opening up and spiralling away into the distance – between those twisting, writhing wisps of steam …
‘Barnaby …’ I heard my name filtering into my consciousness. ‘Barnaby …’ MeiLing's voice was soft and melodic, and it was followed by the sound of hands lightly clapping. ‘Barnaby Grimes.’
I looked up to see Mei Ling staring back at me, her eyes sparkling with amusement. She clapped her hands a second time, in that curious way of hers, as if wiping dust from her fingers.
‘M … Mei Ling,’ I said softly. I felt almost as though I was wakening from sleep.
‘That is your first lesson in yinchido.’ She smiled, handing me the teacup.
‘Yinchido?’ I said, taking a sip of the tea. It tasted as good as it smelled.
‘Yinchido,’ she repeated. ‘The Way of the Silver Mist. It is an ancient art that has been practised for centuries in the remote mountains of my homeland. The art of absence …’
‘I … I don't understand,’ I said.
Mei Ling took a sip of her tea. ‘You have already glimpsed the principle of yinchidowhen you looked into the gaps in the steam.’
I looked down at my gently steaming teacup.
‘You see, Barnaby,’ she went on, ‘we use our senses to detect sights, sounds, smells … But the world is more than that. It is also about what
‘There is what we
see, but also what we
see. There are sounds, but there is also silence. There is touch,’ she said, reaching out and running the tip of a finger down my cheek. She smiled and pulled away. ‘But there is also the feeling of not being touched. To understand either properly, we must know both. Most people only experience what their senses tell them is there. Yinchido teaches us to appreciate what isn't there – the spaces.’
My head spun as I tried to grasp exactly what she was saying.
‘So,’ I said, ‘in a fight, you would step into the spaces to avoid an attacker? Just as you did to avoid my sword – and when those two great oafs attacked you the other day …’
Mei Ling nodded.
‘But then you didn't just
their attacks,’ I pursued. ‘You seemed to control their minds …’
Mei Ling looked intently into my eyes. ‘As I told you, Barnaby, yinchido is about using spaces,’ she said in a quiet voice. ‘Physical spaces are one thing, but there are also mental spaces. I stepped into the mental spaces of those two bad men and filled them with my own wishes …’
‘You make it sound so simple,’ I said in awe.
‘The Way of the Silver Mist is a long path, Barnaby,’ she told me softly. ‘But if you wish to take it, I would be happy to be your guide.’
I nodded enthusiastically and took anothersip of the tea, only for my stomach to rumble with hunger.
‘I almost forgot, I brought you these,’ I laughed, reaching into my pockets and pulling out the Stover's pasties. ‘I find they're excellent at filling empty spaces!’
An hour later, I climbed out of the attic window of the laundry with a bundle of crisp, pressed shirts and waistcoats, a jar of green tea and a set of instructions from my beautiful guide.
Each morning I brewed my own tea and concentrated on the steam rising as it cooled. Each evening I sat on the rooftop of my attic rooms and practised the breathing exercises Mei Ling had given me, searching for pockets of silence lurking in amidst the noise of the city as I did so.
Strange as it may seem, as that long hot summer passed, these simple techniques began to make a difference. My highstackingbenefited for a start. I no longer seemed to take the tumbles and falls that every high-stacker must expect in the course of his rounds and, with the absence of cuts and bruises, I became more confident of even the trickier manoeuvres. My swordplay improved too, although I also found I could anticipate and avoid trouble far more easily as my powers of concentration grew. And finally, I was never without a stack of freshly laundered shirts.
Mei Ling was