AS WITH ALL TRULY wild things, care is necessary in approaching them. Stealth is useless. Wild things recognize stealth for what it is, a lie and a trap. While wild things might play games of stealth, and in doing so may even occasionally fall prey to stealth, they are never truly caught by it.
So. With slow care rather than stealth we must approach the subject of a certain woman. Her wildness is of such degree, I fear approaching her too quickly even in a story. Should I move recklessly, I might startle even the idea of her into sudden flight.
So in the name of slow care, I will speak of how I met her. And to do that, I must speak of the events that brought me, quite unwillingly, across the river and into Imre.
I finished my first term with three silver talents and a single jot. Not long ago, it would have seemed like all the money in the world to me. Now I simply hoped it would be enough for one more term’s tuition and a bunk in the Mews.
The last span of every term at the University was reserved for admissions exams. Classes were canceled and the masters spent several hours of each day conducting examinations. Your next term’s tuition was based on your performance. A lottery determined what day and hour you would go through admissions.
A great deal hung on the brief interview. Missing a few questions could easily double your tuition. Because of this, slots later in the span were highly prized, as they gave students more time to study and prepare. There was a vigorous trade in appointment times after the lottery was held. Money and favors were bartered as everyone vied for a time that suited them.
I was lucky enough to draw a midmorning hour on Cendling, the last day of admissions. If I’d wanted to, I could have sold my slot, but I preferred to take the extra time to study. I knew my performance would have to be brilliant, as several of the masters were now less than impressed by me. My previous trick of spying was out of the question. I now knew it was grounds
for expulsion, and I couldn’t risk that.
Despite the long days I spent studying with Wil and Sim, admissions were difficult. I breezed through many of the questions, but Hemme was openly hostile, asking questions with more than one answer so that nothing I said could be correct. Brandeur was difficult as well, clearly helping Hemme carry his grudge. Lorren was unreadable, but I sensed his disapproval rather than seeing it on his face.
Afterward, I fidgeted while the masters discussed my tuition. Voices were calm and muted at first, then became somewhat louder. Eventually, Kilvin stood and shook a finger at Hemme while shouting and pounding the table with his other hand. Hemme maintained more composure than I would have if I had been faced with twenty stone of furious, bellowing artificer.
After the Chancellor managed to regain control of things, I was called forward and given my receipt. “E’lir Kvothe. Fall term. Tuition: 3 Tln. 9 Jt. 7 Fe.”
Eight jots more than I had. As I walked out of the Masters’ Hall, I ignored the sinking feeling in my gut and tried to think of a way I could lay hands on more money by tomorrow noon.
I made a brief stop at the two Cealdish moneychangers on this side of the river. As I suspected, they wouldn’t lend me a thin shim. While I wasn’t surprised, the experience was sobering, reminding me again of how different I was from the other students. They had families paying their tuition, granting them allowances to cover their living expenses. They had reputable names they could borrow against in a pinch. They had possessions they could pawn or sell. If worse came to worst, they had homes to return to.
I had none of these things. If I couldn’t come up with eight more jots for tuition, I had nowhere in the world I could go.
Borrowing from a friend seemed like the simplest option, but I valued my handful of friends too much to risk losing them over money. As my father used to say: “There are two sure ways to lose a friend, one is to borrow, the other to lend.”
Besides, I did my best to keep my desperate poverty to myself. Pride is a foolish thing, but it is a powerful force. I wouldn’t ask them for money except as my very last resort.
I briefly considered trying to cutpurse the money, but I knew it was a bad idea. If I were caught with my hand in someone’s pocket, I would get more than a cuff round the head. At best I’d be jailed and forced to stand against the iron law. At worst, I’d end up on the horns and expelled for Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Arcanum. I couldn’t risk it.
I needed a gaelet, one of the dangerous men who lend money to desperate people. You might have heard them referred to romantically as copper hawks, but more often they’re referred to as shim-galls, or lets. Regardless of the
name, they exist everywhere. The hard part is finding them. They tend to be rather secretive as their business is semilegal at best.
But living in Tarbean had taught me a thing or two. I spent a couple of hours visiting the seedier taverns around the University, making casual conversations, asking casual questions. Then I visited a pawnshop called the Bent Penny, and asked a few more pointed questions. Finally I learned where I needed to go. Over the river, to Imre.