Chapter no 34: Yetto Learn

The Name of the Wind

THE NEXT MORNING I blearily awoke after two hours of sleep, bundled myself onto one of the wagons and proceeded to drowse away the morning. It was nearly noon before I realized that we had taken on another passenger at the inn last night.

His name was Josn, and he had paid Roent for passage to Anilin. He had an easy manner and an honest smile. He seemed an earnest man. I did not like him.

My reason was simple. He spent the entire day riding next to Denna. He flattered her outrageously and joked with her about becoming one of his wives. She seemed unaffected by the late hours we had kept the night before, looking as bright and fresh as ever.

The result was that I spent the day being irritated and jealous while acting unconcerned. Since I was too proud to join their conversation, I was left to myself. I spent the day thinking sullen thoughts, trying to ignore the sound of his voice and occasionally remembering the way Denna had looked last night with the moon reflecting off the water behind her.

That night I was planning to ask Denna to go for a walk after everyone turned in for the night. But before I could approach her, Josn went to one of the wagons and brought back a large black case with brass buckles along the side. The sight of it made my heart turn sideways in my chest.

Sensing the group’s anticipation, though not mine in particular, Josn slowly undid the brass clasps and drew out his lute with an air of studied nonchalance. It was a trouper’s lute, its long, graceful neck and round bowl were painfully familiar. Sure of everyone’s attention, he cocked his head and strummed, pausing to listen to the sound. Then, nodding to himself, he started to play.

He had a fair tenor and reasonably clever fingers. He played a ballad, then a light, quick drinking song, then a slow, sad melody in a language that I didn’t recognize but suspected might be Yllish. Lastly he played “Tinker Tanner,” and everyone came in on the chorus. Everyone but me.

I sat still as stone with my fingers aching. I wanted to play, not listen. Want isn’t strong enough a word. I was hungry for it, starved. I’m not proud of the fact that I thought about stealing his lute and leaving in the dark of the night.

He finished the song with a flourish, and Roent clapped his hands a couple of times to get everyone’s attention. “Time for sleep. You sleep too late—”

Derrik broke in, gently teasing. “…we get left behind. We know, Master Roent. We’ll be ready to roll with the light.”

Josn laughed and flipped open his lute case with his foot. But before he could put it away I called over to him. “Could I see that for a second?” I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice, tried to make it sound like idle curiosity.

I hated myself for the question. Asking to hold a musician’s instrument is roughly similar to asking to kiss a man’s wife. Nonmusicians don’t understand. An instrument is like a companion and a lover. Strangers ask to touch and hold with annoying regularity. I knew better, but I couldn’t help myself. “Just for a second?”

I saw him stiffen slightly, reluctant. But keeping friendly appearances is a minstrel’s business just as much as music. “Certainly,” he said with a jocularity that I saw as false but was probably convincing for the others. He strode over to me and held it out. “Be careful…”

Josn took a couple of steps back and gave a very good appearance of being at ease. But I saw how he stood with his arms slightly bent, ready to rush forward and whisk the lute away from me if the need arose.

I turned it over in my hands. Objectively, it was nothing special. My father would have rated it as one short step above firewood. I touched the wood. I cradled it against my chest.

I spoke without looking up. “It’s beautiful,” I said softly, my voice rough with emotion.

It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in three years. More beautiful than the sight of a spring field after three years of living in that pestilent cesspit of a city. More beautiful than Denna. Almost.

I can honestly say that I was still not really myself. I was only four days away from living on the streets. I was not the same person I had been back in the days of the troupe, but neither was I yet the person you hear about in stories. I had changed because of Tarbean. I had learned many things it would have been easier to live without.

But sitting beside the fire, bending over the lute, I felt the hard, unpleasant parts of myself that I had gained in Tarbean crack. Like a clay mold around a now-cool piece of iron they fell away, leaving something clean and hard behind.

I sounded the strings, one at a time. When I hit the third it was ever so slightly off and I gave one of the tuning pegs a minute adjustment without thinking.

“Here now, don’t go touching those,” Josn tried to sound casual, “you’ll turn it from true.” But I didn’t really hear him. The singer and all the rest couldn’t have been farther away from me if they’d been at the bottom of the Centhe Sea.

I touched the last string and tuned it too, ever so slightly. I made a simple chord and strummed it. It rang soft and true. I moved a finger and the chord went minor in a way that always sounded to me as if the lute were saying sad. I moved my hands again and the lute made two chords whispering against each other. Then, without realizing what I was doing, I began to play.

The strings felt strange against my fingers, like reunited friends who have forgotten what they have in common. I played soft and slow, sending notes no farther than the circle of our firelight. Fingers and strings made a careful conversation, as if their dance described the lines of an infatuation.

Then I felt something inside me break and music began to pour out into the quiet. My fingers danced; intricate and quick they spun something gossamer and tremulous into the circle of light our fire had made. The music moved like a spiderweb stirred by a gentle breath, it changed like a leaf twisting as it falls to the ground, and it felt like three years Waterside in Tarbean, with a hollowness inside you and hands that ached from the bitter cold.

I don’t know how long I played. It could have been ten minutes or an hour. But my hands weren’t used to the strain. They slipped and the music fell to pieces like a dream on waking.

I looked up to see everyone perfectly motionless, their faces ranging from shock to amazement. Then, as if my gaze had broken some spell, everyone stirred. Roent shifted in his seat. The two mercenaries turned and raised eyebrows at each other. Derrik looked at me as if he had never seen me before.

Reta remained frozen, her hand held in front of her mouth. Denna lowered her face into her hands and began to cry in quiet, hopeless sobs.

Josn simply stood. His face was stricken and bloodless as if he had been stabbed.

I held out the lute, not knowing whether to thank him or apologize. He took it numbly. After a moment, unable to think of anything to say, I left them sitting by the fire and walked toward the wagons.

And that is how Kvothe spent his last night before he came to the University, with his cloak as both his blanket and his bed. As he lay down, behind him was a circle of fire, and before him lay shadow like a mantle, gathered. His eyes were open, that much is certain, but who among us can say

they know what he was seeing?

Look behind him instead, to the circle of light that the fire has made, and leave Kvothe to himself for now. Everyone deserves a moment or two alone when they desire it. And if by chance there were tears, let us forgive him. He was just a child, after all, and had yet to learn what sorrow really was.

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