bethbethbeth: Turtle with 4 elephants on its back - and on their back is Pratchett's Discworld (Discworld Disc (perkele pixeljoint))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] disc_fest
Author: jiggit/deskclutter
Title: A Place in the Mind
Characters and/or Pairing(s): Preston/Tiffany, assorted others
Rating: G
Word Count (if applicable): 4059
Medium (if applicable):
Possible warnings and/or enticements : None
Summary: Tiffany finally visits Preston in Ankh Morpork and makes use of that discount.




A letter from Preston awaited Tiffany on the last day of the lambing. This in itself was not an unusual occurrence, for Preston wrote often. Even her father had given up lifting his eyebrows at her, which in anyone else would have been a salacious waggling of the eyebrows, when a letter arrived with Preston's distinctive scrawl wreaking calligraphic havoc upon the shape of Tiffany's name.

The letter was filled with little things that he thought would make her laugh between assurances that he was eating well and getting along with his fellow apprentices -- the incident of the stolen body on Nonesuch Street, for instance, which was revealed to be less the mortal remains of a living person and more the anatomically accurate wooden mannequin that normally dangled from a historical gallows that was no longer in service. It had reappeared several days later, covered in boils purchased from Boffo's Emporium. Having promised solemnly to ease the suffering of the sick, the apprentices of the Lady Sybil Free Hospital had spirited the dummy away to nurse it back to health, and, in the process, revise for an upcoming test regarding the anatomical mysteries of the human body.

As always, he ended his letter with a plea for Miss Tiffany's personal assistance in puzzling out the knowing of twister root. This transparent attempt to lure Tiffany to Ankh Morpork was one of the things that made her if not laugh then at least involuntarily smile (usually at the most inopportune of moments), but by and large, she did not give it too much thought. She would think to herself, 'Ah, but Mrs Boxer can't be left on her own right now' or 'Mrs Trollope's third is due any day now and I must be here' or 'It's too close to the lambing for me to leave' and so on.

But on this, the last day of the lambing, utterly exhausted and welling with joy from deep in her heart, Tiffany read Preston's letter and reread it again to make sure she hadn't missed a paragraph, and she thought to herself, 'Why not?'

***


"Oh, but you should go," said Letitia, who had just returned from the mountains and returned as a better witch.

Tiffany, whose Second and Third Thoughts warred over the many answers to 'Why not?' in short order, did not find this statement very reassuring, though she did not say so to Letitia, though she knew that Amber and Letitia would have things well in hand. Old Mrs Swivel needed someone to keep an eye out for her on her wanderings. Mr Allen would be disappointed if there was not one to talk to about his grandchildren on Saturday. But Wee Mad Arthur had asked her if she would give him a lift into the city and she had not yet answered him.

Her Second Sight had dispassionately shown her that no major supernatural event loomed on the horizon. All told, she almost wished something was on its way so her hands would be washed free of making the decision.

Finally, she went up to where the Feegle mound sat. Most people, these days, knew to ask for permission of the kelda or those she had delegated as her spokesFeegle, but Tiffany was under no such restriction. She went straight to Granny Aching's potbellied stove and sat down. She wrapped her hand around the leaping hare that hung around her neck and drew, in her mind, the memory of a shepherdess, bonneted and beribboned and carry around with her, like a cloud, the stink of sheep's wool, turpentine, and Jolly Sailor tobacco...

When she opened her eyes, she said aloud, "I will go, not because I need to but because I want to, and I am not afraid." The wind soughed over the downs. "I will be back," promised Tiffany.

Then, as she had done when she was eleven, Tiffany pulled the sky over her ears and wrapped the chasing wind around the shoulders. All witch by noonlight, she went to greet the kelda and to tell Wee Mad Arthur that she would bring him to Ankh Morpork.

***


Wee Mad Arthur was something of an unusual case among Feeglekind, being the rare sort of Feegle who liked to bathe and uphold the law. He had been raised by gnomes, which explained many things, so Rob Anybody Feegle liked to sigh. Jeannie had welcomed him and was very glad to have a Feegle who liked to read around the mound.

Wee Mad Arthur had also been raised in the city, and so, he had admitted to Tiffany and the kelda almost sheepishly, the city had been bred into him and he missed the feel of cobbles beneath his feet, though he was equally certain he would miss life in the mound once he was in the city. He had no quarrel with his Feegle heritage, but, he reasoned, dwarfs and trolls often moved to the city and settled there. That did not mean that they might never go home to Lancre or Uberwald to visit the people they had left behind. There was no reason he might not do the same.

Rob had some choice words to say about that, but in the end, they settled it as the Nac Mac Feegle do, and Tiffany had kept Jeannie company as the fight rolled on outside.

"We shall be able to write to him," said Jeannie calmly, though Tiffany could see by the gleam in her eye that the prospect made her very happy.

In the end, Rob Anybody and Wee Mad Arthur had wept in each others' arms and promised to fight when they met again. Then Tiffany told Rob that she was only taking Wee Mad Arthur to the city.

It took some wheedling, a lot of foot tapping, and Jeannie's intervention, but Rob reluctantly agreed that Wee Mad Arthur's protection was worth the might of ten and he could be reliably counted on to look after Tiffany. Thereforrrrre, he gave his word of honour on it that he would not follow Tiffany. And Jeannie, who understood better what was in Tiffany's heart, promised that he would keep his word.

***


So it was that Tiffany arrived at Boffo's Emporium with only one Feegle in tow -- the only Feegle who would react with dismay to the thought that Tiffany had seen so little of Ankh Morpork and then followed it up with an offer to show her around.

"A pity," observed Mrs Proust. "I was hoping they might do some cleaning, if they were so inclined."

"I can do it," Tiffany offered. "I am staying for free, after all."

"You are a guest, Miss Aching," said Mrs Proust. "Make yourself at home! Stay as long as you like! You are planning to make use of that thirty percent discount, aren't you?"

Luckily, word had spread to the Ramtop witches in the way that word travels between witches, that Tiffany Aching was going to the city, so she had come armed with a shopping list from Annagramma that had been longer than the accompanying letter.

As she perused the list, Mrs Proust told Wee Mad Arthur that he must make himself comfortable, and he assured her that he was over his thimble of tea. "Now then, Miss Aching," he said. "We must discuss the fine delights Ankh Morpork may offer yourself and yer young man."

He was still waxing poetic when Tiffany had just finished running a damp cloth over fifty Horrible Hag #3 masks and the bell on the door rang out.

"I'm here to see the witch, please," said a familiar voice.

Tiffany spun around. "Preston!"

Once introductions were made and the general health of everyone at home was enquired after, Preston turned to Tiffany and asked, "May I trouble you to take the air with me?"

Tiffany remembered what outside smelled like in Ankh Morpork. "Is that safe?" she asked.

He grinned at her. "I'll chance it if you will."

She took his hand, waved goodbye to Derek, and grinned back at Preston. The moon was out, but even so, they scarcely noticed the little shadow that melted away into the darkness of the city, and even the smell wasn't so bad after a while. It had character, Preston pointed out, though it was not the sort of character he would like to meet on his own on a dark night, and Tiffany agreed.

***


Mrs Proust, who Knew What Country Life Was Like, warned Tiffany that Ankh Morpork kept godlier hours and 10 Egg Street would not tolerate that particular stripe of country living.

Nevertheless, Tiffany found herself awake earlier than she meant to be. When Mrs Proust came down, she found Tiffany already at work and Wee Mad Arthur sitting quietly on the counter where he had been exiled for making too much noise. Mrs Proust turned a suspicious eye on Tiffany. "Haven't you got a young man to keep yourself out of my stock?" she said.

"Not until the afternoon," said Tiffany. "We're seeing Wee Mad Arthur to the Watch House."

"Is that so?" said Mrs Proust. "I wonder then, Tiffany, if you might like to come visiting with me to Mrs Bustle's house for the morning. Derek can open the shop."

Visiting, thought Tiffany. But it was too much work to make her body actually believe she was on holiday. "Yes, all right," she said, pulling her apron off.

***


When they dropped Wee Mad Arthur at the Watch House in Pseudopolis Yard, he left them with Captain Carrot, who recognised Tiffany. "No Nac Mac Feegle with you today, I hope?" he asked.

"Only Wee Mad Arthur, sir," said Tiffany.

"Aha," said Captain Carrot. "We'd been wondering where he'd got to."

As Wee Mad Arthur was being reinstated, which was a lengthy process that took place in Commander Vimes' office, Captain Carrot took one look at the glass Preston had managed to find and accidentally press against the wall, and asked if they would like a tour of the city.

It was a very thorough tour, and Tiffany was treated to a look at all the monuments in the city -- though this was not very hard, since all the monuments of Ankh Morpork could fit easily into one man's pockets. Preston peppered Carrot with questions, all of which the Watchman answered very seriously until Preston eventually gave in -- Tiffany wasn't entirely certain whether it was a calculated move on the captain's part or not.

They went by the post office and learnt of very involved history and exciting innovations that the new-ish Postmaster General had introduced to the institution. They visited the Beggars' Guild, which was the oldest guild in the city, and dropped by the Tower of Art, where a dragon had once perched. They passed a shonky shop in Clay Lane where one of the best hidden temples in the city lay as almost a complete secret, and even Carrot did not know to which god slash gods exactly it was dedicated. Captain Carrot even managed to get them access into the restricted parts of the Unseen University Library, where Tiffany was glad of her ball of string, which kept them from making a wrong turn and getting lost for upwards of half a century.

Captain Angua was at the Yard when they returned. She sent them a sympathetic look as they tromped in. "Wee Mad Arthur will see you out, and then he's going on patrol. Would you like us to give you an escort, or...?"

"We'll be all right, I think," said Tiffany. "But thank you for the offer."

***


"'Neither rain nor shine nor gloom of night shall stay these messengers about their duty'," read Preston as they passed the post office for the second time that day. "But I think 'glom of nit', though not so poetically put, is actually the more daunting trial. It makes you stop and think, 'glom of nit' does. You can't say the same of 'gloom of night', can you?"

Tiffany tried out the phrase in her head. "Not in the same way," she allowed. "I suppose having bloodsucking insects latch onto oneself would be more immediately discouraging. But you can find something to get rid of 'glom of nit' -- and I do not mean an extra 'O' and the 'GH' in 'night' -- whereas you can't stop the inevitability of night. Or it's much harder, at any rate," she said, thinking of Eskarina Smith.

"All things come to an end? This is a gloomier turn than I expected this when I swung the conversation this way," said Preston.

Which was as good an opening as any, Tiffany thought. "It's about to get more serious, I'm afraid," she said.

"I'm braced for it," he told her, puffing out his skinny chest. "Carry on and don't mind me."

She refused to be distracted. "You are happy in the city, Preston?" asked Tiffany carefully.

The sound of his laughter stopped her in her tracks. When she looked at him again, he had relaxed and a fond expression creased his face. "So I am," he said to her. "I am happy in most places, which my gran says is a gift and a curse, though I choose to look on it as a gift. But this does not mean, Miss Tiffany Aching, that I wish to stay in the city for ever and always. Is that the question you have been tiptoeing around these months? I feared it was something different."

Tiffany huffed out a breath. "Yes, but--"

Preston winked. "Didn't I tell you I was braced for it? It is with much relief that I noticed you were still wearing your necklace yesterday, you know. I could never live in the city. I am happy here and I am happy at home on the Chalk, but they are different kinds of happiness and the happiness I prefer to live in lives out where the Feegle chase suicidal sheep, fishing in the stream with your brother and being of help to those as need me. The wind whistles different in the city and the sun is not the same. Furthermore, you would not like to live here -- and make no mistake, my girl, if I were to move for good to the city, I would ask you to come with me and never mind how unfair the question would be nor how certain it is you would decline."

He smiled at her. "I think there are all manner of people who would make you sleep and eat once every so often," said Preston. "But no one wants to be sure you look after yourself as much as I'd like to be sure, I would stake my new collection of Boffo's Baffling Boils on it. You are the witch, Tiffany Aching, and the witch is the land, and the land is you. I could not leave that forever." He opened his arm to her.

Tiffany swallowed a lump in her throat and leaned against him. "Thank you," she said.

"There's nothing to thank me for," Preston said. "I think some would run screaming if I'd given them that speech."

"Not I," said Tiffany. "And I shall thank whomever I want, thank you very much."

"As you say, miss," said Preston meekly. "Now, shall I see you home before Wee Mad Arthur comes to take my guts for garters?"

Tiffany laughed, loud with relief. "For your sake, then," she said.

***


Mrs Proust found Tiffany sitting on the front steps, with three bottles of milk next to her. "Met the milkman, did you?" she asked in disgust.

"He has a very interesting horse," said Tiffany, getting up to bring the milk inside.

Mrs Proust shook her head. "I'll be visiting Mrs Cake and Mrs Palm today," she said. "You are welcome to come with me."

The first sight of Mrs Palm's had left Tiffany poker-faced and Mrs Proust grinning diabolically. As they left, Tiffany having thawed somewhat by channelling Nanny Ogg, someone called Mrs Proust's name.

"Is that you, Dr Lawn?" said Mrs Proust. Tiffany eyed him with interest.

"There's a matter of some delicacy I'd like to discuss with you, if I might walk with you for a bit?" said Dr Lawn.

"You may walk all the way with us -- this is Miss Aching, by the way," said Mrs Proust. "We were just on our way to the hospital ourselves."

"Were we?" said Tiffany.

"I know of a Miss Aching," said Dr Lawn thoughtfully. "I've an apprentice who won't stop singing her praises."

"If that was Preston, then I am the Miss Aching you are thinking of," said Tiffany, striving not to let her squirming insides show on her face. The one, she added to herself, whom he had just seen leaving Mrs Palm's.

Dr Lawn smiled wryly. "Embarrassing to know at times, isn't he?" said the doctor. "Still, he's not a bad apprentice. So tell me, Miss Aching, what do you see in him?"

"Teeth, a rather thick skin, I think," said Tiffany. "A heart that bleeds under his cheerful facade. But that isn't what you were asking, was it?"

"No," said Dr Lawn. "I was being euphemistic."

"He has potential," said Tiffany, "which he has begun to realise -- and I would like to thank you, sir, on behalf of all of us at home who have waited for our own doctor, for giving him the chance to prove himself. He makes me laugh, or at least smile, even on the days when it is difficult for someone in my line of work to find things to smile about. He reminds me even when the fate of the world hangs in the balance that I needn't shoulder it alone, even when I must."

"That sounded rehearsed," said the doctor.

"That would be because it is rehearsed," said Tiffany. "I am not like Preston; I cannot make speeches on the fly, much less speeches about people who matter most to me. But rehearsing it doesn't make the sentiment behind it any less true or any less strong, sir."

Dr Lawn smiled. "This wasn't really a test, you know."

"All things are tests, sir, whether they are meant to be or not," said Tiffany politely.

"Well done!" murmured Mrs Proust.

***


Preston noticed right away that Tiffany was not wearing her usual pointy hat, of course, but what he said first was, "Are you wearing the stars, miss?"

And sure enough, the hat of sky shimmered and shone faintly when the light slanted at the right angle, as though it had been sprinkled with the dust of all the stars that gleamed in the night.

"Yes," said Tiffany, who refused to be impressed, but she did smile a bit at him.

"Is it so dangerous yet for you to wear your other hat here?" he asked.

"I don't think so," said Tiffany. "Not since we are going to see a musical play about witches tonight. But I thought I might save you some trouble."

"Never you mind me," said Preston. "I make my own trouble, my girl, and a little more from you would not put my nose out of joint. I am almost a doctor and well able to set my own nose straight, you know."

"What is it your gran says about borrowing trouble?" said Tiffany.

And of course he saw that her foot had begun to tap. "Oh, many things, all too terrible to contemplate for any length of time, but your trouble, Tiffany, is my trouble, and there is no borrowing to be had. I will tell you, miss, that it does my heart good to see the sky proper again. You do not get that sort of sky in the city, not in the slightest. There is no sky quite like Chalk sky, is there?"

Tiffany knew that sky was all of a piece everywhere, but because she also understood his meaning, which was not necessarily true but certainly truth, she said, "No, there is not."

***


They picked up Wee Mad Arthur at the Watch House that night and went across the street to the Opera House, which was showing Mirror!, a play based on true events about a pair of sister witches who had played godmother to the raggedy girl who eventually grew up to become the reigning Baroness of Genua.

The costumes were very beautiful and highly impractical -- not at all the sort of thing a witch could scrub a floor in, but most definitely something that a witch could walk across the stage of Ankh Morpork in, with the chandelier glittering overhead and everyone bellowing out the lyrics to Defying Brooms You've Got to Run With to Get Flying.

Preston promised to learn all the words to all the songs so he could sing them all beneath her window when he went home and Tiffany threatened to see his shoelaces were always tied when he tried to go out. She went to bed very tired and very happy.

***


Tiffany's friends saw her off from Sator Square, where Mr Carpetlayer, who drove the mail coach to Lancre, had offered to take her part of the way and Annagramma's shopping the rest of the way.

"Dr Lawn likes you," Preston said conversationally. "My standing with him has gone right up because he thinks so well of you, I would guess. You ought to come back soon so as my standing improves even more."

"Your standing with Dr Lawn goes right up because you are a capable young man who is learning to be good at doctoring at a fast clip," Tiffany pointed out. She was properly attired in a midnight dress and black hat today, and a golden hare leapt at her neck.

"Ah, so my stock with you has risen because of him," said Preston wisely. "All the more reason for you to return and see how well we get along, miss."

Tiffany scoffed at him. "Of course I'll be back," she said, smiling.

Mrs Proust waved. "My door and, more importantly, my cash register are always open to you. Come back any time."

"Ye must give my best to the kelda and the Big Man," said Wee Mad Arthur. "An' remind them that I will write."

"See that you do," said Tiffany. "And you remember, Wee Mad Arthur, that you are always welcome home."

"Aye, I will," said Wee Mad Arthur solemnly.

As she turned to board, Preston pushed something that crumpled at the edges into her hands. "Open this later," he told her.

Tiffany nodded. "I'll write," she said.

"You had better," said Preston, softening it with a grin.

She climbed up next to Mr Carpetlayer and waved as the horses began to trot. Before long, the city gave way to the green pastures dotted with clacks towers and fresher air... And Tiffany got out her broom and said more goodbyes.

As she sailed through the air, her sense of home grew beneath her heart. Everything is all right, she whispered to herself, easing the small part of herself that had never stopped worrying and opening another that promised nothing would happen now that she'd come back.

From below came the sound of ragged cheers; she looked down to see blue blurs darting alongside her shadow, neatly avoiding the grazing sheep unless it looked as though it would be more fun to crash into one or carry it off. The Nac Mac Feegle had sent a welcoming party to greet their big wee hag and she called out to them in greeting.

Now then...

She took the parcel Preston had pushed on her and read the attached note first -- S.W.A.L.K. he'd marked it, which would have made Captain Carrot happy.

It was done up in brown paper, which she carefully unwrapped and put away for just in case. Layers of tissue, when carefully parted, revealed a porcelain figurine, one of the witches from the musical. Her skin was painted bright green and she held a well-twigged broom in her hand. A magnificent skirt, which bore shining black ribbons and porcelain lace, belled out from her waist. Her pointy hat stood straight and tall.

A breezy gust blew at Tiffany's own hat, so she had to clutch at it tightly as she laughed. Her broom sailed on, pointed due home and dancing together with the wind.

Date: 2012-07-31 05:52 pm (UTC)
recessional: a cat peeks out of a desk (Default)
From: [personal profile] recessional
This is utterly adorable. <3

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