Nanny Ogg was in a good mood. This was her usual state of affairs, partially because she was naturally a cheerful sort of person, and partially because, as a witch, she could generally re-arrange those bits of the world that would have made her unhappy, and everyone knew it.* But even her friend Esme Weatherwax would have had to admit that today was the sort of day that it would make it easy for a body to be cheerful. The sun was shining, the weather was just warm enough to encourage people to spend their time outside, and there was a party going on. Technically it was Lancre's annual Soul Cake Tuesday festival, but Nanny Ogg knew a party when she barged in and stole all the drinks from one.
Currently she was holding court in one of the two big wooden chairs under the pavillion. They were supposed to be for the King and Queen, but Nanny had appropriated one as her right as a witch, and nobody dared to kick Greebo out of the other for fear of losing a hand—or worse. It was only fair, Nanny considered: she'd been a witch a damn sight longer than Magrat had been a queen, and her knees hurt more. 'Sides, royalty was supposed to go out and mingle with the common muck every now and then so they'd remember why being royalty was nice.
A bevy of anxious daughters in law scurried around, bearing greasy plates loaded with food and foaming tankards of beer. Nanny liked festivals. All the food that wasn't deep fried was on a stick, and a fair portion had both attributes. Magrat and Verence had tried to persuade some of the vendors to include some healthier fare this year, but all true Lancre men and women were suspicious of vitamins at the best of times and so the poor vegetables were ruthlessly stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, and deep fried. It weren't half bad, Nanny conceded, but she allowed as it could maybe use a cream sauce.
She hadn't seen Granny around yet, although she knew she was bound to show up. Granny had soured on the festival once Nanny had pointed out all the fertility aspects of its origins, but she did like tradition and making sure that people knew she was around. Agnes was haunting the pastry tent, she was sure. Girls like her always knew where to find people they'd be comfortable around. Magrat was currently trying to persuade yowling children to have their pictures painted with Hodgesaaargh, who had been convinced (on grounds that it was unlikely to involve bodily injury for once) into a wearing a large and highly unrealistic Soul Cake Duck costume covered in bright yellow feathers.
Nanny stretched and let out a loud burp. They'd be starting the egg hunt soon. It was always nice to watch the little ones scurry about, pushing and shoving and biting ears. And she liked eggs, particularly pickled ones with a little something to drink on the side.
Verence walked over to the dias in front of the chairs, glanced down at Greebo, blenched, glanced down at Nanny leering up at him and turned paler. He scooted a little further away before clearing his throat and facing the crowd. “Ahem. We would like to welcome you to the annual Lancre Soul Cake Egg Hunt.” He glanced down at a little piece of paper in his hand. “This year we are pleased to announce that there will be a prize for the boy or girl who finds the most eggs.” He reached into the pocket of his doublet and fumbled around a bit.
“You should keep it in your knickers,” Nanny whispered helpfully. She paused to snigger, thoughtfully. “Or is that why you and Mag--”
Verence gulped audibly and swiftly yanked a shining, glittering object out of his pocket. “Theonewhogetsthemosteggswinsagoldenegg!”
Nanny's eyes glittered almost as brightly as the egg. Witches, as a rule, didn't care much about money, since they could usually find someone thoughtful enough to supply them with whatever they needed. But like magpies and cats, they were attracted by shiny objects. And the rules had never specifically said that only children could enter.
A crowd of young children and Nanny Ogg stood toeing the line scratched into the dirt. Sure the little blighters had youth and high energy (not to mention in some cases, longer legs) but Nanny had spent years perfecting her own potent blend of guile and deception, both as a mother and a witch. She eyed the handkerchief fluttering from Verence's hand. It dropped, and she took off, elbows flying, with her burlap sack flapping behind her. Behind her, scrambling to catch up, came the thundering horde of children. Verence eyed his hand suspiciously. He was fairly sure the handkerchief had started dropping before he'd let it go.
Nanny was plotting strategy as she gathered eggs out of their hiding places. Grandchildren could be easily made to hand over any accumulated eggs through a reminder of the respect due their Nanny** . Blackmail would work on the Frottidge twins, who would do almost anything to keep their parents ignorant of the twins’ hidden stack of “educational” magazines. For the others... She reached deep into her ample bosom and drew out a small brown paper sack of peppermints. “Free candy!” Nanny yelled, scattering the contents across the grass, and allowed herself a small grin at the sudden whoops behind her. There were still a few holdouts dotting the field, grim-faced, hardheaded Lancre children who were as intently competitive as only small children on a sugar high could be.
Well, Granny wasn't the only one could apply a little headology. “Cooee! You monsters get out of my way. You can eat those kiddies later, I have a golden egg to win.” She pointed at a patch of shadow. “You too! Don't wave those claws at me; I ain't scared of your long, sharp, pointy teeth.” She waved her bag behind her towards the now hesitant group of children. “Well, go on then, I ain't got forever, and there's a bunch of you.” There was a faint whispering noise, and everyone looked down to see the grass slowly flattening in a wide path from the trees outward, as if trampled under the feet of many, many legs. Screaming bloody murder, the children took off for the safety of their parents. “Heh,” Nanny smirked. It was amazing what you could do with a properly placed wind.
There was only one egg left, according to Nanny's calculations, a shining dot of crimson peeking out from under a bush twenty yards away. There was also only one other contestant -- a thin-faced sallow boy with a basket half as big as himself stuffed full of eggs, who Nanny recognized as being Ezekial Lemslip's son, Devlin. The Lemslips had won the egg hunt for the past ten years running, so it was only to be expected that the little snot was resistant to ordinary tricks. They gave each other just barely perceptible nods, one worthy opponent to another. Nanny hitched up her dress, the boy tightened his clutch on his basket, and as one they took off full-steam towards the bush. It was a neck and neck race that ended in a two-way dive, hands outstretched, bodies sliding along the grass, faces contorted into grim snarls.
By now, all the booths had emptied out as everyone crowded around the starting line, trying to see what was going on. Agnes pushed her way to the front, red-faced and panting, and very much unsurprised to see Granny Weatherwax planted like a stone in front of everyone else. “Who won?” Agnes gasped, but Granny didn't say a word.
As the dust cleared (there shouldn't have been any dust, as it had rained the day before, but some things are stronger than mere weather)a skinny, knobbly kneed figure emerged with his fist raised high above his head. Beside him, slowly clambering to her feet, Nanny seemed a tiny, wizened figure, suddenly looking all of her years.
“Good job,” she croaked, wiping at her dress futilely. Devlin looked at suspiciously. She gave him a brave little smile. “I mean it. You won fair and square.” He grudgingly lowered his fist. She stuck out her hand. “No hard feelings?” Conscious of everyone watching them, he gingerly took it. Unfortunately he'd forgotten that he had the egg in his hand—forgotten, that is, until he felt Nanny's hand close vice-like around his own. A slimy mess dripped down his fingers onto the ground. Nanny grinned up at him viciously. “Word of advice, boy. Don't count your eggs until they're in the basket.”
“And the winner is...Nanny Ogg,” Verence proclaimed in a slightly strangled voice. He handed her the egg and backed away quickly.
Nanny pouted. She'd been looking forward to a congratulatory kiss. Oh well, she had her...gold egg? Seen up close, the gold was a bit brassier than she remembered. She rubbed at a smudge with her thumb and a smear of gold came away on her thumb. Huh, guess everything that glittered wasn't gold. Just gold-ish.
Out of nowhere, Granny sidled up to her. “I'm ashamed of you, Gytha Ogg. Making a fool of yourself for some shiny gew-gaw that ain't even real gold.”
“B-but, you're witches, aren't you?” sputtered Agnes, as most of her heaved slowly to a stop beside them. “Couldn't you just turn it into a real gold egg if you wanted?”
Two pairs of eyes fixed her with a steely gaze. “That would be cheating!” Nanny said.
Her jaw dropped. “You cheated for the whole race!”
“There's cheating, and then there's cheating,” Nanny sniffed. “And if you can't tell the difference, you'll never be a witch.” She spun the egg around in her fingers in the manner of a conjurer about to make something disappear and glanced around at the milling crowd of crying children and anxious parents and smiled. It had been a nicer festival than usual.
But where was Greebo? He'd disappeared from his chair, leaving behind only a faint miasma of odor as proof that he'd ever been there. She listened for screams. A wave of sound came bursting out of the crowd to her far right, beginning in fear and pain and rising high into new octaves of terror and agony. A man dressed in a bright yellow duck costume came hurtling through the parting waves of people, a hissing black cat attached to his head. “Greebo! You get off that poor man's head, right this instant!” she yelled. It yowled unhappily, digging its claws in further. “Now, Greebo!”
The cat stretched, its limbs elongating and losing their fur, until suddenly, where there had been a cat, was now a very noticeably naked man. “But Nan-ny...” he wailed. The iconographer who had been taking pictures of squirming, unhappy children with the Soul Cake Duck all day long fainted, bouncing his forehead off the button as he did so.
Visitors to Nanny's cottage later might have noted that on her overstuffed mantlepiece, in between a collection of decorative seashells and a humorous corkscrew shaped like a young man, were two rather incongruous items: a slightly tarnished gold-colored egg and a framed iconograph of a naked man riding a giant duck
*The tankards of alcohol she kept close at hand didn't hurt either.
**I.e. they'd get a hiding if they didn't.