Author's Note: A huge thank you to BigCat for her invaluable feedback..
Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue. Seriously, I have nothing you'd want anyway.
The annual Assassins Guild play was one of the must-see events in Ankh-Morpork. Not so much for the play itself, which was practically guaranteed to showcase some of the worst displays of 'acting' since King Lorenzo the Kind had decided to do his impression of a human being, but more because it offered a practically unrivalled chance to laugh at the leaders of tomorrow. Not that the laughing was done particularly loudly of course; not since the…er…incident at the play of 1952.
After all, the rules of the Guild do state that the students should be armed at all times.
In any case, it always came as a surprise to the luckless audience of the first, and indeed only, night of the production that the students took the trouble to rehearse. Of course they did. The problem was it just never seemed to work.
"But soft!" bellowed Downey artlessly, "What light through…er…through…" He looked at the side of the stage quizzically. "Line?"
Ludorum groaned; it'd been two hours already and Downey hadn't gotten through a single scene yet without fluffing at least half of his lines. "What light through yonder window breaks?'" he called out in a thoroughly bored voice. "Do try to keep up, Downey."
"Whatever. But soft! What light through…er…that window breaks?" droned Downey. "It is Widdershins, and Juliet is my son! Get in there, my son—I mean, sun, and inhume the jealous…er…"
"Moon!" screamed Ludorum. "For the love of the gods, the next word is moon!"
"Okay, that's enough!" shouted Follett. "Let's just skip that bit and bring on Juliet."
They all looked expectantly at the balcony.
"Juliet!" shouted Follett impatiently. "Where is my Juliet?"
The door to the balcony opened and this year's unlucky candidate for the play's female lead was violently shoved through. His entrance was somewhat hampered though by the full skirt of the frilly pink dress he'd been forced into literally at knife-point but despite the stumble he made into the balcony railing itself, he was able to right himself just in time to stop himself from falling straight over it and onto the stage below.
"Ah, there you are, Vetinari," said Follett. "So glad you could join us."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
"Hmm." Follett looked down at his script and waved a hand languidly. "Continue."
Havelock sighed. "A--"
"Sir?" asked Havelock with a frown.
Follett put down his book with a sigh and glared at his leading 'lady'. "Juliet is a girl, Vetinari. You do know what a girl is, don't you?"
The boys in the auditorium began to laugh in a not so discrete fashion but soon stopped when Havelock directed an icy glare in their direction
"Well, they don't sound like a strapping six-footer with the vocal range of a troll, do they?"
"Neither does he, sir," grinned Downey.
"No, sir," said Havelock, directing the glare at Downey.
"No, sir," repeated Follett. "Speak higher, boy! And don't be afraid to use your tongue!"
Havelock blinked. "Sir?"
Follett sighed. "To help with your enunciation, Vetinari. Remember, enunciation is key!" He frowned slightly. "Where's your wig?"
Havelock's hand flew up and caught the blonde wig just as it hurtled towards his face from backstage. Trying not to roll his eyes, he reluctantly put it on as Follett nodded in satisfaction.
"That's better," he said. He eyed Havelock's chest and raised an eyebrow. "You may want to adjust your cleavage, though. You're starting to look a bit deformed there."
Downey's eyes crossed briefly at this brilliant opening line of attack, but on this occasion, as in so many others, his tongue was quicker than his brain. "Er…er…" He shot Ludorum a panicked look.
Ludorum sighed and stood up. "Just like everywhere else then," he called out.
Downey frowned. "Was that the best you could do?"
"The best at such short notice," replied Ludorum, shrugging.
"You do look a bit girly, Vetinari," said Downey, trying to regain some lost ground. "A really ugly girl, of course."
Havelock gave him a sickly sweet smile in response. "Why thank you, Downey," he said, resisting the urge to go the whole hog and bat his eyelashes. "And may I commend you on your overly-enthusiastic tights-stuffing technique?"
"My what…?" Downey frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
Havelock sighed. "Shall we continue, Dr Follett?"
"What? Oh. Yes, by all means."
Havelock straightened his skirts and took a deep breath, "Ay, me," he said in a voice completely devoid of emotion.
Follett sighed and wondered if he could get away with clubbing the seniors to death with his clipboard. "Right, that's enough of that, I think. Now onto the Mercutio inhumation scene."
Havelock ripped the hated wig from his head and left the stage as quickly as he could while the first year boys flooded the stage and began to change the props. Under normal circumstances he would've tried to blend into the background of backstage as much as possible in an attempt to avoid Downey's attentions, but unfortunately he doubted that'd be rather impossible considered the sheer dimensions of his costume. He leaned against a wall instead and waited for the onslaught of what purported to be 'wit'.
He didn't have to wait long.
"I'm not saying you're bad, exactly," said Ludorum as he and Downey rounded the corner. "It's just that it'd be nice if you could remember one single line."
"It's not my fault. It's Dogbotherer. He keeps distracting me, the little scag."
"Even if he's not in the scene?"
Downey opened his mouth in preparation to launch a scathing accusation of scaghood at his friend but stopped when he caught sight of a much more deserving victim. He sneered. "You look like a girl in that dress, Dogbotherer."
Havelock yawned. "Really, Downey?"
"Yes, Dogbotherer. You…er…" Once again Downey's wit failed him. "…yes…like a…er…" He trailed off uncertainly and frowned. "You scag."
Havelock smiled. "Well, I'm hardly surprised you think so, Downey."
"Oh really? You admit it then, do you?"
"Oh, no," said Havelock. "But you've been courting Amelia Selachii, haven't you?"
Ludorum quickly covered his mouth, but he wasn't quite quick enough to stop the giggle from escaping. Downey glared at him.
Ludorum shrugged. "Sorry, old boy," he said. "But you have to admit, Amelia is a bit butch."
Downey glared at his friend. "Just because she happens to be six foot two and plays rugby for her school does not make her mannish, Ludo."
"No, but the fact that she gets a five o'clock shadow at midday might."
"She does not--"
"Romeo! Juliet! Get out here right now!"
Downey's eyes narrowed as he pointed a warning finger at Havelock. "I'm going to get you for this, Dogbotherer."
Finally, after long arduous hours of rehearsal--at least on the part of Dr Follett—opening night was here. So far the performance had been nothing short of appalling.
So in short it was everything the audience had come to expect. At least it was coming up to the final scene, so the torture would soon be over.
"But we've never actually done this scene," whined Downey as he shrugged back into his chainmail. "We always stopped at the bit where Romeo gets banished."
"So I won't know my lines!"
"That hasn't stopped you so far," muttered Ludorum. He handed Downey his sword. "You ready?"
"Whatever." Ludorum turned to the long-nosed vision of pink chiffon gloomily sitting in the corner. "What about you, Dogbotherer? You ready?"
Havelock put down his version of the script and sighed. "If I say no, will it stop the play?"
"Then I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
"Good." Ludorum gave the 'lovely Juliet' a critical look and frowned.
Havelock noticed the look. "What? What now? Is my cleavage not high enough? Is my wig askew?"
"No," said Ludorum. "I just thought you might want to go for a softer shade of lipstick, that's all. The red's a bit vamp, don't you think?"
Havelock leaned over and looked at his reflection in the mirror, tilting his head thoughtfully. "I like the red."
"Ri-i-ight," said Ludorum slowly. He clapped his hands. "Okay, Romeo, Juliet, on stage now!"
"…detestable maw, thou…thing…of death, full up with morsels of the earth, I…I…" Downey looked sheepishly over his shoulder. "Line!"
"Thus I enforce thy rott--"
"I know, I know!" said Downey peevishly. He gave the audience a broad smile. "Thus I enforce thy rotted mouth to open up and eat this!"
Ludorum shook his head in disbelief as Downey ripped the tomb door off its one hinge in what he thought was a heroic way and threw it to the floor.
"Ha!" shouted Downey, flourishing his sword and almost decapitating the boy playing Paris.
"Bloody hell--" Cyril de Worde hastily ducked the wild sword swing and pulled a stage hand out of the wings and in front of him as a human shield. "Right. Er. Yes. This is…er…him that inhumed my love's cousin- with which grief it is supposed the creature died- and here is come to do something pretty weird to the dead bodies. I will apprehend him. Stop thy unhallowed toil, vile Down--Montague! Um…Just let it go, man."
Downey stared at him blankly. "Huh?"
"It's your turn," whispered Cyril.
"Oh." Downey stared at his sword then leaned forward. "What's my line?"
Cyril sighed. "That's why you came here, isn't it? You want me to fly hence and leave you—thy—thou. Because, by heaven, you love me more than you do yourself, and you're going to kill yourself, right? Oh, and you're insane and stuff."
Cyril gritted his teeth. "Yes, Downey. You are." He fixed Downey with a watery stare, still pushing the stage hand in front of him. "I do defy they, conjuration and apprehend thee for a felon here."
Once again Downey looked at him blankly. Cyril sighed and leaned forward once more.
"Now we fight," he whispered.
"Good." Downey lifted his sword. "DIE, YOU SCAG!"
Cyril practically threw the hapless stage hand at Downey's feet in an attempt to save himself before turning and running the other way. The other stage hands had been ready for this though and caught Cyril as he tried to push threw their ranks, shoving him back on stage just in time to see Downey viciously attack a prop in Cyril's absence.
Once the wooden façade of the crypt had been thoroughly hacked to pieces Downey turned to Cyril with a maddened look in his eye. "I've been waiting a long time for this," he growled.
Cyril gulped as his eyes swung wildly from side to side, trying to find an escape route. There wasn't one. He unsheathed his sword and pretended to stab himself in the stomach with it. "Oops, you've killed me." He threw himself on the floor and quickly crawled behind one of the few props Downey hadn't massacred in his attack.
Downey sighed. "Damn. Oh well. Er. Let…let me look at his face--" He looked around the prop Cyril was hiding behind, "—Mercutia's family, Cyr—Paris. Um…"
"What said my man…" whispered Ludorum.
"What say, my man…"
"…when my betossed soul…"
"…when my tosser soul…"
In the audience Follett buried his head in his hands. "Why did I give Downey this part, Hamilton?"
"Well, his father did pay for the new auditorium, sir."
"How could I forget?" Follett stood up and cupped his hands around his mouth. "Yes, thank you, Romeo. Let's just skip ahead to the last lines, shall we, Mr Ludorum?"
Around him, the rest of the audience let out an audible sigh of relief.
"Yes, sir." Ludorum quickly turned the page. "Ah, yes. Drink the poison!"
Downey pulled the bottle from his pocket and drained the contents as Follett began to grin.
Hamilton raised an eyebrow. "Why are you smiling, sir?"
"I'm just glad the play will be ending soon, Hamilton."
"Ah. And that has nothing to do with the antimony I found in the original bottle of poison, would it, sir?"
"I took the step of replacing the poison with water, sir, just in case. After all, we wouldn't want any unauthorised inhumations, would we? I assume that was correct?"
Follett sniffed and gave Hamilton a superior look. "Just trying to be authentic, Hamilton. Just trying to be authentic."
Hamilton smiled. "That's what I thought, sir."
"Now what?" said Downey loudly.
Ludorum looked down at his text and grinned. "Now you kiss…ha…Juliet."
"What? No bloody way!"
Havelock sighed. "Just do it," he hissed. "The sooner you do it, the sooner all this is over."
Downey snorted. "There is no way--"
"Am I going to have to come up there and get you?"
"I'm not doing it!"
"Then just kiss my hand!"
With extremely bad grace Downey grabbed Havelock's hand and made a kissing noise. "There, you satisfied?"
"You're supposed to be dead now."
"Oh, yes." Downey threw himself on to the stage, his chainmail making a huge crashing noise as it hit the floor. "Ow."
Two more students shuffled on to the stage.
"Speedy Saint Francis! How many times tonight have my old feet stumbled into graves! Who's there?" said the small first-year who had been drafted in to play the friar and was practically drowning in the folds of his costume.
"I'm over here," said Ahmed, who'd been given the rather dubious pleasure of playing Balthazar.
Havelock shifted position slightly and tried to keep a straight face despite the fact that Downey kept sitting up to look at the two actors now making their speeches. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as Ahmed wandered off stage then sat up.
"O comfortable friar! Where is my lord? I do remember well where I should be, and there I am. Where is my Romeo?"
The friar blinked at the silky tones now coming from 'Juliet's' mouth. "He...er…he's over there…I mean, I hear some noise. Lady, come from that nest of death, contagion…er…and natural sleep. A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intense. Come, come away. Downey's dead—I mean, Romeo's dead--and Paris too. Come, I'll take you to a sisterhood of holy nuns. Stay not to question, for the watch is coming. Come, good Juliet. I'm off." The friar hurried off, but not before casting a quizzical look Havelock's way.
Havelock sighed. "Go, get thee hence, for I will not away," he called to the retreating friar's back. He looked around for the cup that should've been in Downey's hand still but couldn't see it. "What's here? A cup, clos'd in my true love's hand?"
Downey frowned slightly and looked down at his empty hand. "What cup?"
"Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end," said Havelock loudly in an effort to drown out Downey's voice. "O churl! Drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips. Haply some poison yet doth hang on them to make me die with a restorative…"
He grimaced slightly, and before Downey could move, grabbed the boy by the collar and gave him a lightening-quick peck on the lips. "Thy lips are warm!"
"That's not all," grinned Ludorum as Downey began to blush bright red and shake with rage. He put down his play script and pulled on a watchman's helmet. "Lead, boy. Which way?
"I hate you, Dogbotherer," hissed Downey.
Havelock ignored him and unsheathed Downey's weapon. "Yea, noise? Then I'll be brief. O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die." He stabbed himself gratefully and lay back down.
Follett sighed and pulled out a small list and a pencil. "So what did you think, Hamilton?"
"Dreadful, sir. Absolutely dreadful."
"Still, at least it's over for this year, eh, sir?"
"Yes, there's that at least. So what about next year's play?" Follett smiled. "I was thinking of something along the lines of King Lear."