The Child of Spring   
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Introduction. War is coming to the Port of Nor, and on the Mountain, Winter is locked in a battle of his own, trying to get twelve novice monks ranging from six to ten years of age through the morning practice. But first he must reason with Ker, who has a penchant for (mis)-quoting Master Kao and is very fond of daisies, as a source of nourishment.

er, please don't eat the daisies." I sensed that this was going to be a long day.

"But I like the taste."

"I assure you, you will not like the taste quite so much after you vomit." There were delighted giggles from the children as they pictured this, revelling at the grossness.

"But Aunt Winn says I should eat more greens."

"Of the edible variety."

"Are daisies not edible then?"

"Generally speaking, no."

"But turtles eat them!"

"Ker, are you a turtle?"

Ker seemed to give this serious thought, first a pause, then a defeated sigh. "All right." His eyes perked up again, bubbling with excitement, "Can I eat the roses then?"

"Tell you what Ker - let's make a deal," I said. "Seed, you are on kitchen duty this afternoon, right?" Seed nodded and I turned back to Ker. "You can eat all the flowers you want -"

"ALL of them?"


"Even the purple lanterns?"

"If you wish."

"And daylong flowers? What about dreamer's breath? And shy hares? And geraniums? Hanging horns?"

"Ker, are you planning to grow a botanical garden in your stomach?"

"I suppose I should eat lady fingers too then." He grimaced.

"I take it they don't taste so nice?"

"Not particularly. But Master Kao says no garden is complete without a pool of lady fingers."

"You don't need to eat any flowers you don't want to."

"But I can eat any flower I want? Any flower?"

"Any flower and as many as your heart desires, BUT here is the deal: If, that is: when, you upset your stomach and vomit, Seed will gather it into a soup and you will have to drink it for dinner."

A chorus from the children: "Ewwww!" Ker surreptitiously put down the daisies he had in his hand and nudged them away with his foot.

"Thanks. But I won't have any more today. Aunt Winn says too much of a good thing can be bad for you."

"Excellent choice. There is something to be said for a balanced diet." Then, to cover all angles: "And no, you cannot eat worms. They do not count as meat."

Ker took a rumpled piece of paper out of his trousers, made a few hasty scribbles, and stuffed it back into a pocket.

"Very well," I said. "Unless anyone else has any other culinary adventures to propose, let's continue with the morning practice. Three more warm-up exercises and then we'll go find Master Coldstream, who will take over for Flowing Water, Short Form." I looked at the boys. "Any questions?" Wild Apple opened his mouth. "Other than whether you can feed apples to a black unicorn."

"I wasn't going to ask that."

"If you say so."

"So what were you going to ask then?" Cloud said.

Wild Apple turned to me and planted his feet, making a point of not hearing Cloud. "Winter, which three exercises will we practice?"

"Swimming Dragon. Sinking in Prayer Position. Stand Like a Tree."

"In what order?" Wild Apple said.

"Swimming Dragon. Sinking in Prayer Position. Stand Like a Tree."

"But Stand Like a Tree is not a warm-up exercise..." the wonderfully literal-minded Grass said. He had a point.

"True. It's an introduction to standing meditation."

"Master Kao says standing meditation strengthens the spine and straightens the spirit," Ker volunteered. "Or did it straighten the spine and strengthen the spirit?" Ker's eyebrows huddled together to work that one out amongst themselves.

Wild Apple was trying to push me out of the way to see what I had behind me. "Winter, what's in that amphora?"

"Ah! That's for Swimming Dragon. We will use it to - "

"But what's in it?"

"Wild Apple, I swear a cat must have given birth to you! You could not possibly have waited nine months."

"Does that mean I'll always fall on all fours?"

"I wouldn't test it."

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