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26.12.2018

‘That’d be something worth seeing,’ said Granny Weatherwax. ‘Why do they do it?’

‘So all the young men can chase them to show how brave they are,’ said Magrat. ‘Apparently they pull their rosettes off.’

A variety of expressions passed across Nanny Ogg’s wrinkled face, like weather over a stretch of volcanic badlands.

‘Sounds a bit strange,’ she said at last. ‘What do they do that for?’

‘She doesn’t explain it very clearly,’ said Magrat. She turned another page. Her lips moved as she read on. ‘What does cojones mean?’

They shrugged.

‘Here, you want to slow down on that drink,’ said Granny, as a waiter put down another bottle in front of Nanny Ogg. ‘I wouldn’t trust any drink that’s green.’

‘It’s not like proper drink,’ said Nanny. ‘It says on the label it’s made from herbs. You can’t make a serious drink out of just herbs. Try a drop.’

Granny sniffed the opened bottle.

‘Smells like aniseed,’ she said.

‘It says “Absinthe” on the bottle,’ said Nanny.

‘Oh, that’s just a name for wormwood,’ said Magrat, who was good at herbs. ‘My herbal says it’s good for stomach diforders and prevents sicknefs after meals.’

‘There you are, then,’ said Nanny. ‘Herbs. It’s practic’ly medicine.’ She poured a generous measure for the other two. ‘Give it a go, Magrat. It’ll put a cheft on your cheft.’

Granny Weatherwax surreptitiously loosened her boots. She was also debating whether to remove her vest. She probably didn’t need all three.

‘We ought to be getting on,’ she said.

‘Oh, I’m fed up with the broomsticks,’ said Nanny. ‘More than a couple of hours on a stick and I’ve gone rigid in the dairy air.’

She looked expectantly at the other two. ‘That foreign for bum,’ she added. ‘Although, it’s a funny thing, in some foreign parts “bum” means “tramp” and “tramp” means “hobo”. Funny things, words.’

‘A laugh a minute,’ said Granny.

‘The river’s quite wide here,’ said Magrat. ‘There’s big boats. I’ve never been on a proper boat. You know? The kind that doesn’t sink easily?’

‘Broomsticks is more witchy,’ said Granny, but not with much conviction. She did not have Nanny Ogg’s

international anatomical vocabulary, but bits of her she wouldn’t even admit to knowing the names of were definitely complaining.

‘I saw them boats,’ said Nanny. ‘They looked like great big rafts with houses on. You wouldn’t hardly know you’re on a boat, Esme. ‘Ere, what’s he doing?’

The innkeeper had hurried out and was taking the jolly little tables back inside. He nodded at Nanny and spoke with a certain amount of urgency.

‘I think he wants us to go inside,’ said Magrat.

‘I likes it out here,’ said Granny. ‘I LIKES IT OUT HERE, THANK YOU,’ she repeated. Granny Weather-wax’s approach to foreign tongues was to repeat herself loudly and slowly.

‘ ‘Ere, you stop trying to take our table away!’ snapped Nanny, thumping his hands.

The innkeeper spoke hurriedly and pointed up the street.

Granny and Magrat glanced inquiringly at Nanny Ogg. She shrugged.

‘Didn’t understand any of that,’ she admitted.

‘WE’RE STOPPIN’ WHERE WE ARE, THANK YOU,’ said Granny. The innkeeper’s eyes met hers. He gave in, waved his hands in the air in exasperation, and went inside.

‘They think they can take advantage of you when you’re a woman,’ said Magrat. She stifled a burp, discreetly, and picked up the green bottle again. Her stomach was feeling a lot better already.

‘That’s very true. D’you know what?’ said Nanny Ogg, ‘I barricaded meself in my room last night and a man didn’t even try to break in.’

‘Gytha Ogg, sometimes you – ‘ Granny stopped as she caught sight of something over Nanny’s shoulder.

‘There’s a load of cows coming down the street,’ she said.

Nanny turned her chair around.

‘It must be that bull thing Magrat mentioned,’ she said. ‘Should be worth seein’.’

Magrat glanced up. All along the street people were craning out of every second-storey window. A jostle of horns and hooves and steaming bodies was approaching rapidly.

‘There’s people up there laughing at us,’ she said accusingly.

Under the table Greebo stirred and rolled over. He opened his good eye, focused on the approaching bulls, and sat up. This looked like being fun.

‘Laughin’?’ said Granny. She looked up. The people aloft did indeed appear to be enjoying a joke.

Her eyes narrowed.

‘We’re just goin’ to carry on as if nothin’ is happening,’ she declared.

‘But they’re quite big bulls,’ said Magrat nervously.

‘They’re nothing to do with us,’ said Granny. ‘It’s nothin’ to do with us if a lot of foreigners want to get excited about things. Now pass me the herbal wine.’

As far as Lagro te Kabona, innkeeper, could remember the events of that day, they seemed to happen like this:

It was the time of the Thing with the Bulls. And the mad women just sat there, drinking absinthe as if it was water! He tried to get them to come indoors, but the old one, the skinny one, just shouted at him. So he let them bide, but left the door open – people soon got the message when the bulls came down the street with the young men of the village after them. Whoever snatched the big red rosette from between the horns of the biggest bull got the seat of honour at that night’s feast plus – Lagro smiled a smile of forty years’ remembrance – a certain informal but highly enjoyable relationship with the young women of the town for quite some time after . . .

And the mad women just sat there.

The leading bull had been a bit uncertain about this.

Its normal course of action would be to roar and paw the ground a bit to get the targets running in an interesting way and its mind wasn’t able to cope with this lack of attention, but that hadn’t been its major problem, because its major problem had been twenty other bulls right behind it.

And even that ceased to be its major problem, because the terrible old woman, the one all in black, had stood up, muttered something at it and smacked it between the eyes. Then the horrible dumpy one whose stomach had the resilience and capacity of a galvanized water tank fell backwards off her chair, laughing, and the young one – that is, the one who was younger than the other two – started flapping at the bulls as if they were ducks.

And then the street was full of angry, bewildered bulls, and a lot of shouting, terrified young men. It’s one thing to chase a lot of panicking bulls, and quite another to find that they’re suddenly trying to run the other way.

The innkeeper, from the safety of his bedroom window, could hear the horrible women shouting things to one another. The dumpy one kept laughing and shouting some sort of battle cry- ‘TrytheHorsemanswordEsme!’ and then the younger one, who was pushing her way through the animals as if being gored to death was something that only happened to other people, found the lead bull and took the rosette off it, with the same air of concern as an old woman may take a thorn out of her cat’s paw. She held it as if she didn’t know what it was or what she should do with it…

The sudden silence affected even the bulls. Their tiny little bloodshot brains sensed something wrong. The bulls were embarrassed.

Fortunately, the horrible women left on a riverboat that afternoon, after one of them rescued her cat which had cornered twenty-five stone of confused bull and was trying to toss it in the air and play with it.

That evening Lagro te Kabona made a point of being very, very kind to his old mother.

And the village held a flower festival next year, and no-one ever talked about the Thing with the Bulls ever, ever again.

At least, not in front of the men.

The big paddlewheel sloshed through the thick brown soup of the river. The motive power was several dozen trolls under a sun-shade, trudging along an endless belt. Birds sang in the trees on the distant banks. The scent of hibiscus wafted across the water, almost but unfortunately not quite overpowering the scent of the river itself.

‘Now this,’ said Nanny Ogg, ‘is more like it.’

She stretched out on the deckchair and turned to look at Granny Weatherwax, whose brows were knitted in the intense concentration of reading.

Nanny’s mouth spread in an evil grin.

‘You know what this river’s called?’ she said.

‘No.’

‘ ‘S called the Vieux River.’

‘Yes?’

‘Know what that means?’

‘No.’

‘The Old (Masculine) River,’ said Nanny.

‘Yes?’

‘Words have sex in foreign parts,’ said Nanny, hopefully.

Granny didn’t budge.

‘Wouldn’t be at all surprised,’ she murmured. Nanny sagged.

‘That’s one of Desiderata’s books, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ said Granny. She licked her thumb decorously and turned the page.

‘Where’s Magrat gone?’

‘She’s having a lie-down in the cabin,’ said Granny, without looking up.

‘Tummy upset?’

‘It’s her head this time. Now be quiet, Gytha. I’m having a read.’

‘What about?’ said Nanny cheerfully.

Granny Weatherwax sighed, and put her finger on the page to mark her place.

‘This place we’re going to,’ she said. ‘Genua. Desiderata says it’s decadent.’

Nanny Ogg’s smile remained fixed.

‘Yes?’ she said. ‘That’s good, is it? I’ve never been to a city before.’

Granny Weatherwax paused. She’d been pondering for some while. She wasn’t at all certain about the meaning of the word ‘decadent’. She’d dismissed the possibility that it meant ‘having ten teeth’ in the same sense that Nanny Ogg, for example, was unident. Whatever it meant, it was something Desiderata had felt necessary to write down. Granny Weatherwax did not generally trust books as a means of information, but now she had no choice.

She had a vague idea that ‘decadent’ had something to do with not opening the curtains all day.

‘She says it’s also a city of art, wit and culture,’ said Granny.

‘We shall be all right there, then,’ said Nanny confidently.

‘Particularly noted for the beauty of its women, she says here.’

‘We shall fade right in, no trouble.’

Granny turned the pages carefully. Desiderata had paid close attention to affairs all over the Disc. On the other hand, she hadn’t been writing for readers other than herself, so her notes tended to the cryptic and were aides memoire rather than coherent accounts.

Granny read: ‘Now L. rules the citie as the power behint the throne, and Baron S. they say has been killd, drowned in the river. He was a wicked man tho not I think as wicked as L, for she says she wants to make it a Magic Kingdom, a Happy and Peaseful place, and wen people do that look out for Spies on every corner and no manne dare speak out, for who dare speke out against Evile done in the name of Happyness and Pease? All the Streetes are clean and Axes are sharp. But E. is safe at least, for now. L. has plans for her. And Mrs G who was the Baron’s amour hides in the swamp and fites back with swamp magic, but you cannot fite mirror magic which is all Reflection.’

Fairy godmothers came in twos, Granny knew. So that was Desiderata and. . . and L. . . but who was this person in the swamp?

‘Gytha?’ said Granny.

‘Wazzat?’ said Nanny Ogg, who was dozing off.

‘Desiderata says some woman here is someone’s armour.’

‘Prob’ly a mettyfor,’ said Nanny Ogg.

‘Oh,’ said Granny darkly, ‘one of them things.’

‘ But no-one can stop Mardi Gras,’ she read.’ If anything canne be done it be on Samedi Nuit Morte, the last night of carnivale, the night halfway between the Living and the Dead, when magic flows in the streets. If L. is vooneruble it is then, for carnivale is everythinge she hates . . .’

Granny Weatherwax pulled her hat down over her eyes to shield them from the sun.

‘It says here they have a great big carnival every year,’ she said. ‘Mardi Gras, it’s called.’