Pairings: People can see any pairing if they're looking hard enough. Knock yourself out, people…
Warnings: Gratuitous violence and bad language
Disclaimer: I'd sell my soul to own them, but it isn't going to happen.
Author's Note: I have attempted to write in the style of the almighty Pterry. Needless to say, it didn't seem to want to happen
Her royal highness, Princess Esmeralda Margaret Note Spelling the First of Lancre, was sulking.
Sulking, as her mother would doubtless have told her, was a very unladylike thing to do. But Esmeralda Margaret – Esme to her friends – felt that she was completely justified. For a start, she had been sitting in the same battered, cabbage-smelling coach for almost four weeks now. And secondly, she was wearing a dress. It was made of pale pink silk. It had ruffles.
Most nine-year-old girls would have killed – or at least bitten, scratched, and otherwise thrown a tantrum – to be able to wear a pink silk dress with ruffles. But Esme hated dresses, especially silk ones with ruffles, and let's not even go into her feelings on the colour pink. Her usual wear was the sort of thing more likely to be seen on a stable boy than a princess, since she spent most of her time roaming the moors and climbing trees with her two best friends, Indolence Carter and 'Little Johnny' Hopwood. The fact that her closest friends were both boys didn't seem at all unusual to Esme.
But the deepest reason Esme hated dresses – especially in pink – was that she didn't want to be a princess. She wanted to be a witch like her mother…but not exactly like her mother, because her mother was a wet hen. No, Esme wanted to be a witch like her namesake, Granny Weatherwax. Granny Weatherwax was clever and tough. Granny Weatherwax – as far as Esme was concerned – knew everything. And Granny Weatherwax had told her to stop whining and get in the coach with her parents.
But all in all, only one thing prevented Esme from climbing out of the coach window and hitching a ride back to Lancre. That was their destination.
They were going to Ankh-Morpork.
It was a state visit or something of that order, but Esme could deal with the ceremonies if it meant she could see the largest and most famous city on the Disc. They were less than a day's travel away, and although Esme was trying hard to keep sulking, her actual manner was growing progressively closer to bouncing in excitement.
"Now, you have to behave."
"And act ladylike."
"And remember your etiquette lessons."
"And do not juggle the cheese."
"Yes mo- wait, what?"
"You weren't listening to me, were you Esme?"
"No mother…sorry mother."
The coach trundled along, and Esme finally gave in to her outer child and allowed herself to bounce a little in excitement. Her mother laughed, and her father smiled indulgently. Esme would have been spoiled rotten, but King Verence had discovered some years ago that it was almost impossible to spoil someone whose only desires involved mud in one form or another. The coach finally reached the gates of Ankh-Morpork – although Esme thought it a little odd that a city with no real walls in the formal sense of the word would have gates – and she gave a final squeal of delight before resigning herself to looking dignified and royal.
They were met by a detachment of the City Watch to be escorted to the Palace. Esme was enthralled, staring out of the windows in wonder. There had to be more people in one street than lived in the whole of Lancre! And the noise – she had never heard anything like it! The seething, roaring, constant noise of a hundred thousand people living their lives. She was so fascinated that their arrival took her a little by surprise.
Apparently some sort of ball was being held in honour of their arrival. Esme had never been to such an affair before, but she had been mercilessly drilled in etiquette ever since she was old enough to curtsey without falling over, and she had a fairly good grasp of the theory. A herald announced them at the top of the sweeping stairs leading into the ballroom.
"King Verence the Second, Queen Magrat, and Princess Esmeralda Margaret of Lancre!"
Esme descended the stairs a little behind her parents, trying to remember the protocol. There was a while of milling about while everyone talked to everyone else, and a buffet table, and then…possibly dancing? Yes, that sounded about right. Her parents were being introduced to important people by other important people, but no-one seemed to want to talk to Esme. She took this as a blessing and began to wander around, watching in silence.
Her eye was caught by a boy around her own age standing next to a large woman in a light blue ballgown. He seemed to feel her eyes on him, because he turned his head and looked straight at her. She decided to go over.
"Hello…" he took in her dress and dainty little silver crown; "…Your Highness." He bowed a little awkwardly and the woman – presumably his mother – beamed with pride before returning to whatever conversation she was involved in.
"Hello," Esme curtsied with rather more grace. They eyed each other speculatively for a moment before reaching a mutual decision that some mandatory requirement for formality had been met. They both relaxed imperceptibly.
"I'm Esme," she said.
"Sam," he replied, extending a hand. She shook it. There was a moment of silence in which Esme – in a bad habit that had never been broken – eavesdropped on nearby conversations.
"I see that Sir Samuel has once again decided not to grace us with his presence," a man said. Esme stared at him in fascination – she hadn't realised before that hate at first sight really was possible.
"I'm sure he has a very good reason for not being here, Lord Rust," the woman who was almost definitely Sam's mother said with a smile that didn't extend to her eyes. She glanced sideways at Esme and seized on her as an excuse to stop talking to Lord Rust. She gave a maternal smile; "Who is your friend, Sam?"
"Uh…" he hesitated as he realised that he couldn't introduce a noble from a potentially very important ally or enemy of the city as 'Esme'. She took pity on him.
"Princess Esmeralda Margaret of Lancre," she replied for him, curtseying again. As always, she glossed over her more unfortunate middle names.
"I am Lady Sybil, the Duchess of Ankh," the woman said, "And this is my son, Sam. Are you here with your parents, dear?"
"Yes, your grace," Esme replied politely. The obnoxious man apparently known as 'Lord Rust' chose this moment to trap Lady Sybil in conversation once more. Her face brightened considerably as she spotted someone over his shoulder.
"Oh, it's Captain Angua," she said brightly, "Do excuse me, Ronnie….oh my."
Esme was resigned to the fact that she would never be pretty. She could get by on 'cute' until she was about twelve, but beyond that 'plain and decently well-scrubbed' would have to do. It didn't really bother her…except for at moments like this. Walking over to them was the most beautiful woman Esme had ever seen. She had ash-blonde hair, delicately shaped amber eyes, and the grace with which she moved would have made any Roundworld supermodel weep with despair.
It was only after the initial surge of jealousy that details registered with Esme – that she was dressed in battered watch armour, covered in ash and streaked with dirt and blood, and her shoulder was badly burnt. She cleared her throat and took her helmet off respectfully, but her manner did not show any kind of deference. There was in fact the utter poise most people would have associated with the more confident type of aristocrat, but Esme associated with witches.
"Ah, Captain," Lord Rust said with a certain disdain; "Are you by any chance bearing Sir Samuel's latest reason for not joining us?"
The look on said captain's face suggested that she was seeing inside her head a very detailed mental image of herself inflicting a slow and painful death on Lord Rust. The look went on for several seconds longer than was comfortable, then she proceeded to ignore him; "Lady Sybil, I'm sorry to have to tell you that Commander Vimes has been injured in a riot at Five Roads."
Her eyes widened, and Sam suddenly looked about four years old; "How?" she said, "What happened?"
"Someone took a shot at him with a crossbow – hit him in the shoulder. We've taken him back to the Yard and Igor's seeing what he can do." Sybil appeared momentarily speechless, but she rallied magnificently.
"Take me to him," she said, her voice steady. Angua nodded.
"What's happening?" Esme whispered to Sam.
"My father's the commander of the Watch," he replied, admirably evenly considering he looked like he was about to cry; "He's been injured." Esme couldn't help but notice the unspoken 'again' riding the end of that sentence. He left quietly, holding his mother's hand.
"Did you make any friends?" Queen Magrat asked her daughter brightly when the ball was over. Esme cocked her head thoughtfully as she considered this; "I think so."
TO BE CONTINUED