Home > The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(5)

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(5)
Terry Pratchett

‘It shouldn’t be,’ said Geoffrey, sorrow in his voice as his heart went out to the vixen.

‘But we needs the hens and mun protect ’em. That’s why we hunts foxes,’ said McTavish. ‘I brings you here today, Geoffrey, for the time is coming when your father will want you to join the hunt. Of yon vixen mebbe.’

‘I understand,’ Geoffrey said. He knew about the hunt, of course, as he had been made to watch them ride out every year since he was a baby. ‘We must protect our hens, and the world can be cruel and merciless. But making a game of it is not right. That’s terrible! It’s just execution. Must we kill everything? Kill a mother who is feeding her cubs? We take so much and we give back nothing.’ He rose to his feet and went back to his horse. ‘I do not want to hunt, McTavish. My word, I do not like to hate – I don’t even hate my father – but the hunt I would like to see put in a dark place.’

McTavish looked worried. ‘I think thee needs to be careful, young Geoffrey. You knows what your father is like. He’s a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.’

‘My father is not a stick-in-the-mud; he is the mud!’ Geoffrey said bitterly.

‘Well then, if you tries talking to him – or your mother – mebbe he might understand that you are not ready to join the hunt?’

‘No point,’ said Geoffrey. ‘When he has made up his mind, you cannot get through to him. I hear my mother crying sometimes – she doesn’t like to be seen crying, but I know she cries.’

Then it was, as he looked up to watch a hawk hovering, that he thought to himself: There is freedom. Freedom is what I want.

‘I would like to fly, McTavish,’ he said, adding, ‘Like the birds. Like Langas.’fn7

And almost immediately, he saw a witch flying overhead on a stick, following the hawk, and he pointed up and said, ‘I want one of those. I want to be a witch.’

But the old man said, ‘It’s not for thee, boy. Everybody knows men can’t be witches.’

‘Why not?’ asked Geoffrey.

The old man shrugged and said, ‘Nobody knows.’

And Geoffrey said, ‘I want to know.’

On the day of Geoffrey’s first hunt he trotted out with the rest, pale-faced but determined, and thought, This is the day I must try to stand up for myself.

Soon the local gentry were galloping across the countryside, some taking it to the extreme by careering into ditches, through hedges or over gates, often minus their mounts, while Geoffrey carefully held his position well to the back of the throng, until he could slip away unnoticed. He circled the woods in the opposite direction to the hunt, his heart aching, especially when the baying of the hounds turned to joyous yelps as the prey was brought down.

Then it was time to return to the house. There, everyone was at that happy stage of a hunt where ‘tomorrow’ is a word that still means something and you have a mug of hot beverage that is liberally laced with something not too dissimilar to Tiffany’s grandmother’s Special Sheep Liniment. A reward for the returning heroes! They had survived the hunt. Huzzah! They swigged and swilled and the drink ran over their non-existent chins.

But Lord Swivel looked at Geoffrey’s horse – the only animal not to be lathered in sweat with its legs besplattered in mud – and his wrath was unquenchable.

Geoffrey’s brothers held him while his mother looked on imploringly, but to no avail. She averted her face as Lord Swivel smeared vixen’s blood on Geoffrey’s face.

His lordship was almost incandescent in his rage. ‘Where were you? You should have been there at the kill!’ he roared. ‘You will do this, young man – and like it! I had to do it when I was young, and so did my father before me. And so will you. It is a tradition. Do you understand? Every male member of our family has been blooded at your age. Who are you to say it’s wrong? I’m ashamed of you!’

There it came, the swish of the crop, across Geoffrey’s back.

Geoffrey, his face dripping with the vixen’s blood, looked to his mother. ‘She was a beautiful thing! Why kill her in such a way? For fun?’

‘Please don’t upset your father,’ his mother pleaded.

‘I see them in the woods, and you just hunt them. Can you eat them? No. We – the unspeakable – chase and kill what we cannot eat, just for the blood. For fun.’


It hurt. But Geoffrey was suddenly full of . . . what? All at once he had the amazing feeling that things could be made right, and he told himself, I could do it. I know I can. He drew himself up to his full height and shook himself free of his brothers’ grasp.

‘I must thank you, Father,’ he said with unexpected vigour. ‘I have learned something important today. But I won’t let you hit me again – never – and nor will you see me again unless you can change. Do you understand me?’ His tone was oddly formal now, as if befitting the occasion.

Harry and Hugh looked at Geoffrey with a kind of awe and waited for the explosion, while the rest of the hunt, which had given Lord Swivel space in which to deal with his son, stopped pretending that they weren’t watching. The world of the hunt was out of kilter, the air frozen but somehow contriving also to seem to hold its breath.

In the charged silence, Geoffrey led his horse off to the stables, leaving Lord Swivel standing there like a stone.

He gave the horse some hay, took off its saddle and bridle, and was rubbing the beast down when McTavish walked up to him and said, ‘Well done, young Geoffrey.’ Then, surprisingly outspoken, the stable-lad added under his breath, ‘You stood up for yourself, right enough. Don’t let that bastard grind thee down.’

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