"They all got completely wiped out by ice ages and falling rocks and we never did anything to stop it." - Rincewind
When they didn't come down in an hour, Gytha asked the
Librarian, "Do you suppose they're okay?"
"Ook," the Librarian replied.
"Commander!" Gytha called to Vimes. "I think we may have a problem."
Vimes looked around, counting heads, and then nodded. "Angua! Would you ride up the moor with Miss Ogg and see if you can find Carrot and the others?"
"Yes, sir," Angua said. "Gytha?"
"I'm coming," Gytha replied, swinging up onto her horse and waving to the rest. "See you soon."
Angua rode up the slopes with a
kind of fierce balance Gytha did not possess. She and her horse almost joined,
as good riders will, and together they became a hunter, moving steadily, as they
searched the landscape for the scents of the people they were after.
For her part, Gytha concentrated—as she always had to—on staying on the horse, and occasionally looking around. Over to her left, she noticed an outcropping of rock hidden under gorse bushes. As a child, she'd played on these moors at times and she remembered it, but the bushes had grown since then.
Finally, they crested the rise and Angua gave a whoop, kicking her horse into a trot. "Carrot!"
Carrot spun his horse—he'd been patrolling the other side of the mountain—and headed for them, shouting to the three on the ground as he went. "Professor Stibbons! Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy!"
Ponder stood quickly, and Harry struggled to his feet. Draco, however, stayed on the grass, staring out towards Cori Celesti.
"We were worried about you!" Gytha said as they swung off their horses. "Look, did you find any granite?"
"No," Harry shook his head. "Somehow, we seem to have picked a bit of moor with no bare rock on it."
Gytha looked at him and laughed. "That's just because you don't know where to look," she said. "Halfway up, under the gorse bush—big lump of rock, granite if I recall it correctly."
Harry's eyes went wide. He decided that there were times when silence was the better part of intelligence, and merely sent a worried glance to where Draco sat, frowning at the landscape.
Gytha and Ponder looked at each other. "You, err, didn't spot the rock, huh?" Gytha ventured after a moment.
"No, we didn't," Ponder said honestly, aware that Gytha was laughing at him a little, but also aware that there was very little he could do to prevent it.
She nodded, and was about to say something.
"Gytha!" Draco shouted before she could open her mouth. He sprang up, and then stumbled. Harry rushed forward to support him. "Damn. Cramp. Gytha—you know about witch magic as well as wizard, right? I'm thinking—people in our world who try and work magic without a wand are mostly failures, but one or two succeed; if they use ancient places of power, like stone circles or menhirs."
"Like the Dancers, you mean?" Gytha said. "About two miles north of here, if you don't mind walking over the rougher moorland."
"Not at all," Draco said, though Harry privately suspected that it would be a difficult trek. "If we can use the Dancers as a gateway, we might be able to get away without any Floo powder."
"As I understand it, you'll only get into elves' country, though," Gytha said. "Not a place I'd want to go, personally."
"Elves aren’t so bad, are they?" Carrot said.
"Oh, they're bad," Gytha replied. "My Nan met some, and they weren't good folks."
"I'm told that I'm about one-sixteenth elf," Draco said suddenly. "On my father's side, you understand." Actually, only Harry understood, but the meaningful glance he and Draco exchanged lead the rest of them to conclude that it was wiser not to ask.
"Is it really worth the effort?" Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.
"I don't know," Draco replied. "I'm just looking for other options given that we haven't found any granite, is all."
"Oh!" Gytha said. "Didn't you hear that? About halfway up the slope, covered in gorse, one outcrop of rock. You'd better go down and have a look at it."
Draco glared at her. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I did say," she protested, holding her hands out. "Anyway, are you going to look or not?"
He gave her another sharp glance, but retrieved his reins from Carrot and started down the slope.
Harry stared after him for a moment before Gytha offered to let him share her horse.
* * *
“Do you suppose they have zombies in their world?”
Vimes blinked. “I don’t know.”
“If they do, do you think they have legal protection? Citizenship? Right to vote?” persisted Reg Shoe.
“I really couldn’t say, Reg.”
“I bet they don’t. I bet they’re just like us, making them hide away in second-rate pubs.”
“And they probably subjugate them the same way they subjugate their werewolves. Use them as unpaid labour, that sort of thing. It’s blatant hypocrisy, that’s what it is. Prejudice all over again. I didn’t take my death lying down! I tell you, if more people would just listen…”
“I am listening… oh, Carrot!”
“Reporting, sir.” Carrot wondered for a moment why his commanding officer looked so relieved to see him, but put the matter out of his mind. “Miss Ogg has found an outcropping of granite not far from here. Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy are planning to inspect it.”
“And as well as that, looks like we’ve got a back-up plan.” Vimes turned to see Angua, riding up behind Carrot. “Have you ever heard of the Dancers, sir? They’re a group of stones which can apparently be used as a gateway to other worlds.”
“Which other worlds?” asked Vimes shrewdly.
“Well… the elves’ country,” admitted Angua, “but it’s something to bear in mind.”
“Gateway to other worlds…” mused Vimes. “If that’s the criteria, we may as well take our friend back to Ankh-Morpork.”
“The Street of Cunning Artificers,” said Vimes. “There was a doorway there for a while. Went through to somewhere else. And where did Nobby find that man, Lupin?”
Angua’s face remained expressionless at the mention of Lupin. “Lightning doesn’t strike twice, sir. But the Dancers are something completely different.”
“No,” said another voice, and both Vimes and Angua jumped. It was more than a voice; it vibrated through the ground and made the grass rustle. Vimes turned to the miniature mountain behind him and remembered suddenly that it was a person.
“No,” said Dangre again. “No Dancers. Them lords ‘n’ ladies… no.”
Angua peered up, trying to approximate eye contact. “What if it’s the only way?”
“Then ‘m stayin’ ‘ere.”
“Fair enough.” Vimes shrugged. “Better get cracking with the granite, then.”
"I think Draco's doing his best, sir," Carrot told him.
Vimes looked up the hill, and cocked his head. On the breeze the sound of words that would shock less hardened ears reached the company.
Carrot added, "And Ponder says that the swearing really is a part of the magic."
They sat and enjoyed the sunshine some more, since there didn't seem to be anything else to do.
* * *
There was quite a lot of sunshine to enjoy, but even slow-moving Discworld days have to approach sunset eventually. As the first stars twinkled in the sky, Harry wandered down from the chattering knot around the now-exposed rock, which was surrounded by fires for various purposes, and enquired of Vimes if there was anything to eat.
"I told you he was a proper wizard," Rincewind said to Vimes, who had expressed doubt on the point.
Harry repeated his question, somewhat impatiently.
"We ate it all, sorry," Angua said, slightly shame-faced.
"Huh," Harry said. "Just my luck." He sat down on the grass, and looked hungry.
After a few minutes, as the final rays of sunshine slanted through the Disc's upper atmosphere, Gytha followed him down the hill. "They're going to be talking all night," she said with a nod in Draco and Ponder's direction. "Harry, would you tell them that we're going up to the castle for something to eat? You've got more authority than I have."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Harry muttered, but he got up. For a moment, he weighed up the difficulty of climbing the hill again versus the potential throat damage of a good yell, and then took a deep breath and hollered, "Draco Malfoy! If you want to stay skinny, stay there!"
In the twilight, Draco's white head turned at once. He said something to the slightly less visible Ponder, who lifted a lump of rock and started to descend in short order, close behind Draco.
Grinning, Gytha said, "Good work, Harry. Commander Vimes—are you leaving a giant-guarding detail here?"
* * *
"This is nice," Hermione said, laying her hefty tome down on the sideboard and looking at the table. "Candles, flowers—it's been years since you set a table as nicely as this, Huxley."
"Well, Mrs Pince," her husband replied, kissing her softly, "I thought a wedding anniversary—even if it's only sapphire—was a good time to return to some of our little courting rituals. His eyes sparkled.
Hermione smiled at him. "I'm sure you're right," she said, accepting the chair he pulled out for her. "I know I needed yanking out of that book."
"The women in my life have always needed that," Huxley said with a sly grin. "My mother the librarian—my sister the editor—my wife the reader and writer…"
He waited long enough to see her smile and answer before turning away to fetch the food from the kitchen—but as he did so, a roar from the fireplace heralded a rush of mixed blue and red flames. They both stared as the flickers gradually resolved into a rather distorted head.
It was, on the whole, round rather than long, though the chin was jumping from left to right most uncomfortably. It was wearing spectacles of the type that have a shape modelled on jam-jar bases, and it was topped by a mop of unruly hair—blue hair.
"Mrs Hermione Pince?" said the apparition, hopefully.
"Hello," Hermione said. "Harry, is that you? Where are you?"
"Actually, my name's Ponder," the head replied, and then disappeared.
"I'll talk to her," an authoritative voice said, and though the next face to appear in the fire was almost exactly the same as the last one, Hermione knew the voice—the war leader, the school friend, and the slightly quirky man who relied on her for help.
"Hermione?" Harry said. "Listen. I can't see you, because this isn't proper Floo powder, just something Gytha and Draco dreamt up—bits from your book, or one of them, and bits from a book by someone called Goodie Whemper, and some experimentation. Anyway. We're at a place called Lancre Castle, which should now be on the Floo network. Call me back, please?"
He faded, and the flames returned to a more average amber glow.
Hermione looked over at Huxley with a sad smile. "Sorry, love," she said. "Friend in need, you understand."
Huxley nodded, and then shrugged. "I can cook again another day," he said philosophically. "Do what you have to."
"Thank you," Hermione said quietly, then lifted the Floo powder pot from the mantelpiece and knelt in front of the fire.
Stories Index Chapter Index Chapter Eight