A hat full of sky, p.27
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.27

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 27

 

  But you were snoring!

  I was not snoring! I was just resting gently while I tickled an owl closer! If you hadnt shaken me and scared it away, Id have been up there with this entire moor under my eye.

  You . . . take over its mind? said Tiffany nervously. No! Im not one of your hivers! I just . . . borrows a lift from it, I just . . . nudges it now and again, it dont even know Im there. Now try to rest!

  But what if the hiver-?

  If it comes anywhere near itll be me that tells youV Mistress Weatherwax hissed, and lay back. Then her head jerked up one more time. And I do not snore! she added. After half a minute, she started to snore again. Minutes after that the owl came back, or perhaps it was a different owl. It glided onto the same rock, settled there for a while and then sped away. The witch stopped snoring. In fact, she stopped breathing. Tiffany leaned closer and finally lowered an ear to the skinny chest to see if there was a heartbeat. Her own heart felt as if it was clenched like a fist - - because of the day shed found Granny Aching in the hut. She was lying peacefully on the narrow iron bed, but Tiffany had known something was wrong as soon as she had stepped inside- Boom. Tiffany counted to three. Boom. Well, it was a heartbeat. Very slowly, like a twig growing, a stiff hand moved. It slid like a glacier into a pocket, and came up holding a large piece of card on which was written: I Aint Dead, Tiffany decided she wasnt going to argue. But she pulled the blanket over the old woman and wrapped her own around herself. By moonlight, she tried again with her shamble. Surely she should be able to make it do something. Maybe if- By moonlight, she very, very carefully- Pod The egg cracked. The egg always cracked, and now there was only one left. Tiffany didnt dare try it with a beetle, even if she could find one. It would be too cruel. She sat back and looked across the landscape of silver and black, and her Third Thoughts thought: Its not going to come near. Why? She thought, Im not sure why I know. But I know. Its keeping away. It knows Mistress Weatherwax is with me. She thought: How can it know that? Its not got a mind. It doesnt know what a Mistress Weatherwax is Still thinking, thought her Third Thoughts. Tiffany slumped against the rock. Sometimes her head was too . . . crowded . . . And then it was morning, and sunlight, and dew on her hair, and mist coming off the ground like smoke . . . and an eagle sitting on the rock where the owl had been, eating something furry. She could see every feather on its wing. It swallowed, glared at Tiffany with its mad bird eyes and flapped away, making the mist swirl. Beside her, Mistress Weatherwax began to snore again, which Tiffany took to mean

  that she was in her body. She gave the old woman a nudge, and the sound that had been a regular gnaaaargrgrgrgrg suddenly became blort. The old woman sat up, coughing, and waved a hand irritably at Tiffany to pass her the tea bottle. She didnt speak until shed gulped half of it. Ah, say what you like, but rabbit tastes a lot better cooked, she gasped, shoving the cork back in. And without the fur on!

  You took- borrowed the eagle? said Tiffany. Ocourse. I couldnt expect the poor ol owl to fly around after daybreak, just to see whos about. It was hunting voles all night and, believe me, raw rabbits bettern voles. Dont eat voles.

  I wont, said Tiffany, and meant it. Mistress Weatherwax, I think I know what the hivers doing. Its thinking.

  I thought it had no brains! Tiffany let her thoughts speak for themselves. But theres an echo of me in it, isnt there? There must be. It has an echo of everyone its . . . been. There must be a bit of me in it. I know its out there, and it knows Im here with you. And its keeping away.

  Oh? Whys that, then?

  Because its frightened of you, I think.

  Huh! And whys that?

  Yes, said Tiffany simply. Its because I am. A bit.

  Oh dear. Are you?

  Yes, said Tiffany again. Its like a dog thats been beaten but wont run away. It doesnt understand what its done wrong. But. . . theres something about it that. . . theres a thought that Im nearly having Mistress Weatherwax said nothing. Her face went blank. Are you all right? said Tiffany. I was just leavin you time to have that thought, said Mistress Weatherwax. Sorry. Its gone now. But. . . were thinking about the hiver in the wrong way.

  Oh, yes? And whys that?

  Because . . . Tiffany struggled with the idea. I think its because we dont want to think about it the right way. Its something to do with . . . the third wish. And I dont know what that means. The witch said, Keep picking at that thought, and then looked up and added, Weve got company. It took Tiffany several seconds to spot what Mistress Weatherwax had seen - a shape at the edge of the woods, small and dark. It was coming closer, but rather uncertainly. It resolved itself into the figure of Petulia, flying slowly and nervously a few feet above the heather. Sometimes she jumped down and wrenched the stick in a slightly different direction. She got off again when she reached Tiffany and Mistress Weatherwax, grabbed the broom hastily and aimed it at a big rock. It hit it gently and hung there, trying to fly

  through stone. Urn, sorry, she panted. But I cant always stop it, and this is better than having an anchor . . . Urn. She started to bob a curtsy to Mistress Weatherwax, remembered she was a witch and tried to turn it into a bow halfway down, which was an event youd pay money to see. She ended up bent double, and from somewhere in there came the little voice, Urn, can someone help, please? I think my Octogram of Trimontane has got caught up on my Pouch of Nine Herbs . . . There was a tricky minute while they untangled her, with Mistress Weatherwax muttering Toys, just toys as they unhooked bangles and necklaces. Petulia stood upright, red in the face. She saw Mistress Weatherwaxs expression, whipped off her pointy hat and held it in front on her. This was a mark of respect, but it did mean that a two-foot, sharp, pointy thing was being aimed at them. Urn . . . I went to see Miss Level and she said youd come up here after some horrible thing, she said. Um . . . so I thought Id better see how you were.

  Um . . . that was very kind of you, said Tiffany, but her treacherous Second Thoughts thought: And what would you have done if it had attacked us? She had a momentary picture of Petulia standing in front of some horrible raging thing, but it wasnt as funny as shed first thought. Petulia would stand in front of it, shaking with terror, her useless amulets clattering, scared almost out of her mind . . . but not backing away. Shed thought there might be people facing something horrible here, and shed come anyway. Whats your name, my girl? said Mistress Weatherwax. Urn, Petulia Gristle, mistress. Im learning with Gwinifer Blackcap.

  Old Mother Blackcap? said Mistress Weatherwax. Very sound. A good woman with pigs. You did well to come here. Petulia looked nervously at Tiffany. Urn, are you all right? Miss Level said youd been . . . ill.

  Im much better now, but thank you very much for asking, anyway, said Tiffany wretchedly. Look, Im sorry about-

  Well, you were ill, said Petulia. And that was another thing about Petulia. She always wanted to think the best of everybody. This was sort of worrying if you knew that the person she was doing her best to think nice thoughts about was you. Are you going to go back to the cottage before the Trials? Petulia went on. Trials? said Tiffany, suddenly lost. The Witch Trials, said Mistress Weatherwax. Today, said Petulia. Id forgotten all about them! said Tiffany. I hadnt, said the old witch calmly. I never miss a Trial. Never missed a Trial in sixty years. Would you do a poor old lady a favour, Miss Gristle, and ride that stick of yours back to Miss Levels place and tell her that Mistress Weatherwax presents her compli- ments and intends to head directly to the Trials. Was she well?

  Urn, she was juggling balls without using her handsV said Petulia in wonderment.

  And, dyou know what? I saw a. fairy in her garden! A blue one!

  Really? said Tiffany, her heart sinking. Yes! It was rather scruffy, though. And when I asked it if it really was a fairy, it said it was . . . um . . . “the big stinky horrible spiky iron stinging nettle fairy from the Land o Tinkle”, and called me a “scunner”. Do you know what that means? Tiffany looked into that round, hopeful face. She opened her mouth to say, It m
eans someone who likes fairies, but stopped in time. That just wouldnt be fair. She sighed. Petulia, you saw a Nac Mac Feegle, she said. It is a kind of fairy, but theyre not the sweet kind. Im sorry. Theyre good . . . well, more or less . . . but theyre not entirely nice. And “scunner” is a kind of swearword. I dont think its a particularly bad one though. Petulias expression didnt change for a while. Then she said: So it was a fairy, then?

  Well, yes. Technically. The round pink face smiled. Good, I did wonder, because it was, um, you know . . . having a wee up against one of Miss Levels garden gnomes?

  Definitely a Feegle, said Tiffany. Oh well, I suppose the big stinky horrible spiky iron stinging nettle needs a fairy, just like every other plant, said Petulia. Chapter n ArctliUK. When Petulia had gone, Mistress Weatherwax stamped her feet and said, Lets go, young lady. Its about eight miles to Sheercliff. Theyll have started before we get there.

  What about the hiver?

  Oh, it can come if it likes. Mistress Weatherwax smiled. Oh, dont frown like that. Therell be moren three hundred witches at the Trials, and theyre right out in the country. Itll be as safe as anything. Or do you want to meet the hiver now? We could probably do that. It dont seem to move fast.

  No! said Tiffany, louder than shed intended. No, because . . . things arent what they seem. Wed do things wrong. Er . . . I cant explain it. Its because of the third wish.

  Which you dont know what it is?

  Yes. But I will soon, I hope. The witch stared at her. Yes, I hope so, too, she said. Well, no point in standing around. Lets get moving. And with that the witch picked up her blanket and set off as though being pulled by a string. We havent even had anything to eat! said Tiffany, running after her. I had a lot of voles last night, said Mistress Weatherwax over her shoulder. Yes, but you didnt actually eat them, did you? said Tiffany. It was the owl that actually ate them.

  Technicly, yes, Mistress Weatherwax admitted. But if you think youve been eating voles all night youd be amazed how much you dont want to eat anything next morning. Or ever again.

  She nodded at the distant, departing figure of Petulia. Friend of yours? she said, as they set out. Er . . . if she is, I dont deserve it, said Tiffany. Hmm, said Mistress Weatherwax. Well, sometimes we get what we dont deserve. For an old woman Mistress Weatherwax could move quite fast. She strode over the moors as if distance was a personal insult. But she was good at something else too. She knew about silence. There was the swish of her long skirt as it snagged the heathers, but somehow that became part of the background noise. In the silence, as she walked, Tiffany could still hear the memories. There were hundreds of them left behind by the hiver. Most of them were so faint that they were nothing more than a slight uncomfortable feeling in her head, but the ancient tiger still burned brightly in the back of her brain, and behind that was the giant lizard. Theyd been killing machines, the most powerful creatures in their world - once. The hiver had taken them both. And then theyd died fighting. Always taking fresh bodies, always driving the owners mad with the urge for power which would always end with getting them killed . . . and just as Tiffany wondered why, a memory said: Because it is frightened. Frightened of what? Tiffany thought. Its so powerful! Who knows? But its mad with terror. Completely binkers! Youre Simplicity Bustle, arent you, said Tiffany, and then her ears informed her that shed said this aloud. Talkative, aint he, said Mistress Weatherwax. He talked in your sleep the other night. Used to have a very high opinion of himself. I reckon thats why his memories held together for so long.

 
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