The Mountain At the End of the World
"…that is the day I shall marry you, Rob Anybody Feegle!" Nine-year-old Tiffany turns out to be just a bit too clever for her own good.
One day, in the Last World, a long, long, long time after the story you already know, Rob Anybody Feegle unwillingly sought out Tiffany Aching. (Yes, she did get married, but she was no less an Aching for all that.)
She was sitting in a place that looked remarkably like the Chalk, a half-smile on her face as she watched Rob attempt to sidle in the middle of a field in broad daylight. Being a Feegle, he was rather good at it, but being keenly aware of Tiffany's eyes on him, he was somewhat less than successful at actually doing any sidling. Eventually he ungulated his way to her feet and stood there, hands behind his back, looking at anything but her.
"Hello, Rob," she said, the half-smile bleeding into her voice. The sound startled him into looking up at her, and then there was nothing else for it.
"Ah, Tiffany! I didna see yez there! What turrrrible good luck this is, that I should run inta you on such a day as this!"
His smile was mad and he was twisting the braid in his beard frantically. Tiffany carefully did not let any more of her smile into her voice when she said,
"And why is it such terrible good luck?"
"Weeeeel," Rob began.
"Out with it," Tiffany ordered, the smile gone. Rob Anybody gulped.
"Ye ken that you wuz once our kelda, yes?" He fidgeted, turning in place like a child who has been naughty and is being forced to confess.
"Yes," Tiffany said slowly, bringing out the memory like an old dress, carefully wrapped and put away. It was yellowed slightly, but still in good condition.
"And ye ken that a kelda is to choose and marry the Big Man o' the clan?"
"Yes," she said again, shaking out the dress and watching dust motes fly everywhere.
"And ye ken that ye picked me as Big Man?"
"And ye ken that ye set the date o' the weddin'?"
"Yes—" Oh dear. They'd found the mountain.
"And ye ken—"
"Yes, Rob, I remember. I remember it all. Now what do you need to tell me?"
Rob Anybody gulped, and held out his hand. Tiffany had to lean in very close to see that he was holding something. She leaned in closer. In his tiny palm was a single grain of sand that sparkled slightly as things were wont to do when they were of narrative importance.
"The wee birdie!" he wailed. "It finished the wearin' doon o' the mountain this mornin'! This be the last grain o' sand left! We made a promise and it doesna do to break a promise, not one like that! But I am a'ready a married man and I canna marry ye now! What shall we do?"
"Rob," she said, and when he continued with the wailys and the crivenses, she put an edge into her voice. "Rob!"
"Aye, mistress," he hiccupped miserably. She waited until she was sure he was listening before continuing.
"I never said which mountain at the end of the world, now did I?"
Rob stared at her.
"Bu—" he began, and then stopped at the glint in her eye. He grinned nervously, and turned the idea over in his head.
"Aye," he said slowly. "Aye. There's a' kinds o' worlds, and these days you don't get just one end o' the world anymore. It could take ages ta find the righ' one—"
"Or you could just not look for it in the first place," Tiffany said dryly. Rob Anybody nodded.
"Aye, aye, that's true, mistress, that's true. There's plenty o' drinkin', an' fightin', an' stealin' to do. We dinna even hafta go tae the end o' the world." Tiffany smiled. Rob suddenly looked guilty again.
"What is it, Rob?" she said with endless patience.
"Ach, weel, mistress, ye ken, some o' these worlds be verra sma', and we might run into the end o' some o' them wi'oot meanin' to—"
"Rob," she said in a warning voice. "If there is indeed another mountain at the end of the world, and if it should happen to have a bird that comes and wears it away one grain of sand at a time, and if you should happen to find it…"
"Aye, mistress?" Rob said hopefully.
"I want you to dine on bird that night," Tiffany finished. Rob blinked, mouth open as though to object. Then he smiled.
"Aye! Aye, mistress, 'tis a verra wise sayin', verra wise. And miss-tick-al, mountain-wearin' birds, they's bound to be quite tasty, I should think. Mebbe it wouldna be so bad to find such a mountain after a'—"
"No," Tiffany said quickly, who was beginning to think her nine-year-old self had been just a bit too clever for her own good. "No looking for it. Only if you happen to find it."
"Oh, aye, mistress, I wouldna dream o' it." Rob held up a hand and put it on his heart, and Tiffany didn't even bother pointing out that he had his fingers crossed behind his back.
Cover art by FoxGhost over at Deviantart: foxghost . deviantart (dotcom) / art / tiffany-301171622