Fan Fiction : Discworld : If The Hat Fits…

If The Hat Fits…

Paul Catlow PLC1723 at yahoo.co.uk


(Si Non Confectvs, Non Reficiat)

With apologies to Mary Gentle, whose novel about a world coming to terms with its alternate pasts - Ash - inspired this attempt to pick up the loose flapping threads left by Sourcery.
Some swearing, mainly by Ridcully. No sex. 12+.
Possibly plot-spoiling mentions are made to several other Discworld books:- Eric, Jingo, Thief of Time, Going Postal, and Making Money.
As before there are Annotations to find, not always footnoted.


Prologue

"This is frightfully interesting" murmured Professor Massingham-Montgomery-Bird of the Guild of Archaeologists, as he studied the artefact. "Wouldn't you agree, Edward?"

Mr Betteridge of the Guild of Historians stood back and rubbed his chin.

"Hmmm. Not really my area, Monty, but I do agree there's scope here for an inter-disciplinary study-group. After all, big grey area, et cetera, where archaeology stops being archaeology and becomes history. What gives me cause for concern is that the thing keeps referring to a period in history that never actually happened."

(Sweep-sweep)

One of the other people in the room steepled his fingers and raised an eyebrow.

"But your considered opinion, gentlemen, is that it is real enough to merit my attention?"

"Well…" Professor Massingham-Montgomery-Bird mused, doubtfully, "the provenance is circumstantial at best. We do know that the current Arch-chancellor broke with long-standing University tradition shortly after the date of the original's disappearance. There is also a tradition within the Thieves' Guild that one of their members allegedly broke into the University and stole the original. I understand in the Guild this is thought of as rather like smashing a sixer at conkers, a triumphant career-best achievement. The Guild member whose name is associated with the theft has since retired from active theft, and she has opened a hairdressing salon. Strangely, the University has left her alone, even though her name is quite well known in this context, and has not pursued her in any way. You would have expected the wizards to be somewhat vengeful, if only because of the loss of face involved. Yet she remains untroubled by the magical equivalent of what Assassins would call inhumation with extreme prejudice."

Vetinari nodded. "Oh yes. I know the name. Arrangements have been made. Proceed."

"And the contradictions pile up, my Lord. You advise me the artefact was found in Klatch? Where the current Seriph, Prince Khufurah, claims to have rediscovered it while engaged in rebuilding work in a partially ruined area of the city of al-Khali."

"And Khufurah promptly sends it direct to me as a goodwill gesture." Vetinari repeated. "To help re-affirm friendly relations between our two nations after recent misunderstandings."

"Hello? HELLO! WHY is nobody LISTENING to us!"

(Sweep-sweep)

Rufus Drumknott cleared his throat.

"Hence your suspicions, my Lord. Why is something long-missing from this city rediscovered in Klatch? Why now? And why was he so keen to send it to us?"

"Fetch a WIZARD! THEN you'll see if we are real or not!"

"I'm not sure" Vetinari mused. "I have some promising lines of thought that may resolve this conundrum. But at the same time that the original artefact went astray, there was a very dangerous mind in Klatch. The Grand Vizier, Prince Abrim. I had him noted down as a potential threat to the stability of the Circle Sea region. An energetic and ambitious man who effectively ruled Klatch, on behalf of a fat and lazy Seriph whose only ambitions were to serenade his seraglio with rather awful poetry and build a pleasure palace. Always a dangerous combination. And then, suddenly, for no especial reason, both disappeared as if they had never existed. The brothers Cadram and Khufurah arose from nowhere to fill the power vacuum. And in the fullness of time beset us with fresh problems, as we know. While I'm glad I did not have Abrim to contend with over the Leshp business [1], the puzzle of what happened to him still exercises my mind."

"Why don't you ASK!"

(Sweep-sweep)

"Drumknott, did the invitations go out?"

"Yes, my Lord. I emphasised to Archchancellor Ridcully that there was no great rush. And that he should bring an expendable wizard with him."

"Capital."

There was a growing commotion from outside the Oblong Office. Its harmonics suggested a very angry woman who was finding it hard to contain her temper.

"Ah, one of my guests has arrived." Vetinari said. "Please convey her in, Drumknott".

The Patrician smiled at the two academics.

"You are just as anxious as I am to resolve this intellectual conundrum, gentlemen. I believe a key to the puzzle has just arrived."

Drumknott got as far as "The Patrician wi-" and the door erupted inwards. An exotically attractive platinum blonde in her early forties strode in, her eyes, were they to have literally flashed fire, capable of spontaneously combusting everything for a radius of five miles. Two City Watchmen trailed in her wake.

"Now, miss…." said Sergeant Fred Colon.

"We brung her, sir. Just as you asked." said Corporal Nobby Nobbs.

"Thank you, gentlemen. Don't let me detain you. Wait outside."

The blonde, who was wearing a pocketed tabard over her day clothes, with the tools of her trade open to view, marched up to the desk, arms akimbo. The effect was slightly spoilt by a comb dropping to the carpet.

Vetinari raised a placatory hand.

"Please, mrs Harebut. You are not under arrest and I see no circumstances in which this might change. I'm seeking the answers to some old questions and I'm hoping you will be able to co-operate. Of your own free will, naturally."

"The girl? Here? At last somebody's showing signs of a functioning brain!"
"More than a girl now. Time has passed."

(Sweep-sweep)

"Hmmmph!" Conina said, slightly mollified. "This had better be good! You know how many customers are waiting for me in the salon?"

"Yes, I've heard good reports about your salon. My aunt has her hair styled by you. She speaks very highly of you!"

"Bobbi? She's a delight. Lady de Meserole, that is. But you've not asked me here for a beard-trim, that's for sure!"

"I'm gratified at the offer, although I have a man for that. You are Mrs Conina Harebut? And your maiden name was Conina Cohensdaughter? Please allow me to express condolence on the presumed death of your father."

Conina shrugged. "I hardly knew him. Although his parting gift to me enabled me to set up a hairdressing business. Which I'd rather like to go back to.."

"All in good time. We're just awaiting two more guests.."

There was more noise in the anteroom, which included petulant reedy protest and gruff dismissive harrumphing.

"The door, please, Drumknott. More circumspectly, this time."

The new arrivals were ushered in.

"Ah, Archchancellor! And the Egregious Professor of…"

Vetinari was cut short by Conina.

"You bastard!" she shrieked, throwing herself at Rincewind. "Do you know how long I've missed you and how long I wondered what you've been up to? I thought you were dead, you selfish utter unspeakable bastard!"

She buffeted him with furious thumps alternating with great big hugs.

"Dear me!" said Vetinari, mildly.

"Is there anythin' goin' on here I ought to know about, Rincewind?" Ridcully demanded, suspiciously. "Speakin' purely in a pastoral capacity."

"I just have this strange effect on women." Rincewind muttered. "Hi, Conina. Nice to see you again. It's been, ooh, years?"

"Too many years! You missed my wedding, for one thing! Nijel's keen to know how you're getting on, too".

Ridcully relaxed.

"Just for a moment there I worried we were in danger of gettin' another Sourcerer. Eventually. In the fullness of time."

Conina was regarding Rincewind with critical interest.

"You're coming down the salon. And don't argue. You've neglected that hair."

Rincewind winced. "Sorry. Every time you do my hair, something horrible happens just afterwards. Great haircut, can't beat it. It's just that the afterwards is always What the Hell is That?" Rincewind shrieked and pointed his finger at the hatbox on Vetinari's desk. He shuddered.

"Oh ye Gods. Déjá-vu. I've been here before. You've been here before."

Conina followed his finger and frowned. "Oh, no…" she whispered. "No."

Vetinari beamed.

"Now we're getting somewhere! Archchancellor, I believe you just used the word Sourcerer?"

(Sweep-sweep)

"NOW do you hear us?" the voice was loud, audibly loud, as if it had gained strength by being in the presence of people who had known it before, in the fullness of its power and might.

Ridcully, who had ambled over to the desk and lifted the lid off the hat-box, looked down and said "Interestin'. Lined with octiron foil, too. It all ties in."

"In this time and place, you are Archchancellor, acclaimed and honoured as such by the brotherhood of wizardry and the Eight Orders?"

Ridcully preened.

"I have that honour, yes."

"Then welcome, brother!"

Ridcully lifted the artefact out of the hat-box. He turned it in his hands a couple of times. Rincewind and Conina looked on with appalled interest.

It took the form of a milliner's blank, the light framework of wicker and unbleached canvas, upon which a skilled hatter or milliner may construct an article of headwear to the desired shape. Against the pale écru of the canvas, random pieces, or perhaps fragments, of what had once been a sumptuous dark-red fabric, possibly satin, had been pinned with some care, to suggest the shape of the original hat they had once belonged to. Not all the pieces of the original hat were there, by any means, but the whole of the top third of the cone was there, albeit scorched at the edges, and pieces of the hat's body and brim had been assigned to their presumed original places on the blank. Without exception they were dirty, dusty, and scorched, presuming the original had at some time been devastated by fire or explosion. Little glitters in the dust suggested gold wire and some sort of gemstone, possibly octarines.

Ridcully nodded, and said "Saw this once or twice, from a distance, when I was a young wizard. You got to see a few Archchancellors come and go in those days. It's the original Archchancellor's Hat, m'lord. I'm sure of it. Just one more test…"

"You brought an expendable wizard with you, I see? Capital."

"None more expendable than Rincewind!" Ridcully said, smugly. "Front and forward, that man. Time to justify your meal ticket and the coal allowance!"

Rincewind shuffled forward, reluctantly.

"He has worn us before. In another time."

(sweep-sweep)

"He is an idiot. He knows nothing. Although he was a useful idiot."

"You can't make him do this!" Conina shrieked, indignantly. "I've only just got him back!"

"I'm his Archchancellor, madam. I outrank him." Ridcully said, simply.

"And if I were to say it's for the good of the city…" Vetinari commented.

"He was useful to us - as the girl was - in the time of the Sourcerer. You were all there. You all saw the ruin and devastation brought about by that magical war."

Several faces assumed a look of polite incomprehension.

"Therein, I believe, lies the paradox and the difficulty." said Vetinari, thinking Good. It has a mind. If it has a mind, I can negotiate with it.

Mr Betteridge of the Historians' Guild cleared his throat.

"But you persist in saying that this…Mage War… happened. That happened within living memory. And that it caused unimaginable death and destruction on a scale never before imagined. That it nearly brought about the end of the world. But we have no record of this! There is nothing in the history books! You are surely mistaken?"

Ridcully acted quickly. A counter-spell struck the lance of angry ice-blue flame that struck out towards Betteridge, and dissipated it. The air in the room went a degree or two colder. Conina and Rincewind, who'd seen this before, dived for the nearest available cover.

Betteridge stood, trembling with shock.

"Bad move, old boy." commented Professor Massingham-Montgomery-Bird. He'd been out on stealth archaeology missions, in his youth, and had seen much worse. His thought was Alice is going to be sick she missed out on this one. It's right up her street [2]. He spoke.

"We have a problem here. The historical record says nothing happened. However, we can adequately demonstrate that the archaeological record shows that something did occur. Something with the power and force to destroy one of the most potent artefacts in Wizardry. And if the notes from Klatch are accurate, no longer ago in time than twenty years, possibly less."

Vetinari nodded. He stalked to the door of the Oblong Office, and opened it suddenly. Corporal Nobbs nearly fell in the room with it, but sheer terror made him leap from a half-crouch to an approximation of "attention".

"Just guarding the door, as per orders, SIR! And not seeking to listen in any way at all…"

Vetinari impatiently waved him into silence.

"Corporal Nobbs, Sergeant Colon. You are two of the longest-serving Watchmen in the city, are you not? And part of the reason for your commendable longevity is that you both have a naturally well-developed sense of caution when asked to undertake potentially …dangerous… assignments. Such as, for instance, when dealing with a volatile and strong-willed lady belonging to the Thieves' Guild and the daughter of a living legend among the Barbarian Hero community, and politely asking her to attend upon me at the Palace. Who did you bring as back-up in case the lady was not willing to be escorted?"

"Constable Dorfl, SIR!" Colon barked, smartly.

"An impeccable choice. Provide him."

"SIR!"

Vetinari looked around the ante-room. "Ah. You must be Mr Harebut. You accompanied your wife here? Commendably loyal. Don't be concerned, she isn't under arrest. But while we wait for Constable Dorfl, could I prevail upon you?"

A few minutes later, after Nijel had greeted Rincewind, paled at the sight of the Hat after so long, and briefly told his story, Vetinari steepled his fingers again.

"Nijel the Destroyer!" the Hat muttered, with a sussuration of snickering. Nijel coloured. A thin smile came to Vetinari's lips.

"We all have our fancies when we are young." he remarked.

"But… you remember. Your wife remembers. Rincewind remembers. And the story you tell is remarkably consistent. But why do you remember, when the rest of the world seemingly forgets and what must have been terrible scars have healed over, leaving barely a trace?"

Vetinari paused and frowned. "I might suspect some collusion between you, to an end as yet undetermined. But we have the Hat. And it remembers you."

"We didn't remember, at first." Conina said, with an effort. "I only had a blank space in my memory, a few confused weeks where somehow I met Nijel, but couldn't quite remember how. Just…impressions. There was a boy. He touched my face and said to forget. And we did."

"We went into the wild together." Nijel said. "Conina told me to stop posing and start shaping up. She'd make a barbarian of me if it killed her". He grimaced, remembering to turn it into a fond loving smile.

They clasped hands.

"We made our vows to each other at the base of Cori Celesti," Conina said. "In front of the Gods. And the moment we touched the stone of the mountain… we remembered. Everything.…"

"That fits." Ridcully said. "The Sourcerer had passed out of the world by then. And Cori Celesti has a sort of field effect thingy that dampens magic. Just in case anyone gets clever and throws it at the Gods. Last line of defence, sort of thing."

"And Rincewind?" inquired Vetinari.

"I was thrown into the gods-damned Dungeon Dimensions." he shuddered at the memory. "Now I will maintain it was only for two or three days. At least, I remember falling asleep three times when I was too exhausted to run any more. The Luggage took care of anything that got too close. Then that odious little Thursley boy got me out and I landed in Pseudopolis [3]. "

Rincewind grimaced. "For a day or two more I was too busy running from demons, men with swords, and things, to pay it any attention, but when I finally got to look at the date, do you know how much time had passed in the world outside? Seventeen years, that's how much!"

"Look on the bright side, man." said Ridcully. "Makes you seventeen years younger than anyone else in this room."

"I thought you hadn't changed much!" said Nijel, with the gormless look-on-the-bright-side tone that reminded Rincewind of how much he'd wanted to punch him last time.

"I think I dimly begin to perceive." said Vetinari.

Ridcully looked at the Hat, and frowned. "Better try this now." he said, and put the Hat on. Immediately he stiffened and his eyes glazed.

"Oh, dear…" said Vetinari. The voice of the Hat became a loud buzzing sussuration, as if of many, many, voices speaking at once. Ridcully jerked back to life.

"I think…I've got…control… You fellows, bloody well shut up!" he demanded. "A fellow can't hear himself think, for all you lot shouting at once!"

"He is Archchancellor." A single voice intoned. "He has the right to wear us. Hail, brother!"

"Thank you.." Ridcully said, with feeling and a certain smugness.

"I'm aware you became Archchancellor some time after the Hat disappeared and these strange…events… may or may not have happened." Vetinari said. "At that time, you had severed connections with active Wizardry and you were managing your family estates on the other side of Sto Helit. Therefore no conceivable blame could attach to you personally. However, other members of the current Faculty were in residence at the University during this time period. I may have cause to speak to them later."

"I'd begin with the Dean, if I were you, m'lord." Ridcully suggested, helpfully.

"Indeed, Archchancellor. But what do you remember of this time?"

Ridcully spoke.

He had been out on a tour of the estates, his hunting crossbow to hand just in case, and a pack of hunting dragons padding faithfully alongside his horse. For some days there had been bloody strange lights in the sky, hubwards towards Ankh-Morpork, rimwards towards the Circle Sea and Klatch. Ridcully had also been fighting a strange and inexplicable urge to build a tower, or at the very least to return to the family manor and improve on one of the towers there.

Then the two sets of glowing lights had started chucking some serious magic at each other. Ridcully had sat his horse, dumbfounded, as the magical artillery started flying in both directions overhead.

And a magical weapon had fallen short, or had been shot out of the air and come crashing down on the Ridcully lands, tipping him from his horse and panicking the dragons into flight.

Ridcully had scrambled to his feet to find horse and dragons gone, and his favourite crossbow broken. He was bloody furious.

"Who the bloody hell is playing at silly buggers out there!" he had demanded of the air. His fingers formed a gesture and a fireball of unprecedented size erupted. It streaked off towards Ankh-Morpork.

Ridcully sensed rather than heard the voice in his head.

WE. WE ARE PLAYING "SILLY BUGGERS". YOU WILL JOIN US, MUSTRUM RIDCULLY.

"Bugger OFF!" Ridcully bellowed. "You spook my horse, you panic my dragons, you break my bloody crossbow, and you want me to join you? I'm retired from all that! Leave me OUT of it, d'you hear? I'm not interested!"

IS THAT YOUR LAST WORD, MUSTRUM RIDCULLY?

"No! My last word to YOU is FU-"

There was a flash of octarine light, the memory of a second of agonizing pain, and the words "THEN DIE!" hung in the air. Ridcully completed his last sentence "-CK OFF!" out of habit, and idly wondered where his body was.

"THERE REALLY WASN'T A LOT LEFT, I'M AFRAID" he heard a leaden but sympathetic voice say. He turned.

"Oh. It's you. What happens now?"

Death sighed. HARD TO TELL, REALLY. I MAY BE CALLED UPON TO RIDE OUT. I MUST SAY, YOU WIZARDS ARE KEEPING ME BUSY RIGHT NOW.

"Is this the end? I mean, you've got to cut this blue line thingy, haven't you?"

Death stood silently, as if listening to invisible instructions.

THIS IS MOST VEXING. YOU ARE APPARENTLY IN LIMBO, MUSTRUM RIDCULLY. LIKE A CAT IN A BOX.

"You're making no sense , man!"

IN ONE POSSIBLE FUTURE, YOU MEET PONDER STIBBONS. HAPPILY HE WILL ASSUME THE BURDEN OF TRYING TO EXPLAIN IT TO YOU. FOR NOW, WAIT HERE, YOU WILL BE…DIRECTED

Death stalked off, ignoring Ridcully's demands to know what the damned bloody hell was going on.

And Ridcully awoke, sprawled on the grass of his estates, with his horse concernedly and wetly nuzzling his ear. The dragons were in a slump nearby, looking mournful. There was absolutely no trace of a recent magical war. Puzzled - he'd died, hadn't he? He recalled every detail of meeting Death and of their conversation. Who the blasted blue blazes was - or will be - Ponder Stibbons?

He mounted, and rode home to see if Mother was alright. No doubt it would all come to make sense in time.

"Most interesting." Vetinari remarked. "Not even Death was sure. And he talked in terms of there being more than one future. Which viewed from another angle, Mr Betteridge, implies more than one past, does it not?"

"But history teaches us there can only ever be one past, my lord!" wailed the historian. Vetinari looked at him with what might have been sympathy.

"But, as we have discussed fairly recently, are there not very many ways in which the events of even one consensus past may be…interpreted? Is this not the task of the historian? Now imagine if there are multiple pasts. Surely the possibility excites you, Mr Betteridge? Ah well, perhaps not."

"And again we return to the pieces of the puzzle. Let us recapitulate, gentlemen. In Klatch, Prince Khufurah commissions building work to begin on the site of the pleasure palace created by a previous Seriph. Members of the archaeological profession are invited, to assess anything of academic interest recovered at the site. The encroaching desert sands are swept away from the site, with much labour."

"To the very great surprise of everyone present, there is no trace of the Rhoxie, the Pleasure Palace known to have been built, easily within living memory, by the Seriph Creosote. Instead, there is scattered debris spread over a very wide area. The condition of the rubble suggests a catastrophic explosion in a relatively confined space. Tracing it back to the centre, they discover the stump of a tower which by its size must have stood high and tall. Yet this is emphatically not what is represented on the architects' plans for the Rhoxie, which people in Klatch are unanimous was built. Yet nobody in Klatch can remember the building of a monstrous tower. Calcined human remains were discovered in some quantity, supporting the catastrophe hypothesis. Yet nobody remembers a catastrophe. And then fragments of sentient cloth turn up during the dig. Prince Khufurah assures me he was extremely diligent in gathering together as many as could be found. The shreds of cloth assured him they were part of the Archchancellor's Hat from Unseen University. Khufuruh personally requested me to take good charge of it, as he earnestly wishes there to be no possibility of it ending up on the head of his brother Cadram. Or indeed on any other ambitious Klatchian potentate. I concur with that analysis. "

Vetinari paused.

"You have confirmed its provenance, Archchancellor. Would you be so kind as to take back what belongs to the university - and do keep it more securely, this time?"

Ridcully nodded. "I think I know the very place, m'lord."

"But expressly not, this time, on…" Vetinari consulted some notes, "on a ledge, high up somewhere, where it's out of the way and causing no bother to anyone, if you please."

The Hat was silent now: it appeared to have found its ease on Ridcully's head, and was sitting there, a piebald affair of dark-red streaks on a white background. Vetinari noted that it was, all the same, radiating alert interest in what was going on.

"So in Klatch, things today are not what they seem. They appear to converge to a point in recent time when both Seriph Creosote and Grand Vizier Abrim mysteriously and simultaneously disappeared from history, in a manner which appeared to be instantaneous and coincidental to events at the University on the Eve of Small Gods the same year. Here, the Archchancellor-elect, Virrid Wayzegoose, met a terrible accident even before being enthroned. Which was precipitate, even by the standards of the University at the time."

"On the same evening…" Vetinari nodded at Conina "the ceremonial Archchancellor's Hat disappears, stolen by a master, or perhaps mistress, Thief. This drops out of human ken until its sundered fragments are located, in faraway Klatch, under the sand and rubble of a destroyed palace, which, seemingly, was never even built in the first place."

(sweep-sweep)

"So paradox piles upon paradox piles upon contradiction. We have heard four eye-witness accounts, but these are eyewitness accounts of an event that only those four people appear to have seen. I do not like coincidences. Not when so many happen so closely together. Then they become… a pattern. Drumknott, is this our next guest?"

"Constable Dorfl of the Watch, sir" Drumknott reported.

"Please enter, constable."

The ponderous form of the golem made its way into the office; it saluted, slowly and precisely.

"You Called Me, Lord Vetinari?"

"I believe you may be able to help solve an old crime. You are intelligent, but not human. Your race, if I may call them so, are all several thousands of years old. By nature you are contemplative and philosophical. You observe things. These are qualities Commander Vimes values greatly in you."

"I Will Endeavour To Assist In Any Way I Can. What Is The Evidence For This Crime?"

Vetinari summed up the known facts again.

"There Has Evidently Been A Cover-Up, My Lord."

"I think so too. In all the years of your life, Dorfl, on how many occasions have you been aware of changes in the flow of time taking place around you?"

(sweep-sweep-uh-oh)

The golem's eyes flashed on-and-off, winking in patterns of red, for a second. Then Dorfl answered;

"Time Has Changed Or Altered Around Me On Precisely Twenty-Seven Discrete Occasions, My Lord."

"Start by describing the most recent one, if you will?"

"This Took Place Perhaps Nine Months Ago. I Believe A Glass Clock Was Being Built In The Street Of Cunning Artificiers. The Lightning That Activated The Clock Reduced All Time Down To The Universal Tick. External Intervention Restored Time To Normal But Could Not Save Mr Clockson [4]. At The Same Instance, Mr Vimes Was Pursuing A Criminal In The University. The Force Of The Intervention Needed To Restore Time Threw Him Backwards For Thirty Years, With The Criminal Carcer [5]. They Encountered A Previous Distortion Of Time, Strong Enough To Deliver Both Of Them From The Limbo Outside Time, Into A Time Thirty Years Before The Present. I Refer To The Switching-On Of The Sorting Engine At The Post Office [6]."

"In between those two manipulations with time, was there another, no later than twenty years ago?"

"Yes. The Time Of Coin, The Sourcerer."

Ridcully, Rincewind, Conina, Nijel and the two professors listened, aghast.

"I Remember . The Sourcerer Came. The World Feared His Coming. The University Was The Centre For The Conflict."

The golem's voice came from a long way away, as if remembering with a great effort.

"The Wizards Built A Great Tower, Greater Still Than The Tower Of Art. They Fought Other Wizards. Great Force Of Magic Was Thrown At Ankh-Morpork . It Devasted The City.At First I Had Animals To Care For But Soon…There Were No Animals. I Saw The Fire Shooting At Us From The Direction Of Rimwards By Widdershins. Klatch Lies That Way. I Had No Master, No Orders. I Sat Down To Watch And Record And Wait For What Came Next. I Witnessed The Fall Of The Tower In Far Klatch. This Left Only The Wizards Of Ankh. I Saw The Gods Fall, Like A Dream That Never Was. I Awaited The End Of All Masters And Of All Orders. And Then There Was A Blurring Of Light And Sound And Perception. And I Was Again In The Stockyard Of Gerhardt Sock, Taking His Orders And Cutting His Meat, As If Nought Had Happened. Again I Realised Intervention Had Happened And Restored The World."

"External Intervention" mused Vetinari. "But by whom?"

Following his accession to the Archchancellorship, Ridcully, by dint of impatient questioning, and where that failed, outright threats, had been able to piece together the story of the Sourceror.

"M'Lord, I was rather hopin' it'd be a case of least said, soonest mended, but it now seems to have got past that."

The corners of Vetinari's mouth twitched up in a smile.

"Get it out of the way, Archchancellor. You'll feel so much better for it when you have!"

Ridcully then told the story of the University's bid for world domination, much as he'd coerced and bullied it out of the senior faculty and others.

"A small yellow-green lizard in a jar.." Vetinari mused. "That does explain much. I myself was wondering why my diaries for the period have an inexplicable gap of several days - beginning from Small Gods' Eve, incidentally. When normally, I am most careful to write up my impressions of the day before retiring. I also wondered why I suddenly had a mysterious impulse to catch flies on my tongue, although this wore off after a while…"

"I must stress, my lord, that you were kept in a place of safety during the emergency, by two members of the university who had not succumbed to the will of the Sourcerer, who wanted to be sure something survived of the old world, and that you could be restored afterwards." Ridcully bluffed.

"And what better disguise during the emergency than a small yellow-green lizard in a jar?" agreed Vetinari. "I also note that Rincewind and the Librarian took care to remove Wuffles to a place of safety, and I shall be thankful to them for that, at least. Please assure the Librarian I am grateful."

He paused.

"Have I ever once asked which member of the Faculty turned me into a lizard? I quite value the hunted and fearful looks on their faces whenever I meet them. The looks that say Has he worked it out? Has anyone told him? And I hope he never asks about lizards. Especially yellow-green ones."

"You knew?" Ridcully was surprised.

"Oh, it wasn't too difficult to work out the essentials. For some reason I was turned into a small lizard by the wizards - as you say, ultimately for the good of the city. The clue was the gap in my diary and the urge to catch flies on my tongue. This led me to thinking about other anomalies. And today, it seems, we get to reconcile the whole problem. For one thing, there is the information from Constable Dorfl which points to intervention by external agencies. This apparently reversed the course of history so thoroughly that only very residual traces remain. I'd feel a lot happier if we could investigate this issue further. "

(sweep-sweep)

Rincewind obediently lifted his feet so that the domestic could sweep underneath them. He frowned for an instant, then sank back into blessed relief that they'd got away with the lizard thing. They'd actually bloody well got away with it!

"But, Mr Ridcully? I'd remain obliged to you - and to mr Rincewind - if we could persist with the pretence that I know nothing about little yellow-green lizards. I do so appreciate the look of worry and apprehension on the Dean's face whenever we are talking, and the way he so painfully steers conversation away from reptiles of any sort. "

Ridcully allowed a great big grin to spread across his face. "That should not be a problem, my Lord!" He and Rincewind looked at each other.

"I've forgotten already,sir". Rincewind assured them.

"Back to the matter in hand. External Agencies."

"The Sourceror, when he left the world, was prevailed upon to put everything back as it was when he found it. The Librarian insisted on everything being as good as old."

"Which explains how the world was healed, the Gods were released, and the Ice Giants were confined back in the glacial Hub. And to an extent why memories were healed. But hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, must have died in the magical wars. Is the magic of a Sourcerer enough to overcome Death himself?"

"We're not sure, Lord. We know that those wizards who died in the magical wars remained dead. Wayzegoose, Spelter, Carding, Abrim, and others, did not return after the world was remade. But I clearly recall dying and then… not being dead. Stibbons talks about quantum and different futures and trips up over his own words trying to explain it. But for me, I can't shake off the feeling something else was at work here."

(sweep-sweep)

"Oh sorry" Conina said, stepping aside so the domestic could sweep the carpet just there. She frowned, then turned her attention back to Vetinari.

"It is said in folklore" Mr Betteridge said, trying not to let his distaste at amateur history show, "that down towards the Hub, oh sorry, I'll just step over here a second, out of your way, there is an order of monks, whose job is to preserve time so that History has space in which to happen. It is said that if the course of history threatens to end the flow of time, they can rewind it back to a point where the threat may be negated or sidestepped before it becomes a threat. But that's mere mythology, my lord. Maybe not even folklore."

"Rewinding time, though, is also a way of definitively avoiding death" Vetinari mused. "And there are many orders of Monks in the Hubland regions. And these History Monks, should they exist, I could be persuaded to believe are a benevolent influence in the world."

He lifted his hands.

"But we now know a near-disaster happened. It nearly destroyed the world. And the history of the world was rewound and opened up a different history. I'm prepared, for now, to accept the idea that, freed from the malevolent influence of his father, the boy Coin sincerely attempted to put things right as best he could, and we live in a world at least partially of his making. "

He stood up.

"Thank you for your time and input, lady and gentlemen" he said. "I may recall you as I need you, for ongoing assistance concerning this issue. For now, this meeting is at an end, and I'd be obliged if things said in this room are not repeated outside."


Conina found herself walking with Ridcully, who carried the hat-box under his arm.

"I wondered why the wizards never chased me over this." she said. Ridcully laughed.

"Too bloody-well embarrassed to! After they covered themselves in glory with the Sourcerer? I think not. Fair play to you, m'dear, you caught us with our pants down. But do pass the reminder to the Thieves Guild, please? I'm a fair-minded man and slow to take offence, stop sniggering Rincewind!, but we were leakin' like a sieve at one point. Thieves getting' in everywhere. Magical artefacts walkin' out like you wouldn't believe. Still, I had a friendly little chat with Boggis and he got the point. Thieves who walk in from now on, if they're lucky, they hop out. Or slither."

Conina laughed a delighted little laugh. Behind them, the two academics, (Professor Bird having been adjoined by Vetinari to "look after Mr Betteridge. I'm afraid his paradigms were somewhat shifted in there. It's all come as something of a shock to the poor chap"). Betteridge's eyes looked glazed and he was mumbling to himself.

Back in the Oblong Office, Vetinari gestured to the chess table.

"You've got some bright people in this city, m'lord." Lu-Tze observed, resting his broom.

"Some of ‘em were that close from working it out!"

"And they barely saw you" said Vetinari. "Even though you were there all the time. I was rather impressed."

"Who notices a man with a broom?"

Vetinari, who as a boy had failed his Assassins'Guild exam in Stealth and Concealment because his examiner had quite genuinely believed he hadn't bothered turning up, nodded appreciatively.

"Any chance of a brew? I'm parched."

"I will have some refreshments sent up directly. Drumknott?"

Lu-Tze pondered the chessboard, and made a move.

"We had to step in. Did you know two million people died in the Circle Sea area alone? When the ripples got as far as Krull and then to XXXX, and their wizards got the tower-building infection, it went global then. The thing was, we weren't sure how to deal with a Sourcerer. Our first plan was to nip back in time and try to make sure Ipslore's father only had seven kids. But that fouled up. We lost five field agents. That bloody staff kept reaching back in time and picking them off. Then your Rincewind pulled it off and neutralized the Sourcerer, which left us freer to act. But there wasn't a great deal of the Disc left to save, by then. We had to do some serious patching. Those of us who were left. I'm sorry Rincewind stayed so long in the Dungeon Dimensions by the way, but a lot of spare time was slopping around and we had to put it somewhere. We didn't know. The Dungeon's usually a good dumping ground for spare time."

Vetinari nodded.

"Oh, the boy Coin did a lot of it, we just helped with the fine detail. We also decided some people, like Carding and Abrim, were better off left…ended. We wanted the future where Mustrum Ridcully was Archchancellor. Not Carding or Spelter or anyone who thinks like that."

"So why reveal yourselves to me?"

"When the Hat re-appeared, we knew you'd work it out sooner or later. We knew there'd be other clues. Stray memories, creatures with brains and long memories, like your golem, and other little bits of hard evidence we'd overlooked. Like your diaries. Besides, we didn't know how much you already knew about us. We guessed it'd be a lot. So - we came out. Besides, you saw what happened with the Clock. Sam Vimes being flipped back thirty years, and having to become John Keel for a week. You met him at both ends of those thirty years. Clever man like you, you'd have guessed a lot from that one. We just needed to assure you we're benevolent. Mainly. And besides, if anyone has a right to know, it's somebody who spent a week as a lizard in a jar."

Vetinari nodded.

"I'm inclined to believe you. But forgive me. I'm ruler of a city and I have the responsibility, ultimately, for the lives of over a million. If I say a little bit of paranoid suspicion still attaches to the idea that my city is potentially at the whim of very powerful people who can manipulate time and history, and that leaves just a slight residue of uneasiness, may I be forgiven?"

"A very understandable attitude of caution, sir. But your family has a motto, doesn't it? If it isn't broken, don't fix it? That's exactly how we look at things. When you don't need us, we just watch and observe and stand back. But when you do need us - you really need us. That's when we … fix… things. And we want the now when Sam Vimes is Commander of the Watch. We want the now when Mustrum Ridcully is Archchancellor, and Prince Khufurah rules a Klatch that has no big dreams of Empire. We want the now where Havelock Vetinari is Patrician. Because that's the only way it's going to work out."

Lu-Tze paused, made a move on the board, and added:

"The reign of King Carrot and Queen Angua was - eventually - a golden age for the city. Give or take the civil war when certain noble families objected to the idea of a werewolf queen. That set development and progress back a good twenty years. Eighty years after that, Ankh-Morpork got a King Wolfgang. Now he was a proper bastard who was a throwback to his Great-Uncle Wolfgang von Überwald. You see what I'm hinting at here?"

Vetinari nodded. "I believe we understand each other. Capital." He made a move. "And what did happen to Jeremy Clockson? Mr Hopkins was really very upset."

"The short answer is that there was a really big explosion in his workshop. All that acid he suddenly bought in to power those batteries. Electricity is lethal stuff. The long answer is that he was interfering with the nature of Time, as your Golem so correctly explained. This interference effect was strong enough to earth at the University Library, and by sheer bad luck, picked up Commander Vimes and dumped him in Limbo. Anyway, we sent a team in, Jeremy was rescued, you got the right Vimes back - there could have been so many wrong ones - and he's somewhere safe now, and forgive me if that's all I can tell right now?"

"Your move, Sweeper. Do tell me more about multi-nodal pathways."

Several days later, a different scene played itself out at the High Energy Magic Building. A small, select, invitation-only group had gathered amidst the background throb and humming of the University thinking machine, HEX.

Professor Stibbons and his assistants were moving around making last minute final calculations and adjustments. Vetinari noted that among them, in a white lab-coat, was the Royal Bank's economic expert, Herbert Turvy. Once the University heard of the existence of the Glooper machine, they made him a honorary Professor, he reflected [7]. The Archchancellor's Hat rested on a circular dais, surrounded by fine octiron meshing built into a circular cage. Wires and leads led from it, and snaked away into the heart of the machine.

"Ah, Professor. You are well?" Vetinari greeted Professor Massingham-Montgomery-Bird of the Guild of Archaeologists.

"Exceedingly so, my Lord."

"I'm sorry Mr Betteridge is not with us?"

"Regrettably, he is still indisposed. I shall, of course, be taking an account of today's events to his bedside at the Lady Sybil Hospital, when he is compos mentis enough to appreciate them. I wonder what the wizards have in mind?"

He nodded over to Rincewind, Nijel, Conina and the Librarian, who were all equally keen to see the final act in the drama play itself out. Behind them, unheeded, a slight little figure in saffron-yellow robes industriously swept the floor. Vetinari smiled. The doors opened with a crash, and Ridcully breezed in, trailing arguing Faculty members.

"Right you fellows, let's get on with it!" he boomed.

"I still say taking the thing back was too dangerous!" grumbled the Dean.

"Is young Stibbons up to it?" the Lecturer in Recent Runes loudly wondered.

"Thribble tribble Mr Wuggle" intoned the Bursar. "A boy has never cried nor dashed a thousand Kim." [8]

"That almost made sense." Ridcully mused. "Just keep him well away from the machine, you fellows! Thank you for attending, my Lord. Stibbons will make it clear as mud for you. In your own time, Stibbons!"

Ponder Stibbons cleared his throat. "My Lord, Archchancellor. As you know, I was presented the puzzle of making the older Archchancellor's Hat safe and secure. I believe we have a solution to this problem that will meet these goals, as well as making the stored wisdom of over two hundred long-dead Archchancellors available to the University as an ongoing resource. May I have your hat, please, Archchancellor?"

Ridcully removed the new Archchancellor's Hat, with some reluctance.

"Thank you, sir." Stibbons acknowledged, taking the hat. "Hex will soon perform a short operation, in two phases. Please be patient."

He opened the cage, and dropped Ridcully's wizarding hat so that the remnants of the old Archchancellor's Hat were swallowed up inside it, like two stacked cones. He shut the cage hastily.

"Hey!"
"It's dark and smelly in here…"
"Is that ALCOHOL? What are these spiky barbed things?"

Stibbons nodded, and his assistants Turnipseed and Turvey flipped a large red lever. This silenced the protests from the Hat, but Ridcully grumbled "I hope you know what you're doin', lad. That hat cost me sixty dollars! And it'd take ages to replace!"

"You'll get it back, Archchancellor. Almost unchanged."

"Almost unchanged…!"

HEX had throbbed into greater pulsating life. Lights flashed, seemingly randomly, and the spinning hourglass descended. Then a new feature started to operate.

A horizontal glass tube began to fill with iridescent blue liquid. Only it filled not from top to bottom, but from left to right, in discrete separate bars. HEX's quill pen scratched.

++LOADING PROGRAM. 20% COMPLETED++

"Mr Turvey's innovation. It utilises the properties of fluorescent water whose molecules have been twisted through 90%. The water believes it has a different local gravitational field."

"And the purpose of this?" Vetinari inquired.

"My Lord, the energy stored in the Hat is the accretion of over two hundred previous Archchancellors, right back to Alberto Malich himself, who all wore this Hat. It is important to make a distinction. The impressions are not the surviving souls of the Archchancellors, but some sort of recording of them, imprinted on the fabric. Therefore they are a recording. And any recording may be transferred between media."

++PLEASE WAIT++LOADING PROGRAM. 40% COMPLETED++

"I am storing a copy of the Archchancellors direct to HEX. Once completed, security systems will automatically copy over to ensure the recording remains within the parameters set put for it. An interface will also open allowing direct communication."

++PLEASE WAIT++LOADING PROGRAM. 60% COMPLETED++

"Can they ever escape?" Vetinari said, doubtfully.

"No, my lord. They require a suitably charged thaumatological environment to thrive. The Hat was one such. The holding tank here will be another.I have made it confortable for their needs and they will not have access to memory banks or CPU. HEX will always have control, and the Past Archchancellors will effectively be a slave program. "

++PLEASE WAIT++LOADING PROGRAM. 80% COMPLETED++

"So where does my bloody hat come into it?" demanded Ridcully.

"Please be patient, Archchancellor. All things will be revealed."

++PLEASE WAIT++LOADING PROGRAM. 100% COMPLETED++

There was a gloooop as the horizontal tube, now full, emptied itself of water.

++SOFT WEAR PROGRAM ARCHCHANCELLOR'S HAT 200 V1.00 NOW READY TO RUN.++

++COPYING PROGRAM ARCHCHANCELLOR'S HAT 200 V1.00 TO NEW FILE++ NEW FILE NAME RIDCULLY'S HAT V1.02++ COPYING PROGRAM++ PLEASE WAIT++

The nested hats in the cage sparkled and pulsated with red and blue light. Above the desk, the horizontal tube began to refill with very curious water.

++PLEASE WAIT++COPYING PROGRAM. 20% COMPLETED++

"As you requested, sir, I'm putting one copy into a very special place where it will be very safe." Stibbons explained. "It's not even, strictly speaking, a copy. More of an analogue. The Archchancellors will exist both in here, and in the new Archchancellor's Hat, at one and the same time. Meanwhile, they will be deleted from the remnant of the old Hat, which may then be safely placed in the University museum as an inert, lifeless curio, and a warning of the past."

++PLEASE WAIT++COPYING PROGRAM. 40% COMPLETED++

"You mean you're putting the buggers in my bloody HAT, Stibbons?" Ridcully exploded.

"It preserves continuity with the past, Archchancellor, which is a good thing in itself," Vetinari said, mildly. "And in the fullness of time, in the distant but inevitable event of your hat passing to a successor, I'm sure an essence of Archchancellor Ridcully will also be in the Hat, augmenting the wisdom of his predecessors. I see nothing to object to in that."

++PLEASE WAIT++COPYING PROGRAM. 60% COMPLETED++

"Hmmmm… sort of… advisin'… me eventual successor as Archchancellor, you think, my Lord?" Ridcully sank into deep thought.

"There could well be advantages, certainly." Vetinari said, seemingly absent-mindedly running a finger around the brim of his black skull-cap.

++PLEASE WAIT++COPYING PROGRAM. 80% COMPLETED++

"Good. Serve the clever little bugger right, if he ever makes Archchancellor!" Ridcully glared at the clever little bugger, who coloured slightly.

++ COPYING PROGRAM. 100% COMPLETED++

++PLEASE WAIT++ UPDATE FILES ARE BEING DOWNLOADED TO THE SOFT WEAR.++

A bell rung. The filled glass tube swung upwards and out of sight. There was a distant gloop.

++YOU MAY RETRIEVE YOUR HAT, ARCHCHANCELLOR++ .IT IS READY FOR FITTING++ I HAVE MADE A MODIFICATION TO PROFESSOR STIBBONS' ORIGINAL PLANS.++

Ridcully retrieved his hat. He turned it, suspiciously: it felt warm to the touch and it buzzed very slightly.

"What the Hell's this?" he ran a finger under the rim.

++THAT IS THE VOLUME CONTROL++ IF AT ANYTIME YOU REQUIRE PEACE AND ROOM FOR YOUR OWN THOUGHTS, MERELY FLICK THE SMALL LEVER++ THE VOICES WILL BE SILENCED BUT THE ESSENCES OF ARCHCHANCELLORS PAST WILL STILL BE THERE++

"Ah! More space! More room to move! It's a lot less crowded in here!"

Ridcully put the hat on. He nodded.

++OH, SUITS YOU, SIR!++ HEX wrote.

In the background, Stibbons was answering a question.

"I don't see why not, My Lord. If as you say you still have your oldest skullcaps. The principle remains the same, as any headgear continuously worn absorbs the essence of its wearer."

"Capital!"

Rincewind steeled himself, and picked up the unheeded husk of the old Archchancellor's Hat. He shook it.

"OOK!" said the Librarian.

Rincewind passed it to Conina. She regarded the scraps and shreds of what had once been a rich red-purple fabric. With no life imbuing them any more, they looked forlorn, faded, just old drab rags. She shook her head, said a silent "goodbye" and put it down.

"Just as well, really. I never did like Burgundy." She shook her head again, her perfect ash-blonde hair following the movement, and said "Time to go home, Nijel. It's over." [9] Conina Harebut, hairdresser, took her husband's arm and walked away from her past.

Disregarded, the sweeper moved on…


Epilogue

Mustrum Ridcully had taken an afternoon off and flown up to an ice-melt stream in the Rammerorck Mountains to relax with his fishing rods.

He cast the fly out again over the waters, and watched it sink with a soft splash.

Sheer perfection, he thought. Up here in the hills. Just me, the rods, and the fish.

"It's cold!"

Oh, and them.

"Stop complaining, you fellows!" he said, briskly. "It's good for your health. You ought to be thankin' me!"

Ridcully reached up to his hat for a fresh hook. Beside him, the keep-net kicked and twitched in the stream.

"It's cold, it's damp, and it's boring! Why can't we be at the university?"

"If you ask me, the biggest single reason some of you fellows got seriously unhinged is down to spendin' too long indoors!" Ridcully cast the line again. "Look upon this as getting' out, seein' the world."

"Yes, we've seen it, Can we go home now?" There was a chorus of reedy petulant agreement.

Ridcully sighed, and reached for the volume control…. Yes, it was a perfect fishin' day. Out here in the fresh air away from the University. And a broomstick's flight away, when I go back. But not just yet.

He smiled, contentedly.

Plenty of time.


  1. See Jingo. Go back to 1
  2. His star pupil, Miss Alice Band, who now wore the purple teaching sash of the Assassins’'Guild School and did a lot to disabuse young Assassins of the notion that history and archaeology were dry, dusty and boring. Any pupil invited on a dig with Miss Band very soon discovered archaeology was a vibrant, living, academic discipline containing much to be interested in. Go back to 2
  3. See Faust Eric. Go back to 3
  4. See Thief of Time. Go back to 4
  5. See Night Watch. Go back to 5
  6. See Going Postal. Go back to 6
  7. See Making Money. Go back to 7
  8. A sideways homage to Shea and Wilson's gnomic Illuminatus! trilogy. Go back to 8
  9. I did say Mary Gentle's Ash was an inspiration to the writing of this novella… a sci-fi/fantasy classic, in which Roundworld archaeologists suddenly discover the past has changed overnight. The book even suggests how a similar thing may have happened, unheeded and unremarked upon, in our consensus history… Go back to 9

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