"What're you doing, Dog-Botherer?"
Havelock looked up from the essay he was writing to see Downey and several of his friends all gathered around his desk. He sighed inwardly, he'd hoped the Guild library would be the one place he could avoid Downey and his cronies. "I'm writing my essay for the Political Expediency class."
"Really? Well, let's have a look then." Downey snatched the paper of the desk and started reading it out loud. "'The political situation in Klatch is one fraught with tribal etiquette and family rivalries, in many ways similar to the situation here in Ankh-Morpork…' This is a bunch of twaddle, Vetinari. Comparing /us/ to Klatchians?"
Havelock smiled. "Well there are certain similarities, don't you think?"
Downey snorted. "Similarities? Between us and a bunch of greasy rag heads? You don't have the slightest idea about politics, do you, Dog-Botherer?"
"Probably not, Downey."
An evil smile suddenly appeared on Downey's face. "Have you been working on this long, Dog-Botherer?"
Havelock nodded. "It has occupied most of my evening, yes."
Downey held the sheet of paper over the candle on the desk, grinning as flames began to lick across the words. "Oops, look what I did." He waited until the essay was almost completely burnt, then flicked the remaining pieces at Havelock and laughed. "See you later, Dog-Botherer."
Havelock leant back in his chair and sighed. Well, it was to be expected really, ever since he had beaten Downey senseless on the first day of school Downey hadn't passed up a chance to make Havelock's life a misery. Or at least, that's what he had tried to do. Havelock smiled slightly, he had to admit he was enjoying this; Downey was a vicious bully, but he was a /predictable/ vicious bully. He may have burnt Havelock's essay but it had only been a copy, the real one was hidden in a copy of 'Health and Safety Practices of the Tax Auditors of Quirm', upstairs in his trunk.
Still, he thought, that was only a technicality; he couldn't have Downey thinking he could get away with doing something like that; he would have to think of a way to get him back…
A few days later…
Dr Follett tapped his pen on his desk irritably; that was the second man they'd lost on the Damkin case. The client clearly had no sense of honour, he'd actually hired /mercenaries/ as bodyguards. He glanced down at the report in front of him; Symons had been beaten to death and thrown from the roof. This had to stop.
"Hapley, get Winterson in here now."
The Games Master was soon located and sent up to the Headmaster's office. Follett looked unusually tense today, he noticed.
"Winterson, as I'm sure you've heard, the Guild is currently having some…trouble completing commissions; there appears to be a certain trend amongst our clients for hiring mercenaries as bodyguards. Naturally our boys, being trained in nothing but armed combat, are having some problems dealing with these…soldiers." Follett paused. "I understand you spent some time in the Duke of Eorle's infantry?"
Winterson nodded. "Yes sir. As an officer, sir."
"But you have some experience on the battlefield?" Winterson nodded again. "Good, good. I want you to start training the students in unarmed combat."
"Are you sure, sir? The sort of thing I learnt during my time in the regiment, it /is/ rather dangerous; I wouldn't want to hurt active members of the Guild."
"Yes, that is true," Follett said. "I would feel more comfortable if we knew we weren't going to cripple people with this class before we made everyone take it." His face brightened. "I know, we'll test it on the first year students."
Havelock glared at the red ink scrawled across his essay. He'd spent /hours/ writing it and then copying it out and that ignorant fool had taken a two-second look at it before giving it the worst mark in the whole class. He knew he shouldn't be surprised really; saying that Morporkian politics and the politics of what the Guild considered to be a backwards and degenerate country were similar /was/ somewhat radical he had to admit, but dammit, it was /true/.
And if that wasn't bad enough, it turned out he'd been signed up for some special Games class or something; he'd tried to find out what it was all about but apparently it was a top-secret event and all anyone had been told was that the first year students of Viper House had to report to the Games Hall, in full uniform. Havelock scowled and shoved the essay in the bin. He /hated/ surprises.
He entered the hall to find most of the students already there and Mr Winterson standing in front of them, a clipboard in his hands. The teacher made a tick by Havelock's name and motioned for him to sit down.
"Well, class, I'm sure you're all wondering what you're doing here; I'm pleased to inform you that you have all been selected to take the first ever Assassin's Guild course in Unarmed Combat."
There was a discontented murmur from the students. Unarmed combat? What did he think they were/thieves/? A student raised a hand. "Is this some kind of joke, sir?"
Winterson smiled. "This is no joke, boy. Dr Follett has decided that due to some rather unpleasant fatalities leading to uncompleted commissions it would be prudent for you lads to complete some kind of training should you have to face mercenaries." There was another murmur from the students and Winterson raised a hand to quiet them. "Everyone be quiet, that includes /you/, Downey. Now make no mistake, we are not asking you to descend to the level of a common street-thug in order to beat these vile wretches. Instead we simply intend to beat them at their own game in our own way. Gentlemen, we are Assassins," he smiled proudly. "And we have a reputation to uphold; we are quick, we are professional and we get…the job…done."
There was a small cheer from the students; they always liked being reminded of their natural superiority. "First order of the day shall be to establish your proficiency in Unarmed Combat at this time; that means I'll be picking opponents to face each other in the white circle behind you…" he waved a hand vaguely in that direction. "And from the results I shall assess whether you need further instruction. Now the first two to face off shall be Downey and…" he looked down at his clipboard "…Vetinari."
Downey let out a shout of joy and jumped up, practically running into the circle; Havelock stood up slowly and started to silently calculate the odds of him surviving the fight if Downey managed to actually hit him. He walked into the circle and looked warily at Downey, who appeared to be shadow-boxing and jumping around on the spot. He stopped as Havelock crossed the white line.
"I've been waiting for this for ages, Dog-Botherer," Downey growled. "I told you I was going to make you pay for hitting me with that book."
Havelock started to wonder if maybe keeping the blood-stained volume on his bedside table for everyone in the dormitory to see had been such a good idea after all; Downey appeared to have a feral look in his eyes. He reached down surreptitiously and patted the outside of his pocket; good, he hadn't forgotten to bring them with him today, he had a feeling he would need them in a minute.
"Okay boys, I want absolute silence while the fi—the test is in progress. Downey, Vetinari, when you're ready…"
Downey screamed and ran at Havelock, swinging his fists around wildly; Havelock dodged the first, ducked the second, but couldn't move fast enough to block the third…
He bent over double as Downey's fist smacked into his stomach hard and the crowd of schoolboys roared for more. Fighting for breath, he shoved a hand in his pocket as Downey, an evil smile on his face, raised his fists to bring them down together on the back of Havelock's head…
"Go on, Downey, kill the little scag!" screamed Ludo from the crowd. "Finish him off!"
Winterson whirled around to face the errant student. "Ludorum, no advocating free inhumations!" he shouted. Suddenly he heard a scream of pain and turned back just in time to see Downey hit the floor, unconscious.
He stared at Vetinari, who still seemed to bent over from the punch to the stomach Winterson had seen Downey give him. "What the hell just happened, Vetinari?!"
Havelock smiled weakly, "He slipped, sir."
Winterson looked at the slender boy standing in the middle of the circle and shook his head; there was no way /he/ could have knocked out a boy of Downey's size, surely? He may only be a few inches shorter than Winterson himself, but the boy was as skinny as a twig. No, no…Downey must've tripped; it was the only way… He marked a cross by Downey's name and a question mark next to Havelock's.
"Okay, Vetinari, you're done. Someone drag Downey out of the circle, will you? Right, Ludorum, you're going to face Al Kiz--Al Kizm…bloody Klatchian names…Ahmed."
"…a shattered pelvis, three concussions, two broken noses, a broken leg, multiple cuts and bruises, oh, and it doesn't look like Downey will be a father anytime soon, sir."
"Ye gods, man, what did you teach them?" exclaimed Dr Follett.
Winterson shrugged. "I hadn't taught them /anything/ yet, sir. I was just evaluating how much training they might need." He looked down at the clipboard again. "To be honest, sir, they don't /need/ any training, the vicious little bastards can look after themselves already."
Follett nodded; something was troubling him. "So the school nurse thinks Downey managed to kick /himself/ between the legs as he fell?"
"Yes, sir. Nobody saw Vetinari lay a finger on Downey; they were too busy watching me scream at Ludorum. Besides, I doubt the boy could do much damage even if he /had/ hit him."
"Yes, I suppose so," Follett sighed. "The Vetinari boy…does he strike you as a little…odd?"
"You know what I mean, Winterson. I've had reports from some of the other teachers about unusual behaviour."
"He's a bit quiet, sir. Doesn't really get involved much in my class, but that's only to be expected from a boy like that. What did the others say?"
"Oh, it was mostly from his Political Expediency teacher; he gave Vetinari a failing grade on an essay recently and now all the boy does in class is just stare at the man. He's starting to become quite unnerved."
Downey shifted in his chair and winced; the nurse had advised him to stay as still as possible for a while, at least until the swelling had gone down. "I'm going to get that scag," he muttered.
"I thought you said he didn't touch you, Downey?" asked one of his friends. "You said you fell."
"W-well I did," stuttered Downey. "But I know it's his fault somehow…"
"Oh shut up, Downey," said Ludo. "You got off easy, at least you didn't have to face Ahmed." He adjusted the swathe of bandages covering his head. "He punched me straight in the face and started banging my head against the floor; and then when I was almost unconscious the bastard started biting me!"
Havelock grinned as he stood secluded in the corner of the shadowy study. He knew he shouldn't feel proud of resorting to such tactics as the ones he used during the 'test', but he had to admit that moment when he put on the brass knuckles he'd bought a week ago and smashed his fist as hard as he could into Downey's crotch and then up into his jaw would be one that he would treasure forever.