Detritus stood at the gates of the Ramkin estate. It had been a long time since he last visited the house and this was the first time he'd ever been there out of uniform. He rarely ever felt nervous about anything, but this was different. This was important. This was for Ruby.
Detritus knew he had to be cultured around ladies so he would need to wear his cooling helmet, but a helmet wasn't knobby enough especially one so dinged up. In a stroke of genius Detritus decided to cover the helmet with a black top hat. He had even purchased a new black loincloth to match, but now that he was standing in front of the house, it didn't seem to be enough.
He knocked on the door with as much delicacy as possible and managed to not make any dents. Willikins answered. His face remained deadpan even at the sight of a troll on the doorstep but his hand instinctually moved down to his pocket.
"Can I talk to Mrs. Vimes?" asked Detritus in what he hoped was a polite voice. "Please?" he added because polite people were supposed to say please.
"You are Detritus, correct?" said Willikins noting the top hat.
"Dat's me," he said. "Umm, I mean, yes I am, good sir." Sounding posh was important too.
"Lady Sybil is in the dragon pens right now. Would you like me to show you to her?"
Detritus remembered that dragons breathe fire. That would be bad. Trolls didn't do so well around heat.
"Oh um… no thanks. I'll just wait until she's done."
"Please come inside then."
Detritus stood still for a second as he debated what he should do. It wasn't this hard when he came here as a watchman. He surreptitiously checked the bottom of his feet when Willikins' back was turned. He wished he had worn shoes, but he didn't have any posh shoes, only the ones that were part of the uniform. It occurred to him that he really didn't have any clothes apart from his uniform.
Willikins showed him into the Light Blue Sitting Room.
"Please sit down. Shall I bring you a drink while you wait?"
"I, err, no thank you."
Detritus stood completely stiff. He glanced at the couch.
He told me to sit down, but what if I break it? It could be really expensive like an antique or something. Maybe I should just stand, but no, I can't do that. I have to follow the rules. If I stand when I'm supposed to sit then I'll mess up.
The couch looked sturdy enough, but Detritus was extra delicate anyway. He had just sat down when Lady Sybil swept into the room. Detritus unconsciously stood at attention and saluted. He lowered his hand quickly and hoped she didn't notice. He wasn't supposed to be a watchman here. He had to be a gentleman.
"Detritus," said Lady Sybil. She wore a calm and disarming smile. "It's good to see you. You look rather handsome out of uniform."
"Th-thank you, ma'am." Detritus blushed a little and slowly sat down again.
Sybil took off her protective outerwear and joined Detritus around the coffee table.
"To what to I owe the pleasure?"
Detritus rearranged the words in his head and tried to make some sense of them. The book hadn't mentioned phrases. He decided to stay silent.
"What are you here for?" said Sybil politely.
"Mr. Vimes said that I should talk to you about, um, buying a property."
"Ah, Sam needs to stop handing off his work to me. He's the one who owns the properties."
"Yes it's traditional for the husband to have full ownership of any land, but Sam tends to leave the finances to me. He's a little lazy you see."
"Mr. Vimes ain't lazy!" shouted Detritus. He immediately froze. "Damn it, I didn't mean to say that. Wait, I didn't mean to cuss! I… I'm sorry…"
"No, no, it's quite alright. I find it admirable that you would so loyally defend him like that. I can see why he respects you so much."
"Mr. Vimes told you that?"
"He said you were very dependable."
"Oh, um, that's…"
The cooling helmet helped keep Detritus sharp but it was useless if he didn't know what to say. It just made him more aware of the embarrassing gaps between his words.
Sybil noted his discomfort and changed the subject.
"So you said something about buying property?" she asked.
"Yes, I want to build a house for Ruby and I want it to be someplace nice… not like I'm saying you would have bad places. I was just um…"
Sybil smiled and shook her head. She had never expected a troll to act this way, especially not Detritus. She could hear his cooling helmet whirling away under the top hat. Sam got like this sometimes too.
"Let me get my book," said Sybil. "I think I might have the perfect place for you."
Lady Sybil left and Detritus took the chance to try to calm himself down. It didn't last long. Willikins sidled into the room with a platter that held a surprisingly delicious variety of rocks along with human treats and mugs of ice water.
Willikins seemed to be watching him carefully. Detritus slowly picked up a stone that had been set on a doily.
"Wait, but this is…"
"Shall I bring you a different one?" said Willikins. "I do apologize for my ignorance."
"No!" said Detritus a little bit louder than he intended. "I mean that this is a rocky flat rock. You can only get them in Genua. This must have cost a fortune. I can't … it's um, thank you."
Willikins flashed a rare smile. It had genuinely unsettled him for a moment there. He took pride in his abilities as a butler. He had been unprepared and that was not going to happen again. Detritus gently replaced the rock on its doily and inspected the others. He felt a little less nervous about this. Food was easy.
"Oh that one is nice. The little carving is pretty. The red slant rock is one of my favorites."
Detritus popped that one in his mouth like a chocolate bonbon.
"This one's pretty good too. It's even got fissures in it. Some people don't like fissures but I think they taste more natural that way."
Detritus ate that one too. He cringed and passed over the others. He didn't say anything because that would be rude.
"Thank you for your expert opinion, Mr. Detritus. Would you be willing to test any more of my creations at a later date?"
"Oh yeah, sure dat's right. I'm real good at eating things."
Sybil returned with a large portfolio. She set it down on the table and opened to a map of the city where she had marked all of her properties.
"All right, what area of the city were you interested in?"
"Uhh," Detritus hadn't really planned past this point. "I want someplace nice. Ruby is a delicate civilized lady. She deserves the best." A far away expression passed over Detritus' eyes. Even after two years of marriage, he still had that same shy puppy love for his wife. "Perhaps someplace rocky?"
"I have a few properties at the base of the Tump. That's the rockiest place in the city."
"No, it's too far away from Ruby's friends."
Detritus examined the map closely. This was a big decision. He suddenly wished he had two cooling helmets on. Sybil waited patiently for a few minutes before getting up.
"I'll let you look over the properties for a while. When you need me, I'll be in the Orange Office. Take your time."
He waited for a bit to make sure she had gone. Then he took off his hat, grabbed a mug of ice water, and poured it over his head. The cold hit him immediately and the first thing that came to him was: damn it, I'm gonna get water on Mr. Vimes' couch!
He stood up just in time to stop the now dirty water from dripping onto the upholstery. The ice cubes had lodged themselves into cracks on his head and he was thinking quite clearly. The water felt creepy and unnatural on his back and his body felt stiff, but it was a small price to pay for Ruby's perfect house.