Chapter no 68: The Ever-Changing Wind

The Name of the Wind

TRUDGED THROUGH THE next day barefoot, cloakless, and thinking grim thoughts about my life. The novelty of playing hero faded quickly in light of my situation. I had one ragged suit of clothes. My flash burns were minor but incessantly painful. I had no money to buy painkillers or new clothes. I chewed bitter willow bark and bitter was my mood.

My poverty hung around my neck like a heavy stone. Never before had I been more aware of the difference between myself and the other students. Everyone attending the University had a safety net to fall back on. Sim’s parents were Aturan nobility. Wil came from a wealthy merchant family in the Shald. If things got rough for them, they could borrow against their families’ credit or write a letter home.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t afford shoes. I only owned one shirt. How could I hope to stay in the University for the years it would take me to become a full arcanist? How could I hope to advance in the ranks without access to the Archives?

By noon, I had worked myself into such a grim mood that I snapped at Sim during lunch and we bickered like an old married couple. Wilem offered no opinion, keeping his eyes carefully on his food. Finally, in a blatant attempt to dispel my foul mood they invited me to go see Three Pennies for Wishing across the river tomorrow evening. I agreed to go, as I’d heard the players were doing Feltemi’s original and not one of the expurgated versions. It was well suited to my mood, full of dark humor, tragedy, and betrayal.

After lunch I found Kilvin had already sold half my emitters. Since they were going to be the last blue emitters made for some time, the price was high, and my share was slightly over a talent and a half. I expected Kilvin might have padded the price a little, which rankled my pride a bit, but I was in no position to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But even this did nothing to improve my mood. Now I could afford shoes and a secondhand cloak. If I worked like a dog for the remainder of the term I might be able to earn enough to eke out my interest to Devi and tuition as well. The thought brought me no joy. More than ever I was aware how tenuous my situation was. I was a hairsbreadth away from disaster.

My mood spiraled downward and I skipped Advanced Sympathy in favor of going over the river to Imre. The thought of seeing Denna was the only thing that had the potential to raise my spirits a little. I still needed to explain to her why I’d missed our lunch date.

On my way to the Eolian I bought a pair of low boots, good for walking and warm enough for the winter months ahead. It nearly emptied my purse again. I sullenly counted my money as I left the cobbler’s shop: three jots and a drab. I’d had more money living on the streets of Tarbean….

“Your timing’s good today,” Deoch said as I approached the Eolian. “We’ve got someone waiting for you.”

I felt a foolish grin spread to my face and clapped him on the shoulder as I headed inside.

Instead of Denna I spotted Fela sitting at a table by herself. Stanchion stood nearby, chatting with her. When he saw me approaching, he waved me over and wandered back to his usual perch at the bar, clapping me affectionately on the shoulder as he walked by.

When she saw me, Fela came to her feet and rushed toward me. For a second I thought she was going to run into my arms as if we were reunited lovers in some overacted Aturan tragedy. But she pulled up short of that, her dark hair swinging. She was lovely as always, but with a heavy, purpling bruise darkening one of her high cheekbones.

“Oh no,” I said, my hand going to my face in sympathetic pain. “Is that from when I dropped you? I’m so sorry.”

She gave me an incredulous look, then burst out laughing. “You’re apologizing for pulling me out of a fiery hell?”

“Just the part where I passed out and dropped you. It was sheer stupidity. I forgot to hold my breath and sucked down some bad air. Were you hurt anywhere else?”

“Nowhere I can show you in public,” she said with a slight grimace, shifting her hips in a way I found most distracting.

“Nothing too bad, I hope.”

She put on an fierce expression. “Yes, well. I expect you to do a better job next time. A girl gets her life saved, she expects gentler treatment all-round.”

“Fair enough,” I said, relaxing. “We’ll treat this as a practice run.”

There was a heartbeat of silence between us, and Fela’s smile faded a bit. She reached out halfway to me with one hand, then hesitated and let it fall back to her side. “Seriously, Kvothe. I…that was the worst moment of my whole life. There was fire everywhere….”

She looked down, blinking. “I knew I was going to die. I really knew it. But I just stood there like…like some scared rabbit.” She looked up, blinking

away tears and her smile burst out again, dazzling as ever. “Then you were there, running through the fire. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. It was like…have you ever seen Daeonica?

I nodded and smiled.

“It was like watching Tarsus bursting out of hell. You came through the fire and I knew everything was going to be alright.” She took a half step toward me and rested her hand on my arm. I could feel the warmth of it through my shirt. “I was going to die there—” she broke off, embarrassed. “I’m just repeating myself now.”

I shook my head. “That’s not true. I saw you. You were looking for a way out.”

“No. I was just standing there. Like one of those silly girls in those stories my mother used to read me. I always hated them. I used to ask, ‘Why doesn’t she push the witch out the window? Why doesn’t she poison the ogre’s food?’” Fela was looking down at her feet now, her hair falling to hide her face. Her voice grew softer and softer until it was barely louder than a sigh. “‘Why does she just sit there waiting to be saved? Why doesn’t she save herself?’”

I lay my hand on top of hers in what I hoped was a comforting way. When I did, I noticed something. Her hand wasn’t the delicate, fragile thing I had expected. It was strong and calloused, a sculptor’s hand that knew hard hours of work with hammer and chisel.

“This isn’t a maiden’s hand,” I said.

She looked up at me, her eyes luminous with the beginning of tears. She gave a startled laugh that was half sob. “I…what?”

I flushed with embarrassment as I realized what I’d said, but pushed ahead. “This isn’t the hand of some swooning princess who sits tatting lace and waiting for some prince to save her. This is the hand of a woman who would climb a rope of her own hair to freedom, or kill a captor ogre in his sleep.” I looked into her eyes. “And this is the hand of a woman who would have made it through the fire on her own if I hadn’t been there. Singed perhaps, but safe.”

I brought her hand to my lips and kissed it. It seemed like the thing to do. “All the same, I am glad I was there to help.” I smiled. “So…like Tarsus?”

Her smile dazzled me again. “Like Tarsus, Prince Gallant, and Oren Velciter all rolled into one,” she said laughing. She gripped my hand. “Come see. I have something for you.”

Fela pulled me back to the table where she’d been sitting and handed me a bundle of cloth. “I asked Wil and Sim what I could get you as a gift, and it seemed somehow appropriate….” She paused, suddenly shy.

It was a cloak. It was a deep forest green, rich cloth, fine cut. It hadn’t been bought off the back of some fripperer’s cart, either. This was the sort of

clothing I could never hope to afford for myself.

“I had the tailor sew a bunch of little pockets into it,” she said nervously. “Wil and Sim both mentioned how that was important.”

“It’s lovely,” I said.

Her smile beamed out again. “I had to guess at the measurements,” she admitted. “Let’s see if it fits.” She took the cloak out of my hands and stepped close to me, spreading it over my shoulders, her arms circling me in something very near to an embrace.

I stood there, to use Fela’s words, like a scared rabbit. She was close enough that I could feel the warmth of her, and when she leaned to adjust the way the cloak lay across my shoulders, one of her breasts brushed my arm. I stood still as a statue. Over Fela’s shoulder I saw Deoch grin from where he leaned in the doorway across the room.

Fela stepped back, eyed me critically, then stepped close again and made a small adjustment to the way the cloak fastened across my chest. “It suits you,” she said. “The color brings out your eyes. Not that they need it. They’re the greenest thing I’ve seen today. Like a piece of spring.”

As Fela stepped back to admire her handiwork, I saw a familiar shape leaving the Eolian through the front door. Denna. I only caught a brief glimpse of her profile, but I recognized her as surely as I know the backs of my own hands. What she had seen, and what conclusions she had drawn from it, I could only guess.

My first impulse was to bolt out the door after her. To explain why I had broken our date two days ago. To say I was sorry. To make it clear that the woman with her arms around me had just been giving me a gift, nothing more.

Fela smoothed the cloak over my shoulder and looked at me with eyes that only moments before had been luminous with the beginnings of tears.

“It fits perfectly,” I said, taking the cloth between my fingers and fanning it out to the side. “It’s much better than I deserve, and you shouldn’t have, but I thank you.”

“I wanted to show you how much I appreciated what you did.” She reached out to touch my arm again. “This is nothing, really. If there’s anything I can ever do for you. Any favor. You should stop by….” She paused, looking at me quizzically. “Are you alright?”

I glanced past her toward the doorway. Denna could be anywhere by now.

I’d never be able to catch her. “I’m fine,” I lied.

Fela bought me a drink and we chatted for a while about small things. I was surprised to learn that she’d been working with Elodin for the last several

months. She did some sculpting for him, and in exchange he occasionally tried to teach her. She rolled her eyes. He woke her in the middle of the night and took her to an abandoned quarry north of town. He put wet clay in her shoes and made her spend the entire day walking around in them. He even… she flushed and shook her head, breaking off the story. Curious, but not wanting to make her uncomfortable, I didn’t pursue it any further and we agreed between the two of us that he was more than half mad.

All the while, I sat facing the door, vainly hoping that Denna might return and I could explain the truth of matters to her.

Eventually Fela headed back to the University for Abstract Maths. I stayed at the Eolian, nursing a drink and trying to think how I could make things right between Denna and myself. I would have liked to have a good, maudlin drunk, but I couldn’t afford it, so I made my slow, limping way back across the river as the sun was setting.

It wasn’t until I was getting ready to make one of my regular trips to the roof of Mains that I realized the significance of something Kilvin had said to me. If the majority of the bone-tar had gone down the grates….

Auri. She lived in the tunnels underneath the University. I bolted to the Medica, moving as quickly as I could despite my weary, footsore state. Halfway there I had a stroke of luck and spotted Mola crossing the courtyard. I shouted and waved to get her attention.

Mola eyed me suspiciously as I approached. “You’re not going to serenade me, are you?”

I shifted my lute self-consciously and shook my head. “I need a favor,” I said. “I have a friend that might be hurt.”

She gave a weary sigh. “You should…”

“I can’t go to the Medica for help.” I let my anxiety creep into my voice. “Please, Mola? I promise it won’t take more than a half hour or so, but we have to go now. I’m worried I might be too late already.”

Something in my tone convinced her. “What’s the matter with your friend?”

“Maybe burns, maybe acid, maybe smoke. Like the people who were caught in the Fishery fire yesterday. Maybe worse.”

Mola started walking. “I’ll get my kit from my room.”

“I’ll wait here if you don’t mind,” I took a seat on a nearby bench. “I’ll just slow you down.”

I sat and tried to ignore my various burns and bruises, and when Mola returned I led her to the southwestern side of Mains where there were a trio of decorative chimneys. “We can use these to get on the roof.”

She gave me a curious look but seemed content to hold onto her questions

for now.

I made my slow way up the chimney, using the protruding pieces of fieldstone as hand- and footholds. This was one of the easiest ways onto the roof of Mains. I’d chosen it partly because I wasn’t sure of Mola’s climbing ability, and partly because my own injuries had left me feeling less than athletic.

Mola joined me on the roof. She still wore her dark uniform from the Medica, but had added a grey cloak from her room. I took a roundabout path so we could stay on the safer sections of Mains. It was a cloudless night, and there was a sliver of moon to light our way.

“If I didn’t know better,” Mola said as we made our way around a tall brick chimney. “I’d think that you were luring me somewhere quiet for a sinister purpose.”

“What makes you think I’m not?” I asked lightly.

“You don’t seem like the type,” she said. “Besides, you can barely walk.

If you tried anything, I’d just push you off the roof.”

“Don’t spare my feelings,” I said with a chuckle. “Even if I weren’t half-crippled, you could still throw me off this roof.”

I stumbled a little on an unseen ridge and nearly fell because my battered body was slow to respond. I sat on a piece of roof slightly higher than the rest and waited for the momentary dizziness to pass.

“Are you alright?” Mola asked.

“Probably not.” I pushed myself to my feet. “It’s just over this next roof,” I said. “It might be best if you stood back a ways and stayed quiet. Just in case.”

I made my way to the edge of the roof. I looked down at the hedges and the apple tree. The windows were dark.

“Auri?” I called softly. “Are you there?” I waited, growing more nervous by the second. “Auri, are you hurt?”

Nothing. I began to curse under my breath.

Mola crossed her arms. “Right, I think I’ve been plenty patient here. Care to tell me what’s going on?”

“Follow me and I’ll explain.” I headed for the apple tree and began to climb carefully down. I walked around the hedge to the iron grate. The ammonia smell of bone-tar wafted up from the grate, faint but persistent. I tugged on the grate, and it lifted a few inches before catching on something. “I made a friend a few months ago,” I said, nervously sliding my hand between the bars. “She lives down here. I’m worried that she might be hurt. A lot of the reagent went down the drains from the Fishery.”

Mola was silent for a while. “You’re serious.” I felt around in the dark under the grate, trying to figure out how Auri kept it closed. “What sort of person would live down there?”

“A frightened person,” I said. “A person who’s afraid of loud noises, and people, and the open sky. It took me nearly a month to coax her out of the tunnels, let alone get close enough to talk.”

Mola sighed. “If you don’t mind I’ll have a seat.” She walked over to the bench. “I’ve been on my feet all day.”

I continued to feel around under the grate, but try as I might, I couldn’t find a clasp anywhere. Growing increasingly frustrated, I grabbed the grate and tugged on it hard, again and again. It made several echoing metallic thumps but didn’t come free.

“Kvothe?” I looked up to the edge of the roof and saw Auri standing there, a silhouette against the night sky, her fine hair made a cloud around her head.

“Auri!” The tension poured out of me, leaving me feeling weak and rubbery. “Where have you been?”

“There were clouds,” she said simply as she walked around the edge of the roof toward the apple tree. “So I went looking for you on top of things. But the moon’s coming out, so I came back.”

Auri scampered down the tree, then pulled up short when she saw Mola’s cloaked form sitting on the bench.

“I brought a friend to visit, Auri,” I said in my gentlest tones. “I hope you don’t mind.”

There was a long pause. “Is he nice?” “It’s a she. And yes, she’s nice.”

Auri relaxed a bit and came a few steps closer to me. “I brought you a feather with the spring wind in it, but since you were late…” she looked at me gravely, “you get a coin instead.” She held it out at arm’s length, pinched between her thumb and forefinger. “It will keep you safe at night. As much as anything can, that is.” It was shaped like an Aturan penance piece, but it gleamed silver in the moonlight. I’d never seen a coin like it.

Kneeling, I opened my lute case and brought out a small bundle. “I’ve got some tomatoes, beans, and something special.” I held out the small sack I’d spent most of my money on two days ago, before all my troubles had started. “Sea salt.”

Auri took it, and peered inside the small leather sack. “Why this is lovely, Kvothe. What lives in the salt?”

Trace minerals, I thought. Chromium, bassal, malium, iodine…everything your body needs but probably can’t get from apples and bread and whatever you manage to scrounge up when I can’t find you.

“The dreams of fish,” I said. “And sailor’s songs.”

Auri nodded, satisfied, and sat down, spreading out the small cloth and arranging her food with the same care as always. I watched her as she began to eat, dipping a green bean into the salt before taking a bite. She didn’t seem

hurt, but it was hard to tell by the pale moonlight. I needed to be sure. “Are you okay, Auri?”

She cocked her head at me, curious.

“There was a big fire. A lot of it went down the grates. Did you see it?” “Holy God, yes,” she said, her eyes wide. “It was all over, and all the

shrews and raccoons were running everyway, trying to get out.” “Did any of it get on you?” I asked. “Did you get burned?”

She shook her head, grinning a child’s sly smile. “Oh no. It couldn’t catch me.”

“Were you close to the fire?” I asked. “Did you breathe any of the smoke?”

“Why would I breathe smoke?” Auri looked at me as if I were simple. “The whole Underthing smells like cat piss now.” She wrinkled her nose. “Except by Downing and in the Belows.”

I relaxed a bit, but I saw Mola begin to fidget where she was sitting on the bench. “Auri, can my friend come over?”

Auri froze with a bean halfway to her mouth, then relaxed and bobbed her head once, sending her fine hair swirling around her.

I beckoned to Mola who began to walk slowly toward us. I was a little uneasy at how their meeting would go. It had taken me over a month of gentle coaxing to draw Auri out from the tunnels underneath the University where she lived. I worried that a bad reaction from Mola might startle her back underground where I would have no chance of finding her.

I gestured to where Mola stood. “This is my friend Mola.”

“Hello, Mola.” Auri looked up and smiled. “You have sunny hair like me.

Would you like an apple?”

Mola’s expression was carefully blank. “Thank you, Auri. I’d like that.”

Auri jumped up and ran back to where the apple tree overhung the edge of the roof. Then ran back toward us, her hair flying behind her like a flag. She handed Mola an apple. “This one has a wish inside it,” she said matter-of-factly. “Make sure you know what you want before you take a bite.” That said, she settled back down and ate another bean, chewing primly.

Mola looked over the apple for a long moment before taking a bite.

Auri finished her meal quickly after that, and tied up the bag of salt. “Now play!” she said, excited. “Play!”

Smiling, I brought out my lute and brushed my hands over the strings. Thankfully my injured thumb was on my chording hand, where it would be a relatively minor inconvenience.

I looked at Mola as I tuned the strings. “You can go if you like,” I told her. “I wouldn’t want to accidentally serenade you.”

“Oh you musn’t go.” Auri turned to Mola, her expression deathly serious. “His voice is like a thunderstorm, and his hands know every secret hidden

deep beneath the cool, dark earth.”

Mola’s mouth quirked into a smile. “I suppose I could stay for that.”

So I played for both of them, while overhead the stars continued in their measured turning.

“Why haven’t you told anyone?” Mola asked me as we made our way across the rooftops.

“It didn’t seem like anyone’s business,” I said. “If she wanted people to know she was there, I imagine she’d tell them herself.”

“You know what I mean,” Mola said, irritated.

“I know what you mean,” I sighed. “But what good would come of it?

She’s happy where she is.”

“Happy?” Mola sounded incredulous. “She’s ragged and half-starved. She needs help. Food and clothes.”

“I bring her food,” I said. “And I’ll bring her clothes too, as soon…” I hesitated, not wanting to admit my abject poverty, at least not in so many words. “As soon as I can manage it.”

“Why wait? If you just told someone…”

“Right,” I said sarcastically. “I’m sure Jamison would rush out here with a box of chocolates and a featherbed if he knew there was a starveling half-cracked student living under his University. They’d crock her and you know it.”

“Not necessarily…” She didn’t even bother finishing, knowing what I’d said was true.

“Mola, if people come looking for her, she’ll just rabbit down into the tunnels. They’ll scare her away and I’ll lose what chance I have to help her.”

Mola looked down at me, her arms folded across her chest. “Fine. For now. But you’ll have to bring me back here later. I’ll bring her some of my clothes. They’ll be too big for her, but they’ll be better than what she has.”

I shook my head. “It won’t work. I brought her a secondhand dress a couple span ago. She says wearing someone else’s clothes is filthy.”

Mola looked puzzled. “She didn’t look Cealdish. Not even a little.” “Maybe she was just raised that way.”

“Do you feel any better?” “Yes,” I lied.

“You’re shaking.” She stretched out a hand. “Here, lean on me.”

Pulling my new cloak close around me, I took her arm and made my slow way back to Anker’s.

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