mild sympathy for the losers, whereas the Stationery Cupboard was a war of attrition. It contained pots of powder paint and reams of paper and boxes of crayons and more idiosyncratic items like a spare pair of pants for Billy, who did his best. It also contained The Scissors, which under classroom rules were treated as some kind of Doomsday Machine, and, of course, the boxes of stars. The only people allowed in the cupboard were Susan and, usually, Vincent. Despite everything Susan had tried, short of actual deception, he was always the official 'best at everything' and won the coveted honour every day, which was to go into the Stationery Cupboard and fetch the pencils and hand them out. For the rest of the class, and especially Jason, the Stationery Cupboard was some mystic magic realm to be entered whenever possible . Honestly, thought Susan, once you learn the arts of defending the Stationery Cupboard, outwitting Jason and keeping the class pet alive until the end of term, you've mastered at least half of teaching. She signed the register, watered the sad plants on the windowsill, went and fetched some fresh privet from the hedge for the stick insects that were the successor to Henry the Hamster (chosen on the basis that it was quite hard to tell when they were dead), tidied a few errant crayons away and looked around the classroom at all those little chairs. It sometimes worried her that nearly everyone she knew well was three feet high. She was never certain that she trusted her grandfather at times like this. It was all to do with the Rules. He couldn't interfere, but he knew her weaknesses and he could wind her up and send her out into the world... Someone like me. Yes, he'd known how to engage her interest. Someone like me. Suddenly there's some dangerous clock somewhere in the world, and suddenly I'm told that there's someone like me. Someone like me. Except not like me. At least I knew my parents. And she'd listened to Death's account of the tall dark woman wandering from room to room in the endless castle of glass, weeping for the child she'd given birth to and could see every day but could never touch... Where do I even begin? Tick Lobsang learned a lot. He learned that every room has at least four corners. He learned that the sweepers started work when the sky was light enough to see the dust, and continued until sunset. As a master, Lu-Tze was kind enough. He would always point out those bits that Lobsang had not done properly. After the initial anger, and the taunting of his former classmates, Lobsang found that the work had a certain charm. Days drifted past under his broom...
... until, almost with an audible click in his brain, he decided that enough was enough. He finished his section of passageway, and found Lu-Tze dreamily pushing his brush along a terrace. 'Sweeper?'
'What is it you are trying to tell me?'
'I didn't expect to become a ... a sweeper! You're Lu-Tze! I expected to be apprentice to ... well, to the hero!'
'You did?' Lu-Tze scratched his beard. 'Oh, dear. Damn. Yes, I can see the problem. You should've said. Why didn't you say? I don't really do that sort of thing any more.'
'All that playing with history, running about, unsettling people ... No, not really. I was never quite certain we should be doing it, to be honest. No, sweeping is good enough for me. There's something... real about a nice clean floor.'
'This is a test, isn't it?' said Lobsang coldly. 'Oh, yes.'
'I mean, I understand how it works. The master makes the pupil do all the menial jobs, and then it turns out that really the pupil is learning things of great value... and I don't think I'm learning anything, really, except that people are pretty messy and inconsiderate.'
'Not a bad lesson, all the same,' said Lu-Tze. 'Is it not written, “Hard work never did anybody any harm”?'
'Where is this written, Lu-Tze?' said Lobsang, thoroughly exasperated. The sweeper brightened up. 'Ah,' he said. 'Perhaps the pupil is ready to learn. Is it that you don't wish to know the Way of the Sweeper, you wish to learn instead the Way of Mrs Cosmopilite?'
'We have swept well. Let's go to the gardens. For is it not written, “It does you good to get out in the fresh air”?'
'Is it?' said Lobsang, still bewildered. Lu-Tze pulled a small tattered notebook out of his pocket. 'In here, it is,' he said. 'I should know.'
Tick Lu-Tze patiently adjusted a tiny mirror to redirect sunlight more favourably on one of the bonsai mountains. He hummed tunelessly under his breath. Lobsang, sitting cross-legged on the stones, carefully turned the yellowing pages of the ancient notebook on which was written, in faded ink, 'The Way of Mrs Cosmopilite'. 'Well?' said Lu-Tze. 'The Way has an answer for everything, does it?'
'Then...' Lobsang nodded at the little volcano, which was gently smoking, 'how does that work? It's on a saucer!' Lu-Tze stared straight ahead, his lips moving. 'Page seventy-six, I think,' he said. Lobsang turned to the page. ' “Because,”' he read. 'Good answer,' said Lu-Tze, gently caressing a minute crag with a camel-hair brush. 'Just “Because”, Sweeper? No reason?'
'Reason? What reason can a mountain have? And, as you accumulate years, you will learn that most answers boil down, eventually, to “Because”.' Lobsang said nothing. The Book of the Way was giving him problems. What he wanted to say was this: Lu-Tze, this reads like a book of the sayings of an old lady. It's the sort of thing old ladies say. What kind of koan is 'It won't get better if you pick at it,' or 'Eat it up, it'll make your hair curly,' or 'Everything comes to he who waits'? This is stuff you get in Hogswatch crackers! 'Really?' said Lu-Tze, still apparently engrossed in a mountain. 'I didn't say anything.'
'Oh. I thought you did. Do you miss Ankh-Morpork?'
'Yes. I didn't have to sweep floors there.'
'Were you a good thief?'
'I was a fantastic thief.' A breeze blew the scent of cherry blossom. Just once, thought Lu-Tze, it would be nice to pick cherries.
'I have been to Ankh-Morpork,' he said, straightening up and moving on to the next mountain. 'You have seen the visitors we get here?'
'Yes,' said Lobsang. 'Everyone laughs at them.'
'Really?' Lu-Tze raised his eyebrows. 'When they have trekked thousands of miles seeking the truth?'
'But did not Wen say that if the truth is anywhere, it is everywhere?' said Lobsang. 'Well done. I see you've learned something, at least. But one day it seemed to me that everyone else had decided that wisdom can only be found a long way off. So I went to Ankh- Morpork. They were all coming here, so it seemed only fair.'