Lords and Ladies Page 40


The Librarian flared his nostrils.

Magrat didn't know much about jungles, but she thought about apes in trees, smelling the rank of the tiger. Apes never admired the sleek of the fur and the bum of the eye, because they were too well aware of the teeth of the

mouth.

“Yes,” she said, “I expect they would. Dwarfs and trolls hate them, too. But I think they don't hate them as much as I do.”

“You can't fight them all,” said Ponder. “They're swarming like bees up there. There's flying ones, too. The Librarian says they made people get fallen trees and things and push those, you know, those stones down? There were some stones on the hill. They attacked them. Don't know why.”

“Did you see any witches at the Entertainment?” said Magrat.

“Witches, witches . . .” muttered Ponder.

“You couldn't have missed them,” said Magrat. “There'd be a thin one glaring at everyone and a small fat one cracking nuts and laughing a lot. And they'd be talking to each other very loudly. And they'd both have tall pointy hats.”

“Can't say I noticed them,” said Ponder.

“Then they couldn't have been there,” said Magrat. “Being noticed is what being a witch is all about.” She was about to add that she'd never been good at it, but didn't. Instead she said: “I'm going on up there.”

“You'll need an army, miss. I mean, you'd have been in trouble just now if the Librarian hadn't been up in the trees.”

“But I haven't got an army. So I'm going to have to try by myself, aren't I?”

This time Magrat managed to spur the horse into a gallop.

Ponder watched her go.

“You know, folksongs have got a lot to answer for,” he said to the night air.

“Oook.”

“She's going to get utterly killed.”

“Oook.”

“Hello, Mr. Flowerpot, two pints of eels if you would be so good.”

“Of course, it could be her destiny, or one of those sort of things.”

“Oook.”

“Millennium hand and shrimp.”

Ponder Stibbons looked embarrassed.

“Anyone want to follow her?”

“Oook.”

“Whoops, there he goes with his big clock.”

“Was that a 'yes'?”

“Oook.”

“Not yours, his.”

“Flobby wobbly, here comes our jelly.”

“I think that probably counts as a 'yes',” said Ponder, reluctantly.

“Oook?”

“I've got a lovely new vest.”

“But look,” said Ponder, “the graveyards are full of people who rushed in bravely but unwisely.”

“Ook.”

“What'd he say?” said the Bursar, passing briefly through reality on his way somewhere else.

“I think he said, 'Sooner or later the graveyards are full of everybody,'” said Ponder. “Oh, blast. Come on.”

“Yes indeedy,” said the Bursar, “hands up the mittens, Mr. Bosun!”

“Oh, shut up.”

* * *

Magrat dismounted and let the horse go.

She knew she was near the Dancers now. Collared light flickered in the sky.

She wished she could go home.

The air was colder here, far too cold for a midsummer night. As she plodded onward, flakes of snow swirled in the breeze and turned to rain.

Ridcully materialized inside the castle, and then clung on to a pillar for support until he got his breath back. Transmigration always made blue spots appear in front of his eyes.

No one noticed him. The castle was in turmoil. Not everyone had run home. Armies had marched across Lancre many times over the last few thousand years, and the recollection of the castle's thick safe walls had been practically engraved in the folk memory. Run to the castle. And now it held most of the little country's population.

Ridcully blinked. People were milling around and being harangued by a small young man in loose-fitting chain-mail and one arm in a sling, who seemed to be the only person

with any grip on things.

When he was certain he could walk straight, Ridcully

headed toward him.

“What's going on, young-” he began, and then stopped.

Shawn Ogg looked around.

“The scheming minx!” said Ridcully, to the air in general. '“Oh, go back and get it then,' she said, and I fell right for it! Even if I could cut the mustard again I don't know where we were!”

“Sir?” said Shawn.

Ridcully shook himself. “What's happening?” he said.

“I don't know!” said Shawn, who was almost in tears. “I think we're being attacked by elves! Nothing anyone's telling me's making any sense! Somehow they arrived during the Entertainment! Or something!”

Ridcully looked around at the frightened, bewildered people.

“And Miss Magrat's gone out to fight them alone!” Ridcully looked perplexed.

“Who's Miss Magrat?”

“She's going to be queen! The bride! You know? Magrat Garlick?”

Ridcully's mind could digest one fact at a time.

“What's she gone out for?”

“They captured the king!”

“Did you know they've got Esme Weatherwax as well?”

“What, Granny Weatherwax?”

“I came back to rescue her,” said Ridcully, and then realized that this sounded either nonsense or cowardly.

Shawn was too upset to notice. “I just hope they're not collecting witches,” he said. “They'll need our mum to get the complete set.”

“They ain't got me, then,” said Nanny Ogg, behind him.

“Mum? How did you get in?”

“Broomstick. You'd better get some people with bows up on the roof. I came down that way. So can others.”

“What're we going to do, Mum?”

“There's bands of elves all over the place,” said Nanny, “and there's a big glow over the Dancers-”

“We must attack them!” shouted Casanunda. “Give 'em a taste of cold steel!”

“Good man, that dwarf!” said Ridcully. “That's right! I'll get my crossbow!”

“There's too many of them,” said Nanny flatly.

“Granny and Miss Magrat are out there, Mum,” said Shawn. “Miss Magrat came over all strange and put on armour and went out to fight all of them!”

“But the hills are crawling with elves,” said Nanny. “It's a double helping of hell with extra devils. Certain death.”

“It's certain death anyway,” said Ridcully. “That's the thing about Death, certainty.”

“We'd have no chance at all,” said Nanny.

“Actually, we'd have one chance,” said Ridcully. “I don't understand all this continuinuinuum stuff, but from what young Stibbons says it means that everything has to happen somewhere, d'y'see, so that means it could happen here. Even if it's a million to one chance, ma'am.”

“That's all very well,” said Nanny, "but what you're saying is, for every Mr. Ridcully that survives tonight's work,

999,999 are going to get killed?"

“Yes, but I'm not bothered about those other buggers,” said Ridcully. “They can look after themselves. Serve 'em right for not inviting me to their weddings.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Shawn was hopping from one foot to the other. “We ought to be fighting 'em. Mum!”

“Look at everyone!” said Nanny. “They're dog tired and wet and confused! That's not an army!”

“Mum, Mum, Mum!”

“What?”

“I'll pussike 'em up, Mum! That's what you have to do before troops go into battle. Mum! I read about that in books! You can take a rabble of thingy and make the right kind of speech and pussike them up and turn 'em into a terrible fighting force. Mum!”

“They look terrible anyway!”

“I mean terrible like fierce. Mum!”

Nanny Ogg looked at the hundred or so Lancre subjects. The thought of them managing to fight anyone at all took some getting used to.

“You been studyin' this, Shawn?” she inquired. “I've got five years' worth of Bows and Ammo, Mum,” said Shawn reproachfully.

“Give it a try, then. If you think it'll work.” Trembling with excitement, Shawn climbed on to a table, drew his sword with his good hand, and banged it on the planks until people were silent. He made a speech.

He pointed out that their king had been captured and their prospective queen had gone out to save him. He pointed out their responsibility as loyal subjects. He pointed out that other people currently not here but at home hiding under the bed would, after the glorious victory, wish they'd been there too instead of under the aforesaid bed which they were hiding under, you know, the bed he'd just mentioned. In fact it was better that there were so few here to face the enemy, because that meant that there would be a higher percentage of honour per surviving head. He used the word “glory” three times. He said that in times to come people would look back on this day, whatever the date was, and proudly show their scars, at least those who'd survived would show their scars, and be very proud and probably have drinks bought for them. He advised people to imitate the action of the Lancre Reciprocating Fox and stiffen some sinews while leaving them flexible enough so's they could move their arms and legs, in fact, probably it'd be better to relax them a bit now and stiffen them properly when the time came. He suggested that Lancre expected everyone to do their duty. And urn. And uh. Please?

The silence that followed was broken by Nanny Ogg, who said, “They're probably considering it a bit, Shawn. Why don't you take Mr. Wizard here up to his room and help him with his crossbow?”

She nodded meaningfully in the direction of the stairs.

Shawn wavered, but not for long. He'd seen the glint in his mother's eye.

When he'd gone. Nanny climbed up on the same table.

“Well,” she said, “it's like this. If you go out there you may have to face elves. But if you stops here, you definitely have to face me. Now, elves is worse than me, I'll admit. But I'm persistent.”

Weaver put up a tentative hand.

“Please, Mrs. Ogg?”

“Yes, Weaver?”

“What exactly is the action of the Reciprocating Fox?”

Nanny scratched her ear.

“As I recall,” she said, “its back legs go like this but its front legs go like this.”

“No, no, no,” said Quamey the storekeeper. “It's its tail that goes like that. Its legs go like this.”

“That's not reciprocating, that's just oscillating,” said someone. “You're thinking of the Ring-tailed Ocelot.”

Nanny nodded.

“That's settled, then,” she said.

“Hold on, I'm not sure-”

“Yes, Mr. Quamey?”

“Oh . . . well. . .”

“Good, good,” said Nanny, as Shawn reappeared. “They was just saying, our Shawn, how they was swayed by your speech. Really pussiked up.”

“Cor!”

“They're ready to follow you into the jaws of hell itself, I expect,” said Nanny.

Someone put up their hand.

“Are you coming too, Mrs. Ogg?”

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