Chapter no 91: Worthy of Pursuit

The Name of the Wind

FALL TERM SETTLED INTO a comfortable pattern after that. Fela slowly introduced me to the inner workings of the Archives and I spent what time I could spare skulking about, trying to dig up answers to my thousand questions.

Elodin did something that could, conceivably, be referred to as teaching, but for the most part he seemed more interested in confusing me than shedding any real light on the subject of naming. My progress was so nonexistent that I wondered at times if there was any progress to be made at all.

What time I didn’t spend studying or in the Archives I spent on the road to Imre, braving the coming winter wind, if not looking for its name. The Eolian was always my best bet for finding Denna, and as the weather worsened I found her there more and more. By the time the first snow fell, I usually managed to catch her one trip of three.

Unfortunately, I rarely managed to have her wholly to myself, as she usually had someone with her. As Deoch had mentioned, she was not the sort who spent a lot of time alone.

Still I kept coming. Why? Because whenever she saw me some light would go on inside her, making her glow for a moment. She would jump to her feet, run to me, and catch hold of my arm. Then, smiling, bring me back to her table and introduce me to her newest man.

I came to know most of them. None were good enough for her, so I held them in contempt and hated them. They in turn hated and feared me.

But we were pleasant to each other. Always pleasant. It was a game of sorts. He would invite me to sit, and I would buy him a drink. The three of us would talk, and his eyes would slowly grow dark as he watched her smile toward me. His mouth would narrow as he listened to the laughter that leapt from her as I joked, spun stories, sang….

They would always react the same way, trying to prove ownership of her in small ways. Holding her hand, a kiss, a too-casual touch along her shoulder.

They clung to her with desperate determination. Some of them merely

resented my presence, saw me as a rival. But others had a frightened knowledge buried deep behind their eyes from the beginning. They knew she was leaving, and they didn’t know why. So they clutched at her like shipwrecked sailors, clinging to the rocks despite the fact that they are being battered to death against them. I almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

So they hated me, and it shone in their eyes when Denna wasn’t looking. I would offer to buy another round of drinks, but he would insist, and I would graciously accept, and thank him, and smile.

I have known her longer, my smile said. True, you have been inside the circle of her arms, tasted her mouth, felt the warmth of her, and that is something I have never had. But there is a part of her that is only for me. You cannot touch it, no matter how hard you might try. And after she has left you I will still be here, making her laugh. My light shining in her. I will still be here long after she has forgotten your name.

There were more than a few. She went through them like a pen through wet paper. She left them, disappointed. Or, frustrated, they abandoned her, leaving her heartsore, moved to sadness but never as far as tears.

There were tears once or twice. But they were not for the men she had lost or the men she had left. They were quiet tears for herself, because there was something inside her that was badly hurt. I couldn’t tell what it was and didn’t dare to ask. Instead I simply said what I could to take the pain away and helped her shut her eyes against the world.

Occasionally I would talk about Denna with Wilem and Simmon. Being true friends they gave me sensible advice and compassionate sympathy in roughly equal amounts.

The compassion I appreciated, but the advice was worse than useless. They urged me toward the truth, told me to open my heart to her. To pursue her. Write her poetry. Send her roses.

Roses. They didn’t know her. Despite the fact that I hated them, Denna’s men taught me a lesson that I might never have learned otherwise.

“What you don’t understand,” I explained to Simmon one afternoon as we sat under the pennant pole, “is that men fall for Denna all the time. Do you know what that’s like for her? How tiresome it is? I am one of her few friends. I won’t risk that. I won’t throw myself at her. She doesn’t want it. I will not be one of the hundred cow-eyed suitors who go mooning after her like love-struck sheep.”

“I just don’t understand what you see in her,” Sim said carefully. “I know she’s charming. Fascinating and all of that. But she seems rather,” he hesitated, “cruel.”

I nodded. “She is.”

Simmon watched me expectantly, finally said. “What? No defense for her?”

“No. Cruel is a good word for her. But I think you are saying cruel and thinking something else. Denna is not wicked, or mean, or spiteful. She is cruel.”

Sim was quiet for a long while before responding. “I think she might be some of those other things, and cruel as well.”

Good, honest, gentle Sim. He could never bring himself to say bad things about another person, just imply them. Even that was hard for him.

He looked up at me. “I talked with Sovoy. He’s still not over her. He really loved her, you know. Treated her like a princess. He would have done anything for her. But she left him anyway, no explanation.”

“Denna is a wild thing,” I explained. “Like a hind or a summer storm. If a storm blows down your house, or breaks a tree, you don’t say the storm was mean. It was cruel. It acted according to its nature and something unfortunately was hurt. The same is true of Denna.”

“What’s a hind?” “A deer.”

“I thought that was a hart?”

“A hind is a female deer. A wild deer. Do you know how much good it does you to chase a wild thing? None. It works against you. It startles the hind away. All you can do is stay gently where you are, and hope in time that the hind will come to you.”

Sim nodded, but I could tell he didn’t really understand.

“Did you know they used to call this place the Questioning Hall?” I said, pointedly changing the subject. “Students would write questions on slips of paper and let the wind blow them around. You would get different answers depending on the way the paper left the square.” I gestured to the gaps between the grey buildings Elodin had shown to me. “Yes. No. Maybe. Elsewhere. Soon.”

The belling tower struck and Simmon sighed, sensing it was pointless to pursue the conversation further. “Are we playing corners tonight?”

I nodded. After he was gone I reached into my cloak and pulled out the note Denna had left in my window. I read it again, slowly. Then carefully tore away the bottom of the page where she had signed it.

I folded the narrow strip of paper with Denna’s name, twisted it, and let the courtyard’s ever-present wind tug it out of my hand to spin among the few remaining autumn leaves.

It danced along the cobblestones. It circled and spun, making patterns too wild and varied for me to understand. But though I waited until the sky grew dark, the wind never took it away. When I left, my question was still wandering in the House of the Wind, giving no answers, hinting at many. Yes.

No. Maybe. Elsewhere. Soon.

Lastly, there was my ongoing feud with Ambrose. I walked on pins and needles every day, waiting for him to take his revenge. But the months passed and nothing happened. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that he had finally learned his lesson and was keeping a safe distance from me.

I was wrong, of course. Perfectly and completely wrong. Ambrose had merely learned to bide his time. He did manage to get his revenge, and when it came, I was caught flatfooted and forced to leave the University.

But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

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