The Child of Spring   
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Introduction. In which we discover the connection between Swimming Dragon and Stormblade complexion. Swimming Dragon, Sinking in Prayer Position, Stand Like a Tree: Three more exercises and Winter can hand the novice monks over to Master Coldstream - and Winter has a secret weapon in a curious looking clay jar to make sure the children pay attention...

n Stormblade Temple, they make Stormblades train Swimming Dragon with a cup of boiling oil in each hand to encourage balance, concentration and movement that flows at a slow, smooth, even pace. But I -"

"Is that why Torrent is brown?"

"No, Wild Apple. I am pretty certain he was born that way," I said. A smile might have been playing in the side streets of my mouth, sticking out its head around the corner now and again.

Wild Apple hesitated, deep in thought. "Did Sister Whitesurge practice Swimming Dragon too much while she was pregnant then?" He pondered this further. "She mustn't have been very good at it."

"Wild Apple, Sister Whitesurge did not give birth to Torrent."

"But he calls her 'mother'!"

"There are more than sixty Stormblades, Wild Apple, and they all call her 'mother.' Did you imagine her to have borne each and every one of them?"

"Well... She does do that funny walk every morning. I see her lumbering from one end of the courtyard to the other, again and again, for hours."

"Wild Apple, that's called Walking in Horse Stance... Sister Whitesurge practices it as moving meditation to strengthen the root, condition the legs and still the mind."


I lifted the jug. "Come, line up and bring your cups."

Wild Apple was hopping up and down as if he had swallowed a particularly nosy rabbit. "Winter, do you really have boiling oil in there?"

"No. I have something much more effective." I looked Wild Apple in the eye and allowed a mischievous half-smile to creep around the corner of my mouth. "See for yourself. Come, take the lid off."

Wild Apple wrinkled his nose. "Ewwww! Smells like brownie poo!"

"It IS brownie poo."

"Did you get Master Bluebark to shit in it then?"

Cloud was glaring at me, daring me to rebuke him for using a word lay people would not usually expect to hear at monasteries. 'Come scold me,' it said. This was a bait and I did not take it. It had not been so many years since I was his age that I had forgotten the surest way to encourage a foul mouth in children was to chide them against it. Cloud might have been surprised to learn that he was not the first boy in the world to collect swear words with which he could then shock grown-ups into scandalised stupefaction at his leisure.

"Cloud, I did not realise you had aspirations of becoming a sailor," I said. In my experience, when the grown-up in question is sufficiently unfazed, they eventually give up.

"What if I did?"

"Then this would be your lucky day. Diligent practice of Swimming Dragon will teach you to bend like a reed. Then when pirates board your ship, you will have the flexibility in your spine to duck away from their jabs and swim around their sword swipes."

"Havach head!" I was distinctly unimpressed. When Orange and I were his age, our inventions had been much more inspired. The declining standards of society...

"That's a rather colourful expression," I said, trying to be polite. "And from whom might you have gleaned such beautiful imagery?"


Torrent, the Corruptor of the Young. Of course.

"Did Torrent teach you many such wonders then?"

There was a rapid-fire list of colourful swearwords as they each began to volunteer one, each trying to out-do the others in creative profanity: Whale dung! Kerkin’ buffaloon! Feff to the feffin’ fifth! May a garthook crap in your ear! Flippen, farg’n, fratted, freckled pickle!

"Prickle prick!"

I must admit this last one caught me off guard. I blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

Thinking he finally found purchase, Cloud now ran around in circles, stamping the ground and shouting "Prickle prick, prickle prick, prickle prick!">

"I'm curious what makes you think that particular image when you look at me," I said.

"Master Kao says we see things not as they are, but as we are," Ker informed us.

"Master Kao is very wise, Ker."

For the next few minutes Cloud and I practiced Turning the Waterwheel, an exercise which largely involved Cloud trying to punch me while I leaned my outstretched palm against his forehead. Imagine this, if you will: Cloud furiously rolling his punches, said punches never connecting (My arms are longer), his fists turning like a waterwheel, and all the while Cloud furling a string of obscenities at me with renewed vigour, some of which were probably manufactured on the spot.

After a not-ungenerous amount of time, I laid my hands on each side of Cloud's head and kneeled so that our eyes were level. He stilled. "Cloud, what escapes our mouth in anger often reveals more about us than a day of discourse."

He had the decency to look at his feet and feign remorse.

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