Lords and Ladies Page 28


“What fire? I don't know anything about any fire?”

Granny turned around.

"Of course not! It didn't happen. But the point is, it might have happened. You can't say 'if this didn't happen then that would have happened' because you don't know everything that might have happened. You might think something'd be good, but for all you know it could have turned out horrible. You can't say 'If only I'd . . . ' because you could be wishing for anything. The point is, you'll never know. You've gone past. So there's no use thinking about it.

So I don't."

“The Trousers of Time,” said Ridcully, moodily. He picked a fragment off the crumbling stonework and dropped it into the water. It went plunk, as is so often the case.

“What?”

“That's the sort of thing they go on about in the High Energy Magic building. And they call themselves wizards! You should hear them talk. The buggers wouldn't know a magic sword if it bit them on the knee. That's young wizards today. Think they bloody invented magic.”

“Yes? You should see the girls that want to be witches these days,” said Granny Weatherwax. “Velvet hats and black lipstick and lacy gloves with no fingers to 'em. Cheeky, too.”

They were side by side now, watching the river.

“Trousers of Time,” said Ridcully. “One of you goes down one leg, one of you goes down the other. And there's all these continuinuinuums all over the place. When I was a lad there was just one decent universe and this was it, and all you had to worry about was creatures breaking through from the Dungeon Dimensions, but at least there was this actual damn universe and you knew where you stood. Now it turns out there's millions of the damn things. And there's this damn cat they've discovered that you can put in a box and it's dead and alive at the same time. Or something. And they all run around saying marvellous, marvellous, hooray, here comes another quantum. Ask 'em to do a decent levitation spell and they look at you as if you've started to dribble. You should hear young Stibbons talk. Went on about me not inviting me to my own wedding. Me!”

From the side of the gorge a kingfisher flashed, hit the water with barely a ripple, and ricocheted away with something silver and wriggly in its beak.

“Kept going on about everything happening at the same time,” Ridcully went on morosely. “Like there's no such thing as a choice. You just decide which leg you're heading for. He says that we did get married, see. He says all the things that might have been have to be. So there's thousands of me out there who never became a wizard, just like there's thousands of you who, oh, answered letters. Hah! To them, we're something that might have been. Now, d'you call that proper thinking for a growing lad? When I started wizarding, old 'Tudgy' Spold was Archchancellor, and if any young wizard'd even mentioned that sort of daft thing, he'd feel a staff across his backside. Hah!”

Somewhere far below, a frog plopped off a stone. “Mind you, I suppose we've all passed a lot of water since then.”

It dawned gently on Ridcully that the dialogue had become a monologue. He turned to Granny, who was staring round-eyed at the river as if she'd never seen water before.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she said.

“I beg your pardon? I was only-”

“Not you. I wasn't talking to you. Stupid! I've been stupid. But I ain't been daft! Hah! And I thought it was my memory going! And it was, too. It was going and fetching!”

“What?”

"I was getting scared! Me! And not thinking clear!

Except I was thinking clear!"

“What!”

“Never mind! Well, I won't say this hasn't been . . . nice,” said Granny. “But I've got to get back. Do the thing with the fingers again. And hurry.”

Ridcully deflated a little.

“Can't,” he said.

“You did it just now.”

“That's the point. I wasn't joking when I said I couldn't do it again. It takes a lot out of you, transmigration.”

“You used to be able to do it all the time, as I recall,” said Granny. She risked a smile. “Our feet hardly touched the ground.”

“I was younger then. Now, once is enough.” Granny's boots creaked as she turned and started to walk quickly back toward the town. Ridcully lumbered after her.

“What's the hurry?”

“Got important things to do,” said Granny, without turning around. “Been letting everyone down.”

“Some people might say this is important.”

“No. It's just personal. Personal's not the same as important. People just think it is.”

“You're doing it again!”

“What?”

“I don't know what the other future would have been like,” said Ridcully, “but I for one would have liked to give it a try.”

Granny paused. Her mind was crackling with relief. Should she tell him about the memories? She opened her mouth to do so, and then thought again. No. He'd get soppy.

“I'd have been crabby and bad-tempered,” she said, instead.

“That goes without saying.”

“Hah! And what about you? I'd have put up with all your womanizing and drunkenness, would I?”

Ridcully looked bewildered.

“What womanizing?”

“We're talking about what might have been.”

“But I'm a wizard! We hardly ever womanize. There's laws about it. Well. . . rules. Guidelines, anyway.”

“But you wouldn't have been a wizard then.”

“And I'm hardly ever drunk.”

“You would have been if you'd been wedded to me.”

He caught up with her.

“Even young Ponder doesn't think like this,” he said. “You've made up your mind that it would have been dreadful, have you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Why'd you think?”

“I asked you!”

“I'm too busy for this,” said Granny. “Like I said, personal ain't the same as important. Make yourself useful, Mr. Wizard. You know it's circle time, don't you?”

Ridcully's hand touched the brim of his hat.

“Oh, yes.”

“And you know what that means?”

“They tell me it means that the walls between realities get weaker. The circles are . . . what's the word Stibbons uses? Isoresons. They connect levels of, oh, something daft . . . similar levels of reality. Which is bloody stupid. You'd be able to walk from one universe to another.”

“Ever tried it?”

“No!”

“A circle is a door half open. It doesn't need much to open it up all the way. Even belief'll do it. That's why they put the Dancers up, years ago. We got the dwarfs to do it. Thunderbolt iron, those stones. There's something special about 'em. They've got the love of iron. Don't ask me how it works. Elves hate it even more than ordinary iron. It . . . upsets their senses, or something. But minds can get through. . .”

“Elves? Everyone knows elves don't exist anymore. Not proper elves. I mean, there's a few folk who say they're elves-”

“Oh, yeah. Elvish ancestry. Elves and humans breed all right, as if that's anything to be proud of. But you just get a race o'skinny types with pointy ears and a tendency to giggle and burn easily in sunshine. I ain't talking about them. There's no harm in them. I'm talking about real wild elves, what we ain't seen here for-”

The road from the bridge to the town curved between high banks, with the forest crowding in on either side and in places even meeting overhead. Thick ferns, already curling like green breakers, lined the clay banks.

They rustled.

The unicorn leapt on the road.

Thousands of universes, twisting together like a rope being plaited from threads . . .

There's bound to be leakages, a sort of mental equivalent of the channel breakthrough on a cheap hi-fi that gets you the news in Swedish during quiet bits in the music. Especially if you've spent your life using your mind as a receiver.

Picking up the thoughts of another human being is very hard, because no two minds are on the same, er, wavelength.

But somewhere out there, at the point where the parallel universes tangle, are a million minds just like yours. For a very obvious reason.

Granny Weatherwax smiled.

Millie Chillum and the king and one or two hangers-on were clustered around the door to Magrat's room when Nanny Ogg arrived.

“What's happening?”

“I know she's in there,” said Verence, holding his crown in his hands in the famous At'-Senor-Mexican-Bandits-Have-Raided-Our-Village position. “Millie heard her shout go away and I think she threw something at the door.”

Nanny Ogg nodded sagely.

“Wedding nerves,” she said. “Bound to happen.”

“But we're all going to attend the Entertainment,” said Verence. “She really ought to attend the Entertainment.”

“Well, I dunno,” said Nanny. “Seeing our Jason and the rest of 'em prancing about in straw wigs . . . I mean, they mean well, but it's not something a young - a fairly young - girl has to see on the night before her nuptials. You asked her to unlock the door?”

“I did better than that,” said Verence. “I instructed her to. That was right, wasn't it? If even Magrat won't obey me, I'm a poor lookout as king.”

“Ah,” said Nanny, after a moment's slow consideration. “You've not entirely spent a lot of time in female company, have you? In a generalized sort of way?”

“Well, I-”

The crown spun in Verence's nervous fingers. Not only had the bandits invaded the village, but the Magnificent Seven had decided to go bowling instead.

“Tell you what,” said Nanny, patting him on the back,

“you go and preside over the Entertainment and hobnob with the other nobs. I'll see to Magrat, don't you worry. I've been a bride three times, and that's only the official score.”

“Yes, but she should-”

“I think if we go easy on the 'shoulds,'” said Nanny, “we might all make it to the wedding. Now, off you all go.”

“Someone ought to stay here,” said Verence. “Shawn will be on guard, but-”

“No one's going to invade, are they?” said Nanny. “Let me sort this out.”

“Well. . . if you're sure . . .”

“Go on!”

Nanny Ogg waited until she heard them go down the main staircase. After a while a rattle of coaches and general shouting suggested that the wedding party was leaving, minus the bride-to-be.

She counted to a hundred, under her breath.

Then:

“Magrat?”

“Go away!”

“I know how it is,” said Nanny. “I was a bit worried on the night before my wedding.” She refrained from adding:

because there was a reasonable chance Jason would turn up as an extra guest.

“I am not worried! I am angry!”

“Why?”

“You know!”

Nanny took off her hat and scratched her head.

“You've got me there,” she said.

“And he knew. I know he knew, and I know who told him,” said the muffled voice behind the door. “It was all arranged. You must all have been laughing!”

Nanny frowned at the impassive woodwork.

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