“I thought you were all dead,” he mumbled. It was strangely quiet and the colours around him seemed washed-out, muted. Something was very wrong. “Is that you, Brother Doorkeeper?” he ventured.
The figure reached out.
METAPHORICALLY, it said.
-and the Patrician handed the sword to Carrot.
“Very well done, young man,” he said. “Captain Vimes, I suggest you give your men the rest of the day off.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Vimes. “Okay, lads. You heard his lordship.”
“But not you, Captain. We must have a little talk.”
“Yes, sir?” said Vimes innocently.
The rank scurried out, giving Vimes sympathetic and sorrowful glances.
The Patrician walked to the edge of the floor and looked down.
“Poor Wonse,” he said.
“Yes, sir.” Vimes stared at the wall.
“I would have preferred him alive, you know.”
“Misguided, yes, but a useful man. His head could have been of further use to me.”
“The rest, of course, we could have thrown away.”
“That was a joke, Vimes.”
“The chap never grasped the idea of secret passages, mind you.”
“That young fellow. Carrot, you called him?”
“Keen fellow. Likes it in the Watch?”
“Yes, sir. Right at home, sir.”
“You saved my life.”
“Come with me.”
He stalked away through the ruined palace, Vimes trailing behind, until he reached the Oblong Office. It was quite tidy. It had escaped most of the devastation with nothing more than a layer of dust. The Patrician sat down, and suddenly it was as if he’d never left. Vimes wondered if he ever had.
He picked up a sheaf of papers and brushed the plaster off them.
“Sad,” he said. “Lupine was such a tidy-minded man.”
The Patrician steepled his hands and looked at Vimes over the top of them.
“Let me give you some advice, Captain,” he said.
“It may help you make some sense of the world.”
‘ ‘I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people,“ said the man. ”You’re wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides. "
He waved his thin hand towards the city and walked over to the window.
“A great rolling sea of evil,” he said, almost pro-prietorially. “Shallower in some places, of course, but deeper, oh, so much deeper in others. But people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end. Amazing!” He slapped Vimes good-naturedly on the back.
“Down there,” he said, “are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathesomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no. I’m sorry if this offends you,” he added, patting the captain’s shoulder, ”but you fellows really need us."
“Yes, sir?” said Vimes quietly.
"Oh, yes. We’re the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you’re good at that, I’ll grant you. But the trouble is that it’s the only thing you’re good at. One day it’s the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it’s everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no-one’s been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It’s part of the specification,
you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don’t seem to have the knack."
“Maybe. But you’re wrong about the rest!” said Vimes. “It’s just because people are afraid, and alone-” He paused. It sounded pretty hollow, even to him.
He shrugged. “They’re just people,” he said. “They’re just doing what people do. Sir.”
Lord Vetinari gave him a friendly smile.
“Of course, of course,” he said. “You have to believe that, I appreciate. Otherwise you’d go quite mad. Otherwise you’d think you’re standing on a feather-thin bridge over the vaults of Hell. Otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death. I quite understand.” He looked at his desk, and sighed, “And now,” he said, “there is such a lot to do. I’m afraid poor Wonse was a good servant but an inefficient master. So you may go. Have a good night’s sleep. Oh, and do bring your men in tomorrow. The city must show its gratitude.”
“It must what?” said Vimes.
The Patrician looked at a scroll. Already his voice was back to the distant tones of one who organises and plans and controls.
“Its gratitude,” he said. “After every triumphant victory there must be heroes. It is essential. Then everyone will know that everything has been done properly.”
He glanced at Vimes over the top of the scroll.
‘ ‘It’s all part of the natural order of things,” he said.
After a while he made a few pencil annotations to the paper in front of him and looked up.
“I said,” he said, “that you may go.”
Vimes paused at the door.
“Do you believe all that, sir?” he said. “About the endless evil and the sheer blackness?”
“Indeed, indeed,” said the Patrician, turning over the page. “It is the only logical conclusion.”
“But you get out of bed every morning, sir?”
“Hmm? Yes? What is your point?”
“I’d just like to know why, sir.”
“Oh, do go away, Vimes. There’s a good fellow.”
In the dark and draughty cave hacked from the heart of the palace the Librarian knuckled across the floor. He clambered over the remains of the sad hoard and looked down at the splayed body of Wonse.
Then he reached down, very gently, and prised The Summoning of Dragons from the stiffening fingers. He blew the dust off it. He brushed it tenderly, as if it was a frightened child.
He turned to climb down the heap, and stopped. He bent down again, and carefully pulled another book from among the glittering rubble. It wasn’t one of his, except in the wide sense that all books came under his domain. He turned a few pages carefully.
“Keep it,” said Vimes behind him. “Take it away. Put it somewhere.”
The orangutan nodded at the captain, and rattled down the heap. He tapped Vimes gently on the kneecap, opened The Summoning of Dragons, leafed through its ravaged pages until he found the one he’d been looking for, and silently passed the book up.
Vimes squinted at the crabbed writing.
Yet draggons are notte liken unicornes, I willen. They dwellyth in some Realm defined bye thee Fancie of the Wille and, thus, it myte bee thate whomsoever calleth upon them, and giveth them theyre patheway unto thys worlde, calleth theyre Owne dragon of the Mind.
Yette, I trow, the Pure in Harte maye stille call a Draggon of Power as a Forsefor Goode in thee worlde, and this one nighte the Grate Worke will commense. All hathe been prepared. I hath laboured most mytily to be a Worthie Vessle . . .
A realm of fancy, Vimes thought. That’s where they went, then. Into our imaginations. And when we call them back we shape them, like squeezing dough into pastry shapes. Only you don’t get gingerbread men, you get what you are. Your own darkness, given shape . . .
Vimes read it through again, and then looked at the following pages.
There weren’t many. The rest of the book was a charred mass.
Vimes handed it back to the ape.
“What kind of a man was de Malachite?” he said.
The Librarian gave this the consideration due from someone who knew the Dictionary of City Biography by heart. Then he shrugged.
“Particularly holy?” said Vimes.
The ape shook his head.
“Well, noticeably evil, then?-”
The ape shrugged, and shook his head again.
“If I were you, ” said Vimes, “I’d put that book somewhere very safe. And the book of the Law with it. They’re too bloody dangerous. ”
Vimes stretched. ‘ ‘And now,” he said, ‘ ‘let’s go and have a drink. "
“But just a small one. ”
‘ ‘And you ‘re paying.”
Vimes stopped and stared down at the big, mild face.
“Tell me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to know . . . is it better, being an ape?”
The Librarian thought about it. “Oook,” he said.
“Oh. Really?” said Vimes.
It was the next day. The room was wall-to-wall with civic dignitaries. The Patrician sat on his severe chair, surrounded by the Council. Everyone present was wearing the shiny waxen grins of those bent on good works.
Lady Sybil Ramkin sat off to one side, wearing a few acres of black velvet. The Ramkin family jewels glittered on her fingers, neck and in the black curls of today’s wig. The total effect was striking, like a globe of the heavens.
Vimes marched the rank to the centre of the hall and stamped to a halt with his helmet under his arm, as per regulations. He’d been amazed to see that even Nobby had made an effort-the suspicion of shiny metal could be seen here and there on his breastplate. And Colon was wearing an expression of almost constipated importance. Carrot’s armour gleamed.
Colon ripped off a textbook salute for the first time in his life.
“All present and correct, sah!” he barked.
“Very good, Sergeant,” said Vimes coldly. He turned to the Patrician and raised an eyebrow politely.
Lord Vetinari gave a little wave of his hand.
“Stand easy, or whatever it is you chaps do,” he said. “I’m sure we needn’t wait on ceremony here. What do you say, Captain?”
“Just as you like, sir,” said Vimes.
“Now, men,” said the Patrician, leaning forward, “we have heard some remarkable accounts of your magnificent efforts in defence of the city …”
Vimes let his mind wander as the golden platitudes floated past. For a while he derived a certain amount of amusement from watching the faces of the Council. A whole sequence of expressions drifted across them as the Patrician spoke. It was, of course, vitally important that there be a ceremony like this. Then the whole thing could be neat and settled. And forgotten. Just another chapter in the long and exciting history of eckcetra, eckcetra. Ankh-Morpork was good at starting new chapters.
His trawling gaze fell on Lady Ramkin. She winked. Vimes’s eyes swivelled front again, his expression suddenly as wooden as a plank.
“… token of our gratitude,” the Patrician finished, sitting back.
Vimes realised that everyone was looking at him.
“Pardon?” he said.