from Discworld® novels by
Terry Pratchett
concerning the Witches of Lancre

Terry Pratchett

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Equal Rites

Wyrd Sisters



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Equal Rites

Copyright © 1987 by Terry Pratchett

After all, any halfway competent blacksmith has more than a nodding acquaintance with magic, or at least likes to think he has.



“They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.”




It must be understood that while the majority of Zoon cannot lie they have great respect for any Zoon who can say that the world is other than it is, and the Liar holds a position of considerable eminence. He represents his tribe in all his dealings with the outside world [...]

Other races get very annoyed about all this. They feel that the Zoon ought to have adopted more suitable titles, like “diplomat” or “public relations officer.” They feel they are poking fun at the whole thing.



[...] it is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of history.



[...] she was opposed to books on strict moral grounds, since she had heard that many of them were written by dead people and therefore it stood to reason reading them would be as bad as necromancy. Among the many things in the infinitely varied universe with which Granny did not hold was talking to dead people, who by all accounts had enough troubles of their own.


Books (general)

It is well known that stone can think, because the whole of electronics is based on that fact, but in some universes men spend ages looking for other intelligences in the sky without once looking under their feet. That is because they’ve got the time-span all wrong. From stone’s point of view the universe is hardly created and mountain ranges are bouncing up and down like organ-stops while continents zip backwards and forwards in general high spirits, crashing into each other from the sheer joy of momentum and getting their rocks off. It is going to be quite some time before stone notices its disfiguring little skin disease and starts to scratch, which is just as well.

[...] writing was only the words that people said, squeezed between layers of paper until they were fossilised [...] And the words people said were just shadows of real things. But some things were too big to be really trapped in words, and even the words were too powerful to be completely tamed by writing.

“Um, women aren’t allowed in,” said Esk.

Granny stopped in the doorway. Her shoulders rose. She turned around very slowly.

What did you say?” she said. “Did these old ears deceive me, and don’t say they did because they didn’t.”

“Sorry,” said Esk. “Force of habit.”

“I can see you’ve been getting ideas below your station,” said Granny coldly.

Basically, it was p’ch’zarni’chiwkov. This epiglottis-throttling word is seldom used on the Disc except by highly-paid stunt linguists and, of course, the tiny tribe of the K’turni, who invented it. It has no direct synonym, although the Cumhoolie word “squernt” (‘the feeling upon finding that the previous occupant of the privy has used all the paper’) begins to approach it in general depth of feeling. The closest translation is as follows:

the nasty little sound of a sword being unsheathed right behind one at just the point when one thought one had disposed of one’s enemies
—although K’tumi speakers say that this does not convey the cold sweating, heart-stopping, gut-freezing sense of the original.

Note (Hal’s):
The discrepancy in the tribal name (“K’turni” or “K’tumi”?) is in my source. It could be a distinction between the words for the tribe and their language, but I suspect this particular edition had a typesetting error. Without checking others I have no basis for choice except instinct (which favors “K’turni”).

— end note



“You’re only putting off the inevitable,” it said.

“Suits me.”



“Everything was a different colour in those days.”

“That’s true.”

“It didn’t rain so much in the summer time.”

“The sunsets were redder.”

“There were more old people. The world was full of them,” said the wizard.

“Yes, I know. And now it’s full of young people. Funny, really. I mean, you’d expect it to be the other way round.”



Cutangle groaned with the effort—direct levitation is the hardest of the practical magics, because of the ever-present danger of the well-known principles of action and reaction, which means that a wizard attempting to lift a heavy item by mind power alone faces the prospect of ending up with his brains in his boots.

He seized the hem of his robe and wrung it out wretchedly, then he reached for his tobacco pouch.

It was a nice green waterproof one. That meant that all the rain that had got into it couldn’t get out again.

text checked (see note) Mar 2005

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Wyrd Sisters

Copyright © 1988 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin.

It would be a pretty good bet that the gods of a world like this probably do not play chess and indeed this is the case. In fact no gods anywhere play chess. They haven’t got the imagination. Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight To Oblivion; a key to the understanding of all religion is that a god’s idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.




Quaffing is like drinking, but you spill more.



“There is a knocking without,” he said.

“Without what?” said the Fool.

“Without the door, idiot.”

The Fool gave him a worried look. “A knocking without a door?” he said suspiciously. “This isn’t some kind of Zen, is it?”



“Who dost knock without?” he growled.

The soldier, drenched and terrified though he was, hesitated.

“Without? Without what?” he said.

“If you’re going to bugger about, you can bloody well stay without all day,” said the porter calmly.

“Oh, obvious,” said Granny. “I’ll grant you it’s obvious. Trouble is, just because things are obvious doesn’t mean they’re true.”

It was a rich and wonderful voice, with every diphthong gliding beautifully into place. It was a golden brown voice. If the Creator of the multiverse had a voice, it was a voice such as this. If it had a drawback, it was that it wasn’t a voice you could use, for example, for ordering coal. Coal ordered by this voice would become diamonds.

Only once, in the entire history of witchery in the Ramtops, had a thief broken into a witch’s cottage. The witch concerned visited the most terrible punishment on him.*

* She did nothing, although sometimes when she saw him in the village she’d smile in a faint, puzzled way. After three weeks of this the suspense was too much for him and he took his own life; in fact he took it all the way across the continent, where he became a reformed character and never went home again.



“Ah,” said Granny Weatherwax distantly. “His droit de seigneur.”

“Needed a lot of exercise,” said Nanny Ogg, staring at the fire.

“But next day he’d send his housekeeper round with a bag of silver and a hamper of stuff for the wedding,” said Granny. “Many a couple got a proper start in life thanks to that.”

“Ah,” agreed Nanny. “One or two individuals, too.”

The days followed one another patiently. Right back at the beginning of the multiverse they had tried all passing at the same time, and it hadn’t worked.
There was plenty of flat ground in the Ramtops. The problem was that nearly all of it was vertical.

Winter in the Ramtops could not honestly be described as a magical frosty wonderland, each twig laced with confections of brittle ice. Winter in the Ramtops didn’t mess about it; it was a gateway straight through to the primeval coldness that lived before the creation of the world. Winter in the Ramtops was several yards of snow, the forests a mere collection of shadowy green tunnels under the drifts. Winter meant the coming of the lazy wind, which couldn’t be bothered to blow around people and blew right through them instead. The idea that Winter could actually be enjoyable would never have occurred to Ramtop people, who had eighteen different words for snow.*

* All of them, unfortunately, unprintable.



Totally mad, the Fool thought. Several bricks short of a bundle. So far round the twist you could use him to open wine bottles.

The stone was about the same height as a tall man, and made of a bluish tinted rock. It was considered intensely magical because, although there was only one of it, no-one had ever been able to count it; if it saw anyone looking at it speculatively, it shuffled behind them. It was the most self-effacing monolith ever discovered.



She didn’t much care for demons in any case, and all this business with incantations and implements whiffed of wizardry. It was pandering to the things, making them feel important. Demons ought to come when they were called.
You just peeled an apple, getting one length of peel, and threw the peel behind you; it’d land in the shape of his name. Millions of girls had tried it and had inevitably been disappointed, unless the loved one was called Scscs.
The books said that the old-time witches had sometimes danced in their shifts. Magrat had wondered about how you danced in shifts. Perhaps there wasn’t room for them all to dance at once, she’d thought.




“It’s got to stop. I know my rights.”

“What rights are they?” said Granny.

“Dunnage, cowhage-in-ordinary, badinage, leftovers, scrommidge, clary and spunt,” said the peasant promptly. “And acornage, every other year, and the right to keep two-thirds of a goat on the common.”

She’d said she was an apple seller and he wasn’t about to doubt a witch’s word.

“Well, well,” said one, leering. “Come to keep us company, have you, my pretty.”*

* No-one knows why men say things like this. Any minute now he is probably going to say he likes a girl with spirit.

Ninety per cent of true love is acute, ear-burning embarrassment.





“Old King Grunewald, for one, he wouldn’t have wasted time waving things around and menacing people. It’d have been bang, needles right under the fingernails from the word go, and no messing. None of this evil laughter stuff. He was a real king. Very gracious.”



It was probably some wonderful organisation on the part of Nature to protect itself. It saw to it that everyone with any magical talent was about as ready to co-operate as a she-bear with toothache, so all that dangerous power was safely dissipated as random bickering and rivalry. There were differences in style, of course. Wizards assassinated each other in draughty corridors, witches just cut one another dead in the street. And they were all as self-centred as a spinning top. Even when they help other people, she thought, they’re secretly doing it for themselves. Honestly, they’re just like big children.

Except for me, she thought smugly.

It is true that words have power, and one of the things they are able to do is get out of someone’s mouth before the speaker has the chance to stop them.

“But you can’t put the old king back on the throne,” said Magrat. “Ghosts can’t rule. You’d never get the crown to stay on. It’d drop through.”

It dawned on him that while he liked forests, he liked them at one remove, as it were; it was nice to know that they were there, but the forests of the mind were not quite the same as real forests that, for example, you got lost in. They had more mighty oaks and fewer brambles. They also tended to be viewed in daylight, and the trees didn’t have malevolent faces and long scratchy branches.

Hour gongs were being struck all across the city and night-watchmen were proclaiming that it was indeed midnight and also that, in the face of all the evidence, all was well. Many of them got as far as the end of the sentence before being mugged.

Destiny was funny stuff, he knew. You couldn’t trust it. Often you couldn’t even see it. Just when you knew you had it cornered, it turned out to be something else—coincidence, maybe, or providence. You barred the door against it, and it was standing behind you. Then just when you thought you had it nailed down it walked away with the hammer.

The road, Hwel felt, had to go somewhere.

This geographical fiction has been the death of many people. Roads don’t necessarily have to go anywhere, they just have to have somewhere to start.

The theatre worried her. It had a magic of its own, one that didn’t belong to her, one that wasn’t in her control. It changed the world, and said things were otherwise than they were. And it was worse than that. It was magic that didn’t belong to magical people. It was commanded by ordinary people, who didn’t know the rules. They altered the world because it sounded better.



Words were indeed insubstantial. They were as soft as water, but they were also as powerful as water and now they were rushing over the audience, eroding the levees of veracity, and carrying away the past.
Genuine anger was one of the world’s great creative forces. But you had to learn how to control it. That didn’t mean you let it trickle away. It meant you dammed it, carefully, let it develop a working head, let it drown whole valleys of the mind and then, just when the whole structure was about to collapse, opened a tiny pipeline at the base and let the iron-hard stream of wrath power the turbines of revenge.
It crept upon him in a cold and clammy way that once he was king, he could do anything he wanted. Provided that what he wanted to do was be king.

Magrat didn’t like cats and hated the idea of mousetraps. She’d always felt that it should be possible to come to some sort of arrangement with creatures like mice so that all available food was rationed in the best interest of all parties. This was a very humanitarian outlook, which is to say that it was not a view shared by mice, and therefore her moonlit kitchen was alive.



“We’re bound to be truthful,” she said. “But there’s no call to be honest.”



text checked (see note) Mar 2005; Jul 2020

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