Chapter no 90: Half-Built Houses

The Name of the Wind

EVERY NIGHT I WENT exploring underground with Auri. I saw many interesting things, some of which may bear mentioning later, but for now suffice to say that she showed me all the vast and varied corners of the Underthing. She took me to Downings, Vaults, the Woods, Delving, Cricklet, Tenners, Candlebear….

The names she gave them, nonsensical at first, fit like a glove when I finally saw what they described. The Woods didn’t resemble a forest in any way. It was just a series of crumbling halls and rooms where ceilings were propped up with thick wooden support beams. Cricklet had a tiny trickle of fresh water running down one wall. The moisture attracted crickets, who filled the long low room with their tiny songs. Vaults was a narrow hallway with three deep cracks running across the floor. I only understood the name after watching Auri jump all three in quick secession to make it to the other end.

It was several days before Auri took me to Belows, a maze of intersecting tunnels. Despite the fact that we were at least a hundred feet below ground, they were filled with a steady, rushing wind that smelled of dust and leather.

The wind was the clue I needed. It let me know I was close to finding what I’d come here looking for. Still, it bothered me that I didn’t understand the name of this place, I knew I must be missing something.

“Why do you call this Belows?” I asked Auri.

“That’s its name,” she said easily. The wind made her fine hair stream out behind her like a gauzy pennant. “You call things by their names. That’s what names are for.”

I smiled despite myself. “Why does it have that name? Isn’t everything here ‘below?’”

She turned to look at me, head cocked to one side. Her hair blew around her face and she brushed it back with her hands. “It’s not belows,” she said. “It’s belows.

I couldn’t hear the distinction. “Blows?” I asked puffing out my cheeks as if blowing out air.

Auri laughed, delighted. “That’s a piece.” She grinned. “Try for more.”

I tried to think of what else made sense. “Bellows?” I made a gesture with both arms as if working a forge bellows.

Auri thought about that for a moment, looking up and tilting her head back and forth. “That’s not as good. This is a quiet place.” She reached out a small hand and took hold of the edge of my cloak, pulling it out to the side so the slow wind caught it, filling it like a sail.

Auri looked up at me, grinning as if she’d just done a magic trick.

Billows. Of course. I grinned back, laughing.

That minor mystery put to rest, Auri and I began a meticulous investigation of Billows. After several hours I began to get a feel for the place, an understanding of which way I needed to go. It was just a matter of finding the tunnel that led there.

It was maddening. The tunnels twisted, leading in wide, unhelpful detours. Those rare times when I found a tunnel that stayed true to its course, the way was blocked. Several passages turned straight up or straight down, leaving me with no way to follow them. One passage had thick iron bars driven deep into the surrounding stone, blocking the way. Another grew steadily narrower until it was barely a handspan across. A third ended with a cave-in of tangled wood and soil.

After days of searching, we finally found an ancient moldering door. The damp wood crumbled to pieces when I tried to open it.

Auri wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “I’ll skin my knees.”

Shining my sympathy lamp past the ruined door, I saw what she meant.

The room beyond slanted down until the ceiling was only three feet high. “Will you wait for me?” I asked her as I took off my cloak and cuffed up

my shirtsleeves. “I don’t know if I can find my way up to the top without you.”

Auri nodded, looking worried. “Ins are easier than outs, you know.

There’s tight places. You can get stuck.”

I was trying not to think of that. “I’m just going for a look. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

She cocked her head. “What if you’re not?”

I smiled. “You’ll have to come and rescue me.” She nodded, her face as solemn as an earnest child.

I put my sympathy lamp in my mouth, shining the red light out against the pitch blackness in front of me. Then I got down on all fours and headed forward, my knees rubbing against the rough stone of the floor.

After several turnings, the ceiling went lower still, too low for crawling. After a long moment of consideration, I dropped to my belly and pressed on, pushing my lamp ahead of me. Each twist of my body pulled at the rows of stitches all across my back.

If you have never been deep underground, I doubt you can understand

what it is like. The darkness is absolute, almost tangible. It lurks outside the light, waiting to rush in like a sudden flood. The air is still and stale. There’s no noise except what you make yourself. Your breathing becomes loud in your own ears. Your heart thumps. And all the while there is the overwhelming knowledge that thousands of tons of earth and stone are pressing down above you.

Still I continued to worm my way ahead, moving by inches. My hands were grimy, and sweat dripped into my eyes. The crawlway grew smaller yet, and I foolishly let one of my arms get pinned to my side. Cold sweat burst out across my whole body as I panicked. I struggled, trying to get it stretched out in front of me….

After several terrifying minutes I managed to get my arm free. Then, after lying there for a moment, trembling in the dark, I pressed ahead.

And found what I’d been looking for….

After emerging from the Underthing, I made my careful way through a window and a locked door into the women’s wing of the Mews. I knocked softly on Fela’s door, not wanting to wake anyone accidentally. Men were not allowed unescorted in the women’s wing of the Mews, especially not during the late hours of night.

I knocked three times before I heard a gentle stirring in her room. After a moment, Fela opened the door, her long hair in wild disarray. Her eyes were still half-closed as she peered into the hallway with a puzzled expression. She blinked when she saw me standing there, as if she hadn’t really expected anyone.

She was unmistakably naked, with a bedsheet half-wrapped around herself. I will admit that the sight of gorgeous, full-breasted Fela half-naked in front of me was one of the most startlingly erotic moments in my young life.

“Kvothe?” she said, maintaining a remarkable degree of composure. She tried to cover herself more fully and met with mixed success, pulling the sheet up to her neck in exchange for exposing a scandalous amount of long, shapely leg. “What time is it? How did you get in here?”

“You said that if I ever needed anything, I could call on you for a favor,” I said urgently. “Did you mean it?”

“Well, yes. Of course,” she said. “God, you’re a mess. What happened to you?”

I looked down at myself, only then realizing the state I was in. I was grimy, the front of my body streaked with dirt from sliding across the floor. I’d torn open my pants across one knee, and it looked like I was bleeding underneath. I’d been so excited that I hadn’t even noticed or thought to change into my new clothes before I came.

Fela took a half step back and swung the door wider, making room for me to enter. As it opened, the door made a tiny wind that pressed the sheet against her body, outlining her nudity in perfect profile for a moment. “Do you need to come in?”

“I can’t stay,” I said without thinking, struggling against the urge to gawk openly. “I need you to meet a friend of mine in the Archives tomorrow evening. Fifth bell, by the four-plate door. Can you do that?”

“I have class,” she said. “But if it’s important, I can skip it.” “Thank you,” I said quietly as I backed away.

It says a great deal about what I had found in the tunnels underneath the University that I was halfway back to my room at Anker’s before I realized I had turned down an invitation from a near-naked Fela to join her in her room.

The next day Fela skipped her lecture on Advanced Geometries and made her way to the Archives. She climbed down several flights of stairs and through a maze of corridors and shelves to find the only section of stone wall in the entire building that wasn’t lined with books. The four-plate door stood there, silent and immobile as a mountain: Valaritas.

Fela looked around nervously, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

After a long moment, a hooded figure stepped out of the dark and into the ruddy light of her hand lamp.

She smiled anxiously. “Hello,” she said softly. “A friend asked me to…” she paused and ducked her head a little, trying to glimpse the face under the shadow of the hood.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised at who she saw.

“Kvothe?” she said incredulously, looking around in sudden panic. “My God, what are you doing in here?”

“Trespassing,” I said flippantly.

She grabbed hold of me and pulled me through a maze of shelves until we came to one of the reading holes scattered throughout the Archives. She pushed me in and closed the door firmly behind us and leaned against it. “How did you get in here? Lorren will burst a vessel! Do you want to get us both expelled?”

“They wouldn’t expel you,” I said easily. “You’re guilty of Willful Collusion at the very most. They can’t expel you for that. You’d probably get off with a fine, since they don’t whip women.” I shifted my shoulders a little, feeling the dull tug of the stitches across my back. “Which seems a little unfair if you ask me.”

“How did you get in here?” she repeated. “Did you sneak past the desk?” “You’re better off not knowing,” I hedged.

It had been Billows, of course. Once I smelled old leather and dust on the

wind there I knew I was close. Hidden away in the maze of tunnels was a door that lead directly into the lowest level of the stacks. It was there so the scrivs would have easy access to the ventilation system. The door had been locked, of course, but locked doors have never proved much of a hindrance to me. More’s the pity.

I didn’t tell Fela any of that, however. I knew my secret route would only work as long as it remained secret. Telling a scriv, even a scriv who owed me a favor, simply wasn’t a good idea.

“Listen,” I said quickly. “It’s safe as houses. I’ve been here for hours and no one’s come even close to me. Everyone carries their own light so it’s easy to avoid them.”

“You just surprised me,” Fela said, as she brushed her dark hair back over her shoulders. “You’re right though, it’s probably safer out there.” She opened the door and peered outside, making sure the coast was clear. “Scrivs spot-check the reading holes periodically to make sure no one’s sleeping in here, or having sex.”


“There’s a lot you don’t know about the Archives.” She smiled as she opened the door the rest of the way.

“That’s why I need your help,” I said as we headed out into the stacks. “I can’t make heads or tails of this place.”

“What are you looking for?” Fela asked.

“About a thousand things,” I said honestly. “But we can start with the history of the Amyr. Or any nonfictional reports of the Chandrian. Anything about either one really. I haven’t been able to find a thing.”

I didn’t bother trying to keep the frustration from my voice. To finally get inside the Archives after all this time and not be able to find any of the answers I was looking for was maddening. “I thought things would be better organized,” I groused.

Fela chuckled deep in her throat. “And how would you do that, exactly?

Organize everything, I mean.”

“I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple hours, actually,” I said. “It’d be best to do it by subject. You know: histories, memoirs, grammars….”

Fela stopped walking and gave a deep sigh. “I guess we should get this over with.” She pulled a slim book off a shelf at random. “What’s the subject of this book?”

I opened it and glanced over the pages. It was written in an old scribe’s hand, spidery and hard to follow. “It looks like a memoir.”

“What type of memoir? Where do you put it in relationship to the other memoirs?”

Still flipping pages, I spotted a carefully drawn map. “Actually, it looks more like a travelogue.”

“Fine,” she said. “Where do you put it in the memoir-travelogue-section?” “I’d organize them geographically,” I said, enjoying the game. I flipped more pages. “Atur, Modeg, and…Vint?” I frowned and looked at the spine of the book. “How old is this? The Aturan Empire absorbed Vint over three

hundred years ago.”

“Over four hundred years,” she corrected. “So where do you put a travelogue that refers to a place that doesn’t exist any more?”

“It would be more of a history, really,” I said more slowly.

“What if it isn’t accurate?” Fela pressed. “Based on hearsay rather than personal experience? What if it’s purely fictional? Novel travelogues were quite a fashion in Modeg a couple hundred years ago.”

I closed the book and slowly slid it back onto the shelf. “I’m beginning to see the problem,” I said thoughtfully.

“No, you don’t,” Fela said frankly. “You’re just glimpsing the edges of the problem.” She gestured to the stacks around us. “Let’s say you became Master Archivist tomorrow. How long would it take you to organize all this?” I looked around at the countless shelves retreating off into the darkness.

“It would be a lifetime’s work.”

“Evidence suggests it takes more than just one lifetime,” Fela said dryly. “There are over three quarters of a million volumes here, and that’s not even taking into consideration the clays or scrolls or fragments from Caluptena.”

She made a dismissive gesture. “So you spend years developing the perfect organizational system, which even has a convenient place for your historical-fictional-travelogue-memoir. You and the scrivs spend decades slowly identifying, sorting and reordering tens of thousands of books.” She looked me in the eye. “And then you die. What happens then?”

I began to see where she was going. “Well, in a perfect world, the next Master Archivist would pick up where I left off,” I said.

“Hurrah for the perfect world,” Fela said sarcastically, then turned and began leading me through the shelves again.

“I’m guessing the new Master Archivist usually has his own ideas about how to organize things?”

“Not usually,” Fela admitted. “Sometimes there are a several in a row who work toward the same system. But sooner or later you get someone who’s sure they have a better way of doing things and everything starts from scratch again.”

“How many different systems have there been?” I spotted a faint red light bobbing in the distant shelves and pointed towards it.

Fela changed directions to take us away from the light and whoever was carrying it. “It depends on how you count them,” she said softly. “At least nine in the last three hundred years. The worst was about fifty years ago when there were four new Master Archivists within five years of each other. The

result was three different factions among the scrivs, each using a different cataloging system, each firmly believing theirs was the best.”

“Sounds like a civil war,” I said.

“A holy war,” Fela said. “A very quiet, circumspect crusade where each side was sure they were protecting the immortal soul of the Archives. They would steal books that had already been cataloged in each other’s systems. They would hide books from each other, or confuse their order on the shelves.”

“How long did this go on?”

“Almost fifteen years,” Fela said. “It might still be going on today if Master Tolem’s scrivs hadn’t finally managed to steal the Larkin ledger books and burn them. The Larkins couldn’t keep going after that.”

“And the moral of the story is that people get passionate around books?” I teased gently. “Hence the need to spot-check the reading holes?”

Fela stuck out her tongue at me. “The moral of the story is that things are a mess in here. We effectively ‘lost’ almost two hundred thousand books when Tolem burned the Larkin ledgers. They were the only records on where those books were located. Then, five years later, Tolem dies. Guess what happens then?”

“A new Master Archivist looking to start over with a clean slate?”

“It’s like an endless chain of half-built houses,” she said, exasperated. “It’s easy to find books in the old system, so that’s how they build the new system. Whoever’s working on the new house keeps stealing lumber from what’s been built before. The old systems are still there in scattered bits and pieces. We’re still finding pockets of books scrivs hid from each other years ago.”

“I sense this is a sore spot with you,” I said with a smile.

We reached a flight of stairs and Fela turned to look at me. “It’s a sore spot with every scriv who lasts more than two days working in the Archives,” she said. “People down in the Tomes complain when it takes us an hour to bring them what they want. They don’t realize it’s not as easy as going to the ‘Amyr History’ shelf and pulling down a book.”

She turned and began to climb the stairs. I followed her silently, appreciating the new perspective.

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