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Lords and Ladies
by
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Lords and Ladies

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fantasy

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Lords and Ladies

Copyright © 1992 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

The curtain goes up, the first pawn moves, the first shot is fired*—but that’s not the start. The play, the game, the war is just a little window on a ribbon of events that may extend back thousands of years. The point is, there’s always something before. It’s always a case of Now Read On.

Much human ingenuity has gone into finding the ultimate Before.

The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus:

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.

* Probably at the first pawn.

No one had ever told him how to be a king, so he had to find out for himself. He’d sent off for books on the subject. Verence was a great believer in the usefulness of knowledge derived from books.

He had formed the unusual opinion that the job of a king is to make the kingdom a better place for everyone to live in.

“We taught her everything she knows,” said Granny Weatherwax.

“Yeah,” said Nanny Ogg, as they disappeared into the bracken. “D’you think . . . maybe . . . ?”

“What?”

“D’you think maybe we ought to have taught her everything we know?”

“It’d take too long.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Don’t hold with schools,” said Granny Weatherwax. “They gets in the way of education. All them books. Books? What good are they? There’s too much reading these days. We never had time to read when we was young. I know that.”

“We were too busy makin’ our own entertainment.”

To see through other eyes . . .

. . . through the eyes of gnats, seeing the slow patterns of time in the fast pattern of one day, their minds traveling rapidly as lightning . . .

. . . to listen with the body of a beetle, so that the world is a three-dimensional pattern of vibrations . . .

. . . to see with the nose of a dog, all smells now colors . . .

But there was a price. No one asked you to pay it, but the very absence of demand was a moral obligation. You tended not to swat. You dug lightly. You fed the dog. You paid. You cared; not because it was kind or good, but because it was right. You left nothing but memories, you took nothing but experience.

It was all very pretty, the cards were colored like little pasteboard jewels, and they had interesting names. But that little traitor voice whispered: how the hell can they know what the future holds? Cardboard isn’t very bright.

You ain’t a witch if you ain’t got self-confidence. But we’re not getting any younger. It’s like being a hired swordfighter, being a top witch. You think you’re good, but you know there’s got to be someone younger, practicing every day, polishing up their craft, and one day you’re walkin’ down the road and you hears this voice behind you sayin’: go for your toad, or similar.

Even for Esme. Sooner or later, she’ll come up against someone faster on the craftiness than she is.

“I don’t hold with paddlin’ with the occult,” said Granny firmly. “Once you start paddlin’ with the occult you start believing in spirits, and when you start believing in spirits you start believing in demons, and then before you know where you are you’re believing in gods. And then you’re in trouble.”

“But all them things exist,” said Nanny Ogg.

“That’s no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages ’em.”

Topic:

Belief

People think that they live life as a moving dot traveling from the Past into the Future, with memory streaming out behind them like some kind of mental cometary tail. But memory spreads out in front as well as behind. It’s just that most humans aren’t good at dealing with it, and so it arrives as premonitions, forebodings, intuitions, and hunches. Witches are good at dealing with it, and to suddenly find a blank where these tendrils of the future should be has much the same effect on a witch as emerging from a cloud bank and seeing a team of sherpas looking down on him does on an airline pilot.

“No! That’s cheating!”

“Well, you always cheat.”

“I cheat for myself. You can’t cheat for other people.”

The trouble with Nanny Ogg was that she always looked as if she was lying. Nanny Ogg had a pragmatic attitude to the truth; she told it if it was convenient and she couldn’t be bothered to make up something more interesting.

Topic:

Lies

’Plus a hum-our-rus int-ter-lude with Comic Artisans . . .”

“What’s an artisan?” said Weaver the thatcher.

“Dunno. Type of well, I reckon.” Jason scratched his head. “Yeah. They’ve got ’em down on the plains. I repaired a pump for one once. Artisan wells.”

“What’s comic about them?”

“Maybe people fall down ’em in a funny way?”

Note (Hal’s):
The Lancre Morris Men, appearing here as Comic Artisans, are led by Jason Ogg, the smith. The others are Carter the baker, Weaver the thatcher, Carpenter the tailor, Baker the weaver, Thatcher the carter, Tailor the other weaver, and Tinker the tinker.

— end note

Topic:

Humor

Travel broadens the mind. This landscape broadened the mind because the mind just flowed out from the ears like porridge.

“Oh, hello, Mum. Hello, Mistress Weatherwax.”

“Let us in, there’s a good boy.”

“Friend or foe?”

“What?”

“It’s what I’ve got to say, Mum. It’s official. And then you’ve got to say Friend.”

“I’m your mum.”

“You’ve got to do it properly, Mum,” said Shawn, in the wretched tones of one who knows he’s going to lose no matter what happens next, “otherwise what’s the point?”

“It’s going to be Foe in a minute, my lad.”

“Oooaaaww, Mum!”

“Oh, all right. Friend, then.”

“Yes, but you could just be saying that—”

“Let us in right now, Shawn Ogg.”

Shawn saluted, slightly stunning himself with the butt of his spear.

“Right you are, Mistress Weatherwax.”

His round, honest face disappeared from view. After a minute or two they heard the creaking of the portcullis.

“How did you do that?” said Nanny Ogg.

“Simple,” said Granny. “He knows you wouldn’t make his daft head explode.”

“Well, I know you wouldn’t, too.”

“No you don’t. You just know I ain’t done it up to now.”

It’s all very well a potion calling for Love-in-idleness, but which of the thirty-seven common plants called by that name in various parts of the continent was actually meant?

The reason that Granny Weatherwax was a better witch than Magrat was that she knew that in witchcraft it didn’t matter a damn which one it was, or even if it was a piece of grass.

The reason that Magrat was a better doctor than Granny was that she thought it did.

The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.

Topic:

Words

The traditional wedding list with the complete set of Tupperware and the twelve-piece dining set looks a bit out of place when you’ve already got a castle with so many furnished rooms that have been closed up for so long that the spiders have evolved into distinct species in accordance with strict evolutionary principles. And you can’t simply multiply it all up and ask for An Army in a Red and White Motif to match the kitchen wallpaper. Royalty, when they marry, either get very small things, like exquisitely constructed clockwork eggs, or large bulky items, like duchesses.

Topic:

Weddings

Let’s be clear. Many authorities have tried to describe a hangover. Dancing elephants and so on are often employed for this purpose. The descriptions never work. [...]

Anyway, you can’t describe a scumble hangover. The best bit of it is a feeling that your teeth have dissolved and coated themselves on your tongue.

[...] “You haven’t got the morals of a cat, Gytha Ogg.”

“Now, Esme, you know that’s not true.”

“All right. You have got the morals of a cat, then.”

“That’s better.”

Topics:

Morality

Cats

“I’m the head wizard now. I’ve only got to give an order and a thousand wizards will . . . uh . . . disobey, come to think of it, or say ‘What?’, or start to argue. But they have to take notice.”
“When I was a lad there was just one decent universe and this was it, and all you had to worry about was creatures breaking through from the Dungeon Dimensions, but at least there was this actual damn universe and you knew where you stood. Now it turns out there’s millions of the damn things. And there’s this damn cat they’ve discovered that you can put in a box and it’s dead and alive at the same time. Or something. And they all run around saying marvellous, marvellous, hooray, here comes another quantum.”

“This is damn good wine,” she said, picking up another bottle. “What did you say it’s called?” She peered at the label. “Chateau Maison? Chat-eau . . . that’s foreign for cat’s water, you know, but that’s only their way, I know it ain’t real cat’s water. Real cat’s water is sharper.”

Topic:

Drink

He’d researched what was known of the early days of Lancre, and where actual evidence had been a bit sparse he had, in the best traditions of the keen ethnic historian, inferred from revealed self-evident wisdom* and extrapolated from associated sources.†

* Made it up.

† Had read a lot of stuff that other people had made up, too.

Topic:

History

Technically, a cat locked in a box may be alive or it may be dead. You never know until you look. In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.

People remember badly. But societies remember well, the swarm remembers, encoding the information to slip it past the censors of the mind, passing it on from grandmother to grandchild in little bits of nonsense they won’t bother to forget. Sometimes the truth keeps itself alive in devious ways despite the best efforts of the official keepers of information.

Topic:

Truth

There was the long-drawn-out chord that by law must precede all folk music to give bystanders time to get away.

A crossbow is a very useful and usable weapon designed for speed and convenience and deadliness in the hands of the inexperienced, like a faster version of an out-of-code TV dinner. But it is designed to be used once, by someone who has somewhere safe to duck while they reload. Otherwise it is just so much metal and wood with a piece of string on it.

Then there was the sword. [...] You tried to stick it into the enemy by a vigorous arm motion, and the enemy tried to stop you. She was a little uncertain about what happened next. She hoped you were allowed another go.

She was also having doubts about her armor. The helmet and the breastplate were OK, but the rest of it was chain-mail. And, as Shawn Ogg knew, chain-mail from the point of view of an arrow can be thought of as a series of loosely connected holes.

Topic:

Weaponry

“But look,” said Ponder, “the graveyards are full of people who rushed in bravely but unwisely.”

“Ook.”

“What’d he say?” said the bursar [...]

“I think he said, ‘Sooner or later the graveyards are full of everybody,’ ” said Ponder.

“What don’t die can’t live. What don’t live can’t change. What don’t change can’t learn.”
The new queen was crowned, by the king, as part of the ceremony. It wasn’t technically difficult for any king who knew which end of a queen was which, which even the most inbred king figured out in two goes.

“No one could say I haven’t been decently modest all my life.”

“You’ve always been a bit of a shy violet, I’ve always said,” said Nanny Ogg. “I’m always telling people, when it comes to humility you won’t find anyone more humile than Esme Weatherwax.”

“Always keep myself to myself and minded my own business—”

“Barely known you were there half the time,” said Nanny Ogg.

“I was talking, Gytha.”

“Sorry.”

Topic:

Humility

“The price for being able to shoe anything, anything that anyone brings you . . . is having to shoe anything anyone brings you. The price for being the best is always . . . having to be the best. And you pays it, same as me.”

Topic:

Blacksmiths

text checked (see note) Apr 2005

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