Actions

Work Header

As Events Dictate

Chapter Text

Concerning Truth..that which May be Spoken as Events Dictate, but should be Heard on Every Occasfion’ – from Vetinari’s journal (Feet of Clay).

Prologue

Flames ran up the walls of the corridor all around them, smoke billowing like clouds to the high ceilings, sending the frescoes disappearing in curls of blackened paint, and large chunks of plaster and wood crashing down in a hellish rain.

 

A tall figure in a rippling, ragged black cloak stalked the hall, approaching in an unhurried fashion, but then, the fire didn’t seem able to touch him. Wicked steel glinted in the fire with an eerie glow.

 

“I had a feeling I might be seeing you,” Lord Vetinari commented as the figure came to a halt beside him. Death inclined his head – or skull, rather – in polite acknowledgement.

 

YOU HAVE SEEN ME MANY TIMES, he pointed out.

 

“Yes, but usually from a safe distance,” came the dry reply. The Patrician smiled faintly. Death had witnessed many more smiles upon human faces than might have been casually supposed, considering his line of work, but he had never seen one that held that particular combination of knowledge and pain.

 

“I have a proposal for you,” the Patrician said in the next moment. “A bargain, if you will.”

 

I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT. THE POWERFUL USUALLY DO. Were he human himself, Death might have sighed. The shade of the Patrician glanced down at the prone figure next to his own body, and brushed a hand across the bloodied face, briefly. It passed right through. A flicker passed across his face, and he looked straight back up at Death, smile gone.

 

“But not, I suspect, like this.”

 

Chapter 1.

 

The commotion outside the Palace had subsided a little by the time the evening set in again. Commander Vimes sat in a makeshift office in one of the stables, head in his hands.

 

“So that’s everybody,” he addressed the rough wooden table in front of him.

 

“Yes sir,” Sergeant Colon reported, his voice quavering slightly, “Everybody accounted for except his Lordship and Mr Drumknott. Captain Carrot and some of the golem volunteers are still searching through the remains, but it’s still too hot in places, and very unstable on the upper floors.”

 

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Vimes intoned dully, still staring at the floor.

 

“Sergeant Detritus has the crowds contained behind the barricade we set up,” he continued, sweating nervously, “But they’re beginning to leave now anyway sir. That de Worde fellow from The Times still wants a statement.” Vimes grunted noncommittally to that, and Sergeant Colon took the opportunity to escape.

 

Vimes didn’t notice him go. He wondered if he should go and help Carrot search again, but he was bone tired, and, in his heart, he knew it was pointless. If Vetinari had been able to escape, he would have done by now, wouldn’t he? But he had to have escaped. Didn’t he have lots of little secret tunnels and things? Where the hell was he? It had been nearly 24 hours….unless the bastard had some sneaky trick up his sleeve, was going to wait until all the backstabbing elite had crawled out the woodwork to steal his place, and then leap out and catch them at it. But that didn’t make any sense, because, so far as he knew, things were pretty stable. And everybody knew, in the sort of way that meant that nobody actually said, that Moist von Lipwig was probably going to be the next Patrician, except that it wasn’t supposed to be for years, and – and – The fact was, when it boiled down to it, when he finally glared at it in the beady eye, he’d never really believed that Vetinari would die. He’d just sort of imagined him carrying on forever.

 

“This had better be some sneaky trick of yours, you rotten bastard,” he told the table, sulkily. Except that a panicked Mr Lipwig had been one of the first to arrive at the conflagration that was the Palace. The little dog, Mr Fusspot, had run barking urgently to his door in the middle of the night, limping and wheezing; smelling of smoke and covered in duckweed, from where someone had evidently thrown him, probably from a high window, say the sixth floor, into the ornamental trout pond…an accurate throw, into a pond only a foot wide…

 

Vimes was aware that he was trying to stop parts of his brain going from where it didn’t want to go, and so, in an effort to give himself something else to focus on, he lifted his weary body from the seat. He would go and help Carrot search again, if only to stop the lad taking foolish risks. Detritus had had to hold him back from suicidally running into the burning building last night as it was. Perhaps Vetinari was hiding out in some safehole somewhere, or would appear from one of those secret tunnels in a warehouse halfway down the river, calm and infuriatingly unruffled. Raising an eyebrow at all the fuss. Yes, he was sure that was what was going to happen.

 

Constable Dorfl met him at the entrance to the Palace, and, against his own will, his stomach did a nasty about-turn around his heart.

 

“Report!” he snapped.

 

“Does Not Make Sense. Come And See,” was all Dorfl would say, so he followed him, carefully picking his way across the still smoking wreckage of the Palace, through the blackened corridors, in the direction, so far as he could tell, of living quarters, but not the Patrician’s rooms. The sixth floor had fallen in entirely. Presently, he heard a disturbing sniffling sound over the cracking and groaning of the building. With a dreadful sense of foreboding he rounded the corner to be confronted by the sight of a filthy Captain Carrot standing rigidly at attention, helmet clutched in his hands. Tears had tracked vividly through the soot on his face.

 

“Oh gods,” breathed Vimes, staring at the two charred, twisted bodies on the floor, one tall and thin, a black silk scarf virtually melted onto what was left of his face; the other slightly shorter, though still slender, with wisps of fair curly hair stickened with blood, lying half on top of him. It was them. It couldn’t be anyone else. The scene told its own tragic, damning story in vivid, gory detail, and, amongst all the other things, Vimes suddenly understood, and profoundly did not want to understand, what had so confused Dorfl. Pushing down against the roiling in his stomach, he reached out a hand that appeared to be shaking uncontrollably, and shifted Drumknott’s body, as gently as he could, a little to one side. His arms were locked around Vetinari’s neck, held in place by the thin iron grip of the long-fingered hand holding both his own. A cold hand, with a still-warm stygium signet ring on it, emblazoned with a simple V.

 

The feared tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, ruler of the greatest city on the Disc, had died trying to save the life of a humble clerk. Over the roaring noise in his ears that sounded suspiciously like the Disc spinning the wrong way round, Vimes dimly heard Carrot begin to cry again.

 

* * *

 

Rufus Drumknott opened his eyes slowly, blinking until the blurry black blob wavering in front of him uncertainly resolved itself into the familiar shape of a very tall thin man in a long black cloak. He was aware of piercing blue eyes boring into his own.

 

“Your lordship?” Drumknott managed, which wasn’t bad, considering that a scream of mortal terror was the usual response.

 

ER. NO? Death replied, slightly taken aback. He was aware, vaguely, that people often mistook Lord Vetinari for him1. This was the first time it had happened the other way around though. When he wanted to be Seen, he was seen. Drumknott fumbled frantically for his glasses.

 

“Oh,” he said, a bit embarrassed. Now that he could focus properly, the differences were rather glaringly obvious. For one thing, Vetinari was skinnier.2

 

HOW ARE YOU FEELING? Death asked, with the uncertain sound of someone who had just read something with a title like, How To Speak Reassuringly To Sick People, and not really understood it.

 

“Dead, I rather suspect,” he replied, carefully, trying to sit up. He appeared to be in a comfy bed in a rather…antiquarian, if not unpleasant room. He also appeared to still be in his body.

 

TECHNICALLY, YES, Death admitted. I IMAGINE THIS IS A BIT OVERWHELMING FOR YOU. He was quite proud of that sentence.

 

“Er, a little…puzzling,” Drumknott replied, looking around anxiously. “There was a fire…I think something fell on my head and – where’s Lord Vetinari?”

 

ALSO DEAD. TECHNICALLY, SOMEWHAT MORE DEAD THAN YOU. Drumknott looked so distressed at this that Death immediately revised his opinion of his own progress at comforting small talk, but in the next moment the former clerk looked up at him, mouth set in a grim line.

 

“He’s not….here then?”

 

NO.

 

“Then why am I here? And where is here, anyway?”

 

IT IS EASIER TO SHOW YOU, Death admitted, FOLLOW ME. Lacking any other option, Drumknott did so, down a long corridor that seemed to not quite obey the standard laws of space, and into a vast…library, he supposed, that most definitely had not got the appropriate planning permission to extend into that number of dimensions. Row upon row of shelves marched off into the visible (and invisible) distance, stacked high and haphazardly with books, manuscripts, and paper….paper everywhere. Drumknott’s horrified gaze was drawn inexorably to the imposing, dimension-defying desk, which was piled high and apparently randomly with paperwork. Beside him, Death shifted uncomfortably, producing a disconcerting rattle.

 

IT’S SORT OF…RATHER GOT ON TOP OF ME LATELY, he admitted, sounding as embarrassed as an anthropomorphic personification with a voice like falling paving slabs could sound. Drumknott hid his face in his hands. Death wasn’t sure he was handling this quite right.

 

HE SAID YOU ENJOYED FILING, he ventured. HE SAID YOU WERE THE BEST. Drumknott peeked over his fingers, not sure whether to be more stunned at the post-mortem compliment or at its implication.

 

“He – you’re offering me a job?

 

 

 

 

1. Particularly in his former profession as an Assassin, when, in all fairness, the difference between death-by-Vetinari and Death was a matter largely of semantics and particularly fine timing.

2. Although Death was definitely bonier.

 

Chapter Text

They hadn’t moved the bodies yet. They were covered by some hastily scavenged sheets, but they were still there. Vimes wanted nothing more than to get them respectfully taken away, clear everything up – as if the whole ghastly mess could be cleared up! – and pretend that that tableau wouldn’t stay forever emblazoned on his mind. But he couldn’t. Not until the coppering part was done. Not until he knew what had happened. How it had happened. Why, in god’s name, it had happened and Vetinari hadn’t – hadn’t what? Got out of it? Do what he was supposed to do (which Vimes never knew anyway)?

 

He was still staring down at the shrouded bodies when he became dimly aware of footsteps approaching. Lots of footsteps. He looked up sharply. Sergeant Angua was ahead of the pack (as it were), which was fine, but Mr Lipwig and the de Worde fellow were following, which was decidedly not.

 

“Bloody get them out of here!” he snapped, in the general direction of his Watchmen (people). “This is a crime scene!” And it seemed that everybody began talking at once.

 

“Sorry! He just got away from me and came running back!” That was Lipwig, frantically diving after Mr Fusspot, who had been heading for the Patrician’s body.

 

“Actually, Sir, it looks like it was a genuine accident…” Angua was trying to explain, with her hand over her face. He could only imagine how bad it was for that nose.

 

“I just need a simple statement, Commander. People have to know something or they’ll be making up even more rumours than are already flying around.”

 

“Pick that bloody dog up!” Vimes shouted, trying to make himself heard over the confusion around him, and inside him, “What rumours? What accident? Who’s been talking?” Everybody shut up in the face of his fury, except for Lipwig’s sudden, panicky,

 

“OhgodohgodI’minsomuchtroubleyouweren’tsupposedtodieyoubastard!

 

“Quite,” Vimes said sourly. He almost felt sorry for Lipwig, except that, as the poor sod mostly charged with dealing with this mess, he was too busy feeling sorry for himself. He became aware that everyone was looking at him.

 

“What was that you were saying Sergeant?” he asked, carefully, deliberately.

 

“Corporal Littlebottom is certain the fire was an accident, sir,” Angua reported. Her voice was shaking, her eyes bright. Carrot was one thing, but he’d never known Angua to get emotional like that,  “Looks like a spark from the fire in the main kitchen ignited it, and, unfortunately, there were some barrels of fat stored in the cellars nearby which exploded. From there, it would have spread very rapidly given the large amount of wooden fittings, furniture and drapes and the like.” It made a certain sense, at that, Vimes was forced to admit. Assassination attempts the Patrician could usually see coming a mile off. An accident was, ironically, the one thing even Vetinari couldn’t predict, couldn’t entirely plan for.

 

“Well you can write that in your paper,” Vimes said evenly, glaring at de Worde, who, along with most of the people present, was assiduously trying to avoid staring at the corpses. “And squash some of those rumours that are running about. Now, everybody who’s not supposed to be here, clear off, unless you want to spend the night in the Tanty.” Sergeant Angua succeeded in removing, well, everybody, to be on the safe side. Only Carrot and Vimes remained. Carrot wasn’t crying anymore, but his face was as grave as ever Vimes had seen it.

 

“Get Cheery to confirm cause of death,” Vimes growled, running a grimy hand over his grimy face. “Just – just get them out of here. Discreetly.”

 

“Sir,” Carrot replied, his voice sounding strained, “Yes sir. Someone needs to send a message to Mr Drumknott’s family, sir.” Vimes’s brain managed another ominous creak.

 

“Damn. Who?”

 

“A sister and nephew in the town, sir. His sister is waiting outside the palace. His mother is in the Ramtops, sir. She’s a widower.”

 

Damn. See to it Carrot. No, on second thoughts, I’ll – no, you’re better at that sort of thing. You take care of it. Make sure his mother gets a carriage to come to the city. I’ll see them personally once she’s here.”

 

“Sir.” Carrot hesitated. “What will you tell them sir?”

 

“I don’t know!” Vimes snapped. “Go and get Cheery!”

 

“Sir.” I need a drink, thought Vimes. In fact, he didn’t so much think it as the thought just materialised, straight in his brain. In all the fuss about the Patrician, he’d almost forgotten about Drumknott. And he didn’t even know the man had any family. Vimes just thought of him as something that came attached to Vetinari, like the cane, or the fussy little beard, or the knives. Which was probably what everyone thought of him, if they even noticed him at all. Evidently, though, evidently…Vetinari hadn’t thought that.

 

Vimes stared down at the bodies one last time. He knew what Cheery was going to say of course. There was no way any fancy forensics was going to somehow say that they weren’t who he knew they were. That what had happened, hadn’t. He really, profoundly wanted a drink, like he hadn’t wanted one in a long time. Enough of a drink to make what had happened somehow unhappen, at least for a few precious hours.

 

“You bloody rotten bastard,” he addressed Vetinari, not enjoying the man’s inability to answer back as much as he imagined he would, “You had to go and bloody do it, didn’t you?” I hate you, he thought, silently, sullenly.

 

He walked wearily out of the remains of the Palace. The de Worde fellow was still hanging around outside the gates, their photographer taking pictures of the smoking ruins, although he didn’t look as manically enthusiastic about it as he usually did. He had to tell the reporter something. And The Times prided itself on telling the truth, which always led to trouble.

 

“Come with me,” he growled, snagging a surprised de Worde, and giving him the short version of events. Then he stomped off again. He was going home. There was nothing more he could do here. Not now. And he’d already sent back a carriage Sybil had sent him an hour ago.

 

So he trudged the familiar route home, trusting in his feet to get him there. Nothing else seemed to be working right. De Worde had looked shocked. Good. Let him look shocked. Vimes wanted to spread it about a bit. Sybil was going to be upset, of course, which he didn’t want. But she’d rally; she was a champion when it came to rallying, and right now, he was selfish enough to know that he needed her vast common sense and comfort. She’d rally him. She’d get the whole damn Disc to pull itself together if she had to. Which she very well might, at this rate.

 

Willikins let him in and he tramped black ash halfway down the hall and straight into the drawing room.

 

“We found Vetinari,” he said, straight out. His voice sounded cracked and dull. “And Drumknott. He died trying to rescue him.” Sybil’s hands flew to her face in a sudden gush of emotion. Why is everyone crying? he thought suddenly, bitterly.

 

“Oh poor dear Havelock,” Sybil breathed, “And Drumknott!”

 

“I’m waiting for Littlebottom to confirm,” Vimes added, suddenly awkward, and holding back from an embrace he had really wanted five minutes ago, “But it was probably the smoke. I don’t think they suffered too much.” She nodded, jaw setting already.

 

“Havelock was terribly fond of him,” she sighed, “I had this dreadful fear…when he didn’t appear after the fire.”

 

“I know,” Vimes murmured, more to say something than anything else, “Hang on a minute – how do you know it wasVetinari trying to save Drumknott?” Sybil gave him one of those Looks that was reserved for when he was missing something blindingly obvious. “I mean,” Vimes floundered, “Everybody would have assumed it was the other way around, I would have thought. If anything. I mean, the fellow was obviously devoted to his master, though it beats me why, but Vetinari had about as much feeling as a dead fish!” As soon as he said it, he wished he hadn’t, and felt lower than a worm in a Dwarf mine. Sybil had been friends with Vetinari for a long time. And it anyway wasn’t a very nice thing to say. And she was very pointedly not going to say that it wasn’t a very nice thing to say.

 

“Sam,” she said instead, gently, “Just because Havelock wasn’t one for showing his feelings, doesn’t mean he didn’t have them. A lot of the old school aristocracy are like that, you know. And he had his public image to think about.”

 

“Oh,” he said, dumbly, wondering if it really was one of those stupid nobby things, because it sounded like it; but it felt more like a Vetinari thing. He still knew only Sybil would guess.

 

“I told de Worde what happened,” he said instead, “Let him figure out whether he’ll tell the truth or not.”

 

“I’m not sure that’s wise,” Sybil said, carefully, “I’m not sure it’s what people need to hear. There’s an awful lot of confusion and upset at a time like this.”

 

“There’s never been a time like this,” Vimes said, sourly, then admitted, guiltily, “I didn’t know what to do. I wanted someone else to make the decision.” And he wasn’t there anymore to make it, a part of his subconscious added, treacherously.

 

“Oh Sam.” Her eyes still shone with tears, though her voice was steady, and suddenly his anger resurfaced.

 

“Bloody rotten bas – ket!” He tossed his helmet onto an expensive sofa, instantly dirtying it. “The one selfish act he commits in his life, the one thing he does for Havelock bloody Vetinari, and it’s the one thing that everyone would say is the most selfless thing you can do!”

 

“I know Sam,” Sybil said tenderly, patiently.

 

“And everybody’s crying!” he snarled, feeling the need to pace, “Why is everyone crying! I mean, nobody bloody liked him! Er, apart from you, dear. Everybody was scared of him! They all complained about him all the time! And now everybody’s crying! That de Worde fellow burst into tears when I told him, and Carrot just didn’t stop crying, and Colon and Angua were crying, even that crook Lipwig was crying! And Vetinari nearly killed him! Mind you, I think that was mostly terror. And when I went out the gates there was just hordes of people, all his staff, even some of the dark clerks, and they were all crying! What’s wrong with them anyway?!”

 

“Sam,” Sybil pointed out, very reasonably, “You’re crying.” And suddenly, he couldn’t deny it, any of it, anymore.

 

* * *

 

Drumknott glared balefully at the imposing, obsidian desk, although certainly, it remained impervious. The blotter appeared to be welded onto it, and the drawers didn’t open. He suspected they weren’t even drawers. To a man of his turn of mind, this was even more distressing than some people3 find those fancy coats with fake pockets. And as for the filing…he shuddered, then shuddered again, because the first one had been an existential shudder, and that was just creepy. He didn’t quite understand how someone who, after all, must have good organisational skills and immaculate timekeeping, could manage to get themselves in quite so much of a mess with their paperwork.

 

He still hadn’t worked out how ‘technically’ dead he was. He still felt like he was living in his old body, but on the other hand, when Death’s surly manservant Albert had offered him some fried breakfast, he definitely hadn’t been hungry. Admittedly, as an experiment, this was hardly conclusive. No other biological functions had so far made themselves known, which was something of a relief, under the circumstances. He’d need a day’s hiking to find the bathroom, and if it was anything like the desk...

 

Why had Lord Vetinari ever thought he would enjoy this? An unpleasant pang made itself known in the region of his possible heart and, for the six hundred and twelfth time since waking up, he wondered what had become of the Patrician after his death. He’d had nightmares about Vetinari dying, particularly on those occasions involving, for example, arsenic, but they’d never got beyond the actual death part, and for himself, he just hadn’t thought about it. It didn’t fall into his daily remit. He’d always rather assumed he’d still be with Vetinari, denying the dark corner of his rationality that occasionally pointed out he was twenty years younger than the Patrician. It was where he fit. Few people had the fortune to find so perfectly the fit to their talents, the jigsaw pieces for the slots in their soul, and, for a time at least, he knew he had been one of them. He’d been happy. He sighed, and got briefly distracted as to where the air was coming from, and if he was really breathing it.

 

At that moment, he became aware of Death looming at the corner of his vision. He had almost certainly only just appeared. Death couldn’t really hover unobtrusively like a dark clerk could; the horizon tended to get scared off.

 

“Yes?” he queried, a little abruptly, it had to be said.

 

ER, HOW IS IT COMING?

 

“It’s not,” Drumknott snapped, belatedly remembering who he was snapping at.

 

NO PRESSURE, Death replied hastily, TIME IS OF NO CONSEQUENCE HERE. Drumknott looked thoughtfully at him. He had found a well-thumbed book on the desk, stuffed full of little versions of Leonard’s sticks-to-things-papers.4 It was printed in Ankh-Morpork and bore the legend: Howe To Make Freindes & Influence People.

 

“Yes, I think perhaps the major issue is that your organisational system is a little, ah, unconventional.”

 

YES?

 

“Traditionally,” Drumknott explained carefully, “Filing of documentation is achieved by sorting papers by their type and date.”

 

I DO THAT

 

“Yes…but after that, one usually puts them in folders which are organised in different regions of, er, space, I suppose one would call it.”

 

YES?

 

“Well…you’ve filed yours in different dimensions.”

 

ISN’T THAT THE SAME THING? Oh dear, this was going to be harder than he thought.

 

“Um. Not quite. You want them in different parts of space in the same dimension, and quite close together. Usually in a filing cabinet.” He took a deep breath, and attempted to sound stern. (He’d never had to be stern with Vetinari; he’d been the first boss he’d had whom he hadn’t had to tell what to do). “Also, you must know you can’t keep avoiding your Soul Returns Forms by sending them into the Dungeon Dimensions and claiming that an Unspeakable Horror ate them.” Death looked a little sheepish.

 

I NEVER UNDERSTAND SUBSECTION C OF PART II: CONFIRMATION OF CORPOREAL TERMINATION. THEY KEEP CHANGING IT. IT’S FULL OF IMPENETRABLE JARGON NOW. Drumknott declined to ask who ‘They’ were. Gods, possibly. AND THEN THERE’S ALL THOSE EXTRA SECTIONS FOR THE UNDEAD, AND THE UNALIVE. IT SAYS GO TO SECTION J. BUT SECTION J DOES NOT RELATE TO IT AT ALL.

 

“Well, I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” he interjected swiftly, before Death really got on a roll. (Had he just agreed to this? Apparently).

 

DO YOU REQUIRE ANYTHING? Death asked.

 

“Well, yes, actually. My own desk is an essential. A proper one.” He hesitated. Death had looked a little…hurt at that comment. At least as hurt as a grinning skull could look, anyway. “Additionally,” he continued, in a more reasonable tone, “A large number of filing cabinets, and stationery supplies.” He considered Death’s current understanding of administration. “I’ll make a list,” he added, reaching for a pen. The clip was shaped like a tibia and there was no ink in it. This was going to take an eternity to sort out, and he had a nasty feeling that that was as long as he potentially had.

 

Well, it was a challenge, at least.

 

 

 

3. Vimes

4. Although Leonard’s didn’t have tiny skulls on them

Chapter Text

William de Worde sat in the printing room, staring at the presses squatting in the middle of the room like two great crouched trolls. They had two now, and they’d need both of them working at maximum capacity, as soon as possible, if they were ever to print enough copies for the morning edition. It would be the story of his life, he knew that. When he died, even if it were in many, many years time, this would be the story that he would be most remembered for. The man who broke the news of the death of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. It would be in his obituary. He wished, fervently, that it could be something else. Except that if anything else came along that was bigger than this, then it would probably be bloody awful. And it wouldn’t feel fair, somehow, that Vetinari should be eclipsed, after everything he had done for the city, for so long…tears were still running down his face, and he didn’t even like the man! He didn’t even know him enough to like him; it was ridiculous. Besides, Vetinari still owed him for clearing his name after he was accused of attempting to murder Drumknott…except that, deep down, William knew he didn’t. Not really. Lord de Worde had left town after that, like William had demanded, and Vetinari…had let him. He must have known. But he’d done nothing, and, very pointedly, said nothing to William about it, either. Ever. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

 

They needed both the presses going, and soon, but first, he had to make a decision (and how he hated Commander Vimes for foisting that decision on him!). He’d had Goodmountain make up two different versions of the front page; a test version of which was hanging out of each of the machines. But he still couldn’t decide. The dwarfs were all waiting anxiously by the door, none of them wanting to speak to him. Eventually, Goodmountain came over.

 

“We really need a decision on what to print,” he told William, carefully.

 

“I told you! I’m waiting for confirmation from the Watch House. If we get it wrong on this, it will be the most ignominious day in the history of The Times!”

 

“I understand that,” Goodmountain answered carefully, “However, if we don’t print something soon, we won’t print anything at all. How about I make up another version, one which doesn’t specify what happened exactly, but confirms the Patrician’s…death.”

 

“Fine, fine,” William waved a hand, just wanting him gone, “But don’t put it through yet.” He stared again at the two machines. Two presses, two stories, two versions of the truth. Except that it wasn’t. One version was the truth, and one was a lie, and he knew which was which, so why couldn’t he decide?

 

The page spilling out of the first press read:

 

‘PATRICIAN DIES IN PALACE BLAZE – Vetinari Overcome Trying To Save Clerk From Flames. Dukh of Ankh leads the tributes.’

 

The other front page, however, instead spelled out:

 

‘PATRICIAN DIES IN PALACE BLAZE –– Heroic Secretary Perishes in Rescue Attempt. Dukh of Ankh leads the tributes.’

 

He knew why it was so difficult to decide. He knew why Vimes had looked like he was considering having a nervous breakdown. Because the truth went against everything they knew about Vetinari, everything they believed about Vetinari (everything, a small voice couldn’t resist adding, Vetinari wanted them to believe about him). It suited his purposes. The image of the cold-hearted tyrant. Well, it had worked, hadn’t it? The most benevolent5 ruler in the history of the city and everyone was scared witless of the man, standing in his presence as if they thought they were about to be sent to unspeakable torture at the slightest misplaced phrase. To be sure, he’d been slightly sentimental about his dog...just enough to still appear just about human, to pull back the tide of popular opinion he otherwise so assiduously pushed away from himself.

 

Would it make any difference at all? he wondered. Would the truth really fracture the city like some titanic thunderblow? Probably not. Vetinari was nothing if not a planning sort. The city would rock, but she wouldn’t topple. Things would get sorted out. Things would go on. Things would, more or less, go back to normal, carry on tomorrow like they did today. But this wasn’t about stability, it wasn’t about the present, or even the immediate future…this was about posterity. This was about history. This was about what people would say a hundred years in the future, not what they’d say tomorrow.

 

As for that, he could well picture what certain subsections of society would say about it, and it made his blood boil. All those lords and aristocrats, all those people like his father sniffing and looking down at their noses at a man, who, good lord, ran back for staff? I mean, really! Loyal servants died trying to save their masters. That was the way it was. That was the order of things. Why, it was practically a reward! A matter of duty and honour, the trusted retainer earning his status as the most highly regarded of servants for doing The Right Thing. As soon as he’d been dead long enough for it be acceptable to speak ill of the dead, and probably not even that long, Vetinari would be a laughing stock amongst the loftier echelons of society. Had he really not given a damn what they thought? Probably not, William thought, but that didn’t make it right.

 

And what was worse was the so-called common people would probably agreed. Complicit in their own subjection under the boot of the aristocracy (the weight of which had been considerably lifted under the Patrician’s firm hand), they’d make all sorts of mutterings about what was Right and Proper, as though one sort of man really was worth more than another.

 

And all sorts of people would probably insinuate that Vetinari’s relations with his secretary were Inappropriate (most definitely with a capital I); not that they had anything against that, each to their own and all, still, you know what those nobby sorts are like, get up to all sorts of unnatural acts, and he was awfully queer. He supposed it was a real possibility that Vetinari’s relationship with Drumknott had gone beyond the merely professional, given that he really did seem to be the only person he’d genuinely cared about, and what the hell business was it of anybody’s? Hadn’t the man deserved a little…companionship? A little happiness? William abruptly wondered if he liked Vetinari after all. Because he suddenly found himself defending him, even if it was, admittedly, only in the space of his own head….in print, however…that was a different thing. Words had power. Words….shaped things.

 

He became aware of someone calling his name, rather sharply, and dropped sharply out of speech-writing land to find his impatiently concerned wife in front of him.

 

“William!” He blinked away another sudden rush of tears.

 

“Yes dear?”

 

“We need to sort this out. Come and talk to me in the office.”

 

“I’m still waiting on the Watch House – “

 

Now, William.”

 

 * * *

 

To say that Death’s filing requirements were a challenge was something of an understatement, Drumknott reflected, a little ruefully. Still, he was beginning to get the hang of it. It was fine so long as you mentally covered your ears and went ‘lalalala’ very loudly in your mind every time some law of nature that you had always found reassuringly reliable, immutable even, revealed itself to have a few more conditional clauses in the small print than you had previously imagined.

 

But it just wasn’t the same. He’d been forced to admit that to himself, quite early on. It seemed Vetinari had been right about his one essential condition of human existence: that what people really wanted was stability, and for tomorrow to be exactly the same as today. And what Drumknott wanted, fervently, was to have his old job, and his old boss (and, please gods, his old filing system). He did not want to find out that ‘tomorrow’ and  ‘today’ were meaningless concepts and that his boss genuinely never ate or slept, knew everything, and could be in multiple places at the same time (not to mention multiple times in the same place), instead of just giving a good impression of it. He was aware that the afterlife wasn’t necessarily what you wanted to be, and, of course, it just couldn’t be a continuation of life, but, on the other hand, it bothered him that he’d ended up here, without really being giving any choice in the matter.

 

What had Vetinari been thinking? he wondered; a question that was beginning to obsess him. Had whatever alternative fate that awaited him, Rufus Drumknott, really been so awful that Vetinari had decided he’d be better off here? Had he made some sort of deal with Death (and if so, what? And, more importantly, why?). Where was he? Drumknott had considered many possibilities for that latter answer, but was at a loss as to determine which one was true.

 

Vetinari hadn’t been an atheist, because the existence of multiple gods was quite conclusively proven, and the Patrician was nothing if not a rational man. However, he did not, so far as Rufus was aware, deign to worship any of them. He had always had the distinct and rather unsettling impression that Vetinari thought the gods did a very poor job and had a lackadaisical, hypocritical attitude…

 

…Which led to several unpleasant possibilities involving eternal torment, damnation, punishment etc., which would be grossly unfair (in his admittedly biased opinion), but everybody knew that the gods weren’t fair. It was the one thing all the religions could agree on: The Big Man/Woman/Crocodile/Insert Other Here was bound to screw you over. This could explain the trade with Death, if Rufus was prepared to believe that Vetinari was prepared to sacrifice him to save his own soul (and that Death would accept it), which, personally, he was not. He’d happily have done it, of course, but he knew, absolutely knew, that Vetinari would at least have asked. Not asking was what tyrants did….or gods. Instead he hadn’t stuck around for so much as a goodbye and here’s the forwarding address for my mail, if you’d be so kind.

 

He definitely was not alive. Or unalive. Drumknott knew several bookmakers would even now be making a tidy profit as it was proved, to the universal disappointment of the more occult sort of gambler, that Vetinari was not, in fact, a vampire. Besides, Rufus had, surreptitiously, sneakily, and with great temerity, peeked. Death had books; Books even, that would make a wizard gibber in terror6. One could read the history of the Disc in one such book. One could read the future. One could read many different possible futures…One could, if one was aware that one was being exceedingly and uncharacteristically cheeky, just take a quick look to confirm that, yes, Vetinari was definitively dead.

 

Rufus supposed he could even now be haunting Ankh-Morpork, or at least in some sense watching over his beloved City. It did seem the more likely of the options, but it wasn’t entirely satisfactory as an explanation either. He just couldn’t visualise Vetinari passively watching Ankh-Morpork for eternity, never being able to intervene, never being able to do anything. Was that a version of eternal punishment? Or a reward, if it was a satisfactory vision? He didn’t know. He couldn’t.

 

What he did know was that he didn’t think he could stick it out for eternity as Death’s personal secretary, either. Eternity, one suspected, did not come with a good pension plan. He knew where he belonged, and he was determined to get back there. Yes, that was it. He was going to find Vetinari. No matter what it took, no matter how long it took. He got up from his (new, shiny, entirely mundane desk), resolve sharpened like a pencil end – and hesitated.

 

Of course, there were those ever-so-useful books. The books which one could learn ever-so-useful things from. The Patrician had died before his time, and he might never get to know the good he had done…just another great injustice in a universe so full of injustice that Drumknott was beginning to appreciate Vimes’ ever-burning rage at it. Books of Time in which the unfolding of worlds was written….

 

He sat down again. He was going to look at the books. He was going to read the future; collate, and calculate, and find something solid, something real and quantifiable. Yes, that was it. He was going to find a number. A number to take to Vetinari, of all the people that would never have lived without him, a number of all the people he saved, of all the people he would save…

 

…if Death let him.

 

 

 

5. Well, the most benevolent who had also been effectual, which rather eliminated a lot of the jollier monarchs.

6. Wizards other than Rincewind, that is, who would gibber in terror at the AZ.

 

Chapter Text

Sacharissa wasted no time in coming straight to the point.

 

“William, why aren’t you letting them print yet? This is the biggest story we’ve ever had!”

 

“Sacharissa!”

 

“Sorry. But still. What are you stalling for?”

 

“I told you, I’m waiting for Commander Vimes to confirm – “ There weren’t many people who could cut you off with a mere look, but Sacharissa was surely one of them.

 

“Don’t give me that,” she added, when he replied with silence, “You’re stalling because you don’t want to print that Lord Vetinari died trying to save his secretary.” He was slightly taken aback.

 

“Is it that obvious?”

 

“William,” she began, exasperated, “You told me yourself you can’t lie. What on the Disc are you trying it on me for? Besides, you wouldn’t have two versions of the story made up if it weren’t that the truth was the impossible one.”

 

“It is impossible,” he muttered, “Nobody will believe it.”

 

“Several people believed the Inquirer when it said that the King of Quirm liked to receive foreign dignitaries whilst sitting in a bath of snake milk,” Sacharissa pointed out, “And he’s allergic to dairy.”

 

“Also,” William had to point out, “Snakes don’t make milk.” There was that look again.

 

“You have to print it,” she pointed out, “I mean, I know people are going to be shocked, but it’s hardly more shocking than the Patrician unexpectedly dying in a fire. I mean, it’s not like it’s something really awful, is it? I think it’s quite sweet, really.”

 

Sweet?!” William spluttered, “Did you just call Lord Vetinari sweet?’”

 

“I did not!” she protested, primly, albeit with a suspicious pink tint to her cheeks, “I said what he did was sweet.”

 

“And yet you don’t see what’s wrong with that sentence? This is Lord Vetinari we’re talking about! Think what people are going to say! Think of what it’ll do to his reputation!”

 

“I would think that his reputation is the last thing that concerns him now,” she pointed out, quite reasonably, “And I’m sure most people will agree with me. He did a good thing, William, or he tried to, anyway. What’s wrong with saying so? If anything, doesn’t he deserve for people to think of him as a little kinder than the tyrant they so often saw portrayed? To see him as just a little bit human?”

 

“Is it?” William asked bitterly, “Besides, you don’t know what the aristocracy are like. There’s a phrase for the effect this news is going to produce: character assassination.”

 

“Do you really think…?” Sacharissa began, uncertainly, then looked a little dismayed, and slightly disgusted, as if she had opened a friend’s cupboard to discover it a rime of dirt all around the edge. “They would, wouldn’t they?”

 

“Count on it.”

 

“I still think most people – most decent people – would…react a little more appropriately.” William shrugged helplessly.

 

“Maybe.” Sacharissa was unusually silent, her expression thoughtful.

 

“He never said anything, you know,” William said suddenly, savagely.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“About my father. He must have known. He must have figured it out. It must have been obvious from the way he left town in such a hurry. But he never said anything to me, and he never did anything either. No last minute arrest. No quiet assassination. No mysterious ‘accident’ on the way to Genua. Nothing. And I knew he’d have that over me for the rest of my life, but he never said anything more about it. He never did anything.

 

“I know, William,” Sacharissa said. She came and sat down on the floor next to him, and took his hand quietly. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

* * *

 

Lost in Books of Time, and Memory, and Chance, Drumknott single-mindedly pursued his researches. It was far harder than he had ever imagined it to be, and he had imagined it to be far harder than he could imagine. Possible futures multiplied at every step, possible histories….numbers added and taken away again; to find and tally the precious definites was like counting grains of sand in your hand before it ran through your fingers…before it slipped, grain by grain, through the hourglass….

 

Initially, he had done his researches secretively. It was hard to believe that Death didn’t know what he was getting up to in his ‘spare time’ (yet another fluid concept that grated on the mortal subconscious), but Drumknott chose to believe that as long as he completed a suitable amount of proper work, and wasn’t too blatant in his snooping, Death didn’t particularly care what he did. Soon, though, he had got so engrossed in what he was doing that he no longer bothered to be discreet about it, no longer cared how long it took him. In a realm where Time stood still, and in an unreal body that made no corporeal demands upon him, it was easy to lose yourself, and just never stop…Before his eyes, futures fissioned; lives flaring in one moment and dying in the next, like sparks from a fire…drawn in, he chased the elusive numbers, the numbers that described reality, or at least, one small part of it….  

 

* *

 

Death stood at the border of his realm, where a fuzzy, fizzing line demarked the crackling energies of Time, Space and Energy having an argument over who was there first. A slim figure leaned against the fence, a small smile playing about its lips.

 

YOU ARE STILL HERE, Death noted. He wasn’t surprised, as such; very little in this existence surprised him. Nevertheless, in mortal terms, it had been a long time.

 

“Is there somewhere else I should be?” came the calm, almost amused reply.

 

SEVERAL SOMEWHERE ELSES, OR NONE AT ALL, DEPENDING ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT, Death pointed out.

 

“Yes, I can see how this has…complicated matters. It seems churlish to labour the point we earlier discussed, so instead I will gently remind you that this was only half my idea.” Death made no reply. The same sparking energies that flickered at the borders of reality occasionally danced about the man’s figure like so many personal fireworks. Death was aware that whilst this state of limbo could, theoretically, continue forever, it also couldn’t carry on. He was also aware that whilst the man couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend what this meant, he nevertheless seemed to have grasped the essentials with admirable perspicacity. He also appeared to have found a way to manipulate those energies just sufficiently to watch the little realm that he had once ruled, albeit in a very limited fashion. Death peered a little more closely. No, it wasn’t even that he was controlling them, as such; it was just that they seemed to have found it personally convenient to coincidentally do what he wanted whilst doing what they thought was what they wanted.

 

INTERESTING.

 

It was his companion’s turn for silence this time; the man continued to gaze at a small, insignificant piece of another reality. Death couldn’t quite fathom what was so fascinating about the city, himself, any more than any other city, but then, he supposed, for him even Home was a relative term.

 

YOUR SECRETARY LOSES HIMSELF IN THE BOOKS OF KNOWLEDGE.

 

“Indeed.”

 

YOU CANNOT WAIT FOREVER.

 

“I think that is a question which not even you can be certain of.”

 

HE WILL FAIL.

 

“I’m counting on it,” Vetinari replied. He still sounded happy.

 

INDEED, Death echoed.

 

* * *

 

Dragged out of his researches by the queasy smell of Albert’s cooking, Drumknott had frantically remembered that he had work to do, and then had to spend what was, in any reality, ages, going through the hellish task of doing the Temporal Adjustment Calculations7 on all of Death’s Mortality Receipts, after which he decided he that that was quite enough for today, thank you. He still wasn’t quite sure why he was doing this, except that it so plainly needed doing. And Vetinari must have gone to some trouble to get him this…job. Although, really, he should have got something back for it. It wasn’t like he was getting paid, after all. Now there was an interesting (not to mention alarming) thought. But it did little to help him in his current dilemma, re: did he want to spend eternity (or even any significant fraction thereof) being Death’s Clerk. It wasn’t that Death was a bad boss. He was actually quite surprisingly all right8, and always willing to listen to his advice, which was good. But it just wasn’t the same. More than that, he was beginning to realise his quest to find a number to take to Lord Vetinari was, if not a hopeless task, at least an endless one. He was back at square one, not knowing what to do, or how to do it; only knowing that he wasn’t happy with things as they were.

 

He determined to analyse the situation rationally, and set about making a thorough comparison table, divided into two columns. After carefully noting everything down, he ended up with:

 

(1) Lord Vetinari: Tall, thin, long black cloak, piercing blue eyes, etc. Death: Tall, thin, long black cloak, piercing eyes, etc.                                          

 

(2) V: Makes no sound when he walks. D: Frequently rattles in disconcerting fashion.

 

(3) V: Very good with exceedingly sharp blades. D: ditto.

 

(4) V: Had to put up with Vimes. D: Have to put up with Albert.

 

(5) V: Paid decent salary. D: No salary, except possibly not being completely dead?

 

(6) V: Unreasonable hours. D: Unreasonable hours, but no actual passage of time  Unreasonable hours.                                                        

 

(7) V: Odd sense of humour. D: Odd sense of everything.                                    

 

(8) V: Had dog with silly name. D: Has horse with silly name                                        

(9) V: Former deadly assassin. D: Has not killed anyone (technically).   

 

(10) V: Ruled greatest city on Disc. D: Rules nothing but is ruled by nothing.  

 

(11) V: Has dim view of humanity. D: Actually seems quite fond of humans.

           

(12) V: Very good with paperwork. D: Cannot even keep paperwork on same temporal plane.

 

(13) V: Is (technically) dead. D: Is Death.  

 

 Carefully, he pencilled in his last point:

 

 (14) V: Controlled most things, within AM. D: Controls…what?

 

He stared at it for a very long time. A lot of things were beginning to become clear. He was going to see Death….but first perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at what was happening in Ankh-Morpork, in one of those books…

 

 

7. Because of Quantum. And inflation.

8. Coincidentally, exactly what he said to his mother when he first started to work for Lord Vetinari.

 

Chapter Text

Adora Belle Dearheart entered the hastily cleared out throne room of the Winter Palace; ironically, it was one of the few rooms that had remained relatively unscathed in the recent conflagration, although certainly the walls were blackened with soot and the furnishings were ruined. Then again, from what Moist had told her, it hadn’t been done up in hundreds of years, so perhaps that was a blessing. She paused a short way from the steps to the dais and pursed her lips in amusement at the sight of her husband’s golden-trousered bottom wriggling in the air a short way in front of her.

 

“What are you doing?” she asked at last, in a voice that would cut glass, eliciting (as she had hoped) a bang and a muffled curse from Acting Patrician Moist von Lipwig, who hurriedly got up and turned round, rubbing his head.

 

“I’m checking the chair!” he told her, as if this sentence made perfect sense. He was holding a variety of small metal tools in his hand that looked as if they might be of more use to a locksmith, or, if you looked at it a certain way, an anti-locksmith.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“It’s not what it appears to be!” Spike walked slowly round the dais, looking the chair up and down, heels clicking on the polished stone.

 

“Hmm…let me see…four legs, seat, back, arms…looks like a chair to me, Moist.”

 

“It’s his chair,” Moist said. She shot him a withering look.

 

“I’m sure it’s not haunted, dear.”

 

“You don’t understand! This is his chair from the Oblong Office! I’ve seen that room and there was nothing left but ash and cinders and a few unrecognisable bits of metal that were probably once very pointy – that and this chair, which has suspiciously survived!”

 

“It’s just a chair, Moist,” she repeated, then promptly lit a cigarette and, demonstrating a complete lack of sensitivity to recent events that Lord Vetinari would probably have been secretly amused by, proceeded to fill the room with smoke. Moist lay down carefully on his back, muttering to himself, and slid ever-so-carefully under the chair. She stared at his feet with amusement.

 

“What was that dear?”

 

“I said the bas – he probably booby-trapped it, is what! You don’t think just anyone could sit in this chair, do you? But no, they had to go and clean it up and present it to me like some glorious trophy.”

 

“You’re right,” she agreed, “No doubt it has some sophisticated magical buttock-recognition device in it that will immediately detect the presence of an inappropriate arse and chop the unwary sitter into pieces.” Moist poked his head out.

 

“You’re making fun of me,” he accused, suspiciously. She blew a puff a smoke.

 

“Yes dear.” He glared, and went back to staring at the underside of the seat.

 

“What are you looking for anyway?” There was a sullen silence. She prodded his leg with a spiky toe.

 

“Spiders,” his voice floated back grudgingly. “You do know the Assassin’s Guild has occasionally employed the use of poisonous spiders?”

 

“You’re looking for Lord Vetinari’s loyal killer bodyguard spider, that has been lying in wait to run up your trousers and bite your – “

 

“All right! All right!” Moist spluttered, pulling himself out from under the chair and dusting himself off indignantly. “It doesn’t hurt to be too careful. I’m a marked man now you know! They’ll all be out to get me!” He lifted his chin, daring her to disagree. Spike treated him to her best eye roll, then sat in the chair. He groaned.

 

“Did you find any spiders then?” she asked sweetly, and stubbed her cigarette out on the arm.

 

“No – hey don’t do that! That’s Lord Vetinari’s chair!”

 

“No, actually, it’s your chair.” Moist slumped onto the steps, head in hands.

 

“Don’t remind me.”

 

* * *

 

Drumknott eventually found Death sorting through his lifetimers, scythe slung almost nonchalantly over his shoulder.

 

YOU DID AN EXCELLENT JOB ON THOSE RECEIPTS, Death complimented him, as he carefully pocketed a glass somewhere in the folds of his robe, which was nice, although accompanied by the usual feeling of Oddness he got with Death, in this case because he hadn’t actually given him the receipts yet.

 

“Er…thank you,” he replied, steeling himself for the conversation to come. “Do you have a few minutes?” The constant hiss of flowing sand tended to spook him, but he couldn’t put this off.

 

I HAVE UNLIMITED MINUTES…AH, I UNDERSTAND. THERE IS SOMETHING ON YOUR MIND YOU WISH TO DISCUSS. It was a shame, really. Sometimes it was almost as though he got the human interaction thing9.

 

“Yes. I’ve been giving matters a lot of thought, and, with careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I have decided not to continue my employ here.”

 

EXCUSE ME?

 

“I’m not going to work for you anymore.”

 

IS THAT SO? There was a rich undercurrent of mirth to the weighty tone that did not bode well.

 

“Er….yes?” Death leaned on his scythe, peering forward at him slightly. It was a singularly uncomfortable perspective to be viewed from, even if Death didn’t have eyebrows to arch.

 

YOU CANNOT RESIGN. YOU ARE TO WORK FOR ME. THIS WAS THE AGREEMENT.

 

“In fact,” Drumknott replied, with a slight wobble in his voice, “I don’t need to resign, because I never signed a contract.”

 

AH. ALWAYS THE APPROPRIATE PAPERWORK. HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN TO WHOM YOU SPEAK?

 

“That would be rather difficult,” said Drumknott, drily, “And I won’t deny that these past few, er, that this has been one of the most interesting and challenging experiences of my, er, existence.”

 

I SEE.

 

“And it’s not,” he continued hastily, “That it’s you. You’ve been a model employer. It’s just that it’s not him.” Death drew himself up to his full height, which was, unfortunately, towering.

 

AND WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN FIND HIM? YOU HAVE STOLEN SECRETS FROM THE BOOKS OF ETERNITY, RUFUS DRUMKNOTT, AND YOU HAVE SPIED UPON FRAGMENTS OF TIME FROM INFINITY, BUT YOU HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR MAGNITUDE AND IMPLACABILITY.

 

“I know, but I have to find him.” He looked up, quite a long way, and added, a trace of desperation making itself known, “You must know where he is. You know where all the souls go. You send them there! Can’t you…send me?”

 

IF YOU WISH TO FIND HIM, YOU MUST FIND HIM YOURSELF. IF YOU CAN. IT IS FORBIDDEN TO INTERFERE WITH THE ASSORTMENT OF SOULS.

 

“But you did interfere. Or he did, and I still don’t know how but I think I’m beginning to. I just don’t know where he is.

 

THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN THE GODS ARE SUBJECT TO THE WHIMS OF THE GODS. AS ARE THOSE WHO DO NOT. HE BELIEVED ONLY IN REASON. YOU BELIEVED ONLY IN HIM. WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT MAKES YOUR FATE? Drumknott felt his soul quake at the nastier possibilities implicit in that statement. Vetinari had bargained him this place, this job with Death, and, as with everything he did, it had almost certainly been for a very good reason. Well, he was committed now. He’d always been committed.

 

“I will not change my mind. I’m leaving.” Death said nothing. The rushing away of sand – of lives – was loud all around them. He played the last card he had.

 

“Isn’t it true that some souls travel together?”

 

FEW CAN CLAIM THAT TRULY, AND THE RULES GENERALLY STIPULATE A ROMANTIC ATTACHMENT BETWEEN A MALE AND FEMALE.

 

“Who makes those stupid rules?” For a moment, Death’s gaze flickered to focus on something just behind him, and prickles made themselves felt on the back of his neck and his shoulder blades.

 

THERE ARE ALWAYS THOSE WHO SEEK TO CONTROL. There was something grey hovering at the corner of his vision, and a great dread seized him. He very carefully did not turn around: it said something when staring at your boss, when your boss is Death and currently not impressed with you, is preferable to looking at…whatever that was.

 

“Why did you want me?” he almost whispered in his fright, and Death’s gaze snapped back to focus on him.

 

THERE IS AN OLD EXPRESSION ABOUT FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE, OR WAS IT SETTING A THIEF TO CATCH A THIEF? Fire with fire? Death was fighting paperwork…with paperwork? Was that this was?

 

HMM, IT MADE MORE SENSE WHEN HE EXPLAINED IT TO ME, Death mused, then added, sharply and most definitely not to him, I THINK YOU CAN GO NOW. AS YOU CAN SEE, EVERYTHING IS IN ORDER. The grey at the edge of his vision faded, and the sense of unspeakable terror faded, leaving only healthy old mortal terror.

 

“Then you do know where he is!” Drumknott pointed out, triumphantly, and not to be deterred from his subject. Death made a sound like a sigh.

 

ALSO, THERE’S A SPECIAL FORM, AND IT’S A RIGHT –

 

“Yes. It was with the other returns I gave you to sign earlier. You really must learn to read through what you’re signing before you sign it.” There was a detectable pause that had definite aspirations to promote itself to ‘ominous’.

 

IT WOULD CERTAINLY SEEM SO. HOW REMISS OF ME NOT TO HAVE NOTICED. You can’t not have noticed, Drumknott thought, you simply can’t. But the visage in front of him was as inscrutable as ever, and bony hands flexed, momentarily, upon the scythe handle. They made a snicking sound.       

 

TELL ME, RUFUS DRUMKNOTT, FROM WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THE AFTERLIFE IS LIKE?

 

“So far, it seems disappointingly like life.”

 

INDEED. SO MANY COUNTLESS SOULS, ALLOTTED THEIR FATE NOT BY MERIT OR VIRTUE, BUT BY CAPRICIOUS CHANCE AND THE WILL OF TYRANTS WHOSE DECREE IS LAW BECAUSE THEY HAVE THE POWER. WHERE THERE IS NO JUSTICE AND NO MERCY TO MITIGATE ITS LACK. AND IT NEVER ENDS.

 

“Somebody should do something about it,” Drumknott said automatically, then remembered, with a pang, that Lord Vetinari always said that when somebody said Somebody Should Do Something About It, what they really meant was Somebody Else  Should Do Something About It. Somebody who is Not Me.

 

“I have to go,” he said, desperately, “I have to find him.”

 

YOU HAVE NO CHANCE. YOU ARE NOT EVEN A MOTE IN THE EYE OF TIME.

 

Drumknott stared at him then, half-terrified, half-appalled, transfixed by the blue orbs that had not only gazed upon eternity but saw beyond its edge every day, that had crossed all the paths of infinity and possibility….

….They drew him in, inexorably, omnipotently…Death, the final arbiter of all, gatekeeper of worlds….He saw a thousand desperate bargains, a million desperate pleas, all those myriad souls begging and cajoling, just trying to find a way out…and he was just another one, no different than all the rest who thought they could be different than all the rest.

 

He saw a boy, a defiant boy.

 

“There’s no justice.”

 

NO. THERE IS JUST ME.

 

....He saw a girl, a girl with sorcerer’s hair and Death’s hand upon her cheek.

 

YOU PRATTLE ON ABOUT CHANGING THE WORLD. COULD YOU FIND THE COURAGE TO ACCEPT IT? TO KNOW WHAT MUST BE DONE AND DO IT, WHATEVER THE COST? IS THERE ONE HUMAN ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WHO KNOWS WHAT DUTY MEANS ?

 

“Yes! And I never would have left him!” It blurted out of him, from some deep recess of his soul so small and hidden he hadn’t even known it was there. ButVetinari had. Of course he had. Like figures tallying on a chart, small pieces of understanding began to crystallise in his mind. His immortal soul hadn’t been traded away. It had been gambled, because, in a strange sort of way, that still gave him a choice.

 

The eternal gaze flickered, for just a moment, and he snapped back to the present, became aware of a skeletal hand resting uncomfortably on a shoulder that, in a mortal life, had borne a scar from a knife upon it; of Death’s face stooped so that it was level with his own.

 

“Did…did you just wink at me?”

 

CERTAINLY NOT, Death replied, straightening to his full height again, and releasing his shoulder. The hand disappeared briefly into the folds of his robe, and when it reappeared, it was holding a very familiar-looking piece of paper. Of course he had known. He was Death.

 

YOU DID NOT FILL IN THE DESTINATION SECTION, Death pointed out, brandishing the Soul Return Form (dual application).

 

“I didn’t know what to put,” Drumknott replied, then, persistently, added, “But you do.” Death remained silent, glancing briefly at the form. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?” Drumknott asked, feeling his flickering hopes sag. There wasn’t much left to pin them on now. Nothing except, except…

 

THAT IS FORBIDDEN. YOU KNOW THAT. WHAT DID YOU THINK? He’d worked for Vetinari for a long time. He’d thought that there were only two ways to get around the rules, if you couldn’t break them. One was to find unforeseen circumstances not covered by the rules – but Death could see everything. The other was to find a loophole, a technicality…and, he’d thought, Death had said that he was only dead technically…At the end of it all, technicalities were all that were left to him. Technicalities, and belief in a dead man – but it was a belief with proof, and what, in the end, did Death have?

 

The immortal gaze was as calm and infinitely patient as ever when he looked up again.

 

“I thought,” he said, slowly, “That I must have lost my mind to mistake you for Lord Vetinari when I first saw you.”

 

SOMETIMES, THE MIND SEES MORE THAN THE EYES KNOW.

 

“Yes, but I’m afraid that you’re just not the tall man in the dark cloak that I’m looking for.” There was a moment of chilled, primordial silence.

 

HA HA HA, Death suddenly boomed, so that all the lifetimers rattled on their shelves.

 

“Very good sir,” Drumknott managed, trying to force his hands away from his ears. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time I took my leave of you.” Death cocked his head on one side.

 

EVEN THOUGH YOU DO NOT KNOW WHERE TO GO? Drumknott’s resolute silence was evidently answer enough. EVEN THOUGH I HAVE FORBIDDEN YOU TO LEAVE? Continued silence. AND WHAT DO YOU THINK I WILL WRITE IN THIS LITTLE BOX?

 

“I think,” Drumknott said, the last of his courage ebbing out of his boots, “That when most people look at you they only see your job. They don’t see you.” For the first time, he was rewarded with what might even have been surprise upon Death’s face, but he did not stop to find out. Instead, he made probably the most foolish and pointless decision he had ever made in his existence, and took to his heels and ran, on nothing but the basis of a faith and a technicality.

 

Death glanced down again at the form in his hand, one bony finger tapping thoughtfully against his chin with a regular snicking sound.

 

IT’S ALWAYS THE QUIET ONES.

 

 

 

 

9. See note 8.

 

Chapter Text

 The funeral cortege passed solemnly over the Brass Bridge, surrounded by the lords and dignitaries as it wended its way out from the Great Hall of the Unseen University, which was the only place that had been big enough to hold them all. Commander Vimes screwed up the sweaty, grimy piece of paper he’d been clinging to for the past hour and tried to find a pocket to shove it into, but the blasted Ducal outfit only had those silly flaps that weren’t real pockets at all.

 

“That was a wonderful speech sir,” Captain Carrot told him, his voice choked with emotion, “Just wonderful. If only he could have heard it.”

 

“He bloody well better not have done,” Vimes growled, whilst trying surreptitiously to pull up his tights. The damn things kept falling down on the one hand (or leg, more accurately), and riding right up in the gusset area on the other. He was gloomily aware that not so very long ago, he had quite contentedly not even known what a gusset was, let alone where it should not be trying to creep.

 

“Oh I would like to think that wherever he is, Lord Vetinari is keeping watch over us, sir,” Carrot replied wistfully, oblivious to Vimes’ usual abrasiveness.

 

“Uhuh,” Vimes grunted noncommittally, looking around rather helplessly for Sybil. She had helped him write most of the speech, anyway, bless her, eloquence not exactly being his strong point. And thank god she had insisted on those eight rehearsals beforehand in the living room otherwise he really would have made a pig’s ear out of it.

 

He finally spotted her, lagged some way behind all the other lords and ladies, for some reason. Ah. She was with Drumknott’s mother, one hearty arm slung over the poor woman’s shoulders. God, that had been one awful conversation he never wished to have to go through again. It never got any easier, telling a mother that sort of news. Right up until the last minute, he’d been going to lie to her, give her the official version of the deaths. But the moment her haggard face had lifted to his and a thousand small truths about a man he’d barely known existed had started spilling from her mouth, he’d changed his mind. She must have known the lie for a long time; that Drumknott would and could have given his life for the Patrician, known it in every letter that only talked about his work, known it in the way he’d always go back to the city immediately after Hogswatch instead of staying that extra day…Telling her that didn’t give her anything except some pride to cling to, and lord, he knew well enough that sometimes that was all you had. But telling her the truth, the real truth – that had given her something the lie never could have: that the greatest of the great and good had valued a nondescript, humble clerk, as much as a mother had. It had given her a greater, quieter pride, but, more than that, it had given her understanding. It had made her see the point of it all. It would have to be enough.

 

So now Mrs Drumknott carried her head high even as her eyes ran freely with tears. Her son’s coffin was right there behind Vetinari’s, a commoner right up there with the highest of the high, following his master to the last, lauded as a hero to them all. Vimes had been ready to fight tooth and claw for that and had the wind stolen from his sails when Lipwig beat him to it and decreed that was the Way It Was Going To Be, and damn all those lords and ladies to hell, even if his eyes did still dart habitually about the place looking for escape routes as he said it. Then most of the Guild leaders had added their voices of support, and suddenly it was as good as done. Vetinari had changed more than they realised, and when all those fine folk woke up, it would be too late for it to go backwards.

 

Of course, there’d have been an almighty fuss, if they’d known the truth; as it was, there had been mutterings. Mutterings along the lines of Damned Irregular, and Just Not Done, but in the end they’d had to give in, and give in graciously (it was a funeral don’cherknow) and, even if they were all acting as if the second coffin belonged to some faithful dog of an eccentric master, he knew better, and so did a lot of others. And that would have to be enough too.

 

Sybil caught his eye and nodded slightly to him, before giving the bereaved mother one more hearty hug and making her way back through to him, parting the throng like a great ship. He hung back slightly, delaying everybody, and became aware of a gathering murmur outside the gates, like the sea itself, and turned to look as they exited.

 

They lined the streets as far as the eye could see, all along the sides as deep as they could pack, and in many cases halfway up the walls as well. Men, women, children, trolls, dwarfs, vampires, werewolves, even golems…everybody. As much of everybody as could fit, holding their hats in their hands, their axes pointed to the ground, their heads bowed…everybody, in their own way. A silence he had never associated with so many people, with Ankh-Morpork itself, fell like a curtain.

 

“Carrot, have we got enough people on crowd control!” he stage-whispered urgently, foreseeing disaster, staring frantically at all those solemn, respectful and above all frightened people who didn’t know what tomorrow was going to bring anymore.

 

“I took the liberty of giving everybody the day off, at their discretion,” Carrot whispered back.

 

Everybody?’”

 

“Yes sir. I believe everybody expressed a desire to form an honour guard along the route, sir.” He looked again, and there they were, armour gleaming and helmets under their arms, heads held high. Even Nobby was shining; in patches, anyway. His heart surged, even if he knew Carrot probably had to prod them.

 

“Somebody has to say something,” Vimes fretted, still, “When we get to the cemetary…no, in the central plaza. Somebody has to make a speech. Somebody has to speak to all the folk who weren’t in that hall. Somebody who isn’t me!” He looked suddenly at Carrot’s brave, kingly features, almost feeling the hope radiating from his face. But Carrot was looking straight ahead.

 

“I believe Mr Lipwig would be the most appropriate person for that,” he replied, straightfaced, “I’m sure he’ll think of something stirring to say, sir. He does have a way with handling the emotions of a crowd, does Mr Lipwig.” Vimes followed his gaze, and saw Moist discreetly and purposefully making his way ahead of the cortege, clearly anticipating this himself, an uncharacteristically set expression on his slippery face.

 

“Yes, he does at that,” Vimes said, realising as he did so that Vetinari would get his way about that, too. After today, nobody would challenge Lipwig to the Patricianship. He not only had the approval of Vetinari, he had the popular consensus. And, for the first time, because of him, the voice of the people was something that mattered.

 

The procession began to move, and, as it did, flowers started to fall through the air, all around him, a gentle, neverending rain of them, filling the air with the scent of lilac and roses.

 

“Sybil,” he croaked, finding his wife’s arm through his again; his other hand was being fiercely gripped by a quietly crying Young Sam, toddling beside, “I don’t suppose you’ve got a spare hanky love?”

 

* * *

 

Rufus Drumknott burst out of the soultimer room and pelted through the house as fast as his legs could carry him, even though he knew that he may as well walk, for if Death wanted him stopped, he would be stopped. There are certain moments though, when only a run will do. And it was this or eternity with skull and crossbones stationery.

 

He charged through the dizzying, distorted rooms, past a surprised Albert in the kitchen and out the back door, into the black garden, with the black daffodils and the incongruous swing on the tree. He kept on running, as fast as he could go, not even knowing where he was going, but onwards to the edge of the garden, where a field of golden corn stood, always ripe but never harvested. He made the mistake of looking back, and saw Death astride his great charger, scythe gleaming wickedly in the eternal light, and discovered that, after all, he could run even faster.

 

Drumknott ran. Defying Death, or the gods, or whoever wrote those cruel rules and made those stupid forms, but most of all defying his basic common sense, he ran on and on through the corn, feeling it brush against him. His vision unfocussed and flickered, and suddenly he was travelling through a corridor in the palace, a corridor fallen all into flame, a dark figure ahead of him and one beside him, gripping his hand. He remembered falling, and the surety of being caught; he did not know who carried whom, he did not know that it mattered. Then his sight snapped back to this reality, and, too late, he saw a familiar dark figure, outside the rules of normal space and time, already waiting for him at the edge of the field, and expected at any moment for it all to come to an end…

 

…And then, abruptly, it did, as he reached the edge of the field and careened straight out over a gaping chasm, only for a strong, bony hand to seize his collar and pull him back from the brink.

 

“Why Drumknott, you are quite the proverbial bat out of hell. Or nearly into it, in this case.” Had he not been the man he was, Drumknott would have said something incredibly rude at this point. Instead, he only paused to catch his breath, and fumbled off glasses he suddenly didn’t need, knowing with a certainty that mortal legs would have failed him at that point. The blurred figure in front of him sharpened into focus, then inexplicably blurred again. He blinked furiously, and said something he had never said before.

 

“Sorry I’m late sir,” stupidly, ridiculously, because, at a moment like this, only the ridiculous will serve.

 

“Your timing is in fact as impeccable as always,” Vetinari replied, and nodded in a direction Drumknott’s brain insisted on referring to as down. Beneath swirling mists of space and time, and a few heavy rain clouds, and lastly some recalcitrant smog, Ankh-Morpork was stretched out beneath them, still partially dark in that strange half-light just before the dawn. He was surprised he could see it like this, so clearly, not even in one of Death’s books….why, if he looked really close he could see right the way into…

 

…the print-room of the Ankh-Morpork Times, where an energetic de Worde was busy issuing orders, as dwarfs frantically rearranged type and the great presses thundered into action. It was only the morning after their deaths, and smoke from the smouldering Winter Palace still lingered in the air and turned the dawn bloody.

 

“Death’s house stands outside Time,” Vetinari answered his unspoken confusion. Drumknott read the headline.

 

“Is that what really happened?” he asked, feeling uncharacteristically muddled on more than one account. “I can’t remember.”

 

“It’s in the paper, Rufus,” Vetinari replied, reasonably, “It must be true.”

 

“I see,” he said at last, watching the paper spin through the machine, “I’m sorry sir. I failed you.”

 

“Never.” Vetinari was smiling, faintly.

 

“You seem…happy.”

 

“Of course I’m happy,” the former Patrician replied. He was still looking down at the Disc, at the tiny realm he had once reigned. “This has been one of the the best days I’ve had in a long time.” The best day he’d had in a long time, and he’d died.

 

“Sir?”

 

“Why, so far I’ve made Commander Vimes cry and say nice things about me, William de Worde lie to the entire City, and Moist von Lipwig take the job he absolutely wanted the least, all entirely against their will. Obviously, I didn’t intend for Lipwig to assume the Patrianship quite so early, but then, he always does best when he’s thrown in at the deep end, as it were.” Drumknott considered that a moment; considered too, the glimpses of the possible futures he’d seen. “Of course,” Vetinari added, “Apart from my death, there was the regrettable event of your own untimely demise, which I am exceedingly sorry for, though not, of course, for the company.” Drumknott, quite unreasonably for a man who was no longer breathing, actually blushed.

 

“Well, as you say sir, there have been some compensations. And,” he added, that earlier suspicion forming itself into the hardened terror of knowledge, “Some habits are harder to give up than others.”

 

It was only a moment later that he recalled that the Patrician said that he’d made de Worde lie.

 

“Sir?” he managed, his last lifeline. Vetinari smiled at him, and Drumknott spun to look down at the city again.

Chapter Text

The great printing presses were gunning at full speed, churning out reams of the most important paper that had ever passed through them. William looked in satisfaction at the headline, although his heart pounded nonetheless:

 

PATRICIAN DIES IN PALACE BLAZE!

 

Screamed the headline, and, just beneath, in letters almost as large,

 

HEROIC SECRETARY PERISHES IN RESCUE ATTEMPT!

~        Duke of Ankh leads the tributes.        ~

 

 

Sacharissa came to stand next to him.

 

“I think you’ve made the right decision,” she ventured, mistaking his silence for doubt, perhaps.

 

“I know I have,” William replied, almost giddy. Like a schoolboy who has somehow escaped from pulling an enormous prank on the headmaster without ever expecting to, he knew he had already got away with it.

 

“And, you know, we know the truth,” she pointed out, “Us, and the important people. Vimes, von Lipwig…the people who cared, they know.”

 

“Yes, dear.” He smiled happily at her.

 

“What decided you in the end?”

 

“Posterity,” he replied, managing to sound both cryptic and pompous at the same time. Sacharissa shot him a penetrating look, but if she guessed at the half-truth, she let it pass. And it was partly true. The lie in the paper was the only lie he was telling today – or ever, in fact. But the fact was…the fact was he’d written it for Drumknott. If he’d told the truth, then what posterity would remember was only Vetinari, and in the end the dramatic tale of his passing would just be an interesting aside saying that the most notoriously unsentimental of men had died saving his secretary. Just that: ‘his secretary’, and the man’s name wouldn’t even appear in a footnote. Vetinari would, perhaps, be seen as a hero, but Drumknott would be forgotten. And William had decided that he just didn’t want Drumknott to be forgotten, like all the other little people who weren’t kings or generals or patricians but who served nonetheless, somehow got forgotten. There was already talk now of commissioning a statue of them – both of them. Probably Drumknott himself wouldn’t give a jot either way whether he ended up written about or not (certainly he couldn’t now he was dead), but William liked to think that Vetinari would be pleased. He abruptly realised that somehow, even though he was dead, he’d ended up doing what Vetinari wanted. Again. He smiled to himself, then addressed the noisy print room.

 

“Gentlemen, ladies; remember this day, and remember to tell your children the events of this day, because this isn’t just news, it’s history.” And history had once meant just that: a story…and a story, after all, is only a lie you tell to tell the truth.

 

* * *

 

Death halted Binky at the end of the garden, and watched the two figures at the end of the field, aware of Albert arriving huffing and puffing at his side.

 

“What does he think he can do?” Albert groused, “It’s not like they have any power.”

 

I AM NOT CERTAIN THAT THEY NEED IT.

 

“No good will come of it,” was Albert’s opinion, although that seemed to be Albert’s general outlook on everything. Death chose not to comment. After all, if you had to have faith in something, it had better be something you could make real.

 

“Sir?”

 

THANK YOU ALBERT, THAT WILL BE ALL.

 

“Right you are then Sir,” Albert replied, and wandered back up the garden, muttering something about running a bloody hotel, not a house to himself. Death got down from his horse, sheathing his scythe. Binky nuzzled into his robe, as he watched the two figures at the end of the field a moment longer. He became aware of a suspicious crunching noise, and looked sharply at Binky, who was munching contentedly on…

 

OH DEAR. AND I HADN’T FILLED IN THE DESTINATION BOX YET EITHER. THEY COULD END UP ANYWHERE.

 

* * *

 

Vetinari had expected to be alone, Drumknott realised, watching him watch de Worde seize the first copies of his paper from the press and start pontificating about something or other. He had always expected to be alone, in death as in life…and he would have carried on regardless. He would have done his duty. But at some point, some point in life when perhaps he had found himself less alone than he thought, he had allowed himself one human hope to the contrary; but it was only in the certainty of that formidable, inhuman knowing that he had taken a politician’s gamble on it. When there was nothing else to lose. And he’d waited for him.

 

It was worth dying for; it was worth carrying on for, if you had nothing else to carry on for, and Vetinari had more to carry on for than even he knew, Drumknott vowed, because Vetinari had seen only one day, but he had seen glimpses of the future in Death’s books, and he knew, knew with the iron certainty of knowledge, not mere faith, that it wouldn’t just be them, not always…a door had been opened, and there’d be Vimes, who’d arrest the gods themselves, if Sybil didn’t sit them down and give them a bloody good talking to first, and Carrot would lead the charge into Hell and rescue every soul in there, and von Lipwig would cheat the devil himself…legions of the little people, the people nobody had ever given a damn about. All those who had been lifted up, would rise up.

 

He glanced up at his former master, who turned away at last from the City, which disappeared beneath the mists. That blue-orbed gaze fixed instead upon him, those farseeing eyes that now gazed upon eternity without the mortal’s limit to their vision; knowing, and implacable, but, somewhere, somehow, he had to believe, it was still him.

 

“Tell me Rufus,” Vetinari remarked, and it was the voice he had always known; deep, and dry, and rendered human only by the resonance of the pain carried in it, “How do you find the afterlife?” Still, Drumknott hesitated a moment. For the first time, he understood what de Worde had always insisted about the power of words, of the right word, in the right place and, he added to himself, the right time…of the truth, and those moments when the words became the action themselves.

 

“I think,” he said, with the stiff affront only a man who has just been through all of Death’s mortality receipts is entitled to, “That it is very badly run.”

 

“Yes,” agreed Vetinari, and his saturnine features split into a death’s head grin, “Somebody should do something about it.” He turned to face the abyss once more, and, in a sudden panic, Drumknott seized his arm.

“Sir!” Vetinari’s smile didn’t waver, but it became a gentler one.

 

“I’m not Sir anymore, Rufus, and you don’t have to follow me.” But then why did you wait? Drumknott wanted to protest, then realised, Because you only hoped. Because you would never not give me the choice.

 

“I’m not following you,” Drumknott replied, returning his gaze steadily, “I’m coming with you.” Vetinari said nothing, but he nodded once, curtly, and his jaw worked a moment. Drumknott took a deep, existential breath, and slid his grip around to lock arms with him. Then, without warning, without looking back, and without hesitation, Vetinari stepped out over the brink, and strode out into the great beyond, his shrouded figure bearing its eerie light into the darkness of the void with it, the dancing magics all around him, and Rufus beside.

 

Epilogue

 

Moist von Lipwig, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, shuffled along the corridor towards his bedroom in a most un-Patrician-like manner, stifling a yawn with his arm and disarranging the severe black robes in the process. For perhaps the eighty-eighth time since officially becoming the Tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, he wondered if he could have robes of state designed that were a little less tyrannical upon the person, to say nothing of slightly more exciting. Then, like the other eighty-seven times, he dismissed the thought. One could not be Patrician in a golden suit after all…well, not yet, anyway. It had only been six months, after all. You couldn’t have too much change too fast. Still, something, oh, I don’t know, a little less severe would really make a nice change. Hmm, he’d have to think about it. He had his image (or, as he was increasingly thinking of it, his Image) to consider, after all.

 

If only he knew, exactly, what his Image was supposed to be. So far it seemed to be a lot of faking of the sort he’d rather got used to the past few years. Pretending to know what he was talking about. Pretending to be ignorant when ignorance was called for and pretending omnicience when omnicience was called for. Pretending to be above it all. Pretending, above all, to be absolutely in control. One thing he was beginning to be more and more certain of was, ironically enough, the one thing he’d known right from the start. He couldn’t pretend to be Vetinari. With that thought, his pace quickened, and he hurried into his private office. There was no light coming from the adjoining master bedroom, but then, it was past midnight, and he’d long since dissuaded his wife from waiting up for him.

 

He closed the intervening door, and, assured that all was secure and private, tiptoed carefully over to his desk, piled high and most untidily with papers, but it wasn’t them he was after. Instead, he drew out a tiny key from a hidden pocket in the shadowy robes and unlocked a small drawer in the desk. The volume he took out was filled with dense, light paper, bound in thick, and in places slightly charred, leather. Moist couldn’t quite resist a furtive look over his shoulder. Old habits died hard. He’d lied when he’d said that Vetinari’s chair had been the only thing in his office that had survived, almost instinctively. Hidden away in a secret compartment, he’d found Vetinari’s private journal, and, naturally, had kept it to himself. Not even Spike knew about it. Cracking the cipher had proven a fiendishly difficult task, but then again, that was the sort of challenge he’d been born to, and, indeed, it was almost as if it had been made for him. Now he had it and could finally read the contents.

 

With that familiar tingling of excitement running down the spine, he carefully opened the journal and began to decode the spidery handwriting. This was in fact the third time he’d opened it up and tried to begin. It had felt like sacrilege, somehow. To see a glimpse inside Vetinari’s mind; to see the private thoughts behind the public face, and for such a mind as his – he’d been half-reluctant, almost not wanting to know, and, even, half-afraid. But then, didn’t a wise man once say that knowledge is power? And, in the end, he just couldn’t resist.

 

“All right, you bastard,” he muttered, “You got me into this mess, you can damn well give me everything you’ve got.” Which he hoped wasn’t going to be something as mundane as Octeday 32nd, 8am. Had breakfast, got shouted at by Vimes. Diaries could be such a dreadful disappointment, but a journal…there was a word that promised, if he could pardon himself the pun, volumes. He stopped himself from looking over his shoulder again. There was a portrait of Vetinari hanging over the desk in his official office, ostensibly as a humbling mark of respect to his predecessor, but in actual fact to scare people10 into behaving, but there was no Vetinari here, real or otherwise.

 

Slowly, he began to decipher and read, scanning, absorbing, vaguely aware at the back of his mind, that if he was going to stay awake, he should probably be doing some useful work…there was always so much of it. How on earth was one man supposed to keep on top of it? Hmm, something else that he’d been thinking about, something else to think about…

 

After a while, a sleepy voice floated out from the other room.

 

“Aren’t you coming to bed dear?”

 

“In a little while,” he replied, distractedly, watching the words unfurl before him in the flickering light of the candle.

 

…‘The greatest trust between man and man is the trust of giving counsel. For in other confidences men commit the parts of life; their lands, their goods, their children, their credit, some particular affair: but to such they make their counsellors they commit the whole; by how much the more they are obliged to all faith and integrity…’ After a little while, he turned the page.

 

 

END

 

 

…Her power was illusion – but illusion was her power – C Haigh: Elizabeth I

 

 

10. i.e., himself.