Wintersmith, por Sir Terry Pratchett
Don’t chase faith, ’cos you’ll never catch it.” She added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”
That’s Third Thoughts for you. When a huge rock is going to land on your head, they’re the thoughts that think: Is that an igneous rock, such as granite, or is it sandstone?
Some people think that “coven” is a word for a group of witches, and it’s true that’s what the dictionary says. But the real word for a group of witches is an “argument.”
At the moment three small fireballs circled the fire. Annagramma had made them. You could slay enemies with them, she’d said. They made the others uneasy. It was wizard magic, showy and dangerous. Witches preferred to cut enemies dead with a look. There was no sense in killing your enemy. How would she know you’d won?
“Well, I wouldn’t say that, exactly,” said Tiffany, a bit hurt. “Not exactly silly.” “Then it’s all obvious,” said Petulia. “He’s a boy.” “What?” “A boy. You know what they are?” said Petulia. “Blush, grunt, mumble, wibble? They’re pretty much all the same.”
Witches are very keen on pickles, as a rule, but the food they like best is free food. Yes, that’s the diet for your working witch: lots of food that someone else is paying for, and so much of it that there is enough to shove in your pockets for later.
“I was always too busy to pay attention to young men,” said Miss Treason. “They were always for later and then later was too late. Pay attention to your young man.”
“Oh, my silly people. Anything they don’t understand is magic. They think I can see into their hearts, but no witch can do that. Not without surgery, at least. No magic is needed to read their little minds, though. I’ve known them since they were babes. I remember when their grandparents were babes! They think they’re so grown-up! But they’re still no better than babies in the sandpit, squabbling over mud pies. I see their lies and excuses and fears. They never grow up, not really. They never look up and open their eyes. They stay children their whole lives.”
At one point Dr. Bustle turned up, with his reedy, self-satisfied voice, and gave her a lecture on the Lesser Elements and how, indeed, humans were made up of nearly all of them but also contained a lot of narrativium, the basic element of stories, which you could detect only by watching the way all the others behaved….
She got out the box of paints and some precious paper and tried to paint what she was seeing, and there was a kind of magic there, too. It was all about light and dark. If you could get down on paper the shadow and the shine, the shape that any creature left in the world, then you could get the thing itself.
“Oh, you mean like Orpheo rescuing Euniphon from the Underworld?” said Roland. Rob Anybody just stared. “It’s a myth from Ephebe,” Roland went on. “It’s supposed to be a love story, but it’s really a metaphor for the annual return of summer. There’s a lot of versions of that story.” They still stared. Feegles have very worrying stares. They’re even worse than chickens in that respect.* “A metaphor is a kind o’ lie to help people understand what’s true,” said Billy Bigchin, but this didn’t help much.
But it wasn’t wise to try to learn witching all by yourself, especially if you had a natural talent. If you got it wrong, you could go from ignorant to cackling in a week….
When you got right down to it, it was all about cackling. No one ever talked about this, though. Witches said things like “You can never be too old, too skinny, or too warty,” but they never mentioned the cackling. Not properly. They watched out for it, though, all the time.
It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without an intelligent conversation that wasn’t about cows, you’d talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling.
“Cackling,” to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought that it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you “going to the dark,” as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of that road were poisoned spinning wheels and gingerbread cottages.
What stopped this was the habit of visiting. Witches visited other witches all the time, sometimes traveling quite a long way for a cup of tea and a bun. Partly this was for gossip, of course, because witches love gossip, especially if it’s more exciting than truthful. But mostly it was to keep an eye on one another.==========
A witch didn’t do things because they seemed a good idea at the time! That was practically cackling! You had to deal every day with people who were foolish and lazy and untruthful and downright unpleasant, and you could certainly end up thinking that the world would be considerably improved if you gave them a slap. But you didn’t because, as Miss Tick had once explained: a) it would make the world a better place for only a very short time; b) it would then make the world a slightly worse place; and c) you’re not supposed to be as stupid as they are.
Witches didn’t need to slap the stupid, not when they had a sharp tongue that was always ready.==========
“If any ground is Consecrate, this ground is.
If any day is Holy, it is this day.”==========
And now, she thought, it would be a good idea to go outside into the fresh air. It’s a bit sad and stuffy in here. That’s why I want to go out, because it’s sad and stuffy. It’s not at all because I’m afraid of any imaginary noises. I’m not superstitious. I’m a witch. Witches aren’t superstitious. We are what people are superstitious of. I just don’t want to stay==========
Mrs. Earwig was always polite to Granny, in a formal and chilly way. It made Granny Weatherwax mad, but that was the way of witches. When they really disliked one another, they were as polite as duchesses.==========
Tiffany nodded. She wasn’t crying, which is not the same as, well, not crying. People walked around not crying all the time and didn’t think about it at all. But now, she did. She thought: I’m not crying….
Mrs. Ogg’s face broke into a huge grin that should have been locked up for the sake of public decency.==========
Romancin’ is verra important, ye ken. Basically it’s a way the boy can get close to the girl wi’oot her attackin’ him and scratchin’ his eyes oot.”==========
“That’s justice. No excuses. You made a choice. You get what you chose.”
“Couldn’t I just go and find her and say I’m sorry—?” Tiffany began.
“No. The old gods ain’t big on ‘sorry,’” said Granny, pacing up and down again. “They know it’s just a word.”==========
Tiffany had never been able to find out much about the librarians. They were a bit like the wandering priests and teachers who went even into the smallest, loneliest villages to deliver those things—prayers, medicine, facts—that people could do without for weeks at a time but sometimes needed a lot of all at once. The librarians would loan you a book for a penny, although they often would take food or good secondhand clothes. If you gave them a book, you got ten free loans.
Sometimes you’d see two or three of their wagons parked in some clearing and could smell the glues they boiled up to repair the oldest books. Some of the books they loaned were so old that the printing had been worn gray by the pressure of people’s eyeballs reading it.
The librarians were mysterious. It was said they could tell what book you needed just by looking at you, and they could take your voice away with a word.==========
Look, just because a woman’s got no teeth doesn’t mean she’s wise. It might just mean she’s been stupid for a very long time.==========
But her Third Thoughts were right—not that this made things any better. If you’re going to be angry and miserable, you might as well be so on a full stomach==========
People wanted the world to be a story, because stories had to sound right and they had to make sense. People wanted the world to make sense==========
It was lonely on the hill, and cold. And all you could do was keep going. You could scream, cry, and stamp your feet, but apart from making you feel warmer, it wouldn’t do any good. You could say it was unfair, and that was true, but the universe didn’t care because it didn’t know what “fair” meant. That was the big problem about being a witch. It was up to you. It was always up to you.==========
“Typical artist,” said Granny. “He just painted the showy stuff in the front. Too proud to paint an honest potato!” She poked at the page with an accusing finger. “And what about these cherubs? We’re not going to get them too, are we? I don’t like to see little babies flying through the air.”
“They turn up a lot in old paintings,” said Nanny Ogg. “They put them in to show it’s Art and not just naughty pictures of ladies with not many clothes on.”==========
She pulled the Wintersmith toward her and saw the look of astonishment on his face. She felt light-headed, as though her feet weren’t touching the floor. The world became…simpler. It was a tunnel, leading to the future. There was nothing to see but the Wintersmith’s cold face, nothing to hear but her own breathing, nothing to feel but the warmth of the sun on her hair.
It wasn’t the fiery globe of summer, but it was still much bigger than any bonfire could ever be.
Where this takes me, there I choose to go, she told herself, letting the warmth pour into her. I choose. This I choose to do. And I’m going to have to stand on tiptoe, she added.
Thunder on my right hand. Lightning in my left hand.
Fire above me….
“Please,” she said, “take the winter away. Go back to your mountains. Please.”
Frost in front of me….
“No. I am Winter. I cannot be anything else.”
“Then you cannot be human,” said Tiffany. “The last three lines are: ‘Strength enough to build a home, Time enough to hold a child, Love enough to break a heart.’”
Balance…and it came quickly, out of nowhere, lifting her up inside.
The center of the seesaw does not move. It feels neither upness nor downness. It is balanced.
Balance…and his lips were like blue ice. She’d cry, later, for the Wintersmith who wanted to be human.==========
And, as always happens, and happens far too soon, the strange and wonderful becomes a memory and a memory becomes a dream. Tomorrow it’s gone.