It had been a long night, but then Hogswatchnight always was. A million houses, a million children, a million mince pies. The Hogfather sighed, stretched out his back until it cracked, and checked the next name on his list.
Ah yes, Young Samuel Vimes, a boy still firmly on the Good list. But then, it was his first Christmas, and his worst naughtinesses still included an extra-smelly nappy. Next year would no doubt be a different story.
The Hogfather frowned over the sled for a moment before picking out a couple of neatly wrapped presents. He tucked them neatly under his arm before diving down the nearest chimney.
Something caught around his legs halfway down. Startled, he struggled to free them but found himself stuck where he was, halfway down the chimney, head sticking out into the fireplace.
And someone, he became aware, was pointing the sharp pointy end of a crossbow into his face.
"Ha! Got you, you bastard!"
"Sam, dear, what are you doing?" And that call came from the next room, the idear/i holding a tone that suggested that the caller knew that whatever her husband was doing, it was nothing good.
"Nothing!" The man was wearing a Guard uniform, the Hogfather noticed, the badge signifying that he was quite an important something-or-other. It didn't seem to stop him glancing nervously towards the door. "Just catching a burglar."
"I am not!" the Hogfather protested indignantly. "I'm the Hogfather! Hello, suit? Hogswatchnight? Gifts?"
"Anyone can get a fancy suit and come diving down the chimney," the man said stubbornly. "Anyway, you were Entering With Intent."
"With Intent To Deliver Presents, yes! That is what I do." The Hogfather narrowed his eyes, staring at the man. He seemed familiar, but then, most people did to him. "You're Samuel Vimes, aren't you? Used to live on Cockbill Street with your old Mum. I remember. Every year you'd ask for a toy fort."
The crossbow wavered, but Vimes didn't look any more friendly. "You never bloody brought it either, did you?"
"Er, no." This wasn't going well. The Hogfather squirmed, trying to get free. Something seemed to be tied around his legs. "Economic issues."
"What's that meant to mean?" Vimes demanded.
"It means I can't bring a massive wooden fort to a boy living on Cockbill Street, however nicely he asked!" the Hogfather snapped. "Don't look at me - I didn't make the rules!"
"Yeah, that excuse doesn't work when I use it either," Vimes said sourly. "Difference is, when I found the rules unbearable, I did something about it. How many hundreds of years have you just being letting it go on?"
"I do my job!" the Hofather snapped back. "Are you going to let me down? I have a lot of presents to deliver tonight, and some of them are for your son!"
"What, so you can bring the rich ones great big forts, and the poor ones toy soldiers with paint that comes off by the next week? No, I don't think I am," Vimes said. "In fact, I could just sit here all night with this crossbow, and..."
"Well, someone's getting coal in their stocking this year." The voice came from behind him, and Vimes turned guiltily. "Sam, dear, just what do you think you are idoing/i?"
"I... er..." Suddenly looking more like a naughty boy than an angry guard Vimes gestured to the chimney. "Just dealing with a burglar, dear."
"Oh, Sam, you didn't." She stepped forward, crouching to peer at the Hogfather's upside-down face. "I'm very sorry about this," she said loudly, as though being caught in a chimney might have rendered him deaf. "Soon have you out!"
"No, we won't!" Vimes protested. "I caught him!"
"Yes, I noticed, dear. In your assassin-trap. Very clever, but I think the nice man has a job to do tonight," his wife said firmly. "Now, get him down please."
"He's a potential criminal!" Vimes thought of something else suddenly, and grasped at it. "In fact, he's probably got notes on all the crimes in the icity/i in his so-called Naughty List!"
"Yes, dear." But Sybil wasn't budging. "Down, please, dear. Now, dear!"
Grudgingly, Vimes stepped forward to release the catch for his trap, and the Hogfather fell into a heap in the fireplace. Sybil was forward quickly, helping him up, dusting him off, pushing a mince pie into his hand before he truly knew what was going on.
"There we go. You'll find Young Sam's room if you go upstairs, second room down. Look for the bears. iDo/i try not to leave sooty footprints on the carpet, I remember my mother having the worst time getting them off."
The Hogfather nodded, still a little dazed, and hurried in the direction she had indicated. He paused, hesitating, when he saw Vimes still hovering by the door.
"Sam," Sybil said, a warning tone in her voice, and reluctantly the man stepped back.
"Don't think you've got away with it," he warned in an undertone. "There's always next year."
And the year after, and so on, until Young Sam was too old to believe in the Hogfather any more. Oh dear. The Hogfather had a suspicion he would be dealing with Sam Vimes for quite some time yet.