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Like Clockwork

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Every morning, at an hour much of the rest of the city regards as belonging to night, Havelock Vetinari steps into the small ante-chamber to his bedroom, and sinks, chin deep, into a tin bath of hot water.

Absolute rulers all have their own luxuries; Havelock breathes deeply, the grey steam coiling towards the low ceiling, which, thanks to his predecessor, is coated in plaster cherubs, because (although at that time the room housed out-of-season chandeliers), Mad Lord Snapcase did nothing by halves. He leans back into the unresisting warmth, fingers feeling for the familiar raised patch on the left side, a repair effected after Lord Fringe was stabbed through it.

Havelock does not walk with a cane to gratify vanity; as the heat suffuses his muscles he feels his breathing slow, the tension ebbing. After this he will think more clearly.

His skin is growing flushed, the scars becoming starkly visible; he can no longer remember what caused some of the oldest ones, but no one is likely to ask.

He closes his eyes. The water laps over his shoulders, and he thinks about the servants boiling it and carrying it up in great copper bowls wrapped in white cloths. He thinks about what it might be like to have tasks as menial and simple as that be the measure of one’s day.

A folded towel waits for him on a chair – no one attends, no one ever sees him at these times. Re-entering the bedroom, he finds that, as usual, the bed is made and a fresh robe is waiting upon it.

He insulates himself in swathes of black fabric; the very first light of dawn is at the cracks in the shutters and it is another day in his city.

- - -

As on every other day, the first thing he says to another person is, “Good morning, Drumknott. I trust you are well?” and the young man answers affirmatively, as he always does, and smiles at him, pushing forwards a carefully stacked pile of documents with their edges precisely parallel to the sides of Havelock’s desk. 

Next to them sits his mug of coffee, and an isosceles triangle of pastry containing apple jam.

What Drumknott does in the few hours in which Havelock is at least putatively asleep is surprisingly hard to surmise, but whatever it is has never yet prevented him being there, poised and ready with a deferential smile.

What is it like to be a young man with no destiny? The study of Drumknott is of continual interest; when Havelock was his age he had already changed the fate of an entire city, had learned to kill, had learned not to kill, had stared down a vampire...

Havelock knows his clerk sleeps in the east wing - not five doors away from himself in case of political emergency - that he eats porridge in the morning and that he invoices for exactly three new outfits per annum; spring, summer and autumn, and a new coat every two years. Every member of the Palace staff is subject to numerous inquiries, and Havelock could increase them and uncover anything he chose.

And yet there is no way into a man’s mind, other than that he show you.

Drumknott pulls the cords that open the vast velvet curtains, his thin frame struggling to balance, his face made almost petulant with the effort; Havelock takes up his pen, and they move on like mechanical figures in an ornamental clock: set on their tracks, ever repeating, ever smooth and ordered, ever prevented from collision.

Under them, around them, across the street, the city keeps time to the same order, or at least as much as it is ever likely to.

“Do you begin to see, Drumknott?” Havelock asks, after some of the Thieves’ Guild leave a few hours later.

Drumknott looks down at the notes he has been taking. He is a man satisfied to appear obtuse – this, Havelock noticed about him at once – and it was some weeks into his service before he stopped attempting to conceal how fast and how well his mind might actually be working. Such characterises a man with no ambition, or with a slow-burning one more powerful than expected, a willpower stronger than most; Havelock cannot yet accept that he may never know for certain which is the case, unless Drumknott were actually to betray him.

Drumknott is biting his lip, frowning. “I think so, sir, but... That would mean...” his eyes widen, flickering out towards the window and the view of the city, and Havelock knows that in that second Drumknott can see what he sees, a meeting of minds. “Sir, that’s genius! I mean... sir,” and his voice wrestles itself level again and he flushes.

Havelock leans back in his chair, allows a curl of his lip. “I’m glad you approve, Drumknott.”

Drumknott flushes deeper still, and Havelock feels the fact that he trusts him, whether or not he has due evidence to do so.

“It is going to snow tonight, Drumknott.” Havelock selects a quill pen and begins to sign things again, a task to which there have been a thousand, thousand beginnings and to which no end will ever come. “The chest sickness will come with it, please ensure we have organised the due increase in corpse wagons.”

Drumknott sits and writes along with him in silent concentration, biting his lip absently. They often remain in this manner for hours at a time, passing documents between them without a need for words.

As on every other day, the last thing Havelock says to another person is “Good night, Drumknott. I hope you have a pleasant rest.”

And Drumknott smiles, nods, and makes a reciprocal wish. Havelock is sure Drumknott knows he will be reading at least until a new candle burns through, but he is not entirely sure what Drumknott does. It would be easy enough to find out, but he does not want to learn in that way, somehow.

- - -

Every night, at an hour much of the rest of the of the city regards as belonging to morning, Havelock Vetinari gets out of his chair, lifting his leg stiffly from the low stool on which he rests it, and rings for a servant to begin preparations to fill the bath. In the two hours this takes, he will sleep.

His dreams are unregulated, even by himself. It is sometimes a relief to awaken and realise that in truth reality has not changed, and sometimes it is not.

The hot water embraces him and he thinks suddenly of the taste of apple jam, the harbinger of a nagging edge of thought that he feels perpetually almost close to grasping.

- - -