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Wine and Blood

 

E VENTUALLY WIL AND SIM pulled me from the warm embrace of the Archives. I struggled and cursed them, but they were firm in their convictions, and the three of us braved the chill wind on the road to Imre.

We made our way to the Eolian, claiming a table near the eastern hearth where we could watch the stage and keep our backs warm. After a drink or two I felt the book-longing fade to a dull ache. The three of us talked and played cards, and eventually I began to enjoy myself despite the fact that Denna was doubtless out there somewhere, hanging on Ambrose’s arm.

After several hours I sat slouched in my chair, drowsy and warm from the nearby fire while Wil and Sim bickered about whether the high king of Modeg was a true ruling monarch or merely a figurehead. I was nearly asleep when a heavy bottle knocked down hard onto our table followed by the delicate chime of wineglasses.

Denna stood next to our table. “Play along,” she said under her breath. “You’ve been waiting for me. I’m late and you’re upset.”

Blearily, I struggled upright in my seat and tried to blink myself awake.

Sim leaped to the challenge. “It’s been an hour,” he said, scowling fiercely. He tapped the table firmly with two fingers. “Don’t think buying me a drink is going to fix matters. I want an apology.”

“It’s not entirely my fault,” Denna said, radiating embarrassment. She turned and gestured to the bar.

I looked, worried I would see Ambrose standing there, watching me smugly in his goddamn hat. But it was only a balding Cealdish man. He made a short, odd bow toward us, halfway between acknowledgment and apology.

Sim scowled at him, then turned back to Denna and made a grudging gesture to the empty chair across from me. “Fine. So are we going to play corners or what?”

Denna sank down into the chair, sitting with her back to the room. Then leaned over to kiss Simmon on the forehead. “Perfect,” she said.

“I was scowling too,”Wilem said.

Denna slid him the bottle. “And for that, you may pour.” She set the glasses in front of each of us. “A gift from my overly persistent suitor.” She gave an irritated sigh. “They always need to give you something.” She eyed me speculatively. “You’re curiously mute.”

I rubbed a hand over my face. “I didn’t expect to see you tonight,” I said. “You caught me nearly napping.”

Wilem poured a pale pink wine then passed around the glasses while Denna examined the etching on the top of the bottle. “Cerbeor,” she mused. “I don’t even know if this is a decent vintage.”

“It’s not, actually,” Simmon said matter-of-factly as he took his glass. “Cerbeor is Aturan. Only wines from Vintas have a vintage, technically.” He took a sip.

“Really?” I asked, looking at my own glass.

Sim nodded. “It’s a common misuse of the word.”

Denna took a drink and nodded to herself. “Good wine, though,” she said. “Is he still at the bar?”

“He is,” I said without looking.

“Well then,” she smiled. “It seems you’re stuck with me.”

“Have you ever played corners?” Sim asked hopefully.



“I’m afraid not,” Denna said. “But I’m a quick study.”

Sim explained the rules with help from Wil and myself. Denna asked a few pointed questions, showing she understood the gist of it. I was glad. Since she was sitting across the table from me, she was going to be my partner.

“What do you usually play for?” she asked.

“Depends,” Wil said. “Sometimes we play by the hand. Sometimes by the set.”

“For a set of hands then,” Denna said. “How much?”

“We can do a practice set first,” Sim said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “Since you’re just learning and all.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t need any special treatment.” She reached into a pocket and brought a coin up onto the table. “A jot too much for you boys?”

It was too much for me, especially with a partner who had just learned the game. “Be careful with these two,” I said. “They play for blood.”

“In point of fact,” Wilem said. “I have no use for blood, and play for money instead.” He fingered through his purse until he found a jot, which he pressed firmly onto the table. “I am willing to play a practice game, but if she finds the thought insulting, I will thrash her and take whatever she is willing to lay on the table.”

Denna grinned at that. “You’re my kind of guy, Wil.”

The first hand went fairly well. Denna mislaid a trick, but we couldn’t have won anyway, as the cards were against us. But the second hand she made a mistake in the bidding. Then, when Sim corrected her, she got flustered and bid wildly. Then she accidentally led out of turn, not a huge mistake, but she led the jack of hearts, which let everyone know exactly what sort of hand she had. She realized it too, and I heard her mutter something distinctly unladylike under her breath.

True to their word, Wil and Sim moved in ruthlessly to take advantage of the situation. Given the weak cards in my hand, there wasn’t much I could do but sit and watch as they won the next two tricks and began to close on her like hungry wolves.

Except they couldn’t. She pulled a clever card force, then produced the king of hearts, which didn’t make any sense as she’d tried to lead the jack before. Then she produced the ace, too.

I realized her fumbling misplay had been an act slightly before Wil and Sim. I managed to keep it off my face until I saw the dim realization creep onto their expressions. Then I started to laugh.

“Don’t be smug,” she said to me. “I had you fooled, too. You looked like you were going to be sick when I showed the jack.” She put her hand in front of her mouth and made her eyes wide and innocent. “Oh my, I’ve never played corners before. Could you teach me? Is it true that sometimes people play for money?”

Denna snapped down another card onto the table and gathered in the trick. “Please. You lot should be glad I’m giving you a slap on the hand instead of the profound full-night fleecing you deserve.”

She mopped up the rest of the hand relentlessly, and it gave us such a solid lead that the rest of the set was a forgone conclusion. Denna never missed a trick after that, and played with enough cunning flair to make Manet seem like a dray horse by comparison.

“That was instructional,” Wil said as he slid his jot toward Denna. “I might need to lick my wounds a bit.”

Denna lifted her glass in a salute. “To the gullibility of the well-educated.”

We touched our glasses to hers and drank.

“You lot have been curiously absent,” Denna said. “I’ve been keeping an eye out for you for almost two span.”

“Why’s that?” Sim asked.

Denna gave Wil and Sim a calculating look. “You two are students at the University too, aren’t you? The special one that teaches magic?”

“That’s us,” Sim said agreeably. “We are chock full of arcane secrets.”

“We tinker with dark forces better left alone,” Wil said nonchalantly.

“It’s called the Arcanum, by the way,” I pointed out.

Denna nodded seriously as she leaned forward, her expression intent. “Between the three of you, I’m guessing you know how most of it works.” She looked at us. “So tell me. How does it work?”

“It?” I asked.

“Magic,” she said. “Real magic.”

Wil, Sim, and I exchanged glances.

“It’s complicated,” I said.

Denna shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “I have all the time in the world,” she said. “And I need to know how it works. Show me. Do some magic.”

The three of us shifted uncomfortably in our seats. Denna laughed.

“We’re not supposed to,” I said.

“What?” she asked. “Does it disturb some cosmic balance?”

“It disturbs the constables,” I said. “They don’t take kindly to that sort of thing over here.”

“The masters at the University don’t care for it much either,” Wil said. “They’re very mindful of the University’s reputation.”

“Oh come now,” Denna said. “I heard a story about how our man Kvothe called up some sort of demon wind.” She jerked her thumb at the door behind her. “Right in the courtyard outside.”

Had Ambrose told her that? “It was just a wind,” I said. “No demon involved.”

“They whipped him for it, too,”Wil said.

Denna looked at him as if she couldn’t tell if he were joking, then shrugged. “Well I wouldn’t want to get anyone in trouble,” she said with glaring insincerity. “But I am powerfully curious. And I have secrets I am willing to offer in trade.”

Sim perked up at this. “What sort of secrets?”

“All the vast and varied secrets of womankind,” she said with a smile. “I happen to know several things that can help improve your failing relations with the gentler sex.”

Sim leaned closer to Wil and asked in a stage whisper. “Did she say failing , or flailing?

Wil pointed at his own chest, then Sim’s. “Me: failing. You: flailing.”

Denna raised one eyebrow and cocked her head to one side, looking at the three of us expectantly.

I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “We’re discouraged from sharing Arcanum secrets. It’s not strictly against the laws of the University—”

“It is, actually,” Simmon interrupted, giving me an apologetic look. “Several laws.”

Denna gave a dramatic sigh, looking up at the high ceiling. “I thought as much,” she said. “You lot just talk a good game. Admit it, you can’t turn cream into butter.”

“I happen to know for a fact that Sim can turn cream into butter,” I said. “He just doesn’t like to because he’s lazy.”

“I’m not asking you to teach me magic,” Denna said. “I just need to know how it works.”

Sim looked at Wil. “That wouldn’t fall under Unsanctioned Divulgence, would it?”

“Illicit Revelation,” Wil said grimly.

Denna leaned forward conspiratorially, resting her elbows on the table. “In that case,” she said. “I am also willing to finance a night of extravagant drinking, far above and beyond the simple bottle you see before you.” She turned her gaze to Wil. “One of the bartenders here has recently discovered a dusty stone bottle in the basement. Not only is it fine old scutten, drink of the kings of Cealdim, it is a Merovani as well.”

Wilem’s expression didn’t change, but his dark eyes glittered.

I looked around the largely empty room. “Orden is a slow night. We shouldn’t have any trouble if we keep things quiet.” I looked at the other two.

Sim was grinning his boyish grin. “It seems reasonable. A secret for a secret.”

“If it is truly a Merovani,” Wilem said. “I am willing to risk offending the masters’ sensibilities somewhat.”

“Right then,” Denna said with a wide grin. “You first.”

Sim leaned forward in his chair. “Sympathy is probably the easiest to get a grip on,” he said, then paused as if uncertain how to proceed.

I stepped in. “You know how a block and tackle lets you lift something too heavy for you to lift by hand?”

Denna nodded.

“Sympathy lets us do things like that,” I said. “But without all the awkward rope and pulleys.”

Wilem dropped a pair of iron drabs onto the table and muttered a binding. He pushed the right-hand one with a finger, and the left-hand one slid across the table at the same time, mimicking the motion.

Denna’s eyes went at little wide at this, and while she didn’t gasp, she did draw a long breath through her nose. It only then occurred to me that she’d probably never seen anything like this before. Given my studies, it was easy to forget that someone could live mere miles from the University without ever having any exposure to even the most basic sympathy.

To her credit, Denna recovered from her surprise without missing a beat. With only the slightest hesitation, she reached out a finger to touch one of the drabs. “This is how the bell in my room worked,” she mused.

I nodded.

Wil slid his drab across the table, and Denna picked it up. The other drab rose off the table too, bobbing in midair. “It’s heavy,” she said, then nodded to herself. “Right, because it’s like a pulley. I’m lifting both of them.”

“Heat, light, and motion are all just energy,” I said. “We can’t create energy or make it disappear. But sympathy lets us move it around or change it from one type into another.”

She put the drab back down on the table and the other followed suit. “And this is useful how?”

Wil grunted with vague amusement. “Is a waterwheel useful?” he asked. “Is a windmill?”

I reached into the pocket of my cloak. “Have you ever seen a sympathy lamp?” I asked.

She nodded.

I slid my hand lamp across the table to her. “They work under the same principle. They take a little bit of heat and turn it into light. It converts one type of energy into another.”

“Like a moneychanger,” Wil said.

Denna turned the lamp over in her hands curiously. “Where does it get the heat?”

“The metal itself holds heat,” I explained. “If you leave it on, you’ll eventually feel the metal get chilly. If it gets too cold, it won’t work.” I pointed. “I made that one, so it’s pretty efficient. Just the heat from your hand should be enough to keep it working.”

Denna flicked the switch and dull red light shone out in a narrow arc. “I can see how heat and light are related,” she said thoughtfully. “The sun is bright and warm. Same with a candle.” She frowned. “But motion doesn’t fit into it. A fire can’t push something.”

“Think about friction,” Sim chimed in. “When you rub something it gets hot.” He demonstrated by running his hand back and forth vigorously across the fabric of his pants. “Like this.”

He continued rubbing his thigh enthusiastically, unaware of the fact that, since it was happening below the level of the table, it looked more than slightly obscene. “It’s all just energy. If you keep doing it, you’ll feel it get hot.”

Denna somehow kept a straight face. But Wilem started to laugh, covering his face with one hand, as if embarrassed to be sitting at the same table with Sim.

Simmon froze and flushed red with embarrassment.

I came to his rescue. “It’s a good example. The hub of a wagon wheel will be warm to the touch. That heat comes from the motion of the wheel. A sympathist can make the energy go the other way, from heat into motion.” I pointed to the lamp. “Or from heat into light.”

“Fine,” she said. “You’re energy moneychangers. But how do you make it happen?”

“There’s a special way of thinking called Alar,” Wilem said. “You believe something so strongly that it becomes so.” He lifted up one drab and the other followed it. “I believe these two drabs are connected, so they are.” Suddenly the other drab clattered to the tabletop. “If I stop believing, it stops being so.”

Denna picked up the drab. “So it’s like faith?” she said skeptically.

“More like strength of will,” Sim said.

She cocked her head. “Why don’t you call it strength of will, then?”

“Alar sounds better,”Wilem said.

I nodded. “If we didn’t have impressive sounding names for things, no one would take us seriously.”

Denna nodded appreciatively, a smile tugging at the corners of her lovely mouth. “And that’s it then? Energy and strength of will?”

“And the sympathetic link,” I said. “Wil’s waterwheel analogy is a good one. The link is like a pipe leading to the waterwheel. A bad link is like a pipe full of holes.”

“What makes a good link?” Denna asked.

“The more similar two objects are, the better the link. Like this.” I poured an inch of the pale wine into my cup and dipped my finger into it. “Here is a perfect link to the wine,” I said. “A drop of the wine itself.”

I stood and walked to the nearby hearth. I murmured a binding and let a drop fall from my finger onto the hot metal andiron holding the burning logs.

I sat back down just as the wine in my glass started to steam, then boil.

“And that,”Wilem said grimly, “is why you never want a sympathist to get a drop of your blood.”

Denna looked at Wilem, then back to the glass, her face going pale.

“Black hands, Wil,” Simmon said with a horrified look. “What a thing to say.” He looked at Denna. “No sympathist would ever do something like that,” he said earnestly. “It’s called malfeasance, and we don’t do it. Ever.”

Denna managed a smile, though it was a bit strained. “If no one ever does it, why is there a name for it?”

“They used to,” I said. “But not anymore. Not for a hundred years.”

I let the binding go and the wine stopped boiling. Denna reached out and touched the nearby bottle. “Why doesn’t this wine boil too?” she asked, puzzled. “It’s the same wine.”

I tapped my temple. “The Alar. My mind provides the focus and direction.”

“If that’s a good link,” she asked, “what’s a bad one?”

“Here, let me show you.” I pulled out my purse, guessing coins would seem less alarming after Wilem’s comment. “Sim, do you have a hard penny?”

He did, and I arranged two lines of coins on the table in front of Denna. I pointed to a pair of iron drabs and murmured a binding. “Lift it up,” I said.

She picked up one drab and the other followed it.

I pointed to the second pair: a drab and my single remaining silver talent. “Now that one.”

Denna picked up the second drab and the talent followed it into the air. She moved both hands up and down like the arms of a scale. “This second one’s heavier.”

I nodded. “Different metals. They’re less similar, so you have to put more energy into it.” I pointed to the drab and the silver penny and muttered a third binding.

Denna put the first two drabs into her left hand, and picked up the third in her right. The silver penny followed it into the air. She nodded to herself. “And this one’s heavier still because it’s a different shape and a different metal.”

“Exactly,” I said. I pointed to the fourth and final pair: a drab and a piece of chalk.

Denna almost couldn’t get her fingers underneath the drab to pick it up. “It’s heavier than all the others together,” she said. “It’s got to be three pounds!”

“Iron to chalk is a lousy link, ”Wilem said. “Bad transference.”

“But you said energy couldn’t be created or destroyed,” Denna said. “If I have to struggle to lift this tiny piece of chalk, where does the extra energy go?”

“Clever,” Wilem chuckled. “So clever. I went a year before I thought to ask that.” He eyed her in admiration. “Some energy is lost into the air.” He waved one hand. “Some goes into the objects themselves, and some goes into the body of the sympathist who is controlling the link.” He frowned. “That can get dangerful.”

“Dangerous ,” Simmon corrected gently.

Denna looked at me. “So right now you’re believing each of these drabs is connected to each of these other things?”

I nodded.

She moved her hands around. The coins and chalk bobbed in the air. “Isn’t that . . . hard?”

“It is,” Wilem said. “But our Kvothe is a bit of a showoff.”

“That’s why I’ve been so quiet,” Sim said. “I didn’t know you could hold four bindings at once. That’s impressive as hell.”

“I can do five if I need to,” I said. “But that’s pretty much my limit.”

Sim smiled at Denna. “One more thing. Watch this!” He pointed at the floating piece of chalk.

Nothing happened.

“Come on,” Sim said plaintively. “I’m trying to show her something.”

“Then show her,” I said smugly, leaning back in my chair.

Sim took a deep breath and stared hard at the piece of chalk. It trembled.

Wil leaned close to Denna and explained. “One sympathist can oppose another’s Alar,” he said. “It is just a matter of firmly believing that a drab is not the same as a silver penny at all.”

Wil pointed, and the penny clattered to the tabletop.

“Foul,” I protested, laughing. “Two on one isn’t fair.”

“It is in this case,” Simmon said, and the chalk trembled again.

“Fine,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Do your worst.”

The chalk dropped to the table quickly, followed by the drab. But the silver talent stayed where it was.

Sim sat back in his chair. “You’re creepy,” he said, shaking his head. “Fine, you win. ”Wilem nodded and relaxed as well.

Denna looked at me. “So your Alar is stronger than theirs put together?”

“Probably not,” I said graciously. “If they had practice working together they could probably beat me.”

Her eyes ranged over the scattered coins. “So that’s it?” she asked, sounding slightly disappointed. “It’s all just energy moneychanging?”

“There are other arts,” I said. “Sim does alchemy, for example.”

“While I,” Wilem said, “focus on being pretty.”

Denna looked us over again, her eyes serious. “Is there a type of magic that’s just . . .” She wiggled her fingers vaguely. “Just sort of writing things down?”

“There’s sygaldry,” I said. “Like that bell in your room. It’s like permanent sympathy.”

“But it’s still moneychanging, right?” she asked. “Just energy?”

I nodded.

Denna looked embarrassed as she asked, “What if someone told you they knew a type of magic that did more than that? A magic where you sort of wrote things down, and whatever you wrote became true?”

She looked down nervously, her fingers tracing patterns on the tabletop. “Then, if someone saw the writing, even if they couldn’t read it, it would be true for them. They’d think a certain thing, or act a certain way depending on what the writing said.” She looked up at us again, her expression a strange mix of curiosity, hope, and uncertainty.

The three of us looked at each other. Wilem shrugged.

“Sounds a damn sight easier than alchemy,” Simmon said. “I’d rather do that than spend all day unbinding principles.”

“Sounds like faerie-tale magic,” I said. “Storybook stuff that doesn’t really exist. I certainly never heard about anything like that at the University.”

Denna looked down at the tabletop where her fingers still traced patterns against the wood. Her mouth was pursed slightly, her eyes distant.

I couldn’t tell if she was disappointed or simply thoughtful. “Why do you ask?”

Denna looked up at me and her expression quickly slid into a wry smile. She shrugged away the question. “It was just something I heard,” she said dismissively. “I thought it sounded too good to be true.”

She looked over her shoulder. “I seem to have outlasted my overenthusiastic suitor,” she said.

Wil held up the flat of his hand. “We had an arrangement,” he said. “There was drink involved, and a woman’s secret.”

“I’ll have a word with the barman before I leave,” Denna said, her eyes dancing with amusement. “As for the secret: There are two ladies sitting behind you. They’ve been making eyes at you for most of the evening. The one in green fancies Sim, while the one with short blond hair seems to have a thing for Cealdish men who focus on being pretty.”

“We have already made note of them,” Wilem said without turning to look. “Unfortunately, they are already in the company of a young Modegan gentleman.”

“The gentleman is not with them in any romantic sense,” Denna said. “While the ladies have been eyeing you, the gentleman has been making it abundantly clear that he prefers redheads.” She lay her hand on my arm possessively. “Unfortunately for him, I have already staked my claim.”

I fought the urge to look at the table. “Are you serious?” I asked.

“Don’t worry,” she said to Wil and Sim. “I’ll send Deoch over to distract the Modegan. That will leave the door open for the two of you.”

“What’s Deoch going to do?” Simmon said with a laugh. “Juggle?”

Denna gave him a frank look.

“What?” Simmon said. “Wh . . . Deoch isn’t sly.”

Denna blinked at him. “He and Stanchion own the Eolian together,” she said. “Didn’t you know that?”

“They own the place,” Sim said. “They’re not, you know, together .”

Denna laughed. “Of course they are.”

“But Deoch is up to his neck in women,” Simmon protested. “He . . . he can’t—”

Denna looked at him as if he were simple, then to Wil and myself. “The two of you knew, didn’t you?”

Wilem shrugged. “I hadn’t any knowledge of it. But small wonder he is a Basha . He is attractive enough.” Wil hesitated, frowned. “Basha . What is a word for that here? A man who is intimate with both women and men?”

“Lucky?” Denna suggested. “Tired? Ambidextrous?”

“Ambisextrous,” I corrected.

“That won’t do,” Denna chided me. “If we don’t have impressive sounding names for things, no one will take us seriously.”

Sim blinked at her, obviously unable to come to grips with the situation.

“You see,” Denna said slowly, as if explaining to a child. “It’s all just energy. And we can direct it in different ways.” She blossomed into a brilliant smile, as if realizing the perfect way to explain the situation to him. “It’s like when you do this.” She began to vigorously rub her hands up and down her thighs, mimicking his earlier motion. “It’s all just energy.”

By this point Wilem was hiding his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. Simmon’s expression was still incredulous and confused, but now it was also a furious, blushing red.

I got to my feet and took Denna’s elbow. “Leave the poor boy alone,” I said as I steered her gently toward the door. “He’s from Atur. They’re laced a little tightly in those parts.”

 


Date: 2015-02-03; view: 159


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