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Maskerade

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I thought: opera, how hard can it be? Songs. Pretty girls dancing. Nice scenery. Lots of people handing over cash. Got to be better than the cut-throat world of yoghurt, I thought. Now everwhere I go there's...'

Death, to be precise. And plenty of it. In unpleasant variations. This isn't real life. This isn't even cheesemongering. It's opera. Where the music matters and where an opera house is being terrorised by a man in evening dress with a white mask, lurking in the shadows, occasionally killing people, and most worryingly, sending little notes, writing maniacal laughter with five exclamation marks. Opera can do that to a man. In such circumstances, life has obviously reached that desperate point where the wrong thing to do has to be the right thing to do...

The wind howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false teeth.

Among the hissing furze bushes a fire blazed, the flames driven this way and that by the gusts.

An eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we… two… meet again?'

Thunder rolled.

A rather more ordinary voice said: ‘What’d you go and shout that for? You made me drop my toast in the fire. ’

Nanny Ogg sat down again.

‘Sorry, Esme. I was just doing it for… you know… old time’s sake… Doesn’t roll off the tongue, though.’

‘I’d just got it nice and brown, too.’

‘Sorry,'

‘Anyway, you didn’t have to shout.'

‘Sorry.’

‘I mean, I ain’t deaf. You could’ve just asked me in a normal voice. And I’d have said,

“Next Wednesday.” ’

‘Sorry, Esme.’

‘just you cut me another slice.’

Nanny Ogg nodded, and turned her head.

‘Magrat, cut Granny ano… oh. Mind wandering there for a minute. I’ll do it myself shall I?’

‘Hah!’ said Granny Weatherwax, staring into the fire.

There was no sound for a while but the roar of the wind and the sound of Nanny Ogg cutting bread, which she did with about as much efficiency as a man trying to chainsaw a mattress.

‘I thought it’d cheer you up, coming up here, ’ she said after a while.

‘Really.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Take you out of yourself; sort of thing…’

Nanny went on, watching her friend carefully.

‘Mm?’ said Granny, still staring_moodily at the fire.

Oh dear, thought Nanny. I shouldn’t’ve said that.

The point was… Well, the point was that Nanny Ogg was worried. Very worried. She wasn’t at all sure that her friend wasn’t… well… going…
well, sort of… in a manner of speaking… well… black…

She knew it happened, with the really powerful ones. And Granny Weatherwax was pretty damn’ powerful. She was probably an even more accomplished witch now than the infamous Black Aliss, and everyone knew what had happened to her at the finish. Pushed into her own stove by a couple of kids, and everyone said it was a damn’ good thing, even if it took a whole week to clean the oven.

But Aliss, up until that terrible day, had terrorized the Ramtops. She’d become so good at magic that there wasn’t room in her head for anything else.

They said weapons couldn’t pierce her. Swords bounced off her skin. They said you could hear' her mad laughter a mile off, and of course, while mad laughter was always part of a witch’s stock-in-trade in necessary circumstances, this was insane mad laughter, the worst kind. And she turned people into gingerbread and had a house made of frogs. It had been very nasty, towards the end. It always was, when a witch went bad.

Sometimes, of course, they didn’t go bad. They just went… somewhere.

Granny’s intellect needed something to do. She did not take kindly to boredom. She’d take to her bed instead and send her mind out Borrowing, inside the head of some forest creature, listening with its ears, seeing with its eyes. That was all very well for general purposes, but she was too good at it. She could stay away longer than anyone Nanny Ogg had ever heard of.

One day, almost certainly, she wouldn’t bother to come back… and this was the worst time of the year, with the geese honking and rushing across the sky every night, and the autumn air crisp and inviting. There was something terribly tempting about that.
Nanny Ogg reckoned she knew what the cause of the problem was.

She coughed.

‘Saw Magrat the other day, ’ she ventured, looking sidelong at Granny.

There was no reaction.

‘She’s looking well. Queening suits her.’

‘Hmm?’

Nanny groaned inwardly. If Granny couldn’t even be bothered to make a nasty remark, then she was really missing Magrat.

Nanny Ogg had never believed it at the start, but Magrat Garlick, wet as a sponge though she was half the time, had been dead right about one thing.

Three was a natural number for witches.

And they’d lost one. Well, not lost, exactly.

Magrat was queen now, and queens were hard to mislay. But… that meant that there were only two of them instead of three. , When you had three, you had one to run around getting people to make up when there’d been a row.

Magrat had been good for that. Without Magrat, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax got on one another’s nerves. With her, all three had been able to get on the nerves of absolutely everyone else in the whole world, which had been a lot more fun.

And there was no having Magrat back… at least, to be precise about it, there was no having Magrat back yet.

Because, while three was a good number for witches… it had to be the right sort of three. The right sort of… types.

Read The book extract online

Like Jonathan Swift, Pratchett uses his other world to hold up a distorting mirror to our own, and like Swift he is a satirist of enormous talent ... incredibly funny ... compulsively readable

The Times

The great Terry Pratchett, whose wit is metaphysical, who creates an energetic and lively secondary world, who has a multifarious genius for strong parody ... who deals with death with startling originality. Who writes amazing sentences

A.S. Byatt, New York Times

Pratchett is as funny as Wodehouse and as witty as Waugh

Independent

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