Moist von Lipwig, Postmaster General, Vice-President of the Ankh-Morpork Bank, Generally Involved in Railways and the Man in the Golden Suit, is currently sitting on a chair drinking a very good, but very cold cup of tea, and staring in stunned silence at the man in front of him.
This would shock most people who know him. Or at least, think they do. The people of the city pride themselves on their smooth-talking Golden Man, who found the magic of the post, who found all that money by praying to the gods, who invented money, who started the railways - they love him, and his witty battles in The Times with Sacharissa Crisplock. When he was married, the wedding took up three whole pages, and when his baby was born that was another two. Moist von Lipwig in the minds of the people is an unflappable man, a man with a Plan (not a plan, a Plan) a man with something to say in every situation.
His wife, Adora Belle, has seen him stunned to silence many times. This is why she is his wife. Commander Vimes has seen him shocked, too, but this is because Sybil and Sam (and young Sam) are regular dinner guests of Moist and Adora Belle (and young Letty, who’s just said her first word).
The man in front of him has also seen him stunned to silence many times. This is why he is his boss.
“I don’t know why any of this comes as a surprise to you, Lipwig,” says Lord Vetinari calmly. “Time passes, does it not?”
Moist stares into his cup of tea, where he can see the skim of the milk dancing from rim to rim. At the moment, that’s the only thing in the world that he’s certain is real - this tea, and himself, probably, but who knows? Maybe he did die. Maybe this is hell.
“Mr Lipwig? Would you like another cup of tea? You’ve had that one rather a long time.”
Uberwald, Moist thinks, dreamily. He doesn’t have many memories of his childhood there, because he erased them forcibly over the years, but he does remember the simplicity. Potato farming, his grandfather’s dogs, the cold cabbage suppers, riding the donkeys for miles and miles to the well. He could go back - he could seek his roots - he could burn the golden suit and dye his hair and kidnap his wife and his daughter and run -
“Drumknott, can you see to it that Mr Lipwig has a fresh cup? I think it would do him a world of good.”
His cup is gently eased out of his hands. It takes a while, because Moist is gripping ever so hard, but eventually another is pressed into his palm. It’s refreshingly hot.
“Moist,” says Vetinari, at last - and that gets his attention. Moist, up until this point, wasn’t sure Vetinari knew he had a first name, and he had been sure he would go to his grave without hearing it. It sounds oddly, terrifyingly informal coming from Vetinari.
“You can’t make me Patrician,” Moist croaks at last, and takes a sip of the scalding tea. “I’m a bastard. I’m not from the city - I’m from Uberwald, for godssakes, I’m a wanted man - I robbed people!”
Vetinari raises one slender black eyebrow, his fingertips steepled below his chin. “To rule a city as vast as Ankh-Morpork, you need to be a bastard. And you are as from Ankh-Morpork as anyone is - you may have been born in Uberwald, but you and I both know that the city made you who you are today. The wanted man you once were is dead. And robbery, Mr Lipwig? May I remind you, in case it slipped your mind, that I graduated from the Assassin’s Guild, where I believe the syllabus is a lot more… terminal than the crimes you may have theoretically committed. I believe that’s all your worries, yes?”
Moist tries to take another drink, and pours tea down himself. It puddles down his shirt.
(His grey shirt.)
(Moist would never wear the golden suit to meet Vetinari. After all, who would he be trying to fool? Vetinari, who told him the interesting facts about angels while the rope burn was still aching around Moist’s neck, or Moist himself, who knows every single regrettable fact about the body he’s inhabiting and the things that he’s managed to do? No. The golden suit would feel disrespectful, and cheap. When Moist meets the Patrician, he comes as himself and only himself, no frills required.)
“Rufus,” Vetinari says - and gods, Moist didn’t know Drumknott had a first name, either - “Could you fetch a damp cloth for Mr Lipwig, please?”
“Yes, my lord,” Drumknott’s voice says from near the door.
Moist eyes Vetinari with a hollow stare. “Don’t make me,” he says.
“I won’t make you, of course. If you don’t want to, the door is right there.”
Pit full of spikes, Moist’s brain helpfully supplies. “Pit full of spikes,” his mouth helpfully says, before downing the remainder of his cup of tea.
Astonishingly, it doesn’t make anything better.
Vetinari’s face does what would, on anyone else, be a smile. “No pit full of spikes,” he says. “Moist - do you know why I’ve made you this offer?”
“Because you’re a tyrant,” Moist offers. His brain takes a dive off a handy cliff, unless it’s already done that, which would explain quite a lot about how this conversation is turning out.
And again, there’s a tiny smile under a greying, groomed moustache. “I’ll tell you, if you want to know.”
What has Moist got to lose?
“Sure,” he says. “Sure, tell me.”
“Help me to the window.”
In years gone by, Vetinari would have stood on his own and walked as smooth and silent as a panther, and a part of that elegance remains. In years gone by, his black cane was for show, not for use - but now he leans on it, his knuckles white, and reaches out for the arm Moist extends, leaning on it with most of his weight. He is featherlight, but Moist doesn’t need to register this as a new fact, because helping Vetinari out of his seat has become commonplace in the last few years. It doesn’t diminish his presence at all, but it strikes Moist that he must be one of the very few people Vetinari does this to. The shuffle from desk to window is a short one, but in that time, Moist hears how quick Vetinari’s breath gets, how noticeably his hands shake when he leans on the sill. He isn’t out of his prime, not at all, and Moist has seen him walk for hours in public without showing a sign of weakness -
But then again. Vetinari must assume that Moist is someone there is no point fooling. Golden suits come in all shapes and sizes.
“Look out the window,” the Patrician commands, his voice betraying none of the frailty he’s displayed. “Look out the window and tell me what you see.”
Moist looks out the window.
The city in the morning is really a sight for the eyes of the conman, reformed or not. There’s Dibbler, selling his pies, and a few members of the Watch hanging around the corner with cigarettes clutched in their fists, and a dog taking a piss against the wall, and a bunch of tourists being politely robbed by a member of the Thieves Guild, and a few seamstresses hanging around the front of one of those new high-end goblin coffee houses. He sees a wizard in a funny hat (even by wizarding standards) having a hot debate with what appears to be a trunk full of luggage, although stranger things have happened. He sees a carriage belonging to a visiting dignitary from the Sto Plains, the horses merrily dirtying the streets the gnolls try so hard to keep clean. He sees the meeting of a thousand people every second, and the money that flows around and around like water in a bathtub, spinning around the plug but never falling.
“Opportunity,” he says slowly.
Vetinari hums. He sounds delighted. “Samuel always says he sees a dog relieving himself. The Archchancellor once said he saw his brother throwing a brick at the Temple of Offler. But you’re right, of course - Ankh-Morpork is one opportunity, waiting for someone to come along and make sure it keeps spinning.”
“So, because I looked out your window, you think I should be,” Moist swallows. He can’t say it.
Vetinari does that little smile again. “Yes,” he says. “And because, when I told Sam Vimes I was thinking of you, as my successor, do you know what he said?”
“I imagine he wasn’t very pleased,” Moist says weakly.
(The Vimes-Ramkin/von Lipwig-Dearheart dinners are a weekly event, because Moist and Sybil have become fast friends who think their children need to interact with more children of their own unique situation. Young Sam is a lot older than Letitia, who’s just turned two, but Letty adores him. Young Sam is learning card tricks, and when he pulls coins out of Letty’s ears her giggles are a blessing to any crooked man’s heart.)
(All the same, Moist always gets the feeling Sir Samuel himself disapproves of him. Moist and Sybil are friends, good friends, and Vimes and Adora Belle get on so well it makes Moist nervous. At their dinners, Vimes smokes a cigar and sometimes Moist catches him looking at him, like he’s measuring him for something Moist isn’t sure he’ll fit into.)
“I’ll tell you what the Commander said,” Vetinari says. He’s still leaning against the windowsill. “He said firstly that I was a damn fool for considering anyone, yet, and secondly that if I was going to persist with it, that I could have picked someone worse.”
“Oh,” says Moist.
He can argue with Vetinari, and he can argue with Adora Belle, and he can argue with Harry King and Groat and Sybil and Derek and Bent and Stanley and Gladys and - and anyone. Anyone.
But he can’t argue with the confidence the Patrician gives him, and the trust in the way he leans his weight on Moist’s arm.
And he can’t argue with the grunt and the smile Vimes gives him next time they cross paths. He can only accept what’s happening to him -
But hope that it doesn’t happen for a long while, yet.