Wyrd sisters, p.1
Part #6 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.
The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel's eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: 'When shall we three meet again?'
There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: 'Well, I can do next Tuesday. '
Through the fathomless deeps of space swims the star turtle Great A'Tuin, bearing on its back the four giant elephants who carry on their shoulders the mass of the Discworld. A tiny sun and moon spin around them, on a complicated orbit to induce seasons, so probably nowhere else in the multiverse is it sometimes necessary for an elephant to cock a leg to allow the sun to go past.
Exactly why this should be may never be known. Possibly the Creator of the universe got bored with all the usual business of axial inclination, albedos and rotational velocities, and decided to have a bit of fun for once.
It would be a pretty good bet that the gods of a world like this probably do not play chess and indeed this is the case. In fact no gods anywhere play chess. They haven't got the imagination. Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight To Oblivion; a key to the understanding of all religion is that a god's idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.
Magic glues the Discworld together – magic generated by the turning of the world itself, magic wound like silk out of the underlying structure of existence to suture the wounds of reality.
A lot of it ends up in the Ramtop Mountains, which stretch from the frozen lands near the Hub all the way, via a lengthy archipelago, to the warm seas which flow endlessly into space over the Rim.
Raw magic crackles invisibly from peak to peak and earths itself in the mountains. It is the Ramtops that supply the world with most of its witches and wizards. In the Ramtops the leaves on the trees move even when there is no breeze. Rocks go for a stroll of an evening.
Even the land, at times, seems alive . . .
At times, so does the sky.
The storm was really giving it everything it had. This was its big chance. It had spent years hanging around the provinces, putting in some useful work as a squall, building up experience, making contacts, occasionally leaping out on unsuspecting shepherds or blasting quite small oak trees. Now an opening in the weather had given it an opportunity to strut its hour, and it was building up its role in the hope of being spotted by one of the big climates.
It was a good storm. There was quite effective projection and passion there, and critics agreed that if it would only learn to control its thunder it would be, in years to come, a storm to watch.
The woods roared their applause and were full of mists and flying leaves.
On nights such as these the gods, as has already been pointed out, play games other than chess with the fates of mortals and the thrones of kings. It is important to remember that they always cheat, right up to the end . . .
And a coach came hurtling along the rough forest track, jerking violently as the wheels bounced off tree roots. The driver lashed at the team, the desperate crack of his whip providing a rather neat counterpoint to the crash of the tempest overhead.
Behind – only a little way behind, and getting closer -were three hooded riders.
On nights such as this, evil deeds are done. And good deeds, of course. But mostly evil, on the whole.
On nights such as this, witches are abroad.
Well, not actually abroad. They don't like the food and you can't trust the water and the shamans always hog the deckchairs. But there was a full moon breasting the ragged clouds and the rushing air was full of whispers and the very broad hint of magic.
In their clearing above the forest the witches spoke thus:
'I'm babysitting on Tuesday,' said the one with no hat but a thatch of white curls so thick she might have been wearing a helmet. 'For our Jason's youngest. I can manage Friday. Hurry up with the tea, luv. I'm that parched. '
The junior member of the trio gave a sigh, and ladled some boiling water out of the cauldron into the teapot.
The third witch patted her hand in a kindly fashion.
'You said it quite well,' she said. 'Just a bit more work on the screeching. Ain't that right, Nanny Ogg?'
'Very useful screeching, I thought,' said Nanny Ogg hurriedly. 'And I can see Goodie Whemper, maysherestinpeace, gave you a lot of help with the squint. '
'It's a good squint,' said Granny Weatherwax.
The junior witch, whose name was Magrat Garlick, relaxed considerably. She held Granny Weatherwax in awe. It was known throughout the Ramtop Mountains that Mss Weatherwax did not approve of anything very much. If she said it was a good squint, then Magrat's eyes were probably staring up her own nostrils.
Unlike wizards, who like nothing better than a complicated hierarchy, witches don't go in much for the structured approach to career progression. It's up to each individual witch to take on a girl to hand the area over to when she dies. Witches are not by nature gregarious, at least with other witches, and they certainly don't have leaders.
Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn't have.
Magrat's hands shook slightly as they made the tea. Of course, it was all very gratifying, but it was a bit nerve-racking to start one's working life as village witch between Granny and, on the other side of the forest, Nanny Ogg. It'd been her idea to form a local coven. She felt it was more, well, occult. To her amazement the other two had agreed or, at least, hadn't disagreed much.
'An oven?' Nanny Ogg had said. 'What'd we want to join an oven for?'
'She means a coven, Gytha,' Granny Weatherwax had explained. 'You know, like in the old days. A meeting. '
'A knees up?' said Nanny Ogg hopefully.
'No dancing,' Granny had warned. 'I don't hold with dancing. Or singing or getting over-excited or all that messing about with ointments and similar. '
'Does you good to get out,' said Nanny happily.
Magrat had been disappointed about the dancing, and was relieved that she hadn't ventured one or two other ideas that had been on her mind. She fumbled in the packet she had brought with her. It was her first sabbat, and she was determined to do it right.
'Would anyone care for a scone?' she said.
Granny looked hard at hers before she bit. Magrat had baked bat designs on it. They had little eyes made of currants.
The coach crashed through the trees at the forest edge, ran on two wheels for a few seconds as it hit a stone, righted itself against all the laws of balance, and rumbled on. But it was going slower now. The slope was dragging at it.
The coachman, standing upright in the manner of a charioteer, pushed his hair out of his eyes and peered through the murk. No-one lived up here, in the lap of the Ramtops themselves, but there was a light ahead. By all that was merciful, there was a light there.
An arrow buried itself in the coach roof behind him.
Meanwhile King Verence, monarch of Lancre, was making a discovery.
Like most people – most people, at any rate, below the age of sixty or so – Verence hadn't exercised his mind much about what happened to you when you died. Like most people since the dawn of time, he assumed it all somehow worked out all right in the end.
And, like most people since the dawn of time, he was now dead.
He was i
He sat up, and was surprised to find that while someone he was certainly inclined to think of as himself was sitting up, something very much like his body remained lying on the floor.
It was a pretty good body, incidentally, now he came to see it from outside for the first time. He had always been quite attached to it although, he had to admit, this did not now seem to be the case.
It was big and well-muscled. He'd looked after it. He'd allowed it a moustache and long-flowing locks. He'd seen it got plenty of healthy outdoor exercise and lots of red meat. Now, just when a body would have been useful, it had let him down. Or out.
On top of that, he had to come to terms with the tall, thin figure standing beside him. Most of it was hidden in a hooded black robe, but the one arm which extended from the folds to grip a large scythe was made of bone.
When one is dead, there are things one instinctively recognises.
Verence drew himself up to his full height, or what would have been his full height if that part of him to which the word 'height' could have been applied was not lying stiff on the floor and facing a future in which only the word 'depth' could be appropriate.
'I am a king, mark you,' he said.
WAS, YOUR MAJESTY.
'What?' Verence barked.
I SAID WAS. IT'S CALLED THE PAST TENSE. YOU'LL SOON GET USED TO IT.
The tall figure tapped its calcareous fingers on the scythe's handle. It was obviously upset about something.
If it came to that, Verence thought, so am I. But the various broad hints available in his present circumstances were breaking through even the mad brave stupidity that made up most of his character, and it was dawning on him that whatever kingdom he might currently be in, he wasn't king of it.
'Are you Death, fellow?' he ventured.
I HAVE MANY NAMES.
'Which one are you using at present?' said Verence, with a shade more deference. There were people milling around them; in fact, quite a few people were milling through them, like ghosts.
'Oh, so it was Felmet,' the king added vaguely, looking at the figure lurking with obscene delight at the top of the stairs. 'My father said I should never let him get behind me. Why don't I feel angry?'
GLANDS, said Death shortly. ADRENALIN AND SO FORTH. AND EMOTIONS. YOU DON'T HAVE THEM. ALL YOU HAVE NOW IS THOUGHT.
The tall figure appeared to reach a decision.
THIS IS VERY IRREGULAR, he went on, apparently to himself. HOWEVER, WHO AM I TO ARGUE?
'Who indeed. '
'I said, who indeed. '
Death stood with his skull on one side, as though listening to some inner voice. As his hood fell away the late king noticed that Death resembled a polished skeleton in every way but one. His eye sockets glowed sky blue. Verence wasn't frightened, however; not simply because it is difficult to be in fear of anything when the bits you need to be frightened with are curdling several yards away, but because he had never really been frightened of anything in his life, and wasn't going to start now. This was partly because he didn't have the imagination, but he was also one of those rare individuals who are totally focused in time.
Most people aren't. They live their lives as a sort of temporal blur around the point where their body actually is – anticipating the future, or holding on to the past. They're usually so busy thinking about what happens next that the only time they ever find out what is happening now is when they come to look back on it. Most people are like this. They learn how to fear because they can actually tell, down at the subconscious level, what is going to happen next. It's already happening to them.
But Verence had always lived only for the present. Until now, anyway.
I SUPPOSE NO-ONE MENTIONED ANYTHING TO YOU? he hazarded.
NO PREMONITIONS? STRANGE DREAMS? MAD OLD SOOTHSAYERS SHOUTING THINGS AT YOU IN THE STREET?
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett / Humor / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes