Home > The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(11)

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(11)
Patrick Rothfuss

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.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Admissions

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.”

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