Lord Vetinari had once, many many years ago back at the Assassin's Academy, heard the riddle of the unstoppable force and the immovable object, and it confused him a great deal. Why would Sybil Ramkin stand against herself? Sometimes he thought about sharing this riddle with Vimes but no man, not even the Patrician, should kick the wasp nest more often than necessary.
Today it was beautiful spring day and Lord Vetinari decided to move his work from the Oblong Office to the gardens. Which was exactly where Sybil had found him. Vetinari knew her long enough and good enough to put his paperwork aside because when the Duchess of Ankh comes in person, it was an Important Matter with capital I and M.
“Oh, Havelock, it's so good to see you again,” she smiled at him and Lord Vetinari was suddenly reminded that yes, indeed, there are some people who actually like to see him, and that on those special occasions he even has a first name.
“It is good to see you too, Sybil. What brings you here?” There was enough space on the bench for the both of them and Sybil sat down with a grace of a ship arriving to her home port.
“Well, since you strike at the heart of the matter and are so busy I won't detain you much.1 I am just planning a small party, a little ball at the start of April.” She smiled at him and whatever he wanted to say was left unspoken. “Of course, you will get a proper invitation like everyone else, but I thought I'd drop by and told you personally too.”
That sounded dangerous. “What did I do to deserve such an honour?”
Sybil looked him dead in the eye: “I thought I'd let you know I'd really appreciate if this time you'd actually show up.”
“Even Sam is attending. And he promised me and little Sammy he won't run off.”
In history there was no Vetinari giving without a fight and Havelock wasn't going to shame his ancestors: “Out of curiosity, is the Commander allowed to pick his own suit?”
“As a matter of fact, he is. We have had an Agreement. But you know, Havelock, you can also pick your own suit. Or should I do it?”
Lord Vetinari sighed: “Sybil, you know the city is a full time business. I can't just decide to close earlier and call it a day.” She was still looking at him and he couldn't find the strength to return her the look. “I mean, in theory I could but I can't.”
She sighed and patted him on one shoulder: “Yes, I know. You are too responsible person. But when was the last time you had an evening off? See? You should come. I know you aren't all that a ball person, especially now with your leg. But this will be just a small thing.”
There were moments when Lord Vetinari was really glad Sybil is actually on his side... Or rather that he has the honour and privilege sharing his side with Sybil. Unmovable force meeting an unstoppable object. “I make no promises, Sybil.”
Her Grace, the Duchess of Ankh, Sybil Vimes stood up and leaned over. For a moment was Vetinari sure she was going to give him a small kiss on forehead like she used to when they both were teens. But she just gave him a pat on the other shoulder. It was a disappointment and relief both at the same time. “I have to go now, I really ought not to bother you this much. I was going to the post anyway.” With those words she waved him a goodbye and left.
And this, ladies and gentleman, Vetinari thought, is the most powerful woman in Ankh-Morpork. Dozens of servants but she walks to the post office herself. Not to mention she takes the long way just so she can tell me I am invited to a ball and I better be there.
He indeed received an invitation. It was written by Vimes who probably had had a thesaurus and a dictionary at hand at the time. The Commander put a lot of effort into it, it was translated from Common Vimes into Eloquent Noble. The original, however, had been written on the silver edge paper written in pencil and then thoroughly erased, most likely after a long argument with Her Grace. Lord Vetinari asked Dromknott for a magnifying glass and then nearly choked on his tea when he managed to decipher the original line. He decided to go after all.
Sir, get you bloody arse here, so I don't suffer alone.
The evening was warm, the champagne was cold, and the ballerina was hot. At least she thought so, the Patrician couldn't really agree. He was still trying to politely tell her to leave him be, but she was already fairly intoxicated to not notice or care. But he still didn't want to be impolite enough to send her directly way, because she arrived with Lord Selachii Jr. as his company and it was still too early to stir the air.
Nevertheless, he'd really appreciated her departure, because she was getting very... Clingy. Invading personal space without permission.
“You know, you are like a drug to me,” she whispered, one hand wrapped around his shoulders and other on his hip. She smelled of sherry. Strongly. Vetinari was torn between praying for a rescue, and for no one witnessing this.
“Really?” that came from the other side of the hall. “Foul smelling, really bitter, devastating for livers and really not worth all the fuzz, right?” It was Downey and his smile was brighter than the big chandelier in the ballroom. He was approaching them. “Oh, my bad. I thought we were talking about you, Anette.”
Anette the ballerina unwrapped herself off the Patrician and gave both men a look she usually reserved for cats bringing her dead mice.
Apparently Downey had no problem to be rude towards her: “Keep frowning like that, it will stay on your face. I think it will be a great improvement.”
“You...” she hissed at him, the tried to murder them both with a look, and promptly left, slightly unsure on her drunk legs.
“You didn't really have to be like that. She is going to jabber to her, ah a young companion, and bring the ill blood.” Vetinari dusted himself and tried to pretend the past ten minutes hadn't happened.
Downey shrugged and let the grin go: “I am quite sure she is going to tell the little Selachii what a mean old man I am to her and Selachii happens to know what I think of this lady. I hat told him, repeatedly. I don't think he will take this incident seriously unless one of us is going to fill him with the details.” The end of the sentence trailed in the air like a question.
“I surely am not going to.” Vetinari shook his head. Somehow they walked side by side, him having an empty flute in hands, Downey lightly tapping on every door they passed.
“Neither am I. By the way, most of people would say at least thank you.”
They stopped on a balcony. Outside was warm but Downey kept his coat on. Vetinari's was in the cloak room. The both rested hands on the railing.
“I am not most of people.”
“I never said I expected you to thank me,” Downey shrugged and lit himself a cigarette.
The packet was offered to Vetinari who rejected it and asked instead: “I didn't know you were here.”
“I have just arrived. Lately the work's been eating me up, I swear the papers are breeding. So I've delivered Duchess Sto Helit to her husband and thought I'd go outside for a smoke when I ran into the damsel in distress.”
There was a long and partly awkward silence.
“I'll give you a life advice,” the white-haired Assassin said finally. “Never date a ballerina who's trying to pick you up by how high she can stick her leg. Because it means she is good for nothing ballerina.”
Vetinari chuckled: “A lot of ballerinas tried to get you in your life, Downey?”
“You'd be surprised,” Downey grinned. “But only Stilltoe ever got me.”
“Stilltoe? You mean Rosa Stilltoe? She was in our Botany class, how did she ever became a ballerina? And for the love of gods, what did you see in her?”
“In the first two years of post-graduate half of us began with ballet or some other help in the Opera. You'd have known if you stayed in the city and didn't head out for... What do you call it again? The Grated Snail?”
“The Grand Sneer,”Vetinari corrected.
Downey waved hand dismissively. “Whatever. Stilltoe could hide six knives on herself.”
That amused Lord Vetinari. “You know, I don't like to brag but I can do that toe and I am fairly certain you as well.”
There was a bitten lip and light blush as Lord Downey said: “I know. But she could do it while wearing nothing but her ballet shoes.”
They let the sentence sink in in absolute silence.
“Oh, Havelock, here you are!” It would be nice to say Sybil caught them by surprise but they were both Assassins after all and heard her coming.2 “And Lord Downey, I thought you wouldn't arrive.”
Downey bowed to her. “My apologies, Your Grace. My work is eating me alive and delayed my arrival. And then I selfishly usurped out beloved Patrician and kept him from your glorious company. Truly, it's my fault.”
Sybil smiled gently and then said: “Oh well, I just thought I'd go and tell you there is a cake. I have tried baking after a long while again, would you boys honour me and take a bite?”
“Oh, with pleasure. I just...” Downey waved with his half finished cigarette, “come in while.”
She nodded, turned around and left.
“She knows I don't like social gatherings. And she still makes me come. Every time.” Vetinari sighed. “And she doesn't even let me to sneak out for a break. Why are you poking me with the pack of cigarettes? You know I don't smoke.”
“You might as well start,” Downey shrugged. “Smoking inside is considered socially unacceptable. Which means five more minutes outside without all the people.”
Vetinari gave him a long look and Downey added: “Well, had you seen me take an actual draw from it?” They both laughed.
“Maybe we'll just go inside. Sybil makes good cakes.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
1Drumknott, who just happened to be passing by with pile of folders, had to turn on heel, return to his office and snicker there where he was sure no one was going to hear him. Nevertheless, he still had a long talk about it with his employer later that afternoon.
2Probably even before she decided to go and find her missing guests.