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Educated Barbarians

Fandom:  Discworld
Rating:  G
Warnings:  None (gen)
Spoilers:  For Jingo.  In fact, if you haven't read Jingo, this isn't going to make an awful lot of sense.
Summary:  An unlikely alliance blossoms at the Assassins' Guild between two students who play by their own rules.
Word Count:  555

Ahmed was taken aback by the realisation that there was a third option.

In his three years at the Assassins’ Guild school, he’d learned to divide the first-years into two categories:  smart and stupid.  When confronted by the platoon of older students who would circle each new arrival in turn, leering, the hilts of school-supply knives slapping against palms, smart would stand still and take that first light beating without blubbing, or better still, would fight back as best they could.  Standing still marked you out as a bit weak, but basically a decent chap; fighting made it harder on you, and would probably end with your being ceremonially dumped in the fountain in the centre of the quadrangle, but would earn you a modicum of respect for the next seven years.  Stupid, on the other hand, would try to run, or even grass to one of the masters.

Ahmed had never seen a stupid response end well, so when his surreptitious cigarette in the shadow of the Hall was interrupted by Downey and the rest of the ruling third-years arriving in the quad in a crowing mob, shoving a scrawny first-year ahead of them, Ahmed was rather glad to see that the boy looked likely to give in.  The first-year was shivering, backed up against the edge of the fountain and surrounded by the older boys, but he looked Downey right in the eye as Downey, laughing, drew back his fist.

What happened next was so quick that Ahmed, his cigarette suddenly dangling forgotten from his lower lip, could scarcely make it out – it looked as if the first-year had grabbed Downey’s arm as the fist came towards him and pulled the older boy forward.  Downey, unable to stop, stumbled wildly, screeched, and tumbled over the lip of the fountain.  Before he even hit the water, the first-year was a blur, darting between the legs of the befuddled students; when Downey finally surfaced, coughing up freezing water, the boy had vanished.

Ahmed decided to take a stroll.  Behind him, Downey’s furious shouts and the other boys’ roars of laughter faded.

There were a few trees dotted elegantly around the quad, and Ahmed hummed quietly to himself as he walked between two of the oldest, two trees with most of their flame-orange leaves still attached and branches spaced invitingly almost all the way down to the ground.  Glancing up, he thought he spotted a dark flicker among the leaves, just for a moment.  It was probably nothing, but…

“They won’t like you very much for that, you know,” he said softly to the empty air, and leaned against the trunk of the nearest tree, blowing smoke out through his nostrils.

The leaves stirred and parted.

“No, I never thought they would,” said a small, solemn voice.

Ahmed looked up.  Two shockingly blue eyes were regarding him from the branch above.

“But they’ll take notice of it, won’t they?” the boy asked, and he smiled, as blindingly and briefly as a flash of lightning.

Ahmed sniggered.

“Perhaps more notice than you can handle, little one.”  He extended his hand straight up.  “But so do I.  My name is Ahmed, of the D’reg.”

The child stretched his hand down, until his delicate fingers brushed the tips of Ahmed’s broader, weathered ones, and closed around them.  “Havelock Vetinari.”

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