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The Right of First Refusal

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He was nineteen when his Aunt Bobbi brought him to the house on Scoone Avenue. Lord Ramkin had been generous in his offer, and it was clear it wasn’t to be a traditional betrothal agreement.

If Havelock wanted to court Lord Ramkin's daughter that was fine, but nothing was promised outside the right of first refusal. If anyone wanted to marry Sybil Ramkin, he would be offered the option to marry her first. If it was a good match, it was an offer that he could easily refuse in good faith. As a result, he would be able to keep unsavory suitors away from the young heiress. Sybil would never know about the arrangement unless he told her so he would not feel any undue pressure from her to marry.

The agreement was quite generous, a quarter of a million dollars would be transferred to his accounts and he would have the backing of the Ramkin's regiments when he became Patrician. The Ramkin family would support him in any of his political ambitions and provide his Aunt with a property in Genua.

The only two ways the contract would be voided would be upon the death of either party with a clause to protect each party against assassination; or through an act of narrative causality. The narrative causality clause was precise; a life debt gave the first refusal option to Sybil’s or Havelock’s savior and the right of second refusal would go to Havelock. Exceptions were made to this clause in cases where the hero was undead or married.

After the contracts were signed, Bobbi escorted him down the hall to meet his potential bride. He laughed at the thought. He knew basics about her, according to her father she was a sturdy girl, who was very smart but very young and naïve. The ballroom was empty except for a solitary figure working.

Bobbi called out to the girl. “Sybil, I would like you to meet my nephew, Havelock.”

Havelock bowed. Sybil stood and curtsied.

Bobbie turned to her nephew and whispered in his ear. "Give her a chance, she has more worth than you think." She then announced into the room so Sybil could hear. “I will leave you to get acquainted.”

Havelock didn't say anything to the girl but nodded that she should continue whatever it was she was doing. She nodded her thanks in return and went back to her project.

Later in life, Havelock would acknowledge that his view of women was rather jaded as a young man. He always compared the women around him to either his mother or Aunt, which only made the girls of his society look dim-witted and foolish. As a result, he was used to assessing society girls on their physical form, rather like one would assess a dog or a horse. A wife in the upper classes was no more than a glorified pet.

He took a minute to study her. She was a big girl, plump but not obese, sturdy with wide shoulders and hips, and tall, very tall. She had to be an inch shorter than he was and he was tall for a man in Ankh-Morpork. Her overall look was intimidating, but her ancestors wanted children to ride into battle not host tea parties. She wasn’t hopeless, there were always those in the market for a draft horse. Though she struck him more like one of the working dogs found in the hubward countries, something regal like a Cori Celesti Mountain Dog. Buxom and curvy, if she learned to be confident in her body he could see her appealing to a selection of men, even a few of her own class. She wasn’t pretty but handsome and easy on the eyes.

And then he noticed, she hadn't come over to fuss over him. All girls of marrying age, unless they were already spoken for or incredible beauties, fussed over any eligible man. Society functions were like walking into a flock of carrion birds, looking to pick off the weak and the easily confused. She should be pumping him for information or at least chittering at him like a myna bird, but she was working on her project in comfortable silence.

He walked over to see what exactly had her so enthralled. He was impressed, she had set up a pantograph and was copying Methodia Rascal’s Battle of Koom Valley.

“That quite the undertaking. Most masters do not attempt that until their fourth or fifth year . How old are you?”

Sybil cocked her head and gave him a slightly puzzled look. “I just turned 14.” She frowned for a moment at his reaction. “I look old for my age. Daddy says it's because I have an old soul. I think it is probably just because I’m a big girl.” She self-consciously covered her bust.

He nodded. She looked like she was at least his age, but this revelation only confused him and made him question his earlier appraisal of her.

“What are you working on?’ he said indicating the project.

“School project. It is a better use of time than flower arranging.” She looked up at him thoughtfully. “I like to look at them. Most of them look so fearsome but you can see doubt and sadness playing over the faces of some dwarves and trolls towards the back. I figure that is closer to the reality of battle.” He was struck at how profound this was for any eligible lady he had met yet alone for a 14-year-old. “I have been trying to read up on Koom Valley, we only learn human history at Quirm College for Young Ladies." She gave a small sigh indicating mild disapproval at this fact. "Anyway, it’s a challenge.” She said as she returned to working on one of the troll faces.

He sat next to her and watched her work.

He gave her an appraising look. "You do realize that as a hostess, it is your job to keep me entertained."

"I am sorry. Did you wish to discuss something?" She looked at him and gave him a gentle smile. "You indicated that you wanted me to go back to what I was doing, I thought you wanted to contemplate your own thoughts."

She was clever and that made him want to challenge her. "Since you are reading up on Dwarf History, what do you think of the new trend of performing Dwarf Operas?" He asked conversationally.

She looked at him and her eyes sparkled with mischief. "I think it's Shatta."

Havelock choked in response and she laughed. "Shatta. You know, dwarvish for an unexpected treasure. The operas are not of the same caliber that they would be if they were performed by dwarves but I still think they are very good." She hesitated for a moment before continuing. "There are more dwarves in the city. They are such wonderful craftsman and artists, I think they should be able to share their culture with the city. Although, most of my friends would disagree with me." She looked at him anxiously trying to gauge his response.

He laughed and proceeded to embark on the best conversation he had had in months. They talked for the next few hours. Mainly about the city and him, she pulled him out of himself. She made him feel important and bigger, better somehow. He relaxed and let his guard down barely noticing the time passing.

When his Aunt Bobbi retrieved him, Sybil promised to write. He hadn’t thought too much of the encounter at the time, it was enjoyable but his future interactions with Sybil would be limited. He would help her find a good husband, her family would help him secure the city in a few years, and the city would be on the road to being great again.