"Да. Это от души" (с) Формула любви.
[Хозяин постоялого двора сказал матушке, что у него умирает сын и болеет корова - явно сработало чье-то проклятие. Матушка приносит ребенка в хлев и остается там на ночь.]
She waited a little longer and then lit the candle. Its cheery flame gave the place a warm and comforting glow.
On the plank table she laid out the cards and attempted to play Patience, a game she'd never been able to master.
The candle burned down. She pushed the cards away, and sat watching the flame.
After some immeasurable piece of time the flame flickered. It would have passed unnoticed by anyone who hadn't been concentrating on it for some while.
She took a deep breath and -
'Good morning,' said Granny Weatherwax.
GOOD MORNING, said a voice by her ear.
Granny breathed out, slowly.
'Come and sit where I can see you. That's good manners. And let me tell you right now that I ain't at all afraid of you.'
The tall, black-robed figure walked across the floor and sat down on a handy barrel, leaning its scythe against the wall. Then it pushed back its hood.
Granny folded her arms and stared calmly at the visitor, meeting his gaze eye-to-socket.
I AM IMPRESSED.
'I have faith.'
REALLY? IN WHAT PARTICULAR DEITY?
'Oh, none of them.'
THEN FAITH IN WHAT?
'Just faith, you know. In general.'
Death leaned forward. The candlelight raised new shadows on his skull.
COURAGE IS EASY BY CANDLELIGHT. YOUR FAITH, I SUSPECT, IS IN THE FLAME.
Granny leaned forward, and blew out the candle. Then she folded her arms again and stated fiercely ahead of her.
After some length of time a voice said, ALL RIGHT, YOU'VE MADE YOUR POINT.
Granny lit a match. Its flare illuminated the skull opposite, which hadn't moved.
'Fair enough,' she said, as she refit the candle. 'We don't want to be sitting here all night, do we? How many have you come for?'
Death shook his head.
'It could be the cow.'
NO. THAT WOULD BE CHANGING HISTORY.
'History is about things changing.'
Granny sat back.
'Then I challenge you to a game. That's traditional. That's allowed.'
Death was silent for a moment.
THIS IS TRUE.
CHALLENGING ME BY MEANS OF A GAME IS ALLOWABLE.
HOWEVER... YOU UNDERSTAND THAT TO WIN ALL YOU MUST GAMBLE ALL?
'Double or quits? Yes, I know.'
BUT NOT CHESS.
'Can't abide chess.'
OR CRIPPLE MR ONION. I'VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THE RULES.
'Very well. How about one hand of poker? Five cards each, no draws? Sudden death, as they say.'
Death thought about this, too.
YOU KNOW THIS FAMILY?
'Are we talking or are we playing?'
OH, VERY WELL.
Granny picked up the pack of cards and shuffled it, not looking at her hands, and smiling at Death all the time. She dealt five cards each, and reached down...
A bony hand grasped hers.
BUT FIRST, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX - WE WILL EXCHANGE CARDS.
He picked up the two piles and transposed them, and then nodded at Granny.
Granny looked at her cards, and threw them down.
FOUR QUEENS. HMM. THAT IS VERY HIGH.
Death looked down at his cards, and then up into Granny's steady, blue-eyed gaze.
Neither moved for some time.
Then Death laid the hand on the table.
I LOSE, he said. ALL I HAVE IS FOUR ONES.
He looked back into Granny's eyes for a moment. There was a blue glow in the depth of his eye-sockets. Maybe, for the merest fraction of a second, barely noticeable even to the closest observation, one winked off.
Granny nodded, and extended a hand.
She prided herself on the ability to judge people by their gaze and them handshake, which in this case was a rather chilly one.
'Take the cow,' she said.
IT IS A VALUABLE CREATURE.
'Who knows what the child will become?'
Death stood up, and reached for his scythe.
He said, OW.
'Ah, yes. I couldn't help noticing,' said Granny Weatherwax, as the tension drained out of the atmosphere, 'that you seem to be sparing that arm.'
OH, YOU KNOW HOW IT IS. REPETITIVE ACTIONS AND SO ON...
'It could get serious if you left it.'
'Want me to have a look?'
WOULD YOU MIND? IT CERTAINLY ACHES ON COLD NIGHTS.
Granny stood up and reached out, but her hands went straight through.
'Look, you're going to have to make yourself a bit more solid if I'm to do anything-'
POSSIBLY A BOTTLE OF SUCKROSE AND AKWA?
'Sugar and water? I expect you know that's only for the hard of thinking. Come on, roll up that sleeve. Don't be a big baby. What's the worst I can do to you?'
Granny's hands touched smooth bone. She'd felt worse. At least these had never had flesh on them.
She felt, thought, gripped, twisted...
There was a click.
'Now try it above the shoulder.'
ER. HMM. YES. IT DOES SEEM CONSIDERABLY MORE FREE. YES, INDEED. MY WORD, YES. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
'If it gives you trouble again, you know where I live.'
THANK YOU. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
'You know where everyone lives. Tuesday mornings is a good time. I'm generally in.'
I SHALL REMEMBER. THANK YOU.
'By appointment, in your case. No offence meant.'
Death walked away. A moment later there was a faint gasp from the cow. That and a slight sagging of the skin were all that apparently marked the transition from living animal to cooling meat.
Granny picked up the baby and laid a hand on its forehead.
'Fever's gone,' she said.
MISTRESS WEATHERWAX? said Death from the doorway.
I HAVE TO KNOW. WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF I HAD NOT... LOST?
'At the cards, you mean?'
YES. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?
Granny laid the baby down carefully on the straw, and smiled.
'Well,' she said, 'for a start... I'd have broken your bloody arm.'