My Brother's Keeper
"Commander, there never was any antidote hidden away."
It was what Vimes had been expecting, considering the Patrician's behaviour, yet hearing the words still made his blood run cold. He shook his head in denial.
"You're certain, sir? How can you be positive?"
"Commander, I myself administered a lethal poison to Mr. Corbis. Not a gentle killer, but a vicious concoction which brings death only after three to four hours of hideous and increasingly excruciating agony. I told him he would be given the antidote if he told us all he knew. He admitted to killing his wife, your sister Alice, and disposing of her body in a deep crevasse not far from, ah, ‘Bad Ass' in Lancre. He admitted to designing this extortion plot with the help of his mistress, Suzanne Alberts. Miss Alberts, it turns out, was not a stranger to Ankh-Morpork, but had visited here in her late teens. At that time she had an affair with an unknown but probably now deceased student of the Assassins' Guild, who taught her what little she knew about poisons.
"Mr. Corbis did give us one bit of information which could be crucial: he believed that Miss Alberts administered the poison in Lady Sybil's tea. That was all he knew, Sir Samuel. I am sorry, but unfortunately I am quite certain."
Sam dropped into the nearest chair, trying to digest and accept the information. "So those assassins in my kitchen, you think they can do something for Sybil?" he asked, a bit desperately.
"If they can isolate and identify the poison used, they will know if there is an antidote and, if so, how to prepare it. They are the best the Guild has to offer, Sir Samuel, which means they are the best alive at their craft."
Sam nodded stiffly. He sat in silence for a moment, his jaw clenched, lips pressed tightly together. "Sir," he said finally, "Did you give Corbis the antidote?"
"There is no antidote for the poison he was given."
Sam looked up sharply.
"I lied to him. It was necessary to be certain he would tell me everything that might possibly be useful. The man was guilty of murder, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to the unauthorized use of poisons, and of course extortion, not to mention lesser crimes such as assault with intent to kill Captain Carrot. I decreed that he be put to death for his crimes, Commander, and I chose the most effective method of carrying out that sentence. That is my job. A part of my job, at any rate."
Sam broke eye contact and, staring at the carpet, nodded slowly. "Yes, your lordship. But how do you sleep at night?"
"Tonight, I will sleep in the knowledge that I have done all I humanly can to save Lady Sybil's life"
Samuel slowly buried his face in his hands.
The Patrician gave Vimes his privacy and, after checking on the work in the kitchen, let Carrot accompany him back to his carriage.
A few minutes later, Sir Samuel walked back upstairs to sit by the side of his wife. He passed Angua without so much as a nod of recognition.
Time passed. For Sam, the phrase had lost its meaning.
Carrot came into the room quietly, radiating good will and concern. "Mister Vimes," he whispered, as though he might disturb Sybil, "I thought you'd want to know. The assa... the gentlemen in the kitchen found the tea things that the, er, poison was in. Suzanne hadn't washed out anything. They think they've sorted out a sample of what she used. That's good news, sir."
"They think," Sam said bitterly, after a moment's silence, "They think. So now they have to figure out what it was, right? And then they need to find out if there even is an antidote. And if there is, they have to mix it up, assuming they have all the ingredients. Is that the plan, Carrot?"
Carrot swallowed hard. "Um, yes sir, but at least they've made a start. And they are experts at this sort of thing."
Vimes sighed. "Right. Experts."He hadn't taken his eyes off Sybil's face during the entire conversation. It was obvious her condition was worsening. There was almost no color in her face, except dark smudges around her eyes. Even her lips were very, very pale.
Carrot stayed for a few minutes, but there was nothing more to be said, and it was obvious Sir Samuel didn't want to talk.
A lot more time passed. Sam realized this because the sun had set and he had to light a lamp in order to see Sybil's face. Occasionally he heard muffled conversations downstairs and, several times, the front door opening and closing.
It was Angua who came in the next time. She brought a slice of Klatchian Hots, and lemonade in a take-away cup. "Commander, they know what the poison is," she said without preamble, "They've done all sorts of alchemy tests, plus they say that the symptoms are just what would be expected. There isn't exactly an antidote, sir, but there are things Lady Sybil can be given to counteract the effects. They're putting it all together now, sir. It shouldn't be much longer. Corporal Littlebottom's down there helping out."
Vimes took a very deep, very shaky breath. "Tell me something, Angua. Honestly. Do you believe this stuff they're mixing can save her? Do you really believe it?"
"I believe, Mister Vimes, that there's a good chance. The best chance we have. Here, take this food. I won't even try to convince you to get any sleep, but you at least have to eat. You're injured and you're exhausted and I'm willing to bet you haven't had a bite to eat all day. You'll end up passing out at this rate."
Sam looked at the congealing cheese. Then he turned his eyes up to Angua. She wished he hadn't. In the forefront was a plea to take the food somewhere far, far away. But behind that was a kind of hollow, bottomless, unbearable despair. They were eyes turned toward the depths of all hells.
"I'll... I'll just leave this," Angua stammered, backing toward the door while she struggled unsuccessfully to stop looking at those eyes, "Try... I know you don't want to but if you can hold down even a little food..." She reached the bedroom door and fled.
More time passed. The door downstairs was opening and closing rather frequently. Eventually Sam picked up the Klatchian Hots and deposited it in a trash bin. He drank the lemonade.
The next time the door opened, it admitted both Carrot and Angua, and Corporal Littlebottom as well. The dwarf was carrying a teacup on a saucer. There was a short eyedropper on the saucer as well. Her hands were shaking so hard that Sam could hear the items clattering together.
"S...Sir, we need to get this down Lady Sybil's throat. All of it. We can, um, dribble it a bit at a time on the back of her tongue and she should swallow r-reflexively. Sergeant Angua has w-water with sugar and salt in it, and if we... if we alternate the two it m-might work better or at least make swallowing easier."
"What's in it? What's it going to do to her?"
"Lots of things, sir. It's as though the poison was, well, slowing everything down. I-If you slow down all the body's activities far enough, th-they... they s-stop altogether. Basically, we just need to, well, wake her up, sir. All parts of her, I mean."
"And she'll be alright then?"
"If we can bring her out of this coma, sir, she should recover just fine. It's just that, sir, it's just that the longer she's been unconscious, the worse everything is. And we just don't know... oh sir, I-I'm so sorry, b-but we just don't know if we're already too late."
"Give me that cup," Vimes ordered, his voice suddenly determined and firm, "I'll do it. Angua, put that beaker of water down here on the bed table where I can reach it."
The mixture in the cup was dark brown and viscous and smelled strongly of sharp, peppery spices and Katchian Red Desert Special coffee. Vimes cringed and shuddered. He was fairly sure that if he inhaled enough of the vapors, especially in his current state, he'd be terminally afflicted with over-sobriety.
Dribble, dribble, dribble. A dropper-full of mixture. A dropper-full of water. Waiting for Sybil to swallow. Another of mixture. Another of water. He only dared go so fast. It seemed the level in the cup barely changed.
"How long should it take this stuff to work, Corporal?" Vimes asked without taking a break from his task.
"Once you've gotten it all down her, not long, sir. I-If... I-If it's... If it's g-going to w-work, i-it shouldn't take m-more than f-fifteen minutes, I'd guess."
"Corporal Littlebottom, I hope you don't think that, if this doesn't work, I am going to hold you personally responsible. You look about to faint from sheer terror."
"I-It's not that, sir. I... I've just never made anything, or helped make anything, s-so... so important. People's lives don't usually d-depend on me, sir."
"Corporal, you're a copper. People's lives depend on you every day. They're just not usually people you know. Now, I want you to go downstairs and keep chatting with those... gentlemen in the kitchen. If this doesn't work, we're not going to just give up. I want you working on alternatives."
"Yes, sir." The dwarf set off downstairs, seeming almost relieved.
Another dropper of mixture. Another dropper of water. Come on, swallow, pleaseswallow. Gods, what if she chokes?
"Carrot," Angua said quietly, "Let's see if we can help downstairs."
"I don't really think there's anything..."
"Carrot," she repeated, exasperated.
The Captain looked confused, then slowly enlightenment dawned. If he were in Mister Vimes' place right now, knowing that the next few minutes would tell if Angua would live or die, he wouldn't want anyone standing around watching over his shoulder.
"Oh. Yes, we should see if there's anything we can do to help. Uh, Mister Vimes, sir, we'll just be... I mean..."
"You know I want to be alone with my wife right now, but that doesn't mean you don't care, and you both want me to realize you're here for me if I need the moral support. Yes, yes, I got all that. Even I can occasionally hear what's not being said, Carrot."
"Yes, sir. Come on Angua."
Vimes worked in silence in a world where nothing existed except the dropper, the cup, the beaker, and Lady Sybil.
And then the cup was empty. The sound it made when he carefully put it on the table was surprisingly loud in the silent room. Sybil was still, white, and cold as an alabaster statue.
Sam Vimes looked at his watch. And waited.
He remembered the day Sybil had given him Errol, the total whittle that had saved Ankh-Morpork from a monster dragon.
He remembered that first awkward, candlelit dinner, and her bashful, hopeful smile, that somehow would always be The First Smile.
He remembered how amazed he had been to discover that her idea of a nourishing breakfast was his idea of the perfectly prepared meal. With an orange thrown in, of course.
He remembered Sybil somehow making the best of their frenetic, haphazard wedding, in spite of the chaos that had surrounded it, in spite of Vimes himself.
And his watch said five minutes had passed.
He remembered Sybil, after the bandit attack, tears running down her cheeks, saying, "I knew you'd come up with something, Sam. I wasn't frightened... I'm sorry I let you down." She thought she'd let him down.
He remembered her standing at the top of some stone stairs, holding an iron bar with a werewolf-shaped bend in it.
He remembered Sybil changing the course of history, and coincidentally saving their lives, with her amazing soprano rendering of Ironhammer's Ransom opera. And he hadn't even known she could sing!
He remembered her dressed in a massive array of light blue finery, and he in those godsdamned red tights. How her voice had been only a touch impatient. "Can I have your attention for a couple of minutes? I'm going to have a baby."
Ten minutes. Sybil hadn't stirred.
Because of Sybil the Watch had moved to Pseudopolis Yard, and the dragon had been stopped. Because of Sybil he had given up the booze, and become the Commander of sixty Watchmen rather than the Captain of three. Because of Sybil he was sometimes able, almost, to keep up this charade as His Grace Sir Samuel, the Duke of Ankh.
Because of Sybil, he had seen, for the first time in his life, a real future.
Sam could not bring himself to look at his watch.
He thought about what his future would be without Sybil.
He had a brother to find, and a sister to bury. And after that, he would crawl into a whiskey bottle and never come out again. Oh, it wouldn't be a conscious decision. He would fight it. But Sam Vimes was a man who knew his limits.
He would have a wife and an unborn child to bury. Dead partly because of his thoughtlessness. And after that, sobriety would be beyond his ability to endure.
He looked at his watch. He had no choice. Maybe it hadn't been as long as it seemed.
It had been almost twenty minutes since she'd swallowed the last of the dark brown mixture.
Sybil continued to lie as still and cold as death.
Vimes buried his face in his hands.
There were barriers and dams within the psyche of Samuel Vimes that were massively thick, composed of solid granite and reinforced with the finest dwarf iron. They held in place huge reservoirs of emotions, memories, responses, and reactions that were Not Allowed. Some of those barriers had been in place since he was a young boy growing up on Cockbill Street .
But now there wasn't a barrier left on the disc that could hold back the grief, and the tears began to fall. They ran down his face in rivers. A detached part of his brain was surprised he even remembered how to cry like this. He must have done it as a small child, but he'd given it up at a very young age. Sam's shoulders shook with great, wracking sobs. He wept so hard he could barely breathe, his chest and stomach aching, his nose clogged and running, but he sobbed in silence. The only sounds were the ragged, whistling gasps as he struggled to inhale.
Sitting with Carrot on the upstairs foyer couch, Angua could not help hearing. Adversity was no stranger to any werewolf, and Angua took pride in her emotional control, but now she wept in sympathy. Instinctually, she longed to stand on a high, snow-covered mountain peak, throw back her head, and howl.
"Is... is she...?" Carrot whispered.
"N-no. I don't think there's b-been any change. But the Commander, he's... he's just given up h-... wait... Wait!"
Samuel wept more fiercely than he would have believed possible, and still it did not seem enough.
He was crying so hard, he didn't notice, in fact couldn't notice, when his wife's breathing changed.
"Sam? Sam, darling, what is it? What's the matter?"
Cool fingers brushed the damp hair off his forehead, stroked his temple.
"Sam, please, talk to me. Whatever it is, we can get through it together."
Vimes lifted his face and looked into the concerned eyes of his wife. He was too deep in the abyss to fully comprehend.
"Darling, nothing can be as bad as this. Can you tell me what's wrong?"
He took her forcefully into his arms, crushing her against his chest, clinging to her for all that he was worth, and cried uncontrollably.
"There, there, dear. Can't you stop, dear, please? What is it? I've never seen you so."
"I... I th-thought... I thought I was... g-going... going t-to... going to l-lose y-y-you."
"Lose me? Don't be silly. Come now, whatever do you me... oh."
He lifted his head to look at her, one hand cupping her cheek. "I th...thought you were... were going to... were going t-to d... going to d..."
"Sam," Sybil's voice was clearer now, and urgent, "Sam, what's happened? I don't feel quite well. Awfully woozy, actually. And I can't remember clearly. Where...? How did I get here? Why...? Oh, my gracious... Sam! I remember Suzanne... Sam, I think she put something in my tea!"
Vimes sniffed noisily, scrubbing at his face, still hiccupping. "It... It's okay, Sybil. You're right, b-but... it's all... it's all taken care of now. She... she isn't going to hurt anyone anymore. You're... you're g... you're going to be fine now."
"Sam," Sybil's voice was hollow as death, "Sam, the baby..."
"M-Mrs. C-Content thinks he... it... uh, wh-whatever will be f-fine. She says th-the poison didn't affect th-the baby."
Sybil sighed hugely with relief.
"Sybil, she s-said it's g-got a heart. I mean, already. Sh-she said she could hear its h-heart beating."
"Could she, dear? How wonderful!" Sybil's smile glowed in spite of the pallor of her face.
She fondly wiped some of the moisture from her husband's cheek. "So everything's all right now?"
Vimes nodded, and managed to look exceptionally happy in a rather watery sort of way.
"Uh, Sam?" Sybil's smile toned down a bit, becoming somewhat shy, "You were really crying like that just... only because you were worried about losing... about me?"
Sam took her in his arms again, snuggling down so they were both resting on the pillows. "Yes, and it was b-bloody unpleasant, so you'd just b-better not scare me like th-that again."
"I'll try to remember, dear," Sybil said with a bit of a giggle.
"I had just never g-given any thought... Gods, how do you put up with m-me, just taking everything for granted?"
"I'm your wife, dear, you're supposed to take me for granted."
Samuel chuckled, and yawned, and sniffled, and eventually began to softly snore.