The day after Hogswatch, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. There always is, of course. There’s wrapping paper to throw away, left over bits of self-assembly toys to puzzle over, elderly great aunts to guide gently but firmly to the door. This is of course true whichever variant of Hogswatch you celebrate and whatever multi-verse you happen to come from. But in this case the opening statement applies to a particular time and place. The time was the day after the Hogswatch That Almost Wasn’t. And the place was the great twin city of Ankh Morpork.
There was a greater than usual amount of seasonal mess too. Carpets were trodden with sooty footprints, some of which had a distinctly scrawled look to them. Almost as if someone had feet made from twigs. Or perhaps bones. Things had been knocked over, in a way less compatible with excited children and more with a rather burly, drunken pixie. In one household, that of the Gaiter family, a section of wall had been cleaved away as if someone simply could be bothered to find the door. Someone, that is, who had no problem in cutting through several solid feet of brick and plaster. It was all the very mysterious. (1)
The wizards at the Unseen University were not blessed with the same levels of ignorance as the general populace. They had been at the centre of the storm, as it were, and hadn’t been able to ignore the metaphorical tree that had fallen through the ceiling. The faculty were handling the situation with the gravity and pomp typical of the Unseen University. Unfortunately, this consisted mostly of shouting, or else complaining loudly in the hope that someone else would sort it out.
Ponder Stibbons watched them miserably. Each had their own technique, he realised, and each technique seemed to only set the others off. The Dean was talking s-l-o-w-l-y and l-o-u-d-l-y to the Busar, whose habitual twitches were becoming more and more pronounced. The Lecturer in Recent Runes was addressing savage remarks ostensibly to the room in general, which were causing the Chair of Indefinite Studies to ball his fists with knuckle bleaching force.
Strange to think that these men were among some of the most educated on the Disc. In fact, as time had gone on, just how strange it was had been occurring to Ponder with ever increasing frequency.
It did not seem like a sensible way to run a university. It didn’t seem like a sensible way to run anything, for that matter. He wasn’t sure what some of his colleagues did and he was beginning to expect that they didn’t either. And if they were trying to do something the bureaucracy built up by centuries of tradition (none of which anyone could remember the reason for) strangled any real progress. To someone who arranged his stationary by colour and type it was beyond irritating.
What they needed, Ponder thought sourly, was proper leadership. He understood why Ridcully had got the position of course: the man combined all the necessary attributes of quick wit, unshakable belief in his own methods and the habit of checking for scorpions under the bed at night.
It was all very well ten, even five years ago, of course. But the nature of magic was changing. Ponder, it should be noted, was not motivated by anything so petty as jealousy or self advancement. He truly believed in the Advancement of Modern Magic (complete with the capitals). Visions of whole new kinds of magic seared through his dreams, dancing just out of reach and he knew that one day he could bring them into the waking world if he just had enough time and equipment. It was therefore doubly frustrating that the ultimate authority at the university couldn’t hold a conversation on wave theory without talking about beach balls and ice cream and asking suspiciously whether he was expecting the University to pay for sun block.
As if on cue (the Disc was, after all, run on narrativium) the Archancellor swept impressively into the hall. There is something about flowing robes of gilt and velvet, not to mention ten course meals, everyday that lends itself particularly well to sweeping as opposed to merely entering, so naturally it was something that wizards had down to a fine art. Ridcully, Ponder noted, was particularly good at it.
The assembled wizards looked up as they heard him approach.
“Don’t know what you chaps are doing here,” Ridcully boomed. “Things to do.”
Threatened by the prospect of work, the wizards dispersed. Ponder stayed behind. Try as he might, he had run out of options. It was time to take the problem to a higher authority.
“There was something I thought it was best to mention,” he began, approaching the Archancellor. “The Hogfather seems to have left something behind.”
“Well at least we know he’s back in action,” Ridcully said, bracingly. Ponder was not braced.
“The...item,” Ponder couldn’t bring himself to mention it by name. “It’s for Hex. To be honest I’m a little concerned.”
“It’s nothing dangerous is it?” Ridcully asked.
“Not exactly, Archancellor,” Ponder said, colouring a little.
“Not one of those belief creatures still knocking around?” Ridcully asked. “That bird thing got into the stationary cupboard. Damn near finished all the pencils before it disappeared.”
“Nothing like that Archancellor,” Ponder replied.
“Well what is it man?”
“It’s a bear, Archancellor.”
“Not a real one?” Ridcully asked, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
“A stuffed one,” Ponder admitted. “A children’s toy.”
“Doesn’t sound terribly dangerous.”
“Well no, Archancellor,” Ponder replied weakly. “It’s more a matter of principle.”
“Have you tried getting rid of it?”
“That’s the problem,” Ponder said. “Hex seems to... malfunction when we remove it. We must have tried to get rid of it a dozen times, but he...it refuses to function until we give it back.”
“But the thing works fine when the bear is there?”
“Well then I suggest you leave it,” Ridcully replied. “Nothing else for it I’m afraid.”
Later, while he was gloomily contemplating the small bear, it occurred to Ponder that the Archancellor was less stupid than he appeared.
(1) The citizens of Ankh Morpork dealt with this stoically. ‘Must have been the sherry,’ they said. ‘Can make anyone clumsy. And I’m sure the maid dropped coal on the carpet when she was lighting the fire. Yes, I’m aware we don’t have a maid. Or a fire. Just stop talking about it won’t you?’ Ah, the resilience of the human (or at least humanoid) mind.