Nunc est bibendum. (Now drinking should be done.) -- Horace, on the death of Cleopatra
It was high summer in Ankh-Morpork, and the smoke was beginning to drift.
The air was heavy and hot, dry as an oven, and the Ankh had been moving sluggishly through the city for days, drying up little by little. In the little foothills turnwise of the city, a refugee camp was going up, and on the edges of the refugee camp, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork sat on a rock and watched his city burn.
Well, he had been watching. He had been watching when the first flames went up over the Alchemist's Guild, looking out on the city from his window in the Oblong office. He had been watching when the golems converged on it, and he had been watching when it began to rage out of their control. He'd seen Vimes and the others running down towards the river gate to try and close it, flood the city with the little trickle of Ankh that was left.
He'd seen Carrot begin the evacuation.
And finally, when it became obvious that no more could be done, he'd gone and let Leonard out, and evacuated himself.
Vimes had got the river gate closed, much good it did him; the Ankh was just now breaking its banks, beginning to flood the city streets and, if not put out any fires, at least isolate the ones that were left. Every golem in the city was still down there, slogging through the mud, making sure some of the more opportunistic looters weren't getting the opportunity for much, except perhaps a night under arrest.
"Burns pretty. It's the sewage, makes the flames go all green like that."
Sir Samuel Vimes threw himself down on the grass next to the Patrician's rock. He smelled vaguely of underdone steak, and had a carry-sack with him. Most of his hair was singed, and while he'd washed his face, he obviously hadn't had a mirror to look in when he was done. There were sooty finger-marks where he'd rubbed the bridge of his nose at some point.
"I'm surprised, Commander," Vetinari said, bending studiously to a notebook which sat on one knee. He checked something off, and looked up again. "I'd have thought you'd be in the camp, giving commands."
Vimes snorted. "Carrot wouldn't let me. He told everyone not to listen to anything I said."
"And they obeyed?"
"I told him it was insurrection, but -- "
" -- he's Carrot," Vetinari chimed in. "How long has it been since you slept, Sir Samuel?"
"About forty hours."
"I'd advise it."
"I'm through tired now and out the other side. I brought food along. Drumknott said you wouldn't eat."
"There were those hungrier than I."
"Me, for one," Vimes said, taking a greasy packet out of the carry-sack. "I nicked some cold chicken. I'm pretty sure the people selling it for two dollars a slice stole it originally, so I don't feel too badly for them. Have some."
Vetinari regarded the chicken cautiously. "Is it supposed to be edible?"
"Try it and find out." Vimes bit into his own slice with a ravenous hunger. "Or I've got some stale bread that's been sitting in the bottom of the pack, if you'd prefer."
Vetinari accepted a chunk of bread, and chewed thoughtfully while the pair watched the flames begin to die down.
"Have you seen Lady Sybil?" Vetinari asked, finally.
"Sort of. We sent Buggy up on the wing and he says she's herding dragons, hubwards of here. Got young Sam with her. Both of 'em all right. Doubt the fire'll get as far as the house, anyhow."
"A small mercy."
"What about you? Shouldn't you be down in the thick of it, solving things?"
"Oh, in a situation such as this, a politician such as myself really becomes rather useless, you know. All the obvious things to be done have been done, and there is little call for subtlety when dealing with a raging flame. I leave Drumknott and Captain Carrot to the handling of things. For now," he added, making another notation in his book before closing it and laying it aside.
"Makes sense, I suppose," Vimes murmured.
He could hear the fatigue in the Commander's voice, now.
"You really ought to sleep, Sir Samuel."
"You really ought to mind your own business, Lord Vetinari."
Vetinari raised an eyebrow. It wasn't exactly rare for the Commander of the Watch to be rude to his superiors, but this was more than even Sir Samuel normally dared. The Commander laughed, mirthlessly.
"Which reminds me why I came here," he said, taking one more object out of the pack. He tossed the glass bottle to Vetinari, who caught it handily. "Business. Our business."
Vetinari held the bottle up to the dying light of the sunset. "Complet Vodka," he read. "Product of NoThingFjord."
"This is not our business," Vetinari said, as if speaking to a very young child.
"No. The city's our business. Yours and mine. Even Carrot has hobbies. You and I, we're two old bastards who do nothing all day except look after the city that just burnt to the ground," Vimes continued, taking the bottle back and uncorking it with his teeth. "So you and I, Lord Havelock Vetinari, are going to get roaring drunk."
"Lady Sybil wouldn't like that."
"Doubt she would. Doubt she would. But I have been on the wagon for six years, three months, two days and fifteen hours. Not a day goes by that I don't want this. And when my city burns down, godsdammit, I'm going to have it. It'll be worth it."
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Sir Samuel. You'd never forgive me later, and I would live in fear of your wife's wrath."
Vimes glared up at him. "I didn't ask your permission."
"You won't drink that."
"Fine. Then you drink it." He passed the bottle back. Vetinari held it in his hands, leaning forward.
"It is our city, isn't it?" he asked quietly.
"No. We can say she's ours, but it's not really true. We're hers. Her men. There's a difference," Vimes answered. "Are you going to have some, or not?"
Vetinari gave him a cold smile, lifted an eyebrow, raised the bottle to his lips, and tossed it back quickly, swallowing a mouthful. The vodka burned on its way down, and he wiped his lips delicately with his thumb, setting the bottle by his feet. Vimes stared at him.
"You actually did it," he said, shocked. Vetinari nodded, absently.
"Do you know, Sir Samuel, the last time I had anything stronger than the dreadful sherry they serve at official functions, I was twenty-two?" he said, in the same quiet tone. "Beer, occasionally, though not very often. I never acquired a taste for alcohol, really."
"I did," Vimes said ruefully.
"Yes, I rather imagine so."
The other man leaned back, and stared at the stars which were beginning to emerge in the dark night sky. Vetinari picked up the bottle and took another drink, to prevent the Commander's hand from wandering over to it.
"Ankh-Morpork has absolutely no redeeming qualities," Vetinari said reflectively. "Except for certain industrial considerations, and possibly some interesting architecture."
"Petty little people," Vimes agreed. "Skin you for the dollar in your pocket."
"There's the smell."
"Baking summers. Freezing bloody winters."
"A river you can chew."
"Air, too," Vimes said, with a smile. He was still staring upwards. "How's it all work, really?"
"Are you asking rhetorically?" Vetinari asked, taking another sip and coughing. "Or do you have six weeks to spare for the politics seminar?"
"Well, I didn't expect an answer. But you know how it works, don't you? You're like the master clockmaker. You know every little gear, and how it turns, and who turns it. You turn them all, in the end."
"You're a poet, Vimes. I never suspected."
Vimes took another bite of chicken, and chewed it thoughtfully. "You didn't answer me," he said.
"It would be the height of hubris to imagine," Vetinari said slowly. He could feel the alcohol burning in his empty stomach, and bit into the bread again. "I don't turn all the gears. That would be fruitless. I discover which ones need it, and attend to them, when I can. I imagine I only really know a fraction of them. Perhaps I do know how it works. Sometimes I wish I di -- "
There was a sudden plume of coloured smoke, and Vimes sat up on his elbows.
"That's Dorfl's signal," he said, with satisfaction. "Means the city to the river is cleared. Soon as the sun rises, we can move people back into Morpork."
"Indeed. Hopefully the city will no longer be under water by then."
Vimes laughed, a tired, almost giddy laugh. "It's going to reek. I mean, new levels of pure smell will have been achieved. Burnt paint and river water and mud, and dead things, I'm sure there will be -- " his voice cracked, slightly. Vetinari gave him a mild look.
"I'm sure there'll be the dead to see to," Vimes murmured, not laughing anymore. Vetinari, dully, offered him the bottle. He seemed to consider it, and pushed it back. The Patrician took another deep drink.
"Sometimes, your Grace, you're a stronger man than I am," Vetinari said.
"If you could do this job, I wouldn't be doing it," Vimes answered. "I wouldn't trade places with you for -- "
Vetinari held up a hand. It wavered, slightly. "Let us agree," he said, concentrating on every word, "that, having found ourselves at the mercy of the city, we neither of us would trade our servitude for the other's."
"I dunno what that means, but I'll buy it," grunted the Commander. "Ye gods, how much of that have you had?"
"Hm?" Vetinari asked. "No, Vimes -- " he said, as the policeman reached for the bottle. "I told you. Sybil wouldn't like it."
"Half the bottle and two bites of bread. You're going to really hate me tomorrow," Vimes said, a worried tinge entering his voice. He managed to wrestle the vodka from Vetinari, and tipped the rest out onto the grass. Vetinari smiled.
"What goes around comes around, eh?"
"How often, Vimes, have you wanted to kill me?"
Vimes considered it. His own brain, he was well aware, was not fully functioning. "I lost track," he said, finally. "I sort of decided just to live with always wanting you dead."
"I shall bear that in mind, tomorrow morning." Vetinari rested his elbows on his knees, and stared down at the steaming city. "I feel a bit light-headed, Commander. Er. My fingers appear to be tingling."
"Nice, isn't it?" Vimes asked, with an envious sigh. "If you try to sing, I am going to have to knock you cold."
"Ah yes. Songs of the Hedgehog variety? Or possibly about wizards' staffs?"
"Good place to start."
"There's a song about me, you know."
Vetinari nodded, musingly. All the words, he thought. All the words that I've never said, all the unwise truths, all the insults I so dearly wanted to make. All the weaknesses that a man never dares to confess. One more drink and I could say them all.
And Vimes felt like this for twenty years solid. No wonder he's so angry.
"Well, anger's not so bad, as a tool," Vimes said, and Vetinari realised he'd said at least a part of his internal monologue aloud. "There are worse habits to have than perpetual rage."
"Odious cigars, for one," Vetinari replied, seeing the glint of Vimes' cigar case.
"You've never had a really good cigar," Vimes replied amiably, putting one in his mouth. "Got a light?"
Vetinari burst out laughing. He put his face in his hands and laughed, and laughed. Vimes, worried, followed the other man's gesture. Down below, to the city.
"There's your light," Vetinari said, containing himself. "A whole bloody city on fire. Ankh-Morpork, the light of the Sto Plains. The light of civilisation, Vimes."
"Which doesn't do me much good when I want -- hah!" Vimes pulled a dented matchbox out of the carry-sack. He lit the cigar, inhaled, leaned back again.
"Ankh-Morpork," he said. "Bloody great city, that."
"Damn fine city. Our city."
"Nope. We're hers."
Vimes nodded. "Either way," he agreed.
There was a chiming noise from his pocket, and he drew out his watch. "Sixteen hours," he said with a sigh.
"Six years, three months, two days, and sixteen hours sober. Thanks to you, you bastard. I was really looking forward to that drink."
"I suggest, Commander, that you, in the words of your training-school sergeants, suck it up."
Vimes snorted, sleepily. "And, in the words of those same sergeants -- "
"I hate camping," Vimes mumbled, pulling the carry-sack around and thumping it into a vaguely pillow-shaped form. He laid his head back on it, giving the stars another good glare before closing his eyes. "If the gods meant us to sleep on the ground, they'd have made it softer."
"Don't you have a tent of some kind? I'm sure I saw one."
"The Watch got one. Full up already, and it smells funny. S'a warm night, no reason not to sleep where we drop."
"I doubt I could walk very far," Vetinari said uncertainly. Vimes turned a yawn into a laugh.
"Pull up a rock and get some shut-eye. We're going to have a lot of work tomorrow, and you're going to be hung-over."
Vetinari nodded, and -- moving quite slowly -- curled up on the other side of the rock from Vimes. The last thing he heard was a warning from the Commander that he'd thump him if he snored.
Vetinari woke to curses, and the sound of laughter. Also, apparently, to something dead in his mouth, and a sharp pain in his scalp.
He sat up, and spat, and realised that he was damp, cold, and feeling quite ill.
Two Watch constables were sitting on either side of the rock that he himself had perched on the night before. They were apparently playing cards. One of them glanced at him, and turned to the other.
"He's up. Best go call Mister Vimes."
The other man took to his heels, and the first Constable turned to face the Patrician.
"Morning, lordship," he said cheerfully. Vetinari fought a wince. "Mister Vimes said we was to let you sleep yourself out. Breakfast? Drink a'water?"
Vetinari narrowed his eyes as a slightly squashed breakfast roll was offered to him. The smell made him sick.
"No, thank you," he said, with a ghoulish smile. It did what he wanted, though; the smile kept the gagging down. Oh, gods, what had happ --
Vimes. Vimes and a blasted bottle of vodka.
"Good morning, sir!" Vimes called, stomping his way over the grass to the rock. He was carrying a covered plate. "Off with you, Blenam, I'll see to his lordship."
"I'm going to have you killed, Vimes," Vetinari said calmly, when Blenam had gone. He rubbed his temples.
"Sure thing," Vimes said. "Don't be ill." He uncovered the plate, which was heaped with some ugly concoction. "Take it from a drunk, this is the best thing you'll ever eat."
"I can't eat that."
"It's that or suffer. You feel that little knot just above your right eye?"
Vetinari became aware that yes, he did indeed feel a pounding pain in his head.
"Want it all day?" Vimes asked.
Vetinari took the plate, and the fork provided, and began to eat. The food was spicy and harsh, but he was surprised at how much he managed. Vimes, meanwhile, sat on the grass with his arms around his legs, and divided his attention between the Patrician and the city, far below.
"Begun moving people back," he said, as Vetinari ate. "Damage isn't too bad, all things considered. Could've been a lot worse, though it doesn't look it. Dorfl's still too hot to touch, they're using him as a grill."
Vetinari looked down at the meal. "I am eating something," he said slowly, "cooked on a Watchman?"
"Oh no. Klatchian man named Goriff is selling it. It's the spices, does something to your insides."
"Where are my clerks?"
"Mostly seeing to their homes, I'd imagine. Drumknott wanted to wake you, but I gave him some paper and he seems happy writing memos."
"You look ghastly, Vimes."
"You look worse, I promise you that." Vimes grinned, and rubbed the dark smudges under his own eyes. "You do have a bit of a nasty gash on that head, sir. The rest we can chalk up to a night spent sleeping on the ground."
Vetinari finished the still-unidentified Klatchian dish, and accepted a waterskin from the Commander. "I may reconsider your murder," he said, drinking deeply.
"Very kind of you, Lordship," Vimes answered.
Both men looked up as Sybil topped a rise, carrying young Sam in a sling and trailed by some man in a suit; Vimes' butler, Vetinari thought dimly.
"Here we are, sir," the man said, and unstrapped a tray from his shoulder with casual ease. It folded out into a table, and the man lifted a lid on the table-top, revealing a mirror, a small basin with water in it, a straight razor, and a bar of soap. "Will his Lordship shave?" he asked. Vetinari blinked owlishly. "Or would his lordship like me to do it?"
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Vimes said. "Lordship's about as comfortable with blades around his face as I am."
Vetinari stood, aware that half of his face was encrusted with dirt and blood; at some point, in the madness of the evacuation, he'd cut his scalp open, and the bandage was coming away already.
Well, when one had the opportunity, one should master the situation.
"I shall shave myself, thank you," he said, crossing to the basin. "You may go, Vimes."
The Commander gave him a sly look, and saluted. "Willikins, you're on loan to his Lordship until he dismisses you. Come on, Sybil, there must be some kind of charitable work we're missing out on."
Vetinari shaved with a caution approaching paranoia; his hands didn't want to stay steady. The headache was lightening up, though. Vimes was right about the food, whatever it had been. He made a mental note to find this Goriff and give him some sort of...well, the Patrician's stamp of approval, or some such. He did sit and allow the butler to re-dress the wound; when he saw himself in the mirror again, he sighed.
"Best shave it all off, then," he said. "I'd rather look like a billiards-ball than a surprised hedgehog."
"Has sir eaten?" the butler asked, as he guided the razor carefully over Vetinari's scalp. He toweled him off, and adjusted the mirror.
"Yes," Vetinari said, touching his smooth-shaven scalp curiously. "It's Willikins, isn't it?"
"Do you suppose you could find me some decent clothing?"
Willikins took in Vetinari's damp robes with a practiced eye. "I believe I can find something in your size, sir. If you would wait here..."
Vetinari was not pleased with the result. Willikins, who after all was the employee of a Watchman, really the Watchman, laid a pair of brown leather britches on the stone, followed by the thick white shirt that Watchmen wore, and some cheap leather boots.
"Apologies, sir. There were no robes of office to be had, and the Archchancellor seemed most uninclined to part with his."
Vetinari considered matters. When you were stuck between a clean, unused set of Watchman's clothing and a tattery robe vacated by the Archchancellor of Unseen University, the former didn't seem so bad.
Vimes was peeling an orange and giving orders to the legions of officers who came and went past the big Watch tent, when he looked up and had an unadulterated moment of pure amusement.
He elbowed Otto Chriek, who was standing in the shade taking pictures of Dorfl-The-Makeshift-Stovetop. The vampire turned.
"I'll give you a hundred dollars for an icono of that," Vimes said, pointing. Otto, obediently, raised his camera.
A tradesman, who had been making a fuss all morning about not being allowed back into town to assess the damage on his shop, was shouting at a Watchman. He'd been shouting at Watchmen since sunrise. Vimes privately labeled him a pillock and instructed his men to ignore him, which the man in Watchman's clothing was doing a fine job of.
Vetinari, being harangued by a man who in other circumstances would have fawned on his every word, was an event not to be missed.
"Who iz..." Otto began, then gasped.
"Yep." Vimes sat back and ate a slice of orange, thoroughly enjoying the sight of Vetinari, clean shaven like a Djelibeybi priest, wearing Watchman's clothing and industriously taking notes. Out of his robes of office, in trousers and boots, he looked less like a carnivorous flamingo and more like a vicious flagpole.
"And what is your name, sir?" Vetinari asked, pencil poised over his notebook.
"Jack Spriggs, Twelve Squires Lane," the man said pompously.
"We shall deal with your situation presently," Vetinari said. "In the meantime, good day, sir."
The man sputtered, and Vimes' grin widened as Vetinari moved past him, towards a table Drumknott had set up.
"Slow, painful death," Vetinari murmured.
"I'll scream like anything," Vimes promised.
It's something about the uniform, Sybil thought. It must be. Something makes them nutters. Maybe the trousers chafe.
She watched as two officers, loaned to her by her husband, chased an errant dragon down a hillside. It was the last of the lot; the others had been crated and were hooting and flaming excitedly, waiting to be taken back to the city. Vimes had sent Buggy up again, and he assured her in violent, typically gnomic terms that there was no damage to the dragon house, or the mansion either, for that matter.
A third Watchman, driving the horses, was clicking his tongue in his cheek as a commandeered trader's cart backed its way towards the dragons.
Supposedly a Watchman.
He didn't have any armour and he was, technically, the most powerful man on the Disc, but he seemed to be enjoying himself so much that she had really very little urge to remind him of the fact.
Vetinari was seated on the buckboard of the cart, holding the reins. The horses, unusually obedient under the hand of the Patrician, stopped the cart just as the back trap brushed the dragon crates. Drumknott, seated beside him, was holding young Sam with one arm and taking orders and dictation with his other hand.
The others began to carefully place the dragon-crates in the cart, ducking every time one of them burped. Vetinari tossed the reins to his clerk, and dropped to the ground, carefully.
"Don't you look charming, Havelock," she said. He looked at her blankly. "Thank you for your help," she added.
"I think we may as well drive them in," he said, watching as the others loaded the crates. "Almost everyone's gone."
"Last out, last in, hm?" Sybil asked. "Drive us as far as the Palace, and we'll leave you and your men there. Do you know where Sam's gone?"
"Off shouting about something, I expect."
"Good to see he's not moping." Sybil hitched herself up onto the back of the cart, taking Sam back from Drumknott and settling herself in for the ride.
"Proceed, Drumknott," Vetinari said, climbing back up onto the buckboard. The clerk slapped the reins.
"Isn't it exciting!" Sybil called, over the creaking of the cart and the over-wrought dragons, exploding in their crates.
"I do not think exciting is the word I would use, Ladyship," Drumknott replied.
About halfway to the city gates, they were stopped by a tall, white-haired figure, in what appeared to be the remains of a quilted jumpsuit. Vetinari put a hand over his eyes, delicately.
"Come along then, Leonard," he said, as Sybil helped the genius onto the back of the cart. "I wondered where you'd gone."
"Fascinating!" Leonard burbled happily. Half his hair was singed clean off. "Absolutely captivating. Look, Lordship!"
Vetinari accepted a rather scorched sketch-pad from Leonard. Page after page was covered with drawings of the fire, of buildings burning, of cobblestones buckling.
"My Suit-For-Walking-Around-Without-Burning did not, alas, survive the flames, but I'm almost sure I know what I did wrong," Leonard continued. Vetinari stopped at a rather good sketch of Dorfl, stamping out a flame and most of Lord Rust's coach with it. "Ah, Lady Sybil, good day."
"Hallo, Mister da Quirm."
"Dragons survive the fire all right?"
"More or less," Sybil said, with a smile. "I'm afraid it's the re-capturing that did for most of them, poor little buggers."
"Mmh," Leonard said, already re-engrossed in the drawing pad that Vetinari had returned to him.
"I imagine you're rather upset about the fire," Sybil said, when they were once again on their way. "I must say, it's a bit depressing. Still, stiff upper lip, hm?"
"As long as my files have survived intact, I will have few concerns." Vetinari replied.
"You're worried about files, Havelock? That's rather cold, I must say."
"I worry about a great many things, Sybil, but that is why they pay me. People heal and buildings may be re-constructed. Paperwork, once gone, is gone forever."
"How very dwarvish of you, Havelock."
"It is a personal nightmare that someone will invent a weapon which leaves people standing but destroys paperwork," the Patrician replied.
Leonard, in the cart, gave a little 'ha' of a man who has been challenged.
"I do not wish you," Vetinari said slowly, "to invent such a thing in any way, shape, or form, Leonard."
Sybil, thinking fast, said "Leonard, I could use a machine that dungs out dragon pens automatically."
Another 'ha' was heard, and they both saw with relief that he flipped to a new page and began to draw again. After a while, Vetinari leaned back so as to be within range of Sybil's ears only.
"In a way, I look on the fire as a good thing. Once put in perspective. I intend to begin a new building programme. There is, tragically, about to be a shortage in tar and thatch. Quarried stone prices will, however, be dropping like, ahaha, a rock, quite soon. I foresee a large jump in pay scale for trolls, as a result. Heavy lifting."
"You're going to force people to use stone?" Sybil asked.
"I found her made of brick, and left her made of marble," Havelock replied. "I believe it was one of Ankh-Morpork's emperors who said that. I've often wondered what happened to all that marble."
"I think it's a lovely idea."
Drumknott pulled the horses to a stop in front of the Palace. "Here we are, sir. If you like, Lady Sybil, I can drive you up to Scoone Avenue..."
"Thank you, Mr. Drumknott, but I can drive myself from here," Sybil said, as Leonard hopped off the back of the cart and made his way down a back-alley, vanishing into the network of passages and courtyards that was the outer regions of the Palace. Vetinari let himself off the cart, and stood, looking up at the Palace -- at once his workplace, his home, and the symbol of everything he'd gained.
"Do you ever regret it?" Sybil asked quietly.
"Giving everything up, for the city. Especially now that there's not much city to come back to."
Vetinari considered things. "Do you see that window?" he asked, pointing with his cane.
"That's my office window," said the Patrician. "It looks quite small, from here."
"Havelock, that is not an answer."
"Ah, no. It is not. You must be used to that; Sir Samuel seems able to fit less information into his answers than I would have believed possible."
"And neither is that."
He nodded. "Sybil, I regret that the city burned down. I regret, daily, the pettiness and greed of the people of my city. But that is what the city is. Not buildings, neither stone nor wood. Considering the people, it's a mystery why your husband and I are as devoted to this place as we are. But neither of us, I think, have any compunctions about what we do."
Sybil smiled, and climbed up onto the buckboard. "Get some rest, Havelock. You look as though you could use it."
He gave her a Watchman's salute, and the pair of them, Vetinari and Drumknott, waited until she was out of sight to turn back to the Palace.
"Did you mean what you said, sir?" Drumknott asked. "About the city?"
Vetinari, leading the way up the stairs, gave his clerk a half-hearted shrug. "Would you locate the eatery of a man named Goriff, Drumknott, and have the address sent up? I'd like to give him some sort of civic award."
Drumknott knew that, unlike Sybil Ramkin, this was all he could expect. "Very well, sir."
"Do you ever wonder what should happen if Ankh-Morpork was entirely destroyed?"
"Only in my nightmares, sir," Drumknott replied.
"How interesting," Vetinari said, calmly.
And went about his work.