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The Return of the ???

Chapter Text

The opening paragraph looms formidably like that proverbial blank canvas, demanding awe, respect and most of all, quick action. Before writer’s block gets a chance to raise its ugly head 1) let us swiftly begin by saying:  welcome, if not quite on board (we’ve left the Suleika behind for good), then at least into the fuzzy warm folds of this tale, in which the narrator, who has been affectionately dubbed the Terrorist Of The Fourth Wall by a fellow wordsmith, will endeavour to delight the esteemed readers with precarious predicaments, pointless punch lines and a complete lack of opportunity for cheap escapism by means of total identification with a fictional character. The question of whether or not this concept constitutes an example of Postmodernism may, with good conscience, be left to the researching endeavours of future generations, but rest assured that narrative conventions will be messed about with to an extent, well, probably to an extent no more drastic than that seen in other ambitious projects, but messed with nonetheless. Trust me. After this introduction, will you read on? Well, it’s your choice...

 

1) Which is, of course, a blockhead.

~oOoOo~

How shall one describe Ankh-Morpork? How can one even begin to pay homage to the grime, the squalor and yet the grandeur of this city? Ankh-Morpork features more dirt, more acute angles and more buildings designed by B.S. Johnson than all other cities on the Disc combined.  Its populace, moreover, is so remarkable that describing it would make a modern sociologist tremble with the excitement of being able to use so many terms beginning with “multi-”. The people of Ankh-Morpork are renowned as much for their ingenuity as for their greed and insatiable appetite for street theatre of any kind. Yet if Ankh-Morpork has, over the last few decades, become the place where everybody wants to be, the urban El Dorado of golden opportunities, this is mostly due to the efforts of one man.  One man whose eloquence outshines even his cunning and stunning intelligence, one man who can raise an eyebrow as if it were a weapon. One man whose name makes the feeble-hearted blanch: Havelock, Lord Vetinari.

The person currently standing on the bank of the river not far from the Water Gate was not this man. He was, for a start, shorter in stature – though similarly thin – and much younger. His head was covered in curly brown hair and the central feature of his face was a slightly crooked nose, such as might be expected, or at least not unduly surprising, in someone who has had his fair share of less than amicable encounters. His name was Constantin Greenaway and barely two hours ago he had joined the City Watch, a decision that he had not yet had opportunity to regret.

While Constantin Greenaway was, obviously, not Havelock Vetinari, he was, on the other hand, not entirely without a connection to the former Patrician – otherwise the narrator would hardly have mentioned him here.  To him, Lord Vetinari was an object of hero worship. Furthermore, he harboured in his chest considerable chaste affection for His Lordship’s wife, much like the kind one feels for a pet rabbit one has rescued from the fox. The prolonged absence of the Vetinaris from the city, not to mention the distressing fact that they had been declared dead after the university omniscope had shown images of their boat falling over the edge of the world and shattering on the shell of Great A’Tuin, had caused Lance-Constable Greenaway no end of chagrin.

The man who stood just beside the young lance-constable was less concerned with this particular calamity.

“Have you ever thought of letting Om into your life?” asked Constable Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets.

“Pardon?” Lance-Constable Greenaway looked up from the spot by the river which had attracted his attention and turned to his senior colleague.

“I said, have you ever thought of letting Om into your life?” repeated Constable Visit patiently. “I have a very good leaflet that explains the Path to Om in simple terms for the interested layperson. In fact I have it right here in my pocket, if you would – “

“Should all those bottles be lying about down there?” interrupted Lance-Constable Greenaway, who most decidedly didn’t consider himself an interested layperson.

“What? Oh. I don’t know. People throw all sorts of things onto the river,” said Constable Visit. “Of course, last year they sank, but the river seems to be back to what it was.”

“Yes,” said Lance-Constable Greenaway with a grim smile. “Her work has been all but destroyed.”

“Whose work?”

“Oh, never mind. But those bottles look odd, you know. There’s such a strange, greenish-purple sheen around them. Don’t you think we should check them out?”

“They don’t seem extraordinary,” said Visit. “Just something that’s been dumped here from one of the factories. It happens all the time. People have no respect for Om’s creation – “ 2)

“I’ll have a look at them,” said Greenaway and strode down the litter-strewn bank towards the abomination that passed for a river in Ankh-Morpork. A little stone jetty protruded into the semi-liquid waters. 3) It looked fairly new and had possibly been built during the brief period of time, nearly two years ago now, when even a small rowing boat would have proven a feasible mode of transport on the Ankh, because the oars wouldn’t have had to break through a crust.

Something had broken through the crust now. Two wooden crates had been unceremoniously dumped from the jetty, their contents smashed against the stony ledge at the base. They were little brown glass bottles, maybe two hundred altogether, many of them broken with their contents oozing out into the river in iridescent swirls. The young lance-constable knelt down at the edge of the jetty, extended his arm and, taking care to choose one that was still in one piece, picked up one of the bottles. He held it up and read the label:

Collins’ Personality Enhancer

Fed up with being dull, weak and boring?

Try Collins’ Personality Enhancer to become the sparkling personality and the centre of attention that you’ve always wished to be. Half a teaspoonful in the morning before food. Allow four weeks for effect to develop.

Without a word, he passed it on to Constable Visit, who had come up behind him.  The Omnian shrugged.

“Mr Collins is a charlatan,” he said. “He runs a little factory in Moneytrap Lane. All sorts of miracle cures, you know, against baldness and pimples and, errr, other things.” He blushed, his change of colour barely noticeable on his creamy brown complexion. “Something must have gone wrong with this lot, and so it was dumped here. There is a littering law in the city, but we never bother with it. Commander Vimes thinks there are more important things for the Watch to deal with. Though of course we should take better care of Om’s creation and – “

“You mean we should clean up this mess?” asked Greenaway.

Visit regarded the sticky liquid and the shards of glass. He scratched his head.

“It’s hard to say what the will of Om is in this case,” he said.

“Never mind Om,” replied Greenaway. “What is our duty as watchpersons?”

“As I said, it’s not really a crime. Harry King’s people will probably be here soon and take it all away. But I think we should call on Mr Collins and remind him that we all have civic responsibilities. It would be a good opportunity to hand him one of those leaflets I mentioned earlier –“

“Let’s go then,” said Greenaway and absentmindedly stashed the bottle away in his pocket. Two minutes later the two watchmen were proceeding towards Moneytrap Lane, casting long shadows in the setting sun.

2) Not that Om would want to take credit for this particular corner of the world.

3) For want of a better word.

~oOoOo~

 

 

Elsewhere in Ankh-Morpork, in a marginally less murky and more evenly cobbled street, two figures moved along in a somewhat unconventional manner. The taller, a thin and solemn looking man of about fifty, strode ahead in spite of the handicap he appeared to suffer from a slightly lame leg, while the shorter, clearly female figure was, though obviously more able-bodied, obliged to scuttle after him, periodically catching up with him and then falling behind again as soon as her attention was turned by any of the various distractions provided by the colourful 4) street scenes. Her haphazard progress was matched, if thus one chooses to describe it, by the single-minded movement of her companion, whose gaze was straight and fixed on the hazy semi-distance. He carried a rolled up carpet under his arm. Both were deeply tanned in the way of people who, though usually fair-skinned, have been exposed to sunlight in an involuntary rather than cosmetically purposeful manner, and attired in clothes that might well have been made to measure, but to the measure of someone other than the current wearer.

 

In this fashion they traversed Hide Park, which at this time of year and day was full of groups of young people roasting sausages over open fires, throwing flat rubber discs at each other and pathetically failing to catch them, and reclining on chequered blankets in pursuit of closer physical contact with members of the opposite, or in some cases the same, sex.  At the junction of Nonesuch Street and Myrtle Street, the woman paused by the window of a bakery and inhaled with closed eyes the fumes emanating from the shop door.  The esteemed reader, if familiar with the preceding tales, will appreciate the significance of this little scene if he/she/it (delete pronoun of your choice) is informed that the woman’s name is Angelina Vetinari, nee Winter, and that the scent she perceived was that of freshly baked figgins. For those in the audience who are encountering this not entirely conventional lady for the first time, let it be said that figgins were to Angelina what honey is to a bear, though quite possibly she would not brave a swarm of irate bees in order to obtain them.

 

When Angelina opened her eyes again, she could just see the figure of her husband disappear round the corner of Park Lane. Getting lost on her first day back in the city was not very high on her list of approved undertakings, so with a last tantalized look at the shop display she turned and scurried after him. She drew level with His Lordship just as he strode past a fish stall. The proprietress observed them curiously, with eyes that seemed to be in disagreement about which direction to take. 5)

“Havelock?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Where exactly are we going?”

 

“Scoone Avenue. We are going to stay with the Vimeses tonight.”

 

Angelina frowned.  Her vision of their return to Ankh-Morpork had not included the Commander’s scornful looks.

 

“But surely we ought to go and see Henry first!”

 

“I think not. I appreciate your desire to see your brother, but the Assassins’ Guild is hardly a suitable place of first contact for a defunct tyrant returning to his former haunts.”

 

“I don’t think he stays there anymore. He had just bought a house a couple of weeks before our wedding.”

 

“And where is this house?”

 

Angelina paused and frowned again.

 

“Um – I’m not so sure. I wanted to go and see it, but of course I was ill and then – well, I don’t really know.”

 

“Aha. Scoone Avenue it is then.”

 

“But wait!” She skipped to keep up with him.  “What about Mr Drumknott?”

 

“What about him?”

 

“Couldn’t we stay with him?”

 

“Theoretically yes.”

 

“But?”

 

“But I don’t know where he lives.”

 

At this, Angelina shook her head. “I don’t believe that!”

 

“Mr Drumknott is very secretive about his private life,” replied Vetinari. “Did you know that he is married?”

 

“I kind of guessed. But I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t know. Don’t you spy on everybody?”

 

“Everyone needs someone they trust,” said Vetinari. “Otherwise they begin to stick single hairs to their toothbrush, and then there’s nothing for it but the scorpion pit.”

 

“But – “ With a brief glance at her husband, Lady Vetinari discerned the smug expression around the corners of his mouth and decided to let the matter pass. Instead, she tried to coax herself into a mental frame for meeting Sir Samuel. She had a vague feeling that the commander would blame her for the mishap that had taken the Patrician on an involuntary cruise around the Disc. And in a way, she was to blame, wasn’t she? She sighed.

 

 

4) Mostly greys, browns and various shades of puke.  

 

5) Miss Verity Pushpram, one of Ankh Morpork’s most successful purveyors of fish, had recently gone upmarket quite a bit. Park Lane had turned out to be much more reputable and certainly more lucrative than Rime Street.

 

 

~oOoOo~

Soft, copper-coloured curls shimmered in the glow of the fire, but Lord Downey knew by now that such sweetness and light was deceptive. He observed with a cautious eye the tall, perfectly shaped apparition that was his fiancée, the illustrious opera singer Dame Gina Dulci. Her creamy skin, her shining eyes, the gentle curve of her lips all seemed to promise the most delightful  female company, and yet he had found that if anything, her presence made him feel edgy these days. But of course, he should make allowances for the stress to which she was subjected. Her nerves must be suffering. Maybe it would all get better once they were married. Maybe that wonderful sparkle would return...

“You’ll have to do something about this, Donald!” said Gina and waved about a gold-edged letter.

“About what, dear?”

“About this King of Lancre. He says they cannot attend the wedding because the Queen is expecting. What a phoney excuse!”

“What exactly do you expect me to do about it?” replied the Patrician. “I can hardly reverse the Queen’s condition.”

“Oh, tell them they have to come anyway. I insist on it. He is the third Head of State who has sent apologies. I’m not putting up with it! It’s an ... an insult, that’s what it is.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t mean to slight you, dear,” said Lord Downey and aligned the handle of his teacup with the pattern on the saucer. “But if it makes you happy, I’ll send him a note expressing our great disappointment.”

“Well...” Dame Gina seemed not completely pacified, but was apparently unable to maintain her complaint in the face of the Patrician’s soothing tones 6)

“And another thing,” she continued, “is the caterers. I just cannot find a soul in the whole of Ankh-Morpork who is able to make a decent Libum. I ask you, what is a wedding without a Libum?”

“Still a wedding? I don’t see why ancient cheesecakes should be so essential.”

Gina’s eyes flared.

“Donald! A wedding without a Libum is just  ... common, that’s what it is. It’s not to be borne.”

Downey bowed his head to her superior knowledge of etiquette.

“I will try and get a Genuan chef, dear.”

“Genuan? Impossible! We need someone from Quirm. Only in Quirm do they understand how to make a decent Libum. It’s very ... remiss of you not to think of it.”

“I’m sorry, dear. I’ll see to it in the morning.”

Lord Downey sipped last mouthful of his tea – it was nearly cold now – and replaced the cup in exactly the same position as before. He leaned back in his armchair and stretched out his legs while Gina went over the guest list for the seventeenth time.

6) In the face of a tone -  yeah, here’s another candidate for the attention of Olaf Quimby II!

~oOoOo~

 

 

And now this was Scoone Avenue, home to the more distinguished citizens of the twin city. It was high enough above the river to afford some impressive views, but not far enough from it to smell of roses, even though the first buds were beginning to open in many of the carefully manicured front gardens. Where Scoone Avenue crossed King’s Way stood the residence of Ankh-Morpork’s richest and in many ways most remarkable man. It definitely didn’t smell of roses, and for anyone wondering why that would be so, the dragon pens round the back would have provided a clue.

 

“You know, Angelina, I am rather looking forward to giving the Commander a little surprise,” said Lord Vetinari. The gravel scrunched under their feet as they walked up the path to the Ramkin Mansion.

 

“I’m sure you do,” she replied and tried to smooth her hair with her fingers. The ride on the flying carpet had done nothing for her coiffure. 7) It was a small consolation to her that, if she had to face Sir Samuel Vimes in a few minutes, the state of her hair would be of very little importance. The last time she had seen him, her hair had been arranged with all the glamour that befitted the Patrician’s bride, and yet the commander had looked at her with barely concealed hostility.

 

Vetinari pulled the bell chord. Shortly afterwards, but not so promptly as to appear vulgar, the door was opened by a liveried butler.

 

“Good evening, Lady Vetinari, Lord Vetinari,” he said smoothly. “May I say how pleased I am to see you back in Ankh-Morpork. I trust you had a pleasant journey. If you would follow me, there is a room prepared for you upstairs. Lady Sybil and Sir Samuel beg to give their apologies. They were unsure when you would arrive and have already retired.”

 

Angelina couldn’t help giggling. “So much for the surprise,” she whispered, but Vetinari ignored her comment and stepped into the house behind the butler. There was nothing else for her but to follow him. Up they went on a broad staircase and along a stately, but somewhat ruffled looking corridor. A chemical smell hung in the air. Angelina inhaled and began to analyze: sulphur, saltpetre, methane... 

 

An hour later, after a welcome supper of soup and sandwiches, the Vetinaris slipped out of their travelling garb and into the nightshirts they had found laid out on their beds.  Angelina’s dragged along the floor when she gingerly walked from the nightstand to the bed, and her little figure was almost drowned in lace and linen. She laughed.

 

“I suppose I should be grateful that Lady Sybil has given me one of her own nightgowns and not something from a box in the attic,” she said. Then she sunk down on the bed and clapped her hands together in dismay.

 

 “Havelock, the attic! I’ve just remembered poor Mr da Quirm. He must have starved to death. How terrible!”

 

“Dear Angelina, I expect Leonard to be perfectly well. You didn’t think I personally waited on him on a daily basis, did you?”

 

“But you said nobody else knew about the secret passage.”

 

“Indeed. However, the housekeeper knows to comply religiously with whatever orders come down to her in the dumbwaiter. Unless Downey has employed another housekeeper, which I doubt, Leonard will have suffered no deprivations.”

 

He closed the curtains, blew out the candle and slipped into the bed. Angelina pulled the bed cloth up to her chin and snuggled against his shoulder. She sighed.

 

“What a strange feeling to be back,” she said. “It’s a bit of an anticlimax, don’t you think?”

 

“Why, what did you expect, the river rising up to greet us?”

 

“No, it’s just... Oh, I don’t quite know myself. I just feel like I want to cry. Sorry for being so silly.”

 

“Never mind,” he said and kissed her on the forehead.  “You’re tired. I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning. Good night.”

 

“Good night.”

 

He must be tired, too, she thought. She closed her eyes and soon drifted off to sleep. Out in the murky night, an untimely fog billowed up from the sea and rolled into Ankh-Morpork. The early summer cheer that had spread over the parks and sidewalks received a damper and one by one the sights of the city were blotted out. Hence nobody noticed the river’s brief shudder that sent little waves towards the grimy shores.

 

7) Actually, that is incorrect. It had done a lot of tangling, mangling and general messing about.

Chapter Text

In the early hours of the morning, the vapours that had covered Ankh-Morpork like an inexpertly applied face mask lifted and revealed much that few cared to see.  The foul and fetid waters of the river Ankh rolled over in their bed, peeved that the blanket of fog had been drawn away.  It was not yet time to get up.

 

Around ten o’clock, when most of the population had risen and many had already put in half a day’s indecent work, a carriage arrived at the Ramkin Mansion and disgorged three figures onto the drive: a dashing, ginger-haired young man in assassin’s black, an unreasonably pretty woman and a stout but distinctly feminine dwarf. Seconds later the door was opened and they were ushered inside.

 

Lady Sybil’s breakfast parlour was the scene of an emotional meeting. The Duchess, with all her usual tact, had greeted the visitors politely and then withdrawn to the dragon pens. Since Sir Samuel had already left for at the Watch House and Young Sam was on his way to the park with his nanny, Lord Vetinari was the only witness to Angelina’s reunion with her brother and friends. He hid behind a copy of The Times and pretended not to hear anything. It wasn’t easy. The crossword turned out less challenging than he had hoped and even Angelina’s contralto sounded shrill with excitement. After a while he gave up and let the conversation wash over him.

 

“You are so thin, Lina!” exclaimed Goldy Jorgensson.

 

Angelina looked down and frowned as if noticing for the first time the absence of her former pleasant chubbiness. She shrugged.

 

“Well, of course, all the time while we were in the boat we had nothing but tinned carrots to eat. And then we were on be Trobi and it was all fish and bananas and coconuts and other odd fruit; and on the Suleika it was much the same. They just don’t do baking in those parts. I haven’t had a figgin in ages. In fact, the only food that didn’t disagree with me was what Havelock cooked.”

 

“He cooked? How delightful,” said Tvoolia Winter and cast a meaningful look at her own husband, which Henry ignored completely. Vetinari crouched down further behind his newspaper. The next burst of elation came when Angelina spotted the gold ring on Tvoolia’s left hand.

 

“So you did get married! Felix told us that the wedding had been cancelled because of Havelock and me, and I felt really bad about that. But he must have misunderstood your message, Henry.”

 

“Not quite,” replied Henry Winter and put his arm around Tvoolia’s shoulders. “We’re only just married enough to satisfy the sense of propriety in our neighbours, but not the romantic fantasies of our mothers and other assorted relatives. This was our compromise, to have the marriage legally endorsed, but to defer the party until your return.”

 

“Oh, how clever of you,” said Angelina. “You must have had a nasty shock though when you saw those pictures on the, what was it called, omnivisor? Lady Sybil has just told us all about it, and how Commander Vimes found out only yesterday that we hadn’t fallen off the Disc.”

 

“It was awful to think that you were dead, but in a way it’ll work in your favour now. Downey will not expect you to be back, so he won’t have made any plans for dealing with this scenario. That should make things a bit easier for you, Havelock.”

 

Vetinari let the newspaper sink.

 

“Indeed, Henry,” he said. He loved Angelina dearly, but he would have preferred it if she hadn’t come with quite so many brothers into the bargain. Henry, he was convinced, was the worst of them all. Robert was nice but dull, Conrad plainly weird with his ostrich farm and hysterical wife, and Felix, well. He had to admit that he bore a grudging respect for Felix and his devotion to obscure treasure hunts. But Henry and his smug, self-assured assassin’s attitude made him wish he had the use of his scorpion pit again. He gave Henry a Look, which Henry met with a casual smile, then he lifted up the paper again and continued to pretend not to listen.

 

Time bubbled away gently while Angelina recounted the adventures of the past eight months and inquired eagerly about the fate of everyone dear to her heart. Shortly after noon the butler, Willikins, appeared and delivered a cordial invitation from Lady Sybil for the three visitors to stay for lunch. Lady Sybil herself sent her apologies and regretted that she was out on an errand. After a cheerful meal of more soup and sandwiches 1) Henry, Tvoolia and Goldy left and Angelina, exhausted from the previous day’s excitement, went upstairs for a nap. Vetinari remained alone in the drawing room, but no sooner had he made himself comfortable at the writing desk than Lady Sybil came in.

“Well, that’s everything settled for this evening then,” she said. “We’ll have a charming little meeting of conspirators.”

Vetinari regarded her with the kind of mild suspicion that men reserve for women who, so they vaguely but inescapably perceive, are in some way or other superior to them.

“I would appreciate it, Sybil, if you would explain your meaning.”

Sybil sank down on a pink and grey striped sofa and opened her handbag, from which she extracted a rather tattered green notebook. She flicked through it, scribbled a few words with her pencil and then placed it on a side table.

“I thought my meaning was quite clear,” she said. “You are alive and well, which means that Donald is holding the office on the basis of false pretences. Not that he’ll admit to that readily, but I think there can be no doubt about it. And if you ask me, the sooner you get back in, the better. So I’ve invited a few people who are going to help us plan how to do it.”

“I see no need for this, Sybil. I can handle my affairs on my own. After all, I am the one who wants his chair back, and I don’t think anyone else can have much of an interest in this matter.”

“Nonsense, Havelock,” said Lady Sybil. “There are more than enough people who will think of you as the proper Patrician as soon as they know you’re back and who would like to see Donald getting the sack. I don’t say that all of them will be useful to you, but a handful of them will. You don’t need to do this alone.”

Vetinari tapped the armrest with his fingertips.

“And who are these people, in your opinion? Not the press, I hope?”

“Don’t be silly, Havelock! We want discreet, reliable people. There’s Sam and me, for a start. And Captain Carrot. And your nice Mr Drumknott, of course. He was very happy to hear of your arrival.”

Vetinari perked up visibly.

“How did you find him? I don’t even know where he lives.”

“Oh, his wife’s sister has a post as governess to Lady Meringue and the Meringue girls help out at the Sunshine Sanctuary on an Octeday afternoon. The Drumknotts live in Ettercap Street. I asked him who else I could invite and he suggested Mr Lipwig and Mrs Palm.”

“You have invited Rosy Palm to your house?”

“Yes,” said Sybil with dignity. “I don’t see why not. Mr Drumknott also mentioned a Mr Greenaway, who, it has turned out, has just become one of Sam’s staff.”

His Lordship raised an eyebrow briefly. Then he shrugged.

“Very well then,” he said.  “Since that is already more than a handful, I assume you did not extend your hospitality further?”

“There’s no need to be so sarcastic, Havelock. I am only trying to help you.”

 

1)       Cold lobster soup and salmon and caviar sandwiches. After all, Willikins reasoned, this was a ducal household.

 

~oOoOo~

 

With the prospect of something resembling a social gathering in the evening, Angelina spent the afternoon in the bathroom in a vain attempt to wash off the havoc that eight months of salt, sweat, dust and sand had wreaked on her hair and skin. At five o’clock Henry, Tvoolia and Goldy came back, following Lady Sybil’s kind invitation to dine with them before the meeting. Tvoolia had brought some of Angelina’s clothes with her and a small case full of mysterious flacons with which the women occupied themselves for over half an hour.

 

Dinner was a brief and simple affair, and once the peach soufflé was scraped off the plates, Willikins threw open the double doors to the drawing room, where the rest of Lady Sybil’s guests were already seated and being sustained by elegantly placed little dishes of spiced nuts and candied ginger. Captain Carrot of the Shiny Breastplate was engaged in conversation with a man Angelina did not immediately recognize, so bland and featureless seemed his face. Then it occurred to her that this had to be Mr Lipwig, the not-exactly chairman of the Bank of Ankh-Morpork. He either had changed a lot since she’d seen him at the post office in his golden suit, or he looked a very different man without it. She glanced around cautiously, but to her relief Mr Lipwig appeared to have left his dog at home.

 

Constantin Greenaway, her former bodyguard, sat on a chaise longue next to the formidable figure of Mrs Rosemary Palm and gave Angelina an embarrassed little wave. Mrs Palm, in Angelina’s opinion, greeted Havelock a bit too cordially, but on the whole she was pleased to see that there were indeed people who were keen to see Havelock and whom Havelock felt he could trust. He was, after all, not really a tyrant, because to say that the tyrant has no friend was not a contingent observation, but an analytic truth. *

 

In a corner by the window sat Mr Drumknott, pale and with dark rings under his eyes. Lord Vetinari approached him briskly and shook the clerk’s hand. Then he turned to address the assembled conspirators.

 

“Gentlemen, ladies, I would be telling a lie if I said that I am not excessively pleased to see you, and I trust that this feeling is at least partially mutual. While unfortunate circumstances have kept me away from my duties to an unpardonable extent, I hope you will be lenient in your judgement when I tell you that I suspect those circumstances were not entirely the product of chance. I have reason to believe that the two sailors who abandoned us in the Circle Sea last summer acted purposefully and under orders of a third party.”

 

“Well spotted, your lordship,” grumbled Commander Vimes.

 

“Aha, Commander. You appear to know more than I on this subject.”

 

“I know more than most people,” replied Sir Samuel, “because hardly anybody knows anything about this. I thought it best to treat the whole affair as discreetly as possible, because somehow, you know, I thought if you survived, you wouldn’t appreciate it if the whole city knew that you had been outwitted by that woman.”

 

In a predictable moment of silence, looks flashed across the room. Then Lord Vetinari leisurely sat down on an armchair and leaned back with infuriating poise.

 

“So you did work it out then?” he said. “Congratulations. Did Gina make a big scene when you arrested her?”

 

“You knew it was her?” asked Captain Carrot.

 

“It wasn’t exactly technomancy. I drew conclusions.”

 

“You never told me!” said Angelina.

 

“I told you it was personal. I told you someone wanted to kill you as well. I would have thought it was fairly obvious. So, Sir Samuel, is the Dame languishing in the dungeons or has she been awarded a medal for ridding the city of the tyrant?”

 

“Neither,” replied Vimes, “but Lord Rust pardoned her in view of her outstanding contributions to the Arts.”

 

“Excuse me,” said Mrs Palm, “is this the opera singer we are talking about? Dame Gina Dulci? She managed to send Havelock packing in a little boat? Ah, she’s more resourceful than I thought. I wonder if Donald knows what he’s let himself in for!”

 

Vetinari turned his attention to the voluptuous lady.

 

“And what does Downey have to do with it?”

 

“He’s going to marry her in Sektober.”

 

Angelina’s eyes darted to Vetinari. He met her gaze and shrugged.

 

“We got the two sailors,” said Vimes. “They got five years each. There was nothing I could do about the Dulci, Rust took it right out of my hands. It never even went to court. He seemed to be eating out of her hand.”

 

“And now she is engaged to Downey? Hm. Interesting.”

 

“Do you think he set her up to do it?” asked Lady Sybil.

 

“Oh no, I’m sure it was all her own delightful design. But it is interesting, don’t you agree?”

 

“If we could prove a link between Downey and the incident...” began Mrs Palm.

 

“That seems highly unlikely,” said Vetinari. “And I won’t make any move before I know exactly how the board is set up. Rosemary, I would like you to use your contacts to assess the general mood and opinions among the guild leaders. And Sybil, if you could please do the same among the aristocrats. Mr Drumknott, would you be able to provide me with the most relevant reports of the last two months?”

 

“Certainly, sir,” replied the clerk.

 

“Good. Captain Carrot, I would like to see all police reports about the Dulci case. Furthermore, I will need detailed documentation of the legal procedures that led to us being declared dead.”

 

“Mr Slant will have those,” said Captain Carrot.

 

“Constantin?” said Vetinari.

The young lance-constable nodded. “Yes, sir.”

 

“You don’t really propose,” growled Commander Vimes, “that a watchman should break into Mr Slant’s premises in order to steal legal files?”

 

Vetinari stared at Vimes coldly. He did not bother to raise an eyebrow. “No,” he said. “I simply uttered his name. This is Constantin Greenaway, isn’t it? Constantin, I do most emphatically not commission you to break into Mr Slant’s office.”

 

“Of course not, sir.”

 

“Excellent. That’s that settled then.”

 

Vimes glared, but kept silent and merely puffed his cigar as if he had a personal grudge against tobacco leaves. Vetinari turned to the man with the bland face.

 

“Mr Lipwig, how easily can you manipulate the value of money in Ankh-Morpork?”

 

“Hard to say. I could probably think of something.”

 

“I would appreciate it if you did, Mr Lipwig. Miss Jorgensson, if anything appears at the Times office about me, anything at all, I would like to know before it goes to print. Is that possible?”

 

“Yes, it is possible.”

 

Vetinari made an internal ethnic adjustment.

 

“And would you, Miss Jorgensson, be willing to supply this information to me to the best of your ability?”

 

Goldy twisted the tip of her beard between her fingers and with her other hand swirled the last sip of tea around her cup. She glanced at Tvoolia and then at Angelina.

 

“Remember the rubber pest?” said Angelina. “And how you brought me that article about the trolls that wasn’t printed in the end? If you did that for me, you can do it for Havelock.”

 

“Well...” The dwarf drained the cup and daintily placed it on the saucer. “I suppose so. Since everybody seems to be making a contribution.”

 

“I know!” chirped Tvoolia. “Henry and I will look out for a place for you to stay, and when we find one, I’ll do it up for you. It won’t help any with getting your job back, but it’ll make you feel more comfortable to have your own place.”

 

“Thank you, Tvoolia,” 2) said His Lordship, “that would be most convenient.”

 

“And what will I do?” asked Angelina.

 

“You will stay here and play with Young Sam,” said Vetinari.

 

The frown appeared on her face.

 

“That is not exactly a very prominent role,” she remarked.

 

As if by an unspoken agreement, the conspirators averted their eyes.

 

Vetinari replied evenly, “Nevertheless, this is what you will do.”

 

“That is not what I want to do.”

 

“You cannot go and walk about in the streets. Everybody in the city knows your face, The Times has made sure of that.”

 

“They know your face even better.”

 

“I can make sure I don’t get noticed.”

 

“How do you know that I can’t?”

 

Lady Sybil rose and took a plate of biscuits from the sideboard, which she offered to the guests. Everybody in the room continued to avoid looking at His Lordship and his wife.

“Excuse us, please,” said Vetinari, seized Angelina’s hand and lead her out into the dining room. He closed the door and raised his hand immediately to stop her from speaking.

 

“Angelina, listen. It is too dangerous for you out there. You’ve never walked in this city unprotected before, and I have no power now to protect you.”

 

“So you want everybody else to help you, but I am just to be a baby-sitter? How do you think that makes me feel?”

 

“This is not about your feelings,” he said emphatically. “It is about your safety, and I am sorry if you are upset, but I will lock you up if I have to.”

 

She drew breath, but before she could speak he continued: “Angelina, there are only two things on the Disc that are precious to me and you are one of them. I have already lost my city and there is no telling if I will get it back. I am not going to risk losing my wife, too, no matter how dissatisfied she might be with me, and that is the end of it.”

 

Angelina looked at her shoes and bit her lip. Tears wanted to flood her eyes, but she wasn’t having it. She had to say what she meant to say, calmly.

 

“I did not realise that when I married you I became a thing. The number two on your list of precious things...“

 

“Angelina, listen -”

 

“No, you listen.  Regardless of what you think, I am a person, and I will make my own choices. I choose to follow your...advice, because it is, as always, sensible. I will keep out of the way, since I do not want to be even more of a burden to you than I already am. Please make my apologies to Lady Sybil, I am very tired and will go to my bed. Good night, my lord.”

 

Without looking up again, she walked out into the hall and up the stairs.

 

Vetinari returned to the drawing room. He gave his allies a sharp look that dared them to comment on Angelina’s absence. A faint clearing of throats and shuffling of feet indicated that nobody intended to mention it. Vetinari returned to his chair.

 

“The first line of investigation will be to check for any flaws in the legal procedure that led to my deposition. Any such flaws, as I am sure you anticipate, would be ruthlessly exploited. Otherwise I will need to know who among the guild leaders and other influential citizens would support me against Downey. I feel confident that I could discover some incompetence or irregularity on the basis of which I could challenge him, but I won’t oust him from office only to make way for someone else.”

 

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” said Henry Winter, “but isn’t it the case that you are no longer a member of the guild and therefore not bound to its policies?”

 

 “I have no intention to regain the Patricianship by assassination,” said Vetinari.

 

“Why not? Isn’t that how you got it in the first place?”

“No,” said Vetinari.

And that was the truth. Mad Lord Snapcase had been assassinated, but Havelock Vetinari had been as dissociated from that event as the gods are from the affairs of humans and other sapient beings. He had simply seen to it that when the guild council had met to choose a new Patrician, bitter controversies had broken out about the three likely contenders. After a week of prolonged and painful debate, the guild leaders had become profoundly tired of the argument and then suddenly, from somewhere, had come the suggestion that a hitherto unthought-of, neutral candidate would be the best solution, and ten minutes later “Young Vetinari” had been on everybody’s lips 3) and the alluring prospect of being allowed to go home and not having to come back for another meeting the next morning had sealed the city’s fate.

“I did not assassinate Snapcase, nor did I pay anyone else to do it.”

“I wouldn’t have expected you to take the moral high ground on this issue,” remarked Vimes.

“It has nothing to do with that,” replied Vetinari. “It is a question of style.”

“I don’t think,” said Lady Sybil, “that we need to discuss Lord Snapcase’s death tonight. It has nothing to do with the current situation, and besides, if you don’t mind me saying so, he had it coming to him. But I’m sure none of us wish Donald dead, and I am confident we will find a better way to settle things. Another cup of tea, Mr Drumknott? You do look awfully tired!”

2) To his own surprise, Lord Vetinari found it rather pleasant to be on first name terms with Mrs Henry Winter.

3) I issue an emotional health warning here to all Vetinari groupies: Do not imagine this literally!

 

~oOoOo~

When Vetinari finally came into their bedroom, Angelina was still awake. She sat in bed, propped up against the pillows, reading by the light of a candle on the bedside table. He sat down on the duvet beside her and gently took the book out of her hands.

“Not all that tired after all?”

She shook her head, but didn’t look at him.

“What was my name again? I am sure you can remember.”

“Havelock,” she whispered.

“That is better.  We can talk as husband and wife now. Angelina, I wish you would stop walking away from me.  You have done this a lot in the past, and of course Miss Winter was free to do so, but it is inappropriate for Lady Vetinari. When you married me, you promised to stand by me, not to leave me standing on my own.”

Angelina looked at her left hand and twisted the rings on the fourth finger.

“I also cannot help thinking that you deliberately misunderstood me there. I did not mean to imply that I consider you to be a thing I own, nor that you are second to the city in my estimation. What I was trying to tell you, and I would have thought it was easily comprehensible, was that there is one thing I want to avoid at all costs, and that is to have anything happening to you. Why does that offend you?”

“When we were travelling, we were equals. You looked after me, I looked after you. Why can’t it be like that now?”

“You’ve been a brave woman out there, and I am proud of you. When it comes to diving for pearls or riding giant fish, I will always refer to your judgement. But this is Ankh-Morpork, where everything is about intrigue and cunning. You know you are not cut out for that. There, and now you are crying again. What am I to do with you?”

Angelina quickly wiped off the tears with the back of her hand and sank her teeth into her lip to stop them from flowing. She didn’t feel like herself, getting upset quite so easily. Vetinari put a hand on her shoulder.

“Now don’t fret.  It is a difficult time for both of us, but I want you to trust me in this. I know how to play this game, and you don’t. If you think that Thud! is bad, believe me, this is worse. The best thing you can do for me at the moment is to be just your lovely little self. That way I know that even if all my efforts fail I have a treasure I cannot lose. Agreed?”

She gave him a long look.

“If you were trying to be sweet, you have failed,” she said. “You make it sound as if you keep me as a pet.”

Vetinari frowned.

“You are being very unreasonable, Angelina. I’ll say no more about it.”

And with that, he undressed swiftly and went to sleep. Angelina lay awake in the dark and tried to make no noise. The tears were dripping onto her pillow.

Chapter Text

When Angelina awoke the next morning, she found Vetinari’s side of the bed deserted. This was no uncommon occurrence, since His Lordship slept significantly less than his wife, but on this occasion it gave her a pang when she, still with her eyes closed, stretched out her hand and touched a cold, empty pillow. She pulled the duvet up to her nose and decided to stay in bed for a bit longer, possibly until she could be quite sure that Commander Vimes had left for work. It was bad enough that Havelock was displeased with her. Well, she was displeased with him, too. In her mind, she went over their quarrel again. She didn’t like it that he had taken to treating her like a fragile little flower, Ankh-Morpork or not. Was that really unreasonable? Hardly. But if he thought so, then maybe it would be best to get out of his way. She could go and lodge with Henry and Tvoolia, and Havelock could stay here and direct his conspiracy. At least that way – but no, that was just what he had objected to, wasn’t it? She was to stay by his side and not run away. Had she really been running away from him so often? She checked and started to count, but soon ran out of fingers 1) And then she heard the sound.

It was a most unexpected sound, one that she would not have dreamt of hearing at this time, in this place: a ripple of pearly notes. It rang on for a moment and then faded. She knew it, oh, she knew it so well, and it could only mean one thing. Instantly, she opened her eyes and sat up.

Havelock was sitting at the little writing table with his back turned to her, ostentatiously occupied with pen and paper. There was a space of maybe four or five paces between his chair and the bottom of the bed, and in that space stood a harp.

Her harp.

The harp that had turned up at her lodgings at Mrs Scunners’ a few days after her birthday and that she had considered a gift from her brother, however much Henry denied it. It was only on her wedding day that a casual remark of Havelock’s had revealed to her how mistaken she had been. How sorely she had missed it! She lifted her fingertips to her lips, too soft, too soft! It would take weeks to get them toughened up again, but what did it matter, here was her harp.

“I’ve got your flute, too,” said Havelock without turning his head.

Before she could do anything to stop them, Angelina felt tears running down her face, a sign of sentimentality that she thoroughly disapproved of.

“I thought you might like to do something else than just baby-sitting,” continued Havelock, still without looking at her. A minute later, when her kiss was beginning to suffocate him, he pushed her away gently and held her at arm’s length so he could look at her face.

“Am I still a contemptible pet-owner in your opinion?” he asked.

She shook her head. Her fingers caressed the flute case.

“Where were they? How did you find them?”

“You brother has been taking good care of everything you left behind. I wish he had been equally conscientious about my daggers, but there is no sign of them.”

“Havelock!”

“I’m glad you remember my name.”

As unreasonable and unstoppable as the tears had been just a few minutes ago, was now the giggle. It overwhelmed her and shook her. She had to lean on his shoulders to steady herself and then decided, while she was at it, to sit on his lap, fling her arms round his neck and snuggle her face against his chest.

“Well?” he said after the giggles had finally ebbed away. She looked up and peered into his face, the corners of her mouth still twitching.

“Well what?”

“Will you play?”

“What, now?”

“Yes.”

“And defile, in your presence, the purity of the music with my sweat and saliva? Impossible!”

“If you play the harp, at least saliva should not be a problem.”

“But, Havelock,” she pleaded. “I haven’t practised for months and months.”

“High time you started then.”

She gave an embarrassed little laugh.

“I really don’t like to expose myself like that in front of you,” she said.

Now it was his turn to laugh.

“Angelina, I have seen you in a state of advanced griminess after weeks without a wash or a change of clothes. I’ve witnessed you wolfing down cold tinned carrots and I have travelled through Hersheba with you by my side clad in nothing but your bi-skin-knee. I know all your intellectual weaknesses, all your whims and every inch of your body. And yet, after all that, you are afraid to let me hear you give a less than polished musical performance?”

“Well, if you put it like that...”

“I do put it like that! I am sure you have some old favourite that you can play at any time, no matter how much out of practice. Every musician does.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know things.”

Angelina gave up. She went to the far corner of the room to pick up another chair and placed it behind the harp. Meanwhile Havelock had turned his own chair and had assumed a pose that identified him as a would-be musical appreciator with just the slightest hint of irony. Angelina sat down and ran her fingers over the strings.

“I can’t sing, though,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Because  -*-  I’ve just got the hiccups.”

1) Counting on one’s fingers is not a habit restricted to the intellectually challenged.

 

~oOoOo~

 

Given how many outrageous things had occurred in Ankh-Morpork over the years, it was astonishing that the majority of its inhabitants could maintain a mindset that expected nothing out of the ordinary to happen on any given day.

“What’s that in the river, Mummy?” asked a small boy who had been in the process of being hurried over Maudlin Bridge by his mother before he had stopped dead to look over the parapet.

“Nothing,” said his mother without looking and tugged at his wrist.

“But it looks like a hand!”

“Well, then, somebody must have fallen in,” replied his mother, unmoved. 2)

“But it’s huge!”

“Never mind, get a move on, or else you’ll be late for your appointment with the retrophrenologist, and you don’t want that, do you?”

And she pulled him along towards Holofernes Street. Underneath the bridge, five muddy digits, each about the size of the little boy who had observed them, sank back into the foul floods.

2) It would have been more accurate to say that the boy was unmoved, since it was the mother who tried to do the moving.

 

~oOoOo~

 

One clacks message, and it didn’t take Mrs Winter long to hurry to Ankh-Morpork and enfold her lost daughter in her arms. She had never left Sto Kerrig after the disappearance of the Vetinaris, out of some irrational belief that her relative physical proximity to the place where she had last seen Angelina would grant, if not hurry, her return. Thus it was that three days after their arrival, the Ghastly Pink Drawing room saw the reunion of mother and daughter. Of this meeting, the less said the better. The wear and tear on handkerchiefs is easy enough to imagine.

With Mrs Winter taking up the only spare bedroom in Henry and Tvoolia’s house, Angelina saw herself obliged to accept Lady Sybil’s invitation to stay for as long as it would take Henry to find them a flat, which she hoped wouldn’t be long. Fortunately they saw little of Commander Vimes, who was usually out of the house before Angelina came down for breakfast and rarely sat down for dinner from soup to cheese platter. She did feel sorry for Lady Sybil, who countenanced her husband’s hasty departures with a kind of genteel resignation, but she couldn’t help being glad whenever the man was gone.

Her own husband was not seen much, either, and since she cared little for swamp dragons, she found herself spending most of her time in the bedroom with her instruments – or in the nursery. Young Sam was certainly easier to please than his father, and Angelina’s willingness to read to him for whole hours on end quickly earned her the little boy’s approval. To her surprise she found, though, that harmless sentimental stories about lost teddy bears finding new homes and similarly insufferably soppy events drove her to tears. On such occasions she would clench her fists and wonder whether Havelock had been right about her. When had she become such a wimp? Before Young Sam could ask any inconvenient questions, she escaped to the privy.

Every night, after dinner, Havelock escorted her to her brother’s house. She wondered why he thought such safety measures necessary – nobody ever looked at them anyway. In his shirt and breeches and with the long, shaggy beard he still kept for precisely this reason, he looked suitably unlike the image that used to grace the City of Ankh-Morpork’s stamps. As for herself, she doubted that anyone would recognize her as the bride whose picture had appeared in the Times, peacock dress and all.

On the fourth evening after their arrival, the group of people she had come to think of as the Conspirators met once again in the drawing room, this time with the addition of a knitting Mrs Winter by the fireside. Angelina seated herself as far away as possible from Mr Lipwig, for this time he had brought the disgusting little dog with him. With a frown she noted that Havelock walked straight over and patted the creature. Mr Fusspot! But of course, Havelock liked little dogs with ridiculous names. It was one of the more mysterious aspects of his personality.

Mr Drumknott has provided me with a range of paperwork from the archives,” said Havelock, skilfully ignoring Commander Vimes’s Look. “I have thoroughly analyzed the legal documents. “There appears to be no leverage there. The procedure was followed correctly and the death certificate was signed by six citizen of outstanding reputation.”

“But how could they declare us dead so quickly?” asked Angelina. “We’d only been gone a few months.”

“There are different time periods prescribed, depending on what purpose a person is to be declared dead for. Four months for replacing them in office, five years for seizing their property and twelve years for annulling a marriage. Different certificates have to be issued for each of these.” 3)

“In other words, we remain married and in full possession of all our worldly goods, but Downey is rightful Patrician?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, that seems rather stupid to me,” said Angelina.

“Remember, Lina, that they thought they had proof.” Henry pulled up the corners of his mouth in a disdainful smile. “Commander Vimes insisted that the omniscope should be consulted, and it gave such a convincing performance.”

“Henry!” whispered Tvoolia urgently.

“May I remind you that Lord Rust had intended to proceed with the declaration of death without any evidence at all?” said Vimes.

“May I remind you that the false evidence given by the omniscope effectively prevented any further investigation of the issue?” replied Henry.

Vimes snorted. “You seem to forget that I did eventually find the evidence to the contrary.”

“Yes, at a time when it was of no more use, because Lina and Havelock where already standing at the gates.”

“Gentlemen, please,” interrupted Havelock. “This is getting us nowhere. My wife and I have been declared dead in an impeccably correct legal procedure. There is nothing we can to do about that.”

“But you are obviously alive, and that’s a fact!” exclaimed Constantin.

Havelock gave him a look of practised patience, which Angelina was all too familiar with, having been on the receiving end of it more times than she cared for. However, while it usually enraged her, it silenced Constantin very effectively.

“And what do facts have to do with legal procedures?” Havelock asked. “No no, we are legally dead. Now the next question is, will people insist on the law or will they be amenable to common sense? Rosemary, if I confronted the guild council, how many guild leaders would take my side?”

Rosemary Palm leaned back in her seat and crossed her legs in a manner that no man in the room was able to overlook.

“That is hard to say,” she replied. “Quite a few think that Downey is doing a good job – mostly because he does it better than Rust. The brighter ones will know that you are the best man for the post, though I‘m not sure how many of them will admit so much. You know how it is, Havelock. Very few of the guild leaders feel that they owe you any kind of loyalty.”

“Apart from yourself, it would seem,” said Angelina.

Mrs Palm looked at her and smiled. “Well, yes. Havelock and I go back a long way. And there is Queen Molly, of course, and Mrs Manger.”

“Personal loyalty is not the issue here,” said Havelock swiftly. “I am interested in public opinions.”

“The Times is trying to remain neutral about Lord Downey,” volunteered Goldy. “Mr de Worde was a lot more critical about Lord Rust.”

“Is that so?” said Havelock. “Fascinating.”

“But we do get quite a number of letters from readers who say that things were better when you were in charge. They usually use the words ‘in the olden days’ quite a lot.”

“Yes, I can imagine. Thank you, Miss Jorgensson. Mr Lipwig?”

“Yes?”

“I would be very much interested to know how you propose to...”

Much as she would have liked to, Angelina didn’t hear what it was Havelock wanted to know of Mr Lipwig, because a rather urgent pressure in the bladder region forced her to leave the room in search of the appropriate place of relief. How it was possible that she needed to wee again already was beyond her, but the fact remained and brooked no opposition. When she returned, Henry was speaking.

“...am by no means of the opinion that a majority of senior assassins would support Downey.  Apart from the usual rivalry, there is a general dissatisfaction with Downey’s engagement, which is felt to have brought about a decreased commitment to the guild.”

“Wouldn’t it be his responsibilities as Patrician that would lead to such a decrease?” asked Captain Carrot.

“The guild was, on the whole, very proud to see one of their own take on the Patricianship,” replied Henry.

“Indeed,” said Havelock, “no assassin has ever been Patrician before, if I recall correctly.”

“Your sarcasm has been noted,” said Henry. “But you must admit that your links with the guild are rather tenuous.”

“Must I?” Havelock looked at his brother-in-law until the other man averted his eyes.

“I’ve just had a thought,” said Tvoolia. “Lord Downey is engaged to that Dame Gina, and she was the one who staged that boat accident. I know Commander Vimes has told us that he made sure this didn’t become general knowledge, but wouldn’t this be a good time to make it public?  I can’t imagine that many people would support Lord Downey if they knew he was going to marry someone who doesn’t shrink from murder. I mean, that is appalling, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” said Commander Vimes. “You tell me.”

There was a pause and then Tvoolia blushed. Lady Sybil trod on Vimes’s foot.

“This might be a good idea, Tvoolia,” said Havelock, “if it wasn’t for two things. First, whatever strange fancy has driven Downey to engaging himself to Gina, I am certain that he will drop her like the proverbial hot figgin if he thinks she is going to endanger his position. Secondly, exactly because Gina does not seem to stop at murder and has, you will agree, shown remarkable natural talent in that field, I do not plan to antagonize her further at this point in time, especially since she seems to have achieved what she wanted and may be considered defused for now. I would not like to bring down her unpredictable wrath on anyone connected with me. I can just about imagine her flinging a jar of acid into Angelina’s face. That will most certainly not do.”

Angelina felt a warm, fuzzy sensation welling up in her stomach, an occurrence that prompted her to reach for the tray of figgins Lady Sybil had so obligingly provided. The clicking of Mrs Winter’s knitting needles stopped for an instant and she gave Havelock an approving nod. With her attention distracted by a sumptuous figgin, Angelina didn’t pay much heed to those talking for the next five minutes, and when she tried to pick up the gist of the conversation again, she found that the meeting was about to close.

“...if you would take care of that, Mr Drumknott,” was the tail end of a sentence addressed by Havelock to his former clerk.

“I will, my lord. It’s all been properly filed.”

“Thank the gods for that,” said Havelock without the slightest discernible note of sarcasm, while people rose from their seats and ambled towards the door.

Half an hour later, when she lay in bed with her head resting on Havelock’s shoulder, she felt compelled to confess, as if she was a school girl who’d failed to do her homework.

“What did you actually decide to do? I’m afraid I lost the thread when I went out to the bathroom, and after that I didn’t listen all that carefully anymore.”

“I haven’t decided anything yet. However, sooner or later I will have to confront Downey. Anything I could possibly do will lead to a certain amount of unrest and instability in the city, but I think an open confrontation will be less disruptive and easier to control than some other options I have considered.”

“Do you care to tell me what other options?”

“No.”

“It’s got something to do with Mr Lipwig and rigging the value of money, doesn’t it?”

“I thought you were away to the bathroom?”

“It was just a guess.”

“Ah, yes, so many things in life are. Let’s go to sleep, shall we?”

But Angelina wasn’t quite finished yet. She stretched out her hand and ran a finger around his chin and up the side of his face.

“Havelock?”

“Yes?”

“Who is Miss Dixie Voom?”

His shoulders sagged, which was remarkable, given that he was lying flat on his back.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I heard you whisper her name to Mrs Palm when she left. You said, Thank you for not mentioning Miss Dixie Voom.

Havelock groaned.

3)       In spite of many years of devoted campaigning, Reg Shoe had not yet succeeded in having death certificates banned altogether.

Chapter Text

Other people in Ankh-Morpork hadn’t gone to bed yet. Adora Belle Dearheart, freshly returned from a golem-saving field trip to Rham Nitz, sat at the dinner table opposite Moist von Lipwig and was onto her fourth cigarette. Her fiancé’s account of recent events had so far completely failed to impress her. Now her eyebrows rose slightly and the corners of her mouth curled, though not in an encouraging way.

“So you’re helping Vetinari?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” She stubbed out her cigarette and lit another one.

“Because...” He hesitated. “Because I need him.  He challenges me. You know what I’m like when I’ve got no challenge. I’m starting to do dangerous things.”

“What, like walking into The Cavern with an “I Rock” badge, you mean?”

“That kind of thing, yes.”

Adora Belle smoked in silence for a minute or so. Moist patted Mr Fusspot’s head. The little dog yelped.

“But if you were the Patrician,” said Adora Belle, “surely that would be challenge enough?”

“Spike, I don’t want to be Patrician.”

“And there was me thinking you stood for office last year!”

“That was a good challenge. But if I’d won, I’d have been out of the city and on my way to Borogravia before the Times brought out their first special edition.”

“Really?”

She looked at him intensely, delicate wisps of smoke curling around her face.

“Really.”

Adora Belle stopped her incessant smoking for a whole thirty-five seconds and treated Moist to her fully-fledged stare.

“You didn’t tell me,” she said eventually.

“No. I didn’t need to. It didn’t happen.”

“But it might have.”

In the silence, the sound of Adora Belle’s smouldering cigarette was clearly audible. It’s never a good sign in a relationship when it gets quite so quiet.

“I’d have sent you a letter,” said Moist at last. “You could have joined me.”

“And leave the Golem Trust? Forget it!”

“Well, we’re even then, I suppose.”

She laughed, a sudden sharp expulsion of air that sounded about as cheerful as the rattling of spoons in a drawer.

“Yes, I suppose we are,” she said. “Shall we have dinner now? I’m starving.”

~oOoOo~

 

He had worried needlessly. Not that he had worried all that much in the first place, because it was quite likely that Angelina would believe him. Miss Dixie Voom’s loyalty was the fruit of a very innocent event some years ago, when he had decreed that a guild of exotic dancers would have to be lead by an exotic dancer rather than a man who owned a night club.  He wasn’t sure, though, whether Angelina would accept this as the truth or whether she would mark it as a likely story. Before he had made up his mind how to word his reply, however, his thoughts were interrupted by the rather endearing sound of a genteel snore.

He looked down at Angelina’s face and saw that she had fallen asleep. Now he was worried.

~oOoOo~

 

 

The following morning Commander Vimes arrived, as usual, at the Watch House early enough to see the night shift coming off duty. He exchanged a few words with Sergeant Angua and then walked up to the shift rota, which was pinned up on the wall.

“When Greenaway comes in,” he said to the duty officer, Constable Ping, “send him straight up to my office.”

“Of course, sir. Is he in trouble, sir?”

“We’re watchmen, Ping. We’re all of us in trouble, all the time. But yes, Greenaway might be in a bit more trouble just now.”

He ascended the stair and settled at his desk. After an hour of semi-virtuous attempts to clear the backlog of paperwork, during which he decided never to allow A.E.Pessimal to go on holiday again, a knock on the door announced Lance-constable Greenaway. The young man walked in with what Vimes considered to be an almost insolent degree of nonchalance.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Is it?” replied Vimes. “Doesn’t seem all that good to me. Not when I find that my own staff are taking orders from third parties and follow them in blatant defiance of the law. But let me make this quite clear, lance-constable Greenaway. You are an officer of the Law and you are bound by the law, regardless of what Vetinari says. There will be no dodgy business and no split loyalties in the Watch while I am commander. Your behaviour has been outrageous.”

Greenaway‘s lean face seemed to grow even longer. He opened his eyes wide in worried puzzlement.

“I don’t understand, sir. What behaviour do you mean?”

“Do you see nothing wrong with the fact that you broke into Mr Slant’s office and stole the paperwork about the Vetinaris?”

“But I didn’t,” said Greenaway.

Vimes stubbed out his cigar.

“What do you mean, you didn’t? Vetinari told you to break into Slant’s office and get the documents, and he had all the papers last night.”

“With all due respect, Commander Vimes, Lord Vetinari told me not to break into Mr Slant’s office. And I also had the impression that you wouldn’t approve of such a scheme. So I didn’t.”

“So how did Vetinari get hold of the documents then?”

“Rufus Drumknott went and told Mr Slant that Lord Downey required them. Didn’t you hear Lord Vetinari say that he’d got the papers from Mr Drumknott?”

At this, Commander Vimes snorted.

“And you expect me to believe that Slant just handed them over?”

“Yes, sir. What reason would he have to disbelieve Mr Drumknott?”

“Mr Drumknott went and told a deliberate lie?”

“In a good cause, yes.”

Vimes leaned forward on his desk and scrutinized Greenaway’s innocent features.

“Is that how you think of it? ‘A good cause’? Getting Vetinari back into power is ‘a good cause’?”

Greenaway shrugged.

“Sir, I assumed that’s what you thought, too. After all, he’s even staying in your house.”

“The man staying at my house is the man who employed me for longer than you've been alive, promoted me numerous times, asked me to be the best man at his wedding, and, I want to make this perfectly clear, is not the Patrician of this city!” Vimes retorted.

“I’m sorry, sir. I thought it went without saying that you were in favour of his return to power. I beg your pardon if I misunderstood the situation.”

Somewhat deflated, Vimes leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. Greenaway was fidgeting with something in his pocket. Unlike Captain Carrot, he had no concept of standing to attention in front of his superiors, and he had not been in the Watch for long enough to acquire such a notion by either osmosis or the more direct means of a mild reproach from Captain Carrot. Suddenly his attention seemed to be drawn to the object he was fingering. He pulled out a small glass bottle.

“What do I do with this, sir? Constable Visit and I found a box of these dumped into the river. I thought we might have to keep the bottle as evidence or something.”

“Put it on the desk,” said Vimes, grateful for the change of subject. “And remember in the future that the Watch has more important things to deal with than littering.”

“Yes, sir, I will.”

“On you go then,” said Vimes, moderately satisfied with having found some reason, albeit minor, to reproach Greenaway. The young man placed the bottle on a space at the edge of Vimes’s desk where the piles of papers where infinitesimally smaller and in less danger of sliding to the floor. Then he walked out and noiselessly closed the door behind him.

~oOoOo~

 

In the editors’ office of the Ankh-Morpork Times, Sacharissa Cripslock was flicking through her notebook. She furrowed her brow.

“Something strange is going on with the river,” she said.  “I’ve had several people reporting that they saw what looked like a giant hand trying to reach out from the water.”

“We don’t do that kind of sensationalist journalism,” replied William de Worde. He was struggling to find the appropriate wording for an article on Lord Downey’s decision not to reopen the sewage works. Somehow various unsavoury puns kept creeping into his brain. He’d worked in journalism for too long.

“But what if it’s true?”

“Well, put it on the miscellaneous page then, so that people know we’re not taking it too seriously. Any other odd news?”

“There’s a rumour going round that Vetinari is back in the city,” said Sacharissa.

William looked up from his desk. “That could be a tricky thing even for Vetinari to accomplish, given that he fell over the edge of the world.”

The Times reported,”  said Goldy, who had just wandered in with a wad of proofs. 1)

“Do you know anything about the source of this rumour?”

“It’s a rumour, William. Someone claims to have seen Lady Vetinari standing outside a bakery shop. And apparently a lot of carriages have arrived at the Vimes mansion over the last few days.”

“I can’t see what that would have to do with Vetinari. Surely Lady Sybil can receive guests without us suspecting her of hiding a defunct tyrant under her roof?”

“As I said, it’s just a rumour.  Shall I put it into miscellaneous?”

“No. We’re not starting to print rumours. Thanks, Goldy, just put these here.”

Goldy placed the proofs onto William’s desk and left the office. In the print room, the thunder of three printing presses shook the floor. A dozen or so dwarves and a couple of humans were involved in a variety of arcane activities that Goldy Jorgensson understood perfectly well, but the narrator doesn’t and therefore refrains from describing in closer detail.

Behind her box of types stood Lucky Haettenschweiler, a traditional looking dwarf who, in spite of the unfortunate matter of gender, still made Goldy’s heart beat faster. The previous year, after long hesitation, Goldy had decided to make a move, only to find that Lucky Haettenschweiler was not what a dwarf looks for in a husband. It was a tragic, but not unheard of occurrence in dwarf circles.

When Goldy approached her own place, Lucky looked up from her work and smiled.

“Just another half hour,” she said casually. “Shall we go for a stroll in the park afterwards?”

“Sure,” said Goldy, attempting to make her voice sound indifferent. She found it trying, to say the least, that Lucky sought her friendship when it was so abundantly clear that there could never be more than friendship. However, she didn’t have the heart to say no to any of Lucky’s little invitations, and so they had gone for numerous walks over the last few months. They’d even visited the Dwarf Bread Museum. But today it would be the park. Twenty minutes after the end of their shift they sat on a bench under a big lime tree and watched the Sideways Ducks 2) paddling around in the pond.

“Goldy?” said Lucky after a while.

“Yes?”

“I want to talk to you about something. It’s not easy. I’m trying to find the right words. Please listen to me until I’m finished. You and I, we’ve spent a lot of time together recently. We have a lot in common and we enjoy each other’s company. I have … I have developed some deep feelings for you, Goldy, and I believe you feel the same about me. I would like us to consider if we have a future together. What do you think?”

“But … you’re a female,” whispered Goldy.

“I did say we have a lot in common.”

Lucky glanced at her, then turned her head and stared at the ducks.

“Besides, who’s to know?” she said eventually.

Goldy held her breath. In a split second, she saw it all: their comfortable home, forging bread together, cooking rat vindaloo, sitting by the fireside in the evenings. It was a picture so completely charming that she sighed inadvertently, even though of course there was the issue of – goodness, it didn’t bear thinking about.

“But your family,” she said at last. “They would know.”

Lucky shook her head. “They’re all dead. Long ago.”

“But we’d be living a lie,” said Goldy.

Lucky looked her straight in the eye and held her gaze.

“And do you think we’d be the first?”

Goldy’s eyes widened.

“You mean … it has happened before?”

“Lots of times, I’m sure,” replied Lucky. “I once read that possibly even Bloodaxe and Ironhammer –“

“No!” exclaimed Goldy. “It can’t be!”

“And why not? Nobody knows, Goldy.” She looked at her urgently. “Nobody would know,” she added in an imploring whisper.

“But what if someone found out?”

Lucky sighed.

“Goldy, if you say ‘but’ once more, I’ll give up. Go on, break our hearts. If you believe it is so important what people might possibly think in the extremely unlikely event that they ever find out, then I can’t help it. But I think that is stupid. I love you. You love me. We’re both dwarves. Who’s to stop us from being happy together?”

In the pond, two ducks had collided with each other in their awkward sideways motion. Their indignant quacking filled the pause in the conversation for a while, but eventually an answer had to be given. Goldy took a deep breath.

“Well…” she said.

1)       This was an uncharacteristically devious comment for a dwarf to make, and the credibility of this passage can only be maintained if the narrator reveals that Tvoolia had prepped Goldy with this remark.

2)       The Morporkian Sideways Duck is a sad example of evolution in a magically polluted urban environment. It is not unusual for urbanized ducks to remain in cities during those months when their rural counterparts would be flocking toward warmer climates. The muggy warmth of certain cities even during cold months combined with the consistent food supply from the city's residents often causes the ducks to reevaluate the benefits of an exhausting bi-yearly migration.  But the ambient magical radiation of Ankh Morpork has resulted in a strange amplification of this behaviour. The Sideways Duck now never leaves the city for any reason, and is frightened of the prospect of ever doing so. Since moving forward or backward in any direction might bring them too close to the city walls, the ducks reason that if they only moved sideways, they would never have to risk accidentally leaving their urban environment. This just goes to show how a strong magical field can affect the mind of an animal without raising its intelligence in any way.

 

~oOoOo~

 

“Read me a story, Aunty Lina,” demanded Young Sam. They had been playing with the bricks, but their elaborate tower had just collapsed. Angelina got up and found that sitting on her feet had not been a good move. She hobbled over to the bookcase with clenched teeth and after some deliberation chose a volume. They sat down in the cosy chair, the little boy snuggled up against her shoulder. 

“All right then, Sam, this is a book about the legends and histories of Ankh-Morpork from ancient times to the present day. I’m going to read you a story about Good King Shul.” 3)

“Who‘s that?”

“He was the first king of Ankh-Morpork and the most famous, because he was kind and wise and fabulously rich and he always did the right thing.”

“My Daddy always does the right thing.”

“I’m sure he does, and as far as I know he is also fabulously rich. Shall we begin with the story now?”

She opened the book and read:

In those days it so happened there were two young men who both wanted to marry the same maiden. The virgin was decorous and virtuous and asked her father which of her two suitors she should accept, but before he could make a decision, he was struck by lightning and died. The maiden was distraught and grieved for a year and a day over her father, but when the period of mourning was completed, the two young men applied for her hand again. In her despair, the maiden turned to the king and asked for his advice. – This is rather silly of the maiden, Sam, because she should make her own choices. What chance does she have to be happy with either of these men, if she cannot make up her mind about them? She should have thought a bit harder. Anyway, let’s read on. – King Shul called both men in front of his throne and asked them why they wanted to marry the maiden.

 “I love her dearly,” said the first. “Her hair is like the spray of a silvery waterfall, her hips are like rosebuds and her ears like delicate ornaments of mother-of-pearl.”

“Very well,” said the king, “Though I am sure you meant to say her lips and not her hips. Now, let us hear the other man’s plea.”

“I love her deeply and truly,” said the second. “Her eyes are like gleaming embers of coal, her neck is like a tower on a distant hill top and her cheeks are like rosy peaches.”

The king nodded. “I have heard both your pleas now. Go back to your homes and return tomorrow to hear my judgement.”

On the evening of the same day, the king disguised himself in the garb of a travelling toothpick seller and went to the house of the maiden. When he came through the gate, he beheld a young man who was pruning the rose bushes. The king greeted the gardener and spoke thus:

“What can you tell me of the maiden who lives in this house?”

The gardener said, “She is as virtuous as she is beautiful, though her beauty counts for little.  It is the gentleness of her manner and the kindness of her heart that endear her to every creature, be it man, woman or beast. Every day she comes into the garden and greets me with her soft voice. She looks at all the plants and caresses them with her tender hands. To see her walk on the path makes my heart sing.”

“Do you love her then?” asked the king.

The gardener cast down his eyes and said, “I would not dare to love so high above my station.”

The next morning the two young men appeared in front of the king again.

“Hearken to my judgement,” said King Shul. “Neither of you shall marry the maiden. Apart from the fact that you are both appalling poets, I have come to see that you do not love this woman nor even know anything about her heart. Go home and try to improve your insipid selves.”

And to the maiden he spoke thus: “Marry the young man who tends to your gardens, for he truly loves you.”

And so the maiden and the gardener married and happiness bloomed in their house like an everlasting flower and they had many children, three times five.

Angelina closed the book.

“Well,” she said, more to herself than to Young Sam, “that is certainly strange. Three times five? What’s that supposed to mean? Five girls, five boys and five what? Or is it possible that the author couldn’t count to fifteen?”

“Why did they all want to marry her?” asked Young Sam.

“Because she was a nice lady.”

“My mummy is a nice lady. I want to marry her.”

“I’m sure you do, Sam, I’m sure you do,” said Angelina and decided to leave it at that.

3)       It is left to the imagination of the reader whether or not this choice of story constituted a deliberate rebellion on Angelina’s part against the idiosyncrasies of her host.

 

~oOoOo~

 

Later in the afternoon Vetinari came into the drawing room, but found only Sybil seated by the window with an obscure item of knitting.

“Where is Angelina?”

“She went upstairs to have a nap.”

Vetinari raised the eyebrow.

“I cannot help noticing that she seems uncommonly tired these days.”

Sybil put her knitting aside and gave him a serious look.

“Havelock, I believe your wife has something to tell you, and I shall be most displeased with you if I’ll get the impression that you are anything but supportive.”

Vetinari drew breath sharply. He sat down, leaning on his cane, and frowned.

“I believe I know what you mean. Are you sure about this?”

“Constant tiredness, always close to tears, frequent visits to the bathroom? I know what I am talking about, Havelock. I have asked Mrs Content to come round tomorrow, but I am pretty certain I know what she will say.”

“And how is Angelina taking it?”

Sybil picked up her knitting again and absentmindedly began to unravel it.

“She is beside herself, poor lamb. She thinks that you are going to be angry.”

Vetinari sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I shall go and speak to her,” he said and left the room.

He found Angelina huddled up in bed and sobbing. She pulled the blanket over her head when she saw him coming in. Vetinari sat down on the edge of the bed, conscious that this was beginning to be a repetitive pattern in their relationship, but relieved at least to have identified a plausible cause. He drew the blanket away from her face.

“So,” he said, “it would appear that be Trobi rubber is not without failings.”

Angelina turned her head aside and glanced towards the window.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” she whispered and clutched at the bedclothes.

Vetinari began to laugh. She looked at him and wrinkled her nose in a frown.

“What’s funny about that?”

He reached out and stroked her cheek, his shoulders still shaking.

“I couldn’t even begin to explain,” he said. 4) “Don’t fret, my dear. It wouldn’t be the Scorpion Pit for you, even if I still had the use of it. Let’s assume it was an accident.”

“But what will we do now?”

“What is there to do? We’ll have to give your friend Tvoolia an order for three dozen white romper suits or whatever it is one needs in these circumstances. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to give you advice from her superior experience. And I believe there are certain breathing exercises you’ll need to practice, though maybe not until a bit closer to the time.”

Angelina’s eyes grew wide and round.

“You mean I can have this baby?”

“Angelina!” He was surprised how hurt he felt by her remark. Surely she knew him better? “Angelina, I would never have chosen this scenario, but since it seems to have chosen us, I will adapt to it with dignity. I am amazed that you would think otherwise.”

The expression of her face was painfully clearly one of huge relief. She flung her arms around him.

“Thank you, Havelock. I love you. I love you so much!”

“Steady now,” he said, embarrassed by so much affection. “It won’t be easy. There will be rather a lot of difficulties.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be able to arrange things just perfectly.”

“Have you such boundless trust in me?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it would appear then that I have no choice than to be exceptionally efficient.”

“You will be,” she murmured into his ear. “You know you always are.”

4) Angelina had, of course, shown herself to be a reasonably nifty needlewoman, but it would have been fantastic to imagine that she would put a needle to such devious use. Nevertheless, the image arose in Vetinari’s mind and triggered a bout of hilarity that would have been worthy of a be Trobi woman.

Chapter Text

Another day rose reluctantly over the malodorous city. It wasn’t even seven o’clock yet, but already bakers baked, muggers mugged, flies flew, et cetera, et cetera, you get the picture. When Angelina awoke, Vetinari stood by the washstand shaving. A black robe lay neatly spread over the back of a chair and on top of it perched the black skull cap which, however unbecoming otherwise, most serviceably covered the bald spot on the back of his head. Angelina sat up and stretched her arms.

“Today’s the day then, I take it?” she said. Just then she was hit with the delicious consciousness that she was expecting. 1)  After all those years of spinsterhood and gushing over nieces and nephews she was going to have her own baby. And Havelock had been so good about it. Was there a better man on the Disc?

“Yes.” He brought the razor round in a deftly calculated movement that cleared his cheek and defined the contours of the beard along his jaw line.

“Can I come?”

“No. It is not the custom for politicians to take their wives to work with them. Besides, I’ve arranged for you to go out today.”

“Ah. It’s always a pleasure how you let me know this kind of thing in advance,” said Angelina. She unbraided her hair and took a brush to it. “And where am I going?”

“Your brother will pick you up after breakfast and take you to the university library.”

“You trust him to take enough care of me?” asked Angelina with just a smidgen of sarcasm in her voice.

Vetinari rinsed the razor and carefully wiped it on a towel. Then he patted his face dry.

“I thought you might enjoy meeting your old friend, the Librarian,” he said.

“Oh, yes, I certainly will. But you must promise me that you’ll tell me every single detail about what happened.”

“I promise.”

“Very well then. Did you leave any clean water for me?”

He pointed to a second bowl beside his own. Angelina padded over and began her morning toilette. She washed and then, with great devotion, applied different creams and potions from the little mysterious bottles to various parts of her face. One of her first deeds after their arrival had been to order a bottle of Howland’s Tincture to counteract the effects of the Rim Ocean sun on her precious skin. Her husband had expressed surprise at the extent of her vanity. Angelina, however, sniffed at his banter. She had never been particularly beautiful, but she would jolly well be well groomed. At thirty-seven, she didn’t plan on looking like an old crone just yet.

When she had finished her facial improvement regime, she turned to him with a bashful smile.

“Are we really keeping the baby?”

“If you’d rather give it away, I’m sure we can persuade Sybil to –“

“Havelock!”

He grinned.

“You know, Angelina, I really like it when you call me by my name. I must make sure to tease you regularly and provoke you to say it.”

“Don’t get overconfident, my lord,” she replied and threw her hairbrush at him. Needless to say, he caught it without blinking.

1) Not that she wasn’t expecting most of the time; things like the next meal for example.

~oOoOo~

Lord Downey had opened the guild council meeting in his usual manner, with a jovial remark that was not quite funny enough to count as a joke but nevertheless made many people feel obliged to laugh at least a little. He considered this part of his people-centred approach. If he could get people to like him, he reasoned, his job would be ever so much easier.

So far, this strategy hadn’t been hugely successful. Yes, the council meetings were held in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere and most guild leaders, after initial hesitation, seemed to enjoy the biscuits provided 2) but he couldn’t help noticing that very rarely did the decisions turn out the way he had wanted them to. It was amazing what fierce resistance some people could put up in the most amiable tone of voice.

This morning, the agenda was long and potentially tedious and it included, at Gina’s insistence, the question of street decorations for The Wedding 3) Lord Downey had put this point to the end of the agenda, just before Any Other Relevant Business, and he understood too late that this had been a mistake. Unfortunately, the proximity of those two items suggested that the question of relevance ought to be raised. He had seen several guild leaders smirk when they reached the bottom of the paper.

And now the case of the rubber manufacturers was under discussion again. Lord Downey had actually taken the trouble to read those old reports that Mr Drumknott had so obligingly placed on his desk, and he had come to the conclusion that the environmental health officer must have been right. Certainly the number of health complaints in the Slaughterhouse District had risen sharply since the reintroduction of Hershebean rubber. Downey felt he really ought to ban the stuff, but Mr Snaigilla, the head of the guild of rubber manufacturers, just laughed off the matter. The man was as slippery as a fish 4) and Downey was beginning to realise that he presented a rather weak picture. He wiped his brow. The day hadn’t started well, with Gina’s bickering at the breakfast table, and it wasn’t improving. He wondered if it could get any worse and scanned the agenda for looming trouble spots.

When he looked up again, Lord Vetinari stood at the far end of the room.

Lord Downey blinked. The rumour had been true, then.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” said Vetinari. “May I join you?”

“You’re dead!” exclaimed Mr Boggis of the Thieves’ Guild.

 

“I don’t see why that should be a problem. Mr Shoe once assured me that death is no hindrance to leading a happy and fulfilling life.”

 

“But you fell over the edge of the world,” said Mr Boggis.

 

“Did I?” replied Vetinari. “That quite escaped my notice.”

 

“You’re a ghost! Nobody saw you coming in. You must have walked through the wall!”

Lord Vetinari’s eyebrow rose. If the assembly had needed any other confirmation that it was indeed him, this would have been it. Nobody could raise an eyebrow like Lord Vetinari. 5)

“A very compelling logical deduction, Mr Boggis,” said Lord Vetinari, “but unfortunately profoundly flawed. The reason you didn’t see me coming in is that I have been in this room since nine o’clock. You just didn’t notice me.”

Camouflage, thought Downey. All these years he has managed to have one over me with his blasted camouflage. I wish I hadn’t burned that book.

He watched in fascination how Vetinari, from somewhere in the folds of his robe, pulled out a piece of pastry cake and ate it.

“I anticipated that questions of parapsychology would be raised. My wife was good enough to let me have a piece of her morning figgin so I could prove myself to be quite of this world.”

The guild leaders were silent. Everyone knew that ghosts couldn’t eat.

“It would appear, though,” continued Lord Vetinari, “that I am dead as far as the law is concerned. You signed my death certificate, Downey?”

Sweat trickled down Downey’s neck. He knew he shouldn’t feel this uncomfortable just because Vetinari was back in the city, but he did.

“We had proof. The omniscope showed your boat going over the Edge.”

Vetinari glanced at the ceiling, where a jolly frieze of dancing rats did not so much decorate, but comment on the room.

“You know, Downey, I have always admired rats. They are very intelligent creatures. And they know when to leave a sinking ship, or so I am told.”

Suggestiveness floated around the room, giving it a slightly greenish tint. Several of the guild leaders sat pressed against the backs of their seats, because that was as far as their current situation allowed them to back off. Vetinari stood with his chin in his palm, supporting the elbow of the arm with the hand of the other. Slowly, he let his gaze glide from person to person. Many looked away, but some met his stare. Nobody spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began at last. “Allow me to express my thanks to you for the responsible manner in which you have managed the running of this city in my regrettable absence. I am sure Acting Patrician Lord Downey has had very commendable support from you, and the transition will be smooth and easy with your assistance. I suggest we close this meeting and reconvene tomorrow at ten o’clock to discuss the details of Lord Downey’s retirement.”

“There can be no question of me retiring,” said Downey in the most even tone he could manage. “I was never Acting Patrician. I’m your successor. A dead Patrician must be replaced without reservations and that is what happened after you were declared dead. It was unfortunate, for you at least, that we had made a mistake, but we all acted on the basis of what information we had. My appointment is right and proper. I’m sorry, Havelock. Things have moved on.”

Vetinari raised an eyebrow, and there were more than a few in the room who began to fidget. But it was clear that the tables had turned. Downey knew that Vetinari had no actual leverage to oust him from office, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated by a display of facial muscle control, however sophisticated. The guild leaders were bound to agree with him.

“Excuse my interference,” said a silky voice.

Downey turned his head to look at the speaker. Oh no, he thought, not her.

The young woman who stood at the far end of the table seemed strangely out of place even in the eclectic assembly that was the guild council. She was uncommonly tall and exquisitely slender, apart from those parts where she was equally exquisitely curvy, and the white dress that was held up by rather flimsy shoulder straps accentuated the golden colour of her skin. Her blonde hair fell all the way down to her waist. Green eyes looked at Downey earnestly.

“It seems strange to me,” said Miss Dixie Voom, “that we treat being thought to be dead and actually being dead as if they were the same thing. Is it just me or is that somehow wrong?”

Mr Snaigilla of the guild of rubber manufacturers rose from his seat.

“We followed all the correct legal procedures,” he said. “That Lord Vetinari isn’t dead after all has nothing to do with it.”

“Excuse me, Honey, but I think it has everything to do with it.”

“No disrespect, Miss Voom,” said Mr Boggis and swatted a fly that had been reckless enough to settle on the table in front of him, “but I am not sure how qualified you are to speak on such matters.”

“Every bit as qualified as you are, Mr Boggis,” replied Dixie Voom. “Exotic dancing harms the intellect no more than thieving.”

This remark was followed by a period of intense bickering, which did nothing to resolve the issue at hand, however much Mrs Palm, Mrs Manger and Queen Molly tried to get a word in under-, side- or edgeways. After nearly ten minutes of vacuous palaver, someone made an appeal to the leader of the guild of lawyers. The hubbub faded out and people looked expectantly at the dusty zombie in the tailor-made suit.

“The fact is that there is no precedent for this case,” said Mr Slant.

“That is regrettable,” replied Lord Vetinari. “I am not sure if we have enough intellect assembled in this room to deal with the situation, as it were, from scratch.”

“There is nothing to deal with, Havelock,” said Downey, with his voice now maybe a hint sharper than he had intended to. “You’re out, I’m in. That’s all there is to it.”

Lord Vetinari raised an eyebrow yet again, a sure sign that the narrator is getting to the end of her tether. This time he raised it slowly, in a manner that could be considered an independent art form.

“I shall leave you to your meeting then,” he said. “I shall be back on Wednesday, should you happen to change your minds.”

Then he walked out the door. Everyone was sure of that, that he had used the door.

1)       Chocolate or ginger, but never almond.

 

 

2)       While Gina never mentioned the Vetinari wedding, it was clear from practically every word she said that the paramount motive for her own plans was to outclass that event.

 

3)       And no, Olaf Quimby II, before you even ask, the narrator has not checked out exactly how slippery a fish is.

 

4)       Though many have tried, especially inmates of the Lord Vetinari Ward.

 

~oOoOo~

 

It was the end of a trying day and the Vetinaris were glad to withdraw to their room shortly after dinner. They were not so much tired as desirous of peace, quiet and exclusive company. The readers are invited to imagine the scene for themselves, because quite frankly, the narrator doesn’t hold with that kind of thing.

“Havelock...?”  Angelina’s voice carried a mixture of curiosity and terror. Her hand ran again over the alarming patch of skin she had just discovered on his chest.

“What is it?”

“You have scales on your chest!”

His Lordship smiled indulgently.

“Oh, the scales, yes. Have you never noticed them before?”

“Certainly not!”

“Well, they appear from time to time. It’s because I used to be a lizard.”

“Ha! You’re cold-blooded enough, I suppose.”

“You think I’m joking? “

She looked at the scaly patch again and wrinkled her nose. Then she gently prodded the offending dermatological phenomenon and looked up at her husband with a lopsided smile.

“Well, Havelock,” she said, “you certainly are full of surprises.”

He smiled one of his more enigmatic smiles.

“You mean you don’t want to know the details?” he asked.

“Would I be happy to know them?”

“Possibly not. Where are you going?”

“I’ve just remembered something. Wait there.”

She walked over to the dressing table and rummaged among the tubs and bottles.

“Here. This must be one of Lady Sybil’s own recipes.” She read from the label. “Soothes minor irritations. Promotes healthy scale. I think that’ll do just nicely.”

“Angelina!”

“What?” She looked at him with faked innocence.

“You’re pushing your luck now. Come to bed.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m asking you to.”

“Will you make it worth my while?”

“We shall see.”

~oOoOo~

GUILD COUNCIL IN GHOST SCAM SHOCK

Members of the Ankh-Morpork guild council were shocked yesterday when an apparent ghost appeared at their meeting. The unexpected spectre of former Patrician Lord Vetinari turned out to be of flesh and blood and challenged the current office holder.

Patrician Lord Downey was chairing a meeting of the guild council which was supposed to address a number of environmental health issues, when Lord Vetinari was seen standing in the room. “He just appeared out of nowhere. One minute there was nothing, and the next he stood there, with his robe and cap and everything as if he’d never been away,” says Mr Butcher of the guild of bakers. He is one of several guild leaders who took the figure for a ghost.

Lord Vetinari explains his sudden appearance as natural and claims to have been in the room since before the beginning of the meeting. He consumed a piece of figgin as evidence that he was a living body. As guild leaders began to realise that the former Patrician had returned in the flesh, Vetinari commenced to challenge the legitimacy of Lord Downey’s appointment on the basis that he was not dead as had been previously assumed.

Guild leaders were called upon to decide on the matter, but failed to come to a clear conclusion. “With no precedent of such a case, the situation is legally ambiguous. However, the principle of Cuius Posterior In Situ would suggest that Lord Downey should continue in office,” says Mr Slant of the guild of lawyers. Lord Vetinari announced his intention to pay another visit to the guild council tomorrow, in spite of the fact that the next council meeting is not scheduled until Friday of next week.

Miss Velocity Cramps (17), a student at the Guild of Assassins, confirmed that she had sighted Lord Vetinari earlier during the day in the course of a training assignment on the Duke of Ankh’s property. Miss Cramps suffered minor injuries when a rain pipe broke under her weight, but is expected to be discharged from the infirmary by the end of the week.

The news of Lord Vetinari’s return has caused unrest in several parts of the city and seems to have triggered an unexpected recession. Mr Lipwig of the Bank of Ankh-Morpork denied reports that a 30% fall in the value of the Ankh-Morpork dollar was a sign for concern. “This is only a temporary blip,” he assured worried citizens who had begun to queue up outside the bank building.

Lord Vetinari had been Patrician of Ankh-Morpork from the Year of the Prudish Magpie until Spune of last year, when he and his wife disappeared after a boating accident in the Circle Sea. Lord Downey became Patrician after Lord Vetinari had been declared dead, following evidence provided by the technomancy department of Unseen University (The Times reported).

~oOoOo~

 

It was the end of a trying day and Lord Downey would have liked to be glad to withdraw to his private apartments. However, even though he would hardly qualify as wicked, there seemed to be no rest for him. Dame Gina Dulci was displeased. Again.

“Donald,” she said, in that abrasive tone which suggested that everything he did somehow fell short of her expectations. “You haven’t given any thought to the wedding favours yet. I was thinking of sugared almonds, but that seems a bit common. Do you think the pouches should be silk or lace?”

Lord Downey amused himself briefly by imagining samples of his special almond slices being handed to the wedding guests in sachets of black silk. He picked up a chocolate wrapper from the side table and used it to mark his place in the chapter about delayed-action poisons. Then he closed his book and looked at his fiancée.

“Advise me,” he said. “Which would be more genteel?”

Chapter Text

The following morning a most inopportune tête-à-tête took place in Lady Sybil’s breakfast room, brought about by a tangle of unpredictable circumstances the likes of which may strain the suspension of disbelief just a tad. Angelina had slept in, a luxury which she gleefully allowed herself since she had discovered what a wonderful excuse a pregnancy was for just about anything one felt like doing or, as it were, not doing. When she finally got up at half past ten, she attended to her skincare at leisure and then ambled downstairs feeling safe in the knowledge that she would have the place pretty much to herself. Lady Sybil, she knew, had set off for the weekly board meeting at the Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons at around eight o’clock, and she vaguely remembered Havelock leaving early on business known only to himself.  Of course, there would be the inevitable intrusions from Young Sam with pleas to read more stories, but she rarely minded the little boy. And his father, thank goodness, was never in the house at this time of day.

Or so she thought. Alas, when she came into the breakfast room with a view to consuming ample amounts of porridge, stewed pears and, of course, figgins, she found the commander sitting in front of a plate full of assorted fried items looking so decidedly like it had only just been served that the flicker of hope that he might soon leave died before it had even properly been kindled. Gods only knew why he was here. 1) She sat down with a barely suppressed sigh.

“Good morning, Sir Samuel.”

“Hmpf. Morning.”

Angelina reached for the teapot and poured herself a cup full.

“Would you care for some tea?”

“No,” he said, and after a miniscule pause, “thanks.”

“Looks like it’s going to be rather a fine day again.”

“Hm.”

“Lady Sybil seemed thoroughly delighted with the new dragon that hatched yesterday, didn’t she?”

Vimes made no reply. Angelina turned to her bowl of stewed fruit and resigned herself to enduring an awkward silence, but suddenly a rebellious streak won the upper hand and, more importantly, control over her mouth.

“Are you so rude to everybody or just to me?”

There was no reaction at first, but when the sentence had penetrated the outer layers of Vimes’s perception, he looked up from his plate.

“Pardon?”

Angelina sighed and put aside her spoon.

“Well, Sir Samuel, I know you don’t like me, and I cannot blame you. You must think I am rather superfluous and have taken possession of something you consider public property.”

“I must think that, must I?”

She ignored this comment.

“I wonder,” she continued, “if you have ever considered that Havelock isn’t just a commodity, but a person.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Has it occurred to you that he might appreciate the existence of one human being in the world who cares about him?”

“And what makes you think that this is the reason for my dislike of you?”

“So you admit that you dislike me?”

Vimes took out a slim silver cigar case, opened it and lit himself a cigar. Angelina decided not to comment on how inconsiderate it was to smoke in the presence of a pregnant woman. After all, he didn’t know about that yet, or so she assumed.

“Are you aware,” said Vimes from behind a veil of delicate smoke, “that you are the sole reason that Vetinari left the city – twice? And that on the first occasion he forced me to deputize for him?”

“I cannot imagine how a man like you could be forced, not even by Havelock. What did he do?”

“He called me his friend,” said Vimes and viciously attacked the last slice of bacon on this plate with his fork. It slid off and made a grease stain on the tablecloth.

Angelina couldn’t help laughing.

“Are you aware that he did that on purpose to wind you up?” she asked.

Vimes let his hands, one holding the fork and the other the cigar, sink and stared at her.

“What did you just say there?”

“Havelock called you his friend on purpose to wind you up. He says you are depressingly easy to wind up.”

“Easier than you?”

“He succeeds with me, too, at times,” she admitted.

“I’m not surprised.”

Angelina felt inclined to protest at this stab at her mental capacities, but decided to let it pass.

“However, I dare say,” she continued with a smile, “that he really thinks of you as a friend. And I believe he has been a friend to you. Surely you must be aware that he isn’t just a, a ... a government-dispensing machine?”

Vimes looked at her with an expression she couldn’t fathom.

“So he is human?” he asked after a while.

“As far as I know,” replied Angelina.

“Well,” he said. “Fair enough.”

He still looked gruff and generally displeased, but there was also an air of uncertainty about him that made him seem almost forlorn. Angelina’s heart, never very cold to begin with, melted.

“Look, Sir Samuel, it is so unpleasant to be cross with each other. Shall we call a truce?”

Her affectionate tone had been premature. He looked at her with a scowl which indicated that he had any amount of crossness in store for her.

“And how would that work out?” he replied. “I’d stop being rude to you and you’d stop being Lady Vetinari?”

“Do you resent his being married in general or just his being married to me?”

“I don’t mind him being married.”

“Aha.”

Angelina looked down at her empty porridge bowl and scraped round it in a rather pointless fashion.

“So,” she said, “you think all this, this whole mess, is my fault.”

“Yes.”

After some more scraping of the porridge bowl, she looked up.

 “Well, that could be our deal then: I admit to being guilty of anything you want to accuse me of, and in return you admit that I am a human being. That seems about fair to me.”

She smiled at him sweetly. Commander Vimes looked puzzled. Clearly this kind of attack came as rather a surprise to him.

“And by the way,” said Angelina and took an apple from the fruit bowl, “does Lady Sybil know about the bacon?”

Vimes, caught out, hastily tried to wipe off the grease stain on the tablecloth with his napkin.

1)       The gods emphatically deny any knowledge of this matter.

~oOoOo~

Lord Downey was not quite dressed yet when Dame Gina Dulci flung open the door to his bedroom. She ceased her avalanchious 2) advance when she saw him.

“Donald,” she said icily. “Where are your trousers?”

“I’m sorry, Gina. I’ve only just got up. I’ve had a bit of a rough night.”

He wasn’t sure why he bothered saying that. Surely he knew by now not to expect anything like a sympathetic response from her. Indeed, her whole reaction was a kind of irritated blink, as if his mentioning of any concern of his own was the equivalent to an annoying little fly in the eye.

“I’ve just heard the news,” she said and made a dramatic gesture with her slender hand. “Havelock and that woman are back in the city. What are you planning to do about that?”

“What do you mean?” said Downey and stepped into his trousers. “I don’t plan on handing over the palace, if that’s what you’re thinking about. Other than that, they’re as entitled to coming to Ankh-Morpork as everyone else. And I can hardly contest their marriage.”

Well...”

Gina had clearly expected some drastic measure on his part, but his reply seemed to have activated what little powers of reason she had, and she accepted his verdict, or at least shifted her complaints to a different issue. 

“And the menu cards,” she said, “are a disgrace. I said I wanted the gilt edging to be half an inch wide, and now it’s a quarter of an inch at best. This is ... is ... intolerable, yes.”

 “Well,” said Downey, “maybe a quarter inch is quite splendid enough, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely not!” snapped Gina. She still stood in the doorway, and the tower of shimmering, copper-coloured hair on her head almost touched the lintel. Today she wore a floor-length dress of ivory silk with long, fluted sleeves and her trademark ultra low-cut neckline. The golden sparkle that had first ensnared him was still glimmering in the air around her, but Downey had built up a mental resistance against it. In fact, his general mindset of counting his grudges with regard to Vetinari presently brought up an image of the environmental health officer speaking at the guild council: that small, unimpressive figure in a plain navy dress. Damn, he thought, why did Vetinari always have to get one over him? The bastard had secured himself a meek little woman who probably never contradicted him, while he, Downey, was stuck with a glittering bundle of complaints. His glance wandered over to the bookshelf and to one particular volume in which a page had been marked with a chocolate wrapper. He turned to Gina.

 “Just order another set then,” he said. “Do whatever pleases you. And now, if you would excuse me, I have urgent business to attend to.”

Gina hesitated, but pacified by the license to do anything she liked, she flicked back a strand of shiny hair and swept out. Downey quickly ran a comb through his hair and made his way down to the Oblong Office.

“Good morning, my lord,” said Mr Drumknott from behind a stack of folders. Downey nodded a brief greeting at him and strode through his door.

And stopped dead.

There behind the big desk on the black leather chair, his chair, sat Lord Vetinari.

 “Morning, Downey,” he said casually without looking up from the document he was perusing. “I must say I am impressed with the mess you’ve managed to create here. Why exactly have the post office staff been on strike for the last three weeks?”

“There was some disagreement about the new unisex cloakrooms,” said Downey before his brain managed to alert him to the fact that he needn’t justify himself before Vetinari.

“Ah,” said Vetinari. “Miss Maccalariat did not approve?”

“It’s only for hanging up jackets!” Downey exclaimed. “Why does she have to make such a fuss about it? I was trying to save expenses on the public purse.”

“How commendable,” replied Vetinari and continued to inspect the paperwork. “Interestingly, the post office staff now demand a 3% pay rise, an extended pension plan and new canteen facilities as part of their settlement.”

“Well...” Downey hesitated. He felt inclined to sit down, so that he wouldn’t stand in front of Vetinari like a schoolboy in front of the headmaster, but that would mean to sit in one of the two visitor chairs, which would be not a good move. However, he didn’t fancy asking Vetinari to get up and let him have the Patrician’s chair, because urgent primeval instincts told him that this would be an even worse move.

“Do sit down, Downey,” said Vetinari. “You make me nervous standing there like a schoolboy in front of the headmaster.”

“What?” snapped Downey.

At this, Vetinari at last looked up and treated Downey to a cerulean stare.

“I think you’re losing your nerve, Downey. Stop gaping or a fly might get into your mouth. There are enough of them in Ankh-Morpork these days to provide every citizen with a free snack, but I’d rather not witness you consuming one. And now, please, sit down.”

“I can’t. You’re sitting on my chair,” replied Downey.

“Am I? I was under the impression that I ordered this chair in the Year of the Recumbent Hedgehog. Sixteen Ankh-Morpork dollars from Johannsson & Stronginthearm. Shall we ask Mr Drumknott to look for the receipt? I am almost certain he has filed it.”

“You know exactly what I mean, Havelock. I am the Patrician.”

“Ah, yes, forgive me, I quite forgot. In that case you will be able to tell me – as a concerned citizen who takes an interest in public welfare – why the city is swarming with flies and stinking to the heavens. May I ask how the river came to be in such a state? What happened to the sewage works?”

As a sort of grudging compromise, Downey sat on the edge of the desk and tried to see just which documents Vetinari had in front of him.

“The sewage works were closed because of technical problems,” he said. He tried to eradicate all traces of defensiveness from his voice. Defensiveness blew a raspberry at him and retreated to a twitching muscle under his left eye.

“Is that so? They worked fine when Mr Pony was in charge of them. But I see he was dismissed – for insolence? I am astonished. And why, pray, is the Hershebean rubber in use again?”

“Snaigilla told me there had never been any proof that it caused a problem.”

“And you believed that? Even though Angelina had produced conclusive evidence? Ah, but I remember you didn’t attend the meeting at which she presented her findings!”

“I was indisposed!”

Vetinari shook his head and raised his fingertips to his chin.

“Did you amend any of Rust’s foolish decisions?”

To his consternation, Downey realised that he had drawn up his shoulders and clenched his fists. Instantly, he relaxed his stance and adopted a carefully confident pose.

“I dropped the troll and dwarf tax,” he said calmly, or least apparently calmly. “And I readmitted the guilds that had been banned.”

“Let me guess: the seamstresses, the beggars and the thieves?”

“And the exotic dancers.”

“Ah, did Miss Dixie Voom pay you a visit?”

“You don’t need to take that kind of attitude,” replied Downey and just about managed to stop himself from pouting.  “She’s always supported you, and one might wonder why.”

Vetinari shrugged.

“Yes, I wonder at times. What I wonder more, though, is how much longer the city can bear your government before it collapses.”

“Who says it will collapse? You did things your way, I do them my way. Ankh-Morpork will be a different place under my rule. What did you expect?”

“I expect you to return home and let me get on with my job.”

Downey snorted.

“You didn’t think it would be that easy, Havelock, did you?”

Vetinari placed his hands together and slowly rubbed his chin with his fingertips.

“It appears to me,” he said, “that we do have a clear case here of Cuius Posterior In Situ. However, I concede that you currently have the advantage of being officially endorsed. Far be it from me to overrule the guild council. Even for a tyrant that would be very bad taste. But I seem to recall that the council was rather undecided on the matter. It might be a useful thing to discuss the matter further. As soon as possible.”

Downey fiddled with the buttons on his coat and then abruptly put his hands into his pockets to stop himself from such a childish display of insecurity. The attention this manoeuvre required prevented him from simultaneously controlling his tongue, and so, to his own horror, he found himself saying:

“Actually, I had to call the guild council for an emergency meeting this morning.”

“Would that by any chance be in connection with the imminent collapse of the Ankh-Morpork dollar?” said Vetinari with a vague gesture at another document on the desk.

 

“It’s a temporary fluctuation, happens all the time during transitions of power!” Downey replied more hastily than he would have wished.

 

“Does it?” Vetinari picked up a ledger and flipped over a few pages. “I don’t see any noticeable changes at the time you replaced Rust. But strangely, it seems to be happening now”

 

Downey looked at Vetinari sharply, leaned over the desk and snatched the ledger from unresisting hands. “You’re not the only one to notice that, Havelock. I know you’re behind this!”

 

Vetinari raised an eyebrow. “I fail to see, Donald, how I could possibly be ‘behind this’, as you so eloquently put it. These accounts show that the financial crisis began long before I ever returned to the city, and that you only just managed to cover it up.”

 

With an air of manic triumph Downey knocked a stack of papers off the desk and flourished one he grabbed from near the bottom of the pile.

 

“And what do you say to this then? According to this report there have been numerous sightings of you in this city for months before you made your presence known!”

 

Vetinari held out his hand. “May I see?”

 

Downey passed him the document.

 

“Ah,” said Vetinari, “the esteemed Mrs Delusia Fibs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t she the lady who is also claiming to have seen Queen Alguinna IV, King Shul, the legendary Mary Droppins and…” He glanced down at the paper. “…of lately the occasional river monster? Would you consider her a reliable witness?”

 

Outmanoeuvred, Downey watched mutely as Vetinari rose and walked towards the door.  

 

“Your meeting with the guild council will begin shortly, Downey,” Vetinari said over his shoulder. “I suggest you turn your trousers the correct side out before you enter the Rats Chamber.”

 

2)       Who says I can’t make up new words?

Chapter Text

And so commenced another guild council meeting, and it was essentially a carbon copy of the previous one. Lord Downey had entered the Rats Chamber with a grim determination to be efficient and assertive, but within ten minutes he had lost the initiative. Everybody seemed to have something to say, and nobody seemed willing to let another person finish their sentence. Mrs Palm broke a lance for Lord Vetinari 1), Mr Snaigilla defended Lord Downey’s policies, Queen Molly commented on Lord Vetinari’s exemplary track record, Mr Boggis reminded the assembly of that dodgy business with Leshp and the obscure role Vetinari had played there, Miss Dixie Voom tried to reason logically, which failed completely since nobody thought her capable of it, and Mr Slant droned on and on.  Some people pointed out how very stable the Ankh-Morpork dollar had always been under Lord Vetinari’s rule, and others argued that it had been equally stable under Lord Downey until the day Lord Vetinari appeared at the guild council. Downey cast a look at Vetinari, who sat at the far end of the table with a completely blank expression. An old memory pounced on Downey and forced before his reluctant eyes scenes of the endless sessions of squabbling that had preceded the election of Lord Vetinari. The prospect of that particular historic scenario repeating itself was certainly dire. He wiped his brow.

We leave this futile scenario and turn to a more narrativistically productive stage. The front entrance of the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, for example, looks like a much more promising venue at this precise moment in time. Here, the mob was in full swing. The meticulously induced collapse of the Ankh-Morpork dollar had attracted not only the brave and the bold, but also the insolent and the habitually disgruntled. One might try to describe them as a sea of faces, a big ocean that threw its surf against the high walls of the building and rippled up the broad stair. Or one might use another metaphor, maybe a swarm of wasps descending on the unfortunate fool who has just kicked their nest off the tree. In reality, though, there is only one thing that is like an Ankh-Morpork mob, and that is an Ankh-Morpork mob.

There were feisty washerwomen and stout dwarves, respectable post office clerks, butchers, bakers and greengrocers all in their aprons, seamstresses and governesses, goldsmiths, hairdressers, fishmongers (and one fishmongeress), ironmongers and fearmongers, street vendors with trays carried in front of their bellies, clacks workers, type setters and curry chefs. Of course, there were also representatives of all manners of other trades and professions (and many of none whatsoever), but if we wanted to list them all, we’d be here all day. Crucially, this was not the kind of mob that had gathered casually to enjoy a bit of street theatre. This was a mob that was concerned about money. And that meant that the voices that wafted up the facade of the bank building sounded anything but quaint or cheerful or, heavens forbid, affable. They sounded increasingly exasperated, and that was saying something, given that they had been pretty cross to begin with. There were, as yet, no pitchforks to be seen in the crowd, but that was mostly due to the urban setting, and other items of sharp metal did glint here and there in the summer sunshine.

From a window on the first floor, Moist von Lipwig was watching the development with a mixture of thrill and unease when Mrs Bent, née Drapes, entered the room. She approached him and glanced out of the window as if the sight might be different from here than from wherever she’d looked out last.

“What will you do, Mr Lipwig?” she whispered. She wore a short-sleeved blouse and he could see the fine hairs on her arm stand on end.

Moist drew a breath. He wasn’t so sure himself. Vetinari hadn’t specified how to handle this scenario. Moist had assumed that as soon as a suitable degree of civic unrest was created, His Lordship would take care of things and it would all be resolved quickly. But the mob had been there since the previous afternoon when the bank had Closed. As planned, Vimes had done nothing to disperse them but had only positioned his people around the building. The mob had grown steadily, even during the night. None of the staff had dared to leave the bank, and the situation was beginning to feel desperate with regard to food and water. And Moist was getting restless.

He patted Mrs Drapes’ arm, gave her a friendly nod and walked out the door. In the anteroom, he checked his appearance in the full length mirror. The suit, the hat, yes, he looked the part. He ambled down the main stair, conscious of the stares, both open and secret, that followed him. Let them stare. He’d be fine, because, well, he always was, wasn’t he? Sod Vetinari, who had left him out cold. He was going to handle this on his own, he had to, and who knows, it might even be fun. Not that he had any idea yet what he was going to say, but what was life without a challenge?

Against a backdrop of tense looks and urgent murmurs, he approached the front entrance, slid back the panel in the peep hole and peered out. All he could see was a grey mass.

“Could you stand aside, please Sergeant Detritus?” he hissed through the slot.

The grey mass moved. “Is dat you, Mr Lipwig?”

“Yes. I’m going to come out.”

“Do you think dat’s wise?”

“Of course not, but I’m doing it anyway.”

He opened the door just a crack and managed to slip through unnoticed. Seconds later he stepped out of Detritus’ shade with his arms spread wide and a broad smile on his face.

“Citizens of Ankh-Morpork!” he called.

A roughly equal amount of cheers and jeers greeted him. At the front of the crowd, he saw Sacharissa Cripslock with a smirk on her face. Now what? Moist’s mind began to tingle with excitement.

“I know you’ve come here because you’re concerned about your money.”

He ignored the various shouts of “Right you are!” and “You’re not kidding!” and went on, “And that is, of course, understandable - ”

 

It came from his right, and Moist barely even saw it before it smacked him across the face. It wasn't much of a throw, but then again it wasn't much of a cabbage, for when times are rough, the last thing you want to throw away is food that might still be worth eating. Moist wiped some of the rotted coleslaw from his cheek in time to see Detritus moving with deceptive speed and surprising agility into the crowd. The huge troll reached his exceptionally long arm of the law toward a retreating back, and plucked a fleeing figure from the mass of people.

 

The small man didn’t even struggle when he saw his captor.

 

 “Officer, would you please bring that man here?” called Moist.

 

“Dis man has committed an as-salt on you Mr. Lipwig, You are wit-in yer rights to press charges on him.”

 

“Nonsense, officer,” said Moist. He took his assailant firmly by the shoulders, and then putting an arm around him in the most jovial way he had, continued, “It is past noon after all, and my friend…” Moist let the question hang for a moment and gave the man a little shake on his shoulders.

 

“Mendel?” the man squeaked.

 

“…Mendel here was just giving me my lunch,” finished Moist.

 

It was the kind of thing you needed to do when dealing with an angry crowd. At least when dealing with one that was still willing to listen to you, because if you can make the crowd laugh, you were well on your way to turning them around. It wasn't even a good joke, but when dealing with large crowds it didn't need to be. In a big enough crowd, there were bound to be a few people who’d find even the stupidest joke funny. There were some now.

 

Sadly, Mendel seemed to have recovered his wits and he wasn’t inclined to play the game.

 

“I gots ten dollars in that bank and now it ain’t worth hardly nothin'!” he said and pushed Moist's arm off.

 

Turning himself so as to address both Mendel and the crowd, Moist replied, “I can assure you sir, that the ten dollars you have in that bank is still ten dollars, plus any interest you may have gained.”

 

“Don't you tell me what my ten dollars is worth! Only earlier this year I could buy a dozen crates of cabbages in Sto Kerrig or Sto Lat and spend a fifty pence less than I would have here. Now doin' that ain’t even worth the hay I feeds to the oxes pullin' the carts!”

 

This got a cheer from the crowd. Moist groaned inwardly, he really was losing his touch. He had managed to give the stage to possibly the only angry vegetable-hurler in the city able to articulate his grievances. Something needed to be done to get the momentum back.  Once the shouting had died down a little he turned towards Mendel. He made an expansive hand gesture and quietly said a few words.  Mendel looked at Moist with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. It took a while for the message to spread in the crowd.

 

“Say that again!” shouted someone.

 

“I said you can all have your money back.”

 

The crowd began to murmur, and a few people at the front began to look for the strings attached. 2)

 

“What? All of it?”

 

“Every penny in your accounts”

 

 You’re gonna let us all into the bank?

 

“Of course. It’s your right as my customers.”

 

“And you’re gonna let us all out again with all our money?”

 

“I have no choice, it’s the law.” Moist turned to Detritus. “Isn't it, officer?”

 

Detritus looked at the mob and then back at Moist. He scratched his chin a few times and eventually answered, “Um, yeah?”

 

It was then that Mendel's suspicious eyes widened. He turned to the crowd.

 

“You all see what he's doin? Our money ain’t worth nothin' no more, so of course he's lettin' us have it back! He don't want a bunch of worthless Ankh Morpork dollars, so he's getting rid of ‘em!” Mendel turned his triumphant look on Moist. “What if I said I wants my money back in Pseudopolis or Quirm coins, huh? You gonna do that, are ya?”

 

“Certainly, sir. Would you like Chickles or Finners?

 

“What?” snapped Mendel. “What are those?”

 

“The official currency of Pseudopolis and Quirm respectively. Not in much use these days, because the Ankh-Morpork dollar has widely replaced them. I think you would find it difficult to buy any goods with coins that are virtually unknown.”

 

The crowd’s murmuring increased. Mendel's eyes darted over the people.

 

“So, what are we supposed to do, huh? Either you hold on to our worthless money, or we can hold it? What kinda choice is that?”

 

Moist spotted the opening in this, even if he couldn’t yet see where it was leading.

 

“Let me tell you what money is, Mendel,” he said in his most magnanimous tone. “Money is entirely a matter of trust. There is nothing wrong with the Ankh-Morpork dollar. What is wrong is that people…”  Moist couldn't help but put his arm around Mendel again. “…are losing their trust in it.”

 

Moist paused. It occurred to him that blaming the assembled mob or their chance spokesman for the current calamity would not be the smartest move.

 

 “And I do understand your uncertainty. This city’s been changing Patricians lately like posh people change dance partners. In the past year we've had three different men in charge and your city didn't even have enough confidence in you to give you a choice in the matter.”

 

A wild idea seized him. 3)  Words appeared in his mind and forced their way onto his tongue, though he was almost sure he hadn’t thought them.

 

“No wonder you’ve come to trust your money as little as you trust your leaders. But it doesn’t matter whose head is on the notes. It doesn’t matter whether the Patrician’s name is Rust or Downey or Vetinari. The wealth of Ankh-Morpork is in the people of Ankh-Morpork.”

 

Moist blinked. He had played this card before and wasn’t sure if it would work again, but the words, skipping merrily over the synapses in his brain, simply elbowed their way out of his mouth. 4)  Moist could see the shape of where this was going now, and he also saw that it could work, but he needed that little bit extra to push the cart over the crest of the hill. He looked over his shoulder and motioned at the figure of Mrs Bent in the window, nodded and made a vague gesture. He then turned back to the crowd.

 

“If you will excuse me, we just seem to have received an important message from the palace by clacks.”

 

Moist turned to the door and opened it just wide enough to speak with Mrs Bent.

 

“What is it? I don't understand what you meant by those hand gestures, sir.”

 

“Do you have that letter I gave you earlier, the one from the Bank of Pseudopolis?”

 

“Yes, sir, I do.”

 

“Please pass it to me.”

 

Moist made sure to stand aside enough so that people could see her handing over the envelope.

 

“Thank you again, Mrs Bent,” he said loudly. He faced the crowd again, envelope in hand. You had to give them a show, and Moist knew how to turn the opening of an envelope into a suspenseful event. He tapped it and shook it, and slowly, carefully, tore off one of the sides. Then he squeezed the paper so it bulged out and caused the inside to loosen its grip on the contents. He blew a puff of air into the cavity and watched the letter inside flutter. Eventually he tipped the envelope upside down and pulled out the single piece of paper. He unfolded it and pretended to study it with interest.

 

Suspense in the hushed crowd reached its climax.

 

“Well, what's it say?!”

 

Moist motioned toward the palace. “We have some thrilling news from the guild council. Your civic leaders have come to a decision that not only affects all of you, but requires all of you!”

 

He noticed Sacharissa looking up sharply, pencil posed.

 

“The guild leaders know what distress the current crisis has caused for the citizens of Ankh-Morpork. They have seen the distress and they have acted! They have acted with speed as well as with wisdom and have come to a decision that will change the fate of our city forever.”

 

The words were taking over again, but at least this time he could understand the taste of them, even if he wasn't entirely sure what they were.

 

“You, all of you, will decide the future of Ankh-Morpork. Every man’s voice will be heard!” He felt beads of sweat appearing on his brow. Sacharissa Cripslock was frantically scribbling into her notebook. Doubt flickered in his mind for a second and died. “Rather than letting two men fight for supremacy behind closed doors, or the guild council drag out the decision with days and weeks of bickering, the choice will be made out in the open, by all of us. Ankh-Morpork will hold...”

 

Somehow, the bossy words had trickled to a standstill. Hundred of faces were turned towards him in a hungry glow of expectation. He could not disappoint them. Moist was floating now, navigating a dream that would probably end in a delirious crash landing. He felt alive. Suddenly he knew exactly what to say.

 

“...general elections.”

 

 

1)       Arrrrgh, the connotations...

2)       They never found them, though some people ended up staring at their shoe laces.

1)       It was one of those dangerous ideas that float around the multiverse in search of new worlds to victimize.

2)       Try to imagine that!

Chapter Text

Tvoolia had, of course, been delighted to see Angelina again, and who could blame her if one of her first thoughts concerned getting married again? She and Henry had got married shortly after the Vetinari’s disappearance, but it had been a sorry affair, with no guests other than Conrad Winter and Goldy Jorgensson for witnesses. Henry had promised her a splendid party after his sister’s return, and she had been contented to wait, but now, well, why wait any longer? In fact, not waiting any longer became a bit of a pressing issue, because she had already made her dress and with each passing day the chances of her fitting into it became slimmer, in delicious contrast to her abdomen, which didn’t.

Initially, Hughnon Ridcully had shown himself reluctant to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple who were already married, He had even turned a deaf ear 1) when Downey had put in a good word for a colleague, but it’s hard to say no to a man whose death certificate one has unwittingly signed, and so the chief priest had suddenly acquired some hitherto unknown flexibility of mind. Which was just as well, because Tvoolia, plunged into that strange mood that tends to overcome prospective brides, had already sent a clacks to Istanzia. Post chaises travelled frequently between Istanzia and Ankh-Morpork these days and so it came about that while Angelina tried to make conversation with Vimes at the breakfast table, while Moist received alien inspirations and Vetinari confronted Downey in the Oblong Office, the Hingh family arrived in Ankh-Morpork: Mr and Mrs Hingh and the bane of Tvoolia’s life, the triplets Patty, Polly and Peggy.

Shortly after lunchtime, Angelina reached her brother’s home. Henry, who had brought her in a hired carriage and escorted her to the door, claimed an urgent appointment and left without even entering the house. If he had, it would have been doubtful whether he would have fitted into the parlour, which seemed filled to maximum capacity. At the table by the window three teenage girls were conducting a whispered conversation that involved much barely suppressed giggling and an impressive repertoire of obscure gestures. Tvoolia had chosen an armchair near the fireplace that faced into the room, presumably because it allowed her to turn her back on her sisters. The opposite armchair was occupied by her father, an insignificant man in every possible sense of the word. On the sofa, Angelina’s mother sat hard by the armrest, with her elbows pressed to her sides, because the larger part of the seat was taken up by the formidable Mrs Hingh.

She was one of those top-heavy women with a bust much larger than her hips and with the added complication of a double chin and tiny feet which left the observer wondering how she would manage to stand without falling over. Her dark hair was coiled into a tight bun on the top of her head, and the congregation of fine dark hairs under her ample nose could only go under the name of moustache. Nobody who looked at her would have guessed that she was the mother of the enchanting Tvoolia. Yet Mrs Hingh had been a reputed beauty in her youth. 2)

There was a chair reserved for Angelina by Tvoolia’s side, into which she sank gratefully. Two smaller chairs had been squeezed into the room between the sofa and the door, one of them occupied by Goldy Jorgensson. Next to her sat Lucky Haettenschweiler, a solemn looking dwarf with an enormous beard 3) whom Goldy had introduced as “a very good friend.”

“Oh, so will we see another wedding soon?” trilled Mrs Hingh. The triplets giggled insanely.

“Well, the thing is...” began Goldy, but a kick on the ankle stopped her.

“We shall see about that,” said Lucky.

Mrs Hingh, whose attention span was much shorter than the hairs on her chin, had already turned her eyes away, and directed the prattle of her conversation at Angelina.

“And so you are the famous Lady Vetinari? I’m absolutely charmed. Tvoolia has told me so much about you!”

Angelina felt at a loss as to a reply. She knew that Tvoolia had hitherto not been on cordial terms with her family and that it was unlikely that she had related much about their friendship to her mother. In fact, looking at Tvoolia’s face she gained the impression that her friend was already beginning to regret her decision to bring about a family reunion.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs Hingh,” she said at last in a fairly non-committal tone.

“Now, there is so much to do and so little time,” continued Mrs Hingh. “We are so excited about the wedding, aren’t we girls?”

The triplets looked out of the window and pretended not to hear.  Mrs Hingh, unruffled by this display of filial indifference, went on.

“I wish you had waited for me, Tvoolia dear, to consult me on the wedding clothes and on the invitations, but with the pressure of time being as it is, well - but there is plenty more we need to think about. Table decorations, wedding favours, the bridesmaids’ dresses – “

As if on command, the triplets turned their heads to look at her.

“We won’t be bridesmaids,” said Patty.

“No way,” echoed Peggy.

“We’d rather boil our noses in vinegar,” added Polly.

“Who says I was going to ask you?” said Tvoolia without turning round. The triplets resumed their whispering, this time with an undertone of venom.

“Girls,” cried Mrs Hingh, “be nice to each other!”

“I think Tvoolia has already decided that she only wants Goldy as a bridesmaid,” said Angelina’s mother.

Goldy sighed. Angelina wondered briefly who would be left to be bridesmaid at Goldy’s wedding.

“But the triplets would be so delightful!” exclaimed Mrs Hingh. “Camembert! Say something!”

Her husband, who had been about to doze off, gave a start.

“What is it, my love?”

“Camembert, pay attention! The triplets are saying they don’t want to be bridesmaids, and Tvoolia says she doesn’t want them.”

Mr Hingh shrugged. “And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems a hopeless business.”

“If I may say so, Mrs Hingh,” interjected Angelina, “this question seems to be settled and we’d be wasting time discussing it further. There is so much else we need to think about; the flowers, the table decorations. All these are very essential matters, and we really need your advice. You have such exquisite taste...”

Mrs Hingh drew back her shoulders and dithered visibly. Her lower lip twitched. She cast a suspicious look at Angelina, but Angelina countered it with her sweetest smile. Mrs Hingh appeared to come to the conclusion that Lady Vetinari’s deference was genuine.

 “Well,” she said. “There is much to do indeed. Very well then, let’s get the reproductive juices flowing!”

There was a pregnant 4) pause. Even the triplets were silent.

“I think you mean ‘creative juices’, dear,” said the elder Mrs Winter gently.

1)       No Olaf Quimby II reference here, management have decided to ration them.

2)       Henry tried very hard not to draw any conclusions from this.

3)       Even by dwarf standards, a beard that reaches the ankles is considered worthy of comment. Lucky was unlikely ever to let anyone know that the secret of this splendour came out of a little green bottle.  

4)       Obviously.  

~oOoOo~

The Ankh-Morpork Times – Special edition

The Truth Shall Make Ye Flee

A sensational development took Ankh-Morpork citizens by surprise this afternoon when the owner of the Chairman of the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, Mr Moist von Lipwig, declared publicly that the current political crisis would be resolved by holding general elections.

Several thousand citizens witnessed his speech in front of the Bank of Ankh-Morpork. The crowd had gathered over concerns regarding the value of the Ankh-Morpork dollar (The Times reported), and Mr Lipwig was initially expected to address this issue, but after a brief statement about the connection of monetary stability with civic trust he preceded to announce the first ever general elections in the city. His declaration was greeted with thrilled approval by most of the assembled.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” said popular seafood vendor Ms Verity Pushpram (36), “and I’d be sure to cast my vote for Lord Vetinari.” Mr Hamish Buttock (43), an attorney from Attic Bee Street, said he welcomed the move as another sign of Ankh-Morpork’s progressive outlook. “I’m a great opera fan, so my vote will go to Downey,” said Habakuk Crivens (67), a retired foot powder dealer from Wixons Alley. Within an hour, graffiti in support of both of candidates were appearing on public buildings. 

It is as yet unclear whether this decision has been endorsed by the guild council, or who in fact authorized Mr von Lipwig to make the announcement. Lord Downey was not available for comment at the time of going to print, but promised a press conference for tomorrow morning.

General elections are a novelty on Sto Plain ground, but have a long tradition in Ephebe, where the system of democracy is held to be vastly superior to all other forms of government.

 

~oOoOo~

Somewhere in a rather abstract and metaphorical dimension, the dangerous Idea relaxed and leaned back in the figurative equivalent of a warm bath. With extra bubbles. It had all gone exceptionally well, because not only had it succeeded in taking control of that one interesting creature’s brain and mouth, but also in planting its seeds into the minds of many, many others. So it was sure that it would come into flower, and sooner rather than later, for as far as ideas go, it was irresistible. The Idea raised a metaphorical glass of champagne and congratulated itself.

~oOoOo~

In search of his missing wife, Lord Vetinari had arrived at Henry and Tvoolia’s house shortly after the Hingh clan had departed for their hotel. In the hallway, he passed Goldy and Lucky on their way out, courteously greeted his sister-in-law, who glided off towards the kitchen with a promise to make tea, and entered the parlour, where Angelina welcomed him with a radiant smile.

“Havelock! You’ll never guess! Tvoolia just told me that Henry has found a flat for us, in Zephire Street. We can go and see it first thing tomorrow morning and get everything organised.”

“That won’t be possible, Angelina,” he replied. “There has been a very unexpected development, which may well work in my favour, and I cannot afford to leave it to its own devices. Mr Lipwig has taken it into his head to declare a general election, and if I can get the guild council to agree to this, beating Downey shouldn’t be a problem. But there are a number of things I need to see to in order to bring this about. I don’t have time to look at a flat with you, I’m afraid.”

“It’ll only take a couple of hours. If we don’t go tomorrow, the landlord cannot make another appointment until next week!”

“We’ll wait until next week then.”

“But Havelock, this is really important. It will make such a difference to us to have our own place.”

“I dare say a few days more or less will not be of great import in this matter.”

“Why do you always, always have to come up with some kind of slippery answer?”

“Angelina, you are being hormonal. I choose not to reply to this.”

 “Oh, you’re horrible to me. I wish I had married Chas!”

Her exclamation caused strange echoes on an otherwise highly irrelevant metanarrative plane.

“Why didn’t you?” replied Vetinari coolly. “Constantin told me he was yours for the asking.”

“What do you mean, Constantin told you? What does he know about it?”

“My dearest Angelina, you didn’t think I let you go back to Pseudopolis unsupervised?”

“You mean you spied on me? You let Constantin spy on me?”

“Why would that surprise you? You said yourself that I spy on everybody.”

The frown that had wrinkled her nose as soon as he had shown resistance to her plans, was beginning to soften.

“Well, yes,” she said, “but not ... You had me watched the whole time?”

“Of course. How else could Dr Donovan have hurried so promptly to your sickbed?”

A swift reconciliation would have been possible at this point, had not Tvoolia come in with the tea tray. Lord Vetinari glanced at the sofa, detected a considerable dent in the seat and sat down in one of the armchairs. Tvoolia handed him a cup of tea and offered the cake plate. Figgins again. He sighed, but took one anyway. Angelina was already half finished with hers. She didn’t look at him.

As soon as he had emptied his cup, he made an apologetic nod in Tvoolia’s general direction, placed the figgin on the side table and rose from his seat.

“If you will excuse me now. I can’t stay any longer. Angelina, you will wait here for your brother to take you home. Thank you for the tea, Tvoolia.”

He slipped out before Angelina could make any objections. Actually, she hadn’t looked as if she was going to speak to him in the immediate future anyway.

~oOoOo~

 

It was rather late in the afternoon when Henry and Angelina set off from the house in Dolly Sisters. Henry had intended to get a hired coach again, but Angelina had beseeched him to walk. She was profoundly sick of being indoors all the time and yearned for some fresh air. Not that this was currently available in Ankh-Morpork, but walking in the streets under the open sky gave her at least the illusion of freedom. Of course, it was also a handy way to rebel against Havelock, though she didn’t quite admit so much to herself.

They had just crossed Esoteric Street when they were addressed by a gentleman in an elegant grey suit, who was well known to both Angelina and her brother. Narrative convention has been clubbed over the head, kidnapped, gagged, and forced to provide this rather convenient coincident. After the generic expressions of surprise had been exchanged, Mr Chas Fawler informed them that he had been going for a stroll and was on the way back to his hotel, the Plaza 5). They decided to continue their way together and stop at the hotel for coffee.

“So, what brought you here, Chas?” asked Henry once they were comfortably seated in the stylish lounge.

 “Everyone comes to Ankh-Morpork sooner or later,” said Chas Fawler and made an evasive gesture with his hand, which almost knocked over the vase on the table.  Angelina caught it just in the time.

 “I don’t think so,” she said. “I mean, we hardly have the space here, and it would make the rest of the Disc fairly empty, don’t you think?”

Chas laughed. “You haven’t changed a bit, Lina.”

“Oh, I hope I have!”

He looked at her earnestly. She avoided his glance and stirred her coffee vigorously. Brown liquid sloshed over the rim.

“Come, now,” said Henry, “enough of this merry banter. You’re here on business, I take it?”

“In a way, yes,” replied Chas. “I’m here for the biannual conference of the Association of Ivory Importers. But it doesn’t start until tomorrow, so for now I’m just enjoying myself.” He flashed a smile at Angelina. “And I was hoping to meet with you somehow. In fact, I was planning to come out to see you tonight. The news of your amazing rescue was just spreading in Pseudopolis the day before I left. The housekeeper at Steventon has given me a parcel for you. I confess the prospect of seeing you sweetened my journey.”

Angelina still stirred her coffee, though most of it was by now on the saucer. She added more milk from the little porcelain jug.

“So how’s Robert?” asked Henry, and this enquiry thankfully steered the conversation into a different direction. It took a while before the relative health and prosperity of all their Pseudopolis connections had been extensively reviewed. By the time the third round of coffees was served, Henry began to fidget.

“Listen,” he said, “I’d better be going, Tvoolia will wonder where I am for so long. I didn’t expect to be walking in the first place, and now we’ve stayed here for almost an hour. I don’t like to keep Tvoolia waiting. Could you do me a favour, Chas, and accompany Lina home?” 

“Certainly,” said Chas.

Angelina gave Henry an imploring look, but failed to think of an innocent reason to object to this plan. Two minutes later he was gone and she was left alone with Chas.

“So,” he said, also suddenly very interested in his coffee cup. “You’re married now?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Is this your engagement ring? You’d have thought he’d give you something a bit more sparkly, illustrious man like that.”

“It’s a speckled salsalite, Chas,” replied Angelina and ran a finger over the gem. “It is very special, but I don’t expect you to understand that.”

“Are you happy with him?”

“I suppose so...”

Currently, her happiness was more of a theoretical nature, but she felt no inclination to tell Chas about her recent quarrel with Havelock. She got up.

“Can we go now, please?”

“Of course, if you wish.”

Chas hastened around the table and offered her his arm.

“Thank you,” she said with a faint smile. “I am quite well enough to walk on my own.”

She marched ahead. When they came out into the reception hall, Chas suddenly called her back.

“The parcel!” he exclaimed. “You mustn’t forget it. Mrs Searle was very keen for you to get it. It’s in my room, on the fourth floor. Let’s go up together, you’ll like the view.”

Angelina considered briefly to refuse on grounds of propriety, but dismissed the notion as priggish. She followed Chas up the classy looking stairs. By the time they reached the fourth floor, she felt rather breathless.

“Here we are,” said Chas as he waved her into the immaculately tidy and comfortable room. Angelina stepped in and stood near the door. Chas walked up to the diamondwood desk and picked up a parcel, which he handed to Angelina. It was about a foot square and neatly wrapped up with brown paper and string. A suspicion seized her. She held it up to her nose and sniffed. Figgins. She had to laugh.

“You are looking very kissable, Lina,” said Chas.

She raised her eyebrows, but the effect was spoiled by the blush that crept over her cheeks.

“Do I? In that case I’d better get home to make sure I’ll be kissed by the right man.”

She held the parcel in front of her like a shield. Chas took it out of her hands and put it back on the desk.

“Lina,” he said in a whisper. “Will you turn me down a third time? This time I only want a kiss!”

“Whatever for, Chas?”

“To cherish the memory.”

She couldn’t help thinking how much he looked the same, just like during those few carefree months they had spent together so long ago. It was only when he stepped closer that she noticed the lines on his forehead and the touches of grey in his wavy blonde hair. He had to be, what, forty by now? His eyes, though, were unchanged, pale blue, child-like and ever so gentle. Gentle... She drew back her shoulders.

“That’s a nonsense, Chas. You have other memories of us, older ones.”

“They are fading.”

“Then so would this one.”

“Not for a while.”

He had come very close to her. She recognized his scent: sandalwood soap, still the same after all those years. One evening, when they had sat under a chestnut tree in the park and the bluebells were in full bloom, tepid summer air had wafted around their heads and an early moon had appeared even before the sunset - he was right, there were memories to be cherished...

“Lina,” he whispered. “One kiss!”

And then his lips were on hers, soft, sweet, not demanding but persuading... Kind Chas, tender Chas, Chas who had always adored her.

“But, Chas - ” she murmured.

“Don’t talk, just kiss,” he replied, and immediately proceeded to follow his own advice.

Afterwards she would think that because he told me to was no excuse. For now, she believed it was. She relented. Without further thought of prudence or decorum or Havelock she allowed herself to be pressed against his body and decided to let him create the memory he desired.

When at last he broke the kiss, she stepped back and drew breath.

“Chas,” she said quietly. “I am leaving now.”

He cast down his eyes. There was a very long and awkward pause.

“I am sorry, Lina.”

“Don’t be,” she said, with more tenderness in her voice that she had intended. “Really, don’t. But I must go, because I can’t trust myself in this situation.”

She picked up her parcel and made for the door. With her hand on the doorknob, she turned back to him.

“Thank you for the kiss,” she said. “It was very welcome.”

And then she fled.

5)       Which was, obviously, located at the Plaza of Broken Moons.

Chapter Text

Nobody will be surprised to hear that the arrival of the clacks – the real clacks from the bank to the guild councilcaused a fair amount of stir over the next couple of days. The press conference developed into a rather turbulent affair not much short of a riot, but then, somehow, things settled down. One or two, nay, even three or four of the civic leader gave cautious signs of approval, and once a beginning had been made, more followed. The political genius of Havelock Vetinari alone would have hardly been enough to make the guild council relinquish so much of its power, but with The Idea being so very persuasive, even against some people’s better judgement, and The Times trumping it as a fait accompli, resistance turned out much weaker than expected and in any case futile. And while some guild leaders secretly vowed that von Lipwig would pay for this, few felt inclined to deny making a decision which had proved to be so very popular. In fact, some began to pretend, if not actually believe, that it had indeed been their very own idea. Lord Downey was all in favour of it, too. He had no doubt that his superior people skills would guarantee his victory and he revelled in the prospect of having his rule universally endorsed. This time, he’d be the one to have one over bloody Vetinari!

So within three days of Mr Lipwig’s astonishing speech, the civic leaders of Ankh-Morpork had generally accepted The Idea - despite the occasional nightmare it still gave them - and started to attend to the nitty-gritty technicalities of putting it into practice. This proved a surprisingly controversy-prone endeavour.

The Idea had come, as it were, with strings attached, in a neat little parcel that planted some preconceived thoughts in the minds of the people. Thus it was largely agreed that while it was a wonderful concept that everyone should have their say, it was nevertheless obvious that “everybody” could not exactly mean everybody. There had to be limits, hadn’t there?  Surely citizens allowed to vote would have to be of a certain ... standard? One wouldn’t want, for example, criminals to vote? Or people who lived under bridges and wore ducks on their heads? And before the influential women in the city could so much as blink, a sizeable majority of men had declared that there was one group of people that certainly could not be included in the process of democracy, and that was females.

“What on the Disc gave them that idea?” asked Cheery Littlebottom after she had read an article to that effect in the Times.

“They say that females can’t be trusted to vote rationally,” replied Sally von Humpeding.

“Why not?”

“Allegedly, once a month they’re not quite themselves,” said Angua.

~oOoOo~

Even two days later Angelina was still imagining that the forbidden kiss was visible as a faintly glowing mark on her face. She dreamt of it at night, which made for an embarrassing awakening with her body all tingly and the picture of Chas in her mind where a picture of Havelock should have been. It wasn’t as if she wanted to think of Chas. In fact, she’d much rather not, not the least because she was determined never to speak to him again, and she felt sorry for him, and for herself, on that account. It seemed awfully unfair that a rash little exclamation during a trivial squabble (for that was all it had been, and she had made up with Havelock the same evening) should have landed her in such a predicament. She wasn’t sure whether to tell Havelock or not. He had enough to worry about as it was.

She turned over and looked at him, at his lean, tanned face with the neat beard resting against the white pillow. He slept so silently - his breaths were barely audible even when she brought her face up close to his. With his eyes closed, he looked less formidable, but by no means weak. The coiled power of his mind and body was almost tangible on his brow. She knew that if she touched him, he would wake instantly.

And somehow, she couldn’t resist. She stretched out her hand and ran the back of her finger across his forehead. As she had expected, his eyes snapped open and he sat up.

“Lina,” he said. “Is something the matter?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Ah. And you wish me to share in your misery?”

“Oh, Havelock!” She fiddled with her braid and wondered if she should tell him about Chas right now. But it seemed silly. He would probably think her very unreasonable. However, some reason for waking him up had to be given.

“I’m so confused about this election business. It worries me. How can you be so sure that you’ll win against Downey?” she asked.

“Do you think it’s possible that he’ll win?”

“Well, no, not really, but how can you be sure? I mean, are you just going to rely on people voting for you?”

“Yes, I think I think I can,” he said. “It’s a number game. There is bound to be a select minority who will vote for me because they appreciate that my rule is best for the city, and I could never win an election on their support alone. But that is not a problem, because reasons don’t matter. There will be people voting for me because of some advantage or other they’ve had through me in the past.  There will be people voting for me because they’re afraid of what I’ll do if they don’t. There will be people voting for me because I’ve been through a lot, been hard done by, suffered much, la-dee-dah la-dee-dah. Some will even vote for me because I have such a sweet little wife. And I confess I rather count on getting most of the female vote.”

“But they just announced that females won’t be allowed to vote.”

Havelock looked at her with patient incomprehension.

“Did you plan on putting up with that?” he asked. “Do you think Sybil will put up with it? Or Ms Cripslock? Or Mr Lipwig’s charming young woman?”

“No, of course not, but… but I can’t quite see what we can do about it.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

Angelina opened her mouth and then closed it again. She frowned and then reached up to her face to smooth out the wrinkles this had caused.

“Have you just given me a task to do?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Silence. Then Angelina sighed, a deep sigh of considerable satisfaction.

“Havelock?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

~oOoOo~

 

Announcements

A meeting will be held on Sunday, 7th of Grune at the home of Lady Ramkin-Vimes at eight pm to address the question of women’s right to vote. All ladies interested in this issue are welcome to attend. Light refreshments will be served.

 

~oOoOo~

Lady Sybil had underestimated the interest in The Cause. Even given that a considerable fraction of Ankh-Morpork’s female population couldn’t read or at least wouldn’t read The Times, and even given that among those who did read it, a comfortable majority didn’t have the nerve to ring the door bell at the home of the Duchess of Ankh, yes, even considering that some women for inexplicable reasons didn’t want the vote, the crowd descending on the mansion in Scoone Avenue was still surprisingly large. Sybil had expected maybe a two or three dozen females of the “ladies who organise” variety and had instructed Willikins to set out tea cups and plates with biscuits 1) accordingly. However, under the circumstances she had to admit that even the hall could not hold several hundred people. So the meeting was transponed 2) onto the lawn and instead of handing round delicate porcelain cups of finest Istanzian tea, Willikins was serving cider with a ladle out of a barrel into paper cups that had been left over from Sybil’s annual charity garden party.

Flanked by Angelina and Rosemary Palm, Sybil perched on a garden chair on top of an impromptu podium erected from empty dragon fodder crates. Two interchangeable Emmas, who had volunteered to take notes, were seated immediately next to the podium. Sybil surveyed the assembly and identified familiar faces. There was Mr Lipwig’s young woman and that Miss Cripslock from the newspaper, and Benelisse Venturi with her eternally vacant expression. That nice girl, Havelock’s sister-in-law. The intimidating woman from the post office. That fish vendor with the terrible strabismus. A group of dwarves, not all of them visibly female. Over by the hydrangea beds some watch officers clustered together; Sybil could see Sergeant Angua talking intently to Constable von Humpeding. Sergeant Detritus’s Ruby was also there with a few troll friends. Even Jocasta Wiggs had braved the terrors of the Ramkin estate once again; she stood with a handful of other young assassins in a neat semi-circle around their teacher, Miss Alice Band. And in the very, very far corner the golem known as Gladys leaned against the shed.

Sybil sighed in her most genteel manner. She felt furious enough to say some very tetchy things to Donald and she was not entirely convinced that this palaver approach was going to lead to anything good, but Angelina had insisted. And of course, she was quite willing to do her bit to support Havelock, but personally, she’d have preferred to have it out directly with Donald. And that man Snaigilla. But this was supposed to be democracy, so it had to be done in a certain way. She took a deep breath.

“Dear ladies, welcome – “

How did one address such a heterogeneous group?

“Welcome to this meeting. You have been brought here by concerns about the guild council’s decision to exclude women from the vote in the upcoming election - ”

“Actually, I was brought here by a hired cab,” hissed Mrs Palm.

Sybil turned and looked at her.

“Would you like to address this meeting?” she asked.

“Not just now,” replied Mrs Palm. “I’m still trying to stop myself from exploding. Maybe later.”

 With a dignified shrug of the shoulders, Sybil once again turned her face and voice towards the assembled females, who presented a picture of polite attention, though it was obvious that under the calm surface, a volcanic eruption of acrimony was just waiting for its cue.

“I think we are all in agreement here that women have as much right to vote as men. Ankh-Morpork has always respected the power of women.”

“Of some anyway! Hem, hem,” came a rather catty voice from the crowd. A few whistles followed.

“How come the seamstresses have a guild, but the housewives don’t, eh?”

“Right!”

Disgruntled muttering surged up.

“Let’s not quarrel, ladies,” Mrs Palm called from her seat. “If we want to prevail in this matter, we must show ourselves united. Please let Lady Sybil continue.”

Sybil smiled regally.

“Mrs Palm is right. It would be petty to bring up any such grudges here and now, when we are concerned with quite a different matter. The announcement that women will not be allowed to vote has been based on the most infamous allegations against our intelligence and our sanity. We must make it clear that we will not suffer such insult and that this decision is one we cannot accept without protest.”

“Hear, hear!”

“Arrogant gits!”

“What kind of protest?”

“Men have no regard for decorum and decency!”

“Why do women want the vote?” said Benelisse Venturi in her valium-tainted voice to Miss Maccalariat, who happened to stand next to her. Miss Maccalariat gave her a look that would have shrunk the holes in Lady Venturi’s socks, had there been any.

Sybil raised a hand.

“Please, ladies!”

The hubbub didn’t exactly die down, but at least suffered the equivalent of a healthy dose of flu. 3)

“The newspaper reports of the guild meeting have been alarming enough,” said Sybil, “but contained only the information released by the speaker at the press conference. Apparently, there were other things said at the meeting, things that are an insult to every woman in this city. I will now call on Mrs Palm to give us a clearer picture.”

Rosemary Palm rose from her chair and straightened her shoulders. Her face, usually so amiable and inviting, was tense with barely suppressed anger.

“The guild council meeting began with a rather sensible motion to define who should be allowed to vote. It was widely agree that convicted criminals, certified lunatics and those under the age of seventeen should not be included in the electorate. We - ”

“And why would that be?” shouted Jocasta Wiggs, who had another three weeks to go till her birthday. 

“Darling, we had to draw the line somewhere,” said Mrs Palm, “and seventeen is the age of majority in the Sto Plains. Anyway, the motion went through without any difficulties, when it suddenly emerged that Mr Slant had already drawn up a draft proclamation that invited all adult males of good reputation to sign up for the electoral roll. Until then, it had not even occurred to me or my female colleagues that women might be excluded from the democratic process. We were speechless for a moment, while the male members of the guild council applauded.”

Angry murmurs and hisses came from the crowd.

 “Queen Molly, who is unable to be here today,” continued Mrs Palm, “was the first to recover her wits. She demanded to hear reasons for this abominable suggestion. And she was told.... And she was told....” Mrs Palm clenched her fists and closed her eyes for a few seconds. “She was told that a woman’s place is in the home.”

Stunned silence from the post office clerks, small business women, watch officers, trainee assassins, journalists and other females who spent less time in their homes than the average sloth spends in the gym. The only sound to be heard was that of Sacharissa Cripslock’s pencil racing across her notepad.

Mrs Palm pulled a sheet of paper out of her handbag and peered at it.

“Lord Downey,” she said into the hush, “then spoke up and declared that he had the highest respect for women and all the admirable contributions they make to society within the limits of their abilities. I asked him what those limits would be, and then Mr Slant said it was obvious that women had inferior powers of intellect and were less mentally stable.”

“That’s abysmal!”

“Just let me get my hands on that dusty old fart!”

“How dare they!”

Mrs Palm made soothing gestures from the podium and once again the noise subsided. She referred again to her notes.

“Of course the women among the guild leaders expressed their disagreement with this kind of view, and pointed out that - ”

“Don’t forget Snaigilla!” yelled a stunning woman at the back of the crowd.

“I was just getting to that, Dixie,” said Mrs Palm. “Mrs Dixie Voom here demanded to see some evidence for the claim that women were less intelligent than men, to which Mr Snaigilla replied that the evidence was right in front of him, because where there’s so much bosom, there can hardly be much brain.”

Cries of rage drowned out whatever else Mrs Palm had to say about the guild council meeting. She was seen for another half minute or so moving her lips, but it had little more than the effect of a goldfish mouthing in a goldfish bowl. She sat down. Sybil, crimson in the face, stood up and boomed over the din.

“Listen up!”

As is well known, Sybil was used to people obeying her commands, and so they did.

“We need to make our voices heard,” continued Sybil, encouraged by an emphatic nod from Angelina, “and we need to make it heard loud and clear. For that purpose, Mrs Palm, Lady Vetinari and I propose to form a union. The Women’s Ostentatiously Outspoken Political Society with the aim to assure full voting rights for women. We shall write letters to the editorial of The Times and raise public awareness with a poster campaign. For fundraising, we have envisaged a coffee morning next Tuesday –“

A bout of cynical laughter interrupted her.

“A coffee morning? Letters to the newspaper? Do you really believe that’s going to change their minds?” That was Mr Lipwig’s young woman. Her face was obscured by smoke. “They’ll just laugh at you. It takes more than that to enlighten a blockhead.”

A murmur of agreement arose.

“I say we give dem de gahanka,” said Ruby.

Numerous females turned round and stared at her. After the events that had almost sparked off a civil war a couple of years ago, many Ankh-Morpork citizen knew enough Troll to understand that particular piece of vocabulary.

“Don’ look at me like dat,” said Ruby. “It der only language dey understand.”

1)       And figgins.

2)       Since there would have been no point in postponing it.

3)       We do not carry oxymoron warnings today.

~oOoOo~

The Brass Bridge was as good a place as any for keeping out of trouble on a busy Octeday afternoon, and Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs of the Ankh-Morpork city watch knew this well enough to be seeking out that particular spot significantly more often than their duties warranted. Besides, they frequently used this viewpoint to monitor the continued recovery of what they considered part of Ankh-Morpork’s cultural heritage. The combined efforts of Lord Vetinari and his Envious Mental Health Officer to clear up the putrid waters of the river Ankh had not found favour with the two dedicated watchmen.

On the current occasion, they leaned over the parapet to conduct one of their floating experiments. To their right, a banner attached to the railings read “LORD VETINARI. A NAME YOU CAN TRUST,” while at the far end of the bridge a placard tacked to a lamppost demanded’ “MAKE YOUR CHOICE COUNT. CHOOSE DOWNEY.” Nobby and Colon paid no attention to either of these edifying proclamations, but watched with satisfaction how an apple core dropped from the bridge not only stayed afloat, but actually performed a tiny bounce off the surface. Sergeant Colon stuck out his chest proudly and clapped a meaty hand on his colleague’s pathetic excuse for a shoulder.

“Look at it, Nobby. That river’s got personality.”

“Indeed,” said a voice from behind them.

Sergeant Colon felt his vital organs slowly sagging. 4)

It was not, as such, a particularly menacing voice or even a loud one. But it had a soggy, muddy, organic quality about it that made one think of silt and slime and half-rotted boots, and more importantly made one feel extremely disinclined to turn round and see the owner of that voice. However, due to that kind of terrified fascination that has resulted in so many infamous last lines 5), turn they did with the jerky movements of people whose feet are trying to overrule their brains or, possibly, the other way round.

It was huge. Its head loomed way above the roofs of the three-storey buildings flanking the bank of the river. Yet the gut-meltingly horrifying thing about it was not its size but, if one may put it like that, the texture. The doughy brown waters of the river had drawn together into what resembled the body of a man, or maybe a troll, but the surface was anything but solid. Little waves rippled over what might otherwise be considered the skin of the creature and right in front of the watchmen’s flabbergasted faces a mushy pizza box floated gently from the navel up to the shoulder of The River.

“Hello,” said the creature. “I’m Ankh.”

Sergeant Colon had turned white in the face, as narrative convention demands that he does at this point. The cigarette end fell out of Corporal Nobbs’ mouth, which was sufficient evidence that his jaw had indeed dropped.

“Um, hello?” he said and gave a little wave.

“I feel like shit,” said Ankh.

4)       The narratively desirable and the anatomically possible are not always compatible. 

5)       Such as, “Don’t worry, I’m sure it only wants to play.”

Chapter Text

The Temple of Blind Io was endowed with all the fittings the main shrine of a supreme deity usually requires, and then some. The pillars carried luxuriously carved capitals which had puzzled scholars for centuries in that they seemed to depict a species of Fourecksian rodent which would have been unknown on the Sto Plains at the time the temple was built. There were gilded candleholders, frisky frescos, chill marble statues and more incense burners than the health and safety regulations of more organised universes would have allowed. And there were putti. Rather a lot of putti. Angelina, seated at the front of the nave next to her husband, found herself gradually unnerved by exposure to so much cherubial bum cheek. She fixed her gaze on the main altar, where her brother stood next to a pale young man with a mane of flamboyant brown curls, her sister Cassandra’s long-standing boyfriend.

“I’m surprised Henry has asked Joaquin to be his Best Man,” she whispered to Havelock. “I would have thought he’d choose Felix. He could always have found another organist. Joaquin is someone we barely know.”

“I cannot begin to attempt to fathom the reasons behind your brother’s decisions,” he replied.

Angelina began to feel that the disadvantage of sitting in the front row was the distance from the entrance and the fact that pretty much everybody else sat behind her. This sheltered her from Chas, should he be in the congregation, as she was pretty sure he would be, but beyond that it was most inconvenient indeed. Standing up to look around was out of the question; Miss Winter wouldn’t have deemed it proper, and Lady Vetinari most emphatically couldn’t do such a thing, but every now and then she turned her head and craned her neck to take another glance at the assembly.

“I can’t see Cassandra anywhere,” she murmured in Havelock’s ear. “Can you?”

Lord Vetinari rose from his seat. Leisurely, he made his way across to the other side, the hem of his robe gently swinging. There he stood for a couple of minutes, while he leaned on the top of his cane with both hands, and made polite conversation with Mrs Hingh. The lady was too flattered by this gesture of distinction, and fancying the eyes of every person in the room on herself she hardly noticed that the gentleman’s attention seemed to be drawn more by the sight of the congregation than by her words. After a while, he made a slight bow and returned to his place beside his wife.

“She is not here,” he said, “and neither is your brother Robert.”

“What could have happened?” said Angelina, alarm rising in her voice. Vetinari shrugged.

“A traffic pile up, I would imagine. Or possibly, they had their carriage clamped by Sergeant Colon.”

“But they could just walk.”

“Ah, yes, you know what it’s like: Leaving the house too late and finding the carriage unavailable, then setting off at a run, overtaking a couple of joggers on the way and dropping the sash. I expect they’ll arrive here at the same time as the bride and we’ll see Cassandra walking in with the back of her dress open all the way down to her knickers.”

Angelina stared at him. He blinked.

“Did I just say that?” he asked.

“You did. What on the Disc came over you?”

“I don’t know. Never mind. I’m sure there is a perfectly harmful explanation for it.”

They were prevented from pursuing this topic further by the swishing noise made by two-hundred festively dressed people rising from their seats. Seconds later Felix’s hands came down on the manual and the tune of the wedding march filled the room. At least, it filled such spaces as were not currently occupied by wedding guests, furniture or decorative bits of architecture. At ground level, there wasn’t a lot of that, and so the music was forced to hover precariously over the heads of the congregation. Since her place wasn’t near the aisle, Angelina was now completely prevented from seeing anything apart from the gowns of the nearest ladies. If there were any murmurs of wonder among the guests, they were drowned out by the organ. Therefore surprise hit her - not quite literally but close enough - straight in the face when at last she saw that not one but two couples had walked to the altar. There was Mr Hingh with a radiant Tvoolia on his arm, and next to him Robert Winter with Cassandra. Henry and Joaquin stepped forward simultaneously and received the ladies. All four turned to face the priest, while the two older men shuffled back and sat down.

Angelina looked at Vetinari, who shrugged.

“You always told me your sister was good at keeping a secret.”

“But not from me!”

“There’s a first time for everything, or so they say.”

Hughnon Ridcully gave them a reproachful glance and they ceased their whispered conversation and watched in silence as this man and this woman and this man and this woman were joined in holy matrimony, without parsimony or need for alimony, but with all due ceremony that befitted their patrimony. 1)

The Temple of Blind Io had been built with two side entrances each to the left and to the right, not so much in a providential anticipation of the need for emergency exits, but for ceremonial purposes. It was felt that the appearance of a procession of choir boys from the wings lent a certain dramatic flair to the rituals. In this case, however, it was just as well that a variety of escape routes was available, because when the two newly married couples turned towards their assembled wedding guests, their eyes were drawn to the entrance and the smiles froze on their faces.  2)

1)       Attempts to include further words ending in –mony into this sentence were finally abandoned by the author when a serious migraine set in.

2)       Olaf Quimby II has taken on a new persona and now hassles me in the guise of my beta. So let it be said that this is, indeed, an abysmal metaphor. Fortunately, I can at least wash my hands of having invented it.

 

~oOoOo~

Two hours later the Winter brothers had succeeded in rounding up most of the wedding guests, after Henry had decreed that Tvoolia wouldn’t be done out of her reception for a second time. The crowd thus assembled in the ball room of the Assassin’s Guild may have looked a little less festive than wedding parties generally do, what with some of the ladies having lost hats or even shoes in the affray and many of the gentlemen having loosened their bow ties during flight and not yet having had the presence of mind to tighten them again, but the grim determination of the bridegroom 3) to make the event a success prompted people to aspire at least to broad, if somewhat forced smiles -  when they thought Henry was looking, at any rate. Conversation, however, was decidedly incongruent.

“And Cassandra is looking so radiant! Well, I’ve always said she is the most delightful girl in the world.”

“Yes, very true. Well, I’m glad this is such a sturdy building. Do you think it can get in here?”

“No, the doors are barred.”

“Tvoolia’s gown is just delightful!”

“Indeed. Not even King Shul in all his splendour was dressed so beautifully. Shocking thing to have this monster appear in the middle of the ceremony!”

“I say, Lord Vetinari would never have put up with this kind of thing! But Downey just doesn’t –“

“Oh, let’s not talk politics, this is a wedding! The music was just wonderful; it brought a tear to my eye.”

“I’ve never had such a fright in my life. What is it? Do you think it is really dangerous?”

“The Watch will take care of it, I’m sure. Who are these three girls that all look the same?”

“Tvoolia’s younger sisters, I believe. Quite frankly, I think they’re terrible brats. What outrageous outfits and the way they  -  ah, Mrs Hingh, we were just talking about your charming daughters. You must be so proud!”

“What beautiful table decorations! Pink roses are my favourite flowers.”

“The smell of it! The smell of it was just awful.”

“I saw it heading up Broadway. It’s probably left the city by now.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I think we’re supposed to sit down now. Have you seen which table you’re at?”

Once the wedding party was settled for their meal, Mrs Hingh dominated most of the conversation in her immediate vicinity with a eulogy on her wonderful new son-in-law.

“Such a charming young man, you know, and very, very clever. And so accomplished with his hands, why, he’s even managed to fix my spectacles. I was quite distraught that the rivet had come out, and I had put them on the table in the parlour not knowing what to do, and when I came downstairs after getting changed, there he was in the most obliging manner in the world, fastening in the rivet of my spectacles. The rivet came out, you know, this morning. So very obliging!”

Angelina sat musing about Reverend Ridcully’s sermon on loyalty. Her bad conscience nibbled at her mind with the same persistence with which she nibbled at the marinated chicken wings. 4) It was hard to say whether the discomfort of her feelings was the result of conscience or of hormones. Just when she had come to the conclusion that she really ought to tell Havelock, she saw Constantin Greenaway approaching and leaning over his shoulder.

“We have not managed to apprehend it, sir,” he whispered.

Havelock rose from his seat.

“I need to go, Angelina,” he said. “Make my apologies, please, and see to it that someone takes you home.”

She turned and grabbed his wrist.

“But Havelock! Where are you going?”

“There is some form of ambulant cesspit walking about my city. Don’t you think that’s more important than hearing the father of the bride give a cheesy speech?”

He glanced down at her hand with a slight air of irritation.

“Wait!” she said. “I need to talk to you urgently.”

She stood up and led him into a quiet corner of the room, behind an enormous vase of delphiniums.

“What is it?” he said, visibly impatient. Angelina bit her lip, then took the plunge.

“I betrayed you,” she said.

His face remained blank.

“Did you? How so?”

“I let Chas kiss me.”

Vetinari raised both eyebrows. Then he rubbed his beard thoughtfully.

“And did that experience further fuel your desire that you were married to him rather than me?”

“Havelock! That was just said in the heat of the moment. I didn’t mean it!”

“But nevertheless you kissed him?”

“I let him kiss me. There is a difference.”

“Is there? Well, you should know. I am puzzled as to why you are telling me this. Do you or do you not want to continue being married to me?”

“Of course I do! But I – “

“Then why did you bring up this whole subject in the first place? Were you looking for some tearful scene of confession and absolution? Angelina, I really haven’t time for this kind of drama at the moment. If you feel guilty about your lack of self-control, I’m afraid you’ll have to seek your own way of dealing with that. I find the task of saving the city from an anthropomorphic personification of the river or whatever it may be a little more pressing. We can speak about it some more later, if you wish.”

With this, he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and briskly deprived the party of his company. Angelina gave a heartfelt sigh. Then she noticed that the throng around the buffet table had thinned out. She walked over and picked up another plate.

3)       One of the bridegrooms I should say, really, but Joaquim is so easily forgotten, being the kind of person who is mostly just dragged along.

4)       One may ponder on the significance of this remarkable coincidence that once again marinated chicken wings had found their way onto her plate at a wedding reception. Or one may just dismiss it, of course.

~oOoOo~

There was a tinkling noise. It was caused by a number of tiny golden charms that were attached to a bracelet, which in turn adorned the chubby wrist of a dwarf. The dwarf was Corporal Cheery Littlebottom of the Ankh-Morpork city watch, and she had set the bracelet charms in motion when she had reached up to her face to rub her beard. Beside her, Lance-constable Greenaway exhaled sharply.

They stood on the junction of Short Street and Heroes Street, the venue of a popular street market. It looked as if it wasn’t going to be so very popular in the foreseeable future.

“Holy cow!” exclaimed Greenaway.

The debris was reminiscent of the scene after a hurricane. Stalls had been knocked to the ground, their timber splintered, their goods strewn all over the place. Foul smelling puddles filled every dip in the street surface. A lamppost was snapped just above ground level. It had fallen into the display window of the shop behind, leaving a glittering halo of glass shards on the pavement. A little further along the street, several hundred broken eggs formed a slimy miniature ocean.

Here and there, people were crawling out from under the wreckage. It seemed that there were no deaths to mourn, but broken limbs, cuts and bruises were in plentiful supply. The Lady Sybil Free Hospital would see a lot of patients before the day was out.

Corporal Littlebottom and Lance-constable Greenaway began to proceed across the disaster area. Unbidden like a flu virus, Sacharissa Cripslock appeared beside them, notebook in hand, and kept pace with genteel little steps.

“Good afternoon, officers,” she chirped. “This is A Scene Of Carnage. I’m thinking of No Th-Ankh You as the main headline. Does the Watch have any lead yet?”

Cheery Littlebottom gave her a look which indicated that she considered Sacharissa’s pun to be only marginally less distasteful than the cause of the current catastrophe. She stared at the putrid puddles that had been left in the wake of destruction. It wasn’t her fault if Miss Cripslock couldn’t see a lead when it was right under her nose.

“All roads lead to the river,” she mumbled to herself. “All the big ones anyway. It said its name was Ankh. It didn’t seem evil as such. Did you see that expression in its face? Like a little lost puppy. I wonder what it wanted here?”

She shook her head slowly.

“I think it must have lost patience. Up to here it has avoided walking into anything. And then it just...went for it.”

“But it’s only made of water!” said Greenaway.

“Rather substantial water,” said Cheery. “Have you ever seen a mudslide? I’m from up in the mountains. Seen it lots of time in the spring. When you’ve got a whole avalanche of muddy water coming down a slope, everything in its way just gets razed to the ground.”

Absentmindedly, she picked up a half-rotted pizza carton from the ground.

“This is going to be...interesting,” she said.

Chapter Text

We need not go into details about the following night, especially not where the two bridal couples are concerned. Coy discretion is a personality trait that ought to be cultivated more widely. The Creature known as Ankh, however, caused considerably more damage by just walking straight ahead without care for what was in his way, and only stone structures withstood the muddy onslaught. But around midnight he was seen lurching towards the river, or what remained of it, and soon afterwards an eerie silence settled over the city.

The next morning, Commander Vimes sat in his office and read through the reports submitted by Corporal Littlebottom and Sergeant Colon.

“... at witch point Corporal Nobbes announsed that the apple core floated, to wich I replied, this river has pursonality. At that moment we heard, a voise saying...”

Vimes let the sheet sink. Something about the word personality tugged at the back of his mind. He closed his eyes, but his thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Captain Carrot.

“Good morning, sir!”

Vimes gave a grunt which indicated that the goodness of the morning was debatable.

The Captain stood to attention and began to speak without further ceremony, a sure sign that something was amiss.

“I thought you should know about this, sir. There’s spot of trouble. A few hundred women are coming up the Street of Small Gods in a protest march.” Carrot flipped over a page in his notebook, “They call themselves the Votettes and they’re demanding votes for women. Miss Cripslock and Miss Dearheart are marching in front with a big banner.”

“I don’t think that should worry us, Captain. Banners won’t cause much structural damage.”

“Sir, some of the women are acting rather wild. There are a few trolls with clubs, too. They’re shouting and threatening to set the Post Office on fire.”

“Why the post office?”

“I don’t know, sir. It’s not as if the Post Office is anywhere near the Street of Small Gods. But they’re threatening all right. Several bystanders have been hit with half-rotten fish. Sea bass, I believe.”

“That is assault.”

“Indeed, sir. And a breach of the peace, of course. But that’s not all. Another group headed by Lady Selachii is marching up the Maul with a banner that says NO VOTES FOR WOMEN THANK YOU. There’s only about fifty of them, but some of them look rather fierce, too. And some of them are gentlemen.”

“Amazing,” said Vimes.

“The Hingh girls have been sighted at the Maul, too.”

“Who the hell are the Hingh girls?”

“Tvoolia Winter’s younger sisters. The triplets, sir? I’m sure you remember them from the wedding.”

“Ah. Who could forget? So they’re called Hingh?”

 

“Um, Yes sir. They are walking about in their swimming costumes and with their hair dyed purple, but they don’t seem to have a political agenda as such.”

“I wouldn’t have expected them to have one,” said Vimes. “Is that all?”

“Unfortunately not, sir. There’s a third march of more … moderate ladies coming down Esoteric Street. Their banners say WOOPS.”

WOOPS?”

“Apparently it stands for,” Carrot looked down at his notebook, “Women’s Ostentatiously Outspoken Political Society, and they also demand votes for women, but in a more genteel manner. They are led by your wife, sir, and by Lady Vetinari.”

Vimes stubbed out his cigar and took his helmet.

“I’m afraid, sir, they’re all converging on the Plaza of Broken Moons. I have sent all available watchpersons to keep an eye on the situation.”

Vimes was already at the door. Captain Carrot followed him down the stairs and out by the front entrance. They hastened along the Lower Broadway towards the Brass Bridge.

“Lord Vetinari will not be pleased that his wife is out and about,” said Carrot while he dwarffully kept up with Vimes’ strides.

“That is the least of my worries,” replied Vimes. “She’s hardly alone, is she?”

Just at that moment, Carrot was almost hit in the face by a descending bird. The creature swerved to avoid him and landed on the cobbles, where the gnome Buggy Swires jumped off and gave a miniature and only ever so slightly ironic salute.

“Sir, the Ankh Monster has been seen again. He left the river at the Wood Bridge and is walking towards Sator Square via the Unreal Estate.”

By the time Carrot had accelerated to full speed, Vimes had already reached the Brass Bridge. For all his athletic build, the Captain found it impossible to catch up with the Commander. Thus, when he arrived at the Maul, which was meanwhile deserted, he only just saw Vimes’ figure rushing onto the Plaza of Broken Moons. A minute later, Carrot caught up and quickly took in the situation. It wasn’t too bad, considering. The watchpersons he had deployed earlier seemed to have managed to keep the three groups separated so that conflict was limited to a passionate shouting match across the Plaza.

“Traitors! How can you so undermine the cause of women!”

“How dare you pretend to speak for all women! We are delicate creatures of fine sensitivities, not designed for the rough and dirty game of politics.”

“Don’t talk nonsense! Women aren’t made of sugar!”

“I bet men wish they were!” This exclamation emanated from the mouth of an adolescent girl dressed in a fluorescent green swimsuit. She wore a Fourecksian hat on her purple hair and was flanked by two identical looking young ladies. 1) They had climbed a handy wall in front of a building about half-way between the votettes and the anti-votists.

“Vot vulgar girls!”

That was the voice of vannabe-vampire Doreen Winkins. She wore a large black lace-veiled hat and a No Votes, thank you! rosette pinned to her bountiful bosom in a manner that was entirely genteel and not in the least bit vulgar.

The girls turned to her and stuck their tongues out. One of them casually tossed a manky tomato at Mrs Winkins, which missed its mark and splattered on the cobbles. Carrot looked at Vimes. Vimes shrugged. From her post by the votettes’ assemblage, Constable von Humpeding strolled across the plaza and gave Vimes a salute that was decidedly more sarcastic than that of the gnome Buggy Swires.

“One of the votettes has climbed onto the roof of the Museum of Freelance Archaeology,” she reported, “and knocked down the clacks tower.”

“That’s trespassing and vandalism. And a breach of the peace, of course” said Vimes. He glanced up at the building in question and saw his suspicions confirmed in the shape of Jocasta Wiggs’ silhouette.

“Well, that rather depends on how you look at it,” replied Sally von Humpeding. “I think the breach of the peace happened when one of the guild leaders said that the bigger a woman’s breasts, the smaller her brains.”

Vimes shoulders sagged. He looked over to the far side of the square, where Sybil stood wearing FF cup corsets under her tweed suit next to the less generously endowed, but considerably more openhearted Rosy Palm. The city was lucky that these two had decided not to join the votettes. Meanwhile, the screaming orgy 2) was still in full swing, accompanied by the dull thumping of troll clubs on the pavement.

“Do you propose to leave your husbands alone at home with the chores and the children so you can become politicians?”

“It’ll do them good if we do! Now shut your brainless cakehole!”

“Ladies, please, let’s not make this a mud fight,” boomed Lady Sybil.

As if on cue, the faint sound of shrieks that had been floating over from Sator Square for the last three minutes or so increased in volume and suddenly the muddy shape of Ankh was seen lurching up the Cham. He seemed bigger than the previous day, possibly because it was high tide, and he was trailing a broken cart on his left leg, the luckless cart driver still holding on to the tailgate and panting with the effort of keeping up.

All three factions backed up against the edges of the Plaza as far as the fences and walls would allow. Those furthest back experienced a sudden loss of air in the lungs as those in the front rows abandoned their previously privileged positions. Vimes repeatedly closed and opened his fists, but relaxed a little when he saw Sybil keeping a semblance of order in her group. The little figure of Lady Vetinari looked bewildered and slightly irritated, but didn’t appear to be subject to any immediate threat.

The plaza was wide and by now mostly empty, at least in the middle. Ankh staggered across it with the blank expression on his face which the people of Ankh-Morpork had already identified as a sign that the ability to speak did not necessarily indicate the presence of a brain. He had almost made it to the other side without incident, when a shrill teenage voice resounded across the empty space.

“Hey, Ankh, let’s go skinny-dipping!”

Ankh paused in his mindless roll and turned to look at whichever of the triplets had uttered this choice morsel of a chat-up line. He stared. The girl turned pale and stretched out her arm to point at the cluster of anti-votists to her left. Ankh followed the direction of her gesture and swung first his left fist and then the right into the group. No commercially organised mud fight could have been more effective in producing a display of sludge-covered females. Lady Selachii, Vimes noticed with satisfaction, had been hit fully in the face and was desperately trying to wipe the grime out of her eyes. While elsewhere on the plaza hysteric screams arose, it was disconcertingly quiet among the flattened anti-votists, save for some sobbing and whimpering.

“Sorry,” said Ankh. “Muddy ladies.”

Then he shuddered and went down the Street of Small Gods.

Vimes nodded to Carrot, who broke into a jog and followed the river monster, a handful of watchpersons in tow. With the Captain thus usefully employed, Vimes rubbed his chin and wondered if and how he needed to intervene in the remaining scenario. The anti-votists didn’t seem to have suffered any casualties and were beginning to pick themselves off the ground in a chorus of lamentation about their ruined gowns. Some of the votists kindly offered assistance, which was not met with an entirely gracious air by most of the anti-votists. Sybil led a large group of votists away towards Sator Square, apparently to take them back home for a nice cup of tea with figgins. Vimes saw the head of the golem Gladys sticking out of the group, a peacock feather bobbing on her straw hat. He shuddered. Meanwhile the Hingh triplets had jumped off their wall and were preparing to burn their corsets on a little bonfire which had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. They pulled one piece of lingerie after another out of a little backpack and chucked them into the flames. Vimes was sure they were breaking at least ten different laws, but he hesitated to approach their intensely irritating presence.

Just then, he noticed two things. The first was that CMOT Dibbler was on his hands and knees on the cobbles; his kicked-over tray had spilled onto the street and he was frantically trying to pick up the cheap paper flags on thin wooden sticks which read alternately “Votes for Women” and “No Votes for Women!” The other was that the noise of the troll clubs had stopped and that a large number of the votettes had left the Plaza, apparently in the direction of the Patrician’s Palace.

“Morning, Throat,” said Vimes and stepped around Dibbler and his merchandise. He waved Constable von Humpeding to follow him and marched up the Maul and the Turnwise Broadway in the solid expectation of seeing his suspicion confirmed. They arrived at the Patrician’s Palace just in time to hear the cheering (and more troll club thumping).

The Patrician’s Palace was surrounded by a fence of impressively ornate cast iron railings. To enter the grounds, one needed to pass through a high gate of the same material. Usually, this gate stood wide open, though currently it was not only closed but blocked by several dozen votettes sitting on the ground in neat rows with their arms linked. Ruby and her troll friends stood a little aside, presumably to have space for swinging their clubs. Behind the seated protesters, four women leaned rather nonchalantly against the gate. It was only on closer inspection that Vimes realised they were actually handcuffed to the railings. With watch issue handcuffs. He cast a reproachful look at Constable von Humpeding, who returned his gaze with cool equanimity.

Bloody Vampire!

He surveyed the ranks of the chained up ladies: Sacharissa Cripslock, looking strangely naked without a notebook in her hand, and Miss Dixie Voom incongruously dressed in a tight, thigh-length red velvet dress. Both of them wore expressions of confidence in their utter moral superiority. Not so Adora Belle Dearheart, whose face could have curdled not just milk, but rather mature Lance cheeses. The fourth member of the quartet stared morosely into a couple of incompatible directions. She leaned on a placard planted against the fence next to her that read:

NO VOTES – NO KISSES

WOMEN ON STRIKE!

Vimes wondered whether, carried by Miss Pushpram, this banner was more likely to act as an incentive for a universal ban on women’s votes.

“Good morning, ladies,” he began.

“You can keep it,” snapped Adora Belle Dearheart.

Vimes ignored the comment.

“So, what’s this supposed to be?” he asked.

“That depends on one’s perspective, I suppose,” said Dixie Voom. “You will probably call it loitering with intent or behaviour likely to cause an affray. We call it a disciplined act of civil disobedience.”

Some of the seated votettes cheered. Thud! went the troll clubs.

“Miss Dearheart was not very civil just now,” said Vimes

Adora Belle Dearheart cast a withering look at Vimes’ cigar. Like the other three, she her hands were chained up behind her back.

“Civil disobedience, eh?” said Vimes. “And who exactly is it you’re disobeying?”

Miss Dixie Voom looked momentarily taken aback. She blew a stray strand of hair out of her face and threw back her head.

“Well,” she said, “any minute now you’re going to order us to stop obstructing the entrance to the palace and leave. But we’re not going to.”

Vimes took a puff from his cigar with relish and blew the smoke in the direction of Miss Dearheart.

“I think you’re wrong,” he said. “I think any minute now I’m going to go back to the Watch House and check what paperwork has materialized on my desk. And if you wish to stay here, you’re welcome to it.”

“But this is the Patrician’s Palace!” said Sacharissa Cripslock. “It’s the symbol of patriarchal power and tyrannical oppression!”

Vimes shrugged.

“Just make sure you look after it well then,” he said and wandered off.

1)       For a given value of “lady.”

2)       Keep your dirty thoughts to yourselves, please, dear readers.

~oOoOo~

In the editors’ office of the Ankh-Morpork Times, one of the chief editors was not best pleased.

“Well, at least you haven’t been arrested,” said William de Worde in an attempt to console his enraged votette.

“I should have been arrested!” replied Sacharissa. “That was the whole point. We should all have been arrested and that would have shown the public the moral superiority of our cause.”

She blew her nose loudly and clutched the handkerchief in her fist.

“But Sacharissa, don’t you think that people would normally associate being arrested with being morally – well, suspicious, at least?”

“You don’t understand, William. If Vimes had arrested us, a group of innocent women with immaculate reputations – well, pretty good reputations anyway, and us putting up nothing but passive resistance against the BRUTAL FORCE of the Watch – that would have made us look good and him look bad. But he just walked away and left us standing there like idiots!”

William sighed.

“Dearest,” he said, “I appreciate your enthusiasm and commitment to top quality journalism and all that, but I don’t think you need to get involved on quite such a concrete level.”

“William! You don’t understand! This is not about the paper, this is about… well, it’s just downright wrong if women don’t get the vote.”

“Can’t you serve the cause best if you write about it in the paper?” he asked.

“No.” Sacharissa shook her head and blew her nose again.

“Because the thing is, William,” she continued, “you have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else.* Not just go home because the Watch have decided to ignore you.”

 

“Sacharissa?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“You are one of the chief editors of the principal newspaper in this city. Who stops you from filling it with whatever you like?”

 

“Oh.” She sniffled. “Oh. Now you’ve really made me feel like an idiot.”

 

William tapped his pencil on the desk and shrugged.

“Still,” he said, when his look fell on his notebook, “you don’t appear anywhere near as much an idiot as Pucci Lavish.”

Sacharissa looked up eagerly.

“How so?”

“She seems to have misunderstood your strategy and chained herself to the lamppost in front of the Guild of Exotic Dancers.”

“Oh, good grief!” cried Sacharissa. “She is just so hopeless!”

“Not entirely. I think some old gaffer gave her a fiver. But after an hour she gave up and went and threw herself in front of Lord Selachii’s dog.”

“His dog? Why?”

“He doesn’t keep race horses,” said William. “Look, can we get on with the important stuff now?”

“What could be more important than votes for women?” exclaimed Sacharissa.

“The candidates’ election campaigns, for example. While you indulged in some bondage game in front of the palace trying to get yourself arrested, I attended the press conference inside the palace where both Downey and Vetinari presented their programmes.”

“What do you mean, programmes?”

“Apparently, it’s not just about saying we want this man or than man. Each man is also representing a programme for the improvement of our community.”

“How interesting,” said Sacharissa, clearly not interested.

“Downey promises tax reductions, better road surfaces, relaxed licensing laws and the reopening of the hippodrome.”

“Hm,” said Sacharissa. “Pretty impressive. And what does Vetinari have to say for himself? Reopening of the scorpion pit?”

“Species equality,” said William. “And continued work on the Undertaking, to bring Ankh-Morpork’s traffic  infrastructure onto a par with the advances in communication. Oh, and the reopening of - ”

She blinked. He smirked.

“- the sewage works. He says he’s going to clean up the river again and deal with pollution in Ankh-Morpork once and for all.”

Sacharissa laughed.

“That is interesting indeed,” she said, “in the light of the rumour I’ve heard making the rounds.”

“And what would that be?” asked William.

 “That Lord Vetinari has poisoned the river.”

“But that’s ludicrous!”

“I know,” she said. “But some people will believe it nonetheless.”

She glanced at her diary, which lay open before her on her desk.

“You know who’ll be really interested in that? Lady Vetinari. And I have an appointment with her tomorrow for an interview. But she doesn’t like me and I think she’s dull. What if you do it? I’m sure she won’t be able to resist a handsome young man.”

~oOoOo~

William de Worde suppressed a sigh. Sitting in Lady Sibyl’s drawing room and interviewing Lady Vetinari was not the most thrilling thing he could imagine, but it beat staying in the Times office after Sacharissa had found out that the Hingh triplets had been arrested for public indecency and causing an affray. He attended to his notebook as if the views of a politician’s wife on anything beyond charity fetes were of the utmost importance and tried to increase the handsome-young-man trump with an almost fetching broad smile. 

“Lady Vetinari, would you agree that your current commitment to the votists’ cause is ultimately motivated by your wish to see your husband back in the Oblong Office?”

“No,” said Lady Vetinari.

“No?” William, who had based his hopes of finding Lady Vetinari easy prey, ahem, no, a useful contact, on Sacharissa’s account of her previous meeting with the woman, was temporarily taken aback.

“No. My commitment to the votists’ cause is motivated by my love of justice and fairness.”

He glanced at her. Was there an almost imperceptible touch of smugness on her face?

“But would you not expect a more favourable outcome for Lord Vetinari if women were allowed to vote?”

“Why would I?” She looked at him with big, innocent eyes. William decided to put out another bait.

“It is a well-known fact that His Lordship is surprisingly popular with the ladies.”

“Is he? But isn’t it Lord Downey who is engaged to one of the most fascinating and dazzling women on the Disc?”

The same calm, impassionate look, pleading with him to make her understand his complicated world. He decided to go for the frontal attack.

Do you wish to see your husband in the Oblong Office?”

“Mr de Worde,” replied Lady Vetinari in a soft tone with just the faintest hint of exasperation, “I wish to see my husband on a daily basis, but the location is of much less consequence than you seem to believe. It is not seeing him that I would object to.”

William considered the possibility of her really not understanding him and weighed it against the likelihood of her having him on. Sacharissa had said Lady Vetinari was naïve, but surely she could not be that naïve? He regarded her critically, those round, green eyes, the prim and proper posture, the little hands that lay folded in her lap. Then he noted the very slight trace of amusement around her mouth. No, definitely not that naïve. He didn’t even bother to ask about the river.

Chapter Text

Another day, another problem. Angelina felt guilty. Again. Havelock had been so good. Not only had he forgiven her escapade with Chas without batting an eyelash, but he had seen to it that they moved into their new flat swiftly and smoothly to give her the satisfaction of having her own place and being away from Sir Samuel. And he had praised her for her efforts with the votists, though that had really been mostly Lady Sybil and Mrs Palm, and besides, it hadn’t exactly had any success. He’d even made sure there were figgins for breakfast. She should have been happy and grateful. Instead she struggled with a flat sense of disappointment that Havelock wasn’t at least a little bit jealous; and she missed Sybil, and deep down in her heart she wished that she’d had the guts to make a stance like Sacharissa Cripslock and that curt Miss Dearheart. 1) She also realised that it had been extremely convenient to reside in a household that employed a cook. Her own attempts at producing a tempting breakfast had led to the usual result. Havelock was eating the congealed lumps of egg and soggy bacon without complaint, but also without a word.  

It was a welcome distraction therefore when a rustling sound from the front door indicated that The Times had been delivered. Angelina went into the hall and picked up the paper from where it had fallen through the letterbox onto the doormat. She returned to her chair with the mildly relieved sense of having something to do. 

Much as she normally disapproved of such clichéd displays of emotion, she couldn’t help gasping when she saw the headline. She scanned the article hastily and passed the paper across the breakfast table to her husband.

“Have a look, Havelock!”

He took the paper out of her hand and read out loud:

Divine Diva’s Swan Song

 

Ankh-Morpork music lovers are in shock after the tragic death of opera singer Dame Gina Dulci at the opera house yesterday evening.

The singer, whose age is unknown, had stunned the audience with a stellar performance in her role as Stella in “The Silver Star,” which culminated in what appeared to be a particularly convincing rendition of the ill-fated flower seller’s death. Thunderous applause rewarded the native Genuan star and it was not until the call for encores brought the rest of the cast back on stage that it became evident something was wrong. Tenor Espandrillo Lambourghini (41), who had excelled as Gnoccio, tried to rouse the recumbent diva and eventually turned to the audience asking for a doctor. A medically trained member of the public came forward but could only confirm the soprano’s death. The suspected cause is an unexpected heart attack. Dame Gina has been known to suffer from stress related to her upcoming nuptials, the preparations for which were allegedly not going according to her plans.

 Lord Downey (52), who was expecting to marry the dazzling prima donna in Sektober (The Times reported), was not available for comment. Reliable sources have it that the grieving Patrician has locked himself into his bedroom at the palace.

Meanwhile, devoted Dulci admirers have laid down hundreds of bouquets of flowers at the entrance to the opera house.

Havelock turned the page and folded the paper neatly before proceeding to read the stock market values, this time in silence to himself.

“Well,” said Angelina after a while. “What do you think?”

 He shrugged.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that it cost her life,” he replied, “I’d say she did it on purpose to revenge herself on me.”

“How so?” Angelina wrinkled her nose.

“Isn’t it obvious? Downey will get a significant sympathy vote now. He might win the election purely by merit of this tragic bereavement.”

“Hm.” Angelina frowned. “Do you think maybe ... he did away with her?”

“He’s an assassin, Angelina. Nil Mortifii Sine Lucre. He wouldn’t kill her unless someone else paid him for it.”

Angelina sighed.

“Oh, well,” she said. “There’s only one way you could draw even with him in this matter. Shall I throw myself off the Tower of Art?”

“Do you think you would enjoy that?”

“It would be a novel experience anyway.”

“Hm,” he said and shook his head. “I think we can do better than that.”

 

1)       While this kind of inconsistency is not exclusively observed in pregnant women, nobody else has quite so much of an excuse for it.

~oOoOo~

In his bedroom in the Patrician’s palace, Lord Downey stood by the fireplace and watched the flames slowly consuming the pages of a book.

~oOoOo~

Noon was approaching when Havelock and Angelina left the house to take a little stroll. They walked arm in arm, ostensibly engaged in harmonious and edifying conversation. Both had dressed with particular care, and Angelina had taken pains to tie up her hair a little neater than she usually did. Havelock carried an enormous bouquet of white lilies and gypsophila. They walked through some of the most public areas of the city, across the Plaza of Broken Moons, past the Barbican, along the Turnwise Broadway and over the Brass Bridge. People looked. Havelock made sure they were Seen. A gracious nod of the head here, a dignified wave of the hand there. Every now and then, he affectionately patted Angelina’s arm.

She tried to keep on task and appear stately and decorous, but she also took the opportunity to survey the various placards that were covering pretty much every available wall space. She saw still plenty of “LORD VETINARI. A NAME YOU CAN TRUST” and “MAKE YOUR CHOICE COUNT. CHOOSE DOWNEY” posters, but they were meanwhile outnumbered by “VOTES FOR WOMEN OR ELSE!”, “GENTEEL WOMEN DON’T NEED VOTES!” and “VOTES FOR WOMEN ARE A SENSIBLE AND FAIR IDEA.” Angelina wasn’t sure that the votists’ campaign had chosen the most effective motto.

The display of marital felicity moved down the Lower Broadway and approached the Opera House. The crowd assembled here was a few rungs higher up the social ladder than the average Ankh-Morpork mob. Some had even appeared in full opera dress. Being a somewhat posh kind of building, the Opera House enjoyed the luxury of a broad marble stair flanked by curved banisters leading up to the main entrance. These steps were now covered in flowers, many of which had already begun to wilt. Iconographs of Dame Gina Dulci adorned the banisters, surrounded by yet more flowers.

The genteel and subdued conversations stopped and the crowd parted when the Vetinaris drew near. Havelock dispensed a few more majestic greetings and led Angelina to the bottom step of the stair. There he knelt down and placed the lily bouquet in the front and centre of the offerings. He rose and both he and Angelina stood for a minute in silence, heads bowed and hands folded. Angelina raised a hand to her eyes and wiped the knuckle of her index finger across her cheek. Then they turned and, with nods to the left and right, walked away with measured steps.

“I feel wicked now,” whispered Angelina when they had left the mourners behind. “It was the most insincere thing I’ve ever done.”

“Think of it as a new kind of game,” replied Havelock. “I’ve learned a thing or two in this respect from Mr Lipwig.”

“Do you think it’ll do the trick?”

“We shall see. We need to play every ace we have, since it doesn’t look at the moment as if the female vote will get through.”

“Maybe they’ll change their mind at the last minute?”

“Maybe,” he said. “And now, since we’re here, we’ll pay a little visit to Commander Vimes.”

“Oh, must we?”

“Yes. I like to keep an eye on him.”

Without further ado he steered her across the street and in through the door of the Pseudopolis Yard Watch House. Neither of the two duty watchmen 2) made any comment when the couple marched straight up the stair to Vimes’ office. Havelock did, however, knock on the door and waited a full ten seconds before he entered.

“Good morning, Commander.”

 If Vimes was startled by their sudden arrival, he hid it well. 3)

“Good morning, sir.” He directed a minimalistic nod at Angelina. “Anything I can help you with?”

Havelock placed Angelina in the only available other chair and stood behind it, putting his folded arms on the back rest.

“Nothing in particular, Commander. We just thought we’d drop in, since we were in the neighbourhood. A courtesy call, so to speak. But since you ask so kindly, please do tell how investigations are proceeding with regard to the river monster.”

 Vimes stubbed out his cigar in an already overflowing ashtray. He picked up a sheet of paper and read from it.

“The creature known as Ankh the River Monster is suspected of fifty-seven counts of vandalism, seventy-five counts of trespassing and forty-eight counts of assault.” He looked up from the paper. “That would be the anti-votist ladies. We’ve made five different attempts to arrest him, but he has so far escaped us each time.”

“Hmhm.” Havelock rubbed his chin. “I don’t want to interfere with your sphere of expertise, Commander, but are you sure this is the best possible approach to this matter? I mean, I know you are a great supporter of arresting all and sundry, but in this case I feel it might be useful to go the root of the problem – or should I say the source?”

“Sir?”

“I mean to say, Commander, that it would be worthwhile to investigate just how such a creature came to emerge from the river. If we know the reason for this, then we might have a better idea of how to persuade it to return to its...bed.”

“You mean it’s something in the water or something?” said Vimes, oblivious to the inelegancy of the needless repetition of the word “something.”

“Indeed. I was going to suggest that my wife should conduct a thorough water analysis.”

 “If there’s anything to analyse, Corporal Littlebottom will do it,” replied Vimes without a second’s thought.

“Commander,” said Havelock, “while I have every confidence in Corporal Littlebottom’s abilities, I would like to point out that my wife has considerable experience in the field. The corporal views things from a forensic angle, not from an environmental one. You would be well advised to make use of Angelina’s expertise. Her investigation could complement the one conducted by the Watch.”

Commander Vimes was visibly torn. 4) He shuffled the papers on his desk, apparently in a bid to win time, but lost the initiative when a stack of folders went sliding into Angelina’s lap and from there onto the floor. She gathered them up and handed them back with an obliging smile and Vimes was forced to mutter a word of thanks. He looked at her for a whole three seconds with only the vaguest hint of a scowl.

“She's going to do it anyway isn't she,” he said.

 

It wasn't a question, so they didn't answer.

 

“Well I can't arrest her for taking samples out of the river. Last time I checked she was employed by the city to do just that,” he grunted eventually and lit another cigar.

 

Havelock flashed a smile at him.

“So,” he said, “she can go up to her old laboratory straight away. Can’t you, Angelina? I’ll stay here with Commander Vimes for another...little chat.”

Vimes took a puff.

“Doesn’t she have to wait for her little brother to pick her up?”

“No need for that,” said Havelock.

“As far as I remember you said you didn’t want her to move about the city alone.”

“Indeed. I thought Lance-constable Greenaway could accompany her. I saw him down in the front room just now.”

“You want me to deploy a watchman to look after your wife?”

“He’s only a lance-constable. I’m sure he is dispensable.”

Vimes gave Havelock a look which implied that a lance-constable who was also a fully trained assassin was not quite the same as a lance-constable who was just his humble self.  This was countered by His Lordship with a stare which said that a Lord Vetinari stripped of the Patricianship was nevertheless still a Lord Vetinari. Various other looks intended to join the game, but suddenly habitual reaction kicked in and before he knew it Vimes was staring at a point on the wall behind Vetinari’s head and saying: “Sir.”

“Splendid!” said Havelock. “That’s settled then. I’m sure Lord Downey will have no objection to Angelina using her old lab, since he found it unimportant enough to leave it empty.”

“I shall be happy to oblige, thank you for the asking,” said Angelina. “It’s always nice to be included in the decision making process.”

2)       For once, they were indeed both human and male.

3)       In fact, Vimes considered for a split second to ask Vetinari to wait in the corridor until he was ready to receive him, but he thought better of it, mostly because there wasn’t an unnerving clock out there that would have made such a move worthwhile.

4)       Only, of course, not really.

~oOoOo~

 “Well, Constantin,” said Angelina and slid her arm through his, “it’s sure been a while since you’ve last chaperoned me. I almost feel inclined to say you’ve grown, but I’ve probably just forgotten how tall you are.”

“You’ve rarely seen me up close,” replied Constantin.

“I’ve rarely seen you at all. But it’s been a comfort, after a fashion, to know that you were there. Still, I wish Havelock would come to his senses and allow me to go out on my own. It’s ridiculous to be treated like child.”

“Don’t blame me,” said Constantin. “I’m only doing my job.”

“So you do. I have to admire you, though, voluntarily working for Commander Vimes!”

“It’s all right,” said Constantin in an evasive tone. They walked on in silence.

The first thing Angelina noticed when she came through the door was the smell of the place. Paper and chemicals.  It was fainter now than it used to be when she was working here daily, but she recognized it immediately and felt comforted by this olfactory welcome. With eager eyes she looked around. She hadn’t been in this room since her ill-chosen flight from Havelock nearly two years ago, for while she had intended to return to her duties after her wedding, their little adventure at sea had prevented her. Apparently nobody else had set foot in the place during all this time either. Her folders and reports still lay on the desk neatly set out the way she had left them, but covered with a thick layer of dust. Absentmindedly, she doodled a heart on the desk with her finger. This prosaic room, dedicated to the analysis of water samples and the drawing of graphs and charts, had been the cradle of her love for Havelock. Here they had talked and talked, here he had given her his watch, here she had confessed to him that he drove her to despair –

“Will your equipment still work?” asked Constantin, indicating an apparatus of twisted glass tubes on the workbench.

 Angelina shook off her memories and coaxed her mind to return to the present.

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. “This just needs to be cleaned up a bit. All the smaller things are packed away in boxes and should be ready to use.”

She pointed to the far end of the room, where half a dozen crates stood lined up against the wall. Constantin walked over and lifted the lid on one of them. Embedded in straw and tissue paper, assorted glassware tried to look inconspicuous. The next crate contained a pile of books, an abacus, a wooden rack for test tubes and a leather mask and goggles.

“What’s this?” asked Constantin and pulled out a tangled mess of dried leaves and petals. Angelina looked at the strange object and tears swam into her eyes. She wiped them away.

“Oh, that. Don’t mind me, it’s just hormonal. That’s oograh.”

“Oograh?”

“It’s the troll word for plants. I believe they only have the one. It was supposed to be a bouquet, though it was a bit, let’s say, unconventional. I was given it by a troll woman after I cleared up the case of the rubber pest. I think it’s a kind of unofficial award from the troll community.”

She took the shrivelled troll bouquet out of Constantin’s hands and gently placed it back in the crate it had come from. One by one, they opened the rest of the boxes and brought out the contents. After an hour, the room gave a credible impression of an alchemist’s laboratory.

“We should have dusted first,” said Angelina, when every available surface was crammed full with contraptions and glass containers.

“Never mind,” replied Constantin. “You can get all that sorted later. What do we do now?”

“We take these,” said Angelina and placed a hand on a small box of jars with cork stoppers, “and get samples from the river. If you take the box, I’ll carry the case with the protective gloves and the eye-droppers.”

“What do we need them for?”

“Constantin! We can’t just touch the river! Especially now that he’s a man, after a fashion. That would be highly indecorous.”

He stared at her, brown eyes bulging with polite astonishment. She laughed.

“I’m joking, Constantin. The water is pestilent, that’s all. Normally I would worry about us contaminating the samples, but in this case it would be the other way round.  Let’s not take any unnecessary risks, shall we?”

They left the palace and ambled over towards the Brass Bridge. At the back of the Plumbers’ Guild, they made use of a handy set of broad steps that led down to the water’s edge. A stiff breeze blew. Angelina donned her protective gloves and handed another pair to Constantin. Then she knelt down and reached out for the river.

“Oh, this is too bad,” she said after half a minute of fumbling. “The eye-dropper won’t pick it up. It’s too solid. Much worse than I had thought. Absolutely disgusting.”

She unscrewed the lid on one of the jars and scooped up a fistful of river sods. When she shook the jar gently, the slimy waters coated the sides and ran down much in the manner of treacle. Angelina put the lid back on, scribbled something on the label and handed it to Constantin.

With hindsight, one might say she ought not to have turned her back on the river she had just insulted. But hindsight is allegedly twenty-twenty and Angelina was only thirty-seven. Neither she nor Constantin paid any attention to the Ankh while they stowed away the jar in the box with the awkward carefulness of two people doing a job that’s easy enough for one. Hence it came as a bit of a surprise when a muddy hand grabbed Angelina around the waist, lifted her off the ground and shook her like a salt cellar.

She didn’t scream, though admittedly this was a result of shock rather than bravery. The strength of the river monster’s fingers seemed disproportionate, considering their substance. Wriggling wasn’t going to help. The weight of Constantin Greenaway, who had seized her feet and was clinging to them with the determination of a loyal terrier, at least prevented her from being tossed into the water but did nothing to free her from Ankh’s strangling hold. It’s low tide, she thought, he shouldn’t be this strong!  She strained to break free but might as well have attempted to water ski on the Rim Fall. Ankh pulled her this way, Constantin the other, and even in this calamitous situation she was painfully aware that her dress had ridden up well over her knees and might at this precise moment be barely covering her buttocks. It is amazing how even in the most dangerous of circumstances, a woman will find time to be concerned whether her bottom looked big. 5)

Rescue came in the shape of a river barge travelling past under full sails. The bow wave disturbed the water and the muddy hand fell away. Angelina landed on top of Constantin in a jumble of sensory stimuli that offended all the senses in some way of other. The squelching sound, the cold and wet clothing, the pain of impact, the taste of river water which had found its way into her mouth could have each individually provided the material for a pretty unpleasant dream. And then there was Constantin’s horrified look and, of course, the stench.

With a groan 6) they untangled their limbs and scrambled up the steps to get away from the river as quickly as possible. As soon as they arrived at the top of the stair, Constantin uttered a genteel curse and dashed back down to grab the box of jars. Eventually they both leaned, panting, against the back door of the Guild of Plumbers.

“What shall we do now?” Constantin asked. “You look a mess.”

“Whatever we do,” replied Angelina, “don’t tell my husband.”

 

5)       One might think that this would not cause undue embarrassment for the woman who invented the bi-skin-knee, but these were different circumstances and thus different standards applied. There could be journalists about. The last thing Havelock needed was The Times printing an iconograph of his wife’s exposed posterior.

6)       A groan each, obviously.

Chapter Text

“You have a choice of two,” said Elsie Drumknott to her husband. “I could warm up the left-over potatoes from last night or I’ll make some grilled cheese sandwiches.”

She switched the sleeping infant over to her other shoulder in order to receive her husband’s overcoat, which she placed on the peg in the hallway.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Elsie,” said Rufus. “I could have done this myself. And don’t worry about the dinner, just do whatever is easiest.”

“I’m not an invalid, Rufus,” she replied and, proper little housewife that she was, brushed an invisible piece of fluff off his jacket. He gently plucked the baby from her shoulder and cradled it in the crook of his arm. The baby grunted in her sleep and burped. A tender expression appeared in Drumknott’s eyes, which would normally be best described as sickeningly sentimental but which the reader will excuse in this case because, well, it’s Drumknott, isn’t it?

“Actually, if you can take her for half an hour or so, I can probably cook up something better. How do you fancy some stovies? And sticky toffee pudding for afters?”

The expression of nearly puke-worthy emotion on Drumknott’s face changed to one of barely concealed greed.

“That would be wonderful, Elsie,” he said. Elsie kissed him on the cheek and bustled off to the kitchen. With his tiny daughter curled up against his underdeveloped biceps, he shuffled into the sitting room and sank into his armchair. He tilted his head forward to inhale the scent of the baby’s downy hair. The room was silent, only muffled sounds of clanging pots permeating the walls. The baby breathed very quietly but every now and then she gave a deep sigh and Drumknott found himself joining in. How peaceful it was to sit here in the twilight with his sleeping child! He’d get up in a minute or so to change his clothes, but for now he just wanted to savour the tranquillity.

After a minute or so had passed, the father’s breathing was as calm and regular as the baby’s.

“Dinner!” shouted Elsie from the kitchen nearly an hour later. Drumknott jerked out of a pleasant dream involving double-sided sticking tape and a novel type of patented filing box. He was so startled that he almost dropped the baby, who awoke and started to cry. “Shhh, shhh,” murmured Drumknott and struggled out of the armchair. Elsie came running and took the child out of his arms.

“Go and eat,” she said. “You look exhausted.”

“I’m fine,” he said, still dizzy from his unplanned nap. He sat down at the kitchen table and picked up his cutlery. Elsie made herself comfortable in the rocking chair in the corner of the room and let the baby latch on.

“It’s been quite a strenuous day,” said Drumknott as he tucked into his stovies. “The guild council has been arguing for hours about this question of women’s votes.”

“I don’t understand it,” said Elsie. “How can they not let women vote? Aren’t there a lot of women in the guild council?”

“They’re mostly shouted down these days. And whenever one of them does manage to speak, Lord Downey cuts them short. I don’t know why. Lord Vetinari is all in favour of women’s votes.”

“Of course,” said Elsie. “He would be.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, don’t you think most women would vote for Vetinari?”

“Would you?”

“Of course.”

“Hm.” For reasons he couldn’t quite identify, Drumknott was not entirely satisfied with this answer.

~oOoOo~

Angelina took her water samples back to the laboratory while Constantin nipped round to her flat to get her some spare clothes. By the time he came back, a couple of dozen test tubes were already set in their racks to seethe and sizzle and Angelina was busy with a ruler, drawing tables on sheets of paper to record her findings. They conferred briefly and then set off again, collecting further samples from other places along the river. Angelina was busy in the laboratory until way after dinner time. What she found that evening puzzled her and when evening came and Constantin took her home, she still mulled over the strange results. She could prove beyond doubt that Havelock had not poisoned the river, but that was hardly a sensational outcome. The other thing, though, the other thing was odd. Very odd indeed.

The following morning she was still perplexed by the unexpected substance she had found. And she felt so depressed that no last minute decision in favour of the female vote had been made that she refused to accompany Havelock when he left for the polling station to cast his vote. Instead she defied his orders yet again and went out on her own to the university library. The librarian greeted her like an old friend, undoubtedly because she was, um, an old friend. They sat by his desk for a while and chatted in that peculiar mixture of words and gestures which had served them well in the past. After a while, Angelina explained her errand and the librarian waddled off to find the required books while she spread out her pencils and notepads on one of the reading tables.

The morning passed and the afternoon crept along the shelves. Angelina had skimmed through nigh on twenty books when she finally found something that, while not shedding a lot of light on the situation, at least enriched her ignorance with a few unconnected bits of trivia. She scribbled them down.

It was then that she suddenly noticed the two men. They stood opposite each other with swords in hand, posed for fight.

Well, one of them was holding a sword anyway. A very impressive sword. It was the kind of sword that had a name and a Destiny with a capital D. The other man, while he stood in a sword-fighting stance, grasped a short cylinder from which extended what looked very much like a long, tubular beam of coloured light. It hummed ominously. The sword-owner was a very tall man, his face stern and pale and his keen eyes grey like the sea on a clouded day. His dark hair showed flecks of grey and his clothes bore witness to many years spent in the healthy fresh air. He looked as destiny-ridden as his sword.

The other man, the one with the strange weapon, was shorter and much younger, with blonde hair that desperately needed a trim and big blue eyes which made him resemble – well, rabbits don’t have blue eyes, but nevertheless the expression of a terrified rabbit was very effectively achieved by his wide-eyed stare. He wore a kind of orange-coloured overall that reminded Angelina vaguely of the type of mechanically minded men who are often found lying on the ground underneath large pieces of machinery. And yet he also had about him the air of being a Chosen One.

They glared at each other and then, all of a sudden, their weapons clashed together. The thing that Angelina thought of as a light-sword produced a curious Whooomm sound, which almost drowned out the clank of the metal sword. In front of her astonished eyes a fierce fight commenced. Had Angelina been at all magically inclined, she’d have been able to see, from the corner of her eyes that the whole scene was edged in octarine light. Even so, she had a definite sense of the unfolding action being not quite real, especially when she noticed that The Sword had just sliced through a shelf full of thesauri without causing any visible damage. 

“But why are they fighting?” she wondered and hardly noticed that she had spoken the words out loud.

“Because they both want to Return,” said a voice by her ear. She turned her head.  Beside her stood a third man, tall, broad, leaning on a sword that came up to her shoulder. His attire was as unkempt as his long wavy hair and Angelina noted to her astonishment that he wore a kind of dress made of a thick, woolly fabric with a ridiculous pattern of criss-crossed stripes. He gave her a slightly cross-eyed look and a lopsided smile.

“They want to Return,” he repeated. “But There Can Be Only One.”

Before Angelina could find words to express her bewilderment, the librarian appeared, swinging along a row of bookshelves. He snarled and dropped to the floor. With his long, leathery hands he made shooing motions and the three strangers slunk away into the aisles, where they faded away much quicker than would have seemed reasonable.

The librarian turned to Angelina and rubbed his palm on his chest in a circular motion. She shook her head.

“Oh, no, why would you be sorry?”

He made an expansive gesture which indicated that certain things should stay where they came from.

“Oh, but they didn’t bother me. I just wondered what the matter was with them.”

The librarian shrugged his impressive simian shrug and pointed at her notepad.

“Yes, I suppose I’ve found all I’m going to find. Can I leave these with you to put away? Thank you so much for your help. Goodbye.”

Angelina gathered her things and left the library. Outside in the grounds of Unseen University she halted her step when it occurred to her that she had no idea where to go next. Havelock wouldn’t be at home at this time, gods only knew what he was up to these days. Oh, but of course, it was election day. There was no point in returning to the laboratory, because she had completed all her tests. Neither Henry and Tvoolia nor Lady Sybil would be any help in this case. Goldy was bound to be at work and even if she wasn’t, she’d also be of limited use. Angelina sighed. There was really only one person she needed to speak to right now. She wished it was someone else, but wishing was almost as futile as praying. With a shrug of resignation, she left the campus and turned her steps towards the New Bridge.

~oOoOo~

“I have made a comprehensive analysis of eight water samples from different locations within the city,” said Angelina. “All show a significantly increased level of pollution compared to my last analysis two years ago, but they are very similar to the finds of my baseline investigation in Offle the year before that. There is severe contamination with sewage, in addition to which I identified a number of chemical impurities that are accounted for by various industries in the city. I isolated five substances that were not previously present in the river water, four of which I have traced back to modernizations in the tanning industry. None of these are in any way extraordinary. The only remarkable substance, and one I certainly didn’t expect to see, is Vitalitum.”

“And what is remarkable about Vitalitum?”

“That it has no conceivable use. It occurs naturally in a remote region of Muntab, but nowhere else. Theoretically it can be manufactured, but it has, as I said, no practical use and therefore I was surprised to find it.”

Commander Vimes chewed his cigar with absentminded vigour.

“And that’s all you know about Vitalitum?” he asked.

“Well, that’s all I knew until this afternoon. Then I went to the library and did some research. Vitalitum is one of the rarest substances on the Disc and the amounts I’ve found in the river far exceed the concentrations that can be found naturally. There are a few arcane anecdotes connected with it and in Muntabi folklore it is said to increase vitality, hence the name, but obviously that’s just a myth...”

She looked at Vimes. Vimes looked at her and stubbed out his cigar.

“Obviously?” he said.

“My goodness!” Angelina let her papers sink. She leaned forward and tried to rest an elbow on Vimes’ desk, an ill-fated endeavour that immediately resulted in a pile of documents beginning to slip. She grabbed them and tried to steady them, but a few fell anyway and with them a small glass bottle which shattered on the floor. An oily, iridescent liquid spilled out and a strong, fresh smell filled the room. Angelina sat up. She felt instantly invigorated, but embarrassed nevertheless.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Commander. How clumsy of me. I hope it wasn’t anything important.”

She resisted the temptation to comment on the frequency with which stacks of paper seemed to be sliding to the ground in this office and instead picked up the largest remaining shard and peered at the label that stuck to it.

Collins’ Personality Enhancer. What is that?”

“That? I had forgotten all about it,” said Vimes. “It’s just something Lance-constable Greenaway found down by the riv-“

He jumped up and snapped his fingers.

“How long does it take to test for Vitalitum?”

Angelina looked at him, startled.

“About forty-five minutes, depending. One needs -”

“We’ll do it right now,” said Vimes. He mopped up the oily liquid with his handkerchief, which he dropped into a paper bag, and dragged Angelina out of his office by the wrist.

~oOoOo~

Angelina had been mistaken. Goldy was not at all at work. Goldy was, in fact, standing in the Rats Chamber together with a substantial group of senior dwarves. The assembled guild leaders, almost exclusively human, stared at the delegation, uncomfortable tension clearly evident in their expressions. Lord Downey sat in his seat rubbing his neck. At the far end of the room, Lord Vetinari was seen 1) sitting with a smug little smile on his face.

“...which is why we decided not to award the vote to a group of people who have behaved so irrationally in public over the last few days,” finished Lord Downey.

“So,” said Lucky Haettenschweiler, “what you are saying is that I get to vote but my fiancée here won’t?”

“Indeed.” Lord Downey had spent the last ten minutes explaining – very patiently, he thought – the electoral arrangements to the dwarves.

“But if she were a more traditional dwarf and looked exactly the same as I do, you would allow her to vote?”

During the ensuing pause, one might have imagined the clicking of little gears in the guild leader’s heads. In some of their heads anyway. Queen Molly, Dixie Voom, Mrs Manger and Mrs Palm looked carefully blank.

“Well...”

“Lord Downey, do you know how many dwarves live in Ankh-Morpork?” asked Lucky.

“About fifty thousand, I believe,” he replied, visibly relieved that he knew at least that much about his city’s population.

“And how many females have you seen?”

“Well...”

“How many, Lord Downey?”

Lord Downey looked as if he’d swallowed a piece of his own almond cake.

“If I may say so, Lord Downey,” began Miss Dixie Voom. “It seems to me that...”

Fifteen minutes later, the dwarf delegation left the building. The questions of female suffrage had been very unambiguously decided. Which was just as well, given that the polling stations were supposed to close in three hours.

“Now, that was a clever idea of that Miss Dearheart,” said Goldy.

“Yes,” replied Lucky. “I wish we’d thought of it ourselves.”

1)       Or would have been seen, had anybody cared to look. But what is one skinny man in black compared to two dozen stout dwarves?

 

~oOoOo~

“Do you have to run, Commander?” panted Angelina. “It’s not good for me in my present state.”

He stopped and waited for her without turning round. She pressed a hand to her side and hurried to catch up. When she arrived at the corner of Brewer Street where he had come to a halt, she realised that it was not her voice that had made him stop. They had reached one of the polling stations, as proclaimed by a large and poorly spelled sign which leaned against the door. 2) Streaming towards the entrance from everywhere in sight were females of all shapes and sizes, the expression being in this case more accurate than usual, given that this was Ankh-Morpork and the crowd included dwarves, trolls and the golem Gladys.

“Isn’t it wonderful, Lady Vetinari!” cried a woman whom Angelina recognised as one of the votists who had attended the last, resigned meeting at Lady Sybil’s house the previous night.

“I beg your pardon?” said Angelina. “I seem to have missed something.”

“Votes for women!” exclaimed the woman. “Didn’t you know? The guild leaders have changed their minds at the last minute.”

“Ah, Lady Vetinari!” Without warning, Sacharissa Cripslock pulled her arm through Angelina’s. “May I ask how you feel on this momentous occasion?”

“Surprised,” said Angelina before she could stop herself. “If you will excuse me, Commander, I will be back with you in just a minute.” And she marched into the building with Miss Cripslock.

Inside she could barely see a thing, because the throng was considerable and only the dwarves were shorter than she was. By and by though, word seemed to spread that an illustrious person had turned up and people moved away from her a bit in order to get a good look at her. Miss Cripslock still hung on to her arm.

“Vonderful! Don’t move!” said a voice and a skinny man with round glasses pointed a camera at her. He held up a cage of salamanders, they flared and for a couple of seconds the man was reduced to a heap of dust on the floor. But instantly, he rose again from the little pile of dirt and picked up his equipment from where it had fallen. Angelina blinked and stared, painfully aware even as she did it that this was entirely unladylike behaviour.

“Don’t worry, it’s only Otto Chriek,” said Miss Cripslock. “You have met him.”

“I have,” said Angelina, recalling tedious photography sessions in the palace gardens prior to her wedding, “but he’s never done that before.”

“Within ze doors, I use ze salamanders,” said Otto Chriek by way of an explanation.

 “He’ll take a great iconograph of you casting your vote, Lady Vetinari. Won’t you, Otto?”

The crowd parted respectfully, whether in awe of her person or that of the iconographer Angelina could not quite tell. A clerky looking youth thrust a small sheet of paper into her hands and she found herself ushered into a little boxlike enclosure where a blunt pencil awaited her which was tied to the table leg with a piece of string. She made her mark on the paper, checked twice that she had ticked the right box and then folded over her ballot according to the instructions pinned to the wall.

When she emerged again, she was faced with the silent attention of some forty or fifty people. She stepped forward and stretched out her hand to cast her ballot paper into the box presented to her by the clerky looking youth.

“No, vait, vait!” shrieked Otto Chriek. He pounced on her and grabbed her by the shoulder in order to arrange her in an angle that for inexplicable reasons he deemed more suitable. Then he told her to freeze, which confused her and seemed impossible to do in this stuffy room, and then the salamanders flared again, but this time the iconographer remained in one piece. Angelina pushed the paper through the slot in the box, vaguely aware that Miss Cripslock was yet again beside her. Then she strode out through the door.

Commander Vimes stood exactly where she had left him and didn’t look as if he had moved as much as an eyelid. They continued their way in silence through streets full of scurrying females and arrived at the palace not ten minutes later. The laboratory was as cluttered and dusty as she had left it earlier in the day. Vimes prowled up and down the negligible available floor space while Angelina fussed about with her chemicals.

“When did Constantin find it?” she asked.

“Just after you came back to the city.”

“But is says on the label that the effect takes four weeks to develop.”

“We don’t know how long the stuff had been lying there,” said Vimes. “And there’s no guarantee that it’ll do what it says on the label. “

Angelina picked up the label from where she had placed it on the work surface.

Fed up with being dull, weak and boring? Try Collins’ Personality Enhancer to become the sparkling personality and the centre of attention that you’ve always wished to be,” she read out loud. “Well, we must say this much about Ankh, he is neither weak nor boring. I have my doubts about the sparkles, though. Ah, here we go.” She held up the test tube. “Do you see that yellowish bloom? Vitalitum. Quite a lot of it, given how small the sample was. Which means...”

“...somebody dumped the Personality Enhancer into the river and it became a sparkling personality.” Vimes looked as if he was ready to punch the wall. “I never cease to be amazed at the stupid things that can happen in this city.”

 “I don’t think it would have worked if the river hadn’t contained quite so much organic matter,” said Angelina. “What do we do now?”

“We pay a visit to Mr Collins.”

2)       “CUSSED YOU’RE VOAT HERE.”

Chapter Text

“So, Mr Collins, you manufacture and market this Personality Enhancer? Does it work?”

The inside of the shop looked strangely non-functional, with more decorative items such as dried flowers, seashells and oddly draped cloths on display than actual merchandise.

“Sir, all my products work,” replied the shop owner. “People call me a charlatan, but I never sell anything that I haven’t tested on myself. You can put your trust in everything that bears the name of Collins.”

Vimes scrutinized the man: the wild, curly hair that covered not only head and chin, but most of his face, the small visible patches of smooth white skin, the notable bulge in the groin area. Then he glanced at the bottles lined up on the counter.

“Let me guess: Collin’s Hair Restorer, Collin’s Complexion Cure and, um - ” Vimes refrained from reading out the last label, unsure of the exact extent of Lady Vetinari’s sensibilities.

“There’s no need to take that sarcastic tone,” replied Mr Collins.

“I’ve never been sarcastic in my whole life,” said Vimes.

“It is the Personality Enhancer that we’re interested in, Mr Collins,” said Angelina and ran her fingers along the shelf. “We wondered whether you might have anything that may counteract its effects.” After all, she thought, he claims to have tried it on himself, but he doesn’t appear to be an excessively sparkling personality. 1)

Mr Collins scratched his head, which took some effort, because there was so much hair to get through before his fingers reached his scalp.

“I’m rather proud of the Personality Enhancer. It really works. Not that my other products don’t, of course. But this one has a special ingredient. More special than the others. My late wife, you know, was from Muntab and knew a secret or two.”

“How fascinating,” said Angelina. “And is there an antidote?”

“Well,” he said, “there is Collins’ Serene Soother. That’s what I took after I’d tried out the Personality Enhancer and found it a bit … strong. I would give you a word of caution, though. The Soother can take some people in a funny way. I was a bit careless with the dosage and took to my bed for four days, barely able to move a muscle.”

Angelina and Vimes exchanged glances.

“Sounds like just what we want,” said Vimes. “We’ll buy it.”

“One bottle or two?” asked Mr Collins.

“Oh, the whole lot. Everything you’ve got.” He looked at Angelina. “I take it you have money with you? I’m afraid Corporal Nobbs has raided the petty cash again.”

 “I don’t, I’m afraid,” she whispered. “I could go to the bank and - ”

“No time,” said Vimes. “Mr Collins, I am confiscating your merchandise.”

The hairy man stiffened his shoulders.

“Sir,” he said, “I know the law. You cannot just confiscate things without a piece of paper signed by your superior officer.”

“Is that so?” said Vimes with a menacing grin. “Well, I happen to be the superior officer of the City Watch and I will bloody well confiscate this Serene Soother!”

“Not without a piece of paper, sir,” insisted Mr Collins.

“You’ll just have to write it yourself,” murmured Angelina.

“Don’t be ridiculous, man!”

“I’m not ridiculous, I just know my rights.”

“The hell you do!”

Vimes’ fist came down on the counter, but at the same time Angelina’s hand moved there also and placed a ring in front of Mr Collins.

“Will that do for now?” she asked. Her voice trembled. “I shall come back later to redeem it.”

Greedily, Mr Collins picked up the ring and examined the stone.

“It’s just a Salsalite,” he said. “I know a worthless gemstone when I see one.”

Now it was Angelina’s fist that slammed on the counter. The various little bottles jingled.

“Perhaps you also know solid gold then when you see it,” she hissed.

Mr Collins looked as if he was going to make further objections, but Vimes seized him by the collar and growled, “You heard the lady. Now give us the damn bottles or we'll feed you to the river monster.”

Two minutes later they walked out of Mr Collins shop, each with a box of little bottles under their arm.

1)       Let it be known that the only character in this tale who actually sparkled did achieve this by extraordinary means, but not from the product range of Mr Collins.

~oOoOo~

Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs watched the groups of females rushing past them on the Brass Bridge. It had taken them half an hour or so to begin to find this feminine stampede remarkable, at which point they had accosted a friendly looking elderly woman, who had promptly enlightened them. Since then they had observed the hustling ladies with much interest.

“Well, old Hammerhead will be pleased then,” said Sergeant Colon. “She got right worked up about this female voting business.”

“She did,” conceded Nobby. “Didn’t have as much as a mouldy mackerel to spare for me yesterday.”

“Ah, women,” said Colon, in the tone of voice of Someone Who Knows.

A passing troll lady handed them a small piece of paper which bore the blurred image of Lord Downey. They contemplated it with due curiosity, as men whose primary relationship with the world is not through the written word.

Make Your Choice Count,” read Nobby. “But how can a choice count? I mean, it’s not like it’s got fingers or anything.”

“Ah, Nobby,” replied Colon, “let me explain this to you, as your sergeant. This is the kind of sophistel... , sophister...,  the kind of  clever language these politicians use. It’s supposed to be an invective for people to vote.”

Nobby scratched his head.

“In that case, shouldn’t it say Make your choice be counted?” he asked.

“No, Nobby, that would be too simple,” said Colon. “Anybody could just understand that. They need to be more subtle than that.”

“You ought to know, Fred. Have you been to vote yet?”

“No,” said Colon. “When would I’ve done that? We’ve been on duty since the polling stations opened this morning. Can’t leave our post, can we?”

Nobby scratched his head.

“Dunno,” he said. “Isn’t it our duty as good citizens to cast our votes?”

“If you put it like that, Nobby. But we’re fulfilling an important role here in keeping an eye on the public, don’t forget that.”

He hitched up his breastplate as a couple of rather attractive young women, postal workers by the looks of it, walked by.

“I’m just thinking, Fred, as good watchmen we ought to keep an eye on what’s happening inside that polling station too. Who knows, some of them young ladies might be breaching the peace again.”

“Those girls are still in watch custody, Nobby.”

“There could be others.”

Sergeant Colon considered this. He considered also, with a sad predictability which he mistook for cunning, the dark wall of raincloud that had risen from a rimward direction and which would make an indoor location more desirable, at least for the next half hour or so.  

“I think,” he said, “our skills might be required at that polling station. We shall proceed there now and as your senior officer I suggest that you take the opportunity to cast your vote while we’re there. I shall cast mine, too.”

He straightened up and pulled in his stomach. Nobby extinguished his dog end and stowed it away behind his ear.

“So who are you going to vote for, Fred?” he asked when they turned towards Brewer Street.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“Right, yes. Dartboard all the way, eh?”

“Don’t forget the kettle,” said Colon primly.

~oOoOo~

Outside Mr Collins’ shop Angelina and Vimes stood with their boxes of Collins’ Serene Soother, wavering. At least, Angelina did enough wavering for both of them and hence Vimes hesitated just by sheer association.

“So what’s our next step?” asked Angelina.

Vimes shrugged and lit a cigar, for which purpose he had to place his box on the ground between his feet.

“Give it to the patient,” he said.

“Well, yes,” said Angelina, “but how? I’m not entirely sure that we’ll get the desired effect by just pouring the stuff into the river. I mean, we don’t know how exactly the link between Ankh and the river works, do we?”

“True enough,” replied Vimes. “I can’t see how you’d get him to take it though, even with a spoonful of sugar.”

“I thought we could kind of drizzle it on him from above.”

“And how do you propose to do that?”

“I have a magic carpet. That is, Havelock has it stashed away somewhere. I don’t quite know how to fly it, but I’m sure I can find out.”

Vimes scrutinized her intently.

“You really aren’t in the habit of screaming, are you?” he said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, never mind. Just something I read in the paper. Let’s get that flying carpet then.”

A brisk walk of little more than ten minutes brought them to the Vetinaris’ flat in Zephire Street.

“What does it look like?” asked Vimes as soon as they came through the door.

“I’m not too sure. I didn’t look very closely at the time. The view below was more interesting. It’s just a rug, something like five foot wide. So we’re looking for a tube of carpet about my height. It can’t be that difficult to find. If you don’t mind, I’ll look for it myself. I’m not sure the place is tidy enough to let a visitor rummage around. You could put the bottles in here in the meantime.”

She handed him a large cotton bag with a long shoulder strap. While Vimes stood in the kitchen and carefully placed bottle after bottle of Collins’ Serene Soother into the bag, Angelina went from room to room and looked in all the usual places: in wardrobes, on top of cabinets, under the bed. The flat was small and didn’t offer many hiding places, yet after half an hour’s intense search she still hadn’t seen as much as a thread of magic carpet. At last she met with Vimes in the hallway, pretty much at a loss.

“Do you think he’d have hidden it somewhere else?” asked Vimes. “At my house maybe?”

“Perhaps,” said Angelina. “I wonder, though. I think I’ve gone too much by where I would have put it. But where would Havelock hide it?”

They looked at each other. Then they looked down.

“Unbelievable,” said Angelina.

Three minutes later they stood in the tiny square behind the block of flats that temporarily housed the Vetinaris. To keep away from nosy eyes 2) they had taken the carpet out to this sorry strip of yellowish grass that went by the name of a back garden. Soggy laundry hung on the clothes lines - the earlier shower had created a nasty surprise for the reckless housewives who had deserted their posts in order to cast their votes. The carpet hovered a couple of feet above the ground, its edges rippling gently with the appropriate special effect. Angelina sat on it cross-legged and leaned from side to side to get a feel for the thing. It tilted in an almost, but not quite, alarming manner.

“I think I can manage,” she said after a while.

“Fine,” said Vimes. “Let me get on and then let’s go.”

He moved towards the carpet, but Angelina made it rise and swerved out of his reach.

“I’ll have to do this on my own, Commander,” she said.

Vimes lit a new cigar. “And why would that be?”

“It’s hard to explain. I think I just feel that anything to do with pollution and with this river is my job. Because that is what Havelock wanted me to do in the first place, to save the river.”

“And you think,” he said, “that this is enough reason for me to let Lord Vetinari’s pregnant wife attack a monster from a flying carpet? Exactly how stupid are you?”

Angelina made a movement which, had it not been for her seated position, would have counted as a stamp of the foot.

“Nowhere near as stupid as you think!” she cried in an irritable tone that indicated the presence of too many troubling pregnancy symptoms. “I don’t think I’d be able to steer this thing with another person on it.”

“Let me do it then,” said Vimes and made a step towards her.

“It’s my carpet!” shouted Angelina, hormones soaring, and let the carpet rise. Soon she had reached rooftop level. The carpet wobbled but climbed steadily higher until she was able to steer it out of the garden and over the chimneys. When she looked down into the street she saw Commander Vimes making his way along Upper Broadway towards Pseudopolis Yard. He stopped, looked up and shook his head at her. The carpet floated some twenty yards above rooftop level now. People didn’t seem to notice it. Upwards is not a direction that often attracts much attention in Ankh-Morpork, at least in the absence of dragons. Angelina scanned the city panorama for signs of Ankh.

The carpet seemed sluggish at first and moved at barely more than walking pace, but after a while she found a way to lean into the air currents like this and like that and suddenly her aircraft picked up speed. She clutched the bag of bottles and then, in a bid to get her hands free, shoved it under her skirt and wedged it between her knees.

From her airborne position, it wasn’t hard to find the river monster; in fact few buildings in the city were high enough to obscure his gruesome muddy shape lurching along the streets between Pon’s Bridge and Treacle Mine Road. Actually, those instances when he lurched along the streets were the luckier ones. As usual he went wherever the fancy took him and cared little for what was in the way. She heard faint cries and the splintering of timber.

She decided to approach Ankh from behind, which fortunately was easy enough, since he was going in a straight line without looking left or right. When she had advanced to about twenty yards’ distance, she pulled out one of the bottles and unscrewed the lid. Below her, screaming citizens dived for cover as the ambulant mudslide smashed windows and snapped clacks towers.

With the open bottle grasped tightly in her right hand, she manoeuvred the carpet above the river monsters head. He didn’t notice. One well-aimed flick of the wrist, and Collins’ Serene Soother dripped down the back of Ankh’s neck.

It dripped down. Angelina hadn’t considered how exactly this would work, but she had somehow assumed that the potion would simply be absorbed into the liquid body of the river man. Alas, it did nothing of the kind. The tonic of salvation pearled off Ankh’s skin as if the monster had invested in Collins’ Patented Water Repellent Lotion.

Angelina bit her lip. It had been her idea and if it wasn’t going according to plan, people would blame her. Vimes would blame her. She stared at the empty bottle as if the label could provide a solution. And it did. Because it occurred to her that what many such bottle labels – those on Lady Sybil’s dressing table, for example – said was For External Use Only. This one, however, didn’t. Of course not. One was supposed to take a teaspoonful after dinner. Looking at the size of Ankh, a garden spade would have to serve as a spoon, and somehow she didn’t think he’d respond well to “Say Ahhh!”

There was only one thing to do if the patient wasn’t taking his medicine orally. 3) Angelina opened another bottle and clutched it in a knuckle-whitening grip. She brought the carpet round behind Ankh in a neat curve and in the passing she rammed the bottle, neck down, into the creature’s back.

He didn’t even twitch. Encouraged by her success, Angelina turned the carpet with only a moderate amount of wobble, armed herself with the next open bottle and swooshed past, planting another injection just below Ankh’s shoulder blade. He flinched, which was enough to make her start and withdraw. A few seconds later, she flew by again and thrust an open bottle into his neck. This time, he stopped and looked round, but before he had spotted her, she had retreated to a strategically smart position above his head. The carpet worked like a charm, which, given its magic nature, was probably not surprising.

In the streets below, people had become alerted to what was going on. Small children wriggled out from under their mothers’ protective grip and pointed at the flying carpet. At the street corner she saw Vimes, apparently just arrived with half a dozen watchpersons in tow. One of them was Sergeant Detritus, who carried something that looked like a clamp for a really, really big wagon. Angelina wondered briefly if Vimes planned to arrest Ankh, but she didn’t have time for such ruminations just now. She decided to go for a double barrelled attack and so, with a bottle in each hand, she brought the carpet down behind Ankh’s back and shoved her ammunition willy-nilly somewhere into his hip region.

Ankh began to flail his arms. He finally caught sight of his assailant and started to try and swat Angelina like the onerous midge she must have been in his perception. Her next strike was a close shave; he caught hold of a corner of the carpet and she tugged it out of his sodden hand with the strength of despair. 4) The following few minutes unfolded in a bizarre dance of fluttering carpet, sneakily placed bottles and wildly thrashing muddy limbs. A few times, Angelina was in danger of falling off, and she dropped several bottles which shattered on the cobbles. But more often than not, she hit her aim, which, given the size of it, was not too difficult.

Eventually, she noticed that his movements were slowing down. He seemed to have trouble lifting his arms above shoulder level, and he stopped walking altogether. The tonic was taking its effect. Angelina glanced at the last three bottles in the box. He barely resisted when she placed them, one after another, into his upper right arm. Then she made the carpet hover a couple of yards in front of his face and caught his glance. His eyelids were drooping.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Dirty,” he said. “Dirty and stinking and awful. Don’t like it. Was so nice and clean not long ago.”

Angelina bit her lip.

“I’m sorry,” she said.” I didn’t mean to let you down. I was prevented…”

“You? Who you?”

“You don’t know me,” said Angelina, “but I know you very well, down to the last chemical. And I saw to it that you were cleaned up, but then I had to leave and couldn’t protect you anymore. I’m very sorry. I promise I’ll set things right again.”

“You promise?” asked the river monster and yawned.

“I promise.”

“I’m very tired,” said Ankh. “So very, very tired.”

“Well,” replied Angelina, “don’t you have a bed somewhere?”

2)       “Nosy eyes” might be pushing it a bit, but “eyey noses” would be infinitely worse.

3)       Well, actually, there was another, but let’s not go there.

4)       Despair about the inevitable dry cleaning bill for the carpet, of course.

~oOoOo~

As soon as the polling stations had closed, hundreds of specially selected respectable citizens 5) busied themselves with the tedious task of counting the votes. For once Ankh-Morpork was amazingly organized, probably because of an urgent curiosity about who had won, and within the hour results were flowing into the Patrician’s Palace. The guild leaders and several dozen other illustrious citizens were crammed into the Rats Chamber. Under the keen supervision of Mr Slant, Moist von Lipwig sat at the table reading out the results. A temporarily installed blackboard showed the votes for each candidate, one tally mark for every hundred votes, conscientiously charted by Mr Drumknott. It was a neck-to-neck race.

To heighten the sense of drama, Moist had made sure that one ballot box was delivered to the Rats Chamber unopened. He noted with a tingling sense of excitement that Vetinari’s lead was so small that this last ballot box would be decisive indeed. It wasn’t long before all other results were duly announced and charted, leaving Moist to break the seal on the last box and pour the ballot papers out onto the table. Together with Mr Slant, he began to unfold them and call out the names of the candidates. Mr Drumknott was now tallying each vote individually, the result so far being thrillingly (or depressingly, depending on one’s perspective) even.

Most votes in this box turned out to be for Downey. Within minutes, Vetinari’s small lead had melted away. Eventually the last half dozen ballot papers lay in front of the two men, watched eagerly by the crowd. The chalk screeched over the board, a sure sign that Mr Drumknott was showing nerves.

“Downey.”

“Vetinari.”

“Vetinari.”

“Downey.”

“Downey.”

A single piece of paper remained on the table. Moist glanced at the board. The score was exactly equal. He held his breath.

The atmosphere was so thick with tension that one could have cut it with a knife. 6) Then Mr Slant took the initiative.

Moist cringed. Mr Slant did it all wrong. He didn’t clear his throat. He didn’t raise a hand. He didn’t hold up the last remaining ballot paper with an ominous gesture, nor did he cast a Look at the crowd. He simply seized the ballot paper and unfolded it. After a glance, he handed it to Moist.

Moist stared. Then he blinked. Neither box had been ticked, but across the sheet was written in purple letters that could only be described as garish and provocative: LORD VETINARI RULZ.

Moist rose from his chair, his mind racing to find a suitably dramatic gesture, but before he could so much as open his mouth, Mr Slant had risen also and said in his graveyard voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, the last ballot paper is spoilt. We have a tie.”

5) You’d think finding them had been no mean feat in Ankh-Morpork, but Mr Drumknott kept a list.

6) In fact, Mr Dibbler did cut out a sizeable chunk and later tried to sell it in portions as a souvenir of the day, but there is a limit to Morporkian patriotism.

Chapter Text

They had followed Ankh as he stumbled down Gleam Street towards the river. This time Vimes had been more successfully insisted on accompanying her on the carpet (Angelina didn’t feel like arguing anymore), while Sergeant Detritus and the other watchpersons kept up pretty well at ground level. With a sickly fascination they had watched Ankh climb onto the parapet of Pon’s Bridge and throw himself into – his bed.

Angelina landed the carpet on the near side of the river, opposite the Isle of Gods, and they scurried up to the bank. At first she thought there was nothing to see, but then she espied a couple of giant toes slowly sinking into the muddy waters.

Vimes took a puff of his cigar. Then he nodded.

“Sterling work, Lady Vetinari.”

“Thank you, Commander,” said Angelina and tucked the errant strands of hair behind her ears. “You know, I have become rather fond of your city and wouldn’t want it to come to any harm. Oh, and by the way,” she added with a smile, “my friends call me Lina.”

“So I’ve heard,” replied Vimes.

They stared at each other in silence. Angelina felt her smile fade, but she noticed that the look of mild respect had not disappeared from Vimes eyes.

“I suppose we’d better go and find out how the election result has turned out,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” replied Angelina. “I’d almost forgotten about that.”

She rolled up the carpet and tucked it under her arm. It should have been heavy and cumbersome and sagging at both ends, but its aeronautic propensities made it astonishingly light. Carrying it felt much like walking around with a giant rolled wafer biscuit.

They had just crossed Easy Street and were halfway along Rime Street when they saw Mr Lipwig jogging up the road towards them. He waved frantically to attract their attention.

“That was lucky,” he panted when he reached them.

“What is the matter, Mr Lipwig?” asked Angelina.

He leaned against the side of a building and gasped for air.

“Vetinari sent me to ... find you, Commander Vimes,” he said. “I couldn’t go the direct ... way to the Watch House. The election was a draw. There are riots on the Lower Broadway and ... at the Barbican and in front of the palace. All the guild leaders and other ... civic leaders are up at the palace trying ... to decide what to do. You should get there as soon as - ”

Vimes was already running. Angelina turned to Mr Lipwig.

“ – possible,” he finished.

“I’m not supposed to run,” she said with a belated bout of prudence. “But if you want to go ahead, I’ll follow as quickly as I can.”

Mr Lipwig offered her his arm. “I don’t think your husband would ... approve if I deserted you. Besides, I’m still out of breath. Let’s go.”

They set off at a brisk pace. Mr Lipwig summarized the events of the afternoon.

“...and my fiancée says the election should be declared invalid, because women were admitted so late that many of them didn’t get a chance to go to the polling stations, but Mr Slant says it’s the responsibility of the electorate to make use of their right to vote,” he finished.

Angelina frowned.

“It looks like we’re going to need a truly Shulian decision here,” said Mr Lipwig.

“Yes,” replied Angelina, “it’s a shame that we cannot simply summon King Shul and ask him to sort out the mess we’ve got ourselves into.”

Mr Lipwig stopped dead.

“Say that again, will you?”

Angelina looked at him, puzzled.

“I said, it’s a shame that we cannot simply summon King Shul and ask –“

Moist von Lipwig suddenly pressed her arm. “Lady Vetinari, I have an idea. We can summon King Shul. We just need to get to the Department for Post-Mortem Communications at the university.”

“You mean necromancy?” she asked. “That’s madness!”

“Yes,” he said with shining eyes which indicated the presence of inspirations that weren’t quite of this world. “That’s why we’re going to do it. Trust me.”

He turned and made ready to march back up the street. Then he stopped again.

“I don’t know how we can get there quickly, though. Apparently there’s also a big crowd, if not a riot, on The Maul. The whole area is in uproar. We can’t get through and we can’t get round.”

Angelina smiled. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” she said and unrolled the carpet on the pavement. “I’ve just remembered that I have a little ace up my sleeve. Get on board, Mr Lipwig. We’ll get over.”

~oOoOo~

Angelina didn’t quite know what to make of the skulls and the black drapes and dribbling candles. They looked spooky enough but had a certain tackiness about them that prevented her from taking them quite seriously. She was even less sure about the man who rose from the floor, where he had been busy chalking the outlines of a complicated pattern. He didn’t look like a necromancer.

“Oh, hello, Mr Lipwig,” said the man and then he spotted Angelina. He blinked.

“This is not the same young lady that Professor Flead was so fond of, is it?”

“No,” said Moist. “This is Lady Vetinari. Lady Vetinari, meet Dr Hicks, Head of Department of Postmortem Communications.”

“Pleased to meet you, Dr Hicks,” said Angelina. She thought he didn’t look like a Head of Department, either.

Dr Hicks shook her hand and absentmindedly wiped his own on his trousers. Angelina felt he should have done it the other way round.

“You looked taller in the paper,” he said.

“I think I must have shrunk in the wash,” she replied.

He looked at her with an expression of intense puzzlement.

“It was a joke,” said Angelina with a sigh.

“Oh, haha, very amusing. I enjoy a bit of humour myself now and then. Did I tell you that I gave Reginald Poodle at the Dolly Sisters Players’ performance of Have It Your Own Way Then?”

“What did you give him?” asked Angelina, taking an uncharacteristic pleasure in being contrary.

“We don’t have much time for frivolity,” interrupted Mr Lipwig. “Dr Hicks, we require your help in a very important matter. The fate of the whole city depends on it. Can you summon King Shul? And can you get us one of those pentagram sheets we used to carry Professor Flead around? Because we need to get his majesty to the palace.”

Dr Hicks inserted his pinkie into his ear and twisted it round a few times.

“I can’t guarantee that we’ll get King Shul,” he said. “Too long gone, so to speak. But if we do get him, I have a very neat device here for transporting him to the palace. It’s the latest in necr- post-mortem communications. Mr Stibbons developed it, but the idea was mine.”

He turned to a shelf by the wall and took down a shiny object. It looked like a five-sided pyramid, just under a foot tall.

“This is it here, the portagramma. I’m very proud of it, as you can imagine.”

He demonstrated how the five sides of the device fell open once a mechanism at the bottom was unlocked and formed a perfect pentagram, mystic runes included.

“Just insert your spectre here and off you go.”

“Very handy,” said Moist.

“It is. Now shall we try and see if King Shul is willing to grace us with his presence?”

“That’s what we came here for,” agreed Moist.

 

~oOoOo~

It was a bit crowded for three on the magic carpet, plus the portagramma, but they managed to land in the coach yard of the Patrician’s Palace without undue difficulties and entered the building through the back entrance.

“This is where I work,” said Angelina with a gesture towards the laboratory door as they walked past. The place seemed deserted, save for a few guards, who knew her face well enough not to ask any questions. They climbed up the main stair and even out in the corridor they could hear the agitated voices that emerged from the Rats Chamber. Inside, it was hard to see what was going on, but easy to see that whatever went on was fairly chaotic. Angelina spotted Commander Vimes in a heated argument with Lord Selachii and Havelock standing in a corner with a faint smile on his face. He gave her a nod and gestured for her to stay where she was. She couldn’t be quite sure, but he looked as if he had some kind of plan that wasn’t quite ripe yet. Well, for once, she had a better one. 

“Excuse me,” said Angelina, but in the general hubbub nobody heard her. She almost turned towards Havelock for help, but then she straightened her shoulders. It wasn’t as if she had no way of dealing with this. She lifted her head. Deep breath. Diaphragm. Project voice:

“Ladies and Gentlemen!”

Heads turned towards her and the din dimmed down.

“I have a suggestion to make.”

Expressions on various faces indicated that nothing much was expected from the suggestion of a person under five foot three, 1) but the majority of those assembled looked mildly curious and vaguely attentive.

“What Ankh-Morpork needs at this point in time,” said Angelina, “is a king. A king who is wise, just, and loved and respected by his people.”

She glanced around to survey the effect of her words. People were staring in the most satisfactory manner. Captain Carrot had turned pale. And Havelock, her poised and infinitely superior Havelock wore a look of what can only be described as shock. 2) The question, What on the Disc are you doing? was very clearly not written on his face, because human skin has not developed that kind of graphic adaptability, but it was obvious that the thought was going through his mind. Angelina was beginning to enjoy herself, but she was aware that she needed to take advantage quickly of the limited opening that everybody’s perplexity had given her.

“We need a king who is – please don’t interrupt when a lady is talking, Captain Carrot – who is known for making good and fair decisions. A king who is not biased and does nothing for selfish gain. A king whose righteousness and integrity – trust me, Havelock, I’m getting this right - is beyond doubt. We all know this king, because he is the stuff of legends. And yet he is here with us today. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you…”

She paused for effect, because it occurred to her that this was what Mr Lipwig would do.

“…King Shul.”

She made as dramatic a gesture as she could manage towards Mr Lipwig and Dr Hicks. The definitely-not-necromancer stepped forward, placed the portagramma on the table and opened it.  Instantly a figure appeared like a spectral jack-in-the-box. He was tall, gaunt and clad in robes of the deepest red. The crown on his head was unmistakably the same that was on display in the Ankh-Morpork Museum of Obsolete History.

Absolute silence, of the kind in which you can hear a pin drop, would have been a nice touch at this point, but the narrator is forced to acknowledge that the appearance of King Shul actually caused a fair amount of urgent whispering. Unimpressed by this spectacle, the old king cast a glance on the descendants of his subjects and sneered. Then he spoke, in the monotonous, somewhat exasperated tones of someone who has been asked to do this too many times.

“People of Ankh-Morpork,” he began. “Hearken to my judgement. Since there are two excellent men here with equal claims to the Patricianship, the city will be divided between them. One shall rule Ankh and the other shall rule Morpork. The bridges will be dismantled and each part of the city will go its own way. This is the ruling of King Shul.”

He paused and stared intently at the assembled citizens.

“And if any of you believe that you can get smart on me and give up your half in a pathetic gesture designed to prove you worthy to be the true ruler, well, you can think again. I despise such soppy displays of sentimentality. All you will have to decide, gentlemen, is which half of the city each of you will rule.”

This time there was indeed a moment of relative silence during which most people were busy revising their previous understanding of the term “Shulian Judgement.” Then Lord Downey said:

“I will have Morpork.”

As if on cue, the assembled dignitaries began to mutter and murmur. Many appeared impressed by Downey’s magnanimity in choosing the half which was more crime-ridden, more polluted and generally less desirable. Few understood that this half was also the more profitable one. 

King Shul nodded in acknowledgement. Then all eyes turned towards Lord Vetinari. Angelina bit her lip. She hadn’t expected this. How could Havelock possibly reply?

“Am I to understand,” began Lord Vetinari, “that you propose to dissolve the foundation of our civic unity? To snap the bonds which have held our people together for centuries to the mutual advantage of all? You wish to cut the city in half and expect each part to wriggle on like the two ends of a served worm? I doubt you have thought about this thoroughly. Every day, every minute, traffic flows back and forth between Ankh and Morpork in an incessant stream of exchange that keeps our city alive. You think this can be stopped? How do you think the people of Ankh will survive without access to the services of the craftsmen and business people of Morpork?”

A nodding of heads provided by the leaders of guilds like the merchants and plumbers punctuated this part of Vetinari’s speech.

“Have you considered,” he continued, “what will happen to Morpork if it is cut off from the wealth of its more prosperous customers and the benevolence of the patrons of the Arts?”

Several affluent personages straightened their shoulders and lifted their heads at this.

“The two ends of the worm may wriggle for a while, but that convulsion is deceptive,” said Vetinari. “Because, and I cannot emphasize this enough, after a little while both ends die. My friend Lord Downey and I are both prepared to serve this city in any way we can. But you, king though you might be, are no friend of Ankh-Morpork. You have sentenced our city to death. It is not Lord Downey and I who have to prove our worthiness to rule Ankh-Morpork. We have both shown that we can. The one who is not worthy to make decisions about our city is you. I reject your judgement and I reject your claim to being a judge over us. What reason would we have to trust you? We do not want you. We do not need you. We will find a way to keep this city alive. We will share it rather than kill it. Nobody in Ankh-Morpork needs to take directions from a king. You are not welcome here. Go back to whatever spectral dimension it is you came from.”

Now the room was absolutely silent. 3) Four score Ankh-Morporkian civic dignitaries stared and tried not to be the first one to move. A general sense that the dice had fallen permeated the scene.

Then the old king sighed.

“Close the portagramma please, Mr Lipwig,” he said. “I am not needed here. Take me back to the university, where I can be properly banished.”

He turned and addressed the audience.

“You have no need for King Shul. You know who your rightful ruler is. I bid you farewell. Try not to bother me again.”

He pulled his cloak around him and performed a mind-boggling shrinking trick when Moist folded up the portagramma with an ominous click. With the prospect of royal guidance vanished, the people of Ankh-Morpork were again left to their own devices. It was up to them to act wisely. They began by shuffling their feet.

Commander Vimes, cigar in hand, stepped forward and clapped a hand on Lord Downey’s shoulder.

“You’d have Morpork, eh, Downey? Generously letting Vetinari have the nicer half of the city, the one without any breweries and abattoirs and rubber factories and other smelly things that keep a place going? Did you think you were being clever, Downey?”

Lord Downey opened his mouth to say something, but apparently thought better of it. His air of smug self-assurance melted like an ice-lolly rammed into an excitable youth’s underpants. He glanced over to the other side of the room, where Lord Vetinari stood with his arm round Angelina and a smile on his face that would have made a gecko proud. When Angelina looked up to him she thought she briefly saw a glimpse of scales on his neck. Lord Downey’s shoulders sagged.

“Let’s talk about Ankh,” continued Vimes. “While you’ve been sitting here claiming your part of the cake, Ankh the River Man would have gone on to terrorize your citizens. It took Lady Vetinari to put that monster to rest.”

An excited hubbub arose among the civic dignitaries. Angelina saw the questioning and in some cases unquestioningly admiring looks directed at her, and she knew then that Havelock had won, but remarkably the thing that elated her most at this moment was the approval of Commander Vimes.

Lord Downey, crestfallen, lowered his head.

“I’ll go and clear out the office for you, Havelock,” he murmured. “Let it not be said that I don’t know when I’ve lost.”

 

1)       At least, a person under five foot three without a beard.

2)       This is not exactly correct. It could be, for example, described as the kind of expression one wears when one has placed a perfectly good cinnamon and apple cake into the oven  and discovers on opening the oven door an hour later that the cake has inexplicably turned into a seething mess of maggots. But let’s not bother, eh?

3)       Third time lucky.

Chapter Text

The Rats Chamber lay deserted, or almost deserted anyway. Everybody had shuffled 1) across the corridor to the conference room, where an enormous set of French doors opened onto a balcony overlooking the square. Everybody apart from Captain Carrot, that was. He stood by the big table and contemplated the portagramma that Dr Hicks had so carelessly left behind. It was closed up again into its pyramid form. Captain Carrot considered it with agonized indecision. Technically, it was lost property, and as such he should take it to the Watch House to be kept there until Dr Hicks claimed it. But then again, technically, Dr Hicks hadn’t left the building yet and had probably not really abandoned the device. In any case, technically, Carrot had no business picking it up and looking at the underside to see if he could find a switch or lever that would open it. Technically he was doing something almost illegal, and certainly immoral, when he pressed the little square button at the centre of the base. Technically.

The portagramma opened up and instantly the figure of King Shul rose again from it.

“Sire,” whispered Carrot.

“Good to see you, son,” said the old king. “I spotted you earlier in the crowd, but it wasn’t a place to talk privately. Is that why you brought me back, to have a little chat?”

“I hardly know.”

“Well, I’m pleased in any case that we have a bit of time to ourselves here. How’s it going with you?”

“Fine, Sire, fine,” replied Carrot, a little flustered. “I am the second in command in the City Watch and I have a very nice young lady and I write home to my parents every week.”

“Hm.” King Shul seemed to be pondering the merit of these revelations. “You’re definitely being a ... good boy.”

“Thank you, Sire,” said Carrot. “May I ask you something?”

“You certainly may.”

“Did you mean things to take this turn? With Downey and Vetinari, I mean?”

The old king looked down on Carrot and smiled.

“Maybe I did? It’s a question of making choices,” he said. “Always making choices. Remember that, my son.”

“I know, Sire,” said Carrot. “I will.”

1)       They would have liked to rush, but that’s a difficult thing to do for a crowd inside a building, however grand.

~oOoOo~

Angelina was back in her flat and she was packing. Havelock had decreed that they would move back into the palace immediately. He had gone straight to the Oblong Office and left to her the organization of such minor questions as how to transport the harp. So she had sent for a couple of porters, and they were who she expected when the doorbell rang. However, the person standing on the Welcome mat was Sir Samuel Vimes.

“Oh, Commander,” she said. “Please, do come in.”

She ushered him through the door and into the sitting room, where he stood awkwardly in front of the fireplace.

“I’ve got something for you,” he said and held out his hand. On the tobacco-stained palm lay her ring.

“Oh, thank you, Commander, how very considerate of you!” The ring was back on her finger so quickly that it seemed almost like magic. “Thank you, and thank you for all your help. I hope you’re pleased with the outcome.”

“Hm,” said Vimes. “Don’t hold with kings. That was some risk you took there. Did you know what to expect?”

“Not exactly,” said Angelina. “I just trusted the narrative. King Shul always judges right, and since Havelock is the rightful ruler, it couldn’t have gone wrong.”

“Hm,” repeated Vimes and lit the inevitable cigar. “I wouldn’t have done it like that.”

“What would you have done?”

“Probably something that involved a lot of shouting and running about. But your style wasn’t bad.”  He took a very deep puff. “Well done, Lina.”

“Thank you, Sam,” replied Angelina and rewarded Vimes with the very brightest of her smiles. 2)

2)       On a Sue alert scale of one to tene took a deep puff.He, this scene would probably score at least a seven. But the narrator brazenly sticks to it, because, well, because she can.

~oOoOo~

A man can endure many things, often for a considerable length of time, but once the period of deprivation is over, he’ll feel an urge to make up for it. And if he’s rich and powerful enough, there’s no reason why he won’t. It might surprise the reader to find out what was uppermost in Havelock Vetinari’s mind the following morning and what resulted in the first order he gave from the Oblong Office since his return, but really, considering all the circumstances, it makes perfect sense.

Anything, if it can be made at all, can be made in the Street of Cunning Artificers. The houses are narrow here and stand very close together; they even encroach maybe a foot or so per level on the space over the street. Yet there is no sense of being crowded, squashed or squeezed; no indeed, these houses are a hive of shared secrets and they lean close to each other the more swiftly to pass words and tools and skills from one to the next. Day in, day out, half-finished products are carried, some wrapped in cloth, others packed into crates and others again just clutched in the hands of some determined craftsman, 3) from the tanner to the carpenter next door to the silversmith, from these three houses up to the saddle maker, across the street to the potter and finally back to the carpenter. At other times, artisans from this house and that house and that one over there might come together in a forge or workshop and form a little cluster in the centre of which, with much rubbing of beards and clearing of throats, a particularly challenging object might be appraised.

Usually, this object is a thing in the making.  On this occasion, though, two men and three dwarves formed a circle around an artefact that had just been completed.

“Search me,” said the man who had made the thing. “I thought I’d work out what it’s for once it was finished, but I’m just as bamboozled as before.”

The second man looked thoughtful.

“It wouldn’t be, you know, for the enhancement of ... certain pleasures?”

Two of the dwarves turned crimson. The first man shook his head.

“All the attachments contain blades,” he said. “The puzzle is, the way they’re set, you couldn’t cut anything with them.”

“Let me see,” said one of the dwarves and took the object. He inspected it closely, whilst chewing the tip of his moustache. The thing was small, not quite as big as a man’s hand, and contained one of the new extra-speedy nano-imps in a wire mesh casing. The imp cage was shaped in such a way as to fit snugly into the palm. There were three attachments that fitted the top of the hand piece. One consisted of two circular contraptions the size of a thirty pence coin, one was a conical shape with a small hole at the front and the last was a broad, flat piece like a very short comb. All three were fitted with tiny blades that whirred in mysterious susurration as soon as the nano-imp started pedalling in its treadmill.

The dwarf shook his head.

“Not even an assassin could kill anyone with this” he said.

“That’s just what I thought,” said the first man. “I can’t for the life of me think what he’d want this for. Oh, well, far be it from me to question his lordship. He pays well, that’s all I care.”

Two hours later the thing was delivered at the palace and its use demonstrated by its designer.

“Very satisfactory,” said his lordship after a trial run. “And what will you call it, Leonard?”

“Device-to-trim-facial-hair-quickly-and-neatly, my lord.”

Lord Vetinari smiled.

“I might have known.”

3)       Or craftsdwarf, of course.

~oOoOo~

The following week, when much of the excitement had died down, Angelina found herself bored. She had furnished her suite with Tvoolia’s help, practised her instruments for hours on end and even dusted the laboratory. Now she longed for some fresh air and stimulating company. “Yes, Mr de Worde,” she murmured to herself, “I do wish to see my husband in the Oblong Office.” She wavered for a minute, wondering whether or not it was acceptable to interrupt Havelock at his work. Then she remembered that she had never hesitated to go and see him when she wanted to, and she decided that she wasn’t going to start now.

“Hello, Havelock,” she said as she entered his office.

“Oh, Angelina. Do sit down. Did you ask Mr Drumknott to send for some tea and figgins?

“I confess I’ve gone off figgins a bit.”

“I thought that might happen one day,” he replied.

“Can we go for a walk?” she said and leaned against the back of his chair.

“I’m afraid not. I’m very busy right now.” He indicated the towering piles of paper on his desk with a gesture that suggested only very casually that she might have spotted this herself.

“How can you have that much paperwork already?” she asked.

“It’s the backlog from the last five months.”

“Why, didn‘t Lord Downey deal with it?”

“Downey apparently told Drumknott to bin everything. In an act of unprecedented bravery, Drumknott defied his employer and filed all the paperwork as he would have done for me. But his nerves suffered terribly.”

“Poor Mr Drumknott!” Angelina sat down on the sofa, a piece of furniture that owed its existence in this particular room to Lord Downey’s people centred approach.

“Indeed,” said Vetinari. “I have advised him to sue Downey for damages on account of the sleepless nights he had from work-related stress. That seems to be the done thing these days.”

“Has Mr Drumknott told you he’s had sleepless nights because of this?”

“Not in so many words, but he looks clearly sleep-deprived.”

“Hm,” said Angelina and patted her hair. “You do know, don’t you, that the Drumknotts have a new baby?”

“Yes, I’ve heard. Why are you changing the subject?”

“I wasn’t. I was trying to tell you why Mr Drumknott would look so tired.”

“What does a baby have to do with it?”

“What does - ? Havelock! Have you ever been in a house with a baby?”

“Not since I was that baby, no.”

“Hm.” Angelina slowly rubbed her hand over her belly in the manner of pregnant women everywhere, in spite of the fact that there wasn’t really a bulge there yet, or if there was, it was the result of her renewed intake of figgins. “I think you’re in for a bit of a surprise, then. That is, maybe not. I’ve been thinking, Havelock, that it might be best if I went back to Pseudopolis for a while and stayed with my mother. Until next spring maybe, until the baby is a bit settled. That would give you time, too, to get everything back on track here without having to worry about me. What do you think?”

Without looking up from his paperwork, he replied: “I would prefer it if you stayed here.”

“Why?”

“Because I have already spent forty-nine years of my life without you, and I consider that quite enough.”

“But you said there would be all sorts of problems associated with us having a child. So I thought it would be better if I was out of the way for a while.”

Vetinari put down his pen, rose from his chair and walked over to the sofa where Angelina was sitting. He sat down beside her and took both her hands into his.

“Lina,” he said, “I have had nothing but problems since the day I married you. I’ve been lost at sea with nothing but tinned carrots to eat, marooned among lunatics, swallowed by a whale – “

“Fish,” she corrected automatically.

“By a fish then. And I’ve had to fight off sea monsters, tackle a river that thought it was a person, try to win the vote of a host of feisty ladies and outsmart a spectral king. You have to admit that my life these days is a far cry from the comparative peace and quiet I used to enjoy. Our wedding seems to have pushed me out of my orbit. Yet,” he said and pressed her hands, “I wouldn’t have it otherwise. It was my choice. The moment I decided to marry you, I accepted all the consequences, foreseeable or not. I have no intention of sending you away and I believe you have neither right nor reason to go. I did not win you from Death in order to let you sneak away from me, is that quite clear?”

“I didn’t mean to sneak – what was that you just said?” 

He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Do you remember,” he said, “when we were in Hersheba after that – fish had spat me out? And your rash action in drinking from that stream? Your little outing to – what was it called again? - the Hall of Famous Wives in Limbo, what did you think that was?”

Angelina wrinkled her nose.

“It wasn’t a dream. Some kind of hallucination, I suppose, brought on by that strange water.”

“Aha, hallucination. You’ll be interested to hear then that while you hallucinated happily, a seven foot skeleton appeared to claim you.”

She looked at him in horror.

“You saw Death? But that is impossible!”

“Is it?  I understand that Death is seen by everyone eventually - and besides,” he added and raised a hand to stifle his wife’s imminent protests, “wizards see him on a rather regular basis. They even go so far as to invite him to certain social gatherings. As for me, I’ve always been able to see what’s really there.”

Angelina bit her lip and twisted the rings on her left hand. She had suddenly been yanked back from that room with the weird women and Havelock had been there and on a stone next to him a crudely carved game board and some pebbles…

“Thud!” she whispered. “You played Thud! and you won. I should be dead, but you won me from Death with a game that I loathe. I owe my life to Thud?”

“Maybe you’ll feel more charitable about my little whim in the future,” said Vetinari with a grin. “I don’t think you’ll ever be a brilliant opponent, but you might turn out to be tolerable, I suppose.”

“Will you stop quoting me!” said a female voice, rather testily.

The Patrician leapt up and scanned the room, right hand sliding up his left sleeve.

“Never mind,” said Angelina and put her hand on his arm. “It’s just residual internarrative interference from that crossover element in our first story. The Librarian gave me the book a few days ago. It really is rather good.”

Both of Vetinari’s eyebrows hit his hairline.

"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr Darcy and Lizzy. It’s all in a book from that, that other place, you know which one. And they were a bit like you and I, though not really, but for some reason we said a lot of lines from that book.”

“Indeed you did, and if it wasn’t for the lamentable fact that I am out of copyright, I would certainly sue you about it,” said the same testy voice.

“My sincere apologies, madam,” said Vetinari to the room at large, “if we have incommoded you in any way. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. What kind of nonsense am I talking here?

At this point the narrator, having painted herself into a corner, decides it is time to conclude the chapter.

Chapter Text

What is left to tell? Ankh-Morpork soon settled back into its time-honoured pattern of relying on and grumbling about Lord Vetinari. A handful of free-thinking citizens got it into their heads that general elections should become a regular feature of Ankh-Morpork’s political calendar, but Lord Vetinari invited them to the Oblong Office and explained to them very patiently that such means were unnecessary while a perfectly good Patrician was in office, thank you very much and do not let me detain you. Lord Downey, without much fuss, returned to his old position as head of the Assassin’s Guild and made absolutely sure to cover up his tracks well enough to prevent anyone from accusing him of having violated the motto Nil Mortifii Sine Lucre.

Angelina returned to her post in the laboratory and with her husband’s determined support paved the way to a cleaner Ankh-Morpork. 1) Mr Pony was once again put in charge of the sewage works, and Hershebean rubber was banned once and for all. Ankh was never seen again. Mr Collins continued to do good business, but discontinued the production of the Personality Enhancer after Commander Vimes told him in no uncertain terms that should as much as a drop of the stuff ever turn up in the city again, he would personally see to it that Mr Collins would receive a special treatment that would enhance neither his personality nor his person.

1) Once the road was finished, it was just a question of persuading everybody to move.

Captain Carrot thought deeply about the Old King’s words and came to a decision. It was indeed always about choices, but he knew that choices do not only have to be made, they also have to be acknowledged. Sometimes they have to be acknowledged in public. Thus it was that at the beginning of Sektober, only a week before the date of the prospective wedding extravaganza planned by the late Dame Gina Dulci, Ankh-Morpork saw a very special wedding indeed. There were a few bowls placed on the floor in a separate room, but this was handled with so much discretion that The Times never got a hint. Goldy and Lucky married not much later, and since nobody ever found out the particular idiosyncrasies of their relationship, either, their union failed to produce even the smallest amount of scandal. Their nuptials were followed, a couple of months later, by the wedding of Adora Belle Dearheart and Moist von Lipwig. Apparently, her success in the struggle for female suffrage had ameliorated her feelings. Gladys was bridesmaid, obviously.

Speaking of scandals: the Hingh triplets lived up to the expectations they had raised during their debut in Ankh-Morpork and never ceased to be involved in one scandal or another. Luckily 2) they soon decided that the Morporkians were a bunch of stodgy sobersides and hence they removed their inspiring presence to the more open-minded climate of Brindisi. Nobody ever found out how they had managed to escape from watch custody and spoil the ballot papers, but they never failed to boast about it at family reunions, which was one of the reasons why they were rarely invited.

2) For people living in Ankh-Morpork, that is.

Henry and Tvoolia were surprised, to say the least, by the arrival of triplets, and it became a matter of some considerable debate among the members of the extended family how Barry, Benny and Bertie could be prevented from following in the footsteps of their infamous aunts.

Cassandra and Joaquin decided not to enrich the Disc’s gene pool, but focussed their energies on their business instead. They soon owned a chain of little jewellery shops in all major towns of the Sto Plains, and if Cassandra’s correspondence with Angelina became a bit more erratic than it had been in the past, this should by no means be taken as a sign of estrangement between the sisters.

The Ankh-Morpork dollar recovered much more slowly than might have been expected. When Adora Belle asked her new husband why this was, she learned the rather puzzling truth: that Vetinari had by no means instructed Moist to artificially lower the value of the currency, but had in fact told him to artificially raise it, thus preventing a precarious collapse in the money market which they had found to be imminent, due to Downey’s mismanagement. Adora Belle, of course, understood these machinations immediately, unlike Angelina, who, when let into the secret at about the same time, only shook her head in confusion.

For a while, Constantin Greenaway felt a bit left out in the cold, because the multitude of marriages, pregnancies and childbirths had set his mind into a certain direction, but there seemed nothing ahead in his life but an empty path. Lucky for him, then, that he happened to drop in on the Drumknotts one evening to find that they had a visitor; none other than Elsie Drumknott’s younger sister, who was similarly freckled, similarly warm-hearted and similarly accomplished in traditional cuisine. So there was another single young man provided for. Alas, nothing so elating can be reported of Chas Fawler. He returned to Pseudopolis utterly dejected and no eligible lady came forward to claim this actually rather nice man. It’s a tough life sometimes.

Angelina was in due course delivered of a healthy baby girl. Choosing a name for this child proved no easy undertaking. A boy would have been named after Angelina’s late father without undue agonizing, but for a female child the options were too manifold, since both Mrs Winter and her husband had not only had very respectable mothers, but a plethora of equally formidable aunts. And here, for once, Havelock also had some family considerations to bring into play. Lady Meserole, not to mention her deceased sister, had a claim on the affections of the child’s father, so that Roberta and Giovanna were added to the list of Marianne, Eleanor, Georgiana and half a dozen other eligible names found in the works of a certain novelist who shall remain unnamed.

In the end, the little girl was called Deirdre after her godmother; and while not everybody was completely satisfied with this solution, at least nobody was totally dissatisfied either and Lady Sybil was positively delighted.

The narrator feels under no obligation to reveal whether or not Havelock Vetinari ever attempted to change a nappy. But she is confident the readers will agree with her that this much is certain: if he did, he did it as he did everything else, with poise, elegance, indefatigable humour and something so close to perfection that it makes no odds.

The End