The Last Continent Page 11


'—I haven't already done it yet?'

'Exactly! You're getting the hang of it! You have to go and do what we know you're going to do because you've already done it. In fact, if you hadn't done it already I wouldn't be here to make sure it gets done. So you'd better do it.'

'Facing terrible dangers?' The kangaroo waved a paw. 'Slightly terrible,' it said. 'And go for many miles over parched and trackless terrain?'

'Well, yeah. We haven't got any of the other sort.' Rincewind brightened up slightly. 'And I'll meet comrades whose strengths and skills will be a great help to me?'

'Don't bet on it.'

'Any chance of a magic sword?'

'What would you do with a magic sword?'

'Fair enough. Fair enough. Forget the magic sword. But I've got to have something. Cloak of invisibility, potion of strength, something like that . . .' That stuff's for people who know how to use them, mister. You'll have to rely on your native wit.'

'I've got nothing? What sort of quest is that? Can't you give me any hints?'

'You may have to drink some beer,' said the kangaroo. It cringed back for a moment, as if confident of facing a storm of objections. Rincewind said: 'Oh. Right. Well, I know how to do that. What direction am I supposed to go?'

'Oh, you'll find it.'

'And when I get to where I'm going, what am I supposed to do?'

'It'll . . . be obvious, right?'

'And how will I know I've done it?'

'The Wet will come back.'

'The wet what?'

'It'll rain.'

'I thought it never rained here,' said Rincewind. 'See? I knew you were smart.' The sun was setting. The rocks around the edge of the cave glowed red. Rincewind stared at them for a while, and reached a brave decision. 'I'm not the man to shirk when the fate of whole countries is in the balance,' he said. 'I will make a start at dawn to complete this task which I have already completed, by hoki, or my name isn't Rincewand!'

'Rincewind,' said the kangaroo. 'Indeed!'

'Well said, mate. Then I should get some sleep, if I were you. Could be a busy day tomorrow.'

'I've not been found wanting when duty calls,' said Rincewind. He reached into a hollow log and, after some rummaging around, pulled out a plate of egg and chips. 'See you at dawn, then.' Ten minutes later he stretched out on the sand with the log as his pillow, and looked up at the purple sky. Already a few stars were coming out. Now, there was something . . . Oh, yes. The kangaroo was lying down on the other side of the waterhole. Rincewind raised his head. 'You said something about when “he” created this place, and you talked about “him” . . .'

'Yep.'

'Only . . . I'm pretty sure I've met the Creator. Short bloke. Does all his own snowflakes.'

'Yeah? And when did you meet him?'

'When he was making the world, as a matter of fact.' Rincewind decided to refrain from mentioning that he'd dropped a sandwich into a rockpool at the time. People don't like to hear that they may have evolved from somebody's lunch. 'I get around quite a lot,' he added. 'Are you coming the raw prawn?'

'What? Oh, no. Certainly not. Coming a raw prawn? Not me. That's something I never do. Or even cooked prawns. Or crustaceans of any sort, especially in rockpools. Not me. Er . . . what was it that you actually meant?'

'Well, he didn't create this place,' said Scrappy, ignoring him. 'This was done after.'

'Can that happen?'

'Why not?'

'Well, it's not like, you know, building on over the stables, is it?' said Rincewind. 'Someone just wanders along when a world's all finished and slings down an extra continent?'

'Happens all the time, mate,' said Scrappy. 'Bloody hell, yeah. Why not, anyway? If other creators go around leaving ruddy great empty oceans, someone's bound to fill 'em up, right? Does a world good, too, having a fresh look, new ideas, new ways.' Rincewind stared up at the stars. He had a mental vision of someone walking from world to world, sneaking in extra lands when no one was looking. 'Yes indeed,' he said. 'I for one would not have thought of making all the snakes deadly, and all the spiders deadlier than the snakes. And putting pockets on everything? Great idea.'

'There you go, then,' said Scrappy. He was hardly visible now, as the dark filled up the cave. 'Made a lot of them, has he?'

'Yep.'

'Why?'

'So's maybe at least one of them won't get mucked up. Always puts kangaroos on 'em, too. Sort of a signature, you might say.'

'Does this Creator have a name?'

'Nope. He's just the man who carries the sack that contains the whole universe.'

'A leather sack?'

'Sounds like him,' the kangaroo agreed. The whole universe in one small sack?'

'Yep.' Rincewind settled back. 'I'm glad I'm not religious,' he said. 'It must be very complicated.' After another five minutes he began to snore. After half an hour he moved his head slightly. The kangaroo didn't seem to be around.

With almost super-Rincewind speed he was upright and scrambling up the fallen rocks, over the lip of the cave and into the dark oven of the night. He sighted on a random star and got into his stride, ignoring the bushes that lashed at his bare legs. Hah! He Was not going to be found wanting when duty called. He did not intend to be found at all. In the cave the water in the pool rippled under the starlight, the expanding circles lapping against the sand. On the wall was an ancient drawing of a kangaroo, in white and red and yellow. The artist had tried to achieve on stone what might better have been attempted with eight dimensions and a large particle accelerator; he'd tried to include not just the kangaroo now but also the kangaroo in the past, and the kangaroo in the future and, in short, not what the kangaroo looked like but what the kangaroo was. Among other things, as it faded, it was grinning. Among the complexities that made up the intelligent biped known to the rest of the world as Mrs Whitlow was this: there was no such thing as an informal meal in Mrs Whitlow's world. If Mrs Whitlow made sandwiches even just for herself she would put a sprig of parsley on the top. She placed a napkin on her lap to drink a cup of tea. If the table could have a vase of flowers and a placemat with a tasteful view of something nice, so much the better. It was unthinkable that she should eat a meal balanced on her knees. In fact it was unthinkable to think of Mrs Whitlow as having knees, although the Senior Wrangler had to fan himself with his hat occasionally. So the beach had been scoured to find enough bits of driftwood to make a very rough table, and some suitable rocks to use as seats. The Senior Wrangler dusted one off with his hat. 'There we are, Mrs Whitlow . . .' The housekeeper frowned. 'Ai'm really sure it's Not Done for the staff to eat with the gentlemen,' she said. 'Be our guest, Mrs Whitlow,' said Ridcully. 'Ai really can't. It does not Do to get ideas above one's station,' said Mrs Whitlow. 'Ai would never be able to look you in the face again, sir. Ai hope Ai know my Place.' Ridcully looked blank for a moment, and then said quietly: 'Faculty meeting, gentlemen?' The wizards went into another huddle a little way along the beach. 'What are we supposed to do about that?'

'I think it's very commendable of her. Her world is Below Stairs, after all.'

'Yes, very well, but it's not as if there're any stairs on this island.'

'Could we build some?'

'We can't let the poor woman sit off by herself somewhere, that is my point.'

'We spent ages on that table!'

'And did you notice something about the driftwood, Archchancellor?'

'Looked like perfectly ordinary wood to me, Stibbons. Branches, treetrunks and whatnot.' That's the strange thing, sir, because—'

'It's very simple, Ridcully. I hope that, as gentlemen, we know how to treat a woman—'

'Lady.'

'Let me just say that was unnecessarily sarcastic, Dean,' said Ridcully. 'Very well. If the Prophet Ossory won't go to the mountain, the mountain must go to the Prophet Ossory. As they say in Klatch.' He paused. He knew his wizards. 'I believe, in fact, that it's in Omnia that—' Ponder began. Ridcully waved a hand. 'Something like that, anyway.' And that is why Mrs Whitlow dined alone at the table, while the wizards sat around the fire a little way away, except that very frequently one of them would lumber over to offer her some choice bit of nature's bounty. It was obvious that starvation would not be a problem on this island, although dyspepsia and gout might be. Fish was the main course. Frenzied searching had failed to locate a steak bush so far but had found, in addition to numerous more conventional fruits, a pasta bush, a sort of squash that contained something very much like custard and, to Ridcully's disgust, a pineapple-like plant the fruit of which was, when the husk had been stripped away, a large plum pudding. 'Obviously it's not really a plum pudding,' he protested. 'We just think it's like a plum pudding because it tastes exactly like a . . . plum pudding . . .' His voice trailed off. 'It's got plums and currants in it,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Pass the custard squash, will you?'

'My point is that we only think they look like currants and plums—'

'No, we also think they taste like currants and plums,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Look, Archchancellor, there's no mystery. Obviously wizards have been here before. This is the result of perfectly ordinary magic. Perhaps our lost geographer did a bit of experimenting. Or it's sourcery, perhaps. Some of the things that got created in the old days, well, a cigarette bush is very small beer by comparison, eh?'

'Talking of small beer . . .' said the Dean, waving his hand, 'pass me the rum, will you?'

'Mrs Whitlow doesn't approve of strong liquor,' said the Senior Wrangler. The Dean glanced at the housekeeper, who was daintily eating a banana, a feat which is quite hard to do. He put down the coconut shell. 'Well, she . . . I am . . . I don't see . . . well, damn it all, that's all I've got to say.'

'Or bad language,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'I vote we take some of those bees back with us,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'Marvellous little creatures. No footling around being content with making boring honey. You just reach up and pick one of these handy little wax containers and bob's your uncle.'

'She takes all the peel off slowly before she eats it. Oh, dear . . .'

'Are you all right, Senior Wrangler? Is the heat getting to you?'

'What? Eh? Hmm? Oh, nothing. Yes. Bees. Wonderful things.' They glanced up at a couple of the bees, who were busying themselves around a flowering bush in the last of the light. They were leaving little black smoke trails. 'Shooting around like little rockets,' said the Archchancellor. 'Amazing.'

'I'm still worried about those boots,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'You'd think the man had been pulled right out of them.' It's a tiny island, man,' said Ridcully. 'All we've seen is birds, a few little squeaky things and a load of insects. You don't get big fierce animals on islands you can practically throw a stone across. He must've just . . . felt a bit carefree. It's a bit hot for boots here, anyway.'

'So why haven't we seen him?'

'Hah! He's probably lying low,' said the Dean. 'Ashamed to face us. Keeping a nice sunny island in your study is against University rules.'

'Is it?' said Ponder. 'I've never seen it mentioned. How long has it been a rule?'

'Ever since I've had to sleep in a freezing bedroom,' said the Dean, darkly. 'Pass the bread- and-butter-pudding fruit, will you?'

'Ook,' said the Librarian. 'Ah, nice to see you your old shape, old chap,' said Ridcully. 'Try and keep it up for longer this time, eh?'

'Ook.' The Librarian was sitting behind a pile of fruit. Normally he wouldn't question such a perfect piece of positioning, but now even the bananas were bothering him. There was the same sensation of wrongness. There were long yellow ones, and stubby ones, and red ones, and fat brown ones— He stared at the remains of the fish. There was a big silver one, and a fat red one, and a small grey one, and a flat one a bit like a plaice— 'Obviously some sourcerer landed here and wanted to make the place more homely,' the Senior Wrangler was saying, but he sounded far off. The Librarian was counting. The plum-pudding plant, the custard-squash vine, the chocolate coconut— He turned his head to look at the trees. And now he knew what he was looking for, he couldn't see it anywhere. The Senior Wrangler stopped talking as the ape scrambled to his knuckles and sped back to the high-tide line. The wizards watched in silence as he scrabbled through the heaped-up seashells. He came back with a double handful, which he dropped triumphantly in front of the Arch-chancellor. 'Ook!'

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