Lords and Ladies Page 30


. . . but she should have had the choice.

It was white silk, with a tasteful amount of lace. Magrat knew she wasn't much up on the language of dressmaking. She knew what things were, she just didn't know the names. All those ruches and pleats and gores and things.

She held the dress against her and gave it a critical examination.

There was a small mirror against the wall.

After a certain amount of internal tussling Magrat gave in and tried the dress on. It wasn't as if she'd be wearing it tomorrow. If she never did try it on, she'd always wonder if it had fitted.

It fitted. Or, rather, it didn't fit but in a flattering way. Whatever Verence had paid, it had been worth it. The dressmaker had done cunning things with the material, so that it went in where Magrat went straight up and down and billowed out where Magrat didn't.

The veil had silk flowers on the headband.

I'm not going to start crying again, Magrat told herself. I'm going to stay angry. I'm going to wind up the anger until it's thick enough to become rage, and when they come back I shall-

-what?

She could try being icy. She could sweep majestically past them . . . this was a good dress for that . . . and that'd teach them.

And then what? She couldn't stay here, not with everyone knowing. And they'd find out. About the letter. News went around Lancre faster than turpentine through a sick donkey.

She'd have to go away. Perhaps find somewhere where there were no witches and start up again, although at the moment her feelings about witches were such that she'd prefer practically any other profession, insofar as there were other professions for an ex-witch.

Magrat stuck out her chin. The way she felt now, with the bile bubbling like a hot spring, she'd create a new profession. One that with any luck didn't involve men and meddling old women.

And she'd keep that damn letter, just to remind her. All the time she'd wondered how Verence was able to have things arranged weeks before she got back, and it was as simple as this. How they must have laughed . . .

* * *

It occurred briefly to Nanny Ogg that she really should be somewhere else, but at her time of life invitations to intimate candlelit suppers were not a daily occurrence. There had to be a time when you stopped worrying about the rest of the world and cared a little for yourself. There had to be a time for a quiet, inner moment.

“This is damn good wine,” she said, picking up another bottle. “What did you say it's called?” She peered at the label. “Chateau Maison? Chat-eau . . . that's foreign for cat's water, you know, but that's only their way, I know it ain't real cat's water. Real cat's water is sharper.” She hammered the cork into the bottle with the end of her knife, then stuck her finger over the neck and gave it a vigorous shaking “to mix the goodness in.”

“But I don't hold with drinking it out of ladies' boots,” she said. “I know it's supposed to be the thing to do, but I can't see what's so wonderful about walking home with your boots full of wine. Ain't you hungry? If you don't want that bit of gristle, I'll eat it. anymore of them lobsters? Never had lobster before. And that mayonnaise. And them little eggs stuffed with stuff. Mind you, that bramble jam tasted of fish, to my mind.”

“'S caviar,” murmured Casanunda.

He was sitting with his chin on his hand, watching her in rapt infatuation.

He was, he was surprised to find, enjoying himself immensely while not horizontal.

He knew how this sort of dinner was supposed to go. It was one of the basic weapons in the seducer's armoury. The amoratrix was plied with fine wines and expensive yet light dishes. There was much knowing eye contact across the table, and tangling of feet underneath it. There was much pointed eating of pears and bananas and so on. And thus the ship of temptation steered, gently yet inexorably, to a good docking.

And then there was Nanny Ogg.

Nanny Ogg appreciated fine wine in her very own way. It would never have occurred to Casanunda that anyone would top up white wine with port merely because she'd reached the end of the bottle.

As for the food . . . well, she enjoyed that, too. Casanunda had never seen that elbow action before. Show Nanny Ogg a good dinner and she went at it with knife, fork, and rammer. Watching her eat a lobster was a particular experience he would not forget in a hurry. They'd be picking bits of claw out of the woodwork for weeks.

And the asparagus . . . he might actually try to forget Nanny Ogg putting away asparagus, but he suspected the memory would come creeping back.

It must be a witch thing, he told himself. They're always very clear about what they want. If you climbed cliffs and braved rivers and skied down mountains to bring a box of chocolates to Gytha Ogg, she'd have the nougat centres out of the bottom layer even before you got your crampons off. That's it. Whatever a witch does, she does one hundred percent.

Hubba, hubba!

“Ain't you going to eat all those prawns? Just push the plate this way, then.”

He had tried a little footsie to keep his hand in, as it were, but an accidental blow on the ankle from one of Nanny's heavy iron-nailed boots had put a stop to that.

And then there had been the gypsy violinist. At first Nanny had complained about people playin' the fiddle while she was trying to concentrate on her eatin', but between courses she'd snatched it off the man, thrown the bow into a bowl of camellias, retuned the instrument to something approaching a banjo, and had given Casanunda three rousing verses of what, him being foreign, she chose to call Il Porcupine Nil Sodomy Est.

Then she'd drunk more wine.

What also captivated Casanunda was the way Nanny Ogg's face became a mass of cheerful horizontal lines when she laughed, and Nanny Ogg laughed a lot.

In fact Casanunda was finding, through the faint haze of wine, that he was actually having fun.

“I take it there is no Mr. Ogg?” he said, eventually.

“Oh, yes, there's a Mr. Ogg,” said Nanny. “We buried him years ago. Well, we had to. He was dead.”

“It must be very hard for a woman living all alone?”

“Dreadful,” said Nanny Ogg, who had never prepared a meal or wielded a duster since her eldest daughter had been old enough to do it for her, and who had at least four meals cooked for her every day by various terrified daughters-in-law.

“It must be especially lonely at night,” said Casanunda, out of habit as much as anything else.

“Well, there's Greebo,” said Nanny “He keeps my feet warm.”

“Greebo-”

“The cat. I say, do you think there's any pudding?”

Later, she asked for a doggy bottle.

Mr. Brooks the beekeeper ladled some greenish, foul smelling liquid out of the saucepan that was always simmering in his secret hut, and filled his squirter.

There was a wasps' nest in the garden wall. It'd be a mortuary by morning.

That was the thing about bees. They always guarded the entrance to the hive, with their lives if necessary. But wasps were adept at finding the odd chink in the woodwork around the back somewhere and the sleek little devils'd be in and robbing the hive before you knew it. Funny. The bees in the hive'd let them do it, too. They guarded the entrance, but if a wasp found another way in, they didn't know what to do.

He gave the plunger a push. A stream of liquid bubbled out and left a smoking streak on the floor.

Wasps looked pretty enough. But if you were for bees, you had to be against wasps.

There seemed to be some sort of party going on in the hall. He vaguely remembered getting an invitation but, on the whole, that sort of thing never really caught his imagination. And especially now. Things were wrong. None of the hives showed any signs of swarming. Not one.

As he passed the hives in the dusk he heard the humming. You got that, on a warm night. Battalions of bees stood at the hive entrance, fanning the air with their wings to keep the brood cool. But there was also the roar of bees circling the hive.

They were angry, and on guard.

There was a series of small weirs just on the borders of Lancre. Granny Weatherwax hauled herself up on to the damp woodwork, and squelched to the bank where she emptied her boots.

After a while a pointy wizard's hat drifted downriver, and rose to reveal a pointy wizard underneath it. Granny lent a hand to help Ridcully out of the water.

“There,” she said, “bracing, wasn't it? Seemed to me you could do with a cold bath.”

Ridcully tried to clean some mud out of his ear. He glared at Granny.

“Why aren't you wet?”

“I am.”

“No you're not. You're just damp. I'm wet through. How can you float down a river and just be damp?”

“I dries out quick.”

Granny Weatherwax glared up the rocks. A short distance away the steep road ran on to Lancre, but there were other, more private ways known to her among the trees,

“So,” she said, more or less to herself. “She wants to stop me going there, does she? Well, we'll see about that.”

“Going where?” said Ridcully.

“Ain't sure,” said Granny. “All I know is, if she don't want me to go there, that's where I'm going. But I hadn't bargained on you tumin' up and having a rush of blood to the heart. Come on.”

Ridcully wrung out his robe. A lot of the sequins had come off. He removed his hat and unscrewed the point.

Headgear picks up morphic vibrations. Quite a lot of trouble had once been caused in Unseen University by a former Archchancellor's hat, which had picked up too many magical vibrations after spending so much time on wizardly heads and had developed a personality of its very own. Ridcully had put a stop to this by having his own hat made to particular specifications by an Ankh-Morpork firm of completely insane hatters.

It was not a normal wizard hat. Few wizards have ever made much use of the pointy bit, except maybe to keep the odd pair of socks in it. But Ridcully's hat had small cupboards. It had surprises. It had four telescopic legs and a roll of oiled silk in the brim that extended downward to make a small but serviceable tent, and a patent spirit stove just above it. It had inner pockets with three days' supply of iron rations. And the tip unscrewed to dispense an adequate supply of spirituous liquors for use in emergencies, such as when Ridcully was thirsty.

Ridcully waved the small pointed cup at Granny.

“Brandy?” he said.

“What have you got on your head?”

Ridcully felt his pate gingerly.

“Urn . . .”

“Smells like honey and horse apples to me. And what's that thing?”

Ridcully lifted the small cage off his head. There was a small treadmill in it, in a complex network of glass rods. A couple of feeding bowls were visible. And there was a small, hairy and currently quite wet mouse.

“Oh, it's something some of the young wizards came up with,” said Ridcully diffidently “I said I'd . . . try it out for them. The mouse hair rubs against the glass rods and there's sparks, don't'y'know, and . . . and . . .”

Granny Weatherwax looked at the Archchancellor's somewhat grubby hair and raised an eyebrow.

“My word,” she said. “What will they think of next?”

“Don't really understand how it works, Stibbons is the man for this sort of thing, I thought I'd help them out. . .”

“Lucky you were going bald, eh?”

In the darkness of her sickroom Diamanda opened her eyes, if they were her eyes. There was a pearly sheen to them. The song was as yet only on the threshold of hearing. And the world was different. A small part of her mind was still Diamanda, and looked out through the mists of enchantment. The world was a pattern of fine silver lines, constantly moving, as though everything was coated with filigree. Except where there was iron. There the lines were crushed and tight and bent. There, the whole world was invisible. Iron distorted the world. Keep away from iron.

Prev Next