'Looks it,' said the Archchancellor, bluntly. 'Damn great black thing. What we need around here, man, is a lot less stone and wood and a bit more jolliness. A few sportin' prints, yer know. An ornament or two.'
'I shall see to it directly,' lied the Bursar smoothly. He remembered the sheaf of papers under his arm. 'In the meantime, Master, perhaps you would care to-'
'Right,' said the Archchancellor, ramming his pointed hat on his head. 'Good man. Now, got a sick dragon to see to. Little devil hasn't touched his tar oil for days.'
'Your signature on one or two of-' the Bursar burbled hurriedly.
'Can't be havin' with all that stuff,' said the Archchancellor, waving him away. 'Too much damn paper around here as it is. And-' He stared through the Bursar, as if he had just remembered something. 'Saw a funny thing this mornin',' he said. 'Saw a monkey in the quad. Bold as brass.'
'Oh, yes,' said the Bursar, cheerfully. 'That would be the Librarian.'
'Got a pet, has he?'
'No, you misunderstand me, Archchancellor,' said the Bursar cheerfully. 'That was the Librarian.'
The Archchancellor stared at him.
The Bursar's smile began to glaze.
'The Librarian's a monkey?'
It took some time for the Bursar to explain matters clearly, and then the Archchancellor said: 'What yer tellin' me, then, is that this chap got himself turned into a monkey by magic?'
'An accident in the Library, yes. Magical explosion. One minute a human, next minute an orang-utan. And you mustn't call him a monkey, Master. He's an ape.'
'Same damn difference, surely?'
'Apparently not. He gets very, er, aggressive if you call him a monkey.'
'He doesn't stick his bottom at people, does he?'
The Bursar closed his eyes and shuddered. 'No, Master. You're thinking of baboons.'
'Ah.' The Archchancellor considered this. 'Haven't got any of them workin' here, then?'
'No, Master. Just the Librarian, Master.'
'Can't have it. Can't have it, yer know. Can't have damn great hairy things shambling around the place,' said the Archchancellor firmly. 'Get rid of him.'
'Good grief, no! He's the best Librarian we've ever had. And tremendous value for money.'
'Why? What d'we pay him?'
'Peanuts,' said the Bursar promptly. 'Besides, he's the only one who knows how the Library actually works.'
'Turn him back, then. No life for a man, bein' a monkey.'
'Ape, Archchancellor. And he seems to prefer it, I'm afraid.'
'How d'yer know?' said the Archchancellor suspiciously. 'Speaks, does he?'
The Bursar hesitated. There was always this trouble with the Librarian. Everyone had got so accustomed to him it was hard to remember a time when the Library was not run by a yellow-fanged ape with the strength of three men. If the abnormal goes on long enough it becomes the normal. It was just that, when you came to explain it to a third party, it sounded odd. He coughed nervously.
'He says “cook”, Archchancellor,' he said.
'And what's that mean?'
'Means “no”, Archchancellor.'
'And how does he say “yes”, then?'
The Bursar had been dreading this. ' “Oook”, Archchancellor,' he said.
'That was the same oook as the other oook!'
'Oh, no. No. I assure you. There's a different inflection . . . I mean, when you get used to . . . ,' the Bursar shrugged. 'I suppose we've just got into the way of understanding him, Archchancellor.'
'Well, at least he keeps himself fit,' said the Archchancellor nastily. 'Not like the rest of you fellows. I went into the Uncommon Room this morning, and it was full of chaps snoring!'
'That would be the senior masters, Master,' said the Bursar. 'I would say they are supremely fit, myself.'
'Fit? The Dean looks like a man who's swallered a bed!'
'Ah, but Master,' said the Bursar, smiling indulgently, 'the word “fit”, as I understand it, means “appropriate to a purpose”, and I would say the body of the Dean is supremely appropriate to the purpose of sitting around all day and eating big heavy meals.' The Bursar permitted himself a little smile.
The Archchancellor gave him a look so old-fashioned it might have belonged to an ammonite.
'That a joke?' he said, in the suspicious tones of someone who wouldn't really understand the term 'sense of humour' even if you sat down for an hour and explained it to him with diagrams.
'I was just making an observation, Master,' said the Bursar cautiously.
The Archchancellor shook his head. 'Can't stand jokes. Can't stand chaps goin' around tryin' to be funny the whole time. Comes of spendin' too much time sitting indoors. A few twenty-mile runs and the Dean'd be a different man.'
'Well, yes,' said the Bursar. 'He'd be dead.'
'He'd be healthy.'
'Yes, but still dead.'
The Archchancellor irritably shuffled the papers on his desk.
'Slackness,' he muttered. 'Far too much of it going on. Whole place gone to pot. People goin' round sleepin' all day and turnin' into monkeys the whole time. We never even thought of turnin' into a monkey when I was a student.' He looked up irritably.
'What was it you wanted?' he snapped.
'What?' said the Bursar, unnerved.
'You wanted me to do somethin', didn't you? You came in to ask me to do somethin'. Probably because I'm the only feller here not fast asleep or sittin' in a tree whoopin' every mornin',' the Archchancellor added.
'Er. I think that's gibbons, Archchancellor.'
'What? What? Do try and make some sense, man!'
The Bursar pulled himself together. He didn't see why he had to be treated like this.
'In fact, I wanted to see you about one of the students, Master,' he said coldly.
'Students?' barked the Archchancellor.
'Yes, Master. You know? They're the thinner ones with the pale faces? Because we're a university? They come with the whole thing, like rats-'
'I thought we paid people to deal with 'em.'
'The teaching staff. Yes. But sometimes . . . well, I wonder, Archchancellor, if you would care to look at these examination results . . . '
It was midnight - not the same midnight as before, but a very similar midnight. Old Tom, the tongueless bell in the University bell tower, had just tolled its twelve sonorous silences.
Rainclouds squeezed their last few drops over the city. Ankh-Morpork sprawled under a few damp stars, as real as a brick.
Ponder Stibbons, student wizard, put down his book and rubbed his face.
'All right,' he said. 'Ask me anything. Go on. Anything at all.'
Victor Tugelbend, student wizard, picked up his battered copy of Necrotelicomnicon Discussed for Students, with Practical Experiments and turned the pages at random. He was lying on Ponder's bed. At least, his shoulder blades were. His body extended up the wall. This is a perfectly normal position for a student taking his ease.
'OK,' he said. 'Right. OK? What, right, what is the name of the outerdimensional monster whose distinctive cry is “Yerwhatyerwhatyerwhat”?'
'Yob Soddoth,' said Ponder promptly.
'Yeah. How does the monster Tshup Aklathep, Infernal Star Toad with A Million Young, torture its victims to death?'
'It . . . don't tell me . . . it holds them down and shows them pictures of its children until their brains implode.'
'Yep. Always wondered how that happens, myself,' said Victor, flicking through the pages. 'I suppose after you've said “Yes, he's got your eyes” for the thousandth time you're about ready to commit suicide in any case.'
'You know an awful lot, Victor,' said Ponder admiringly. 'I'm amazed you're still a student.'
'Er, yes,' said Victor. 'Er. Just unlucky at exams, I guess.'
'Go on,' said Ponder, 'Ask me one more.'
Victor opened the book again.
There was a moment's silence.
Then he said, 'Where's Holy Wood?'
Ponder shut his eyes and pounded his forehead. 'Hang on, hang on . . . don't tell me . . . ' He opened his eyes. 'What do you mean, where's Holy Wood?' he added sharply. 'I don't remember anything about any Holy Wood.'
Victor stared down at the page. There was nothing about any Holy Wood there.
'I could have sworn I heard . . . I think my mind must be wandering,' he finished lamely. 'It must be all this revision.'
'Yes. It really gets to you, doesn't it? But it'll be worth it, to be a wizard.'
'Yes,' said Victor. 'Can't wait.'
Ponder shut the book.
'Rain's stopped. Let's go over the wall,' he said. 'We deserve a drink.'
Victor waggled a finger. 'Just one drink, then. Got to keep sober,' he said. 'It's Finals tomorrow. Got to keep a clear head!'
'Huh!' said Ponder.
Of course, it is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street-cleansing, fruit-picking and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact.
But Victor had a special reason for keeping alert.
He might make a mistake, and pass.
His dead uncle had left him a small fortune not to be a wizard. He hadn't realized it when he'd drawn up the will, but that's what the old man had done. He thought he was helping his nephew through college, but Victor Tugelbend was a very bright young lad in an oblique sort of way and had reasoned thusly:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a wizard? Well, you got a certain amount of prestige, but you were often in dangerous situations and certainly always at risk of being killed by a fellow mage. He saw no future in being a well-respected corpse.
On the other hand . . .
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a student wizard? You got quite a lot of free time, a certain amount of licence in matters like drinking a lot of ale and singing bawdy songs, no-one tried to kill you much except in the ordinary, everyday Ankh-Morpork way of things and, thanks to the legacy, you also got a modest but comfortable style of living. Of course, you didn't get much in the way of prestige but at least you were alive to know this.
So Victor had devoted a considerable amount of energy in studying firstly the terms of the will, the byzantine examination regulations of Unseen University, and every examination paper of the last fifty years.
The pass mark in Finals was 88.
Failing would be easy. Any idiot can fail.
Victor's uncle had been no fool. One of the conditions of the legacy was that, should Victor ever achieve a mark of less than 80, the money supply would dry up like thin spit on a hot stove.
He'd won, in a way. Few students had ever studied as hard as Victor. It was said that his knowledge of magic rivalled that of some of the top wizards. He spent hours in a comfy chair in the Library, reading grimoires. He researched answer formats and exam techniques. He listened to lectures until he could quote them by heart. He was generally considered by the staff to be the brightest and certainly the busiest student for decades and, at every Finals, he carefully and competently got a mark of 84.
It was uncanny.
The Archchancellor reached the last page.
Eventually he said: 'Ah. I see. Feel sorry for the lad, do you?'
'I don't think you quite see what I mean,' said the Bursar.
'Fairly obvious to me,' said the Archchancellor. 'Lad keeps coming within an ace of passin'.' He pulled out one of the papers. 'Anyway, it says here he passed three years ago. Got 91.'
'Yes, Archchancellor. But he appealed.'
'Appealed? Against passin'?'
'He said he didn't think the examiners had. noticed that he got the allotropes of octiron wrong in question six. He said he couldn't live with his conscience. He said it would haunt him for the rest of his days if he succeeded unfairly over better and more worthy students. You'll notice he got only 82 and 83 in the next two exams.'