Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(11)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(11)
Terry Pratchett

Daft Wullie looked down at his feet. “Sorry, Rob. I couldna find a duck just noo.”

The head man of the Feegles glanced down at the girl on the floor, sleeping gently under her blanket, and suddenly everything was serious.

“If we had been here when that leathering was happening, it would have been a bad day for him, I’ll tell ye,” said Rob Anybody.

“Just as well that you weren’t here then,” said Tiffany. “You don’t want to find people coming up to your mound with shovels, do you? You keep away from bigjobs, you hear me? You make them nervous. When people get nervous, they get angry. But since you’re here, you can make yourselves useful. I want to get this poor girl up to the mound.”

“Aye, we know,” said Rob. “Was it not the kelda herself who was sending us down here to find you?”

“She knew about this? Jeannie knew about this?”

“I dinna ken,” said Rob nervously. He always got nervous when talking about his wife, Tiffany knew. He loved her to distraction, and the thought of her even frowning in his direction turned his knees to jelly. The life of all the other Feegles was generally about fighting, stealing, and boozing, with a few extra bits like getting food, which they mostly stole, and doing the laundry, which they mostly did not do. As the kelda’s husband, Rob Anybody had to do the Explaining as well, and that was never an easy job for a Feegle. “Jeannie has the kenning o’ things, ye ken,” he said, not looking directly at Tiffany. She felt sorry for him then; it must be better to be between a rock and a hard place than to be between a kelda and a hag, she thought.

CHAPTER THREE

Those Who Stir in Their Sleep

The moon was well up and turned the world into a sharpedged jigsaw of black and silver as Tiffany and the Feegles headed up onto the downs. The Nac Mac Feegles could move in absolute silence when they wanted to; Tiffany had been carried by them herself, and it was always a gentle ride, and really quite pleasant, especially if they had had a bath in the last month or so.

Every shepherd on the hills must have seen the Feegle mound at some time or other. No one ever talked about it. Some things were best left unspoken, such as the fact that the loss of lambs on the down where the Feegles lived was much less than it was in more distant parts of the Chalk, but on the other hand a few sheep would disappear; they would be the weak lambs or the very old ewes (Feegles liked old strong mutton, the kind that you could chew for hours)—the flocks were guarded, and guards took their pay. Besides, the mound was very close to all that remained of Granny Aching’s shepherding hut, and that was almost holy ground.

Tiffany could smell the smoke leaking up through the thornbushes as they got nearer. Well, at least it was a blessing that she would not have to slide down the hole to get into the mound; that sort of thing was all very well when you were nine, but when you were nearly sixteen it was undignified, the ruination of a good dress, and, although she would not admit this, far too tight for comfort.

But Jeannie, the kelda, had been making changes. There was an old chalk pit quite close to the mound, reached by a passageway underground. The kelda had got the boys working on this with bits of corrugated iron and tarpaulin that they had “found” in that very distinctive way they had of “finding” things. It still looked like a typical upland chalk pit, because brambles and Climbing Henry and Twirling Betty vines had been trained over it so that barely a mouse would be able to find its way inside. Water could get in, though, dripping along the iron and filling barrels down below; there was a much larger space now for cooking, and even enough room for Tiffany to climb down if she remembered to shout out her name first, when hidden hands pulled strings and opened the way through the impassable brambles as if by magic. The kelda had her own private bathroom down there; the Feegles themselves took a bath only when something reminded them, such as an eclipse of the moon.

Amber was whisked down the hole and Tiffany waited impatiently close to the right spot in the bramble forest until the thorns magically “moved aside.”

Jeannie, the kelda, almost as round as a football, was waiting for her, a baby under each arm.

“I am very pleased to see you, Tiffany,” she said, and for some reason that sounded odd and out of place. “I have told the boys tae go and let off steam outside,” the kelda went on. “This is women’s work, and not a pretty errand at that, I’m sure ye will agree. They have laid her down by the fire, and I have started to put the soothings on her. I do think she will bide fine, but it was a good job that ye have done this night. Your famous Mistress Weatherwax her own self could not have done a better job.”

“She taught me to take away pain,” said Tiffany.

“Ye dinna say?” said the kelda, giving Tiffany a strange look. “I hope ye never have occasion to regret the day she did ye that…kindness.”

At this point several Feegles appeared down the tunnel that led into the main mound. They looked uneasily from their kelda to their hag, and a very reluctant spokesfeegle said, “Not to be barging in or anything, ladies, but we was cooking up a wee latenight snack, and Rob said tae ask if the big wee hag would like a wee tasty?”

Tiffany sniffed. There was a definite scent in the air, and it was the kind of scent you get when you have sheep meat in close conjunction with, for example, a roasting pan. All right, she thought, we know they do it, but they might have the good manners not to do it in front of me!

The spokesfeegle must have realized this because, while wringing the edge of his kilt madly with both hands, as a Feegle generally did when he was telling an enormous lie, he added, “Weel, I think I did hear that maybe a piece of sheep kind of accidentally fell intae the pan when it was cooking and we tried to drag it oot but—well, ye ken what sheep is like—it panicked and fought back.” At this point the speaker’s obvious relief at being able to cobble some kind of excuse together led him to attempt greater heights of fiction, and he went on: “It is my thinking that it must have been suicidal owing to having nothing to do all day but eat grass.”

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