KVOTHE HELD OUT A hand to Chronicler, then turned to his student, frowning. “Stop looking at me like that, Bast.”
Bast looked close to tears. “Oh, Reshi,” he choked out. “I had no idea.”
Kvothe gestured as if cutting the air with the side of his hand. “There’s no reason you should Bast, and no reason to make an issue out of it.”
Kvothe gave his student a severe look. “What, Bast? Should I weep and tear my hair? Curse Tehlu and his angels? Beat my chest? No. That is low drama.” His expression softened somewhat. “I appreciate your concern, but this is just a piece of the story, not even the worst piece, and I am not telling it to garner sympathy.”
Kvothe pushed his chair back from the table and came to his feet. “Besides, all of this happened long ago.” He made a dismissive gesture. “Time is the great healer, and so on.”
He rubbed his hands together. “Now, I’m going to bring in enough wood to get us though the night. There’ll be a chill if I’m any judge of weather. You can get a couple loaves ready to bake while I’m out, and try to collect yourself. I refuse to tell the rest of this story with you making blubbery cow eyes at me.”
With that, Kvothe walked behind the bar and out through the kitchen toward the back door of the inn.
Bast scrubbed roughly at his eyes, then watched his master go. “He’s fine so long as he’s busy,” Bast said softly.
“I beg your pardon?” Chronicler said reflexively. He shifted awkwardly in his seat, as if he wanted to get to his feet, but couldn’t think of a polite way to excuse himself.
Bast gave a warm smile, his eyes a human blue again. “I was so excited when I heard who you were, that he was going to tell his story. His mood’s been so dark lately, and there’s nothing to shake him out of it, nothing to do but sit and brood. I’m sure that remembering the good times will…” Bast grimaced. “I’m not saying this very well. I’m sorry for earlier. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“N–no,” Chronicler stammered hastily. “I’m the one—it was my fault, I’m sorry.”
Bast shook his head. “You were just surprised, but you only tried to bind me.” His expression grew a little pained. “Not that it was pleasant, mind. It feels like being kicked between your legs, but all over your body. It makes you feel sick, and weak, but it’s just pain. It wasn’t like you’d actually wounded me.” Bast looked embarrassed. “I was going to do more than hurt you. I might have killed you before I even stopped to think.”
Before an uncomfortable silence developed, Chronicler said, “Why don’t we take his word that we were both suffering from blinding idiocy, and leave it at that?” Chronicler managed a sickly smile that was heartfelt in spite of the circumstances. “Peace?” he extended his hand.
“Peace.” They shook hands with much more genuine warmth than they had earlier. As Bast reached across the table his sleeve pulled back to reveal a bruise blossoming around his wrist.
Bast self-consciously pulled his cuff back into place. “From when he grabbed me,” he said quickly. “He’s stronger than he looks. Don’t mention it to him. He’ll only feel bad.”
Kvothe emerged from the kitchen and shut the door behind himself. Looking around, he seemed surprised that it was a mild autumn afternoon rather than the springtime forest of his story. He lifted the handles of a flat-bottomed barrow and trundled it out into the woods behind the inn, his feet crunching in the fallen leaves.
Not too far into the trees was the winter’s wood supply. Cord on cord of oak and ash were stacked to make tall, crooked walls between the trunks of trees. Kvothe tossed two pieces of firewood into the wheelbarrow where they struck the bottom like a muted drum. Another two followed them. His motions were precise, his face blank, his eyes far away.
As he continued to load the barrow, he moved slower and slower, like a machine winding down. Eventually he stopped completely and stood for a long minute, still as stone. Only then did his composure break. And even with no one there to see, he hid his face in his hands and wept quietly, his body wracked with wave on wave of heavy, silent sobs.