I STARED OUT THE FRONT window of Anker’s, looking at the falling snow and idly turning Denna’s ring over in my fingers. Winter lay heavy over the University, and Denna had been gone for more than a month. I had three hours before class with Elodin, and I was trying to decide if the slim chance of finding Denna was worth the long, cold walk to Imre.
As I stood at the window, a Cealdish man came through the door, stomping the powdery snow from his boots and looking around curiously. It was still early in the day, and I was the only person in the common room.
He walked over to me, snowflakes melting in his beard until they were bright beads of water. “Sorry to bother you. I’m looking for a fellow.” he said, surprising me with his utter lack of anything resembling a Cealdish accent. He reached inside his long coat and pulled out a thick envelope with a blood-red seal. “Ka-voth-ee.” He read slowly, then turned the envelope toward me so I could see the front.
University. (Two miles west of Imre.)
It was Denna’s handwriting. “It’s Kvothe, actually,” I said absentmindedly. “The e is silent.”
He shrugged. “You him?”
“I am,” I said.
He nodded, satisfied. “Well, I got this down in Tarbean about a span back. Bought it off a fellow for a hard penny. He said he bought it off a sailor in Junpui for a Vintish silver bit. He couldn’t remember the name of the town where the sailor had got it from, but it was inland a ways.”
The man met my eye. “I’m tellin’ you this so you don’t think I’m trying to shim you on the deal. I paid a full hard penny, then came over myself from Imre though it was out of my way.” He looked around the common room. “Though I’m guessing a fellow with a fine inn such as this won’t quibble about giving a fellow his due.”
I laughed. “This isn’t my inn,” I said. “I just have a room here.”
“Oh,” he said, obviously a little disappointed. “You looked kinda proprietorial standing there. Still, I’m sure you see I need to make my money off this.”
“I do,” I said. “How much do you think is fair?”
He looked me up and down, eyeing my clothes. “I suppose I’d be happy making my hard penny back and a soft penny besides.”
I brought out my purse and fished around in it. Luckily, I’d been playing cards a few nights before, and had some Aturan currency. “Seems fair,” I said as I handed over the money.
He started to go, then turned back. “Out of curiosity,” he asked. “Would you have paid two hard pennies to get it?”
“Probably,” I admitted.
“Kist ,” he swore, then headed back outside, the door banging behind him.
The envelope was heavy parchment, wrinkled and smudged with much handling. The seal showed a stag rampant standing before a barrel and a harp. I pressed it hard between my fingers, shattering it as I sat down.
The letter read:
I’m sorry to leave Imre without word or warning. I sent You a message the night of my departure, but I expect you never received it.
I have gone abroad looking for greener pasture and better Opportunity. I am fond of Imre, and enjoy the pleasure of your Occasional, though Sporadic, company, but it is an expensive city in which to live, and my prospects have grown slender of late.
Yll is lovely, all rolling hills. I find the weather quite to my liking, it is warmer and the air smells of the sea. It seems I might pass an entire winter without being brought to bed by my lungs. My first in years.
I have spent some time in the Small Kingdoms and saw a skirmish between two bands of mounted men. Such a crashing and Screaming of Horses you have never heard. I have spent some time afloat as well, and learned all manner of sailor’s knots, and how to spit properly. Also, my Cussing has been greatly broadened.
If you ask politely when we next meet, I may demonstrate my newfound skills.
I have seen my first Adem Mercenary. (They call them blood-shirts here.) She is hardly bigger than me, with quite the most remarkable grey eyes. She is pretty, but strange and quiet, endlessly twitching. I have not seen her fight and am not sure I wish to. Though I am curious.
I am still enamoured of the harp. And am currently housing with a skilled gentleman (whom I shall not name) for the furthurinse of my study in this.
I have drunk some wine while Writing this letter. I mention this to excuse my above spelling of the word Furtherence. Furtherance. Kist. You know what I mean.
I apologize for not writing sooner, but I have been a great deal traveling and not until now have I had Means to write a Letter. Now that I have done, I expect it might be a while longer before I find a traveler I trust to start this missive on its long road back to you.
I think of you often and fondly.
Pstscrpt. I hope your lute case is serving you well.
* * *
Elodin’s class began strangely that day.
For one, Elodin was actually on time. This caught us unprepared as the six remaining students had taken to spending the first twenty or thirty minutes of the class gossiping, playing cards, and griping about how little we were learning. We didn’t even notice Master Namer until he was halfway down the steps of the lecture hall, clapping his hands to get our attention.
The second odd thing was that Elodin was dressed in his formal robes. I’d seen him wear them before when occasion demanded, but always grudgingly. Even during admissions interviews they were usually rumpled and unkempt.
Today he wore them as if he meant it. They looked sharp and freshly laundered. His hair wasn’t in its normal state of dishevel, either. It looked like it had been trimmed and combed.
Reaching the front of the lecture hall, he climbed onto the dais and moved to stand behind the lectern. This more than anything made everyone sit up and take notice. Elodin never used the lectern.
“Long ago,” he said without any preamble, “this was a place where people came to learn secret things. Men and women came to the University to study the shape of the world.”
Elodin looked out at us. “In this ancient University, there was no skill more sought after than naming. All else was base metal. Namers walked these streets like tiny Gods. They did terrible, wonderful things, and all others envied them.
“Only through skill in naming did students move through the ranks. An alchemist without any skill in naming was regarded as a sad thing, no more respected than a cook. Sympathy was invented here, but a sympathist without any naming might as well be a carriage driver. An artificer with no names behind his work was little more than a cobbler or a smith.
“They all came to learn the names of things,” Elodin said, his dark eyes intense, his voice resonant and stirring. “But naming cannot be taught by rule or rote. Teaching someone to be a namer is like teaching someone to fall in love. It is hopeless. It cannot be done.”
Master Namer smiled a bit then, for the first time looking like his familiar self. “Still, students tried to learn. And teachers tried to teach. And sometimes they succeeded.”
Elodin pointed. “Fela!” He motioned for her to approach. “Come.”
Fela stood, looking nervous as she climbed up to join him on the lecturer’s dais.
“You have all chosen the name you hope to learn,” Elodin said, his eyes sweeping over us. “And you have all pursued your studies with varying degrees of dedication and success.”
I fought the urge to look away shamefacedly, knowing that my efforts had been halfhearted at best.
“Where you have failed, Fela has succeeded,” Elodin said. “She has found the name of stone. . . .” He turned sideways to look at her. “How many times?”
“Eight times,” she said looking down, her hands twisting nervously in front of her.
There was a murmur of genuine awe from all of us. She had never mentioned this in our frequent griping sessions.
Elodin nodded, as if approving of our reaction. “When naming was still taught, we namers wore our prowess proudly. A student who gained mastery over a name would wear a ring as declaration of their skill.” Elodin stretched out a hand in front of Fela and opened it, revealing a river stone, smooth and dark. “And this is what Fela will do now, as proof of her ability.”
Startled, Fela looked at Elodin. Her eyes flickered back and forth between him and the stone, her face growing stricken and pale.
Elodin gave her a reassuring smile. “Come now,” he said gently. “You know in your secret heart you are capable of this. And more.”
Fela bit her lips and took hold of the stone. It seemed bigger in her hands than it had in his. She closed her eyes for a moment and drew a long, deep breath. She let it out slowly, lifted the stone, and opened her eyes so it was the first thing she would see.
Fela stared at the stone and there was a long moment’s silence. The tension in the room built until it was tight as a harp string. The air vibrated with it.
A long minute passed. Two long minutes. Three terribly long minutes.
Elodin sighed gustily, breaking the tension. “No no no,” he said, snapping his fingers near her face to get her attention. He pressed a hand over her eyes like a blindfold. “You’re looking at it. Don’t look at it. Look at it!” He pulled his hand away.
Fela lifted the stone and opened her eyes. At the same moment Elodin gave her a sharp slap on the back of the head with the flat of his hand.
She turned to him, her expression outraged. But Elodin merely pointed at the stone she still held in her hand. “Look!” he said excitedly.
Fela’s eyes went to the stone, and she smiled as if seeing an old friend. She covered it with a hand and brought it close to her mouth. Her lips moved.
There was a sudden, sharp cracking sound, as if a speck of water had been dropped into a pan of hot grease. There followed dozens more, so sharp and quick they sounded like an old man popping his knuckles, or a storm of hailstones hitting a hard slate roof.
Fela opened her hand and a scattering of sand and gravel spilled out. With two fingers she reached into the jumble of loose stone and pulled out a ring of sheer black stone. It was round as a cup and smooth as polished glass.
Elodin laughed in triumph before sweeping Fela into an enthusiastic hug. Fela threw her arms around him wildly in return. They took several quick steps together that were half stagger, half dance.
Still grinning, Elodin held out his hand. Fela gave him the ring, and he looked it over carefully before nodding.
“Fela,” he said seriously. “I hereby promote you to the rank of Re’lar.” He held up the ring. “Your hand.”
Almost shyly, Fela held out her hand. But Elodin shook his head. “Left hand,” he said firmly. “The right means something else entirely. None of you are anywhere near ready for that.”
Fela held out her other hand, and Elodin slid the ring of stone easily onto her finger. The rest of the class broke into applause, rushing close to get a look at what she had done.
Fela gave a radiant smile and held out her hand for all of us to see. The ring wasn’t smooth as I’d first thought. It was covered in a thousand tiny, flat facets. They circled each other in a subtle, swirling pattern unlike anything I’d ever seen before.