A Hat Full of Sky Page 1

Author: Terry Pratchett

Series: Discworld #32

Genres: Fantasy , Young Adult

Leaving It came crackling over the hills, like an invisible fog. Movement without a body tired it, and it drifted very slowly. It wasn 't thinking now. It had been months since it had last thought, because the brain that was doing the thinking for it had died. They always died. So now it was naked again, and frightened. It could hide in one of the blobby white creatures that baa 'd nervously as it crawled over the turf. But they had useless brains, capable of thinking only about grass and making other things that went baa. No. They would not do. It needed, needed something better, a strong mind, a mind with power, a mind that could keep it safe. It searched . . . The new boots were all wrong. They were stiff and shiny. Shiny boots! That was disgraceful. Clean boots, that was different. There was nothing wrong with putting a bit of a polish on boots to keep the wet out. But boots had to work for a living. They shouldn't shine. Tiffany Aching, standing on the rug in her bedroom, shook her head. She'd have to scuff the things as soon as possible. Then there was the new straw hat, with a ribbon on it. She had some doubts about that, too. She tried to look at herself in the mirror, which wasn't easy because the mirror was not much bigger than her hand, and cracked and blotchy. She had to move it around to try and see as much of herself as possible and remember how the bits fitted together. But today . . . well, she didn't usually do this sort of thing in the house, but it was important to look smart today, and since no one was around . . .

She put the mirror down on the rickety table by the bed, stood in the middle of the threadbare rug, shut her eyes and said: 'See me.' And away on the hills something, a thing with no body and no mind but a terrible hunger and a bottomless fear, felt the power. It would have sniffed the air, if it had a nose. It searched. It found. Such a strange mind, like a lot of minds inside one another, getting smaller and smaller! So strong! So close! It changed direction slightly, and went a little faster. As it moved, it made a noise like a swarm of flies. The sheep, nervous for a moment about something they couldn 't see, hear or smell, baa 'd... ... and went back to chewing grass. Tiffany opened her eyes. There she was, a few feet away from herself. She could see the back of her own head. Carefully, she moved around the room, not looking down at the 'her' that was moving, because she found that if she did that then the trick was over. It was quite difficult, moving like that, but at last she was in front of herself and looking herself up and down. Brown hair to match brown eyes . . . there was nothing she could do about that. At least her hair was clean and she'd washed her face.

She had a new dress on, which improved things a bit. It was so unusual to buy new clothes in the Aching family that, of course, it was bought big so that she'd 'grow into it'. But at least it was pale green, and it didn't actually touch the floor. With the shiny new boots and the straw hat she looked . . . like a farmer's daughter, quite respectable, going off to her first job. It'd have to do. From here she could see the pointy hat on her head, but she had to look hard for it. It was like a glint in the air, gone as soon as you saw it. That's why she'd been worried about the new straw hat, but it had simply gone through it as if the new hat wasn't there. This was because, in a way, it wasn't. It was invisible, except in the rain. Sun and wind went straight through, but rain and snow somehow saw it, and treated it as if it were real. She'd been given it by the greatest witch in the world, a real witch with a black dress and a black hat and eyes that could go through you like turpentine goes through a sick sheep. It had been a kind of reward. Tiffany had done magic, serious magic. Before she had done it she hadn't known that she could; when she had been doing it she hadn't known that she was; and after she had done it she hadn't known how she had. Now she had to learn how. 'See me not,' she said. The vision of her ... or whatever it was, because she was not exactly sure about this trick . . . vanished. It had been a shock, the first time she'd done this. But she'd always found it easy to see herself, at least in her head. All her memories were like little pictures of herself doing things or watching things, rather than the view from the two holes in the front of her head. There was a part of her that was always watching her. Miss Tick - another witch, but one who was easier to talk to than the witch who'd given Tiffany the hat - had said that a witch had to know how to 'stand apart', and that she'd find out more when her talent grew, so Tiffany supposed the 'see me' was part of this. Sometimes Tiffany thought she ought to talk to Miss Tick about 'see me'. It felt as if she was stepping out of her body, but still had a sort of ghost body that could walk around. It all worked as long as her ghost eyes didn't look down and see that she was just a ghost body. If that happened, some part of her panicked and she found herself back in her solid body immediately. Tiffany had, in the end, decided to keep this to herself. You didn't have to tell a teacher everything.

Anyway, it was a good trick for when you didn't have a mirror. Miss Tick was a sort of witch-finder. That seemed to be how witchcraft worked. Some witches kept a magical lookout for girls who showed promise, and found them an older witch to help them along. They didn't teach you how to do it. They taught you how to know what you were doing. Witches were a bit like cats. They didn't much like one another's company, but they did like to know where all the other witches were, just in case they needed them. And what you might need them for was to tell you, as a friend, that you were beginning to cackle. Witches didn't fear much, Miss Tick had said, but what the powerful ones were afraid of, even if they didn't talk about it, was what they called 'going to the bad'. It was too easy to slip into careless little cruelties because you had power and other people hadn't, too easy to think other people didn't matter much, too easy to think that ideas like right and wrong didn't apply to you. At the end of that road was you dribbling and cackling to yourself all alone in a gingerbread house, growing warts on your nose. Witches needed to know other witches were watching them. And that, Tiffany thought, was why the hat was there. She could touch it any time, provided she shut her eyes. It was a kind of reminder . . . Tiffany!' her mother shouted up the stairs.

'Miss Tick's here!' Yesterday, Tiffany had said goodbye to Granny Aching . . . The iron wheels of the old shepherding hut were half buried in the turf, high up on the hills. The potbellied stove, which still stood lopsided in the grass, was red with rust. The chalk hills were taking them, just like they'd taken the bones of Granny Aching. The rest of the hut had been burned on the day she'd been buried. No shepherd would have dared to use it, let alone spend the night there. Granny Aching had been too big in people's minds, too hard to replace. Night and day, in all seasons, she was the Chalk country: its best shepherd, its wisest woman, and its memory. It was as if the green downland had a soul that walked about in old boots and a sacking apron and smoked a foul old pipe and dosed sheep with turpentine. The shepherds said that Granny Aching had cussed the sky blue. They called the fluffy little white clouds of summer 'Granny Aching's little lambs'. And although they laughed when they said these things, part of them was not joking. No shepherd would have dared presume to live in that hut, no shepherd at all. So they had cut the turf and buried Granny Aching in the Chalk, watered the turf afterwards to leave no mark, then they burned her hut. Sheep's wool, Jolly Sailor tobacco and turpentine . . . . . . had been the smells of the shepherding hut, and the smell of Granny Aching. Such things have a hold on people that goes right to the heart. Tiffany only had to smell them now to be back there, in the warmth and silence and safety of the hut. It was the place she had gone to when she was upset, and the place she had gone to when she was happy.

And Granny Aching would always smile and make tea and say nothing. And nothing bad could happen in the shepherding hut. It was a fort against the world. Even now, after Granny had gone, Tiffany still liked to go up there. Tiffany stood there, while the wind blew over the turf and sheep bells clonked in the distance. 'I've got. . .' She cleared her throat. I've got to go away. I ... I've got to learn proper witching, and there's no one here now to teach me, you see. I've got to ... to look after the hills like you did. I can . . . do things but I don't know things, and Miss Tick says what you don't know can kill you. I want to be as good as you were. I will come back!

I will come back soon! I promise I will come back, better than I went!' A blue butterfly, blown off course by a gust, settled on Tiffany's shoulder, opened and shut its wings once or twice, then fluttered away. Granny Aching had never been at home with words. She collected silence like other people collected string. But she had a way of saying nothing that said it all. Tiffany stayed for a while, until her tears had dried, and then went off back down the hill, leaving the everlasting wind to curl around the wheels and whistle down the chimney of the pot-bellied stove. Life went on. It wasn't unusual for girls as young as Tiffany to go 'into service'. It meant working as a maid somewhere. Traditionally, you started by helping an old lady who lived by herself; she wouldn't be able to pay much, but since this was your first job you probably weren't worth much, either. In fact Tiffany practically ran Home Farm's dairy by herself, if someone helped her lift the big milk churns, and her parents had been surprised she had wanted to go into service at all. But as Tiffany said, it was something everyone did. You got out into the world a little bit. You met new people.

You never knew what it could lead to. That, rather cunningly, got her mother on her side. Her mother's rich aunt had gone off to be a scullery maid, and then a parlour maid, and had worked her way up until she was a housekeeper and married to a butler and lived in a fine house. It wasn't her fine house, and she only lived in a bit of it, but she was practically a lady. Tiffany didn't intend to be a lady. This was all a ruse, anyway. And Miss Tick was in on it. You weren't allowed to charge money for the witching, so all witches did some other job as well. Miss Tick was basically a witch disguised as a teacher. She travelled around with the other wandering teachers who went in bands from place to place teaching anything to anybody in exchange for food or old clothes. It was a good way to get around, because people in the chalk country didn't trust witches. They thought they danced around on moonlit nights without their drawers on. (Tiffany had made enquiries about this, and had been slightly relieved to find out that you didn't have to do this to be a witch. You could if you wanted to, but only if you were certain where all the nettles, thistles and hedgehogs were.) But if it came to it, people were a bit wary of the wandering teachers, too.

They were said to pinch chickens and steal away children (which was true, in a way) and they went from village to village with their gaudy carts and wore long robes with leather pads on the sleeves and strange flat hats and talked amongst themselves using heathen lingo no one could understand, like 'Aha jacta esf and 'Quid pro quo'. It was quite easy for Miss Tick to lurk amongst them. Her pointy hat was a stealth version, which looked just like a black straw hat with paper flowers on it until you pressed the secret spring. Over the last year or so Tiffany's mother had been quite surprised, and a little worried, at Tiffany's sudden thirst for education, which people in the village thought was a good thing in moderation but if taken unwisely could lead to restlessness. Then a month ago, the message had come: Be ready. Miss Tick, in her flowery hat, had visited the farm and had explained to Mr and Mrs Aching that an elderly lady up in the mountains had heard of Tiffany's excellent prowess with cheese and was willing to offer her the post of maid at four dollars a month, one day off a week, her own bed and a week's holiday at Hogswatch. Tiffany knew her parents. Three dollars a month was a bit low, and five dollars would be suspiciously high, but prowess with cheese was worth the extra dollar. And a bed all to yourself was a very nice perk.

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