Rufus Drumknott dropped to his knees, hoping the show of obsequience would make His Lordship reconsider. Lord Vetinari had modernised Ankh-Morpork, and did not enjoy excessive personal loyalty, but whatever the practicalities may be, technically, the Patrician was a steward for the King, bestowed with absolute rule by a divine mandate. For that matter, while Rufus recognised in theory the evils of hereditary leadership*, and would certainly not claim himself a royalist (indeed, if it came down to this choice he would defy Captain Carrot and meet Death alongside his Patrician), he was still, in some ways, traditional. “Please, my lord,” he said. “I beseech you.”
“Very well, then,” said His Lordship, something adjacent to ‘sulky’. After a few moments: “Drumknott.”
Rufus raised his head, and then himself from his knee. “My lord?” he asked.
“From which year is your earliest memory?”
Rufus stood in thought for a few moments. “The early nineteen seventies, my lord,” he said. “(During the century of the fruitbat, of course.) I could not be certain of which year, specifically. Might I be so bold as to enquire why you are asking me this?”
“I may well have been Patrician by then, Drumknott. For the majority of your life, you have not endured such rulers as Lord Winder and Lord Snapcase. Do not conflate an exception with evidence something is viable.”
So His Lordship had interpreted the last-ditch effort of a show of fealty as the result of a complex cycle of thought to do with despotism, deposition, and the right to rightful rule. Of course, His Lordship was not incorrect; he did not exactly tend to be. “I like to think that I do not, my lord. It is just that…”
“It is just that, what?”
Rufus thought about how to phrase his reply. “I endeavour also to not conflate a nonviable system with a reformer working within it.”
“And you did not ask for a lecture.”
Quite, he thought. He was not angry with His Lordship, but it was ... always discouraging, to witness him regress like this. It was not His Lordship's fault; Rufus did not blame him. Nevertheless, he had to work to keep gentle remonstration out of his tone. “No, my lord. I asked for you to eat dinner.”
“Very well, then,” His Lordship repeated, his acquiescence from earlier. His teeth were gritted. Rufus was not afraid of him, and this was precisely because he had, indeed, grown up under a good Patrician. He worked under a good Patrician.
“You are tired,” he said, “and irritable, and falling back to the practice of self-denial in order to prove that you are not like other rulers of Ankh-Morpork.”
His Lordship his closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened then again, his voice was once more calm. “Your honesty, as always, keeps me in check, Drumknott.”
“Against you keeping yourself in check, sir,” he said, drily, allowing himself a little cheek now that the situation was no longer oppressively (and what a choice of word that was) tense.
His Lordship matched and outmatched his dryness. “Who watches he who watches the Watchmen watch the Watch?”
Rufus pulled out the fob watch that he kept in his breast pocket.
“And tells him to go to bed directly,” said His Lordship, passing a hand over his face in laughter. He must truly be exhausted. “I do not deny the appeal. Alright, Drumknott. I shan’t detain you further.”
Rufus returned the watch, only to fold his arms. He was going when His Lordship was. If Lord Vetinari were to have been honest, he would be on his way right now.
Thankfully, he was. He had still wormed his way out of having something to eat, but Rufus had learned from a very wise man to interpret small victories as successful steps towards greater goals of improvement.
*While His Lordship disliked hereditary leadership, his last living relative, the dowager Lady Meserole, had ruthlessly reformed the nearby city of Pseudopolis with the same righteous compulsion as he himself had Ankh-Morpork. It was not Rufus’ place to make comment on this, of course, and thus he had not.