**Mysteries are so good in Ankh-Morpork, so I couldn't resist doing one of my own. You'll get intriguing questions, puzzles, riddles, action and more…promise! Disclaimer: DW is Pterry's. **
1. Lady in the Rhododendrons
A porcelain bowl filled with water steamed on the bedside table. Lady Sybil Ramkin Vimes dipped in a cloth, wrung it out and held it to her nose before pressing it to the forehead of the woman lying in the great four-poster bed.
"Wakey-wakey," said Sybil.
The bed creaked as she sat beside the woman, discarded the cloth and picked up a spoon sloshing with soup from another bowl.
"Mmmmm," she said. "Soup." She blew on the spoon and tilted up the woman's chin. "Open up…"
The woman's eyes fluttered open. She seemed to register the spoon but didn't like what she saw. She groaned. One-handed, Sybil pinched open the woman's jaw and poured the soup down. Coughs, sputters, a glare from the woman.
"I am sorry about that but you have to eat," said Sybil. "You haven't had a thing since we found you."
That was two nights ago. The butler Willikins spotted something amiss when he was shutting up the windows of the house for the night. A lantern hoisted high in one hand and a long birch stick in the other, he investigated the bower where the rhododendrons grew and found something that didn't normally show up in the overgrown Ramkin-Vimes garden. A strangely-dressed woman lying unconscious and feverish in a bed of dark green leaves and fuchsia blossoms. No questions asked, Sybil had taken over caring for her. The fever was starting to abate.
She propped the woman up a bit more on the pillows and took the soup spoon again.
"Chicken soup," said Sybil. "Good for what ails you." She did the forced jaw opening manoeuvre again.
Sweating into the pillows, the woman squeezed her eyes shut and tried to fight Sybil's well-meaning but slightly painful nursing method.
"Stop it…please…" she groaned.
A new spoonful stopped half way to her mouth. Sybil hadn't heard her say anything understandable before. During the fever, the woman had mumbled various things in several languages. Most of it Sybil didn't understand, even when the woman threw in a few recognizable Morporkian words. They were random words like bridge, angle and budget. She thought she'd heard the woman say "schematic at ten scale," but she wasn't sure.
It didn't matter much. Sybil worked with sick dragons and was writing a book about their medical problems and no feverish woman whining "Stop it" was going to stop her from caring for her patient.
"It's a jolly good soup, you'll love it," she said, pinching the woman's jaw again and pouring down a few more spoonfuls of broth.
"No…" The woman weakly pushed Sybil's arm away, spilling soup on the comforter.
"Now this won't do." Sybil wiped the comforter with the edge of her sleeve.
The woman coughed and mumbled…
The spoon clattered to the floor.
"What did you say?"
The woman turned away and curled up under the covers. Sybil touched her damp hair and wiped her forehead again with the cloth. There was a soft knock on the door and Sir Samuel Vimes, commander of the City Watch, poked his head in.
"She awake yet?" he whispered.
Sybil waved him in. He did it reluctantly; Vimes never liked intruding on a sick room. It made him feel like oversized people do in shops with narrow shelves full of fragile, breakable items. A false move and things could go very, very wrong.
"She's getting better," said Sybil. "At least I got some food down her."
"We've got to search her pockets, Sybil. I can't find out who she is unless she volunteers the information or we get it ourselves. There's still no missing person report fitting her description."
On the wardrobe door hung the woman's gown, which Sybil had forbidden her husband to touch. It wasn't because she had fallen in love with the gown the moment she saw it, thought that was also true. The blue silk not only shimmered, it seemed to glow, reflecting light like a gem. Silk threads were woven with strands of gold. On the back of the gown -- and this is what impressed Sybil -- a large gold dragon flicked and curled his tail as he flew through golden clouds. Golden discs were sewed on the rest of the fabric, repeated over and over, some kind of symbol inside of each that Sybil didn't recognize.
Out of a sense of decency, she'd refused to let her husband search the gown. Private pockets were private. After two days and no missing person report, though, even she was beginning to think it was time to make a moral exception. But first things first.
"Sam, listen. Just a moment ago, she said something."
"This morning you said she said 'flat head screwdriver.'"
"She did say that but there was something else. She said 'Havelock.'"
Vimes rubbed his stubbled chin. "You're sure?"
"There aren't too many words you can mistake that for."
True. He couldn't think of any himself. "How many Havelocks do you suppose there are in the world?"
"There's only one that I know of in the city."
Vimes examined the woman again using Copper Vision, the eye-balling of a person that when working correctly tallied all relevant details in a few seconds.
Age: Mid to late thirties.
Hair: Dark brown, long, easily tangled, curls (natural?), some greys.
Eyes: Closed. Sybil said dark brown. Long lashes, lines in the corners, shadows beneath.
Face: Quite tan (natural?), long, peaked nose, high cheekbones, well-arched eyebrows, small birthmark on left temple, faint trace of lines on the forehead as if she often wrinkled it when perplexed, angry, etc., full lips, strong chin, ears pierced (Sybil had removed the earrings, dangling gold circles with dangling gold…dangly things attached).
General: Tall, strong build, manicured fingernails, faint traces of ink stains on left fingers.
Those were the details, which added up in Vimes' mind to a left-handed lady of means who looked vaguely foreign, maybe from one of the countries edging the far side of the Circle Sea. She'd certainly arrived dressed foreign. He'd never seen anything like the blue gold gown. He was surprised no dwarves had come battering down the door with the smell of gold in their nostrils. The thing was worth a fortune.
So how could a wealthy lady like that turn up alone in his garden muttering about screw drivers, schematics and somebody named Havelock that he really, really hoped was not the Havelock he knew?
"We have to search her pockets, Sybil."
"It just doesn't seem right," she sighed.
"Then let's ask."
Vimes got as close to the bed as he cared to and said, "Ma'am, do you have any objection if we search the pockets of your gown?"
"Sam!" said Sybil, her hands on her hips.
The woman turned over on the mattress. Vimes shrugged. "She didn't say no."
It must be said that Sam Vimes was not a man who normally indulged in the sensual pleasures of fine fabric. If it was cold he wore wool. If it rained, he wore oiled leather. If it was hot he sweated into linen whose quality had improved since he married the richest woman in Ankh-Morpork.
But the moment he touched the woman's gown, there were a few seconds when he forgot about locating the pockets. His fingers slid across the silk of their own accord. It was like the softest skin he'd ever felt, it was like water, it was like…
And then he shook himself out of it and got down to business. One pocket, built inside a fold of the gown that crossed from the high collar to the left hip where it was closed with a button that looked suspiciously like a sapphire. His hand disappeared inside the fabric – he had the sensation of reaching into a cool bowl of water – and withdrew the only thing he found. A palm-sized oval an inch thick covered in red velvet. He turned the thing over in his hands, found a silver clasp on the side and flipped it open.
"My gods…" breathed Sybil.
It was an iconograph, but of better quality than any they had ever seen. It was awash in colour but sharper than the imp-painted images they knew. Eerily real to life, the figures in the iconograph had crisp features and minutely detailed colour at a much wider spectrum than the 24 only the most high-priced imps could offer. In front of what looked like a backdrop of an Ephebian temple, the feverish woman was there, staring out of the iconograph with a troubled expression. Beside her, three children stood in order of height, two girls and a boy. The oldest girl was under ten years old. She gazed out of the picture with a sombre blue-eyed stare Vimes knew only too well.
"It can't be," he said.
"But she looks so…"
"It could be coincidence."
Sybil put a hand on her husband's arm. "I'd think it was if she hadn't said--"
"Havelock," the woman muttered again from the bed as if on cue.
Vimes and Sybil stared at her. Then he fiddled a bit with the velvet picture frame and succeeded in peeling away a side of it, allowing him to slide the iconograph out and take a look at the back.
The woman turned over again in bed, her fists thrust under her cheek.
Vimes and Sybil were no longer looking at her or the back of the iconograph. They were looking at each other, a shared moment of shock.
"I better go talk to him," said Vimes.
At the Palace of Ankh-Morpork, the Patrician Havelock Vetinari, supreme ruler of the city, looked at the image for quite some time. Vimes remained standing on principle when he was in the Oblong Office, and it was a better vantage point for examining the Patrician's reaction to the iconograph. Thus far, nothing could be read on his face. It was, as he gazed at the woman and children, completely blank.
Vimes hadn't bothered to explain finding the woman in the Ramkin garden. He simply had himself shown into the Patrician's office and asked him if he recognized anyone in the picture.
Finally, Lord Vetinari looked up.
"May I ask where you acquired this, Sir Samuel?"
"You recognize them, sir?"
"I wouldn't say that."
That wasn't much of an answer. Vimes sensed he was walking on a thin sheet of something slippery and potentially dangerous. He tread with care.
"I got it from the woman in the picture."
Vetinari dropped his gaze to the iconograph again and spoke only after a long pause.
"Do you know who she is?"
"Not yet, sir."
"She won't tell you?"
"She's not able to. Yet."
Vimes filled in the details about the woman.
"There are no ladies reported missing in the city?" asked the Patrician.
"None that fit her description, sir. She had nothing else on her to help us identify her. And she hasn't said enough for us to fix whether she's even from here. She might be foreign by the look of her and her clothing."
The Patrician levelled a mild stare at Vimes. "And what made you bring all of this to my attention?"
Vimes knew very well the Patrician knew what had brought Vimes to his office. It stared out of the iconograph with cool blue eyes.
"The oldest girl, there. She has a resemblance, sir. To you."
"Does she?" The Patrician stared at the iconograph for several more long moments during which Vimes became hyper aware of the silence in the office.
"Hm," said the Patrician.
"Spitting image, I'd say."
"Do you know her, or anyone else in the picture, sir?"
"I can't say that I do, commander." The Patrician closed the velvet case with a definitive snap and slid the iconograph across his desk.
"Why can't you, sir?"
The words were out before Vimes could stop them. There was a long, frozen silence, during which Vimes got the full brunt of the Patrician's laser glare.
"You know what I meant, Sir Samuel."
He chose a paper from one of the stacks organized like a checkerboard along his desk and picked up a quill.
"She called your name, sir. The woman."
Lord Vetinari glanced up.
"What exactly did she say?"
"Just your name."
"My first name."
Vetinari shrugged. "I am surely not the only Havelock in the world."
"You're the only one we've got around here. And there's something else."
Vimes picked up the iconograph and slid the print out. He laid it back side up on the desk. The Patrician glanced down.
Isabella, Octavia (7), Antonia (5), Marco (5)
Ankh-Morpork, Year 13.
"I saw that and I couldn't help thinking, hm, that looks a lot like Lord Vetinari's handwriting," said Vimes.
The Patrician turned the iconograph over and looked at the figures again, Isabella, the woman, Octavia the intense-faced girl Vimes said was his spitting image, Antonia with her impish smile, Marco looking off to the side as if something in the wings caught his attention.
"Forgery is possible," Vimes was saying, "but with that girl and the woman saying your name…"
"You're curious, naturally. You have a curious mind." Lord Vetinari slipped the iconograph back in its frame but gazed, still, at the picture.
"It might be a good idea if you came out to see her. Maybe she'd--"
"I don't think that's a particularly good suggestion. When she's more talkative, she will surely tell you who she is and you can return her to her family. I don't see what help I could be."
"Maybe she'll recognize you."
"Many people recognize me, commander. My face is on the coinage."
Vimes watched the Patrician calmly lift another sheet of paper, a different one from before, and settle back to read.
"I reckon it could be coincidence," said Vimes carefully.
The Patrician continued to read.
"Except I've been a copper long enough not to believe in those."
The Patrician turned the page over. "It must be fatiguing, always trying to find a plan in a series of accidents."
"You're right about that, sir. And more often than not, I find one."
The paper in Lord Vetinari's hand rustled in a "this discussion is over" fashion.
Vimes turned to leave, his suspicion growing, gently at the moment, a ripple in the waters, but it was spreading. He had his hand on the door handle when the Patrician said from behind his paper, "Your curiosity is contagious, commander. I will visit at four o'clock."
When he was alone again, Lord Vetinari set down the paper and took from a drawer a note he had received that morning. He'd read it several times already, but he wanted to do it again in light of Vimes' visit.
Greetings from Uberwald,
Many good wishes on the occasion of your fifteenth anniversary in office, your lordship. I have sent you a very special gift, something that all rulers, at some point, want. I very much enjoyed Sir Samuel's visit and applaud you for employing such an interesting man. I would have liked more time with him. He can be very instructive. Alas, the pressures of time for mortals. My well wishes again, and I do hope you enjoy your gift.
With Sincerity, etc.
Lady Margolotta von Uberwald
Three months ago, Vimes had returned from the crowning of the Dwarf King in Uberwald, where he'd reported to the Patrician that he'd met the vampire Lady Margolotta. Lord Vetinari never thought of her as an old friend in the times, now and again, when he thought about her. Nor was she a rival despite her political shrewdness and control over certain parts of Uberwald. He had met her briefly in his youth, had been instructed and entertained and life had gone on.
By what Vimes had told him, the lady hadn't changed much over the years. Any present from her was bound to be both interesting and…unsettling.
"We had a close call with you," said Sybil. "That fever was almost as tough as the Ulian Blue Spotted Fever. Dragons get that, you know. Well, if they've got an infection of any of the membranes lining the…"
Technically, the woman had no fever anymore but she was still on the edge enough to feel a head ache coming on from Sybil's graphic description of a disease the woman groggily hoped wasn't contagious from dragons to humans. A hot bath a few hours before had done the trick, and then a short nap, and for the first time, the woman could pull herself up against the pillows and look around with a clear head. She was in a tastefully decorated room whose furniture was rather musty, as if it had been good quality a hundred years ago but not used much since.
"There's tea," said Sybil after she finished her recitation on dragon fever.
As the woman reached out for a cup, the arm of her white dressing gown flopped over her hand. It was one Sybil had found in one of the closets in the Ramkin mansion. It had obviously been worn by someone with inordinately long arms. Or so the woman vaguely thought. She pulled up the sleeve a little.
"Thank you, Sybil."
Sybil sat in the chair next to the bed and dropped a spoonful of sugar in her cup. Like dragons, people with fever often heard snatches of what was happening around them. She assumed the woman had heard Sam say her name.
"You'll be back on your feet and fit as a figgin in no time," said Sybil. "You're welcome to stay as long as you need to."
"Wonderful of you to offer, but…" the woman sighed, "I probably should go home. Especially after what I did. The other guests must have been appalled, me falling over like that. I am so sorry, Sybil. You'd planned the ball for so long and I had to go and spoil it."
It should be said that Sybil Ramkin Vimes was pregnant. Some days she didn't feel quite, perhaps the word would be stable. There were chemical changes going on inside of her that she suspected were not meant to happen in a woman her age. They made her moods swing like an axe, sometimes very near to her husband's neck.
When she heard the woman talk about a ball, she laughed until there were tears in her eyes.
"Me plan a ball? I can barely fit into the shoes! And it'll be a bit more time before I can jolly well fit into my gowns again." The nature of Sybil's tears shifted suddenly. "As if the dresses I had didn't use enough fabric and now it's even worse. I'm swimming in double knit the size of a sail…" Sybil wiped her nose with a handkerchief she kept in her sleeve for the purpose. "Gods only knows what Sam thinks of me now."
"Sam?" the woman asked.
As if on cue, Sam Vimes knocked at the door and looked in. He was surprised to see the woman upright and alert while his tearful wife was collapsed in a large heap beside her. The woman stared as he helplessly patted Sybil's back.
"Is there a problem, captain?" she asked.
Sybil wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her dress again and pulled herself together. "He's not a captain anymore. It's commander now. And duke too. We're all very proud of him." She gave him a weak, tearful smile.
For Vimes' part, the woman's gaze reminded him of something but he couldn't put his finger on it. At least the mystery of where she was from seemed to be solved. Her accent was much the same as his wife's, a slight upper class Ankh twang.
"Just commander will do, ma'am," he said.
The woman still stared at him as if she was trying to decipher a complicated code.
"When were you promoted?"
"Several years ago."
"I'm not Sleeping Beauty," she said, smiling. "I haven't been feverish that long."
Sybil and Vimes exchanged glances.
"We found you lying in the rhododendrons two nights ago," said Sybil.
"We don't usually find people passed out in our garden, so we were wondering who you are and what you were doing there," said Vimes.
"Your garden?" The woman put a hand to her forehead.
"This is our house, it was our garden we found you in, you're sleeping in our bed and drinking our tea," said Vimes. "Which is fine with us. We'd just like to know what you were looking for out back in the middle of the night."
The woman closed her eyes for a long moment, her hand pressing her temple.
Sybil, who was on the upswing of her mood, patted her arm and smiled in a friendly fashion. "Can you tell us your name? Isabella, is it? We saw it on your iconograph. I apologize on behalf of my husband for looking in the pocket of your gown. I didn't think it was a polite thing to do but I was over ruled."
"Your…husband," said Isabella, little wrinkles etched on the skin between her eyes. "You wouldn't just… Sybil, it's…" She looked over at Vimes. "I want to know what's happened."
"So would I," said Vimes, taking out a notebook and pencil. "Can we have your name, please?"
"This is ridiculous."
"You're just a bit weak from the fever but you'll soon be right as rain," said Sybil.
"Tell us where we can reach your family," said Vimes, "and we'll take care of the rest. Send you back in a carriage. I'm sure Sybil'll have the servants make some sandwiches for you if it's a long way."
"It's all right," said Sybil.
"Isabella…" Vimes prompted.
"But…" She stared at them, then shook her head. She finally said, "Capelli."
"C-a-p-e-l--i?" The name rang a bell to Vimes, but he couldn't place it.
"Two l's," said Isabella, rubbing her eyes. "And of course Vetinari. V-e-t-i--"
"I know how to spell that," said Vimes.
He had the sudden sensation of looking over a very steep, very slippery cliff. Below were a series of sharp and threatening looking rocks. He wished he had better boots. In his notebook, he scribbled the name and circled it a few times, tapping it with his pencil.
"You're related to the Patrician?" Sybil asked conversationally. "Our families have known each other for ever, really, and I haven't heard of you. Are you cousins?"
"What…?" Isabella pushed the covers aside and tried to stand up, but she wavered, a hand on a bed post. Sybil had to ease her back down.
"This is absurd."
"Could you please answer Sybil's question, Miss, er, Vetinari?"
"It's Lady," she snapped. "Which should answer the question, capt…commander."
Vimes suddenly remembered where it came from, the way she looked at him. The look of mild distaste that most people, but especially nobles, used to give him in the old days – and still did, to some extent -- when whiskey was his best friend, he hadn't known Sybil and he hadn't been awaiting the little bundle of joy that had him so worried he was up nights fretting about the trials of fatherhood. He felt a momentary imbalance, as if he'd stepped back in time. But Sybil was there, and this was his house…
There was a single, brisk knock at the door. Vimes hesitated for several moments before opening it just wide enough to see Lord Vetinari in the hall. The Patrician blinked.
"Am I to be allowed in, Sir Samuel?" He backed up a step when Vimes slipped out, pulling the door to behind him. The Patrician considered the look on Vimes' face. "Is there something you should be telling me?"
For a split second, Vimes actually thought there was. But, he figured with a hint of malice, the Patrician would find out soon enough. He took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
Lord Vetinari managed two steps into the room before he stopped short.
"Sir, this is…" Vimes cleared his throat. "…the Lady Isabella--"
The Patrician smiled politely.
The smile wavered.
The smile dropped like a stone. Slowly, like he was approaching a curious and possibly dangerous animal, the Patrician stepped closer to the bed. Isabella turned her eyes away from him.
"You didn't have to come," she said. "A carriage would've been sufficient."
The Patrician examined her for some time. Vimes inched along the wall to get a look at his face. It revealed nothing he could pin down.
The silence in the room could've been cut with a guillotine. When the Patrician finally spoke, his voice seemed weak, as if he spoke in a vacuum.
"I'm afraid I can't help you here."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite sure. Perhaps we could speak for a moment in the hall."
Isabella turned to the Patrician. She looked resigned about something. "I should go home, Havelock," she said. "I'm sure the children are wondering where I am and there's so much work to do." She pushed the bed clothes aside and tried to stand up again but she paled immediately. Sybil had to help her back down.
"If you would excuse us, ladies," said Lord Vetinari, turning abruptly. With a sharp wave, he commanded Vimes to follow him into the hallway.
Outside, he lowered his voice. "The poor creature is obviously having delusions," he said. "I suggest you contact the Capelli family and return their lost daughter."
Vimes was capable of looking blank, revealing on his face little about his actual feelings, but the trick wasn't working then. The Patrician tapped his walking stick with irritation.
"You look skeptical, Sir Samuel."
"I may only be a nobleman by accident but I think that a Lady Vetinari has to be either your mother or your--"
"I believe I said she seems to be under a certain amount of mental strain," said the Patrician slowly. "The fever must have been more virulent than it seemed."
They stared at one another, a duel that Vimes knew he'd lose. He couldn't help it, though. The wheels of his policeman's mind, a bit worn and rusty as they were at times, turned with a suspicion he hardly knew how to name.
"Just so I'm sure I have this clear, sir, you have never seen her before."
The Patrician's gaze chilled. "I thought I was clear about that, Vimes."
"Clear as the Ankh."
After another spell in which the two men regarded each other like snakes, Vetinari said carefully, "Her face is not familiar to me."
"Her name, then?"
"If I recall, the Capellis used to be a moderately successful merchant family." The Patrician gazed at the silver knob of his cane. "I'm sure they will be delighted to have their missing daughter back. As soon as possible. And now, do give my apologies to Lady Sybil. I will not be staying for tea."
The Patrician turned and rapidly descended the stairs.
Inherently dark places – cellars, mines, closets, abandoned factories, windowless, claustrophobic rooms – were the black-haired creature's favorite. Darkness gave a clarity to the mind. The forms of things from candlesticks to people wavered and faded, softened into a symphony of greys and blacks. The absence of colour, she had explained once to her lover, was one of the requirements for true peace among mankind. When skin and eyes and hair descend into shades of gray and black, no judgements about another could be made on the basis of colour.
It was only a theory, part of an academic discussion. The creature really had no interest in peace.
That's why she wiped her lips with a black handkerchief she kept in her sleeve and calmly stepped over the limp and pale corpses in a cellar of a section of Ankh-Morpork she was told was called the Shades.
The name had attracted her. It fit her social theory.