The Last Continent Page 16


'Stibbons found some soft-boiled eggs.'

'What a useful young man he is,' the Dean groaned. 'Where did he find them?'

'On a tree.' Bits of last night came back to the Dean. 'A soft-boiled-egg tree?'

'Yes,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Nicely runny. They're quite good with breadfruit soldiers.'

'You'll be telling me next he found a spoon tree . . .'

'Of course not.'

'Good.'

'It's a bush.' The Senior Wrangler held up a small wooden spoon. It had a few small leaves still attached to it. 'A bush that fruits spoons . . .'

'Young Stibbons said it makes perfect sense, Dean. After all, he said, we'd picked them because they're useful, and then spoons are always getting lost. Then he burst into tears.'

'He's got a point, though. Honestly, this place is like Big Rock Candy Mountain.'

'I vote we leave it as soon as possible,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'We'd better have a serious look at this boat idea today. I don't want to meet another of those horrible lizards.'

'One of everything, remember?'

'Then probably there's a worse one.'

'Building some sort of boat can't be very hard,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'Even quite primitive people manage it.'

'Now look,' snapped the Dean, 'we've searched everywhere for a decent library on this island. There simply isn't one! It's ridiculous. How is any-one supposed to get anything done?'

'I suppose . . . we could . . . try things?' said the Senior Wrangler. 'You know . . . see what floats, that sort of thing.'

'Oh, well, if you want to be crude about it . . .' The Chair of Indefinite Studies looked at the Dean's lace and decided it was time to lighten the atmosphere. 'I was, aha, just wondering,' he said, 'as a little mental exercise . . . if you were marooned on a desert island, eh, Dean . . . what kind of music would you like to listen to, eh?' The Dean's face clouded further. 'I think, Chair, that I would like to listen to the music in the Ankh-Morpork Opera House.'

'Ah. Oh? Yes. Well . . . very . . . very . . . very direct thinking there, Dean.' Rincewind grinned glassily. 'So . . . you're a crocodile, then.'

'Thif worrying you?' said the barman. 'No! No! Don't they call you anything else, though?'

'Well . . . there'f a nickname they gave me . . .'

'Oh, yes?'

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'Yeah. Crocodile Crocodile. But in here moft people call me Dongo.'

'And . . . er . . . this stuff? What do you call this?'

'We call it beer,' said the crocodile. 'What do you call it?' The barman wore a grubby shirt and a pair of shorts, and until he'd seen a pair of shorts tailored for someone with very short legs and a very long tail Rincewind hadn't realized what a difficult job tailoring must be. Rincewind held the beer glass up to the light. And that was the point. You could see light all the way through it. Clear beer. Ankh-Morpork beer was technically ale, that is to say, gravy made from hops. It had texture. It had flavour, even if you didn't always want to know what of. It had body. It had dregs. You could eat the last half-inch of it with a spoon. This stuff was thin and sparkly and looked as though someone had already drunk it. Tasted all right, though. Didn't sit on your stomach the way the beer at home did. Weak stuff, of course, but it never did to insult someone else's beer. 'Pretty good,' he said. 'Where'd you blow in from?'

'Er . . . I floated here on a piece of driftwood.'

'Was there room with all the camels?'

'Er . . . yes.'

'Good on yer.' Rincewind needed a map. Not a geographical map, although one of those would be a help, but one that showed him where his head was at. You didn't usually get crocodiles serving behind a bar, but everyone else in this cavern of a place seemed to think it was perfectly normal. Mind you, the people in the bar included three sheep in overalls and a couple of kangaroos playing darts. And they weren't exactly sheep. They looked more like, well . . . human sheep. Sticking-out ears, white curls, a definite sheepish look, but standing upright, with hands. And he was pretty sure that there was no way you could get a cross between a human and a sheep. If there was, people would definitely have found out by now, especially in the more isolated rural districts. Something similar had happened with the kangaroos. There were the pointy ears and they definitely had snouts, but now they were leaning on the bar drinking this thin, strange beer. One of them was wearing a stained vest with the legend 'Wagga Hay – it's the Rye Grass!' just visible under the dirt. In short, Rincewind had the feeling he wasn't looking at animals at all. He took another sip of the beer. He couldn't raise the subject with Crocodile Dongo. There was a philosophical wrongness about drawing a crocodile's attention to the fact that there were a couple of kangaroos in the bar. 'Youse wanta nother beer?' said Dongo. 'Yeah, right,' said Rincewind. He looked at the sign on the beer pump. It was a picture of a grinning kangaroo. The label said: Roo Beer. He raised his eyes to a torn poster on the wall. It also advertised Roo Beer. There was the same kangaroo, holding a pint of said beer and wearing the same knowing grin. It looked familiar, for some reason. 1 can't help nossisting . . .' He tried again. 'I can't help noticing', he said, 'that some people in this barrardifferentshap from other p'ple.'

'Well, old Hollowlog Joe over there'f put on a bit of weight lately,' said Dongo, polishing a glass. Rincewind looked down at his legs. 'Whose legsare dese?'

'You okay, mifter?'

'Prob'ly been bitten by so'thing,' said Rincewind. A sudden urgent need gripped him. 'It'f out the back,' said Dongo. 'Out back in the outback,' said Rincewind, staggering forward. 'Hahahaha—' He walked into an iron pillar, which picked him up in a fist and held him at arm's length. He looked along the arm to a large angry face and an expression that said a lot of beer was looking for a fight and the rest of the body was happy to go along with it. Rincewind was muzzily aware that in his case a lot of beer wanted to run away. And at a time like this, it's always the beer talking. 'I bin lisnin' to you. Where're you from, mister?' said the giant's beer. 'Ankh-M'pork . . .' At a time like this, why lie? The bar went quiet. 'An' you're gonna come here and make a lot of cracks about us all drinkin' beer and fightin' and talkin' funny, right?' Some of Rincewind's beer said, 'No worries.' His captor pulled him so they were face to face. Rincewind had never seen such a huge nose. 'An' I expect you don't even know that we happen to produce some partic'ly fine wines, our Chardonnays bein'

'specially worthy of attention and compet'tively priced, not to mention the rich, firmly structur'd Rusted Dunny Valley Semillons, which are a tangily refreshin' discovery for the connesewer . . . yew bastard? 'Jolly good, I'll have a pint of Chardonnay, please.'

'You takin' the piss?'

'No, I'd like to leave it here—'

'How about you putting my mate down?' said a voice. Mad was in the doorway. There was a general scuffle to get out of the way. 'Oh, you looking for a fight too, stubby?' Rincewind was dropped as the huge creature turned to face the dwarf, fists clenching. 'I don't look for them. I just walk into pubs and there they are,' said Mad, pulling out a knife. 'Now, you going to leave him alone, Wally?'

'You call that a knife?' The giant unsheathed one that'd be called a sword if it had been held in a normal-sized hand. 'This is what I call a knife!'

Mad looked at it. Then he reached his hand around behind his back, and it came back holding something. 'Really? No worries. This', he said, 'is what I call a crossbow.'

'It's a log,' said Ridcully, inspecting the boat-building committee's work to date. 'Rather more than a log—' the Dean began. 'Oh, you've made a mast and tied the Bursar's bathrobe to it, I can see that. It's a log, Dean. There's roots on one end and bits of branch at the other. You haven't even hollowed it out. It's a log.'

'It took us all hours,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'And it does float,' the Dean pointed out. 'I think the term is more like wallows,' said Ridcully. 'And we'd all get on it, would we?'

'This is the one-man version,' said the Dean. 'We thought we'd test it out and then try it with a lot of them together . . .'

'Like a raft, you mean?'

'I suppose so,' said the Dean, with considerable reluctance. He would have preferred a more dynamic name for it. 'Obviously these things take time.' The Archchancellor nodded. He was impressed, in a strange way. The wizards had succeeded in recapitulating, in a mere day, a technological development that had probably taken mankind several hundred years. They might be up to coracles by Tuesday. 'Which of you is going to test it?' he said. 'We thought perhaps the Bursar could assist at this point in the development programme.'

'Volunteered, has he?'

'We're sure he will.' In fact the Bursar was some distance away, wandering aimlessly but happily through the beetle-filled jungle. The Bursar was, as he would probably be the first to admit, not the most mentally stable of people. He would probably be the first to admit that he was a tea-strainer. But he was, as it were, only insane on the outside. He'd never been very interested in magic as a boy, but he had been good at numbers, and even somewhere like Unseen University needed someone who could add up. And he had indeed survived many otherwise exciting

years by locking himself in a room somewhere and conscientiously adding up, while some very serious division and subtraction was going on outside. Those were still the days when magical assassination was still a preferred and legal route to high office, but he'd been quite safe because no one had wanted to be a bursar. Then Mustrum Ridcully had been appointed, and he'd put a stop to the whole business by being unkillable and had been, in his own strange way, a modernizer. And the senior wizards had gone along with him because he tended to shout at them if they didn't and it was, after some exhilarating times in the University's history, something of a relief to enjoy your dinner without having to watch someone else eat a bit of it first or having to check your shape the moment you got out of bed. But it was hell for the Bursar. Everything about Mustrum Ridcully rasped across his nerves. If people were food, the Bursar would have been one of life's lightly poached eggs, but Mustrum Ridcully was a rich suet pudding with garlic gravy. He spoke as loudly as most people shouted. He stamped instead of walking. He roared around the place, and lost important bits of paper which he then denied he'd ever seen, and shot his crossbow at the wall when he was bored. He was aggressively cheerful. Never sick himself, he tended to the belief that sickness in other people was caused by sloppy thinking. And he had no sense of humour. And he told jokes. It was odd that this affected the Bursar so much, since he did not have a sense of humour either. He was proud of it. He was not the kind of man to laugh. But he did know, in a mechanical sort of way, how jokes were supposed to go. Ridcully told jokes like a bullfrog did accountancy. They never added up. So the Bursar found it much more satisfying to live inside his own head, where he didn't have to listen and where there were clouds and flowers. Even so, something must have filtered in from the world outside, because occasionally he'd jump up and down on an ant, just in case he was supposed to. Part of him rather hoped that one of the ants was, in some unimaginably distant way, related to Mustrum Ridcully. It was while he was thus engaged in changing the future that he noticed what looked like a very thick green hosepipe on the ground. 'Hmm?' It was slightly transparent and seemed to be pulsating rhythmically. When he put his ear to it he heard a sound like gloop. Mildly deranged though he was, the Bursar had the true wizard's instinct to amble aimlessly into dangerous places, so he followed the throbbing stem. Rincewind awoke, because sleep was so hard with someone kicking him in the ribs. 'Wzt?'

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