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The Discworld Series (╣20) - Hogfather

ModernLib.Net / Ůýţ­Ŕ˝˛Ŕ¸ň˝ŕÓ  ˘Óݲӽ˛ŔŕÓ / Pratchett Terry David John / Hogfather - βňÝŔň (˝˛­. 17)
└Ô˛ţ­: Pratchett Terry David John
ĂÓÝ­: Ůýţ­Ŕ˝˛Ŕ¸ň˝ŕÓ  ˘Óݲӽ˛ŔŕÓ
Đň­Ŕ : The Discworld Series

 

 


'Iádon't think you're real,' sheásaidálevelly. 'There's not a little old womanáin a shawl running this place. You're out of my head.áThat's how you defend yourself... You poke around in people's heads and find the things that work...'

She swung the candlestick. It passed through the figure in the bed.

'See?' she said. 'You're not even real.'

'Oh, I am real, dear,' said the old woman, as her outline changed. 'The candlestick wasn't.'

Susan looked down at the new shape.

'Nope,' she said. 'It's horrible,ábut it doesn't frightenáme. No, nor does that.'áItáchangedáagain,áand again. 'No,ánorádoes my father. Good grief, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren't you? I like spiders. Snakes don'táworry me.áDogs?áNo. Rats are fine,áIálikeárats. Sorry, is anyone frightened of that?'

She grabbed at the thing and this time the shape stayed. It looked like a small,áwizenedámonkey, but withábig deep eyesáunder a brow overhanging likeáa balcony.áItsáhair was grey andálank. It struggledáweaklyáin her grasp, and wheezed.

'Iádon'táfrighten easily,'ásaid Susan,á'but you'd be amazed atáhow angry I can become.'

The creature hung limp.

'I... I...' it muttered.

She let it down again.

'You're a bogeyman, aren't you?' she said.

It collapsed in a heap when she took her hand away.

'... Not a... The...' it said.

'What do you mean, the?' said Susan.

'Theábogeyman,'ásaid the bogeyman. And she saw how rangy it was,áhow white andágrey streakedáitsáhair,áhow the skináwas stretchedáoveráthe bones...

'The first bogeyman?'

'I...áthere were...áIádo remember when the landáwas different. Ice. Manyátimesáof...áice.áAnd the...áwhat doáyou calláthem?' The creature wheezed. '... The lands, the big lands... all different...'

Susan sat down on the bed.

'You mean continents?'

'... all different.' The black sunken eyes glinted atáher and suddenly the thing reared up,ábony arms waving. 'I wasáthe dark ináthe cave! I was the shadowáin the trees! You'veáheardáabout... theáprimaláscream?áThat was... at me! I was...' It folded up and started coughing. 'And then... that thing, youáknow, thatáthing... all light and bright... lightning you could carry, hot, little sunshine,áand then there was no more dark, just shadows, and then you made axes, axes in the forest, and then... and then...'

Susanásat down on theábed.á'There's stilláplenty ofábogeymen,' she said.

'Hiding under beds! Lurkingáin cupboards! But,' it foughtáfor breath, 'if you had seen me... in theáold days... whenáthey cameádown into theádeep cavesáto draw their hunting pictures... Iácould roaráinátheir heads...ásoáthatátheir stomachs dropped out of their bottoms...'

'All the old skills are dying out,' said Susan gravely.

'...áOh, others cameálater... They never knew that first fine terror. All they knew,' even whispering, theábogeyman managed to get a sneer in its voice, 'was dark corners. I had been the dark! I was the... first! And now I was no betteráthan them... frightening maids, curdling cream...áhidingáin shadows at the stub of the year... and then one night, I thought... why?'

Susanánodded.áBogeymenáweren't bright.áTheámomentáofáexistential uncertaintyáprobably tookáaálotálonger in headsáwhereátheábrain cells bounced so very slowly from one side of the skull toáthe other. But ... Granddad had thought like that. You hung aroundáwith humans long enough and youástoppedábeingáwhatátheyáimaginedáyouátoábe and wanted toábecome something of your own. Umbrellas and silver hairbrushes...

'You thought: what was the point of it all?' she said.

'...áfrightening children... lurking... andáthenáI started toáwatch them.áDidn't really used to beáchildren backáin the ice times... just big humans, littleáhumans,ánot children...áand... and thereáwasáa different world in their heads... In their heads, that's where theáold days were now. The old days. When it was all young.'

'You came out from under the bed...'

'I watched over them... kept 'em safe...'

Susan tried not to shudder.

'And the teeth?'

'I... oh, youácan'táleave teeth around,áanyoneámight getáthem,ádo terrible things. I liked them, I didn'táwant anyoneáto hurtáthem...á' it bubbled. 'Iánever wanted to hurtáthem, I justáusedáto watch, Iákept the teetháall safe... and, and, and sometimes I just sit here listening to them ... '

Itámumbled on. Susanálistened in embarrassed amazement,ánotáknowing whether to take pity on theáthing or, and this was aádeveloping option, to tread on it.

'... and the teeth... they remember ...

It started to shake.

'The money?' Susan prompted. 'I don't see many rich bogeymen around.'

'á... money everywhere... buried in holes... old treasure... backáof sofas... it adds up... investments...ámoney for theátooth, very important, partáofátheámagic,ámakesáitásafe,ámakesáitáproper,áotherwiseáit's thieving... and I labelled 'em all, and kept 'em safe, and... and then I was old, but Iáfound people...' TheáTooth Fairy sniggered,áand foráaámoment Susanáfeltásorryáforátheámenáin the ancientácaves.á'Theyádon'táask questions, do they?'áit bubbled. '...áYou giveá'emámoney and they all do their jobs and they don't ask questions...'

'It's more than their job's worth,' said Susan.

I... and then they came... stealing...'

Susan gave in. Old gods do new jobs.

'You look terrible.'

... thank you very much . .

'I mean ill.'

'...very old... all those men, too much effort'

The bogeyman groaned.

'... you... don't die here,' it panted. 'Just get old, listening to the laughter...'

Susan nodded.áItáwasáináthe air. Sheácouldn't hear words,ájustáa distant chatter, as if it was at the other end of a long corridor.

'... and this place... it grew up round me...'

'The trees,' said Susan. 'And the sky. Out of their heads...'

'... dying... the little children... you've got to... I'

The figure faded.

Susan sat for a while, listening to the distant chatter.

Worldsáof belief, sheáthought. Just likeáoysters. Aálittle piece of shit gets in and then a pearl grows up around it.

She got up and went downstairs.


Banjo had found a broomáandámop somewhere. The circleáwas empty and, with surprising initiative, the man was carefully washing the chalk away.

'Banjo?'

'Yes, miss.'

'You like it here?'

'There's trees, miss.'

That probably counts as a 'yes', Susan decided. 'The skyádoesn't worry you?'

He looked at her in puzzlement.

'No, miss?'

'Can you count, Banjo?'

He looked smug.

'Yes, miss. On m'fingers, miss.'

'Soáyou canácount up to... ?' Susan prompted.á'Thirteen, miss,' said Banjo proudly.

She looked at his big hands.

'Good grief.'

Well, she thought, and why not? He's big and trustworthy and what other kind of life has he got?

'I think itáwouldábe a good ideaáif you didátheáTooth Fairy's job, Banjo.'

'Will that be all right, miss? Won't the Tooth Fairy mind?'

'You... do it until she comes back.'

'All right, miss.'

'I'll... er... get people to keep an eye on you,áuntil you get settled in. I think food comes in on the cart. You'reánot to let people cheat you.' She looked atáhisáhands and then up and up the lower slopesáuntil she saw the peakáofáMount Banjo, andáadded,á'Not thatáI think they'll try, mind you.'

'Yes, miss. I will keep things tidy, miss. Er.

The big pink face looked at her.

'Yes, Banjo?'

'CanáI have a puppy, miss? Iáhadáa kitten once,ámiss,ábut ourámam drownded it 'cos it was dirty.'

Susan's memory threw up a name.

'A puppy called Spot?'

'Yes, miss. Spot, miss.'

'I think it'll turn up quite soon, Banjo.'

He seemed to take this entirely on trust.

'Thank you, miss.'

'And now I've got to go.'

'Right, miss.'

She looked back upáthe tower. Death's land might be dark, but when you were there you never thoughtáanything bad was going to happenáto you.áYou were beyond the places where it could. But here...

When you were grown up youáonly feared, well, logical things. Poverty. Illness. Being found out. At leastáyou weren't madáwith terror becauseáof something underáthe stairs. The world wasn'táfull ofáarbitrary lightáand shade. The wonderful world of childhood? Well, it wasn't aácut-down version of the adult one, that was certain. It was more likeátheáadult one written in big heavy letters. Everything was... more. More everything.

She left Banjo to hisásweepingáand steppedáout intoáthe perpetually sunlit world.

Bilious and Violetáhurried towards her.áBilious wasáwaving aábranch like a club.

'You don't need that,' said Susan. She wanted some sleep.

'We talked aboutáit and we thoughtáweáought to come backáand help,' said Bilious.

'Ah. Democraticácourage,'ásaid Susan.á'Well,áthey're allágone.áTo wherever they go.'

Bilious lowered the branch thankfully.

'It wasn't that-' he began.

'Look, you two can make yourselves useful,' said Susan. 'There's a mess in there. Go and help Banjo.'

'Banjo?'

'He's... more or less running the place now.'

Violet laughed.

'But he's-'

'He's in charge,' said Susan wearily.

'Alláright,'ásaid Bilious. 'Anyway, I'm sure we can tell himáwhat to do...'

'No!áToo manyápeople have told him whatáto do.áHe knows what to do. Just help him get started, all right? But...'

If the Hogfather comesáback now, you'll vanish, won't you?áShe didn't know how to phrase the question.

'I'm, er,ágiving up my old job,' said Bilious. 'Er... I'm goingáto go on working as aáholiday relief for the other gods.' He gave heráa pleading look.

'Really?' Susan lookedáat Violet. Oh, well, maybe ifáshe believesáin him, at least... It might work. You never know.

'Good,' she said. 'Have fun. Now I'm goingáhome. This isáa hell ofáa way to spend Hogswatch.'

She found Binky waiting by the stream.


The Auditorsáflutteredáanxiously.áAnd, asáalways happensáinátheir species when something goes radically wrong and needs fixing instantly, they settled down to try to work out who to blame.

One said, It was...

Andáthenáitástopped.áTheáAuditors lived by consensus,áwhichámade picking scapegoats aálittle problematical. It brightened up. After all,áif everyone wasáto blame, thenáitáwas noáone's actualáfault.áThat'sáwhat collective responsibility meant, afteráall. Itáwas more likeábad luck, or something.

Another said, Unfortunately, people might get the wrong idea. We may be asked questions.

One said, What about Death? He interfered, after all.

One said, Er... not exactly.

One said, Oh, come on. He got the girl involved.

One said, Er... no. She got herself involved.

One said, Yes, but he told her...

One said, No. He didn't. In fact he specifically did not tellŚ

It paused, and then said, Damn!

One said, On the other hand...

The robes turned towards it.

Yes?

One said, There's no actual evidence. Nothing written down. Some humans gotáexcitedáand decidedátoáattack theáTootháFairy's country.áThisáis unfortunate, but nothing to do with us. We are shocked, of course.

One said, There's stilláthe Hogfather. Things are going to be noticed. Questions may be asked.

They hovered for a while, unspeaking.

Eventually one said, We may haveáto take... It paused,áloath evenáto think the word, but managed to continue... a risk.


Bed, thought Susan, as the mists rolled pastáher. And in theámorning, decent human things like coffee and porridge. And bed. Real things...

Binky stopped. She stared at his ears for a moment, andáthen urged him forward. He whinnied, and didn't budge.

A skeletal hand had grabbed his bridle. Death materialized.

IT IS NOT OVER. MORE MUST BE DONE. THEY TORMENT HIM STILL.

Susan sagged. 'What is? Who are?'

MOVE FORWARD. I WILLáSTEER.áDeath climbed into the saddle and reached around her for the reins.

'Look, I went...' Susan began.

YES.áIáKNOW. THE CONTROL OFáBELIEF,ásaid Death, asáthe horse moved forward again.áONLY A VERY SIMPLEáMINDáCOULD THINK OF THAT.áMAGIC SO OLD IT'S HARDLY MAGIC. WHAT A SIMPLE WAY TO MAKE MILLIONSáOF CHILDREN CEASEáTO BELIEVE IN THE HOGFATHER.

'And what were you doing?' Susan demanded.

I TOO HAVE DONE WHAT I SETáOUT TO DO. I HAVEáKEPT AáSPACE. A MILLION CARPETSáWITH SOOTY BOOTMARKS, MILLIONS OF FILLED STOCKINGS, ALL THOSE ROOFS WITH RUNNER MARKS ON THEM... DISBELIEF WILL FIND IT HARD GOING IN THE FACE OF THAT.áALBERT SAYS HE NEVER WANTS TO DRINK ANOTHER SHERRY FORáDAYS. THE HOGFATHER WILL HAVE SOMETHING TO COME BACK TO, AT LEAST.

'What have I got to do now?'

YOU MUST BRING THE HOGFATHER BACK.

'Oh, mustáI? For peace and goodwill andáthe tinklingáof fairy bells? Whoácares. He's justásomeáfat oldáclownáwho makes peopleáfeel smugáat Hogswatch!áI've been through alláthisáfor some old manáwho prowls around kids' bedrooms?'

NO. SO THAT THE SUN WILL RISE.

'What has astronomy got to do with the Hogfather?'

OLD GODS DO NEW JOBS.


The Senior Wrangler wasn't attending the Feast. He got one of the maids to bring a trayáupáto his rooms, where heáwas Entertaining and doingáall those things a manádoes when he finds himself unexpectedly tŕte-Ó-tŕte with the opposite sex,álikeátrying to shine his boots on his trousers and clean his fingernails with his other fingernails.

'Aálittle moreáwine, Gwendoline? It'sáhardlyáalcoholic,'áheásaid, leaning over her.

'I don't mind if I do, Mr Wrangler.'

'Oh, call meáHorace, please. And perhaps a littleásomethingáfor your chic-ken?'

'I'máafraidásheáseemsátoáhaveáwandered off somewhere,'ásaidáthe Cheerful Fairy. 'I'máafraid I'm, I'm I'm ratherádullácompany...' She blew her nose noisily.

'Oh,áIácertainlyáwouldn't say that,'ásaid theáSenior Wrangler.áHe wished he'd had time to tidy up his rooms a bit, or at least get some of the more embarrassing bits of laundry off the stuffed rhinoceros.

'Everyone's beenásoákind,'ásaid theáCheerful Fairy, dabbing atáher streaming eyes. 'Who was the skinny one that kept making the funny faces for me?'

'That was the Bursar. Why don't you...'

'He seemed very cheerful, anyway.'

'It's theádriedáfrog pills, he eats themábyáthe handful,'ásaid the Senior Wrangler dismissively. 'I say, why don't...'

'Oh dear. I hope they're not addictive.'

'I'm sure he wouldn't keep on eating them if they were addictive,' said the Senior Wrangler.á'Now, whyádon't you have another glass ofáwine,áand then... and then...'áaáhappy thought struck himá'... and then... and then perhapsáIácouldáshow you ArchchancelloráBowell'sáRemembrance?áIt's got a-a-a-a very interesting ceiling. My word, yes.'

'That would be very nice,' saidáthe Cheerful Fairy. 'Would it cheer me up, do you think?'

'Oh,áit would, it would,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Definitely! Good! So I'll, er, I'll just go and... just go and... I'll... ' He pointed vaguely in the direction of hisádressing room, while hoppingáfrom one footáto the other. 'I'll just go and, er... go... just...'

He fled into the dressing room and slammed the door behind him. His wild eyes scanned the shelves and hangers.

'Clean robe,' he mumbled. 'Combáface, wash socks, fresh hair,áwhere's that Insteadofshave lotion...'

From the other side of the door came the adorable sound of the Cheerful Fairyáblowing heránose.áFromáthis sideácame theásoundáofátheáSenior Wrangler's muffled scream as, made carelessáby haste and a very poorásense ofásmell, he mistakenlyásplashed his face with theáturpentine he used for treating his feet.

Somewhere overhead aávery smalláplump child witháa bow and arrow and ridiculouslyáunaerodynamic wings buzzed ineffectually against a shut window on which the frost was tracing the outlineáofáa rather handsomeáAuriental lady. The other window already had an icy picture of a vase of sunflowers.


Ináthe Great Hall oneáof the tables had already collapsed. It was one ofátheácustoms of the Feast thatáalthougháthereáwere manyácourses each wizard went atáhisáown speed, a tradition instituted toápreventáthe slow onesáholding everyone elseáup.áAnd theyácould also have secondsáif they wished, so that ifáa wizard was particularly attracted to soupáhe could go round and round for an hour before starting on the preliminary stages of the fish courses.

'How're you feeling now, old chap?' said the

Dean,áwhoáwasásitting next to theáBursar. 'Backáon the driedáfrog pills?'

'I, er, I, er,áno,áIm notátoo bad,'ásaidátheáBursar.á'It was, of course, rather a, rather a shock when-'

'That's a shame, because here's your Hogswatch present,' said the Dean, passing over a small box. It rattled. 'You can open it now if you like.'

'Oh, well, how nice...'

'It's from me,' said the Dean.

'What a lovely...'

'I bought it with myáown money, you know,'ásaidátheáDean, wavingáa turkey leg airily.

'The wrapping paper is a very nice...'

'More than a dollar, I might add.'

'My goodness...'

The Bursar pulled off the last of the wrapping paper.

'It's a box for keeping dried frog pills in. See? It's got "DriedáFrog Pills" on it, see?'

The Bursar shookáit. 'Oh, howánice,'áhe saidáweakly. 'It's got some pills in it already. How thoughtful. They will come in handy.'

'Yes,' said the Dean. 'I took them off your dressing table.áAfter all, I was down a dollar as it was.'

TheáBursar nodded gratefully and put the little boxáneatly beside his plate. They'dáactually allowed him knivesáthisáevening.áThey'dáactually allowed him to eat other things than those things that could only be scraped up with a wooden spoon.

He eyed the nearest roast pig with nervous anticipation, and tucked his napkin firmly under his chin.

'Er, excuse me, Mr Stibbons,' he quavered. 'Wouldáyou be so good as to pass me the apple sauce tankard-'

There was aásound like coarse fabric ripping, somewhere in the airáin front of theáBursar, andáa crash as something landed onátop of theároast pig. Roast potatoes and gravy filled the air. The apple that had been in the pig's mouth was violently expelled and hit the Bursar on the forehead.

He blinked, looked down, and found he was about to plunge his fork into a human head.

'Ahaha,' he murmured, as his eyes started to glaze.

The wizards heaved aside the overturned dishes and smashed crockery.

'He just fell out of the air!'

'Is he an Assassin? Not one of their student pranks, is it?'

'Why's he holding a sword without a sharp bit?'

'Is he dead?'

'I think so!'

'I didn't even have any of that salmon mousse! Will you look at it? His foot's in it! It's all over the place! Do you want yours?'

PonderáStibbonsáfoughtáhis way through the throng. He knew hisámore senior fellows when theyáwere feelingáhelpful. They wereálike aáglass of water to a drowning man.

'Give him air!' he protested.

'How do we know if he needs any?' said the Dean.

Ponder put his ear to the fallen youth's chest.

'He's not breathing!'

'Breathing spell,ábreathing spell,' muttered theáChair ofáIndefinite Studies. 'Er... SpoIt's Forthright Respirator, perhaps? I thinkáI've got it written down somewhere...'

Ridcully reached through the wizards and pulled out theáblack-clad man by a leg. He held him upside down in his big hand and thumped him heavily on the back.

Heámetátheir astonished gaze. 'Used to do this on the farm,' he said. 'Works a treat on baby goats.'

'Oh, now, really,' said the Dean, 'I don't...'

The corpse made a noise somewhere between a choke and a cough.

'Makeásome space, you fellows!' theáArchchancellor bellowed, clearing an area of table with one sweep of his spare arm.

'Hey,áI hadn'táhadáany of that Prawn Escoffe!'ásaid the Lecturer in Recent Runes.

'I didn't even know we had any,'ásaid the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'Someone, and I name no names, Dean, shoved it behind the soft-shelled crabs so they could keep it for themselves. I call that cheap.'

Teatimeáopenedáhis eyes. It said aálot foráhis constitution that it survived a very close-up view of Ridcully's nose, which filled the immediate universe like a big pink planet.

'Excuse me, excuse me,'ásaid Ponder, leaning overáwitháhisánotebook open,á'butáthisáisávitallyáimportant forátheáadvancementáofánatural philosophy.áDid you see any bright lights? Was there a shiningátunnel? Did anyádeceased relatives attemptáto speak toáyou? What wordámost describes the...'

Ridcully pulled him away.

'What's all this, Mr Stibbons?'

'I really should talk to him, sir. He's had a near-death experience!'

'We all have. It's calledá"living",' saidáthe Archchancellor shortly. 'Pour the poor lad a glass of spirits and put that damn pencil away.

'Uh... This must be Unseen University?' saidáTeatime. 'And you are all wizards?'

'Now, just you lie still,' said Ridcully. But Teatime had already risen on his elbows.

'There was a sword,' he muttered.

'Oh, it's fallen on the floor,'ásaidáthe Dean, reaching down. 'But it looks as though it'sŚ Did I do that?'

Theáwizards looked atátheálarge curved sliceáof table falling away. Something had cut through everything wood, cloth, plates, cutlery, food. The Dean swore that a candle flame that had been in the path of the unseen blade was only half a flame for a moment, until the wick realized that this was no way to behave.

The Dean raised his hand. The other wizards scattered.

'Looks like a thin blue line in the air,' he said, wonderingly.

'Excuse me, sir,' said Teatime, takingáit fromáhim. 'I really must be off.'

He ran from the hall.

'He won't get far,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'The mainádoors are locked in accordance with Archchancellor Spode's Rules.'

'Won'táget far while holding aáswordáthat appears to beáable to cut through anything,' said Ridcully, to the sound of falling wood.

'Iáwonderáwhatáall that wasáabout?' saidáthe ChairáofáIndefinite Studies, and then turned his attention to the remains of the Feast. 'Anyway, at least this joint's been nicely carved

'Bu-bu-bu...'

They all turned.áThe Bursar wasáholding his hand in front of him. The cut surface of a fork gleamed at the wizards.

'Nice to know his new present will come in handy,' said the Dean. 'It's the thought that counts.'

Underáthe table theáBlue Henáof Happinessárelievedáitselfáonáthe Bursar's foot.


THEREáARE...áENEMIES,ásaidáDeath,áasáBinky gallopedáthrougháicy mountains.

'They're all dead...'

OTHERáENEMIES. YOU MAY AS WELL KNOW THIS. DOWN IN THE DEEPEST KINGDOMS OF THE SEA, WHERE THERE IS NO LIGHT,áTHERE LIVES A TYPE OF CREATURE WITH NO BRAIN AND NO EYESáANDáNO MOUTH.áITáDOES NOTHINGáBUTáLIVE AND PUT FORTH PETALS OF PERFECTáCRIMSON WHERE NONE ARE THERE TO SEE. IT IS NOTHING EXCEPT AáTINY YES IN THE NIGHT.áAND YET... AND YET... IT HAS ENEMIES THAT BEAR ON IT AáVICIOUS, UNBENDING MALICE, WHO WISH NOT ONLY FORáITS TINY LIFEáTO BE OVER BUT ALSO THAT IT HAD NEVER EXISTED. ARE YOU WITH ME SO FAR?

'Well, yes, but...'

GOOD. NOW, IMAGINE WHAT THEY THINK OF HUMANITY.

Susanáwas shocked.áSheáhadáneveráheard herágrandfatheráspeakáin anything other than calm tones. Now there was a cutting edge in his words.

'What are they?' she said.

WE MUST HURRY. THERE IS NOT MUCH TIME.

'I thought you alwaysáhadátime. I mean...áwhatever it is you want to stop, you can go back in time and...'

AND MEDDLE?

'You've done it before ...'

THIS TIME IT IS OTHERS WHO ARE DOING IT. AND THEY HAVE NO RIGHT.

'What others?'

THEY HAVE NO NAME. CALL THEM THE AUDITORS. THEYáRUN THE UNIVERSE. THEY SEE TO IT THAT GRAVITY WORKS AND THE ATOMS SPIN, OR WHATEVER IT IS ATOMS DO. AND THEY HATE LIFE.

'Why?'

IT IS... IRREGULAR.áIT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. THEY LIKE STONES, MOVINGáIN CURVES.áANDáTHEY HATE HUMANS MOST OF ALL. Death sighed. IN MANY WAYS, THEY LACK A SENSE OF HUMOUR.

'Why the Hog...'

IT IS THE THINGSáYOU BELIEVE WHICH MAKE YOU HUMAN. GOOD THINGS AND BAD THINGS, IT'S ALL THE SAME.

The mists parted. Sharp peaks were around them, lit by the glow off the snow.

'Theseálook like theámountains whereátheáCastle of Bonesáwas,' she said.

THEY ARE, said Death. IN A SENSE. HE HAS GONE BACK TO A PLACE HE KNOWS. AN EARLY PLACE...

Binky cantered low over the snow.

'And what are we looking for?' said Susan.

YOU WILL KNOW WHEN YOU SEE IT.

'Snow? Trees? I mean, could I have a clue? What are we here for?'

I TOLD YOU. TO ENSURE THAT THE SUN COMES UP.

'Of course the sun will come up!'

NO.

'There's no magic that'll stop the sun coming up!'

I WISH I WAS AS CLEVER AS YOU.

Susan stared down out of sheer annoyance, and saw something below.

Small darkáshapes moved across the whiteness, running as ifáthey were in pursuit of something.

'There's...ásome sort of chase...'áshe conceded. 'I can see some sort of animals but I can't see what they're after...'

Then sheásawámovement ináthe snow, a blurred, dark shape dodging and skidding and never clear.áBinky dropped until his hooves grazed the tops of the pineátrees, which bentáin hisáwake. A rumble followedáhim across the forest, dragging broken branches and a smoke of snow behind it.

Now they were lower she could see the hunters clearly. Theyáwere large dogs. Their quarry was indistinct, dodgingáamong snowdrifts, keeping to the cover of snow-laden bushes.

A drift exploded. Somethingábigáand long and blue-blackárose through the flying snow like a sounding whale.

'It's a pig!'

A BOAR. THEY DRIVE IT TOWARDS THE CLIFF. THEY'RE DESPERATE NOW.

She could hear theápanting of the creature. The dogsámade no sound at all.

Blood streamed onto theásnow from the wounds they had alreadyámanaged to inflict.

'This... boar,' said Susan. It's . .

YES.

'They want to kill the Hogf...'

NOT KILL.áHE KNOWS HOW TO DIE. OH, YES... IN THIS SHAPE, HEáKNOWS HOW TO DIE. HE'S HAD A LOT OF EXPERIENCE. NO, THEYáWANTáTOáTAKE AWAY HIS REAL LIFE, TAKE AWAY HIS SOUL, TAKE AWAY EVERYTHING. THEY MUSTáNOT BE ALLOWED TO BRING HIM DOWN.

'Well, stop them!'

YOU MUST. THIS IS A HUMAN THING.

Theádogs movedáoddly. They weren't runningábut flowing, crossing the snow faster than the mere movement of their legs would suggest.

'They don't look like real dogs ...

NO.

'What can I do?'

Death nodded his head towards the boar. Binky was keeping level with it now, barely a few feet away.

Realization dawned.

'I can't ride that!' said Susan.

WHY NOT? YOU HAVE HAD AN EDUCATION.

'Enough to know that pigs don't let people ride them!'

MERE ACCUMULATION OF OBSERVATIONAL EVIDENCE IS NOT PROOF.

Susan glanced ahead. The snowfield had a cut-off look.

YOU MUST, said her grandfather's voice in her head. WHEN HE REACHES THE EDGE THERE HE WILL STAND AT BAY. HE MUST NOT. UNDERSTAND? THESE ARE NOT REAL DOGS. IF THEY CATCH HIM HE WON'T JUST DIE, HE WILL... NEVER BE...

Susan leapt. For a moment she floated through the air,ádress streaming behind her, arms outstretched...

Landing on the animal's backáwas like hitting a very, very firm chair. It stumbled for a moment and then righted itself.

Susan'sáarms clung toáits neckáand her face wasáburied in its sharp bristles. She could feel the heat under her. It was like riding a furnace.

And it stank of sweat, and blood, and pig. A lot of pig.

There was a lack of landscape in front of her.

Theáboaráploughedáintoáthe snow onátheáedgeáof theádrop, almost flinging her off, and turned to face the hounds.

There were a lot of them. Susan was familiar with dogs. They'd had them at home like other houses had rugs. And these weren't that big floppy sort.

She rammed her heels in and grabbedáa pig's earáin eacháhand. It was like holding a pair of hairy shovels.

'Turn left!' she screamed, and hauled.

She put everything intoáthe command. It promisedátears before bedtime if disobeyed.

To her amazement the boar grunted, pranced on the lipáof the precipice and scrambled away, the hounds floundering as they turned to follow.

This was a plateau. From here itáseemedátoábe all edge, with noáway down except the very simple and terminal one.

The dogs were flying at the boar's heels again.

Susanálookedáaroundáinátheágrey, Sightlessáair.áThereáhad to be somewhere, some way...

There was.

It was a shoulder ofárock, a giant knife-edge connecting this plain to theáhillsábeyond. It was sharp and narrow, a thin line of snow with chilly depths on either side.

It was better than nothing. It was nothing with snow on it.

The boar reachedáthe edge and hesitated. Susanáput her head downáand dug her heels in again.

Snoutádown, legs moving like pistons,áthe beast plunged outáonto the ridge.áSnow sprayed up as itsátrotters sought for purchase. It made up for lack of grace byásheer manic effort, legs moving like a tap dancer climbing a moving staircase that was heading down.

'That's right, that's right, that's...'

A trotter slipped.áFor a momentáthe boaráseemed to stand on two, the othersáscrabbling at icy rock.áSusan flung herself the other way, clinging to the neck, and felt the dragging abyss under her feet.

There was nothing there.


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