** Finally got around to fixing the old formatting on this. Should make the reading easier on everyone. Disclaimers: Pratchett owns DW. This is the first story in a series featuring Hanna the seamstress. Enjoy!
Mrs. Rosemary Palm passed the paper back across the table.
"Foolish, Hanna. And maybe illegal."
"There are no names, ma'am."
"A list of the guilds and embassies is bad enough." Mrs. Palm pointed. "What are the stars?"
"Guild presidents, ambassadors, noblemen above a certain rank…"
Mrs. Palm had invited herself to the fire-lit parlour of Hanna's house to give some last minute coaching before the rigours of the evening began. She headed the Guild of Seamstresses, the only guild in the city of Ankh-Morpork to name itself after a euphemism. A seamstress had little to do with needles unless the client requested it, and thread was only a small part of what a seamstress would not be wearing if she did her job right. The guild had 30,000 members in a city of a million souls. Membership numbers meant influence, and influence made Mrs. Palm a woman to be reckoned with.
"The guild forbids ladies to keep client lists, Hanna," she said.
"Lists of names, ma'am. I have the by-laws here."
"I know the by-laws. I wrote them. This," She indicated the paper that Hanna now held in her hand, "straddles the line and you know it. Why do you keep it?"
"Years of work have paid off, ma'am. I can see it here, all in one place. All of the major guilds, noblemen, diplomats. I wouldn't have showed it to you at all except…I thought you'd be proud."
Mrs. Palm softened a little at the look on Hanna's face. It was a look of pride, not arrogance. Simple pride in a job well done. Mrs. Palm appreciated hard workers with a sense of achievement. She wished all of the seamstresses were like that. Alas, some were meant only to walk the streets, and some were like Hanna, who'd left the streets behind and excelled beyond all expectation.
Of course, Mrs. Palm was aware that Hanna showing her the list -- tonight of all nights -- was a subtle message: I'm a professional. Don't worry.
"I am proud, Hanna," she said. "But you must be sensible. The list smacks of a violation of confidentiality. That is the first sin of the guild. Destroy it."
Without a word, Hanna went to the fireplace. She moved with a relaxed eroticism that had helped her rise to the attention of so many prominent men. The clientele had circulated a saying about her: Her face wouldn't launch a thousand ships but the easy going swing of her hips would start each and every one of the engines.
The mantelpiece contained a clock flanked by two glass vases, one full of tiny paper butterflies, the other with swans. Hanna dropped the client list into the flames and returned to the table. When she uncorked a pottery pitcher, her sitting room smelled instantly of cinnamon and nutmeg. She poured two glasses of spiced wine. Mrs. Palm took them both and set them at her elbow.
"No alcohol for you," she said. "Not tonight. You have work to do."
"Not even a bit of hot wine? It's Hogswatch."
"The Client will know it. He has nothing against alcohol, he simply wants his Chosen Ladies to be extremely…aware." Mrs. Palm selected a cup and blew on the steam. "I have already made it clear to you the importance of tonight. I want none of your mischief…" She glared over the cup. "…like with that Borogravian baron last week."
"He liked my jokes."
"This Client won't. He has an idiosyncratic sense of humour. I don't think the standard double entendre will amuse him."
"Why won't you tell me who he is, then? I can plan my tactics better."
"He prefers anonymity."
"It's ridiculous. Rumour has it he's--"
Mrs. Palm held up a hand. "He so loves the element of surprise." She smiled a little. "For other people, anyway. And you know better than to repeat rumours."
There was a small sewing basket full of scrap paper at the foot of Hanna's chair. She fetched a piece and began folding it.
"What kind of service does he expect, ma'am? Surely you can tell me that."
"You'll find out soon enough. It changes every year." Mrs. Palm watched Hanna's fingers work with the paper. "In the early years, he talked the whole night."
"How normal. Most of my clients talk and talk." The paper changed shape in Hanna's fingers. "About themselves, of course. Or work. Or they complain about the ruined state of affairs. How terrible the Patrician is…"
"Tonight's Client will not be like the others, Hanna," Mrs. Palm said sharply.
"Why not? Whoever he is, he's only a man. Unless he's a dwarf." Hanna laughed. "Or a troll."
"That attitude will bring you difficulties, believe me." Mrs. Palm shook her head. "Listen, be prepared for a lot of questions. He will ask about anything he pleases."
"A curious one, is he?"
The scrap paper acquired two pointy ears, legs, a tail. "He likes to know things," said Mrs. Palm. "About everyone. Except that I've been told his questions can become very probing. Some of the Chosen Ladies from previous years came back quite distressed. They wouldn't say what he asked."
Hanna smiled and held up a paper cat in the palm of her hand. "I can be curious too."
"Don't be foolish. Do not pull any of your usual antics. The Client is not like the others. If anything goes wrong tonight – absolutely anything -- I will be more than displeased."
The clock on the mantel chimed nine times. Mrs. Palm and Hanna sat and listened until the sound died away. After the last chime, they heard the sound of carriage wheels halt in the snow outside. They went to the window and looked down upon a coach that had a perfect black sheen. It looked like a funeral carriage. The driver did not look up at them.
"Well, then," said Mrs. Palm.
Hanna pulled on her boots and fetched a bundle that contained some of the tools of her trade. She shoved it into the wide pocket of her coat. Mrs. Palm hovered, tucking up a loose piece of Hanna's hair, fluffing the sleeves of her gown.
"Nervous?" she asked.
"Not at all, ma'am."
"You're lying." Mrs. Palm gazed at her approvingly from arm's length. "There's no need to worry about the rumours. No lady has ever come back with cuts and such like. The Client never passed the silk stocking phase." She helped Hanna put on her coat. "Perhaps all he'll do is ask you to eat a plate of peaches."
Hanna dropped her glove as she laughed. "He did that to someone?"
"The whole night he simply sat and watched her eat. The Lady hasn't touched a peach since."
They stepped out into the cold. Mrs. Palm stayed in the doorway of Hanna's house and watched as the driver climbed down and helped Hanna into the carriage. At the last minute, Mrs. Palm trotted into the snow and tapped on the carriage window. Hanna opened the door.
"Good luck," said Mrs. Palm.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"And for gods sakes, be good."
As the carriage rolled its way through Ankh-Morpork's snow-flushed streets, Hanna slipped a random scrap of paper from her pocket and began folding it. She worked obsessively. It wasn't long before there was a tulip, a cube and two dragon flies on the seat beside her. Mrs. Palm had demanded absolute honesty with the Client and had advised Hanna to prepare herself mentally for anything. As much as Hanna hated to admit it, that preparation had mainly involved weeks of fretting. Fretting meant folded paper. She'd filled the vase on her mantle piece at home with butterflies and tossed the extras into the coal bucket. She wasn't worried so much about the rumours of the Client's strange tastes. The secrecy bothered her. The days when she didn't know who her next client would be were long gone; she never wanted to return to them. The paper in her hand had changed into a slightly lopsided Hogswatch star. Hanna tossed it on the seat beside her and grasped another scrap of paper. She could plan her tactics if she was only sure who the Client was. Despite her little…quirks…her knack for knowing what a client wanted had got her where she was today.
Every year, Mrs. Palm put out a Ten Most Wanted list of the most sought after men in the city. The names on the list fluctuated as seamstresses, urged on by financial incentives and prestige, competed to win them as new clients.
Hanna was known as a generalist in the guild but if she had a specialty, it was the list. She'd acquired at least two new clients off of it for five years running, something no other seamstress had managed. Earlier in the year, she'd even roped the head of the city's top guild, a man who'd been #2 on the list for several years. With great satisfaction, Hanna had inked a red star on her private client list next to his guild, the Assassins.
For that achievement, Hanna had earned a place in Mrs. Palm's annual drawing for Hogswatch service. She was nominated for what in Seamstress Guild circles was called the privileged Ten, seamstresses who had performed during the year some extraordinary duty. From the Ten, one was chosen in a random drawing by the goddess Fate – patroness of the guild -- to spend Hogswatchnight with the city's most exclusive Client. There were whispers about who he was but Mrs. Palm always refused to confirm them. And the twelve Chosen Ladies from Hogswatches past were forbidden to speak under the rule of confidentiality.
Among guild members it was an honour simply to be nominated. Hanna had wondered the past few years why she'd never made it into the Ten; her client list read like a who's who of Ankh-Morpork.
What she didn't know was that Mrs. Palm had considered her too much of a risk. Hanna was good at her job, very good, but she was known for a certain amount of willfulness. It was a character trait that amused Hanna's noble clients, but which Mrs. Palm thought the Hogswatch Client would not appreciate.
Eventually, though, she bowed to the obvious. Hanna deserved to be nominated. When Fate drew her name from the crystal vase in the guild's main hall, Hanna had thought: It's about time.
The carriage slowed and Hanna wiped the window for a better look at where she was. The graffiti on the walls that surrounded Unseen University glowed with whatever magical properties the student wizards had injected into the paints. She recognized the area; as a young seamstress she'd done quite good business with the students. If only the Client was a wizard… That would be something. A pompous, well-fed wizard would be less likely to do the things Hanna had heard whispered about the Client – needles, hooks, knives. She hoped they were boogie stories, black seamstress humour to rattle her.
The university was left behind. Hanna sighed and tossed a frog onto the rest of her paper creations.
Te carriage driver finally reined up in a courtyard lit only by a single lantern that swung in the breeze from its hook over a doorway. A young man extended the carriage steps and helped Hanna onto the snowy cobbles. He had a bland, nondescript face, the kind easy to miss in a crowd and easy to forget after he was gone. There were no greetings. As the man waved for Hanna to follow him inside, she hesitated. She recognised the massive stone building, ancient, gothic, its towers dominating the city. The rumours had been right after all, she thought. She smiled to herself, and as she stepped inside the Palace of Ankh-Morpork, she coallated in her mind what she knew about the Client. Quite a lot, actually. Her regular clients had been free with their opinions of him.
It might have been a servant's entrance. The halls were of slick stone with no decoration. Hanna folded her arms to keep out the cold and followed the glow of the man's candle. They passed through a series of corridors and climbed a long, winding stairway before they reached a wallpapered hallway. The young man pointed to a brass hook that extended from the wall, and as Hanna hung up her coat, he tapped a piece of the wallpaper. A door-sized panel swung open. Hanna stepped alone into the dark room beyond.
It wasn't completely dark. The curtains on two tall windows had been pulled aside to allow the moonlight to reflect off the snowy rooftops. There was no one else in the room. The young man had silently closed the wall panel, and Hanna could no longer see where she'd come in. A trap, she imagined, as she folded her arms tightly and shivered.
"Are you cold?"
Hanna gasped and turned quickly toward the voice. It had been a soft voice with a low timbre. She saw no one.
"It's freezing in here," she said.
"Warmth gives one a false feeling of comfort while the cold keeps the mind sharp." The voice sounded like it was somewhere else now, behind her and to the left when before it had been in front. Hanna stared into the shadows until her eyes nearly watered. How could he move without being seen? Then she remembered something a client had told her about training in the Assassins School. Silent, invisible movement, he'd said, was a matter of technique. The Client had been trained by the Assassins….
Hanna smiled in the darkness. "A game of hide and seek, is it?" she said.
There was a long silence. She listened for breathing other than her own and heard none. She quite liked games. If the Client expected her to play, she would toddle right along.
She threw back her head and sang: "Come out, come out wherever you are!"
There was a low chuckle from the shadows and a swish of fabric as of crossed legs unfolding themselves. The silence came again, filling the room.
"Shall I close my eyes and count to ten?" Hanna said. She slapped a hand over her eyes. "One…two…three…"
"There's no need." And he was there, right at her ear. Hanna gasped again and tripped over the hem of her skirt as she scrambled away. The Client was a shadow in a black robe, too tall, too thin. He bowed briefly. "I do apologize if I frightened you."
With his back to the window, his face was obscure. Hanna saw only two tiny reflective lights in his eyes. She was sure he could see into the shadows, that he saw her better than she did him. She backed up another step and scolded herself for doing it.
"If I light a fire, I'll have to close the curtains," said the Client. "That would be a pity; the snowy rooftops are so cheerful, don't you think? Perhaps the only place in the city where snow remains pure." He turned to the window and Hanna saw his profile, the sharpness of his face, the knife edge nose, the thin lips which flickered into a brief smile. It was him.
"However," he said, "I would not be a gentleman if I did not give up the rooftops for a lady."
He moved quickly, closing the curtains and leaving the room in total darkness. It seemed several minutes before Hanna heard the crumble of paper, the scrape of one log against another, and the harsh rasp of a match being lit. The light formed an orange halo round the tips of the Client's fingers. He stooped before the fireplace and touched the match to the paper.
"If you could give me some assistance," he said.
Hanna reluctantly knelt beside him. He blew gently on one side of the flames; Hanna imitated him and wondered why he didn't use the bellows that she saw hanging on the wall beside them.
"There," he said finally, sitting back on his knees. "A merry fire for a merry Hogswatch, don't you think?" He got smoothly to his feet and held out a hand to help Hanna. His skin was cool and had the dryness of paper.
As the fire grew, its light revealed more details of the room. It was a relatively small sitting room with sofa, armchairs, a cabinet, sideboard and bookcase. A painting of a woman with penetrating green eyes, the goddess Fate, hung over the mantelpiece. There was only one door, at the far end of the room.
The Client stood behind an armchair, his hands folded over its curved back. "Would you like to take a seat?" There was something in his voice that told Hanna the answer could only be yes, and that the only choice was that chair. She sat. "If you paid any attention to where you were brought, you must know who I am," he said.
"I'm not as surprised as I thought I'd be, sir," she said. "There were rumours."
Lord Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, circled to the sofa. He crossed his legs and folded his hands on his knee. Hanna noticed that he moved just fine without the walking stick he normally used in public.
"So refreshing when rumours prove to be true, hmm?" he said.
"We've met before, sir. Mrs. Palm introduced us at a guild dinner some time ago. I've seen you at other social functions but I don't think we've ever really spoken."
"I believe I recall your face," said the Patrician. "Your name was… Now, let me see…"
"Mrs. Palm didn't tell you?"
"I usually ask her not to. I can't say that I delight much in surprises but," he waved a thin hand, "it is Hogswatch."
"My name is Hanna, sir."
"Ah, yes. Of course. Hanna." He pronounced the name long and leisurely as if trying it out for the first time. "You've been in the guild how long?"
"Fourteen years, sir. I joined the year you founded it."
"You can't be much over 30."
"Not much, sir."
"You were late to the profession."
"I chose it, sir. It did not choose me."
There was a long pause. The Patrician stared at Hanna so long that she shifted her gaze to the fire.
"I would be grateful if you could call me something else," he said finally.
"Pardon, your Lordship, but I thought--"
"Not that either." The Patrician sighed. "You would be amazed at how natural it is to be called these things. Sir. Your Lordship. Almost everyone does. Very few people have the confidence to call me by my name. At times, it seems I'm nothing but a title, quite nameless, like a ship that sails but was never christened. It normally doesn't bother me, of course. Without office and position, what am I?"
Hanna examined his face and was surprised to see a vague sadness there. It didn't match what she'd heard about the Patrician: Vetinari the immovable, the bloodless, the heartless. Hanna knew as well as any other seamstress with noble clients that a man's private persona was usually different than his public one. But the Patrician's wistfulness was almost too normal, too common. Mrs. Palm had said he was not like the others.
"What would you like me to call you, sir?"
"What do you think would be appropriate?"
"It would be rude to use your last name without the title, and your first name…I can't call you that. I don't know you well enough." Hanna forced a smiled. "Yet."
"No matter. I will not press the issue." His face suddenly changed, shifting from sadness to polite interest in an instant. "Tell me, do you have family?"
"I thought you knew, sir."
"Is there a reason that I should?"
"I was told it's impossible to tell you anything you don't already know." She felt another smile coming on, a genuine one. "It seems answering your questions might be a waste of my tongue."
The Patrician gave her a long, stony stare. Hanna called up her reserves of self control to keep from chuckling. She rather liked her little jokes. She had a hundred of them.
"I have a sister, sir," she continued hurriedly. "She runs a brewery in Ansbach. In the family 500 years."
"And what of your parents?"
"They died when I was young, sir."
"I was eight."
"Do you remember them?"
It occurred to Hanna what bothered her about the Patrician's gaze. He blinked so rarely. In her line of work she'd been watched, gazed at, peeped at, stared at, gawked at, leered at and looked up and down. This stare was something entirely different. It was like she'd moved through life without ever having anyone's complete attention until now. It was unsettling. She got out from under his stare by turning her eyes to the fire again.
Neither of them spoke for awhile. In Hanna's view, it was not her job to talk too much. Though amusing conversation was part of her arsenal, a seamstress was the very opposite of a gossip. A seamstress was a listener. Clients who would never trust a confidential word to their wives confided in a seamstress. They could, at least, rely on her discretion.
That's why Hanna had learned so much over the years. Her clients talked and she listened and she had formed from these competing perspectives a picture of the goings-on in the city. From whether grain prices would rise because of a bad harvest in the countryside to what had been said in a closed-door City Council meeting. She didn't use the knowledge, merely noted it with interest and kept silent. Confidentiality was the hallmark of the guild.
The Patrician's stare had barely budged in ten minutes. He suddenly blinked. "I would be obliged if you would come sit beside me, Hanna."
She moved to the sofa. As soon as she was settled, the Patrician took her hand and rested it in his. He seemed content to stay that way for awhile. It reminded Hanna of before her guild days, the touchingly amateur hand holding and sneaked kisses behind the flour barrels with the baker's son on Serendipity Street where she grew up.
"You have several paper cuts," said the Patrician.
"I work a lot with paper, sir."
"The wrong kind, apparently. I get mine from Biedermeyer on Frogcross Street, very good quality bond. Soft edges."
"Do you have any here, sir?"
The Patrician looked at her blankly, then went to rummage a bit in the cabinet. He returned with a single sheet of creamy paper. Hanna rubbed it between thumb and index finger. It was good quality, she could feel it by the grain. The Patrician watched as she ripped the sheet in four, laid a quarter on her leg and began folding. The general shape came first, a rough oval. After more creasing and tucking, other elements emerged – a long neck, the wisp of a tail. Finally, Hanna folded the edges back, revealing wings. She held up her creation in the palm of her hand.
The Patrician took the little swan between his fingers.
"A former client taught it to me, sir," said Hanna. "He filled a vase for me with a thousand tiny swans. I still have it."
The Patrician sat the swan on the mantle piece and returned to the sofa. "In a certain country I will not name, it is said that 1,000 paper swans is the offering a man must give before he may propose to a woman."
"He was quite sad when I refused him, sir."
The Patrician's face very carefully didn't move. He'd been referring to the Agatean Empire, a gold-rich land that he denied existed for fear that its gold would devalue Ankh-Morpork's more amalgamated currency. Only a handful of imperial citizens had ever visited the city. The Patrician had naturally had them watched. There had been no reports of a visit to the seamstresses…
Hanna was smiling at him, an I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know kind of smile. The Patrician rearranged his face again into its look of polite interest.
"Tell me," he said brusquely, "What do you do when you're not working?"
"I'm almost always working, sir."
"Ah, something else we have in common." He picked a piece of invisible lint off his robe and released it to the air. "Then I should say, what do you do in those few moments of spare time you may get in the course of a week? I believe that what many people do to relax you would call work."
"I like to read, sir."
"Capital. A good past time. You don't strike me as one who reads those rather shabby romantic stories the maids here pass around."
"No, sir. I like history."
"Really? That is impressive. I didn't know the guild library had history on offer."
"It doesn't, sir. I have an…arrangement with a certain gentleman who allows me to use his library." Hanna began idly folding another square of paper.
"Very practical. Work and pleasure combined. It is well known that Lord Selachii has the best library for history in the city…" The Patrician watched Hanna, who didn't glance up from her work. "…but there are surely others of quality. Perhaps you will be interested in a new history of Ankh-Morpork that will be made public next month."
"I've read it, sir."
The Patrician blinked.
"The section on Stoneface Vimes was especially interesting," said Hanna as she continued creasing the paper. "Completely different in the final version than in earlier drafts. I was happy to see the Guild of Historians has changed its views on him. Seems to me a man who chopped off the head of a mad king should have been honoured all along."
"Thank goodness history is as open to interpretation as the present," the Patrician said slowly.
"I was disappointed that you chose such a traditional design for Old Stoneface's statue," said Hanna. "I quite liked the one with him brandishing an axe in the direction of the Palace. A heroic pose, I thought."
The designs for a statue of the man who had single-handedly ended the monarchy in Ankh-Morpork had been circulated among very few people. Hanna was acquainted with several of the artists, who'd given her a look at the sketches even before the Patrician had seen them. "I heard Commander Vimes preferred the axe wielding design too," she said, smiling. "And shouldn't Old Stoneface's descendant have had the last say?"
"He did. In the end he agreed that the axe should be less conspicuous."
"That doesn't sound like him at all."
The paper in her hands had been transformed into a small, spiked crown. Hanna fit it on her thumb, then tossed it into the fire. They both watched it disintegrate into ash.
"You appear to have political views," said the Patrician.
"I don't think much about it. I usually have more important things on my mind." At the look on the Patrician's face, Hanna back-tracked a bit. "I don't mean to be provocative, sir," she said. "We're both in the same business, really."
The Patrician's face twitched into a smile. "There are a few minor differences…"
"Fewer than people think."
"You do mean to be provocative, Hanna." He shook his head and made tsk, tsk sounds. Hanna smiled.
"All right, maybe a little. But we're both in the business of making people's lives easier. Some people's anyway. I've worked for years at it, just as you have. I wouldn't compare your achievements to mine, of course, but I am…proud that I've been able to achieve what I have. I could be brewing beer in Ansbach like my sister, but instead I'm here." She waved an arm. "The section of the public I serve is more limited than yours, but it's just as important to me. I'd never give up my clients for an administrative post at the guild or an exclusive contract with a single client. I've worked far too long."
The Patrician stood up abruptly and paced in front of the fire, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Tell me, Hanna, why do you think I founded the Guild of Seamstresses?"
"Because Mrs. Palm is your friend."
He stopped. "No, she is not. She is an ally. In my position, I can't afford to cultivate friends. Everyone, without exception, must be categorized as ally, enemy or neutral party. Incidentally, no one is ever really neutral. The categories change at quite an alarming rate. It is half my job to keep up with the shifts." He looked down at Hanna. "Which category do you belong to?"
She didn't even have to think about it. "I'm your friend, sir. For tonight only, if you wish me to be."
Slowly, the Patrician smiled. "You're quite a bit quicker at these things than some of your colleagues."
"Thank you, sir."
"Please come with me."