Lords and Ladies Page 11


“A lot.”

“Yes.”

“I'm not saying you couldn't beat her,” said Nanny quickly. “I'm not saying that. But I don't reckon I could, and it seemed to me it'd raise a bit of a sweat even on you. You'll have to hurt her to beat her.”

“I'm losin' my judgment, aren't I?”

“Oh, I-”

“She riled me, Gytha. Couldn't help myself. Now I've got to duel with a gel of seventeen, and if I wins I'm a wicked bullyin' old witch, and if I loses . . .”

She kicked up a drift of old leaves.

“Can't stop myself, that's my trouble.”

Nanny Ogg said nothing.

“And I loses my temper over the least little-”

“Yes, but-”

“I hadn't finished talkin'.”

“Sorry, Esme.”

A bat fluttered by. Granny nodded to it.

“Heard how Magrat's getting along?” she said, in a tone of voice which forced casualness embraced like a corset.

“Settling in fine, our Shawn says.”

“Right.”

They reached a crossroads; the white dust glowed very faintly in the moonlight. One way led into Lancre, where Nanny Ogg lived. Another eventually got lost in the forest, became a footpath, then a track, and eventually reached Granny Weatherwax's cottage.

“When shall we . . . two . . . meet again?” said Nanny

Ogg.

“Listen,” said Granny Weatherwax. “She's well out of it, d'you hear? She'll be a lot happier as a queen!”

“I never said nothing,” said Nanny Ogg mildly.

“I know you never! I could hear you not saying anything! You've got the loudest silences I ever did hear from anyone who wasn't dead!”

“See you about eleven o'clock, then?”

“Right!”

The wind got up again as Granny walked along the track to her cottage.

She knew she was on edge. There was just too much to do. She'd got Magrat sorted out, and Nanny could look after herself, but the Lords and the Ladies . . . she hadn't counted on them.

The point was . . .

The point was that Granny Weatherwax had a feeling she was going to die. This was beginning to get on her nerves.

Knowing the time of your death is one of those strange bonuses that comes with being a true magic user. And, on the whole, it is a bonus.

Many a wizard has passed away happily drinking the last of his wine cellar and incidentally owing very large sums of money.

Granny Weatherwax had always wondered how it felt, what it was that you suddenly saw looming up. And what it turned out to be was a blankness.

People think that they live life as a moving dot travelling from the Past into the Future, with memory streaming out behind them like some kind of mental cometary tail. But memory spreads out in front as well as behind. It's just that most humans aren't good at dealing with it, and so it arrives as premonitions, forebodings, intuitions, and hunches. Witches are good at dealing with it, and to suddenly find a blank where these tendrils of the future should be has much the same effect on a witch as emerging from a cloud bank and seeing a team of sherpas looking down on him does on an airline pilot.

She'd got a few days, and then that was it. She'd always expected to have a bit of time to herself, get the garden in order, have a good clean up around the place so that whatever witch took over wouldn't think she'd been a sloven, pick out a decent burial plot, and then spend some time sitting out in the rocking chair, doing nothing at all except looking at the trees and thinking about the past. Now . . . no chance.

And other things were happening. Her memory seemed to be playing up. Perhaps this is what happened. Perhaps you just drained away toward the end, like old Nanny Gripes, who ended up putting the cat on the stove and the kettle out for the night.

Granny shut the door behind her and lit a candle.

There was a box in the dresser drawer. She opened it on the kitchen table and took out the carefully folded piece of paper. There was a pen and ink in there, too.

After some thought, she picked up where she had left off:

. . . and to my friend Gytha Ogg I leave my bedde and the rag rugge the smith in Bad Ass made for me, and the matchin jug and basin and wosiname sett she always had her eye on, and my broomstick what will be Right as Rain with a bit of work.

To Magrat Garlick I leave the Contentes elsewhere in this box, my silver tea service with the milk jug in the shape of a humorous cow what is an Heir Loom, also the Clocke what belonged to my mother, but I charge her alwayes to keep it wound, for when the clocke stops-

There was a noise outside.

If anyone else had been in the room with her Granny Weatherwax would have thrown open the door boldly, but she was by herself. She picked up the poker very carefully, moved surprisingly soundlessly to the door given the nature of her boots, and listened intently.

There was something in the garden.

It wasn't much of a garden. There were the Herbs, and the soft fruit bushes, a bit of lawn and, of course, the beehives. And it was open to the woods. The local wildlife knew better than to invade a witch's garden.

Granny opened the door carefully.

The moon was setting. Pale silver light turned the world into monochrome.

There was a unicorn on the lawn. The stink of it hit her.

Granny advanced, holding the poker in front of her. The unicorn backed away, and pawed at the ground.

Granny saw the future plain. She already knew the when. Now she was beginning to apprehend the how.

“So,” she said, under her breath, “I knows where you came from. And you can damn well get back there.”

The thing made a feint at her, but the poker swung toward it.

“Can't stand the iron, eh? Well, just you trot back to your mistress and tell her that we know all about iron in Lancre. And I knows about her. She's to keep away, understand? This is my place!”

Then it was moonlight. Now it was day.

There was quite a crowd in what passed for Lancre's main square. Not much happened in Lancre anyway, and a duel between witches was a sight worth seeing.

Granny Weatherwax arrived at a quarter to noon. Nanny Ogg was waiting on a bench by the tavern. She had a towel around her neck, and was carrying a bucket of water in which floated a sponge.

“What's that for?” said Granny.

“Half time. And I done you a plate of oranges.”

She held up the plate. Granny snorted.

“You look as if you could do with eating something, anyway,” said Nanny. “You don't look as if you've had anything today. . .”

She glanced down at Granny's boots, and the grubby hem of her long black dress. There were scraps of bracken and bits of heather caught on it.

“You daft old besom!” she hissed. “What've you been doing!”

“I had to-”

“You've been up at the Stones, haven't you! Trying to hold back the Gentry.”

“Of course,” said Granny. Her voice wasn't faint. She wasn't swaying. But her voice wasn't faint and she wasn't swaying. Nanny Ogg could see, because Granny Weatherwax's body was in the grip of Granny Weatherwax's mind.

“Someone's got to,” she added.

“You could have come and asked me!”

“You'd have talked me out of it.”

Nanny Ogg leaned forward.

“You all right, Esme?”

“Fine! I'm fine! Nothing wrong with me, all right?”

“Have you had any sleep at all?” she said.

“Well-”

“You haven't, have you? And then you think you can just stroll down here and confound this girl, just like that?”

“I don't know,” said Granny Weatherwax.

Nanny Ogg looked hard at her.

“You don't, do you?” she said, in a softer tone of voice. “Oh, well . . . you better sit down here, before you fall down. Suck an orange. They'll be here in a few minutes.”

“No she won't,” said Granny “She'll be late.”

“How d'you know?”

“No good making an entrance if everyone isn't there to see you, is it? That's headology.”

In fact the young coven arrived at twenty past twelve, and took up station on the steps of the market pentangle on the other side of the square.

“Look at 'em,” said Granny Weatherwax. “All in black, again.”

“Well, we wear black too,” said Nanny Ogg the reasonable.

“Only 'cos it's respectable and serviceable,” said Granny morosely. “Not because it's romantic. Hah. The Lords and Ladies might as well be here already.”

After some eye contact. Nanny Ogg ambled across the square and met Perdita in the middle. The young would-be witch looked worried under her makeup. She held a black lace handkerchief in her hands, and was twisting it nervously.

“Morning, Mrs. Ogg,” she said.

“Afternoon, Agnes.”

“Um. What happens now?”

Nanny Ogg took out her pipe and scratched her ear with it.

“Dunno. Up to you, I suppose.”

“Diamanda says why does it have to be here and now?”

“So's everyone can see,” said Nanny Ogg. “That's the point, ain't it? Nothing hole and comer about it. Everyone's got to know who's best at witchcraft. The whole town. Everyone sees the winner win and the loser lose. That way there's no argument, eh?”

Perdita glanced toward the tavern. Granny Weatherwax had dozed off.

“Quietly confident,” said Nanny Ogg, crossing her fingers behind her back.

“Um, what happens to the loser?” said Perdita.

“Nothing, really,” said Nanny Ogg. “Generally she leaves the place. You can't be a witch if people've seen you beat.”

“Diamanda says she doesn't want to hurt the old lady too much,” said Perdita. “Just teach her a lesson.”

“That's nice. Esme's a quick learner.”

“Um. I wish this wasn't happening, Mrs. Ogg.”

“That's nice.”

“Diamanda says Mistress Weatherwax has got a very impressive stare, Mrs. Ogg.”

“That's nice.”

“So the test is . . . just staring, Mrs. Ogg.”

Nanny put her pipe in her mouth.

“You mean the old first-one-to-blink-or-look-away challenge?”

“Um, yes.”

“Right.” Nanny thought about it, and shrugged. “Right. But we'd better do a magic circle first. Don't want anyone else getting hurt, do we?”

“Do you mean using Skorhian Runes or the Triple Invocation octogram?” said Perdita.

Nanny Ogg put her head on one side.

“Never heard of them things, dear,” she said. “I always does a magic circle like this . . .”

She sidled crabwise away from the fat girl, dragging one toe in the dust. She edged around in a rough circle about fifteen feet across, still dragging her boot, until she backed into Perdita.

“Sorry. There. Done it.”

“That's a magic circle?”

“Right. People can come to harm else. All kinds of magic zipping around the place when witches fight.”

“But you didn't chant or anything.”

“No?”

“There has to be a chant, doesn't there?”

“Dunno. Never done one.”

“Oh.”

“I could sing you a comic song if you likes,” said Nanny helpfully.

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