The Red and the White
A longer tale based on a single paragraph written for The Ankh-Morpork Times – News of The Disc on Facebook. I wrote a one paragraph response to a posting, recognised its ultimate source (primal British myth shared by Celt, Saxon and Norman alike), and thought – why stop here?
From: J.H.C. Goatberger (Proprietor)
To: Mr Thos. Cropper (Overseer)
Good idea to go after the publishing rights to books by long-dead authors who are well out of copyright and who have no living descendents. This spares the bother of having to deal with authors who make unrealistic demands for payment. And their literary agents, who tend to be somewhat tenacious. But are you sure there's a market?
From: Mr Thos. Cropper (Overseer)
To: J.H.C. Goatberger (Proprietor)
There is a most assured market, sir. The current trend among readers is for romantic folklore and fables from a long-gone Golden Age where everything was simper and easier and somehow purer in intention and morality. I firmly believe a re-issue of Birdwhistle's Legendes And Antiquities Of The Ramtops will be a popular read, at a modest $AM3.99 per copy.
From: J.H.C. Goatberger (Proprietor)
To: Mr Thos. Cropper (Overseer)
But the little difficulty here is that Birdwhistle is written in Old. The archaisms make the text somewhat difficult to comprehend, as do the antiquities of spelling?
From: Mr Thos. Cropper (Overseer)
To: J.H.C. Goatberger (Proprietor)
I have thought of that, sir. I propose to hire skilled writers who can re-interpret Lancre folklore for the modern reader. Perhaps the young ladies who were responsible for the smash-hit books for children, the "Leonora the Explorer" series?1(1) As Miss Wiggs is a skilled illustrator, there is the bonus that in-line pictures can be provided to break up the wall of text. And her friend is skilled in the use of words.
From: J.H.C. Goatberger (Proprietor)
To: Mr Thos. Cropper (Overseer)
THOSE two young ladies? This brings us back to author payments again. I thought the advantage of this was to avoid paying authors? And do I remind you that these authors have Literary Agents?
From: Mr Thos. Cropper (Overseer)
To: J.H.C. Goatberger (Proprietor)
I've given them a sample story, sir. Just to see how they get on, with no commitment to publish. I have also taken the precaution of ensuring their literary agents are aware, so as to avoid a repetition of the last set of negotiations.
Ye Desmene of Lancrre, in the Reyne of ye Kingge who is Yclept Uther Penferret, from ye Mysste of Antiquittie;
A Tale From the Dawn Age of the Ramtops Kingdom of Lancre. Of the Founding of Lancre Castle.
Historical Note and Introduction: prepared by Miss Alice Band (Guild of Historians), principal tutor in History, Archaeology (Stealth and Conventional), Climbing, Traps, Evasion and Archery, at the Assassins' Guild School.
History is an attempt to understand the past through the considered evaluation of the available evidence. After you've carefully evaluated that available evidence for reliability and veracity, everything you build on that is subjective and it becomes a matter of opinion. The majority opinion then becomes History. Everything else becomes Conjecture, Anecdotal Evidence and Unsubstantiated Opinion. Another word for Conjecture, Anecdotal Evidence and Unsubstantiated Opinion is, of course, Folklore. Which is intrinsically of little value, despite the fact the stories have persisted for millennia, often in the oral tradition, and only started to be collected and written down by people like Mr Birdwhistle several centuries ago. Historians will point out that a mark of the civilization of the Latatian Empire is that they took great care to write everything down, a mark of their superiority over the lesser barbarian peoples they sought to civilise. We have a wealth of written accounts, say of the three or four days of animal slaughter and ritualised bloody combat in the great arenas, to justify this opinion.
The oral account, stories passed down the generations over thousands of years, is considered unreliable as a historical source. Yet those accounts often carry a germ of truth and preserve the essential facts of a story, even if somewhat embellished. As a historian, I understand this and seek to incorporate this into my own teaching. There is no fixed definite line at which unreliable Folklore becomes objective and correct History, after all. We can be reasonably sure a city called Ankh-Morpork exists and has done so for a long time. But can we be certain its founders were twin foundlings who were nurtured and succoured by hippopotami? What credence can we put on the story that tells us the city was built on an island created over centuries by an accumulation of hippo dung?
We live in a world built on Folklore and explained by History.
In this spirit I commend to you this volume of stories of the Antiquities of the Ramtops, which has been prepared by two senior students of mine who I know have grasped the lessons I seek to teach my pupils. In fact, they are going to get a deserved extra credit for their work in re-interpreting Birdwhistle to a modern readership. I really didn't need to do much editing at all, apart from an occasional suggestion or correction. Yes, there is embellishment in the original Tales, and a certain amount of reflection of the preoccupations and prejudices of Birdwhistle's time. But formal history, and (where permissible in Lancre) archaeology(2)2, have repeatedly proven the essential veracity of the stories. These events happened. But maybe not quite as the authors have chosen to present them. That, dear reader, is History.
Alice Band, DiPE, B.A., ,
On the founding of Lancre Castle
Lancre Town, perhaps 1500 years before the present day
The three Witches sat on a grassy bank just outside the hamlet of Lancre and watched the day. A peat fire was putting a stream of more-or-less nearly fragrant smoke into the air, from one of the wattle-and-daub roughly thatched houses. The thin peat smoke spiralled up through the aperture provided in the point of the thatched roof.3(3) A few pigs foraged half-heartedly; the sound of repeated clanging and hammering came from the hamlet's smithy. It was a place where the menfolk would gather to avoid work and cluster in the warmth of the forge whilst Jacyn Ogg, in his stolid way, got on with things.
They looked up to the fort on the high promontory in the thoughtfully disapproving way that was common to Witches. A historian, were there any in the vicinity, might have identified that old fort as a typically Latatian milecastle, put here to provide shelter for a minimal garrison tasked with keeping the wild tribe of the Lancrastria thoroughly pacified. A passing archaeologist might have looked at the site thoughtfully and remarked that under that square boxy building, there'd be an older hill-fort typical of the mountain tribes.
Witches looked at the place and nodded greetings to the confused looking shaggy man clad in animal skins and resting a stone club on one shoulder; they were also on first-name terms with the fierce warrior queen who drove a spectral chariot, with insubstantial scythes on the wheels, who regularly patrolled her ancestral lands; and they consoled with the men in Latatian uniform, who pined for far-away Brindisi, men whose post-mortem fate was to patrol the battlements of a fort in a land that was alternately rainy and snowy and rarely warm, and where you couldn't get a decent pasta to save your Afterlife. (4)
Witches knew the history of their land. It was one of their jobs. They even got to talk to it occasionally.
They looked up to the stalled reconstruction work up the hill, with a certain dispassionate stoicism.
"It'll all be the same in another two thousand years, Nim." one said.
The Witch called Nim considered this and gave a little shrug.
"Reckon you may be correct there, Gerontia." she agreed.
They looked up to where a group of baffled and head-scratching masons, standing amidst the rubble and the fallen stones, were regarding the latest wreck of the building site. A cloaked figure they recognised as King Uther stood off to one side. He looked unhappy. The fact his chosen Queen was next to him, hands on hips and looking furious, possibly contributed to this.
And then there was…
"King wants a Castle." Gerontia Ogg remarked. "Queen wants one worthy of his status as a monarch."
"By which, she really means hers." Nimue Weatherwax agreed. "Queens are buggers for that sort of thing. She's itchin' to start hangin' tapestries and curtains and drapes and banners and things, but she can't do that, not till he's got the extension built on the old fort. Meanwhile, she's gettin' all frustrated at him. Not good in a King. He's going to want to come out and burn something. Or somebody. You mark my words."
"Errr.. what is the probllem, exactlly?" the third and youngest Witch asked. The older two looked at her tolerantly. They were not that much older: this was not an age where people lived to a very great age. At most, Nimue Weatherwax was pushing thirty. She just had the look of a far older woman about her. Gerontia Ogg might have been twenty-five. But she had already become mother to six children, and was developing a cheerfully rounded look to her. The third Witch was barely eighteen. Technically she shouldn't have been in Lancre at all; she belonged to a neighbouring country with which Lancre regularly had disputes, over the metaphorical garden fence. It could get so bad that King Uther had issued a Royal Decree forbidding Llamedosians to remain overnight in the realm of Lancre. Any Llamedosian, in fact, seen in the realm during the hours of darkness could legally be slain with the longbow or any other offensive weapon that came easily to hand.
Nobody ever tried to enforce this one on Morgana Garlleg.
She was from Llamedos, yes. But she was a Witch. A consideration was that nobody wanted Nimue Weatherwax coming round to point this out. And she was, people agreed, basically okay for a bloody Llamedosian and did good. She was alright. Went on a bit, but alright.
"I mean, every time they builld something and make a start on the new castlle, they go away at the end of the day, and during the night it allll falllls down again."
Nimue Weatherwax glared at the woebegone looking masons and builders at the top of the hill, who were now being berated by a furious Queen. Then she patiently(5) explained to Morgana what the problem was.
"Oh." the young witch said, digesting. "Shoulldn't we, you know, tellll them, or something?"
Nimue Weatherwax shook her head.
"Not my place to." She said. "I'm not one for going where I'm not wanted. They'll just have to work it out for themselves."
She nodded up the hill again.
"'sides. The King has got him for an advisor. He can bloody well advise."
King Uther Penferret was not a happy King. He wanted a Castle. Just here, on the highest point overlooking Lancre Gorge, built next to and in the fullness of time, over, the old Latatian fort which at the moment served him as castle and palace. Building stone was being quarried and bought, at a ruinous price, from the Dwarfs and the Trolls. It was one of those arrangements that the co-sentient species of Lancre had evolved. The Dwarfs asked the Trolls where they could safely quarry; the local Trolls obliged, erecting barriers and warning signs around areas where old Trolls had retired to sleep and dream their days away. Both sides saw the sense of not, for e.g., being awoken from deep thought with a pickaxe in your ear, or else having several tons of formerly static granite scream in rage and tear your head off. Humans saw the wisdom of not buying building stone with recognisable faces in it.(6) Everyone got on. It was one of the good things about Lancre.
Witches were respected here. It was even accepted that every so often, the King himself might discreetly pop round to the most senior witch available, for a cup of tea and a discreet chat. The King was an absolute ruler; he'd never ever dream of taking advice from a subject, oh no, and certainly not from a common old woman with no breeding. But you had to take an interest now and again as to what the common people thought. And you couldn't get any commoner than Gerontia Ogg, for instance.
But all that had changed with the coming of the Queen, who wasn't from round here. She came from a tiny kingdom on the faraway coast nearby to Hergen, and she had forn ideas. One of those had been her inviting a Court Wizard to take residence. Better than those cantankerous, ill-dressed, uneducated and rather smelly peasant women. A Court Wizard would raise the tone of the place. Besides, other Queens would be jealous.
Mention of him made Nimue Weatherwax's teeth grate.
King Uther put the guilty thought out of his head that he'd been rather ignoring the Witches lately, and he looked down into what would become the foundations of his new Castle. The walls of what would become the dungeons and sub-dungeons were still there, lining the deeply dug pit, but only just. Rubble and building blocks were everywhere. Every time, every damn time, they cleared the mess and started building above ground, something happened.
"Well?" he asked.
The long, thin, Court Wizard stroked his white beard thoughtfully, and leant on his staff.
"There are several working theories, Lord King." he said. "Localised earthquakes…"
"During the night? Every damn night? For the past two months?"
"Lancre is mountainous, Lord King. Mountains are pushed up by subterranean activity and it is just possible that the action of two tectonic plates a long way below our feet is pushing upwards and…"
Uther let the words drone on in the usual unstoppable way. He looked down the slope to the town and let his eyes pass over the three Witches.
They're just sitting there. The Weatherwax woman is biding her time…
"Or else the earth-spirits are displeased." the wizard said, adjusting his voice to talking-to-Kings.
The King allowed the Wizard to ramble on. And on. And on. He felt a horrible icy sensation that the other shoe was going to drop.
Historical Note by Miss Alice Band (Guild of Historians), principal tutor in History, Archaeology (Stealth and Conventional), Climbing, Traps, Evasion and Archery, at the Assassins' Guild School.
The promontory overlooking the Lancre River is a high craggy slope that looms up over the town which grew around it. It is easy to see why there has always been a fortification of some sort here: high places overlooking places of strategic importance have always been magnets for defensive positions as they tend to be high, steep, easy to defend, and places of refuge for the population in times of trouble.
My own extended stay there some years ago offered me the privilege of visiting the Castle as it currently is. At the time I had not been invited to join the Guild of Assassins, but I could clearly see how defensible the position is and how any invading force would need to settle down to a long and problematic siege. The obvious question – as both Historian and Archaeologist – was why on earth such a small nation, bordered by the Chalk Baronetcy, Llamedos and Near Überwald, none of which could these days be called plausible foes – would need such a strong complex fortress, which in its building must have consumed a vast part of the nation's economic resources. Finding out the historical reasons for this intrigued me.
I was fortunate enough, following a difficult expedition to find something out concerning the archaeology of this land (which did not go entirely according to plan), to have made a local friend in the form of Mrs Gytha Ogg, whose family has been in this place for a long time.(7) 7Mrs Ogg is consequently a fount of local folklore, and she generously shared this with me over hospitality and drinks. She also made an introduction on my behalf to King Verence II and to Queen Magrat, who were sympathetic to my recent difficulties and who graciously allowed me full access to the National Archives, housed in the Castle. I was thus in a position any Historian would be grateful for: the opportunity to research, read and verify the records of an entire country. Among other things, this allowed me to cross-reference the hard copy against the tales related to me by Mrs Ogg. I was also able to perform passive archaeology on the Castle site – with, by request, strictly no digging or excavating – to visually assess how the Castle had evolved over the millenia.
The archaeological and historical record fitted remarkably well with the broad tale presented in the folklore.
There has always been a fortification on this site. The earliest evidence is of a succession of hill-forts built on the high place by the earliest inhabitants. Before this, the very earliest tales hint, there were caves and diggings that people used for shelter back in the Stone Age. The hill fort, ditches and earth banks, was taken by the Latatians in the time of the Great Empire. Queen Magrat showed me items kept in the Castle museum, testament to the ferocity of those battles: the torso of a human skeleton, whose spine has been split by a deeply embedded crossbow bolt consistent with Latatian making. That penetrated from the front.(8) 8Her Majesty also advised me that this sort of thing crops up all the time, and showed me boxes full of retrieved weapons, lead and stone slingshots, fragments of Latatian military equipment; swords in bronze and iron that are useless for ongoing use but which even today are dug up and retrieved in the area. (Such a shame no professional archaeologists were present; the area is now probably spoilt for systematic study)
The Latatians, having captured the hill-fort, soon found it necessary to build a fortress here: I was able to trace its outline and realised this was not just a mile-fort, but a fully-fledged castrum, suggesting they found it necessary to build a far larger fortress here than the place apparently needed.
In turn, that Latatian castrum persisted long after the people who built it left. Successive warlords and minor Kings used it even as it decayed, with stone plundered for other building and gaps in the walls replaced by crude wooden palisades. (I found what may have been post-holes for such makeshift walls, but was hampered by the prohibition on my digging anywhere.)
This persisted for perhaps five hundred years, until King Uther Penferret arose as a strong, capable, monarch who unified several smaller contending fiefdoms into the Knigdom of Lancre(9), and who authorised the first reconstruction of what evolved in time into Lancre Castle as we know it today.
But why such a big Castle?
Mrs Ogg grinned at me.
"Loads of tunnels underneath, love." she said, mysteriously. "Nobody's ever explored them all. Not even Dwarfs."
The mystery deepened.
Morganna Garlleg walked the forest path, scowling at nothing in particular. She'd spent the morning, in her steading at the hamlet of BræþEsolcweorne, (10) dealing with a sheep with the staggers, a cow with the Dropsical Blight, and a human with bad feet. That last had not been pleasant.
She made a noise halfway between a sigh and a snarl. She hadn't meant to settle in Lancre. Llamedos and Lancre were deadly enemies. A King of Llamedos had put effort into creating his own border wall, Offla's Dike.(11). He had then said, any Lancastrian, right, who steps over this here earth bank will feel the wrath. You listening over there, boyos?
This hadn't stopped Lancre raiding into Llamedos. And vice-versa.
Morganna had been taken prisoner in a raid on her village. She had felt vaguely disappointed none of them had tried to, well, you know. She felt that as if it was some sort of concealed insult. In fact, the leader of the raiders had said something in the crude Gods-awful Morporkian tongue along the lines of "Gordon Bennett, you bloody daft sods, why did you take her? She's a bloody witch, you dozy buggers! She's trouble we don't need!"
Technically a slave and a thrall, nobody had pressed the point very much or tried to exert ownership rights.
Morganna had met the other local Witches and as if by some unspoken agreement, she had joined them to practice the Craft in her new country. Nimue Weatherwax did this sort of thing to people. Morgana had realised she could have walked back home to Llamedos – lots of people went home again. Initially taken as thralls, they realised the Lancrastrians were a bit half-hearted about actually keeping slaves, it was enough to make the point to the neighbours by taking them. So they seemed at a loss as to what to actually do with people once they were taken, and many simply went back home again. But something had made her stay. Nimue had off-handedly mentioned that BræþEsolcweorne needed a Witch, and if she had a mind, why not stay? Doesn't matter you're Llamedosian, I'll come with you and have a word or two, just to explain. And Morganna had stayed. There was something about this place…
Morganna walked on into a clearing. She wasn't surprised to see the three ravens, who looked at her with the sort of expressions on their beaks that suggested they were sniggering. She took care to greet them.
"Oh, piss off, why don't you?" she suggested.
That was another irritation. Her parents had been bad at spelling. They'd been aiming at calling her Morrigan, after the local goddess of war. Parental dyslexia had turned it into Morganna, which didn't evoke very much at all. And local people couldn't get the hang of the "ll" sound; they persisted in pronouncing her family name as if she were a smelly, but admittedly nutritious and tasty, vegetable. She wondered how her life might have turned out as an avatar of the war goddess, then straightened her shoulders and walked on. She was due to meet the others on Witch business
Gerontia Ogg smiled benevolently at her oldest daughter, who had succeeded in setting and lighting a fire.
"You done well there." she said. "If you rolls your dice right, I might just let you do this every night!"
Her daughter beamed back in genuine pleasure and pride. Gerontia looked over to the next two oldest daughters, who were preparing dinner.
"That goes for you, too." she said, generously.
Gerontia sat back and smiled to herself. Her house was one of the best-kept in the village. The revolutionary new chimney, an indoor flue built in brick and stone, put paid to the central hearth with the hole in the roof above it that didn't quite let all the smoke out, but unerringly allowed all the rain in. She'd got her husband and brothers to close it over at the same time they'd built the chimney flue. She smiled again. In the chaos up at the Castle, her brother Nefyl had managed to liberate enough building materials to do a bit of work about the place. It wasn't as if they'd miss any, and it was just sitting there doing nothing while the Thing That Happened In The Night was going on…
Gerontia allowed herself a moment's pride in a cleaner drier house, and savoured the cooking smell from the hearth, as well as the familiar smell of her home-brew drifting in from the shed at the back. Brewing was also a Witch skill.
Got to go out and see the girls later, but there's time for a bite to eat and drink first…
Nimue Weatherwax scowled not only to herself, but at the rest of the world around her, on general principles. She'd had an interesting and eventful day.
It had all begun in the early morning. Checking that nobody else was around, she had walked down to a secluded and well-screened stretch of the River and had stripped down to her shift. Ensuring her clothing was secure, she had steeled herself, walked into the River, and set about washing all the bits. You know. The bits you needed to do every so often.
The Lancre river widened out a bit here. Not quite a lake, but it got wider. Out in midstream there was a strong current, as the flow strengthened, drawn by the gorge and the Falls. But if you knew where to look, there was a placid pool. Bloody cold, but no inconvenient rip-tides.
Nimue stayed there for long enough to complete her immediate business, and conceded that if you toughed it out for long enough, you got used to the cold water. She allowed herself to lie full length in the stream and got as near as she could to a relaxed state. She contemplated the local situation and felt her fists clenching as her default state of repressed furious anger began to emerge.
Warlords and Kings has always consulted Witches. You know, when they needs a bit of guidance or a prompt to set them on the right path. A word in their ear, sometimes. Uther's not a bad man. Allus used to talk to me, or Gerontia, when he felt the need.
Nimue tried to put it out of her head that the King might, in his single days, have found reasons other than State to consult Gerontia Ogg. She had that effect on a certain sort of man.
But then he married that bloody girl. The uppity one. Out of Kornawhack or whatever they calls it, small Kingdom on the other side of Llamedos and Hergen, speaks a language a bit like Llamedosian. I'll concede the clotted cream is a good idea, but you'd not like to eat too much of it. And the King got a few useful tin mines out there as a dowry. It's payin' for this new Castle he wants. Or rather, she wants. Bloody woman with her forn ideas. Hmmph. Towers with them upturned ice-cream cones on top. Silly notion. What's wrong with good honest battlements? But no, it's the new idea, a King needs a Castle, by which she means she wants a castle. And he's got to pay for it, to keep her sweet.
Nimue began to fume slightly. An observer on the bank might have witnessed the water around her beginning to bubble and steam slightly. The same intrepid observer might have glimpsed the motion of alarmed fish swimming quickly away from where things were starting to get too hot for them. Gerontia Ogg, were she present, might have remarked that most people might add heat to their bathwater in more conventional ways, including one that made the water slightly more amber-coloured.
Nimue Weatherwax didn't need it. She had her datum state of bubbling anger to keep the water warm.
And he don't come to Witches no more. She put paid to that. A Court Wizard, she said. An educated man, she said. Adds tone. Adds class to a Court. A man with degrees from Unseen University. Claims to be a sixth-level Wizard, as if that flummery matters. Ye Gods, she'll be gettin' a Court Jester next. As funny as a dose of the sweating fever and half as welcome.
Nimue knew, in a way she couldn't fully articulate, that this was an offence to the natural way of things. Kings, princes, knights and soforth came to Witches for advice. Even if it was discreetly and by night. They allus had and they allus would.
In this country, Witches do the guidin' and the advisin'. I remember my grandmother tellin' me that when the Latatians were here, their head nob, the Prefect, come down from the fort to speak to, what were them words, read 'em in an old book once, the Pythonissa or the Auguratrix. Well, I'm the Auguratrix round these parts. And just right now I needs to be as auguratricksy as I damn well can.
Nimue was vaguely aware of distant voices. She scowled again, and decided it would be best to get out and get dressed. Just when she was getting comfortable, too. She appreciated the water warming up for her and put it down to ambient magic.
She stood up in the water and felt pain, More discomfort, really, underneath her feet, discomfort that felt wrong for a stone. Curiosity took over and she reached down, groping down into the river bed.
Ah. One of those… dangerous bloody things. Could have cut my foot open on that.
She raised the thing up in her right hand, noting it weighed maybe five or six pounds, and casually threw it towards the bank…
"And that, my Lord King, is how we know the world to be banana-shaped."
King Uther Penferret nodded, as he walked alongside his Court Wizard.
"This new learning of yours amazes me, Sir Wizard." he said, with studied politeness.
"I thank you, sire." said the wizard. "Research at Unseen University has come up with an idea that may be germane here. It concerns how the bladder of the common sheep, Ovis Aries, may be used to prevent earthquakes…"
He was cut short as a large metal object boomeranged towards them, shedding rust flakes. It narrowly missed the King and bounced off a nearby tree. Both Wizard and King, as they took an early-morning stroll alongside the river, followed the trajectory back to the slenderly built, but still imposing, dark-haired woman who was up to her knees in river, wearing only a pale linen shift. She glared at them and defiantly folded her arms.
King Uther nodded to her, then walked over to where the sword had fallen and picked it up. He assessed it, critically.
"A bit rusty." he remarked. "But scrape the rust off and it might be serviceable. Could get enough useful metal to make a shorter poignard, perhaps. What do you think, Marvin?"
"Merddyn, sire." the wizard corrected him, in a manner that suggested he was used to this. He looked over to the Lady in the Lake. And something pinged inside him. He couldn't draw his eyes away from her.
"Errr… good morrow, Mistress Weatherwax." the King said, uneasily. He'd not spoken to her since shortly after his marriage. The Queen had forbidden it, saying it wasn't seemly, it detracted from the dignity of the office, and anyway they were largely cantankerous ill-educated illiterate smelly old peasant women. Even the young ones.
Nimue nodded at him. She did not unfold her arms.
"Errr… I'm sorry I've not spoken to you for…"
"Things to do. Kingdom to run. I know how it is." Nimue said, cutting him short. "Queen to deal with."
"I can't help noticing you just threw a sword at me, Mistress Weatherwax." the King continued.
"I threw a sword, I'll admit." Nimue replied. "Nasty rusty old thing, shouldn't have been in the river in the first place."
She glared at her King again. He blinked. Technically he could have her executed. But he was bright enough to see practical difficulties with that course of action.
"I'll take the point of view you salvaged an antique." Uther said, hurriedly. "And quite properly, it counts under law as treasure trove, to be surrendered to the Crown. The actions of a loyal subject… err, citizen…"
"Glad to hear it." she said. "And if you two are gentlemen, you can turn your backs while I get dressed…"
She noted the Wizard staring at her as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. She felt vaguely flattered.
"That includes you, Mister Wizard." she said.
A little later she was walking with King and Wizard.
"You know, Sire. A mysterious and if I may say so, mystical, young woman who emerges from the waters to give a sword to the rightful King. That idea has a certain mythical quality." The wizard Marvin, or Mervin, or whatever his damn-fool name was, chundered on.
"She threw it at me, Wizard. And may I say it's rusty as Hell?"
"That need not matter, sire. Only the three of us here saw the sword. We can lodge it in the Royal Armoury and substitute something more fitting? To be so described in the Annals of the Kingdom for posterity? And in the here-and-now, to strengthen your claim to the Kingship?"
Nimue listened with half an ear as the wizard chundered on. She examined him. Tall, thin, spare, grey hair with a hint of an original brown in it, not ageless but somewhere between fifty and ninety. He carried the inevitable staff, with the equally inevitable knob on the end, and was dressed in the usual tasteless, but somewhat faded, gaudy robes preferred by Unseen University's alumni. She assessed him with a witch's eye.
Half con-artist. Can talk the back legs off a donkey. Uses long words. A lot. Knows he's on a good pasture and determined to dig in and stay. But watch him. It ain't all bunco. There's magic in there too.
"So you are a witch, my dear?" he said, in a patronisingly unctuous voice.
"Folk recognise me as one, I'll admit." Nimue said.
The wizard smiled a greasy smile. She kept her face purposely poker.
"Ah, yes. We aren't completely unreasonable. We accept the, ah, distaff side is also capable of using the magickal flux, to a limited degree."
Nimue looked at him. She wasn't sure which part of his last sentence had been most irritating to her. It was the reasonableness, she reflected, later. That, and the way he put a completely un-necessary "k" into the word "magic", and even pronounced it.
"Do go on." she invited him. She noticed the King winced. The wizard ploughed on, completely oblivious to the warning signs.
"The air suddenly feels a little close." King Uther remarked, apropos of nothing. "Do you think it might develop into a thunderstorm later?"
"Happen it might." Nimue replied.
"Well." The Wizard said, clearing his throat portentously. "We actually welcome women having limited access to the magickal flux. Heavens, we're not living in the Bronze Age any more! Obviously, women cannot have access to the Higher Magic and the Great Art. Oh, no. Their minds are not geared up to the Great Pure Work, for one thing. It is also accepted wisdom that the female brain can actually explode if subjected to an unfamiliar need for intellectual analysis. It is a kindness to steer them away from this."
"Yes." Nimue said, slowly and deliberately. "I can see why Wizards think this is so."
Thunder rumbled out over distant Copperhead Mountain. The King winced.
"We should get back to the Palace." he said. "Before it really begins."
"However." The wizard said, "It is right there should be a class of women who can handle the small, everyday, currency of everyday magick. You know, fertility of the crop, care of domestic animals, oh, and small children. The Healing Arts. We hold this in esteem, believe it or not. That there are Witches in the world performing their appointed tasks frees up the Wizards to handle the greater matters, that which is truly important in Magick. So we are not diverted from our higher calling by triviality."
He looked hopefully at Nimue.
"My dear, would you like to witness what a Great wizard can do?"
Nimue realised, with horror and repugnance, that she was being courted. And that she was about to witness a mating display. She tried not to shudder at the thought. But decided to play along. Just for now.
"Yes, please." she said, appraising the wizard Marvin, or Mervin, or whatever his name was. "you know, I rather believe I would, Mr Wizard."
The King looked at Nimue Weatherwax, recognised the expression on her face, and tried not to whimper.
Thunder rolled down from Copperhead Mountain again.
And this time there was also lightning.
End of Part One – this one got a bit longer than I thought! More to come.
(1) to my Discworld Tarot story, the Six of Swords, in which two girls with a talent come up with an Idea. Then present it to a publisher. Then ask a Literary Agent to look after their percentage. .
(2) Alice Band has very good reason to emphasise that Lancre is a place where archaeology is not always practicable, permissible or even advisible. See my story The Lancre Caper.
(3) the sort designed to let not nearly all the smoke out, but which was guaranteed to let most of the rain in.
(4) And who regularly had to dodge the scary mad angry screaming woman in the chariot with the bloody scythes on the hubcaps. It got no better after you were dead.
(5) To Weatherwax standards of "patience", that is.
(6) It made it impossible to plausibly deny knowledge if that troll's family then turned up to ask why you turned poor Auntie Obsidia into a supporting lintel and a fornicated arch, why you do that, you fornicating human?
(7) Shameless plug: to my tale The Lancre Caper, in which a young Alice Band realises why you don't do the A-word in Lancre, however Stealthy you are.
(8) Found, in our world, at a former Celtic hill-fort in Somerset which even General Vespasian found hard to capture even with a whole Roman army behind him.
(9) his spelling wasn't brilliant
(10) Considering the literal versions of a placename: originally Asyn Drwg, renamed Malumasinum by the Latatians, and then BræþEsolcweorne in Old Morporkian. Gunning, as you might have guessed, for literal translations of "Bad Ass" in Welsh, Latin and Anglo-Saxon. Although – according to the Anglo-Saxon translation engine I found – this version of the name would mean "Smelly donkey" in modern English…
(11) There were rumours about his Queen, although not anywhere she could hear them.
(12) Thanks to Jake Campbell and Maureen Fedarb
Where the magic(k)al fallout from a misunderstanding between a Wizard and a Witch is safely contained.
Not a lot, really – also sketching out ideas for Part Two of "Strandpiel" and writing isolated episodes, which one day will be linked together. Got as far as Bekki's steading in Howondaland, some of her patents, aunt Mariella getting into trouble, and Sissi N'kima's return to Ankh-Morpork where she pays for advanced tuition in political Science by working as a Teaching Assistant at the Guild School. And gets Famke the Tykebomb as a pupil.
On the FB site, a page of a mediaeval manuscript showing two dragons locked in battle was repurposed with the legend
For just five shillings a month
You can provide dragons like these
With the food and shelter and medical attention they need
Act now! (12)
The idea was to present it as a flyer for the Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons. Recognising the source, I wrote a quick paragraph:
Ah, the Llamedosian Red and the Chalk White playing out their age-old enmity. This bloody Wizard turned up and said it was a metaphor for something or other, two peoples locked in age old enmity, but as he chundered on about it for so long, a local Witch called Nimue Jenkins locked him in a soundproof crystal box in a vain attempt to shut him up - local myth says he's still there, explaining poetic metaphor and its place in history, to this day...
Since then I've been having Ideas to repurpose this as a longer story. As you do.
I'm not sure if the longer story will fit here – so in the spirit of recent musings on elephants with wings, the "original" is going here together with credit for the inspiration, and the expanded and reworked story will fit in elsewhere.
Yes, I do know the title is half in Danish – couldn't find an online translator for Anglo-Saxon, so Danish will have to stand in, for now.