The girl was running across the mountain meadows, keeping ahead of the young man who was chasing her. They'd been playing this teasing game for a week. He was growing tired of running and never catching up to her, and was considering going back to his fishing and hunting, and nearly broke off the run. Then the girl cried out and fell from sight. Mustrum Ridcully sharpened his pace.
Esme Weatherwax was the fastest runner in Lancre, and that was saying something, since Lancre had very little level space to run. You either ran like a mountain goat, climbing over broken meadows with huge tumbled blocks of stone, jumping over many little streams, and avoiding bramble patches, or you didn't run at all.
She knew the low places and high places in all the meadows, and traversed them easily, but today she had raced over a berm which had been very recently eroded by the stream under it. Consequently, she was now sitting on a spit of gravel in a shallow stream. She had reached out automatically with her arms to break her fall, but her right wrist took too much force. She could hear the crack, and now sat pressing her hand to her chest with the other hand.
Mustrum reached the stream and jumped onto the little gravel spit.
“Esme, it looks like you've broken your arm. Let me see it.”
She scowled, not the fierce scowl she'd develop in time, but enough to put down idiots.
“And if you can't see it's broken the way it's crooked, I don't think much of your fancy schooling!”
He paid no attention to her. The gravel spit they were on gave way on the far side to an innocent looking meadow, its grass, flowers, insects, and trees disguising their treacherous sticking and stinging nature until later. It looked like a perfect place to rest.
Carefully picking up her wrist, he placed the broken area between his hands, which were unusually warm, she thought, and gently straightened the bones. She did not wince, but he saw her tighten her lips. Then he took a deep breath, and when he let it out, energy flowed down his arms and over the break. Her arm grew almost unbearably hot for an instant, and then he breathed in again.
She turned her wrist over without pain, going through all the range of motions. The warmth he'd generated was coming up her arm, although it was dissipating.
Mustrum said, “Let's go rest in the meadow on the other side of the creek.”
This time he was the one to almost stumble, but he pulled himself upright and took one off-balance step before lying down with her in a quiet green patch of grass.
“How did you do that? And I thought healing was a gift for witches, not wizards.”
She was a very suspicious girl.
He lay back and looked at the summer sky, now cooperating with the idyllic scene with lots of sunlight and little puffed clouds. Putting his arms behind his head he seemed to drowse for a moment. It was good to rest here.
“Don't fall asleep without teaching me the spell.” She lay down by him for the first time in their acquaintance. It seemed natural, and she wondered why she'd always run so fast.
He rolled over to his side, regarding her. Her nose was already prominent, but it gave her face character. He didn't really like soft girls with stubby noses. Her brows were going to be terribly knit when she was older, but now she had only tiny indentations which showed she was concentrating.
“I was too young to know the difference between witch spells and wizards, and there was a good witch in my village—before she turned bad, you know—like Black Allis." They both shuddered. "She taught me the basic way to lay bones together straight, and splint them more carefully than anyone else, so the arm would keep its strength.
"Then she'd put a little magic of warmth into the ends of the broken bones, so they'd want to seek each other faster. I could see what the bones wanted to do, so I asked her why she couldn't make them grow all the way together. She knocked me on the head, for sassing. But the next time we had a break, in a calf which caught its leg in a mole-hill, she let me put my hands on it when she had the ends together. I didn't have a staff, or a magic circle, chalk, or anything, but a simple breath exercise pushed the ends together and made them stay. She let me help her several times that summer, before I went to Unseen University. I don't think I've done it more than a few times—wouldn't want the pointy shoed brigade to think I was getting soft, doing witches' work.”
His eyes drifted shut. “Takes a lot more energy than you'd think. The spell doesn't create any new bone, just draws from my own. I have to be careful of that. And since the spell requires the energy of three weeks' healing time, it takes that from me, too, much faster of course. I'm weak for a couple of days after. Magic always has its price.”
“Of course it does,” she snapped tartly. “We all know there's a trade to be made for power. And you can't use a staff, or anything charged with magic?”
“Seems not, or you'd see it more used in battles. Not much good if the wizard is drained of energy in his first few cases.”
He rolled to his back again and fell asleep.
Now that Esme was lying down next to him, watching him closely, she could see his eyelashes were longer than hers, his eyebrows a rounded shape which would make it hard to scowl. His nose was medium size, an unremarkable length. His lips were full, pink, and he was snoring.
It was the first time she'd been this close to a man. Ever. Witches didn't marry, although Glytha Ogg was changing that to almost never, and her power didn't seem diminished.
Esme knew, somehow, that her powers were of a different kind, and that she couldn't dilute them with family life. Probably couldn't. But ideals were one thing, and a long legged man in brown trousers, with a poet's shirt (why did they all think poet's shirts were required in the country—so impractical) was right here. She was still staring at his face when he woke up. It seemed natural for him to reach up to her, take her arms, and gently roll her over onto to her back. Now she had a kind, round face above her, and she knew he wanted to kiss her. She wanted to kiss him, and then there it was.
(A few miles away, a yellow butterfly with Mandelbrot designs on its wings flapped them, and a freak gale started up.)
He had rolled until he lay over her chest, but no further. His kisses were warm and not pushy, pressing her lips gently, not trying any of that tongue stuff Gytha had told her about. She closed her eyes and pressed back, one hand stroking his hair, then sliding her hand to the back of his head and creating a small twitch when she rubbed the soft skin at the back of his neck. Her other arm surprised her when it automatically reached under his shoulder and pulled him in closer.
It was warm and peaceful, for those who had their eyes closed and did not see an ominous blue line on the horizon. Mustrum was lying across Esme's chest, but he wanted more closeness. He carefully moved his thigh over hers, settling there while she jerked back, startled.
“It's okay, it's okay, you're alright, you're so beautiful”—these words had charmed many virgins before, and that day they were working on Esme. The action became a bit—more, but she realized she didn't mind it at all. He ran a hand all the way down from hip to thigh, then very slowly came back up to settle that hand around her breast, cupping gently, not squeezing.
“Umm. Feels nice.” She was drowsy as well as aroused, almost asleep in the sun, conscious only of warm hands and lips. Kisses on her cheeks, then her neck, her collar bone. Then he took the breast he was cupping and very slowly brushed all the way across it, gently scraping over her nipple. She shivered, and became an active participant. Now she had her arms around his back and was scraping fingernails gently down the poet shirt—the thin cloth must be good for something, because he shuddered, too. Her other breast, still covered all correctly by her dress, came in for breathy kisses, and then gentle circling of the nipple.
He reached cautiously down her thigh, than her leg, to the hem of her dress, and put his hand underneath it, and she couldn't help herself. She moaned as he slid her dress upward, stroking a limb which had previously seemed only a column of muscle and bone to convey her somewhere. She'd had no idea that it could produce such delicious feeling.
The blue cloud was spreading faster now, although there was no rain. The wind was beginning to pick up, and rustle the leaves and grasses a bit. Then, when it blew even colder, Esme and Mustrum made up for this with the delightful discovery that two bodies could get even closer together when he lay between her legs.
She wasn't thinking about witchcraft, or control, or anything except a girl's pleasure in being made love to for the first time by a caring lover. In the years afterward, she sometimes wondered what would have happened if he hadn't been so careful, so slow—if they'd completely joined before the storm hit them. But they hadn't. The top buttons of her dress were undone, the front of the dress pulled down, breasts now naked for him. Her skirt was up to her waist, and she could feel the way his trousers bulged against her as he unbuttoned them. She could tell he wanted her the way that her body was calling to him, and then they plucked at the remaining clothes between them. They nearly had each other naked—and then a very localized thunderstorm dumped a vicious bowl of water and ice on their exposed flesh, and the gale ripped up hard now.
Blowing winds and chilly soaking rain put them both out of an erotic haze, and they struggled to resume clothes divested so recently. Mustrum tried to change a twig into an umbrella, but it was ripped away in the wind. Esme tried a heating spell herself, but there was not enough warmth in the air to pull it in. Finally they struggled back down the meadow, arms and legs now scratched by the bushes and trees which had been biding her time. He took her to her cottage, and tried to kiss her goodbye, but a gutter broke just then, spilling water over his head.
When he walked away from the cottage, head down against the wind, the line of clouds was clearing. Esme looked out the square open window into the butterfly garden she'd recently planted. A new one, bright yellow with curiously detailed black markings on the wings, was flitting gently around. She took a teapot, filled it with water and a tea caddy, and then held it close in her hands. Presently she pored out a cup of steaming tea.
Understanding her future didn't make it much easier to accept that day. She walked out into the garden, now drying in innocent sunshine again.
“You”—she said, pointing her finger at the butterfly—“are a message, and don't think I don't know it, flap around as pretty as you please. Someone—witch, wizard, god, or monster, and I don't care which—thinks I will not fulfill my role if I become—a married woman, or as good as one. Gytha will have plenty of husbands, some she's even married to, and dozens of sons, daughters-in-law (she was mistaken here—Nanny Ogg had no daughters-in-law that she acknowledged. They were appendages to her will, and not individuals), and grandchildren. She'll become famous, infamous even, as a witch who cheerfully welcomes the world with her legs open, and you can't even let me know a man even once? Even a nice one? No, you, or they, have to sic a quantum weather butterfly on me, and I call that hard cheese!”
The butterfly flapped on, and Esmeralda Weatherwax went back to her cottage. She resumed her daily care of the village, dispensing wisdom, and cures, and developing her headology so she could anticipate their needs. She kept the bone-sealing spell, though, and used it with breaks so bad it seemed they could never mend. Afterward, she took to bed, and let her body repair itself. Fifty years later it seemed as if it had always been a part of her. She'd almost forgotten Mustrum, until a heavy, hugely bearded man with a giant staff and a wizard's hat with fishing flies stuck on it, reappeared. He wanted to relive what they'd had. She'd spent a lifetime fighting the damned chaos butterfly, and let him know of some of their chances.
“We could be happily married and die surrounded by grandchildren. Or the fire could catch us the first year we were married and burn us up. You can't know what it would be.”
He accepted that, almost, but took her in his arms, once, on the Lancre Bridge far away from everyone. She put her arms around him and laid her head on his chest. He lifted her chin up, and she could see him blinking back tears.
“One more kiss, Esme,” he said hoarsely.
The butterfly kept its wings closed.