Lords and Ladies Page 7


It was very hard, being a reader in Invisible Writings.

“I reckon you'd better come too,” said Ridcully.

“Me, Archchancellor?”

“Can't have you skulking around the place inventing millions of other universes that're too small to see and all the rest of that continuinuinuum stuff,” said Ridcully. “Anyway, I shall need someone to carry my rods and crossbo - my stuff,” he corrected himself.

Stibbons stared at his plate. It was no good arguing. What he had really wanted out of life was to spend the next hundred years of it in the University, eating big meals and not moving much in between them. He was a plump young man with a complexion the colour of something that lives under a rock. People were always telling him to make something of his life, and that's what he wanted to do. He wanted to make a bed of it.

“But, Archchancellor,” said the Lecturer in Recent Runes, “it's still too damn far.”

“Nonsense,” said Ridcully. “They've got that new turnpike open all the way to Sto Helit now. Coaches every Wednesday, reg'lar. Bursaaar! Oh, give him a dried frog pill, someone . . . Mr. Stibbons, if you could happen to find yourself in this universe for five minutes, go and arrange some tickets. There. All sorted out, right?”

Magrat woke up.

And knew she wasn't a witch anymore. The feeling just crept over her, as part of the normal stock-taking that any body automatically does in the first seconds of emergence from the pit of dreams: arms: 2, legs: 2, existential dread: 58%, randomised guilt: 94%, witchcraft level: 00.00.

The point was, she couldn't remember ever being anything else. She'd always been a witch. Magrat Garlick, third witch, that was what she was. The soft one.

She knew she'd never been much good at it. Oh, she could do some spells and do them quite well, and she was good at herbs, but she wasn't a witch in the bone like the old ones. They made sure she knew it.

Well, she'd just have to learn queening. At least she was the only one in Lancre. No one'd be looking over her shoulder the whole time, saying things like “You ain't holding that sceptre right'.”

Right. . .

Someone had stolen her clothes in the night.

She got up in her nightshirt and hopped over the cold flagstones to the door. She was halfway there when it opened of its own accord.

She recognised the small dark girl that came in, barely visible behind a stack of linen. Most people in Lancre knew everyone else.

“Millie Chillum?”

The linen bobbed a curtsy.

“Yes'm?”

Magrat lifted up part of the stack.

“It's me, Magrat,” she said. “Hello.”

“Yes'm.” Another bob.

“What's up with you, Millie?”

“Yes'm.” Bob, bob.

“I said it's me. You don't have to look at me like that.”

“Yes'm.”

The nervous bobbing continued. Magrat found her own knees beginning to jerk in sympathy but as it were behind the beat, so that as she was bobbing down she overtook the girl bobbing up.

“If you say 'yes'm' again, it will go very hard with you,” she managed, as she went past.

“Y-right, your majesty, m'm.”

Faint light began to dawn.

“I'm not queen yet, Millie. And you've known me for twenty years,” panted Magrat, on the way up.

“Yes'm. But you're going to be queen. So me mam told me I was to be respectful,” said Millie, still curtsying nervously

“Oh. Well. All right, then. Where are my clothes?”

“Got 'em here, your pre-majesty.”

“They're not mine. And please stop going up and down all the time. I feel a bit sick.”

“The king ordered 'em from Sto Helit special, m'm.”

“Did he, eh? How long ago?”

“Dunno, m'm.”

He knew I was coming home, thought Magrat. How? What's going on here?

There was a good deal more lace than Magrat was used to, but that was, as it were, the icing on the cake. Magrat normally wore a simple dress with not much underneath it except Magrat. Ladies of quality couldn't get away with that kind of thing. Millie had been provided with a sort of technical diagram, but it wasn't much help.

They studied it for some time.

“This is a standard queen outfit, then?”

“Couldn't say, m'm. I think his majesty just sent 'em a lot of money and said to send you everything.” They spread out the bits on the floor.

“Is this the pantoffle?”

Outside, on the battlements, the guard changed. In fact he changed into his gardening apron and went off to hoe the beans. Inside, there was considerable sartorial discussion.

“I think you've got it up the wrong way, m'm. Which bit's the farthingale?”

“Says here Insert Tabbe A into Slotte B. Can't find slotte B.”

“These're like saddlebags. I'm not wearing these. And this thing?”

“A ruff, m'm. Um. They're all the rage in Sto Helit, my brother says.”

“You mean they make people angry? And what's this?”

“Brocade, I think.”

“It's like cardboard. Do I have to wear this sort of thing every day?”

“Don't know, I'm sure, m'm.”

“But Verence just trots around in leather gaiters and an old jacket!”

“Ah, but you're queen. Queens can't do that sort of thing. Everyone knows that, m'm. It's all right for kings to go wandering around with their arse half out their trous-”

She rammed her hand over her mouth.

“It's all right,” said Magrat. “I'm sure even kings have . . . tops to their legs just like everyone else. Just go on with what you were saying.”

Millie had gone bright red.

“I mean, I mean, I mean, queens has got to be ladylike,” she managed. “The king got books about it. Etti-quetty and stuff.”

Magrat surveyed herself critically in the mirror.

“It really suits you, your soon-going-to-be-majesty,” said Millie.

Magrat turned this way and that.

“My hair's a mess,” she said, after a while.

“Please m'm, the king said he's having a hairdresser come all the way from Ankh-Morpork, m'm. For the wedding.”

Magrat patted a tress into place. It was beginning to dawn on her that being a queen was a whole new life.

“My word,” she said. “And what happens now?”

“Dunno, m'm.”

“What's the king doing?”

“Oh, he had breakfast early and buggered off over to Slice to show old Muckloe how to breed his pigs out of a book.”

“So what do I do? What's my job?”

Millie looked puzzled although this did not involve much of a change in her general expression.

“Dunno, m'm. Reigning, I suppose. Walking around in the garden. Holding court. Doin' tapestry. That's very popular among queens. And then. . . er. . . later on there's the royal succession. . .”

“At the moment,” said Magrat firmly, “we'll have a go at the tapestry.”

Ridcully was having difficulty with the Librarian.

“I happen to be your Archchancellor, sir!”

“Oook.”

“You'll like it up there! Fresh air! Bags of trees! More woods than you can shake a stick at!”

“Oook!”

“Come down this minute!”

“Oook!”

“The books'll be quite safe here during the holidays. Good grief, it's hard enough to get students to come in here at the best of times-”

“Oook!”

Ridcully glared at the Librarian, who was hanging by his toes from the top shelf of Parazoology Ba to Mn.

'Oh, well,“ he said, his voice suddenly low and cunning, ”it's a great shame, in the circumstances. They've got a pretty good library in Lancre castle, I heard. Well, they call it a library - it's just a lot of old books. Never had a catalogue near 'em, apparently."

“Oook?”

“Thousands of books. Someone told me there's incunibles, too. Shame, really, you not wanting to see them.” Ridcully's voice could have greased axles.

“Oook?”

“But I can see your mind is quite made up. So I shall be going. Farewell.”

Ridcully paused outside the Library door, counting under his breath. He'd reached “three” when the Librarian knuckled through at high speed, caught by the incunibles.

“So that'll be four tickets, then?” said Ridcully.

Granny Weatherwax set about finding out what had been happening around the stones in her own distinctive way.

People underestimate bees.

Granny Weatherwax didn't. She had half a dozen hives of them and knew, for example, there is no such creature as an individual bee. But there is such a creature as a swarm, whose component cells are just a bit more mobile than those of, say, the common whelk. Swarms see everything and sense a lot more, and they can remember things for years, although their memory tends to be external and built out of wax. A honeycomb is a hive's memory - the placement of egg cells, pollen cells, queen cells, honey cells, different types of honey, are all part of the memory array.

And then there are the big fat drones. People think all they do is hang around the hive all year, waiting for those few brief minutes when the queen even notices their existence, but that doesn't explain why they've got more sense organs than the roof of the CIA building.

Granny didn't really keep bees. She took some old wax every year, for candles, and the occasional pound of honey that the hives felt they could spare, but mainly she had them for someone to talk to.

For the first time since she'd returned home, she went to the hives.

And stared.

Bees were boiling out of the entrances. The thrum of wings filled the normally calm little patch behind the raspberry bushes. Brown bodies zipped through the air like horizontal hail.

She wished she knew why.

Bees were her one failure. There wasn't a mind in Lancre she couldn't Borrow. She could even see the world through the eyes of earthworms.[9] But a swarm, a mind made up of thousands of mobile parts, was beyond her. It was the toughest test of all. She'd tried over and over again to ride on one, to see the world through ten thousand pairs of multifaceted eyes all at once, and all she'd ever got was a migraine and an inclination to make love to flowers.

But you could tell a lot from just watching bees. The activity, the direction, the way the guard bees acted. . .

They were acting extremely worried.

So she went for a lie down, as only Granny Weatherwax knew how.

Nanny Ogg tried a different way, which didn't have much to do with witchcraft but did have a lot to do with her general Oggishness.

She sat for a while in her spotless kitchen, drinking rum and smoking her foul pipe and staring at the paintings on the wall. They had been done by her youngest grandchildren in a dozen shades of mud, most of them of blobby stick figures with the word GRAN blobbily blobbed in underneath in muddy blobby letters.

In front of her the cat Greebo, glad to be home again, lay on his back with all four paws in the air, doing his celebrated something-found-in-the-gutter impersonation.

Finally Nanny got up and ambled thoughtfully down to Jason Ogg's smithy.

A smithy always occupied an important position in the villages, doing the duty of town hall, meeting room, and general clearing house for gossip. Several men were lounging around in it now, filling in time between the normal Lancre occupations of poaching and watching the women do the work.

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