There is a little game Lord Vetinari plays with himself…ah, well. There are many little games Lord Vetinari plays with himself, because reality would be summarily boring otherwise; this particular game is simply one he plays more often than not, if only because it comes up so often. There is much to be learned, Vetinari has discovered, by the typical Ankh-Morporkian's view of Ankh-Morpork. It's not as though it matters--Vetinari is The Man, and, as such, has The Vote--but, if nothing else, it passes the time.
Lord Selachii, for example, persists in comparing the city to clockwork. Vetinari is well aware that this is so he might have an excuse to use phrases like "well-oiled machine," and "keeping ahead of the times," and other such nonsense; it is the great tragedy of Lord Selachii's life that he tries so hard for ingratiatingly sycophantic, especially as he persists in being unaware that there is no such thing. He is incorrect in his assessment, of course, but Vetinari allows him the error. Lord Selachii likes to look at Ankh-Morpork as something that runs according to a preconceived set of rules, which means Lord Selachii doesn't actually like to look at Ankh-Morpork at all. This, like anything else, is worth noting.
Moist von Lipwig, on the other hand, views the city of Ankh-Morpork as a candy dish. He would never say as much out loud, but Vetinari has long since been the foremost scholar in the field of telling silence, in the study of what, exactly, it is telling. Moist von Lipwig is the sort of man that might say, "Ask not what Ankh-Morpork can do for you, but what Ankh-Morpork can do for me," which is a useful viewpoint, if necessary to keep on-task. Moist milks the city for all she is worth, and, much as every war needs its butchers, every hard sell needs its pusher.
Sam Vimes (not, of course, that Vetinari will ever admit to thinking of him as anything but His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, if only because it is so difficult to pass up a chance to see the man break out in hives) sees the city as…a sort of ancient, lovable manure pile, Vetinari imagines, if he's to be honest about it. The smell is atrocious, but nothing could grow without it. The whole mess of it is filthy, but it's Vimes' mess, gods damn it, and why are you asking about it, and get off his lawn.
It's rather endearing, as viewpoints go. Not accurate, but endearing all the same.
Sybil, once, had compared the city to a dragon. She would, but she's also more correct than most. Ankh-Morpork, if it's anything, is a dog--docile with proper training, not quite stupid but not quite intelligent either, hesitant to bite the hand that feeds it, likely as not to bark at inanimate objects. Give it a good collar, a strong leash, a firm hand and a quiet place that no one will notice to shit in, and things proceed relatively smoothly. There are always a few people who get bitten, of course, but Sir Samuel isn't wrong about the lawn.
Every dog has its day, Vetinari muses, and he is a good man with a calendar. The clock strikes eleven, the door opens and shuts, and the faint aroma of cheap cigars filters into the room; Vetinari turns from the window, raises his eyebrows, lowers his pen. "Ah, Vimes."
Sybil would quite like to have a little chat with her ancestry, actually, should the opportunity arise. She's very fond of what her father insists on referring to as her child-bearing hips, but she could've done without the excessive gilt in the third floor toilets. Or the genetic propensity for migraine headaches. Or the frankly unsettling portrait hall full of Lord Ramkins past; she is at least 75% certain that her grandfather's eyes had been decidedly less severe, for one thing. And, of course, there is the company she is forced to keep--she could do without that. She could do without that very much indeed.
She is hiding in the kitchens--no, no, that won't do. She is, after all, a Lady now; as such, she is Fashionably Lingering in the kitchens of the Assassin's Guild, for the purpose of Diplomatically Avoiding Further Interaction With People Who Might Provoke Her Into Discourtesy. Thinking in capital letters is not an easy business, but Sybil is a product of Excellent Breeding, and has been trained since birth. It is this same training that allows her to think of this evening as a Gathering of Interested Parties, as opposed to the evening of gentile gossip about mad old Lord Snapcase that it actually is; for Sybil, it's mostly a chance to attempt to convince the head chef, once again, to give her his profiterole recipe.
A man tumbles through the window. Normally, Sybil thinks distantly, that's the sort of phrase you'd use when you meant crash; she can see now that such a usage would, in fact, be in error. This man tucks around himself and rolls gracefully through the air, going from outside to inside with the minimum of fuss. The window does, of course, break, but it does so quietly, and sounds quite sorry about it.
"Oh!" Sybil says, and then, when the man looks up, "oh dear, you're bleeding. Here."
She glances around for a towel, remembers that this is the ornamental kitchen, and scowls. After a moment's thought--her dress is silk, and, while she doesn't care about ripping it, there is the distinct chance it might take a while--she reaches up under the hem of her skirts and tears off two large pieces from her petticoat. The man has blood running from his nose and a wide cut spanning the length of his left forearm, leaving a gash in his dark grey turtleneck; she hands him the smaller piece of her petticoat, wets the other one, and presses it lightly to the wound.
"Ah," the man says, sounding equal parts confused, amused, and like he's speaking through a bloody nose, "hello, then."
"Hello yourself," Sybil says calmly. "Had a bit of a rough night?"
"You're not going to ask me if I'm an Assassin?"
"Well, I could," Sybil says, "but I rather think that you would've used the door, if that was the case."
"But you're not frightened of me," the man says, eyes narrowing now, more curious than hostile. The image is rather ruined by the fact that that he's holding a piece of her petticoat to his face, and she chokes back a laugh, looks back to the wound on his arm.
"I apologize," she says, "you're terrifying, I'm quite sure. Now tip your head back and stop talking; you can explain when it's not likely to bleed you to death. Whatever it is, it's bound to be more interesting than what's going on out there."
It's the stranger's turn to choke down laughter, but he does as she tells him to, and after a few minutes she's gotten him mostly sorted out. She rips a third piece of her petticoat free--her mother would've had fits, but Sybil is the Lady Ramkin now, and she's going to choose to think of this as Desecration of Undergarments For A Worthy Cause--and uses it to tie the first piece to the man's arm. "That should hold you for an hour or two, but I'd recommend you go to someone who can see to it properly. I'm Sybil, by the by."
"Lady Ramkin," the man corrects, "yes?" Without the blood thickening his vowels, Sybil can place his accent--or, at least, she can place that she can't place his accent. Wealth, certainly, and hints of…Genua, maybe?…but that's the Ankh-Morporkian street accent he's trying for and not quite hitting. Sybil smiles; she's always liked mysteries.
"The very same," she says, "but I'm Sybil to my friends. I'd quite like us to be friends, Mr…?"
"Vetinari," the stranger says, and then he smiles. "But if we're to be friends, I suppose it's Havelock."
There are certain spots that have a little gold star next to them in his mind, whether for nostalgia value, coverage from the occasional shower of fish, or proximity to the sort of food Sybil doesn't really let him eat anymore. The alley behind Gimlet's Delicatessen has plenty to recommend to it, as does the corner just past Unseen University, in the long shadow of Old Tom. Just now, he's leaned up against a brick wall near the end of Treacle Mine Road, because the answer to the question of who watches the watchmen is, inevitably, Sam Vimes.
"Hello, Sir Samuel," says Lord Vetinari, directly to his left, and Vimes nearly jumps out of his skin.
"Good god, man, are you trying to scare me to death?" Vimes demands, which is…unwise, on any number of levels. His Lordship, Vimes knows, has thrown people in the scorpion pit for less than that, though to be fair most of them were street entertainers. Vimes has come to terms with the fact that a good portion of the city sees him as a street entertainer these days, but it's not as though he does it on purpose.
Vetinari grins at him. There is a word for that kind of grin, and the word is rakish; Vimes tries to apply it to the Patrician, and discovers that even his innermost thoughts shy away from the combination. He's wearing some sort of paint on his face, clothes far grayer and more nondescript than his typical attire, and if it weren't for the flash of his teeth in the darkness, Vimes would not be able to see him at all.
"Not to death, Sir Samuel, I assure you," Vetinari says, and it's a lucky thing for him that he's the ruler of the city, because Vimes would really, really like to hit him.
"You know, there's a word for people like you."
"Is it, perhaps, sir?"
"That's the one," Vimes sighs, giving up. He relaxes back against the wall, lights a cigar. "What're you doing out here, if I can be so bold as to question His Lordship?"
"And here I thought boldness came naturally to you," Vetinari says. "I am, as they say, out on the town."
Vimes snorts before he can help himself. "Mingle with the lower classes sort of thing? I hate to break it to you, sir, but you've missed a couple memos on city fashion."
"Ah," Vetinari says. "Perhaps that was the wrong phrase, especially in your case, Sir Samuel. You'd be more likely to see it as being on patrol, I imagine, though I can't imagine why."
"On patrol…" Vimes stops, thinks, and looks Vetinari over again. "Oh, come on. You've got spies for this sort of thing, haven't you? What am I saying, of course you do, I've met them--"
"Well, I've sensed them, anyway," Vimes finishes weakly. "Very acute sense for being watched, I've got. It's a copper thing."
"As opposed to a paranoia thing? You shock me, Sir Samuel."
Vimes coughs, because it's cough or say something awful. Of course, there's something to be said for coughing and saying something awful, so he sighs and says, "Speaking of paranoia, we were talking about what you're doing out here looking like you got in a fight with a paint factory?"
"Surely not a fight," Vetinari says. "A courteous disagreement, at the very least."
Vetinari grins again, a sliver of white in the darkness. "Ah, Vimes. The same thing you're doing, I imagine. I've noticed my spies are much more…productive, shall we say…if they are aware that they, too, are occasionally under supervision."
"Who watches the watchmen?"
"Huh," Vimes says slowly, taking a long pull from his cigar, "so that means you've got spies in the Treacle Mine house, then."
"Don't be obvious, Sir Samuel. You knew that."
"And, seeing as right now the focus of your attention is me--"
"Not all of my attention, of course. You might crumble under the pressure."
"Thank you so much," Vimes snarls, before he can help himself. He coughs again, ignores the third flash of teeth in as many minutes. "My point being, you are, right now, watching the watchman who's watching the watchmen, under the guise of watching the watchmen who watches the watchman who's watching the watchmen?"
Vetinari's voice is serene. "You'll give yourself a nasty headache that way, Your Grace."
"As though you're not one of those personified," Vimes mutters, very far under his breath indeed.
"What was that?"
There is silence for a few minutes, just the faint sound of Vetinari's breathing, which Vimes is aware that he's only hearing because Vetinari's letting him hear it. He sinks into his thoughts for a few minutes, comes up with one that rings of truth, and winces, trying to avoid it. It's a bit loud, though, and Vetinari even breathes intrigue, and, well. Vimes has a couple of really solid positive qualities, but he's never been particularly skilled at letting sleeping dogs lie.
"So I'm guessing this won't be the last time I see you out here, then," he says, eventually.
"I'd imagine not, Your Grace."
"That, in fact, this was your way of introducing yourself as a semi-permanent fixture of my little nightly outings."
"That is certainly not unlikely, Your Grace."
"And do I have a choice in this?"
"Sir Samuel," Vetinari says, sounding almost fond, "do you ever?"
Vimes lets that one percolate for a few minutes. He's not as irritated as he should be, which is irritating. Vetinari can probably tell, which is more irritating still; Vimes isn't sure, but he wouldn't be surprised if the mad bastard was laughing, in that silent, private way he has. Still, it's nice to know he doesn't spend his free hours researching new and exciting ways to bring men to tears without moving a single muscle. All of his free hours, anyway.
"You want a cigar?" he says at last, and Vetinari smiles.
One of the advantages--or, as it happens currently, disadvantages--of taking over the position at this moment in history is that he is not the only man settling into a new role. Many of the guilds have recently gone through similar changes, some of which took several months to engineer; the freshly minted Mrs. Rosemary Palm, for example, will do well as the head of the Guild of Seamstresses, est. two weeks ago, and Lord Downey of the Assassin's Guild is, while regrettably still capable of fogging mirrors, at least predictable enough. Any table ringed with the who's who of Ankh-Morpork is bound to be a power struggle, and Vetinari had expected that this affair would cause a certain amount of…unpleasantness. If he were a butcher, he would call it a precursor to trimming the fat; it's an apt metaphor, especially when one considers the fact that fat rarely anticipates being trimmed.
Still, it's all a bit loud. Vetinari is young yet, and he had not expected that the assorted players would linger past dessert. He knows what he needs to know, and, while he is aware that his power is absolute, it would appear that the assembled has yet to get the memo. He's puzzling over the correct way to send it (he's rather tired, and a number of his now-unwanted guests are rather drunk, and it really is tempting to make an example of Downey, tempting enough that he mustn't allow himself to do it without cause) when Lady Ramkin catches his eye.
Vetinari almost smiles. Sybil is, in many ways, his best friend; she is certainly his only friend, having ascended to the position through sheer force of will. She is a beguiling combination of good breeding and goodheartedness that said breeding somehow failed to drum out of her, and if Vetinari were the marrying kind, he would've asked for her hand some years ago. It is unfortunate for Sybil that he sees the human body as means to an end, and decidedly more unfortunate for him that she is aware of that fact, and refuses to allow him to fake the interest for her sake. They've developed their own sort of middle ground, of course, because breeding will out, but humanity will linger. Vetinari had never imagined himself as capable of love, but Sybil is capable enough for both of them.
He had her seated next to the Downeys, because she asked him to. To be more accurate, she said, "You will not inflict that horrible man upon anyone else, and if you seat him next to Rust no one will ever go home." She was right; she usually is. Just now, however, there is something to the set of her jaw that puts Vetinari on edge, and it is not as though he needs to use his imagination to guess what Lord Downey may be not-so-subtly implying. That is the blessing and the curse of cruel men--they are, unerringly, the same every time.
He tilts his head. She tightens her jaw. He narrows his eyes; she widens hers. He doesn't quite smile, and she executed a muted little gesture that would be a vigorous shake of her head if they weren't in company. He grins outright, and can almost hear her groan.
The fork embeds itself in the back of the chair just behind Lord Downey's head with an audible twang. The silence that falls is instant and absolute.
"Ah," says Vetinari, entirely impassive, "my hand must have slipped. And now, good citizens, if I might suggest we finish up for the evening…"
"You are a terror," Sybil says afterward, following him up to his office for a nightcap. "Honestly, that wasn't necessary at all."
"It was obvious he'd said something to upset you," Vetinari argues, "and I was looking for an excuse to dismiss them in any case. And, of course, there is the fact that Downey is a scag."
"You know I think it's unhealthy that you have in-jokes with yourself, Havelock."
"Who else would I have them with?" Vetinari says innocently, and opens the door of his office before she can threaten to make him come work with the dragons again.
"Dear god," Sybil says, peering into the wreckage. "Did you do this all yourself?"
"The remains of the late, great Lord Nutcase, I am sorry to say."
"Slip of the tongue."
"Don't you have a…" Sybil says, and pokes at sticky mound of paperwork with an indelicate little shudder. "….a man for this? A cleaner? Something? This is positively unsanity."
"I am in the process of replacing the entire staff," Vetinari says, leading her through the outer room of the office to the rather more private--and decidedly less dirty--inner sanctum. "You can never know where an old servant's loyalties lie, after all. Snapcase's assistant I might have kept on, but the poor man seems to have worked himself to death."
"Oh, that is a shame. Retirement, then?"
"I'm afraid I meant that quite literally," Vetinari says, and sighs. That had been an unpleasant start his first day in office, though, of course, possibly he should have asked after any heart conditions before he requested the man organize the purchase of a passel of scorpions.
"I think I'm going to choose not to ask," Sybil says, raising an eyebrow at him.
They drift into their typical positions for nights like these; Sybil settles herself into one of the armchairs, and Vetinari tucks himself up next to her on the floor, knees folded underneath him. There is exactly one person on earth he allows to see him like this, but the truth is there are, very occasionally, moments when Vetinari likes to imagine he is not in complete control of his reality. It is, of course, folly--Vetinari has yet to meet a situation he is not in complete control of--but, as fantasies go, it's not a terrible one. Sybil is good for things like this, because in addition to an aversion to spreading gossip and a tendency to allow for even the most unusual of quirks, she has never seemed to mind that Vetinari enjoys spending these sorts of evenings with her.
Her fingers settle into his hair. After a moment, sounding less stern that he's sure she means to, Sybil says, "You could've had his eye out, you know."
"Yes," Vetinari agrees. "I misjudged the angle a bit; pity," and the sound of her quiet, unwilling laughter fills the room as he closes his eyes.
Sam's using his copper voice, and Sybil has to hide a smile behind a bite of her roast, because she knows he doesn't know it. There are days when it bothers her that Sam can't quite take off his job at the door, but it's not most days. Most days that's just a Sam Thing, like the obsession with those terrible cigars and his insistence on buying hideous, worn-through boots that'll have him coming home with a chill one of these days, like the way he insists on telling their son historically accurate bedtime stories. He's just Sam, for better or worse. He has been all along.
"I can't think of why Havelock would want to wander the streets in the rain, dear," Sybil says, too innocently. She does, of course, know exactly what's going on, but she and Havelock have long since agreed it's better to let Sam draw conclusions on his own. It makes him so happy to have something to do, for one thing. It satisfies Havelock's upsetting little masochist streak, for another.
"Funny thing, that," Sam says, slow now, the almost-there voice, Sybil really has found the funniest men in all Ankh-Morpork to run rings around. "Never do spot him when there's inclement weather. You'd think, him being who he is, that a little rain wouldn't put him off, if he was spying on me for a reason."
"Perhaps he isn't spying on you, then." That's probably too much of a clue, but then again, it is sometimes necessary to beat Sam's paranoia about the head a couple of times if anything else is to get past it. "Not that I'd know, of course."
"Of course," Sam agrees, distant. There is a long pause, and then his whole body stiffens up with realization. After a moment, he relaxes very carefully, takes a long, measured sip of his fruit juice, and clear his throat.
Sybil wipes her mouth with her napkin and waits. Being married to Sam is, in many ways, a waiting game. The fact that what she's waiting for is, more often than not, some kind of explosion isn't really a problem--she works with dragons, after all.
"Sybil?" he says eventually.
"In the future," Sam says evenly, "if His Lordship expresses interest in spending more time with me, please feel free to just invite him for dinner."
Sybil doesn't bother hiding her smile; after a moment, Sam grins back at her, a little exasperated, but mostly fond. She does so enjoy it, when things work out according to plan.
It's not anything inherently wrong with job, really. Coppering itself is a noble and ancient art and is also, generally speaking, not even all that hard. He certainly likes it better than being His Grace, His Excellency, Duke of Vetinari Just Won't Quit, Commander of Diplomacy Via Utter Lack of Diplomacy Sir Samuel Vimes; he refuses to consider that his job, because that way madness lies. But even coppering has its terrible moments, or its more-terrible moments, anyway. Even coppering, some days, makes Vimes want to blow up the damned city and have done with it.
It's just…vampires. There's something down-and-out unsettling about them, isn't there--Vimes knows it's not their general undead-ness, because, well, Angua, not to mention Reg, who's less undead and more dead-man-walking. But vampires make Vimes nervous. They always seem to be planning something, and they've had plenty of time to plan. In this case, it's less that they seem to be planning something and more than six different buildings in range of the palace have mysteriously changed hands, Angua insists that all signs smell of fear of garlic, and, if Vimes isn't much mistaken, some particularly batty nutter is planning to murder his Lordship. Again.
It really gets old, this assassination business. Vimes is pretty sure that when even the Assassins have given up on someone, everyone else should bloody well just fall in line.
"Take care of it, Your Grace," Vetinari said, when Vimes went to warn him. He hadn't even sounded fazed, which--for whatever reason--just got right under Vimes' typically thick skin. If the stubborn bastard would just…but no. No, that way madness lies, and Vimes knows it well.
If he's noticed that the thoughts that he avoids for the sake of avoiding madness are typically tied up, one way or another, with the Patrician, he isn't going to worry about it. Sybil certainly doesn't seem to mind; if anything, she encourages it. Vimes is going to put some time aside to prod at that little problem, as soon as some time makes itself available.
In any case, the attempt is going to be today. Is it not written that I can feel it in my water? he thinks, and then promptly checks his pockets, his location, and the date on the nearest newspaper; when he's satisfied himself that Lu-Tze hasn't shown up to merrily usher him through time and space again, he sets off for the only building he doesn't have men covering. Carrot and Angua are stationed, respectively, at the two most likely vantage points, and he's got Detritus covering the only street entrance for three other possible locations. Colon and Nobby are on traffic, where, hopefully, they've inadvertently put a wheel-clamp on the murderer-to-be.
Vimes, because he is, if nothing else, a suspicious bastard, is headed for the last building. It's the least likely danger spot; it's not really its fault that Vimes is sure it's also the one that's going to get used.
It's an old warehouse, too low to the ground to be any use if you're trying to shoot someone through a window--unless you're not trying to shoot someone through a window, but shoot yourself towards that window in the straightest line possible, Vimes thinks grimly. He's got a pretty good idea of the way this is going to go down; the way he figures it, if you're a vampire, you don't need a long-range crossbow to kill someone. You just need an entrance point, a path to it that doesn't go through much direct sunlight, and a quiet place to get your bat on.
"A vampire would never try to kill someone during the day," Carrot said, and Vimes said, "Yes, exactly, which is why I think it's going to be a daylight attack. Try to keep up."
He climbs the stairs slowly, a long, pointed stake in one hand and a cosh in the other. It never pays to be unprepared for any eventuality, especially the kind of eventually that involved hitting some poor bastard over the head as quietly as possible. He is met with that eventuality three times as he ascends, and he should probably stop and signal to someone to join him at what is obviously the prize-winner in this multiple-location game, but he's not sure he's got the time.
It's Dragon, King of Arms waiting for him, because of course it is. You can say this for Ankh-Morpork; it does have its permanent fixtures.
"Commander, ah-ha, Vimes," Dragon says. "I must confess, I am not surprised. You are notoriously tenacious, aren't you. Like a dog, ah-ha, with a bone."
"Ooh, yes, tell it again," Vimes growls, stepping closer. "Go ahead and say the implied bits out loud, while you're at it--I know what they call me."
"You are Vetinari's….terrier."
"Partial to bulldog, myself," Vimes says, and circles. Dragon watches him with sharp eyes, and ugh, ugh, Vimes really does hate vampires. "If you're gonna tell a story, you might as well tell it right."
Dragon moves, but Vimes is expecting it; there's the cosh in one hand, and the stake in the other, but there's the wooden crossbow bolt wired up his sleeve, too. Vimes makes it a point to learn from criminals, and Carcer, in particular, had been an education. Always have another knife, even if it's not knives you're playing. You never know when you might need to serve up some nice, cold-blooded justice.
"If I'm a dog," Vimes says to the pile of ashes at his feet, "I'm a damn good one, thanks. Somebody clean this up."
The realization that he's alone puts a damper on things, but only a slight one.
Later--when he's signaled for Carrot and Angua and Detritus, when Cheery's calmly orchestrated the removal of all dust from the tower, when it's occurred to Vimes that he can, actually, stop taking every breath through the latest haze of concern for his Lordship's continued existence, a pigeon comes. Vimes swears, because everyone uses the sephamore these days, and he knows Vetinari only keeps pigeons because he enjoys the way they tend to shit on Vimes' shoulder. This one, true to form, manages to both relieve itself and communicate an immediate summons to the Palace, and Vimes swears under his breath but goes.
It's just past dark when he arrives, and Drumknott leads him quietly up to the Patrician's suite of private rooms, leaves him at the door without a word. Vimes wait precisely half a second before a voice calls out, "Come," and he walks in and then…stops.
His wife is seated in an armchair. The Patrician is sitting on the floor, with his head more or less in his lap. Her fingers are stroking his hair. Vimes…Vimes isn't even surprised.
"Hello, dear," Sybil says, smiling.
"A very good dog, indeed," says Vetinari, without even opening his eyes. "Come in. Have a cigar."
"Hello, Uncle," says young Sam, with the kind of careful weight to the words that means his father is lingering just outside the almost closed door. Vetinari would've known that anyway--Sam himself rarely smells of cigar smoke, though occasionally his father's cloud of bad taste does follow him around--but it's nice to have the confirmation.
"That will be all, Sir Samuel," he calls. Sam grins, and Vetinari can hear Vimes swear.
"Just don't show him the scorpions again, alright?" he calls back, and then, begrudgingly, adds, "Sir."
The door shuts again, and Vetinari smiles at the boy in front him. "Well then, young Samuel. The scorpions it is."