literature

Patients Wearing Thin - Part 1

Deviation Actions

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"Who do we have up next, Emma?"


"One Grapnel Skullcrusher. Claims it’s not an emergency, has a stomach complaint, I gather. Can’t get much else out of him," the plump, pink clinic receptionist replied, handing over a new manila patient folder with all of one sheet in it.


Young Sam took the folder, flipped it open, looked at it and scratched the bridge of his nose while crinkling it in thought. There was little on the paper beyond a name, address, age and a few other bare facts. Somehow, that expression and the faint freckles across it made him look younger than his nineteen years. Even with a broad build tending more toward the Ramkin side of things[1], he still looked like an overgrown boy sometimes. "I’m going to go out on a limb based on the name and guess that’s the very traditionally dressed dwarf I spotted over in the corner earlier with the extremely shiny axe?"


[1] He was easily a head taller than his mother by fourteen. By the time puberty had completely caught up with him, which took some doing, people that didn’t yet know him very well sometimes made the common mistake of assuming that being built like an ox meant the same thing as having the brains of one. They didn’t usually make that mistake twice. Not once he had gone all polysyllabic on them. And possibly explained what polysyllabic meant.


"Got it in one. I put him in exam room three, shiny axe and all. By the way, Doctor Madison clacksed in sick, too."


"Hurrah," Young Sam said flatly. "Flu epidemic. Nothing like it. Don’t suppose I can claim I’m sick as well?" He shut the folder.


"Not a chance. I’m looking at you and you’re healthy as a mule. You’re also the only one left for clinic duty unless you want us to go rousting old Mossy out of his office. He would just spend the next four hours grumbling about it and cussing the patients."


"Nah. We need him administering things, anyway. Let him cuss the paperwork and the bills, I’ll cuss the patients. Exam 3 you said?"


"Exam 3," Emma confirmed.


~~~~~~~~~~


Young Sam raised a hand and gave a polite knock against the door before stepping in. As expected, the contents of the room included one stout looking dwarf, heavily armored and dressed in even more layers of mail, leather and cloth under that, round face under an equally round iron helmet mostly obscured by eyebrows and a thick beard, but exposed enough to look vaguely worried. That expression more or less came with the territory in the exam rooms. Exam rooms usually brought back the ghost of every questionable health decision you had ever made and reduced even the best of people to the same state of mind as being seven and getting stared down by the headmaster or headmistress.The mail and armor was reasonably dressy and well kept, as was the smallish jeweled pick-axe, and the other visible dress had a richness to it that suggested a dwarf doing fairly well for himself. The mail was more ornamental than practical. Upper middle class and probably still upwardly mobile, at any rate. The richness of girth and the handsomely, neatly trimmed beard suggested the same. Young Sam gave the dwarf a broad, friendly smile and stuck out a hand in greeting. "Grapnel Skullcrusher? Young Sam Vimes. I realize this is a little presumptuous of me, and you’re well within your rights to refuse, but for my own comfort and convenience, would you mind terribly if I put your axe in the umbrella stand over there? It makes it easier to assure nothing gets damaged. Namely me. You’re going to laugh, but large, sharp things I’m not holding tend to make me nervous. I blame heredity and hanging around far too many watchmen."


The dwarf gave a slightly sheepish smile, completed the handshake and handed it over. "They let you out without a nanny? You look like you’re still wet behind the ears." It wasn’t a native Ankh Morpork dwarf accent. It had the lilt of Cheery’s Uberwaldian accent, only much thicker. You could almost float a boat anchor in it.


Young Sam had been ready for this. It was a common enough complaint among the human patients he ended up with during his usual days at the clinic, especially the ones who had known him all his life and remembered him as being permanently about seven or eight and full of earnestly nosy questions when said nose wasn’t buried in a book. But dwarfs, who were still rowdy adolescents at seventy-five, apparently, made comments every time. Not that dwarfs of any age came in very often, at least to the walk-in clinic. The Critical Care Center saw its fair share, especially when the quaffing got out of hand or a dwarf officer ended up in the middle of a melee gone bad, but it was rare they admitted to being ill, much less needing the more mundane services of the free hospital or the free clinic, at least while they were still upright. They tended to get carried in when they were in an especially bad way, boots first, instead. "Dried back there very well last time I had a bath. It was even in the last twenty-four hours. I’m nineteen, in case you were wondering, and even Doctor Lawn grudgingly admitted I was trained enough to be set on the patients in the walk-in clinic unobserved without causing more havoc than strictly necessary when I took the clinical exam two years ago. And by the way, he gave me a different test than the standard one, yes, but it was harder, because he’s a pretty devious old goat and he wanted to make sure no one cried favoritism, least of all me. Or Dad. Or Mum. Especially Mum. Sorry, you haven’t much choice, today. I am, in fact, it. On account of not having the flu. Normally I could very likely offer you an exciting range of demographics, genders, shapes and species and at least a third of them would actually be on duty, though, to be honest, none of them would be dwarfs. We’ve tried recruiting, no one applies, so if you know someone who might be interested, point them our way. We could probably learn a thing or two from the Watch on that score. Maybe we should allow armor with the fetching uniforms. Today I don’t even have a nurse. They’re all out on the floor of the Lady Sybil or working the Critical Care wing, those that haven’t clacksed in sick. They’re extremely short-staffed. We’ve got an Igor that works the morgue..."


"I’ll stick with you, if it’s all the same," the dwarf said hurriedly.


"I thought you might. So, now that we’ve gotten past the inevitable discussion about whether my mum still packs my lunch and ties my shoes and wipes my nose when I go to work in the building with her name over the door, what might your actual complaints be? At least the ones I might be able to do something about?" Young Sam straddled the adjustable stool next to the exam table and sat, shifting to the politely interested expression that his mother tended to use to invite people to fill her in on how their families were and what their children were doing these days. Combined with the old copper trick of being chatty and then suddenly opening up a great, big, patiently gaping silence just begging to be filled, and acting as though you could keep it up all day if necessary, it usually got patients confessing to even the most embarrassing of ailments and symptoms inside five minutes.   


There was some hemming and hawing, an embarrassed cough, then, "This is going to sound ridiculous. Stomach cramps. Been having them since early this morning. Won’t go away, no matter what I take."


"Oh, I wouldn’t say that’s ridiculous, I’ve got a wealth of embarrassing stories about what things people put up their... Anyway, stomach cramps doesn’t even register on the ridiculous scale. I see. Any nausea or fever?" Young Sam glanced down to scribble a note on the chart.


"Felt a little sick earlier, just for a few minutes. No fever," the patient allowed. "I should just take another damned stomach powder and go home. It’s probably breakfast at Gimlet’s Delicatessen coming back to haunt me."


"Oh. I see Emma took your temperature earlier. Could be nothing. Or it might be something that needs to be looked into. Since you’re here, might as well, eh?" There was a distinct absence of argument. "Sharp pains or dull ones?"


"Dull."


"May I have a listen to your lungs?" Young Sam asked, holding up the stethoscope. Mindful of traditional dwarf modesty and comfort in layers, he added, "The mail will have to come off, and the leather jerkin, but you can leave the shirt on and buttoned for now. I can hear well enough through that. I’ll put those over by the axe." The usual ritual of urging deep breaths and listening took place. "Good breath sounds. No crackling. That eliminates pneumonia, at least. Would you mind lying back and letting me feel your abdomen and maybe having a listen? That helps me eliminate things like a ruptured spleen or gallstones, among other things."


"I suppose..."  Grapnel said warily, lying back reluctantly and rigidly, as though having been invited to stretch out for a nap on a marble slab.


"Let me know if anything I do hurts or feels uncomfortable or even just tender." Young Sam pressed gently, working his way up and down, then across, with spread fingers. The stethoscope came out again. "Good belly and breath sounds. No sharp pains or new aches when I pressed?" There was a shy shake of the head. Followed by a tense grunt. "Having them now? Show me where you feel it the worst." Grapnel laid a hand somewhere around navel level. Niggling somewhere at the back of Young Sam’s brain, what seemed to be the loose end of the knot flapped free. It was waving somewhere just at the edge of seeing, not quite in focus, and if you tried to grab at it too fast, it might disappear or you might just end up with a bigger tangle of knots. Sometimes even doctors needed to have something silly and mostly pointless to keep the greater part of the brain occupied while the rest of the brain got on with the important business of putting the clues together and handing you the answer. "Anything changed in your diet? Eaten anything out of the ordinary lately? Any known allergies?" There were, again, three barely-there, eyes-not-quite-meeting-yours head shakes in response.


Normally, this might mean the patient was being less than honest, but these were three totally innocuous questions. Most patients wouldn’t so much as bother lying about them. There was a word trying to form back there. He tried some more time filler. "Haven’t been traveling abroad within the last four months, have you? Anywhere further than Sto Lat? Or been in close contact with someone that has?" Another of those denials. And then the adjective that had been genteelly clearing its throat in hopes of being noticed came to the front of the queue.


Demure. That was definitely a demure denial. He had a closer look for the little telltale signs in the face. Width of the jaw, prominence of the cheekbones, the thickness of the brow bone, the roundness of the cheeks. The differences might not be as obvious as they were in humans, because dwarfs usually had skulls that could put a rock slide to some trouble, but if you knew what you were looking for and were a decent anatomy student or someone with a talent for or a vested interest in recognizing faces, like an artist or a watchman, you could spot them even if you couldn’t describe them in words. Well, you could if you cultivated the ability of looking past the beards and the eyebrows to the facial structure underneath. Female dwarfs that announced it loudly and proudly were far from a rare sight in Ankh Morpork these days. Cheery, for example, had a lot more company in the high heeled boots and leather skirt department, and there were plenty of dwarfs that went to the salons on a regular basis for fetching Quirmian braids and ribbons in their beards and had dainty little beaded handbags or sequined carryalls hanging on their belts alongside not so dainty axes. But you also still had communities of dwarfs that were fine with jobs outside of mining, daylight in moderation, and who would choose patent gas exploders over sending knockermen to their deaths in a heartbeat, but who definitely drew the line at the female pronoun and the evils of eye shadow and lace. They might have children who were born in the city and never saw the inside of a mine, and might even grudgingly tolerate "that sort of thing" as long as it wasn’t happening in their neighborhood or under their roof, but they wouldn’t admit to having daughters of their own. And there were still some dwarf women who would secretly just as soon someone else take care of this uncertain business of women’s lib and send them a postcard when it was over. There were still professions where the boss lady definitely would not earn as much respect as the boss man... Even the Low King had kept most of the dwarfs guessing on that score, at least officially, for years on end, before finally showing up to an official reception in a very official dress.  And even then she didn’t take the Madam Sharn route of declaring herself Queen or referring to herself as "she". Or even answering to it. Some cultural movers and shakers wisely rattled foundations only a few centimeters. My grandfather’s axe got refreshed, one tiny thing at a time, which is what allowed it to still be my grandfather’s axe.    


"May I ask what you do for a living?"  


There was another polite, slightly embarrassed cough. "Training to be a grag. Soon, anyway. I’ve been on the waiting list to go back home and train there. My parents have insisted for years. For now, I work setting type for the magazine presses at the Times when they’re busy and full time doing fine detail work at my uncle’s leather shop, to send some money back home. Decorative tooling, mostly. Press isn’t bad work. I really like the shop, I’ve been in the city for almost a year," Grapnel added, sounding very nearly apologetic. Ah. Well, he had always had what his mother referred to as the Vimes tendency to niggle at things and the Ramkin tendency to meddle in them. If he were going to gamble on top of it, he might as well metaphorically bet the farm[2] on a pretty solid conclusion based on the evidence.


[2] He had, thankfully, not inherited the Vimes tendency to get drunk off your arse and the Ramkin tendency to follow up any getting drunk off your arse with literally betting the farm.


"This may sound a bit invasive, but... I’m a guild member, I had to swear to uphold patient confidentiality and all that. Doesn’t leave this room if you don’t want it to. The only way I can break it is if I’m presented with a very specific legal warrant, and I doubt the Watch is going to be interested. And keep in mind, how you answer is going to determine what I do next. Would you... personally prefer that I address you as ma’am for the rest of the examination?" There was a definite blush and barely perceptible, slightly miserable looking nod. "Then I think you’re going to need to lift your shirt a few inches or unbutton a few buttons. And let me have another feel and listen. And maybe a quick look. I’m almost positive I know what’s causing your cramps." But there was no point prying at the lid on that particular can of worms until he was absolutely positive.


It took a few more minutes to go through the motions of pulling the exam sheet up and stepping to the other side of the closed curtain for the duration of the unbuttoning. Silly as it might seem, most patients appreciated having a modesty shield close to hand, even if there weren’t truly anything to be modest about on the other side of it. Sometimes there had to be an unspoken agreement that what happened on the other side of the sheet or the curtain hadn’t really happened. Or at least hadn’t happened much. Sometimes it just functioned as a mental security blanket. Problem was, one dwarf’s abdomen tended to look pretty much like another. All dwarfs tended to be built on the stout side, and while dwarfs might look like humans on a smaller vertical scale to the untrained eye, there were some distinct differences when it came to basic anatomy. The female dwarf officers in the Watch often opted for breastplates that had been hammered out in a way that, as his dad put it, hinted that the chest underneath wasn’t quite the same sort of chest you got on, say, Nobby Nobbs [3] or even very-definitely-Mr.[4] Corporal Thorin Rocksmasher, but you didn’t often see a dwarf that could be in any way be accused of looking terribly buxom. The hourglass figure wasn’t what you would call common, either. The dwarf high fashion industry might play that sort of thing up on the models, but the models were usually either short human girls wearing false beards or there was a lot of complicated and possibly padded corsetry doing yeoman’s work under the expensive clothes. Some degree of the whiskey barrel figure was generally what you got, and anyone trying to gut a dwarf of either gender with a dull knife could potentially get a tired wrist before doing a great deal of damage[5]. Dwarfs had incredibly thick layers of muscle around their middles.


[3] Granted, you didn’t often see a Nobbs-shaped chest on much of anything other than Nobby Nobbs. He could be described as pigeon-chested, only pigeons took offense.


[4] It can be noted that the relatively mild hazing ritual of "relocating your uniform and your towel to the front desk while you’re in the showers" became a lot less popular among some of the dwarf officers after Thorin called their bluff during his first week with the Watch. It was the sort of thing that became immortalized in Watch legend, and about two-thirds of the Watch still swears to have been on desk duty in that nick on that day. Thorin, on the other hand, became a lot more popular, particularly among the female dwarf officers. Fish stories aren’t the only thing that grow in the retelling.


[5] Your tired wrist was then the least of your worries, coming in well behind the now-enraged dwarf very likely wielding a sharp axe and probably a blood-freezing battle cry along the lines of the sentiment that today would be a good day for you to die or at least have your knees very definitely chopped off and stuffed in your ears.


After announcing his intentions, he folded the exam sheet down slightly. The dwarf’s abdomen, now bared between shirt and low-riding belt, as he had expected, was of the sort of shape that might easily pass for the slightly rounded potbelly that came with middle-aged spread, too much dwarf diner food and easier living combined with less swinging of a miner’s pickaxe, but the number in the folder had been several decades short of middle age for a dwarf. "You’ve put on weight recently." There was another reticent, answering nod. He knew better than to put it in the form of a question, that left open the option of lying, besides, the belt was fastened in the last available notch and it was slung low. The trousers obviously told the same tale, too. They were reasonably new looking, but couldn’t be fastened any higher than they were. He had another feel. The thick wall of muscle made it much harder to detect, of course, but probing fingers eventually pushed up against the sort of mass he was seeking. Young Sam warmed the end of the stethoscope by rubbing it on the inside of his elbow for a few seconds and then listened. It took a while and no small amount of trial and error, but he finally located the fluttery-fast whooshing noise he was expecting to hear, low and slightly to the right, dampened mightily by all that dwarf anatomy in the way. In the midst of searching, he kept one eye on the minute hand of the clock, mentally noting the time as another cramp arrived, probably right on schedule. He straightened up and pulled the stethoscope out of his ears.


Young Sam worked his mouth soundlessly for a few seconds, wondering how to begin. You had to tread carefully with this subject, particularly with dwarfs, he knew. They were intensely private, even under the best of circumstances. And here was one that probably hadn’t openly admitted to being female to anyone of her own species before, much less anyone outside of it. Correction. At least one dwarf in the city definitely knows she’s female... "Er... I’ve just confirmed my suspicions. So... we’re going to need to have a serious talk and not mince words much, because we may not have all that much time to mince words. Please don’t take offense, but I’m going to need the honest answers to some very personal questions, so now is not the time to be shy." And that’s maybe not the half of what’s going to get personal. Young Sam pulled the sheet back up and settled back onto the stool.


"Is it serious?" Grapnel squeaked, paling. "I mean, I’m not dying?"


It was the sort of badly timed, misdirected patient question that made you want to break out in nervous laughter or simply break out an absurd answer along the lines of the infamous "Bet you a dollar you’re the widow Jackson" incident if you weren’t careful. No, ma’am. You could not currently be doing anything more the exact opposite of dying, in fact. Hoo boy, no indeed. Incidentally, do really traditional dwarfs happen to have any traditions involving a potentially embarrassing talk with an older relative in which they usually attempt to emotionally scar you for life regarding the opposite gender and thoroughly confuse you about where all the parts go? Because I think maybe we could have really used a little bit of that several months ago. Instead, Young Sam gently bit his lip before answering evenly, "No, you’re not dying. And nothing I’ve discovered is what I would exactly call a threat to your health, either. It’s just... you might be in for a bit of a serious surprise. And you’re probably going to be here for a few hours unless you want to make other arrangements. Maybe even overnight. Do you have a spouse I can contact to come be with you?"


"No. I’m not married." Grapnel hesitated, looked like adding something else for a few seconds, then shut her mouth again.


Of course. That would be too simple. "Are you perhaps promised to be married?" Vigorous head shake of denial. "Someone special at least? Maybe you met someone since coming to the city?"


"No. No one." The lips pressed into a thin white line.


"Ah. I see. Would you care to elaborate on that answer?" It was what he thought of as his mother’s "I see what you just did there and you’re fooling no one but yourself" tone and it worked wonders. It had the sort of timbre that could probably convince hardened bank robbers to roll over on their accomplices because you sounded like you already knew where the money was hidden or even make his father unthinkingly confess to having eaten a covert bacon sandwich, and Young Sam shamelessly trotted it out for occasions like this. His father, on the other hand, usually just told you he already knew where the money was, straight out. Mostly because, nine times out of ten, he did.


There was an uncomfortable shifting on the exam table. "I don’t have anyone special. I... met someone I liked here... but my parents didn’t approve. So we broke it off."


"Oh. There was talk of getting engaged, then. An offer for a formal marriage contract?" He was  probably belaboring the point, but it wasn’t as though he could just launch straight into the I hope you got the young dwarf’s name and address... speech, after all.


"I would have liked to. Yes," Grapnel answered in a small voice. "He’s a jeweller. Does lovely, intricate work," she added with just a hint of proprietary pride. "He put the sets in that axe handle. We talked about opening a shop together." Aha. Got more than his name and address, then. Well, obviously. Or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.


"He sounds very special, indeed," Young Sam said, taking a huge breath before plunging on, "and I imagine he offered what I am going to, for expediency’s sake, refer to as a proper dowry, and your parents put the stopper in it because they didn’t want you backing out of becoming a grag and maybe because they thought you were too young to be getting married. Nonetheless, I think maybe we had better set about contacting him and getting him here, because unless I’m very much mistaken, and I don’t think I am, you two did something a lot more involved than talking about getting married and opening a shop together. Somewhere private, I should think."


The dwarf’s face turned beet red with mute, hot embarrassment. "How could you tell?"


Young Sam tried to channel the determinedly blank expression that had earned his dad the recycled nickname of Old Stoneface and succeeded. Barely. Off somewhere in the privacy of the back of his brain, he was currently giving this dwarf’s parents a good shaking for being small-minded idiots who believed in the protective power of ignorance, or possibly just the magic of closing your eyes and ignoring things you didn’t like, such as the unavoidable fact that you had a daughter. He might have his mother’s open, honest nature, but even she had the ability of the totally well bred Lady-with-a-capital-L to put on an iron hard smile and pretend she absolutely hadn’t heard what she had just heard for all she was worth[6] when necessary. He cleared his throat.  "First of all, you’re about as good a liar as I am, which is to say, don’t enter any lying contests unless you’re aiming for dead last or I’m also competing, because I usually go all pink when I try to outright lie.  Never try to be a professional card sharp, either. You are an easy to read book with small words and great big colorful pictures. Second, this is a bit late, but I think it might have been a good idea to discuss the importance of the approval of your parents and how it might not be a given before the gent in question took their approval as read. You’re young, a long way from home for the first time, and I’m going to guess maybe you were a little too caught up in things to be thinking everything through totally rationally and then they laid the guilt on you with the old 'we’ve worked and scrimped and saved so we could be proud of you being a grag, we’ll be damned if you marry one of those hedonistic big city dwarfs’ routine. Third, I take it maybe your older relatives didn’t have any very important talks with you about what can lead to hanky panky and what hanky panky can lead to before you left home, but I just diagnosed you with a medical condition that couldn’t possibly have come about any other way than committing hanky panky. I think I can very safely assume the two of you did not put the brakes on at just hanky.  I expect the two of you got a touch overexcited and celebrated the engagement a tiny bit prematurely."  


[6] Roughly speaking, a pretty big chunk of the city, even the bits of it that didn’t, technically, always exist in the strictest sense of the word. And a considerable portion of the countryside, all of which existed all the time, at least as far as anyone had bothered to determine, but cabbages, sheep, cattle and country estates don’t usually have much in the way of obvious existential crises.


The worried, questioning eyes peered out at him from beneath the helmet and eyebrows and Young Sam gave up on subtlety. Instead, he went for straightforward, lobbing it across as kindly and gently as possible. "You’ve put on weight the last few months and you’re having abdominal pains because you’re currently in the process of giving birth to a baby. It’s not entirely unheard of for a pregnant dwarf not to know she is until she goes into labor. Especially if nobody ever bothered making sure you understood how you get that way, how to recognize you got that way and more importantly, how to keep from getting that way in the first place, but everyone’s different. Several witches around the Ramtops have a story about the bellyache that turned out to be a surprise bouncing baby dwarf instead of too much quaffing or a bad rat, and many Ramtop dwarfs are nothing if not practical when it comes to the facts of life and even of gender, from what I understand. You lot are pretty hardy and the signs aren’t as obvious, and even humans do that, sometimes. Denial’s a marvelous thing. You’re about to make your very special jeweller a father, is what I’m trying to say. Probably in a matter of a few hours. So, if you want to make this official before the birth maybe we had better be rounding him up and making some kind of arrangements. You wouldn’t happen to have an aunt or similar you might want here with you? A female friend, maybe?"  


"I’m so ashamed," the dwarf moaned into her hands. "My whole family is going to disown me! My p-p-parents will probably have me declared D'hrarak..."


Young Sam patted a shaking shoulder sympathetically, then gave it a heartening squeeze. "I’ll take that as a 'no’ on the trusted auntie. Look, there isn’t much point in worrying about it or upsetting yourself, now, what’s done is done and it’s not as though you can undo it. You’re not the first... girl... this has happened to, and I’ll bet you won’t be the last. All we can do is make the best of it, and thing is, Ankh Morpork is really good at making the best of things. I think you might find even some grags are surprisingly flexible about the kruk." Anybody with any sense knew the Law needed to get bent now and again, otherwise it didn’t work, and when bending didn’t work, you often needed to break the rules good and hard. It was a definite bonus if you could find someone who knew when to just bend it and when to snap it across your knee. Young Sam heaved a sigh and switched to patting between the shoulder blades. "One thing at a time. How many months since you talked to him?"


"F-f-five..."


"I’ll go out on a limb and figure you have a full name and a current work address that you can give Sergeant Littlebottom so she can go fetch him here so you can have a word with him? Or several words. Or if you like, Sergeant Littlebottom can probably have a few choice words with him right off the mallet[7], which might save time all around," Young Sam offered.


[7] Young Sam had never had the patience to be much of a crockett player, since you could play a decent game of football plus take a brisk cross country run in the time it took to explain the rules, pick teams, get the game started and argue with the hat man about the last fifteen calls and five of the rules, but at least the lingo made for a higher class of metaphor and you could often catch bits of the same match as you were roaming around the countryside all day without having missed much or participate in one without having to break a sweat. He preferred to participate in the sports where coaches shouted things like "Get in there and get some ball, you bunch of soft nellies!" or "Run like you stole it!". Nature and nurture being what they were, the latter phrase made it a hell of a lot easier for him to chase down the bugger what stole it down, for one thing.


The dwarf stared at him in fascinated horror. "You can’t have a Watch officer go and drag him out of work..."


"Oh, I most certainly can. If anyone can ask the Watch for a favor like that, I can. Half the senior officers across the disc probably gave me a piggy back ride or let me wear their helmet at least once and they know there’s a very good chance it’s going to be me on call for the trauma room if they get brought in here after an arrest or a mob gone bad. I also frequently deliver and treat their kids, make house calls at all hours whether I’m officially on call or not and make sure this place bends over backwards for the members of the Watch as a matter of civic duty and as a happy consequence, this also prevents both my parents from going totally Librarian-poo on us about not doing it."  


"Then everyone will know... about the... I mean... that I’m a..."


"Not if you don’t want them to. I mean, not for sure, unless your young dwarf is built like a toast rack. They can suspect all they want, but they can’t prove it. Most dwarfs don’t exactly show a lot. Besides, Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom is a dwarf, one of the finest sergeants my dad has got, the soul of discretion, and is very decidedly still a ‘Miss Littlebottom’ even after many years of being happily married to Hrolf Thighbiter, who is, I think it also bears pointing out, openly male. Cheery is not afraid to wear high heeled iron boots and a skirt while on duty, and maybe some satin ribbons and accessorize with a tastefully done axe. She worked straight through her... well, I’ll let her tell you about that. She is openly female, she is most certainly open-minded and progressive, she’s not much of one for conforming to any expectations she doesn’t want to conform to, and she is not apt to get all judgemental on you. She commands quite a bit of respect in the local dwarf community, and when that fails, she commands a pretty mean tastefully done axe and has gotten a lot less shy about shouting at people over the years. She should be a captain already, but she’s a little too modest for that. She’s technically a Sergeant-At-Arms, but that’s because Dad wanted to finagle her a higher pay rate and hopes to convince her to take to being a captain sooner or later. I believe you will find a solid friend in Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom more ways than one at this point in time. If she is on your side, she will indiscriminately prod buttock and take names on your behalf. Besides, she can tell him and his boss, assuming he’s got one, that he’s got a family emergency he needs to attend to, which, strictly speaking, he does. Nobody argues when a uniform shows up and tells you you’ve got a family emergency. And family emergencies can be anything from ‘there’s been an accident’ to ‘he would like for you to come post his bail’. He takes a couple or three days off, comes back to give his notice, tells them he’s ready to move out to his own family shop, potentially with space for a playpen in the back room and a little apartment over... I mean, under the shop. Who’s to know? I would bet any amount of money that I could clacks our family estate agent and he could find a suitable empty property just hanging around. You can barely throw a rock in this city without hitting something Mum and Dad own and are willing to let you have on trial rent free for a few months to get established. They don’t gouge on the rents, either, and they keep the gutters repaired and the walls painted. No one has to know which of you gave birth to the baby if you don’t want them to."  


Grapnel looked a little dazed at the usage of so much female pronoun in relation to one dwarf. My gods, they really did keep you sheltered and busy, didn’t they, if you didn’t know about Cheery after a year. I thought everyone knew about Cheery, even if they didn’t strictly approve. Maybe especially if they don’t approve. "Sh...she could do that? You could do that?"


"Gladly, I imagine. On both scores. Just let me step out, get Emma to send her a clacks that I need her to get over here, and assuming it’s not an especially hopping crime day, I expect she’ll be right over. We’ll tackle some of the other issues later."


~~~~~~~~~~


"You want me to what?" Emma asked, looking at him incredulously.


"Keep Exam 3 closed for the patient currently in there, and keep out of Exam 3, don’t ask. Distribute anyone else I see to the other exam rooms and send a clacks to Pseudopolis Yard marked for the attention of one Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom. Tell her I need her assistance with something slightly delicate. Ask her to come to Exam 3 and give the policeman’s knock. I’ve got, what, one rubber stamp ‘yep, he’s technically alive, so you owe him life insurance’ physical for a job, probably a cold over there and an ear infection waiting on me? I can work them in around checking on Exam 3. Thank goodness it’s slower this afternoon. All the really sick people have either been admitted or have the good sense to stay home because they already gave the plague to everyone who works here."


"Actually, I think the kid’s got a bean up his left nostril. Is this some kind of coded plea that you’re being held hostage at axe-point, or something?" Emma asked, dashing off a note on the pad in front of her.


"No, it’s just a slightly tetchy dwarfish cultural thing, and maybe I could use someone functioning as Cultural Attache, here. The medical books and Mossy don’t really cover this one."


~~~~~~~~~~


"Look," Young Sam began again with the deadly patience of someone being reasonable and prepared to go on being reasonable and filling dead air with polite noises until the other person cried ‘uncle’ out of pure exhaustion if nothing else worked, "I can’t really say how your parents will react even if the two of you get married properly. I mean, what constitutes ‘properly’ anyway? The then-Dean of Unseen University stood in front of my parents and said, more or less, ‘Oh, all right then, if you really must’[8] and they consider themselves properly married. I suspect if his parents were fine accepting your marriage a few months ago, they still will be. And as a bonus, maybe you can sell them on the fact that there’s none of that messy waiting around to be made grandparents. I’m not exactly a wealth of in-law advice, though. Haven’t got any of my own, and as my dad points out, he and my mother had the amazing foresight to wait until all the potential in-laws who hadn’t gotten old enough to be a tad gaga or were less than twice removed were dead before they even met. My paternal grandmother died ten years before I was born. My maternal grandfather died not too many years after that, but I heard a lot of colorful stories about him. Dad swears my granddad would have shot him on sight if he had so much as looked sideways at his only daughter. Mum says that’s absolutely not true and Dad usually replies that if he had caught him in a really good mood, he might have given him a sporting chance and a thirty second head start. I gather that the two sides of my family might have been even more different than what you’re dealing with. I think my parents may have been born in circumstances so completely inverse they might have more or less actually approached each other going opposite ways on the backside of the continuity curve. On another subject, I really do need for you to change into the gown. For one thing, I can’t deliver a baby if you’re wearing trousers. More importantly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, you can’t deliver a baby while still wearing trousers. It’s not as though I haven’t seen -"


[8] The Dean had very carefully made up a ceremony with slightly more frills and gravitas and longer words for the occasion, Ankh Morpork having no formal civil wedding ceremony, but that had been the executive summary. And it would almost certainly have been the verbatim ceremony if Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully had been making it up. The senior wizards might be more sentimental than they usually let on, but there was no point letting sentiment lengthen the wait for the roast ox at the reception.


There was a smart rat-a-tat-tat of knuckles against the door and a familiar voice on the other side saying, "Open up in the name of the law," without any rancor.


Young Sam slipped into the hall and pulled the door shut behind him. "Cheery, thank you so much, I’ve got a bit of a situation. Er... long story short...."  And a long story was made somewhat shorter, in quiet, murmured conversation. The more vital facts were related, a few interjected questions were sprinkled in and answered.


"I see... so the main problem is that the baby’s currently on the way, they’re not married because her parents want her to be a grag instead and he doesn’t know he’s going to be a father?" Cheery asked, twirling a strand of her beard thoughtfully with a finger.


"To be fair, the mother didn’t know about the baby part until I informed her. First baby, the pains are still fairly far apart but they’re getting closer, probably have a few hours at most to get things arranged more favorably. While I’m asking you to work miracles, might as well be greedy. She could probably use a friendly female ear of the dwarf persuasion and a little of the voice of experience pretty badly right about now. And if you’re aware of one, possibly a marriage loophole you could put Detritus through. Or Bluejohn."


"Would you say she’s more in need of a mum’s voice of experience or a girlfriend’s voice of experience?"


"Currently, I would say a mum’s voice of experience, more ways than one, but I leave that up to your better judgment. How’s Hrolf, by the way?"


"Stitches are healing up nicely.  You can hardly see them. Igor said he couldn’t have done a nicer stitching job. He approves of the thinner, curved needle. Makes tiny stitches easier."


"Well, he taught me. If Igor doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll take them out tomorrow. And tell him to keep his eyebrows out of biting distance when he’s arresting his next number fifty-six." He grinned widely. "How’s the half-pint?"


"Rhys is into everything and he’s already crawling everywhere."


"Time flies. I don’t think Dad’s recovered from you being off for maternity leave, yet. Come to that, I don’t think he’s recovered from being asked for maternity leave, yet. Look, if you could just get her out of her trousers by the time I get back and get a name and address out of her, that would be immeasurable progress. You’ve got however long it takes me to go to Exam 1 and fish a bean out of this kid’s nose and assure Exam 2 that her precious little flower’s ear isn’t going to explode. Or the other way around."


"I’ll see what I can do."


~~~~~~~~~~


Young Sam knocked a second time. Cheery stepped out and closed the door. "She’s getting changed. She’ll let you know when you can come back in. We had a very informative chat. I’m off to a jewellery store down on Tenth Egg to fetch one Boddony Albrechtson, whose ear I intend to bend on the way back, between my fingers, if necessary. She won’t budge on being admitted to the Lady Sybil proper, comfy bed or no comfy bed. Ankh Morpork wasn’t built in a day. Well, certain parts of it probably took at least two because the building supplies kept getting nicked. I’m going to optimistically assume he’s still as overeager to get down to the business of being married as he was when they got themselves into this mess. Should I complete the set by bringing a grag, too?"


"I’ll gladly hire you a carriage and you can rest your feet and bend his ear as loudly as you like. How much good is a grag actually going to do, though? How are dwarfs on technicalities when it comes to the question of legitimacy and marriage? Is it going to be a matter of ‘in before the finish, no matter how eleventh hour’ or lots of sniffing about how someone is ‘no better than she should be’ instead?"


"Oh, dwarfs usually like a technicality if it’s in their favor. Most dwarfs recognize a waiver of buying a dwarf off his parents as the same as having done it. It’s just one of those things that you do for weddings because everyone else does it, like throwing bouquets and the first dance at the reception. Only our traditions actually make some sense. You pay off your partner’s parents for the cost of raising them so you can start married life with a fresh conscience and to prove you’re responsible and hard-working enough to be married and set up house together. And the parents make you a present of that much or more as a way of showing they believe you’re responsible and hard-working and to help you get a start in setting up house. Waivers used to be done only when the parents were dead, but that’s not actually written down anywhere as a requirement, it’s just traditional. And tradition is really only what you did yesterday. And tomorrow, today will be yesterday. Nothing actually says your parents have to be dead for a waiver. Maybe given the circumstances her parents will just accept it after the fact to save face, but that’s probably the least of her worries at the moment. You know, Bashfull Bashfullsson, there’s a grag who knows the value of an honest mistake on the date when filling out the paperwork. Especially when it comes to waivers. Or so I hear," she added in a low voice.


"Wait, that works? Backdate the right piece of paper and suddenly everything is all... properly beamed and whatnot?"


"Correctly beamed and propped, actually, but yes. It should still be done up right before the birth happens, because, well, some things are important, and they’ll know, and it will certainly be a load of spoil off her mind. The first thing Tak did, he wrote himself, and maybe a few days later after he wrote a geode, he went back and fudged the original records just a little. We’re dwarfs. What gets written down is accepted as what is. If you go questioning what’s written down, you’re not being a proper dwarf and have no right to be sniffing at what other dwarfs do in the first place. A good grag knows what to write down," Cheery pointed out, hooking her thumbs in her belt. "Within reason."


Young Sam squinted as he tried to follow this. "I see. I think. It gets written down because it’s the truth, or at least what should be the truth, and it’s the truth because it’s written down. The same way a smart copper knows when it’s a good idea to lose the paperwork or the evidence?"


"It has unfortunately been known to happen in certain cases where it’s obvious charges shouldn’t have been laid in the first place. Learn when to carefully file things in the fireplace, lad," Cheery advised, patting him companionably on the hand. "If I were you, I would start with her patient folder as soon as you’re done with it. Otherwise, it could lead to a whole lot of inconvenient questions about what else got written down."


"I’ll... take that under advisement. Have Emma call a cab. There’s always a handful hanging around close looking for a fare this time of day. I’ll owe you and Hrolf a nice dinner out for this, at least," he added, pressing a couple of bills from his wallet into her hand. "Thank you," he added, stooping to give her a quick hug.


"Oh, we couldn’t let you do that," Cheery demurred. "Or this," she added, offering the bills back.


"You could and you will, but I’ll argue that with you later. And take a cab on me, it’s the least I can do," he replied, pushing her hand away.


"If you’re sure."

"Consider it perks. Or at least partial repayment for motherly advice."


Well, he had always had what his mother referred to as the Vimes tendency to niggle at things and the Ramkin tendency to meddle in them. Doctors and watchmen have more in common than many people might suspect.

Heavily inspired by Snuff but set some years after the current City Watch books.

Part 2 at [link]
© 2012 - 2021 stacieyates
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Meggie272's avatar
This was...amazing! It actually was! I enjoyed it so much. It had that real Pratchetty feel to it, enjoyable all the way through and like an honest extension of canon. I congratulate you. :)
stacieyates's avatar
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!
Roruna's avatar
finding this was like suddenly finding out that today is christmas, a totally awesome surprise!