Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(5)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(5)
Terry Pratchett

But it was too late. The Master of the Revels, in his big floppy hat with lace around the brim, blew his whistle and the cheese rolling, as he put it, commenced—which is a far grander word than “started.” And a man with lace around his hat was never going to use a short word where a long word would do.

Tiffany hardly dared to look. The runners didn’t so much run as roll and skid behind their cheeses. But she could hear the cries that went up when the black cheese not only shot into the lead but occasionally turned round and went back uphill again in order to bang into one of the ordinary innocent cheeses. She could just hear a faint grumbling noise coming from it as it almost shot to the top of the hill.

Cheese runners shouted at it, tried to grab at it, and flailed at it with sticks, but the piratical cheese scythed onward, reaching the bottom again just ahead of the terrible carnage of men and cheeses as they piled up. Then it rolled back up to the top and sat there demurely while still gently vibrating.

At the bottom of the slope, fights were breaking out among the cheese jockeys who were still capable of punching somebody, and since everyone was now watching that, Tiffany took the opportunity to snatch up Horace and shove him into her bag. After all, he was hers. Well, that was to say, she had made him, although something odd must’ve gotten into the mix since Horace was the only cheese that would eat mice and, if you didn’t nail him down, other cheeses as well. No wonder he got on so well with the Nac Mac Feegles,* who had made him an honorary member of the clan. He was their kind of cheese.

Surreptitiously, hoping that no one would notice, Tiffany held the bag up to her mouth and said, “Is this any way to behave? Aren’t you ashamed?” The bag wobbled a little bit, but she knew that the word “shame” was not in Horace’s vocabulary, and neither was anything else. She lowered the bag and moved a little way from the crowd and said, “I know you are here, Rob Anybody.”

There he was, sitting on her shoulder. She could smell him. Despite the fact that they generally had little to do with bathing, except when it rained, the Nac Mac Feegles always smelled something like slightly drunk potatoes. “The kelda wanted me tae find out how ye were biding,” said the Feegle chieftain. “You havena bin tae the mound to see her these past two weeks,” he went on, “and I think she is afeared that a harm may come tae ye, ye are working sae hard an’ all.”

Tiffany groaned, but only to herself. She said, “That is very kind of her. There is always so much to do; surely the kelda knows this. It doesn’t matter what I do, there is always more to be done. There is no end to the wanting. But there is nothing to worry about. I am doing fine. And please don’t take Horace out again in public—you know he gets excited.”

“Well, in point of fact, it says up on that banner over there that this is for the folk of these hills, and we is more than folk. We is folklore! Ye canna argue with the lore! Besides, I wanted tae come and pay my ain respects to the big yin without his breeks. He is a fine big wee laddie and nae mistake.” Rob paused, and then said quietly, “So I can tell her that ye are quite well in yourself, aye?” There was a certain nervousness to him, as if he would have liked to say more but knew it wouldn’t be welcome.

“Rob Anybody, I would be very grateful if you would do just that,” said Tiffany, “because I have a lot of people to bandage, if I’m any judge.”

Rob Anybody, suddenly looking like a man on a thankless errand, frantically said the words he had been told by his wife to say: “The kelda says there’s plenty more fish in the sea, miss!”

And Tiffany stood perfectly still for a moment and then, without looking at Rob, said quietly, “Do thank the kelda for her angling information. I have to get on, if you don’t mind, Rob. Do thank the kelda.”

Most of the crowd was reaching the bottom of the slope by now, to gawk or rescue or possibly attempt some amateur first aid on the groaning cheese runners. For the onlookers, of course, it was just another show; you didn’t often see a satisfying pileup of men and cheeses, and—who knew?—there might be some really interesting casualties.

Tiffany, glad of something to do, did not have to push her way through; the pointy black hat could create a path through a crowd faster than a holy man through a shallow sea. She waved the happy crowd away, with one or two forceful shoves for those of slow uptake. As a matter of fact, as it turned out, the butcher’s bill wasn’t too high this year, with one broken arm, one broken wrist, one broken leg, and an enormous number of bruises, cuts, and rashes being caused by people sliding most of the way down—grass isn’t always your friend. There were several young men clearly in distress as a result, but they were absolutely definite that they were not going to discuss their injuries with a lady, thank you all the same. So she told them to put a cold compress on the afflicted area, wherever it was, when they got home, and watched them walk unsteadily away.

Well, she’d done all right, hadn’t she? She had used her skills in front of the rubbernecking crowd and, according to what she overheard from the old men and women, had performed well enough. Perhaps she imagined that one or two people were embarrassed when an old man with a beard to his waist said with a grin, “A girl who can set bones would have no trouble finding a husband,” but that passed, and with nothing else to do, people started the long climb back up the hill…and then the coach came past, and then, which was worse, it stopped.

It had the coat of arms of the Keepsake family on the side. A young man stepped out. Quite handsome in his way, but also so stiff in his way that you could have ironed sheets on him. This was Roland. He hadn’t gone more than a step when a rather unpleasant voice from inside the coach told him that he should have waited for the footman to open the door for him and to hurry up, because they didn’t have all day.

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