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"The worst part is he just smiles and acts as if he doesn't understand what he's done wrong," the Master of Time Management said, gloomily.

"And he listens, too," said Tempo, the elderly Master of Keeping Time. "It's a terrible thing, having a novice who listens to you." They had an unfortunate habit of reminding you of what you'd said earlier.

"Listens too closely, if you ask me. He defeated Master Li at okidoki yesterday."

"What?" Tempo said in disbelief. "But Master Li is an martial arts expert of the highest order! How could a useless novice who's been around for decades without even earning the First Djim dong possibly have managed to defeat him?"

The Master of Time Management just sighed. "He walked backwards round the dojo until Master Li sprained his back doing the Leap of the Startled Pigeon."

His fellow tutor frowned forbiddingly. "Well, surely he can at least be punished for breaking the rules of the bout."

"But that's just it. The rules of okidoki say that one must always advance at a leap. They say nothing about how one must move when going backwards."

Of course, even that wasn't their charge's greatest offence.

"It's the way he goes about learning things that gets to me!" the Master of Time Management blurted after a period of silence. "This is a place of education. We can't have people just going around learning things. It isn't right."

The monastery of Oi Dong's longest-serving novice had never been seen in a classroom, at least not while anybody was teaching, or taken a single examination that they knew about. Yet somehow, any time his continued presence was challenged, he seemed to be able to produce answers to questions that would have foxed a Fifth Djim field agent.

As men whose job it was to impart knowledge to their underlings, it was profoundly unsettling to have one of those underlings go about acquiring it without their input. And to stay a novice too, without even having the decency to rise on up the ranks to where he would become somebody else's problem! It was an absolute disgrace.

The two tutors sank into a grim, companionable despair. But then, after several moments, Tempo raised his head, with the air of one who has just seen a quite promising gleam of firelight through what had heretofore been an impenetrably dark forest. "You know," he said carefully, "there used to be a tradition of encouraging those who arrived at the monastery to spend a year contemplating the abyss of their knowledge before they began studying to attain the First Djim."

"The gap year?" the Master of Time Management said. "But that was abolished, since as Wen himself said, one does not seek enlightenment, merely await its arrival, and as the abbot said, the last thing we need is students hanging around the place doing nothing."

"Ah, but didn't Wen also say that if the truth is anywhere, it is everywhere? Meaning, therefore, that it can in fact be found in other places that are not here?"

They were men who liked the comfort of handed-down wisdom. It saved the effort required to actually become wise.

And so it was decided that Lu-Tze the Eternally Uneducated should go forth to meditate on his path, anywhere but here.

*

Lu-Tze was not the first to leave Oi Dong in search of his own Way. During his brief time with the Order of Wen, May-I-Never-Achieve-Enlightenment Dhiblang was inspired by meditating on the Great Pyramid of Tsort to found the Way of Am, the main tenet of which was, "I am, therefore I need funds." This philosophy briefly acquired a number of converts before the abbot put his rattle down and banned monks from attempting to sell each other ever-increasing quantities of dubious yak-butter tea, while Dhiblang left to find his true place among the Yen Buddhists.

The masters at Oi Dong had encouraged their charge to contemplate Wen's teachings on the past being merely a memory by relocating to the local village of Bong Hush, the better to make it one. Lu-Tze, however, had decided that it followed that he'd find even more wisdom further away. The visitors who trekked halfway across the Disc to find their monastery must have done so for a reason, and besides, one of them had left a page from their own holy book, the Almanack, behind.

It read: 'Ankh-Morpork Has Everything!'

That was the first Sign.

The second Sign was in the window of number 3 Quirm Street, and read, 'Rooms for Rent, Very Reasonable'.

*

Mrs Marietta Cosmopilite had every promising sign of a sage of great wisdom. Though Lu-Tze had limited grasp of the language to introduce his quest, it was clear she understood why he had come. She greeted his hesitation on her doorstep with the words, "I haven't got all day, you know," just as Wen the Eternally Surprised had said to his apprentice, "I know only this moment, not the whole of the day*."

Further, she was small, old, and while not bald at least suitably wrinkled, and didn't hesitate to deliver her first lesson. "Don't just stand there making the place look untidy. Make yourself useful." She put a broom in his hands and adjusted his motion until she was satisfied, as exacting as any true dojo master. Then she sent him out to sweep the street in front of the house.

Lu-Tze meditated on the task as he swept. The streets of Ankh-Morpork were filthy and extremely busy. What, then, was the purpose of setting him a task that could never be completed to Mrs Cosmopilite's standards for satisfaction? Was it to teach him to appreciate Wen's lesson that the only moment that truly mattered was now? To encourage him to contemplate the infinite? To teach him that there were humbler ways to hone the body than showy martial arts?

After his first hour of sweeping, he concluded the purpose was to teach him that people were right sods. No sooner had he managed to sweep a small patch clean than some idiot walked straight across it with muddy feet, as if they hadn't noticed him at all.

Finally, in the spirit of rebellion, Lu-Tze threw his broom down and marched back in. "What's the point in trying to keep this part of the street clean when the rest of it's still much worse anyway?"

Mrs Cosmopilite was unsympathetic to his complaints. "If you have to ask, you'll never know."

And he went away, chastened.

_____

* The sacred texts went on to state that Clodpool the apprentice had responded, "Yes, master, but what do you want for dinner?" and Wen had said, "Surprise me," thus leading to a minor religious schism between those who meditated on this as a saying of great wisdom and those who subscribed to the possibly apocryphal Scroll of The Apprentice Threatening to Thump the Master if He Made That Joke One More Time.

*

Lu-Tze collected Mrs Cosmopilite's koans in a notebook, carefully transcribing them in Morporkian letters to make sure he fully preserved her wisdom. Some were immediately clear in their application to preserving the flow of time, even if he had yet to wholly grasp their true meaning. Time is a great healer. All things must come to an end. There is a time and a place for everything.

Others were more perplexing to contemplate at first. She gave him a great number of koans regarding pennies - see one, pick it up; one saved was one earned; look after them and the dollars looked after themselves - which Lu-Tze dutifully noted down but struggled to find much relevance in. It was only towards the end of his apprenticeship in Ankh-Morpork that she finally saw fit to deliver koan 213, "time is money," and reveal the true secret at the heart of her Way.

In Oi Dong there was generally little use for money, the efforts of one M.I.N.A.E. Dhiblang notwithstanding. Barter was the way of the surrounding villages; when all you had to your name was three chickens and the furthest you needed to travel to trade was the other end of the road, you might as well cut out the middleman. Coinage was therefore regarded as a rather impractical novelty that all right-thinking people knew would never catch on.

But Ankh-Morpork ran on the stuff. It was the city's lifeblood, and as such, was frequently bled out by suspicious figures lurking down dark alleys. Even after almost three months in the city, Lu-Tze was still learning new lessons every day in the many and varied ways the citizens found to extort, swindle, swipe and counterfeit the stuff.

Because that was the thing. Coins were interchangeable. You couldn't counterfeit a chicken*. You couldn't replace one with a completely different one and hope no one noticed. And yet a coin was a coin was a coin. No one cared what coins looked like, because coins weren't things. They were the things you bought other things with.

And time was money.

The history monks believed that in order to preserve time, you had to preserve history. It stood to reason, after all, to the sort of mind that knew you couldn't replace a speckled chicken with a black and white one without some very awkward questions coming up about exactly what had gone on in the course of last night's drunken carousing. They sought to repair the patterns as closely as possible to what they'd been before, and hope what minor imperfections were inevitably left were small enough to go largely unnoticed.

But Mrs Cosmopilite taught a different way of thinking. A seamstress of her calibre wouldn't be caught dead making an imperfect repair just to try to keep the old pattern. If the fabric couldn't be replaced exactly as it was, far better in her view to add some new embellishment to cover up the joins: a bit of lace, a brightly coloured patch, some sort of ornamental fastening thing that Lu-Tze had rather uncertainly translated as 'toading'. Something that not only made the garment whole and strong again, but left it looking nicer than before.

What mattered when you repaired time was that you repaired time. Kept the fabric strong, made sure any damaged bits were tucked away in seams where no one would notice. But would it really matter if you made a few improvements to the way it looked in the course of the repair? A little nip and tuck, not changing history, but trimming it perhaps into a more flattering shape.

Oh, nothing too outrageous, too obviously out of place. There still had to be some rules. But maybe they were more flexible than the Order believed. There was more than one way to complete a pattern that would still look right even to expert eyes.

Like Wen before him, Lu-Tze gazed upon the world before him with new understanding. He wandered the streets of Ankh-Morpork in the sort of contemplative daze that by all rights should have resulted in a splitting headache and a politely-worded receipt from the Thieves' Guild. Yet no one bothered him. He'd finally learned the lesson Mrs Cosmopilite had set before him when he first arrived: no one paid any attention to a little man holding a broom.

After all, they weren't the sort of people who changed history.

_____

* May-I-Never-Achieve-Enlightenment Dhiblang's House of Rat-catching, Novelty Fake Wings and Rare Klatchian Furred Dwarf Chickens might have disagreed.