Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!
Of all nuns at the temple, Yíwen and Hwídah were best known for being inseparable; for wherever one went, the other went also. So when one of their order was discovered to be dangling precariously by ropes halfway down a cliff, Yíwen and Hwídah went together to seek the counsel of the abbot of the Elephant's Footprint Clan.
The abbot listened to the nuns’ account with his feet propped up on his desk, polishing his spectacles with the fringe of his robe. When the nuns finished the abbot pulled a battered electronic tablet out from under a sheaf of papers and launched an abacus program. Fingers poised above the glass, he asked:
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“A hundred pardons, sir,” said Yíwen. “But are you asking us to estimate the effort of the rescue first?”
“I believe that is his function,” said Hwídah, “for I have heard him ask the same question of anyone who proposes changes to our software.” She fixed her eyes on the abbot. “A dozen monks and nuns, working for two days, should be sufficient to re-cross the chasm, haul up the remains of the bridge, and retrieve the unfortunate nun hanging off the end.”
“I cannot release so many from their duties,” said the abbot. “Proposals with a high level of effort require approval by the planning committee. Come back in three weeks.”
The nuns exchanged glances.
“A hundred more pardons for my insolence, sir,” said Yíwen. “But in the interim, what shall we do about the imperiled nun?”
“Fling cooked fish and water-skins across the ravine,” said the abbot. “Some of it is bound to fly within her grasp.”
“I believe,” said Hwídah carefully and with evident irritation, “that to perform this activity a scant three times a day would waste many good fish and water-skins, as well as increasing the workload on the kitchen staff, the water carriers, the fishers, the tanners, and—of course—whoever is tasked to stand at the edge of the chasm and hurl comestibles until they find their target. The cumulative cost in salmon alone is likely to far exceed that of a timely rescue.”
The abbot smiled sadly. “When foraging for honey, the bear will happily endure a bee sting every morning of his long life. But he cannot survive a thousand stings if they come all at once.”
When the nuns had left the abbot’s office, Yíwen asked:
“Does the abbot not know that it is the principal function of bears to eat bees, and not flee from them?
To which Hwídah replied:
“Even so, the bear that cannot tell the difference between a dozen bees and a thousand will perish from fear in a forest dripping with sugar.”
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