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Page 34

She turned up in a green dress and a filthy temper.

'What's all this about a play?' she said.

The Fool sagged on to a willow log.

'Aren't you glad to see me?' he said.

'Well, yes. Of course. Now, this play . . .'

'My lord wants something to convince people that he is the rightful King of Lancre. Himself mostly, I think.'

'Is that why you went to the city?'


'It's disgusting!'

The Fool sat calmly. 'You would prefer the duchess's approach?' he said. 'She just thinks they ought to kill everyone. She's good at that sort of thing. And then there'd be fighting, and everything. Lots of people would die anyway. This way might be easier.'

'Oh, where's your spunk, man?'


'Don't you want to die nobly for a just cause?'

'I'd much rather live quietly for one. It's all right for you witches, you can do what you like, but I'm circumscribed,' said the Fool.

Magrat sat down beside him. Find out all about this play, Granny had ordered. Go and talk to that jingling friend of yours. She'd replied, He's very loyal. He might not tell me anything. And Granny had said, This is no time for half measures. If you have to, seduct him.

'When's this play going to be, then?' she said, moving closer.

'Marry, I'm sure I'm not allowed to tell you,' said the Fool. 'The duke said to me, he said, don't tell the witches that it's tomorrow night.'

'I shouldn't, then,' agreed Magrat.

'At eight o'clock.'

'I see.'

'But meet for sherry beforehand at seven-thirty, i'faith.'

'I expect you shouldn't tell me who is invited, either,' said Magrat.

'That's right. Most of the dignitaries of Lancre. You understand I'm not telling you this.'

'That's right,' said Magrat.

'But I think you have a right to know what it is you're not being told.'

'Good point. Is there still that little gate around the back, that leads to the kitchens?'

'The one that is often left unguarded?'


'Oh, we hardly ever guard it these days.'

'Do you think there might be someone guarding it at around eight o'clock tomorrow?'

'Well, I might be there.'


The Fool pushed away the wet nose of an inquisitive cow.

'The duke will be expecting you,' he added.

'You said he said we weren't to know.'

'He said I mustn't tell you. But he also said, “They'll come anyway, I hope they do.” Strange, really. He seemed in a very good mood when he said it. Um. Can I see you after the show?'

'Is that all he said?'

'Oh, there was something about showing witches their future. I didn't understand it. I really would like to see you after the show, you know. I brought—'

'I think I might be washing my hair,' said Magrat vaguely. 'Excuse me, I really ought to be going.'

'Yes, but I brought you this pres—' said the Fool vaguely, watching her departing figure.

He sagged as she disappeared between the trees, and looked down at the necklace wound tightly between his nervous fingers. It was, he had to admit, terribly tasteless, but it was the sort of thing she liked, all silver and skulls. It had cost him too much.

A cow, misled by his horns, stuck its tongue in his ear.

It was true, the Fool thought. Witches did do unpleasant things to people, sometimes.

Tomorrow night came, and the witches went by a roundabout route to the castle, with considerable reluctance.

'If he wants us to be here, I don't want to go,' said Granny. 'He's got some plan. He's using headology on us.'

'There's something up,' said Magrat. 'He had his men set fire to three cottages in our village last night. He always does that when he's in a good mood. That new sergeant is a quick man with the matches, too.'

'Our Daff said she saw them actors practisin' this morning,' said Nanny Ogg, who was carrying a bag'of walnuts and a leather bottle from which rose a rich, sharp smell. 'She said it was all shouting and stabbing and then wondering who done it and long bits with people muttering to themselves in loud voices.'

'Actors,' said Granny, witheringly. 'As if the world weren't full of enough history without inventing more.'

'They shout so loud, too,' said Nanny. 'You can hardly hear yourself talk.' She was also carrying, deep in her apron pocket, a lump of haunted castle rock. The king was getting in free.

Granny nodded. But, she thought, it was going to be worth it. She hadn't got the faintest idea what Tomjon had in mind, but her inbuilt sense of drama assured her that the boy would be bound to do something important. She wondered if he would leap off the stage and stab the duke to death, and realised that she was hoping like hell that he would.

'All hail wossname,' she said under her breath, 'who shall be king here, after.'

'Let's get a move on,' said Nanny. 'All the sherry'll be gone.'

The Fool was waiting despondently inside the little wicket gate. His face brightened when he saw Magrat, and then froze in an expression of polite surprise when he saw the other two.

'There's not going to be any trouble, is there?' he said. 'I don't want there to be any trouble. Please.'

'I'm sure I don't know what you mean,' said Granny regally, sweeping past.

'Wotcha, jinglebells,' said Nanny, elbowing the man in the ribs. 'I hope you haven't been keeping our girl here up late o'nights!'

'Nanny!' said Magrat, shocked. The Fool gave the terrified, ingratiating rictus of young men everywhere when confronted by importunate elderly women commenting on their intimately personal lives.

The older witches brushed past. The Fool grabbed Magrat's hand.

'I know where we can get a good view,' he said.

She hesitated.

'It's all right,' said the Fool urgently. 'You'll be perfectly safe with me.'

'Yes, I will, won't I,' said Magrat, trying to look around him to see where the others had gone.

'They're staging the play outside, in the big courtyard. We'll get a lovely view from one of the gate towers, and no-one else will be there. I put some wine up there for us, and everything.'

When she still looked half-reluctant he added, 'And there's a cistern of water and a fireplace that the guards use sometimes. In case you want to wash your hair.'

The castle was full of people standing around in that polite, sheepish way affected by people who see each other all day and are now seeing each other again in unusual social circumstances, like an office party. The witches passed quite unremarked among them and found seats in the rows of benches in the main courtyard, set up before a hastily assembled stage.

Nanny Ogg waved her bag of walnuts at Granny.

'Want one?' she said.

An alderman of Lancre shuffled past her and pointed politely to the seat on her left.

'Is anyone sitting here?' he said.

'Yes,' said Nanny.

The alderman looked distractedly at the rest of the benches, which were filling up fast, and then down at the clearly empty space in front of him. He hitched up his robes with a determined expression.

'I think that since the play is commencing to start, your friends must find a seat elsewhere, when they arrive,' he said, and sat down.

Within seconds his face went white. His teeth began to chatter. He clutched at his stomach and groaned.[20]

'I told you,' said Nanny, as he lurched away. 'What's the good of asking if you're not going to listen?' She leaned towards the empty seat. 'Walnut?'

'No, thank you,' said King Verence, waving a spectral hand. 'They go right through me, you know.'

'Pray, gentles all, list to our tale . . .'

'What's this?' hissed Granny. 'Who's the fellow in the tights?'

'He's the Prologue,' said Nanny. 'You have to have him at the beginning so everyone knows what the play's about.'

'Can't understand a word of it,' muttered Granny. 'What's a gentle, anyway?'

'Type of maggot,' said Nanny.

'That's nice, isn't it? “Hallo maggots, welcome to the show.” Puts people in a nice frame of mind, doesn't it?'

There was a chorus of 'sshs'.

'These walnuts are damn tough,' said Nanny, spitting one out into her hand. 'I'm going to have to take my shoe off to this one.'

Granny subsided into unaccustomed, troubled silence, and tried to listen to the prologue. The theatre worried her. It had a magic of its own, one that didn't belong to her, one that wasn't in her control. It changed the world, and said things were otherwise than they were. And it was worse than that. It was magic that didn't belong to magical people. It was commanded by ordinary people, who didn't know the rules. They altered the world because it sounded better.

The duke and duchess were sitting on their thrones right in front of the stage. As Granny glared at them the duke half turned, and she saw his smile.

I want the world the way it is, she thought. I want the past the way it was. The past used to be a lot better than it is now.

And the band struck up.

Hwel peered around a pillar and signalled to Wimsloe and Brattsley, who hobbled out into the glare of the torches.

OLD MAN (an Elder): 'What hath befell the land?'

OLD WOMAN (a Crone): ' 'Tis a terror—'

The dwarf watched them for a few seconds from the wings, his lips moving soundlessly. Then he scuttled back to the guardroom where the rest of the cast were still in the last hasty stages of dressing. He uttered the stage manager's traditional scream of rage.

'C'mon,' he ordered. 'Soldiers of the king, at the double! And the witches – where are the blasted witches?'

Three junior apprentices presented themselves.

'I've lost my wart!'

'The cauldron's all full of yuk!'

'There's something living in this wig!'

'Calm down, calm down,' screamed Hwel. 'It'll all be all right on the night!'

'This is the night, Hwel!'

Hwel snatched a handful of putty from the makeup table and slammed on a wart like an orange. The offending straw wig was rammed on its owner's head, livestock and all. and the cauldron was very briefly inspected and pronounced full of just the right sort of yuk, nothing wrong with yuk like that.

On stage a guard dropped his shield, bent down to pick it up, and dropped his spear. Hwel rolled his eyes and offered up a silent prayer to any gods that might be watching.

It was already going wrong. The earlier rehearsals had their little teething troubles, it was true, but Hwel had known one or two monumental horrors in his time and this one was shaping up to be the worst. The company was more jittery than a potful of lobsters. Out of the corner of his ear he heard the on-stage dialogue falter, and scurried to the wings.

'—avenge the terror of thy father's death—' he hissed, and hurried back to the trembling witches. He groaned. Divers alarums. This lot were supposed to be terrorising a kingdom. He had about a minute before the cue.

'Right!' he said, pulling himself together. 'Now, what are you? You're evil hags, right?'

'Yes, Hwel,' they said meekly.

'Tell me what you are,' he commanded.

'We're evil hags, Hwel.'


'We're Evil Hags!'

Hwel stalked the length of the quaking line, then turned abruptly on his heel, 'And what are you going to do?'

The 2nd Witche scratched his crawling wig.

'We're going to curse people?' he ventured. 'It says in the script—'


'We're going to curse people!' they chorused, springing to attention and staring straight ahead to avoid his gaze.

Hwel stumped back along the line.

'What are you?'

'We're hags, Hwel!'

'What kind of hags?'

'We're black and midnight hags!' they yelled, getting into the spirit.

'What kind of black and midnight hags?'

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