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Terry Pratchett

A HAT FULL OF SKY

Introduction

From ‘Fairies and How to Avoid Them’ By Miss Perpicacia Tick:

The Nac Mac Feegle (also called Pictsies, the Wee Free Men, the Little Men and ‘Person or Persons Unknown, Believed to Be Armed’)

The Nac Mac Feegle are the most dangerous of the fairy races, particularly when drunk. They love drinking, fighting and stealing, and will in fact steal anything that is not nailed down. If it is nailed down, they will steal the nails as well.

Nevertheless, those who have managed to get to know them, and survive, say that they are also amazingly loyal, strong, dogged, brave and, in their own way, quite moral. (For example, they won’t steal from people who don’t have anything.)

The average Feegle man (Feegle women are rare—see later) is about six inches high, red-haired, his skin turned blue with tattoos and the dye called woad and, since you’re this close, he’s probably about to hit you.

He’ll wear a kilt made of any old material, because amongst the Feegles the clan allegiance is shown by the tattoos. He may wear a rabbit-skull helmet, and Feegles often decorate their beards and hair with feathers, beads and anything else that takes their fancy. He will almost certainly carry a sword, although it is mainly for show, the Feegles’ preferred method of fighting being with the boot and the head.

History and Religion

The origin of the Nac Mac Feegle is lost in the famous Mists of Time. They say that they were thrown out of Fairyland by the Queen of the Fairies because they objected to her spiteful and tyrannical rule. Others say they were just thrown out for being drunk.

Little is known about their religion, if any, save for one fact: they think they are dead. They like our world, with its sunshine and mountains and blue skies and things to fight. An amazing world like this couldn’t be open to just anybody, they say. It must be some kind of a heaven or Valhalla, where brave warriors go when they are dead. So, they reason, they have already been alive somewhere else, and then died and were allowed to come here because they have been so good.

This is a quite incorrect and fanciful notion because, as we know, the truth is exactly the other way round.

There is not a great deal of mourning when a Feegle dies, and it’s only because his brothers are sad that he’s not spent more time with them before going back to the land of the living, which they also call ‘The Last World’.

Habits and Habitat

For choice, the clans of the Nac Mac Feegle live in the burial mounds of ancient kings, where they hollow out a cosy cavern amongst the gold. Generally there will be one or two thorn or elder trees growing on it—the Feegles particularly like old, hollow elder trees, which become chimneys for their fires. And there will, of course, be a rabbit hole. It will look just like a rabbit hole. There will be rabbit droppings around it, and maybe even a few bits of rabbit fur if the Feegles are feeling particularly creative.

Down below, the world of the Feegle is a bit like a beehive, but with a lot less honey and a lot more sting.

The reason for this is that females are very rare among the Feegle. And, perhaps because of this, Feegle women give birth to lots of babies, very often and very quickly. They’re about the size of peas when born but grow extremely fast if they’re fed well (Feegles like to live near humans so that they can steal milk from cows and sheep for this purpose).

The ‘queen’ of the clan is called the Kelda, who as she gets older becomes the mother of most of it. Her husband is known as The Big Man. When a girl child is born—and it doesn’t often happen—she stays with her mother to learn the hiddlins, which are the secrets of keldaring. When she is old enough to be married, she must leave the clan, taking a few of her brothers with her as a bodyguard on her long journey.

Often she’ll travel to a clan which has no kelda. Very, very rarely, if there is no clan without a kelda, she’ll meet with Feegles from several clans and form a completely new clan, with a new name and a mound of its own. She will also choose her husband. And from then on, while her word is absolute law among her clan and must be obeyed, she’ll seldom go more than a little distance from the mound. She is both its queen and its prisoner.

But once, for a few days, there was a kelda who was a human girl…

A Feegle Glossary, adjusted for those of a delicate disposition

Bigjobs: human beings.

Blethers: rubbish, nonsense.

Carlirr: old woman.

Cludgie: the privy.

Crivens!: a general exclamation that can mean anything from ‘My goodness!’ to ‘I’ve just lost my temper and there is going to be trouble.’

Dree: your/my/his/her weird facing the fate that is in store for you/me/him/her.

Geas: a very important obligation, backed up by tradition and magic. Not a bird.

Eldritch: weird, strange. Sometimes means oblong, too, for some reason.

Hag: a witch, of any age.

Hagging/Haggling: anything a witch does.

Hiddlins: secrets.

Mudlim: useless person.

Pished: I am assured that this means ‘tired’.

Scunner: a generally unpleasant person.

Scuggam: a really unpleasant person.

Ships: woolly things that eat grass and go baa. Easily confused with the other kind.

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