Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be a priest.
When he arrives in Lancre to officiate the royal naming ceremony, he hasn’t yet discovered that the newest residents are a thoroughly modern, sophisticated vampire family. They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket, they want a bite of the future and they don’t have a lot of respect for priests. But they haven’t met the neighbours yet, and the witches of Lancre stand between them and their next meal. Mightily Oats knows he has a prayer. He wishes he had an axe.
But first, there’s a royal baby to name…
‘We’ll have none of your heathen ways, thank you very much,’ muttered Nanny Ogg behind the pastor. ‘No sloshing water or oil or sand around or cutting any bits off and if I hears a single word I understand, well, I’m standing behind you with a pointy stick.’*
From the other side he heard, ‘He’s not some kind of horrible inquisitor, Nanny!’
‘But my pointy stick’s still a pointy stick, my girl!’
What’s got into her? Agnes thought, watching the pastor’s ears turn red. That’s the way Granny would act.
‘You do things our way here, all right?’ said Nanny.
‘The, um, King did explain it all to me, um,’ said the pastor. ‘Er, do you have anything for a headache. I’m afraid I—’
‘You put the key in one hand and let her grip the crown with the other,’ Nanny Ogg went on.
‘Yes, um, he did—’
‘Then you tell her what her name is and her mum’s name and her dad’s name, mumbling a bit over the latter if the mum ain’t sure—’
‘Nanny! This is royalty!’
‘Hah,I could tell you stories, gel …and then, see, you give her to me and I tell her, too, and then I give her back and you tell the people what her name is, an’ then you give her to me, and then I give her to her dad, and he takes her out through the doors and shows her to everyone, everyone throws their hats in the air and shouts “Hoorah!” and then it’s all over bar the drinks and horses’ doovers and findin’ your own hat. Start extemporizin’ on the subject of sin and it’ll go hard with you.’
‘What is, um, your role, madam?’
‘I’m the godmother!’
‘Which, um, god?’ The young man was trembling slightly.
‘It’s from Old Lancre,’ said Agnes hurriedly. ‘It means something like “goodmother”. It’s all right . . . as witches we believe in religious toleration . . .’
‘That’s right,’ said Nanny Ogg. ‘But only for the right religions, so you watch your step!’
The royal parents had reached the thrones. Magrat took her seat and, to Agnes’s amazement, gave her a sly wink.
Verence didn’t wink. He stood there and coughed loudly.
‘I’ve got a pastille somewhere,’ said Nanny, her hand reaching towards her knickerleg.
‘Ahem!’ Verence’s eyes darted towards his throne. What had appeared to be a grey cushion rolled over, yawned, gave the King a brief glance, and started to wash itself.
‘Oh, Greebo!’ said Nanny. ‘I was wonderin’ where you’d got to . . .’
‘Could you please remove him, Mrs Ogg?’ said the King.
Agnes glanced at Magrat. The Queen had half turned away, with her elbow on the arm of the throne and her hand covering her mouth. Her shoulders were shaking.
Nanny grabbed her cat off the throne.
‘A cat can look at a king,’ she said.
‘Not with that expression, I believe,’ said Verence. He waved graciously at the assembled company, just as the castle’s clock began to strike midnight.
‘Please begin, Reverend.’
‘I, um, did have a small suitable homily on the subject of, um, hope for the—’ the Quite Reverend Oats began, but there was a grunt from Nanny and he suddenly seemed to jerk forward slightly. He blinked once or twice and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down.‘ But alas I fear we have no time,’ he concluded quickly.
Magrat leaned over and whispered something in her husband’s ear. Agnes heard him say, ‘Well, dear, I think we have to, whether she’s here or not . . .’
Shawn scurried up, slightly out of breath and with his wig on sideways. He was carrying a cushion. On the faded velvet was the big iron key of the castle.
Millie Chillum carefully handed the baby to the priest, who held it gingerly.
It seemed to the royal couple that he suddenly started to speak very hesitantly. Behind him, Nanny Ogg’s was an expression of extreme interest that was nevertheless made up of one hundred per cent artificial additives. They also had the impression that the poor man was suffering from frequent attacks of cramp.
‘—we are gathered here together in the sight of . . . um . . . one another . . .’
‘Are you all right, Reverend?’ said the King, leaning forward.
‘Never better, sir, um, I assure you,’ said Oats miserably, ‘. . . and I therefore name thee . . . that is, you . . .’ There was a deep, horrible pause.
Glassy faced, the priest handed the baby to Millie. Then he removed his hat, took a small scrap of paper from the lining, read it, moved his lips a few times as he said the words to himself, and then replaced the hat on his sweating forehead and took the baby again.
‘I name you . . . Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre!’
‘Definitely a bit tricky,’ said Nanny. ‘Esmerelda, now, that was a good one. Gytha would have been good too, but Esmerelda, yes, you can’t argue with it. But you know kids. They’ll all be calling her Spelly.’
‘If she’s lucky,’ said Agnes gloomily.
‘I didn’t expect anyone to say it!’ Magrat hissed. ‘I just wanted to make sure she didn’t end up with “Magrat”!’
Mightily Oats was standing with his eyes cast upwards and his hands clasped together. Occasionally he made a whimpering sound.
‘We can change it, can’t we?’ said King Verence. ‘Where’s the Royal Historian?’
Shawn coughed. ‘It’s not Wednesday evening and I’ll have to go and fetch the proper hat, sire—’
‘Can we change it or not, man?’
‘Er . . . it has been said, sire. At the official time. I think it’s her name now, but I’ll need to go and look it up. Everyone heard it, sire.’
‘No, you can’t change it,’ said Nanny, who as the Royal Historian’s mum took it as read that she knew more than the Royal Historian. ‘Look at old Moocow Poorchick over in Slice, for one.’
‘What happened to him, then?’ said the King sharply.
‘His full name is James What The Hell’s That Cow Doing In Here Poorchick,’ said Magrat.
‘That was a very strange day, I do remember that,’ said Nanny.
‘And if my mother had been sensible enough to tell Brother Perdore my name instead of coming over all bashful and writing it down, life would have been a whole lot different,’ said Magrat. She glanced nervously at Verence. ‘Probably worse, of course.’
‘So I’ve got to take Esmerelda out to her people and tell them one of her middle names is Note Spelling?’ said Verence.
‘Well, we did once have a king called My God He’s Heavy the First,’ said Nanny. ‘And the beer’s been on for the last couple of hours so, basic’ly, you’ll get a cheer whatever you say.’
*Lancre people considered that anything religious that wasn’t said in some ancient and incomprehensible speech probably wasn’t the genuine article.
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