Home > The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(6)

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(6)
Patrick Rothfuss

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.”

“How 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.

CHAPTER FIVE

The Eolian

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.

I nodded.

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.”

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