Evenin' all! Well, after all the lovely encouragement you gave me, I decided to write a sequel to "Tiles" (soyou've only got yourselves to blame!).
Hope you enjoy this – it's the return of Mildred Easy, now working in the Oblong Office and having to deal with tea, biscuits, dusting, Lord Vetinari, Drumknott and the clerks, international diplomacy, Lord Vetinari, Wuffles, vampires, vampires who want to bite her, Lord Vetinari, Vimes, Vimes' bad temper and filing. Plus a special appearance from little Sam Junior.
Thanks again for all the reviews! You've all been very kind. * big hugs *
Disclaimer Thing: Discworld and all who sail in her are Terry Pratchett's. I'm just doing this for a laugh and am not making any money from this at all. Honest.
Mildred Easy, maid in the Winter Palace of Ankh Morpork, the official residence of the Patrician, pushed open the door to the clerk's offices with her foot and manoeuvred the tea tray through the doorframe. She gave Lord Vetinari's small army of administration a bright smile.
"Morning, Mildred," they chorused.
It had been something of a surprise for some of them when Drumknott had introduced her as the new member of their group. She wasn't officially a clerk, but did the odd job of filing and the occasional bit of research for reports. They'd discovered that sending Mildred to question people yielded more information. A clerk of Lord Vetinari received guarded answers and evasion. Traders, merchants and other businessmen were more forthcoming with little Milly Easy and her innocent questions that sounded like a young lass taking a casual interest.
The clerks were also impressed that after five months of cleaning Lord Vetinari's office, Mildred was still calm and hadn't developed a facial tic. No one spending a lot of time with the Patrician ever really got used to him, with his stillness, aggressive silences and the disconcerting tendency to be at least ten steps ahead of everyone else. Mrs Dipplock, the head of the domestic staff and a woman with an iron will, had been the only one able to carry out the duty after a succession of maids suffering nervous exhaustion; but lately she'd been suffering from acute rheumatism and would need to give the job to someone else.
They'd no idea why his Lordship had suggested Mildred, but had soon conceded he'd made a good choice. She was friendly, helpful and a quick learner, and she made a fantastic cup of tea. Which, incidentally, she was bringing in now. They crowded about the small table she set the tray on.
Mildred picked up Mr Drumknott's cup and took it over to him. The head clerk was standing over by the board on the far wall, which had the list of his Lordship's appointments. Drumknott took the cup and thanked her without taking his eyes from the crowded list. Mildred glanced at it. It was nine o'clock in the morning and Vetinari had already seen fifteen people. No wonder he had a reputation for never sleeping...
"The new Uberwaldian Ambassador will be arriving today," he said to her, taking a sip. Mildred ran her eyes down the list until she found the name; His Excellency Count Karl Magpyr of Uberwald.
"Magpyr—" a dim memory waved at her, "Here, wasn't he the one who caused all that trouble up in Lancre a few years back?" If it was, having him coming to Ankh Morpork didn't seem like a great idea.
"Ah, no, that was his nephew. This is Count Magpyr the elder," Rufus Drumknott saw the confusion on her face and smiled, "The Magpyrs are a vampiric family. The one who caused so much havoc in Lancre was destroyed as a result. I understand his Excellency was dead for some years before he was resurrected during the events. Apparently his servant brought him back in an attempt to stop his nephew." He shrugged, "The right of succession tends to be rather complicated in Uberwald."
"Blimey. It sounds it. Wonder what he'll be like?" Then something else occurred to her, she bit her lip; "Vampire, eh? Mr Vimes won't be happy—"
Drumknott looked at her over his teacup and smiled slyly, "Oh dear."
She shook her head. The ongoing sparring matches between His Grace the Duke of Ankh (and not very happy about it) Commander Vimes and Lord Vetinari was a source of constant entertainment for the Palace staff. Not to mention a steady source of income for the plasterer who was required to come in every day...
Mildred went back over to the tea tray. It was empty now, save for one final black coffee that she would have to deliver to the Oblong Office. She smiled at it. It smiled back. She picked up the bright yellow mug and headed toward the Patrician's office.
"Oh, for goodness sake, Havelock! He's a baby, not a dragon! He won't explode, you know!" Lady Sybil Vimes' hearty voice rang through the office. Beside her, Samuel Vimes silently gloated. Lord Vetinari was looking warily at Sam Vimes Junior, whom Sybil was holding out to him. The baby treated the Patrician to a wide, gummy smile.
"I am afraid I'm not very good with children, Lady Sybil."
"Havelock, I just want to give you a go at holding him. I don't expect you to start babysitting for us—"
"Actually, that's a great idea, Sybil. I think his Lordship would make a wonderful babysitter," Vimes snickered. Lord Vetinari shot a glance at him with slightly narrowed eyes. Vimes was triumphant. This was the closest he'd ever seen the Patrician come to looking worried. They should have brought little Sam to see Vetinari weeks ago.
Vetinari tentatively took hold of the infant, and impressed Sybil by holding him properly without being told. His studies in anatomy had made him aware that the necks of young children were rather weak and required support of the head and back. Little Sam gurgled happily and blew a spittle bubble at him.
"See? Nothing to it at all. I think he likes you."
Samuel Vimes Juniour had the chestnut hair of his mother (before her dragon hobby), and his father's blue-grey eyes. Those eyes looked up at the Patrician's austere face as he pulled the blanket away from the child's face to get a better look. The baby gripped Vetinari's long index finger in a tiny fist.
"Amazing how strong such a small child is," he commented as he tried to pull his finger out of the vice like grip. Vetinari looked back down at the little face, which split into a huge grin. It wasn't very often people looked so pleased to be this close to him.
"I am very pleased to meet you too," he told the baby solemnly.
"Brrb," said little Sam.
Vetinari looked up as a knock sounded at the door, and tried to hand back the child. Sybil gave him a firm look and sat back with her arms folded. Commander Vimes was grinning like a piranha. He wasn't going to receive any help here. He sighed.
Mildred Easy entered with a tray bearing his mug on it. "Morinin', Milord, here's your coffee— oooooooooohhe'salittleangel!"
"Mornin' Milly," snickered Vimes. This was just getting better and better. Mildred set the mug upon the coaster on the Patrician's desk and bent over her employer to look at the baby. Lord Vetinari sighed once more. This was just getting worse and worse.
"Ah, he's lovely, Milady," Mildred sighed, then gently tickled little Sam's chin, "Yes! You're lovely, you are!"
"Thank you, Mildred," Sybil smiled.
"He's a very quiet, well behaved child, I imagine he gets this from his mother's side," Lord Vetinari said, looking pointedly at Vimes. He carefully stood up, "I thank you for bringing him in to see me, Lady Sybil—"
It was at that moment that Samuel Vimes Junior decided to be sick. On Lord Vetinari.
"Oh, dear—" Sybil hurried forward and took hold of her son as the Patrician stared down at the mess on the front of his robe, "I am sorry about that, Havelock. It's probably all the excitement."
"Um—" Mildred didn't know whether to laugh or run like hell, "I'll, um, just go and get you another robe, shall I, sir?" she asked, carefully backing toward the door.
"If you would be so good, Mildred, yes." He was still staring at the mess.
"Well, that definitely means he likes you. He only spits up on people he's comfortable with," said Lady Sybil.
The Patrician glanced over at Vimes, who had his eyes shut and the near constipated look of someone desperately trying not to laugh. Vetinari had resigned himself this morning to telling Vimes that he would have to be part of the group welcoming Count Magpyr to the city. Vimes, who absolutely detested vampires, would probably; no, make that definitely; shout a lot about this. Now, however, Vetinari found that he would take a particular pleasure in informing him.
Sam Vimes leaned over, took his son from Sybil and grinned down at him.
"That's my boy!" he whispered.
Ten minutes and one quick robe change later; the Patrician sat once more at his desk, calm as a rock in the storm of Commander Vimes' fury. Two seconds after Vetinari had informed him of the Uberwaldian ambassador's impending arrival, Vimes had calmly asked Sybil to take little Sam outside, so he could "discuss this privately with his Lordship", which Sybil translated more accurately as "shout at Havelock."
"You damn well know what I think of vampires and you damn well know I'm no good at diplomacy!"
"On the contrary, Commander, the reports on your conduct that I received from Borogravia during its recent troubles were rather glowing—"
"That's because I was cooped up in that damn fortress all the time! Angua and Buggy did all the hard work; I just spoke to those girls." Vimes ran a hand through his hair in exasperation. He knew Vetinari was going to get him to do it. He knew the devious swine would pull some nasty little trick, like speaking to Sybil, and once Sybil was involved, Sam had lost. But despite this, he was determined to at least make an effort to fight back.
"There's a lot going on at the Yard right now, I can't just—" and even as the words came out he could tell Vetinari had just been handed the trigger to his other secret weapon.
"Captain Carrot, I am sure, will be able to muddle along in your absence," Vetinari steepled his fingers and leaned forwards slightly, "And I believe both you and Lady Sybil—"
Bloody knew it!Vimes said, in the relative privacy of his mind.
"—would benefit from some social time together. Do this for the continued amicable relationship between Uberwald and Ankh Morpork, Commander."
"And the continued fat supply," Vimes muttered. Slightly louder, he continued, "All right, it looks like I'm going to this blasted thing whether I like it or not. But I'm not wearing the blasted tights. It'll be bad enough saying hello to a damn vampire without him laughing at me too."
"Capital. I trust you will find a suitable babysitter." The Patrician pulled the day's itinerary toward him and gave Vimes one of his lightning smiles, "Unfortunately, I shall be otherwise occupied."
As Lord Vetinari was wreaking subtle revenge for the despoilment of his robe; a carriage was rattling up to the gates of the city wall.
It might as well have had a large sign saying, "Someone rather sinister is riding this carriage," for all the subtlety it possessed. It was large and crafted from ebony wood, the windows heavily tinted. It was drawn by four impressive black horses with dark plumes on their harnesses. It was the sort of conveyance to make hardened highwaymen think twice about the old "stand and deliver".
The imposing effect was somewhat ruined by a dog's cheerful face poking out the window, it's tongue lolling damply in the breeze. Although, this canine looked rather odd. The ears didn't seem to match and the teeth appeared to belong to a different breed than the mouth they were currently occupying. And as for the driver of the carriage...
"Thorry to dithturb you, Marthter, but you did thay to wake you onthe we reacthed Ankh Morpork," Igor called through the hatch in the roof to the unseen occupant inside.
"Ah, yes. Thank you, Igor. Would you stop in a shady area once inside, so I could have a little look around?"
"Thertanly, thur. Oh, I can't wait! I've heard tho mucth about thith thity!"
"I share your enthusiasm, Igor. Personally, I'm looking forward to meeting Lord Vetinari. I must admit I was intrigued by what Margo had to say about him. Oh, and the famous Commander Vimes will be an interesting experience too."
Igor, guiding the horses through the gates, could just see his Master's broad grin as he said those words. He chuckled to himself. His cousin Igor, who worked for Lady Margolotta, had been quite impressed by the Commander's ability to survive the hazards of Uberwald, simply by being a primal force of fury on legs. And he'd got one over on the werewolves, which, in the Master's personal judging system, got a full ten out of ten.
"I mutht go to the Watch Houthe and thee my great nephew Igor. He'th been doing really well, I hear."
"That's the young chap who tries to be modern, isn't it?"
Igor sighed, "I'm afraid tho, Marther. He only lithpth on every thecond thibilant. And he'th got thethe funny ideath about potatoeth. Thtill, he'th definately holding the Igor end up in Ankh Morpork, there'th plenty of people hereaboutth who'd be thort of a few limbth if it weren't for him. Ah, thith lookth like a good thpot."
He brought the carriage to a halt under an archway in a narrow street. The early morning sun didn't quite reach over the rooftops, so it would be safe enough. He scrambled down from the driving seat, scuttled up to the carriage door and opened it with a bow. And was promptly sent flying backwards by the large dog that leapt out.
"Thcrapth, you thilly thing! Gerroff!"
Scraps barked excitedly and began to bound about the street, sniffing at lamp posts. Igor got up, dusted himself off and held open the door again.
Thistime, the figure that emerged was rather more composed. The man wore old-fashioned evening dress and a sweeping cloak. He was tall and slim, handsome in a pallid, hawklike way, with grey hair swept back from his high forehead.
He looked about the street hungrily, watching the citizens as they hurried past, the haggling traders at their stalls. A couple of thieves politely mugged a customer in a nearby alleyway, watched by a seamstress who'd decided to work late. Trolls knuckled carefully through the smaller humans and a group of dwarves discussed recipes for rat. The humans themselves were quite a mix too, native Morporkians rubbed shoulders with Klatchians, Uberwaldians, Genuans, people from the Sto Plains and the Ramtops; and he could even see a smiling Agatean with an iconograph, taking a picture of a shamelessly mugging troop of watchmen. The whole Disc was here...
Count Karl de Magpyr grinned happily. His canines were altogether far too long.
"Ah!" he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "Ankh Morpork! Just smell that air, Igor. It brings tears to one's eyes."
Igor, who'd been considering removing his nasal passages with progressive seriousness as they'd approached the city, nodded; "I know exthactly what you mean, Marthter. Latht time I thmelled thomething like thith, it wath jutht after the rubber factory nextht to the abbatoir burned down in Bonk. Tho, will you be wanting to go to the Embathy firtht, or go thtraight to the Palathe?"
The Count took one last look around the street. Early morning pedestrians, in the Ankh Morpork tradition of watching any odd things in the street in the hopes of free entertainment, were looking at them curiously. He grinned cheerfully at them all, treating the seamstress, a pretty brunette, to a particularly wide smile. The lady was an experienced veteran and hadn't blushed at anything in years – so she was quite surprised to find herself grinning and turning red. She gave him a shy little wave. Count Magpyr the elder had a certain way about him.
"Palace, I think," he said as he climbed back into the carriage, "No point in wasting time. Pseudopolis Yard is not far from the Palace; you could drop in to see young Igor if you wish."
"Thank you very mucth, Marthter. I think I will. When will you want me to pick you up?"
"I think I could be at least an hour or so talking about nothing in particular with his Lordship," the Count sighed, "Diplomacy can be so frightfully boring. Still, it's a small price to pay for the chance to see this city. One thing Ankh Morpork cannot be accused of is dullness." He sat back and smiled widely once more, sharp teeth gleaming. "I think we shall have rather a lot of fun here, Igor."
He glanced up at sudden barking across the street. "I think it may be wise to get Scraps away from that poodle, Igor. Otherwise there may be some rather strange puppies around here..."
"He called his castle what?" Mildred's eyebrows shot up. She was sitting in the waiting room outside the Patrician's office with Lady Sybil, holding little Sam in her lap. Sybil was letting (in most cases, forcing) most people they met have a go at holding the baby, and Mildred was no exception. Samuel junior was at that stage of child development where he put everything within reach into his mouth; toys, other people's hair, his father's badge; and on one occasion, a stunned swamp dragon. Sybil had decided to only take Sam back into the dragon house when the child had learned the difference between combustible reptiles and teething rings.
"Don'tgonearthe Castle. The story is that every time travellers ask about the place, the locals say; "Don't go near the Castle!" Count Magpyr decided that if that's what everyone called the castle, then he might as well make it official. He's got quite a sense of humour, his Excellency. I suppose it's a way to get through all those centuries."
Mildred chuckled as she gently pulled a corner of her apron out of Sam junior's mouth, "No, Sam, you don't eat aprons. You ever met him, milady?"
"Not yet. As far as I know, he's never travelled outside Uberwald," Lady Vimes leaned toward her and lowered her voice, "Don't tell Sam, but I've been exchanging letters with Lady Margolotta von Uberwald, you see. She and the Count are old friends; although she's disappointed he's refused to join the Temperance League. I understand he's very much a vampire of the Old School."
"Not a Black Ribboner?"
"No, but I shouldn't worry, dear. Lady Margolotta says he's a perfect gentleman, so we should all be safe in our beds." said Sybil, with a little smile. "And I'm sure the Uberwaldians wouldn't send an ambassador who would cause any trouble—"
She stopped. She and Mildred locked gazes after this statement, considering it. In the silence, apart from little Sam's contented gurgling, the thoughts of both women ran something like this:
That's probably what some Uberwaldian's thought too, before Sam Vimes arrived. And caused trouble.
"Um," said Mildred.
"Well," Lady Sybil said weakly, taking the apron corner out of her son's mouth again, "If anything, it's going to be interesting."
Mildred nodded, "I'd better keep the dust pan handy. I don't think his Lordship would be very happy if the ambassador disintegrated on his carpet."