The New Guild
A simple idea, but I'm really surprised nobody else thought of it first (OK, Terry Pratchett runs quite a long way with the central idea in Night Watch, and who am I to argue, but this is my take on it).
Vetinari smiled as he read the petition which had arrived on his desk. It was a light smile, a minimalist smile, and those only slightly acquainted with him might indeed question that he had smiled at all. But seasoned Vetinari-watchers, such as Rufus Drumknott, would be in no doubt at all that the undisputed lord and tyrant of Ankh-Morpork was actually quite amused.
"I'm actually quite minded to grant this request, Drumknott". he said.
"As the petitioners observe, it would restore a certain pleasing symmetry, as well as contributing to the ongoing resolution of an ontomological error."
He handed Drumknott the petition.
"Oh my goodness…" Vetinari's secretary raised a well-groomed eyebrow.
"Petition to the Patrician, by We the Undersigned, that the Establishment of a Guild of Prostitutes, Copulatrices, and Working Women, be approved as a Recognized Trade Guild within the Cities of Ankh and Morpork, and that this Guild should have the Full Privileges and Consequent Obligations pursuant to its establishment."
"Signed by Mrs Sandra Battye and eighteen others." observed Drumknott. "But isn't Mrs Battye…"
"Indeed, Drumknott. In fact, I have another note here. A rather terser one, from the president of the Seamstresses' Guild. Let us await developments with interest. And amusement."
"I'm not going to forget this, Sandra Battye!" Rosie Palm hissed, as they waited in the anteroom to Vetinari's office. Sandra smiled a thin enigmatic smile, but held her peace. They were old friends who went back a long way, and Sandra was sure their friendship could survive a necessary professional hiccup. Besides, the even tenor and certainties of Rosie's life, as one of the three or four richest and most powerful women in the City, needed the occasional corrective slap now and again. It was always worth it, just to see the look on her face.
Drumknott came to the door, and coughed discreetly.
"Ladies? The Patrician will be pleased to see you now."
Rosie shot another killing glare at Sandra, who turned her head away to conceal her half-smile.
Vetinari nodded his acknowledgement of their presence. He wasn't alone in the office: the smell of must and formaldehyde announced the presence of Mr Slant, the veteran president of the Guild of Lawyers.
"Mrs Palm, Mrs Battye!". Vetinari announced. "I'm so pleased you could both make it. Shall we commence the formal proceedings?"
Mr Slant cleared his throat, a noise akin to a distant tomb door creaking open.
"Indeed, my Lord. We are here to examine the petition submitted by Mrs Sandra Battye and eighteen others advocating that the Patrician approve of the establishment of a Guild of….. Prostitutes, Copulatrices and Working Women…. which would perform the usually accepted Guild functions of setting wages and prices for services, looking after Guild members in distress, providing initial and ongoing training for both fully fledged members and apprentices, and such sundry other functions as a City Guild is normally charged with."
May I ask the exact trade function of your Guild? After all, the name you've chosen would seem to be more descriptive of…"
"Excuse ME!" Rosie Palm interjected, furiously.
"A pre-existing Guild which already provides ample occupational cover in those described areas." Slant concluded.
Was that the hint of a smile on the zombie's face? wondered Sandra.
"Well, Mr Slant, My Lord, we represent a broad panorama of associated trades which up until now have lacked formal representation. Those of us who stitch, tapestrate, sew, and repair clothing, fabrics and textiles of all kinds. There is a word that adequately covers the services we provide, but on examination we realized it had already been taken, and made copyright, by another Guild. Therefore we needed to think of another name for us, ideally a memorable one that would stick.."
Vetinari nodded. "As I understand it, the fact the word "Seamstress" is already taken puts you in a difficult position. Could I ask you to explain why you believe the suggested Guild name is suitable for you?"
Rosie spluttered: "Havelock, this is intolerable!"
Vetinari lifted a hand for silence. Sandra spoke:
"Well, my lord, we are a group of workers, almost exclusively female, who provide an intimate service almost exclusively to men, in exchange for money. This is a service which only an adequately skilled woman can provide, in order to give full satisfaction to a male client. I think you will find that is a very accurate definition of the word "Prostitute". As such, we have no scruples in using it, as it appears to be a word which is lying unclaimed and otherwise unwanted. ".
"Point agreed" said Vetinari. "And copulatrice?"
" From the Latitian copula, as I'm sure you and a learned man like Mr Slant are aware, denoting a joining of two things or entities. For us, the joining of two pieces of cloth that were previously sundered, and by extension, the woman who does the joining."
"And of course you are working women, in the sense of offering a professional service to men in exchange for money. That appears to be clear enough." observed Vetinari, his smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
For a moment, Rosie Palm was angry enough to betray her origins, and she lapsed into gutter Morporkian.
"You are really taking the piss, Sandra Battye!"
Vetinari raised an admonitory eyebrow.
"Really, Mrs Palm? I understood that was an exclusive prerogative of Harry King and the Tanners' and Fullers' Guilds. Unless of course you are referring to certain specialized practices within your own Guild, which out of delicacy, not to mention immediate relevance, I refrain from investigating further?"
Rosie subsided, but said "She's making a joke out of it, my lord."
"Really, Mrs Palm? And that is the sole substance of your objection? I have taken the time to read the full submission by the aspirant Prostitutes' Guild, and it appears to be extremely well thought out and presented." He looked towards Slant, who nodded, carefully.
"I see nothing to object to, on legal grounds, my Lord. Which only leaves the matter of errm.."
Sandra opened her bag and passed over an ornate scroll.
"I understand the standard fee for covering legal and City expenses in adjudicating on the establishment of a new Guild runs at two and a half thousand dollars worth of errm.1This is a bankers' draft, drawn on our account at the Royal Bank, for the required sum."
"Which makes it an expensive joke, Mrs Palm." said Vetinari.
"Where do you get that sort of money from, Sandra Battye?" demanded Rosie.
"Well, you for one. I have a contract with the Seamstresses' Guild for ongoing repairs of clothing which sometimes gets damaged in the course of normal business. You do get over-enthusiastic clients who find buttons and hooks and eyes hard to manage? Seams are split occasionally in the haste to undress and be undressed? So you seamstresses send the clothing items to we prostitutes for repair and fine adjustment? And in any case we've been preparing for this moment for a year or two now. My Lord, there are relatively few of us and demand for our services always exceeds supply. It hasn't been terribly difficult to build a surplus fund in a bank account, especially now Mr von Lipwig is offering interest on business accounts."
"You do realize that as a Guild, you will effectively be obliged to charge a membership fee, and subsequently pay a proportion of that on to the City as a form of taxation?"
Sandra nodded, doing her best to look sombre. "They say death and taxes are the two inevitable things in life. We had some discussion about this aspect, but the prevailing opinion among prospective Guild members is that you're going to get it one way or the other, so it might be wise to pay up with good grace and try to negociate a favourable settlement. We understand you intend to reform the taxation system, so better now than later."
"I understand you wish to endow a Guild school for girls offering a good standard of general education, together with training in the services you offer? Commendable."
"Not just girls, my Lord. The Blue Cat Cabaret has its dressers and wardrobe people, as does the Opera House. We should be co-educational and prepared to accept suitably vocationally inclined males. After all, Mrs Palm has her understanding with Mr Harris at the Blue Cat Club, too"
Vetinari steepled his fingers.
It all appears to be in order. Do you not agree, Mr Slant?"
"Completely, my Lord. I'm sure the new Guild will be a valuable addition to the life of the City".
"And its Guild President a valuable addition to the city council. Capital! I'm sure we can amicably agree on the fine details later, but don't let me detain you, Madam President."
"Thank you, my lord. Mr Slant, I couldn't help noticing the pocket on the back of your gown is rather worn. Perhaps you might consider dropping it in for repair? We charge reasonable rates!"
"I'll certainly consider it." The zombie lawyer curled his lips up in what, for him, was a rare smile.
Rosie Palm strode a few paces ahead of Sandra as they left the palace, her body language signaling fury and annoyance.
Suddenly, her shoulders slumped, and she smiled at her oldest friend.
"You're impossible, Sandra Battye. And you know I can't be angry at you for very long. Come here!"
They hugged and made up, then linked arms, two women in late middle age at the peak of their careers. Who each needed a friend…
1 The $2.500 fee only recently became a time-honoured requirement following the establishment of the Guilds of Watchmen and of C.M.O.T. Dibblers. It was introduced to discourage frivolous applications.