Author's Note: This is a definite work in progress. Which means that it may never be finished. Probably, though, cause I like pirates. I recommend you read Diplomatic Piracy first, because that's just the smart thing to do. First person to tell me Vetinari's not in character gets laughed at and stalked on Facebook. I'll do it. Then I'll set your favorite houseplant on fire and make an NEDM on YTMND about it.
... Seriously, I will.
Love, your favorite author with a blatant disregard for characterization.
The room was dark, creating a foreboding and oppressive atmosphere. Candles guttered along the center of the table. At one end there sat a man, fattened on the cream of the high life, dressed in the finest silk robes and wearing ornate gold jewelry. On the table in front of him, there was a small pile of paper, looking lonely and neglected in the middle of the dark wood surface. The man's pale blue eyes darted nervously over the first few lines of script on the top page. He licked his lips and sighed, clasping both pale, fatty hands in front of his face. He looked up to the opposite end of the table.
It was empty.
The man sighed and leaned forward, eyes cast somewhat downward in a gesture of submission. "Thank you for coming," he said quietly.
Silence. You could practically hear the wax dripping off the candles.
"You know better than most, I am sure, that I am a man to whom eating one's words is nearly the pinnacle of all things dishonorable –" and here he paused, as though expecting a snide remark from the empty end of the table. It didn't come.
With a gulp, he continued. "I am very ashamed to say that this is a case where I tragically must. A recent discovery has come to my attention, and I feel it must be dealt with quickly. This is going to take a man with intelligence, experience and expertise in the political field, as well as a good deal of experience in all things nautical."
More silence. The candles at the other end of the table flickered, disturbed by a passing breeze. The fat man was sweating now. He licked his lips once more, than unclasped his hands, laid them flat on the table and looked the darkness at the opposite end of the table squarely in the face.
"I'm willing the withdraw the decree of exile, completely and utterly."
Something was happening at the other end of the table. The darkness stirred. An outline was defined. And then the darkness cracked a smile, silver teeth glinting in the candlelight.
The fat man sighed, relieved that the other party involved in the meeting had finally decided to participate. "Thank you, Havelock."
"I didn't say I'd do it yet. I merely displayed interest," the other man said, resting his elbows on the table and leaning forward. "Now talk, Rust. My time is a valuable commodity."
Lord Rust, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, bit back the urge to remark on the fact that a pirate's time couldn't possibly be that valuable. As much as he despised Vetinari and everything the man did, he needed him for this. The city needed him for this.
"Do you know anything about this?" he asked, trying to sound careless despite the fact his voice was trembling. With one be-ringed hand he withdrew a heavy black-iron key from his pocket. It thudded dully when it hit the table. "It was found in a gutter on Lower Broad Way."
The pirate picked up the key, turning it over and taking in every inch. "Where's the map?" he asked finally.
"The map." Vetinari fixed Rust with a cool blue stare. "This key always has a map with it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Rust snapped. "A clerk found it wrapped in a dirty piece of cloth in the gutter, completely devoid of a map."
"Where's the piece of cloth?" asked Vetinari, holding the key up. Candlelight tried to glint dramatically off it, but the black iron killed it.
Rust rolled his eyes and withdrew the disgusting cloth pouch it had been found in out of his pocket. "There's nothing on it."
"Really?" Vetinari casually pocketed the key, much to Rust's displeasure, and snatched the cloth from the Patrician. He tore the seams on the sides, making it a simple cloth rectangle. Then, with complete nonchalance, he held it up to a candle.
"Bloody, hells," breathed Rust. Visible only by the light of the candle, black lines appeared across the surface of the cloth, clearly marking out a path to the Slakki. "Clear as day."
"I'll do it," Vetinari said, folding the cloth up and likewise pocketing it. "Conditions being that my decree of exile gets revoked completely, and I'm given a full pardon."
Rust scowled, but considered the alternative. At least he knew Vetinari was, by and large, good for his word. "Fine," he spat.
"And I get everything of value that may or may not be found in the location marked on the map excepting whatever the key provides access to."
"Now, I say!"
Vetinari extended a cloth-wrapped hand, light glinting off his rings. "Deal?"
Rust snarled. "You bastard. I should send the navy instead."
Vetinari clucked disapprovingly. "Sending a line of government defense to do the work of one pirate, his ship and crew? Sounds like a very poor idea, Ronnie."
"Then I'll just find another bloody pirate."
Vetinari crossed his arms and leaned forward, smirking. "Fine, find another pirate. But don't expect to ever see any bit of that treasure. In fact, might as well give up on surviving your first five minutes in a meeting with him, because those rings look incredibly valuable." He extended his hand once more. "Deal, under my conditions. Take it or leave it."
Rust lurched forward and seized the pirate's hand, snarling. He tried to maybe get a rise out of the other man by gripping extremely tightly, but that all went to pot when Vetinari nearly crushed the Patrician's hand with practiced ease. "Deal, you bloody bastard."
"Excellent," replied Vetinari, grinning darkly.
"I hope you die after I get my treasure."
"Tsk tsk, Ronnie." Vetinari rose, and made his way to the wall of the room. "Greed is the most deadly vice of man." And with that, he pressed an innocent-looking spot on the wall. The promptly slid open, and Vetinari vanished into the passage.
"Bastard," the Patrician spat, once the wall had slid shut once more.
Young Sam was a growing boy. His father was amazed at the amount such a skinny boy could put away in one meal: like he was a machine with an insatiable need for fuel. For a man who had been raised in a home where food was a precious commodity, Commander Vimes often was absolutely flabbergasted by the boy's bottomless stomach.
"Now, Sam, not so quickly," Sybil scolded the boy gently. "You'll choke on something."
"With all due respect, mother, I am eating pasta." The younger Vimes boy smirked a little, and so did his father, despite his efforts to take the stern approach along with his wife. Young Sam had got all the smart-alec brains of his father, and all the quiet intelligence of his mother. He also got his father's wiry frame and mousy brown hair, though his clear blue-green eyes were unmistakably Sybil's. All in all, Young Sam Vimes was a quite handsome boy at age fifteen, and smart to boot. The Commander couldn't have been more proud.
"Nevertheless," Sybil said, after scowling a little at the snarky comment. "You can choke on pasta just the same as you can choke on a vegetable."
"Yes, mother," the boy said, casting his eyes downward and focusing on his dinner. He and his father shared a subtle wink, and Vimes the older was about to attempt to choke down a piece of lettuce when the bell rang.
"I've got it," he said quickly, nearly leaping to his feet. His wife scowled.
"No, you do not. Willikins is here for a reason, dear," She smiled a little, eyes narrowing somewhat. "Eat your salad."
Vimes held in a sigh and sat back down, fork still in hand. Across the table, his son was sniggering. "You eat yours too," he mumbled, gesturing vaguely in the direction of Young Sam's salad. The boy shot him a dirty look. "Don't look at me like that, your mother says vegetables are good for you."
"Yes," Sybil said, with all the confidence of a woman who has thoroughly researched vegetable consumption and knows she is an expert in the subject. "It provides you with essential vitamins and nutrients that you don't otherwise gain from meat, pasta and bread products."
"It still tastes nasty," said Young Sam sullenly, poking reluctantly at an asparagus shoot.
"More eating and less talking, Sam."
As both Vimes males experimentally prodded their greens, as though they might suddenly mutate into Killer Veggies From Hell, Willikins poked his head in through the dining room door.
"A visitor for the family," he said courteously, bowing. "He is happy to wait until the meal is finished. I left him in the Almost Hideous Brown room."
"Dinner will keep," said the Commander quickly, making a break for it. At this point, he didn't much care who the visitor was, as long as it wasn't a giant zucchini.
Sybil was obviously of two minds about the whole situation. Finally, she pursed her lips and rose. "I suppose we were almost finished anyhow." Following her lead, Young Sam leapt up from the table, spearing a tomato triumphantly.
"Whoever this is, they are my favorite guest," he whispered mischievously to his father. The Commander hushed him, but secretly he was in complete agreement with his son. The evening meal had certainly become much calmer and less interrupted in the thirteen years Vetinari had been gone, with the downside that vegetable consumption in the household had risen by a staggering 25.
The family made their way to the door of the Almost Hideous Brown room. Once outside, Sybil tucked in Young Sam's shirt and surreptitiously cast an investigative glance over her husband. Finding that his state of dress was as appropriate as it ever was, she nodded and – with all the grace of a lady born to be hospitable and kind – cast open the doors with a sincere smile.
Their guest could not have cared less. He was lying on the sofa, as stretched out as possible, with a very well worn leather tri-corn covering his face. By all appearances, he was fast asleep. Despite this minor setback, Sybil's smile never wavered or waned. In fact, she strode right over and lifted the cap, smiling even more brilliantly.
"Oh, bloody hell," the Commander muttered.
"Havelock Vetinari where have you been?" Sybil asked delightedly, sweeping across the room and shaking the man slightly. He swatted a tan, thin hand at her in annoyance and sat up, snatching his hat back and putting it back on as though it were some high religious ceremony.
"Dad," Young Sam whispered as the hat replacement occurred, "is there a pirate in our house?"
"Meet your godfather," Vimes muttered back.
"You could have finished your meal, you know," Vetinari said, rising and bowing cordially to Lady Sybil. "I was sleeping on something that doesn't rock and is in no immediate danger of sinking. There was no rush."
"Oh, no trouble at all!" exclaimed Sybil, hugging him. "Besides, you always have had a knack for interrupting mealtimes."
"Bad luck I suppose," he replied, smiling thinly. He knew quite well that this evening's interruption had not been bad luck at all: he'd been hiding in a bush in the back garden for the past two hours for the sole purpose of interrupting the Vimes' evening meal, just for old times' sake.
"Bad luck my eye," said the Commander gruffly. He strode forward and snatched a holly branch from the pirate's sword belt. "I don't suppose you have many holly bushes on your boat, do you?"
"Very observant," Vetinari said, a little smug, a little approving and very comical. Vimes still hadn't figured out if the slurred Morporkian accent mixed with Krullian was all an act or just a by-product of too much rum. "Good to see you again, Commander. Still alive, I gather?"
"Oh, stop it," Sybil said, smiling. "You look well yourself."
"You flatter me," said the pirate. "It's all the rum; keeps everything well-preserved."
"Everything except your liver," Vimes grumbled. He had to admit, be it reluctantly, that Vetinari looked good for someone their age. He was, as always, tall and thin, with an aura of haughtiness that was, apparently, quite permanent no matter the circumstances. He was just as tan as the last time Vimes had seen him, and he still seemed to be wearing some ridiculous kind of makeup. The only real changes were a few silver teeth and his now shorter hair, which had turned from jet black to completely white. And the jewelry, which Vetinari was hastily pulling off.
"I actually hate it," he was saying to Sybil, dropping the rings into his many pockets, "but it's a pirate thing. The more gold you have the more dangerous you are. Apparently."
"So you are a pirate!" came a triumphant young voice from the doorway. "I knew it because of the hat – no one wears those anymore."
"I wear it, thank you," Vetinari said loudly, turning to face Young Sam. Seeing as the Commander was in his line of sight, the politician-turned-pirate firmly pushed the man out of his way, fixing the young boy with the same blue stare that had turned so many politicians to mere blathering idiots. "You must be Sam."
"Sam Vimes the Younger," the boy said, standing up as straight as he could. "I'm fifteen, you know."
"Are you?" Vetinari asked, as though he were surprised. Then, as if the other two adults in the room had completely dropped off the map, he swaggered over to the boy.
"Is he drunk?" Sybil whispered to her husband.
'No," Vimes murmured back, "he always walks that way anymore. It's the rum – he's never really sober, I don't think."
"I kind of like the way he swings his hips," she observed. "He never did that before."
"Sybil, he's crazy and a pirate."
"Well, whatever," she said, happily unconcerned with Vetinari's profession of choice. "You don't think he'll hurt Sam, do you?"
"I'd disembowel him right here."
"Probably not, then."
"I have books about pirates," Sam was informing Vetinari. "I've read all about them. I could probably be an excellent pirate."
"Where do you go to school, Sam?" Vetinari asked, completely ignoring the teen's declaration of pirate expertise.
"The Assassin's Guild."
Vetinari looked surprised. Eyebrow raised, he spun to face the boy's parents. "Is he lying?"
"Unfortunately, no," the Commander growled, lighting a cigar. Sybil made a disapproving little noise.
"It's the best education in the city. Besides, he doesn't have to be an active member of the guild afterwards if he doesn't want to," she said stiffly.
"Of course it's the best education in the city. Best in the world," Vetinari said dismissively, as though Sybil had just stated something so obvious even newborns knew it. "Cobra House, I hope."
"Broken Moons, actually," Sam said, disdainfully. "Cobras are almost all there on scholarship."
"Sam!" Sybil scolded.
"Oh, scholarship," Vetinari said, faking equal disdain. "How crass of me to suggest there are students in economic brackets other than yours."
Young Sam scowled at the pirate, who was making quite a show of examining the rag tied around his wrist. Finally, the boy huffed and rolled his eyes. "Pirate," he muttered. Then he stalked out of the room. Vetinari stuck his tongue out at the boy as he retreated. Then he turned back to the Commander and Sybil, smiling serenely.
"Charming lad, isn't he?"
Sybil sighed. "It's a phase, I'm sure. Now, would you care for some tea?"
"Absolutely," said Vetinari, not missing a beat. Sybil hurried out of the room to find someone to start tea, leaving the pirate and Watch Commander alone.
"Thank you for that," Sam said stiffly. "Boy needs to be put back in place every once and a while." He sighed. "It's hard not to let them get spoiled, living like this."
"Oh, it's a phase, I'm sure," Vetinari said mildly, walking around the room and examining the various shiny and valuable things contained therein.
"So what brings you back to Ankh-Morpork?" Vimes asked, seating himself on the couch. "I though you went to Fourecks."
"I did," Vetinari said, turning a priceless vase upside-down and peering at the bottom of it. "Then I went to Genua and NoThing Fjord and Bhangbhangduc and all those sorts of places."
"Doing what? Not sightseeing, I'm sure."
"Honest pirating, of course. The counterweight continent is practically littered with gold." He grinned and moved on to the next valuable object, carefully setting the vase down. "And Genuan swamps are always good for a novelty or two."
"And, er, how's the boat?"
"The Boat?" Vetinari asked. "Oh, very good. Excellent. First mate had to go, of course, but such is piracy." Vimes winced as the pirate fumbled and nearly dropped a crystal swan Sybil had got for Hogswatch one year.
"The first mate?" Vimes asked, trying to recall Vetinari's crew from the last time he'd seen them, all of thirteen years ago. "Was that –"
"The girl? Yes. Most of the rest of the crew has changed as well, you know. Of course, I like to think I've upgraded." He smirked to himself. "I'd never imagined Drumknott would have wanted to go pirate so much."
"Drumknott?" Vimes' mind boggled for a moment. "The clerk? I thought he left when you did."
"Oh, it was a bugger tracking him down all right. Turns out no one else wanted to hire him. Found him in Kythia, drunk as a monkey."
Vimes sighed. "Of course you did."
"It was a coincidence, actually." Vetinari had at last put the swan back and moved on to the shiniest of baubles in the room. He stared at it. It stared back. "What's this?"
Vimes tried to re-arrange his train of thought. Upon taking in the cold, ruby eyes of the statue, he shrugged. "Dunno. Don't touch it."
"Sorry for the delay, I couldn't find Willikins anywhere." Sybil re-entered the room, carrying a silver tea tray adorned with the paper-thin china cups Vimes was always embarrassed too be seen drinking out of.
"No trouble," Vetinari said faintly. Vimes could practically see him mentally appraising the tea tray and its contents.
"Now, you don't take anything in yours, correct, Havelock?" Sybil asked, pouring out three cups.
"No, nothing at all," he replied, accepting the cup from Sybil. When she turned her back he hastily fumbled a flask out of his pocket and pulled the cork out with his teeth. Vimes glared accusingly. Vetinari merely shrugged and poured a good helping of what Vimes was sure was rum into his tea. When Sybil turned back, the flask had long since been re-corked and hidden away in some pocket.
"So how have you been?" she asked. "Not in trouble, I hope."
"Oh, all sorts, of trouble," replied the pirate lightly, as though he were discussing a promotion of sorts. "No one's managed to catch me yet, though. And as of now I am not wanted in Ankh-Morpork, I believe."
"Actually, you are," Vimes said darkly. He could smell the rum and it was not putting him in a good mood. "I believe it was last January that you stole all valuables and goods off a Morporkian ship carrying some livestock."
"And rum," Vetinari added. "Lots of rum. Whole hold was practically stuffed with it." He took a gulp of rum with a twist of tea. "Well, regardless, I've been granted temporary reprieve."
"Reprieve?" Sybil asked, stirring some sugar into her own tea. "That's wonderful!"
"What did you do this time?" Vimes asked, scowling.
"Nothing," smirked Vetinari. "Lord Rust just needed something."
Sybil looked up, as coldly inquisitive as Vimes had ever seen her. "What is he up to?"
"Oh, nothing. Just a bit of a treasure hunt is all." Vetinari had since turned back to the statue with the ruby eyes. "What on the Disc is this?"
"Some old relic my great-grandfather brought back from Nafooi," explained Sybil. "No clue what it actually is. Now, no more changing the subject: what sort of treasure hunt?"
"He found a key and a map," Vetinari responded. "He needed a pirate to go get it for him."
"Oh, a very traditional treasure hunt, then," Sybil said, apparently excited. "Well, that should be fun, hm?"
"Never been to Slakki before," said Vetinari, sitting down in an enormous leather armchair, all valuables having been well inspected. "So in the very least it ought to be interesting."
"That's practically on the other side of the world," Vimes muttered. Then, louder, he asked, "How long is this going to take you?"
"Well, seeing as it's June now, by the time we get to the channel between the Counterweight Continent and the big continent it'll all be frozen over. And we'd probably have to wait in Ecalpon for at least three months before it thawed. So I'm thinking we'll head around the Counterweight Continent completely. Should get us there and back in, I don't know, nine months?"
"That's an awful long time to be at sea," Sybil said, worried. "Do be careful."
"Oh, we stop along the way," Vetinari said, secretly wishing Sybil would turn away again so he could add more rum to his cup. "The main problem with that route is that I'm very much wanted in Ting Ling."
"Well, then wouldn't it be safer to head widdershins and just go around Cape Terror?" Vimes asked, trying to pull up a map of the Discworld in his head.
"If there's one country that wants me more than Ting Ling it's Muntab," Vetinari said simply. "Turns out the king's virgins are strictly off-limits there," he said, wincing, as though recalling some horrible event, Vimes doubted it was that horrible if there were virgins involved.
Sybil sighed. "Well, Havelock, I just hope you're enjoying yourself. I can't say I agree with what you're doing, but as long as you're happy, I suppose it's all right."
"It has its moments," he replied, smiling faintly. Vimes wondered if he was still thinking about the virgins. Then, as though startled, he pulled out a very gold pocket watch. "Well, it seems I have to be going – the crew will need some directions or something." He pocketed the watch and set the cup down one the tray, visibly restraining himself from snatching the silver spoon lying by the sugar.
"Where'd you get the watch from?" Vimes asked sharply.
"Lord Rust," Vetinari replied carelessly. "The idiot keeps it in his sleeve, of all places. Well, he used to keep it there."
Sybil covered her mouth with her hand, disguising a smile. Then she rose with the pirate and patted him on the shoulder in a motherly fashion. "Please don't do anything stupid, Havelock. I hope you find your treasure."
"I hope so too," he agreed. "Thanks for the tea."
"Just don't get killed," Vimes growled. "You know, in case Rust dies and the position opens up again."
Vetinari saluted lazily. "Will do, Commander. And now, I'm afraid I must be off. Good to see you both." And with that, he swaggered out of the room, shutting the door behind him. In the now-dark hallway, he paused, putting all his rings back on. "Be seeing you, Sam," he said, once he had finished. "Remember, the key to not being seen is not blending in, it's becoming the background." In the shadows, the young Assassin's jaw dropped as the pirate walked out.
Later that night, Sam Vimes was headed to the back door to have a quiet smoke out on the porch. In the hall he encountered his son. "Hello, Sam," he said, passing the boy by. "What are you up to?"
Young Sam jumped, and turned, looking startled and a little guilty. "Um, nothing. I was just headed down to the post office."
"Why?" the Commander asked, natural suspicion kicking in.
"We're, uh, out of stamps. And Jacque's birthday is later this week, so I want to get this letter in the mail as soon as possible." He smiled, trying very hard to be the picture of innocence. "Alright?"
His father sighed and pushed open the back door, looking out over the city. "Fine," he said. "See you in half an hour?"
"Oh, absolutely," the boy replied, pulling his dark cloak over his shoulder. "Be back before you know it."
Vimes nodded, and watched his son walk down the street, disappearing into the night.
End, Capitulo 1