Inheriting a fairy godmother role seemed an easy job . . . After all, how difficult could it be to make sure that a servant girl doesn’t marry a prince?
Quite hard, actually, even for the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.
That’s the problem with real life – it tends to get in the way of a good story, and a good story is hard to resist.
Servant girls have to marry the prince, whether they want to or not.
You can’t fight a Happy Ending, especially when it comes with glass slippers and a rival Fairy Godmother who has made Destiny an offer it can’t refuse.
In a quiet little inn in a tiny country Granny Weatherwax sat and regarded the food with deep suspicion. The owner hovered with the frantic expression of one who knows, even before he starts, that he’s not going to come out of this ahead of the game.
‘Good simple home cooking,’ said Granny. ‘That’s all I require. You know me. I’m not the demanding sort. No one could say I’m the demanding sort. I just want simple food. Not all grease and stuff. It comes to something when you complain about something in your lettuce and it turns out to be what you ordered.’
Nanny Ogg tucked her napkin into the top of her dress and said nothing.
‘Like that place last night,’ said Granny. ‘You’d think you’d be all right with sandwiches, wouldn’t you? I mean . . . sandwiches? Simplest food there is in the whole world. You’d think even foreigners couldn’t get sandwiches wrong. Hah!’
‘They didn’t call them sandwiches, Granny,’ said Magrat, her eyes dwelling on the owner’s frying pan. ‘They called them . . . I think they called them smorgy’s board.’
‘They was nice,’ said Nanny Ogg. ‘I’m very partial to a pickled herring.’
‘But they must think we’re daft, not noticing they’d left off the top slice,’ said Granny triumphantly. ‘Well, I told them a thing or two! Another time they’ll think twice before trying to swindle people out of a slice of bread that’s theirs by rights!’
‘I expect they will,’ said Magrat darkly.
‘And I don’t hold with all this giving things funny names so people don’t know what they’re eating,’ said Granny, determined to explore the drawbacks of international cookery to the full. ‘I like stuff that tells you plain what it is, like . . . well . . . Bubble and Squeak, or . . . or . . .’
‘Spotted Dick,’ said Nanny absently. She was watching the progress of the pancakes with some anticipation.
‘That’s right. Decent honest food. I mean, take that stuff we had for lunch. I’m not saying it wasn’t nice,’ said Granny graciously. ‘In a foreign sort of way, of course. But they called it Cwuissses dee Grenolly, and who knows what that means?’
‘Frogs’ legs,’ translated Nanny, without thinking.
The silence was filled with Granny Weatherwax taking a deep breath and a pale green colour creeping across Magrat’s face. Nanny Ogg now thought quicker than she had done for a very long time.
‘Not actual frogs’ legs,’ she said hurriedly. ‘It’s like Toad-in-the-Hole is really only sausage and batter puddin’. It’s just a joke name.’
‘It doesn’t sound very funny to me,’ said Granny. She turned to glare at the pancakes.
‘At least they can’t muck up a decent pancake,’ she said. ‘What’d they call them here?’
‘Crap suzette, I think,’ said Nanny.
Granny forbore to comment. But she watched with grim satisfaction as the owner finished the dish and gave her a hopeful smile.
‘Oh, now he expects us to eat them,’ she said. ‘He only goes and sets fire to them, and then he still expects us to eat them!’
It might later have been possible to chart the progress of the witches across the continent by some sort of demographic survey. Long afterwards, in some quiet, onion-hung kitchens, in sleepy villages nestling among hot hills, you might have found cooks who wouldn’t twitch and try to hide behind the door when a stranger came into the kitchen.
It is defnity more warmer here, Magrat says it is because we are getting further from the Hub and, a funny thing, all the money is different. You have to change it for other money which is all different shapes and is not proper money at all in my opnion. We generally let Esme sort that out, she gets a very good rate of exchange, it is amazing, Magrat says she will write a book called Travelling on One Dollar a Day, and it’s always the same dollar. Esme is getting to act just like a foreigner, yesterday she took her shawl off, next thing it will be dancing on tables. This is a picture of some famous bridge or other. Lots of love, MUM.
The sun beat down on the cobbled street, and particularly on the courtyard of a little inn.
‘It’s hard to imagine,’ said Magrat,‘that it’s autumn back home.’
‘Garkon? Mucho vino aveck zei, grassy ass.’
The innkeeper, who did not understand one word and was a good-natured man who certainly did not deserve to be called a garkon, smiled at Nanny. He’d smile at anyone with such an unlimited capacity for drink.
‘I don’t hold with putting all these tables out in the street, though,’ said Granny Weatherwax, although without much severity. It was pleasantly warm. It wasn’t that she didn’t like autumn, it was a season she always looked forward to, but at her time of life it was nice to know that it was happening hundreds of miles away while she wasn’t there.
Underneath the table Greebo dozed on his back with his legs in the air. Occasionally he twitched as he fought wolves in his sleep.
‘It says in Desiderata’s notes,’ said Magrat, turning the stiff pages carefully, ‘that in the late summer here they have this special traditional ceremony where they let a lot of bulls run through the street.’
‘That’d be something worth seeing,’ said Granny Weatherwax. ‘Why do they do it?’ ‘So all the young men can chase them to show how brave they are,’ said Magrat. ‘Apparently they pull their rosettes off.’
A variety of expressions passed across Nanny Ogg’s wrinkled face, like weather over a stretch of volcanic badlands.
‘Sounds a bit strange,’ she said at last. ‘What do they do that for?’
‘She doesn’t explain it very clearly,’ said Magrat. She turned another page. Her lips moved as she read on. ‘What does cojones mean?’
‘Here, you want to slow down on that drink,’ said Granny, as a waiter put down another bottle in front of Nanny Ogg. ‘I wouldn’t trust any drink that’s green.’
‘It’s not like proper drink,’ said Nanny. ‘It says on the label it’s made from herbs. You can’t make a serious drink out of just herbs. Try a drop.’
Granny sniffed the opened bottle.
‘Smells like aniseed,’ she said.
‘It says “Absinthe” on the bottle,’ said Nanny.
‘Oh, that’s just a name for wormwood,’ said Magrat, who was good at herbs. ‘My herbal says it’s good for stomach diforders and prevents sicknefs after meals.’
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