MAINS WAS THE OLDEST building at the University. Over the centuries it had grown slowly in all directions, engulfing smaller buildings and courtyards as it spread. It had the look of an ambitious architectural breed of lichen that was trying to cover as many acres as it could.
It was a hard place to find your way around. Hallways took odd turns, dead-ended unexpectedly, or took long, rambling, roundabout paths. It could easily take twenty minutes to walk from one room to another, despite the fact that they were only fifty feet apart. More experienced students knew shortcuts, of course: which workrooms and lecture halls to cut through to reach your destination.
At least one of the courtyards had been completely isolated and could only be accessed by climbing though a window. Rumor had it that there were some rooms bricked off entirely, some with students still inside. Their ghosts were rumored to walk the halls at night, bewailing their fate and complaining about the food in the Mess.
My first class was held in Mains. Luckily, I had been warned by my bunkmates that Mains was difficult to navigate, so despite getting lost, I still arrived with time to spare.
When I finally found the room for my first class, I was surprised to find it resembled a small theater. Seats rose in tiered semicircles around a small raised stage. In larger cities my troupe had performed in places not unlike this one. The thought relaxed me as I found a seat in the back.
I was a jangling mass of excitement as I watched other students slowly trickle into the room. Everyone was older than me by at least a few years. I reviewed the first thirty sympathetic bindings in my head as the theater filled with anxious students. There were perhaps fifty of us in all, making the room about three-quarters full. Some had pen and paper with hardbacks to write on. Some had wax tablets. I hadn’t brought anything, but that didn’t worry me overmuch. I’ve always had an excellent memory.
Master Hemme entered the room and made his way onto the stage to stand behind a large stone worktable. He looked impressive in his dark master’s robes, and it was bare seconds before the whispering, shuffling
theater of students hushed to silence.
“So you want to be arcanists?” he said. “You want magic like you’ve heard about in bedtime stories. You’ve listened to songs about Taborlin the Great. Roaring sheets of fire, magic rings, invisible cloaks, swords that never go dull, potions to make you fly.” He shook his head, disgusted. “Well if that’s what you’re looking for, you can leave now, because you won’t find it here. It doesn’t exist.”
At this point a student came in, realized he was late, and moved quickly into a vacant seat. Hemme spotted him though. “Hello, glad you chose to attend. What is your name?”
“Gel,” the boy said nervously. “I’m sorry. I had a bit of a hard time…” “Gel,” Hemme interrupted. “Why are you here?”
Gel gaped for a moment before managing to say, “For Principles of Sympathy?”
“I do not appreciate tardiness in my class. For tomorrow, you may prepare a report on the development of the sympathy clock, its differences from the previous, more arbitrary clocks that used harmonic motion, and its effect on the accurate treatment of time.”
The boy twisted in his seat. “Yes, sir.”
Hemme seemed satisfied with the reaction. “Very well. What is sympathy, then?”
Another boy hurried in clutching a hardback. He was young, by which I mean he looked to be no more than two years older than me. Hemme stopped him before he could make it into a seat. “Hello there,” he said in an over-courteous tone. “And you are?”
“Basil, sir,” the boy stood awkwardly in the aisle. I recognized him. I had spied on his admissions interview.
“Basil, you wouldn’t happen to be from Yll, would you?” Hemme asked, smiling sharply.
“Ahhh,” Hemme said, feigning disappointment. “I had heard that Yllish tribes use the sun to tell time, and as such, have no true concept of punctuality. However, as you are not Yllish, I can see no excuse for being late. Can you?”
Basil’s mouth worked silently for a moment, as if to make some excuse, then apparently decided better of it. “No sir.”
“Good. For tomorrow, you can prepare a report on Yll’s lunar calendar compared to the more accurate, civilized Aturan calendar that you should be familiar with by now. Be seated.”
Basil slunk wordlessly into a nearby seat like a whipped dog.
Hemme gave up all pretext of lecture and lay in wait for the next tardy student. Thus it was that the hall was tensely silent when she stepped
hesitantly into the room.
It was a young woman of about eighteen. A rarity of sorts. The ratio of men to women in the University is about ten to one.
Hemme’s manner softened when she entered the room. He moved quickly up the steps to greet her. “Ah, my dear. I am suddenly pleased that we have not yet begun today’s discussion.” He took her by the elbow and led her down a few of the steps to the first available seat.
She was obviously embarrassed by the attention. “I’m sorry, Master Hemme. Mains is bigger than I’d guessed.”
“No worry,” Hemme said in a kindly fashion. “You’re here and that’s what matters.” He solicitously helped her arrange her paper and ink before returning to the stage.
Once there, it seemed as if he might actually lecture. But before he began he looked back to the girl. “I’m sorry miss.” She was the only woman in the room. “Poor manners on my part. What is your name?”
“Ria, is that short for Rian?” “Yes, it is,” she smiled.
“Rian, would you please cross your legs?”
The request was made with such an earnest tone that not even a titter escaped the class. Looking puzzled, Rian crossed her legs.
“Now that the gates of hell are closed,” Hemme said in his normal, rougher tones. “We can begin.”
And so he did, ignoring her for the rest of the lecture. Which, as I see it, was an inadvertent kindness.
It was a long two and a half hours. I listened attentively, always hoping that he would come to something I hadn’t learned from Abenthy. But there was nothing. I quickly realized that while Hemme was discussing the principles of sympathy, he was doing it at a very, very basic level. This class was a colossal waste of my time.
After Hemme dismissed the class I ran down the stairs and caught him just as he was leaving through a lower door. “Master Hemme?”
He turned to face me. “Oh yes, our boy prodigy. I wasn’t aware you were in my class. I didn’t go too fast for you, did I?”
I knew better than to answer that honestly. “You covered the basics very clearly, sir. The principles you mentioned today will lay a good foundation for the other students in the class.” Diplomacy is a large part of being a trouper.
He puffed up a bit at my perceived compliment, then looked more closely at me. “Other students?” He asked.
“I’m afraid I’m already familiar with the basics, sir. I know the three laws and the fourteen corollaries. As well as the first ninety—”
“Yes, yes. I see,” he cut me off. “I’m rather busy right at the moment. We
can speak of this tomorrow, before class.” He turned and walked briskly away.
Half a loaf being better than none, I shrugged and headed for the Archives. If I wasn’t going to learn anything from Hemme’s lectures, I might as well start educating myself.
This time when I entered the Archives there was a young woman sitting behind the desk. She was strikingly beautiful with long, dark hair and clear, bright eyes. A notable improvement over Ambrose to be sure.
She smiled as I approached the desk. “What’s your name?” “Kvothe,” I said. “Son of Arliden.”
She nodded and began to page through the ledger. “What’s yours?” I asked to fill the silence.
“Fela,” she said without looking up. Then nodded to herself and tapped the ledger. “There you are, go on in.”
There were two sets of double doors leading out of the antechamber, one marked STACKS and the other TOMES. Not knowing the difference between the two, I headed to the ones labeled STACKS. That was what I wanted. Stacks of books. Great heaps of books. Shelf after endless shelf of books.
I had my hands on the handles of the doors before Fela’s voice stopped me. “I’m sorry. It’s your first time in here, isn’t it?”
I nodded, not letting go of the door’s handles. I was so close. What was going to happen now?
“The stacks are Arcanum only.” She said apologetically. She stood up and walked around the desk to the other set of doors. “Here, let me show you.”
I reluctantly let go of the door’s handles and followed her.
Using both hands, she tugged one of the heavy wooden doors open, revealing a large, high-ceilinged room filled with long tables. A dozen students were scattered throughout the room, reading. The room was well-lit with the unwavering light of dozens of sympathy lamps.
Fela leaned close to me and spoke in a soft voice. “This is the main reading area. You’ll find all the necessary tomes used for most of the basic classes.” She blocked the door open with her foot and pointed along one wall to a long section of shelving with three or four hundred books. More books than I had ever seen in one place before.
Fela continued to speak softly. “It’s a quiet place. No talking above a whisper.” I’d noticed that the room was almost unnaturally quiet. “If you want a book that isn’t there, you can submit a request at the desk,” she pointed. “They’ll find the book and bring it out to you.”
I turned to ask her a question, and only then realized how close she was standing. It says a great deal about how enamored I was with the Archives
that I failed to notice one of the most attractive women in the University standing less than six inches away. “How long does it usually take them to find a book?” I asked quietly, trying not to stare at her.
“It varies,” she brushed her long black hair back over her shoulder. “Sometimes we’re busier than others. Some people are better at finding the appropriate books.” She shrugged and some of her hair swung back down to brush against my arm. “Usually no more than an hour.”
I nodded, disappointed by not being able to browse the whole of the Archives, but still excited to be inside. Once again, half a loaf was better than none. “Thanks, Fela.” I went inside, and she let the door swing shut behind me.
But she came after me just a moment later. “One last thing,” she said quietly. “I mean, it goes without saying, but this is your first time here….” Her expression was serious. “The books don’t leave this room. Nothing leaves the Archives.”
“Of course,” I said. “Naturally.” I hadn’t known.
Fela smiled and nodded. “I just wanted to make sure. A couple of years ago we had a young gent who was used to carrying off books from his father’s library. I’d never even seen Lorren frown before that, or talk much above a whisper. But when he caught that boy in the street with one of his books….” She shook her head as if she couldn’t hope to explain what she had seen.
I tried to picture the tall, somber master angry and failed. “Thanks for the warning.”
“Don’t mention it.” Fela headed back out into the entrance hall.
I approached the desk she had pointed out to me. “How do I request a book?” I asked the scriv quietly.
He showed me a large log book half filled with student’s names and their requests. Some were requests for books with specific titles or authors, but others were more general requests for information. One of the entries caught my eye: “Basil—Yllish lunar calendar. History of Aturan calendar.” I looked around the room and saw the boy from Hemme’s class hunched over a book, taking notes.
I wrote: “Kvothe—The history of the Chandrian. Reports of the Chandrian and their signs: black eyes, blue flame, etc.”
I went to the shelves next and started looking over the books. I recognized one or two from my studies with Ben. The only sound in the room was the occasional scratch of a pen on paper, or the faint, bird-wing sound of a page turning. Rather than being unsettling, I found the quiet strangely comforting. Later I was to find out that the place was nicknamed “Tombs” because of its cryptlike quiet.
Eventually a book called The Mating Habits of the Common Draccus
caught my eye and I took it over to one of the reading tables. I picked it because it had a rather stylish embossed dragon on the cover, but when I started reading I discovered it was an educated investigation into several common myths.
I was halfway through the title piece explaining how the myth of the dragon in all likelihood evolved from the much more mundane draccus when a scriv appeared at my elbow. “Kvothe?” I nodded and he handed me a small book with a blue cloth cover.
Opening it, I was instantly disappointed. It was a collection of faerie stories. I flipped through it, hoping to find something useful, but it was filled with sticky-sweet adventure stories meant to amuse children. You know the sort: brave orphans trick the Chandrian, win riches, marry princesses, and live happily ever after.
I sighed and closed the book. I had half expected this. Until the Chandrian killed my family, I thought they were nothing more than children’s stories too. This sort of search wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
After walking to the desk I thought for a long moment before writing a new line in the request-ledger: “Kvothe—The history of the Order Amyr. The origins of the Amyr. The practices of the Amyr.” I reached the end of the line and rather than start another one I stopped and looked up at the scriv behind the desk. “I’ll take anything on the Amyr, really,” I said.
“We’re a little busy right now,” he said, gesturing to the room. Another dozen or so students had filtered in since I had arrived. “But we’ll bring something out to you as soon as we can.”
I returned to the table and flipped through the children’s book again before abandoning it for the bestiary. The wait was much longer this time, and I was learning about the strange summer hibernation of Susquinian when I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned, expecting to see a scriv with an armload of books, or maybe Basil come to say hello. I was startled by the sight of Master Lorren looming over me in his dark master’s robes.
“Come,” he said softly, and gestured for me to follow.
Not knowing what might be the matter, I followed him out of the reading room. We walked behind the scriv’s desk and down a flight of stairs to a small featureless room with a table and two chairs. The Archives was filled with little rooms like this, reading holes, designed to give members of the Arcanum a place to sit privately and study.
Lorren lay the request-ledger from Tomes on the table. “I noticed your request while assisting one of the newer scrivs in his duties,” he said. “You have an interest in the Chandrian and the Amyr?” he asked.
“Is this in regard to an assignment from one of your instructors?”
For a moment I thought about telling him the truth. About what had
happened to my parents. About the story I had heard in Tarbean.
But Manet’s reaction to my mention of the Chandrian had shown me how foolish that would be. Until I’d seen the Chandrian myself, I didn’t believe in them. If anyone would have claimed to have seen them, I would have thought they were crazy.
At best Lorren would think I was delusional, at worst, a foolish child. I was suddenly pointedly aware of the fact that I was standing in one of the cornerstones of civilization, talking to the Master Archivist of the University.
It put things in a new perspective for me. The stories of an old man in some Dockside tavern suddenly seemed very far away and insignificant.
I shook my head. “No sir. It’s merely to satisfy my curiosity.”
“I have a great respect for curiosity,” Lorren said with no particular inflection. “Perhaps I can satisfy yours a bit. The Amyr were a part of the church back when the Aturan Empire was still strong. Their credo was Ivare Enim Euge which roughly translates as ‘for the greater good.’ They were equal part knight-errant and vigilante. They had judiciary powers, and could act as judges in both the religious and secular courts. All of them, to varying degrees, were exempt from the law.”
I knew most of this already. “But where did they come from?” I asked. It was as close as I dared come to mentioning Skarpi’s story.
“They evolved from traveling judges,” Lorren said. “Men who went from town to town, bringing the rule of law to small Aturan towns.”
“They originated in Atur then?”
He looked at me. “Where else would they have originated?”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth: that because of an old man’s story I suspected the Amyr might have roots much older than the Aturan Empire. That I hoped they might still exist somewhere in the world today.
Lorren took my silence as a response. “A piece of advice,” he said gently. “The Amyr are dramatic figures. When we are young we all pretend to be Amyr and fight battles with willow-switch swords. It is natural for boys to be attracted to those stories.” He met my eyes. “However, a man, an arcanist, must focus himself on the present day. He must attend to practical things.”
He held my eyes as he continued to speak. “You are young. Many will judge you by that fact alone.” I drew a breath, but he held up a hand. “I am not accusing you of engaging in boyish fancy. I am advising you to avoid the appearance of boyish fancy.” He gave me a level look, his face as calm as always.
I thought of the way Ambrose had treated me and nodded, feeling color rise to my cheeks.
Lorren brought out a pen and drew a series of hashes through my single line of writing in the ledger book. “I have a great respect for curiosity,” he said. “But others do not think as I do. I would not see your first term
unnecessarily complicated by such things. I expect things will be difficult enough for you without that additional worry.”
I bowed my head, feeling as if I’d somehow disappointed him. “I understand. Thank you, sir.”