Lords and Ladies Page 19


Then there was the logistics of the sideboard. Again, the easy option - them just going over and helping themselves - was out of the question. If kings went round putting their own food on their own plate, the whole system of monarchy would come crashing down.

Unfortunately, this meant that service had to be by means of Mr. Spriggins the butler, who had a bad memory, a nervous twitch and a rubber knee, and a sort of medieval elevator system that connected with the kitchen and sounded like the rattle of a tumbril. The elevator shaft was a kind of heat sink. Hot food was cold by the time it arrived. Cold food got colder. No one knew what would happen to ice cream, but it would probably involve some rewriting of the laws of thermodynamics.

Also, the cook couldn't get the hang of vegetarianism. The traditional palace cuisine was heavy in artery-clogging dishes so full of saturated fats that they oozed out in great wobbly globules. Vegetables existed as things to soak up spare gravy, and were generally boiled to a uniform shade of yellow in any case. Magrat had tried explaining things to Mrs. Scorbic the cook, but the woman's three chins wobbled so menacingly at words like “vitamins” that she'd made an excuse to back out of the kitchen.

At the moment she was making do with an apple. The cook knew about apples. They were big roasted floury things scooped out and filled with raisins and cream. So Magrat had resorted to stealing a raw one from the apple loft. She was also plotting to find out where the carrots were kept.

Verence was distantly visible behind the silver candlesticks and a pile of account books.

Occasionally they looked up and smiled at each other. At least, it looked like a smile but it was a little hard to be sure at this distance.

Apparently he'd just said something.

Magrat cupped her hands around her mouth.

“Pardon?”

“We need a-”

“Sorry?”

“What?”

“What?”

Finally Magrat got up and waited while Spriggins, purple in the face with the effort, moved her chair down toward Verence. She could have done it herself, but it wasn't what queens did.

“We ought to have a Poet Laureate,” said Verence, marking his place in a book. “Kingdoms have to have one. They write poems for special celebrations.”

“Yes?”

“I thought perhaps Mrs. Ogg? I hear she's quite an amusing songstress.”

Magrat kept a straight face.

“I . . . er . . . I think she knows lots of rhymes for certain words,” she said.

“Apparently the going rate is fourpence a year and a butt of sack,” said Verence, peering at the page. “Or it may be a sack of butt.”

“What exactly will she have to do?” said Magrat.

“It says here the role of the Poet Laureate is to recite poems on State occasions,” said Verence.

Magrat had witnessed some of Nanny Ogg's humorous recitations, especially the ones with the gestures. She nodded gravely.

“Provided,” she said, “and I want to be absolutely sure you understand me on this, provided she takes up her post after the wedding.”

“Oh, dear? Really?”

“After the wedding.”

“Oh.”

“Trust me.”

“Well, of course, if it makes you happy-”

There was a commotion outside the double doors, which were flung back. Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax stamped in, with Shawn trying to overtake them.

“Oooaaww, Mum! I'm supposed to go in first to say who it is!”

“We'll tell them who we are. Wotcha, your majesties,” said Nanny.

“Blessing be upon this castle,” said Granny. “Magrat, there's some doctorin' needs doing. Here.”

Granny swept a candlestick and some crockery on to the floor with a dramatic motion and laid Diamanda on the table. In fact there were several acres of table totally devoid of any obstruction, but there's no sense in making an entrance unless you're prepared to make a mess.

“But I thought she was fighting you yesterday!” said Magrat.

“Makes no difference,” said Granny. “Morning, your majesty.”

King Verence nodded. Some kings would have shouted for the guards at this point but Verence did not because he ' was sensible, this was Granny Weatherwax and in any case the only available guard was Shawn Ogg, who was trying to straighten out his trumpet.

Nanny Ogg had drifted over to the sideboard. It wasn't that she was callous, but it had been a busy few hours and there was a lot of breakfast that no one seemed to be interested in.

“What happened to her?” said Magrat, inspecting the girl carefully.

Granny looked around the room. Suits of armour, shields hanging on the walls, rusty old swords and pikes . . . probably enough iron here . . .

“She was shot by an elf-”

“But-” said Magrat and Verence at the same time.

“Don't ask questions now, got no time. Shot by an elf. Them horrible arrows of theirs. They make the mind go wandering off all by itself. Now - can you do anything?”

Despite her better nature, Magrat felt a spark of righteous ire.

“Oh, so suddenly I'm a witch again when you-”

Granny Weatherwax sighed.

“No time for that, either,” she said. “I'm just askin'. All you have to do is say no. Then I'll take her away and won't bother you again.”

The quietness of her voice was so unexpected that Magrat tripped over her own anger, and tried to right herself.

“I wasn't saying I wouldn't, I was just-”

“Good.”

There was a series of clangs as Nanny Ogg lifted the silver tureen lids.

“Hey, they've got three kinds of eggs!”

“Well, there's no fever,” said Magrat. “Slow pulse. Eyes unfocused. Shawn?”

“Yes, Miss Queen?”

“Boiled, scrambled and fried. That's what I call posh.”

“Run down to my cottage and bring back all the books you can find. I'm sure I read something about this once, Granny. Shawn?”

Shawn paused halfway to the door.

“Yes, Miss Queen?”

“On your way out, stop off in the kitchens and ask them to boil up a lot of water. We can start by getting the wound clean, at any rate. But look, elves-”

“I'll let you get on with it, then,” said Granny, turning away. “Can I have a word with you, your majesty? There's something downstairs you ought to see.”

“I shall need some help,” said Magrat.

“Nanny'll do it.”

“That's me,” said Nanny indistinctly, spraying crumbs.

“What are you eating?”

“Fried egg and ketchup sandwich,” said Nanny happily.

“You better get the cook to boil you, too,” said Magrat, rolling up her sleeves. “Go and see her.” She looked at the wound. “And see if she's got any mouldy bread . . .”

The basic unit of wizardry is the Order or the College or, of course, the University.

The basic unit of witchcraft is the witch, but the basic continuous unit, as has already been indicated, is the cottage.

A witch's cottage is a very specific architectural item. It is not exactly built, but put together over the years as the areas of repair join up, like a sock made entirely of dams. The chimney twists like a corkscrew. The roof is thatch so old that small but flourishing trees are growing in it, the floors are switchbacks, it creaks at night like a tea clipper in a gale. If at least two walls aren't shored up with balks of timber then it's not a true witch's cottage at all, but merely the home of some daft old bat who reads tea leaves and talks to her cat.

Cottages tend to attract similar kinds of witches. It's natural. Every witch trains up one or two young witches in their life, and when in the course of mortal time the cottage becomes vacant it's only sense for one of them to move in.

Magrat's cottage traditionally housed thoughtful witches who noticed things and wrote things down. Which herbs were better than others for headaches, fragments of old stories, odds and ends like that.

There were a dozen books of tiny handwriting and drawings, the occasional interesting flower or unusual frog pressed carefully between the pages.

It was a cottage of questioning witches, research witches. Eye of what newt? What species of ravined salt-sea shark? It's all very well a potion calling for Love-in-idleness, but which of the thirty-seven common plants called by that name in various parts of the continent was actually meant?

The reason that Granny Weatherwax was a better witch than Magrat was that she knew that in witchcraft it didn't matter a damn which one it was, or even if it was a piece of grass.

The reason that Magrat was a better doctor than Granny was that she thought it did.

The coach slowed to a halt in front of the barricade across the road.

The bandit chieftain adjusted his eyepatch. He had two good eyes, but people respect uniforms. Then he strolled toward the coach.

“Morning, Jim. What've we got today, then?”

“Uh. This could be difficult,” said the coachman. “Uh, there's a handful of wizards. And a dwarf. And an ape.” He rubbed his head, and winced. “Yes. Definitely an ape. Not, and I think I should make this clear, any other kind of manshaped thing with hair on.”

“You all right, Jim?”

“I've had this lot ever since Ankh-Morpork. Don't talk to me about dried frog pills.”

The bandit chief raised his eyebrows.

“All right. I won't.”

He knocked on the coach door. The window slid down.

“I wouldn't like you to think of this as a robbery,” he said. “I'd like you to think of it more as a colourful anecdote you might enjoy telling your grandchildren about.”

A voice from within said, “That's him! He stole my horse!”

A wizard's staff poked out. The chieftain saw the knob on the end.

“Now, then,” he said, pleasantly. “I know the rules. Wizards aren't allowed to use magic against civilians except in genuine life-threatening situa-”

There was a burst of octarine light.

“Actually, it's not a rule,” said Ridcully. “It's more a guideline.” He turned to Ponder Stibbons. “Interestin' use of Stacklady's Morphic Resonator here, I hope you noticed.”

Ponder looked down.

The chieftain had been turned into a pumpkin although, in accordance with the rules of universal humour, he still had his hat on.

“And now,” said Ridcully, “I'd be obliged if all you fellows hidin' behind the rocks and things would just step out where I can see you. Very good. Mr. Stibbons, you and the Librarian just pass around with the hat, please.”

“But this is robbery!” said the coachman. “And you've turned him into a fruit!”

“A vegetable,” said Ridcully “Anyway, it'll wear off in a couple of hours.”

“And I'm owed a horse,” said Casanunda.

The bandits paid up, reluctantly handing over money to Ponder and reluctantly but very quickly handing over money to the Librarian.

“There's almost three hundred dollars, sir,” said Ponder.

“And a horse, remember. In fact, there were two horses. I'd forgotten about the other horse until now.”

“Capital! We're in pocket on the trip. So if these gentlemen would just remove the roadblock, we'll be on our way.”

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