Wintersmith Page 3

"Yes!" The warmth died away. And Granny Weatherwax, still watching Tiffany's face, turned the teacup upside down. The tea dropped out in one lump. It was frozen solid. Tiffany was old enough not to say, "How did you do that?" Granny Weatherwax didn't answer silly questions or, for that matter, many questions at all. "You moved the heat," Tiffany said. "You took the heat out of the tea and moved it through you to me, yes?"

"Yes, but it never touched me," said Granny triumphantly. "It's all about balance, do you see? Balance is the trick. Keep the balance and—" She stopped. "You've ridden on a seesaw? One end goes up, one end goes down. But the bit in the middle, right in the middle, that stays where it is. Upness and downness go right through it. Don't matter how high or low the ends go, it keeps the balance." She sniffed. "Magic is mostly movin' stuff around."

"Can I learn that?"

"I daresay. It's not hard, if you get your mind right."

"Can you teach me?"

"I just have. I showed you."

"No, Granny, you just showed me how to do it, not…how to do it!"

"Can't tell you that. I know how I do it. How you do it'll be different. You've just got to get your mind right."

"How do I do that?"

"How should I know? It's your mind," snapped Granny. "Put the kettle on again, will you? My tea's gone cold." There was something almost spiteful about all this, but that was Granny. She took the view that if you were capable of learning, you'd work it out. There was no point in making it easy for people. Life wasn't easy, she said. "An' I see you're still wearing that trinket," said Granny. She didn't like trinkets, a word she used to mean anything metal a witch wore that wasn't there to hold up, shut, or fasten. That was "shoppin'." Tiffany touched the little silver horse she wore around her neck. It was small and simple, and it meant a lot to her. "Yes," she said calmly. "I still am."

"What have you got in that basket?" Granny said now, which was unusually rude. Tiffany's basket was on the table. It had a present in it, of course. Everyone knew you took a small present along when you went visiting, but the person you were visiting was supposed to be surprised when you gave it to her, and say things like "Oooh, you shouldn't have."

"I brought you something," said Tiffany, swinging the big black kettle onto the fire. "You've got no call to be bringing me presents, I'm sure," said Granny sternly. "Yes, well," said Tiffany, and left it at that. She heard Granny lift the lid of the basket. There was a kitten in it. "Her mother is Pinky, the Widow Cable's cat," said Tiffany, to fill the silence. "You shouldn't have," growled the voice of Granny Weatherwax. "It was no trouble." Tiffany smiled at the fire. "I can't be havin' with cats."

"She'll keep the mice down," said Tiffany, still not turning around. "Don't have mice." Nothing for them to eat, thought Tiffany. Aloud, she said, "Mrs. Earwig's got six big black cats." In the basket, the white kitten would be staring up at Granny Weatherwax with the sad, shocked expression of all kittens. You test me, I test you, Tiffany thought. "I don't know what I shall do with it, I'm sure. It'll have to sleep in the goat shed," said Granny Weatherwax. Most witches had goats. The kitten rubbed against Granny's hand and went meep. When Tiffany left, later on, Granny Weatherwax said good-bye at the door and very carefully shut the kitten outside. Tiffany went across the clearing to where she'd tied up Miss Treason's broomstick. But she didn't get on, not yet. She stepped back up against a holly bush, and went quiet until she wasn't there anymore, until everything about her said: I'm not here. Everyone could see pictures in the fire and in clouds. You just turned that the other way around. You turned off that bit of yourself that said you were there. You dissolved. Anyone looking at you would find you very hard to see. Your face became a bit of leaf and shadow, your body a piece of tree and bush. The other person's mind would fill in the gaps. Looking like just another piece of holly bush, she watched the door. The wind had got up, warm but worrisome, shaking the yellow and red leaves off the sycamore trees and whirring them around the clearing. The kitten tried to bat a few of them out of the air and then sat there, making sad little mewling noises. Any minute now, Granny Weatherwax would think Tiffany had gone and would open the door and— "Forgot something?" said Granny by her ear. She was the bush. "Er…it's very sweet. I just thought you might, you know, grow to like it," said Tiffany, but she was thinking: Well, she could have got here if she ran, but why didn't I see her? Can you run and hide at the same time? "Never you mind about me, my girl," said the witch. "You run along back to Miss Treason and give her my best wishes, right now. But"—and her voice softened a little—"that was good hiding you did just then. There's many as would not have seen you. Why, I hardly heard your hair growin'!" When Tiffany's stick had left the clearing, and Granny Weatherwax had satisfied herself in other little ways that she had really gone, she went back inside, carefully ignoring the kitten again. After a few minutes, the door creaked open a little. It may have been just a draft. The kitten trotted inside…. All witches were a bit odd. Tiffany had got used to odd, so that odd seemed quite normal. There was Miss Level, for example, who had two bodies, although one of them was imaginary. Mistress Pullunder, who bred pedigreed earthworms and gave them all names…well, she was hardly odd at all, just a bit peculiar, and anyway earthworms were quite interesting in a basically uninteresting kind of way. And there had been Old Mother Dismass, who suffered from bouts of temporal confusion, which can be quite strange when it happens to a witch; her mouth never moved in time with her words, and sometimes her footsteps came down the stairs ten minutes before she did. But when it came to odd, Miss Treason didn't just take the cake, but a packet of biscuits too, with sprinkles on the top, and also a candle. Where to start, when things were wall-to-wall odd…. Miss Eumenides Treason had gone blind when she was sixty years old. To most people that would have been a misfortune, but Miss Treason was skilled at Borrowing, a particular witch talent. She could use the eyes of animals, reading what they saw right out of their minds. She'd gone deaf when she was seventy-five, but she'd got the hang of it by now and used any ears she could find running around. When Tiffany had first gone to stay with her, Miss Treason had used a mouse for seeing and hearing, because her old jackdaw had died. It was a bit worrying to see an old woman striding around the cottage with a mouse in her outstretched hand, and very worrying if you said something and the mouse was swung around to face you. It was amazing how creepy a little pink wriggly nose could be. The new ravens were a lot better. Somebody in one of the local villages had made the old woman a perch that fitted across her shoulders, one bird on either side, and with her long white hair the effect was very, well, witchy, although a bit messy down the back of her cloak by the end of the day. Then there was her clock. It was heavy and made of rusty iron by someone who was more blacksmith than watchmaker, which was why it went clonk-clank instead of tick-tock. She wore it on her belt and could tell the time by feeling the stubby little hands. There was a story in the villages that the clock was Miss Treason's heart, which she'd used ever since her first heart died. But there were lots of stories about Miss Treason. You had to have a high threshold for odd to put up with her. It was traditional that young witches traveled around and stayed with older witches to learn from a lot of experts in exchange for what Miss Tick the witch finder called "some help with the chores," which meant "doing all the chores." Mostly, they left Miss Treason's after one night. Tiffany had stuck it out for three months so far. Oh, and sometimes, when she was looking for a pair of eyes to look through, Miss Treason would creep into yours. It was a strange prickly sensation, like having someone invisible looking over your shoulder. Yes…perhaps Miss Treason didn't just take the cake, a packet of biscuits with sprinkles on the top, and a candle, but also the trifle, the sandwiches, and a man who made amusing balloon animals afterward. She was weaving at her loom when Tiffany came in. Two beaks turned to face her. "Ah, child," said Miss Treason in a thin, cracked voice. "You have had a good day."

"Yes, Miss Treason," said Tiffany obediently. "You have seen the girl Weatherwax and she is well." Click-clack went the loom. Clonk-clank went the clock. "Quite well," said Tiffany. Miss Treason didn't ask questions. She just told you the answers. "The girl Weatherwax," Tiffany thought, as she started to get their supper. But Miss Treason was very old. And very scary. It was a fact. You couldn't deny it. She didn't have a hooked nose and she did have all her teeth, even if they were yellow, but after that she was a picture-book wicked witch. And her knees clicked when she walked. And she walked very fast, with the help of two sticks, scuttling around like a big spider. That was another strange thing: The cottage was full of cobwebs, which Miss Treason ordered Tiffany never to touch, but you never saw a spider. There was the thing about black, too. Most witches liked black, but Miss Treason even had black goats and black chickens. The walls were black. The floor was black. If you dropped a stick of licorice, you'd never find it again. And, to Tiffany's dismay, she had to make her cheeses black, which meant painting the cheeses with shiny black wax. Tiffany was an excellent cheesemaker and it did keep them moist, but Tiffany distrusted black cheeses. They always looked as though they were plotting something. And Miss Treason didn't seem to need sleep. She hadn't got much use for night and day now. When the ravens went to bed, she'd summon up an owl and weave by owl sight. An owl was particularly good, she said, because it'd keep turning its head to watch the shuttle of the loom. Click-clack went the loom, and clonk-clank went the clock, right back at it. Miss Treason, with her billowing black cloak and bandaged eyes and wild white hair… Miss Treason with her two sticks, wandering the cottage and garden in the dark and frosty night, smelling the memory of flowers…. All witches had some particular skill, and Miss Treason delivered Justice. People would come from miles around to bring her their problems: I know it's my cow but he says it's his! She says it's her land but my father left it to me!…and Miss Treason would sit at the click-clacking loom with her back to the room full of anxious people. The loom worried them. They watched it as though they were afraid of it, and the ravens watched them. They would stutter out their cases, um-ing and ah-ing, while the loom rattled away in the flickering candlelight. Oh, yes…the candlelight… The candleholders were two skulls. One had the word ENOCHI carved on it; the other had the word ATHOOTITA. (The words meant "GUILT" and "INNOCENCE." Tiffany wished she didn't know that. There was no way that a girl brought up on the Chalk should know that, because the words were in a foreign language, and an ancient one, too. She knew them because of Dr. Sensibility Bustle, D. M. Phil., B. El L., Patricius Professor of Magic at Unseen University, who was in her head. (Well, a tiny part of him, at least. (A couple of summers ago she had been taken over by a hiver, a…thing that had been collecting minds for millions of years. Tiffany managed to get it out of her head, but a few fragments had stayed tangled up in her brain. One of these was a tiny lump of ego and a mix of memories that were what remained of the late Dr. Bustle. He wasn't much trouble, but if she looked at anything in a foreign language, she could read it—or, rather, hear Dr. Bustle's reedy voice translating it for her. That seemed to be about all that was left of him, but she tried to avoid getting undressed in front of a mirror.) The candles had dripped wax all over the skulls, and people would keep glancing at them the whole time they were in the room. And then, when all the words had been said, the loom would stop with a shock of sudden silence, and Miss Treason would turn around in her big heavy chair, which had wheels on it, and remove the black blindfold from her pearly gray eyes and say: "I have heard. Now I shall see. I shall see what is true." Some people would actually run away at this point, when she stared at them in the light from the skulls. Those eyes that could not see your face could somehow see your mind. When Miss Treason was looking right through you, you could only be truthful or very, very stupid. So no one ever argued with Miss Treason. Witches were not allowed to be paid for using their talents, but everyone who came to have a dispute settled by Miss Treason brought her a present, usually food but sometimes clean used clothing, if it was black, or a pair of old boots if they were her size. If Miss Treason gave judgment against you, it was really not a good idea (everyone said) to ask for your present back, as being turned into something small and sticky often offends. They said if you lied to Miss Treason, you would die horribly within a week. They said that kings and princes came to see Miss Treason at night, asking questions about great affairs of state. They said that in her cellar was a heap of gold, guarded by a demon with skin like fire and three heads that would attack anyone it saw and eat their noses. Tiffany suspected that at least two of these beliefs were wrong. She knew the third one wasn't true, because one day she'd gone down into the cellar (with a bucket of water and a poker, just in case), and there was nothing there but piles of potatoes and carrots. And a mouse, watching her carefully. Tiffany wasn't scared, much. For one thing, unless the demon was good at disguising itself as a potato, it probably didn't exist. And another thing was that although Miss Treason looked bad and sounded bad and smelled like old locked wardrobes, she didn't feel bad. First Sight and Second Thoughts, that's what a witch had to rely on: First Sight to see what's really there, and Second Thoughts to watch the First Thoughts to check that they were thinking right. Then there were the Third Thoughts, which Tiffany had never heard discussed and therefore kept quiet about; they were odd, seemed to think for themselves, and didn't turn up very often. And they were telling her that there was more to Miss Treason than met the eye. And then one day, when she was dusting, Tiffany knocked over the skull called Enochi. …and suddenly Tiffany knew a lot more about Miss Treason than Miss Treason probably wanted anyone to know. Tonight, as they were eating their stew (with black beans), Miss Treason said, "The wind is rising. We must go soon. I would not trust the stick above the trees on a night like this. There may be strange creatures about."

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