Friday, February 29, 2008

Clog post 9 with Pathway To Paradise



First Clog: "In another other country"

So, I got married. And I'm a grandmother.

Trust me, I'm as shocked as you are. But I've had years to get used to it. Years and years and years. And even though I have a chance to live my life over again now, I'm not the same person I might have been. The future is going to be interesting this time... again...

It's a long story. Fifty years long, in fact. When Cert said I'd been "trapped in an alternate Quirm for weeks", it had already been several years for me!

It started when I woke up just before dawn in the middle of the famous Floral Clock of Quirm. The last I knew I'd been looking for Cert when we got separated after getting lost on the road from Sum Dim and ending up in progressively weirder gnarly ground left over from the ancient Mage Wars. One moment strange creepy trees and sudden dark mist, the next lying on a bed of Scarlet Cockcrow that tickled because the flowers were trying to open under me. The area was deserted, so I crawled out of the clock -- with the sort of headache you get after a night of scumble -- and took stock of my surroundings. I was sure that it was Quirm, because I've seen iconographs of it and the buildings had that quaint but boring look that you'd expect in what's famous for being a quaint but boring city-state (also, the floral clock was something of a giveaway), but I had no idea why it was Quirm. Agatea to Quirm is a lot of miles and I'm pretty sure B.S. Johnson never visited Sum Dim. Still, there wasn't much I could do about it, so I had a wander around to check out the town before people started waking up. Mostly, I was looking for a cafe; Quirm is famous for its open-air cafes, and it had been a long time and a lot of geography since I'd last eaten. A number of premises had something odd on their signs: RPI LICENCED or RPI APPROVED (in Quirmish, but I can speak that). I wondered what it meant, but thought no more of it because I had other things on my mind...

When the first cafe opened, I ordered breakfast -- and got my first surprise. I had to pay in advance! After all I'd heard about Quirm's boring politeness and toleration of tourism, this was unexpected. I still had a half-rhinu on me though, so that was no problem...except that it was. I got very suspicious looks from the landlord, very suspicious looks, and ended up having to spin a tale about it being an old family heirloom I'd taken for luck on my travels. He wasn't happy about the word "travels", either, but he took my money and gave me fairly generous change based on it being made of "or". The food was uninspired, not that I cared at this point, and afterwards I decided to go around the inns when they opened, looking for a gig, and to look for a Clacks office so I could send word to Bhangbhangduc in case Cert had made it there. This was where I got my second surprise. Set of surprises. The Clacks office was the first to open -- and they asked me for identification! You can imagine my surprise. The only place I've ever known that goes in for personal identification papers is the Agatean Empire, and these days there's not even much of that. I made another excuse about having left it at my hotel, got more suspicious looks, and left in a hurry to regroup.

Things got stranger after that.


Going on the plan of get gig first, then find lute to gig with, I stopped at the first likely inn. It was called The Pride of Oolskunrahod, which also rang no bells with me - all I knew of Oolskunrahod was that it was some tiny place in the Hubland mountains, not too far from the foothills of Cori Celesti and neither remarkable in any way or known to possess anything to be proud of. The place was empty, even for that hour, and the landlord was waving a cloth unenthusiastically around the bar top. The conversation went something like this:

    Me: Looking for a gig. I play the lute and sing. All kinds of songs, especially comical ones.
    Him: Are you in the Trade, then? You don't look like you're in the Trade.
    Me: The Musicians' Guild? Of course. I'm a licenced Bard!
    Him (with shocked look): Shh! You know that word's forbidden! If you're in the Trade, where's your official robes and lightning bolt?
    Me (puzzled but getting worried about the uppercase T in Trade): Um, I left it in my other dress? I'm just looking for a little work to pay my passage to Ankh-Morpork...
    Him (with even more shocked and very suspicious look): Pourquoi? Why d'you want to go there? Nothing there for decent folk. Here, you're not one of them Porkians now, are you? The Watch is very interested in-

I beat an even hastier retreat than I had from the Clacks office, and retired to a quiet park to think. Of course there's nothing in A-M for decent folk -- that's half its appeal -- but what were Porkians? And why did I need official robes and a lightning bolt (whatever that meant) to play music? And what was RPI? And where were all the tourists? After thinking for a while and getting nowhere much, I found the local library and spent the afternoon reading history books.

That was when I started to get very, very worried. I'd never known Quirm as such, but this wasn't the Quirm I'd never known. In fact, this wasn't the world I knew! Everything looked and sounded pretty much the same, same flora and fauna, same sky, same bone-deep knowledge that this was my own world and that Great A'Tuin was swimming along cosmically somewhere far below us, but something was deeply, disturbingly different. I came to the horrible inescapable conclusion that some hole in the multiverse, deep in that gnarly ground, had opened up and thrown me into an alternate Disc. Here was the bad news, in short: the continent of my birth was under the yoke of a mad theocratic dictatorship that had never existed on my Disc.

There, back in my own reality, Oolskunrahod was and still is an unregarded dot on our Mapps; here, it's the once-unregarded dot that gave birth to a warlike theocracy with grand dreams of empire that came true when the RPI, otherwise known as the Republic of the Provenance of Io, took its proximity to Dunmanifestin seriously and declared Ionism the One True Religion and came boiling out of the Hubland wastes with bad theology and bad food and fanatical armies that conquered pretty much everything they could reach. I was currently in the Satrapy of Quirm, and Ankh-Morpork wasn't the great, teeming, throbbing hub of international commerce and, it was mostly a smoking ruin, home to downtrodden peasantry (all right, not much change there, but the downtrodden peasantry of my A-M aren't living under armed guard and taken away to unspeakable prison camps for the least excuse) and not a lot else apart from a small and eternally endangered anti-RPI revolutionary movement known as the Porkians.

I was a long way from home, in a foreign country in a foreign universe and barred from my normal means of making a living. And it was obvious that there was only one thing for me to do. I was going to have to contact the Underground.

Memories are making me thirsty, so here endeth this post.

* * *

Second Clog: "Going underground"

It took me a long time to accept that what was happening was real and not a bad dream that I'd wake up from any time now (then?). Even many years later, in over-there time, I'd wake up sure I was in my own bed in Lost Wages after a good session at The Sore Loser, and then face the day with a quiet scream when I realised that Lost Wages here had long since been flattened by the RPI and replaced with Ionist temples and OolsTacky Fried Albatross franchises...

Anyway, I got on with it and soon found a small circle of Porkian sympathisers who kitted me up with local money and identity papers (Allys ap Gwynwynllyth from the least populated part of Llamedos, a general drudge and not a Bard at alll) and got me a job in the kitchen of an inn where the owner was happy to look the other way every time certain small groups met in his cellar. And they also found me a sympathetic wizard. I'd long since realised that there was no point trying to use the Clacks because there was no-one to receive any messages apart from RPI Security Provosts, but Marquescal le Wizarde experimented on my behalf, tinkering with necromancy spells in the hope that I could somehow contact "my" young wizard in my own universe. We tried every week for years before I gave up. At least I know that a couple of messages got through! But since I knew of no way to get back, eventually I stopped trying to communicate.

The world I was apparently going to have to spend the rest of my life in was a drearier place than my own familiar one, but it could have been worse. At least Other Quirm, as I thought of it, was mostly as boring as Real Quirm. The Dowager Duchess had given in to the invaders very politely and converted the country to Ionism, so there were almost none of the burnings and executions and destruction that marked the fall of most other nations. Quirmians, for the most part, took to all the new regulations with good grace. They never were much for travelling anyway, so they carried on with their winemaking and their cheesemaking and their other rural pursuits. They even accepted the dreadful Fried Albatross franchises without too much complaint -- OFA meals being compulsory by law after Octeday temple services -- although hardly anyone buys from there when they're not forced to.

I stayed out of trouble; being in another reality was trouble enough. I never stopped writing songs though, and I would practise and play on a borrowed contraband lute down in the cellars of the inn. Then after a few years, new Porkian agitators started to arrive under cover of night, and trouble found me anyway.

* * *

I'd like to say that the next fifty or so years passed quickly, but they didn't. I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow description here though, not least because I've got a life to live over again and I want to get back to it! So here's the short form:

There was a rebellion. I was part of it. It took over twenty years, but we won. Somewhere, in a faraway universe, I'm a Hero of the Revolution. Isn't that nice?

And the slightly less short form:

One thing led to another, and I became a protest singer. And slogan writer. And sometime agitator. And sometime field operative. And ended up on the run, hiding in haystacks, travelling by night, living off the land and on what we could scrounge from sympathetic farmers...which was mostly cheese.Don't talk to me about cheese! It will be a while before I can look a Lancre Runny in the face again, and as for Quirmian cheeses...let's just not go there. There's only so much cheese one person can bear, and I've had a lifetime's worth. Literally.

When the Famous Five (don't ask) went on their suicide mission to the Hub to assassinate the mad Priest-President of the Republic of the Provenance of Io, my songs were on their lips. I got a medal for that -- one of the first struck in the rebuilt foundries of New Ankh.

Protest songs being big among the Porkian cadres, I'm proud to say that some of mine became quietly famous during my years there. Here's one of their favourites. I based it on a well-known and well-hated Music with Rocks In song from my own world. The lyrics are a kind of code: when you sing them backwards, they contain dangerous revolutionary messages. Yay me.


    There's a lady who's sure all that Dwarfs love is gold
    And she's buying a small farm in Hergen
    And when she gets there she knows
    That some bits are no-go
    Like the Wyrmberg and fabled Chimeria

    Oh oh oh oh oh
    And she's buying a small farm in Hergen

    There's a sign on the wall but she's not very tall
    And she knows Quirmish thrives on misreadings
    On a skull by a book there's a bird with black wings
    Sometimes all Deaths of Rats need a raven

    Woohhh oh oh oh
    And she's trying a cafe in Hergen

    There's a feeling of skank when you walk on the Ankh
    And your sinuses cry out for freedom
    In my thoughts I have seen shades of pure octarine
    And the vices of Nanny Ogg's cooking

    Woe woe, oh oh ohh
    And she's frying a moray in Hergen

    And it's whispered that soon
    (Say, in Ick, Grune or Spune)
    That the rat-piper plays until Hogswatch
    And a new day brings crones, and shy standing-stones
    And the forest will echo with small gods

    And they make some blunders
    Oh, and they'll make some blunders

    If there's a scuffle in your hedgerow
    Don't call the Watch, now
    It's just a wizard on a spring-clean
    Yes, there are two paths you can go by
    But take the long one:
    You'll avoid uncharted unicorns

    And you won't get sundered
    Oh, and you won't get sundered

    Your head is thumping and it might blow
    In case you don't know -
    That's what you get for scumble-bingeing
    Weird Lords and Ladies love the cold snow
    And you should know:
    Don't think of kissing the Wintersmith!

    Oh oh, cold snow...

    And as you wind on down the track
    Procrastinator on your back
    There walks a Duck Man, going 'quack'
    Who begs all night and wants to know
    Why mud's still tastier than gold
    And if you lie still, patiently
    Tooth Fairy comes with 50p
    When all are Dwarfs, and you've got hole
    "To be a rock" means you're a Troll...

    ...and she's buying a small claim in Hergen...

* * *

Pubs are open! Back soon.

* * *

Third Clog: "Bringing it all back home"

Right, this will be even shorter, because I'm getting emotional. Also tired and emotional. Fifty years is a lot of living, and it's going to take me a long, long time to write it all down. It's fading anyhow, becoming more like a dream, and perhaps that's as it should be...

After the assassination, things started to get more normal, for my own version of normal at any rate. I settled down, married a fellow revolutionary, and yes, we did buy that farm in Hergen. I went back to working as a Bard, in between having our daughters and mucking out our pigs, and I never ate cheese again. And that was that. No more excitement, no more travel to distant lands. I could have gone back to Lancre but it wouldn't have felt right, and that had never been my own Lancre. Some people can go home again, despite what they say, but I wasn't one of them.

And now I have my life back. In the body I left. Which is the same age as it was when I left it. Strangely enough, I'm not sure if I want to go home -- now that I have a home to go to again -- or continue on my Grand Sneer. Cert's being very good and very patient with me, and he says that he's happy with whatever I decide, though he'd like to visit his child in Bes Pelargic some day.

We're going to toss a coin. I won't be dedicating the toss to Io.

Here endeth this post, too.

* * *

So, how did I get back after all that? Simple. I died.

No, I don't understand it either.

It's good to be back.

-- Alice

Note for Roundworlders: the original lyrics for Stairway to Heaven can be found at:

...not that they make any more sense than Alice's...

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