Soul Music Page 38

'Can't say, sir,' said Satchelmouth. He looked around at the glistening, staring, hungry faces, feeling like an atheist who has wandered into Holy Communion. The applause went on. It redoubled again when Buddy slowly raised his hands to the guitar. 'He's not doing anything!' screamed Clete. 'He's got us bang to rights, sir,' Satchelmouth bellowed. 'He's not guilty of playing without belonging to the Guild if he doesn't play!' Buddy looked up. He stared at the audience so intently that Clete craned to see what it was the wretched boy was staring at. It was nothing. There was a patch of it right in front of the stage. People were packed tight everywhere else but there, right in front of the stage, was a little area of cleared grass. It seemed to rivet Buddy's attention. 'Uh-huh-huh . . .' Clete rammed his hands over his ears but the force of the cheering made his head echo.

And then, very gradually, layer by layer, it died away. It yielded to the sound of thousands of people being very quiet, which was somehow, Satchelmouth thought, a lot more dangerous. Glod glanced at Cliff, who made a face. Buddy was still standing, staring at the audience. If he doesn't play, Glod thought, then we've had it. He hissed at Asphalt, who sidled over. 'Is the cart ready?'

'Yes, Mr Glod.'

'You filled up the horses with oats?'

'Just like you said, Mr Glod.'

'OK.' The silence was velvet. And it had that quality of suction found in the Patrician's study and in holy places and deep canyons, engendering in people a terrible desire to shout or sing or yell their name. It was a silence that demanded: fill me up. Somewhere in the darkness, someone coughed. Asphalt heard his name hissed from the side of the stage. With extreme reluctance he sidled over to the darkness, where Dibbler was frantically beckoning him. 'You know that bag?' said Dibbler. 'Yes, Mr Dibbler. I put it-' Dibbler held up two small but very heavy sacks. 'Tip these in and be ready to leave in a big hurry.'

'Yes, that's right, Mr Dibbler, because Glod said-'

'Do it now!' Glod looked around. If I throw away the horn and helmet and this chain mail shirt, he thought, I might just get out of here alive. What's he doing? Buddy put down the guitar and walked into the wings. He returned before the audience had realized what was happening. He was carrying the harp. He stood facing the audience. Glod, who was closest to him, heard him murmur: 'Just once? Cwm on? Just one more time? And then I'llll do whatefer you want, see? I'llll pay for it.' There were a few faint chords from the guitar. Buddy said, 'I mean it, see.' There was another chord. 'Just once.' Buddy smiled at an empty space in the audience, and began to play. Every note was sharp as a bell and as simple as sunlight - so that in the prism of the brain it broke up and flashed into a million colours. Glod's mouth hung open. And then the music unfolded in his head. It wasn't Music With Rocks In, although it used the same doors. The fall of the notes conjured up memories of the mine where he'd been born, and dwarf bread just like Mum used to hammer out on her anvil, and the moment when he'd first realized that he'd fallen in love.[29] He remembered life in the caves under Copperhead, before the city had called him, and more than anything else he wanted to be home. He'd never realized that humans could sing hole. Cliff laid aside his hammers. The same notes crept into his corroded ears, but in his mind they became quarries and moorlands. He told himself, as emotion filled his head with its smoke, that right after this he was going to go back and see how his old mum was, and never leave ever again. Mr Dibbler found his own mind spawning strange and disturbing thoughts. They involved things you couldn't sell and shouldn't pay for . . . The Lecturer in Recent Runes thumped the crystal ball.

'The sound is a bit tinny,' he said. 'Get out of the way, I can't see,' said the Dean. Recent Runes sat down again. They stared at the little image. 'This doesn't sound like Music With Rocks In,' said the Bursar 'Shut up,' said the Dean. He blew his nose. It was sad music. But it waved the sadness like a battle flag. It said the universe had done all it could but you were still alive. The Dean, who was as impressionable as a dollop of warm wax, wondered if he could learn to play the harmonica. The last note faded. There was no applause. The audience sagged a little, as each individual came down from whatever reflective corner they'd been occupying. One or two of them murmured things like 'Yeah, that's how it is', or 'You an' me both, brother'. A lot of people blew their noses, sometimes on other people. And then reality snuck back in, as it always does. Glod heard Buddy say, very quietly, 'Thank you.' The dwarf leaned sideways and said, out of the corner of his mouth: 'What was that?' Buddy seemed to shake himself awake. 'What? Oh. It's called Sioni Bod Da. What do you think?'

'It's got . . . hole,' said Glod. 'It's definitely got hole.' Cliff nodded. When you're a long way from the old familiar mine or mountain, when you're lost among strangers, when you're just a great big aching nothingness inside . . . only then can you really sing hole. 'She's watching us,' whispered Buddy. 'The invisible girl?' said Glod, staring at the empty grass. 'Yes.'

'Ah, yes. I can definitely not see her. Good. And now, if you don't play Music With Rocks In this time, we're dead.' Buddy picked up the guitar. The strings trembled under his fingers. He felt elated. He'd been allowed to play it in front of them. Everything else was unimportant now. Whatever happened next didn't matter. 'You ain't heard nothing yet,' he said. He stamped his foot. 'One, two, one two three four-' Glod had time to recognize the tune before the music took him. He'd heard it only a few seconds before. But now it swung. Ponder peered into his box. 'I think we're trapping this, Archchancellor,' he said, 'but I don't know what it is.' Ridcully nodded, and scanned the audience. They were listening with their mouths open. The harp had scoured their souls, and now the guitar was hot-wiring their spines. And there was an empty patch near the stage. Ridcully put a hand over one eye and focused until the other eye watered. Then he smiled. He turned to look at the Musicians' Guild and saw, to his horror, that Satchelmouth was raising a crossbow. He seemed to be doing it with reluctance; Mr Clete was prodding him. Ridcully raised a finger and appeared to scratch his nose. Even above the sound of the playing he heard the twang as the crossbow's string broke and, to his secret delight, a yelp from Mr Clete as a loose end caught his ear. He hadn't even thought of that. 'I'm just an old softy, that's my trouble,' Ridcully said to himself. 'Hat. Hat. Hat.'

'You know, this was an extremely good idea,' said the Bursar, as the tiny images moved in the crystal ball. 'What an excellent way to see things. Could we perhaps have a look at the Opera House?'

'How about the Skunk Club in Brewer Street?' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Why?' said the Bursar. 'Just a thought,' said the Senior Wrangler quickly. 'I've never been in there at all in any way, you understand.'

'We really shouldn't be doing this,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. ' It's really not a proper use of a magic crystal-'

'I can't think of a better use of a magic crystal,' said the Dean, 'than to see people playing Music With Rocks In.' The Duck Man, Coffin Henry, Arnold Sideways, Foul Ole Ron and Foul Ole Ron's Smell and Foul Ole Ron's dog ambled around the edges of the crowd. Pickings had been particularly good. They always were when Dibbler's hot dogs were on sale. There were some things people wouldn't eat even under the influence of Music With Rocks In. There were some things even mustard couldn't disguise. Arnold gathered up the scraps and put them in a basket on his trolley. There was going to be the prince of a primal soup under the bridge tonight. The music had poured over them. They ignored it. Music With Rocks In was the stuff of dreams, and there were no dreams under the bridge. Then they'd stopped and listened, as new music poured out over the park and took every man and woman and thing by the hand and showed him or her or it the way home. The beggars stood and listened, mouths open. Some-one looking from face to face, if anyone did look at the invisible beggars, would have had to turn away . . . Except from Mr Scrub. You couldn't turn away there. When the band were playing Music With Rocks In again, the beggars got back down to earth. Except for Mr Scrub. He just stood and stared. The last note rang out. Then, as the tsunami of applause began to roll, The Band ran off into the darkness. Dibbler watched happily from the wings at the other side of the stage. He'd been a bit worried for a while there, but it all seemed back on course now. Someone tugged at his sleeve. 'What're they doing, Mr Dibbler?' Dibbler turned. 'Scum, isn't it?' he said. 'It's Crash, Mr Dibbler.'

'What they're doing, Scum, is not giving the audience what they want,' said Dibbler. 'Superb business practice. Wait till they're screaming for it, and then take it away. You wait. By the time the crowd is stamping its feet they'll come prancing back on again. Superb timing. When you learn that sort of trick, Scum-'

'It's Crash, Mr Dibbler.'

'-then maybe you'll know how to play Music With Rocks In. Music With Rocks In, Scum-'

'-Crash- '. . . isn't just music,' said Dibbler, pulling some cotton wool out of his ears. 'It's lots of things. Don't ask me how.' Dibbler lit a cigar. The din made the match flame flicker. 'Any minute now,' he said. 'You'll see.' There was a fire that had been made of old boots and mud. A grey shape circled it, snuffling excitedly. 'Get on, get on, get on!'

'Mr Dibbler's not going to like this,' moaned Asphalt. 'Tough one for Mr Dibbler,' said Glod, as they hauled Buddy into the cart. 'Now I want to see those hoofs spark, know what I mean?'

'Head for Quirm,' said Buddy, as the cart jerked into motion. He didn't know why. It just seemed the right destination. 'Not a good idea,' said Glod. 'People'll probably want to ask questions about that cart I pulled out of the swimming pool.'

'Head towards Quirm!'

'Mr Dibbler's really not going to like this,' said Asphalt, as the cart swung out on to the road. 'Any . . . moment . . . now,' said Dibbler. 'I expect so,' said Crash, 'because they're stamping their feet, I think.' There was indeed a certain thumping under the cheers. 'You wait,' said Dibbler. 'They'll judge it just right. No problem. Akk!'

'You're supposed to put your cigar in your mouth the other way round, Mr Dibbler,' said Crash meekly. 'Oh, shut up,' said Glod. 'I don't know what he's got not to like.'

'Well, for a start,' said Asphalt, 'the main thing, the thing he won't like most, is . . . um . . . we've got the money . . .' Cliff reached down under the seat. There was a dull, clinking noise, of the sort made by a lot of gold keeping nice and quiet. The waxing moon lit the landscape as the cart bounced out of the gates and along the Quirm road. 'How did you know I'd got the cart made ready?' said Glod, as they landed after a brief flight. 'I didn't,' said Buddy. 'But you ran out!'



'It was . . . just . . . time.'

'Why'd you want to go to Quirm?' said Cliff. 'I . . . I can get a boat home, can't I?' said Buddy. 'That's right. A boat home.' Glod glanced at the guitar. This felt wrong. It couldn't just end . . . and then they'd just walk away . . . He shook his head. What could go wrong now? 'Mr Dibbler's really not going to like this,' moaned Asphalt. The stage was trembling with the vibration of the stamping. There was some shouting now. Dibbler turned to Crash and grinned horribly. 'Hey, I've just had a great idea,' he said. A tiny shape swarmed up the road from the river. Ahead of it, the lights of the stage glowed in the dusk. The Archchancellor nudged Ponder, and flourished his staff. 'Now,' he said, 'if there's a sudden rip in reality and horrible screaming Things come through, our job is to-' He scratched his head. 'What is it the Dean says? Kick a righteous donkey?'

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