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The Mirror

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The pen tapped on the desk, once, twice, was erected to write a few words, and then resumed its tapping. Vetinari frowned at the report. He was having to concentrate a great deal just to make sense of the words. He had an unpleasant feeling that it might be due to the … argument he had had with his chief clerk earlier.

Vetinari sighed, put down the pen, and leaned back in his chair. Drumknott was loyal to him, no doubt about that, but sometimes he had doubts and would voice these doubts. Vetinari had no problem with this – Drumknott was a more intelligent man than most people assumed from his mild demeanour; but this time, he had said that offering a job to the criminal who had attempted blackmail on Commander Vimes was amoral. He said it would be unkind to Vimes. Vetinari’s mouth twisted into a scowl at the recollection. When had kindness ever factored in his schemes, except where it suited him best? You couldn’t rule a city by being kind.

‘Amoral’ now … that was worrying. He’d never seen morality as being black and white, or even a straight line. But why, then, was this less moral than offering a government job to the criminal who had stolen from the pockets of men and women because it was fun? Because it involved Sam Vimes?

Drumknott was young, yet. He couldn’t see the entire picture. But he’d never had a problem seeing it before …

It was almost flattering that Drumknott honestly supposed that he would never do something that might bother his conscience.

He picked up his cane and went for a walk, to better relieve his thoughts. It was Hogswatchnight, and most of the clerks had gone on holiday, Drumknott included. The maids had already cleaned up after the previous day’s celebration, and many of them, too, had gone home, so the palace was quiet and empty. But he decided to take the secret passageways anyway, because most of them were so empty and untouched that they offered solitude unrivalled by anywhere else in the palace.

For a while, he mused on the fact that Drumknott was surely the longest-lasting employee whom he dealt with personally on a near-daily basis. It was true that he was fond enough of the young man, and perhaps this showed in the fact that Drumknott could feel so comfortable with him so as to raise an objection at one of his plans. This was usually fine, as Drumknott was an astute servant who could be counted on only to speak when he was needed, but this level of intimacy did, perhaps, make Vetinari feel somewhat vulnerable.

A glint of light caught his eye, and he stopped. The only light that ever entered the passageways came through the slits cut in portraits that previous rulers had used to spy on people. It was only enough for Vetinari to see where he was going, and not much else. If somebody had come the other way, he would have only been able to tell by hearing.

Yet there was enough light, now, for him to also see a mirror on the wall. He frowned at it in puzzlement. Mirrors were usually on the other side of the wall – they had no purpose here. He could only see his silhouette in it. Perhaps it had served some purpose, some time ago. He reached out to touch the surface – and regretted it instantly.

-

The dark corridor vanished, to be replaced by a large, airy room, and it took a moment for Vetinari to adjust his sight to the sudden bright light. When he had recovered enough to look around, he realised he was at the office of the head of the Assassins’ Guild. He recognised it only from the structure, as the furnishings were quite different from the last time he had been there. Perhaps Downey had had a renovation? But without him knowing?

There was a mirror hung by the door, opposite the windows, and although he had not been able to see much detail previously, it looked to be identical to the one in the passage.

All this he took in in a split second, and before he could decide on a course of action, the door opened without warning. He only had time to turn around to face it, and then he froze at the sight of the two men framed by the doorway.

One of them was himself – or at least, the mirror image of. But that wasn’t quite right. Charlie was the mirror image of himself, but he lacked traits like Vetinari’s sharp eyes and alert stance. This was as close to Havelock Vetinari as could be without being a reflection. Only the slightest details were off, like how the double clearly lacked Vetinari’s leg injury, and a style of dress that was more elaborate and elegant than Vetinari’s plain black robes.

The other person was Rufus Drumknott. There was no mistaking that, but he had a gaze like solid diamond instead of the humble subservience Vetinari had come to be used to. His bearing spelt out ‘trained Assassin’.

Vetinari gave a minute sigh. He’d obviously fallen into some sort of parallel universe. A river that burst into flames during the summer, the Alchemists’ Guild littered the city with plaster once a month … and now mirrors that were also portals into different worlds. He heard that some cities only had to deal with the occasional war. He was sometimes envious of their leaders.

‘Who are you?’ asked Vetinari’s double cautiously. He wouldn’t have appeared to be holding a weapon to the most trained eye, but Vetinari knew himself well enough to know that a knife would be at the ready in a split second if it proved necessary.

‘I am Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork,’ Vetinari said.

‘Indeed? How odd. I am Havelock Vetinari, Master of the Assassins’ Guild of Ankh-Morpork.’

But of course. He had been in close running for head of the Assassins’ Guild before he had become Patrician. He still held the title of Provost of Assassins, as a matter of fact. If not Patrician, who else would he be?

‘A pleasure to meet you,’ the Patrician said. ‘I see that being head of Assassins is far more profitable than being Patrician,’ he added, gesturing to the Guildmaster’s robes.

The Guildmaster watched him carefully for a moment, then turned and said, ‘Drumknott, fetch some tea, will you? It would appear that I have a guest.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Drumknott said, and with a scrutinising glance of his own at the Patrician, left the room.

‘Even in another world, Drumknott remains my secretary,’ Vetinari observed as he sat down at the invitation of the Guildmaster, who took his own seat behind the desk. ‘Does this Drumknott still have that fastidious obsession with stationery and filing cabinets?’

‘Oh yes. He frets whenever he is forced to take leave because he is convinced that the other clerks will mess up his unique filing system.’

That made the Patrician smile. Perhaps some things would always remain the same.

‘Is he married?’ the Patrician asked. ‘I thought I noticed a ring on his finger. My secretary proclaims himself far too busy and dedicated to his job to be looking for a partner.’

The Guildmaster gave him a very odd look that lasted quite a long time. The Patrician felt that it was a look of puzzlement.

‘Not married, no,’ the Guildmaster said at length. ‘He is engaged. In a manner of speaking.’

A thought struck the Patrician, and he wisely decided not to comment. Some mysteries were just better left alone.

‘Do explain to me what the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is doing in my office, then, my lord,’ the Guildmaster said, leaning back in his chair with his hands steepled in front of him. The Patrician felt the self-consciousness of adopting the familiar pose, but did so anyway. It was only himself he was talking to anyway.

‘I touched a mirror and landed here,’ the Patrician said. ‘A mirror that I believe is identical to the one you have hanging on the wall there.’

The Guildmaster looked at it and said, ‘It wasn’t there yesterday.’

‘Ah. That would be magic then.’

‘Yes. Perhaps it will vanish tomorrow,’ the Guildmaster said casually, almost indifferently. ‘Do feel free to attempt leaving at any time you wish.’ The door opened, and Drumknott came in bearing the tea tray. He placed it on the desk and began to pour out the tea. ‘But I would like to hear a bit about the place where you come from, if you don’t mind. Will you have some yourself and join us?’

The latter was directed to Drumknott, who smiled and said, ‘Yes, if you like.’

‘I would.’

The Patrician felt distinctly awkward, as if he had stumbled upon a family member having an intimate moment. He had been worried about how close his relationship with his secretary was becoming, and this, he felt, was a Vetinari who had long grown accustomed to and comfortable with the idea.

‘Thank you, Drumknott,’ the Patrician said, near-automatically, as the secretary placed a cup of tea in front of him.

‘You’re welcome, sir,’ Drumknott said without looking directly at him.

It was a slightly different story with the Guildmaster. At his thanks, they locked eyes for a brief second, probably too short a time for even Madam to glean anything, but it told the Patrician far more than he wished to know. Exciting as his adventure had been, he suddenly wished he could just get back to his palace, in his own world.

Drumknott took his own cup and sat down behind the desk adjacent to the Guildmaster’s, turning his chair slightly to face him.

‘Please tell me how you became the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork,’ the Guildmaster said.

‘Tell me how you did not,’ the Patrician answered. ‘Madam wanted to establish the Guild of Seamstresses, and believed that Lord Snapcase would be the man to do so. He wasn’t, in addition to being a terribly capricious ruler, just like the Patricians before him. I thought I could do better, and with Madam’s encouragement, I did.’

‘By “Madam”, you mean … my aunt, Lady Meserole?’

My aunt, to be precise,’ the Patrician nodded.

‘Is she still alive in your world, then?’

‘She isn’t, here?’ the Patrician said, taken aback.

‘No, she passed away when I was in my teenage years. So she is the one who influenced you to become Patrician? Interesting.’

Ah … so Madam was no longer alive during the year of the Glorious People’s Revolution of Treacle Mine Road. Had that even happened in this world, then, without her? And what was Ankh-Morpork like, without Lord Vetinari’s careful grooming? As corrupt and barren of opportunities as it had been beneath Vetinari’s predecessors? Or was there something or someone else that might keep the city in check?

‘When I was first enrolled in the Assassins’ school, I did think I would like to take over as head of the guild,’ the Patrician said, ‘and I was very close to achieving this goal when I was in the running for patrician.’

‘In this world, I never thought of becoming Patrician,’ the Guildmaster said. ‘It can be much easier to pull the strings when one isn’t at the top.’

‘In some cases, yes, but not always.’ It was all spelt out in that one sentence: this Vetinari might as well be the Patrician with his power over the city, but the Patrician couldn’t imagine that he had as much control as he did. Nothing else was needed to be said on the subject. They could each imagine for themselves.

‘How did Drumknott come to work for you?’ the Guildmaster asked. At Drumknott’s inquisitive glance, he said, ‘Yes, he has his own Drumknott, too.’

The Patrician felt strongly compelled to say that he was not his Drumknott, but refrained from it. It would probably lead to embarrassing questions. Yet of course this would be something that the Guildmaster would be interested in, given the … apparent nature of the relationship he shared with the secretary.

‘The Drumknott I know is not an Assassin –‘ the Patrician began.

‘Why not?’ Drumknott and the Guildmaster interjected. They sounded thoroughly surprised.

Why not? Rumours of the Patrician’s dark clerks were often abound, and they weren’t completely false. There was something to be said about men (and increasingly these days, women) who were equally adept at wielding pens and knives. But he’d never taken a trained Assassin as secretary. He needed the insight of the common people that more humbly trained clerks could provide, and Assassins had the tendency to take such a simple view of things (namely that if somebody was being difficult, death usually made them much simpler). He had given thought to giving Drumknott some basic training, after that incident where they had both ended up in the cells of Pseudopolis Yard, but thought that Drumknott would not wish that sort of thing upon himself. Instead, he’d only increased surveillance on him.

‘Such a thing had never proved necessary,’ he replied at last.

‘”Never proved necessary”?’ Drumknott said. ‘But surely the position of Patrician offers at least as much danger as that of Head of Assassins, my lord? I have had much reason to feel grateful for my Assassin training.’

‘He is always guarded, in and out of the Palace, either by myself or one of my other employees,’ the Patrician replied a little impatiently. He had the feeling that he knew where this conversation was going.

‘Has he ever come to danger while in your employment?’ the Guildmaster asked.

‘Yes, of course. Several times. But he has always recovered splendidly.’ The Patrician briefly considered several ploys to move the conversation to another subject, but he would have been quite ashamed of himself – or his other self – if it didn’t end in a zealous battle of wits. The only possible alternative was riding the conversation out, then quietly leaving. He’d never meet them again anyway – in a manner of speaking.

‘And you never gave him the means to defend himself?’ the Guildmaster said.

‘No.’

It was a terrible thing to be given such a look of disapproval from yourself, worse still if you knew yourself to rarely show open disdain. The Patrician looked back calmly, suppressing the urge to glare back. To glare would be an act of defence, as if he had been caught doing something wrong, which he had not.

‘I see.’ The Guildmaster exchanged a look with Drumknott. The Patrician was familiar with such looks, having often exchanged them with his own secretary himself many times, across crowded rooms, or when they had company, and he could read this one quite well. ‘Our worlds are distinctly different then, it would seem.’

‘Oh yes.’ The Patrician got up abruptly. ‘I believe I have trespassed on your time long enough. I should attempt to leave now.’

Drumknott gave his master a puzzled look at the word ‘attempt’. The Guildmaster stood up and said, ‘Very well, then. Thank you for the fascinating insight to what could have been.’ He extended a hand, and the Patrician shook it.

‘You’re quite welcome. Thank you for the audience,’ the Patrician said quite coolly, because he wasn’t feeling in the kindest of moods. With a nod at Drumknott, who gave him the traditional Assassins’ salute, he turned and walked up to the mirror on the wall. He could see his reflection plainly now, but it was the only thing he could see clearly. The office behind him appeared blurred, as if painted by an artist uninterested in the details. He reached out and touched the surface.

-

To Vetinari’s dismay, although the surroundings faded away before reforming into a corridor, it was not the corridor he was looking for. He looked around, at the clean white walls, the potted plants, and the rows of doors with square windows set into them, and worried if he was even in Ankh-Morpork anymore.

It did occur to him, too, that some alternate version of himself might be here as well, but resolved not to linger. There might be thousands of parallel universes, and if he meant to get back to his Ankh-Morpork before anyone noticed, he would have to hurry.

Before he could touch the mirror, however, he heard someone come down the corridor, and put down his hand, lest he cause alarm by suddenly disappearing.

A young woman was walking down the corridor with a clipboard and an envelope held to her chest. She was wearing one of those modern suits that were increasingly become the fashion amongst younger Assassins, but this one was quite obviously tailored to women, with a skirt that fell to her knees.

She looked like she could have been Drumknott’s sister, except Vetinari had met her once, and this was not her. Then he realised that this was because it was Drumknott – he could never mistake his secretary.

For the first time in several decades, he found himself at a lost as to how to react. He had noticed previously that the Drumknott he knew was a handsome young man, made all the more attractive to women (especially the maids and cooks) by his polite, well-mannered air. This Drumknott took care to dress up in the morning: her hair was neatly tied back, there was a tasteful touch of lipstick and a light application of blusher, and her clothes enhanced her good figure. The effect was a quiet attractiveness that caught the eye of any person watching her *. Knowing the Drumknott of Ankh-Morpork as he did, he felt distinctly uncomfortable, although he was hesitant to think why.

‘Oh, sir!’ she said as she came up to him. ‘I’m sorry I missed your text, I’d left my mobile in the pantry. Is there an emergency? It seemed urgent.’

Taken aback, more by the fact that he couldn’t grasp the meaning of her first sentence than anything else, he failed to cut across her speech in time to explain that he was not her boss – well, in a manner of speaking – and then she frowned and said, ‘I’m – sorry, sir, I believe I may be mistaken –‘

‘Yes you are,’ Vetinari said when he’d found his tongue. This Drumknott was also a little more forward than the one he knew, and he wondered if it was somehow his fault that Drumknott was so gentle and docile. ‘I apologise. I was just leaving from an appointment. You are … Miss Drumknott, am I correct?’

‘Yes, sir. Were you just meeting Mr Vetinari?’

He nearly visibly cringed. He’d never been anything other than Lord Vetinari, and before that, Master Havelock. Mr sounded like an insult.

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘Good day to you then, sir.’ She smiled and nodded, and moved passed him. He turned around and watched her continue up the length of the corridor, and climb a spiralling wooden staircase at the end of it which presumably lead to her master’s office.

Mr Vetinari. The very sound left a bad taste in his mouth. He’d be quite glad not to explore this world. He touched the mirror, and vanished somewhere else.

-

The surroundings reformed into a small bedroom. It had white stone walls and a slightly sloping ceiling. Bookshelves lined two walls, and an open trunk lay at the foot of the bed. A half-open window let in sunlight and the smell of clean air, a privilege Ankh-Morpork had been deprived of for the last hundred years.

A boy lay on the bed with his head buried underneath a pillow, and even though he had no pictures from that time, Vetinari could still easily recognise his teenage self.

He cleared his throat. The boy jumped up and whirled around.

‘Who are you?!’ Havelock demanded.

‘First, tell me where I am,’ Lord Vetinari said, in a more commanding tone. He’d had far more experience using it, and it worked.

‘You’re in Lancre, the Ramtops. Now tell me who you are!’ Havelock said again.

Lancre? When in his childhood had he ever ended up in Lancre? But then, that was the point of alternate universes, right? Still … Lancre?

‘My name is Havelock Vetinari,’ Lord Vetinari said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

‘Really? How interesting. So is mine.’ Havelock got up and moved over to make room. ‘But that doesn’t really answer my question.’

‘I am who you will be, in a different universe, in – how old are you?’

‘I turned sixteen this year.’

‘- in thirty-eight years. Sixteen and still sulking on the bed, Havelock? We would get beaten for that, in the Assassins’ School.’

‘Well I’m not there right now.’ Havelock’s hair was rather long and fell into his eyes, something that Vetinari had never had nor would have tolerated in his childhood. Havelock pushed it back from his face before saying. ‘Are you really an older me from a different universe? Ramtops’ magical grounds are insane enough for it to be true, but how can you prove it?’

‘I don’t think I can,’ Vetinari admitted. ‘This world seems very different from the one I came from. I never visited Lancre as a child.’

‘I contracted a strange and mysterious illness during term,’ Havelock explained, ‘and was sent home before the other boys could catch it. Mother brought me here to recover.’

Lord Vetinari needed a second to sufficiently calm himself to say, ‘Your mother is still alive?’

‘Yes. Isn’t yours?’

‘No, I was raised by Madam.’

‘Oh. I wish I was raised by Madam, sometimes.’ Havelock gave a minuscule sigh. ‘Madam is always going to places, but this is the first time Mother’s left Ankh-Morpork since Father died.’

‘How long have you been here?’

‘Four months.’ Havelock leaned back on one hand, and looked Lord Vetinari up and down. ‘What do you work as, in your world?’

‘I am the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.’ Had he been like this, at sixteen? He could have sworn he had been much more reserved.

‘The Patrician?’ Havelock looked at him in surprise. ‘How long have you been that?’

‘Twenty years now.’

‘Hm.’ Havelock looked pensive. ‘Then perhaps I shall be Patrician in this world, too. I’ve never thought of that, but … yes, perhaps …’ He trailed off for a moment, lost in his thoughts, and then continued brightly, ‘And Rufus would be my right-hand man. He could probably be my secretary – I always said he had the makings of a really good clerk, like the ones they have in the Guild.’

Lord Vetinari’s heart stopped for a beat. ‘You mean …’ he said slowly, ‘Rufus Drumknott?’

‘Yes!’ Havelock smiled, a proper, happy smile. ‘We first met when he got lost in the forest and I volunteered to his mother to find him, and he became my best friend. Is he yours, too, in your world?’

What was the answer to that? Yes? No? He trusted Drumknott, sure enough, perhaps more than he had ever trusted anyone, and he hardly remembered how that had happened. But a friend? Did he consider Drumknott a friend? Did Drumknott consider him a friend?

Quite possibly not. Drumknott was probably far too professional to consider him an actual friend. But there was regard there, and something like friendship. Drumknott would hardly be so loyal to him otherwise.

‘Yes,’ he said at last. ‘How old is he?’ Drumknott was almost half his age as he knew him – he shouldn’t even have been born by the time Vetinari was sixteen.

‘He’s one year younger than me.’ Havelock gave him a shrewd look. ‘Isn’t he, in your world?’

‘No, the Rufus Drumknott I know is more than twenty youngers than I.’

This appeared to disturb Havelock a little. ‘That must be … weird. How did you become friends with him?’

‘I hired him as my secretary, and now he is also my chief clerk.’

‘Somewhat backwards from the way it is for me, then,’ Havelock mused. ‘”Chief clerk” sounds like a title that would suit him. I always did say that his talents are wasted here in Lancre. I want to take him to Ankh-Morpork with me, when I go back.’

‘Will his parents allow that?’

‘They will when they find out that he’s got a scholarship at the most famous secretarial school in Ankh-Morpork,’ Havelock said casually. ‘Fully paid, boarding included. Mother said she’d allow it because I don’t have enough friends as it is.’ He pulled a face, and Vetinari thoroughly sympathised. He’d never really felt the need for company as his mother probably thought he did.

‘Why were you sulking earlier?’ Vetinari asked.

To his surprise, a light flush coloured Havelock’s face. ‘Um,’ he said. ‘I lost my temper just now. At Rufus.’ He looked embarrassed. ‘I called him something unpleasant, he insulted me in turn, and then he stormed away. It was over something very trivial, but we’ve never argued before.’

‘Ah.’ Vetinari felt deeply uncomfortable as he remembered the quarrel he himself had had with his own Drumknott.

‘I know I should apologise,’ Havelock said. ‘I did start it, in a way. But he was very angry, rather disproportionately so, I thought.’ He looked up at Lord Vetinari, and he realised he was asking for help. Vetinari felt at sea. He’d never had to comfort someone, or offer advice on giving solace before.

‘Perhaps he wasn’t only upset that you lost your temper at him,’ Vetinari said with all the care one would employ in holding a large and dangerous-looking insect at arm’s length. ‘If he was unreasonably angry, he may have had another reason to feel distressed.’

‘You mean like that fact that his sister is ill?’ Realisation seemed to strike Havelock. ‘Oh yes, I completely forgot about that! She was ill last week but I … wasn’t paying attention when Rufus told me …’ He looked sheepish. ‘He called me a “selfish, spoiled brat” just now. He may be right. Even when I’m thinking of him, I’m thinking of gain for myself.’

‘That’s not a bad thing,’ Lord Vetinari interjected.

‘I’ve tried it up to now and currently my best friend is cross at me, so I’m not sure about that.’

To this, Lord Vetinari said nothing. He didn’t think the boy was entirely right.

‘I think I’ll apologise to him now.’ Havelock swung his legs off the bed and stood up. ‘He’d like that – if I apologised to him.’ But he didn’t sound disgruntled, and he smiled. He radiated an air of eagerness, and it almost disturbed Vetinari to see how fond he was of Drumknott. ‘I hope his sister is alright, so we can go elsewhere.’

Havelock looked over as Lord Vetinari stood up to make his leave.

‘I nearly forgot to ask,’ Havelock said. ‘How did you get here anyway?’

‘Through that.’ Vetinari pointed to the mirror.

‘That –‘

‘- wasn’t there earlier, yes. I shall leave as soon as you go.’

‘Alright,’ Havelock nodded. ‘It was … nice meeting you. Thank you.’ He held out his hand, and Vetinari shook it. ‘Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye. Good luck with your friend.’

‘Good luck in getting back to your world,’ Havelock said, and he left the room.

-

This time, he came to a place that was clearly a bathroom, but it was the most modern bathroom he had ever seen. There were several privies, each in its own cubicle, and multiple sinks lined the wall underneath a row of mirrors. It closely resembled a design the Guild of Architects had been arguing with the Guild of Plumbers about for the past month. It was also very clean, which few places in Ankh-Morpork were.

Curiosity made him head for the large door at the end of the room, and step out.

It was a large, bustling café. It was loud with people crying out, ‘Waiter!’ and greetings to customers who had only just arrived.

The last time he could remember being at a café was when he was twenty-two, and had been dragged out for a coffee by some of his classmates who didn’t know better than to leave him alone. He hadn’t enjoyed that day. The coffee had tasted like cardboard, and he wasn’t looking forward to repeating the experience.

But … he paused. He was a little hungry. Going through time and space and meeting alternate versions of himself and Drumknott had left him fatigued. Speaking of which, would he be here too?

Why ask? He was sitting at a table in a corner by the window, holding a cup and looking expectantly out at the street. He might have been some fifteen years younger than Vetinari, and was dressed in a rich, midnight blue.

Well at least it was only the slightest hint of colour. Vetinari walked through the crowd unnoticed, and sat down opposite himself.

The younger man looked startled, and said, ‘That seat’s taken.’

This wasn’t quite the response he had expected, and his alternate self appeared to realise this. ‘I apologise, I’m being rude,’ his other self said. ‘Do I know you?’

‘Not quite,’ said Vetinari. ‘I am Lord Havelock Vetinari, and I am you from a different world in about ten years.’

‘Ah, really. And how do you know that?’

Lord Vetinari was taken aback. How did he know that? It was hard not to know. ‘Do you think I would not know myself, especially a past version of myself?’

‘Of course,’ the other man nodded. ‘I do see the resemblance. That simply wasn’t the first thing to come to mind. Are you here to warn me of some serious peril in the future or something?’

‘No.’ Vetinari could have smiled to himself. That would be the first thing he would think of if his future self had introduced himself, too, and knowing Ankh-Morpork, it certainly wouldn’t be entirely unusual. ‘I’m just here for … some lunch.’ Yes, it would be around that time, were he in his own Palace.

‘Lunch at eight in the morning? Would you mind breakfast instead?’

‘Not at all.’

A waiter was called over, and a tea and pastry ordered for him. He took the opportunity to look outside, and saw a row of shops, all just as clean and neat as the one he was in, without any heaps of trash littering the roadsides. The attire of the people too varied from modern suits to traditional tunics.

‘Am I still in Ankh-Morpork?’ he asked, once the waiter had left.

‘Yes.’

But this Ankh-Morpork must be far in the future, he thought; at least several decades after 1992 UC.

‘Who is this seat reserved for?’

‘I’m waiting for a friend.’

Vetinari hesitated, then said, ‘Do you mean Rufus Drumknott?’

‘So I still have his close acquaintance, in the future?’ his alternate self said, looking surprised and pleased.

Of course. Was this mirror trying to tell him something about Drumknott? Indeed, it seemed almost like the only plausible explanation. Surely there must be worlds where he had never met Drumknott, or only thought of him as he did now – a valuable employee?

‘Yes,’ he said, his tone slightly exasperated.

The waiter came back with his order, and then his alternate self said, ‘I meet him here every day, at nine sharp, so you have an hour to finish your breakfast. I hope you don’t mind that I’d prefer to meet him alone.’

He would mind, actually. Just a little bit. Because he still wasn’t quite wholly comfortable with the idea of himself and Drumknott as having any kind of relationship other than master and secretary. Oh, he couldn’t deny liking the man, and yes, he might have spoken enough of him to Madam once as to astonish her with ‘the apparent depth of his feelings’, but this was nothing. To Vetinari, finding someone he could trust as he did Drumknott was a momentous thing, but that didn’t equate to any especial feeling for him.

He decided not to say any of this out loud. It was beginning to sound ridiculous, even in his own head.

‘Does he work for you?’ Vetinari said instead.

‘No, but I’m trying to get him to.’ His double tried to hide a smile behind his cup. ‘He currently works as secretary for the Artificers’ Guild as a favour for his brother-in-law, and he won’t leave them until their present troubles are over.’

‘How did you make his acquaintance?’

‘I met him here several months ago, on a day I realised my pockets were empty, and he lent me a dollar.’

Vetinari nearly asked if he had forgotten his money the next day, too.

‘I don’t like coming to cafés,’ he said.

‘Neither do I, but they have good tea here.’

‘And you get Mr Drumknott’s company,’ Vetinari said, a little drily.

‘Yes,’ said the alternate coldly, obviously picking up on his tone. ‘Is there something wrong with that?’

‘No.’ Admittedly, he did sometimes ask Drumknott to come into the Oblong Office, and didn’t ask him to leave again; Drumknott would then move to work at the smaller desk adjacent to the Patrician’s, and a companionable silence would fall between them – but that was a little different. He didn’t wait in a frenzied, noisy café for nothing more than his company and a bit of good tea every day! Oh alright, there had never been anyone, classmate, secretary, or otherwise whose company he would tolerate as much as Drumknott but he didn’t think he’d take to waiting in rowdy places for him if he ever lost it.

‘Drumknott is a quiet, sensible, and reliable man. Company like that is to be treasured.’

That was true enough – he’d thought it himself before.

‘I realise that,’ Vetinari said quietly. ‘What are you working as, that you have enough time to loiter in restaurants in the morning?’

‘I hold a position in the Assassins’ Guild, and am aiming for the seat of Patrician,’ the alternate said, and Vetinari relaxed a little. Rendezvouses aside, this world was more or less the same as his. Perhaps it would be Ankh-Morpork, if he had been born half a century later. ‘Aiming for the seat of Patrician’ meant he was practically Patrician already. ‘And you?’

‘I am the current Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.’ The tea was good, but he personally thought it wasn’t much on the tea that the maids at the Palace had perfected to his taste. ‘People are more or less the same everywhere, but I am sure that Ankh-Morpork is one of the more ungrateful cities.’

‘That, at least, never changes,’ his other self said sympathetically. ‘It doesn’t matter what changes you implement or how much you listen to the people; they’re always going to want you off the top anyway.’

‘Exactly so.’ The pastry tasted like – yes, like cheap cardboard. It was an almost nostalgic experience.

‘And Drumknott is your secretary?’

‘Yes.’ And because he might have been a little too dismissive of his relationship with the young man since he had started this journey … and because he might feel a little bad about that … he added, ‘I don’t believe there is a finer clerk anywhere. He appears to read my mind; I might fear that he use his abilities for evil if I didn’t know him so well.’

‘Is that so?’ His double looked gratified. ‘Then I am correct in my judgement of his character. But … read your mind? Is that not worrying?’

‘It is,’ Vetinari admitted. ‘Yet I find it difficult to doubt his loyalty and dedication. It is written in his every action.’

Loyalty, yes,’ his alternate echoed. ‘It is both a fault and a strong suit in him. Loyalty to his family is what keeps him from having a secure and well-paid situation with me, though it would suit him better.’

Vetinari didn’t say anything to that. He recalled again his and Drumknott’s brief imprisonment at Pseudopolis, and what Igor had recounted to him of Drumknott’s meeting with Mr de Worde. It had worried and puzzled him to hear of Drumknott’s embarrassment and defence of his master, despite all evidence that should prove the contrary to him. Of course, he hadn’t been the perpetrator at all, but any sensible person would have their doubts. And Drumknott was sensible. Yet it would appear that he was loyal before he was sensible.

It was a comfort to his position. He used to think that as wonderful as it would be to find somebody he could trust wholly, he would certainly have to kill anyone who could get so close to him, lest it put him in danger of being betrayed. But with Drumknott, this was impossible, and he didn’t think he could find someone with such an effective filing system ever again.

‘Thank you for the meal,’ he said, getting up. ‘I need to get back to my world as quickly as I can.’

‘Of course,’ said the double, standing up as well. If anything, he looked somewhat relieved, probably because there would be no danger of Vetinari imposing on his time with Drumknott now. He extended a hand, and Vetinari shook it. ‘Just one question: you said you were here for lunch, but why are you here, really?’

‘I ended up here by an accident involving a magical artefact. Take my advice and don’t touch the mirror in the bathroom.’

‘I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, thank you. Good day.’

-

For a moment, Vetinari thought he had arrived in the right world. He was in the office of the Palace that was adjacent to the Oblong Office, where Drumknott’s desk was. But looking at it made him realise he was in yet another strange world. Drumknott was on holiday in his world, whereas the desk had clearly just been used, the in and out tray both full. Yet everything else was similar. Perhaps he had been transported to his world, but a different time? The thought made his heart sink. If that was possible, it might be a very long time before he could get back to Ankh-Morpork as he knew it.

The door to the Oblong Office opened, and a woman stepped out. He knew her at once to be a female Drumknott, her appearance identical to the female Drumknott he had first met, though this one only wore a modest clerk’s robe. She stopped at the sight of him, surprise in her eyes.

She paused for a second too long, and he heard a voice – his voice – say, ‘Is something the matter, Drumknott?’

‘Please wait a moment, sir,’ Drumknott murmured to Vetinari, and then she withdrew into the Oblong Office.

He would have to wait, apparently. He sat down on one of the chairs in front of Drumknott’s desk, and did a sweeping assessment of the contents of his – or her now, of course – desktop. It was neat and orderly, the familiar filing system a comfort for one who was beginning to feel sorely homesick. He had never thought he might experience the feeling before, not even when he’d been as far as the Ramtops with a few fellow Assassins during his Grand Sneer; yet home had never felt so far away as it did now.

The door clicked open again, and Drumknott stood before him. He got up in turn, and she said, ‘May I have your name and title, sir?’

‘I am Lord Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork,’ and in a world where his alternate self currently held the title, he fully felt the embarrassment of saying so. ‘That is, I am from a parallel world and through that mirror,’ it should not be possible for a mere mirror to look innocent in such an insulting manner, but it did, ‘I came here by an accident.’

Drumknott nodded. ‘I think his lordship – that is, the Lord Vetinari I know – would like to meet you. Please come in.’

He didn’t want to stop anymore. He’d had enough of unfamiliar worlds, and the sooner he could go home, the better. But if he knew himself, and if he knew Drumknott, he would end up going into the office now if Drumknott had to step in front of the mirror to bar his departure. So he nodded and followed her inside.

The room was very warm. That was the first thing he noticed; he himself almost never put on the fire. Snow flurried outside the window, settling in a pretty fashion on the sill. Ankh-Morpork as he knew it was tucked underneath a blanket of snow, but there was a glaring absence of the semaphore towers.

His double sat in the Patrician’s chair behind the desk, and it was only then that Vetinari realised there had been marked differences between himself and the alternates he had met, because they were distinctively absent in the person before him. It was almost eerie, seeing somebody so thoroughly resemble him. This man probably had a past almost identical to his own.

He was ushered into a chair, and his foot brushed something underneath the desk. He looked down and saw a dog basket, out of which a terrier looked at him with round, curious eyes. It wasn’t Wuffles or Mr Fusspot, and it began to chew his shoelaces.

When he looked back up, Drumknott was whispering in his double’s ear, who then said, ‘Will you get us some tea, Drumknott?’

Vetinari instantly felt that something was wrong. His double didn’t even glance at Drumknott as he made his request, and Vetinari felt embarrassed for him. Perhaps there may be distinct differences between them after all; he would never dream of treating even a servant so rudely.

‘Yes, sir,’ Drumknott said. Her gaze was steady, and she slipped out of the room, apparently unbothered by this conduct. Vetinari wondered if she was used to it, and how she could stand it if this was so.

‘Good morning, my lord,’ his alternate self said, leaning back in his chair to give him a quick, sharp smile. ‘Drumknott has told me of your singular predicament. Would you care to explain it further than the sparse details you gave her?’

Vetinari did so – as quickly and concisely as he could, but as his double began questioning him, realised that he couldn’t get out of giving him a full description of his adventure, and did so rather impatiently. His double either didn’t notice, or ignored it.

In the middle of his narrative, Drumknott came inside and placed a tea tray on the desk between them. Again, his other self acted as if she was as incorporeal as a ghost. When she caught Vetinari’s eye, she gave him a small smile, then whisked herself out of the room.

‘How interesting,’ his double said when he had finished. ‘And you have no idea how to get back to your world at all, other than going through the mirror to other worlds?’

‘No –‘

‘Do you know why?’

‘No, but I intend to find out.’ When his other self opened his mouth to interrupt again, he cut him off, saying, ‘Forgive me for being so rude, but what did you mean by treating Miss Drumknott in such an ill-mannered way?’

It was immediately apparent that he had said something wrong, though an outsider would not have noticed how still his alternate self became, or how the fingers on one hand moved to tap the desk, just once.

‘What do you mean?’ his alternate self said in a tone that warned from further inquiry – but Vetinari was not afraid of himself.

‘I mean that I would not treat anyone, let alone my own secretary, as impolitely as the way you spoke to her, and I would like to know why you did so.’

His double gave him a measured look, the kind Vetinari himself had given many Guild officials and other important people when they were being difficult or stupid and he wanted them to stop. The look didn’t faze him, and he met it impassively.

‘That is between Miss Drumknott and I,’ his other self said at last.

‘So it is an arrangement between you and her?’ Vetinari said. ‘And what kind of arrangement could there possibly be that entails you to behave so discourteously?’

‘I would leave that to your imagination, my lord.’ His other self broke his gaze from him, and reached out for a document in his in tray. The meeting was being cut short. ‘I see that your continued presence here would not be of merit to either you or myself. Don’t let me detain you.’

His alternate self was obviously angry, but so was Vetinari. He stood up and swept away without another word, and nearly walked into Drumknott outside the office.

‘Sorry, sir, I didn’t see you there.’ She smiled apologetically and made to walk around him, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

‘May I have a word with you?’ he said.

She looked at him, then glanced at the door, and looked back up with a nod. Realising how awkward it would be for her were he to sit on one of the chairs in front of her desk, he led her to the waiting chamber with the irregularly ticking clock and sat down one of the hard chairs. Drumknott went over and took down the clock, muffling it behind a cushion on an armchair before sitting down next to him.

‘The housekeeper always does that when she cleans up so she doesn’t get distracted,’ she said in answer to his questioning glance. ‘What is it that you wanted to talk to me about, my lord?’

Unlike the female Drumknott he had previously met, this woman did not take excessive care to dress up. Although her appearance was neat, any beauty was toned down in a sensible manner. But there was a certain comeliness about the way her hair framed her face, there was just a touch of make-up highlighting her bright brown eyes, and Vetinari realised what her ‘arrangement’ with his other self was.

‘Your master lights the fire in the Oblong Office because of you, doesn’t he?’ he said.

As calm and controlled as Drumknott always was, even in Vetinari’s world he had never quite mastered restraint over his reactions. She blushed and said, ‘What do you mean, sir?’

‘I mean that sometime in the past, you both realised that your regard for each other goes beyond that which is usual for master and secretary, and either by spoken or unspoken agreement, you both decided that it would be in the best interests of all not to act upon it.’ Vetinari’s tone turned sharp as he registered how ridiculous the arrangement was. ‘And so he treats you in a disgraceful fashion to supposedly make it easier upon himself and you but in the end, it doesn’t help anyone at all, does it?’ He gave her a short smile, the same as the one his double had flashed him earlier. ‘Instead, it only serves to aggravate both your dignity and your affection for him.’

Though she kept his gaze, her countenance changed, and she didn’t reply for a while. At last, after some thought, she said, ‘Would you not do the same thing were you in his position?’

Vetinari’s first thought was no, he would not be so irrational. But then again, it was him in there, and though all the Vetinaris he had met had subtle differences, they were, at the heart of the matter, the same. He had his own Drumknott, back in his world, and he wondered if he would do the same thing, were they to arrive at the same situation.

He found that he did not know the answer, but he did know that now he had met Miss Drumknott and her master, he definitely would not. To know you could have someone you wanted … and not take them … it might make sense at first glance, but such an arrangement could never work out.

‘Quite possibly not,’ he replied. ‘While I don’t know all the details of your relationship with him, I can say that it’s a silly compromise, and it would be the better for the both of you were you to reconsider your agreement.’

‘The reason we came to this understanding,’ Drumknott began, ‘is that his lordship’s position is such that to have any illicit affair with one as vulnerable as myself –‘ Vetinari understood this to mean ‘as opposed to someone like Lady Margolotta’ as rumours abound even in his Ankh-Morpork, ‘- would be opening him to exploitation from his enemies. It is neither his nor my opinion that this is a silly reason.’

‘I expected better of you, Drumknott,’ he said, and didn’t hide it. ‘If, even now, his enemies were to take advantage of you in order to elicit something from him, he would still be in a vulnerable position.’

She smiled. It was quite an attractive smile, possibly why she was in the habit of using it so often. ‘Sir, what I meant was that any acts more explicit than lighting the fire for me would make his regard more apparent, and could very well be the difference between his lordship ruling as he sees fit, and ruling under blackmail. Not to mention that if it were a choice between myself and the city, I am sure he wouldn’t hesitate to choose the city,’ she added.

‘But it would give him some pain to do so.’ This seemed to surprise her. ‘Drumknott, you can’t possibly think that he – that I – have no vices. It is only that I can hide and control them.’

‘I wouldn’t add to those vices for the world, sir.’

Vetinari nearly sighed. To anybody else, he might have raised an eyebrow, but Drumknott had never really been afraid of him. ‘I mean that in this world, you are probably one of – or perhaps the only – major weakness of your master.’

‘I’m flattered that you think so –‘ she said, and though she looked defiant, her blush deepened.

‘But you don’t yet believe me.’ He stood up, and she quickly followed suit. ‘Never mind. I’ve said all I need to. At least consider my words, Drumknott.’

‘Yes, sir. And … thank you.’

He nodded and walked off, to where the mirror was. She followed behind him, and before he could touch the suspiciously blank surface of the mirror again, she said, ‘May I ask you a question before you go, sir?’

‘Of course you may,’ he said, and turned to look at her.

‘Do I exist in your world too?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but the person I know is named Rufus Drumknott.’

‘Ah.’ She nodded. She undoubtedly had many more questions, but something made her decide not to ask any of them. Perhaps his discussion with her had already answered a good deal of them. ‘My name is Ruth. Good day, sir.’

‘Goodbye, Miss Drumknott,’ he said, and left.

-

Vetinari arrived in a darkened room. The curtains were drawn, though he saw, as his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, an unlit candle on the bedside table. He looked around and realised that it was a bedroom, quite possibly one of the rooms in the Patrician’s Palace. The rooms were usually used to house clerks who had no other home, or whose homes were too far away to return to every night. His own bedroom was designed similarly, although it was much more sparsely furnished. He wondered again if he was back in his own world.

The sound of footsteps approached, and he deliberated leaving, or at least hiding, lest he really was back in the palace and might alarm the occupant of the room with his presence. But he didn’t really think he was back in the palace – or at least, his palace – and if he was still travelling through the worlds, the only person who could come through the door would be either himself or Drumknott, neither who could lose much composure at seeing him.

The door opened, revealing the lit corridor outside, and a silhouetted figure holding a lit candle. The figure inhaled sharply as it noticed him, and after half a second’s pause, said, ‘Havelock? I thought you’d gone already. Did you leave something?’

It was, rather predictably, Vetinari thought, Drumknott’s voice. He had never heard the man, or any of his doubles that he had met, say his name, and it was odd to hear it. Odd, but not at all unpleasant.

‘Shut the door and bring in the candle, please,’ Vetinari said, and Drumknott obliged. He lit the candle on the bedside table, and placed his on the table on the other side. In the illumination, Vetinari saw a fireplace, with a scuttle full of coal. It would be very comfortable during cold nights.

‘I apologise for the confusion,’ Vetinari said as Drumknott came to him. Drumknott wore a warm expression, and even as it disturbed Vetinari, unaccustomed as he was to seeing that expression on his secretary, it relieved him to come to a world where things were … well, more right than they were in the previous one, even if it was still somewhat alien to him. ‘I’m not the Havelock Vetinari you know. I came here by an accident, through a mirror which is some sort of portal into other worlds.’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry, sir.’ The affection countenance left Drumknott’s face as if it had never been there, to be replaced by one of politeness. ‘I should have known, I saw you – that is, my Havelock – leave.’

Vetinari’s mouth went dry at hearing himself being referred to as ‘Drumknott’s Havelock’. He struggled to regain speech; happily, Drumknott spared him the agony by saying, ‘What are you doing going through mirrors into other worlds? Or would you rather I not ask that?’

‘I was taking a walk in the palace,’ Vetinari said, even as Drumknott’s choice of words struck him – it was evident that Drumknott was very much at ease with him, to speak so informally, ‘and came upon a mirror in one of the hidden passageways. I touched it to inspect it, and came onto a different world.’

‘This one?’

‘No, I’ve been to five alternate timelines before this one.’

Drumknott nodded, and said, ‘You must be tired then. I suppose you’ll want to be getting to your own world as fast as you can. You could stay for tea for a while if you liked, though.’

Quick on the uptake and always asking after his master – that was Drumknott through and through, and Vetinari smiled despite himself. The Vetinari in this world must have it very nicely, always this warm room and this affectionate young man to look forward to, every night. For a long time Vetinari had restrained himself from many comforts, lest he get complacent, or discover some vice, as Ruth Drumknott had said; but in a thought that came and flew by as fast as a lightning flash, he found himself wanting to know what it was like to live like this.

‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘but I should be going. Goodnight, Drumknott.’

‘Goodnight, sir.’

-

The place Vetinari came to was so dark, and the air so cold and dusty, that for a moment he felt as if all his senses had shut down. After several seconds, he discerned that there was some light, though very little. It was only enough to illuminate his way, and he realised that he must have finally come back where he started.

He paused to throw his cloak over the mirror, just in case someone might stumble along it and it would whisk them away, then walked briskly through the corridor. As he walked, he was apprehensive that he was not yet home, but all worry dissipated as he emerged into his office. It was his, unmistakeably, bare and empty without him, and as if to further prove the point, Mr Fusspot awoke from his nap and ran at him, barking excitedly. He bent down to pat him on the head, and the dog happily drooled on his hand.

A clock chimed half past three, and Vetinari realised he had been gone some five hours. Five hours – was that all? He felt as if he had been gone for a week. He felt hungry as if he hadn’t eaten for a week, too, and rang the bell to summon a maid and ask for lunch. Then he sat down at his desk.

The report he had been working on before he went on his walk was still there, unread and unsigned. He put it away momentarily and wrote instead a letter to Archchancellor Ridcully, asking for his assistance in removing the magical artefact he had discovered in the palace. Then he ate and went to spend the rest of the day reading and resting.

-

There was a knock on the door, but before Vetinari could answer it, Drumknott slipped inside the Oblong Office. He jumped when he saw Vetinari at his desk, then turned scarlet.

‘I – I wasn’t expecting you here, sir. You’re not usually in so early,’ Drumknott said embarrassedly.

‘That’s not a sentence I’d expect anyone to say at half past five in the morning,’ Vetinari said, looking up from the report he’d been reading. It was the report he’d put aside the day before. ‘I slept early last night.’

Drumknott nodded. ‘Would you like me to ask the maids to hurry up with the morning tea, my lord?’

‘No, that won’t be necessary – unless you want it.’

‘Thank you sir, I’ve already had my morning tea.’

With that, Drumknott moved as silently as a feather to the desk adjacent to the Patrician’s and began sorting out the morning appointments. Contentment settled down like a warm blanket, and Vetinari relaxed. It was a relief to be back home.

A curious note of tension was in the air between them, however, and he was sure Drumknott could feel it to. He kept passing him almost questioning looks, which he tried to ignore. The day after Hogswatch was always busy as people came back to work and into a new year with zeal, and there were many affairs of state to tend to. During the afternoon, a wizard came to the palace and Vetinari, followed by Drumknott, showed him the mirror. The wizard appeared delighted with the find, and carried it away in a table cloth.

At nine in the evening, Vetinari put down his pen with a soft sigh and leaned back into his chair. Drumknott got up and placed the newspaper in front of him, folded to the crossword page.

‘How did you find your family during the holidays, Drumknott?’ Vetinari said, not looking at the paper.

‘They were well, sir, but young Nicholas had a cold when I first arrived. He’s better now, though.’

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ Vetinari nodded. ‘Now I’d like to talk to you about the post of tax collector, which you’ll remember I originally considered giving to Mr Lipwig, but owing to his preoccupation with the current financial system I was thinking about giving to –‘

‘Sir,’ Drumknott said, and he looked pained, ‘I apologise for my protestations. I know I should put your judgement before all else, and my word could hardly count in the face of your careful planning and evaluation.’

Vetinari smiled, quick and fleeting. ‘I meant to thank you for your insight, Drumknott. They are invaluable to me, and I should appreciate them in any enterprise.’

‘Oh.’ Drumknott was taken aback. Then he smiled back, pleased at his master’s praise. ‘Thank you, my lord.’

‘You’re quite welcome. Will you sit here with me? There is something else I’d like to speak to you about. Bring the tea tray.’

The tray was placed on the Patrician’s desk, and Drumknott poured out two cups, handing one to Vetinari before sitting down. They drank in companionable silence awhile.

‘You saw that mirror I showed to our guest from Unseen University, didn’t you?’ Vetinari said at length.

‘Yes, sir. You said it was some sort of portal to other worlds, but you didn’t say how you knew that.’

‘I knew that because I myself was the one transported to other worlds.’ Vetinari paused to allow Drumknott’s astonishment to register, but he was mildly surprised when it turned into an expression of concern. But perhaps he shouldn’t have been. ‘It took me some time to find my way back.’

‘It must have been worrying to be lost through worlds,’ Drumknott said quietly.

‘It was.’ To tell the truth, he was almost surprised he had managed to make it back so relatively quickly. ‘I went through six worlds before I came back to this one. I discovered something very remarkable during my trip, Drumknott – something remarkable about you.’

Said to anyone else, guilt might have flashed across their face. Most people when told that someone had made a discovery about them tended to think about misdeeds; but Drumknott’s countenance was only of inquisitiveness.

‘My lord?’

‘I met different versions of myself during my trip, Drumknott. People who I might have been, had things been a little different.’ Vetinari got up and, walking to the window, and looked out at his Ankh-Morpork. Drumknott remained seated. ‘Worlds where I never became Patrician, but was instead Master of the Guild of Assassins, a world in the future where I was yet to become Patrician, a world where I grew up with my mother instead of my aunt …’

‘That would be very strange, sir. I can’t imagine you as anything other than what you are now.’

‘It was interesting to meet them,’ Vetinari said dismissively. ‘But there was always one constant throughout those worlds, Drumknott, no matter how I grew up or where I ended up.’ He waited for several seconds. He knew Drumknott would want time to rearrange his expression.

‘Can you guess what it was?’ Vetinari said at last.

‘You don’t mean me, sir?’ Drumknott said.

‘I do.’ Vetinari found, now, that he couldn’t quite turn around and look Drumknott in the eye – not yet. ‘In all kinds of peculiar circumstances, too. In the world where I grew up with my mother, I contracted an illness as a youth and she removed us to Lancre, in the Ramtops -’ at that, Drumknott could not contain a breath, ‘- where I apparently met and befriended a young boy named Rufus Drumknott.’ He paused again before saying, ‘What do you think, Drumknott?’

‘That is an extraordinary coincidence, to be sure, my lord.’

‘Drumknott, are you listening to me?’

‘Yes, sir. I’m sorry. I just … have difficulty comprehending … that I could be someone who should always be a part of your life … no matter the circumstances.’

‘So did I, at first. The Havelock Vetinari I met in a world some decades ahead of this world spoke very fondly of his friend Rufus Drumknott.’

When Vetinari didn’t say any more for a few seconds, Drumknott said, ‘I feel honoured to know that, my lord.’

‘There was, as I mentioned, a world where I was head of the Assassins’ Guild,’ Vetinari went on, unable to think what to say to that, ‘a world where almost everything was identical the world you and I know, except for … some minor differences, and a world which I visited so briefly I couldn’t ascertain much difference at all, but in all those worlds …’

It was rare for Vetinari to feel nervous, or anxious. He had always had the ability to make very good guesses of the outcome of any situation … but this sort of situation was almost entirely new to him. He’d forgotten how annoying such feelings could be when they were left undealt with.

He felt, rather than heard, Drumknott come over and join him.

‘My lord,’ Drumknott said, ‘I freely admit that I am wholly dedicated to you and serving you, in mind and body. I would be anything you wanted me to be.’

‘Do you even know what I was going to say, Drumknott?’

‘No, but I ventured a guess.’

‘Then tell me your guess.’

Drumknott hesitated for a second so long that Vetinari almost decided to relieve him, but then he said, ‘I guessed you were going to say we – that is, the us of those worlds – were having an affair.’

‘Close,’ Vetinari nodded. He felt a little better, now it had been said. ‘In the second world I mentioned, we had some sort of understanding that although we had a mutual affection, we would keep our distance in order not to jeopardise my situation as Patrician.’

‘It really is very strange to hear you speak like that,’ Drumknott mused. Vetinari glanced at him – he looked pensive. ‘And the other two?’

‘Affairs, like you said.’

A short silence descended. It was broken by Drumknott.

‘Where would you like us to go from here, sir?’

‘That,’ Vetinari said, ‘depends on what you say next.’

Drumknott fell silent again, but it didn’t last long this time. His words, when he used them, were careful and measured, ‘At this venture, it would be foolish of me to say I’ve never thought of you in that way … my lord. I’m afraid my regard for you is more comprehensive than many suspect.’

‘Indeed?’ Vetinari said. Their conversation was nothing but calm and civil, but the air was heavy. Drumknott’s confession was simple, and Vetinari knew it was now his turn. He might never have considered Drumknott in the same way some of his alternate selves had, but … ‘In which case, we could start with you calling me “Havelock” when we are in private.’ Drumknott appeared to ponder this.

‘And see what follows?’ he said.

Vetinari turned to look at him, and he looked back. Drumknott wasn’t quite smiling, but his expression was hopeful, even warm.

‘I wouldn’t ask for anything more than you were comfortable with giving me,’ Havelock said.

‘Yes, I know. Thank you.’

The conversation had clearly ended, but Vetinari somehow felt that something more was expected of him. Possibly Drumknott had the same idea, as he leaned forward at the same time. They met halfway, and as they kissed, Drumknott’s hand found his, probably to steady himself, but Vetinari held it in his anyway.

‘Goodnight … Havelock,’ Drumknott said when they broke away.

‘Goodnight, Rufus,’ Vetinari said. But they didn’t quite release each other’s hands. Drumknott gave him a questioning look, which turned into a knowing one. With an affectionate smile, he turned and led him away by the hand.

Havelock smiled. Rufus always knew exactly what he needed.