I remember a time when, about fifteen years and as many books ago, Terry Pratchett said that he thought he was nearing the end with Discworld, that there were probably no more than “five or six” stories left in it.
We’re all thankful that his imagination was more flexible than that, but the idea of a last Discworld book did trigger my own imagination, and I came up with a notion that I secretly held, believing it to be so absolutely right and appropriate that, when the time came, it would prove to be Pratchett’s own idea.
I would have been a City Watch book, in the real grand tradition of City Watch books that utilise the whole of the Watch as essential elements, and not just as support to Sam Vimes. It would involve, once again, the assassination of the Patrician, except that this time, this last occasion, it would have happened. Havelock, Lord Vetinari, would indeed be assassinated, and Ankh-Morpork would have been plunged into the deepest, direst, most uncontrollable peril of its existence, as everybody tries to assert themselves to be the new top of the pile.
It would mean that the City Watch would have to be stretched to its limits to maintain the safety of the City and those millions in it. And to do this, it would mean that, much against his wishes, entirely against everything he stands for in himself, Sam Vimes would have to step into the breach as the new Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.
After all, isn’t that what Vetinari has been training him to become, ever since the grim, dark days of Guards! Guards! Did he not see Vimes, the Vimes of now, in that pre-Vetinari period of Night Watch (my utter favourite Pratchett book), so as to see the drunken Captain of the Night Watch and single him out for a long succession?
So Vimes would suffer the last, the ultimate promotion, and the series would end – not on that note but on the only inevitable ending there could be: that Vetinari is not and never was dead. That Charley the double was the victim of the assassination, a face known throughout the book only by Drumknott, and the man with whom Vetinari has sheltered, the ever-innocent Leonard of Quirm.
For the Patrician will remain behind the scenes, an eminence grise whose knowledge and world is forever there to assist the Earl of Ankh in becoming what Vetinari has shaped him to be, the role he has had to step into if he is not to be blunted. Maybe Vimes suspects the final crime that has been committed against him and Ankh-Morpork…
I don’t know what Terry Pratchett might have made of that story, whether he would have thought it in the least bit feasible. I don’t know whether anyone else thinks it’s any good at all. But I would have loved to have read that book, and I would have accepted it as the end, beyond which there is only that untraveled bourne.