A hat full of sky, p.2
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.2

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 2

 

  Before most of Tiffanys sisters had left home, sleeping two sisters to a bed had been normal. It was a good offer. Her parents had been impressed and slightly scared of Miss Tick, but they had been brought up to believe that people who knew more than you and used long words were quite important, so theyd agreed. Tiffany accidentally heard them discussing it after she had gone to bed that night. Its quite easy to accidentally overhear people talking downstairs if you hold an upturned glass to the floorboards and accidentally put your ear to it. She heard her father say that Tiffany didnt have to go away at all. She heard her mother say that all girls wondered what was out there in the world, so it was best to get it out of her system. Besides, she was a very capable girl with a good head on her shoulders. Why, with hard work there was no reason why one day she couldnt be a servant to someone quite important, like Aunt Hetty had been, and live in a house with an inside privy.

  Her father said shed find that scrubbing floors was the same everywhere. Her mother said, well, in that case shed get bored and come back home after the year was up and, by the way, what did prowess mean? Superior skill, thought Tiffany to herself. They did have an old dictionary in the house, but her mother never opened it because the sight of all those words upset her. Tiffany had read it all the way through. And that was it, and suddenly here she was, a month later, wrapping her old boots, whichd been worn by all her sisters before her, in a piece of clean rag and putting them in the second-hand suitcase her mother had bought her, which looked as if it was made of bad cardboard or pressed grape pips mixed with ear wax, and had to be held together with string. There were goodbyes. She cried a bit, and her mother cried a lot, and her little brother Wentworth cried as well just in case he could get a sweet for doing so. Tiffanys father didnt cry but gave her a silver dollar and rather gruffly told her to be sure to write home every week, which is a mans way of crying. She said goodbye to the cheeses in the dairy and the sheep in the paddock and even to Ratbag the cat. Then everyone apart from the cheeses and the cat stood at the gate and waved to her and Miss Tick -well, except for the sheep, too - until theyd gone nearly all the way down the chalky-white lane to the village.

  And then there was silence except for the sound of their boots on the flinty surface and the endless song of the skylarks overhead. It was late August, and very hot, and the new boots pinched. I should take them off, if I was you, said Miss Tick after a while. Tiffany sat down by the side of the lane and got her old boots out of the case. She didnt bother to ask how Miss Tick knew about the tight new boots. Witches paid attention. The old boots, even though she had to wear several pairs of socks with them, were much more comfortable and really easy to walk in. They had been walking since long before Tiffany was born, and knew how to do it. And are we going to see any . . . little men today? Miss Tick went on, once they were walking again. I dont know, Miss Tick, said Tiffany. I told them a month ago I was leaving. Theyre very busy at this time of year. But theres always one or two of them watching me. Miss Tick looked around quickly. I cant see anything, she said. Or hear anything.

  No, thats how you can tell theyre there, said Tiffany. Its always a bit quieter if theyre watching me. But they wont show themselves while youre with me. Theyre a bit frightened of hags - thats their word for witches, she added quickly. Its nothing personal. Miss Tick sighed. When I was a little girl Id have loved to see the pictsies, she said. I used to put out little saucers of milk. Of course, later on I realized that wasnt quite the thing to do.

  No, you should have used strong licker, said Tiffany. She glanced at the hedge and thought she saw, just for the snap of a second, a flash of red hair. And she smiled, a little nervously. Tiffany had been, if only for a few days, the nearest a human being can be to a queen of the fairies. Admittedly, shed been called a kelda rather than a queen, and the Nac Mac Feegle should only be called fairies to their face if you were looking for a fight. On the other hand the Nac Mac Feegle were always looking for a fight, in a cheerful sort of way, and when they had no one to fight they fought one another, and if one was all by himself hed kick his own nose just to keep in practice. Technically, they had lived in Fairyland, but had been thrown out, probably for being drunk. And now, because if youd ever been their kelda they never forgot you . . . . . . they were always there. There was always one somewhere on the farm, or circling on a buzzard high over the chalk downs. And they watched her, to help and protect her, whether she wanted them to or not. Tiffany had been as polite as possible about this. Shed hidden her diary right at the back of a drawer and blocked up the cracks in the privy with wadded paper, and done her best with the gaps in her bedroom floorboards, too. They were little men, after all. She was sure they tried to remain unseen so as not to disturb her, but shed got very good at spotting them.

  They granted wishes - not the magical fairytale three wishes, the ones that always go wrong in the end, but ordinary, everyday ones. The Nac Mac Feegle were immensely strong and fearless and incredibly fast, but they werent good at understanding that what people said often wasnt what they meant. One day, in the dairy, Tiffany had said, 1 wish I had a sharper knife to cut this cheese, and her mothers sharpest knife was quivering in the table beside her almost before shed got the words out. I wish this rain would clear up was probably OK, because the Feegles couldnt do actual magic, but she had learned to be careful not to wish for anything that might be achievable by some small, determined, strong, fearless and fast men who were also not above giving someone a good kicking if they felt like it.

  Wishes needed thought. She was never likely to say, out loud, I wish that I could marry a handsome prince, but knowing that if you did youd probably open the door to find a stunned prince, a tied-up priest and a Nac Mac Feegle grinning cheerfully and ready to act as Best Man definitely made you watch what you said. But they could be helpful, in a haphazard way, and shed taken to leaving out for them things that the family didnt need but might be useful to little people, like tiny mustard spoons, pins, a soup bowl that would make a nice bath for a Feegle and, in case they didnt get the message, some soap. They didnt steal the soap. Her last visit to the ancient burial mound high on the chalk down where the pictsies lived had been to attend the wedding of Rob Anybody, the Big Man of the clan, to Jeannie of the Long Lake. She was going to be the new kelda and spend most of the rest of her life in the mound, having babies like a queen bee. Feegles from other clans had all turned up for the celebration, because if theres one thing a Feegle likes more than a party, its a bigger party, and if theres anything better than a bigger party, its a bigger party with someone else paying for the drink.

  To be honest, Tiffany had felt a bit out of place, being ten times as tall as the next tallest person there, but shed been treated very well and Rob Anybody had made a long speech about her, calling her our fine big wee young hag before falling face first into the pudding. It had all been very hot, and very loud, but shed joined in the cheer when Jeannie had carried Rob Anybody over a tiny broomstick that had been laid on the floor. Traditionally, both the bride and the groom should jump over the broomstick but, equally traditionally, no self- respecting Feegle would be sober on his wedding day. Shed been warned that it would be a good idea to leave then, because of the traditional fight between the brides clan and the grooms clan, which could take until Friday. Tiffany had bowed to Jeannie, because thats what hags did, and had a good look at her. She was small and sweet and very pretty. She also had a glint in her eye and a certain proud lift to her chin. Nac Mac Feegle girls were very rare and they grew up knowing they were going to be keldas one day, and Tiffany had a definite feeling that Rob Anybody was going to find married life trickier than he thought. She was going to be sorry to leave them behind, but not terribly sorry. They were nice in a way but they could, after a while, get on your nerves.

  Anyway, she was eleven now, and had a feeling that after a certain age you shouldnt slide down holes in the ground to talk to little men. Besides, the look that Jeannie had given her, just fo
r a moment, had been pure poison. Tiffany had read its meaning without having to try. Tiffany had been the kelda of the clan, even if it was only for a short time. She had also been engaged to be married to Rob Anybody, even if that had only been a sort of political trick. Jeannie knew all that. And the look had said: He is mine. This place is mine. I do not want you here! Keep out! A pool of silence followed Tiffany and Miss Tick down the lane, since the usual things that rustle in hedges tended to keep very quiet when the Nac Mac Feegle were around. They reached the little village green and sat down to wait for the carriers cart that went just a bit faster than walking pace and would take five hours to get to the village of Twoshirts, where - Tiffanys parents thought - theyd get the big coach that ran all the way to the distant mountains and beyond. Tiffany could actually see it coming up the road when she heard the hoofbeats across the green. She turned, and her heart seemed to leap and sink at the same time. It was Roland, the Barons son, on a fine black horse. He leaped down before the horse had stopped, and then stood there looking embarrassed. Ah, I see a very fine and interesting example of a . . . a . . . a big stone over there, said Miss Tick in a sticky-sweet voice. Ill just go and have a look at it, shall I?

  Tiffany could have pinched her for that. Er, youre going, then, said Roland as Miss Tick hurried away. Yes, said Tiffany. Roland looked as though he was going to explode with nervousness. 1 got this for you, he said. I had it made by a man, er, over in Yelp. He held out a package wrapped in soft paper. Tiffany took it and put it carefully in her pocket. Thank you, she said, and dropped a small curtsy. Strictly speaking thats what you had to do when you met a nobleman, but it just made Roland blush and stutter. O-open it later on, said Roland. Er, I hope youll like it.

  Thank you, said Tiffany sweetly. Heres the cart. Er . . . you dont want to miss it.

  Thank you, said Tiffany, and curtsied again, because of the effect it had. It was a little bit cruel, but sometimes you had to be. Anyway, it would be very hard to miss the cart. If you ran fast, you could easily overtake it. It was so slow that stop never came as a surprise. There were no seats. The carrier went around the villages every other day, picking up packages and, sometimes, people. You just found a place where you could get comfortable among the boxes of fruit and rolls of cloth. Tiffany sat on the back of the cart, her old boots dangling over the edge, swaying backwards and forwards as the cart lurched away on the rough road. Miss Tick sat beside her, her black dress soon covered in chalk dust to the knees. Tiffany noticed that Roland didnt get back on his horse until the cart was nearly out of sight.

  And she knew Miss Tick. By now she would be just bursting to ask a question, because witches hate not knowing things. And, sure enough, when the village was left behind, Miss Tick said, after a lot of shifting and clearing her throat: Arent you going to open it?

  Open what? said Tiffany, not looking at her. He gave you a present, said Miss Tick. I thought you were examining an interesting stone, Miss Tick, said Tiffany accusingly. Well, it was only fairly interesting, said Miss Tick, completely unembarrassed. So . . . are you?

 
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