Lords and Ladies Page 33


Oh, no . . .

“Well, well,” said Ridcully “There's a familiar tree.”

“Shut up.”

“I thought someone said we just had to walk up hill,” said Ridcully.

“Shut up.”

"I remember once when we were in these woods you let

“me-”

“Shut up.”

Granny Weatherwax sat down on a stump.

“We're being mazed,” she said. “Someone's playing tricks on us.”

“I remember a story once,” said Ridcully, “where these two children were lost in the woods and a lot of birds came and covered them with leaves.” Hope showed in his voice like a toe peeking out from under a crinoline.

“Yes, that's just the sort of bloody stupid thing a bird would think of,” said Granny. She rubbed her head.

“She's doing it,” she said. “It's an elvish trick. Leading travellers astray. She's mucking up my head. My actual head. Oh, she's good. Making us go where she wants. Making us go round in circles. Doing it to me.”

“Maybe you've got your mind on other things,” said Ridcully, not quite giving up hope.

“Course I've got my mind on other things, with you falling over all the time and gabbling a lot of nonsense,” said Granny. “If Mr. Cleverdick Wizard hadn't wanted to dredge up things that never existed in the first place I wouldn't be here, I'd be in the centre of things, knowing what's going on.” She clenched her fists.

“Well, you don't have to be,” said Ridcully. “It's a fine night. We could sit here and-”

“You're falling for it too,” said Granny. “All that dreamy-weamy, eyes-across-a-crowded-room stuff. Can't imagine how you keep your job as head wizard.”

“Mainly by checking my bed carefully and makin' sure someone else has already had a slice of whatever it is I'm eating,” said Ridcully, with disarming honesty. “There's not much to it, really. Mainly it's signin' things and having a good shout-”

Ridcully gave up.

“Anyway, you looked pretty surprised when you saw me,” he said. “Your face went white.”

“Anyone'd go white, seeing a full-grown man standing there looking like a sheep about to choke,” said Granny.

“You really don't let up, do you?” said Ridcully. “Amazing. You don't give an inch.”

Another leaf drifted past.

Ridcully didn't move his head.

“You know,” he said, his voice staying quite level, “either autumn comes really early in these parts, or the birds here are the ones out of that story I mentioned, or someone's in the tree above us.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Yes, because I've been paying attention while you were dodging the traffic in Memory Lane,” said Granny. “There's at least five of 'em, and they're right above us. How's those magic fingers of yours?”

“I could probably manage a fireball.”

“Wouldn't work. Can you carry us out of here?”

“Not both of us.”

“Just you?”

“Probably, but I'm not going to leave you.”

Granny rolled her eyes. “It's true, you know,” she said. “All men are swains. Push off, you soft old bugger. They're not intending to kill me. At least, not yet. But they don't hardly know nothing about wizards and they'll chop you down without thinking.”

“Now who's being soft?”

“I don't want to see you dead when you could be doin' something useful.”

“Running away isn't useful.”

“It's going to be a lot more useful than staying here.”

“I'd never forgive myself if I went.”

“And I'd never forgive you if you stayed, and I'm a lot more unforgiving than you are,” said Granny. “When it's all over, try to find Gytha Ogg. Tell her to look in my old box. She'll know what's in there. And if you don't go now-”

An arrow hit the stump beside Ridcully.

“The buggers are firing at me!” he shouted. “If I had my crossbow-”

“I should go and get it, then,” said Granny.

“Right! I'll be back instantly!”

Ridcully vanished. A moment later several lumps of castle masonry dropped out of the space he had just occupied.

“That's him out of the way, then,” said Granny, to no one in particular.

She stood up, and gazed around at the trees.

“All right,” she said, “here I am. I ain't running. Come and get me. Here I am. All of me.”

Magrat calmed down. Of course it existed. Every castle had one. And of course this one was used. There was a trodden path through the dust to the rack a few feet away from the door, where a few suits of unravelling chain-mail hung on a rack, next to the pikes.

Shawn probably came in here every day.

It was the armoury.

Greebo hopped down from Magrat's shoulders and wandered off down the cobwebbed avenues, in his endless search for anything small and squeaky.

Magrat followed him, in a daze.

The kings of Lancre had never thrown anything away. At least, they'd never thrown anything away if it was possible to kill someone with it.

There was armour for men. There was armour for horses. There was armour for fighting dogs. There was even armour for ravens, although King Gumt the Stupid's plan for an aerial attack force had never really got off the ground. There were more pikes, and swords, cutlasses, rapiers, epees, broadswords, flails, momingstars, maces, clubs, and huge knobs with spikes. They were all piled together and, in those places where the roof had leaked, were rusted into a lump. There were longbows, short bows, pistol bows, stirrup bows, and crossbows, piled like firewood and stacked with the same lack of care. Odd bits of armour were piled in more heaps, and were red with rust. In fact rust was everywhere. The whole huge room was full of the death of iron.

Magrat went on, like some clockwork toy that won't change direction until it bumps into something.

The candlelight was reflected dully in helmets and breastplates. The sets of horse armour in particular were terrible, on their rotting wooden frames - they stood like exterior skeletons, and, like skeletons, nudged the mind into thoughts of mortality. Empty eye sockets stared sightlessly down at the little candlelit figure.

“Lady?”

The voice came from outside the door, far behind Magrat. But it echoed around her, bouncing off the centuries of mouldering armaments.

They can't come in here, Magrat thought. Too much iron. In here, I'm safe.

“If lady wants to play, we will fetch her friends.”

As Magrat turned, the light caught the edge of something, and gleamed.

Magrat pulled aside a huge shield.

“Lady?”

Magrat reached out.

“Lady?”

Magrat's hands held a rusty iron helmet, with wings.

“Come dance at the wedding, lady.”

Magrat's hands closed on a well-endowed breastplate, with spikes.

Greebo, who had been tracking mice through a prone suit of armour, stuck his head out of a leg.

A change had come over Magrat. It showed in her breathing. She'd been panting, with fear and exhaustion. Then, for a few seconds, there was no sound of her breathing at all. And finally it returned. Slowly. Deeply. Deliberately.

Greebo saw Magrat, who he'd always put down as basically a kind of mouse in human shape, lift the hat with the wings on it and put it on her head.

Magrat knew all about the power of hats.

In her mind's ear she could hear the rattle of the chariots.

“Lady? We will bring your friends to sing to you.”

She turned.

The candlelight sparkled off her eyes.

Greebo drew back into the safety of his armour. He recalled a particular time when he'd leapt out on a vixen. Normally Greebo could take on a fox without raising a sweat but, as it turned out, this one had cubs. He hadn't found out until he chased her into her den. He'd lost a bit of one ear and quite a lot of fur before he'd got away.

The vixen had a very similar expression to the one Magrat had now.

“Greebo? Come here!”

The cat turned and tried to find a place of safety in the suit's breastplate. He was beginning to doubt he'd make it through the knight.

Elves prowled the castle gardens. They'd killed the fish in the ornamental pond, eventually.

Mr. Brooks was perched on a kitchen chair, working at a crevice in the stable wall.

He'd been aware of some sort of excitement, but it was involving humans and therefore of secondary importance. But he did notice the change in the sound from the hives, and the splintering of wood.

A hive had already been tipped over. Angry bees clouded around three figures as feet ripped through comb and honey and brood.

The laughter stopped as a white-coated, veiled figure appeared over the hedge. It raised a long metal tube.

No one ever knew what Mr. Brooks put in his squirter. There was old tobacco in it, and boiled-up roots, and bark scrapings, and herbs that even Magrat had never heard of. It shot a glistening stream over the hedge which hit the middle elf between the eyes, and sprayed over the other two.

Mr. Brooks watched dispassionately until their struggles stopped.

“Wasps,” he said.

Then he went and found a box, lit a lantern and, with great care and delicacy, oblivious to the stings, began to repair the damaged combs.

* * *

Shawn couldn't feel much in his arm anymore, except in the hot dull way that indicated at least one broken bone, and he knew that two of his fingers shouldn't be looking like that. He was sweating, despite being only in his vest and drawers. He should never have taken his chain-mail off, but it's hard to say no when an elf is pointing a bow at you. Shawn knew what, fortunately, many people didn't - chain-mail isn't much defence against an arrow. It certainly isn't when the arrow is being aimed between your eyes.

He'd been dragged along the corridors to the armoury. There were at least four elves, but it was hard to see their faces. Shawn remembered when the travelling Magic Lanthorn show had come to Lancre. He'd watched entranced as different pictures had been projected on to one of Nanny Ogg's bedsheets. The elf faces put him in mind of that. There were eyes and a mouth in there somewhere, but everything else seemed to be temporary, the elves' features passing across their faces like the pictures on the screen.

They didn't say much. They just laughed a lot. They were a merry folk, especially when they were twisting your arm to see how far it could go.

The elves spoke to one another in their own language. Then one of them turned to Shawn, and indicated the armoury door.

“We wish the lady to come out,” it said. “You must say to her, if she does not come out, we will play with you some more.”

“What will you do to us if she does come out?” said Shawn.

“Oh, we shall still play with you,” said the elf. “That's what makes it so much fun. But she must hope, must she not? Talk to her now.”

He was pushed up to the door. He knocked on it, in what he hoped was a respectful way.

“Urn. Miss Queen?”

Magrat's voice was muffled.

“Yes?”

“It's me, Shawn.”

“I know.”

“I'm out here. Um. I think they've hurt Miss Tockley. Um. They say they'll hurt me some more if you don't come out. But you don't have to come out because they daren't come in there because of all the iron. So I shouldn't listen to them if I was you.”

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