Busy times. I have exhausted every resource looking for Leonard da Quirm, and to no avail. He seems to have simply... disappeared. It's tempting to call these past few weeks a complete waste of time, but I did make one important discovery, one which has started me on an entirely new search.
I met Muriel about a week ago - I first saw him arguing at a vegetable shop, presumably about blemishes on his tomatoes or maybe wilted celery leaves. It struck me how very like the kids on Cockbill Street he was, seizing on the tiniest injustices because he couldn't do any thing about the larger ones. We never had much on Cockbill, but we still managed to do more than the rich kids. I suppose it was because, having so little, we always strove for more. Or maybe it was all the spite and resentment we had bottled up. Not much can stop you when you're loaded with malice and you've taken aim.
What I couldn't accomplish with another gang of kids like that.
After that I kept my eyes peeled, watching for other people like Muriel. There were plenty, but what to do with them? I decided to start a Secret Society - you can't go wrong with one of those, after all. There are probably several dozen secret societies in Ankh-Morpork alone, but I doubt this lot would ever make it into any of them, except maybe Brotherhood of the Dregs of Society, and even then only as Keepers of the Sign-In Sheet. This is not, contrary to popular belief, because they're not good for anything, but because nobody understands how to use this sort of potential. They don't have talent, they don't have insight. All they have is the complete mastery of mediocrity, and seething anger because of it. They're stupid like sheep, and just as amenable, with the added bonus of unsheepish rage at the general unfairness of life. Give them some nonsense passwords and an eldritch portal and you have their undying loyalty. It's true that they'll never accomplish anything on their own, but in the right hands, they're excellent tools, exactly the way my Lord is not.
Speaking of whom, my Lord never stops surprising me. Just when I think I've gotten a decent grasp on his character, he suddenly turns around, and I realize that I don't know him after all.
Last night was our first meeting (it's taken that long for the cloaks to ship in). I had the members of the new Secret Society choose Secret Names for themselves, you know, Brother this and Brother that. Muriel, who'd been the last one in and who'd had to shut the door, decided to be Brother Doorkeeper. Tulney, the plasterer, decided to be Brother Plasterer. Neither was as bad as Dunnykin, who decided to really exercise his imagination and call himself Brother Dunnykin.
In any case, upon returning to the Palace, I was informed that my Lord had asked me to see him in his office. Immediately.
I admit that I panicked slightly. Did he know? Considering that this was Vetinari, who had enough eyes in the city to rival Blind Io, I wouldn't be surprised if he did. Does.
When I arrived, his desk was completely clear, not a paper in sight, and he was just sitting there, hands folded, eyes fixing instantly on my face as I opened the door. The candle hadn't been lit, the curtains hadn't been drawn, and the moonlight poured in through the window, soaking his face and hair pale silver. He looked deathly ill, sort of ghostly, or maybe just old.
I was relieved to find that he had not summoned me on the matter of secret societies and taking over the throne. In fact he wanted to... talk. About life, about purpose. Not, and very conspicuously so, about loneliness. It was "Which of these things is not like the others" only reversed; we danced a ring around the subject, touching everything close to it but never exactly what was so visible on his face.
I didn't know what to do, quite frankly. In all my time here at the Palace, I've never seen or even imagined Vetinari acting like this. I tried to go along with whatever he said, but after a while, I had to ask, gingerly, "My Lord? Do you miss... people?" (Even I wasn't going to go around asking Lord Vetinari whether he was lonely. For one thing, the new Brothers would be wondering where their Supreme Grand Master went.)
He stared at me a long time - it's pretty much impossible to get used to that stare, no matter how many times you've been treated to it. Finally he said, and his voice was perfectly calm, "Yes, I do. I quite miss my Aunt, for example. You've met her, haven't you? A wonderful woman."
I couldn't figure out whether that was an innocent remark (unlikely, considering the source), or, if it was a cue, whether it was telling me to stop asking questions, or to start asking better ones.
"Just her?" I said weakly.
"Is there someone else I should miss?" He still hadn't moved.
"Maybe people in general?" I suggested.
"I see people every day," was his response.
"Maybe people you can talk to, instead of order around or negotiate with?"
"Maybe," he said. "And where could I find such a person?"
I knew what I wanted to say to that: There is one right in front of you, my Lord. I didn't think I could say it though, for a million reasons - I didn't know if that was what Vetinari wanted to hear, it wasn't my place to say it... and so on. Not least of all because I was plotting to overthrow him.
Obviously my response was taking too long, and Vetinari sighed. "Nowhere," he answered himself. "The person you describe doesn't match anyone in this city or the next, anyone who knows who I am - and these days my face is printed on small change. I suppose that's what happens when you rule the city. Loneliness of command and so on."
It was the sigh. Right from the sigh, I knew that I had made the wrong decision. I should have said, I will treat you like a human being, or We can talk whenever you like, the way we have been tonight, or even the first response that had come to mind: You don't need to find such a person, my Lord. I am right here.
What could I say to make up for the sigh? He must have really let his guard down, because I could tell he was getting tired and frustrated, which is no small thing for Vetinari. He looked like he was preparing to dismiss me, so I said the first thing I could think of that sounded remotely coherent: "It seems to me that, because of the position you hold, it is difficult to find someone who will treat you as an equal." I glanced at him quickly. He didn't seem too offended, so I continued, "You never know if people are trying to gain favor, or find a weakness, and that's assuming they're actually brave enough to talk to you without filling every sentence with 'if it pleases your Lordship, sir' and frantic curtsies." I glanced at him again. He seemed to be paying close attention. I swallowed. "But that comes with the job. And... and it seems to me that someone must do it. A capable ruler must give up himself, his life. He must become superhuman - above people. He must be slightly distanced from the city, for the sake of the city."
I looked at him again. His expression hadn't changed. I walked briskly to the window, made a slightly cramped gesture with an open hand. "So I should think that when, um, when nights get long and cold, a ruler who is giving up so much for the city but receiving so little thanks, should look at the... at his city. He should remind himself what miracles he has worked in his city, and tell himself that the... the nights are worth it. For the city."
Did I believe everything I was saying? I'm not sure. Didn't I feel even a little guilty for my hypocrisy? Yes, yes I did. But at that moment I thought I could see exactly what he was seeing - night upon lonely night in a little office with stacks of papers, all neatly lined up and stretching forever into the future. It was slightly frightening that Vetinari would be desperate enough to reach out to me, to come so close to outright admitting weakness, and really, I just didn't want him to be lonely anymore. In any case, he seemed to feel better after my impromptu speech. If he knew I had been working against him, I suppose he decided to ignore it for the time being. Instead he joined me at the window, and lifted his face to the moonlight.
I think that was the first time I've ever really seen him smile.