Lords and Ladies Page 20


“In fact, there was a third horse I've just remembered about.”

“This isn't what you're supposed to do! You're supposed to be robbed!” shouted the coachman.

Ridcully pushed him off the board.

“We're on holiday,” he said.

The coach rattled away There was a distant cry of “And four horses, don't forget” before it rounded a bend.

The pumpkin developed a mouth.

“Have they gone?”

“Yes, boss.”

“Roll me into the shade, will you? And no one say anything about this ever again. Has anyone got any dried frog pills?”

Verence II respected witches. They'd put him on the throne. He was pretty certain of that, although he couldn't quite work out how it had happened. And he was in awe of Granny Weatherwax.

He followed her meekly toward the dungeons, hurrying to keep up with her long stride.

“What's happening, Mistress Weatherwax?”

“Got something to show you.”

“You mentioned elves.”

“That's right.”

“I thought they were a fairy story.”

“Well?”

“I mean . . . you know . . . an old wives' tale?”

“So?”

Granny Weatherwax seemed to generate a gyroscopic field - if you started out off-balance, she saw to it that you remained there.

He tried again.

“Don't exist, is what I'm trying to say.”

Granny reached a dungeon door. It was mainly age-blackened oak, but with a large barred grille occupying some of the top half.

“In there.”

Verence peered inside.

“Good grief!”

“I got Shawn to unlock it. I don't reckon anyone else saw us come in. Don't tell anyone. If the dwarfs and the trolls find out, they'll tear the walls apart to get him out.”

“Why? To kill him?”

“Of course. They've got better memories than humans.”

“What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Just keep it locked up. How should I know? I've got to think!”

Verence peered in again at the elf. It was lying curled up in the centre of the floor.

“That's an elf? But it's . . . just a long, thin human with a foxy face. More or less. I thought they were supposed to be beautiful?”

“Oh, they are when they're conscious,” said Granny, waving a hand vaguely “They project this . . . this . . . when people look at them, they see beauty, they see something they want to please. They can look just like you want them to look. 'S'called glamour. You can tell when elves are around. People act funny. They stop thinking clear. Don't you know anything?”

“I thought . . . elves were just stories . . . like the Tooth Fairy. . .”

“Nothing funny about the Tooth Fairy,” said Granny. “Very hard-working woman. I'll never know how she manages with the ladder and everything. No. Elves are real. Oh, drat. Listen. . .”

She turned, and held up a finger.

“Feudal system, right?”

“What?”

“Feudal system! Pay attention. Feudal system. King on top, then barons and whatnot, then everyone else . . . witches off to one side a bit,” Granny added diplomatically. She steepled her fingers. “Feudal system. Like them pointy buildings heathen kings get buried in. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Right. That's how the elves see things, yes? When they get into a world, everyone else is on the bottom. Slaves. Worse than slaves. Worse than animals, even. They take what they want, and they want everything. But worst of all, the worst bit is . . . they read your mind. They hear what you think, and in self-defence you think what they want. Glamour. And it's barred windows at night, and food out for the fairies, and turning around three times before you talks about 'em, and horseshoes over the door.”

“I thought that sort of thing was, you know,” the king grinned sickly, “folklore?”

“Of course it's folklore, you stupid man!”

“I do happen to be king, you know,” said Verence reproachfully.

“You stupid king, your majesty,”

“Thank you.”

“I mean it doesn't mean it's not true! Maybe it gets a little muddled over the years, folks forget details, they forget why they do things. Like the horseshoe thing.”

“I know my granny had one over the door,” said the king.

“There you are. Nothing to do with its shape. But if you lives in an old cottage and you're poor, it's probably the nearest bit of iron with holes in it that you can find.”

“Ah.”

“The thing about elves is they've got no . . . begins with m,” Granny snapped her fingers irritably.

“Manners?”

“Hah! Right, but no.”

“Muscle? Mucus? Mystery?”

“No. No. No. Means like . . . seein' the other person's point of view.”

Verence tried to see the world from a Granny Weatherwax perspective, and suspicion dawned.

“Empathy?”

“Right. None at all. Even a hunter, a good hunter, can feel for the quarry. That's what makes 'em a good hunter. Elves aren't like that. They're cruel for fun, and they can't understand things like mercy. They can't understand that anything apart from themselves might have feelings. They laugh a lot, especially if they've caught a lonely human or a dwarf or a troll. Trolls might be made out of rock, your majesty, but I'm telling you that a troll is your brother compared to elves. In the head, I mean.”

“But why don't I know all this?”

“Glamour. Elves are beautiful. They've got,” she spat the word, “style. Beauty. Grace. That's what matters. If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That's what people remember. They remember the glamour. All the rest of it, all the truth of it, becomes . . . old wives' tales.”

“Magrat's never said anything about them.”

Granny hesitated.

“Magrat doesn't know too much about elves,” she said. “Hah. She ain't even a young wife yet. They're not something that gets talked about a lot these days. It's not good to talk about them. It's better if everyone forgets about them. They . . . come when they're called. Not called like 'Cooee.' Called inside people's heads. It's enough for people just to want them to be here.”

Verence waved his hands in the air.

“I'm still learning about monarchy,” he said. “I don't understand this stuff.”

“You don't have to understand. You're a king. Listen. You know about weak places in the world? Where it joins other worlds?”

“No.”

“There's one up on the moor. That's why the Dancers were put up around it. They're a kind of wall.”

“But sometimes the barriers between worlds is weaker, see? Like tides. At circle time.”

“Ah.”

“And if people act stupidly then, even the Dancers can't keep the gateway shut. 'Cos where the world's thin, even the wrong thought can make the link.”

“Ah.”

Verence felt the conversation had orbited back to that area where he could make a contribution.

“Stupidly?” he said.

“Calling them. Attracting them.”

“Ah. So what do I do?”

“Just go on reigning. I think we're safe. They can't get through. I've stopped the girls, so there'll be no more channeling. You keep this one firmly under lock and key, and don't tell Magrat. No sense in worrying her, is there? Something came through, but I'm keeping an eye on it.”

Granny rubbed her hands together in grim satisfaction.

“I think I've got it sorted,” she said.

She blinked.

She pinched the bridge of her nose.

“What did I just say?” she said.

“Uh. You said you thought you'd got it sorted,” said the king.

Granny Weatherwax blinked.

“That's right,” she said. “I said that. Yes. And I'm in the castle, aren't I? Yes.”

“Are you all right. Mistress Weatherwax?” said the king, his voice taut with sudden worry.

“Fine, fine. Fine. In the castle. And the children are all right, too?”

“Sorry?”

She blinked again.

“What?”

“You don't look well. . .”

Granny screwed up her face and shook her head. “Yes. The castle. I'm me, you're you, Gytha's upstairs with Magrat. That's right.” She focused on the king. “Just a bit of . . . of overtiredness there. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about at all.”

Nanny Ogg looked doubtfully at Magrat's preparation.

“A mouldy bread poultice doesn't sound very magical to me,” she said.

“Goodie Whemper used to swear by it. But I don't know what we can do about the coma.”

Magrat thumbed hopefully through the crackling, ancient pages. Her ancestral witches had written things down pretty much as they occurred to them, so that quite important spells and observations would be interspersed with comments about the state of their feet.

“It says here 'The smalle pointy stones sometimes found are knowne as Elf-shot, beinge the heads of Elf arrows from Times Past.' ” That's all I can find. And there's a drawing. But I've seen these little stones around, too."

“Oh, there's lots of them,” said Nanny, bandaging Diamanda's shoulder. “Dig 'em up all the time, in my garden.”

“But elves don't shoot people! Elves are good.”

“They probably just fired at Esme and the girl in fun, like?”

“But-”

“Look, dear, you're going to be queen. It's an important job. You look after the king now, and let me and Esme look after . . . other stuff.”

“Being Queen? It's all tapestry and walking around in unsuitable dresses! I know Granny. She doesn't like anything that's . . . that's got style and grace. She's so sour.”

“I daresay she's got her reasons,” said Nanny amiably. “Well, that's got the girl patched up. What shall we do with her now?”

“We've got dozens of spare bedrooms,” said Magrat, “and they're all ready for the guests. We can put her in one of them. Um. Nanny?”

“Yes?”

“Would you like to be a bridesmaid?”

“Not really, dear. Bit old for that sort of thing.” Nanny hovered. “There isn't anything you need to ask me, though, is there?”

“What do you mean?”

“What with your mum being dead and you having no female relatives and everything. . .”

Magrat still looked puzzled.

“After the wedding, is what I'm hinting about,” said Nanny.

“Oh, that. No, most of that's being done by a caterer. The cook here isn't much good at canapes and things.”

Nanny looked carefully at the ceiling.

“And what about after that?” she said. “If you catch my meaning.”

“I'm getting a lot of girls in to do the clearing up. Look, don't worry. I've thought of everything. I wish you and Granny wouldn't treat me as if I don't know anything.”

Nanny coughed. “Your man,” she said. “Been around a bit, I expect? Been walking out with dozens of young women, I've no doubt.”

“Why do you say that? I don't think he has. Fools don't have much of a private life and, of course, he's been very busy since he's been king. He's a bit shy with girls.”

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