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The Big Snow

When the storm came, it hit the hills like a hammer. No sky should hold as much snow as this, and because no sky could, the snow fell, fell in a wall of white.

There was a small hill of snow where there had been, a few hours ago, a little cluster of thorn trees on an ancient mound. This time last year there had been a few early primroses; now there was just snow.

Part of the snow moved. A piece about the size of an apple rose up, with smoke pouring out around it. A hand no larger than a rabbit's paw waved the smoke away.

A very small but very angry blue face, with the lump of snow still balanced on top of it, looked out at the sudden white wilderness.

"Ach, crivens!" it grumbled. "Will ye no' look at this? 'Tis the work o' the Wintersmith! Noo there's a scunner that willna tak' 'no' fra' an answer!"

Other lumps of snow were pushed up. More heads peered out.

"Oh waily, waily, waily!" said one of them. "He's found the big wee hag again!"

The first head turned toward this head, and said, "Daft Wullie?"

"Yes, Rob?"

"Did I no' tell ye to lay off that waily business?"

"Aye, Rob, ye did that," said the head addressed as Daft Wullie.

"So why did ye just do it?"

"Sorry, Rob. It kinda bursted out."

"It's so dispiritin'."

"Sorry, Rob.

Rob Anybody sighed. "But I fear ye're right, Wullie. He's come for the big wee hag, right enough. Who's watchin' over her doon at the farm?"

"Wee Dangerous Spike, Rob."

Rob looked up at clouds so full of snow that they sagged in the middle.

"Okay," he said, and sighed again. "It's time fra' the Hero."

He ducked out of sight, the plug of snow dropping neatly back into place, and slid down into the heart of the Feegle mound.

It was quite big inside. A human could just about stand up in the middle, but would then bend double with coughing because the middle was where there was a hole to let smoke out.

All around the inner wall were tiers of galleries, and every one of them was packed with Feegles. Usually the place was awash with noise, but now it was frighteningly quiet.

Rob Anybody walked across the floor to the fire, where his wife, Jeannie, was waiting. She stood straight and proud, like a kelda should, but close up it seemed to him that she had been crying. He put his arm around her.

"All right, ye probably ken what's happenin'," he told the blue-and-red audience looking down on him. "This is nae common storm. The Wintersmith has found the big wee hag --- noo then, settle doon!"

He waited until the shouting and sword rattling had died down, then went on: "We canna fight the Wintersmith for her! That's her road! We canna walk it for her! But the hag o' hags has set us on another path! It's a dark one, and dangerous!"

A cheer went up. Feegles liked the idea of this, at least.

"Right!" said Rob, satisfied. "Ah'm awa' tae fetch the Hero!"

There was a lot of laughter at this, and Big Yan, the tallest of the Feegles, shouted, "It's tae soon. We've only had time tae gie him a couple o' heroing lessons! He's still nae more than a big streak o' nothin'!"

"He'll be a Hero for the big wee hag and that's an end o' it," said Rob sharply. "Noo, off ye go, the whole boilin' o' ye! Tae the chalk pit! Dig me a path tae the Underworld!"

It had to be the Wintersmith, Tiffany Aching told herself, standing in front of her father in the freezing farmhouse. She could feel it out there. This wasn't normal weather even for midwinter, and this was springtime. It was a challenge. Or perhaps it was just a game. It was hard to tell, with the Wintersmith.

Only it can't be a game because the lambs are dying. I'm only just thirteen, and my father, and a lot of other people older than me, want me to do something. And I can't. The Wintersmith has found me again. He is here now, and I'm too weak.

It would be easier if they were bullying me, but no, they're begging. My father's face is gray with worry and he's begging. My father is begging me.

Oh no, he's taking his hat off. He's taking off his hat to speak to me!

They think magic comes free when I snap my fingers. But if I can't do this for them, now, what good am I? I can't let them see I'm afraid. Witches aren't allowed to be afraid.

And this is my fault. I: I started all this. I must finish it.

Mr. Aching cleared his throat.

". . . And, er, if you could . . . er, magic it away, uh, or something? For us . . .?"

Everything in the room was gray, because the light from the windows was coming through snow. No one had wasted time digging the horrible stuff away from the houses. Every person who could hold a shovel was needed elsewhere, and still there were not enough of them. As it was, most people had been up all night, walking the flocks of yearlings, trying to keep the new lambs safe . . . in the dark, in the snow. . . .

Her snow. It was a message to her. A challenge. A summons.

"All right," she said. "I'll see what I can do."

"Good girl," said her father, grinning with relief. No, not a good girl, thought Tiffany. I brought this on us.

"You'll have to make a big fire, up by the sheds," she said aloud. "I mean a big fire, do you understand? Make it out of anything that will burn . . .

Excerpted from WINTERSMITH © Copyright 2011 by Terry Pratchett. Reprinted with permission by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

by by Terry Pratchett

  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy
  • paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060890339
  • ISBN-13: 9780060890339