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The Shepherd’s Crown

THERE WAS THE face of Rob Anybody, and he said, ‘The scunners are breaking through, Mistress Tiffany. It’s stairted!’

‘So cry “Crivens” and let loose the clan Mac Feegle!’ Tiffany commanded as a small group of Feegles scrambled out from under the bed, from where they had been watching over her. One of them appeared to have been hiding in her boots . . . he was now punching at the laces with a cry of ‘Tak’ tha’, yer nasty wrigglin’ little bogles!’

Boots, Tiffany thought. I wish I had brought Granny Weatherwax’s boots to wear for this fight. They would have given me strength. And then she stopped this thought. No. This is my land. My turf. My feet. My boots. My way . . .

But she still scolded herself as she struggled into her dress and thought that she should have slept with her day clothes on: What kind of leader are you?

As she stumbled to pull on her boots she felt a weight in the deep pocket of her fine black dress . . . and she pulled out the shepherd’s crown, which she thought she had put on the shelf. Had she put it there herself earlier that night? Ready for this moment?

And to the moon she said, ‘What is the shepherd’s crown? Whom does the shepherd’s crown serve?’

And the answer dropped into her head. ‘Tiffany Aching, Land under Wave.’

She twisted a thong of leather rapidly around the flint and hung it around her neck. She would go into battle with its power at her heart, she thought. The power of generations of Achings. Of Granny Aching. Of the shepherds of all time.

Then she ran down the darkened stairs and out of the door, locking it behind her, and was not surprised to see You the cat perched on the front of her broomstick, purring and looking smug, while Nightshade was stumbling from the barn, Wee Mad Arthur at her side.

Then she was flying through the silvery night, the elf Nightshade clutching at her waist, Feegles hanging on to the bristles, and the owls following behind her, a squadron of feathered allies . . .

Over in Lancre, Nanny Ogg was sleeping and her snores could have cut timber. Suddenly there was a mild explosion which might be called a grumph! and the cat, Greebo, woke up and sniffed the air.

Nanny had been sleeping in her day clothes. After all, she thought, who knew for sure when the elves would come.

She shouted, ‘Greebo, ring the castle bell.’

The cat was suddenly not there, but there was a blur of cat travelling at speed up to the castle, Greebo’s unmistakable smell lingering in the air behind him, and when the guard saw him coming towards him he ran after him into the bell tower.

And as the great castle bell tolled, light blossomed throughout the castle as candles were lit in every window, followed very shortly by the rest of Lancre Town. The bell! What danger was this?

In the royal bedchamber, Queen Magrat nudged her husband, who was still rubbing his eyes, and said, ‘Verence, help me buckle my escutcheon, will you, my dear?’

The King sighed. ‘Look, why can’t I go with you? It’s going to be dangerous.’

Magrat smiled. The smile that you gave loving but occasionally annoying husbands. This was old ground. ‘Well, someone has to be left at home,’ she said. ‘It’s like chess, you know. The Queen saves the King.’

‘Yes, dear,’ said the King and opened the cupboard that contained the armour of Queen Ynci. Ynci had been the most fearsome warrior queen Lancre had ever seen. Well, so the stories said, as she hadn’t actually existed. But the people of Lancre hadn’t let a tiny thing like that stop them adding her to their history, and so a set of armour had been made to go along with a portrait. Magrat had worn the armour the last time she faced the elves, and it seemed only right to wear it again.

As the door opened, Magrat thought she heard a subtle little sound of a call to arms. Queen Ynci’s armour had a life of its own and it always shone, even in the dark. Verence helped her buckle on the mail armour – which she secretly thought of as fe-mail – then she slipped her feet into the heavy-soled spiked sandals, and topped it all off with the winged helmet. The last piece to go on was the leather baldric.

Verence wanted to embrace her, but he thought, I won’t. There were too many spikes, in any case. But he loved his wife to distraction, so he tried again to volunteer himself to be somewhere in the coming fray.

‘Magrat, my love,’ he murmured, ‘it seems so shaming if the King can’t fight.’

‘You are a very good king, Verence,’ his wife said firmly, ‘but this is witches’ work. And someone has to look after the people and our children.’ The Queen – Magrat, as was – staggered under the weight of the armour, and under her breath she whispered a little magic. ‘Queen Ynci, Queen of Queens, make your armour light.’ And suddenly she felt strong, stronger than she had ever been before.

She picked up a crossbow in one hand, her broomstick in the other, and almost flew down the stairs to the Great Hall where the other witches, who were for the most part en déshabille, stared at her with wild surmise. Wild surmises take on many shapes and every witch, some still in their underwear, stared at the Queen and the surmise each gave her hung there in the rafters.

In the voice of Queen Ynci, Magrat shouted, ‘Up, girls, and at ’em. It’s started, ladies, so get your heavy-duty knickers on and your sticks ready!’ She glared at the only witch to be fully dressed, spick and span in three minutes, to the surprise of all. ‘That means you too, Mrs Earwig.’

There was a little commotion at the back of the hall, then a sudden crash and a group of witches ground to a halt.

‘What’s happening?’ Magrat cried, still in the voice of Queen Ynci.

‘It’s only Long Tall Short Fat Sally: she’s got two feet down one knicker!’ said Mrs Proust. Surrounded by witches, Long Tall Short Fat Sally – small and squat right then, like a low-lying thunderstorm – was swiftly put back on her feet.

Mrs Earwig looked rather smug and said, ‘I’ve been looking at my charts. The omens are good.’

‘Well, omens are ten a penny,’ said Mrs Proust. ‘I’ve got lots of them. After all, we are all witches.’

And the ghost of Queen Ynci filled Magrat, who said, ‘Let us fly.’

In Mr Sideways’s old barn, Mephistopheles laid a hoof gently on Geoffrey’s sleeping form. Geoffrey jumped out of the straw and discovered that the old boys who had readied themselves for the coming battle by bivouacking in the barn with him were already up and about, creaking a bit, and making their toilet in a bucket.

Geoffrey looked at the old men. They had spent most of the evening carousing and telling stories of the days when they were all young and handsome and healthy and didn’t have to pass water far too often.

They had managed to make their wives give them a ticket of leave, and said wives had been given to believe that their husbands were just in the barn for a few drinks and reminiscences. The wives, as wives do, had festooned their menfolk with big scarves, mittens on strings and woolly hats with, alas, pompoms on the top.

Captain Makepeace – the old boys’ acknowledged military leader – said, ‘It’s time to go and get out Laughing Boy’s confounded contraption.’

Geoffrey looked at the captain’s warriors and sighed internally. Could they do it? They were old men. And then he thought, Yes, they are old men. They have been old men for a long time, which means they have learned many things. Like lying, and being crafty and, most importantly, dissembling.

‘We shall fight them on the mountains. We shall fight them on the rocks. We shall fight them over the hills and down in the valleys.fn1 We shall never surrender!’ Captain Makepeace roared, and there was an answering cheer.

‘They will not like it up and over ’em!’ Smack Tremble called out, waving what looked like a rusty bayonet in the air and, worryingly, living up to his name. ‘They will not like it, oh no they won’t!’

Mephistopheles grunted as Geoffrey hitched him to his little cart, which the old boys had filled with mysterious bags before drinking the night away, and the two of them followed the old men out of the barn.

Captain Makepeace didn’t need to tell his men to be stealthy. They already were. It was running fast that would be a problem. And stealthily they made their way into the wood and further on to where they had hidden Mr Sideways’s contraption, camouflaging it with branches.

Geoffrey watched them pull Mr Sideways’s project out into the clearing. It stood there looking ominous. Surrounded by the bushes. Waiting its moment. Like a huge insect.

One with a nasty sting . . .

Up by the circle of stones called the Dancers, Lord Lankin was exulting. His elves were dancing around the stones, flitting in and out and metaphorically tweaking the noses of the Piper, the Drummer, the Leaper – the best-known stones. The power of the gate was weak, and the glamour of the elves was . . . fearsome.

‘They are not even here, waiting for us!’ Lord Lankin gloated. ‘Stupid humans. If we go down through those woods, we could be out into the centre of Lancre in one great charge. And the moon is full and on our side.’

And in the silver moonlight, the elves, some on horseback, bells jingling and harness tinkling, made their way down the hill towards the woods.

But as they neared the edge of the trees, Lankin saw a young human boy step out onto the path with an animal by his side. It was a goat.

‘Who are you, boy?’ he demanded. ‘Move aside. I am a prince of the elves and you are in my way. Move lest I show you my displeasure.’

‘Well,’ said Geoffrey, ‘I don’t see why I should. My advice to you is to turn round, sir, and go the other way or else it will be all the worse for you.’

Lord Lankin laughed out loud. ‘We will take you away, boy, and the things we will use on you when we get you back home will be incredibly nasty. Your torment, for naysaying a prince of the elves.’

‘But why, sir? I mean no harm to you. I have no weapons. Can we be calm about this? It would appear that I have made you unhappy, and for this I am sorry.’ Geoffrey paused – he was trying to weave a peace between them, but it was like trying to get a rock to agree with a hard place. ‘Surely both of us are civilized people,’ he finished.

Lord Lankin screeched, ‘Now, young man, you have trodden on the tail of the snake.’

Geoffrey calmly said, ‘I believe this is not the case. I know you, mister. I know what kind of thing you are. You are a bully. I know about bullies, oh yes I do! I have known them all my life. And believe me, you aren’t the worst.’

‘You are nothing, boy. We’ll kill you anyway. And why a goat, may I ask? They are stupid creatures.’

Geoffrey found his calmness floating away. He was worthless. A maggot. A ne’er-do-well. He felt powerless, a baby again . . . And as the elf spoke, in Geoffrey’s mind an echo came. Even if I let you live, you will amount to nothing. This time it was the voice of his father, and he stood there, frozen.

The elf prince said silkily, ‘Are you crying, you little baby?’

‘No,’ said Geoffrey, ‘but you might be.’ For now his eyes had caught the flash of red fox fur swinging on its leather thong across the lord’s chest, and he felt a rage beginning to build. ‘We are not here for your . . . sport,’ he stated, throwing the glamour from his mind with a huge effort of will.

He clicked his teeth and Mephistopheles was on the elf.

It was a ballet with speed. The Mince of Darkness pirouetted to dangerous effect. He used his teeth first, then kicked hard with his legs, and ended by using his horns. Lord Lankin was spinning, kicked and tossed into the air from all directions, and the other elves drew back to keep out of the range of the maelstrom.

And Geoffrey said to the battered prince, ‘You are just a trickster. And I have found your trick.’ He shouted, ‘He’s down, gentlemen. Time to put him out.’

The branches parted and there was a twang as Mr Sideways yelled, ‘Keep your hats on, boys, cover your eyes,’ and the contraption sang, swinging up into the air, filling it with a twinkle of swarf and terrible death that came from nowhere to shower over the elves.

Smack Tremble cheered. ‘They don’t like it up and over ’em! Oh no, they don’t!’

‘Swarf,’ said Nanny Ogg approvingly, from one side of the woods, where she and some of the other witches were waiting – prepared for what Captain Makepeace had called a pincer movement, with Mrs Earwig and more witches on the other side. ‘Pieces of iron,’ Nanny told the witches with her. ‘Very small. Very clever. Throw it down on elves, and they’re in a world of hurt. Tiny bits of iron ev’rywhere. And, I stress, ev’rywhere.’

The Lancre Stick and Bucket machine sang again. And again. And each twang was followed by the war cries of ancient battles, rivalling those of the Feegles. On this day of days, the old boys were younger than they thought.

And the elves were, indeed, down and out, screaming from the pain of the terrible metal that stripped their glamour away from them, leaving them writhing. Many dragged themselves away back up the hill towards the Dancers, while any who had escaped the rain of swarf now found themselves sandwiched by the witches.

From one side, Magrat piled in to make life unlivable for those remaining, her armour shielding her from their glamour while her crossbow shot deadly arrows at them, and fire flew from her fingertips, forcing those who had ridden into battle on yarrow stalks to fall from the sky as flame destroyed the stems.

From the other side, the elves were assaulted by Mrs Earwig. And they really didn’t know how to deal with her. She was shouting at them like some horrible headmistress – and they couldn’t get through to her; she was impervious to their glamour. She also had an umbrella which she had opened, and it was amazing how much of a problem it was for the elves, its metal spokes poking at them, hitting tender spots.

‘This lady is not for turning,’ Mrs Earwig boomed. She rose among them like a whirlwind, and as they were floored, Long Tall Short Fat Sally became very fat and heavy and sat on them, bouncing up and down. While Mrs Proust hurled her novelties – novelties that now worked as advertised – over the elves, trapping them in curls of spells that seized their glamour and took it for their own.

The younger witches were in and out of the mêlée, diving from the skies on their broomsticks, throwing spells at every elf they saw: fire burning them where they stood, wind blowing dust into the horses’ faces, madness into their minds, such that the horses reared, throwing their elvish riders to the ground. Then there was the crunching as Nanny Ogg came to the fore with her big, big boots. The ones with nails everywhere.

Petulia was face to face with an elf – and a different kind of battle was going on, as the elf threw its glamour towards her, sparkling shards of glamour shining in the air between them, and Petulia fought back with her soft voice and strong will, her words hypnotic, irresistible, boring the elf as she bored her beloved pigs, lulling it until it dropped dramatically at her feet.

‘Hah! Easier than pigs!’ was Petulia’s response. ‘Less intelligent.’ And she turned to the next opponent . . .

And in a lull, there was Hodgesaargh, with his favourite gyrfalcon on his wrist – the Lady Elizabeth, a descendant of the famous Lady Jane. He slipped the hood off, and the bird joyfully hurled herself into the fray, hitting the nearest elf between the eyes with her sharp talons. Then her beak got to work . . .

When it came to it, the battle for Lancre was over quite swiftly. Queen Magrat had all the surviving elves brought before her. ‘Even the goblins are smarter than you – they work with us these days,’ she told them, standing tall and strong in her spiked armour, the wings on her helmet silvered in the moonlight. ‘We have had enough of this. You could have had it all. Now, go away to your forlorn spaces. Come back as good neighbours – or not at all.’

The elves cringed. But Lord Lankin, his warrior garb now only rags and his body bloodied by the terrible swarf, hissed in defiance at them as he crawled away. ‘You may have won this battle,’ he snarled, ‘but not the war. For our Lord Peaseblossom will yet make this world bow down to us.’

And then they were gone.

Nanny Ogg said seriously, ‘It seems to me, girls, that it goes like this. We fight the elves at every turn, and they is always comin’ back. Perhaps it might be a good thing? To keep us on our toes, to stop us from gettin’ lazy. To put us on the anvil, so that we remembers how to fight. And at the end of time, living is about fightin’ against everything.’

She laughed, however, when she heard the old gentlemen coming up the hill, singing, ‘There was a young lady from Quirm, whose thighs were exceedingly firm . . .’ And the rest of the song helpfully disappeared as the captain remembered just in time how that verse ended.

Captain Makepeace leaned over to Nanny Ogg and said, ‘They came through the Dancers, right? Let’s put a ring of swarf all around the stones. That would be the end of their fun. They would be locked out for ever.’

‘Well, I reckons it would be a good start,’ said Nanny.

But Lord Lankin had one thing right. The elves might have lost the battle in Lancre, but the war was not yet over. For, many miles rimwards, Lord Peaseblossom had indeed ridden through the stone circle on the Chalk, with a band of elite warriors at his back.

The Feegle mound was one big scuttle as the Nac Mac Feegles turned out of every nook and cranny to fight. Everywhere was heat and noise. You could call it something like an overgrown termite mound – not in front of the Feegles, unless you liked picking your teeth up from the ground – but there was the same bustling. It could even be said that the vanguard was steaming along, but these being Feegles, there were squabbles in the ranks which, as everyone knew, was just the way of the clan.

When Tiffany arrived at the mound with Nightshade, the throng spread out in the direction of the stones.

The gateway had fallen to the elves.

Who were now heading towards them, a glorious band of lords and ladies, resplendent in the moonlight. The air was thick with their glamour.

Miss Tick was waiting. A Miss Tick with a board propped up on a few sticks she had handily knotted together to create a trestle. And on the board was written PLN. With a teacher’s determination not to let anything interrupt her in the midst of any kind of lesson, her insistent voice was demanding the younger Feegles’ attention as she tied a strange net, a tangle of intricate, carefully woven knots and loops, to her broomstick.

‘Remember, I want you to keep it in one piece,’ she was saying sternly.

Then, within minutes, it was a mêlée. In fact, a mêlée of mêlées. There was a sting in the air and Tiffany recognized the surge of static electricity. How could the elves be so stupid, she thought, as to attack in the midst of a storm? Did they not remember how she had used thunder and lightning to defeat them before? The sky was crackling. The hairs on her head tingled. She could see signs of a coming downpour happening everywhere, could recognize the build-up to an enormous storm.

As Awf’ly Wee Billy Bigchin’s mousepipes screeched out a battle hymn, pitched perfectly to assault the elven ears, there was a distant scream from a train at Twoshirts. A roar of iron and steel, a bellow that shouted: This is no world for elves!

Feegles and elves were fighting now, with no quarter given on either side. Tiffany could see that the Feegles were dealing with things in their own special way – which included getting into the elves’ clothing and fighting them from within. If there was something that an elf really hated, it was to have their clothing torn, and a black eye didn’t do much for the image either. You can’t be suave with a black eye, Tiffany thought.

She suddenly burst out laughing. It had been a long time since she had set eyes on Horace the Cheese,fn2 but now she saw him rolling heavily over every fallen elf, and when they were flattened the younger Feegles got to work as well, mostly with their heavy boots, but also with their double-the-fun clubs that curled in the air, clonking elves on the head and then coming joyfully back for another go. And yes, there was Maggie in their midst – a Feegle daughter fighting alongside her brothers! And indeed fighting even more furiously than her brothers. Tiffany thought, She’s like a small Ynci. The Feegle maid had been waiting for something like this to prove herself, so woe betide any elf who got in her way. It was one small step for a Feegle lassie – but a giant step for all Feegle womenfolk!

Miss Tick was flying overhead now, the strange rope-net hanging beneath her broomstick filled with young Feegles. As she pulled at one knot after another, the Wee Free Men were tumbling out to fall smack on the heads of the elves below. Crash! Whack! Crump! Followed by Aargh! from the elves.

And the witch had small bottles with her too – concoctions mixed in her caravan that she was now gleefully emptying over the heads of the elves’ horses as she swooped above them. There was a moment’s pause as each horse absorbed the mixture, then its eyes crossed, followed rapidly by its hooves, and it toppled to the ground, losing its footing, hurling its rider onto the earth to be quickly covered by Feegles.

Letitia had arrived now, summoned by Hamish, and was tumbling from her horse, determination in her face, borrowed chainmail over her dress. She somehow flowed through the elves – there was a certain magic to it as if she were some goddess of water, streaming everywhere: no thought to it, but no stopping it either. Suddenly the elvish horses still standing were bogged down in a quagmire, and the Feegles were there on hand to keep them in the mire.

Nevertheless, it looked as if the Feegles, Miss Tick and Letitia were really not getting the better of the elves. Despite the Wee Free Men’s pouring into elvish underwear and tearing it up, Tiffany realized that the Nac Mac Feegles were actually in danger of losing.

Nightshade pointed out Peaseblossom sitting on a black charger, and Tiffany flew down to confront the leader of the elves. His minions scattered as she arrived – they had seen the expression on Tiffany’s face.

Peaseblossom was laughing. ‘Ah, the little country girl. How pleased I am to see you!’

She felt the tug of his glamour but rage was a useful tool, and she hated that grinning face. It was so self-centred. It loved itself beyond any other thing.

‘Peaseblossom is a very stupid name for an elf of your size,’ she said rather childishly.

And then, suddenly, the elf had sprung from his horse to stand before her, a sabre in his hands, and his laughter was gone, only evil in his eyes.

A voice said, ‘Don’t touch her, Peaseblossom.’

And Nightshade was stepping forward, her glamour fully restored and shining gloriously, her hair streaked silver with the moonlight, her new wings resplendent. She held herself like a queen again, her gaze slowly moving over the warriors behind her treacherous lord, and such was the power of her presence that even the Feegles paused in the frozen silence.

‘Why do you follow this . . . perfidious elf?’ the Queen demanded of the elves. ‘I am your rightful queen, and I say that you do not have to do this. There are . . . other ways.’ She spun on the spot, her velvet robes spiralling around her slim body. ‘I have learned this. And this girl’ – she pointed at Tiffany – ‘is my friend.’

Tiffany couldn’t stop what happened next.

‘Friend?’ Peaseblossom spat. ‘There are no friends for elves.’

He raised his arm and his sabre tore through Nightshade with a terrible swishing sound. The elf Queen fell, crumpling to the ground at Tiffany’s feet, where she writhed for a moment that seemed to last a lifetime, myriad faces and shapes appearing and disappearing, flickering in and out of substance, before finally lying still, a forlorn heap. Tiffany reeled back in shock. Peaseblossom had killed the Queen of the Fairies!

Worse, he had killed her friend.

Peaseblossom, revelling, turned to Tiffany, his face sharp and merciless. ‘You have no friend now!’

Suddenly the air was full of ice. ‘You killed one of your own to get to me, you cursed elf,’ Tiffany said, her voice cold, red-hot anger boiling inside her. ‘She wanted to explore a new way, an alliance of humans and elves, and now you have killed her.’

‘You stupid little girl!’ Peaseblossom taunted. ‘You think you can stand against me? What a fool you are! We elves knew well of the witch who once walked the edges of this world . . . but you, you are just a child, filled with pride because you were once lucky against a failing queen’ – he glanced contemptuously down at the little heap that had once been the Queen of Fairyland – ‘and now I will see you dead, alongside your friend.’ He spat out the last word, and his glamour snaked towards her, creeping into her head, into her thoughts.

Tiffany recoiled, a memory of Nanny Ogg’s voice suddenly saying to her: Granny Weatherwax said to me as you is the one who’s to deal with the future. An’ bein’ young means you’ve got a lot of future. Well, it looked like Granny Weatherwax might have been wrong. She didn’t have much future to come.

She had failed everyone.

She had tried to be the witch for two steadings. And let everyone down . . .

She had gone to see the King of the Elves. He had turned her away . . .

She had made a friend of Nightshade. Now the elf Queen was dead . . .

She was facing a powerful elf lord who would kill her . . .

She deserved to die . . .

She was alone . . .

Then it came to her. She did not deserve to die. And she was not alone. She never would be. Not while her land was beneath her boots. Her land. The land of the Achings.

She was Tiffany Aching. Not Granny Weatherwax, but a witch in her own right. A witch who knew exactly who she was and how she wanted to do things. Her way. And she had not failed, because she had barely begun . . .

She stood tall. Frosty. Furious. ‘You called me a country girl,’ she said, ‘and I will see to it that the country will see you dead.’

The land was speaking to her now, filling her up, throwing the glamour of the elf lord aside as though it were nothing, and the air crackled like lightning. Yes, she thought. Thunder and Lightning. The two dogs were long gone, buried in the hills alongside Granny Aching, but their strength was with her.

And she was standing firm, her feet on the turf, the murmur of the ancient ocean below swelling through her soles. Earth. Water.

She raised her arms. ‘Thunder and Lightning, I command you.’ Fire and Air. As she drew on the power of the two sheepdogs, there in the air was a flash of lightning, a rumble of thunder. The shepherd’s crown glowed golden on her breast – at the heart of it all, the soul and centre of her being – the golden light rising from the apex to surround her, protect her, add its energy to her own.

And the sky broke in half.

Never had there been such a storm. It was full of vengeance and the elves were running, or rather trying to run because the Feegles were in their way and the Wee Free Men had no liking for the elves. In the carnage and the shouting, it seemed to Tiffany that she wasn’t in charge any more. She was just a conduit for the wrath of the Chalk.

The land under her feet was trembling, shaking like a wounded animal on a leash, yearning to be free. And the shepherd’s crown was shining like a living thing in front of her.

A shepherd’s crown, not a royal one.

A crown for someone who knew where she had come from.

A crown for the lone light zigzagging through the night sky, hunting for a single lost lamb.

A crown for the shepherd who was there to herd away the predators.

A crown for the shepherd who could work with the best sheepdogs any shepherd could possibly have.

A shepherd’s crown.

And she heard again that voice: Tiffany Aching is the first among shepherds, for she puts others before herself . . .

A king of shepherds.

No . . . a queen.

She felt she needed to apologize to the crown, apologize for letting these elves come through and threaten this land, and so she said in a whisper, ‘I am Tiffany Aching and my bones are in the Chalk. Let the Chalk be cleansed!’

And the world changed.

In the city of Ankh-Morpork, Hex spat out a calculation for Ponder Stibbons – and he saw that an answer was underlined . . .

A prayer wheel spun in the monastery of Oi Dong, and the monks bowed down in gratitude . . .

While a little boy took his mother’s hand in the travelling now, and said, ‘Mummy, big nasties all gone . . .’ He had a wooden train in his other hand, and a little backpack of tools over one shoulder. Perhaps he will be an engineer in this new world when he grows up, his mother thought.

And in Fairyland, there was a sudden twang, as if a strand connecting the two worlds had suddenly snapped . . .

There was fighting still going on – it was hard to stop the Feegles once they got going – and Tiffany walked through it as if in a dream. The elves were trying to get away now, but the ground seemed to hold them down and she whispered, ‘I ask the Chalk, deliver to me the King of the Elves!’

The heavy dance of the land now had a different tempo.

Dust flew out, and there came suddenly the King of the Elves – the stink and his long hair and antlers were unmistakable. Oh, that stink! It had a life of its own. But in a way, Tiffany thought, it was a male stink of life.

The huge body loomed over her. ‘How now, Mistress Tiffany. I can’t say, “Well met again,”’ said the King. ‘But I must confess to . . . surprise. You surprised me before,’ he mused, ‘with the gift you left me. A . . . shed. What do you humans do with this place you call a shed?’ He sounded intrigued.

‘It is a place for . . . interests. Where the future can be founded,’ Tiffany said. ‘And a place where those who have lived many years may remember.’

‘I have many memories,’ said the King. ‘But I did not know that you had the power to offer me new entertainments, to draw me to new pleasures. Very few in this world or others are able to do so.’

And now, Tiffany thought, the King of the Elves did see her as more than a young girl. At this meeting she had respect. But he deserved respect too, so she bowed her head towards him, just a little.

‘May I apologize for the hotheads in my kingdom,’ he continued lazily, his voice smooth and delicious. ‘I find them a large annoyance. Quite possibly as you do.’ He glared at the quivering Peaseblossom, and then at the corpse of Nightshade. ‘You, elf, you killed my queen, my lady Nightshade, just for spite,’ he growled. And the King of the Elves brought himself upright and smacked Peaseblossom with a hand that killed, leaving the carcass just lying there, his careless and casual use of violence shocking Tiffany, despite all she knew of elves. ‘I’m sorry I had to do that,’ he said, ‘but they don’t understand anything else. The universe turns, alas; it turns and we have to accommodate change or move on. This is a good world we had here, mistress,’ the King said now. He shrugged. ‘It’s a shame about the iron. But perhaps as the universe turns, Mistress Tiffany, we might meet again, on a different turn and in more happy circumstances.’

‘Yes,’ said Tiffany, ‘we might. Now, begone from my land.’ Her voice was hard. And in the air there was the piercing sound of a whistle, with an answering screech as the early-morning train left Twoshirts station. ‘Listen, your majesty. That is the song of the five twenty-five for Lancre, and that is your future, my lord. A lifetime of metal if you stay.’

‘These mechanisms are interesting. There are tools in my shed, and I wonder if such “trains” could perhaps be made . . . without iron,’ said the King, adding wistfully, ‘I am a man of magic, so I should be able to have anything I want.’

‘But you can’t,’ said Tiffany. ‘The railways are not for you.’

And it seemed to her, as he left, that the King of the Elves was looking thoughtful.

As the final elves slipped away to limp back to their land, she turned to Rob Anybody. ‘Rob, let us bury the Lady Nightshade here, where she fell,’ she said quietly. ‘I will mark the spot with a cairn of stones. We will remember this day. We will remember her.’ Then she added softly, almost to herself: ‘We need to remember.’

fn1 There was plenty of all these to pick from in Lancre, so he had a good choice of battlegrounds. As long as they were all up and down.

fn2 Horace was a cannibal cheese, an adopted member of the Feegle clan.



AS THE MORNING flowed into the day, the Feegles were settling down to a feast of drinking, eating and more drinking and telling tales, some of which were bigger than the Feegles themselves.

Rob Anybody looked at Tiffany and said, ‘Weel noo, mistress, the field is oor ain! Come on doon intae the mound. Jeannie would love tae see your sonsie face.’

And Tiffany slid into the mound, which seemed bigger than when she had seen it last. The great hall was full of leaping figures and flying kilts as the Feegles danced their reels – Feegles loved a reel at any time; the slap of boot on earth was like a challenge to the universe. Then, of course, every Feegle wanted every other Feegle to know how well they had conducted themselves against the elves.

Every single one of the younger Feegles was wanting Tiffany – their hag o’ the hills – to know how brave he had been. As they gathered around, she said, ‘What are your names, boys?’

Wee Callum, a little bit tongue-tied, said, ‘I’m Callum, mistress.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said Tiffany.

‘Aye, mistress, and this is my brother, Callum.’

‘Two of you?’ she said. ‘Isn’t that difficult?’

‘Och no, I know who I am and he knows who he is and so does our other brother Callum.’

‘And how did you like the fighting?’

‘Och aye, we smited them weel enough. The Big Man is a hard task master, ye ken. He sees to it that we can handle the mace and the spear and the axe. And, of course, the feets. And when the three of us got one of they scunners doon on the ground, that’s what oor boots was for.’

The old boys were marching down the lane.

And they had a new song now, one that began: ‘Ar-sol, ar-sol, a soldier’s life for me!’ And with each verse, and each step, they were standing straighter and stronger.

‘Ar-sol, ar-sol, a soldier’s life for me!

For King, for King, for King and Constabulary,

We wee, we wee, we weaken the enemies,

For they don’t want it up ’em, don’t want it up ’em, don’t want it up and over!’

And those who had wives kissed them – the wives hadn’t seen their husbands so frisky for years – and then they set off down to the pub to tell their mates all about it.

With a pint resting happily in his hand, Captain Makepeace sat on a milestone outside the pub and declaimed, ‘People of Lancre. We happy few, we extremely elderly few, have scorned the horrible elves. They say that old men forget, but we won’t. Not by a long chalk. We thought we were old – but today we found we were still young.’

And then it was time for another round of drinks. And another, with everyone wanting to stand the old boys a round, until standing was no longer an option. And still the shout went up: Was there time for another flagon?

As the moon rose to herald the hours of darkness the following day there was Geoffrey on his broomstick, which was once again hovering in the air. Tiffany shouted over at him, ‘I still don’t know how you can do that!’

‘No idea, Tiffany – can’t everyone?’ he replied. ‘Let’s ask, for here comes everyone.’

And indeed, now the other witches were arriving, led by Nanny Ogg and Magrat. It was time to look to the future once again – a future not now filled with elves. But the present, well, the present was filled with the chattering and gossiping of witches as the tales of the two battles were shared.

Rob Anybody had set fire to a beacon and Tiffany watched the last witches circling until there was space, then coming in to land one after the other. Not one left her stick hovering, though – it seemed as if Geoffrey was the only one who could make his broomstick do that.

‘I wonder if they’re goin’ to sneak back,’ said Nanny Ogg after a while. ‘You can’t trust Old Hairy. He was tryin’ to charm you, Tiff, by what you say.’

‘I know, but I am not charmed,’ said Tiffany. ‘Not since the one elf who tried to be a good elf is now dead. We marked the spot where we buried her, Nanny, you know. And if they do try to come back, we will be ready for them. We can put iron on the stones here on the Chalk, like you’ve laid swarf all around the Dancers in Lancre.’ Her voice hardened. ‘There is iron in my soul now. And iron in dealing with them should they dare ever to return.’

‘Well,’ said Magrat the Queen, ‘we’ve knocked them down so often now that I think he means what he said. I think it’s unlikely they will come back.’

‘I’ll drink to them not coming back then,’ said Nanny Ogg.

‘Ladies, while we are gathered,’ said Tiffany, ‘I want to talk to you about Geoffrey. He has been a great strength to us – and I know you all saw how he made the old men of Lancre into a fighting force. He is clever and cunning and careful. He knows how to listen. And he has a kind of magic.’

‘That’s true,’ said Nanny. ‘Everybody likes Geoffrey. Somehow he seems to understand everybody. Believe me, even some of them old girls would be quite happy to have him deal with their aches and pains and worse. He calms people. You all know that. He is calm itself, and the calm stays even when he has left. He doesn’t just jolly people up. After he is gone, they are somehow much better – as if life was still worth havin’. People like that, like Geoffrey, well, they makes the world, well, better.’

‘I totally agree with you,’ said Mrs Earwig.

‘You agrees with me?’ said Nanny Ogg, almost speechless.

‘Yes, my dear, I do.’

And Tiffany thought, At last, we will have peace. ‘Thank you, Geoffrey,’ she said under her breath. ‘Now we are all here,’ she said aloud, ‘I must tell you that I can’t manage Granny’s steading. I’m not going to sleep in Granny’s bed any more. Because I’m not her.’

Nanny grinned. ‘I wondered if’n you would do that, Tiff. You has to be your own woman after all.’

‘My roots are in the Chalk and the Chalk is my strength,’ Tiffany continued. ‘My bones will be part of these hills just like those of my Granny Aching.’

There was a murmur from the witches. They had all heard of Granny Aching by now.

‘And I have some very good boots too. Just as I cannot sleep in Granny Weatherwax’s bed, I cannot wear her boots either.’

Nanny chuckled. ‘I’ll collect ’em when I’m next up at the cottage, Tiff. I knows Esme’s boots, knows a young witch they’ll do very nicely for.’

‘Talking of young witches,’ Tiffany added, ‘Miss Tick has found me some girls with potential. May I send them up to the mountains to begin their training? I will have need of help in the Chalk in the future.’

The witches were nodding. Of course. For it was the way it was done: the young girls – Nancy Upright and Becky Pardon – would spend time with the senior witches and learn the beginning of their trade.

Tiffany took a deep breath. ‘And what I suggest is that Geoffrey be allowed to look after Granny Weatherwax’s cottage and steading for me,’ she said, looking at Nanny Ogg as she said that and getting a wink in return.

She glanced at Mrs Earwig and was surprised to see her nod and say, ‘He’s a very nice decent young man, and we have seen him at work, and now we live in the time of the railways so perhaps we should change our ways. Yes, I believe Mister Geoffrey should take care of Granny’s – Tiffany’s – steading in Lancre. He’s no witch, but he’s certainly much more than the usual sort of backhouse boy.’ And Tiffany could see Mrs Earwig’s mind working, and she felt certain that the next time she saw the witch, she would have a lad somewhere around her establishment.

Out loud, Nanny said, ‘What did you call him, Tiff? A calm-weaver? Shall we leave it at that for now?’

But Magrat wanted her say too. ‘Verence heard of what he did for the old men,’ she said. ‘He believes he should have a reward. And I think I know exactly what would suit . . .’

And thus, a few weeks later, Lord Swivel was most surprised to see his third son riding proudly up his long, long drive, a herald at his sidefn1 and a pennant with the royal insignia of Lancre fluttering in the breeze. The same insignia was also on a velvet coat over the flanks of Mephistopheles.

‘May I announce His Royal Ambassadorship Geoffrey Swivel,’ proclaimed the herald, breaking into a few notes on the trumpet he held.

Geoffrey’s mother sobbed with delight, while his father – a man on whom no calm-weaving would ever work – boiled inside with fury as he had to bow to the son he had treated as a nobody. But no one argued with the power of a crown.

There was a purpose to this visit, though. After the usual bowing, scraping and general knee-bending any royal emissary took as his due, Geoffrey grinned around at the assembled company and said, ‘Father, I have exciting news! Those of us in the country may oft feel neglected by those in the big city but let me assure you, this is not the case. There have, in fact, been important developments just recently in the field of . . . chicken runs. Some young people in Ankh-Morpork . . . young people whose parents have the power to indulge their wishes’ – and he tapped his nose with a finger to show that he expected his father to know these important parents – ‘feel that it may no longer be necessary to hunt sly old Mister Reynard to protect our chickens.’ He beamed. ‘They have come up with a new chicken run which is totally impervious to foxes. And you, Father, are the lucky, lucky landowner who has been chosen to test this new design.’

As his father spluttered, and his brother Hugh shouted ‘Hurrah!’ for no particular reason except that it felt like someone should, Geoffrey looked around. He could see his mother’s face. Normally she looked like someone the world had trodden on so many times that it was almost an invitation to tread on her yourself, but now she stood tall, her chin high.

‘Harold. Our son has worked wonders, and here is a king honouring him and treating him as a friend,’ she said proudly. ‘Don’t you look at me like that, Harold, for today I have spoken. And the Queen of Lancre has invited me to come and visit her,’ she added with satisfaction.

There was a bleat from Mephistopheles, and as Geoffrey’s father turned to stamp away, the goat turned its back and aimed a square set of devilish hooves right onto Lord Swivel’s rump. Followed by a raucous fart that almost – but not quite – covered up the noise of the man falling flat on his face.

‘A most usefully offensive goat,’ Geoffrey murmured to McTavish, who had come to stand by his side.

The old stable-lad looked around. ‘And one your father cannot touch,’ he said with a wink. ‘Not with that fancy coat on its back.’ He sniffed. ‘My word, though, Mephistopheles isn’t easy on the nose – he whiffs even worse than I remember.’

‘Yes,’ said Geoffrey, ‘but he can climb trees. And use a privy. Even count. He’s a strange creature; he can turn a dark day into a clear one. Look into his eyes sometime.’

And McTavish looked, and then hastily looked away.

fn1 Shawn Ogg, in another of his royal duties.


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1648

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