A hat full of sky, p.3
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.3

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 3

 

  Ill wait until later, said Tiffany. She didnt want a discussion about Roland at this point or, really, at all. She didnt actually dislike him. Shed found him in the land of the Queen of the Fairies and had sort of rescued him, although he had been unconscious most of the time. A sudden meeting with the Nac Mac Feegle when theyre feeling edgy can do that to a person. Of course, without anyone actually lying, everyone at home had come to believe that he had rescued her. A nine-year-old girl armed with a frying pan couldnt possibly have rescued a thirteen-year-old boy whod got a sword. Tiffany hadnt minded that. It stopped people asking too many questions she didnt want to answer or even know how to. But hed taken to . . . hanging around. She kept accidentally running into him on walks more often than was really possible, and he always seemed to be at the same village events she went to. He was always polite, but she couldnt stand the way he kept looking like a spaniel that had been kicked. Admittedly - and it took some admitting - he was a lot less of a twit than he had been. On the other hand, there had been such of lot of twit to begin with. And then she thought, Horse, and wondered why until she realized that her eyes had been watching the landscape while her brain stared at the past. . . Ive never seen that before, said Miss Tick. Tiffany welcomed it as an old friend. The Chalk rose out of the plains quite suddenly on this side of the hills. There was a little valley cupped into the fall of the down, and there was a carving in the curve it made. Turf had been cut away in long flowing lines so that the bare chalk made the shape of an animal. Its the White Horse, said Tiffany. Why do they call it that? said Miss Tick. Tiffany looked at her. Because the chalk is white? she suggested, trying not to suggest that Miss Tick was being a bit dense. No, I meant why do they call it a horse? It doesnt look like a horse. Its just. . . flowing lines . . . . . . that look as if theyre moving, Tiffany thought. It had been cut out of the turf right back in the old days, people said, by the folk whod built the stone circles and buried their kind in big earth mounds. And theyd cut out the Horse at one end of this little green valley, ten times bigger than a real horse and, if you didnt look at it with your mind right, the wrong shape, too. Yet they must have known horses, owned horses, seen them every day, and they werent stupid people just because they lived a long time ago. Tiffany had once asked her father about the look of the Horse, when theyd come all the way over here for a sheep fair, and he told her what Granny Aching had told him, too, when he was a little boy. He passed on what she said word for word, and Tiffany did the same now. "Taint what a horse looks like, said Tiffany. Its what a horse be.

  Oh, said Miss Tick. But because she was a teacher as well as a witch, and probably couldnt help herself, she added, The funny thing is, of course, that officially there is no such thing as a white horse. Theyre called grey. [She had to say that, because she was a witch and a teacher and thats a terrible combination. They want things to be right. They like things to be correct. If you want to upset a witch you dont have to mess around with charms and spells, you just have to put her in a room with a picture thats hung slightly crooked and watch her squirm. ] Yes, I know, said Tiffany. This ones white, she added, flatly. That quietened Miss Tick down, for a while, but she seemed to have something on her mind. I expect youre upset about leaving the Chalk, arent you? she said as the cart rattled on. No, said Tiffany. Its OK to be, said Miss Tick. Thank you, but Im not really, said Tiffany. If you want to have a bit of a cry, you dont have to pretend youve got some grit in your eye or anything- Im all right, actually, said Tiffany. Honestly.

  You see, if you bottle that sort of thing up it can cause terrible damage later on.

  Im not bottling, Miss Tick. In fact, Tiffany was a bit surprised at not crying, but she wasnt going to tell Miss Tick that. She left a sort of space in her head to burst into tears in, but it wasnt filling up. Perhaps it was because shed wrapped up all those feelings and doubts and left them up on the hill by the pot-bellied stove. And if of course you were feeling a bit downcast at the moment, Im sure you could open the present he- Miss Tick tried. Tell me about Miss Level, Tiffany said quickly. The name and address was all she knew about the lady she was going to stay with, but an address like Miss Level, Cottage in the Woods near the dead oak tree in Lost Mans Lane, High Overhang, If Out Leave Letters in Old Boot by Door sounded promising. Miss Level, yes, said Miss Tick, defeated. Er, yes. Shes not really very old but she says shell be happy to have a third pair of hands around the place. You couldnt slip words past Tiffany, not even if you were Miss Tick. So theres someone else there already? she said. Er . . . no. Not exactly, said Miss Tick. Then shes got four arms? said Tiffany. Miss Tick had sounded like someone trying to avoid a subject. Miss Tick sighed. It was difficult to talk to someone who paid attention all the time. It put you off. Its best if you wait until you meet her, she said. Anything I tell you will only give you the wrong idea. Im sure youll get along with her. Shes very good with people, and in her spare time shes a research witch. She keeps bees - and goats, the milk of which, I believe, is very good indeed owing to homogenized fats.

  What does a research witch do? Tiffany asked. Oh, its a very ancient craft. She tries to find new spells by learning how old ones were really done. You know all that stuff about “ear of bat and toe of frog”? They never work, but Miss Level thinks its because we dont know exactly what kind of frog, or which toe-

  Im sorry, but Im not going to help anyone chop up innocent frogs and bats, said Tiffany firmly. Oh, no, she never kills any! said Miss Tick hurriedly. She only uses creatures that have died naturally or been run over or committed suicide. Frogs can get quite depressed at times. The cart rolled on, down the white, dusty road, until it was lost from view. Nothing happened. Skylarks sang, so high up they were invisible. Grass seeds filled the air. Sheep baad, high up on the Chalk. And then something came along the road. It moved like a little slow whirlwind, so it could be seen only by the dust it stirred up. As it went past, it made a noise like a swarm of flies. Then it, too, disappeared down the hill. . . After a while a voice, low down in the long grass, said: Ach, crivensl And its on her trail, right enough! A second voice said: Surely the old hag will spot it?

  Whut? The teachin hag? Shes nae a proper hag!

  Shes got the pointy hat under all them flowers, Big Yan, said the second voice, a bit reproachfully. I seen it. She presses a wee spring an the point comes up!

  Oh, aye, Hamish, an I daresay she does the readin and the writin well enough, but she disnae ken aboot stuff thats no in books. An Im no showin meself while shes aroond. Shes the kind of a body thatd write things doon about a man! Cmon, lets go and find the kelda! The Nac Mac Feegle of the Chalk hated writing for all kinds of reasons, but the biggest one was this: writing stays. It fastens words down. A man can speak his mind and some nasty wee scuggan will write it down and who knows what hell do with those words? Ye might as weel nail a mans shadow tae the wall! But now they had a new kelda, and a new kelda brings new ideas. Thats how its supposed to work. It stopped a clan getting too set in its ways. Kelda Jeannie was from the Long Lake clan, up in the mountains - and they did write things down. She didnt see why her husband shouldnt, either. And Rob Anybody was finding out that Jeannie was definitely a kelda. Sweat was dripping off his forehead. Hed once fought a wolf all by himself, and hed cheerfully do it again with his eyes shut and one hand tied behind him rather than do what he was doing now. He had mastered the first two rules of writing, as he understood them. 1) Steal some paper. 2) Steal a pencil. Unfortunately there was more to it than that. Now he held the stump of pencil in front of him in both hands, and leaned backwards as two of his brothers pushed him towards the piece of paper pinned up on the chamber wall (it was an old bill for sheep bells, stolen from the farm). The rest of the clan watched, in fascinated horror, from the galleries around the walls. Mebbe I could kind o ease my way inta it gently, he protested as his heels left little grooves in the packed-earth floor of the mound. Mebbe I could just do one o they commeras or full stoppies-

  Youre the Big M
an, Rob Anybody, so its fittin ye should be the first tae do the writin, said Jeannie. I canna hae a husband who canna even write his ain name. I showed you the letters, did I not?

  Aye, wumman, the nasty, loopy, bendy things! growled Rob. I dinnae trust that Q, thats a letter that has it in for a man. Thats a letter with a sting, that one!

  You just hold the pencil on the paper and Ill tell ye what marks to make, said Jeannie, folding her arms. Aye, but tis a bushel of trouble, writin, said Rob. A word writ doon can hang a man!

  Wheest, now, stop that! Tis easy! snapped Jeannie. Bigjob babbies can do it, and youre a full growed Feegle!

  An writin even goes on sayin a mans wurds after hes deidV said Rob Anybody, waving the pencil as if trying to ward off evil spirits. Ye cannae tell me thats right!

  Oh, so youre afeared o the letters, is that it? said Jeannie, artfully. Ach, thats fine. All big men fear something. Take the pencil offf him, Wullie. Ye cannae ask a man to face his fears. There was silence in the mound as Daft Wullie nervously took the pencil stub from his brother. Every beady eye was turned to Rob Anybody. His hands opened and shut. He started to breathe heavily, still glaring at the blank paper. He stuck out his chin. Ach, yere a harrrrd wumman, Jeannie Mac Feegle! he said at last. He spat on his hands and snatched back the pencil stub from Daft Wullie. Gimme that tool o perdition! Them letters wont know whuts hit them!

  Theres my brave lad! said Jeannie as Rob squared up to the paper. Right, then. The first letter is an R. Thats the one that looks like a fat man walking, remember? The assembled pictsies watched as Rob Anybody, grunting fiercely and with his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, dragged the pencil through the curves and lines of the letters. He looked at the kelda expectantly after each one. Thats it, she said, at last. A bonny effort! Rob Anybody stood back and looked critically at the paper. Thats it? he said. Aye, said Jeannie. Yeve writ your ain name, Rob Anybody! Rob stared at the letters again. Im gonna go to prisn noo? he said.

  There was a polite cough from beside Jeannie. It had belonged to the Toad. He had no other name, because toads dont go in for names. Despite sinister forces that would have people think differently, no toad has ever been called Tommy the Toad, for example. Its just not something that happens. This toad had once been a lawyer (a human lawyer; toads manage without them) whod been turned into a toad by a fairy godmother whod intended to turn him into a frog but had been a bit hazy on the difference. Now he lived in the Feegle mound, where he ate worms and helped them out with the difficult thinking. Ive told you, Mr Anybody, that just having your name written down is no problem at all, he said. Theres nothing illegal about the words “Rob Anybody”. Unless, of course, and the toad gave a little legal laugh, Its meant as an instruction! None of the Feegles laughed. They liked their humour to be a bit, well, funnier. Rob Anybody stared at his very shaky writing. Thats my name, aye?

 
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