Lords and Ladies Page 1

Author: Terry Pratchett

Series: Discworld #14

Genres: Fantasy , Humorous

This one is different. I can't ignore the history of what has gone before. Granny Weatherwax first turned up in Equal Rites. In Wyrd Sisters she became the unofficial head of a tiny coven consisting of the easy-going, much-married Nanny Ogg and young Magrat, she of the red nose and unkempt hair and tendency to be soppy about raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens.

And what took place was a plot not unadjacent to a play about a Scottish king, which ended with Verence II becoming king of the little hilly, forested country of Lancre.

Technically, this shouldn't have happened, since strictly speaking he was not the heir, but to the witches he looked like being the best man for the job and, as they say, all's well that ends well. It also ended with Magrat reaching a very tentative Understanding with Verence. . . very tentative indeed, since both of them were so shy they immediately forgot whatever it was they were going to say to one another whenever they met, and whenever either of them did manage to say anything the other one misunderstood it and took offence, and both of them spent a lot of time wondering what the other one was thinking. This might be love, or the next best thing.

In Witches Abroad the three witches had to travel half-way across the continent to face down the Godmother (who had made Destiny an offer it couldn't refuse).

This is the story of what happened when they arrived home.


Now read on . . .

When does it start?

There are very few starts. Oh, some things seem to be beginnings.

The curtain goes up, the first pawn moves, the first shot is fired[1] but that's not the start. The play, the game, the war is just a little window on a ribbon of events that may extend back thousands of years. The point is, there's always something before. It's always a case of Now Read On.

Much human ingenuity has gone into finding the ultimate Before.

The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus:

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.

Other theories about the ultimate start involve gods creating the universe out of the ribs, entrails, and testicles of their father.[2] There are quite a lot of these. They are interesting, not for what they tell you about cosmology, but for what they say about people. Hey, kids, which part do you think they made your town out of?

But this story starts on the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four giant elephants which stand on the shell of an enormous turtle and is not made of any bits of anyone's bodies.

But when to begin?

Thousands of years ago? When a great hot cascade of stones came screaming out of the sky, gouged a hole out of Copperhead Mountain, and flattened the forest for ten miles around?

The dwarfs dug them up, because they were made of a kind of iron, and dwarfs, contrary to general opinion, love iron more than gold. It's just that although there's more iron than gold it's harder to sing songs about. Dwarfs love iron.

And that's what the stones contained. The love of iron. A love so strong that it drew all iron things to itself. The three dwarfs who found the first of the rocks only got free by struggling out of their chain-mail trousers.

Many worlds are iron, at the core. But the Discworld is as coreless as a pancake.

On the Disc, if you enchant a needle it will point to the Hub, where the magical field is strongest. It's simple.

Elsewhere, on worlds designed with less imagination, the needle turns because of the love of iron.

At the time, the dwarfs and the humans had a very pressing need for the love of iron.

And now, spool time forward for thousands of years to a point fifty years or more before the ever-moving now, to a hillside and a young woman, running. Not running away from something, exactly, or precisely running toward anything, but running just fast enough to keep ahead of a young man although, of course, not so far ahead that he'll give up. Out from the trees and into the rushy valley where, on a slight rise in the ground, are the stones.

They're about man-height, and barely thicker than a fat man.

And somehow they don't seem worth it. If there's a stone circle you mustn't go near, the imagination suggests, then there should be big brooding trilithons and ancient altar stones screaming with the dark memory of blood-soaked sacrifice. Not these dull stubby lumps.

It will turn out that she was running a bit too fast this time, and in fact the young man in laughing pursuit will get lost and fed up and will eventually wander off back to the town alone. She does not, at this point, know this, but stands absentmindedly adjusting the flowers twined in her hair. It's been that kind of afternoon.

She knows about the stones. No one ever gets told about the stones. And no one is ever told not to go there, because those who refrain from talking about the stones also know how powerful is the attraction of prohibition. It's just that going to the stones is not. . . what we do. Especially if we're nice girls.

But what we have here is not a nice girl, as generally understood. For one thing, she's not beautiful. There's a certain set to the jaw and arch to the nose that might, with a following wind and in the right light, be called handsome by a good-natured liar. Also, there's a certain glint in her eye generally possessed by those people who have found that they are more intelligent than most people around them but who haven't yet learned that one of the most intelligent things they can do is prevent said people ever finding this out. Along with the nose, this gives her a piercing expression which is extremely disconcerting. It's not a face you can talk to. Open your mouth and you're suddenly the focus of a penetrating stare which declares: what you're about to say had better be interesting.

Now the eight little stones on their little hill are being subjected to the same penetrating gaze.


And then she approaches, cautiously. It's not the caution of a rabbit about to run. It's closer to the way a hunter moves.

She puts her hands on her hips, such as they are.

There's a skylark in the hot summer sky. Apart from that, there's no sound. Down in the little valley, and higher in the hills, grasshoppers are sizzling and bees are buzzing and the grass is alive with micro-noise. But it's always quiet around the stones.

“I'm here,” she says. “Show me.”

A figure of a dark-haired woman in a red dress appears inside the circle. The circle is wide enough to throw a stone across, but somehow the figure manages to approach from a great distance.

Other people would have run away. But the girl doesn't, and the woman in the circle is immediately interested. “So you're real, then.”

“Of course. What is your name, girl?”


“And what do you want?”

“I don't want anything.”

“Everyone wants something. Otherwise, why are you here?”

“I just wanted to find out if you was real.”

“To you, certainly . . . you have good sight.” The girl nods. You could bounce rocks off her pride. “And now you have learned this,” said the woman in the circle, “what is it that you really want?”


“Really? Last week you went all the way up to the mountains above Copperhead to talk to the trolls. What did you want from them?”

The girl put her head on one side.

“How do you know I did that?”

“It's at the top of your mind, girl. Anyone could see it. Anyone with . . . good sight.”

“I shall be able to do that one day,” said the girl smugly.

“Who knows? Possibly. What did you want from the trolls?”

“I . . . wanted to talk to them. D'you know they think time goes backward? Because you can see the past, they say, and-”

The woman in the circle laughed.

“But they are like the stupid dwarfs! All they are interested in is pebbles. There is nothing of interest in pebbles.”

The girl gives a kind of one-shoulder uni-shrug, as if indicating that pebbles may be full of quiet interest.

“Why can't you come out from between the stones?”

There was a distinct impression that this was the wrong question to have asked. The woman carefully ignored it.

“I can help you find far more than pebbles,” she said.

“You can't come out of the circle, can you?”

“Let me give you what you want.”

“I can go anywhere, but you're stuck in the circle,” said the girl.

“Can you go anywhere?”

“When I am a witch I shall be able to go anywhere.”

“But you'll never be a witch.”


“They say you won't listen. They say you can't keep your temper. They say you have no discipline.”

The girl tossed her hair. “Oh, you know that too, do you? Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? But I mean to be a witch whatever they say. You can find things out for yourself. You don't have to listen to a lot of daft old ladies who've never had a life. And, circle lady, I shall be the best witch there has ever been.”

“With my help, I believe you may,” said the woman in the circle. “Your young man is looking for you, I think,” she added mildly

Another of those one-shoulder shrugs, indicating that the young man can go on looking all day.

“I will, will I?”

“You could be a great witch. You could be anything. Anything you want. Come into the circle. Let me show you.”

The girl takes a few steps forward, and then hesitates. There is something about the woman's tone. The smile is pleasant and friendly, but there is something in the voice too desperate, too urgent, too hungry.

“But I'm learning a lot-”

“Step through the stones now!”

The girl hesitates again.

“How do I know-”

“Circle time is nearly over! Think of what you can learn! Now!”


“Step through!”

But that was a long time ago, in the past.[3] And besides, the bitch is . . .

. . . older.

A land of ice . . .

Not winter, because that presumes an autumn and perhaps one day a spring. This is a land of ice, not just a time of ice.

And three figures on horseback, looking down the snow covered slope to a ring of eight stones. From this side they look much bigger.

You might watch the figures for some time before you realised what it was about them that was strange-stranger, that is, than their clothing. The hot breath of their horses hung in the freezing air. But the breath of the riders did not.

“And this time,” said the figure in the centre, a woman in red, “there will be no defeat. The land will welcome us. It must hate humans now.”

“But there were witches,” said one of the other riders. “I remember the witches.”

“Once, yes,” said the woman. “But now . . . poor things, poor things. Scarce any power in them at all. And suggestible. Pliant minds. I have crept about, my deary. I have crept about o'nights. I know the witches they have now. Leave the witches to me.”

“I remember the witches,” said the third rider insistently. “Minds like . . . like metal.”

“Not anymore. I tell you, leave them to me.” The Queen smiled benevolently at the stone circle.

“And then you can have them,” she said. “For me, I rather fancy a mortal husband. A special mortal. A union of the worlds. To show them that this time we mean to stay.”

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