• Published 26th Jan 2012
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The Wizzard and the Pony - Parchment_Scroll

While his apprentice deals with the leaders of Unicornia, Starswirl the Bearded explores...

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Chapter 5: Sideshow

The Wizzard and the Pony

As Rincewind and Star Swirl made their way turnwise, and a Klatchian caravan made its way widdershins on the same road, fated* to meet each other, another meeting was about to take place some ways widdershins of the erstwhile pair on the same road.

"Look, love," a young man with all the trappings of a barbarian swordsman and then some** was saying, "I'm not disagreeing with you on principle, I'm just saying, how can we be sure he actually left the city?"

His wife grinned. "Right now," she said, "anyone with even a grain of survival instinct is either holed up in their homes or trying to find a way out of Ankh-Morpork that isn't frozen over."

"Right," said Nijel. "Wouldn't we be better served, erm, looking for him there?"

Conina's grin turned into a knowing laugh. "Do you honestly think," she asked, "he would be among the last to run?"

"Oook," the Librarian agreed, waving to the couple as he approached.

* More by their course than by Fate Himself, Who was still focusing on spreading his burgeoning Windigo army across the Disc.
** In deference to the unnaturally cold weather***, Nijel the Destroyer was wearing extra-thick woolen underwear.
*** And his mother's wishes.

It was Star Swirl who saw the caravan first. As he and the human wizard crested a hill, they were struck immediately by how green and lush everything had become. Rincewind, to Star Swirl's amazement, was not reassured by the sudden return of Summer weather.

"I don't like it," he said. "It's unnatural. Too convenient, for one thing." He looked behind them at the glittering, snow-covered terrain they'd just covered, then to either side, noting the clear demarcation between summer and winter landscapes.

"Now, Rincewind," the pony replied. "The snow and ice were unnatural. We've just finally gotten out of range of the Windigoes' magic."

"No, look," Rincewind said, indicating the line. "It curves the other way. This patch of warmth is a perfect circle, look!" He pointed along the line, showing the bearded unicorn exactly what he'd described.

Star Swirl laughed. "Good eye, my friend," he cried. "Why, look there! I believe those tents are at the centre of it!"

"What tents? Where?" But Star Swirl had already begun trotting happily down the hill towards the center of the summer field.

As Rincewind followed his new equine friend, he felt something peculiar. He almost wanted to call it magic, but it didn't feel right. A strong magic field can make the air feel heavy, greasy, and charged with arcane potential. This air, however, within the warm summer field, felt comfortable, like a hand-knitted blanket by a crackling fire. Though the air didn't smell any different from a normal grassy field, something about the scent made him think of fresh-brewed herbal tea, which was very odd, because Rincewind had never smelled herbal tea before, and fresh-brewed is practically an insult in Morporkean terms. He stood there, trying to puzzle it out, and the Luggage, concerned about its owner, rubbed up against his robe in a fair, albeit wooden, approximation of a comforting nuzzle.

"Ah," he said. "Horsery." The phenomenon thus explained, he hurried to catch up with his companion, stoically fighting off the sense of goodwill and camaraderie that his finely honed survival instincts warned him would be a problem if push, as it inevitably did in his presence, came to shove. Or, more likely, attempted bludgeoning.

* * * * *

The tent was filled with people desperate to forget their woes. Somehow, when the caravan had arrived, it brought with it fair weather instead of the unnatural snow that had been plaguing the land for the past few days. The jolly, welcoming faces of the Klatchian nomads helped put people at their ease.

Of course the nomads were happy to meet the locals. Naturally they were all friends here. No, five Ankh-Morporkean dollars was not too much to ask for the pleasure of viewing the supernatural oddities on display. It was a given that should anyone be dissatisfied, the money would be refunded without question. It was also a given that no one could possibly be dissatisfied, as that would be unfriendly.

It takes a special sort of person to spend any amount of time in the midst of a strong Harmonic field, well in excess of a hundred and fifty millisnugs*, and not feel warmly disposed to everyone around him. It takes a very special sort of person to spend days in close proximity to the source of such a field and contemplate carving it into cutlets.

Isrim al Qurad was a very, very special person** indeed. He had come deep into the Hublands*** for a purpose, and since acquiring the oddities providing his current income, he was beginning to see a means of achieving far, far more.

Isrim had been born the eighth son of an eighth son, but his auspicious birth had been overlooked due to his eldest brother's being born to a different mother. Unbeknownst to any save Isrim himself, he was a Wizard. And that was how he liked it: having more power than those around him thought he did.

By Klatchian standards, Isrim was excellent Vizier material, but that post was currently occupied by one of his older brothers. This, too, was how Isrim preferred things - he was one of the few to witness what had happened to the prior Grand Vizier and live to tell the tale. The sight had made an impression on him. Far better, he decided, to keep a low profile until one had enough might, both magical and military, to achieve any end.

And so, he had come to the Hublands, a place known for its heroes; a place where one couldn't swing a half-brick in a sock without fear of hitting a barbarian swordsman. And in this place, he would raise an army. And with that army, he would conquer the world. And now, thanks to the strange, calming effect of his menagerie, he could see a way to achieve that army, and to make his transition to power seamless.

It didn't hurt that, for some reason, the past few days had seen an increase in the amount of magic at his disposal.

* A snug being the amount of adorability generated by a cavorting puppy, a kitten with a ball of yarn, or a small filly with a pink bow in her mane who wants her cutie mark "naoow".
** Some would say homicidal. Or at least equicidal.
*** From the Klatchian perspective, the Hublands are defined as "those lands so far Hubwards that they're not even a desert anymore." What the rest of the Disc considers the Hublands may as well be Cori Celesti itself as far as they're concerned.

Star Swirl the Bearded sat patiently some distance from the side of the road. Rincewind had insisted that he remain behind, as a talking unicorn wearing a wizard's hat and robes would attract attention. He'd offered to remove the clothing, but that simply made the human wizard uncomfortable. He'd promised not to speak even a little bit, but Rincewind said that a non-talking unicorn, naked or no, would still draw attention. So here he was, waiting for Rincewind to return from his investigation of the small group of tents ahead on the road.

There was a bright flash of light, like that from a spell of teleportation, only much brighter and of longer duration.

* * * * *

Rincewind frowned. It was taking rather a lot of effort not to just walk up and warmly greet every person he could see. They, he noted, were certainly being friendly with each other. Still, his natural paranoia proved an adequate defense, and after seeing the signs on his way up to the tents, he was very glad he'd asked Star Swirl the Bearded to remain behind.

it read, and beneath that,

Attempting to feign the sort of goodwill he was fighting off while at the same time not falling victim to it proved difficult, but as he approached the turbaned man behind the table at the front of the Performance-by-the-Side-of-the-Road tents, he knew it was important. With a jaunty wave and a friendly smile, he approached the table.

"Well hello, my good friend," called out the Grand Vizier-looking fellow. "I am Isrim al Qurad, and I would like to welcome you to my traveling menagerie and Performance-by-the-Side-of-the-Road! Our hands-on menagerie is currently open, but I highly recommend you first see the Performance-by-the-Side-of-the-Road, as it is about to begin. By the Five Moons of Nasreem, you have never seen such wonders!"

Rincewind forced a nervous sort of smile. "Well," he said, fishing out five Morporkean dollars -- fully a third of what he bitterly called his savings -- "I am a well-traveled man, my friend, but as we are all friends here, I believe I will take you up on your offer." He widened his smile a few millimeters just for effect.

Isrim took his money and waved him through to the largest of the tents.

It took some time to get used to the low light inside the tent, especially after being out in the bright Summer Two* sun. And when the show began, he was astounded.

* Some time should be taken to explain seasons on the Disc, for those (such as Star Swirl, who, sadly, will miss this footnote due to his limited perspective) unfamiliar with its cosmology. The Discworld sun, a ball of fire roughly a mile across, travels in an elliptical orbit along the length of the Great A'Tuin, while the Disc itself rotates in a clockwise direction on the backs of the four Elephants. The astute observer will realize then, that the sun's proximity to any given part of the Disc varies based on that part's position around the Disc in this rotation. The even more astute observer will note that the Disc has, instead of four, eight seasons, as each season repeats itself (for example, one Summer occurs when the sun rises rimwards of a location, and the other when it rises hubwards).