The Witches Condition (c2) 6/3/16 by Ray Daley
(All characters and locations are copyright of Terry Pratchett. This is a work of fan fiction released under a creative commons licence intended as a parody. No copyright infringement is intended)
“She’s late, Esme!” Nanny Ogg had a habit of stating the obvious. And she knew that even with her back turned, Granny Weatherwax was rolling her eyes at her. She’d be tapping her foot next.
“I can go again Granny, if you like?” That was Magrat. Even with the recent influence of her coven members, she was still a meek soul.
“Not this year, Magrat. You know the rules. Everyone knows the rules. You enter the cave, you take the test. And you ruddy well turn up on time.”
If Magrat had really been looking at Granny Weatherwax especially hard, or more specifically at her feet, she’d have sworn the grass beneath them was boiling. But grass doesn’t boil. Unless it’s thrown into a cauldron of hot water. *
* Unless it’s grass that’s been exposed to the ire of Esmeralda Weatherwax. Then it boils. And stays boiled until it’s expected to do otherwise. Even the Lancre grass is frightened of Granny Weatherwax.
The test had been going for almost a decade now, at least according to Nanny Ogg. She secretly suspected that Esme had been taking the test herself for a much longer time by herself before finally presenting it to the other Ramtops Witches. According to Granny Weatherwax, it was her own variation on a test Black Aliss used undertake on a monthly basis.
“One of the reasons she went to the black, I say,” Esme had once told her in the strictest confidence. Nanny hadn’t repeated that to anyone, but all the local witches knew who’d told them. *
* Because she was that kind of person.
The witches had been waiting on the youngest of the new Lancre coven. She referred to herself as Diamanda. Granny, in the moments when she tolerated her foolishness called her “that Tockley girl.” Diamanda’s parents had had the misfortune to name her Lucy. How was a girl supposed to become a great witch with a name like Lucy?
Then the short black outline finally came over the ridge.
“Oh, here she is. Only ten minutes late then, Esme.” Nanny Ogg was one of those souls who tried to find the best in any situation. Mostly to soothe the savage beast that was Granny Weatherwax right now. Not that it worked. It never did. You’d have better luck cutting down a tree by looking at it. Which Esme was known to be able to do, according to Nanny.
Granny Weatherwax just stood there tapping her foot on the bubbling grass until the young witch finally reached their group. “You are tardy, Miss Tockley!”
“Diamanda, as you well know Mistress Weatherwax. And it’s only ten minutes. I was communing with the infinite. Channelling the souls of those long past, soothing their pain, as a good witch would.” Lucy Tockley’s minor inflection of the word good was only caught by its intended target.
And Nanny Ogg who’d keep it to herself. And then maybe tell a few close family members in confidence over the dinner table because she knew that was the best way to disseminate information.*
* I told you she was that kind of person!
Granny Weatherwax’s gaze hadn’t shifted from the young witches feet, not since she’d ambled up to the group moments ago. “Communing was it? Channelling, you say? So you didn’t get stuck in Beckitt’s Bog then? Because those pointy shoes say otherwise.”
No self respecting witch worth her salt would fall victim to Beckitt’s Bog. Everyone knew where it was, where it started and what fate befell those who didn’t escape its clutches. *
* It generally meant the loss of whatever footwear the person was wearing. If they were lucky. Back in Lancre, there weren’t three men with the nickname “Trouserless” for no reason.
Diamanda glanced down at her pointy shoes for a fraction of a second before making the mistake of looking up and locking eyes with the most powerful witch on the Discworld. She lasted longer than most people did. Longer than most witches too. A whole two seconds in fact, before she finally looked away, towards the coven. “Well I’m here now. So what’s this test?”
There was an audible gasp from the older members of the coven. Surely everyone knew about the test? What self respecting witch didn’t know about Granny Weatherwax’s test? *
* One that thought communing with the infinite was an actual thing witches did. One that wore black as a fashion statement, as opposed to out of practicality like every other witch did. One that called themselves Diamanda when they had a perfectly acceptable name like Lucy.
Granny Weatherwax grunted. “See that cave? Walk inside it. Count to five slowly. Then turn around and come back out. It doesn’t matter how you do it. And you don’t have to explain your method either. Just walk out. You’ve got ten minutes.”
The story that Esme had told Nanny Ogg ran as follows. When she had first become a student with Nanny Gripes, she had been told the story of how Black Aliss had dug a pit and lined it with extremely sharp spikes. She’d then suspend herself over the pit by way of a rope that she’d set on fire. The idea being to use magic and magic alone to avoid an extremely messy ending.
The young Esme Weatherwax had been extremely impressed with the story (but frankly hadn’t believed a single word of it*) and instantly decided one day she’d have her own version of that test, only a lot less fatal for the unsuccessful.
* On account of how witches love to use stories as a method of power.
On that very day, she’d found a patch of rock in a nearby hillside that was only a little higher than she was tall and proceeded to take a pickaxe to it. It had taken her ten long years to construct a cave big enough to step inside and be able to turn around inside. The spell she’d cast across the entrance, however?
She’d taken less than a day to come up with that.
The first time anyone had taken the test, it was Esme herself. Nanny Gripes had told her “you have to be careful, young Esme. There is such a thing as the witches condition. Too much power, you see? Makes you go to the black.”
Young Esme Weatherwax had scoffed at her mentor back then. But now she knew that the witches condition was a very real thing. As real as the grass boiling beneath her feet right now.
Diamanda walked up to the entrance and peered inside. It barely merited being called a cave, it was little more than a nook in the hillside. “It’s just a stupid cave.”
Nanny Ogg tried not to gasp. She succeeded where more of the older members of the coven failed miserably. The gasp Magrat gave could have knocked a small bird out of the air. *
* In fact it almost did. But Magrat took that slightly swooned creature home and nursed it back to health and then some. Because she was that kind of person, even if they did think she was just a wet hen.
“Go inside then, girl.” There wasn’t a trace of challenge in Granny’s voice but you could have cut dwarf bread with that tone.
Diamanda just snorted and stepped into the tiny space beyond the mouth of the cave.
“Count to five.”
Diamanda didn’t need to turn around to know the old witch was trying to needle her. So she counted the slowest five count in the whole of recorded history. It almost took as long as it had taken for her to pull herself out of the bog earlier. She’d hoped the old woman wouldn’t spot her boots, but no, it was Granny Weatherwax.
Of course she’d spotted them.
“Any time today, Miss Tockley!” The old witch was trying to get inside her head now.
Diamanda hummed, trying to drown her voice out. Unsuccessfully.
“And now turn and leave, by whatever method you can.”
Diamanda finally turned around to face the mouth of the cave, expecting to find it as clear as when she’d entered. But it wasn’t, not any more. There appeared to be some sort of fine meshed netting covering the entire exit.
No. Not entirely.
Diamanda took a second look and saw the small hand-sized hole at exactly waist height. She knew it was hand sized because she put her hand through it. And pushed. It certainly wasn’t any kind of net then. Or any man made thread. It had no give at all. It was like pushing against the very rocks themselves, hard and unforgiving.
“Leave when you please, Miss Tockley. But remember, there is a time limit.” Granny sounded rather pleased with herself. Happy to be showing Diamanda up in front of her friends. Now she had to find a way out!
“Nine minutes left now, sweetie.” That was Nanny Ogg, trying to be helpful.
“Thank you Missus Ogg.” Diamanda knew she was angry now. She’d never not called her Nanny before now.
Nanny Ogg decided to let that slide. She’d address it another time.*
* When there were less witnesses around. She might have been a good witch, but she certainly wasn’t stupid, regardless of her batty demeanour.
“Is this a fair test, Mistress Weatherwax?” Diamanda asked.
“Exactly the same test everyone else has already taken, girl. So fair in that respect. But who ever said being a witch involved fairness?”
The time slid by as Diamanda tried everything she could think of. She kicked the net. She cast any number of spells on the net. The only trouble there being she didn’t really know any proper spells. *
* At least not any that really worked the way she wanted them to. She could turn leaves into bananas though. Not that she’d found any use for that yet.
Eventually she heard the one thing she’d tried to avoid most of all.
“Your time is up Miss Tockley. Shall I dispel and release you?”
Diamanda muttered something, not wanting to admit defeat in front of her friends.
Granny Weatherwax heard the young witch perfectly and released the charm across the mouth of the cave. It was clear once more.
Diamanda couldn’t get out fast enough. “Stupid cave. It’s just a stupid cave! No-one can beat that. Did anyone here beat that?”
All eyes in the coven turned to its most senior and powerful member. No-one needed to tell Lucy Tockley that Granny Weatherwax had already beaten the test.
“It’s your test, of course you’d beat it! Go on then, prove it’s possible! Show me!”
Esmeralda Weatherwax was surprised, something that didn’t happen to her very often these days. The girl may not have had any actual power, but she had fire and spirit, and those counted for a lot in the witching world.
The rest of the coven had already seen Granny take and pass the test, she’d been the first inside the cave once everyone (except Diamanda) had arrived not only on time but a good five minutes early. *
* Because witches liked to be unpredictable. Never late, always on time or early. Just keep them guessing, that’s what Granny Weatherwax always said.
Granny Weatherwax walked straight into the cave and counted out loud for everyone to hear, standing with her back to the entrance. Then she turned.
There wasn’t a flicker , or a flash, or even a blur.
It was just Granny Weatherwax standing outside the cave, with the net still intact. The old lady had simply appeared to step through reality from one point to another.
“Possible, see?” That was Nanny Ogg, now standing right next to Diamanda. “Okay ladies, same time next year then?”
And with that, the witches flittered away, some on foot, some by way of broom. Until only Nanny Ogg and Diamanda were left by the cave.
With Granny Weatherwax halfway home, the spell on the cave finally dropped.
Diamanda kicked a nearby rock to vent her frustration. “Of course she beat it. She …”
Nanny Ogg put her hand over Diamanda’s mouth, knowing full well the next word she was going to say was cheated. “Best to keep those kinds of things unsaid, love. You’ll make a fine witch one day. Just remember, it comes with conditions.”
Then Nanny Ogg flew off, leaving Diamanda alone by the cave with her thoughts.
‘She’ll slip up one day. I just hope I’m there to see it.’
* Because not all endings are happy.