Home > The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(4)

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(4)
Patrick Rothfuss

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.

There were—

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?”

CHAPTER THREE

Luck

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.

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