In the Canon:-
Madame les Deux-Epées is one of the new generation of women teachers employed by the Assassins' Guild School to deal with the new influx of female pupils. According to the listing in the Assassins Guild Yearbook and Diary, she is housemistress of Black Widow House and teaches Swordsmanship and Metalwork. Nothing more is known about her, but the inference of her name is that she is from Quirm.
In the Pessimal Discworld:-
Perhaps thirty years ago (she is fashionably vague on trifling matters such as age), in the Quartiere Quirmienne of the ancient city of Quirm, the swordsmith and armourer Réné-Artaud Les Deux-Épées and his wife were blessed by the birth of a daughter. Little Emmanuelle-Marie was a girl with a captivating character, and a keen intelligence that made her curious about all aspects of running the family business. Knowing he couldn't drive her out of the forge and the workshop for very long, and that she interpreted the admonishment "this is not a place for little girls" as if she herself were excluded, Réné-Artaud sighed a deeply philosophical sigh and at least ensured she stood a safe distance away from the forge while he handled the raw Toledan steel that was the foundation of his fame. He also made sure, as he taught his apprentices, that his daughter was wholly included in his teaching. Ma foi, he could do nothing else. It wasn't exactly as he'd planned it, but if the child was going to spend her free time hanging around the workshop, she might as well be educated properly while she was about it.
He considered sending her as a day pupil to the prestigious and nearby Quirm Academy for Young Ladies, as after all, the business was prospering, he could afford it, and sword-smithing was not an occupation for young girls, when all was said and done. Indeed, she was clever enough to pass the entrance exam with quite a high mark - both Miss Delcross and Miss Butts seriously considered taking her as a scholarship pupil. (Ironically, had he succeeded in placing her there, Emmanuelle would have met Alice Band a lot sooner than she did, as Alice was a QAYL pupil at about this time.) But he was dissauded and she was turned down by the snobbery of the place and the time. The QAYL was viewed as an exclusive school for girls of good family, ideally the nobility and the royalty. The daughter of a mere artisan such as a sword-smith would have been well below the social salt. And for her to be a mere Quirmian.... well, parents did not send their daughters to QAYL for them to mix with gutter Quirmians. A daughter of a chevalier... well, Quirmian is an exquisite language from the mouths of the educated classes. A chevallieuse we can accomodate, a chateleaine perhaps, but une paysanne, jamais!
Emmanuelle-Marie nodded, having learnt a valuable lesson. Education is where you get it, and a large part of it consists of learning about the way the world really works, as opposed to how your wishful thinking would like it to work. And she had learnt that just because the best school in town is in your native town of Quirm, it does not necessarily mean that a Quirmian native would be welcome there. Eh bien. What else is there?
what else there was there involved working in her father's armoury, learning all about the properties of metals and how they might be worked and shaped into armour and weapons. From forging small fairly simple things like arrowheads - and even these require skill to shape into the various forms demanded by professional archers - Emmanuelle-Marie progressed to halberds, pike heads, bill-hooks and reapers, learning how to marry metal to wood in the process. From here it ws a short step to knives and daggers, and then, when her father judged her ready, to her first formal sword.
Formal education was given for part of the week in L'Ecole Quirmienne, a co-operative venture subsidised by Quirm's artisan community for its sons and daughters. Here, Emmanuelle-Marie's probing intelligence saw her shoot well ahead of her peers, and her restless searching nature led her to discover other sports, such as fencing, where a distinguished chevalier who taught the art of the sword to young nobles recognised that the swordsmith's daughter, barely thirteen, had a formidable talent. Emmanuelle-Marie, by then a wiry, sleek and fiercely pretty young girl, had been delivering a set of new-made practice swords to m. Le Chevalier's fencing academy. Up until now she had given little thought to the purpose the weapons were going to be used for, but, entranced, she watched a group of slender and somewhat attractive young men being put through their moves. That night she picked up an epée and shadow-fought in the armoury yard, using what she could remember of the poses and the moves and the thrusts as her guide.
As it happens in the best of narratives, M.le Compte was in the family home, drinking a fine Quirmian brandy with the master armourer, negoctiating for the purchase of more swords and miscellaneous equipment. Hearing a disturbance in the yard, both men looked out to regard the sight of the armourer's daughter, as she leapt and thrust and parried.
"I will discipline her, my lord..." offered Réné-Artaud Les Deux-Épées. "But she is a spirited and somewhat wilful girl..."
"No need, Réné." murmured the Compte, entranced by what he was seeing. "She has but seen the inside of my academy of swords once, and her stance is perfect, her moves are good, and her swordwork, while needing improvement that will surely come with practice, has little to be reproached. Réné, I wish very much to teach your daughter. Mes dieux, She is a prodigy! A vertiable prodigy!"
And so Emanuelle-Marie found her first sword teacher, a man who respected her as a uncle should a favoured niece. He recognised there was more here than just a bright and gifted girl with a talent for swords. By agreement with her father - the Ecole Quirmienne having taught her all it could - he also supervised the prodigy's further education. He was liberal, this Count, and realised that the girl would likely ascend to the greatest heights had she been born a noble and not just as the fille d'un artisane. She was not just pretty, she was beautiful. She was possessed of a fierce intelligence and a graceful wit. She was born to swords, that much was clear. Feed her intelligence and tutor her in languages and the graceful arts, and she would go far, this Emmanuelle-Marie.
At first, she quibbled at the language teaching, finding Morporkian ugly to her voice and Überwaldean to be utterly harsh and graceless. But the Compte, who she rspected, won her over, pointing out that Morporkian was the language of the world outside Quirm, and not to speak it was to be voiceless. As for Überwaldean, he shared her sentiments, but he pointed out that the destinies of Quirm and Überwald were somehow bound together. Occassionally, and certainly within living memory, it had become absolutely necessary to arrive at accomodations with Überwald and for Quirmian pride, regrettably, to be set aside. Emmanuelle had heard rumours that le Compte had, er, collaborated, in the aftermath of the last need to arrive at an accomodation, when Überwaldian armies had briefly been in occupation of Quirm. But she shrugged: the noble had been selflessly kind to her. She was in his debt. Et bien, she would learn Überwaldian and Morporkian.
And from about the age of fifteen, there were other little games that promised to make her later life full of adventure and empty of boredom. The Compte's eldest son, le chevalier Maurice Lapoignard, returned from his Army command to find his father acting as patron to such a lively, intelligent and vivacious young woman. Emmanuelle-Marie found herself equally drawn to the dashing and elegant young army captain, and things, as if fated, took their eventual course. Oh, she had had some rather unsatisfying and frustrating fumbles with uneducated peasant boys, but the urbane Maurice, a man of the world, eight years her senior, showed her a whole new world in his bed. She was hooked on this new form of combat, and became his amoureuse with neither prompting nor persuasion.
The old Compte nodded and forbore from comment - an educated Quirmian and a man of affaires, he knew to allow the affaire to take its course, relieved that the fiery and beautiful young girl had chosen his son, as man of honour and chivalry, and not some accursed gigolo. Her education continued on all levels, and life took its usual measured pace, until L'Affaire Rodley blew up.
Certain exciteable elements in the old Quirmian nobility had been aggrieved for some time that the highest in the land were a family of Morporkians throust on them by the machinations of the great city. The thought had grown on some that if the Rodleys were to be assassinated or deposed, Quirm could be retaken by the Quirmians and the beginnings of rebellion to Ankh-Morpork would become as a fanned flame, sweeping all before it. So a half-baked assassination attempt was made upon the Rodleys, which failed: for they were rich enough, and far-sighted enough, to emply affiliates of the Guild of Assassins as their "security consultants."
Vengeance was not long in coming.
Emmanuelle and Maurice were awoken one night by intruders in the chateau Lapoignard. Dressing swiftly and selecting swords, they surprised the team of black-clad Assassins who were intruding with the purpose of inhuming the old Compte. The subsequent sword-fight grounded Emmanuelle as a swordfighter, as she fended off and wounded two of the attackers; Maurice killed one and the fourth turned and ran for it, the wounded fighters staggering after him.
This did not prevent the death of the old Compte: a second attempt, made six months later through the dishonourable medium of poison, took him away, and Emmanuelle grieved: but at least her defence of him had lifted his disquiet about his son marrying a commoner.
However, a report had been sent to the Guild in which her name featured prominently. The then Master read it, and filed at as "interesting."
Marriage and seperation followed on closely. Emmanuelle was now, technically, Comptess de Lapoignard, but found herself prefering a simple "madame" in most cases. The reason for the "technically" was the continued life of the old Dowager Comptesse, Maurice' mother, who held suspicions over her daughter-in-law and who, vielle beldame, delighted in blocking her access to family monies. She would gladly give to her beloved son; but not, helas, to her undesirable daughter in law. With the threat of retribution from the Assassins' Guild hanging over him for slaying one of their own, Maurice was forced to go where the Guild could not easily follow. first, he accepted a diplomatic posting to he Quirmian Embassy in faraway BhangBhangDuc. Emmanuelle joined him here, wondering at how well she fitted into the place and how much she loved being here. But this had to end. An Army officer for hire, he accepted a posting abroad philosophically, albeit one where his wife could not follow, and signed on with the world-famous mercenary formation, the Klatchian Foreign Legion.
Emmanuelle-Marie found seperation hard and although she had not intended to, she began taking lovers to console herself. One such was irrascible gambler and all-round bad boy, "Scrote" Jones. He taught her to play several common card games and noted she had both the taste and an aptitude for gambling. She became a Gamblers' Guild member and a nomad, going where the cards and tables were, establishing a reputation in Guild circles everywhere between Genua and Ankh-Morpork. More lovers inevitably followed on, and she realised she was getting a taste for thrill, adventure, and danger. Maurice returned on a rare leave and while she loved him as much as ever, she realised with dissappointment that her husband was somehow getting more vague. She presumed this was something to do with the nature of La Legion. Preferring to dress in black, this earned her the nickname of "The Black Widow" in gambling circles: a nickname that was soon going to echo in other places for other reasons.
Even the best of gamblers becomes unstuck and can go through a losing streak. If she is also one of the boldest, it can go hard with her, and one disaster of a night in the casino left her a hundred thousand dollars in debt to the troll Chrysophrase, who incidentally owned the casino. With a philosophical Quirmian shrug, she recalled the brief coversation she had had with a discretly rich woman towards the end of the night.
"It looks as though you're in a spot of bother, dear. Why don't you come and talk about it with me?"
Emmanuelle knew her options were limited. She had no collateral of her own; and to draw on the not-especially-rich Lapoignard estates would have been unthinkable, and in any case needed her husband's consent. She sighed, and made arrangements with the so-sympathetic Mrs Palm to join the Seamstresses' Guild and, under its protection, repay the money that way. But she had also been careless: what might otherwise have been a formality, the medical examination, revealed a lesser but contagious social ailment that, from the point of view of Mrs Palm, would have been bad for business.
Shocked and ashamed by the Seamstresses' refusal to employ her - at least, not until a certain medical matter was cleared up - she was taken before Chrysophrase, who genially suggested a different way of working her debt off. With no way to refuse, and having been shown what happens to people who fail to show the troll crimelord the appropriate degree of respect, she became his personal contract killer, undercutting the Assassins' Guild for each inhumation as she worked off her debt.
This brought the Black Widow to the notice of the Watch and the renewed notice of the Guild. On the occasion of the seventh and last killing, the one that cleared her debt, she was assailed by waves of Assasins in a desperate rooftop struggle that herded her to a certain rooftop on Filigree Street. Seeking to escape to ground level, she entered a darkened room. The lights went on to reveal Cruces, Downey and T'malia, and behind her, several very pointedly-aimed crossbows. Sighing philosophically, she reflected that she had bought her freedom from Chrysophrase only to have to surrender it again to the Guild. The hatred of Assassins that she had nurtured over the death of the old Compte had no place now, she realised: she had effectively become an Assassin herself. All that was needed was for her to sign the appropriate forms and embark on the Mature Students Class. Rather be on the inside and have their friendship, than remain outside and have them hunt me down comme une chienne...
She appears in these stories by Pessimal:-
- The Graduation Class
- Murder Most 'Orrible
- Nature Studies
- Il se passait au nuit de Pere Porcher
- The Black Sheep