‘Is the tea ready?’
‘Not yet, but I think Letitia brought scones.’
There was a rustling of fabric, and out came a bundle of hot pastries.
‘You baked them?’ The voice wasn’t so much disbelieving as it was carefully neutral.
‘Oh no, the cook gave them to me.’ There was a silence, and the speaker seemed to remember the company she was in. ‘Well, there were some leftover after a batch she did, and she was going to take them home before I asked for them.’ She realised that this was perhaps not the right thing to say right after the words escaped, but the others took pity on her.
‘Well then, it’s a good thing I thought to bring cheese,’ said Tiffany. Free food was free food, and she had recently helped the new cook’s husband with a particularly nasty rash in a rather private area, so if she remarked on how good the scones were, she was sure she could have a bag hanging on her doorknob before the end of the week.
‘How is the building going?’ asked Amber as the tea started steaming, and she begun to parse it out.
‘Quite by schedule. The foundation is laid, and we got the last materials yesterday. All that is left is hammering it all up.’ And really, when there were well-meaning picties hard at work at night in addition to the well-meaning men from the Chalk at day, then it really wouldn’t surprise her if the cottage could be up by the next couple of days. She had said no to any building without her supervision. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them to do good work, quite the contrary. But she needed a proper place for making cheese, and some people, who had names that started with Daft or Wee or other adjectives, really thought more about what kind of towers could be added. She knew she shouldn’t have showed them that story book.
‘I should think it will be nice moving on your own,’ said Letitia. ‘Having a place all by yourself, and flying the nest so to speak.’ She got a dreamlike quality to her eyes, and Tiffany and Amber exchanged glances over the fire. At Tiffany’s age women usually moved out for one reason, namely marrying. And considering the fact that the two only prospects she had ever even considered in the privacy of her head was either married to her friend, because Letitia had truly become a friend, or was studying under an Igor in Ankh-Morpork, who, last she had heard, was very interested in introducing him to his daughter, the future cottage was very much a bachelorette’s home.
Tiffany didn’t know exactly how to feel about this. In a way it felt like she was already stepping into a certain role, even though she was quite young. The three witches didn’t call the meetings with each other a sabbath. Neither did they call their group a coven. However, there were certain patterns which had emerged.
The meetings just sort of... happened. About once a month all three women found themselves free of any obligations. No one in the area was giving birth or dying or even stealing*. So they drifted together in the evenings. Someone brought tea, they updated each other on what was happening, even though they mostly already knew, and generally just talked.
The roles were more difficult. The maid, the mother and... the other one. Amber was the one who most naturally fitted into the mother role, considering the fact that she actually was a mother. If the decline in blushing was anything to go by, Letitia had taken Nanny’s advice to heart, and therefore the most logical choice for maid was Tiffany. She liked logic, provided it was used by sensible people. In other words, she liked using logic herself, and scrutinizing everything everyone else thought up.
In the most technical sense it was completely correct. But, in the most technical sense, they would be the youngest coven she knew of, if they truly were a coven. And because of that, the roles didn’t quite fit. Physically, none of them fit... the other one. Mentally... Well. Neither Amber nor Letitia had any proper training. Tiffany on the other hand had experience ranging from when she was about nine in both the physical aspect of witchcraft, what with farming and lambing and making other people do what they were supposed to do, but also in the more esoteric department.
The Kelda was helping out, and Tiffany had sent a request up into the mountains, asking for someone who could teach the girls some of the more basic stuff, but there were certain problems with this approach. Tiffany was far too young to command the same respect as the older witches, which meant that asking them to leave their local district could be construed as an insult. A witch’s certainty was also her power, and that was often tied directly to their home. So asking for someone to come and look after two girls was not going to happen.
And you really ought to stop thinking of them as girls, thought the Second thoughts.
Amber is a mother. In many ways she is older and more tied down than you are, added the Third thoughts.
Yes, Tiffany thought back, but Letitia is not any easier to find a solution for.
Most of her head was in agreement. Letitia was too used to commanding people. Not a bad quality in a witch, but terrible in someone supposed to be studying under one. An image of Granny’s face after Letitia made a dismissive remark floated up, and it was things like that which made Tiffany hesitant to send her away.
*Perhaps more notable than it ought to be on a place where everyone knew everyone, and most had a connection through either family or marriage. But things regularly went missing. Despite the large wedding agreement which marked the beginning of the new laws of the Chalk, old habits were hard to break, especially when you only have a couple of inches to work with when it came to a sense of self. The people of the Chalk adapted by leaving random things out that were no longer needed, but were not useless. Or the clearest liquid in the house which was not water*.
* Some boys once replaced the content of the bottles with actual water. The operative word in that sentence is once.
‘Roland says the roads are coming along nicely,’ said Letitia. ‘We might become part of the regular postal route by winter at this rate.’
Besides, it was so much easier to handle the Baron when his wife was there.
‘That’s nice,’ said Amber. She lowered a knife to the cheese, then paused. ‘It’s very green, Tiff.’
‘I’m experimenting a bit.’
‘That’s nice,’ she repeated, but didn’t cut. ‘Has it been a while since you did any magic?’
Tiffany shrugged. ‘A bit. Why?’
‘Because this piece of cheese is talking to me, insisting that the knife is completely unnecessary.’
Letitia prodded it with a finger. ‘It’s not moving. How old is it?’
‘About a week.’
‘So younger than Horace?’
Amber sighed. ‘I thought you didn’t do anything magical to your beloved cheese?’
‘I don’t!’ Tiffany exclaimed. ‘This was simply controlling the external factors, like temperature and moisture.’ They all heard the spill of words. A drunk Feegle, that is to say a regular Feegle, would have heard the spill of words.
‘And an herb which says it is supposed to be flavour enhancing.’ There were very few plants Tiffany didn’t know the use of on the Chalk, and after Miss Level she had learned to figure out the clues. Or she thought she had.
‘I don’t know about you two, but I’m not eating anything sentient,’ said Letitia.
Tiffany packed up the cheese, and made a note to later visit the mounds to see how Horace was doing.
The evening went on, and they talked about the stupidity of people, the idea of a regular supply of tea, and the sentience of other inanimate products.
‘Roland sent for a teacher from Ankh-Morpork.’ That caught Tiffany’s attention.
‘Really? I thought he would just employ someone from the travelling ones.’
‘I think he wants try something new. He read something about a new school that employed different teaching techniques.’
Tiffany didn’t really know that there were that many ways to learn something. In her experience you either watched what your teacher did, like when you apprenticed with someone, or you read it, or you listened to someone else talk. And if you didn’t pay attention, then that was too bad for you.
‘What was the name of the school?’
‘The Frout Academy for something, something.’
They nodded at each other, chatted some more, and pretended not to notice the scones disappearing one by one, mostly on little blue feet.