In the canon:- Edit
Miss Smith-Rhodes appears once in the canon, in a list of Assassins' Guild School teachers linked to the school Houses for which they are Housemaster or Mistress. This was created for the Assassins' School Diary and Yearbook of some years ago. Therefore the only two canonical facts about her are that her name is Miss Smith-Rhodes (no forename or initials are given) and that she is housemistress of the presumed all-female Raven House. An inferred detail is that she is one of a group of female teachers, only three of whom are named in the canon, who were employed especially to deal with the influx of female pupils enrolled after the Assassins' School went fully co-educational. Her closest colleagues are therefore the Right Honourable Miss Alice Band, and Madame Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignard les Deux-Epées, as well as the pre-existing and formerly the only woman teacher at the School, Lady T'Malia.
In the Pessimal DiscworldEdit
The clue to fleshing out the personality of Miss Smith-Rhodes lies in her name, which presumes a .Howandalandian origin. (See article on Howondaland). She would therefore be a citizen of the Union of Rimwards Howondaland (De Republiek van Strandwoerts Hovondalaand), that loose confederation of white colonies occupying the southern (Rimwards) end of the Klatchian continent. These colonies have not survived by being soft or liberal with regard to native rights. Locked in a permanent border dispute with the neighbouring black kingdoms of Kwa'Zululand and Matabele, the Staadt has implemented apartheid - seperation - as a means of keeping the black majority servile and under control. Both the Morporkian-speaking and Vondalaans-speaking component states of the Union agree that keeping the blacks under is a prerequisite for the survival of the white race in Howondaland. The black tribes are therefore a docile and resigned reservoir of heavy labour and a source of plentiful domestic servants.
The young Johanna Smith-Rhodes (her name came straight from a Bob Dylan song and sounded right for the character) is the oldest daughter of a lesser branch of the politically influential Smith-Rhodes family, who ruled White Howondaland for several hundred years. Her branch of the family stems from an elder son who chose to marry into the Boors three or four generations ago, and as a result has become much more Boor than it is Morporkian. Her father is no longer involved in politics and now runs the family farm near the city of Piemburg in the Transvaal. Raising his family perilously close to the River Ulunghi, the disputed border with the Kwa'Zulu. Indeed, Zulu warbands raid across the border from time to time, enforcing a rule that nobody moves on the farm without a weapon close to hand. By the age of ten, Johanna is skilled in a dozen different weapons - her father, and the local Volkskommando kommandant, are in uneasy agreement that she is good with whip, machete and crossbow.
A year or so later, her family farm is attacked by a Zulu impi that has raided across the river. In fierce fighting, Johanna was seperated from the rest of her family, and after having expended her crossbow bolts at the attackers, seeks cover in an isolated barn. However, two Zulu warriors followed her there. What they found was a barefoot red-haired child who was crying with fear and trying to raise an adult-sized machete which is trembling in her hand and drooping down towards the dusty soil. To them, it is clear that she is putting up a pathetic last defence with a weapon which is far too heavy for her to lift. One of the warriors laughs and approaches her with his heavy blunt wooden club raised to bring down on her head. As he approaches, lifting the knobkerrie to strike, his laugh turns to surprise as she screams with rage and fury, ducks under his guard, and a machete that a moment or two ago appeared to be a useless weapon in her hands is driven deep into his chest. As one Zulu drops, she twists the machete out of his rib and leaps for the second. What he took to be a brown leather belt around the child's waist also unravels itself. In her left hand, it becomes the deadly sjaembok whip of the Boors., and this cracks accross his face with vicious lacerating speed. Dropping his assegai to cover his bloodied face, he too leaves himself open to a killing slash and stab from the machete.
As the local volkskommando civilian militia, alerted by the beacon fire lit at the Smith-Rhodes place, arrives to relieve the farm community, Mijnheer Smith-Rhodes, fearing the worst, looks for his oldest daughter. He finds her staggering towards him in a dress soaked in blood, and is only marginally relieved to realise none of it is hers. Taking advice, aware that in killing two men in mortal combat, Johanna has grown up a little too fast and too soon, he sends her to a school further Widdershins, safe from raiding warbands, on the fringes of the national park.
The confines of a classroom, even the discipline of wearing shoes, is torture to a girl born to the open air, farm life, and the wide-open veldt. But aided by her new friend Katerina de Mauritz, a city girl from Joburg who shrieks at tales of raiding Zulus and marauding lions, she settles to her lessons, trading the classroom and the highest marks she can attain against the freedom of spending holidays and weekends with the rangers of the T'Set'se National park, learning all she can about the animals and the wildlife. Learning Morporkian is her hardest challenge. But as her teacher points out, it is the other official language of the URH, and the principal spoken tongue of the wider Discworld outside Howondaland. "Why, some of you may even visit Ankh-Morpork when you are older!"
At age seventeen, Johanna anticipated her National Service by volunteering for her country's armed forces. (Her friend Katerina gained deferment by going on to university, gaily informing Johanna that she was going into the Diplomatic Service afterwards, which would be taken as National Service in its own right. They would meet up again in Ankh-Morpork some years later.)
To her disgust, her long red hair shaven close to the skull and now but a memory, she discovers the role of women soldiers in the Howondalandian Army is strictly non-combatant - as clerks, secretaries, cooks, and so forth, on the basis that every rear echelon job so filled releases another man for the front line. Johanna determines to alter this sorry state of affairs to her own satisfaction and pulls a few family strings. On passing out as an Ensign, she is posted to the Selouis Scouts, an irregular combat unit, as Assistant Adjutant. Here, without her long red hair, she passes as a freckled red-haired youth, and goes out on as many combat patrols (strictly unofficially) as she can, To her relief, the Kolonel and several other senior officers collude, and Liutnant Smith-Rhodes becomes an accepted soldier in the jungle front lines, learning the arts of jungle survival, learning how to recognise deadly booby-traps laid for them by the Matabele tribal rebels, and devising a few of her own in return. Later on the unit is posted to the desert, and Johanna is just as fast at picking up the necessary wilderness survival techniques, as well as fighting skills appropriate to desert combat. At some point here, near to death and out of water, she and another Scout separated from the main unit encounter the Summer Lady. On a whim, the elemental spirt of Summer and deep desert shows them to water and safe liberation by the desert Bushmen. Johanna has her first doubt - these are blacks, we are alone and at their mercy, but they're showing us every hospitality and concern for our welfare and no resentment of the way we treat them?
She returns home on a long leave to hear shatttering news: a neighbour's farm has been destroyed by raiding Zulus under the leadership of a charismatic, white-hating, warlord. Worse, a kommando under the leadership of a personal friend went in pursuit, but was led into a trap and destroyed by overwhelming force. Johanna thought long and hard about this: maybe a small squad can get in and out where three hundred men failed. She quickly recruits trusted men from the Scouts and explains her plan. Then the small group crosses into Kwa'Zululand, far from help and rescue, and lies low, targeting a certain kraal. On the night of a thunderstorm that drives the superstitious Zulu indoors, she scales the outer walls of the kraal and sets a large barrel of Agatean fireclay to explode in a strategic place. Anyone surviving the blast would have taken it to be an extra-heavy thunderclap and a direct lightning strike, symbolising the displeasure of the God Unkolonku. Pausing only to sever the head of the warlord with her machete, and having inhumed his entire extended family in passing, she iconographs the head to prove she has succeeded and runs back to her escort, who ride hell-for-leather for the border.
Rimwards Howondaland, depressed at a military defeat at the hands of the old enemy, is overjoyed, and she becomes a national heroine, receiving a large cash bounty and - at least in public - the thanks of a grateful Staadt.
But there are wheels within wheels.
The Howondaland bureau of the Guild of Assassins, who had been negotiating for the contract to inhume the warlord, wrote a long report home in which the name of Johanna Smith-Rhodes figured heavily.
The Staadt's goverment pondered hard on the implications of a member of the former colonial rulers, the Smith-Rhodes family, rising to national prominence and popularity, and considered the consequences of her getting it into her head to enter politics.
The Army busted her back down to Ensign, the lowest commissioned rank, for disobeying orders. It also posted her from the Scouts to the base depot at Piemburg to count blankets and water bottles. Philosophically, she let her hair start to grow back - her mother had wept to see it shorn. On her weekends and leaves, she took every opportunity to get out into the veldt and watch the wildlife, where the air was clean and there were no verdammte people, white or bleck. Then she got her final posting before her term in the Army was up:
"You will report to the ship De Vliegende Howondalaandian as part of its marine escort. You will be tasked with keeping the ship secure and safe from pirate attack on its voyage to Ankh-Morpork. You will be paid off in Ankh-Morpork and will be formally discharged from the Armed Forces with the rank of Liutnant at our Embassy, on Scoone Avenue in Ankh. A return ticket will be provided by the Staadt to enable you to return home in civilian comfort.On behalf of the Bureau of Defence, I thank you for your loyal service..."
She discovered the importance of the task when she realised the Flying Howondalandian was a bullion ship, transporting a half-year's worth of gold and diamonds to the big city for sale, trade, and to go into the coffers of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork as investment capital. Twice, Klatchian pirates tried to capture the ship, but were rather surprised by its defensive weaponry and the fighting ability of the ship's company. Johanna enjoyed the voyage, and the chance to revisit a city last seen a hundred years before by her great-grandmother. She collected her share of the prize money for the two Klatchian ships, her back-pay and discharge gratuity from the Embassy, and went shopping.
Only to be drugged and captured by black-clad Assassins, waking up in what she later came to recognise as the Master's Study at the Guild on Filgree Street.
Some years later, Johanna put all the pieces together and realised she'd been stitched up. Her government didn't want her in Howondaland - she was too dangerously popular after her exploit. The Guild of Assassins, however, did want her - she had stolen one of its contracts and, to add insult to injury, had received payment for what the Guild described as "an act of inhumation with VERY extreme prejudice". She had been sent here to be out of sight, out of mind, by a Staadt that had no intention of letting her cash in her return boat ticket home. Despite the protests of her uncle, the Howondalandian Ambassador to Ankh-Morpork, it was all a done deal between her government and the Guild.
Doctor Cruces put a proposition to her. "Why don't you legitimise the situation and join us? A young woman of your talents and experience would be an asset to the Guild. As it happens we will soon be running a Mature Students Class for adult entrants to the profession.."
"End if I refuse?"
"We were hoping it wouldn't come to that, my dear" said Lady T'malia. "I do so abhor needless death!"
Johanna, despite herself, considered the alternative. To return home - for what? The army would never re-enlist her. Marriage to some boring Boor farmer? The expectation that life revolves around church, kitchen and children? Ag, ag! But here, these people will teach me, and what they teach sounds intersting and exciting...
"I eccept" she said, simply.
In the next year, she trained hard and learnt fast and passed out as a licenced Assassin. She then donned the purple teaching sash of a teacher at the Guild school, and life revolved around Ankh-Morpork from then on. The Animal Management Unit came to her, and then the City Zoological Gardens; along with a late-blossoming romance with a Wizard called Ponder Stibbons, who she adored for his gentleness and absolute lack of machismo. Ten years in Ankh-Morpork have also liberalised her social attitudes to an extent that she no longer believes the human race is a heirarchy with white people sitting at the top. There are too many black people in Ankh-Morpork for that, she is even meeting Agateans for the first time, and besides she has taught some outstanding black-skinned pupils at the Guild school. One, Ruth N'kweze, has graduated and become a personal friend. Her changed social attitudes have made her something of a (discreet) rebel amongst the White Howondalandian community in Ankh-Morpork, which centres on the Embassy in Scoone Avenue. Her uncle, the ambassador Pieter van der Graaf and her Aunt Friejda alternate pride and concern for her. Aunt Friejda in particular finds her niece's new frankness and independence of mind to be worrying and embarrassing. Why, the girl even tips bleck servants! And everybody knows treating the blecks as if they were real people only spoils them!
AppearanceEditJohanna is five foot four tall, looking at first girlish, with long thick lustrous red hair and a constellation of freckles. She affects Howondalandian border uniform of brown knee-boots, loose baggy khaki trousers and tunic, with a Sam Browne cross-belt festooned with pockets and pouches containing the tools of her trade. She tops this off with a safari bush-hat, broad brimed and low peaked, also in khaki, and her sjaembok whip hangs at her left hip complementing her bush machete and dagger on her right. In deference to her profession of Assassin, her hat-band is black, as is the braiding on her epaulettes and cuffs, and she wears the purple teaching sash of a professional educator at the Assassins' School. However, if on official Guild business, she will take care to respect the uniform code and wear a lot more black. She can "wear girly" to spectacular effect - her friend Joan Sanderson-Reeves admits that "she scrubs up well" - but finds looking feminine and dressing appropriately to her gender is hard work and the clothes, to her, feel designed to constrict, chafe and generally be annoying in a thousand small ways.
As well as having been an Army officer in her own country, Johanna is a licenced Assassin and qualified teacher. As with all teachers at the Guild, this necessitates cross-membership of the Teachers' Guild. After winning the trust of Sam Vimes, she is also a Special Constable in the City Watch, the first and perhaps the only Assassin ever to have managed this. The Watch call her up frequently to advise on those rather tricky animal handling issues that crop up from time to time. She is also Vetinari's special advisor on wildlife issues. Seconded to advise the Fools' Guild on the education and welfare of girl pupils when it very reluctantly opted to go co-educational, she had to become a honorary Fool, possibly the most terrible ordeal of her active young life. She has become skilled in vetinarary medicine as regards Zoo animals, and had to take an advanced medical course supervised by Doctor Lawn in field-medicine for Assassins - her friend, the Guild's Matron Igorina, allows her to sit in on Igoring operations and she has learnt much practical surgery this way. This earned her her fifth membership badge for the Guild of Doctors.
At the Guild school, she teaches Nature Studies, Zoology, Wilderness Survival, Advanced Combat Skills, and Applied Exothermic Alchemy.
She appears in my storiesEdit
All are available on FanFiction. Pessimal's Page on FanFic