D ESPITE WHAT WIL AND Sim believed, I couldn’t believe Devi was responsible for the malfeasance against me. While I was painfully aware that I knew next to nothing about women, she had always been friendly to me. Even sweet at times.
True, she had a grim reputation. But I knew better than anyone how quickly a handful of rumors could turn into full-blown faerie stories.
I thought it much more likely that my unknown assailant was simply a bitter student who resented my advancement in the Arcanum. Most students studied for years before they reached Re’lar, and I had managed it in less than three terms. It could even be someone who simply hated the Edema Ruh. It wouldn’t be the first time that had earned me a beating.
In some ways, it really didn’t matter who was responsible for the attacks. What I needed was a way to stop them. I couldn’t expect Wil and Sim to watch over me for the rest of my life.
I needed a more permanent solution. I needed a gram.
A gram is a clever piece of artificery designed for just this sort of problem. It is a sort of sympathetic armor that prevents anyone from making a binding against your body. I didn’t know how they worked, but I knew they existed. And I knew where to find out how to make one.
* * *
Kilvin looked up as I approached his office. I was relieved to see his glasswork was cold and dark.
“I trust you are well, Re’lar Kvothe?” he asked without getting up from the worktable. He was holding a large hemisphere of glass in one hand and a diamond stylus in the other.
“I am, Master Kilvin,” I lied.
“Have you been thinking about your next project?” he asked. “Have you been dreaming clever dreams?”
“I was actually looking for a schema for a gram, Master Kilvin. But I can’t find it in any of the bolt-holes or reference books.”
Kilvin looked at me curiously. “And why would you be needing a gram, Re’lar Kvothe? Such a desire does not reflect good faith in your fellow arcanists.”
Unsure as to whether he was joking or not, I decided to play it straight. “We’ve been learning about slippage in Adept Sympathy. I was thinking that if a gram works to deny outside affinities . . .”
Kilvin gave a low chuckle. “Dal has been throwing fear into you. Good. And you are correct, a gram would help protect against slippage—” His dark Cealdish eyes gave me a serious look. “To a degree. However, it seems a clever student would simply learn his lessons and avoid slippage through proper care and caution.”
“I intend to, Master Kilvin,” I said. “Still, a gram strikes me as a useful thing to have.”
“There is truth to that,” Kilvin admitted, nodding his shaggy head. “However, with repairs and the filling of our autumn orders, we are understaffed.” He waved a hand toward the window that looked out into the workshop. “I cannot spare any workers to make such a thing. And even if I could, there is an issue of cost. They require delicate work, and gold is needed for the inlay.”
“I’d prefer to make my own, Master Kilvin.”
Kilvin shook his head. “There is reason the schema is not in the reference books .You are not far enough along to be making your own. One must be careful when meddling with sygaldry and one’s own blood.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but he cut me off. “More important, the sygaldry necessary for such a device is only entrusted to those who have reached the ranks of El’the. The runes for blood and bone have too great a potential for misuse.”
His tone let me know there was nothing to be gained by arguing, so I shrugged it off as if I couldn’t care less. “It’s no matter, Master Kilvin. I have other projects to occupy my time.”
Kilvin gave me a wide smile. “I am sure you do, Re’lar Kvothe. I am waiting with great eagerness to see what you will make for me.”
A thought struck me. “To that purpose, Master Kilvin, could I have the use of one of the private workrooms? I’d rather not have everyone looking over my shoulder while I’m tinkering.”
Kilvin’s eyebrows went up at this. “Now I am doubly curious.” He set down the hemisphere of glass, got to his feet, and opened a drawer in his desk. “Will one of the first floor workrooms suit you? Or is there a chance of something exploding? I will give you one on the third floor if that is the case. They are colder, but the roof is better suited for that sort of thing.”
I looked at him for a moment, trying to decide if he was joking. “A first floor room will be fine, Master Kilvin. But I’ll need a small smelter and a little extra room to breathe.”
Kilvin muttered to himself, then brought out a key. “How much breathing will you be doing? Room twenty-seven is five hundred feet square.”
“That should be plenty,” I said. “I also might need permission to get precious metals from Stocks.”
Kilvin chuckled at this, and nodded as he handed me the key. “I will see it is done, Re’lar Kvothe. I look forward to seeing what you will make for me.”
* * *
It was galling that the schema I needed was restricted. But there are always other ways of finding information, and there are always people who know more than they are supposed to.
For example, I didn’t doubt Manet knew how to make a gram. Everyone knew he was an E’lir in title only. But there was no way he would share the information with me against Kilvin’s wishes. The University had been Manet’s home for thirty years, and he was probably the only student who feared expulsion more than me.
This meant my options were limited. Other than a lengthy search of the Archives, I couldn’t think of any way to get a schema on my own. So, after several minutes of wracking my brain for a better option, I made my way to the Bale and Barley.
The Bale was one of the more disreputable taverns this side of the river. Anker’s wasn’t seedy in the strictest sense, it simply lacked pretension. It was clean without smelling of flowers and inexpensive without being tawdry. People visited Anker’s to eat, drink, listen to music, and occasionally have a friendly fight.
The Bale was several rungs farther down the ladder. It was grubbier, music was not a priority, and the fights were usually only recreational for one of the people involved.
Mind you, the Bale wasn’t as bad as half the places in Tarbean. But it was the worst you were likely to find this close to the University. So despite being seedy, it had wooden floors and glass in the windows. And if you passed out drunk and woke up missing your purse, you could content yourself with the fact that nobody had knifed you and stolen your boots as well.
As it was still early in the day, there were a bare handful of people scattered around the common room. I was glad to see Sleat sitting in the back. I hadn’t actually met him, but I knew who he was. I’d heard stories.
Sleat was one of the rare, indispensable people who have a knack for arranging things. From what I’d heard, he’d been a student on and off for the last ten years.
He was talking with a nervous-looking man at the moment, and I knew better than to interrupt. So I bought two mugs of short beer and made a pretense of drinking one while I waited.
Sleat was handsome, dark-haired and dark-eyed. Though he didn’t have the characteristic beard, I expected he was at least half Cealdish. His body language screamed authority. He moved as if he were in control of everything around him.
Which wouldn’t have surprised me, actually. He could own the Bale for all I knew. People like Sleat are no strangers to money.
Sleat and the anxious young man finally came to some sort of agreement. Sleat smiled warmly as they shook hands and clapped the man on the shoulder as he walked away.
I waited for a moment, then made my way over to his table. As I came closer, I noticed there was a stretch of open floor between his table and the others in the common room. It wasn’t much, just enough so eavesdropping would be difficult.
Sleat looked up as I approached.
“I was wondering if we could talk,” I said.
He made an expansive gesture to the empty chair. “This is a bit of a surprise,” he said.
“I don’t get a lot of clever folks paying me visits. I get desperate folks.” He looked at the mugs. “Are those both for you?”
“You can have either or both.” I nodded at the one on the right. “But I’ve already had my mouth on that one.”
He looked at the mugs warily for a fraction of a second, then gave a wide, white smile and took the drink on the left. “From what I’ve heard, you’re not the sort to poison a man.”
“You seem to know a lot about me,” I said.
His shrug was so casual I guessed he’d practiced it. “I know a lot about everyone,” he said. “But I know more about you.”
Sleat slouched forward, leaning on the table and speaking in a confidential tone. “Do you have any idea how boring your average student is? Half of them are rich tourists who don’t care half a damn for their classes.” He rolled his eyes and gestured as if throwing something over his shoulder. “The other half are bookish tits who have dreamed of this place so long they can hardly breathe once they’re here. They walk on eggshells, meek as priests. Scared lest the masters cast a disapproving eye in their direction.”
He sniffed disdainfully and leaned back in his seat. “Suffice to say you’re a breath of fresh air. Everyone says . . .” He stopped and gave his practiced shrug again. “Well, you know.”
“Actually, I don’t,” I admitted. “What do people say?”
Sleat gave me a sharp, beautiful smile. “Ah, that’s the problem isn’t it? Everyone knows a man’s reputation except the man himself. For most men this isn’t a bother. But some of us labor over our reputations. I have built mine brick by brick. It is a useful tool.” He gave me a sly look. “I expect you understand what I am talking about.”
I allowed myself a smile. “Perhaps.”
“What do they say about me, then? Tell me and I’ll return the favor.”
“Well,” I said. “You’re good at finding things,” I said. “You’re discreet, but expensive.”
He waved his hands, irritated. “Vagaries. Details are the bones of the story. Give me bones.”
I thought. “I heard you managed to sell several vials of Regim Ignaul Neratum last term. After the fire in Kilvin’s shop, where all of it was supposedly destroyed.”
Sleat nodded, his expression giving away nothing.
“I heard you arranged to get a message to Veyane’s father in Emlin despite the fact that there was a siege going on.” Another nod. “You got a young prostitute working in Buttons a set of documents proving she was a distant bloodline cousin of the Baronet Gamre, allowing her to marry a certain young gentleman with minimal fuss.”
Sleat smiled. “I was proud of that one.”
“When you were an E’lir,” I continued. “You were suspended for two terms on charges of Wrongful Apprehension. Two years later, you were fined and suspended again for Misuse of University Equipment in the Crucible. I’ve heard Jamison knows the sort of business you do, but he’s paid to turn a blind eye. I don’t believe the last one, by the way.”
“Fair enough,” he said easily. “Neither do I.”
“Despite your extensive activities, you’ve only been brought up against the iron law once,” I continued. “Transport of Contraband Substances, wasn’t it?”
Sleat rolled his eyes. “You know the damnedest thing? I was actually innocent of that one. Heffron’s boys paid off a constable to fake some evidence. The charges were withdrawn after only two days.” He scowled. “Not that the masters cared. All they gave a damn about was that I was out there besmirching the University’s good name.” His tone was bitter. “My tuition tripled after that.”
I decided to push matters a bit. “Several months ago you poisoned a young earl’s daughter with Venitasin and only gave her the antidote after she signed over the largest of the fiefdoms she stood to inherit. Then you staged it to look like she’d lost it playing a game of high-stakes faro.”
He raised an eyebrow at this. “Do they say why?”
“No,” I said. “I assumed she tried to default on her debt to you.”
“There’s some truth to that,” he said. “Though it was a bit more complicated. And it wasn’t Venitasin. That would be extraordinarily reckless.” He looked offended and brushed at his sleeve, plainly irritated. “Anything else?”
I paused, trying to decide if I wanted to get confirmation about something I’d suspected for some time. “Only that last term you put Ambrose Jakis in touch with a pair of men who have been known to kill people for money.”
Sleat’s expression remained impassive, his body loose and relaxed. But I could see a slight tension in his shoulders. Very little escapes me when I’m watching closely. “They say that, do they?”
I gave a shrug that put his to shame. My shrug was so nonchalant it would make a cat jealous. “I’m a musician. I play three nights a span in a busy tavern. I hear all manner of things.” I reached for my mug. “And what have you heard of me?”
“The same stories everyone else knows, of course. You convinced the masters to admit you to the University though you’re just a pup, no offense. Then two days later you shame Master Hemme in his own classroom and get away bird free.”
“Save for a whipping.”
“Save for a whipping,” he acknowledged. “During which you couldn’t be bothered to cry out or bleed, even a little. I wouldn’t believe that if there weren’t several hundred witnesses.”
“We drew a decent crowd,” I said. “It was good weather for a whipping.”
“I’ve heard some overly dramatic folk call you Kvothe the Bloodless because of it,” he said. “Though I’m guessing part of that comes from the fact that you’re Edema Ruh, which means you’re about as far from a blooded noble as a person can be.”
I smiled. “A bit of both, I expect.”
He looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard you and Master Elodin fought in Haven. Vast and terrible magics were unleashed, and in the end he won by throwing you through a stone wall, then off the roof of the building.”
“Do they say what we fought over?” I asked.
“All manner of things,” he said dismissively. “An insult. A misunderstanding. You tried to steal his magic. He tried to steal your woman. Typical nonsense.”
Sleat rubbed at his face. “Let me see. You play the lute passing well and are proud as a kicked cat. You are unmannerly, sharp-tongued, and show no respect for your betters, which is practically everyone given your lowly ravel birth.”
I felt a flush of anger start in my face and sweep, hot and prickling, down the entire length of my body. “I am the best musician you will ever meet or see from a distance,” I said with forced calm. “And I am Edema Ruh to my bones. That means my blood is red. It means I breathe the free air and walk where my feet take me. I do not cringe and fawn like a dog at a man’s title. That looks like pride to people who have spent their lives cultivating supple spines.”
Sleat gave a lazy smile, and I realized he’d been baiting me. “You also have a temper, so I’ve heard. And there’s a whole boatload of other assorted nonsense floating around you as well. You only sleep an hour each night. You have demon blood. You can talk to the dead—”
I leaned forward, curious. That wasn’t one of the rumors I’d started. “Really ? Do I talk to spirits, or are they claiming I’m digging up bodies?”
“Only that you were cornered in an alley last term by two men who kill people for money. And despite the fact that they had knives and caught you quite unaware, you blinded one and beat the other senseless, calling down fire and lightning like Taborlin the Great.”
We looked at each other for a long moment. It was not a comfortable silence. “Did you put Ambrose in touch with them?” I asked at last.
“That,” Sleat said frankly, “is not a good question. It implies I discuss private dealings after the fact.” He gave me a flat look, no hint of a smile anywhere near his mouth or eyes. “Besides, would you trust me to answer honestly?”
“I can say, however, that because of those stories, nobody is much interested in taking that sort of job again,” Sleat said conversationally. “Not that there is much call for that sort of work around here to begin with. We’re all terribly civilized.”
“Not that you would know about it, even if it were going on.”
His smile came back. “Exactly.” He leaned forward. “Enough chatter then. What is it you’re looking for?”
“I need a schema for a piece of artificing.”
He set his elbows on the table. “And . . .”
“It contains sygaldry Kilvin restricts to those of El’the rank and higher.”
Sleat nodded matter-of-factly. “And how quickly do you need it? Hours? Days?”
I thought about Wil and Sim staying up nights to watch over me. “Sooner is better.”
Sleat looked thoughtful, his eyes unfocused. “It’s going to cost, and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to produce it on an exact schedule.” He focused in on me. “Also, if you get caught you’ll be charged with Wrongful Apprehension at the very least.”
“And you know what the penalties are?”
“‘For Wrongful Apprehension of the Arcane not leading to injury of another,” I recited. “‘The offending student may be fined no more than twenty talents, whipped no more than ten times, suspended from the Arcanum, or expelled from the University.”
“They fined me the full twenty talents and suspended me two terms,” Sleat said grimly. “And that was only some Re’lar-level alchemy. It will be worse with you if this is El’the-level stuff.”
“How much?” I asked.
“To get hold of it in a few days . . .” He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “Thirty talents.”
I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach, but I kept my face composed. “Is there any room to negotiate that?”
He gave his sharp smile again, his teeth were very white. “I also deal in favors,” he said. “But a thirty talent favor is going to be a big one.” He looked at me thoughtfully. “We could perhaps work out something along those lines. But I feel obliged to mention that when I call a favor due, it’s due. At that point, there isn’t any negotiation.”
I nodded calmly to show him I understood. But I felt a cold knot forming in my gut. This was a bad idea. I knew it in my bones.
“Do you owe anyone else?” Sleat asked. “And don’t lie to me or I’ll know.”
“Six talents,” I said casually. “Due at the end of the term.”
He nodded. “I’m guessing you didn’t manage to get it off some moneylender. Did you go to Heffron?”
I shook my head. “Devi.”
For the first time in our conversation Sleat lost his composure, his charming smile fell away entirely. “Devi?” He pulled himself up in his chair, his body suddenly tense. “No. I don’t think we can come to an arrangement. If you had cash it would be one thing.” He shook his head. “But no. If Devi already owns a piece of you . . .”
His reaction chilled me, then I realized he was just angling for more money. “What if I were to borrow money from you so I could settle my debt with her?”
Sleat shook his head, regaining a piece of his shattered nonchalance. “That is the very definition of poaching,” he said. “Devi has an ongoing interest in you. An investment.” He took a drink and cleared his throat meaningfully. “She does not look kindly on other folk interfering where she’s staked her claim.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I guess I was taken in by your reputation,” I said. “Silly of me, really.”
His face creased into a frown. “What do you mean by that?”
I waved my hands dismissively. “Please, give me credit for being at least half as clever as you’ve heard,” I said. “If you can’t get what I want, just admit it. Don’t waste my time by pricing things out of my reach or coming up with elaborate excuses.”
Sleat seemed unsure if he should be offended. “What part of this seems elaborate to you?”
“Come now,” I said. “You’re willing to run against the laws of the University, risk the wrath of the masters, the constables, and the iron law of Atur. But a little slip of a girl makes your knees quivery?” I sniffed and mimicked the gesture he’d made before, pretending to ball something up and throw it away over my shoulder.
He looked at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Yes, that’s exactly the case,” he said, wiping tears of genuine amusement from his eyes. “Apparently I was fooled by your reputation too. If you think Devi is a little slip of a girl, you aren’t nearly as clever as I thought.”
Looking over my shoulder, Sleat nodded at someone I couldn’t see and waved his hand dismissively. “Go on with you,” he said. “I have business to do with rational people who know the true shape of the world. You’re wasting my time.”
I felt myself prickling with irritation, but forced myself to keep it off my face. “I also need a crossbow,” I said.
He shook his head. “No, I’ve already told you. No loans or favors.”
“I can offer goods in exchange.”
He looked at me skeptically. “What sort of crossbow?”
“Any sort,” I said. “It needn’t be fancy. It just needs to work.”
“Eight talents,” he said.
I gave him a hard look. “Don’t insult me. This is mundane contraband. I’ll bet ten to a penny you can have one in two hours. If you try to gouge me, I’ll just go over the river and get one from Heffron.”
“Get one from Heffron and you’ll have to carry it back from Imre,” he said. “Constable would love seeing that.”
I shrugged and began to get to my feet.
“Three talents and five,” he said. “It’ll be used, mind you. And a stirrup, not a crank.”
I calculated in my head. “Will you accept an ounce of silver and a spool of finely drawn gold wire?” I asked, bringing them out from the pockets of my cloak.
Sleat’s dark eyes unfocused slightly as he did his own internal calculations. “You drive a tight bargain.” He picked up the spool of bright wire and the small ingot of silver. “There’s a rain barrel behind the Grimsome Tannery. The crossbow will be there in fifteen minutes.” He gave me an insulted look. “Two hours? You don’t know anything about me at all.”
* * *
Hours later Fela emerged from the shelves in the Archives and caught me with one hand against the four-plate door. I wasn’t pushing on it, exactly. Just pressing. Just checking to see if it was firmly closed. It was.
“I don’t suppose they tell scrivs what’s behind this?” I asked her without any hope.
“If they do, they haven’t told me yet,” Fela said, stepping close and reaching out to run her fingers along the grooves the letters made in the stone: Valaritas . “I had a dream about the door once,” she said. “Valaritas was the name of an old dead king. His tomb was behind the door.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s better than the dreams I have about it.”
“What are yours?” She asked.
“Once I dreamed I saw light through the keyholes,” I said. “But mostly I’m just standing here, staring at it, trying to get in.” I frowned at the door. “As if standing outside while I’m awake isn’t frustrating enough, I do it while I’m asleep too.”
Fela laughed softly at that, then turned away from the door to face me. “I got your note,” she said. “What’s the research project you were so vague about?”
“Let’s go somewhere private to talk,” I said. “It’s a bit of a story.”
We made our way to one of the reading holes, and once the door was closed I told her the whole story, embarrassments and all. Someone was practicing malfeasance against me. I couldn’t go to the masters for fear of revealing I was the one who had broken into Ambrose’s rooms. I needed a gram to protect myself, but I didn’t know enough sygaldry to make one.
“Malfeasance,” she said in a low voice, slowly shaking her head in dismay. “You’re sure?”
I unbuttoned my shirt and took it down off my shoulder, revealing the dark bruise on my shoulder from the attack I’d only managed to partially stop.
She leaned in to look at it. “And you really don’t know who it might be?”
“Not really,” I said, trying not to think of Devi. I wanted to keep that particular bad decision to myself for now. “I’m sorry to drag you into this, but you’re the only one . . .”
Fela waved her hands in negation. “None of that. I told you to ask if you ever needed a favor, and I’m glad you did.”
“I’m glad you’re glad,” I said. “If you can get me through this, I’ll owe you instead. I’m getting better at finding what I want in here, but I’m still new.”
Fela nodded. “It takes years to learn your way around the Stacks. It’s like a city.”
I smiled. “That’s how I think of it too. I haven’t lived here long enough to learn all the shortcuts.”
Fela grimaced a bit. “And I’m guessing you’re going to need those. If Kilvin really believes the sygaldry is dangerous, most of the books you want will be in his private library.”
I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach. “Private library?”
“All the masters have private libraries,” Fela said matter-of-factly. “I know some alchemy so I help spot books with formulae Mandrag wouldn’t want in the wrong hands. Scrivs who know sygaldry do the same for Kilvin.”
“But this is pointless then,” I said. “If Kilvin has all those books locked away there’s no chance of finding what I’m looking for.”
Fela smiled, shaking her head. “The system isn’t perfect. Only about a third of the Archives are properly cataloged. What you’re looking for is probably still in the Stacks somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding it.”
“I wouldn’t even need a whole schema,” I said. “If I just knew a few of the proper runes I could probably just fake the rest.”
She gave me a worried look. “Is that really wise?”
“Wisdom is a luxury I can’t afford,” I said. “Wil and Sim have already been watching over me for two nights. They can’t sleep in shifts for the next ten years.”
Fela drew a deep breath then let it out slowly. “Right. We can start with the cataloged books first. Maybe what you need has slipped past the scrivs.”
We collected several dozen books on sygaldry and closeted ourselves in an out-of-the-way reading hole on the fourth floor. Then we started going through them one at a time.
We began with hopes of finding a full-fledged schema for a gram, but as the hours slid by we lowered our hopes. If not a whole schema, perhaps we could find a description of one. Perhaps a reference to the sequence of runes used. The name of a single rune. A hint. A clue. A scrap. Some piece of the puzzle.
I closed the last of the books we had brought back to the reading hole. It made a solid thump as the pages settled together.
“Nothing?” she asked tiredly.
“Nothing.” I rubbed my face with both hands. “So much for getting lucky.”
Fela shrugged, grimacing halfway through the motion, then craned her head to one side to stretch a kink out of her neck. “It made sense to start in the most obvious places,” she said. “But those will be the same places the scrivs have combed over for Kilvin. We’ll just have to dig deeper.”
I heard the distant sound of the belling tower and was surprised at how many times it struck. We’d been researching for over four hours. “You’ve missed your class,” I said.
“It’s just geometries,” she said.
“You’re a wonderful person,” I said. “What’s our best option now?”
“A long, slow trawl of the Stacks,” she said. “But it’s going to be like panning for gold. Dozens of hours, and that’s with both of us working together so we don’t overlap our efforts.”
“I can bring in Wil and Sim to help,” I said.
“Wilem works here,” Fela said. “But Simmon’s never been a scriv, he’ll probably just get in the way.”
I gave her an odd look. “Do you know Sim very well?”
“Not very,” she admitted. “I’ve seen him around.”
“You’re underestimating him,” I said. “People do it all the time. Sim’s smart.”
“Everyone here is smart,” Fela said. “And Sim is nice, but . . .”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “He’s nice. He’s gentle, which people see as weak. And he’s happy, which people see as stupid.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Fela said.
“I know,” I said, rubbing at my face. “I’m sorry. It’s been a bad couple of days. I thought the University would be different than the rest of the world, but it’s just like everywhere else: people cater to pompous, rude bastards like Ambrose, while the good souls like Simmon get brushed off as simpletons.”
“Which one are you?” Fela said with a smile as she began to stack up the books. “Pompous bastard or good soul?”
“I’ll research that later,” I said. “Right now I’ve got more pressing concerns.”