Home > The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(11)

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(11)
Terry Pratchett

Just then, Tiffany looked down and in a slight greenish-yellow haze saw a cat, pure white and as aloof as a duchess, staring at her. It was Granny Weatherwax’s cat, You – Tiffany knew the cat well, having given her to Granny Weatherwax herself only a few years ago. To her horror one of the older ladies went to shoo You away. Tiffany almost screamed.

‘Ladies, that cat belongs to Granny Weatherwax,’ she said sharply. ‘It might not be a good idea to make a very senior witch angry.’

Suddenly the gaggle backed away. Even here on the Chalk, the name of Mistress Weatherwax worked a treat. Her reputation had spread far and wide, further and wider than Granny Weatherwax had been in the habit of travelling herself – the dwarfs over in Sto Plains even had a name for her that translated as ‘Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain’.

But Tiffany, sweating again, wondered why Granny’s cat was here. Usually You would be hanging around Granny Weatherwax’s cottage back in Lancre, not all the way down here on the Chalk. Witches saw omens everywhere, of course. So was it some kind of omen? Something to do with what Jeannie had said? Not for the first time, she wondered how it was that cats seemed to be able to be in one place one moment, and then almost at the same time, reappear somewhere else.fn1

There was a cry of pain from the young mother and Tiffany gritted her teeth and turned her attention back to the job in hand. Witches do the task that is in front of them and what was in front of her right at that moment was a struggling young mother and another small head.

‘One big push, Milly, please. You’re having triplets.’

Milly groaned.

‘Another one. A small one,’ said Tiffany cheerfully, as a girl child arrived, unscathed, quite pretty for a newborn and small. She handed the baby girl to another relative, and then reality was back again.

As Tiffany began clearing up, she noticed – because noticing was the ground state of her being as a witch – that there was a lot more cooing over the two boys than there was for their sister. It was always good to recognize those things and put them away and keep them in mind, so that a little trouble wouldn’t, one day, become a larger trouble.

The ladies had produced the family groaning chair for Milly, so that she could sit in state to receive the congratulations of the throng. They were also busy congratulating each other, nodding sagely about the advice given which had, clearly, been the right advice since here was the evidence. Two strapping boys! Oh, and a little girl.

Bottles were opened, and a child was fetched and told to go across the fields to find Dad, who was working on the barley with his dad. Mum was beaming, especially since young Milly was very soon to be Mrs Robinson, because Mum had put her foot down very, very hard about that and made certain that young Mister Robinson was definitely going to do his duty by her girl. There hadn’t been a problem about this; this was the country after all, where boy would meet girl, as Milly had met her beau at Hogswatch, and nature would eventually take its course, right up until the moment when the girl’s mother would notice the bump. She would then tell her husband and her husband, over a convivial pint of beer, would have a word with the boy’s father, who would then talk to the boy. And usually it worked.

Tiffany went over to the old lady holding the little girl. ‘Can I see her for just a moment, please, just to see if she’s, you know, if she’s all right?’

The rather toothless old crone handed over the little girl with alacrity. After all, she knew that Tiffany, apart from being a midwife, was a witch, and you never knew what a witch might do if you got on the wrong side of one. And when the old granny went to get her share of the drink, Tiffany took the child in her arms and whispered a promise to her in a voice so low that no one could have heard. This little girl would clearly need some luck in her life. And with luck, now, she would get some. She took her back to her mother, who didn’t seem very impressed with her.

By now, Tiffany noticed, the little boys had names, but the girl didn’t. Worried about this, Tiffany said, ‘What about your girl? Can’t she have a name?’

The mother looked over. ‘Name her after yourself. Tiffany is a nice name.’

Tiffany was flattered, but it didn’t take the worry away about baby Tiffany. Those big, strapping boys were going to get most of the milk, she thought. But not if she could do something about it, and so she decided that this particular family was going to be visited almost every week for a time.

Then there was nothing for it, but to say, ‘Everything looks fine, you know where to find me, I’ll pop in and see you next week. And if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I have other people to see.’

She kept on smiling, right up to the time when she came out of the cottage, picked up her broomstick and the white cat leaped onto the handle of it like a figurehead. The world is changing, Tiffany thought – I can feel it.

Suddenly she caught a flash of the red that showed a Feegle or two lurking behind a milk churn. Tiffany had, if only for a few days, once been the kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle, and this created a bond between them that could never be broken. And they were always there – always, watching over her, making sure no harm came to their big wee hag.

But there was something different today. This lurking was somehow not like their usual lurking, and . . .

‘Oh, waily waily,’ came a voice. It was Daft Wullie, a Feegle who had been somewhere else when the brains of a Feegle – small enough to begin with – had been handed out. He was shut up suddenly with a ‘whmpf’ as Rob slapped a hand over his mouth.

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