'You got to admit she's a bit of a corker, though,' said the Chair.
'I'm an old man and if someone doesn't let me see very soon,' said a cracked voice behind them, 'someone's going to be feeling the wrong end of, mm, my stick, all right?'
Two of the wizards edged aside and eased the wheelchair through. Once moving, it coasted right up to the edge of the carpet, bruising any knees or ankles that stood in its way.
Poons' mouth fell open.
Ginger gripped Victor's hand.
'There's a group of fat old men in false beards waving at you over there,' she said through clenched and grinning teeth.
'Yes, I think they're wizards,' Victor grinned back.
'One of them keeps bouncing up and down in his wheelchair and shouting things like “Way-hey!” and “Whoopwhoop!” and “Hubbahubba!” '
'That's the oldest wizard in the world,' said Victor. He waved at a fat lady in the crowd, who fainted.
'Good grief! What was he like fifty years ago?'
'Well, for one thing he was eighty. Don't blow him a kiss!'
The crowd roared its approval.
'He looks sweet.'
'Just keep smiling and waving.'
'Oh, gods, look at all those people waiting to be introduced to us!'
'I can see 'em,' said Victor.
'But they're important!'
'Well, so are we. I guess.'
'Because we're us. It's like you said, that time on the beach. We're us, just as big as we can be. It's just what you wanted. We're-'
The troll at the door of the Odium gave him a hesitant salute. The thump as its hand smacked into its ear was quite audible above the roar of the crowd . . .
Gaspode waddled at high speed down an alleyway, with Laddie trotting obediently at his heels. No-one had paid them any attention when they jumped, or in Gaspode's case plopped, down from the carriage.
'All evening in some stuffy pit ain't my idea of a good night out,' muttered Gaspode. 'This is the big city. This ain't Holy Wood. You stick by me, pup, and you'll be all right. First stop, the back door of Harga's House of Ribs. They know me there. OK?'
'Good boy Laddie!'
'Yeah,' said Gaspode.
'Look at what it's wearing!' said Victor.
'Red velvet jacket with gold frogging,' said Ginger out of the corner of her mouth. 'So what? A pair of trousers would have been a good idea.'
'Oh, gods,' breathed Victor.
They stepped into the brightly-lit foyer of the Odium.
Bezam had done his best. Trolls and dwarfs had worked overnight to finish it.
There were red plush drapes, and pillars, and mirrors.
Plump cherubs and miscellaneous fruit, all painted gold, seemed to cover every surface.
It was like stepping into a box of very expensive chocolates.
Or a nightmare. Victor half expected to hear the roar of the sea, to see drapes fall away with a smear of black slime.
'Oh, gods,' he repeated.
'What's the matter with you?' said Ginger, grinning fixedly at the line of civic dignitaries waiting to be introduced to them.
'Wait and see,' said Victor hoarsely. 'It's Holy Wood! Holy Wood's been brought to Ankh-Morpork!'
'Don't you remember anything? That night in the hill? Before you woke up?'
'No. I told you.'
'Wait and see,' Victor repeated. He glanced at a decorated easel against one wall.
It said: 'Three showings a day!'
And he thought of sand dunes, and ancient myths, and lobsters.
Map-making had never been a precise art on the Discworld. People tended to start off with good intentions and then get so carried away with the spouting whales, monsters, waves and other twiddly bits of cartographic furniture that they often forgot to put the boring mountains and rivers in at all.
The Archchancellor put an overflowing ashtray on a corner that threatened to roll up. He dragged a finger across the grubby surface.
'Says here “Here be Dragons”,' he said. 'Right inside the city, too. Odd, that.'
'That's just Lady Ramkin's Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons,' said the Bursar, distractedly.
'And here there's “Terra Incognita”,' said the Archchancellor. 'Why's that?'
The Bursar craned to see. 'Well, it's probably more interesting than putting in lots of cabbage farms.'
'And there's “Here be Dragons” again.'
'I think that's just a lie, in fact.'
The Archchancellor's horny thumb continued in the direction they'd worked out. He brushed aside a couple of fly specks.
'Nothing here at all,' he said, peering closer. 'Just the sea. And-' he squinted - 'The Holy Wood. Mean anything?'
'Isn't that where the alchemists all went?' said the Bursar:
'I suppose', said the Bursar slowly, 'they wouldn't be doing some kind of magic out there?'
'Alchemists. Doing magic?'
'Sorry. Ridiculous idea, I know. The porter told me they do some sort of, oh, shadow play or something. Or puppets. Or something similar. Pictures. Or something. I wasn't really paying attention. I mean . . . alchemists. Really! I mean, assassins . . . yes. Thieves . . . yes. Even merchants . . . merchants can be really devious, sometimes. But alchemists -show me a more unworldly, bumbling, well-meaning . . . '
His voice trailed off as his ears caught up with his mouth.
'They wouldn't dare, would they?' he said.
The Bursar gave a hollow laugh. 'No-o-o. They wouldn't dare! They know we'd be down on them like a ton of bricks if they tried any magic round here . . . ' His voice trailed off again.
'I'm sure they wouldn't,' he said.
'I mean, even that far away,' he said.
'They wouldn't dare,' he said.
'Not magic. Surely not?' he said.
'I've never trusted those grubby-handed bastards!' he said. 'They're not like us, you know. They've got no idea of proper dignity!'
The crowd surging around the box office was getting deeper and more angry by the minute.
'Well, have you gone through all your pockets?' demanded the Chair.
'Yes!' muttered the Dean.
'Have another look, then.'
As far as wizards were concerned, paying to get into anything was something that happened to other people. A pointy hat usually did nicely.
While the Dean struggled, the Chair beamed madly at the young woman who was selling tickets. 'But I assure you, dear lady,' he said desperately, 'we are wizards.'
'I can see your false beards,' said the girl, and sniffed. 'We get all sorts in here. How do I know you aren't three little boys in your dad's coat?'
'I've got two dollars and fifteen pence,' said the Dean, picking the coins out of a handful of fluff and mysterious occult objects.
'That's two in the stalls, then,' said the girl, grudgingly unreeling two tickets. The Chair scooped them up.
'Then I'll take Windle in,' he said quickly, turning to the others. 'I'm afraid the rest of you had better get back to your honest trading.' He moved his eyebrows up and down suggestively.
'I don't see why we should-' the Dean began.
'Otherwise we'll be in arrears,' the Chair went on, mugging furiously. 'If you don't get back.'
'See here, that was my money, and-' the Dean said, but the Lecturer in Recent Runes grabbed his arm.
'Just come along,' he said, winked slowly and deliberately at the Chair. 'Time we were getting back.'
'I don't see why-'the Dean gurgled, as they dragged him off.
Grey clouds swirled in the Archchancellor's magic mirror. Many wizards had them, but not many ever bothered to use them. They were quirky and unreliable. They weren't even much good for shaving in.
Ridcully was surprisingly adept at using one.
'Stalkin',' he offered as a brief explanation. 'Couldn't be having with all that crawlin' around in damp bracken for hours, bigods. Help yourself to a drink, man. And one for me.'
The clouds flickered.
'Can't seem to see anything else,' he said. 'Odd, that. Just fog, flashing away.
The Archchancellor coughed. It was beginning to dawn on the Bursar that, against all expectation, the Archchancellor was quite bright.
'Ever seen one of these shadow moving puppet play picture things?' Ridcully asked.
'The servants go,' said the Bursar. This, Ridcully decided, meant 'no'.
'I think we should have a look,' he said.
'Very well, Archchancellor,' said the Bursar, meekly.
An inviolable rule about buildings for the showing of moving pictures, applicable throughout the multiverse, is that the ghastliness of the architecture around the back is inversely proportional to the gloriousness of the architecture in the front. At the front: pillars, arches, gold leaf, lights. At the back: weird ducts, mysterious prolapses of pipework, blank walls, fetid alleys.
And the window to the lavatories.
'There's no reason at all why we should have to do this,' moaned the Dean, as the wizards struggled in the darkness.
'Shut up and keep pushing,' muttered the Lecturer in Recent Runes, from the other side of the window.
'We should have changed something into money,' said the Dean. 'Just a quick illusion. Where's the harm in that?'
'It's called watering the currency,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'You can get thrown into the scorpion pit for stuff' like that. Where am I putting my feet? Where am I putting my feet?'
'You're fine,' said a wizard. 'Right, Dean. Up you come.'
'Oh, dear,' moaned the Dean, as he was dragged through the narrow window into the unmentionable gloom beyond. 'No good will come of this.'
'Just watch where you're putting your feet. Now see what you've done? Didn't I tell you to watch where you were putting your feet? Anyway, come on.'
The wizards skulked, or in the Dean's case, squelched furtively through the backstage area and into the darkened, bustling auditorium, where Windle Poons was keeping some seats free by the simple expedient of waving his stick at anyone who came near them. They sidled in, tripping over one another's legs, and sat down.
They stared at the shadowy grey rectangle at the other end of the hall.
After a while the Chair said, 'Can't see what people see in it, myself.'
'Has anyone done “Deformed Rabbit”?' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
'It hasn't started yet,' hissed the Dean.
'I'm hungry,' complained Poons. 'I'm an old man, mm, and I'm hungry.'
'Do you know what he did?' said the Chair. 'Do you know what the old fool did? When a young lady with a torch was showing us to our seats he pinched her on the . . . the fundament!'
Poons sniggered. 'Hubba-hubba! Does your mother know you're out?' he cackled.
'It's all too much for him,' the Chair complained. 'We never should have brought him.'
'Do you realize we're missing our dinner?' said the Dean.
The wizards fell silent at this. A stout woman edging past Poons' wheelchair suddenly started and looked around suspiciously and saw nothing except a dear old man, obviously fast asleep.
'And it's goose on Tuesdays,' said the Dean.
Poons opened one eye and honked the horn on his wheelchair.
'Tantarabobs! How's your granny off for soap!' he muttered triumphantly.
'See what I mean?' said the Chair. 'He doesn't know what century it is.'
Poons turned a beady black eye on him.
'Old I am, mm, and daft I may be,' he said, 'but I ain't goin' to be hungry.' He rummaged around in the unspeakable depths of the wheelchair and produced a greasy black bag. It jingled. 'I saw a young lady up the front a-selling of special moving-picture food,' he said.
'You mean you had money all the time?' said the Dean. 'And you never told us?'
'You never asked,' said Poons.
The wizards stared hungrily at the bag.
'They be having buttered banged grains and sausages in buns and chocolate things with things on and things,' said Poons. He gave them a toothless and crafty look. 'You can have some too, if you like,' he added graciously.