Home > The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(10)

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(10)
Terry Pratchett

In Genua, on a royal visit with her husband Verence, Queen Magrat of Lancre, former witch, discovered that even though she might think she had retired from magic, magic had not retired from her. She shuddered as the shock wave was carried across the world like a tsunami, an intimation that things were going to be . . . otherwise.

In Boffo’s Novelty and Joke Emporium in Ankh-Morpork, all the whoopee cushions trumpeted in a doleful harmony; while over in Quirm, Agnes Nitt, both witch and singer, woke with the sinking feeling known to many that she might have made a fool of herself at the previous evening’s first-night party.fn3 It certainly still seemed to be going on behind her eyeballs. Then she suddenly heard her inner Perdita wail . . .

Over in the great city of Ankh-Morpork, at Unseen University, Ponder Stibbons had just finished a lengthy breakfast when he entered the basement of the High Energy Magic Building. He stopped and gaped in amazement. In front of him, Hex was calculating at a speed that Ponder had never seen before. And he hadn’t even entered a question yet! Or pulled the Great Big Lever. The ant tubes that the ants crawled through to make their calculations were blurred with their motion. Was that . . . was that an ant crash by the cogwheel?

Ponder tapped a question into Hex: What do you know that I don’t? Please, Hex.

There was a scuffling in the anthills and the answer spat out: Practically everything.

Ponder rephrased his question more carefully with the requisite number of IF and BEFORE clauses. It was wordy and complicated, a huge ask for a wizard with only one meal in him, and no one else would have understood what Ponder even meant, but after a big hiccough of ants, Hex shot out: We are dealing with the death of Granny Weatherwax.

And then Ponder went to see the Archchancellor, Mustrum Ridcully, who would definitely want to hear this news . . .

In the Oblong Office of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari watched amazed as his Times crossword filled itself in . . .

High above the Ramtops, in the monastery of Oi Dong, the Abbot of the History Monks licked his mystic pencil and made a note of it . . .

The cat called You purred like a kind of feline windmill.

And in the travelling now, Eskarina, a woman who had once been a wizard, held the hand of her son and knew sorrow . . .

But in a world shimmering just the other side of the Disc, a world where dreams could become real – where those who lived there liked to creep through to other worlds and hurt and destroy and steal and poison – an elf lord by the name of Peaseblossom felt a powerful quiver shoot through the air, as a spider might feel a prey land on his web.

He rubbed his hands in glee. A barrier has gone, he whispered to himself. They will be weak . . .

Back on the Chalk the kelda of the Wee Free Men watched her fire flicker and thought, The witch of witches is away to the fair lands.

‘Mind how ye go, Hag o’ hags. Ye’ll be sore missed.’ She sighed then called to her husband, the Big Man of the clan. ‘Rob, I’m afeared for oor big wee hag. She is going to ha’ need of ye. Gae to her, Rob. Take a few of the lads and get ye awa’ to her.’

Jeannie bustled into her chamber to fetch her cauldron. The edges of oor world will nae be as strong, she said to herself. I need to ken what may be comin’ oor way . . .

And far away, in some place unthinkable, a white horse was being unsaddled by a figure with a scythe with, it must be said, some sorrow.

fn1 Granny’s soap was like her advice: strong and sharp and it stung a bit at the time, but it worked.

fn2 A popular idea among the young lads, since they felt that everyone – and ‘everyone’ definitely included the young ladies – should swim without their clothes.

fn3 Though Agnes does have the very handy excuse that if she behaves badly, it might not be Agnes doing the Devil-Amongst-the-Pictsies dance on the table, but her other personality, Perdita, who is much more outgoing and, incidentally, a lot thinner.

CHAPTER 3

An Upside-down World

IN A SMALL cottage in a little hamlet on the rolling fields of the sheep-haunted Chalk, Tiffany Aching had her sleeves rolled up and was sweating just as much as the mother-to-be – a young girl only a few years older than she herself was – who was leaning on her. Tiffany had already helped more than fifty babies into the world, plus lots and lots of lambs, and was generally held to be an expert midwife.

Unfortunately, Miss Milly Standish’s mother and several other women of varying ages, who had all claimed to be relatives and asserted their right to a place in the very small room, thought they were experts themselves and were generously telling Tiffany what she was doing wrong.

Already one or two of them had given her old-fashioned advice, wrong advice and possibly dangerous advice, but Tiffany kept her calm, tried not to shout at anybody and concentrated on dealing with the fact that Milly was having twins. She hoped that people couldn’t hear her teeth grinding.

It was always going to be a difficult birth with two boisterous babies fighting one another to be the first out. But Tiffany was focused on the new lives, and she would not allow Mr Death a place in this room. Another sweating push from the young mother, and first one and then another baby came yelling into the world to be handed to their grandmother and a neighbour.

‘Two lads! How wonderful!’ said Old Mother Standish with a distinct note of satisfaction.

Tiffany wiped her hands, mopped her brow and continued to look after the mother while the crowd cooed over the new arrivals. And then she noticed something. There was another child in that capacious young woman. Yes, a third baby was arriving, hardly noticed because of the battling brothers ahead of it.

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