Chapter no 72: Borrorill

The Name of the Wind

DENNA TURNED LEFT INSTEAD of right as she came out of her room. At first I thought she was disoriented, but when she came to a back stairway I saw she was actually trying to leave without heading through the taproom. She found the alley door, but it was locked fast.

So we headed out the front. As soon as we entered the taproom I was pointedly aware of everyone’s attention on us. Denna made a beeline for the front door, moving but with the slow determination of a storm cloud.

We were almost out when the man behind the bar called out. “Hoy! Hey now!”

Denna’s eyes flickered to the side. Her mouth made a thin line and she continued her walk to the door as if she hadn’t heard.

“I’ll deal with him,” I said softly. “Wait for me. I’ll be out in just a second.”

I walked over to where the barman stood scowling. “That your cousin then?” he asked. “Has the constable said she can go?”

“I thought you didn’t want to know anything about it,” I said.

“I surely don’t. But she’s had use of the room, and meals, and I had the doctor out to patch her up.”

I gave him a hard look. “If there’s a doctor in this town worth more than ha’penny, then I’m the King of Vint.”

“I’m out half a talent in all,” he insisted. “Bandages ain’t free, and I had a woman by to sit with her, waiting for her to wake up.”

I doubted very much that he was out half that, but I certainly didn’t want trouble with the constable. In truth, I didn’t want any sort of delay. Given Denna’s tendencies, I was worried that if I lost sight of her for more than a minute she would disappear like morning fog.

I took five jots from my purse and scattered them onto the bar. “Knackers profit from a plague,” I said scathingly, and left.

I felt a ridiculous amount of relief when I saw Denna waiting outside, leaning against the horse post. Her eyes were closed and she had her face tilted toward the sun. She sighed contentedly and turned toward the sound of my approaching footsteps.

“Was it that bad?” I asked.

“They were kind enough at first,” Denna admitted, gesturing with her bandaged arm. “But this old woman kept checking in on me.” She frowned and brushed her long black hair back, giving me a clear view of the purpling bruise that spread from her temple all the way back to her hairline. “You know the type, some tight-laced spinster with a mouth like a cat’s ass.”

I burst out laughing, and Denna’s sudden smile was like the sun peering from behind a cloud. Then her face grew dark again as she continued. “She kept giving me this look. Like I should’ve had the decency to die with all the other folk. Like all this was my fault.”

Denna shook her head. “But she was better than the old men. The constable put his hand on my leg!” She shuddered. “Even the mayor came, clucking over me like he cared, but he was only there to badger me with questions. ‘What were you doing there? What happened? What did you see…?’”

The scorn in Denna’s voice made me bite back my own questions so quickly that I almost caught my tongue between my teeth. It’s my nature to ask questions, not to mention that the whole purpose of this mad dash into the foothills was to investigate what had happened.

Still, the tone of Denna’s voice made it clear she was in no mood to give answers right now. I shrugged my travelsack higher up onto my shoulder and something occurred to me. “Wait. Your things. You left them all back in your room.”

Denna hesitated for a heartbeat. “I don’t think anything of mine was there,” she said as if the thought hadn’t even occurred to her before.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go back and check?”

She shook her head firmly. “I leave where I’m not welcome,” she said matter-of-factly. “Everything else I can make up along the way.”

Denna started to walk down the street and I fell in beside her. She turned onto a narrow side street heading west. We passed an old woman hanging a shamble-man made of oat sheaves. It wore a crude straw hat and a pair of sackcloth pants. “Where are we headed?” I asked.

“I need to see if my things are out at the Mauthen farm,” she said. “After that I’m open to suggestions. Where were you planning to go before you found me?”

“Honestly, I was heading out to the Mauthen farm myself.”

Denna gave me a sideways look. “Fair enough. It’s only about a mile out to the farm. We can be there and still have plenty of light.”

The land around Trebon was rough, mostly thick forest broken by stretches of rocky ground. Then the road would round a corner and there would be a small, perfect field of golden wheat tucked among the trees, or nestled into a valley surrounded by dark stone bluffs. Farmers and hands

dotted the fields, covered in chaff and moving with the slow weariness that comes from knowing half the day’s harvest was still to come.

We’d only been walking a minute when I heard a familiar thump of hooves behind us. I turned to see a small open-topped cart bumping slowly up the road. Denna and I stepped off into the scrub, as the road was barely wide enough for the cart. A bone weary farmer eyed us suspiciously from where he sat, hunched over the reins.

“We’re heading to the Mauthen farm,” Denna called out as he came closer. “Would you mind if we caught a ride?”

The man eyed us grimly, then nodded toward the back of the cart. “I’m heading past old Borrorill. Ye’ll have to make your own way from there.”

Denna and I clambered on and sat facing backward on the clapboard with our feet dangling over the edge. It wasn’t much faster than walking, but we were both glad to be off our feet.

We rode in silence. Denna obviously wasn’t interested in discussing things in front of the farmer, and I was glad to have a moment to think things over. I had planned on telling whatever lies were necessary to get the information I wanted from the witness. Denna complicated things. I didn’t want to lie to her, but at the same time I couldn’t risk telling her too much. The last thing I wanted to do was convince her I was crazy with wild stories of the Chandrian….

So we rode in silence. It was nice just being near her. You wouldn’t think a girl in bandages with a blackened eye could be beautiful, but Denna was. Lovely as the moon: not flawless, perhaps, but perfect.

The farmer spoke up, breaking my reverie. “Here’s Borrorill.”

I looked around for the rill, but couldn’t see it. Which was a shame, as I wouldn’t mind a cool drink or a bit of a wash. Hours of hard riding had left me sweaty and smelling of horse.

We thanked the farmer and hopped off the back of the cart. Denna led the way along the dirt track that wound back and forth up the side of the hill, between the trees and the occasional outcrop of worn, dark stone. Denna seemed steadier than when we’d left the tavern, but kept her eyes on the ground, choosing her steps with deliberate care as if she didn’t quite trust her balance.

A sudden thought came to me. “I got your note,” I said, pulling the folded piece of paper out of a pocket in my cloak. “When did you leave it for me?”

“Nearly two span ago.”

I grimaced, “I only got it last night.”

She nodded to herself. “I worried about that when you never showed up. I thought it might have fallen out, or gotten wet so you couldn’t read it.”

“I just haven’t used the window lately,” I said.

Denna shrugged nonchalantly. “Silly of me to assume you would, really.”

I tried to think of something to add, something that would explain what she might have seen when Fela had given me my cloak in the Eolian. I couldn’t think of anything. “I’m sorry I missed our lunch.”

Denna looked up, amused. “Deoch said you were caught in a fire or something. Told me you looked positively wretched.”

“I felt wretched,” I said. “More from missing you than from the fire….”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you were terribly distraught. You did me a favor in a way. While I was sitting there…alone…pining away…”

“I said I was sorry.”

“…an older gentleman introduced himself to me. We talked, got to know each other….” She shrugged and looked sideways at me, almost bashfully. “I’ve been meeting with him ever since. If things continue smoothly, I think he’ll be my patron before the year is out.”

“Really?” I said, relief splashing over me like cold water. “That’s wonderful, and long overdue. Who is he?”

She shook her head, her dark hair falling down around her face. “I can’t say. He’s obsessed with his privacy. He wouldn’t tell me his real name for more than a span. Even now I don’t know if the name he’s given me is real.”

“If you’re not sure who he really is,” I said slowly. “How do you know he’s a gentleman?”

It was a foolish question. We both knew the answer, but she said it anyway. “Money. Clothes. Bearing.” She shrugged. “Even if he’s only a wealthy merchant, he’ll still make a good patron.”

“But not a great one. Merchant families don’t have the same stability…” “…and their names don’t carry the same weight,” she finished with

another, knowing shrug. “Half a loaf is better than none, and I’m tired of having no loaf at all.” She sighed. “I’ve been working hard to reel him in. But he’s so dodgy…. We never meet in the same place twice, and never in public. Sometimes he’ll set up a meeting and never even show up for it. Not that that’s anything new in my life….”

Denna staggered as a rock shifted under her foot. I grabbed for her, and she caught hold of my arm and shoulder before she fell. For a moment we were pressed against each other, and I was very aware of her body against mine as she took a moment to balance herself.

I steadied her, and we moved apart. But after she regained her footing, she kept her hand resting lightly on my arm. I moved slowly, as if a wild bird had landed there and I was desperately trying to avoid startling it into flight.

I considered putting my arm around her, partly for support and partly for other more obvious reasons. I quickly discarded the idea. I still remembered the look on her face when she mentioned the constable touching her leg. What would I do if she had a similar response to me?

Men flocked around Denna, and I knew from our conversations how

tiresome she found them. I couldn’t bear the thought of making the same mistakes they made, simply because I didn’t know any better. It was better not to risk offending her, better to be safe. As I’ve said before, there is a great difference between being fearless and being brave.

We followed the path as it doubled back on itself, continuing up the hill.

All was silent except for the wind moving in the tall grass.

“So he’s secretive?” I prompted gently, worried that the silence would soon become uncomfortable.

Secretive doesn’t cover it by half,” Denna said, rolling her eyes. “Once a woman offered me money for information about him. I played dumb, and later when I told him about it he said it had been a test to see how much I could be trusted. Another time some men threatened me. I’m guessing that was another test.”

The fellow sounded rather sinister to me, like a fugitive from the law or someone hiding from his family. I was about to say so when I saw Denna looking at me anxiously. She was worried, worried that I would think less of her for pandering to the whimsy of some paranoid lordling.

I thought about my talk with Deoch, about the fact that, hard as my lot was, hers was undoubtedly harder. What would I put up with if I could win a powerful noble’s patronage? What would I go though to find someone who would give me money for lute strings, see that I was dressed and fed, and protect me from vicious little bastards like Ambrose?

I bit back my previous comments and gave her a knowing grin. “He’d better be rich enough to be worth your trouble,” I said. “Bags of money. Pots of it.”

Her mouth quirked up at the corner, and I felt her body relax, glad that I wasn’t judging her. “Well that would be telling, now, wouldn’t it?” Her eyes danced, saying: yes.

“He’s the reason I’m here,” she continued. “He told me to show up at this wedding. It’s a lot more rural than I expected, but…” She shrugged again, a silent comment about the inexplicable desires of the nobility. “I expected my patron-to-be to be there—” She stopped, laughing. “Did that even make any sense?”

“Just make up a name for him,” I suggested.

“You pick one,” she said. “Don’t they teach you about names at the University?”

“Annabelle,” I suggested.

“I will not,” she said, laughing, “refer to my potential patron as Annabelle.”

“The Duke of Richmoney.”

“Now you’re just being flippant. Try again.”

“Just tell me when I hit one you like…Federick the Flippant. Frank.

Feran. Forue. Fordale….”

She shook her head at me as we climbed the crest of the hill. As we finally reached the top, the wind gusted past us. Denna gripped my arm for balance and I held up a hand to shield my eyes from dust and leaves. I coughed in surprise as the wind forced a leaf straight into my mouth, causing me to choke and splutter.

Denna thought this was particularly funny. “Fine,” I said, as I fished the leaf out of my mouth. It was yellow, shaped like a spearhead. “The wind has decided for us. Master Ash.”

“Are you sure it isn’t Master Elm?” she asked, eyeing the leaf. “It’s a common mistake.”

“Tastes like an ash,” I said. “Besides, elm is feminine.”

She nodded seriously, though her eyes were dancing. “Ash it is then.”

As we made it out of the trees and over the top of the hill the wind gusted again, pelting us with more debris before it died down. Denna took a step away from me, muttering and rubbing at her eyes. The part of my arm where her hand had rested suddenly felt very cold.

“Black hands,” she said, scrubbing at her face. “I’ve got chaff in my eyes.”

“Not chaff,” I said, looking across the top of the hill. Not fifty feet away was a cluster of charred buildings that must have once been the Mauthen farm. “Ash.”

I led Denna to a little stand of trees that blocked the wind and the sight of the farm. I gave her my water bottle and we sat on a fallen tree, resting as she rinsed her eyes clean.

“You know,” I said hesitantly, “you don’t need to go over there. I could look for your things if you tell me where you left them.”

Her eyes narrowed a little. “I can’t tell if you’re being considerate or condescending….”

“I don’t know what you saw last night. So I don’t know how delicate I should be.”

“I don’t need much delicacy, as a rule,” she said shortly. “I’m no blushing daisy.”

“Daisies don’t blush.”

Denna looked at me, blinking her red eyes.

“You’re probably thinking of ‘shrinking violet’ or ‘blushing virgin.’ Either way, daisies are white. They can’t blush….”

“That,” she said flatly, “was condescending.”

“Well, I thought I’d let you know what it looked like,” I said. “For comparison. So there’s less confusion when I’m trying to be considerate.”

We stared at each other for a bit, eventually she looked away, rubbing at her eyes. “Fair enough,” she admitted. She tilted her head back and splashed more water onto her face, blinking furiously.

“I really didn’t see much,” she said as she daubed her face on her shirt-sleeve. “I played before the wedding, then again while they were getting ready for supper. I kept expecting my…” she gave a faint smile, “…Master Ash to make an appearance, but I knew I couldn’t dare ask about him. For all I knew, the whole thing was another test of his.”

She trailed off, frowning. “He has a way of signaling me. A way of letting me know when he’s around. I excused myself and found him over by the barn. We headed into the woods for a bit and he asked me questions. Who was there, how many people, what they looked like.” She looked thoughtful.

“Now that I’m thinking of it, I think that was the real test. He wanted to see how observant I was.”

“He almost sounds like a spy,” I mused.

Denna shrugged. “We wandered for about half an hour, talking. Then he heard something and told me to wait for him. He headed off toward the farmhouse and was gone for a long while.”

“How long?”

“Ten minutes?” she shrugged. “You know how it is when you’re waiting for someone. It was dark and I was cold and hungry.” She wrapped her arms around her stomach and leaned forward a little. “Gods, I’m hungry now, too. I wish I would’ve…”

I pulled an apple out of my travelsack and handed it to her. They were gorgeous, red as blood, sweet, and crisp. The sort of apples you dream about all year but can only get for a few weeks during the fall.

Denna gave me a curious look. “I used to travel a lot,” I explained as I took one for myself. “And I used to be hungry a lot. So I usually carry something to eat. I’ll fix you a real dinner when we set camp for the night.”

“And he cooks, too….” She bit into the apple and took a drink of water to wash it down. “Anyway, I thought I heard shouting, so I headed back in the direction of the farm. When I came out from behind a bluff, I could definitely hear screaming and shouting. Then I got closer and smelled smoke. And I saw the light of the fire through the trees—”

“What color was it?” I asked, my mouth half full of apple.

Denna looked at me sharply, her expression suddenly suspicious. “Why do you ask that?”

“I’m sorry, I interrupted,” I said swallowing my mouthful of apple. “Finish your story first and I’ll tell you afterward.”

“I’ve been talking an awful lot,” she said. “And you haven’t made any mention at all of why you’re up in this little corner of the world.”

“The masters down at the University heard some odd rumors and sent me

here to find out if they were true,” I said. There was no awkwardness or hesitation in the lie. I didn’t even plan it, really, it just came out. Forced to make a snap decision, I couldn’t safely tell her the truth about my search for the Chandrian. I couldn’t bear the thought of Denna thinking I was brain-addled.

“The University does that sort of thing?” Denna asked. “I thought you lot just sat around reading books.”

“Some folks read,” I admitted. “But when we hear strange rumors, someone needs to go out and find out what’s really happened. When people get superstitious, they start to look toward the University and think, Who around here is meddling with dark powers better left alone? Who should we toss into a great, blazing bonfire?

“So you do this sort of thing a lot?” She made a gesture with her half-eaten apple. “Investigate things?”

I shook my head. “I just got on a master’s bad side. He made sure I drew the short straw for this little trip.”

Not a bad lie, considering it was off the cuff. It would even hold up if she did any asking around, as parts of it were true. When necessity demands it, I’m an excellent liar. Not the noblest of skills, but useful. It ties closely to acting and storytelling, and I learned all three from my father, who was a master craftsman.

“You are so full of horseshit,” she said matter-of-factly.

I froze with my teeth halfway into my apple. I pulled back, leaving white impressions in the red skin. “I beg your pardon?”

She shrugged. “If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. But don’t fabricate some story out of a misguided desire to pacify or impress me.”

I drew a deep breath, hesitated, and let it out slowly. “I don’t want to lie to you about why I’m here,” I said. “But I worry what you might think if I tell you the truth.”

Denna’s eyes were dark, thoughtful, and gave nothing away. “Fair enough,” she said at last with an almost imperceptible nod. “I believe that.”

She took a bite of her apple and gave me a long look as she chewed, never looking away from my eyes. Her lips were wet and redder than the apple. “I heard some rumors.” I said at last. “And I want to know what happened here. That’s all really. I just…”

“Listen Kvothe, I’m sorry.” Denna sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “I shouldn’t have pushed you. It’s none of my business, really. I know what it’s like to have secrets.”

I almost told her everything then. The whole story about my parents, the Chandrian, the man with black eyes and a nightmare smile. But I worried it might seem like the desperate elaboration of a child caught in a lie. So instead I took the coward’s way out and stayed silent.

“You’ll never find your true love that way,” Denna said.

I snapped out of my reverie, confused. “I’m sorry, what?”

“You eat the core of your apple,” she said, amused. “You eat it all around, then from the bottom to the top. I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

“Old habit,” I said dismissively, not wanting to tell her the truth. That there had been a time in my life when the core was all of the apple I was likely to find, and I’d been glad of it. “What did you mean before?”

“Didn’t you ever play that game?” she held up her own apple core and grabbed the stem with two fingers. “You think of a letter and twist. If the stem stays on you think of another letter and twist again. When the stem breaks off…” hers did, “…you know the first letter of the name of the person you’re going to fall in love with.”

I looked down at the tiny piece of apple I had left. Not enough to grip and twist. I bit off the last of the apple and tossed the stem. “Looks like I’m destined to be loveless.”

“There you go with seven words again,” she said with a smile. “You do realize you always do that?”

It took me a minute to realize what she was referring to, but before I could respond Denna had moved on. “I heard the seeds are supposed to be bad for you,” she said. “They have arsenic in them.”

“That’s just a wives’ tale,” I said. It was one of the ten thousand questions I’d asked Ben when he’d traveled with the troupe. “It’s not arsenic. It’s cyanide, and there’s not enough to hurt you unless you eat bucketsful.”

“Oh.” Denna gave the remains of her apple a speculative look, then began to eat it from the bottom up.

“You were telling me about what happened to Master Ash before I rudely interrupted,” I prompted gently as I could.

Denna shrugged. “There isn’t much left to tell. I saw the fire, came closer, heard more shouting and commotion….”

“And the fire?”

She hesitated. “Blue.”

I felt a sort of dark anticipation rise up in me. Excitement at finally being close to answers about the Chandrian, fear at the thought of being close to them. “What did the ones look like who attacked you? How did you get away?”

She gave a bitter laugh. “Nobody attacked me. I saw shapes outlined against the fire and ran like billy-hell.” She lifted her bandaged arm and touched the side of her head. “I must have gone headfirst into a tree and knocked myself out. I woke up in town this morning.

“That’s the other reason I needed to come back,” she said. “I don’t know if Master Ash might still be out here. I didn’t hear anyone in town talking about finding an extra body, but I couldn’t ask without making everyone


“And he wouldn’t like that,” I said.

Denna nodded. “I don’t doubt he’ll turn this into another test to see how well I can keep my mouth shut.” She gave me a significant look. “Speaking of which…”

“I’ll make a point of being terribly surprised if we find anyone,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

She smiled nervously. “Thanks. I just hope he’s alive. I’ve invested two whole span trying to win him over.” She took a final drink out of my water bottle and handed it back to me. “Let’s go have a look around, shall we?”

Denna came unsteadily to her feet, and I tucked my water bottle back into my travelsack, watching her out of the corner of my eye. I had worked in the Medica for the better part of a year. Denna had been struck on her left temple hard enough to blacken her eye and bruise her well past her ear into her hairline. Her right arm was bandaged, and from the way she carried herself, I guessed she had some serious bruises along her left side, if not a few broken ribs.

If she had run into a tree, it must have been an oddly shaped tree. But still, I didn’t make a point of it. Didn’t press her.

How could I? I too knew what it was like to have secrets.

The farm was nowhere near as gruesome as it could have been. The barn was nothing but a jumble of ash and planking. To one side a water trough stood next to a charred windmill. The wind tried to spin the wheel, but it only had three fins left, and it simply swayed back and forth, back and forth.

There were no bodies. Only the deep ruts wagon wheels had cut into the turf when they had come to haul them away.

“How many people were at the wedding?” I asked.

“Twenty-six, counting the bride and groom.” Denna kicked idly at a charred timber half buried in ashes near the remains of the barn. “Good thing it usually rains in the evenings here, or this whole side of the mountain would be on fire by now….”

“Any simmering feuds lurking around here?” I asked. “Rival families?

Another suitor looking for revenge?”

“Of course,” Denna said easily. “Little town like this, that’s what keeps things on an even keel. These folk will carry a grudge for fifty years about what their Tom said about our Kari.” She shook her head. “But nothing of the killing sort. These were normal folks.”

Normal but wealthy, I thought to myself as I walked toward the farmhouse. This was the sort of house only a wealthy family could afford to build. The foundation and the lower walls were solid grey stone. The upper

story was plaster and timber with stone reinforcing the corners.

Still, the walls sagged inward on the verge of collapse. The windows and door gaped with dark soot licking out around the edges. I peered through the doorway and saw the grey stone of the walls charred black. There was broken crockery scattered among the remains of furniture and charred floor-boards.

“If your things were in there,” I said to Denna. “I think they’re as good as gone. I could go in for a look….”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “This whole thing is about to come down.” She knocked a knuckle against the doorframe. It echoed hollowly.

Curious at the odd sound of it, I went over to look. I picked at the doorpost with a fingernail and a long splinter the size of my palm peeled away with little resistance. “This is more like driftwood than timber,” I said. “After spending all this money, why skimp on the doorframe?”

Denna shrugged. “Maybe the heat of the fire did it?”

I nodded absently and continued to wander around, looking things over. I bent to pick up a piece of charred shingle and muttered a binding under my breath. A brief chill spread up my arms and flame flickered to life along the rough edge of the wood.

“That’s something you don’t see every day,” Denna said. Her voice was calm, but it was a forced calm, as if she was trying hard to sound nonchalant.

It took me a moment to figure out what she was talking about. Simple sympathy like this was so commonplace in the University that I hadn’t even thought about how it would look to someone else.

“Just a little meddling with dark forces better left alone,” I said lightly, holding up the burning shingle. “The fire was blue last night?”

She nodded. “Like a coal-gas flame. Like the lamps they have in Anilen.” The shingle was burning an ordinary, cheerful orange. No trace of blue about it, but it could have been blue last night. I dropped the shingle and

crushed it out with my boot.

I circled the house again. Something was bothering me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I wanted to go inside for a look around. “The fire really wasn’t that bad,” I called out to Denna. “What did you end up leaving inside?”

“Not that bad?” she said incredulously, as she came around the corner. “The place is a husk.”

I pointed. “The roof isn’t burned through except right by the chimney. That means the fire probably didn’t damage the second story very much. What of yours was in there?”

“I had some clothes and a lyre Master Ash bought for me.” “You play lyre?” I was surprised. “How many strings?”

“Seven. I’m just learning.” She gave a brief, humorless laugh. “I was

learning. I’m good enough for a country wedding and that’s about it.”

“Don’t waste yourself on the lyre,” I said. “It’s an archaic instrument with no room for subtlety. Not to disparage your choice of instrument,” I said quickly. “It’s just that your voice deserves better accompaniment than a lyre can give you. If you’re looking for a straight-string instrument you can carry with you, go for a half-harp.”

“You’re sweet,” she said. “But I didn’t pick it. Mr. Ash did. I’ll push him for a harp next time.” She looked around aimlessly and sighed. “If he’s still alive.”

I peered in one of the gaping windows to look around, only to have a chunk of the windowsill snap off in my hands when I leaned on it. “This one’s rotten through too.” I said, crumbling it in my hands.

“Exactly,” Denna took hold of my arm and pulled me away from the window. “The place is just waiting to fall in on you. It’s not worth going in. Like you said, it’s just a lyre.”

I let myself be led away. “Your patron’s body might be up there.”

Denna shook her head. “He’s not the sort to run into a burning building and get himself trapped.” She gave me a hard look. “What do you think you’re going to find in there, anyway?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But if I don’t go inside, I don’t know where else to look for clues about what really happened here.”

“What rumors did you hear, anyway?” Denna asked.

“Not much,” I admitted, thinking back to what the bargeman had said. “A bunch of people were killed at a wedding. Everyone dead, torn apart like rag dolls. Blue fire.”

“They weren’t really torn apart,” Denna said. “From what I heard in town, it was a lot of knife and sword work.”

I hadn’t seen anyone wearing so much as a belt knife since I’d been in town. The closest thing had been farmers with sickles and scythes in the fields. I looked back at the sagging farmhouse, sure that I was missing something….

“So what do you think happened here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was half expecting to find nothing. You know how rumors get blown out of proportion.” I looked around. “I would have written the blue fire off to rumor if you hadn’t been here to confirm it.”

“Other people saw it last night,” she said. “Things were still smoldering when they came for the bodies and found me.”

I looked around, irritated. I still felt like I was missing something, but I couldn’t think of what in the world it could be. “What do they think in town?” I asked.

“Folk weren’t really talkative around me,” she said bitterly. “But I caught a bit of the conversation between the constable and the mayor. Folk are whispering about demons. The blue fire made sure of that. Some folk were

talking about shamble-men. I expect the harvest festival will be more traditional than usual this year. Lots of fires and cider and straw men….”

I looked around again. The collapsed wreckage of the barn, a windmill with three fins, and a burned-out husk of a house. Frustrated I ran my hands through my hair, still sure I was missing something. I’d expected to find… something. Anything.

As I stood there, it occurred to me how foolish the hope was. What had I hoped to find? A footprint? A scrap of cloth from someone’s cloak? Some crumpled note with a vital piece of information conveniently written out for me to find? That sort of thing only happened in stories.

I pulled out my water bottle and drank off the last of it. “Well, I’m done here,” I said as I walked over to the water trough. “What are you planning to do next?”

“I need to look around a bit,” she said. “There’s a chance my gentleman friend is out there, hurt.”

I looked out over the rolling hills, gold with autumn leaves and wheat fields, green with pasture and stands of pine and fir. Scattered throughout were the dark scars of bluffs and stone outcroppings. “There’s a lot of ground to cover….” I said.

She nodded, her expression resigned. “I’ve got to at least make an effort.” “Would you like some help?” I asked. “I know a little woodcraft….”

“I certainly wouldn’t mind the company,” she said. “Especially considering the fact that there may be a troupe of marauding demons in these parts. Besides, you already offered to make me dinner tonight.”

“That I did.” I made my way past the charred windmill to the iron hand pump. I grabbed the handle, leaned my weight against it, and staggered as it snapped off at the base.

I stared at the broken pump handle. It was rusted through to the center, crumbling away in gritty sheets of red rust.

In a sudden flash I remembered coming back to find my troupe killed that evening so many years ago. I remembered reaching out a hand to steady myself and finding the strong iron bands on a wagon’s wheel rusted away. I remembered the thick, solid wood falling to pieces when I touched it.

“Kvothe?” Denna’s face was close to mine, her expression concerned. “Are you alright? Tehlu blacken, sit down before you fall down. Are you hurt?”

I moved to sit on the edge of the water trough, but the thick planking crumbled under my weight like a rotten stump. I let gravity pull me the rest of the way down and sat on the grass.

I held the rusted-through pump handle up for Denna to see. She frowned at it. “That pump was new. The father was bragging about how much it had cost to get a well set up here at the top of the hill. He kept saying that no

daughter of his would have to carry buckets uphill three times a day.” “What do you think happened here?” I asked. “Truthfully.”

She looked around, the bruise on her temple a sharp contrast against her pale skin. “I think when I’m done looking for my patron to be, I’m going to wash my hands of this place and never look back.”

“That’s not an answer,” I said. “What do you think happened?”

She looked at me for a long moment before responding. “Something bad. I’ve never seen a demon, and I don’t ever expect to. But I’ve never seen the King of Vint either….”

“Do you know that children’s song?” Denna looked at me blankly, so I sang:

“When the hearthfire turns to blue, What to do? What to do?

Run outside. Run and hide.

When your bright sword turns to rust? Who to trust? Who to trust?

Stand alone. Standing stone.”

Denna grew paler as she realized what I was implying. She nodded and chanted the chorus softly to herself:

See a woman pale as snow? Silent come and silent go.

What’s their plan? What’s their plan? Chandrian. Chandrian.

Denna and I sat in the patchwork shade of the autumn trees, out of sight of the ruined farm. Chandrian. The Chandrian were really here. I was still trying to collect my thoughts when she spoke.

“Is this what you were expecting to find?” she asked.

“It’s what I was looking for,” I said. The Chandrian were here less than a day ago. “But I didn’t expect this. I mean, when you’re a child and you go digging for buried treasure, you don’t expect to find any. You go looking for dennerlings and faeries in the forest, but you don’t find them.” They’d killed my troupe, and they’d killed this wedding party. “Hell, I go looking for you in Imre all the time, but I don’t actually expect to find you….” I trailed off,

realizing that I was blathering.

Some of the tension bled out of Denna as she laughed. There was no mocking in it, only amusement. “So am I lost treasure or a faeling?”

“You’re both. Hidden, valuable, much sought and seldom found.” I looked up at her, my mind hardly attending to what was coming out of my mouth. “There’s much of the fae in you as well.” They are real. The Chandrian were real. “You’re never where I look for you, then you appear all unexpected. Like a rainbow.”

Over the last year I’d held a silent fear in my secret heart. I worried at times that the memory of my troupe’s death and the Chandrian had just been a strange sort of grief-dream my mind had created to help me deal with the loss of my entire world. But now I had something resembling proof. They were real. My memory was real. I wasn’t crazy.

“When I was I child I chased a rainbow for an hour one evening. Got lost in the woods. My parents were frantic. I thought I could catch up to it. I could see where it should touch the ground. That’s what you’re….”

Denna touched my arm. I felt the sudden warmth of her hand through my shirt. I drew a deep breath and smelled the smell of her hair, warm with the sun, the smell of green grass and her clean sweat and her breath and apples. The wind sighed through the trees and lifted her hair so that it tickled my face.

Only when sudden silence filled the clearing did I realize that I’d been keeping up a steady stream of mindless chatter for several minutes. I flushed with embarrassment and looked around, suddenly remembering where I was.

“You were a little wild around the eyes there,” she said gently. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you out of sorts before.”

I took another slow breath. “I’m out of sorts all the time,” I said. “I just don’t show it.”

“My point exactly.” She took a step back, her hand slowly sliding down the length of my arm until it fell away. “So what now?”

“I…I have no idea.” I looked around aimlessly. “That doesn’t sound like you either,” she said.

“I’d like a drink of water,” I said, then gave a sheepish grin at how childish it sounded.

She grinned back at me. “That’s a good place to start,” she teased. “After that?”

“I’d like to know why the Chandrian attacked here.”

What’s their plan, eh?” She looked serious. “There isn’t much middle ground with you, is there? All you want is a drink of water and the answer to a question that folk have been guessing at since…well, since forever.”

“What do you think happened here?” I asked. “Who do you think killed these folks?”

She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I don’t know,” she said. “It could have been all manner of…” She stopped, chewing on her lower lip. “No. That’s a lie,” she said at last. “It sounds strange to say, but I think it was them. It sounds like something out of a story, so I don’t want to believe it. But I do.” She looked at me nervously.

“That makes me feel better.” I stood up. “I thought I might be a little crazy.”

“You still might be,” she said. “I’m not a good touchstone to use for judging your sanity.”

“Do you feel crazy?”

She shook her head, a half smile curling the corner of her mouth. “No.

How about you?” “Not particularly.”

“That’s either good or bad, depending,” she said. “How do you propose we go about solving the mystery of the ages?”

“I need to think on it for a while,” I said. “In the meantime, let’s find your mysterious Master Ash. I’d love to ask him a few questions about what he saw back at the Mauthen farm.”

Denna nodded. “I was thinking I would head back to where he left me, behind that bluff, then look between there and the farm.” She shrugged. “It’s not much of a plan….”

“It gives us a place to start,” I said. “If he came back and found you were gone, he might have left a trail that we could pick up.”

Denna led the way through the woods. It was warmer here. The trees kept the wind at bay but the sun could still peer through as many of the trees were nearly bare. Only the tall oaks were still holding all their leaves, like self-conscious old men.

As we walked, I tried to think of what reason the Chandrian could have had for killing these people. Was there any similarity between this wedding party and my troupe?

Someone’s parents have been singing the entirely wrong sort of songs….

“What did you sing last night?” I asked. “For the wedding.”

“The usual,” Denna said, kicking through a pile of leaves. “Bright stuff. ‘Pennywhistle.’ ‘Come Wash in the River.’ ‘Copper Bottom Pot.’” She chuckled. “‘Aunt Emme’s Tub’…”

“You didn’t,” I said, aghast. “At a wedding?

“A drunk grandfather asked for it,” she shrugged as she made her way though a thick tangle of yellowing banerbyre. “There were a few raised eyebrows, but not many. They’re earthy folk around here.”

We walked a little longer in silence. The wind gusted in the high branches above us, but where we trudged along it was just a whisper. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘Come Wash’ before….”

“I’d have thought…” Denna looked over her shoulder at me. “Are you trying to trick me into singing for you?”

“Of course.”

She turned and smiled warmly at me, her hair falling into her face. “Maybe later. I’ll sing for my supper.” She led us around a tall outcrop of dark stone. It was chillier here, out of the sun. “I think he left me here,” she said, looking around uncertainly. “Everything looks different during the day.”

“Do you want to search the route back toward the farm, or circle out from here?”

“Circles,” she said. “But you’ll have to show me what I’m supposed to be looking for. I’m a city girl.”

I briefly showed her what little I knew of woodcraft. I showed her the sort of ground where a boot will leave a scuff or a print. I pointed out how the pile of leaves she had walked through were obviously disturbed, and how the branches of the banerbyre were broken and torn where she’d struggled through.

We stayed close together, as two pairs of eyes are better than one, and neither of us was eager to set off alone. We worked back and forth, making larger and larger arcs away from the bluff.

After five minutes I began to sense the futility of it. There was just too much forest. I could tell that Denna quickly came to the same conclusion. The storybook clues we hoped to find once again failed to show themselves. There were no torn scraps of cloth clinging to branches, no deep bootprints or abandoned campsites. We did find mushrooms, acorns, mosquitoes, and raccoon scat cleverly concealed by pine needles.

“Do you hear water?” Denna asked.

I nodded. “I could really do with a drink,” I said. “And a bit of a wash.”

We wandered wordlessly away from our search, neither one of us wanting to admit that we were eager to give it up, both of us feeling in our bones how pointless it was. We followed the sound of running water down the hill until we pushed through a thick stand of pine trees and came upon a lovely, deep stream about twenty feet across.

There was no scent of foundry runoff in this water, so we drank and I topped off my water bottle.

I knew the shape of stories. When a young couple comes to a river there is a definite shape to what will happen next. Denna would bathe on the other side of the nearby fir tree, out of sight on a sandy bit of shore. I would move off a discrete distance, out of sight, but within easy talking distance. Then…something would happen. She would slip and turn her ankle, or cut her foot on a sharp stone, and I’d be forced to rush over. And then…

But this was not a story of two young lovers meeting by the river. So I splashed some water on my face and changed into my clean shirt behind a

tree. Denna dipped her head in the water to cool off. Her glistening hair was dark as ink until she wrung it out with her hands.

Then we sat on a stone, dandling our feet in the water and enjoying each other’s company as we rested. We shared an apple, passing it back and forth between bites, which is close to kissing, if you’ve never kissed before.

And, after some gentle goading, Denna sang for me. One verse of “Come Wash,” a verse I had never heard before, which I suspect she made up on the spot. I will not repeat it here, as she sang it to me, not to you. And since this is not the story of two young lovers meeting by the river, it has no particular place here, and I will keep it to myself.

You'll Also Like