Thief of time, p.14
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       Thief of Time, p.14

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 14

 

  Ah! I knew there was something to learn! Lu-Tze stood up. Why you? he said. Why here? Why now? “There is a time and a place for everything. ” Why this time and this place? If I take you to the dojo, you will return what you stole from me! Now! He looked down at the teak table where he worked on his mountains. The little shovel was there. A few cherry blossom petals fluttered to the ground. I see, he said. You are that fast? I did not see you. Lobsang said nothing.

  It is a small and worthless thing, said Lu-Tze. Why did you take it, please?

  To see if I could. I was bored.

  Ah. We shall see if we can make life more interesting for you, then. No wonder you are bored, when you can already slice time like that. Lu-Tze turned the little shovel over and over in his hand. Very fast, he said. He leaned down and blew the petals away from a tiny glacier. You slice time as fast as a Tenth Djim. And as yet barely trained. You must have been a great thief! And now. . . Oh dear, I shall have to face you in the dojo . . .

  No, there is no need! said Lobsang, because now Lu-Tze looked frightened and humiliated and, somehow, smaller and brittle-boned. I insist, said the old man. Let us get it done now. For it is written, “There is no time like the present”, which is Mrs Cosmopilites most profound understanding. He sighed and looked up at the giant statue of Wen. Look at him, he said. He was a lad, eh? Completely blissed out on the universe. Saw the past and future as one living person, and wrote the Books of History to tell how the story should go. We cant imagine what those eyes saw. And he never raised a hand to any man in his life.

  Look, I really didnt want to-

  And youve looked at the other statues? said Lu-Tze, as if hed completely forgotten about the dojo. Distractedly, Lobsang followed his gaze. Up on the raised stone platform that ran the whole length of the gardens were hundreds of smaller statues, mostly carved of wood, all of them painted in garish colours. Figures with more eyes than legs, more tails than teeth, monstrous amalgamations of fish and squid and tiger and parsnip, things put together as if the creator of the universe had tipped out his box of spare parts and stuck them together, things painted pink and orange and purple and gold, looked down over the valley. Oh, the dhlang- Lobsang began. Demons? Thats one word for them, said the sweeper. The abbot called them the Enemies of Mind. Wen wrote a scroll about them, you know. And he said that was the worst. He pointed to a little hooded grey shape, which looked out of place among the festival of wild extremities. Doesnt look very dangerous, said Lobsang. Look, Sweeper, I dont want to-

  They can be very dangerous, things that dont look dangerous, said Lu-Tze. Not looking dangerous is what makes them dangerous. For it is written, “You cant tell a book by its cover. ”

  Lu-Tze, I really dont want to fight you-

  Oh, your tutors will tell you that the discipline of a martial art enables you to slice time, and thats true as far as it goes, said Lu-Tze, apparently not listening. But so can sweeping, as perhaps you have found. Always find the perfect moment, Wen said. People just seem so keen on using it to kick other people on the back of the neck.

  But it wasnt a challenge, I just wanted you to show me-

  And I shall. Come on. I made a bargain. I must keep it, old fool that I am. The nearest dojo was the dojo of the Tenth Djim. It was empty except for two monks blurring as they danced across the mat and wrapped time around themselves. Lu-Tze had been right, Lobsang knew. Time was a resource. You could learn to let it move fast or slow, so that a monk could walk easily through a crowd and yet be moving so fast that no one could see him. Or he could stand still for a few seconds, and watch the sun and moon chase one another across a flickering sky. He could meditate for a day in a minute. Here, in the valley, a day lasted for ever. Blossom never became cherries. The blurred fighters became a couple of hesitant monks when they saw Lu-Tze. He bowed. I beg the use of this dojo for a short period while my apprentice teaches me the folly of old age, he said. I really didnt mean- Lobsang began, but Lu-Tze elbowed him in the ribs. The monks gave the old man a nervous look. Its yours, Lu-Tze, said one of them. They hurried out, almost tripping over their own feet as they looked back. Time and its control is what we should teach here, said Lu-Tze, watching them go. The martial arts are an aid. That is all they are. At least, thats all they were meant to be. Even out in the world a well-trained person may perceive, in the fray, how flexible time may be. Here, we can build on that. Compress time. Stretch time. Hold the moment. Punching peoples kidneys out through their nose is only a foolish by-product. Lu-Tze took down a razor-edged pika sword from the rack and handed it to the shocked boy. Youve seen one of these before? Theyre not really for novices, but you show promise.

  Yes, Sweeper, but-

  Know how to use it?

  Im good with the practice ones, but theyre just made of-

  Take it, then, and attack me.

  There was a rustling noise above them. Lobsang looked up and saw monks pouring into the observation gallery above the dojo. There were some very senior ones among them. News gets around quickly in a little world. Rule Two, said Lu-Tze, is never refuse a weapon. He took a few steps back. In your own time, boy. Lobsang wielded the curved sword uncertainly. Well? said Lu-Tze. I cant just-

  Is this the dojo of the Tenth Djim? said Lu-Tze. Why, mercy me, I do believe it is. That means there are no rules, doesnt it? Any weapon, any strategy. . . anything is allowed. Do you understand? Are you stupid?

  But I cant just kill someone because theyve asked me to!

  Why not? What happened to Mr Manners?

  But-

  You are holding a deadly weapon! You are facing an unarmed man in a pose of submission! Are you frightened?

  Yes! Yes, I am!

  Good. Thats the Third Rule, said Lu-Tze quietly. See how much youre learning already? Wiped the smile off your face, have I? All right, put the sword on the rack and take- Yes, take a dakka stick. The most you can do with that is bruise my old bones.

  I would prefer it if you wore the protective padding-

  Youre that good with the stick, are you?

  Im very fast-

  Then if you dont fight right now I shall wrest it from you and break it over your head, said Lu-Tze, drawing back. Ready? The only defence is to attack well, Im told. Lobsang tilted the stick in reluctant salute. Lu-Tze folded his hands and, as Lobsang danced towards him, closed his eyes and smiled to himself. Lobsang raised the stick again. And hesitated.

  Lu-Tze was grinning. Rule Two, Rule Three. . . What had been Rule One? Always remember Rule One. . . Lu-Tze! The abbots chief acolyte arrived panting in the doorway, waving urgently. Lu-Tze opened one eye, and then the other one, and then winked at Lobsang. Narrow escape there, eh? he said. He turned to the acolyte. Yes, exalted sir?

  You must come immediately! And all monks who are cleared for a tour in the world! To the Mandala Hall! Now! There was a scuffling in the gallery and several monks pushed their way out through the crowd. Ah, excitement, said Lu-Tze, taking the stick from Lobsangs unresisting hands and putting it back into the rack. The hall was emptying fast. Around the whole of Oi Dong, gongs were being banged frantically. Whats happening? said Lobsang, as the last of the monks surged past. I daresay we shall soon be told, said Lu-Tze, starting to roll himself a cigarette. Hadnt we better hurry? Everyones going! The sound of flapping sandals died away in the distance. Nothing seems to be on fire, said Lu-Tze calmly. Besides, if we wait a little then by the time we get there everyone will have stopped shouting and perhaps they will be making some sense. Let us take the Clock Path. The display is particularly fine at this time of day.

  But. . . but. . .

  It is written “Youve got to learn to walk before you can run,” said Lu-Tze, putting his broom over his shoulder. Mrs Cosmopilite again?

  Amazing woman. Dusted like a demon, too. The Clock Path wound out from the majn complex, up through the terraced gardens, and then rejoined the wider path as it tunnelled into the cliff wall. Novices always asked why it was called the
Clock Path, since there was no sign of a clock anywhere .

  More gongs started to bang, but they were muffled by the greenery. Lobsang heard running feet up on the main path. Down here, humming birds flickered from flower to flower, oblivious of any excitement. I wonder what time it is, said Lu-Tze, who was walking ahead. Everything is a test. Lobsang glanced around at the flowerbed. A quarter past nine, he said. Oh? And how do you know that?

  The field marigold is open, the red sandwort is opening, the purple bindweed is closed, and the yellow goats beard is closing, said Lobsang. You worked out the floral clock all by yourself?

  Yes. Its obvious.

  Really? What time is it when the white waterlily opens?

  Six in the morning.

  You came to look?

  Yes. You planted this garden, did you?

  One of my little. . . efforts.

  Its beautiful.

  Its not very accurate in the small hours. There arent too many night-blooming plants that grow well up here. They open for the moths, you know-

  Its how time wants to be measured, said Lobsang. Really? Of course Im not an expert, said Lu-Tze. He pinched out the end of his cigarette and stuck it behind his ear. Oh well, lets keep going. Everyone may have stopped arguing at cross purposes by now. How do you feel about going through the Mandala Hall again?

  Oh, Ill be fine, Id just . . . forgotten about it, thats all.

  Really? And youd never seen it before, too. But time plays funny tricks on us all. Why, I once- Lu-Tze stopped, and stared at the apprentice. Are you all right? he said. Youve gone pale. Lobsang grimaced and shook his head.

  Something. . . felt odd, he said. He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the lowlands, spread out in a blue and grey pattern on the horizon. Something over there. . . The glass clock. The great glass house and here, where it shouldnt be, the glass clock. It was barely here: it showed up as shimmering lines in the air, as if it was possible to capture the sparkle of light off a shiny surface without the surface itself. Everything here was transparent - delicate chairs, tables, vases of flowers. And now he realized that glass was not a word to use here. Crystal might be better; or ice - the thin, flawless ice you sometimes got after a sharp frost. Everything was visible only by its edges. He could make out staircases through distant walls. Above and below and to every side, the glass rooms went on for ever. And yet it was all familiar. It felt like home. Sound filled the glass rooms. It streamed away in clear sharp notes, like the tones made by a wet finger around a wineglass rim. There was movement, too - a haze in the air beyond the transparent walls, shifting and wavering and . . . watching him . . . How can it come from over there? And how do you mean, odd? said the voice of Lu-Tze. Lobsang blinked. This was the odd place, the one right here, the rigid and unbending world. . . And then the feeling passed, and faded. Just odd. For a moment, he mumbled. There was dampness on his cheek. He raised his hand, and touched wetness. Its that rancid yak butter they put in the tea, Ive always said so, said Lu-Tze. Mrs Cosmopilite never- Now that is unusual, he said, looking up. What? What? said Lobsang, looking blankly at his wet fingertips and then up at the cloudless sky. A Procrastinator going overspeed. He shifted position. Cant you feel it?

 
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