Chapter 4: "The…er…god of love."
If the great playwright Hwel had written of the best possible evening for a serenade, he would certainly have included a clear night sky of velvety blue-black dotted with shimmering stars. The full moon would give off an ethereal light. He might have thrown in a slight, warm breeze scented with wisteria. Nightingales would sing. Crickets would chirp. Bees would buzz merrily in the cherry blossoms. All of nature from the skies overhead to the creatures that creep, crawl or fly would be on their best behaviour, for this was a night for lovers.
There was a reason why Hwel preferred not to set his plays in Ankh-Morpork.
"Drumknott, I just felt a raindrop."
"It's not going to rain, your Lordship. Look, the sky is clear as…it ever gets here."
There was a pause.
"I felt another one."
"We'll be there in a minute, sir. It's just around the corner."
Drumknott quickened his pace, the cobbles of Turnpound Street like pillows of the sweetest air, giving his walk the buoyancy of the lover hastening to his beloved. He sucked in a deep breath. The air! Though the Ankh, stink-infested river of the city, sludged its way nearby, the night was as fragrant as a spring blossom. The stars glittered… Well, the sky was quite overcast, really. But Drumknott knew that above the ominous looking dark clouds, the sky was just as it should be: velvety and shimmering.
There was a lute slung across his back and several sheets of paper tucked into his pocket. Beside him, the Patrician walked with a lute-shaped cloth in his hand. His cane tapped the cobbles. A gust of wind caught his robe and sent cold air up his legs.
"It's a bit on the nippy side out here, Drumknott," he said.
"Is it, sir? I hadn't noticed."
Lord Vetinari glanced at his clerk. The young man grinned in a manner his Lordship would characterize as slightly insane. At his last dinner at Unseen University, he'd seen the Bursar, a man permanently on medication, grin like that.
Continuing with Hwel's idea of the classical serenade, the lady would have a convenient balcony from which she could gaze on her beau as he performed from either the lawn below or from the height of a sturdy, convenient tree. There would be a trellis with vines that snaked up the wall of her home. Her room would likely face a garden or some other secluded riot of greenery where the aforementioned nightingales, crickets and bees sang harmony to the lover's melody.
No such place existed in all of Ankh-Morpork with the possible exception of a few noble houses in the richest neighborhoods on the far side of the Ankh. Turnpound Street was solid lower-middle-middle class and didn't hold with nonsense like lush gardens and trellises. Cheery's house did have vines but they were the rather insidious kind with little suckered stems that put one in mind of tiny, wall-scaling lizards.
Drumknott stopped in front of the house. "There it is," he sighed.
"I certainly hope her window doesn't face the street," said the Patrician.
"Oh no, sir. It's around back. This way."
The buildings on Turnpound Street had been built nearly shoulder to shoulder with only small alleys in between. Cheery's house had an alley accessible by a narrow metal gate.
"Blast, it's locked," said Drumknott. He checked that the lute was squarely on his back and gripped the top spikes of the gate. "If you could give me a boost, your Lordship…"
The Patrician removed from somewhere in his robe a piece of metal that resembled a dull needle. It could've been a hair pin, but that wasn't the kind of thing patricians were supposed to carry around.
"Step aside, Drumknott," he said.
"But sir, I think Cheery might be angry if she finds out we picked—"
Click. The Patrician had Certain Skills. One of them involved never letting a lock of any kind keep him from going where he wanted. He tucked the pin away and opened the gate.
Drumknott's qualms evaporated as he stepped into the alley. It turned onto the back of the four-story house where the garden was not much more than a patch of brown grass with an elderly maple tree whose leaves had begun to fall among a few sickly shrubs. But the tree reached the third floor – Cheery's room – and had a branch that looked just sturdy enough for a man. The manic grin returned to Drumknott's face.
There was also a balcony. It was extremely narrow and the railings were rusty. Various items of clothing hung on a clothes line. Drumknott sighed. Her clothing.
The Patrician viewed the surroundings with a different mindset. The tree looked barely able to hold the weight of a decent sized bird much less Drumknott. The shrubs would not give Vetinari acceptable cover unless he squatted down. The squat was unavoidable; though he'd been trained to blend into the background in his assassin days, he'd never learned how to disappear a lute. As he looked up with distaste at the balcony, another drop of rain plopped onto his face.
"Drumknott, this is all quite unacceptable," he said.
"Look, sir! There's a light in her room." A shadow passed across the sheer curtains that covered the balcony doors. Drumknott tested a low branch of the maple tree. "Will you give me a leg up, sir?"
With a sigh, the Patrician set down his lute and stick and cupped his hands for Drumknott. The clerk was not athletic and needed several tries and a good heave from his employer to get him up on the first branch. It wavered under his weight.
The Patrician watched from the foot of the tree as the clerk found another hold and progressed toward the thick branch that stretched towards Cheery's window. Bits of tree bark slid out from under Drumknott's shoes.
"Almost there, sir," he whispered. There was, however, a slight problem. Drumknott did not normally climb trees in the course of his duties as Palace clerk, and he did not own the type of shoes made for tree climbing. The soles were relatively slick and covered with a material that allowed him to walk the Palace halls in silence.
A gust of wind made the tree sway. Drumknott's shoes scrabbled on loose bark, then slipped completely. He grasped a branch with both hands, it snapped, and he fell, twigs and rogue dry leaves scraping his face until one hand closed around a single weak branch. He breathed hard as he swung gently for a moment like a one-armed pendulum suspended in the air. Finally, he got a grip with both hands, hooked his left leg onto a neighboring branch that shed itself in all the excitement of an abandoned birds nest, and pulled himself back to a sturdy spot.
"No harm done, sir," Drumknott whispered after he got his breath back.
The Patrician slowly removed the birds nest from his head and dropped it on the ground. There were no eggs, thank goodness, but there were strips of what looked like paper from dirty postcards and a number of grubby feathers. He picked several twigs out of his hair and glared up at his clerk.
"I advise you, Drumknott, not to do that again," he said.
The clerk wriggled his way into within a few feet of Cheery's balcony. He stretched out on the chosen branch, which dipped a little under his weight. After testing his balance, he pulled the lute into position.
"I think I'm ready, sir," he said. He tucked the papers under his leg and gazed at the balcony door.
The Patrician took his lute behind the shrubs and unwrapped it. It was of better quality than Drumknott's. Both instruments had been "borrowed" from the collection of the Guild of Musicians, which surely wouldn't miss them for one evening. The Patrician didn't normally play music but he was a gentleman. Every gentleman had learned how to play the gentlemanly instruments: the lute, flute, pianoforte and triangle. There was something distasteful to the Patrician about music pulled out of bits of wood, cat gut, metal and wire, but he was prepared to set aside his own feelings on the matter. For the moment. He softly strummed the lute. The chord hummed sweetly.
"First song, Drumknott," he said in a stage whisper. "Tresch ol'k Spruhl."
Drumknott peered down at the paper under his leg. It was rather hard to read in the dim evening light. His fingers were ready at the lute strings.
"The other way."
The Patrician closed his eyes. "The lute. Hold it the other way."
Drumknott adjusted the instrument.
"All right, sir."
"As soon as I begin, count to ten before starting."
The Patrician began to play. Tresch ol'k Spruhl was a traditional Dwarvish love song, its melody resembling a slow and more complex version of Old MacDonald. The refrain even included an "e-i-e-i-o." It was amazing how cross cultural music could be.
After counting to ten and strumming the air in front of the lute strings, Drumknott began to sing. Several problems soon arose. He couldn't read music. This was unfortunate because though the Patrician had explained that the song was about a young dwarf who sought the attentions of the daughter of the foreman of his mine, Drumknott couldn't follow exactly where the words fit with the melody. He also couldn't sing. Or understand Dwarvish.
The Patrician flinched behind the bushes but played on. Things had sounded much better in practice. Perhaps they'd concentrated too much on pronunciation and not enough on musicality. A couple of raindrops splattered across his face. Yes, the evening was only going to get better, he thought.
The neighborhood cats were quite pleased by the music. Some began to screech. A flock of birds erupted from a fence and cawed as they took to the air. The curtains of Cheery's balcony door slid back.
Drumknott looked on with delight, singing his heart out, his hand now limp on the lute strings. Cheery stepped onto the balcony, ducked under the clothes line and gaped.
"What are you doing? Are you insane?"
Drumknott lost track of where he was in the lyrics, but sang on gamely. If it was possible, the song now sounded even worse.
"You'll wake up the neighbors!"
"We're already awake!" A man hung out the window on the floor above. "Cut the racket, a'right? Some people's got work tomorrow!" He slammed the window.
The song ended.
"Cheery, my dear," Drumknott said. "I have arranged a selection of music and poetry to delight your heart." He let the lute dangle from its strap and rearranged his papers. A raindrop hit bullseye in the center of the top page. The ink ran.
"Will you just go home?" Cheery groaned.
"Just hear me out." Drumknott cleared his throat. "Grzk ol'k prenp ret mol ol'k grah." He threw out a hand to the air, as if declaiming on stage. "Grzk ol'k prenp barl tamp lowl kah; Blel stok mank brrr krak ol'k buhl; Grzk ol'k ben dez…" He squinted at the running ink on the page. "…glar…pohl…druhl?" He looked up. Behind the bushes, the Patrician put a hand over his eyes. Cheery stared at Drumknott in shock.
"What did you say?"
In confusion, Drumknott looked at his papers again. Raindrops fell steadily now and made matters worse. He leaned back in the tree a bit and tried to whisper out of the side of his mouth.
"What did I say wrong, sir?"
The Patrician waddled on his haunches as close to the tree as the bushes would allow.
"Glar brohl, you fool! Not pohl."
"What's the difference?"
"You just said her lips are like giblets!"
"Oh." Drumknott turned back to Cheery, who stared at the bushes.
"Who's over there?" she demanded.
"Yes, there is. I heard him."
"It was the sweet, sweet wind in the trees, my darling."
"Then who were you talking to?"
"The…er…god of love."
"The…er… one who gets bad tempered in the rain." Drumknott's hair dampened as he spoke. "Perhaps another song, my dear?"
Cheery held out a panicked hand. "No!"
Drumknott changed papers and held the lute at the ready. "A-one. A-two. A-one, two…"
The Patrician was not pleased at the situation. As a young man, he hadn't minded rain. That was some time ago, however, and his bones had the annoying habit these days of protesting when subjected to both wet and cold. He was also not accustomed to spending large amounts of time stooped on his knees. He was a tall man. Stooping was an effort. It was also rather undignified for a man of his station.
He strummed up the next song. Water twanged in his face as it flicked off the lute strings. Drumknott began to sing. Cheery gaped at him for a while, then began furiously unpinning the laundry from the line.
"I'm not listening," she announced.
Drumknott sang on.
"I don't hear anything!" Cheery slapped a wet skirt over her arm. Her beard drooped in the rain.
The papers with the lyrics were illegible due to running ink so Drumknott improvised. The song was now a mish-mash of whatever Morporkian and Dwarvish words flashed into his head. He relied on the language of the heart to see him through.
"You're not even playing," accused Cheery. "Your hands aren't moving."
Drumknott's hand started strumming again a few inches from the soggy lute strings. In the bushes, a cold trail of rainwater made its way across the Patrician's neck and down his back. He played and relished how much his clerk would owe him for this. Owe him for life.
The song finally ended with a sad little shriek of the Patrician's lute that sounded like someone stepping on a cat. Drumknott sang on until he realized the music had stopped. Cheery heaved the pile of laundry into her room and stomped back onto the balcony.
"I'm not impressed, you know," she said.
"I'm much better at poetry." Drumknott's papers were so wet that he couldn't read them any more. "Yes, a poem," he said loudly, glancing down into the bushes. "That would be lovely." He waited a moment. Cheery glared at him. He leaned back a bit and spoke even louder. "A poem. What a wonderful idea. Yes. Poetry."
The Patrician considered letting his clerk squirm on the branch awhile. But then he reasoned the sooner the poetry was out, the sooner he could get out of that infernal rain.
"O how thine eyes do shimmer in the night," he whispered.
Drumknott sighed with relief. "O how thine eyes do shimmer in the night."
"White as flocks of lambs, brown as…brown as…"
The Patrician suddenly couldn't think of anything attractive of a brown color. Mud. The Ankh. What dogs left in the streets. Oh dear. That certainly wouldn't do.
"…brown as… a very high quality walnut desk," he said finally.
Drumknott repeated this, uncertain.
"With varnish," the Patrician added.
Cheery leaned over the balcony rail and pointed accusingly at the bushes.
"I heard him again."
"It was no one, my darling."
Cheery lifted her hands to the sky as if beseeching the gods to help her. "What do you want from me?" she cried.
Drumknott's heart twisted in his chest. Her agony. It was unbearable. He inched closer along the slick branch. His papers were plastered to the bark.
"O Cheery, crown of beauty, I want only to make you the happiest dwarf on the Disc."
In the bushes, the Patrician clapped a hand over his mouth. He wasn't a particularly sensitive man but he knew it wasn't the moment to laugh out loud.
Cheery frowned at Drumknott as she tried to ring the rainwater out of her beard. "I'm the most embarrassed dwarf on the Disc," she said.
"Cheery, my dear, won't you come to dinner with me on Friday night? Just dinner. I swear I…" Drumknott moved closer. "…won't embarrass you. Or get you into trouble again." The branch swayed in the wind.
Cheery looked unsure of herself. "You did all this for a date?"
"We'll eat whatever you want. Dwarfish, Klatchian, Genuese. Anything."
She stared at him with uncertainty. "You won't sing anymore."
"Not a word."
"Your Dwarfish is terrible."
Drumknott swiped wet hair out of his eyes to gain a better look at his beloved. She was soaked to the bone and irritated and tired and… radiant. He held out a hand to her. "What do you say, Cheery?"
She blinked away the rain from her eyes and looked hard at him. Before her was a pale, beardless young man with twigs and leaves sticking out here and there from hair plastered wet on his head. His clothing clung to his thin body, and it appeared that he'd lost a shoe. His eyes glowed like he'd eaten of certain mushrooms that caused pleasant visions. He was straddled across a wet tree branch that would surely give way at any moment. All together, his was not an image that inspired confidence.
Cheery tugged nervously at her beard and took a deep breath.
"Oh. All right."
From his hiding place the Patrician smiled, forgetting for a moment the cold rain and the ache of his knees.
Drumknott let out a loud whoop and clasped his hands in the air as if he'd just won a prize fight. Then he fell out of the tree.