The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Maskerade


Written by Ed

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, the two chief witches of Lancre, meet on a windy hillside. The third member of their coven, Magrat Garlick, has left to become queen. Granny Weatherwax is becoming deeply depressed at the dissolution of the old ways, and Nanny Ogg fears that one day she may just decide to send her mind out Wandering and never return.

Far away, in Ankh-Morpork, a firm of printers finds a shock with a new manuscript that has been sent to them.

Nearby, Agnes Nitt heads for the Ankh-Morpork Opera House. She is also from Lancre and was training to be a witch, but she decided to leave for a career in opera. As she approaches the huge, ornate building she sees a strange figure sweeping the steps. His name is Walter Plinge, and he works at the Opera House as a general dogsbody. He appears to be physically and mentally challenged. He tells her the way to go for new applicants, and she goes to see the doorman. She gives her name as Perdita; when first encountered, this was simply a pseudonym. Now it is more of a receptacle for all the thoughts she knows she shouldn't have.

Nanny Ogg lies in bed, trying to think of a replacement for Magrat. Suddenly the thought strikes her of choosing Agnes, and she heads off to her mother's house to enquire as to the girl's whereabouts.

Agnes stands on the stage, auditioning. Initially the managers are sceptical, as Agnes does not really look particularly fetching; she is an extremely large girl. However, when she shows off her supernaturally good voice she is given a job almost immediately.

Jarge Weaver, a Lancrastian, calls on Granny Weatherwax to get a cure for his bad back. Granny gives him this, also employing some headology to keep him in fear of her. The ease of his fooling is so depressing that Granny is seriously considering leaving.

The Opera House staff meet to discuss the new recruits. There is Dr Undershaft, the stern chorus master, Mr Salzella, the wry musical director, and Seldom Bucket, the new owner. Bucket has recently bought the Opera House after cutting his teeth in the world of wholesale cheese. As such he is disliked by Undershaft and Salzella, who do not believe he knows anything about opera. Bucket has news: he was lent the money to buy the Opera House and in return he has had to take on a girl, Christine, and make her the lead in the shows. Christine is extremely beautiful, but unfortunately has an excruciating singing voice. Undershaft and Salzella worry that this may reduce the Opera House to a laughing stock.

Agnes meets Christine, who is set to be her roommate. Christie, as well as being very pretty, is a complete air-head and unintentionally (and repeatedly) annoys Agnes. They go off to see their room.

Nanny visits Agnes' mother in Lancre. She is disappointed to hear that Agnes has left for Ankh-Morpork as a singer, but dutifully reads some tea leaves for the old lady. What she sees disturbs her greatly.

Agnes' room is in fact separate; one room has been partitioned off to make two. Christine's room has a huge mirror in it, while Agnes' does not.

Nanny arrives at Granny's house at a dead run. She gets Granny to read some tea leaves, which form in the shape of a skull like Nanny saw. As they worry about what has happened to Agnes, Nanny's son Shawn arrives. He is Lancre's only civil servant and as such one of his duties is to bring the mail. One of the letters is addressed to "The Lancre Witch" which Granny assumes is meant for her. When she reads it, however, it is clear that Nanny Ogg has something to so with it. She has to reveal to Granny that she has written a book, called The Joye Of Snackes, in which there are a number of aphrodisiac food recipes. Granny is upset that people will assume it was written by her; she has a reputation to consider. Her mind is then taken up by another consideration: Nanny has received no payment for the book. Granny resolves to visit Ankh-Morpork to sort this out-and drop in on Agnes while she is there. Nanny is happy that she is on her feet again.

Christine shows Agnes the seats for the audience. She points out one of the boxes-Box Eight-that is always left unsold on the first night of any performance. This is due to the legend of the Opera Ghost-a phantasmal figure that is reported to haunt the Opera House and is glimpsed occasionally. Suddenly there is a crashing chord from the organ; a stage hand named Tommy Cripes has somehow been tangled up in the ropes. The ghost is blamed. As Granny and Nanny board the stagecoach for Ankh-Morpork, rumours fly about the ghost. In the centre of this is Mr Pounder, the rat-catcher, who believes that he has seen the ghost. Salzella arrives and disperses everyone. Unfortunately, the organist André reports that the huge organ has been smashed.

Granny Weatherwax surveys the other occupants of the stagecoach. The only person of interest is an enormous fat man asleep opposite her. She lies back and listens to Nanny Ogg's inane babble.

In Bucket's office, Salzella attempts to explain the Opera House's financial situation. Although ticket sales are very high, the building's overheads are also high and thus the Opera House is only just breaking even. With repairs required for the organ, money is even tighter. Bucket is the only person who seems to care about this. Salzella chooses that moment to fill in Bucket on the legend of the Opera Ghost and the reason why Box Eight is always kept free on the first night of a new performance. Generally the Ghost is seen as a lucky figure, but recently there has been a spate of "accidents". The proof that the ghost is responsible comes from cryptic warning notes left by the Ghost, containing ridiculous amounts of exclamation marks.

As the stagecoach nears a halfway-house, the fat man wakes when Nanny mentions that she has a pork pie on her person. Nanny graciously gives it to the man, who introduces himself as Henry Slugg. He says that "they" don't let him have proper food any more. The coach arrives and Henry is helped away, but the name being shouted is not his: it is "Enrico Basilica".

As Salzella and Bucket debate the issue of the Ghost, the challenged Walter Plinge enters and delivers some coal.

That night, Nanny's vicious cat Greebo explores the new town. He is caught in a pantry by a cook, and spontaneously transforms into a human; an ability available to him due to a magical experiment two years ago on the part of Granny and Nanny. He escapes into the night.

Meanwhile, Granny and Nanny are sharing a room in a tavern. Through the wall they can hear the voice of Henry Slugg, singing in the bath. When someone approaches his room, however, he suddenly switches into a foreign language. Granny suspects that Henry Slugg is actually travelling under a false identity, and that "Enrico Basilica" is a false name. This train of thought is interrupted by the tavern owner knocking at the door- he has heard that Granny is a witch, and desperately needs her help. His baby son is terminally ill, and Granny is his last hope. She takes the child down to the cowshed, where the man's cow is also dying. When Granny Weatherwax states that she does not need any kind of arcane paraphernalia the innkeeper becomes suspicious, so Nanny quickly gives him a list of needs. What she requires is the ingredients for a good meal. They all leave, leaving Granny alone with the baby.

Nanny finishes off her food in her room when Greebo dives in through the window and transforms back into a cat. As she lies on the bed she detects the presence of an old acquaintance.

Granny meets Death in the cowshed. He reveals that he has come for the child, so Granny challenges him to a game of poker. If she wins, the cow dies. If she loses, however, they both die as the rules dictate. Death switches cards with Granny, but she was expecting this and gave herself a poor hand to begin with. Granny wins and the cow dies. The child begins to come round. After helping heal Death's sore arm, Granny watches him depart.

Agnes is walking up the stairs when she meets André creeping around. She is suspicious, but she is also out without permission so she cannot reprimand him. Returning to her room, she finds Christine; she wants to exchange rooms with Agnes as the mirror is apparently talking to her. Agnes reluctantly agrees and no sooner has she switched bedrooms when the mirror begins to call softly to her. She alters her voice to sound like Christine, and plays along. The mirror tells her that, in the first night of the new performance (the next day), Christine will sing the part of Iodine, the lead role.

 

Next day, the only other passenger on the coach is Henry Slugg. He tells them that he is an opera singer from Ankh-Morpork but he pretends to be from faraway Brindisi to give himself some glamour. Enrico Basilica is his stage name. He hates the fact that everywhere he goes the people lay on Brindisian food for him; he longs for Ankh- Morpork food. He gives Granny and Nanny complimentary tickets as a plea to not break his cover.

While the opera company have breakfast, Walter Plinge's mother is on the empty stage mopping up the turpentine from yesterday's accident. Mr Pounder the rat catcher comes in to view. He has apparently just seen something very important, but he suddenly disappears before he can say what it is. Mrs Plinge goes to look for him, and finds his dead body hanging from a rope.

Mr Bucket checks his mail and finds a note from the Ghost. This one is quite civilised, asking that Christine should play the lead role in tonight's performance. This presents him with another problem, as Christine has an absolutely dreadful singing voice. He tries to find Salzella, but runs out into the pandemonium caused by Mr Pounder's murder. Salzella eventually manages to clam the people down, and Bucket tells him about the Ghost's request. Salzella has an idea that could allow Christine to get away with the role of Iodine.

The coach arrives in Ankh-Morpork and Granny and Nanny head for lodgings in Elm Street, recommended by Nanny's son Nev.

Bucket, Salzella and Dr. Undershaft explain the situation to Agnes. She will provide the voice for Iodine, for which Christine will mime. Agnes will be hidden in the chorus.

Nanny is horrified to find out that their lodgings in Elm Street is in fact a brothel. She is even more shocked to discover that everyone there knows Granny Weatherwax, who has been there before.

Dr. Undershaft and André go through the part of Iodine with Agnes, who then returns to her room where Christine is very excited about her role. She has no idea that it will not be her voice that is heard.

Dr. Undershaft is upset. He believes that the part of Iodine should be awarded to the singer with the best voice instead of the singer with the best figure. He goes to complain to Bucket, but he never makes it that far.

Agnes goes out into Ankh-Morpork and buys a lot of herbs, telling herself that what she intends to do is not actually wrong. On her way back, though, she bumps into Granny and Nanny. Everyone pretends that they did not see each other.

Granny and Nanny find the printers and explain themselves. Mr Goatberger, the owner, refuses to give them any money for the book Nanny has written. They leave to consider their next move.

Bucket and Salzella find that all the instruments in the Opera House's store room have been smashed. This adds much more to the Opera House's bills. They are more concerned with the fact that Dr. Undershaft is nowhere to be seen. As Herr Trubelmacher, the conductor, goes to buy more instruments Bucket and Salzella search for Undershaft, without success.

Granny and Nanny find the Opera House at last, and go in to watch the performance. Backstage, Agnes prepares for her first performance. In the event, the performance goes well although Nanny and Granny, in the audience, are able to tell that it is Agnes singing and not Christine. Granny examines the Opera House with her mind, and detects a terrible fear lurking in the building. They also notice that Box Eight has its curtains drawn, but someone is peeking out through them.

Leaving after the performance, Granny and Nanny meet Mrs Plinge. Granny asks her who was in Box Eight, and the old woman quickly becomes terrified. Granny, seeing this, offers to walk her home. Nanny volunteers to clean and serve drinks for the night. The curtains close, and the audience depart. The scenery is lifted into the flyloft; on one side of the stage the counterweight for this is a group of sandbags, as usual. On the other side, however, the counterweight is the dead body of Dr. Undershaft.

Nanny arrives backstage after depleting the contents of the Opera House's bar to find the place in chaos in the wake of Undershaft's death. Mr Salzella has sent people to hunt down the Ghost, while the others prepare to go back on stage. To stop the show would be utterly unthinkable. A distraught Walter Plinge arrives, claiming that the Ghost would not kill anyone. His distress turns to panic when he hears that Mrs Plinge has gone home without him. Nanny assures him that Granny will take care of her.

Granny and Mrs Plinge arrive at her house in the Shades when they are attacked by a gang of thieves; Mrs Plinge is terrified, and Granny attempts to fight back.when suddenly the Ghost appears and fights off the attackers before vanishing into the night.

Salzella is furious that the Ghost has not been caught, but rejects Bucket's suggestion to call the Watch. Christine comes round (having fainted in an extremely dramatic way) and agrees to go on with the show, so Agnes has to as well. Nanny remains behind to wash up, having somehow integrated herself with the background. She learns from a stage hand that they use whistle codes to move scenery on the stage.

Granny returns as the second act begins, and meets Nanny. Nothing else happens for the rest of the performance, and so the audience go home satisfied. Walter Plinge gets onto the darkened stage and begins to mop it. Greebo comes to him, and instantly takes a shine to him. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg watch from afar, wondering what it is that he has seen that has made his mother so terrified.

Christine's room is crammed with bouquets, and Agnes cannot stand it. She gives Christine a drink spiked with the herbs she bought earlier and then leaves while they take effect. She heads off to the empty stage, where she hears a perfect rendition of one of the pieces. This ends as she draws near, and the only person there is Walter, as shambling as ever. As soon as she leaves, though, Walter takes a score from under his beret and begins to sing.

Agnes returns to find Christine unconscious, and lies in her bed waiting for the voice to emerge from the mirror. It does so, taking her through yet another lead role.

Next day Granny and Nanny return to Goatberger's office where they use headology to get their payment-over three thousand dollars.

Bucket receives a note from the Ghost, chiding him for flaws in last night's performance. Salzella is found and they discuss the matter, pausing only when Walter Plinge comes in. Salzella says that he has contacted the Watch-two undercover officers will be present at the next performance.

Granny thinks that the amount of money Nanny has will be sufficient to buy Box Eight on the new performance that night. Nanny points out that they are not the right kind of people-and then Enrico Basilica arrives. Granny and Nanny embark on a shopping spree, buying Granny a ridiculously expensive dress, followed by a complete makeover.

Agnes goes back to her room (Christine has left) and test out a theory: the mirror swings open, revealing a secret passage that takes Agnes up to the roof. She then heads down towards the cellars.

Bucket and Salzella are preparing to meet Enrico Basilica when Nanny Ogg comes in and introduces "Lady Esmerelda Weatherwax", an extremely rich patron of opera. Bucket agrees to see her too-and there is only the merest hint of panic in Henry Slugg's eyes when he is ushered in and meets Granny.

In the kitchen, all is not well. They are trying to lay on special Brindisian food for "Senor Basilica", but the pasta is turning brown and the squid has escaped. Nanny comes in and offers to help-by cooking up proper Morporkian food.

Bucket, Salzella, Granny, Henry and his interpreter are ushered into the dining room (where Henry almost blows his cover when he sees Nanny) where it is revealed that only proper food is available. Bucket apologises, but Enrico insists that he have some. As Agnes nears the Opera House's vast cellars, dinner is served. As they eat, Granny requests Box Eight. Bucket refuses until Granny offers him a thousand dollars. Nanny, furious about being poor again, brings on the dessert.

Henry wolfs down the dessert, but it soon become apparent that it is one of Nanny's "special" recipes from The Joye Of Snackes. Fairly soon, Bucket, Salzella and the interpreter are all incapacitated, but Henry remains unaffected.

Agnes meets Walter in the cellars; he is doing the job of rat-catcher now that Mr Pounder is dead. As he leads her back, she asks him where he last saw the Ghost. He tells her that he last saw the Ghost in the ballet school. The first place Agnes goes, naturally, is the ballet school.where she finds mirrors on every wall.

While Salzella and Bucket recover from the effects of the pudding, André is repairing the organ with the help of Unseen University's orang-utan Librarian. Agnes tells him that Walter is the ghost, but he doesn't believe her.

The provision for using Box Eight is that there is a man in there as well for protection, and so Granny and Nanny go to a gentleman's outfitters and buy a dinner jacket. They then go to find Greebo.

That night Agnes tells Christine her theory, but she just laughs. Suddenly, the Ghost appears in front of them. He is obviously threatening, but slips away when he hears footsteps. No sooner has he fled when Walter enters, in evening wear and an apron. Now she truly has no idea who the Ghost really is.

Greebo is retrieved from the kitchen and transformed into a man, where he dons the evening wear and is told that he must watch the opera with Granny.

Bucket finds Salzella and tells him that the Watch are there: Corporal Nobbs and Sergeant Detritus, the two most obvious undercover policemen in the force. Granny Weatherwax and Greebo walk past, towards Box Eight. Nanny Ogg decides that policemen are the last thing the situation needs and so incapacitates them with her home made scumble drink. The show begins, with the Librarian playing the organ.

Granny and Greebo enter Box Eight. Granny looks for a secret entrance, and finds nothing. Mrs Plinge finds out, however, and attacks Nanny, racing off to stop Granny. Nanny Ogg catches up with her and knocks her out with more scumble.

Walter Plinge approaches Box Eight. He dons the Ghost mask and instantly transforms from his shambolic self to a finely honed, athletic figure. He enters the Box, and is stunned to find Greebo there. He leaps up onto the balcony and begins to scramble along the wall of the Opera House, chased by Greebo. At the sight of this, the performance jerks to a halt. They both leap up onto the great chandelier, and then up to the rooftops. Granny follows.

Salzella is claiming to have seen the Ghost-it is Walter. He sends a group of people to the rooftops to hunt him down. The Ghost runs across the rooftops, but fails to spot Granny who jerks his mask off. Walter sags back to his usual self, and Granny takes him in. She has Greebo put on the mask and give the pursuers a run for their money. Nanny arrives, so Granny entrusts Walter to her and goes off.

Greebo is about to be caught when the spell wears off and he transforms back into a cat. The mob, convinced he is dead, leaves satisfied.

 

Walter leads Nanny into a hidden chamber, which he states belongs to the Ghost. It is full of opera paraphernalia as well as a small harmonium. There is also sheet music, which Walter claims was written by the Ghost. It is clear, though, that it is his own work.

As Agnes tries to escape the multitude of rumours backstage, she meets Granny Weatherwax for the first time. Granny makes Agnes help her sneak into Bucket's office- she has a suspicion.

Nanny has found sacks of money, and Walter has garbled memories of someone threatening him and his mother to keep quiet. Nanny asks who took the money and threatened him, but he says it was the Ghost.

Granny reads through the Opera House's accounts. It is clear that they have been fixed, and that someone is swindling money out of the place. Suddenly they hear someone coming; Granny uses magic to hide, but Agnes is caught by André. He tells them that he is in fact not an organist, but an undercover policeman.

Nanny leaves the cellars and climbs up into the flyloft where she finds, as she feared, that someone has been cutting through the rope that holds the huge chandelier up and it is about to come down.

Granny asks Agnes who she thinks the Ghost is. She says she used to think it was Walter, until she saw him just after the Ghost vanished. Granny then turns to André. He used to think it was Salzella, but he says he has been seen at the same time as the Ghost. Granny then reveals her suspicion-there are in fact TWO ghosts.

The Ghost attacks Nanny, who is still up in the flyloft, and then tries to escape down the ropes and into the cellars. Nanny uses the whistle codes she learned earlier to block off the Ghost's escape-it is indeed Salzella.

Enrico Basilica has dressed up as a giant chicken, as the final scene of the show requires. In fact, all of the cast are dressed up. Granny, Nanny, Agnes and André run up, looking for Salzella. He is nowhere to be seen. Granny knows there is only one place he can be, and there is only one way to get at it.

The audience watch in disbelief as Nanny Ogg prances onto the stage in a tutu, and pulls the heads off the costumes. She reveals only indignant actors, and not Salzella.

Bucket watches in horror form the wings. Suddenly, Henry Slugg comes up behind him, claiming that he was attacked and hit over the head. Bucket, shocked, glances between the singer.and whoever is in his place on stage.

With all the cast bar one de-masked, the giant chicken costume is all that remains. Agnes calls a halt to the show. In the cellars Walter Plinge senses that the show has stopped before time, and flies into a panic and a rage. He runs up to the stage at the same time as Granny, who exposes Salzella and confronts him with the truth: he found out about Walter's split personality, and used it to mask his own crimes. Salzella attacks Granny with a sword, but the witch remains unscathed. Granny knows that the only way that this can end in a way that will not harm Walter is for Walter to fight Salzella, and so she gives him his mask and the two fight. Walter, although extremely skilled in the guise of the Ghost, is only stage-fighting while Salzella fights for real, and so he wins. Walter's mask is crushed away. Granny tells Walter that Agnes has an invisible mask that he never has to take off. Walter being Walter believes her and turns back into the athlete that he is as the Ghost-but permanently this time. He still only stage-fights but manages to pretend- stab Salzella under the arm. It then becomes apparent that Salzella is just as obsessed with opera as Walter, and he goes into a long, pretend death spiral-one so energetic that by the end he simply drops down dead.

Henry Slugg, his cover blown by his delirium caused by Salzella's attack, reveals his true identity to the world. In true operatic tradition, he turns out to be the son of a member of the audience. The re-invented Walter Plinge takes Salzella's job as musical director and Agnes agrees to return to Lancre.

Eventually they get back, and Granny bandages the wound inflicted by Salzella; its effect was merely postponed. Later, when she is digging a new pit for her privy, Agnes turns up-agreeing to become the new third member of the coven.


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