IT WAS ONE of those days that you put away and remember. High on the downs, above her parents’ farm, Tiffany Aching felt as though she could see to the end of the world. The air was as clear as crystal, and in the brisk wind the dead leaves from the autumn swirled around the ash trees as they rattled their branches to make way for the new spring growth.
She had always wondered why the trees grew there. Granny Aching had told her there were old tracks up here, made in the days when the valley below had been a swamp. Granny said that was why the ancient people had made their homes high up – away from the swamp, and away from other people who would like to raid their livestock.
Perhaps they had found a sense of refuge near the old circles of stones they found there. Perhaps they had been the ones who built them? No one knew for certain where they had come from . . . but even though they didn’t really believe it, everyone knew that they were the kind of thing it was probably better to leave alone. Just in case. After all, even if a circle did hide some old secrets or treasure, well, what use was that when it came to sheep? And although many of the stones had fallen down, what if the person buried underneath didn’t want to be dug up? Being dead didn’t mean you couldn’t get angry, oh no.
But Tiffany herself had once used one particular set of stones to pass through an arch to Fairyland – a Fairyland most decidedly not like the one she had read about in The Goode Childe’s Booke of Faerie Tales – and she knew the dangers were real.
Today, for some reason, she had felt the need to come up to the stones. Like any sensible witch, she wore strong boots that could march through anything – good, sensible boots. But they did not stop her feeling her land, feeling what it told her. It had begun with a tickle, an itch that crept into her feet and demanded to be heard, urging her to tramp over the downs, to visit the circle, even while she was sticking her hand up a sheep’s bottom to try and sort out a nasty case of colic. Why she had to go to the stones, Tiffany did not know, but no witch ignored what could be a summons. And the circles stood as protection. Protection for her land – protection from what could come through . . .
She had headed up there immediately, a slight frown on her face. But somehow, up there, on top of the Chalk, everything was right. It always was. Even today.
Or was it? For, to Tiffany’s surprise, she had not been the only one drawn to the old circle that day. As she spun in the crisp, clean air, listening to the wind, the leaves dancing across her feet, she recognized the flash of red hair, a glimpse of tattooed blue skin – and heard a muttered ‘Crivens’ as a particularly joyful surge of leaves got caught on the horns of a rabbit’s-skull helmet.
‘The kelda hersel’ sent me here to keep an eye on these stones,’ said Rob Anybody from his vantage point on a rocky outcrop close by. He was surveying the landscape as if he were watching for raiders. Wherever they came from. Particularly if they came through a circle.
‘And if any of them scuggans wants to come back and try again, we’re always ready for them, ye ken,’ he added hopefully. ‘I’m sure we can give them oor best Feegle hospitality.’ He drew his wiry blue frame up to its full six inches and brandished his claymore at an invisible enemy.
The effect, Tiffany thought, not for the first time, was quite impressive.
‘Those ancient raiders are all long dead,’ she said before she could stop herself, even though her Second Thoughts were telling her to listen properly. If Jeannie – Rob’s wife and the kelda of the Feegle clan – had seen trouble a-brewing, well, it was likely that trouble was on the way.
‘Dead? Weel, so are we,’ said Rob.fn1
‘Alas,’ Tiffany sighed. ‘In those long-ago days, mortals just died. They didn’t come back like you seem to do.’
‘They would if they had some of our brose.’
‘What’s that?’ asked Tiffany.
‘Weel, it’s a kind of porridge with everything in it and, if possible, ye ken, a dram of brandy or some of your old granny’s Sheep Liniment.’
Tiffany laughed, but that uneasiness remained. I need to speak to Jeannie, she thought. Need to know why she and my boots are both feeling the same thing.
When they arrived at the large grassy mound nearby that housed the intricate warren of the Feegle dwelling, Tiffany and Rob made their way over to the patch of briars which concealed the main entrance and found Jeannie sitting outside, eating a sandwich.
Mutton, Tiffany thought with just a tinge of annoyance. She was well aware of the agreement with the Feegles that they could have the occasional old ewe in exchange for the fun of fightin’ off the corbies that would otherwise swoop down on the young lambs, who were doing their best to do what lambs did best: get lost, and get dead. The lost lambs up on the Chalk had a new trick now – heading at speed across the downs, sometimes backwards, with a Feegle under each tiny foot, as they were returned to the flock.
A kelda needed a big appetite, for there was only one kelda in a Nac Mac Feegle clan, and she had a lot of sons, plus the occasional lucky daughter popping out.fn2 Each time Tiffany saw Jeannie, the little kelda was a bit wider and a bit rounder. Those hips took work, and Jeannie was certainly working hard at getting them bigger right now as she tackled what looked like half a sheep’s leg between two bits of bread. No mean feat for a Feegle only six inches high, and as Jeannie grew to become a wise old kelda, the word ‘belt’ would no longer signify something to hold up her kilt but just something to mark her equator.
Young Feegles were herding snails and wrestling. They were bouncing off each other, off the walls, and sometimes off their own boots. They were in awe of Tiffany, seeing in her a kind of kelda, and they stopped brawling and looked at her nervously as she approached.
‘Line up, lads, show oor hag how hard ye ha’ been workin’,’ their mother said with pride in her voice, wiping a smear of mutton fat off her lips.
Oh no, Tiffany thought. What am I going to see? I hope it doesn’t involve snails . . .
But Jeannie said, ‘Let yon hag hear your ABC now. Come on, you start, Slightly-more-wee-than-wee-Jock-Jock.’
The first Feegle in the line scratched at his spog and flicked a small beetle out. It seems to be a fact of life that a Feegle’s spog will always be itchy, Tiffany thought, possibly because what is kept in it might still be alive. Slightly-more-wee-than-wee-Jock-Jock swallowed. ‘A is for . . . axe,’ he bellowed. ‘To cut yer heid off, ye ken,’ he added with a proud boast.
‘B is for boot!’ shouted the next Feegle, wiping something that looked like snail slime down the front of his kilt. ‘So as to stamp on yer heid.’
‘An’ C is for claymore . . . and crivens, I’ll gi’e ye sich a guid kickin’ if’n you stick that sword intae me one muir time,’ shouted the third, turning and hurling himself at one of his brothers.
A yellowing crescent-shaped object fell to the ground as the brawl spun off into the brambles, and Rob snatched it up and tried to hide it behind his back.
Tiffany narrowed her eyes. That had looked suspiciously like . . . yes, a bit of old toenail!
‘Weel,’ said Rob, shuffling his feet, ‘ye is always cuttin’ these little chunks off’n them old gentl’men you goes to visit most days. They fly out o’ the winders, jus’ waitin’ for a body to pick ’em up. An’ they is hard as nails, ye ken.’
‘Yes, that’s because they are nails—’ Tiffany began, then stopped. After all, maybe someone like old Mr Nimlet would like to know that parts of his body were still ready for a scrap. Even if he himself couldn’t get out of a chair without help these days.
The kelda drew her to one side now, and said, ‘Weel, hen, your name is in the soil. It talks to you, Tir-far-thóinn, Land Under Wave. Do you talk to it?’
‘Yes,’ said Tiffany. ‘Only sometimes though. But I do listen, Jeannie.’
‘Not every day?’ said the kelda.
‘No, not every day. So much to do, so much to do.’
‘I ken that,’ said the kelda. ‘Ye know that I watch over you. I watch ye in my heid, but I also see ye whizzing aboot over me heid. And ye must remember ye are a long time deid.’
Tiffany sighed, weary to her bones. Going around the houses – that was what you did if you were a compassionate witch, what she and all the other witches did to fill in the gaps in the world, doing things that had to be done: carrying logs in for an old lady or popping on a pot of stew for a dinner, bringing a herbal remedy for a sore leg or a troublesome ache, fetching a basket of ‘spare’ eggs or second-hand clothes for a new baby in a house where money was scarce, and listening, oh yes, always listening to people’s troubles and worries. And the toenails . . . those toenails, they seemed to be as hard as flint, and sometimes an old boy without friends or family would have his toenails twisting inside his boots.
But the reward for lots of work seemed to be lots more. If you dug the biggest hole, they just gave you a bigger shovel . . .
‘Today, Jeannie,’ she said slowly, ‘I did listen to the land. It told me to go to the circle . . .?’ There was a question hanging in the air.
The kelda sighed. ‘I dinnae see it clear yet, but there is . . . something not right, Tiffan,’ she said. ‘The veil between oor worlds is thin and can be easily brake, ye ken. The stones stand, so the gateway is nae open – and the Quin of the Elves will nae be strong after ye sent her back to Fairyland afore. She will nae be in a hurry to get past ye agin, but . . . I am still a-feared. I can feel it noo, like a fog driftin’ oor way.’
Tiffany bit her lip. If the kelda was worried, she knew she should be too.
‘Dinnae fash yesel’,’ Jeannie said softly, watching Tiffany closely. ‘Whin ye need the Feegles, we will be there. And until that time, we will keep a watch for ye.’ She took a last bite of her sandwich, and then gave Tiffany a different sort of look as she changed the subject. ‘Ye ha’ a young man – Preston, I think you call him. Do ye see him much?’ Her gaze was suddenly as sharp as an axe.
‘Well,’ said Tiffany, ‘he works hard, just like I do. Him in the hospital and me in the Chalk.’ To her horror, she felt herself begin to blush, the kind of blush that begins in your toes and works its way up to your face until you look like a tomato. She couldn’t blush! Not like a young country girl with a beau. She was a witch! ‘We write to each other,’ she added in a small voice.
‘And is that enough? Letters?’
Tiffany swallowed. She had once thought – everyone had thought – that she and Preston might have an Understanding, him being an educated boy, running the new school at the barn on the Achings’ farm until he had enough saved to go study in the big city to be a doctor. Now everyone still thought they had an Understanding, including Tiffany and Preston. Except . . . did she have to do what everyone expected her to do? ‘He is very nice and tells wonderful jokes and is great with words,’ she tried to explain. ‘But . . . we like our work, both of us, in fact you might say we are our work. Preston is working so hard at the Lady Sybil Free Hospital. And I can’t help thinking about Granny Aching and how much she liked her life, up on the downs, just her and the sheep and her two dogs, Thunder and Lightning, and . . .’ She tailed off and Jeannie laid a small nut-brown hand on her arm.
‘Do ye think this is the way to live, my girl?’
‘Well, I do like what I am doing and it helps people.’
‘But who helps you? That broomstick of yours flies everywhere and I think sometimes it might burst into flames. Ye look after everybody – but who looks after ye? If Preston is away, weel, there’s your friend the Baron and his new wife. Surely they care about their people. Care enough to help.’
‘They do care,’ said Tiffany, remembering with a shudder how everyone had once also thought that she and Roland, now the Baron, had an Understanding. Why were they so keen to try and find her a husband? Were husbands that difficult to find if she wanted one? ‘Roland is a decent man, although not yet as good as his father became. And Letitia . . .’
Letitia, she thought. Both she and Letitia knew that Letitia could do magic but right now was just playing the role of the young Baroness. And she was good at it – so good that Tiffany wondered if the Being a Baroness might come to win over Being a Witch in the end. It certainly involved a lot less mess.
‘Already ye have done such things other folk wouldnae credit,’ Jeannie continued.
‘Well,’ said Tiffany, ‘there’s too much to be done and not enough people to do it.’
The smile that the kelda gave her was a strange one. The little woman said, ‘Do ye let them try? Ye mustn’t be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time.’
Tiffany laughed. ‘Jeannie, you are always right. But I am a witch so pride is in the bones.’ That brought to mind Granny Weatherwax – the witch all the other witches thought of as the wisest and most senior of them all. When Granny Weatherwax said things, she never sounded proud – but she didn’t need to. It was just there, built right into her essence. In fact, whatever a witch needed in her bones, Granny Weatherwax had it in great big shovelfuls. Tiffany hoped, one day, that she might be that strong a witch herself.
‘Weel, that’s guid, so it is,’ said the kelda. ‘Ye’re oor hag o’ the hills and we need oor hag to ha’ some pride. But we’d also like ye to have a life of your ain.’ Her solemn little gaze was fixed on Tiffany now. ‘So off ye gae and follow where the wind blows ye.’
The wind down in the Shires was angry, blowing everywhere as if it was upset, howling around the chimneys of Lord Swivel’s mansion, which stood surrounded by acres of parkland and could only be reached by a long drive – ruling out visits by anyone not in possession of at least a decent horse.
That put paid to the majority of the ordinary people thereabouts, who were mostly farmers, and who were too busy to do any such thing anyway. Any horse they had was generally large and hairy-legged and usually seen attached to carts. The skinny, half-mad horses that pranced up the drive or pulled coaches up it were normally conveying a very different class of man: one who always had land and money, but often very little chin. And whose wife sometimes resembled his horse.
Lord Swivel’s father had inherited money and the title from his father, a great master builder, but he had been a drunkard and had wasted almost all of it.fn3 Nevertheless young Harold Swivel had wheeled and dealed, and yes, swivelled and swindled, until he had restored the family fortune, and had added two wings to the family mansion which he filled with expensively ugly objects.
He had three sons, which pleased him greatly in that his wife had produced one extra over and above the usual ‘heir and spare’. Lord Swivel liked to be one up on everyone else, even if the one up was only in the form of a son he didn’t overly care for.
Harry, the eldest, didn’t go to school much because he was now dealing with the estate, helping his father and learning who was worth talking to and who wasn’t.
Number two was Hugh, who had suggested to his father that he would like to go into the church. His father had said, ‘Only if it’s the Church of Om, but none of the others. I’m not having no son of mine fooling around with cultic activities!’fn4 Om was handily silent, thereby enabling his priests to interpret his wishes how they chose. Amazingly, Om’s wishes rarely translated into instructions like ‘Feed the poor’ or ‘Help the elderly’ but more along the lines of ‘You need a splendid residence’ or ‘Why not have seven courses for dinner?’ So Lord Swivel felt that a clergyman in the family could in fact be useful.
His third son was Geoffrey. And nobody quite knew what to make of Geoffrey. Not least, Geoffrey himself.
The tutor Lord Swivel employed for his boys was named Mr Wiggall. Geoffrey’s older brothers called him ‘Wiggler’, sometimes even to his face. But for Geoffrey Mr Wiggall was a godsend. The tutor had arrived with a huge crate of his own books, only too aware that some great houses barely had a single book in them, unless the books were about battles of the past in which a member of the family had been spectacularly and stupidly heroic. Mr Wiggall and his wonderful books taught Geoffrey about the great philosophers Ly Tin Weedle, Orinjcrates, Xeno and Ibid, and the celebrated inventors Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos and Leonard of Quirm, and Geoffrey started to discover what he might make of himself.
When they weren’t reading and studying, Mr Wiggall took Geoffrey to dig up things – old bones and old places – around the Shires, and told him about the universe, which he previously had not thought about. The more he learned the more he thirsted for knowledge and longed to know all about the Great Turtle A’Tuin, and the lands beyond the Shires.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said to his tutor one day. ‘How did you become a teacher?’
Mr Wiggall laughed and said, ‘Someone taught me, that’s how it goes. And he gave me a book, and after that I would read any book that I could find. Just like you do, young sir. I see you reading all the time, not just in lessons.’
Geoffrey knew that his father sneered at the teacher, but his mother had intervened, saying that Geoffrey had a star in his hand.
His father scoffed at that. ‘All he’s got in his hand is mud, and dead people, and who cares where Fourecks is? No one ever goes there!’fn5
His mother looked tired, but took his side, saying, ‘He’s very good at reading and Mr Wiggall has taught him three languages. He can even speak a bit of Offleran!’
Again his father sneered. ‘Only handy if he wants to be a dentist! Ha, why waste time on learning languages. After all, everyone speaks Ankh-Morpork these days.’
But Geoffrey’s mother said to him, ‘You read, my boy. Reading is the way up. Knowledge is the key to everything.’
Shortly afterwards, the tutor was sent away by Lord Swivel, who said, ‘Too much nonsense around here. It’s not as if the boy will amount to much. Not like his brothers.’
The walls of the manor could pick up voices a long way away and Geoffrey had heard that and thought, Well, whatever I do choose to become, I am not going to be like my father!
With his tutor gone, Geoffrey wandered about the place, learning new things, hanging around a lot with McTavish, the stable-lad who was as old as the hills but somehow still was known as a ‘lad’. He knew all the bird songs in the world and could imitate them too.
And McTavish was there when Geoffrey found Mephistopheles. One of the old nanny goats had given birth, and while she had two healthy kids, there was a third kid hidden in the straw, a little runt which its mother had rejected.
‘I’m going to try and save this little goat,’ Geoffrey declared. And he spent all night labouring to keep the newborn alive, squeezing milk from its mother and letting the little kid lick it off his finger until it slept peacefully beside him in a broken-up bale of hay, which kept them both warm.
He is such a small thing, Geoffrey thought, looking into the kid’s letterbox eyes. I must give him a chance.
And the kid responded, and grew into a strong young goat with a devilish kick. He would follow Geoffrey everywhere, and lower his head and prepare to charge anyone he thought threatened his young master. Since this often meant anyone within reach, many a servant or visitor found themselves skipping rather smartly out of the way when faced with the goat’s lowered horns.
‘Why did thee call that hell-goat Mephistopheles?’ asked McTavish one day.
‘I read it in a book.fn6 You can tell it is a very good name for a goat,’ Geoffrey replied.
Geoffrey grew older, turning from a little boy into a young lad and then a bigger lad, wisely catching his father’s eye only occasionally.
Then one day McTavish saddled a horse for him and they rode over to the fields at the edge of Lord Swivel’s estate and crept quietly to a fox’s earth in the woods. There, as they had done many times before, they watched the vixen play with her cubs.
‘Nice to see ’un like so,’ whispered McTavish. ‘A fox mun eat and feed yon cubs. But they has too much of a taste for me chickens for my liking. They kill things as matter to us, an’ so we kill them. ’Tis the way of the world.’
‘It shouldn’t be,’ said Geoffrey, sorrow in his voice as his heart went out to the vixen.
‘But we needs the hens and mun protect ’em. That’s why we hunts foxes,’ said McTavish. ‘I brings you here today, Geoffrey, for the time is coming when your father will want you to join the hunt. Of yon vixen mebbe.’
‘I understand,’ Geoffrey said. He knew about the hunt, of course, as he had been made to watch them ride out every year since he was a baby. ‘We must protect our hens, and the world can be cruel and merciless. But making a game of it is not right. That’s terrible! It’s just execution. Must we kill everything? Kill a mother who is feeding her cubs? We take so much and we give back nothing.’ He rose to his feet and went back to his horse. ‘I do not want to hunt, McTavish. My word, I do not like to hate – I don’t even hate my father – but the hunt I would like to see put in a dark place.’
McTavish looked worried. ‘I think thee needs to be careful, young Geoffrey. You knows what your father is like. He’s a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.’
‘My father is not a stick-in-the-mud; he is the mud!’ Geoffrey said bitterly.
‘Well then, if you tries talking to him – or your mother – mebbe he might understand that you are not ready to join the hunt?’
‘No point,’ said Geoffrey. ‘When he has made up his mind, you cannot get through to him. I hear my mother crying sometimes – she doesn’t like to be seen crying, but I know she cries.’
Then it was, as he looked up to watch a hawk hovering, that he thought to himself: There is freedom. Freedom is what I want.
‘I would like to fly, McTavish,’ he said, adding, ‘Like the birds. Like Langas.’fn7
And almost immediately, he saw a witch flying overhead on a stick, following the hawk, and he pointed up and said, ‘I want one of those. I want to be a witch.’
But the old man said, ‘It’s not for thee, boy. Everybody knows men can’t be witches.’
‘Why not?’ asked Geoffrey.
The old man shrugged and said, ‘Nobody knows.’
And Geoffrey said, ‘I want to know.’
On the day of Geoffrey’s first hunt he trotted out with the rest, pale-faced but determined, and thought, This is the day I must try to stand up for myself.
Soon the local gentry were galloping across the countryside, some taking it to the extreme by careering into ditches, through hedges or over gates, often minus their mounts, while Geoffrey carefully held his position well to the back of the throng, until he could slip away unnoticed. He circled the woods in the opposite direction to the hunt, his heart aching, especially when the baying of the hounds turned to joyous yelps as the prey was brought down.
Then it was time to return to the house. There, everyone was at that happy stage of a hunt where ‘tomorrow’ is a word that still means something and you have a mug of hot beverage that is liberally laced with something not too dissimilar to Tiffany’s grandmother’s Special Sheep Liniment. A reward for the returning heroes! They had survived the hunt. Huzzah! They swigged and swilled and the drink ran over their non-existent chins.
But Lord Swivel looked at Geoffrey’s horse – the only animal not to be lathered in sweat with its legs besplattered in mud – and his wrath was unquenchable.
Geoffrey’s brothers held him while his mother looked on imploringly, but to no avail. She averted her face as Lord Swivel smeared vixen’s blood on Geoffrey’s face.
His lordship was almost incandescent in his rage. ‘Where were you? You should have been there at the kill!’ he roared. ‘You will do this, young man – and like it! I had to do it when I was young, and so did my father before me. And so will you. It is a tradition. Do you understand? Every male member of our family has been blooded at your age. Who are you to say it’s wrong? I’m ashamed of you!’
There it came, the swish of the crop, across Geoffrey’s back.
Geoffrey, his face dripping with the vixen’s blood, looked to his mother. ‘She was a beautiful thing! Why kill her in such a way? For fun?’
‘Please don’t upset your father,’ his mother pleaded.
‘I see them in the woods, and you just hunt them. Can you eat them? No. We – the unspeakable – chase and kill what we cannot eat, just for the blood. For fun.’
It hurt. But Geoffrey was suddenly full of . . . what? All at once he had the amazing feeling that things could be made right, and he told himself, I could do it. I know I can. He drew himself up to his full height and shook himself free of his brothers’ grasp.
‘I must thank you, Father,’ he said with unexpected vigour. ‘I have learned something important today. But I won’t let you hit me again – never – and nor will you see me again unless you can change. Do you understand me?’ His tone was oddly formal now, as if befitting the occasion.
Harry and Hugh looked at Geoffrey with a kind of awe and waited for the explosion, while the rest of the hunt, which had given Lord Swivel space in which to deal with his son, stopped pretending that they weren’t watching. The world of the hunt was out of kilter, the air frozen but somehow contriving also to seem to hold its breath.
In the charged silence, Geoffrey led his horse off to the stables, leaving Lord Swivel standing there like a stone.
He gave the horse some hay, took off its saddle and bridle, and was rubbing the beast down when McTavish walked up to him and said, ‘Well done, young Geoffrey.’ Then, surprisingly outspoken, the stable-lad added under his breath, ‘You stood up for yourself, right enough. Don’t let that bastard grind thee down.’
‘If you talk like that, McTavish, my father could turn you out,’ Geoffrey warned. ‘And you like it here, don’t you?’
‘Well, lad, you’re right there. I’m too old to be changing my ways now, I reckon,’ McTavish replied. ‘But you stood your ground and no man could do better nor that. I expect thee’ll be leaving us now, Master Geoffrey?’
‘Alas, yes,’ said Geoffrey. ‘But thank you, McTavish. I hope my father doesn’t take it out on you for talking to me.’
And the oldest stable-lad in the world said, ‘He won’t do that, no, never, not while I’m still useful like. Anyways, after all these years, I know him – like one of them volcanee things, he is. Powerful dangerous explosions for a while, and no care for who gets caught by the red-hot boulders spewing every which way, but it still blows out in the end. Smart folks just keep out of sight until it’s over. You’ve been very pleasant and respectful to me, Master Geoffrey. I reckons you take after your mother. A lovely lady, always so good to me and so helpful when my Molly was dying. I remember that. And I’ll remember you too.’
‘Thank you,’ said Geoffrey. ‘And I will remember you.’
McTavish lit up a most enormous pipe and the smoke billowed. ‘I reckon you’ll be wanting to take away that dratted goat of yourn.’
‘Yes,’ said Geoffrey. ‘But I don’t think I have any say in the matter – Mephistopheles will make up his own mind. He usually does.’
McTavish gave him a sideways look. ‘Got any food, Master Geoffrey? Got any money? I reckon you won’t want to go into the house now. I tell you what, I’ll loan thee a bit o’ cash till you finds out where you wants to be.’
‘No!’ said Geoffrey. ‘I can’t possibly!’
‘I’m your friend, Master Geoffrey. Like I said, your mother has been good to me and I owes her a lot. You come back and see her sometime. And when you do that, just make sure you look up old McTavish.’
Geoffrey went to fetch Mephistopheles and hitched him up to the little cart McTavish had made for him. He loaded a few things into the cart, picked up the reins, clicked his tongue and they set off out of the stable yard.
As the goat’s dainty hooves echoed down the drive, McTavish said to himself, ‘How does the boy do it? That hell-goat kicks the arse of everybody who comes here. But not Geoffrey.’
If Geoffrey had looked back, he would have seen his mother’s beseeching look as she sobbed, while his father still stood there like a statue, amazed at such defiance. His brothers made as if to follow, but halted when they saw the rage in their father’s eyes.
And so Geoffrey and his goat went off to find a new life. Now, he thought, as they rounded the first of the drive’s many bends and he rode into his future, I’ve got nowhere to go.
But the wind whispered, ‘Lancre.’
In Lancre, it hadn’t been a good day for Granny Weatherwax. A young lumberjack at work higher up in the Ramtop mountains had nearly severed his own foot. And on a day when the resident Igor was elsewhere so unable to patch him up. When Granny arrived at the camp on her rickety old broomstick she immediately saw that the lad was in an even worse mess than she had expected. He had been doing his best to look brave in front of his mates, who were clustered around him trying to cheer him up, but she could see the pain in his face.
As she examined the damage, he cried out for his mother.
‘You, lad,’ Granny said sharply, turning a piercing look on the nearest of his mates. ‘You know where this lad’s family live?’ And at the boy’s scared nod – a witch’s pointy hat often seemed to make young lads suddenly very scared – she went on, ‘Go then. Run. Tell the lady I’m bringing her son back and she’ll need hot water on and a clean bed. Clean, mind.’ And as the boy raced off, Granny glared at the others standing sheepishly around. ‘You others,’ she said sharply, ‘don’t just stand around. Make a stretcher from some of that there wood lying about so’s I can take your friend there.’
The lad’s foot was all but hanging off and his boot was full of blood. Granny gritted her teeth, and set to with everything in her armoury and all the knowledge accumulated over many years, quietly, gently, taking his pain away from him, drawing it into herself to hold until she could release it.
His face came alive and his eyes sparkled and he started chatting to the witch like an old friend. She cleaned and she stitched, all the while telling the lad what she was doing in a cheerful and calm voice before giving him what she called ‘a little tincture’. To the onlookers it looked like the boy was almost himself again when they brought to her a rather makeshift stretcher and found the lad dreamily telling Granny how to get to his home.
The habitations of the lumberjacks up in the mountains were often no better than sheds and it turned out the boy – a lad by the name of Jack Abbott – and his mother lived in one of these. It was a rickety little hut held together more with dirt than with anything else, and when Granny Weatherwax arrived outside with the stretcher lashed underneath her broomstick, she frowned, wondering how this lad’s injury could possibly be kept clean in such surroundings. The mother ran out to her boy and flapped around as the lad who had run down to her with the news helped Granny carry the stretcher inside and move the boy onto a pallet onto which the mother had heaped blankets to create a bed fit for an invalid.
Granny Weatherwax said quietly to the injured boy, ‘You lie right there and don’t get up.’ And to the distraught mother, who was wringing her hands and making noises about paying something, she said, ‘No payment necessary, mistress – that’s not how we witches work – and I’ll come back to see him in a few days, and if I can’t make it then send for Mrs Ogg. I know boys, and your son’ll want to be up and doing as soon as possible, but mark my words, bed rest is the thing for him now.’
The boy’s mother stared at Granny and said, ‘Thank you so much, Mrs . . . um . . . well, I ain’t never had need to call on a witch before, and I’ve heard some folks round here say witches do nasty things. But I can tell ’em now as I ain’t seen nothing of that sort.’
‘Really?’ said Granny, struggling to keep her temper. ‘Well, I would like to do some nasty things to the overseer for not keeping an eye on these lads, and don’t you let that man tell your boy to get up until I do. If he does, tell him that Granny Weatherwax will be after him for using these young men who don’t really know how to climb trees. I’m a good witch, as it happens, but if I find your boy working before that foot is healed there will be a reckoning.’
As the mother waved Granny away she said, ‘I will pray to Om for you, Mrs Weatherwax.’
‘Well, do tell me what he says,’ said Granny sharply. ‘And that’s Mistress Weatherwax, thank you. But if you’ve got some old clothing I could take back with me when I come again – well, that would help. I’ll see you in a day or so, along with your boy. And mind you keep that wound clean.’
You, Granny’s white cat, was waiting for her when she arrived back at her cottage, along with several people wanting potions and poultices. One or two were looking for advice but generally people were careful not to ask Granny Weatherwax, as she had a tendency to dish out advice whether wanted or not, such as the wisdom of not giving little Johnny hand-made soldiers until he was old enough to know not to stuff them up his nose.
She bustled around for another hour, dishing out medicaments to person after person, and it was only much later that she realized that although she had fed the cat, obviously, she herself had had nothing to eat or drink since the dawn. So she heated up some pottage – not a great meal, but it filled her up.
Then she lay on her bed for a while, even though sleeping in the daytime was something that only very grand ladies did, and so Granny Weatherwax allowed herself not forty winks but just the one. After all, there were always more people to see and things to do.
Then she pulled herself up, and despite it being now quite late she went out and cleaned the privy. And she scrubbed it. She scrubbed it so hard that she could see her face in it . . .
But somehow, in the shimmering water, her face could also see her, and she sighed and said, ‘Drat, and tomorrow was going to be a much better day.’
fn1 The Feegles believed to a man that they had to be dead, as the world they now lived in was grand, filled as it was with so many opportunities for stealin’ and fightin’ and boozin’. A land fit for dead heroes.
fn2 Sometimes literally, since a kelda usually gave birth to about seven Feegle babies at a time. Jeannie herself had produced a daughter in amongst her first brood.
fn3 Lord Swivel’s father reckoned it was no waste, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed drinking the family fortune. At least, he thought this until he drank so much he fell over and met a gentleman with a decided lack of flesh on his bones and the definitive addition of a scythe a good few years earlier than he should have done.
fn4 He knew, too, that gods could sometimes make inconvenient requests. He had an associate who had chosen to follow the crocodile god Offler and then found he had to keep an aviary of tooth-cleaning birds handy to fulfil his god’s dental whims.
fn5 Very true, but a lot of people came from Fourecks, as is often the case with a Place-That-Nobody-Has-Ever-Heard-Of. They just never bothered to go back again.
fn6 Thus proving that books can teach you much, if only to give you a good name for a devilish smart goat.
fn7 The legend of Pilotus and his son Langas, who wanted to fly like the birds, was known by every well-educated boy. They did indeed build themselves wings by sewing together feathers and thistledown. The boy at least flew a little way, but his elderly and portly father crashed. The moral of the story is: understand what you are doing before you do it.