Mort said, 'Um?'
   'I said, how old do you think I am?'
   'Fifteen?' he hazarded.
   'I'm sixteen,' she wailed. 'And do you know how long I've been sixteen for?'
   'I'm sorry, I don't under —'
   'No, you wouldn't. No one would.' She blew her nose again, and despite her shaking hands nevertheless carefully tucked the rather damp hanky back up her sleeve.
   'You're allowed out,' she said. 'You haven't been here long enough to notice. Time stands still here, haven't you noticed? Oh, something passes, but it's not real time. He can't create real time.'
   When she spoke again it was in the thin, careful and above all brave voice of someone who has pulled themselves together despite overwhelming odds but might let go again at any moment.
   'I've been sixteen for thirty-five years.'
   'It was bad enough the first year.'
   Mort looked back at his last few weeks, and nodded in sympathy.
   'Is that why you've been reading all those books?' he said.
   Ysabell looked down, and twiddled a sandalled toe in the gravel in an embarrassed fashion.
   'They're very romantic,' she said. 'There's some really lovely stories. There was this girl who drank poison when her young man had died, and there was one who jumped off a cliff because her father insisted she should marry this old man, and another one drowned herself rather than submit to—'
   Mort listened in astonishment. To judge by Ysabell's careful choice of reading matter, it was a matter of note for any Disc female to survive adolescence long enough to wear out a pair of stockings.
   '— and then she thought he was dead, and she killed herself and then he woke up and so he did kill himself, and then there was this girl —'
   Common sense suggested that at least a few women reached their third decade without killing themselves for love, but common sense didn't seem to get even a walk-on part in these dramas.[5] Mort was already aware that love made you feel hot and cold and cruel and weak, but he hadn't realized that it could make you stupid.
   ' — swam the river every night, but one night there was this storm, and when he didn't arrive she —'
   Mort felt instinctively that some young couples met, say, at a village dance, and hit it off, and went out together for a year or two, had a few rows, made up, got married and didn't kill themselves at all.
   He became aware that the litany of star-crossed love had wound down.
   'Oh,' he said, weakly. 'Doesn't anyone just, you know, just get along any more?'
   To love is to suffer,' said Ysabell. 'There's got to be lots of dark passion.'
   'Has there?'
   'Absolutely. And anguish.'
   Ysabell appeared to recall something.
   'Did you say something about something flapping around loose?' she said, in the tight voice of someone pulling themselves together.
   Mort considered. 'No,' he said.
   'I'm afraid I wasn't paying much attention.'
   'It doesn't matter at all.'
   They strolled back to the house in silence.
   When Mort went back to the study he found that Death had gone, leaving four hourglasses on the desk. The big leather book was lying on a lectern, securely locked shut.
   There was a note tucked under the glasses.
   Mort had imagined that Death's handwriting would either be gothic or else tombstone angular, but Death had in fact studied a classic work on graphology before selecting a style and had adopted a hand that indicated a balanced, well-adjusted personality.
   It said:
   Gone fyshing. Theyre ys ane execution in Pseudopoiis, a naturral in Krull, a faytal fall in the Carrick Mtns, ane ague in Ell-Kinte. Thee rest of thee day's your own.
   Mort thought that history was thrashing around like a steel hawser with the tension off, twanging backwards and forwards across reality in great destructive sweeps.
   History isn't like that. History unravels gently, like an old sweater. It has been patched and darned many times, reknitted to suit different people, shoved in a box under the sink of censorship to be cut up for the dusters of propaganda, yet it always — eventually — manages to spring back into its old familiar shape. History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.
   This is what was happening:
   The misplaced stroke of Mort's scythe had cut history into two separate realities. In the city of Sto Lat Princess Keli still ruled, with a certain amount of difficulty and with the full time aid of the Royal Recognizer, who was put on the court payroll and charged with the duty of remembering that she existed. In the lands outside, though — beyond the plain, in the Ramtops, around the Circle Sea and all the way to the Rim — the traditional reality still held sway and she was quite definitely dead, the duke was king and the world was proceeding sedately according to plan, whatever that was.
   The point is that both realities were true.
   The sort of historical event horizon was currently about twenty miles away from the city, and wasn't yet very noticeable. That's because the , call it the difference in historical pressures — wasn't yet very great. But it was growing. Out in the damp cabbage fields there was a shimmer in the air and a faint sizzle, like frying grasshoppers.
   People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it. Inch by inch, implacable as a glacier and far colder, the real reality was grinding back towards Sto Lat.
   Mort was the first person to notice.
   It had been a long afternoon. The mountaineer had held on to his icy handhold until the last moment and the executee had called Mort a lackey of the monarchist state. Only the old lady of 103, who had gone to her reward surrounded by her sorrowing relatives, had smiled at him and said he was looking a little pale.
   The Disc sun was close to the horizon by the time Binky cantered wearily through the skies over Sto Lat, and Mort looked down and saw the borderland of reality. It curved away below him, a crescent of faint silver mist. He didn't know what it was, but he had a nasty foreboding that it had something to do with him.
   He reined in the horse and allowed him to trot gently towards the ground, touching down a few yards behind the wall of iridescent air. It was moving at something less than walking pace, hissing gently as it drifted ghost-like across the stark damp cabbage fields and frozen drainage ditches.
   It was a cold night, the type of night when frost and fog fight for domination and every sound is muffled. Binky's breath made fountains of cloud in the still air. He whinnied gently, almost apologetically, and pawed at the ground.
   Mort slid out of the saddle and crept up to the interface. It crackled softly. Weird shapes coruscated across it, flowing and shifting and disappearing.
   After some searching he found a stick and poked it cautiously into the wall. It made strange ripples that wobbled slowly out of sight.
   Mort looked up as a shape drifted overhead. It was a black owl, patrollng the ditches for anything small and squeaky.
   It hit the wall with a splash of sparkling mist, leaving an owl-shaped ripple that grew and spread until it joined the boiling kaleidoscope.
   Then it vanished. Mort could see through the transparent interface, and certainly no owl reappeared on the other side. Just as he was puzzling over this there was another soundless splash a few feet away and the bird burst into view again, totally unconcerned, and skimmed away across the fields.
   Mort pulled himself together, and stepped through the barrier which was no barrier at all. It tingled.
   A moment later Binky burst through after him, eyes rolling in desperation and tendrils of interface catching on his hooves. He reared up, shaking his mane like a dog to remove clinging fibres of mist, and looked at Mort beseechingly.
   Mort caught his bridle, patted him on the nose, and fumbled in his pocket for a rather grubby sugar lump. He was aware that he was in the presence of something important, but he wasn't yet quite sure what it was.
   There was a road running between an avenue of damp and gloomy willow trees. Mort remounted and steered Binky across the field into the dripping darkness under the branches.
   In the distance he could see the lights of Sto Helit, which really wasn't much more than a small town, and a faint glow on the edge of sight must be Sto Lat. He looked at it longingly.
   The barrier worried him. He could see it creeping across the field behind the trees.
   Mort was on the point of urging Binky back into the air when he saw the light immediately ahead of him, warm and beckoning. It was spilling from the windows of a large building set back from the road. It was probably a cheerful sort of light in any case, but in these surroundings and compared with Mort's mood it was positively ecstatic.
   As he rode nearer he saw shadows moving against it, and made out a few snatches of song. It was an inn, and inside there were people having a good time, or what passed for a good time if you were a peasant who spent most of your time closely concerned with cabbages. Compared to brassicas, practically anything is fun.
   There were human beings in there, doing uncomplicated human things like getting drunk and forgetting the words of songs.
   Mort had never really felt homesick, possibly because his mind had been too occupied with other things. But he felt it now for the first time — a sort of longing, not for a place, but for a state of mind, for being just an ordinary human being with straightforward things to worry about, like money and sickness and other people. . . .
   'I shall have a drink,' he thought, 'and perhaps I shall feel better.'
   There was an open-fronted stable at one side of the main building, and he led Binky into the warm, horse-smelling darkness that already accommodated three other horses. As Mort unfastened the nosebag he wondered if Death's horse felt the same way about other horses which had rather less supernatural lifestyles. He certainly looked impressive compared to the others, which regarded him watchfully. Binky was a real horse — the blisters of the shovel handle on Mort's hands were a testimony to that — and compared to the others he looked more real than ever. More solid. More horsey. Slightly larger than life.
   In fact, Mort was on the verge of making an important deduction, and it is unfortunate that he was distracted, as he walked across the yard to the inn's low door, by the sight of the inn sign. Its artist hadn't been particularly gifted, but there was no mistaking the line of Keli's jaw or her mass of fiery hair in the portrait of The Quene's Hed.
   He sighed, and pushed open the door.
   As one man, the assembled company stopped talking and stared at him with the honest rural stare that suggests that for two pins they'll hit you around the head with a shovel and bury your body under a compost heap at full moon.
   It might be worth taking another look at Mort, because he's changed a lot in the last few chapters. For example, while he still has plenty of knees and elbows about his person, they seem to have migrated to their normal places and he no longer moves as though his joints were loosely fastened together with elastic bands. He used to look as if he knew nothing at all; now he looks as though he knows too much. Something about his eyes suggests that he has seen things that ordinary people never see, or at least never see more than once.
   Something about all the rest of him suggests to the watchers that causing an inconvenience for this boy might just be as wise as kicking a wasp nest. In short, Mort no longer looks like something the cat brought in and then brought up.
   The landlord relaxed his grip on the stout blackthorn peacemaker he kept under the bar and composed his features into something resembling a cheerful welcoming grin, although not very much.
   'Evening, your lordship,' he said. 'What's your pleasure this cold and frosty night?'
   'What?' said Mort, blinking in the light.
   'What he means is, what d'you want to drink?' said a small ferret-faced man sitting by the fire, who was giving Mort the kind of look a butcher gives a field full of lambs.
   'Um. I don't know,' said Mort. 'Do you sell star drip?'
   'Never heard of it, lordship.'
   Mort looked around at the faces watching him, illuminated by the firelight. They were the sort of people generally called the salt of the earth. In other words, they were hard, square and bad for your health, but Mort was too preoccupied to notice.
   'What do people like to drink here, then?'
   The landlord looked sideways at his customers, a clever trick given that they were directly in front of him.
   'Why, lordship, we drink scumble, for preference.'
   'Scumble?' said Mort, failing to notice the muffled sniggers.
   'Aye, lordship. Made from apples. Well, mainly apples.'
   This seemed healthy enough to Mort. 'Oh, right,' he said. 'A pint of scumble, then.' He reached into his pocket and withdrew the bag of gold that Death had given him. It was still quite full. In the sudden hush of the inn the faint clink of the coins sounded like the legendary Brass Gongs of Leshp, which can be heard far out to sea on stormy nights as the currents stir them in their drowned towers three hundred fathoms below.
   'And please serve these gentlemen with whatever they want,' he added.
   He was so overwhelmed by the chorus of thanks that he didn't take much notice of the fact that his new friends were served their drink in tiny, thimble-sized glasses, while his alone turned up in a large wooden mug.
   A lot of stories are told about scumble, and how it is made out on the damp marshes according to ancient recipes handed down rather unsteadily from father to son. It's not true about the rats, or the snake heads, or the lead shot. The one about the dead sheep is a complete fabrication. We can lay to rest all the variations of the one about the trouser button. But the one about not letting it come into contact with metal is absolutely true, because when the landlord flagrantly shortchanged Mort and plonked the small heap of copper in a puddle of the stuff it immediately began to froth.
   Mort sniffed his drink, and then took a sip. It tasted something like apples, something like autumn mornings, and quite a lot like the bottom of a logpile. Not wishing to appear disrespectful, however, he took a swig.
   The crowd watched him, counting under its breath.
   Mort felt something was being demanded of him.
   'Nice,' he said, 'very refreshing.' He took another sip. 'Bit of an acquired taste,' he added, 'but well worth the effort, I'm sure.'
   There were one or two mutters of discontent from the back of the crowd.
   'He's been watering the scumble, that's what 'tis.'
   'Nay, thou knowst what happens if you lets a drop of water touch scumble.'
   The landlord tried to ignore this. 'You like it?' he said to Mort, in pretty much the same tone of voice people used when they said to St George, 'You killed a what?'
   'It's quite tangy,' said Mort. 'And sort of nutty.'
   'Excuse me,' said the landlord, and gently took the mug out of Mort's hand. He sniffed at it, then wiped his eyes.
   'Uuunnyag,' he said. 'It's the right stuff all right.'
   He looked at the boy with something verging on admiration. It wasn't that he'd drunk a third of a pint of scumble in itself, it was that he was still vertical and apparently alive. He handed the pot back again: it was as if Mort was being given a trophy after some incredible contest. When the boy took another mouthful several of the watchers winced. The landlord wondered what Mort's teeth were made of, and decided it must be the same stuff as his stomach.
   'You're not a wizard by any chance?' he enquired, just in case.
   'Sorry, no. Should I be?'
   Didn't think so, thought the landlord, he doesn't walk like a wizard and anyway he isn't smoking anything. He looked at the scumble pot again.
   There was something wrong about this. There was something wrong about the boy. He didn't look right. He looked —
   — more solid than he should do.
   That was ridiculous, of course. The bar was solid, the floor was solid, the customers were as solid as you could wish for. Yet Mort, standing there looking rather embarrassed and casually sipping a liquid you could clean spoons with, seemed to emit a particularly potent sort of solidness, an extra dimension of realness. His hair was more hairy, his clothes more clothy, his boots the epitome of bootness. It made your head ache just to look at him.
   However, Mort then demonstrated that he was human after all. The mug dropped from his stricken fingers and clattered on the flagstones, where the dregs of scumble started to eat its way through them. He pointed at the far wall, his mouth opening and shutting wordlessly.
   The regulars turned back to their conversations and games of shovel-up, reassured that things were as they should be; Mort was acting perfectly normally now. The landlord, relieved that the brew had been vindicated, reached across the bar top and patted him companionably on the shoulder.
   'It's all right,' he said. 'It often takes people like this, you'll just have a headache for a few weeks, don't worry about it, a drop of scumble'll see you all right again.'
   It is a fact that the best remedy for a scumble hangover is a hair of the dog, although it should more accurately be called a tooth of the shark or possibly a tread of the bulldozer.
   But Mort merely went on pointing and said, in a trembling voice, 'Can't you see it? It's coming through the wall! It's coming right through the wall!'
   'A lot of things come through the wall after your first drink of scumble. Green hairy things, usually.'
   'It's the mist! Can't you hear it sizzling?'
   'A sizzling mist, is it?' The landlord looked at the wall, which was quite empty and unmysterious except for a few cobwebs. The urgency in Mort's voice unsettled him. He would have preferred the normal scaly monsters. A man knew where he stood with them.
   'It's coming right across the room! Can't you feel it?'
   The customers looked at one another. Mort was making them uneasy. One or two of them admitted later that they did feel something, rather like an icy tingle, but it could have been indigestion.
   Mort backed away, and then gripped the bar. He shivered for a moment.
   'Look,' said the landlord, 'a joke's a joke, but —'
   'You had a green shirt on before!'
   The landlord looked down. There was an edge of terror in his voice.
   'Before what?' he quavered. To his astonishment, and before his hand could complete its surreptitious journey towards the blackthorn stick, Mort lunged across the bar and grabbed him by the apron.
   'You've got a green shirt, haven't you?' he said. 'I saw it, it had little yellow buttons!'
   'Well, yes. I've got two shirts.' The landlord tried to draw himself up a little. 'I'm a man of means,' he added. 'I just didn't wear it today.' He didn't want to know how Mort knew about the buttons.
   Mort let him go and spun round.
   'They're all sitting in different places! Where's the man who was sitting by the fire? It's all changed!'
   He ran out through the door and there was a muffled cry from outside. He dashed back, wild-eyed, and confronted the horrified crowd.
   'Who changed the sign? Someone changed the sign!'
   The landlord nervously ran his tongue across his lips.
   'After the old king died, you mean?' he said.
   Mort's look chilled him, the boy's eyes were two black pools of terror.
   'It's the name I mean!'
   'We've — it's always been the same name,' said the man, looking desperately at his customers for support. 'Isn't that so, lads? The Duke's Head.'
   There was a murmured chorus of agreement.
   Mort stared at everyone, visibly shaking. Then he turned and ran outside again.
   The listeners heard hoof beats in the yard, which grew fainter and then disappeared entirely, just as though a horse had left the face of the earth.
   There was no sound inside the inn. Men tried to avoid one another's gaze. No one wanted to be the first to admit to seeing what he thought he had just seen.
   So it was left to the landlord to walk unsteadily across the room and reach out and run his fingers across the familiar, reassuring wooden surface of the door. It was solid, unbroken, everything a door should be.
   Everyone had seen Mort run through it three times. He just hadn't opened it.
   Binky fought for height, rising nearly vertically with his hooves thrashing the air and his breath curling away behind him like a vapour trail. Mort hung on with knees and hands and mostly with willpower, his face buried in the horse's mane. He didn't look down until the air around him was freezing and thin as workhouse gravy.
   Overhead the Hub Lights flickered silently across the winter sky. Below —
   — an upturned saucer, miles across, silvery in the starlight. He could see lights through it. Clouds were drifting through it.
   No. He watched carefully. Clouds were certainly drifting into it, and there were clouds in it, but the clouds inside were wispier and moving in a slightly different direction and, in fact, didn't seem to have much to do with the clouds outside. There was something else . . . oh yes, the Hub Lights. They gave the night outside the ghostly hemisphere a faint green tint, but there was no sign of it under the dome.
   It was like looking into a piece of another world, almost identical, that had been grafted on to the Disc. The weather was slightly different in there, and the Lights weren't on display tonight.
   And the Disc was resenting it, and surrounding it, and pushing it back into non-existence. Mort couldn't see it growing smaller from up here, but in his mind's ear he could hear the locust sizzle of the thing as it ground across the land, changing things back to where they should be. Reality was healing itself.
   Mort knew, without even having to think about it, who was at the centre of the dome. It was obvious even from here that it was centred firmly on Sto Lat.
   He tried not to think what would happen when the dome had shrunk to the size of the room, and then the size of a person, and then the size of an egg. He failed.
   Logic would have told Mort that here was his salvation. In a day or two the problem would solve itself; the books in the library would be right again; the world would have sprung back into shape like an elastic bandage. Logic would have told him that interfering with the process a second time around would only make things worse. Logic would have said all that, if only Logic hadn't taken the night off too.
   Light travels quite slowly on the Disc, due to the braking effect of the huge magical field, and currently that part of the Rim carrying the island of Krull was directly under the little sun's orbit and it was, therefore, still early evening. It was also quite warm, since the Rim picks up more heat and enjoys a gentle maritime climate.
   In fact Krull, with a large part of what for want of a better word must be called its coastline sticking out over the Edge, was a fortunate island. The only native Krullians who did not appreciate this were those who didn't look where they were going or who walked in their sleep and, because of natural selection, there weren't very many of them any more. All societies have their share of dropouts, but on Krull they never had a chance to drop back in again.
   Terpsic Mims was not a dropout. He was an angler. There is a difference; angling is more expensive. But Terpsic was happy. He was watching a feather on a cork bob gently on the gentle, reed-lined waters of the Hakrull river and his mind was very nearly a blank. The only thing that could have disturbed his mood was actually catching a fish, because catching fish was the one thing about angling that he really dreaded. They were cold and slimy and panicky and got on his nerves, and Terpsic's nerves weren't very good.
   So long as he caught nothing Terpsic Mims was one of the Disc's happiest anglers, because the Hakrull river was five miles from his home and therefore five miles from Mrs Gwladys Mims, with whom he had enjoyed six happy months of married life. That had been some twenty years previously.
   Terpsic did not pay undue heed when another angler took up station further along the bank. Of course, some fishermen might have objected to this breach of etiquette, but in Terpsic's book anything that reduced his chance of actually catching any of the damned things was all right by him. Out of the corner of his eye he noted that the newcomer was fly-fishing, an interesting pastime which Terpsic had rejected because one spent altogether far too much time at home making the equipment.
   He had never seen fly-fishing like this before. There were wet flies, and there were dry flies, but this fly augured into the water with a saw-toothed whine and dragged the fish out backwards.
   Terpsic watched in horrified fascination as the indistinct figure behind the willow trees cast and cast again. The water boiled as the river's entire piscine population fought to get out of the way of the buzzing terror and, unfortunately, a large and maddened pike took Terpsic's hook out of sheer confusion.
   One moment he was standing on the bank, and the next he was in a green, clanging gloom, bubbling his breath away and watching his life flash before his eyes and, even in the moment of drowning, dreading the thought of watching the bit between the day of his wedding and the present. It occurred to him that Gwladys would soon be a widow, which cheered him up a little bit. In fact Terpsic had always tried to look on the bright side, and it struck him, as he sank gratefully into the silt, that from this point on his whole life could only improve. . . .
   And a hand grabbed his hair and dragged him to the surface, which was suddenly full of pain. Ghastly blue and black blotches swam in front of his eyes. His lungs were on fire. His throat was a pipe of agony.
   Hands — cold hands, freezing hands, hands that felt like a glove full of dice — towed him through the water and threw him down on to the bank where, after some game attempts to get on with drowning, he was eventually bullied back into what passed for his life.
   Terpsic didn't often get angry, because Gwladys didn't hold with it. But he felt cheated. He'd been born without being consulted, he'd been married because Gwladys and her father had seen to it, and the only major human achievement that was uniquely his had been rudely snatched away from him. A few seconds ago it had all been so simple. Now it was all complicated again.
   Not that he wanted to die, of course. The gods were very firm on the subject of suicide. He just hadn't wanted to be rescued.
   Through red eyes in a mask of slime and duckweed he peered at the blurred form above him, and shouted, 'Why did you have to save me?'
   The answer worried him. He thought about it as he squelched all the way home. It sat at the back of his mind while Gwladys complained about the state of his clothes. It squirrelled around in his head as he sat and sneezed guiltily by the fire, because being ill was another thing Gwladys didn't hold with. As he lay shivering in bed it settled in his dreams like an iceberg. In the midst of his fever he muttered, 'What did he mean, "FOR LATER"?'
   Torches flared in the city of Sto Lat. Whole squads of men were charged with the task of constantly renewing them. The streets glowed. The sizzling flames pushed back shadows that had been blamelessly minding their own business every night for centuries. They illuminated ancient corners where the eyes of bewildered rats glittered in the depths of their holes. They forced burglars to stay indoors. They glowed on the night mists, forming a nimbus of yellow light that blotted out the cold high flames streaming from the Hub. But mainly they shone on the face of Princess Keli.
   It was everywhere. It plastered every flat surface. Binky cantered along the glowing streets between Princess Keli on doors, walls and gable ends. Mort gaped at posters of his beloved on every surface where workmen had been able to make paste stick.
   Even stranger, no one seemed to be paying them much attention. While Sto Lat's night life was not as colourful and full of incident as that of Ankh-Morpork, in the same way that a wastepaper basket cannot compete with a municipal tip, the streets were nevertheless a-bustle with people and shrill with the cries of hucksters, gamblers, sellers of sweetmeats, pea-and-thimble men, ladies of assignation, pickpockets and the occasional honest trader who had wandered in by mistake and couldn't now raise enough money to leave. As Mort rode through them snatches of conversation in half-a-dozen languages floated into his ears; with numb acceptance he realized he could understand every one of them.
   He eventually dismounted and led the horse along Wall Street, searching in vain for Cutwell's house. He found it only because a lump on the nearest poster was making muffled swearing noises.
   He reached out gingerly and pulled aside a strip of paper.
   'Thanks very much,' said the gargoyle doorknocker. 'You wouldn't credit it, would you? One minute life as normal, nexft minute a mouthful of glue.'
   'Where's Cutwell?'
   'He's gone off to the palace.' The knocker leered at him and winked a cast-iron eye. 'Some men came and took all his fstuff away. Then some ovver men started pasting pictures of his girlfriend all over the place. Barftuds,' it added.
   Mort coloured.
   'His girlfriend?'
   The doorknocker, being of the demonic persuasion, sniggered at his tone. It sounded like fingernails being dragged over a file.
   'Yeff,' it said. They feemed in a bit of a hurry, if you ask me.'
   Mort was already up on Binky's back.
   'I fay!' shouted the knocker at his retreating back. 'I fay! Could you unftick me, boy?'
   Mort tugged on Binky's reins so hard that the horse reared and danced crazily backwards across the cobbles, then reached out and grabbed the ring of the knocker. The gargoyle looked up into his face and suddenly felt like a very frightened doorknocker indeed. Mort's eyes glowed like crucibles, his expression was a furnace, his voice held enough heat to melt iron. It didn't know what he could do, but felt that it would prefer not to find out.
   'What did you call me?' Mort hissed.
   The doorknocker thought quickly. 'Fir?' it said.
   'What did you ask me to do?'
   'Unftick me?'
   'I don't intend to.'
   'Fine,' said the doorknocker, 'fine. That's okay by me. I'll just ftick around, then.'
   It watched Mort canter off along the street and shuddered with relief, knocking itself gently in its nervousness.
   'A naaaarrow sqeeeak,' said one of the hinges.
   'Fut up!'
   Mort passed night watchmen, whose job now appeared to consist of ringing bells and shouting the name of the Princess, but a little uncertainly, as if they had difficulty remembering it. He ignored them, because he was listening to voices inside his head which went:
   She's only met you once, you fool. Why should she bother about you?
   Yes, but I did save her life.
   That means it belongs to her. Not to you. Besides, he's a wizard.
   So what? Wizards aren't supposed to — to go out with girls, they're celebrate. . . .
   They're not supposed to, you know. . . .
   What, never any you know at all? said the internal voice, and it sounded as if it was grinning.
   It's supposed to be bad for the magic, thought Mort bitterly.
   Funny place to keep magic.
   Mort was shocked. Who are you? he demanded.
   I'm you, Mort. Your inner self.
   Well, I wish I'd get out of my head, it's quite crowded enough with me in here.
   Fair enough, said the voice, I was only trying to help. But remember, if you ever need you, you're always around.
   The voice faded away.
   Well, thought Mort bitterly, that must have been me. I'm the only one that calls me Mort.
   The shock of the realization quite obscured the fact that, while Mort had been locked into the monologue, he had ridden right through the gates of the palace. Of course, people rode through the gates of the palace every day, but most of them needed the things to be opened first.
   The guards on the other side were rigid with fear, because they thought they had seen a ghost. They would have been far more frightened if they had known that a ghost was almost exactly what they hadn't seen.
   The guard outside the doors of the great hall had seen it happen too, but he had time to gather his wits, or such that remained, and raise his spear as Binky trotted across the courtyard.
   'Halt,' he croaked. 'Halt. What goes where?'
   Mort saw him for the first time.
   'What?' he said, still lost in thought.
   The guard ran his tongue over his dry lips, and backed away. Mort slid off Binky's back and walked forward.
   'I meant, what goes there?' the guard tried again, with a mixture of doggedness and suicidal stupidity that marked him for early promotion.
   Mort caught the spear gently and lifted it out of the way of the door. As he did so the torchlight illuminated his face.
   'Mort,' he said softly.
   It should have been enough for any normal soldier, but this guard was officer material.
   'I mean, friend or foe?' he stuttered, trying to avoid Mort's gaze.
   'Which would you prefer?' he grinned. It wasn't quite the grin of his master, but it was a pretty effective grin and didn't have a trace of humour in it.
   The guard sagged with relief, and stood aside.
   'Pass, friend,' he said.
   Mort strode across the hall towards the staircase that led to the royal apartments. The hall had changed a lot since he last saw it. Portraits of Keli were everywhere; they'd even replaced the ancient and crumbling battle banners in the shadowy heights of the roof. Anyone walking through the palace would have found it impossible to go more than a few steps without seeing a portrait. Part of Mort's mind wondered why, just as another part worried about the flickering dome that was steadily closing on the city, but most of his mind was a hot and steamy glow of rage and bewilderment and jealousy. Ysabell had been right, he thought, this must be love.
   'The walk-through-walls boy!'
   He jerked his head up. Cutwell was standing at the top of the stairs.
   The wizard had changed a lot too, Mort thought bitterly. Perhaps not that much, though. Although he was wearing a black and white robe embroidered with sequins, although his pointy hat was a yard high and decorated with more mystic symbols than a dental chart, and although his red velvet shoes had silver buckles and toes that curled like snails, there were still a few stains on his collar and he appeared to be chewing.
   He watched Mort climb the stairs towards him.
   'Are you angry about something?' he said. 'I started work, but I got rather tied up with other things. Very difficult, walking through — why are you looking at me like that?'
   'What are you doing here?'
   'I might ask you the same question. Would you like a strawberry?'
   Mort glanced at the small wooden punnet in the wizard's hands.
   'In mid-winter?'
   'Actually, they're sprouts with a dash of enchantment.'
   They taste like strawberries?'
   Cutwell sighed. 'No, like sprouts. The spell isn't totally efficient. I thought they might cheer the princess up, but she threw them at me. Shame to waste them. Be my guest.'
   Mort gaped at him.
   'She threw them at you?'
   'Very accurately, I'm afraid. Very strong-minded young lady.'
   Hi, said a voice in the back of Mort's mind, it's you again, pointing out to yourself that the chances of the princess even contemplating you know with this fellow are on the far side of remote.
   Go away, thought Mort. His subconscious was worrying him. It appeared to have a direct line to parts of his body that he wanted to ignore at the moment.
   'Why are you here?' he said aloud. 'Is it something to do with all these pictures?'
   'Good idea, wasn't it?' beamed Cutwell. 'I'm rather proud of it myself.'
   'Excuse me,' said Mort weakly. 'I've had a busy day. I think I'd like to sit down somewhere.'
   'There's the Throne Room,' said Cutwell. 'There's no one in there at this time of night. Everyone's asleep.'
   Mort nodded, and then looked suspiciously at the young wizard.
   'What are you doing up, then?' he said.
   'Um,' said Cutwell, 'um, I just thought I'd see if there was anything in the pantry.'
   He shrugged.[6]
   Now is the time to report that Cutwell too notices that Mort, even a Mort weary with riding and lack of sleep, is somehow glowing from within and in some strange way unconnected with size is nevertheless larger than life. The difference is that Cutwell is, by training, a better guesser than other people and knows that in occult matters the obvious answer is usually the wrong one.
   Mort can move absentmindedly through walls and drink neat widowmaker soberly not because he is turning into a ghost, but because he is becoming dangerously real.
   In fact, as the boy stumbles while they walk along the silent corridors and steps through a marble pillar without noticing, it's obvious that the world is becoming a pretty insubstantial place from his point of view.