A death was always something which brought down the mood of the entire Palace. He remembered, when he had only just been interviewed there for a job, that everyone had been very snappish; it had been only a few days after Lupine Wonse had fallen from a great height.
This time, there was a knot in the pit of his stomach. His stomach! Rufus Drumknott, usually so level-headed, was feeling anxious.
Oh, he knew his lordship had assured him everything would be perfectly fine. But still. But still! Every time, every damn time he came into the Oblong Office, he was on tip-toe, afraid of the state the statesman might be in.
The night was closing in, and the fog had even made it into the Palace. Drumknott made his way up the servants stairs to check on Lord Vetinari, who had been moved into a bedroom.
He softly pushed open the door, and slipped in with great care.
His lordship was up. He was sitting against some pillows which had been propped up against the headboard.
He was eating Klatchian Hots.
Drumknott blinked a few times, but the image would not disappear, so it had to be really there. He tentatively cleared his throat.
“Ah, Drumknott,” said Lord Vetinari, a hand delicately holding a piece of Hots hovering halfway to his mouth. “This is actually not too bad. Just don’t tell Vimes I said that.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, my lord,” said Drumknott weakly.
He had been waiting about a minute longer than usual when he started to worry. It wasn’t normal for Lord Vetinari to not send for him at this time.
As it was, it was part of his job to bring in the early edition of the Times, so he knocked on the door, waited a moment and stepped in.
If he was being honest with himself, later on, he could still remember, very vaguely, seeing Lord Vetinari look up in alarm, standing much closer by than expected, before, for some reason, he blacked out.
He found out, when he was conscious and lucid again, that Lord Vetinari had apparently stabbed him. Which was not possible, as the last time he had seen Lord Vetinari, the man had been sane.
So he watched his lordship asleep – or unconscious – on his narrow bed in the Pseudopolis Yard cell, and tried to mentally superimpose the image from his vague memory – Lord Vetinari, alarmed, panicked even – over the image of what he knew his lordship to be like.
There were gaps. The images didn’t match up.
When de Worde came, he was still milling over this discrepancy, and when the paper man had left, he managed to put his finger on something which had been nagging him.
Later that night, after he’d picked the locks on his own cell door and that of his lordship’s cell door, he whispered his suspicions to the recumbent tyrant.
And that was the point at which the most truly amazing thing happened; in the pale moonlight, filtering blueishly through the barred window, he could see Lord Vetinari smile.
The whole Koom Valley affair was wearing his lordship out. It wasn’t anything most people would have been able to tell, but Drumknott had worked with the Patrician long enough to know how to distinguish such things as moods in the man.
He’d gone out to fetch some tea for Lord Vetinari. As he came walking back slowly, he was considering his life. His days were spent in the Palace, most of their hours in the presence of the Patrician himself. He had found that, over the years, he’d steadily come to like his job more. Most people he knew (admittedly few of whom worked outside the Palace) thought this insane, so he didn’t mention it anymore.
What he liked most, he mused, as he maneuvered the tray onto one arm to open the door to the Oblong Office, were moments like these, when it was just the two of them, tending to the city, making sure everything ticked the way it should.
After a momentary struggle with the door after passing through it, he turned to the office at large and spotted Lord Vetinari at his desk.
Drumknott frowned. He made his way across the floor and put down the tray without so much as disturbing the dust. He bend at the waist, and twisted his torso to face his lordship.
He smiled fondly to himself. There was no doubt about it; the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, while seated at his desk in his high-backed chair, was fast asleep.
The completely upright position might have fooled someone glancing into the office for a moment, but Drumknott, standing but a few inches away from the slumbering man, could see how deep and even his breath was, how the eyes behind the eyelids were moving rapidly from side to side, how, in sleep’s relaxation, the mouth had drooped open ever so slightly.
He made sure the pot of tea was kept warm under its cozy, then lightly made his way out again. In the ante room, he checked the day’s diary entries, and send some clackses to cancel those planned for the next few hours. For once, it felt like he didn’t need to worry about his lordship.
Another thing Drumknott liked about working with Lord Vetinari, was that occasionally, they went out. He felt unreasonably pleased at being by his lordship’s side whenever he went to inspect the progress on The Undertaking, or when he made little visits to people who were, for some reason or other, unable to come to him, but were nevertheless important enough to be spoken to – like Mrs Lavish, a lady who flirted with his lordship altogether too much for Drumknott’s taste.
This time, they were making a small tour of the Post Office. Of course, the real reason they were here was to see the Postmaster, but Lord Vetinari liked to play with people’s brains – albeit not in the way an Igor would – so they had told von Lipwig’s “secretary” Gladys they were here, and had slowly made their way to the Blind Letters Office.
It was like watching his nephew getting his birthday and Hogswatch presents all in one day. There was a considerable look of pleased amusement on Lord Vetinari’s face as he surveyed the room.
The two men working there, Frank and Dave, struck with dumbness in shock, answered all Lord Vetinari’s questions with nods, shakes or shrugs. While this wasn’t very efficient, the Patrician managed to understand what was going on in the office in a matter of moments.
Trailing his right index finger over the envelopes strewn over all available flat surfaces, he made his way to Drumknott, and, lowering his voice, murmured, “Use the kettle over there and brew some tea, would you?” He produced a pocket watch from the waistcoat which lay hidden under his robes and checked the time. “I expect the Postmaster in a few minutes.”
He turned on his heels, and Drumknott set the kettle to boil while Lord Vetinari made an interested tour of the heaps upon heaps of badly spelled addresses. He picked some envelopes up, raised an eyebrow at a few, chuckled at one, compiled a small selection, and seated himself on a chair near an abandoned desk.
Drumknott looked up just in time to see him fling up his legs athletically to have his feet rest on the edge of the desk.
The clerk stared. It was as if the Patrician (or at least the person cleaning his boots) had made a particular effort today. He wouldn’t put it beyond his lordship to use this casually contrived moment just to show off their shine. And the way they fitted perfectly around his trim calves. Which, higher on, made way for a set of well-formed, if bony, knees.
Drumknott’s eyes continued this route along his lordship’s legs over the tight-fitting breeches clothing his thighs, to catch the hint of a glimpse of other matters at the point where the robes fell open. He blinked and looked away, his face burning.
My, that was unexpected. And definitely food for thought. He made sure not to spill any tea when he poured it.
He crinkled his nose. Honestly! Could someone of Lady Margolotta’s caliber not be expected to be more subtle? As it happened, she was all but physically all over Lord Vetinari.
And something quite green inside Drumknott was of the opinion she had no right to be there, none at all. After all, she hadn’t spend the last years slowly but surely gaining his lordship’s trust!
He abruptly stopped his train of thought. Wait! What was that? Was he… jealous?
Oh, good gods. That was a ridiculous notion! She was an acquaintance of his lordship’s; they’d managed to get back in touch through the clacks, and played games of thud, and very little other correspondence passed between them.
Drumknott knew this for a fact, as he knew about every piece of correspondence coming in and going out of the Oblong Office. He knew if Lord So-And-So had forgotten to send a Hogswatch card; he knew what Lord Vetinari ordered from his tailor, and exactly what size it would be.
His brain did a gleeful double-take on that, and he mentally grinned at the fact that Lady Margolotta wouldn’t be privy to such knowledge. And then mentally slapped himself for ever being pleased with that thought.
He drifted through the Oblong Office to the open door of the balcony. Lord Vetinari and Lady Margolotta were having tea there, overlooking the crowded streets of the city. Drumknott felt the need to think of an excuse to disturb them, but for some reason his mind was a bit of a blank.
He stepped out onto the shaded balcony. The two rulers were sitting in a semi-circle with a small table piled with the necessities of tea between them. For a moment, Drumknott’s glance lingered on it. It looked like an inconspicuous barrier, if he were to belief his lordship had intentionally put it there.
Lady Margolotta was still looking out over the city, talking about an apparently interesting collection in her library. Lord Vetinari had looked up, being used to Drumknott’s soundless arrivals. If Drumknott didn’t know any better, there was a slight hint of desperation about the way his lordship raised his eyebrows at him.
Over the course of the years Drumknott had been working with Lord Vetinari, they had grown accustomed to gesture meaningfully at one another over the heads of oblivious city dignitaries using only their eyes and eyebrows. The code was not anything which could be transcribed into a dictionary, and some of the gestures had nearly served to make them smirk so much the visiting hobnob would notice. Nevertheless, it served its purpose.
There was a pleading intensity about Lord Vetinari’s look. By shifting his eyebrows minimally, it became an order to rescue him; from the way his eyes flashed, Drumknott could tell he meant for it to happen this instant. His face otherwise deadpan, Drumknott raised and lowered an eyebrow significantly in acquiescence.
He cleared his throat. Lady Margolotta stopped mid-sentence and looked around irritably.
“I do apologize profusely,” said Drumknott, matching her glare of distaste with one of his patented looks of utter cold, bland indifference. “There appears to be … a minor crisis … concerning some … paper money.” He was quite pleased with that; it sounded credible.
Lord Vetinari made a great show of sighing like a tormented tyrant, made a few apologies of his own and followed Drumknott off the balcony, all the way through the Oblong Office and into the ante room.
He closed the door behind them and leaned on it heavily, his eyes still on Drumknott. He heaved a deep sigh of relieve and smiled ruefully.
“Let us find this crisis, then. Before she comes looking for us.”
Lord Vetinari was mildly annoyed. It wasn’t like Drumknott to not show up. Even though, technically, it was his clerk’s afternoon off, the man had never before taken it – oh well, perhaps a long time ago, when he’d just started working in the Oblong Office – so it was… disappointing to find he was stuck with Clerk Armistice.
He raised a pointed eyebrow at the clerk, and asked, with an air of supreme indifference, “Do you know where Mr Drumknott has gone for the afternoon?”
“I do believe he has not left the Palace, sir,” answered Clerk Armistice. “I have heard said he is meeting someone in his rooms.”
Lord Vetinari almost choked on his coffee. Right. It wasn’t as if he had any meetings planned for the afternoon.
“I will now be taking Mr Fusspott for a little walk,” he managed with dignity, and swiftly got up. Before Clerk Armistice could point out all the documents he had failed to sign, he was outside the office, closely followed by the panting dog.
By following a convoluted route, it took him almost three times longer than necessary to reach Drumknott’s rooms. He had hitherto failed to question himself as to why he had remembered, after accidentally walking past there once, many months ago, where they were in the first place, but he blessed his memory now.
So Drumknott was meeting someone, hmm? Of course Lord Vetinari would have to find out all about it, if only to be able to ask awkward and knowing questions about it the next day.
He ushered Mr Fusspott into the abandoned apartment next to Drumknott’s, and quietly closed the door. He crossed to the painting of a constipated cat which hung on the wall separating the two apartments, and noiselessly took it down.
He could now look through a series of small holes which covered the wall to which Drumknott had attached his bookshelves. Some holes only offered a view of pages, but there were three… Lord Vetinari suck in a breath when he applied his eye to one of these holes.
The room on the other side of the wall was dimly lit. The apartment was not overly comfortable in its look, only covering the essentials. The Patrician couldn’t see it from this angle, but he knew a small desk stood under the shelves. There was a filing cabinet, a tall, narrow wardrobe, a bed, and, on the wall facing him, a small fire place, in which a fire had been lit. The scene playing out before his eye seemed almost incongruous with the surroundings.
There were two almost opulent wing-backed chairs turned halfway towards the fire. There was a coffee table which held the remains of a light lunch. There was a rug in front of the hearth. A man in black robes was kneeling on it; his face was buried in Drumknott’s lap.
Lord Vetinari felt his pulse quicken. He didn’t need to see the parts of Drumknott’s anatomy which were hidden by his chair; the telling bobbing up and down of his visitor’s head showed him all he needed to know.
He felt a strange constriction around his windpipe when he realized who the visitor was.
Charlie. His own look-a-like. A man who looked so much like him, he could fool most of the Guild leaders.
And this man, this very man, dressed in robes to match his own, the oblique skull cap abandoned on the floor, this damned man was pleasuring his clerk.
He glared at the scene, as if trying, with the intensity of his displeasure, to put the other man off. Instead, Charlie managed to elicit a deep moan from the clerk, who carded his fingers through the other’s close-cropped hair.
Despite his irrational anger, the Patrician found his breath grow more shallow and rapid. He had to admit, the sights and sounds were … inflammatory.
He collected himself. There was only one thing he could do. He rushed out, doggie on his heels.
Abandoning Mr Fusspott in the hallway leading to the kitchens, he grabbed hold of an unsuspecting Clerk, who followed his instructions closely. Lord Vetinari would remember what followed quite fondly for a long time to come.
The clerk, followed at a distance by his lordship, knocked on Drumknott’s door, informing the occupants of the apartment that there was an urgent message for Charlie. After a few moments, the man in question stepped out of the room. The clerk relayed the message, upon which Charlie hurried off without so much as a good-bye. The clerk left.
The door was still ajar.
Lord Vetinari slipped into the room. His breath caught in his throat.
Drumknott sat with his legs spread in the chair facing the door, his eyes closed, his flies open. His cravat had been undone, his shirt and waistcoat unbuttoned. In the flickering firelight – which reflected off his glasses – his body was pale in contrast with his dark clothing, but most contrasting was his dark pink erection.
In one fluid movement, the Patrician whipped off his robes and knelt on the floor before his clerk. Before Drumknott could open his eyes or utter a word, he took him deeply into his mouth.
He looked up at the young man’s face. His eyes flew open at the sudden return of contact, and his mouth shaped into an alarmed ‘Oh’ of recognition, but all he managed, as Lord Vetinari flicked his tongue, was another deep moan.
The Patrician let him slip from his mouth and wrapped his right hand around his clerk’s moist erection. Thinking this was his queue, Drumknott blurted, “My lord, I’m so –”
“We won’t speak of it again,” interrupted Vetinari in a low voice. “It has happened. It is forgotten. Now there’s this.” By way of demonstration, he squeezed and pulled at Drumknott’s cock. The clerk’s hips bucked violently. “My lord,” he groaned.
Power-play in the bedroom, mused the Patrician. Well, well, well. Highly effective, he noted, as his breeches were becoming too tight for comfort.
He had intended to stand up only to loosen his clothing, but Drumknott got up in a flash and had his nimble hands on him in a matter of seconds. He somehow managed to both pull his lordship down by the front of his shirt and unbutton his lordship’s waistcoat almost simultaneously. Their lips crashed together in a desperate kiss. It was as if all previously unacknowledged tension between them needed to be dealt with in this one clashing of mouths.
Someone – he couldn’t tell which of them – moaned, and he felt Drumknott’s slim hands slip under his shirt to caress his bare back and pull him even closer. Their bony hips snapped together, and another moan escaped them, as their erections, now freed from their clothing, rubbed together.
They never made it to the meager bed, but rutted against each other on the rug in front of the fire. Lord Vetinari wrapped a long-fingered hand around their erections, after which Drumknott didn’t last long. Although his seed was soon spent, he did not lose his energy, and, noting his lordship still straining erection, he lost no time to solve it.
Lord Vetinari had never realized his clerk was quite so good with his tongue. Actually, he hadn’t previously given it thought. But, he considered hazily as Drumknott introduced his slim fingers, he was very, very good.
Towards the morning, they were curled up into the narrow bed, Drumknott resting his head on Lord Vetinari’s shoulder, his arms wrapped around the tyrant’s waist.
“You know, Drumknott,” murmured Lord Vetinari, languidly stroking his clerk’s hair.
“Yes, my lord?” replied Drumknott against his collarbone.
“I’m rather glad I saw that.”