Chapter no 31: The Nature of Nobility

The Name of the Wind

THE TWO TALENTS HAD a reassuring weight to them that had nothing to do with how heavy they were. Anyone who has been without money for a long time will know what I’m talking about. My first investment was a good leather purse. I wore it underneath my clothes, tight against my skin.

Next was a real breakfast. A plateful of hot eggs and a slice of ham. Bread that was fresh and soft, plenty of honey and butter on the side, and a glass of milk not two days from the cow. It cost me five iron pennies. It may be the best meal I ever ate.

It felt strange sitting at a table, eating with a knife and fork. It felt strange being around people. It felt strange having a person bring me food.

As I mopped up the remnants of my breakfast with an end of bread, I realized that I had a problem.

Even in this slightly grubby inn Waterside, I was attracting attention. My shirt was nothing more than an old burlap sack with holes for my arms and head. My pants were made out of canvas and too big by several degrees. They reeked of smoke, grease, and stagnant alley water. I’d been holding them up with a length of rope I had dug out of some trash. I was filthy, barefoot, and I stank.

Should I buy clothes or try to find a bath? If I bathed first, I would have to wear my old clothes afterward. However, if I tried to buy clothes looking the way I did now, I might not even be let into the store. And I doubted that anyone would want to measure me for a fit.

The innkeep came to take my plate, and I decided on a bath first, mainly because I was sick to death of smelling like a week-dead rat. I smiled up at him. “Where can I find a bath near here?”

“Here, if you have a couple pennies.” He looked me over. “Or I’ll work you an hour instead, a good hard hour. The hearth could use scrubbing.”

“I’ll need a lot of water, and soap.”

“Two hours then, I’ve got dishes too. Hearth first, then bath, then dishes.


An hour or so later my shoulders ached and the hearth was clean. He showed me to a back room with a large wooden tub and a grate on the floor.

There were pegs along the walls for clothes, and a sheet of tin nailed to the wall served as a crude mirror.

He brought me a brush, a bucket of steaming water, and a cake of lye soap. I scrubbed until I was sore and pink. The innkeeper brought a second bucket of hot water, then a third. I gave a silent prayer of thanks that I didn’t seem to be lousy. I had probably been too filthy for any self-respecting louse to take up residence.

As I rinsed myself for the last time, I looked at my discarded clothes. Cleaner than I’d been in years, I didn’t want to touch them, let alone wear them. If I tried to wash them they’d simply fall apart.

I dried myself off and I used the rough brush to pull through the snarls in my hair. It was longer than it had seemed when it was dirty. I wiped the fog from the makeshift mirror and was surprised. I looked old, older at any rate. Not only that, I looked like some young noble’s son. My face was lean and fair. My hair needed a bit of a trim, but was shoulder-length and straight, as was the current fashion. The only thing missing was a noble’s clothes.

And that gave me an idea.

Still naked, I wrapped myself in a towel and left by the back door. I took my purse but kept it out of sight. It was a little before noon and people were everywhere. Needless to say, quite a few eyes were turned in my direction. I ignored them and set a brisk pace, not trying to hide. I composed my features into an impassive, angry mask without a trace of embarrassment.

I stopped by a father and son loading burlap sacks into a cart. The son was about four years older than me and head and shoulders taller. “Boy,” I snapped. “Where can I buy some clothes around here?” I looked pointedly at his shirt. “Decent clothes,” I amended.

He looked at me, his expression somewhere between confusion and anger. His father hurriedly took off his hat and stepped in front of his son. “Your lordship might try Bentley’s. It’s plain stuff, but it’s only a street or two away.”

I darkened my expression. “Is it the only place about?” He gaped. “Well…it could…there’s one…”

I waved him impatiently into silence. “Where is it? Simply point, since your wits have left you.”

He pointed and I strode off. As I walked I remembered one of the young page parts I used to play in the troupe. The page’s name was Dunstey, an insufferably petulant little boy with an important father. He was perfect. I gave my head an imperious tilt, set my shoulders a little differently and made a couple of mental adjustments.

I threw open the door and stormed in. There was a man in a leather apron who I can only assume was Bentley. He was fortyish, thin, and balding. He jumped at the sound of his door banging against the wall. He turned to look at

me, his expression incredulous.

“Fetch me a robe, lack-wit. I’m sick of being gawked at by you and every other mewler that decided to go marketing today.” I slouched into a chair and sulked. When he didn’t move I glared at him. “Did I stutter? Are my needs perhaps inobvious?” I tugged at the edge of my towel to demonstrate.

He stood there, gaping.

I lowered my voice menacingly, “If you don’t bring me something to wear

—” I stood up and shouted, “—I’ll tear this place apart! I’ll ask my father for your stones as a Midwinter gift. I’ll have his dogs mount your dead corpse. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?”

Bently scurried away, and I threw myself back into the chair. A customer I hadn’t noticed until now made a hurried exit, stopping briefly to curtsy to me before she left.

I fought back the urge to laugh.

After that it was surprisingly easy. I kept him running about for half an hour, bringing me one piece of clothing or another. I mocked the material, the cut, and workmanship of everything he brought out. In short, I was the perfect little brat.

In truth I couldn’t have been more pleased. The clothing was plain but well made. Indeed, compared to what I had been wearing an hour before, a clean burlap sack would have been a great step up.

If you haven’t spent much time in court or in large cities, you won’t understand why this was so easy for me to accomplish. Let me explain.

Nobles’ sons are one of nature’s great destructive forces, like floods or tornadoes. When you’re struck with one of these catastrophes, the only thing an average man can do is grit his teeth and try to minimize the damage.

Bentley knew this. He marked the shirt and pants and helped me out of them. I got back into the robe he had given me, and he began sewing like the devil was breathing down his neck.

I flounced back into the chair. “You might as well ask. I can tell you’re dying of curiosity.”

He looked up briefly from his stitching. “Sir?”

“The circumstances surrounding my current state of undress.”

“Ah, yes.” He tied off the thread and began on the pants. “I will admit to a slight curiosity. No more than proper. I’m not one to pry into anyone’s business.”

“Ah,” I nodded, pretending disappointment. “A laudable attitude.”

There followed a long moment, the only sound was that of the thread being drawn through cloth. I fidgeted. Finally, I continued as if he had asked me, “A whore stole my clothes.”

“Really, sir?”

“Yes, she tried to get me to trade them for my purse, the bitch.”

Bentley looked up briefly, genuine curiosity on his face. “Wasn’t your purse with your clothes, sir?”

I looked shocked. “Certainly not! ‘A gentleman’s hand is never far away from his purse.’ So my father says.” I waved my purse at him to make my point.

I noticed him trying to suppress a laugh and it made me feel a little better. I’d made the man miserable for almost an hour, the least I could give him was a story to tell his friends.

“She told me if I wanted to keep my dignity, then I’d give her my purse and walk home wearing my clothes.” I shook my head scornfully. “‘Wanton,’ I said to her, ‘A gentleman’s dignity isn’t in his clothes. If I handed over my purse simply to save myself an embarrassment then I would be handing over my dignity.’”

I looked thoughtful for a second, then spoke softly as if thinking aloud. “It only follows that a gentleman’s dignity is in his purse then.” I looked at the purse in my hands, and gave a long pause. “I think I heard my father say something of the sort the other day.”

Bentley gave a laugh that he turned into a cough, then stood up and shook out the shirt and pants. “There you go, sir, fit you like a glove now.” A hint of a smile played around his lips as he handed them to me.

I slid out of the robe and pulled on the pants. “They’ll get me home, I suppose. How much for your trouble, Bentley?” I asked.

He thought for a second. “One and two.”

I began to lace up my shirt and said nothing.

“Sorry, sir,” he said quickly. “Forgot who I was dealing with.” He swallowed. “One even would do nicely.”

Taking out my purse, I put one silver talent into his hand and looked him in the eye. “I will be needing some change.”

His mouth made a thin line, but he nodded and handed me back two jots.

I tucked the coins away and tied my purse firmly underneath my shirt, then gave him a meaningful look and patted it.

I saw the smile tug at his lips again. “Good-bye, sir.”

I picked up my towel, left the store, and started my altogether less conspicuous walk back to the inn where I had found breakfast and a bath.

“What can I get for you, young sir?” the innkeeper asked as I approached the bar. He smiled and wiped his hands on his apron.

“A stack of dirty dishes and a rag.”

He squinted at me, then smiled and laughed. “I’d thought you’d run off naked through the streets.”

“Not quite naked.” I laid his towel on the bar.

“There was more dirt than boy before. And I would have bet a solid mark your hair was black. You really don’t look the same.” He marveled mutely for a second. “Would you like your old clothes?”

I shook my head. “Throw them away—actually, burn them, and make sure no one accidentally breathes the smoke.” He laughed again. “I did have some other items though.” I reminded him.

He nodded and tapped the side of his nose. “Right enough. Just a second.” He turned and disappeared though a doorway behind the bar.

I let my attention wander around the room. It seemed different now that I wasn’t attracting hostile stares. The fieldstone fireplace with the black kettle simmering. The slightly sour smells of varnished wood and spilled beer. The low rumble of conversation….

I’ve always had a fondness for taverns. It comes from growing up on the road, I think. A tavern is a safe place, a refuge of sorts. I felt very comfortable just then, and it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a bad life, owning a place like this.

“Here you go then.” The innkeeper laid down three pens, a jar of ink, and my receipt from the bookstore. “These gave me almost as much of a puzzle as why you had run off without your clothes.”

“I’m going to the University.” I explained.

He raised an eyebrow. “A little young, aren’t you?”

I felt a nervous chill at his words, but shrugged it off. “They take all kinds.”

He nodded politely as if that explained why I had shown up barefoot and reeking of back alleys. After waiting for a while to see if I’d elaborate, the barman poured himself a drink. “No offense, but you don’t exactly look to be the sort who would want to be washin’ dishes anymore.”

I opened my mouth to protest; an iron penny for an hour’s work was a bargain I was hesitant to pass up. Two pennies was the same as a loaf of bread, and I couldn’t count all the times that I had been hungry in the last year.

Then I saw my hands resting on the bar. They were pink and clean, I almost didn’t recognize them for my own.

I realized then I didn’t want to do the dishes. I had more important things to do. I stood back from the bar and got a penny from my purse. “Where’s the best place to find a caravan leaving for the north?” I asked.

“Drover’s Lot, up Hillside. Quarter mile past the mill on Green Street.”

I felt a nervous chill when Hillside was mentioned. I ignored it as best I could and nodded. “You have a lovely inn here. I’d count myself lucky to have one as nice when I’ve grown up.” I handed him the penny.

He broke into a huge smile and handed back the penny. “With such nice compliments, you come back any time.”

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