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Page 17

“Oh bugger,” he said, under his breath. “Hey! You!”

Granny Weatherwax was in trouble.

First of all, she decided, she should never have allowed Hilta to talk her into borrowing her broomstick. It was elderly, erratic, would fly only at night and even then couldn't manage a speed much above a trot.

Its lifting spells had worn so thin that it wouldn't even begin to operate until it was already moving at a fair lick. It was, in fact, the only broomstick ever to need bump-starting.

And it was while Granny Weatherwax, sweating and cursing, was running along a forest path holding the damn thing at shoulder height for the tenth time that she had found the bear trap.

The second problem was that a bear had found it first. In fact this hadn't been too much of a problem because Granny, already in a bad temper, hit it right between the eyes with the broomstick and it was now sitting as far away from her as it was possible to get in a pit, and trying to think happy thoughts.

It was not a very comfortable night and the morning wasn't much better for the party of hunters who, around dawn, peered over the edge of the pit.

“About time, too,” said Granny. “Get me out.”

The startled heads withdrew and Granny could hear a hasty whispered conversation. They had seen the hat and broomstick.

Finally a bearded head reappeared, rather reluctantly, as if the body it was attached to was being pushed forward.

“Um,” it began, “look, mother -”

“Im not a mother,” snapped Granny. “I'm certainly not your mother, if you ever had mothers, which I doubt. If I was your mother I'd have run away before you were born.”

“It's only a figure of speech,” said the head reproachfully.

“It's a damned insult is what it is!”

There was another whispered conversation.

“If I don't get out,” said Granny in ringing tones, “there will be Trouble. Do you see my hat, eh? Do you see it?”

The head reappeared.

“That's the whole point, isn't it?” it said. “I mean, what will there be if we let you out? It seems less risky all round if we just sort of fill the pit in. Nothing personal, you understand.”

Granny realized what it was that was bothering her about the head.

“Are you kneeling down?” she said accusingly. “You're not, are you! You're dwarves!”

Whisper, whisper.

“Well, what about it?” asked the head defiantly. “Nothing wrong with that, is there? What have you got against dwarves?”

“Do you know how to repair broomsticks?”

“Magic broomsticks?”


Whisper, whisper.

“What if we do?”

“Well, we could come to some arrangement . . . .”

The dwarf halls rang to the sound of hammers, although mainly for effect. Dwarves found it hard to think without the sound of hammers, which they found soothing, so well-off dwarves in the clerical professions paid goblins to hit small ceremonial anvils, just to maintain the correct dwarvish image.

The broomstick lay between two trestles. Granny Weatherwax sat on a rock outcrop while a dwarf half her height, wearing an apron that was a mass of pockets, walked around the broom and occasionally poked it.

Eventually he kicked the bristles and gave a long intake of breath, a sort of reverse whistle, which is the secret sign of craftsmen across the universe and means that something expensive is about to happen.

“Weellll,” he said. “I could get the apprentices in to look at this, I could. It's an education in itself. And you say it actually managed to get airborne?”

“It flew like a bird,” said Granny.

The dwarf lit a pipe. “I should very much like to see that bird,” he said reflectively. “I should imagine it's quite something to watch, a bird like that.”

“Yes, but can you repair it?” said Granny. “I'm in a hurry.”

The dwarf sat down, slowly and deliberately.

“As for repair,” he said, “well, I don't know about repair. Rebuild, maybe. Of course, it's hard to get the bristles these days even if you can find people to do the proper binding, and the spells need -”

“I don't want it rebuilt, I just want it to work properly,” said Granny.

“It's an early model, you see,” the dwarf plugged on. “Very tricky, those early models. You can't get the wood -”

He was picked up bodily until his eyes were level with Granny's. Dwarves, being magical in themselves as it were, are quite resistant to magic but her expression looked as though she was trying to weld his eyeballs to the back of his skull.

“Just repair it,” she hissed. “Please?”

“What, make a bodge job?” said the dwarf, his pipe clattering to the floor.


“Patch it up, you mean? Betray my training by doing half a job?”

“Yes,” said Granny. Her pupils were two little black holes.

“Oh,” said the dwarf. “Right, then.”

Gander the trail boss was a worried man.

They were three mornings out from Zemphis, making good time, and were climbing now towards the rocky pass through the mountains known as the Paps of Scilla (there were eight of them; Gander often wondered who Scilla had been, and whether he would have liked her/.

A party of gnolls had crept up on them during the night. The nasty creatures, a variety of stone goblin, had slit the throat of a guard and must have been poised to slaughter the entire party. Only....

Only no one knew quite what had happened next. The screams had woken them up, and by the time people had puffed up the fires and Treatle the wizard had cast a blue radiance over the campsite the surviving gnolls were distant, spidery shadows, running as if all the legions of Hell were after them.

Judging by what had happened to their colleagues, they were probably right. Bits of gnolls hung from the nearby rocks, giving them a sort of jolly, festive air. Gander wasn't particularly sorry about that - gnolls liked to capture travellers and practise hospitality of the red-hot-knife-and-bludgeon kind - but he was nervous of being in the same area as Something that went through a dozen wiry and wickedly armed gnolls like a spoon through a lightly-boiled egg but left no tracks.

In fact the ground was swept clean.

It had been a very long night, and the morning didn't seem to be an improvement. The only person more than half-awake was Esk, who had slept through the whole thing under one of the wagons and had complained only of odd dreams.

Still, it was a relief to get away from that macabre sight. Gander considered that gnolls didn't look any better inside than out. He hated their guts.

Esk sat on Treatle's wagon, talking to Simon who was steering inexpertly while the wizard caught up with some sleep behind them.

Simon did everything inexpertly. He was really good at it. He was one of those tall lads apparently made out of knees, thumbs and elbows. Watching him walk was a strain, you kept waiting for the strings to snap, and when he talked the spasm of agony on his face if he spotted an S or W looming ahead in the sentence made people instinctively say them for him. It was worth it for the grateful look which spread across his acned face like sunrise on the moon.

At the moment his eyes were streaming with hayfever.

“Did you want to be a wizard when you were a little boy?”

Simon shook his head. “I just www-”

“- wanted -”

“- tto find out how things www -”

“- worked? -”

“Yes. Then someone in my village told the University and Mmaster T-Treatle was sent to bring me. I shall be a www-”

“- wizard -”

“- one day. Master Treatle says I have an exceptional grasp of ththeory.” Simon's damp eyes misted over and an expression almost of bliss drifted across his ravaged face.

“He t-tells me they've got thousands of b-books in the library at Unseen University,” he said, in the voice of a man in love. “More bbooks than anyone could read in a lifetime.”

“I'm not sure I like books,” said Esk conversationally. “How can paper know things? My granny says books are only good if the paper is thin.”

“No, that's not right,” said Simon urgently. “Books are full of www” he gulped air and gave her a pleading look.

“- words? -”said Esk, after a moment's thought.

“- yes, and they can change th-things. Th-that's wuwuw, that wuwuwwhha-whha-”


“-I must f-find. I know it's th-there, somewhere in all the old books. They ssss-”


“there's no new spells but I know that it's there somewhere, hiding, the wwwwwuwu-”

“- words -”

“yes, that no wiwiwi-”

“- Wizard? -”said Esk, her face a frown of concentration.

“Yes, has ever found.” His eyes closed and he smiled a beatific smile and added, “The Words that Will change the World.”


“Eh?” said Simon, opening his eyes in time to stop the oxen wandering off the track.

“You said all those wubbleyous!”


“I heard you! Try again.”

Simon took a deep breath. “The worworwor - the wuwuw -” he said. “The wowowoo-” he continued.

“It's no good, it's gone,” he said. “It happens sometimes, if I don't think about it. Master Treatle says I'm allergic to something.”

“Allergic to double-yous?”

“No, sisssisi-”

//-silly-" said Esk, generously.

“- there's sososo-”

“- something -”

“- in the air, p-pollen maybe, or g-grass dust. Master Treatle has tried to find the cause of it but no magic seems to h-help it.”

They were passing through a narrow pass of orange rock. Simon looked at it disconsolately.

“My granny taught me some hayfever cures,” Esk said. “We could try those.”

Simon shook his head. It looked touch and go whether it would fall off.

“Tried everything,” he said. “Fine wwiwwi-magician I'd make, eh, can't even sss-utter the wowo-name.”

“I could see where that would be a problem,” said Esk. She watched the scenery for a while, marshalling a train of thought.

“Is it, er, possible for a woman to be, you know, a wizard? ” she said eventually.

Simon stared at her. She gave him a defiant look.

His throat strained. He was trying to find a sentence that didn't start with a W. In the end he was forced to make concessions.

“A curious idea,” he said. He thought some more, and started to laugh until Esk's expression warned him.

“Rather funny, really,” he added, but the laughter in his face faded and was replaced by a puzzled look. “Never really tthought about it, before.”

“Well? Can they?” You could have shaved with Esk's voice.

“Of course they can't. It is self-evident, child. Simon, return to your studies.”

Treatle pushed aside the curtain that led into the back of the wagon and climbed out on to the seat board.

The look of mild panic took up its familiar place on Simon's face. He gave Esk a pleading glance as Treatle took the reins from his hands, but she ignored him.

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