Traditionally, boys were supposed to throw pebbles at your window before climbing up to it via a handy tree. This was what Sybil had read in novels, anyway. It wasn’t exactly like she had boys traipsing in regularly: just Havelock, and he announced himself with a length of rope dropping from above. She leaned across her bed to open the window, and he slid silently down the rope, alit on the windowsill like a ribbon cut out of the night, and landed on his backside on her bed.
“Hello, you. Nice flower. How come you’re wearing black?” Sybil replied. She left the window open to enjoy the cool breeze. In a few weeks, the odor of the city would be foul enough to almost put a person off breathing air, but in late May the air smelled sweetly of lilacs, like the one pinned to Havelock’s jacket.
“I always wear black.”
“No you don’t. You wear green, or very, very dark grey, or something. This is black,” she insisted, tugging his sleeve.
“Your parents won’t hear us, will they?”
“‘Course they won’t. They’ve got guests. They’ve had guests every night all week. Plotting how to stay on top and all that. Regimes fall, but we don’t, you know.”
He grinned, one of those quick, sharp ones she was sure he practiced in the mirror. “That’s practically cynical, coming from you.”
“And of course I’m too young to have anything to do with politics, so they’ve left me out of it.”
“You’re just back from the Quirm College, right?”
“I got back a couple days ago. You knew that.”
“How is it?”
“Dire. Agonizing. I don’t think you can begin to picture the suffering. No, it’s lovely. We’ve been learning to waltz. I’m sure I waltz in my sleep.”
“Oh? Then let’s see.”
“I can’t just demonstrate while you watch!”
“Of course not,” he said. “I’ll dance with you.”
For all her practice, she didn’t waltz well. After the second time she trod on his foot (not too bad, with her stocking feet, but she felt embarrassed), she tried to explain. “I usually have to lead. I’m so much taller than all the other human girls, and they don’t like to lead, anyway, and I don’t...”
“You don’t stand up for yourself.” He looked up at her with an expression of older-brotherly disappointment.
“I do know how to do this. I do. But only if I lead.”
“No problem.” He pulled her plump hand onto his skinny waist and slipped easily into following.
“You’re pretty good at doing this backwards!” she exclaimed, as they whirled gracefully around her room. “How’d you get so good at this, anyway?”
“It’s not really a skill, is it? One sees it done, and it all follows from there.”
“Really?” Sybil asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Well, no,” Havelock replied, scowling in feigned offense at Sybil’s giggle. “We’ve been having lessons at the Guild, and it’s all boys, you know, even the girls are boys and they always lead, so I’ve been doing it backwards more often than forwards, in fact. You should see me doing it in heels too.” He almost managed to say this deadpan.
“Where have you been, anyway? You promised you’d visit as soon as I got here!”
“My aunt was visiting, and she had a couple jobs for me --”
“Jobs like --?” Sybil blurted, although she knew perfectly well he meant an assassination. He nodded. “Well... who?”
“Well, that’s actually sort of what I came here to talk to you about. I’m afraid it’s not safe for me to be in the city. As much as I’d like to laugh in the face of danger, you know how it is with Madam. She’s sending me away for a while...”
“Where?” she asked.
“She hasn’t told me.”
“Well... because she thought you’d ask.”
“I don’t get how you’ve got to leave just because you did your job, Havelock.”
“One of the people I inhumed may have been rather important,” Havelock explained. “Although I didn’t exactly kill him. Scared to death is practically natural causes, right?”
Ice shot down her spine, and she trod on his foot again. “You don’t mean... Winder?”
“Sybil, how many assassins, do you think, in this city, are about six foot tall, ten stone, with a voice that hasn’t finished breaking yet?” A hint of nervous squeakiness inadvertently demonstrated his point. She steered him over to the bed and sat him down on the edge with her arm around his shoulders. He leaned against her with a sigh.
“Well... is that why you’re wearing black, then?” she asked.
“Not quite. I was just at a funeral, actually.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Whose?”
“No one I really knew. We never really met. But... I think I was a little bit in love with him.”
It was probably just because her face was puffy with exhaustion, but Lady Sybil Vimes looked younger than she had in years. She looked up from the bundle in her arms and grinned blearily at Vetinari as he walked in. “I was hoping you’d visit! Are you here to see Sam?”
“No, er, just you, actually.”
“Well, you can see Sam too.”
“I’m afraid he’s rather cross with me at the moment, actually.”
She tilted the bundle in her arms toward him, so he could just about make out a tiny red face frowning in the folds of the duck-print blanket. “Not the one who’s asleep in the drawing room right now. This Sam.”
“Oh, I see...”
“Do you want to hold him?”
“Really, your grace, I’m terrible with children --”
“I’m not your Grace, I’m your Sybil!” He cringed at the joke and she grinned unapologetically. “Come here, Havelock.” So he perched on the edge of the bed and she handed him the tiny baby named Sam. She winced slightly as she leaned forward.
“Are you feeling all right?” Vetinari asked.
“Oh, well... honestly, I’d feel absolutely splendid if it didn’t feel as though I’d been trampled by a troll.”
Vetinari winced sympathetically -- not an expression he often had occasion to practice -- and tucked another pillow behind her back.
“Of course, that’s not what you came here to talk about, is it?” she added.
“I’m afraid playing stupid is the one thing you can’t do, Havelock.”
“I really did come here to see you and this little chap.” He adjusted the blanket a little, revealing unusually large ears, and felt a painful rush of affection. “Oh, he’s got his father’s ears, hasn’t he? Poor little thing.”
“Just because your surface intention is genuine doesn’t mean you can’t have others.”
“So cynical, coming from you... no, but you’re right, as always. I suppose Sir Samuel told you where he’s been? Or more precisely, when?”
“But how can you fall in love with someone you never met?” Sybil asked.
“Well... he was a genius. I’m sure I learned more following him for a couple days than I did in six years at the Guild. He didn’t look like much. He was just this short, scruffy sort of chap with an eyepatch, but...”
“I think I might have met him!” Sybil exclaimed. Havelock, for once, looked nonplussed.
“He thumped Forsythe and I waved a sword at him!”
Havelock grinned. “How’s your fencing coming along, by the way?”
“Mmm.” She frowned. “Not well, actually, but I’m sure he’d have been sorry if he hadn’t run off. But, no, I’m sorry, you were telling me why you...”
“Right, yes... he was... oh, Sybil, he was a genius, I can’t even explain. This whole business, the past couple days, I shouldn’t like to think how it would have gone if he wasn’t here. The mobs, a few days ago, they sieged the Watch Houses. Except his. He just talked to the mob, and they settled down. Of course, if I hadn’t been up on the roof with my crossbow and took out a man who had another one pointed at Keel --”
So he did have a name, Sybil thought.
“That’d have been it for him, of course.” Havelock looked ever so slightly smug. “But still, he was a tactical genius, and sly as a fox, and honest as... honest as a very honest thing.” He paused for a second to give coherence time to catch up. “I just wish I’d had the chance to speak with him. It felt like I should have, that we should have known each other, that we were going to... I almost met him, face to face. I was going to warn him but I just didn’t get there in time, and... they got there first. When I found him, he was already...”
“I’m so sorry.”
She handed him a hankie and he blew his nose, then remarked, “You know, I thought you were going to ask about my falling in love with a man.”
“Havelock, I’ve known you for quite a long time. Six years, right? I kind of guessed.”
He laughed weakly. “Thanks. That’s not sarcasm, by the way.”
“Do you remember a few years ago when I said we should get married when we grow up? I still mean that. When you come back, which you will...” Her voice went tight, but she forged on. “If you need to get married... I’d rather just be friends with you than marry a prat like Ronnie Rust, and...”
His knobbly elbow nudged into her side. “Shh. You’ll find someone better, Sybil. A proper husband. Don’t be silly. Unless...”
“If you’re, you know, also otherwise inclined...”
Her face went warm as she caught his meaning. “Oh! No, I don’t think so. Most young men our age are awfully silly, but I’m sure I’d think they’re all right if they weren’t.”
“Right?” Havelock replied, grinning crookedly. “But I’m sure you’ll meet one some day who’s better than all right. I know you will.”
He cocked his head a few seconds before she discerned the sound of horseshoes on the cobblestones through the open window. The black coach appeared soon after, and Havelock rose to crouch by the window, ready to be off. “I’m sorry, Sybil, I have to go, Madam --”
Sybil yanked him back by the collar, so he landed on his rear end for the second time that night. “How do you know it’s her?”
“Lots of people have black coaches. How do you know that’s your aunt? If it’s really her, she’ll --”
And the door of the coach opened, and the pale, heart-shaped face of a brunette dressed in black appeared, with a sprig of lilac pinned to her dress.
“Thank you, Sybil,” Havelock murmured. He pulled her into a quick hug, then unpinned the lilac from his lapel and handed it to her. “Here.”
And he climbed out the window and down the rope, landed in the shrubbery as lightly as a bird, and disappeared into the coach.
“You know, it’s almost exactly thirty years since the last time you were in my bedroom?” Sybil asked.
“Has it really been that long?” Vetinari replied absently. Little Sam, although asleep, started squirming. Vetinari couldn’t help smiling at the newborn’s surprising strength. There was something worrying about a person being so very tiny, but the force with which he could drive his heels into one’s ribs was reassuring.
“But I still remember what we talked about the last time you were here,” Sybil said. “And I still have that flower you gave me. I pressed it in my journal. That green one in the bookshelf.”
He passed Young Sam back to her, as carefully as anything he’d ever done in his life, then got up to fetch the journal. It fell open at once to the faded wisp of flower, still faintly purple after all these years. He very pointedly did not read Sybil’s journal entry behind it.
“They say lilacs represent innocence and first love,” she said.
“They do? Who are ‘they’?”
“Do you still feel the same way about Sam that you felt about Keel?” Sybil asked. Vetinari very definitely did not flinch.
“I didn’t even know Keel --”
“But you know Sam. And you thought he was dead and now you’ve got a second chance --”
“Have I, though?”
“Of course. I could tell him --”
“Sybil, I really couldn’t ask that of you.”
“Then I won’t make you ask. But we’ve always shared everything, haven’t we?”
By his standards, it took Vetinari quite some time to think about this. He closed the journal, put it back on the shelf, and offered Sybil a hesitant smile. “Please don’t tell Vimes just yet. I do so love letting him figure things out on his own.”