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Mr. Drumknott's Surprise

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Vetinari blinked very slowly and very hard. The object on the tray was still there. Not, then, a hallucination or a trick of the light.

It squatted hideously next to the Times, where a fine white teacup would normally have been. It was roughly the same shape as a cup, just as the Ankh was roughly the same consistency as a river. Steam arose from it, so Vetinari presumed it even contained tea. But there ended all resemblance to a work of porcelain-maker's art. The object--the mug, for lack of a more fitting term--was large, thick, and a shade of yellow invariably and inaccurately described as "cheerful" by people who sold paints. The side facing Vetinari had writing on it in heavy orange letters, which proclaimed: To the world's Greatest Boss.

"Happy birthday, sir," said Drumknott, behind the tray.

"Er," said Vetinari. Once Drumknott set the tray down on his desk, he managed to tear his gaze away from the thing. "Thank you." The purple afterimage cleared from his vision, and he looked minutely at Drumknott. The man still had neatly combed hair and a plain brown clerk's robe, displaying no new penchant for yellow, and in fact no sign of madness at all. "How did you know?" Vetinari asked. Focusing on clear, simple facts might help.

"Lady Roberta Meserole sends you a letter, or more recently a coded clacks, on the 32nd of Ember every year. As she is your only living relative, the conclusion seemed reasonable. However, it wasn't until last year that I had sufficient proof of the pattern to be certain."

"I see. You're quite correct, of course."

Drumknott nodded. One of his hands lifted to his collar, without him seeming to be aware of it, and he tugged at it. Perhaps it was too tight; his face was slightly red.

"I take it that this . . . " Vetinari gestured at the mug. "Is a birthday gift?"

"Yes, sir."

"How unexpected." No, that wouldn't do. A muscle near Drumknott's eye had twitched in a distinctly flinching manner. Vetinari called upon the memory of childhood Hogswatches and his aunt's invariable gift of a whimsically anthropmorphised toy animal. "I'm most grateful that you thought of me."

"Sir." All the colour in Drumknott's face had now gathered in one scarlet spot on each cheek, brilliant against a tense white pallor. "I did think, sir. There's nothing in the world you couldn't have if you wanted it. Nothing I could give you, except . . . " He squirmed like a schoolboy.

It was a remarkable present: the most appalling object in the entire city that hadn't actually been fished out of a gutter. And behind it, this shining esteem from a man who was no fool, and who knew him far too well to idolise.

Vetinari rested his fingers on the yellow handle and raised the mug to his lips. Iron Goddess oolong tea, his favourite. "Thank you, Drumknott," he said. "I shall treasure it."