The Wizzard and the Pony
Rincewind came out of the tent in a daze. A wizard, even a failed one, can recognize when powerful magic is being used. So it was that he had recognized, within the tent, the source of the Harmonic field that emanated from the caravan.
So, he thought, I have seen a Horserer. He was struck by a feeling of familiarity, beyond the general sense of goodwill intrinsic to a strong Harmonic field. She had looked nearly exactly the way the Lady had presented herself to him and Star Swirl that morning -- apart from the eyes -- but that was not it. In fact, it was her eyes, large and long-lashed, and like nothing he'd seen before, that had somehow struck a chord within him.
Where had he seen that lost, haunted look before? He looked around the tents as he wandered, lost in thought. Everyone was moving in more or less the same direction, towards a sort of paddock in the back. They chattered genially amongst themselves, wandering this way and that, but always in the general direction of the paddock. He didn't think they were aware they were doing it. If he were to be honest with himself, it gave him chills.
To buy himself time to think, he purchased a large, meaty drumstick sort of thing -- the leg of a geas, as it happened -- and stood by the back of the large tent that he had just left, gnawing futilely at the tough, almost rubbery meat. That was how he came to hear the conversation, if such a word applied.
"So," he heard a man say, and due to the steel-hard nature of the voice, he had difficulty identifying it as al Qurad's. "This is how you repay me for taking care of you and your sister these last weeks."
"Isrim, no," another voice replied, and he recognized the voice of the Horserer. "It was only a performance!"
"A performance indeed," Isrim said. "'Come fly with me'?" There was a sharp snapping sound, the smell of ozone, and a whinny of pain and fear.
"No, Isrim, please! You know I would never try to escape!" the Horserer cried.
Isrim laughed, and Rincewind only barely mastered the urge to flee from the hard edge of that laugh. "Of course you would not," the Klatchian said. "But those people have been touched by your power. Even now, they queue for a chance to be near your sister. To pet her. To talk to your adorable..." Another sharp crack and whiff of ozone. "...little..." Another. "...sister!" And another.
Hullo, said a voice in Rincewind's head.
Oh bugger,he thought. You again.
Yes, said Rincewind's conscience. Been a bit, hasn't it? Are you hearing this? And then the voice stopped, forcing him to listen, once again, to the conversation in the tent.
"They will look at her," Isrim was saying, "and see that she is cute, and helpless. They will see her wings. And then they will hear you saying 'come fly with me'... as you intended!"
"No," the Horserer pled.
"Yes!" Another crack, another whiff of ozone, another whinny. "And your nasty little ingrate of a sister won't be able to resist, will she? Some little Hublandish whelp will climb on her back and say 'fly with me!' and off they will go... And I will not have it!" And yet another.
You do know, Rincewind's conscience put in, that's Tslah's Portable Lightning he's whipping her with?
I know, Rincewind snarled back.
I imagine, his conscience continued, relentlessly, that the pain is indescribable.
"You know," Isrim said, "should your sister attempt to flee, she will need to be punished as well."
"No," the Horserer said, and her voice lost some, but not all, of its pleading nature. "Not Luna. We had a bargain. Not Luna."
"Bargain or no," Isrim argued, "discipline must be maintained."
And suddenly, Rincewind knew what it was about the Horserer's eyes that was so familiar. "You know what happens to boys who are bad," he quoted, sotto vocce.
Well, said his conscience, I can see my work here is-- where are you going? For Rincewind had tossed aside the geas drumstick (it bounced twice) and was headed out of the camp with a determined sort of look in his eyes.
To get Star Swirl, he replied, snarling. I can't do this on my own.
He decided he must be mad to be considering it at all, but that some situations called for madness.
* * * * *
Star Swirl, in the meantime, was having what he would later consider one of the most peculiar conversations of his long life. Considering he had, just a few days prior, engaged in an animated debate with the Earth Pony Chancellor, Puddinghead, about the merits and flaws of an oatmeal-based economy*, that particular bar was set rather high.
Star Swirl, while Rincewind had been watching the show in the largest tent, had been talking to himself. Given Star Swirl's garrulous and, it must be admitted, often silly nature, this was not in itself unusual. What was unusual was that the pony he was talking to was standing three feet away and dressed very oddly indeed.
"That's an interesting outfit," Star Swirl said diplomatically. Personally, he thought the black jumpsuit was too understated, and could use some trim and possibly a bell or two. He had to admit that the eyepatch and scar made him look rather dashing, however.
The other Star Swirl grinned. "Isn't it? It's some sort of material to keep warm in the Windigoes' area of influence. Some human fellow named Ridiculous or something gave it to me." He turned to examine himself, then sighed. "He was very resistant to the idea of putting bells on, or one of those little puffball things, so it's perhaps not as silly as I'd like."
"And the eyepatch?"
"Well, it completes the look, doesn't it? I think it makes me look dashing."
"Well, yes, it does," Star Swirl admitted. "And the suit seems a bit slimming."
"Look," said Other Star Swirl, "we haven't got time for this. We--" And then he got a case of the Sillies.** He snorted, gasped out the word "time" once, then fell over, rolling on the ground laughing and pounding his hooves against the dirt in apparent hilarity. Despite Star Swirl's best efforts, all Other Star Swirl could manage to say was "time," which would set him off again.
"Oh dear," Star Swirl said, watching his doppelganger bemusedly, "I fear I've gone and cracked."
Other Star Swirl then began to glow, eventually vanishing in a blinding flash of yellow-white light, all the time still laughing.
Star Swirl stood there, staring at the spot his doppelganger had collapsed and trying to figure out what had just happened, when another flash of light went off behind him. He turned around and found himself face-to-face with Other Star Swirl again, who grinned, said "Boo!" and kissed him on the nose before falling over laughing again, insensible until he vanished a second time.
Before Star Swirl could react, there was yet another flash of yellow-white light, heralding yet another appearance of Other Star Swirl.
"Okay," Other Star Swirl said, gasping for breath. "Sorry. Sorry. Ahem. This time for sure." He almost lost composure again at the word "time", but bravely held it together. "Greetings, Star Swirl the Bearded. I bring tidings of the future! OOOooOOooooo!" So saying, Other Star Swirl reared back on his hind legs and waved his forehooves around in what Star Swirl presumed was intended to be a spooky manner.
"Things are about to get chancy," Other Star Swirl continued, "but if you keep your chin up and keep on smiling, everything will end in sunshine and rainbows!"
Star Swirl opened his mouth to reply, but Other Star Swirl simply shoved his black-clad hoof in it. Never having heard of foam latex, Star Swirl didn't know what Other Star Swirl's suit was made of, but he knew it tasted horrible.
"The other important thing I have to say," Other Star Swirl said, "is that you've got to head over to the main road right now or you'll miss meeting Rincewind's friends!"
Star Swirl was taken aback. Pushing Other Star Swirl's hoof out of the way, he said "Rincewind's got friends?"***
"Course he's got friends!" Other Star Swirl grinned. "He's got you, hasn't he?"
"Go on," Star Swirl said, "pull the other one. It," he added quite factually, "has got bells on."
Other Star Swirl laughed, his composure finally broken. (Truth be told, Star Swirl had been waiting years to use that line, so it was rather gratifying to have an appreciative audience.) As the glow began to overtake him, indicating he was about to vanish again, his eyes lit up. "Oooh!" he said. "I just remembered! I should probably tell you about the Elements of Har--" And then he vanished.
Star Swirl waited a moment for him to reappear, and when he didn't, he decided he'd better heed Other Star Swirl's advice and head for the main road.
* Merits: Everypony loves oatmeal, especially with cinnamon and a little butter. Flaws: It's a bad idea to have edible currency, oat meal has a fairly short shelf life, and once prepared it's not exactly portable. Or, as Star Swirl had put it before enumerating these points, "Oatmeal? Are you crazy?"
** Though a human being can generally laugh off a case of the Sillies in short order, in ponies it is a serious condition, often with long-term consequences. Some learn to live with the symptoms (spontaneous musical numbers, an inability to stay on task, and a compulsion to travel by hopping or bouncing are among the more common ones) while others, as trained medical ponies put it, "go completely 'round the twist".
*** This would be a surprise to Rincewind too, as it happens. Wizards on the disc are not generally noted for their amicability, being an insular, competitive lot.
Havelock Vetinari's office was one of the few remaining places in the bifurcated -- and now mostly crystallized -- city of Ankh Morpork that wasn't frozen solid. (If he could have seen it, he would have grudgingly admitted that the Shades made a startlingly beautiful, and large, ice sculpture.) He would have liked to credit sound construction or a well-maintained heating system for the fact, but he knew that wasn't the case. Similarly, his guest, Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, would have loved to credit his own magical prowess, but he did not cast any spells on the room.
No, the only explanation remaining was that the two of them had set aside their considerable differences and were, in fact, getting along rather swimmingly. In short, the situation confirmed, albeit on a small scale, information vouchsafed to the Archchancellor by Death's admittedly unorthodox companion and mount.
"I've an idea," Ridcully said after a few minutes of careful, and silent, consideration.
"Do tell," the Patrician replied, with none of his usual air of superiority. Truth be told, he was getting rather desperate for a solution.
"Well," said Ridcully, "All's Fallow is coming up in just a few days.*"
The Patrician smiled wryly, seeing where Ridcully was taking the discussion. "I suppose you're suggesting, what, a party?" His smile widened, taking on a bit more of his usual attitude. It felt good, he decided. "Trick people into getting along with each other?"
"It could work," Ridcully said. "At least for a time." He looked out the window at the freezing city. Was that an equine cloud he saw, racing over the skyline? He shuddered. "It's either that or settle in and wait for the Ice Giants."
Vetinari had to admit the Archchancellor had a point.
* All's Fallow, the midsummer festival of Summer Two, is the one day of the year when, it is said, witches and warlocks stay in their beds.
It was, ironically, the presence of the Luggage that had put Conina and Nijel at ease. (Most familiar with the oft-homicidal travel accessory would have the opposite reaction.) The Librarian, accompanying them, seemed comfortable with any situation with which he was presented. This, in fact, likely had to do with the fact that, as an orang-utan,* his concerns had become much less immediate, generally coming down to a vague wonder where his next banana was coming from.
"Oook?" he asked.
"Erm, yes," answered Star Swirl. "He's just gone on ahead to those tents up there." He indicated the caravan with a gesture of his horn.
"Rincewind went ahead?" Conina blinked. "Are you sure he didn't just... erm... scarper?"
"I'm afraid I don't follow," Star Swirl said.
"It's just," Nijel said, "meaning no offense, but Rincewind isn't... well, he's not exactly, erm..."
The Librarian rolled his eyes. "Ook," he said, saving Nijel from having to spit out the uncomfortable truth.
"Well," said Star Swirl, "so he can be a bit cowardly at times**. But what's to be brave about?" He seemed genuinely nonplussed. "All he has to do is pop in, say 'Hello, lovely weather we're having,' and just have a look about."
"Ook," explained the Librarian and, laying a long-fingered, leathery hand comfortingly on Star Swirl's shoulder, pointed up the road. There was Rincewind, one hand holding his pointed hat on his head while the other held up the skirts of his robe, allowing his spindly legs the full range of motion required for fleeing.
Nijel and Conina, more experienced in dealing with Rincewind than Star Swirl, were preparing to join his headlong flight when, rather to their surprise, he skidded to a halt in front of them.
"What is it?" said Conina, brandishing a large, curious-looking weapon. "Who's after you?"
"Erm," said Rincewind, looking over his shoulder. "No one, I think." He shrugged. "I don't think they noticed me leaving."
"Then why the headlong flight? Why the expression of terror?" Nijel asked.
"Well," said the embarrassed wizard, "better safe than sorry. As for the look, I imagine you wouldn't look quite so brave if you knew what I know about what's coming next." He paused to consider for a moment. "Well," he allowed, "I suppose you might, and she," he said, indicating Conina, "definitely would. Hullo, Conina, Nijel."
"Hullo, Rincewind. What is it you know that we don't? What's coming next?" Conina couldn't conceal the excitement in her voice.
Rincewind looked at Star Swirl. "I've found her," he said. "I've found the Horserer."
Star Swirl blinked. "The what?"
Rincewind realized he hadn't explained sourcery, nor its relation to the element of Harmony that made Star Swirl's magic possible. "The source of the Harmony that's been keeping the Windigoes' magic at bay," he explained. "She's another talking pony -- horse, really -- with wings and a unicorn's horn..."
"Alicorn," corrected Star Swirl. "Come to think of it, according to legend, there used to be winged unicorns, and some scholars call them alicorns as well. It comes from the Fancee, or rather, Gall, terms 'aile', for wing, and 'corn' for horn. Or they call them alacorns... Pegacorns? No, that sounds silly."
Rincewind grimaced. "In any event," he said, heading off a long, rambling speech, "she's called Princess Celestia, she has a sister named, if I heard right, Loony or something, and there's no way I can save them without your help!" He had grasped the front of Star Swirl's robes, shaking the pony vigorously. Each shake was accompanied by the merry jingle of Star Swirl's bells.
"They're prisoners?" Star Swirl broke off his building monologue. "I thought you said she was a princess?"
"She's being forced to star in some sort of traveling show beside the road," Rincewind explained. "I think the whole 'Princess' bit is a sort of wossname - like a pen name, but for performers."
"Show name?" offered Nijel.
"But why would they call her a princess?" asked Star Swirl, the only member of the group with experience dealing with royalty, who often left him unimpressed.
"It's to make her sound more exotic," said Nijel with an air of authority. "Only it says in my book that 'Warrior Princess of the Steppes' is a much better--"
"Nijel," Rincewind interrupted, "she's a bloody talking unicorn with wings. How much more bloody exotic do you want?"
Nijel merely shrugged.
"So," said Conina, "what are we up against?"
Conina grinned. "Of course! We're all friends here, aren't we?"
Rincewind, having never had a friend before***, let alone four, was caught off guard. It took him a moment to get his bearings and forge ahead with the conversation. "Right," he said. "Right. Erm... There were at least a dozen large men with those sort of curvy swords they like in Klatch. Then there were six or seven thiefy, backstabby looking sorts, and the leader. He's a wizard, at least fifth level."
"Right!" said Nijel. "We've got some genuine damsels in distress to rescue, what are we waiting around here for?"
"Erm," said Rincewind, "You did catch the part where they're horses, right?" Conina had already begun making her way into the hills nearer the caravan, and he realized something about the weapon she was wielding. "Is that," he asked, "a double-handed cuticle knife?"
Conina Harebutt, barbarian hairdresser, just grinned and led the way into the hills.
* The transformation had occurred during a magical mishap involving a massive Change spell and the most powerful tome of magic in the Unseen University's admittedly vast Library some years ago. Since then, he has resisted all efforts to change him back.
** Again, allowances must be made for Star Swirl's inexperience.
*** A point should be made about the social dynamics among wizards on the disc, who tend to stick together not so much out of a sense of camaraderie and fellowship as to keep a good eye on each other. To a wizard, "friend" is a typographical error****, and "colleague" merely a synonym for "deadly rival."
**** One that made for a very peculiar edition of Ali Gieri's Guide to Demonologie indeed.
Isrim al Qurad sighed. With the strange calming effect his... charges had on people, he reasoned that his small troop of mercenaries -- no more than a raiding party, actually -- would be able to conquer a large city rather handily. Then it would be a simple matter of finding those who, like his hand-picked soldiers, were able to act in spite of that field of calmness. Such men would be too easy to co-opt or otherwise neutralize, thereby both expanding his forces and eliminating any potential resistance. The whole conquest would, in fact, be too easy. Unfulfilling. So boring.
Where was the challenge? Where was the conquest? Where was that infernal buzzing coming from?
Further adding the disappointing ease with which his plans could be enacted, he'd begun to realize that the amount of magic available at his fingertips was increasing geometrically. At first, he'd suspected sourcery, but he'd been present during the second Mage Wars a few years back*, and this didn't have the same raw, vibrant edge of new magic. Nor did it appear to be related to the field emanated by his equine charges. No, this was good, old-fashioned, comfortable Disc magic -- it was just that there was rather a lot more of it than he expected.
As the sun descended towards the rim, it occurred to Isrim that twilight and dawn, being cusp times, were excellent times for a good astral poke around and look-see. Hastily, he drew the required octogram, wrote out the necessary sigils, and, just as the sun began to descend past the horizon, spoke the prescribed incantations. Just as his spirit left his body, the buzzing gained such in intensity that he began to question the brilliance of this idea after all. It didn't help that, in his haste, he'd misspelled a crucial word in the protective octogram's spellwork.
* The wizards of Unseen University had all been conveniently out of town, visiting family, ill, or otherwise indisposed, and therefore were not responsible for any of the numerous injuries, transformations, deaths, and other inconveniences that had befallen the Disc. In fact, they went on to say, everyone who was there had surely died in the magical conflagration, and futhermore, hey, was that a demonic duck of some sort?
Great A'Tuin swims on through the Celestial Sea. No one -- save perhaps him (or her) -- knows where he (or she) is going. Few know where he (or she) has been. Meteor-pocked flippers the size of continents push him (or her) through the aether at what can only be called a galactic pace. While normally, his thoughts (or he-- you get the idea), with all the swiftness of continental drift, are of the Weight. Now, however, even he (or she-- oh, nevermind) can feel the Cold.
There is rather a lot of it. Whole civilizations stand literally frozen in place and time. In scholarly, Rim-most Krull, eyes are pressed against telescopes, rimed with frost. The argument about the nature of the equine shapes seen galloping through the clouds is rather forcibly on hold, lungs frozen mid-breath, lips stopped as they form the words of an argument that, as it happens, is completely wrong.
There are a few pockets of, if not warmth, then at least less cold, here and there. Small villages, more communal than their larger counterparts, come together in support of each other. Pockets of conviviality show in even the largest, most decadent of cities. Ankh-Morpork, for example, widely reputed to be the only city to ever start out decadent, and whose Patrician has raised political corruption to the level of fine art, is preparing a city-wide celebration for All's Fallow in the hopes of remedying the situation, at least locally. As it happens, this celebration will fail, but will at least provide a slight surcease, and enable the true solution to come in its good time.
The horse people of the Hubland steppes have noticed the Cold. There has been much talk lately among them about how unseasonably comfortable these past few days have been.
Even in the great city of Dunmanifestin, home of the gods, high atop Cori Celesti, the Cold is felt. There, in the great hall of the gods, the Game goes on. Offler, the crocodile god, has made his move at last. He has put a new piece into play... a bizarre, twisted mockery of a creature.
Its serpentine body twists into an S shape as it looms over the Sto Plain. Mismatched limbs, six of them (including the wings, too different from each other to be considered a pair) make it most resemble a dragon, but it is not. There was some heated debate about the legality of Offler's new game piece, even in light of the new custom rules, but that argument, and the heat that came with it, is now over. The gods of the Disc stand around the Game board, mouths open to voice shouts that no longer come; eyes are narrowed as they glare with the fury that only gods* can manage. They stand there, glaring, holding angry gestures at each other. They have no choice. They are frozen.
And as, at the base of Cori Celesti, at the heart of the Disc, the Ice Giants stir, and begin to wonder if perhaps it's worth risking another herd** to go out and see what's going on, if one were to enter the great hall above, one would see that the Lady, under her rime of frost, is smiling.
* Also, taxi drivers, construction workers, and the Luggage.
** Having lost the bulk of their main herd in a previous excursion, their reticence is, perhaps, understandable.