Home > The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(5)

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(5)
Patrick Rothfuss

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 na**d 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.”

“I promise.”

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.”

CHAPTER FOUR

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.”

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