Maskerade Page 4

Nanny Ogg didn't look built for running, but she covered the ground deceptively fast, her great heavy boots kicking up shoals of leaves. There was a trumpeting overhead. Another skein of geese passed across the sky, so fast in pursuit of the summer that their wings were hardly moving in the ballistic rush. Granny Weatherwax's cottage looked deserted. It had, Nanny felt, a particularly empty feel. She scurried around to the back door and burst through, pounded up the stairs, saw the gaunt figure on the bed, reached an instant conclusion, grabbed the pitcher of water from its place on the marble washstand, ran forward. . . A hand shot up and grabbed her wrist. 'I was having a nap,' said Granny, opening her eyes. 'Gytha, I swear I could feel you comin' half a mile away-'

'We got to make a cup of tea quick!' gasped Nanny, almost sagging with relief. Granny Weatherwax was more than bright enough not to ask questions. But you couldn't hurry a good cup of tea. Nanny Ogg jiggled from one foot to the other while the fire was pumped up, the small frogs fished out of the water bucket, the water boiled, the dried leaves allowed to seep. 'I ain't saying nothing,' said Nanny, sitting down at last. Just pour a cup, that's all.' On the whole, witches despised fortune-telling from tealeaves. Tea-leaves are not uniquely fortunate in knowing what the future holds. They are really just something for the eyes to rest on while the mind does the work. Practically anything would do. The scum on a puddle, the skin on a custard. . . anything. Nanny Ogg could see the future in the froth on a beer mug. It invariably showed that she was going to enjoy a refreshing drink which she almost certainly was not going to pay for. 'You recall young Agnes Nitt?' said Nanny as Granny Weatherwax tried to find the milk. Granny hesitated. 'Agnes who calls herself Perditax?'

'Perdita X,' said Nanny. She at least respected anyone's right to recreate themselves. Granny shrugged. 'Fat girl. Big hair. Walks with her feet turned out. Sings to herself in the woods. Good voice. Reads books. Says “poot!” instead of swearing. Blushes when anyone looks at her. Wears black lace gloves with the fingers cut out.'

'You remember we once talked about maybe how possibly she might be. . . suitable.'

'Oh, there's a twist in the soul there, you're right,' said Granny. 'But. . . it's an unfortunate name.'

'Her father's name was Terminal,' said Nanny Ogg reflectively. 'There were three sons: Primal, Medial and Terminal. I'm afraid the family's always had a problem with education.'

'I meant Agnes,' said Granny. 'Always puts me in mind of carpet fluff, that name.'

'Prob'ly that's why she called herself Perdita,' said Nanny. 'Worse.'

'Got her fixed in your mind?' said Nanny. 'Yes, I suppose so.'

'Good. Now look at them tea-leaves.' Granny looked down. There was no particular drama, perhaps because of the way Nanny had built up expectations. But Granny did hiss between her teeth. 'Well, now. There's a thing,' she said.

'See it? See it?'

'Yep., 'Like. . .a skull?'


'And them eyes? I nearly pi- I was pretty damn' surprised by them eyes, I can tell you.' Granny carefully replaced the cup. 'Her main showed me her letters home,' said Nanny. 'I brung 'em with me. It's worrying, Esme. She could be facing something bad. She's a Lancre girl. One of ours. Nothing's too much trouble when it's one of your own, I always say.'

'Tea-leaves can't tell the future,' said Granny quietly. 'Everyone knows that.'

'Tea-leaves don't know.'

'Well, who'd be so daft as to tell anything to a bunch of dried leaves?' Nanny Ogg looked down at Agnes's letters home. They were written in the careful rounded script of someone who'd been taught to write as a child by copying letters on a slate, and had never written enough as an adult to change their style. The person writing them had also very conscientiously drawn faint pencil lines on the paper before writing. Dear Mam, I hope this finds you as it leaves me. Here I am in Ankh- Morpork and everything is all right, I have not been ravished yet!! I am staying at 4 Treacle Mine Road, it is alright and. . . Granny tried another. Dear Mum, I hope you are well. Everything is fine but, the money runs away like water here. I am doing some singing in taverns but I am not making much so I went to see the Guild of Seamstresses about getting a sewing job and I took along some stitching to show them and you'd be AMAZED, that's all I can say. . . And another. . . Dear Mother, Some good news at last. Next week they're holding auditions at the Opera House. . . 'What's opera?' said Granny Weatherwax. 'It's like theatre, with singing,' said Nanny Ogg. 'Hah! Theatre,' said Granny darkly. 'Our Nev told me about it. It's all singing in foreign languages, he said. He couldn't understand any of it.' Granny put down the letters. 'Yes, but your Nev can't understand a lot of things. What was he doing at this opera theatre, anyway?'

'Nicking the lead off the roof.' Nanny said this quite happily. It wasn't theft if an Ogg was doing it. 'Can't tell much from the letters, except that's she's picking up an education,' said Granny. 'But it's a long way to-' There was a hesitant knock on the door. It was Shawn Ogg, Nanny's youngest son and Lancre's entire civil and public service. Currently he had his postman's badge on; the Lancre postal service consisted of taking the mailbag off the nail where the coach left it and delivering it to the outlying homesteads when he had a moment, although many citizens were in the habit of going down to the sack and rummaging until they found some mail they liked. He touched his helmet respectfully at Granny Weatherwax.

'Got a lot of letters, mum,' he said to Nanny Ogg. 'Er. They're all addressed to, er, well. . . er. . . you'd better have a look, mum.' Nanny Ogg took the proffered bundle. ' “The Lancre Witch”,' she said aloud. 'That'd be me, then,' said Granny Weatherwax firmly, and took the letters. 'Ah. Well, I'd better be going. . .' said Nanny, backing towards the door. 'Can't imagine why peopled be writing to me,' said Granny, slitting an envelope. 'Still, I suppose news gets around.' She focused on the words. ' “Dear Witch,” ' she read, ' “I would just like to say how much I appreciated the Famous Carrot and Oyster Pie recipe. My husband-” ' Nanny Ogg made it halfway down the path before her boots became, suddenly, too heavy to lift. 'Gytha Ogg, you come back here right now!' Agnes tried again. She didn't really know anyone in Ankh-Morpork and she did need someone to talk to, even if they didn't listen. 'I suppose mainly I came because of the witches,' she said. Christine turned, her eyes wide with fascination. So was her mouth. It was like looking at a rather pretty bowling ball. 'Witches?!' she breathed. 'Oh, yes,' said Agnes wearily. Yes. People were always fascinated by the idea of witches. They should try living around them, she thought. 'Do they do spells and ride around on broomsticks?!'

'Oh, yes.'

'No wonder you ran away!'

'What? Oh. . . no. . . it's not like that. I mean, they're not bad. It's much. . . worse than that.'

'Worse than bad?!'

'They think they know what's best for everybody.' Christine's forehead wrinkled, as it tended to when she was contemplating a problem more complex than 'What is your name?'

'That doesn't sound very ba-'

'They. . . mess people around. They think that just because they're right that's the same as good! It's not even as though they do any real magic. It's all fooling people and being clever! They think they can do what they like!' The force of the words knocked even Christine back. 'Oh, dear!! Did they want you to do something?!'

'They want me to be something. But I'm not going to!' Christine stared at her. And then, automatically, forgot everything she'd just heard. 'Come on,' she said, 'let's have a look around!!' Nanny Ogg balanced on a chair and took down an oblong wrapped in paper. Granny watched sternly with her arms folded. 'Thing is,' Nanny babbled, under the laser glare, 'my late husband, I remember him once sayin' to me, after dinner, he said, “You know, mother, it'd be a real shame if all the stuff you know just passed away when you did. Why don't you write some of it down?” So I scribbled the odd one, when I had a moment, and then I thought it'd be nice to have it all properly done so I sent it off to the Almanack people in Ankh-Morpork and they hardly charged me anything and a little while ago they sent me this, I think it's a very good job, it's amazing how they get all the letters so neat-'

'You done a book,' said Granny.

'Only cookery,' said Nanny Ogg meekly, as one might plead a first offence. 'What do you know about it? You hardly ever do any cooking,' said Granny. 'I do specialities,' said Nanny. Granny looked at the offending volume. ' “The Joye of Snacks,” ' she read out loud. ' “Bye A Lancre Witch.” Hah! Why dint you put your own name on it, eh? Books've got to have a name on 'em so's everyone knows who's guilty.'

'It's my gnome de plum,' said Nanny. 'Mr Goatberger the Almanack man said it'd make it sound more mysterious.' Granny cast her gimlet gaze to the bottom of the crowded cover, where it said, in very small lettering, 'CXX viith Printyng. More Than Twenty Thoufand Solde! One half dollar.'

'You sent them some money to get it all printed?' she said. 'Only a couple of dollars,' said Nanny. 'Damn' good job they made of it, too. And then they sent the money back afterwards, only they got it wrong and sent three dollars extra.' Granny Weatherwax was grudgingly literate but keenly numerate. She assumed that anything written down was probably a lie, and that applied to numbers too. Numbers were used only by people who wanted to put one over on you. Her lips moved silently as she thought about numbers. 'Oh,' she said, quietly. 'And that was it, was it? You never wrote to him again?'

'Not on your life. Three dollars, mind. I dint want him saying he wanted 'em back.'

'I can see that,' said Granny, still dwelling in the world of numbers. She wondered how much it cost to do a book. It couldn't be a lot: they had sort of printing mills to do the actual work. 'After all, there's a lot you can do with three dollars,' said Nanny. 'Right enough,' said Granny. 'You ain't got a pencil about you, have you? You being a literary type and all?'

'I got a slate,' said Nanny. 'Pass it over, then.'

'I bin keeping it by me in case I wake up in the night and I get an idea for a recipe, see,' said Nanny. 'Good,' said Granny vaguely. The slate pencil squeaked across the grey tablet. The paper must cost something. And you'd probably have to tip someone a couple of pennies to sell it. . .Angular figures danced from column to column. 'I'll make another cup of tea, shall I?' said Nanny, relieved that the conversation appeared to be coming to a peaceful end. 'Hmm?' said Granny. She stared at the result and drew two lines under it. 'But you enjoyed it, did you?' she called out. 'The writin'?' Nanny Ogg poked her head around the scullery door. 'Oh, yes. The money dint matter,' she said. 'You've never been very good at numbers, have you?' said Granny. Now she drew a circle around the final figure. 'Oh, you know me, Esme,' said Nanny cheerfully. 'I couldn't subtract a fart from a plate of beans.'

'That's good, 'cos I reckon this Master Goatberger owes you a bit more than you got, if there's any justice in the world,' said Granny. 'Money ain't everything, Esme. What I say is, if you've got your health-'

'I reckon, if there's any justice, it's about four or five thousand dollars,' said Granny quietly. There was a crash from the scullery. 'So it's a good job the money don't matter,' Granny Weatherwax went on. 'It'd be a terrible thing otherwise. All that money, matterin'.'

Nanny Ogg's white face appeared around the edge of the door. 'He never!'

'Could be a bit more,' said Granny. 14.0pt;mso-ansi-language:EN-GB'>'It never!9 'You just adds up and divides and that.' Nanny Ogg stared in horrified fascination at her own fingers. 'But that's a-' She stopped. The only word she could think of was 'fortune' and that wasn't adequate. Witches didn't operate in a cash economy. The whole of the Ramtops, by and large, got by without the complications of capital. Fifty dollars was a fortune. A hundred dollars was a, was a, was. . . well, it was two fortunes, that was what it was. 'It's a lot of money,' she said weakly. 'What couldn't I do with money like that?'

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