A hat full of sky, p.26
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.26

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 26


  Mr Weavall, said Tiffany, youve got enough for anything.

  Why, bless you! said Mr Weavall. But right now I need a bow-kwet of flowers, girl. Cant go courtin without flowers and I cant see none. Anythin left? A few roses were hanging on among the weeds and briars in the garden. Tiffany fetched a knife from the kitchen and made them up into a bouquet. Ah, good, he said. Late bloomers, just like I! He held them tightly in his free hand, then suddenly frowned, fell silent and stood like a statue I wish my Toby and my Mary was goin to be able to come to the weddin, he said quietly. But theyre dead, you know.

  Yes, said Tiffany. I know, Mr Weavall.

  And I could wish that my Nancy was alive, too, although bein as I hopes to be marryin another lady that aint a sensible wish, maybe. Hah! Nearly everyone I knows is dead. Mr Weavall stared at the bunch of flowers for a while, and then straightened up again. Still, cant do nothin about that, can we? Not even for a box full of gold!

  No, Mr Weavall," said Tiffany hoarsely. Oh, dont cry, gel! The sun is shinin, the birds is singin and whats past cant be mended, eh? said Mr Weavall jovially. And the Widow Tussy is waitin! For a moment he looked panicky, and then he cleared his throat. Dont smell too bad, do I? he said. Er . . . only of mothballs, Mr Weavall.

  Mothballs? Mothballs is OK. Right, then! Times a wastin! Using only the one stick, waving his other arm with the flowers in the air to keep his balance, Mr Weavall set off with surprising speed. Well, said Mistress Weatherwax as, with jacket flying, he rounded the corner. That was nice, wasnt it?

  Tiffany looked around quickly. Mistress Weather-wax was still nowhere to be seen, but she was somewhere to be unseen. Tiffany squinted at what was definitely an old wall with some ivy growing up it, and it was only when the old witch moved that she spotted her. She hadnt done anything to her clothes, hadnt done any magic as far as Tiffany knew, but shed simply . . . faded in. Er, yes, said Tiffany, taking out a handkerchief and blowing her nose. But it worries you, said the witch. You think it shouldn t have ended like that, right?

  No! said Tiffany hotly. It would have been better if hed been buried in some ol cheap coffin paid for by the village, you think?

  No! Tiffany twisted up her fingers. Mistress Weatherwax was sharper than a field of pins. But . . . all right, it just doesnt seem . . . fair. I mean, I wish the Feegles hadnt done that. Im sure I could have . . . sorted it out somehow, saved up . . .

  Its an unfair world, child. Be glad you have friends. Tiffany looked up at the tree line. Yes, said Mistress Weatherwax. But not up there.

  Im going away, said Tiffany. Ive been thinking about it, and Im going away.

  Broomstick? said Mistress Weatherwax. It dont move fast-

  No! Where would I fly to? Home? I dont want to take it there! Anyway, I cant just fly off with it roaming around! When it. . . when I meet it, I dont want to be near people, you understand? I know what I. . . what it can do if its angry! It half-killed Miss Level!

  And if it follows you?

  Good! Ill take it up there somewhere! Tiffany waved at the mountains. All alone?

  I dont have a choice, do I? Mistress Weatherwax gave her a look that went on too long. No, she said. You dont. But neither have I. Thats why I will come with you. Dont argue, miss. How would you stop me, eh? Oh, that reminds me . . . them mysterious bruises Mrs Towny gets is because Mr Towny beats her, and the father of Miss Quicklys baby is young Fred Turvey. You might mention that to Miss Level. As she spoke, a bee flew out of her ear. Bait, thought Tiffany a few hours later, as they walked away from Miss Levels cottage and up towards the high moors. I wonder if Im bait, just like in the old days when the hunters would tether a lamb or a baby goat to bring the wolves nearer? Shes got a plan to kill the hiver. I know it. Shes worked something out. Itll come for me and shell just wave a hand. She must think Im stupid. They had argued, of course. But Mistress Weatherwax had made a nasty personal remark. It was: Youre eleven. Just like that. Youre eleven, and what is Miss Tick going to tell your parents? Sorry about Tiffany, but we let her go off by herself to fight an ancient monster that cant be killed and whats left of her is in this jar?

  Miss Level had joined in at that part, almost in tears. If Tiffany hadnt been a witch, she would have whined about everyone being so unfairl In fact they were being fair. She knew they were being fair. They were not thinking just of her, but of other people, and Tiffany hated herself -well, slightly - because she hadnt. But it was sneaky of them to choose this moment to be fair. That was unfair. No one had told her she was only nine when she went into Fairyland armed with just a frying pan. Admittedly, no one else had known she was going, except the Nac Mac Feegle, and she was much taller than they were. Would she have gone if shed known what was in there? she wondered. Yes. I would. And youre going to face the hiver even though you dont know how to beat it? Yes. I am. Theres part of me still in it. I might be able to do something- But arent you just ever so slightly glad that Mistress Weatherwax and Miss Level won the argument and now youre going off very bravely but you happen to be accompanied, completely against your will, by the most powerful witch alive? Tiffany sighed. It was dreadful when your own thoughts tried to gang up on you. The Feegles hadnt objected to her going to find the hiver. They did object to not being allowed to come with her. Theyd been insulted, she knew. But, as Mistress Weatherwax had said, this was true haggling and there was no place in it for Feegles. If the hiver came, out there, not in a dream but for real, itd have nothing about it that could be kicked or head-butted. Tiffany had tried to make a little speech, thanking them for their help, but Rob Anybody had folded his arms and turned his back. It had all gone wrong. But the old witch had been right. They could get hurt. The trouble was, explaining to a Feegle how dangerous things were going to be only got them more enthusiastic. She left them arguing with one another. It had not gone well. But now that was all behind her, in more ways that one. The trees beside the track were less bushy and more pointy or, if Tiffany had known more about trees, she would have said that the oaks were giving way to evergreens. She could feel the hiver. It was following them, but a long way back. If you had to imagine a head witch, you wouldnt imagine Mistress Weatherwax. You might imagine Mrs Earwig, who glided across the floor as though she was on wheels, and had a dress as black as the darkness in a deep cellar, but Mistress Weatherwax was just an old woman with a lined face and rough hands in a dress as black as night, which is never as black as people think. It was dusty and ragged round the hem, too. On the other hand, thought her Second Thoughts, you once bought Granny Aching a china shepherdess, remember? All blue and white and sparkly? Her First Thoughts thought: Well, yes, but I was a lot younger then. Her Second Thoughts thought: Yes, but which one was the real shepherdess? The shiny lady in the nice clean dress and buckled shoes, or the old woman who stumped around in the snow with boots filled with straw and a sack across her shoulders?

  At which point, Mistress Weatherwax stumbled. She caught her balance very quickly. Dangerously loose stones on this path, she said. Watch out for them. Tiffany looked down. There werent that many stones and they didnt seem very dangerous or particularly loose. How old was Mistress Weatherwax? That was another question she wished she hadnt asked. She was skinny and wiry, just like Granny Aching, the kind of person who goes on and on - but one day Granny Aching had gone to bed and had never got up again, just like that. . . The sun was setting. Tiffany could feel the hiver in the same way that you can sense that someone is looking at you. It was still in the woods that hugged the mountain like a scarf. At last the witch stopped at a spot where rocks like pillars sprouted out of the turf. She sat down with her back to a big rock. Thisll have to do, she said. Itll be dark soon and you could turn an ankle on all this loose stone. There were huge boulders around them, house-sized, which had rolled down from the mountains in the past. The rock of the peaks began not far away, a wall of stone that seemed to hang above Tiffany like a wave. It was a desolate place. Every sound echoed. She sat down by Mistress Weat
herwax and opened the bag that Miss Level had packed for the journey. Tiffany wasnt very experienced at things like this but, according to the book of fairy tales, the typical food for taking on an adventure was bread and cheese. Hard cheese, too. Miss Level had made them ham sandwiches, with pickles, and shed included napkins. That was kind of a strange thought to keep in your head: Were trying to find a way of killing a terrible creature, but at least we wont be covered in crumbs. There was a bottle of cold tea, too, and a bag of biscuits. Miss Level knew Mistress Weatherwax. Shouldnt we light a fire? Tiffany suggested. Why? Its a long way down to the tree line to get the firewood, and therell be a fine half-moon up in twenty minutes. Your friends keeping his distance and there nothing else thatll attack us up here.

  Are you sure?

  I walk safely in my mountains, said Mistress Weatherwax. But arent there trolls and wolves and things?

  Oh, yes. Lots.

  And they dont try to attack you?

  Not any more, said a self-satisfied voice in the dark. Pass me the biscuits, will you?

  Here you are. Would you like some pickles? Tickles gives me the wind something awful

  In that case-

  Oh, I wasnt saying no, said Mistress Weatherwax, taking two large pickled cucumbers. Oh, good, Tiffany thought. Shed brought three fresh eggs with her. Getting the hang of a shamble was taking too long. It was stupid. All the other girls were able to use them. She was sure she was doing everything right. Shed filled her pocket with random things. Now she pulled them out without looking, wove the thread around the egg like shed done a hundred times before, grasped the pieces of wood and moved them so that. . . Pod The egg cracked, and oozed. I told you, said Mistress Weatherwax, whod opened one eye. Theyre toys. Sticks and stones.

  Have you ever used one? said Tiffany. No. Couldnt get the hang of them. They got in the way. Mistress Weatherwax yawned, wrapped the blanket around her, made a couple of mnup, mnup noises as she tried to get comfortable against the rock and, after a while, her breathing became deeper. Tiffany waited in silence, her blanket around her, until the moon came up. Shed expected that to make things better, but it didnt. Before, there had just been darkness. Now there were shadows. There was a snore beside her. It was one of those good solid ones, like ripping canvas. Silence happened. It came across the night on silver wings, noiseless as the fall of a feather, silence made into a bird, which alighted on a rock close by. It swivelled its head to look at Tiffany. There was more than just the curiosity of a bird in that look. The old woman snored again. Tiffany reached out, still staring at the owl, and shook her gently. When that didnt work, she shook her hardly. There was a sound like three pigs colliding and Mistress Weatherwax opened one eye and said, Whoo?

  Theres an owl watching us! Its right up close! Suddenly the owl blinked, looked at Tiffany as if amazed to see her, spread its wings and glided off into the night. Mistress Weatherwax gripped her throat, coughed once or twice, and then said hoarsely, Of course it was an owl, child! It took me ten minutes to lure it this close! Now just you be quiet while I starts again, otherwise I shall have to make do with a bat, and when I goes out on a bat for any time at all I ends up thinkin I can see with my ears, which is no way for a decent woman to behave!

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