Footsteps thudded up the hill. Perched on a flat rock, Tiffany twirled a twist of iron that had once been a nail between her fingers. Once upon a time it had held together the boards of Granny Aching's hut, but the fire that had erased most of the hut from the Chalk had left it warped and bent, like a worm left to dry on the road after a rainstorm.
She'd taken the nail from a pair of young Feegles, who'd been using it as some kind of weapon against beetles. They'd muttered about bigjobs stomping on all their fun, but Tiffany had crossed her arms and tapped her foot and they'd handed it over. Then she'd sent them back to the mound. She didn't know if Rob would appreciate her disciplining the boys, but Jeannie surely would.
The footsteps came to a halt behind her rock. "Sit down, Dad." Tiffany didn't turn her eyes from the four wheels and the potbelly stove half-sunk in the turf. "Has the lambing started, then?"
"Not yet. Probably by tomorrow morning, if your small friends don't startle the ewes into it sooner." Dad grunted and eased himself down onto the rock next to her. "You came home just in time."
"I'm going back to Miss Level when the lambing's done," Tiffany said. "I still have so much to learn." She could feel her father's intense stare, taking in her pointed hat.
They sat in silence for a long while--not to say that it was silent around them; the Chalk was never silent. There were bird calls and sheep bleats and the wind sighing in the grass, and a faint cry of, "Crivens, it's lucky the hag dinna do worse than send ye home!" But Tiffany and her father were silent.
Tiffany dropped the nail in her pocket, then fingered the brim of her starry hat. She'd come home from Miss Level's because it was lambing time, the high season of the whole year. She needed the Chalk, and the Chalk needed its witch. And it was past time that her family learned what she was really up to in the mountains.
"What," Wentworth had asked after the hugs, "is that thing on your head?"
Mum blinked at it, then forced a smile. "I'm sure it's something fashionable young ladies wear in Lancre."
Wentworth sniggered; Tiffany bristled. She had struggled the whole trip home to find the words to explain that her training with Miss Level went far beyond housekeeping, and she'd thought the hat would explain more than words could. "It's a witch's hat."
"Which witch?" Wentworth asked brightly.
"Mine. I'm the witch." She turned to her parents. "Or I will be, once I finish training."
Mum looked at her for a long moment, her arms crossed with a ladle dangling from one hand. "When did you plan to tell us about it?"
Mum made the face she made when the milk went sour, the same face she'd made when Fastidia came home after a few months being married and tried to teach them all a new way to make the beds. She turned back to stirring the stew. "I see," she said, in a voice that indicated she absolutely did not see.
And that was that. Tiffany had unpacked her suitcase and gone to the dairy to start the cheeses, but the silence had grown cold and thick enough to envelop the whole farm. She'd come to Granny Aching's hill to escape it.
"Fastidia and Hannah changed," Tiffany finally said. She knew better than to expect her father to say what he was thinking, if he knew what to think at all. "We all change. Mum should be used to it by now."
"You'd think so," Dad said slowly. "You'd think so. But you--you--"
"I've changed in a different way," Tiffany filled in. "More than they did."
"Yes." He was silent, waiting.
She could have said any number of things. She'd helped babies come into the world, and she'd helped people leave it. She'd hosted the memories of people born generations and generations ago in her own head; she'd helped the hiver to die. She'd spoken, face to almost-face, with Death. Those things changed a person. It would be nice, Tiffany thought, to have someone understand just how much she had changed.
Her second thoughts said, If you don't tell him, if he doesn't know, home can still be home, and you can fit into it the way you used to, before there were fairy queens and frying pans and hivers.
Her third thoughts said, He's your father, and he isn't ready to hear this.
She took off her hat and set it on the ground. Then she dropped her head on her father's shoulder. It just barely fit the hollow that she'd snuggled in, back when she was younger than Wentworth, when there was no Wentworth. He put his arm around her shoulders, and it was the safest, warmest place she'd been in months.
"It's not a bad way to change, Dad."
"It's taking you away from us."
"No, it isn't." She sat up straight and faced him. "I belong on the Chalk. Only there's no one here to teach me all the things I need to know, to keep me from making mistakes, and help me fix them when I do." Not for the first time, she wondered what might have happened to her, to her family, if she'd been here when the hiver took over. Here alone, without Granny Weatherwax. "When a witch makes a mistake," she finished at Dad's steady look, "it's better if she's with other witches."
Dad nodded toward the rusting stove and wheels. "She'd have been proud of you, jigget. She knew before the rest of us that there was something different about you. Something good," he added quickly.
Tiffany blushed, but something stirred inside her, something she hadn't felt since before she'd left home. And then her second thoughts nudged her toward a question. "Was she proud of you?"
Dad's laugh was half grunt. "I reckon it was a lot harder, being her child. She didn't know what to expect from us, so she expected, well, everything. Mothers tend to be a bit tougher to please than grandmothers." He nodded toward Tiffany's hat. "I don't know what she would have thought if one of her daughters had come home with that."
Her third thoughts started up, but Tiffany shushed them. Dad stood and held out his hand, and she let him pull her up.
"She'll come around, Tiff," he said as they walked back to the house. "They all will. Won't take long, once you show them the Chalk has the best witch of all."
"Wentworth!" Tiffany stood with her head tilted back so far her hat was in danger of toppling off. "Wentworth!" The noise kept pouring out of the hayloft, a cacophony that only Feegles--or nine year old boys--could enjoy.
Muttering darkly, Tiffany climbed the ladder, then stomped on the hayloft floor. "Wentworth Aching!"
Wentworth and his friends couldn't possibly have heard her. Maybe it was the vibration of the stomp that made them look up from their so-called instruments; certainly it was the sight of Tiffany in her green dress and black hat that made them stop playing.
The four boys stared at her, drumsticks, bagpipes, fiddle, and what looked like an old butter paddle with dozens of little bells nailed to it arrested in mid-note. The bells tinkled faintly.
"You're sending the cheese right off with this noise," Tiffany said. "I can't even get the butter to set."
"It's not noise." Wentworth shook his bell-shaking thingy at her. One of the bells flew off; Tiffany caught it and dropped it into her pocket, wishing she could do the same with all the bells. And the drumsticks. And the fiddle. And most especially the bagpipes. "It's our new song."
"It's certainly new. Are you sure it's a song?"
Wentworth scowled, while his friends gaped at Tiffany. "'Course it's a song, we're a band. We've got to practice, Tiff."
The piper nodded. "Me dad's having a barn raising next week, miss. We're to be the entertainment. He's paying us and everything."
"Someone is paying you money?"
"Well, miss, it's more in the way of food." His freckled face erupted in a proud smile. "We get a whole haggis to ourselves!"
All four boys nodded, looking equally delighted. "That's where we got our band name, miss," said the fiddler.
Tiffany turned to Wentworth, whose cheeks had turned red. "Out with it."
He lifted his chin. "Dubious Haggis."
Tiffany struggled for a moment before she spoke; she didn't dare smile. "The first part's certainly accurate."
"Mum said we could practice here." A note of pleading crept into Wentworth's voice; she half-expected him to ask for sweeties. "We have to. Dad won't let us do it near the sheep."
"I can't argue with that. You do need practice." Tiffany pretended not to hear the quadruple sigh of relief when she went back down to tend to her poor butter.
After the other boys had gone, Wentworth stopped on his way out to watch her work. Tiffany knew he was there, but she didn't look up from stamping the butter pats until he slapped the table. Realizing he was trying to talk to her, she pulled the wads of cheesecloth out of her ears.
"What's that?" she asked.
"I just--I wanted to say that it--" He shuffled from foot to foot. "I wanted to ask you--"
Tiffany put her stamp down. "What is it, Wentworth?"
"It's just that it helps me remember--playing music, I mean--but I'm not sure if what I remember is real."
"What do you mean, remember?"
Wentworth traced a pattern only he could see on the work table. "Sometimes when I'm dreaming, I think I remember that place I ran away to when I was a little kid. There was candy, and a woman I thought was nice, but it turned out she wasn't, really." He frowned for a moment; then it cleared, and his eyes lit up. "And there was a boat, and a whale, and...and them. That's the first time I met them, wasn't it?"
Tiffany went to the shelves to turn the cheeses. "Met who?" They hardly ever talked about it. Mum didn't like to hear it, and when they were alone, Wentworth had trouble putting words around it. As he did now.
"The wee-wee--" Wentworth coughed, and from behind a particularly large wheel of cheddar, Tiffany heard a tiny huff of indignation. Rob's, from the sound of it. "Uh, the little blue men," Wentworth said. "All of that seems more real, when we're playing music. I can see them all so clear in my head. It's kind of scary--she's kind of scary--but it's a good scary. Because we beat her, didn't we, Tiff?"
"We?" Rob yelped from behind the cheese. Tiffany reached behind her back and rapped him on the head, but with only one knuckle. He was right, of course; Wentworth had had hardly anything to do with stopping the Queen from invading their world. But Tiffany had learned that, as much as it went against her own nature, complete honesty was sometimes worse for all concerned than an outright lie.
"Yes, Wentworth." She hoped her smile was encouraging. "We certainly did."
Tiffany rubbed her eyes as she limped home from the Drummonds' cottage, where she'd spent the night tending to six children with whooping coughs, along with two perfectly healthy ones who were almost as much trouble. Her exhaustion muffled the morning sounds of the Chalk, birdsong and bleating and hoof beats. The world felt wrapped in wool. By the time she realized a human voice was calling her, he sounded a bit hoarse.
She turned around. A horse was behind her, closing the distance quickly. Its rider waved hopefully.
"Oh," she said. "Hullo, Roland." Even though she'd stopped walking, her left foot still hurt. Something in the boot, she thought dully, and sat down in the middle of the road to undo the laces. The healthy little Drummonds had been stuffing all sorts of things into her boots--spoons and walnuts and a toy or two. She'd tried to clear them all out, but she must have missed something.
"Are you quite well?" Roland was still there; in fact, he was standing over her. A little frown dug three perfectly even furrows between his eyebrows.
"Quite." Tiffany pulled the boot off and turned it upside down. A rock the size of her fingernail tumbled into her outstretched hand. Its spiral shape was etched with ridges. A sea shell, Tiffany thought, or a fossil of one. A bit from when the Chalk was still the Land Under Wave.
"Are you still coming to tea today?"
She wanted to. Or rather, she wanted to want to. Roland would talk to her about words, and books, and what he'd seen on his trip to Ankh-Morpork. They'd dance around the edges of what had happened to them all those years ago when she'd rescued him from the Queen, and then again, not so very long ago, when Tiffany had kissed the Wintersmith and Roland had gone to fetch the Summer Lady. He was the only person in the village to whom she could speak about those things, and yet they hardly ever did.
Roland had been asking her to tea ever since she'd come home from the mountains, but something always seemed to come up. Bursitis, gout, toenails, moulting chickens--the list was endless. The need was endless, stretching as far into the future as Tiffany could see.
"Yes," she said wearily, dropping the fossil into her pocket and slipping the boot back on. Visiting Roland would be good for her--an afternoon without demands, with someone who understood. "Tea. Wouldn't miss it. As long as Charity Haver's baby doesn't come, and Mr. Grange's gout doesn't flare."
"Charity Haver has eight sisters. Surely one of them can help her, er, have her baby." Roland's cheeks flushed red. "And Mr. Grange has had gout since long before you came back." He held out a hand; Tiffany took it, and he pulled her to her feet. "I'll give you a ride home. I expect you want to clean yourself up a bit. Run a brush through your hair and all that." He said it in the same jovial tone his father adopted when talking with the villagers, and it irritated her. But she wasn't going to turn down a ride, so she climbed on the horse behind Roland.
He spent most of the ride talking about how busy he was, what with learning the baroning business and meeting the other future barons and the daughters of current barons and clearing out the castle rooms that had belonged to his aunts before he sent them packing. "I really could use your help, Tiffany," he said at the end of his long list of tasks.
"But there are so many people out here who already need me. Mrs. Drummond--"
"Didn't you hear me before? People out here got along just fine before you decided to be a witch. They'll be fine if you spend a few hours at the castle now and then. They need to learn, after all."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, once we're..." Even though she was sitting behind him, Tiffany knew he was blushing again. "I mean, if we...you know..."
"No, Roland, I don't know," she said sweetly. "And I've just remembered, I should check in on Mrs. Blinker. She lives right down this lane. I can walk from here." Tiffany slid off the horse. "Thank you for the ride."
Roland nodded. "Well. Of course. You're tired; I shouldn't have...anyway." He pulled himself up straight. "Do come to tea once you've cleaned up?"
"I wouldn't miss it."
Tiffany held in her sigh until he rode off, but as soon as she let it out, a voice spoke from near her boot. "What's so great about being clean?"
"Rob Anybody!" Tiffany glared down at him; he returned her glare with a cheeky smile. "How many times have I told you not to spy on me?"
"Oh, forty-seven at least. Are ye going to marry him, then?"
"That's what he was talking about, ye ken."
"Well of course I ken." Tiffany started down the lane, and Rob trotted along beside her. "And I suppose, at some point in the quite distant future, if Roland were to ask me, I would--" She stopped herself. "I would give it due consideration," she finished.
"What do you have to say about it, anyway? You're the one who turned him into a hero."
"Aye, but he seems to be slipping backward a bit. He doesn't seem to see the value of what ye do all day. Mebbe he should come along, help out a bit."
The thought of Roland clipping toenails and putting poultices on boils made her smile. "I'm not sure that's the kind of hero he can be, Rob."
"Isn't that the kind of hero a hag needs?"
They'd finally reached Mrs. Blinker's cottage. Tiffany, who was certainly too exhausted to be taking romantic advice from a Feegle, knocked on the door. "I think I can decide that for myself, don't you?"
"Oh, aye." Rob rolled his eyes. "You're doing bree-ill-yant-ly so far."
After the crash and shatter, there was a squeaky, "Offski!", and then a scurrying, and then a sigh from Tiffany. Having Rob's sons help her had seemed like a good idea at first. Everyone told her she did too much on her own. The problem with this group of young Feegles was that they were very young, and very Feegle. And they were Rob's sons. She knelt and checked to make sure none of them were lying among the broken pottery on the dairy floor.
"Tiffany, what on earth?" Mum stood in the doorway; she must have heard the crash all the way from the house.
"It's nothing, Mum. Some of the old crockery got knocked over." She deliberately did not say who had knocked it over. Like Dad, Mum was vaguely aware of the Feegles, but she liked to keep the knowledge on the periphery of her awareness. "No, don't worry, I'll clean it up," she said when Mum went right to the broom in the corner.
"It doesn't take a witch to sweep up broken pots. You'll get your new dress dirty, kneeling on the floor like that."
Spill words knocked against her teeth, but Tiffany did not let them out. Mum didn't want to hear that the dairy, which was Tiffany's domain, did not have a dirty floor--other than the broken pots, of course. She most certainly did not want to hear that Tiffany's new dress, the black dress that Amber and William had given her a week ago, was black precisely because the color could hide the stains that were already there, stains that had come from--well, from the inside of other people's bodies. She busied herself righting the crockery that hadn't broken while her mother swept.
"Oh!" Mum picked up a piece of earthenware, reddish brown and pitted, from the pile on the floor. She turned it over in a shaft of sunlight. "Tiff, do you remember this? It's from the pot you made when you were--goodness, I don't know how young. Just after Wentworth was born. You took a potting class from one of the traveling teachers, and gave the pot to me as a Hogswatch gift. It was--"
"Misshapen and wouldn't hold water," Tiffany finished. But what she really remembered was the wet clay squeezing between her fingers, dancing with her friends while their pots baked in the fire, and the thrill of giving Mum something she'd made herself.
"You were so proud of it."
"I'm sorry, Mum, I didn't know it meant so much to you."
Mum waved a hand. "It's only a pot. I can remember it just fine without it taking up space on a shelf. You making it for me when you were so small, that was the important thing." She turned away for a moment and used a sneeze that wouldn't have fooled Daft Wullie as an excuse to swipe a hand across her face. She set the piece of Tiffany's pot on the table before she swept the rest out to the midden pile.
"Mum, I'm really, really sorry," Tiffany said when she came back.
"Oh, goodness, Tiffany, I'm fine. You've just grown up so quickly, is all. Sometimes I miss that little girl." Mum gave her a smile, then tilted her head to one side. She pointed at the golden hare dangling from the chain around Tiffany's neck. "You have a new necklace."
"The last necklace you wore was from Roland." Who is married now, her frown added for her.
Tiffany could feel the strain in her own smile. "This one isn't. It's from Preston, actually."
"Is it really? I quite like that boy, even though I don't understand half of what he says."
"Whether anyone understands or not doesn't seem to matter with Preston."
Mum reached up and tucked Tiffany's hair behind her ear, as she'd done when Tiffany was young enough to make pots.
"He suits you. You suit each other. And I'd much rather you don't go it alone, not like those other witches."
"Nanny Ogg is hardly alone, Mum."
"You know what I mean."
She meant Granny Weatherwax, of course. At one time, Tiffany had thought her mother would never be at peace with her being a witch. Mum seemed to think all witches lived like Granny and Miss Level and Miss Tick, and none of those women could ever have been someone's daughter. Daughters married and lived within walking distance and provided grandchildren. They didn't go off to learn magic and come back changed; they didn't stomp around the Chalk clipping toenails and mending legs and midwifing breeched babies and lambs.
"There's more than one way to be a witch," Tiffany said.
"Does Preston know that?"
Tiffany smiled. "I think he does."
Mum nodded and patted Tiffany's cheek. "That's good, then." After she left, Tiffany slipped the pottery shard into her pocket and went back to making cheese.
It's a bit like the don't-see-me thing that I...that we--You have to persuade time not to take any notice, Tiffany had told herself. Would tell herself.
It was, like so many things, much easier said than accomplished.
Tiffany had stopped clocks. She had broken hourglasses. She had hexed watches and refused to celebrate her past few birthdays. Nothing worked.
Even out here on the hill, where she had left her world for others a number of times, she couldn't escape time. Its markers were everywhere. The rusting wheel rims and the pot bellied stove were almost completely buried. The sun moved across the sky during the day, and the stars and moon crossed it at night.
Preston had explained that time was an imaginary construct, something about dimensions and light and the motion a giant turtle under the Disc. But Tiffany knew that couldn't be it. And if it was, it didn't help her one bit.
Time travel had to be, at its heart, something simple. That was how magic always worked. Transferring heat, taking away pain, mending broken hearts--they all worked on very simple principles. Magic was a matter of knowing them so well, you didn't have to think about how they worked. You found a balance, then got out of its way.
She hadn't seen Eskarina, or her older self, in years. She was close in age, or thought she was, to the version of herself she had spoken to years ago, right about the time the Baron died and Roland married Letitia. And she'd been puzzling over time travel, and how to make it happen, for most of that time. The problem had become more pressing with every year that passed.
But that was the point, wasn't it? The years kept passing. Time was certainly taking notice of her.
At the edges of her thoughts, an idea pecked at her, then flew away, no matter how still she sat waiting for it. Waiting needed time. And time was exactly what she wanted to eliminate.
Nothing else for it, then. There was only one way to know her own thoughts when they wouldn't come to her on their own. She pulled a length of woolen yarn, spun from the fleece of her own sheep, and a handful of objects she didn't dare look at too closely from her pockets. She wove the string into a shamble and threaded the bits and bobs into it. As there was no Feegle nearby, or at least, none that would make his presence known once he realized what she was making, she plucked a caterpillar from the grass and added it as well. Everything started to spin slowly through the shamble, until it looked as if this little group of objects had always been joined.
And she waited, and waited, and waited for the thought to come clear. But waiting took time, and she could feel time pass right through her, up in the quiet of the hill. No matter how she turned and twisted the threads, she couldn't catch the thought that would make it all come together and work.
Footsteps, quick and sure, came from the direction of the Feegle mound.
And footsteps take time, her second thoughts said. We all walk through time, getting older every moment. How could she possibly make time look away from her?
"The kelda says you're feeling a bagaid o bacadh," said the voice attached to the boots that stopped in front of Tiffany. Amber didn't precisely know a lot of languages, but she'd picked up a lot of words from listening to, and understanding, the Feegles--among others. She plopped down on the turf, as limber now as she had been at thirteen. Tiffany's knees twinged just watching her--another sign of the passage of time. "That's a really good one."
Tiffany had never explained how a shamble worked to Amber. She was fairly sure Amber had never seen a shamble at all, unless Jeannie had shown her one. But Jeannie had her own ways of seeing the world outside the mound--past, present, and future. And Amber, well...Amber could probably read the shamble without any help from Tiffany.
"I'm trying to do something," Tiffany said slowly, "and I've already done it, or I already will have done it. I know I can do it, because I saw myself do it a long time ago, even though I hadn't done it yet. I still haven't done it yet. And if I don't figure it out soon, I'm not sure how things will change in the past. Maybe I never will figure it out, and they already have."
At this point, even Preston would have told her she wasn't making sense. But Amber nodded as if she'd just been told the sky was blue. She moved closer, so she was sitting directly in front of Tiffany. She touched the little bell at the center of the shamble with one finger, and the dinging was sharp in Tiffany's ears. "Air," Amber said, and then she pointed at the bent nail, the pottery shard, and the fossil. "Fire, earth, water." She flashed a delighted smile at Tiffany. "It's you."
"Well, of course it's me. A shamble is just a way to suss out what's already in my head, what's--" Tiffany broke off, and her second thoughts said, look at what's here. Nothing ends up in a shamble by mistake, no matter how random it seems.
"No, miss, that isn't what I mean," Amber said. "You made this because you want to know what's getting in your way, and it's you. You're getting in your own way."
Tiffany laughed. "It wouldn't be the first time. How do I get out of my own way?"
Amber tilted her head, puzzled but still smiling. "I'm not sure. I can see it, but I can't find words to explain it."
A thought, an echo, came clear: I am having to talk about time travel in a language that can't really account for it.
"Oh," said Tiffany. "Wait, I think--" But the thought flew off again.
Without warning, Amber stuck a finger between two strands of the shamble, then pulled it down and out. The shamble whirled on Tiffany's fingers. The bell dinged madly. The shard cut one of the strands. The nail went twang-twang-twang against the yarn.
Tiffany had never seen a shamble move that way. It was fascinating, and for the first time in years her second and third thoughts became wholly preoccupied with what was happening right in front of her.
It spun harder, until all the bits of herself, all the pieces of her life, blurred and spun together. The dings and the twangs sped up until they made a constant hum. Tiffany shut her eyes against the dizzying sight.
"That's it, miss!" Amber's cry sounded very far away.
Tiffany opened her eyes. Then she opened her eyes again.
The Unreal Estate hadn't changed; the old packing case that served as a table was set for tea. There was even a cupcake.
"The traveling now?" she asked the white-haired woman in the chair across from hers.
Eskarina Smith smiled. "The very same. Are you ready to take another first step?"
Tiffany slipped her fingers out of the shamble. Still spinning and dinging and twanging, it hovered in front of her, mixing moments of her life until time was thoroughly confused as to the whereabouts of Tiffany Aching.