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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 07:20 am
Entry tags:

The Birthday Present; G.

Notes: This takes place after my fic "A Room Vith A View" chronologically. I am choosing to believe that a dog cannot be described as "elderly" in Sourcery when, sixteen years later, he is reputed to be...well...sixteen. Unless he's been spending even more time up at the High Energy Magic building than Gaspode. Rum luck.
Summary: Vetinari gets the best birthday present ever.
Warnings: None.

Also available at AO3.

***

The dog Wuffles turned over and regarded the priest with one baleful black eye. 'He's doing very well for a dog of his age,' said Hughnon, in a desperate attempt to climb a suddenly tilting slope. 'How old would he be now?'
'Sixteen,' said the Patrician. 'That's over a hundred in dog years.'
-- The Truth


Havelock Vetinari, despite being an Assassins school graduate and having inhumed a fair number of people, found the whole business rather...distasteful. There were so many things people were good for other than target practice, especially when you didn't actually need any practice. Even the ones who stirred things up, well, they had their uses. It all depended on getting them to stir the right things.

But -- and this was a reality that had not asserted itself for young Havelock as soon as it should have done -- Guild Politics and City Politics went hand in hand. You didn't attend the Assassins' Guild to learn how to assassinate. That was just a side-effect. You attended the Assassins' Guild to meet the Right People and learn how to behave in Society.

Once this realisation had dawned on him, things became a lot less difficult for his teachers. Havelock went from being a lazy boy with no promise to an excellent if rather unimaginative student. If he seemed to be thinking of other things while doing his lessons...well, there was no helping some people.

After graduation he had kept up appearances rather nicely. He went on the Grand Sneer, touring many foreign countries with his Society companions in order to see how superior his own city was. He threw subdued, pleasant parties, and attended the Opera with various women of his age and social standing. He danced well, it was said. He lived in a pleasant town-house in Ankh, and never took contracts from the Guild*. All in all, a likely young man and a credit to the family.

* Only gentlemen took contracts, but Gentlemen didn't have to.

The town-house was tastefully decorated -- Madam had seen to that -- and quite empty, most of the time. Havelock never could find help that would stay longer than a few weeks. He tried to be a good employer, but he'd trained himself to walk silently. The maids couldn't seem to get used to his sudden appearance, and quickly developed acute paranoia or facial tics.

Those he fired never could understand how he found out so quickly that they'd been stealing from him.

So it happened that he was quietly cooking his own breakfast, and thinking about other things entirely, when he realised it was his thirtieth birthday.

No, not realised. He'd known that today was his birthday, of course. There was a party tonight at his aunt's house, another dull affair with boring people and mediocre music. He longed for the day when he'd be done with the things. A man's worth ought to be measured by more than his ability to smile while drinking cup after cup of lukewarm punch.

It washed over him, with a surprising suddenness. He was thirty today. On the one hand, he was well on his way to his intended goal; on the other, considering the width and breadth of possible human experience, he had wasted his time most scandalously. Although not, when you came down to it, as scandalously as most of his acquaintances.

He didn't often think of the Goal he was working so hard for; when he did, it tended to skitter out of reach. Men who wanted to rule a city were usually the men who shouldn't. So he made very sure that the Patricianship wasn't something he wanted, exactly. It was just a distant sort of thing, that would eventually happen to him, if he took certain steps. Another two years of steps ought to achieve it, more or less.

Havelock was a very complicated thinker.

So, Havelock Vetinari, standing in an empty house and cooking for yourself, thirty years old, is this worth the Goal?

He could be married by now, and a father. His father had been, at his age. His father had been married, and a father, and inhumed, at his age. Havelock did not intend to be any of those things, especially the last.

He'd had opportunities. Old Lord Ramkin had offered him a pleasant country house, a considerable income, and of course the entire estate when he died, as a dowry for his daughter Sybil. Privately, Lady Sybil had told him that she didn't fancy being sold as wife-plus-accessories, and asked him quite politely to decline Lord Ramkin's offer.

It hadn't been difficult. He thought Sybil was a sensible woman, except for the dragons, and tolerated her far better than he did most of their circle. But he didn't want a house in the country. He wanted a house in the center of the city. The house he could see from his balcony. The Patrician's Palace.

And, with that thought echoing in the empty air, he set about preparing for the evening's...he sighed. Festivities.

***

What was it Lady Margolotta had said, years ago, in Uberwald?

I zink I understant you now, Havelock. You do not vant a life of ease. You vant a life of sztruggle, or you fear vot you may accomplish. You do not vant power. Power iz achieved. You vant control, because it iz a constant challenge.

He'd give anything to be, right this very minute, in Uberwald. Or Genua. Anywhere but bloody Ankh-Morpork. Control? You could have it!

There were many people in the city, and would be many more, who strongly believed that Havelock Vetinari was entirely devoid of emotion. This was not true. Havelock felt a great many things*. He just didn't see that it was anyone else's business what they were.

* Ambition, certainly. And if sarcasm was an emotion, he had a full supply of that.

Now, in a filthy mood, he walked along the Ankh-Morpork streets, avoiding the clattering coaches and night-time carousers as only a trained Assassin could. He'd left the party at Madam's house as soon as was polite, considering he was the guest of honor, and dismissed his carriage. He wanted to walk home, and see if he couldn't rid himself of the anger he felt.

He wasn't sure why the party had upset him; it was like other parties he went to constantly, except for the fact that it was his name on the cake. There had been the lukewarm punch and the little finger food on sticks, and men who could cram five vowel sounds into a single syllable. There was dancing and talking and jokes about his age. Sybil Ramkin, looking up from her little knot of laughing women, had winked at him.

Perhaps it was the wink. Sybil had meant well, but it was the wink of one captive animal to another. We'll get our own, it'd said, and when we do, thank the gods this'll be a bad memory. When you're Patrician, you can have done with silly parties, and you'll have the fools in your hand, instead of the other way round.

It had a lot to say, for a wink.

But when? When was he going to get his crack at the city? Not at organising it -- that was for dreamers, organising Ankh-Morpork. He simply wanted to chain its natural malevolence and use it. Teach these stupid little people that one small slice of pie, on a regular basis, was better than a whole pie with a dagger in.

Havelock would have been surprised and dismayed -- and wouldn't have believed it, if told -- but what drove him was a love of Ankh-Morpork, and a desire to make it strong. These seamstresses on the street, they ought to have a guild, because he loved the city and wanted its inhabitants to be -- well, not safe, not happy, but at least satisfied. A thieves' guild could cut the actual crime in the city by half. A guild of merchants could drag Ankh-Morpork back into position as a major trading power. Dwarves would increase the skill level of city artisans. Even trolls could supply a vast workforce for the bits of the city that required heavy-lifting.

Guilds and open trade!

"Here, Quirke, don't be an ass. Come on -- "

Vetinari slid quietly into an alley as the voice broke in on his thoughts. Two Watchmen, in battered and grimy breastplates, were moving down the street, one chasing the other, who was built like a siege engine.

"It's just a dog, Quirke."

"It bit me!"

"It gnawed your shoe. The thing's a stray, it's starving!"

"I hates dogs," said the one called Quirke. "Nasty mangy cur. Out of my way, Vimesy."

There was the sound of a thump, and a laugh.

"Got to be quicker than that, Vimes. Now move."

Havelock peered around the corner.

The thick one was standing in the middle of the street, a ball of brownish fur tucked under one arm, hand clamped around what Havelock recognised, vaguely, as a dog's nose. A taller, scrawnier one stood in front of him, rubbing his right fist. Every time the one called Quirke moved, the one called Vimes did too, blocking him.

"You can't throw a dog in a river in cold blood," Vimes said. "That's just...it's just stupid, Quirke!"

"Oh? Is there a law against it? I don't think so. I think if there were, there'd be a lot more of the useless vermin in the city. And if you don't move, Vimes, I'll knock you on your skinny, righteous arse. And then I'll break you to constable."

"Ha, like you got broke back to Night Watch? You won't dare. I'm a corporal now too."

"I've got senority, and I say it drowns."

Havelock watched in dry horror. This...this person was going to throw a dog in the Ankh. He wouldn't even do that to a rat. And it wasn't more than a puppy.

Havelock Vetinari had inhumed grown men before, but he balked at killing dogs. Men could fight back, after all. Dogs could too, he supposed, but usually wouldn't, which was mankind's fault for domesticating them. The animal whimpered.

"You're just the kind of man who'd knock a Watchman down to kill a puppy," Vimes snarled, echoing Havelock's thoughts.

He stepped out of the alleyway. Both men jumped.

"Good evening, officers," he said, with a thin smile. The men took in his dress, and touched their helmets respectfully.

"Evenin', gov'nor," Quirke said.

"I wonder if you might be of some assistance. I seem to have..." he gave them a convincingly foolish smile, "Lost my way. Could you tell me, what street is this?"

They looked at each other. "Er...this is Short Street," said the tall one, curiously. "Morpork side," he added, just in case Havelock had never been across the bridge from Ankh.

"I see. Thank you. That's a fine pup you have there, officer..."

"...Quirke," said the man, pinned by an icy gaze.

"Yes. Quite." Havelock took the small bundle of fur from Quirke's unresisting hands, holding it up with the air of an expert. "A purebred Ankhian Terrier, it appears," said Havelock, against all evidence. "See the teeth?" he pushed the pup's lips up, showing convincingly sharp teeth. He showed his own, just in case Quirke had any idea about taking the dog back. Vimes' adams apple bobbed nervously.

"How much for a creature such as this?" Havelock asked. "I should like to own a good...hunting dog. If you can suffer to part from him, that is."

Quirke was on more familiar ground now. "Ah, well, such a fine dog, sir, dear to me heart, and to a gennl'man like yourself -- "

"I shall give you two dollars," Havelock said sharply.

"Course, guv. Just a pup." Quirke tried to look casual. Havelock tucked the animal under one arm, where it curled tightly against his side. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two Ankh-Morpork dollar coins.

There was a pause, fraught with tension. Havelock held the coins out to Vimes.

"Here you are...Corporal," he said. "My thanks."

Quirke reached out for the coins, and drew back, whimpering. Havelock had barely moved, but Quirke's fingers were already turning purple.

Vimes, eyeing Havelock warily, took the dollars from his hand. He tipped his helmet with the most knowing look Havelock had seen in some time.

"Again, officers, I am in your debt," Havelock continued, as he let himself fade into the streets. Under his arm, the dog squirmed and licked his hand.

Behind him, he heard the tall Watchman laughing as his boots pounded away.

***

"I say, Havelock, what is that?"

Madam Meserole, seated at Havelock's dining table, pointed to what looked like a pile of shaggy carpet sniffing its way along the floor. Her nephew shrugged.

"It's a dog," he said.

"It looks like a dog toy," said Madam. "One that's been chewed."

Madam was a cat person, one of her few personality flaws.

"I bought him last night. He slept on my bed," Havelock added. "They're surprisingly warm."

"You didn't! It probably has mange, and fleas -- "

"I washed him. He's very healthy."

Madam Meserole looked at him, amazed. "Oh. Then...it's probably all right, I suppose. Only don't let it too near my kitties."

"I promise, aunt."

"What's that on its neck?"

Havelock looked at the oval of metal, hanging off a knotted leather strap. "It's...er, it's a Tells-People-Who-A-Dog-Belongs-To tag," he said. "In case he gets lost. Leonard invented them. I stopped at his place and had him engrave it for me."

"My Master Is Havelock Vetinari. How...nice. Did you know a human year is like seven dog years?"

"Did you know a dwarf can live to be five hundred years old? Human years, of course."

"You and your ethnological interests. What do you call it?"

"Call what?"

"The dog," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"He's a dog," said Havelock, brows drawing together.

"I mean, what are you going to name it. When you get a dog, you name it."

"But surely he knows who he is."

Madam Meserole gave him a frown. "Are you making fun of your aunt, Havelock?"

Havelock bent and picked up the pup. It snuffled his hand, begging pathetically.

"I hadn't thought about naming him," he murmured. Then, in an effort to stop her from calling the dog 'it' again, he said, "You may name him, aunt."

"Oh, well." She squinted at him. "It looks rather like...I know. Before you were born, your mother had a dog. Wuffles, she called it."

He stared. "You want me to call my dog Wuffles?" he asked. At the sound of the word, the dog leapt up on him, shedding all over his waistcoat. "Is it even a word?"

"Well, it's not as though you can give it a human name. I detest people who give their pets names like Adam or Maxwell. It shows a disrespect for the human condition."

Havelock, having been woken that morning by a wagging tail in his ear, rather thought that you could keep the human condition. But, looking in the creature's eyes as he drooled on his hand and begged for breakfast scraps, he knew that, no matter how hard he tried, the dog would never answer to anything but Wuffles.

He sighed. It wasn't a perfect world. It wasn't even a perfect city. But a house seems a lot less empty with a dog in it.

And, he thought, there are a lot more stray dogs out there*.

* While the Patrician is considered to be a very literal man in most respects, it is this sort of metaphorical turn of phrase that has led to him describing Ankh-Morpork as a clock and discussing clacks messaging in terms of shellfish, leading to some curious looks from the Archchancellor of Unseen University and the Commander of the City Watch**.
** Who spent the two dollars on a hot meal from CMOT Dibbler's sausage cart, and lived to regret it. But only just.


"I think it is time," Havelock Vetinari said, holding the dog on his lap and looking out the window at the Patrician's Palace, "To step up certain plans."

"Oh?" Madam Meserole smiled.

"Yes. I think I intend to be Patrician by week's end."

He could get a basket and put it under his desk. Wuffles...oh dear, Wuffles...would like someplace to sleep during the day.

END
true_masquerade: (el smile)

[personal profile] true_masquerade 2011-04-24 10:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I love your Discworld back story :-)

This one is a lovely mixture of touching (the idea of Wuffles being 'the best birthday present ever', and Vetinari rescuing him, and Auntie giving him a faintly embarrassing name) and still Vetinari-esque (him 'buying' Wuffles and "Yes. I think I intend to be Patrician by week's end."). :-)
aqua_eyes: reese and finch from person of interest. reese is looking at finch with a little pink heart between them. (kittyonscanner iconmoicon)

[personal profile] aqua_eyes 2011-05-19 11:25 am (UTC)(link)
<3

(Anonymous) 2011-10-11 10:32 am (UTC)(link)
I really, really I enjoyed this. =)

[personal profile] chironsgirl 2011-11-24 01:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Like Madam, I am a cat person. However, I get along very well with dogs. Dogs are easy. Cats make you work for it.
XOXOXOXO
mogwai_do: (Default)

[personal profile] mogwai_do 2012-08-03 06:25 pm (UTC)(link)
Y'know I read this ages ago and just stumbled across it again today - can't believe I never commented back then, but - I could see this fitting very nicely in canon and Havelock and Sybil's understanding is something I really enjoy in the books and it's lovely to see it traced back to the beginnings.

[personal profile] valoriejueles 2013-03-14 10:33 pm (UTC)(link)
In my head, this is canon.

it is, how do you say, my 'head canon'

I also love that it sorta implies that Vetinari looked favorably upon Vimes later in life because early on he showed the capacity to stand between a thug who wanted to drown a puppy and the river.