Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(2)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(2)
Terry Pratchett

He—and he was quite definitely a he, there was no possible doubt about that—had been carved out of the turf thousands of years before. A white outline against the green, he belonged to the days when people had to think about survival and fertility in a dangerous world.

Oh, and he had also been carved, or so it would appear, before anyone had invented trousers. In fact, to say that he had no trousers on just didn’t do the job. His lack of trousers filled the world. You simply could not stroll down the little road that passed along the bottom of the hills without noticing that there was an enormous, as it were, lack of something—e.g., trousers—and what was there instead. It was definitely a figure of a man without trousers, and certainly not a woman.

Everyone who came to the scouring was expected to bring a small shovel, or even a knife, and work their way down the steep slope to grub up all the weeds that had grown there over the previous year, making the chalk underneath glow with freshness and the giant stand out boldly, as if he didn’t already.

There was always a lot of giggling when the girls worked on the giant.

And the reason for the giggling, and the circumstances of the giggling, couldn’t help but put Tiffany in mind of Nanny Ogg, who you normally saw somewhere behind Granny Weatherwax with a big grin on her face. She was generally thought of as a jolly old soul, but there was a lot more to the old woman. She had never been Tiffany’s teacher officially, but Tiffany couldn’t help learning things from Nanny Ogg. She smiled to herself when she thought that. Nanny knew all the old, dark stuff—old magic, magic that didn’t need witches, magic that was built into people and the landscape. It concerned things like death, and marriage, and betrothals. And promises that were promises even if there was no one to hear them. And all those things that make people touch wood and never, ever walk under a black cat.

You didn’t need to be a witch to understand it. The world around you became more—well, more real and fluid, at those special times. Nanny Ogg called it “numinous”—an uncharacteristically solemn word from a woman who was much more likely to be saying, “I would like a brandy, thank you very much, and could you make it a double while you are about it.” And she had told Tiffany about the old days, when it seemed that witches had a bit more fun. The things that you did around the changing of the seasons, for example; all the customs that were now dead except in folk memory, which, Nanny Ogg said, is deep and dark and breathing and never fades. Little rituals.

Tiffany especially liked the one about fire. Tiffany liked fire. It was her favorite element. It was considered so potent, and so scary to the powers of darkness, that people would even get married by jumping over a fire together.* Apparently it helped if you said a little chant, according to Nanny Ogg, who lost no time in telling Tiffany the words, which immediately stuck in Tiffany’s mind; a lot of what Nanny Ogg told you tended to be sticky.

But those were times gone by. Everybody was more respectable now, apart from Nanny Ogg and the giant.

There were other carvings on the chalk lands, too. One of them was a white horse that Tiffany thought had once broken its way out of the ground and galloped to her rescue. Now she wondered what would happen if the giant did the same thing, because it would be very hard to find a pair of pants sixty feet long in a hurry. And on the whole, you’d want to hurry.

She’d only ever giggled about the giant once, and that had been a very long time ago. There were really only four types of people in the world: men and women and wizards and witches. Wizards mostly lived in universities down in the big cities and weren’t allowed to get married, although the reason why not totally escaped Tiffany. Anyway, you hardly ever saw them around here.

Witches were definitely women, but most of the older ones Tiffany knew hadn’t gotten married either, largely because Nanny Ogg had already used up all the eligible husbands, but also probably because they didn’t have time. Of course, every now and then, a witch might marry a grand husband, like Magrat Garlick of Lancre had done, although by all accounts she only did herbs these days. But the only young witch Tiffany knew who had even had time for courting was her best friend up in the mountains: Petulia, a witch who was now specializing in pig magic and was soon going to marry a nice young man who was shortly going to inherit his father’s pig farm,* which meant he was practically an aristocrat.

But witches were not only very busy, they were also apart; Tiffany had learned that early on. You were among people, but not the same as them. There was always a kind of distance or separation. You didn’t have to work at it—it happened anyway. Girls she had known when they were all so young they used to run about and play with only their undershirts on would make a tiny little curtsy to her when she passed them in the lane, and even elderly men would touch their forelock, or probably what they thought was their forelock, as she passed.

This wasn’t just because of respect, but because of a kind of fear as well. Witches had secrets; they were there to help when babies were being born. When you got married, it was a good idea to have a witch standing by (even if you weren’t sure if it was for good luck or to prevent bad luck), and when you died there would be a witch there too, to show you the way. Witches had secrets they never told…well, not to people who weren’t witches. Among themselves, when they could get together on some hillside for a drink or two (or in the case of Mrs. Ogg, a drink or nine), they gossiped like geese.

But never about the real secrets, the ones you never told, about things done and heard and seen. So many secrets that you were afraid they might leak. Seeing a giant without his trousers was hardly worth commenting on compared to some of the things that a witch might see.

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