? You know, people swinging on chandeliers, swordfights over the table, the sort of thing Hrun the Barbarian and the Weasel are always getting involved in. You know – excitement.”

Rincewind sat down heavily on the bed.

“You want to see a fight?” he said.

“Yes. What’s wrong with that?”

“For a start, people get hurt.”

“Oh, I wasn’t suggesting we get involved. I just want to see one, that’s all. And some of your famous heroes. You do have some, don’t you? It’s not all dockside talk?” And now, to the wizard’s astonishment, Twoflower was almost pleading.

“Oh, yeah. We have them all right,” said Rincewind hurriedly. He pictured them in his mind, and recoiled from the thought.

All the heroes of the Circle Sea passed through the gates of Ankh-Morpork sooner or later. Most of them were from the barbaric tribes nearer the frozen Hub, which had a sort of export trade in heroes Almost all of them had crude magic swords, whose unsuppressed harmonics on the astral plane played hell with any delicate experiments in applied sorcery for miles around, but Rincewind didn’t object to them on that score. He knew himself to be a magical dropout, so it didn’t bother him that the mere appearance of a hero at the city gates was enough to cause retorts to explode and demons to materialise all through the Magical Quarter. No, what he didn’t like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk. There were too many of them, too. Some of the most notable questing grounds near the city were a veritable hubbub in the season. There was talk of organizing a rota.

He rubbed his nose. The only heroes he had much time for were Bravd and the Weasel, who were out of town at the moment, and Hrun the Barbarian, who was practically an academic by Hub standards in that he could think without moving his lips. Hrun was said to be roving somewhere Turnwise.

“Look,” he said at last. “have you ever met a barbarian?”

Twoflower shook his head.

“I was afraid of that,” said Rincewind. “Well. they’re-“

There was a clatter of running feet in the street outside and a fresh uproar from downstairs. It was followed by a commotion on the stairs. The door was flung open before Rincewind could collect himself sufficiently to make a dash for the window. But instead of the greed-crazed madman he expected, he found himself looking into the round red face of a Sergeant of the Watch. He breathed again. Of course. The Watch were always careful not to intervene too soon in any brawl where the odds were not heavily stacked in their favour. The job carried a pension, and attracted a cautious, thoughtful kind of man.

The Sergeant glowered at Rincewind, and then peered at Twoflower with interest.

“Everything all right here, then?” he said.

“Oh, fine,” said Rincewind. “got held up, did you?”

The sergeant ignored him. “This the foreigner?” he inquired.

“We were just leaving,” said Rincewind quickly, and switched to Trob. “Twoflower, I think we ought to get lunch somewhere else. I know some places.”

He marched out into the corridor with as much aplomb as he could muster. Twoflower followed, and a few seconds later there was a strangling sound from the sergeant as the luggage closed its lid with a snap, stood up, stretched, and marched after them.

Watchmen were dragging bodies out of the room downstairs. There were no survivors. The Watch had ensured this by giving them ample time to escape via the back door, a neat compromise between caution and justice that benefited all parties.

“Who are all these men?” said Twoflower.

“Oh, you know. Just men,” said Rincewind. And before he could stop himself some part of his brain that had nothing to do took control of his mouth and added, “Heroes, in fact.”

“Really?”

When one foot is stuck in the Grey Miasma of krull it is much easier to step right in and sink rather than prolong the struggle. Rincewind let himself go.

“Yes, that one over there is Frig Stronginthearm, over there is Black Zenell-“

“Is Hrun the Barbarian here?” said Twoflower, looking around eagerly. Rincewind took a deep breath.