After all, even stories have to start somewhere.
There was a splash, and then the waters of the river closed again. Magrat walked away.
The wand settled into the rich mud, where it was touched only by the feet of the occasional passing crawfish, who don’t have fairy godmothers and aren’t allowed to wish for anything. It sank down over the months and passed, as most things do, out of history. Which was all anyone could wish for.
The three broomsticks rose over Genua, with the mists that curled towards the dawn.
The witches looked down at the green swamps around the city. Genua dozed. The days after Fat Lunchtirne were always quiet, as people slept it off. Currently they included Greebo, curled up in his place among the bristles. Leaving Mrs Pleasant had been a real wrench.
‘Well, so much for la douche vita,’ said Nanny philosophically.
‘We never said goodbye to Mrs Gogol,’ said Magrat.
‘I reckon she knows we’re going right enough,’ said Nanny. ‘Very knowin’ woman, Mrs Gogol.’
‘But can we trust her to keep her word?’ said Magrat.
‘Yes,’ said Granny Weatherwax.
‘She’s very honest, in her way,’ said Nanny Ogg.
‘Well, there’s that,’ Granny conceded. ‘Also, I said I might come back.’
Magrat looked across at Granny’s broomstick. A large round box was among the baggage strapped to the bristles.
‘You never tried on that hat she gave you,’ she said.
‘I had a look at it,’ said Granny coldly. ‘It don’t fit.’
‘I reckon Mrs Gogol wouldn’t give anyone a hat that didn’t fit,’ said Nanny. ‘Let’s have a look, eh?’
Granny sniffed, and undid the lid of the box. Balls of tissue paper tumbled down towards the mists as she lifted the hat out.
Magrat and Nanny Ogg stared at it.
They were of course used to the concept of fruit on a hat – Nanny Ogg herself had a black straw hat with wax cherries on for special family feuding occasions. But this one had rather more than just cherries. About the only fruit not on it somewhere was a melon.
‘It’s definitely very . . .foreign,’ said Magrat.
‘Go on,’ said Nanny. ‘Try it on.’
Granny did so, a bit sheepishly, increasing her apparent height by two feet, most of which was pineapple.
‘Very colourful. Very . . . stylish,’ said Nanny. ‘Not everyone could wear a hat like that.’
‘The pomegranates suit you,’ said Magrat.
‘And the lemons,’ said Nanny Ogg.
‘Eh? You two ain’t laughing at me, are you?’ said Granny Weatherwax suspiciously.
‘Would you like to have a look?’ said Magrat. ‘I have a mirror somewhere . . .’
The silence descended like an axe. Magrat went red. Nanny Ogg glared at her.
They watched Granny carefully.
‘Ye-ess,’ she said, after what seemed a long time, ‘I think I should look in a mirror.’
Magrat unfroze, fumbled in her pockets and produced a small, wooden-framed hand-mirror. She passed it across.
Granny Weatherwax looked at her reflection. Nanny Ogg surreptitiously manoeuvred her broomstick a bit closer.
‘Hmm,’ said Granny, after a while.
‘It’s the way the grapes hang over your ear," said Nanny, encouragingly. ‘You know, that’s a hat of authority if ever I saw one.’
‘Don’t you think?’ said Magrat.
‘Well,’ said Granny, grudgingly, ‘maybe it’s fine for foreign parts. Where I ain’t going to be seen by anyone as knows me. No-one important, anyway.’
‘And when we get home you can always eat it,’ said Nanny Ogg.
They relaxed. There was a feeling of a hill climbed, a dangerous valley negotiated.
Magrat looked down at the brown river and the suspicious logs on its sandbanks.
‘What I want to know is,’ she said, ‘was Mrs Gogol really good or bad? I mean, dead people and alligators and everything . . .’
Granny looked at the rising sun, poking though the mists.
‘Good and bad is tricky,’ she said. ‘I ain’t too certain about where people stand. P’raps what matters is which way you face.
‘You know,’ she added, ‘I truly believe I can see the edge from here.’
‘Funny thing,’ said Nanny, ‘they say that in some foreign parts you get elephants. You know, I’ve always wanted to see an elephant. And there’s a place in Klatch or somewhere where people climb up ropes and disappear.’
‘What for?’ said Magrat.
‘Search me. There’s prob’ly some cunnin’ foreign reason.’
‘In one of Desiderata’s books,’ said Magrat, ‘she says that there’s a very interesting thing about seeing elephants. She says that on the Sto plains, when people say they’re going to see the elephant, it means they’re simply going on a journey because they’re fed up with staying in the same place.’
‘It’s not staying in the same place that’s the problem,’ said Nanny, ‘it’s not letting your mind wander.’
‘I’d like to go up towards the Hub,’ said Magrat. ‘To see the ancient temples such as are described in Chapter One of The Way of the Scorpion.’
‘And they’d teach you anything you don’t know already, would they?’ said Nanny, with unusual sharpness.
Magrat glanced at Granny.
‘Probably not,’ she said meekly.
‘Well,’ said Nanny. ‘What’s it to be, Esme? Are we going home? Or are we off to see the elephant?’
Granny’s broomstick turned gently in the breeze.
‘You’re a disgustin’ old baggage, Gytha Ogg,’ said Granny.
‘That’s me,’ said Nanny cheerfully.
‘And, Magrat Garlick – ‘
‘I know,’ said Magrat, overwhelmed with relief, ‘I’m a wet hen.’
Granny looked back towards the Hub, and the high mountains. Somewhere back there was an old cottage with the key hanging in the privy. All sorts of things were probably going on. The whole kingdom was probably going to rack and ruin without her around to keep people on the right track. It was her job. There was no telling what stupidities people would get up to if she wasn’t there . . .
Nanny kicked her red boots together idly.
‘Well, I suppose there’s no place like home,’ she said.
‘No,’ said Granny Weatherwax, still looking thoughtful. ‘No. There’s a billion places like home. But only one of ’em’s where you live.’
‘So we’re going back?’ said Magrat.
But they went the long way, and saw the elephant.