The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Equal Rites

Written by Ed

A wizard from Ankh-Morpork has travelled five hundred miles to the kingdom of Lancre in the Ramtop mountains, and is now walking through a stormy night to the tiny village of Bad Ass. He arrives at a crowded village smithy, which rapidly loses its occupants when the impressive mage enters. The wizard introduces himself to the blacksmith (named Gordo Smith, appropriately) as Drum Billet, and brings the message that he is about to die. Billet knows that Smith's wife is at the moment giving birth to another child-the eighth son of an eighth son, thus automatically a wizard. He has come to present the staff to the infant, to inherit on his power before he dies. Soon, the new baby is brought down to them. Although the midwife, one Granny Weatherwax, protests Billet goes ahead presenting the staff. Then, he sits down and quietly passes away. Smith finally starts to listen to the enraged witch Granny Weatherwax, and looks at his new baby; his eighth son is in fact a daughter, who has just received the power of the male-only clique that is wizardry.

Later that night, Granny warns Smith of the terrible things that will happen if the child grows up as a female wizard-wizardry and witchery are gender specific and incompatible. Drum Billet's staff is resting in the corner of the smithy, and Granny decides to destroy it. Her efforts, all meet with failure-the staff appears indestructible.

Seven years go by with Granny keeping a careful watch on the young child, who has been named Eskarina. There is no sign of any magical power. One winter's day though, Smith sends Esk and his two youngest sons, Cern and Gulta, to bring a basket of food to Granny Weatherwax. It is a miles walk down a lonely road to Granny's cottage, and in the crisp snow it looks frightening to the children. The house looks deserted, and there are no human footprints around-although there are a lot of animals and birds. They enter, and find Granny lying in her bed. She is cold and grey, and exhibits no sign of life. Terrified, Cern and Gulta flee back to their home to fetch Smith. Esk waits behind. The sun starts to set, and it gets dark. Esk starts to hear a mysterious scrabbling coming from all over the house, and becomes more and more afraid. Eventually she panics and runs out into the woods, getting lost. A crow falls down Granny's chimney and flutters up to her room. Granny's mind returns from the bird into her own body, and she can sense Esk out in the woods. She can also sense a pack of hungry wolves stalking her. As soon as she regains her composure (borrowing an animal's mind leaves one badly disorientated) she sets out after her.

In the smithy, the staff seems to come to life. It blows down the heavy doors and launches into the sky, trailing fire. Granny is in the deep, gloomy woods when it roars overhead like a meteorite. It lands some distance in front of her, and Granny heads towards the strange flashes of light and odd noises. As she nears, she finds the survivors of the wolf pack fleeing away as fast as they can. Esk is curled up in a ball in the middle of the woods, with a dozen dead wolves lying nearby. The staff is stuck in the ground next to her. She brings Esk back to the cottage, where she finds Smith. Granny assures him that nothing is wrong, but that Esk took a fright and should stay with her for the night. Smith agrees, and goes home. Granny starts to light the fire, but Esk suggests that she just "magics it alight". To do that would be wizard magic; Granny finds this comment significant.

After Esk has been put to bed Granny borrows the mind of an owl and flies to Smith's orchard, where she settles on Esk's favourite tree. The tree is in fact a reincarnation of Drum Billet. She and the wizard have a heated conversation. Esk has potentially deadly power that she cannot control. Billet suggests that Granny takes her to Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, the school of wizards. Granny rejects the idea of female wizards and flies away.

When she returns she finds the staff in her living room, even though she left in out in the woods. Bracing herself, she stokes up the fire and throws the staff onto it. Upstairs, Esk wakes up and screams. Immediately Granny extinguishes the fire and runs upstairs, where a hysterical Esk is screaming about being burned. Granny now knows that she cannot harm the staff in any way. The next day Granny decides that Esk should be trained up as a witch-it is not witch magic flowing through the girl, but it is the best chance of controlling the power before something serious happens. She goes to speak to Esk's parents. Smith is at first reluctant, but Granny tries to tell him about the dangers of letting the magic go unchecked. Magic weakens reality, and is reality is weakened too much the horrors of the Dungeon Dimensions that lie outside the universe will be waiting to break through to the Smith agrees.

As the winter turns to spring, Esk begins her training. At first it is entirely practical, consisting of learning about herbs and suchlike. Esk becomes impatient to lean what she calls "real" magic. Granny tells her to wait. One day, when Granny has taken Esk on a trip up the mountains, she decides to finally teach Esk what she wants to know-borrowing. There is an eagle circling, and Granny tells Esk the technique of borrowing its mind. The trick is not to take it over, but to sit quietly at the back of its mind and suggest to the eagle what it should do. Out of mischief however, Esk storms in and takes it over. Granny looks up as the eagle-Esk swoops away. She carries the girl's prone body back to her cottage. For a day she waits at her cottage for any sign of her, but to no avail. Esk is flying higher and higher, but to her horror she realises that her human mind is slowly diminishing-she is in fact becoming the eagle. She cannot escape. Granny goes to her garden and sends her hive of bees out to search. A huge swarm flies over the kingdom and finds nothing. She has one choice left-she goes to the staff and bids it take her to Esk. With Granny riding side-saddle, the staff hurtles away up the mountains. Granny eventually finds the eagle, lying half-dead in a snowdrift. She takes it back home, but finds that Esk's mind is now indelibly bound with the eagles, and she cannot separate them. In order to return Esk's mind to her body she has to use the power of the staff. As she does so, she sees shadows of terrible creatures on the edge of sight...

After some hours, Esk is finally returned to normal. Upon waking she initially panics, and eventually comes round having learned a valuably lesson. Granny has also learned something- she cannot control Esk's powers. She presents Esk with her staff, in the hope that it may do some good, and tells Esk about Drum Billet and the mistake made on the day she was born. As an example, she has Esk light a fire magically, something that she had earlier said. Esk's attempt results in a huge fireball that destroys the fireplace before sinking into the ground. Reluctantly Granny admits that Esk has to go to Unseen University. That night, she writes a letter to the Archchancellor of UU. The next day Granny goes back to see Smith. Their discussion becomes a shouting match and so Esk goes to the orchard to climb her tree. Cern and Gulta come to her and begin to tease their little sister. Esk reacts by semi-accidentally turning Gulta into a pig; Cern's screams bring the adults. Although Esk is able to turn Gulta back into a human (although she doesn't know exactly how), it demonstrates to her parents that she has to go.

The next day Granny and Esk set off on a cart for Ankh-Morpork. Eventually they come to the small town of Ohulan Cutash, which by Granny's standards is a giant city. There they meet Granny's friend Hilta Goatfounder, who is working as a fortune teller. It is getting dark, so Hilta offers them a room for the night. Esk, however, manages to lose the adults and explore. Eventually she tires, and heads to what appears to be a tavern called the Fiddler's Riddle. The landlord, a man named Skiller, is shocked to find himself being asked for a glass of milk by a nine year old girl. He is even more shocked when he discovers that the beer in the barrels behind the bar has spontaneously turned into milk. When Skiller asks what happened to the beer, Esk is reminded of another alcoholic drink-viciously strong liquor called applejack. Knowing what will happen, Skiller pours out a small thimble of apple brandy from the barrels. He and his wife, knowing the enormous amounts of money that Esk could make them, offer her a bed.

As Granny and Hilta search the town, Esk settles into a bed above the pub. She falls asleep and dreams of the weird grey desert with mysterious mountains that is the Dungeon Dimensions, with huge evil creatures scuttling about...but she is woken up by Skiller, who has crept into her room to try and steal the staff. She pretends to be asleep and lets him take it; when he goes back down the stairs the staff writhes in his hands and attacks him. Esk calmly retrieves the staff and, knowing the trouble that she will be in if she stays, escapes through the window. She runs to the docks-Ohulan is on the river Ankh, but at this stage the river is not the semi-solid sludge that it will be by the time it reaches Ankh-Morpork. She climbs onto a barge and settles there for the night. She awakes the next morning to find that she is sailing, and far away from the town. The owners of the boat-wandering gypsies called Zoons discover her. The leader, Amschat, sees that Esk is no danger even if she is a stowaway and decides not to throw her off immediately.

Meanwhile, Granny has come to the conclusion that Esk has escaped on a barge, but the dockmaster does not remember seeing any stowaways climb onto one of the barges. Hilta assures Granny that Zoons won't hurt Esk. They go back to Hilta's lodgings where Granny finds Esk in a crystal ball: she is about fifteen miles downriver. In the ball she also sees tiny shiny particles rushing towards Esk-the staff is distilling magic out of the air as they are meant to do, but it is reacting badly as Esk is a girl and causing her random and destructive powers. Granny decides to go after them on foot; the barges are slow and the river is winding, so Granny should be able to catch them up.

Esk offers to work for the Zoons in return for passage to Ankh-Morpork. Esk accompanies Amschat to various market towns, but accidental magical outbursts start to draw attention to her. For example, she stops Amschat from buying a bag of ultramarines when she identifies them as spircles, cheap chameleon jewels that take on the hue of real gems when placed near them. She has to make up a story about how she knew they were not genuine, but Amschat still suspects something. Amschat gives her some money in return from preventing him buying the spircles and she leaves the Zoons before something else happens, using her unpredictable power to teleport the staff off the boat to her-a feat normally impossible with ordinary wizards. She uses the money to buy a broom, which she uses to disguise her staff. She finds a group of wagons about to set off for Ankh-Morpork. The party contains a wizard called Treatle and his apprentice, named Simon, who suffers from a stutter and every allergy going. Adab Gander, the lead driver of the convoy, is rather less charitable than the Zoons and refuses Esk passage, but the sight of watching her walk forlornly away makes him change his mind.

Granny has borrowed Hilta's broomstick-it is a shambolic affair that has nearly given out. It was while running along a forest path trying to get it started that Granny fell into a bear trap, and after a few hours she is rescued by some dwarfs. They take her to the mines where Granny wants them to repair the broomstick, but they find that they cannot.

On the third day of the convoy's voyage, Esk is talking to Simon. He is showing spectacular magical powers, but is unhealthy and finds talking very difficult. Esk asks him about female wizards, and the boy laughs. Treatle arrives and tells Esk matter-of-factly that women can never be wizards. In a fury, she jumps down from the caravan and runs away into the scrubby valley that the convoy is passing through. She keeps running until she is totally lost. As the sun starts to set, she settles under a cliff face and falls asleep. She dreams of being in the cold, dry, black desert again; the Dungeon Dimensions are always trying to break through the mind of a magical person, and the mind is at its weakest while it sleeps. Instead of the Things, however, Esk sees a huge black castle. When she tries to enter, the doors slam shut and she tries to burn the doors down with magic from her staff, but to no avail. She wakes just before dawn, to find Granny Weatherwax sitting beside her. She wants to know how Granny found her-the witch was tracking Esk's mind, when it suddenly shone out like a beacon. She tells her about the dream-a metaphor for not being allowed into Unseen University. Granny already knows about Esk trying to burn the doors down, for all around her the cliffs are scorched and burnt. They decide to complete the rest of the journey on Granny's broomstick.

The dying broomstick jolts and judders its way slowly towards Ankh-Morpork. As it can fly only at night, Esk wants to go faster so that they arrive before dawn, which is about to break. Granny refuses. However, the slow Disc daylight sloshes over them and they start to fall. Esk then uses her powers to speed the broomstick up and they zoom to the city.

After some days in the city, Granny and Esk arrive at the gates of Unseen University to try to get in. Granny is rather enjoying life in the city; urban areas present steady work for a witch. At that moment a cart pulls up outside the gates-it is the convoy, with Treatle and Simon on board. The huge magical gates of the University open to let them through. Simon recognises Esk, and he lets her inside. They go to the great hall, where all the new student wizards are congregating for the first day of the new academic year. Treatle introduces Simon to Cutangle, the University's current Archchancellor. Simon puts on a display of his awesome magical powers for them by projecting a huge image of the Discworld into the room. Just for a second though, Esk sees the walls and floor of the room replaced by the dark sand and glittering stars of the Dungeon Dimensions. Once his magic is over, Simon passes out and is escorted away. Seeing that Cutangle is an important wizard, Esk goes up to him and tries to get him to let her into the University. Initially charmed, Cutangle swiftly becomes annoyed when Esk refuses to take no for an answer. Esk tries to prove her point by casting a spell like Simon. She rolls up her sleeves and concentrates...

Granny enters the University by the perfectly ordinary back door, where she is met by a servant girl. Seeing that she is a witch, the girl leads her to Mrs Whitlow, the head housekeeper. Mrs Whitlow is obsessed with fortune telling and psychic mediums but is also extremely gullible, and Granny performs various parlour tricks for her. While she occupies the housekeeper with these, she looks for a small animal such as a cockroach or a mouse that she can borrow to find Esk. Instead she discovers that Unseen University itself is alive in a way, due to being saturated with magic for so long. When she discovers what Esk is doing in the great hall she makes an excuse and quickly leaves. She and Esk meet up out in the city; Esk's magic has failed her. She offers to find Esk a way into the University, and goes back to see Mrs Whitlow as soon as she can. She tells the housekeeper that soon she will meet a young girl, whom she should hire as a cleaner.

For some weeks Esk works in the University. Her staff, still disguised as a broom, cleans the floors on its own while she attempts to pick up scraps of knowledge from the students. One day she is in a lecture theatre. Knowing the timetable, she knows the room should be empty, but she is forced to hide when a group of wizards enter. She watches as they sit and are taught by Simon, who stutters his way through a completely new theory about magic, which excites the wizards, although Esk understands little of it. As he talks though, the room again transforms into the cold desert of the Dungeon Dimensions until a servant comes in to light the lamps.

Eventually she decides that the best way to learn is to use the magical Library. Although she cannot read, she is confident that she can learn. However, never before have cleaners entered the Library, with its twisting dimensions and living books caused by a huge build up of magical texts. She asks Mrs Whitlow, who can see no reason why she should not enter. Esk thus goes to the Library, where she presents the orang-utan Librarian with a bunch of bananas and enters the maze of shelves. Eventually, she meets Simon browsing the books. He tells her about the powerful properties of magical books and as he does so the room again begins to swirl, and Esk sees the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions preparing to attack. The books panic and fly about, when suddenly Esk's staff leaps up and hits Simon. He collapses to the ground. The Things vanish, and the books calm. Wizards come running to see what happened, and assumes that Simon was knocked out by a falling shelf. He is taken to the infirmary.

Three days later, Simon is still in a coma. Granny and Esk enter his room disguised as servants. Esk has thrown her staff into the river Ankh, angry that it tried to kill Simon. Granny has to explain to a tearful Esk that Simon's immense powers were calling to the Dungeon Dimensions, who mounted an attack. Esk's staff stopped the Things by knocking him out, but now Simon's mind is lost to the Dungeon Dimensions, leaving his body behind. Trying to get his mind back would be dangerous, as there would be the chance of a Thing entering is body instead of Simon. Granny decides to see the Archchancellor, who is at dinner in the great hall with everyone else.

Granny and Esk storm into the hall, causing a furore as women are not allowed there. She faces down Cutangle, and the pair start a magical duel. Again, Esk can see the Dungeon Dimensions preparing to break through, and runs back to Simon's room. Behind the closed door are strange lights and noises. Esk forces the door open and enters. The lights and sounds abruptly stop, leaving only the unconscious bodies of Esk and Simon and a thin layer of cold sand on the floor.

Esk arrives in the Dungeon Dimensions, and sees Simon sitting in a circle of Things. He appears to be playing with a group of snow globes, but these are variously shaped objects that contain small versions of planets. Simon, who has been possessed, is shaking them. She notices that the glass pyramid containing the Discworld is starting to crack so she snatches it and runs, chased by the horrendous Things. Esk decides to fight, and discovers that the Things are in fact physically weak, and she brings several down. They retaliate by restoring Simon to normal, but then threatening to kill him. Simon explains that the pyramid contains an idea, a representation of the world-but in this place ideas are real.

Back on the Disc, the duel has ended in a draw and with mutual respect between Granny and Cutangle. Granny tells Cutangle about Esk's history, and that she threw her staff into the river. Now a huge storm is hitting the city, and the river has burst its banks. Granny (bringing her broomstick) and Cutangle go to the gardens and jump into a small boat. Cutangle tells Granny that the staff will have been washed out to sea, but Granny is confident that they will find the staff. Eventually, the boat grinds to a halt. They look over the sides and see that the sea has frozen solid, so they get out and walk. They find the staff in the centre of the ice floe, freezing because of where Esk is, and take it. They have to escape on the broomstick as the sea then begins to unfreeze. They return to Unseen University and go to the Library, where Esk and Simon have been moved as it is the only place relatively safe from the storm. Cutangle decides to make Esk a wizard so that she can fully use her staff.

The staff appears in Esk's hands and the Things flee across the desert. Simon wants Esk to use it, but she explains to him that the Things feed off magic and so they must not use it. Simon is excited about the possibilities for this in real life. Simon takes the Discworld-pyramid and tries to find the University in it.

In the Library, Granny and Cutangle watch as the staff whirls through the air, blazing colours. Suddenly there is a huge flash of light and Esk and Simon sit up. Granny proudly presents Esk with her staff, which has had all the ornamentation burned off it.

Granny remains in the city for a while before going home. Cutangle offers her work at the University, teaching students about witch magic. She considers the possibility before going home alone; Esk remains behind with Simon to invent a whole new type of magic.

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