Home > The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(9)

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41)(9)
Terry Pratchett

ESMERELDA WEATHERWAX, WE HAVE MET SO MANY TIMES BEFORE NOW, HAVEN’T WE?

‘Too many to count, Mister Reaper. Well, you’ve finally got me, you old bugger. I’ve had my season, no doubt about it, and I was never one for pushing myself forward, or complaining.’

I HAVE WATCHED YOUR PROGRESS WITH INTEREST, ESMERELDA WEATHERWAX, said the voice in the dark. He was firm, but oh so polite. But now there was a question in his voice. PRAY TELL ME, WHY WERE YOU CONTENT TO LIVE IN THIS TINY LITTLE COUNTRY WHEN, AS YOU KNOW, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN ANYTHING AND ANYBODY IN THE WORLD?

‘I don’t know about the world, not much; but in my part of the world I could make little miracles for ordinary people,’ Granny replied sharply. ‘And I never wanted the world – just a part of it, a small part which I could keep safe, which I could keep away from storms. Not the ones of the sky, you understand: there are other kinds.’

AND WOULD YOU SAY YOUR LIFE BENEFITED THE PEOPLE OF LANCRE AND ENVIRONS?

After a minute the soul of Granny Weatherwax said, ‘Well, not boasting, your willingness, I think I have done right, for Lancre at least. I’ve never been to Environs.’

MISTRESS WEATHERWAX, THE WORD ‘ENVIRONS’ MEANS, WELL, THEREABOUTS.

‘All right,’ said Granny. ‘I did get about, to be sure.’

A VERY GOOD LIFE LIVED INDEED, ESMERELDA.

‘Thank you,’ said Granny. ‘I did my best.’

MORE THAN YOUR BEST, said Death. AND I LOOK FORWARD TO WATCHING YOUR CHOSEN SUCCESSOR. WE HAVE MET BEFORE.

‘She’s a good witch, to be sure,’ said the shade of Granny Weatherwax. ‘I have no doubts whatsoever.’

YOU ARE TAKING THIS VERY WELL, ESME WEATHERWAX.

‘It’s an inconvenience, true enough, and I don’t like it at all, but I know that you do it for everyone, Mister Death. Is there any other way?’

NO, THERE ISN’T, I’M AFRAID. WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN THE WINDS OF TIME. BUT YOUR CANDLE, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX, WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT – A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED. FOR I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT . . .

There was no light, no point of reference except for the two tiny blue pinpricks sparkling in the eye sockets of Death himself.

‘Well, the journey was worth taking and I saw many wonderful things on the way, including you, my reliable friend. Shall we go now?’

MADAM, WE’VE ALREADY GONE.

In the early morning light, in a village pond near Slice, bubbles came to the surface, followed by Miss Tick, witch-finder. There was no one there to observe this remarkable occurrence, apart from her mule, Joseph, grazing steadily on the river bank. Of course, she told herself sadly as she picked up her towel, they all leave me alone these days.

She sighed. It was such a shame when old customs disappeared. A good witch-ducking was something she had liked doing in the bad old days – she had even trained for it. All those swimming lessons, and practice with knots at the Quirm College for Young Ladies. She had been able to defeat the mobs under water if necessary. Or at least work at breaking her own record for untying the simple knots they all thought worked on the nasty witch.

Now, a bit of pond-dipping had become more like a hobby, and she had a nasty feeling that others were copying her after she passed through their villages. She’d even heard talk of a swimming club being started in one small hamlet over by Ham-on-Rye.fn2

Miss Tick picked up her towel to dry herself off and went back to her small caravan, gave Joseph his breakfast nosebag and put the kettle on. She settled down under the trees to have her snap – bread and dripping, a thank-you the day before from a farmer’s wife for an afternoon’s knowledge of reading. Miss Tick had smiled as she left because the eyes of the rather elderly woman had been sparkling – ‘Now,’ she had said, ‘I can see what’s in those letters Alfred gets, especially the ones that smell of lavender.’ Miss Tick wondered if it might be a good idea to get moving soon. Before Alfred got another letter anyway.

Her stomach filled, ready for the day ahead, she sensed an uneasiness in the air, so there was nothing for it but to make a shamble.

A shamble is a witch’s aid to inner concentration and always has to be made right there and then, when needed, to catch the moment. It could be made of pretty much anything, but had to include something alive. An egg would do, though most witches would prefer to save the egg for dinner, in case it exploded on them. Miss Tick dug in her pockets. A woodlouse, a dirty handkerchief, an old sock, an ancient conker, a stone with a hole in it, and a toadstool which Miss Tick couldn’t quite identify and so couldn’t risk eating. She expertly strung them all together with a bit of string and a spare length of knicker elastic.

Then she pulled at the threads. But there was something wrong. With a twang that reverberated around the clearing, the tangle of objects threw itself into the air and spun, twisting and turning.

‘Well, that’s going to complicate things,’ Miss Tick groaned.

Just across the woods from Granny Weatherwax’s cottage, Nanny Ogg nearly dropped a flagon of her best home-made cider on her cat, Greebo. She kept her flagons of cider in the shady spring by her cottage. The tomcat considered a growl, but after one look at his mistress he tried to be a good boy, for the normally cheerful face of Nanny Ogg was like thunder this morning.

And he heard her mutter, ‘It should have been me.’

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