'Look, I haven't got time to mess around,' he said. 'Bring that candle into the library. And for heaven's sake put on something sensible, you're overflowing.'
   Ysabell looked down, and then her head snapped up.
   Mort poked his head back round the door. 'It's a matter of life and death,' he added, and disappeared.
   Ysabell watched the door creak shut after him, revealing the blue dressing gown with the tassels that Death had thought up for her as a present last Hogswatch and which she hadn't the heart to throw away, despite the fact that it was a size too small and had a rabbit on the pocket.
   Finally she swung her legs out of bed, slipped into the shameful dressing gown, and padded out into the corridor. Mort was waiting for her.
   'Won't father hear us?' she said.
   'He's not back. Come on.'
   'How can you tell?'
   'The place feels different when he's here. It's — it's like the difference between a coat when it's being worn and when it's hanging on a hook. Haven't you noticed?'
   'What are we doing that's so important?'
   Mort pushed open the library door. A gust of warm, dry air drifted out, and the door hinges issued a protesting creak.
   'We're going to save someone's life,' he said. 'A princess, actually.'
   Ysabell was instantly fascinated.
   'A real princess? I mean can she feel a pea through a dozen mattresses?'
   'Can she —?' Mort felt a minor worry disappear. 'Oh. Yes. I thought Albert had got it wrong.'
   'Are you in love with her?'
   Mort came to a standstill between the shelves, aware of the busy little scritchings inside the book covers.
   'It's hard to be sure,' he said. 'Do I look it?'
   'You look a bit flustered. How does she feel about you?'
   'Don't know.'
   'Ah,' said Ysabell knowingly, in the tones of an expert. 'Unrequited love is the worst kind. It's probably not a good idea to go taking poison or killing yourself, though,' she added thoughtfully. 'What are we doing here? Do you want to find her book to see if she marries you?'
   'I've read it, and she's dead,' said Mort. 'But only technically. I mean, not really dead.'
   'Good, otherwise that would be necromancy. What are we looking for?'
   'Albert's biography.'
   'What for? I don't think he's got one.'
   'Everyone's got one.'
   'Well, he doesn't like people asking personal questions. I looked for it once and I couldn't find it. Albert by itself isn't much to go on. Why is he so interesting?' Ysabell lit a couple of candles from the one in her hand and filled the library with dancing shadows.
   'I need a powerful wizard and I think he's one.'
   'What, Albert?'
   'Yes. Only we're looking for Alberto Malich. He's more than two thousand years old, I think.'
   'What, Albert?'
   'Yes. Albert.'
   'He never wears a wizard's hat,' said Ysabell doubtfully.
   'He lost it. Anyway, the hat isn't compulsory. Where do we start looking?'
   'Well, if you're sure . . . the Stack, I suppose. That's where father puts all the biographies that are more than five hundred years old. It's this way.'
   She led the way past the whispering shelves to a door set in a cul-de-sac. It opened with some effort and the groan of the hinges reverberated around the library; Mort fancied for a moment that all the books paused momentarily in their work just to listen.
   Steps led down into the velvet gloom. There were cobwebs and dust, and air that smelled as though it had been locked in a pyramid for a thousand years.
   'People don't come down here very often,' said Ysabell. 'I'll lead the way.'
   Mort felt something was owed.
   'I must say,' he said, 'you're a real brick.'
   'You mean pink, square and dumpy? You really know how to talk to a girl, my boy.'
   'Mort,' said Mort automatically.
   The Stack was as dark and silent as a cave deep underground. The shelves were barely far enough apart for one person to walk between them, and towered up well beyond the dome of candlelight. They were particularly eerie because they were silent. There were no more lives to write; the books slept. But Mort felt that they slept like cats, with one eye open. They were aware.
   'I came down here once,' said Ysabell, whispering. 'If you go far enough along the shelves the books run out and there's clay tablets and lumps of stone and animal skins and everyone's called Ug and Zog.'
   The silence was almost tangible. Mort could feel the books watching them as they tramped through the hot, silent passages. Everyone who had ever lived was here somewhere, right back to the first people that the gods had baked out of mud or whatever. They didn't exactly resent him, they were just wondering about why he was here.
   'Did you get past Ug and Zog?' he hissed. There's a lot of people would be very interested to know what's there.'
   'I got frightened. It's a long way and I didn't have enough candles.'
   Ysabell stopped so sharply that Mort cannoned into the back of her.
   'This would be about the right area,' she said. 'What now?'
   Mort peered at the faded names on the spines.
   'They don't seem to be in any order!' he moaned.
   They looked up. They wandered down a couple of side alleys. They pulled a few books off the lowest shelves at random, raising pillows of dust.
   'This is silly,' said Mort at last. There's millions of lives here. The chances of finding his are worse than —'
   Ysabell laid her hand against his mouth.
   Mort mumbled a bit through her fingers and then got the message. He strained his ears, striving to hear anything above the heavy hiss of absolute silence.
   And then he found it. A faint, irritable scratching. High, high overhead, somewhere in the impenetrable darkness on the cliff of shelves, a life was still being written.
   They looked at each other, their eyes widening. Then Ysabell said, 'We passed a ladder back there. On wheels.'
   The little castors on the bottom squeaked as Mort rolled it back. The top end moved too, as if it was fixed to another set of wheels somewhere up in the darkness.
   'Right,' he said. 'Give me the candle, and —'
   'If the candle's going up, then so am I,' said Ysabell firmly. 'You stop down here and move the ladder when I say. And don't argue.'
   'It might be dangerous up there,' said Mort gallantly.
   'It might be dangerous down here,' Ysabell pointed out. 'So I'll be up the ladder with the candle, thank you.'
   She set her foot on the bottom rung and was soon no more than a frilly shadow outlined in a halo of candlelight that soon began to shrink.
   Mort steadied the ladder and tried not to think of all the lives pressing in on him. Occasionally a meteor of hot wax would thump into the floor beside him, raising a crater in the dust. Ysabell was now a faint glow far above, and he could feel every footstep as it vibrated down the ladder.
   She stopped. It seemed to be for quite a long time.
   Then her voice floated down, deadened by the weight of silence around them.
   'Mort, I've found it.'
   'Good. Bring it down.'
   'Mort, you were right.'
   'Okay, thanks. Now bring it down,'
   'Yes, Mort, but which one?'
   'Don't mess about, that candle won't last much longer.'
   'Mort, there's a whole shelf!'
   Now it really was dawn, that cusp of the day that belonged to no one except the seagulls in Morpork docks, the tide that rolled in up the river, and a warm turnwise wind that added a smell of spring to the complex odour of the city.
   Death sat on a bollard, looking out to sea. He had decided to stop being drunk. It made his head ache.
   He'd tried fishing, dancing, gambling and drink, allegedly four of life's greatest pleasures, and wasn't sure that he saw the point. Food he was happy with — Death liked a good meal as much as anyone else. He couldn't think of any other pleasures of the flesh or, rather, he could, but they were, well, fleshy, and he couldn't see how it would be possible to go about them without some major bodily restructuring, which he wasn't going to contemplate. Besides, humans seemed to leave off doing them as they grew older, so presumably they couldn't be that attractive.
   Death began to feel that he wouldn't understand people as long as he lived.
   The sun made the cobbles steam and Death felt the faintest tingling of that little springtime urge that can send a thousand tons of sap pumping through fifty feet of timber in a forest.
   The seagulls swooped and dived around him. A one-eyed cat, down to its eighth life and its last ear, emerged from its lair in a heap of abandoned fish boxes, stretched, yawned, and rubbed itself against his legs. The breeze, cutting through Ankh's famous smell, brought a hint of spices and fresh bread.
   Death was bewildered. He couldn't fight it. He was actually feeling glad to be alive, and very reluctant to be Death.
   Mort eased himself up the ladder alongside Ysabell. It was shaky, but seemed to be safe. At least the height didn't bother him; everything below was just blackness.
   Some of Albert's earlier volumes were very nearly falling apart. He reached out for one at random, feeling the ladder tremble underneath them as he did so, brought it back and opened it somewhere in the middle.
   'Move the candle this way,' he said.
   'Can you read it?'
   'Sort of —'
   — "turnered hys hand, butt was sorelie vexed that alle menne at laste comme to nort, viz. Deathe, and vowed hymme to seke Imortalitie yn his pride. 'Thus,' he tolde the younge wizzerds, 'we may take unto ourselfes the mantel of Goddes.' Thee next day, yt being raining, Alberto" —
   'It's written in Old,' he said. 'Before they invented spelling. Let's have a look at the latest one.'
   It was Albert all right. Mort caught several references to fried bread.
   'Let's have a look at what he's doing now,' said Ysabell.
   'Do you think we should? It's a bit like spying.'
   'So what? Scared?'
   'All right.'
   He flicked through until he came to the unfilled pages, and then turned back until he found the story of Albert's life, crawling across the page at surprising speed considering it was the middle of the night; most biographies didn't have much to say about sleep, unless the dreams were particularly vivid.
   'Hold the candle properly, will you? I don't want to get grease on his life.'
   'Why not? He likes grease.'
   'Stop giggling, you'll have us both off. Now look at this bit. . . .
   — 'He crept through the dusty darkness of the Stack —' Ysabell read — 'his eyes fixed on the tiny glow of candlelight high above. Prying, he thought, poking away at things that shouldn't concern them, the little devils' —
   'Mort! He's —'
   'Shut up! I'm reading!'
   — 'soon put a stop to this. Albert crept silently to the foot of the ladder, spat on his hands, and got ready to push. The master'd never know; he was acting strange these days and it was all that lad's fault, and' —
   Mort looked up into Ysabell's horrified eyes.
   Then the girl took the book out of Mort's hand, held it at arm's length while her gaze remained fixed woodenly on his, and let it go.
   Mort watched her lips move and then realized that he, too, was counting under his breath.
   Three, four —
   There was a dull thump, a muffled cry, and silence.
   'Do you think you've killed him?' said Mort, after a while.
   'What, here? Anyway, I didn't notice any better ideas coming from you.'
   'No, but — he is an old man, after all.'
   'No, he's not,' said Ysabell sharply, starting down the ladder.
   'Two thousand years?'
   'Not a day over sixty-seven.'
   'The books said —'
   'I told you, time doesn't apply here. Not real time. Don't you listen, boy?'
   'Mort,' said Mort.
   'And stop treading on my fingers, I'm going as fast as I can.'
   'And don't act so wet. Have you any idea how boring it is living here?'
   'Probably not,' said Mort, adding with genuine longing, 'I've heard about boredom but I've never had a chance to try it.'
   'It's dreadful.'
   'If it comes to that, excitement isn't all it's cracked up to be.'
   'Anything's got to be better than this.'
   There was a groan from below, and then a stream of swearwords.
   Ysabell peered into the gloom.
   'Obviously I didn't damage his cursing muscles,' she said. 'I don't think I ought to listen to words like that. It could be bad for my moral fibre.'
   They found Albert slumped against the foot of the bookshelf, muttering and holding his arm.
   'There's no need to make that kind of fuss,' said Ysabell briskly. 'You're not hurt; father simply doesn't allow that kind of thing to happen.'
   'What did you have to go and do that for?' he moaned. 'I didn't mean any harm.'
   'You were going to push us off,' said Mort, trying to help him up. 'I read it. I'm surprised you didn't use magic.'
   Albert glared at him.
   'Oh, so you've found out, have you?' he said quietly. 'Then much good may it do you. You've no right to go prying.'
   He struggled to his feet, shook off Mort's hand, and stumbled back along the hushed shelves.
   'No, wait,' said Mort, 'I need your help!'
   'Well, of course,' said Albert over his shoulder. 'It stands to reason, doesn't it? You thought, I'll just go and pry into someone's private life and then I'll drop it on him and then I'll ask him to help me.'
   'I only wanted to find out if you were really you,' said Mort, running after him.
   'I am. Everyone is.'
   'But if you don't help me something terrible will happen! There's this princess, and she —'
   Terrible things happen all the time, boy —'
   '— Mort —'
   '— and no one expects me to do anything about it.'
   'But you were the greatest!'
   Albert stopped for a moment, but did not look around.
   'Was the greatest, was the greatest. And don't you try to butter me up. I ain't butterable.'
   'They've got statues to you and everything,' said Mort, trying not to yawn.
   'More fool them, then.' Albert reached the foot of the steps into the library proper, stamped up them and stood outlined against the candlelight from the library.
   'You mean you won't help?' said Mort. 'Not even if you can?'
   'Give the boy a prize,' growled Albert. 'And it's no good thinking you can appeal to my better nature under this here crusty exterior,' he added, 'cos my interior's pretty damn crusty too.'
   They heard him cross the library floor as though he had a grudge against it, and slam the door behind him.
   'Well,' said Mort, uncertainly.
   'What did you expect?' snapped Ysabell. 'He doesn't care for anyone much except father.'
   'It's just that I thought someone like him would help if I explained it properly,' said Mort. He sagged. The rush of energy that had propelled him through the long night had evaporated, filling his mind with lead. 'You know he was a famous wizard?'
   'That doesn't mean anything, wizards aren't necessarily nice. Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because a refusal often offends, I read somewhere.' Ysabell stepped closer to Mort and peered at him with some concern. 'You look like something left on a plate,' she said.
   ' 'M okay,' said Mort, walking heavily up the steps and into the scratching shadows of the library.
   'You're not. You could do with a good night's sleep, my lad.'
   'M't,' murmured Mort.
   He felt Ysabell slip his arm over her shoulder. The walls were moving gently, even the sound of his own voice was coming from a long way off, and he dimly felt how nice it would be to stretch out on a nice stone slab and sleep forever.
   Death'd be back soon, he told himself, feeling his unprotesting body being helped along the corridors. There was nothing for it, he'd have to tell Death. He wasn't such a bad old stick. Death would help; all he needed to do was explain things. And then he could stop all this worrying and go to slee....
   'And what was your previous position?'
   'What did you do for a living?' said the thin young man behind the desk.
   The figure opposite him shifted uneasily.
   'Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?'
   Death thought about it.
   The young man shook his head firmly.
   'This is a city, Mr —' he glanced down, and once again felt a faint unease that he couldn't quite put his finger on — 'Mr — Mr — Mr, and we're a bit short of fields.'
   He laid down his pen and gave the kind of smile that suggested he'd learned it from a book.
   Ankh-Morpork wasn't advanced enough to possess an employment exchange. People took jobs because their fathers made room for them, or because their natural talent found an opening, or by word-of-mouth. But there was a call for servants and menial workers, and with the commercial sections of the city beginning to boom the thin young man — a Mr Liona Keeble — had invented the profession of job broker and was, right at this moment, finding it difficult.
   'My dear Mr —' he glanced down — 'Mr, we get many people coming into the city from outside because, alas, they believe life is richer here. Excuse me for saying so, but you seem to me to be a gentleman down on his luck. I would have thought you would have preferred something rather more refined than —' he glanced down again, and frowned — ' "something nice working with cats or flowers".'
   'Can you play a musical instrument ?'
   'Can you do carpentry?'
   I DO NOT KNOW, I HAVE NEVER TRIED. Death tared at his feet. He was beginning to feel deeply embarrassed.
   Keeble shuffled the paper on his desk, and sighed.
   I CAN WALK THROUGH WALLS, Death volunteered, aware that the conversation had reached an impasse.
   Keeble looked up brightly. 'I'd like to see that,' he said. 'That could be quite a qualification.'
   Death pushed his chair back and stalked confidently towards the nearest wall.
   Keeble watched expectantly. 'Go on, then,' he said.
   'I assume so. I'm not an expert.'
   'So it would appear.'
   Keeble twiddled his pencil.
   'YES,' said Death, I MEAN YES.
   'It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,' he said. 'Have you thought of going into teaching?'
   Death's face was a mask of terror. Well, it was always a mask of terror, but this time he meant it to be.
   'You see,' said Keeble kindly, putting down his pen and steepling his hands together, 'it's very seldom I ever have to find a new career for an — what was it again?'
   'Oh, yes. What is that, exactly?'
   Death had had enough.
   THIS, he said.
   For a moment, just for a moment, Mr Keeble saw him clearly. His face went nearly as pale as Death's own. His hands jerked convulsively. His heart gave a stutter.
   Death watched him with mild interest, then drew an hourglass from the depths of his robe and held it up to the light and examined it critically.
   'Bbbbbbb —'
   Keeble, fighting to breathe, managed to shake his head.
   'nnN — nnN.'
   The shop bell jangled. Keeble's eyes rolled. Death decided that he owed the man something. He shouldn't be allowed to lose custom, which was clearly something humans valued dearly.
   He pushed aside the bead curtain and stalked into the outer shop, where a small fat woman, looking rather like an angry cottage loaf, was hammering on the counter with a haddock.
   'It's about that cook's job up at the University,' she said. 'You told me it was a good position and it's a disgrace up there, the tricks them students play, and I demand — I want you to — I'm not.
   Her voice trailed off.
   ' 'Ere,' she said, but you could tell her heart wasn't in it, 'you're not Keeble, are you?'
   Death stared at her. He'd never before experienced an unsatisfied customer. He was at a loss. Finally he gave up.
   The cook's small eyes narrowed.
   ' 'Oo are you calling a midnight bag?' she said accusingly, and hit the counter with the fish again. 'Look at this,' she said. 'Last night it was my bedwarmer, in the morning it's a fish. I ask you.'
   'I don't know about that, but what about my bedwarmer? It's no place for a respectable woman up there, they tried to —'
   'How much?' said the cook, with a speed that would have outdistanced a striking rattlesnake and given lightning a nasty shock.
   Death pulled out his coin bag and tipped a heap of verdigrised and darkened coins on the counter. She regarded them with deep suspicion.
   'My husband will be told about this,' said the cook darkly, as she left the shop. It seemed to Death that no threat of his could possibly be as dire.
   He stalked back through the curtains. Keeble, still slumped in his chair, gave a kind of strangled gurgle.
   'It was true!' he said. 'I thought you were a nightmare!'
   'You really are Death?' said Keeble.
   'Why didn't you say?'
   Keeble scrabbled among his papers, giggling hysterically.
   'You want to do something else?' he said. Tooth fairy? Water sprite? Sandman?'
   Keeble's frantic rustling at last turned up the paper he'd been searching for. He gave a maniacal laugh and thrust it into Death's hands.
   Death read it.
   'Yes, yes, go and see him, you're just the right type. Only don't tell him I sent you.'
   Binky moved at a hard gallop across the night, the Disc unrolling far below his hooves. Now Mort found that the sword could reach out further than he had thought, it could reach the stars themselves, and he swung it across the deeps of space and into the heart of a yellow dwarf which went nova most satisfactorily. He stood in the saddle and whirled the blade around his head, laughing as the blue flame fanned across the sky leaving a trail of darkness and embers.
   And didn't stop. Mort struggled as the sword cut through the horizon, grinding down the mountains, drying up the seas, turning green forests into punk and ashes. He heard voices behind him, and the brief screams of friends and relatives as he turned desperately. Dust storms whirled from the dead earth as he fought to release his own grip, but the sword burned icy cold in his hand, dragging him on in a dance that would not end until there was nothing left alive.
   And that time came, and Mort stood alone except for Death, who said, 'A fine job, boy.'
   And Mort said, MORT.
   'Mort! Mort! Wake up!'
   Mort surfaced slowly, like a corpse in a pond. He fought against it, clinging to his pillow and the horrors of sleep, but someone was tugging urgently at his ear.
   'Mmmph?' he said.
   'Mort, it's father!'
   He opened his eyes and stared up blankly into Ysabell's face. Then the events of the previous night hit him like a sock full of damp sand.
   Mort swung his legs out of bed, still wreathed in the remains of his dream.
   'Yeah, okay,' he said. 'I'' go and see him directly.'
   'He's not here! Albert's going crazy!' Ysabell stood by the bed, tugging a handkerchief between her hands. 'Mort, do you think something bad has happened to him?'
   He gave her a blank look. 'Don't be bloody stupid,' he said, 'he's Death.' He scratched his skin. He felt hot and dry and itchy.
   'But he's never been away this long! Not even when there was that big plague in Pseudopolis! I mean, he has to be here in the mornings to do the books and work out the nodes and —'
   Mort grabbed her arms. 'All right, all right,' he said, as soothingly as he could manage. 'I'm sure everything's okay. Just settle down, I'll go and check . . . why have you got your eyes shut?'
   'Mort, please put some clothes on,' said Ysabell in a tight little voice.
   Mort looked down.
   'Sorry,' he said meekly, 'I didn't realize . . . Who put me to bed?'
   'I did,' she said. 'But I looked the other way.'
   Mort dragged on his breeches, shrugged into his shirt and hurried out towards Death's study with Ysabell on his heels. Albert was in there, jumping from foot to foot like a duck on a griddle. When Mort came in the look on the old man's face could almost have been gratitude.
   Mort saw with amazement that there were tears in his eyes.
   'His chair hasn't been sat in,' Albert whined.
   'Sorry, but is that important?' said Mort. 'My grandad didn't used to come home for days if he'd had a good sale at the market.'
   'But he's always here,' said Albert. 'Every morning, as long as I've known him, sitting here at his desk a-working on the nodes. It's his job. He wouldn't miss it.'
   'I expect the nodes can look after themselves for a day or two,' said Mort.
   The drop in temperature told him he was wrong. He looked at their faces.
   They can't?' he said.
   Both heads shook.
   'If the nodes aren't worked out properly all the Balance is destroyed,' said Ysabell. 'Anything could happen.'
   'Didn't he explain?' said Albert.
   'Not really. I've really only done the practical side. He said he'd tell me about the theoretical stuff later,' said Mort. Ysabell burst into tears.
   Albert took Mort's arm and, with considerable dramatic waggling of his eyebrows, indicated that they should have a little talk in the corner. Mort trailed after him reluctantly.
   The old man rummaged in his pockets and at last produced a battered paper bag.
   'Peppermint?' he enquired.
   Mort shook his head.
   'He never tell you about the nodes?' said Albert.
   Mort shook' his head again. Albert gave his peppermint a suck; it sounded like the plughole in the bath of God.
   'How old are you, lad?'
   'Mort. I'm sixteen.'
   'There's some things a lad ought to be told before he's sixteen,' said Albert, looking over his shoulder at Ysabell, who was sobbing in Death's chair.
   'Oh, I know about that. My father told me all about that when we used to take the thargas to be mated. When a man and a woman —'
   'About the universe is what I meant,' said Albert hurriedly. 'I mean, have you ever thought about it?'
   'I know the Disc is carried through space on the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of Great A'Tuin,' said Mort.
   'That's just part of it. I meant the whole universe of time and space and life and death and day and night and everything.'
   'Can't say I've ever given it much thought,' said Mort.
   'Ah. You ought. The point is, the nodes are part of it. They stop death from getting out of control, see. Not him, not Death. Just death itself. Like, uh —' Albert struggled for words — 'like, death should come exactly at the end of life, see, and not before or after, and the nodes have to be worked out so that the key figures . . . you're not taking this in, are you?'
   'They've got to be worked out,' said Albert flatly, 'and then the correct lives have got to be got. The hourglasses, you call them. The actual Duty is the easy job.'
   'Can you do it?'
   'No. Can you?'
   Albert sucked reflectively at his peppermint. That's the whole world in the gyppo, then,' he said.
   'Look, I can't see why you're so worried. I expect he's just got held up somewhere,' said Mort, but it sounded feeble even to him. It wasn't as though people buttonholed Death to tell him another story, or clapped him on the back and said things like 'You've got time for a quick half in there, my old mate, no need to rush off home' or invited him to make up a skittles team and come out for a Klatchian take-away afterwards, or . . . It struck Mort with sudden, terrible poignancy that Death must be the loneliest creature in the universe. In the great party of Creation, he was always in the kitchen.
   'I'm sure I don't know what's come over the master lately,' mumbled Albert. 'Out of the chair, my girl. Let's have a look at these nodes.'
   They opened the ledger.
   They looked at it for a long time.
   Then Mort said, 'What do all those symbols mean?'
   'Sodomy non sapiens,' said Albert under his breath.
   'What does that mean?'
   'Means I'm buggered if I know.'
   That was wizard talk, wasn't it?' said Mort.
   'You shut up about wizard talk. I don't know anything about wizard talk. You apply your brain to this here.'
   Mort looked down again at the tracery of lines. It was as if a spider had spun a web on the page, stopping at every junction to make notes. Mort stared until his eyes hurt, waiting for some spark of inspiration. None volunteered.
   'Any luck?'
   'It's all Klatchian to me,' said Mort. 'I don't even know whether it should be read upside down or sideways.'
   'Spiralling from the centre outwards,' sniffed Ysabell from her seat in the corner.
   Their heads collided as they both peered at the centre of the page. They stared at her. She shrugged.
   'Father taught me how to read the node chart,' she said, 'when I used to do my sewing in here. He used to read bits out.'
   'You can help?' said Mort.
   'No,' said Ysabell. She blew her nose.
   'What do you mean, no?' growled Albert. "This is too important for any flighty —'
   'I mean,' said Ysabell, in razor tones, 'that I can do them and you can help.'
   The Ankh-Morpork Guild of Merchants has taken to hiring large gangs of men with ears like fists and fists like large bags of walnuts whose job it is to re-educate those misguided people who publicly fail to recognize the many attractive points of their fine city. For example the philosopher Catroaster was found floating face downward in the river within hours of uttering the famous line, 'When a man is tired of Ankh-Morpork, he is tired of ankle-deep slurry.'
   Therefore it is prudent to dwell on one — of the very many, of course — on one of the things that makes Ankh-Morpork renowned among the great cities of the multiverse.
   This is its food.
   The trade routes of half the Disc pass through the city or down its rather sluggish river. More than half the tribes and races of the Disc have representatives dwelling within its sprawling acres. In Ankh-Morpork the cuisines of the world collide: on the menu are one thousand types of vegetable, fifteen hundred cheeses, two thousand spices, three hundred types of meat, two hundred fowl, five hundred different kinds of fish, one hundred variations on the theme of pasta, seventy eggs of one kind or another, fifty insects, thirty molluscs, twenty assorted snakes and other reptiles, and something pale brown and warty known as the Klatchian migratory bog truffle.
   Its eating establishments range from the opulent, where the portions are tiny but the plates are silver, to the secretive, where some of the Disc's more exotic inhabitants are rumoured to eat anything they can get down their throat best out of three.
   Harga's House of Ribs down by the docks is probably not numbered among the city's leading eateries, catering as it does for the type of beefy clientele that prefers quantity and breaks up the tables if it doesn't get it. They don't go in for the fancy or exotic, but stick to conventional food like flightless bird embryos, minced organs in intestine skins, slices of hog flesh and burnt ground grass seeds dipped in animal fats; or, as it is known in their patois, egg, soss and bacon and a fried slice.
   It was the kind of eating house that didn't need a menu. You just looked at Harga's vest.
   Still, he had to admit, this new cook seemed to be the business. Harga, an expansive advert for his own high carbohydrate merchandise, beamed at a room full of satisfied customers. And a fast worker, too! In fact, disconcertingly fast.
   He rapped on the hatch.
   'Double egg, chips, beans, and a trollburger, hold the onions,' he rasped.
   The hatch slid up a few seconds later and two plates were pushed through. Harga shook his head in gratified amazement.
   It had been like that all evening. The eggs were bright and shiny, the beans glistened like rubies, and the chips were the crisp golden brown of sunburned bodies on expensive beaches. Harga's last cook had turned out chips like little paper bags full of pus.
   Harga looked around the steamy cafe. No one was watching him. He was going to get to the bottom of this. He rapped on the hatch again.
   'Alligator sandwich,' he said. 'And make it sna —'
   The hatch shot up. After a few seconds to pluck up enough courage, Harga peered under the top slice of the long saur in front of him. He wasn't saying that it was alligator, and he wasn't saying it wasn't. He knuckled the hatch again.
   'Okay,' he said, I'm not complaining, I just want to know how you did it so fast.'
   'You say?'
   Harga decided not to argue.
   'Well, you're doing a damn fine job in there, boy,' he said.
   'I guess you'd call it happiness,' said Harga.
   Inside the tiny, cramped kitchen, strata'd with the grease of decades, Death spun and whirled, chopping, slicing and flying. His skillet flashed through the fetid steam.
   He'd opened the door to the cold night air, and a dozen neighbourhood cats had strolled in, attracted by the bowls of milk and meat — some of Harga's best, if he'd known — that had been strategically placed around the floor. Occassionally Death would pause in his work and scratch one of them behind the ears.
   'Happiness,' he said, and puzzled at the sound of his own voice.
   Cutwell, the wizard and Royal Recognizer by appointment, pulled himself up the last of the tower steps and leaned against the wall, waiting for his heart to stop thumping.
   Actually it wasn't particularly high, this tower, just high for Sto Lat. In general design and outline it looked the standard sort of tower for imprisoning princesses in; it was mainly used to store old furniture.
   However, it offered unsurpassed views of the city and the Sto plain, which is to say, you could see an awful lot of cabbages.
   Cutwell made it as far as the crumbling crenellations atop the wall and looked out at the morning haze. It was, maybe, a little hazier than usual. If he tried hard he could imagine a flicker in the sky. If he really strained his imagination he could hear a buzzing out over the cabbage fields, a sound like someone frying locusts. He shivered.
   At a time like this his hands automatically patted his pockets, and found nothing but half a bag of jelly babies, melted into a sticky mass, and an apple core. Neither offered much consolation.
   What Cutwell wanted was what any normal wizard wanted at a time like this, which was a smoke. He'd have killed for a cigar, and would have gone as far as a flesh wound for a squashed dog-end. He pulled himself together. Resolution was good for the moral fibre; the only trouble was the fibre didn't appreciate the sacrifices he was making for it. They said that a truly great wizard should be permanently under tension. You could have used Cutwell for a bowstring.