The gates of the city of Ankh-Morpork used to be formidable masses of solid hardwood, meant to withstand siege, attack, panic, riot, and any number of natural disasters. They had huge heavy bars that could be dropped across them, like something out of a B-grade monster movie, of the kind where a giant anthropoid terrorizes the natives into offerings of fruit, meat, and blonde virgins.
Fortunately, Ankh-Morpork's brush with moving pictures had been brief, and the biggest anthropoid around was the Librarian, who lived in the city and only terrorized the pub owners into offerings of peanuts and a free drink now and then. The city gates hadn't been locked shut for years. Some of them hadn't been closed at all. It was so hard for tourists and merchants to get into the city, if you locked them out.
Under the rule of the current Patrician, all arts, trades, and species were welcome in Ankh-Morpork. If you hadn't got any money to buy with, he reasoned, you almost certainly had something to sell.
It seemed like this Vetinari fellow had the right end of the stick, thought Wright, as he passed under the arching stonework of the Hubwards Gate. If you tried to stop people doing things, he'd discovered, it all got very complicated very fast. Whereas if you let people do whatever they wanted, and then very gently told them what that was, the world became ringingly simple. It had always worked for him, anyhow.
Wright was a diplomat by education but a politician by nature, and he approved of anything which simplified the political process.
In his mind, Wright had arranged thousands of revolutions, fought hundreds of battles, and appointed many rulers -- Patricians, Kings, Seriphs, Tyrants, the lot of them. Usually, as soon as he'd crowned a new imaginary king, he began looking for ways to dethrone him. It was a hobby that helped while away the long hours at official luncheons. In reality, his job was to make sure, as Havelock Vetinari did -- albeit on a smaller scale than the Patrician -- that today was pretty much like yesterday.
Most of the recent todays had been frighteningly unusual, and not at all like the yesterdays you used to get in the, er, good old days. His home, Pseudopolis, was a ship at sea without a captain, sail, or even anyone who knew what the pointy end was called. Because of the damned clacks towers, most of the Disc already knew this, and the sort of people flocking to the city were exactly the kind that Wright didn't want there, because they Made Trouble.
Most of them were coming from Ankh-Morpork.
He didn't fancy his city in chaos, so he'd gone to the senior officials. They were nothing as organized as the heads of guilds, since Pseudopolis didn't have many guilds, at least not as many as Ankh-Morpork. He'd gone and gotten permission to come here, and find someone who could possibly stop the madness.
"This is the city, boss," said the young man riding next to him, in a hesitant sort of way.
"Aye. Ankh-Morpork. Get a good look, lads," he answered, apparently to the empty darkness behind him. "We won't be here long. Spread out. Act like tourists. Buy some naughty postcards, I hear they go cheap in the big city. Have a few beers. Don't ask any questions. Just listen, very hard."
"Yassir," said the lad on the horse next to him.
"Colter, pick up the information as it comes in and report to me as discussed," Wright continued. "And now, lads, I'd better be on my way." He walked his horse onward, carefully ignoring the shadows that crept along behind him. When Colter stopped, he continued until he was out of sight.
Wright had memorized select parts of a dodgy map of Ankh-Morpork that one of the Sammies in Psuedopolis had brought with him as a souvenier. There was a Sammie assisting Commander Rater, who was nominally in charge of what passed for law in Psuedopolis right now, and another one riding hard on the road to Uberwald, to speak with the Low King, who was worried that the Pseudopolis-Schmaltzberg trade agreement might go sour.
It was barely light by the time he'd stabled his horse at the inn, and walked casually towards the Watch House. It was, he thought with a smile, called Pseudopolis Yard. He hoped it was an omen of good things to come.
Sam Vimes -- Duke, Knight, Watch Commander, and paranoid bastard -- was halfway through a cigar and two-thirds of the way through an amusing letter from the Ankh-Morpork Citizens' League, regarding his allowing a troll to patrol the streets of Decent Neighborhoods, when Carrot knocked politely.
"Sir?" Carrot said, leaning in the doorway. "We're being watched, sir."
"I know," said Vimes, without looking up. "Saw him as I was coming in this morning. Any pigeons for me?"
Carrot looked surprised. "Er...yes. Three." He held out a handful of tiny paper slips. Vimes read them, one by one.
"I've been trying to bore him into showing himself," the Commander continued. "I've been sitting up here for three hours, and I'm getting bored too. If he's going to try to kill me, I wish he'd make the effort and get it over with. But..." he tossed one of the slips into an overflowing litter bin, "He's not an Assassin. Not a thief. Nor is he a...freelance agent from the Shades*."
* There were a good many freelance agents in the Shades, who would freely do just about anything, if the price was right.
"Might be an out-of-towner, sir."
"I'll just nip out the back way and see what he wants," Vimes said. "Care for a bit of fresh air, Captain?"
"Of course, sir."
"Round up a couple of the lads and we'll have some fun."
Wright sighed and leaned against the wall, smoking a cigarette. The damp of the city was already getting on his nerves.
He'd seen plenty of people going in and out of Pseudopolis Yard since early that morning. There were swarms of dwarves, but he didn't need a dwarf; also a handful of trolls, but he didn't need a troll, either. A young woman with long ash-blond hair caught his eye, but only because he was male and still breathing. And there was a big strapping bloke, with bright red hair, who looked the part, but also looked far too young for Wright's purposes.
There were other humans, too, and that was where it got difficult. Some of them seemed old enough, but not...well...not right. One old bugger had fit the description, but he couldn't be it. He was dressed like a common Watchman who just happened to have bought a nice pair of boots.
A fat man with a mug of coffee stepped out onto the front stoop. He mustn't be the one.
If he is, Wright thought, I'm sunk.
He watched as a youngish corporal, with polished helmet and shined boots, walked past.
"All right, Ping?" the fat one asked.
"All right, sir," the one called Ping replied. "It's a good morning to be a copper, sarge."
"How d'ye figure?"
A sergeant, Wright could see his stripes now. That ruled him out.
"Nobody's breaking the law," Ping replied. Wright stifled a snort of laughter.
"Yet," said the sergeant, and pointed with his mug.
Wright turned just in time to see the old bugger and the strapping bloke emerge from the house next door to the Yard -- how clever! -- and nick the young man that Wright had paid to stand in an obvious place and do an obvious spy job.
Clever, Ankh-Morpork, but not clever enough --
He didn't turn fast enough to see the two corporals who nicked him, because they knocked him out before he had a chance. They weren't very clever, but they were very good at following orders.
"I din't know nuffin! I swears!"
Carrot was not a terrifying man, when it came to interrogation. He would have been offended to be called such. He just sat there, and smiled, and made sure there wasn't anything else the suspect wanted to tell him? No? Was he sure? Oh, perhaps there was?
It was the way the muscles bunched under his sleeves. And the smile. There was something dangerous about a man with a smile as honest as Carrot's.
"Are you sure, Legsy?" Carrot asked, still smiling. "You don't remember a name, maybe?"
"E jus' give me a dollar an' said to watch the Yard! An just sit tight if'n I were nicked! I tol' him it warnt any good!"
Vimes leaned against the back wall. Good Cop/Bad Cop was even better, he thought, when the Good Cop -- i.e., Carrot -- was also Bad.
"D'you know who I am?" he asked Legsy Biffler, who was not enjoying his stay with the Watch.
"Yessir," Legsy muttered. "Duke Vimes, sir."
"I'm Commander of the City Watch, Legsy," Vimes said, moving forward. He put his hands on the table. "I am, as you might say, the last court of appeal before the Patrician." Legsy's eyes were rolling. "Have you ever met the Patrician?"
"He takes a very dim view of me having small fry like you up before him. It's a waste of time. The Patrician's time is very valuable. When it's wasted, he tends to take it out on the people standing in front of him. Like you," Vimes finished brightly.
"I din't know nuffin!" Legsy shrieked. "E just paid me!"
Vimes narrowed his eyes. "He's not from around the city, is he?"
"Never seen 'im before!" Legsy's voice rose an octave. "Ad an accent!"
"Oh? Did he? What else are you holding out?" Vimes shouted. He liked shouting. You knew where you were, when you shouted. At the center of terrified attention, usually.
"Nuffin, I swears!"
"Klatchian? Genua? Ramtops?"
There was a tap at the door. Vimes sighed.
"I told Cheery to tap when the other one came round. Looks like he'll just have to answer my questions himself. Carrot, take Legsy down and discharge him. Do him for loitering, fine him a dollar. I'll go see to our mysterious foreign friend."
The corporals, while good lads, had been a little too enthusiastic about arresting the Watch-House spy, and the man had been unconscious for almost an hour. Now he was sitting up in the cell, rubbing his head and scowling. Vimes saw him reach for a pocket.
"We took anything that might get you out, including daggers and lock-picks," said Vimes, standing on the other side of the bars. "Looks like Going Prepared For Burglary ought to be on the list somewhere, right after Irritating The Watch and Being A Bloody Nusiance."
The man, who had been feeling his pockets, gave him a relieved smile. "It's all right," he said. "Look, I can explain. It's nothing but a misunderstanding."
"Well, my understanding is that you were paying one man to be the obvious spy, while you did the real work. Now, while there are certain criminal types in the Watch, we normally don't stir up anyone enough that we get spies. Usually it's just outright Assassins."
"I'm not an Assassin!" the man said, aghast.
"I know," said Vimes. "I checked. You're not from our fair city, are you? I recognize the accent, even if good old Legsy didn't. Pseudopolis? Maybe one of the outlying areas?"
The man shut his mouth. Vimes' eyes glittered. "There are worse ways to extract information than a Watchman talking at you," he said.
"Like a Watchman thumping you again!" yelled Vimes. "Ye gods!"
The man sighed. "I'm a Watchman too." he said. "Shouting doesn't frighten me."
"Pseudopolis proper, Headquarters. Captain Dick Wright. I'm here on official business." The so-called Captain reached behind him.
"Hands where I can see them," Vimes snapped.
"I need to show you something your men missed," Self-Proclaimed-Captain Wright said slowly. "I'm carrying a message from the head of the Pseudopolis Watch to your Commander. Whom I demand to see," he added.
"You want to see the Commander?" asked Vimes. "Why?"
He let Wright remove a small ivory-colored letter from a hidden pocket under his arm. It had a large wax seal on it.
"Let's have it, then," Vimes said, holding out a hand.
Wright shook his head. "Commander's eyes only," he said. "I have orders to deliver it into Duke Vimes' hands and no other."
Vimes could see that the impression on the wax seal was that of a Watch badge.
"There are three men, trained by Ankh-Morpork Watch, in Pseudopolis," Vimes growled. "I could have an answer back by clacks within an hour, whether or not a Captain Wright has been sent to Ankh-Morpork. I hold all the cards, Captain."
"I outrank you!" the horrible man tried shouting back at him. He grinned.
"Are you sure of that?" he asked. "You may consider my eyes to be Mister Vimes', and my hands to be his hands. Now let's have the letter, or you rot down here at the pleasure of the Duke. And he is not, generally, a happy man. So you can either give it to me voluntarily, or I can have a troll come down here and take it from you. And if it gets damaged in process...the Duke will definitely not be pleased."
He saw Wright's internal battle. He saw the man thinking, hard. He saw the letter --
"That's for the Duke!" Wright shouted, when Vimes' hand snaked through the bars and took it, deftly, from his fingers. "His Grace will be very angry when he finds out you've read it!"
"Thank you for the warning," Vimes said gravely.
This was not being a good day for Pseudopolis City Watch Captain Dick Wright.
He'd been knocked unconscious, and it felt like he'd been rolled down the stairs before being thrown into this cell. They'd taken his tools and weapons and Colter had his badge. He was in a chilly basement, and beyond the bars he could see a strange man, who'd introduced himself as 'Igor', doing various frightening experiments. There was a glass tank with eyeballs growing on vines in it. And now they'd taken the letter...
Wright watched in horror as the Old Bugger examined the wax seal. Watchmen were gossips, and if this man read it, if he told anyone its contents, Wright's position would be badly compromised.
The man didn't wear rank stripes; his armour was dented and old. He looked strong but stringy, as though he'd spent most of his life doing too much running without enough hot meals (Wright knew the feeling; all Watchmen worth their pay did). There was a scar crossing his right eye, and several more on his arms and legs. Probably a rank-happy corporal who'd never make sergeant. And this...this stupid NCO was going to ruin everything.
Colter, where are you? he thought. The lad should have noticed the trouble by now, and should be upstairs making a --
There was the sound of Colter's raised voice. Thank the gods. Old Bugger glanced up the stairs, sniffed, and glanced back down at the letter.
"That's my aide upstairs, he can verify who I am," Wright snapped. "I'm warning you not to read that letter!"
"I'll brave your wrath," the man said, and slit the seal. Wright watched in horror and anger as he scanned the contents of the letter. At least his lips didn't move. He might be bright enough to realize how much cacky he'd just climbed into, and keep his mouth shut.
Old Bugger's jaw dropped. "This is from your commander in Pseudopolis?" he demanded.
"Now you see!" said Wright triumphantly.
"If this is a fake, you'd better come clean."
"Check the signatures if you don't believe me! That's Commander Rater's badge on the seal!"
"Number twelve-twenty, I saw," he said. He looked up at Wright, then at the stairs, where Colter's shouts could still be heard. "Why didn't Rater come himself?"
"He trusted me to deliver it. I'm a relative of Mr. Vimes," Wright growled. "He's going to go spare when I tell him about this!"
"Yes, I daresay," Old Bugger answered, but the smugness had drained from his voice. He looked like a man who was on the verge of either bursting into tears or laying a punch on someone. Wright suspected the latter. "PING!" Old Bugger shouted, up the stairs.
"YESSIR?" the reply drifted down. The corporal from earlier appeared at the top of the stairwell.
"Find the young man who's shouting at everyone and put him in the office. Get someone down to release Captain Wright, and send him up too. They're Watchmen, so no tripping 'em or handcuffs or anything." Old Bugger stuffed the letter under his breastplate. "I apologize for your treatment, Captain. This letter will be on Mr. Vimes' desk shortly, and you will have the opportunity to register your complaint with him personally. In the meantime, thank you for your co-operation."
"I'll have you broken back down to Lance-Constable for this!" Wright said, not at all appeased.
"I doubt it, but it'll be fun to see you try." Old Bugger ran up the stairs, two at a time. At the top, he passed a tall, thick bodied --
Wright had heard they'd got a golem in the AMCW, but he'd never believed it until now.
"I Am To Release You," said the golem, ponderously. "There Will Be No Funny Business."
"None at all," said Wright, weakly, as Dorfl's seven-foot ceramic figure blocked out the light.
Sam Vimes walked into the canteen, watching from the doorway as Ping and Visit escorted the Captain's aide up the stairs to his office. He sat down on the battered old couch in one corner and scanned the letter again.
Pseudopolis was a mess. He knew that. The king only had one son, and no handy cousins or aunts or anything. Then the old king of Pseudopolis had died, and the son had gotten drunk at the funeral and fallen in the lake and drowned.
Oh, there were plenty of little lords in Pseudopolis, and big lords too if it came to that, but none of them were worth the spit-shine on their shoes. Now all the nobs were fighting about who ought to be king, and the dwarves in Pseudopolis were inches (ha!) from declaring it the domain of Rhys Rhysson, Low King of the Dwarves, by reason of 'I said so' supported by the old legal precedent 'I've got a sharp axe'.
A couple dozen outlaws had poured into the city to challenge everyone to a trial by arms for the title. The Watch Commander must be right up against it, Vimes had thought, and had sent a clacks with offers of assistance. There were three Sammies -- relatively honest, trustworthy Watchmen trained in Ankh-Morpork -- in the PCW, and they were apparently doing what they could to keep order.
Now he knew why Commander Rater hadn't clacksed back. He had a letter that had to be delivered in person. This letter. Vimes stared at it in outright amazement.
Vimes looked around. Carrot was standing nearby. He seemed worried.
"You look ill, sir," said Carrot.
"I feel ill," Vimes muttered. He heard Dorfl's ceramic feet clumping up the stairs to his office, then back down.
"Come along, Carrot. You don't want to miss seeing this," he said.
"We seen you get nicked, and I thought, well, better safe than sorry, so I nipped up to the Patrician's Palace. He didn't want to see me, I can tell you that," Colter said, as soon as the golem left them alone in Commander Vimes' office. Wright nodded as the lad spoke. "Had to show your badge to even get the letter through. Here it is back, by the way, sir. Anyhow, I managed it, an' the Patrician come out a minute later an' said thank you, he'll look into it. So I run back here to get you out. That was all right, wasn't it?" he asked.
"Right as it could be. Even if the Duke's as rotten as the rest of them, he's got to be better than the Pseudopolis lords. One of the Watchmen took my letter, so we can't expect it'll be under wraps much longer."
"This is a bit of a mess, all things considered," Colter said, looking around the room. The fireplace needed cleaning, and the desk was piled high with drifts of paperwork. An empty cigar packet stuck out from under one of them. A white mug with green dancing dragons on it read "I Gave At The Sunshine Sanctuary", and was filled with what looked like two-day-old tea.
"Lady Sybil's mad for dragons," Wright said, pointing to the mug. "We get a Hogswatch letter from her every year. Usually it's about Duke Vimes, and dragons."
"I had one o'them, when I were small," Colter said.
"No better pet for a lad. The explosion was really spectacular." Colter's eyes danced at the memory.
"You didn't -- "
"Nah. It got sick. But if a pet's got to die, boss, at least it can give a bit of entertainment doing it. Here, if your mum's the sister of a Duke, what does that make you?"
"Unlucky enough to come up with this assignment," Wright sighed. "And it's not sister, it's aunt. In-law."
Both men stood up as the door opened. It was the Old Bugger from before.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," the man said, crossing to the desk. The tall strapping bloke came in behind him. "This is Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson."
"Captain Wright," Carrot saluted.
"You again," Wright said sullenly. The Old Bugger smiled thinly.
"Who's your brave defender?" Old Bugger asked, indicating Colter.
"Constable Mikey Colter," the boy said, saluting. The Old Bugger took a silver cigar case out of his pocket, lit a cigar, and sat himself behind the desk. Little alarm bells finally began to sound in Wright's head.
Of course. The shiny, expensive boots --
"Yes, I'm Vimes," said the Old Bugger, when he saw Wright's expression. "I expect you haven't seen a recent iconograph. Our Carrot's mad for picture-taking, but he knows I don't like it much."
Wright's brain ceased to function. This man, whom he'd been threatening and swearing at --
"I admire your devotion to duty," Vimes continued. He set the letter from the city leaders very carefully on the desk before him. "Better to make a fool of yourself in ignorance, Captain, than when you're in possession of all the facts. You really did rather well, given the circumstances."
"You tricked me!" Wright said, then suppressed the urge to clap his hands over his mouth. This was the Duke of Ankh, and a ranking officer.
"I do that, sometimes," Vimes said calmly. "Specially when I'm being spied on. Why were you watching my Yard?"
Colter nudged the shocked Wright in the ribs. "I...I was under orders..." Wright began, then stopped himself and started over. "Before we delivered the letters, we were supposed to find out how you ran the Watch. Whether you were really..." He stopped. "Erm, really -- "
" -- worthy?" Vimes asked.
"Something like that. Sir," he added, belatedly.
"And I jumped your game."
"You're very observant, Your Grace."
"Yes, I am. Now, what's this about letters? More than one?"
Wright opened his mouth to reply, but there was a knock at the door, and Fred Colon, at Vimes' bidding, put his head inside.
"Lady Sybil's downstairs with young Sam, sir," he said. "And...and Lord Vetinari, too."
"He never comes here," Colon supplied, nervously.
"I don't think he ever has. Blast." Vimes stood. "Did he say why?"
"No, sir." Colon looked anxious. "He's...he seems like he's smiling, sir."
"Well." Vimes looked from Colon to Wright, and back. "I expect Sybil's here for our early lunch, and I expect Vetinari is here because you are, Captain Wright. Send them up, Fred."
"He's smiling, sir," Colon repeated. "That's worse than when you smile, sir."
"I know, Fred. Just tell them to come up."
Colon saluted, worriedly, and they heard him thumping down the stairs.
"I didn't know it was you, sir," Wright said reproachfully.
"I didn't know you were a Captain, but it didn't stop me arresting you," Vimes returned. He looked down at the letter. "Good gods, man, do you know how many people want me dead? And you really want -- " he shook the letter.
"Hello, Sam," said Lady Sybil, not bothering to knock as she entered, carrying their son. She smiled absently at the pair of Watchmen in the seats in front of the desk; the smile broadened when she saw who they were. "Dickie?" she asked. "Dickie Wright, is that you?"
Wright glanced at Vimes, expecting the man to laugh. Instead, he saw only grave sympathy.
"Hullo, Sybil," Wright said, with a sigh.
"What on the Disc are you doing here? And a Captain now!" Sybil swooped down on him, as only she could have done. "How long has it been?"
"Six years, I think," Wright answered. "I was going to come by...oh, that's the baby, is it? He looks like grandfather, doesn't he?"
"I assume these are the troublemakers," said a voice behind them. Havelock Vetinari stood in the doorway, leaning on his cane. A faint smile curved his lips. "We meet again, Constable Colter."
"Sir," Colter stood and saluted, smartly.
"And Captain Wright, I presume." Vetinari entered the room, glancing around. "Yes, this is correct," he said, with a satisfied look. "Your office is precisely as I imagined it, Sir Samuel."
Colter stepped away from his chair, offering it to Vetinari; the Patrician nodded at the youngster, and sat gracefully, resting his hands on the head of his cane.
"Are you here on business?" Sybil was asking. Wright nodded. "You must come up to dinner! Where are you staying?"
"Sybil, dear?" Vimes said distantly.
"I think Mr. Wright and I had better sort a few things out, before we see each other socially."
"Of course," Sybil said. "All kinds of Watch business, I expect. Shall I go?"
Vetinari smiled ever so slightly. "I think the Duchess would enjoy staying, don't you, Sir Samuel?"
Vetinari knew. Vimes didn't know how, but he suspected the 'other letter' had something to do with it.
"You might as well stay, Sybil," Vimes muttered. He held out the letter to Carrot, who had taken up a position at the Patrician's right. Colter stood behind his Captain.
"Read it," he ordered.
"To his Grace the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Watch," Carrot read, laboriously.
"That's me," Vimes said to Wright, who glowered.
"'The citizens of the city of Pseudopolis greet and salute you, Your Grace Vimes. We have sent this letter with our Captain of the Watch, to be delivered to you in the utmost confiden...tiality.'" Carrot looked up.
"Keep reading, Captain," Vimes said. Sybil looked curious.
"'The City of Pseudopolis begs your assistance and the assistance of your wise Patrician, Lord The Honorable Havelock Vetinari --' "
" -- they flatter -- " the Patrician murmured.
" '-- in our time of crisis. The city, without leadership, has been thrust into chaos. Pseudopolis has no royal family to fall upon after the death of the king and the regrettable accident leading to the demise of his son.'"
"Didn't he fall in a lake?" Sybil asked.
"'We would offer you the crown --' oh, Mister Vimes." Carrot broke off abruptly. Sybil put a hand to her mouth. Not a muscle twitched in Vetinari's face.
"Go on, Carrot."
"'We would offer you the crown and throne of Pseudopolis, with all royal rights and priviledges app...ur...'"
"Appurtaining thereto," Vimes said, staring at Wright.
"'Appurtaining thereto, in exchange for your residence in the Royal Palace and assumption of the throne and rule of Pseudopolis and its outlying counties. Your rights, as king, include legal right to make law and pass sentence, extensive hunting grounds outside of the city proper, command of the City Watch as is your custom, and the line of rule secured within your descent, on the majority of your son, the Viscount Samuel Vimes-Ramkin.' That's a nice touch, including young Sam, sir. 'We invest the bearer of this letter, Watch Captain Dickson Wright, full diplomatic power with your Patrician and authority to negotiate terms with your honored self, understanding that he is a relation to the family. We wait upon your reply with all due speed. Gods save the City. Your obdt. servants...' There's a lot of names, sir. Head of the Seamstresses, leading merchants, a couple of prominent lawyers. Also Commander Rater."
"Now fancy that." Vimes stubbed out his cigar. "Full diplomatic power and authority to negotiate terms. How exactly are we related, Captain Wright?"
"Lady Sybil's my cousin," Wright said. He looked as though he'd like to hide. "I'm afraid I've made rather a cock-up of things, Your Grace."
"Well, calling me that isn't going to make things any better," Vimes sighed.
"I cannot remember when I've had a more enjoyable morning, personally," Vetinari put in.
"They want you to be king?" Sybil asked. "Have any of them ever met you?"
"Thank you, dear," said Vimes, before turning to Vetinari. "This is tradition, isn't it?" he asked. "When there aren't any nobs who're nobby enough to be king, you send out for one."
"You are the highest peer in the city, Vimes," Vetinari said mildly.
"It's a great honour to be asked, sir," Carrot said loyally. "They couldn't find a more deserving -- "
" -- if you finish that sentence, Carrot, I'll start shouting," Vimes warned.
The Commander stared at the desktop. Rater ought to know better. Offering him the crown of Pseudopolis! Didn't they have some poor sod in their own city they could pick on?
Samuel Vimes was the descendent of a long line of very...well, very independent thinkers. Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes, a dozen generations back, had led a revolution that ended the monarchy in Ankh-Morpork forever. Somewhere in Sam Vimes' dark hindbrain there was a holy hatred of nobility that not even his own promotion to Duke had lessened. Kings were Wrong. Royalty was why they invented axes, as far as he was concerned. At least the Patrician was a tyrant on equal terms. He never claimed he was right just because his dad had been Patrician before him. In point of fact, Mad Lord Snapcase had been Patrician before Vetinari, and anyone claiming to be rightful Patrician by reason of descent from Snapcase would probably be chased out of the city, if Vetinari didn't get there first with a more permanent method of silencing him.
But, a small voice said, this is the Watch asking. Another city's Watch, though that's never mattered. He'd clacksed Rater offering his help, and Rater replied with an offer of his own.
"I, of course, have really very little say in the matter," Vetinari was saying. "We would be sorry to see you go, Your Grace, but when duty calls, who am I to stand in the way? It is certainly a unique opportunity for you."
"I could shout at you too," Vimes snarled. Vetinari returned his gaze evenly. Anyone who shouted at the Patrician would be too far gone to say anything coherent anyway.
"Sam, please," Sybil reprimanded, gently. "I just got your son to sleep."
"Perhaps it would be good to condition him to the shouting while he's still young," Vetinari said, without taking his eyes from Vimes.
"I ought to accept this just for the pleasure of being able to invade Ankh-Morpork," said Vimes.
"We always encourage tourism," Vetinari drawled, amiably. "I'm sure I could arrange some sort of 'welcome to the neighborhood' basket."
"Gentlemen," Sybil warned. Both men looked at her.
And this was the thing. Sybil was so well bred and so entirely good-natured that, like Carrot, she had a strange effect on people. Vimes, veteran of many a bare-knuckle street fight, was utterly helpless when she took that tone. Even Vetinari, who could stare down a crocodile, seemed to wilt slightly under her stern gaze.
"I am sure that this can be sorted out without your presence, Havelock*," she continued. "I think we ought to let Sam and Dickie alone to discuss things, don't you?"
* Sybil's authority over the Patrician could, in part, be attributed to the fact that she still called him by his first name. It brings a man named Havelock down, to be reminded of it.
Carrot looked to Vimes, almost imperceptibly. He nodded to the Captain, at the same time that Wright, slightly more noticeably, nodded at Colter. Sybil suppressed a laugh, which jostled young Sam, who began to wail.
"His father's son, no doubt," Vetinari said, rising. "I await your decision with great interest, Commander."
"Don't be ill-mannered, Sam," Sybil warned as she swept past, Carrot and Colter trailing in her considerable wake. Vetinari shut the door behind him silently as he followed.
"You just threatened the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork," Wright said, when the door had shut behind them. "Twice. Are you sure you're not daft?"
"From what I've seen of kings, insanity would only increase my qualifications," Vimes snapped. "You do know I'm descended from a regicide, don't you?"
"Most kings are, when you get down to it." Wright leaned forward. "We're not all as big or as socially advanced as Ankh-Morpork, Your Grace. Some cities still need a man with a crown. That doesn't mean you can't do for Pseudopolis what Vetinari did for your own city."
"I'm not that bright," said Vimes. "And I hate politics. First man calls me Royal Highness, I'll kick him in the stomach."
"Unnecessary violence is also a common trait of kings," Wright pointed out. "You do really seem ideal for the job. The city's going to fall apart if someone doesn't do something soon, and Rater's fresh out of ideas. This one was mine."
"I thought so. Rater's no keener on kings than I am, for all he works for one. Worked," Vimes corrected himself. "Why not abolish the monarchy? With a few dozen well-trained men and a good leader -- "
" -- precisely, sir," Wright said, a little too smoothly.
Vimes stared at him. "I won't do it. And I'm not arguing for the sake of hearing myself. Don't tell me you haven't got a few other letters to other lords in that hidden diplomatic pouch."
"I haven't," Wright sighed. "I wish I had, now. I was sure you'd be pleased."
"Just who exactly told you I -- " Vimes stopped. "Sybil. Of course."
"She speaks so highly of you, sir. Intelligent, honest, even- handed -- "
"She's my wife, Captain. The whole point of two people marrying is that they're too delusional about each other to do anything else."
"That's terrible, sir, if you'll pardon the presumption."
"Doesn't make it untrue."
"So there's no hope, then."
"Not of crowning me while I'm still breathing, no."
"I don't suppose you'd appoint a Regent and name the Viscount -- "
"Let's leave young Sam out of this, shall we? He'd be dead before he learned to walk. I'm common, Wright, but not stupid."
"I find you to be neither, Your G -- Commander Vimes." Wright's face fell. "You were our last chance, I'm afraid."
Vimes examined the letter again, disgustedly. "Gods help me, Captain. Sybil is right about some things. I'm not going to talk about this king business again, but I did offer Rater all the help he needed to stabilize the city. I'll send a squad of Watchmen back with your escort -- don't even try to tell me you and Colter came alone," he said, when Wright opened his mouth. "In the meantime, as long as you're here...we'll see what we can do about finding a suitably royal substitute in Ankh-Morpork."
He's not far wrong, Vimes thought, as the younger man goggled. I really must be daft. But you can't force good sense on people who don't want to hear it...
"What's this crown with a dagger through it?"
"Oh, a traditional symbol, ah-ha. Indicates his role as defender of the crown."
-- Feet of Clay
"Who's a good baby? Whosagoodboyden?"
It was amazing, Sybil always thought, the effect small animals and children had on otherwise rough and hard-boiled Watch officers. Even Sam Vimes, the king -- er, the Duke, all right -- of cynical pessimism, had actually spent money on a fluffy toy ball for the old Watch mascot. He was spending a lot more on his son, who wasn't even old enough to understand what a toy was, let alone play with one. She dreaded what he'd do on Hogswatch.
A dozen Watchmen were clustered around Carrot, who sat on a bench near the fireplace, holding young Sam-Vimes-the-second in his enormous arms. She watched, serenely, as a dwarf with a beard down to his knees played peek-a-boo with her son. Most mothers, when faced with entrusting their child to a giant of a man in battle armour and a gang of axe-carrying dwarves, would panic; Sybil Ramkin was glad of the rest. Carrot was an exceptional babsitter.
Even Mr. Colter had been drawn into the circle and pressed to a cup of cocoa by some of the younger constables, who were asking him about the Pseudopolis Watch. Sybil nodded her thanks as Angua settled into a chair next to her, presenting her with some thick, lemony Watch tea.
"Who'd have guessed Carrot'd be good with children?" Angua asked, grinning. Sybil smiled back. "Where's Lord Vetinari gone?"
"Oh, he had pressing business elsewhere," Sybil said, waving a hand vaguely. "Never a quiet moment, for Havelock. If I told Sam how alike the pair of them are, he'd probably arrange to have my head examined."
"I think young Sam's been good for him. He almost always leaves by five, these days."
"He doesn't always work Saturdays, either," Sybil agreed.
Carrot looked up as the women laughed. It's always an unsettling sound, to a man.
"Pardon Me, Lady Sybil," a voice boomed behind them. Dorfl towered into view. Nobody could tower like Dorfl. "I Would Like To Inquire After The Health Of Your Offspring."
"Sam's very well, thank you, Dorfl," Sybil replied, thinking that she was possibly the only duchess ever to answer questions like this from a walking, thinking pile of clay. Dorfl tipped his helmet and moved on, joining the crowd around young Sam.
"Should I be asking what the big meeting upstairs is about?" Angua continued. "Two Pseudopolis Watchmen, Carrot, Mister Vimes, Lord Vetinari and yourself -- I'm surprised it didn't come to blows, sooner or later."
"It was a close thing. I think I'd best let Sam tell it in his own time."
Angua nodded. "Offered him the throne, have they?"
Sybil had learned a lot from her husband. She didn't even frown.
"Couple of the lads were talking about it in the locker room," Angua continued. "A Duke beats an Earl, and there aren't that many Dukes on the Disc. Almost none that have actually had experience leading anything more than a charity fundraiser committee. Mister Vimes knows how to lead armies. Plus he's...legitimate. If you don't know Vimes, you know Ramkin. It's just one of those things."
"How come Sam hasn't made you a Captain, Angua?" Sybil asked.
"Oh, in Colon's words, hofficerin' ain't for the likes of me. Don't worry, it's not as though anyone knows anything. It's all just rumor. Suppose Mister Vimes'll turn it down?"
"Yes, I think so." Sybil tried to imagine her husband in a crown. Whenever she got close, it turned into something very like his old, battered Watch helmet from when he was a Captain.
Sybil had been born a Lady, and was delighted to become a Duchess, but she couldn't imagine herself as Queen, and not just because most of the really well-known queens weren't well-known for being well-liked. It was one thing to earn a position in society, as Sam had done, or to be born into the useless peerage as she was; it was another entirely to be given real ruling power because you were a more bloodthirsty bastard than the other man. Sybil knew from bloodthirsty. She was the first Ramkin in generations who hadn't managed to slaughter a good portion of some army or other by the time she was thirty.
"Good for him," Angua said. "Pseudopolis is a bore. What'll the gallant Captain Wright do?"
"Dickie will think of something," Sybil said calmly. "He always was a bit of a sport. His mother -- that'll be the Lady Deirdre Wright, my aunt -- wanted him to go into land management, but he likes the uniform."
"Must run in families," Angua murmured. Sybil grinned.
"Visit!" Vimes called, descending the stairs. Wright walked behind him, thoughtfully.
"Out on patrol, sir!" someone shouted back. "Preaching to the masses from the book of Burleigh and Stronginthearm."
There was general laughter. Vimes nodded.
"Dorfl, you find him. I want the two of you, and Reg if he's around, up to Scoone Avenue in an hour or so. Angua, nip over to the University and talk to the Librarian, see if he's got any books on the peerage in Pseudopolis or Ankh-Morpork. Bring them up to the house." He returned her salute. "Off you go."
"I suppose lunch is off, dear?" Sybil asked, with a resigned sigh.
"No, but we'll have to be quick about it," her husband said. "You don't mind if Captain Wright joins us? Where's Sam?"
"Here, sir," Carrot called. Vimes glanced over just in time to see Sam try to eat Carrot's badge. "Spirited lad, Mister Vimes."
"Yes, I can't think where he gets it from," Sybil said brightly. "Here we go then, Carrot, thank you. Shall we? I'll have to think of somewhere to take Dickie to give him a real taste of Ankh-Morpork cooking..."
"Alley out back of a chip shop would be favorite," Vimes said, but out of respect for his wife's enthusiasm, he didn't say it very loudly.
"Is It Like Clues, Then?" Dorfl asked, his thick ceramic hands holding a pile of books taken from the Ramkin family library.
"Sort of, I think." Angua opened one of them. "We're looking for any relatives of the Pseudopolis royalty that might've shown up in Ankh-Morpork in the past few hundred years."
"Or anyone in Ankh-Morpork who outranks a Duke," Vimes called, from behind a bookshelf. "Or any mention of anything that might lead us to it."
"I Defy The Monarchy. The Divine Rule Of Kings Is An Outmoded Belief System," Dorfl rumbled.
"Yes, well, write a pamphlet and I'll pay for it to be printed myself," Vimes said. "In the meantime, we have a day, at most, to find someone else to go king around in Pseudopolis until the city comes to its senses."
"What if we don't find anything?" Reg Shoe, eternal optimist, asked. He was standing on Dorfl's shoulders, trying to reach a high shelf.
"Then you get to lead the revolutionary charge into Pseudopolis, Reg. Might not be a bad idea anyway. People tend to respect a man who can take an arrow in the leg and only complain about ruined trousers."
"That's very funny, Mister Vimes," said Reg dourly.
"Yes, I'm known for my sense of humor. Everyone always says, 'There goes Sam Vimes, the bastard hasn't got one'."
"He's cranky. He doesn't like being reminded that he's a nob," Angua said to Reg.
"I heard that, Sergeant."
"Find anything yet, Your Grace?"
"Also very funny, Angua. We could send Carrot, you know."
"Nobody's going to mistake Carrot for you, sir."
"You're fired, Sergeant."
"Is it always like this?" Wright asked. He was leafing through an index to the Ankh-Morpork Social Register.
"No. Sometimes he shouts. Once in a while he throws things," Visit, already reading, answered absently. "What about where you come from?"
"Oh, Commander Rater's a good enough sort. There's only about thirty of us. I had to hire on extra hands to come along to Ankh-Morpork."
"Colter seems like a stand-up officer. Why didn't you bring him up to the library?" asked Angua.
"Colter can't read," Wright said absently. "He's best at...well, if you have something you need done, and everyone says oh, that can't be done, then you send Colter to do it. So I thought he'd be well suited getting to know how the Watch around here works. He's out walking beats and talking to people."
Angua was impressed. Everyone in the AMCW could read well enough to get by and sign their name on the wages chitty. A Watchman who couldn't read must be awfully good at everything else.
The fire was low in the grate by the time Angua looked up and rubbed her eyes. "It's no good, sir," she said tiredly. "There's no way we're even going to get through it all."
Vimes was buried in a dusty, heavy tome, a sandwich halfway to his mouth. Wilikins had brought a tray of them up with an encouraging message from Lady Sybil, who was busy with Sam. He glanced at her.
"I thought it might not be the best idea I'd ever had," he said with a sigh. "The only other options are to watch Pseudopolis crumble and hope for the best, or ride in ourselves and declare martial law. I hate politics. But I hate these damned breeding records more." He tapped the book. "How do you address the mother of a marquess, and what do you call the relative by marriage of a peer."
"Well, me," Wright said slowly.
"What d'you mean, you?" Vimes asked.
"I'm the relative by marriage of a peer. Namely yourself. Colter asked it when we were sitting in your office. I mean, I'm a lord, or will be when dad dies, at any rate. But what am I to you? Is it in there?"
Vimes raised his eyebrows. "Well, for starters, a royal pain in my arse. Otherwise..." he flipped a few pages over. "According to...oh, bloody hell. According to Ramtop common law, it makes you a poor sod who's got the right to freeload off me for life. Erm...in Pseudopolis, you'd be something called a Bastard Lord."
"We get that from your side," Wright said amiably.
"In Ankh-Morpork, there's a variation...congratulations, Mr. Wright. According to Ankh-Morpork law of descent, you're a Bastard Earl," said Vimes, glaring at Wright. "Welcome to the peerage, Captain."
"But I'm not Morporkian!"
"I don't think it matters. Sybil says you were born here. Makes you a Bastard Earl. You're married, aren't you?"
"Bloody hell," Reg said.
"Five boys and a wife on a Watch salary? You're a braver man than I am," Visit added. "Begging your pardon, Commander."
Neither Wright nor Vimes seemed to be paying attention; they were watching each other warily.
"I think we can wrap up for the day," the Commander said finally. "Thank you for your help, sergeants, corporals. Check in at the Yard before you sign out."
Angua knew how to take a cue, and she smoothly kicked Reg in the shin before he could object. Dorfl, not one for differentiating between 'suggestion' and 'order', was already helping Visit pile books neatly on the table.
When they were gone, Wright waited for the explosion.
"You put Rater up to it, all right," Vimes said. "You knew that Old Stoneface Vimes couldn't possibly say yes. But he never ignores a fellow Watchman in trouble, does he?"
"How did you -- "
"You were too quiet when I mentioned leaving Pseudopolis to rot."
Wright ducked his head. "I had thought..."
"You thought the Watch could ride in and force the citizens to see sense? Adopt the Patricianship system of government?"
"Perhaps. Or even an Ephebian democracy. I had a list of sensible city leaders who might -- "
"Sensible city leaders tend to go round the twist when they get that much power, Wright."
Wright nodded. "I've read the history of Ankh-Morpork."
"Cheek! And now what do you think?"
"Well...you are known, Your Grace, for very...unique solutions to various political problems. Sybil mentioned in her last Hogswatch letter that you had prevented a war by arresting, what, two entire armies? And then set them to playing football?"
"Carrot did the football," Vimes mumbled.
"Yes, and you're his superior. I thought, what a very unusual man you must be." Wright smiled, brightly. "I was certainly right, wasn't I?"
"I ought to ding you upside the head again." The Commander sighed. "You think that Watchmen make good kings?"
Wright, not for the first time in a very long, very frustrating day, stared at the Duke.
"I have an idea," said Vimes. "It's a really terrible one. I'm going to hate it when I've thought it out. But it's the only one we've got..."
Most Watchmen in Ankh-Morpork were very firmly pedestrian. It was one of the reasons they were good Watchmen, because they walked the streets at eye level with the rest of the world. They didn't like horses, unless it came to betting on them. But in Pseudopolis, everyone rode, and an honour escort looked really smart on a horse. Vimes picked seven officers who knew the head from the hocks, and got a coach for himself, Sybil, and Sam. Wright didn't like it, but he didn't like anything about this plan, except its outcome.
Vimes didn't like anything, including the outcome, but it was, he'd decided, the only way.
"I don't think I ought to leave the city, sir," Carrot said respectfully, as he checked the saddles on the Watchmens' horses. "Tighten that girth, Visit."
"You're bringing the zealot?" Wright hissed.
"He can ride," Vimes shrugged*.
* While it was true that Corporal Visit had, in the past, ridden an ass during religious pageants, he had never before encountered actual riding gear. This was little deterrent. If you've ridden a donkey bareback, the Omnian saying goes, you've conquered a saddled horse. (Although a more literal translation sometimes reads "a painful malady of the bum").
"With you gone," Carrot continued, "And the rumors going round -- "
"You're coming, Carrot. Angua's more than due for a little responsibility," Vimes said firmly, in a tone that suggested that Lady Sybil'd had Words with him on the subject. "Aren't you, Sergeant?"
"Whatever you say, sir," Angua answered, masking her smugness rather well.
"I'm sure Sergeant Angua won't let you down, but -- "
"That was an order I gave you, Carrot. I am already an unhappy camper, and I'm sure you don't want to be the one responsible for my first homicide of the day. Or its victim."
"Yessir." Carrot saluted smartly. "I'll see to the horses, sir."
Vimes turned back to the coach. Pseudopolis was closer than Uberwald, but still more than a day's ride. He'd clacksed Rater with a message that he hoped was just vague enough to keep people from out-and-out painting the coronation mugs with his name. MESSAGE RECEIVED STOP WILL ARRIVE PSEUDOPOLIS THREE DAYS STOP REQUEST HOUSING SEVEN OFFICERS STOP CMDR AMCW.
It was a good message. It said everything he wanted and nothing anyone could pin on him. He did wish he could see the expressions of everyone watching the Clacks towers for his reply. He imagined the look on the Baroness Von Uberwald's face would be priceless.
You're a Watchman, Vimes, and the whole world is watching you, now...
Ping, arriving at a run with his arms full of parcels, skidded to a stop in front of his Commander. "Sorry I'm late, sir! Had some difficulty finding the flags!"
"Throw them on the roof of the coach and catch your breath on the hoof, Ping. Up you go on the..." Vimes fumbled. "The red one."
"Roan," Wright coughed.
The clacks had revolutionized news and the way it was told. Everyone knew that. But things could only move as fast as a horse, when you were talking international politics. People had to have time to get places.
The messages from Rater, at regular intervals as they passed other clacks towers, included updates on the state of affairs in the troubled city of Pseudopolis. According to him, everyone was, essentially, waiting. Of course nobody would admit what they were waiting for...
Colter, who rode ahead of the contingent -- far ahead -- was sending his own clacks messages, or at any rate, getting someone to send them for him. Wright accepted, dealt with, and replied to them with all the alacrity and briskness of the Patrician. It struck Vimes as odd, that this little solution hadn't come from the capable young Captain. He certainly thought crookedly enough for it.
The constable returned to them the morning before they arrived in Pseudopolis. The Watchmen were camped on an open plain; Wilikins, traveling with Lady Sybil and clinging tenaciously to civilization, had erected a palatial tent for his employers, which the officers had been trying, for the third or fourth time, to disassemble in an orderly fashion. It looked as though they'd given up, for the moment, and were getting ready to ride into the city.
"Good news and bad," Colter reported to Wright and Vimes, who were sitting around an early-morning fire, drinking harsh coffee from tin cups. "On one hand, the bunting's out. Someone's definetely going to get crowned soon."
"But?" Wright prompted.
"But they're expecting someone a bit more...kingly," Colter said hesitantly. "Beg yer pardon, Commander."
"I take it as a compliment," Vimes said gravely.
"And there are a couple of, um, contenders. Not outright, see, but if they don't like the look of things, someone's also going to get beheaded today." Colter looked nervous. Vimes didn't blame him.
"Let's make sure they like the look of things," he said, trying to reassure the young officer. "Run along, Colter. Carrot'll have some things for you."
"We're going to be toast," Wright said quietly. "When we pull this off, our heads are going to look really good on some silver platters."
"Nonsense. We've got royalty on our side," said Vimes. Wright thought privately that they needed to invent a new word for the brand of humor the Commander employed. Sarcasm didn't seem to do it justice. Sarcavern, perhaps, or sarcanyon.
Wright didn't like being out of control, and he had found himself following, rather than leading, since he'd been nicked by two corporals in Ankh-Morpork. It was good strategy, he'd thought, sending the lower-ranking officers to grab him, as if he wasn't worth Sam Vimes' time. It reminded Wright that he still had lessons to learn.
"Right then." Vimes looked around, and turned to face the Ankh-Morpork officers. "Let's show these Pseudopolis lads what Ankh-Morpork coppers can do."
"Erm...find a nice dry place to have a smoke?" Ping asked. "Or did you mean mump a free beer from the Bunch of Grapes?"
"No, Ping." Vimes sighed. "Carrot?"
"Just coming, sir," Carrot answered, leading two horses. He had a pair of long, sturdy sticks in one hand, each wrapped in cloth. He passed one to Colter, who unfurled it to reveal the Pseudopolis flag. He handed the reins of one of the horses to Vimes, and stuck the other flag in a loop on his own saddle.
A horse looks a lot taller than normal, when you're trying to get onto its back. Say what you like about camels, but at least they sit down for their passengers.
"Don't you look smart!" Sybil exclaimed, as the Watch rode past the coach. Vimes, who'd forgotten how uncomfortable a saddle could be, gave her a cheerful grimace. Behind him, six of the seven Ankh-Morpork officers were managing to stay in what, if you were drunk, could be considered a double-line. For a given value of 'line'.
The Pseudopolis lads watched, discussed it, and finally broke rank. Each Pseudopolis horse paired up with an Ankh-Morpork horse; somehow they all managed to get into a formation behind the coach.
Carrot and Colter, now proudly flying the Ankh-Morkork and Pseudopolis flags, rode in front, flanking Vimes and Wright. His Grace was reluctantly wearing his dress armour. Wright's own armour shone. They looked like the biggest idiots who ever rode a horse, in Vimes' opinion.
"Let's go make a king," Vimes sighed. "I can't believe I'm doing this."
It was everything that they'd dreaded, and more. Samuel Vimes, who hated the monarchy with a devoutness approaching religion, had never seen so much bunting in his entire life.
"Told you," Colter whispered.
"Smile, Colter," Wright whispered back.
People were lining the streets to see the Duke of Ankh, presumably the next King of Pseudopolis, and his honour guard. Carrot smiled and waved. Wright, who had to lead them to the palace, looked straight ahead. Vimes, who had to make sure his horse didn't stop to eat geraniums out of peoples' gardens, also looked straight ahead.
We probably look more royal than Carrot does, Vimes thought. And he's about as royal as you get.
But that was why he'd brought the lad. As Colon never failed to point out, Carrot had Krisma. Bags of it. Plus he had a punch like a troll and a very sharp sword, which are important aspects of anyone attempting to perpetrate a coup.
Several lean barbarians, on seeing the Duke, his cousin, his honour guard, and Carrot, slunk away towards the city gates. Several dapper lords, mostly local Pseudopolis stock, saw the Duke's sharp sword and several scars, and decided this king business was beneath them.
Some local priest or other stood on the steps of what must be the palace, surrounded by the sort of people Vimes knew, in his bones, had signed that stupid letter Wright had delivered. Rater was one of them.
"Halt!" Wright commanded. The horses obeyed, more or less.
"Dismount!" Carrot shouted. Sixteen pairs of boots hit the street. The door of the coach opened, and Sybil stepped out, holding Sam. The crowds were thick here; they murmured excitedly.
"Your Grace." The priest gave him a pious smile. "I would like to welcome you to Pseudopolis."
"Thank you," Vimes said curtly, as Visit led his and Wright's horses away. "This is my wife, the Duchess of Ankh, and my son, the Viscount." Sybil curtsied low. Nobody could pull off a classy entrance like Sybil. "Captain of the City Watch, Carrot Ironfoundersson; my cousin, Dickson Wright, Bastard Earl of Ankh, and his aide, Constable Michael Colter." Wright and Colter bowed stiffly.
He knew that, behind him, several of the 'honour guard' were trying to keep a straight face. So was he, if it came to that.
"Er...of course. We welcome your family with open arms," the priest said, all evidence pointing to the contrary.
"I understand you're in need of a king," Vimes continued.
"Yes, your Grace -- "
"When is the coronation?"
The priest was taken aback. This was not according to the script. "Ah. Yes. We have been in preparation since the regrettable death of the king's son -- "
"Good! We'll do it now, get it over with, and I can get my family settled in."
"Yes, of course, your Grace," the priest said smoothly. The rest of what Vimes had come to think of as the Monarchy Election Board were exchanging nervous glances. You wanted a strong leader, Vimes thought. Shouldn't have let young Wright sell you on the idea, should you? Too late now...
The doors of the palace opened and people flooded in, carefully forming an island of empty space around the future king. Vimes felt Ping touch his elbow.
"Take Sybil and Sam and get them out of the city," he said, without looking around. "I don't want my wife and son within five miles of this place when everything goes pear-shaped."
"Moving as fast as we can, sir," Ping replied, and vanished along with Colter.
"Now we walk slowly," Vimes said to Wright and Carrot, when the crowds finally began to thin out. The palace was filled to capacity. They moved through it, side-by-side, hands on swords. "You give them time to see us three together. Did Colter speak to the priest?"
"Didn't need to. He's just about blind."
"I suppose that's best. You think everyone heard the introductions?"
"Colter's been talking to people since yesterday morning."
"Don't suppose I could poach him from you?"
"Not a chance. Sir."
Vimes, with the light-headedness of those about to die, realized that they were proceeding down the long aisle towards the throne of Pseudopolis. A hastily-retrieved crown sat slightly askew on one of the throne's cushions. A man so old he could pass for a zombie was standing next to it.
"Last chance to back out," Colter said, out of the corner of his mouth. "Sure you don't want to rule?"
"I have never," said Vimes distantly, "been more sure of anything in my life."
"The Gods bless you and keep you, your highness," the old man mumbled. By his costume, Vimes guessed he was the same religion as the young priest. "We are not long on ceremony in Pseudopolis. We welcome our new ruler and wish him well."
"Your king thanks you," Vimes said loudly.
"If you would be seated, your highness..." the priest intoned, picking up the crown. Only those closest could actually see which man sat down, but they weren't slow on the uptake.
The first protests hit their ears just as the crown touched Dickson Wright's bared head.
"Behold the new king of Pseudopolis!" the priest quavered. "Long live the king!"
Half the audience cheered; the other half shouted in anger.
This was where it got dicey. Vimes drew his sword, just as Carrot did. Damned if he was going to repeat what the priest said, as Carrot was doing, however.
The crowd fell silent at the combination of two drawn swords and the quiet, all-knowing smile of the man on the throne.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said a soft, gentle voice. Colter, who apparently could be everywhere at once, emerged from a side-hallway. "May I present to you his royal highness, King Dickson the First, and the defender of the crown, Duke Samuel Vimes."
Defender of the bloody crown, Vimes thought. That just about takes the royal cake.
"You tricked us!"
The Monarchy Election board were seated in front of Vimes, who stood, arms crossed, in front of Wright in the King's Chambers. Carrot stood next to him. It was very hard to yell at Carrot, so they were yelling at Vimes. It was not much easier.
"You wanted a king," Vimes said mildly.
"We wanted you!"
"But you've got a king, now. I should think that's what counts. I went to a lot of trouble to get you one."
"Through guile and deception!" a lower-order lord snapped.
"Yes, those are habits of mine," sighed Vimes. "Carrot, when I'm done here, make a note. Must work on reducing amount of guile I practice. Bad for the digestion."
"Noted, sir," Carrot said calmly. He didn't have sword-in-hand as they had done at the coronation. He didn't need it. The overtones of weaponry in the room were quite clear. We are armed, said the guards' stance, and you are not.
"We did not send emissaries to Ankh-Morpork for you to put some insolent young upstart on the throne!" another man yelled.
Commander Rater, Vimes noticed, was keeping silent. He was a good man, by all accounts, and was probably more proud of his protege's appointment to royalty than he was afraid of any royal repercussions.
"He is the Bastard Earl of Ankh," Vimes continued, not quite believing what he said. "Kin to the man you wanted for king." He glanced at Wright, and continued. "I'd be a bit cautious about who I called insolent, if I were you."
"I..." the man's face drained of colour. "We were not consulted in this matter!"
"I didn't think a king needed to consult about a crowning," Vimes growled. "I thought he came and bloody fought for the crown, winner take all. And I'm sure the good people of Pseudopolis don't want to know that their leaders didn't consult them before offering some old sod in Ankh-Morpork the throne, when they had their very own Earl around."
He held up the letter they'd sent him. The more thoughtful members of the Board were already smiling ingratiatingly at the king, who was distinctly not smiling back.
"Tell me, Captain Carrot, how are my people taking the news of my coronation?" asked King Dickson I, royally.
"I'm told there's dancing. And quite a bit of drinking. Also someone's selling coronation mugs."
"With my name on them?"
"Well, that practically makes it irrefutable. Wouldn't you say, Tanner?"
The man who'd called him an insolent young upstart turned a shade paler, if that were possible. "I...look, it's only crockery!" he said to his companions, who were now giving him the sort of wide berth generally associated with someone shouting that the gods don't exist on top of a tall hill in a thunderstorm. "Are we going to let a blind priest and a painted mug establish rule in this town?"
"Well, if those aren't enough..." Vimes put his hand, very casually, on his sword-hilt.
"I think, begging your pardon, Your Grace, that His Highness, King Dickson, has an excellent point." The smooth-talking young priest again. "If the people approve of him, how can we say nay?"
"He's got a wife, and a couple of boys to carry on the crown. And no apparent history of mental instability. A good bargain, if you like that kind of thing," said Vimes. "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen -- and ladies," he said, nodding to a few senior Seamstresses in the back of the room, "I promised my wife some sight-seeing. Good day."
He touched his helmet, bowed, and walked out. Behind him, there was the sound of several people exhaling nervously.
"Now," came Wright's voice from the King's Chambers, "I believe I have some ruling to do. Let's get a little law around the place, shall we?"
"You think he'll be a good king?" Carrot asked, following his Commander down the hallway. Their boots echoed on the stone floor.
"He'll be a damn sight better than I would."
"Oh, I don't know about that, sir," Carrot replied, his big honest forehead wrinkling.
"I do, Carrot. Wright knows how to play the games. I just want to clean up the world. Worst kind of man to rule." Vimes turned out at the courtyard, stepping into the light. "I think he'll do all right. But then, what do I know? Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes was buried in five graves, after only six months. And he wasn't even king."
"You're not him, though, sir."
Vimes grinned and lit a cigar. "No, you're right there. Come on, Carrot, they're waiting for us."
King Dickson only found the letter, two weeks after the coronation, because he wanted to get the dents hammered out of his armour, for occasions when he might need it. The courier's pouch, which he'd worn strapped to his breastplate when he wasn't in plainclothes, seemed too thick to be empty. He unfolded the dingy sheet of paper, revealing Sam Vimes' scrawling curly handwriting. It was dated the day the Ankh-Morpork contingent had left Pseudopolis.
Crowns are heavy things. Be careful not to wear it too often. All the weight crushes the brain.
If you have to be a king, as Carrot says, best be a good king. Maybe you can outlaw the tendency of Pseudopolis folk to bend at the knees, in a few decades. Remember that you're an officer of the Watch and have a reputation to uphold.
Be told. I have twenty years on you and I know what I'm talking about.
If I hear about any foolishness in Pseudopolis, rest assured, you're not too royal to feel the flat of my sword.
Sam'l Vimes, Cmdr, AMCW
PS: Sybil sends her love.
Wright's wife, Her Royal Highness Queen Maggie, couldn't get him to stop laughing for a full ten minutes.