THE UNEXPECTED PART
In a hole, in a highly desirable and sought-after portion of the ground (the hole two doors along went for three hundred thou last month, near enough, although admittedly it was double-fronted and had a newly turfed roof) lived a soddit, the hero of our story. His name was Bingo ‘Sac’ Grabbings. Not a name he chose for himself, of course, but one decided on by his mother. Easy for her to say, of course; she didn’t have to live with it all through school and adult life. Parents, eh?
Where was I? Oh, yes.
In a hole, then, lived Bingo. It was a fair-to-middling soddit hole, with a circular blue-painted door, fine blue tiles in the bathroom with a cheesy blue mould growing on them, blue beetles, silverfish, silvery worms, all manner of moistness and a kitchen area from which it was next to impossible to clear out cooking smells. Nevertheless in soddit terms it was a reasonably desir- able residence. Bingo’s aunt, the severe Vita ‘Sac’ Vile- Vest, had designs upon this very sod-hole, although Bingo was in no mood to give way to pressure from that branch of the family. He was a soddit of forty, which in soddit years was next to nothing, a mere bagatelle, less than a bagatelle in fact; well, technically about four fifths of a bagatelle, but still young, that’s my point.
Soddits are a race of little people who live in the earth, which is where their name comes from (you’ll learn a lot about names and where they come from if you pay attention as you read, believe me). Scholars and philologists have established the derivation of the name, evidenced by an ancient rhyme:
Cleave the sod with your trusty spade
Dig out a house that’s quite like a grave
And should your neighbour not return your wave
Cleave the sod with your trusty spade
Now it is an interesting thing that soddits don’t tend to call themselves ‘soddits’, for reasons I’ll come to in a minute. But ‘soddit’ is the generally accepted term. Once upon a time a traveller from the country of the bigger people roamed far and wide through the country of the littler folk, through the County of the Hunchkins, Shrimpville, Littleputia, the Land of the Lepercorns1, Jockeyton, and into Hobbld-Ahoy!, the home town of Bingo, the hero of our tale. On his return to the human town of Brie this big ’un traveller found his way to a tavern, and sat meditating on his adventures, and his fellow big ’uns gathered around him curious as to what he had seen. ‘What did you discover?’ they pressed him. ‘Who did you encounter?’
‘I met a—’ he started to reply, and drew a great shuddering sigh into his body, before concluding in a lowered tone, ‘soddit,’ and reaching for his tankard of ale. The name of the particular soddit he encountered has not been recorded, but it was clearly a meeting that had a profound impact upon the big man, for he stayed inside the Dragon-Queen Inn at Brie for two days and two nights drinking all the time and speaking to nobody, and soon afterwards left the area never to return.
Soddits build the accommodation portion of their houses under the ground, and they build their coal-cellars, wine rooms and sometimes large rooms with ping-pong tables in them above the ground. They insist that this is the most logical manner of arranging living space, and indeed Hobbld-Ahoy! planning regulations have made any other form of domestic building illegal, although this does tend to result in living quarters prone to damp, to worms, to mould, to associated asthma and bronchitis for the inhabitants, whilst coal, wine and ping-pong bats are the most burgled items in this burglary-prone town. But a tradition, after all, is a tradition.
Soddits, as I say, don’t call themselves soddits. In their own tongue, which is queer and old and full of syntactical-grammatical inconsistencies, they call them- selves hobblds. Now, there’s a reason why they refer to themselves in this manner, and not by the name of soddit like everybody else in the world, and the reason is found in their feet. Shocking feet, they have. Just shocking. Whatever the reason – and soddits down the ages have blamed the gods, or an ancient wizard’s curse, or inadequate orthopaedic practice, or con- genital disease, or a dozen other factors – whatever the reason, soddits are almost all of them afflicted with appalling arthritis of the feet. Their feet are swollen and gnarled, many three or four times their normal size, with toes like coconuts and ankles like condoms stuffed with pebbles. This arthritis is extremely pain- ful, and is indeed no laughing matter, although queerly it is a condition that does not spread to any other part of their body. But it gives their feet a strangely deadened, different colour from the rest of their bodies. Moreover, it makes it impossible for the adult soddit to wear shoes, for the pressure of leather against the inflated flesh of the feet is too, too ghastly. This means that the diminutive folk walk only with difficulty and excessive slowness; and accordingly adult soddits spend much of their time searching for the cushion of perfect softness, making little grunts as they collapse into their sofas and using their hands physically to lift their feet on to their footstools.
And now you know everything that you need to know about soddits, or hobblds, excepting only one or two minor details, such as the fact that they are food-loving and drink-loving and enjoy conviviality. And that they like to wear waistcoats and corduroy. Oh, yes, and that they smoke pipeweed a great deal and that accordingly they die younger than they other- wise would of cancers of the mouth, tongue and throat as well as of heart disease. What else? That they are conservative, rural, bourgeois, middle class. That they speak with a slight Birmingham accent, oddly. And, also, that despite their manifest disadvantages – their diminutive stature, their crippled elephantiasitic feet, their small-mindedness, their disinclination to listen to strangers or change old ways, their addiction to tobacco and alcohol, their stagnant class-ridden ‘re- spectability’ – despite all this, they have developed the most modern semi-industrial culture in the whole world, with water-mills, steam-foundries, comfortable housing, pipes, pop-guns, spectacles, velvet clothes, charming little flintstone churches, books and fire- works, whilst the rest of Upper Middle Earth is languishing in the dark ages of swords, horses, and burying their dead under enormous mounds of earth. Funny that. But, you see, the ways of the world are strange and sometimes inexplicable.
Bingo was sitting on his most comfortable sofa one morning, with his poor swollen arthritic feet resting on a green velvet cushion on the footstool in front of him. He was staring at the knuckled toe joints of these feet, the place where the individual toes meet the body of the foot, and these joints were staring back at him, like ten radishes. He was feeling the full weight of the misery of existence, poor old Bingo.
There was a series of bangs on the door, loud and startling, the sort of noise that might be made by a naughty soddit child stuffing a firecracker in the keyhole, lighting it, running away, hearing the disappointingly soggy pop, coming back vexed and kicking the door off its hinges with his as-yet unspoiled, bovver-booted feet. Young people today, eh? What can you do? Tch.
Bingo sighed. ‘Go away,’ he called. After a pause he added, ‘Go away.’
The banging continued on the front door.
There was nothing for it. Bingo got slowly to his feet, and made his way to the door, flinching with each step and uttering all his usual expressions of pain, including ‘ah!’, ‘ouch’ and, half under his breath, ‘ow-ow-ow’.2
Bingo did not like having a round front door. Who would? Geometry dictates that such a door be held in place by only one hinge, and that this hinge cannot be placed in the most effective load-bearing position, so that the doorway is draughty and the door unwieldy to open, and able easily to be kicked completely in by any soddit still young enough to be wearing boots. But tradition is tradition is tradition, and this was a tradi- tion which Hobbld-Ahoy! planning regulators enforced with particular zeal. Bingo pulled open his door.
Outside, standing in the sunshine, was a wizard. Bingo had never seen a wizard before, but the ‘W’ on the front of his poncho could only mean he was one of that magic brotherhood. Either that, or he was a Munchkin of unusually developed stature and had put his poncho on upside down.
The knocking noise was continuing, louder than before.
Bingo looked up at the wizard.
‘Yes, well,’ said the wizard in a booming voice. ‘I’m sorry about that.’
‘Sorry?’ Bingo repeated, uncomprehending. He looked at his still-knocking door.
‘The knocking spell I put on your door. It’s a common enough wizardly spell, you know,’ he bellowed, as if talking into a gale. ‘I’m too fragile at my time of life to go banging at doors. Banging at doors!
I’m too old and fragile for that. So I’ve put the knocking spell on, do you see?’
Bingo looked at the door. ‘Can you turn it off, please?’
The wizard seemed not to hear. ‘Thank you!’ he said, in his stentorian voice. ‘But, really, you’re too kind. It’s a small spell, but potent. Potent!’
‘How long does it last?’
‘Yes, yes,’ boomed the wizard indulgently. ‘But can I turn it off? That’s the question. And the answer? The answer is ‘‘can I buggery’’. Hard to do, do you see? Easy to turn it on, that spell, but fiercely difficult to turn it off.’
‘How long does the spell last?’ said Bingo, leaving a space between each word and moving his facial muscles in a more marked manner as he spoke.
‘Grabbings?’ shrieked the wizard, his shaggy eye- brows rising and his eyes staring intensely. ‘Grabbings?’ He stepped forward, filling the doorway, bent down and stepped into the hallway of Grab End.
Bingo spun around as the huge figure of the wizard, bent nearly double, moved rapidly along the hall and into the main sitting room, shouting Bingo’s surname at the top of his voice. All the while the front door carried on making its deafening racket, like a heavy item of wooden furniture clattering down an endless flight of stairs. Bingo stumbled after the wizard, calling out ‘hey!’ and ‘ow-my-feet!’, and came through to the sitting room to find the old wizard parked there in Bingo’s own sofa (which though large for a soddit was chair-sized for the man), beaming toothlessly at him.
‘So you are Grabbings, are you?’ he shouted.
‘Yes, yes I am,’ replied Bingo. ‘But, look, I’m sorry but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you – I’m sorry – to leave. You can’t come in. You can’t sit there.’
‘It said ‘‘Grabbings’’ over the door, you see,’ said the wizard.
‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ said Bingo, in a louder voice.
‘Grabbings,’ said the wizard, putting his finger to his cheek to mime contemplation. ‘A burglar’s name, is that?’
‘I’m a gentlehobbld of independent means,’ said Bingo, wincing as a sudden pain arrowed up his leg from his left foot, ‘and I’m asking you to go, now.’
‘I thought so,’ said the wizard, smiling knowingly. ‘I thought so.’
‘Leave! Please!’ screeched Bingo.
‘Too kind,’ said the wizard, taking off his hat and placing it on his lap. ‘Two sugars, for me. My name is Gandef and I am a wizard, yes indeed. The famous Gandef. Don’t be scared. I promise,’ he said, chuckling to himself, ‘I do – I promise – although I am a wizard, I promise not to turn you,’ he went on, his chuckling bubbling up until his shoulders and his whole head were shaking with the hilarity of what he was saying, ‘not to turn you into a toad – arch-CH HTTGH Q O O F – Q O O F – Q O O F ,’ he added, coughing so abruptly, so prodigiously and body-spasmingly that it looked, for a moment, as if he were going to shake himself out of his seat and on to the floor. ‘AWARGH – SCHW-SCHWO’AH KOH-KOH,’ he coughed. ‘K ’ O A H K ’ O A H K ’ O A H K ’ O A H K ’ O A H K’OAH K’OAH.’
Bingo, alarmed, sat down in the second-best chair.
‘K’OAH, K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH,’ the wizard continued.
‘Are you all—’ Bingo started to say.
‘K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH,’ the wizard concluded, and let his head flop backwards. His colour had drained away, and little dregs of spittle were visible on the grey of his beard just below his mouth. ‘Blimey,’ he said in a strangulated voice. ‘Oh dear, oh dear.’ His right hand fumbled in the pocket of his gown and brought out a pipe, his left hand brought out a wallet of pokeweed, and with trembling fingers he filled the bowl. ‘I’ll be better in a moment,’ he croaked, muttering a small spell to bring a yellow flame from his right thumbnail so that he could light the pipe. For long minutes the wizard simply sucked noisily at the stem of his pipe, making orgasmic little moans between breaths, and swiftly filling Bingo’s front room with a smoke so acrid and dark it made the little soddit’s eyes smart. ‘Oh that’s better,’ Gandef murmured, sucking in another lungful of heated tobacco particles and air, ‘so much better.’
‘Are you all right?’ Bingo asked, a little nervously.
‘Eh?’ Gandef shouted. ‘What? You’ll have to speak up. My hearing’s not what it used to be.’
Away in the hall, behind him, Bingo could hear the door still knocking away to itself. ‘I—’ he started to say, but realised that he didn’t know how to finish the sentence.
‘Oh, once upon a time,’ said Gandef, ‘my hearing was better than an eagle, and my eyesight better than a – well, a goodly eyed animal. I don’t know. Something with a very good and acute sense of sight. An eagle. Yes. But age takes its toll, you know.’ The wizard hawked, and so enormous a noise of wrenching phlegm emanated from his chest that Bingo shrank back. ‘I tried a most potent Noise Amplification Spell once upon a time,’ Gandef was saying, his voice meditative, though still loud. ‘Marvellous spell. I could hear the birds speaking to one another in trees over the horizon, I could hear the rustlings as the clouds rubbed against one another in the sky. I could hear the sound a rainbow makes as it arches its back over the world. Then a dog barked behind me and I burst my left eardrum. Won’t try that again in a hurry. I actually wet myself – imagine it! A wizard! Wetting himself in terror! Wouldn’t do for that piece of news to get around, the forces of evil and all that, important to keep up appearances of, you know, magic and potency. I’m not actually a man, you see – I’m a sort of angel.’3
He chuckled to himself. ‘Covers a multitude of sins, that. Sharp’s the word!’
‘I don’t quite follow,’ said Bingo.
‘They’ll be here in a moment, Our Friends from the Dwarf. From, uh, the dwarfland. They’re the salt of the earth. Which is to say, they’ve dug up and sold the salt of the earth. And also that they’ve ploughed salt into the earth of people they didn’t like. But we’ll stay on their good side. Oh yes. We’ll draw up a contract, I’ll get the map out, and we can head off tomorrow. Be on our way.’ He cleared his throat, or to put it more precisely, he moved half a stone of snot from one internal location to another, and then drew a deep breath through his pipe.
‘Come again?’ said Bingo.
But Gandef had fallen asleep, his head lolling, his still lit pipe rolling from his fingers and tipping smouldering tobacco over the matting that served for a carpet in Bingo’s soddit hole.
The first four dwarfs 4 arrived half an hour later, hammering on the door so violently that it jolted off its latch and collapsed inwards. ‘My door!’ squealed Bingo, scurrying as fast as his deformed feet could take him out into the hallway.
‘Apologies,’ said the first dwarf, treading on the wreck of the door as he stepped inside. ‘We were knocking for a while, look you, but seeing how the door was knocking anyway by itself I don’t think we were being heard. I got a mate who does doors.’
‘Does doors lovely,’ said the second dwarf.
‘Oh, he’ll do you a lovely door,’ said the first dwarf, with a flush of agreement. ‘Lovely big hefty door. Soon as he pops along, he’ll quote you, lovely boy, la, bach.’
‘There’s been a misunderstanding,’ Bingo gabbled at them. ‘I’m sorry that you’ve been inconvenienced, but you’ve got the wrong hole. Nobody here called Grabbings. No wizard, there’s no wizard here. You’ll have to go away.’
From behind him, in the sitting room, came a series of axe-like chopping noises such as can only be produced by a man who has scoured the walls of his lungs red and smooth over many years of dedicated smoke inhalation.
‘That’s the boyo,’ said the first dwarf, stepping past Bingo. ‘Failin,’ he said. ‘I’m a dwarf, la, boy, see, yow, bach, dew,’ he added. ‘This is my cousin Qwalin.’ The second dwarf bowed. ‘And behind him are Sili and Frili, also cousins, see?’
‘I haven’t the victuals—’ Bingo began, in desperation. But the four dwarfs were already in the sitting room, singing tunelessly but loudly, one of them bouncing lustily on the wizard’s chest to wake the fellow up. Bingo turned about, cursed the gnawing pain in his left toes, and turned again as four more dwarves 5 stepped boldly into his house.
‘Mori,’ said the first dwarf, who was holding a clipboard. He was a strong-nosed dwarf in green, with a waterfall of beard and eyebrows thick as caterpillars. Or as actual pillars. ‘Allow me to intro- duce my cousins, Tori, Orni and On. Oh my,’ he added, stepping towards Bingo. ‘Haven’t you the smoothest of chins!’
The four dwarfs kicked their beards out from under their feet and clustered around Bingo, treading on his toes as they did so. ‘Oo,’ they said, running callused fingers over his chin. ‘Oo.’
‘Get off,’ Bingo said, flapping his hands before his face like little wings.
‘You’ll have to excuse us, see,’ said Mori, leaning his clipboard against the wall and taking off his dwarf hat. ‘It’s a rare sight for us, a bare chin – a sight of rare beauty. Wouldn’t I love a bare chin!’
‘Wouldn’t I!’ said Orni.
‘You’ll say, shave,’ said Mori, clapping Bingo in a manly clasp, his arm around the back, his powerful hand crushing Bingo’s shoulder. ‘You will, you’ll tell me, shave.’
‘I won’t,’ said Bingo.
‘Can’t,’ said Mori, as if in correction. ‘Psoriasis. Terrible. Allergy to bauxite. Couldn’t shave if my life depended on it. Stuck with this apsurd hippy beard. 6 I hate it.’
‘We all hate it,’ said Orni. ‘All hate our beards.’
‘All of us in the same boat. Smells, la,’ said Mori confidentially. ‘Food gets stuck in it. I found a chicken bone in mine yesterday. Anyway, anyhow, anyhew.’
He released Bingo. ‘Is the King boy here yet?’
‘King boy?’ said Bingo.
‘Thorri, our King, heavens bless him. No? There you go. I can hear merry being made, though, look you, begorrah, la, bach, boyo, see, dew, bach, look you, so we’ll go on through.’
Bingo stumbled to the larder, and brought out a selection of the food he possessed. The dwarfs devoured it all in quarter of an hour. In dismay he tried telling the group that he had no more, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer, explored his hobbld hole thoroughly and completely ransacked it. They rolled out his one and only barrel of Soddit ale, and tapped and drank it. They sang all the while, whilst
Gandef sat in the corner tapping his foot not in time to the music and smoking. They sang:
When you walk with a dwarf keep your head down low
So as not to draw attention to his height,
For a dwarf’s hold on his temper is only so-so
And a dwarf has no fear of a fight.
Walk on, walk on, crouching all the time Though your hips are racked with pain – Walk on, walk on, with a bend in your spine Or you’ll ne-ver walk again,
You’ll NE-ver walk again.
After which they sang, or rather they howled:
AND! WE! WERE! SI-I-INGING!
SONGS AND ARIAS –
DWARFS IN THE LARDER – OH ME, OH MY.
After which they insisted that Bingo join in with the quaffing, despite his protestations that he was normally a very moderate drinker. They drank toasts to his smooth chin, and his smooth upper lip, and they sang more songs: raucous songs, caucus songs, ribald songs, dribbled songs, hymns, whims, theramins, chim-chim- cherees, songs that were hard, songs by bards, songs that left you scarred (emotionally speaking), drinking anthems, looting anthems, puking anthems, footy an- thems, beauty-pageant anthems, and ‘Bess You Is My Woman Now’. They sang a-capella, a-patella 7 and any umber-ella-any-umber-ella. At some point in the proceed- ings the remaining dwarfs came in, Ston, Pilfur, Gofur, and Wombl; and finally there entered a diminutive little creature, small even for a dwarf and barely an inch taller than Bingo, who introduced himself as ‘Thorri, King you know’, but who seemed to be accorded remarkably little respect from the other dwarfs. But by this stage Bingo was well drunk, tanked-up, reeling and rocking, and soon enough he was falling over and getting up with a silly expression on his face. He was as unsteady on his feet as a newborn colt that had been force fed half a bottle of whisky. Then Gandef began singing a song, and got halfway through the first stanza before he started coughing with shocking vehemence, making a series of noises like a roof-load of snow collapsing twenty feet to the ground. Forty-five seconds of this and the wizard was too weak to stand, and collapsed back on to the sofa gasping and fumbling with his tobacco pouch.
‘My new friends,’ said Bingo, with tears in his eye and alcohol compounds in his bloodstream. ‘My new friends! How sweet it is to have friends – to make new friends!’
‘Strictly a business arrangement, Mr Grabbings,’ said Mori. ‘We have a quest to undertake, and we need your help, that’s all.’
‘You need my help!’ repeated Bingo joyously, his cheeks wet. ‘My friends!’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Mori, pushing the over-affectionate soddit away. ‘Let’s not lose proportion, look you, bach, la. There’s a dragon, see, and he’s got, eh, well shall we say . . . treasure. Let’s call it treasure.’
‘Gold?’ asked Bingo, his eyes circular.
‘What’s that?’ said Qwalin, ‘Yeah – yeah, that’s it. Gold. That’s a good one.’
‘Gold,’ said Mori, looking significantly at his fellow dwarfs. ‘All right? We all clear? Mr Grabbings here is to help us nick us some gold. Yes, that’s it, we’re on our way to steal the dragon’s gold. See?’
The dwarfs made various noises of dawning comprehension.
‘So,’ said Mori, turning to Bingo, ‘we figured – and this is only a rough plan, see – that we’d go over there and distract the dragon boyo with some close-harmony baritone singing whilst you steal the, eh, gold, you being a thieving little tinker, or so we’ve been led to believe – no offence.’
Bingo’s heart was flush with new comradeship and love. He sobbed like a child, trying to hug Mori and unburden his heart, to say how he’d always felt, somehow, distanced from the other soddits, as if there was something that held him back from them, and held them back from him – it wasn’t easy to say what exactly, but on occasion he’d stand at his door with a glass of dry hobbld martini in his hand and watch the evening traffic making its way up Hobbld-Ahoy! high- street and over the bridge into the thickening gloom and feel, somehow, a great emptiness inside himself, a sense of purposelessness of it all – the way the narrow respectability of his world felt sometimes like a suffocating velvet cloak – and all along the thing he’d been missing was right here, this sense of purpose, belonging to this band of brothers, united in a common aim. Sadly the ale, which provoked this chain of thought in Bingo’s mind, also prevented the articulate expression of it, and the best he could manage was a ‘such-a-lovely-buncho-blokes-lovely-feller-love-you’ and a further series of throaty syllables like the noise a dog makes just before it throws up.
‘Now,’ Mori continued in a louder voice, backing against the wall, ‘are you OK with our plan, boyo, look you? Remember, the only problem to this quest thing is that the – eh – the treasure is in the possession of a dragon. Right?’
‘Dragons!’ said Bingo. ‘They don’t frighten me. Insectivores, aren’t they?’
‘No,’ said Mori. ‘I wouldn’t describe them as insectivores.’
‘Well,’ said Bingo, waving his hand dismissively and wobbling on his feet. ‘Does it matter?’ He’d long since reached the level of alcoholic uncoordination where it becomes difficult to place the right thumb upon the end of the left little finger, and indeed had gone somewhat beyond it, to the state where it is difficult to get one’s upper and lower lips to connect.
‘Smug the Dragon,’ said Gandef, erupting apparently from sleep. ‘A fearsome, terrible sight, he is, the mighty wyrm in his desolation.’
‘Terrible, terrible,’ said the dwarfs in unison.
The ale swirled in Bingo heart. ‘I’m not afeared!’ he squealed, trying to clamber on the table.
‘Smug the Dragon!’ Gandef bellowed, rather carried away with himself. ‘Terrible Smug! Marvellous great dragon! Bah!’ He coughed once, twice, and then thrummed a long, enduring note on the taut surface of the mass of phlegm held in his chest.
The dwarfs brought out their own pipes, and soon the smoke was so thick in Bingo’s sod hole that you couldn’t see the smokers for the smoke.8 Moreover, the smoke that came out of the dwarfish pipes had a strange savour to it, a slightly herbal, fruity, pleasant, drowsy, hey-man edge to it, a whiff of ‘Rings, eh? They’re, like, all hard round the outside and all, like, nothing at all in the middle, isn’t that weird? The way they can be both really really hard on the edge and really soft in the middle, d’you ever think of that?’ and a slight odour of ‘Hey I’m really really hungry, you got any, like, scones or some- thing?’ The excitement and passion drained out of Bingo wholly, and he lay on the floor with his feet in the grate, humming along as the dwarfs sang another song.
Smug the Magic Dragon
Are we afraid of he?
In his Magic Dragon-grotto-place, No-o-ot like-a-lee –
We’ll travel over earth, And we travel over sea,
To beard that dragon in his den, look you now
Oh yes we will, I tell you now, You better believe we’ll do it We will, oh yes we will, oh
Yes we will, we’re going to it,
I’m telling you we will
It’s practically good as done, We’re going that way right now,
That dragon’s, well, let’s just say, I wouldn’t want
to be in his shoes.
Gandef was shouting something at this point and had to be calmed. Then, under the illusion that he was whispering discreetly into Mori’s ear, he boomed, ‘I was thinking, why don’t we tell the young soddit that we’re off after some gold? Eh? Wouldn’t that be sly?’ Mori’s voice, much lower, came murmuring indistinctly through the fug. ‘You see,’ Gandef bellowed, louder still, ‘if the soddit thinks we’re after some gold then he won’t ask after the real reason for our quest – do you see?’ Again, Mori’s voice, now more urgent but still indistinct, muttered in the dark. Bingo, from where he was lying, could just about see the pyramidical shape of the wizard’s hat, and the hunched silhouette of Mori trying to communicate with the old man.
‘I can’t hear you if you mutter like that,’ bellowed Gandef petulantly. ‘All I’m saying is that this would be a good cover story as far as the soddit is concerned. That way we don’t have to tell him what we’re really going for yrkh, yrkh, mmbbmmmdd.’
It seemed to Bingo’s eyes, in the smoke-obscured candlelight, as if Gandef’s hat had been dragged sharply down to cover his whole face. But the young soddit’s eyelids were slipping down in irresistible sleep, and he couldn’t focus any more.
1 A brave little folk afflicted with the most repulsive and contagious foot diseases. Foot diseases are, it must be said, something of a common theme for the Counties of the Little.
2 Which is to say, the noises somebody makes not when they are in actual pain, but when they wish to communicate to the world at large that they are experiencing a sensation of slight discomfort. Nobody suffering actual pain – let us say, a broken leg, or having their shoulder pierced all the way through with a Wharg-rider’s arrow – would ever say ‘ouch’. If somebody in such a situation were to say ‘ouch’ we would think not that they were in pain, but that they were taking the piss.
3 This is true, actually. The best theological thinking today suggests that when you die and go up to heaven you’ll find God surrounded not by people in white with wings, but instead by a large crowd of crotchety, beardy men in big hats with nicotine-stained fingers and swords. As the Philosopher once said: The world is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine, and more imaginative than we can imagine too, which is something of a contradiction, don’t you think, where was I? Hold on, bear with me for a minute, angels, old men, ah yes, ahm, ahem, stranger than we imagine, stranger than we can imagine, stranger than we will imagine, stranger than we shall imagine, stranger than we can’t imagine, stranger than we shouldn’t imagine, stranger than we wouldn’t imagine if we could, stranger than you can imagine but not me, and so on. Anyway, I think we can both agree I’ve made my point.
4 This, by the way, is the correct plural form of ‘dwarf’. Look it up if you don’t believe me – really.
5 Sorry, that one must have slipped through the proofs.
6 Which is to say, a beard that reaches down to one’s hips. Why? What else did you think this might mean?
7 The sort of song you sing when somebody has just kicked you in the kneecap.
8 I’ve got a PhD you know, from Cambridge University. I just thought you might be interested in that fact. I’m not some bloke making this up from thin air, I’m a proper scholar, I studied Anglo Saxon and everything.