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The Color of Magic, Page 1

Terry Pratchett

Page 1


  In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…


  Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.

  In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.

  Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and startanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.

  Astropsychology has been, as yet, unable to establish what they think about.

  The Great Turtle was a mere hypothesis until the day the small and secretive kingdom of Krull, whose rim-most mountains project out over the Rimfall, built a gantry and pulley arrangement at the tip of the most precipitous crag and lowered several observers over the Edge in a quartzwindowed brass vessel to peer through the mist veils.

  The early astrozoologists, hauled back from their long dangle by enormous teams of slaves, were able to bring back much information about the shape and nature of A’Tuin and the elephants but this did not resolve fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of the universe. [1]

  For example, what was Atuin’s actual sex? This vital question, said the Astrozoologists with mounting authority, would not be answered until a larger and more powerful gantry was constructed for a deep-space vessel. In the meantime they could only speculate about the revealed cosmos.

  There was, for example, the theory that A’Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, into nowhere, for all time. This theory was popular among academics. An alternative, favoured by those of a religious persuasion, was that A’Tuin was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. When they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.

  Thus it was that a young cosmochelonian of the Steady Gait faction, testing a new telescope with which he hoped to make measurements of the precise albedo of Great A’Tuin’s right eye, was on this eventful evening the first outsider to see the smoke rise hubward from the burning of the oldest city in the world.

  Later that night he became so engrossed in his studies he completely forgot about it. Nevertheless, he was the first. There were others…

  . . .

  [1] The shape and cosmology of the disc system are perhaps worthy of note at this point. There are, of course, two major directions on the disc: Hubward and Rimward. But since the disc itself revolves at the rate of once every eight hundred days (in order to distribute the weight fairly upon its supportive pachyderms, according to Reforgule of Krull) there are also two lesser directions, which are Turnwise and Widdershins. Since the disc’s tiny orbiting sunlet maintains a fixed orbit while the majestic disc turns slowly beneath it, it will be readily deduced that a disc year consists of not four but eight seasons. The summers are those times when the sun rises or sets at the nearest point on the Rim, the winters those occasions when it rises or sets at a point around ninety degrees along the circumference. Thus, in the lands around the Circle Sea, the year begins on Hogs’ Watch Night, progresses through a Spring Prime to its first midsummer (Small Gods’ Eve) which is followed by Autumn Prime and, straddling the half-year point of Crueltide, Winter Secundus (also known as the Spindlewinter, since at this time the sun rises in the direction of spin). Then comes Secundus Spring with Summer Two on its heels, the three quarter mark of the year being the night of Alls Fallow -the one night of the year, according to legend, when witches and warlocks stay in bed. Then drifting leaves and frosty nights drag on towards Backspindlewinter and a new Hogs’ Watch Night nestling like a frozen jewel at its heart.

  Since the Hub is never closely warmed by the weak sun the lands there are locked in permafrost. The Rim, on the other hand, is a region of sunny islands and balmy days. There are, of course, eight days in a disc week and eight colours in its light spectrum. Eight is a number of some considerable occult significance on the disc and must never, ever, be spoken by a wizard.

  Precisely why all the above should be so is not clear, but goes some way to explain why, on the disc, the Gods are not so much worshipped as blamed.

  The Colour of Magic

  Fire roared through the bifurcated city of Ankh-Morpork. Where it licked the Wizards’ Quarter it burned blue and green and was even laced with strange sparks of the eighth colour, octarine; where its outriders found their way into the vats and oil stores all along Merchants Street it progressed in a series of blazing fountains and explosions; in the Streets of the perfume blenders it burned with a sweetness; where it touched bundles of rare and dry herbs in the storerooms of the drugmasters it made men go mad and talk to God.

  By now the whole of downtown Ankh-Morpork was alight, and the richer and worthier citizens of Ankh on the far bank were bravely responding to the situation by feverishly demolishing the bridges. But already the ships in the Morpork docks - laden with grain, cotton and timber, and coated with tar -were blazing merrily and, their moorings burnt to ashes, were breasting the river Ankh on the ebb tide, igniting riverside palaces and bowers as they drifted like drowning fireflies towards the sea. In any case, sparks were riding the breeze and touching down far across the river in hidden gardens and remote brickyards. The smoke from the merry burning rose miles high, in a wind-sculpted black column that could be seen across the whole of the Discworld. It was certainly impressive from the cool, dark hilltop a few leagues away, where two figures were watching with considerable interest.

  The taller of the pair was chewing on a chicken leg and leaning on a sword that was only marginally shorter than the average man. If it wasn’t for the air of wary intelligence about him it might have been supposed that he was a barbarian from the hubland wastes.

  His partner was much shorter and wrapped from head to toe in a brown cloak. Later, when he has occasion to move, it will be seen that he moves lightly, cat-like.

  The two had barely exchanged a word in the last twenty minutes except for a short and inconclusive argument as to whether a particularly powerful explosion had been the oil bond store or the workshop of Kerible the Enchanter. Money hinged on the fact.

  Now the big man finished gnawing at the bone and tossed it into the grass, smiling ruefully.

  “There go all those little alleyways,” he said. “I liked them. ”

  “All the treasure houses,” said the small man. He added thoughtfully, “Do gems burn, I wonder? ‘Tis said they’re kin to coal. ”

  “All the gold, melting and running down the gutters,” said the big one, ignoring him. “And all the wine, boiling in the barrels. ”

  “There were rats,” said his brown companion.

  “Rats, I’ll grant you. ”

  “It was no place to be in high summer. ”

  “That, too. One can’t help feeling, though, a well, a momentary-“

  He trailed off, then brightened. “We owed old Fredor at the Crimson Leech eight silver pieces,” he added. The little man nodded.

  They were silent for a while as a whole new series of explosions carved a red line across a hitherto dark section of the greatest city in the world. Then the big man stirred

; “Weasel?”


  “I wonder who started it?”

  The small swordsman known as the Weasel said nothing. He was watching the road in the ruddy light. Few had come that way since the widershins gate had been one of the first to collapse in a shower of white-hot embers.

  But two were coming up it now. The Weasel’s eyes always at their sharpest in gloom and halflight, made out the shapes of two mounted men and some sort of low beast behind them. Doubtless a rich merchant escaping with as much treasure as he could lay frantic hands on. The Weasel said as much to his companion, who sighed.

  “The status of footpad ill suits us,” said the barbarian, “but as you say, times are hard and there are no soft beds tonight. ”

  He shifted his grip on his sword and, as the leading rider drew near, stepped out onto the road with a hand held up and his face set in a grin nicely calculated to reassure yet threaten.

  “Your pardon, sir-” he began.

  The rider reined in his horse and drew back his hood. The big man looked into a face blotched with superficial burns and punctuated by tufts of singed beard. Even the eyebrows had gone.

  “Bugger off,” said the face. “You’re Bravd the Hublander, aren’t you?”

  Bravd became aware that he had fumbled the initiative.

  “Just go away, will you?” said the rider. “I just haven’t got time for you, do you understand?” He looked around and added: “That goes for your shadow-loving fleabag partner too, wherever he’s hiding. ”

  The Weasel stepped up to the horse and peered at the dishevelled figure.

  “Why, it’s Rincewind the wizard, isn’t it?” he said in tones of delight, meanwhile filing the wizard’s description of him in his memory for leisurely vengeance. “I thought I recognized the voice. ”

  Bravd spat and sheathed his sword. It was seldom worth tangling with wizards, they so rarely had any treasure worth speaking of.

  “He talks pretty big for a gutter wizard,” he muttered.

  “You don’t understand at all,” said the wizard wearily. “I’m so scared of you my spine has turned to jelly, it’s just that I’m suffering from an overdose of terror right now. I mean, when I’ve got over that then I’ll have time to be decently frightened of you. ”

  The Weasel pointed towards the burning city. “You’ve been through that?” he asked.

  The wizard rubbed a red, raw hand across his eyes. “I was there when it started. See him? Back there?” He pointed back down the road to where his travelling companion was still approaching, having adopted a method of riding that involved falling out of the saddle every few seconds.

  “Well?” said Weasel.

  “He started it,” said Rincewind simply. Bravd and Weasel looked at the figure, now hopping across the road with one foot in a stirrup.

  “Fire-raiser, is he?” said Bravd at last.

  “No,” said Rincewind. “Not precisely. Let’s just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, then he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting “All gods are bastards”. Got any food?”

  “There’s some chicken,” said Weasel. “in exchange for a story. ”

  “What’s his name?” said Bravd, who tended to lag behind in conversations.

  “Twoflower. ”

  “Twoflower?” said Bravd. “What a funny name. ”