Feet of Clay
This is one of the books which features Lord Vetinari in such a significant role that it really is best to read it all the way through. However, for the connoisseur, here are some of his best scenes.
Warning: There be major spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
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|First||The clock in the Patrician's waiting room.|
|Second||Doughnut Jimmy consults; Corporal Littlebottom considers the case.|
|Third||His Lordship works on his manuscript.|
|Four||His Lordship's dinner.|
|Five||Commander Vimes meets with the Patrician.|
|Six||Drumknott and His Lordship converse about the case.|
Someone very clever [...] must have made the clock for the Patrician's waiting room. It went tick-tock like any other clock. But somehow, and against all usual horological practice the tick and the tock were irregular. Tick tock tick... and then the merest fraction of a second longer before ... tock tick tock... and then a tick a fraction of a second earlier than the mind's ear was now prepared for. The effect was enough, after ten minutes, to reduce the thinking processes of even the best-prepared to a sort of porridge. The Patrician must have paid the clockmaker quite highly.Back to the Top
Cheery Littlebottom wiped his brow.Back to the Top
'Commander Vimes is right. It could be arsenic,' he said. 'It looks like arsenic poisoning to me. Look at his colour.'
'Nasty stuff,' said Doughnut Jimmy. 'Has he been eating his bedding?'
'All the sheets seem to be here, so I suppose the answer is no.'
'How's he pissing?'
'Er. The usual way, I assume.'
Doughnut sucked as his teeth. He had amazing teeth. It was the second thing everyone noticed aobut him. They were the colour of the inside of an unwashed teapot.
'Walk him round a bit on the loose rein,' he said.
The Patrician opened his eyes. 'You are a doctor, aren't you?' he said.
Doughnut Jimmy gave him an uncertain look. He was not used to patients who could talk. 'Well, yeah...I have a lot of patients.'
'Indeed? I have very little,' said the Patrician. He tried to lift himself off the bed, and slumped back.
'I'll mix up a draught,' said Doughnut jimmy, backing away. 'You're to hold his nose and pour it down his throat twice a day, right? And no oats.'
He hurried out, leaving Cheery alone with the Patrician.
Coporal Littlebottom looked around the room. Vimes hadn't given him much instruction. He'd said: 'I'm sure it won't be the food-tasters. For all they know they might be asked to eat the whole plateful. Still, we'll get Detritus to talk to them. You find out the how, right? And then leave the who to me.'
If you didn't eat or drink a poison, what else was left? Probably you could put it on a pad and make someone breathe it, or dribble some in their ear while they slept. Or they could touch it. Maybe a small dart... Or an insect bite...
The Patrician stirred, and looked at Cheery through watery red eyes. 'Tell me, young man, are you a policeman?'
'Er...just started, sir.'
'You appear to be of the dwarf persuasion.'
Cheery didn't bother to answer. Somehow, people could tell if you were a dwarf just by looking at you.
'Arsenic is a very popular poison,' said the Patrician. 'Hundreds of usees around the home. Crushed diamonds used to be in vogue for hundreds of years, despite the fact that they never worked. Giant spiders, too, for some reason. Mercury is for those with patience, aquafortis for those withhout. Cantharides has its followers. Much can be done with the secretions of various animals. The bodily fluds of the caterpillar of the Quantum Weather Butterfly will render a man quite, quite helpless. But we return to arsenic like an old, old friend.'
There was a drowsiness in the Patrician's voice. 'Is that not so, young Vetinari? Yes indeed, sir. Correct. But where then shall we put it, seeing that all will look for it? In the last place they will look, sir. Wrong. Foolish. We put it where no one will look at all..."
The voice faded to a murmur.
The tincture of night began to suffuse the soup of the afternoon.
Lord Vetinari considered the sentence, and found it good. He liked 'tincture' particularly. Tincture. Tincture. It was a distinguished word, and pleasantly countered by the flatness of 'soup.' The soup of the afternoon. Yes. In which may well be found the croutons of teatime.
He was aware that he was a little light-headed. He'd never have thought a sentence like that in a normal frame of mind.
In the fog outside the window, just visible by the candlelight, he saw the crouching shape of Constable Downspout.
A gargoyle, eh? He'd wondered why the Watch was indented for five pigeons a week on its wages bill. A gargoyle in the Watch, whose job it was to watch. That would be Captain Carrot's idea.
Lord Vetinari got up carefully from the bed and closed the shutters. He walked slowly to his writing table, pulled his journal out of its drawer, then tugged out a wad of manuscript and unstoppered the ink bottle.
Now then, where had he got to?
Chapter Eight, he read unsteadily, The Rites of Man.
'Concerning Truth,' he wrote, 'that which May be Spoken as Events Dictate, but should be Heard on Every Ocasfion...'
He wondered how he could work 'soup of the afternoon' into the treatise, or at least 'tincture of night.'
The pen scratched across the paper.
Unheeded on the floor lay the tray that had contained a bowl of nourishing gruel, concerning which he had resolved to have strong words with the cook when he felt better. It had been tasted by three tasters, including Sergeant Detritus, who was unlikely to be poisoned by anything that worked on humans or even by most things that worked on trolls... but probably by most things that worked on trolls. [transcriber's note: I realise that the last sentence makes very little sense. Unfortunately, that is exactly the way it is in my copy of the book.]
The door was locked. Occasionally he could hear the reassuring creak of Detritus on his rounds. Outside the window, the fog condensed on Constable Downspout.
Vetinari dipped the pen in the ink and started a new page. Every so often he consulted the leather-bound journal, licking his fingers delicately to turn the thin pages.
Tendrils of fog slipped in around the shutters and brushed against the wall until they were frightened away by the candlelight.
Back to the Top
The Patrician was sitting up in bed reading when Vimes entered. 'Ah, Vimes,' he said.Back to the Top
'Your supper will be up shortly, my lord,' said Vimes. 'And can I once again say that our job would be a lot easier if you let us move you out of the palace?'
'I'm sure it would be,' said Lord Vetinari.
There was a rattle from the dumbwaiter. Vimes walked across and opened the doors.
There was a dwarf in the box. He had a knife between his teeth and an axe in each hand, and was glowering with ferocious concentration.
'Good heavens,' said Vetinari weakly. 'I hope at least they've included some mustard.'
'Any problems, Constable?' said Vimes.
'Nofe, fir,' said the dwarf, unfolding himself and removing the knife. 'Very dull all the way up, sir. There was other doors and they all looked pretty unsued, but I nailed 'em up anyway like Captain Carrot said, sir.'
'Well done. Down you go.'
Vimes shut the doors. There was more rattling as the dwarf began his descent.
'Every detail covered, eh, Vimes?'
'I hope so, sir.'
The box came back up again, with a tray in it. Vimes took it out.
'A Klatchian Hots without anchovies,' said Vimes, lifting the cover. 'We got it from Ron's Pizza Hovel round the corner. The way I see it, no one can poison all the food in the city. And the cutlery's from my place.'
'You have the mind of a true policeman, Vimes.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'Really? Was it a compliment?' The Patrician prodded at the plate with the air of an explorer in a strange country.
'Has someone already eaten this, Vimes?'
'No, sir. That's just how they chop up the food.'
'Oh, I see. I thought perhaps the food-tasters were getting over-enthusiastic,' said the Patrician. 'My word. What a treat I have to look forward to.'
'I can see you're feeling better, sir,' said Vimes stiffly.
'Thank you, Vimes.'
When Vimes had gone Lord Vetinari ate the pizza, or at least those parts of it he thought he could recognize. Then he put the tray aside and blew out the candle by his bed. He sat in the dark for a while, then felt under his pillow until his finger located a small sharp knife and a box of matches.
Thank goodness for Vimes. There was something endearing about his desperate, burning and above all misplaced competence. If the poor man took any longer he'd have to start giving him hints.
The clock ticked its arrhythmic tock. It finally stuttered its way to one o'clock, and Vimes got up and went into the Oblong Office.
'Ah, Vimes,' said Lord Vetinari, looking up.
Vimes had managed a few hours' sleep and had even attempted to shave.
The Patrician shuffled some papers on his desk. 'It seems to have been a very busy night last night...'
'Yes, sir.' Vimes stood to attention. All uniformed men knew in their very soul how to act in circumstances like this. You stared straight ahead, for one thing.
'It appears that I have Dragon King of Arms in the cells,' said the Patrician.
'Ive read your report. Somewhat tenuous evidence, I feel.'
'One of your witnesses isn't even alive, Vimes.'
'No, sir. Neither is the suspect, sir. Technically.'
'He is, however, an important civic figure. An authority.'
Lord Vetinari shuffled some of the papers on his desk. One of them was covered in sooty finger-marks. 'It also appears I have to commend you, Commander.'
'The Heralds at the Royal College of Arms, or at least at what remains of the Royal College of Arms, have sent me a note saying how bravely you worked last night.'
'Letting all those heraldic animals out of the pens and raising the alarm and so on. A tower of strength, they've called you. I gather most of the creatures are lodging with you at the present time?'
'Yes, sir. Couldn't stand by and let them suffer, sir. We'd got some empty pens, sir, and Keith and Roderick are doing well in the lake. They've taken a liking to Sybil, sir.'
Lord Vetinari coughed. Then he stared up at the ceiling for a while. 'So you, er, assisted in the fire.'
'Yes, sir. Civic duty, sir.'
'The fire was caused by a candlestick falling over, I understand, possibly after your fight with Dragon King of Arms.'
'So I believe, sir.'
'And so, it seems, do the Heralds.'
'Anyone told Dragon King of Arms?' said Vimes innocently.
'Took it well, did he?'
'He screamed a lot, Vimes. In a heart-rending fashion, I am told. And I gather he uttered a number of threats against you, for some reason.'
'I shall try to fit him into my busy schedule, sir.'
'Bingely bongely beep!!' said a small bright voice. Vimes slapped a hand against his pocket.
Lord Vetinari fell silent for a moment. His fingers drummed softly on his desk. 'Many fine old manuscripts in that place, I believe. Without price, I'm told.'
'Yes, sir. Certainly worthless, sir.'
'Is it possible you misunderstood what I just said, Commander?'
'Could be, sir.'
'The provenances of many splendid old families went up in smoke, Commander. Of course, the Heralds will do what they can, and the families themselves keep records but frankly, I understand, it's all going to be patchwork and guesswork. Extremely embarassing. Are you smiling, Commander?'
'It was probably a trick of the light, sir.'
'Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoritarian streek in you.'
'It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority.'
'That's practically Zen.'
'It seems I've only got to be unwell for a few days and you manage to upset everyone of any importance in this city.'
'Was that a "yes, sir" or a "no, sir", Sir Samuel?'
'It was just a "sir," sir.'
Lord Vetinari glanced at a piece of paper. 'Did you really punch the president of the Assassins' Guild?'
'Didn't have a dagger, sir.'
Vetinari turned away abruptly. 'The Council of Churches, Temples, Sacred Groves and Big Ominous Rocks is demanding...well, a number of things, several of them involving wild horses. Initially, however, they want me to sack you.'
'In all I've had seventeen demands for your badge. Some want parts of your body attached. Why did you have to upset everybody?'
'I suppose it's a knack, sir.'
'But what could you hope to achieve?'
'Well, sir, since you ask, we found out who murdered Father Tubelcek and Mr Hopkinson and who was poisoning you, sir.' Vimes paused. 'Two out of three's not bad, sir.'
Vetinari riffled through the papers again. 'Workshop owners, assassins, priests, butchers... you seem to have infuriated most of the leading figures in the city.' He sighed. 'Really, it seems I have no choice. As of this week, I'm giving you a pay rise.'
Vimes blinked. 'Sir?'
'Nothing unseemly. Ten dollars a month. And I expect they need a new dart-board in the Watch House? They usually do, I recall.'
'It's Detritus,' said Vimes, his mind unable to think of anything other than an honest reply. 'He tends to split them.'
Vetinari watched him go, and sighed. 'He does so like a dramatic exit,' he said.Back to the Top
'Yes, my lord,' said Drumknott, who had appeared noiselessly at his shoulder.
'Ah, Drumknot.' The Patrician took a length of candle out of his pocket and handed it to his secretary. 'Dispose of this somewhere safely, will you?'
'Yes, my lord?'
'It's the candle from the other night.'
'It's not burned down, my lord? But I saw the candle end in the holder...'
'Oh, of course I cut off enough to make a stub and let the wick burn for a moment. I couldn't let our gallant policeman know I'd worked it out for myself, could I? Not when he was making such an effort and having so much fun being...well, being Vimes. I'm not completely heartless, you know.'
'But, my lord, you could have sorted it out diplomatically! Instead he went around upsetting things and making a lot of people very angry and afraid--'
'Yes. Dear me. Tsk, tsk.'
Ah,' said Drumknott.
'Quite so,' said the Patrician.
'Do you wish me to have the tale in the Rats Chamber repaired?'
'No, Drumknott, leave the axe where it is. It will make a good...conversation piece, I think.'
'May I make an observation, my lord?'
'Of course you may,' said Vetinari, watching Vimes walk through the palace gates.
'The thought occurs, sir, that if Commander Vimes did not exist you would have had to invent him.'
'You know, Drumknott, I rather think I did.'