6,596
26.12.2018

‘She’s had herself buried round the back,’ said a voice behind her. It was Nanny Ogg.

Granny considered her next move. To point out that Nanny had deliberately come early, so as to search the cottage by herself, then raised questions about Granny’s own presence. She could undoubtedly answer them, given enough time. On the whole, it was probably best just to get on with things.

‘Ah,’ she said, nodding. ‘Always very neat in her ways, was Desiderata.’

‘Well, it was the job,’ said Nanny Ogg, pushing past her and eyeing the room’s contents speculatively. ‘You got to be able to keep track of things, in a job like hers. By gor’, that’s a bloody enormous cat.’

‘It’s a lion,’ said Granny Weatherwax, looking at the stuffed head over the fireplace.

‘Must’ve hit the wall at a hell of a speed, whatever it was,’ said Nanny Ogg.

‘Someone killed it,’ said Granny Weatherwax, surveying the room.

‘Should think so,’ said Nanny. ‘If I’d seen something like that eatin’ its way through the wall I’d of hit it myself with the poker.’

There was of course no such thing as a typical witch’s cottage, but if there was such a thing as a non-typical witch’s cottage, then this was certainly it. Apart from various glassy-eyed animal heads, the walls were covered in bookshelves and water-colour pictures. There was a spear in the umbrella stand. Instead of the more usual earthenware and china on the dresser there were foreign-looking brass pots and fine blue porcelain. There wasn’t a dried herb anywhere in the place but there were a great many books, most of them filled with Desiderata’s small, neat handwriting. A whole table was covered with what were probably maps, meticulously drawn.

Granny Weatherwax didn’t like maps. She felt instinctively that they sold the landscape short.

‘She certainly got about a bit,’ said Nanny Ogg, picking up a carved ivory fan and flirting coquettishly.*

‘Well, it was easy for her,’ said Granny, opening a few drawers. She ran her fingers along the top of the mantelpiece and looked at them critically.

* Nanny Ogg didn’t know what a coquette was, although she could probably hazard a guess.

‘She could have found time to go over the place with a duster,’ she said vaguely. ‘I wouldn’t go and die and leave my place in this state.’

‘I wonder where she left . . . you know . . . «?’ said Nanny, opening the door of the grandfather clock and peering inside.

‘Shame on you, Gytha Ogg,’ said Granny. ‘We’re not here to look for that.’

‘Of course not. I was just wondering . . .’ Nanny Ogg tried to stand on tiptoe surreptitiously, in order to see on top of the dresser.

‘Gytha! For shame! Go and make us a cup of tea!’

‘Oh, all right.’

Nanny Ogg disappeared, muttering, into the scullery. After a few seconds there came the creaking of a pump handle.

Granny Weatherwax sidled towards a chair and felt quickly under the cushion.

There was a clatter from the next room. She straightened up hurriedly.

‘I shouldn’t think it’d be under the sink, neither,’ she shouted.

Nanny Ogg’s reply was inaudible.

Granny waited a moment, and then crept rapidly over to the big chimney. She reached up and felt cautiously around.

‘Looking for something, Esme?’ said Nanny Ogg behind her.

‘The soot up here is terrible,’ said Granny, standing up quickly. ‘Terrible soot there is.’

‘It’s not up there, then?’ said Nanny Ogg sweetly.

‘Don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘You don’t have to pretend. Everyone knows she must have had one,’ said Nanny Ogg. ‘It goes with the job. It practic’ly is the job.’

‘Well . . . maybe I just wanted a look at it,’ Granny admitted. ‘Just hold it a while. Not use it. You wouldn’t catch me using one of those things. I only ever saw it once or twice. There ain’t many of ’em around these days.’

Nanny Ogg nodded. ‘You can’t get the wood,’ she said.

‘You don’t think she’s been buried with it, do you?’

‘Shouldn’t think so. I wouldn’t want to be buried with it. Thing like that, it’s a bit of a responsibility. Anyway, it wouldn’t stay buried. A thing like that wants to be used. It’d be rattling around your coffin the whole time. You know the trouble they are.’

She relaxed a bit. ‘I’ll sort out the tea things,’ she said. ‘You light the fire.’

She wandered back into the scullery.

Granny Weatherwax reached along the mantelpiece for the matches, and then realized that there wouldn’t be any. Desiderata had always said she was much too busy not to use magic around the house. Even her laundry did itself.

Granny disapproved of magic for domestic purposes, but she was annoyed. She also wanted her tea.

She threw a couple of logs into the fireplace and glared at them until they burst into flame out of sheer embarrassment.

It was then that her eye was caught by the shrouded mirror.

‘Coverin’ it over?’ she murmured. ‘I didn’t know old Desiderata was frightened of thunderstorms.’

She twitched aside the cloth.

She stared.

Very few people in the world had more self-control than Granny Weatherwax. It was as rigid as a bar of cast iron. And about as flexible.

She smashed the mirror.

Lilith sat bolt upright in her tower of mirrors. Her?

The face was different, of course. Older. It had been a long time. But eyes don’t change, and witches always look at the eyes.

Her!

Magrat Garlick, witch, was also standing in front of a mirror. In her case it was totally unmagical. It was also still in one piece, but there had been one or two close calls.

She frowned at her reflection, and then consulted the small, cheaply-woodcut leaflet that had arrived the previous day.

She mouthed a few words under her breath, straightened up, extended her hands in front of her, punched the air vigorously and said: ‘HAAAAiiiiieeeeeeehgh! Um.’

Magrat would be the first to admit that she had an open mind. It was as open as a field, as open as the sky. No mind could be more open widiout special surgical implements. And she was always waiting for something to fill it up.

What it was currently filling up with was the search for inner peace and cosmic harmony and the true essence of Being.

When people say ‘An idea came to me’ it isn’t just a metaphor. Raw inspirations, tiny particles of self-contained thought, are sleeting through the cosmos all the time. They get drawn to heads like Magrat’s in the same way that water runs into a hole in the desert.

It was all due to her mother’s lack of attention to spelling, she speculated. A caring parent would have spelled Margaret correctly. And then she could have been a Peggy, or a Maggie – big, robust names, full of reliability. There wasn’t much you could do with a Magrat. It sounded like something that lived in a hole in a river bank and was always getting flooded out.

She considered changing it, but knew in her secret heart that this would not work. Even if she became a Chloe or an Isobel on top she’d still be a Magrat underneath.

But it would be nice to try. It’d be nice not to be a Magrat, even for a few hours.

It’s thoughts like this that start people on the road to Finding Themselves. And one of the earliest things Magrat had learned was that anyone Finding Themselves would be unwise to tell Granny Weatherwax, who thought that female emancipation was a women’s complaint that shouldn’t be discussed in front of men.

Nanny Ogg was more sympathetic but had a tendency to come out with what Magrat thought of as double-intenders, although in Nanny Ogg’s case they were generally single entendres and proud of it.

In short, Magrat had despaired of learning anything at all from her senior witches, and was casting her net further afield. Much further afield. About as far afield as a field could be.

It’s a strange thing about determined seekers-after-wisdom that, no matter where they happen to be, they’ll always seek that wisdom which is a long way off. Wisdom is one of the few things that looks bigger the further away it is.*

* Hence, for example, the Way of Mrs Cosmopolite, very popular among young people who live in the hidden valleys above the snowline in the high Ramtops. Disdaining the utterances of their own saffron-clad, prayer-wheel-spinning elders, they occasionally travel all the way to No. 3 Quirm Street in flat and foggy Ankh-Morpork, to seek wisdom at the feet of Mrs Marietta Cosmopolite, a seamstress. No-one knows the reason for this apart from the aforesaid attractiveness of distant wisdom, since they can’t understand a word she says or, more usually, screams at them. Many a bald young monk returns to his high fastness to meditate on the strange mantra vouchsafed to him, such as ‘Push off you!’ and ‘If I see one more of you little orange devils peering in at me he’ll feel the edge of my hand, all right?’ and ‘Why are you buggers all coming round here staring at my feet?’ They have even developed a special branch of martial arts based on their experiences, where they shout incomprehensibly at one another and then hit their opponent with a broom.

Currently Magrat was finding herself through the Path of The Scorpion, which offered cosmic harmony, inner one-ness and the possibility of knocking an attacker’s kidneys out through his ears. She’d sent off for it.

There were problems. The author, Grand Master Lobsang Dibbler, had an address in Ankh-Morpork. This did not seem like a likely seat of cosmic wisdom. Also, although he’d put in lots of stuff about the Way not being used for aggression and only to be used for cosmic wisdom, this was in quite small print between enthusiastic drawings of people hitting one another with rice flails and going ‘Hai!’ Later on you learned how to cut bricks in half with your hand and walk over red hot coals and other cosmic things.

Magrat thought that Ninja was a nice name for a girl.

She squared up to herself in the mirror again.

There was a knock at the door. Magrat went and opened it.

‘Hai?’ she said.

Hurker the poacher took a step backwards. He was already rather shaken. An angry wolf had trailed him part of the way through the forest.

‘Um,’ he said. He leaned forward, his shock changing to concern. ‘Have you hurt your head, Miss?’

She looked at him in incomprehension. Then realization dawned. She reached up and took off the headband with the chrysanthemum pattern on it, without which it is almost impossible to properly seek cosmic wisdom by twisting an opponent’s elbows through 360 degrees.

‘No,’ she said. ‘What do you want?’

‘Got a package for you,’ said Hurker, presenting it.

It was about two feet long, and very thin.

‘There’s a note,’ said Hurker helpfully. He shuffled around as she unfolded it, and tried to read it over her shoulder.

‘It’s private,’ said Magrat.

‘Is it?’ said Hurker, agreeably.

‘Yes!’

‘I was tole you’d give me a penny for delivering it,’ said the poacher. Magrat found one in her purse.

‘Money forges the chains which bind the labouring classes,’ she warned, handing it over. Hurker, who had never thought of himself as a labouring class in his life, but who was prepared to listen to almost any amount of gibberish in exchange for a penny, nodded innocently.

‘And I hope your head gets better, Miss,’ he said.

When Magrat was left alone in her kitchen-cum-dojo she unwrapped the parcel. It contained one slim white rod.

She looked at the note again. It said, ‘I niver had time to Trane a replaysment so youll have to Do. You must goe to the city of Genua. I would of done thys myself only cannot by reason of bein dead. Ella Saturday muste NOTTE marry the prins. PS This is importent.’

She looked at her reflection in the mirror.

She looked down at the note again.

‘PSPS Tell those 2 Olde Biddys they are Notte to come with Youe, they will onlie Ruine everythin.’

There was more.