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Hogfather

Hogfather

Page 17


'What, turkey and chicken and that?'

'A fast, Corporal Nobbs. We don't eat anything.'

'Oh, right. Well, each to his own, I s'pose. And at least you don't have to get up early in the morning and find that the nothing you've got is too big to fit in the oven. No presents neither?' They stood aside hurriedly as two children scuttled down the stairs carrying a large toy boat between them.

'It is sometimes appropriate to exchange new religious pamphlets, and of course there are usually copies of the Book of Ossory for the children,' said Constable Visit. 'Sometimes with illustrations,' he added, in the guarded way of a man hinting at licentious pleasures. A small girl went past carrying a teddy bear larger than herself. It was pink. 'They always gives me bath salts,' complained Nobby. 'And bath soap and bubble bath and herbal bath lumps and tons of bath stuff and I can't think why, 'cos it's not as if I hardly ever has a bath. You'd think they'd take the hint, wouldn't you?'

'Abominable, I call it,' said Constable Visit. The first floor was a mob. 'Huh, look at them. Mr Hogfather never brought me anything when I was a kid,' said Corporal Nobbs, eyeing the children gloomily. 'I used to hang up my stocking every Hogswatch, regular. All that ever happened was my dad was sick in it once.' He removed his helmet. Nobby was not by any measure a hero, but there was the sudden gleam in his eye of someone who'd seen altogether too many empty stockings plus one rather full and dripping one. A scab had been knocked off some wound in the corrugated little organ of his soul. 'I'm going in,' he said. In between the University's Great Hall and its main door is a rather smaller circular hall or vestibule known as Archchancellor Bowell's Remembrance, although no one now knows why, or why an extant bequest pays. for one small currant bun and one copper penny to be placed on a high stone shelf on one wall every second Wednesday. 15 Ridcully stood in the middle of the floor, looking upwards. 'Ten me, Senior Wrangler, we never invited any women to the Hogswatchnight Feast, did we?'

'Of course not, Archchancellor,' said the Senior Wrangler. He looked up in the dust-covered rafters, wondering what had caught Ridcully's eye. 'Good heavens, no. They'd spoil everything. I've always said so.'

'And all the maids have got the evening off until midnight?'

'A very generous custom, I've always said,' said the Senior Wrangler, feeling his neck crick. 'So why, every year, do we hang a damn great bunch of mistletoe up there?' The Senior Wrangler turned in a circle, still staring upwards. 'Welt er ... it's ... well, it's ... it's symbolic, Archchancellor.'

'Ah?' The Senior Wrangler felt that something more was expected. He groped around in the dusty attics of his education. 'Of ... the leaves, d'y'see ... they're symbolic of ... of green, d'y'see whereas the berries, in fact, yes, the berries symbolize . . . symbolize white. Yes. White and green. Very ... symbolic.' He waited. He was not, unfortunately, disappointed. 'What of?' The Senior Wrangler coughed. 'I'm not sure there has to be an of,' he said. 'Ah? So,' said the Archchancellor, thoughtfully, 'it could be said that. the white and green symbolize a small parasitic plant?'

'Yes, indeed,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'So mistletoe, in fact, symbolizes mistletoe?'

'Exactly, Archchancellor,' said the Senior Wrangler, who was now just hanging on. 15 The ceremony still carries on, of course. If you left off traditions because you didn't know why they started you'd be no better than a foreigner.

'Funny thing, that,' said Ridcully, in the same thoughtful tone of voice. 'That statement is either so deep it would take a lifetime to fully comprehend every particle of its meaning, or it is a load of absolute tosh. Which is it, I wonder?'

'It could be both,' said the Senior Wrangler desperately. 'And that comment,' said Ridcully, 'is either very perceptive, or very trite.'

'It might be bo--'

'Don't push it, Senior Wrangler.' There was a hammering on the outer door. 'Ah, that'll be the wassailers,' said the Senior Wrangler, happy for the distraction. 'They call on us first every year. I personally have always liked “The Lily-white Boys”, you know.' The Archchancellor glanced up at the mistletoe, gave the beaming man a sharp look, and opened the little hatch in the door. 'Well, now, wassailing you fellows-' he began. 'Oh. Well, I must say you might've picked a better time . . .' A hooded figure stepped through the wood of the door, carrying a limp bundle over its shoulder. The Senior Wrangler stepped backwards quickly. 'Oh ... no, not tonight . . .’ And then he noticed that what he had taken for a robe had lace around the bottom, and the hood, while quite definitely a hood, was nevertheless rather more stylish than the one he had first mistaken it for. 'Putting down or taking away?' said Ridcully. Susan pushed back her hood. 'I need your help, Mr Ridcully,' she said. 'You're . . . aren't you Death's granddaughter?' said Ridcully. 'Didn't I meet you a few---'

'Yes,' sighed Susan. 'And ... are you helping out?' said Ridcully. His waggling eyebrows indicated the slumbering figure over her shoulder. 'I need you to wake him up,' said Susan. 'Some sort of miracle, you mean?' said the Senior Wrangler, who was a little behind. 'He's not dead,' said Susan. 'He's just resting.'

'That's what they all say,' the Senior Wrangler quavered. Ridcully, who was somewhat more practical, lifted the oh god's head. There was a groan. 'Looks a bit under the weather,' he said. 'He's the God of Hangovers,' said Susan. 'The Oh God of Hangovers.'

'Really?' said Ridcully. 'Never had one of those myself. Funny thing, I can drink all night and feel as fresh as a daisy in the morning.' The oh god's eyes opened. Then he soared towards Ridcully and started beating him on the chest with both fists. 'You utter, utter bastard! I hate you hate you hate you hate you-' His eyes shut, and he slid down to the floor. 'What was all that about?' said Ridcully. 'I think it was some kind of nervous reaction,' said Susan diplomatically. 'Something nasty's happening tonight. I'm hoping he can tell me what it is. But he's got to be able to think straight first.'

'And you brought him here?' said Ridcully. HO. HO. HO. YES INDEED, HELLO, SMALL CHILD CALLED VERRUCA LUMPY, WHAT A LOVELY NAME, AGED SEVEN, I BELIEVE? GOOD. YES, I KNOW IT DID. ALL OVER THE NICE CLEAN FLOOR, YES. THEY DO, YOU KNOW. THAT's ONE OF

THE THINGS ABOUT REAL PIGS. HERE WE ARE, DON'T MENTION IT. HAPPY HOGSWATCH AND BE GOOD. I WILL KNOW IF YOU'RE GOOD OR BAD, YOU KNOW. HO. HO. HO. 'Well, you brought some magic into that little life,' said Albert, as the next child was hurried away. IT'S THE EXPRESSION ON THEIR LITTLE FACES I LIKE, said the Hogfather. 'You mean sort of fear and awe and not knowing whether to laugh or cry or wet their pants?' YES. NOW THAT IS WHAT I CALL BELIEF. The oh god was carried into the Great Hall and laid out on a bench. The senior wizards gathered round, ready to help those less fortunate than themselves remain that way. 'I know what's good for a hangover,' said the Dean, who was feeling in a party mood. They looked at him expectantly. 'Drinking heavily the previous night!' he said. He beamed at them. 'That was a good word joke,' he said, to break the silence. The silence came back. 'Most amusing,' said Ridcully. He turned back and stared thoughtfully at the oh god. 'Raw eggs are said to be good----' he glared at the Dean '-I mean bad for a hangover,' he said. 'And fresh orange juice.' - 'Klatchian coffee,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes, firmly. 'But this fellow hasn't just got his hangover, he's got everyone's hangover,' said Ridcully. 'I've tried it,' mumbled the oh god. 'It just makes me feel suicidal and sick.'

'A mixture of mustard and horseradish?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'In cream, for preference. With anchovies.'

'Yoghurt' said the Bursar. Ridcully looked at him, surprised. 'That sounded almost relevant,' he said. 'Well done. I should leave it at that if I were you, Bursar. Hmm. Of course, my uncle always used to swear at Wow-Wow Sauce,' he added. 'You mean swear by, surely?' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'Possibly both,' said Ridcully. 'I know he once drank a whole bottle of it as a hangover cure and it certainly seemed to cure him. He looked very peaceful when they came to lay him out.'

'Willow bark' said the Bursar. 'That's a good idea,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'It's an analgesic.'

'Really? Well, possibly, though it's probably better to give it to him by mouth,' said Ridcully. 'I say, are you feeling yourself, Bursar? You seem somewhat coherent.' The oh god opened his crusted eyes. 'Will all that stuff help?' he mumbled. 'It'll probably kill you,' said Susan. 'Oh. Good.'

'We could add Englebert's Enhancer,' said the Dean. 'Remember when Modo put some on his peas? We could only manage one each!'

'Can't you do something more, well, magical?' said Susan. 'Magic the alcohol out of him or something?'

'Yes, but it's not alcohol by this time, is it?' said Ridcully. 'It'll have turned into a lot of nasty little poisons all dancin' round on his liver.'

'Spold's Unstirring Divisor would do it,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'Very simply, too. You'd end up with a large beaker full of all the nastiness. Not difficult at all, if you don't mind the side effects.'

'Tell me about the side effects,' said Susan, who had met wizards before.

'The main one is that the rest of him would end up in a somewhat larger beaker,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'Alive?' The Lecturer in Recent Runes screwed up his face and waggled his hands. 'Broadly, yes,' he said. 'Living tissue, certainly. And definitely sober.'

'I think we had in mind something that would leave him the same shape and still breathing,' said Susan. 'Well, you might've said . . .' Then the Dean repeated the mantra that has had such a marked effect on the progress of knowledge throughout the ages. 'Why don't we just mix up absolutely everything and see what happens?' he said. And Ridcully responded with the traditional response. 'It's got to be worth a try,' he said. The big glass beaker for the cure had been placed on a pedestal in the middle of the floor. The wizards liked to make a ceremony of everything in any case, but felt instinctively that if they were going, to cure the biggest hangover in the world it needed to be done with style. Susan and Bilious watched as the ingredients were added. Round about halfway the mixture, which was an orange-brown colour, went gloop. 'Not a lot of improvement, I feel,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Englebert's Enhancer was the penultimate ingredient. The Dean dropped in a greenish ball of light that sank under the surface. The only apparent effect was that it caused purple bubbles to creep over the sides of the beaker and drip onto the floor. 'That's it?' said the oh god. 'I think the yoghurt probably wasn't a good idea,' said the Dean. 'I'm not drinking that,' said Bilious firmly, and then clutched at his head. 'But gods are practically unkillable, aren't they?' said the Dean. 'Oh, good,' muttered Bilious. 'Why not stick my legs in a meat grinder, then?'

'Well, if you think it might help---'

'I anticipated a certain amount of resistance from the patient,' said the Archchancellor. He removed his hat and fished out a small crystal ball from a pocket in the lining. 'Let's see what the God of Wine is up to at the moment, shall we? Shouldn't be too difficult to locate a funloving god like him on an evening like this . . .' He blew on the glass and polished it. Then he brightened up. 'Why, here he is, the little rascal! On Dunmanifestin, I do believe. Yes ... yes ... reclining on his couch, surrounded by naked maenads.'

'What? Maniacs?' said the Dean. 'He means ... excitable young women,' said Susan. And it seemed to her that there was a general ripple of movement among the wizards, a sort of nonchalant drawing towards the glittering ball. 'Can't quite see what he's doing said Ridcully. 'Let me see if I can make it out,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies hopefully. Ridcully half turned to keep the ball out of his reach. 'Ah., yes,' he said. 'It looks like he's drinking . . . yes, could very wen be lager and blackcurrant, if I'm any judge . . .'

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