“Please, Rosie,” said Havelock. His hands were upraised before him, in a gesture that could have been either a plea or a surrender. Rosemary Palm laughed, and fanned her cards out before her with a smile.
“I order you up,” she said. Sybil Ramkin, his partner in crime and sewing euchre alike, groaned cheerfully, rearranging her own cards.
“Assist,” said Sybil, faux-resignation in her voice.
“Shovels are trumps,” Havelock admitted, and Sandra Battye, the fourth of the four people present and Rosemary’s calling partner in more ways than just in the card game, patted him fondly on his good leg.
“There’s a girl,” she said.
“Ooh,” said Sandra, a few silent rounds of flipping cards later, “the left boudoir. Nasty.” The left boudoir was the second-most powerful card in the game. She then selected a card, twirled it around, and laid it down. The most powerful card, of course, was the right boudoir, and was, also of course, the card that Sandra had just played.
“I don’t know why I play with you and Rosie, you know,” Havelock said, folding the hand. “You are the most insidious cheats I have ever had the misfortune to play cards against.”
“Other than yourself, of course,” said Sybil, “when you play every side in your head, pretending to pay attention in meetings in the Rats Chamber.”
Havelock acknowledged this with an incline of his head, and Sandra snorted. “But of course,” said Havelock. Then he added: “Not that I ever engage in such a practice when the meetings have our dear Rosemary in attendance.”
She hit him over the wrist with her deceptively thin, floral-painted wood fan. It was the one with violets on it, that Sybil had painted for her and Sandra five years ago. He tolerated this in much the same way as a genteel and dignified cat tolerates a paw-swatting from a distractible kitten. “You had better not, missy,” she said.
Havelock laughed, his head dropping forwards towards his chest, clear-eyed and reclining on a silk bed. Sandra was seated on the same bed, next to him, Rosie was in an armchair next to Sandra, and Sybil was amply filling up a sofa. He was relaxed, which was rather the point of their occasional girls’ nights, which these days occurred far too infrequently.
The tradition had started when they were still under Snapcase, and his hair had been rather longer, plaited near halfway down his back, and Sybil was still making attempts at keeping her own hair longer than finger-length, before she had resorted to wig-wearing. The term “girls’ night” had been suggested somewhat tentatively by Rosemary and her … they’d never had a name for what they were, but Rosemary and her Sandra. Sybil had agreed wholeheartedly, and clarified that she was, in fact, a girl, she just liked dragons that that happened to like burning her head. Havelock had agreed, too, clarifying, for his own part, that the term bestowed a seeming sense of belonging, and that he’d never been too attached to any gender, anyway.
When Havelock had seriously entered politics, he had cut his hair to a ‘respectable’ short length, and later on the beard had come as well, but he was still “one of the girls” to Rosie, and by extension the other members of their semi-exclusive club of four (‘semi-exclusive’ because occasionally Queen Molly, perhaps Rosie’s closest non-Sandra friend, showed up too, and on one memorable occasion so had Lady Margolotta). He was “one of the girls” to all of Rosie’s other girls too, and boys these days, which was helpful, because none of them so much as batted an eyelid at seeing Lord Vetinari, Patrician splayed across Rosemary’s chest, three-quarters drunk and the other quarter asleep. He could ‘let his hair down’, here.
He kept laughing, and the other three looked at him with a combination of amusement and mild concern. “Are you alright?” asked Sybil, not ungently, and Sandra moved herself a little way away from him, so that there was no chance she was brushing against and causing pain to his bad leg.
“Oh, I’m fine,” he said, “just enjoying the company.”
“In that case,” said Rosemary, “you can go and be the one to get that doorbell.” She pointed.
Sybil made a sympathetic sort of face at him, and Havelock shrugged gallantly and raised himself dramatically from his elbows to a seated position. He waited with his hand out for his cane, which he had left leaning against the bedpost, and Sandra caught it up and passed it over to him. He stood, and ambled his way to the door, which he opened, his eyebrows raised.
The young woman who had wanted to enter Rosemary’s private rooms, in the most strictly literal sense, could not have been older than her mid-twenties, and she blinked at seeing the Patrician there, and at his still-drying nail polish, and the high collar of his robes there for all of the world to see, without his cloak. “May I help you?” he asked, kindly, something parental in his tone. That was another perk of being here – respect for privacy included nobody going around saying that Lord Vetinari liked to think of half the city’s seamstresses as his honorary godchildren.
“Oh, um,” she said, deftly avoiding saying ‘sir,’ and he respected her presence of mind to avoid gendering her Guild head’s guest, “the Madam on Easy Street wants Mrs Palm to go and send an Aunt around, a gentleman’s –” which meant a man from the Ankh side – “been bothering her lasses.”
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” asked Rosie, coming to the door herself; Havelock stepped back and sat back down, this time squeezing onto the sofa with Sybil. She patted his thin arm, and he leaned his head against her broad shoulder. While Rosie was in discussion, Sandra picked up an embroidery wheel and began to work on an elaborate botanical design.
A few minutes later, Rosemary reappeared. “Sorry about that,” she said. “No rest for the questionably moral, you know how it goes.”
Havelock fought back a yawn, pressing a sharp knuckle into his eye. “Yes," he said. "I do.” Rosie exchanged a glance with Sandra.
“I should probably get going home,” said Sybil.
“We’ll have an early night,” said Sandra, “won’t we, Rosie?”
“Mn,” said Havelock, and then woke back up properly, and they all cleared away the cards. “Thank you,” he said, and meant it, about quite a few different things.
“Of course,” said Sybil.
“See you around, ladies!” said Sandra, as they left Rosemary’s rooms.
“Rats chamber next Octeday, Havelock,” added Rosemary herself, “and you better not be playing cards mentally when I’m talking.”
He waved and made no promises.