Thief of time, p.17
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       Thief of Time, p.17

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 17


  I know what Im looking at, said Lu-Tze grimly. I was there when it happened before, man! Your reverence, get them to run the old Glass Clock sequence! We havent got a lot of time!

  I really think we- the acolyte began, but he was interrupted by a blow from a rubber brick.

  Wannapottywanna if Lu-Tze is right, then we must not waste time, gentlemen, and if he is wrong then we have time to spare, is this not so? Pottynowwannawanna!

  Thank you, said the sweeper. He cupped his hands. Oi! You lot! Spindle two, fourth bhing, round about the nineteenth gupa! And jump to it!

  I really must respectfully protest, your reverence, said the acolyte. We have practised for just such an emergency as-

  Yeah, I know all about practising procedures for emergencies, said Lu-Tze. And theres always something missing.

  Ridiculous! We take great pains to-

  You always leave out the damn emergency. Lu-Tze turned back to the hall and the apprehensive workers. Ready? Good! Put it on the floor now! Or I shall have to come down there! And I dont want to have to come down there! There was some frantic activity by the men around the cylinders, and a new pattern replaced the one below the balcony. The lines and colours were in different places, but a blue-white circle occupied the centre. There, said Lu-Tze. That was less than ten days before the clock struck. There was silence from the monks. Lu-Tze smiled grimly. And ten days later-

  Time stopped, said Lobsang. Thats one way of putting it, said Lu-Tze. Hed gone red in the face. One of the monks put a hand on his shoulder. Its all right, Sweeper, he said soothingly. We know you couldnt have got there in time.

  Being in time is supposed to be what we do, said Lu-Tze. I was nearly at the damn door, Charlie. Too many castles, not enough. . . time. . . Behind him the Mandala returned to its slow metering of the present. It wasnt your fault, said the monk. Lu-Tze shook the hand free and turned to face the abbot over the shoulder of the chief acolyte. I want permission to track this one down right now, reverend sir! he said. He tapped his nose. Ive got the smell of it! Ive been waiting for this all these years! You wont find me wanting this time!

  In the silence the abbot blew a bubble. Itll be in Uberwald again, said Lu-Tze, a hint of pleading in his voice. Thats where they mess around with the electrick. I know every inch of that place! Give me a couple of men and we can nip this right in the bud!

  Bababababa . . . This needs discussion, Lu-Tze, but we thank you for your offer babababa, said the abbot. Rinpo, I want all bdumbdumbdum senior field monks in the Room of Silence within five bababa minutes! Are the spinners working bdumbdum harmoniously? One of the monks looked up from a scroll hed been handed. It appears so, your reverence.

  My congratulations to the board master BIKKIT!

  But Shoblang is dead, murmured Lu-Tze. The abbot stopped blowing bubbles. That is sad news. And he was a friend of yours, I understand.

  Shouldntve happened like that, the sweeper muttered. Shouldntve happened like that.

  Compose yourself, Lu-Tze. I will talk to you shortly. Bikkit! The chief acolyte, spurred on by a blow across the ear with a rubber monkey, hurried away. The press of monks began to thin out as they went about their duties. Lu-Tze and Lobsang were left on the balcony, looking down at the rippling Mandala. Lu-Tze cleared his throat. See them spinners at the end? he said. The little one records the patterns for a day, and then anything interesting is stored in the big ones.

  I just premembered you were going to say that.

  Good word. Good word. The lad has talent. Lu-Tze lowered his voice. Anyone watching us? Lobsang looked around. Theres a few people still here. Lu-Tze raised his voice again. You been taught anything about the Big Crash?

  Only rumours, Sweeper.

  Yeah, there were a lot of rumours. “The day time stood still”, all that sort of thing. Lu-Tze sighed. Yknow, most of what you get taught is lies. It has to be. Sometimes if you get the truth all at once, you cant understand it. You knew Ankh-Morpork pretty well, did you? Ever go to the opera house?

  Only for pickpocket practice, Sweeper.

  Ever wonder about it? Ever look at that little theatre just over the road? Called The Dysk, I think.

  Oh, yes! We got penny tickets and sat on the ground and threw nuts at the stage.

  And it didnt make you think? Big opera house, all plush and gilt and big orchestras, and then theres this little thatched theatre, all bare wood and no seats and one bloke playing a crumhorn for musical accompaniment? Lobsang shrugged. Well, no. Thats just how things are. Lu-Tze almost smiled. Very flexible things, human minds, he said. Its amazing what they can stretch to fit. We did a fine job there-

  Lu-Tze? One of the lesser acolytes was waiting respectfully. The abbot will see you now, he said. Ah, right, said the sweeper. He nudged Lobsang and whispered, Were going to Ankh- Morpork, lad.

  What? But you said you wanted to be sent to- Lu-Tze winked.

  cos it is written, “Them as asks, dont get,” see. Theres more than one way of choking a dangdang than stuffing it with pling, lad.

  Is there?

  Oh yes, if youve got enough pling. Now lets see the abbot, shall we? Itll be time for his feed now. Solids, thank goodness. At least hes done with the wetnurse. It was so embarrassing for him and the young lady, honestly, you didnt know where to put your face and neither did he. I mean, mentally hes nine hundred years old. . .

  That must make him very wise.

  Pretty wise, pretty wise. But age and wisdom dont necessarily go together, Ive always found, said Lu-Tze, as they approached the abbots rooms. Some people just become stupid with more authority. Not his reverence, of course. The abbot was in his highchair, and had recently flicked a spoonful of nourishing pap all over the chief acolyte, who was smiling like a man whose job depended on looking happy that parsnip-and-gooseberry custard was dribbling down his forehead. It occurred to Lobsang, not for the first time, that the abbot was a little bit more than purely random in his attacks on the man. The acolyte was, indeed, the kind of mildly objectionable person who engendered an irresistible urge in any right-thinking person to pour goo into his hair and hit him with a rubber yak, and the abbot was old enough to listen to his inner child.

  You sent for me, your reverence, said Lu-Tze, bowing. The abbot upturned his bowl down the chief acolytes robe. Wahahaahaha ah, yes, Lu-Tze. How old are you now?

  Eight hundred, your reverence. But thats no age at all!

  Nevertheless, you have spent a lot of time in the world. I understood you were looking to retire and cultivate your gardens?

  Yes, but-

  But, the abbot smiled angelically, like an old warhorse you say “haha!” at the sound of trumpets, yes?

  I dont think so, said Lu-Tze. Theres nothing funny about trumpets, really.

  I meant that you long to be out in the field again. But you have been helping to train world operatives for many years, havent you? These gentlemen? A number of burly and muscular monks were sitting on one side of the room. They were kitted out for travel, with rolled sleeping mats on their backs, and dressed in loose black clothing. They nodded sheepishly at Lu-Tze, and their eyes above their half-masks looked embarrassed. I did my best, said Lu-Tze. Of course, others trained them. I just tried to undo the damage. I never taught them to be ninjas. He nudged Lobsang. That, apprentice, is Agatean for “the Passing Wind”, he said, in a stage whisper. I am proposing to send them out immediately WAH! The abbot hit his highchair with his spoon. That is my order, Lu-Tze. You are a legend, but you have been a legend for a long time. Why not trust in the future? Bikkit!

  I see, said Lu-Tze sadly. Oh, well, it had to happen some time. Thank you for your consideration, your reverence.

  Brrmbrrm . . . Lu-Tze, I have known you a long time! You will not go within a hundred miles of Uberwald, will you?

  Not at all, your reverence.

  That is an order!

  I understand, of course.

  Youve disobeyed my baababa orders before
, though. In Omnia, I remember.

  Tactical decision made by the man on the spot, your reverence. It was more what you might call an interpretation of your order, said Lu-Tze.

  You mean, going where you had distinctly been told not to go and doing what you were absolutely forbidden to do?

  Yes, your reverence. Sometimes you have to move the seesaw by pushing the other end. When I did what shouldnt be done in a place where I shouldnt have been, I achieved what needed to be done in the place where it should have happened. The abbot gave Lu-Tze a long hard stare, the kind that babies are good at giving. Lu-Tze, you are not nmnmnbooboo to go to Uberwald or anywhere near Uberwald, understand? he said. I do, your reverence. You are right, of course. But, in my dotage, may I travel another path, of wisdom rather than violence? I wish to show this young man. . . the Way. There was laughter from the other monks. The Way of the Washerwoman? said Rinpo. Mrs Cosmopilite is a dressmaker, said Lu-Tze calmly. Whose wisdom is in sayings like “It wont get better if you pick at it”? said Rinpo, winking at the rest of the monks. Few things get better if you pick at them, said Lu-Tze, and now his calmness was a lake of tranquillity. It may be a mean little Way but, small and unworthy though it is, it is my Way. He turned to the abbot. That was how it used to be, your reverence. You recall? Master and pupil go out into the world, where the pupil may pick up practical instruction by precept and example, and then the pupil finds his own Way and at the end of his Way-

  -he finds himself bdum, said the abbot. First, he finds a teacher, said Lu-Tze. He is lucky that you will bdumbdum be that teacher.

  Reverend sir, said Lu-Tze. It is in the nature of Ways that none can be sure who the teacher may be. All I can do is show him a path.

  Which will be in the direction of bdum the city, said the abbot. Yes, said Lu-Tze. And Ankh-Morpork is a long way from Uberwald. You wont send me to Uberwald because I am an old man. So, in all respect, I beg you to humour an old man.

  I have no choice, when you put it like that, said the abbot. Reverend sir- began Rinpo, who felt that he did. The spoon was banged on the tray again. Lu-Tze is a man of high reputation! the abbot shouted. I trust him implicitly to do the correct action! I just wish I could blumblum trust him

  to do what I blumblum want! I have forbidden him to go to Uberwald! Now do you wish me to forbid him not to go to Uberwald? BIKKIT! I have spoken! And now, will all you gentlemen be so good as to leave? I have urgent business to attend to. Lu-Tze bowed and grabbed Lobsangs arm. Come on, lad! he whispered. Lets bugger off quick before anyone works it out! On the way out they passed a lesser acolyte carrying a small potty with a pattern of bunny rabbits around it. Its not easy, reincarnating, said Lu-Tze, running down the corridor. Now weve got to be out of here before someone gets any funny ideas. Grab your bag and bedroll!

  But no one would countermand the abbots orders, would they? said Lobsang, as they skidded round a corner. Ha! Itll be his nap in ten minutes and if they give him a new toy when he wakes up he might end up being so busy banging square green pegs into round blue holes that hell forget what he said, said Lu-Tze. Politics, lad. Too many idiots will start saying what theyre sure the abbot would have meant. Off you go, now. Ill see you in the Garden of Five Surprises in one minute. When Lobsang arrived Lu-Tze was carefully tying one of the bonsai mountains into a bamboo framework. He fastened the last knot and placed it in a bag over one shoulder. Wont it get damaged? said Lobsang. Its a mountain. How can it get damaged? Lu-Tze picked up his broom. And well just drop in and have a chat with an old mate of mine before we leave, though. Maybe well pick up some stuff.

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