Lords and Ladies Page 13


“Well, in a way, but-”

“No one cheated,” said Nanny

Margrat sagged into silence. Nanny patted her on the shoulder.

“So you won't be telling anyone you saw me wave the bag of sweets at him, will you?” she said.

“No, Nanny.”

“There's a good going-to-be-queen.”

“Nanny?”

“Yes, dear?”

Magrat took a deep breath.

“How did Verence know when we were coming back?”

It seemed to Magrat that Nanny thought for just a few seconds too long.

“Couldn't say,” she said at last. “Kings are a bit magical, mind. They can cure dandruff and that. Probably he woke up one morning and his royal prerogative gave him a tickle.”

The trouble with Nanny Ogg was that she always looked as if she was lying. Nanny Ogg had a pragmatic attitude to the truth; she told it if it was convenient and she couldn't be bothered to make up something more interesting.

“Keeping busy up there, are you?” she said.

“One's doing very well, thank you,” said Magrat, with what she hoped was queenly hauteur.

“Which one?” said Nanny.

“Which one what?”

“Which one's doing very well?”

“Me!”

“You should have said,” said Nanny, her face poker straight. “So long as you're keeping busy, that's the important thing.”

“He knew we were coming back,” said Magrat firmly. “He'd even got the invitations sorted out. Oh, by the way . . . there's one for you-”

“I know, one got it this morning,” said Nanny. “Got all that fancy nibbling on the edges and gold and everything. Who's Ruservup?”

Magrat had long ago got a handle on Nanny Ogg's world-view.

“RSVP,” she said. “It means you ought to say if you're coming.”

“Oh, one'll be along all right, catch one staying away,” said Nanny. “Has one's Jason sent one his invite yet? Thought not. Not a skilled man with a pen, our Jason.”

“Invitation to what?” said Magrat. She was getting fed up with ones.

“Didn't Verence tell one?” said Nanny. “It's a special play that's been written special for you.”

“Oh, yes,” said Magrat. “The Entertainment.”

“Right,” said Nanny. “It's going to be on Midsummer's Eve.”

“It's got to be special, on Midsummer's Eve,” said Jason Ogg.

The door to the smithy had been bolted shut. Within were the eight members of the Lancre Morris Men, six times winners of the Fifteen Mountains All-Comers Morris Championship,[10] now getting to grips with a new art form.

“I feel a right twit,” said Bestiality Carter, Lancre's only baker. “A dress on! I just hope my wife doesn't see me!”

“Says here,” said Jason Ogg, his enormous forefinger hesitantly tracing its way along the page, “that it's a beaut-i-ful story of the love of the Queen of the Fairies - that's you, Bestiality-”

“-thank you very much-”

“-for a mortal man. Plus a hum-our-rus int-ter-lude with Comic Artisans. . .”

“What's an artisan?” said Weaver the thatcher.

“Dunno. Type of well, I reckon.” Jason scratched his head. “Yeah. They've got 'em down on the plains. I repaired a pump for one once. Artisan wells.”

“What's comic about them?”

“Maybe people fall down 'em in a funny way?”

“Why can't we do a Morris like normal?” said Obidiah Carpenter the tailor.[11]

“Morris is for every day,” said Jason. “We got to do something cultural. This come all the way from Ankh-Morpork.”

“We could do the Stick and Bucket Dance,” volunteered Baker the weaver.

“No one is to do the Stick and Bucket Dance ever again,” said Jason. “Old Mr. Thrum still walks with a limp, and it were three months ago.”

Weaver the thatcher squinted at his copy of the script.

"Who's this bugger Exeunt Omnes' he said.

“I don't think much of my part,” said Carpenter, “it's too small.”

“It's his poor wife I feel sorry for,” said Weaver, automatically.

“Why?” said Jason.[13]

“And why's there got to be a lion in it?” said Baker the weaver.

“'Cos it's a play!” said Jason. “No one'd want to see it if it had a . . . a donkey in it! Oi can just see people comin' to see a play 'cos it had a donkey in it. This play was written by a real playsmith! Hah, I can just see a real playsmith putting donkeys in a play! He says he'll be very interested to hear how we get on! Now just you all shut up!”

“I don't feel like the Queen of the Fairies,” moaned Bestiality Carter.[14]

“You'll grow into it,” said Weaver.

“I hope not.”

“And you've got to rehearse,” said Jason.

“There's no room,” said Thatcher the carter.

“Well, I ain't doin' it where anyone else can see,” said Bestiality. “Even if we go out in the woods somewhere, people'll be bound to see. Me in a dress!”

“They won't recognize you in your makeup,” said Weaver.

“Make-up?”

“Yeah, and your wig,” said Tailor the other weaver. “He's right, though,” said Weaver. “If we're going to make fools of ourselves, I don't want no one to see me until we're good at it.”

“Somewhere off the beaten track, like,” said Thatcher the carter.

“Out in the country,” said Tinker the tinker.

“Where no one goes,” said Carter.

Jason scratched his cheese-grater chin. He was bound to

think of somewhere.

“And who's going to play Exeunt Omnes?” said Weaver.

“He doesn't have much to say, does he?”

The coach rattled across the featureless plains. The land between Ankh-Morpork and the Ramtops was fertile, well-cultivated and dull, dull, dull. Travel broadens the mind. This landscape broadened the mind because the mind just flowed out from the ears like porridge. It was the kind of landscape where, if you saw a distant figure cutting cabbages, you'd watch him until he was out of sight because there was simply nothing else for the eye to do.

“I spy,” said the Bursar, “with my little eye, something beginning with . . . H.”

“Oook.”

“No.”

“Horizon,” said Ponder.

“You guessed!”

“Of course I guessed. I'm supposed to guess. We've had S for Sky, C for Cabbage, 0 for . . . for Ook, and there's nothing else.”

“I'm not going to play anymore if you're going to guess.” The Bursar pulled his hat down over his ears and tried to curl up on the hard seat.

“There'll be lots to see in Lancre,” said the Archchancellor. “The only piece of flat land they've got up there is in a museum.”

Ponder said nothing.

“Used to spend whole summers up there,” said Ridcully. He sighed. “You know . . . things could have been very different.”

Ridcully looked around. If you're going to relate an intimate piece of personal history, you want to be sure it's going to be heard.

The Librarian looked out at the jolting scenery. He was sulking. This had a lot to do with the new bright blue collar around his neck with the word "PONGO' on it. Someone was going to suffer for this.

The Bursar was trying to use his hat like a limpet uses its shell.

“There was this girl.”

Ponder Stibbons, chosen by a cruel fate to be the only one listening, looked surprised. He was aware that, technically, even the Archchancellor had been young once. After all, it was just a matter of time. Common sense suggested that wizards didn't flash into existence aged seventy and weighing nineteen stone. But common sense needed reminding.

He felt he ought to say something.

“Pretty, was she, sir?” he said.

“No. No, I can't say she was. Striking. That's the word. Tall. Hair so blond it was nearly white. And eyes like gimlets, I tell you.”

Ponder tried to work this out.

“You don't mean that dwarf who runs the delicatessen in-” he began.

“I mean you always got the impression she could see right through you,” said Ridcully, slightly more sharply than he had intended. “And she could run . . .”

He lapsed into silence again, staring at the newsreels of memory.

“I would've married her, you know,” he said.

Ponder said nothing. When you're a cork in someone else's stream of consciousness, all you can do is spin and bob in the eddies.

“What a summer,” murmured Ridcully. “Very like this one, really. Crop circles were bursting like raindrops. And . . . well, I was having doubts, you know. Magic didn't seem to be enough. I was a bit . . . lost. I'd have given it all up for her. Every blasted octogram and magic spell. Without a second thought. You know when they say things like 'she had a laugh like a mountain stream'?”

“I'm not personally familiar with it,” said Ponder, “but I have read poetry that-”

“Load of cobblers, poetry,” said Ridcully. "I've listened to mountain streams and they just go trickle, trickle, gurgle.

And you get them things in them, you know, insect things with little . . . anyway. Doesn't sound like laughter at all, is my point. Poets always get it wrong. 'S'like 'she had lips like cherries.' Small, round, and got a stone in the middle? Hah!"

He shut his eyes. After a while Ponder said, “So what happened, sir?”

“What?”

“The girl you were telling me about.”

“What girl?”

“This girl.”

“Oh, that girl. Oh, she turned me down. Said there were things she wanted to do. Said there'd be time enough.”

There was another pause.

“What happened then?” Ponder prompted.

“Happened? What d'you think happened? I went off and studied. Term started. Wrote her a lot of letters but she never answered 'em. Probably never got 'em, they probably eat the mail up there. Next year I was studying all summer and never had time to go back. Never did go back. Exams and so on. Expect she's dead now, or some fat old granny with a dozen kids. Would've wed her like a shot. Like a shot.” Ridcully scratched his head. “Hah . . . just wish I could remember her name . . .”

He stretched out with his feet on the Bursar.

“'S'funny, that,” he said. “Can't even remember her name. Hah! She could outrun a horse-”

“Kneel and deliver!”

The coach rattled to a halt.

Ridcully opened an eye.

“What's that?” he said.

Ponder jerked awake from a reverie of lips like mountain streams and looked out of the window.

“I think,” he said, “it's a very small highwayman.”

The coachman peered down at the figure in the road. It was hard to see much from this angle, because of the short body and the wide hat. It was like looking at a well-dressed mushroom with a feather in it.

“I do apologize for this,” said the very small highwayman. “I find myself a little short.”

The coachman sighed and put down the reins. Properly arranged holdups by the Bandits' Guild were one thing, but he was blowed if he was going to be threatened by an outlaw that came up to his waist and didn't even have a crossbow.

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