A hat full of sky, p.21
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.21

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 21

 

  Er . . . none Ive ever heard of, Mister Rob, Billy confessed. Aye. So you already know more aboot it than any o them big men, said Rob. He gave the boy a smile. Do yer best, laddie. I dinnae expect any more of you than that. Billy looked out of the shed door, and took a deep breath: Then Ill tell ye I think shes hidin somewhere close like a hunted creature, Mr Rob. This is a wee bit o her memory, the place o her granny, the place where shes always felt safe. Ill tell ye I think that were in the soul and centre o her. The bit o her that is her. And Im frightened for her. Frightened to mah boots.

  Why?

  Because Ive been watchin the shadows, Mr Rob, said Billy. The sun is movin. Its slippin doon the sky.

  Aye, weel, thats whut the sun does- Rob began. Billy shook his head. Nay, Mr Rob. Ye dinnae understand! Im tellin ye thats no the sun o the big wide world. Thats the sun o the soul o her. The Feegles looked at the sun, and at the shadows, then back at Billy. Hed stuck his chin out bravely but he was trembling. Shell die when night comes? Rob said. Theres worser things than death, Mr Rob. The hiver will have her, head tae toe- That is nae gonna happen! shouted Rob Anybody, so suddenly that Billy backed away. Shes a strong big wee lass! She fought the Quin wi no more than a fryin pan! Awfly Wee Billy swallowed. There were a lot of things hed rather do than face Rob

  Anybody now. But he pressed on. Sorry, Mr Rob, but Im telling ye she had iron then, an she wuz on her ain turf. Shes a lang, lang way fra hame here. An itll squeeze this place when it finds it, leave no more room for it, and the night will come, an-

  Scuse me, Rob. I ha an idea. It was Daft Wullie, twisting his hands nervously. Everyone turned to look at him. Ye ha an idea? said Rob. Aye, an if I tell youse, I dinnae want you ta say its inna-pro-pre-ate, OK, Rob? Rob Anybody sighed. OK, Wullie, ye ha my word on it.

  Weel, said Wullie, his fingers knotting and unknotting. What is this place if its not truly her ain place? What is it if not her ain turf? If she cannae fight the creature here, she cannae fight it anywhere!

  But it willnae come here, said Billy. It doesnae need to. As she grows weaker, this place will fade away.

  Oh, crivens, mumbled Daft Wullie. Weel, it was a good idea, right? Even if it doesnae work? Rob Anybody wasnt paying any attention. He stared around the shepherding hut. My mans got to use his heid for something other than nuttin folk, Jeannie had said. Daft Wullie is right, he said quietly. This is her safe place. She holds the land, she has it in her eye. The creature can neer touch her here. Here, she has power. But twill be a jail hoose for her here unless she fights the monster. Shed be locked in here and watch her life gae doon the cludgie. Shell look oot at the world like a prisner at a tiny window, and see hersel hated and feared. So well fetch the beast in here against its will, and here it will die! The Feegles cheered. They werent sure what was going on, but they liked the sound of it. How? said Awfly Wee Billy. Ye had to gae and ask that, eh? said Rob Anybody bitterly. An I wuz doin sae weel wi the thinkin- He turned. There was a scratching noise on the door above him. Up there, across the rows and rows of half rubbed-out markings, freshly chalked letters were appearing one by one, as if an invisible hand was writing them. Worrds, said Rob Anybody. Shes tryin tae tell us somethin!

  Yes, they say- Billy began. I ken weel what they say! snapped Rob Anybody. I ha the knowin of the readin! They say- He looked up again. OK, they say . . . thats the snake, an thats the kinda like a gate letter, an the comb on its side, two o that, an the fat man standin still, an the snake again, and then theres whut we calls a “space” and then theres the letter like a saws teeth, and two o the letters thats roound like the sun, and the letter thats a man sittin doon, and onna next line we ha . . . the man wi his arms oot, and the letter thats you, an ha, the fat man again but noo hes walkin, an next hes standin still again, an next is the comb, an the up-an-doon ziggy-zaggy letter, and the mans got his arms oot, and then theres me, and that ziggy-zaggy and we end the line with the comb again . . . an on the next line we starts wi the bendy hook,

  thats the letter roound as the sun, thems twa men sittin doon, theres the letter reaching ooot tae the sky! then theres a space cos theres nae letter, then theres the snaky again, an the letter like a hoose frame, and then theres the letter thats me, aye, an another fella sitting doon, an another big roound letter, and, ha, oor ol friend, the fat man walkin! The End! He stood back, hands on hips, and demanded: There! Is that readin I just did, or wuz it no? There was a cheer from the Feegles, and some applause. Awfly Wee Billy looked up at the chalked words: And then he looked at Rob Anybodys expression. Aye, aye, he said, Yere doin great, Mr Rob. Sheeps wool, turpentine and Jolly Sailor tobacco.

  Ach, weel, anyone can read it all in one go, said Rob Anybody, dismissively. But youse gotta be guid to break it doon intae all the tricksie letters. And veera guid to have the knowin o the meanin o the whole.

  What is that? said Awfly Wee Billy. The meaning, gonnagle, is that you are gonna go stealin There was a cheer from the rest of the Feegles. They hadnt been keeping up very well, but they recognized that word all right. An its gonna be a stealin tae remember! Rob yelled, to another cheer. Daft Wullie!

  Aye!

  Yell be in charge! Ye ha not got the brains o a beetle, brother o mine, but when it comes tae the thievin ye hae no equal in this wurld! Yeve got tae fetch turpentine and fresh ship wool and some o the Jolly Sailor baccy! Ye got tae get them to the big hag wi twa bodies! Tell her she must mak the hiver smell them, right? Itll bring it here! And yed best be quick, because that sun is movin down the sky. Yell be stearin fra Time itself - aye? Ye have a question? Daft Wullie had raised a finger. Point o order, Rob, he said, but it was a wee bittie hurtful there for you to say I dinnae hae the brains of a beetle

  Rob hesitated, but only for a moment. Aye, Daft Wullie, ye are right in whut ye say. It was unricht o me to say that. It was the heat o the moment, an I am full sorry for it. As I stand here before ye now, I will say: Daft Wullie, ye do hae the brains o a beetle, an Ill fight any scunner who says different! Daft Wullies face broke into a huge smile, then crinkled into a frown. But ye are the leader, Rob, he said. No on this raid, Wullie. Am staying here. I have every confidence that yell be a fiiinne leader on this raid an not totally mess it up like ye did the last seventeen times! There was a general groan from the crowd. Look at the sun, will ye! said Rob, pointing. Its moved since weve been talkin! Someones got tae stay wi her! I will no ha it said we left her tae die alone! Now, get movin, ye scunners, or feel the flat o my blade! He raised his sword and growled. They fled. Rob Anybody laid his sword down with care, then sat on the step of the shepherding hut to watch the sun. After a while, he was aware of something else . . . Hamish the aviator gave Miss Levels broomstick a doubtful look. It hung a few feet above the ground and it worried him. He hitched up the bundle on his back that contained his parachute, although it was technically the paradrawers, since it was made of string and an old pair of Tiffanys best Sunday drawers, well washed. They still had flowers on, but there was nothing like them for getting a Feegle safely to the ground. He had a feeling it (or they) were going to be needed. Its no got feathers, he complained. Look, we dinnae ha time to argue! said Daft Wullie. Were in a hurry, ye ken, an youre the only one who knows how tae fly!

  A broomstick isnae flyin, said Hamish. Its magic. It hasnae any wings! I dinnae ken that stuff! But Big Yan had already thrown a piece of string over the bristle end of the stick and was climbing up. Other Feegles followed. Besides, how do they steer these things? Hamish went on. Weel, how do ye do it with wi the birdies? Daft Wullie demanded. Oh, thats easy. Ye just shift your weight, but-

  Ach, yell learn as we go, said Wullie. Flying can-nae be that difficult. Even ducks can do it, and they have nae brains at a. And there was really no point in arguing, which is why, a few minutes later, Hamish inched his way along the sticks handle. The rest of the Feegles clung to the bristles at the other end, chattering. Firmly tied to the bristles was a bundle of what looked like sticks and rags, with a b
attered hat and the stolen beard on top of it. At least this extra weight meant that the stick end was pointing up, towards a gap in the fruit trees. Hamish sighed, took a deep breath, pulled his goggles over his eyes and put

  a hand on a shiny area of stick just in front of him. Gently, the stick began to move through the air. There was a cheer from the Feegles. See? Told yez yed be OK, Daft Wullie called out. But can ye no make it go a wee bit faster? Carefully, Hamish touched the shiny area again. The stick shuddered, hung motionless for a moment, and then shot upwards trailing a noise very like Arrrrrrrrrgg00ggg0gg0ghhhh. hhhhhh. hhhh . . . In the silent world of Tiffanys head, Rob Anybody picked up his sword again and crept across the darkening turf. There was something there, small but moving. It was a tiny thorn bush, growing so fast that its twigs visibly moved. Its shadow danced on the grass. Rob Anybody stared at it. It had to mean something. He watched it carefully. Little bush, growing . . . And then he remembered what the old kelda had told them when hed been a wee boy. Once, the land had been all forest, heavy and dark. Then men came and cut down trees. They let the sun in. The grass grew up in the clearings. The bigjobs brought in sheep, which ate the grass, and also what grew in the grass: tree seedlings. And so the dark forests died. There hadnt been much life in them, not once the tree trunks closed in behind you; it had been dark as the bottom of the sea in there, the leaves far above keeping out the light. Sometimes there was the crash of a branch, or the rattle and patter as acorns the squirrels had missed bounced down, from branch to branch, into the gloom. Mostly it was just hot and silent. Around the edges of the forest were the homes of many creatures. Deep inside the forest, the everlasting forest, was the home of wood. But the turf lived in the sun, with its hundreds of grasses and flowers and birds and insects. The Nac Mac Feegle knew that better than most, being so much closer to it. What looked like a green desert at a distance was a tiny, thriving, roaring jungle . . . Ach, said Rob Anybody. So thats yer game, izzit? Weel, yere no takin over in here too! He chopped at the spindly thing with his sword, and stood back. The rustling of leaves behind him made him turn. There were two more saplings unfolding. And a third. He looked across the grass and saw a dozen, a hundred tiny trees beginning their race for the sky. Worried though he was, and he was worried to his boots, Rob Anybody grinned. If theres one thing a Feegle likes, its knowing that wherever you strike youre going to hit an enemy. The sun was going down and the shadows were moving and the turf was dying. Rob charged. Arrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . What happened during the Nac Mac Feegles search for the right smell was

  remembered by several witnesses (quite apart from all the owls and bats who were left spinning in the air by a broomstick being navigated by a bunch of screaming little blue men). One of them was Number 95, a ram owned by a not very imaginative farmer. But all he remembered was a sudden noise in the night and a draughty feeling on his back. That was about as exciting as it got for Number 95, so he went back to thinking about grass. Arrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . Then there was Mildred Pusher, aged seven, who was the daughter of the farmer who owned Number 95. One day, when shed grown up and become a grandmother, she told her grandchildren about the night she came downstairs by candlelight for a drink of water and heard the noises under the sink . . . And there were these little voices, you see, and one said, “Ach, Wullie, you cannae drink that, look, it says Poison!! on the bottle,” and another voice said, “Aye, gonnagle, they put that on tae frighten a man from havin a wee drink,” and the first voice said, “Wullie, its rat poison!” and the second voice said, “Thats fine, then, cos Im no a rat!” And then I opened the cupboard under the sink and, what do you think, it was full of fairies! And they looked at me and I looked at them and one of them said, “Hey, this is a dream youre having, big wee girl!” and immediately they all agreed! And the first one said, “So, in this dream yere having, big wee girl, you wouldna mind telling us where the turpentine is, wouldya?” And so I told them it was outside in the barn, and he said, “Aye? Then were offski. But heres a wee gift fra the fairies for a big wee girl whos gonna go right back tae sleep!” And then they were gone! One of her grandchildren, whod been listening with his mouth open, said, What did they give you, Grandma?

 
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