Havelock Vetinari opened his eyes. He was in bed. That was odd, he could distinctly remember getting up, breakfasting and going to his office. Or had he been dreaming? He did dream sometimes and said dreams did tend to be of a decidedly mundane nature, his waking life being quite fantastic enough.
Someone was standing at the window looking out, his back to the bed. Sunlight reflected off dull and dented metal. Vetinari squinted and the figure came into focus.
"Ah...Commander Vimes." What was Vimes doing in his bedroom?
The man turned a set and stony face towards him. His voice held a definite edge as he asked, "What's been happening, sir?"
Vetinari considered the question and discovered he didn't have an answer. "I appear to be lying down, Vimes." he ventured.
"You were in your office, sir. Unconscious."
Ah. Well that explained things. Somebody must have panicked and called the Watch. No doubt Vimes was annoyed. He had every right to be. Vetinari tried to assume his usual crisp, cool manner. "Dear me. I must have been..." he searched for an explanation. "Overdoing it," he decided. "Well, thank you. If you would be kind enough to -" 'inform Drumknott I am ready to resume business' was what he'd meant to say but an unfamiliar feeling of weakness made him change it to: "- help me up...."
Vetinari tried to sit. The room whirled and he found himself flat on his back once more. Vimes watched impassively. Oh dear, this wouldn't do at all. He lay still, attempting to collect his powers.
Vimes was talking to somebody. A sentence fragment caught Vetinari's attention. " - said Lord Vetinari's dead!"
"Dead?" he repeated. "Nonsense!" That was the kind of rumor that had to be scotched at once. Vetinari pulled himself upright by a sheer act of will. He made it all the way to his feet before a spinning darkness surged over him. He felt his knees hit the floor and then nothingness.
When the world came back he was on the bed with Vimes standing over him, grimmer than ever. Their eyes met. Vetinari resigned himself to staying recumbent - for now.
"I would like a glass of water," he said formally, recognizing his complete inability to pour one for himself.
Vimes picked up the beside jug, held it for a moment, then very carefully put it down. "I'll send someone to get some."
Ah. Vetinari thought, enlightened. He must be in bad shape. Vimes was thinking more quickly and clearly than he was! "Ah, Sir Samuel, but whom can you trust?"
Vimes went himself, clearly not ready to trust anybody - including his own men - at this point. He returned with a fresh jug and glass, filled the latter and held it out.
Vetinari attempted to prop himself up on an elbow and failed to make it more than an inch off the pillow before falling back.
Vimes looked away, clearly embarrassed. Vetinari set his jaw and tried again. An arm slipped beneath his shoulders raising and supporting him. Vimes held the glass to his lips so he could drink a few sips then lowered him back to the pillow.
Vetinari avoided the Commander's eye as carefully as Vimes was avoiding his. He'd seldom felt so acutely at a disadvantage. Good thing it was only Vimes seeing it.
"I've sent for a doctor," Vimes said after an awkward moment.
It took all Vetinari's strength to raise one eyebrow. "Mrs. Camphor is my usual medical attendant."
"No," Vimes said flatly.
Vetinari opened his mouth - and closed it. Damn, Vimes was still ahead of him!
He had been poisoned. Yes. Who had a motive? Vetinari almost smiled, practically everyone in Ankh-Morpork. Who would actually do such a thing? Someone who was very sure he would end up on top in the scramble to fill the vacuum left by his, Vetinari's, death.
Commander Sir Samuel Vimes was the richest man in Ankh-Morpork. He was affiliated by marriage with the highest ranks of the aristocracy and he controlled the only body of armed men in the City. Oh, yes he had the means and the best of opportunities...and Vetinari didn't believe it for a moment.
A Sam Vimes capable of plotting for power, of killing by stealth wouldn't be Sam Vimes. The thing was impossible. Quite impossible. Only a fool could believe it. But this City was full of fools and the Commander knew it as well as Vetinari himself did. He was quite right not to involve Mrs. Camphor. Quite right. (1)
Vimes' choice of medical aid struck Vetinari, even in his current unaccustomedly dim condition, as decidedly odd. For one thing the man smelled strongly of horses.... And why was there a dwarf officer in his room? Vetinari tried to think of poisons. Possibilities presented themselves in droves, unfortunately he wasn't anywhere near clear headed enough to settle on one.
An unpleasant interlude involving milk, a sticky potion and a very large basin left him almost too weak to breath, much less cogitate. Disconnected thoughts strolled lazily through his brain, passed the time of day and moved on, ignoring his feeble efforts to marshal them.
It occurred to him that he'd never been this vulnerable in all his life. Not even in dear Margolotta's clutches. Always before, however helpless he'd been physically, he'd had full use of his wits - the keenest and sharpest weapon he owned. But right now they were as soft and blunt as...as...something very soft and blunt. Good gods he couldn't even manage a simple metaphor!
Thank all the gods for Vimes. He could trust Sam Vimes with his life. And with his City which was much, much more important. Anyone who sought to profit by Vetinari's absence to the detriment of Ankh-Morpork would have to go through Sam Vimes. And that would be like trying to go through something...something very very hard and impermeable.
Sam Vimes, Vetinari reflected, was at one and the same time both the immoveable object AND the irresistible force. Oh good, at last a metaphor! He must be getting better. Perhaps the horse smelling doctor knew what he was doing after all. Now, what had he been thinking about again? Oh yes, Sam Vimes.
It was in its way fortunate that the man completely underrated himself. If he knew and was in full command of his own powers he would be quite, quite dangerous....Or did he know? It was a new thought, and a startling one. Did Sam Vimes recognize his own potentials, however dimly, and fear them. Fear himself?
Hmmmmmm. Was he, Vetinari, on to something or just wandering? He would give the subject further thought when his brain cleared and he could do so properly.
Vimes closed the bedroom door softly behind him and walked over to the bed. The Patrician was lying half on his side, fast asleep. Silvie was right, he was too thin. Normally you didn't notice the physical Vetinari much, the icy and ironic intellect demanded one's complete attention. But now, asleep, with those piercing eyes closed, face and limbs relaxed, he looked .... frail.
Vimes felt a stirring of anger. Damn Vetinari! He had no business lying there looking so...so helpless. How could he let somebody past his guard like this? Wasn't he the man with all the angles, on top of any and all situations?
Somebody got past his guard. 'I'm his guard.' Somebody had gotten past Vimes. Somebody was going to pay.
One long hand lay open by Vetinari's parrot profile. Vimes touched it.
Vetinari opened his eyes. Again. He felt better - if by better one meant slightly stronger - but everything hurt, including things that should be quite incapable of feeling pain due to a lack of nerve endings, like hair.
The blur by the bed resolved itself into Vimes wearing a face like Thursday. Oh excellent, another metaphor. He was improving - at least mentally. "Ah, Vimes." Oh dear. His voice didn't sound any stronger.
"How are you feeling, sir."
"Truly dreadful," Vetinari admitted honestly. "Who was that little man with the incredible bandy legs?"
"That was Doughnut Jimmy, sir. He used to be a jockey on a very fat horse."
Vetinari's enfeebled wits struggled with that one. "A racehorse?"
"A fat racehorse?" Was it just him or did that really not make sense, Vetinari wondered. "Surely that could never win a race?"
"I don't believe it ever did, sir. But Jimmy made a lot of money by not winning races."
"Ah." Yes of course. This WAS Ankh-Morpork after all. Vetinari was surprised by a sudden surge of affection for the mad, bad, dangerous place he called home and country. 'I love this City,' he thought. Then: 'Dear me, I am getting sentimental in my weakened condition!' "He gave me milk and some sort of sticky potion," Vetinari remembered. "I was heartily sick."
"So I understand, sir." Vimes said, expressionlessly.
Was that another metaphor or a simple descriptive? Vetinari wondered. "Funny phrase, that. Heartily sick. I wonder why it's a cliche? Sounds.... jolly. Rather cheerful really." It certainly hadn't been either a cheerful or jolly experience.
"Yes, sir," said Vimes.
Disgusting would be a much more accurate description. Or nauseating. Or enfeebling, or... Oh dear, he was wool gathering again...another odd phrase...did anyone really 'gather' wool? Surely it was more a matter of taking, and from quite reluctant sheep at that... Stop it, Havelock! Pull yourself together, man. Focus.
"Feel like I've got a bad dose of the flu, Vimes," he found himself confiding. "Head not working properly."
Vetinari detected a distinct note of sarcasm. In fact Vimes was probably being downright satirical behind that impassive front of his. What had they been talking about? Oh, yes. The doctor. Doughnut Jimmy. The former jockey.... "Why did he still smell of horses, Vimes?"
"He's a horse doctor, sir. A damn' good one. I heard last month he treated Dire Fortune and it didn't fall over until the last furlong."
His patient fell over in the last furlong? "Doesn't sound helpful, Vimes."
"Oh, I don't know, sir," the Commander answered, poker faced. "The horse HAD dropped dead coming up to the starting line."
"Ah, I see." Clearly a man who got results. But why not a people doctor? Ah. Because all the people doctors in the City were retained by one or the other of the Guilds, and the Guilds of course were the chief suspects. Vetinari was proud of himself for deducing that. His brain was working again. "Well, well, well. What a nasty, suspicious mind you have, Vimes."
"Thank you, sir," said the Commander.
Vetinari tried to raise himself on an elbow, and succeeded. He was quite unreasonably pleased. However: "Should toenails throb, Vimes?"
"Couldn't say, sir."
Vetinari assessed his condition and judged it satisfactory. "Now, I think I should like to read for a while. Life goes on, eh?"
Vimes didn't seem to find that cliche worth answering. He went to the long window onto the balcony. Vetinari noticed for the first time that it was open. "Everything all right, Constable Downspout?" the Commander asked a shape outside.
There came a mumble of answer.
"I'll shut the window now. The fog is coming in," Vimes said, and did so.
"What was that?" Vetinari asked, fascinated.
"Constable Downspout's a gargoyle, sir," Vimes answered almost cheerfully. "He's no good on parade and bloody useless on the street, but when it comes to staying in one place, sir, you can't beat him. He's world champion at not moving. You want the winner of the 100 Meters Standing Still, that's him. He spent three days on a roof in the rain when we caught the Park Lane knobbler. Nothing will get past him."
It certainly sounded that way.
"And there's Corporal Gimletsson patrolling the corridor," Vimes continued with evident satisfaction. "And Constable Glodsnephew on the floor below and Constables Flint and Moraine in the rooms on either side of you, and Sergeant Detritus will be around constantly so that if anyone nods off he'll kick arse, sir, you'll know when he does that 'cos the poor bugger'll come right through the wall."
Good old Vimes. He was nothing if not thorough. "Well done, Vimes. Am I right in thinking that all my guards are non-humans? They all seem to be dwarfs and trolls."
"Safest way, sir."
And so it was. The non-human communities could only suffer if he, Vetinari, was removed. They knew very well how precarious their position still was.
"You've thought of everything, Vimes."
"Hope so, sir."
"Thank you, Vimes," Vetinari pulled himself into a sitting position and reached for the mass of paper on the bedside table. "And now don't let me detain you." He began to read. Vimes didn't move so he looked up. The man was standing there, his mouth sagging open. "Was there anything else, Commander?" Vetinari asked politely.
Vimes visibly pulled himself together. "Well...I suppose not, sir. I suppose I'd just better run along, eh?"
"If you wouldn't mind," Vetinari said, ignoring the anger beginning to glow under the stony surface of the Commander's face. "And I'm sure a lot of paperwork has accumulated in my office, so if you'd send someone to fetch it, I'd be obliged."
The door closed behind Vimes with quite unnecessary force. Vetinari allowed himself a smile. Dear Vimes. He should be quite ashamed of himself but it was such fun winding the man up. And so easy too.
Vetinari readdressed himself to his papers, smile fading. Strange to feel at one and the same time so defenseless - and yet so safe.
1. Silvie Camphor is Sam Vimes sister. She became Vetinari's medical attendant after patching him up when he was shot by the gonne. Given the suspicions Vimes knew would be directed at him the last thing he needed was his own sister in charge of Vetinari's case.