Carrot never took over his rightful position as ruler of Ankh-Morpork. He never needed to; everyone knew who he was even if everyone, first of all himself, lived in happy denial. And there was an unspoken agreement between the watch and whoever was sitting in the oblong office at the time: the patrician would not become a sociopathic tyrant, and in return the watchmen would not cut off his head and replace him with Carrot.
About this, too, Carrot was in happy denial, or perhaps genuine ignorance. Sam Vimes never figured out for certain. He did, however, figure out that it didn't matter, as long as it worked.
The watch had been rebuild and reformed during the years of Vetinari's regency. It was his watch as much as it was Vimes', and no one ever dared to touch it. At least not more often than once.
To Vimes, Vetinari always remained patrician, to matter who happened to sit on his chair. He compared every new ruler with him and always came to the conclusion that during Vetinari's regency, things had been better. That was hardly surprising – no mater how often he had cursed the man, he'd always been aware that Vetinari's ruthless cleverness, his dedication to the city, and his style had made him perfect for the job in a way no other could match. Keeping his position by being better than any alternative had come easily to him. It was not quite as easy for the ones who came after him, but somehow, as a whole, they managed.
He never told Sybil what had happened in what was, for her and everyone else, just a normal night briefly before a political situation with the Agathean Empire occurred, that somehow got solved by Leonard da Quirm, the wizards of the Unseen University and a couple of clerks from the palace Sam had never seen before and never saw again. He had no reason for his silence, except that somehow he didn't want to share this story.
But twenty years later, when he handed over the watch to Carrot for good, he told his son how he and Havelock Vetinari saved the disk from beyond the grave. Perhaps one day, Sammy would pass on the story to his own children.
This, too, didn't really matter in the end. The story had been told, and to Vimes that was enough.
Sometimes Vimes wondered how Vetinari was doing. That this was a strange question to ask about someone long dead never occurred to him. He tried to imagine that he passed on to wherever it was he was supposed to be, but then, Vetinari was supposed to be in this city, and any other image never stuck. It seemed off. Retirement didn't suit him.
It didn't suit Vimes either. Fortunately, a number of half-hearted assassination attempts, three political and one explosive conspiracies and two wars made sure he never got bored. At east the word didn't attempt to commit suicide again – or if it did, it was someone else who stopped it.
Sybil never complained about his inability to get old in peace and tranquillity. She knew him too well. In the end, he had to accept all on his own that there were people better suited now for heroism than him. Especially if those heroic acts required climbing up walls.
Or running very fast.
Or, at some point, breathing.
As the proverb went, if you were above a certain age and woke up one morning feeling no pain, then you were dead. The proverb evidently had been made up by someone who was far below that certain age, or at least not dead, as they evidently had no idea what they were talking about.
True, there were aces and pains that came with getting older, and they multiplied rather quickly in a life consisting mainly of being shot at and the occasional exploding dragon. But due to their consistency, Vimes got used to them and for the most part they were ignored. He didn't constantly catalogue them in his head, nor did he wake up every morning (or, as time passed, every night, three times) and went through a mental checklist of suffering. He didn't think, 'Well, the pain in my back is there, and my knee is giving me hell, and, yes, if I move this arm to much, it sends waves of agony to my shoulder. Wonderful! I am still alive and can get up to start my day.'
Usually, that mental checklist only presented itself when he tried to stand.
It didn't this time, because an attempt to get out of bed was no made. Vimes woke up and saw from the golden light falling in through the windows that it would be a beautiful autumn day. He then saw that the bed beside him was empty, meaning he was rather late in waking up and Sybil as probably long gone to feed her dragons. Finally, his gaze fell on the black-clad, hooded figure sitting opposite the bed on a chair and that was a dead giveaway.
It surprised him how little this surprised him. Also, he found he didn't very much care. Dying in his bed had never been something he'd expected to happen to him, but there were worse ways to go, he supposed. Getting tortured to death in a dungeon under the city, for example. Even after all these years, the thought still made him shudder. Though he wasn't quite sure what he was shuddering with right now.
"It's time, then?" A silly question – Death didn't usually pop in for a friendly visit, and this wasn't exactly one of those situation when he chose to hover nearby, waiting to see if Vimes would survive his recent brush with death, or not. Being in bed didn't tend to sharpen his senses this way.
"Quite right," the hooded figure said. "In fact, it's over time. I have been waiting all morning."
Vimes blinked. Death usually articulated his words in much more grave tones, and come to think of it, he didn't normally sit around with one leg drawn up and his scythe lazily resting against his shoulder.
And most of all, he usually didn't speak in the voce of Havelock Vetinari.
"…what?" he asked in what he supposed to be a rather dumb voice. The figure on the chair shifted a little and pushed back the hood.
"Good morning, Sir Samuel," Vetinari said. "I see you've been taking good care of my city."
Vimes stared some more. Absurdly, the only thing he could think about was how unfair it was that he had to bother with the body of a Very Old Man while Vetinari still looked exactly as he always had. Then he looked down and found that his own hands looked considerable younger than the wrinkled old things they had become – and naturally he didn't have to bother anymore with the old body he no longer resided in.
On second thought, he did reside it in, partially, if only because the still figure lying on the bad and the ghost sitting on it happened to occupy the same space. Having noticed that, Vimes quickly got up, because that was just plain weird.
"Where's Death?" he asked because it seemed a good placed to start. "And more importantly, why are you here? I thought you'd move on or something."
"Death is busy elsewhere. Everywhere, in fact, I should think. He is also at his house, playing with a cat he rescued. An enviable ability to have."
"Playing with cats?"
"Being in several places at once. Please, Vimes, do try to keep up. As for my presence here: Death didn't quite know what to do with me. Apparently I have no place to move on to, so I stayed and took over his duties in Ankh-Morpork."
Vimes let that sink in. "So you've been around all the time?"
"Not in that sense, but more than you probably think. People have a fascinating tendency to wind up death in your proximity."
Sam had noticed that. He thought of Lord Downey, who somehow, miraculously had managed to die of old age not too long before him. "I bet some of them were quite surprised to see you again."
Vetinari gave him a smile that was almost happy and refused to comment on that.
Now he thought about it, Vimes had not been particularly surprised about this either. Shocked, yes, but mainly because he'd expected someone else. He had never really thought Vetinari would just vanish and be gone, after all. He liked giving people a hard time too much for that.
It was hard to imagine him as Death's assistant, so Vimes didn't. Instead, he imagined that Death had had to adjust to a lot of subtle changes in the organisation of his work. That seemed about right.
"You two get along?" he asked carefully, and earned an amused half-smile in return.
Vimes wasn't surprised at all. Death and Vetinari were too much alike in several ways not to get along splendidly.
Now he was a few steps away from his own corpse, Sam noticed a thin, almost invisible thread connecting the body to whatever he was now. Instinctively, he knew that this was the only thing still holding him in this place.
"And what do you do there when you're not around killing people?" he asked.
"We do not kill people. We merely deliver them."
"And where are you going to deliver me?"
"Hm?" Vetinari crooked his head, as if Sam had just pulled him out of an interesting thought with a very stupid question. Then he gave him a thin but strangely warm smile. "I believe it is time to find out." His scythe moved down and severed the thread that held Sam Vimes in this place, this life, this world.
The world adjusted, and settled down, and moved on. It always did.
The rite of AshkEnte was not often performed. It served to call Death and bind him, but because it was a powerful and impressive spell only ancient sorcerers ought to perform it, and the more ancient a sorcerer became, the less eager was he to meet Death.
As with so many things, the rules concerning this particular rite were based on tradition rather than practicality. In fact, no ancient person had to be present, least of all eight to chant and drip candle wax and blood all over the place. The age of the participants didn't matter, and candles, complicated, colourful symbols and human sacrifices were as unnecessary as any kind of singing. All that had to be sacrificed was a mouse, or alternatively a potential chicken in form of an egg.
Of course, the students at the Unseen University found out about this. And of course, they had to try. There was no reason for it; there was nothing they wanted Death to do for them. They just had to try, to see if it would work. Students, even magical ones, were like that, as long as their activity was not related to homework.
So they got an empty room, an egg, and three pieces of wood, and set to work, just to see what would happen.
The second reason why the rite of AshkEnte was rarely performed was that the sorcerers had long since found out in nine of ten cases, they didn't exactly get what they had been calling for.
Now these students learned this as well. By the end of the night, they agreed to forget about this spell, and newer speak of it again.
They also all of them individually decided to move to another city before they died.
Or better yet, to another continent.
October 23, 2009
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