The Discworld and all familiar people are owned by Terry Pratchett. Any recognizable song lyrics belong to their respective owners
This is just an old little one-shot I've decided to share… I hope I got everything right. Witches Abroad is one of the few Discworld books I only know the German translation of.
Erzulia Gogol was at a loss.
She didn't like this, because she was a witch, make that a voodoo witch, and witches were, as a rule, never at a loss. Yet now it looked like she would fail, and loose her hut.
This issue wouldn't even have come up if her hut had been of the usual variety, but a decent witch took great pride in making her hut something special.
So, as this was Genua, and Genua was surrounded by swamp, Erzulia had a hut with duck legs. Unfortunately, this needed some magic, not only for the legs, but also to prevent same legs from being eaten by things with very sharp teeth.
The Swamp demanded a sacrifice for this, in Grune every forty-sixth year. This was where the problem started – forty six years ago, her pre-predecessor Joana had owned the hut, albeit shortly. She had left some notes on the process – it involved rum, tobacco, and the offering of blue notes.
Rum and tobacco were a given – Erzulia wondered why there was no chicken included – but she could for her life not figure out what blue notes were. Joana had left some hints, i.e. song lyrics, that were used up and under no circumstances should be offered again. Most of these songs were about lost loves and such, so Erzulia had gone in search for a fresh song.
She even had found a fairly new one, the Ballad of Scarlett O'Hare, and sung it at the swamp, but it hadn't worked. Neither had the ones she had made up, which hadn't surprised her much.
She had even gone so far as buying blue paper, writing the lyrics down, and offering them by throwing them into the water, burning them or feeding them to the alligators. Needless to say that it hadn't helped.
She stared at the walls of her tent and tried getting used to the notion of living on land. The concept was, somehow, frightening.
Outside, she could hear someone tuning a guitar.
It was not unusual that some street musician used her well frequented corner of the marketplace to earn some money. Gully's Swamp Rats often did. On that days, her own earnings were a bit under average, because if you weighed Madame Gogol's gumbo against Gully's music, the gumbo would loose inevitably. If it were good musicians, she sometimes doubled her earnings.
At least this was a guitar, not a banjo, so it wasn't Gully, or anyone else's rats. She wondered what it was with Swamp Rats – the bands mostly sounded like cats presented with valerian, and well, there weren't that many rats in the swamp; they tended to prefer eating garbage over being eaten.
The guitar's owner had finished tuning, and started to play.
It was a simple bass line, with a rhythm that reminded Erzulia of love on a hot August night. It was worlds better than the usual street music – perhaps it had escaped from a bar. She could almost see the smoke filled room, smelling of beer and rum.
Then, a voice started to sing, female, smoky, like the bar it had fled.
Borogravia, in the smould'ring heat of summer,
Thunderstorms brewing in the sky
Seas'nal workers, bringing in the harvest
And one was there, who loved to drive me wild…
It was good. And it was, more than anything else she'd heard before, blue.
Erzulia Gogol was out of her tent in no time, to have a look at that singer.
Like charcoal were this little boy's eyes
While he fed me all his little lies
And he left me begging on my knees,
Hot charcoal, if you please…
The woman, a young one, was sitting, legs crossed, guitar on her lap, oblivious to her audience. She was quite pretty; some black person had left their influence in her family tree, tinting her skin a lovely exotic shade, and giving her rich, black curls.
The only thing that indicated that she had come from somewhere else, was her worn dress, the heavy boots, and the accent. It sounded Uberwaldean.
Erzulia couldn't wait to get this girl's story.
Meanwhile, the song had come to an end, and the singer had started a new one, after beaming at her enraptured audience.
A week of rain, and the sky's still grey,
And I, I wonder where I'll stay,
Packed my things, 'cause the swamp took my house,
Left this backwater town, poor as a mouse…
The guards actually had to shoo them away when the market hours were over.
The young woman stood up then, and glanced around, looking a little helpless.
Erzulia wandered over to her.
"You have a lovely voice."
That earned her a shy smile. "Thanks."
"Well, you look hungry, why don't you have some gumbo?"
The stranger needed no further invitation. She dug in, and actually managed to clean the cauldron.
"Wow", she then said.
Erzulia smiled at her. Some thickened gumbo leftovers shouldn't warrant that kind of reaction.
"You know, this is my first real gumbo. My Gran usually refused to cook it, she was always complaining that she couldn't get the right ingredients."
"So you do have some Genuan ancestry?"
The other one chuckled. "Nothing so illustrious. She was from one of the villages hubwards of here."
"Hmm. But you are from Uberwald, if I can interpret your accent."
"Oh… forgive my rudeness, madam. My name is Anna van Seling. I'm from Bockshorn, in Uberwald."
"I am Erzulia Gogol, Anna. As it is, I happen to live in the swamp."
Anna sighed. "I came here to see it. Gran always told me about it, and she used to sing songs to me like the ones I play. Well, and last winter she died, and I could feel the Swamp calling me. If that doesn't sound too weird."
A witch. A Swamp witch grown in Uberwald, of all places. Erzulia's interest was rapidly reaching beyond the usual witch nosiness.
Perhaps she would be getting her blue notes after all.
And so, she invited Anna to stay at her place, as a kind of business partnership; if they always set up next to each other on market days, they would both be profiting.
Anna didn't need much persuading; she had just arrived, and couldn't afford any lodgings in the city.
When they had reached the pier, and Erzulia had whistled for her hut, Anna stared at it approaching in awe.
"I thought it was all made up, you know", the young woman said out of the blue.
"My gran, she used to tell stories about a witch doct'ress in a hut with feet, and about all the other things… like bringing people back from the dead to let them serve you… I thought she only told it to frighten us children a little."
"Uberwald is not very fond of magic, isn't it?"
"Well, no… we have Igors."
Erzulia raised an eyebrow.
Anna shrugged. "We live." She was proud, and didn't like strangers to insult her country, didn't she?
"As you can see, I am the resident 'witch doct'ress'. But I don't bring people back from the dead just because I need a servant."
Anna threw her a sharp look.
"Yet, I'm afraid that the hut will not exist much longer."
"Oh. How come?"
"The swamp demands a sacrifice, so that it doesn't eat the legs. But the one who knew what to offer left without many hints. So all I know is that I need some blue notes, and I have no idea where to get them."
"Hmm. You mean blue notes like in sad songs? Like the ones I sing?"
The girl was smart, you had to acknowledge that. For all her strange accent she thought remarkably straight.
"I'm not really sure", Erzulia admitted.
"But it would be worth a try, wouldn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"What do I have to do?"
Anna was quite eager to help, it seemed. She was bordering on enthusiastic, even.
But before they discussed this, Erzulia ushered the young woman into her hut and offered her some rum.
They sat late into the night discussing songs and the ceremony. They agreed to do it the hour before dawn, because the moon then would stand in the sign of the Domestic Ogre, which seemed a good omen.
Time crept by slowly, and Anna amused Erzulia by singing some of Joana's old lyrics. She even knew some of them, making Erzulia wonder…
When it was time, she ushered the younger woman onto the porch, and prepared the offerings, and then she called every god of the Swamp that might be listening.
She dropped the crumbs of tobacco into the water and then poured the rum in, and as always, the Swamp gurgled a little.
Then Anna struck the first chord of her song, and to Erzulia's amazement, the burbling continued, and a few moments later the young woman started to sing what she had said was her Gran's story.
She came down to the bar now and then,
Was a good chick to her mother hen,
She never got drunk, never got home late,
No games of cards, she had a clean slate.
There was a man that night, with a hat-obscured face,
Sad green eyes and cat-like grace,
He bought her a drink, and asked her to dance,
And never spared anyone else but a glance.
She was gone in the morning,
neversaid where she went, and why,
She was gone in the morning –
No hugs, no goodbyes,
Not even a note –
She was gone with the man in the long leather coat.
And while Anna played, the air shimmered and let some images pass, of a girl, who had fallen in love and abandoned everything she knew, to follow him up to the mountains, because sometimes one love was greater than another; it made up for the homesickness and even suppressed the call of the Swamp to a chosen one.
Erzulia nodded quietly, her suspicions confirmed.
She waited out the last notes, and as they faded, the last crumb of tobacco was swallowed with a satisfied belch.
They sat in silence for a while, admiring the contented mood the Swamp now exuded.
And when the sun was finally up, Erzulia quietly got inside and dug out some lime pie, and shared it with the granddaughter of the lost witch Joana.