A/N: Discworld and all adjoining characters are © Terry Pratchett and are used without permission. No disrespect is intended in the use of characters or writing of the story.
For the idea of the story, I'd like to the surveys in general and imagination, as well as the profound desire to avoid studying for any kind of final exam.
12/25/02: Minor rewrites, proofreads, and additions added.
Survey Says: Vetinari's Perfect Wife
By, Kim Hoppy
The entire fiasco could be traced back to Mr. William de Word, because he had the bad luck of being a place that everything could be traced back to just because he had one lapse of common sense and sanity. The Times had been doing well, with funny-shaped produce, news, and pages of suicides and obituaries. They had expanded to include several pages of news that happened everyday.
And so it was it was during this time of stable prosperous that William asked Sacharissa Crisplock for her hand in marriage. Sacharissa did a "small" write-up in the paper, since it was Human Interest ("and you bloody well better be interested in my wedding!") story, and it was a nice little ceremony which graced the front page.
The couple went on a honeymoon to parts unknown, and William allowed Dicky Olsen and Pat Parker to assume temporary editors, believing that Gunilla Goodmountain would make sure they didn't print anything too radical or insulting. It was a big error and lapse in judgment, considering the dwarf understood very well that the more radical and insulting, the more papers people bought. And Olsen and Parker were the two children who made sure to light dynamite and drop it in the privy after drawing a very big crowd.
After Mrs. De Word's write-up of her "small and modest" wedding, the citizens of Ankh-Morpork started to dwell on topics of wives, husbands, weddings, and marriages. After all, it must be a very important thing if it took up three pages with colored pictures. They compared memories of weddings, which made the Watch arrest several people when they argued about who's ceremony/dress/cake/wife/husband/etc. was better. Commander Vimes had punched someone when the person in question thought it a smart move to compare his wedding and wife to Vimes'.
The man made a lot of money from the tooth fairy, so, as was set by precedent, charges were dropped. And Vimes glared really hard at the man.
Of course, after the article Cmdr. Vimes Fights Mob over Wife, the citizens drew their attentions to the marriages of other prominent citizens. Again the cells were filled when disagreements were made over which elements were the best, until someone finally raised the question:
Who would the Patrician Lord Vetinari marry?
It was a good question, and everyone wondered and compared. And the Watch grew worried, because this time when the comparing took place, fights didn't break out. It was a dangerous question, so of course it made the paper.
Under Human Interests, of course. Parker and Olsen were stupid, but they weren't suicidal.
Of course, no one dared ask the Patrician that question. He knew what was going through everyone's mind, everyone assumed, and he wasn't saying, and no one dared to ask. Everyone knew he'd stare at them severely until they went away.
The Guild Leaders, when asked, made sure that they were quoted as: No comment.
Commander Vimes, who made sure to glare really hard when asked, replied, "I really couldn't say."
The topic did die down, but it didn't die. People still picked at the idea like an old scab in the back of their minds. Someone would occasionally bring it up at a game of cards or over a pint. People were interested, but they knew they couldn't get any answers from their leaders, so they felt they would never know.
Parker and Olsen decided to fix that. After all, the citizens should know what their Patrician wanted. It couldn't be that difficult, since the citizens knew that they wanted all the time.
It wasn't illegal.
And this would sell papers.
There's no way William could ever be upset with what they planned to do, the two reassured each other. Gunilla just smiled and set the type.
It was in the next issue of the Times, somewhere in the middle. Parker and Olsen were of the hopeful belief that the Patrician didn't read everything in the Times, but even still, they made sure Foul Ole Ron gave the Patrician's clerk a certain paper, which was missing the extra article.
And so, all the papers, except the Patrician's, of course, since he really didn't have any say in who his perfect mate should be, had a small survey, with a heading something like this:
Preform Civic Dooty!
You Decide Who the Patrician Should Marry!
Each day a knew Survey! Fill out thee survey and return to Times office. Results shall be complied and at the end of the week, the Times shall exclusively release thee results.
Make sure thee Patrician doesn't fill one out or find out.
When Vimes opened the paper and saw the article, he choked on his cigar and starting coughing violently. Lady Sybil looked up from feeding Sam, concerned. "What's wrong, Sam? You look pale."
"This." He slid the paper over to his wife, who picked it up with her free hand and read it over. Her eyes went wide and she gave a small gasp. "Oh, my. I wonder how Havelock is taking this?"
"I don't want to find out." Vimes took the article back and read it over. Apparently today's options were about height, hair colour, species, age, and comments. Ankh-Morpork was going to go crazy with so many options. "At least de Word knew better than to put something like this in the paper."
Even still, Vimes smiled and took a pen.
"What are you doing, Sam?" Sybil asked cautiously as he carefully started to check some options.
"Performing my civic duty, apparently." He grinned evilly.
"Oh." After a moment's pause, bouncing Sam on her leg, Sybil finally relented and said, "Could you get me a survey later?"
"Look at all the surveys!" Olsen gasped.
Goodmountain nodded, comparing surveys to the amount of papers sold mentally. If appearance were anything to be judges, every one of their normal customers in the city must have bought two.
"How are we gonna sort through them all?" Parker wondered.
"Hire some accountants. That's what they're paid for," Goodmoutain said after a moment of thought. "And you can put calculated by Guild of Accountants. Will look authenticated."
Parker and Olsen grinned at each other, then set out to make the next survey.
Goodmountain was right. Each customer did buy more than one paper, making sure to give one to their spouses, or, in some cases, filling the form out for their spouse.
And it was surprisingly a very serious affair. The citizens put thought into in, which was asking a lot for Anhk-Morporkian citizens, who had the attention span moth to an open flame, both as short and fatal. In the spirit of things, citizens put bets on which category was going to win. There was no point in being right if you didn't get some profit out of it, after all.
It occurred to Parker and Olsen after the next survey had been published that they could use the clacks to get even more options, and hence sell even more papers. With careful deliberation, they sent out the surveys.
Oh, William was going to be so proud of them.
The survey's were simple, hence their appeal to the citizens. Anyone could fill one out and send it in. And they gave a variety of topics to be interested in. What kind of education did she have, what hair style did she wear, was she from Ankh-Morpork or somewhere else, what kind of pet did she have. The options just went on and on, and Ankh-Morpork liked choices, provided they weren't too difficult and didn't actually change their lives.
The problem was the citizens starting to think that they really were picking out Lord Vetinari's wife, that she really existed. This was going to spell trouble, eventually. Especially if the Patrician didn't like whom he was arranged to marry.
King Verence II of Lancre looked hopelessly at his wife. "But I've never even met the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork!" I don't want to meet the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork!
Magrat looked firmly at him while holding a squirming Esme. "That doesn't matter! You're the King of Lancre. You have to decide as well."
Verence sharply noted what would happen if Lord Vetinari didn't like his opinion. Just because he had never met the man didn't mean he had never heard of him.
The Queen looked at him kindly. "You're simply deciding what everyone in Lancre would want."
He relaxed. "So this is like I'm siding with the majority." Well, that was okay. The majority was always right.
She nodded. "Yes. And I have to fill that out after you."
"I am the Queen." She gave him a stare more witch than queen.
Of course, what King Verence didn't know was that everyone in Lancre was filling out a survey as well.
"Here you are, mithreth," Igor said, handing Lady Margolotta Amaya Katerina Assumpta Crassina von Uberwald.
"Thank you, Igor," the Vampiress smiled. She never complained about the Times or the sudden increase of price. It was so much nicer to get information about Ankh-Morpork daily and have too much than once a month and missing all the important bits. She opened the volume ("My, it is getting thicker each day!"), then blinked in curiosity at the tiny paper that fluttered out.
She picked it up and read it. Blinked twice. And then smiled. And laughed, long and hard.
Igor looked at his mistress in confusion, but got her a quill when she asked.
Everyone waited impatiently for the end of the week, when all of the results would be given and they would find out exactly who Vetinari was supposed to marry. Some were even shopping for the gowns and suits that they planned to wear, and everyone knew it was going to be a grand affair.
Drumknott looked around fearfully from his corner, then back at the tiny survey he held in his hands. Surely the Patrician knew about this! It was all Ankh-Morpork talked about. Of course Vetinari knew about it, with his spies everywhere. It was impossible to keep it from the man, despite the Times survey's plea. Durmknott was surprised Lord Vetinari let it continue, and he wanted to call the man on it. All Vetinari would have to do would be to go to the Times and order it stopped.
But them Drumknott realized that there truly was nothing the Patrician could do to stop this. This wasn't just the Times; this was the entire city.
Lord Vetinari was forced to ride the wave until it died.
Drumknott shook his head and carefully filled out the survey.
William and Sacharissa watched down the marketplace, talking happily. The Times was in the back of both their minds, and they avoided any mention or sign of the paper with a passion. This was their time.
It really wasn't meant to last.
As they walked past a vendor who was reading said paper, and both tried to look away before they could read the headline. They really weren't fast enough. Nothing would have been fast enough to miss that headline.
"What's Human Interest doing on the front page!" Sacharissa demanded.
William's mouth merely gaped as he read the actual headline. His wife noticed his sudden pallor. "What's wrong, William?"
"You're gonna be a widow," he whispered.
William grabbed the paper out of the merchant's hand and waved it in front of her face while the vendor yelled in indignation. "READ THE HEADLINES!"
"There's no need to—on my!" Her eyes went wide as she read One Day Left to Fill Out Times' Survey! Pick Patrician's Wife! "We don't have to go back to Ankh-Morpork?" she suggested hopefully in a tiny tremor.
"And let him hunt us down?!" William grabbed her wrist and ran for the nearest boat, paper clutched in his hand, hoping he could kill Parker and Olsen before the Patrician killed him.
The accountants finished up the final tallies wearily and gave the results to the two Temporary Editors. Parker grabbed the results and buzzed his eyes over them while Olsen tried to look over his taller friend's shoulder.
"Let's go to Press!"
The paper was distributed exactly at midnight.
William and Sacharissa got back at noon.
"STOP THE PRESSES!" husband and wife both screamed as they ran in. When they got off the boat and saw the papers in everybody's hands, they tried to grab all the papers and run away, but there were too many. When Vimes and his Watch came to the scene, the Commander just laughed.
While William and Sacharissa just stood there helplessly, clutching the papers to their chests and gasping, the commander went on. "I thinking I'm being to like the idea of the free press, you know. Sort of grows on you."
He took the paper that he had from under his arm and opened it. The reporters' eyes went wide with fear.
"Oh, look. A brawl at the Tavern. No one injured. Strange . . . And, wow, look at all the results of that—" Vimes, if he hadn't been so happy with twisted glee and revenge, would have been impressed with how fast the reporters started on their race to the Times office.
"Shall we go after them, Mister Vimes?" someone asked at his elbow.
"No. They're in enough trouble." Vimes grinned and started to read the article, pleased to note that he was 15 dollars richer in the Eye Color pool.
"How could you print this?" William demanded quietly, near shock, holding the paper in shaking hands.
"It was really easy!" Olsen grinned nodding his head enthusiastically.
"And we quintdruplsized our sales!" Parker added.
"Oh, my," Sacharissa murmured from that other side of shock, in the world of dull knowledge and picking at the scab because you know you're gonna die. "Listen, William. Fifty-seven percent think she—"
"Mr. de Word."
When William turned, there was absolutely no surprise on his face that a Palace guard was standing there with a very wide smile on his stony face. "Y-yes," he got out after a few false tries.
"You're going to miss your appointment with the Patrician," the troll continued.
He knew we were back, William whimpered, but nodded silently.
Even Goodmountain looked subdued when William walked by, whispering, "Good luck."
Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . ick . . . ick
William stood in front of the desk while, to the reporter's ultimate horror, the Patrician calmly read the Times.
"How was your honeymoon, Mr. de Word?" His face was hidden.
"F-fine, your grace." He'd better start making up lost ground. "Thank you for asking."
Tick . . . tick . . . ckit
"I hear it got cut short."
"It did, your grace."
A page turned, and William gulped. He remembered that page. Whomever thought that printing those kind of questions was going to die. The Patrician would make sure of it.
Tick . . .kcti . . . tick . . .
"Hmmm," the Patrician went.
It was ticking that did it; the clock couldn't tick in the proper spelling. The Patrician probably made it especially for him.
"I didn't authorize the printing of that, Sir!" he got out quickly, before he lost his nerve.
The face appeared, and William desperately wished it would disappear again. "You didn't? My, how interesting."
The face did disappear as Lord Vetinari read on, and William just wanted the face to appear again. Anything to stop the reading.
Ickt . . . tick . . .TiKc . . ictk . . .
"I hear the Times sales margin went up considerably in your absence."
William nodded silently.
"Are you planning any more absences?"
William shook his head wildly, even though the Patrician had no apparent means of witnessing it. It was the thought that counted, after all. And you never knew with the Patrician; maybe the man could see through walls. He could certainly hear through them.
Tick . . .kcit . . .itck . .
Somehow the Patrician managed to do what no one else in Ankh-Morpork could do. He set the paper down and looked at William with the blank face that said nothing. The eyes continued to stare.
"Don't you find it interesting that the public finds my private life so interesting," he asked conversationally, except that it wasn't a question.
William said nothing, because there really wasn't anything he could say to the matter.
"It is as if since I am a public figure, my private life must as be public as well. How strange."
"And don't you find it strange that no one even asked me what I thought," the Patrician continued.
And we pretend to wonder why, William thought helplessly. "I really had nothing to do with that article," he tried again.
"Indeed. So you've mentioned." Lord Vetinari smiled slightly. "A Mr. Dicky Olsen and Mr. Pat Parker thought of the idea."
"Yes, your grace." Light at the end of the tunnel . . .
The smile faded. "Whom you yourself placed in charge." The icy blue eyes pinned William.
It was a fire.
"Yes, your grace."
Again the Patrician's lips quirked into a smile, and his eyes ran over the print on the first page. "Am I required to marry this woman?"
"No, your grace."
"I don't even think I've met her. What is her name?"
"I . . . I don't know, my lord."
"Perhaps we could have another survey." The smile suddenly held very little humor.
"If you want."
Lord Vetinari leaned back into the chair. "I happen to find myself in a predicament, Mr. de Word. Perhaps you could be so bold as to assist me."
Deciding whether or not I should be hung over scorpions or merely quartered? "I'll try, my lord."
The Patrician steepled his fingers and looked over them at the young man. "I should hope you do more than 'try,' Mr. de Word.
"The entire city expects me to marry a woman who, judging by your statistics that are even authenticated by the Guild of Accountants, very likely does not exist outside of imagination."
"Yes, it is a million-to-one chance that she actually exists, your lordship," William agreed quickly.
The Patrician's head snapped up. "I should certainly hope not!" He paused, as if regaining himself, and William shifted, trying to resolve this conflict.
"I don't see the problem, sir."
"The problem is that the city now believes this woman to exist, and that apparently I have been with her for many, many years."
"You could deny it. Exclusively in the Times?" William's voice was a squeak at the end of the suggestion when the eyebrow raised. The Times had started all this.
Vetinari looked coldly at him. "And please tell me what exactly would happen?"
William opened his mouth to say that it'd all go away, but then realized it wouldn't. Denial would only fuel the belief. It would lead to reasons why the marriage wasn't taking place. It was character assassination all over again. "Hell?"
"In one sort of world, perhaps." Lord Vetinari shifted the papers, then held one up to read it over again. "I even have a clacks message from my Aunt, wondering why I had never mentioned this woman to her." He sounded slightly upset at this point, as if the opinion of his Aunt was more important that the view the citizens of Ankh-Morpork held of him. "She's wondering when the wedding's going to be."
"But there isn't going to be one," William said helplessly.
At this, Lord Vetinari folded his hands. "Indeed. You will print this." It was a direct order, twinged with a threat. The Patrician paused and looked pointedly at William. After several fearful seconds, the reporter remembered himself and took out his notebook.
"'Neither of us is ready to be married at this time.' Quote that. Correctly."
William looked up in slight awe at the Patrician and the clear path the man had made for himself. The entire episode averted by one simple, believable, truthful statement. How long had it taken the Patrician to think of it? The reporter licked his lips, then said carefully, "And if I need a quote from this . . . woman?"
"Not available at time of press," Vetianri said sharply.
"Because she doesn't exist." The Patrician gave no response or indication that he had heard, and William noted that was because Lord Vetinari knew he could still be quoted.
"Please print that up at your earliest connivance. A small article should do."
"We'll print it up immediately, my lord, front page," William promised.
"No hurry, of course." Vetinari carefully moved the papers aside.
William gave no response to that for several reasons. It was quite obvious the Patrician didn't mean it. And the other was staring him blatantly in the face.
A small stack of the surveys sat on the desk, and William could see they had been neatly filled out. Vetinari noticed the staring and gave a small private smile, picking up the stack with long fingers.
"Your results are also very inaccurate."
"It is what the city thinks, sir." Vetinari looked at the reporter and gave a small shake of his head, as if in pity.
"It is what the city wants, Mr. de Word. Have a pleasant day."
William didn't miss the opening. "To you too, your grace," he said quickly, and departed as fast as the conflict between politeness and survival would allow.
Lord Vetinari carefully stacked the surveys, nodded to himself, and smiled.
 Or perhaps two, depending on how you view it.
 In some worlds, they would have been files under Murders and The Starting of a New Life
 And the rest of her too, of course. Many—including Mr. de Word—consider this the actual lapse of sanity.
 William had chosen the battle wisely and let his wife place the ceremony (and pictures) wherever she wanted, even though it did make Alchemists' Guild Lights Up Next to Firework Factory: A Beautiful Display fourth page news.*
* Otto took a lot of pictures of the wedding. In color. Something about his job.
 Not their own, of course.
 This could be believable if they hadn't replaced the Front Page with Human Interests section.
 They must know him best, since they see him almost every week.
 Hopefully they weren't hemophiliacs.
 Please pick 1 for each:
___Under 3 Feet ____ 3-4 Feet ____ 4-5 Feet ____5-6 Feet ____ Over 6 set ____Tall ____Short ___Other (Specify)
___ Brown ____White ____Black ____ Blond ____Red ____Orange ____No Hair ____Other (Specify)
____ Human ____Troll ____Dwarf ____Elf ____Undead (Specify) ____Other (Specify)
____Under 20 ___ 20-25 ____ 26-30 ____31-35 ____46-50 ___51-55 ____ 56-60 _____ 61-100 ____ Over 100 ____Other (specify)
 Whether or not the spouse knew the form was being filled out for them is a moot point.
 Not only because this was Lord Vetinari's wife they were deciding on, but also that it was Lord Vetinari's wife. No citizen wanted the Patrician's wrath on them should he find out they were not taking the affair, no pun intended, serious. Never mind that the surveys were anonymous; the Patrician would find out who said his wife was ---- and hunt them down.
 Or two . . . or three . . . or four . . . there was money being wagered on this, after all.
 And managed to fold the paper neatly