He squelched up the steps, lit by a particularly impressive flash of lightning. He had a cold certainty that while of course no one could possibly blame him for all this, everybody would. He seized the hem of his robe and wrung it out wretchedly, then he reached for his tobacco pouch.
It was a nice green waterproof one. That meant that all the rain that had got into it couldn't get out again. It was indescribable.
He found his little clip of papers. They were fused into one lump, like the legendary pound note found in the back pockets of trousers after they have been washed, spun, dried and ironed.
“Bugger,” he said, with feeling.
“I say! Treatle!”
Treatle looked around. He had been the last to leave the hall, where even now some of the benches were beginning to float. Whirlpools and patches of bubble marked the spots where magic was leaking from the cellars, but there was no one to be seen.
Unless, of course, one of the statues had spoken. They had been too heavy to move, and Trestle remembered telling the students that a thorough wash would probably do them good.
He looked at their stern faces and regretted it. The statues of very powerful dead mages were sometimes more lifelike than statues had any right to be. Maybe he should have kept his voice down.
“Yes?” he ventured, acutely aware of the stony stares.
“Up here, you fool!”
He looked up. The broomstick descended heavily through the rain in a series of swoops and jerks. About five feet above the water it lost its few remaining aerial pretensions, and flopped noisily into a whirlpool.
“Don't stand there, idiot!”
Treatle peered nervously into the gloom.
“I've got to stand somewhere,” he said.
“I mean give us a hand!” snapped Cutangle, rising from the wavelets like a fat and angry Venus. “The lady first, of course.”
He turned to Granny, who was fishing around in the water.
“I've lost my hat,” she said.
Cutangle sighed. “Does that really matter at a time like this?”
“A witch has got to have a hat, otherwise who's to know?” said Granny. She made a grab as something dark and sodden drifted by, cackled triumphantly, tipped out the water and rammed the hat on her head. It had lost its stiffening and flopped rather rakishly over one eye.
“Right,” she said, in a tone of voice that suggested the whole universe had just better watch out.
There was another brilliant flash of lightning, which shows that even the weather gods have a well-developed sense of theatre.
“It rather suits you,” said Cutangle.
“Excuse me,” said Trestle, “but isn't she the w-”
“Never mind that,” said Cutangle, taking Granny's hand and helping her up the steps. He flourished the staff.
“But it's against the lore to allow w-”
He stopped and stared as Granny reached out and touched the damp wall by the door. Cutangle tapped him on the chest.
“Show me where it's written down,” said Cutangle.
“They're in the Library,” Granny interrupted.
“It was the only dry place,” said Treatle, “but -”
“This building is frightened of thunderstorms,” said Granny. “It could do with comforting.”
“But the lore -”repeated Treatle desperately.
Granny was already striding down the passage, with Cutangle hopping along behind. He turned.
“You heard the lady,” he said.
Treatle watched them go, with his mouth hanging open. When their footsteps had died away in the distance he stood silently for a moment, thinking about life and where his could have gone wrong.
However, he wasn't going to be accused of disobedience.
Very carefully, without knowing exactly why, he reached out and gave the wall a friendly pat.
“There, there,” he said.
Strangely enough, he felt a lot better.
It occurred to Cutangle that he ought to lead the way in his own premises, but Granny in a hurry was no match for a nearterminal nicotine addict and he kept up only by a sort of crabwise leaping.
“It's this way,” he said, splashing through the puddles.
“I know. The building told me.”
“Yes, I was meaning to ask about that,” said Cutangle, “because you see it's never said anything to me and I've lived here for years.”
“Have you ever listened to it?”
“Not exactly listened, no,” Cutangle conceded. “Not as such.”
“Well then,” said Granny, edging past a waterfall where the kitchen steps used to be (Mrs Whitlow's washing would never be the same again). “I think it's up here and along the passage, isn't it?”
She swept past a trio of astonished wizards, who were surprised by her and completely startled by her hat.
Cutangle panted after her and caught her arm at the doors to the Library.
“Look,” he said desperately, “No offence, Miss - um, Mistress -”
“I think Esmerelda will suffice now. What with us having shared a broomstick and everything.”
“Can I go in front? It is my Library,” he begged.
Granny turned around, her face a mask of surprise. Then she smiled.
“Of course. I'm so sorry.”
“For the look of the thing, you see,” said Cutangle apologetically. He pushed the door open.
The Library was full of wizards, who care about their books in the same way that ants care about their eggs and in time of difficulty carry them around in much the same way. The water was getting in even here, and turning up in rather odd places because of the Library's strange gravitational effects. All the lower shelves had been cleared and relays of wizards and students were piling the volumes on every available table and dry shelf. The air was full of the sound of angry rustling pages, which almost drowned out the distant fury of the storm.
This was obviously upsetting the librarian, who was scurrying from wizard to wizard, tugging ineffectually at their robes and shouting “ook”.
He spotted Cutangle and knuckled rapidly towards him. Granny had never seen an orang-outan before, but wasn't about to admit it, and remained quite calm in the face of a small potbellied man with extremely long arms and a size IZ skin on a size 8 body.
“Ook,” it explained, “ooook.”
“I expect so,” said Cutangle shortly, and grabbed the nearest wizard, who was tottering under the weight of a dozen grimoires. The man stared at him as if he was a ghost, looked sideways at Granny, and dropped the books on the floor. The librarian winced.
“Archchancellor?” gasped the wizard, “you're alive? I mean -we heard you'd been spirited away by -” he looked at Granny again, “- I mean, we thought - Treatle told us -”
“Oook,” said the librarian, shooing some pages back between their covers.
“Where are young Simon and the girl? What have you done with them?” Granny demanded.
“They - we put them over here,” said the wizard, backing away. “Um -”
“Show us,” said Cutangle. “And stop stuttering, man, you'd think you'd never seen a woman before.”
The wizard swallowed hard and nodded vigorously.
“Certainly. And - I mean - please follow me - um -”
“You weren't going to say anything about the lore, were you?” asked Cutangle.
“Um - no, Archchancellor.”
They followed hard on his trodden-down heels as he scurried between the toiling wizards, most of whom stopped working to stare as Granny strode past.
“This is getting embarrassing,” said Cutangle, out of the corner of his mouth. “I shall have to declare you an honorary wizard.”
Granny stared straight ahead and her lips hardly moved.
“You do,” she hissed, “and I will declare you an honorary witch.”
Cutangle's mouth snapped shut.
Esk and Simon were lying on a table in one of the side readingrooms, with half a dozen wizards watching over them. They drew back nervously as the trio approached, with the librarian swinging along behind.
“I've been thinking,” said Cutangle. “Surely it would be better to give the staff to Simon? He is a wizard, and -”
“Over my dead body,” said Granny. “Yours, too. They're getting their power through him, do you want to give them more?”
Cutangle sighed. He had been admiring the staff, it was one of the best he had seen.
“Very well. You're right, of course.”
He leaned down and laid the staff on Esk's sleeping form, and then stood back dramatically.
One of the wizards coughed nervously.
Nothing continued to happen.
The carvings on the staff appeared to be grinning.
“It's not working,” said Cutangle, “is it?”
“Give it time,” said Granny.
They gave it time. Outside the storm strode around the sky, trying to lift the lids off houses.
Granny sat down on a pile of books and rubbed her eyes. Cutangle's hands strayed towards his tobacco pocket. The wizard with the nervous cough was helped out of the room by a colleague.
“Ook,” said the librarian.
“I know!” said Granny, so that Cutangle's half-rolled homemade shot out of his nerveless fingers in a shower of tobacco.
“It's not finished!”
“She can't use the staff, of course,” said Granny, standing up.
“But you said she swept the floors with it and it protects her and -” Cutangle began.
“Nonono,” said Granny. “That means the staff uses itself or it uses her, but she's never been able to use it, d'you see?”
Cutangle stared at the two quiet bodies. “She should be able to use it. It's a proper wizard's staff.”
“Oh,” said Granny. “So she's a proper wizard, is she?”
“Well, of course not. You can't ask us to declare her a wizard. Where's the precedent?”
“The what?” asked Granny, sharply.
“It's never happened before.”
“Lots of things have never happened before. We're only born once.”
Cutangle gave her a look of mute appeal. “But it's against the I-”
He began to say “lore”, but the word mumbled into silence.
“Where does it say it?” said Granny triumphantly. “Where does it say women can't be wizards?”
The following thoughts sped through Cutangle's mind:
. . . It doesn't say it anywhere, it says it everywhere.
. . . But young Simon seemed to say that everywhere is so much like nowhere that you can't really tell the difference .
. . . Do I want to be remembered as the first Archchancellor to allow women into the University? Still . . . I'd be remembered, that's for sure .
. . . She really is a rather impressive woman when she stands in that sort of way .
. . . That staff has got ideas of its own .
. . . There's a sort of sense to it .
. . . I would be laughed at .
. . . It might not work .
. . . It might work.
She couldn't trust them. But she had no choice.
Esk stared at the terrible faces peering down at her, and the lanky bodies, mercifully cloaked.