Here's the last chapter, where the twists keep coming… Welcome Leelee! Wipe that foam off your mouth – more Hanna and Havvie coming up soon. Anna, good to see you again, and answers to your questions below. Archer, everyone who knows me knows I hate cliff hangers. ;-) Thanks to all for the reviews. Enjoy the rest of the story despite crappy formatting.
She's on the balcony, watering the potted hyacinths. The Patrician lets himself in through the garden gate and waits for her to notice him. She sets down the watering can and leans on her elbows on the stone rail.
"I come bearing presents," he announces, holding up the packages.
Ellie smiles and waves for him to come in.
The parlour is painted yellow with white moulding along the ceiling, and the floors are covered with Klatchian carpets that have a dominant shade of red. There are flowering plants everywhere. And books, stacks that don't fit in the formal library in the room next door. A pianoforte stands in the corner, its body painted with rural scenes. A microscope sits among small labeled boxes on a shelf over a desk piled with papers, ink bottles and quills. The cabinet next to the desk contains glass bulbs, beakers and small bottles of various liquids. It's a dabbler's room, evidence of a searching and disorganized mind.
"Why don't you let the maid tidy up sometimes?" Vetinari asks as he sets the gifts on a table.
"You ask me that every week and you know the answer very well. Coffee?" Ellie has discovered the merits of the bean over the leaf. Vetinari, normally a tea man, nods.
Ellie is tall and slightly plump due to her sweet tooth and quiet, scholarly lifestyle. Her hair has darkened naturally over the years and is now a deep chestnut, styled in a simple fashion because she has better things to do than sit at a mirror all morning. She's wearing peach taffeta and it suits her.
"Say hello to Lara or she'll be moody the rest of the night," she says.
After shedding his coat and setting the newspaper on a table, the Patrician goes to the cage hanging in the corner and pays his respects to the white cockateel perched inside.
"You're looking ravishing as always, Lara," he says. The bird cocks her head, then turns her back on him and spreads her wings.
"I've had to take her mirror away, she's got so vain," Ellie says as she backs into the room wheeling a coffee service. They sit and she pours. The Patrician drinks his black, Ellie with a bit of cream.
He talks of his work for awhile. Uberwald has settled down, Muntab is found. Peace abroad means more time for domestic concerns. He tells her about his ideas for public sanitation, especially as regards to sewage and clean drinking water. She listens, makes suggestions, sips her coffee. The newspaper sits on the table before them, the top headline in bold: Patrician Leads Double Life?
When they finish, Ellie clears away the coffee things. "Are we doing presents now or later?"
"Whenever you like."
She pulls a small box out from behind the clutter next to the arm chair. As she hands it to the Patrician, she smiles sadly. "Happy anniversary."
He has a meticulous system for removing wrapping paper, a slow and precise process that has irritated Ellie at gift giving occasions for years. She's wringing her hands with impatience by the time he pulls the paper aside to reveal the box.
"Open it," she urges.
Inside is an iconograph of Ellie in color. She's smiling at the camera.
"You can throw out the old black and white ones now," she says.
"I like the old ones."
"Because I'm younger in them."
He wraps the picture back in tissue paper. "It's lovely, thank you." He gives her a peck on the cheek. "I'll keep it with the rest."
"Someone will find your stash of iconographs one day, you know."
"Certainly within five minutes of my death, assuming I die in the streets near an enterprising pickpocket." He sets the box aside and sits quietly for a moment. "And now for your gift…"
He goes to the table and looks down at the boxes. One large and blue tied with silver, one small and white, tied with black.
"Lady Sybil came by for coffee a few days ago," Ellie says from the couch. "A truly kind woman. You were right about her. She doesn't have a suspicious bone in her body."
The Patrician leans against the table, his gaze still on the gifts. Silver ribbon, black ribbon.
"Her baby is almost due," says Ellie. "Another month. She hid her worry about her age. Apparently, Vimes does that too. It sounds like he's very sweet to her."
Vetinari is only half listening. There's a pounding in his ears that he realizes is his own heart beat. Blue box, white box. Silver ribbon, black. His eyes finally settle on the white box.
"Lady Sybil is so lucky to have found a husband who loves her," says Ellie. She watches the Patrician pull a pair of black gloves from his pocket. She looks down at the newspaper again, and back up at Vetinari.
He slips one of the gloves on.
"How did the coffee taste?" Ellie asks suddenly.
He stops. Turns.
Black coffee, he thinks. Bitter. What would she use? He routinely takes antidotes against arsenic and strychnine, small doses of countless other poisons to increase his resistance. She knows that. He taught it to her. She's been watched, so it must be a home grown toxin. Something innocent, something household… He thinks of peach pits, apricots, apples, wild cherries. And cyanide. Her chemistry equipment, her microscope, long days alone.
Slowly, he sits down beside her and tries to control his breathing. Ellie is perched on the edge of the couch, her posture still excellent. He stares at the skin at the back of her neck and lets a thin knife slide silently out of his sleeve.
She squeezes her eyes shut.
"Do you love me, Havelock?"
"You've never said in twenty years."
Vetinari expected something like this years ago. He's surprised she didn't ask earlier. He hesitates, then raises the tip of the knife to the back of her neck.
"There is no point discussing it now."
She gets up quickly and crosses to the table where his gifts are. "You were going to give me the white box?" she asks without looking at him.
"What did you use in the coffee?"
"Nothing. You have an overly suspicious mind."
He goes to stand beside her. "We're at a rather serious impasse then, aren't we? It's perfectly possible that you've played a cruel trick on me. Nothing less than I deserve, I'll grant you, but a nasty little trick nonetheless." He leans close and whispers in her ear. "Tell me the truth, Ellie."
"I already have. Would you like to hear more? You will never use that knife on me. You will never kill me. You will never send me away or allow me to leave."
"You exaggerate your own importance."
"Do I?" She gives him a grim smile. "You must think I've learned nothing over the years. But don't forget, Vetinari was my saviour. My teacher. I know what you know. You always led me to believe that this secrecy and isolation was a political necessity. I've known for a long time it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with you."
"You make the mistake of drawing a distinction where there is none. It's all much simpler. I am the Patrician and nothing else."
"Not in this house. Not with me."
"If I recall, this is my house. I distinctly remember buying it."
"Just as you bought me." She taps Vetinari's tie. "One gold piece, do you remember? Why do you think I gave it to you?"
He considers how to word the answer. Of course he knows why. He worked out the motives of a 16-year-old without any trouble. It seems vulgar to speak of it.
"You were rather…infatuated," he says.
"Yes, but that wasn't the reason. I wanted to buy myself back."
"A noble gesture. With my own money."
"Mine. I earned it. Some of your agents were worse than others. I worked for months without you knowing. You were too busy becoming Patrician."
Vetinari's grip on the knife weakens a fraction.
"I couldn't believe that you didn't know what I was trying to tell you," says Ellie. "It took me a bit of time, but I worked out that you didn't want to know. You would never free me regardless of what I did."
"My word. Some of the cleverest men of our time have tried to work out my intentions and you managed it as a teenager. Astonishing."
Ellie picks up the newspaper.
"You knew they'd find out one day. I'm just amazed you still thought you could erase me like any other threat to you or the city."
"Unpleasant though it may be, necessity, at times, begs certain actions."
"You won't do it, and I'll tell you why. Two reasons." She holds up one finger. "First, you would be totally and irretrievably alone in this world." She holds up a second. "And despite everything you've done to me, you've never managed to be anything but a basically decent man."
"How flattering. And so fundamentally incorrect. You read the newspapers. I'm a ruthless tyrant before whom no one is safe. Or a benevolent despot who keeps the terror at a nice minimum. It really depends on which you read. That's public opinion for you. Either way, I appear to be, in the public mind, something of a bastard."
"I don't care about public opinion and neither do you. You don't care about scandal. You made me for yourself and no one else. I know what you're thinking. You've sacrificed everything for the city except this one little girl, and now she'll be out there in the open, a possession of Ankh-Morpork just like everything else in your life." Her voice softens. "I could never harm you. I have no one else in the world either. You made sure of it, this terrible dependence. Except it trapped you too, didn't it?" She sighs. "Put the knife away and decide what you want to do, Havelock. White box or blue?"
There's a beat of time. Two beats. The cockateel scrambles in her cage and it rocks back and forth, the chain squealing faintly.
Then the Patrician uses the gloved hand to lift the white box by its ribbon and carries it out the garden doors. Ellie leans against the doorway as he goes to the small compost heap at the back of the garden, makes a hole with a shovel and drops the box inside. He covers it over and peels off the glove.
"This is all so impossibly foolish," he sighs.
"You always were soft-hearted," she says. "From my very first bowl of cabbage soup."
He kisses her hand. It's not enough. He hugs and kisses her a long time out of relief, gratefulness, love. When he releases her, he takes her to the blue box. She shakes it vigorously next to her ear.
"Goodness no. I learned my lesson last year with the crystal vase."
Unlike the Patrician, Ellie goes for the most destructive way to open presents, which also happens to be the most efficient. She tears through the paper, opens the box and smiles at the polished mahogany chest inside.
"It's beautiful," she says. "I needed a new jewelry box."
"Open it. Please."
She lifts the lid, expecting music. There's none. Only a scroll tied with red ribbon. The paper is so stubborn about unrolling that Ellie has to pin it on her lap with both hands to read. It informs her that Ellisandra Trenolone (Phalian) is now a citizen of Ankh-Morpork with all of the rights and privileges thereof.
"I was born here," she says.
"Actually, you were born in Phalia."
"No one is quite certain where it is now, but traditionally, it sat roughly in the location where our world maps get…creative. Somewhere in the region usually labelled 'Here be dragons.'"
"I think I've seen posters about it," she says thoughtfully.
"It was a very obscure place. Fortunately, you were able to escape before it a) sank into the ocean, b) was destroyed by a volcano, c) fell victim to random or malicious magic or d) all of the above. There are various theories among geographical experts."
Ellie tucks the scroll back into the jewelry box, gives the Patrician a long, shrewd look, then goes to pull a lexicon from a stack of books next to the pianoforte. Under the letter "p," she scans the pages until she finds it: Phalia. A mysterious island nation of half a million people that was discovered twenty years ago by an explorer Ellie never heard of. When an expedition returned to the spot, the entire island was gone.
The book cradled in her arms, Ellie eases back onto the sofa. One thing Vetinari taught her was not to believe in coincidences. Twenty years ago, she was found. Twenty years ago, so was a lonely island…
"You didn't," she says.
The Patrician smiles.
"You really didn't."
He's still smiling, enjoying the surprise on her face.
"Discovered twenty years ago and then disappeared? It's nonsense!" She laughs suddenly. "How did you do it?"
"A few whispers in the ears of the right people. Scraps of a diary and sea maps from the explorer. A few artefacts. You really should come and see the Palace collection. The Phalians were known for their pottery. But you should know that."
As a young man giving a coin to a filthy little orphan girl at Peterson's Rest, Vetinari conceived of what he now considers to be his most elegant – if youthfully foolish -- plan: the invention of a country. Slowly, he planted tiny evidence of Phalia's existence over the years, altered rare old books to give reference to it, forged a lost letter or two in the hand of long dead scholars who mentioned the place, left cryptic hints on old maps. Two years ago, geographers from across the Disc met in Ankh-Morpork for a symposium on Phalia: The Vanished Land. It was the high point of Vetinari's success in the matter.
Ellie closes the lexicon but keeps her finger at the entry for the country she knows never existed except in the minds of people who've been led to believe in it.
"Why did you do it?" she asks.
"Perhaps you can guess."
"Tell me anyway."
He savours her curiosity a few more moments before telling the truth at last.
"An effective Patrician must practice neutrality at all times," he says. "This is true of internal politics and international diplomacy. If one day he finds a lady possessing the qualities he values, admires and needs the most, it is necessary, for political reasons, for her to also be neutral in all matters related to her life and background. A lady with no social ties, economic interests, family pressures or loyalty to an existing nation is a lady with a most perfect neutrality. She is also, of course, a most perfect lady for a Patrician."
The explanation doesn't seem to impress her after all. She sets the lexicon aside and goes to the table where the Patrician's knife sits next to a pot of violets. The black steel blade looks duller than it is. She picks it up.
"I won't be cut in half, Havelock. You'll have to share me with other people and give me space to live and let me go places alone. No spies. And you have to trust me to manage my own affairs…"
He takes the knife out of her hand and sets it carefully back on the table. "All of your conditions will be accepted if you accept mine. Play the tragic Phalian lady every day for the rest of your life. Be mysterious and evasive and lovely and you will be the toast of the city. But regardless of what Ankh-Morpork gives you, all the temptations and worries it will offer, you must always come home."
"To the Palace?"
The Patrician coughs delicately into his fist. "You do remember the line: Atalanta, do not marry. Marriage will be your ruin."
Smiling, Ellie takes his hands. "Your ruin, maybe. And that would be mine too, I suppose. That is the point, isn't it?"
Just then, insistent knocking begins at the front door of the house. Outside one of the parlour windows, a man with an iconograph slung around his neck trips over a hedge. He gets his equipment in position in time to shoot the iconograph that will make him famous: the only image of the Patrician Lord Vetinari kissing the last survivor of a vanished land.