Old Grimm Orkson, chieftain of the Munrungs, had two sons. The eldest, Glurk, succeeded his father as chieftain when old Orkson died.
To the Munrung way of thinking, which was a slow and deliberate way, there couldn't have been a better choice. Glurk looked just like a second edition of his father, from his broad shoulders to his great, thick neck, the battering center of his strength. Glurk could throw a spear farther than anyone. He could wrestle with a snarg, and wore a necklace of their long yellow teeth to prove it. He could lift a horse with one hand, run all day without tiring, and creep up so close to a grazing animal that sometimes it would die of shock before he had time to raise his spear. Admittedly he moved his lips when he was thinking, and the thoughts could be seen bumping against one another like dumplings in a stew, but he was not stupid. Not what you'd call stupid. His brain got there in the end. It just went the long way round.
"He's a man of few words, and he doesn't know what either of them means," people said, but not when he was within hearing.
One day, toward evening, he was tramping homeward through the dusty glades, carrying a bone-tipped hunting spear under one arm. The other arm steadied the long pole that rested on his shoulder.
In the middle of the pole, its legs tied together, dangled a snarg. At the other end of the pole was Snibril, Glurk's younger brother.
Old Orkson had married early and lived long, so a wide gap filled by a string of daughters — who the chieftain had carefully married off to upright and respected and above all well-off Munrungs — separated the brothers.
Snibril was slight, especially compared with his brother. Grimm had sent him off to the strict Dumii school in Tregon Marus to become a clerk. "He can't hardly hold a spear," he said. "Maybe a pen'd be better. Get some learning in the family."
When Snibril had run away for the third time, Pismire came to see Grimm.
Pismire was the shaman, a kind of odd-job priest.
Most tribes had one, although Pismire was different. For one thing, at least once every month he washed all the bits that showed. This was unusual. Other shamans tended to encourage dirt, taking the view that the grubbier, the more magical.
And he didn't wear lots of feathers and bones, and he didn't talk like the other shamans in neighboring tribes.
Other shamans ate the yellow-spotted mushrooms that were found deep in the hair thickets and said things like "Hiiiiyahyahheya! Heyaheyayahyah! Hngh! Hngh!" which certainly sounded magical.
Pismire said things like "Correct observation followed by meticulous deduction and the precise visualization of goals is vital to the success of any enterprise. Have you noticed the way the wild tromps always move around two days ahead of the sorath herds? Incidentally, don't eat the yellow-spotted mushrooms."
Which didn't sound magical at all, but worked a lot better and conjured up good hunting. Privately some Munrungs thought good hunting was due more to their own skill than to his advice. Pismire encouraged this view. "Positive thinking," he would say, "is also very important."
Grimm was chopping sticks outside his hut. "It'll never work," said Pismire, appearing behind him in that silent way of his. "You can't send Snibril off to Tregon again. He's a Munrung. No wonder he keeps running away. He'll never be a clerk. It's not in the blood, man. Let him stay. I'll see he learns to read."
"If you can learn him, you're welcome," said Grimm, shaking his head. "He's a mystery to me."
So Snibril went to Pismire's village school with the other children, and learned numbers, letters, and the Dumii laws. He enjoyed it, sucking in knowledge as though his life depended on it. It often did, Pismire said.
And, strangely, he also grew up to be a hunter almost as good as his brother. But in different ways. Glurk chased. Snibril watched. You don't have to chase around after creatures, Pismire had said. You watch them for long enough, and then you'll find the place to wait and they'll come to you. There's nearly always a better way of doing something.
When old Grimm died, he was laid in a barrow dug out of the dust of the Carpet, with his hunting spear by his side. Munrungs had no idea where you went when you died, but there was no reason to go hungry once you got there.
Glurk became chieftain, and would have to take the tribe to the next Counting. But the messenger to summon them to Tregon Marus was long overdue, and that worried Glurk. Not that he was in a hurry to pay taxes, and actually going to see why the messenger was late seemed a bit too, you know, keen, but usually the Dumii were very reliable, especially over tax gathering.
But as he and his brother wandered homeward that evening, he kept his thoughts to himself. Snibril grunted as he heaved the pole onto his other shoulder. He was shorter than his brother, and he was going to get shorter still, he thought, if he couldn't shed the load for a minute or two.
"I feel as though my feet have worn right off and my legs have turned up at the ends," he said. "Can't we stop for a rest? Five minutes won't hurt. And ... my head aches ..."
"Five minutes, then," said Glurk. "No more. It's getting dark."
They had reached the Dumii road, and not far north of it lay the Woodwall, home, and supper. They sat down.
Glurk, who never wasted his time, started to sharpen the point of his spear on a piece of grit, but both brothers gazed down the road, which was shining in the dim evening air. The road stretched west, a glowing line in the darkness. The hairs around it were full of growing shadows. It had fascinated Snibril ever since his father had told him that all roads led to Ware. So it was only the road that lay between the doorway of his hut and the threshold of the Emperor's palace, he thought. And if you counted all the streets and passages that led off the road ... Once you set foot on it, you might end up anywhere, and if you just sat by the road and waited, who might pass you by? Everywhere was connected to everywhere else, Pismire had said.
Snibril put his head in his hands. The ache was worse. It felt as though he was being squeezed.
The Carpet had felt wrong, too, today. The hunting had been hard. Most of the animals had vanished, and the dust between the hairs did not stir in the breathless air.
Glurk said, "I don't like this. There hasn't been anyone on the road for days."
He stood up and reached out for the pole.
Snibril groaned. He'd have to ask Pismire for a pill ...
A shadow flickered high up in the hairs, and flashed away toward the south.
There was a sound so loud as to be felt by the whole body, hitting the Carpet with horrible suddenness. The brothers sprawled in the dust as the hairs around them groaned and screamed in the gale.
Glurk gripped the rough bark of a hair and hauled himself upright, straining against the storm that whipped round him. Far overhead the tip of the hair creaked and rattled, and, on all sides, the hairs waved like a gray sea. Smashing through them came grit, man-sized boulders half rolling and half flying before the wind.
Holding on tightly with one hand, Glurk reached out with the other and hauled his brother to safety. Then they crouched, too shaken to speak, while the storm banged about them.
As quickly as it had come, it veered south, and the darkness followed it ...
From The Carpet People, published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Text copyright 1971, 1992 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett.