Magrat, bemused, looked around the little house.
‘It just dropped out of the sky!’ she said.
‘Could have been a big tornado or something somewhere,’ said Nanny Ogg. ‘Picked it up, see, then the wind drops and down it comes. You get funny things happening in high winds. Remember that big gale we had last year? One of my hens laid the same egg four times.’
‘She’s rambling,’ said Magrat.
‘No I ain’t, that’s just my normal talking,’ said Nanny.
Granny Weatherwax peered into one of the rooms. ‘I suppose there wouldn’t be any food and drink about the place?’ she said.
‘I think I could force myself to drink some brandy,’ said Nanny quickly.
Magrat peered up the stairs.
‘Coo-ee,’ she called, in the strangled voice of someone who wants to be heard without doing anything so bad-mannered as raise their voice. ‘Is there anyone here?’
Nanny, on the other hand, looked under the stairs. Greebo was a cowering ball of fur in a corner. She hauled him out by the scruff of his neck and gave him a slightly bewildered pat. Despite Mr Vernissage "s millinery masterpiece, despite the worm-eaten floor, and despite even the legendary thick skull of the Oggs, she was definitely feeling several twinkles short of a glitter and suffering a slight homesick-tinged dip in her usual sunny nature. People didn’t hit you over the head with farmhouses back home.
‘You know, Greebo,’ she said, ‘I don’t think we’re in Lancre.’
‘I’ve found some jam,’ said Granny Weatherwax, from the kitchen.
It didn’t take a lot to cheer up Nanny Ogg. ‘That’s fine,’ she called out. ‘It’ll go nicely on the dwarf bread.’
Magrat came into the room.
‘I’m not sure we should be taking other people’s provisions,’ she said. ‘I mean, this place must belong to someone.’
‘Oh. Did someone speak, Gytha?’ said Granny Weather-wax archly.
Nanny rolled her eyes.
‘I was merely saying, Nanny,’ said Magrat, ‘that this isn’t our property.’
‘She says it don’t belong to us, Esme,’ said Nanny.
‘Tell anyone who wants to know, Gytha, that it’s like salvage from a shipwreck,’ said Granny.
‘She says finders keepers, Magrat,’ said Nanny.
Something flickered past the window. Magrat went and peered out through the grimy pane.
‘That’s funny. There’s a lot of dwarfs dancing round the house,’ she said.
‘Oh, yes?’ said Nanny, opening a cupboard.
Granny stiffened. ‘Are they – I means, ask her if they’re singing,’ she said.
‘They singing, Magrat?’
‘I can hear something,’ said Magrat. ‘Sounds like “Dingdong, dingdong”.’
‘That’s a dwarf song all right,’ said Nanny. ‘They’re the only people who can make a hiho last all day.’
‘They seem very happy about it,’ said Magrat doubtfully.
‘Probably it was their farmhouse and they’re glad to get it back.’
There was a hammering on the back door. Magrat opened it. A crowd of brightly dressed and embarrassed dwarfs stepped back hurriedly and then peered up at her.
‘Er,’ said the one who was apparently the leader, ‘is … is the old witch dead?’
‘Which old witch?’ said Magrat.
The dwarf looked at her for a while with his mouth open. He turned and had a whispered consultation with his colleagues. Then he turned back.
‘How many have you got?’
‘There’s a choice of two,’ said Magrat. She wasn’t feeling in a very good mood and wasn’t prompted to aid the conversation more than necessary. Uncharacteristic nastiness made her add, ‘Free for the asking.’
‘Oh.’ The dwarf considered this. ‘Well, which old witch did the house land on?’
‘Nanny? No, she’s not dead. She’s just a bit stunned. But thanks all the same for asking,’ said Magrat. "That’s very kind of you.’
This seemed to puzzle the dwarfs. They went into a huddle. There was a lot of sotto voce arguing.
Then the head dwarf turned back to Magrat. He removed his helmet and turned it around and around nervously in his hands.
‘Er,’ he said, ‘can we have her boots?’
‘Her boots?’ said the dwarf, blushing. ‘Can we have them, please?’
‘What do you want her boots for?’
The dwarf looked at her. Then he turned and went into a huddle with his colleagues again. He turned back to Magrat.
‘We’ve just got this . . . feeling . . . that we ought to have her boots,’ he said.
He stood there blinking.
‘Well, I’ll go and ask,’ said Magrat. ‘But I don’t think she’ll say yes.’
As she went to close the door the dwarf twiddled his hat some more.
‘They are ruby-coloured, aren’t they?’ he said.
‘Well, they’re red,’ said Magrat. ‘Is red all right?’
‘They’ve got to be red.’ All the other dwarfs nodded. ‘It’s no good if they’re not red.’
Magrat gave him a blank look and shut the door.
‘Nanny,’ she said slowly, when she was back in the kitchen, ‘there’s some dwarfs outside who want your boots.’
Nanny looked up. She’d found a stale loaf in a cupboard and was industriously chewing. It was amazing what you’d eat if the alternative was dwarf bread.
‘What d’they want ’em for?’ she said.
‘Didn’t say. They just said they had a feeling they want your boots.’
‘That sounds highly suspicious to me,’ said Granny.
‘Old Shaker Wistley over Creel Springs way was a devil for boots,’ said Nanny, putting down the breadknife. ‘Especially black button boots. He used to collect ’em. If he saw you going past in a new pair he had to go and have a lie-down.’
‘I reckon that’s a bit sophisticated for dwarfs,’ said Granny.
‘Maybe they want to drink out of ’em,’ said Nanny.
‘What do you mean, drink out of them?’ said Magrat.
‘Ah, well, that’s what they do in foreign parts,’ said Nanny. ‘They drink fizzy wine out of ladies’ boots.’
They all looked down at Nanny’s boots.
Not even Nanny could imagine what anyone would want to drink out of them, or what they would do afterwards.
‘My word. That’s even more sophisticated than old Shaker Wistley,’ said Nanny reflectively.
‘They seemed a bit puzzled about it,’ said Magrat.
‘I expect they would be. It ain’t often people get a feeling they ought to go around pulling a decent witch’s boots off. This sounds like another story flapping around. I think,’ said Granny Weatherwax, ‘that we ought to go and talk to these dwarfs.’
She strode out into the passageway and opened the door.
‘Yes?’ she demanded.
The dwarfs backed away at the sight of her. There was a lot of whispering and elbowing and muttered comments in the nature of ‘No, yew’, and ‘I asked last time’. Finally a dwarf was pushed forward. It might have been the original dwarf. It was hard to tell, with dwarfs.
‘Er,’ he said. ‘Er. Boots?’
‘What for?’ said Granny.
The dwarf scratched its head. ‘Damned if I know,’ he said. ‘We were just wondering about it ourselves, ‘s’matterofact. We were just coming off shift in the coal mine half an hour ago, we saw the farmhouse land on … on the witch, an’ . . . well. . .’
‘You just knew you had to run up and steal her boots?’ said Granny.
The dwarf’s face widened into a relieved grin.
‘That’s right!’ he said. ‘And sing the Ding-dong song. Only she was supposed to be squashed. No offence meant,’ he added quickly.
‘It’s the willow reinforcement,’ said a voice behind Granny. ‘Worth its weight in glod.’
Granny stared for a while, and then smiled.
‘I think you lads ought to come inside,’ she said. ‘I’ve got some questions to ask you.’
The dwarfs looked very uncertain.
‘Um,’ said the spokesdwarf.
‘Nervous of going into a house with witches in it?’ said Granny Weatherwax.
The spokesdwarf nodded, and then went red. Magrat and Nanny Ogg exchanged glances behind Granny’s back. Something had definitely gone wrong somewhere. In the mountains dwarfs certainly weren’t afraid of witches. The problem was to stop them digging up your floor.
‘You’ve been down from the mountains for some time, I expect,’ said Granny.
‘Very promising seam of coal down here,’ mumbled the spokesdwarf, twiddling his hat.
‘Bet it’s a long time since you’ve had proper dwarf bread, then,’ said Granny.
The spokesdwarf’s eyes misted over.
‘Baked from the finest stone-ground grit, just like mother used to jump up and down on it,’ Granny went on.
A sort of collective sigh went up from the dwarfs.
‘You just can’t get it down here,’ said the spokesdwarf, to the ground. ‘It’s the water, or something. It falls to bits after hardly any years at all.’
‘They puts flour in it,’ said someone behind him, sourly.
‘It’s worse’n that. The baker over in Genua puts dried fruit in it,’ said another dwarf.
‘Well, now,’ said Granny, rubbing her hands together, ‘I may be able to help you here. Could be I’ve got some dwarf bread to spare.’
‘Nah. Not proper dwarf bread,’ said the spokesdwarf moodily. ‘Proper dwarf bread’s got to be dropped in rivers and dried out and sat on and left and looked at every day and put away again. You just can’t get it down here.’
‘This could be,’ said Granny Weatherwax, ‘your lucky day.’
‘To be frank,’ said Nanny Ogg, ‘I think the cat pissed on some of it.’
The spokesdwarf looked up, his eyes aglow.
Dear Jason et everybody,
What a life, all kinds of thing gain on, what with talkin wolves and women asleep in castles, I shall have a story or two to tell you when I gets back and no mistake. Also, dont tawk to me about farmhouses, which reminds me, please send somone to Mr Vemissage over in Slice and present Mrs Ogg’s compluments and what a good hat he makes, he can say ‘As Approved by Nanny Ogg’, it stops 100% of all known
farmhouses, also, if you writes to people saying how good their stuff is sometimes you get free stuff, there could be a new hat in this for me so see to it.
LJlith stepped out from her room of mirrors. Shadowy images of herself trailed after her, fading.
Witches ought to be squashed when a farmhouse lands on them. Lilith knew that. All squashed, except for their boots sticking out.
Sometimes she despaired. People just didn’t seem able to play their parts properly.
She wondered whether there was such a thing as the opposite of a fairy godmother. Most things had their opposite, after all. If so, she wouldn’t be a bad fairy godmother, because that’s just a good fairy godmother seen from a different viewpoint.
The opposite would be someone who was poison to stories and, thought Lilith, quite the most evil creature in the world.
Well, here in Genua was one story no-one could stop. It had momentum, this one. Try to stop it and it’d absorb you, make you part of its plot. She didn’t have to do a thing. The story would do it for her. And she had the comfort of knowing that she couldn’t lose. After all, she was the good one.
She strolled along the battlements and down the stairs to her own room, where the two sisters were waiting. They were good at waiting. They could sit for hours without blinking.
The Duc refused even to be in the same room as them.
Their heads turned as she came in.
She’d never given them voices. It wasn’t necessary. It was enough that they were beautiful and could be made to understand.
‘Now you must go to the house,’ she said. ‘And this is very important. Listen to me. Some people will be coming to see Ella tomorrow. You must let them do so, do you understand?’
They were watching her lips. They watched anything that moved.
‘We shall need them for the story. It won’t work properly unless they try to stop it. And afterwards . . . perhaps I will give you voices. You’ll like that, won’t you?’
They looked at one another, and then at her. And then at the cage in the corner of the room.
Lilith smiled, and reached in, and took out two white mice.
‘The youngest witch might be just your type,’ she said. ‘I shall have to see what I can do with her. And now . . . open . . .’