It was an unregal thing to do, but she stuck out a foot and tripped the wine waiter. He stumbled, muttered something under his breath, and stared down at the flagstones.
   She leaned the other way and shouted into the ear of the Yeoman of the Pantry: 'Can you see me, man? Why are we reduced to eating cold pork and ham?'
   He turned aside from his hushed conversation with the Lady of the Small Hexagonal Room in the North Turret, gave her a long look in which shock made way for a sort of unfocused puzzlement, and said, 'Why, yes . . . I can . . . er. . . .'
   'Your Royal Highness,' prompted Keli.
   'But . . . yes . . . Highness,' he muttered. There was a heavy pause.
   Then, as if switched back on, he turned his back on her and resumed his conversation.
   Keli sat for a while, white with shock and anger, then pushed the chair back and stormed away to her chambers. A couple of servants sharing a quick rollup in the passage outside were knocked sideways by something they couldn't quite see.
   Keli ran into her room and hauled on the rope that should have sent the duty maid running in from the sitting room at the end of the corridor. Nothing happened for some time, and then the door was pushed open slowly and a face peered in at her.
   She recognized the look this time, and was ready for it. She grabbed the maid by the shoulders and hauled her bodily into the room, slamming the door shut behind her. As the frightened woman stared everywhere but at Keli she hauled off and fetched her a stinging slap across the cheek.
   'Did you feel that? Did you feel it?' she shrieked.
   'But . . . you . . .' the maid whimpered, staggering backwards until she hit the bed and sitting down heavily on it.
   'Look at me! Look at me when I talk to you!' yelled Keli, advancing on her. 'You can see me, can't you? Tell me you can see me or I'll have you executed!'
   The maid stared into her terrified eyes.
   'I can see you,' she said, 'but. . . .'
   'But what? But what?'
   'Surely you're . . . I heard . . . I thought. . . .'
   'What did you think?' snapped Keli. She wasn't shouting any more. Her words came out like white-hot whips.
   The maid collapsed into a sobbing heap. Keli stood tapping her foot for a moment, and then shook the woman gently.
   'Is there a wizard in the city?' she said. 'Look at me, at me. There's a wizard, isn't there? You girls are always skulking off to talk to wizards! Where does he live?'
   The woman turned a tear-stained face towards her, fighting against every instinct that told her the princess didn't exist.
   'Uh . . . wizard, yes . . . Cutwell, in Wall Street.
   Keli's lips compressed into a thin smile. She wondered where her cloaks were kept, but cold reason told her it was going to be a damn sight easier to find them herself than try to make her presence felt to the maid. She waited, watching closely, as the woman stopped sobbing, looked around her in vague bewilderment, and hurried out of the room.
   She's forgotten me already, she thought. She looked at her hands. She seemed solid enough.
   It had to be magic.
   She wandered into her robing room and experimentally opened a few cupboards until she found a black cloak and hood. She slipped them on and darted out into the corridor and down the servants' stairs.
   She hadn't been this way since she was little. This was the world of linen cupboards, bare floors and dumb-waiters. It smelled of slightly stale crusts.
   Keli moved through it like an earthbound spook. She was aware of the servants' quarters, of course, in the same way that people are aware at some level in their minds of the drains or the guttering, and she would be quite prepared to concede that although servants all looked pretty much alike they must have some distinguishing features by which their nearest and dearest could, presumably, identify them. But she was not prepared for sights like Moghedron the wine butler, whom she had hitherto seen only as a stately presence moving like a galleon under full sail, sitting in his pantry with his jacket undone and smoking a pipe.
   A couple of maids ran past her without a second glance, giggling. She hurried on, aware that in some strange way she was trespassing in her own castle.
   And that, she realized, was because it wasn't her castle at all. The noisy world around her, with its steaming laundries and chilly stillrooms, was its own world. She couldn't own it. Possibly it owned her.
   She took a chicken leg from the table in the biggest kitchen, a cavern lined with so many pots that by the light of its fires it looked like an armoury for tortoises, and felt the unfamiliar thrill of theft. Theft! In her own kingdom! And the cook looked straight through her, eyes as glazed as jugged ham.
   Keli ran across the stable yards and out of the back gate, past a couple of sentries whose stern gaze quite failed to notice her.
   Out in the streets it wasn't so creepy, but she still felt oddly naked. It was unnerving, being among people who were going about their own affairs and not bothering to look at one, when one's entire experience of the world hitherto was that it revolved around one. Pedestrians bumped into one and rebounded away, wondering briefly what it was they had hit, and one several times had to scurry away out of the path of wagons.
   The chicken leg hadn't gone far to fill the hole left by the absence of lunch, and she filched a couple of apples from a stall, making a mental note to have the chamberlain find out how much apples cost and send some money down to the stallholder.
   Dishevelled, rather grubby and smelling slightly of horse dung, she came at last to Cutwell's door. The knocker gave her some trouble. In her experience doors opened for you; there were special people to arrange it.
   She was so distraught she didn't even notice that the knocker winked at her.
   She tried again, and thought she heard a distant crash. After some time the door opened a few inches and she caught a glimpse of a round flustered face topped with curly hair. Her right foot surprised her by intelligently inserting itself in the crack.
   'I demand to see the wizard,' she announced. 'Pray admit me this instant.'
   'He's rather busy at present,' said the face. 'Were you after a love potion?'
   'A what?'
   'I've — we've got a special on Cutwell's Shield of Passion ointment,' said the face, and winked in a startling fashion. 'Provides your wild oats while guaranteeing a crop failure, if you know what I mean.'
   Keli bridled. 'No,' she lied coldly, 'I do not.'
   'Ramrub? Maidens' Longstop? Belladonna eyedrops?'
   'I demand —'
   'Sorry, we're closed,' said the face, and shut the door. Keli withdrew her foot just in time.
   She muttered some words that would have amazed and shocked her tutors, and thumped on the woodwork.
   The tattoo of her hammering suddenly slowed as realization dawned.
   He'd seen her! He'd heard her!
   She beat on the door with renewed vigour, yelling with all the power in her lungs.
   A voice by her ear said, 'It won't work. He 'eef very ftubborn.'
   She looked around slowly and met the impertinent gaze of the doorknocker. It waggled its metal eyebrows at her and spoke indistinctly through its wrought-iron ring.
   'I am Princess Keli, heir to the throne of Sto Lat,' she said haughtily, holding down the lid on her terror. 'And I don't talk to door furniture.'
   'Fwell, I'm just a doorknocker and I can talk to fwhoever I please,' said the gargoyle pleasantly. 'And I can tell you the fmaster iff having a trying day and duff fnot fwant to be disturbed. But you could ftry to use the magic word,' it added. 'Coming from an attractiff fwoman it works nine times out of eight.'
   'Magic word? What's the magic word?'
   The knocker perceptibly sneered. 'Haff you been taught nothing, miss?'
   She drew herself up to her full height, which wasn't really worth the effort. She felt she'd had a trying day too. Her father had personally executed a hundred enemies in battle. She should be able to manage a doorknocker.
   'I have been educated,' she informed it with icy precision, 'by some of the finest scholars in the land.'
   The doorknocker did not appear to be impressed.
   'Iff they didn't teach you the magic word,' it said calmly, 'they couldn't haff fbeen all that fine.'
   Keli reached out, grabbed the heavy ring, and pounded it on the door. The knocker leered at her.
   'Ftreat me rough,' it lisped. 'That'f the way I like it!'
   'You're disgusting!'
   'Yeff. Ooo, that waff nife, do it again. . . .'
   The door opened a crack. There was a shadowy glimpse of curly hair.
   'Madam, I said we're cl —'
   Keli sagged.
   'Please help me,' she said. 'Please!'
   'See?' said the doorknocker triumphantly. 'Sooner or later everyone remembers the magic word!'
   Keli had been to official functions in Ankh-Morpork and had met senior wizards from Unseen University, the Disc's premier college of magic. Some of them had been tall, and most of them had been fat, and nearly all of them had been richly dressed, or at least thought they were richly dressed.
   In fact there are fashions in wizardry as in more mundane arts, and this tendency to look like elderly aldermen was only temporary. Previous generations had gone in for looking pale and interesting, or druidical and grubby, or mysterious and saturnine. But Keli was used to wizards as a sort of fur-trimmed small mountain with a wheezy voice, and Igneous Cutwell didn't quite fit the mage image.
   He was young. Well, that couldn't be helped; presumably even wizards had to start off young. He didn't have a beard, and the only thing his rather grubby robe was trimmed with was frayed edges.
   'Would you like a drink or something?' he said, surreptitiously kicking a discarded vest under the table.
   Keli looked around for somewhere to sit that wasn't occupied with laundry or used crockery, and shook her head. Cutwell noticed her expression.
   'It's a bit alfresco, I'm afraid,' he added hurriedly, elbowing the remains of a garlic sausage on to the floor. 'Mrs Nugent usually comes in twice a week and does for me but she's gone to see her sister who's had one of her turns. Are you sure? It's no trouble. I saw a spare cup here only yesterday.'
   'I have a problem, Mr Cutwell,' said Keli.
   'Hang on a moment.' He reached up to a hook over the fireplace and took down a pointy hat that had seen better days, although from the look of it they hadn't been very much better, and then said, 'Right. Fire away.'
   'What's so important about the hat?'
   'Oh, it's very 'essential. You've got to have the proper hat for wizarding. We wizards know about this sort of thing.'
   'If you say so. Look, can you see me?'
   He peered at her. 'Yes. Yes, I would definitely say I can see you.'
   'And hear me? You can hear me, can you?'
   'Loud and clear. Yes. Every syllable tinkling into place. No problems.'
   'Then would you be surprised if I told you that no one else in this city can?'
   'Except me?'
   Keli snorted. 'And your doorknocker.'
   Cutwell pulled out a chair and sat down. He squirmed a little. A thoughtful expression passed over his face. He stood up, reached behind him and produced a flat reddish mass which might have once been half a pizza[2]. He stared at it sorrowfully.
   'I've been looking for that all morning, would you believe?' he said. 'It was an Ail-On with extra peppers, too.' He picked sadly at the squashed shape, and suddenly remembered Keli.
   'Gosh, sorry,' he said, 'where's my manners? Whatever will you think of me? Here. Have an anchovy. Please.'
   'Have you been listening to me?' snapped Keli.
   'Do you feel invisible? In yourself, I mean?' said Gutwell, indistinctly.
   'Of course not. I just feel angry. So I want you to tell my fortune.'
   'Well, I don't know about that, it all sounds rather medical to me and —'
   'I can pay.'
   'It's illegal, you see,' said Cutwell wretchedly. 'The old king expressly forbade fortune telling in Sto Lat. He didn't like wizards much.'
   'I can pay a lot.'
   'Mrs Nugent was telling me this new girl for the throne is likely to be worse. A right haughty one, she said. Not the sort to look kindly on practitioners of the subtle arts, I fear.'
   Keli smiled. Members of the court who had seen that smile before would have hastened to drag Gutwell out of the way and into a place of safety, like the next continent, but he just sat there trying to pick bits of mushroom out of his robe.
   'I understand she's got a foul temper on her,' said Keli. 'I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't turn you out of the city anyway.'
   'Oh dear,' said Cutwell, 'do you really think so?'
   'Look,' said Keli, 'you don't have to tell my future, just my present. Even she couldn't object to that. I'll have a word with her if you like,' she added magnanimously.
   Cutwell brightened. 'Oh, do you know her?' he said.
   'Yes. But sometimes, I think, not very well.'
   Cutwell sighed and burrowed around in the debris on the table, dislodging cascades of elderly plates and the long-mummified remains of several meals. Eventually he unearthed a fat leather wallet, stuck to a cheese slice.
   'Well,' he said doubtfully, 'these are Caroc cards. Distilled wisdom of the Ancients and all that. Or there's the Ching Aling of the Hublandish. It's all the rage in the smart set. I don't do tealeaves.'
   'I'll try the Ching thing.'
   'You throw these yarrow stalks in the air, then.'
   She did. They looked at the ensuing pattern.
   'Hmm,' said Cutwell after a while. 'Well, that's one in the fireplace, one in the cocoa mug, one in the street, shame about the window, one on the table, and one, no, two behind the dresser. I expect Mrs Nugent will be able to find the rest.'
   'You didn't say how hard. Shall I do it again?'
   'No-ooo, I don't think so.' Cutwell thumbed through the pages of a yellowed book that had previously been supporting the table leg. 'The pattern seems to make sense. Yes, here we are, Octogram 8,887: Illegality, the Unatoning Goose. Which we cross reference here . . . hold on . . . hold on . . . yes. Got it.'
   'Without vertically, wisely the cochineal emperor goes forth at teatime; at evening the mollusc is silent among the almond blossom.'
   'Yes?' said Keli, respectfully. 'What does that mean?'
   'Unless you're a mollusc, probably not a lot,' said Cutwell. 'I think perhaps it lost something in translation.'
   'Are you sure you know how to do this?'
   'Let's try the cards,' said Cutwell hurriedly, fanning them out. 'Pick a card. Any card.'
   'It's Death,'said Keli.
   'Ah. Well. Of course, the Death card doesn't actually mean death in all circumstances,' Cutwell said quickly.
   'You mean, it doesn't mean death in those circumstances where the subject is getting over-excited and you're too embarrassed to tell the truth, hmm?'
   'Look, take another card.'
   'This one's Death as well,' said Keli.
   'Did you put the other one back?'
   'No. Shall I take another card?'
   'May as well.'
   'Well, there's a coincidence!'
   'Death number three?'
   'Right. Is this a special pack for conjuring tricks?' Keli tried to sound composed, but even she could detect the faint tinkle of hysteria in her voice.
   Cutwell frowned at her and carefully put the cards back in the pack, shuffled it, and dealt them out on to the table. There was only one Death.
   'Oh dear,' he said, 'I think this is going to be serious. May I see the palm of your hand, please?'
   He examined it for a long time. Alter a while he went to the dresser, took a jeweller's eyeglass out of a drawer, wiped the porridge off it with the sleeve of his robe, and spent another few minutes examining her hand in minutest detail. Eventually he sat back, removed the glass, and stared at her.
   'You're dead,' he said.
   Keli waited. She couldn't think of any suitable reply. 'I'm not', lacked a certain style, while 'Is it serious?' seemed somehow too frivolous.
   'Did I say I thought this was going to be serious?' said Cutwell.
   'I think you did,' said Keli carefully, keeping her tone totally level.
   'I was right.'
   'It could be fatal.'
   'How much more fatal,' said Keli, 'than being dead?'
   'I didn't mean for you.'
   'Something very fundamental seems to have gone wrong, you see. You're dead in every sense but the, er, actual. I mean, the cards think you're dead. Your lifeline thinks you're dead. Everything and everyone thinks you're dead.'
   'I don't,' said Keli, but her voice was less than confident.
   'I'm afraid your opinion doesn't count.'
   'But people can see and hear me!'
   The first thing you learn when you enroll at Unseen University, I'm afraid, is that people don't pay much attention to that sort of thing. It's what their minds tell them that's important.'
   'You mean people don't see me because their minds tell them not to?'
   ' 'Fraid so. It's called predestination, or something.' Cutwell looked at her wretchedly. 'I'm a wizard. We know about these things.'
   'Actually it's not the first thing you learn when you enroll,' he added, 'I mean, you learn where the lavatories are and all that sort of thing before that. But after all that, it's the first thing.'
   'You can see me, though.'
   'Ah. Well. Wizards are specially trained to see things that are there and not to see things that aren't. You get these special exercises —'
   Keli drummed her fingers on the table, or tried to. It turned out to be difficult. She stared down in vague horror.
   Cutwell hurried forward and wiped the table with his sleeve.
   'Sorry,' he muttered, 'I had treacle sandwiches for supper last night.'
   'What can I do?'
   'Well, you could certainly become a very successful burglar . . . sorry. That was tasteless of me.'
   'I thought so.'
   Cutwell patted her ineptly on the hand, and Keli was too preoccupied even to notice such flagrant lesè majesté.
   'You see, everything's fixed. History is all worked out, from start to finish. What the facts actually are is beside the point; history just rolls straight over the top of them. You can't change anything because the changes are already part of it. You're dead. It's fated. You'll just have to accept it.'
   He gave an apologetic grin. 'You're a lot luckier than most dead people, if you look at it objectively,' he said. 'You're alive to enjoy it.'
   'I don't want to accept it. Why should I accept it? It's not my fault!'
   'You don't understand. History is moving on. You can't get involved in it any more. There isn't a part in it for you, don't you see? Best to let things take their course.' He patted her hand again. She looked at him. He withdrew his hand.
   'What am I supposed to do then?' she said. 'Not eat, because the food wasn't destined to be eaten by me? Go and live in a crypt somewhere?'
   'Bit of a poser, isn't it?' agreed Cutwell. 'That's fate for you, I'm afraid. If the world can't sense you, you don't exist. I'm a wizard. We know —'
   'Don't say it.'
   Keli stood up.
   Five generations ago one of her ancestor had halted his band of nomadic cutthroats a few miles from the mound of Sto Lat and had regarded the sleeping city with a peculiarly determined expression that said: This'll do. Just because you're born in the saddle doesn't mean you have to die in the bloody thing.
   Strangely enough, many of his distinctive features had, by a trick of heredity, been bequeathed to his present descendant[3], accounting for her rather idiosyncratic attractiveness. They were never more apparent than now. Even Cutwell was impressed. When it came to determination, you could have cracked rocks on her jaw.
   In exactly the same tone of voice that her ancestor had used when he addressed his weary, sweaty followers before the attack[4], she said:
   'No. No, I'm not going to accept it. I'm not going to dwindle into some sort of ghost. You're going to help me, wizard.'
   Cutwell's subconscious recognized that tone. It had harmonics in it that made even the woodworm in the floorboards stop what they were doing and stand to attention. It wasn't voicing an opinion, it was saying: things will be thus.
   'Me, madam?' he quavered, 'I don't see what I can possibly—'
   He was jerked off his chair and out into the street, his robes billowing around him. Keli marched towards the palace with her shoulders set determinedly, dragging the wizard behind her like a reluctant puppy. It was with such a walk that mothers used to bear down on the local school when their little boy came home with a black eye; it was unstoppable; it was like the March of Time.
   'What is it you intend?' Cutwell stuttered, horribly aware that there was going to be nothing he could do to resist, whatever it was.
   'It's your lucky day, wizard.'
   'Oh. Good,' he said weakly.
   'You've just been appointed Royal Recognizer.'
   'Oh. What does that entail, exactly?'
   'You're going to remind everyone I'm alive. It's very simple. There's three square meals a day and your laundry done. Step lively, man.'
   'You're a wizard. I think there's something you ought to know,' said the princess.
   THERE IS? said Death.
   (That was a cinematic trick adapted for print. Death wasn't talking to the princess. He was actually in his study, talking to Mort. But it was quite effective, wasn't it? It's probably called a fast dissolve, or a crosscut/zoom. Or something. An industry where a senior technician is called a Best Boy might call it anything.)
   AND WHAT IS THAT? he added, winding a bit of black silk around the wicked hook in a little vice he'd clamped to his desk.
   Mort hesitated. Mostly this was because of fear and embarrassment, but it was also because the sight of a hooded spectre peacefully tying dry flies was enough to make anyone pause.
   Besides, Ysabell was sitting on the other side of the room, ostensibly doing some needlework but also watching him through a cloud of sullen disapproval. He could feel her red-rimmed eyes boring into the back of his neck.
   Death inserted a few crow hackles and whistled a busy little tune through his teeth, not having anything else to whistle through. He looked up.
   They — didn't go as smoothly as I thought,' said Mort, standing nervously on the carpet in front of the desk.
   YOU HAD TROUBLE? said Death, snipping off a few scraps of feather.
   'Well, you see, the witch wouldn't come away, and the monk, well, he started out all over again.'
   '— Mort —'
   'I know, sir. But that means bad people who think they're going to some sort of paradise actually do get there. And good people who fear they're going to some kind of horrible place really suffer. It doesn't seem like justice.'
   'Well, you —'
   Mort stuttered into silence.
   'Well, I —'
   'Yes, but —'
   This was the moment. Mort had thought about it for a long time. There was no sense in concealing it. He'd upset the whole future course of history. Such things tend to draw themselves to people's attention. Best to get it off his chest. Own up like a man. Take his medicine. Cards on table. Beating about bush, none of. Mercy, throw himself on.
   The piercing blue eyes glittered at him.
   He looked back like a nocturnal rabbit trying to outstare the headlights of a sixteen-wheeled artic whose driver is a twelve-hour caffeine freak outrunning the tachometers of hell.
   He failed.
   'No, sir,'he said.
   Anglers reckon that a good dry fly should cunningly mimic the real thing. There are the right flies for morning. There are different flies for the evening rise. And so on.
   But the thing between Death's triumphant digits was a fly from the dawn of time. It was the fly in the primordial soup. It had bred on mammoth turds. It wasn't a fly that bangs on window panes, it was a fly that drills through walls. It was an insect that would crawl out from between the slats of the heaviest swat dripping venom and seeking revenge. Strange wings and dangling bits stuck out all over it. It seemed to have a lot of teeth.
   'What's it called?' said Mort.
   I SHALL CALL IT — DEATH'S GLORY. Death gave the thing a final admiring glance and stuck it into the hood of his robe. I FEEL INCLINED TO SEE A LITTLE BIT OF LIFE THIS EVENING, he said. YOU CAN TAKE THE DUTY, NOW THAT YOU'VE GOT THE HANG OF IT. AS IT WERE.
   'Yes. Sir,' said Mort, mournfully. He saw his life stretching out in front of him like a nasty black tunnel with no light at the end of it.
   Death drummed his finger on the desk, muttered to himself.
   'Pardon, sir?'
   As has already been revealed, the Holy Listeners have such well developed hearing that they can be deafened by a good sunset. Just for a few seconds it seemed to Mort that the skin on the back of his neck was developing similar strange powers, because he could see Ysabell freeze in mid-stitch. He also heard the little intake of breath that he'd heard before, among the shelves. He remembered the lace handkerchief.
   He said, 'Yes, sir. It won't happen again, sir.'
   The skin on the back of his neck started to itch like fury.
   'Has he?' said Mort gloomily. He'd been wrong, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.
   Death gave him another of his supernova winks.
   Mort didn't return it. Instead he turned and plodded towards the door, at a general speed and gait that made Great A'Tuin look like a spring lamb.
   He was halfway along the corridor before he heard the soft rush of footsteps behind him and a hand caught his arm.
   He turned and gazed at Ysabell through a fog of depression.
   'Why did you let him think it was you in the library?'
   'Don't know.'
   'It was . . . very . . . kind of you,' she said cautiously.
   'Was it? I can't think what came over me.' He felt in his pocket and produced the handkerchief. This belongs to you, I think.'
   'Thank you.' She blew her nose noisily.
   Mort was already well down the corridor, his shoulders hunched like vulture's wings. She ran after him.
   'I say,' she said.
   'I wanted to say thank you.'
   'It doesn't matter,' he muttered. 'It'd just be best if you don't take books away again. It upsets them, or something.' He gave what he considered to be a mirthless laugh. 'Ha!'
   'Ha what?'
   'Just ha!'
   He'd reached the end of the corridor. There was the door into the kitchen, where Albert would be leering knowingly, and Mort decided he couldn't face that. He stopped.
   'But I only took the books for a bit of company,' she said behind him.
   He gave in.
   'We could have a walk in the garden,' he said in despair, and then managed to harden his heart a little and added, 'Without obligation, that is.'
   'You mean you're not going to marry me?' she said. Mort was horrified. 'Marry?'
   'Isn't that what father brought you here for?' she said. 'He doesn't need an apprentice, after all.'
   'You mean all those nudges and winks and little comments about some day my son all this will be yours?' said Mort. 'I tried to ignore them. I don't want to get married to anyone yet,' he added, suppressing a fleeting mental picture of the princess. 'And certainly not to you, no offence meant.'
   'I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man on the Disc,' she said sweetly.
   Mort was hurt by this. It was one thing not to want to marry someone, but quite another to be told they didn't want to marry you.
   'At least I don't look like I've been eating doughnuts in a wardrobe for years,' he said, as they stepped out on to Death's black lawn.
   'At least I walk as if my legs only had one knee each,' she said.
   'My eyes aren't two juugly poached eggs.'
   Ysabell nodded. 'On the other hand, my ears don't look like something growing on a dead tree. What does juugly mean?'
   'You know, eggs like Albert does them.'
   'With the white all sticky and runny and full of slimy bits?'
   'A good word,' she conceded thoughtfully. 'But my hair, I put it to you, doesn't look like something you clean a privy with.'
   'Certainly, but neither does mine look like a wet hedgehog.'
   'Pray note that my chest does not appear to be a toast rack in a wet paper bag.'
   Mort glanced sideways at the top of Ysabell's dress, which contained enough puppy fat for two litters of Rotweilers, and forbore to comment.
   'My eyebrows don't look like a pair of mating caterpillars,' he hazarded.
   True. But my legs, I suggest, could at least stop a pig in a passageway.'
   'Sorry —?'
   'They're not bandy,' she explained.
   They strolled through the lily beds, temporarily lost for words. Eventually Ysabell confronted Mort and stuck out her hand. He shook it in thankful silence.
   'Enough?' she said.
   'Just about.'
   'Good. Obviously we shouldn't get married, if only for the sake of the children.'
   Mort nodded.
   They sat down on a stone seat between some neatly clipped box hedges. Death had made a pond in this corner of the garden, fed by an icy spring that appeared to be vomited into the pool by a stone lion. Fat white carp lurked in the depths, or nosed on the surface among the velvety black water lilies.
   'We should have brought some breadcrumbs,' said Mort gallantly, opting for a totally non-controversial subject.
   'He never comes out here, you know,' said Ysabell, watching the fish. 'He made it to keep me amused.'
   'It didn't work?'
   'It's not real,' she said. 'Nothing's real here. Not really real. He just likes to act like a human being. He's trying really hard at the moment, have you noticed. I think you're having an effect on him. Did you know he tried to learn the banjo once?'
   'I see him as more the organ type.'
   'He couldn't get the hang of it,' said Ysabell, ignoring him. 'He can't create, you see.'
   'You said he created this pool.'
   'It's a copy of one he saw somewhere. Everything's a copy.'
   Mort shifted uneasily. Some small insect had crawled up his leg.
   'It's rather sad,' he said, hoping that this was approximately the right tone to adopt.
   She scooped a handful of gravel from the path and began to flick it absent-mindedly into the pool.
   'Are my eyebrows that bad?' she said.
   'Um,' said Mort, 'afraid so.'
   'Oh.' Flick, flick. The carp were watching her disdainfully.
   'And my legs?' he said.
   'Yes. Sorry.'
   Mort shuffled anxiously through his limited repertoire of small talk, and gave up.
   'Never mind,' he said gallantly. 'At least you can use tweezers.'
   'He's very kind,' said Ysabell, ignoring him, 'in a sort of absent-minded way.'
   'He's not exactly your real father, is he?'
   'My parents were killed crossing the Great Nef years ago. There was a storm, I think. He found me and brought me here. I don't know why he did it.'
   'Perhaps he felt sorry for you?'
   'He never feels anything. I don't mean that nastily, you understand. It's just that he's got nothing to feel with, no whatd'youcallits, no glands. He probably thought sorry for me.'
   She turned her pale round face towards Mort.
   'I won't hear a word against him. He tries to do his best. It's just that he's always got so much to think about.'
   'My father was a bit like that. Is, I mean.'
   'I expect he's got glands, though.'
   'I imagine he has,' said Mort, shifting uneasily. 'Its not something I've ever really thought about, glands.'
   They stared side by side at the trout. The trout stared back.
   'I've just upset the entire history of the future,' said Mort.
   'You see, when he tried to kill her I killed him, but the thing is, according to the history she should have died and the duke would be king, but the worst bit, the worst bit is that although he's absolutely rotten to the core he'd unite the cities and eventually they'll be a federation and the books say there'll be a hundred years of peace and plenty. I mean, you'd think there'd be a reign of terror or something, but apparently history needs this kind of person sometimes and the princess would just be another monarch. I mean, not bad, quite good really, but just not right and now it's not going to happen and history is flapping around loose and it's all my fault.'
   He subsided, anxiously awaiting her reply.
   'You were right, you know.'
   'I was?'
   'We ought to have brought some breadcrumbs,' she said. 'I suppose they find things to eat in the water. Beetles and so on.'
   'Did you hear what I said?'
   'What about?'
   'Oh. Nothing. Nothing much, really. Sorry.'
   Ysabell sighed and stood up.
   'I expect you'll be wanting to get off,' she said. 'I'm glad we got this marriage business sorted out. It was quite nice talking to you.'
   'We could have a sort of hate-hate relationship,' said Mort.
   'I don't normally get to talk with the people father works with.' She appeared to be unable to draw herself away, as though she was waiting for Mort to say something else.
   'Well, you wouldn't,' was all he could think of.
   'I expect you've got to go off to work now.'
   'More or less.' Mort hesitated, aware that in some indefinable way the conversation had drifted out of the shallows and was now floating over some deep bits he didn't quite understand.
   There was a noise like —
   It made Mort recall the old yard at home, with a pang of homesickness. During the harsh Ramtop winters the family kept hardy mountain tharga beasts in the yard, chucking in straw as necessary. After the spring thaw the yard was several feet deep and had quite a solid crust on it. You could walk across it if you were careful. If you weren't, and sank knee deep in the concentrated gyppo, then the sound your boot made as it came out, green and steaming, was as much the sound of the turning year as birdsong and beebuzz.
   It was that noise. Mort instinctively examined his shoes.
   Ysabell was crying, not in little ladylike sobs, but in great yawning gulps, like bubbles from an underwater volcano, fighting one another to be the first to the surface. They were sobs escaping under pressure, matured in humdrum misery.
   Mort said, 'Er?'
   Her body was shaking like a waterbed in an earthquake zone. She fumbled urgently in her sleeves for the handkerchief, but it was no more use in the circumstances than a paper hat in a thunderstorm. She tried to say something, which became a stream of consonants punctuated by sobs.