loud was stamping and kicking
again: "It's not fair. Why does Tamarind get to sit this out? I don't want to do
Swimming Dragon either!"
"You don't have to join the practice if you don't want to," I said.
"As long as you accept the consequences."
"Errr... Are you going to tie me against a tree and have me lashed?"
I don't know where they get these ideas.
"No, Cloud. Every action we do or choose not to do has a natural consequence."
"Master Kao says: 'You can't throw a stone into a pond and then blame the water
"Yes, Ker. Now, Cloud, if you have made peace with the possibility that you
won't be able to sit on the privy unassisted in old age because your hands are
curled like gnarled roots and your spine has stuck together like frozen grease
to a frying pan, then I will not force you into practice." It seems to me now
that the smell of brownie poo might have inspired this rather outlandish example
of the perils of old age.
"Perhaps Swimming Dragon is not so bad..." I could almost see Cloud's spine and
hands negotiating with his brain. "Will I be rewarded if I do it well?"
"Of course." I was not very pleased when I noticed two plums, a pine cone and
what appeared to be a painted beetle shell exchange hands between two of the
boys. Someone had lost a bet.
"Let's discuss terms." Cloud was Gondolwain to the bones. He probably negotiated
with the sun before it went down. And I would not be surprised if someone in the
boys' dormitory was charged commission when it rose again in the morning.
"We will do twelve rounds and then another twelve rounds of Reverse Swimming
Dragon. If you do it well - "
"You will do 24 more rounds: 12 to the front, 12 to the back."
"And if I DON'T do it well?" Cloud was getting belligerent.
"24 more rounds."
After consultation with Tamarind, Pebble had an idea. "Wintersai? What if my
Swimming Dragon is not as perfect as yours, but not as bad as Cloud's either?"
"Have a guess, Pebble."
"Another 24 rounds?"
Master Winter says: 'Nothing focuses the mind quite like the prospect of getting
intimately acquainted with brownie poo.'
I felt extremely pleased with myself. There, behind me on the stone dais, twelve
novice monks ranging from six to ten years of age practiced Swimming Dragon with
a degree of mindfulness that would have put the grandmasters of White Mountain
monasteries to shame.
An hour later, halfway into the thirty third round, their noses grew accustomed
to the smell and the enchantment broke.
As I led the practice, Wild Apple broached the subject of black unicorns again
in the kind of whisper that is not quite a whisper. Did Pebble think it would be
all right? (No, probably not.) How would Pebble know - had he ever fed a black
unicorn! (He didn't have to: Everyone knew they only ate human flesh.) Why was
that? (They had delicate stomachs, probably. Feeding them apples might kill
them.) Wild Apple was not convinced. What if he mashed the apples? Master
Greycrest was a hundred and seventy years old, had no teeth and probably was as
delicate as they got, but he seemed to do just fine. Seed wanted to know whether
they could have a pet unicorn. But would they be allowed to keep it in the boys'
dormitory, queried Grass, ever the voice of reason. No, but they could probably
smuggle it in at night. (Cloud, what am I to do with you?) How big was that hole
again? Oh. They probably ought to get a colticorn, then. Or a dwarf unicorn.
On and on and on it went. They talked - excuse me, whispered - for fifteen
rounds straight. There seemed to be less and less connection between their
ideas, but the ideas themselves remained, as Aunt Winn would say, fabulous. When
they exhausted the dietary requirements of black unicorns, they moved on to
other matters of gravity, such as which one of us would outdo the other in
Swimming Dragon, Torrent or Wintersai?
"Torrent," said Pebble. Now, I do not dispute the sentiment, but I must admit
the swiftness with which it was dispatched did wound my pride a bit. "Not when
Wintersai is in Flow, though," countered Ker. Bless him. As far as I am
concerned Ker, from now on you can quote Master Kao all day long.
"Watch your stance, Seed. The knee should not pass the toes."
I heard Pebble whisper, "How does he see with his back to us?" Ker made a
chortling sound which was halfway between 'flow' and a cough. "Told you."
Next, Grass wanted to verify the parentage of Stormblades. Was I sure? They all
had brown skin and blue eyes. He said he was pretty certain they had to be
brothers. Wild Apple had an alternative theory. Maybe they got scorched by
Then came the screams.