Starting to rewrite this story to account for Emmanuelle's recently discovered canonical history. It shouldn't take too many tweaks and it allows me to go back and revise. Amazing how many imperfections you find when you go back to a tale written over two years ago...
Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignarde les Deux-Epées stepped forward to collect her sealed instructions. The command sounded almost like a croupier dispassionately calling the number on a roulette wheel.
Emmanuelle? Observe. You will most assuredly see a wiry, graceful, woman in her early thirties who moves like a dancer. She has long black hair which hangs behind her head in a tight pony-tail. Her full-lipped face betrays an ancestry from further out than Quirm: it has a sultry hint of the Vieux river and the bull-running lands out towards Genua. She is beautiful, in a fiery dangerous way, and doesn't mind who notices. To her, beauty is another weapon in the Assassin's armoury, and unlike a sword, she knows only age will break it or take it from her hands. And she knows her swords and edged weapons: her father was a master armourer, and with her training in swordsmanship, she prides herself she can nurse a weapon every step of the way through from a raw lump of iron to the final killing thrust with the point. She teaches Bladed Weapons, Swordsmanship, and Metalwork.
She took her documents from le pauvre Wimvoe, a man made old before his time by the demands of his unique and exacting office, whose nervous eccentricities are only relieved by the application of dried frog pills, (les lozenges du grennouille sec). Then Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignarde les Deux-Epées returned to her seat, and pondered on the twists in fate that had brought her back here.
Like Alice, Joan and Johanna, she had killed for money while not being a member of the Guild. She ought to have known better: it wasn't as if she did not already know the Guild's point of view on unlicenced inhumations for cash. She shook that particular set of memories out of her head – it wasn't the bad ones, they were easy to deal with. Too many of her memories of a particular time long past were nostalgic, painfully pleasant, reminders of long-lost innocence and adolescence. Having to revist them in these circumstances had taken more of an emotional toll than she had thought possible.
But this had all began ten years previously. She knew she should not have taken that lover, a younger son of lesser Ankh-Morporkian nobility. He was too…clingy. Too emotional. He'd failed to understand the rules of the game. A liability. She still, after all, wished to succeed as Comptesse de Lapoignard, to the wealth and respectability of her husband's estates and title, and to do that she needed to keep her affaires most discreet, lest the ancienne beldame found out and agitated again for divorce, this time with proof.
It had been at the vignt-et-un tables at the casino, the one run by that diseased outcropping of an accursed mountain, Chrysophase. Emmanuelle had had a taste for the card tables at that time. And on that night, she'd lost over a hundred thousand dollars. The troll had granted her a week to find the money, and she had arrived at her suite in a foul mood to find him there, the poor maladjusted Morporkian boy who had failed to realize that sharing her bed did not mean sharing her life. Heavens, there was no shortage of acceptable bedmates, but her life remained her own, she was not going to sell it cheap to the Ankh-Morporkian concept of "marriage"!
She had tried to be gentle to him, but it had not worked. He was besotted, in the grips of a fou d'amour that Morporkian men, normally repressed and buttoned down tightly, were unfortunately prone to. When their reserve breaks, it breaks all the way, she thought, trying to reason with his protestations of love and need and I wish to marry you! I can conceive of living with nobody else but you! Why cannot you divorce him? Still worse, he was trying to put it in Quirmian, the excruciatingly bad Quirmian spoken only by Morporkians, the heedless mangling of tense and gender and fine pronunciation that made her teeth ache.
Finally she had got angry at his insolent assumption of exclusivity and the implication that this cub of a boy, younger than she, knew best for both of them.
Oh, they had loved, eventually, but she had taken care to put him out of her bed afterwards and send him home to his mother. Despite his brattish petulance, she had put her foot firmly down and he had left, sulking.
She laid in bed, smoking a thin Sobranie cheroot, and furiously mused on her immediate future. Chrysophrase the Troll wanted a hundred thousand dollars from her. Dollars which, most incoveniently, she did not possess. She knew he could be persuaded to accept instalment payments at ruinous interest, but this still begged the issue of how she could meet even those. Go back to the tables and very carefully not pray for L… The Lady? Play for higher stakes still at the Gamblers' Guild, of which she was a member? But with what collateral?
Ask a rich lover to cover her debts? This went against everything she believed in, as well as leaving her beholden to the man, which her fierce independence revolted at.
And her mother-in-law, the foul old biche, the Dowager Comptesse de Lapoignard, she who refused steadfastly to die, would rejoice at further proof of that peasant girl's liability and again press Maurice to divorce. There would be no help from that quarter, as la vielle jealously guarded the family coffers while her son was in Klatch with La Legion.
She remembered that towards the end of the night, the richly dressed woman who had been watching her thoughtfully had said It looks as if you're in a bit of trouble, my dear. Come and see me and we can discuss a possible solution. She had then been given a calling card. It had just said Mrs. Rosemary Palm. Sheer Street.
Everyone knew what line of business Rosie Palm was in. Emmanuelle took a deep breath. She wasn't against what the Morporkians absurdly called seamstressing on moral grounds. And she could see the advantages in her current plight. She knew the Guild rigorously looked after the health and welfare of its working women, and that it took no more than 30% of each fee as its surcharge. She knew she could work as a high-class courtesan, a fille du jour, if she had to: the rates were good, and without false modesty, she knew the Guild would employ her only for special or high-status customers. Also, the protection of the Guild would count for something with that wretched troll, as not even he would risk the wrath of les Tantes d'agonie, the Guild enforcers. At, let us see, $AM 2,000 per assignation, less $AM600 to the Guild, leaves $AM1,400 for me.
Mes dieux, that's seventy-two assignations before the Troll is paid off… and that's seulement to pay off the Troll and meet his hundred thousand. Even before interest, and I still have to live… Mrs. Palm would have me for eternity, then. So call it a hundred and fifty assignations…. I could complete that in just over a year, if I live frugally, but I run the risk. At least some of the men are likely to be attractive, or intriguing, as well as rich.
And you know full well that if ever you make the mistake of trying to make a paying job out of something you love doing, it very quickly ceases to be something you love, and just becomes a job. But what else is there?
She fell asleep, still thrashing out the question, and awoke next morning with a heavy heart. It would seem that it had to be servitude to Rosie Palm, or the end of all things at the club-like paws of Chrysophrase's trolls. She washed, dressed and applied makeup with more than the usual care and steeled herself for the walk to Sheer Street. If done discreetly, she rationalised, her mother-in-law need not find out. She sincerely hoped so.
Outside, she knew she was being watched. There were many trolls going about their daily business, and each one of them was a pair of eyes for the Crime Lord of the Breccia. Eh bien, let them see me going into the Seamstresses' Guild, she decided, and went for what was to be quite a pleasant early-afternoon coffee with Rosie Palm. More pleasant than she'd expected.
In a surprisingly chintzy parlour, Mrs. Palm had expressed delight and gratification that Emmanuelle had been sensible enough to come and see her so quickly.
Tu prends du thé? Du café? Ah oui. Du café au lait? Ou crème?
She wasn't surprised that Mrs. Palm spoke good Quirmian. At some point in her past, she'd made the effort to improve herself by learning. She supposed it must come with the profession.
"I've always considered that the received wisdom of doubling your bets until your fortunes turn is a risky strategy." Rosie said, conversationally. "It works, and spectacularly so, if your fortunes change for the better and you keep your nerve before you run out of stake money, as I saw you do last night. But if a certain deity is disposed to behave like une chienne et une biche au yeux verts and your losing run goes on longer than the money you have available to bet with, then you end up with a lapful of woes."
She smiled, sympathetically. "Mais, c'est la vie. But we may be able to help a lady in your circumstances, if the lady is worldly-wise and broad minded. Are you married?"
"Yes. To Colonel Lapoignard of the Klatchian Foreign Legion. He is away at his command for ten months of the year."
"That makes it easier for us, my dear. You have, perhaps, what is known as a Quirmian Marriage?"
"If by that you mean I am an absolutely loyal and faithful wife to my husband for the two months of the year we are together, and he an absolutely loyal and faithful husband to me for those two months, then yes, we have a happy marriage where both parties do everything society expects of them, and they of each other."
"But for the other ten months?" Rosie probed.
"I am a normal healthy female with the usual drives and dispositions. And I suspect he has more than a passing interest in nautch-girls, and perhaps even their brothers, who are abundantly available in Al-Khali and Gebra. What do you think?"
"Does this worry you?"
"Not at all! I understand he needs release after being cooped up in desert postings for months at a time. And the unique nature of his command makes it very easy for him to… forget… my discreet liaisons. We have, I think, a good marriage."
"I like you more and more! Now. To business. You have a predicament where you owe a very nasty troll a large amount of money. This is a very nasty troll who has become nastier by studying human nastiness. He might not kill you if you default on this debt. Nothing so direct and troll-like. But you are aware engravers use very potent acids to etch a negative impression onto a metal plate? Trolls also use these acids to etch the equivalent of tattoos into their hides. Right now, a troll in the City Watch is so pleased to have been promoted sergeant that he had the stripes of rank etched into his living arms with these acids."
She studied Emmanuelle's face carefully. "A race that can inflict that degree of discomfort on itself will not think twice before using similar acids to, shall we say, radically re-arrange your unique beauty. Chrysophrase might consider it ample retribution for failure to show him respect, by neglecting to pay him the money owing."
Emmanuelle blanched. Rosie smiled, serenely.
"But we can help. A woman as beautiful and as worldly-wise as you would not be a common streetwalker priced at twenty-five to fifty dollars for an all-inclusive service. You are witty, intelligent, travelled, a lady of class. A lady of distinction, in fact. I would have no hesitation in placing you on a special list available only to Guild clients of taste and refinement. At the same time that you are accepted into the Guild, we would of course send a polite, and above all respectful, note to Mr Chrysophrase advising him of the fact you are a Guild member and under our protection. We might also suggest to him that by your consent, we have taken over and are managing your debt, and negotiate a settlement favourable to all parties. He will listen. He is not by any means a stupid troll."
Emmanuelle saw the logic of this. The way out of her predicament now seemed clearer.
"We would not ask you to do anything you find distasteful or against your nature. What is your attitude on, for instance, Ephebian Island lifestyles?"
Emmmanuelle looked blank for an instant. Rosie tried another euphemism.
"Sapphic practices. L'amour entre des filles."
"I've dabbled. But it is not really to my taste. A small but significant something is…missing."
Rosie laughed. "A shame. Or you could have gone onto a really special list we direct to female clients of the Guild who are of, shall we say, refined tastes. I can never get enough ladies onto that list, which is a shame, as it commands really premium prices. Supply and demand, you see. Ah well, let me know if you change your mind!"
"And the…. professional fees… involved?" Emmanuelle hazarded.
"What do you think?" Rosie asked, kindly.
"I'm new to all this…. I thought, peut-être, two thousand dollars for each assignation?"
Rosie laughed, but not unkindly so. For a moment, Emmanuelle wondered if she'd over-rated her own commercial worth.
"Now this is why there's a Guild! I find it depressing how such a capable woman as yourself can undervalue her earning power. My dear, for you, they would pay five thousand for an evening. And that is only an opening gambit, even before we discuss optional extras!"
They had gone on to discuss options, contracts and working patterns. Emmanuelle had seen and met seamstresses before, but had never really stopped to ask about the intimate financial details of their lives. Therefore a new world opened to her, and she was both intrigued and enchanted by it.
Just being an escort for an evening – "sometimes that's all a man wants, an attractive and socially skilled lady, so that he doesn't look out of place on those awkward social occasions that call for the attendance of Mr John Smith and one other." - was worth a minimum of five hundred dollars. "We have a list of ladies who work part-time for the Guild providing escort services. I am aware many of them, interestingly enough, stipulate that they are for escort only and not available for other commercial transactions. So I am in the interesting position of employing seamstresses who do not sew, which is quite ironic! This suits the men, who are often genuinely only looking for a social escort, and we provide a valuable service. Should an escort or paid companion and the client make a mutual decision that they would like to take their understanding a step further, a scale of charges will apply. It is then up to you to price out the evening, or the night's, entertainment, and make out a properly calculated invoice for services, from which the Guild will take around 30% as an introduction fee. We do expect honesty and accounting integrity in these things as a matter of course. You have met the Aunts? I'll introduce you before you leave.
"You may work as many or as few hours a week for the Guild as you choose, although we strongly advise against more than four full nights per week. You need time off to recharge yourself and it is possible to abuse your body and mind. This shows in deterioration of personal presentation and deportment, which can damage the reputation of the Guild. I also counsel against what I call the dollar syndrome, where a working girl becomes so greedy for money that her performance and her reputation suffer. She becomes so keen to make money that she can barely finish one client fast enough before moving on to the next. Again, this causes an otherwise useful girl to burn out like a cheap candle, and detracts from the good name of the Guild.
Here is a sample scale of fees a lady on your scale might expect to charge."
Emmannuelle scrutinized it. Damn these Morporkians and their strange attitude to sex! Even the brothelmistress speaks in euphemism!
"Madame. What is this playing the pink piccolo?"(1)
Rosie told her in blunt Morpokian. Emmanuelle burst out laughing.
"By this, I should already be ze millionaire!" she remarked, as she read the list.
"Well, that's what comes of giving it away for free all your life." Rosie said, mildly.
"And… there are two separate kinds of "le vice Morporkien" listed here. One is more expensive than the other?"
"It appeals to alumni of our older-established male schools, I'm told." Rosie said. "At Hugglestones, at the Assassins' Guild School and most certainly at Thrashers' Academy, I'm reliably told a certain type of boy can get a taste for both kinds of the vice. One is more expensive than the other simply because it puts you to a certain discomfort. In adulthood, he wishes to recreate the peak experiences of his schooldays, perhaps this time with a woman. So he comes to us. We aim to satisfy. Very scrupulously and accurately, if and when required!"
Emmanuelle still looked puzzled. Rosie again resorted to blunter language. "We can provide old sailors with the three staples of Navy life. Rum is on offer publicly in the bar. We prefer sodomy and the lash to take place privately upstairs."
Emmanuelle was not easily shockable, but her mouth fell open at the realization of what the two Morporkian Vices were and why one should put the Seamstress at more personal discomfort than the other, and was therefore charged at a premium.
"We do these things with so much more…. maturity…. In Quirm…" she said, weakly.
"Yes. And our sister Guild there does so much less business!" Rosie Palm said, practically. She stood up. "Let me show you around!"
Emmanuelle registered the glow and the buzz of a happy workplace, populated by women who loved their work and who received respect and consideration. She was introduced to the Aunts, two dapper old ladies who welcomed her warmly whilst memorizing her face for possible attention later.
"They're a sort of universal Auntie to the girls." Rosie explained. "They're veteran Guild members who came up through the ranks and still have a very valued job to do in senior years, when virtually all the girls they started out with have married or retired. "Aunt" is a honorific, really. Postholders come and go, but there's always been a Dotsie or a Sadie coming up the ranks."
Rosie apologetically raised the subject of, errm, occupational disease. Any incidences? Please don't take this the wrong way, but everyone has to be checked out. Everyone. Even me. Our retained physician Doctor Lawn, an old friend of the Guild, did you know he's a honorary member? He's here in three days' time to perform the usual checks. Can you be here then? Then we can start you out gently. It's been a pleasure, Madame Lapoignard!"
Three days later, she swung her legs off the examining table, in numb disbelief.
"I have WHAT!" she screamed.
"I'm so sorry, madame Lapoignard." the doctor said, calmingly. "It's only a minor infection. I can prescribe you a salve that will clear things up inside a month."
She felt dirty and ashamed. Oh, she'd noticed a little itch, but in Ankh-Morpork in summer she'd just felt grateful that it wasn't a great big itch, and anyway, there's been no rash.
"I don't have a month!" she raged, as the shadow of Chrysoprase loomed up in front of her.
Rosie Palm looked concerned.
Doctor Lawn was speaking again: something about the delicacy of the situation means you should speak to your last sexual partner and advise him he is also likely to be infected. But an episode of pubic lice can be cleared up quickly and simply. It's by no means the worst STD. Shave the affected area, for efficacy, and apply this salve daily…
That accursed boy! If a man sleeps with me, he should be clean!
"I'm so very sorry, Emmanuelle." Rosie said. There was genuine regret in her voice. "I'm going to have to defer your entry to the Guild until you can come back to Doctor Lawn and demonstrate you're clear of infection. You can see my point of view, can't you? But I do want you, and I do believe you have a future in the Guild. It's just not now."
She dressed, numbly, and then she was out in Sheer Street again, walking the long way round towards Filigree Street, shaking her head in disbelief at the absurd, surrealist, aspect of the Fools' Guild. A Quirmian founded it, she reminded herself. Yes, but the Morporkians debased a fine Quirmian tradition. Mes Diuex, the apogee of clowning is the mime artist, a Quirmian invention, and they actually ban it here!
Lost in though, she didn't register the trolls until they blocked her way. One raised a grimy lichen-encrusted hand.
"You have an interview wid Mister Chrysoprase!" it rumbled.
The day just gets better and better, she thought. She went along. There wasn't an alternative.
(1) Taken from an actual prostitute's menu of services, circa 1690. "Rum , Sodomy and the Lash" were a coinage of Winston Churchill, who, as First Lord of the Admiralty, should have known, when asked what were the deepest and most sacred traditions of the British Royal Navy.