Strandpiel Book Two

Setting the scenes. Prologue-ish.

Now this is V0.4. Clarifying an ambiguous point. discovered bloody FF is randomly cutting large sections of text out. Restoring. Also hunting down typos and expanding/slightly changing little bits.

A continuing family saga charting the interlinked lives of family and friends on at least two continents, with a cast of characters both living and dead.

In-Universe: we pick up the unfolding tale where we left off in January of what promises to be an eventful year. Our heroine Rebecka Smith-Rhodes, Witch and recently sworn in Air Policewoman (part-time) has just arrived in Rimwards Howondaland to take up gainful employment there, and to give her Other Country a go, at the invitation of Aunt Mariella.

Her younger sister Famke is in the second year of her education at the Assassins' Guild School and is being Monitored by teachers who realise she has Exceptional Ability. With all that entails.

Youngest sister Ruth is Experimenting and Devising with the aid of tiny helpers. People are beginning to remark that this Girl Is A Genius when it comes to Devising things and that she has some sort of a Spark for this.

Their parents, semi-retired Assassin Dame Johanna Smith-Rhodes and Professor Sir Ponder Stibbons, (Vice-Chancellor of Unseen University), had the uneasy realisation some time ago that they can only just keep up. Like parents everywhere, they are making the best of things. Lady Smith-Rhodes, (daughter of a family that got lots of places in Rimwards Howondaland named after them) is resigned to the fact this is probably all you can hope for as a parent – at best, being only just ahead, or at least not so far behind three lively daughters that you can't see what's happening.

Ponder and Johanna have friends in similar adversity and, having been parents for longer, are supportive to, for instance, Captain Olga Romanoff of the Ankh-Morpork City Air Watch, who got an instant family in the form of twins. Olga and her husband are able to commute – necessarily - between three different places on the Disc. Their children now have a lot of frequent flyer miles and are growing up trilingual.(1)

Another young mother needing sympathetic friends is Ruth N'Kweze, a young wife and mother who is just about to inherit the family business. She has a brother who is intent on challenging the will.

And around the Disc, Witches are getting on with things and doing the job that is in front of them. In for instance Lancre, the Chalk, Ankh-Morpork, the Vulga Steppes, and now in Howondaland. Where the practice of Witchcraft is either flat-out illegal (for both black and white people) or else very heavily supressed. Now read on.

Okay, that's the Catch-Up In-Universe.

In the real world, since setting Book One to bed some time ago, I've since completed a cycle of Air Watch tales, The Price of Flight. Well, I say "completed" – the two main story arcs are both completed. There will be more standalone or short tales to come which will be wrapped up as single or double chapter stories.

Anyway. The second main story arc of TPOF involved a confrontation with Klatch that got to the brink of a world war: the Syrittan Flying Sheep Crisis. I realised from context this story would be contemporarious with the ongoing tale of Strandpiel as it occurs about six months further on from where Strandpiel left off – Bekki flies to Howondaland in December. The not-a-war with Klatch occurs in June-July.

I see Bekki's contracted two-days-out-of-eight with the Air Watch and Pegasus Service honing her skills in both police work and Pegasus flying. These will also incorporate conversion courses and advanced training in various kinds of flying vehicles used by the Air Watch. When the clash with Klatch occurs (as described in TPOF) it will be referenced here with maybe a bit of additional detail added, but will be incidental to this instance, little glimpses of the Air Watch refining and honing its more specialised skills, to be brought out only if needed, and how it (unwittingly) prepares for a near-war later in the year.

From Bekki's point of view, bigger things still will be happening in August-September-October.

For now, read on.

The Assassins' Guild School, Ankh-Morpork, a Saturday morning in January.

Saturday mornings, or Saturdays till one o'clock, were still School days. This was necessary to fit everything in during the week. School practice was that Saturdays were used for remedial work, if people were falling behind and needed extra classes to get up to an acceptable standard. For those who were on top of the work, this opened up Elective Courses. Subjects which while not part of the core curriculum were held to be of worth and value and served to round out a young Assassin. Additional languages, for instance, which also opened up learning about the culture and history of a particular region and people.

Mrs Heidi Smith-Rhodes taught a class in Vondalaans on a Saturday, for instance, teaching not only one of the key languages of Howondaland but also explaining about the culture and the ethos of its people. Its white people, anyway. Senior pupils who were considering a career in teaching were allowed to assist, stepped up to Teaching Assistants for the morning, getting some practical experience.(2)

It was partly to avoid this – being called on to assist in Auntie Heidi's classroom – that had led Famke Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons to look closely at what else was on offer, looking closely at the list to see what to commit to that offered an interesting class on a Saturday. There was certainly no shortage. Miss Tanner offered Crafts classes to those not on the Crafts mainstream during the week. Mum did an abbreviated version of Zoology and Animal Handling for those whose weekday timetables did not accommodate this. Music students could have extra time in the practice studios, learning new instruments. And there were languages and Cultural Studies courses which could not fit into the Monday to Friday timetable.

Famke looked closely at this list for things of interest. She saw a new course module on the list, and read

Если вас это интересует, приходите и говорите со мной. Елена Гарянова.

There was no other explanation. Nothing in Morporkian.

Famke recognised "Test". And "This teacher wants people to work it out and find her. She wants people who are motivated."

She remembered the previous summer, and watching the crazy Witches who had done that seriously cool thing with the swords at the Witch Trials. She thought of friends of her mum and her daffy big sister, like the slightly scary Olga Romanoff and the snarkier Irena Politek. Who had done that cool dance with those swords. Who wore those swords. And spoke that language.

Famke ran, or at least walked quickly, to the School Library. In the languages section, she found gaps in the shelves where what she thought the right dictionaries were, and realised, to her irritation, she wasn't the only person to have had the same idea and the same motivation.

There was a primer there, a really old book from a century or two before, but at least it had a guide that told you how to read the alphabet.

Half an hour's diligent work enabled her to transcribe

Yesli vas eto interesuyet, prikhodite i govorite so mnoy. Yelena Garyanova.

Famke frowned. Yelena Garyanova sounded like a name. The teacher? She tried to work out more, trying to cross-reference the words to the dictionary. After much head-scratching work, she got "you", "interested" and "find", which was as far as she could get.

Armed with what she'd found out, she asked her housemistress. Miss Glynnie smiled an enigmatic smile.

"Miss Garyanova is new to the School. She has been invited to work here, at least part-time, and to teach a module in Rodinian Language and Cultural Studies. I will arrange you an interview."

Famke had found herself studying Rodinian Language and Culture on a Saturday morning, alongside eighteen interested pupils of all ages.

"It appears my people and lands are becoming of greater interest in the wider world." her teacher had said, on that first Saturday. "It is said that if a culture and a people become of interest to the Guild of Assassins, then we are becoming politically significant. Well, whatever is reason, I am here to teach you about such things. Добро пожаловать в мой Школьный класс. Welcome to my classroom."

Her accent had the same spikiness as Olga or Irena and the occasional missed article or verb, but it was not that unpleasant. The first lesson had been getting properly to grips with the alphabet, followed by drilling in the essential stock phrases like "please" and "thank you", and it had been a pleasant undemanding start. Famke had noted, to her satisfaction, that her teacher wore swords. A long and a short one, on opposite sides. She wondered when she'd learn more about them.

Spa Lane, Ankh-Morpork

Ruth Smith-Rhodes Stibbons picked up The Guitar and weighed it thoughtfully. It was big. It was heavy. By rights it should not work. It had been designed for show, for look, for a sort of glamour, its solid body shaped into attractive curves and contours and then painted, polished and varnished. The original strings had not even been strings, they had just been lengths of variably thick wire mounted to look the part. There were no working tuning keys on the headstock, another technical problem she had needed to sort out in a workshop rebuild when she had installed proper strings, and performed the other necessary modifications to make the idea work.

Mr Wheeldown had given her this guitar as a "thank-you" for her work on the Bass Guitar, which were now selling in appreciable numbers. He would be very surprised indeed to know she was actually making it work.

Ruth hefted it by the wearing strap, thoughtfully. She had got around the issue of the sheer weight of the thing, hard for a girl of nearly ten to carry, by adding a broad fabric strap, secured at base and fingerboard, which distributed the mass far more evenly over her shoulders and her back.

She frowned and selected an imp.

"Ritchie? Your go first? You can have next go, Jimmy."

The selected Imp grinned up at her and hopped into the operating position, just behind and above the strings, that she'd carefully fret-sawed into the body of the Guitar. There was even a compact megaphone built in there, just in front of the imp's seat. She smiled as Ritchie strapped himself into his seat.

Ruth settled the strap about her shoulders, then did the last necessary thing before she started playing. She opened the hat-box. The guitar gently thrummed, with Ritchie sounding the notes back as he had been taught to. Her audience of Imps and Goblins looked on, expectantly, as she brought out the shimmering, almost glowing, orange-red mass.

With care and critical observation of herself in the mirror she had brought down to the music studio, Ruth Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons put on and adjusted the long red wig. Agnes Nitt had obtained it for her from the wardrobe of the Opera House. It was real human hair. The Opera House did not buy cheap theatrical props. (3)

Something intangible in the air changed. Imps and Goblins looked on even more expectantly as the slightly built girl with what was now long red hair stood up straighter, with definite purpose and a sudden attitude that had not been there before.

Anri-Yolande Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons grinned at the music studio. The red hair that Perdita had persuaded Agnes to provide was the final touch. She was now truly, definitively, a Smith-Rhodes sister, like Famke and Bekki. The dark-brown-haired Ruth had fretted about this, about being an oddity, the one who did not fit, in a family of confident red-haired women who knew what to do and how to make things happen their way. Oh, it was conditional, she knew. Perdita had explained it to her. The price of being Perdita X. Nitt was that you had to stop being Perdita X. Nitt, and let Agnes Nitt take over again. When it's over, you let Ruth back. When you take the wig off. It has to be give and take between your two selves. Trust me. I've been doing this a long time.

"Music with rocks in!" Anri-Yolande breathed. She moved her fingers on the frets. A sound emerged.

Dum-dum-dum, dum-der-der-dum…

It was loud. It was primal. It resonated. It was right.

Anri-Yolande grinned. An image of smoke and fire reflecting on water rose in her mind.

"Okay, guys. I want everything louder than everything else!" (4) she said. She carried on playing. Inside her, a little inner voice that was partly Anri-Yolande and mainly Ruth wondered what was going to happen, when Mummy and Daddy saw her in the wig. Perdita had said she'd get Agnes to square it with your mum, don't worry. Agnes thinks it might work to get you and Ruth integrated, or something.

For now, it was music. The inner Ruth thrilled to the sound of the Guitar, which was right, exactly how she'd heard the sound in dreams, and exactly how it should sound, everything she wanted it to be and thought it would be with the changes. The Implifier, the amplifying imp, was the breakthrough.

Inside, Ruth planned out how a bass guitar, keyboards and drums could build around this. She sighed. Famke was at the School most of the week. Bekki was only here two days a week. And there were still only three of them. And four instrumental parts. Is there a way to record sound? So I can play all the parts myself, record them, then play them back at the same time and record them all together that way? Mix the four recordings?

She looked across the studio at the latest acquisition. Hanging hollow metal pipes. You play them with padded hammers. Agatean word for them. Sort of… Anri-Yolande/Ruth frowned. Tubular bells.

Elsewhere in the house, Doctor Johanna Smith-Rhodes looked up from the School work she was marking, and frowned. Underneath her feet, she felt the dull throbbing vibrations of something that was marking out a recognisably musical theme, and wondered if the soundproofing in the music studio was up to its job. As she couldn't physically hear any music, she concluded it was. Then she wondered what the heck her youngest daughter was up to this time and speculated on whether it required any parental intervention.

She also considered asking her Guild colleague Ethylene Glynnie over for dinner, ideally at a time when Ruth was active in the music studio. Evvie taught music. She was also completely stone-deaf. This did not, in any way at all, hamper Evvie's talent for music. She replaced conventional hearing with a new sense all of her own; vibration.

Vibration was everywhere, Evvie said. Most people are unaware of it or just take it as background noise, because they can hear. In fact, medicine speculates that hearing is a specialised function of being aware of vibration. Because I was born without the ability to hear, I have to make sensitivity to vibration take its place.

Ethylene Glynnie taught percussion. The fact Famke was one of her pupils and needed somewhere to practice out of school had been an imperative consideration in building the heavily soundproofed music studio in the old mews stable. Famke's default position on drums was play it loud.

Johanna sighed, and put up with it; it wasn't that intrusive. She'd probably find out later what it was about; Ruth didn't like to show off her Art until it was finished, and at that point there were no secrets between mother and daughter. If it wasn't dangerous, it could wait. Best way.

She considered the other thing.

Evvie Glynnie was Famke's Housemistress. She had tipped off Johanna in the staffroom that Famke had signed up for the elective Saturday morning course in Rodinian Studies. As Housemistress, Evvie had given approval.

"Miss Garyanova was quite impressed." Evvie had said. "She made her course information deliberately cryptic when the Rodinian teaching module was first advertised. I understand she wanted people with the intellectual curiosity to wonder what it was about, followed by the ability to decipher just enough of the text to find out who to ask, as a safeguard that she would be getting motivated students who would not drop out after the first few weeks. Famke was one of the first."

"Heven't met her yet." Johanna said, thoughtfully. "She is only pert-time?"

"To begin with." Evvie replied. "Lady T'Malia and Dame Joan find her quite impressive. They see an expanded role for her, if she fits in. She has a solid history as a private governess for daughters of the nobility, followed by time spent as a residential teacher in finishing schools for girls. I believe Gillian Stitched-Lansbury has the same teaching background."

And she worked out very well." Johanna agreed. "So they're looking for a new resident Housemistress, ultimately."

Ethylene Glynnie nodded. There was a whisper that Alice Band, who had spent over two decades as a resident Housemistress, was considering retiring from the role. In which case, Tump House would need a successor. Easing a new person in now would make sense.

"Johanna, I'm still trying to work out Famke's motives for doing the Rodinian course." Evvie remarked. "I know she finds it genuinely interesting. And with Famke, that means she will give a topic her complete and full attention. But there's something else there."

Johanna thought for a moment.

"Is Miss Garianova a Cossack in any way at all?" she asked.

Ethylene considered this, then smiled slightly.

"She wears the swords, yes." she replied. "It was another deciding factor in employing her, despite the fact she isn't even an associate Guild Member. Yet. The two Cossack swords count as culturally approved weapons. Therefore she has a right to wear them to classes. When time allows, she will be asked to perform a capability assessment with Emmanuelle. I believe she is also required to take the evening course, and become an Associate Member."

Johanna taught on the Associate Member Course. She smiled.

"So I will see her on Thursday evening, then. A new cless. Who I have to lecture in the velues end the ethos of the Guild. Whet it means to be a Guild member."

"You can warn her about Famke's fascination with weapons." Evvie said. "Although I suspect Yelena may already have worked it out."

"I will see Olga Romanoff later today." Johanna said. "She knows every Rodinian in town. And if she doesn't, Irena Politek or Nadezhda Popova will."

"There's another angle of approach." Evvie said, thoughtfully. "Ask Olga or Irena to speak to Famke about her interest in their people and culture. Both are policewomen. They are good at getting information from a suspect."

Bitterfontein, the Turnwise Caarp, Rimwards Howondaland

Bitterfontein was called a city, possibly out of courtesy, to fit local interpretations of what qualified as a city, and to meet pragmatic needs, such as providing a defined centre for local commerce and regional administration. All the concerned Bureaus of State had local sub-bureaux here. Internal Affairs, for instance, had a regional office that performed necessary duties such as the administration and monitoring of the native townships that, like a rash, ringed the whites-only permanent city. There was a market hall and Free Trade Centre that brokered sales and bartering of produce for a mainly agricultural economy. Fort Rust, named after an (unofficial) National Hero, provided the local military barracks and training centre. It was out on an edge of town, which somehow failed to have any native townships encroaching on it. There was the Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd sports arena and playing fields, a recreation area which again was strictly white people only. The Town Hall was the centre of local administration.

Aunt Mariella had also pointed out the local Watch barracks, which was not only the police force (Internal Security came under the remit of the Bureau of Internal Affairs) but also of the Bureau of State Security. The spill-words had been very clear, as her aunt took her on the tour.

Avoid BOSS. I consider them to be rats, rodents and slimy crawling goggas.

Rebecka Smith-Rhodes took in the town that was going to become her home. It had the usual run of shops and stores and trades. There was a small theatre and a local history museum. The residential streets were in one side of town laid out in an ordered and austerely cheerful grid pattern inherited from the long-ago Sto Kerrigians who had emigrated here from the central continent. There was a large central Kerk and several smaller chapels. This was familiar. Piemburg was set out like this, the family home town on the other side of the country on the Border, followed the same ordered Sto Kerrigian pattern. They moved through a couple of streets where identity was a little mixed and confused, and then came out into the other residential half of the City, which had a slightly less orderly and more random Ankh-Morporkian-ness to it. It was as if a moderately affluent district, like the nicer part of Dolly Sisters, had been replanted here, and given more space with bigger gardens and the sort of plants that did not flourish in Ankh-Morpork. Road signs stopped being in Vondalaans and became Morporkian. At best, Elmstraat appeared in Vondalaans, in far smaller letters, underneath the Morporkian ELM STREET.

Walking on, she noted SHORT STREET in big letters followed by a far smaller Kortstraat. Then there was KING'S WAY followed by KoningsWeg.

Aunt Mariella shrugged.

"Emigrants from Ankh-Morpork." she explained. "No imagination. They had to call the streets something, and they'd all come from a place with ready-made names."

Bekki got the idea. Aunt Mariella had explained about the ethnic mix here; half-and-half Vondalaander and Morporkian. Half the people spoke Vondalaans. The other half spoke Morporkian. They'd had to come to terms with each other in the century since the War of Independence. The War was still the hermit elephant in the living room for a lot of people round here.

Mariella led Bekki back into the town square. Progress had been halted by the people they'd met, who'd all wished a good morning to Mevrou Mariella, Mrs Lensen, or else to Mrs Smith-Rhodes-Lensen, depending on first language and how familiar they were with her. Bekki, introduced as the Healthcare Practitioner who was soon to start work on the Lensen plaas, was accepted, by association to her aunt. People remarked on their having the same red hair and general look about them.

"Makes things easier." Mariella remarked. "The Vondalaanders accept you because you speak Vondalaans. The Porkkies accept you because you speak Morporkian with an Ankh-Morporkian accent. Did you notice Mrs Dexter talked about her mother with the bad knee? And Mr van Stoffeerden said he was worried about Mrs van Stoffeerden's bad shoulder? Could be your Steading now has a couple of patients for you to visit."

Aunt Mariella then prompted her to describe what she saw.

Bekki looked round and took in the town square. Well, more of an irregular three-sided town triangle, really. On one side, the Town Hall and Civic Offices. Shops and stores on the other, and a big Kerk. The library, theatre and museum on the third. The civic square, well, triangle, really, just sparse well-beaten earth with a despairing looking attempt to grow grass. A statue at each of the three points.

"Can you tell who the statues are of?" Mariella prompted her. Bekki frowned. From this distance, there was a familiarity about two of them…

"Let's teach you something about Bitterfontein." Aunt Mariella said. "Something important."

They went over to the first statue together, an imposing statue of a pompous-looking General riding a horse and pointing a sword at something in the distance. Bekki frowned and realised why it was so familiar. It was a copy of a civic statue in Ankh-Morpork, nearby to Tenth Egg Street and Mrs Proust's Boffo shop. In the square at Losing Place. (5)

Bekki looked sharply at her aunt.

"Lord Rust? Here?" she asked, incredulous.

Mariella patted her shoulder.

"Fifty percent Morporkian in this town." she reminded her. "As far as they're concerned, he's a hero. And the local Army base is called Fort Rust."

Bekki studied the horse.

"One leg raised." she remarked. "Means he died of wounds, or something?"

"Ja." Aunt Mariella replied. "Battle of Bitterfontein. Which was a complete waste of everybody's time. Lord Rust led the Ankh-Morporkian Army here. He was determined to teach those dratted smelly Boors a lesson, and razed the town to the ground. Only he burned down the Morporkian half. Didn't stop to ask who was who and whose side they were on, and burnt or blew up the wrong side of town. But they don't hold it against him. Demonstrates how firm-but-fair Ankh-Morpork was with the rebels, they say. See where his sword's pointing?"

They walked over to the next statue. It was another general on a horse, This time on a horse with all four hooves planted firmly on the plinth. His sword was pointed directly at the statue of Lord Rust.

"Generaal Crontjie." Mariella said. "While Rust was ordering his troops to burn the town down, he counter-attacked from the other side with a Boer army. And in so doing, he managed to burn down the Vondalaander half of the town. Collateral damage. We Boers don't hold it against him either, and we paid for the statue."

Aunt and niece stood in silence together, contemplating the boundless depths of human stupidity, the two bronze Generals frozen in mid-charge at each other. Bekki got that this was symbolic of something about Rimwards Howondaland.

"The only things left standing were the Town Hall and the civic buildings and Kerk. Everything else had to be rebuilt." Mariella said. "After that, a kind of agreement. We might hate each other, Boer and Porkkie, but we can't afford another Civil War. We hate each other, but after the War, we helped each other rebuild." Aunt Mariella said. "Best enemies." She paused, then grinned.

"And over here. The third statue."

It was a simple statue of a standing man, with no horse. But somehow this seemed more significant than either of the Generals. Bekki looked up, read the plinth, looked up again and said

"You have got to be joking…"

Aunt Mariella shook her head.

"I thought so too, meisie. Then when Rivka and I came into this country, and crossed it from Hubwards to the Rim.(6) I was surprised. And embarrassed. They are everywhere in this country. Like a rash."

Bekki read the plinth again. The legend was in Morporkian only. It read


The Father of modern Howondaland.

The man on the plinth had a distinct family resemblance.

"Aunt Mariella? Whose side was he on in the War of Independence?"

Her aunt smiled, humourlessly.

"His own, of course. He made certain to get a lot of the reconstruction contracts after the war. You know, to rebuild places like this that were by then rubble and ashes. Therefore, civic statue to the Hero of the New Nation. Shall we walk on?"

Above Ankh-Morpork

-Red Star Control to Syren. Where the Hells are you, Syren? Over.

Olga Romanoff sighed. The brand-new communicators had their advantages and were remarkably efficient for monitoring and directing people. You couldn't fault them. They would certainly make so many things in the Air Watch that much more efficient. But you had to be so much ore efficient and on-the-ball. And it certainly meant you could be caught out in moments when the pure joy of flight took over and you wanted to fly. No reason, nothing you could justify as Watch business, just pure unashamed joyous flight.

She fumbled for the Transmit setting.

"Syren calling Red Star Control. Presuming you meant "report your current height and position". In that case I am at angels nine, possibly ten, over the Estuary. Over."

-Red Star Control to Syren. What the Hells are you doing so high, Syren? You couldn't spot a mountain from up there. Over.

"Syren to Red Star Control. Reminding you that my mission is to identify the Klatchian warship Shaytan-Al- Bair and shadow it into Ankh-Morporkian waters. Easier to spot these things from way up. A fast-moving ship leaves a long wake, and it's a nice day today. Little cloud and a calm sea. When I pick up a wake I'll go low for a positive ID. Over."

-Red Star Control to Syren. I'll believe you, Olga, thousands wouldn't. You just wanted to go high and have a joyride, didn't you? Remember standing orders – let the Klatchians know you're there and watching, and see they dock as agreed for the goodwill visit. If possible, alert our own Navy as to location and direction. Over.

Olga gritted her teeth. Irena was right. And she was one of three or four Air Watch pilots who'd earned the right to talk to her like that. Even so, there was a need to keep Comms transmissions slow and to the point. To eliminate chatter, even between old friends.

She made a routine look behind her, partly out of the ingrained instinct to look for other air users, but mainly to be sure higher-than-usual altitude in January wasn't causing the bristles to ice up. That could really short the magical flux and cause problems. Even if it was one of those remarkably pleasant sunny days you got in January where the temptation, in a cloudless sky, was to go high, just for the view.

She angled the nose down and headed out to sea. It was also getting cold up here. That was a consideration too.

After a while she picked up the white streak on the sea that said "large ship" and went to intercept. Just another day in the Air Watch.

The Assassins' Guild, Ankh-Morpork.

Miss Sisimina N'Kima (Licenced and Articled Assassin, Tump House) concluded her report to the Dark Council. The most senior Assassins on the Disc heard her out gravely and then began to ask questions.

She discussed the recent fight with the Naga, the terrible were-cobra sent by Muntab to attempt to kill the Queen-Regent-Elect. She was frank about the Zulu Empire's response, which had been to insinuate were-creatures of its own, were-leopards, into Muntab, to mount a reprisal attack on the Theocrat. That had been the tricky one; they had not used Assassins.

"It was necessary, my Lord." Sissi said. "The Paramount King wanted a fast telling response that would deter his more headstrong sons from renewing open war with Muntab. Also, it was the Queen-Regent-Elect's idea. By using the Leopard Society, she gave them glory and now has their favour. The earlier matter where she was responsible for slaying Leopard Society members in Ankh-Morpork(7) is now forgiven by them. Or at least, set aside. They believe the Queen may provide more opportunities for the Society to prove its worth, and in the coming strife, they are more likely to follow her than her brother."

"But there will be coming strife, Miss N'Kima?" Lord Downey asked.

"Almost certainly, sir." Sissi said, honestly. "Prince Simbothwe wants the throne. Princess Ruth, the Queen-Regent-Elect, stands in his way. He is raising an army. He intends to provoke the White Howondalandians into battle. He wants them to cross into the Empire so he can then fight them and demonstrate he is the true King, not a mere woman, by fighting a threat to our Nation. Ruth intends to stop him doing this. She is prepared to place an army between him and White Howondaland to prevent all-out war. There will be a battle. But between Zulu armies."

"A mere woman, he believes. But one trained by the Guild of Assassins." Lord Downey remarked. "Who is prepared, on the face of it, to use her army to defend White Howondaland against other Zulus."

"It sounds strange when you look at it like that, sir." Sissi said. "And there's no denying Ruth will be protecting our worst enemy. But her motivation is to prevent a major war from happening. Giving the Whites no cause for retaliation and no reason for war. Which means she can sort her brother out – conclusively – without being attacked by the whites at the same time. She's looking for just one conclusive set-piece battle to decide the succession definitively. That's if she can't resolve things some other way. She argues a one-battle Civil War is all it needs, if you're doing it properly."

"Such a good pupil." Lady T'Malia said, approvingly. "I knew time spent in my classes would not be wasted for Ruth."

She smiled benevolently at Sissi.

"Miss N'Kima, I understand you are here for remedial surgery on your injured neck and back, which Matron Igorina is prepared to deliver." she said. "I understand this will detain you here for some months. I also understand you are a close confidant to the Queen-Regent-Elect, and you are important in her council. And that a role in Government awaits you, if and when she becomes undisputed Queen."

"That is so, My Lady." Sissi said.

Lady T'Malia took a deep breath.

"I regret you were overlooked as a pupil." She said. "Places on my advanced courses in government and political strategy are strictly restricted. Priority is given to those pupils who are thought highly likely to end up in senior roles governing whole nations, or those who will rise high in administration. When you were a pupil here, you were not even considered. No offence, of course."

"I am a commoner, My Lady. No royal or noble blood. Therefore - none taken." Sissi said, equitably.

Lady T'Malia smiled back.

"But now you are here. And you will have a place in the higher levels of government in the Zulu Empire. You already advise a Queen. And well, too. Would you consider attending my classes while you are here, my dear? I'd feel honoured to have you."

"I should be pleased, My Lady." Sissi replied.

Not sure if there are other key characters who need establishing scenes here at the start of Book Two, there probably are, But this should get the ball rolling and prepare the ground!

More soon!

(1) The kids are trilingual. Their parents, however, are each only bilingual. Olga's Vondalaans is as good as Eddie's Rodinian. Valla and Vaska therefore speak better Vondalaans than their mother and better Rodinian than their father. Olga and Eddie were moved to joke about their courtship and marriage being conducted, necessarily, in Morporkian, not the first language for either. Although each was learning the other's first language, it was a slow and tortuous process for both. Olga was also grappling with the heavy prompts from her parents that her children also needed to be fluent in a fourth language, Quirmian. They were Nobility, her father had said. Therefore they learn the court language of Rodinian nobles. Which is Quirmian. See to it, Olga Anastacia. Her friend Comptesse Emanuelle les Deux-Epées was sympathetic, and helping here.

(2) Heidi had pointed out to senior girls that training as a teacher, becoming responsible for the education of Rimwards Howondalandian children, was seen as an acceptable way to defer National Service in the military and could be viewed as National Service in its own right. She'd heard this had been forced on the Government, as the nation was short of young teachers. So what if I get you into a TA sash, Miss van Steenhuisen, and you build a bit of experience now?

(3) Agnes had worn it herself when Light Opera duty meant she had to sing the part of Assassin and Adventuress Mariella Smith-Rhodes. (see Gap Year Adventures and Strandpiel Book One. As it was now on the head of Mariella's niece, it is possible something of the aunt had settled on the niece, in a roundabout inducted-magic sort of way.

(4) A real quote and the origin of Spinal Tap's "Up To Eleven" scene. The words of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, then the very loudest thing in rock, lamenting that the amps only went up to ten. He really said that.

(5) The original statue in Losing Place was the one she, Mrs Proust, magicked into an impromptu bronze golem in I Shall Wear Midnight. So as to effect her escape from a mob of would-be witch-hunters. (Tiffany Aching found a different escape route involving Eskarina Smith).

(6) Go to my tale Gap Year Adventures.

(7) go to my tale Whys and Weres.