** Margolotta's answer to the riddle what all rulers want was in the Gift chapter. Vetinari's version of the riddle and answer was in the What all Patricians Want chapter. And no, I wasn't going to leave you without an explanation of Isabella and the dress, the first and last mystery of the whole story. Here it is…**
22. The Secret Hope
Death was not dressed as an admiral. He was wearing white. It made him look like an extremely tall and thin, elderly man with a laurel wreath around his bald head and a healthy set of grinning white teeth. It wasn't even a robe like the black one he usually wore. It was more of a long toga in the Ephebian style. An end of it draped over his left arm. Left humerus. He was a skeleton, after all.
He stood with one set of metatarsals and phalanges thrust forward out from under the hem of his toga.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE…
A bony finger punctured the air.
THAT IS THE…
And then he noticed the circle of gaping or, in the case of the Dean and the Archchancellor, smirking wizards that surrounded him.
The bony finger descended.
I LACK THE GLANDS TO HAVE REAL FEELINGS, BUT I DO HATE IT WHEN YOU DO THAT.
"Sorry, sir," said Ponder Stibbons.
The Great Hall of Unseen University had been decked out for the occasion. The candles in the chandeliers overhead were lit. The marble floor was covered with wizardly symbols. Roast beef sandwiches were arrayed at the side board in case anybody got hungry later.
The senior faculty, knobby staffs in hand, formed a magic circle and Death was the epicenter. Outside of the circle, the Patrician focused on the white figure that was several heads taller than the tallest wizard. Most people saw Death as a hazy form, normally because most people thought a grinning seven-foot tall skeleton with a scythe was either impossible or just plain scary. Vetinari was scared of very little and had learned in his years in office that nothing is impossible. To him, Death was crystal clear.
Before the ceremony, Isabella had been bombarded by various magic spells the wizards nervously assured her were in no way damaging to her brain, circulatory system or sense of balance. If after the rite she forgot how to count to ten while having heart palpitations and the urge to fall over, that was pure coincidence.
She stood in front of the Archchancellor and gaped at Death.
He turned his flaming blue eyes to her.
YOU LOOK FAMILIAR.
Bony toes clattered on the marble as Death stepped closer and peered down at her. Then he turned to the Archchancellor.
SHE IS THE REASON YOU SUMMONED ME.
"Yes, sir," said Ridcully. "We're in a bit of a fix, here. You see, she just showed up a while back and apparently, you'll laugh about this, sir, she's supposed to be deceased. Young Stibbons here thinks she's from another dimension or club sandwich or some such nonsense, but--"
NO, SHE IS NOT.
"Didn't think so," smirked the Dean. He rolled his eyes at Ponder. "STUMs. Pah!"
"She's Undead then, mystery solved," said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. "Roast beef anyone?"
NO, SHE IS NOT UNDEAD.
"You owe me ten dollars, Runes," said the Dean smuggly.
The Chair of Indefinite Studies raised his hand while making excited "Oh! Oh!" noises like a schoolboy who would later be thumped in the yard by his fellows for his enthusiasm.
"She never died!"
The Chair looked pleased with himself. The Senior Wrangler patted him on the back.
Ponder was shaking his head.
"If she isn't from another dimension, where did the Dragon Gown come from? It couldn't have been lying around somewhere without somebody in the Disc's magic community noticing."
Death swung his gaze back to Isabella. She shrank against the Archchancellor.
WHO GAVE IT TO YOU?
In her mind, the gown had been something of a reconciliation gift. The weeks before Sybil's ball had been more tense than usual for the Vetinaris. Once the word divorce had been spoken between them, cracks crept into her husband's composure. The coldness turned to low-level anger, then annoyance, and then, in the end, a kind of repentance. When he gave her the gown, it was the first time in six months they'd been alone without an appointment made beforehand.
"My husband gave it to me," she whispered.
Death nodded and looked off into space. AND HE RECEIVED IT FROM A DRESSMAKER WHO RECEIVED THE FABRIC FROM AN AGATEAN TEXTILE HANDLER WHO RECEIVED IT FROM A WEAVER WHO EXTRACTED THE THREADS FROM SILKWORMS RAISED IN THE MULBERRY TREES IN THE CLOISTER OF THE MONKS OF HISTORY.
And then Death said:
This was not encouraging. The wizards flinched. The Archchancellor had to pry Isabella's fingers off his robe to keep her from ripping it.
Outside the circle, the Patrician couldn't quite hear what was going on. He heard what the wizards said, but Death's voice was something like a deep echo in a faraway room. He saw the flinch, though, and concluded what anyone would who'd just seen six wizards cringe.
Death adjusted his toga though it didn't make him look any more prepared for the business at hand. He didn't look serious in white.
I WILL DISPOSE OF THE SILK. THE MONKS WILL BE TOLD TO GUARD THEIR WORMS BETTER IN FUTURE. THEY AREN'T MEANT TO WRIGGLE OUT INTO THE WORLD. PERHAPS SOME KIND OF CHICKEN WIRE FENCE AROUND THE MULBERRY TREES WOULD DO IT.
He began to fade.
"Wait!" cried Isabella. "What about me?"
After a moment, Death solidified again.
OH. YES. PARDON.
He held up a bony hand. An hour glass appeared. The frame was white marble shaped like two ionic columns. Sand trickled from the upper bulb, which was still half full.
EVERYTHING SEEMS FINE HERE.
"But she has memories of things that never happened here," said Ponder, "and she has a complex scent that even the undead have never experienced before."
OF COURSE SHE DOES.
Death looked puzzled about the wizards' puzzlement. He tipped his skull to the side like a curious puppy. Then he snapped his finger bones.
AH. I WILL EXPLAIN.
The hour glass disappeared.
I ASSUME YOU NOTICED THE GOWN CHANGING.
"That's right," said Ridcully. "The dragon changed the way it faced."
"And the colour," said Ponder. "It shimmered like glass and well, the octarine was so concentrated we could barely keep track."
THE DRAGON DID NOT CHANGE ITS FACE, IT INVERTED ITSELF. THE COLOUR SHIMMERED NOT LIKE GLASS BUT LIKE A GLASS: A MIRROR. AN INVERTED IMAGE IN A MIRROR IS A REFLECTION.
He turned to Isabella.
YOU PROBABLY NOTICED YOU'RE LEFT-HANDED NOW.
She nodded. The scar from the gonne also sat opposite of where it should in her memory.
UNTIL THE SILK WAS WORN YOU DID NOT TECHNICALLY EXIST. YOU ARE A REFLECTION OF THE LADY WHO DID WEAR THE GOWN.
Isabella stared at Death as if she hadn't heard him right.
The wizards did a collective furrowing of shaggy white eyebrows, with the exception of Ponder. He excitedly took off his glasses and started polishing them on his robe.
"A glass reflects an inverted image that's basically the same as the original." He held up his glasses. The lenses didn't do much in the reflection department. The lighting in the hall was wrong. "I need a mirror!"
The Senior Wrangler removed a small round compact from a pocket of his robe and passed it to Ponder, who opened it eagerly. There was a thin powder puff inside. Ridcully and the Dean exchanged glances.
"It's my sister's," said the Senior Wrangler. "She asked me to hold it one day and I forgot about it."
"We will be discussing this later, Senior Wrangler," said the Archchancellor.
Ponder held the open compact at arm's length and pointed at his reflection in the little mirror. "If I look close enough at the reflection, I can see another one in its eyes, and if I could see even tinier, there'd be another. Images to infinity." He flashed the mirror at Isabella, who turned away from it quickly. "That must be why your scent was so interesting."
The Patrician didn't like the sound of any of that. He stepped closer to the outer edge of the magic circle.
"How could this happen?" asked Isabella. "All I did was put on the dress."
NO, A VERSION OF YOU DID. AND SHE LOOKED AT HERSELF IN A MIRROR AND SAW YOU.
"A reflection isn't real," said Ridcully. "But you just showed us her timer."
Death tapped his foot in a show of impatience.
WHAT GOOD IS A MAGIC REFLECTION IF IT DOESN'T PROJECT ITSELF THROUGH SPACE AND TIME TO FIND A PLACE WHERE IT TOO CAN BECOME REAL? IT'S THE SECRET HOPE OF EVERY REFLECTION.
Ponder hurriedly snapped the compact closed.
"So if I'd really put on that gown," said the Senior Wrangler, "not that it would fit and not that I really wanted to, mind you, but if I had, another me would've popped up somewhere?"
"If you looked in a mirror," said Ponder.
"Without me knowing? I mean the original me, the me who first put on the gown." The Senior Wrangler noticed the stares of his colleagues. "This is all theoretical."
"I should hope so," said Ridcully. "We hardly want a version of you in face powder wearing a ladies dress running around where we can't keep an eye on you."
THE ORIGINAL DOESN'T KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES OF ITS ACTIONS.
Death turned to Isabella again. Despite having a grinning skull for a face, he managed to look like a creature with a bloody lot of work ahead of him.
OTHER REFLECTIONS PROBABLY ENDED UP IN WORLDS IN WHICH AN ORIGINAL VERSION OF THEM ARE STILL AROUND. YOU CAN IMAGINE THE MESS IT'LL BE TO SORT THAT OUT. REFLECTIONS GET AGGRESSIVE WHEN CONFRONTED WITH AN ORIGINAL THAT CANCELS THEIR RIGHT TO EXIST.
THERE COULD BE CAT FIGHTS.
The wizards did a round of silent brainstorming about the kind of spells needed to find the Isabellas in other worlds. They'd heard of cat fights. They involved females and fingernails and screeching and, if the spectators were lucky, more clothing torn than hair.
Death sighed, a feat since he had no lungs or throat to speak of.
MAYBE THE MONKS HAVE CAUGHT ONTO THEM ALREADY. YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND, ARE NO PROBLEM AT ALL. YOUR COUNTERPART IN THIS WORLD IS DEAD. YOU DISRUPT NOTHING BY REMAINING HERE.
"But I don't want to stay here!" cried Isabella. "I have to go back to my family and work and--"
I'M AFRAID YOU CAN'T GO BACK. YOU'RE ALREADY THERE, SO TO SPEAK.
"I don't belong here!"
YOU DON'T BELONG WHERE YOU THINK YOU CAME FROM EITHER.
Isabella looked helplessly at the wizards. They avoided making eye contact.
Death didn't have a heart but he could see that the human in front of him was distressed and could use a few positive words. Before he faded away again, he said, DON'T WORRY, YOU'LL GET USED TO IT. HUMANS ARE AMAZINGLY RESIILIENT.
The laurel crown was the last thing that could be seen before Death disappeared completely.
The wizards instantly relaxed. It wasn't because Death had been particularly scary or the magic had been difficult. They could sense that the Dragon Gown was no longer in the university cellar. In universes beyond count, shimmering Dragon Gowns disappeared from wardrobes, boxes and, in one case, from an Isabella who was dancing at an embassy ball. The wizards might have enjoyed a peek at that world too.
Isabella stared at the spot where Death had been. Her face looked like it had been carved out of a block of ice.
Ridcully cleared his throat. "That didn't go as well as we'd hoped."
"I don't think there's anything else we can do," said Ponder. "It's true; there can't be two of you anywhere. Not permanently, anyway. If we tried to send you back somehow, it would wreak havoc on the--"
"You're not helping, Mr. Stibbons," said Ridcully.
The Dean patted Isabella's shoulder in a hesitant fashion. "At least it won't be like moving to a different country. Everything's practically the same, eh? The weather's like it always was and you don't have to eat foreign food unless you want to."
"I'm just trying to look on the bright side, Mustrum."
The Patrician tapped the Archchancellor's shoulder. "May I enter the circle?"
The wizards parted for him. Isabella still stood with her hands limp at her sides, staring at nothing. In case the Patrician hadn't caught everything, Ponder explained it all again. About the magical properties of silk from worms that had wriggled out of the cloister of the Monks of History, and the consequences for Isabella, who was a reflection – or more accurately, a new original -- of the lady who'd admired herself in the gown in a mirror in another world.
The Patrician thanked the wizards for their help, guided Isabella to the carriage and took her back to the Palace. She said nothing along the way. He took her up to her room and called a servant to bring tea. She drank a cup in silence. He asked her if there was anything he could do and she shook her head. He asked if she wished to be alone. She nodded. He left her alone but took the key to the door and called a couple of servants to stand by in the hall in case she needed anything.
He checked on her an hour later. She hadn't moved from her chair.
An hour later, the same.
He kept the interval until evening. She was lying in bed, her cheek on her arm, staring at the iconograph propped up on the night stand. Vetinari filled a sack with mirrors and any potentially hazardous objects, including matches, he could find in the room. Two new servants stood by in the hall overnight.
For a couple of days she barely moved from her place on the bed with the iconograph in her line of sight. When the servants checked on her every hour at the Patrician's order, they never got an answer when they asked how she was doing. She didn't hear them; streams of verse tangled with images in her mind. She didn't eat or drink what the servants brought in. She didn't move when the Patrician visited briefly in the evening and did a sweep of the room again, removing any sharp objects he'd missed the first time around. He personally nailed the window shut.
On the fourth day he showed up in the morning with blank paper, dull quills and ink, which he left within reach of the bed. That night he found each and every sheet covered with verse interspersed with random sketches of architectural impossibilities – pyramids balanced on their apexes, glass domes dug into the ground, a wing of an Istanzian baroque palace thrust out of a waterfall. She was sleeping when he collected the drawings. The servants reported she'd eaten a little.
On the fifth morning he found her awake, bathed, dressed, drinking coffee alone in her room. He didn't ask her how she felt. It was a ridiculous question. The answer was on her face. He set more paper on the table and said, "I believe you'll have a visitor later this morning."
"I don't want visitors."
It was the first thing she'd said since the ceremony at Unseen University. Her voice had a similar faint, brittle quality that the Patrician's had after his first talk with Klieg.
"Wait and see," he said. He kissed her on the forehead twice, lingering for a moment the second time.
Later in the morning, a drawing of the Tower of Art rising like an upside down obelisk from the center of the Dysk Theater was interrupted when the bedroom door opened.
Mrs. Capelli didn't get far into the room before she fell on her knees and offered up a prayer to Io. Isabella didn't have the strength to pull her mother to her feet so she knelt with her. They spent the day on the floor with handkerchiefs and tea, talking about what had happened, about losing husbands and children. The Patrician didn't intrude.
In the evening, he was working in the Oblong Office in the comfort of Margolotta's chair. His clerk Drumknott entered through the side door.
"Miss Capelli and her mother are downstairs, sir. At the carriage."
The Patrician nodded.
"She has taken all of her things."
"That is to be expected, Drumknott."
Lord Vetinari signed another document, set it aside, and pulled the next off the pile.
"I gave her the papers you left for her but she didn't look at them, sir."
"She will. One must have patience."
Drumknott stared hard at his master. He usually interpreted the wishes and moods of the Patrician quite well, but this was an unusual situation. The details were hazy, but Drumknott knew from observation over the past weeks that Isabella Capelli had not been the typical house guest.
"If you are about to offer me words of sympathy," said the Patrician without looking up, "Let me assure you that they are unnecessary."
"Is there anyth--"
"Kind of you to ask, but no. I'm afraid there's nothing to be done." He scribbled his signature and moved on to the next paper.
Drumknott gave up. He slipped noiselessly out of the office.
The Patrician continued to scan and sign the documents that needed to be signed. For the moment, there was nothing else to be done.
About five weeks later, he was using his walking stick to tap at a stone wall in a room down the hall from the Oblong Office. It was a large space, formally used as a conference room when there were too many participants to meet in his office and not enough to justify repairing to the Rats Chamber. Several of the walls contained massive paintings from the ancient series by Pacinini entitled, "On Good Government." Unfortunately, these would have to be moved.
The Patrician's stick tapped the turnwise wall.
"Remove this, please, Mr. Simper," he said.
Mr. Simper, a man with wiry hair like a white halo around his head, scratched his beard with the back of a pencil. He held a clipboard in his hand and was wondering if lunch was to blame for the distressingly fishy smell emanating from the Patrician. "Are you sure, your lordship? That's an outer wall. It helps support the weight of this part of the Palace."
The Patrician's stick whipped around to point at a red "X" chalked on the floor a few feet away. "The first of eight supporting columns will be installed there. Klatchian lotus capitals, please."
Mr. Simper counted the other chalkings that he now noticed on the floor at strategic points around the room.
"There are only six marks, your lordship," he said.
Limping slightly more than usual, the Patrician went up to the hubwards wall, which separated the conference room from a mid-sized storage room on the other side. He tapped it with his stick.
"Remove this also."
"Your two missing marks are on the other side."
"Is there a problem, Mr. Simper?"
Mr. Simper was an architect, not an architect like Isabella, but he knew a thing or two about buildings and he was worried about the possibility of collapsing part of the Palace. There would surely be trouble for that, even if Lord Vetinari himself had ordered the work to be done. He doodled nervously on his clipboard.
"What do I do after we take out the turnwise wall, your lordship?"
"Glass, Mr. Simper."
The doodling stopped.
The Patrician moved stiffly to the center of the room and paused where the conference table had stood until he'd had it removed that morning. He leaned on his stick, his left hand rubbing the knuckles of his right.
"The room is too dark. You will install a window from there," he nodded at the rimward edge of the wall, "to the hubwards wall of the storage room. You will be allowed a single supporting column in the center."
"That'll be two massive windows, your lordship!"
"The Glassmakers will be in this afternoon to measure the space. They seemed anxious to rise to the challenge when I personally spoke to them about the windows this morning. I will leave it to you to decide how to install their creations."
Mr. Simper sagged. He was not enjoying the mental picture of two monumental sheets of glass slipping out of the hands of his workmen and shattering in the garden below.
"Is that all, sir? Just the walls, windows and columns?"
Lord Vetinari scratched his chin with the silver knob of his stick, his gaze at the ceiling. With dread, Mr. Simper looked up too. The ceiling was of dark wood carved with an intricate geometric pattern.
"Mm, I believe that is all. For now." The Patrician limped to a side door on the widdershins wall. "You have some time to complete the renovations, but I would not dawdle if I were you."
The door opened into a narrow passage which connected to a side door of the Oblong Office. The Patrician crossed over to his conference table, where a large sheet of drafting paper, much folded and in places stained with tea, was spread out, the corners flattened by pyramidal paperweights. In precise pencil strokes, various views of what looked like a plan for a massive iron and wood arch were sketched across the paper. Tiny, mirrored writing explained the materials, scale and usage. At the top of the page, in the non-mirrored handwriting of Leonard of Quirm, was "Protective Shield for Workers Digging a Tunnel Under the Ankh."
There was ink writing on the plan as well. A few comments and questions written here and there in small, hesitant letters. Then longer thoughts recorded more boldly, connected with one schematic or other by arrows. One comment in particular had inspired Lord Vetinari to call in Mr. Simper.
Need aged oak for the wood slats and built-in ventilation to the surface. – This could work.
A courier had delivered the schematic to the Patrician the day before. Lord Vetinari had expected Isabella to keep it a while longer, but she obviously thought Leonard should have it back to make some corrections. She'd written a total of twelve questions about his design. Eventually she'd want to know the answers.
And when she got them, she would doubtless have an opinion on the construction of the tunnel shield prototype. And she would certainly want to assist in the testing phase. Assuming the design was a success, someone would need to oversee the construction of the full-sized shield. Bids would have to be called for. Surveys would need to be done of the best place to dig a tunnel under the Ankh. Timetables and budgets would have to be made. The project would have to be presented to the City Council for something resembling approval.
That was a good deal of work. She was going to need an office. A spacious one with lots of light and drafting tables and shelving for the display of models and prototypes and a comfortable corner for meeting with her staff.
The Patrician eased himself with a relieved sigh into his chair. He inked a quill and paused, the tip hovering over a fine sheet of parchment embossed at the top left with his family coat of arms. He'd begun writing her a week after she left, one short letter a week, which he reasoned was not so often that it seemed he was being intrusive, yet often enough that she would know she was not far from his mind. He envisioned the letters as guideposts. They were always delivered on Fridays at 5 o'clock. She could set her watch to it. Perhaps it would help her to have something she could count on. She hadn't written back yet, but that wasn't the point.
He flexed his fingers, then touched quill to paper.
My dear Lady Isabella,
I've taken to walking, at first in various parks and public gardens, but now in locations throughout the city. There is something calming about passing through the streets at three in the morning, when on certain nights even the Shades takes a breath and settles down to sleep. Last night I went down to the harbour where the fishermen were hauling in the night's catch. One of the larger boats was short a man; the first mate called to ask if I'd like to earn my breakfast with a few hours' "manly work." He didn't recognize me, of course. During my short education as fish hauler, I learned that the trick to carrying live fish is to anticipate the manner of the creature's wriggling. A tuna, for instance, wriggles differently than a swordfish. Know the wriggle and you have your fish. I found this astonishingly close to my experience with land-based creatures. At dawn, I was rewarded with a herring breakfast, which I fed to the stray cats that paraded behind me on my way back to the Palace. Everyone I've met today, including Vimes, have looked like they wanted to ask why I smell of fish. I would have said if anyone had asked. I am quite disappointed no one did.
I will not burden you, dear Isabella, with which of my muscles and joints have plagued me with pain today because the list would be long and it was my fool choice to try manual labour for the first time since -- I do believe that was the first time ever. It is refreshing to know one can have new experiences at my age. May future ones be as instructive (and less aromatic).
Please pass along my greetings to your mother. Leonard sends his, and his thanks for the suggestions and comments on the tunnel plan. Revisions are underway. He looks forward to the day when he may discuss them with you in person. As do I.
** Whew! It's over!!! Hope you had a good read. For those of you thinking – hey, I never saw the mirror thing coming, I dropped a lot of hints throughout the story. My favorite was delivered by the Bursar in chap. 13. As for a sequel, I've obviously set up for one, though I don't know if I'll ever write it. I've got an idea for a plot and maybe I could make the story a bit more romantic, who knows, but IF I do it, it won't be as long as this (I hope)! Thanks so much for reading this. I've had great fun with you along the way. **