Fan Fiction : Discworld : My Dear Madam

My Dear Madam

Ian Goble listen_hear at rogers.com


Most of the great house on the great cliff overlooking the great sea on the turnwise marches of Quirm was dark and closed. Madame did not require a large staff for herself: housekeeper, housemaid, boots, M. Tatillon the Major-Domo, and of course Chef Roland. If there were guests, staff could be hired from the neighbourhood but, well, people kept dying didn't they? And there weren't so many weekend parties anymore, the calm sea below glittering with the lamps of the ships and yachts and the music and laughter echoing from the surrounding hills. They came from across the Disc: people who were at home everywhere because money is a universal language, cruising from Quirm to Klatch and Brindisi and Genua. And the dancing and the… aprés-danse, oh dear!

Now it was pleasant to sit just out of the sun and drink lots of that delicious white wine they make just over there, because it was all done, really. Two, thr… some husbands, quite a few more who felt they could be, one thing and another, a sufficient fortune to live in comfort on one of the Creator's better pieces of scenery and Havelock, of course, settled in nicely in Ankh-Morpork. Settled in! Gods, he was kicking fundament and taking calling cards! For a while when there were still parties at home and balls in Quirm she'd been able to say "Oh, you were at school with Havelock? He's something quite important in the government down there, I believe. He was always such a clever boy!"

And he was. When he was five, he knew that his mother had gone, and why his father had gone and that they weren't coming back and Auntie Bobbie was his family now. He didn't cry; how could Aunt Bobbie? No, years later, over a letter on Guild of Assassins stationery, she cried a flood, a decade's stored tears and rage. But not until then.

There was the house, of course, and the family lawyers found a little money, not enough. The Vetinaris were an old, respected, aristocratic family; they just weren't really rich. Most of the men were in "trade", shipping something or other to somewhere where it was more valuable. They'd send Havelock to school of some kind and find him a job of some kind, but it wouldn't be good enough for him, all she had left of Gavilan.

Her family had been in trade too, in an even smaller, less respectable and less profitable way than the Vetinaris, but she saw what her father did, and she'd watched the Vetinaris and she knew how it worked. You didn't have to make the cargo and you didn't have to own the ship; you just had to bring them together. The real trick was in knowing just when Klatch was going to invade another neighbour and need iron, or when ladies' fashions would change in Ankh-Morpork. Knowing things other people don't know brings power, and power brings money, and young Roberta Dearbourne was very charming and attractive and good at finding out.

Her first venture risked everything she had or could borrow on a very small chest of Milk of Amnesia from Urabewe. She'd met Mr. Chidder at a party in the city and learned that his boats could move anything anywhere like magic, if the freight were paid. The return from the first financed a rather larger cargo of whale oil, just in time to alleviate a shortage of fats on the Sto Plains due to another upheaval in the Unholy Empire. This profit guaranteed staff for the house, and a governess, and let her disappear.

She couldn't stay there, in his house watching his son grow up; she'd shrivel and die from the inside out. No human on the Disc under four feet tall was as self-reliant as little Havelock and she could do more for both of them abroad, unknown and unsuspected. She told him she'd write and send pictures of wonderful faraway places and after he went to bed she packed a trunk and sent for a carriage. She didn't know where her sister was.

Three days later Mlle. Régine De La Haye stepped off a coach in Pseudopolis. She went straight to the Merchants' and Traders' Bank, then the Grain Exchange, and then several of the city's more elegant shops and dressmakers. The next night she was seen at the Adelphi Theater and Gagliardi's and the day after she was the talk of the town. (That is, women talked about her to women, in a certain tone, and men to men in another. A man mentioning her to a woman might be letting himself in for a problem.) In another three days she knew where all the money was and where it was going. It was owned mostly by men, and men had few secrets from Mlle. De La Haye.

Eventually, a great deal of barley went to slake Ankh-Morpork's thirst having paused only briefly to pay tribute to the Quirmian bank account of the wealthy (but hitherto unknown) De La Haye family. And then Lady Gwynneth Price-Edwards passed through sleepy Sto Kerrig, leaving it richer in imagination but poorer in purse and so it went. A beautiful young lady from some slightly romantic elsewhere found open doors, welcoming smiles and an unusual inclination to talk among the holders and managers of wealth. In two years she was rich, even by the standards of the Selachiis or the De Wordes. She learned of a little Klatchian man who had a reputation for finding things: money, bodies, people. He called himself a detector and no one liked him, apparently, but even governments and banks employed him in a pinch. He was also very discreet.

She had returned to see Havelock and see to the house every few months, between roles; now she came to take him into the city, to the finest school on the continent, if not the Disc. He was still small, very thin, a wise little old man of nearly eight years. She watched the great gray stone College of Assassins swallow him and then went into the Guild offices to see the Secretary.

Acquiring money now was only an amusement and a cover for other activities, the possibilities of which she had discovered among the rich and powerful abettors of her financial schemes. She had no great lust for money beyond what it took to keep herself and Havelock secure, but applied to politics, large sums of money could do wonders, and where money alone couldn't go, the talents that accumulated it could help. Her only failure financially was a trip to Bonk, in Überwald. The price of fine clear fats had risen faster than she could get there, but she was hailed on the street by a strange woman who knew her name, or at least her recent one. This was a shocking apparition in the surroundings: a young matron, rather attractive, but strangely dressed in a loud pink gown with black figures on it, leading what appeared to be a rat on a leash. "Come viss me, my dear, ve shall haf tea, or perhaps you prefer a glass of vine? Ziss iss quite a pleasant café chust here!"

Her name was Margolotta and she ran the place, unofficially at least. Roberta had demonstrated that a mere woman could make a lot of money, but she hadn't thought of having actual political power. Of course, Margolotta was a vampire, which would help, but she didn't do it by biting people; she manipulated them. They had tea, and Roberta stayed at the castle for a week. "Do not vorry, my dear, I shall not bite you. Ve are giffing up zose foolish olt habits; a new age iss comink." Margolotta recognized talent when she met it and Roberta needed only the confirmation of the possibilities and a few lessons on political organization around the Disc. Margolotta seemed to know this subject as if she had spies in every court and town hall in the world and Roberta absorbed it over a week of pastries, very rare chops and strange black sausages.

And so the game was played for pieces of paper, and tacit agreements, and favors to be claimed at some future date, lines on maps. The clever and charming Madame De Lavery visited Ephebe and learned things very interesting to the Seriph of Klatch. The beautiful and witty Lady Winstanleigh arrived in Brindisi with strange news from Ankh-Morpork, and always the reward was a little more influence or a little more information. She avoided Ankh-Morpork, darting in to visit or collect Havelock for the holidays, staying in the coach.

The letter found her when she returned from Bonk. My Dear Madam I Am Pleased To Inform You Of The Successful Completion Of Our Contract Number 2753 And Receipt Of The Amount Of $5000AM Is Gratefully Acknowledged Your Servant Thaddeus Prim Esq. The contract had called for face-to-face inhumation, with the one-word admonition "Gavilan".

( My Dear Madam) Sixty years ago? Sixty? A pretty strawberry blonde girl sits in the garden with a slate on which is repeated the name "Gavilan", over and over in a spiral. Her sister comes out and she wipes the slate quickly. Her sister wears an expression she recognizes; it's the one that says she's won something, or caused someone else to lose. "Guess what! You're going to be a bridesmaid! It's a week Octeday! Not much time, but I'm afraid I've been naughty! Oh, who? Gavilan, of course… " ( I Am Pleased To Inform You) If the girl's face betrays her, her sister is too self-absorbed to notice. The girl does not kill herself. She finds a wedding gift, and a colored picture book for the baby; she's always available to baby-sit.

( Successful Completion) "Roberta! Come quick!" Her father wearing the sword that's hung over the mantel all her life. "Your sister's kidnapped! Get Havelock and bring him back here! We're going after them!" Her father is not going after them. Scurrying behind, she watches him straighten and then topple, gray as ash. ( $5000AM) Late in the evening the other men return. "Gavilan charged in by himself, the dam' fool. They shot him." But there was no captive. Two men hang for murder, but they swear they were only hired to stage the abduction. "The bitch is gone with her nancy-boy, dunno where." ( Your Servant)

In the garden beside the great house by the sea the sun had nearly set. "Madame?" ( My Dear Madam) "Madame, it grows late and I fear there is a chill." A shawl fell on her shoulders. "Ah, Monsieur Tatillon! What should I do without you? Yes, I should go to bed. My mind wanders, I'm afraid. Bring the wine, s'il vous plait."


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