As far as diplomatic bashes went, Vimes reckoned the Lancre delegation had the right idea. Proper knees up, none of this fiddly stuff, none of this wandering around making polite small talk. Dancing, instead. Bit of grub, properly unidentifiable, too, and plenty of alcohol, some of it of a kind to dissolve your teeth if you didn't swallow it fast enough.
Not that he'd had any of that, of course. On the bright side, though, no-one at all had complained about his smoking, either, or even told him to go outside in the wet with it. Not that he wouldn't, at some points, have been very happy to do so.
Right kind of monarchy, he figured. Even if their king had that distant, thousand-yard stare sometimes, particularly at the sound of Rust's high, braying laughter, or that decades-old joke Selachii had told. Fools Guild. Vimes could spot it a mile away. Poor bastard. But he threw a damn good party, and had a decent line in quiet irony, which Vimes always appreciated in a man. And he'd not turned a hair at Vimes' ancestry, or gotten that polite, strained look a lot of kings did (and sometimes Vimes had to wonder how the hell he'd come to be here, where he could say a sentance like that. Bloody Vetinari and his bloody promotions).
No, King Verence was a right old chap, Vimes thought. Good sort. Bit henpecked, maybe.
The real star of the evening, though, had been the witches. Which, apparently, included the Queen herself. It'd been a bloody good job the ice had already been broken, and no-one really expected Vimes to be diplomatic, because he'd nearly put his foot in it there. Or the old biddy, with the face like a hatchet. Vimes knew her for an old watchman, straight off. Like the old one down the end of Cockbill Street, when he was a kid. The one whose house nobody ever threw a stone or kicked the bit of leather pretending to be a ball at, because she'd a glare that'd skin you, and a look like she could see down to your soul. Hah! Weatherwax, the Lancre one was called. Witch, she'd said. Vimes'd figured there.
And then ... Nanny, she said to call her. Vimes thought, anyway. Passing around jugs of something made from apples, she said. Well. Mostly apples. Hur hur. One sniff of it, from about two feet away, had had his eyes watering. Vimes reckoned it had more in common with the more corrosive liquids in Cheery's lab than anything you were actually supposed to drink.
She'd been very popular with it, though. Nanny. For someone who looked old enough to be Vimes' old mum, she'd been getting enough appreciative looks, giving out more than enough looks of her own, and making enough 'appropriate suggestions', that you could track her passing around the ball from by the simultaneous throaty laughs and murmurs of shocked dismay from the denizens of Ankh. (Selachii and Venturi had found her perfectly appalling. Rust apparently hadn't noticed her at all).
She was probably Vimes' favourite, really, but around the point where she was cosying cheerfully up to Vetinari and holding out a mug that all but stripped the varnish off the Patrician's chair, Vimes decided it was about time he took a step outside and set to watching the outside of the building. Taking a deep breath of the cold, damp air off the Ankh, dropping off the outer layers of his finery, and bouncing a little in his boots to get a feel for the (currently rather squelchy) cobbles. Settling in, in short. In the cold, and the wet, and the normalcy.
Good bash, he'd thought. Very good bash. He'd just take a breather, though.
Which meant, two hours later, that he had a perfect view, tucked in his little corner of wind and shadow, of the tall, quick figure of Havelock bloody Vetinari slipping nonchalantly out the side door, cane and coat in hand, and a burly, cheerful figure on his arm. A figure that laughed, that distinctive, throaty laugh, right before ... before reaching up, and planting a decisive, appreciative kiss on the cheek of the Patrician of bloody Ankh-Morpork.
A Patrician who, rather than taking that cool, amused offence of his, that raised eyebrow that had simply no idea why anyone would think to do so foolish a thing, instead tipped his head back, and let out a light, carefree little laugh of his own.
Vimes stared so hard he forgot to fade into the brickwork. Alright, no. He stared so hard he practically fell off the brickwork, almost stumbling forward out from the wall. The pair walking past, heading for the Patrician's carriage, looked up to smile at him.
"Ah, Vimes," Vetinari murmured, coming abreast of him and smiling that faint, knowing little smirk of his. "A most interesting gathering, hmm?"
Vimes blinked at him. "Sir?" he managed. Not actually meaning it to be as questioning as it came out. "Erm. Right. Interesting, yes. Ah. Are you off then, sir?"
Nanny chuckled. Filthily. While patting the man cheerfully, and rather possessively, on the arm. "Yes indeed, dearie," she said, grinning at Vimes in a way that had his hindbrain skittering backwards a little bit. "Havelock's taking me home. Says he has some lovely etchings he'd like to show me." She laughed, rich and full and honestly cheerful. "Lordy, ain't heard that one since I was a slip of a girl." She beamed up at him. "I do like the old-fashioned ones, you know."
Vimes ... felt his brain just sort of stop, really. Felt it go white, and distant.
Vetinari smiled, just faintly, and bowed a touch over their linked arms. "Mmm. I tend to favour experience, myself," he murmured, with that sneaky little curl of amusement in his voice. "I have always felt that one should set themselves to learning, when one encounters an expert in their field."
Good gods, Vimes thought, distantly. I think he's flirting. And other things, suggesting other things, etchings, bigods, but his brain stopped, there, and pointedly refused to go further. Good gods.
"Right then, dearie," Nanny grinned, reaching out to pat Vimes gently on the shoulder, and steer him out of their way. Vetinari ... didn't smirk, Vimes might've got himself together if the man had smirked, it would have been normal, but no. "I've got a couple of jugs stashed in my knickers. Lets go teach each other a thing or two, what do you say?"
And Vimes, standing with his jaw on the cobbles, watching them traipse gaily off into the night, was left wondering if 'apples' could, in fact, get you drunk at two paces, with a bloody sniff.
Because if it couldn't, he reckoned he should maybe find something that could, and cigars be damned!