I Shall Wear Midnight Online - Terry Pratchett


A Fine Big Wee Laddie

Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much? Why was noise so important?

Something quite close sounded like a cow giving birth. It turned out to be an old hurdy-gurdy organ, hand cranked by a raggedy man in a battered top hat. She sidled away as politely as she could, but as noise went, it was sticky; you got the feeling that if you let it, it would try to follow you home.

But that was only one sound in the great cauldron of noise around her, all of it made by people and all of it made by people trying to make noise louder than the other people making noise: Arguing at the makeshift stalls, bobbing for apples or frogs,* cheering the prizefighters and a spangled lady on the high wire, selling cotton candy at the tops of their voices, and, not to put too fine a point on it, boozing quite considerably.

The air above the green downland was thick with noise. It was as if the populations of two or three towns had all come up to the top of the hills. And so here, where all you generally heard was the occasional scream of a buzzard, you heard the permanent scream of, well, everyone. It was called having fun. The only people not making any noise were the thieves and pickpockets, who went about their business with commendable silence, and they didn’t come near Tiffany; who would pick a witch’s pocket? You would be lucky to get all your fingers back. At least, that was what they feared, and a sensible witch would encourage them in this fear.

When you were a witch, you were all witches, thought Tiffany Aching as she walked through the crowds, pulling her broomstick after her on the end of a length of string. It floated a few feet above the ground. She was getting a bit bothered about that. It seemed to work quite well, but nevertheless, since all around the fair were small children dragging balloons, also on the ends of pieces of string, she couldn’t help thinking that it made her look more than a little bit silly, and something that made one witch look silly made all witches look silly.

On the other hand, if you tied it to a hedge somewhere, there was bound to be some kid who would untie the string and get on the stick for a dare, in which case most likely he would go straight up all the way to the top of the atmosphere where the air froze, and while she could in theory call the stick back, mothers got very touchy about having to thaw out their children on a bright late-summer day. That would not look good. People would talk. People always talked about witches.

She resigned herself to dragging it again. With luck, people would think she was joining in with the spirit of the thing in a humorous way.

There was a lot of etiquette involved, even at something so deceptively cheerful as a fair. She was the witch; who knows what would happen if she forgot someone’s name or, worse still, got it wrong? What would happen if she forgot all the little feuds and factions, the people who weren’t talking to their neighbors and so on and so on and a lot more so and even further on? Tiffany had no understanding at all of the word “minefield,” but if she had, it would have seemed kind of familiar.

She was the witch. For all the villages along the Chalk, she was the witch. Not just for her own village anymore, but for all the other ones as far away as Ham-on-Rye, which was a pretty good day’s walk from here. The area that a witch thought of as her own, and for whose people she did what was needful, was called a steading, and as steadings went, this one was pretty good. Not many witches got a whole geological outcrop to themselves, even if this one was mostly covered in grass, and the grass was mostly covered in sheep. And today the sheep on the downs were left by themselves to do whatever it was that they did when they were by themselves, which would presumably be pretty much the same as they did if you were watching them. And the sheep, usually fussed and herded and generally watched over, were now of no interest whatsoever, because right here the most wonderful attraction