Chapter no 87: Winter

The Name of the Wind

“HE’S QUITE, quite mad,” I said to Simmon and Wilem later that afternoon at Anker’s.

“He’s a master,” Sim responded tactfully. “And your sponsor. And from what you’ve told us he’s the reason you weren’t expelled.”

“I’m not saying that he isn’t intelligent, and I’ve seen him do things that I can’t begin to explain. But the fact remains that he is completely off his nut. He talks in circles about names and words and power. It sounds good while he’s saying it. But it doesn’t really mean anything.”

“Quit complaining,” Simmon said. “You beat both of us to Re’lar, even if your sponsor is cracked. And you got paid two span of silver for breaking Ambrose’s arm. You got away free as a bird. I wish I had half your luck.”

“Not quite free as a bird,” I said. “I’m still going to be whipped.” “What?” Sim said. “I thought you said that they suspended it?” “They suspended my expulsion,” I said. “Not the whipping.” Simmon gaped. “My God, why not?”

“Malfeasance,” Wilem said in a low voice. “They can’t let a student get off bird-free after they’ve voted him guilty of malfeasance.”

“That’s what Elodin said.” I took a drink. Took another.

“I don’t care,” Simmon said hotly. “It’s barbaric.” He hammered out his last word on the table with his fist, upsetting his glass and spilling a dark pool of scutten across the table. “Shit.” He scrambled to his feet and tried to keep it from spilling on the floor with his hands.

I laughed helplessly until there was water in my eyes and my stomach ached. I felt a weight lift off my chest as I finally regained my breath. “I love you, Sim,” I said earnestly. “Sometimes I think you’re the only honest person I know.”

He looked me over. “You’re drunk.”

“No, it’s the truth. You’re a good person. Better than I’ll ever be.” He gave me a look that said he couldn’t tell if he was being made fun of or not. A serving girl came over with wet rags, wiped the table clean, and made a few barbed comments. Sim had the decency to look embarrassed enough for all of us.

By the time I made it back to the University, it was fully dark. I stopped briefly at Anker’s to pick up a few things, then made my way onto the roof of Mains.

I was surprised to find Auri waiting for me on the roof despite the clear sky. She sat on a short brick chimney, swinging her bare feet idly. Her hair made a gauzy cloud around her tiny form.

She hopped down when I came closer and gave a little half step sideways that was almost like a curtsey. “Good evening, Kvothe.”

“Good evening, Auri,” I said. “How are you?”

“I am lovely,” she said firmly, “and it is a lovely night.” She held both her hands behind her back and shifted from foot to foot.

“What have you brought me tonight?” I asked.

She gave her sunny smile. “What have you brought me?

I pulled a narrow bottle from underneath my cloak. “I brought you some honey wine.”

She took hold of it with both hands. “Why, this is a princely gift.” She peered down at it wonderingly. “Think of all the tipsy bees.” She pulled the cork and sniffed it. “What’s in it?”

“Sunlight,” I said. “And a smile, and a question.”

She held the mouth of the bottle up to her ear and grinned at me. “The question’s at the bottom,” I said.

“A heavy question,” she said, then held her hand out to me. “I brought you a ring.”

It was made of warm, smooth wood. “What does it do?” I asked. “It keeps secrets,” she said.

I held it to my ear.

Auri shook her head seriously, her hair swirling around her. “It doesn’t tell them, it keeps them.” She stepped close to me and took the ring, sliding it onto my finger. “It’s quite enough to have a secret,” she chided me gently. “Anything more would be greedy.”

“It fits,” I said, somewhat surprised.

“They’re your secrets,” she said, as if explaining something to a child. “Who else would it fit?”

Auri brushed her hair away behind her and made her curious half step to the side again. Almost like a curtsey, almost like a tiny dance. “I was wondering if you would join me for dinner tonight, Kvothe,” she said, her face serious. “I have brought apples and eggs. I can also offer a lovely honey wine.”

“I’d love to share dinner with you, Auri,” I said formally. “I have brought bread and cheese.”

Auri scampered down into the courtyard and in a few minutes returned with a delicate porcelain teacup for me. She poured the honey wine for both of us, drinking hers in a series of dainty sips from a silver beggar’s cup hardly bigger than a thimble.

I sat down on the roof and we shared our meal. I had a large loaf of brown barley bread and a wedge of hard white Dalonir cheese. Auri had ripe apples and a half dozen brown-spotted eggs that she had somehow managed to hard-boil. We ate them with salt I brought out from a pocket in my cloak.

We shared most of the meal in silence, simply enjoying each other’s company. Auri sat cross-legged with her back straight and her hair fanning out to all sides. As always, her careful delicacy somehow made this makeshift meal on a rooftop seem like a formal dinner in some nobleman’s hall.

“The wind has been bringing leaves into the Underthing lately,” Auri said conversationally toward the end of the meal. “Through the grates and tunnels. They settle in the Downings, so things are all a-rustle there.”

“Is that so?”

She nodded. “And a mother owl has moved in. Made her nest right in the middle of the Grey Twelve, bold as brass.”

“She’s something of a rarity then?”

She nodded. “Absolutely. Owls are wise. They are careful and patient. Wisdom precludes boldness.” She sipped from her cup, holding the handle daintily between her thumb and forefinger. “That is why owls make poor heroes.”

Wisdom precludes boldness. After my recent adventures in Trebon I couldn’t help but agree. “But this one is adventurous? An explorer?”

“Oh yes,” Auri said, her eyes wide. “She is fearless. She has a face like a wicked moon.”

She refilled her tiny silver cup with honey wine and emptied the last of it into my teacup. After tipping the bottle all the way upside-down, she pursed her lips and blew across the top of it in two sharp bursts so that it made a hooting noise. “Where’s my question?” she demanded.

I hesitated, unsure as to how she would respond to my request. “I was wondering, Auri. Would you mind showing me the Underthing?”

Auri looked away, suddenly shy. “Kvothe, I thought you were a gentleman,” she said, tugging self-consciously at her ragged shirt. “Imagine, asking to see a girl’s underthing.” She looked down, her hair hiding her face.

I held my breath for a moment, choosing my next words carefully lest I startle her back underground. While I was thinking, Auri peeked at me through the curtain of her hair.

“Auri,” I asked slowly, “are you joking with me?”

She looked up and grinned. “Yes I am,” she said proudly. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

Auri took me through the heavy metal grate in the abandoned courtyard, down into the Underthing. I brought out my hand lamp to light the way. Auri had a light of her own, something she held in her cupped hands that gave off a soft, blue-green glow. I was curious about what she held but didn’t want to press her for too many secrets at once.

At first the Underthing was exactly what I had expected. Tunnels and pipes. Pipes for sewage, water, steam, and coal gas. Great black pig-iron pipes a man could crawl through, small, bright brass pipes no bigger around than your thumb. There was a vast network of stone tunnels, branching and connecting at odd angles. If there were any rhyme or reason to the place, it was lost on me.

Auri gave me a whirlwind tour, proud as a new mother, excited as a little girl. Her enthusiasm was infectious and I soon lost myself in the excitement of the moment, ignoring my original reasons for wanting to explore the tunnels. There is nothing quite so delightfully mysterious as a secret in your own backyard.

We made our way down three spiral staircases made of black wrought iron to reach the Grey Twelve. It was like standing in the bottom of a canyon. Looking up I could see faint moonlight filtering in through drain grates far overhead. The mother owl was gone, but Auri showed me the nest.

The deeper we went, the stranger things became. The round tunnels for drainage and pipes disappeared and were replaced with squared-off hallways and stairways strewn with rubble. Rotting wooden doors hung off rusted hinges, and there were half-collapsed rooms filled with moldering tables and chairs. One room had a pair of bricked-up windows despite the fact that we were, at my best guess, at least fifty feet below ground.

Deeper still, we came to Throughbottom, a room like a cathedral, so big that neither Auri’s blue light nor my red one reached the highest peaks of the ceiling. All around us were huge, ancient machines. Some lay in pieces: broken gears taller than a man, leather straps gone brittle with age, great wooden beams that were now explosions of white fungus, huge as hedgerows. Other machines were intact but worn by centuries of neglect. I approached an iron block as big as a farmer’s cottage and broke off a single flake of rust large as a dinner plate. Underneath was nothing but more rust. Nearby there were three great pillars covered in green verdigris so thick it looked like moss. Many of the huge machines were beyond identifying, looking more melted than rusted. But I saw something that might have been a waterwheel, three stories tall, lying in a dry canal that ran like a chasm

through the middle of the room.

I had only the vaguest of ideas as to what any of the machines might have

done. I had no guess at all as to why they had lain here for uncounted centuries, deep underground. There didn’t seem—

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