Eric Page 6

“Well?” said Eric.

“Well what?” said Rincewind.

“Tell him to give me my tribute.”

The fat man got down ponderously, marched over to Eric and, to Rincewind's extreme surprise, groveled.

Rincewind felt something claw its way up his back and onto his shoulder, where a voice like a sheet of metal being torn in half said, "That's better. Very wossname, comfy. If

you try and knock me off, demon, you can wossname your ear goodbye. What a turn up for the scrolls, eh? They seemed to be expecting him.“ ”Why do you keep saying wossname?" said Rincewind.

“Limited wossname. Doodah. Thingy. You know. It's got words in it,” said the parrot. “Dictionary?” said Rincewind. They passengers in the other chariots had got out and were also groveling to Eric, who was beaming like an idiot.

The parrot considered this.

“Yeah, probably,” it said. “I've got to wing it to you,” it went on. “I thought you were a bit of a wossname at the start, but you seem to be delivering the wossname.” “Demon?” said Eric, airily. “Yes?” “What are they saying? Can't you speak their language?” “Er, no,” said Rincewind. “I can read it, though,” he called out, as Eric turned away. "If

you could just sort of make signs for them to write it down..."

It was around noon. In the jungle behind Rincewind creatures whooped and gibbered. Mosquitoes the size of humming-birds whined around his head.

“Of course,” he said, for the tenth time, “They've never really got around to inventing paper.”

The stonemason stood bake, handed the latest blunted obsidian chisel to his assistant, and gave Rincewind and expectant look.

Rincewind stood back and examined the rock critically.

“It's very good,” he said. “I mean, it's a very good likeness. You've got his hairstyle and everything. Of course, he's not as, er, square as that normally but, yes, very good. And here's the chariot and there's the step-pyramids. Yes. Well, it looks as though they want you to go to the city with them,” he said to Eric.

“Tell them yes,” said Eric firmly. Rincewind turned to the headman. “Yes,” he said. “¿[Hunched-figure-in-triple-feathered-headdress-over-three-dots]?” Rincewind sighed. Without saying a word, the stonemason put a fresh stone chisel into

his unresisting fingers and manhandled a new slab of granite into position. One of the problems of being a Tezuman, apart from having a god like Quezovercoatl, is that if you unexpectedly need to order an extra pint of milk tomorrow you should have started writing the note last month. Tezumen are the only people who beat themselves to death with their own suicide notes.

It was late afternoon by the time the chariot trotted into the slab city around the largest

pyramid, between lines of cheering Tezumen. “This is more like it,” said Eric, graciously acknowledging the cheers. “They're very pleased to see us.”

“Yes,” said Rincewind, gloomily. “I wonder why?” “Well, because I'm the new ruler, of course.” “Hmm.” Rincewind glanced sidelong at the parrot, who had been unnaturally silent for

some time and was now cowering up against his ear like an elderly spinster in a strip

club. It was having serious thoughts about the exquisite feather headdresses. “Wossname bastards,” it croaked. “Any wossname lays a hand on me and that wossname is minus one finger, I'm telling you.”

“There's something not right about this,” said Rincewind. “What's that?”


“I'm telling you, one feather out of place -”

Rincewind wasn't used to people being pleased to see him. It was unnatural, and boded no good. These people were not only cheering, they were throwing flowers and hats. The hats were made out of stone, but the thought was there.

Rincewind thought they were rather odd hats. They didn't have crowns. They were, in fact, mere discs with holes in the middle.

The procession trotted up the wide avenues of the city to a cluster of buildings at the foot of the pyramid, where another group of dignitaries was waiting for them.

They were wearing lots of jewelry. It was all basically the same. There are quite a lot of uses to which you can put a stone disc with a hole in the middle, and the Tezumen had explored all but one of them.

More important, though, were the boxes and boxes of treasure stacked in front of them. They were stuffed with jewels.

Eric's eyes widened.

“The tribute!” he said.

Rincewind gave up. It was really working. He didn't know why, but at last it was all going Right. The setting sun glinted off a dozen fortunes. Of course, it belonged to Eric, presumably, but maybe there was enough for him too...

“Naturally,” he said weakly. “What else did you expect?”

And there was feasting, and long speeches that Rincewind couldn't understand but which were punctuated with cheers and nods and bows in Eric's direction. And there were long recitals of Tezuman music, which sounds like someone clearing a particularly difficult nostril.

Rincewind left Eric sitting proudly enthroned in the firelight and wandered disconsolately across to the pyramid.

“I was enjoying the wossname,” said the parrot reproachfully.

“I can't settle down,” said Rincewind. “I'm sorry, but this sort of thing has never happened to me before. All the jewels and things. Everything going as expected. It's not right.”

He looked up the monstrous face of the steep pyramid, red and flickering in the firelight. Every huge block was carved with a bas-relief of Tezumen doing terribly inventive things to their enemies. It suggested that the Tezumen, whatever sterling qualities they possessed, were not traditionally inclined to welcome perfect strangers and heap them with jewels. The overall effect of the great heap of carvings was very artistic - it was just the details that were horrible.

While working his way along the wall he came to a huge door, which artistically portrayed a group of prisoners apparently being given a complete medical check-up*. (*From a distance it did, anyway. Close to, no.)

It opened into a short, torch-lit tunnel. Rincewind took a few steps along it, telling himself he could always hurry out again, and came out into a lofty space which occupied most of the inside of the pyramid.

There were more torches all around the walls, which illuminated everything quite well.

That wasn't really welcome because what they mainly illuminated was a giant-sized statue of Quezovercoatl, the Feathered Boa.

If you had to be in a room with that statue, you'd prefer it to be pitch black.

Or, then again, perhaps not. A better option would be to put the thing in a darkened room while you had insomnia a thousand miles away, trying to forget what it looked like.

It's just a statue, Rincewind told himself. It's not real. They've just used their imagination, that's all.

“What the wossname is it?” said the parrot.

“It's their god.”

“Get a way?”

"No, really. It's Quezovercoatl. Half man, half chicken, half jaguar, half serpent, half

scorpion and half mad."

The parrot's beak moved as it worked this out. “That makes a wossname total of three homicidal maniacs,” it said. “About right, yes,” said the statue. “On the other hand,” said Rincewind instantly, "I do think it's frightfully important for

people to have the right to worship in their own special way, and now I think we'll just be going, so just -"

“Please don't leave me here,” said the statue. “Please take me with you.” “Could be tricky, could be tricky,” Rincewind said hurriedly, backing away. “It's not me, you understand, it's just that where I come from everyone has this racial prejudice against thirty-foot-high people with fangs and talons and necklaces of skulls all over them. I just think you'll have trouble fitting in.”

The parrot tweaked his ear. “It's coming from behind the statue, you stupid wossname,”

it croaked. It turned out to be coming from a hole in the floor. A pale face peered short-sightedly up at Rincewind from the depths of a pit. It was an elderly, good-natured face with a faintly worried expression.

“Hallo?” said Rincewind.

“You don't know what it means to hear a friendly voice again,” said the face, breaking into a grin. “If you could just sort of help me up...?” “Sorry?” said Rincewind. “You're a prisoner, are you?” “Alas, this is so.” “I don't know that I ought to go around rescuing prisoners just like that,” said

Rincewind. “I mean, you might have done anything.” “I am entirely innocent of all crimes, I assure you.”

“Ah, well, so you say,” said Rincewind gravely. “But if the Tezumen have judged -”

“Wossname, wossname, wossname!” shrieked the parrot in his ear as it bounced up and down on his shoulder. “Haven't you got the faintest? Where've you been? He's a prisoner! A prisoner in a temple! You've got to rescue prisoners in temples! That's what they're bloody there for!”

“No it isn't,” snapped Rincewind. “That's all you know! He's probably here to be sacrificed! Isn't that right?” He looked at the prisoner for confirmation.

The face nodded. “Indeed, you are correct. Flayed alive in fact.” “There!” said Rincewind to the parrot. “See? You think you know everything! He's to be flayed alive.”

“Every inch of skin removed to the accompaniment of exquisite pain,” added the

prisoner, helpfully. Rincewind paused. He thought he knew the meaning of the word “exquisite”, and it didn't seem to belong anywhere near “pain”.

“What, every bit?” he said. “This is apparently the case.” “Gosh. What was it you did?” The prisoner sighed. “You'd never believe me...” he said.

The Demon King let the mirror darken and drummed his fingers on his desk for a moment. Then he picked up a speaking tube and blew into it. Eventually a distant voice said: “Yes, guv?” “Yes sir!” snapped the King The distant voice muttered something. “Yes, SIR?” it added.

“Do we have a Quezovercoatl working here?”

“I'll see, guv.” The voice faded, came back. “Yes, guv.”

“Is he a Duke, Earl, Count or Baron?” said the King. “No, guv.” “Well, what is he?” There was a long silence at the other end. “Well?” said the King “He's no-one much, guv” The King glared at the tube for some time. You try, he thought. You make proper plans,

you try to get organised, you try to help people, and this is what you get. “Send him to see me,” he said.

Outside, the music rose to a crescendo and stopped. The fires crackled. From the distant

jungles a thousand glowing eyes watched the proceedings. The high priest stood up and made a speech. Eric beamed like a pumpkin. A long line of Tezumen brought baskets of jewels which they scattered before him.

Then the high priest made a second speech. This one seemed to end in a question.

“Fine,” said Eric. “Jolly good. Keep it up.” He scratched his ear and ventured, “You can all have a half holiday.” The high priest repeated the question again, in a slightly impatient tone of voice. “I'm the one, yes,” said Eric, just in case they were unclear. “You've got it exactly right.” The high priest spoke again. This time there was no slightly about it.

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