Home > The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(9)

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)(9)
Patrick Rothfuss

“It still doesn’t add square,” Wilem said, setting down his brand. “All the patron gets is lighter pockets.”

“The patron gets a reputation,” I explained. “That’s why the players wear the livery. Plus he has entertainers at his beck and call: parties, dances, pageants. Sometimes they’ll write songs or plays at his request.”

Wil still seemed skeptical. “Still seems like the patron is getting the short side of it.”

“That’s because you only have half the picture,” Manet said, pulling himself upright in his chair. “You’re a city boy. You don’t know what it’s like growing up in a little town built on one man’s land.

“Here’s Lord Poncington’s lands,” Manet said, using a bit of spilled beer to draw a circle in the center of the table. “Where you live like the good little commoner you are.” Manet picked up Simmon’s empty glass and put it inside the circle.

“One day, a fellow strolls through town wearing Lord Poncington’s colors.” Manet picked up his full glass of brand and jigged it across the table until it stood next to Sim’s empty one inside the circle. “And this fellow plays songs for everyone at the local inn.” Manet splashed some of the brand into Sim’s glass.

Not needing any prompting, Sim grinned and drank it.

Manet trotted his glass around the table and entered the circle again. “Next month a couple more folk come through wearing his colors and put on a puppet show.” He poured more brand and Simmon tossed it back. “The next month there’s a play.” Again.

Now Manet picked up his wooden mug and clomped it across the table into the circle. “Then the tax man shows up, wearing the same colors.” Manet knocked his empty mug impatiently on the table.

Sim sat confused for a second, then he picked up his own mug and sloshed some beer into it.

Manet eyed him and tapped the mug again, sternly.

Sim poured the rest of his beer into Manet’s mug, laughing. “I like blackberry brand better anyway.”

“Lord Poncington likes his taxes better,” Manet said. “And people like to be entertained. And the tax man likes not being poisoned and buried in a shallow grave behind the old mill.” He took a drink of beer. “So it works out nicely for everyone.”

Wil watched the exchange with his serious, dark eyes. “That makes better sense.”

“It’s not always as mercenary as that,” I said. “Threpe genuinely wants to help musicians improve their craft. Some nobles treat their performers like horses in a stable,” I sighed. “Even that would be better than what I have now, which is nothing.”

“Don’t sell yourself cheap,” Sim said cheerfully. “Wait and get a good patron. You deserve it. You’re as good as any musician here.”

I kept silent, too proud to tell them the truth. I was poor in a way the rest of them could hardly understand. Sim was Aturan nobility, and Wil’s family were wool merchants from Ralien. They thought being poor meant not having enough money to go drinking as often as they liked.

With tuition looming, I didn’t dare spend a bent penny. I couldn’t buy candles, or ink, or paper. I had no jewelry to pawn, no allowance, no parents to write home to. No respectable moneylender would give me a thin shim. Hardly surprising, as I was a rootless, orphan Edema Ruh whose possessions would fit into a burlap sack. It wouldn’t have to be a large sack either.

I got to my feet before the conversation had a chance to wander into uncomfortable territory. “It’s time I made some music.”

I picked up my lute case and made my way to where Stanchion sat at the corner of the bar. “What have you got for us tonight?” he asked, running his hand over his beard.

“A surprise.”

Stanchion paused in the act of getting off his stool. “Is this the sort of surprise that’s going to cause a riot or make folk set my place on fire?” he asked.

I shook my head, smiling.

“Good.” He smiled and headed off in the direction of the stage. “In that case I like surprises.”

CHAPTER SIX

Love

STANCHION LED ME ONTO the stage and brought out an armless chair. Then he walked to the front of the stage to chat with the audience. I spread my cloak over the back of the chair as the lights began to dim.

I laid my battered lute case on the floor. It was even shabbier than I was. It had been quite nice once, but that was years ago and miles away. Now the leather hinges were cracked and stiff, and the body was worn thin as parchment in places. Only one of the original clasps remained, a delicate thing of worked silver. I’d replaced the others with whatever I could scavenge, so now the case sported mismatched clasps of bright brass and dull iron.

But inside the case was something else entirely. Inside was the reason I was scrambling for tuition tomorrow. I had driven a hard bargain for it, and even then it had cost me more money than I had ever spent on anything in my life. So much money I couldn’t afford a case that fit it properly, and made do by padding my old one with rags.

The wood was the color of dark coffee, of freshly turned earth. The curve of the bowl was perfect as a woman’s hip. It was hushed echo and bright string and thrum. My lute. My tangible soul.

I have heard what poets write about women. They rhyme and rhapsodize and lie. I have watched sailors on the shore stare mutely at the slow-rolling swell of the sea. I have watched old soldiers with hearts like leather grow teary-eyed at their king’s colors stretched against the wind.

Listen to me: these men know nothing of love.

You will not find it in the words of poets or the longing eyes of sailors. If you want to know of love, look to a trouper’s hands as he makes his music. A trouper knows.

I looked out at my audience as they grew slowly still. Simmon waved enthusiastically, and I smiled in return. I saw Count Threpe’s white hair near the rail on the second tier now. He was speaking earnestly to the well-dressed couple, gesturing in my direction. Still campaigning on my behalf though we both knew it was a hopeless cause.

I brought the lute out of its shabby case and began to tune it. It was not the finest lute in the Eolian. Not by half. Its neck was slightly bent, but not bowed. One of the pegs was loose and was prone to changing its tune.

I brushed a soft chord and tipped my ear to the strings. As I looked up, I could see Denna’s face, clear as the moon. She smiled excitedly at me and wiggled her fingers below the level of the table where her gentleman couldn’t see.

I touched the loose peg gently, running my hands over the warm wood of the lute. The varnish was scraped and scuffed in places. It had been treated unkindly in the past, but that didn’t make it less lovely underneath.

So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because.That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.

Stanchion made a sweeping gesture in my direction. There was brief applause followed by an attentive hush.

I plucked two notes and felt the audience lean toward me. I touched a string, tuned it slightly, and began to play. Before a handful of notes rang out, everyone had caught the tune.

It was “Bell-Wether.” A tune shepherds have been whistling for ten thousand years. The simplest of simple melodies. A tune anyone with a bucket could carry. A bucket was overkill, actually. A pair of cupped hands would manage nicely. A single hand. Two fingers, even.

It was, plainly said, folk music.

There have been a hundred songs written to the tune of “Bell-Wether.” Songs of love and war. Songs of humor, tragedy, and lust. I did not bother with any of these. No words. Just the music. Just the tune.

I looked up and saw Lord Brickjaw leaning close to Denna, making a dismissive gesture. I smiled as I teased the song carefully from the strings of my lute.

But before much longer, my smile grew strained. Sweat began to bead on my forehead. I hunched over the lute, concentrating on what my hands were doing. My fingers darted, then danced, then flew.

I played hard as a hailstorm, like a hammer beating brass. I played soft as sun on autumn wheat, gentle as a single stirring leaf. Before long, my breath began to catch from the strain of it. My lips made a thin, bloodless line across my face.

As I pushed through the middle refrain I shook my head to clear my hair away from my eyes. Sweat flew in an arc to patter out along the wood of the stage. I breathed hard, my chest working like a bellows, straining like a horse run to lather.

The song rang out, each note bright and clear. I almost stumbled once. The rhythm faltered for the space of a split hair. . . .Then somehow I recovered, pushed through, and managed to finish the final line, plucking the notes sweet and light despite the fact that my fingers were a weary blur.

Then, just when it was obvious I couldn’t carry on a moment longer, the last chord rang through the room and I slumped in my chair, exhausted.

The audience burst into thunderous applause.

But not the whole audience. Scattered through the room dozens of people burst into laughter instead, a few of them pounding the tables and stomping the floor, shouting their amusement.

The applause sputtered and died almost immediately. Men and women stopped with their hands frozen midclap as they stared at the laughing members of the audience. Some looked angry, others confused. Many were plainly offended on my behalf, and angry mutterings began to ripple through the room.

Before any serious discussion could take root, I struck a single high note and held up a hand, pulling their attention back to me. I wasn’t done yet. Not by half.

I shifted in my seat and rolled my shoulders. I strummed once, touched the loose peg, and rolled effortlessly into my second song.

It was one of Illien’s: “Tintatatornin.” I doubt you’ve ever heard of it. It’s something of an oddity compared to Illien’s other works. First, it has no lyrics. Second, while it’s a lovely song, it isn’t nearly as catchy or moving as many of his better-known melodies.

Most importantly, it is perversely difficult to play. My father referred to it as “the finest song ever written for fifteen fingers.” He made me play it when I was getting too full of myself and felt I needed humbling. Suffice to say I practiced it with fair regularity, sometimes more than once a day.

So I played “Tintatatornin.” I leaned back into my chair and crossed my ankles, relaxing a bit. My hands strolled idly over the strings. After the first chorus, I drew a breath and gave a short sigh, like a young boy trapped inside on a sunny day. My eyes began to wander aimlessly around the room, bored.

Still playing, I fidgeted in my seat, trying to find a comfortable position and failing. I frowned, stood up, and looked at the chair as if it was somehow to blame. Then I reclaimed my seat and wriggled, an uncomfortable expression on my face.

All the while the ten thousand notes of “Tintatatornin” danced and capered. I took a moment between one chord and the next to scratch myself idly behind the ear.

I was so deeply into my little act that I actually felt a yawn swelling up. I let it out in full earnest, so wide and long that the people the front row could count my teeth. I shook my head as if to clear it, and daubed at my watery eyes with my sleeve.

Through all of this, “Tintatatornin” tripped into the air. Maddening harmony and counterpoint weaving together, skipping apart. All of it flawless and sweet and easy as breathing. When the end came, drawing together a dozen tangled threads of song, I made no flourish. I simply stopped and rubbed my eyes a bit. No crescendo. No bow. Nothing. I cracked my knuckles distractedly and leaned forward to set my lute back in the case.

This time the laughter came first. The same people as before, hooting and hammering at their tables twice as loudly as before. My people. The musicians. I let my bored expression fall away and grinned knowingly out at them.

The applause followed a few heartbeats later, but it was scattered and confused. Even before the house lights rose, it had dissolved into a hundred murmuring discussions throughout the room.

Marie rushed up to greet me as I came down the stairs, her face full of laughter. She shook my hand and clapped me on the back. She was the first of many, all musicians. Before I could get bogged down, Marie linked her arm in mine and led me back to my table.

“Good lord, boy,” Manet said. “You’re like a tiny king here.”

“This isn’t half the attention he usually gets,” Wilem said. “Normally they’re still cheering when he makes it back to the table. Young women bat their eyes and strew his path with flowers.”

Sim looked around the room curiously. “The reaction did seem . . .” he groped for a word. “Mixed. Why is that?”

“Because young six-string here is so sharp he can hardly help but cut himself,” Stanchion said as he made his way over to our table.

“You’ve noticed that too?” Manet asked dryly.

“Hush,” Marie said. “It was brilliant.”

Stanchion sighed and shook his head.

“I for one,” Wilem said pointedly, “would like to know what is being discussed.”

“Kvothe here played the simplest song in the world and made it look like he was spinning gold out of flax,” Marie said. “Then he took a real piece of music, something only a handful of folk in the whole place could play, and made it look so easy you’d think a child could blow it on a tin whistle.”

“I’m not denying that it was cleverly done,” Stanchion said. “The problem is the way he did it. Everyone who jumped in clapping on the first song feels like an idiot. They feel they’ve been toyed with.”

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