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Legends 3

Legends 3

Legends 3 25


  And she had money. Nanny did not have money and therefore was predisposed to dislike those who did. Letice had a black velvet cloak so fine that it looked as if a hole had been cut out of the world. Nanny did not. Nanny did not want a fine velvet cloak and did not aspire to such things. So she didn’t see why other people should have them.

  “Evening, Gytha. How are you keeping, in yourself?” said Gammer Beavis.

  Nanny took her pipe out of her mouth. “Fit as a fiddle. Come on in.”

  “Ain’t this rain dreadful?” said Mother Dismass. Nanny looked at the sky. It was frosty purple. But it was probably raining wherever Mother’s mind was at.

  “Come along in and dry off, then,” she said kindly.

  “May fortunate stars shine on this our meeting,” said Letice. Nanny nodded understandingly. Letice always sounded as though she’d learned her witchcraft out of a not very imaginative book.

  “Yeah, right,” she said.

  There was some polite conversation while Nanny prepared tea and scones. Then Gammer Beavis, in a tone that clearly indicated that the official part of the visit was beginning, said:

  “We’re here as the Trials committee, Nanny.”

  “Oh? Yes?”

  “I expect you’ll be entering?”

  “Oh, yes. I’ll do my little turn.” Nanny glanced at Letice. There was a smile on that face that she wasn’t entirely happy with.

  “There’s a lot of interest this year,” Gammer went on. “More girls are taking it up lately.”

  “To get boys, one feels,” said Letice, and sniffed. Nanny didn’t comment. Using witchcraft to get boys seemed a damn good use for it as far as she was concerned. It was, in a way, one of the fundamental uses.

  “That’s nice,” she said. “Always looks good, a big turnout. But.”

  “I beg your pardon?” said Letice.

  “I said ‘but,’” said Nanny. “’Cos someone’s going to say ‘but,’ right? This little chat has got a big ‘but’ coming up. I can tell.”

  She knew this was flying in the face of protocol. There should be at least seven more minutes of small talk before anyone got around to the point, but Letice’s presence was getting on her nerves.

  “It’s about Esme Weatherwax,” said Gammer Beavis.

  “Yes?” said Nanny, without surprise.

  “I suppose she’s entering?”

  “Never known her stay away.”

  Letice sighed.

  “I suppose you … couldn’t persuade her to … not to enter this year?” she said.

  Nanny looked shocked.

  “With an axe, you mean?” she said.

  In unison, the three witches sat back.

  “You see—” Gammer began, a bit shamefaced.

  “Frankly, Mrs. Ogg,” said Letice, “it is very hard to get other people to enter when they know that Miss Weatherwax is entering. She always wins.”

  “Yes,” said Nanny. “It’s a competition.”

  “But she always wins!”

  “So?”

  “In other types of competition,” said Letice, “one is normally only allowed to win for three years in a row and then one takes a backseat for a while.”

  “Yeah, but this is witching,” said Nanny. “The rules is different.”

  “How so?”

  “There ain’t none.”

  Letice twitched her skirt. “Perhaps it is time there were,” she said.

  “Ah,” said Nanny. “And you just going to go up and tell Esme that? You up for this, Gammer?”

  Gammer Beavis didn’t meet her gaze. Old Mother Dismass was gazing at last week.

  “I understand Miss Weatherwax is a very proud woman,” said Letice.

  Nanny Ogg puffed at her pipe again.

  “You might as well say the sea is full of water,” she said.

  The other witches were silent for a moment.

  “I daresay that was a valuable comment,” said Letice, “but I didn’t understand it.”

  “If there ain’t no water in the sea, it ain’t the sea,” said Nanny Ogg. “It’s just a damn great hole in the ground. Thing about Esme is…” Nanny took another noisy pull at the pipe. “She’s all pride, see? She ain’t just a proud person.”

  “Then perhaps she should learn to be a bit more humble…”

  “What’s she got to be humble about?” said Nanny sharply.

  But Letice, like a lot of people with marshmallow on the outside, had a hard core that was not easily compressed.

  “The woman clearly has a natural talent and, really, she should be grateful for—”

  Nanny Ogg stopped listening at this point. The woman, she thought. So that was how it was going.

  It was the same in just about every trade. Sooner or later someone decided it needed organizing, and the one thing you could be sure of was that the organizers weren’t going to be the people who, by general acknowledgment, were at the top of their craft. They were working too hard. To be fair, it generally wasn’t done by the worst, neither. They were working hard, too. They had to.

  No, it was done by the ones who had just enough time and inclination to scurry and bustle. And, to be fair again, the world needed people who scurried and bustled. You just didn’t have to like them very much.

  The lull told her that Letice had finished.

  “Really? Now, me,” said Nanny, “I’m the one who’s nat’rally talented. Us Oggs’ve got witchcraft in our blood. I never really had to sweat at it. Esme, now … she’s got a bit, true enough, but it ain’t a lot. She just makes it work harder’n hell. And you’re going to tell her she’s not to?”

  “We were rather hoping you would,” said Letice.

  Nanny opened her mouth to deliver one or two swearwords, and then stopped.

  “Tell you what,” she said, “you can tell her tomorrow, and I’ll come with you to hold her back.”

  * * *

  Granny Weatherwax was gathering Herbs when they came up the track.

  Everyday herbs of sickroom and kitchen are known as simples. Granny’s Herbs weren’t simples. They were complicateds or they were nothing. And there was none of the airy-fairy business with a pretty basket and a pair of dainty snippers. Granny used a knife. And a chair held in front of her. And a leather hat, gloves, and apron as secondary lines of defense.

  Even she didn’t know where some of the Herbs came from. Roots and seed were traded all over the world, and maybe farther. Some had flowers that turned as you passed by, some fired their thorns at passing birds, and several were staked, not so that they wouldn’t fall over, but so they’d still be there next day.

  Nanny Ogg, who never bothered to grow any herb you couldn’t smoke or stuff a chicken with, heard her mutter, “Right, you buggers—”

  “Good morning, Miss Weatherwax,” said Letice Earwig loudly.

  Granny Weatherwax stiffened, and then lowered the chair very carefully and turned around.

  “It’s Mistress,” she said.

  “Whatever,” said Letice brightly. “I trust you are keeping well?”

  “Up till now,” said Granny. She nodded almost imperceptibly at the other three witches.

  There was a thrumming silence, which appalled Nanny Ogg. They should have been invited in for a cup of something. That was how the ritual went. It was gross bad manners to keep people standing around. Nearly, but not quite, as bad as calling an elderly unmarried witch “Miss.”

  “You’ve come about the Trials,” said Granny. Letice almost fainted.

  “Er, how did—”

  “’Cos you look like a committee. It don’t take much reasoning,” said Granny, pulling off her gloves. “We didn’t used to need a committee. The news just got around and we all turned up. Now suddenly there’s folk arrangin’ things.” For a moment Granny looked as though she was fighting some serious internal battle, and then she added in throwaway tones, “Kettle’s on. You’d better come in.”

  Nanny relaxed. Maybe there were some customs even Granny Weatherwax w
ouldn’t defy, after all. Even if someone was your worst enemy, you invited them in and gave them tea and biscuits. In fact, the worser your enemy, the better the crockery you got out and the higher the quality of the biscuits. You might wish black hell on ’em later, but while they were under your roof you’d feed ’em till they choked.

  Her dark little eyes noted that the kitchen table gleamed and was still damp from scrubbing.

  After cups had been poured and pleasantries exchanged, or at least offered by Letice and received in silence by Granny, the self-elected chairwoman wriggled in her seat and said:

  “There’s such a lot of interest in the Trials this year, Miss—Mistress Weatherwax.”

  “Good.”

  “It does look as though witchcraft in the Ramtops is going through something of a renaissance, in fact.”

  “A renaissance, eh? There’s a thing.”

  “It’s such a good route to empowerment for young women, don’t you think?”

  Many people could say things in a cutting way, Nanny knew. But Granny Weatherwax could listen in a cutting way. She could make something sound stupid just by hearing it.

  “That’s a good hat you’ve got there,” said Granny. “Velvet, is it? Not made local, I expect.”

  Letice touched the brim and gave a little laugh.

  “It’s from Boggi’s in Ankh-Morpork,” she said.

  “Oh? Shop-bought?”

  Nanny Ogg glanced at the corner of the room, where a battered wooden cone stood on a stand. Pinned to it were lengths of black calico and strips of willow wood, the foundations for Granny’s spring hat.

  “Tailor-made,” said Letice.

  “And those hatpins you’ve got,” Granny went on. “All them crescent moons and cat shapes—”

  “You’ve got a brooch that’s crescent-shaped, too, ain’t that so, Esme?” said Nanny Ogg, deciding it was time for a warning shot. Granny occasionally had a lot to say about jewelry on witches when she was feeling in an acid mood.

  “This is true, Gytha. I have a brooch what is shaped like a crescent. That’s just the truth of the shape it happens to be. Very practical shape for holding a cloak, is a crescent. But I don’t mean nothing by it. Anyway, you interrupted just as I was about to remark to Mrs. Earwig how fetchin’ her hatpins are. Very witchy.”

  Nanny, swiveling like a spectator at a tennis match, glanced at Letice to see if this deadly bolt had gone home. But the woman was actually smiling. Some people just couldn’t spot the obvious on the end of a ten-pound hammer.

  “On the subject of witchcraft,” said Letice, with the born chairwoman’s touch for the enforced segue, “I thought I might raise with you the question of your participation in the Trials.”

  “Yes?”

  “Do you … ah … don’t you think it is unfair to other people that you win every year?”

  Granny Weatherwax looked down at the floor and then up at the ceiling.

  “No,” she said, eventually. “I’m better’n them.”

  “You don’t think it is a little dispiriting for the other contestants?”

  Once again, the floor-to-ceiling search.

  “No,” said Granny.

  “But they start off knowing they’re not going to win.”

  “So do I.”

  “Oh, no, you surely—”

  “I meant that I start off knowing they’re not goin’ to win, too,” said Granny witheringly. “And they ought to start off knowing I’m not going to win. No wonder they lose, if they ain’t getting their minds right.”

  “It does rather dash their enthusiasm.”

  Granny looked genuinely puzzled. “What’s wrong with ’em striving to come second?” she said.

  Letice plunged on.

  “What we were hoping to persuade you to do, Esme, is to accept an emeritus position. You would perhaps make a nice little speech of encouragement, present the award, and … and possibly even be, er, one of the judges…”

  “There’s going to be judges?” said Granny. “We’ve never had judges. Everyone just used to know who’d won.”

  “That’s true,” said Nanny. She remembered the scenes at the end of one or two trials. When Granny Weatherwax won, everyone knew. “Oh, that’s very true.”

  “It would be a very nice gesture,” Letice went on.

  “Who decided there would be judges?” said Granny.

  “Er … the committee … which is … that is … a few of us got together. Only to steer things…”

  “Oh. I see,” said Granny. “Flags?”

  “Pardon?”

  “Are you going to have them lines of little flags? And maybe someone selling apples on a stick, that kind of thing?”

  “Some bunting would certainly be—”

  “Right. Don’t forget the bonfire.”

  “So long as it’s nice and safe.”

  “Oh. Right. Things should be nice. And safe,” said Granny.

  Mrs. Earwig perceptibly sighed with relief. “Well, that’s sorted out nicely,” she said.

  “Is it?” said Granny.

  “I thought we’d agreed that—”

  “Had we? Really?” She picked up the poker from the hearth and prodded fiercely at the fire. “I’ll give matters my consideration.”

  “I wonder if I may be frank for a moment, Mistress Weatherwax?” said Letice. The poker paused in mid-prod.

  “Yes?”

  “Times are changing, you know. Now, I think I know why you feel it necessary to be so overbearing and unpleasant to everyone, but believe me when I tell you, as a friend, that you’d find it so much easier if you just relaxed a little bit and tried being nicer, like our sister Gytha here.”

  Nanny Ogg’s smile had fossilized into a mask. Letice didn’t seem to notice.

  “You seem to have all the witches in awe of you for fifty miles around,” she went on. “Now, I daresay you have some valuable skills, but witchcraft isn’t about being an old grump and frightening people anymore. I’m telling you this as a friend—”

  “Call again whenever you’re passing,” said Granny.

  This was a signal. Nanny Ogg stood up hurriedly.

  “I thought we could discuss—” Letice protested.

  “I’ll walk with you all down to the main track,” said Nanny, hauling the other witches out of their seats.

  “Gytha!” said Granny sharply, as the group reached the door.

  “Yes, Esme?”

  “You’ll come back here afterward, I expect.”

  “Yes, Esme.”

  Nanny ran to catch up with the trio on the path.

  Letice had what Nanny thought of as a deliberate walk. It had been wrong to judge her by the floppy jowls and the overfussy hair and the silly way she waggled her hands as she talked. She was a witch, after all. Scratch any witch and … well, you’d be facing a witch you’d just scratched.

  “She is not a nice person,” Letice trilled. But it was the trill of some large hunting bird.

  “You’re right there,” said Nanny. “But—”

  “It’s high time she was taken down a peg or two!”

  “We-ell…”

  “She bullies you most terribly, Mrs. Ogg. A married lady of your mature years, too!”

  Just for a moment, Nanny’s eyes narrowed.

  “It’s her way,” she said.

  “A very petty and nasty way, to my mind!”

  “Oh, yes,” said Nanny simply. “Ways often are. But look, you—”

  “Will you be bringing anything to the produce stall, Gytha?” said Gammer Beavis quickly.

  “Oh, a couple of bottles, I expect,” said Nanny, deflating.

  “Oh, homemade wine?” said Letice. “How nice.”

  “Sort of like wine, yes. Well, here’s the path,” said Nanny. “I’ll just … I’ll just nip back and say goodnight—”

  “It’s belittling, you know, the way you run around after her,” said Letice.

  “Yes. Well. You get used to people. Good night to you.”
r />  When she got back to the cottage Granny Weatherwax was standing in the middle of the kitchen floor with a face like an unmade bed and her arms folded. One foot tapped on the floor.

  “She married a wizard,” said Granny, as soon as her friend had entered. “You can’t tell me that’s right.”

  “Well, wizards can marry, you know. They just have to hand in the staff and pointy hat. There’s no actual law says they can’t, so long as they gives up wizarding. They’re supposed to be married to the job.”

  “I should reckon it’s a job being married to her,” said Granny. Her face screwed up in a sour smile.

  “Been pickling much this year?” said Nanny, employing a fresh association of ideas around the word “vinegar,” which had just popped into her head.

  “My onions all got the screwfly.”

  “That’s a pity. You like onions.”

  “Even screwflies’ve got to eat,” said Granny. She glared at the door. “Nice,” she said.

  “She’s got a knitted cover on the lid in her privy,” said Nanny.

  “Pink?”

  “Yes.”

  “Nice.”

  “She’s not bad,” said Nanny. “She does good work over in Fiddler’s Elbow. People speak highly of her.”

  Granny sniffed. “Do they speak highly of me?” she said.

  “No, they speaks quietly of you, Esme.”

  “Good. Did you see her hatpins?”

  “I thought they were rather … nice, Esme.”

  “That’s witchcraft today. All jewelry and no drawers.”

  Nanny, who considered both to be optional, tried to build an embankment against the rising tide of ire.

  “You could think of it as an honor, really, them not wanting you to take part,” she said.

  “That’s nice.”

  Nanny sighed.

  “Sometimes nice is worth tryin’, Esme,” she said.

  “I never does anyone a bad turn if I can’t do ’em a good one, Gytha, you know that. I don’t have to do no frills or fancy labels.”

  Nanny sighed. Of course, it was true. Granny was an old-fashioned witch. She didn’t do good for people, she did right by them. But Nanny knew that people don’t always appreciate right. Like old Pollitt the other day, when he fell off his horse. What he wanted was a painkiller. What he needed was the few seconds of agony as Granny popped the joint back into place. The trouble was, people remembered the pain.