Granny Weatherwax walked through her back door and right into a big soppy kiss that went on and on....It took her several gasping minutes to get back enough breath to wheeze; "That mean you missed me?"
"Hugely," Mustrum Weatherwax, nee Ridcully answered, grinning ear to ear.
A young witch and a young wizard stand on Lancre bridge dropping pebbles into the churning waters far below. Plink. Plink. He asks a question. She answers, and the trousers of time bifurcate opening the way to two separate futures....
"I've got a nice cup of tea waiting for you, Esme," her husband said cheerfully. "And what about a little lie down after?" he dropped one lid over a twinkling brown eye.
"Mustrum Ridcully Weatherwax, it's the middle of the day!" she said scandalized.
"You've been gone *eight* months," he retorted. His wide mouth turned down in its nest of beard and the bright little eyes took on a sad puppy-dog look.
Granny relented. "Well, we'll see," she said, and looked round the kitchen.
Mustrum had clearly made a special effort to welcome her home. The kitchen table was covered with the best lace edged cloth that his mother had given them for a wedding present and set with the bone china and her mother's silver tea service, complete with the humorous cow milk jug. There was sliced brown bread, a pot of quince jelly and a plate of Beastiality Carter's specially pink frosted cakes with the little silver pellets that got everywhere. As for the rest of the kitchen, well he'd *tried*.
The pots sparkled and the dishes on the dresser gleamed but he clearly hadn't thought to wash or re-sand the stone floor once in the whole eight months and she could see the dust on the preserve jars and her mother's clock from here. Granny suppressed a sigh. Mustrum was the best of husband but he was a just a man after all. "It looks delicious, dear." she said sitting down and holding out her cup to be filled. "Now, what sort of mischief have people been getting up to without me?"
"Nothing much going on in Bad Ass, I'm glad to say," Mustrum said helping himself to a couple of cakes. "Young Ben up Slice way managed to half cut off his hand chopping wood, I sewed it back on and gave his dad the what-for almost as hot as you would have."
Granny snorted into her cup. "How any man in his right mind could trust that lad with a sharp edge-"
"Exactly what I said, but rather louder and more colorfully. Lambing went smooth enough but Old Purdey and Bentbow are at it again -"
"Boundary stone take a little stroll did it?" Granny interrupted.
"No, it's a cow this time." Mustrum shook his head. "Verence nearly worried himself sick over the case -"
"Verence!" Granny put down her cup with a clink forcible enough to endanger the thin china. "What's he got to do with it?"
Mustrum shifted uncomfortably. "They appealed to the king," she opened her mouth and he continued hastily, "it's their legal right, sweetheart, after all I've got no official standing. No doubt it'd been different if you'd been here."
"Too right!" she picked up her cup. "So what did Verence decide?"
Mustrum shrugged. "He couldn't, you know Verence. So I told him it was Purdey's cow - which it was - and that settled it."
"Speaking of Verence..." Granny prompted.
Mustrum grinned broadly. "All in hand. Trousseau sewn and waiting, invitations sent out, even a crown. Fate's about as accompli as it can get providing Verence doesn't funk it at the last, but I don't think he will. I've pretty well convinced him it's his royal perogative which he owes it to the kingdom to uphold. But if the girl doesn't fall in with it..."
"She will," Granny said with certainty. "Magrat maybe a wet hen who don't know her own mind but she's not mental."
"And there's been no more talk about taxing witches either."
"Good." She licked the quince jelly from her finger-tips and gave her husband an arch look, "Now, about that lie-down -" Then, over his shoulder and through the back window she saw her herb beds.
Granny returned from a short and snappish meeting of the Lancre coven in a truly foul temper. She slammed the kitchen door behind her and glared at her husband.
"It's just circle time," he said defensively. "Happens every year!"
"Not like this," his wife answered grimly. "Not in MY garden!"
"Well it hadn't up to now," he argued. "It's just been the usual meadow and field business, maybe a few more than common -"
"And you didn't notice? You a wizard!"
"Former wizard," he corrected. "And, well I guess my mind was a bit distracted." Puppy- dog eyes blinked pathetically.
Granny folded her arms. "I'm mad at you, Mustrum Weatherwax!"
"Eight months...eight endless months..." the puppy-dogs were weeping blood.
"Don't think you can get around ME, sir!"
"No Esme bustling round the place, a cold lonely bed every night, my own cooking."
She stuck her nose in the air and refused to look at him.
"Meantime you're living it up in foreign parts, probably not thinking of me at all -"
"Soppiness don't work on me!" she warned.
"Met some one younger I'll bet," he continued mournfully. "Younger and more interesting."
"What!" Granny's arms fell to her sides. "Don't talk like a fool, Mustrum Weatherwax, you know right well there isn't another man on the disc who'd put up with me - or that I'd tolerate for more'n five minutes!"
He gave her a look that passed right through soppy to stickier than honey on a hot day. "You're wonderful," he said simply and with a sincerity that pierced Granny's three woolly vests like an arrow and stuck quivering in her heart, reminding her all over again of just why she'd said 'yes' all those years ago.
"Gytha and I are going up to the Dancers tomorrow, to make sure everything's all right. You'd better come too and make yourself useful."
"What about Magrat?"
"Her future queenship has other business," Granny snapped, then sighed. "Just as well, you know what she's like. She'd fall on the Queen's neck and be ready to worship the worthless lot of 'em!"
"So you wound her up good didn't you," said Mustrum, who knew his Esme. "And she returned the favor."
"Something like that." A little more of the anger leaked out of her. "Anyway it's too late to do anything about it today, it'll be getting dark soon." And she held out her hand.
Mustrum's big, heavy broomstick - he always insisted on doing the flying when they went together - made a lazy circle over the dawn lit hill, staying well clear of the airspace just over the Dancers. He pointed, "See, there on the widdershins side, a definite track."
"Somebody's been coming up here regular." Granny agreed grimly.
They landed and sickled their way to the stones. Bracken and weeds had been trampled into a brown circle just outside the ring. "Someone's been dancing!" Granny spat disgustedly.
"Several some ones by the look of it," Mustrum agreed. The trampling of his big boots stopped abruptly. Then his voice came in the flat, calm tone his wife had learned to dread. "But not this poor fellow I'd say."
Granny pushed her way through the bracken to his side. A tall, dark bearded man lay sprawled on his back with a look of surprise frozen on his face and a wet red hole in the middle of his chest. One leg was slightly longer than the other, a not uncommon adaptation in the Ramtops where level ground is at a minimum.
Mustrum bent to pick up a crossbow fallen some little distance away. "Looks like our Bill was doing a little out of season hunting."
"You know him?"
"Coee Esme! Mustrum!"
"Here's Gytha," Granny said, rather unnecessarily straightening up. "There's been things going on," she continued as her friend emerged from the shoulder high - to her - bracken. "Dancing for one."
Nanny's dried apple face radiated disbelief at the sheer stupidity of the world. "They never!"
"And there's a poor fellow dead," added Mustrum.
Nanny blanched. "Oh no. Not inside the circle too."
"Nope. Don't be daft. It was outside." She looked up at her husband. "You knew him?"
He nodded heavily. "Oh yes, this is old Bill Scrope from up near Slice."
Nanny peered down at the body and nodded. "Yep, that's him all right. One of three brothers. He married that Palliard girl, remember? The one with the air cooled teeth?"
"I hope the poor woman has some respectable black clothes," Granny said grimly.
"Been run right through by the look of it," Mustrum said. "Not stomped or tossed as you might expect."
Nanny knelt down and turned the body over with the competence and total lack of squeamishness one might expect of a woman who'd spent the last fifty odd years seeing folk into and out of this life. "Got that right, Mustrum. Blimey. Who'd do a thing like that?"
"More a matter of what, I'd say," he answered. All three turned to look at the stones behind them.
"I don't know what, but I knows where it comes from," said his wife. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this -"
"Not so fast, m'dear." Mustrum caught her by the back of her black dress. He licked his finger and held it up. Octarine sparks, perfectly visible to both witches, glittered and danced around the tip. "Thought so. Something went in, something came out. It's long gone - but not back to where it came from."
"That's interesting, ain't it, Esme?" Nanny said a little too brightly, eyes darting apprehensively from husband to wife.
But - let it never be said that Esmerelda Weatherwax lacked a sense of proportion. Sorting this mess out was much more important then standing on her dignity - and Mustrum had come up with some useful information. "Let me go, please, dear." she said evenly.
He promptly obeyed, even adding an apology. "Sorry about that, Esme, just wanted to be sure whatever got poor Bill wasn't still lurking near."
She gave him a mollified nod and half smile then moved round the circle until she reached the stone known as the Piper. Pulling out one of the several long steel pins skewering her hat to her hair she held it a precise six inches from the rough reddish stone - then let it go. The result was not entirely satisfactory. She was frowning as she rejoined the others. "There's still power there, not much but the ring is holding." An unspoken 'for now' followed the word like an echo.
"I'm sorry, Esme, you were right. I should have paid more attention." Mustrum said grimly.
Granny shook her head. "It's as much Gytha's fault and mine for staying away so long. We knew what time o' year it was."
"But we didn't expect anybody to be daft enough to up here and dance around the stones," Nanny protested. "Who'd do that?" A name promptly presented itself. "Magrat's been away with us the whole time."
Mustrum shrugged a little helplessly. "Nary a notion here."
"Not the sort of thing a man would know," said Granny. She flashed a brief, rather frightening smile. "We shall have to find out, Gytha and I." Then her eyes dropped to the body, almost forgotten at their feet. "Now let's take this poor fellow home."