Lords and Ladies Page 35


“Oh, yes,” said Shawn. “Uh. Sheet iron is really you.”

“You really think so?”

“Oh, yes,” said Shawn, inventing madly. “You've got the figure for it.”

She set and splinted his arm and fingers, working methodically, using strips of silk as bandages. Diamanda was less easy. Magrat cleaned and stitched and bandaged, while Shawn sat and watched, trying to ignore the insistent hot-ice pain from his arm.

He kept repeating, “They just laughed and stabbed her. She didn't even try to run away. It was like they were playing.”

For some reason Magrat shot a glance at Greebo, who had the decency to look embarrassed.

“Pointy ears and hair you want to stroke,” she said, vaguely. “And they can fascinate you. And when they're happy they make a pleasing noise.”

“What?”

“Just thinking to myself.” Magrat stood up. “OK. I'll build up the fire and fetch a couple of crossbows and load them up for you. And you keep the door shut and let no one in, d'you hear? And if I don't come back . . . try and go somewhere where there's people. Get up to the dwarfs at Copperhead. Or the trolls.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I'm going to see what's happened to everyone.”

Magrat opened the sack she'd brought down from the armoury. There was a helmet in it. It had wings on, and to Shawn's mind was quite impractical.[37] There was also a pair of mail gloves and a choice assortment of rusty weaponry.

“But there's probably more of those things out there!”

“Better out there than in here.”

“Can you fight?”

“Don't know. Never tried,” said Magrat.

“But if we wait here, someone's bound to come.”

“Yes. I'm afraid they will.”

“What I mean is, you don't have to do this!”

“Yes I do. I'm getting married tomorrow. One way or the other.”

“But-”

“Shut up!”

She's going to get killed, Shawn thought. It's enough to be able to pick up a sword. You have to know which end to poke into the enemy. I'm supposed to be on guard and she's going to get killed-

But-

But-

She shot one of them in the eye, right through the keyhole. I couldn't have done that. I'd have said something like “Hands up!” first. But they were in the way and she just. . . got them out of her way.

She's still going to die. She's just probably going to die bravely.

I wish my mum was here.

Magrat finished rolling up the stained remnant of the wedding dress and stowed it in the sack.

“Have we got any horses?”

“There's . . . elf horses in the courtyard, miss. But I don't think you'll be able to ride one.”

It struck Shawn immediately that this wasn't the right thing to say.

It was black, and larger than what Magrat had to think of as a human horse. It rolled red eyes at her, and tried to get into position to kick.

Magrat managed to mount only by practically tethering every leg to the rings in the stable wall, but when she was on, the horse changed. It had the docility of the severely whipped, and seemed to have no mind of its own.

“It's the iron,” said Shawn.

“What does it do to them? It can't hurt.”

“Don't know, miss. Seems they just freeze up, kind of thing.”

“Drop the portcullis after I'm through.”

“Miss-”

“Are you going to tell me not to go?”

“But-”

“Shut up, then.”

“But-”

“I remember a folksong about a situation just like this,” said Magrat. “This girl had her fiance stolen by the Queen of the Elves and she didn't hang around whining, she jolly well got on her horse and went and rescued him. Well, I'm going to do that too.”

Shawn tried to grin.

“You're going to sing7” he said.

“I'm going to fight. I've got everything to fight for, haven't I? And I've tried everything else.”

Shawn wanted to say: but that's not the same! Going and fighting when you're a real person isn't like folksongs! In real life you die! In folksongs you just have to remember to keep one finger in your ear and how to get to the next chorus! In real life no one goes wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!

But he said:

“But, miss, if you don't come back-”

Magrat turned in the saddle.

“I'll be back.”

Shawn watched her urge the sluggish horse into a trot and disappear over the drawbridge.

“Good luck!” he shouted.

Then he lowered the portcullis and went back into the keep, where there were three loaded crossbows on the kitchen table.

There was also the book on martial arts that the king had sent for specially.

He pumped up the fire, turned a chair to face the door, and turned to the Advanced Section.

Magrat was halfway down the road to the square when the adrenaline wore off and her past life caught up with her.

She looked down at the armour, and the horse, and thought: I'm out of my mind.

It was that bloody letter. And I was frightened. I thought I'd show everyone what I'm made of. And now they'll probably find out: I'm made of lots of tubes and greeny purple wobbly bits.

I was just lucky with those elves. And I didn't think. As soon as I think, I get things wrong. I don't think I'll be that lucky again . . .

Luck?

She thought wistfully of her bags of charms and talismans at the bottom of the river. They'd never really worked, if her life was anything to go by, but maybe - it was a horrible thought - maybe they'd just stopped it getting worse.

There were hardly any lights in the town, and a lot of the houses had their shutters up.

The horse's hooves clattered loudly on the cobbles.

Magrat peered into the shadows. Once, they'd just been shadows. Now they could be gateways to anything.

Clouds were pressing in from the Hub. Magrat shivered.

This was something she'd never seen before.

It was true night.

Night had fallen in Lancre, and it was an old night. It was not the simple absence of day, patrolled by the moon and stars, but an extension of something that had existed long before there was any light to define it by absence. It was unfolding itself from under tree roots and inside stones, crawling back across the land.

Magrat's sack of what she considered to be essential props might be at the bottom of the river but she had been a witch for more than ten years, and she could feel the terror in the air.

People remember badly. But societies remember well, the swarm remembers, encoding the information to slip it past the censors of the mind, passing it on from grandmother to grandchild in little bits of nonsense they won't bother to forget. Sometimes the truth keeps itself alive in devious ways despite the best efforts of the official keepers of information. Ancient fragments chimed together now in Magrat's head.

Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen . . .

From ghosties and bogles and long-leggity beasties . . .

My mother said I never should . . .

We dare not go a-hunting, for fear . . .

And things that go bump . . .

Play with the fairies in the wood . . .

Magrat sat on the horse she didn't trust and gripped the sword she didn't know how to use while the ciphers crept out of memory and climbed into a shape.

They steal cattle and babies. . .

They steal milk. . .

They love music, and steal away musicians. . .

In fact they steal everything.

We'll never be as free as them, as beautiful as them, as clever as them, as light as them; we are animals.

Chilly wind soughed in the forest beyond the town. It had always been a pleasant forest to walk in at nights but now, she knew, it would not be so again. The trees would have eyes. There would be distant laughter in the wind.

What they take is everything.

Magrat spurred the horse into a walk. Somewhere in the town a door slammed shut.

And what they give you is fear.

There was the sound of hammering from across the street. A man was nailing something on his door. He glanced around in terror, saw Magrat, and darted inside.

What he had been nailing on the door was a horseshoe.

Magrat tied the horse firmly to a tree and slid off its back. There was no reply to her knocking.

Who was it who lived here? Carter the weaver, wasn't it, or Weaver the baker? “Open up, man! It's me, Magrat Garlick!”

There was something white beside the doorstep.

It turned out to be a bowl of cream.

Again, Magrat thought of the cat Greebo. Smelly, unreliable, cruel and vindictive - but who purred nicely, and had a bowl of milk every night.

“Come on! Open up!”

After a while the bolts slid back, and an eye was applied to a very narrow crack.

“Yes?”

“You're Carter the baker, aren't you?”

“I'm Weaver the thatcher.”

“And you know who I am?”

“Miss Garlick?”

“Come on, let me in!”

“Are you alone, miss?”

“Yes.”

The crack widened to a Magrat width.

There was one candle alight in the room. Weaver backed away from Magrat until he was leaning awkwardly over the table. Magrat peered around him.

The rest of the Weaver family were hiding under the table. Four pairs of frightened eyes peered up at Magrat.

“What's going on?” she said.

“Er . . .” said Weaver. “Didn't recognize you in your flying hat, miss . . .”

“I thought you were doing the Entertainment? What's happened? Where is everyone? Where is my going-to-be-husband?”

“Er . . .”

Yes, it was probably the helmet. That's what Magrat decided afterward. There are certain items, such as swords and wizards' hats and crowns and rings, which pick up something of the nature of their owners. Queen Ynci had probably never sewn a tapestry in her life and undoubtedly had a temper shorter than a wet cowpat.[38] It was better to think that something of her had rubbed off on the helmet and was being transmitted to Magrat like some kind of royal scalp disease. It was better to let Ynci take over.

She grabbed Weaver by his collar.

“If you say 'Er' one more time,” she said, “I'll chop your ears off.”

“Er . . . aargh . . . I mean, miss . . . it's the Lords and Ladies, miss!”

“It really is the elves?”

“Miss!” said Weaver, his eyes full of pleading. “Don't say it! We heard 'em go down the street. Dozens of 'em. And they've stolen old Thatcher's cow and Skindle's goat and they broke down the door of-”

“Why'd you put a bowl of milk out?” Magrat demanded.

Weaver's mouth opened and shut a few times. Then he managed: “You see, my Eva said her granny always put a bowl of milk out for them, to keep them hap-”

“I see,” said Magrat, icily. “And the king?”

“The king, miss?” said Weaver, buying time. “The king,” said Magrat. “Short man, runny eyes, ears that stick out a bit, unlike other ears in this vicinity very shortly.”

Weaver's fingers wove around one another like tormented snakes.

“Well. . . well. . . well. . .”

He caught the look on Magrat's face, and sagged.

“We done the play,” he said. “I told 'em, let's do the Stick and Bucket Dance instead, but they were set on this play. And it all started all right and then, and then, and then. . . suddenly They were there, hundreds of 'em, and everyone was runnin', and someone bashed into me, and I rolled into the stream, and then there was all this noise, and I saw Jason Ogg hitting four elves with the first thing he could get hold of-”

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