Chapter no 43: The Flickering Way

The Name of the Wind

BUOYED BY THE STIMULANT effects of the nahlrout and feeling very little pain, I made my way to the Archives. Since I was now a member of the Arcanum, I was free to explore the stacks, something I’d been waiting my whole life to do.

Better still, so long as I didn’t ask for any help from the scrivs, nothing would be recorded in the Archive’s ledger books. That meant I could research the Chandrian and the Amyr to my heart’s content, and no one, not even Lorren, need ever know about my “childish” pursuits.

Entering the reddish light of the Archives I found both Ambrose and Fela sitting behind the entry desk. A mixed blessing if ever there was one.

Ambrose was leaning toward her, speaking in a low voice. She had the distinctly uncomfortable look of a woman who knows the futility of a polite refusal. One of his hands rested on her knee, while the other arm was draped across the back of her chair, his hand resting on her neck. He meant for it to look tender and affectionate, but there was a tension in her body like that of a startled deer. The truth was he was holding her there, the same way you hold a dog by the scruff of its neck to keep it from running off.

As the door thumped closed behind me Fela looked up, met my eyes, then looked down and away, ashamed by her predicament. As if she’d done anything. I had seen that look too many times on the streets of Tarbean. It sparked an old anger in me.

I approached the desk, making more noise than necessary. Pen and ink lay on the other end of the desk, and a piece of paper three-quarters full of rewriting and crossing out. From the looks of things, Ambrose had been trying to compose a poem.

I reached the edge of the desk and stood for a moment. Fela looked everywhere except at me or Ambrose. She shifted in her seat, uncomfortable, but obviously not wanting to make a scene. I cleared my throat pointedly.

Ambrose looked over his shoulder, scowling. “You have damnable timing, E’lir. Come back later.” He turned away again, dismissing me.

I snorted and leaned over the desk, craning my neck to look at the sheet of paper he’d left lying there. “have damnable timing? Please, you have

thirteen syllables in a line here.” I tapped a finger onto the page. “It’s not iambic either. I don’t know if it’s anything metrical at all.”

He turned to look at me again, his expression irritated. “Mind your tongue, E’lir. The day I come to you for help with poetry is the day—”

“…is the day you have two hours to spare,” I said. “Two long hours, and that’s just for getting started. ‘So same can the humble thrush well know its north?’ I mean, I don’t even know how to begin to criticize that. It practically mocks itself.”

“What do you know of poetry?” Ambrose said without bothering to turn around.

“I know a limping verse when I hear it,” I said. “But this isn’t even limping. A limp has rhythm. This is more like someone falling down a set of stairs. Uneven stairs. With a midden at the bottom.”

“It is a sprung rhythm,” he said, his voice stiff and offended. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“Sprung?” I burst out with an incredulous laugh. “I understand that if I saw a horse with a leg this badly ‘sprung,’ I’d kill it out of mercy, then burn its poor corpse for fear the local dogs might gnaw on it and die.”

Ambrose finally turned around to face me, and in so doing he had to take his right hand off Fela’s knee. A half-victory, but his other hand remained on her neck, holding her in her chair with the appearance of a casual caress.

“I thought you might stop by today,” he said with a brittle cheerfulness. “So I already checked the ledger. You’re not in the lists yet. You’ll have to stick with Tomes or come back later, after they’ve updated the books.”

“No offense, but would you mind checking again? I’m not sure I can trust the literacy of someone who tries to rhyme ‘north’ with ‘worth.’ No wonder you have to hold women down to get them to listen to it.”

Ambrose stiffened and his arm slid off the back of the chair to fall at his side. His expression was pure venom. “When you’re older, E’lir, you’ll understand that what a man and a woman do together—”

“What? In the privacy of the entrance hall of the Archives?” I gestured around us. “God’s body, this isn’t some brothel. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s a student, not some brass nail you’ve paid to bang away at. If you’re going to force yourself on a woman, have the decency to do it in an alleyway. At least that way she’ll feel justified screaming about it.”

Ambrose’s face flushed furiously and it took him a long moment to find his voice. “You don’t know the first thing about women.”

“There, at least, we can agree,” I said easily. “In fact, that’s the reason I came here today. I wanted to do some research. Find a book or two on the subject.” I struck the ledger with two fingers, hard. “So look up my name and let me in.”

Ambrose flipped the book open, found the proper page, and turned the

book around to face me. “There. If you can find your name on that list, you are welcome to peruse the stacks at your leisure.” He gave a tight smile. “Otherwise feel free to come back in a span or so. We should have things updated by then.”

“I had the masters send along a note just in case there was any confusion about my admission to the Arcanum.” I said, and drew my shirt up over my head, turning so he could see the broad expanse of bandages covering my back. “Can you read it from there, or do I need to come closer?”

There was a pointed silence from Ambrose, so I lowered my shirt and turned to face Fela, ignoring him entirely. “My lady scriv,” I said to her with a bow. A very slight bow, as my back wouldn’t permit a deep one. “Would you be so good as to help me locate a book concerning women? I have been instructed by my betters to inform myself on this most subtle subject.”

Fela gave a faint smile and relaxed a bit. She had continued sitting stiff and uncomfortable after Ambrose had taken his hand away. I guessed that she knew Ambrose’s temperament well enough to know that if she bolted away and embarrassed him, he would make her pay for it later. “I don’t know if we have anything like that.”

“I would settle for a primer,” I said with a smile. “I have it on good report that I don’t know the first thing about them, so anything would further my knowledge.”

“Something with pictures?” Ambrose spat.

“If our search degenerates to that level I’ll be sure to call on you,” I said without looking in his direction. I smiled at Fela. “Perhaps a bestiary,” I said gently. “I hear they are singular creatures, much different than men.”

Fela’s smile blossomed and she gave a small laugh. “We could have a look around, I suppose.”

Ambrose scowled in her direction.

She made a placating gesture toward him. “Everyone knows he’s in the Arcanum, Ambrose,” she said. “What’s the harm of just letting him in?”

Ambrose glared at her. “Why don’t you run along to Tomes and play the good little fetch-and-carry girl?” he said coldly. “I can handle things out here by myself.”

Moving stiffly, Fela got up from the desk, gathered up the book she’d been trying to read, and headed into Tomes. As she pulled the door open, I like to think she gave me a brief look of gratitude and relief. But perhaps it was only my imagination.

As the door swung shut behind her, the room seemed to grow a little dimmer. I am not speaking poetically. The light truly seemed to dim. I looked at the sympathy lamps hanging around the room, wondering what was wrong.

But a moment later I felt a slow, burning sensation begin to creep across my back and realized the truth. The nahlrout was wearing off.

Most powerful painkillers have serious side effects. Tennasin occasionally produces delirium or fainting. Lacillium is poisonous. Ophalum is highly addictive. Mhenka is perhaps the most powerful of all, but there are reasons they call it “devil root.”

Nahlrout was less powerful than these, but much safer. It was a mild anesthetic, a stimulant, and a vascular constrictor, which is why I hadn’t bled like a stuck pig when they’d whipped me. Best of all, it had no major side effects. Still, there is always a price to be paid. Once nahlrout wears off, it leaves you physically and mentally exhausted.

Regardless, I had come here to see the stacks. I was now a member of the Arcanum and I didn’t intend to leave until I’d been inside the Archives. I turned back to the desk, my expression resolute.

Ambrose gave me a long, calculating look before heaving a sigh. “Fine,” he said. “How about a deal? You keep quiet about what you saw here today, and I’ll bend the rules and let you in even though you aren’t officially in the book.” He looked a little nervous. “How does that sound?”

Even as he spoke I could feel the stimulant effect from the nahlrout fading. My body felt heavy and tired, my thoughts grew sluggish and syrupy. I reached up to rub at my face with my hands, and winced as the motion tugged sharply at the stitches all across my back. “That’ll be fine,” I said thickly.

Ambrose opened up one of the ledger books and sighed as he turned the pages. “Since this is your first time in the Archives proper, you’ll have to pay the stack fee.”

My mouth tasted strangely of lemons. That was a side effect Ben had never mentioned. It was distracting, and after a moment I saw that Ambrose was looking up at me expectantly. “What?”

He gave me a strange look. “The stack fee.”

“There wasn’t any fee before,” I said. “When I was in the Tomes.”

Ambrose looked up at me as if I were an idiot. “That’s because it’s the stack fee.” He looked back down at the ledger. “Normally you pay it in addition to your first term’s Arcanum tuition. But since you’ve jumped rank on us, you’ll need to tend to it now.”

“How much is it?” I asked, feeling for my purse.

“One talent,” he said. “And you do have to pay before you can go in.

Rules are Rules.”

After paying for my bunk in Mews, a talent was nearly all my remaining money. I was keenly aware of the fact that I needed to hoard my resources to save for next term’s tuition. As soon as I couldn’t pay, I would have to leave the University.

Still, it was a small price to pay for something I’d dreamed about for most of my life. I pulled a talent out of my purse and handed it over. “Do I need to

sign in?”

“Nothing so formal as that,” Ambrose said as he opened a drawer and pulled out a small metal disk. Stupefied from the side effects of the nahlrout, it took me a moment to recognize it for what it was: a handheld sympathy lamp.

“The Stacks aren’t lit,” Ambrose said matter-of-factly. “There’s too much space in there, and it would be bad for the books in the long term. Hand lamps cost a talent and a half.”

I hesitated.

Ambrose nodded to himself and looked thoughtful. “A lot of folk end up strapped during first term.” He reached down into a lower drawer and rooted around for a long moment. “Hand lamps are a talent and half, and there’s nothing I can do about that.” He brought out a four-inch taper. “But candles are just a ha’penny.”

Ha’penny for a candle was a remarkably good deal. I brought out a penny. “I’ll take two.”

“This is our last one,” Ambrose said quickly. He looked around nervously before pushing it into my hand. “Tell you what. You can have it for free.” He smiled. “Just don’t tell anyone. It’ll be our little secret.”

I took the candle, more than a little surprised. Apparently I’d frightened him with my idle threat earlier. Either that or this rude, pompous noble’s son wasn’t half the bastard I’d taken him for.

Ambrose hurried me into the stacks as quickly as possible, leaving me no time to light my candle. When the doors swung shut behind me it was as black as the inside of a sack, with only a faint hint of reddish sympathy light coming around the edges of the door behind me.

As I didn’t have any matches with me, I had to resort to sympathy. Ordinarily I could have done it quick as blinking, but my nahlrout-weary mind could barely muster the necessary concentration. I gritted my teeth, fixed the Alar in my mind, and after a few seconds I felt the cold leech into my muscles as I drew enough heat from my own body to bring the wick of the candle sputtering to life.


With no windows to let in the sunlight, the stacks were utterly dark except for the gentle light of my candle. Stretching away into the darkness were shelf on shelf of books. More books than I could look at if I took a whole day. More books than I could read in a lifetime.

The air was cool and dry. It smelled of old leather, parchment, and forgotten secrets. I wondered idly how they kept the air so fresh in a building with no windows.

Cupping a hand in front of my candle, I made my flickering way through the shelves, savoring the moment, soaking everything in. Shadows danced wildly back and forth across the ceiling as my candle’s flame moved from side to side.

The nahlrout had worn off completely by this point. My back was throbbing and my thoughts were leaden, as if I had a high fever or had taken a hard blow to the back of the head. I knew I wasn’t going to be up for a long bout of reading, but I still couldn’t bring myself to leave so soon. Not after everything I’d gone through to get here.

I wandered aimlessly for perhaps a quarter hour, exploring. I discovered several small stone rooms with heavy wooden doors and tables inside. They were obviously meant as a place where small groups could meet and talk without disturbing the perfect quiet of the Archives.

I found stairwells leading down as well as up. The Archives was six stories tall, but I hadn’t known it extended underground as well. How deep did it go? How many tens of thousands of books were waiting under my feet?

I can hardly describe how comforting it was in the cool, quiet dark. I was perfectly content, lost among the endless books. It made me feel safe, knowing that the answers to all my questions were here, somewhere waiting.

It was quite by accident that I found the four-plate door.

It was made of a solid piece of grey stone the same color as the surrounding walls. Its frame was eight inches wide, also grey, and also one single seamless piece of stone. The door and frame fit together so tightly that a pin couldn’t slide into the crack.

It had no hinges. No handle. No window or sliding panel. Its only features were four hard copper plates. They were set flush with the face of the door, which was flush with the front of the frame, which was flush with the wall surrounding it. You could run your hand from one side of the door to the next and hardly feel the lines of it at all.

In spite of these notable lacks, the expanse of grey stone was undoubtedly a door. It simply was. Each copper plate had a hole in its center, and though they were not shaped in the conventional way, they were undoubtedly keyholes. The door sat still as a mountain, quiet and indifferent as the sea on a windless day. This was not a door for opening. It was a door for staying closed.

In its center, between the untarnished copper plates, a word was chiseled deep into the stone: VALARITAS.

There were other locked doors in the University, places where dangerous things were kept, where old and forgotten secrets slept: silent and hidden. Doors whose opening was forbidden. Doors whose thresholds no one crossed, whose keys had been destroyed or lost, or locked away themselves for safety’s sake.

But they all paled in comparison to the four-plate door. I lay my palm on the cool, smooth face of the door and pushed, hoping against hope that it might swing open to my touch. But it was solid and unmoving as a greystone. I tried to peer through the holes in the copper plates but couldn’t see anything by the light of my single candle.

I wanted to get inside so badly I could taste it. It probably shows a perverse element of my personality that even though I was finally inside the Archives, surrounded by endless secrets, that I was drawn to the one locked door I had found. Perhaps it is human nature to seek out hidden things. Perhaps it is simply my nature.

Just then I saw the red, unwavering light of a sympathy lamp approaching through the shelves. It was the first sign I’d seen of any other students in the archives. I took a step back and waited, thinking to ask whoever was coming what was behind the door. What Valaritas meant.

The red light swelled and I saw two scrivs turn a corner. They paused, then one of them bolted to where I stood and snatched my candle away, spilling hot wax on my hand in the process of extinguishing it. His expression couldn’t have been more horrified if he had found me carrying a freshly severed head.

“What are you doing with an open flame in here?” he demanded in the loudest whisper I had ever heard. He lowered his voice and waved the now extinguished candle at me. “Charred body of God, what’s the matter with you?”

I rubbed at the hot wax on the back of my hand. Trying to think clearly through the fog of pain and exhaustion. Of course, I thought, remembering Ambrose’s smile as he pressed the candle into my hands and hurried me though the door. “Our little secret.” Of course. I should have known.

One of the scrivs led me out of the Stacks while the other ran to fetch Master Lorren. When we emerged into the entryway, Ambrose managed to look confused and shocked. He overacted the part, but it was convincing enough for the scriv accompanying me. “What’s he doing in here?”

“We found him wandering around,” the scriv explained. “With a candle.”

“What?” Ambrose’s expression was perfectly aghast. “Well didn’t sign him in,” Ambrose said. He flipped open one of the ledger books. “Look. See for yourself.”

Before anything else could be said, Lorren stormed into the room. His normally placid expression was fierce and hard. I felt myself sweat cold and I thought of what Teccam wrote in his Theophany: There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.

Lorren towered over the entry desk. “Explain,” he demanded of the nearby scriv. His voice was a tight coil of fury.

“Micah and I saw a flickering light in the stacks and we went to see if someone was having trouble with their lamp. We found him near the southeast stairwell with this.” The scriv held up the candle. His hand shook slightly under Lorren’s glare.

Lorren turned to the desk where Ambrose sat. “How did this happen, Re’lar?”

Ambrose raised his hands helplessly. “He came in earlier and I wouldn’t admit him because he wasn’t in the book. We bickered for a while, Fela was here for most of it.” He looked at me. “Eventually I told him he’d have to leave. He must have snuck in when I went into the back room for more ink.” Ambrose shrugged. “Or maybe he slipped in past the desk in Tomes.”

I stood there, stupefied. What little part of my mind wasn’t leaden with fatigue was preoccupied with the screaming pain across my back. “That… that’s not true.” I looked up at Lorren. “He let me in. He sent Fela away, then let me in.”

“What?” Ambrose gaped at me, momentarily speechless. For all that I didn’t like him, I must give him credit for a masterful performance. “Why in God’s name would I do that?”

“Because I embarrassed you in front of Fela,” I said. “He sold me the candle, too.” I shook my head trying to clear my head. “No, he gave it to me.”

Ambrose’s expression was amazed. “Look at him.” He laughed. “The little cocker is drunk or something.”

“I was just whipped!” I protested. My voice sounded shrill in my own ears.

“Enough!” Lorren shouted, looming over us like a pillar of anger. The scrivs went pale at the sound of him.

Lorren turned away from me, and made a brief, contemptuous gesture toward the desk. “Re’lar Ambrose is officially remanded for laxity in his duty.”

“What?” Ambrose’s indignant tone wasn’t feigned this time.

Lorren frowned at him, and Ambrose closed his mouth. Turning to me, he said, “E’lir Kvothe is banned from the Archives.” He made a sweeping gesture with the flat of his hand.

I tried to think of something I could say in my defense. “Master, I didn’t mean—”

Lorren rounded on me. His expression, always so calm before, was filled with such a cold, terrible anger that I took a step away from him without meaning to. “You mean?” he said. “I care nothing for your intentions, E’lir Kvothe, deceived or otherwise. All that matters is the reality of your actions. Your hand held the fire. Yours is the blame. That is the lesson all adults must


I looked down at my feet, tried desperately to think of something I could say. Some proof I could offer. My leaden thoughts were still plodding along when Lorren strode out of the room.

“I don’t see why I should be punished for his stupidity,” Ambrose groused to the other scrivs as I made my way numbly to the door. I made the mistake of turning around and looking at him. His expression was serious, carefully controlled.

But his eyes were vastly amused, full of laughter. “Honestly boy,” he said to me. “I don’t know what you were thinking. You’d think a member of the Arcanum would have more sense.”

I made my way to the Mess, the wheels of my thoughts turning slowly as I plodded along. I fumbled my meal chit into one of the dull tin trays and collected a portion of steamed pudding, a sausage, and some of the ever-present beans. I looked dully around the room until I spotted Simmon and Manet sitting in their usual place at the northeast corner of the hall.

I drew a fair amount of attention as I walked to the table. Understandable, as it was scarcely two hours since I’d been tied to the pennant pole and publicly lashed. I heard someone whisper, “…didn’t bleed when they whipped him. I was there. Not one drop.”

It was the nahlrout, of course. It had kept me from bleeding. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. Now it seemed petty and foolish. Ambrose would never have managed to gull me so easily if my naturally suspicious nature hadn’t been fuddled. I’m sure I could have found some way to explain things to Lorren if I’d had my wits about me.

As I made my way to the far corner of the room, I realized the truth. I had traded away my access to the Archives in exchange for a little notoriety.

Still, there was nothing to do but make the best of it. If a bit of reputation was all I had to show for this debacle, I’d have to do my best to build on it. I kept my shoulders straight as I made my way across the room to Simmon and Manet and set down my food.

“There’s no such thing as a stack fee, is there?” I asked quietly as I slid into my seat, trying not to grimace at the pain across my back.

Sim looked at me blankly. “Stack fee?”

Manet chortled into his bowl of beans. “It’s been a few years since I heard that. Back when I worked as a scriv we’d trick the first-termers into giving us a penny to use the Archives. Called it a stack fee.”

Sim gave him a disapproving look. “That’s horrible.”

Manet held up his hands defensively in front of his face. “Just a little harmless fun.” Manet looked me over. “Is that what your long face is for?

Somebody cull you for a copper?”

I shook my head. I wasn’t going to announce that Ambrose had tricked me out of a whole talent. “Guess who just got banned from the Archives?” I said gravely as I tore the crust off my bread and dropped it into my beans.

They looked at me blankly. After a moment Simmon took the obvious guess. “Ummm…you?”

I nodded and began to spoon up my beans. I wasn’t really hungry, but I hoped a little food in my stomach might help shake off the sluggishness of the nahlrout. Besides, it went against my nature to pass up an opportunity for a meal.

“You got suspended on your first day?” Simmon said. “That’s going to make studying your Chandrian folklore a whole lot harder.”

I sighed. “You could say that.” “How long did he suspend you for?”

“He said banned,” I answered. “He didn’t mention a time limit.” “Banned?” Manet looked up at me. “He hasn’t banned anyone in a dozen

years. What’d you do? Piss on a book?”

“Some of the scrivs found me inside with a candle.”

“Merciful Tehlu.” Manet lay down his fork, his expression serious for the first time. “Old Lore must have been furious.”

“Furious is exactly the right word,” I said.

“What possessed you to go in there with an open flame?” Simmon asked. “I couldn’t afford a hand lamp,” I said. “So the scriv at the desk gave me a

candle instead.”

“He didn’t,” Sim said. “No scriv would…”

“Hold on,” Manet said. “Was this a dark-haired fellow? Well-dressed?

Severe eyebrows?” He made an exaggerated scowl.

I nodded tiredly. “Ambrose. We met yesterday. Got off on the wrong foot.”

“He’s hard to avoid,” Manet said carefully, with a significant look to the people sitting around us. I noticed that more than a few were casually listening to our conversation. “Someone should have warned you to keep clear of him,” he added in a softer tone.

“God’s mother,” Simmon said. “Of all the people you don’t want to start a pissing contest with….”

“Well, it’s been started,” I said. I was starting to feel a little more like myself again, less cotton-headed and weary. Either the side effects of the nahlrout were fading, or my anger was slowly burning away the haze of exhaustion. “He’ll find out I can piss along with the best of them. He’ll wish he’d never met me, let alone meddled with my affairs.” Simmon looked a little nervous. “You really shouldn’t threaten other students,” he said with a little laugh, as if trying to pass my comment off as a joke. More softly, he

said. “You don’t understand. Ambrose is heir to a barony off in Vintas.” He hesitated, looking to Manet. “Lord, how do I even start?”

Manet leaned forward and spoke in more confidential tones as well. “He’s not one of those nobility who dabble here for a term or two then leave. He’s been for years, climbed his way up to Re’lar. He’s not some seventh son either. He’s the firstborn heir. And his father is one of the twelve most powerful men in all of Vintas.”

“Actually he’s sixteenth in the peerage,” Sim said matter-of-factly. “You’ve got the royal family, the prince regents, Maer Alveron, Duchess Samista, Aculeus and Meluan Lackless….” He trailed off under Manet’s glare.

“He has money,” Manet said simply. “And the friends that money buys.” “And people who want to curry favor with his father,” Simmon added. “The point is,” Manet said seriously, “you don’t want to cross him. Back

in his first year here, one of the alchemists got on Ambrose’s bad side. Ambrose bought his debt from the moneylender in Imre. When the fellow couldn’t pay, they clapped him into debtor’s prison.” Manet tore a piece of bread in half and daubed butter onto it. “By the time his family got him out he had lung consumption. Fellow was a wreck. Never came back to his studies.”

“And the masters just let this happen?” I demanded.

“All perfectly legal,” Manet said, still keeping his voice low. “Even so, Ambrose wasn’t so silly that he bought the fellow’s debt himself.” Manet made a dismissive gesture. “He had someone else do that, but he made sure everyone knew he was responsible.”

“And there was Tabetha,” Sim said darkly. “She made all that noise about how Ambrose had promised to marry her. She just disappeared.”

This certainly explained why Fela had been so hesitant to offend him. I made a placating gesture to Sim. “I’m not threatening anyone,” I said innocently, pitching my voice so anyone who was listening could easily hear. “I’m just quoting one of my favorite pieces of literature. It’s from the fourth act of Daeonica where Tarsus says:

“Upon him I will visit famine and a fire. Till all around him desolation rings

And all the demons in the outer dark Look on amazed and recognize

That vengeance is the business of a man.”

There was a moment of stunned silence nearby. It spread a bit farther through the Mess than I’d expected. Apparently I’d underestimated the number of people who were listening. I turned my attention back to my meal

and decided to let it go for now. I was tired, and I hurt, and I didn’t particularly want any more trouble today.

“You won’t need this piece of information for a while,” Manet said quietly after a long period of silence. “What with being banned from the Archives and all. Still, I’m supposing you’d rather know….” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You don’t have to buy a hand lamp. You just sign them out at the desk and return them when you’re done.” He looked at me as if anxious about what sort of reaction the information might provoke.

I nodded wearily. I’d been right before. Ambrose wasn’t half the bastard I thought he was. He was ten times the bastard.

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