*** Word of explanation: If you get down the first few hundred words of this and are still wondering why the heck the Patrician has anything to do with a seamstress, you can check out "Say Yes" in the R section for all the conniving, twisted and very Vetinarish details. It's definitely better to read "Say Yes" first, if possible, unless you don't mind reading the spoilers here.
(Disclaimer: Discworld characters and setting belong to Pterry. Non-Discworld stuff belongs to me, except for the name Ansbach, which is a town in Roundworld Bavaria. It sounded like a good beer-brewing suburb of Ankh-Morpork to me). BTW, thanks to my beta readers; you know who you are. J ***
In a star-speckled vacuum lit by suns, a turtle of planetary proportions swims its patient way towards the end of the universe. This is Great A'Tuin the Star Turtle.
On the shell of Great A'Tuin balance four elephants, and upon these sits a world flat as a cushion that's been whoopied, a world of oceans, lands and some surprises that we don't need to go into at the moment.
Somewhere on the pockmarked landscape of this world, a city rises up like a plague boil in need of a lance and a dollop of ointment. This is Ankh-Morpork, largest, oldest and rankest of metropolitan areas.
Hubwards and a bit widdershins of the city is a public square. This would not be unusual save for the fact that out of the many public squares in Ankh-Morpork and its suburbs, this is the only one that is clean. The cobbles are scrubbed. The benches are free of graffiti. Garbage is deposited in receptacles designated for the purpose. The doorsteps of the houses surrounding the square are swept by elderly people in therapeutic shoes who do such things of a morning.
The square is called the Platz.
In the center of the Platz is a stone column twenty feet high. Hanging on a spike a third way up is a small wooden sign, in need of a paint job and a spell check in two languages, which states: Wilkomm too Ansbach.
More prominently displayed on the column is another, much larger sign. Its iron is polished to a high sheen, its edges are welded with decorative brass flourishes and its glowing letters are infused with more than one kind of magic. It states:
Ansbach Purity Law of 1303 (Year of the Distressed Wombat): We hereby proclaim and decree, upon our own Authority, that henceforth in the Exiled Kingdom of Ansbach (Uberwald), in the Country surrounding as well as in the City and its Marketplaces, the following Rule applies to the Brewing of Beer: No Ingredients aside from Barley, Hops and Water may be used. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this Ordinance, shall be punished by the Council of Elders in accordance with Tradition, to whit, Confiscation without fail of such Barrels, withdrawal of Beer Brewing Privileges or, at the Pleasure of the Populace, Decapitation.
"I'm afraid that it's quite impossible."
"Just a tiny subsidy is all they're asking, your lordship. Something to get them through the summer."
"It is not my policy, Hanna. If an industry fails, it is no doubt due to lack of efficiency. It is natural for inefficient industries to fail."
The supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, the Patrician Lord Havelock Vetinari, was sitting in his palace garden in a severe, straight-backed chair reading the papers on his lap. It was a warm, late spring afternoon. Wisteria bloomed. Butterflies fluttered among the trees. It was not yet hot enough for the distressing smell of the river Ankh to invade the greenery.
There was a second chair in the garden, a curved one with a velvet cushion, occupied by Hanna Louria Stein. The chair was far enough away from the Patrician that Hanna had to raise her voice to speak to him. Between them was a field of stacked paper weighed against the breeze by pieces of rock. Clerks periodically removed stacks and formed new ones.
There was no official title for Hanna. The staff referred to her as Milady though she was not of noble rank. She attended social occasions with the Patrician and hosted dinners at the Palace though she was not, by a long shot, his wife. She had a permanent suite of rooms not far from his though she did not, technically, live at the Palace.
Until four months ago, Hanna had been one of Ankh-Morpork's most prominent seamstresses, an entrepreneurial profession with low start-up capital, seeing as no uniform – or any clothing whatsoever – was needed. The Patrician had coerced her into a "contractual business arrangement" for reasons having more to do with destroying her circle of important clients than with her skills in the bedroom. That still hadn't stopped him from replacing his twin bed with a queen within days of their agreement.
The scandal Hanna caused was exquisite among Ankh-Morpork's nobles, who nevertheless grudgingly admitted at her Palace dinners that at least the Patrician was now taking his social duties seriously. The common people had reacted a bit differently, with a general sense of relief. They'd been wondering about the Patrician, less about his sexual tastes than his species. It was generally thought that the kind of asceticism he'd practised before Hanna's arrival couldn't possibly have been human.
"I'm asking this as a personal favour," Hanna called across the lawn.
"The answer is still no."
"It's my family."
The Patrician looked up briefly from his paperwork. "I can not show favouritism. Of course you are free to spend as much of your own salary as you choose, but no city funds will be granted to Ansbach brewers." He returned to his work.
The word favouritism did it. As she made her exit, Hanna considered stomping on a few of the Patrician's precious stacks of organized paper. But just as a heeled shoe hovered over what looked like the latest City Watch budget, she decided not to aggravate him. He was not a man who appreciated shows of willfulness. He had views on spite and ingenious ways of dealing with it in other people.
Instead, she stalked out of the garden without saying goodbye. It was only a small way to show her displeasure, but with the Patrician, there weren't many choices. When he was working, the man ticked along like a metronome, allowing nothing and no one to distract him from his duty. The Duty, he called it, capitalizing the word with his voice. She hated him when he was working, when the Duty made him so focused on the minutiae of the city that there was no reasoning with him about anything else.
As she strode out of the palace and ordered her driver to ready the carriage, she admitted to herself that perhaps hate was too strong a word. She didn't hate the Patrician. She didn't like him much either. Most of the time he was a mildly unpleasant fact of life, like grey hairs. Since her contract began she'd noticed a few more of those in the mirror.
The carriage travelled to the hubwards-widdershins section of Ankh-Morpork. When it crossed the Platz, it passed an invisible border: from Ankh-Morpork proper to the suburban, incorporated town of Ansbach. It had been there when Ankh and Morpork were separate towns, had for two thousand years proudly flown its flag, a yellow crown on a green field, symbolizing its ancient control over Uberwald, the Ansbachers' ancestral home. Several centuries ago Morpork had grown enough to engulf the town, but the Ansbachers were a stubborn people and refused to part with those little cultural tidbits like language, funny clothing and music that was only listened to because it was "traditional." This last point wasn't altogether true; the Ansbachers were known to be good at two things: Music and beer brewing.
The crown on the Ansbacher flag was something of a red herring. A keg would have been better. The real king of Ansbach had always been beer.
The red brick facades of the Brewery District stretched from Schwips Lane to Heiter Street. By last count, twenty-four breweries operated within stone's throw of one another, all of them family run and all, proudly, still brewing according to the Purity Law of the Year of the Distressed Wombat. Centuries of alcoholic steam belching from the chimneys had given all of Ansbach the thick smell of grains cooked to intoxicating perfection.
When Hanna stepped out of her carriage onto Schwips, she tossed back her head and took a deep, luxuriant whiff. She was a fifteenth generation Ansbacher on her father's side and had grown up in the area. She had a nose for the local smell.
Her forehead wrinkled.
"Excuse me," she said to the first person she encountered, a barrel-chested man wearing a white coat and a look of panic on his face. "Is there a problem with one of the breweries? The smell…"
The man -- Hanna recognized him as Brewmaster Georg Tauch -- was almost pushed off the curb by another white-coated man in the process of running, arms flailing, down the street. He wasn't the only one. A stampede of men in white parted like a herd of steer around Hanna and Tauch and closed ranks again in their dash to get off the streets.
Tauch stared at Hanna and tried to speak despite an accent thickened by panic.
"It almost vorked, Miss Stein!" He grasped her arms. "I ssought vee could do it! I ssought, ja! At last vee make local beer like vee should. Goot beer! Pure beer!" Tears rolled down Tauch's fat cheeks. "They laughed at me. They laughed and ssaid, 'Georg, he vants to make beer from city malt. Can't be done,' they ssaid. Import the barley from Ubervald or Borogravia. City malt is no good. It is unstable. But I tried. I am but a dreamer!"
Hanna heard a rising whirr, and a growing thumping noise that originated from a brick building across the street. Tauch's brewery. All of the doors and windows were open. A thin man in a white coat raced out and halted before Tauch.
"Meister!" the man said.
Tauch shook his fists at the sky and cried, "Vhy? Vhy?"
"Meister! I could not hold it! Vee must take cover!"
Tauch returned to himself, looked at the thin man, then grabbed Hanna's arm. "Vee must take cover!" he repeated, and dragged her up the street.
"You used local barley?" Hanna cried, allowing herself to be dragged. The problem with this was not lost on her. The Ansbacher technique for beer brewing had been perfected a millennium before in the Old Country. Hanna's ancestors brought the technique to the valley of the Ankh, but never stopped importing barley and hops from back home; it was widely believed that grains grown in the swampy lowlands outside of Ankh-Morpork were inferior and would corrupt the beer brewing process.
Brewers outside Ansbach normally dispensed with grains of any kind. Used coffee grounds, tea bags, old socks and other recyclable material was routinely milled by Ankh-Morpork brewers and cooked up into a beer of such quality that no Ansbacher would water the privy with it. There was one advantage, though: It was cheap.
The thumping grew until it pounded like an enthusiastic base drummer with no sense of beat. Tauch pulled Hanna to a crouch behind a horseless vegetable cart.
"Vee vait here," he said, gasping for air. "Ja, you must see how I am ruined. Ruined!" The tears began again.
"Nobody has ever used local barley," said Hanna. "It never works, everyone knows that."
Tauch shook his head like a condemned man. "My beautiful vats! My brewery! Ruined…"
Hanna peered round the cart. The street had been cleared as if it was the middle of the night. The metallic throbbing sound seemed to be reaching some sort of climax. She gripped the spokes of the wheel and ducked.
The Patrician raised his head and stared up into the distance. The large initial sound had possessed a distinctive quality that could only be called an explosion of architectural proportions. The noise that followed could have been the collapse of a large set of gongs under a well wielded sledgehammer. Hollow sounds, twisting, whining metallic sounds, followed by what sounded like a shower of virulent, oversized hail, came next. The Alchemists Guild – the usual source of explosions in the city -- was currently located turnwise of the Palace. These explosions had come from…yes…hubwards and a bit widdershins.
Lord Vetinari rang the little silver bell at the foot of his chair. A servant appeared at his elbow.
"Did Miss Stein intend to go to Ansbach this afternoon?"
"Yes, milord. She left more than half an hour ago."
"Please be sure the Watch goes to help clean up."
The Patrician returned to his paperwork but had a momentary lack of focus. He wondered if the explosion had been a brewery. It could have been the Guild of Tinkers, clever men based in Ansbach who keenly welded or soldered bits of metal that probably should be left well enough alone. But the Patrician was a practical man; he didn't believe in coincidences.
With a sigh, he went back to his reading, the minutes of a meeting of the Ansbach Council of Elders. Locally elected, the Elders ran the neighbourhood on a superficial level. The Patrician allowed it because it had always been so; Ansbach had elected Elders for 1,500 years and he was not a man to buck tradition without cause.
Of course, he also kept an eye on the main Ansbach secessionist groups. That report was waiting for him next to his left foot.
Even after the last twisted bit of metal clanged to the street, Hanna thought it best to stay in cover. It was quiet. The only sound was the hissing of steam from the hulk of the former brewery across the street and the sobbing of Georg Tauch. Hanna patted his shoulder.
"Stick to imported barley," she said.
He blew his nose on his sleeve.
Others began venturing out of their hiding places. Men in white coats gathered amid the wreckage of the brewery. They turned the bricks over with their shoes and touched the larger shards of metal lying around as if they were holy relics. They spoke softly, respectfully. It was the death of a brewery, after all.
When it looked safe enough, Hanna sprinted up to the corner of Schwips and Serendipity Street to a brick building identical to Tauch's except that it was still in one piece. The doors opened before she knocked.
"Hanna! It vas Tauch, vasn't it?"
Several pairs of hands dragged her into the building, the doors slamming behind her.
The entire staff of the Stein family brewery stood wide eyed and silent on the shop floor, their hats in their hands. A stone mill loomed to one side, sacks of six-row barley lying in piles in the corner. Nearby was the copper cereal cooker, which resembled a massive tea kettle with tubes, gauges and a hopper that hung overhead. Double doors in the distance led to other rooms where beer was boiled, fermented and cooled.
"You saw it, did you? The explosion?" asked Lotte. She was Hanna's sister, ten years older, double so heavy, a mother nine times over and owner-director of Stein's Brewery, where the well-respected Steinbräu had been brewed for five hundred years.
"Terrible," said Hanna. "Brewmaster Tauch is beside himself."
The staff of the brewery was made up of fifty men and women, a rank of dwarves for the bottling machine, a few trolls for the heavy lifting and a gnome responsible for cleaning the inside of the vats. Many of the human employees were family.
An aproned man with spectacles stepped forward. "Ve are doomed," announced Brewmaster Fritz, Hanna's uncle.
Hanna put a hand over her eyes. "What else has happened?"
"Morporkians thought Steinbräu vas too expensive already, and now look." Brewmaster Fritz waved at a small stack of barrels in a corner. "Vithout our input, the price on Ubervaldean milled barley has gone up again. Demand for our beer is down, production cut. Now this. At least Tauch had an in-sewer-ants policy…" Brewmaster Fritz removed his spectacles and rubbed them with a fat, red thumb.
"Fritz here vanted to try city barley too. To cut costs," said Lotte. "Thank the gods I convinced him othervise."
"But ve must do something, Madam Director," said Brewmaster Fritz. He lowered his voice and leaned towards the women. "If things don't improve in a month, ve'll have to let go of all non-family staff."
The past several months, Hanna had paid the salaries of many of the employees out of her own pocket in hopes that her sister would get things back in order. Her savings were gone and now she had nothing outside of what the Patrician paid her under her contract. A generous amount, but not enough to support the brewery.
"The Patrician von't help," she said. She always slipped into the local accent when she was at home.
"Then vhat good is your…relationship…if he von't do anything!" said Lotte.
"His people vere already buying beer for the palace from Ansbach brewers before he met me. There's nothing else he's villing to do. He has a hands-off economic policy."
"If he supported us, he vould have to support all the other breweries," snapped Hanna. "He's fair that vay."
She glowered at her sister until she realized that she was being defensive about the Patrician, of all people. Hanna called him a villain all the time. When she was alone. And never out loud. Lotte, though, had no right.
"He von't directly subsidize the Ansbach brewers and he von't talk to the guild," said Hanna. "He might help indirectly if ve thought of something else, some other vay to get people to buy more…"
Her voice trailed off as she looked around the shop floor, at the worried faces of the workers, some her cousins, a few of the youngest her nephews. She spoke to her cousin Gerhard.
"How much beer do you drink a day?"
"Had a bottle already," he said, sliding his eyes to Lotte. "Plan another after vork."
"Only two? Two the whole day?"
Hanna asked Putty Slipstone, a dwarf. "About three on weekdays, Miss Stein," he said. "More on my day off, but…" He looked embarrassed. "…they don't sell Ansbach beer at dwarf bars. Too expensive."
"I can barely get through one."
Hanna stared around at the staff. She knew brewers didn't consume as much beer in their leisure time as other people. It was the same principle as what she knew as a seamstress: "commerce," the euphemism of choice in her guild, was not nearly as enjoyable when it was your job. But the brewers at Stein's Brewery drank a lot less than she'd imagined.
And then she examined herself. She liked a good, cold, yeast-rich beer in warm weather, but rarely drank more than two at one sitting. In winter she chose red wine over lager.
"I think ve need to drink more beer," she said finally. The staff stared at her. "Maybe ve all do, everyvone in Ansbach. Maybe everyvone in the whole…city."
"Vhat are you talking about?" snapped Lotte. She disliked it when her sister acquired the sly little smile that signalled some kind of plan.
"Mister Brech is still head of the Ansbach group in the guild, isn't he?" asked Hanna.
"Vhat are you planning?"
"Not planning. Thinking."
Lotte put her fists on her hips.
"All right," said Hanna. "I am planning. But I have to think a bit more. Just… just make sure ve have a good supply in the varehouse. I think ve'll be needing it soon." She headed toward the doors. "And spread the vord."