I CAME SUDDENLY AWAKE early the next morning. I didn’t know exactly where I was, only that I wasn’t where I should be, and that something was wrong. I was hiding. Someone was after me.
I was curled up in the corner of a small room. I lay on a blanket and I was wrapped in my cloak. This was an inn…it slowly came back to me. I had rented a room at an inn near Imre’s docks.
I came to my feet, stretching carefully so as not to aggravate my wound. I’d pushed the dresser against the room’s only door and tied the window shut with a length of rope despite the fact that it was too small for a grown man to fit through.
Seeing my precautions in the cool blue light of early morning, I was a little embarrassed. I couldn’t remember whether I’d slept on the floor out of fear of assassins or bedbugs. Either way, it was clear that I hadn’t been thinking too clearly toward the end of the night.
I gathered up my travelsack and lute and headed downstairs. I had some planning to do, but before that, I needed breakfast and a bath.
Despite my busy night, I’d barely slept past sunrise, so I had easy access to the bathhouse. After cleaning myself up and rewrapping the bandage around my side, I felt mostly human. A plate of eggs, a couple sausages, and some fried potatoes later, I felt I could begin to think rationally about my situation. It’s amazing how much easier it is to think productively when your belly is full.
I sat in the far corner of the little dockside inn and sipped a mug of fresh-pressed apple cider. I was no longer worried that hired killers were going to leap out and assault me. Still, I was sitting with my back to the wall with a good view of the door.
Yesterday had left me shaken mostly because it had caught me so unprepared. In Tarbean I’d lived each day expecting people would try to kill me. The civilized atmosphere of the University had lulled me into a false sense of security. I never would have been caught off my guard a year ago. I
certainly wouldn’t have been surprised by the attack itself.
My hard-won instincts from Tarbean were urging me to run. Leave this place. Leave Ambrose and his vendetta far behind. But that feral part of me cared only for safety. It had no plan.
I couldn’t leave. I had too much invested here. My studies. My vain hopes for gaining a patron and my stronger hopes of entry to the Archives. My precious few friends. Denna…
Sailors and dockworkers began to filter into the inn to get the morning meal, and the room slowly filled with the gentle buzz of conversation. I heard a bell ringing dimly in the distance and it occurred to me that my shift in the Medica would be starting in an hour. Arwyl would notice if I was absent, and he was not forgiving of such things. I fought down the urge to run back to the University. It was well known that absent students were punished with higher tuitions the following term.
To give myself something to do while I was thinking through my situation, I brought out my cloak along with needle and thread. The knife from last night had made a straight cut about two handspan across. I began to sew it closed, using tiny stitches so the seam wouldn’t be obvious.
While my hands worked, my thoughts wandered. Could I confront Ambrose? Threaten him? Not likely. He knew I couldn’t successfully bring charges against him. But maybe I could persuade a few of the masters of what had really happened. Kilvin would be outraged at the thought of hired killers using a dowsing compass, and perhaps Arwyl…
“…all blue fire. Every one of them dead, thrown around like rag dolls and the house falling to pieces around them. I was glad to see the end of the place. I can tell you that.”
I jabbed my finger with the needle as my eavesdropper’s ears picked the conversation out of the common room’s general din. A few tables over, two men were drinking beer. One was tall and balding, the other was fat with a red beard.
“Yer such an old woman,” the fat one laughed. “You’ll listen to any piece of gossip.”
The tall man shook his head somberly. “I was in the tavern when they came in with the news. They were gatherin’ folk with wagons so they could go get the bodies. The whole wedding party dead as leather. Over thirty folks gutted like pigs and the place burned down in a blue flame. And that weren’t the least oddness from what….” He dropped his voice and I lost what he was saying among the general noise of the room.
I swallowed against the sudden dryness in my throat. I slowly tied off the last stitch on my cloak and set it down. I noticed my bleeding finger and absently put it in my mouth. I took a deep breath. I took a drink.
Then I walked over to the table where the two men sat talking. “Did you
gentlemen come downriver by any chance?”
They looked up, obviously irritated by the interruption. Gentlemen had been a mistake, I should have said fellows, fellas. The bald one nodded.
“Did you come by way of Marrow?” I asked, picking a northern town at random.
“No,” the fat one said. “We’re down from Trebon.”
“Oh good.” I said, my mind racing for a plausible lie. “I have family up in those parts I was thinking of visiting.” My mind went blank as I tried to think of a way to ask him for the details of the story I’d overheard.
My palms were sweaty. “Are they getting ready for the harvest festival up that way, or have I already missed it?” I finished lamely.
“Still in the works,” the bald one said and pointedly turned his shoulder to
“I’d heard there was some problem with a wedding up in those parts….” The bald one turned back to look at me. “Well I don’t know how you’d
have heard that. As the news was fresh last night and we just docked down here ten minutes ago.” He gave me a hard look. “I don’t know what you’re sellin’, boy. But I ain’t buyin’. Piss off or I’ll thump you.”
I went back to my seat, knowing I’d made an irrecoverable mess of things. I sat, keeping my hands flat on the table to keep them from shaking. A group of people brutally killed. Blue fire. Oddness…
Less than a day ago the Chandrian were in Trebon.
I finished my drink more out of reflex than anything else, then stood and made my way to the bar.
I was quickly coming to grips with the reality of the situation. After all these years I finally had the opportunity to learn something about the Chandrian. And not just a mention of them pressed flat between the pages of a book in the Archives. I had the chance to see their work firsthand. This was an opportunity that might never come again.
But I needed to get to Trebon soon, while things were still fresh in people’s memories. Before curious or superstitious townsfolk destroyed what evidence remained. I didn’t know what I hoped to find, but anything I learned about the Chandrian would be more than I knew now. And if I were to have a chance at anything useful, I had to be there as soon as possible. Today.
The morning crowd was keeping the innkeeper busy, so I had to lay an iron drab on the bar before she paid me any attention at all. After paying for a private room last night and breakfast and bath this morning, the drab represented a good portion of my worldly wealth, so I kept my finger on it.
“What’ll you have?” she asked, as she came up to me.
“How far is it to Trebon?” I asked. “Upriver? A couple days.”
“I didn’t ask how long it was. I need to know how far…” I said, stressing the last word.
“No need to get snippy,” she said, wiping her hands on her grubby apron. “By river it’s forty miles or so. Could take more than two days depending on if you’re on a barge or a billow-boat, and what the weather’s like.”
“How far by road?” I asked.
“Blacken me if I know,” she muttered, then called down the bar. “Rudd, how far to Trebon by road?”
“Three or four days,” said a weathered man without looking up from his mug.
“I asked how far,” she snapped at him. “Is it longer than the riverway?” “Damn sight longer. About twenty-five leagues by road. A hard road too,
God’s body, who measured things in leagues these days? Depending on where that fellow grew up, a league could be anywhere between two to three and a half miles. My father always claimed that a league wasn’t really a unit of measurement at all, just a way for farmers to attach numbers to their rough guesses.
Still, it let me know Trebon was somewhere between fifty and eighty miles to the north. It was probably best to assume the worst, at least seventy miles.
The woman behind the bar turned back to me. “There you have it. Now can I get you something?”
“I need a waterskin, if you have one, or a bottle of water if you don’t. And some food that will keep on the road. Hard sausage, cheese, flatbread….”
“Apples?” she asked. “Got some lovely Red Jennies this morning. Good for the road.”
I nodded. “And whatever else you have that’s cheap and will travel.”
“A drab doesn’t go far…” she said with a glance down at the bar. I shook out my purse and was surprised to see four drabs and a copper ha’penny I hadn’t accounted for. I was practically rich.
She gathered up my money and headed back to the kitchen. I fought off the momentary pang at being utterly destitute again and ran a quick mental inventory of what I had in my travelsack.
She came back with two loaves of flatbread, a thick, hard sausage that smelled of garlic, a small cheese sealed in wax, a bottle of water, half a dozen gorgeous bright red apples, and a small sack of carrots and potatoes. I thanked her kindly and stuffed the lot into my sack.
Seventy miles. I could make it today if I had a good horse. But good horses cost money….
I breathed in the smell of rancid fat as I knocked on Devi’s door. I stood there for a minute, fighting the urge to fidget impatiently. I had no idea if Devi would be awake at such an early hour, but it was a risk I had to take.
Devi opened the door and smiled when she saw me. “Well here’s a pleasant surprise.” She opened the door wider. “Come in. Sit down.”
I gave her my best smile. “Devi, I just—”
She frowned. “Come in,” she said more firmly. “I don’t discuss business on the landing.”
I came in and she closed the door behind me. “Take a seat. Unless you’d rather have a bit of a lie down.” She nodded playfully toward the huge curtained bed in the corner of the room. “You won’t believe the story I heard this morning,” she said, laughter hiding in her voice.
Despite the urgency I felt, I forced myself to relax. Devi was not one to be rushed, if I tried, it would only irritate her. “What did you hear?”
She sat on her side of the desk and folded her hands. “Apparently last night a pair of ruffians tried to lift a purse off a young student. Much to their dismay, it turns out he’s the next Taborlin in training. He called down fire and lightning. Blinded one and gave the other such a mighty blow to the head that he still hasn’t woken up.”
I sat quietly for a moment as I absorbed the information. An hour ago this would have been the best news I could have heard. Now it was hardly more than a distraction. Still, despite the urgency of my other errand, I couldn’t ignore the chance to gather some information about the crisis closer to home. “They weren’t just trying to rob me,” I said.
Devi laughed. “I knew it was you! They didn’t know anything about him except for that he had red hair. But that was enough for me.”
“Did I really blind the one?” I asked. “And the other still unconscious?” “I honestly don’t know,” Devi admitted. “News travels quickly among us
unsavory types, but it’s mostly gossip.”
My mind was spinning quickly along a new plan now. “Would you care to spread a little gossip of your own?” I asked.
“That depends,” she gave a wicked smile. “Is it terribly exciting?”
“Drop my name,” I said. “Let them know exactly who it was. Let them know I’m mad as hell, and I’ll kill the next ones that come after me. I’ll kill them and whoever hired them, the middlemen, their families, their dogs, the whole lot.”
Devi’s delighted expression faded to something closer to distaste. “That’s a little grim, don’t you think? I appreciate that you’re attached to your purse,” she gave me a playful look, “and I have a vested interest there myself. But there’s no—”
“They weren’t thieves,” I said. “They were hired to kill me.” Devi gave me a skeptical look. I tugged up the corner of my shirt to show my bandage. “I’m serious. I can show you where one of them cut me before I got away.”
Frowning, she stood up and came around to the other side of the desk. “Alright, show me.”
I hesitated, then decided that I was better off humoring her, as I still had favors to ask. I took off my shirt and lay it on the desk.
“That bandage is filthy,” she said, as if it was a personal offense. “Get rid of it.” She walked to a cabinet at the back of the room and came back with a black physicker’s kit and a washbasin. She washed her hands, then looked at my side. “You haven’t even had it stitched?” She said incredulously.
“I’ve been rather busy,” I said. “With the running like hell and hiding all night.”
She ignored me and set about cleaning my side with a cool efficiency that let me know she’d studied in the Medica. “It’s messy, but not deep,” she said. “It’s not even all the way through the skin in some places.” She stood up and pulled a few things out of her bag. “You’ll still need stitches.”
“I would have done it myself,” I said. “But…”
“…but you’re an idiot who didn’t even make sure this was cleaned properly,” she finished. “If this gets infected, it would serve you right.”
She finished cleaning my side and rinsed her hands in the bowl. “I want you to know I’m doing this because I have a soft spot for pretty boys, the mentally infirm, and people who owe me money. I consider this protecting my investment.”
“Yes ma’am.” I sucked in air when she applied the antiseptic.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to bleed,” she said matter-of-factly. “There’s another legend proven false.”
“Speaking of.” Moving as little as possible, I reached out and pulled a book out of my travelsack, then laid it on her desk. “I brought back your copy of Mating Habits of the Common Draccus. You were right, the engravings added a lot to it.”
“I knew you’d like it.” There was a moment of silence as she began stitching me back together. When she spoke again, most of the playfulness was gone from her voice. “Were these fellows really hired to kill you, Kvothe?”
I nodded. “They had a dowsing compass and some of my hair. That’s how they knew I was a redhead.”
“Lord and lady, wouldn’t that just send Kilvin into a froth?” She shook her head. “Are you sure they weren’t just hired to scare you? Rough you up a little to teach you to mind your betters?” She paused in her stitching and looked up at me. “You weren’t stupid enough to borrow money off Heffron and his boys, were you?”
I shook my head. “You’re the only hawk for me, Devi.” I smiled. “In fact that’s why I stopped by today—”
“And here I thought you merely enjoyed my company,” she said, turning back to her needlework. I thought I detected a tinge of irritation in her voice. “Let me finish this first.”
I thought about what she’d said for a long moment. The tall man had said, “let’s do him” but that could mean any number of things. “It’s possible they weren’t trying to kill me,” I admitted slowly. “He had a knife though. You don’t need a knife to give someone a beating.”
Devi snorted. “And I don’t need blood to get people to settle their debts.
But it certainly helps.”
I thought about it as she tied off the final stitch and began to wrap me in a fresh bandage. Maybe it was meant to be a simple beating. An anonymous message from Ambrose telling me to mind my betters. Maybe it was a simple attempt to scare me off. I sighed, trying not to move too much as I did so. “I’d like to believe that’s the case, but I really don’t think so. I think they were really after blood. That’s what my gut tells me.”
Her expression grew serious. “In that case I will spread the word a little,” she said. “I don’t know about the part about killing their dogs, but I’ll drop a few things into the rumor mill so people will think twice about taking that sort of job.” She chuckled low in her throat. “Actually, they’re already thinking twice after last night. This will make them think three times.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Small trouble to me,” she said dismissively as she stood up and brushed off her knees. “A small favor to help a friend.” She washed her hands in the basin, then dried them carelessly on her shirt. “Let’s hear it,” she said as she sat behind the desk, her expression suddenly businesslike.
“I need money for a fast horse,” I said.
“Leaving town?” She arched a pale eyebrow. “You never struck me as the running away sort.”
“I’m not running,” I said. “But I need to cover some ground. Seventy miles before it gets much after noon.”
Devi widened her eyes a bit. “A horse that could make that trip is going to cost,” she said. “Why not just buy a post note and switch out fresh horses all the way? Faster and cheaper.”
“There’s no post stations where I’m going,” I said. “Upriver then into the hills. Little town called Trebon.”
“Alright,” she said. “How much are you looking for?”
“I’ll need money to buy a fast horse with no dickering. Plus lodging, food, maybe bribes…. Twenty talents.”
She burst out laughing, then regained her composure and covered her mouth. “No. I’m sorry but no. I do have a soft spot for charming young men
like yourself, but it’s not on my head.”
“I have my lute,” I said, sliding the case forward with my foot. “For collateral. Plus anything else in here.” I put my travelsack on the desk.
She drew a breath, as if to refuse me out of hand, then shrugged and looked into the bag, poking around. She pulled out my copy of Rhetoric and Logic, and a moment later my handheld sympathy lamp. “Hello,” she said curiously, thumbing on the switch and pointing the light toward the wall. “This is interesting.”
I grimaced. “Anything except that,” I said. “I promised Kilvin I wouldn’t ever let that out of my hands. I gave my word.”
She gave me a frank look. “Have you ever heard the expression beggars can’t be choosers?”
“I gave my word,” I repeated. I unpinned my silver talent pipes from my cloak and slid them across her desk so they lay near Rhetoric and Logic. “Those aren’t easy to come by, you know.”
Devi looked at the lute, the book, and the pipes, and drew a long, slow breath. “Kvothe, I can tell that this is important to you, but the numbers just don’t add. You’re not good for that much money. You’re barely good for the four talents you owe me.”
That stung, mostly because I knew it to be the truth.
Devi thought about it for another second, then shook her head firmly. “No, just the interest…In two months you’d owe me over thirty-five talents.”
“Or something equally valuable in trade,” I said.
She gave me a gentle smile. “And what do you have worth thirty-five talents?”
“Access to the Archives.”
Devi sat. Her slightly patronizing smile frozen on her face. “You’re lying.”
I shook my head. “I know there’s another way in. I haven’t found it yet, but I will.”
“That’s a lot of if.” Devi’s tone was skeptical. But her eyes were full of something more than simple desire. It was closer to hunger, or lust. I could tell she wanted into the Archives just as badly as I did. Perhaps even moreso.
“That’s what I’m offering,” I said. “If I can pay you back, I will. If not, when I find a way into the Archives I’ll share it with you.”
Devi looked up at the ceiling, as if calculating odds in her head. “With these things as collateral, and the possibility of access to the Archives, I can loan you a dozen talents.”
I stood up and swung my travelsack over my shoulder. “I’m afraid we’re not bargaining here,” I said. “I’m just informing you as to the conditions of the loan.” I gave her an apologetic smile. “It’s twenty talents or nothing. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear from the beginning.”