Young Sam Vimes had everything he ever wanted, but not everything he needed because at the moment what he needed was a doctor. The blood continued to leak out of the slash on his forearm and while he wasn’t particularly upset, he knew perfectly well it wasn’t a situation he wanted to continue.
For one thing it was keeping him from following up on the Ice Eagle who’d inflicted the damage, presumably in an effort to avoid being tagged and/or cataloged. That was the ongoing problem for the endangered species of the Disc: well-meaning folks like young Sam were forever hunting them down in an attempt to keep them alive, which meant they had to fight back. The resulting stress made it difficult for them to put much interest into continuing the lineage, which in turn kept them endangered.
This particular Ice Eagle seemed more than happy to make his feelings about being banded known in one quick and bloody strike.
But young Sam didn’t hold it against the creature. He’d grown up respecting the fauna around him, be they swamp dragons or rats or acrobatic meerkats or kraken. He’d gained a love of nature from his mother, Lady Sybil, and fortunately, a streak of pragmatism and self-preservation from his father, Sam Vimes, which meant for now he reluctantly watched the bird soar off even as he tried to figure out where the nearest hospital was. Wrapping his arm with part of his cloak, he managed to get back on his horse.
“Right, so back to that little village at the edge of the forest,” he told himself, mostly so he could keep panic at bay. Sam wasn’t an idiot, but setting out alone to tackle a dangerous bird seemed in hindsight, less than a bright move. “Let’s go, Bronzer.”
The horse seemed to understand, and since the scent of blood tended to make prey animals move faster anyway, took off back the way they’d come while young Sam kept his balance, wincing. Ahead of them like an unmentionable stain on the horizon, the dark and ominous smudge of the forest of Skund lurked. Sam felt the tingles of raw magic that sparked off of it even at this distance. Skund was an unpredictable place, full of ambulating trees and as legend had it, the home of the five-headed vampire goat. Sam had never seen it, but definitely planned an expedition to seek it out at some future date.
A date that might never happen if he kept bleeding, he realized as his dizziness grew. Fortunately Bronzer had reached the little village—Bosh it was called-- and had slowed enough so that Sam could gaze around at the few signs. He didn’t need a pub, and was fairly sure that the blacksmith couldn’t help him . . . ah! One of the signs had a mortar and pestle painted on it in green. Feeling a bit weaker now, Sam swung off his horse, tied it hastily to a post and stepped into the shop, hoping he wasn’t dripping too much.
“Ah, is there anyone who can help me?” he asked, suddenly aware of some familiar odors. Young Sam had expected antiseptic and soap but instead he was breathing in flea powder, catnip, and dried bone of all things.
“Thir! You’re wounded, hang on!” came a melodious voice, and suddenly young Sam found himself being helped to sit on a bale of hay while someone peeled away the sticky cloak and tugged at the slashed sleeve of his shirt.
“Oooo, Ice Eagle,” came the knowing tone, “probably that rascal Roger. Thorry, thir, but this might hurt a bit.”
Young Sam blinked as the woman rolled a table forward, and in a twinkling had his arm bared, washed, numbed, and neatly stitched, the needle moving quickly along the edges of his wound. Not wanting to increase his nausea, he shifted his gaze from the medical embroidery to look at his savior, aware that he’d definitely lucked out by stepping into this shop.
She was an Igorina of course; the lisp was a dead giveaway. Over his life young Sam had known several Igors, and knew that there was a female equivalent even though he’d never actually met one before. This one had thick russet hair in a waist-length braid and green eyes. That is to say, different shades of green for each, which was a little disconcerting at first glance. She also had a thin scar down her left cheek that curled delicately like an ivy vine, he noted with fascination, and another one rambling just along her hairline like a coronet.
“Th-thank you,” young Sam managed, because he’d been brought up to be polite, particularly to people rendering first aid. “Is this a . . . hospital?”
“Not quite. It’s a clinic. For animals,” she admitted. “Under Doctor Tattersall. He’s . . . indisposed at the moment.”
Young Sam heard her words and the sentiments under her words which hinted strongly that Doctor Tattersall’s indisposition was of a bottle-related variety, and further, this was a common situation that this Igorina had been dealing with for a while. Loyalty was deeply ingrained in Igors, Sam knew.
Not wanting to watch the repairs, young Sam looked around the shop, noting the shelves of sheep remedies; the stuffed badger; the jars of horse balls (medicinal, not genital); the rather alarming anatomical charts depicting skinless bovines and the bone structure of hedgehogs.
“I know that one—it’s from Bayte and Cozy, on Incher Street,” he murmured, waving his undamaged arm at the chart. “I’ve got one just like it, but for a hippopotamus.”
“Fancy that,” the Igorina murmured and young Sam heard the smile in her voice. “Hippos are thcarce around these parts. Just a few more thitches . . . done!”
Young Sam risked a glance at his arm and was pleased to note that not only was the wound sewn up, but that the stitch work was both tiny and neat. He nodded and tried to rise, but the Igorina laid a gentle hand on his shoulder to stop him before moving to wrap his arm in gauze.
“I’d advise against moving too quickly. Thtay here and I’ll bring you thome broth,” she offered.
“Thank you,” Sam repeated, adding, “I didn’t quite catch your name?”
“Rella,” she replied shly. “Igorella.”
“Any chance you’re related to any Igors in Ankh-Morpork?” young Sam knew at least two personally: Igor at the Watch House, who was getting on in years now, and Igor at the Bank, who had been promoted to vice president of Glooper maintenance. Both of them had given young Sam fair education about the insides of creatures, much to the consternation of his father and amusement of his mother.
“Distantly,” ‘Rella told him and young Sam noted that she only lisped on words that started with an S. He wondered if it was an Igorina trait but before he could ask she’d slipped away and beyond the curtain that led to the back rooms. As she did so a faint cacophony of assorted animal sounds arose and he tried to distinguish them.
“Dog; large dog; even larger dog; annoyed goat—probably a Klatchian Mauve—and the uncertain throat-clearings of a lappet-faced worrier,” young Sam murmured to himself so he wouldn’t think about how gracefully ‘Rella had moved and about his noticing it.
Girls were not exactly an area he’d had much experience with, and while young Sam Vimes knew more than any self-respecting Duke’s son ought to about the biology and reproductive habits of hundreds of species, that knowledge apparently did not make for polite conversation at any of the social functions his mother insisted he attend. No sooner would he bring up the topic of the multiple nether proboscises of the Überwaldean Land Eels than he would feel his mother’s elbow pressing firmly against his ribs, or the toe of her shoe against his ankle.
“I know you’re the Disc’s authority on the Überwaldean Land eel, sweetheart, and I’m very proud of that, but it’s difficult enough to get through Melanona Selachii’s curried ferret course without the, erm, distracting visuals,” she would tell him later, her smile gentle as always.
So he tried to make polite conversation but for young Sam that meant nodding a lot and stifling his yawns though more formal meals than he cared to remember at this point. Fortunately both his parents understood and let him choose what events to attend with the exceptions of the Hogswatch night Festival and Founder’s Ball and young Sam had appreciated that. It meant he had the freedom to skive off to band ice eagles.
And be severely wounded by them as well, apparently.
As he glanced at his arm, ‘Rella returned with a serving tray and a huge mug of something that smelled of grilled rat and spices. Young Sam’s stomach gave a rumble of appreciation; he’d grown up with all the cuisines Ankh-Morpork had to offer and Dwarfish was among his favorites.
“Smells lovely,” he told his hostess, who smiled as she set the tray down.
“Thank you. I’d offer you a biscuit, but the ones we have in thtock . . .” she waved a hand and shrugged apologetically.
Young Sam, who’d teethed on Dwarf bread as a toddler merely chuckled and sipped his soup. It was good; hot and strong, flavored with cabbage that promised to ingratiate itself with his bowels later, and he finished it with embarrassing quickness.
‘Rella offered him more but young Sam shook his head, belatedly aware that what he’d just eaten had probably been her lunch, and further trespass on her hospitality would be rude. He got to his feet, looking for his cloak. When she handed it to him, young Sam noticed the bloodstains were gone; at his surprised look, she held up a little bottle.
“Just a little mix of my own for messes. A lot of them happen here,” ‘Rella admitted with a wry twist of her lips that made young Sam grin in return. Before he could thank her or say anything more though, heavy footsteps announced the approach of someone from the back room.
“’Rella!” came a voice so creaky that young Sam wouldn’t have been surprised if a closet door came through the curtains. Instead the squat figure of a man barreled through, looking more like a constipated bulldog than a person. He wore an apron covered in stains that told of a lot of surgeries. Unsuccessful ones, Sam hypothesized with a wince. “Oh! Who the devil are you then? Speak up or get out, then!”
“I’m Sam—“ Young Sam tried to introduce himself but the man ignored him, turning to ‘Rella and barking up at her.
“And you! There are three swamps and a cow to be dismembered out back! Not going to take themselves apart are they now? Get going, girl!”
With an embarrassed glance, ‘Rella dropped a curtsey to Sam and glided off through the curtains. Sam watched her go for a second before the man’s words settled into his brain and he turned to gape at him.
“Swamps? You mean swamp dragons?”
The man sneered, eyes rheumy and yet filled with maliciousness. “Them’s the things. Useless buggers; can’t have ‘em settling into the eaves around here, setting fire to everything. And what’s made of Skund forest wood tends to fight back anyway so it gets messy all ‘round. Now off with you and stay away from ‘Rella, you hear? She’s got fifteen years yet still to serve.”
Young Sam found himself energetically herded through the door before he could catch his breath. With difficulty he hoisted himself onto Bronzer, sitting for a moment to let his dizziness pass as curiosity and anger rose up within him.
Young Sam knew he had a temper; both his parents legendary ones and the combination of theirs meant that his was particularly ferocious when roused. Fortunately he’d learned early on to hold it in check and the practice had stood him in good stead, particularly around animals. Taking a breath, he turned the stallion, but instead of making his way down the main road and out of the village, young Sam directed his mount around the building. Sitting as he was it was no great difficulty to peer over the wooden fence that surrounded the yard in the back.
The place was full of weeds and held enough discarded junk to build a second building, two chicken sheds and probably an outhouse as well young Sam noted before he spotted ‘Rella gracefully tying on an apron. Her back was to him, and on a scoured wood table lay the body of a swamp dragon—a Green Squirt by the look of it, limp and scrawny.
Young Sam was glad his mother wasn’t here to see it because if she had, she would have gone all Lady Sybil and demanded to be given the little corpse for a proper burial. Then she would have delivered a reprimand to Doctor Tattersall that would have left the man limping for days.
But Ankh-Morpork was two day’s ride away and young Sam knew he couldn’t do anything at the moment. He watched ‘Rella reverently rest a hand on the little dragon and begin pulling out various jars from a shelf under the table with the other. He leaned forward to hear her as she spoke to herself.
“I’m THO thorry it’s come to this but you’ve got lovely claws and I’m thure I can find a new home for some of your insides,” she murmured. “Poor little thing.”
Young Sam felt a pang in his chest. It could have been a reaction to blood loss, or a forewarning from the cabbage in his stomach, but somehow he doubted it. This dizziness held a peculiar sweetness to it, reminding him of a summer’s day ages ago when he’d done fifteen somersaults and flopped on the grass as the disc spun around giving him joyful giggles.
He took a breath and spoke up. “Again, thank you.”
She spun and when she looked at him, ‘Rella smiled shyly. “You’re welcome, thir. Thorry about the doctor; he’s just . . .”
Sam nodded in perfect understanding. “Call me Sam, and I’ll be heading back this way. Just, er, wanted to let you know that.”
‘Rella nodded back at him. It would have seemed as sweet and perfect a moment if the Ice Eagle hadn’t swooped out of the sky, making a beeline for Sam’s head. Fortunately ‘Rella still had the limp dragon carcass in one hand; she flung it hard, hitting the bird mid-dive and knocking it into screechy cartwheels as it attempted to stay airborne.
Sam looked over his shoulder, one hand going for his dagger but the Ice Eagle seemed properly embarrassed after being beaned and flew off, trailing feathers. Sam hopped off Bronzer and retrieved the little swamp dragon body, handing it back to ‘Rella over the fence. “Again and again, thank you,” he told her, grinning this time. “Nice pitch!”
“Roger,” she sighed, “is a bully. Do be careful, thir; he carries grudges.”
“Next time I’ll wear a helmet,” Sam assured her. He climbed back on Bronzer and gave her a last lingering wave before redirecting his mount and trotting off, feeling the somersaults once again.
Everyone knows Igorinas are beautiful; it’s as much a fact on the Disc as wizards liking their nosh or fish flopping along top of the Ankh River. What people don’t know is that because of that beauty, Igors are particularly careful about their sisters and daughters. Igorinas rarely stray from the family laboratories, and almost never work outside the home.
Oh they have the same skills as their brothers and fathers; more so if you fancy embroidery on top of your sutures. Many an Überwaldian silk tattoo is the work of an Igorina, and they have a gift for putting the bloom back into aging cheeks of all sorts, be they facial or otherwise. But it’s a cottage industry, so to speak. On the whole Igors bring home the bacon and hocks and tripe and tongue; Igorinas sort through what’s usable and what’s edible.
There are exceptions of course. Some Igorinas are employed in hospitals since their stitchwork is smaller and they have a soothing way with women and children, but that’s only in places like Bonk-Schmaltzberg and Blintz. Nearly everywhere else, Igorinas are homebodies in every sense of the word. It was tradition.
But occasionally there were extenuating circumstances, usually stupid matters of honor and loyalty that required fulfilling. If, per say, a certain Igor was perhaps bound to a certain doctor and couldn’t carry out his duties due to an unfortunately fatal encounter with a particularly blood-thirsty five-headed vampire goat . . . well it might require another member of the family to step in and take up those duties, whether she wanted to or not.
Since the only escape clause for an Igor generally involved mobs with pitchforks and torches, and since none of those were expected to converge on the local veterinarian in Bosh anytime soon, matters stood as they stood. Doctor Tattersall continued his slightly suspicious practice, and behind him, cleaning up his less than successful cases, Igorella patiently counted the days until her contract was up.
There were a lot of days to go.
Still it wasn’t all bad. Much. She’d learned a great deal about the insides of various fauna for the local area, and had managed to save some of the creatures long after Doctor Tattersall was through with them. Currently her menagerie included a two-headed mouse; a cat with goat hooves and the bat-rabbit, whose ears hung down as he slept in the rafters. Most of the domesticated animals of the town seemed to like her—certainly more than they liked Doctor Tattersall going by the number of kicks, bites, and widdlings inflicted on him every day.
He wasn’t grateful for her help and didn’t appreciate her creative re-animation nearly as much as he should have either; ‘Rella’s father had grumbled about it to her. “Thurly thod. I regret ever thigning on with him in the firth plathe. Thtill, lots of thource material and oncth my contracth’s up we’ll thaunter into Ankh-Morpork and thee if Igor knows of any dethent jobs.”
That was before his encounter with the Five-Headed Vampire Goat of course, made all the sadder for her not having much of her father to remember him by. Oh ‘Rella had an ear in a jar that she was saving for a hearing, and she’d managed to nab his dimples but that was all. Occasionally ‘Rella wished she had a bit of his spine, particularly when it came to Doctor Tattersall, but on the whole she bided her time.
Lately however, the doctor had gotten particularly grumpy, and ‘Rella suspected it was fueled by an increasing dependency on Jimkin Bearhugger’s Old Persnickety straight out of the bottle as well as a shift in demand for services. Most of the town now preferred hers over his when it came to dealing with their domestic livestock.
“She’s got the knack,” would be their reasoning. “More of ‘em stay alive with her or if they don’t, she makes the best out of the bits left.” It didn’t help either, that some of the younger farmers had been both bringing in and making sheep’s eyes at her, ‘Rella knew. Amusing as their attentions were, she wasn’t interested in any of them, and Tattersall made sure they were scowled off the premises in a hurry.
This made day-to-day life a drudge and a lesser Igor might have thrown in the towel but ‘Rella was reluctant to do that. Since her father’s untimely death she didn’t have much in the way of savings, or prospects outside of Bosh. Oh she knew several Igors both in Überwald and at least one in Ankh-Morpork, but it would be extremely awkward to show up on the doorstep without plans or money. She was saving what she could, but it still didn’t add up to much.
Still there were good days. Treating a kind stranger had been almost fun in a way. Sam, he said his name was. A few questions around the pub and ‘Rella found out he was from the big Wahoonie, Ankh-Morpork itself, and was interested in animals.
“Not a hunter though,” Haste Bilkins, owner of the Salty Cabbage told her. “No bow. Said something about playing tag with ‘em though so probably a mite touched. Paid well though.”
‘Rella knew better, though. She’d heard about the society known as Welfare Interests To Lead Efforts Saving Species from the few copies of The Ankh-Morpork Times that made it as far as Bosh, and although the organization had a regrettable acronym, the concept was sound as far as she was concerned. Clearly Sam must be associated with the society if he’d tried to band Roger. That would make him a Natural Scientist, ‘Rella realized, and her heart beat a little faster at the thought. A Natural Scientist was only a short sidestep from a Mad Scientist. Many a noble-minded individual made the shift into Dabbler in Arcane Arts with the help of an Igor, she knew. And from what she’d seen of him, Sam seemed to have both the courage and sheer dumb luck required for the job.
A dream job, she thought, and made her way back to Tattersall’s shop, thinking hard. The first step was to apply to WITLESS, and once the doctor had decided to ‘have a consultation’ at the Salty Cabbage that ‘Rella knew perfectly well would last him all afternoon, she retrieved the last Ankh-Morpork Times from the bottom of the budgie’s cage and copied down the address. Bingley Tack, the postmaster accepted her letter and put it into the catcher pouch for the return trip of the Überwald Express.
The catcher pouch was a compromise between Bosh and the Post Office since mail in and out of the village was limited and the train refused to stop anywhere in the vicinity of Skund. Not even the enticement of Five Headed Vampire Goat mugs and decorative plates could sway anyone to build a station, a situation that still irked everyone in the village, especially the mayor, Dire Pill. (He’d been named by his mother, Serious Pill and had consequently twin sisters, Dismal and Ominous, charming girls with cheery dispositions.)
“It’s a crime is what it is, not allowing travelers to stop by here,” he’d protested when he was in his cups at the Salty Cabbage. “We’ve got almost decent beds, and Haste does a good grub-up even if it’s mostly cabbage mixed with Doc Tattersall’s, er, former patients. I’d call us downright quaint if pushed to it!”
Nobody bother to push him however; the long dark shadow of Skund was enough to keep most folks away. ‘Rella had heard tales even before she and her father had come to Bosh; stories of Black Aliss and Agantia, the queen, who if she reigned did so from the undiscovered center of the forest since nobody had seen her for several lifetimes. There was enough raw magic along the border to make bats choose walking over flying, and some of the trees dressed themselves with the tails of unfortunate squirrels.
‘Rella herself avoided the forest, not only because of what happened to her father, but also because she’d heard enough fairy tales to know what happened to girls who did. If some hired huntsman didn’t try to do an amateurish job of cardio-ectomy on you, then it was being chatted up by a wolf, or finding some gingerbread cottage with a witch keen on a very personalized diet. She’d saved animals that had gone in and their injuries were enough to keep ‘Rella from straying, no matter how tempting the wildflowers might be there.
All she could hope was that her letter would reach the right person; that is to say, someone who would appreciate her interest in becoming WITLESS.
“You can’t keep doing this,” came the annoyed grumble. “You’re the son of the Duke of Ankh, not some witless—”
Sam looked up from his desk and shot a grin at the girl scowling at him. “Oh but I am. Very much so. President in charge as a matter of fact.”
“Samuel Vimes you know perfectly well what I mean!” she glared at him, her mouth pursing up tightly. Chervichelle Skater was a great purser of lips and stamper of feet. Her pout generally looked like the underside of an octopus, and Young Sam found it the least attractive mannerism, coming out on top of disdainful sighs and arms crossed so tightly she looked as if she was trying to corset herself.
He wasn’t even sure why she was here in fact; Chervichelle and animals did not get along in any capacity. She seemed to radiate a low level of disdainful animosity that made most pets vacate a room as soon as she entered, and made larger animals lay back their ears, including, Young Sam noted, most of the servants in the employ of the Skater family. Nevertheless Chervichelle seemed determined to spend part of her mornings in the upper rooms he’d rented in Mollymog Street to house WITLESS generally faffing about and lecturing him on what he ought to be doing instead of what he preferred to be doing.
Generally Young Sam could tune her out; he’d learned his father’s survival technique of turning his attention down and responding in monosyllabic sounds as he focused on his work. It generally paid off; with little response Chervichelle would eventually huff out, leaving him to exhale mightily and get on with his day, but of late she’d been lingering longer, much to his dismay.
It wasn’t that he disliked her per se; Young Sam had known her since they were both toddlers in fact. It was more that she had Strong Opinions that she inflicted like wasp stings with as much delicacy and consideration. Most of the time Young Sam shrugged her off, but she’d been overstaying the welcome she’d never actually received in the first place and he was getting mightily tired of it.
Had Young Sam bothered to ask his mother about Chervichelle’s behavior he might have gotten a disconcerting answer but Sam didn’t and as a result continued to suffer as he sorted through the morning’s mail.
A letter, slightly grubby and faintly smelling of cabbage dropped out of the stack. Sam picked it up and noted the delicate printing, which was unexpected. Generally notes with the whiff of brassica that were addressed to his office were from folk with creative spellings and unevenly sized letters, with contents that spoke of odd creature sightings and hints of rewards for the same. Word, Young Sam knew, had gotten out about both his cryptid interests and monied background.
But this note held an application for membership, neatly filled out and signed with familiar name; he smiled as he smoothed the page out, feeling a rush of delight. Reflexively Young Sam stroked his forearm, aware of the nearly healed injury of a week before.
“What are you reading?” Swooping in, Chervichelle plucked the paper up and spun away, bringing it to her face and making a disgusted moue at the scent. “Oh an appli-ca-tion! From some chit named ‘Rella? What sort of a name is that?”
“As a matter of fact I know exactly what sort of person that is and I’ll like that letter back, please,” Young Sam rose up and reached for it. He was nearly at the end of his patience with Miss Skater and the ugliness in her tone wasn’t helping, especially against the memory the note brought to mind.
“Really?” Chervichelle simpered, waving the paper out of reach. “Let me guess; a little git you saved from a runaway horse, or some serving girl with a dog you bandaged up?”
“Yes that’s precisely it,” Young Sam agreed a trifle too quickly; Chervichelle rolled her eyes so dramatically he was sure she’d peeked at her own brain, tiny as it was.
“Oh Sam, really . . . no woman out there wants to join your little animal society! No decent or respectable one anyway. I’ve been telling you the truth for years: Animals were put on this Disc to serve us, be it in deed or in gravy and that’s all there is to it. As for this pathetic person . . .” she darted over to the open window and thrust her hand out.
Young Sam bounded over, gripping her wrist tightly and glaring at Chervichelle with the same steely gaze he’d inherited from his father, the ‘You’re in quite a lot of trouble if you so much as hiccup right now, so don’t’ gaze that far too many of Ankh Morpork’s seedier citizens had felt in their time.
Chervichelle finally had the common sense to freeze although the page fluttered in her fingers as the breeze up Mollymog Street threatened to snatch it free.
“That note was to me, not you,” Young Sam pointed out, his voice slow. “I’ll have it back now, Chervichelle.”
She pursed her mouth again, eyelashes fluttering. “Not unless you kiss me,” Chervichelle breathed.
Young Sam fought his flinch, feeling exasperation, revulsion, and annoyance battling inside him. He let go of her wrist. “You’re having me on.”
Chervichelle simpered, an act no woman over the age of twelve should try getting away with. “Consider it an incentive,” she purred. “After all, we’re both so very . . . compatible.”
The way she rolled the last word out left Young Sam feeling queasy, but years of working with animals had given him the capacity to think quickly on his feet. “Fine. But close your eyes.”
She did, and Young Sam pressed two fingers horizontally against her lips, mildly revolted when seconds later he felt the lecherous probe of her tongue tip between them. Pulling his hand back quickly, he wiped his damp digits along his hip and cleared his throat. “Letter.”
Chervichelle slowly opened her eyes and gave him a smug smile. “Ooh, wasn’t that nice! Fancy another?”
Young Sam coughed as loudly as he could, reaching a hand for the note as Chervichelle jumped away. He pocketed it and gave her a sorrowful shake of his head. “Sorry, I thought I mentioned I might be coming down with something. Hope I haven’t infected you in the process.”
“Fine time to tell me!” she fumed, and instantly shifted her expression to one of false concern. “Oh, then I suppose I should let you, er, recuperate then. You will be better in time for the Founder’s Ball, right?”
Young Sam coughed again, giving a half-hearted nod and kept up the charade until Chervichelle had flounced across the room and out the door, clattering down the stairs. He sighed, rubbed his hand against his pant leg again, and fished out the letter.
Dear thir, the note read. I hope your arm has healed thince last we met when you passed through Bosh. I have come to understand that you yourself are the founder of WITLESS, and I wish to apply to your fine organization to help thave thpecies all over the Disc.
Care of/ Doctor Tattersall, Bosh.
Young Sam sighed, appreciating how she managed to preserve her lisp even in writing; how she hit straight to the point, and most of all how this gave him a clear reason to revisit Bosh in the near future. He’d been musing—well daydreaming really—about ‘Rella lately. Only they weren’t quite the usual sort, and some of them left him a bit achy at times but on the whole that was all right too.
He considered his options, which were somewhat limited at the moment. Founder’s Ball, Ankh Morpork’s social event of the year was coming up in less than four days’ time and Young Sam knew that meant he and his parents were scheduled for fittings, catering meetings, deportment instruction and all the other trappings of noblis oblige that came so naturally to his mother. However, he and his father each had reasons to resent the lost time; Old Sam had always harbored a lingering suspicion of the aristocracy of course, and in Young Sam’s case because it was all so very boring.
Time spent getting his inseam measured and his table etiquette refined was time lost in seeking out the Uncommon Sock Eater, or keeping an eye on the nest of Disturbingly Purple pigeons spotted on one of the Unseen University towers. (It wasn’t the color that was disturbing but the fact that the nest was comprised of bloody cowhides and was nearly ten feet in diameter that had Young Sam intrigued. His theory at the moment had to do with magical emanations filtering through the kitchens.)
In short, getting ready cut into his WITLESS work.
Still, there was a little time and Young Sam pocketed the note, feeling hopeful. Half an hour later he was walking between the stone dragon-topped gateposts on Scoone Avenue, hoping he’d find his mother at home. By luck she was, and waved Young Sam over into the third parlor before he could even open his mouth.
“Ah there you are dear; saves me the trouble of hunting you down. Madame Seersuckre from Quirm is here to er, size you up for your Founder’s ball wear.”
This sounded slightly dangerous, but Young Sam knew there was little use in trying to get out of it; his mother had very decided ideas about fashion for such things and the sooner it was over, the sooner he could ask her about a spare invitation, so he patiently stood and tried not to squirm as an impatient bony woman with a mouthful of pins and fingers like iron bars prodded, hummed, poked and grumbled somewhere around his hips.
“Mother,” Young Sam began, only to give a little gasp as Madame jabbed an area not meant to be jabbed.
“Humph! Your son has excessive . . . how do you say? Aîné.”
“Er, he does? Probably gets it from his father,” Lady Sybil murmured going a little pink in the face.
Young Sam fought a flinch as the woman shrugged. “Yes, that’s generally the case. I’ll check if we have extra fabric; either way he’s going to be . . . popular.”
Among the well-known traits of the Skater family was a streak of ruthlessness that had served them well in their climb to the upper crust of the City’s society. The Viscount Rupert Fillete Skater, despite a somewhat vacuous demeanor had maneuvered his way up the rungs of Ankh Morpork’s judicial system through the decades, accumulating wealth and generally handing off the drudgery of the day to day court system to those more intelligent than he. This left him free to pursue his own interests, which included harassing the gardeners, collecting portraits and avoiding the company of his wife and daughter.
The latter was understandable as anyone who’d ever met Tourinne or Chervichelle Skater would attest. The Viscountess was a knobbly woman who wore her hair pulled back so severely that everyone seeing her felt their own temples ache in sympathy. Wasted sympathy since the Viscountess countered that severity by wearing as many jewels as possible all the time. While it intimidated most people, several of the city’s bolder magpies had taken to following her around whenever she left her house, swooping and dive-bombing her in an attempt to nab some of the sparkles adorning her person.
Chervichelle was their only daughter and general consensus agreed as spoiled as a bushel of halibut left in the Klatchian desert. Despite a minimal prettiness she practiced a maximum pettiness which endeared her to no one in particular. At school she was voted ‘the girl most likely to succeed via a steady line of credit with the Assassin’s Guild,’ a title she took to heart. At the moment her prospects fluctuated since anyone interested in courting her took their life into their own hands. While her dowry was estimated to be considerable, the horrendous drawback of having to be married to Chervichelle was enough to keep most sensible-minded suitors away.
Consequently, Chervichelle had decided early on to shape her own destiny and set her sights on Young Sam Vimes as the quickest way to climb to the next social level in Ankh Morpork society. The fact that they’d known each other their entire lives helped give her access and familiarity. Blending the Ramekin fortunes to the Skater one would certainly make her one half of a power couple, and the fact that Young Sam was handsome didn’t hurt either. He had Sybil’s honest face and frame along with his father’s sinewy strength and, er, other notable attributes if gossip was accurate.
Chervichelle was determined that despite the fact Sam had never shown the slightest romantic inkling towards her that they were in fact, perfectly matched.
“He’s got money, decent looks, and he spends a lot of his time somewhere else,” she commented to her Quirmian maid, Limace. “If that’s not the groundwork for a successful marriage I don’t know my cabbages.”
“As Mademoiselle says,” Limace nodded. “Exacty-ment.”
“So I need to get him to propose, and it should be at the Founder’s Ball,” Chervichelle continued. She and Limace were making decisions about dresses, which involved pulling everything out of an expansive closet, staring at each item with scorn, declaring it hopeless and throwing it on the floor. By now there was a pile nearly as tall as a wizard and nearly twice as wide, which spoke to the size of Chervichelle’s closet.
“Mademoiselle needs a new gown, something to show off the . . .” Limace made a twirly gesture somewhere between her shoulders and waist. “Ooomph.”
“Oomph,” Chervichelle repeated thoughtfully. She glanced down at herself, hoping to find an abundance of glory in the indicated region and coming up with less than impressive amounts. “Hmmmm.”
“Alas, Mademoiselle is without what we in Quirm call Les Oolala,” Limace sighed, “but hope, she is not lost. There are ways to create the balcony of love.”
“I’m not stuffing the front of my dress,” Chervichelle snapped. “Daphne King does it and her second story always looks ridiculous, like mismatched sofa cushions! I’ve got more self-respect than that!”
“No Mademoiselle misunderstands me,” Limace replied with a wince. “There are more . . . permanent ways.”
Chervichelle pursed her lips, which made her look like an annoyed duck. Oooh, you’re talking about visiting an Igorina. You think I’m letting one of those things cut into the proud and beautiful flesh of a Skater?”
“Er, only for the purpose of Les Oolala,” Limace pointed out. “They have a reputation for inflation which is well-deserved. Do you not remember Nebria Selachii, who just last year became . . . outstanding?”
Chervichelle harrumphed, sounding a good deal like her father. “Tacky,” she grumbled unconvincingly.
“Effective,” Limace reminded her. “She has just become engaged to Lord Venturi’s nephew. You must give Monsieur Vimes a reason to keep his eyes on you, and a skilled Igorina will give you two good ones.”
Glancing down again, Chervichelle sighed, plucking at her neckline for a moment. “I suppose a little . . . improvement to the foundation wouldn’t be a bad thing. We should get an appointment before the Founder’s Ball.”
“As Mademoiselle says.”
Mail often left Bosh, but not much came the other direction, so when ‘Rella received a letter, most of the town knew it. This was both good and bad; the fact that everyone knew it meant she’d actually GET this letter and not have it held back by Doc Tattersall. The bad news was that she wouldn’t have a chance to read it until well after dark since he’d find more than enough to fill her day and keep her from it.
Still, by the time he was gently snoring off the last of his three nightly bottles, ‘Rella managed to slip to her garret and open the note, which was on fancy vellum and sealed with a huge blob of red wax, the V on it quite obvious.
‘Rella nervously plucked the flap open with slender fingers, wondering exactly what this could possibly be. She’d never gotten a letter before, not even a post card. Igors tended to communicate through the word of mouth, even if the mouth wasn’t attached to anyone at the moment.
Once the letter was open, a gilded ticket fell out, winking in the candlelight; ‘Rella picked it up and examined it curiously. “Admit one: Ankh-Morpork Founder’s Ball,” she murmured, astounded.
“Gracious!” Quickly she glanced to the accompanying note, deciphering the enthusiastic scrawl easily.
Dear Miss ‘Rella,
Please accept both my belated thanks and this ticket to the Founder’s Ball. I have received your application to become WITLESS and am happy to admit you into the society. Should it be possible to meet and discuss our mutual interests I would be delighted to do so.
Samuel Vimes the Younger
Under that was an added note: My mother shares your fondness for swamp dragons.
‘Rella blinked, a whirl of emotions spinning in her and not sure which one was going to surface first. The unexpected honor of being invited to the Founder’s Ball warred with her inbred Igor’s resistance to stepping into the spotlight; the sweetness of Young Sam’s note conflicting with the realities of fifteen years more of Doc Tattersall, and through it all, the thrum of hope that was impossible to deny.
She fingered the ticket, catching a little of her own reflection in the gilt edge, noting her anxious expression. “Oh Father,” she sighed. “What thould I do? Thtay or go? Thurve or thally forth to thee Tham?”
Her glance fell on the little iconograph on her nightstand. In it, she and her father stood together, holding hands. Not each other’s of course, but a pair picked up after one of the Bosh villagers had an unfortunate confrontation with the 9:15 to Überwald. Her father was playfully waving his while she using hers to shield her eyes as she looked at him. Such a peaceful, purely Igorian moment, straight out of her childhood. ‘Rella blinked back tears.
“There’s more to life than this,” she murmured. “There has to be! Thnakes and theep and thparrows don’t excite me the way they used to. I want more than the Bosh I find here. I want to get my hands on thomething bigger, and I think that means Tham! Er, I mean I think he’s offering me thomething really big . . . oh for goodness thakes!” she patted her warm cheeks even as she gave a crooked grin. “Father,” she told the inconograph, “I think I need to go to the city. I can’t pass up this chance that Tham is offering me. I want to work under him. NEXT to him,” ‘Rella amended quickly. “I want to be there to pick up the pieces and make thomething of myself. Give me a thign!”
At that moment the little clock on the wall struck the hour, and something dropped, clinking onto the nightstand.
The hour hand lay there, pointing at ‘Rella, who stared at it.
“O-kay, can’t get much more literal than that,” she smirked and went to go find her suitcase.
Young Sam wasn’t sure how to start the conversation. At least this one. There were dozens he could start with Igor but the one he wanted to have wasn’t happening so he waited, hoping the damned words would work their way out.
Igor—the Watch House Igor to be exact-- was setting up some complicated contraption involving a pile of baby rats, a bottle of something green and smelly, and all sorts of glass tubes. Young Sam didn’t have the courage to ask, but felt a little sorry for the baby rats, who were looking rather resigned to the whole business.
“Look if thith ith about the rats, I do have a permit,” Igor sighed. “They’re all the right age for experimentation.”
“No, no that’s fine,” Young Sam murmured. “Er, what’s the experiment?”
Igor smiled, which would put the average person off their lunch for a week, but Young Sam was used to it. “Watch!”
The green gloop surged forth, dousing the young rats who shuddered for a moment, and then every hair on their bodies expanded in curls and waves of glorious length, packing the little cage into a container of luxurious hair and buried under it a few feeble squeaks of protest.
“Living toupees?” Young Sam blinked.
“Yeth,” Igor nodded. “Thee, I can train a baby rat to cling to a bald head; rathts are enormously talented at clinging ath you know—and by doing tho, you have a toupee that never thlips!”
“Well it’s certainly . . . innovative, and spares the life of the rat I suppose but is there a market for it? Er, them?”
“Thertainly! Thereth an entire thegment of the population who’ve never come to gripth with hair loth,” Igor pointed out. “Now I can thell them the hair AND the grip!”
Young Sam nodded, impressed despite himself. He watched Igor reach into the cage and untangle one small rat who looked like the root end of a blondish waterfall. It clung to Igor’s hand, looking startled but determined.
“Thix of these in braids and you could look like one of those wild muthicianth from Llamedos,” Igor observed. He glanced at Young Sam and added, “But thatth not why you’re here. What can I do for you?”
The moment had come. Young Sam tried not to fidget. “I’ve met someone.”
One of Igor’s eyebrows went up---the darker, heavier one. “Good,” he assured Young Sam. “That happenth. I’m thur your mother approves.”
“Maybe not,” Sam gulped. “She’s . . . an Igorina.”
The alarming contortions of Igor’s face made him look as if he was having a seizure and sneezing at the same time. “Oh,” he managed.
Young Sam went on, feeling a sense of urgency. “She’s from Bosh and she’s amazing. She fixed my arm, and gave me lunch . . . and I’ve asked her to come to Ankh-Morpork.”
“Bosh,” Igor repeated. “Igor there died a bit ago. I got word and windpipe at the thame time. Wait, must be hith daughter. You mean ‘Rella?”
“Yes, that’s the one,” Young Sam nodded. “She’s . . . amazing.”
“Well the does have a lot of her fatherth best,” Igor agreed cautiously. “But thir . . . you and ‘Rella . . . thometimeth you have to conthider . . . incompatibility,” he warned. “Not everything goeth together like Rat and Wow-wow thauce.”
“Maybe not,” Young Sam agreed, “But it’s a chance to find out. I just . . . I don’t know about Igorinas. What they like, how to talk to them.”
Igor refrained from rolling his eyes, mostly because he wasn’t sure he could get them to stop once they got going. “They’re like Igors. Or Dwarveth. Or any other being, thir, except girlier,” he replied slowly. “You can talk to girlth, yeth?”
Young Sam winced. “Sort of. They’re not much interested in curious squid or thargas or book maggots.”
At that, Igor smiled, stroking the long strands of the baby rat clinging to his hand. “Oooh, I think maybe you’ll do juth fine then, thir. Justh fine.”