THE WISE MAN’S FEAR
The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two
To my patient fans, for reading the blog and telling me what they really want is an excellent book, even if it takes a little longer.
To my clever beta readers, for their invaluable help and toleration of my paranoid secrecy.
To my fabulous agent, for keeping the wolves from the door in more ways than one.
To my wise editor, for giving me the time and space to write a book that fills me with pride.
To my loving family, for supporting me and reminding me that leaving the house every once in a while is a good thing.
To my understanding girlfriend, for not leaving me when the stress of endless revision made me frothy and monstrous.
To my sweet baby, for loving his daddy even though I have to go away and write all the time. Even when we’re having a really great time. Even when we’re talking about ducks.
A Silence of Three Parts
Dawn was coming. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
The most obvious part was a vast, echoing quiet made by things that were lacking. If there had been a storm, raindrops would have tapped and pattered against the selas vines behind the inn. Thunder would have muttered and rumbled and chased the silence down the road like fallen autumn leaves. If there had been travelers stirring in their rooms they would have stretched and grumbled the silence away like fraying, half-forgotten dreams. If there had been music . . . but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.
Inside the Waystone a dark-haired man eased the back door closed behind himself. Moving through the perfect dark, he crept through the kitchen, across the taproom, and down the basement stairs. With the ease of long experience, he avoided loose boards that might groan or sigh beneath his weight. Each slow step made only the barest tep against the floor. In doing this he added his small, furtive silence to the larger echoing one. They made an amalgam of sorts, a counterpoint.
The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened long enough you might begin to feel it in the chill of the window glass and the smooth plaster walls of the innkeeper’s room. It was in the dark chest that lay at the foot of a hard and narrow bed. And it was in the hands of the man who lay there, motionless, watching for the first pale hint of dawn’s coming light.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he lay with the resigned air of one who has long ago abandoned any hope of sleep.
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, holding the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great riversmooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.
Apple and Elderberry
Bast slouched against the long stretch of mahogany bar, bored. Looking around the empty room, he sighed and rummaged around until he found a clean linen cloth. Then, with a resigned look, he began to polish a section of the bar.
After a moment Bast leaned forward and squinted at some half-seen speck. He scratched at it and frowned at the oily smudge his finger made. He leaned closer, fogged the bar with his breath, and buffed it briskly. Then he paused, exhaled hard against the wood, and wrote an obscene word in the fog.
Tossing aside the cloth, Bast made his way through the empty tables and chairs to the wide windows of the inn. He stood there for a long moment, looking at the dirt road running through the center of the town.
Bast gave another sigh and began to pace the room. He moved with the casual grace of a dancer and the perfect nonchalance of a cat. But when he ran his hands through his dark hair the gesture was restless. His blue eyes prowled the room endlessly, as if searching for a way out. As if searching for something he hadn’t seen a hundred times before.
But there was nothing new. Empty tables and chairs. Empty stools at the bar. Two huge barrels loomed on the counter behind the bar, one for whiskey, one for beer. Between the barrels stood a vast panoply of bottles: all colors and shapes. Above the bottles hung a sword.
Bast’s eyes fell back onto the bottles. He focused on them for a long, speculative moment, then moved back behind the bar and brought out a heavy clay mug.
Drawing a deep breath, he pointed a finger at the first bottle in the bottom row and began to chant as he counted down the line.
Catch and carry.
Ash and Ember.
He finished the chant while pointing at a squat green bottle. He twisted out the cork, took a speculative sip, then made a sour face and shuddered. He quickly set the bottle down and picked up a curving red one instead. He sipped this one as well, rubbed his wet lips together thoughtfully, then nodded and splashed a generous portion into his mug.
He pointed at the next bottle and started counting again:
Moon at night.
This time it was a clear bottle with a pale yellow liquor inside. Bast yanked the cork and added a long pour to the mug without bothering to taste it first. Setting the bottle aside, he picked up the mug and swirled it dramatically before taking a mouthful. He smiled a brilliant smile and flicked the new bottle with his finger, making it chime lightly before he began his singsong chant again:
Stone and stave.
Wind and water—
A floorboard creaked, and Bast looked up, smiling brightly. “Good morning, Reshi.”
The red-haired innkeeper stood at the bottom of the stairs. He brushed his long-fingered hands over the clean apron and full-length sleeves he wore. “Is our guest awake yet?”
Bast shook his head. “Not a rustle or a peep.”
“He’s had a hard couple of days,” Kote said. “It’s probably catching up with him.” He hesitated, then lifted his head and sniffed. “Have you been drinking?” The question was more curious than accusatory.
“No,” Bast said.
The innkeeper raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve been tasting,” Bast said, emphasizing the word. “Tasting comes before drinking.”
“Ah,” the innkeeper said. “So you were getting ready to drink then?”
“Tiny Gods, yes,” Bast said. “To great excess. What the hell else is there to do?” Bast brought his mug up from underneath the bar and looked into it. “I was hoping for elderberry, but I got some sort of melon.” He swirled the mug speculatively. “Plus something spicy.” He took another sip and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “Cinnamon?” he asked, looking at the ranks of bottles. “Do we even have any more elderberry?”
“It’s in there somewhere,” the innkeeper said, not bothering to look at the bottles. “Stop a moment and listen, Bast. We need to talk about what you did last night.”
Bast went very still. “What did I do, Reshi?”
“You stopped that creature from the Mael,” Kote said.
“Oh.” Bast relaxed, making a dismissive gesture. “I just slowed it down, Reshi. That’s all.”
Kote shook his head. “You realized it wasn’t just some madman. You tried to warn us. If you hadn’t been so quick on your feet . . .”
Bast frowned. “I wasn’t so quick, Reshi. It got Shep.” He looked down at the well scrubbed floorboards near the bar. “I liked Shep.”
“Everyone else will think the smith’s prentice saved us,” Kote said. “And that’s probably for the best. But I know the truth. If not for you, it would have slaughtered everyone here.”
“Oh, Reshi, that’s just not true,” Bast said. “You would have killed it like a chicken. I just got it first.”
The innkeeper shrugged the comment away. “Last night has me thinking,” he said. “Wondering what we could do to make things a bit safer around here. Have you ever heard the ‘White Riders’ Hunt’?”
Bast smiled. “It was our song before it was yours, Reshi.” He drew a breath and sang in a sweet tenor:
Rode they horses white as snow.
Silver blade and white horn bow.
Wore they fresh and supple boughs,
Red and green upon their brows.
The innkeeper nodded. “Exactly the verse I was thinking of. Do you think you could take care of it while I get things ready here?”
Bast nodded enthusiastically and practically bolted, pausing by the kitchen door. “You won’t start without me?” he asked anxiously.
“We’ll start as soon as our guest is fed and ready,” Kote said. Then, seeing the expression on his student’s face, he relented a little. “For all that, I imagine you have an hour or two.”
Bast glanced through the doorway, then back.
Amusement flickered over the innkeeper’s face. “And I’ll call before we start.” He made a shooing motion with one hand. “Go on now.”
The man who called himself Kote went through his usual routine at the Waystone Inn. He moved like clockwork, like a wagon rolling down the road in well-worn ruts.
First came the bread. He mixed flour and sugar and salt with his hands, not bothering to measure. He added a piece of starter from the clay jar in the pantry, kneaded the dough, then rounded the loaves and set them to rise. He shoveled ash from the stove in the kitchen and kindled a fire.
Next he moved into the common room and laid a fire in the black stone fireplace, brushing the ash from the massive hearth along the northern wall. He pumped water, washed his hands, and brought up a piece of mutton from the basement. He cut fresh kindling, carried in firewood, punched down the rising bread and moved it close to the now-warm stove.
And then, abruptly, there was nothing left to do. Everything was ready. Everything was clean and orderly. The red-haired man stood behind the bar, his eyes slowly returning from their faraway place, focusing on the here and now, on the inn itself.
They came to rest on the sword that hung on the wall above the bottles. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful sword, not ornate or eye-catching. It was menacing, in a way. The same way a tall cliff is menacing. It was grey and unblemished and cold to the touch. It was sharp as shattered glass. Carved into the black wood of the mounting board was a single word: Folly.
The innkeeper heard heavy footsteps on the wooden landing outside. The door’s latch rattled noisily, followed by a loud hellooo and a thumping on the door.
“Just a moment!” Kote called. Hurrying to the front door he turned, the heavy key in the door’s bright brass lock.
Graham stood with his thick hand poised to knock on the door. His weathered face split into a grin when he saw the innkeeper. “Bast open things up for you again this morning?” he asked.
Kote gave a tolerant smile.
“He’s a good boy,” Graham said. “Just a little ditherheaded. I thought you might have closed up shop today.” He cleared his throat and glanced at his feet for a moment. “I wouldn’t be surprised, considering.”
Kote put the key in his pocket. “Open as always. What can I do for you?”
Graham stepped out of the doorway and nodded toward the street where three barrels stood in a nearby cart. They were new, with pale, polished wood and bright metal bands. “I knew I wasn’t getting any sleep last night, so I knocked the last one together for you. Besides, I heard the Bentons would be coming round with the first of the late apples today.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Nice and tight so they’ll keep through the winter.” Graham walked over and rapped a knuckle proudly against the side of the barrel. “Nothing like a winter apple to stave off hunger.” He looked up with a glimmer in his eye and knocked at the side of the barrel again. “Get it? Stave?”
Kote groaned a bit, rubbing at his face.
Graham chuckled to himself and ran a hand over one of the barrel’s bright metal bands. “I ain’t ever made a barrel with brass before, but these turned out nice as I could hope for. You let me know if they don’t stay tight. I’ll see to ’em.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t too much trouble,” the innkeeper said. “The cellar gets damp. I worry iron would just rust out in a couple years.”
Graham nodded. “That’s right sensible,” he said. “Not many folk take the long view of things.” He rubbed his hands together. “Would you like to give me a hand? I’d hate to drop one and scuff your floors.”
They set to it. Two of the brass-bound barrels went to the basement while the third was maneuvered behind the bar, through the kitchen, and into the pantry.
After that, the men made their way back to the common room, each on their own side of the bar. There was a moment of silence as Graham looked around the empty taproom. There were two fewer stools than there should be at the bar, and an empty space left by an absent table. In the orderly taproom these things were conspicuous as missing teeth.
Graham pulled his eyes from a well-scrubbed piece of floor near the bar. He reached into his pocket and brought out a pair of dull iron shims, his hand hardly shaking at all. “Bring me up a short beer, would you, Kote?” he asked, his voice rough. “I know it’s early, but I’ve got a long day ahead of me. I’m helping the Murrions bring their wheat in.”
The innkeeper drew the beer and handed it over silently. Graham drank half of it off in a long swallow. His eyes were red around the edges. “Bad business last night,” he said without making eye contact, then took another drink.
Kote nodded. Bad business last night. Chances are, that would be all Graham had to say about the death of a man he had known his whole life. These folk knew all about death. They killed their own livestock. They died from fevers, falls, or broken bones gone sour. Death was like an unpleasant neighbor. You didn’t talk about him for fear he might hear you and decide to pay a visit.
Except for stories, of course. Tales of poisoned kings and duels and old wars were fine. They dressed death in foreign clothes and sent him far from your door. A chimney fire or the croup-cough were terrifying. But Gibea’s trial or the siege of Enfast, those were different. They were like prayers, like charms muttered late at night when you were walking alone in the dark. Stories were like ha’penny amulets you bought from a peddler, just in case.
“How long is that scribe fellow going to be around?” Graham asked after a moment, voice echoing in his mug. “Maybe I should get a bit of something writ up, just in case.” He frowned a bit. “My daddy always called them laying-down papers. Can’t remember what they’re really called.”
“If it’s just your goods that need looking after, it’s a disposition of property,” the innkeeper said matter-of-factly. “If it relates to other things it’s called a mandamus of declared will.”
Graham lifted an eyebrow at the innkeeper.
“What I heard at any rate,” the innkeeper said, looking down and rubbing the bar with a clean white cloth. “Scribe mentioned something along those lines.”
“Mandamus . . .” Graham murmured into his mug. “I reckon I’ll just ask him for some laying-down papers and let him official it up however he likes.” He looked up at the innkeeper. “Other folk will probably be wanting something similar, times being what they are.”
For a moment it looked like the innkeeper frowned with irritation. But no, he did nothing of the sort. Standing behind the bar he looked the same as he always did, his expression placid and agreeable. He gave an easy nod. “He mentioned he’d be setting up shop around midday,” Kote said. “He was a bit unsettled by everything last night. If anyone shows up earlier than noon I expect they’ll be disappointed.”
Graham shrugged. “Shouldn’t make any difference. There won’t be but ten people in the whole town until lunchtime anyway.” He took another swallow of beer and looked out the window. “Today’s a field day and that’s for sure.”
The innkeeper seemed to relax a bit. “He’ll be here tomorrow too. So there’s no need for everyone to rush in today. Folk stole his horse off by Abbot’s Ford, and he’s trying to find a new one.”
Graham sucked his teeth sympathetically. “Poor bastard. He won’t find a horse for love nor money with harvest in mid-swing. Even Carter couldn’t replace Nelly after that spider thing attacked him off by the Oldstone bridge.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t seem right, something like that happening not two miles from your own door. Back when—”
Graham stopped. “Lord and lady, I sound like my old da.” He tucked in his chin and added some gruff to his voice. “Back when I was a boy we had proper weather. The miller kept his thumb off the scale and folk knew to look after their own business.”
The innkeeper’s face grew a wistful smile. “My father said the beer was better, and the roads had fewer ruts.”
Graham smiled, but it faded quickly. He looked down, as if uncomfortable with what he was about to say. “I know you aren’t from around here, Kote. That’s a hard thing. Some folk think a stranger can’t hardly know the time of day.”
He drew a deep breath, still not meeting the inkeeper’s eyes. “But I figure you know things other folk don’t. You’ve got sort of a wider view.” He looked up, his eyes serious and weary, dark around the edges from lack of sleep. “Are things as grim as they seem lately? The roads so bad. Folk getting robbed and . . .”
With an obvious effort, Graham kept himself from looking at the empty piece of floor again. “All the new taxes making things so tight. The Grayden boys about to lose their farm. That spider thing.” He took another swallow of beer. “Are things as bad as they seem? Or have I just gotten old like my da, and now everything tastes a little bitter compared to when I was a boy?”
Kote wiped at the bar for a long moment, as if reluctant to speak. “I think things are usually bad one way or another,” he said. “It might be that only us older folk can see it.”
Graham began to nod, then frowned. “Except you’re not old, are you? I forget that most times.” He looked the red-haired man up and down. “I mean, you move around old, and you talk old, but you’re not, are you? I’ll bet you’re half my age.” He squinted at the innkeeper. “How old are you, anyway?”
The innkeeper gave a tired smile. “Old enough to feel old.”
Graham snorted. “Too young to make old man noises. You should be out chasing women and getting into trouble. Leave us old folk to complain about how the world is getting all loose in the joints.”
The old carpenter pushed himself away from the bar and turned to walk toward the door. “I’ll be back to talk to your scribe when we break for lunch today. I en’t the only one, either. There’s a lot of folks that’ll want to get some things set down official when they’ve got the chance.”
The innkeeper drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Graham?”
The man turned with one hand on the door.
“It’s not just you,” Kote said. “Things are bad, and my gut tells me they’ll get worse yet. It wouldn’t hurt a man to get ready for a hard winter. And maybe see that he can defend himself if need be.” The innkeeper shrugged. “That’s what my gut tells me, anyway.”
Graham’s mouth set into a grim line. He bobbed his head once in a serious nod. “I’m glad it’s not just my gut, I suppose.”
Then he forced a grin and began to cuff up his shirt sleeves as he turned to the door. “Still,” he said, “you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.”
Not long after that the Bentons stopped by with a cartload of late apples. The innkeeper bought half of what they had and spent the next hour sorting and storing them.
The greenest and firmest went into the barrels in the basement, his gentle hands laying them carefully in place and packing them in sawdust before hammering down the lids. Those closer to full ripe went to the pantry, and any with a bruise or spot of brown were doomed to be cider apples, quartered and tossed into a large tin washtub.
As he sorted and packed, the red-haired man seemed content. But if you looked more closely you might have noticed that while his hands were busy, his eyes were far away. And while his expression was composed, pleasant even, there was no joy in it. He did not hum or whistle while he worked. He did not sing.
When the last of the apples were sorted, he carried the metal tub through the kitchen and out the back door. It was a cool autumn morning, and behind the inn was a small, private garden sheltered by trees. Kote tumbled a load of quartered apples into the wooden cider press and spun the top down until it no longer moved easily.
Kote cuffed up the long sleeves of his shirt past his elbows, then gripped the handles of the press with his long, graceful hands and pulled. The press screwed down, first packing the apples tight, then crushing them. Twist and regrip. Twist and regrip.
If there had been anyone to see, they would have noticed his arms weren’t the doughy arms of an innkeeper. When he pulled against the wooden handles, the muscles of his forearms stood out, tight as twisted ropes. Old scars crossed and recrossed his skin. Most were pale and thin as cracks in winter ice. Others were red and angry, standing out against his fair complexion.
The innkeeper’s hands gripped and pulled, gripped and pulled. The only sounds were the rhythmic creak of the wood and the slow patter of the cider as it ran into the bucket below. There was a rhythm to it, but no music, and the innkeeper’s eyes were distant and joyless, so pale a green they almost could have passed for grey.
Chronicler reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the Waystone’s common room with his flat leather satchel over one shoulder. Stopping in the doorway, he eyed the red-haired innkeeper hunched intently over something on the bar.
Chronicler cleared his throat as he stepped into the room. “I’m sorry to have slept so late,” he said. “It’s not really . . .” He stalled out when he saw what was on the bar. “Are you making a pie?”
Kote looked up from crimping the edge of the crust with his fingers. “Pies,” he said, stressing the plural. “Yes. Why?”
Chronicler opened his mouth, then closed it. His eyes flickered to the sword that hung, grey and silent behind the bar, then back to the red-haired man carefully pinching crust around the edge of a pan. “What kind of pie?”
“Apple.” Kote straightened and cut three careful slits into the crust covering the pie. “Do you know how difficult it is to make a good pie?”
“Not really,” Chronicler admitted, then looked around nervously. “Where’s your assistant?”
“God himself can only guess at such things,” the innkeeper said. “It’s quite hard. Making pies, I mean. You wouldn’t think it, but there’s quite a lot to the process. Bread is easy. Soup is easy. Pudding is easy. But pie is complicated. It’s something you never realize until you try it for yourself.”
Chronicler nodded in vague agreement, looking uncertain as to what else might be expected of him. He shrugged the satchel off his shoulder and set it on a nearby table.
Kote wiped his hands on his apron. “When you press apples for cider, you know the pulp that’s left over?”
“Pomace,” Kote said with profound relief. “That’s what it’s called. What do people do with it, after they get the juice out?”
“Grape pomace can make a weak wine,” Chronicler said. “Or oil, if you’ve got a lot. But apple pomace is pretty useless. You can use it as fertilizer or mulch, but it’s not much good as either. Folk feed it to their livestock mostly.”
Kote nodded, looking thoughtful. “It didn’t seem like they’d just throw it out. They put everything to use one way or another around here. Pomace.” He spoke as if he were tasting the word. “That’s been bothering me for two years now.”
Chronicler looked puzzled. “Anyone in town could have told you that.”
The innkeeper frowned. “If it’s something everyone knows, I can’t afford to ask,” he said.
There was the sound of a door banging closed, followed by a bright, wandering whistle. Bast emerged from the kitchen carrying a bristling armload of holly boughs wrapped in a white sheet.
Kote nodded grimly and rubbed his hands together. “Lovely. Now how do we—” His eyes narrowed. “Are those my good sheets?”
Bast looked down at the bundle. “Well Reshi,” he said slowly, “that depends. Do you have any bad sheets?”
The innkeeper’s eyes flashed angrily for a second, then he sighed. “It doesn’t matter, I suppose.” He reached over and pulled a single long branch from the bundle. “What do we do with this, anyway?”
Bast shrugged. “I’m running dark on this myself, Reshi. I know the Sithe used to ride out wearing holly crowns when they hunted the skin dancers. . . .”
“We can’t walk around wearing holly crowns,” Kote said dismissively. “Folk would talk.”
“I don’t care what the local plods think,” Bast murmured as he began to weave several long, flexible branches together. “When a dancer gets inside your body, you’re like a puppet. They can make you bite out your own tongue.” He lifted a half-formed circle up to his own head, checking the fit. He wrinkled his nose. “Prickly.”
“In the stories I’ve heard,” Kote said, “holly traps them in a body, too.”
“Couldn’t we just wear iron?” Chronicler asked. The two men behind the bar looked at him curiously, as if they’d almost forgotten he was there. “I mean, if it’s a faeling creature—”
“Don’t say faeling,” Bast said disparagingly. “It makes you sound like a child. It’s a Fae creature. Faen, if you must.”
Chronicler hesitated for a moment before continuing. “If this thing slid into the body of someone wearing iron, wouldn’t that hurt it? Wouldn’t it just jump out again?”
“They can make you bite. Out. Your own. Tongue,” Bast repeated, as if speaking to a particularly stupid child. “Once they’re in you, they’ll use your hand to pull out your own eye as easy as you’d pick a daisy. What makes you think they couldn’t take the time to remove a bracelet or a ring?” He shook his head, looking down as he worked another bright green branch of holly into the circle he held. “Besides, I’ll be damned if I’m wearing iron.”
“If they can jump out of bodies,” Chronicler said. “Why didn’t it just leave that man’s body last night? Why didn’t it hop into one of us?”
There was a long, quiet moment before Bast realized the other two men were looking at him. “You’re asking me?” He laughed incredulously. “I have no idea. Anpauen. The last of the dancers were hunted down hundreds of years ago. Long before my time. I’ve just heard stories.”
“Then how do we know it didn’t jump out?” Chronicler said slowly, as if reluctant even to ask. “How do we know it isn’t still here?” He sat very stiffly in his seat. “How do we know it’s not in one of us right now?”
“It seemed like it died when the mercenary’s body died,” Kote said. “We would have seen it leave.” He glanced over at Bast. “They’re supposed to look like a dark shadow or smoke when they leave the body, aren’t they?”
Bast nodded. “Plus, if it had hopped out, it would have just started killing folk with the new body. That’s what they usually do. They switch and switch until everyone is dead.”
The innkeeper gave Chronicler a reassuring smile. “See? It might not even have been a dancer. Perhaps it was just something similar.”
Chronicler looked a little wild around the eyes. “But how can we be sure? It might be inside anyone in town right now. . . .”
“It might be inside me,” Bast said nonchalantly. “Maybe I’m just waiting for you to let your guard down and then I’ll bite you on the chest, right over your heart, and drink all the blood out of you. Like sucking the juice out of a plum.”
Chronicler’s mouth made a thin line. “That’s not funny.”
Bast looked up and gave Chronicler a rakish, toothy grin. But there was something slightly off about the expression. It lasted a little too long. The grin was slightly too wide. His eyes were focused slightly to one side of the scribe, rather than directly on him.
Bast went still for a moment, his fingers no longer weaving nimbly among the green leaves. He looked down at his hands curiously, then dropped the half-finished circle of holly onto the bar. His grin slowly faded to a blank expression, and he looked around the taproom dully. “Te veyan?” he said in a strange voice, his eyes glassy and confused. “Te-tanten ventelanet?”
Then, moving with startling speed, Bast lunged from behind the bar toward Chronicler. The scribe exploded out of his seat, bolting madly away. He upset two tables and a half-dozen chairs before his feet got tangled and he tumbled messily to the floor, arms and legs flailing as he clawed his way frantically toward the door.
As he scrambled wildly, Chronicler darted a quick look over his shoulder, his face horrified and pale, only to see that Bast hadn’t taken more than three steps. The dark-haired young man stood next to the bar, bent nearly double and shaking with helpless laughter. One hand half-covered his face, while the other pointed at Chronicler. He was laughing so hard he could barely draw a breath. After a moment he had to reach out and steady himself against the bar.
Chronicler was livid. “You ass!” he shouted as he climbed painfully to his feet. “You . . . you ass!”
Still laughing too hard to breathe, Bast raised his hands and made weak, halfhearted clawing gestures, like a child pretending to be a bear.
“Bast,” the innkeeper chided. “Come now. Really.” But while Kote’s voice was stern, his eyes were bright with laughter. His lips twitched, struggling not to curl.
Moving with affronted dignity, Chronicler busied himself setting the tables and chairs to rights, thumping them down rather harder than he needed to. When at last he returned to his original table, he sat down stiffly. By then Bast had returned to stand behind the bar, breathing hard and pointedly focusing on the holly in his hands.
Chronicler glared at him and rubbed his shin. Bast stifled something that could, conceivably, have been a cough.
Kote chuckled low in his throat and pulled another length of holly from the bundle, adding it to the long cord he was making. He looked up to catch Chronicler’s eye. “Before I forget to mention it, folk will be stopping by today to take advantage of your services as a scribe.”
Chronicler seemed surprised. “Will they now?”
Kote nodded and gave an irritated sigh. “Yes. The news is already out, so it can’t be helped. We’ll have to deal with them as they come. Luckily, everyone with two good hands will be busy in the fields until midday, so we won’t have to worry about it until—”
The innkeeper’s fingers fumbled clumsily, snapping the holly branch and jabbing a thorn deep into the fleshy part of his thumb. The red-haired man didn’t flinch or curse, just scowled angrily down at his hand as a bead of blood welled up, bright as a berry.
Frowning, the innkeeper brought his thumb to his mouth. All the laughter faded from his expression, and his eyes were hard and dark. He tossed the half-finished holly cord aside in a gesture so pointedly casual it was almost frightening.
He looked back to Chronicler, his voice perfectly calm. “My point is that we should make good use of our time before we’re interrupted,” he said. “But first, I imagine you’ll want some breakfast.”
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” Chronicler said.
“None at all,” Kote said as he turned and headed into the kitchen.
Bast watched him leave, a concerned expression on his face. “You’ll want to pull the cider off the stove and set it to cool out back.” Bast called out to him loudly. “The last batch was closer to jam than juice. And I found some herbs while I was out, too. They’re on the rain barrel. You should look them over to see if they’ll be of any use for supper.”
Left alone in the taproom, Bast and Chronicler watched each other across the bar for a long moment. The only sound was the distant thump of the back door closing.
Bast made a final adjustment to the crown in his hands, looking it over from all angles. He brought it up to his face as if to smell it. But instead he drew a deep lungful of air, closed his eyes, and breathed out against the holly leaves so gently they barely moved.
Opening his eyes, Bast gave a charming, apologetic smile and walked over to Chronicler. “Here.” He held out the circle of holly to the seated man.
Chronicler made no move to take it.
Bast’s smile didn’t fade. “You didn’t notice because you were busy falling down,” he said, his voice pitched low and quiet. “But he actually laughed when you bolted. Three good laughs from down in his belly. He has such a wonderful laugh. It’s like fruit. Like music. I haven’t heard it in months.”
Bast held the circle of holly out again, smiling shyly. “So this is for you. I’ve brought what grammarie I have to bear on it. So it will stay green and living longer than you’d think. I gathered the holly in the proper way and shaped it with my own hands. Sought, wrought, and moved to purpose.” He held it out a bit farther, like a nervous boy with a bouquet. “Here. It is a freely given gift. I offer it without obligation, let, or lien.”
Hesitantly, Chronicler reached out and took the crown. He looked it over, turning it in his hands. Red berries nestled in the dark green leaves like gems, and it was cunningly braided so the thorns angled outward. He set it gingerly on his head, and it fit snugly across his brow.
Bast grinned. “All hail the Lord of Misrule!” he shouted, throwing up his hands. He laughed a delighted laugh.
A smile tugged Chronicler’s lips as he removed the crown. “So,” he said softly as he lowered his hands into his lap. “Does this mean things are settled between us?”
Bast tilted his head, puzzled. “Beg pardon?”
Chronicler looked uncomfortable. “What you spoke of . . . last night . . .”
Bast looked surprised. “Oh no,” he said seriously, shaking his head. “No. Not at all. You belong to me, down to the marrow of your bones. You are an instrument of my desire.” Bast darted a glance toward the kitchen, his expression turning bitter. “And you know what I desire. Make him remember he’s more than some innkeeper baking pies.” He practically spat the last word.
Chronicler shifted uneasily in his seat, looking away. “I still don’t know what I can do.”
“You’ll do whatever you can,” Bast said, his voice low. “You will draw him out of himself. You will wake him up.” He said the last words fiercely.
Bast lay one hand on Chronicler’s shoulder, his blue eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “You will make him remember. You will.”
Chronicler hesitated for a moment, then looked down at the circle of holly in his lap and gave a small nod. “I’ll do what I can.”
“That’s all any of us can do,” Bast said, giving him a friendly pat on the back. “How’s the shoulder, by the way?”
The scribe rolled it around, the motion seeming out of place as the rest of his body remained stiff and still. “Numb. Chilly. But it doesn’t hurt.”
“That’s to be expected. I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.” Bast smiled at him encouragingly. “Life’s too short for you folk to fret over little things.”
Breakfast came and went. Potatoes, toast, tomatoes, and eggs. Chronicler tucked away a respectable portion and Bast ate enough for three people. Kote puttered about, bringing in more firewood, stoking the oven in preparation for the pies, and jugging up the cooling cider.
He was carrying a pair of jugs to the bar when boots sounded on the wooden landing outside the inn, loud as any knocking. A moment later the smith’s prentice burst through the door. Barely sixteen, he was one of the tallest men in town, with broad shoulders and thick arms.
“Hello Aaron,” the innkeeper said calmly. “Close the door, would you? It’s dusty out.”
As the smith’s prentice turned back to the door, the innkeeper and Bast tucked most of the holly below the bar, moving in quick, unspoken concert. By the time the smith’s prentice turned back to face them, Bast was toying with something that could easily have been a small, half-finished wreath. Something made to keep idle fingers busy against boredom.
Aaron didn’t seem to notice anything different as he hurried up to the bar. “Mr. Kote,” he said excitedly, “could I get some traveling food?” He waved an empty burlap sack. “Carter said you’d know what that meant.”
The innkeeper nodded. “I’ve got some bread and cheese, sausage and apples.” He gestured to Bast, who grabbed the sack and scampered off into the kitchen. “Carter’s going somewhere today?”
“Him and me both,” the boy said. “The Orrisons are selling some mutton off in Treya today. They hired me and Carter to come along, on account of the roads being so bad and all.”
“Treya,” the innkeeper mused. “You won’t be back ’til tomorrow then.”
The smith’s prentice carefully set a slim silver bit on the polished mahogany of the bar. “Carter’s hoping to find a replacement for Nelly, too. But if he can’t come by a horse he said he’ll probably take the king’s coin.”
Kote’s eyebrows went up. “Carter’s going to enlist?”
The boy gave a smile that was a strange mix of grin and grim. “He says there ain’t much else for him if he can’t come by a horse for his cart. He says they take care of you in the army, you get fed and get to travel around and such.” The young man’s eyes were excited as he spoke, his expression trapped somewhere between a boy’s enthusiasm and the serious worry of a man. “And they ain’t just giving folks a silver noble for listing up anymore. These days they hand you over a royal when you sign up. A whole gold royal.”
The innkeeper’s expression grew somber. “Carter’s the only one thinking about taking the coin, right?” He looked the boy in the eye.
“Royal’s a lot of money,” the smith’s prentice admitted, flashing a sly grin. “And times are tight since my da passed on and my mum moved over from Rannish.”
“And what does your mother think of you taking the king’s coin?”
The boy’s face fell. “Now don’t go takin’ her side,” he complained. “I thought you’d understand. You’re a man, you know how a fellow has to do right by his mum.”
“I know your mum would rather have you home safe than swim in a tub of gold, boy.”
“I’m tired of folk calling me ‘boy,’ ” the smith’s prentice snapped, his face flushing. “I can do some good in the army. Once we get the rebels to swear fealty to the Penitent King, things will start getting better again. The levy taxes will stop. The Bentleys won’t lose their land. The roads will be safe again.”
Then his expression went grim, and for a second his face didn’t seem very young at all. “And then my mum won’t have to sit all anxious when I’m not at home,” he said, his voice dark. “She’ll stop waking up three times a night, checking the window shutters and the bar on the door.”
Aaron met the innkeeper’s eye, and his back straightened. When he stopped slouching, he was almost a full head taller than the innkeeper. “Sometimes a man has to stand up for his king and his country.”
“And Rose?” the innkeeper asked quietly.
The prentice blushed and looked down in embarrassment. His shoulders slouched again and he deflated, like a sail when the wind goes out of it. “Lord, does everyone know about us?”
The innkeeper nodded with a gentle smile. “No secrets in a town like this.”
“Well,” Aaron said resolutely, “I’m doing this for her too. For us. With my coin and the pay I’ve saved, I can buy us a house, or set up my own shop without having to go to some shim moneylender.”
Kote opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked thoughtful for the space of a long, deep breath, then spoke as if choosing his words very carefully. “Aaron, do you know who Kvothe is?”
The smith’s prentice rolled his eyes. “I’m not an idiot. We were telling stories about him just last night, remember?” He looked over the innkeeper’s shoulder toward the kitchen. “Look, I’ve got to get on my way. Carter’ll be mad as a wet hen if I don’t—”
Kote made a calming gesture. “I’ll make you a deal, Aaron. Listen to what I have to say, and I’ll let you have your food for free.” He pushed the silver bit back across the bar. “Then you can use that to buy something nice for Rose in Treya.”
Aaron nodded cautiously. “Fair enough.”
“What do you know about Kvothe from the stories you’ve heard? What’s he supposed to be like?”
Aaron laughed. “Aside from dead?”
Kote smiled faintly. “Aside from dead.”
“He knew all sorts of secret magics,” Aaron said. “He knew six words he could whisper in a horse’s ear that would make it run a hundred miles. He could turn iron into gold and catch lightning in a quart jar to save it for later. He knew a song that would open any lock, and he could stave in a strong oak door with just one hand. . . .”
Aaron trailed off. “It all depends on the story, really. Sometimes he’s the good guy, like Prince Gallant. He rescued some girls from a troupe of ogres once. . . .”
Another faint smile. “I know.”
“. . . but in other stories he’s a right bastard,” Aaron continued. “He stole secret magics from the University. That’s why they threw him out, you know. And they didn’t call him Kvothe Kingkiller because he was good with a lute.”
The smile was gone, but the innkeeper nodded. “True enough. But what was he like?”
Aaron’s brow furrowed a bit. “He had red hair, if that’s what you mean. All the stories say that. A right devil with a sword. He was terrible clever. Had a real silver tongue, too, could talk his way out of anything.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Right. So if you were Kvothe, and terrible clever, as you say. And suddenly your head was worth a thousand royals and a duchy to whoever cut it off, what would you do?”
The smith’s prentice shook his head and shrugged, plainly at a loss.
“Well if I were Kvothe,” the innkeeper said, “I’d fake my death, change my name, and find some little town out in the middle of nowhere. Then I’d open an inn and do my best to disappear.” He looked at the young man. “That’s what I’d do.”
Aaron’s eye flickered to the innkeeper’s red hair, to the sword that hung over the bar, then back to the innkeeper’s eyes.
Kote nodded slowly, then pointed to Chronicler. “That fellow isn’t just some ordinary scribe. He’s a sort of historian, here to write down the true story of my life. You’ve missed the beginning, but if you’d like, you can stay for the rest.” He smiled an easy smile. “I can tell you stories no one has ever heard before. Stories no one will ever hear again. Stories about Felurian, how I learned to fight from the Adem. The truth about Princess Ariel.”
The innkeeper reached across the bar and touched the boy’s arm. “Truth is, Aaron, I’m fond of you. I think you’re uncommon smart, and I’d hate to see you throw your life away.” He took a deep breath and looked the smith’s prentice full in the face. His eyes were a startling green. “I know how this war started. I know the truth of it. Once you hear that, you won’t be nearly so eager to run off and die fighting in the middle of it.”
The innkeeper gestured to one of the empty chairs at the table beside Chronicler and smiled a smile so charming and easy that it belonged on a storybook prince. “What do you say?”
Aaron stared seriously at the innkeeper for a long moment, his eyes darting up to the sword, then back down again. “If you really are . . .” His voice trailed off, but his expression turned it into a question.
“I really am,” Kote reassured him gently.
“. . . then can I see your cloak of no particular color?” the prentice asked with a grin.
The innkeeper’s charming smile went stiff and brittle as a sheet of shattered glass.
“You’re getting Kvothe confused with Taborlin the Great,” Chronicler said matter-of-factly from across the room. “Taborlin had the cloak of no particular color.”
Aaron’s expression was puzzled as he turned to look at the scribe. “What did Kvothe have, then?”
“A shadow cloak,” Chronicler said. “If I remember correctly.”
The boy turned back toward the bar. “Can you show me your shadow cloak then?” he asked. “Or a bit of magic? I’ve always wanted to see some. Just a little fire or lightning would be enough. I wouldn’t want to tire you out.”
Before the innkeeper could to respond, Aaron burst into a sudden laugh. “I’m just havin’ some fun with you, Mr. Kote.” He grinned again, wider than before. “Lord and lady, but I ain’t never heard a liar like you before in my whole life. Even my Uncle Alvan couldn’t tell one like that with a straight face.”
The innkeeper looked down and muttered something incomprehensible.
Aaron reached over the bar and lay a broad hand on Kote’s shoulder. “I know you’re just trying to help, Mr. Kote,” he said warmly. “You’re a good man, and I’ll think about what you said. I’m not rushing out to join. I just want to give my options a look-over.”
The smith’s prentice shook his head ruefully. “I swear. Everyone’s taken a run at me this morning. My mum said she was sick with the consumption. Rose told me she was pregnant.” He ran one hand through his hair, chuckling. “But yours was the ribbon-winner of the lot, I’ve gotta say.”
“Well, you know . . .” Kote managed a sickly smile. “I couldn’t have looked your mum square in the eye if I hadn’t given it a shot.”
“You might have had a chance if you’d picked something easier to swallow,” he said. “But everybody knows Kvothe’s sword was made of silver.” He flicked his eyes up to the sword that hung on the wall. “It wasn’t called Folly, either. It was Kaysera, the poet-killer.”
The innkeeper rocked back a bit at that. “The poet-killer?”
Aaron nodded doggedly. “Yes sir. And your scribe there is right. He had his cloak made all out of cobwebs and shadows, and he wore rings on all his fingers. How does it go?
On his first hand he wore rings of stone,
Iron, amber, wood, and bone.
The smith’s prentice frowned. “I can’t remember the rest. There was something about fire. . . .”
The innkeeper’s expression was unreadable. He looked down at where his own hands lay spread on the top of the bar, and after a moment he recited:
There were rings unseen on his second hand.
One was blood in a flowing band.
One of air all whisper thin,
And the ring of ice had a flaw within.
Full faintly shone the ring of flame,
And the final ring was without name.
“That’s it,” Aaron said, smiling. “You don’t have any of those behind the bar, do you?” He stood on his toes as if trying to get a better look.
Kote gave a shaky, shamefaced smile. “No. No, I can’t say as I do.”
They both startled as Bast thumped a burlap sack onto the bar. “That should take care of both Carter and you for two days with plenty to spare,” Bast said brusquely.
Aaron shouldered the sack and started to leave, then hesitated and looked back at the two of them behind the bar. “I hate to ask for favors. Old Cob said he’d look in on my mum for me, but . . .”
Bast made his way around the bar and began herding Aaron toward the door. “She’ll be fine, I expect. I’ll stop and see Rose too, if you like.” He gave the smith’s prentice a wide, lascivious smile. “Just to make sure she’s not lonely or anything.”
“I’d appreciate it,” Aaron said, relief plain in his voice. “She was in a bit of a state when I left. She could do with some comforting.”
Bast stopped midway through opening the inn’s door and gave the broad-shouldered boy a look of utter disbelief. Then he shook his head and finished opening the door. “Right, off you go. Have fun in the big city. Don’t drink the water.”
Bast closed the door and pressed his forehead against the wood as if suddenly weary. “She could use some comforting?” he repeated incredulously. “I take back everything I ever said about that boy being clever.” He turned around to face the bar while leveling an accusatory finger at the closed door. “That,” he said firmly to the room in general, “is what comes of working with iron every day.”
The innkeeper gave a humorless chuckle as he leaned against the bar. “So much for my legendary silver tongue.”
Bast gave a derogatory snort. “The boy is an idiot, Reshi.”
“Am I supposed to feel better because I wasn’t able to persuade an idiot, Bast?”
Chronicler cleared his throat softly. “It seems more of a testament to the performance you’ve given here,” he said. “You’ve played the innkeeper so well they can’t think of you any other way.” He gestured around at the empty taproom. “Frankly, I’m surprised you’d be willing to risk your life here just to keep the boy out of the army.”
“Not much of a risk,” the innkeeper said. “It’s not much of a life.” He hauled himself upright and walked around to the front of the bar, making his way to the table where Chronicler sat. “I’m responsible for everyone who dies in this stupid war. I was just hoping to save one. Apparently even that is beyond me.”
He sank into the chair opposite Chronicler. “Where did we leave off yesterday? No sense repeating myself if I can help it.”
“You’d just called the wind and given Ambrose a piece of what he had coming to him,” Bast said from where he stood at the door. “And you were mooning over your ladylove something fierce.”
Kote looked up. “I do not moon, Bast.”
Chronicler picked up his flat leather satchel and produced a sheet of paper three-quarters full of small, precise writing. “I can read the last bit back to you, if you’d like.”
Kote held out his hand. “I can remember your cipher well enough to read it for myself,” he said wearily. “Give it over. Maybe it will prime the pump.” He glanced over at Bast. “Come and sit if you’re going to listen. I won’t have you hovering.”
Bast scampered for a seat while Kote drew a deep breath and looked over the last page of yesterday’s story. The innkeeper was quiet for a long moment. His mouth made something that might have been the beginning of a frown, then something like a faint shadow of a smile.
He nodded thoughtfully, his eyes still on the page. “So much of my young life was spent trying to get to the University,” he said. “I wanted to go there even before my troupe was killed. Before I knew the Chandrian were more than a campfire story. Before I began searching for the Amyr.”
The innkeeper leaned back in his chair, his weary expression fading, becoming thoughtful instead. “I thought once I was there, things would be easy. I would learn magic and find the answers to all my questions. I thought it would all be storybook simple.”
Kvothe gave a slightly embarrassed smile, the expression making his face look surprisingly young. “And it might have been, if I didn’t have a talent for making enemies and borrowing trouble. All I wanted was to play my music, attend my classes, and find my answers. Everything I wanted was at the University. All I wanted was to stay.” He nodded to himself. “That’s where we should begin.”
The innkeeper handed the sheet of paper back to Chronicler, who absentmindedly smoothed it down with one hand. Chronicler uncapped his ink and dipped his pen. Bast leaned forward eagerly, grinning like an excited child.
Kvothe’s bright eyes flickered around the room, taking everything in. He drew a deep breath, and flashed a sudden smile, and for a brief moment looked nothing like an innkeeper at all. His eyes were sharp and bright, green as a blade of grass. “Ready?”
Every term at the University began the same way: the admissions lottery followed by a full span of interviews. They were a necessary evil of sorts.
I don’t doubt the process started sensibly. Back when the University was smaller, I could picture them as actual interviews. An opportunity for a student to have a conversation with the masters about what he had learned. A dialogue. A discussion.
But these days the University was host to over a thousand students. There was no time for discussion. Instead, each student was subjected to a hail of questions in a handful of minutes. Brief as the interviews were, a single wrong answer or overlong hesitation could have a dramatic impact on your tuition.
Before interviews, students studied obsessively. Afterward, they drank in celebration or to console themselves. Because of this, for the eleven days of admissions, most students looked anxious and exhausted at best. At worst they wandered the University like shamble-men, hollow-eyed and grey-faced from too little sleep, too much drink, or both.
Personally, I found it odd how seriously everyone else took the whole process. The vast majority of students were nobility or members of wealthy merchant families. For them, a high tuition was an inconvenience, leaving them less pocket money to spend on horses and whores.
The stakes were higher for me. Once the masters set a tuition, it couldn’t be changed. So if my tuition was set too high, I’d be barred from the University until I could pay.
The first day of admissions always had a festival air about it. The admissions lottery took up the first half of the day, which meant the unlucky students who drew the earliest slots were forced to go through their interviews mere hours afterward.
By the time I arrived long lines snaked through the courtyard, while the students who had already drawn their tiles milled about, complaining and attempting to buy, sell, or trade their slots.
I didn’t see Wilem or Simmon anywhere, so I settled into the nearest line and tried not to think of how little I had in my purse: one talent and three jots. At one point in my life, it would have seemed like all the money in the world. But for tuition it was nowhere near enough.
There were carts scattered about selling sausages and chestnuts, hot cider and beer. I smelled warm bread and grease from a nearby cart. It was stacked with pork pies for the sort of people who could afford such things.
The lottery was always held in the largest courtyard of the University. Most everyone called it the pennant square, though a few folk with longer memories referred to it as the Questioning Hall. I knew it by an even older name, the House of the Wind.
I watched a few leaves tumble around the cobblestones, and when I looked up I saw Fela staring back at me from where she stood thirty or forty people closer to the front of the line. She gave me a warm smile and a wave. I waved back and she left her place, strolling back to where I stood.
Fela was beautiful. The sort of woman you would expect to see in a painting. Not the elaborate, artificial beauty you often see among the nobility, Fela was natural and unselfconscious, with wide eyes and a full mouth that was constantly smiling. Here in the University, where men outnumbered women ten to one, she stood out like a horse in a sheepfold.
“Do you mind if I wait with you?” she asked as she came to stand beside me. “I hate not having anyone to talk to.” She smiled winsomely at the pair of men queued up behind me. “I’m not cutting in,” she explained. “I’m just moving back.”
They had no objections, though their eyes flickered back and forth between Fela and myself. I could almost hear them wondering why one of the most lovely women in the University would give up her place in line to stand next to me.
It was a fair question. I was curious myself.
I moved aside to make space for her. We stood shoulder to shoulder for a moment, neither of us speaking.
“What are you studying this term?” I asked.
Fela brushed her hair back from her shoulder. “I’ll keep up with my work in the Archives, I suppose. Some chemistry. And Brandeur has invited me into Manifold Maths.”
I shivered a bit. “Too many numbers. I can’t swim those waters.”
Fela gave a shrug and the long, dark curls of hair she’d brushed away took the opportunity to tumble back, framing her face. “It’s not so hard once you get your head around it. It’s more like a game than anything.” She cocked her head at me. “What about you?”
“Observation in the Medica,” I said. “Study and work in the Fishery. Sympathy too, if Dal will have me. I should probably brush up my Siaru too.”
“You speak Siaru?” she asked, sounding surprised.
“I can get by,” I said. “But Wil says my grammar is embarrassingly bad.”
Fela nodded, then looked sideways at me, biting her lip. “Elodin’s asked me to join his class, too,” she said, her voice thick with apprehension.
“Elodin’s got a class?” I asked. “I didn’t think they let him teach.”
“He’s starting it this term,” she said, giving me a curious look. “I thought you’d be in it. Didn’t he sponsor you to Re’lar?”
“He did,” I said.
“Oh.” She looked uncomfortable, then quickly added, “He probably just hasn’t asked you yet. Or he’s planning on mentoring you separately.”
I waved her comment aside, though I was stung at the thought of being left out. “Who can say with Elodin?” I said. “If he isn’t crazy, he’s the best actor I’ve ever met.”
Fela started to say something, then looked around nervously and moved closer to me. Her shoulder brushed mine and her curling hair tickled my ear as she quietly asked, “Did he really throw you off the roof of the Crockery?”
I gave an embarrassed chuckle. “That’s a complicated story,” I said, then changed the subject rather clumsily. “What’s the name of his class?”
She rubbed her forehead and gave a frustrated laugh. “I haven’t the slightest idea. He said the name of the class was the name of the class.” She looked at me. “What does that mean? When I go to Ledgers and Lists will it be there under ‘The Name of the Class?’ ”
I admitted I didn’t know, and from there it was a short step to sharing Elodin stories. Fela said a scriv had caught him naked in the Archives. I’d heard that he’d once spent an entire span walking around the University blindfolded. Fela heard he’d invented an entire language from the ground up. I’d heard he had started a fistfight in one of the seedier local taverns because someone had insisted on saying the word “utilize” instead of “use.”
“I heard that too,” Fela said, laughing. “Except it was at the Horse and Four, and it was a baronet who wouldn’t stop using the word ‘moreover.’ ”
Before I knew it we were at the front of the line. “Kvothe, Arliden’s son,” I said. The bored-looking woman marked my name and I drew a smooth ivory tile out of the black velvet bag. It read: FELLING—NOON. Eighth day of admissions, plenty of time to prepare.
Fela drew her own tile and we moved away from the table.
“What did you get?” I asked.
She showed me her own small ivory tile. Cendling at fourth bell.
It was an incredibly lucky draw, one of the latest slots available. “Wow. Congratulations.”
Fela shrugged and slipped the tile into her pocket. “It’s all the same to me. I don’t make a special point of studying. The more I prepare, the worse I do. It just makes me nervous.”
“You should trade it away then.” I said, gesturing to the milling throng of students. “Someone would pay a full talent to get that slot. Maybe more.”
“I’m not much for bargaining, either,” she said. “I just assume whatever tile I draw is lucky and stick to it.”
Free from the line, we didn’t have any excuse to stay together. But I was enjoying her company and she didn’t seem terribly eager to run off, so the two of us wandered the courtyard aimlessly, the crowd milling around us.
“I’m starving,” Fela said suddenly. “Do you want to go have an early lunch somewhere?”
I was painfully aware of how light my purse was. If I were any poorer, I’d have to put a rock in it to keep it from flapping in the breeze. My meals were free at Anker’s because I played music there. So spending money on food somewhere else, especially so close to admissions, would be absolute foolishness.
“I’d love to,” I said honestly. Then I lied. “But I should browse around here a bit and see if anyone is willing to trade slots with me. I’m a bargainer from way back.”
Fela fished around in her pocket. “If you’re looking for more time, you can have mine.”
I looked at the tile between her finger and thumb, sorely tempted. Two extra more days of preparation would be a godsend. Or I could make a talent by trading it away. Maybe two.
“I wouldn’t want to take your luck,” I said, smiling. “And you certainly don’t want any part of mine. Besides, you’ve already been too generous with me.” I drew my cloak around my shoulders pointedly.
Fela smiled at that, reaching out to run her knuckles across the front of the cloak. “I’m glad you like it. But as far as I’m concerned, I still owe you.” She bit at her lips nervously, then let her hand drop. “Promise me you’ll let me know if you change your mind.”
She smiled again, then gave a half-wave and walked off across the courtyard. Watching her stroll through the crowd was like watching the wind move across the surface of a pond. Except instead of casting ripples on the water, the heads of young men turned to watch her as she passed.
I was still watching when Wilem walked up beside me. “Are you finished with your flirting then?” he asked.
“I wasn’t flirting,” I said.
“You should have been,” he said. “What is the point of me waiting politely, not interrupting, if you waste such opportunities?”
“It isn’t like that,” I said. “She’s just friendly.”
“Obviously,” he said, his rough Cealdish accent making the sarcasm in his voice seem twice as thick. “What did you draw?”
I showed him my tile.
“You’re a day later than me.” He held out his tile. “I’ll trade you for a jot.” I hesitated.
“Come now,” he said. “It’s not as if you can study in the Archives like the rest of us.”
I glared at him. “Your empathy is overwhelming.”
“I save my empathy for those clever enough to avoid driving the Master Archivist into a frothing rage,” he said. “For folk such as you, I only have a jot in trade. Would you like it, or not?”
“I would like two jots,” I said, scanning the crowd, looking for students with a desperate wildness around their eyes. “If I can get them.”
Wilem narrowed his dark eyes. “A jot and three drabs,” he said.
I looked back at him, eyeing him carefully. “A jot and three,” I said. “And you take Simmon as your partner the next time we play corners.”
He gave a huff of laughter and nodded. We traded tiles and I tucked the money into my purse: one talent and four. A small step closer. After a moment’s thought, I tucked my tile into my pocket.
“Aren’t you going to keep trading down?” Wil asked.
I shook my head. “I think I’ll keep this slot.”
He frowned. “Why? What can you do with four days except fret and thumb-twiddle?”
“Same as anyone,” I said. “Prepare for my admissions interview.”
“How?” he asked. “You are still banned from the Archives, aren’t you?”
“There are other types of preparation,” I said mysteriously.
Wilem snorted. “That doesn’t sound suspicious at all,” he said. “And you wonder why people talk about you.”
“I don’t wonder why they talk,” I said. “I wonder what they say.”
Tar and Tin
The city that had grown up around the University over the centuries was not large. It was barely more than a town, really.
Despite this, trade thrived at our end of the Great Stone Road. Merchants brought in carts of raw materials: tar and clay, gibbstone, potash, and sea salt. They brought luxuries like Lanetti coffee and Vintish wine. They brought fine dark ink from Arueh, pure white sand for our glassworks, and delicately crafted Cealdish springs and screws.
When those same merchants left, their wagons were laden with things you could only find at the University. The Medica made medicines. Real medicines, not colored stumpwater or penny nostrums. The alchemy complex produced its own marvels that I was only dimly aware of, as well as raw materials like naphtha, sulfurjack, and twicelime.
I might be biased, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the University’s tangible wonders came from the Artificery. Ground glass lenses. Ingots of wolfram and Glantz steel. Sheets of gold so thin they tore like tissue paper.
But we made much more than that. Sympathy lamps and telescopes. Heateaters and gearwins. Salt pumps. Trifoil compasses. A dozen versions of Teccam’s winch and Delevari’s axle.
Artificers like myself made these things, and when merchants bought them we earned a commission: sixty percent of the sale. This was the only reason I had any money at all. And, since there were no classes during admissions, I had a full span of days to work in the Fishery.
I made my way to the Stocks, the storeroom where artificers signed out tools and materials. I was surprised to see a tall, pale student standing at the window, looking profoundly bored.
“Jaxim?” I asked. “What are you doing here? This is a scrub job.”
Jaxim nodded morosely. “Kilvin is still a little . . . vexed with me,” he said. “You know. The fire and everything.”
“Sorry to hear it,” I said. Jaxim was a full Re’lar like myself. He could be pursuing any number of projects on his own right now. To be forced into a menial task like this wasn’t just boring, it humiliated Jaxim publicly while costing him money and stalling his studies. As punishments went, it was remarkably thorough.
“What are we short on?” I asked.
There was an art to choosing your projects in the Fishery. It didn’t matter if you made the brightest sympathy lamp, or the most efficient heat-funnel in the history of Artificing. Until someone bought it, you wouldn’t make a bent penny of commission.
For a lot of the other workers, this wasn’t an issue. They could afford to wait. I, on the other hand, needed something that would sell quickly.
Jaxim leaned on the counter between us. “Caravan just bought all our deck lamps,” he said. “We only have that ugly one of Veston’s left.”
I nodded. Sympathy lamps were perfect for ships. Difficult to break, cheaper than oil in the long run, and you didn’t have to worry about them setting fire to your ship.
I juggled the numbers in my head. I could make two lamps at once, saving some time through duplication of effort, and be reasonably sure they would sell before I had to pay tuition.
Unfortunately, deck lamps were pure drudgery. Forty hours of painstaking labor, and if I botched any of it, the lamps simply wouldn’t work. Then I would have nothing to show for my time except a debt to the Stocks for the materials I’d wasted.
Still, I didn’t have a lot of options. “I guess I’ll do lamps then,” I said.
Jaxim nodded and opened the ledger. I began to recite what I needed from memory. “I’ll need twenty medium raw emitters. Two sets of the tall moldings. A diamond stylus. A tenten glass. Two medium crucibles. Four ounces of tin. Six ounces of fine-steel. Two ounces of nickel . . .”
Nodding to himself, Jaxim wrote it down in the ledger.
Eight hours later I walked through the front door of Anker’s smelling of hot bronze, tar, and coal smoke. It was almost midnight, and the room was empty except for a handful of dedicated drinkers.
“You look rough,” Anker said as I made my way to the bar.
“I feel rough,” I said. “I don’t suppose there’s anything left in the pot?”
He shook his head. “Folk were hungry tonight. I’ve got some cold potatoes I was going to throw in the soup tomorrow. And half a baked squash, I think.”
“Sold,” I said. “Though I’d be grateful for some salt butter as well.”
He nodded and pushed away from the bar.
“Don’t bother heating anything up,” I said. “I’ll just take it up to my room.”
He brought out a bowl with three good-sized potatoes and half a golden squash shaped like a bell. There was a generous daub of butter in the middle of the squash where the seeds had been scooped out.
“I’ll take a bottle of Bredon beer too,” I said as I took the bowl. “With the cap on. I don’t want to spill on the stairs.”
It was three flights up to my tiny room. After I closed the door, I carefully turned the squash upside down in the bowl, set the bottle on top of it, and wrapped the whole thing in a piece of sackcloth, turning it into a bundle I could carry under one arm.
Then I opened my window and climbed out onto the roof of the inn. From there it was a short hop over to the bakery across the alley.
A piece of moon hung low in the sky, giving me enough light to see without making me feel exposed. Not that I was too worried. It was approaching midnight, and the streets were quiet. Besides, you would be amazed how rarely people ever look up.
Auri sat on a wide brick chimney, waiting for me. She wore the dress I had bought her and swung her bare feet idly as she looked up at the stars. Her hair was so fine and light that it made a halo around her head, drifting on the faintest whisper of a breeze.
I carefully stepped onto the middle of a flat piece of tin roofing. It made a low tump under my foot, like a distant, mellow drum. Auri’s feet stopped swinging, and she went motionless as a startled rabbit. Then she saw me and grinned. I waved to her.
Auri hopped down from the chimney and skipped over to where I stood, her hair streaming behind her. “Hello Kvothe.” She took a half-step back. “You reek.”
I smiled my best smile of the day. “Hello Auri,” I said. “You smell like a pretty young girl.”
“I do,” she agreed happily.
She stepped sideways a little, then forward again, moving lightly on the balls of her bare feet. “What did you bring me?” she asked.
“What did you bring me?” I countered.
She grinned. “I have an apple that thinks it is a pear,” she said, holding it up. “And a bun that thinks it is a cat. And a lettuce that thinks it is a lettuce.”
“It’s a clever lettuce then.”
“Hardly,” she said with a delicate snort. “Why would anything clever think it was a lettuce?”
“Even if it is a lettuce?” I asked.
“Especially then,” she said. “Bad enough to be a lettuce. How awful to think you are a lettuce too.” She shook her head sadly, her hair following the motion as if she were underwater.
I unwrapped my bundle. “I brought you some potatoes, half a squash, and a bottle of beer that thinks it is a loaf of bread.”
“What does the squash think it is?” she asked curiously, looking down at it. She held her hands clasped behind her back.
“It knows it’s a squash,” I said. “But it’s pretending to be the setting sun.”
“And the potatoes?” she asked.
“They’re sleeping,” I said. “And cold, I’m afraid.”
She looked up at me, her eyes gentle. “Don’t be afraid,” she said, and reached out and rested her fingers on my cheek for the space of a heartbeat, her touch lighter than the stroke of a feather. “I’m here. You’re safe.”
The night was chill, and so rather than eat on the rooftops as we often did, Auri led me down through the iron drainage grate and into the sprawl of tunnels beneath the University.
She carried the bottle and held aloft something the size of a coin that gave off a gentle greenish light. I carried the bowl and the sympathy lamp I’d made myself, the one Kilvin had called a thieves’ lamp. Its reddish light was an odd complement to Auri’s brighter blue-green one.
Auri brought us to a tunnel with pipes in all shapes and sizes running along the walls. Some of the larger iron pipes carried steam, and even wrapped in insulating cloth they provided a steady heat. Auri carefully arranged the potatoes at a bend in the pipe where the cloth had been peeled away. It made a tiny oven of sorts.
Using my sackcloth as a table, we sat on the ground and shared our dinner. The bun was a little stale, but it had nuts and cinnamon in it. The head of lettuce was surprisingly fresh, and I wondered where she had found it. She had a porcelain teacup for me, and a tiny silver beggar’s cup for herself. She poured the beer so solemnly you’d think she was having tea with the king.
There was no talking during dinner. That was one of the rules I had learned through trial and error. No touching. No sudden movement. No questions even remotely personal. I could not ask about the lettuce or the green coin. Such a thing would send her scampering off into the tunnels, and I wouldn’t see her for days afterward.
Truth be told, I didn’t even know her real name. Auri was just what I had come to call her, but in my heart I thought of her as my little moon Fae.
As always, Auri ate delicately. She sat with her back straight, taking small bites. She had a spoon we used to eat the squash, sharing it back and forth.
“You didn’t bring your lute,” she said after we had finished eating.
“I have to go read tonight,” I said. “But I’ll bring it soon.”
“Six nights from now,” I said. I’d be finished with admissions then, and more studying would be pointless.
Her tiny face pulled a frown. “Six days isn’t soon,” she said. “Tomorrow is soon.”
“Six days is soon for a stone,” I said.
“Then play for a stone in six days,” she said. “And play for me tomorrow.”
“I think you can be a stone for six days,” I said. “It is better than being a lettuce.”
She grinned at that. “It is.”
After we finished the last of the apple, Auri led me through the Underthing. We went quietly along the Nodway, jumped our way through Vaults, then entered Billows, a maze of tunnels filled with a slow, steady wind. I probably could have found my own way, but I preferred to have Auri as a guide. She knew the Underthing like a tinker knows his packs.
Wilem was right, I was banned from the Archives. But I’ve always had a knack for getting into places where I shouldn’t be. More’s the pity.
Archives was a huge windowless stone block of a building. But the students inside needed fresh air to breathe, and the books needed more than that. If the air was too moist, the books would rot and mildew. If the air was too dry, the parchment would become brittle and fall to pieces.
It had taken me a long time to discover how fresh air made its way into the Archives. But even after I found the proper tunnel, getting in wasn’t easy. It involved a long crawl through a terrifyingly narrow tunnel, a quarter hour worming along on my belly across the dirty stone. I kept a set of clothes in the Underthing, and after barely a dozen trips, were thoroughly ruined, the knees and elbows almost entirely torn out.
Still, it was a small price to pay for gaining access to the Archives.
There would be hell to pay if I were ever caught. I’d face expulsion at the very least. But if I performed poorly in my admissions exam and received a tuition of twenty talents, I’d be just as good as expelled. So it was a horse apiece, really.
Even so, I wasn’t worried about being caught. The only lights in the Stacks were carried by students and scrivs. This meant it was always nighttime in the Archives, and I have always been most comfortable at night.
The days trudged past. I worked in the Fishery until my fingers were numb, then read in the Archives until my eyes were blurry.
On the fifth day of admissions I finally finished my deck lamps and took them to Stocks, hoping they sold quickly. I considered starting another pair, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish them before tuition was due.
So I set about making money in other ways. I played an extra night at Anker’s, earning free drinks and a handful of small change from appreciative audience members. I did some piecework in the Fishery, making simple, useful items like brass gears and panes of twice-tough glass. Such things could be sold back to the workshop immediately for a tiny profit.
Then, since tiny profits weren’t going to be enough, I made two batches of yellow emitters. When used to make a sympathy lamp, their light was a pleasant yellow very close to sunlight. They were worth quite a bit of money because doping them required dangerous materials.
Heavy metals and vaporous acids were the least of them. The bizarre alchemical compounds were the truly frightening things. There were transporting agents that would move through your skin without a leaving a mark, then quietly eat the calcuim out of your bones. Others would simply lurk in your body, doing nothing for months until you started to bleed from your gums and lose your hair. The things they produced in Alchemy Complex made arsenic look like sugar in your tea.
I was painstakingly careful, but while working on the second batch of emitters my tenten glass cracked and tiny drops of transporting agent spattered the glass of the fume hood where I was working. None of it actually touched my skin, but a single drop landed on my shirt, high above the long cuffs of the leather gloves I was wearing.
Moving slowly, I used a nearby caliper to pinch the fabric of my shirt and pull it away from my body. Then, moving awkwardly, I cut the piece of fabric away so it had no chance at all of touching my skin. The incident left me shaken and sweating, and I decided there were better ways to earn money.
I covered a fellow student’s observation shift in the Medica in exchange for a jot and helped a merchant unload three wagonloads of lime for halfpenny each. Then, later that night, I found a handful of cutthroat gamblers willing to let me sit in on their game of breath. Over the course of two hours I managed to lose eighteen pennies and some loose iron. Though it galled me, I forced myself to walk away from the table before things got any worse.
At the end of all my scrambling, I had less in my purse than when I had begun.
Luckily, I had one last trick up my sleeve.
I stretched my legs on the wide stone road, heading to Imre.
Accompanying me were Simmon and Wilem. Wil had ended up selling his late slot to a desperate scriv for a tidy profit, so both of them were finished with admissions and carefree as kittens. Wil’s tuition was set at six talents and eight, while Sim was still gloating over his impressively low five talents and two.
My purse held one talent and three. An inauspicious number.
Completing our quartet was Manet. His wild grey hair and habitually rumpled clothes made him look vaguely bewildered, as if he’d just woken up and couldn’t quite remember where he was. We had brought him along partly because we needed a fourth for corners, but also because we felt it was our duty to get the poor fellow out of the University every once in a while.
The four of us made our way over the high arch of Stonebridge, across the Omethi River, and into Imre. Autumn was in its last gasp, and I wore my cloak against the chance of a chill. My lute was slung comfortably across my back.
At the heart of Imre we crossed a great cobblestone courtyard and walked past the central fountain filled with statues of satyrs chasing nymphs. Water splashed and fanned in the breeze as we joined the line leading to the Eolian.
When we got to the door I was surprised to see Deoch wasn’t there. In his place was a short, grim man with a thick neck. He held out a hand. “That’ll be a jot, young sir.”
“Sorry,” I moved the strap of my lute case out of the way and showed him the small set of silver pipes pinned to my cloak. I gestured to Wil, Sim, and Manet. “They’re with me.”
He squinted at the pipes suspiciously. “You look awfully young,” he said, his eyes darting back to my face.
“I am awfully young,” I said easily. “It’s part of my charm.”
“Awfully young to have your pipes,” he clarified, making it a reasonably polite accusation.
I hesitated. While I looked old for my age, that meant I looked a few years better than my actual fifteen. To the best of my knowledge, I was the youngest musician at the Eolian. Normally this worked in my favor, as it made me a bit of a novelty. But now . . .
Before I could think of anything to say, a voice came from the line behind us. “It’s not a fake, Kett.” A tall woman carrying a fiddle case nodded at me. “He earned his pipes while you were away. He’s the real thing.”
“Thanks Marie,” I said as the doorman gestured us inside.
The four of us found a table near the back wall with a good view of the stage. I scanned the nearby faces and staved off a familiar flicker of disappointment when Denna was nowhere to be seen.
“What was that business at the door?” Manet asked as he looked around, taking in the stage, the high, vaulted ceiling. “Were people paying to get in here?”
I looked at him. “You’ve been a student for thirty years, but never been to the Eolian?”
“Well, you know.” He made a vague gesture. “I’ve been busy. I don’t get over to this side of the river very often.”
Sim laughed, sitting down. “Let me put this in terms you’ll understand, Manet. If music had a University, this would be it, and Kvothe would be a full-fledged arcanist.”
“Bad analogy,” Wil said. “This is a musical court, and Kvothe is one of the gentry. We ride his coattails in. It is the reason we have tolerated his troublesome company for so long.”
“A whole jot just to get in?” Manet asked.
Manet gave a noncommittal grunt as he looked around, eyeing the well-dressed nobles milling on the balcony above. “Well then,” he said. “I guess I learned something today.”
The Eolian was just beginning to fill up, so we passed the time playing corners. It was just a friendly game, a drab a hand, double for a counterfeit, but coin-poor as I was, any stakes were high. Luckily, Manet played with the precision of a gear-clock: no mislaid tricks, no wild bids, no hunches.
Simmon bought the first round of drinks, and Manet bought the second. By the time the Eolian’s lights dimmed, Manet and I were ten hands ahead, largely due to Simmon’s tendency to enthusiastically overbid. I pocketed the single copper jot with grim satisfaction. One talent and four.
An older man made his way up onto the stage. After a brief introduction by Stanchion he played a heart-achingly lovely version of “Taetn’s Late Day” on mandolin. His fingers were light and quick and sure on his strings. But his voice . . .
Most things fail with age. Our hands and backs stiffen. Our eyes dim. Skin roughens and our beauty fades. The only exception is the voice. Properly cared for, a voice does nothing but grow sweeter with age and constant use. His was like a sweet honey wine. He finished his song to hearty applause, and after a moment the lights came back up and the room swelled with conversation.
“There’s breaks between the performers,” I explained to Manet. “So folk can talk and walk around and get their drinks. Tehlu and all his angels won’t be able to keep you safe if you talk during someone’s performance.”
Manet huffed. “Don’t worry about me embarrassing you. I’m not a complete barbarian.”
“Just giving fair warning,” I said. “You let me know what’s dangerous in the Artificery. I let you know what’s dangerous here.”
“His lute was different,” Wilem said. “It sounded different than yours. Smaller too.”
I fought off the urge to smile and decided not to make an issue of it. “That sort of lute is called a mandolin,” I said.
“You’re going to play, aren’t you?” Simmon asked, squirming in his seat like an eager puppy. “You should play that song you wrote about Ambrose.” He hummed a bit, then sang:
A mule can learn magic, a mule has some class,
Cause unlike young Rosey, he’s just half an ass.
Manet chuckled into his mug. Wilem cracked a rare smile.
“No,” I said firmly. “I’m done with Ambrose. We’re quits as far as I’m concerned.”
“Of course,” Wil said, deadpan.
“I’m serious,” I said. “There’s no profit in it. This back and forth does nothing but irritate the masters.”
“Irritate is rather a mild word,” Manet said dryly. “Not exactly the one I would have chosen, myself.”
“You owe him,” Sim said, his eyes glittering with anger. “Besides, they aren’t going to charge you with Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Arcanum just for singing a song.”
“No,” Manet said. “They’ll just raise his tuition.”
“What?” Simmon said. “They can’t do that. Tuition is based on your admissions interview.”
Manet’s snort echoed hollowly into his mug as he took another drink. “The interview is just a piece of the game. If you can afford it, they squeeze you a little. Same thing if you cause them trouble.” He eyed me seriously. “You’re going to be getting it from both ends this time. How many times were you brought up on the horns last term?”
“Twice.” I admitted. “But the second time wasn’t really my fault.”
“Of course,” Manet gave me a frank look. “And that’s why they tied you up and whipped you bloody, is it? Because it wasn’t your fault?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, feeling the pull of the half-healed scars along my back. “Most of it wasn’t my fault,” I amended.
Manet shrugged it aside. “Fault isn’t the issue. A tree doesn’t make a thunderstorm, but any fool knows where lightning’s going to strike.”
Wilem nodded seriously. “Back home we say: the tallest nail gets hammered down first.” He frowned. “It sounds better in Siaru.”
Sim looked troubled. “But the admission interview still determines the lion’s share of your tuition, doesn’t it?” From his tone, I guessed Sim hadn’t even considered the possibility of personal grudges or politics entering into the equation.
“For the most part,” Manet admitted. “But the masters pick their own questions, and they each get their say.” He began to tick things off on his fingers. “Hemme doesn’t care for you, and he can carry twice his weight in grudges. You got on Lorren’s bad side early and managed to stay there. You’re a troublemaker. You missed nearly a span of classes toward the end of last term. No warning beforehand or any explanation afterward.” He gave me a significant look.
I looked down at the table, pointedly aware that several of the classes I’d missed had been part of my apprenticeship under Manet in the Artificery.
After a moment, Manet shrugged and continued. “On top of it all, they’ll be testing you as a Re’lar this time around. Tuitions get higher in the upper ranks. There’s a reason I’ve stayed an E’lir this long.” He gave me a hard stare. “My best guess? You’ll be lucky to get out for less than ten talents.”
“Ten talents.” Sim sucked a breath through his teeth and shook his head sympathetically. “Good thing you’re so flush.”
“Not as flush as that,” I said.
“How can you not be?” Sim asked. “The masters fined Ambrose almost twenty talents after he broke your lute. What did you do with all the money?”
I looked down and nudged my lute case gently with my foot.
“You spent it on a new lute?” Simmon asked, horrified. “Twenty talents? Do you know what you could buy for that amount of money?”
“A lute?” Wilem asked.
“I didn’t even know you could spend that much on an instrument,” Simmon said.
“You can spend a lot more than that,” Manet said. “They’re like horses.”
This made the conversation stumble a bit. Wil and Sim turned to look at him, confused.
I laughed. “That’s a good comparison, actually.”
Manet nodded sagely. “There’s a wide spread with horses, you see. You can buy a broken old plow horse for less than a talent. Or you can buy a high-stepping Vaulder for forty.”
“Not likely,” Wil grunted. “Not for a true Vaulder.”
Manet smiled. “That’s it exactly. However much you’ve ever known someone to spend on a horse, you could easily spend that buying yourself a fine harp or fiddle.”
Simmon looked stunned by this. “But my father once spent two hundred fifty hard on a Kaepcaen tall,” he said.
I leaned to one side and pointed. “The blond man there, his mandolin is worth twice that.”
“But,” Simmon said. “But horses have bloodlines. You can breed a horse and sell it.”
“That mandolin has a bloodline,” I said. “It was made by Antressor himself. It’s been around for a hundred and fifty years.”
I watched as Sim absorbed the information, looking around at all the instruments in the room. “Still,” Sim said. “Twenty talents.” He shook his head. “Why didn’t you wait until after admissions? You could have spent whatever you had left over on the lute.”
“I needed it to play at Anker’s,” I explained. “I get free room and board as their house musician. If I don’t play, I can’t stay.”
It was the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. Anker would have cut me some slack if I’d explained my situation. But if I’d waited, I would have had to spend almost two span without a lute. It would be like missing a tooth or a limb. It would be like spending two span with my mouth sewn shut. It was unthinkable.
“And I didn’t spend all of it on the lute,” I said. “I had a few other expenses crop up too.” Specifically, I’d paid off the gaelet I’d borrowed money from. That had taken six talents, but being free of my debt to Devi was like having a great weight lifted off my chest.
But now I could feel that same weight settling back onto me. If Manet’s guess was even half-accurate, I was worse off than I’d thought.
Fortunately, the lights dimmed and the room grew quiet, saving me from having to explain myself any further. We looked up as Stanchion brought Marie up onto the stage. He chatted with the nearby audience while she tuned her fiddle and the room began to settle down.
I liked Marie. She was taller than most men, proud as a cat, and spoke at least four languages. Many of Imre’s musicians did their best to mimic the latest fashion, hoping to blend in with the nobility, but Marie wore road clothes. Pants you could do a day’s work in, boots you could use to walk twenty miles.
I don’t mean to imply she wore homespun, mind you. She just had no love for fashion or frippery. Her clothes were obviously tailored for her, close fitting and flattering. Tonight she wore burgundy and brown, the colors of her patron, the Lady Jhale.
The four of us eyed the stage. “I will admit,” Wilem said quietly, “that I have given Marie a fair amount of consideration.”
Manet gave a low chuckle. “That is a woman and a half,” he said. “Which means she’s five times more woman than any of you know what to do with.” At a different time, such a statement might have goaded the three of us into swaggering protest. But Manet stated it without a hint of taunt in his voice, so we let it pass. Especially as it was probably true.
“Not for me,” Simmon said. “She always looks like she’s getting ready to wrestle someone. Or go off and break a wild horse.”
“She does.” Manet chuckled again. “If we were living in a better age they’d build a temple around a woman like that.”
We fell silent as Marie finished tuning her fiddle and eased into a sweet roundel, slow and gentle as a soft spring breeze.
Though I didn’t have time to tell him, Simmon was more than half right. Once, in the Flint and Thistle, I had seen Marie punch a man in the throat for referring to her as “that mouthy fiddler bitch.” She kicked him when he was on the ground, too. But only once, and nowhere that hurt him in a permanent way.
Marie continued her roundel, the slow, sweet pace of it gradually building until it was trotting along briskly. The sort of tune you would only think of dancing to if you were exceptionally light on your feet, or exceptionally drunk.
She let it build until it was beyond anything a man could dream of dancing to. It was nothing like a trot now. It sprinted, fast as a pair of children racing. I marveled at how clean and clear her fingering was despite the frantic pace.
Faster. Quick as a deer with a wild dog behind it. I started to get nervous, knowing it was just a matter of time before she slid or slipped or dropped a note. But somehow she kept going, each note perfect, sharp and strong and sweet. Her flickering fingers arched high against the strings. The wrist of her bow hand hung loose and lazy despite the terrible speed.
Faster still. Her face was intent. Her bow arm a blur. Faster still. She braced herself, her long legs planted firmly on the stage, her fiddle tucked hard against her jaw. Each note sharp as early morning birdsong. Faster still.
She finished in a rush and gave a sudden, flourishing bow without a single mistake. I was sweating like a hard-run horse, my heart racing.
I wasn’t the only one. Wil and Sim each had a sheen of sweat across their foreheads.
Manet’s knuckles were white where he gripped the edge of the table. “Merciful Tehlu,” he said breathlessly. “They have music like this every night?”
I smiled at him. “It’s still early,” I said. “You haven’t heard me play.”
Wilem bought the next round of drinks and our talk turned to the idle gossip of the University. Manet had been around for longer than half of the masters, so he knew more scandalous stories than the three of us put together.
A lutist with a thick grey beard played a stirring version of “En Faeant Morie.” Then two lovely women, one in her forties and the other young enough to be her daughter, sang a duet about Laniel Young-Again I’d never heard before.
Marie was called back onto the stage and played a simple jig with such enthusiasm that it set folk dancing in the spaces between the tables. Manet actually stood for the final chorus and surprised us by demonstrating a pair of remarkably light feet. We cheered him, and when he took his seat again he was flushed and breathing hard.
Wil bought him a drink, and Simmon turned to me with excitement in his eyes.
“No,” I said. “I’m not going to play it. I already told you.”
Sim deflated into such profound disappointment that I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll take a turn around the place. If I see Threpe, I’ll put him up to it.”
I made my slow way through the crowded room, and while I did keep an eye out for Threpe, the truth is I was hunting for Denna. I hadn’t seen her come in by the front door, but with the music, cards, and general commotion there was a chance I’d simply missed her.
It took a quarter hour to methodically make my way through the crowded main floor, getting a look at all the faces and stopping to chat with a few of the musicians along the way.
I made my way up to the second tier just as the lights dimmed again. I settled in at the railing to watch a Yllish piper play a sad, lilting tune.
When the lights came back up, I searched the second tier of the Eolian: a wide, crescent-shaped balcony. My search was more a ritual than anything. Looking for Denna was an exercise in futility, like praying for fair weather.
But tonight was the exception to the rule. As I strolled through the second tier I spotted her walking with a tall, dark-haired gentleman. I changed my path through the tables so I would intercept them casually.
Denna spotted me half a minute later. She gave a bright, excited smile and took her hand off the gentleman’s arm, motioning me closer.
The man at her side was proud as a hawk and handsome, with a jawline like a cinder brick. He wore a shirt of blindingly white silk and a richly dyed suede jacket the color of blood. Silver stitching. Silver on the buckle and the cuff. He looked every bit the Modegan gentleman. The cost of his clothes, not even counting his rings, would have paid my tuition for a solid year.
Denna was playing the part of his charming and attractive companion. In the past I had seen her dressed much the same as myself: plain clothes meant for hard wear and travel. But tonight she wore a long dress of green silk. Her dark hair curled artfully around her face and tumbled down her shoulders. At her throat was an emerald pendant shaped like a smooth teardrop. It matched the color of the dress so perfectly that it couldn’t be coincidence.
I felt a little shabby by comparison. More than a little. Every piece of clothing I owned in the world amounted to four shirts, two sets of pants, and a few sundries. All of it secondhand and threadbare to some degree. I was wearing my best tonight, but I’m sure you understand when I say my best was not particularly fine.
The one exception was my cloak, Fela’s gift. It was warm and wonderful, tailored for me in green and black with numerous pockets in the lining. It wasn’t elegant by any measure, but it was the finest thing I owned.
As I approached, Denna stepped forward and held out her hand for me to kiss, the gesture poised, almost haughty. Her expression was composed, her smile polite. To the casual observer she looked every bit the genteel lady being gracious to a poor young musician.
All except her eyes. They were dark and deep, the color of coffee and chocolate. Her eyes were dancing with amusement, full of laughter. Standing behind her, the gentleman gave a bare hint of a frown when she offered me her hand. I didn’t know what game Denna was playing, but I could guess my part.
So I bent over her hand, kissing it lightly in a low bow. I had been trained in courtly manners at an early age, so I knew what I was doing. Anyone can bend at the waist, but a good bow takes skill.
This one was gracious and flattering, and as I pressed my lips to the back of her hand I flared my cloak to one side with a delicate flick of my wrist. The last was the difficult bit, and it had taken me several hours of careful practice in the bathhouse mirror to get the motion to look sufficiently casual.
Denna made a curtsey graceful as a falling leaf and stepped back to stand beside the gentleman. “Kvothe, this is Lord Kellin Vantenier. Kellin, Kvothe.”
Kellin eyed me up and down, forming his full opinion of me more quickly than you can draw a short, sharp breath. His expression became dismissive, and he gave me a nod. I’m no stranger to disdain, but I was surprised how much this particular bit stung me.
“At your service, my lord.” I made a polite bow and shifted my weight so my cloak fell away from my shoulder, displaying my talent pipes.
He was about to look away with practiced disinterest when his eye snagged on the bright piece of silver. It was nothing special in terms of jewelry, but here it was significant. Wilem was right: at the Eolian, I was one of the gentry.
And Kellin knew it. After a heartbeat of consideration, he returned my bow. It was barely more than a nod, really. Just low enough to be polite. “Yours and your family’s,” he said in perfect Aturan. His voice was deeper than mine, a warm bass with enough of a Modegan accent to lend it a slight musical cant.
Denna inclined her head in his direction. “Kellin has been showing me my way around a harp.”
“I am here to win my pipes,” he said, his deep voice filled with certainty.
When he spoke, women at the surrounding tables turned to look in his direction with hungry, half-lidded eyes. His voice had the opposite effect on me. To be both rich and handsome was bad enough. But to have a voice like honey over warm bread on top of that was simply inexcusable. The sound of it made me feel like a cat grabbed by the tail and rubbed backward with a wet hand.
I glanced at his hands. “So you’re a harper?”
“Harpist,” he corrected stiffly. “I play the Pendenhale. King of instruments.”
I pulled in half a breath, then closed my mouth. The Modegan great harp had been the king of instruments five hundred years ago. These days it was an antique curiosity. I let it pass, avoiding the argument for Denna’s sake. “Will you be trying your luck tonight?” I asked.
Kellin’s eyes narrowed slightly. “There will be nothing of luck involved when I play. But no. Tonight I am enjoying my lady Dinael’s company.” He lifted Denna’s hand to his lips and gave it an absentminded kiss. He looked around at the murmuring crowd in a proprietary way, as if he owned them. “I will be in worthy company here, I think.”
I glanced at Denna, but she was avoiding my eyes. Her head tilted to the side as she toyed with an earring previously hidden in her hair, a tiny teardrop emerald that matched the pendant at her throat.
Kellin’s eyes flickered over me again. My ill-fitting clothes. My hair, too short to be fashionable, too long to be anything other than wild. “And you are . . . a piper?”
The least expensive instrument. “Pipist,” I said lightly. “But no. I favor the lute.”
His eyebrows went up. “You play court lute?”
My smile stiffened a bit despite my best efforts. “Trouper’s lute.”
“Ah!” he said, laughing as if things suddenly made sense. “Folk music!”
I let that pass as well, though less easily than before. “Do you have seats yet?” I asked brightly. “Several of us have taken a table below with a good view of the stage. You’re welcome to join us.”
“The lady and I already have a table in the third circle.” Kellin nodded in Denna’s direction. “I much prefer the company above.”
Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.
I kept a straight face and made another polite bow to him, barely more than a nod. “I won’t delay you then.”
I turned to Denna. “My lady. Might I call on you some time?”
She sighed, looking every bit the put-upon socialite, except for her eyes, which were still laughing at all the ridiculous formality of the exchange. “I’m sure you understand, Kvothe. My schedule is quite full for the next several days. But you could pay a visit near the end of the span if you wish. I’ve taken rooms at the Grey Man.”
“You’re too kind,” I said, and gave her a much more earnest bow than the one I had given Kellin. She rolled her eyes at me this time.
Kellin held out his arm, turning his shoulder to me in the process, and the two of them walked off into the crowd. Watching them together, moving gracefully through the throng, it would be easy to believe they owned the place, or were perhaps thinking of buying it to use as a summer home. Only old nobility move with that easy arrogance, knowing deep in their guts that everything in the world exists only to make them happy. Denna was faking it marvelously, but for Lord Kellin Brickjaw it was as natural as drawing breath.
I watched until they were halfway up the stairs to the third circle. That’s where Denna stopped and put a hand to her head. Then she looked around at the floor, her expression anxious. The two of them spoke briefly and she pointed up the stairs. Kellin nodded and climbed out of sight.
On a hunch, I looked down at the floor and spotted a gleam of silver where Denna had been standing near the railing. I moved and stood over it, forcing a pair of Cealdish merchants to detour around me.
I pretended to watch the crowd below until Denna came close and tapped me on the shoulder. “Kvothe,” she said anxiously. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I seem to have lost an earring. Would you be a dear and help me look for it? I’m sure I had it on me just a moment ago.”
I agreed, and soon we were enjoying a moment of privacy, decorously searching the floorboards with our heads close together. Luckily, Denna’s dress was in the Modegan style, flowing and loose around the legs. If it had been slit up the side according to the current fashion of the Commonwealth, the sight of her crouching on the floor would have been scandalous.
“God’s body,” I muttered. “Where did you find him?”
Denna chuckled low in her throat. “Hush. You’re the one who suggested I learn my way around a harp. Kellin is quite a good teacher.”
“The Modegan pedal harp weighs five times as much as you do,” I said. “It’s a parlor instrument. You’d never be able to take one on the road.”
She stopped pretending to look for her earring and gave me a pointed look. “And who’s to say I won’t ever have a parlor to harp in?”
I looked back to the floor and gave as much of a shrug as I could manage. “It’s good enough for learning, I suppose. How are you liking it so far?”
“It’s better than the lyre,” she said. “I can already see that. I can barely play ‘Squirrel in the Thatch,’ though.”
“Is he any good?” I gave her a sly smile. “With his hands, I mean.”
Denna flushed a bit and looked for a second as if she would swat at me. But she remembered her decorum in time and settled for narrowing her eyes instead. “You’re awful,” she said, “Kellin has been a perfect gentleman.”
“Tehlu save us all from perfect gentlemen,” I said.
She shook her head. “I meant it in the literal sense,” she said. “He’s never been out of Modeg before. He’s like a kitten in a coop.”
“So you’re Dinael now?” I asked.
“For now. And for him,” she said, looking at me sideways with a small quirk of a smile. “From you I still like Denna best.”
“That’s good to know,” I said, then lifted my hand off the floor, revealing the smooth emerald teardrop of an earring. Denna made a show of discovering it, holding it up to catch the light. “Ah! Here we are!”
I stood and helped her to her feet. She brushed her hair back from her shoulder and leaned toward me. “I’m all thumbs with these things,” she said. “Would you mind?”
I stepped toward her and stood close as she handed me the earring. She smelled faintly of wildflowers. But beneath that she smelled like autumn leaves. Like the dark smell of her own hair, like road dust and the air before a summer storm.
“So what is he?” I said softly. “Someone’s second son?”
She gave a barely perceptible shake of her head, and a strand of her hair fell down to brush the back of my hand. “He’s a lord in his own right.”
“Skethe te retaa van,” I swore. “Lock up your sons and daughters.”
Denna laughed again, quietly. Her body shook as she fought to hold it in.
“Hold still,” I said as I gently took hold of her ear.
Denna drew a deep breath and let it out again, composing herself. I threaded the earring through the lobe of her ear and stepped away. She lifted one hand to check it, then stepped back and gave a curtsey. “Thank you kindly for all your help.”
I bowed to her again. It wasn’t as polished as the bow I’d given her before, but it was more honest. “I am at your service, my lady.”
Denna smiled warmly as she turned to go, her eyes laughing again.
I finished exploring the second tier for the sake of form, but Threpe didn’t seem to be around. Not wanting to risk the awkwardness of a second encounter with Denna and her lordling, I decided to skip the third tier entirely.
Sim had the lively look he gets around his fifth drink. Manet was slouched low in his chair, eyes half-lidded, his mug resting comfortably on the swell of his belly. Wil looked the same as ever, his dark eyes unreadable.
“Threpe’s nowhere to be found,” I said as I took my seat. “Sorry.”
“That’s too bad,” Sim said. “Has he had any luck finding you a patron yet?”
I shook my head bitterly. “Ambrose has threatened or bribed every noble within a hundred miles of here. They’ll have nothing to do with me.”
“Why doesn’t Threpe take you on himself?” Wilem asked. “He likes you well enough.”
I shook my head. “Threpe’s already supporting three other musicians. Four really, but two of them are a married couple.”
“Four?” Sim said, horrified. “It’s a wonder he can still afford to eat.”
Wil cocked his head curiously, and Sim leaned forward to explain. “Threpe’s a count. But his holdings aren’t really that extensive. Supporting four players on his income is a little . . . extravagant.”
Wil frowned. “Drinks and strings can’t amount to much.”
“A patron’s responsible for more than that.” Sim began to count items off on his fingers. “There’s the writ of patronage itself. Then he provides room and board for his players, a yearly wage, a suit of clothes in his family’s colors—”
“Two suits of clothing, traditionally,” I interjected. “Every year.” Growing up in the troupe, I never appreciated the livery Lord Greyfallow had given us. But these days I couldn’t help but imagine how much my wardrobe would be improved by two new sets of clothing.
Simmon grinned as a serving boy arrived, leaving no doubt as to who was responsible for the glasses of blackberry brand set in front of each of us. Sim raised his glass in a silent toast and drank a solid swallow. I raised my glass in return, as did Wilem, though it obviously pained him. Manet remained motionless, and I began to suspect he had dozed off.
“It still doesn’t add square,” Wilem said, setting down his brand. “All the patron gets is lighter pockets.”
“The patron gets a reputation,” I explained. “That’s why the players wear the livery. Plus he has entertainers at his beck and call: parties, dances, pageants. Sometimes they’ll write songs or plays at his request.”
Wil still seemed skeptical. “Still seems like the patron is getting the short side of it.”
“That’s because you only have half the picture,” Manet said, pulling himself upright in his chair. “You’re a city boy. You don’t know what it’s like growing up in a little town built on one man’s land.
“Here’s Lord Poncington’s lands,” Manet said, using a bit of spilled beer to draw a circle in the center of the table. “Where you live like the good little commoner you are.” Manet picked up Simmon’s empty glass and put it inside the circle.
“One day, a fellow strolls through town wearing Lord Poncington’s colors.” Manet picked up his full glass of brand and jigged it across the table until it stood next to Sim’s empty one inside the circle. “And this fellow plays songs for everyone at the local inn.” Manet splashed some of the brand into Sim’s glass.
Not needing any prompting, Sim grinned and drank it.
Manet trotted his glass around the table and entered the circle again. “Next month a couple more folk come through wearing his colors and put on a puppet show.” He poured more brand and Simmon tossed it back. “The next month there’s a play.” Again.
Now Manet picked up his wooden mug and clomped it across the table into the circle. “Then the tax man shows up, wearing the same colors.” Manet knocked his empty mug impatiently on the table.
Sim sat confused for a second, then he picked up his own mug and sloshed some beer into it.
Manet eyed him and tapped the mug again, sternly.
Sim poured the rest of his beer into Manet’s mug, laughing. “I like blackberry brand better anyway.”
“Lord Poncington likes his taxes better,” Manet said. “And people like to be entertained. And the tax man likes not being poisoned and buried in a shallow grave behind the old mill.” He took a drink of beer. “So it works out nicely for everyone.”
Wil watched the exchange with his serious, dark eyes. “That makes better sense.”
“It’s not always as mercenary as that,” I said. “Threpe genuinely wants to help musicians improve their craft. Some nobles treat their performers like horses in a stable,” I sighed. “Even that would be better than what I have now, which is nothing.”
“Don’t sell yourself cheap,” Sim said cheerfully. “Wait and get a good patron. You deserve it. You’re as good as any musician here.”
I kept silent, too proud to tell them the truth. I was poor in a way the rest of them could hardly understand. Sim was Aturan nobility, and Wil’s family were wool merchants from Ralien. They thought being poor meant not having enough money to go drinking as often as they liked.
With tuition looming, I didn’t dare spend a bent penny. I couldn’t buy candles, or ink, or paper. I had no jewelry to pawn, no allowance, no parents to write home to. No respectable moneylender would give me a thin shim. Hardly surprising, as I was a rootless, orphan Edema Ruh whose possessions would fit into a burlap sack. It wouldn’t have to be a large sack either.
I got to my feet before the conversation had a chance to wander into uncomfortable territory. “It’s time I made some music.”
I picked up my lute case and made my way to where Stanchion sat at the corner of the bar. “What have you got for us tonight?” he asked, running his hand over his beard.
Stanchion paused in the act of getting off his stool. “Is this the sort of surprise that’s going to cause a riot or make folk set my place on fire?” he asked.
I shook my head, smiling.
“Good.” He smiled and headed off in the direction of the stage. “In that case I like surprises.”
Stanchion led me onto the stage and brought out an armless chair. Then he walked to the front of the stage to chat with the audience. I spread my cloak over the back of the chair as the lights began to dim.
I laid my battered lute case on the floor. It was even shabbier than I was. It had been quite nice once, but that was years ago and miles away. Now the leather hinges were cracked and stiff, and the body was worn thin as parchment in places. Only one of the original clasps remained, a delicate thing of worked silver. I’d replaced the others with whatever I could scavenge, so now the case sported mismatched clasps of bright brass and dull iron.
But inside the case was something else entirely. Inside was the reason I was scrambling for tuition tomorrow. I had driven a hard bargain for it, and even then it had cost me more money than I had ever spent on anything in my life. So much money I couldn’t afford a case that fit it properly, and made do by padding my old one with rags.
The wood was the color of dark coffee, of freshly turned earth. The curve of the bowl was perfect as a woman’s hip. It was hushed echo and bright string and thrum. My lute. My tangible soul.
I have heard what poets write about women. They rhyme and rhapsodize and lie. I have watched sailors on the shore stare mutely at the slow-rolling swell of the sea. I have watched old soldiers with hearts like leather grow teary-eyed at their king’s colors stretched against the wind.
Listen to me: these men know nothing of love.
You will not find it in the words of poets or the longing eyes of sailors. If you want to know of love, look to a trouper’s hands as he makes his music. A trouper knows.
I looked out at my audience as they grew slowly still. Simmon waved enthusiastically, and I smiled in return. I saw Count Threpe’s white hair near the rail on the second tier now. He was speaking earnestly to the well-dressed couple, gesturing in my direction. Still campaigning on my behalf though we both knew it was a hopeless cause.
I brought the lute out of its shabby case and began to tune it. It was not the finest lute in the Eolian. Not by half. Its neck was slightly bent, but not bowed. One of the pegs was loose and was prone to changing its tune.
I brushed a soft chord and tipped my ear to the strings. As I looked up, I could see Denna’s face, clear as the moon. She smiled excitedly at me and wiggled her fingers below the level of the table where her gentleman couldn’t see.
I touched the loose peg gently, running my hands over the warm wood of the lute. The varnish was scraped and scuffed in places. It had been treated unkindly in the past, but that didn’t make it less lovely underneath.
So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.
Stanchion made a sweeping gesture in my direction. There was brief applause followed by an attentive hush.
I plucked two notes and felt the audience lean toward me. I touched a string, tuned it slightly, and began to play. Before a handful of notes rang out, everyone had caught the tune.
It was “Bell-Wether.” A tune shepherds have been whistling for ten thousand years. The simplest of simple melodies. A tune anyone with a bucket could carry. A bucket was overkill, actually. A pair of cupped hands would manage nicely. A single hand. Two fingers, even.
It was, plainly said, folk music.
There have been a hundred songs written to the tune of “Bell-Wether.” Songs of love and war. Songs of humor, tragedy, and lust. I did not bother with any of these. No words. Just the music. Just the tune.
I looked up and saw Lord Brickjaw leaning close to Denna, making a dismissive gesture. I smiled as I teased the song carefully from the strings of my lute.
But before much longer, my smile grew strained. Sweat began to bead on my forehead. I hunched over the lute, concentrating on what my hands were doing. My fingers darted, then danced, then flew.
I played hard as a hailstorm, like a hammer beating brass. I played soft as sun on autumn wheat, gentle as a single stirring leaf. Before long, my breath began to catch from the strain of it. My lips made a thin, bloodless line across my face.
As I pushed through the middle refrain I shook my head to clear my hair away from my eyes. Sweat flew in an arc to patter out along the wood of the stage. I breathed hard, my chest working like a bellows, straining like a horse run to lather.
The song rang out, each note bright and clear. I almost stumbled once. The rhythm faltered for the space of a split hair. . . . Then somehow I recovered, pushed through, and managed to finish the final line, plucking the notes sweet and light despite the fact that my fingers were a weary blur.
Then, just when it was obvious I couldn’t carry on a moment longer, the last chord rang through the room and I slumped in my chair, exhausted.
The audience burst into thunderous applause.
But not the whole audience. Scattered through the room dozens of people burst into laughter instead, a few of them pounding the tables and stomping the floor, shouting their amusement.
The applause sputtered and died almost immediately. Men and women stopped with their hands frozen midclap as they stared at the laughing members of the audience. Some looked angry, others confused. Many were plainly offended on my behalf, and angry mutterings began to ripple through the room.
Before any serious discussion could take root, I struck a single high note and held up a hand, pulling their attention back to me. I wasn’t done yet. Not by half.
I shifted in my seat and rolled my shoulders. I strummed once, touched the loose peg, and rolled effortlessly into my second song.
It was one of Illien’s: “Tintatatornin.” I doubt you’ve ever heard of it. It’s something of an oddity compared to Illien’s other works. First, it has no lyrics. Second, while it’s a lovely song, it isn’t nearly as catchy or moving as many of his better-known melodies.
Most importantly, it is perversely difficult to play. My father referred to it as “the finest song ever written for fifteen fingers.” He made me play it when I was getting too full of myself and felt I needed humbling. Suffice to say I practiced it with fair regularity, sometimes more than once a day.
So I played “Tintatatornin.” I leaned back into my chair and crossed my ankles, relaxing a bit. My hands strolled idly over the strings. After the first chorus, I drew a breath and gave a short sigh, like a young boy trapped inside on a sunny day. My eyes began to wander aimlessly around the room, bored.
Still playing, I fidgeted in my seat, trying to find a comfortable position and failing. I frowned, stood up, and looked at the chair as if it was somehow to blame. Then I reclaimed my seat and wriggled, an uncomfortable expression on my face.
All the while the ten thousand notes of “Tintatatornin” danced and capered. I took a moment between one chord and the next to scratch myself idly behind the ear.
I was so deeply into my little act that I actually felt a yawn swelling up. I let it out in full earnest, so wide and long that the people the front row could count my teeth. I shook my head as if to clear it, and daubed at my watery eyes with my sleeve.
Through all of this, “Tintatatornin” tripped into the air. Maddening harmony and counterpoint weaving together, skipping apart. All of it flawless and sweet and easy as breathing. When the end came, drawing together a dozen tangled threads of song, I made no flourish. I simply stopped and rubbed my eyes a bit. No crescendo. No bow. Nothing. I cracked my knuckles distractedly and leaned forward to set my lute back in the case.
This time the laughter came first. The same people as before, hooting and hammering at their tables twice as loudly as before. My people. The musicians. I let my bored expression fall away and grinned knowingly out at them.
The applause followed a few heartbeats later, but it was scattered and confused. Even before the house lights rose, it had dissolved into a hundred murmuring discussions throughout the room.
Marie rushed up to greet me as I came down the stairs, her face full of laughter. She shook my hand and clapped me on the back. She was the first of many, all musicians. Before I could get bogged down, Marie linked her arm in mine and led me back to my table.
“Good lord, boy,” Manet said. “You’re like a tiny king here.”
“This isn’t half the attention he usually gets,” Wilem said. “Normally they’re still cheering when he makes it back to the table. Young women bat their eyes and strew his path with flowers.”
Sim looked around the room curiously. “The reaction did seem . . .” he groped for a word. “Mixed. Why is that?”
“Because young six-string here is so sharp he can hardly help but cut himself,” Stanchion said as he made his way over to our table.
“You’ve noticed that too?” Manet asked dryly.
“Hush,” Marie said. “It was brilliant.”
Stanchion sighed and shook his head.
“I for one,” Wilem said pointedly, “would like to know what is being discussed.”
“Kvothe here played the simplest song in the world and made it look like he was spinning gold out of flax,” Marie said. “Then he took a real piece of music, something only a handful of folk in the whole place could play, and made it look so easy you’d think a child could blow it on a tin whistle.”
“I’m not denying that it was cleverly done,” Stanchion said. “The problem is the way he did it. Everyone who jumped in clapping on the first song feels like an idiot. They feel they’ve been toyed with.”
“Which they were,” Marie pointed out. “A performer manipulates the audience. That’s the point of the joke.”
“People don’t like being toyed with,” Stanchion replied. “They resent it, in fact. Nobody likes having a joke played on them.”
“Technically,” Simmon interjected, grinning, “he played the joke on the lute.”
Everyone turned to look at him, and his grin faded a bit. “You see? He actually played a joke. On a lute.” He looked down at the table, his grin fading as his face flushed a sudden embarrassed red. “Sorry.”
Marie laughed an easy laugh.
Manet spoke up. “So it’s really an issue of two audiences,” he said slowly. “There’s those that know enough about music to get the joke, and those who need the joke explained to them.”
Marie made a triumphant gesture toward Manet. “That’s it exactly,” she said to Stanchion. “If you come here and don’t know enough to get the joke on your own, then you deserve to have your nose tweaked a bit.”
“Except most of those people are the gentry,” Stanchion said. “And our clever-jack doesn’t have a patron yet.”
“What?” Marie said. “Threpe put word out months ago. Why hasn’t someone snatched you up?”
“Ambrose Jakis,” I explained.
Her face didn’t show any recognition. “Is he a musician?”
“Baron’s son,” Wilem said.
She gave a puzzled frown. “How can he possibly keep you away from a patron?”
“Ample free time and twice as much money as God,” I said dryly.
“His father’s one of the most powerful men in Vintas,” Manet added, then turned to Simmon. “What is he, sixteenth in line to the throne?”
“Thirteenth,” Simmon said sullenly. “The entire Surthen family was lost at sea two months ago. Ambrose won’t shut up about the fact that his father’s barely a dozen steps from being king.”
Manet turned back to Marie. “The point is, this particular baron’s son has got all manner of weight, and he’s not afraid to throw it around.”
“To be completely fair,” Stanchion said, “it should be mentioned that young Kvothe is not the savviest socialite in the Commonwealth.” He cleared his throat. “As evidenced by tonight’s performance.”
“I hate it when people call me young Kvothe,” I said in an aside to Sim. He gave me a sympathetic look.
“I still say it was brilliant,” Marie said, turning to face Stanchion, planting her feet solidly on the floor. “It’s the cleverest thing anyone’s done here in a month, and you know it.”
I lay my hand on Marie’s arm. “He’s right,” I said. “It was stupid.” I made a vacillating shrug. “Or at least it would be if I still had the slightest hope of getting a patron.” I looked Stanchion in the eye. “But I don’t. We both know Ambrose has poisoned that well for me.”
“Wells don’t stay poisoned forever,” Stanchion said.
I shrugged. “How about this then? I’d prefer to play songs that amuse my friends, rather than cater to folk who dislike me based on hearsay.”
Stanchion drew a breath, then let it out in a rush. “Fair enough,” he said, smiling a bit.
In the brief lull that followed, Manet cleared his throat meaningfully and darted his eyes around the table.
I took his hint and made a round of introductions. “Stanchion, you’ve already met my fellow students Wil and Sim. This is Manet, student and my sometimes mentor at the University. Everyone, this is Stanchion: host, owner, and master of the Eolian’s stage.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Stanchion said, giving a polite nod before looking anxiously around the room. “Speaking of hosting, I should be about my business.” He patted me on the back as he turned to leave. “I’ll see if I can put out a few fires while I’m at it.”
I smiled my thanks to him, then made a flourishing gesture. “Everyone, this is Marie. As you’ve already heard with your own ears, the Eolian’s finest fiddler. As you can see with your own eyes, the most beautiful woman in a thousand miles. As your wit discerns, the wisest of . . .”
Grinning, she swatted at me. “If I were half as wise as I am tall, I wouldn’t be stepping in to defend you,” she said. “Has poor Threpe really been out stumping for you all this while?”
I nodded. “I told him it was a lost cause.”
“It is if you keep thumbing your nose at folk,” she said. “I swear I’ve never met a man who has your knack for lack of social grace. If you weren’t naturally charming, someone would have stabbed you by now.”
“You’re assuming,” I muttered.
Marie turned to my friends at the table. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you.”
Wil nodded, and Sim smiled. Manet, however, came to his feet in a smooth motion and held out his hand. Marie took it, and Manet clasped it warmly between his own.
“Marie,” he said. “You intrigue me. Is there any chance I could buy you a drink and enjoy the pleasure of your conversation at some point tonight?”
I was too startled to do anything but stare. Standing there, the two of them looked like badly matched bookends. Marie stood six inches taller than Manet, her boots making her long legs look even longer.
Manet, on the other hand, looked as he always did, grizzled and disheveled, plus older than Marie by at least a decade.
Marie blinked and cocked her head a bit, as if considering. “I’m here with some friends right now,” she said. “It might be late by the time I finish up with them.”
“When makes no difference to me,” Manet said easily. “I’m willing to lose some sleep if it comes to that. I can’t think of the last time I shared the company of a woman who speaks her mind firmly and without hesitation. Your kind are in short supply these days.”
Marie looked him over again.
Manet met her eye and flashed a smile so confident and charming that it belonged on stage. “I’ve no desire to pull you away from your friends,” he said, “but you’re the first fiddler in ten years that’s set my feet dancing. It seems a drink is the least I can do.”
Marie smiled back at him, half amused, half wry. “I’m on the second tier right now,” she said, gesturing toward the stairway. “But I should be free in, say, two hours. . . .”
“You’re terribly kind,” he said. “Should I come and find you?”
“You should,” she said. Then gave him a thoughtful look as she turned to walk away.
Manet reclaimed his seat and took a drink.
Simmon looked as flabbergasted as we all felt. “What the hell was that?” he demanded.
Manet chuckled into his beard and leaned back in his chair, cradling his mug to his chest. “That,” he said smugly, “is just one more thing I understand that you pups don’t. Take note. Take heed.”
When members of the nobility want to show a musician their appreciation, they give money. When I first began playing in the Eolian, I’d received a few such gifts, and for a time it had been enough to help pay my tuition and keep my head above water, if only barely. But Ambrose had been persistent in his campaign against me, and it had been months since I had received anything of the sort.
Musicians are poorer than the gentry, but they still enjoy a show. So when they appreciate your playing, they buy you drinks. That was the real reason I was at the Eolian tonight.
Manet wandered off to fetch a wet rag from the bar so we could clean the table and play another round of corners. Before he could make it back, a young Cealdish piper came over to ask if there was any chance he could stand us a round.
There was a chance, as it turned out. He caught the eye of a nearby serving girl and we each ordered what we liked best, and a beer for Manet besides.
We drank, played cards, and listened to music. Manet and I had a run of bad cards and went down three hands in a row. It soured my mood a bit, but not nearly as much as the sneaking suspicion that Stanchion might be right about what he’d said.
A rich patron would solve many of my problems. Even a poor patron would be able to give me a little room to breathe, financially speaking. If nothing else, it would give me someone I could borrow money from in a tight spot, rather than being forced into dealing with dangerous folk.
While my mind was occupied, I misplayed and we lost another hand, putting us down four in a row with a forfeit besides.
Manet glared at me while he gathered in the cards. “Here’s a primer for admissions.” He held up his hand, three fingers spearing angrily into the air. “Let’s say you have three spades in your hand, and there have been five spades laid down.” He held up his other hand, fingers splayed wide. “How many spades is that, total?” He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Take your time.”
“He’s still reeling from the knowledge that Marie is willing to have a drink with you,” Wilem said dryly. “We all are.”
“Not me,” Simmon chirped. “I knew you had it in you.”
We were interrupted by the arrival of Lily, one of the regular serving girls at the Eolian. “What’s going on here?” she said playfully. “Is someone throwing a handsome party?”
“Lily,” Simmon asked, “If I asked you to have a drink with me, would you consider it?”
“I would,” she said easily. “But not for very long.” She laid her hand on his shoulder. “You gents are in luck. An anonymous admirer of fine music has offered to stand your table a round of drinks.”
“Scutten for me,” Wilem said.
“Mead,” Simmon said, grinning.
“I’ll have a sounten,” I said.
Manet raised an eyebrow. “A sounten, eh?” he asked, glancing at me. “I’ll have one too.” He gave the serving girl a knowing look and nodded toward me. “On his, of course.”
“Really?” Lily said, then shrugged. “Back in a shake.”
“Now that you’ve impressed the hell out of everyone you can have some fun, right?” Simmon asked. “Something about a donkey . . . ?”
“For the last time no,” I said. “I’m done with Ambrose. There’s no percentage in antagonizing him any further.”
“You broke his arm,” Wil said. “I think he’s as antagonized as he’s going to get.”
“He broke my lute,” I said. “We’re even. I’m ready to let bygones be bygones.”
“Like hell,” Sim said. “You dropped that pound of rancid butter down his chimney. You loosened the cinch on his saddle. . . .”
“Black hands, shut up!” I said, looking around. “That was nearly a month ago, and no one knows it was me except for you two. And now Manet. And everyone within earshot.”
Sim flushed an embarrassed red and the conversation lulled until Lily returned with our drinks. Wil’s scutten was in its traditional stone cup. Sim’s mead shone golden in a tall glass. Manet and I got wooden mugs.
Manet smiled. “I can’t remember the last time I ordered a sounten,” he mused. “I don’t think I’ve ever ordered one for myself before.”
“You’re the only other person I’ve ever known to drink it,” Sim said. “Kvothe here throws them back like nobody’s business. Three or four a night.”
Manet raised a bushy eyebrow at me. “They don’t know?” he asked.
I shook my head as I drank out of my own mug, not sure if I should be amused or embarrassed.
Manet slid his mug toward Simmon, who picked it up and took a sip. He frowned and took another. “Water?”
Manet nodded. “It’s an old whore’s trick. You’re chatting them up in the taproom of the brothel, and you want to show you’re not like all the rest. You’re a man of refinement. So you offer to buy a drink.”
He reached across the table and took his mug back from Sim. “But they’re working. They don’t want a drink. They’d rather have the money. So they order a sounten or a peveret or something else. You pay your money, the barman gives her water, and at the end of the night she splits the money with the house. If she’s a good listener a girl can make as much at the bar as she does in bed.”
I chimed in. “Actually, we split it three ways. A third to the house, a third to the barman, and a third to me.”
“You’re getting screwed, then,” Manet said frankly. “The barman should get his piece from the house.”
“I’ve never seen you order a sounten at Anker’s,” Sim said.
“It must be the Greysdale mead,” Wil said. “You order that all the time.”
“But I’ve ordered Greysdale,” Sim protested. “It tasted like sweet pickles and piss. Besides . . .” Sim trailed off.
“It was more expensive than you thought it would be?” Manet asked, grinning. “Wouldn’t make much sense to go through all of this for the price of a short beer, would it?”
“They know what I mean when I order Greysdale at Anker’s,” I told him. “If I ordered something that didn’t actually exist, it would be a pretty easy game to figure out.”
“How do you know about this?” Sim asked Manet.
Manet chuckled. “No new tricks to an old dog like me,” he said.
The lights began to dim and we turned toward the stage.
The night rambled on from there. Manet left for greener pastures, while Wil, Sim, and I and did our best to keep our table clear of glasses while amused musicians bought us round after round of drinks. An obscene amount of drinks, really. Far more than I’d dared to hope for.
I drank sounten for the most part, since raising money to cover tuition was the main reason I’d come to the Eolian tonight. Wil and Sim ordered a few rounds too, now that they knew the trick of it. I was doubly grateful, otherwise I would have been forced to bring them home in a wheelbarrow.
Eventually the three of us had our fill of music, gossip, and in Sim’s case, the fruitless pursuit of serving girls.
Before we left, I stopped to have a discreet word with the barman where I brought up the difference between a half and a third. At the end of our negotiation, I cashed out for a full talent and six jots. The vast majority of that was from the drinks my fellow musicians had bought me tonight.
I gathered the coins into my purse: Three talents even.
My negotiations had also profited me two dark brown bottles. “What’s that?” Sim asked as I began to tuck the bottles into my lute case.
“Bredon beer.” I shifted the rags I used to pad my lute so they wouldn’t rub against it.
“Bredon,” Wil said, his voice thick with disdain, “is closer to bread than beer.”
Sim nodded in agreement, making a face. “I don’t like having to chew my liquor.”
“It’s not that bad,” I said defensively. “In the small kingdoms women drink it when they’re pregnant. Arwyl mentioned it in one of his lectures. They brew it with flower pollen and fish oil and cherry stones. It has all sorts of trace nutrients.”
“Kvothe, we don’t judge you.” Wilem lay his hand on my shoulder, his face concerned. “Sim and I don’t mind that you’re a pregnant Yllish woman.”
Simmon snorted, then laughed at the fact that he had snorted.
The three of us made our slow way back to the University, crossing the high arch of Stonebridge. And, since there was nobody around to hear, I sang “Jackass, Jackass” for Sim.
Wil and Sim stumbled gently off to their rooms in Mews. But I wasn’t ready for bed and continued wandering the University’s empty streets, breathing the cool night air.
I strolled past the dark fronts of apothecaries, glassblowers, and bookbinders. I cut through a manicured lawn, smelling the clean, dusty smell of autumn leaves and green grass beneath. Nearly all the inns and drinking houses were dark, but lights were burning in the brothels.
The grey stone of the Masters’ Hall was silvery in the moonlight. A single dim light burned inside, illuminating the stained glass window that showed Teccam in his classic pose: barefoot at the mouth of his cave, speaking to a crowd of young students.
I went past the Crucible, its countless bristling chimneys dark and largely smokeless against the moonlit sky. Even at night it smelled of ammonia and charred flowers, acid and alcohol: a thousand mingled scents that had seeped into the stone of the building over the centuries.
Last was the Archives. Five stories tall and windowless, it reminded me of an enormous waystone. Its massive doors were closed, but I could see the reddish light of sympathy lamps welling up around the edges of the door. During admissions Master Lorren kept the Archives open at night so all the members of the Arcanum could study to their hearts’ content. All members except one, of course.
I made my way back to Anker’s and found the inn dark and silent. I had a key to the back door, but rather than stumble through the dark, I headed into the nearby alley. Right foot rainbarrel, left foot window ledge, left hand iron drainpipe. I quietly made my way up to my third-story window, tripped the latch with a piece of wire, and let myself in.
It was pitch black, and I was too tired to go looking for a light from the fireplace downstairs. So I touched the wick of the lamp beside my bed, getting a little oil on my fingers. Then I murmured a binding and felt my arm go chilly as the heat bled out of it. Nothing happened at first, and I scowled, concentrating to overcome the vague haze of alcohol. The chill sunk deeper into my arm, making me shiver, but finally the wick bloomed into light.
Cold now, I closed the window and looked around the tiny room with its sloped ceiling and narrow bed. Surprisingly, I realized there was nowhere else in the four corners I’d rather be. I almost felt as if I were home.
This may not seem odd to you, but it was strange to me. Growing up among the Edema Ruh, home was never a place for me. Home was a group of wagons and songs around a campfire. When my troupe was killed, it was more than the loss of my family and childhood friends. It was like my entire world had been burned down to the waterline.
Now, after almost a year at the University, I was beginning to feel like I belonged here. It was an odd feeling, this fondness for a place. In some ways it was comforting, but the Ruh in me was restless, rebelling at the thought of putting down roots like a plant.
As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what my father would think of me.
The next morning I splashed some water on my face and trudged downstairs. The taproom of Anker’s was just starting to fill with people looking for an early lunch, and a few particularly disconsolate students were getting an early start on the day’s drinking.
Still bleary from lack of sleep, I settled into my usual corner table and began to fret about my upcoming interview.
Kilvin and Elxa Dal didn’t worry me. I was ready for their questions. The same was largely true of Arwyl. But the other masters were all varying degrees of mystery to me.
Every term each master put a selection of books on display in Tomes, the reading room in the Archives. There were basic texts for the low-ranking E’lir to study from, with progressively more advanced works for Re’lar and El’the. Those books revealed what the masters considered valuable knowledge. Those were the books a clever student studied before admissions.
But I couldn’t wander into Tomes like everyone else. I was the only student who had been banned from the Archives in a dozen years, and everyone knew about it. Tomes was the only well-lit room in the whole building, and during admissions there were always people there, reading.
So I was forced to find copies of the masters’ texts buried in the Stacks. You’d be amazed how many versions of the same book there can be. If I was lucky, the volume I found was identical to the one the master had set aside in Tomes. More often, the versions I found were outdated, expurgated, or badly translated.
I’d done as much reading as possible over the last few nights, but hunting down the books took precious time, and I was still woefully underprepared.
I was lost in these anxious thoughts when Anker’s voice caught my attention. “Actually, that’s Kvothe right over there,” he said.
I looked up to see a woman sitting at the bar. She wasn’t dressed like a student. She wore an elaborate burgundy dress with long skirts, a tight waist, and matching burgundy gloves that rose all the way to her elbows.
Moving deliberately, she managed to get down off the stool without tangling her feet and made her way over to stand next to my table. Her blonde hair was artfully curled, and her lips were a deeply painted red. I couldn’t help wondering what she was doing in a place like Anker’s.
“Are you the one who broke the arm of that brat Ambrose Jakis?” she asked. She spoke Aturan with a thick, musical Modegan accent. While it made her a little difficult to understand, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it attractive. The Modegan accent practically sweats sex.
“I did,” I said. “It wasn’t entirely on purpose. But I did.”
“Then you must let me buy you a drink,” she said in the tone of a woman who usually gets her way.
I smiled at her, wishing I’d been awake more than ten minutes so my wits weren’t quite so fuddled. “You wouldn’t be the first to buy me one on that account,” I said honestly. “If you insist, I’ll have a Greysdale mead.”
I watched her turn and walk back to the bar. If she was a student, she was new. If she’d been here more than a handful of days I would have heard about it from Sim, who kept tabs on all the prettiest girls in town, courting them with artless enthusiasm.
The Modegan woman returned a moment later and sat across from me, sliding a wooden mug across the table. Anker must have just finished washing it, as the fingers of her burgundy glove were wet where they had gripped the handle.
She raised her own glass, filled with a deep red wine. “To Ambrose Jakis,” she said with sudden fierceness. “May he fall into a well and die.”
I picked up the mug and took a drink, wondering if there was a woman within fifty miles of the University Ambrose hadn’t treated badly. I wiped my hand discreetly on my pants.
The woman took a deep drink of her wine and set her glass down hard. Her pupils were huge. Early as it was, she must have already been doing a fair piece of drinking.
I could suddenly smell nutmeg and plum. I sniffed at my mug, then looked at the tabletop, thinking someone might have spilled a drink. But there was nothing.
The woman across from me suddenly burst into tears. This was no gentle weeping, either. It was like someone had turned a spigot.
She looked down at her gloved hands and shook her head. She peeled off the wet one, looked at me, and sobbed out a dozen words of Modegan.
“I’m sorry,” I said helplessly. “I don’t speak—”
But she was already pushing herself up and away from the table. Wiping at her face, she ran for the door.
Anker stared at me from behind the bar, as did everyone else in the room.
“That was not my fault,” I said, pointing at the door. “She went crazy on her own.”
I would have followed her and tried to unravel it all, but she was already outside, and my admissions interview was less than an hour away. Besides, if I tried to help every woman Ambrose had ever traumatized, I wouldn’t have time left for eating or sleeping.
On the upside, the bizarre encounter seemed to have cleared my head, and I no longer felt gritty and thick with lack of sleep. I decided I might as well take advantage of it and get admissions out of the way. Sooner begun is sooner done, as my father used to say.
On my way to Hollows, I stopped to buy a golden brown meat pie from a vender’s cart. I knew I’d need every penny for this term’s tuition, but the price of a decent meal wasn’t going to make much difference one way or the other. It was hot and solid, full of chicken and carrot and sage. I ate it while I walked, reveling in the small freedom of buying something according to my taste rather than making do with whatever Anker happened to have at hand.
As I finished the last bit of crust, I smelled honeyed almonds. I bought a large scoop in a clever pouch made from a dried corn husk. It cost me four drabs, but I hadn’t had honeyed almonds in years, and some sugar in my blood wouldn’t hurt when I was answering questions.
The line for admissions wound through the courtyard. Not abnormally long, but irritating nonetheless. I saw a familiar face from the Fishery and went to stand next to a young, green-eyed woman who was waiting to queue up as well.
“Hello there,” I said. “You’re Amlia, aren’t you?”
She gave me a nervous smile and a nod.
“I’m Kvothe,” I said, making a tiny bow.
“I know who you are,” she said. “I’ve seen you in the Artificery.”
“You should call it the Fishery,” I said. I held out the pouch. “Would you like a honey almond?”
Amlia shook her head.
“They’re really good,” I said, joggling them enticingly in the corn-husk pouch.
She reached out hesitantly and took one.
“Is this the line for noon?” I asked, gesturing.
She shook her head. “We’ve got another couple minutes before we can even line up.”
“It’s ridiculous that they make us stand around like this,” I said. “Like sheep in a paddock. This entire process is a waste of everyone’s time and insulting to boot.” I saw a flicker of anxiety cross Amlia’s face. “What?” I asked her.
“It’s just that you’re talking a little loudly,” she said, looking around.
“I’m just not afraid to say what everybody else is thinking,” I said. “The whole admissions process is flawed to the point of blinding idiocy. Master Kilvin knows what I’m capable of. So does Elxa Dal. Brandeur doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground. Why should he get an equal say in my tuition?”
Amlia shrugged, not meeting my eye.
I bit into another almond and quickly spit it onto the cobblestones. “Feah!” I held them out to her. “Do these taste like plums to you?”
She gave me a vaguely disgusted look, then her eyes focused on something behind me.
I turned to see Ambrose moving through the courtyard towards us. He cut a fine figure, as he always did, dressed in clean white linen, velvet, and brocade. He wore a hat with a tall white plume, and the sight of it made me unreasonably angry. Uncharacteristically, he was alone, devoid of his usual contingent of toadies and bootlickers.
“Wonderful,” I said as soon as he came within earshot. “Ambrose, your presence is the horseshit frosting on the horseshit cake that is the admissions interview process.”
Surprisingly, Ambrose smiled at this. “Ah, Kvothe. I’m pleased to see you too.”
“I met one of your previous ladyloves today,” I said. “She was dealing with the sort of profound emotional trauma I assume comes from seeing you naked.”
His expression soured a little at that, and I leaned over and spoke to Amlia in a stage whisper. “I have it on good report that not only does Ambrose have a tiny, tiny penis, but he can only become aroused when in the presence of a dead dog, a painting of the Duke of Gibea, and a shirtless galley drummer.”
Amlia’s expression was frozen.
Ambrose looked at her. “You should leave,” he said gently. “There’s no reason you should have to listen to this sort of thing.”
Amlia practically fled.
“I’ll give you that,” I said, watching her go. “Nobody can make a woman run like you.” I tipped an imaginary hat. “You could give lessons. You could teach a class.”
Ambrose just stood, nodding contentedly and watching me in an oddly proprietary way.
“That hat makes you look like you fancy young boys,” I added. “And I’ve a mind to slap it right off your head if you don’t piss off.” I looked at him. “Speaking of which, how’s the arm?”
“It’s feeling a great deal better at the moment,” he said pleasantly. He rubbed at it absentmindedly as he stood there, smiling.
I popped another almond into my mouth, then grimaced and spit it out again.
“What’s the matter?” Ambrose asked. “Don’t fancy plum?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked away. He was smiling.
It says a great deal for my state of mind that I simply watched him go, confused. I lifted the pouch to my nose and took a deep breath. I smelled the dusty smell of the corn husk, honey, and cinnamon. Nothing at all of plum or nutmeg. How could Ambrose possibly know . . . ?
Then everything came crashing together in my head. At the same time, noon bell rang out and everyone with a tile similar to mine moved to join the long line winding through the courtyard. It was time for my admissions exam.
I left the courtyard at a dead run.
I pounded frantically on the door, out of breath from running up to the third floor of Mews. “Simmon!” I shouted. “Open this door and talk to me!”
Along the hallway doors opened and students peered out at the commotion. One of the heads peering out was Simmon’s, his sandy hair in disarray. “Kvothe?” he said. “What are you doing? That’s not even my door.”
I walked over, pushed him inside his room, and closed the door behind us. “Simmon. Ambrose drugged me. I think there’s something not right in my head, but I can’t tell what it is.”
Simmon grinned. “I’ve thought that for a . . .” He trailed off, his expression turning incredulous. “What are you doing? Don’t spit on my floor!”
“I have a strange taste in my mouth,” I explained.
“I don’t care,” he said, angry and confused. “What’s wrong with you? Were you born in a barn?”
I struck him hard across the face with the flat of my hand, sending him staggering up against the wall. “I was born in a barn, actually,” I said grimly. “Is there something wrong with that?”
Sim stood with one hand braced against the wall, the other against the reddening skin of his cheek. His expression pure astonishment. “What in God’s name is wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” I said, “but you’d do well to watch your tone. I like you well enough, but just because I don’t have a set of rich parents doesn’t mean you’re one whit better than me.” I frowned and spit again. “God that’s foul, I hate nutmeg. I have ever since I was a child.”
A sudden realization washed over Sim’s face. “The taste in your mouth,” he said. “Is it like plums and spice?”
I nodded. “It’s disgusting.”
“God’s grey ashes,” Sim said, his voice hushed in grim earnest. “Okay. You’re right. You’ve been drugged. I know what it is.” He trailed off as I turned around and started to open the door. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to go kill Ambrose,” I said. “For poisoning me.”
“It’s not a poison. It’s—” He stopped speaking abruptly, then continued in a calm, level voice. “Where did you get that knife?”
“I keep it strapped to my leg, under my pants,” I said. “For emergencies.”
Sim drew a deep breath, then let it out. “Could you give me a minute to explain before you go kill Ambrose?”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
“Would you mind sitting down while we talk?” He gestured to a chair.
I sighed and sat down. “Fine. But hurry. I’ve got admissions soon.”
Sim nodded calmly and sat on the edge of his bed, facing me. “Okay, you know when someone’s been drinking, and they get it into their head to do something stupid? And you can’t talk them out of it even though it’s obviously a bad idea?”
I laughed. “Like when you wanted to go talk to that harper girl outside the Eolian and threw up on her horse?”
He nodded. “Exactly like that. There’s something an alchemist can make that does the same thing, but it’s much more extreme.”
I shook my head. “I don’t feel drunk in the least. My head is clear as a bell.”
Sim nodded again. “It’s not like being drunk,” he said. “It’s just that one piece of it. It won’t make you dizzy or tired. It just makes it easier for a person to do something stupid.”
I thought about it for a moment. “I don’t think that’s it,” I said. “I don’t feel like I want to do anything stupid.”
“There’s one way to tell,” Sim said. “Can you think of anything right now that seems like a bad idea?”
I thought for a moment, tapping the flat of the knife’s blade idly against the edge of my boot.
“It would be a bad idea to . . .” I trailed off.
I thought for a longer moment. Sim looked at me expectantly.
“. . . to jump off the roof?” My voice curled up at the end, making it a sort of question.
Sim was quiet. He kept looking at me.
“I see the problem,” I said slowly. “I don’t seem to have any behavioral filters.”
Simmon gave a relieved smile and nodded encouragingly. “That’s it exactly. All your inhibitions have been sliced off so cleanly you can’t even tell they’re gone. But everything else is the same. You’re steady, articulate, and rational.”
“You’re patronizing me,” I said, pointing at him with the knife. “Don’t.”
He blinked. “Fair enough. Can you think of a solution to the problem?”
“Of course. I need some sort of behavioral touchstone. You’re going to need to be my compass because you still have your filters in place.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he said. “So you’ll trust me?”
I nodded. “Except when it comes to women. You’re an idiot with women.” I picked up a glass of water from a nearby table and rinsed my mouth out with it, spitting it onto the floor.
Sim gave a shaky smile. “Fair enough. First, you can’t go kill Ambrose.”
I hesitated. “You’re sure?”
“I’m sure. In fact, pretty much anything you think to do with that knife is going to be a bad idea. You should give it to me.”
I shrugged and flipped it over in my palm, handing him the makeshift leather grip.
Sim seemed surprised by this, but he took hold of the knife. “Merciful Tehlu,” he said with a profound sigh, setting the knife down on the bed. “Thank you.”
“Was that an extreme case?” I asked, rinsing my mouth out again. “We should probably have some sort of ranking system. Like a ten point scale.”
“Spitting water onto my floor is a one,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry.” I put the cup back onto his desk.
“It’s okay,” he said easily.
“Is one low or high?” I asked.
“Low,” he said. “Killing Ambrose is a ten.” He hesitated. “Maybe an eight.” He shifted in his seat. “Or a seven.”
“Really?” I said. “That much? Okay then.” I leaned forward in my seat. “You need to give me some tips for admissions. I’ve got to get back into line before too long.”
Simmon shook his head firmly. “No. That’s a really bad idea. Eight.”
“Really,” he said. “It is a delicate social situation. A lot of things could go wrong.”
Sim let out a sigh, brushing his sandy hair out of his eyes. “Am I your touchstone or not? This is going to get tedious if I have to tell you everything three times before you listen.”
I thought about it for a moment. “You’re right, especially if I’m about to do something potentially dangerous.” I looked around. “How long is this going to last?”
“No more than eight hours.” He opened his mouth to continue, then closed it.
“What?” I asked.
Sim sighed. “There might be some side effects. It’s lipid soluble, so it will hang around in your body a bit. You might experience occasional minor relapses brought about by stress, intense emotion, exercise. . . .” He gave me an apologetic look. “They’d be like little echoes of this.”
“I’ll worry about that later,” I said. I held out my hand. “Give me your admissions tile. You can go through now. I’ll take your slot.”
He spread his hands helplessly. “I’ve already gone,” he explained.
“Tehlu’s tits and teeth,” I cursed. “Fine. Go get Fela.”
He waved his hands violently in front of himself. “No. No no no. Ten.”
I laughed. “Not for that. She has a slot late on Cendling.”
“You think she’ll trade with you?”
“She’s already offered.”
Sim got to his feet. “I’ll go find her.”
“I’ll stay here,” I said.
Sim gave an enthusiastic nod and looked nervously around the room. “It’s probably safest if you don’t do anything while I’m gone,” he said as he opened the door. “Just sit on your hands until I get back.”
Sim was only gone for five minutes, which was probably for the best.
There was a knock on the door. “It’s me,” Sim’s voice came through the wood. “Is everything all right in there?”
“You know what’s strange?” I said to him through the door. “I tried to think of something funny I could do while you were gone, but I couldn’t.” I looked around at the room. “I think that means humor is rooted in social transgression. I can’t transgress because I can’t figure out what would be socially unacceptable. Everything seems the same to me.”
“You might have a point,” he said, then asked, “did you do something anyway?”
“No,” I said. “I decided to be good. Did you find Fela?”
“I did. She’s here. But before we come in, you have to promise not to do anything without asking me first. Fair?”
I laughed. “Fair enough. Just don’t make me do stupid things in front of her.”
“I promise,” Sim said. “Why don’t you sit down? Just to be safe.”
“I’m already sitting,” I said.
Sim opened the door. I could see Fela peering over his shoulder.
“Hello Fela,” I said. “I need to trade slots with you.”
“First,” Sim said. “You should put your shirt back on. That’s about a two.”
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry. I was hot.”
“You could have opened the window.”
“I thought it would be safer if I limited my interactions with external objects,” I said.
Sim raised an eyebrow. “That’s actually a really good idea. It just steered you a little wrong in this case.”
“Wow.” I heard Fela’s voice from the hallway. “Is he serious?”
“Absolutely serious,” Sim said. “Honestly? I don’t think it’s safe for you to come in.”
I tugged my shirt on. “Dressed,” I said. “I’ll even sit on my hands if it will make you feel better.” I did just that, tucking them under my legs.
Sim let Fela inside, then closed the door behind her.
“Fela, you are just gorgeous,” I said. “I would give you all the money in my purse if I could just look at you naked for two minutes. I’d give everything I own. Except my lute.”
It’s hard to say which of them blushed a deeper red. I think it was Sim.
“I wasn’t supposed to say that, was I?” I said.
“No,” Sim said. “That’s about a five.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “Women are naked in paintings. People buy paintings, don’t they? Women pose for them.”
Sim nodded. “That’s true. But still. Just sit for a moment and don’t say or do anything? Okay?”
“I can’t quite believe this,” Fela said, the blush fading from her cheeks. “I can’t help but think the two of you are playing some sort of elaborate joke on me.”
“I wish we were,” Simmon said. “This stuff is terribly dangerous.”
“How can he remember naked paintings and not remember you’re supposed to keep your shirt on in public?” she asked Sim, her eyes never leaving me.
“It just didn’t seem very important,” I said. “I took my shirt off when I was whipped. That was public. It seems a strange thing to get in trouble for.”
“Do you know what would happen if you tried to knife Ambrose?” Simmon asked.
I thought for a second. It was like trying to remember what you’d eaten for breakfast a month ago. “There’d be a trial, I suppose,” I said slowly, “and people would buy me drinks.”
Fela muffled a laugh behind her hand.
“How about this?” Simmon asked me. “Which is worse, stealing a pie or killing Ambrose?”
I gave it a moment’s hard thought. “A meat pie, or a fruit pie?”
“Wow,” Fela said breathlessly. “That’s . . .” She shook her head. “It almost makes my skin crawl.”
Simmon nodded. “It’s a terrifying piece of alchemy. It’s a variation of a sedative called a plum bob. You don’t even have to ingest it. It’s absorbed straight through the skin.”
Fela looked at him. “How do you know so much about it?”
Sim gave a weak smile. “Mandrag lectures about it in every alchemy class he teaches. I’ve heard the story a dozen times by now. It’s his favorite example of how alchemy can be abused. An alchemist used it to ruin the lives of several government officials in Atur about fifty years ago. He only got caught because a countess ran amok in the middle of a wedding, killed a dozen folk and—”
Sim stopped, shaking his head. “Anyway. It was bad. Bad enough that the alchemist’s mistress turned him over to the guards.”
“I hope he got what he deserved.”
“And with some to spare,” Sim said grimly. “The point is, it hits everyone a little differently. It’s not a simple lowering of inhibition. There’s an amplification of emotion. A freeing up of hidden desire combined with a strange type of selective memory, almost like a moral amnesia.”
“I don’t feel bad,” I said. “I feel pretty good, actually. But I’m worried about admissions.”
Sim gestured. “See? He remembers admissions. It’s important to him. But other things are just . . . gone.”
“Is there a cure?” Fela asked nervously. “Shouldn’t we take him to the Medica?”
Simmon looked nervous. “I don’t think so. They might try a purgative, but it’s not as if there’s a drug working through him. Alchemy doesn’t work like that. He’s under the influence of unbound principles. You can’t flush those out the way you’d try to get rid of mercury or ophalum.”
“A purgative doesn’t sound like much fun,” I added. “If my vote counts for anything.”
“And there’s a chance they might think he’s cracked under admission stress,” Sim said to Fela. “That happens to a few students every term. They’d stick him in Haven until they were sure—”
I was on my feet, my hands clenched into fists. “I’ll be cut into pieces in hell before I let them stick me in Haven,” I said, furious. “Even for an hour. Even for a minute.”
Sim blanched and took a step back, raising his hands defensively, palms out. But his voice was firm and calm. “Kvothe, I am telling you three times. Stop.”
I stopped. Fela was watching me with wide, frightened eyes.
Simmon continued firmly. “Kvothe, I am telling you three times: sit down.”
Standing behind him, Fela looked at Simmon, surprised.
“Thank you,” Simmon said graciously, lowering his hands. “I agree. The Medica isn’t the best place for you. We can just ride this out here.”
“That sounds better to me too,” I said.
“Even if things did go smoothly at the Medica,” Simmon added. “I expect you will be more inclined to speak your mind than usual.” He gave a small, wry smile. “Secrets are the cornerstone of civilization, and I know you have a few more than most folk.”
“I don’t think I have any secrets,” I said.
Sim and Fela both burst out laughing at the same time. “I’m afraid you just proved his point,” Fela said. “I know you have at least a few.”
“So do I,” Sim said.
“You’re my touchstone,” I shrugged. Then I smiled at Fela and pulled out my purse.
Sim shook his head at me. “No no no. I’ve already told you. Seeing her naked would be the worst thing in the world right now.”
Fela’s eyes narrowed a little at that.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Are you worried I’ll tackle her to the ground and ravage her?” I laughed.
Sim looked at me. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Of course not,” I said.
He looked at Fela, then back. “Can you say why?” he asked curiously.
I thought about it. “It’s because . . .” I trailed off, then shook my head. “It . . . I just can’t. I know I can’t eat a stone or walk through a wall. It’s like that.”
I concentrated on it for a second and began to get dizzy. I put one hand over my eyes and tried to ignore the sudden vertigo. “Please tell me I’m right about that,” I asked, suddenly scared. “I can’t eat a stone, can I?”
“You’re right,” Fela said quickly. “You can’t.”
I stopped trying to rummage around the inside of my mind for answers and the odd vertigo faded.
Sim was watching me intently. “I wish I knew what that signified,” he said.
“I have a fair idea,” Fela murmured softly.
I drew the ivory admissions tile out of my purse. “I was just looking to trade,” I said. “Unless you are willing to let me see you naked.” I hefted the purse with my other hand and met Fela’s eye. “Sim says it’s wrong, but he’s an idiot with women. My head might not be screwed on quite as tightly as I’d like, but I remember that clearly.”
It was four hours before my inhibitions began to filter back, and two more before they were firmly in place. Simmon spent the entire day with me, patient as a priest, explaining that no, I shouldn’t go buy us a bottle of brand. No, I shouldn’t go kick the dog that was barking across the street. No, I shouldn’t go to Imre and look for Denna. No. Three times no.
By the time the sun went down I was back to my regular, semi-moral self. Simmon quizzed me extensively before walking me back to my room at Anker’s, where he made me swear on my mother’s milk that I wouldn’t leave my room until morning. I swore.
But all was not right with me. My emotions were still running hot, flaring up at every little thing. Worse, my memory hadn’t simply returned to normal, it was back with a vivid and uncontrollable enthusiasm.
It hadn’t been that bad when I was with Simmon. His presence was a pleasant distraction. But alone in my small garret room in Anker’s, I was at the mercy of my memory. It was as if my mind was determined to unpack and examine every sharp and painful thing I had ever seen.
You might think the worst memories were those of when my troupe was killed. Of how I came back to our camp and found everything aflame. The unnatural shapes my parents’ bodies made in the dim twilight. The smell of scorched canvas and blood and burning hair. Memories of the ones who killed them. Of the Chandrian. Of the man who spoke to me, grinning all the while. Of Cinder.
These were bad memories, but over the years I had brought them out and handled them so often there was hardly a sharp edge left to them. I remembered the pitch and timbre of Haliax’s voice as clearly as my father’s. I could easily bring to mind the face of Cinder. His perfect, smiling teeth. His white, curling hair. His eyes, black as beads of ink. His voice, full of winter’s chill, saying: Someone’s parents have been singing entirely the wrong sorts of songs.
You would think these would be the worst memories. But you would be wrong.
No. The worst memories were those of my young life. The slow roll and bump of riding in the wagon, my father holding the reins loosely. His strong hands on my shoulders, showing me how to stand on the stage so my body said proud, or sad, or shy. His fingers adjusting mine on the strings of his lute.
My mother brushing my hair. The feel of her arms around me. The perfect way my head fit into the curve of her neck. How I would sit, curled in her lap next to the fire at night, drowsy and happy and safe.
These were the worst memories. Precious and perfect. Sharp as a mouthful of broken glass. I lay in bed, clenched into a trembling knot, unable to sleep, unable to turn my mind to other things, unable to stop myself from remembering. Again. And again. And again.
Then there came a small tapping at my window. A sound so tiny I didn’t notice it until it stopped. Then I heard the window ease open behind me.
“Kvothe?” Auri said softly.
I clenched my teeth against the sobbing and lay still as I could, hoping she would think I was asleep and leave.
“Kvothe?” she called again. “I brought you—” There was a moment of silence, then she said, “Oh.”
I heard a soft sound behind me. The moonlight showed her tiny shadow on the wall as she climbed through the window. I felt the bed move as she settled onto it.
A small, cool hand brushed the side of my face.
“It’s okay,” she said quietly. “Come here.”
I began to cry quietly, and she gently uncurled the tight knot of me until my head lay in her lap. She murmured, brushing my hair away from my forehead, her hands cool against my hot face.
“I know,” she said sadly. “It’s bad sometimes, isn’t it?”
She stroked my hair gently, and it only made me cry harder. I could not remember the last time someone had touched me in a loving way.
“I know,” she said. “You have a stone in your heart, and some days it’s so heavy there is nothing to be done. But you don’t have to be alone for it. You should have come to me. I understand.”
My body clenched and suddenly the taste of plum filled my mouth again. “I miss her,” I said before I realized I was speaking. Then I bit it off before I could say anything else. I clenched my teeth and shook my head furiously, like a horse fighting its reins.
“You can say it,” Auri said gently.
I shook again, tasted plum, and suddenly the words were pouring out of me. “She said I sang before I spoke. She said when I was just a baby she had the habit of humming when she held me. Nothing like a song. Just a descending third. Just a soothing sound. Then one day she was walking me around the camp, and she heard me echo it back to her. Two octaves higher. A tiny piping third. She said it was my first song. We sang it back and forth to each other. For years.” I choked and clenched my teeth.
“You can say it,” Auri said softly. “It’s okay if you say it.”
“I’m never going to see her again,” I choked out. Then I began to cry in earnest.
“It’s okay,” Auri said softly. “I’m here. You’re safe.”
The next few days were neither pleasant nor productive. Fela’s admissions slot was at the very end of the span, so I attempted to put the extra time to good use. I tried to do some piecework in the Fishery, but quickly returned to my room when I broke down crying halfway through inscribing a heat funnel. Not only couldn’t I maintain the proper Alar, but the last thing I needed was for people to think I’d cracked under the stress of admissions.
Later that night, when I tried to crawl through the narrow tunnel into the Archives, the taste of plum flooded my mouth, and I was filled with a mindless fear of the dark, confining space. Luckily, I’d only gone a dozen feet, but even so I almost gave myself a concussion struggling backwards out of the tunnel, and my palms were scraped raw from my panicked scrabbling against the stone.
So I spent the next two days pretending I was sick and keeping to my tiny room. I played my lute, slept fitfully, and thought dark thoughts of Ambrose.
Anker was cleaning up when I came downstairs. “Feeling better?” he asked.
“A bit,” I said. Yesterday I’d only had two plum echoes, and they were very brief. Better yet, I’d managed to sleep the whole night through. It seemed I was through the worst of it.
I shook my head. “Admissions today.”
Anker frowned. “You should have something, then. An apple.” He bustled around behind the bar, then brought out a pottery mug and a heavy jug. “Have some milk too. I’ve got to make use of it before it turns. Damn iceless started giving up the ghost a couple days ago. Three talents solid that thing cost me. I knew I shouldn’t have wasted money on it with ice so cheap around here.”
I leaned over the bar and peered at the long wooden box tucked away among the mugs and bottles. “I could take a look at it for you,” I offered.
Anker raised an eyebrow. “Can you do something with it?”
“I can look,” I said. “Could be something simple I could fix.”
Anker shrugged. “You can’t break it more than it’s already broken.” He wiped his hands on his apron and motioned me behind the bar. “I’ll do you a couple eggs while you’re having your look. I should use those up too.” He opened the long box, took out a handful of eggs, then walked back into the kitchen.
I made my way around the corner of the bar and knelt to look at the iceless. It was a stone-lined box the size of a small traveling trunk. Anywhere other than the University it would have been a miracle of artificing, a luxury. Here, where such things were easy to come by, it was just another piece of needless God-bothering that wasn’t working properly.
It was about as simple a piece of artificing as could be made. No moving parts at all, just two flat bands of tin covered in sygaldry that moved heat from one end of the metal band to the other. It was really nothing more than a slow, inefficient heat siphon.
I crouched down and rested my fingers on the tin bands. The right-hand one was warm, meaning the half on the inside would be correspondingly cool. But the one on the left was room temperature. I craned my neck to get a look at the sygaldry and spotted a deep scratch in the tin, scoring through two of the runes.
That explained it. A piece of sygaldry is like a sentence in a lot of ways. If you remove a couple words, it simply doesn’t make any sense. I should say it usually doesn’t make sense. Sometimes a damaged piece of sygaldry can do something truly unpleasant. I frowned down at the band of tin. This was sloppy artificing. The runes should have been on the inside of the band where they couldn’t be damaged.
I rummaged around until I found a disused ice hammer in the back of a drawer, then carefully tapped the two damaged runes flat into the soft surface of the tin. Then I concentrated and used the tip of a paring knife to etch them back into the thick metal band.
Anker emerged from the kitchen with a plateful of eggs and tomatoes. “It should work now,” I said. I started eating out of politeness, then realized I was actually hungry.
Anker looked over the box, lifting the lid. “That easy?”
“Same as anything else,” I said, my mouth half full. “Easy if you know what you’re doing. It should work. Give it a day and see if it actually chills down.”
I finished off the plateful of eggs and drank the milk as quickly as I could without being rude. “I’ll need to cash out my bar credit today,” I said. “Tuition’s going to be hard this term.”
Anker nodded and checked a small ledger he kept underneath the bar, tallying all the Greysdale mead I’d pretended to drink over the last two months. Then he pulled out his purse and counted out ten copper jots onto the table. A full talent: twice what I’d expected. I looked up at him, puzzled.
“One of Kilvin’s boys would have charged me at least half a talent to come round and fix this thing,” Anker explained, kicking at the iceless.
“I can’t be sure. . . .”
He waved me into silence. “If it isn’t fixed, I’ll take it out of your wages over the next month,” he said. “Or I’ll use it as leverage to get you to start playing Reaving night too.” He grinned. “I consider it an investment.”
I gathered the money into my purse: Four talents.
I was heading toward the Fishery to see if my lamps had finally sold when I caught a glimpse of a familiar face crossing the courtyard wearing dark master’s robes.
“Master Elodin!” I called as I saw him approaching a side door to the Masters’ Hall. It was one of the few buildings I hadn’t spent much time in, as it contained little more than living quarters for the masters, the resident gillers, and guest rooms for visiting arcanists.
He turned at the sound of his name. Then, seeing me jogging toward him, he rolled his eyes and turned back to the door.
“Master Elodin,” I said, breathing a little hard. “Might I ask you a quick question?”
“Statistically speaking, it’s pretty likely,” he said, unlocking the door with a bright brass key.
“May I ask you a question, then?”
“I doubt any power known to man could stop you.” He swung open the door and headed inside.
I hadn’t been invited, but I slipped inside after him. Elodin was difficult to track down, and I worried if I didn’t take this chance, I might not see him again for another span of days.
I followed him through a narrow stone hallway. “I’d heard a rumor you were gathering a group of students to study naming,” I said cautiously.
“That’s not a question,” Elodin said as he headed up a long, narrow flight of stairs.
I fought back the urge to snap at him and took a deep breath instead. “Is it true you’re teaching such a class?”
“Were you planning on including me?”
Elodin stopped and turned to face me on the stairway. He looked out of place in his dark master’s robe. His hair was tousled and his face was too young, almost boyish.
He stared at me for a long minute. He looked me up and down as if I were a horse he were thinking of betting on, or a side of beef he was considering selling by the pound.
But that was nothing compared to when he met my eyes. For a heartbeat it was simply unsettling. Then it almost felt like the light on the stairway grew dim. Or that I was suddenly being thrust deep underwater and the pressure was keeping me from drawing a full breath.
“Damn you, half-wit.” I heard a familiar voice that seemed to be coming from a long way off. “If you’re going catatonic again, have the decency to do it in Haven and save us the trouble of carting your foam-flecked carcass back there. Barring that, get to one side.”
Elodin looked away from me and suddenly everything was bright and clear again. I fought to keep from gasping in a lungful of air.
Master Hemme stomped down the stairs, shouldering Elodin roughly to one side. When he saw me he snorted. “Of course. The quarter-wit is here too. Might I recommend a book for your perusal? It is a lovely piece of reading titled, Hallways, Their Form and Function: A Primer for the Mentally Deficient.”
He glowered at me, and when I didn’t immediately jump aside he gave me an unpleasant smile. “Ah, but you’re still banned from the Archives, aren’t you? Should I arrange to present the salient information in a form more suited to your kind? Perhaps a mummer’s play or some manner of puppet show?”
I stepped to one side and Hemme stormed by, muttering to himself. Elodin stared daggers into the other master’s broad back. Only after Hemme turned the corner did Elodin’s attention settle back on me.
He sighed. “Perhaps it would be better if you pursued your other studies, Re’lar Kvothe. Dal has a fondness for you, as does Kilvin. You seem to be progressing well with them.”
“But sir,” I said, trying to keep the dismay out of my voice. “You’re the one who sponsored my promotion to Re’lar.”
He turned and began climbing the stairs again. “Then you should value my sage advice, shouldn’t you?”
“But, if you’re teaching other students, why not me?”
“Because you are too eager to be properly patient,” he said flippantly. “You’re too proud to listen properly. And you’re too clever by half. That’s the worst of it.”
“Some masters prefer clever students,” I muttered as we emerged into a wide hallway.
“Yes,” Elodin said. “Dal and Kilvin and Arwyl like clever students. Go study with one of them. Both our lives will be considerably easier because of it.”
“But . . .”
Elodin came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the hallway. “Fine,” he said. “Prove you’re worth teaching. Shake my assumptions down to their foundation stones.” He patted at his robes dramatically, as if looking for something lost in a pocket. “Much to my dismay, I find myself without a way to get past this door.” He rapped it with a knuckle. “What do you do in this situation, Re’lar Kvothe?”
I smiled despite my general irritation. He couldn’t have picked a challenge more perfectly suited to my talents. I pulled a long, slender piece of spring steel out of a pocket in my cloak, then knelt in front of the door and eyed the keyhole. The lock was substantial, made to last. But while large, heavy locks look impressive, they’re actually easier to circumvent if they’re well-maintained.
This one was. It took me the space of three slow breaths to trip it with a satisfying k-tick. I stood up, brushed off my knees, and swung the door inward with a flourish.
For his part, Elodin did seem somewhat impressed. His eyebrows went up as the door swung open. “Clever,” he said as he walked inside.
I followed on his heels. I’d never really wondered what Elodin’s rooms were like. But if I’d guessed, it wouldn’t have been anything resembling this.
They were huge and lavish, with high ceilings and thick rugs. Old wood paneled the walls, and tall windows let in the early morning light. There were oil paintings and massive pieces of ancient wooden furniture. It was bizarrely ordinary.
Elodin moved quickly through the entryway, through a tasteful sitting room, then into the bedroom. Call it a bedchamber, rather. It was huge, with a four-post bed big as a boat. Elodin threw open a wardrobe and started removing several long, dark robes similar to the one he was wearing.
“Here.” Elodin shoved robes into my arms until I couldn’t hold any more. Some were everyday cotton, but others were fine linen or rich, soft velvet. He lay another half-dozen robes over his own arm and carried them back into the sitting room.
We passed old bookshelves lined with hundreds of books and a huge polished desk. One wall was taken up with a large stone fireplace big enough to roast a pig, though there was currently only a small fire smoldering there, keeping away the early autumn chill.
Elodin lifted a crystal decanter off a table and went to stand in front of the fireplace. He dumped the robes he was carrying into my arms so I could barely see over the top of them. Delicately lifting the top off the decanter, he sipped at the contents and raised an eyebrow appreciatively, holding it up to the light.
I decided to try again. “Master Elodin, why don’t you want to teach me naming?”
“That’s the wrong question,” he said, and upended the decanter onto smoldering coals in the fireplace. As the flames licked up hungrily, he took his armload of robes back and fed a velvet one slowly into the fire. It caught quickly, and when it was blazing away, he fed the others onto the fire in quick succession. The result was a great smoldering pile of cloth that sent thick smoke billowing up the chimney. “Try again.”
I couldn’t help but ask the obvious. “Why are you burning your clothes?”
“Nope. Not even close to the right question,” he said as he took more robes out of my arms and piled them into the fireplace. Then Elodin grabbed the handle for the flue and pulled it closed with a metallic clank. Great clouds of smoke began to pour into the room. Elodin coughed a bit, then stepped back and looked around in a vaguely satisfied way.
I suddenly realized what was going on. “Oh God,” I said. “Whose rooms are these?”
Elodin gave a satisfied nod. “Very good. I would also have accepted, Why don’t you have a key for this room? or What are we doing in here?” He looked down at me, his eyes serious. “Doors are locked for a reason. People who don’t have keys are supposed to stay out for a reason.”
He nudged the heap of smouldering cloth with one foot, as if reassuring himself it would stay in the fireplace. “You know you’re clever. That’s your weakness. You assume you know what you’re getting into, but you don’t.”
Elodin turned to look at me, his dark eyes serious. “You think you can trust me to teach you,” he said. “You think I will keep you safe. But that is the worst sort of foolishness.”
“Whose rooms are these?” I repeated numbly.
He showed me all his teeth in a sudden grin. “Master Hemme’s.”
“Why are you burning all of Hemme’s clothes?” I asked, trying to ignore the fact that the room was rapidly filling with bitter smoke.
Elodin looked at me as if I were an idiot. “Because I hate him.” He picked up the crystal decanter from the mantle and threw it violently against the back of the fireplace where it shattered. The fire began to burn more vigorously from whatever had been left inside. “The man is an absolute tit. Nobody talks to me like that.”
Smoke continued to boil into the room. If it weren’t for the high ceilings we’d already be choking on it. Even so, it was becoming hard to breathe as we made our way to the door. Elodin opened it, and smoke rolled out into the hallway.
We stood outside the door, staring at each other while the smoke billowed past. I decided to take a different tack on the problem. “I understand your hesitation, Master Elodin,” I said. “Sometimes I don’t think things all the way through.”
“And I’ll admit there have been times when my actions have been . . .” I paused, trying to think of something more humble than ill-considered.
“Stupid beyond all mortal ken?” Elodin said helpfully.
My temper flared, burning away my brief attempt at humility. “Well thank God I’m the only one here that’s ever made a bad decision in my life!” I said, barely keeping my voice this side of a shout. I looked him hard in the eye. “I’ve heard stories about you too, you know. They say you toffed things up pretty well yourself back when you were a student here.”
Elodin’s amused expression faded a bit, leaving him looking like he’d swallowed something and it had gotten stuck halfway down.
I continued. “If you think I’m reckless, do something about it. Show me the straighter path! Mold my supple young mind—” I sucked in a lungful of smoke and began to cough, forcing me to cut my tirade short. “Do something, damn you!” I choked out. “Teach me!”
I hadn’t really been shouting, but I ended up breathless all the same. My temper faded as quickly as it had flared up, and I worried I’d gone too far.
But Elodin just looked at me. “What makes you think I’m not teaching you?” he asked, puzzled. “Aside from the fact that you refuse to learn.”
Then he turned and walked down the hallway. “I’d get out of here if I were you,” he said over his shoulder. “People are going to want to know who’s responsible for this, and everyone knows you and Hemme don’t get on very well.”
I felt myself break into a panicked sweat. “What?”
“I’d wash up before admissions too,” he said. “It won’t look good if you show up reeking of smoke. I live here,” Elodin said, pulling a key from his pocket and unlocking a door at the far end of the hallway. “What’s your excuse?”
A Civil Tongue
My hair was still wet when I made my way through a short hallway, then up the stairs onto the stage of an empty theater. As always, the room was dark except for the huge crescent-shaped table. I moved to the edge of the light and waited politely.
The Chancellor motioned me forward and I walked to the center of the table, reaching up to hand him my tile. Then I stepped back to stand in the circle of slightly brighter light between the two outthrust horns of the table.
The nine masters looked down at me. I’d like to say they looked dramatic, like ravens on a fence or something like that. But while they were all wearing their formal robes, they were too mismatched to look like a collection of anything.
What’s more, I could see the marks of weariness on them. Only then did it occur to me that as much as the students hated admissions, it was probably no walk in the garden for the masters either.
“Kvothe, Arliden’s son,” the Chancellor said formally. “Re’lar.” He made a gesture to the far right-hand horn of the table. “Master Physicker?”
Arwyl peered down at me, his face grandfatherly behind his round spectacles. “What are the medicinal properties of mhenka?” he asked.
“Powerful anesthetic,” I said. “Powerful catatoniate. Potential purgative.” I hesitated. “It has a whole sackful of complicating secondaries too. Should I list them all?”
Arwyl shook his head. “A patient comes into the Medica complaining of pains in their joints and difficulty breathing. Their mouth is dry, and they claim to have a sweet taste in their mouth. They complain of chills, but they are actually sweaty and feverish. What is your diagnosis?”
I drew a breath, then hesitated. “I don’t make diagnoses in the Medica, Master Arwyl. I’d fetch one of your El’the to do it.”
He smiled at me, eyes crinkling around the edges. “Correct,” he said. “But for the sake of argument, what do you think might be wrong?”
“Is the patient a student?”
Arwyl raised an eyebrow. “What does that have to do with the price of butter?”
“If they work in the Fishery, it might be smelter’s flu,” I said. Arwyl cocked an eyebrow at me and I added, “There’s all sorts of heavy metal poisoning you can get in the Fishery. It’s rare around here because the students are welltrained, but anyone working with hot bronze can inhale enough fumes to kill themselves if they aren’t properly careful.” I saw Kilvin nodding along, and was glad I didn’t have to admit the only reason I knew this was that I’d given myself a mild case of it a month ago.
Arwyl gave a thoughtful humph, then gestured to the other side of the table. “Master Arithmetician?”
Brandeur sat on the left-hand point of the table. “Assuming the changer takes four percent, how many pennies can you break from a talent?” He asked the question without looking up from the papers in front of him.
“What type of penny, Master Brandeur?”
He looked up, frowning. “We are still in the Commonwealth, if I remember correctly.”
I juggled numbers in my head, working from the figures in the books he’d set aside in the Archives. They weren’t the true exchange rates you would get from a moneylender, they were the official exchange rates governments and financiers used so they had common ground for lying to each other. “In iron pennies. Three hundred and fifty,” I said, then added. “One. And a half.”
Brandeur looked down at the papers before I’d even finished speaking. “Your compass reads gold at two hundred twenty points, platinum at one hundred twelve points, and cobalt at thirty-two points. Where are you?”
I was boggled by the question. Orienting by trifoil required detailed maps and painstaking triangulation. It was usually only practiced by sea captains and cartographers, and they used detailed charts to make their calculations. I’d only ever laid eyes on a trifoil compass twice in my life.
Either this was a question listed in one of the books Brandeur had set aside for study or it was deliberately designed to spike my wheel. Given that Brandeur and Hemme were friends, I guessed it was the latter.
I closed my eyes, brought up a map of the civilized world in my head, and took my best guess. “Tarbean?” I said. “Maybe somewhere in Yll?” I opened my eyes. “Honestly, I have no idea.”
Brandeur made a mark on a piece of paper. “Master Namer,” he said without looking up.
Elodin gave me a wicked, knowing grin, and I was suddenly struck with the fear that he might reveal my part of what we had done in Hemme’s rooms earlier that morning.
Instead he held up three fingers dramatically. “You have three spades in your hand,” he said. “And there have been five spades played.” He steepled his fingers and looked at me seriously. “How many spades is that?”
“Eight spades,” I said.
The other masters stirred slightly in their seats. Arwyl sighed. Kilvin slouched. Hemme and Brandeur went to far as to roll their eyes at each other. All together they gave the impression of long-suffering exasperation.
Elodin scowled at them. “What?” he demanded, his voice going hard around the edges. “You want me to take this song and dance more seriously? You want me to ask him questions only a namer can answer?”
The other masters stilled at this, looking uncomfortable and refusing to meet his eye. Hemme was the exception and glared openly.
“Fine,” Elodin said, turning back to me. His eyes were dark, and his voice had a strange resonance to it. It wasn’t loud, but when he spoke, it seemed to fill the entire hall. It left no space left over for any other sound. “Where does the moon go,” Elodin asked grimly, “when it is no longer in our sky?”
The room seemed unnaturally quiet when he stopped speaking. As if his voice had left a hole in the world.
I waited to see if there was more to the question. “I haven’t the slightest,” I admitted. After Elodin’s voice, my own seemed rather thin and insubstantial.
Elodin shrugged, then gestured graciously across the table. “Master Sympathist.”
Elxa Dal was the only one who really looked comfortable in his formal robes. As always, his dark beard and lean face made me think of the evil magician in so many bad Aturan plays. He gave me a bit of a sympathetic look. “How about the binding for linear galvanic attraction?” he said in an offhand way.
I rattled it off easily.
He nodded. “What’s the distance of insurmountable decay for iron?”
“Five and a half miles,” I said, giving the textbook answer despite the fact that I had some quibbles with the term insurmountable. While it was true that moving any significant amount of energy more than six miles was statistically impossible, you could still use sympathy to dowse over much greater distances.
“Once an ounce of water is boiling, how much heat will it take to boil it completely away?”
I dragged up what I could remember from the vaporization tables I’d worked with in the Fishery. “A hundred and eighty thaums.” I said with more assurance than I actually felt.
“Good enough for me,” Dal said. “Master Alchemist?”
Mandrag waved a mottled hand dismissively. “I’ll pass.”
“He’s good with questions about spades,” Elodin suggested.
Mandrag frowned at Elodin. “Master Archivist.”
Lorren stared down at me, his long face impassive. “What are the rules of the Archives?”
I flushed at this and looked down. “Move quietly,” I said. “Respect the books. Obey the scrivs. No water. No food.” I swallowed. “No fire.”
Lorren nodded. Nothing in his tone or demeanor indicated any sort of disapproval, but that just made it worse. His eyes moved across the table. “Master Artificer.”
I cursed inwardly. Over the last span I’d read all six books Master Lorren had set aside for Re’lar to study from. Feltemi Reis’ Fall of Empire alone took me ten hours. I wanted few things more than access to the Archives, and I’d desperately hoped to impress Master Lorren by answering whatever question he could think to ask.
But there was no help for it. I turned to face Kilvin.
“Galvanic throughput of copper,” the great bearlike master rumbled through his beard.
I gave it to five places. I’d had to use it while making calculations for the deck lamps.
“Conductive coefficient of gallium.”
I’d needed to know that to dope the emitters for the lamp. Was Kilvin lobbing me easy questions? I gave the answer.
“Good,” Kilvin said. “Master Rhetorician.”
I drew a deep breath as I turned to look at Hemme. I had gone so far as to read three of his books, though I have a sharp loathing for rhetoric and pointless philosophy.
Still, I could tamp down my distaste for two minutes’ time and play the part of a good, humble student. I am one of the Ruh, I could act the part.
Hemme scowled at me, his round face like an angry moon. “Did you set fire to my rooms, you little ravel bastard?”
The raw nature of the question caught me entirely off my guard. I was ready for impossibly hard questions, or trick questions, or questions he could twist to make any answer I gave seem wrong.
But this sudden accusation caught me utterly wrong-footed. Ravel is a term I particularly despise. A welter of emotion rolled through me and brought the sudden taste of plum to my mouth. While part of me was still considering the most gracious way to respond, I found I was already speaking. “I didn’t set fire to your rooms,” I said honestly. “But I wish I had. And I wish you’d been in there when it started, sleeping soundly.”
Hemme’s expression turned from scowling to astonished.
“Re’lar Kvothe!” the Chancellor snapped. “You will keep a civil tongue in your head, or I will bring you up on charges of Conduct Unbecoming myself!”
The taste of plum disappeared as quickly as it had come, leaving me feeling slightly dizzy and sweating with fear and embarrassment. “My apologies, Chancellor,” I said quickly, looking down at my feet. “I spoke in anger. Ravel is a term my people find particularly offensive. Its use makes light of the systematic slaughter of thousands of Ruh.”
A curious line appeared between the Chancellor’s eyebrows. “I’ll admit I don’t know that particular etymology,” he mused. “I guess I’ll make that my question.”
“Hold off,” Hemme interrupted. “I’m not finished.”
“You are finished,” the Chancellor said, his voice hard and firm. “You’re as bad as the boy, Jasom, and with less excuse. You’ve shown you can’t conduct yourself in a professional manner, so stint thy clep and consider yourself lucky I don’t call for an official censure.”
Hemme went white with anger, but he held his tongue.
The Chancellor turned to look at me. “Master Linguist,” he announced himself formally. “Re’lar Kvothe: What is the etymology of the word ravel?”
“It comes from the purges instigated by Emperor Alcyon,” I said. “He issued a proclamation saying any of the traveling rabble on the roads were subject to fine, imprisonment, or transportation without trial. The term became shortened to ‘ravel’ though metaplasmic enclitization.”
He raised an eyebrow at that. “Did it now?”
I nodded. “Though I also expect there is a connection to the term ravelend, referring to the ragged appearance of performing troupes that are out at the heels.”
The Chancellor nodded formally. “Thank you, Re’lar Kvothe. Take a seat while we confer.”
My tuition was set at nine talents and five. Better than the ten talents Manet had predicted, but more than I had in my purse. I had until tomorrow noon to settle up with the bursar or I would be forced to miss an entire term.
Having to postpone my studies wouldn’t have been a tragedy. But only students are allowed access to University resources, such as the equipment in the Artificery. That meant if I couldn’t pay my tuition, I would be barred from my work in Kilvin’s shop, the only job where I could hope to earn enough money for my tuition.
I stopped at the Stocks and Jaxim smiled as I approached the open window. “Just sold your lamps this morning,” he said. “We squeezed them for a little extra because they were the last ones left.”
He leafed through the ledger until he found the appropriate page. “Your sixty percent comes out to four talents and eight jots. After the materials and piecework you used . . .” He ran his finger down a page. “You’re left with two talents, three jots, and eight drabs.”
Jaxim made a note in the ledger, then wrote me a receipt. I folded the paper carefully and tucked it into my purse. It didn’t have the satisfying weight of coins, but it brought my total up to more than six talents. So much money, but still not enough.
If I hadn’t lost my temper with Hemme my tuition might have been low enough. I could have studied more, or earned more money if I hadn’t been forced to hide in my room for almost two whole days, weeping and raging with the taste of plum in my mouth.
A thought occurred to me. “I should start something new, I guess,” I said casually. “I’ll need a small crucible. Three ounces of tin. Two ounces of bronze. Four ounces of silver. A spool of fine gold wire. A copper—”
“Hold on a second,” Jaxim interrupted me. He ran a finger back along my name in the ledger. “I don’t have you authorized for gold or silver.” He looked up at me. “Is that a mistake?”
I hesitated, not wanting to lie. “I didn’t know you needed authorization,” I said.
Jaxim gave me a knowing grin. “You’re not the first one to try something like that,” he said. “Rough tuition?”
He grimaced sympathetically. “Sorry. Kilvin knows Stocks could turn into a moneylender’s stall if he isn’t careful.” He closed the ledger. “You’ll have to hit the pawnshop like everyone else.”
I held up my hands, showing him the fronts and backs to make a point of my lack of jewelry.
Jaxim winced. “That’s rough. I know a decent moneylender on Silver Court, only charges ten percent a month. It’s still like having your teeth pulled, but better than most.”
I nodded and sighed. Silver Court was where the guild moneylenders had their shops. They wouldn’t give me the time of day. “It’s certainly better than I’ve gotten in the past,” I said.
I thought things over while I walked to Imre, the familiar weight of my lute resting on one shoulder.
I was in a tight spot, but not a terrible one. No guild moneylender would lend money to an orphan Edema Ruh with no collateral, but I could borrow the money from Devi. Still, I wish it hadn’t come to that. Not only was her rate of interest extortionate, but I worried what favors she might require of me if I ever defaulted my loan. I doubted they would be small. Or easy. Or entirely legal.
Such were the turnings of my thoughts as I made my way over Stonebridge. I stopped by an apothecary, then made my way to the Grey Man.
Opening the door, I saw the Grey Man was a boarding house. There was no common room where people could gather and drink. Instead there was a small, richly-appointed parlor, complete with a well-dressed porter who eyed me with an air of disapproval, if not outright distaste.
“Can I help you, young sir?” he asked as I came in the door.
“I’m calling on a young lady,” I said. “By the name of Dinael.”
He nodded. “I shall go and see if she is in.”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” I said, moving toward the stairs. “She’s expecting me.”
The man moved to block my way. “I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” he said. “But I will be glad to see if the lady is in.”
He held out his hand. I looked at it.
“Your calling card?” he asked. “That I might present it to the young lady?”
“How can you give her my card if you aren’t sure she is in?” I asked.
The porter gave me the smile again. It was gracious, polite, and so sharply unpleasant that I took special note of it, fixing it in my memory. A smile like that is a work of art. As someone who grew up on the stage, I could appreciate it on several levels. A smile like that is like a knife in certain social settings, and I might have need of it someday.
“Ah,” the porter said. “The lady is in,” he said with a certain emphasis. “But that does not necessarily mean she is in for you.”
“You can tell her Kvothe has come calling,” I said, more amused than offended. “I’ll wait.”
I didn’t have to wait long. The porter came down the stairs wearing an irritated expression, as if he’d been looking forward to throwing me out. “This way,” he said.
I followed him upstairs. He opened a door, and I swept past him with what I hoped was an irritating amount of dismissive aplomb.
It was a sitting room with wide windows that let in the late afternoon sun, large enough to seem spacious despite the scattered chairs and couches. A hammer dulcimer sat against the far wall, and one corner of the room was entirely occupied by a massive Modegan great harp.
Denna stood in the center of the room wearing a green velvet dress. Her hair was arranged to display her elegant neck to good effect, revealing the emerald teardrop earrings and matching necklace at her throat.
She was talking to a young man who was . . . the best word I can think of is pretty. He had a sweet, clean-shaven face with wide, dark eyes.
He had the look of a young noble who had been down on his luck too long for it to be a temporary thing. His clothing was fine but rumpled. His dark hair was cut in a style obviously meant to be curled, but it hadn’t been tended to recently. His eyes were sunken, as if he hadn’t been sleeping well.
Denna held out her hands to me. “Kvothe,” she said. “Come meet Geoffrey.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Kvothe,” Geoffrey said. “Dinael has told me quite a bit about you. You’re a bit of a—what is it? Wizard?” His smile was open and utterly guileless.
“Arcanist actually,” I said as politely as possible. “Wizard brings too much storybook nonsense to mind. People expect us to wear dark robes and fling about the entrails of birds. And yourself?”
“Geoffrey is a poet,” Denna said. “And a good one, though he’ll deny it.”
“I will,” he admitted, then his smile faded. “I have to go. I have an appointment with folk who shouldn’t be kept waiting.” He gave Denna a kiss on the cheek, shook my hand warmly, and left.
Denna watched the door close behind him. “He’s a sweet boy.”
“You say that as if you regret it,” I said.
“If he were a little less sweet, he might be able to fit two thoughts in his head at the same time. Maybe they would rub together and make a spark. Even a little smoke would be nice, then at least it would look like something was happening in there.” She sighed.
“Is he really that thick?”
She shook her head. “No. He’s just trusting. Hasn’t got a calculating bone in his body, and he’s done nothing but make bad choices since he got here a month ago.”
I reached into my cloak and brought out a pair of small, cloth-wrapped bundles: one blue, one white. “I’ve brought you a present.”
Denna reached out to take them, looking slightly puzzled.
What had seemed like such a good idea a few hours ago now seemed rather foolish. “They’re for your lungs,” I said, suddenly embarrassed. “I know you have trouble sometimes.”
She tilted her head on one side. “And how do you know that, pray tell?”
“You mentioned it when we were in Trebon,” I said. “I did some research.” I pointed. “That one you can brew in a tea: featherbite, deadnettle, lohatm. . . .” I pointed to the other. “That one you boil the leaves in some water and breathe the vapor coming off the top.”
Denna looked back and forth between the packages.
“I’ve written instructions on slips of paper inside,” I said. “The blue one is the one you’re supposed to boil and breathe the vapor,” I said. “Blue for water, you see.”
She looked up at me. “Don’t you make a tea with water, too?”
I blinked at that, then flushed and started to say something, but Denna laughed and shook her head. “I’m teasing you,” she said gently. “Thank you. This is the sweetest thing anyone’s done for me in a long while.”
Denna walked over to a chest of drawers and tucked the two bundles carefully into an ornate wooden box.
“You seem to be doing fairly well for yourself,” I said, gesturing to the well-appointed room.
Denna shrugged, looking around the room indifferently. “Kellin is doing well for himself,” she said. “I merely stand in his reflected light.”
I nodded my understanding. “I’d thought perhaps you’d found yourself a patron.”
“Nothing so formal as that. Kellin and I are walking about together, as they say in Modeg, and he is showing me my way around the harp.” She nodded to where the instrument loomed hugely in the corner.
“Care to show me what you’ve learned?” I asked.
Denna shook her head, embarrassed. Her hair slid down around her shoulders as she did so. “I’m not very good yet.”
“I will restrain my natural urge to jeer and hiss,” I said graciously.
Denna laughed. “Fine. Just a bit.” She walked behind the harp and drew up a tall stool to lean against. Then she lifted her hands to the strings, paused for a long moment, and began to play.
The melody was a variant of “Bell-Wether.” I smiled.
Her playing was slow, almost stately. Too many people think speed is the hallmark of a good musician. It’s understandable. What Marie had done at the Eolian was amazing. But how quickly you can finger notes is the smallest part of music. The real key is timing.
It’s like telling a joke. Anyone can remember the words. Anyone can repeat it. But making someone laugh requires more than that. Telling a joke faster doesn’t make it funnier. As with many things, hesitation is better than hurry.
This is why there are so few true musicians. A lot of folks can sing or saw out a tune on a fiddle. A music box can play a song flawlessly, again and again. But knowing the notes isn’t enough. You have to know how to play them. Speed comes with time and practice, but timing you are born with. You have it or you don’t.
Denna had it. She moved slowly through the song, but she wasn’t plodding. She played it slow as a luxurious kiss. Not that I knew anything of kissing at that point in my life. But as she stood with her arms around the harp, her eyes half-lidded with concentration, her lips lightly pursed, I knew I someday wanted to be kissed with that amount of slow, deliberate care.
And she was beautiful. I suppose it should come as no surprise that I have a particular fondness for women with music running through them. But as she played I saw her for the first time that day. Before I had been distracted by the difference in her hair, the cut of her dress. But as she played, all that faded from view.
I ramble. Suffice to say she was impressive, though obviously still learning. She struck a few bad notes, but didn’t flinch or cringe away from them. As they say, a jeweler knows the uncut gem. And I am. And she was. And so.
“You’re a long way past ‘Squirrel in the Thatch,’ ” I said quietly after she’d struck the final notes.
She shrugged my compliment away, not meeting my eye. “I don’t have much to do but practice,” she said. “And Kellin says I have a bit of a knack.”
“How long have you been at it?” I asked.
“Three span?” She looked thoughtful, then nodded. “A little less than three span.”
“Mother of God,” I said, shaking my head. “Don’t ever tell anyone how quickly you’ve picked it up. Other musicians will hate you for it.”
“My fingers aren’t used to it yet,” she said, looking down at them. “I can’t practice nearly as long as I like.”
I reached out and took hold of one of her hands, turning it palm up so I could see her fingertips. There were fading blisters there. “You’ve . . .”
I looked up and realized how close she was standing. Her hand was cool in mine. She stared at me with huge, dark eyes. One eyebrow slightly raised. Not arch, or playful even, just gently curious. My stomach felt suddenly strange and weak.
“I’ve what?” she asked.
I realized I had no idea what I had been about to say. I thought of saying, I have no idea what I was going to say. Then I realized that would be a stupid thing to say. So I didn’t say anything.
Denna looked down and took hold of my hand, turning it over. “Your hands are soft,” she said, then touched my fingertips lightly. “I thought the calluses would be rough, but they’re not. They’re smooth.”
Once her eyes weren’t fixed on mine, I regained a small piece of my wits. “It just takes time,” I said.
Denna looked up and gave a shy smile. My mind went blank as fresh paper.
After a moment, Denna let go of my hand and moved past me to the center of the room. “Would you care for something to drink?” she asked as she settled gracefully into a chair.
“That would be very kind of you,” I said purely on reflex. I realized my hand was still hanging stupidly in midair, and I let it fall to my side.
She gestured to a nearby chair and I sat.
“Watch this.” She picked up a small silver bell from a nearby table and rang it softly. Then she held up one hand with all five fingers extended. She folded in her thumb, then her index finger, counting downward.
Before she folded in her smallest finger, there came a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Denna called, and the well-dressed porter opened the door. “I believe I would like some drinking chocolate,” she said. “And Kvothe . . .” She looked at me questioningly.
“Drinking chocolate sounds lovely,” I said.
The porter nodded and disappeared, closing the door behind him.
“Sometimes I do it just to make him run,” Denna admitted sheepishly, looking down at the bell. “I can’t imagine how he can hear it. For a while, I was convinced he was sitting in the hallway with his ear against my door.”
“Can I see the bell?” I asked.
She handed it over. It looked normal at first glance, but when I turned it upside down I saw some tiny sygaldry on the inner surface of the bell.
“He isn’t eavesdropping,” I said, handing it back. “There’s another bell downstairs that rings in time with this one.”
“How?” She asked, then answered her own question. “Magic?”
“You could call it that.”
“Is that the sort of thing you do over there?” She jerked her head in the direction of the river and the University beyond. “It seems a little . . . tawdry.”
“It’s the most frivolous use of sygaldry I’ve ever seen,” I said.
Denna burst out laughing. “You sound so offended,” she said. Then, “It’s called sygaldry?”
“Making something like that is called artificing,” I said. “Sygaldry is writing or carving the runes that make it work.”
Denna’s eyes lit up at this. “So it’s a magic where you write things down?” she asked, leaning forward in her chair. “How does it work?”
I hesitated. Not only because it was a huge question, but because the University has very specific rules about sharing Arcanum secrets. “It’s rather complicated,” I said.
Luckily, at that moment there was another knock on the door and our chocolate arrived in steaming cups. My mouth watered at the smell of it. The man set the tray on a nearby table and left without a word.
I sipped and smiled at the thick sweetness of it. “It’s been years since I’ve had chocolate,” I said.
Denna lifted her cup and looked around the room. “It’s strange to think some people live their whole lives like this,” she mused.
“It’s not to your liking?” I asked, surprised.
“I like the chocolate and the harp,” she said. “But I could do without the bell and a whole room just for sitting.” Her mouth curved into the beginning of a frown. “And I hate knowing someone is set to guard me, like I’m a treasure someone might try to steal.”
“You’re not to be treasured, then?”
She narrowed her eyes over the top of her cup, as if she wasn’t sure how serious I was. “I don’t fancy being under lock and key,” she clarified with a grim note in her voice. “I don’t mind being given rooms, but they aren’t really mine if I’m not free to come and go.”
I raised an eyebrow at that, but before I could say anything she waved her hand dismissively. “It’s not like that really,” she sighed. “But I don’t doubt Kellin is informed of my comings and goings. I know the porter tells him who comes calling. It rankles a bit is all.” She gave a crooked smile. “I suppose that seems terribly ungrateful, doesn’t it?”
“Not at all,” I said. “When I was younger, my troupe traveled everywhere. But every year we would spend a few span at our patron’s estate, performing for his family and his guests.”
I shook my head at the memory. “Baron Greyfallow was a gracious host. We sat at his own table. He gave us gifts . . .” I trailed off, remembering a regiment of tiny lead soldiers he’d given me. I shook my head clear of the thought. “But my father hated it. Climbed the walls. He couldn’t tolerate the feeling of being at someone’s beck and call.”
“Yes!” Denna said. “That’s exactly it! If Kellin says he might pay me a visit on such and such evening, suddenly I feel I’ve had one foot nailed to the floor. If I leave I’m being obstinate and rude, but if I stay I feel like a dog waiting by the door.”
We sat for a moment in silence. Denna twirled the ring on her finger absentmindedly, sunlight catching the pale blue stone.
“Still,” I said, looking around. “They are nice rooms.”
“They’re nice when you’re here,” she said.
Several hours later, I climbed a narrow flight of stairs behind a butcher’s shop. There was a faint, pervasive smell of rancid fat from the alley below, but I was smiling. An afternoon with Denna entirely to myself was a rare treat, and my step was surprisingly light for someone about to make a deal with a demon.
I knocked on the solid wooden door at the top of the steps and waited. No guild moneylender would trust me with a bent penny, but there are always folk willing to lend money. Poets and other romantics call them copper hawks, or sharps, but gaelet is the better term. They are dangerous people, and wise folk steer well clear of them.
The door opened a crack, then swung wide, revealing a young woman with a pixie face and strawberry-blonde hair. “Kvothe!” Devi exclaimed. “I worried I might not see you this term.”
I stepped inside, and Devi bolted the door behind me. The large, windowless room smelled pleasantly of cinnas fruit and honey, a refreshing change from the alley.
One side of the room was dominated by a huge canopy bed, its dark curtains drawn. On the other side was a fireplace, a large wooden desk, and a standing bookshelf three-quarters full. I wandered over to eye the titles while Devi locked and barred the door.
“Is this copy of Malcaf new?” I asked.
“It is,” she said walking over to stand beside me. “A young alchemist who couldn’t settle his debt let me pick through his library in order to square things between us.” Devi carefully pulled the book from the shelf, revealing Vision and Revision in gold leaf on the cover. She looked up at me, grinning impishly. “Have you read it?”
“I haven’t,” I said. I’d wanted to study it for admissions but hadn’t been able to find a copy in the Stacks. “Just heard about it.”
Devi looked thoughtful for a moment, then handed it to me. “When you’ve finished, come back and we’ll discuss it. I’m woefully devoid of interesting conversation these days. If we have a decent argument, I might let you borrow another.”
Once the book was in my hands, she tapped the cover lightly with a finger. “This book is worth more than you are.” She said without a hint of playfulness in her voice. “If it comes back damaged, there will be an accounting.”
“I’ll be very careful,” I said.
Devi nodded, then turned and walked past me toward the desk. “Right then, on to business.” She sat down. “Cutting it a little close, aren’t you?” she asked. “Tuition needs to be paid before noon tomorrow.”
“I live a dangerous and exciting life,” I said as I wandered over and took a seat across from her. “And delightful as I find your company, I was hoping to avoid your services this term.”
“How do you like tuition as a Re’lar?” she asked knowingly. “How hard did they hit you?”
“That’s a rather personal question,” I said.
Devi gave me a frank look. “We are about to enter into a rather personal arrangement,” she pointed out. “I hardly feel I’m overstepping myself.”
“Nine and a half,” I said.
She snorted derisively. “I thought you were supposed to be all manner of clever. I never got higher than seven when I was a Re’lar.”
“You had access to the Archives,” I pointed out.
“I had access to vast stores of intellect,” she said matter-of-factly. “Plus, I am cute as a button.” She gave a grin that brought out dimples in both her cheeks.
“You are shiny as a new penny,” I admitted. “No man can hope to stand against you.”
“Some women have trouble keeping their feet as well,” she said. Her grin changed slightly, moving from adorable to impish and then well past the border into wicked.
Not having the slightest idea how to respond to that, I moved in a safer direction. “I’m afraid I need to borrow four talents.” I said.
“Ah,” Devi said. Suddenly businesslike, she folded her hands atop the desk. “I’m afraid I’ve made a few changes to my business recently,” she said. “Currently, I am only extending loans of six talents or more.”
I didn’t bother trying to hide my dismay. “Six talents? Devi, that extra debt will be a millstone around my neck.”
She gave a sigh that sounded at least slightly apologetic. “Here’s the trouble. When I make a loan, I run certain risks. I risk losing my investment if my debtor dies or tries to run. I run the risk they’ll attempt to report me. I run the risk of being brought up against the iron law, or worse, the moneylender’s guild.”
“You know I’d never try something like that, Devi.”
“The fact remains,” Devi continued, “my risk is the same, no matter if the loan is small or large. Why should I take those risks for small loans?”
“Small?” I asked. “I could live for a year on four talents!”
She tapped the desk with a finger, pursing her mouth. “Collateral?”
“The usual,” I said, giving her my best smile. “My boundless charm.”
Devi snorted indelicately. “For boundless charm and three drops of blood you can borrow six talents at my standard rate. Fifty percent interest over a two-month term.”
“Devi,” I said ingratiatingly. “What am I going to do with the extra money?”
“Throw a party,” she suggested. “Spend a day in the Buckle. Find yourself a nice game of high-stakes faro.”
“Faro,” I said, “is a tax on people who can’t calculate probabilities.”
“Then run bank and collect the tax,” she said. “Buy yourself something pretty and wear it next time you come in to see me.” She looked me up and down with dangerous eyes. “Maybe then I’ll be willing to cut you a deal.”
“How about six talents for a month at twenty-five percent?” I asked.
Devi shook her head, not unkindly. “Kvothe, I respect the impulse to bargain, but you don’t have any leverage. You’re here because you’re over a barrel. I’m here to capitalize on that situation.” She spread her hands in a helpless gesture. “That’s how I make my living. The fact that you have a sweet face doesn’t really enter into it.”
Devi gave me a serious look. “Conversely, if a guild moneylender would give you the time of day, I wouldn’t expect you to come here simply because I’m pretty and you like the color of my hair.”
“It is a lovely color,” I said. “We fiery types should really stick together.”
“We should,” she agreed. “I propose we stick together at fifty percent interest over a two month term.”
“Fine.” I said, slumping back into my chair. “You win.”
Devi gave me a winsome smile, dimples showing again. “I can only win if we were both actually playing.” She opened a drawer in the desk, bringing out a small glass bottle and a long pin.
I reached out to take them, but instead of sliding them across the desk, she gave me a thoughtful look. “Now that I think of it, there might be another option.”
“I’d love another option,” I admitted.
“The last time we talked,” Devi said slowly, “you implied you had a way into the Archives.”
I hesitated. “I did imply that.”
“That information would be worth quite a bit to me,” she said overcasually. Though she tried to hide it, I could see a fierce, lean hunger in her eyes.
I looked down at my hands and didn’t say anything.
“I’ll give you ten talents right now,” Devi said bluntly. “Not a loan. I’ll buy the information outright. If I get caught in the Stacks, I never learned it from you.”
I thought of everything I could do with ten talents. New clothes. A lute case that wasn’t about to fall to pieces. Paper. Gloves for the coming winter.
I sighed and shook my head.
“Twenty talents,” Devi said. “And guild rates on any loans you want in the future.”
Twenty talents would mean half a year of worry-free tuition. I could pursue my own projects in the Fishery rather than slaving away at deck lamps. I could buy tailored clothes. Fresh fruit. I could use a laundry rather than wash my clothes myself.
I drew a reluctant breath. “I—”
“Forty talents,” Devi said hungrily. “Guild rates. And I will take you to bed.”
For forty talents I could buy Denna her own half-harp. I could . . .
I looked up and saw Devi staring at me from across the desk. Her lips were wet, her pale blue eyes intense. She shifted her shoulders back and forth in the slow, unconscious motion of a cat before it pounces.
I thought of Auri, safe and happy in the Underthing. What would she do if her tiny kingdom was invaded by a stranger?
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t. Getting in is . . . complicated. It involves a friend, and I don’t think they’d be willing.” I decided to ignore the other part of her offer, as I hadn’t the slightest idea what to say about it.
There was a long, tense moment. “Goddamn you,” Devi said at last. “You sound like you’re telling the truth.”
“I am,” I said. “It’s unsettling, I know.”
“Goddamn.” She scowled as she pushed the bottle and pin across the desk.
I pricked the back of my hand and watched the blood well up and roll down my hand to fall into the bottle. After three drops I tipped the pin into the mouth of the bottle as well.
Devi swabbed some adhesive around the stopper and drove it angrily into the bottle. Then she reached into a drawer and pulled out a diamond stylus. “Do you trust me?” She asked as she etched a number into the glass. “Or do you want this sealed?”
“I trust you,” I said. “But I’d like it sealed all the same.”
She melted a daub of sealing wax onto the top of the bottle. I pressed my talent pipes into it, leaving a recognizable impression.
Reaching into another drawer, Devi brought out six talents and clattered them onto the desk. The motion might have seemed petulant if her eyes hadn’t been so hard and angry.
“I’m getting in there one way or another,” she said with a chill edge to her voice. “Talk to your friend. If you’re the one that helps me, I’ll make it worth your time.”
I returned to the University in good spirits despite the burden of my new debt. I made a few purchases, gathered up my lute, and headed out over the rooftops.
From the inside, Mains was a nightmare to navigate: a maze of irrational hallways and stairways leading nowhere. But moving across its jumbled rooftops was easy as anything. I made my way to a small courtyard that at some point in the building’s construction had become completely inaccessible, trapped like a fly in amber.
Auri wasn’t expecting me, but this was the first place I’d met her, and on clear nights she sometimes came out to watch the stars. I checked to make sure the classrooms overlooking the courtyard were dark and empty, then I brought out my lute and began to tune it.
I had been playing for almost an hour when I heard a rustling movement in the overgrown courtyard below. Then Auri appeared, scurrying up the overgrown apple tree and onto the roof.
She ran toward me, her bare feet skipping lightly across the tar, her hair blowing behind her. “I heard you!” she said as she came close. “I heard you all the way down in Vaults!”
“I seem to remember,” I said slowly, “that I was going to play music for someone.”
“Me!” She held both her hands close to her chest, grinning. She moved from foot to foot, almost dancing with her eagerness. “Play for me! I have been as patient as two stones together,” she said. “You are just in time. I could not be as patient as three stones.”
“Well,” I said hesitantly. “I suppose it all depends on what you’ve brought me.”
She laughed, rising up onto the balls of her feet, her hands still together, close to her chest. “What did you bring me?”
I knelt and began to untie my bundle. “I’ve brought you three things,” I said.
“How traditional,” she said, grinning. “You are quite the proper young gentleman tonight.”
“I am.” I held up a heavy dark bottle.
She took it with both hands. “Who made it?”
“Bees,” I said. “And brewers in Bredon.”
Auri smiled. “That’s three bees,” she said, and set the bottle down by her feet. I brought out a round loaf of fresh barley bread. She reached out and touched it with a finger, then nodded approvingly.
Last I brought out a whole smoked salmon. It had cost four drabs by itself, but I worried Auri didn’t get enough meat in whatever she managed to scrounge up when I wasn’t around. It would be good for her.
Auri looked down at it curiously, tilting her head to look into its single staring eye. “Hello fish,” she said. Then she looked back up at me. “Does it have a secret?”
I nodded. “It has a harp instead of a heart.”
She looked back down at it. “No wonder it looks so surprised.”
Auri took the fish out of my hands and laid it carefully on the roof. “Now stand up. I have three things for you, as is only fair.”
I came to my feet and she held out something wrapped in a piece of cloth. It was a thick candle that smelled of lavender. “What’s inside of it?” I asked.
“Happy dreams,” she said. “I put them there for you.”
I turned the candle over in my hands, a suspicion forming. “Did you make this yourself?”
She nodded and gave a delighted grin. “I did. I am terribly clever.”
I tucked it carefully into one of the pockets of my cloak. “Thank you, Auri.”
Auri grew serious. “Now close your eyes and bend down so I can give you your second present.”
Puzzled, I closed my eyes and bent at the waist, wondering if she had made me a hat as well.
I felt her hands on either side of my face, then she gave me a tiny, delicate kiss in the middle of my forehead.
Surprised, I opened my eyes. But she was already standing several steps away, her hands clasped nervously behind her back. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
Auri took a step forward. “You are special to me,” she said seriously, her face grave. “I want you to know I will always take care of you.” She reached out tentatively and wiped at my cheeks. “No. None of that tonight. This is your third present. If things are bad, you can come and stay with me in the Underthing. It is nice there, and you will be safe.”
“Thank you, Auri,” I said as soon as I was able. “You are special to me, too.”
“Of course I am,” she said matter-of-factly. “I am as lovely as the moon.”
I collected myself while Auri skipped over to a piece of metal piping that jutted from a chimney and used it to pry the cap off the bottle. Then she brought it back, holding it carefully with both hands.
“Auri,” I asked. “Aren’t your feet cold?”
She looked down at them. “The tar is nice,” she said, wriggling her toes. “It’s still warm from the sun.”
“Would you like a pair of shoes?”
“What would they have in them?” she asked.
“Your feet,” I said. “It’s going to be winter soon.”
“Your feet will be cold.”
“I don’t come out on top of things in the winter,” she said. “It isn’t very nice.”
Before I could respond, Elodin stepped around a large brick chimney as casually as if he were out for an afternoon stroll.
The three of us stared at each other for a moment, each of us startled in our own way. Elodin and I were surprised, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Auri grow perfectly still, like a deer ready to spring away to safety.
“Master Elodin,” I said in my gentlest, friendliest tones, desperately hoping he wouldn’t do anything that might startle Auri into running. The last time she’d been scared back underground it had taken her a full span to re-emerge. “How nice to meet you.”
“Hello there,” Elodin said, matching my casual tone perfectly, as if there was nothing odd about the three of us meeting on a rooftop in the middle of the night. Though for all I knew, it might not seem odd to him.
“Master Elodin.” Auri dipped one bare foot behind the other and tugged the edges of her ragged dress in a tiny curtsey.
Elodin remained in the moon-cast shadow of the tall brick chimney. He made a curiously formal bow in return. I couldn’t see his face in any detail, but I could imagine his curious eyes examining the barefoot, waifish girl with the nimbus of floating hair. “And what brings the two of you out this fine night?” Elodin asked.
I tensed. Questions were dangerous with Auri.
Luckily, this one didn’t seem to bother her. “Kvothe has brought me lovely things,” she said. “He brought me bee beer and barley bread and a smoked fish with a harp where its heart should be.”
“Ah,” Elodin said, stepping away from the chimney. He patted his robes until he found something in a pocket. He held it out to her. “I’m afraid I’ve only brought you a cinnas fruit.”
Auri took a tiny, dancer’s step backward and made no motion to take it. “Have you brought anything for Kvothe?”
This seemed to catch Elodin off his stride. He stood awkwardly for a moment, arm outstretched. “I’m afraid I haven’t,” he said. “But I don’t imagine Kvothe has brought anything for me, either.”
Auri’s eyes narrowed, and she gave a tiny frown, fierce with disapproval. “Kvothe has brought music,” she said sternly, “which is for everyone.”
Elodin paused again, and I have to admit I enjoyed seeing him discomfited by someone else’s behavior for once. He turned and made a half bow in my direction. “My apologies,” he said.
I made a gracious gesture. “Think nothing of it.”
Elodin turned back to Auri and held out his hand a second time.
She took two small steps forward, hesitated, then took two more. She reached out slowly, paused with her hand on the small fruit, then took several scurrying steps away, bringing both hands close to her chest. “Thank you kindly,” she said, making another small curtsey. “Now, you may join us if you like. And if you behave, you may stay and listen to Kvothe play afterward.” She tilted her head a bit, making it a question.
Elodin hesitated, then nodded.
Auri scampered around to the other side of the roof, then down into the courtyard through the bare limbs of the apple tree.
Elodin watched her go. When he tilted his head there was just enough moonlight that I could see a thoughtful expression on his face. I felt a sudden, sharp anxiety tie knots in my stomach. “Master Elodin?”
He turned to face me. “Hmm?”
I knew from experience it would only take her three or four minutes to fetch whatever she was bringing up from the Underthing. I needed to talk fast.
“I know this looks strange,” I said. “But you have to be careful. She’s very nervous. Don’t try to touch her. Don’t make any sudden movements. It will scare her away.”
Elodin expression was hidden in shadow again. “Will it now?” he said.
“Loud noises too. Even a loud laugh. And you can’t ask her anything resembling a personal question. She’ll just run if you do.” I drew a deep breath, my mind racing. I have a good tongue in my head, and given enough time I’m confident in my ability to persuade just about anyone of anything. But Elodin was simply too unpredictable to manipulate.
“You can’t tell anyone she’s here.” It came out more forcefully than I’d intended, and I immediately regretted my choice of words. I was in no position to be giving orders to one of the masters, even if he was more than half mad. “What I mean,” I said quickly, “is that I would take it as a great personal favor if you didn’t mention her to anyone.”
Elodin gave me a long, speculative look. “And why is that, Re’lar Kvothe?”
I felt myself break out in a sweat at the cool amusement in his tone. “They’ll stick her in Haven,” I said. “You of all people . . .” I trailed off, my throat growing dry.
Elodin stared down at me, his face little more than a shadow, but I could sense him scowling. “Of all people I what, Re’lar Kvothe? Do you presume to know my feelings toward Haven?”
I felt all my elegant, half-planned persuasion fall to tatters around my feet. And I suddenly felt like I was back on the streets of Tarbean, my stomach a hard knot of hunger, my chest full of desperate hopelessness as I clutched at the sleeves of sailors and merchants, begging for pennies, halfpennies, shims. Begging for anything so I could get something to eat.
“Please,” I said to him. “Please, Master Elodin, if they chase her she’ll hide, and I won’t be able to find her. She isn’t quite right in the head, but she’s happy here. And I can take care of her. Not much, but a little. If they catch her that would be even worse. Haven would kill her. Please Master Elodin, I’ll do whatever you like. Just don’t tell anyone.”
“Hush,” Elodin said. “She’s coming.” He reached out to grip my shoulder, and moonlight fell across his face. His expression wasn’t fierce and hard at all. There was nothing but puzzlement and concern. “Lord and lady, you’re shaking. Take a breath and put your stage face on. You’ll scare her if she sees you like this.”
I took a deep breath and fought to relax. Elodin’s concerned expression faded and he stepped back, letting go of my shoulder.
I turned in time to see Auri scurry across the roof toward us, her arms full. She stopped a short distance away, eyeing us both, before coming the rest of the way, stepping carefully as a dancer until she was back where she originally stood. Then she sat down lightly on the roof, crossing her legs beneath herself. Elodin and I sat as well, though not nearly as gracefully.
Auri unfolded a cloth, lay it carefully between the three of us, then set a large, smooth wooden platter in the middle. She brought out the cinnas fruit and sniffed it, her eyes peering over the top of it. “What is in this?” she asked Elodin.
“Sunshine,” he said easily, as if he’d expected the question. “And early morning sunshine at that.”
They knew each other. Of course. That was why she hadn’t run away at the outset. I felt the solid bar of tension between my shoulder blades ease slightly.
Auri sniffed the fruit again and looked thoughtful for a moment. “It is lovely,” she declared. “But Kvothe’s things are lovelier still.”
“That stands to reason,” Elodin said. “I expect Kvothe is a nicer person than I am.”
“That goes without saying,” Auri said primly.
Auri served up dinner, sharing out the bread and fish to each of us. She also produced a squat clay jar of brined olives. It made me glad to see she could provide for herself when I wasn’t around.
Auri poured beer into my familiar porcelain teacup. Elodin got a small glass jar of the sort you would use to store jam. She filled his cup for the first round but not the second. I was left wondering if he was simply out of easy reach, or if it was a subtle sign of her displeasure.
We ate without speaking. Auri delicately, taking tiny bites, her back straight. Elodin cautiously, occasionally darting a glance at me as if he were unsure how to behave. I guessed from this that he’d never shared a meal with Auri before.
When we were finished with everything else, Auri brought out a small, bright knife and divided the cinnas fruit into three parts. As soon as she broke the skin of it, I could smell it on the air, sweet and sharp. It made my mouth water. Cinnas fruit came from a long way off and was simply too expensive for people like me.
She held out my piece and I took it from her gently. “Thank you kindly, Auri.”
“You are welcome kindly, Kvothe.”
Elodin looked back and forth between the two of us. “Auri?”
I waited for him to finish his question, but that seemed to be all of it.
Auri understood before I did. “It’s my name,” she said, grinning proudly.
“Is it now?” Elodin said curiously.
Auri nodded. “Kvothe gave it to me.” She beamed in my direction. “Isn’t it marvelous?”
Elodin nodded. “It is a lovely name,” he said politely. “And it suits you.”
“It does,” she agreed. “It is like having a flower in my heart.” She gave Elodin a serious look. “If your name is getting too heavy, you should have Kvothe give you a new one.”
Elodin nodded again and took a bite of his cinnas. As he chewed, he turned to look at me. By the light of the moon, I saw his eyes. They were cool, thoughtful, and perfectly, utterly sane.
After we finished our dinner, I sang a few songs, and we said our good-byes. Elodin and I walked away together. I knew at least a half-dozen ways to climb down from the roof of Mains, but I let him take the lead.
We made our way past a round stone observatory that stuck up from the roof and moved onto a long stretch of reasonably flat lead sheeting.
“How long have you been coming to see her?” Elodin asked.
I thought about it. “Half a year? It depends on when you start counting. It took a couple span of playing before I caught a glimpse of her, more before she trusted me enough to talk.”
“You’ve had better luck than I have,” he said. “It’s been years. This is the first time she’s come within ten paces of me. We barely speak a dozen words on a good day.”
We climbed over a wide, low chimney and back onto a gentle slope of thick timber sealed with layers of tar. As we walked I grew more anxious. Why had he been trying to get close to her?
I thought about the time I had gone to Haven with Elodin to visit his giller, Alder Whin. I thought about Auri there. Tiny Auri, strapped to a bed with thick leather belts so she couldn’t hurt herself or thrash around while she was being fed.
I stopped walking. Elodin took a few more steps before turning to look at me.
“She’s my friend,” I said slowly.
He nodded. “That much is obvious.”
“And I don’t have enough friends that I could bear to lose one,” I said. “Not her. Promise me you won’t tell anyone about her or bundle her off to Haven. It’s not the right place for her.” I swallowed against the dryness in my throat. “I need you to promise me.”
Elodin tilted his head to one side. “I’m hearing an or else,” he said, amusement in his voice. “Even though you’re not actually saying it. I need to promise you or else. . . .” One corner of his mouth quirked up in a wry little smile.
When he smiled, I felt a flash of anger mingled with anxiety and fear. It was followed by the sudden, hot taste of plum and nutmeg in my mouth, and I became very conscious of the knife I had strapped to my thigh underneath my pants. I felt my hand slowly sliding into my pocket.
Then I saw the edge of the roof a half-dozen feet behind Elodin, and I felt my feet shift slightly, getting ready to sprint and tackle him, bearing us both off the roof and down to the hard cobblestones below.
I felt a sudden, cold sweat sweep over my body and closed my eyes. I took a deep, slow breath and the taste in my mouth faded.
I opened my eyes again. “I need you to promise me,” I said. “Or else I’ll probably do something stupid beyond all mortal ken.” I swallowed. “And both of us will end up the worse for it.”
Elodin looked at me. “What a remarkably honest threat,” he said. “Normally they’re much more growlish and gristly than that.”
“Gristly?” I asked, emphasizing the ‘t.’ “Don’t you mean grisly?”
“Both,” he said. “Usually there’s a lot of, I’ll break your knees. I’ll break your neck.” He shrugged. “Makes me think of gristle, like when you’re boning a chicken.”
“Ah,” I said. “I see.”
We stared at each other for a moment.
“I’m not going to send anyone to take her in,” he said at last. “Haven is the proper place for some folk. It’s the only place for a lot of them. But I wouldn’t wish a mad dog locked there if there were a better option.”
He turned and started to walk away. When I didn’t follow, he turned to look back at me.
“That’s not good enough,” I said. “I need you to promise.”
“I swear on my mother’s milk,” Elodin said. “I swear on my name and my power. I swear it by the ever-moving moon.”
We started walking again.
“She needs warmer clothes,” I said. “And socks and shoes. And a blanket. And they need to be new. Auri won’t take anything that’s been worn by anyone else. I’ve tried.”
“She won’t take them from me,” Elodin said. “I’ve left things out for her. She won’t touch them.” He turned to look at me. “If I give them to you, will you pass them along?”
I nodded. “In that case she also needs about twenty talents, a ruby the size of an egg, and a new set of engraving tools.”
Elodin gave an honest, earthy chuckle. “Does she also need lute strings?”
I nodded. “Two pair, if you can get them.”
“Why Auri?” Elodin asked.
“Because she doesn’t have anyone else,” I said. “And neither do I. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?”
He shook his head. “No. Why did you pick that name for her?”
“Ah,” I said, embarrassed. “Because she’s so bright and sweet. She doesn’t have any reason to be, but she is. Auri means sunny.”
“In what language?” he asked.
I hesitated. “Siaru, I think.”
Elodin shook his head. “Sunny is leviriet in Siaru.”
I tried to think where I’d learned the word. Had I stumbled onto it in the Archives . . . ?
Before I could bring it to mind, Elodin spoke. “I am preparing to teach a class,” he said casually, “for those interested in the delicate and subtle art of naming.” He gave me a sideways look. “It occurs to me that it might not be a complete waste of your time.”
“I might be interested,” I said carefully.
He nodded. “You should read Teccam’s Underlying Principles to prepare. Not a long book, but thick, if you follow me.”
“If you lend me a copy, I’d like nothing better than to read it,” I said. “Otherwise, I’ll have to muddle through without.” He looked at me, uncomprehending. “I’ve been banned from the Archives.”
“What, still?” Elodin asked, surprised.
He seemed indignant. “It’s been what? Half a year?”
“Three quarters of a year in three days’ time,” I said. “Master Lorren has made his feelings clear on the issue of letting me back inside.”
“That,” Elodin said with a strange protectiveness in his voice, “is utter horseshit. You’re my Re’lar now.”
Elodin changed directions, heading over a piece of rooftop I usually avoided because it was covered in clay roofing tiles. From there we hopped a narrow alley, made our way across the sloping roof of an inn, and stepped onto a broad roof of finished stone.
Eventually we came to a wide window with the warm glow of candlelight behind it. Elodin knocked on a pane of glass as sharply as if it were a door. Looking around, I realized we were standing atop the Masters’ Hall.
After a moment, I saw the tall, thin shape of Master Lorren block the candlelight behind the window. He worked the latch and the entire window swung open on a hinge.
“Elodin, what can I do for you?” Lorren asked. If he thought anything odd about the situation, I couldn’t tell from looking at his face.
Elodin jerked a thumb over his shoulder at me. “The boy here says he’s still banned from the Archives. Is that so?”
Lorren’s impassive eyes moved to me, then back to Elodin. “It is.”
“Well let him back in,” Elodin said. “He needs to read things. You’ve made your point.”
“He’s reckless,” Lorren said flatly. “I’d planned to keep him out for a year and a day.”
Elodin sighed. “Yes yes, very traditional. Why don’t you give him a second chance? I’ll vouch for him.”
Lorren eyed me for a long moment. I tried to look as responsible as I could, which wasn’t very, considering I was standing on a rooftop in the middle of the night.
“Very well,” Lorren said. “Tomes only.”
“Tombs is for feckless tits who can’t chew their own food,” Elodin said dismissively. “My boy’s a Re’lar. He has the feck of twenty men! He needs to explore the Stacks and discover all manner of useless things.”
“I am not concerned about the boy,” Lorren said with unblinking calm. “My concern is for the Archives itself.”
Elodin reached out and grabbed me by the shoulder, pushing me forward a bit. “How about this? If you catch him larking around again, I’ll let you cut off his thumbs. That should set an example, don’t you think?”
Lorren gave the two of us a slow look. Then he nodded. “Very well,” he said, and closed his window.
“There you go,” Elodin said expansively.
“What the hell?” I demanded, wringing my hands. “I . . . What the hell?”
Elodin looked at me, puzzled. “What? You’re in. Problem solved.”
“You can’t offer to let him cut off my thumbs!” I said.
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning on breaking the rules again?” He asked pointedly.
“Wh—No. But . . .”
“Then you don’t have anything to worry about,” he said. He turned and continued up the slope of the roof. “Probably. I’d still step carefully if I were you. I can never tell when Lorren is kidding.”
As soon as I awoke the next day, I made my way to the office of the bursar and settled accounts with Riem, the pinch-faced man who held the University’s purse strings. I paid my hard-won nine talents and five, securing my place in the University for one more term.
Next I went to Ledgers and Lists where I signed up for observation in the Medica along with Physiognomy and Physic. Next was Ferrous and Cupric Metallurgy with Cammar in the Fishery. Last came Adept Sympathy with Elxa Dal.
It was only then I realized I didn’t know the name of Elodin’s class. I leafed through the ledger until I spotted Elodin’s name, then ran my finger back to where the title of the class was listed in fresh dark ink: “Introduction to Not Being a Stupid Jackass.”
I sighed and penned my name in the single blank space beneath.
The Sleeping Mind
When I stirred awake the next day, my first thought was of Elodin’s class. There was an excited flutter in my stomach. After long months of trying to get Master Namer to teach me, I was finally going to get a chance to study naming. Real magic. Taborlin the Great magic.
But work came before play. Elodin’s class didn’t meet until noon. With Devi’s debt hanging over my head, I needed to squeeze in a couple hours’ work at the Fishery.
Entering Kilvin’s workshop, the familiar din of a half-hundred busy hands washed over me like music. While it was a dangerous place, I found the workshop oddly relaxing. Many students resented my quick rise through the ranks of the Arcanum, but I’d earned a grudging respect from most of the other artificers.
I saw Manet working near the kilns and started to wind my way through the busy worktables toward him. Manet always knew what work paid best.
The huge room grew quiet, and I turned to see Master Kilvin standing in the doorway of his office. He made a curt beckoning gesture and stepped back inside his office.
Sound slowly filled the room as the students returned to their work, but I could feel their eyes on me as I made my way across the room, weaving between the worktables.
As I came closer, I saw Kilvin through the wide window of his office, writing on a wall-mounted slate. He was half a foot taller than me, with a chest like a barrel. His great bristling beard and dark eyes made him look even larger than he really was.
I knocked politely on the doorframe, and Kilvin turned, setting down his chalk. “Re’lar Kvothe. Come in. Close the door.”
Anxiously, I stepped into the room and pulled the door shut behind me. The clatter and din of the workshop was cut off so completely that I expected Kilvin must have some cunning sygaldry in place that muffled the noise. The result was an almost eerie quiet in the room.
Kilvin picked up a piece of paper from the corner of his worktable. “I have heard a distressing thing,” he said. “Several days ago, a girl came to Stocks. She was looking for a young man who had sold her a charm.” He looked me in the eye. “Do you know anything about this?”
I shook my head. “What did she want?”
“We do not know,” Kilvin said. “E’lir Basil was working in Stocks at the time. He said the girl was young and seemed rather distressed. She was looking for—” He glanced down at the paper. “—a young wizard. She didn’t know his name, but described him as being young, red-haired, and pretty.”
Kilvin set down the piece of paper. “Basil said she grew increasingly upset as they spoke. She looked frightened, and when he tried to get her name, she ran off crying.” He crossed his huge arms in front of his chest, his face severe. “So I ask you plainly. Have you been selling charms to young women?”
The question caught me by surprise. “Charms?” I asked. “Charms for what?”
“That you should tell me,” Kilvin said darkly. “Charms for love, or luck. To help a woman catch with child, or to prevent the same. Amulets against demons and the like.”
“Can such things be made?” I asked.
“No,” Kilvin said firmly. “Which is why we do not sell them.” His dark eyes settled heavily onto me. “So I ask you again: have you been selling charms to ignorant townsfolk?”
I was so unprepared for the accusation that I couldn’t think of anything sensible to say in my defense. Then the ridiculousness of it struck me and I burst out laughing.
Kilvin’s eyes narrowed. “This is not amusing, Re’lar Kvothe. Not only are such things expressly forbidden by the University, but a student who would sell false charms . . .” Kilvin trailed off, shaking his head. “It reveals a profound flaw of character.”
“Master Kilvin, look at me,” I said, plucking at my shirt. “If I was tricking gullible townsfolk out of their money, I wouldn’t have to wear secondhand homespun.”
Kilvin looked over, as if noticing my clothes for the first time. “True,” he said. “However, one might think a student of lesser means would be more tempted to such actions.”
“I’ve thought of it,” I admitted. “With a penny’s worth of iron and ten minutes easy sygaldry I could make a pendant that was cold to the touch. It wouldn’t be hard to sell such a thing.” I shrugged. “But I’m well aware that would fall under Fraudulent Purveyance. I wouldn’t risk that.”
Kilvin frowned. “A member of the Arcanum avoids such behavior because it is wrong, Re’lar Kvothe. Not because there is too much risk.”
I gave him a forlorn smile. “Master Kilvin, if you had that much faith in my moral grounding we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
His expression softened a little, and he gave me a small smile. “I admit, I would not expect such of you. But I have been surprised before. I would be remiss in my duty if I did not investigate such things.”
“Did this girl come to complain about the charm?” I asked.
Kilvin shook his head. “No. As I said, she left no message. But I am at a loss as to why else a distressed young girl with a charm would come looking for you, knowing your description but not your name.” He raised an eyebrow at me, making it a question.
I sighed. “Do you want my honest opinion, Master Kilvin?”
Kilvin raised both eyebrows at that. “Always, Re’lar Kvothe.”
“I expect someone is trying to get me into trouble,” I said. Compared to dosing me with an alchemical poison, spreading rumors was practically genteel behavior for Ambrose.
Kilvin nodded, absentmindedly smoothing down his beard with one hand. “Yes. I see.”
He shrugged and picked up his piece of chalk. “Well then. I consider this matter resolved for the moment.” He turned back to the slate and glanced over his shoulder at me. “I trust I will not be troubled by a horde of pregnant women waving iron pendants and cursing your name?”
“I’ll take steps to avoid that, Master Kilvin.”
I filled a few hours doing piecework in the Fishery, then made my way to the lecture hall in Mains where Elodin’s class was being held. It was scheduled to begin at noon, but I was there a half hour early, the first to arrive.
The other students trickled in slowly. Seven of us in all. First came Fenton, my friendly rival from Advanced Sympathy. Then Fela arrived with Brean, a pretty girl of about twenty with sandy hair cut in the fashion of a boy’s.
We chatted and introduced ourselves. Jarret was a shy Modegan I’d seen in the Medica. I recognized the young woman with bright blue eyes and honey-colored hair as Inyssa, but it took me a while to remember where I’d met her. She was one of Simmon’s countless short-lived relationships. Last was Uresh, nearly thirty and a full El’the. His complexion and accent marked him as coming all the way from the Lanett.
The noon bell struck, but Elodin was nowhere to be seen.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. It wasn’t until half past noon that Elodin breezed into the hall, carrying a loose armful of papers. He dropped them onto a table and began to pace back and forth directly in front of us.
“Several things should be made perfectly clear before we start,” he said without any introduction or apology for his lateness. “First, you must do as I say. You must do it to the best of your ability, even when you don’t see the reasons for it. Questions are fine, but in the end: I say, you do.” He looked around. “Yes?”
We nodded or murmured affirmative noises.
“Second, you must believe me when I tell you certain things. Some of the things I tell you may not be true. But you must believe them anyway, until I tell you to stop.” He looked at each of us, “Yes?”
I wondered vaguely if he began every lecture this way. Elodin noticed the lack of an affirmative from my direction. He glared at me, irritated. “We aren’t to the hard part yet,” he said.
“I’ll do my best to try,” I said.
“With answers like that we’ll make you a barrister in no time,” he said sarcastically. “Why not just do it, instead of doing your best to try?”
I nodded. It seemed to appease him and he turned back to the class as a whole. “There are two things you must remember. First, our names shape us, and we shape our names in turn.” He stopped his pacing and looked out at us. “Second, even the simplest name is so complex that your mind could never begin to feel the boundaries of it, let alone understand it well enough for you to speak it.”
There was a long stretch of quiet. Elodin waited, staring at us.
Finally Fenton took the bait. “If that’s the case, how can anyone be a namer?”
“Good question,” Elodin said. “The obvious answer is that it can’t be done. That even the simplest of names is well beyond our reach.” He held up a hand. “Remember, I am not speaking of the small names we use every day. The calling names like ‘tree’ and ‘fire’ and ‘stone.’ I am talking about something else entirely.”
He reached into a pocket and pulled out a river stone, smooth and dark. “Describe the precise shape of this. Tell me of the weight and pressure that forged it from sand and sediment. Tell me how the light reflects from it. Tell me how the world pulls at the mass of it, how the wind cups it as it moves through the air. Tell me how the traces of its iron will feel the calling of a loden-stone. All of these things and a hundred thousand more make up the name of this stone.” He held it out to us at arm’s length. “This single, simple stone.”
Elodin lowered his hand and looked at us. “Can you see how complex even this simple thing is? If you studied it for a long month, perhaps you would come to know it well enough to glimpse the outward edges of its name. Perhaps.
“This is the problem namers face. We must understand things that are beyond our understanding. How can it be done?”
He didn’t wait for an answer and instead picked up some of the paper he’d brought in with him, handing each of us several sheets. “In fifteen minutes I will toss this stone. I will stand here,” he set his feet. “Facing thus.” He squared his shoulders. “I will throw it underhand with about three grip of force behind it. I want you to calculate in what manner it will move through the air so you can have your hand in the proper place to catch it when the time comes.”
Elodin set the stone on a desk. “Proceed.”
I set to the problem with a will. I drew triangles and arcs, I calculated, guessing at formulas I couldn’t quite remember. It wasn’t long before I grew frustrated at the impossibility of the task. Too much was unknown, too much was simply impossible to calculate.
After five minutes on our own, Elodin encouraged us to work as a group. That was when I first saw Uresh’s talent with numbers. His calculations had outstripped mine to such a degree that I couldn’t understand much of what he was doing. Fela was much the same, though she had also sketched a detailed series of parabolic arcs.
The seven of us discussed, argued, tried, failed, tried again. At the end of fifteen minutes we were frustrated. Myself especially. I hate problems I cannot solve.
Elodin looked to us as a group. “So what can you tell me?”
Some of us started to give our half-answers or best guesses, but he waved us into silence. “What can you tell me with certainty?”
After a moment Fela spoke up, “We don’t know how the stone will fall.”
Elodin clapped his hands approvingly. “Good! That is the right answer. Now watch.”
He went to the door and stuck his head out. “Henri!” he shouted. “Yes you. Come here for a second.” He stepped back from the door and ushered in one of Jamison’s runners, a boy no more than eight years old.
Elodin took a half-dozen steps away and turned to face the boy. He squared his shoulders and grinned a mad grin. “Catch!” he said, lofting the stone at the boy.
Startled, the boy snatched it out of the air.
Elodin applauded wildly, then congratulated the bewildered boy before reclaiming the stone and hurrying him back out the door.
Our teacher turned to face us. “So,” Elodin asked. “How did he do it? How could he calculate in a second what seven brilliant members of the Arcanum could not figure in a quarter hour? Does he know more geometry than Fela? Are his numbers quicker than Uresh’s? Should we bring him back and make him a Re’lar?”
We laughed a bit, relaxing.
“My point is this. In each of us there is a mind we use for all our waking deeds. But there is another mind as well, a sleeping mind. It is so powerful that the sleeping mind of an eight-year-old can accomplish in one second what the waking minds of seven members of the Arcanum could not in fifteen minutes.”
He made a sweeping gesture. “Your sleeping mind is wide and wild enough to hold the names of things. This I know because sometimes this knowledge bubbles to the surface. Inyssa has spoken the name of iron. Her waking mind does not know it, but her sleeping mind is wiser. Something deep inside Fela understands the name of the stone.”
Elodin pointed at me. “Kvothe has called the wind. If we are to believe the writings of those long dead, his is the traditional path. The wind was the name aspiring namers sought and caught when things were studied here so long ago.”
He went quiet for a moment, looking at us seriously, his arms folded. “I want each of you to think on what name you would like to find. It should be a small name. Something simple: iron or fire, wind or water, wood or stone. It should be something you feel an affinity toward.”
Elodin strode toward the large slate mounted on the wall and began to write a list of titles. His handwriting was surprisingly tidy. “These are important books,” he said. “Read one of them.”
After a moment, Brean raised her hand. Then she realized it was pointless as Elodin still had his back to us. “Master Elodin?” she asked hesitantly. “Which one should we read?”
He looked over his shoulder, not pausing in his writing at all. “I don’t care,” he said, plainly irritated. “Pick one. The others you should skim in a desultory fashion. Look at the pictures. Smell them if nothing else.” He turned back to look at the slate.
The seven of us looked at each other. The only sound in the room was the tapping of Elodin’s chalk. “Which one is the most important?” I asked.
Elodin made a disgusted noise. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t read them.” He wrote En Temerant Voistra on the board and circled it. “I don’t even know if this one is in the Archives at all.” He put a question mark next to it and continued to write. “I will tell you this. None of them are in Tomes. I made sure of that. You’ll have to hunt for them in the Stacks. You’ll have to earn them.”
He finished the last title and took a step back, nodding to himself. There were twenty books in all. He drew stars next to three of them, underlined two others, and drew a sad face next to the last one on the list.
Then he left, striding out of the room without another word, leaving us thinking on the nature of names and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
Determined to make a good showing of myself in Elodin’s class, I tracked down Wilem and negotiated an exchange of future drinks for his help navigating the Archives.
We made our way through the cobbled streets of the University together, the wind gusting as the huge, windowless shape of the Archives loomed above us across the courtyard. The words Vorfelan Rhinata Morie were chiseled into the stone above the massive stone doors.
As we came closer, I realized my hands were sweaty. “Lord and lady, hold on for a second.” I said as I stopped walking.
Wil raised an eyebrow at me.
“I’m nervous as a new whore,” I said. “Just give me a moment.”
“You said Lorren lifted his ban two days ago,” Wilem said. “I thought you’d be inside as soon as you had permission.”
“I was waiting for them to update the ledgers.” I wiped my damp hands on my shirt. “I know something’s going to happen,” I said anxiously. “My name won’t be in the book. Or Ambrose will be at the desk and I’ll have some sort of relapse from that plum drug and end up kneeling on his throat and screaming.”
“I’d like to see that,” Wil said. “But Ambrose doesn’t work today.”
“That’s something,” I admitted, relaxing a bit. I pointed to the words above the door. “Do you know what that means?”
Wil glanced up. “The desire for knowledge shapes a man,” he said. “Or something close to that.”
“I like that.” I took a deep breath. “Right. Let’s go.”
I pulled open the huge stone doors and entered a small antechamber, then Wil tugged open the inner doors and we stepped into the entry hall. In the middle of the room was a huge wooden desk with several large, leather-bound ledgers open atop it. Several imposing doors led off in different directions.
Fela sat behind the desk, her curling hair pulled back into a tail. The red light from the sympathy lamps made her look different, but no less pretty. She smiled.
“Hello Fela,” I said, trying not to sound as nervous as I felt. “I heard I’m back in Lorren’s good books. Could you check for me?”
She nodded and began to flip through the ledger in front of her. Her face brightened, and she pointed. Then her expression went dark.
I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach, “What is it?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” she said. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“You look like something’s wrong,” Wil grumbled. “What does it say?”
Fela hesitated, then spun the book around so we could read it: Kvothe, Arliden’s son. Red-haired. Fair complected. Young. Written next to this in the margin in a different script were the words, Ruh Bastard.
I grinned at her. “Correct on all counts. Can I go in?”
She nodded. “Do you need lamps?” she asked, opening a drawer.
“I do,” Wil said, already writing his name in a separate ledger.
“I’ve got my own,” I said, pulling my small lamp from a pocket of my cloak.
Fela opened the admittance ledger and signed us in. My hand shook as I wrote, skittering the pen’s nib embarrassingly, so it flicked ink across the page.
Fela blotted it away and closed the book. She smiled up at me. “Welcome back,” she said.
I let Wilem lead the way through the Stacks and did my best to look properly amazed.
It wasn’t a hard part to play. While I’d had access to the Archives for some time, I’d been forced to creep around like a thief. I had kept my lamp on its dimmest setting and avoided the main hallways for fear of accidentally running into someone.
Shelves covered every bit of the stone walls. Some hallways were broad and open with high ceilings, while others formed narrow lanes barely wide enough for two people to pass if they both turned sideways. The air was heavy with the smell of leather and dust, of old parchment and binding glue. It smelled of secrets.
Wilem led me through twisting shelves, up some stairs then through a long, wide hallway lined with books bound all in identical red leather. Finally we came to a door with dim red light showing around the edges.
“There are rooms set aside for private study,” Wilem said softly. “Reading holes. Sim and I use this one a lot. Not many people know about it.” Wil knocked briefly on the door before he opened it to reveal a windowless room barely larger than the table and chairs it contained.
Sim sat at the table, the red light of his sympathy lamp making his face look ruddier than usual. His eyes grew wide when he saw me. “Kvothe? What are you doing in here?” He turned to Wilem, horrified. “What is he doing in here?”
“Lorren lifted his ban,” Wilem said. “Our young boy has a reading list. He’s planning his first book hunt.”
“Congratulations!” Sim beamed at me. “Can I help? I’m falling asleep here.” He held out his hand.
I tapped my temple. “The day I can’t memorize twenty titles is the day I don’t belong in the Arcanum,” I said. Though that was only half the truth. The full truth was that I only owned a half-dozen precious sheets of paper. I couldn’t afford to waste one on something like this.
Sim pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket along with a nub of pencil. “I need things written down,” he said. “Not all of us memorize ballads for fun.”
I shrugged and began to jot them down. “It will probably go faster if we split my list three ways,” I said.
Wilem gave me a look. “You think you can just walk around and find books by yourself?” He looked at Sim, who was grinning widely.
Of course. I wasn’t supposed to know anything about the layout of the Stacks. Wil and Sim didn’t know I’d been sneaking in at nights for almost a month.
It’s not that I didn’t trust them, but Sim couldn’t lie to save his life, and Wil worked as a scriv. I didn’t want to force him to choose between my secret and his duty to Master Lorren.
So I decided to play dumb. “Oh, I’ll muddle through,” I said nonchalantly. “It can’t be that hard to figure out.”
“There are so many books in the Archives,” Wil said slowly, “that merely reading all the titles would take you a full span.” He paused, looking at me intently. “Eleven full days without pause for food or sleep.”
“Really?” Sim asked. “That long?”
Wil nodded. “I worked it out a year ago. It helps stop the E’lir’s mewling when they must wait for me to fetch them a book.” He looked at me. “There are books without titles too. And scrolls. And clays. And many languages.”
“What’s a clay?” I asked.
“Clay tablet,” Wil explained. “They were some of the only things to survive when Caluptena burned. Some have been transcribed, but not all.”
“All that’s beside the point,” Sim interjected. “The problem is the organization.”
“Cataloging,” Wil said. “There have been many different systems over the years. Some masters prefer one, some prefer another.” He frowned. “Some create their own systems for organizing the books.”
I laughed. “You sound like they should be pilloried for it.”
“Perhaps,” Wil grumbled. “I would not weep over such a thing.”
Sim looked at him. “You can’t blame a master for trying to organize things in the best way possible.”
“I can,” Wilem said. “If the Archives were organized badly, it would be a uniform unpleasantness we could work with. But there have been so many different systems in the last fifty years. Books mislabeled. Titles mistranslated.”
He ran his hands through his hair, sounding suddenly weary. “And there are always new books coming in, needing to be cataloged. Always the lazy E’lir in Tombs who want us to fetch for them. It is like trying to dig a hole in the bottom of a river.”
“So what you’re saying,” I said slowly, “is that you find your time spent as a scriv to be both pleasant and rewarding.”
Sim muffled a laugh in his hands.
“And then there are you people.” Wil looked at me, his voice dangerous and low. “Students given the freedom in the Stacks. You come in, read half a book, then hide it so you can continue later at your own convenience.” Wil’s hands made gripping motions as if clutching at the front of someone’s shirt. Or perhaps a throat. “Then you forget where you have put the book, and it is gone as surely as if you had burned it.”
Wil pointed a finger at me. “If I ever discover you have done such a thing,” he said, smoldering with anger, “no God will keep you safe from me.”
I thought guiltily about three books I had hidden in just this way while I was studying for exams. “I promise,” I said. “I won’t ever do that.” Again.
Sim stood up from the table, rubbing his hands together briskly. “Right. Simply said, it’s a mess in here, but if you stick to the books they have listed in Tolem’s catalog, you should be able to find what you’re looking for. Tolem is the system we use now. Wil and I will show you where they keep the ledgers.”
“And a few other things,” Wil said. “Tolem is hardly comprehensive. Some of your books might require deeper digging.” He turned to open the door.
As it turned out, only four books on my list were in the Tolem ledgers. After that, we were forced to leave the well-organized parts of the Stacks behind. Wil seemed to take the list as a personal challenge, so I learned a great deal about the Archives that day. Wil took me to the Dead Ledgers, the Backward Stair, the Bottom Wing.
Even so, at the end of four hours we’d only managed to track down the locations of seven books. Wil seemed frustrated by this, but I thanked him heartily, telling him he’d given me everything I needed to continue the search on my own.
Over the next several days, I spent almost every free moment I had in the Archives, hunting the books on Elodin’s list. I wanted nothing more than to start this class with my best foot forward, and I was determined to read every book he had given us.
The first was a travelogue I found rather enjoyable. The second was some rather bad poetry, but it was short, and I forced my way through by gritting my teeth and occasionally closing one eye so as not to damage the entirety of my brain. Third was a book of rhetorical philosophy, ponderously written.
Then came a book detailing wildflowers in northern Atur. A fencing manual with some rather confusing illustrations. Another book of poetry, this one thick as a brick and even more self-indulgent than the first.
It took hours, but I read them all. I even went so far as to take notes on two of my precious pieces of paper.
Next came, as near as I could tell, the journal of a madman. While it sounds interesting, it was really only a headache pressed between covers. The man wrote in a tight script with no spaces between the words. No breaks for paragraphs. No punctuation. No consistent grammar or spelling.
That was when I began to skim. The next day when confronted with two books written in Modegan, a series of essays concerning crop rotation and a monograph on Vintish mosaics, I stopped taking notes.
The last handful of books I merely flipped through, wondering why Elodin would want us to read a two-hundred-year-old tax ledger from a barony in the Small Kingdoms, an outdated medical text, and a badly translated morality play.
While I quickly lost my fascination with reading Elodin’s books, I still delighted in hunting them down. I irritated more than a few scrivs with my constant questions: Who was in charge of reshelving? Where were the Vintish dictums kept? Who had the keys to the fourth basement scroll storage? Where did the damaged books go while they were waiting to be repaired?
In the end, I found nineteen of the books. All of them except En Temerant Voistra. And that one was not from lack of trying. At my best guess, the entire venture took nearly fifty hours of searching and reading.
I arrived at Elodin’s next class ten minutes early, proud as a priest. I brought my two pages of careful notes, eager to impress Elodin with my dedication and thoroughness.
All seven of us showed up for class before the noon bell. The door to the lecture hall was closed, so we stood in the hallway, waiting for Elodin to arrive.
We shared stories about our search through the Archives and speculated as to why Elodin considered these books important. Fela had been a scriv for years, and she had only found seventeen of them. Nobody had found En Temerant Voistra, or even a mention of it.
Elodin still hadn’t arrived by the time the noon bell rang, and at fifteen minutes past the hour I grew tired of standing in the hallway and tried the door to the lecture hall. At first the handle didn’t move at all, but when I jiggled it in frustration, the latch turned and the door opened a crack.
“Thought it was locked,” Inyssa said, frowning.
“Just stuck,” I said, pushing it open.
We entered the huge, empty room and walked down the stairs to the front row of seats. On the large slate in front of us, written in Elodin’s oddly tidy handwriting was a single word: “Discuss.”
We settled into our seats and waited, but Elodin was nowhere to be seen. We looked at the slate, then at each other, at a loss for what exactly we were supposed to do.
From the looks on everyone’s faces, I wasn’t the only one who was irritated. I’d spent fifty hours digging up his damn useless books. I’d done my part. Why wasn’t he doing his?
The seven of us waited for the next two hours, chatting idly, waiting for Elodin to arrive.
The Hidden City
While the hours I’d wasted hunting for Elodin’s books left me profoundly irritated, I emerged from the experience with a solid working knowledge of the Archives. The most important thing I learned was that it was not merely a warehouse filled with books. The Archives was like a city unto itself. It had roads and winding lanes. It had alleys and shortcuts.
Just like a city, parts of the Archives teemed with activity. The Scriptorium held rows of desks where scrivs toiled over translations or copied faded texts into new books with fresh, dark ink. The Sorting Hall buzzed with activity as scrivs sifted and reshelved books.
The Buggery was not at all what I expected, thank goodness. Instead, it proved to be the place where new books were decontaminated before being added to the collection. Apparently all manner of creatures love books, some devouring parchment and leather, others with a taste for paper or glue. Bookworms were the least of them, and after listening to a few of Wilem’s stories I wanted nothing more than to wash my hands.
Cataloger’s Mew, the Bindery, Bolts, Palimpsest, all of them were busy as beehives, full of quiet, industrious scrivs.
But other parts of the Archives were quite the opposite of busy. The acquisitions office, for example, was tiny and perpetually dark. Through the window I could see that one entire wall of the office was nothing but a huge map with cities and roads marked in such detail that it looked like a snarled loom. The map was covered in a layer of clear alchemical lacquer, and there were notes written at various points in red grease pencil, detailing rumors of desirable books and the last known positions of the various acquisition teams.
Tomes was like a great public garden. Any student was free to come and read the books shelved there. Or they could submit a request to the scrivs, who would grudgingly head off into the Stacks to find if not the exact book you wanted, then at least something closely related.
But the Stacks comprised the vast majority of the Archives. That was where the books actually lived. And just like in any city, there were good neighborhoods and bad.
In the good neighborhoods everything was properly organized and cataloged. In these places a ledger-entry would lead you to a book as simply as a pointing finger.
Then there were the bad neighborhoods. Sections of the Archives that were forgotten, or neglected, or simply too troublesome to deal with at the moment. These were places where books were organized under old catalogs, or under no catalog at all.
There were walls of shelves like mouths with missing teeth, where longgone scrivs had cannibalized an old catalog to bring books into whatever system was fashionable at the time. Thirty years ago two entire floors had gone from good neighborhood to bad when the Larkin ledger-books were burned by a rival faction of scrivs.
And, of course, there was the four-plate door. The secret at the heart of the city.
It was nice to go strolling in the good neighborhoods. It was pleasant to go looking for a book and find it exactly where it should be. It was easy. Comforting. Quick.
But the bad neighborhoods were fascinating. The books there were dusty and disused. When you opened one, you might read words no eyes had touched for hundreds of years. There was treasure there, among the dross.
It was in those places I searched for the Chandrian.
I looked for hours and I looked for days. A large part of the reason I had come to the University was because I wanted to discover the truth about them. Now that I finally had easy access to the Archives, I made up for lost time.
But despite my long hours of searching, I found hardly anything at all. There were several books of children’s stories that featured Chandrian engaged in minor mischief like stealing pies and making milk go sour. Others had them bargaining like demons in Aturan morality plays.
Scattered through these stories were a few thin threads of fact, but nothing I didn’t already know. The Chandrian were cursed. Signs showed their presence: blue flame, rot and rust, a chill in the air.
My hunt was made more difficult by the fact that I couldn’t ask anyone for help. If word spread that I was spending my time reading children’s stories, it would not improve my reputation.
More important, one of the few things I knew about the Chandrian was that they worked to viciously repress any knowledge of their own existence. They’d killed my troupe because my father had been writing a song about them. In Trebon they’d destroyed an entire wedding party because some of the guests had seen pictures of them on a piece of ancient pottery.
Given these facts, talking about the Chandrian didn’t seem like the wisest course of action.
So I did my own searching. After days, I abandoned hope of finding anything so helpful as a book about the Chandrian, or even anything so substantial as a monograph. Still, I read on, hoping to find a scrap of truth hidden somewhere. A single fact. A hint. Anything.
But children’s stories are not rich in detail, and what few details I found were obviously fanciful. Where did the Chandrian live? In the clouds. In dreams. In a castle made of candy. What were their signs? Thunder. The darkening of the moon. One story even mentioned rainbows. Who would write that? Why make a child terrified of rainbows?
Names were easier to come by, but all were obviously stolen from other sources. Almost all of these were names of demons mentioned in the Book of the Path, or from some play, primarily Daeonica. One painfully allegorical story named the Chandrian after seven well-known emperors from the days of the Aturan Empire. That, at least, gave me a brief, bitter laugh.
Eventually I discovered a slim volume called The Book of Secrets buried deep in the Dead Ledgers. It was an odd book: arranged like a bestiary but written like a children’s primer. It had pictures of faerie-tale creatures like ogres, trow, and dennerlings. Each entry had a picture accompanied by a short, insipid poem.
Of course, the Chandrian were the only entry without a picture. Instead there was just an empty page framed in decorative scrollwork. The accompanying poem was less than useless:
The Chandrian move from place to place,
But they never leave a trace.
They hold their secrets very tight,
But they never scratch and they never bite.
They never fight and they never fuss.
In fact they are quite nice to us.
They come and they go in the blink of an eye,
Like a bright bolt of lightning out of the sky.
Irritating as it was to read something like this, it made one point abundantly clear. To the rest of the world the Chandrian were nothing more than childish faerie stories. No more real than shamble-men or unicorns.
I knew differently, of course. I had seen them with my own eyes. I had talked to black-eyed Cinder. I had seen Haliax wearing shadow all around him like a mantle.
So I continued my fruitless search. It didn’t matter what the rest of the world believed. I knew the truth, and I’ve never been one to give up easily.
I settled into the rhythm of a new term. As before, I attended classes and played music at Anker’s. But most of my time was spent in the Archives. I had lusted after them for so long that being able to walk through the front doors any time I wanted seemed almost unnatural.
Even my continuing failure to find anything factual about the Chandrian didn’t sour the experience. As I hunted, I became increasingly distracted by other books I found. A handwritten medicinal herbal with watercolor pictures of various plants. A small quarto book of four plays I’d never heard of before. A remarkably engaging biography of Hevred the Wary.
I spent entire afternoons in the reading holes, missing meals and neglecting my friends. More than once I was the last student out of the Archives before the scrivs locked the doors for the night. I would have slept there if such things were allowed.
Some days, if my schedule was too tight for me to settle in for a long stretch of reading, I would simply walk the Stacks for a handful of minutes between classes.
I was so infatuated with my new freedoms that I did not make it over the river into Imre for many days. When I did return to the Grey Man, I brought a calling card I’d fashioned from a scrap of parchment. I thought Denna would be amused by it.
But when I arrived, the officious porter in the Grey Man’s parlor told me no, he could not deliver my card. No, the young lady was no longer in residence. No, he could not take a message for her. No, he did not know where she had gone.
Elodin strode into the lecture hall almost an hour late. His clothes were covered in grass stains, and there were dried leaves tangled in his hair. He was grinning.
Today there were only six of us waiting for him. Jarret hadn’t shown up for the last two classes. Given the scathing comments he’d made before disappearing, I doubted he’d be coming back.
“Now!” Elodin shouted without preamble. “Tell me things!”
This was his newest way to waste our time. At the beginning of every lecture he demanded an interesting fact he had never heard before. Of course, Elodin himself was the sole arbiter of what was interesting, and if the first fact you provided didn’t measure up, or if he already knew it, he would demand another, and another, until you finally came up with something that amused him.
He pointed at Brean. “Go!”
“Spiders can breathe underwater,” she said promptly.
Elodin nodded. “Good.” He looked at Fenton.
“There’s a river south of Vintas that flows the wrong way,” Fenton said. “It’s a saltwater river that runs inland from the Centhe sea.”
Elodin shook his head. “Already know about that.”
Fenton looked down at a piece of paper. “Emperor Ventoran once passed a law—”
“Boring,” Elodin interjected, cutting him off.
“If you drink more than two quarts of seawater you’ll throw up?” Fenton asked.
Elodin worked his mouth speculatively, as if he were trying to get a piece of gristle out of his teeth. Then he gave a satisfied nod. “That’s a good one.” He pointed to Uresh.
“You can divide infinity an infinite number of times, and the resulting pieces will still be infinitely large,” Uresh said in his odd Lenatti accent. “But if you divide a non-infinite number an infinite number of times the resulting pieces are non-infinitely small. Since they are non-infinitely small, but there are an infinite number of them, if you add them back together, their sum is infinite. This implies any number is, in fact, infinite.”
“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause. He leveled a serious finger at the Lenatti man. “Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.” He turned to look at Inyssa.
“The Yllish people never developed a written language,” she said.
“Not true,” Elodin said. “They used a system of woven knots.” He made a complex motion with his hands, as if braiding something. “And they were doing it long before we started scratching pictograms on the skins of sheep.”
“I didn’t say they lacked recorded language,” Inyssa muttered. “I said written language.”
Elodin managed to convey his vast boredom in a simple shrug.
Inyssa frowned at him. “Fine. There’s a type of dog in Sceria that gives birth through a vestigial penis,” she said.
“Wow,” Elodin said. “Okay. Yeah.” He pointed to Fela.
“Eighty years back the Medica discovered how to remove cataracts from eyes,” Fela said.
“I already know that,” Elodin said, waving his hand dismissively.
“Let me finish,” Fela said. “When they figured out how to do this, it meant they could restore sight to people who had never been able to see before. These people hadn’t gone blind, they had been born blind.”
Elodin cocked his head curiously.
Fela continued. “After they could see, they were shown objects. A ball, a cube, and a pyramid all sitting on a table.” Fela made the shapes with her hands as she spoke. “Then the physickers asked them which one of the three objects was round.”
Fela paused for effect, looking at all of us. “They couldn’t tell just by looking at them. They needed to touch them first. Only after they touched the ball did they realize it was the round one.”
Elodin threw his head back and laughed delightedly. “Really?” he asked her.
“Fela wins the prize!” Elodin shouted, throwing up his hands. He reached into his pocket and brought out something brown and oblong, pressing it into her hands.
She looked at it curiously. It was a milkweed pod.
“Kvothe hasn’t gone yet,” Brean said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Elodin said in an offhand way. “Kvothe is crap at Interesting Fact.”
I scowled as loudly as I could.
“Fine,” Elodin said. “Tell me what you have.”
“The Adem mercenaries have a secret art called the Lethani,” I said. “It is the key to what makes them such fierce warriors.”
Elodin cocked his head to one side. “Really?” he asked. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” I said flippantly, hoping to irritate him. “Like I said, it’s secret.”
Elodin seemed to consider this for a moment, then shook his head. “No. Interesting, but not a fact. It’s like saying the Cealdish moneylenders have a secret art called Financia that makes them such fierce bankers. There’s no substance to it.” He looked at me again, expectantly.
I tried to think of something else, but I couldn’t. My head was full of faerie tales and dead-ended research into the Chandrian.
“See?” Elodin said to Brean. “He’s crap.”
“I just don’t know why we’re wasting our time with this,” I snapped.
“Do you have better things to do?” Elodin asked.
“Yes!” I exploded angrily. “I have a thousand more important things to do! Like learning about the name of the wind!”
Elodin held up a finger, attempting to strike a sage pose and failing because of the leaves in his hair. “Small facts lead to great knowing,” he intoned. “Just as small names lead to large names.”
He clapped his hands and rubbed them together eagerly. “Right! Fela! Open your prize and we can give Kvothe the lesson he so greatly desires.”
Fela cracked the dry husk of the milkweed pod. The white fluff of the floating seeds spilled out into her hands.
Master Namer motioned for her to toss it into the air. Fela threw it, and everyone watched the mass of white fluff sail toward the high ceiling of the lecture hall, then fall back heavily to the ground.
“Goddammit,” Elodin said. He stalked over to the bundle of seeds, picked it up, and waved it around vigorously until the air was full of gently floating puffs of milkweed seed.
Then Elodin started to chase the seeds wildly around the room, trying to snatch them out of the air with his hands. He clambered over chairs, ran across the lecturer’s dais, and jumped onto the table at the front of the room.
All the while he grabbed at the seeds. At first he did it one-handed, like you’d catch a ball. But he met with no success, and so he started clapping at them, the way you’d swat a fly. When this didn’t work either, he tried to catch them with both hands, the way a child might cup a firefly out of the air.
But he couldn’t get hold of one. The more he chased, the more frantic he became, the faster he ran, the wilder he grabbed. This went on for a full minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Ten.
It might have gone on for the entire class period, but eventually he tripped over a chair and tumbled painfully to the stone floor, tearing open the leg of his pants and bloodying his knee.
Clutching his leg, he sat on the ground and let loose with a string of angry cursing the like of which I had never heard in my entire life. He shouted and snarled and spat. He moved through at least eight languages, and even when I couldn’t understand the words he used, the sound of it made my gut clench and the hair on my arms stand up. He said things that made me sweat. He said things that made me sick. He said things I didn’t know it was possible to say.
I expect this might have continued, but while drawing an angry breath, he sucked one of the floating milkweed seeds into his mouth and began to cough and choke violently.
Eventually he spat out the seed, caught his breath, got to his feet, and limped out of the lecture hall without saying another word.
This was not a particularly odd day’s class under Master Elodin.
After Elodin’s class I ate a bit of lunch at Anker’s, then went to my shift in the Medica, watching more experienced El’the diagnose and treat incoming patients. After that I headed over the river with the hope of finding Denna. It was my third trip in as many days, but it was a crisp, sunny day, and after all my time in the Archives, I felt the need to stretch my legs a bit.
I stopped at the Eolian first, though it was far too early for Denna to be there. I chatted with Stanchion and Deoch before moving on to a few of the other inns I knew she occasionally frequented: Taps, Barrel and Bale, and Dog in the Wall. She wasn’t at any of those either.
I wandered through a few public gardens, their trees almost entirely devoid of leaves. Then I visited all the instrument shops I could find, browsing the lutes and asking if they’d seen a pretty dark-haired woman looking at harps. They hadn’t.
It was fully dark by then. So I stopped by the Eolian again and wandered slowly through the crowd. Denna was still nowhere to be seen, but I did meet up with Count Threpe. We shared a drink and listened to a few songs before I left.
I pulled my cloak more tightly around my shoulders as I started back to the University. Imre’s streets were busier now than they had been during the day, and despite the chill in the air, there was a festival feel to the town. Music of a dozen different kinds poured from the doorways of inns and theaters. People crowded in and out of restaurants and exhibition halls.
Then I heard a laugh rise high and bright over the low murmuring of the crowds. I would have recognized it anywhere. It was Denna’s laugh. I knew it like the backs of my own hands.
I turned around, feeling a smile spread across my face. This was always the way of it. I only seemed to be able to find her after I’d given up hope.
I scanned the faces in the milling throng and found her easily. Denna stood by the doorway of a small café, wearing a long dress of dark blue velvet.
I took a step toward her, then stopped. I watched as Denna spoke to someone standing behind the open door of a carriage. The only part of her companion I could see was the very top of his head. He was wearing a hat with a tall white plume.
A moment later, Ambrose closed the carriage door. He gave her a wide, charming smile and said something that made her laugh. Lamplight glittered on the gold brocade of his jacket, and his gloves were dyed the same dark, royal purple as his boots. The color should have looked garish on him, but it didn’t.
As I stood staring, a passing two-horse fetter cart nearly knocked me flat and trampled me, which would have been fair, as I was standing in the middle of the road. The driver cursed and flicked out with his horse whip as he went past. It caught me on the back of the neck, but I didn’t even feel it.
I regained my balance and looked up in time to see Ambrose kiss Denna’s hand. Then, moving gracefully, he offered her his arm and they entered the café, together.
After seeing Ambrose and Denna in Imre, I fell into a dark mood. On the walk back to the University my head spun with thoughts of them. Was Ambrose doing this purely out of spite? How had it happened? What was Denna thinking?
After a largely sleepless night, I tried not to think of it. Instead I burrowed deep into the Archives. Books are a poor substitute for female companionship, but they are easier to find. I consoled myself by hunting through the dark corners of the Archives for the Chandrian. I read until my eyes burned and my head felt thick and cramped.
Nearly a span passed, and I did little but attend classes and pillage the Archives. For my pains I gained lungs full of dust, a persistent headache from hours of reading by sympathy light, and a knot between my shoulder blades from hunching over a low table while I paged through the faded remains of the Gilean ledgers.
I also found a single mention of the Chandrian. It was in a handwritten octavo titled A Quainte Compendium of Folke Belief. At my best guess, the book was two hundred years old.
The book was a collection of stories and superstitions gathered by an amateur historian in Vintas. Unlike The Mating Habits of the Common Draccus, it made no attempt to prove or disprove these beliefs. The author had simply collected and organized the stories with occasional brief commentaries about how beliefs seemed to change from region to region.
It was an impressive volume, obviously comprising years of research. There were four chapters about demons. Three chapters for faeries: one of which was entirely devoted to tales of Felurian. There were pages on the shamble-men, rendlings, and the trow. The author recorded songs about the grey ladies and white riders. A lengthy section on barrow draugar. There were six chapters on folk magic: eight ways to cure warts, twelve ways to talk to the dead, twenty-two love charms . . .
The entire entry on the Chandrian was less than half a page:
Of the Chaendrian there is little to be said. Every Man knows of them. Every child chants their song. Yet folke tell no stories.
For the price of a small beer a Farmer will talk two hours on Dannerlings. But mention the Chaendrian and his mouth goes tight as a Spinner’s Asse and he is touching iron and pushing back his chair.
Many think it bad luck to speak of the Fae, yet still folke do. What makes the Chaendrian different I knowe notte. One rather drunk Tanner in the towne of Hillesborrow said in hushed tones, “If you talk of them, they come for you.” This seems the unspoken fear of these common folke.
So I write what I have gleaned, all common and inspecific. The Chaendrian are a groupe of various number. (Likely seven, given their name.) They appear and commit diverse violence for no clear reason.
There are signs which herald their Arrival, but there is no agreement as to these. Blue flame is the most common, but I have also heard of wine going sour, blindness, crops withering, unseasonable storms, miscarriage, and the sun going dark in the sky.
Altogether, I have found them a Frustrating and Profitless area of Inquirey.
I closed the book. Frustrating and profitless had a familiar ring to it.
The worst part wasn’t that I already knew everything written in the entry. The worst part was that this was the best source of information I’d managed to discover in over a hundred long hours of searching.
Kvothe held up his hand, and Chronicler lifted his pen from the paper.
“Let’s pause there for a moment,” Kvothe said, nodding toward the window. “I can see Cob coming down the road.”
Kvothe stood and brushed off the front of his apron. “Might I suggest the two of you take a moment to compose yourselves?” He nodded to Chronicler. “You look like you’ve just been doing something you shouldn’t.”
Kvothe walked calmly to stand behind the bar. “Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Chronicler, you are bored, waiting for work. That is why your writing gear is out. You wish you weren’t stuck without a horse in this nowhere town. But you are, and you’re going to make the best of it.”
Bast grinned. “Ooh! Give me something, too!”
“Play to your strengths, Bast.” Kvothe said. “You’re drinking with our only customer because you’re a shiftless layabout nobody would ever dream of asking for help in the fields.”
Bast grinned eagerly. “Am I bored too?”
“Of course you are, Bast. What else is there to be?” He folded the linen cloth and lay it on the bar. “I, on the other hand, am too busy to be bored. I am bustling about, tending to the hundred small tasks that keep the inn running smoothly.”
He looked at the two of them. “Chronicler, slouch back in your chair. Bast, if you can’t stop grinning, at least start telling our friend the story about the three priests and the miller’s daughter.”
Bast’s grin widened. “That’s a good one.”
“Everyone have their parts?” Kvothe picked up the cloth from the bar and walked through the doorway into the kitchen, saying, “Enter Old Cob. Stage left.”
There was the thump of feet on the wooden landing, then Old Cob stomped irritably into the Waystone Inn. He glanced past the table where Bast was grinning and making gestures to accompany some story, then made his way to the bar. “Hello? You in there, Kote?”
After a second the innkeeper came bustling in from the kitchen, drying his wet hands on his apron. “Hello there, Cob. What can I do for you?”
“Graham sent the little Owens boy to fetch me,” Cob said, irritated. “You have any idea why I’m here instead of haulin’ oats?”
Kote shook his head. “I thought he was bringing in the Murrions’ wheat today.”
“Damn foolishness,” Cob muttered. “We’re in for rain tonight, and I’m standing here with dry oats stacked in my field.”
“Since you’re here anyway,” the innkeeper said hopefully. “Can I interest you in some cider? Pressed it fresh this morning.”
Some of the irritation faded from the old man’s weathered face. “Since I’m waiting anyway,” he said. “Mug of cider would be proper nice.”
Kote went into the back room and returned with a pottery jug. There was the sound of more feet on the landing outside and Graham came through the door with Jake, Carter, and the smith’s prentice all in tow.
Cob turned to glare at them. “What’s so damned important it’s worth hauling me into town this time of morning?” he demanded. “Daylight’s burning, a—”
There was a sudden burst of laugher from the table where Chronicler and Bast sat. Everyone turned to see Chronicler flushing a bright red, laughing and covering his mouth with one hand. Bast was laughing too, pounding at the table.
Graham led the others to the bar. “I found out Carter and the boy are helping the Orrisons take their sheep to market,” he said. “Off to Baedn, wasn’t it?”
Carter and the smith’s prentice nodded.
“I see.” Old Cob looked down at his hands. “You’ll be missing his funeral then.”
Carter nodded solemnly, but Aaron’s expression went stricken. He looked from face to face, but everyone else was standing very still, watching the old farmer by the bar.
“Good,” Cob said at last, looking up at Graham. “It’s good you fetched us in.” He saw the boy’s face and snorted. “You look like you just killed your cat, boy. Mutton goes to market. Shep knew that. He wouldn’t think one jot less of you for doing what needs doing.”
He reached up to pat the smith’s prentice on the back. “We’ll all have a drink together to send ’im off proper. That’s the important thing. What happens in the church tonight is just a bunch of priestly speechifying. We know how to say good-bye better than that.” He looked behind the bar. “Bring us out some of his favorite, Kote.”
The innkeeper was already moving, gathering wooden mugs and filling them with a dark brown beer from a smaller keg behind the bar.
Old Cob held up his mug and the others followed suit. “To our Shep.”
Graham spoke first. “When we were kids, I broke my leg when we were out hunting,” he said. “I told him to run off for help, but he wouldn’t leave me. He rigged a little sled together out of pure nothing and cussedness. Dragged me the whole way back to town.”
“He introduced me to my missus,” Jake said. “I don’t know if I ever thanked him proper for that.”
“When I was sick with the croup, he came out to visit me every day,” Carter said. “Not many folk did. Brought me soup his wife made, too.”
“He was nice to me when I first came here,” the smith’s prentice said. “He would tell me jokes. And once I ruined a wagon couple he’d brought in for me to fix, and he never told Master Caleb.” He swallowed hard and looked around nervously. “I really liked him.”
“He was braver than all of us,” Cob said. “He was the first to stick a knife to that fella last night. If the bastard had been any way normal, that would have been an end to it.”
Cob’s voice shook a bit, and for a moment he looked small and tired and every bit as old as he was. “But that weren’t the case. These en’t good days to be a brave man. But he was brave all the same. I wish I’d been brave and dead instead, and him home right now, kissing his young wife.”
There was a murmur from the others, and they all drank to the bottom of their mugs. Graham coughed a bit before he set his down on the bar.
“I didn’t know what to say,” the smith’s prentice said softly.
Graham patted him on the back, smiling. “You did fine, boy.”
The innkeeper cleared his throat, and everyone’s eyes turned to him. “I hope you won’t think me too forward,” he said. “I didn’t know him as well as you. Not enough for the first toast, but maybe enough for the second.” He fidgeted with his apron strings, as if embarrassed for speaking up at all. “I know it’s early, but I’d dearly like to share a tumble of whiskey with you on Shep’s account.”
There was a murmur of assent and the innkeeper pulled glasses from beneath the bar and began to fill them. Not with bottle whiskey either—the red-haired man tapped it from one of the massive barrels resting on the counter behind the bar. Barrel whiskey was a penny a swallow, so they raised their glasses with more earnest warmth than might have otherwise been the case.
“What’s this toast going to be then?” Graham asked.
“To the end of a pisser of a year?” Jake said.
“That’s no kind of toast,” Old Cob grumbled at him.
“To the king?” Aaron said.
“No,” the innkeeper said, his voice surprisingly firm. He held up his glass. “To old friends who deserved better than they got.”
The men on the other side of the bar nodded solemnly and tossed back their drinks.
“Lord and lady, that’s a lovely tumble,” Old Cob said respectfully, his eyes watering slightly. “You’re a gentleman, Kote. And I’m glad to know you.”
The smith’s prentice set his glass down only to have it tip onto its side and roll across the bar. He snatched it up before it skittered over the edge and turned it over, eyeing its rounded bottom suspiciously.
Jake laughed a loud farmer’s laugh at his bewilderment while Carter made a point of setting his glass on the bar topside-down. “I don’t know how they do it in Rannish,” Carter said to the boy. “But round here there’s a reason we call it a tumble.”
The smith’s prentice looked properly abashed and turned his tumble upside down to match the others on the bar. The innkeeper gave him a reassuring smile before gathering up the glasses and disappearing into the kitchen.
“Right then,” Old Cob said briskly, rubbing his hands together. “We’ll have a whole evening of this after the two of you get back from Baedn. But the weather won’t wait on me, and I don’t doubt the Orrisons are eager to be on the road.”
After they filtered out of the Waystone in a loose group, Kvothe emerged from the kitchen and returned to the table where Bast and Chronicler sat.
“I liked Shep,” Bast said quietly. “Cob might be a bit of a crusty old cuss, but he knows what he’s talking about most of the time.”
“Cob doesn’t know half of what he thinks he does,” Kvothe said. “You saved everyone last night. If not for you, it would have gone through the room like a farmer threshing wheat.”
“That just isn’t true, Reshi,” Bast said, his tone plainly offended. “You would have stopped it. That’s what you do.”
The innkeeper shrugged the comment away, unwilling to argue. Bast’s mouth formed into a hard, angry line, his eyes narrowing.
“Still,” Chronicler said softly, breaking the tension before it grew too thick. “Cob was right. It was a brave thing to do. You have to respect that.”
“No I don’t,” Kvothe said. “Cob was right about that. These aren’t good times to be brave.” He motioned for Chronicler to pick up his pen. “Still, I wish I’d been braver and Shep was home kissing his young wife, too.”
Wine and Blood
Eventually Wil and Sim pulled me from the warm embrace of the Archives. I struggled and cursed them, but they were firm in their convictions, and the three of us braved the chill wind on the road to Imre.
We made our way to the Eolian, claiming a table near the eastern hearth where we could watch the stage and keep our backs warm. After a drink or two I felt the book-longing fade to a dull ache. The three of us talked and played cards, and eventually I began to enjoy myself despite the fact that Denna was doubtless out there somewhere, hanging on Ambrose’s arm.
After several hours I sat slouched in my chair, drowsy and warm from the nearby fire while Wil and Sim bickered about whether the high king of Modeg was a true ruling monarch or merely a figurehead. I was nearly asleep when a heavy bottle knocked down hard onto our table followed by the delicate chime of wineglasses.
Denna stood next to our table. “Play along,” she said under her breath. “You’ve been waiting for me. I’m late and you’re upset.”
Blearily, I struggled upright in my seat and tried to blink myself awake.
Sim leaped to the challenge. “It’s been an hour,” he said, scowling fiercely. He tapped the table firmly with two fingers. “Don’t think buying me a drink is going to fix matters. I want an apology.”
“It’s not entirely my fault,” Denna said, radiating embarrassment. She turned and gestured to the bar.
I looked, worried I would see Ambrose standing there, watching me smugly in his goddamn hat. But it was only a balding Cealdish man. He made a short, odd bow toward us, halfway between acknowledgment and apology.
Sim scowled at him, then turned back to Denna and made a grudging gesture to the empty chair across from me. “Fine. So are we going to play corners or what?”
Denna sank down into the chair, sitting with her back to the room. Then leaned over to kiss Simmon on the forehead. “Perfect,” she said.
“I was scowling too,” Wilem said.
Denna slid him the bottle. “And for that, you may pour.” She set the glasses in front of each of us. “A gift from my overly persistent suitor.” She gave an irritated sigh. “They always need to give you something.” She eyed me speculatively. “You’re curiously mute.”
I rubbed a hand over my face. “I didn’t expect to see you tonight,” I said. “You caught me nearly napping.”
Wilem poured a pale pink wine then passed around the glasses while Denna examined the etching on the top of the bottle. “Cerbeor,” she mused. “I don’t even know if this is a decent vintage.”
“It’s not, actually,” Simmon said matter-of-factly as he took his glass. “Cerbeor is Aturan. Only wines from Vintas have a vintage, technically.” He took a sip.
“Really?” I asked, looking at my own glass.
Sim nodded. “It’s a common misuse of the word.”
Denna took a drink and nodded to herself. “Good wine, though,” she said. “Is he still at the bar?”
“He is,” I said without looking.
“Well then,” she smiled. “It seems you’re stuck with me.”
“Have you ever played corners?” Sim asked hopefully.
“I’m afraid not,” Denna said. “But I’m a quick study.”
Sim explained the rules with help from Wil and myself. Denna asked a few pointed questions, showing she understood the gist of it. I was glad. Since she was sitting across the table from me, she was going to be my partner.
“What do you usually play for?” she asked.
“Depends,” Wil said. “Sometimes we play by the hand. Sometimes by the set.”
“For a set of hands then,” Denna said. “How much?”
“We can do a practice set first,” Sim said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “Since you’re just learning and all.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t need any special treatment.” She reached into a pocket and brought a coin up onto the table. “A jot too much for you boys?”
It was too much for me, especially with a partner who had just learned the game. “Be careful with these two,” I said. “They play for blood.”
“In point of fact,” Wilem said. “I have no use for blood, and play for money instead.” He fingered through his purse until he found a jot, which he pressed firmly onto the table. “I am willing to play a practice game, but if she finds the thought insulting, I will thrash her and take whatever she is willing to lay on the table.”
Denna grinned at that. “You’re my kind of guy, Wil.”
The first hand went fairly well. Denna mislaid a trick, but we couldn’t have won anyway, as the cards were against us. But the second hand she made a mistake in the bidding. Then, when Sim corrected her, she got flustered and bid wildly. Then she accidentally led out of turn, not a huge mistake, but she led the jack of hearts, which let everyone know exactly what sort of hand she had. She realized it too, and I heard her mutter something distinctly unladylike under her breath.
True to their word, Wil and Sim moved in ruthlessly to take advantage of the situation. Given the weak cards in my hand, there wasn’t much I could do but sit and watch as they won the next two tricks and began to close on her like hungry wolves.
Except they couldn’t. She pulled a clever card force, then produced the king of hearts, which didn’t make any sense as she’d tried to lead the jack before. Then she produced the ace, too.
I realized her fumbling misplay had been an act slightly before Wil and Sim. I managed to keep it off my face until I saw the dim realization creep onto their expressions. Then I started to laugh.
“Don’t be smug,” she said to me. “I had you fooled, too. You looked like you were going to be sick when I showed the jack.” She put her hand in front of her mouth and made her eyes wide and innocent. “Oh my, I’ve never played corners before. Could you teach me? Is it true that sometimes people play for money?”
Denna snapped down another card onto the table and gathered in the trick. “Please. You lot should be glad I’m giving you a slap on the hand instead of the profound full-night fleecing you deserve.”
She mopped up the rest of the hand relentlessly, and it gave us such a solid lead that the rest of the set was a forgone conclusion. Denna never missed a trick after that, and played with enough cunning flair to make Manet seem like a dray horse by comparison.
“That was instructional,” Wil said as he slid his jot toward Denna. “I might need to lick my wounds a bit.”
Denna lifted her glass in a salute. “To the gullibility of the well-educated.”
We touched our glasses to hers and drank.
“You lot have been curiously absent,” Denna said. “I’ve been keeping an eye out for you for almost two span.”
“Why’s that?” Sim asked.
Denna gave Wil and Sim a calculating look. “You two are students at the University too, aren’t you? The special one that teaches magic?”
“That’s us,” Sim said agreeably. “We are chock full of arcane secrets.”
“We tinker with dark forces better left alone,” Wil said nonchalantly.
“It’s called the Arcanum, by the way,” I pointed out.
Denna nodded seriously as she leaned forward, her expression intent. “Between the three of you, I’m guessing you know how most of it works.” She looked at us. “So tell me. How does it work?”
“It?” I asked.
“Magic,” she said. “Real magic.”
Wil, Sim, and I exchanged glances.
“It’s complicated,” I said.
Denna shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “I have all the time in the world,” she said. “And I need to know how it works. Show me. Do some magic.”
The three of us shifted uncomfortably in our seats. Denna laughed.
“We’re not supposed to,” I said.
“What?” she asked. “Does it disturb some cosmic balance?”
“It disturbs the constables,” I said. “They don’t take kindly to that sort of thing over here.”
“The masters at the University don’t care for it much either,” Wil said. “They’re very mindful of the University’s reputation.”
“Oh come now,” Denna said. “I heard a story about how our man Kvothe called up some sort of demon wind.” She jerked her thumb at the door behind her. “Right in the courtyard outside.”
Had Ambrose told her that? “It was just a wind,” I said. “No demon involved.”
“They whipped him for it, too,” Wil said.
Denna looked at him as if she couldn’t tell if he were joking, then shrugged. “Well I wouldn’t want to get anyone in trouble,” she said with glaring insincerity. “But I am powerfully curious. And I have secrets I am willing to offer in trade.”
Sim perked up at this. “What sort of secrets?”
“All the vast and varied secrets of womankind,” she said with a smile. “I happen to know several things that can help improve your failing relations with the gentler sex.”
Sim leaned closer to Wil and asked in a stage whisper. “Did she say failing, or flailing?”
Wil pointed at his own chest, then Sim’s. “Me: failing. You: flailing.”
Denna raised one eyebrow and cocked her head to one side, looking at the three of us expectantly.
I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “We’re discouraged from sharing Arcanum secrets. It’s not strictly against the laws of the University—”
“It is, actually,” Simmon interrupted, giving me an apologetic look. “Several laws.”
Denna gave a dramatic sigh, looking up at the high ceiling. “I thought as much,” she said. “You lot just talk a good game. Admit it, you can’t turn cream into butter.”
“I happen to know for a fact that Sim can turn cream into butter,” I said. “He just doesn’t like to because he’s lazy.”
“I’m not asking you to teach me magic,” Denna said. “I just need to know how it works.”
Sim looked at Wil. “That wouldn’t fall under Unsanctioned Divulgence, would it?”
“Illicit Revelation,” Wil said grimly.
Denna leaned forward conspiratorially, resting her elbows on the table. “In that case,” she said. “I am also willing to finance a night of extravagant drinking, far above and beyond the simple bottle you see before you.” She turned her gaze to Wil. “One of the bartenders here has recently discovered a dusty stone bottle in the basement. Not only is it fine old scutten, drink of the kings of Cealdim, it is a Merovani as well.”
Wilem’s expression didn’t change, but his dark eyes glittered.
I looked around the largely empty room. “Orden is a slow night. We shouldn’t have any trouble if we keep things quiet.” I looked at the other two.
Sim was grinning his boyish grin. “It seems reasonable. A secret for a secret.”
“If it is truly a Merovani,” Wilem said. “I am willing to risk offending the masters’ sensibilities somewhat.”
“Right then,” Denna said with a wide grin. “You first.”
Sim leaned forward in his chair. “Sympathy is probably the easiest to get a grip on,” he said, then paused as if uncertain how to proceed.
I stepped in. “You know how a block and tackle lets you lift something too heavy for you to lift by hand?”
“Sympathy lets us do things like that,” I said. “But without all the awkward rope and pulleys.”
Wilem dropped a pair of iron drabs onto the table and muttered a binding. He pushed the right-hand one with a finger, and the left-hand one slid across the table at the same time, mimicking the motion.
Denna’s eyes went at little wide at this, and while she didn’t gasp, she did draw a long breath through her nose. It only then occurred to me that she’d probably never seen anything like this before. Given my studies, it was easy to forget that someone could live mere miles from the University without ever having any exposure to even the most basic sympathy.
To her credit, Denna recovered from her surprise without missing a beat. With only the slightest hesitation, she reached out a finger to touch one of the drabs. “This is how the bell in my room worked,” she mused.
Wil slid his drab across the table, and Denna picked it up. The other drab rose off the table too, bobbing in midair. “It’s heavy,” she said, then nodded to herself. “Right, because it’s like a pulley. I’m lifting both of them.”
“Heat, light, and motion are all just energy,” I said. “We can’t create energy or make it disappear. But sympathy lets us move it around or change it from one type into another.”
She put the drab back down on the table and the other followed suit. “And this is useful how?”
Wil grunted with vague amusement. “Is a waterwheel useful?” he asked. “Is a windmill?”
I reached into the pocket of my cloak. “Have you ever seen a sympathy lamp?” I asked.
I slid my hand lamp across the table to her. “They work under the same principle. They take a little bit of heat and turn it into light. It converts one type of energy into another.”
“Like a moneychanger,” Wil said.
Denna turned the lamp over in her hands curiously. “Where does it get the heat?”
“The metal itself holds heat,” I explained. “If you leave it on, you’ll eventually feel the metal get chilly. If it gets too cold, it won’t work.” I pointed. “I made that one, so it’s pretty efficient. Just the heat from your hand should be enough to keep it working.”
Denna flicked the switch and dull red light shone out in a narrow arc. “I can see how heat and light are related,” she said thoughtfully. “The sun is bright and warm. Same with a candle.” She frowned. “But motion doesn’t fit into it. A fire can’t push something.”
“Think about friction,” Sim chimed in. “When you rub something it gets hot.” He demonstrated by running his hand back and forth vigorously across the fabric of his pants. “Like this.”
He continued rubbing his thigh enthusiastically, unaware of the fact that, since it was happening below the level of the table, it looked more than slightly obscene. “It’s all just energy. If you keep doing it, you’ll feel it get hot.”
Denna somehow kept a straight face. But Wilem started to laugh, covering his face with one hand, as if embarrassed to be sitting at the same table with Sim.
Simmon froze and flushed red with embarrassment.
I came to his rescue. “It’s a good example. The hub of a wagon wheel will be warm to the touch. That heat comes from the motion of the wheel. A sympathist can make the energy go the other way, from heat into motion.” I pointed to the lamp. “Or from heat into light.”
“Fine,” she said. “You’re energy moneychangers. But how do you make it happen?”
“There’s a special way of thinking called Alar,” Wilem said. “You believe something so strongly that it becomes so.” He lifted up one drab and the other followed it. “I believe these two drabs are connected, so they are.” Suddenly the other drab clattered to the tabletop. “If I stop believing, it stops being so.”
Denna picked up the drab. “So it’s like faith?” she said skeptically.
“More like strength of will,” Sim said.
She cocked her head. “Why don’t you call it strength of will, then?”
“Alar sounds better,” Wilem said.
I nodded. “If we didn’t have impressive sounding names for things, no one would take us seriously.”
Denna nodded appreciatively, a smile tugging at the corners of her lovely mouth. “And that’s it then? Energy and strength of will?”
“And the sympathetic link,” I said. “Wil’s waterwheel analogy is a good one. The link is like a pipe leading to the waterwheel. A bad link is like a pipe full of holes.”
“What makes a good link?” Denna asked.
“The more similar two objects are, the better the link. Like this.” I poured an inch of the pale wine into my cup and dipped my finger into it. “Here is a perfect link to the wine,” I said. “A drop of the wine itself.”
I stood and walked to the nearby hearth. I murmured a binding and let a drop fall from my finger onto the hot metal andiron holding the burning logs.
I sat back down just as the wine in my glass started to steam, then boil.
“And that,” Wilem said grimly, “is why you never want a sympathist to get a drop of your blood.”
Denna looked at Wilem, then back to the glass, her face going pale.
“Black hands, Wil,” Simmon said with a horrified look. “What a thing to say.” He looked at Denna. “No sympathist would ever do something like that,” he said earnestly. “It’s called malfeasance, and we don’t do it. Ever.”
Denna managed a smile, though it was a bit strained. “If no one ever does it, why is there a name for it?”
“They used to,” I said. “But not anymore. Not for a hundred years.”
I let the binding go and the wine stopped boiling. Denna reached out and touched the nearby bottle. “Why doesn’t this wine boil too?” she asked, puzzled. “It’s the same wine.”
I tapped my temple. “The Alar. My mind provides the focus and direction.”
“If that’s a good link,” she asked, “what’s a bad one?”
“Here, let me show you.” I pulled out my purse, guessing coins would seem less alarming after Wilem’s comment. “Sim, do you have a hard penny?”
He did, and I arranged two lines of coins on the table in front of Denna. I pointed to a pair of iron drabs and murmured a binding. “Lift it up,” I said.
She picked up one drab and the other followed it.
I pointed to the second pair: a drab and my single remaining silver talent. “Now that one.”
Denna picked up the second drab and the talent followed it into the air. She moved both hands up and down like the arms of a scale. “This second one’s heavier.”
I nodded. “Different metals. They’re less similar, so you have to put more energy into it.” I pointed to the drab and the silver penny and muttered a third binding.
Denna put the first two drabs into her left hand, and picked up the third in her right. The silver penny followed it into the air. She nodded to herself. “And this one’s heavier still because it’s a different shape and a different metal.”
“Exactly,” I said. I pointed to the fourth and final pair: a drab and a piece of chalk.
Denna almost couldn’t get her fingers underneath the drab to pick it up. “It’s heavier than all the others together,” she said. “It’s got to be three pounds!”
“Iron to chalk is a lousy link,” Wilem said. “Bad transference.”
“But you said energy couldn’t be created or destroyed,” Denna said. “If I have to struggle to lift this tiny piece of chalk, where does the extra energy go?”
“Clever,” Wilem chuckled. “So clever. I went a year before I thought to ask that.” He eyed her in admiration. “Some energy is lost into the air.” He waved one hand. “Some goes into the objects themselves, and some goes into the body of the sympathist who is controlling the link.” He frowned. “That can get dangerful.”
“Dangerous,” Simmon corrected gently.
Denna looked at me. “So right now you’re believing each of these drabs is connected to each of these other things?”
She moved her hands around. The coins and chalk bobbed in the air. “Isn’t that . . . hard?”
“It is,” Wilem said. “But our Kvothe is a bit of a showoff.”
“That’s why I’ve been so quiet,” Sim said. “I didn’t know you could hold four bindings at once. That’s impressive as hell.”
“I can do five if I need to,” I said. “But that’s pretty much my limit.”
Sim smiled at Denna. “One more thing. Watch this!” He pointed at the floating piece of chalk.
“Come on,” Sim said plaintively. “I’m trying to show her something.”
“Then show her,” I said smugly, leaning back in my chair.
Sim took a deep breath and stared hard at the piece of chalk. It trembled.
Wil leaned close to Denna and explained. “One sympathist can oppose another’s Alar,” he said. “It is just a matter of firmly believing that a drab is not the same as a silver penny at all.”
Wil pointed, and the penny clattered to the tabletop.
“Foul,” I protested, laughing. “Two on one isn’t fair.”
“It is in this case,” Simmon said, and the chalk trembled again.
“Fine,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Do your worst.”
The chalk dropped to the table quickly, followed by the drab. But the silver talent stayed where it was.
Sim sat back in his chair. “You’re creepy,” he said, shaking his head. “Fine, you win.” Wilem nodded and relaxed as well.
Denna looked at me. “So your Alar is stronger than theirs put together?”
“Probably not,” I said graciously. “If they had practice working together they could probably beat me.”
Her eyes ranged over the scattered coins. “So that’s it?” she asked, sounding slightly disappointed. “It’s all just energy moneychanging?”
“There are other arts,” I said. “Sim does alchemy, for example.”
“While I,” Wilem said, “focus on being pretty.”
Denna looked us over again, her eyes serious. “Is there a type of magic that’s just . . .” She wiggled her fingers vaguely. “Just sort of writing things down?”
“There’s sygaldry,” I said. “Like that bell in your room. It’s like permanent sympathy.”
“But it’s still moneychanging, right?” she asked. “Just energy?”
Denna looked embarrassed as she asked, “What if someone told you they knew a type of magic that did more than that? A magic where you sort of wrote things down, and whatever you wrote became true?”
She looked down nervously, her fingers tracing patterns on the tabletop. “Then, if someone saw the writing, even if they couldn’t read it, it would be true for them. They’d think a certain thing, or act a certain way depending on what the writing said.” She looked up at us again, her expression a strange mix of curiosity, hope, and uncertainty.
The three of us looked at each other. Wilem shrugged.
“Sounds a damn sight easier than alchemy,” Simmon said. “I’d rather do that than spend all day unbinding principles.”
“Sounds like faerie-tale magic,” I said. “Storybook stuff that doesn’t really exist. I certainly never heard about anything like that at the University.”
Denna looked down at the tabletop where her fingers still traced patterns against the wood. Her mouth was pursed slightly, her eyes distant.
I couldn’t tell if she was disappointed or simply thoughtful. “Why do you ask?”
Denna looked up at me and her expression quickly slid into a wry smile. She shrugged away the question. “It was just something I heard,” she said dismissively. “I thought it sounded too good to be true.”
She looked over her shoulder. “I seem to have outlasted my overenthusiastic suitor,” she said.
Wil held up the flat of his hand. “We had an arrangement,” he said. “There was drink involved, and a woman’s secret.”
“I’ll have a word with the barman before I leave,” Denna said, her eyes dancing with amusement. “As for the secret: There are two ladies sitting behind you. They’ve been making eyes at you for most of the evening. The one in green fancies Sim, while the one with short blond hair seems to have a thing for Cealdish men who focus on being pretty.”
“We have already made note of them,” Wilem said without turning to look. “Unfortunately, they are already in the company of a young Modegan gentleman.”
“The gentleman is not with them in any romantic sense,” Denna said. “While the ladies have been eyeing you, the gentleman has been making it abundantly clear that he prefers redheads.” She lay her hand on my arm possessively. “Unfortunately for him, I have already staked my claim.”
I fought the urge to look at the table. “Are you serious?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” she said to Wil and Sim. “I’ll send Deoch over to distract the Modegan. That will leave the door open for the two of you.”
“What’s Deoch going to do?” Simmon said with a laugh. “Juggle?”
Denna gave him a frank look.
“What?” Simmon said. “Wh . . . Deoch isn’t sly.”
Denna blinked at him. “He and Stanchion own the Eolian together,” she said. “Didn’t you know that?”
“They own the place,” Sim said. “They’re not, you know, together.”
Denna laughed. “Of course they are.”
“But Deoch is up to his neck in women,” Simmon protested. “He . . . he can’t—”
Denna looked at him as if he were simple, then to Wil and myself. “The two of you knew, didn’t you?”
Wilem shrugged. “I hadn’t any knowledge of it. But small wonder he is a Basha. He is attractive enough.” Wil hesitated, frowned. “Basha. What is a word for that here? A man who is intimate with both women and men?”
“Lucky?” Denna suggested. “Tired? Ambidextrous?”
“Ambisextrous,” I corrected.
“That won’t do,” Denna chided me. “If we don’t have impressive sounding names for things, no one will take us seriously.”
Sim blinked at her, obviously unable to come to grips with the situation.
“You see,” Denna said slowly, as if explaining to a child. “It’s all just energy. And we can direct it in different ways.” She blossomed into a brilliant smile, as if realizing the perfect way to explain the situation to him. “It’s like when you do this.” She began to vigorously rub her hands up and down her thighs, mimicking his earlier motion. “It’s all just energy.”
By this point Wilem was hiding his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. Simmon’s expression was still incredulous and confused, but now it was also a furious, blushing red.
I got to my feet and took Denna’s elbow. “Leave the poor boy alone,” I said as I steered her gently toward the door. “He’s from Atur. They’re laced a little tightly in those parts.”
Gentlemen and Thieves
It was late when Denna and I left the Eolian, and the streets were empty. In the distance I heard fiddle music and the hollow clopping of a horse’s hooves on cobblestones.
“So what rock have you been hiding under?” she asked.
“The usual rock,” I said, then a thought occurred to me. “Did you come looking for me at the University? At the big square building that smells like coal smoke?”
Denna shook her head. “I wouldn’t begin to know where to find you there. It’s like a maze. If I can’t catch you playing at Anker’s, I know I’m out of luck.” She looked at me curiously. “Why?”
“Someone showed up asking for me,” I said with a dismissive gesture. “She said I’d sold her a charm. I thought it might be you.”
“I did come looking for you a while back,” she said. “But I never mentioned your abundant charm.”
The conversation lulled and silence swelled between us. I couldn’t help but think of her walking arm in arm with Ambrose. I didn’t want to know any more about it, but at the same time, it was the only thing in my head.
“I came to visit you at the Grey Man,” I said, just to fill the air between us. “But you’d already gone.”
She nodded. “Kellin and I had a bit of a falling out.”
“Nothing too bad, I hope.” I gestured to her throat. “I notice you still have the necklace.”
Denna touched the teardrop emerald absentmindedly. “No. Nothing terrible. You can say this for Kellin, he’s a traditionalist. When he gives a gift, he sticks to it. He said the color flattered me, and I should keep the earrings too.” She sighed. “I’d feel better if he hadn’t been so gracious. Still, they’re nice to have. A safety net of sorts. They’ll make my life easier if I don’t hear from my patron soon.”
“You’re still hoping to hear from him?” I asked. “After what happened in Trebon? After he’s been out of contact for more than a month with no word at all?”
Denna shrugged. “That’s just his way. I told you, he’s a secretive sort. It’s not odd for him to be gone for long stretches of time.”
“I have a friend who is trying to find me a patron,” I said. “I could have him look for you too.”
She looked up at me, her eyes unreadable. “It’s sweet that you think I deserve better, but I really don’t. I have a good voice, but that’s it. Who would hire a half-trained musician without even an instrument to her name?”
“Anyone with ears to hear you,” I said. “Anyone with eyes to see.”
Denna looked down, her hair falling around her face like a curtain. “You’re sweet,” she said quietly, making an odd fidgeting gesture with her hands.
“What ended up souring things with Kellin?” I asked, steering the conversation somewhere safer.
“I spent too much time entertaining gentlemen callers,” she said dryly.
“You should have explained to him that I’m nothing remotely resembling a gentleman,” I said. “That might have eased his mind.” But I knew I couldn’t have been the problem. I’d only managed to visit once. Had it been Ambrose that had come calling? I could picture him in the lavish sitting room all too easily. That damn hat of his hanging casually off the corner of a chair as he drank chocolate and told jokes.
Denna’s mouth quirked. “It was mostly Geoffrey he objected to,” she said. “Apparently I was supposed to sit quiet and alone in my little box until he came to call on me.”
“How is Geoffrey?” I asked to be polite. “Has he managed to get a second thought into his head yet?”
I expected to get a laugh, but Denna merely sighed. “He has, but none of them are particularly good thoughts.” She shook her head. “He came to Imre to make a name for himself with his poetry, but lost his shirt gambling.”
“I’ve heard that story before,” I said. “Happens all the time over at the University.”
“That was just the beginning,” she said. “He figured he could win his money back, of course. First came the pawnshop. Then he borrowed money and lost that too.” She made a conciliatory gesture. “Though in all fairness, he didn’t gamble that away. Some bitch rooked him. Caught him with the weeping widow of all things.”
I looked at her, puzzled. “The what?”
Denna looked at me sideways, then shrugged. “It’s a simple rook,” she said. “A young woman stands outside a pawnshop all flustered and teary, then when some rich gent walks by she explains how she came to the city to sell her wedding ring. She needs money for taxes, or to repay a moneylender.”
She waved her hands impatiently. “The details don’t matter. What matters is when she got to town, she asked someone else to pawn the ring for her. Because she doesn’t know a thing about bargaining, of course.”
Denna stopped walking in front of a pawnshop window, her face a mask of distress. “I thought I could trust him!” she said. “But he just pawned it and ran off with the money! There’s the ring right there!” She pointed dramatically at the shop’s window.
“But,” Denna continued, holding up a finger. “Luckily, he sold the ring for a fraction of what it’s worth. It’s a family heirloom worth forty talents, but the pawnshop is selling it for four.”
Denna stepped close and lay her hand on my chest, looking up at me with wide, imploring eyes. “If you bought the ring, we could sell it for at least twenty. I’d give you your four talents back right away.”
She stepped back and shrugged. “That sort of thing.”
I frowned. “How is that a rook? I’ll catch on as soon as we go to the assessor.”
Denna rolled her eyes. “That’s not how it works. We agree to meet tomorrow at noon. But by the time I get there, you’ve already bought the ring yourself and run off with it.”
I suddenly understood. “And you split the money with the owner of the pawnshop?”
She patted my shoulder. “I knew you’d catch on sooner or later.”
It seemed fairly watertight except for one thing. “Seems you’d need a special combination of trustworthy-yet-crooked pawnshop as a partner.”
“True,” she admitted. “They’re usually marked though.” Denna pointed to the top of the nearby pawnshop’s doorframe. There were a series of marks that could easily be mistaken for random scratches in the paint.
“Ah,” I hesitated for half a moment before adding, “In Tarbean, markings like that meant this was a safe place to fence . . .” I groped for an appropriate euphemism. “Questionably acquired goods.”
If Denna was startled by my confession she gave no sign of it. She merely shook her head and pointed more closely to the markings, moving her finger as she went. “This says, ‘Reliable owner. Open to simple rooks. Even split.’ ” She glanced around at the rest of the doorframe and the shop’s sign. “Nothing about fencing goods from uncle.”
“I never knew how to read them,” I admitted. I glanced sideways at her, careful to keep any judgment out of my tone. “And you know how this sort of thing works because . . . ?”
“I read it in a book,” she said sarcastically. “How do you think I know about it?”
She continued walking down the street. I joined her.
“I don’t usually play it as a widow,” Denna said, almost as an afterthought. “I’m too young for that. For me it’s my mother’s ring. Or grandmother’s.” She shrugged. “You change it to whatever feels right at the time.”
“What if the gent is honest?” I ask. “What if he shows up at noon, willing to help?”
“It doesn’t happen often,” she with a wry twist to her mouth. “Only once for me. Caught me completely by surprise. Now I set things up in advance with the owner just in case. I’m happy to rook some greedy bastard who tries to take advantage of a young girl. But I’m not about to take money off someone who’s trying to help.” Her expression went hard. “Unlike the bitch who got hold of Geoffrey.”
“Showed up at noon, did he?”
“Of course he did,” she said. “Just gave her the money. ‘No need to pay me back, miss. You go save the family farm.’ ” Denna ran her hands through her hair, looking up at the sky. “A farm! That doesn’t even make any sense! Why would a farmer’s wife have a diamond necklace?” She glanced over at me. “Why are the sweet ones such idiots with women?”
“He’s noble,” I said. “Can’t he just write home?”
“He’s never been on good terms with his family,” she said. “Less so now. His last letter didn’t have any money, just the news that his mother was sick.”
Something in her voice caught my ear. “How sick?” I asked.
“Sick.” Denna didn’t look up. “Very sick. And of course he’s already sold his horse and can’t afford passage on a ship.” She sighed again. “It’s like watching one of those awful Tehlin dramas unfold. The Path Ill-Chosen or something of the sort.”
“If that’s the case, all he has to do is stumble into a church at the end of the fourth act,” I said. “He’ll pray, learn his lesson, and live the rest of his days a clean and virtuous boy.”
“It would be different if he came to me for advice.” She made a frustrated gesture. “But no, he stops by afterward to tell me what he’s done. The guild moneylender cut off his credit, so what does he do?”
My stomach twisted. “He goes to a gaelet,” I said.
“And he was happy when he told me!” Denna looked at me, her expression despairing. “Like he’d finally figured a way out of this mess.” She shivered. “Let’s go in here.” She pointed to a small garden. “There’s more wind tonight than I thought.”
I set down my lute case and shrugged out of my cloak. “Here, I’m fine.”
Denna looked like she was going to object for a moment, then drew it around herself. “And you say you’re not a gentleman,” she chided.
“I’m not,” I said. “I just know it will smell better after you’ve worn it.”
“Ah,” she said wisely. “And then you will sell it to a perfumery and make your fortune.”
“That’s been my plan all along,” I admitted. “A cunning and elaborate scheme. I’m more thief than a gentleman, you see.”
We sat down on a bench out of the wind. “I think you’ve lost a buckle,” she said.
I looked down at my lute case. The narrow end was gaping open, and the iron buckle was nowhere to be seen.
I sighed and absentmindedly reached for one of the inner pockets of my cloak.
Denna made a tiny noise. Nothing loud, just a startled indrawn breath as she looked suddenly up at me, her eyes wide and dark in the moonlight.
I pulled my hand back as if burned by a fire, stammering an apology.
Denna began to laugh quietly. “Well that’s embarrassing,” she said softly to herself.
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I wasn’t thinking. I’ve got some wire in there that I can use to hold this closed for now.”
“Oh,” she said. “Of course.” Her hands moved inside the cloak for a moment, then she held out a piece of wire.
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
“I was just startled,” she said. “I didn’t think you were the sort to grab hold of a lady without some warning first.”
I looked down at the lute, embarrassed, and made my hands busy, running the wire through a hole the buckle had left and twisting it tightly shut.
“It’s a lovely lute,” Denna said after a long, quiet moment. “But that case is an absolute shambles.”
“I tapped myself out buying the lute itself,” I said, then looked up as if suddenly struck with an idea. “I know! I’ll ask Geoffrey to give me the name of his gaelet! Then I can afford two cases!”
She swatted at me playfully, and I moved to sit next to her on the bench.
Things were quiet for a moment, then Denna looked down at her hands and repeated a fidgeting gesture she’d made several times during our talk. Only now did I realize what she was doing. “Your ring,” I asked. “What happened to it?”
Denna gave me an odd look.
“You’ve had a ring for as long as I’ve known you.” I explained. “Silver with a pale blue stone.”
Her forehead furrowed. “I know what it looked like. How did you?”
“You wear it all the time,” I said, trying to sound casual, as if I didn’t know every detail of her. As if I didn’t know her habit of twirling it on her finger while she was anxious or lost in thought. “What happened to it?”
Denna looked down at her hands. “A young gentleman has it,” she said.
“Ah,” I said. Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I added. “Who?”
“I doubt you—” She paused, then looked up at me. “Actually, you might know him. He goes to the University too. Ambrose Jakis.”
My stomach was suddenly filled with acid and ice.
Denna looked away. “He has a rough charm about him,” she explained. “More rough than charm, really. But . . .” She trailed off into a shrug.
“I see,” I said. Then, “It must be fairly serious.”
Denna gave me a quizzical look, then realization spread onto her face and she burst out laughing. She shook her head, waving her hands in violent negation. “Oh no. God no. Nothing like that. He came calling a few times. We went to a play. He invited me out for dancing. He’s remarkably light on his feet.”
She drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “The first night he was very genteel. Witty even. The second night, slightly less so.” Her eyes narrowed. “On the third night he got pushy. Things went sour after that. I had to leave my rooms at the Boar’s Head because he kept showing up with trinkets and poems.”
A feeling of vast relief flooded me. For the first time in days I felt like I was able to take a full lungful of air. I felt a smile threatening to burst out onto my face and fought it down, fearing it would be so wide I’d look like an absolute madman.
Denna gave me a wry look. “You’d be amazed at how similar arrogance and confidence look at first glance. And he was generous, and rich, which is a nice combination.” She held up her naked hand. “The fitting was loose on my ring, and he said he’d have it repaired.”
“I take it he wasn’t nearly so generous after things went sour?”
Her red mouth made another wry smile. “Not nearly.”
“I might be able to do something,” I said. “If the ring’s important to you.”
“It was important,” Denna said, giving me a frank look. “But what would you do, exactly? Remind him, one gentleman to another, that he should treat women with dignity and respect?” She rolled her eyes. “Good luck.”
I simply gave her my most charming smile. I’d already told her the truth of things: I was no gentleman. I was a thief.
The Fickle Wind
The next evening found me at the Golden Pony, arguably the finest inn on the University side of the river. It boasted elaborate kitchens, a fine stable, and a skilled obsequious staff. It was the sort of upscale establishment only the wealthiest students could afford.
I wasn’t inside, of course. I was crouched in the deep shadows of the roof, trying not to dwell on the fact that what I was planning went well beyond the bounds of Conduct Unbecoming. If I was caught breaking into Ambrose’s rooms, I would undoubtedly be expelled.
It was a clear autumn night with a strong wind. A mixed blessing. The sound of rustling leaves would cover any small noises I might make, but I worried the flapping edges of my cloak might draw attention.
Our plan was a simple one. I had slipped a sealed note under Ambrose’s door. It was an unsigned, flirtatious request for a meeting in Imre. Wil had written it, as Sim and I judged he had the most feminine handwriting.
It was a goose chase, but I guessed Ambrose would take the bait. I would have preferred to have someone distract him personally, but the fewer people involved the better. I could have asked Denna to help, but I wanted it to be a surprise when I returned her ring.
Wil and Sim were my lookouts, Wil in the common room, Sim in the alley by the back door. It was their job to let me know when Ambrose left the building. More importantly, they would alert me if he came back before I’d finished searching his rooms.
I felt a sharp tug in my right-hand pocket as the oak twig gave two distinct twitches. After a moment the signal was repeated. Wilem was letting me know Ambrose had left the inn.
In my left pocket was a piece of birch. Simmon held a similar one where he stood watch over the inn’s back door. It was a simple, effective signaling system if you knew enough sympathy to make it work.
I crawled down the slope of the roof, moving carefully over the heavy clay tiles. I knew from my younger days in Tarbean that they tended to crack and slide and could make you lose your footing.
I made it to the lip of the roof, fifteen feet off the ground. Hardly a dizzying height, but more than enough to break a leg or a neck. A narrow piece of roof ran beneath the long row of second-story windows. There were ten in all, and the middle four belonged to Ambrose.
I flexed my fingers a couple times to loosen them, then began to edge along the narrow strip of roof.
The secret is to concentrate on what you’re doing. Don’t look at the ground. Don’t look over your shoulder. Ignore the world and trust it to return the favor. This was the real reason I was wearing my cloak. If I were spotted I would be nothing more than a dark shape in the night, impossible to identify. Hopefully.
The first window was dark, and the second had its curtains drawn. But the third was dimly lit. I hesitated. If you’re fair-skinned like me, you never want to peer into a window at night. Your face will stand out against the dark like the full moon. Rather than risk peering in, I dug around in the pockets of my cloak until I found a piece of scrap tin from the Fishery that I’d buffed into a makeshift mirror. Then I carefully used it to peer around the corner and through the window.
Inside there were a few dim lamps and a canopy bed as big as my entire room back in Anker’s. The bed was occupied. Actively occupied. What’s more, there seemed to be more naked limbs than two people could account for. Unfortunately, my piece of tin was small, and I couldn’t view the scene in its full complexity, otherwise I might have learned some very interesting things.
I briefly considered going back and coming at Ambrose’s rooms from the other side, but the wind gusted suddenly, sending leaves skipping across the cobblestones and trying to claw me away from my narrow footing. Heart pounding, I decided to risk passing this window. I guessed the people inside had better things to do than stargazing.
I pulled the hood of my cloak down and held the edges in my teeth, covering my face while leaving my hands free. Thus blinded, I inched my way past the window, listening intently for any signs I’d been spotted. There were a few surprised noises, but they didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.
The first of Ambrose’s windows was elaborate stained glass. Pretty, but not designed to open. The next was perfect: a wide, double window. I pulled a thin piece of copper wire from one of the pockets of my cloak and used it to trip the simple latch holding it closed.
When the window wouldn’t open, I realized that Ambrose had added a drop bar as well. That took several long minutes of tricky work, one-handed in the near-total dark. Thankfully, the wind had died down, at least for the moment.
Then, once I’d worked my way past the drop bar, the window still wouldn’t budge. I began to curse Ambrose’s paranoia as I searched for the third lock, hunting for nearly ten minutes before I realized the window was simply stuck shut.
I tugged on it a couple times, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. They don’t put handles on the outside, you realize. Eventually I got overenthusiastic and pulled too hard. The window sprang open and my weight shifted backward. I leaned off the edge of the roof, fighting every reflex that urged me to move my foot back and regain my balance, knowing there was nothing but fifteen feet of empty air behind me.
Do you know the feeling when you tip your chair too far and begin to fall backward? The sensation was something like that, mixed with self-recrimination and the fear of death. I flailed my arms, knowing it wouldn’t help, my mind gone suddenly blank with panic.
The wind saved me. It gusted as I teetered on the edge of the roof, giving me just enough of a push that I could regain my balance. One of my flailing arms caught the now-open window and I scrambled desperately inside, not caring how much noise I made.
Once through the window I crouched on the floor, breathing hard. My heart was just beginning to slow when the wind caught the window and slammed it closed above my head, startling me all over again.
I brought out my sympathy lamp, thumbed the switch to a dim setting, and swept the narrow arc of light around the room. Kilvin had been right to call it a thief ’s lamp. It was perfect for this sort of skulking about.
It was miles to Imre and back, and I trusted Ambrose’s curiosity would keep him waiting for his secret admirer for at least half an hour. Normally looking for something as small as a ring would be a full day’s job. But I guessed Ambrose wouldn’t even think of hiding it. In his mind, it wasn’t something he’d stolen. He would consider it either a trinket or a trophy.
I set about methodically searching Ambrose’s rooms. The ring wasn’t on his chest of drawers or the bedside table. It wasn’t in any of his desk drawers, or on his jewelry tray in his dressing room. He didn’t even have a locked jewelry box, mind you, just a tray with all manner of pins, rings, and chains scattered carelessly across it.
I left everything where it was, which isn’t to say I didn’t think about robbing the bastard blind. Just a few pieces of his jewelry could pay my tuition for a year. But it went against my plan: get in, find the ring, and get out. So long as I left no evidence of my visit, I guessed Ambrose would simply assume he’d lost the ring if he noticed it was gone at all. It was the perfect sort of crime: no suspicion, no pursuit, no consequences.
Besides, it’s notoriously difficult to fence jewelry in a town as small as Imre. It would be far too easy for someone to trace it back to me.
That said, I’ve never claimed to be a priest, and there were plenty of opportunities for mischief in Ambrose’s rooms. So I indulged myself. While checking Ambrose’s pockets, I weakened a few seams so there was a fair chance of him splitting his pants up the back the next time he sat down or mounted his horse. I loosened the handle on his chimney’s flue so it would eventually fall off, and his room would fill with smoke while he scrambled to reattach it.
I was trying to think of something to do to his damned irritating plumed hat when the oak twig in my pocket twitched violently, making me jump. Then it twitched again and broke sharply in half. I cursed bitterly under my breath. Ambrose couldn’t have been gone for more than twenty minutes. What had brought him back so soon?
I clicked off my sympathy lamp and stuffed it into my cloak. Then I scurried into the next room to make my escape through the window. It was irritating to go through all the trouble of getting in just to leave again, but as long as Ambrose didn’t know anyone had broken into his rooms, I could simply come back another night.
But the window didn’t open. I pushed harder, wondering if it had jammed itself shut when the wind had slammed it.
Then I glimpsed a thin strip of brass running along the inside of the windowsill. I couldn’t read the sygaldry in the dim light, but I know wards when I see them. That explained why Ambrose was back so soon. He knew someone had broken in. What’s more, the best sort of wards wouldn’t just warn of an intruder, they could hold a door or window shut to seal a thief in.
I bolted for the door, hands scrabbling in the pockets of my cloak, looking for something long and slender I could use to foul the lock. Not finding anything suitable, I snatched a pen from his writing desk, jammed it into the keyhole, then jerked it hard sideways, breaking the metal head off inside the lock. A moment later I heard a grating metallic noise as Ambrose attempted to unlock the door from his side, fumbling and cursing when he couldn’t get his key to fit.
By that point I was already back at the window, shining my lamp back and forth along the strip of brass and murmuring runes under my breath. It was simple enough. I could render it useless by scratching out a handful of connecting runes, then open the window and escape.
I hurried back to the sitting room and snatched the letter opener off his desk, knocking over the capped inkwell in my hurry. I was just about to begin eliding runes when I realized how stupid that would be. Any petty thief could break into Ambrose’s rooms, but the number of people who knew enough sygaldry to foul a ward was much lower. I might as well sign my name on his window frame.
I took a moment to collect my thoughts, then returned the letter opener to the desk and replaced the inkwell. I returned and examined the long brass strip more closely. Breaking something is simple, understanding it is harder.
This is doubly true when you are confronted with the sounds of muttered cursing from behind a door, accompanied by the clack and rattle of someone trying to unjam a lock.
Then the hallway went quiet, which was even more unnerving. I finally managed to puzzle out the sequence of wards as I heard several sets of footsteps in the hall. I broke my mind into three pieces and focused my Alar as I pushed against the window. My hands and feet grew cold as I pulled heat from my body to counteract the ward, trying not to panic as I heard a loud thump as something heavy struck the door.
The window swung open, and I scrambled backward over the sash and onto the roof as something struck the door again and I heard the sharp crack of splintering wood. I still could have made it away safely, but when I set my right foot down on the roof, I felt a clay tile crack under my weight. As my foot slid, I grabbed the windowsill with both hands to steady myself.
Then the wind gusted, catching the open window and flinging it toward my head. I brought up my arm to protect my face, and it struck my elbow instead, smashing one of the small panes of glass. The impact pushed me sideways onto my right foot, which slid the rest of the way out from underneath me.
Then, since all my other options seemed to be exhausted, I decided it would be best if I fell off the roof.
Acting on pure instinct, my hands scrabbled madly. I dislodged a few more clay tiles, then caught hold of the lip of the roof. My grip wasn’t good, but it slowed and spun me so that I didn’t land on my head or my back. Instead I landed facedown, like a cat.
Except a cat’s legs are all the same length. I landed on my hands and knees. My hands merely stung, but my knees striking the cobblestones hurt as badly as anything I’d ever felt in my entire young life. The pain was blinding, and I heard myself yelp like a dog that’s been kicked.
A second later a hail of heavy red roofing tiles fell around me. Most shattered on the cobblestones, but one clipped the back of my head, while another caught me square on the elbow, making my entire forearm go numb.
I didn’t spare it a moment’s thought. A broken arm would heal, but expulsion from the University would last a lifetime. I pulled my hood up and forced myself to my feet. Using one hand to make sure the hood of my cloak stayed in place, I staggered a few steps until I was under the eaves of the Golden Pony, out of sight of the upstairs window.
Then I was running, running, running. . . .
Eventually I made my careful, limping way onto the rooftops and let myself into my room by the window. It was slow going, but I had little choice. I couldn’t walk past everyone in the taproom disheveled, limping, and generally looking as if I’d just fallen off a roof.
Once I caught my breath and spent some time abusing myself for several types of blinding idiocy, I took stock of my wounds. The good news was that I hadn’t broken either of my legs, but I had splendid bruises blooming just below each knee. The tile that had grazed my head had left a lump, but hadn’t cut me. And while my elbow throbbed with a dull ache, my hand was no longer numb.
There was a knock at the door. I froze for a moment, then drew the birch twig from my pocket, muttered a quick binding, and jerked it back and forth.
I heard a startled noise from out in the hall, followed by Wilem’s low laugh. “That’s not funny,” I heard Sim say. “Let us in.”
I let them in. Simmon sat on the edge of the bed, and Wilem took the chair by the desk. I closed the door and sat on the other half of the bed. Even with all of us seated, the tiny room was crowded.
We eyed each other soberly for a moment, then Simmon spoke up. “Apparently Ambrose startled a thief in his rooms tonight. Fellow jumped out a window rather than get caught.”
I gave a brief, humorless laugh. “Hardly. I was almost out when the window blew shut on me.” I gestured awkwardly. “Knocked me off the roof.”
Wilem let out a relieved sigh. “I thought I botched the binding.”
I shook my head. “I had plenty of warning. I just wasn’t as careful as I should have been.”
“Why was he back so early?” Simmon asked, looking at Wilem. “Did you hear anything when he came in?”
“It probably occurred to him that my handwriting is not especially feminine,” Wilem said.
“He had wards on his windows,” I said. “Probably linked to a ring or something he carries with him. They must have tipped him off as soon as I opened the window.”
“Did you get it?” Wilem asked.
I shook my head.
Simmon craned his neck to get a better look at my arm. “Are you okay?”
I followed his eyes, but didn’t see anything. Then I tugged at my shirt and noticed that it was stuck to the back of my arm. With all my other pains, I hadn’t noticed it.
Moving gingerly, I pulled my shirt up over my head. The elbow of the shirt was torn and speckled with blood. I cursed bitterly. I only owned four shirts, and now this one was ruined.
I tried to get a look at my the injury, and quickly realized that you couldn’t get a look at the back of your own elbow, no matter how much you wanted to. Eventually I held it up for Simmon’s inspection.
“It’s not much,” he said, holding his fingers a little more than two inches apart. “There’s only one cut and it’s hardly bleeding. The rest of it’s just scraped up. It looks like you scuffed it hard against something.”
“Clay tile from the roof fell on me,” I said.
“Lucky,” Wilem grunted. “Who else could fall off a roof and end up with nothing more than a few scrapes?”
“I’ve got bruises on my knees the size of apples,” I said. “I’ll be lucky if I can walk tomorrow.” But deep down I knew he was right. The clay tile that had landed on my elbow could easily have broken my arm. The broken edges of the clay tiles were sometimes sharp as knives, so if it had hit me differently, it could have cut me down to the bone. I hate clay roofing tiles.
“Well, it could have been worse,” Simmon said briskly as he came to his feet. “Let’s go to the Medica and get you patched up.”
“Kraem no,” Wilem said. “He can’t go to the Medica. They will be asking to see if anyone is hurt.”
Simmon sat down again. “Of course,” he said, sounding vaguely disgusted with himself. “I knew that.” He looked me over. “At least you’re not hurt anywhere that people can see.”
I looked at Wilem. “You have a problem with blood, don’t you?”
His expression grew slightly offended. “I wouldn’t say . . .” His eyes darted to my elbow and his face grew a little pale despite his dark Cealdish complexion. His mouth made a thin line. “Yes.”
“Fair enough.” I started to cut my ruined shirt into strips of cloth. “Congratulations Sim. You’ve been promoted to field medic.” I opened a drawer and brought out hook needle and gut, iodine, and a small pot of goose grease.
Sim looked at the needle, then back at me, eyes wide.
I gave him my best smile. “It’s easy. I’ll talk you through it.”
I sat on the floor with my arm over my head while Simmon washed, stitched, and bandaged my elbow. He surprised me by being nowhere near as squeamish as I’d expected. His hands were more careful and confident than those of many students in the Medica who did this sort of thing all the time.
“So the three of us were here, playing breath all night?” Wil asked, pointedly avoiding looking in my direction.
“Sounds good,” Sim said. “Can we say I won?”
“No,” I said. “People must have seen Wil at the Pony. Lie and they’ll catch me for sure.”
“Oh,” Sim said. “What do we say then?”
“The truth.” I pointed at Wil. “You were at the Pony during the excitement, then came here to tell me about it.” I nodded to the small table, where a mass of gears, springs, and screws were spread in disarray. “I showed you the harmony clock I found, and you both gave me advice on how to fix it.”
Sim seemed disappointed. “Not very exciting.”
“Simple lies are best,” I said, getting to my feet. “Thanks again, both of you. This could have gone terribly wrong without the two of you looking out for me.”
Simmon got to his feet and opened the door. Wil stood as well, but didn’t turn to leave. “I heard a strange rumor the other night,” he said.
“Anything interesting?” I asked.
He nodded. “Very. I remember hearing that you were done antagonizing a certain powerful member of the nobility. I was surprised that you had finally decided to let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Come on, Wil,” Simmon said. “Ambrose isn’t sleeping. He’s a dog with the froth that deserves to be put down.”
“He more resembles an angry bear,” Wilem said. “One you seem determined to prod with a burning stick.”
“How can you say that?” Sim said hotly. “In two years as a scriv has he ever called you anything other than a filthy shim? And what about that time he almost blinded me by mixing my salts? Kvothe will be working the plum bob out of his system for—”
Wil held up his hand and nodded to acknowledge Simmon’s point. “I know this to be true, which is why I let myself be drawn into such foolishness. I merely wish to make a point.” He looked at me. “You realize you have gone well over the hill concerning this Denna girl, don’t you?”
The pain in my knees kept me from any sort of decent sleep that night. So when the sky outside my window started to show the first pale light of coming dawn I gave up, got dressed, and made my slow, painful way to the outskirts of town, looking for willow bark to chew. Along the way I discovered several new, exciting bruises I hadn’t been aware of the night before.
The walk was pure agony, but I was glad I was making it in the early morning dark, when the streets were empty. There was bound to be a lot of talk about last night’s excitement at the Golden Pony. If anyone saw me limping, it would be too easy for them to jump to the right conclusions.
Luckily, the trip loosened the stiffness in my legs and the willow bark took the edge off the pain. By the time the sun was fully up I felt well enough to appear in public. So I headed to the Fishery hoping to get in a few hours of piecework before Adept Sympathy. I needed to start earning money for next term’s tuition and Devi’s loan, not to mention bandages and a new shirt.
Jaxim wasn’t in the Stocks when I arrived, but I recognized the student there. We had entered the University at the same time and bunked close to each other for a little while in the Mews. I liked him. He wasn’t one of the nobility who drifted blithely through the school, carried by his family’s name and money. His parents were wool merchants, and he worked to pay his tuition.
“Basil,” I said. “I thought you made E’lir last term. What are you doing in the Stocks?”
He flushed a little, looking embarrassed. “Kilvin caught me adding water to acid.”
I shook my head, giving a stern scowl. “This is contrary to proper procedure, E’lir Basil,” I said dropping my voice an octave. “An artificer must move with perfect care in all things.”
Basil grinned. “You’ve got his accent.” He opened the ledger book. “What can I get you?”
“I’m not feeling up for anything more complicated than piecework right now,” I said. “How about—”
“Hold on,” Basil interrupted, frowning down at the ledger book.
He spun the ledger around to face me and pointed. “There’s a note next to your name.”
I looked. Penciled in Kilvin’s strangely childlike scrawl was: “No materials or tools to Re’lar Kvothe. Send him to me. Klvn.”
Basil gave me a sympathetic look. “It’s acid to water,” he joked gently. “Did you forget, too?”
“I wish I had,” I said. “Then I’d know what was going on.”
Basil looked around nervously, then leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. “Listen, I saw that girl again.”
I blinked at him stupidly. “What?”
“The girl that came in here looking for you,” he prompted. “The young one that was looking for the redheaded wizard who sold her a charm?”
I closed my eyes and rubbed at my face. “She came back? This is the last thing I need right now.”
Basil shook his head. “She didn’t come in,” he said. “At least not that I know of. But I’ve seen her a couple times outside. She hangs around the courtyard.” He jerked his head toward the southern exit of the Fishery.
“Did you tell anyone?” I asked.
Basil looked profoundly offended. “I wouldn’t do that to you,” he said. “But she might have talked to someone else. You should really get rid of her. Kilvin will spit nails if he thinks you’ve been selling charms.”
“I haven’t been,” I said. “I’ve got no idea who she is. What does she look like?”
“Young,” Basil said with a shrug. “Not Cealdish. I think she had light hair. She wears a blue cloak with the hood up. I tried to walk over and talk to her, but she just ran away.”
I rubbed my forehead. “Wonderful.”
Basil shrugged sympathetically. “Just thought I’d warn you. If she actually comes in here and asks for you, I’ll have to tell Kilvin.” He grimaced apologetically. “I’m sorry, but I’m in enough trouble as it is.”
“I understand,” I said. “Thanks for the warning.”
When I walked into the workshop, I was immediately struck by a strange quality of the light in the room. The first thing I did was look up, checking to see if Kilvin had added a new lamp to the array of glass spheres hanging up among the rafters. I hoped the change in light was due to a new lamp. Kilvin’s mood was always foul when one of his lamps went unexpectedly dark.
Scanning the rafters, I didn’t see any dark lamps. It took me a long moment to realize the strange quality of the light was due to actual sunlight slanting in through the low windows on the eastern wall. Normally I didn’t come to work until later in the day.
The workshop was almost eerily quiet this early in the morning. The huge room seemed hollow and lifeless with only a handful of students working on projects. That combined with the odd light and the unexpected summons from Kilvin, made me rather uneasy as I crossed the room heading toward Kilvin’s office.
Despite the early hour, a small forge in the corner of Kilvin’s office was already well-stoked. Heat billowed past me as I stood in the open doorway. It felt good after the early winter chill outside. Kilvin stood with his back to me, working the bellows with a relentless rhythm.
I knocked loudly on the frame of the door to get his attention. “Master Kilvin? I just tried to check some materials out of Stocks. Is anything the matter?”
Kilvin glanced over in my direction. “Re’lar Kvothe. I will be a moment. Come in.”
I stepped into his office and swung the heavy door closed behind me. If I was in trouble, I’d rather not have anyone listening in.
Kilvin continued to work the bellows for a long moment. It was only when he drew out a long tube that I realized it wasn’t a forge he was firing, it was a small glasswork. Moving deftly, he drew out a blob of molten glass on the end of his tube, then proceeded to blow an increasingly large bubble of glass.
After a minute the glass lost its orange glow. “Bellows,” Kilvin said without looking at me, putting the tube back into the mouth of the glasswork.
I scrambled to obey, working the bellows in a steady rhythm until the glass was glowing orange again. Kilvin motioned me to stop, pulled it out, and puffed at the tube for another long moment, spinning the glass until the bubble was large as a sweetmelon.
He set it back in the glasswork again, and I pumped the bellows without being asked. By the third time we repeated this, I was wringing with sweat. I wished I hadn’t closed Kilvin’s door, but I didn’t want to leave the bellows for the time it would take for me to open it again.
Kilvin didn’t seem to notice the heat. The glass bubble grew large as my head, then big as a pumpkin. But the fifth time he drew it from the heat and began to blow, it sagged on the end of the tube, deflating and falling to the floor.
“Kist, crayle, en kote,” he swore furiously. He threw down the metal tube where it rang sharply against the stone floor. “Kraemet brevetan Aerin!”
I fought down the sudden urge to laugh. My Siaru wasn’t perfect, but I was fairly certain Kilvin had said, Shit in God’s beard.
The bearlike master stood for a long moment, looking down at the ruined glass on the floor. Then he let out a long, irritated breath through his nose, pulled off his goggles, and turned to look at me.
“Three sets of synchronized bells, brass,” he said without preamble. “One tap and catch, iron. Four heat funnels, iron. Six siphons, tin. Twenty-two panes of twice-tough glass and other assorted piecework.”
It was a list of all the work I had done this term in the Fishery. Simple things I could finish and sell back to Stocks for a quick profit.
Kilvin looked at me with his dark eyes. “Does this work please you, Re’lar Kvothe?”
“The projects are easy enough, Master Kilvin,” I said.
“You are now a Re’lar,” he said, his voice heavy with reproach. “Are you content to coast idly, making toys for the lazy rich?” he asked. “Is that what you desire from your time in the Fishery? Easy work?”
I could feel the sweat beading up in my hair and running down my back. “I am somewhat leery of venturing off on my own,” I said. “You didn’t particularly approve of the modifications I made to my hand lamp.”
“Those are coward’s words,” Kilvin said. “Will you never leave the house because you were scolded once?” He looked at me. “I ask you again. Bells. Castings. Does this work please you, Re’lar Kvothe?”
“The thought of paying next term’s tuition pleases me, Master Kilvin.” Sweat was running down my face. I tried to wipe it away with my sleeve, but my shirt was already soaked through. I glanced at Kilvin’s office door.
“And the work itself?” Kilvin prompted. There was sweat beading on the dark skin of his forehead, but he didn’t seem otherwise bothered by the heat.
“Truthfully, Master Kilvin?” I asked, feeling a little light-headed.
He looked a bit offended. “I value truth in all things, Re’lar Kvothe.”
“The truth is I’ve made eight deck lamps this last year, Master Kilvin. If I have to make another, I expect I might shit myself from pure boredom.”
Kilvin huffed something that could have been a laugh, then smiled widely at me. “Good. That is how a Re’lar should feel.” He pointed one thick finger at me. “You are clever, and you have good hands. I expect great things from you. Not drudgery. Make something clever and it will earn you more than a lamp. Certainly more than piecework. Leave that to the E’lir.” He gestured dismissively at the window that looked out over the workshop.
“I’ll do my best, Master Kilvin,” I said. My voice sounded strange to my own ears, distant and tinny. “Do you mind if I open the door and get some fresh air in here?”
Kilvin grunted an agreement, and I took a step toward the door. But my legs felt loose and my head spun. I staggered and almost fell headlong onto the floor, but I managed to catch the edge of the worktable and merely went to my knees instead.
When my bruised knees hit the stone floor it was excruciating. But I didn’t shout or cry out. In fact, the pain seemed to be coming from a long way off.
I awoke confused, with a mouth as dry as sawdust. My eyes were gummy and my thoughts so sluggish it took me a long moment to recognize the distinctive antiseptic tang in the air. That, combined with the fact that I was lying naked under a sheet, let me know I was in the Medica.
I turned my head and saw short blond hair and the dark physicker’s uniform. I relaxed back onto the pillow. “Hello Mola,” I croaked.
She turned and gave me a serious look. “Kvothe,” she said formally. “How do you feel?”
Still bleary, I had to think about it. “Thick,” I said. Then, “Thirsty.”
Mola brought me a glass and helped me drink. It was sweet and gritty. It took me a long moment to finish it, but by the time I was done, I felt halfway human again.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You fainted in the Artificery,” she said. “Kilvin carried you over here himself. It was rather touching, actually. I had to shoo him away.”
I felt my entire body flush with shame at the thought of being carried through the streets of the University by the huge master. I must have looked like a rag doll in his arms. “I fainted?”
“Kilvin explained you were in a hot room,” Mola said. “And you’d sweat through your clothes. You were dripping wet.” She gestured to where my shirt and pants lay wadded on the table.
“Heat exhaustion?” I said.
Mola held up a hand to quiet me. “That was my first diagnosis,” she said. “On further examination, I’ve decided you’re actually suffering from an acute case of jumping out of a window last night.” She gave me a pointed look.
I suddenly became self-conscious. Not of my near-nakedness, but of the obvious injuries I’d received when I’d fallen off the roof of the Golden Pony. I glanced at the door and was relieved to see it was closed. Mola stood watching me, her expression carefully blank.
“Has anyone else seen?” I asked.
Mola shook her head. “We’ve been busy today.”
I relaxed a bit. “That’s something then.”
Her expression was grim. “This morning, Arwyl gave orders to report any suspicious injuries. It’s no secret why. Ambrose himself has offered a sizable reward to whoever helps him catch a thief who broke into his rooms and stole several valuables, including a ring his mother gave him on her deathbed.”
“That bastard,” I said hotly. “I didn’t steal anything.”
Mola raised an eyebrow. “As easy as that? No denial? No . . . anything?”
I exhaled through my nose, trying to get my temper under control. “I’m not going to insult your intelligence. It’s pretty obvious I didn’t fall down some stairs.” I took a deep breath. “Look, Mola. If you tell anyone, they’ll expel me. I didn’t steal anything. I could have, but I didn’t.”
“Then why . . .” She hesitated, obviously uncomfortable. “What were you doing?”
I sighed. “Would you believe I was doing a favor for a friend?”
Mola gave me a shrewd look, her green eyes searching mine. “Well, you do seem to be in the favor business lately.”
“I . . . what?” I asked, my thoughts moving too sluggishly to follow what she was saying.
“The last time you were here, I treated you for burns and smoke inhalation after pulling Fela out of a fire.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s not really a favor. Anyone would have done that.”
Mola gave me a searching look. “You really believe that, don’t you?” She shook her head a little, then picked up a hardback and made a few notes on it, no doubt filling out her treatment report. “Well, I consider it a favor. Fela and I bunked together back when we were both new here. Despite what you think, it’s not something a lot of people would have done.”
There was a knock and Sim’s voice came from the hallway. “Can we come in?” Without waiting for an answer, he opened the door and led an uncomfortable looking Wilem into the room.
“We heard . . .” Sim paused and turned to look at Mola. “He’s going to be okay, right?”
“He’ll be fine,” Mola said. “Provided his temperature levels out.” She picked up a key-gauge and stuck it in my mouth. “I know this will be hard for you, but try to keep your mouth shut for a minute.”
“In that case,” Simmon said with a grin, “We heard Kilvin took you somewhere private and showed you something that made you faint like a little sissy girl.”
I scowled at him, but kept my mouth shut.
Mola turned back to Wil and Sim. “His legs are going to hurt for a while, but there’s no permanent damage. His elbow should be fine too, though the stitching’s a mess. What the hell were you guys doing in Ambrose’s rooms, anyway?”
Wilem simply looked at her, characteristically dark-eyed and stoic.
No such luck with Sim. “Kvothe needed to get a ring for his ladylove,” he chirped cheerfully.
Mola turned to look at me, her expression furious. “You have a hell of a lot of nerve to lie right to my face,” she said, her eyes flat and angry as a cat’s. “Thank goodness you didn’t want to insult my intelligence or anything.”
I took a deep breath and reached up to take the key-gauge out of my mouth. “Goddammit Sim,” I said crossly. “Some day I’m going to teach you to lie.”
Sim looked back and forth between the two of us, flushed with panic and embarrassment. “Kvothe has a thing for a girl over the river,” he said defensively. “Ambrose took a ring of hers and won’t give it back. We just—”
Mola cut him off with a sharp gesture. “Why didn’t you just tell me that?” she demanded of me, irritated. “Everyone knows what Ambrose is like with women!”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” I said. “It sounded like a very convenient lie. There’s also the fact that it is not one whit of your goddamn business.”
Her expression hardened. “You come off pretty high and mighty for—”
“Stop. Just stop,” Wilem said, startling both of us out of our argument. He turned to Mola, “When Kvothe came here unconscious, what did you do first?”
“I checked his pupils for signs of head trauma,” Mola said automatically. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
Wilem gestured in my direction. “Look at his eyes now.”
Mola looked at me. “They’re dark,” she said, sounding surprised. “Dark green. Like a pine bough.”
Wil continued. “Don’t argue with him when his eyes go dark like that. No good comes of it.”
“It’s like the noise a rattlesnake makes,” Sim said.
“More like hackles on a dog,” Wilem corrected. “It shows when he’s ready to bite.”
“All of you can go straight to hell,” I said. “Or you can give me a mirror so I can see what you’re talking about. I don’t care which.”
Wil ignored me. “Our little Kvothe has a flash-pan temper, but once he’s had a minute to cool down, he will realize the truth.” Wilem gave me a pointed look. “He’s not upset because you didn’t trust him, or that you tricked Sim. He’s upset because you found out what asinine lengths he is willing to go to in order to impress a woman.” He looked at me. “Is asinine the right word?”
I took a deep breath and let it out. “Pretty much,” I admitted.
“I chose it because it sounded like ass,” Wil said.
“I knew you two had to be involved,” Mola said with a hint of apology in her voice. “Honestly, the three of you are thick as thieves, and I do mean that in all its various clever implications.” She walked around the side of the bed and looked critically at my wounded elbow. “Which one of you stitched him up?”
“Me.” Sim grimaced. “I know I made a mess of it.”
“Mess would be generous.” Mola said, looking it over critically. “It looks like you were trying to stitch your name onto him and kept misspelling it.”
“I think he did quite well,” Wil said, meeting her eye. “Considering his lack of training, and the fact that he was helping a friend under less than ideal circumstances.”
Mola flushed. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she said quickly. “Working here, it’s easy to forget that not everyone . . .” She turned to Sim. “I’m sorry.”
Sim ran his hand through his sandy hair. “I suppose you could make it up to me sometime,” he said, grinning boyishly. “Like maybe tomorrow afternoon? When you let me buy you lunch?” He looked at her hopefully.
Mola rolled her eyes and sighed, somewhere between amusement and exasperation. “Fine.”
“My work here is done,” Wil said gravely. “I’m leaving. I hate this place.”
“Thanks Wil,” I said.
He gave a perfunctory wave over one shoulder and closed the door behind him.
Mola agreed to leave mention of my suspicious injuries off her report and stuck to her original diagnosis of heat exhaustion. She also cut away Sim’s stitches, then recleaned, resewed, and rebandaged my arm. Not a pleasant experience, but I knew it would heal more quickly under her experienced care.
In closing, she advised me to drink more water, get some sleep, and suggested that in the future I refrain from strenuous physical activity in a hot room the day after falling off a roof.
Up until this point in the term, Elxa Dal had been teaching us theory in Adept Sympathy. How much light could be produced from ten thaums of continuous heat using iron? Using basalt? Using human flesh? We memorized tables of figures and learned how to calculate escalating squares, angular momentum, and compounded degradations.
Simply said, it was mind-numbing.
Don’t get me wrong. I knew it was essential information. Bindings of the sort we’d shown Denna were simple. But when things grew complicated, a skilled sympathist needed to do some fairly tricky calculations.
In terms of energy, there isn’t much difference between lighting a candle and melting it into a puddle of tallow. The only difference is one of focus and control. When the candle is sitting in front of you, these things are easy. You simply stare at the wick and stop pouring in heat when you see the first flicker of flame. But if the candle is a quarter mile away, or in a different room, focus and control are exponentially more difficult to maintain.
And there are worse things than melted candles waiting for a careless sympathist. The question Denna had asked in the Eolian was all-important: “Where does the extra energy go?”
As Wil had explained, some went into the air, some went into the linked items, and the rest went into the sympathist’s body. The technical term for it was “thaumic overfill,” but even Elxa Dal tended to refer to it as slippage.
Every year or so some careless sympathist with a strong Alar channeled enough heat through a bad link to spike his body temperature and drive himself fever-mad. Dal told us of one extreme case where a student managed to cook himself from the inside out.
I mentioned the last to Manet the day after Dal shared the story with our class. I expected him to join me in some healthy scoffing, but it turned out Manet had actually been a student back when it had happened.
“Smelled like pork,” Manet said grimly. “Damnedest thing. Felt bad for him of course, but you can only feel so much pity for an idiot. A little slippage here and there, you hardly notice, but he must have slipped two hundred thousand thaums inside two seconds.” Manet shook his head, not looking up from the piece of tin he was engraving. “Whole wing of Mains reeked. Nobody could use those rooms for a year.”
I stared at him.
“Thermal slippage is fairly common though,” Manet continued. “Now kinetic slippage . . .” He raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Twenty years back some damn fool El’the got drunk and tried to lift a manure cart onto the roof of the Masters’ Hall on a bet. Tore his own arm off at the shoulder.”
Manet bent back over his piece of tin, engraving a careful rune. “Takes a special kind of stupid to do something like that.”
The next day I was especially attentive to what Dal had to say.
He drilled us mercilessly. Calculations for enthaupy. Charts showing distance of decay. Equations that described the entropic curves a skilled sympathist needs to understand on an almost instinctive level.
But Dal was no fool. So before we grew bored and sloppy, he turned it into a competition.
He made us draw heat from odd sources, from red-hot irons, from blocks of ice, from our own blood. Lighting candles in distant rooms was the easiest of it. Lighting one of a dozen identical candles was harder. Lighting a candle you’d never actually seen in an unknown location . . . it was like juggling in the dark.
There were contests of precision. Contests of finesse. Contests of focus and control. After two span, I was the highest ranked student in our class of twenty-three Re’lar. Fenton nipped at my heels in second place.
As luck would have it, the day after my assault on Ambrose’s rooms was the same day we began dueling in Adept Sympathy. Dueling required all the subtlety and control of our previous competitions, with the added challenge of having another student actively opposing your Alar.
So, despite my recent trip to the Medica for heat exhaustion, I melted a hole through a block of ice in a distant room. Despite two nights of scant sleep, I raised the temperature of a pint of mercury exactly ten degrees. Despite my throbbing bruises and the stinging itch of my bandaged arm, I tore the king of spades in half while leaving the other cards in the deck untouched.
All of these things I did in less than two minutes, despite the fact that Fenton set the whole of his Alar to oppose me. It is not for nothing that they came to call me Kvothe the Arcane. My Alar was like a blade of Ramston steel.
“It’s rather impressive,” Dal said to me after class. “It’s been years since I’ve had a student go undefeated for so long. Will anyone even bet against you anymore?”
I shook my head. “That dried up a long time ago.”
“The price of fame.” Dal smiled, then looked a little more serious. “I wanted to warn you before I announce it to the class. Next span I’ll probably start setting students against you in pairs.”
“I’ll have to go against Fenton and Brey at the same time?” I asked.
Dal shook his head. “We’ll start with the two lowest ranked duelists. It will be a nice lead-in to the teamwork exercises we’ll be doing later in the term.” He smiled. “And it will keep you from growing complacent.” Dal gave me a sharp look, his smile fading. “Are you all right?”
“Just a chill,” I said unconvincingly as I shivered. “Could we go stand by the brazier?”
I stood as close as I could without pressing myself against the hot metal, spreading my hands over the glimmering bowl of hot coals. After a moment the chill passed and I noticed Dal looking at me curiously.
“I ended up in the Medica with a bit of heat exhaustion earlier today,” I admitted. “My body’s just a bit confused. I’m fine now.”
He frowned. “You shouldn’t come to class if you aren’t feeling well,” he said. “And you certainly shouldn’t be dueling. Sympathy of this sort stresses the body and mind. You shouldn’t risk compounding that with an illness.”
“I felt fine when I came to class,” I lied. “My body is just reminding me I owe it a good night’s sleep.”
“See that you give it one,” he said sternly, spreading his own hands to the fire. “If you drive yourself too hard you’ll pay for it later. You’ve been looking a little ragged lately. Ragged isn’t the right word, really.”
“Weary?” I guessed.
“Yes. Weary.” He eyed me speculatively, smoothing his beard with a hand. “You have a gift for words. It’s one of the reasons you ended up with Elodin, I expect.”
I didn’t say anything to that. I must have said it quite loudly too, because Dal gave me a curious look. “How are your studies progressing with Elodin?” he asked casually.
“Well enough,” I hedged.
He looked at me.
“Not as well as I might hope,” I admitted. “Studying with Master Elodin isn’t what I expected.”
Dal nodded. “He can be difficult.”
A question sprang up in me. “Do you know any names, Master Dal?”
He nodded solemnly.
“What are they?” I pressed.
He stiffened slightly, then relaxed as he turned his hands back and forth over the fire. “That isn’t really a polite question,” he said gently. “Well, not impolite, it’s just the sort of question you don’t ask. Like asking a man how often he makes love to his wife.”
“No need to be,” he said. “There’s no reason for you to know. It’s a holdover from older times, I think. Back when we had more to fear from our fellow arcanists. If you knew what names your enemy knew, you could guess his strengths, his weaknesses.”
We were both silent for a moment, warming ourselves by the coals. “Fire,” he said after a long moment. “I know the name of fire. And one other.”
“Only two?” I blurted without thinking.
“And how many do you know?” He mocked me gently. “Yes, only two. But two is a great number of names to know these days. Elodin says it was different, long ago.”
“How many does Elodin know?”
“Even if I knew, it would be exceptionally bad form for me to tell you that,” he said with a hint of disapproval. “But it’s safe to say he knows a few.”
“Could you show me something with the name of fire?” I asked. “If that’s not inappropriate?”
Dal hesitated for a moment, then smiled. He looked intently into the brazier between us, closed his eyes, then gestured to the unlit brazier across the room. “Fire.” He spoke the word like a commandment and the distant brazier roared up in a pillar of flame.
“Fire?” I said puzzled. “That’s it? The name of fire is fire?”
Elxa Dal smiled and shook his head. “That’s not what I actually said. Some part of you just filled in a familiar word.”
“My sleeping mind translated it?”
“Sleeping mind?” He gave me a puzzled look.
“That’s what Elodin calls the part of us that knows names,” I explained.
Dal shrugged and ran a hand over his short black beard. “Call it what you will. The fact that you heard me say anything is probably a good sign.”
“I don’t know why I’m bothering with naming sometimes,” I groused. “I could have lit that brazier with sympathy.”
“Not without a link,” Dal pointed out. “Without a binding, a source of energy . . .”
“It still seems pointless,” I said. “I learn things every day in your class. Useful things. I don’t have a thing to show for all the time I’ve spent on naming. Yesterday you know what Elodin lectured about?”
Dal shook his head.
“The difference between being naked and being nude,” I said flatly. Dal burst into laughter. “I’m serious. I fought to be in his class, but now all I can do is think about all the time I’m wasting there, time I could be spending on more practical things.”
“There are things more practical than names,” Dal admitted. “But watch.” He focused on the brazier in front of us again, then his eyes grew distant. He spoke again, whispering this time, then slowly lowered his hand until it was inches above the hot coals.
Then, with an intent expression on his face, Dal pressed his hand deep into the heart of the fire, nestling his spread fingers into the orange coals as if they were nothing more than loose gravel.
I realized I was holding my breath and let it out softly, not wanting to break his concentration. “How?”
“Names,” Dal said firmly, and drew his hand back out of the fire. It was smudged with white ash, but perfectly unharmed. “Names reflect true understanding of a thing, and when you truly understand a thing you have power over it.”
“But fire isn’t a thing unto itself,” I protested. “It’s merely an exothermal chemical reaction. It . . .” I spluttered to a stop.
Dal drew in a breath, and for a moment it looked as if he would explain. Then he laughed instead, shrugging helplessly. “I don’t have the wit to explain it to you. Ask Elodin. He’s the one who claims to understand these things. I just work here.”
After Dal’s class, I made my way over the river to Imre. I didn’t find Denna at the inn where she was staying, so I headed to the Eolian despite the fact that I knew it was too early to find her there.
There were barely a dozen people inside, but I did see a familiar face at the far end of the bar, talking to Stanchion. Count Threpe waved, and I walked over to join them.
“Kvothe my boy!” Threpe said enthusiastically. “I haven’t seen you in a mortal age.”
“Things have been rather hectic on the other side of the river,” I said, setting down my lute case.
Stanchion looked me over. “You look it,” he said frankly. “You look pale. You should get more red meat. Or more sleep.” He pointed to a nearby stool. “Barring that, I’ll stand you a mug of metheglin.”
“I’ll thank you for that,” I said, climbing onto a stool. It felt wonderful to take the weight off my aching legs.
“If it’s meat and sleep you need,” Threpe said ingratiatingly. “You should come to dinner at my estate. I promise wonderful food and conversation so dull you can drowse straight through it and not worry about missing a thing.” He gave me an imploring look. “Come now. I’ll beg if I must. It won’t be more than ten people. I’ve been dying to show you off for months now.”
I picked up the mug of metheglin and looked at Threpe. His velvet jacket was a royal blue, and his suede boots were dyed to match. I couldn’t show up for a formal dinner at his home dressed in secondhand road clothes, which were the only sort I owned.
There was nothing ostentatious about Threpe, but he was a noble born and raised. It probably didn’t even occur to him that I didn’t have any fine clothes. I didn’t blame him for assuming that. The vast majority of the students at the University were at least modestly wealthy. How else could they afford tuition?
The truth was, I’d like nothing better than a fine dinner and the chance to interact with some of the local nobility. I’d love to banter over drinks, repair some of the damage Ambrose had done to my reputation, and maybe catch the eye of a potential patron.
But I simply couldn’t afford the price of admission. A suit of passably fine clothes would cost at least a talent and a half, even if I bought them from a fripperer. Clothes do not make the man, but you need the proper costume if you want to play the part.
Sitting behind Threpe, Stanchion made an exaggerated nodding motion with his head.
“I’d love to come to dinner,” I said to Threpe. “I promise. Just as soon as things settle down a bit over at the University.”
“Excellent,” Threpe said enthusiastically. “I’m going to hold you to it, too. No backing out. I’ll get you a patron, my boy. A proper one. I swear it.”
Behind him, Stanchion nodded approvingly.
I smiled at both of them and took another drink of metheglin. I glanced at the stairway to the second tier.
Stanchion saw my look. “She’s not here,” he said apologetically. “Haven’t seen her in a couple days, actually.”
A handful of people came through the door of the Eolian and shouted something in Yllish. Stanchion waved at them and got to his feet. “Duty calls,” he said, wandering off to greet them.
“Speaking of patrons,” I said to Threpe. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask your opinion about.” I lowered my voice. “Something I’d rather you kept between the two of us.”
Threpe’s eyes glittered curiously as he leaned close.
I took another drink of metheglin while I gathered my thoughts. The drink was hitting me more quickly than I’d expected. It was quite nice, actually, as it dulled the ache of my many injuries. “I’m guessing you know most every potential patron within a hundred miles of here.”
Threpe shrugged, not bothering with false modesty. “A fair number. Everyone who’s earnest about it. Everyone with money, anyway.”
“I have a friend,” I said. “A musician who is just starting out. She has natural talent but not much training. Someone has approached her with an offer of help and a promise of eventual patronage. . . .” I trailed off, not sure how to explain the rest.
Threpe nodded. “You want to know if he’s a legitimate sort,” he said. “Reasonable concern. Some folk feel a patron has a right to more than music.” He gestured to Stanchion. “If you want stories, ask him about the time Duchess Samista came here on holiday.” He gave a chuckle that was almost a moan, rubbing at his eyes. “Tiny gods help me, that woman was terrifying.”
“That’s my worry,” I said. “I don’t know if he’s trustworthy.”
“I can ask around if you like,” Threpe said. “What’s his name?”
“That’s part of the issue,” I said. “I don’t know his name. I don’t think she knows it either.”
Threpe frowned at this. “How can she not know his name?”
“He gave her a name,” I said. “But she doesn’t know if it’s real. Apparently he’s particular about his privacy and gave her strict instructions never to tell anyone about him,” I said. “They never meet in the same place twice. Never in public. He’s gone for months at a time.” I looked up at Threpe. “How does that sound to you?”
“Well it’s hardly ideal,” Threpe said, disapproval heavy in his voice. “There’s every chance this fellow isn’t a proper patron at all. It sounds like he might be taking advantage of your friend.”
I nodded glumly. “That was my thought too.”
“Then again,” Threpe said, “some patrons do work in secret. If they find someone with talent, it’s not unknown for them to nurture them in private, and then . . .” He made a dramatic flourish with one hand. “It’s like a magic trick. You suddenly produce a brilliant musician out of thin air.”
Threpe gave me a fond smile. “I thought that’s what someone had done with you,” he admitted. “You came out of nowhere and got your pipes. I thought someone had been keeping you hidden away until you were ready to make your grand appearance.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” I said.
“It does happen,” Threpe said. “But strange meeting places and the fact that she’s not sure of his name?” He shook his head, frowning. “If nothing else, it’s rather indecorous. Either this fellow is having a bit of fun pretending to be an outlaw, or he’s genuinely dodgy.”
Threpe seemed to think for a moment, tapping his fingers on the bar. “Tell your friend to be careful and keep her wits about her. It’s a terrible thing when a patron takes advantage of a woman. That’s a betrayal. But I’ve known men who did little but pose as patrons to gain a woman’s trust.” He frowned. “That’s worse.”
I was halfway back to the University, with Stonebridge just beginning to loom in the distance, when I began to feel an unpleasant prickling heat run up my arm. At first I thought it was the pain of the twice-stitched cuts on my elbow, as they’d been itching and burning all day.
But instead of fading, the heat continued to spread up my arm and along the left side of my chest. I began to sweat, as if from a sudden fever.
I stripped off my cloak, letting the chill air cool me, and began to unbutton my shirt. The autumn breeze helped, and I fanned myself with my cloak. But the heat grew more intense, painful even, as if I’d spilled boiling water across my chest.
Luckily, this section of road ran parallel to a stream that fed into the nearby Omethi River. Unable to think of a better plan, I kicked off my boots, unshouldered my lute, and jumped into the water.
The chill of the stream made me gasp and sputter, but it cooled my burning skin. I stayed there, trying not to feel like an idiot while a young couple walked past, holding hands and pointedly ignoring me.
The strange heat moved through my body, like there was a fire inside me trying to find a way out. It started along my left side, then wandered down to my legs, then back up to my left arm. When it moved to my head, I ducked underwater.
It stopped after a few minutes, and I climbed out of the stream. Shivering, I wrapped myself in my cloak, glad no one else was on the road. Then, since there was nothing else to do, I shouldered my lute case and began the long walk back to the University dripping wet and terribly afraid.
“I did tell Mola,” I said as I shuffled the cards. “She said it was all in my head and pushed me out the door.”
“Well, I can only guess what that feels like,” Sim said bitterly.
I looked up, surprised by the uncharacteristic sharpness in his voice, but before I could ask what was the matter, Wilem caught my eye and shook his head, warning me away. Knowing Sim’s history, I guessed it was another quick, painful end to another quick, painful relationship.
I kept my mouth shut and dealt another hand of breath. The three of us were killing time, waiting for the room to fill up before I started playing for my typical Felling night crowd at Anker’s.
“What do you think is the matter?” Wilem asked.
I hesitated, worried that if I spoke my fears aloud it might somehow make them true. “I might have exposed myself to something dangerous in the Fishery.”
Wil looked at me. “Such as?”
“Some of the compounds we use,” I said. “They’ll go straight through your skin and kill you in eighteen slow ways.” I thought back to the day my tenten glass had cracked in the Fishery. Of the single drop of transporting agent that had landed on my shirt. It was only a tiny drop, barely larger than the head of a nail. I was so certain it hadn’t touched my skin. “I hope that’s not it. But I don’t know what else it might be.”
“It could be a lingering effect from the plum bob,” Sim said grimly. “Ambrose isn’t much of an alchemist. And from what I understand, one of the main ingredients is lead. If he factored it himself, some latent principles could be affecting your system. Did you eat or drink anything different today?”
I thought about it. “I had a fair bit of metheglin at the Eolian,” I admitted.
“That stuff will make anyone ill,” Wil said darkly.
“I like it,” Sim said. “But it’s practically a nostrum all by itself. There’s a lot of different tincturing going on in there. Nothing alchemical, but you’ve got nutmeg, thyme, clove—all manner of spices. Could be that one of them triggered some of the free principles lurking in your system.”
“Wonderful,” I grumbled. “And how do I go about fixing that, exactly?”
Sim spread his hands helplessly.
“That’s what I thought,” I said. “Still, it sounds better than metal poisoning.”
Simmon proceeded to take four tricks in a row with a clever card force, and by the end of the hand he was smiling again. Sim was never really given to extended brooding.
Wil squared his cards away, and I pushed my chair back from the table.
“Play the one about the drunk cow and the butter churn,” Sim said.
I couldn’t help but crack a smile. “Maybe later,” I said as I picked up my increasingly shabby lute case and made my way to the hearth amid the sound of scattered, familiar applause. It took me a long moment to open the case, untwisting the copper wire I was still using in place of a buckle.
For the next two hours I played. I sang: “Copper Bottom Pot,” “Lilac Bough,” and “Aunt Emme’s Tub.” The audience laughed and clapped and cheered. As I fingered my way through the songs, I felt my worries slough away. My music has always been the best remedy for my dark moods. As I sang, even my bruises seemed to pain me less.
Then I felt a chill, as if a strong winter wind was blowing down the chimney behind me. I fought off a shiver and finished the last verse of “Applejack,” which I’d finally played to keep Sim happy. When I struck the last chord, the crowd applauded and conversation slowly welled up to fill the room again.
I looked behind me at the fireplace, but the fire was burning cheerfully with no sign of a draft. I stepped down off the hearth, hoping a little walk would chase my chill away. But as soon as I took a few steps, I realized that wasn’t the case. The cold settled straight into my bones. I turned back to the fireplace, spreading my hands to warm them.
Wil and Sim appeared at my side. “What’s going on?” Sim asked. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
“Something like that,” I said, clenching my teeth to keep them from chattering. “Go tell Anker I’m feeling ill and have to cut it short tonight. Then light a candle off this fire and bring it up to my room.” I looked up at their serious faces. “Wil, can you help me get out of here? I don’t want to make a scene.”
Wilem nodded and gave me his arm. I leaned on him and concentrated on keeping my body from shaking as we made our way to the stairs. No one paid us much attention. I probably looked more drunk than anything. My hands were numb and heavy. My lips felt icy cold.
After the first flight of stairs, I couldn’t keep my shaking under control any longer. I could still walk, but the thick muscles in my legs twitched with every step.
Wil stopped. “We should go the Medica.” While he didn’t sound different, his Cealdish accent was thicker, and he was starting to drop words. A sign he was genuinely worried.
I shook my head firmly and leaned forward, knowing he’d have to help me up the stairs or let me fall. Wilem put an arm around me and half-steadied, half-carried me the rest of the way.
Once in my tiny room, I staggered onto the bed. Wil wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.
There were footsteps in the hallway and Sim peered nervously around the door. He held a stub of candle, sheltering the flame with his other hand as he walked. “I’ve got it. What do you want it for, anyway?”
“There.” I pointed to the table beside the bed. “You lit it off the fire?”
Sim’s eyes were frightened. “Your lips,” he said. “They’re not a good color.”
I pried a splinter from the rough wood of the bedside table and jabbed it hard into the back of my hand. Blood welled up and I rolled the long splinter around in it, getting it wet. “Close the door,” I said.
“You are not doing what I think you’re doing,” Sim said firmly.
I jabbed the long splinter down into the soft wax of the candle alongside the burning wick. It sputtered a little bit, then the flame wrapped around it. I muttered two bindings, one right after the other, speaking slowly so my numb lips didn’t slur the words.
“What are you doing?” Sim demanded. “Are you trying to cook yourself?” When I didn’t answer him, he stepped forward as if he would knock the candle over.
Wil caught his arm. “His hands are like ice,” he said quietly. “He’s cold. Really cold.”
Sim’s eyes darted nervously between the two of us. He took a step back. “Just . . . just be careful.”
But I was already ignoring him. I closed my eyes and bound the candle flame to the fire downstairs. Then I carefully made the second connection between the blood on the splinter and the blood in my body. It was very much like what I’d done with the drop of wine at the Eolian. With the obvious exception that I didn’t want my blood to boil.
At first there was just a brief tickle of heat, not nearly enough. I concentrated harder and felt my entire body relax as warmth flooded through me. I kept my eyes closed, keeping my attention on the bindings until I could take several long, deep breaths without any shuddering or shaking.
I opened my eyes and saw my two friends looking on expectantly. I smiled at them. “I’m okay.”
But before I got the words out, I began to sweat. I was suddenly too warm, nauseatingly warm. I broke both bindings as quickly as you jerk your hand away from a hot iron stove.
I took a few deep breaths, then got to my feet and walked over to the window. I opened it and leaned heavily on the sill, enjoying the chill autumn air that smelled of dead leaves and coming rain.
There was a long moment of silence.
“That looked like binder’s chills,” Simmon said. “Really bad binder’s chills.”
“It felt like the chills,” I said.
“Maybe your body has lost the ability to regulate its own temperate?” Wilem suggested.
“Temperature,” Sim corrected him absently.
“That wouldn’t account for the burn across my chest,” I said.
Sim cocked his head. “Burn?”
I was wet with sweat now, so I was glad for an excuse to unbutton my shirt and pull it off over my head. A large portion of my chest and upper arm was a bright red, a sharp contrast to my ordinarily pale skin. “Mola said it was a rash, and I was being fussy as an old woman. But it wasn’t there before I jumped into the river.”
Simmon leaned close to look. “I still think it’s unbound principles,” he said. “They can do bizarre things to a person. We had an E’lir last term that wasn’t careful with his factoring. He ending up not being able to sleep or focus his eyes for almost two span.”
Wilem slouched into a chair. “What makes a man cold, then hot, then cold again?”
Sim gave a halfhearted smile. “Sounds like a riddle.”
“I hate riddles,” I said, reaching for my shirt. Then I yelped, clutching at the bare bicep of my left arm. Blood welled out between my fingers.
Sim bolted to his feet, looking around frantically, obviously at a loss for what to do.
It felt like I’d been stabbed by an invisible knife. “God. Blackened. Damn.” I gritted out between my clenched teeth. I pulled my hand away and saw the small, round wound in my arm that had come from nowhere.
Simmon’s expression was horrified, his eyes wide, his hands covering his mouth. He said something, but I was too busy concentrating to listen. I already knew what he was saying, anyway: malfeasance. Of course. This was all malfeasance. Someone was attacking me.
I lowered myself into the Heart of Stone and brought all my Alar to bear.
But my unknown attacker wasn’t wasting any time. There was a sharp pain in my chest near the shoulder. It didn’t break the skin this time, but I watched a blotch of dark blue blossom under my skin.
I hardened my Alar and the next stab was little more than a pinch. Then I quickly broke my mind into three pieces and gave two of them the job of maintaining the Alar that protected me.
Only then did I let out a deep sigh. “I’m fine.”
Simmon gave a laugh that choked off into a sob. His hands still covered his mouth. “How can you say that?” he demanded, plainly horrified.
I looked down at myself. Blood was still welling up through my fingers, running down the back of my hand and my arm.
“It’s true,” I said to him. “Honestly, Sim.”
“But malfeasance,” he said. “It just isn’t done.”
I sat down on the edge of my bed, keeping pressure on my wound. “I think we have some pretty clear proof otherwise.”
Wilem sat back down. “I am with Simmon. I would never have believed this.” He made an angry gesture. “Arcanists do not do this anymore. It is insane.” He looked at me. “Why are you smiling?”
“I’m relieved,” I said honestly. “I was worried I’d given myself cadmium poisoning, or I had some mysterious disease. This is just someone trying to kill me.”
“How could someone do it?” Simmon asked. “I don’t mean morally. How did someone get hold of your blood or hair?”
Wilem looked at Simmon. “What did you do with the bandages after you stitched him up?”
“I burned them,” Sim said defensively. “I’m not an idiot.”
Wil made a calming gesture. “I’m just narrowing our options. It probably isn’t the Medica either. They’re careful about that sort of thing.”
Simmon stood up. “We have to tell someone.” He looked at Wilem. “Would Jamison still be in his office at this time of night?”
“Sim,” I said. “How about we just wait for a while?”
“What?” Simmon said. “Why?”
“The only evidence I have are my injuries,” I said. “That means they’ll want someone at the Medica to examine me. And when that happens . . .” With one hand still clamped over my bloody arm, I waved my bandaged elbow. “I look remarkably like someone who fell off a roof just a couple days ago.”
Sim’s sat back down in his chair. “It’s only been three days, hasn’t it?”
I nodded. “I’d be expelled. And Mola would be in trouble for not mentioning my injuries. Master Arwyl isn’t forgiving about that sort of thing. The two of you would probably be implicated too. I don’t want that.”
We were quiet for a moment. The only sound was the distant clamor of the busy taproom below. I sat down on the bed.
“Do we even need to discuss who’s doing this?” Sim asked.
“Ambrose,” I said. “It’s always Ambrose. He must have found some of my blood on a piece of roofing tile. I should have thought of that days ago.”
“How would he know it was yours?” Simmon asked.
“Because I hate him,” I said bitterly. “Of course he knows it was me.”
Wil was slowly shaking his head. “No. It’s not like him.”
“Not like him?” Simmon demanded. “He had that woman dose Kvothe with the plum bob. That’s as bad as poison. He hired those men to jump Kvothe in the alley last term.”
“My point exactly,” Wilem said. “Ambrose doesn’t do things to Kvothe. He arranges for other people to do them. He got some woman to dose him. He paid thugs to knife you. I expect he didn’t even do that, really. I’ll bet someone else set it up for him.”
“It’s all the same,” I said. “We know he’s behind it.”
Wilem frowned at me. “You’re not thinking straight. It’s not that Ambrose isn’t a bastard. He is. But he’s a clever bastard. He’s careful to distance himself from anything he does.”
Sim looked uncertain. “Wil has a point. When you were hired on as house musician at the Horse and Four, he didn’t buy the place and fire you. He had Baron Petre’s son-in-law do it. No connection to him at all.”
“No connection here either,” I said. “That’s the whole point of sympathy. It’s indirect.”
Wil shook his head again. “If you got knifed in an alley people would be shocked. But such things happen all the time all over the world. But if you fell down in public and started gushing blood from malfeasance? People would be horrified. The masters would suspend classes. Rich merchants and nobles would hear of it and pull their children from their studies. They’d bring the constables over from Imre.”
Simmon rubbed his forehead and looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. Then he nodded to himself, first slowly, then with more certainty. “It makes sense,” he said. “If Ambrose had found some blood, he could have turned it over to Jamison and had him dowse out the thief. There wouldn’t have been any need to get folks in the Medica to look for suspicious injuries and such.”
“Ambrose likes his revenge,” I pointed out grimly. “He could have hidden the blood from Jamison. Kept it for himself.”
Wilem was shaking his head.
Sim sighed. “Wil’s right. There aren’t that many sympathists, and everyone knows Ambrose is carrying a grudge against you. He’s too careful to do something like this. It would point right to him.”
“Besides,” Wilem said. “How long has this been going on? Days and days. Do you honestly think Ambrose could go this long without rubbing your nose in it? Not even a little?”
“You have a point,” I admitted reluctantly. “That’s not like him.”
I knew it had to be Ambrose. I could feel it deep in my gut. In a strange way I almost wanted it to be him. It would make things so much simpler.
But wanting something doesn’t make it so. I took a deep breath and forced myself to think about it rationally.
“It would be reckless of him,” I admitted at last. “And he isn’t the sort to get his hands dirty.” I sighed. “Fine. Wonderful. As if one person trying to ruin my life wasn’t enough.”
“Who could it be?” Simmon asked. “Your average person can’t do this sort of thing with hair, am I right?”
“Dal could,” I said. “Or Kilvin.”
“It is probably safe to assume,” Wilem said dryly, “that none of the masters are trying to kill you.”
“Then it has to be someone with his blood,” Sim said.
I tried to ignore the sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. “There is someone with my blood,” I said. “But I don’t think she could be responsible.”
Wil and Sim turned to look at me, and I immediately regretted saying anything. “Why would someone have your blood?” Sim asked.
I hesitated, then realized there was no way to avoid telling them at this point. “I borrowed money from Devi at the beginning of the term.”
Neither one of them reacted the way I expected. Which is to say, neither one reacted at all.
“Who’s Devi?” Sim asked.
I started to relax. Maybe they hadn’t heard of her. That would certainly make things easier. “She’s a gaelet who lives across the river,” I said.
“Okay,” Simmon said easily. “What’s a gaelet?”
“Remember when we went to see The Ghost and the Goosegirl?” I asked him. “Ketler was a gaelet.”
“Oh, a copper hawk,” Sim said, his face brightening with realization, then darkening again as he realized the implications. “I didn’t know there were any of those sort of people around here.”
“Those sort of people are everywhere,” I said. “The world wouldn’t work without them.”
“Wait,” Wilem said suddenly, holding up his hand. “Did you say, your . . .” He paused, struggling to remember the appropriate word in Aturan. “Your loaner, your gatessor was named Devi?” His Cealdish accent was thick around her name, so it sounded like “David.”
I nodded. This was the reaction I’d expected.
“Oh God,” Simmon said, aghast. “You mean Demon Devi, don’t you?”
I sighed. “So you’ve heard of her.”
“Heard of her?” Sim said, his voice going shrill. “She was expelled during my first term! It left a real impression.”
Wilem simply closed his eyes and shook his head, as if he couldn’t bear to look at someone as stupid as me.
Sim threw his hands into the air. “She was expelled for malfeasance! What were you thinking?”
“No,” Wilem said to Simmon. “She was expelled for Conduct Unbecoming. There was no proof of malfeasance.”
“I really don’t think it was her,” I said. “She’s quite nice, actually. Friendly. Besides, it’s only a six talent loan, and I’m not late paying her back. She doesn’t have any reason to do something like this.”
Wilem gave me a long, steady look. “Just to explore all possibilities,” he said slowly. “Would you do something for me?”
“Think back on your last few conversings with her,” Wilem said. “Take a moment and sift them piece by piece and see if you remember doing or saying something that might have offended or upset her.”
I thought back on our last conversation, playing it through in my head. “She was interested in a certain piece of information that I didn’t give her.”
“How interested?” Wilem’s voice was slow and patient, as if he were talking to a rather dimwitted child.
“Rather interested,” I said.
“Rather does not indicate a degree of intensity.”
I sighed. “Fine. Extremely interested. Interested enough to—” I stopped.
Wilem arched a knowing eyebrow at me. “Yes? What have you just remembered?”
I hesitated. “She might have also offered to sleep with me,” I said.
Wilem nodded calmly, as if he had expected something of the sort. “And you responded to this young woman’s generous offer in what way?”
I felt my cheeks get hot. “I . . . I sort of just ignored it.”
Wilem closed his eyes, his expression conveying a vast, weary dismay.
“This is so much worse than Ambrose,” Sim said, putting his head in his hands. “Devi doesn’t have to worry about the masters or anything. They say she could do an eight-part binding! Eight!”
“I was in a tight space,” I said a little testily. “I didn’t have anything to use as collateral. I’ll admit it wasn’t a great idea. After all this is done, we can have a symposium on how stupid I am. But for now can we just move on?” I gave them a pleading look.
Wilem rubbed at his eyes with one hand and gave a weary nod.
Simmon made an effort to get rid of his horrified expression with only marginal success. He swallowed. “Fair enough. What are we going to do?”
“Right now it doesn’t really matter who is responsible,” I said, cautiously checking to see if my arm had stopped bleeding. It had, and I peeled my bloody hand away. “I’m going to take some precautionary measures.” I made a shooing motion. “You two go get some sleep.”
Sim rubbed his forehead, chuckling to himself. “Body of God, you’re irritating sometimes. What if you’re attacked again?”
“It’s already happened twice while we’ve been sitting here,” I said easily. “It tingles a bit.” I grinned at his expression. “I’m fine, Sim. Honestly. There’s a reason I’m the top-ranked duelist in Dal’s class. I’m perfectly safe.”
“As long as you’re awake,” Wilem interjected, his dark eyes serious.
My grin grew stiff. “As long as I’m awake,” I repeated. “Of course.”
Wilem stood up and made a show of brushing himself off. “So. Clean yourself and take your precautionary measures.” He gave me a pointed look. “Shall young master Simmon and I expect Dal’s top-ranked duelist in my room tonight?”
I felt myself flush with embarrassment. “Why, yes. That would be greatly appreciated.”
Wil gave me an exaggerated bow, then opened the door and made his way out into the hall.
Sim was wearing a wide grin by now. “It’s a date then. But put on a shirt before you come. I’ll watch over you tonight like the colicky infant you are, but I refuse to do it if you insist on sleeping naked.”
After Wil and Sim left, I headed out the window and onto the rooftops. I left my shirt in my room, as I was a bloody mess and I didn’t want to ruin it. I trusted the dark night and the lateness of the hour, hoping no one would spot me running along the University rooftops half naked and bloody.
It is relatively easy to protect yourself from sympathy if you know what you’re doing. Someone trying to burn or stab me, or draw off my body heat until I lapsed into hypothermia, all those things deal with the simple, direct application of force, so they are easy to oppose. I was safe now that I knew what was happening and kept my defenses up.
My new concern was that whoever was attacking me might get discouraged and try something different. Something like dowsing out my location, then resorting to a more mundane type of attack, one I couldn’t stave off with an effort of will.
Malfeasance is terrifying, but a thug with a sharp knife will kill you ten times quicker if he catches you in a dark alley. And catching someone off their guard is remarkably easy if you can track their every movement using their blood.
So I headed across the rooftops. My plan was to take a handful of autumn leaves, mark them with my blood, and send them tumbling endlessly around the House of the Wind. It was a trick I’d used before.
But as I jumped across a narrow alley, I saw lightning flicker in the clouds and smelled rain in the air. A storm was coming. Not only would the rain mat down the leaves, keeping them from moving around, but it would wash my blood away as well.
Standing there on the rooftop, feeling like I’d had twelve colors of hell beaten out of me, brought back unsettling echoes of my years in Tarbean. I watched the distant lightning for a moment and tried not to let the feeling overwhelm me. I forced myself to remember I wasn’t the same helpless starving child I’d been back then.
I heard the faint, drumlike sound as a piece of tin roofing bent behind me. I stiffened, then relaxed as I heard Auri’s voice, “Kvothe?”
I looked to my right and saw her small shape standing a dozen feet away. The clouds were hiding the moon, but I could hear a smile in her voice as she said, “I saw you running across the tops of things.”
I turned the rest of the way around to face her, glad there wasn’t much light. I didn’t like to think how Auri might react to the sight of me half naked and covered in blood.
“Hello Auri,” I said. “There’s a storm coming. You shouldn’t be up on the tops of things tonight.”
She tilted her head. “You are,” she said simply.
I sighed. “I am. But only—”
A great spider of lightning crawled across the sky, illuminating everything for the space of a long second. Then it was gone, leaving me flash-blind.
“Auri?” I called, worried the sight of me had scared her off.
There was another flicker of lightning, and I saw her standing closer. She pointed at me, grinning delightedly. “You look like an Amyr,” she said. “Kvothe is one of the Ciridae.”
I looked down at myself and with the next lightning flicker I saw what she meant. I had dried blood running down the back of my hands from when I’d been trying to stanch my wounds. It looked like the old tattoos the Amyr had used to mark their highest ranking members.
I was so surprised by her reference that I forgot the first thing I’d learned about Auri. I forgot to be careful and asked her a question, “Auri, how do you know about the Ciridae?”
There was no response. The next flicker of lightning showed me nothing but an empty rooftop and an unforgiving sky.
I stood on the rooftops with the storm flickering overhead, my heart heavy in my chest. I wanted to follow Auri and apologize, but I knew it was hopeless. The wrong sort of questions made her run, and when Auri bolted, she was like a rabbit down a hole. There were a thousand places she could hide in the Underthing. I didn’t have a chance of finding her.
Besides, I had vital matters to attend to. Even now someone could be dowsing out my location. I simply didn’t have the time.
It took me the better part of an hour to make my way across the rooftops. The flickering light of the storm made things harder rather than easier, blinding me for long moments after every flash. Still, I eventually made my limping way to the roof of Mains where I typically met Auri.
Stiffly, I climbed down the apple tree to the enclosed courtyard. I was about to call down through the heavy metal grating that led to the Underthing when I saw a flicker of movement in the shadow of the nearby bushes.
I peered into the dark, unable to see anything but a vague shape. “Auri?” I asked gently.
“I don’t like telling,” she said softly, her voice thick with tears. Of all the awful things I’d been part of these last couple days, this was unquestionably the worst of it.
“I’m so sorry, Auri,” I said. “I won’t ask again. I promise.”
There was a tiny sob from the shadows that froze my heart solid and broke off a piece of it.
“What were you doing out on top of things tonight?” I asked. I knew this was a safe question. I’d asked it many times before.
“I was looking at the lightning,” she said, sniffling. Then, “I saw one that looked like a tree.”
“What was in the lightning?” I asked softly.
“Galvanic ionization,” she said. Then, after a pause, she added, “And river-ice. And the sway a cattail makes.”
“I wish I’d seen that one,” I said.
“What were you doing on top of things.” She paused and gave a tiny hiccuping laugh. “All crazy and mostly nekkid?”
My heart began to thaw a bit. “I was looking for a place to put my blood,” I said.
“Most people keep that inside,” she said. “It’s easier.”
“I want to keep the rest of it inside,” I explained. “But I’m worried someone might be looking for me.”
“Oh,” she said, as if she understood perfectly. I saw the slightly darker shadow of her move in the darkness, standing up. “You should come with me to Clinks.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen Clinks,” I said. “Have you taken me there before?”
There was a motion that might have been the shaking of a head. “It’s private.”
I heard a metallic noise, then a rustle, then I saw a blue-green light well up from the open grate. I climbed down and met her in the tunnel underneath.
The light in her hand showed smudges across her face, probably from where she’d been rubbing away her tears. It was the first time I’d ever seen Auri dirty. Her eyes were darker than normal, and her nose was red.
Auri sniffed and rubbed her blotchy face. “You,” she said gravely, “are a dreadful mess.”
I looked down at my bloody hands and chest. “I am,” I agreed.
Then she gave a tiny, brave smile. “I didn’t run so far this time,” she said tilting her chin proudly.
“I’m glad,” I said. “And I’m sorry.”
“No.” She gave her head a tiny, firm shake. “You are my Ciridae, and thus above reproach.” She reached out to touch the center of my bloody chest with a finger. “Ivare enim euge.”
Auri led me through the maze of tunnels that comprised the Underthing. We went farther down, through Vaults, past Cricklet. Then we moved through several twisting hallways and down again, using a stone spiral staircase I’d never seen before.
I smelled damp stone and heard the low, smooth sound of running water as we descended. Every once in a while there was the gritty sound of glass on stone, or the brighter tinkling sound of glass on glass.
After about fifty steps the wide, spiraling staircase disappeared into a vast, roiling pool of black water. I wondered how far the stairs continued below the surface.
There wasn’t any smell of rot or foulness. It was fresh water, and I could see ripples as it swirled in the stairwell and spread out into the dark beyond where our lights could reach. I heard the clink of glass again and saw two bottles spinning and bobbing on the surface, moving first one way, then another. One ducked under the surface and didn’t come up again.
There was a burlap sack hanging from a brass torch bracket mounted into the wall. Auri reached into the bag and pulled out a heavy stoppered bottle of the sort that might have once held Bredon beer.
She handed me the bottle. “They disappear for an hour. Or a minute. Sometimes for days. Sometimes they don’t come back at all.” She brought another bottle out of the sack. “It’s best to have at least four going at once. That way, statistically, you should always have two moving around.”
I nodded, and I pulled a strand of burlap from the tattered sack and daubed it with the blood that covered my hand. I uncorked the bottle and dropped it inside.
“Hair too,” Auri said.
I pulled a few from my head and threaded them through the bottle’s mouth. Then I drove the cork in hard and set it floating. It rode low in the water, circling erratically.
Auri handed me another bottle and we repeated the process. When the fourth bottle was swept out into the swirling water, Auri nodded and dusted her hands briskly against each other.
“There,” she said with a tone of immense satisfaction. “That’s good. We’re safe.”
Hours later, washed, bandaged, and considerably less nekkid, I made my way to Wilem’s room in the Mews. That night, and for many to come, Wil and Sim took turns watching over me as I slept, keeping me safe with their Alar. They were the best sort of friends. The sort everyone hopes for but no one deserves, least of all me.
CHAPTER TWENTY- FIVE
Despite what Wil and Sim believed, I couldn’t believe Devi was responsible for the malfeasance against me. While I was painfully aware that I knew next to nothing about women, she had always been friendly to me. Even sweet at times.
True, she had a grim reputation. But I knew better than anyone how quickly a handful of rumors could turn into full-blown faerie stories.
I thought it much more likely that my unknown assailant was simply a bitter student who resented my advancement in the Arcanum. Most students studied for years before they reached Re’lar, and I had managed it in less than three terms. It could even be someone who simply hated the Edema Ruh. It wouldn’t be the first time that had earned me a beating.
In some ways, it really didn’t matter who was responsible for the attacks. What I needed was a way to stop them. I couldn’t expect Wil and Sim to watch over me for the rest of my life.
I needed a more permanent solution. I needed a gram.
A gram is a clever piece of artificery designed for just this sort of problem. It is a sort of sympathetic armor that prevents anyone from making a binding against your body. I didn’t know how they worked, but I knew they existed. And I knew where to find out how to make one.
Kilvin looked up as I approached his office. I was relieved to see his glasswork was cold and dark.
“I trust you are well, Re’lar Kvothe?” he asked without getting up from the worktable. He was holding a large hemisphere of glass in one hand and a diamond stylus in the other.
“I am, Master Kilvin,” I lied.
“Have you been thinking about your next project?” he asked. “Have you been dreaming clever dreams?”
“I was actually looking for a schema for a gram, Master Kilvin. But I can’t find it in any of the bolt-holes or reference books.”
Kilvin looked at me curiously. “And why would you be needing a gram, Re’lar Kvothe? Such a desire does not reflect good faith in your fellow arcanists.”
Unsure as to whether he was joking or not, I decided to play it straight. “We’ve been learning about slippage in Adept Sympathy. I was thinking that if a gram works to deny outside affinities . . .”
Kilvin gave a low chuckle. “Dal has been throwing fear into you. Good. And you are correct, a gram would help protect against slippage—” His dark Cealdish eyes gave me a serious look. “To a degree. However, it seems a clever student would simply learn his lessons and avoid slippage through proper care and caution.”
“I intend to, Master Kilvin,” I said. “Still, a gram strikes me as a useful thing to have.”
“There is truth to that,” Kilvin admitted, nodding his shaggy head. “However, with repairs and the filling of our autumn orders, we are understaffed.” He waved a hand toward the window that looked out into the workshop. “I cannot spare any workers to make such a thing. And even if I could, there is an issue of cost. They require delicate work, and gold is needed for the inlay.”
“I’d prefer to make my own, Master Kilvin.”
Kilvin shook his head. “There is reason the schema is not in the reference books. You are not far enough along to be making your own. One must be careful when meddling with sygaldry and one’s own blood.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but he cut me off. “More important, the sygaldry necessary for such a device is only entrusted to those who have reached the ranks of El’the. The runes for blood and bone have too great a potential for misuse.”
His tone let me know there was nothing to be gained by arguing, so I shrugged it off as if I couldn’t care less. “It’s no matter, Master Kilvin. I have other projects to occupy my time.”
Kilvin gave me a wide smile. “I am sure you do, Re’lar Kvothe. I am waiting with great eagerness to see what you will make for me.”
A thought struck me. “To that purpose, Master Kilvin, could I have the use of one of the private workrooms? I’d rather not have everyone looking over my shoulder while I’m tinkering.”
Kilvin’s eyebrows went up at this. “Now I am doubly curious.” He set down the hemisphere of glass, got to his feet, and opened a drawer in his desk. “Will one of the first floor workrooms suit you? Or is there a chance of something exploding? I will give you one on the third floor if that is the case. They are colder, but the roof is better suited for that sort of thing.”
I looked at him for a moment, trying to decide if he was joking. “A first floor room will be fine, Master Kilvin. But I’ll need a small smelter and a little extra room to breathe.”
Kilvin muttered to himself, then brought out a key. “How much breathing will you be doing? Room twenty-seven is five hundred feet square.”
“That should be plenty,” I said. “I also might need permission to get precious metals from Stocks.”
Kilvin chuckled at this, and nodded as he handed me the key. “I will see it is done, Re’lar Kvothe. I look forward to seeing what you will make for me.”
It was galling that the schema I needed was restricted. But there are always other ways of finding information, and there are always people who know more than they are supposed to.
For example, I didn’t doubt Manet knew how to make a gram. Everyone knew he was an E’lir in title only. But there was no way he would share the information with me against Kilvin’s wishes. The University had been Manet’s home for thirty years, and he was probably the only student who feared expulsion more than me.
This meant my options were limited. Other than a lengthy search of the Archives, I couldn’t think of any way to get a schema on my own. So, after several minutes of wracking my brain for a better option, I made my way to the Bale and Barley.
The Bale was one of the more disreputable taverns this side of the river. Anker’s wasn’t seedy in the strictest sense, it simply lacked pretension. It was clean without smelling of flowers and inexpensive without being tawdry. People visited Anker’s to eat, drink, listen to music, and occasionally have a friendly fight.
The Bale was several rungs farther down the ladder. It was grubbier, music was not a priority, and the fights were usually only recreational for one of the people involved.
Mind you, the Bale wasn’t as bad as half the places in Tarbean. But it was the worst you were likely to find this close to the University. So despite being seedy, it had wooden floors and glass in the windows. And if you passed out drunk and woke up missing your purse, you could content yourself with the fact that nobody had knifed you and stolen your boots as well.
As it was still early in the day, there were a bare handful of people scattered around the common room. I was glad to see Sleat sitting in the back. I hadn’t actually met him, but I knew who he was. I’d heard stories.
Sleat was one of the rare, indispensable people who have a knack for arranging things. From what I’d heard, he’d been a student on and off for the last ten years.
He was talking with a nervous-looking man at the moment, and I knew better than to interrupt. So I bought two mugs of short beer and made a pretense of drinking one while I waited.
Sleat was handsome, dark-haired and dark-eyed. Though he didn’t have the characteristic beard, I expected he was at least half Cealdish. His body language screamed authority. He moved as if he were in control of everything around him.
Which wouldn’t have surprised me, actually. He could own the Bale for all I knew. People like Sleat are no strangers to money.
Sleat and the anxious young man finally came to some sort of agreement. Sleat smiled warmly as they shook hands and clapped the man on the shoulder as he walked away.
I waited for a moment, then made my way over to his table. As I came closer, I noticed there was a stretch of open floor between his table and the others in the common room. It wasn’t much, just enough so eavesdropping would be difficult.
Sleat looked up as I approached.
“I was wondering if we could talk,” I said.
He made an expansive gesture to the empty chair. “This is a bit of a surprise,” he said.
“I don’t get a lot of clever folks paying me visits. I get desperate folks.” He looked at the mugs. “Are those both for you?”
“You can have either or both.” I nodded at the one on the right. “But I’ve already had my mouth on that one.”
He looked at the mugs warily for a fraction of a second, then gave a wide, white smile and took the drink on the left. “From what I’ve heard, you’re not the sort to poison a man.”
“You seem to know a lot about me,” I said.
His shrug was so casual I guessed he’d practiced it. “I know a lot about everyone,” he said. “But I know more about you.”
Sleat slouched forward, leaning on the table and speaking in a confidential tone. “Do you have any idea how boring your average student is? Half of them are rich tourists who don’t care half a damn for their classes.” He rolled his eyes and gestured as if throwing something over his shoulder. “The other half are bookish tits who have dreamed of this place so long they can hardly breathe once they’re here. They walk on eggshells, meek as priests. Scared lest the masters cast a disapproving eye in their direction.”
He sniffed disdainfully and leaned back in his seat. “Suffice to say you’re a breath of fresh air. Everyone says . . .” He stopped and gave his practiced shrug again. “Well, you know.”
“Actually, I don’t,” I admitted. “What do people say?”
Sleat gave me a sharp, beautiful smile. “Ah, that’s the problem isn’t it? Everyone knows a man’s reputation except the man himself. For most men this isn’t a bother. But some of us labor over our reputations. I have built mine brick by brick. It is a useful tool.” He gave me a sly look. “I expect you understand what I am talking about.”
I allowed myself a smile. “Perhaps.”
“What do they say about me, then? Tell me and I’ll return the favor.”
“Well,” I said. “You’re good at finding things,” I said. “You’re discreet, but expensive.”
He waved his hands, irritated. “Vagaries. Details are the bones of the story. Give me bones.”
I thought. “I heard you managed to sell several vials of Regim Ignaul Neratum last term. After the fire in Kilvin’s shop, where all of it was supposedly destroyed.”
Sleat nodded, his expression giving away nothing.
“I heard you arranged to get a message to Veyane’s father in Emlin despite the fact that there was a siege going on.” Another nod. “You got a young prostitute working in Buttons a set of documents proving she was a distant bloodline cousin of the Baronet Gamre, allowing her to marry a certain young gentleman with minimal fuss.”
Sleat smiled. “I was proud of that one.”
“When you were an E’lir,” I continued. “You were suspended for two terms on charges of Wrongful Apprehension. Two years later, you were fined and suspended again for Misuse of University Equipment in the Crucible. I’ve heard Jamison knows the sort of business you do, but he’s paid to turn a blind eye. I don’t believe the last one, by the way.”
“Fair enough,” he said easily. “Neither do I.”
“Despite your extensive activities, you’ve only been brought up against the iron law once,” I continued. “Transport of Contraband Substances, wasn’t it?”
Sleat rolled his eyes. “You know the damnedest thing? I was actually innocent of that one. Heffron’s boys paid off a constable to fake some evidence. The charges were withdrawn after only two days.” He scowled. “Not that the masters cared. All they gave a damn about was that I was out there besmirching the University’s good name.” His tone was bitter. “My tuition tripled after that.”
I decided to push matters a bit. “Several months ago you poisoned a young earl’s daughter with Venitasin and only gave her the antidote after she signed over the largest of the fiefdoms she stood to inherit. Then you staged it to look like she’d lost it playing a game of high-stakes faro.”
He raised an eyebrow at this. “Do they say why?”
“No,” I said. “I assumed she tried to default on her debt to you.”
“There’s some truth to that,” he said. “Though it was a bit more complicated. And it wasn’t Venitasin. That would be extraordinarily reckless.” He looked offended and brushed at his sleeve, plainly irritated. “Anything else?”
I paused, trying to decide if I wanted to get confirmation about something I’d suspected for some time. “Only that last term you put Ambrose Jakis in touch with a pair of men who have been known to kill people for money.”
Sleat’s expression remained impassive, his body loose and relaxed. But I could see a slight tension in his shoulders. Very little escapes me when I’m watching closely. “They say that, do they?”
I gave a shrug that put his to shame. My shrug was so nonchalant it would make a cat jealous. “I’m a musician. I play three nights a span in a busy tavern. I hear all manner of things.” I reached for my mug. “And what have you heard of me?”
“The same stories everyone else knows, of course. You convinced the masters to admit you to the University though you’re just a pup, no offense. Then two days later you shame Master Hemme in his own classroom and get away bird free.”
“Save for a whipping.”
“Save for a whipping,” he acknowledged. “During which you couldn’t be bothered to cry out or bleed, even a little. I wouldn’t believe that if there weren’t several hundred witnesses.”
“We drew a decent crowd,” I said. “It was good weather for a whipping.”
“I’ve heard some overly dramatic folk call you Kvothe the Bloodless because of it,” he said. “Though I’m guessing part of that comes from the fact that you’re Edema Ruh, which means you’re about as far from a blooded noble as a person can be.”
I smiled. “A bit of both, I expect.”
He looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard you and Master Elodin fought in Haven. Vast and terrible magics were unleashed, and in the end he won by throwing you through a stone wall, then off the roof of the building.”
“Do they say what we fought over?” I asked.
“All manner of things,” he said dismissively. “An insult. A misunderstanding. You tried to steal his magic. He tried to steal your woman. Typical nonsense.”
Sleat rubbed at his face. “Let me see. You play the lute passing well and are proud as a kicked cat. You are unmannerly, sharp-tongued, and show no respect for your betters, which is practically everyone given your lowly ravel birth.”
I felt a flush of anger start in my face and sweep, hot and prickling, down the entire length of my body. “I am the best musician you will ever meet or see from a distance,” I said with forced calm. “And I am Edema Ruh to my bones. That means my blood is red. It means I breathe the free air and walk where my feet take me. I do not cringe and fawn like a dog at a man’s title. That looks like pride to people who have spent their lives cultivating supple spines.”
Sleat gave a lazy smile, and I realized he’d been baiting me. “You also have a temper, so I’ve heard. And there’s a whole boatload of other assorted nonsense floating around you as well. You only sleep an hour each night. You have demon blood. You can talk to the dead—”
I leaned forward, curious. That wasn’t one of the rumors I’d started. “Really? Do I talk to spirits, or are they claiming I’m digging up bodies?”
“I’m assuming spirits,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone mention grave robbing.”
I nodded. “Anything else?”
“Only that you were cornered in an alley last term by two men who kill people for money. And despite the fact that they had knives and caught you quite unaware, you blinded one and beat the other senseless, calling down fire and lightning like Taborlin the Great.”
We looked at each other for a long moment. It was not a comfortable silence. “Did you put Ambrose in touch with them?” I asked at last.
“That,” Sleat said frankly, “is not a good question. It implies I discuss private dealings after the fact.” He gave me a flat look, no hint of a smile anywhere near his mouth or eyes. “Besides, would you trust me to answer honestly?”
“I can say, however, that because of those stories, nobody is much interested in taking that sort of job again,” Sleat said conversationally. “Not that there is much call for that sort of work around here to begin with. We’re all terribly civilized.”
“Not that you would know about it, even if it were going on.”
His smile came back. “Exactly.” He leaned forward. “Enough chatter then. What is it you’re looking for?”
“I need a schema for a piece of artificing.”
He set his elbows on the table. “And . . .”
“It contains sygaldry Kilvin restricts to those of El’the rank and higher.”
Sleat nodded matter-of-factly. “And how quickly do you need it? Hours? Days?”
I thought about Wil and Sim staying up nights to watch over me. “Sooner is better.”
Sleat looked thoughtful, his eyes unfocused. “It’s going to cost, and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to produce it on an exact schedule.” He focused in on me. “Also, if you get caught you’ll be charged with Wrongful Apprehension at the very least.”
“And you know what the penalties are?”
“ ‘For Wrongful Apprehension of the Arcane not leading to injury of another,’ ” I recited. “ ‘The offending student may be fined no more than twenty talents, whipped no more than ten times, suspended from the Arcanum, or expelled from the University.’ ”
“They fined me the full twenty talents and suspended me two terms,” Sleat said grimly. “And that was only some Re’lar-level alchemy. It will be worse with you if this is El’the-level stuff.”
“How much?” I asked.
“To get hold of it in a few days . . .” He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “Thirty talents.”
I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach, but I kept my face composed. “Is there any room to negotiate that?”
He gave his sharp smile again, his teeth were very white. “I also deal in favors,” he said. “But a thirty talent favor is going to be a big one.” He looked at me thoughtfully. “We could perhaps work out something along those lines. But I feel obliged to mention that when I call a favor due, it’s due. At that point, there isn’t any negotiation.”
I nodded calmly to show him I understood. But I felt a cold knot forming in my gut. This was a bad idea. I knew it in my bones.
“Do you owe anyone else?” Sleat asked. “And don’t lie to me or I’ll know.”
“Six talents,” I said casually. “Due at the end of the term.”
He nodded. “I’m guessing you didn’t manage to get it off some moneylender. Did you go to Heffron?”
I shook my head. “Devi.”
For the first time in our conversation Sleat lost his composure, his charming smile fell away entirely. “Devi?” He pulled himself up in his chair, his body suddenly tense. “No. I don’t think we can come to an arrangement. If you had cash it would be one thing.” He shook his head. “But no. If Devi already owns a piece of you . . .”
His reaction chilled me, then I realized he was just angling for more money. “What if I were to borrow money from you so I could settle my debt with her?”
Sleat shook his head, regaining a piece of his shattered nonchalance. “That is the very definition of poaching,” he said. “Devi has an ongoing interest in you. An investment.” He took a drink and cleared his throat meaningfully. “She does not look kindly on other folk interfering where she’s staked her claim.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I guess I was taken in by your reputation,” I said. “Silly of me, really.”
His face creased into a frown. “What do you mean by that?”
I waved my hands dismissively. “Please, give me credit for being at least half as clever as you’ve heard,” I said. “If you can’t get what I want, just admit it. Don’t waste my time by pricing things out of my reach or coming up with elaborate excuses.”
Sleat seemed unsure if he should be offended. “What part of this seems elaborate to you?”
“Come now,” I said. “You’re willing to run against the laws of the University, risk the wrath of the masters, the constables, and the iron law of Atur. But a little slip of a girl makes your knees quivery?” I sniffed and mimicked the gesture he’d made before, pretending to ball something up and throw it away over my shoulder.
He looked at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Yes, that’s exactly the case,” he said, wiping tears of genuine amusement from his eyes. “Apparently I was fooled by your reputation too. If you think Devi is a little slip of a girl, you aren’t nearly as clever as I thought.”
Looking over my shoulder, Sleat nodded at someone I couldn’t see and waved his hand dismissively. “Go on with you,” he said. “I have business to do with rational people who know the true shape of the world. You’re wasting my time.”
I felt myself prickling with irritation, but forced myself to keep it off my face. “I also need a crossbow,” I said.
He shook his head. “No, I’ve already told you. No loans or favors.”
“I can offer goods in exchange.”
He looked at me skeptically. “What sort of crossbow?”
“Any sort,” I said. “It needn’t be fancy. It just needs to work.”
“Eight talents,” he said.
I gave him a hard look. “Don’t insult me. This is mundane contraband. I’ll bet ten to a penny you can have one in two hours. If you try to gouge me, I’ll just go over the river and get one from Heffron.”
“Get one from Heffron and you’ll have to carry it back from Imre,” he said. “Constable would love seeing that.”
I shrugged and began to get to my feet.
“Three talents and five,” he said. “It’ll be used, mind you. And a stirrup, not a crank.”
I calculated in my head. “Will you accept an ounce of silver and a spool of finely drawn gold wire?” I asked, bringing them out from the pockets of my cloak.
Sleat’s dark eyes unfocused slightly as he did his own internal calculations. “You drive a tight bargain.” He picked up the spool of bright wire and the small ingot of silver. “There’s a rain barrel behind the Grimsome Tannery. The crossbow will be there in fifteen minutes.” He gave me an insulted look. “Two hours? You don’t know anything about me at all.”
Hours later Fela emerged from the shelves in the Archives and caught me with one hand against the four-plate door. I wasn’t pushing on it, exactly. Just pressing. Just checking to see if it was firmly closed. It was.
“I don’t suppose they tell scrivs what’s behind this?” I asked her without any hope.
“If they do, they haven’t told me yet,” Fela said, stepping close and reaching out to run her fingers along the grooves the letters made in the stone: Valaritas. “I had a dream about the door once,” she said. “Valaritas was the name of an old dead king. His tomb was behind the door.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s better than the dreams I have about it.”
“What are yours?” She asked.
“Once I dreamed I saw light through the keyholes,” I said. “But mostly I’m just standing here, staring at it, trying to get in.” I frowned at the door. “As if standing outside while I’m awake isn’t frustrating enough, I do it while I’m asleep too.”
Fela laughed softly at that, then turned away from the door to face me. “I got your note,” she said. “What’s the research project you were so vague about?”
“Let’s go somewhere private to talk,” I said. “It’s a bit of a story.”
We made our way to one of the reading holes, and once the door was closed I told her the whole story, embarrassments and all. Someone was practicing malfeasance against me. I couldn’t go to the masters for fear of revealing I was the one who had broken into Ambrose’s rooms. I needed a gram to protect myself, but I didn’t know enough sygaldry to make one.
“Malfeasance,” she said in a low voice, slowly shaking her head in dismay. “You’re sure?”
I unbuttoned my shirt and took it down off my shoulder, revealing the dark bruise on my shoulder from the attack I’d only managed to partially stop.
She leaned in to look at it. “And you really don’t know who it might be?”
“Not really,” I said, trying not to think of Devi. I wanted to keep that particular bad decision to myself for now. “I’m sorry to drag you into this, but you’re the only one . . .”
Fela waved her hands in negation. “None of that. I told you to ask if you ever needed a favor, and I’m glad you did.”
“I’m glad you’re glad,” I said. “If you can get me through this, I’ll owe you instead. I’m getting better at finding what I want in here, but I’m still new.”
Fela nodded. “It takes years to learn your way around the Stacks. It’s like a city.”
I smiled. “That’s how I think of it too. I haven’t lived here long enough to learn all the shortcuts.”
Fela grimaced a bit. “And I’m guessing you’re going to need those. If Kilvin really believes the sygaldry is dangerous, most of the books you want will be in his private library.”
I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach. “Private library?”
“All the masters have private libraries,” Fela said matter-of-factly. “I know some alchemy so I help spot books with formulae Mandrag wouldn’t want in the wrong hands. Scrivs who know sygaldry do the same for Kilvin.”
“But this is pointless then,” I said. “If Kilvin has all those books locked away there’s no chance of finding what I’m looking for.”
Fela smiled, shaking her head. “The system isn’t perfect. Only about a third of the Archives are properly cataloged. What you’re looking for is probably still in the Stacks somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding it.”
“I wouldn’t even need a whole schema,” I said. “If I just knew a few of the proper runes I could probably just fake the rest.”
She gave me a worried look. “Is that really wise?”
“Wisdom is a luxury I can’t afford,” I said. “Wil and Sim have already been watching over me for two nights. They can’t sleep in shifts for the next ten years.”
Fela drew a deep breath then let it out slowly. “Right. We can start with the cataloged books first. Maybe what you need has slipped past the scrivs.”
We collected several dozen books on sygaldry and closeted ourselves in an out-of-the-way reading hole on the fourth floor. Then we started going through them one at a time.
We began with hopes of finding a full-fledged schema for a gram, but as the hours slid by we lowered our hopes. If not a whole schema, perhaps we could find a description of one. Perhaps a reference to the sequence of runes used. The name of a single rune. A hint. A clue. A scrap. Some piece of the puzzle.
I closed the last of the books we had brought back to the reading hole. It made a solid thump as the pages settled together.
“Nothing?” she asked tiredly.
“Nothing.” I rubbed my face with both hands. “So much for getting lucky.”
Fela shrugged, grimacing halfway through the motion, then craned her head to one side to stretch a kink out of her neck. “It made sense to start in the most obvious places,” she said. “But those will be the same places the scrivs have combed over for Kilvin. We’ll just have to dig deeper.”
I heard the distant sound of the belling tower and was surprised at how many times it struck. We’d been researching for over four hours. “You’ve missed your class,” I said.
“It’s just geometries,” she said.
“You’re a wonderful person,” I said. “What’s our best option now?”
“A long, slow trawl of the Stacks,” she said. “But it’s going to be like panning for gold. Dozens of hours, and that’s with both of us working together so we don’t overlap our efforts.”
“I can bring in Wil and Sim to help,” I said.
“Wilem works here,” Fela said. “But Simmon’s never been a scriv, he’ll probably just get in the way.”
I gave her an odd look. “Do you know Sim very well?”
“Not very,” she admitted. “I’ve seen him around.”
“You’re underestimating him,” I said. “People do it all the time. Sim’s smart.”
“Everyone here is smart,” Fela said. “And Sim is nice, but . . .”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “He’s nice. He’s gentle, which people see as weak. And he’s happy, which people see as stupid.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Fela said.
“I know,” I said, rubbing at my face. “I’m sorry. It’s been a bad couple of days. I thought the University would be different than the rest of the world, but it’s just like everywhere else: people cater to pompous, rude bastards like Ambrose, while the good souls like Simmon get brushed off as simpletons.”
“Which one are you?” Fela said with a smile as she began to stack up the books. “Pompous bastard or good soul?”
“I’ll research that later,” I said. “Right now I’ve got more pressing concerns.”
While I was fairly sure Devi wasn’t behind the malfeasance, I’d have to be a fool to ignore the fact that she had my blood. So when it became clear that making a gram was going to require a great deal of time and energy, I realized the time had come to pay her a visit and make sure she wasn’t responsible.
It was a miserable day: chill with a clammy wind that cut through my clothes. I didn’t own gloves or a hat, and had to settle for putting up my hood and wrapping my hands in the fabric of my cloak as I pulled it more tightly around my shoulders.
As I crossed Stonebridge a new thought occurred to me: maybe someone had stolen my blood from Devi. That made better sense than anything else. I needed to make sure the bottle with my blood was safe. If she still had it, and it hadn’t been tampered with, I’d know she wasn’t involved.
I made my way to the western edge of Imre where I stopped at a tavern to buy a small beer and warm myself by their fire. Then I walked through the now familiar alley and up the narrow staircase behind the butcher’s shop. Despite the chill and recent rain, the smell of rancid fat still hung in the air.
I took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
It opened after a minute, then Devi’s face peered through a narrow crack in the door. “Well hello,” she said. “Are you here for business or pleasure?”
“Business mostly,” I admitted.
“Pity.” She opened the door wider.
As I came into the room I tripped on the threshold, stumbling clumsily into her and resting one hand briefly on her shoulder as I steadied myself. “Sorry,” I said, embarrassed.
“You look like hell,” she said as she bolted the door. “I hope you’re not looking for more money. I don’t lend to folks who look like they’re coming off a three-day drunk.”
I settled wearily into a chair. “I brought back your book.” I said, bringing it out from under my cloak and laying it on her desk.
She nodded at it, smiling a bit. “What did you think of good old Malcaf?”
“Dry. Wordy. Boring.”
“There weren’t any pictures either,” she said dryly. “But that’s beside the point.”
“His theories about perception as an active force were interesting,” I admitted. “But he writes like he’s afraid someone might actually understand him.”
Devi nodded, her mouth pursed. “That’s about what I thought too.” She reached across the desk and slid the book closer to herself. “What did you think about the chapter on proprioception?”
“He seemed to be arguing from a deep well of ignorance,” I said. “I’ve met people in the Medica with amputated limbs. I don’t think Malcaf ever has.”
I watched her for some sign of guilt, some indication she’d been practicing malfeasance against me. But there was nothing. She seemed perfectly normal, cheery and sharp-tongued as ever. But I had grown up among actors. I know how many ways there are to hide your true feelings.
Devi made an exaggerated frown. “You look so serious over there. What are you thinking?”
“I had a couple of questions,” I said evasively. I wasn’t looking forward to this. “Not about Malcaf.”
“I’m so tired of being appreciated for my intellect.” She leaned back and stretched her arms over her head. “When will I be able to find a nice boy who just wants me for my body?” She gave a luxurious stretch, but stopped halfway through, giving me a puzzled look. “I’m waiting for a quip here. You’re usually quicker than this.”
I gave her a weak smile. “I’ve got a lot on my mind. I don’t think I can match wits with you today.”
“I never suspected you could match wits with me,” she said. “But I do like a little banter now and then.” She leaned forward and folded her hands on the top of the desk. “What sort of questions?”
“Did you do much sygaldry in the University?”
“Personal questions.” She raised an eyebrow. “No. I didn’t care for it. Too much fiddling around for my taste.”
“You don’t seem to be the sort of woman who’d mind a little fiddling around,” I said, managing a weak smile.
“That’s more like it,” she said with approval. “I knew you had it in you.”