Billy Raven pushed back his white hair in nervousness. He felt lucky enough at first that Fidelio had thought to invite him to play in the musical, but now he was scared enough for three people. But when he looked up and saw Gabriel Silk walking toward him, he felt positively joyful in comparison.
"What's wrong, Gabe?" he asked softly. "You look like you're about to be sick."
They went and sat together on a log outside the theater hosting Fidelio's musical.
"They just woke me up," Gabriel admitted. "I fainted, you see. I don't think I'm much cut out for this acting business. Why didn't Fido ask the drama kids?"
"Poor Gabe," said Billy sympathetically, patting Gabriel's elbow. "What happened?"
"It's…shameful," sighed Gabriel. "Olivia was just doing her dramatic singing scene, and I had to come in and drag her out of it, you know, like Fido said, and…and I was looking out at the people…then suddenly I wasn't. I was looking at the ceiling instead." He kneaded his forehead with a fist. "People were in a circle around me, and Tancred shot me with rain. Then I woke up and came out here."
Billy threw an arm around Gabriel's back. "Oh, Gabe. I'm sorry."
"I wish Fidelio would have listened to what I had to say," groaned Gabe, shoving his face into his hands. "Now I'm a fool. Imagine what Bragger Braine's going to say."
"I'm not sure he knows about this," Billy tried to console the desolate boy.
"Oh, he knows. Everyone knows. And if he doesn't, he will. Oh, dear. Billy, what am I going to do? It's not, I'm not, I…"
"This is fear talking," Billy said soothingly. "You'll be fine, Gabe."
Gabriel was starting to say something, but before he'd opened his mouth, Charlie Bone stuck his head out the back door leading into the area where Billy and Gabriel were sitting. "Billy! Thank goodness! What in the world are you doing back here? Your cue is in fifteen seconds, thank heavens you're already in costume. We have got to go!" He darted forward and pulled Billy by the wrist through the door. "Gabe, you too!"
"No," shouted Gabriel.
Charlie sighed dramatically, something he'd picked up from Olivia. "Go on, Billy. You know what to do. I'm going to go deal with Gabriel."
"Gabriel, you okay?" asked Charlie concernedly, going back out the door to Gabriel.
"I don't think you are. Get over it, Gabe. It's all right. Everyone gets nervous."
"Why'd I even let him convince me to be in his musical as anything more than a pianist? Why make me act? I'm no good. I'm completely useless. I fainted, Charlie. Nobody does that! Nobody's weak like me."
"Okay, hold on here, Gabe. You're not weak. You just got scared. It's going to be okay," whispered Charlie. "You don't have anymore acting roles. Just go out there and do what you do best: play that piano."
While Charlie talked to Gabriel, the musical continued onstage. Billy Raven had gotten backstage just in time to heed his cue, and Fidelio was leading his orchestra in a song he'd written himself. His father was conducting, and Olivia was giving a poetic soliloquoy song.
"Oh, sister dear, would you me hear. I don't understand the things she'll do to make him fall from love with you. I know nothing of the stars in the sky, but I know what is that look in her eye. It signals danger, and I can sense the atmosphere becoming tense. So help me Lord, so help me friend lest my life and yours both end. Yet say! Here comes the page of the Black King! I myself must hide lest I be discovered."
Olivia exited the stage to raucous applause. She was so dramatic, and the song came out beautifully, the way she sang it. The musical accompaniment was superb, and people cheered for them as much as for Olivia.
Next on stage was Billy Raven, who began to sing in a voice made high-pitched with nervousness.
"The King approaches, The Black King, no less. He comes to cause a discordant rift in the courts of the Red King. He and his daughter, the Miserable Monicia Malice. The King, who loves Elaine and Monicia Malice, who loves Riddle, like Vanessa."
Billy ducked out of the way as quickly as he could go, allowing the king and princess, also known as Tancred Torsson and Emma Tolly, to take stage. Tancred turned to Emma and took her hand. Emma swooned, but Tancred began to sing.
"Dear daughter dear, Monicia Marvelous, dear, I must ask a task of you."
"I will, for you, father, do anything, anything."
Charlie, who had appeard with Gabriel backstage just in time to hear Emma sing her lines, shook his head and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "I bet she means that all too much, Gabe, huh?"
"Yeah. Way too much."
"It's still eating you, isn't it? You sound so distracted."
"Well, maybe I am."
Charlie patted him gently on the shoulder and turned his attention back to what was happening onstage. Tancred was delivering again.
"Daughter, darling Monicia. I want to know the ways of the feminine mind. As you are female, I do so wish to know about how works your heart."
"Father, O King, but first, I wish to know why you desire such information of me."
"My heart is starving, daughter Monicia, starving of beautiful Fai's attention and love. I am to soon court her, dearest, and I feel certain you must know what she is want to hear."
"I shall tell you in time, father."
"Very well, young Monicia. Go, and do tell. I now shall attire myself in calling garments, such that I may woo dear Miss Fai."
Tancred, or rather the Black King, exited on a low, deep note that left the audience cheering. Now it was Emma's, or rather Monicia Malice's, turn for a soliloquoy.
"If my father feels his heart be starved, I tell him, he knows naught. So speaks my own, for Riddle's love, without it, I'm distraught. Yet Vanessa, she has power to sway fine Riddle's mind, but for her pretty eyes this is, he'll drop her if she's blind."
"There goes the plot," murmured Gabriel. "Monicia believes that Riddle loves Vanessa only for her pretty eyes, and she's out to strike Vanessa blind."
"That must be why they call her Monicia Malice," concluded Charlie. "Did Fidelio actually write this? Seems a lot more lovesick than the likes of him."
"I think it was his lovesick brother who wrote more of it. Fido just did the music," replied Gabriel, going into a corner and curling up small. "Whoever it was wrote it partially after Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Fidelio said."
Charlie crossed to the corner and sat down beside Gabriel. For a while they stayed like that, sitting next to each other in comfortable silence.
"It'll all be okay," Charlie said lowly.
"Hey, it's time for Olivia to get back out there," said Charlie suddenly. Olivia was playing Ianta, friend of Vanessa, Riddle's lover.
Olivia, or rather Ianta, had overheard everything said by the King and his daughter. "She must not! How dares that vicious woman long to gouge out the eyes of my dear sister! To Vanessa I may flee, to warn her of this danger." Olivia proceeded to give a dainty run, which wasn't hard in her voluminous medieval costume.
Olivia ran with the orchestra's music following her. She ran to a small prop cottage that appeared out of nowhere. This was where Vanessa lived, and at the moment, it was where she was entertaining Riddle, her love.
When Olivia banged on the door, the music soared into the fastest crescendo that Charlie, sitting tight backstage, had ever heard.
"I guess that means suspense is upping," shrugged Charlie.
Gabriel shrugged right back. "You're the stage manager. You tell me."
"Oh, I'll tell you all right. I'm telling you that you'd better get back to the changing rooms, because you're up for another small role as soon as this scene's done."
"Ah, man! What if I faint again?"
"Then we'll pick you up again. Go! Go! Tancred, a.k.a. the Black King, needs his servant." Charlie waved Gabriel toward Lysander's deserted dressing room. Lysander, playing Riddle, was, at the moment, acting beside his real girlfriend Lauren, who was acting the part of Vanessa.
Gabriel exited the dressing room in another minute, walking stiffly due to his starchy and uncomfortable medieval servant's clothes. Charlie couldn't help a giggle, and Gabriel threw him a look of consternation.
From the stage they heard, "But hark! First I durst call for my servant Philistine."
Gabriel did his best to get to the stage in time, but in the clothes he was decked out in, it was unsurprising that he was a few seconds late. "What do you want of me, Black King, sir?" Charlie winced at the squeak of Gabriel's singing. He began to question Fidelio's wisdom in electing friends to be actors, although some of them were much better than they would have been expected. Gabriel, unfortunately, was not.
"I want of you to fetch my daughter Monicia. I have now begun to court Mademoiselle Fai, and I wish my child to know that she shall soon have a new mother."
Gabriel squeaked out another note. "This…" His voice stopped, and Charlie turned around and slammed his head repeatedly into the wall. He knew what was coming.
"This…" started Gabriel again, and then he swayed on the spot.
Throwing caution to the wind, Charlie stuck his head out the curtains dividing backstage from the main stage. "Gabriel, come on! You can do it!"
"This w-will be done, Lord," gasped Gabriel, not bothering to sing. He wobbled off, plunged straight through the curtain, and landed on his side.
"I am never going up there again," panted Gabriel, rubbing his forehead.
"I'll never make you again," promised Charlie, sticking down his hand to pull Gabriel to his feet. "I'll go up myself if I have to. I won't send you back up there."
"That's a relief. Hey, Charlie?"
"Yeah?" Charlie slung Gabriel's limp arm over his shoulder.
"Can you take me to Sander's dressing room? I have to lie down. Feel like I'm dead."
"You don't look so hot, to tell you the truth," murmured Charlie soothingly, walking Gabriel over to the sky blue door that opened into Lysander's dressing room. "I'll tell Sander you're in there. He'll be perfectly fine with it."
"Trust Sander. He's great like that," slurred Gabriel, unable to get the syllables out. Charlie lay Gabriel down on the moth-eaten sofa in the corner.
"See you, Gabe."
"Mph," came the reply.
Charlie went out to the backstage area, where Billy Raven was sitting and talking to Olivia. "How do you do it?" he was asking.
Olivia gave him a frown. "Think of it this way. Explaining my acting skills would be like explaining how you speak the animals' language. It's innate. Means you're born with it."
Billy just looked at her in awed silence.
"Ooh! My cue's coming up soon. Got to be ready," she giggled.
Sure enough, Lauren, as Vanessa, called out her lines. "What a mess I have gotten myself into, Ianta. Do you me hear, fair Ianta?"
"I am here." Olivia, as Ianta, came merrily up the stage. "What be troubling you, Vanessa? Has young Monicia come to strike you blind as yet? Fret not, my dear Vanessa; for you, all will be well. For Monicia, nay, them horrors fly so great I cannot tell."
"What hast you in store for her?"
"'Tis a plan to end all matter."
"Will dear Riddle break her heart?"
"If she has one, it must shatter."
Olivia and Lauren exited, leaving the Black King, his daughter, and Fai, played by Fidelio's eldest sister, to enter, announced of course by Billy Raven.
"Father, I have met my Riddle," cried Monicia. "And we shall run away, and marry by the rushing brook where night blends into day."
"Then there you both shall meet me, as I walk with my new wife. Together shall we marry, child, and start a brand new life."
They continued to speak in rhymes until Fai, or Fidelio's sister, and the Black King, or Tancred, watched closely by Monicia, or Emma, and the audience, had their romantic kiss. Tancred looked like he was enjoying it immensely, much to the real Emma's dismay. In fact, when Tancred and the Gunn girl exited, Emma looked like she was about to cry as she sang her lines.
"I shall meet Riddle when the sun is high. And this to Vanessa, she will only cry at my wicked scheme to steal her man. Yes, he is mine!"
Emma fairly ran off stage. Charlie caught up with her. "Emma?"
"I don't know why it bothers me so…" was all she said.
They couldn't get another word out of her until Gabriel came out, and by that time the musical was winding down. Riddle and Vanessa had already gotten together, as did the Black King and Fai, and Monicia was too hurt and heartbroken by Ianta's plan to continue her malicious ways. In gratitude, Vanessa and Riddle had hooked Ianta up with Riddle's brother, played by Fidelio's older brother. Ianta was pleased with this.
Riddle and Vanessa and the Black King and Fai were getting married when Emma talked and Gabriel woke. "Come on, you've got to see this," cried Olivia. "It's the group kiss."
This information promptly sent Emma back into silence. "I don't want to see him kiss anybody," she said under her breath, though everyone heard her clearly.
But in the end, even Emma was convinced to head out and see it. This was, in reality, Lysander's first kiss with Lauren, and they both fully intended to milk it. Tancred, who had been bitten by the kissing-Fidelio's-sister bug as soon as he had kissed her earlier that night, intended to milk it every bit as much as Lysander and Lauren wanted to theirs.
Miss Gunn was only acting.
Anyway, both couples kissed for as long as the audience and the musicians allowed them to, which was for an extremely long time. A theater audience, Fidelio had once said, was a bit of a sucker for a good long kiss. But when Lysander and Lauren and Tancred could no longer prolong it (Miss Gunn was getting slightly creeped out by the minute-long kiss; it certainly wasn't scripted), they had to break apart.
The musical ended on that note.