The Trouble with Books

by Timmerryn
Sunday 25th November, 2001.
Fandom: Discworld
Rating: M
Pairing: Rincewind/Lord Vetinari
Archive: Only here, as of even date. Ask if thou would'st put it elsewhere.
Disclaimers: The characters belong to Terry Pratchett, who is a legend.
Author's Notes: The idea for the pairing came to me in a dream. Yes, really. It never would've occurred to me otherwise. And then I couldn't not write it. The story pretty much wrote itself non-stop in the seven hours between 9pm and 4am.

Lord Havelock Vetinari, Patrician and supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, the greatest city on the Disc, sat at a table and sipped a cup of tea. The only unusual thing about this was the hot water in the tea, which hadn't been boiled in a kettle over an open fire, at least not in the recent past. It had come instead from a large shiny flask, which now stood on the table in front of Vetinari. This was one of Leonard's more recent inventions and was blessed with the name of Flask for Keeping Things Hot or Cold by Means of a Vacuum. Apparently it had been extremely useful to Leonard and his crew on their recent trip under the Disc in the Kite.

Leonard was now engaged in building a new version of the Kite, but because he was Leonard, his work was punctuated by the spontaneous invention of other things. And art. Since Vetinari had arrived in Leonard's workshop, Leonard had drawn a rather good portrait of him in red chalk, and three quarters of a self-portrait in charcoal. But the self-portrait was as-yet unfinished because, mid-sketch, Leonard had glanced at his reflection in the hand-mirror he was using, shouted that Ephebian word that meant "Bring me a towel!", snatched up the mirror and dashed to the other end of his workshop. Periodic bangings and hammerings and pleased noises could be heard from that direction. Vetinari finished his tea and put down the cup, which doubled as a lid for the Flask for Keeping Things Hot or Cold by Means of a Vacuum, and strolled over to investigate.

Leonard's rather greasy face, wearing an expression that suggested he'd been brought not only a towel, but someone rather nice to dry his hair for him while he scrawled down his theory of buoyancy, appeared from behind a Device. Like all of Leonard's inventions, it was bewilderingly complex, yet extraordinarily aesthetically pleasing at the same time.

"My Lord, it's finished!" he announced, waving an arm at the contraption.

The Patrician raised his left eyebrow, a gesture which Leonard had learned over the years to interpret as "That's nice, but what in gods' names is it?"

"It's my Device for Instantly Transporting Things Between Two Distant Places," said Leonard proudly. "I realised that the problem was that the perambulatriculator and the syntomagnetometer were incorrectly connected. However, I've rectified that by inserting my hand-mirror here..." His companion's eyes were beginning to glaze over. "Anyway, it should work perfectly now," he concluded hurriedly.

Vetinari watched as Leonard set up a book on a little gold plate in front of the Device. He himself stood behind it, because although Leonard's inventions generally worked perfectly well - witness the Kite and the vacuum flask - they did have an element of unpredictability about them which made them just that little bit more exciting.

"You are about to witness history, my Lord," said Leonard, making a few final adjustments. "This book is to be the first object ever to be Instantly Transported to Somewhere Else without the use of magic."

He stood back and pulled the lever. The device hummed, generated a few attractive purple sparks, hummed a bit more and then, because the universe likes a bit of excitement now and then, fired backwards.

* * *


"Oh, not again!"




"That's what I thought you said."


"No! I'm not going into GH159.L72 by myself again!"


"It is not perfectly safe! Last time I was in there one of the books on the fourth shelf ate my hat!"


"No. It would've eaten my head, too, if I hadn't run away. And it took me ages to sew the sequins on to my new hat."


"Why don't you do it, if you're so concerned about this so-called disturbance?"


"Well I haven't finished my potato. I think potatoes take precedence over bananas in cases of disturbance in GH159.L72."


Oh, all right."

* * *

Rincewind, clutching his half-eaten potato, sidled into Section GH159.L72 of Unseen University Library, preparing to depart at the first hint of danger.

There was something struggling in the middle of the aisle. Rincewind approached it cautiously and it revealed itself to be Wildehart's Encyclopedia of Enchanted Swords (Third Edition). Its corners had been sheared off - with a knife of some kind, it looked like - and it was this injury that caused the book to flap helplessly on the floor instead of looking for unsuspecting hats to eat. Rincewind shuddered as he caught up the book by the spine and replaced it on the shelf. Thank gods he'd come down here after all, and not the Librarian. The orang-utan was feared throughout the university for his harsh penalties on overdue books. Whoever had done this to Wildehart (Third Edition) would have been forced to leave the country, if not the known world, had the Librarian seen it.

There was another, slightly larger tome in a similar condition a little farther down the aisle.

And there was blood on its pages.

Rincewind's desire to vacate Section GH159.L72 increased exponentially. If the books were in a nasty mood, he'd do well to leave before they vented their frustration on him as well. But something made him hesitate. Somebody, possibly human, possibly not - but with normal-coloured blood at least - was in there, further down the aisle. If they'd been bitten to death by angry books about magical weaponry, the least Rincewind could do was find their body and give them a decent burial.

On the other hand, whoever it was evidently had a weapon of their own, they'd fought off at least two aggressive tomes and he thought he could make out the fluttering pages of several more in the distant gloom...

As he stood, gripped by uncharacteristic indecision, something very fast emerged from the shadows, collided with him and sent them both rolling back towards the entrance of the aisle.

There was a hand clamped over his mouth. Rincewind considered this to be a positive thing. His attacker was therefore not one of those infernal tentacled things from the Dungeon Dimensions, which meant that (hopefully) the fabric of reality was still intact. In this section of the Library, anyway.

The next thing Rincewind noticed was the knife. This was not a good thing, by any standards. Nor was the knee he could feel pressed threateningly against his groin.

Whoever the man was, he was well-trained at subduing human assailants. Though not, judging by the wet metallic smell of the hand that was gagging the wizard, as good at fending off attacks of a biblial nature. An assassin! thought Rincewind's panic-fogged brain. Here to kill me, like they did in the old days... Reason kicked in. Who in gods' names would want to be the Assistant Librarian?

So he forced his eyes to focus on the face suspended above him. It was, to his shock, a face he recognised. What he did not recognise was the expression it wore, which was a mirror of his own.

* * *

It's Rincewind, said the cool calculating part of Vetinari's brain, which he knew was still operating somewhere under the fog of complete bewilderment. That wizard who went with Leonard on the Kite. To save the world. He has the word "Wizzard" embroidered on his hat.

There was recognition in the wizard's eyes too, so Vetinari removed his hand, his knife and his knee. He expected the wizard to bolt, but Rincewind, although now sitting up, was still staring at him, motionless.

Lots of mad books and a wizard. The University Library, obviously. Vetinari leaned back against the nearest non-homicidal bookshelf and made a serious attempt to bring his heartrate and breathing back under control, which was embarrassingly hard to do.

"Rincewind," he said at last.

"Yes, sir!" squeaked the wizard.

"I appear to have been attacked by your library."

Parts of him were seriously starting to hurt now the adrenaline was wearing off and there were several rips in his robe which revealed bleeding gashes and bite-marks.

"Uh, yes sir," said Rincewind, staring at Vetinari's face. The Patrician confirmed with a hand that yes, this was bleeding too, and matting in his beard.

"They do it a lot, sir, the books," Rincewind was saying. "Especially to people they don't know. We chain up the worst of them. And put up signs.." He paused. "Sir, if you don't mind me asking, what are you doing in the Library?"

"I was the victim of one of Leonard's inventions," said the Patrician, watching the sudden bloom of understanding and compassion in the wizard's eyes. "What did he say it was called, again.. 'Device for Instantly Transporting Things Without Magic'?"

"A teleporter, of sorts," said Rincewind. "Ouch. The magical versions of those are bad enough."

Vetinari raised his hand to the gash on his face again. Not only was it hurting, but it was starting to itch.

"Bites from books aren't toxic, are they?" he asked, not really meaning it.

He was therefore surprised when the wizard replied "Yes, actually, sir, they can be," and stood up.

He offered Vetinari a hand up, which the Patrician accepted, and then set off towards the entrance of the aisle. Vetinari, feeling completely out of his depth - which was not a feeling he liked at all - followed.

Rincewind trod a confident path through the maze of shelves, pausing at some intersections, checking round corners, occasionally going half way down an aisle for no apparent reason, then turning around and coming back. Vetinari, mindful of the traps he had had set up around Leonard's workshop, followed exactly in his footsteps.

They finally arrived in an aisle called LT504.Z11. Rincewind prodded a random book and a whole section of the bookshelf dissolved, revealing a small wooden stairway. At the top of the stairway was a strange wood-floored room, carpeted with rugs, and various things to sit on. There was also a set of cluttered shelves filled not with books, but with potions. Vetinari looked suspiciously at the room's walls, which were formed by the insides of the main shelves, the pages of hundreds of books facing inwards.

Rincewind followed his gaze. "Don't worry about them," he said. "All the books in Sections L and M are completely harmless. Most of them aren't even alive."

Vetinari sat down on the nearest chair-shaped object and watched Rincewind select several bottles from the shelves.

The wizard put them on the round low table that occupied the centre of the room, along with a large jug of water and a cloth.

He indicated the bite-mark on Vetinari's right hand.

"Sir, see the black in the wound on your hand? It's ink. If you don't clean it out, it can get pretty nasty. We've had students who lose their whole hands because they don't get their book bites seen to." He pointed to the bottles on the table. "You'll need to use the water first, then a combination of these three. It's a nuisance, but each Section has different ink and needs different potions. They sting, too, but you'll know you've got it right when the bite stops itching."

This is the wizard they say is useless, a lost cause, Vetinari mused as he unfastened his ruined robe from his shoulders and removed his bloodstained shirt. He's found his niche here.

Most of the bites were on his arms, though there was a rather nasty one on his chest, made by the same large book that had gashed his face. He remembered that book: flying pages, teeth... It seemed incongruous now. He could see the headlines in de Worde's newspaper: "Lord Vetinari Fears for Life in the Face of Ferocious Grimoire." "Book Succeeds Where Hundreds of Assassins Fail - Exclusive!"

He snorted and began on the bite on his hand.

* * *

There was a lot of blood. On the other hand, it wasn't his, observed Rincewind, sitting on the other side of the room. His helping-someone-who-has-been-mauled-by-the-books-in-G-Section autopilot was wearing off and it was dawning on him, even more fully than it had back in GH159.L72, just who the man seated opposite him was. That was the Patrician, the supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, who could have any citizen he chose put to death by whatever means he chose... But as there was no immediate threat to his safety, Rincewind's anti-paranoia circuits kicked in at this point.

He's not going to have you killed because your library attacked him, they insisted. If anything, he should blame Leonard for sending him here.

But much as Rincewind would have liked Leonard of Quirm, inventor of infernal torture devices for Rincewind, murdered in several horrible ways all at once, he suspected that Vetinari needed the man and wouldn't share his sentiments.

So Rincewind watched Lord Vetinari working his way up one arm with the water cloth and the ink-neutralisers. Those bites would be stinging like several hells, Rincewind knew from experience, but there was no indication of this on Vetinari's face.

Rincewind was impressed again, as he had been in the aisle watching Vetinari recover his composure. The man had been convinced his life was in grave danger - Rincewind had read that in his eyes. He'd been terrified. Yet it had taken him less than five minutes to discipline himself back into the state of being Rincewind had come to associate with the Patrician. Whatever his real emotions, they had been brought back under his control. The knife had vanished, too. There was no trace of it, or its sheath as Rincewind ran his eyes up Vetinari's body, looking for it. And then, because he could, he ran them down again. The Patrician's torso was lean and hard, not particularly well-muscled, but he was strong, Rincewind had good reason to know. He also knew that Vetinari was maybe ten years older than he was, of an age when wizards, at least, began to cultivate impressively extensive bellies. He tried to imagine Vetinari jogging around UU campus, as some of the younger wizards from the HEM were wont to do at odd hours of the morning. It didn't work.

Probably keeps his body in shape through sheer iron will.

At this point, a jolt of something travelled through Rincewind, leaving behind it the kind of feeling he normally associated with potatoes. Uh oh.

So he almost panicked when Vetinari looked up at him and said "Rincewind, could you come and fix this bite on the back of my shoulder? I can't see it properly."

This was obviously true - a book had grabbed him by the shoulder, leaving tooth-marks in both sides. Nasty.

Probably Ye Booke of Octarine Chain Mail, Rincewind thought, as he crossed the room. It had a thing about shoulders. He vowed to tell the Librarian that cost or no cost, that book should be chained to the shelf three times over. He also realised, as he arrived on the other side of the room, that he would have to do Vetinari's face as well - there were no mirrors stored here.

He began to work the ink out of the gashes, concentrating grimly on ferocious books, on horrible slimy tentacled monsters, on anything and everything that had tried to kill him over the years.

It sort of worked, or at least it held the feelings-associated-mostly-with-potatoes at bay until he could retreat back to the other side of the room.

Vetinari was investigating the gash on his chest, which was still bleeding.

"I don't suppose you keep a needle on those shelves?" he enquired.

There was one, and thread. Rincewind supposed he should offer to stitch the wound, but the potato-feelings were still lurking and mercifully, Vetinari didn't appear to need any assistance, achieving a neater job than many professional surgeons Rincewind had seen.

He then lay back on the soft chair-like thing and let out a long breath.

"You know," he said conversationally, turning his head to look at Rincewind, "I've never done that before."

Then he went to sleep.

Rincewind put the bottles back on the shelves, rinsed the blood out of the cloth, returned to his couch and for want of anything more productive to do, lay back and tried not to think of potatoes.

* * *

Havelock Vetinari awoke and there was pain everywhere. This was unsurprising, really, and he made an effort to block it out. He should be going, anyway. He had things to do back at the palace. With this thought in mind, he rescued his shirt from the floor and inspected it. It was stiff with dried blood. The robe wasn't much better. But he could fix the holes temporarily with the surgical thread and the blood wasn't really visible against the black...

He twitched a muscle in his cheek while he was thinking and the cut down the left side of his face began to hurt again. Damn! He'd forgotten about that. He investigated the edges and found the scab to be large and conspicuous. Here was a problem. Although there were plenty of secret ways into and out of the palace, Vetinari had them all guarded. Which was generally a good thing, except for now, when he had to get back into a place no-one had seen him leave, in a state he didn't care to be seen in. No matter how well sworn-to-silence the guards were, reports of him returning to the palace disheveled and obviously injured were going to generate a hot topic for the servants' dinner table.

And then it would get through to Vimes and the man wouldn't leave it alone until he'd tracked down the culprit (a book) and brought it to Justice. Presumably this was burning, for a book. Vetinari would have loved to watch those books burn to death, but he'd heard the rumours about magical books, and didn't care to risk it. He could put whichever guard it was to death, he supposed, but that would be inconvenient and a waste of resources.

Then he noticed the sleeping wizard on the other side of the room.

Wizards had spells for all sorts of things and this was a library. Surely somewhere here was a spell that would remove all his injuries, and heal his clothes for good measure, so he could return to the palace as he had left it, no questions asked. Or no seriously embarrassing ones, at least.

"Rincewind," he said, and the wizard awoke suddenly, staring at Vetinari with a kind of near-panic suffusing his features, which really didn't match the situation. What was that? Vetinari explained his dilemma and the wizard departed swiftly, in search of a suitable book. Was he afraid of a reprisal of some sort? But he'd been perfectly calm last ni... whenever it was, before he went to sleep, Vetinari amended. And whatever time it was now..

Rincewind's behaviour was still nagging at his mind. He recalled the wizard rubbing the ink-potions into the gash on his cheek, of opening his eyes to meet the wizard's and reading something - not really fear, which replaced it a second later - something else. No! That was rubbish! Was he imagining Rincewind was attracted to him? He chased the ridiculous thought out of his head.

* * *

Rincewind returned with a book.

"Sir," he said, "I know I'm supposed to be a wizard, but I'm hopeless at spells. I've never had any spell work for me and this is a third-grade. It's likely to either do nothing, or to do something really dangerous."

He watched the Patrician consider the prospect.

"Try it anyway," said Vetinari finally, with a kind of mad penniless gambler's expression on his face.

He's not as cool as he'd have me believe, Rincewind realised. He hasn't really recovered from being teleported across the city into an aisle full of homicidal books. But then, who would? He knew what Vetinari was thinking - nothing could be as bad as what had already happened.

But it could, though Rincewind found himself reluctant to say so. Perhaps he wanted to try magic one more time, to see if persistence ever paid off. Or perhaps he just wanted to get rid of Vetinari, so his uncomfortable potato-feelings would go away.

Whatever his motivation, he heard himself agreeing to try the spell.

Won't do anything anyway, he told himself, speaking the necessary words, making the necessary gestures. And there was a spark of octarine. Rincewind's hands shook in complete and utter disbelief - the spell was going to work!

He opened his mouth to say the final words and then realised, with a jolt of terror, that his hands were forming the wrong spell. And even worse, he knew exactly which one it was. It wasn't the healing spell he was aiming for, it was a spell every wizard - first-grades and up - knew the method for. Any book that contained it would have a conspicuous crease down the spine opposite its pages, the paper would be stained with a variety of different substances, the corners folded down to mark the page. Everyone wanted to know this spell, though not everyone could manage it in their first years, resulting in much hilarity, or embarrassment, for all parties involved.

It was called "Loneliness".

And there was no aphrodisiac like it.

Rincewind, in a panic as the octarine fog drifted over the man in front of him, desperately told himself - It's okay, nothing will happen, he's not interested in men! He had that affair with the vampire woman up in Uberwald, remember? Everyone knows about that. The spell will do nothing and you can get on and do the right one.

But as the fog cleared and he saw the look in Vetinari's eyes, it struck him that what people say someone does and what they actually feel can be very different indeed.

* * *

Vetinari was suddenly, inexplicably, yet inescapably attracted to the skinny wizard who couldn't even spell "wizard".

There was a little voice in the back of his head shouting "Hang on! What are you doing? Stop!" but long-dormant primal urges were beginning to awaken, scratching themselves and deciding it really was time to go for a stroll outside the cave.

And when they got outside, they wanted to run.

* * *

Rincewind suddenly found himself in exactly the same position he had been in less than twelve hours previously - flat on his back on the floor with Vetinari on top of him. Only this time it wasn't the man's hand that was on his mouth. Rincewind's potato-feelings returned suddenly and so powerfully that they shot themselves out of orbit from around Planet Potato and found a new home orbiting Planet Vetinari.

Clothing was removed, heavy breathing became a feature of the small room, mutual pleasure was experienced.

Then the spell wore off.

* * *

The rational, clinical part of Vetinari's brain switched itself back on, screaming blue murder. It had nearly made it way to the top of his consciousness, where it would incite the Horsemen Shock, Outrage and Incredulous Disbelief to ride out, when it was drowned quite decisively by a wave of something very powerful without a name. This something was the direct result of what somebody - and yes, it was that wizard who couldn't spell - was doing with his mouth at a region of his body Vetinari never, as a rule, used for thinking. It wasn't thinking now, either, but it was holding the reins and geeing the horses, so Vetinari, absolute ruler of the greatest city on the Disc, just rode with it.

And then...

The somewhat befuzzled rational side clawed its way dripping to the top of Vetinari's brain and stayed there.

He sat up. He was naked. This was not an improvement.

There was a wizard, also naked, but inexplicably still wearing his hat. It said "Wizzard" on it in sequins. The wizard licked something off his lower lip and looked up.

"Did I..." Vetinari stopped and tried again. "Did we just..."

Rincewind nodded happily. There were too many interesting chemicals in his body at the moment to permit misgivings of any sort to develop.

Vetinari opened his mouth to be outraged. But he didn't. Because he'd suddenly found that he wasn't. Because whatever he'd just done with this wizard had been really really good.

He hadn't had sex like that since... he cast his mind back... since ever.

"Rincewind," he said to the wizard reclining on the carpet in front of him, "Have you ever wondered exactly what it is that you're a wizard at? Because I don't think it's magic."

Rincewind, not caring that he was about to sign his own death-warrant, began to explain that it hadn't been him...

"No," said Vetinari. "It was. Your spell wore off maybe fifteen minutes ago."

He knows about the spell! While Rincewind was coming to terms with this, Vetinari was finding the book. He picked it up off the floor, opened it at the correct page and read the spell. He skimmed the appendices, which were referred to at the bottom of the page. Then he put the book on the table, stood up straight, spoke the words and performed the gestures. Octarine fire emerged from his fingers and enveloped his body. When it cleared, the book-bites were gone, though the irregular area of regrown tissue on his thigh from the gonne incident some years back remained.

Then he collected his clothes into a pile on the table and repeated the spell, modifying it for inanimate objects, as the book instructed.

After which he got dressed, brushed back his hair with his hand, and stood up.

Rincewind made drowning fish noises from his position on the floor.

"Sir," he said - something about the way Vetinari was looking at him made it abundantly clear that Vetinari would always be "sir" to Rincewind, intimacy notwithstanding - "Have you ever done magic before?"

Vetinari looked surprised. "No. Should I have?"

"It's just, that spell..."

"It needed doing, so I did it. It's simple when you read the instructions."

"Oh," said Rincewind.

"I have to go, anyway. There'll be paperwork piling up and Leonard will be going mad. I need you to show me one of the back exits to the library. Preferably one that comes out near the palace, not in the middle of the university courtyard."

Rincewind tossed his clothes back on and guided the Patrician to one of the ways out, hidden by another dissolving bookcase.

Vetinari was about to go through it, then he paused and turned back to the wizard.

"Thank you," he said.

Rincewind spluttered.

"No," said Vetinari, "I mean it. For all of it."

And, unaffected by any spell, except perhaps that cast by simple gratitude, he kissed the wizard one final time.

Then he stepped through the doorway in the bookshelf and disappeared from Rincewind's view.

Rincewind knew for certain that what had occurred between him and .. yes, the supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork .. was never going to happen again. But that was okay, because what he really really felt like right now was a baked potato.

* * *

Vetinari returned to the palace without incident and, in the fullness of time, could be found once more in Leonard's workshop, drinking tea made with hot water from the Flask for Keeping Things Hot or Cold by Means of a Vacuum.

"Where did it send you, my Lord?" Leonard was asking, determined to find out how his device had worked.

"Just somewhere, Leonard. I'm back now."

"Somewhere you hadn't been before, I think."


"Yes. It shows - look!" Leonard turned his latest portrait of Vetinari around on its easel. There was something in the eyes that hadn't been there before.

"All right, you win."

"Was it worth the journey?"

"Yes, actually it was." Pause. "But I am never going near that infernal device of yours ever again, Leonard."

Leonard chuckled and returned to his easel. He began to paint a library. The trouble with books, he thought, is that they can get you into awful trouble.

But sometimes it's worth it.

There are a couple of pictures that go with this story.

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