tagSci-Fi & FantasyMore Tales from the Guilds Ch. 02

More Tales from the Guilds Ch. 02

byvoluptuary_manque2©

This is a continuation of # 13 in my first series of Guild stories. And, yes, if anyone is confused, Voluptuary_Manque and voluptuary_manque2 are the same author. I just had some computer issues and had to 'reincarnate' myself.

*****

"Ah, Miss Lavish," Accumulata had been escorted from Lady Sybil Hospital to the Patrician's Palace and then immediately into the Oblong Office.1 Sitting in a comfortable chair she very pointedly did not glance to either the left or the right. She didn't need to. The thick, solid, black-clad 'clerks' on either side of her broadcast an ominous presence that had little to do with their rather ordinary appearance.

1 An almost unheard of experience. Most people who found themselves with an unannounced 'appointment' with the Patrician had to wait next to the eccentric office clock until its discontinuous ticking turned their brains to peanut butter.

"As I said to Postmaster von Lipwig the day I hired him, sometimes, very rarely, at a point in a person's career where they have made such a foul and tangled mess of life that death appears to be the only sensible option, an angel appears unto them and offers a chance to go back to the moment when it all went wrong—and this time do it right. Miss Lavish, I should like you to think of me as—an angel."

More like an especially scheming demon, she thought. I wonder how soon it was after I started sabotaging the Undertaking that he found out what I was doing. Then he just let me get in deeper and deeper until I had run up enough expense that he could pillage the family trust for compensation and turn them all against me.

Centuries before the Lavishes had been what they chose to call 'merchant adventurers' and what everyone else called 'pirates'. Her ancestors had been very good at it and had accumulated a vast fortune that allowed their descendants to enjoy a lifestyle that had come to bear the family name. But either the kind of intelligence that had produced the fortune had run thin in the family blood or the forces within the City that opposed them had improved alarmingly. Accumulata rather feared the latter was the case.

"I don't know what you want from me, your Lordship, but I do know that whatever it is, I really have no choice. My family puts the sole blame for your appropriating much of their fortune on me and now their only debate is whether to go formally to the Assassins or to just hire some of Chrysoprase's trolls to tear me limb from limb. I have to get out of the City."

"Oh, no, Miss Lavish," Vetinari steepled his long fingers in front of his aquiline visage, "there is always a choice. If you step through that door over there I promise that you will be under no obligation to return and will never hear from me again."

Accumulata thought she had never heard such a dubious offer in her life. She wondered briefly just what sort of messy demise waited on the other side of the door but had no desire whatever to find out. It was probably a multistory sheer drop onto a bed of spikes or something equally ghastly. And avoiding a messy demise was, at present, her primary objective. While the Assassins could be counted on to avoid excessive fuss and mess, she was worried that her relatives might prefer a visit from the Guild of Bodyguards, Bouncers and Last Resort Lenders, i.e. the Breccia. They would have no compunction against starting with their clubs on her feet and working their way up. Much as she hated the idea, if the Patrician had chosen to take her side then however much that cost, she would pay.

"And what job are you offering me, your Lordship?"

"Directness becomes you, Miss Lavish, despite your having majored in diplomacy at the Guild School. The People's Beneficent Republic of Agatea has recently reopened a communications channel that was last used some months before the Abdication of the Silver Emperor and their Glorious Revolution. Trade between our realms has increased considerably since then and the Chairman of the Central Committee of the People's Revolution, one Madame Butterfly, has broached the subject of an exchange of ambassadors. You will do nicely."

"Agatea? The Counterweight Continent? But that's weeks by sea."

The thin man with the fussy beard and pianist's fingers smiled. It was a sinister smile but a smile nonetheless. "You did say you needed to leave the City."

Accumulata nearly protested that she was hoping more for somewhere like Quirm or at worst Genua until she remembered how spread out the Lavish family was. This was mostly due to their total inability to tolerate each other's presence except when a common target came into view. Then they united into a solid, malevolent mass. And right now, she was their common target. No, his Lordship was right. The Counterweight Continent was definitely a better choice.

"Will—will I have embassy staff?"

"Of course. At first it will be small, as befits an initial legation, but if things go favorably you will be administered enough funds to hire local help and I will periodically dispatch such clerks as I feel you need. To begin with, let me first introduce you to Clerk Arachne. She will serve as your Cultural and Scientific Attaché while researching the wildlife of the Counterweight Continent."

A young woman stepped from behind Accumulata's chair. She was clad in the common day dress of a female Assassin though uncharacteristically the dress was cinched around her middle by a broad black leather belt. Even more oddly, the belt was clasped by a bright red enameled buckle in the shape of an hourglass. She nodded in greeting.

"Additionally, you will, as ambassador, require a proper servant and bodyguard. This is Mr. Pump. In addition to the usual scrolls in his head, he has been equipped with a complete Agatean/Morporkian dictionary which will facilitate communication with your counterparts in Hunghung."

A huge golem, its eyes gleaming bright, fiery red, lumbered into view. "Good Afternoon, Miss Lavish," it rumbled.

"Mr. Pump will also act, should the need arise, as your parole officer. Do not be so foolish as to attempt to evade him. He has your Karmic Signature and will follow you twenty-four hours a day forever. Now, your ship awaits you in the harbor. Do not let me detain you."

*****

One Big River sat on the foot of the bed and looked at the wall. He wasn't thinking of anything, not being well equipped for that sort of activity. His job was to act as the Chairman's bodyguard and, shall we say, help her relax after a strenuous day of governing? He was, she told him, very well equipped for that!

Pretty Butterfly snuggled up against the man's broad back, a contented smile on her face. Now, she thought, if only the rest of the Central Committee would try as hard to make her happy. They didn't need to share her bed,2 but having some small desire to see her point of view would make for a more enlightened realm. Instead, they always threw up meaningless objections to whatever changes in the Five Year Plan she felt necessary. It was, she sometimes mused, enough to make her consider bringing the wire waistcoat and cheese grater out of retirement.

2 In fact she strongly preferred that they did not!

But the Pointless Albatross had arrived from Ankh-Morpork with news that the Patrician had chosen an ambassador and was sending her by ship on the outgoing tide. He also sent his regrets that the Great Wizzard was not available, having been given a life appointment as the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography but Vetinari insisted that the Chairman and the new Ambassador would find it easy to see eye-to-eye. Pretty Butterfly certainly hoped so. It would make Committee meetings go more smoothly if the rest knew that the amazing city state of Ankh-Morpork had the Chairman's back! She smiled less contentedly at the possible reactions of Comrades Hong, Fang, Sung, Tong and McSweeney.3

3 Their fathers had been lords of the five noble families who wrestled for centuries to control the Agatean Empire. Having ascended to patriarchy due to the previous generation's fatal inability to defeat the Silver Horde and its Red Army, they continued the traditional wrestling for control, just under new titles.

It was a pity that Rincewind was otherwise engaged Butterfly thought. Too many of the things he had told her about revolutions, governing and peasants had turned out to be true. He might not have been much of a wizard, really, but as a vizier he would have been a great choice. Ah well, perhaps, the new ambassador had a sufficiently clear-eyed and cynical view of mankind that she could step into his pointy toed shoes.

*****

As the S.S. Utterly Enormous beat a broad reach along the Chimerian Coast, Accumulata began to think that perhaps being Ambassador to the People's Beneficent Republic of Agatea might not be so bad a sentence. Certainly it was superior to the Patrician's scorpion pits and even more so to doing the 'hemp fandango'. As a passenger of high status (she was also a Lavish, after all) she took all her meals at the captain's table, flirting genteelly with the ship's officers and gossiping with two other couples who were going to the Counterweight Continent 'on business'. What that business might be hadn't yet come out in the conversations but the difference in the value of gold was a frequent subject of speculation.

"I understand that the Agateans previously had little interest in anything the outside world has to offer," Accumulata commented over dessert the afternoon the preposterous Wyrmberg4 came into view on the horizon, "As ambassador I'm supposed to encourage trade between our nations but if they don't want anything, this will prove challenging."

4 Wyrmberg is a conical mountain most notable for the fact that it emerges from its point and spreads to a wide peak with waterfalls running off the edge. Supposedly it is inhabited by dragons.

Ainsworth Pennywise smiled as he answered, "As it turns out, the silver hunger of the Aureant is legendary. It makes for quite the compact trade carrying silver bars to Hunghung and gold coins on the return voyage. We get pleasant traveling and a good profit."

That last phrase definitely caught Accumulata's attention. There was this thing called a 'diplomatic pouch'. How much silver or gold (depending on the direction of travel) could you smuggle into one of those? And how would you ensure that it was properly directed to someone she could trust? Was there anyone left that she could trust? Further exploration of the idea might bear fruit. On the other hand, it might get her killed. She was already living on a knife point with Vetinari as it was. Maybe this was one opportunity that was better let pass.

*****

Comrade Hong sipped his tea with a faint smile. Suddenly, his expression turned to one of utter surprise and he slumped forward, a tiny dart protruding from his neck. Comrade McSweeney sighed. Something had definitely been lost between the generations. The old Lord Hong would never have fallen prey to so basic an attack. Doubtless the ninja was already up the walls and away over the roof. In the old days, Lord Hong would have expected the attack, worn suitable protective clothing to prevent it and when it did occur, would have whipped around in a blur of speed, sliced through the paper wall and beheaded the assassin. It was all too pathetic.

Turning to Comrade Fang, he commented, "Well, now there are only three of us in contention."

"Indeed," came the reply, "with Hong out of the way and Sung a total idiot, there leaves only you, I and Tang."

"A total idiot, yes, but idiots can be quite useful, after all. If Tang were to 'disappear' and Sung sit in the Chairman's position, the two of us could correct much of the damage to our family fortunes brought on by this idiotic Revolution."

"We could, indeed." Comrade Fang smiled enigmatically. He had just the day before had almost the exact same conversation with Comrade Tang who proposed that Comrade McSweeney should be the one eliminated. Fang wondered just which of them it was who engineered Comrade Hong's demise. Unless—could Madame Butterfly have set up the dirty deed? He never had trusted her smiling, allegedly philanthropic approach to life. Especially when she was funding her philanthropy out of the estates seized from the Five Noble Families! Wheels began to turn within wheels.

*****

In her sumptuous quarters above the Counterweight Palace, Madame Lotus Blossom offered her guest a cup of tea. "So the Patrician has dispatched an ambassador to my sister's Republic. Interesting. Was it, perhaps, Professor Rincewind?"

Drumknott sipped the tea and sighed appreciatively. The near colorless brew and the personality-free clerk were a perfect match. "No," he answered, "the professor is adamant about not leaving the shelter of Unseen University ever again. He believes the world is out to get him and only the sheltering walls of the university protect him."

The restaurant's proprietor smiled. When they had first met, Rincewind had found her terribly attractive4 but incredibly naïve. In the intervening years, Lotus Blossom had bloomed into a woman of almost goddess like beauty and had, in the process, shed a great deal of her naïveté. Enough so, in fact, that she now ran a very successful and profitable restaurant in the cut-throat commercial world of Ankh-Morpork.

4 That is to say she made him imagine big steaming plates of butter-covered potatoes. Later he had to undergo therapy for this.

"Dear Rincewind. Later in his life, my father decided that the only reason that nothing fatal happened to him in his travels was the Fate was always trying to dump disaster on Rincewind. But it seemed that the Lady, or possibly Rincewind's own turn of speed in a panic, always intervened and so they both survived. He would have liked to see his old friend again. So who has his Lordship sent, instead?"

"One Accumulata Lavish. She attempted to set up an embarrassing disaster to unseat his Lordship and she did it with great skill. But not great enough. The Patrician was impressed by her ingenuity so when the plot was revealed and the considerable costs of correction (plus lots of interest!) deducted from the Lavish family fortune, he decided that instead of turning her over to the revenge of the other Lavish's, he could make use of her intelligence in a way that would profit the City. He likes to have people working for him who really don't have any other choice."

"Indeed. And so she will hew closely to his Lordship's view of what benefits Ankh-Morpork. Well, she should prove an interesting challenge to the Five Noble Revolutionary Families. Fortunately, none of the current generation have talents for intrigue that even approach those of the late Lord Hong. I hope she isn't tempted to fall in with them."

"She may be tempted, but his Lordship has assigned a highly skilled 'dark clerk' and a golem aide-de-camp to accompany her. The likelihood of her 'going astray' is low as the consequences for doing so are ghastly. Being pulled in half must hurt terribly."

*****

After the Patrician's secretary had departed, Lotus Blossom retired to her boudoir. The politically innocent child of the pre-Revolutionary Agatean Empire was far in the past. Now, looking in the mirror, she saw a stunning, chamsong-clad figure who somewhat ominously evoked the phrase her nervous employees used in whispers—Dragon Lady. Backed by the unlimited gold reserves of the People's Beneficent Republic, Lotus Blossom had begun with a small take-away kitchen and then very rapidly grew it into a culinary destination—not just for Ankh-Morpork, but for all the lands around the Circle Sea. Tourists from the food-crazed city of Quirm and from the exotic, spice filled country of Klatch and from distant, dark Howondaland all made reservations months in advance to sample the Twenty-three Heavenly Delights tasting menu. (Agatean Palace trained cooks commanded huge salaries in the aristocratic town or country houses and royal palaces of the Sto Plains). And all these important guests chat and gossip over Jade Pearl Pork Tails and Devine Perfume Lobster—and ignore the silent, listening wait staff, who spent the time between courses writing down detailed notes of the coversation.5

5 How exactly copies of those notes end up in the Patrician's Palace archives is a question not to be asked.

But now it seemed that Madame Butterfly and Lord Havelock Vetinari had decided to open formal relations. That would certainly make espionage simpler, though possibly less fun. Lotus Blossom doubted that it would make any substantial changes in her operation. And even if the undercover operations needed to come to a close, there was always the excellent sport of making money. Thinking of sport—she wondered how it might be possible to tempt Professor Rincewind out of UU . . .

*****

Pretty Butterfly stomped through the halls of the People's Palace of Glorious Uplift6, periodically leaping and throwing a spiteful kick at any object or person foolish enough to be in her way. So Comrade Hong was dead? No loss there. One might even think 'good riddance'. She wondered, quite casually, which of the others had engineered the assassination. Naturally, Fang, Sung, Tang and McSweeney had expressed horror and outrage at the act, which only cemented her belief that it was one of them who had arranged Comrade Hong's early departure for the Celestial Realms. Which one, though, was an intriguing question. That Comrade Sung was universally adjudged a total idiot made him, she thought, the primary suspect. No one could be as stupid as he appeared and survive as long as he had. Long had the Chairman suspected him to be the most dangerous of the five. And now there were only four. On one hand it simplified keeping watch over them but on the other, it concentrated the plotting amongst them. She was beginning to fear she might have to have someone killed; possibly even a collection of someone's.

6 Previously the Imperial Palace

Arriving in her private quarters she looked up and saw the massive form of One Big River, patiently and impassively standing in front of her door. All at once her fury and frustration faded. Yes. An hour or so in his arms would improve her outlook immeasurably. He was so delightfully well-equipped for that.

*****

Drumknott straightened up the papers in His Lordship's in and out boxes and then brought the Patrician a cup of tea. "Madame Lotus Blossom expressed regret that you weren't sending Professor Rincewind to Hunghung to be our ambassador."

"Not surprising. His cynical/cowardly views on life, the Disc and government doubtless kept the Red Army alive in the fraught times when Lord Hong was attempting to seize the emperor. They'd have fallen for his subterfuge and been slaughtered otherwise. However, the professor is hunkered down within the walls of Unseen like a timid badger in his hole. He only leaves when he has no other choice and even then scuttles back as fast as his legs will carry him. No, I need someone in the Agatean capitol with staying power, even if that power is fear of the Lavishes. Accumulata will serve well, especially as I augment her staff with more of my clerks. The first task is to keep the Chairman in power. I suspect that Arachne will be taking preemptive steps once she is familiar with the local ground."

*****

So this is Hunghung! Arachne watched intently as Enlightened Proletarians of the Republic slung the embassy luggage, files (and certain other boxes best left unexamined) onto carrying poles and down the gangway, across the quay and through the teeming streets of Agatea's capitol. She'd heard that the Agateans prized cleanliness and considered 'foreign devils' unwashed and unpleasantly fragrant. Given the miasma of scents that rose from the city's byways and canals, that seemed rather a stretch. After her years in the open skies and wide vistas of XXXX, Hunghung was going to take some getting used to. However, with any luck, once Chairman Butterfly's security was insured, she would return to Bugarup and continue her interrupted research into the habits and lives of the continents myriad venomous arachnids. She was absolutely sure that somewhere among the crawling multitude were species that made the notorious Klatchian Monkey Spider seem like a honeybee. It would be her entry into the Assassins' Guild Hall of Honor. Hopefully, there would be a collection of 'clients' for her to practice7 on here in Hunghung.

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