Home > The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(4)

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(4)
Terry Pratchett

He had three sons, which pleased him greatly in that his wife had produced one extra over and above the usual ‘heir and spare’. Lord Swivel liked to be one up on everyone else, even if the one up was only in the form of a son he didn’t overly care for.

Harry, the eldest, didn’t go to school much because he was now dealing with the estate, helping his father and learning who was worth talking to and who wasn’t.

Number two was Hugh, who had suggested to his father that he would like to go into the church. His father had said, ‘Only if it’s the Church of Om, but none of the others. I’m not having no son of mine fooling around with cultic activities!’fn4 Om was handily silent, thereby enabling his priests to interpret his wishes how they chose. Amazingly, Om’s wishes rarely translated into instructions like ‘Feed the poor’ or ‘Help the elderly’ but more along the lines of ‘You need a splendid residence’ or ‘Why not have seven courses for dinner?’ So Lord Swivel felt that a clergyman in the family could in fact be useful.

His third son was Geoffrey. And nobody quite knew what to make of Geoffrey. Not least, Geoffrey himself.

The tutor Lord Swivel employed for his boys was named Mr Wiggall. Geoffrey’s older brothers called him ‘Wiggler’, sometimes even to his face. But for Geoffrey Mr Wiggall was a godsend. The tutor had arrived with a huge crate of his own books, only too aware that some great houses barely had a single book in them, unless the books were about battles of the past in which a member of the family had been spectacularly and stupidly heroic. Mr Wiggall and his wonderful books taught Geoffrey about the great philosophers Ly Tin Weedle, Orinjcrates, Xeno and Ibid, and the celebrated inventors Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos and Leonard of Quirm, and Geoffrey started to discover what he might make of himself.

When they weren’t reading and studying, Mr Wiggall took Geoffrey to dig up things – old bones and old places – around the Shires, and told him about the universe, which he previously had not thought about. The more he learned the more he thirsted for knowledge and longed to know all about the Great Turtle A’Tuin, and the lands beyond the Shires.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said to his tutor one day. ‘How did you become a teacher?’

Mr Wiggall laughed and said, ‘Someone taught me, that’s how it goes. And he gave me a book, and after that I would read any book that I could find. Just like you do, young sir. I see you reading all the time, not just in lessons.’

Geoffrey knew that his father sneered at the teacher, but his mother had intervened, saying that Geoffrey had a star in his hand.

His father scoffed at that. ‘All he’s got in his hand is mud, and dead people, and who cares where Fourecks is? No one ever goes there!’fn5

His mother looked tired, but took his side, saying, ‘He’s very good at reading and Mr Wiggall has taught him three languages. He can even speak a bit of Offleran!’

Again his father sneered. ‘Only handy if he wants to be a dentist! Ha, why waste time on learning languages. After all, everyone speaks Ankh-Morpork these days.’

But Geoffrey’s mother said to him, ‘You read, my boy. Reading is the way up. Knowledge is the key to everything.’

Shortly afterwards, the tutor was sent away by Lord Swivel, who said, ‘Too much nonsense around here. It’s not as if the boy will amount to much. Not like his brothers.’

The walls of the manor could pick up voices a long way away and Geoffrey had heard that and thought, Well, whatever I do choose to become, I am not going to be like my father!

With his tutor gone, Geoffrey wandered about the place, learning new things, hanging around a lot with McTavish, the stable-lad who was as old as the hills but somehow still was known as a ‘lad’. He knew all the bird songs in the world and could imitate them too.

And McTavish was there when Geoffrey found Mephistopheles. One of the old nanny goats had given birth, and while she had two healthy kids, there was a third kid hidden in the straw, a little runt which its mother had rejected.

‘I’m going to try and save this little goat,’ Geoffrey declared. And he spent all night labouring to keep the newborn alive, squeezing milk from its mother and letting the little kid lick it off his finger until it slept peacefully beside him in a broken-up bale of hay, which kept them both warm.

He is such a small thing, Geoffrey thought, looking into the kid’s letterbox eyes. I must give him a chance.

And the kid responded, and grew into a strong young goat with a devilish kick. He would follow Geoffrey everywhere, and lower his head and prepare to charge anyone he thought threatened his young master. Since this often meant anyone within reach, many a servant or visitor found themselves skipping rather smartly out of the way when faced with the goat’s lowered horns.

‘Why did thee call that hell-goat Mephistopheles?’ asked McTavish one day.

‘I read it in a book.fn6 You can tell it is a very good name for a goat,’ Geoffrey replied.

Geoffrey grew older, turning from a little boy into a young lad and then a bigger lad, wisely catching his father’s eye only occasionally.

Then one day McTavish saddled a horse for him and they rode over to the fields at the edge of Lord Swivel’s estate and crept quietly to a fox’s earth in the woods. There, as they had done many times before, they watched the vixen play with her cubs.

‘Nice to see ’un like so,’ whispered McTavish. ‘A fox mun eat and feed yon cubs. But they has too much of a taste for me chickens for my liking. They kill things as matter to us, an’ so we kill them. ’Tis the way of the world.’

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