Wintersmith Page 2

But sometimes you had to trick yourself. She wasn't the Summer Lady and she wasn't Granny Weatherwax. She needed to give herself all the help she could. She pulled the little silver horse out of her pocket. It was greasy and stained, and she'd meant to clean it, but there had been no time, no time…. Like a knight putting on his helmet, she fastened the silver chain around her neck. She should have practiced more. She should have listened to people. She should have listened to herself. She took a deep breath and held out her hands on either side of her, palms up. On her right hand a white scar glowed. "Thunder on my right hand," she said. "Lightning in my left hand. Fire behind me. Frost in front of me." She stepped forward until she was only a few inches away from the snowbank. She could feel its coldness already pulling the heat out of her. Well, so be it. She took a few deep breaths. This I choose to do…. "Frost to fire," she whispered. In the yard, the fire went white and roared like a furnace. The snow wall spluttered and then exploded into steam, sending chunks of snow into the air. Tiffany walked forward slowly.

Snow pulled back from her hands like mist at sunrise. It melted in the heat of her, becoming a tunnel in the deep drift, fleeing from her, writhing around her in clouds of cold fog. Yes! She smiled desperately. It was true. If you had the perfect center, if you got your mind right, you could balance. In the middle of the seesaw is a place that never moves….

Her boots squelched over warm water. There was fresh green grass under the snow, because the awful storm had been so late in the year. She walked on, heading to where the lambing pens were buried. Her father stared at the fire. It was burning white-hot, like a furnace, eating through the wood as if driven by a gale. It was collapsing into ashes in front of his eyes…. Water was pouring around Tiffany's boots now. Yes! But don't think about it! Hold the balance! More heat! Frost to fire! There was a bleat. Sheep could live under the snow, at least for a while. But as Granny Aching used to say, when the gods made sheep, they must've left their brains in their other coat. In a panic, and sheep were always just an inch from panicking, they'd trample their own lambs. Now ewes and lambs appeared, steaming and bewildered as the snow melted around them, as if they were sculptures left behind. Tiffany moved on, staring straight ahead of her, only just aware of the excited cries of the men behind her. They were following her, pulling the ewes free, cradling the lambs…. Her father yelled at the other men.

Some of them were hacking at a farm cart, throwing the wood down into the white-hot flames. Others were dragging furniture up from the house. Wheels, tables, straw bales, chairs—the fire took everything, gulped it down, and roared for more. And there wasn't any more. No red coat. No red coat! Balance, balance. Tiffany waded on, water and sheep pouring past her. The tunnel ceiling fell in a splashing and slithering of slush. She ignored it. Fresh snowflakes fell down through the hole and boiled in the air above her head. She ignored that, too. And then, ahead of her…a glimpse of red. Frost to fire! The snow fled, and there he was. She picked him up, held him close, sent some of her heat into him, felt him stir, whispered: "It weighed at least forty pounds! At least forty pounds!" Wentworth coughed and opened his eyes. Tears falling like melting snow, she ran over to a shepherd and thrust the boy into his arms. "Take him to his mother! Do it now!" The man grabbed the boy and ran, frightened of her fierceness. Today she was their witch! Tiffany turned back. There were more lambs to be saved. Her father's coat landed on the starving flames, glowed for a moment, then fell into gray ashes. The other men were ready; they grabbed the man as he went to jump after it and pulled him back, kicking and shouting. The flint cobbles had melted like butter. They spluttered for a moment, then froze. The fire went out. Tiffany Aching looked up, into the eyes of the Wintersmith. And up on the roof of the cart shed, the small voice belonging to Wee Dangerous Spike said, "Ach, crivens!" All this hasn't happened yet. It might not happen at all. The future is always a bit wobbly. Any little thing, like the fall of a snowflake or the dropping of the wrong kind of spoon, can send it spinning off along a new path. Or perhaps not. Where it all began was last autumn, on the day with a cat in it….


Miss Treason T his is Tiffany Aching, riding a broomstick through the mountain forests a hundred miles away. It's a very old broomstick, and she's flying it just above the ground; it's got two smaller broomsticks stuck on the back like training wheels, to stop it from tipping over. It belongs, appropriately, to a very old witch called Miss Treason, who's even worse at flying than Tiffany and is 113 years old. Tiffany is slightly more than one hundred years younger than that, taller than she was even a month ago, and not as certain of anything at all as she was a year ago. She is training to be a witch. Witches usually wear black, but as far as she could tell, the only reason that witches wore black was that they'd always worn black. This did not seem a good enough reason, so she tended to wear blue or green. She didn't laugh with scorn at finery because she'd never seen any. You couldn't escape the pointy hat, though. There was nothing magical about a pointy hat except that it said that the woman underneath it was a witch. People paid attention to a pointy hat. Even so, it was hard to be a witch in the village where you'd grown up. It was hard to be a witch to people who knew you as "Joe Aching's girl" and had seen you running around with only your undershirt on when you were two years old.

Going away had helped. Most people Tiffany knew hadn't been more than ten miles away from the spot where they were born, so if you'd gone to mysterious foreign parts, that made you a bit mysterious, too. You came back slightly different. A witch needed to be different. Witching was turning out to be mostly hard work and really short on magic of the zap!-glingle-glingle- glingle variety. There was no school and nothing that was exactly like a lesson. But it wasn't wise to try to learn witching all by yourself, especially if you had a natural talent. If you got it wrong, you could go from ignorant to cackling in a week…. When you got right down to it, it was all about cackling. No one ever talked about this, though.

Witches said things like "You can never be too old, too skinny, or too warty," but they never mentioned the cackling. Not properly. They watched out for it, though, all the time. It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without an intelligent conversation that wasn't about cows, you'd talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling. "Cackling," to a witch, didn't just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor.

It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people's problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you'd hardly notice it, until you thought that it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you "going to the dark," as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of that road were poisoned spinning wheels and gingerbread cottages. What stopped this was the habit of visiting. Witches visited other witches all the time, sometimes traveling quite a long way for a cup of tea and a bun.

Partly this was for gossip, of course, because witches love gossip, especially if it's more exciting than truthful. But mostly it was to keep an eye on one another. Today Tiffany was visiting Granny Weatherwax, who was in the opinion of most witches (including Granny herself) the most powerful witch in the mountains. It was all very polite. No one said, "Not gone bats, then?" or "Certainly not! I'm as sharp as a spoon!" They didn't need to. They understood what it was all about, so they talked of other things. But when she was in a mood, Granny Weatherwax could be hard work. She sat silently in her rocking chair. Some people are good at talking, but Granny Weatherwax was good at silence. She could sit so quiet and still that she faded. You forgot she was there. The room became empty. It upset people. It was probably meant to. But Tiffany had learned silence too, from Granny Aching, her real grandmother. Now she was learning that if you made yourself really quiet, you could become almost invisible. Granny Weatherwax was an expert. Tiffany thought of it as the I'm-not-here spell, if it was a spell.

She reasoned that everyone had something inside them that told the world they were there. That was why you could often sense when someone was behind you, even if they were making no sound at all. You were receiving their I-am-here signal. Some people had a very strong one. They were the people who got served first in shops. Granny Weatherwax had an I-am-here signal that bounced off the mountains when she wanted it to; when she walked into a forest, all the wolves and bears ran out the other side. She could turn it off, too. She was doing that now. Tiffany was having to concentrate to see her. Most of her mind was telling her that there was no one there at all. Well, she thought, that's about enough of that. She coughed. Suddenly Granny Weatherwax had always been there. "Miss Treason is very well," said Tiffany. "A fine woman," said Granny. "Oh, yes."

"She has her funny ways," said Tiffany. "We're none of us perfect," said Granny. "She's trying some new eyes," said Tiffany. "That's good."

"They're a couple of ravens…."

"It's just as well," said Granny. "Better than the mouse she usually uses," said Tiffany. "I expect they are." There was a bit more of this, until Tiffany began to get annoyed at doing all the work. There was such a thing as common politeness, after all. Oh well, she knew what to do about it now. "Mrs. Earwig's written another book," she said. "I heard," said Granny. The shadows in the room maybe grew a little darker. Well, that explained the sulk. Even thinking about Mrs. Earwig made Granny Weatherwax angry. Mrs. Earwig was all wrong to Granny Weatherwax. She wasn't born locally, which was almost a crime to begin with. She wrote books, and Granny Weatherwax didn't trust books. And Mrs. Earwig (pronounced "Ah-wij," at least by Mrs. Earwig) believed in shiny wands and magical amulets and mystic runes and the power of the stars, while Granny Weatherwax believed in cups of tea, dry biscuits, washing every morning in cold water, and, well, she believed mostly in Granny Weatherwax. Mrs. Earwig was popular among the younger witches, because if you did witchcraft her way, you could wear so much jewelry that you could barely walk. Granny Weatherwax wasn't popular with anyone much— —except when they needed her. When Death was standing by the cradle or the axe slipped in the woods and blood was soaking into the moss, you sent someone hurrying to the cold, gnarly little cottage in the clearing. When all hope was gone, you called for Granny Weatherwax, because she was the best. And she always came. Always. But popular? No. Need is not the same as like. Granny Weatherwax was for when things were serious. Tiffany did like her, though, in an odd kind of way. She thought Granny Weatherwax liked her, too. She let Tiffany call her Granny to her face, when all the other young witches had to call her Mistress Weatherwax. Sometimes Tiffany thought that if you were friendly to Granny Weatherwax, she tested you to see how friendly you would stay. Everything about Granny Weatherwax was a test. "The new book is called First Flights in Witchcraft," she went on, watching the old witch carefully. Granny Weatherwax smiled. That is, her mouth went up at the corners. "Hah!" she said. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: You can't learn witchin' from books. Letice Earwig thinks you can become a witch by goin' shoppin'." She gave Tiffany a piercing look, as if she were making up her mind about something. Then she said: "An' I'll wager she don't know how to do this." She picked up her cup of hot tea, curling her hand around it. Then she reached out with her other hand and took Tiffany's hand. "Ready?" said Granny. "For wha—" Tiffany began, and then she felt her hand get hot. The heat spread up her arm, warming it to the bone. "Feelin' it?"

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