Thief of time, p.44
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       Thief of Time, p.44

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 44

 

  But I dont want- Lobsang began, and the sweeper jerked an elbow into his ribs. You say “Yes, reverend one,” he growled. But I never intended- This time the back of his head was slapped. This is no time to step back! Lu-Tze said. Youre too late, wonder boy! He nodded to the abbot. My apprentice understands, reverend one.

  Your apprentice, Sweeper?

  Oh, yes, reverend one, said Lu-Tze. My apprentice. Until I say otherwise.

  Really? Bikkit! Then he may enter. You too, Lu-Tze.

  But I only meant to- Lobsang protested. Inside! Lu-Tze roared. Will you shame me? Shall people think I have taught you nothing? The inside of the Iron Dojo was, indeed, a darkened dome full of spikes. They were needle thin and there were tens of thousands of them covering the nightmare walls. Who would build something like this? said Lobsang, looking up at the glistening points that covered even the ceiling. It teaches the virtues of stealth and discipline, said Lu-Tze, cracking his knuckles. Impetuosity and speed can be as dangerous to the attacker as to the attacked, as perhaps you will learn. One condition: we are all human here? Agreed?

  Of course, Sweeper. We are all human here.

  And shall we agree: no tricks?

  No tricks, said Lobsang. But-

  Are we fighting, or are we talking?

  But, look, if only one can walk out, that means Ill have to kill you- Lobsang began. Or vice versa, of course, said Lu-Tze. That is the rule, yes. Shall we get on?

  But I didnt know that!

  In life, as in breakfast cereal, it is always best to read the instructions on the box, said Lu- Tze. This is the Iron Dojo, wonder boy! He stepped back and bowed. Lobsang shrugged, and bowed in return. Lu-Tze took a few steps back. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then went through a series of simple moves, limbering up. Lobsang winced to hear the crackle of joints. Around Lobsang there was a series of snapping noises, and for a moment he thought of the old sweepers bones. But tiny hatches all over the curved wall were swinging open. He could hear whispers as people jostled for position. And by the sound of it, there were a great many people. He extended his hands, and let himself rise gently in the air. I thought we said no tricks? said Lu-Tze. Yes, Sweeper, said Lobsang, poised in mid-air. And then I thought: never forget Rule One.

  Aha! Well done. Youve learned something! Lobsang drifted closer. You cannot believe the things that I have seen since last I saw you, he said. Words cannot describe them. I have seen worlds nesting within worlds, like those dolls they carve in Uberwald. I have heard the music of the years. I know more than I can ever understand. But I do not know the Fifth Surprise. It is a trick, a conundrum. . . a test.

  Everything is a test, said Lu-Tze. Then show me the Fifth Surprise and I promise not to harm you.

  You promise not to harm me?

  I promise not to harm you, Lobsang repeated solemnly. Fine. You only had to ask, said Lu-Tze, smiling broadly. What? I asked before and you refused!

  You only had to ask at the right time, wonder boy.

  And is it the right time now?

  It is written, “Theres no time like the present,” said Lu-Tze. Behold, the Fifth Surprise! He reached into his robe. Lobsang floated closer. The sweeper produced a cheap carnival mask. It was one of those that consisted of a fake pair of spectacles, glued above a big pink nose, and finished with a heavy black moustache. He put it on and waggled his ears once or twice. Boo, he said. What? said Lobsang, bewildered. Boo, Lu-Tze repeated. I never said it was a particularly imaginative surprise, did I? He waggled his ears again, and then waggled his eyebrows. Good, eh? he said, and grinned. Lobsang laughed. Lu-Tze grinned wider. Lobsang laughed louder, and lowered himself to the mat. The blows came out of nowhere. They caught him in the stomach, on the back of his neck, in the small of his back and swept his legs from under him. He landed on his stomach, with Lu- Tze pinning him down in the Straddle of the Fish. The only way to get out of that was to dislocate your own shoulders. There was a sort of collective sigh from the hidden watchers. Déjà-fu!

  What? said Lobsang, into the mat. You said none of the monks knew déjà-fu!

  I never taught it to em, thats why! said Lu-Tze. Promise not to harm me, would you? Thank you so very much! Submit?

  You never told me you knew it! Lu-Tzes knees, rammed into the secret pressure points, were turning Lobsangs arms into powerless lumps of flesh. I may be old but Im not daft! Lu-Tze shouted. You dont think Id give away a trick like that, do you?

  Thats not fair- Lu-Tze leaned down until his mouth was an inch from Lobsangs ear.

  Didnt say “fair” on the box, lad. But you can win, you know. You could turn me into dust, just like that. How could I stop Time?

  I cant do that!

  You mean you wont, and we both know it. Submit? Lobsang could feel parts of his body trying to shut themselves down. His shoulders were on fire. I can discarnate, he thought. Yes, I can, I could turn him to dust with a thought. And lose. Id walk out and hed be dead and Id have lost. Nothing to worry about, lad, said Lu-Tze, calmly now. You just forgot Rule Nineteen. Submit?

  Rule Nineteen? said Lobsang, almost pushing himself off the mat until terrible pain forced him down again. What the hell is Rule Nineteen? Yes, yes, submit, submit!

  “Remember Never to Forget Rule One”, said Lu-Tze. He released his grip. And always ask yourself: how come it was created in the first place, eh? Lu-Tze got to his feet, and went on: But you have performed well, all things considered, and therefore as your master I have no hesitation in recommending you for the yellow robe. Besides, he lowered his voice to a whisper, everyone peeking in here has seen me beat Time and thats the sort of thing thatll look really good on my curriculum vitae, if you catch my meaning. Defnitely give the ol Rule One a fillip. Let me give you a hand up. He reached down. Lobsang was about to take the hand when he hesitated. Lu-Tze grinned again, and gently pulled him upright. But only one of us can leave, Sweeper, said Lobsang, rubbing his shoulders. Really? said Lu-Tze. But playing the game changes the rules. I say the hell with it. The remains of the door were pushed aside by the hands of many monks. There was the sound of someone being hit with a rubber yak. Bikkit!

  . . . and the abbot, I believe, is ready to present you with the robe, said Lu-Tze. Dont make any comment if he dribbles on it, please. They left the dojo and, followed now by every soul in Oi Dong, headed for the long terrace. It was, Lu-Tze reminisced later, an unusual ceremony. The abbot did not appear overawed, because babies generally arent and will throw up over anyone. Besides, Lobsang might have been master of the gulfs of time, but the abbot was master of the valley, and therefore respect was a line that travelled in both directions. But the handing over of the robe had caused a difficult moment.

  Lobsang had refused it. It had been left to the chief acolyte to ask why, while the whispered current of surprise washed through the crowd. I am not worthy, sir.

  Lu-Tze has declared that you have completed your apprenticeship, my lo- Lobsang Ludd. Lobsang bowed. Then I will take the broom and the robe of a sweeper, sir. This time the current was a tsunami. It crashed over the audience. Heads turned. There were gasps of shock, and one or two nervous laughs. And, from the lines of sweepers who had been allowed to pause in their tasks to watch the event, there was a watchful, intent silence. The chief acolyte licked his suddenly dehydrated lips. But. . . but. . . you are the incarnation of Time. . .

  In this valley, sir, said Lobsang firmly, I am as worthy as a sweeper. The chief acolyte looked around, but there was no help anywhere. The other senior members of the monastery had no wish to share in the huge pink cloud of embarrassment. The abbot merely blew bubbles, and grinned the inward knowing grin of all babies everywhere. Do we have any. . . uh . . . do we present sweepers with. . . do we by any chance. . . ? the acolyte mumbled. Lu-Tze stepped up behind him. Can I be of any help, your acolytility? he said, with a sort of mad keen subservience that was quite alien to his normal attitude. Lu-Tze? Ah. . . er. . . yes. . . er. . .

  I coul
d fetch a nearly new robe, sir, and the lad can have my old broom if youll sign a chitty for me to get a new one from stores, sir, said Lu-Tze, sweating helpfulness at every pore . The chief acolyte, drowning well out of his depth, seized on this like a passing lifebelt. Oh, would you be so good, Lu-Tze? It is so kind of you. . . Lu-Tze vanished in a blur of helpful speed that, once again, quite surprised those who thought they knew him. He reappeared with his broom and a robe made white and thin with frequent bashings on the stones by the river. He solemnly handed them over to the chief acolyte. Er, uh, thank you, er, is there a special ceremony for the, for the, er, for. . . er . . . the man burbled. Very simple one, sir, said Lu-Tze, still radiating eagerness. Wording is quite loose, sir, but generally we say, “This is your robe, look after it, it belongs to the monastery,” sir, and then

  with the broom we say something like “Heres your broom, treat it well, it is your friend, you will be fined if you lose it, remember they do not grow on trees,” sir.

  Er, um, uh, the chief acolyte murmured. And does the abbot-?

  Oh no, the abbot would not make a presentation to a sweeper, said Lobsang quickly. Lu-Tze, who does the, er, does, uh, does the. . .

  Its generally done by a senior sweeper, your acolytility.

  Oh? And, er, by some happy chance, er, do you happen to be-? Lu-Tze bobbed a bow. Oh, yes, sir. To the chief acolyte, still floundering in the flood of the turning tide, this was as welcome as the imminent prospect of dry land. He beamed manically. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, then, if you would be so kind, er, then, er, to-

  Happy to, sir. Lu-Tze swung round. Right now, sir?

  Oh, please, yes!

  Right you are. Step forward, Lobsang Ludd!

  Yes, Sweeper! Lu-Tze held out the worn robe and the elderly broom. Broom! Robe! Do not lose them, we are not made of money! he announced. I thank you for them, said Lobsang. I am honoured. Lobsang bowed. Lu-Tze bowed. With their heads close together and at the same height, Lu- Tze hissed, Very surprising.

  Thank you.

  Nicely mythic, the whole thing, definitely one for the scrolls, but bordering on smug. Do not try it again.

  Right. They both stood up. And, er, what happens now? said the chief acolyte. He was a broken man, and he knew it. Nothing was going to be the same after this. Nothing, really, said Lu-Tze. Sweepers get on with sweeping. You take that side, lad, and Ill take this.

  But he is Time! said the chief acolyte. The son of Wen! There is so much we have to ask!

  There is so much I will not tell, said Lobsang, smiling. The abbot leaned forward and dribbled into the chief acolytes ear. He gave up. Of course, it is not up to us to question you, he said, backing away. No, said Lobsang. It is not. I suggest you all get on with your very important work, because this plaza is going to need all my attention. There were frantic hand signals amongst the senior monks and, gradually, reluctantly, the monastery staff moved away. Theyll be watching us from every place they can hide, mumbled Lu-Tze, when the sweepers were alone. Oh, yes, said Lobsang. So, how are you, then?

  Very well. And my mother is happy, and she will retire with my father.

  What? A cottage in the country, that sort of thing?

 
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