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Chapter no 3 – Wood and Word

The Name of the Wind

KOTE WAS LEAFING IDLY through a book, trying to ignore the silence of the empty inn when the door opened and Graham backed into the room.

“Just got done with it.” Graham maneuvered through the maze of tables with exaggerated care. “I was gonna bring it in last night, but then I thought ‘one last coat of oil, rub it, and let dry.’ Can’t say I’m sorry I did. Lord and lady, it’s beautiful as anything these hands have ever made.”

A small line formed between the innkeeper’s eyebrows. Then, seeing the flat bundle in the man’s arms, he brightened. “Ahhh! The mounting board!” Kote smiled tiredly. “I’m sorry Graham. It’s been so long. I’d almost forgotten.”

Graham gave him a bit of a strange look. “Four month ain’t long for wood all the way from Aryen, not with the roads being as bad as they are.”

“Four months,” Kote echoed. He saw Graham watching him and hurried to add, “That can be a lifetime if you’re waiting for something.” He tried to smile reassuringly, but it came out sickly.

In fact, Kote himself seemed rather sickly. Not exactly unhealthy, but hollow. Wan. Like a plant that’s been moved into the wrong sort of soil and, lacking something vital, has begun to wilt.

Graham noted the difference. The innkeeper’s gestures weren’t as extravagant. His voice wasn’t as deep. Even his eyes weren’t as bright as they had been a month ago. Their color seemed duller. They were less sea-foam, less green-grass than they had been. Now they were like riverweed, like the bottom of a green glass bottle. And his hair had been bright before, the color of flame. Now it seemed—red. Just red-hair color, really.

Kote drew back the cloth and looked underneath. The wood was a dark charcoal color with a black grain, heavy as a sheet of iron. Three dark pegs were set above a word chiseled into the wood.

“Folly,” Graham read. “Odd name for a sword.”

Kote nodded, his face carefully blank. “How much do I owe you?” he asked quietly.

Graham thought for a moment. “After what ye’ve given me to cover the cost of the wood…” There was a cunning glimmer in the man’s eye. “Around

one and three.”

Kote handed over two talents. “Keep the rest. It’s difficult wood to work with.”

“That it is,” Graham said with some satisfaction. “Like stone under the saw. Try a chisel, like iron. Then, after all the shouting was done, I couldn’t char it.”

“I noticed that,” Kote said with a flicker of curiosity, running a finger along the darker groove the letters made in the wood. “How did you manage it?”

“Well,” Graham said smugly, “after wasting half a day, I took it over to the smithy. Me and the boy managed to sear it with a hot iron. Took us better than two hours to get it black. Not a wisp of smoke, but it made a stink like old leather and clover. Damnedest thing. What sort of wood don’t burn?”

Graham waited a minute, but the innkeeper gave no signs of having heard. “Where would’e like me to hang it then?”

Kote roused himself enough to look around the room. “You can leave that to me, I think. I haven’t quite decided where to put it.”

Graham left a handful of iron nails and bid the innkeeper good day. Kote remained at the bar, idly running his hands over the wood and the word. Before too long Bast came out of the kitchen and looked over his teacher’s shoulder.

There was a long moment of silence like a tribute given to the dead. Eventually, Bast spoke up. “May I ask a question, Reshi?”

Kote smiled gently. “Always, Bast.” “A troublesome question?”

“Those tend to be the only worthwhile kind.”

They remained staring at the object on the bar for another silent moment, as if trying to commit it to memory. Folly.

Bast struggled for a moment, opening his mouth, then closing it with a frustrated look, then repeating the process.

“Out with it,” Kote said finally.

“What were you thinking?” Bast said with an odd mixture of confusion and concern.

Kote was a long while in answering. “I tend to think too much, Bast. My greatest successes came from decisions I made when I stopped thinking and simply did what felt right. Even if there was no good explanation for what I did.” He smiled wistfully. “Even if there were very good reasons for me not to do what I did.”

Bast ran a hand along the side of his face. “So you’re trying to avoid second-guessing yourself?”

Kote hesitated. “You could say that,” he admitted.

could say that, Reshi,” Bast said smugly. “You, on the other hand,

would complicate things needlessly.”

Kote shrugged and turned his eyes back to the mounting board. “Nothing to do but find a place for it, I suppose.”

“Out here?” Bast’s expression was horrified.

Kote grinned wickedly, a measure of vitality coming back into his face. “Of course,” he said, seeming to savor Bast’s reaction. He looked speculatively at the walls and pursed his lips. “Where did you put it, anyway?”

“In my room,” Bast admitted. “Under my bed.”

Kote nodded distractedly, still looking at the walls. “Go get it then.” He made a small shooing gesture with one hand, and Bast hurried off, looking unhappy.

The bar was decorated with glittering bottles, and Kote was standing on the now-vacant counter between the two heavy oak barrels when Bast came back into the room, black scabbard swinging loosely from one hand.

Kote paused in the act of setting the mounting board atop one of the barrels and cried out in dismay, “Careful, Bast! You’re carrying a lady there, not swinging some wench at a barn dance.”

Bast stopped in his tracks and dutifully gathered it up in both hands before walking the rest of the way to the bar.

Kote pounded a pair of nails into the wall, twisted some wire, and hung the mounting board firmly on the wall. “Hand it up, would you?” he asked with an odd catch in his voice.

Using both hands, Bast held it up to him, looking for a moment like a squire offering up a sword to some bright-armored knight. But there was no knight there, just an innkeeper, just a man in an apron who called himself Kote. He took the sword from Bast and stood upright on the counter behind the bar.

He drew the sword without a flourish. It shone a dull grey-white in the room’s autumn light. It had the appearance of a new sword. It was not notched or rusted. There were no bright scratches skittering along its dull grey side. But though it was unmarred, it was old. And while it was obviously a sword, it was not a familiar shape. At least no one in this town would have found it familiar. It looked as if an alchemist had distilled a dozen swords, and when the crucible had cooled this was lying in the bottom: a sword in its pure form. It was slender and graceful. It was deadly as a sharp stone beneath swift water.

Kote held it a moment. His hand did not shake.

Then he set the sword on the mounting board. Its grey-white metal shone against the dark roah behind it. While the handle could be seen, it was dark enough to be almost indistinguishable from the wood. The word beneath it, black against blackness, seemed to reproach: Folly.

Kote climbed down, and for a moment he and Bast stood side by side, silently looking up.

Bast broke the silence. “It is rather striking,” he said, as if he regretted the truth. “But…” He trailed off, trying to find appropriate words. He shuddered.

Kote clapped him on the back, oddly cheerful. “Don’t bother being disturbed on my account.” He seemed more lively now, as if his activity lent him energy. “I like it,” he said with sudden conviction, and hung the black scabbard from one of the mounting board’s pegs.

Then there were things to be done. Bottles to be polished and put back in place. Lunch to be made. Lunch clutter to be cleaned. Things were cheerful for a while in a pleasant, bustling way. The two talked of small matters as they worked. And while they moved around a great deal, it was obvious they were reluctant to finish whatever task they were close to completing, as if they both dreaded the moment when the work would end and the silence would fill the room again.

Then something odd happened. The door opened and noise poured into the Waystone like a gentle wave. People bustled in, talking and dropping bundles of belongings. They chose tables and threw their coats over the backs of chairs. One man, wearing a shirt of heavy metal rings, unbuckled a sword and leaned it against a wall. Two or three wore knives on their belts. Four or five called for drinks.

Kote and Bast watched for a moment, then moved smoothly into action. Kote smiled and began pouring drinks. Bast darted outside to see if there were horses that needed stabling.

In ten minutes the inn was a different place. Coins rang on the bar. Cheese and fruit were set on platters and a large copper pot was hung to simmer in the kitchen. Men moved tables and chairs about to better suit their group of nearly a dozen people.

Kote identified them as they came in. Two men and two women, wagoneers, rough from years of being outside and smiling to be spending a night out of the wind. Three guards with hard eyes, smelling of iron. A tinker with a potbelly and a ready smile showing his few remaining teeth. Two young men, one sandy-haired, one dark, well dressed and well-spoken: travelers sensible enough to hook up with a larger group for protection on the road.

The settling-in period lasted an hour or two. Prices of rooms were dickered over. Friendly arguments started about who slept with whom. Minor necessities were brought in from wagons or saddlebags. Baths were requested and water heated. Hay was taken to the horses, and Kote topped off the oil in all the lamps.

The tinker hurried outside to make use of the remaining daylight. He walked his two-wheel mule cart through the town’s streets. Children crowded

around, begging for candy and stories and shims.

When it became apparent that nothing was going to be handed out, most of them lost interest. They formed a circle with a boy in the middle and started to clap, keeping the beat with a children’s song that had been ages old when their grandparents had chanted it:

“When the hearthfire turns to blue, What to do? What to do?

Run outside. Run and hide.”

Laughing, the boy in the middle tried to break out of the circle while the other children pushed him back.

“Tinker,” the old man’s voice rang out like a bell. “Pot mender. Knife grinder. Willow-wand water-finder. Cut cork. Motherleaf. Silk scarves off the city streets. Writing paper. Sweetmeats.”

This drew the attention of the children. They flocked back to him, making a small parade as he walked down the street, singing, “Belt leather. Black pepper. Fine lace and bright feather. Tinker in town tonight, gone tomorrow. Working through the evening light. Come wife. Come daughter, I’ve small cloth and rose water.” After a couple of minutes he settled outside the Waystone, set up his sharpening wheel and began to grind a knife.

As the adults began to gather around the old man, the children returned to their game. A girl in the center of the circle put one hand over her eyes and tried to catch the other children as they ran away, clapping and chanting:

“When his eyes are black as crow? Where to go? Where to go?

Near and far. Here they are.”

The tinker dealt with everyone in turn, sometimes two or three at a time. He traded sharp knives for dull ones and a small coin. He sold shears and needles, copper pots and small bottles that wives hid quickly after buying them. He traded buttons and bags of cinnamon and salt. Limes from Tinuë, chocolate from Tarbean, polished horn from Aerueh….

All the while the children continued to sing:

“See a man without a face?

Move like ghosts from place to place. What’s their plan? What’s their plan? Chandrian. Chandrian.”

Kote guessed the travelers had been together a month or so, long enough to become comfortable with each other, but not long enough to be squabbling over small things. They smelled of road dust and horses. He breathed it in like perfume.

Best of all was the noise. Leather creaking. Men laughing. The fire cracked and spat. The women flirted. Someone even knocked over a chair. For the first time in a long while there was no silence in the Waystone Inn. Or if there was, it was too faint to be noticed, or too well hidden.

Kote was in the middle of it all, always moving, like a man tending a large, complex machine. Ready with a drink just as a person called for it, he talked and listened in the right amounts. He laughed at jokes, shook hands, smiled, and whisked coins off the bar as if he truly needed the money.

Then, when the time for songs came and everyone had sung their favorites and still wanted more, Kote led them from behind the bar, clapping to keep a beat. With the fire shining in his hair, he sang “Tinker Tanner,” more verses than anyone had heard before, and no one minded in the least.

Hours later, the common room had a warm, jovial feel to it. Kote was kneeling on the hearth, building up the fire, when someone spoke behind him.

“Kvothe?”

The innkeeper turned, wearing a slightly confused smile. “Sir?”

It was one of the well-dressed travelers. He swayed a little. “You’re Kvothe.”

“Kote, sir,” Kote replied in an indulgent tone that mothers use on children and innkeepers use on drunks.

“Kvothe the Bloodless.” The man pressed ahead with the dogged persistence of the inebriated. “You looked familiar, but I couldn’t finger it.” He smiled proudly and tapped a finger to his nose. “Then I heard you sing, and I knew it was you. I heard you in Imre once. Cried my eyes out afterward. I never heard anything like that before or since. Broke my heart.”

The young man’s sentences grew jumbled as he continued, but his face remained earnest. “I knew it couldn’t be you. But I thought it was. Even though. But who else has your hair?” He shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to clear it. “I saw the place in Imre where you killed him. By the fountain. The cobblestones are all shathered.” He frowned and concentrated on the word. “Shattered. They say no one can mend them.”

The sandy-haired man paused again. Squinting for focus, he seemed surprised by the innkeeper’s reaction.

The red-haired man was grinning. “Are you saying I look like Kvothe?

The Kvothe? I’ve always thought so myself. I have an engraving of him in back. My assistant teases me for it. Would you tell him what you just told me?”

Kote threw a final log onto the fire and stood. But as he stepped from the hearth, one of his legs twisted underneath him and he fell heavily to the floor, knocking over a chair.

Several of the travelers hurried over, but the innkeeper was already on his feet, waving people back to their seats. “No, no. I’m fine. Sorry to startle anyone.” In spite of his grin it was obvious he’d hurt himself. His face was tight with pain, and he leaned heavily on a chair for support.

“Took an arrow in the knee on my way through the Eld three summers ago. It gives out every now and then.” He grimaced and said wistfully, “It’s what made me give up the good life on the road.” He reached down to touch his oddly bent leg tenderly.

One of the mercenaries spoke up. “I’d put a poultice on that, or it’ll swell terrible.”

Kote touched it again and nodded. “I think you are wise, sir.” He turned to the sandy-haired man who stood swaying slightly by the fireplace, “Could you do me a favor, son?”

The man nodded dumbly.

“Just close the flue.” Kote gestured toward the fireplace. “Bast, will you help me upstairs?”

Bast hurried over and drew Kote’s arm around his shoulders. Kote leaned on him with every other step as they made their way through the doorway and up the stairs.

“Arrow in the leg?” Bast asked under his breath. “Are you really that embarrassed from taking a little fall?”

“Thank God you’re as gullible as they are,” Kote said sharply as soon as they were out of sight. He began to curse under his breath as he climbed a few more steps, his knee obviously uninjured.

Bast’s eyes widened, then narrowed.

Kote stopped at the top of the steps and rubbed his eyes. “One of them knows who I am.” Kote frowned. “Suspects.”

“Which one?” Bast asked with a mix of apprehension and anger.

“Green shirt, sandy hair. The one nearest to me by the fireplace. Give him something to make him sleep. He’s already been drinking. No one will think twice if he happens to pass out.”

Bast thought briefly. “Nighmane?” “Mhenka.”

Bast raised an eyebrow, but nodded.

Kote straightened. “Listen three times, Bast.” Bast blinked once and nodded.

Kote spoke crisply and cleanly. “I was a city-licensed escort from Ralien. Wounded while successfully defending a caravan. Arrow in right knee. Three years ago. Summer. A grateful Cealdish merchant gave me money to start an inn. His name is Deolan. We were traveling from Purvis. Mention it casually. Do you have it?”

“I hear you three times, Reshi,” Bast replied formally. “Go.”

Half an hour later Bast brought a bowl to his master’s room, reassuring him that everything was well downstairs. Kote nodded and gave terse instructions that he not be disturbed for the rest of the night.

Closing the door behind himself, Bast’s expression was worried. He stood at the top of the stairs for some time, trying to think of something he could do. It is hard to say what troubled Bast so much. Kote didn’t seem noticeably changed in any way. Except, perhaps, that he moved a little slower, and whatever small spark the night’s activity had lit behind his eyes was dimmer

now. In fact, it could hardly be seen. In fact, it may not have been there at all.

Kote sat in front of the fire and ate his meal mechanically, as if he were simply finding a place inside himself to keep the food. After the last bite he sat staring into nothing, not remembering what he had eaten or what it tasted like.

The fire snapped, making him blink and look around the room. He looked down at his hands, one curled inside the other, resting in his lap. After a moment, he lifted and spread them, as if warming them by the fire. They were graceful, with long, delicate fingers. He watched them intently, as if expecting them to do something on their own. Then he lowered them to his lap, one hand lightly cupping the other, and returned to watching the fire. Expressionless, motionless, he sat until there was nothing left but grey ash and dully glowing coals.

As he was undressing for bed, the fire flared. The red light traced faint lines across his body, across his back and arms. All the scars were smooth and silver, streaking him like lightning, like lines of gentle remembering. The flare of flame revealed them all briefly, old wounds and new. All the scars were smooth and silver except one.

The fire flickered and died. Sleep met him like a lover in an empty bed.

The travelers left early the next morning. Bast tended to their needs, explaining his master’s knee was swollen quite badly and he didn’t feel up to taking the stairs so early in the day. Everyone understood except for the sandy-haired merchant’s son, who was too groggy to understand much of

anything. The guards exchanged smiles and rolled their eyes while the tinker gave an impromptu sermon on the subject of temperance. Bast recommended several unpleasant hangover cures.

After they left, Bast tended to the inn, which was no great chore, as there were no customers. Most of his time was spent trying to find ways to amuse himself.

Some time after noon, Kote came down the stairs to find him crushing walnuts on the bar with a heavy leather-bound book. “Good morning, Reshi.”

“Good morning, Bast,” Kote said. “Any news?”

“The Orrison boy stopped by. Wanted to know if we needed any mutton.”

Kote nodded, almost as if he had been suspecting the news. “How much did you order?”

Bast made a face. “I hate mutton, Reshi. It tastes like wet mittens.”

Kote shrugged and made his way to the door. “I’ve got some errands to run. Keep an eye on things, will you?”

“I always do.”

Outside the Waystone Inn the air lay still and heavy on the empty dirt road that ran through the center of town. The sky was a featureless grey sheet of cloud that looked as if it wanted to rain but couldn’t quite work up the energy.

Kote walked across the street to the open front of the smithy. The smith wore his hair cropped short and his beard thick and bushy. As Kote watched, he carefully drove a pair of nails through a scythe blade’s collar, fixing it firmly onto a curved wooden handle. “Hello Caleb.”

The smith leaned the scythe up against the wall. “What can I do for you, Master Kote?”

“Did the Orrison boy stop by your place too?” Caleb nodded. “They still losing sheep?” Kote asked.

“Actually, some of the lost ones finally turned up. Torn up awful, practically shredded.”

“Wolves?” Kote asked.

The smith shrugged. “It’s the wrong time of year, but what else would it be? A bear? I guess they’re just selling off what they can’t watch over properly, them being shorthanded and all.”

“Shorthanded?”

“Had to let their hired man go because of taxes, and their oldest son took the king’s coin early this summer. He’s off fighting the rebels in Menat now.”

“Meneras,” Kote corrected gently. “If you see their boy again, let him know I’d be willing to buy about three halves.”

“I’ll do that.” The smith gave the innkeeper a knowing look. “Is there anything else?”

“Well,” Kote looked away, suddenly self-conscious. “I was wondering if

you have any rod-iron lying around,” he said, not meeting the smith’s eye. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy mind you. Just plain old pig-iron would do nicely.”

Caleb chuckled. “I didn’t know if you were going to stop by at all. Old Cob and the rest came by day before yesterday.” He walked over to a workbench and lifted up a piece of canvas. “I made a couple extras just in case.”

Kote picked up a rod of iron about two feet long and swung it casually with one hand. “Clever man.”

“I know my business,” the smith said smugly. “You need anything else?” “Actually,” Kote said as he settled the bar of iron comfortably against his

shoulder, “There is one other thing. Do you have a spare apron and set of forge gloves?”

“Could have,” Caleb said hesitantly. “Why?”

“There’s an old bramble patch behind the inn.” Kote nodded in the direction of the Waystone. “I’m thinking of tearing it up so I can put in a garden next year. But I don’t fancy losing half my skin doing it.”

The smith nodded and gestured for Kote to follow him into the back of the shop. “I’ve got my old set,” he said as he dug out a pair of heavy gloves and a stiff leather apron; both were charred dark in places and stained with grease. “They’re not pretty, but they’ll keep the worst of it off you, I suppose.”

“What are they worth to you?” Kote asked, reaching for his purse.

The smith shook his head, “A jot would be a great plenty. They’re no good to me or the boy.”

The innkeeper handed over a coin and the smith stuffed them into an old burlap sack. “You sure you want to do it now?” The smith asked. “We haven’t had rain in a while. The ground’ll be softer after the spring thaw.”

Kote shrugged. “My granda always told me that fall’s the time to root up something you don’t want coming back to trouble you.” Kote mimicked the quaver of an old man’s voice. “‘Things are too full of life in the spring months. In the summer, they’re too strong and won’t let go. Autumn…’” He looked around at the changing leaves on the trees. “‘Autumn’s the time. In autumn everything is tired and ready to die.’”

Later that afternoon Kote sent Bast to catch up on his sleep. Then he moved listlessly around the inn, doing small jobs left over from the night before. There were no customers. When evening finally came he lit the lamps and began to page disinterestedly through a book.

Fall was supposed to be the year’s busiest time, but travelers were scarce lately. Kote knew with bleak certainty how long winter would be.

He closed the inn early, something he had never done before. He didn’t bother sweeping. The floor didn’t need it. He didn’t wash the tables or the bar, none had been used. He polished a bottle or two, locked the door, and went to bed.

There was no one around to notice the difference. No one except Bast, who watched his master, and worried, and waited.

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