So, a while ago, during one of my drabble memes, my friend insertparagraph requested a "something from the Discworld.
Well, like many of you, I'm a huge TPratchett fan, so it didn't take anything more than that to set me off; for whatever reason, I'd been amusing myself by imagining Lord Vetinari asking Sam Vimes's advice about politics... and so I wrote — not a drabble, but the beginning of a fic.
I meant to continue it — it seemed like a fun idea — but, as with so many writing projects recently, it feel into the cobwebbed neverwhere of my hard drive...
Until today. Sitting down while waiting my lunch to warm up (Indian lentils — yum), I opened the file... and finished the fic!
Title: Long Live the Patrician!
Warnings: Unbeta'd. Small caps.
Length: ~3400 Words
Summary: Sam Vimes knew that nothing good waited for him at the top of the gilded stairs of the Patrician's Palace.
Long Live the Patrician!
Sam Vimes knew that nothing good waited for him at the top of the gilded stairs of the Patrician's Palace.
Mind, it didn't take a genius—or even a copper—to know that a meeting with Vetinari was unlikely to leave you smiling. And the palace guards grimaced at him neither more grimly than usual, nor less.
Still, Sam felt uneasy. Felt it through even through the leather soles of the dress boots that Sybill had shoved his feet into this morning. Something was amiss.
Let's see, he thought. We've had dragons. Demons. Doppelgängers. Trolls and dwarves trying to go to war. Vampires. The Freedom of the Press. Witches moving buildings around. The wizards' high energy doodad inducing time travel. Cities rising from the ocean. Leonard of Quirm's Gonne.
Can't be worse than any of those, he tried to tell himself as he reached the landing off which the Oblong Office lurked. He tried to tell himself that, but the soles of his feet didn't believe him, and so the rest of him refused to play along.
“Good morning, Your Grace,” murmured Vetinari's secretary. Somehow, his flat, bland voice made the title even more of an affront to Sam's pride than usual.
“His Lordship will see you.” The secretary opened the door, which gave its carefully preserved squeak.
Damn. He wasn't even going to be kept waiting. In spite of himself, Sam gulped, and entered.
The door squeaked shut behind him.
The office was, as always, neat, and yet, as always, the furniture, the paper, the quills, the books all seemed ready for use. Nothing ornamental here: the Patrician kept his tools arrayed like a surgeon's instruments.
“Good morning, Commander,” said Vetinari, and Sam felt his toes twitch.
Oh, damn, he thought. But he said, “Sir.”
“Have a seat, please.”
Sam sat, taking in the Patrician's face. Its lines were as ungenerous and unforgiving as ever, but there was a grayness to the man that Sam had never seen there before—not even that time when Vetinari had been stuck in his own dungeon, nor when he'd been shot by that infernal Gonne.
“You all right?” Sam asked, and then, feeling awkward, added, “Sir?”
Vetinari gazed at him, one eyebrow minutely arched. “As it happens, Commander,” he said, “I seem to be dying.”
“D-dying?” It didn't seem possible. Around Vetinari, death always seemed to be something that happened to other people. “Sir?”
“Hmm. Or, if Leonard has it right, I may already be dead.”
“Sir?” choked Vimes.
“Quite. Something to do with my sleeping habits, it seems. Evidently I have been getting up so early that I have begun to wake before I've gone to bed, which has created a… Well, Mr. Stibbins over at the University tried to explain it to me. It is, apparently, a quantum thing.”
“Yes. So, according to the Surgeon's Guild I have perhaps a few weeks — perhaps less. Stibbins seems to think that a few good nights of actually getting up after I go to bed will set things to rights. Then again, according to Leonard, I may perhaps already have met my doom, but am simply too busy to have noticed.”
“Ah.” Vimes frowned. Vetinari had to be joking. He was capable of it, Sam was sure — though it was always hard to tell. “Ah.”
The Patrician leaned back, fingers folded across his black waistcoat. “In fact, Commander, that is why I asked you to join me here this morning.”
“I see, sir.”
“Do you, Vimes?” The brow arched another hair's width upward.
Sam opened his mouth, but thought better of it, then coughed instead and shook his head.
“Good. I am glad that you do not. It is precisely why I called you today.”
Sam tried not to sigh. He knew Vetinari would get there eventually, but he knew too that the man would have to play his little games first. So he swallowed the sigh that was fighting to come out. “And why is that, sir?”
“Because, Sir Samuel, I wish to discuss with you the matter of my successor.”
There are sentences that, in spite of being made up of words that are nice, hard, and sensible, make no sense at all. Vimes discovered that these included any that involved Vetinari using the words my successor. “Um. My lord?”
“Isn't that… I mean, don't the guilds and such...?”
The Patrician nodded solemnly. “Oh, yes, of course. One of Ankh-Morpork's greatest and most honored traditions: the gathering of the guilds. The puff of white smoke…” He gave a vague flutter of his fingers and what, it seemed to Vimes, might almost have been a nostalgic smile — if there hadn't been quite so much fang in it. “The election of the Patrician by the guilds is the bedrock of our government and must be defended at all costs, Commander. Without it, where would our city be?”
“Right.” Up the Ankh without a shovel. Vimes worked very hard at keeping his I'm-just-a-stupid-honest-copper-pull-t
“It is of course true,” granted Vetinari, musing as he straightened a quill on his desk, “that the guild masters are very busy men — and women — and it seems to me that they would be best served by… pre-selecting the most logical, most… beneficial choices, so that their decision can be made more expeditiously and… expediently.”
Vimes could hear the dot-dot-dots thudding silently through Vetinari's speech. “Expediently?”
“For the city. Of course.”
“Of course.” Vimes sat there, waiting for the Patrician to say more. Waiting to think of something to say. He sat there some more.“So, my lord, is there somebody you think would be… beneficial?”
Vetinari stared at Vimes over newly re-steepled fingers.
Blast. “Oh, no, no, no, my lord, no, not me, I'm just a copper, I'd be a —”
“— terrible Patrician, yes, you would, Sir Samuel.” The Patrician's thin smile peaked around either side of his thin fingers. “No, Vimeses are much better suited to keeping those in power from losing their heads, as it were, than at assuming the seat of power themselves.”
“Yes, sir.” A wave of relief washed through Sam, even though he knew he was still in the midst of what he would think of as a minefield, if minefields were a thing with which he had any experience.
“No, I am looking for your input, Commander. I am, myself, quite at a loss, oh, dear, oh, dear. Can you think of any candidates?”
Vimes chewed on this. The idea that Vetinari was actually asking his opinion was preposterous — there had to be some catch, but Sam couldn’t think what it was, and knew the Patrician would be three moves ahead of his watch commander no matter what Sam tried to do. So he actually considered the question seriously. He could think of lots of people who'd want to be Patrician, people who everyone expected to take over should Vetinari be indisposed. “Rust…?”
“Old Lord Rust is, I am afraid yet thankful, less than his usual bellicose self just now. And young Lord Rust rather fails the candidacy requirement.”
“It would be difficult to run the city from Fourecks,” agreed Vimes. Thank all the gods. He thought a bit more. “Mr. de Worde?”
“A very civic-minded gentleman, it is true, and from an old family, which is always salutatory to some of our most established segments of our society. However, I am afraid that he is as prone to thumbing his nose at authority as you are yourself, Commander, and perhaps even more dedicated to the Truth.”
“As he sees it,” grumbled Sam.
“Even so. I think you will agree, however, that neither quality is one suited to a long or a successful career in the Oblong Office. Likewise, I think that we can eliminate anyone from the clergy or our friends at Unseen University. Most of the guild masters… Well, they are rather focused on their own concerns, as they should be — even my good friends at the Assassins’ Guild, alas.”
For once, Sam Vimes seemed actually to have surprised the Patrician. “What an extraordinary thought.” Tapping his fingers to his lips, Vetinari considered this for a minute or two before shaking his head. “No, no. I am afraid that his job is rather more important than mine, and he does it so very well. As much merit as your suggestion has, and as amusing as it is to consider the image of Lord Rust bowing before the King of the Golden River, Commander, I think we can agree that Mr. King should remain where he is.”
“Yeah. Not sure how I’d feel about serving at the pleasure… of a King.” Sam smirked.
“Quite.” The Patrician smiled — well, his lips moved minutely upward. “Nonetheless, an interesting thought. Perhaps… someone with more… experience in serving the public good?” The dot-dot-dots were back, and Vetinari had his Thud-playing face on.
Sam groaned inwardly. You’re enjoying this, are you, you poncy bastard? Trying to keep his annoyance out of his tone — trying to imagine that he was speaking to Sybil — Sam said, “I hope, my lord, that you aren’t thinking of our Master of the Royal Mint and Taxmaster.”
“Do you know, Commander,” said the Patrician, smiling sepulchrally, “I had already crossed him off of my list. I am afraid that even the redoubtable Mrs. von Lipwig would not be able to keep his considerable… creative energies in check were he himself to rise to the pinnacle of power. I find that a single sword above Mr. von Lipwig’s head is an insufficient incentive.”
Thank the gods for that, thought Sam, offering up his second prayer of the morning — he who almost never prayed to anything since he’d given up drink.
After a few moments of silence, Vetinari cocked his head. With the air of someone considering a thought that hadn’t occurred to him — Really, wherever can this idea have come from? (an air that Sam didn’t for a minute buy) — he mused, “Perhaps… there is someone in your own command, Commander?”
“Uh… My lord?”
“Well, Sir Samuel, while you yourself are indispensible, there must be senior members of the watch who might be willing and able to take their service to the city… to the next level?”
Ah, thought Sam, trying to think where in Anoia’s name Vetinari was steering this bloody farce. “I don’t suppose Nobby would be up for the job, do you, my lord?”
If Vetinari weren’t already so ashen, Sam would have said that he blanched. “Goodness, no, dear me.” He raised an eyebrow. “I think that we can limit our suggestions to humans.”
Grinning, Sam said, “Well, that lets out Angua, I suppose. Cheery, Sally, and Detritus too.” With a snort, Sam added, “And of course, Carrot.”
Innocence was a word that very, very few people would ever have associated with Vetinari; Sam Vimes had it on good authority that, even in the Patrician's childhood, his own mother had made sure to check anything young Havelock gave her for surprises. Nonetheless, that seemed to be the expression that the Patrician’s face was attempting to convey. “But why ever not, Commander? Why, what an excellent suggestion! Captain Carrot would make an admirable Patrician — an admirable candidate for the position, that is. Do you not agree?”
“Why, yes, Sir Samuel, I do think that you may have hit upon a most excellent idea!” Vetinari’s face came as close as it could manage to cherubic delight, an expression for which it was eminently ill-suited. It then fell into a pout of disappointment that looked equally disingenuous. “But what bar do you see to the good captain’s election?”
“Well, I, just, it’s,” spluttered Sam Vimes, trying to think even where to begin.
After waiting a moment for the commander of the watch to begin an actual sentence, the Patrician steepled his fingers once more. “Commander,” he said quietly, “can you think of anyone — aside from some few of those people whom we have already eliminated — who is better known in this city?”
“Do you know anyone — I shall not say trusted, such an imprecise word — anyone more reliable?”
“No.” Damn. Even the Lawyers’ Guild knew to rely on him. Even the Assassins.
“He has only been in the city — back in the city — a few short years, and yet, does anyone know the people of the city better than he, from Morpork to Ankh, from The Shade to the Patrician’s Palace?”
“No.” Except maybe me, Sam thought. Maybe.
“Can you think, Commander — and I want you to consider this very carefully — of anyone who is better, as he himself has put it, ‘at being obeyed’?”
Sam opened his mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. “No. But — ?”
Now the Patrician’s smile was truly his own, a smile that sent shards of ice down Sam Vimes’s spine. “And he is remarkably well-versed in the laws of this fair city, and remarkable adept at making sure that they are carried out. Then tell me, Commander: what objection can you have to your own inestimable Captain Carrot as my… potential successor to sit in the chair at the foot of the Golden Throne?”
Sam looked down at his damned polished boot. Tried to feel through the soles. Felt nothing. “He’s… a dwarf, my lord.”
“Why so he is,” said Vetinari, savoring the irony. “At least, that is how he sees himself, and how some — though not all — of the city’s dwarves see him. It is how the watch has chosen to see him under your command, I know. But tell me, Sir Samuel, do you believe that the majority of the people of Ankh-Morpork see him so? The trolls, I am pleased to say, do not.”
“I, no, my lord, but — ”
“But, Commander? How do you believe they see him?”
“They — !” Sam tried to hold the thought in, threw his arms around it and tried to grapple it to the ground — the thought that he had thought numerous times, but purposefully turned away from, the way he’d sometimes turned away, as a beat copper, from the street justice meted out to rapists, child molesters and the like. He tried to hold the thought in, but didn’t quite succeed. “He’s…! They see him as — !” With his finger he pointed up at the Patrician’s seal, which was carved into the wall: it showed the coat of arms of Ankh-Morpork, and over it the crown of the absent king in whose stead the Patrician ruled.
“Do they, now?” Vetinari leaned back in his chair now, looking as close to healthy as he had since Vimes arrived. As close to happy as Vimes could ever remember. The nearest expression that Sam could think of was the death’s-head grin the Patrician gave when he won a game of Thud or commanded an execution. “Perhaps they do, Commander. Perhaps they do. But tell me: having taken the oath of this office, having sworn upon the Golden Throne to steward this city to the best of his ability in the king’s absence, can you imagine Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson ever doing anything but precisely that?”
Sam opened his mouth and closed it again. And this time, he left it closed. Vetinari was right, damn him. Sam could see it: Carrot serving as Patrician with all of the ruthless innocence with which he did absolutely everything else. It would never in a million years occur to him to take up the crown he had sworn to defend. And damn it, he’d do it damned bloody well. “No, my lord. I cannot see that.”
“Neither, Commander, can I.” A shudder passed through the man, the first sign since the conversation had begun that Vetinari was suffering at all. “There are many ways to rule effectively, Vimes — though I know that you understand that there are infinitely more ways to rule ineffectively. I flatter myself to think that my rule has served this city well — no, don’t say anything — but I can see, as I believe you can, that Captain Carrot’s approach too might be… efficacious.” The old man’s eyes drooped minutely. “And if it were not so, after all, he would have you to… keep the peace.”
“Yes, my lord,” Sam answered, not certain that he wanted to know precisely what he was agreeing with.
“Well, Commander,” said Vetinari, pushing himself up in his chair, “what an excellent suggestion you’ve made. I am so glad that we had this little chat.” His voice clearly bespoke dismissal, and so Sam stood. “If you could tell Drumknott to cancel my next appointment — Mr. von Lipwig with some new scheme, I believe. Your enthusiasm, Sir Samuel, has quite worn me out.”
“My lord,” answered Sam, concerned but relieved, and beat a hasty retreat.
As the door closed behind the dyspeptic Duke of Ankh — it still amused Havelock to think of the aggressively plebian Sam Vimes bearing that ancient title — the Patrician was not surprised to see it reveal a tall, skeletal figure, robed in black and carry a scythe. “Ah,” he sighed. Well, he thought, Vimes will ensure that my choice is known. And Drumknott will make sure that those… packages are delivered.
Good morning, Havelock Vetinari, the gaunt figure rumbled echolessly.
“Good morning,” Vetinari said, finding that he was almost relieved. “So, it is my time.”
Is it? asked Death, looking almost sheepish. I am afraid that I cannot tell.
“You… cannot?” Vetinari sat up straighter.
No. The figure drew an hourglass out of its robes. Your life timer seems to be… stuck.
As Vetinari watched, the sand in the hourglass flowed downward — as one would expect — but then inexplicably slowed and began to flow backward, up into the upper half again. The Patrician was pleased to feel himself somewhat… Well, not better, but not as ill, certainly. “Does this happen often?”
I won’t say never, said Death, but certainly not often.
“I’m sorry,” Vetinari said, “but did you say ‘orphan’?”
No, answered Death with an aggrieved sigh. 'Often.' With a ‘t’.
“Ah,” said Vetinari, leaning forward and steepling his fingers once more. “And have you any theories as to why it should act so in this circumstance?”
None, I am afraid. Have you?
“Possibly,” the Patrician murmured as the sand continued to fly upward. “It may be what the wizards call a quantum thing. Does that make sense to you?”
Not particularly, said Death. However, it does not concern me overmuch. I am certain that you, like all mortals, will be mine eventually to usher through the Dark Door.
Havelock was now feeling positively brimming with — well, again, not health, but at the very least, the lack of imminent mortality. “Do you know,” he chortled, a sound that he knew would send rats scuttling into the walls, “it is quite a pleasure to speak with someone who shares my worldview.” He gave Death a brief, respectful nod of the head.
Likewise. Death nodded back. He then looked at the hourglass; while the flow seemed to be slowing again, it was continuing to move upward. Well, Havelock Vetinari, now does not seem to be your time after all. Until we meet again. And with that, he vanished, as if he had never been there at all.
“Until we meet again,” said the Patrician. He sat for a moment, contemplating everything from his conversation with Sir Samuel to the appropriation for new street cobbles down where they’d rioted over the new curb painting program in The Shades last month (Soft ones, this time, please, the note had said) to Lady Margolotta’s latest invidious move in their on-going game of Thud — really, if she kept this up, Havelock might have to marry her, vampire or not.
Death he did not spare a second thought.
Once his mind was once more in order, he gathered himself, made sure that his desk was properly arrayed, and called out, “Drumknott!”
In case anyone's actually concerned, yes, I am still working on the conclusion of Third Person Singular!
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