News travels strangely on the Discworld, a world that is already so strange that it hardly needs the help. It’s not the only thing that travels strangely from place to place – the light of the Discworld’s little sun, caught in the heavy magic fields of the disc, travels through the air like treacle through a swimming pool, here getting trapped and piling up behind mountains, there dipping and diffusing in the seas. It has been hypothesised by more than enough great thinkers that perhaps there are many things that could travel faster than light if they tried hard enough – maybe the fastest being monarchy (after all, there is no time at all that passes between the death of one king and the reign of the next. The mantle of kingship, then, must travel very fast indeed.) but in truth, there is at least one thing that travels faster than even monarchy. Rumour, both true and false, travels pretty darned fast. Bad news, even faster.
The bad news that was travelling tonight damn near outstripped the people carrying it. It felt to Lance-Constable Mangas as though everyone knew this news before it was spoken. By the time it came through the door of the Peristeri Street Watch House, it was already olds. His Grace, Sir Samuel Vimes of Ankh was dead.
Reactions had started with a nervous laugh, each watchman watching (hah) the faces of the others for a cue – it had to be a joke, right, Old Stoneface Vimes couldn’t die, right? But one look at the face of Sergeant Oakes was all it took to silence that. There was no space for laughing in that room, not when the Sarge’s face looked like that. Everyone knew the Sarge was a Sammy, came straight from Ankh-Morpork to Pseudopolis. Everyone knew he’d trained under Sam Vimes himself. He looked stricken, and Lance-Constable Mangas had to look away.
And so it wasn’t a joke. It could be a lie, but what would be the point to it? And besides, thought Lance-Constable Mangas looking sideways at the Sarge, it didn’t do to interrupt a man who was grieving, especially to suggest that he shouldn’t be. And Sergeant Oakes was Morporkian. The sergeant never liked for people to see when he was “having feelings”, as he put it. Time to give him a moment alone with the death of his commander, let him sort out what he was feeling.
But he wasn’t the only one feeling it. Mangas had never met the Duke of Ankh himself, but every copper in every city on the disc knew him. If he was really dead… where would his mantle be passed to? There wasn’t another copper on the disc like him. The Watch, every Watch, would never be the same without him.
Mangas let his eyes close, just for a second, and then the Sergeant gave an embarrassed grunt, and lifted himself to his feet. “Well, then.” He said, his voice a strange rumble. “That’s one thing. But we have a job to do tonight.”
Of course. The city couldn’t stop just because another city’s Watch commander was dead. The News had caught them before they went out to walk the streets, a dangerous occupation these past few weeks. “But in remembrance of the Commander,” Sergeant Oakes continued, “we’d best do it properly. All right, men, I want the city quiet tonight, and if you can’t make it quiet, at least make it short. Not one civilian gets hurt, you hear? Not even the little buggers who’s rioting! Remember, Sam Vimes’ll be watching us!”
By his side, young Corporal Triti piped up. “You think he’ll be protecting us, Sarge?”
Oakes hefted his helmet in his hands. “Not to protect us, Triti, not Mister Vimes. He’ll be watching to make sure we do it right!”
Corporal Lefevre had dropped himself in it. He knew that, he wasn’t one to deny it. He’d dropped himself in it, and as far as the captain had to know, he was the only one who’d been anywhere near it. It was bad enough she’d found out that he’d been shaking hands with some of the less-well-guarded doors in the city, he wasn’t about to let on there’d been others.
As it was, Captain Hobbs was towering over him in her beat up armour and her grey hair and scarred face that showed a woman unafraid of the grit involved in post-Vimes policing. There weren’t many real Sammies left, at least outside Ankh-Morpork, and to see one angry was an experience and a half. To see one angry at you was quite possibly two entirely separate experiences, balled up together to form one, ultra-terrifying experience. Corporal Lefevre bowed his head and just hoped that when the dust settled he might still be standing. And also hoped that the Rue Morporkia Watch House would still be standing.
“…And completely aside from your blatant disrespect for the city, its people, your brothers-at-arms and the bloody law!” She was saying, “Just what do you think Sam Vimes would say if he could see you now? He’d go spare, and if there is one thing in this world you should count yourself lucky for never having seen, it is Mister Vimes going… spare.”
There was a susurrus at that, from the upstairs doors where people would later swear there was absolutely no one watching. Corporal Lefevre bristled to hear it, but he had to stop. It was true. If Old Stoneface had ever known what he did, ever seen him break the law he was supposed to uphold, it didn’t matter how small it was, it didn’t matter that everyone did it, he would… go… spare.
Captain Hobbs could read the look in his eyes well enough to see that she’d made her mark. “Get out of my sight.” She said. “Don’t come back for a week. You’re relieved of your duty without pay. Now get out.”
Corporal Lefevre did.
Conrad sucked on his teeth. It was something he did when he was nervous, sucking his teeth, and right now waiting in the lamplight outside Mrs Farrer’s door he was making a spirited effort to swallow them. This wasn’t a place for him, he thought. Not for the jumped up castle guard who’d spent one weekend training in the city and come back claiming to be a watchman, no.
He thought of the feeling in the town, the way the conversation in the tavern had turned so dark, and how he’d been so proud to have understood so quickly that Mrs Farrer would need his protective custody. The charges that had been levied against her would need, he thought, due process. It wasn’t something to be decided in the warmth of the tavern and in ale. He’d run from the tavern, run all the way up the chalk road to her home to warn her, but now standing in the almost dark, waiting to see torchlight and pitchforks around the bend in the road, he tried very hard to pretend he wasn’t wishing to have been a little slower on the uptake.
This was a matter for witches, he thought, but old mistress Aching was gone, and the baroness with her, and even their young lass from the village over the wold, up to the mountains on some very important witchly errand. Why it should need all three of them, he didn’t like to think, but they wouldn’t be back for another two days yet. Two days wasn’t any help to Conrad.
But whether or not he had a city to watch, or just a scared woman proclaiming her innocence, Conrad was a watchman. He knew how a watchman had to behave. This was what the law was for – to defend the defenceless, to prevent a crime from taking place, even if the entire village were the possible criminals. He knew the old stories, how the old commander of Ankh-Morpork’s city watch once arrested a battlefield to prevent a war. If he had to arrest the whole village he would. If that was what it took to uphold the law.
And he knew how the city watchmen spoke, had learned their ideas. He wasn’t alone on the road here, not quite. Because he was a watchman, and he couldn’t be expected to do any less than any other watchman. If he did, Mister Vimes would go spare!
He saw a dim glow, moving around the bend in the road, and adjusted the tinpot helmet on his head. Mister Vimes was watching over him. He had to get this right.
There is a story that in the ubiquitous Olden Days (the olden days that seem to be at the same time much better and much harder than the Newer Days – everyone had to walk twenty miles through the snow to work in those days, uphill both ways, and it was character building, oh yes!), Llamedos watchmen were obliged to wear both top hats and tailcoats. This, they say, was to demonstrate that the watch were, at the same time, both masters and servants of the public. This story always gave Constable Evans a moment’s amusement, because picturing Captain Gethin as anybody’s servant was a laugh and a half all right. But even so, there was a certain set of ladies and gentlemen who were happy to forget about the “master” aspect of that story and focus on the “servant”. This was, coincidentally, the set of people who were far more used to having servants than masters.
Still, it handily explained the behaviour of the gentleman in front of him. Constable Evans liked things that explained people’s behaviour. It was like having a key to their heads, hung on a string around his neck. Even so, understanding what a person wants from you and giving it to them were different things, and today he was more of a “master” type watchman than a “servant” one. He tapped his pencil stub pointedly against his notepad, and smiled in a fashion he knew would cause irritation in its audience.
“Tha’ss right, sir,” he said, “But being as we are watchmen, it is our duty to watch. I shall have to know what happened one way or another, so it’s best you answer the questions, isn’t it?”
The not-quite-a-suspect-yet in front of him narrowed his eyes. For a moment, Evans thought he might try you can’t talk to me like that again, but he passed on that in favour of blustering “That’s tidy, that is! And who watches the Watchmen, eh?”
Evans’ smile grew wider. That was an easy question, ask any watchman. “Why, Sam “Stoneface” Vimes does, sir.” It had been a couple of decades now since the last of the genuine sammies had retired off the force, much longer since Vimes had died himself, but at the time it was widely agreed that a man like Sam Vimes wasn’t going to let a thing like being dead stop him from doing his duty.
“Ha,” Evans continued, “catch us derelict in our duties, sir – Vimes’d go spare! So don’t you worry about us, when you ought to be thinking about who it is can tell me for fact where you were on the night of Sektober fourteenth…”
It takes a special kind of watchman to find herself in a situation like this, Constable Alatessa knew. Oh, all right, plenty of officers would have turned their eyes to the vampires in the castle when young women in the village started to go missing, even if Alatessa knew she was only eliminating the Countess from her enquiries. The old lady was a black ribboner, everyone knew. And, knowing that, plenty of officers would have been happy to accept the offer to stay the night, especially when the village was such a long ride away and just to ride back in the morning. If you couldn’t trust a black ribboner in her own village, then Uberwald was a changing country, and that was the truth.
Where Constable Alatessa suspected she differed from more competent watchmen, though, was in asking enough questions. A more competent watchman might have thought, okay, so the Countess was on the wagon. But what about the Count? Vampires don’t die, and they don’t fade away just because no one’s thinking about them right now. Hidden below the castle, far less abstinent than his loyal wife, and Constable Alatessa was forced to admit that in this situation, the Countess’ black ribbon really didn’t mean as much as she’d like it to.
She ran as lightly as she could, but even without her bulky plate armour she knew that the Count had to hear every footfall, every hammering thud of her heart against her ribs. Young blonde women in borrowed nightgowns didn’t tend to fare well in vampires’ castles. She was in the man’s own castle. As quiet as she tried to be, he would find her, probably by stepping out from a suspiciously placed shadow at exactly the moment Alatessa thought she’d lost him. She abandoned running quietly, and ran fast.
This would never have happened to a better copper. Not to her captain, who’d been trained by one of the last sammies from Ankh-Morpork, or to her sergeant, who’d been trained by the captain. Gods, just imagine if she’d had a man like Sam Vimes for a captain… She’d have known better then.
Alatessa froze suddenly. She had run herself into a corner. Worst copper ever. The long corridor had apparently been designed to lead to nothing but the tall window full of sky and the silken drifting curtains she now found herself faced with. She rushed forwards to look down. Of course, nothing but rocks far below her, no escape there, and she wasn’t imagining the rough breath she could hear from the shadows. Turning around would be no use. The gothic architecture and the wavery moonlight would be filling the corridor with nothing but suspiciously placed shadows.
“I can hear your heart beating, little vun.” The voice came from every shadow at the same time. “I can hear ze breath in your lungs. It… excites me.”
Alatessa ignored him, instead seizing hold of one of the curtains. The curtain rail, like all curtain rails in vampires’ castles, was made of wood. But rather than pulling the rail from the walls, the curtain came apart in her hands, forcing her to climb up the wall to reach for the wooden pole itself. Swinging her full weight on it pulled it free and Constable Alatessa came down with it. She immediately stood on the pole, both feet, jumping on the polished wood, but it stubbornly refused to break into a convenient sharp point. The taste of panic coloured her mouth.
The count was still whispering from the shadows, barely audible around the pounding in Alatessa’s ears. Oh, gods. She’d be a better copper, after this, she swore. If Mister Vimes would only let her. He watched the watchmen, sure, but if he would only watch over her, just for tonight… Just let her live through the night and she’d be a copper to make Sam Vimes proud.
She jumped again, willing the solid wood to break. It didn’t, but something else happened. A couple of somethings, in fact.
The first was that the Count stepped out of the shadows, looking like a gentleman in the shape of a monster, or a monster in the shape of a gentleman. He smiled, and the curve of his lips was sharp with death, and Constable Alatessa cringed back against the window.
The second was the beam in the ceiling that shook itself free through the plaster. A more observant watchman would have noticed the way her movement had thrust the curtain rail up through the ceiling, damaging its structural integrity. A more observant watchman would have seen the way the plaster crumbled, ancient and damp, and the way the beam splintered, like the only thing that had kept it in place was the woodworms holding hands. But Constable Alatessa’s fear-soaked eyes saw a solid wood beam force itself through a solid plaster ceiling and fall against the curtain rail to form a wonky cross between her and the count. Caught by surprise, he hissed and fell back, clawing the air.
The third thing that happened was less easy to explain, even for an observant watchman. An observant watchman might scratch their head for a bit and suggest that perhaps when Constable Alatessa had looked out the window, her agitation had prevented her from seeing how light the sky was, or perhaps that the way the dawn light was piled up against the far face of the mountains outside had fooled her into thinking it was further off than it was. Perhaps it was a miracle. The Disc is hardly short of its miracles, when they’re needed. Whatever the explanation, the Count’s scream as the sunlight washed through the open window was a sound Constable Alatessa thought she might never forget.
It was followed by the sound of her own ragged breathing. This was suddenly the loudest noise in the whole castle, so she stopped, self conscious. The last thing she wanted Mister Vimes to hear now was her gasping for breath, he’d think she was more incompetent than before. But that was silly, so she started breathing again.
She knelt down next to the small pile of ash. “Count Lucien Xavier Willem Mordecai Von Damascene, you are under arrest.” she said. Then she remembered Mister Vimes was watching. “Er, I mean… Consider yourself nicked, sunshine!”
The gods of the Discworld are different from the gods of other, more conventionally built worlds. Not so very different – there are gods on the Disc’s Cori Celesti that would be very at home amongst the Norse gods of a particular Roundworld, for example – but different enough to be noticeable. For example, while plenty of gods can claim to have created the world and everything in it, the truth is almost the exact reverse of that claim. The gods would not exist if the world hadn’t been there first.
There are many small spirits in the world. The spirit of a crossroad, small as the spot where two ant trails meet, or as big as a trade city to which all roads lead; the spirit of a sea, or a desert which is only a sea that’s getting it wrong; spirits of rocks, or trees or spirits of the dead. Sometimes, when a good thing happens that no one can explain, a person might stop for a moment to offer thanks to whatever spirit nearby must have caused it. Sometimes they even thank the spirit that did.
And then maybe they leave a shrine there, and the next person by may stop there to ask for good luck, and they might get it, and the spirit grows stronger on their gratitude until gratitude grows into worship and the spirit wakes up into the god that very definitely created the world and everything in it.
This is how gods are born. But some of them are born differently.
A new god has just woken up in the halls of Dunmanifestin, the home of the gods atop the great mountain Cori Celesti at the centre of the world. It is an odd feeling, to wake up like this when you weren’t asleep (when you did not, in fact, exist before), but the new god is working through this.
It wonders what the time is, thinks there is somewhere it needs to be… A book that it needs to be reading to someone? Because some things are important. But it isn’t, it’s the wrong time of day, and the wrong century for that.
The god is lying on its face on the floor, but it doesn’t want to do anything about that just yet, because it’s pretty sure that just having a face to lie on right now is a good sign.
Not reading a book, then. Should he be threatening someone with a face full of dragon? No, no, he remembers now. He ought to be arresting someone. Wait.
Sam Vimes opened his eyes in horror. “Oh, bugger,” said the brand new god, with feeling.
Commander Sedgwick of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch was just on his way from the pile of paperwork in his office to the pile of paperwork the Patrician was about to land on him, and mourning for the days when he’d been an actual copper. He was having real trouble arresting the paperwork when it gave him trouble. He nodded to the Desk Sergeant, Ironhammer, and was just wondering if, just this once, he could fabricate an emergency dire enough to justify standing up the Patrician when the door to the Treacle Mine Watch House melted and a man walked in.
He was wearing a Watch uniform, but it was about a century out of date, and dented beyond repair in places. Sedgwick didn’t recognise his face, which was halfheartedly shaven – he didn’t claim to recognise every watch officer in the city, but everything about this man screamed “old copper”, and if he’d been a watchman for as long as he looked like he’d been a watchman, Sedgwick liked to think he’d have recognised him. But there was a strange feeling about him. He looked like he was just a little bit more solid than everything around him. Or a little bit less solid. It was as if he was at the same time a normal size, and bigger than the Watch House altogether. Add to that, when Sedgwick turned his head, the man glowed.
He was also very angry, and had just melted the doors of the Watch House.
“All right,” he shouted, and every muttering voice in the room was silenced. “Which one of you was it?”
“I beg your pardon?” Sedgwick said, stunned, and was suddenly the centre of the man’s attention. His eye flicked down to the insignia over Sedgwick’s badge that declared him Commander.
“Someone in your bloody Watch thought it was a good idea to elevate me to the status of a gods damned… God! I want to know whose bloody idea it was, and how they’d like their bloody figgin toasted!”
Sedgwick frowned. “I’m sorry, but just who exactly are…”
“Mister Vimes.” said a voice from behind him. Sedgwick turned to see the golem, Sergeant Dorfl. As a man made out of ceramic and willpower, Dorfl was the oldest watchman on the force. He’d been a policeman for centuries. He was looking at the man with an expression which, despite being exactly the same expression Dorfl always wore, was clearly shock. “It’s A Surprise To See You Here, Sir.”
“Yeah?” said the man, said Sam Vimes, “Well, no one’s more surprised than me, Dorfl. Some bugger down here’s been worshipping out of turn, and I intend…”
This new voice came from somewhere behind Vimes, through the melted doors, and Commander Sedgwick could see a thin plume of smoke winding its way in through the door frame. He turned bewildered eyes to Dorfl, who wasn’t looking at him, then to sergeant Ironhammer, who shrugged, wide-eyed.
A thin, dour looking woman walked in behind Mister Vimes. She held a cigarette in one hand, her elbow in the other, and she sucked on the cigarette like it had done something to offend her. She turned her head to blow out the smoke, but her eyes stayed fixed on Vimes. To Sedgwick, she had that same unreal reality that He did.
Mister Vimes broke the silence. “I know you.” he said. “You were the god of rattling drawers, weren’t you.”
“Goddess of Things That Get Stuck In Drawers.” she corrected, and took another drag of the cigarette. “That was a long time ago. These days, I’m the Goddess of Lost Causes. Anoia, in case you didn’t know.”
“Sounds like you’ve moved up in the world.” Vimes said carefully. Anoia shrugged.
“I have and I haven’t.” she said. “Lost Causes means it’s my job to bring you back to Dunmanifestin to smooth things out. It’s been a long time since we’ve had an honestly new god up there-” She tilted her head quickly to address Sedgwick, “We mostly recycle them – so no one’s really got a clue how to deal with you, Mister Vimes.”
“Well, I’m sure I can save you the trouble.” he said, folding his arms. “I haven’t the slightest desire to be a god. Why don’t you just recycle whatever you needed me for, and I’ll go back to… Being whatever I was.”
Anoia sucked in another lungful of smoke. “Dead?” she asked flatly. “Look, that’s not actually how it works, and you’ll have to come back with me to figure out how it does work.”
“No.” Mister Vimes intoned. Sedgwick hadn’t been around many gods (in fact, he hadn’t been around any gods) but he knew the way Vimes said that word was Intoning. Anoia lowered her cigarette, just a fraction.
“No?” she asked lightly.
“No.” Vimes repeated. “You can shove your godhood where the sun doesn’t shine. I never even wanted to be a Duke, why in hell would you think I would agree to be a damn god? I’ve been dead since forever, so there’s no threat you can make, nothing you can bribe me with. Just take your godhood back to where it came from, right?”
The Watch House was holding its breath. Later, everyone would decide what they’d seen, figure out how to make two gods having a fracas (or possibly a rumpus) into a story to tell the other lads, but right now every single watchman in the room was straining to go unnoticed.
Anoia’s lips were a thin straight line. “But you did become a duke.”
Vimes laughed shortly, without humour. “Well, no disrespect to the gods, miss, but I doubt even you can out-bribe Vetinari.”
The Goddess of Lost Causes nodded. “Yes, we remember Vetinari.” She lowered the cigarette again, and gave Vimes a slow measuring look. “Mister Vimes,” she said at legth, ”a god becomes a god when there are worshippers who need him.” His back to the roomful of Watchmen, Vimes’ shoulders tensed. “I think, if Havelock Vetinari were alive, all he would say to you…” Anoia took another drag, breathing smoke to one side, “…is turn around.”
Vimes didn’t turn around. He didn’t slump his shoulders. He didn’t put his head in his hands. He did run a hand through his hair, possibly because he knew he couldn’t do any of the others, and he pulled the dogend of a cigarette from behind his ear. He patted his pockets for a moment, then held it out to Anoia, who obligingly lit it with a flame held in her palm. Where the smoke from Anoia’s cigarette curled upwards in an elegant fragrant plume, smelling faintly of sulphur, Vimes’ cigarette produced a cloud of heavy smoke with a strong scent of rain and darkness and evenings huddled under the stone hippos on the Ankh Bridge, sneaking a quick smoke before returning to patrol.
“Fine.” he said eventually. “I’ll be your damned Watchman God.” Anoia smiled briefly, but the smile stuck in place when Vimes carried on. “But when I do, the other gods are definitely going to be sorry about it. Which one is the god of the law?”
Anoia cleared her throat. “We don’t, ah… There isn’t any singular god of the overarching concept…”
Sedgwick saw the interested gleam in Mister Vimes’ eyes and suddenly he had the unexpected new experience of feeling sorry for a god. He treasured the moment. Not many mortal people got to feel it, he imagined.
Then Anoia was gone, and Sedgwick hadn’t quite seen her leave. Vimes dropped his cigarette on the floor, grinding it under the toe of his boot, and turned round. There was a communal sigh amongst the assembled officers, but Sedgwick thought the man looked more uncomfortable than he’d seen anyone feel. It reminded him of the way he’d felt the first time he was called before the Patrician as Commander of the Watch. Vimes cleared his throat. “Well, then.” he said. “Er… Carry on, lads. Remember, I’ll be watching now, and I’ll want to see the job done right.”
He scratched at the stubble on his right cheek, then nodded. Sedgwick stifled the ridiculous urge to ask him for some commandments.
He turned to leave, then seemed to have a thought. “Sergeant Dorfl!” he said, turning back. “D’you think you’ll believe in gods now?”
Every eye in the Watch House turned to the golem sergeant. “Not Gods, Yet.” said Sergeant Dorfl. “But Always Sam Vimes.”
And then Samuel Vimes cracked a small smile and was gone, the same way Anoia had left. And Commander Sedgwick had met, and spoken to, the God of Watchmen.
He just wished the man could’ve had the decency to fix the melted Watch House doors while he was here.