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Legends 3

Legends 3

Legends 3 26


  You got on a lot better with people when you remembered to put frills round it, and took an interest and said things like “How are you?” Esme didn’t bother with that kind of stuff because she knew already. Nanny Ogg knew too, but also knew that letting on you knew gave people the serious willies.

  She put her head on one side. Granny’s foot was still tapping.

  “You planning anything, Esme? I know you. You’ve got that look.”

  “What look, pray?”

  “That look you had when that bandit was found naked up a tree and crying all the time and going on about the horrible thing that was after him. Funny thing, we never found any paw prints. That look.”

  “He deserved more’n that for what he done.”

  “Yeah … well, you had that look just before ole Hoggett was found beaten black and blue in his own pigsty and wouldn’t talk about it?”

  “You mean old Hoggett the wife beater? Or old Hoggett who won’t never lift his hand to a woman no more?” said Granny. The thing her lips had pursed into might have been called a smile.

  “And it’s the look you had the time all the snow slid down on ole Millson’s house just after he called you an interfering old baggage…” said Nanny.

  Granny hesitated. Nanny was pretty sure that had been natural causes, and also that Granny knew she suspected this, and that pride was fighting a battle with honesty—

  “That’s as may be,” said Granny, noncommittally.

  “Like someone who might go along to the Trials and … do something,” said Nanny.

  Her friend’s glare should have made the air sizzle.

  “Oh? So that’s what you think of me? That’s what we’ve come to, have we?”

  “Letice thinks we should move with the times—”

  “Well? I moves with the times. We ought to move with the times. No one said we ought to give them a push. I expect you’ll be wanting to be going, Gytha. I want to be alone with my thoughts!”

  Nanny’s own thoughts, as she scurried home in relief, were that Granny Weatherwax was not an advertisement for witchcraft. Oh, she was one of the best at it, no doubt about that. At a certain kind, certainly. But a girl starting out in life might well say to herself, Is this it? You worked hard and denied yourself things and what you got at the end of it was hard work and self-denial?

  Granny wasn’t exactly friendless, but what she commanded mostly was respect. People learned to respect storm clouds, too. They refreshed the ground. You needed them. But they weren’t nice.

  * * *

  Nanny Ogg went to bed in three flannelette nightdresses, because sharp frosts were already pricking the autumn air. She was also in a troubled frame of mind.

  Some sort of war had been declared, she knew. Granny could do some terrible things when roused, and the fact that they’d been done to those who richly deserved them didn’t make them any the less terrible. She’d be planning something pretty dreadful, Nanny Ogg knew.

  She herself didn’t like winning things. Winning was a habit that was hard to break and brought you a dangerous status that was hard to defend. You’d walk uneasily through life, always on the lookout for the next girl with a better broomstick and a quicker hand on the frog.

  She turned over under the mountain of eiderdowns.

  In Granny Weatherwax’s worldview was no place for second place. You won, or you were a loser. There was nothing wrong with being a loser except for the fact that, of course, you weren’t the winner. Nanny had always pursued the policy of being a good loser. People liked you when you almost won, and bought you drinks. “She only just lost” was a much better compliment than “She only just won.”

  Runners-up had more fun, she reckoned. But it wasn’t a word Granny had much time for.

  In her own darkened cottage, Granny Weatherwax sat and watched the fire die.

  It was a gray-walled room, the color that old plaster gets not so much from dirt as from age. There was not a thing in it that wasn’t useful, utilitarian, earning its keep. Every flat surface in Nanny Ogg’s cottage had been pressed into service as a holder for ornaments and potted plants. People gave Nanny Ogg things. Cheap fairground tat, Granny always called it. At least, in public. What she thought of it in the privacy of her own head, she never said.

  She rocked gently as the last ember winked out.

  It’s hard to contemplate, in the gray hours of the night, that probably the only reason people would come to your funeral would be to make sure you’re dead.

  * * *

  Next day, Percy Hopcroft opened his back door and looked straight up into the blue stare of Granny Weatherwax.

  “Oh my,” he said, under his breath.

  Granny gave an awkward little cough.

  “Mr. Hopcroft, I’ve come about them apples you named after Mrs. Ogg,” she said.

  Percy’s knees began to tremble, and his wig started to slide off the back of his head to the hoped-for security of the floor.

  “I should like to thank you for doing it because it has made her very happy,” Granny went on, in a tone of voice which would have struck one who knew her as curiously monotonous, “She has done a lot of fine work and it is about time she got her little reward. It was a very nice thought. And so I have brung you this little token—” Hopcroft jumped backward as Granny’s hand dipped swiftly into her apron and produced a small black bottle. “—which is very rare because of the rare herbs in it. What are rare. Extremely rare herbs.”

  Eventually it crept over Hopcroft that he was supposed to take the bottle. He gripped the top of it very carefully, as if it might whistle or develop legs.

  “Uh … thank you ver’ much,” he mumbled.

  Granny nodded stiffly.

  “Blessings be upon this house,” she said, and turned and walked away down the path.

  Hopcroft shut the door carefully, and then flung himself against it.

  “You start packing right now!” he shouted to his wife, who’d been watching from the kitchen door.

  “What? Our whole life’s here! We can’t just run away from it!”

  “Better to run than hop, woman! What’s she want from me? What’s she want? She’s never nice!”

  Mrs. Hopcroft stood firm. She just got the cottage looking right and they’d bought a new pump. Some things were hard to leave.

  “Let just stop and think, then,” she said. “What’s in that bottle?”

  Hopcroft held it at arm’s length. “Do you want to find out?”

  “Stop shaking, man! She didn’t actually threaten, did she?”

  “She said ‘blessings be upon this house’! Sounds pretty damn threatening to me! That was Granny Weatherwax, that was!”

  He put the bottle on the table. They stared at it, standing in the cautious leaning position of people who were ready to run if anything began to happen.

  “Says ‘Haire Reftorer’ on the label,” said Mrs. Hopcroft.

  “I ain’t using it!”

  “She’ll ask us about it later. That’s her way.”

  “If you think for one moment I’m—”

  “We can try it out on the dog.”

  * * *

  “That’s a good cow.”

  William Poorchick awoke from his reverie on the milking stool and looked around the meadow, his hands still working the beast’s teats.

  There was a black pointy hat rising over the hedge. He gave such a start that he started to milk into his left boot.

  “Gives plenty of milk, does she?”

  “Yes, Mistress Weatherwax!” William quavered.

  “That’s good. Long may she continue to do so, that’s what I say. Good day to you.”

  And the pointy hat continued up the lane.

  Poorchick stared after it. Then he grabbed the bucket and, squelching at every other step, hurried into the barn and yelled for his son.

  “Rummage! You get down here right now!”

  His son appeared at the hayloft, pitchfork still in his hand.

  “What’s
up, Dad?”

  “You take Daphne down to the market right now, understand?”

  “What? But she’s our best milker, Dad!”

  “Was, son, was! Granny Weatherwax just put a curse on her! Sell her now before her horns drop off!”

  “What’d she say, Dad?”

  “She said … she said … ‘Long may she continue to give milk’…” Poorchick hesitated.

  “Doesn’t sound awfully like a curse, Dad.” said Rummage. “I mean … not like your gen’ral curse. Sounds a bit hopeful, really,” said his son.

  “Well … it was the way … she … said … it…”

  “What sort of way, Dad?”

  “Well … like … cheerfully.”

  “You all right, Dad?”

  “It was … the way…” Poorchick paused. “Well, it’s not right,” he continued. “It’s not right! She’s got no right to go around being cheerful at people! She’s never cheerful! And my boot is full of milk!”

  * * *

  Today Nanny Ogg was taking some time out to tend her secret still in the woods. As a still it was the best kept secret there could be, since everyone in the kingdom knew exactly where it was, and a secret kept by so many people must be very secret indeed. Even the king knew, and knew enough to pretend he didn’t know, and that meant he didn’t have to ask her for any taxes and she didn’t have to refuse. And every year at Hogswatch he got a barrel of what honey might be if only bees weren’t teetotal. And everyone understood the situation, no one had to pay any money, and so, in a small way, the world was a happier place. And no one was cursed until their teeth fell out.

  Nanny was dozing. Keeping an eye on a still was a day-and-night job. But finally the sound of people repeatedly calling her name got too much for her.

  No one would come into the clearing, of course. That would mean admitting that they knew where it was. So they were blundering around in the surrounding bushes. She pushed her way through and was greeted with some looks of feigned surprise that would have done credit to any amateur dramatic company.

  “Well, what do you lot want?” she demanded.

  “Oh, Mrs. Ogg, we though you might be … taking a walk in the woods,” said Poorchick, while a scent that could clean glass wafted on the breeze. “You got to do something! It’s Mistress Weatherwax!”

  “What’s she done?”

  “You tell ’er, Mr. Hampicker!”

  The man next to Poorchick took off his hat quickly and held it respectfully in front of him in the ai-señor-the-banditos-have-raided-our-villages position.

  “Well, ma’am, my lad and I were digging for a well and then she come past—”

  “Granny Weatherwax?”

  “Yes’m, and she said—” Hampicker gulped. “‘You won’t find any water there, my good man. You’d be better off looking in the hollow by the chestnut tree’! An’ we dug on down anyway and we never found no water!”

  Nanny lit her pipe. She didn’t smoke around the still since that time when a careless spark had sent the barrel she was sitting on a hundred yards into the air. She’d been lucky that a fir tree had broken her fall.

  “So … then you dug in the hollow by the chestnut tree?” she said mildly.

  Hampicker looked shocked. “No’m! There’s no telling what she wanted us to find there!”

  “And she cursed my cow!” said Poorchick.

  “Really? What did she say?”

  “She said, may she give a lot of milk!” Poorchick stopped. Once again, now that he came to say it …

  “Well, it was the way she said it,” he added, weakly.

  “And what kind of way was that?”

  “Nicely!”

  “Nicely?”

  “Smilin’ and everything! I don’t dare drink the stuff now!”

  Nanny was mystified.

  “Can’t quite see the problem—”

  “You tell that to Mr. Hopcroft’s dog,” said Poorchick. “Hopcroft daren’t leave the poor thing on account of her! The whole family’s going mad! There’s him shearing, his wife sharpening the scissors, and the two lads out all the time looking for fresh places to dump the hair!”

  Patient questioning on Nanny’s part elucidated the role the Haire Reftorer had played in this.

  “And he gave it—?”

  “Half the bottle, Mrs. Ogg.”

  “Even though Esme writes ‘A right small spoonful once a week’ on the label? And even then you need to wear roomy trousers.”

  “He said he was so nervous, Mrs. Ogg! I mean, what’s she playing at? Our wives are keepin’ the kids indoors. I mean, s’posin’ she smiled at them?”

  “Well?”

  “She’s a witch!”

  “So’m I, an’ I smiles at ’em,” said Nanny Ogg. “They’re always runnin’ after me for sweets.”

  “Yes, but … you’re … I mean … she … I mean … you don’t … I mean, well—”

  “And she’s a good woman,” said Nanny. Common sense prompted her to add, “In her own way. I expect there is water down in the hollow, and Poorchick’s cow’ll give good milk, and if Hopcroft won’t read the labels on bottles then he deserves a head you can see your face in, and if you think Esme Weatherwax’d curse kids you’ve got the sense of a earthworm. She’d cuss ’em, yes, all day long. But not curse ’em. She don’t aim that low.”

  “Yes, yes,” Poorchick almost moaned, “but it don’t feel right, that’s what we’re saying. Her going round being nice, a man don’t know if he’s got a leg to stand on.”

  “Or hop on,” said Hampicker darkly.

  “All right, all right, I’ll see about it,” said Nanny.

  “People shouldn’t go around not doin’ what you expect,” said Poorchick weakly. “It gets people on edge.”

  “And we’ll keep an eye on your sti—” Hampicker, and then staggered backward grasping his stomach and wheezing.

  “Don’t mind him, it’s the stress,” said Poorchick, rubbing his elbow. “Been picking herbs, Mrs. Ogg?”

  “That’s right,” said Nanny, hurrying away across the leaves.

  “So shall I put the fire out for you, then?” Poorchick shouted.

  * * *

  Granny was sitting outside her house when Nanny Ogg hurried up the path. She was sorting through a sack of old clothes. Elderly garments were scattered around her.

  And she was humming. Nanny Ogg started to worry. The Granny Weatherwax she knew didn’t approve of music.

  And she smiled when she saw Nanny, or at least the corner of her mouth turned up. That was really worrying. Granny normally only smiled if something bad was happening to someone deserving.

  “Why, Gytha, how nice to see you!”

  “You all right, Esme?”

  “Never felt better, dear.” The humming continued.

  “Er … sorting out rags, are you?” said Nanny. “Going to make that quilt?”

  It was one of Granny Weatherwax’s firm beliefs that one day she’d make a patchwork quilt. However, it is a task that requires patience, and hence in fifteen years she’d got as far as three patches. But she collected old clothes anyway. A lot of witches did. It was a witch thing. Old clothes had personality, like old houses. When it came to clothes with a bit of wear left in them, a witch had no pride at all.

  “It’s in here somewhere…” Granny mumbled. “Aha, here we are…”

  She flourished a garment. It was basically pink.

  “Knew it was here,” she went on. “Hardly worn, either. And about my size, too.”

  “You’re going to wear it?” said Nanny.

  Granny’s piercing blue cut-you-off-at-the-knees gaze was turned upon her. Nanny would have been relieved at a reply like “No, I’m going to eat it, you daft old fool.” Instead her friend relaxed and said, a little concerned:

  “You don’t think it’d suit me?”

  There was lace around the collar. Nanny swallowed.

  “You usually wear black,” she said. “Well, a bit more than usually. More like a
lways.”

  “And a very sad sight I look too,” said Granny robustly. “It’s about time I brightened myself up a bit, don’t you think?”

  “And it’s so very … pink.”

  Granny put it aside and to Nanny’s horror took her by the hand and said earnestly, “And, you know, I reckon I’ve been far too dog-in-the-manger about this Trials business, Gytha—”

  “Bitch-in-the-manger,” said Nanny Ogg, absentmindedly.

  For a moment Granny’s eyes became two sapphires again.

  “What?”

  “Er … you’d be a bitch-in-the-manger,” Nanny mumbled. “Not a dog.”

  “Ah? Oh, yes. Thank you for pointing that out. Well, I thought, it is time I stepped back a bit, and went along and cheered on the younger folks. I mean, I have to say, I … really haven’t been very nice to people, have I…”

  “Er…”

  “I’ve tried being nice,” Granny went on. “It didn’t turn out like I expected, I’m sorry to say.”

  “You’ve never been really … good at nice,” said Nanny.

  Granny smiled. Hard though she stared, Nanny was unable to spot anything other than earnest concern.

  “Perhaps I’ll get better with practice,” she said.

  She patted Nanny’s hand. And Nanny stared at her hand as though something horrible had happened to it.

  “It’s just that everyone’s more used to you being … firm,” she said.

  “I thought I might make some jam and cakes for the produce stall,” said Granny.

  “Oh … good.”

  “Are there any sick people want visitin’?”

  Nanny stared at the trees. It was getting worse and worse. She rummaged in her memory for anyone in the locality sick enough to warrant a ministering visit but still well enough to survive the shock of a ministering visit by Granny Weatherwax. When it came to practical psychology and the more robust type of folk physiotherapy Granny was without equal; in fact, she could even do the latter at a distance, for many a pain-wracked soul had left their bed and walked, nay, run at the news that she was coming.

  “Everyone’s pretty well at the moment,” said Nanny diplomatically.