The old man was curled like a fist. His ironwood staff looked more yielding than the hand that held it.

“You’ll have truly learned,” he said in a winter voice, knodding towards the staff, “when you can take this twig from me.”

The boy nodded and, with a lazy speed, he threw the knife.

There was a gust, and the old man burst like leaves. A susurrus, a bug’s leg patter, chased the boy in a circle, and he spun.

“Good,” said the old man, from behind. “Keep making mistakes. I won’t have to put up with you for long.”


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