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

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

“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.

CHAPTER TWO

Holly

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?”

“The pomace?”

“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.”

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