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Return to Normality

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Captain Carrot had insisted that he call for a carriage from the Palace. Lord Vetinari had insisted upon walking. So, after finally signing the release forms a gleeful Commander Vimes had foisted upon them, they were walking.

The winter sun had long since set, and the air was frigid, but it was, perhaps, as close to fresh as it could get in Ankh-Morpork, and after a week in the cells, they both welcomed it. They walked carefully on the icy mud, close together, as men hunched into their coats against the cold are wont to do. Drumknott still had his arm in a sling, Lord Vetinari’s left hand gripped his cane; both had their free hands tucked into pockets. Wuffles trotted happily along behind them, tail wagging, top dog for just this one night, secure in his god’s shadow. Yellow light spilled out onto the pavements, and the raucous noise of the city ebbed and flowed around them. Neither of them said anything; they were both economical men, after all, and the words were redundant to their understanding. Slowly, however, the tension in two pairs of shoulders melted away, like the occasional snowflake that settled on their hair. Nobody spared them a second glance. Everybody was just trying to get home.

Drumknott drifted slowly closer to Vetinari’s slightly halt gait, his faint warmth; had they been of an equal height, their shoulders would have brushed. Occasionally their arms did, instead. The dog coughed at their heels. His bandaged arm was beginning to hurt again, a dull throb, but the last slow uncoiling of the anxiety he’d felt ever since he’d woken in the Watch House quite eclipsed it in his awareness. Vetinari’s eyes were darting, though he never turned his head from their destination, not even to glance at his companion. A stranger might have taken it for Assassin training, always watching the shadows. Drumknott rather thought it was more like a man checking up on his home, after a long absence.

They passed the guard on both the Palace gates and the doors unremarked; unacknowleged except for a salute to the Patrician. They entered the halls quietly, and stomped slushy boots upon the doormat at the east wing, pulled off damp gloves. All the staff had long since gone to bed, and nobody had been informed that the Patrician was returning that evening. Drumknott suspected he preferred it that way. Only the dying embers of the fire lit the hallway. Vetinari found a match and lit them a candle whilst he was still struggling with the buttons on his coat. Even for Vetinari, it was too late to start working, so, by unspoken agreement, they each ascended the grand sweep of the stairway, heading for their rooms.

The Patrician swayed, just slightly, at the top of the stairs, a hand reaching to his temple, and, in unthinking reflex, Drumknott threw his good arm about that narrow waist, heart racing in a sudden new fear. Vetinari turned to face him, meeting his gaze directly for the first time since the incident. Above those endless winter sky eyes, an eyebrow began to arch like a rapidly receding horizon, and, with sudden insight, he understood that the difference between falling and flying was, after all, only a matter of control. He snatched his arm back nonetheless, mind already framing a sentence that was perfectly poised somewhere between apology, explanation and solicitude, then forgetting it in the next instant as an elegant hand came down with surprising strength on his shoulder.

“It’s quite all right, Rufus,” his lordship murmured, an undercurrent to his tone that might have been affection, and might even have been compassion. “Do get some rest.” A gentle squeeze of the most powerful hand on the Disc pressed the embossed V of a signet ring through the wool of his coat, and then Vetinari was gone, disappearing off in the direction of his quarters, and he was somehow left holding the candle.

“Goodnight, Sir.” His voice was rusty, and didn’t carry. Drumknott watched him go for a moment. The dark tunic lost him in the gloomy corridor almost instantly; Wuffles was a pale fuzzy blob ambling along behind his shifting shadow. He rounded the corner, then there was only the muted tap of the cane against the panelled floor, which died away, and, finally, the faintest click of a door shutting. Drumknott entered his own room quietly and closed the door behind him with a contented smile.