Chapter 16: The truth
With Goldy and Tvoolia in tow, Commander Vimes had marched into the High Energy Magic Building as if he owned the place. It was an old habit with him. He had found the premises almost deserted, because it was dinner time, but he had encountered one lone wizard who was feeding the mouse, and he hadn't wasted any time on small talk. Tvoolia and Goldy had brushed the empty pizza cartons off a couple of chairs and were sitting daintily on the edges, while Vimes did the talking.
Adrian Turnipseed pulled a pristine handkerchief from his robe pocket and began to clean his spectacles.
"But we've been through all this before, Commander. We all saw them going over the Edge."
"We saw the boat going over the Edge, Mr Turnipseed. There was no evidence that the people were on it at the time."
Another wizard entered the room. Vimes recognized him as Mr Stibbons, the genial but somewhat socially inept Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic.
"Oh," said Ponder Stibbons. "Do we have visitors? It's Commander Vimes, isn't it? And who …" His voice trailed off. He blushed. His glasses began to cloud with a fine mist.
"Would you care to introduce me, Commander?" he whispered without taking his eyes off Tvoolia.
Vimes looked at the wizard and back at the young woman. The youngest Mrs Winter perched on the chair like some exotic bird, with her big brown eyes shining and her glossy black hair framing the delicate oval of her face. She smiled sweetly, oblivious to the cataclysm she had just caused. With a sigh, Vimes indicated the dwarf.
"This is Miss Jorgensson," he grunted, "and this is Mrs Winter. She is the wife of Lady Vetinari's brother."
"Delighted, I am sure," muttered Stibbons and took off his glasses. Then he screwed up his eyes and put the glasses back on. His mouth opened, then closed, as did his hands, and all the while he stared at Tvoolia.
"Mr Stibbons? Hello?" Vimes waved a hand in front of the wizard's face. Ponder Stibbons started and regained some degree of self-control.
"Yes. Yes, of course. How can I help you?"
"Commander Vimes wants us to do another search for the Vetinaris with the omniscope," explained Adrian Turnipseed, who had been unruffled by the sight of Tvoolia. "He believes that it was only the boat that went over the Edge."
"Sure, sure, if you wish, madam. Of course it was generally accepted that the couple were on the boat and - "
"Did you see any people?" interrupted Vimes. "It was dark and the picture was blurred."
"Well, I assumed they were sheltering under the robe – "
"Yes," said Vimes with a grim turn of the voice. "But assumptions have no place in a police investigation. I want proof."
"So you want us to do another search?" asked Ponder Stibbons, still looking at Tvoolia. Adrian Turnipseed excused himself and left the room.
"Yes. A discreet one."
"If you wish, we can do it right now and nobody else will know about it. Discretion is my middle name, madam. Hex can do the necessary algorithms in about fifteen minutes. How do you propose to get a lock on the passengers, though?"
"With this." Vimes produced a rectangular green leather case. "We should have used something like this in the first place. We were after the people, not after the boat."
"What is it?"
"Lady Vetinari's flute. I understand she is rather attached to it."
"It should work well then," said Stibbons, who was slowly recovering his senses. "Hex will calculate a bipolar identification matrix, which we will feed into the thaumic oscillograph. Would you like to watch, madam?"
"I would like to see that omniscope thing," said Tvoolia. "The rest isn't particularly interesting to me."
The door opened and Adrian Turnipseed wheeled in the omniscope. He began to attach various contraptions to it, but Stibbons pushed him aside.
"Go and start up the thaumic location program," he hissed and, turning to Tvoolia, continued: "This is the omniscope, madam, a device at the cutting edge of technomancy. You will observe that the flux regulators are only half the size of the ones you find on conventional models, making this a much more flexible appliance. We are using a Liquid Quartz Display, which has several advantages over the outdated Cryptic Ray Tubes."
"What a prat," muttered Goldy.
They waited for quarter of an hour, while Adrian Turnipseed operated Hex and Ponder Stibbons fussed about the omniscope, all the while emanating a stream of technical jargon, which completely failed to impress Tvoolia. Eventually the big dark screen flickered and swam into focus. It showed Henry and Angelina side by side with a music stand in front of them.
"That's two years ago, in February," declared Adrian Turnipseed.
"Adjust the syncopic temporal stabilizer," said Stibbons. The pictured wobbled, twinkled and cleared again. Two thin and tanned people in strange clothing appeared on the screen.
"That must be Lina!" cried Tvoolia. "What on the Disc is she doing?"
Against a vaguely bluish-white backdrop, Lord and Lady Vetinari were seen squatting on a rather splendid Klatchian rug, their hair and clothes flying in a strong wind. Vimes jumped up from his chair.
"When was that?"
Turnipseed consulted Hex.
"Ten minutes ago."
There was a brief moment of absolute silence and then a crash. Goldy had hugged Tvoolia so hard that they had both fallen off their chairs.
Against a vaguely bluish-white backdrop, Lord and Lady Vetinari were squatting on a rather splendid Klatchian rug, their hair and clothes flying in a strong wind. A flock of fleecy clouds was drifting steadily hubwards over the Circle Sea, and the carpet perched on one of these clouds like an errant postage stamp on a ball of candy floss. 1) It was cold and rather windy up here, but Vetinari had considered it crucial not to attract undue attention. He steered the carpet with seasoned equanimity. Angelina had initially been intimidated by this lofty form of transport, but had soon decided that she preferred it to both the fish and the camel. She sat snuggled against Vetinari and leaned over from time to time to peer down at the tiny specks of white that marked the crests of the waves.
"You didn't have to threaten the poor man," she said after a while.
"I didn't threaten him."
"I'm sure you did, in some sneaky way or other. That was completely unnecessary, you know. We could have easily paid for a ship's passage. Remember that I have the gold necklace that Felix gave me from the treasure hoard."
"I am well aware of its existence," replied Vetinari. "The curators at the Museum of Freelance Archaeology will consider it an asset to their collection."
"But it's mine!"
"I think the late Queen Halligalli might disagree with that notion. If you were willing to break it up to pay for a ship's passage, then you might as well donate it to the museum. And Sir Toby can't complain. We left him the camels. They'll fetch a good price."
"You mean somebody might buy them? Voluntarily? I cannot believe that."
"Oh well, different countries, different customs, as they say in Uberwald," said Vetinari.
"Do they? I've never been to Uberwald."
"That is unfortunate. I don't think you can expect us to be travelling much in the foreseeable future."
They flew on in silence for some time. The Circle Sea stretched out beneath them, a glittering expanse dotted with miniscule ships. The carpet was also, reflected Angelina, preferable to the boat, if for no other reason than the fact that Vetinari seemed able to make it go where they wanted to go.
"Wasn't it lucky that the Suleika arrived just this morning?" she asked.
"Very. I commend Mahmut for taking care of my papers. I would have been vexed indeed otherwise. One doesn't like to see the fruit of one's labours lost."
"Yes, and I'm sure he was glad that you eventually returned our cabin key. I wouldn't have minded getting my outfit from Queenston back, but that's a man's priorities for you."
"Don't fret about it. I didn't like it much anyway."
"Didn't you? You never said. Oh, well. Is it very bad news about Lord Downey?"
Vetinari rubbed his beard.
"Yes and no," he said. "Prince Khufurah is right in that it will be much harder to seize power from Downey than it would have been from Rust. But on the other hand I am fairly certain that Downey won't have made such a mess of things. At least we don't seem to be at war with anybody."
"But there will still be a lot to do, won't there?"
"Oh, yes, and the sooner I get started the better. Will you be glad to be back?"
"Well. Yes. Yes, of course. But - "
Vetinari said nothing. He continued to say nothing for several minutes, but Angelina remained silent.
"Will you tell me?" he asked eventually. She sighed.
"Oh, it all seems a bit pointless now, because I won't see Papa again."
A couple of tears made their way down her cheeks. Vetinari put an arm around her and was quiet while she cried. He didn't feel called to say anything. Parents die. There was nothing he could do about that. It was preferable, he supposed, to the children dying first.
The sun was sinking when they discerned the faint outline of the coast below them. The Ankh estuary was easy to recognize, because it tinted the sea a muddy brown colour for miles around. Angelina bit her lip. Soon they could see the city of Ankh-Morpork lying on the plain like a week-old pizza 2). Vetinari brought the carpet down behind a grove of oak trees not far from the main road leading to the Traitors Gate. The leaves shone in the light green colour of spring. Angelina felt heavy and slightly clumsy to stand on firm ground again. About a mile away the city wall was visible in the evening sun. Vetinari rolled up the carpet and tucked it under his arm. He looked down at his clothes and then at Angelina.
"With any luck, nobody will recognize us," he said. "Let's go.
1) This may very well be the worst simile in the whole story.
2) And this is the last simile, I promise.
In the big house in Scoone Avenue, Sir Samuel and Lady Sybil were sitting by the fire. The dinner table had been cleared, the curtains were drawn and Young Sam lay asleep in his bed. The house was quiet and the drawing room a scene of, for lack of a better word, domestic bliss. Sybil struggled with a half-knitted sock, while Vimes gave her an account of the day's discovery.
"How clever of you to think of that," said Sybil.
"I was an idiot not to think of it earlier. I should never have accepted the first session with the omniscope as evidence."
"Oh, Sam, don't be so hard on yourself. I cannot imagine that anybody else would have worked it out at all. Well, I'm very glad to know that Havelock is alive. Do you think he is coming back here?"
"Do you think it would be possible that Vetinari could have use of a magic carpet and not be on his way back here?"
Sybil, now absorbed in the difficult task of turning the heel, made no reply. For some ten minutes, nothing was heard but the slow clicking of the needles and the lady's mumbled counting. Eventually the deed was done and the wool was flowing through her fingers again without requiring much attention from the brain.
"I dare say they'll be here soon. I hope you are pleased, Sam."
"Why would I be?" grunted Vimes.
"Because you dislike him a bit less than the current Patrician?"
"Hm." Vimes silently puffed his cigar. He had to admit that the prospect of seeing Vetinari back in charge did cheer him up. However, Vetinari back in the city was not equivalent to Vetinari back in office. Besides, that other point of contention remained.
"He's still got that woman with him."
Sybil shook her head.
"Sam, 'that woman' is his wife. I don't think you would be too happy if people were referring to me as 'that woman', would you? Five."
"Just counting my rows, Sam. Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing Havelock again and to making friends with Angelina. They are likely to need some help when they arrive, and I think we should be as supportive as we can. As soon as they are here, we should invite them for dinner. I must ask Willikins to bring out the Sellini candlesticks. Are you listening, Sam?"
"Don't use your henpecked voice, Sam, please."
"Who knows, they might even be standing at the gate right now."
"We're not having them round tonight," said Vimes. "I've had a rough week, and I want some quality time with my wife."
"Oh, Sam, you are ever so sweet," said Sybil and put the knitting aside.
So here they are, standing at the gate. The big doors are closed, because it is late. In a minute they will summon the guard and demand entry to the city, but for now they stand and look in wonder at the walls they have so desired to see again.
"We are back," says Angelina.
"We're back indeed," says Vetinari and rubs his chin. "We are back, but what will we find, Angelina?"
Sounds drift over the walls. It is evening, but the city is still very much alive. The city doesn't sleep or even take as much as a nap. The streets are busy with people on every imaginable kind of errant, grave or frivolous. But the life of the city is not only lived in the streets. Behind the doors of buildings great or small, splendid or dilapidated, the people of Ankh-Morpork love and hate, plan and hope, struggle and die.
In his private sitting room in the Patrician's Palace, Lord Downey pours himself a glass of "nig" and looks out of the window. She worries him. He wonders how he will cope with her. She is so temperamental, so unpredictable, so capricious. There must be a way to tame her. Gina is a small concern in comparison, Gina he will manage somehow, but Morporkia gives him a headache.
In the bedroom of their modest apartment in Ettercap Street, Rufus and Elsie Drumknott stand side by side, unable to take their eyes off the tiny creature sleeping in the crib. They are tongue-tied, confused and utterly exhausted, but they are happier than they ever thought they could be.
In a windowless cellar room in his house in Moon Pond Lane, Lord Rust inspects the extensive array of locks and bolts on the heavy oak door, until he is almost sure that no assassin will be able to get in. Then he stretches out on the camp bed and falls into a fitful sleep.
In the comfortable house in Dolly Sisters, Henry, Tvoolia and Goldy celebrate with twofold reason. Henry is fully confident that Lina will be home soon, just like he has said all along. Tvoolia chimes in with expressions of delight, and would Goldy consider being godmother?
In the front room of an upmarket tailor shop in Phedre Road, Maria Susanna Sanguini is assessing a selection of exquisite fabrics and rejects one as too flimsy, the next as too stiff and another as too vulgar. The proprietor is beginning to review his initial opinion that he is honoured to be making The Dress.
In their shared prison cell, Silver and Shafto try to decide for the umpteenth time, and with no more chance of success than the umpteen-minus-one times before, whose fault it all has been.
In the watch house in Pseudopolis Yard, Constantin Greenaway takes a deep breath and repeats after Captain Carrot: "I comma square bracket recruit's name square bracket comma do solemnly swear by square bracket recruit's deity of choice square bracket to uphold the Laws and Ordinances of ..."
In her drawing room full of crystal vases and priceless china ornaments, Lady Selachii contemplates with a significant degree of vexation the prospect of seeing yet another woman of inferior birth elevated to the highest position in the city.
In the Great Hall of Unseen University, the wizards partake of a dinner of no more than average proportions. The Dean, on swallowing the last cracker with taramasalata, chokes and coughs up an olive stone, which first attracts his scorn, then his interest, and is soon passed around the table for inspection. "Looks like a Flying Carpet to me," booms Ridcully. "Can't for the life of me think what that's supposed to mean."
"What will we find?" repeats Vetinari.
We leave our hero and heroine at the gate. No doubt they will pass through and face the challenges that await them within the walls of Ankh-Morpork. Of the many doors and gates that have opened and closed for them in the last few months, this may turn out to be the crucial one. They have travelled by sea, land and air and through deserts and abysses of the mind. They come armed with a tale that defies belief and with the truths they have learned about themselves and each other. They expect to encounter incidents of betrayal and of loyalty. Whether the city will welcome them, reject them, or shrug its metaphorical shoulders at them, remains to be seen.
The watch oath is a direct quote from Guards! Guards! Jane Austen is still occasionally quoted in this story, while Stevenson, Goethe, Homer and, um, Harry Belafonte are merely referenced.
Thanks to all the readers who followed this story, especially those kind folks who reviewed. This story has been great fun to write and great fun to share, and I am glad I gave you a laugh. Being me, though, I wouldn't write fifty-five thousand words just to accommodate some jokes. I would be interested to know if people noticed the underlying themes and recurring motifs of the story. Just out of curiosity. ;-)
Oh, and if you happen to be wondering if there will be a sequel: It's in the works. Watch this space.