Disclaimer: I don't own Discworld. Terry Pratchett does, thank goodness.
Coppers would be too suspicious of anyone calling themselves the god of coppers to actually believe in them. That's true enough, and right.
But what about someone who doesn't call themselves a god, but does call themselves a copper? One that always gets his man, one whose students go out into little towns and big cities all over the Sto Plains and finally all over the Disc and bring with them something called the Law, something called Justice, that isn't in books but still exists?
Something that isn't shining down from high but is stumbling around in the dark, and tripping over rakes that got used to bash the neighbors' head in during the one-inch-lawn dispute. Something that isn't brought about by the gods but blindfolded by them. Something that sees past Clues to the heart of the matter.
The Sammies come away with little maxims, like everybody's guilty of something, including them. With that internal anger at injustice and all the bastards that get the little guy down, and the little guys that are ungrateful bastards, although it's usually not until they're out there that they realize that there's a bastard in the darkness behind their eyes, the bastard that wants to take advantage of the power they've got like everyone else does (to them), the bastard that wants to take someone to go fall down the stairs because they went a little too far and remembers the stories told in whispers about the granite-faced man who arrested two armies and fought off a demon army and coppered his way to the tomb of the Diamond King & the King of the Dwarves, where they hid the stolen treasure known as peace.
The man who arrested the Patrician. The man who gives orders to the person everyone believes is the King (but they're coppers, and coppers don't believe in anything, they believe that) of his own city. Kings know justice when they see it, right? And a man who went blind before he was too much older can see better than a King.
They're taught to believe in being a really suspicious bastard. They're taught to believe that everyone is lying about something. They're taught to believe that everyone's a crook, even them.
And they're taught that despite all this it's possible to get your man.
They don't believe in gods, they don't believe in anyone's word or even what seems obvious.
But humans are creatures that believe, and so they believe in something.
Sam Vimes woke up at the bony tap on his shoulder and was about to tell Death to bugger off when he realized that he actually was dead this time. The fact that when he sat up his body didn't sit up with him was a pretty obvious clue, but it wasn't until he confirmed that he wasn't breathing that he admitted that it might be for real this time.
He wasn't going to object. Since Sybil had finally managed to achieve a ten-centimeter longer flame (a surprising achievement, a fatal surprise in fact), he'd been spinning his wheels. Last night his granddaughter had told him she was getting too old to hear 'Where's My Cow' read to her every night and had asked him to let her help with the paperwork instead. The girl was a dab hand at forging signatures as well as recognizing them already, Young Sam would be embarrassed and her other grandfather would be proud. A crook in the Patrician's office: they'd thought he would object? As though there had ever been a ruler who wasn't a crook. At least he kept it small-time.
"I'm not going anywhere."
I AM AWARE OF THAT, BUT THERE IS A FORMALITY TO THESE THINGS. ALL SOULS GO WHERE THEY BELIEVE THEY WILL.
"I don't believe in souls."
THAT IS IRRELEVANT. YOUR SOUL BELIEVES IN YOU, AND SO DO MANY OTHERS. Death took out a second lifetimer and tapped it on the side. INVISIBLE SAND, WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF NEXT… Taking out another timer, Death looked around. EXCUSE ME. COULD YOU MOVE? A .303 BOOKWORM WILL SHORTLY BE CRUSHED BY YOUR PAPERWORK.
Vimes got out of the way. "One of them finally hatched? I'd almost given up on them being able to live outside of the library! It figures," Vimes said, disgruntled (he'd gone his entire life without once being gruntled), as the paperwork started to vanish into thin air, or .303 bookworm. "I finally find a way to get rid of the paperwork they keep sending up here even though they know it won't get done and I'm too dead to enjoy it. At least they can't send me paperwork now!"
There was a knock at the door. "Commander Vimes? I have your coffee." There was another knock. The door opened and his assistant stepped in carefully loudly enough Vimes would have to be deafer than a post to think someone was trying to sneak up on him and act with the according extreme prejudice.
No scream, Vimes was pleased to note. Instead, there was a bellow. "Igor!"
A stack of paperwork, its scaffolding already eaten, toppled over onto a sated bookworm. Death and the recently departed life departed.
If you asked for help you wouldn't get it, but it was well known that disgruntled grumbling and dogged persistence would be rewarded by catching your man, or being of desired race and gender, and serious prodding of buttock. Or other realistic requests, like hard-boiled eggs, provided you were a hard-boiled enough copper.
"Where were you on the night of the full moon when it was also a winter solstice and Mr. Hong…" The sheer force of Vimes' disbelief was enough to make even Fate retreat a pace.
Things came to a head when the next group of beings from the Dungeon Dimensions ended up locked in the cells and Archchancellor Stibbons had to fill out deportation paperwork. Ankh-Morpork barely had deportation paperwork, but invaders from the Dungeon Dimensions never had currency worth selling things in exchange for.
"I keep telling them I'm not a god and I've still got a Watch House on Dunmanifestin! The office floor is knee-deep in paperwork, too!" Vimes hadn't been surprised to find Vetinari's figure set up at a practically invisible grey desk at the foot of the still-mouldering throne. Everyone knew something like death wouldn't keep Vetinari out of the game, even if they'd been really, really through about scattering his ashes.
"They are coppers, Vimes."
"Exactly! They should know better!"
"To paraphrase: If it's been officially denied it's almost certain. That's number forty-seven, I believe."
"Number forty-seven of what?"
"The precepts of your followers."
"'Just because someone is a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk,' is another." Vetinari licked his fingers to turn another page. "Seventeen, in fact."
"You mean they're following the stuff I always say? What's Rule One?"
"Rule One is never act incautiously when confronted with a little bald wrinkly smiling man. Law One is don't trust nobody." Vetinari smiled as he always did, steepling his fingers. "They're coppers, Vimes. Of course they're not going to believe a word you say."
"I'm not going to go around calling myself a god!"
"Exactly. Coppers wouldn't believe in someone claiming to be the god of coppers. However, they would believe it if someone officially denied it. And they would be right, either way."
"I'm not going to go around calling myself the god of coppers to make myself stop being the god of coppers!"
"Exactly. If you were to say you were, you wouldn't be. As long as you officially deny it, you are." Vetinari still had, and always would have even if he hadn't always had, a mind like a corkscrew. "I would continue selecting priests if I were you. If you don't they select themselves."
Vimes punched the wall, gave the crack that appeared a glare, and slammed the front door (coppers weren't tradesman to go to back doors) of the palace on his way out.
Vetinari would have felt guilt if he hadn't lost the ability to feel that emotion during his sixth year in office, when the people truly started to believe in the façade of the Patrician whose insanity was that of the cold and rational variety instead of enough bricks shy of a load for them have been stolen and used to build the Tower of Art. If only Vimes had existed it wouldn't have been necessary to invent him. Perhaps utilizing the History Monks had been a little over the top, but Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes had been one of the two men most important to shaping Vetinari's view of human nature, even before the tiger enthusiast. Of course, if Vetinari had existed it wouldn't have been necessary to invent himself.
Of course, Carrot was the one who started the process. A belief-magnet like a king needed someone to notbelieve in them. He'd come to Vetinari after he'd gained enough awareness to realize what he'd done. But it was what Vimes wanted, after all, complain as he might.
Not that Vetinari had any illusions that he was the master of someone capable of scaring away a primordial demon while still mostly human. He had no power over Vimes. He did have control.
Provided Vimes didn't turn and observe the strings out of existence.
"Your thoughts?" The man on the throne wasn't Carrot. Carrot had gone on quite happily with Angua, surrounded by children and grand-puppies. The man on the throne was the King, the Man of the City, the man whose avatar Carrot had been. The policeman man created for itself. The watchman without a watcher.
"You are every person of the city, including me." Why bother relating them, then?
"He does a far better job than I ever did."
"He does his job. You try to do everyone's job." The ideal father, managing everything, perfectly trustworthy yet only human.
The watchman watched the watchman's watchman patrol, even into the Shades.
The ideal of justice perched on a rotten throne: the monarch of all he surveyed surveyed all.
But true justice could only come from a man who doesn't see with his eyes.