Lords and Ladies Page 37


“Yep. Tried it meself, once. You can get some lift out of 'em, but it plays merry hell with the gussets. Give me a nice bundle of bristles every time. Anyway,” she nudged Casanunda, “you should be right at home on one of these. Magrat says a broomstick is one of them sexual metaphor things.”[39]

Casanunda had opened one eye just long enough to see a rooftop drift silently below him. He felt sick.

“The difference being,” said Nanny Ogg, “that a broomstick stays up longer. And you can use it to keep the house clean, which is more than you can say for - are you all right?”

“I really don't like this at all, Mrs. Ogg.”

“Just trying to cheer you up, Mr. Casanunda.”

“'Cheer' I like, Mrs. Ogg,” said the dwarf, “but can we avoid the 'up'?”

“Soon be down.”

“That I like.”

Nanny Ogg's boots scraped along the hard-packed mud of the smithy's yard.

“I'll leave the magic running, won't be a mo,” she said. Ignoring the dwarfs bleat for help, she hopped off the stick and disappeared through the back door.

The elves hadn't been there, at least. Too much iron. She pulled a crowbar from the toolbench and hurried out again.

“You can hold this,” she said to Casanunda. She hesitated. “Can't have too much luck, can we?” she said, and scurried back into the forge. This time she was out again much faster, slipping something into her pocket.

“Ready?” she said. ' “No.”

“Then let's go. And keep a look out. With your eyes open.”

“I'm looking for elves?” said Casanunda, as the stick rose into the moonlight.

“Could be. It wasn't Esme, and the only other one ever flying around here is Mr. Ixolite the banshee, and he's very good about slipping us a note under the door when he's going to be about. For air traffic control, see?”

Most of the town was dark. The moonlight made a black and silver checkerboard across the country. After a while, Casanunda began to feel better about things. The motion of the broomstick was actually quite soothing.

“Carried lots of passengers, have you?” he said.

“On and off, yes,” said Nanny.

Casanunda appeared to be thinking about things. And then he said, in a voice dripping with scientific inquiry, “Tell me, has anyone ever tried to mak-”

“No,” said Nanny Ogg firmly. “You'd fall off.”

“You don't know what I was going to ask.”

“Bet you half a dollar?”

They flew in silence for a couple of minutes, and then Casanunda tapped Nanny Ogg on the shoulder.

“Elves at three o'clock!”

“That's all right, then. That's hours away.”

“I mean they're over there!”

Nanny squinted at the stars. Something ragged moved across the night.

“Oh, blast.”

“Can't you outfly them?”

“Nope. They can put a girdle round the world in forty minutes.”

“Why? It's not that fat,” said Casanunda, who was feeling in the mood for a handful of dried frog pills.

“I mean they're fast. We can't outrun 'em, even if we lost some weight.”

“I think I'm losing a tiny bit,” said Casanunda, as the broomstick dived toward the trees.

Leaves scraped on Nanny Ogg's boots. Moonlight glinted briefly off ash-blond hair, away to her left. “Bugger, bugger, bugger.”

Three elves were keeping station with the broomstick. That was the thing about elves. They chased you till you dropped, until your blood was curdling with dread; if a dwarf wanted you dead, on the other hand, they'd simply cut you in half with an axe first chance they got. But that was because dwarfs were a lot nicer than elves.

“They're gaming on us!” said Casanunda.

“Got the crowbar?”

“Yes!”

“Right. . .”

The broomstick zigzagged over the silent forest. One of the elves drew its sword and swung down. Knock them down into the trees, leave them alive as long as possible . . .

The broomstick went into reverse. Nanny Ogg's head and legs went forward, so that partly she was sitting on her hands but mainly she was sitting on nothing. The elf swooped toward her, laughing-

Casanunda stuck out the crowbar.

There was a sound very like doioinng.

The broomstick jerked ahead again, dumping Nanny Ogg in Casanunda's lap.

“Sorry.”

“Don't mention it. In fact, do it again if you like.”

“Get him, did you?”

“Took his breath away.”

“Good. Where're the others?”

“Can't see them.” Casanunda grinned madly. “We showed them, eh?”

Something went zip and stuck into Nanny Ogg's hat. “They know we've got iron,” she said. “They won't come close again. They don't need to,” she added bitterly.

The broomstick swerved around a tree and ploughed through some bracken. Then it swung out on to an overgrown path.

“They aren't following us anymore,” said Casanunda, after a while. “We've frightened them off, yes?”

“Not us. They're nervy of going close to the Long Man. It's not their turf. Huh, look at the state of this path. There's trees growing in it now. When I was a girl, you wouldn't find a blade of grass growing on the path.” She smiled at a distant memory. “Very popular place on a summer night, the Long Man was.”

There was a change in the texture of the forest now. It was old even by the standards of Lancre forestry. Beards of moss hung from gnarled low branches. Ancient leaves crackled underfoot as the witch and the dwarf flew between the trees. Something heard them and crashed away through the thick undergrowth. By the sound of it, it was something with horns.

Nanny let the broomstick glide to a halt.

“There,” she said, pushing aside a bracken frond, 'the Long Man.'"

Casanunda peered under her elbow.

“Is that all? It's just an old burial mound.”

“Three old burial mounds,” said Nanny

Casanunda took in the overgrown landscape.

“Yes, I see them,” he said. “Two round ones and a long one. Well?”

“The first time I saw 'em from the air,” said Nanny, “I nearly fell off the bloody broomstick for laughin'.”

There was one of those pauses known as the delayed drop while the dwarf worked out the topography of the situation.

Then:

“Blimey,” said Casanunda. “I thought the people who built burial mounds and earthworks and things were serious druids and people like that, not. . . not people who drew on privy walls with 200,000 tons of earth, in a manner of speaking.”

“Doesn't sound like you to be shocked by that sort of thing.”

She could have sworn the dwarf was blushing under his wig.

“Well, there's such a thing as style,” said Casanunda. “There's such a thing as subtlety. You don't just shout: I've got a great big tonker.”

“It's a bit more complicated than that,” said Nanny, pushing through the bushes. "Here it's the landscape saying:

I've got a great big tonker. That's a dwarf word, is it?"

“Yes.”

“It's a good word.”

Casanunda tried to untangle himself from a briar.

“Esme doesn't ever come up here,” said Nanny, from somewhere up ahead. “She says it's bad enough about folksongs and maypoles and suchlike, without the whole scenery getting suggestive. 'Course,” she went on, “this was never intended as a women's place. My great-gran said in the real old days the men used to come up for strange rites what no women ever saw.”

“Except your great-grandmother, who hid in the bushes,” said Casanunda.

Nanny stopped dead.

“How did you know that?”

“Let's just say I'm developing a bit of an insight into Ogg womanhood as well, Mrs. Ogg,” said the dwarf. A thorn bush had ripped his coat.

“She said they just used to build sweat lodges and smell like a blacksmith's armpit and drink scumble and dance around the fire with horns on and piss in the trees any old how,” said Nanny. “She said it was a bit sissy, to be honest. But I always reckon a man's got to be a man, even if it is sissy. What happened to your wig?”

“I think it's on that tree back there.”

“Still got the crowbar?”

“Yes, Mrs. Ogg.”

“Here we are, then.”

They had arrived at the foot of the long mound. There were three large irregular stones there, forming a low cave. Nanny Ogg ducked under the lintel into the fusty and somewhat ammonia-scented darkness.

“About here'd do,” she said. “Got a match?”

The sulphurous glow revealed a flat rock with a crude drawing scratched on it. Ochre had been rubbed into the lines. They showed a figure of an owl-eyed man wearing an animal skin and horns.

In the flickering light he seemed to dance.

There was a runic inscription underneath.

“Anyone ever worked out what that says?” said Casanunda.

Nanny Ogg nodded.

“It's a variant of Oggham,” she said. “Basically, it means 'I've Got a Great Big Tonker.'”

“Oggham?” said the dwarf.

“My family has been in these, how shall I put it, in these parts for a very long time,” said Nanny.

“Knowing you is a real education, Mrs. Ogg,” said Casanunda.

“Everyone says that. Just shove the crowbar down the side of the stone, will you? I've always wanted an excuse to go down there.”

“What is down there?”

“Well, it leads into Lancre Caves. They run everywhere, I've heard. Even up to Copperhead. There's supposed to be an entrance in the castle, but I've never found it. But mainly they lead to the world of the elves.”

“I thought the Dancers led to the world of the elves?”

“This is the other world of the elves.”

“I thought they only had one.”

“They don't talk about this one.”

“And you want to go into it?”

“Yes.”

“You want to find elves?”

“That's right. Now, are you going to stand here all night, or are you going to crowbar that stone?” She gave him a nudge. “There's gold down there, you know.”

“Oh, yes, thanks very much,” said Casanunda sarcastically. “That's speciesist, that is. Just because I am . . . vertically disadvantaged, you're trying to get round me with gold, yes? Dwarfs are just a lot of appetites on legs, that's what you think. Hah!”

Nanny sighed.

“Oh, all right,” she said. “Tell you what. . . when we get back home, I'll bake you some proper dwarf bread, how about that?”

Casanunda's face split into a disbelieving grin.

“Real dwarf bread?”

“Yes. I reckon I've still got the recipe, and anyway it's been weeks since I emptied out the cat box.”[40]

“Well, all right-.”

Casanunda rammed one end of the crowbar under the stone and pulled on it with dwarfish strength. After a moment's resistance the stone swung up.

There were steps below, thick with earth and old roots.

Nanny started down them without a look back, and then realized that the dwarf wasn't following.

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