The Last Continent Page 33

'You could use bananas,' said Rincewind. Ron's lips moved silently. 'Nah,' he said. 'Let's go with the peaches.' Rincewind brushed himself off. 'Glad to be of service,' he said. 'Tell me. How many ways are there out of here?'

'Busy night for everyone, what with the Galah and everything,' said Ron. 'Not my taste, of course, but it does bring in the visitors.'

'Yeah, and the hanging in the morning,' said Charley. 'I was planning to miss that,' said Rincewind. 'Now, if you'll just—'

'I for one hope he escapes,' said Charley. 'I'm with you on that,' said Rincewind. Heavy boots walked past the door and stopped. He could hear distant voices.

They say he fought a dozen policemen,' said Ron. 'Three,' said Rincewind. 'It was three. I heard. Someone told me. Not a dozen. Three.'

'Oh, gotta be more than three, gotta be a lot more than three for a bold bush ranger like that one. Rinso, they call him.'

'I heard where this bloke arrived from Dijabringabeeralong and said Rinso sheared a hundred sheep in five minutes.'

'I don't believe that,' said Rincewind. 'They say he's a wizard but that can't be true 'cos you never catch one of them doin' a proper job of work.'

'Well, in fact—'

'All right, but a bloke who works up at the gaol says he'd got this strange brown stuff which gives him enormous strength!'

'It was only beer soup!' shouted Rincewind. 'I mean,' he added, 'that's what I heard.' Ron gave him a lopsided look. 'You look a bit like a wizard,' he said. Someone knocked heavily on the door. 'You're wearing those dresses they wear,' Ron went on, without taking his eyes off Rincewind. 'Go and open the door, Sid.' Rincewind backed away, reached behind him to a table laden with knives, and found his fingers closing on a handle. Yes, he hated the idea of weapons. They always, always, upped the ante. But they did impress people. The door opened. Several men peered in, and one of them was the gaoler. 'That's him!'

'I warn you, I'm a desperate man,' Rincewind said, bringing his hand around. Most of the cooks dived for cover. 'That's a ladle, mate,' said a watchman, kindly. 'But bloody plucky, all the same. Good on yer. What do you think, Charley?'

'I reckon it's never going to be said that a bold larrikin like him was run to earth in a kitchen of mine,' said Charley. He picked up a cleaver in one hand and the dish of Peach Nellie in the other. 'You nip out the other door, Rinso, and we'll talk to these policemen.'

'Suits us,' said the watchman, '

's not a proper last stand, just having a punch-up in a kitchen . . . We'll give you a count to ten, all right?' Once again Rincewind felt that he hadn't been given the same script as everyone else. 'You mean you've got me cornered and you aren't going to arrest me?' he said. 'We-ell, it wouldn't look good in the ballad, would it?' said the guard. 'You've got to think about these things.' He leaned on the doorway. 'Now, there's the old Post Office in Grurt Street. I reckon a man could hold out for two, maybe three days there, no worries. Then you could run out, we shoot you full of arrows, you utter some famous last words . . . kids'll be learnin' about you in school in a hundred years' time, I'll bet. And look at yourself, willya?' He stepped forward, ignoring the deadly ladle, and prodded Rincewind's robe. 'How many arrows is that going to stop, eh?'

'You're all mad!' Charley shook his head. 'Everyone likes a battler, mister. That's the Ecksian way. Go down fighting, that's the ticket.'

'We heard about you takin' on that road gang,' said the guard. 'Bloody good job. Man who'd do a job like that ain't gonna be hanged, he gonna want to make a famous last stand.' The men had all entered the kitchen now. The doorway was clear. 'Has anyone ever had a Famous Last Run?' said Rincewind. 'No. What's one of them?'

'G'day!' As he sped away along the darkened waterfront he heard the shout behind him. That's the ticket! We'll count to ten!' He glanced up as he ran and saw that the big sign over the brewery seemed to be dark. And then he realized that something was hopping along just behind him. 'Oh, no! Not you!'

'G'day,' said Scrappy, drawing level. 'Look at the mess you've got me into!'

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'Mess? You were gonna be hanged! Now you're enjoying the healthy fresh air in a god's own country!'

'And I'm going to be shot full of arrows!'

'So? You can dodge arrows. This place needs a hero. Champion shearer, road warrior, bush ranger, sheep-stealer, horse rider . . . all you need now is to be good at some damn silly bat and ball game that no one's invented yet and maybe build a few tall buildings with borrowed money and you'd have a full house. They ain't gonna kill you in a hurry.'

'That's not much comfort! Anyway, I didn't do any of that stuff— Well, I mean I did, but—'

'It's what people think that matters. Now they believe you waltzed out of a locked cell.'

'All I did was—'

'Doesn't matter! The number of gaolers who want to shake you by the hand, well, I reckon they wouldn't get around to hanging you by lunchtime!'

'Listen, you giant jumping rat, I've made it to the docks, okay? I can outrun them! I can lie low! I know how to stow away, throw up, get discovered, be thrown over the side, stay afloat for two days by clinging on to an old barrel and eating plankton sieved through my beard, carefully negotiate the treacherous coral reef surrounding an atoll and survive by eating yams!' That's a very special talent you got there,' said the kangaroo, bounding over a ship's hawser. 'How many Ecksian ships have you ever seen in Ankh-Morpork? Busiest port in the world, ain't it?' Rincewind slowed. 'Well . . .'

'It's the currents, mate. Get more'n ten miles off'f the coast here and there ain't one captain in a hundred who can stop his ship going right over the Rim. They stick very close inshore.' Rincewind stopped. 'You mean this whole place is a prison!'

'Yep. But the Ecksians say this is the best bloody place in the world, so there's no point in going anywhere else anyway.' There were shouts behind him. The guards here didn't take so long counting to ten as most guards did. 'What're you going to do now?' said Rincewind. The kangaroo had gone. He ducked down a side street and found his way completely blocked. Carts filled the street from edge to edge. Gaily decorated carts. Rincewind paused. He had always been the foremost exponent of the from rather than the to of running. He could have written 'The From of Running'. But just occasionally a certain subtle sense told him that the to was important. For one thing, a lot of the people standing and chatting around the carts were wearing leather.

You could make a lot of arguments in favour of leather. It was long-lasting, practical and hard-wearing. People like Cohen the Barbarian found it so hard-wearing and long-lasting that their old loincloths had to be removed by a blacksmith. But the people here didn't look as if these were the qualities that they'd been looking for in the boutique. They'd asked questions like: How many studs has it got? How shiny is it? Has it got holes cut out in unusual places? But still, one of the most basic rules for survival on any planet is never to upset someone wearing black leather.[21] Rincewind sidled politely past them, giving them a friendly nod and a wave whenever he saw one looking in his direction. For some reason, this caused more of them to take an interest in him. There were groups of ladies, too, and there was no doubt that if EcksEcksEcksEcks was where a man could stand tall, so could a woman. Some of them were nevertheless very pretty, in an overstated kind of way, although the occasional moustache looked out of place, but Rincewind had been to foreign parts and knew that things could be a bit lush in the more rural regions. There were more sequins than you usually saw. More feathers, too. Then it dawned on him in a great rush of relief. 'Oh, this is a carnival, right?' he said aloud. This is the Galah they keep talking about.'

'Pardon you?' said a lady in a spangly blue dress, who was changing the wheel on a large purple cart. 'These are carnival floats, aren't they?' said Rincewind. The woman gritted her teeth, rammed the new wheel into place and then released the axle. The can bounced down on to the cobbles. 'Damn, I think I broke a nail on that,' she said. She glanced at Rincewind. 'Yeah, this is the carnival. That dress has seen better days, hasn't it? Nice moustache, shame about the beard. It'd look good with a tint.' Rincewind glanced back down the street. The floats and the press of people were hiding him from view, but this wouldn't last long. 'Er . . . could you help me, madam?' he said. 'Er . . . the Watch are after me.' They can be so tiresome like that.' There was a misunderstanding over a sheep.' There so often is, mate.' She looked Rincewind up and down. 'You don't look like a country boy, I must say.'

'Me? I get nervous when I see a blade of grass, miss.' She stared at him. 'You . . . haven't been here very long, have you, Mister . . .?'

'Rincewind, ma'am.'

'Well, get on the cart, Mister Rincewind. My name's Letitia.' She held out a rather large hand. He shook it, and then tried surreptitiously to massage some blood back into his fingers as he scrambled up. The purple cart had been decorated with huge swathes of pink and lavender, and what looked like roses made out of paper. Boxes, also covered in cloth, had been set up in the centre to give a sort of raised dais. 'What d'you think?' said Letitia. The girls worked all arvo.' The scheme was a bit too feminine for Rincewind's taste, but he'd been brought up to be polite. He snuggled down, as far out of view as possible. 'Very nice,' he said. 'Very gay.'

'Glad you think so.' Up ahead somewhere a band started to play. There was a stirring as people got on to the floats or formed up to march. A couple of women climbed up into the purple cart, all sequins and long gloves, and stared at Rincewind. 'What the—' one began. 'Darleen – we have to talk,' said Letitia, from the front of the cart. Rincewind watched them go into a huddle. Occasionally one of them would raise her head and give him an odd look, as if she was reassuring herself that he was here. Fine big girls they had here, though. He wondered where they got their shoes from. Rincewind was not intensively familiar with women. Quite a lot of his life that hadn't been spent at high speed had been passed within the walls of Unseen University, where women were broadly put in the same category as wallpaper or musical instruments – interesting in their way, and no doubt a small but important part of the proper structure of civilization but not, when you got right down to it, essential. On these occasions when he had spent some time in the intimate company of a woman, it was generally when she was trying to either cut his head off or persuade him to a course of action that would probably get someone else to do it. When a came to women he was not, as it were, capable of much fine-tuning. A few neglected instincts were telling him that something was out of place, but he couldn't work out what it was. The one addressed as Darleen strode down the can with a decisive and rather aggressive air. Rincewind pulled his hat off respectfully. 'Are you coming the raw prawn?' she demanded.

'Me? Certainly not, miss. No prawns at all. If I can just lie low until we're a few streets away, that's all I ask—'

'You know what this is, don't you?'

'Yes, miss. The carnival.' Rincewind swallowed. 'No worries there. Everyone likes dressing up, don't they?'

'But are you tellin' me you really think . . . I mean we . . . What are you staring at my hair for?'

'Er . . . I was wondering how you get it so sparkly. Are you on the stage at all?'

'We're moving, girls,' Letitia called back. 'Remember . . . pretty smiles. Leave him alone, Darleen, you don't know where he's been.' The third woman, the one the others had called Neilette, was watching him curiously, and Rincewind felt that there was something not right about her. Her hair wasn't drab, but it certainly appeared to be when compared with that of her colleagues. She didn't seem to have enough make-up. She seemed, in short, slightly out of place. Then he caught sight of a watchman ahead, and flung himself below the edge of the cart. A gap in the boards gave him a view, as the cart turned the corner, of the waiting crowds. He'd been to quite a number of carnivals, although not usually on purpose. He'd even attended Fat Lunchtime in Genua, generally regarded as the biggest in the world, although he vaguely recalled that he'd been hanging upside down under one of the floats in order to escape pursuers, but right now he couldn't quite remember why he'd been chased and it was never wise to stop and ask. Although Rincewind had covered quite a lot of the Disc in his life, most of his recollections were like that – a blur. Not through forgetfulness, but because of speed. This looked like the usual audience. A real carnival procession should only take place after the pubs have been open for a good long time. It adds to the spontaneity. There were cheers, whistles, jeers and catcalls. Up ahead, people were blowing horns. Dancers whirled past Rincewind's peephole. He sat back and pulled a swathe of taffeta over his head. This sort of thing always took up a lot of Watch time, what with pickpockets and so on. He'd wait until they were in whatever bit of wasteground these things always ended up in, and drop quietly out of sight. He glanced down. These ladies were certainly into shoes in a big way. They had hundreds. Hundreds of shoes, all lined up, peeking out from under a heap of women's clothing. Rincewind looked away. There was probably something morally wrong about staring at women's clothes without women in them.

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