Going Postal

Page 27

glitter sufficiently glass could appear more like a diamond than a diamond did. There was a cheer when he strode out on to the steps again. The sun, on cue, decided to appear from the mists, and sparkled off his wings. Boris was looking apparently docile now, chewing his bit. This didn't fool Moist; if a horse like Boris was quiet it was because he was planning something. 'Mr Pump, I shall need you to give me a leg up,' he said, slinging the post bag round his neck. 'Yes, Mr Lipvig,' said the golem. 'Mr Lipwig!' Moist turned round to see Sacharissa Cripslock hurrying up the street, notebook in hand. 'Always a pleasure to see you, Sacharissa,' said Moist, 'but I am a little busy right now—'

'You are aware that the Grand Trunk is shut again?' she said. 'Yes, it was in the paper. Now I must—'

'So you are challenging the clacks company?' The pencil hung poised over her notebook. 'Simply delivering the mail, Miss Cripslock, just like I said I'd do,' said Moist in firm, manly tones. 'But it's rather strange, is it not, that a man on horseback is more reliable than a—'

'Please, Miss Cripslock! We are the Post Office!' said Moist, in his best high-minded voice. 'We don't go in for petty rivalry. We're sorry to hear that our colleagues in the clacks company are experiencing temporary difficulties with their machinery, we fully sympathize with their plight, and if they would like us to deliver their messages for them we would of course be happy to sell them some stamps - soon to be available in penny, twopenny, fivepenny, tenpenny and one dollar values, available here at your Post Office, ready gummed. Incidentally, we intend eventually to flavour the gum in liquorice, orange, cinnamon and banana flavours, but not strawberry because I hate strawberries.' He could see her smile as she wrote this down. Then she said: 'I did hear you correctly, did I? You are offering to carry clacks messages? 'Certainly. Ongoing messages can be put on the Trunk in Sto Lat. Helpfulness is our middle name.'

'Are you sure it's not “cheekiness”?' said Sacharissa, to laughter from the crowd. 'I don't understand you, I'm sure,' said Moist. 'Now, if you will—'

'You're cocking a snook at the clacks people again, aren't you?' said the journalist. 'Ah, that must be a journalistic term,' said Moist. 'I've never owned a snook, and even if I did I wouldn't know how to cock it. And now, if you will excuse me, I have the mail to deliver and ought to leave before Boris eats somebody. Again.'

'Can I ask you just one last thing? Will your soul be unduly diminished if Otto takes a picture of you departing?'

'I suppose I can't stop you out here, provided my face isn't very clear,' said Moist, as Mr Pump cupped his pottery hands to make a step. 'The priest is very hot on that, you know.'

'Yes, I expect “the priest” is,' said Miss Cripslock, making sure the inverted commas clanged with irony. 'Besides, by the look of that creature, it may be the last chance we get. It looks like death on four legs, Mr Lipwig.' The crowd fell silent as Moist mounted. Boris merely shifted his weight a little. Look at it like this, Moist thought, what have you got to lose? Your life? You've already been hanged. You're into angel time. And you're impressing the hell out of everybody. Why are they buying stamps? Because you're giving them a show— 'Just say the word, mister,' said one of Hobson's men, hauling on the end of a rope. 'When we let him go, we ain't hanging around!'

'Wait a moment—' said Moist quickly. He'd seen a figure at the front of the crowd. It was wearing a figure-hugging grey dress and, as he watched, it blew a neurotic cloud of smoke at the sky, gave him a look, and shrugged. 'Dinner tonight, Miss Dearheart?' he shouted. Heads turned. There was a ripple of laughter, and a few cheers. For a moment she flashed him a look that should have left his shadow on the smoking remains of the wall opposite, and then she gave a curt nod. Who knows, it could be peaches underneath . . . 'Let him go, boys!' said Moist, his heart soaring. The men dived away. The world was still for a breath, and then Boris sprang from docility into a mad rearing dance, back legs clattering across the flagstones, hooves pawing at the air. 'Vunderful! Hold it!' The world went white. Boris went mad.

Chapter Seven

A Post Haste The Nature of Boris the Horse - Foreboding Tower - Mr Lipwig cools off- The Lady with Buns on Her Ears - Invitation Accepted — Mr Robinsons Box — A mysterious stranger Hobson had tried Boris as a racehorse and he would have been a very good one were it not for his unbreakable habit, at the off, of attacking the horse next to him and jumping the railings at the first bend. Moist clapped one hand on to his hat, wedged his toes into the belly band and hung on to the reins as Broadway came at him all at once, carts and people blurring past, his eyeballs pressing into his head. There was a cart across the street but there was no possibility of steering Boris. Huge muscles bunched and there was a long, slow, silent moment as he drifted over the cart. Hooves slid over the cobbles ahead of a trail of sparks when he landed again, but he recovered by sheer momentum and accelerated. The usual crowd around the Hubwards Gate scattered and there, filling the horizon, were the plains. They did something to Boris's mad horse brain. All that space, nice and flat with only a few easily jumped obstacles, like trees . . . He found extra muscle and speeded up again, bushes and trees and carts flying towards him. Moist cursed the bravado with which he'd ordered the saddle taken away. Every part of his body already hated him. But in truth Boris, once you got past the pineapple, wasn't too bad a ride. He'd hit his rhythm, a natural single-footed gait, and his burning eyes were focused on the blueness. His hatred of everything was for the moment subsumed in the sheer joy of space. Hobson was right, you couldn't steer him with a mallet, but at least he was headed in the right direction, which was away from his stable. Boris didn't want to spend the days kicking the bricks out of his wall while waiting to throw the next bumptious idiot. He wanted to bite the horizon. He wanted to run. Moist carefully removed his hat and gripped it in his mouth. He didn't dare imagine what'd happen if he lost it, and he'd need to have it on his head at the end of the journey. It was important. It was all about style. One of the towers of the Grand Trunk was ahead and slightly to the left. There were two in the twenty miles between Ankh-Morpork and Sto Lat, because they were taking almost all the traffic of lines that stretched right across the continent. Beyond Sto Lat the Trunk began to split into tributaries, but here, flashing overhead, the words of the world were flowing— —should be flowing. But the shutters were still. As he drew level, Moist saw men working high up on the open wooden tower; by the look of it, a whole section had broken off. Ha! So long, suckers! That'd take some repairing! Worth an overnight attempt at a delivery to Pseudopolis, maybe? He'd talk to the coachmen. It wasn't as if they'd ever paid the Post Office for their damn coaches. And it wouldn't matter if the clacks got repaired in time, either, because the Post Office would have made the effort. The clacks company was a big bully, sacking people, racking up the charges, demanding lots of money for bad service. The Post Office was the underdog, and an underdog can always find somewhere soft to bite. Carefully, he eased more of the blanket under him. Various organs were going numb. The towering fumes of Ankh-Morpork were falling far behind. Sto Lat was visible between Boris's ears, a plume of lesser smokes. The tower disappeared astern and already Moist could see

the next one. He'd ridden more than a third of the way in twenty minutes, and Boris was still eating up the ground. About halfway between the cities was an old stone tower, all that remained of a heap of ruins surrounded by woodland. It was almost as high as a clacks tower and Moist wondered why they hadn't simply used it as one. It was probably too derelict to survive in a gale under the weight of the shutters, he thought. The area looked bleak, a piece of weedy wilderness in the endless fields. If he'd had spurs, Moist would have spurred Boris on at this point, and would probably have been thrown, trampled and eaten for his pains.* Instead, he lay low over the horse's back and tried not to think about what this ride was doing to his kidneys. * Which would have been agonizing. Time passed. The second tower went by, and Boris dropped into a canter. Sto Lat was clearly visible now; Moist could make out the city walls and the turrets of the castle. He'd have to jump off; there was no other way. Moist had tried out half a dozen scenarios as the walls loomed, but nearly all of them involved haystacks. The one that didn't was the one where he broke his neck. But it didn't seem to occur to Boris to turn aside. He was on a road, the road was straight, it went through this gateway and Boris had no problem with that. Besides, he wanted a drink. The city streets were crowded with things that couldn't be jumped or trampled, but there was a horse trough. He was only vaguely aware of something falling off his back. Sto Lat wasn't a big city. Moist had once spent a happy week there, passing a few dud bills, pulling off the Indigent Heir trick twice and selling a glass ring on the way out, not so much for the money as out of a permanent fascination with human deviousness and gullibility. Now he staggered up the steps of the town hall, watched by a crowd. He pushed open the doors and slammed the mailbag on the desk of the first clerk he saw. 'Mail from Ankh-Morpork,' he growled. 'Started out at nine, so it's fresh, okay?'

'But it's only just struck a quarter past ten! What mail?' Moist tried not to get angry. He was sore enough as it was. 'See this hat?' he said, pointing. 'You see it? That means I'm the Postmaster General of Ankh- Morpork! This is your mail! In an hour I'm going back again, understand? If you want mail delivered to the big city by two p.m.— Ouch. Make that three p.m. - then put it in this bag. These,' he waved a wad of stamps under the young man's nose, 'are stamps! Red ones tuppence, black ones a penny. It'll cost ten - ow - eleven pence per letter, got it? You sell the stamps, you give me the money, you lick the stamps and put them on the letters! Express Delivery guaranteed! I'm making you Acting Postmaster for an hour. There's an inn next door. I've going to find a bath. I want a cold bath. Really cold. Got an ice house here? As cold as that. Colder. Ooooh, colder. And a drink and a sandwich and by the way there's a big black horse outside. If your people can catch him, please put a saddle on him and a cushion and drag him round to face Ankh-Morpork. Do it!' It was only a hip bath, but at least there was an ice house in the city. Moist sat in a state of bliss amongst the floating ice, drinking a brandy, and listened to the commotion outside. After a while there was a knock at the door, and a male voice enquired: 'Are you decent, Mr Postmaster?'

'Thoroughly decent, but not dressed,' said Moist. He reached down beside him and put his winged hat on again. 'Do come in.' The mayor of Sto Lat was a short, bird-like man, who'd either become mayor very recently and

immediately after the post had been held by a big fat man, or thought that a robe that trailed several feet behind you and a chain that reached to the waist was the look for civic dignitaries this year. 'Er . . . Joe Camels, sir,' he said nervously. 'I'm the mayor here . . .'

'Really? Good to meet you, Joe,' said Moist, raising his glass. 'Excuse me if I don't get up.'

'Your horse, er, has run away after kicking three men, I'm sorry to say.'

'Really? He never usually does that,' said Moist. 'Don't worry, sir, we'll catch him, and anyway we can let you have a horse to get back on. Not as fast, though, I dare say.'

'Oh dear,' said Moist, easing himself into a new position amongst the floating ice. 'That's a shame.'

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