Lord Vetinari, resident tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, sat comfortably in the Oblong Office rereading a medical expense report from the Watch. Magma, so that's how he did it. Sergeant Detritus leapt two tiers higher in Vetinari's list of useful people and settled down right next to his wife. Perhaps with a little push… but no that would have to wait. Everything in good time. Right now there was something far more interesting for the Sergeant to prepare for. Vetinari indulged in a rare but contractual bout of maniacal laughter. It was amazing how things could just fall into place.
Vimes gave Detritus and Ruby permission to use his pond while they constructed their own pool. It gave him a private and comfortable place to slowly get used to his prescribed treatment. Unfortunately, the environment was far from ideal. Vimes' hippos were generally hospitable and courteous up until the point where they suddenly weren't and Ruby had to take them down. As entertaining as was to watch his wife wrestle hippos in murky water, Roderick and Keith were not very helpful in encouraging Detritus to accept his diagnosis.
Detritus didn't want anyone to know about him building a bath so the responsibility fell on Cheery to orchestrate the construction with as much discretion as possible. This was fine for the job of extending the basement, but Cheery's skills were centered around structural mineshaft design not implementation. She knew next to nothing about waterproofing and Detritus resolutely refused to risk hiring a contractor. He also disapproved of her asking other dwarfs for information about it, but Cheery did it anyway and no one was the wiser. In the end, the result wasn't pretty but at least it worked.
Detritus stood at the edge of his new bathing pool and waited for Ruby. Even though he had gotten used to it in Vimes' pond, it still scared him to sit in water alone. He kept having thoughts of the storm the Watch had gone through on their way to Klatch. He remembered being ordered to throw things overboard in their attempt to outrun their pursuers. The memory of the heavy objects sinking into the sea, the splash, the sound made his chest ache. He imagined the rejected items falling all the way to the ocean floor down in the lonely darkness, a world with no direction. They were trash, things discarded because they had no use, detritus that sank into the place where it belonged. No one cared what happened to trash.
He would sink forever, the dark waves closing over him plunging him into the black frozen world below.
If he could bleed like a human, could he drown like a human?
Suddenly Ruby swept into the room with her bag of 'equipment.' She turned on the water, happily oblivious to Detritus' discomfort. Her excited smile brought him out of his fears. This would be their first time using the new pool.
Cheery had designed the bath to be as comfortably natural as possible. It looked more like a rocky indoor pond than a bathtub. The water came out of showerheads so it felt more like rain. She had been so nice about it too, always asking him before making a change.
Detritus turned his head just in time to see Ruby lean into a stream of falling water. He watched as the water exposed the beautiful seems beneath the dull dried rocks of her body. She noticed him watching her and slowly let the shower fall across her face. She laughed at his expression of awe.
"Put your eyes back in and come and join me."
Detritus couldn't say no to that and he settled down next to Ruby as the pool filled. The water level crept up his legs causing steam to appear but he wasn't paying it any attention. How could he when Ruby had just pulled out a washcloth? She held it out for him, but as soon as his hand touched it she pulled him forward and under the shower. She giggled at his shout of surprise.
"Wash me," she cooed, taking a bar of soap out of her bag.
Detritus took the wet towel and drew it down the side of her face where a shimmering red seem meandered down past her shoulders. Ruby's neck relaxed at the touch. Detritus smiled at how readily she reacted to the soapy water. The morphic field that held her stones together wavered and the fissures slowly spread apart. Ruby sighed happily as the water flowed over vulnerable surfaces normally shielded from the outside world. In this state, it would be so easy for someone to break her apart.
Detritus felt Ruby rub the towel over his body, slowly loosening the stones. Sometimes he could hear the sound of steam as his magma cooled. He held her close to him and began to shift his stones to fit together with hers. He delighted in the feeling of Ruby sinking into him, their stones mixing. His morphic field relaxed and his sense of independent identity faded. He was part of her and she was all that mattered.
Their stones aligned for maximum contact. Ruby took on Detritus' body as part of her own until she too could feel his hypersensitivity caused by his magma.
They identified themselves as one and the same and the field responded to that. It engulfed both of them as one troll and strengthened as their minds converged into a shared dream, into groophar. It tightened around them, pushing the stones together. The cracks shrank and the single mass of rocks solidified.
They didn't separate until well into the next day.
"Hey, looks like someone's happy," Topaz said when Ruby entered the shop. "Gotta be careful. Mum says you can't dream too much or you'll die."
"That's just a myth, Topaz. If you died in groophar, no one would ever do it."
Ruby wasn't superstitious, but sometimes myths clung to her. This was one of them. It was said that groophar could trap you and take away your identity forever if you stayed too long. Your mind would go numb and you'd never wake up.
Ruby always made sure to remember her independence. She would always be the first to wake and reclaim her stones. Her morphic field was quick to reassert itself. There were many theories as to what exactly happens when a pebble appears, but Ruby was a firm believer of the idea that they came from a stone left unclaimed by either partner at the end of groophar.
"It's my fault," she said with a depressed sigh. "I have such an individual personality. It must be because I can't forget myself enough."
"A wife needs to become part of her husband completely letting go," Topaz said as if reading from a book.* "You're not doing it right."
"I can't just stop being me."
"Then you're never gonna get a pebble. That's the price you got to pay for flying against tradition."
Ruby knew that Detritus would be a good father. He was the rare type of troll who deserved to be surrounded by his children. She hated herself for not being able to give him that which would surely bring so much joy to his life.
*If Topaz could read, that is.
Lance Constable Bauxite returned to Ankh-Morpork with a cartload of exotic rocks from Lancre and a 'you-know-better-than-that' glare for Sergeant Flint. The Sergeant suddenly found other things to do than stalk Detritus' wife. Though Bauxite liked her too, he didn't need to sit in the snow to know not to try anything on Ruby. Flint and Detritus may be the same rank but Detritus had an unspoken seniority. It wasn't just because he was a close friend of Commander Vimes or that he had been on special international missions. Detritus was respected because he got things done and didn't whine about it or expect special treatment. Detritus wasn't smart but he had an uncannily accurate sense of intuition. It seemed like he could read a troll's mind. He just knew things like he could feel them.
He was the troll who taught every other troll on the Watch. At the time, Bauxite felt like he was just pushing around his weight around, but the training Detritus had given him as a recruit legitimately prepared him for being a watchman. Bauxite owed his sergeant a great debt that he would never be able to repay if only because Detritus had everything a troll could ask for. No, there was only one thing that Bauxite could do to thank him and he needed a lot of money to do it.
He sold his foreign lady rocks to Ruby. He had to resolutely stop himself from simply giving them to her as a gift. Try as he might to deny it, he loved Ruby too, but it was different than the way Sergeant Flint felt. Bauxite was attracted to love and life that radiated from her at all times.
Rocks have a way of absorbing their surroundings. Trolls can do that too. The souls of the lady rocks that Detritus gave Ruby every day seeped into her stony body. She had become a lady because every rock in her collection told her so. She sparkled and that feeling brought people back to the store time and time again.
She was a beautiful gem in a city of increasing unrest.
A war was brewing.
While discord started to spread its greasy fingers in Ankh-Morpork, Detritus was on another body guard mission. This time, the client wanted to go to Pseudopolis. It was a good thing too, because Detritus had some personal business to take care of. He found his target at the top of a hill outside the city. Three young trolls hastily stashed away whatever it was they were fiddling with as he approached them and the gang's leader ran over to meet him.
"Hey Detritus," Blurite said excitedly. "Kurkar told me you killed the dragon that attacked Ankh-Morpork a long time ago. Is that true? Do you got its skull?"
"You could totally put that on your belt," said Crag smoothly. "All the cool trolls are wearing skulls."
"That dragon was huge!" chimed in Mylonite. "You'd have to have a cart to carry it."
"So what?" said Crag. "No one would messes with a guy who's got a dragon skull."
"I didn't kill the dragon," Detritus explained.
"Yeah, but you probably gave it a run for its money."
"Dragons don't got money, stupid!" Blurite shouted and punched Crag.
"They do too! It's called a hoard."
"Did you take any of its treasure, Detritus?" asked Mylonite entirely disinterested in the argument his friends were getting into.
"I wasn't even there!" said Detritus completely losing any control over the conversation. "The dragon was—"
"Kurkar, you sedimentary liar!" Blurite yelled down to his friend at the bottom of the hill. "He don't have a skull!"
"You ain't got a brain!" Kurkar called back, stomping his way up to them.
"But the dragon didn't even—" Detritus started.
"Someone got to it before you right?" said Mylonite with misguided empathy. "It's okay Detritus. I can keep a secret."
"Did you get the rock?" Blurite asked before Kurkar could get to him. "I already told everyone I had it and they'll kill me if I lie."
The gang all turned to Detritus at once waiting expectantly. Detritus shrugged a sack off his shoulder and handed it to Blurite. The gang leader quickly pulled out a smooth black rock.
"Sand and crap! That's awesome!" Crag squealed in delight. Then he froze and coughed awkwardly. "It's cool," he mumbled with contrived disinterest.
"You'll only get it stolen from you, Blurite," Kurkar said eyeing the black river rock greedily. "You're weaker than a human. Maybe you should give it to me instead, you know, for safe keeping."
"You lay off my stone, Kurkar! Detritus got this for me special!"
Mylonite shook his head at his friends. He had that kind of tenuous maturity of a young troll who carries more responsibilities than he should and just won't be assed about this kind of stupidity even though he would probably enjoy it.
"I've got a rock to show you, Detritus," he said, holding out a stone. "This one's the best. I've been practicing."
"I got one too," said Kurkar who had lost the fight.
"Mine's better," Crag said coolly wiping a bit of moss out of his eyes.
"That's not your rock," Mylonite grumbled. "You snitched that from Elvan."
"It's not my fault he's such a wuss."
"Elvan collected this one?" Detritus interrupted.
"Yeah, he totally sucks at it," Crag said dismissively.
"It's really nice," Detritus countered and grinned inwardly as Crag fumbled for a response.
"Um yeah, that's what I meant… I'm uh taking lessons from him."
"Where is that little twit anyway?" Blurite asked with about as much concern as a dead rat.
Crag coughed loudly and elbowed Kurkar in the chest.
"Um, about that…"
"You dropped him in the old quarry again, didn't you?"
"I might have…"
"You clod!" shouted Mylonite. "Elvan's too short to get back up by himself!"
Mylonite knocked Kurkar to the ground with a punch that made the other two take a step back.
"You two are coming with me," Mylonite stated irrefutably and ran off.
As the gang approached the quarry, Detritus felt something strange. He broke off from the group and headed towards the far end of the quarry. He jumped down to the lower levels and smiled. There stood a little fort made of lady rocks built in front of a cave.
"Bugger off!" a voice shouted from inside.
Detritus pretended not to hear. He peeked behind the small door. It was the sixth gang member, the hunched up one who hadn't talked when they first met. As soon as he saw Detritus, the young troll shut up and dashed into the cave. It wasn't long before little Elvan came running out.
"I'm sorry Mr. Detritus, sir. Tor is… he isn't good with talking," Elvan shuffled his feet and changed the subject. "How did you find us? We hid it good."
"I don't really know. It just felt right. They're very good. I could feel them from pretty far away."
"Thank you, sir but I just built the fort. Tor is the one who found the rocks."
Detritus was shocked. Tor hadn't shown even the slightest interest in the rocks when he last saw him. Elvan was the youngest of the group and he was already this good at placement. To be so talented at such a young age, the both of them could surpass him in a few years. Detritus smiled fondly, but deep inside, his heart tore.
"Can I keep one?" he asked.
Detritus didn't ask for things very often.* He normally just put his desires aside, but this time he couldn't ignore them. This was a memory that he needed a lady rock for. This memory had to follow him. To Detritus' delight, Elvan nodded and headed over to a pile of lady rocks set aside. He hesitated and quickly ambled into the cave, but the opening to the fort was too small for Detritus to follow. In moments, Tor appeared carrying a stone. The hunched troll firmly thrust it into his hand.
"Now bugger off," said Tor flatly.
Elvan punched Tor's shoulder. It was adorably ineffective. Tor looked down at him and sighed.
"Please, bugger off, sir," he muttered before going back into the cave.
*Shouting at the recruits did not count as asking. It wasn't a request when the only options are to follow the order or get your head kicked in.
Colors was becoming increasingly profitable, but that also meant that the shop was in the public eye. It was still a popular place for trolls to hang about and complain to each other. There was tension in the air and a lot of talk about Koom Valley. Politics had invaded Ruby's store and she was far from happy about it.
Commander Vimes had assigned Sergeant Flint to supervise the patrol of Colors and the surrounding premises while Detritus was gone on his mission to Pseudopolis. Flint took his duty very seriously and often dropped by just to check on things. Bauxite politely reminded him to keep his distance because Detritus would be back the next day. Sergeant Flint didn't listen and Ruby laid him out cold on the pavement. She was a girl who didn't need any protection from her husband. It was a good thing too, because she was accumulating an increasing number of admirers.
Detritus locked up the third unfortunate troll to make a pass at Ruby since he returned and these were only the ones he'd caught. He turned to Bauxite for an answer.
"Why is everyone trying to give gifts and stuff to my wife? She's my wife!"
Bauxite guiltily glanced at the door. Even though he had fallen for her too, it was still hard to explain.
"Well, it's like this. She's a star sort of. Even some of the trolls on the Lancre boarder knew her. I said that I'd met her and they got all excited."
"You only met her once and that was more than two years ago!"
"Yeah, but I still got to talk to her and that's a lot more than other people have. You've given her a load of freedom. You can't be all that surprised that she's getting attention. Seriously, if I had a girl, I wouldn't let her do half the stuff you've allowed Ruby to do."
"Let her? I don't let her do anything. She just does it. What am I supposed to do? Chain her to the floor when I'm gone?"
"A good whack to the head usually works," said Bauxite, going the traditional route.
"No, I can't do that! Ruby is a lady. I have to hit her special, the way she likes it. No one else can do it the way I do. I knock her senseless politely."
Bauxite paused for a moment. Something had been on his mind, but he didn't know how to ask without sounding suggestive. He honestly would never approach Ruby that way, but the thought still bothered him.
"What if she gets together with someone else while you're away?" he asked with genuine concern.
"Then I'll kill him," Detritus stated without a hint of exaggerated malice.
Lance-Constable Bauxite shifted uneasily. He really would do it too. Detritus was dead serious about his wife. Somehow he was with her even when he was miles away. The fact made Bauxite both relieved and disappointed. He slumped his shoulders in gracious defeat.
"You have helped her shine like no other troll could," he said. "She is a star, a troll who people care about. Ruby isn't just your wife anymore. She's an icon, a symbol that brings trolls together... Promise me to not let her get away."
Ruby was in her basement positioning the last few lady rocks in her collection that Dorfl and Detritus had moved there from the old house. She decided it was time and she needed the room at the shop anyway to hold stock. She set them up in the basement in a room separate from the bath. Her private lady rocks needed their own space and respect. She refused to use any sort of filing system. She simply placed the rocks in the way she felt was right, using the skills she had learned from Detritus.
When she was finished, she brought him into the room. Even before he opened his eyes, Detritus could feel the souls of the rocks resonating in his chest. He felt the memories and emotions of each one in an overpowering wave of living sound. He took a tentative step into the mesmerizing room, but the feeling was too strong. He slowly backed out and slumped against the wall in the hallway.
"How… how did you …that was," Detritus' voice shook as if he had been running for hours. "It… it won't stop."
Detritus slid to the floor and tried to calm down.
"Are you alright?" Ruby asked unsure of what she had done wrong.
"I never thought they could be like that…" he said and a visible tremor ran through his body.
Ruby stepped forward and kneeled in front of him. Detritus instantly embraced her in a way he had never done before.
"I could feel it," he whispered. "I could feel it all. I couldn't stop it. Is that real? Is that really what you think of me?"
"It is," she said lovingly.
Detritus couldn't answer right away. Ruby's body relaxed to welcome him, but he still held tight.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because you're a good troll and you've done so much for me," she answered, blushing red. "You don't have to bring me rocks anymore."
Detritus sighed and lay back onto the floor, pulling Ruby on top of him. He slowly released his hold on his stones and let her sink into him.
"I don't bring you rocks because you asked me to," he said softly. "I do it because I love you."
I should probably reread Thud before I go any further.
Detritus really has no defense against his wife.