The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Mort


Written by Ed

Death has decided to take on an apprentice. He goes to the annual hiring fair in the Ramtop village of Sheepridge, where a young man named Mort has been lined up waiting with the other boys. However, Mort has not been chosen; he is gangly and ungainly, and generally has very little talent. Midnight comes and the stallholders pack up, when suddenly a mounted figure rides through the gates.

Death comes to Mort and talks to his father Lezek, who apparently sees him as somebody else. Mort accepts his job after being assured that death is not a compulsory state of being, and is whisked away on Death's magnificent horse, Binky. Death takes him to Ankh-Morpork to eat and have a hair cut before taking him to his domain.

Death's world is rather strange. The grounds are black; black grass, trees, flowers, fruit.skeletal fish swim in a black pond, and the world is brilliantly lit despite the sun being black. There is a cottage in the gardens, opening up to a huge mansion, the hall of which contains a giant grandfather clock that slices the time as it goes past. There are two important rooms in the house; the lifetimer room, where the lives of people are counted down by huge sand timers, and the library where there is a book writing itself for every life that is happening. Mort arrives and is put to work, where he meets Death's manservant Albert and his haughty daughter Ysabell. Ysabell is sixteen, but has been that age for thirty five years as a result of there being no past or future in Death's realm. Days (so to speak) go by and Mort helps around, generally keeping the horse Binky in order. Then, one day, Death decides to take him out on what he calls THE DUTY.

 

Death and Mort go to the city of Sto Lat in the Sto Plains, where King Olerve is due to be assassinated. Mort finds that he has gained some of Death's power: he can pass through solid objects (provided he does not think about it) and cannot be seen by people who do not believe that he should be there. Death reaps the soul of the King, who dies in the middle of a party and causes much consternation. Mort, however, cannot get it out of his head that the King's daughter saw him.

Mort continues to work in Death's domain for some time, haunted by the Princess. Finally, he determines to do something about it, and asks Death for an afternoon off. Death is surprised, but agrees and gives Mort until sunset. Mort arrives in Ankh-Morpork and goes to the Shades, looking for a fast horse he can buy with some money that Death has given him. He is harassed by some thieves, and in escaping them walks backwards through a solid wall.

It transpires that Mort is becoming more like Death and Death is becoming more mortal, expressing sadness that the Princess Keli, daughter of Olerve, is to die soon.

Mort finds a horse and rides to Sto Lat, where he finds a wizard named Igneous Cutwell, whom he hopes can help explain his tendency to walk through walls. The young wizard is unable to provide much help. However, the delay is costly; the sun sets and Mort is suddenly transported back to Death's realm.

 

Soon, Death decides that Mort is ready to perform the Duty on his own. He sends him out with three lives to collect.

The first life is that of Goodie Hamstring, a witch from Lancre. Being a magical woman she is very understanding about his inexperience and so makes a good first attempt for Mort.

The second is the Abbot Lobsang, from the Listening Monks who are trying to determine the sound made by the Creator when the Universe was created. The Abbot is destined to be perpetually reincarnated and has some experience of Death, and so also understands.

However, the third is the Princess Keli. She is due to be assassinated on the orders of the Duke of Sto Helit, who also murdered the King in order to become first in line to the throne. Upon finding who it is, Mort has a fit of anger about justice and kills the assassin instead. Immediately upon leaving Mort realises something is wrong. History and fate have been worked out from the very beginning. The Princess is destined to die. Mort has altered destiny, but reality has not realised this yet.

Mort returns to Death's realm and goes to the library, where he finds Princess Keli's biography and reads it. It tells him that she is dead. Upon leaving, he catches a glimpse of Ysabell reading other biographies. After this, she acts with more humility.

Meanwhile, Keli is having problems. She is still alive, but reality believes she is dead, and seems to be winning. At this early stage this is expressed in strange ways; the flags are flown at half mast, everyone dresses in black and cold salads are prepared, and no one knows why. The people know in their hearts that Keli is dead, and thus their brains edit out the fact that she is walking and talking.

Eventually she goes to see the wizard Cutwell. She proves her plight by pulling form a pack of Caroc cards three Deaths, even though the pack only has one. Cutwell is appointed Royal Recogniser, with the task of reminding everyone that she is still alive.

Mort cannot bring himself to tell Death what he has done and so tells Ysabell instead. She convinces him to see Death, but when he arrives in his study he finds that Death has gone. He has left some work to do.

 

Death has gone to the Discworld. He is becoming more mortal, and wants to experience human pleasures. Over a long period he tries drinking, gambling, partying and fishing before taking a job as a chef in Harga's House of Ribs in Ankh-Morpork.

Mort quickly completes the two jobs he has been given and then returns to Sto Lat, where he finds a disturbing event. Reality has found out about Keli, and is taking steps to repair itself. Around Sto Lat is the reality Mort created, and in the rest of the world is the true reality in which Keli is dead. The boundary between the two realities is a shimmering wall of light, visible only to wizards and is grinding back towards the Princess at slow walking speed. Currently it is out in the cabbage fields some miles from the city.

Mort lands there at night, just ahead of the interface. At first he does not know what it is. He goes to a nearby tavern, where he finds he is becoming more and more like Death; he can pass though solid objects with ease and survive drinking a pint of scumble, one of the most alcoholic drinks on the Disc. Suddenly, the interface passes through the tavern, changing the sign from The Quene's Head to The Duke's Head. Mort now knows what the interface is doing and races away.

He finds Cutwell in the palace, where they compare information and discover exactly what is happening. Mort looks at one of Cutwell's books, were he sees a picture of Alberto Malich, the founder of Unseen University. He vanished while trying to perform the Death-summoning Rite of AshkEnte in reverse. Mort recognises the picture-it is Albert! Mort rushes off to Death's domain.

He wakes Ysabell and they go to the library. They go to the stack, containing the biographies more than five hundred years old. They are silent, but as Mort and Ysabell go further they hear one book is still writing.

Investigating, they find that Albert is indeed Alberto Malich and that he has been in Death's realm for two thousand years. They confront him, but he refuses to help them until Mort threatens him with his newfound powers. He agrees to give him a spell that may hold back the interface. He has until midnight the next day before the interface reaches Keli.

The next morning, however, Death has not returned, still savouring the pleasures of the Disc. This leaves Mort and Ysabell to do the Duty, which must be done first.

There are two lives to collect; one in the Agatean Empire and one in a Tsortean pyramid. He has a ten thousand round trip back to Sto Lat.

 

Albert, meanwhile, is indignant. He resolves to find Death, so he makes a shock return to Unseen University, where he organises the wizards to performing the Rite of AshkEnte. Mort is by now in the pyramid when he begins to be sucked into a swirling vortex created by the wizards. Ysabell punches him, and the shock separates his human and Death sides. The part f him that is human remains and the part of him that is Death vanishes.

In Harga's House of Ribs, the frying pan clatters to the floor.

Death appears in Unseen University, where Albert explains about the problems. Death is angry, and takes Albert back to his realm.

Mort meanwhile races back to Sto Lat. He arrives at the coronation of Keli, but as he does so the interface appears in the hall. He takes Ysabell, Keli and Cutwell away to Death's domain, thus releasing the princess from the interface.

Death, however, is angry and knows that the Gods will demand the sacrifice of his comrades. Mort fights Death for them.

The battle is long and exhausting, and moves into the lifetimer room. Ironically the evil Duke's lifetimer is knocked from the shelves and smashes, killing him.

Eventually, Death wins the fight. Ysabell attempts to appeal to his conscience, saying that she loves Mort, and apparently fails until Death takes Mort's empty lifetimer and turns it upside down.

 

Mort and Ysabell are married. Keli and Cutwell are present, and Mort and Ysabell are made Duchess and Duke of Sto Helit.

Death arrives with a message. He has had reality altered to admit Mort, Ysabell and Keli. Keli must now work to unify the cities of the Sto Plains, as the old Duke would have done. He gives Mort two presents; the tiny, egg-sized interface, which will expand into another universe once the current one dies, and also Mort's biography. Mort and Ysabell say their goodbyes, and Death leaves for his domain. Mort and Ysabell settle down to their new lives as rulers of the city of Sto Helit.


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