Home > The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(6)

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(6)
Terry Pratchett

‘If you talk like that, McTavish, my father could turn you out,’ Geoffrey warned. ‘And you like it here, don’t you?’

‘Well, lad, you’re right there. I’m too old to be changing my ways now, I reckon,’ McTavish replied. ‘But you stood your ground and no man could do better nor that. I expect thee’ll be leaving us now, Master Geoffrey?’

‘Alas, yes,’ said Geoffrey. ‘But thank you, McTavish. I hope my father doesn’t take it out on you for talking to me.’

And the oldest stable-lad in the world said, ‘He won’t do that, no, never, not while I’m still useful like. Anyways, after all these years, I know him – like one of them volcanee things, he is. Powerful dangerous explosions for a while, and no care for who gets caught by the red-hot boulders spewing every which way, but it still blows out in the end. Smart folks just keep out of sight until it’s over. You’ve been very pleasant and respectful to me, Master Geoffrey. I reckons you take after your mother. A lovely lady, always so good to me and so helpful when my Molly was dying. I remember that. And I’ll remember you too.’

‘Thank you,’ said Geoffrey. ‘And I will remember you.’

McTavish lit up a most enormous pipe and the smoke billowed. ‘I reckon you’ll be wanting to take away that dratted goat of yourn.’

‘Yes,’ said Geoffrey. ‘But I don’t think I have any say in the matter – Mephistopheles will make up his own mind. He usually does.’

McTavish gave him a sideways look. ‘Got any food, Master Geoffrey? Got any money? I reckon you won’t want to go into the house now. I tell you what, I’ll loan thee a bit o’ cash till you finds out where you wants to be.’

‘No!’ said Geoffrey. ‘I can’t possibly!’

‘I’m your friend, Master Geoffrey. Like I said, your mother has been good to me and I owes her a lot. You come back and see her sometime. And when you do that, just make sure you look up old McTavish.’

Geoffrey went to fetch Mephistopheles and hitched him up to the little cart McTavish had made for him. He loaded a few things into the cart, picked up the reins, clicked his tongue and they set off out of the stable yard.

As the goat’s dainty hooves echoed down the drive, McTavish said to himself, ‘How does the boy do it? That hell-goat kicks the arse of everybody who comes here. But not Geoffrey.’

If Geoffrey had looked back, he would have seen his mother’s beseeching look as she sobbed, while his father still stood there like a statue, amazed at such defiance. His brothers made as if to follow, but halted when they saw the rage in their father’s eyes.

And so Geoffrey and his goat went off to find a new life. Now, he thought, as they rounded the first of the drive’s many bends and he rode into his future, I’ve got nowhere to go.

But the wind whispered, ‘Lancre.’

In Lancre, it hadn’t been a good day for Granny Weatherwax. A young lumberjack at work higher up in the Ramtop mountains had nearly severed his own foot. And on a day when the resident Igor was elsewhere so unable to patch him up. When Granny arrived at the camp on her rickety old broomstick she immediately saw that the lad was in an even worse mess than she had expected. He had been doing his best to look brave in front of his mates, who were clustered around him trying to cheer him up, but she could see the pain in his face.

As she examined the damage, he cried out for his mother.

‘You, lad,’ Granny said sharply, turning a piercing look on the nearest of his mates. ‘You know where this lad’s family live?’ And at the boy’s scared nod – a witch’s pointy hat often seemed to make young lads suddenly very scared – she went on, ‘Go then. Run. Tell the lady I’m bringing her son back and she’ll need hot water on and a clean bed. Clean, mind.’ And as the boy raced off, Granny glared at the others standing sheepishly around. ‘You others,’ she said sharply, ‘don’t just stand around. Make a stretcher from some of that there wood lying about so’s I can take your friend there.’

The lad’s foot was all but hanging off and his boot was full of blood. Granny gritted her teeth, and set to with everything in her armoury and all the knowledge accumulated over many years, quietly, gently, taking his pain away from him, drawing it into herself to hold until she could release it.

His face came alive and his eyes sparkled and he started chatting to the witch like an old friend. She cleaned and she stitched, all the while telling the lad what she was doing in a cheerful and calm voice before giving him what she called ‘a little tincture’. To the onlookers it looked like the boy was almost himself again when they brought to her a rather makeshift stretcher and found the lad dreamily telling Granny how to get to his home.

The habitations of the lumberjacks up in the mountains were often no better than sheds and it turned out the boy – a lad by the name of Jack Abbott – and his mother lived in one of these. It was a rickety little hut held together more with dirt than with anything else, and when Granny Weatherwax arrived outside with the stretcher lashed underneath her broomstick, she frowned, wondering how this lad’s injury could possibly be kept clean in such surroundings. The mother ran out to her boy and flapped around as the lad who had run down to her with the news helped Granny carry the stretcher inside and move the boy onto a pallet onto which the mother had heaped blankets to create a bed fit for an invalid.

Granny Weatherwax said quietly to the injured boy, ‘You lie right there and don’t get up.’ And to the distraught mother, who was wringing her hands and making noises about paying something, she said, ‘No payment necessary, mistress – that’s not how we witches work – and I’ll come back to see him in a few days, and if I can’t make it then send for Mrs Ogg. I know boys, and your son’ll want to be up and doing as soon as possible, but mark my words, bed rest is the thing for him now.’

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