Then he whined for a bit and shuffled into the shadows, where there was less chance of being seen.
In the room above, Victor was standing facing the wall. This was humiliating. It had been bad enough bumping into a grinning Mrs Cosmopilite on the stairs. She had given him a big smile and a complicated, elbowintensive gesture that, he felt certain, sweet little old ladies shouldn't know.
There were clinks and the occasional rustle behind him as Ginger got ready for bed.
'She's really very nice. She told me yesterday that she had had four husbands,' said Ginger.
'What did she do with the bones?' said Victor.
'I'm sure I don't know what you mean,' said Ginger, sniffing. 'All right, you can turn around now. I'm in bed.'
Victor relaxed, and turned round. Ginger had drawn the covers up to her neck and was holding them there like a besieged garrison manning the barricades.
'You've got to promise me,' she said, 'that if anything happens, you won't try to take advantage of the situation.'
Victor sighed. 'I promise.'
'It's just that I've got a career to think about, you see.'
'Yes, I see.'
Victor sat by the lamp and took the book out of his pocket.
'I'm not trying to be ungrateful or anything like that,' Ginger went on.
Victor ruffled through the yellowing pages, looking for the place he'd got to. Scores of people had spent their lives by Holy Wood Hill, apparently just to keep a fire alight and chant three times a day. Why?
'What are you reading?' said Ginger, after a while.
'It's an old book I found,' said Victor, shortly. 'It's about Holy Wood.'
'I should get some sleep if I were you,' he said, twisting so that he could make out the crabby script in the lamp light.
He heard her yawn.
'Did I finish telling you about the dream?' she said.
'I don't think so,' said Victor, in what he hoped was a politely discouraging voice.
'It always starts off with this mountain-'
'Look, you really shouldn't be talking-'
'-and there are stars around it, you know, in the sky, but one of them comes down and it's not a star at all, it's a woman holding a torch over her head-'
Victor slowly turned back to the front of the book.
'Yes?' he said, carefully.
'And she keeps on trying to tell me something, something I can't make out, about waking something, and then there are a lot of lights and this roar, like a lion or a tiger or something, you know? And then I wake up.'
Victor's finger idly traced the outline of the mountain under the stars.
'It's probably just a dream,' he said. 'It probably doesn't mean anything.'
Of course, Holy Wood Hill wasn't pointed. But perhaps it was once, in the days when there had been a city where now there was a bay. Good grief. Something must have really hated this place.
'You don't remember anything else about the dream, by any chance?' he asked, with feigned casualness.
There was no answer. He crept to the bed.
She was asleep.
He went back to the chair, which was promising to become annoyingly uncomfortable within half an hour, and turned down the lamp.
Something in the hill. That was the danger.
The more immediate danger was that he was going to fall asleep, too.
He sat in the dark and worried. How did you wake up a sleepwalker, anyway? He recalled vaguely that it was said to be a very dangerous thing to do. There were stories about people dreaming about being executed and then, when someone had touched them on the shoulder to wake them up, their heads had fallen off. How anyone ever knew what a dead person had been dreaming wasn't disclosed. Perhaps the ghost came back afterwards and stood at the end of the bed, complaining.
The chair creaked alarmingly as he shifted position. Perhaps if he stuck one leg out like this he could rest it on the end of the bed, so that even if he did fall asleep she wouldn't be able to get past without waking him.
Funny, really. For weeks he'd spent the days sweeping her up in his arms, defending her bravely from whatever it was Morry was dressed up as today, kissing her, and generally riding off into the sunset to live happily, and possibly even ecstatically, ever after. There was probably no-one who'd ever watched one of the clicks who would possibly believe that he'd spend the night sitting in her room on a chair made out of splinters. Even he found it hard to believe, and here he was. You didn't get this sort of thing in clicks. Clicks were all Passione in a Worlde Gone Madde. If this was a click, he certainly wouldn't be sitting around in the dark on a hard chair. He'd be . . . well, he wouldn't be sitting around in the dark on a hard chair, that was for sure.
The Bursar locked his study door behind him. You had to do that. The Archchancellor thought that knocking on doors was something that happened to other people.
At least the horrible man seemed to have lost interest in the resograph, or whatever Riktor had called it. The Bursar had had a dreadful day, trying to conduct University business while knowing that the document was hidden in his room.
He pulled it out from under the carpet, turned up the lamp, and began to read.
He'd be the first to admit that he wasn't any good at mechanical things. He gave up quickly on the bits about pivots, octiron pendulums, and air being compressed in bellows.
He homed in again on the paragraph that said: 'If, then, disturbances in the fabric of reality cause ripples to spread out from the epicentre, then the pendulum will tilt, compress the air in the relevant bellows, and cause the ornamental elephant closest to the epicentre to release a small lead ball into a cup. And thus the direction of the disturbance-'
. . . whumm . . . whumm . . .
He could hear it even up here. They'd just heaped more sandbags around it. No-one dared move it now. The Bursar tried to concentrate on his reading.
'-can be estimated by the number and force-'
. . .whumm . . . whummWHUMMWHUMM.
The Bursar found himself holding his breath.
'-of the expelled pellets, which I estimate in serious disturbances-'
'-may well exceed two pellets-'
'-expelled several inches-'
Gaspode woke up and quickly hauled himself into what he hoped looked like an alert position.
Someone was shouting, but politely, as if they wanted to be helped but only if it wouldn't be too much trouble.
He trotted up the steps. The door was ajar. He pushed it open with his head.
Victor was lying on his back, tied to a chair. Gaspode sat down and watched him intently, in case he was about to do something interesting.
'All right, are we?' he said, after a while.
'Don't just sit there, idiot! Untie these knots,' said Victor.
'Idiot I may be, but tied up I ain't,' said Gaspode evenly. 'Got the jump on you, did she?'
'I must have nodded off for a moment,.' said Victor.
'Long enough for her to get up, rip up a sheet, and tie you to the chair,' said Gaspode.
'Yes, all right, all right. Can't you gnaw through it, or something?'
'With these teeth? I could fetch someone, though,' said Gaspode, and grinned.
'Er, I'm not sure that's a very good-'
'Don't worry. I'll be right back,' said Gaspode, and padded out.
'It might be a bit difficult to explain-' Victor called after him, but the dog was down the stairs and ambling along through the maze of backlots and alleys to the rear of Century of the Fruitbat.
He shuffled up to the high fence. There was the gentle clink of a chain.
'Laddie?' he whispered hoarsely.
There was a delighted bark.
'Good boy Laddie!'
'Yeah,' said Gaspode. 'Yeah.' He sighed. Had he ever been like that? If he had, thank goodness he hadn't known about it.
'Me good boy!'
'Sure, sure. Laddie be quiet,' muttered Gaspode, and squeezed his arthritic body under the fence. Laddie licked his face as he emerged.
'I'm too old for this sort of stuff,' he muttered, and peered at the kennel.
'A choke chain,' he said. 'A bloody choke chain. Stop pulling on it, you daft idiot. Back up. Back up. Right.'
Gaspode shoved a paw into the loop and eased it over Laddie's head.
'There,' he said. 'If we all knew how to do that, we'd be runnin' the world. Now stop kiddin' around. We need you.'
Laddie sprang to tongue-lolling attention. If dogs could salute, he would have done.
Gaspode wriggled under the fence again, and waited. He could hear Laddie's footsteps the other side, but the big dog seemed to be padding away from the fence.
'No!' hissed Gaspode. 'Follow me!'
There was a scurry of paws, a swishing noise, and Laddie cleared the high fence and did a four-point landing in front of him.
Gaspode unpeeled his tongue from the back of his throat.
'Good boy,' he muttered. 'Good boy.'
Victor sat up, rubbing his head.
'I caught myself aright crack when the chair fell backwards,' he said.
Laddie sat looking expectantly, with the remains of the sheet in his mouth.
'What's he waiting for?' said Victor.
'You've got to tell him he's a good boy,' sighed Gaspode.
'Doesn't he expect some meat or a sweet or something?'
Gaspode shook his head. 'Jus' tell him what a good boy he is. It's better'n hard currency, for dogs.'
'Oh? Well, then: good boy, Laddie.'
Laddie bounced up and down excitedly. Gaspode swore under his breath.
'Sorry about this,' he said. 'Pathetic, isn't it?'
'Good boy, find Ginger,' said Victor.
'Look, I can do that,' said Gaspode desperately, as Laddie started snuffling at the floor. 'We all know where she's headed. You don't have to go and-'
Laddie dashed out of the door, but gracefully. He paused at the bottom of the stairs and gave an eager, follow-me bark.
'Pathetic,' said Gaspode, miserably.
The stars always seemed to shine more brightly over Holy Wood. Of course, the air was clearer than Ankh, and there wasn't much smoke, but even so . . . they were somehow bigger, too, and closer, as if the sky was a vast lens.
Laddie streaked over the dunes; pausing occasionally for Victor to catch up. Gaspode followed on some way behind, rolling from side to side and wheezing.
The trail led to the hollow, which was empty.
The door was open about a foot. Scuffed sand around it indicated that, whatever may or may not have come out, Ginger had gone in.
Victor stared at it.
Laddie sat by the door, staring hopefully at Victor.
'He's waitin',' said Gaspode.
'What for?' said Victor apprehensively.
Gaspode groaned. 'What do you think?' he said.
'Oh. Yes. There's a good boy, Laddie.'
Laddie yapped and tried to turn a somersault.
'What do we do next?' said Victor. 'I suppose we go in, do we?'
'Could be,' said Gaspode.
'Er. Or we could wait till she comes out. The fact is, I've never been very happy about darkness,' said Victor.
'I mean, night-time is OK, but pitch darkness-'
'I bet Cohen the Barbarian isn't afraid of the dark,' said Gaspode.
'And the Black Shadow of the Desert, he's not afraid of the dark either.'
'And Howondaland Smith, Balgrog Hunter, practic'ly eats the dark for his tea,' said Gaspode.
'Yes, but I'm not those people!' wailed Victor.
'Try tellin' that to all those people who handed over their pennies to watch you bein' 'em,' said Gaspode. He scratched at an insomniac flea. 'Cor, it'd be a laugh to have a handleman here now, wouldn't it?' he said, cheerfully. 'Wot a comedy feature it'd make. Mr Hero Not Goin' Into the Dark, we could call it. It'd be better'n Turkey Legs. It'd be funnier'n A Night At The Arena. I reckon people'd queue fo-'