Disclaimer: Surprise surprise!!! I'm not Pterry and I own nothing of the following!!! Shocked, aren't you?

Special Thanx: To lovely Sanny for the beta, and to Joachim for the priceless help at coming up with the Quirmian names... Just for you to imagine-my ability to think of nice catchy names is probably equivalent with Leonard of Quirm's... But then again, so is my intelligence looks around confused and says ''what?'' while people around him double with laughter

PROLOGUE

-"I'd rather be hung upside down in the scorpion pit dressed in Foul Ole Ron's old clothes and wearing Nobby's underwear as a helmet. Sir." Vimes said in one breath, without a hint of hesitation in his voice.

Vetinari stared at him in silence. Vimes was positive that he was thinking somewhere along the lines of 'imagine what the odor would do to my poor scorpions...' or 'that's not a bad idea as such. The smell would remain there for a couple of years adding to the agony of those who deserve to be in the pit...'

After a stare long enough to make a snake run away, the patrician finally broke the silence.

-"If this is your wish your grace, it can be very easily granted.'' he said meekly. Vimes kept staring at a very interesting, ordinary brick in the wall a bit to the right of the patrician's left ear. ''However Commander'' he continued, ''as far as I know neither Foul Ole Ron nor Corporal Nobbs have a second set of clothes or underwear respectively, and it would not be wise to leave them without them in the city. There is a limit to what people can endure.''

-"Sir.'' Vimes managed to say, a bit terrified, since the patrician had managed to imprint a mental image in his head. It was everything but agreeable. He could not do that, not to his city...

-''Nevertheless,'' said Vetinari with a tone of finality, ''I did not request anything, I gave you a direct order for which you will follow. Drumknott will thoroughly inform you on your duties.'' He gracefully picked a paper from his desk and started reading it with interest. It was a report on the taxes paid by the Guild of people who search for things in the sewers. Vimes waited for a moment before he turned and moved angrily to the door. ''And please do transfer my regards to Lady Sybil your grace.'' Vetinari said without looking up from his paper, just a moment before Vimes touched the door handle.

-''Sir.'' was the only thing Vimes managed to say before he furiously stormed out of the room. Vetinari sat back on his uncomfortable chair and allowed himself a barely visible smile as he heard Vimes thumb the wall just outside his office. Playing with Vimes was always an amusing and refreshing break from the boredom of everyday paperwork. In no more than five seconds he had returned his attention to the document in his hands.

Just outside the Oblong office, Drumknott was having a very hard time facing a very, very infuriated Vimes. He was sure this was Vetinari's retaliation because he had misplaced a document last week. His Lordship could be so cruel sometimes... ''Lord Vetinari insists that it is of great importance that your ducal uniform is very well polished. You are the first noble that the ambassador is going to see and it is imperative that you make a good impression.'' Vimes gave him a 'did you just dare call me noble' look. Drumknott tried to ignore it politely-after all he had spent the last couple of years of his life having to endure Vetinari's stares. After that everything else looked like a child's toy. But he was not enjoying himself at any case. ''It is also of extreme importance'' Drumknott carried on,

'that the missing feathers of the helmet are properly replaced, as the Patrician requested. Lord Outrepasse is a man known to pay attention to detail. Although I would hesitate to call the feathers a detail. It is such an underestimation.'' The clerk was quoting as ordered Vetinari's exact words, and he was all too sorry about it.

Vimes' eyes were glowing with anger.

''Underestimation?'' he asked wearily. "There's ten of them, coloured like... I don't know what, and each a feet tall!!! Detail!!! You can see them from a mile! It's the first thing anyone notices, before they understand that the thing in front of them is not a giant bird but a man dressed up beyond the boundaries of stupidity! That is the reason I accidentally misplaced them in the first place!!!'' Vimes was shouting. A lot. He shouted at Drumknott because he couldn't shout at the Patrician. Not that he hadn't done it before, but no man would make a habit out of it. That is no man that valued his life more than a handful of things from Harry King's yard.

Drumknott was trying really hard to stay calm. Or at least to appear so. ''Nevertheless your grace,'' he said with a very slightly trembling voice ''I have taken the liberty to gather a set of feathers, which must be now waiting for you at Pseudopolis Yard. There are a few spare sets too; just in case.'' Drumknott took some small steps back while saying that, because the look on the commander's face was saying: 'If you finish this sentence the way I think you will, I'm going for your throat with my teeth.' He was not too relieved when that didn't happen-things could always turn out even worse.

Vimes understood how close to the Oblong Office they were standing. Vetinari must be listening to everything and terribly enjoying himself. He would not give him that pleasure. ''Whatever...'' he said calmly. ''Is there anything else?''

Drumknott was taken aback by the sudden change of tone. Was this the calm before the storm? Would he finally die on duty? Was this the end and he hadn't even said goodbye to his mom?

''Yes?'' said Vimes rather impatiently.

Drumknott snapped out of his reverie. ''Yes... I mean no. It is after all a simple welcoming occasion. It should be nothing special. There is however a letter with all the details waiting for you on your desk.'' he said. ''Next to the feathers.'' he added, merely to give a point of reference on Vimes' legendary desk-so that the letter could be found during this century- but quickly regretted it, biting hard on his tongue...

Vimes' reply was nothing more than a long growl before - and after - he turned his back and walked away...