'We think he was playing safe, Master.'
The Archchancellor drummed his fingers on the desk.
'Can't have this,' he said. 'Can't have someone goin' around almost bein' a wizard and laughin' at us up his, his - what's it that people laugh up?'
'My feelings exactly,' purred the Bursar.
'We should send him up,' said the Archchancellor firmly.
'Down, Master,' said the Bursar. 'Sending him up would mean making spiteful and satirical comments about him.'
'Yes. Good thinkin'. Let's do that,' said the Archchancellor.
'No, Master,' said the Bursar patiently. 'He's sending us up, so we send him down.'
'Right. Balance things up,' said the Archchancellor. The Bursar rolled his eyes. 'Or down,' the Archchancellor added. 'So you want me to give him his marchin' orders, eh? Just send him along in the morning and-'
'No, Archchancellor. We can't do it just like that.'
'We can't? I thought we were in charge here!'
'Yes, but you have to be extremely careful when dealing with Master Tugelbend. He's an expert on procedures. So what I thought we could do is give him this paper in the finals tomorrow.'
The Archchancellor took the proferred document. His lips moved silently as he read it.
'Just one question.'
'Yes. And he'll either pass or fail. I'd like to see him manage 84 per cent on that.'
In a sense which his tutors couldn't quite define, much to their annoyance, Victor Tugelbend was also the laziest person in the history of the world.
Not simply, ordinarily lazy. Ordinary laziness was merely the absence of effort. Victor had passed through there a long time ago, had gone straight through commonplace idleness and out on the far side. He put more effort into avoiding work than most people put into hard labour.
He had never wanted to be a wizard. He'd never wanted much, except perhaps to be left alone and not woken up until midday. When he'd been small, people had said things like, 'And what do you want to be, little man?' and he'd said, 'I don't know. What have you got?'
They didn't let you get away with that sort of thing for very long. It wasn't enough to be what you were, you had to be working to be something else.
He'd tried. For quite a long while he'd tried wanting to be a blacksmith, because that looked interesting and romantic. But it also involved hard work and intractable bits of metal. Then he'd tried wanting to be an assassin, which looked dashing and romantic. But it also involved hard work and, when you got right down to it, occasionally having to kill someone. Then he'd tried wanting to be an actor, which looked dramatic and romantic, but it had involved dusty tights, cramped lodgings and, to his amazement, hard work.
He'd allowed himself to be sent to the University because it was easier than not going.
He tended to smile a lot, in a faintly puzzled way. This gave people the impression that he was slightly more intelligent than they were. In fact, he was usually trying to work out what they had just said.
And he had a thin moustache, which in a certain light made him look debonair and, in another, made him look as though he had been drinking a thick chocolate milk shake.
He was quite proud of it. When you became a wizard you were expected to stop shaving and grow a beard like a gorse bush. Very senior wizards looked capable of straining nourishment out of the air via their moustaches, like whales.
It was now half-past one. He was ambling back from the Mended Drum, the most determinedly disreputable of the city's taverns. Victor Tugelbend always gave the impression of ambling, even when he was running.
He was also quite sober and a bit surprised, therefore, to find himself in the Plaza of Broken Moons. He'd been heading for the little alley behind the University and the piece of wall with the conveniently spaced removable bricks where, for hundreds and hundreds of years, student wizards had quietly got around, or more precisely climbed over, Unseen University's curfew restrictions.
The plaza wasn't on the route.
He turned to amble back the way he had come, and then stopped. There was something unusual going on.
Usually there'd be a storyteller there, or some musicians, or an entrepreneur looking for prospective buyers of such surplus Ankh-Morpork landmarks as the Tower of Art or the Brass Bridge.
Now there were just some people putting up a big screen, like a bedsheet stretched between poles.
He sauntered over to them. 'What're you doing?' he said amiably.
'There's going to be a performance.'
'Oh. Acting,' said Victor, without much interest.
He mooched back through the damp darkness, but stopped when he heard a voice coming from the gloom between two buildings.
The voice said 'Help', quite quietly.
Another voice said, 'Just hand it over, right?'
Victor wandered closer, and squinted into the shadows.
'Hallo?' he said. 'Is everything all right?'
There was a pause, and then a low voice said, 'You don't know what's good for you, kid.'
He's got a knife, Victor thought. He's coming at me with a knife. That means I'm either going to get stabbed or I'm going to have to run away, which is a real waste of energy.
People who didn't apply themselves to the facts in hand might have thought that Victor Tugelbend would be fat and unhealthy. In fact, he was undoubtedly the most athletically-inclined student in the University. Having to haul around extra poundage was far too much effort, so he saw to it that he never put it on and he kept himself in trim because doing things with decent muscles was far less effort than trying to achieve things with bags of flab.
So he brought one hand round in a backhanded swipe. It didn't just connect, it lifted the mugger off his feet.
Then he looked for the prospective victim, who was still cowering against the wall.
'I hope you're not hurt,' he said.
'I wasn't going to,' said Victor.
The figure advanced from the shadows. It had a package under one arm, and its hands were held in front of its face in an odd gesture, each forefinger and thumb extended at right angles and then fitted together, so that the man's little weaselly eyes appeared to be looking out through a frame.
He's probably warding off the Evil Eye, Victor thought. He looks like a wizard, with all those symbols on his dress.
'Amazing!' said the man, squinting through his fingers. 'Just turn your head slightly, will you? Great! Pity about the nose, but I expect we can do something about that.'
He stepped forward and tried to put his arm round Victor's shoulders. 'It's lucky for you', he said, 'that you met me.'
'It is?' said Victor, who had been thinking it was the other way around.
'You're just the type I'm looking for,' said the man.
'Sorry,' said Victor. 'I thought you were being robbed.'
'He was after this,' said the man, patting the package under his arm. It rang like a gong. 'Wouldn't have done him any good, though.'
'Not worth anything?' said Victor.
'That's all right, then,' said Victor.
The man gave up trying to reach across both of Victor's shoulders, which were quite broad, and settled for just one of them.
'But a lot of people would be disappointed,' he said. 'Now, look. You stand well. Good profile. Listen, lad, how would you like to be in moving pictures?'
'Er,' said Victor. 'No. I don't think so.'
The man gaped at him.
'You did hear what I said, didn't you?' he said. 'Moving pictures?'
'Everyone wants to be in moving pictures!'
'No, thanks,' said Victor, politely. 'I'm sure it's a worthwhile job, but moving pictures doesn't sound very interesting to me.'
'I'm talking about moving pictures!'
'Yes,' said Victor mildly. 'I heard you.'
The man shook his head. 'Well,'- he said, 'you've made my day. First time in weeks I've met someone who isn't desperate to get into moving pictures. I thought everyone wanted to get into moving pictures. I thought as soon as I saw you: he'll be expecting a job in moving pictures for this night's work.'
'Thanks all the same,' said Victor. 'But I don't think I'd take to it.'
'Well, I owe you something.' The little man fumbled in a pocket and produced a card. Victor took it. It read:
Interesting and Instructive Kinematography
One and Two Reelers Nearly non-explosive Stock
1, Holy Wood
'That's if ever you change your mind,' he said. 'Everyone in Holy Wood knows me.'
Victor stared at the card. 'Thank you,' he said vaguely. 'Er. Are you a wizard?'
Silverfish glared at him.
'Whatever made you think that?' he snapped.
'You're wearing a dress with magic symbols-'
'Magic symbols? Look closely, boy! These are certainly not the credulous symbols of a ridiculous and outmoded belief system! These are the badges of an enlightened craft whose clear, new dawn is just . . . er, dawning! Magic symbols!' he finished, in tones of withering scorn. 'And it's a robe, not a dress,' he added.
Victor peered at the collection of stars and crescent moons and things. The badges of an enlightened craft whose new dawn was just dawning looked just like the credulous symbols of a ridiculous and outmoded belief system to him, but this was probably not the time to say so.
'Sorry,' he said again. 'Couldn't see them clearly.'
'I'm an alchemist,' said Silverfish, only slightly mollified.
'Oh, lead into gold, that sort of thing,' said Victor.
'Not lead, lad. Light. It doesn't work with lead. Light into gold . . . '
'Really?' said Victor politely, as Silverfish started to set up a tripod in the middle of the plaza.
A small crowd was collecting. A small crowd collected very easily in Ankh-Morpork. As a city, it had some of the most accomplished spectators in the universe. They'd watch anything, especially if there was any possibility of anyone getting hurt in an amusing way.
'Why don't you stay for the show?' said Silverfish, and hurried off.
An alchemist. Well, everyone knew that alchemists were a little bit mad, thought Victor. It was perfectly normal.
Who'd want to spend their time moving pictures? Most of them looked all right where they were.
'Sausages inna bun! Get them while they're hot!' bellowed a voice by his ear. He turned.
'Oh, hallo, Mr Dibbler,' he said.
'Evening, lad. Want to get a nice hot sausage down you?'
Victor eyed the glistening tubes in the tray around Dibbler's neck. They smelled appetizing. They always did. And then you bit into them, and learned once again that Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler could find a use for bits of an animal that the animal didn't know it had got. Dibbler had worked out that with enough fried onions and mustard people would eat anything.
'Special rate for students,' Dibbler whispered conspiratorially. 'Fifteen pence, and that's cutting my own throat.' He flapped the frying pan lid strategically, raising a cloud of steam.
The piquant scent of fried onions did its wicked work.
'Just one, then,' Victor said warily.
Dibbler flicked a sausage out of the pan and snatched it into a bun with the expertise of a frog snapping a mayfly.
'You won't live to regret it,' he said cheerfully,
Victor nibbled a bit of onion. That was safe enough.
'What's all this?' he said, jerking a thumb in the direction of the flapping screen.
'Some kind of entertainment,' said Dibbler. 'Hot sausages! They're lovely!' He lowered his voice again to its normal conspiratorial hiss.
'All the rage in the other cities, I hear,' he added. 'Some sort of moving pictures. They've been trying to get it right before coming to Ankh-Morpork.'
They watched Silverfish and a couple of associates fumble technically with the box on the tripod. White light suddenly appeared at a circular orifice on the front of it, and illuminated the screen. There was a halfhearted cheer from the crowd.