A hat full of sky, p.5
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.5
 

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 5

 

  slid and jumped from string to string- The egg burst. The coach rolled in. It arrived dragging the world behind it, in a cloud of dust and noise and hooves. It blotted out the sun. Doors opened. Harness jingled. Horses steamed. The spaniel sat up and wagged its tail hopefully. The pressure went - no, it fled. Beside Tiffany, Miss Tick pulled out a handkerchief and started to wipe egg off her dress. The rest of the shamble had disappeared into a pocket with remarkable speed. She smiled at Tiffany, and kept the smile as she spoke, making herself look slightly mad. Dont get up, dont do anything, just be as quiet as a little mouse, she said. Tiffany felt in no state to do anything but sit still; she felt like you feel when you wake up after a nightmare. The richer passengers got out of the coach, and the poorer ones climbed down from the roof. Grumbling and stamping their feet, trailing road dust behind them, they disappeared. Now, said Miss Tick, when the inn door had swung shut, were . . . were going to go for a - a stroll. See that little wood up there? Thats where were heading. And when Mr Crabber the carter sees your father tomorrow hell say he - he dropped you off here just before the coach arrived and - and - and everyone will be happy and no one will have lied. Thats important.

  Miss Tick? said Tiffany, picking up the suitcase. Yes?

  What happened just now?

  I dont know, said the witch. Do you feel all right?

  Er . . . yes. Youve got some yolk on your hat. And youre very nervous, Tiffany thought. That was the most worrying part. Im sorry about your dress, she added. Its seen a lot worse, said Miss Tick. Lets go.

  Miss Tick? said Tiffany again as they trudged away. Er, yes?

  You are very nervous, said Tiffany. If you told me why, that means theres two of us, which is only half the nervousness each. Miss Tick sighed. It was probably nothing, she said. Miss Tick, the egg exploded!

  Yes. Um. A shamble, you see, can be used as a simple magic detector and amplifier. Its actually very crude, but its always useful to make one in times of distress and confusion. I think I . . . probably didnt make it right. And sometimes you do get big dis- charges of random magic

  You made it because you were worried, said Tiffany. Worried? Certainly not. I am never worried! snapped Miss Tick. However, since you raise the subject, I was concerned. Something was making me uneasy. Something close, I think. It was probably nothing. In fact I feel a lot better now were leaving.

  But you dont look it, Tiffany thought. And I was wrong. Two people means twice as much nervousness each. But she was sure there was nothing magical about Twoshirts. It was just a bend in the road. Twenty minutes later the passengers came out to get into the coach. The coachman did notice that the horses were sweating, and wondered why he could hear a swarm of flies when there were no flies to be seen. The dog that had been lying in the road was found later cowering in one of the inns stables, whimpering. The wood was about half an hours walk away, with Miss Tick and Tiffany taking turns to carry the suitcase. It was nothing special, as woods go, being mostly full-grown beech, although once you know that beech drips unpleasant poisons on the ground beneath it to keep it clear its not quite the timber you thought it was. They sat on a log and waited for sunset. Miss Tick told Tiffany about shambles. Theyre not magical then? said Tiffany. No. Theyre something to be magical through.

  You mean like spectacles help you see but dont see for you?

  Thats right, well done! Is a telescope magical? Certainly not. Its just glass in a tube, but with one you could count the dragons on the moon. And . . . well, have you ever used a bow? No, probably not. But a shamble can act like a bow, too. A bow stores up muscle power as the archer draws it, and sends a heavy arrow much further than the archer could actually throw it. You can make one out of anything, so long as it. . . looks right.

  And then you can tell if magic is happening?

  Yes, if thats what youre looking for. When youre good at it you can use it to help you do magic yourself, to really focus on what you have to do. You can use it for protection, like a curse-net, or to send a spell, or . . . well, its like those expensive penknives, you know? The ones with the tiny saw and the scissors and the toothpick? Except that I dont think any witch has ever used a shamble as a toothpick, ha ha. All young witches should learn how to make a shamble. Miss Level will help you. Tiffany looked around the wood. The shadows were growing longer, but they didnt worry her. Bits of Miss Ticks teachings floated through her head: Always face what you fear. Have just enough money, never too much, and some string. Even if its not your fault its your responsibility. Witches deal with things. Never stand between two mirrors. Never cackle. Do what you must do. Never lie, but you dont always have to be honest. Never wish. Especially dont wish upon a star, which is astronomically stupid. Open your eyes, and then open your eyes again. Miss Level has got long grey hair, has she? she said. Oh, yes.

  And shes quite a tall lady, just a bit fat, and she wears quite a lot of necklaces, Tiffany went on. And glasses on a chain. And surprisingly high-heeled boots. Miss Tick wasnt a fool. She looked around the clearing. Where is she? she said. Standing by the tree over there, said Tiffany.

  Even so, Miss Tick had to squint. What Tiffany had noticed was that witches filled space. In a way that was almost impossible to describe, they seemed to be more real than others around them. They just showed up more. But if they didnt want to be seen, they became amazingly hard to notice. They didnt hide, they didnt magically fade away, although it might seem like that, but if you had to describe the room afterwards youd swear there hadnt been a witch in it. They just seemed to let themselves get lost. Ah yes, well done, said Miss Tick. I was wondering when youd notice. Ha! thought Tiffany. Miss Level got realer as she walked towards them. She was all in black, but clattered slightly as she walked because of all the black jewellery she wore, and she did have glasses, too, which struck Tiffany as odd for a witch. Miss Level reminded Tiffany of a happy hen. And she had two arms, the normal number. Ah, Miss Tick, she said. And you must be Tiffany Aching. Tiffany knew enough to bow; witches dont curtsy (unless they want to embarrass Roland). Id just like to have a word with Miss Level, Tiffany, if you dont mind, said Miss Tick, meaningfully. Senior witch business. Ha! thought Tiffany again, because she liked the sound of it. Ill just go and have a look at a tree then, shall I? she said with what she hoped was withering sarcasm. 1 should use the bushes if I was you, dear, Miss Level called after her. I dont like stopping once were airborne. There were some holly bushes that made a decent screen, but after being talked to as though she were ten years old Tiffany would rather have allowed her bladder to explode. I beat the Queen of the Fairies! she thought as she wandered into the wood. All right, Im not sure how, because its all like a dream now, but I did do it! She was angry at being sent away like that. A little respect wouldnt hurt, would it? Thats what the old witch Mistress Weatherwax had said, wasnt it? I show you respect, as you in turn will respect me. Mistress Weatherwax, the witch who all the other witches secretly wanted to be like, had showed her respect, so youd think the others could make a bit of effort in that department. She said: See me. . . . and stepped out of herself and walked away towards Miss Tick and Miss Level, in her invisible ghost body. She didnt dare look down, in case she saw her feet werent there. When she turned and looked back at her solid body, she saw it standing demurely by the holly bushes, clearly too far away to be listening to anyones conversation. As Tiffany stealthily drew nearer she heard Miss Tick say: - but quite frighteningly precocious.

  Oh dear. Ive never got on very well with clever people, said Miss Level. Oh, shes a good child at heart, said Miss Tick, which annoyed Tiffany rather more than frighteningly precocious had. Of course, you know my situation, said Miss Level as the invisible Tiffany inched closer.

  Yes, Miss Level, but your work does you great credit. Thats why Mistress Weatherwax suggested you.

  But I am afraid Im getting a bit absent-minded, Miss Level worried. It was terrible flying down here, because like a big silly I left my long-distance spectacles o
n my other nose. . . Her other nose? thought Tiffany. Both witches froze, at exactly the same time. Im without an egg! said Miss Tick. I have a beetle in a matchbox against just such an emergency! squeaked Miss Level. Their hands flew to their pockets and pulled out string and feathers and bits of coloured cloth- They know Im here! thought Tiffany, and whispered, See me not! She blinked and rocked on her heels as she arrived back in the patient little figure by the holly bushes. In the distance, Miss Level was frantically making a shamble and Miss Tick was staring around the wood. Tiffany, come here at once! she shouted. Yes, Miss Tick, said Tiffany, trotting forward like a good girl. They spotted me somehow, she thought. Well, they are witches, after all, even if in my opinion theyre not very good ones- Then the pressure came. It seemed to squash the wood flat and filled it with the horrible feeling that something is standing right behind you. Tiffany sank to her knees with her hands over her ears and a pain like the worst earache squeezing her head. Finished! shouted Miss Level. She held up a shamble. It was quite different from Miss Ticks, and made up of string and crow feathers and glittery black beads and, in the middle, an ordinary matchbox. Tiffany yelled. The pain was like red-hot needles and her ears filled with the buzz of flies. The matchbox exploded. And then there was silence, and birdsong, and nothing to show that anything had happened apart from a few pieces of matchbox spiralling down, along with an iridescent fragment of wing case. Oh dear, said Miss Level. He was quite a good beetle, as beetles go . . . “Tiffany, are you all right? said Miss Tick. Tiffany blinked. The pain had gone as fast as it had arrived, leaving only a burning memory. She scrambled to her feet. I think so, Miss Tick! Then a word, if you please! said Miss Tick, marching over to a tree and standing there looking stern. Yes, Miss Tick? said Tiffany. Did you . . . do anything? said Miss Tick. You havent been summoning things, have you?

  No! Anyway, I dont know how to! said Tiffany. Its not your little men then, is it? said Miss Tick doubtfully. Theyre not mine, Miss Tick. And they dont do that sort of thing. They just shout ”Crivens!" and then start kicking people on the ankle. You definitely know its them.

  Well, whatever it was, it seems to have gone, said Miss Level. And we should go,

  too, otherwise well be flying all night. She reached behind another tree and picked up a bundle of firewood. At least, it looked exactly like that, because it was supposed to. My own invention, she said, modestly. One never knows down here on the plains, does one? And the handle shoots out by means of this button- Oh, Im so sorry, it sometimes does that. Did anyone see where it went? The handle was located in a bush, and screwed back in. Tiffany, a girl who listened to what people said, watched Miss Level closely. She definitely had only one nose on her face, and it was sort of uncomfortable to imagine where anyone might have another one and what theyd use it for. Then Miss Level pulled some rope out of her pocket and passed it to someone who wasnt there. Thats what she did, Tiffany was sure. She didnt drop it, she didnt throw it, she just held it out and let go, as though shed thought she was hanging it on an invisible hook. It landed in a coil on the moss. Miss Level looked down, then saw Tiffany staring at her and laughed nervously. Silly me, she said. I thought I was over there! Ill forget my own head next!

 
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