Disclaimer: Vimes, Sybil, Willikins, Carrot, Drumknott, Vetinari, Keeble, Visit, Angua, Fred, Detritus, Morecombe, Slant, Mrs. Content, Littlebottom, and all Discworld locations are the sole property of the world’s greatest author, Terry Pratchett. No copyright infringement or disrespect is intended.
"You just feel free to look around at the other rooms upstairs at your leisure," Sybil Ramkin-Vimes said casually as she led the way down the stairs. "But those are the only ones we're using right now. I hope you'll be able to help with the nursery, especially, I've got so many ideas about setting it up."
"Yes milady," the girl replied respectfully.
"We'll finish up down here and then go out to the dragon... Oh good, here's Sam. Hello, dear."
Commander Samuel Vimes put his helmet on the table nearest the front door. "'Evening, Sybil," he replied. He stopped to give her a quick peck on the cheek before undoing his breastplate and stripping out of his chain mail shirt, both of which he left on the nearest chair.
"You can just leave those, Suzanne, Willikins will take care of them. Sam, this is Suzanne. She's going to be helping me out around here now that the baby's coming and all."
"How do you do, Your Grace," Suzanne said politely, curtsying.
"Never call me that again, and stop with the knee bending, and we'll get along just fine," Sam replied rather absently. He was already occupied with the pile of letters, messages and clacks that had been lying beside his helmet, and only glanced briefly at the pretty, petite servant. She looked taken back and a bit frightened.
"Sam! Oh, honestly. Sam is very sensitive about titles and such. Doesn't really approve of them, I'm afraid. You can best get away with Commander or Sir Samuel. Come, you can help me with dinner. Sam is a rather picky eater, but he usually seems happy to eat what I cook. Which is odd, rather, because I never could cook worth anything."
"I'm not picky!" Sam protested rather sulkily, continuing to peruse the messages. "I like my eggs and bacon fried hard and my steak near raw. And pork's no good if it comes from a lean animal; pigs were meant to have plenty of fat. Just because I can't stand some of the rich posh muck the nobs serve doesn't make me picky."
"Well, if you don't like what's put in front of you, you just pick at it, Samuel Vimes, and you need three good meals a day, the way you run around. It wouldn't hurt you one bit to put on a little more weight. Supper in a few minutes, dear, and I'll get you a glass of juice right away."
"Don't bother, I'll get it." He trailed after the two women into the kitchen, frowning at the evening issue of the Ankh-Morpork Times as he walked.
"We always have fresh fruit juice or lemonade cold for Sam. You can help with that, Suzanne. We don't have alcohol around except for what beer the servants keep for themselves. Well, except for when we have guests, of course. I'll certainly be able to use your help for what social events we may host. Anyway, through there is the wine cellar, all the hard spirits are down there as well, but it's locked fast and I have the key."
"Yes, milady." Suzanne was now looking rather flustered, trying to stay upright on the white-water rapids of Sybil's conversation.
"Not that Sam couldn't pick the lock in a minute if he was of a mind to, but he wouldn't do that. Sam doesn't touch alcohol."
"I'm still standing here in the room, Sybil," Sir Samuel muttered as he poured his juice.
"Sorry, dear, but it's true."
Vimes growled something unintelligible. Suzanne looked back and forth between the two. She'd added puzzled to flustered and nervous.
"Willikins and the kitchen boy do most of the shopping, Suzanne, but they could probably use your help, especially after the baby comes. But mostly, with me getting more tired out and fat every day, you'll just help me do those sorts of things a man wants from his wife."
Suzanne's mouth fell open slightly, her eyes widening and a blush touching her cheeks.
"You know, making sure the dirty clothes on the floor end up clean in the closet," Sybil went on blithely, "that all the mail and clacks that come in are kept sorted, that there are cigars and matches where he expects them to be... Sam, dear, are you alright?"
"Y...yes, just swallowed wrong," Samuel answered, still coughing after choking on his juice. He left the kitchen shaking his head and rubbing the back of his neck, which had turned somewhat crimson.
"Huh," Sybil said as she watched him leave, but with a trace of a smile. Suzanne suddenly doubted that her puzzlement was completely genuine. "Well, anyway, yes, his cigars, and of course making sure things are reasonably clean. Willikins does what butlering Samuel will tolerate, which is not much anyway, he doesn't like being fussed over..."
"Whoever the Wossname of Wherever is sitting in my chair eating what looks like this morning's Times mixed with a piece of the tablecloth. Damn, he's dribbling! There's another hole in the seat! Sybil, we've talked before about this..."
"Sorry, dear, we'll be right there," Sybil called. She turned back to Suzanne and lowered her voice to a loud whisper, "I really must keep the trainees out of the house when Sam is home," she explained, "And I'm afraid I won't be able to catch the little devils without help if I get much more awkward. Well, I did say I needed to show you the dragon house..."
"Well, what do you think of Suzanne, dear?"
"Id'nknow," Vimes responded noncommittally, stretching and wriggling as he settled comfortably into the bed, "She under-fried the potatoes a bit. And she's a little young, isn't she? I would've thought you might want a grandmotherly type."
"Well, I'm no spring chicken, dear, and having someone full of energy here to help seemed like a good idea. She's highly recommended, with good experience. Her previous position was serving the Queen of Lancre during her pregnancy and after the infant princess was born."
"Hmm. Lancre. Wondered why I couldn't place the accent. Anyway, all your nob lady friends are going to be green with envy now that you've stolen a girl from right under the nose of royalty."
"Oh Sam, you know I don't care about things like that," Sybil rebuked, without complete sincerity.
Samuel suddenly stirred himself from the verge of sleep. "Are you feeling alright, Sybil? I mean, is everything okay? It's not like you to want extra help around the house."
"Oh, I'm fine, Sam. Tip-top. Really. I wouldn't have thought of hiring someone myself. The job brokerage suggested her, it being such a convenient coincidence that she came to the city looking for just this kind of work. And we do have to face that things will become more difficult as time goes on."
Vimes settled back into the bed. "Well, I think it's a good idea then. I don't want you to overdo it. Having someone experienced in these things will be good for you." A frown formed at the corners of his lips. Alarm bells were going off in his head, trying to be heard over the 'it's been a long day and we're going to sleep now' stupor.
"She is a pretty thing, isn't she though?"
A spark of fantasy flared in his subconscious as possible dream material, completely derailing other trains of thought. Samuel stretched again, letting one arm fall over his eyes. "You know I don't care about things like that," he mimicked. "And you have more than enough energy for me."
Lady Ramkin smiled fondly and curled up next to her husband.
The Watch House was awash in controlled chaos. Watchmen doing paperwork, Watchmen chatting, Watchmen lounging, Watchmen talking to victims, Watchmen questioning prisoners, Watchmen shouting... Commander Vimes still felt a bit unnerved by the idea that his command had grown from a dispirited group of three men to... to this! It was a struggle these days to even remember all their names, and there always seemed to be new recruits he couldn't recall having met.
For Vimes, mornings at the Watch House meant facing that most hated of tasks: paperwork. He made his way quickly across the room with the goal of getting a cup of coffee and then seeking refuge in his office without attracting the attention of Captain Carrot. He was, as usual, entirely unsuccessful. He hadn't even gotten the coffee poured when he heard Carrot's hearty "Good morning, sir!" There was no escaping it. Carrot fell into step behind Sam as he made his way through the crowds and upstairs to his office.
"What's new to report, Captain?" Vimes asked, in an attempt to delay the inevitable.
"I've gathered together the major incident reports from the past 24 hours, sir," Carrot replied, holding out a small stack, "I thought this might be more efficient than putting them all in your in-box." He looked pointedly at the corner of Sam's desk where the in-box had last been seen.
Samuel accepted the stack reluctantly. More paper. He seated himself behind mountains of the stuff. Somewhere under there, he was fairly sure, was his desk. He shuffled enough of the mess to create a level surface for his coffee mug. "Okay, I'll get started on reading these right away."
"Er, before you do that, sir, we really need you to sign last month's wage bill. And Drumknott sent a rather emphatic note from the Patrician's office yesterday, reminding you that you still haven't returned the trial schedules he sent over last week. Those require your signature and the names of the assigned Watchmen. And the enrollment orders for..."
"Okay, okay, Carrot, one thing at a time." Vimes took a long swallow of coffee, then patted his pockets until he found a cigar and match. He took his time lighting the cigar, blew out a smoke ring, then eyed the vicinity of the in-box. "Could you, er, give me a hand here?"
"Certainly, Commander." Carrot managed to sound perfectly respectful and yet convey an element of reproach that made Vimes squirm with guilt. The Captain began gingerly sorting through the piles nearest the semi-mythical in-basket.
Samuel's mind immediately wandered off in search of something less boring to consider. Shuffling through the papers closest to his chair, he put down, and immediately lost, the reports Carrot had handed him earlier.
"Carrot, the job brokerage is over on Cheap Street , isn't it? You familiar with the place?"
"Here, I found the wage bill. Mr. Keeble's place? Yes, sir. Liona is a pleasant enough fellow, quite dedicated to matching the jobless with the best position. Ha, here're the new recruit enrollment orders! Uh, sir, you didn't put the wage bill down without signing it, did you?"
"Um... no... er... wait... here it is. Okay, there's got to be a pen here somewhere..." Samuel began digging through the desk drawers. "Who's on patrol over that way this morning?"
"Don't you have a copy of the rota up here? I still can't find the trial schedules."
"Humor me. Run downstairs and check the rota while I sign this and get started on the reports." The Commander took a swig of his coffee for fortification before he scribbled what looked vaguely like "Vimes" on the appropriate line.
"Oh, I know who's on duty there, sir. Constable Visit and Probationary Constable Silicanslateslayers. I just thought you should have a copy of the rota handy. Where could the trial schedules have gone?"
‘He’s got the rota memorized,’ Vimes thought wearily, ‘And I don’t even recognize some of the names on it.’ "Silicanslateslayers? That's a mouthful. Troll?" Vimes guessed.
"Yes, sir. Well, technically Slate can't go on patrol until you've signed these." Carrot rescued the wage bill and replaced it with the enrollment orders.
"Okay, okay." Sir Samuel began writing, his signature becoming ever more illegible. "Slate, eh? Good. I can see as how 'Probationary Constable Silicanslateslayers and Constable Visit-The-Ungodly-With-Explanatory-Pamphlets' would take up a full page on the rota. Gods, a new troll in the Watch, and in this heat. Alright, as soon as I finish with these I'm going to catch up with them. I've got to walk over that way to speak with Keeble. And I should at least be able to say I've met Slate. I'll send Visit back here to help you with the schedules, once you've found them. Have him dig out the name of the arresting officer for each case. I'll check and sign them when I get back. Okay, here's the enrollment orders finished."
"Are you talking with Mr. Keeble about Suzanne?"
"You've met her already? Good gods, man, I only met her last night, and she's going to be living under the same roof with us."
"She just arrived by coach a couple of days ago. She's from Lancre, where I grew up. So she did get the job as Lady Sybil's girl?"
"She started last night. How did you know about it?"
"When she got off the coach she was quite at a loss. First day in the big city, you know. I remember how that was. At any rate, she approached me, feeling she could trust a member of the Watch, I'm proud to say. She told me how she had been Queen Margrat's lady while she was carrying and nursing Princess Esmerelda, and asked how she could find a similar position here. Oh, look, here are the trial schedules, under this stack!"
"Oh goody," Sam replied sourly, "Look, I'll do those as soon as I get back. I'm getting writer's cramp."
"If you say so, sir. Well, when Suzanne said that, of course I thought of Lady Sybil, and how nice it would be for her to have someone to help out. Especially because your duties here do keep you away from home long hours of the day and often into the night, partly because you won't delegate more. No disrespect meant, sir."
"I'm sure," Vimes growled, even though he knew somewhere inside that he was being unnecessarily nasty. "But I thought Keeble sent her over."
"Well, I took Suzanne to the job brokerage, sir, feeling that was the proper way these things are done. But I did mention Lady Sybil to Mr. Keeble. What do you think of her? Sir, there are unsigned leave requests sitting here!"
"It's hard to say, I don't interact a lot with the servants. But Sybil seems happy showing her the ropes at the house. So, did you know Suzanne or her family when you were growing up? You've apparently met every living and undead soul in Ankh-Morpork, and Lancre hasn't got much of a population."
"No, sir. I grew up in a dwarf community, remember. You have read these memos, haven't you, sir?"
"Doubt it. Can't reach them clear over there. Anything important? Any of those leave requests from Nobby?"
"I only write memos about things I think you'd want to know, sir," Carrot admonished, "Um, three are Nobby's."
"Hand them over, then, with Nobby's on top. That's true, the mountain dwarves pretty much stay to themselves." Vimes wrote 'DENIED' in large block letters on the first three leave requests, then went to work signing the rest, "Give me the short version of the memos, then, while I finish these."
"Before I left to join the Watch, I really only knew one human."
"That's in a memo? Oh, sorry, never mind, go on."
"Well, this one's about Fence Spencer. He got killed in a fight in the Shades last week."
"Old Fencer? Damn. He was a bloody good informant, given the right incentives. Wife and kid at home, if I remember correctly. Had a satisfactory funeral, did he?"
"Yes, sir. The Watch covered half the cost, since we had to confiscate his inventory and return it to the rightful owners. The Thieves' Guild covered the rest of it."
Vimes handed over the leave requests, then took a wallet of personal vouchers from his pocket and scribbled in it. "Here, make sure this gets to Fencer's wife. I doubt the Guild will be paying her any death benefits."
Carrot looked briefly at the scrip before pocketing it. "That's very generous of you, sir. You always think of the ones other people forget about, the truly needy people who sort of fall between the cracks."
"What else have I got to do with my money?" Vimes replied gruffly, "Can't drink it away any more, Watchmen have a formal Widows' and Children's Fund these days, and Sybil buys me anything I need before I realize I need it."
"Uh, sir, some of these leave requests are for dates that are already past."
"Well, then, you just wasted my time by having me sign them, didn't you?" Samuel retorted irritably. He'd had just about enough of Carrot's subtle nagging for the present. "Just leave the rest of the memos there, Captain, I'll get to them later. Now, where did those incident reports go?"
"I just gave them to you, sir."
"I realize that, Carrot. Got to be here somewhere. Damn, this coffee's gone cold. Ah, here they are, knew I had them right here. Any of these have to go to the Patrician?"
"Sir, all of those might be covered with Lord Vetinari. The more minor reports are still waiting for you downstairs."
"Godsdamn, all of them?!" Vimes rubbed his forehead where a headache was settling in. "Okay, let me look these over quickly, then I'm off. I'll meet you at the Palace at 1:00 ."
"Yes, sir, only, if we show up at the Patrician's office without the trial schedules..."
"OKAY! Okay, let Corporal Visit finish them off, then bring them with you to the Palace at, say, 12:45. I'll check and sign them before we see Drumknott. In fact, here, bring these incident reports with you too, and meet me at 12:30 . I've had about as much paper as I can handle for the moment." Vimes pushed back his chair and started making his break for the door. "Slate shouldn't be left on the streets alone. Tell Visit to meet back up with him at, say, the Curry Gardens at 12:20 . I'm heading out... now, Captain Carrot. Don't even mention those papers you just picked up." He stalked out, leaving Carrot behind to forlornly balance paper stacks.
The fiendish and malicious clock in the antechamber outside the Patrician's office said 12:55 . The irregular ticking, along with the heat spell that held Ankh-Morpork in its merciless grip, were turning Sam's headache into something reminiscent of the hangovers of former days. At least he'd gotten through the trial schedules and taken down in his trusty notebook the dates and times of those that he wanted to attend personally. Now Carrot, who seemed to get along much better with Vimes' Dis-Organizer than Sam himself did, was patiently teaching the appointments to the imp while Vimes finished scanning the incident reports.
He'd already read yesterday's day shift reports at home last night. It annoyed Sybil immensely, he knew, that he'd started bringing home paperwork, but she accepted it because it meant Sam was getting home for dinner regularly. Well, almost regularly. Okay, at least four days out of seven. Usually.
Incident reports were probably Vimes' least loathed form of paperwork. He liked reading up on what his Guardsmen had been doing. It made him feel that he hadn't completely lost touch with what was happening in the city. The stories, however, came in a myriad of styles, none of which were easy to read. A report from a dwarf was likely to read like the saga of a great battle. Visit's were filled with religious references and words like "smote" and "asunder". Carrot tended to collect all the commas from half his reports and throw them ballisticly into the other half. Everyone had their own unique spelling rules. It was best to not even mention the reports from the trolls.
It was Vimes' considered opinion that the Patrician's extensive spy network would already have informed his lordship about everything that might be in the reports, and quite probably several other incidents of which the Watch was totally unaware. The trick was guessing which of the matters the Patrician would consider worthy of his attention, and reporting on them. If you guessed right, Vetinari would listen with apparent interest, and then ask detailed or tricky questions that might or might not appear pertinent. Relate something he didn't want to hear about, and you ran the danger of being subjected to a discreet yawn, designed to send shudders down the stoutest of spines. But failure to report on an incident Lord Vetinari considered important would be punished with sarcasm, irony, and possibly sardonic or even satirical remarks, which were enough to ruin a man's whole day. And night.
"There you go, sir," Carrot said sprightly, handing the Dis-Organizer back to its owner. Vimes pocketed the thing and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes against the headache.
"How did your meeting with Mr. Keeble go?" Carrot was never one to let what could be a peaceful moment go by without filling it with friendly conversation.
"Well, Suzanne's letter of recommendation from the Queen is fine. 'Trustworthy, dependable, good companion, sorry to see her go, will miss her, wish her the best, etc.' Apparently the girl just grew bored and wanted to experience life here in the big city, as so many of them do. Nothing unusual, except she grew bored with living in a castle."
"Lancre isn't wealthy, sir. The castle probably isn't as much a place of luxury as, say, your home. Why do I feel as though you're still not satisfied?"
"Mmph. Carrot, what's the fastest way I can get an inquiry to Queen Margrat?"
Carrot frowned in concentration. "Communication with that part of the world is still pretty haphazard, Commander. Letters from home usually take weeks to get here. The closest the clacks get is Pseudopolis. You could have a personal messenger sent from there, if you don't mind the expense."
Vimes studied the back of his eyelids for a moment, then sighed. "Remind me to stop by the big tower after we finish here."
A week went by, followed by another. Vimes got a new in-basket and put it on top of the papers under which the old one was buried. It was already overflowing.
The heat wave held on like a very tenacious furnace. Everyone was irritable, and fights, ranging from women stabbing their husbands to riots in the dwarf section, were on an upswing as a result. Crimes such as unlicensed thieving, on the other hand, were down, primarily because it just wasn't worth the effort in this heat. Slate was not doing well, since his brain was barely functioning enough to keep him upright, much less learn the ropes of the Watch.
Suzanne, on the other hand, was fitting in quite well. She'd learned to get the potatoes nice and crunchy, and she almost always remembered to get the young trainees out to the dragon house before Vimes was due home. Sybil was already wondering how she'd ever gotten along without her.
"Gods, this bloody heat's a killer!" Sir Samuel had begun stripping off armor and chain mail even before he got the front door closed. Suzanne met him with a glass of lemonade in hand.
"You're a wonder, I'm half dead of thirst." Vimes took several swallows of the juice, his other hand scratching irritably at his chest, stomach, ribs and back where his sweat-soaked shirt clung to him. "How'd you know I was about to walk in the door?"
"I happened to look out the window from upstairs, sir, and saw you coming up the street."
"Good timing. Where's Sybil?"
"She's at a meeting at the Sanctuary, sir. She said to let you know she would probably be late and not to worry."
"Mmph." Vimes acknowledged, "Think I'll go up now and have a bath then, get this damn sweat off me." He finished the lemonade in thirsty gulps and handed her the empty glass.
"Willikins is out, sir. I'll draw the bath for you, but dinner is nearly on the table."
"Thanks, but I'm really not hungry. It's too damned hot. And I can draw my own bath, I should think." He picked up the mail.
"Sir, Lady Ramkin will be dining with her friends tonight. She said I should put proper food in front of you, and you would eat. She was quite emphatic about it, sir. I could have your bath ready by the time you're finished eating." Suzanne was nearly wringing her hands.
"Oh, very well," Sam groused. He was too hot and tired to argue with Sybil, even by proxy. He sat down at the dining table, quickly becoming engrossed in the mail. Food soon appeared in front of him and, as Sybil had predicted, he began eating on autopilot.
Vimes blinked his eyes hard, trying to focus through the sweat that had apparently dripped into them. There was still nothing from Lancre. Well, who knew how inefficiently things might run in a tiny kingdom like that. He really felt rather ridiculous now anyway about checking up on Suzanne. She was a timid little thing, anxious to please, and Sybil seemed to like her a lot. Someday he was going to have to work on not being such a suspicious bastard.
The letters on the papers continued to blur. Sam stretched, yawning, and rubbed his eyes. When he started the Ankh-Morpork Times Late Edition, the tiny type made his vision swim. It didn't really matter, he decided, he was too tired to concentrate anyway. He yawned again. The heck with the bath, he just wanted to lie down and sleep for a few hours.
The food he'd been eating suddenly seemed to sit unsettled in his stomach. He tried washing it down with more lemonade, but that made him feel even worse. Maybe Carrot was right and he really should take things a bit easier. No, it was probably just this heat.
He realized suddenly that Suzanne was standing nearby, watching him oddly. "I gotta ge' some sleep," he told her. He started to stand, but his stomach lurched and the room spun. Gods, he felt awful! On the second try he got to his feet, but the room seemed suddenly darker, and he fell jarringly to his knees. He tried to focus on Suzanne, who was watching him dispassionately. "Something's... wrong... I can't... think I'm... sick... Ge-get Willill...kins."
Suzanne smiled nastily. "Sorry, he's out this afternoon, remember?" she answered, her voice a mocking singsong.
Sir Samuel fell forward, barely able to break his fall with his hands. He tried to push himself up, but his arms were useless.
He realized he'd been stupid, a damn bloody stupid idiot. Suzanne had access to the daily mail and clacks. If she saw something from the Queen of Lancre, she could just pull it when Sybil wasn't looking. And of course a copy would have been sent to his office, where it was probably nicely buried on his desk...
"Damn you... Godsdamn you..." he whispered, as cotton enfolded his brain, "You... you... poisoned..."
The darkness poured over him and he slipped into nothingness.