The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.
The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel's eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: "When shall we three meet again?"
There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: "Well, I can do next Tuesday."
Through the fathomless deeps of space swims the star turtle Great A'Tuin, bearing on its back the four giant elephants who carry on their shoulders the mass of the Discworld. A tiny sun and moon spin around them, on a complicated orbit to induce seasons, so probably nowhere else in the multiverse is it sometimes necessary for an elephant to cock a leg to allow the sun to go past.
Exactly why this should be may never be known. Possibly the Creator of the universe got bored with all the usual business of axial inclination, albedos and rotational velocities, and decided to have a bit of fun for once.
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.
Magic glues the Discworld together -- magic generated by the turning of the world itself, magic wound like silk out of the underlying structure of existence to suture the wounds of reality.
A lot of it ends up in the Ramtop Mountains, which stretch from the frozen lands near the Hub all the way, via a lengthy archipelago, to the warm seas which flow endlessly into space over the Rim.
Raw magic crackles invisibly from peak to peak and earths itself in the mountains. It is the Ramtops that supply the world with most of its witches and wizards. In the Ramtops the leaves on the trees move even when there is no breeze. Rocks go for a stroll of an evening.
Even the land, at times, seems alive ...
At times, so does the sky.
The storm was really giving it everything it had. This was its big chance. It had spent years hanging around the provinces, putting in some useful work as a squall, building up experience, making contacts, occasionally leaping out on unsuspecting shepherds or blasting quite small oak trees. Now an opening in the weather had given it an opportunity to strut its hour, and it was building up its role in the hope of being spotted by one of the big climates.
It was a good storm. There was quite effective projection and passion there, and critics agreed that if it would only learn to control its thunder it would be, in years to come, a storm to watch.
The woods roared their applause and were full of mists and flying leaves.
On nights such as these the gods, as has already been pointed out, play games other than chess with the fates of mortals and the thrones of kings. It is important to remember that they always cheat, right up to the end ...
And a coach came hurtling along the rough forest track, jerking violently as the wheels bounced off tree roots. The driver lashed at the team, the desperate crack of his whip providing a rather neat counterpoint to the crash of the tempest overhead.
Behind -- only a little way behind, and getting closer-were three hooded riders.
On nights such as this, evil deeds are done. And good deeds, of course. But mostly evil, on the whole.
On nights such as this, witches are abroad.
Well, not actually abroad. They don't like the food and you can't trust the water and the shamans always hog the deckchairs. But there was a full moon breasting the ragged clouds and the rushing air was full of whispers and the very broad hint of magic.
In their clearing above the forest the witches spoke thus:
"I'm babysitting on Tuesday," said the one with no hat but a thatch of white curls so thick she might have been wearing a helmet. "For our Jason's youngest. I can manage Friday. Hurry up with the tea, luv. I'm that parched."
The junior member of the trio gave a sigh, and ladled some boiling water out of the cauldron into the teapot.
The third witch patted her hand in a kindly fashion.
"You said it quite well," she said. "Just a bit more work on the screeching. Ain't that right, Nanny Ogg?"
"Very useful screeching, I thought," said Nanny Ogg hurriedly. "And I can see Goodie Whemper, maysherestinpeace, gave you a lot of help with the squint."
"It's a good squint:' said Granny Weatherwax.
The junior witch, whose name was Magrat Garlick, relaxed considerably. She held Granny Weatherwax in awe. It was known throughout the Ramtop Mountains that Miss Weatherwax did not approve of anything very much. If she said it was a good squint, then Magrat's eyes were probably staring up her own nostrils.
Unlike wizards, who like nothing better than a complicated hierarchy, witches don't go in much for the structured approach to career progression. It's up to each individual witch to take on a girl to hand the area over to when she dies. Witches are not by nature gregarious, at least with other witches, and they certainly don't have leaders...
Excerpted from Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett Copyright © 1998 by Terry Pratchett. Excerpted by permission.
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