Those nights when she makes it home at something approaching a decent hour, Sam will lie in bed with Sybil’s head on her stomach. Sybil keeps her hair very short and fine beneath her wigs, and Sam likes the feel of it, tracing every dip and line of Sybil’s skull, from the soft rolls of her neck to the slope of her temples, the sharp curve of her widow’s peak. Her fingertips could map out Ankh-Morpork on Sybil’s skin, though sometimes she got distracted and forgot where Scooner’s Lane ended and the faint divot beneath Sybil’s ear began.
Sometimes Sybil will talk, or read aloud, and Sam thinks—there’s the Chase, there is always the Chase, but this might the only thing she’s ever known where there’s joy in the having.
What are you thinking about? Sybil asks sometimes, and Sam says, Nothing, nothing. Tell me more, I was listening. I like listening to you.
There was an Understanding.
The Understanding was: Her Grace, Lady Sybil Deidre Olgivanna Ramkin, had, on the twelfth of May, married Captain Samantha Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork Watch. It was a very lovely ceremony. There had been cake.
Questions on the matter, such as “is there legal precedent for this”, “where exactly are the records for—” and “how does a noble title pass to a duchess’ wife” could be respectfully addressed to the Patrician.
It was amazing how quickly people Understood, when Vetinari was suggested as the alternate means of education.
Sam Vimes had sidled her way into the Watch on short-cropped hair, truth by omission, and a drunken swagger that passed for standard Adolescent Male Bravado in the right lighting.
(That is, in the badly-lit corners of the watch-house on Treacle Mine Road, where no one looked too closely at their fellow copper, in case they would be later called on to identify the body.)
It had taken them until Grune to realize she was a she, and by that point they couldn’t be bothered. She drank like a Watchman and swore like one, and she had managed not to get knifed in an alley yet, which made her one of the more promising recruits. In twenty-odd years, it might have been one of those little victories for Diversity In the Workplace that the Times was always pushing for, but this was Snapcase’s Ankh-Morpork. The Watch was a bastion for the bloody-minded, the bloody stupid, and the lazy, and she fit very neatly into the first two categories.
She thinks her mother (gods rest her soul, whichever of them could find that work-weary, beaten down scrap of a thing) would have approved. For as long as memory, the Vimes women had been laundresses, yoked to shiftless drunks. But Sam was a copper, armor made for broader shoulders rattling as she ran, a badge at her hip.
And well—marrying the shiftless drunkard had never been Sam’s worry.
There was a dragon.
Sybil Ramkin had insinuated herself into Sam Vimes’ life the way a large man would approach an over-full bathtub—that is, with slow caution, and then some slippery fumbling bits at the end.
The slow caution was because Vimes was as jumpy as a cat, and twice as proud. It had taken weeks and several long walks in Hide Park to convince her that Sybil’s interest was neither sisterly nor civic-minded; she wasn’t taking on Sam as some sort of Project. (She quite liked Sam as she was, although she wouldn’t have minded less drinking, or occasionally having her around for dessert. Sam tended to hit on a break in the case after soup, and take off into the night.)
Sam, to her credit, mostly remembers the slippery fumbling bits. She gets a very stroppy look on her face, whenever she’s busy remembering them.
Don’t let me detain you, your Grace, Vetinari says smoothly.
Sybil had not heard the impolite things said about girls at boarding school. She was aware of them, in the way everyone was aware of them, but she had not heard them. Generally because the people who said such things rarely found courage for the punchline when Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes was standing there before them, smiling quizzically.
(She had perfected her look of mild and innocent confusion at College, when Miss Butts had wanted to know where Bunty and Mipsy were, and the correct answer was not ‘probably in a coat closet, but I would give them another five minutes.’
The fact that a politely puzzled look stopped most men in the midst of insinuating—well, anything—was an added bonus.)
Sybil had heard the things about unmarried women of a certain age, who liked healthful walks in sensible boots, and doted on their dragons. Mostly because that line could be trotted out in feigned concern—you know, said sotto voce at a party, and gossip is cruel, for some opening night at the opera; you don’t want people getting the wrong impression, dear, over tea.
Several years later, she liked introducing those people to Sam. Just in case they had not got the wrong impression yet.
In the end, Sam proposed to Sybil because of the socks.
They were hideously ugly socks. Sybil did many things very well, but knitting was not among them, and no one quite had the heart to tell her. (Sam was still not sure why she had taken up knitting in the first place, given that Sybil could probably buy every pair of socks in Ankh-Morpork and still have change left over for the porter.) Still, they were warmish and a Hogswatch gift, Sam had felt obligated.
She’d had to endure some ribbing when she reached Pseudopolis Yard, at least until Colon had said—without a break in the jolly lads-having-a-go-at-each-other tone—ah, well, the things we do for the missus.
The others had all chortled, and finished their tea; done their paperwork and patrols. It had been very average. And when Sam made her way to Scoone Avenue that evening, Sybil was sitting by the fire, knitting. Badly.
Sam was not a woman who put stock in words; her reports tended to be brusque and brief (and profanity-laden) before Carrot polished them up. But it seemed very important, suddenly, that the other coppers thought of Sybil as Sam’s missus. That—people knew, and thought of them as them. That Wilkins referred to Sam as Lady Sybil’s young woman, despite no soul involved being a young anything. That Vetinari asked how ‘things’ were with Captain Vimes at weekly tea with Sybil—though the thought of the Patrician asking after her had given Sam fits just yesterday.
The woman was a city, and if you let her she could engulf you. So, wearing the most hideously ugly socks in Ankh-Morpork, Sam Vimes had asked Sybil Ramkin if she had any plans for the rest of her life.
He’s got your eyes, Carrot says of Young Sam, which is the most whopping lie Samantha Vimes has heard in her long life, and she’s heard some good ones. (It was amazing how many criminals would swear they had never before seen that crossbow, yes, that one, right there in their hand, when you finally caught up with them.)
But Carrot has a strange effect on the world. It settles around him like a cloak, and moves with him; the city is the world, and the city bows when he lifts a hand. It tries very hard not to prove him wrong.
Young Sam is their son, her son, but he is about as biologically related to Sam and Sybil as Nobby Nobbs. (Maybe slightly more, by virtue of being unambiguously a member of the same species.) And yet, Sam finds herself cradling infant Sam to her chest, thinking, He does have my eyes, doesn’t he?
The law was a funny thing. It moved.
Not Sam Vimes’ law, to be clear. Sam Vimes’ law was unerring, unwavering. Sam Vimes carried Truth like a bell and Justice like a badge, and ran with the Law at her heels, a bright thing in the dark night. Sam Vimes’ law was a line scored between the cobblestones and into the shale beneath Ankh-Morpork, it did not move. It could not be moved.
But—and Sam had to concede this point—sometimes the Disc moved around it.
After Sam and Sybil were married, a pair of nice girls from Dolly Sisters had made their way to Morecombe, Slant & Honeyplace. They did not have much money, but they had a magic word that forced open doors with the weight of tradition against them: precedent.
They sued the city. The whole city. It had tied the courts and the Times in knots, because the rich were allowed their eccentricities, but it turned out there were other girls in this city—and lads, too—who wanted their Understanding all the same. And they wanted it in writing.
Sybil referred to it as “the first and last time Sam approved of the legal establishment.”
(Somewhere in her desk, Sam still had the card, embossed in silver, inviting Their Graces, the Duchesses of Ankh, to the wedding of Sophornia Wilkinson and Adelaide Kitesinger. On the back, in a neat hand, was written: no presents please, as you already gave us the precedent.
Sam had kept it, just for that.)
Sam? Sybil asks sleepily, as they lie in bed. Sam’s fingers are tracing Short Street across the crown of her head, and Sybil’s voice ebbed away twenty minutes ago, as she slid into sleep. What are you thinking about, Sam?
Nothing, Sam answers softly. Short Street to Kicklebury, the little dip where her skull met her neck. I was listening to you. I like listening to you.
Oh, Sybil sighs, and sleeps.