She opened her eyes because he was shaking her.

            The Patrician was fully clothed, his hair smoothed down, looking ready, on the whole, for a normal day's work.

            Hanna stretched. "Dawn already?"

            "In half an hour. There is breakfast in the sitting room."

            She sighed as she pulled herself slowly out of bed. She stumbled around looking for her clothing and found her chemise rumpled on the floor. The Patrician had her gown over his arm.

            When she re-emerged clean and clothed, her hair tamed by a brush she'd discovered in the bathroom, she found the Patrician in the sitting room at a small table set up in front of the windows. The curtains were pulled back, showing the twilight color of the sky, the grayish blue that could have been either the moment before dawn or nightfall. Breads, cheeses, sausage and fruit were laid out on the table. Hanna drifted toward the smell of coffee and they breakfasted together in silence. The Patrician ate very little, only a bit of bread and cheese, but he emptied coffee cups like nothing Hanna had ever seen. No wonder he was famous for functioning on so little sleep.

            She looked at him over the edge of her cup.

            "Did you know that you snore?" she said.

            "You must be mistaken." The Patrician poured a refill.

            "I heard you."

            "I do not snore."

            "You're so sure?"


            "You've heard yourself?"

            The Patrician set down his cup. "Someone would have told me."

            "Someone's trying to." Hanna bit the edge of her cup and acknowledged defeat in her attempt at levity.

            The Patrician dabbed his mouth with a napkin and then simply sat, his back straight in the chair, his hands in his lap. To Hanna, his face was alarmingly neutral, the expression so bland that she couldn't tell if he was tired or annoyed or simply distracted, his thoughts elsewhere. She didn't need his face to sense that there was nothing left of the intimacy from the night before. She sighed. It was often like this. Best to make a quick exit.

            She went in search of her boots and found them under the bed. When she returned to the sitting room, she was patting at her pockets.

            "Have you seen my guild card, sir?" she said.

            "I threw it into the fire last night."

            "They charge fifty dollars for a replacement," she said, glaring.

            "That's nothing you have to worry about."

            "It'll take two weeks. I'll be out of work until then."

            The Patrician smiled. It was the most unsettling smile Hanna had ever seen. Combined with the Patrician's eyes, that smile slowly dragged her back to her chair at the breakfast table. She sat again, her fingers wrapped tightly around the seat.

            "You intended to burn it," she said softly.

            "I do nothing without cause, Hanna."

            The Patrician unfolded a paper from his pocket. "I would like to read something to you." He paused a moment. "In the second place, any seamstress who attempts, successfully or unsuccessfully, to extort, blackmail, deceive or otherwise levy inappropriate pressure on a client in the form of services in exchange for information, influence or some other gain for her own profit outside her normal duties, will be penalized under paragraph 23b depending on the severity of the offence." He set the paper on the table. "From the by-laws of the Seamstresses Guild, as you know."

            Hanna stared at the paper with rising dread.

            The Patrician pressed his fingers together. "Last night, you had the…audacity…to blackmail me. Perhaps extortion is a better word. The crimes share so many qualities." The tips of his fingers tapped his lips. "What you did could quite comfortably be considered..." He glanced back at the paper. "...inappropriate pressure. I am normally a tolerant man. But your actions were unpardonable to me personally and as the Patrician. It also happens that they were a violation of guild policy." He held up his hands as if offering two choices. "I believe the guild punishment will be much less severe than mine."

            Hanna was barely listening anymore. She was thinking about the night before. Sexual pressure was forbidden, second rule of the guild. Apprentices knew it. She knew it, but she'd spent a good deal of time bending guild rules – bending, not breaking, like with her private client list – that perhaps, she thought, she was beginning to lose sight of the boundaries. She looked at the Patrician, whose face was grim. He had warned her, hadn't he? Had mentioned blackmail last night. But something bothered her about that, something beyond just the trouble she was in. She couldn't put her finger on it.

            "I didn't think I had a choice, sir," she said quietly.

            "That kind of thing is said quite often when I judge criminal cases," said the Patrician. "Of course you had a choice. When before Mrs. Palm might have expelled you, now she certainly will." The Patrician went to the window and looked out, his hands clasped behind him. "I'm afraid I must inform Mrs. Palm of that necessity. Nothing permanent. I will suggest, perhaps, three years."

            "Three years?" Hanna's chair hit the floor as she got to her feet.

            The Patrician continued to speak to the sunrise outside the window. "The punishment may sound harsh but the crime was blackmail of the Patrician. I should think if left on her own, Mrs. Palm would expel you permanently."

            "It will ruin me!" Hanna said. "I'll lose every client I have. I've worked years to build them up; it took years to get clients from every major guild, the noble families, the diplomats, the..." She stopped. The Patrician hadn't moved from his vigil at the window, but the suspicion that had taken root earlier in Hanna's mind was growing like milkweed. Clients from every major guild, she'd said. The noble families. Diplomats. Important people, yes, but more importantly, people in the know.

            She stared at the Patrician's gaunt form. "You think they tell me too much, don't you?" she said. "Too many important men talking to one little seamstress."

            The Patrician didn't turn his head.

            "Who was the last straw?" Hanna asked, almost to herself. She thought a moment about her coup from earlier in the year, the head of the city's top guild. "It must have been Downey," she said. "He was one too many."

            She was thinking more clearly now, piecing things together. Hogswatchnight. Once a year the Patrician, the Client, received a list of the top ten seamstresses in the city. The women most likely to be talking to – or worse, listening to – too many of the wrong people. The tradition had been his way of monitoring them. It was clear now why he'd always made such eccentric demands on the Ladies. Commerce in the guild sense didn't interest him. 

            "Is it really worth so much trouble?" she asked. "We're just seamstresses."

            "In this city," said the Patrician softly, "there is only one person upon whom all information converges."

            "But I never used it! Guild confidentiality—"

            The Patrician finally turned, his face stern. "How long until you would have broken confidence with your clients for your own gain or protection? Until they enlisted you to shuttle between them, a messenger perhaps, with information that is innocent to you but dangerous for me or the city?"

            "Ridiculous. I would never—"

            The Patrician raised a hand. "I have ruled for fourteen years by keeping the various interests in healthy competition. It is a delicate balance. If all groups are too busy pulling in different directions, they never get around to pulling together. They'd cause certain mischief if they did. Danger can come from one tiny thread winding through the city, connecting them all, acting as vessel and conduit for information. It is my task to sever the thread when I see it."

            "I'm not a conspirator," said Hanna.

            "It was only a matter of time."

            The room was stifling hot. Hanna leaned against the breakfast table for a moment, then abruptly sat down in the Patrician's chair. She knocked over a glass in her haste to reach for the water pitcher. As she drank she knew that of course, the Patrician had planned all of this from the start, from the drawing of her name for Hogswatch duty to her actions of the night before.

            "You lied about ending your patronage of the guild," she said. "You forced me to--"

            "I forced nothing. You simply did what you thought was right at the moment." He paused. "I gave you several chances to stop. Fair warning."

            Fair. Hanna was surprised the word showed up in the Patrician's vocabulary.

            "And Mrs. Palm? Did she know what you wanted to do?" She tightened her hand into a fist beneath the table.

            The Patrician righted Hanna's chair and sat down. "There was no need to inform her. I do not mix myself in guild affairs. Normally. Though if she hadn't nominated you this year, I would have had to take other measures."

            Hanna swallowed the last of the water and plunked the glass on the table. "Well, let me say what a masterful bit of entrapment it was, your Lordship. I'm flattered you thought me important enough for all the personal attention." She smiled a little. "It must have been so amusing for you. I do hope you enjoyed yourself."

            The Patrician leaned back in his chair, his expression blank. "I suggest you rethink the butter knife you have under the table," he said calmly.

            She whipped it over his head. It clattered against the window and fell to the floor. The Patrician hadn't flinched. She hadn't really intended to use the knife on him, of course, but his infernal calmness…it made everything worse.

            Hanna stalked to the wall where she assumed the servant had opened the secret panel the night before.

            "I would like to go home now, your Lordship, and scrub this damn ink off my back," she said. "Show me the secret door and I'll be on my way."

            "I'm afraid you must find it for yourself."

            She glared at him, then ran her eyes over the vine patterned paper. It looked all the same, no creases, no tell-tale bulges or discoloration. She tried moving a couple of wall mounted candleholders but nothing happened. Knocking on the walls didn't yield a solidity that might signal a door. Tired of the search, she sat down on the sofa. "I'll wait until you leave, then," she said, folding her arms.

            The Patrician sat beside her. "I will wait until you find the door."

            "We may be here a long time."

            "Oh dear." The Patrician crossed his legs. "Time is unstoppable, isn't it? Before we know it, three years will be gone."

            Three years? The comment jarred Hanna enough to cut through her anger. She was learning that the Patrician spoke in double meanings, triple ones, that his words had to be held up to the light like a prism. Three years. It was her punishment, expulsion from the guild. But he could mean something else. Here for three years, in this room. Not in the room. The Palace. He'd said...

            "What do you really want from me?" she demanded.

            He smiled as if he was delighted that she'd finally caught on. "Have you heard of the hetaerae?"


            "In ancient times, the Ephebians encouraged the rise of a certain type of lady. Well educated, elegant, trained in various arts." He arched an eyebrow at Hanna. "Such ladies could probably sing better than you. But no matter. The hetaerae entertained only wealthy and powerful men, providing both intellectual and physical companionship."  

            "It doesn't sound all that different from what I do."


            The Patrician folded his hands in his lap. "I propose that you continue to develop your professional skills in this direction, but within the framework of a mutually beneficial business arrangement."

            "With you?"


            Hanna shook her head. "If you think I'd spy on my clients for you--"

            "Dear me, no. I would never ask you to violate guild confidentiality. I rather count on you keeping it, as I'm sure you've always done."


            It hit her quite suddenly, the solution. She stared at the Patrician as in her mind, various elements of her night at the palace hooked together, pointing in one direction. "You want a…a private hetar—"

             "The term seamstress is sufficient."

            "Private seamstress, then. On an exclusive contract. Three years."


            Hanna started pacing the length of the room, back and forth, thinking. The Patrician draped an arm on the back of the couch and watched her move.

            "You knew I never take contracts," said Hanna without looking at him. "I said it last night, didn't I?" She thought about it. "I did. Early in the evening…"

            The Patrician, she thought, had planned everything from the beginning, had wanted a contract he knew she wouldn't give him. Not of her own free will. He needed leverage.

            She put a hand over her eyes and pushed the anger down and tried, again, not to think straight, but in curves, like the Patrician. The question was: Why would he want a contract with her? He wasn't like other clients who'd asked for exclusive service. Clients who bought their mistresses.

            It dawned on her slowly. She stopped pacing. "My clients…" she began.

            The Patrician nodded as if he knew what she was about to say. "There will be, of course, no need for you to tell me any of their secrets. It is far better to rely on their imaginations, what they think you're telling me."

            Hanna stared at him and had an inkling, at last, for how his mind really worked.  A chain of logical moves that yielded the maximum benefit. Three years was long enough for Hanna's clients to get comfortable with some other seamstress, ruining her chance of ever building up the clientele she once had. Ruined, she could never act as a link between the power brokers of Ankh-Morpork.

            But why stop there? She was potentially dangerous for who and what she knew, but useful now for the -- she reached for the phrase mental anguish -- of her former clients when they saw that their confidante was in the hands of the Patrician. Many were his enemies; they hated him for his efficiency and effectiveness and success. They had told her many things, and would assume she would tell him. Perhaps he also assumed that one day, she really would.

            She could also think of a side benefit for the Patrician. The important men of the city would think twice in future before confiding anything of consequence to a seamstress. There'd be no more need for Hogswatchnight with the guild.

            Hanna sat down again.

            "If I don't agree to the contract, I assume you'll tell Mrs. Palm about my offence and demand my expulsion," she said.

            "A fair assumption."

            "That's blackmail."

            "Is it? I had no idea." The Patrician smiled sweetly.

            "And I thought Downey was a bastard."

            "Now, now. No need for that." He tried to pat her hand but she pulled it away. "I did call it a mutually beneficial arrangement, Hanna. You will certainly feel better when you see the terms of the contract."

            "Already written, is it?"

            The Patrician fetched a stack of papers from the cabinet and handed them to her. They were written on the same creamy Biedermeyer paper he'd given her the night before. "Exclusivity Agreement," she read at the top. "Parties: Lord Havelock Vetinari, Patrician and Hanna Louria Stein, Seamstress. Contract length: Three years. Terms as follows…" She glanced through the 24 clauses, her mind unable to fasten on any one point.    

            "As you can see," said the Patrician as he watched her read, "most of the terms are standard. You will, of course, be paid extremely well. If there are changes you wish to make to this draft, we can discuss them."

            Hanna set the contract on the sofa. On the surface it looked generous. But she needed more time to read between the lines. That's where the Patrician worked, she knew.

            Three years. It was a long time to have a man like him as her only client. She couldn't wrap her mind around it. All she knew was that ever afterward, she would be branded. The Patrician's creature.

            "I can't agree to this, you know," she said finally. "If I'm expelled from the guild, I'll be unemployed for three years and will have to start again. But at least I could start again. After three years with you, no lucrative client will come near me. I have to think in the long term."

            "I usually advise against planning too far in advance. It discourages flexibility."

            "The answer is no."

            There was silence for awhile.

            "You surely planned for the possibility that I would refuse, didn't you?" said Hanna.

            "Of course." The Patrician sighed. "I hoped it wouldn't come to this. I do urge you to reconsider."

            There was another spell of silence.

            "The answer is still no," said Hanna. "I won't give you the satisfaction."

            "Don't let your anger keep you from acting in your own best interest."

            Hanna said nothing.

            The Patrician paced for a moment before the fireplace, just as he'd done briefly the night before. He suddenly stopped and loomed over her.

            "I do not relish the thought," he said, his voice icy, "but I will not hesitate to use persuasion. It is sometimes necessary to encourage unfortunates to see the error of their ways."

            She knew about the scorpion pit, of course, and the old palace was said to have several torture chambers. The Patrician rarely used them. That was the rumour anyway. But with him standing over her, it occurred to Hanna that rarely did not mean never. Her clients had also told her things, that no one remembered what weapons he'd learned as a student at the Assassins School. Knives went without saying, but there were so many other possibilities.

            She watched him go to the cabinet and return, a hand hidden behind his back. She slid down the length of the sofa and stumbled to her feet.

            The Patrician fixed her with a harsh gaze.

            "This is your last chance to freely agree to the contract, Hanna."

            Trembling with anger and fear, she knew, just knew, it was one of his thin blades that he was hiding. She glanced around the room. No way out. Only, perhaps, the window… As she turned to it, the Patrician grasped her wrist.

            "Hanna," he said sharply.

            "Please let me go."

            "I'm afraid that's not possible. Do you still refuse?" She stared at the window, escape, and didn't answer. "Very well," said the Patrician.

            His hand moved so fast that she didn't see it. She could only feel, at her throat, the sensation of…

            Her body reacted to the sensation instead of her fear. Involuntarily, she giggled. 

            The Patrician brandished a long white feather.

            "My most refined of tortures," he said without a trace of humour. He fluttered the feather at her neck again. Hanna squirmed.

            "You're…" She squealed as he waved it in her face. "You're out of your…"  She slapped it away from her nose. "Stop that!"

            The Patrician dropped the feather and reverted to his hands, which were more effective anyway. Hanna made a clumsy effort to push him away but she was too busy giggling and trying to twist out of his grasp.


            "When you agree to the contract."


            He tickled her until she was doubled up on the floor. The expression on his face was a bit out of place compared to Hanna's hysterics; it looked like he'd heard a vaguely amusing joke.

            "Say yes, Hanna."       

            "I…won't…" she gasped.

            "You will. Say yes."


            "Dear me. What shall I do with you?"

            She wasn't thinking, of course, by then. Only lying on the floor too weak to wriggle away from his hands, tears streaming down her face. The Patrician stopped when her face had turned a rather alarming shade of plum.

            "Are you quite finished being unreasonable?"

            Hanna fell into a fit of coughing.

            "Slow deep breaths," he advised.

            She finally managed to sit up and lean against the sofa beside him. "You have..." she swallowed, still breathing, "...a criminal mind."

            "I merely wish to see your willingness to negotiate on this beautiful Hogswatch Day," said the Patrician. "Agree to the spirit of the contract and you are free to leave. To play in the snow. Drink egg nog. Perhaps a nice Hogswatch goose at the guild dinner." He nodded. "Sounds lovely, really. The alternative, of course, is remaining here in this room with me and the feather." He held it up again. "I haven't begun to show you all its uses."

            Offensive use of the feather, Hanna thought weakly. Certainly an Assassins School subject if she'd ever heard one. She caught her breath and tried to decide if the Patrician was a madman. He was ruthless, yes. Scheming, definitely. Odd, without a doubt. Mad seemed to be stretching it. He was, she thought as her breathing evened out, whimsically sane.

            She levelled a manicured finger at him.

            "I want no more scheming from you, sir," she said. "If you want something from me, ask. I won't stand for any more cunning bits of intrigue."          


            Hanna deflated. That was too easy.

            "I won't be your servant and come running every time you call."

            "I have too many servants already."

            "And you'll never hear a word from me about my ex-clients. Not a word."

            "I expect you to guard my confidences the way you do theirs."

            Hanna tried to think but it was hard going. She was suddenly exhausted. "Swear by whatever you hold sacred that you will never tell Mrs. Palm how all of this happened."

            "I swear by Ankh-Morpork that I will never tell."

            She couldn't help it. She smiled at him. "You know, that was very predictable."

            The Patrician looked pleased. "I can't see why so many people consider me difficult to understand."

            Hanna got to her feet and brushed off her skirt. "There was no need for last night," she said. "The second half, anyway."

            "I tend to disagree. Look at it as a test of compatibility. A trial run before entering a contractual relationship." He flashed one of his rapid-fire smiles. 

            Hanna picked up the contract again and flipped through it. "Assuming the test of compatibility was successful--"

            "Sufficient," said the Patrician. "For now."

            "-- you get to buy my silence, ruin my client network, use me as psychological terror against the city's prominent men and retain the option for my services four nights a week. I still think you're getting all the benefit from this."

            "Six, actually."


            "I took the liberty of inserting a six-night option into the draft contract. I realize four is standard but I would like a more flexible arrangement. Certain dinners and balls and such would require your presence."

            "If my clients see me with you, they'll..." The Patrician was nodding. "Oh," said Hanna. "I see."

            "I'm especially looking forward to the look on Downey's face." Another one of his quick smiles, then the Patrician clapped his hands once. "So. We have an agreement?"

            "I don't think I really have a choice."

            "Excellent." He gave her a folio for the contract. "Make whatever changes you'd like and I'll be happy to discuss them. But do write them up soon. There is an Assassins Guild dinner in two weeks that you must attend." He rubbed his beard thoughtfully. "Let's see…Yes. As soon as the contract is signed, my clerk will send you a copy of my social calendar with marks next to the events that require your presence. Lady Selachii is having a winter party not long after the guild dinner; all the noble families should be there. They should be appropriately scandalized by your attendance. In spring I would like you to host a gathering in the palace, a bit of a diplomatic mixer. We'll be having some heads of state in." The Patrician continued to rattle off plans as he went to the wall, gave it a tap and opened the secret door.

            The corridor was empty. "And of course," he said, "we can make any other appointments at our leisure."

            By the sound of it, thought Hanna, the Patrician didn't have much of that. "Maybe I'll drop by sometimes," she said. "Uninvited."

            "Of course you may. You will have a suite here at your disposal. It was newly painted last week and I believe the furniture should be in soon. The delivery has been delayed twice. I meant to speak to the Guild of Interiors."

            "Mr. Stockwell has been ill lately," said Hanna. "A very bad flu."

            The Patrician caught her eye. "Ah. Then I will send one of my clerks."

            Hanna sighed, her mind already working on what she would say to Mrs. Palm. The elder seamstress was too experienced to accept: "Things went so well last night, the Patrician asked for a contract and just like that, I threw my vow never to give one out the window…" In whatever way Hanna broke the news, Mrs. Palm would probably make some sort of announcement at the Hogswatch dinner. After 13 years, #1 on the guild's Ten Most Wanted list has fallen. Applause, everyone, for our very own Hanna Stein! There would be toasts, congratulations, the awe and envy of her fellow seamstresses. Slowly, Hanna warmed to the idea. There might be a few benefits from this business arrangement after all. Though she wasn't about to admit it to him.

            "I hope you have a rotten Hogswatch, your Lordship," she said.

            "Happy Hogswatch to you too." He had the smile of someone trying hard not to look pleased with himself. Hanna wanted to slap him.

            Her papers clutched to her chest, she walked slowly down the corridor. It was a relief. She hadn't realized how claustrophobic it had become in the suite.

            "Hanna?" the Patrician called suddenly. She turned. "Do you play chess?"

            "Not very well."

            "Hmm. Something else I can teach you. How interesting that will be." The Patrician disappeared into the sitting room. 

            Hanna found the silent servant on the other side of the hallway door. He took the folio from her and escorted her out of the palace without a word. At least until they were in the courtyard again where the black carriage waited. The sky was overcast but the air was brisk and clean. It steamed as the young man spoke.

            "My name is Drumknott, milady." He held out his hand. "I'm his Lordship's head clerk. I thought I should introduce myself. We'll be seeing a lot of each other in future."

            Hanna shook his hand. "The Milady thing is a bit much for me," she said. "Call me Hanna. I'm just a normal person, like you."

            "Not anymore, milady." Drumknott helped Hanna into the carriage. "His Lordship ordered me to treat you at ladyship rank." He handed back the folio.

            "When did he do that?"

            "Last month." Drumknott smiled cheerfully. "Happy Hogswatch." The door closed, the driver raised his whip, and Hanna stared out the window as the carriage rattled away.

            In the sitting room, the Patrician poured himself a cup of cold coffee. He sipped it as he strode into the bedroom and took Hanna's guild card out of a dresser drawer. He tucked it into a pocket of his robe, drained the coffee and set the cup aside. He was back in the corridor before he remembered something else. Hanna's little paper swan still sat on the mantelpiece. It stood up on its own, wings out, ready to fly. As he left the room once more, he played with it, unfolding it to see again how she'd done it.