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Prejudice & Punishment

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Nobby hesitated a little as he walked down the stairs, down toward the cells. Sergeant Guster, Angua had said, had said he arrested Mr Drumknott as a matter of course, to distract from all the business with the men who’d tried to rough him up. He’d been in the Blue Cat Club with one of the stokers, and it’d been a gang of six who’d ganged up on him when the stoker’d had to go. Mr Drumknott had men who kept an eye on him, Nobby knew, but he hadn’t needed them to beat up the lads who’d come for him—

And Guster had tried to arrest him. He’d not even done any of the men that much harm, although he could have done, Nobby knew. He was only a little man and it was easy to forget, but he could be lethal, if he wanted to, could be right lethal. Mr Drumknott had been angry enough that he’d almost broke Guster’s hand, and then he’d been arrested for assaulting an officer of the Watch.

Guster was in Vimes’ office, now, pacing back and forth and sweating bullets, his skin pale and pasty. He hadn’t known Drumknott was the Patrician’s clerk. He’d just thought he was some invert, and that—

It wasn’t right.

Nobby knew that, that it wasn’t right.

Commander Vimes’d gone spare, when he’d found out, but Drumknott had said he wouldn’t leave the cell ‘til he had new clothes, and—

Nobby came into the corridor, and he looked through the bars.

Mr Drumknott was sitting against the wall on the concrete bed, one knee of his scuffed trousers drawn up against his chest, his boot drawn up and flat on concrete, the other leg outstretched before him.

Vimes was sitting on the other bed, his hands between his knees, his expression sour.

“… and I can’t say again how sorry I am,” Nobby heard Vimes say. “He’s not going to come out of this unscathed or without punishment. He’ll be stripped of his rank for this, Mr Drumknott.”

“Do you think, Commander Vimes? I don’t think he’ll have the time for that.”

“Now, Mr Drumknott. Sergeant Guster didn’t know better. He probably didn’t even realize—”

“Yes, he did,” Drumknott said, his voice cold. Nobby had never heard Mr Drumknott interrupt someone before. He was a quiet, fastidious little man: even though he disliked Nobby, had a go at Nobby, he was always polite about it, somehow. He wasn’t being polite now. He sounded furious. “And now, Commander, he’ll learn his lesson.”

“Yeah, by being demoted, and put through disciplinary action.”

“You say it so pointedly, Commander – do you really think it’s me that makes the choice? His lordship considers myself and his staff to be an extension of himself. He considers it treason, for someone to lay hands on one of us without cause. To make up faux charges to arrest us for, simply because—"

“Everyone in this city has prejudices, Mr Drumknott. They don’t deserve to die for them when they can just be taught. You could talk to his lordship, I’m sure.” There was a tense silence, and Drumknott looked at Vimes so nastily that Nobby was surprised Vimes didn’t flinch.

“Why should I?” he asked softly, arching an eyebrow. “I don’t want to.”

Nobby heard Vimes inhale sharply. “’Cause you can give him a chance to make amends. Make it right.”

“Don’t you preach forgiveness to me, Commander Vimes,” Drumknott said sharply, and Vimes shook his head, but before he could reply, Drumknott turned to look at Nobby. “You may come in, Corporal Nobbs: you aren’t interrupting anything.”

Vimes looked up to Nobby through the open cell door, and Nobby stepped forward, moving reluctantly into the cell. For once, though, Mr Drumknott wasn’t glaring daggers at him, and he held out the box that had come from the Patrician’s Palace.

“They sent a new outfit for you,” Nobby said. “More trousers an’ a new shirt, that’s all, and your coat.” There was a red jumper clumsily folded on top of the box, and he saw that Mr Drumknott was looking at it very critically, his brow furrowed. His glasses were bent, Nobby saw. “Er,” Nobby said, “Fred— Fred said it’d taken a turn for the chill, that your coat probably wouldn’t be enough. That’s his jumper, Mr Drumknott, from his locker. It’s clean, Mr Drumknott! Angua sniffed it and didn’t even flinch.”

Mr Drumknott’s lips were parted in surprise, and he looked at Nobby for a long moment. “Sergeant Colon did that?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Nobby said. “You don’t have to wear it, he said, you don’t have to, but he only thought, er, that you might be cold.”

He didn’t look cold, but he was shirtless. They’d ripped the shirt clean off his back, and the two bigger lads had bent him over a railing before Mr Drumknott had started breaking fingers.

Mr Drumknott was wearing just his trousers and his mud-spattered boots, and Nobby could see his chest, which was more athletic than one would expect, from a clerk. Way more. He was a little man, compact, but Nobby had always assumed he was skinny underneath all his suit and robes, like Vetinari, but actually he was built more like— Well, not even like Vimes, because Vimes had muscle on him, but always carried that skinniness from the Shades, with his knobbly knees and skinny joints.

Drumknott was built like Lady Sybil: muscular, but not in a defined, showy way, just in a sensible, meaty way, with padding over the muscles. He looked like the sort of man who could throw another man across the cobbles (which he had done today), but he was still soft at his edges, with paunch at his belly, with a round, soft breast.

He had scars all over.

Some of them were nasty ones, shiny, thick burn marks from a clothes iron or the side of a stove, but Nobby recognised some of them. Marks from a belt, them, he knew what they looked like, what they felt like. He could see spots where he’d had nasty falls and grazes, where it’d scarred up, and there was a mark on the left side of his ribcage, where a rib’d broken and come through, once upon a time. His dad had been a grocer, Fred said, in Nap Hill. Fred’d always thought he was a sound man, ‘til after he’d been killed when Drumknott was a lad. He’d had gambling debts, and he used to hit his kids, Fred’d said.

He’d said it so sick, like, so low and quiet. Jasper Drumknott used to hit his kids so much they bled and bruised and screamed, Fred’d said, and Fred used to drink with him, and take free sausages off him, and thought he’d been a sound man.

He’d all but run to get the jumper out of his locker, just now.

“That was very kind of him,” Drumknott said quietly, and he stood slowly to his feet. Nobby wondered if he remembered Fred being friendly with his dad. He didn’t know. He didn’t remember most of his own dad’s friends these days, except to avoid them, if he saw them.

“And Igor says he can have a look at your eye, Mr Drumknott,” Nobby said as he held out the box, letting Drumknott take it from him. “If you want.”

“It’s merely a bruise, Corporal Nobbs,” Drumknott murmured. “There’s no dizziness, difficulty focusing, no hyphema. I don’t require medical attention.”

“What’s that?” Nobby asked. “Eye-feema?”

“A bleed in the eye,” Drumknott said, turning away, and Nobby stared at his back. Nobby’s back looked like that, albeit with more dirt and grime on it, and much skinnier. Drumknott’s back probably showed it worse, for that, with all the belt marks, and how pale he was. Nobby looked at Vimes, who met his gaze, and just silently shook his head.

Nobby swallowed.

Drumknott drew the shirt out of the box, drawing it on and beginning to button it up. He changed into new trousers, then, apparently not caring that Vimes and Nobby were there with him, but Nobby turned his face away, looking at Vimes instead.

“Guster’s in your office, sir,” Nobby said. “Um. Well, the man who delivered the box, um, from the Patrician’s Palace, he wanted to, er, go in your office, with him, for a second, he said, and Angua wouldn’t let him.”

“Good,” Vimes said.

“And then Angua punched Guster, sir.”

“Good,” Vimes said, and then coughed. “I mean— Well. I’ll see him in a minute.”

Nobby saw Mr Drumknott’s lip twitch.

“And there’s no sign of Stoker Blake, sir,” Nobby said.

Vimes got a funny, twisted look on his face, but Mr Drumknott’s face didn’t reveal anything as he said, “I don’t need my partner to escort me home, Corporal, worry not. I’ll walk back to the Palace on my own. I’m scarcely harmed.”

“Why’d you stay down here in the cells, Mr Drumknott?” Nobby asked, ignoring the warning look Vimes gave him. “You din’t have to – you knew you didn’t do nothing wrong, just defended yourself!” They were in another Watchhouse, by the Entertainment District. They were really gonna throw the book at them, Captain Carrot had said, in a quiet, grim sort of way that made Nobby shiver[1].

“I know the penal codes of this city inside and out, Corporal,” Drumknott said quietly. “Sergeant Guster arrested me on a wrongful charge, yes, but I could hardly be seen to be given special treatment, simply because I am the Patrician’s clerk. Initially, Sergeant Angua went to release me simply because she recognised my face. I could hardly be released without the proper paperwork in a state of appropriate completion.”

“Gods, you’re worse than he is,” Vimes muttered. He was Vetinari, Nobby supposed.

“Kind of you to say so, Watch Commander,” Drumknott said softly, and he hesitated for a moment before drawing up Fred’s red jumper, and awkwardly drawing it over his head. It was too big on him – the sleeves were a little bit too long, and although it wasn’t too long at the hem, there was an awful lot of give around the belly.

Nobby had never seen Mr Drumknott wear a colour other than black or white before. It made his cheeks look even redder than usual, Nobby thought as he watched Drumknott adjust his glasses, or perhaps he was just blushing.

“Give us them,” Vimes said, gesturing, and Drumknott hesitated a moment before he drew his glasses from his nose, handing them over. Vimes took the frame in his hand, bending it in its place so that the arm of his glasses was straight again, and then he handed them back.

Drumknott took up his coat, and Nobby grabbed the box as they went back up the stairs, Vimes trotting ahead.

“He really going to kill him?” Nobby asked.

“I couldn’t say,” Drumknott said.

“Mr Drumknott,” said the Patrician as they entered the bullpen, and Nobby took a step back as Lord Vetinari came forward, grabbing Drumknott’s chin in a stern, concerned way that made Nobby think of the way the Patrician treated his dogs. It wasn’t superior, exactly, just that it was actually rather intent, almost paternal, and Drumknott didn’t draw away as Vetinari leaned in, one of his thumbs touching against the brow of Drumknott’s black eye. “Which one of them did this?”

“The blond one, sir,” Drumknott said quietly. “Mr Cuthbert, of Caddle Way, I believe.”

“They will, of course, be punished, to the full extent of the law,” Vetinari murmured, and Nobby watched the way the Patrician’s hand grasped at Drumknott’s arm, squeezing. Maybe it was paternal. Drumknott’d been his clerk for a long time, now, after all. It made sense that even Lord Vetinari’d care about someone, after that long. “Are you alright?”

“I’m angry, sir,” Drumknott said. “That’s all.”

“What— Mr Drumknott, what are you wearing?” Vetinari asked, leaning back to look at Drumknott’s ill-fitting jumper, and Drumknott smiled.

“Sergeant Colon worried I’d be cold, sir,” he said.

“Ah,” Vetinari murmured, and he glanced about the room, but Fred wasn’t here: he’d gone out to his own office, Nobby expected, to avoid all the fallout.

“Sir,” Vimes said, finally.

“I should like to bring the Sergeant back to the Palace,” Vetinari murmured.

The Patrician’s voice was a rumble, and Nobby saw Vimes’ shoulders draw back, ready to argue, but Drumknott said in a voice so low as to be as a whisper, “Perhaps you might observe the Watch Commander’s discipline from his office, my lord. It’s only the proper thing, as Sergeant Guster is directly under his purview.”

Vetinari was silent for a moment, his hand lingering on Drumknott’s shoulder as they met one another’s eye, and Nobby had no idea what they communicated to one another in that moment, but it seemed to span multitudes, a conversation, somehow, between two faces that didn’t change in their expression, two sets of eyes that were silently communicative in a way Nobby could scarcely comprehend.

“Mr Drumknott makes a fine point,” Vetinari said eventually, very slowly, not taking his gaze away from his clerk's face. “We shall… observe.”

Vimes relaxed, giving Drumknott a short glance.

“Right, sir,” he said. “Right.”

Vimes demoted Guster right down to Corporal.

For a week, he didn’t say nothing. And it was down to Mr Drumknott and Vimes between them, Nobby supposed, if Lord Vetinari was convinced, that nothing happened to him, while he didn’t say nothing.

But then he did. Said—

Nobby didn’t even know what he’d said, exactly. He heard it from Fred, all para-whatsit, paraphrised, who said it while shaking his head, his teeth gritted, expression grim and distant. Fred had said Guster’d said… That the tailors had a chokehold on the city, now, that you couldn’t say nothing against it, anymore, that it wasn’t right.

He’d gone missing, then, that night.

No sign of him.

Nobby wasn’t surprised, really.

And he wasn’t—

Not that he thought it was good, for a man to disappear, but… He wasn’t a good man. It was one thing, to do little things here and there, but not to try and punish a man, for men trying to beat him up, trying to gang up on him. Acting like he was the criminal. And the other men, they were punished harsh, and that was good, he thought. The papers’d been talking about it, had been talking about the legislation, for harassing inverts, and talking about different words for it.

“Hullo, Mr Drumknott,” Nobby said as Drumknott came into Pseudopolis Yard, his boots making no sound at all on the wet stone, holding two parcels wrapped in brown paper and tied very neatly with string.

“Corporal Nobbs,” Drumknott said, with a small inclination of his head, and Nobby came up toward him, across the yard. Nobby squeezed the inside of his pockets to keep himself from reaching out to pick one of Drumknott’s pockets. Mr Drumknott hadn’t glared at him in two weeks, and he was surprised by how much he liked that.

The bruise was nearly healed on his eye, now.

“Here,” Drumknott said quietly, passing Nobby the two parcels. “Sergeant Colon’s jumper, pressed and cleaned, and some pastries from a café in Sator Square. There’s a note thanking him inside.”

“Oh, right,” Nobby said. “I’ll give it him.”

“Thank you,” Drumknott said cleanly.

“You couldn’t convince him, then?” Nobby asked, awkwardly.

“Pardon, Corporal?” Drumknott asked, tilting his head slightly.

“Er— The… Patrician. Not that I’m being nosy, or nothing, but Guster…”

“Ah,” Drumknott said. “I take your meaning.  The Patrician had naught to do with Guster’s disappearance.”

“Well, ‘course you have to say that,” Nobby said.

Mr Drumknott smiled. It was a small, tight smile. “No, Corporal,” he said delicately, “I do not. The Patrician had naught to do with it.” Nobby swallowed as understanding dawned, but Mr Drumknott’s smile softened slightly. “You were kind, as well, last week. My thanks.”

“S’alright,” Nobby said. “Is Stoker Blake alright? D’he look after you, after?” Drumknott’s gaze flickered down toward the cobbles for a moment, but then he met Nobby’s gaze again. He'd been with Stoker Blake two years now, Nobby thought, or maybe three. It was a serious thing, he thought, but then, Mr Drumknott was serious about everything. 

“I hardly need looking after, Corporal,” Drumknott said, although he smiled just slightly as he stepped back toward the gate. “But, yes, he was very attentive, I assure you. I must back to the Palace, now: this was but a short errand.”

“Bye, Mr Drumknott.”

“Good afternoon, Corporal,” Drumknott said, and turned neatly on his heel, walking away from him.


[1] The last time Carrot had thrown the book at somebody, it had been literal, and the man had suffered a rather grisly death as a result.