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Interlude—The Hempen Verse

 

C HRONICLER SMILED AS HE made his way to the bar. “That’s a solid hour’s work,” he said proudly as he took a seat. “I don’t suppose there’s anything left in the kitchen for me?”

“Or any of that pie Eli mentioned?” Jake asked hopefully.

“I want pie too,” Bast said, sitting next to Jake, nursing a drink of his own.

The innkeeper smiled, wiping his hands on his apron. “I think I might have remembered to set one by, just in case you three came in later than the rest.”

Old Cob rubbed his hands together. “Can’t remember last time I had warm apple pie,” he said.

The innkeeper went back into the kitchen. He pulled the pie from the oven, sliced it, and laid the pieces neatly onto plates. By the time he carried them out toward the taproom he could hear raised voices in the other room.

“It was too a demon, Jake,” Old Cob was saying angrily. “I told you last night, and I’ll tell you again a hundred times. I’m not a one to change my mind like other folk change their socks.” He held up a finger. “He called up a demon and it bit this fellow and sucked out his juice like a plum. I heard it from a fella who knew a woman that seen it herself.That’s why the constable and the deputies came and hauled him off. Meddling with dark forces is against the law over in Amary.”

“I still say folk just thought it was a demon,” Jake persisted. “You know how folk are.”

“I know folk.” Old Cob scowled. “I’ve been around longer than you Jacob. And I know my own story too.”

There was a long moment of tense silence at the bar before Jake looked away. “I was just sayin’,” he muttered.

The innkeeper slid a bowl of soup toward Chronicler. “What’s this then?”

The scribe gave the innkeeper a sly look. “Cob’s telling us about Kvothe’s trial in Imre,” he said, a hint of smugness in his voice. “Don’t you remember? He started the story last night but only made it halfway through.”

“Now.” Cob glared around, as if daring them to interrupt. “It was a tight spot. Kvothe knew if he was found guilty they’d string him up and let him hang.” Cob made a gesture to one side of his neck like he was holding a noose, tilting his head to the side.

“But Kvothe had read a great many books when he was at the University, and he knew himself a trick.” Old Cob stopped to take a forkful of pie and closed his eyes for a moment as he chewed. “Oh lord and lady,” he said to himself. “That’s a proper pie. I swear it’s better than me mam used to make. She always skint on the sugar.” He took another bite, a blissful expression spreading over his weathered face.

“So Kvothe knew a trick?” Chronicler prompted.

“What? Oh.” Cob seemed to remember himself. “Right. You see, there’s two lines in the Book of the Path , and if you can read them out loud in the old Tema only priests know, then the iron law says you get treated like a priest. That means a Commonwealth judge can’t do a damn thing to you. If you read those lines, your case has to be decided by the church courts.”

Old Cob took another bite of pie and chewed it slowly before swallowing. “Those two lines are called the hempen verse, because if you know them, you can keep yourself from getting strung up. The church courts can’t hang a man, you see.”



“What are the lines?” Bast asked.

“I dearly wish I knew,” Old Cob said mournfully. “But I don’t speak Tema. Kvothe didn’t know it himself. But he memorized the verse ahead of time. Then he pretended to read it and the Commonwealth court had to let him go.

“Kvothe knew he had two days until a Tehlin Justice could make it all the way to Amary. So he set about learning Tema. He read books and practiced for a whole day and a whole night. And he was so powerful smart that at the end of his studying he could speak Tema better than most folk who been doing it their whole lives.

“Then, on the second day before the Justice showed up, Kvothe mixed himself a potion. It was made out of honey, and a special stone you find in a snake’s brain, and a plant that only grows at the bottom of the sea. When he drank the potion, it made his voice so sweet anyone who listened couldn’t help but agree with anything he said.

“So when the Justice finally showed up, the whole trial only took fifteen minutes,” Cob said, chuckling. “Kvothe gave a fine speech in perfect Tema, everyone agreed with him, and they all went home.”

“And he lived happily ever after,” the red-haired man said softly from behind the bar.

 

* * *

 

Things were quiet at the bar. Outside the air was dry and hot, full of dust and the smell of chaff. The sunlight was hard and bright as a bar of gold.

Inside the Waystone it was dim and cool. The men had just finished the last slow bites of their pie, and there was still a little beer in their mugs. So they sat for a little while longer, slouching at the bar with the guilty air of men too proud to be properly lazy.

“I never much cared for Kvothe stories myself,” the innkeeper said matter-of-factly as he gathered up everyone’s plates.

Old Cob looked up from his beer. “That so?”

The innkeeper shrugged. “If I’m going to have a story with magic, I’d like it to have a proper wizard in it. Someone like Taborlin the Great, or Serapha, or The Chronicler.”

At the end of the bar, the scribe didn’t choke or startle. He did pause for half a second though, before lowering his spoon back into his second bowl of soup.

The room went comfortably quiet again as the innkeeper gathered up the last of the empty plates and turned toward the kitchen. But before he could get through the doorway, Graham spoke up. “The Chronicler?” he said. “I haven’t ever heard of him.”

The innkeeper turned back, surprised. “You haven’t?”

Graham shook his head.

“I’m sure you have,” the innkeeper said. “He carries around a great book, and whatever he writes down in that book comes true.” He looked at all of them expectantly. Jake shook his head too.

The innkeeper turned to the scribe at the end of the bar, who was keeping his attention on his food. “You’ve heard of him, I’m sure,” Kote said. “They call him Lord of Stories, and if he learns one of your secrets he can write whatever he wants about you in his book.” He looked at the scribe. “Haven’t you ever heard of him?”

Chronicler dropped his eyes and shook his head. He dipped the crust of his bread in his soup and ate it without speaking.

The innkeeper looked surprised. “When I was growing up, I liked The Chronicler more than Taborlin or any of the rest. He’s got a bit of Faerie blood in him, and it’s made him sharper than a normal man. He can see for a hundred miles on a cloudy day and hear a whisper through a thick oak door. He can track a mouse through a forest on a moonless night.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Bast said eagerly. “His sword is named Sheave, and the blade is made of a single piece of paper. It’s light as a feather, but so sharp that if he cuts you, you see the blood before you even feel it.”

The innkeeper nodded. “And if he learns your name, he can write it on the blade of the sword and use it to kill you from a thousand miles away.”

“But he’s got to write it in his own blood,” Bast added. “And there’s only so much space on the sword. He’s already written seventeen names on it, so there’s not that much room left.”

“He used to be a member of the high king’s court in Modeg,” Kote said. “But he fell in love with the high king’s daughter.”

Graham and Old Cob were nodding now. This was familiar territory.

Kote continued, “When Chronicler asked to marry her, the high king was angry. So he gave Chronicler a task to prove he was worthy. . . .” The innkeeper paused dramatically. “Chronicler can only marry her if he finds something more precious than the princess and brings it back to the high king.”

Graham made an appreciative noise. “That’s a pisser of a task. What’s a man to do? You can’t bring something back and say, ‘Here, this is worth more than your little girl. . . .’ ”

The innkeeper gave a grave nod. “So Chronicler wanders the world looking for ancient treasures and old magics, hoping to find something he can bring back to the king.”

“Why doesn’t he just write about the king in his magic book?” Jake asked. “Why doesn’t he write down, ‘And then the king stopped being a bastard and let us get married already.’ ”

“Because he doesn’t know any of the king’s secrets,” the innkeeper explained. “And the high king of Modeg knows some magic and can protect himself. Most importantly, he knows Chronicler’s weaknesses. He knows if you trick Chronicler into drinking ink, he has to do the next three favors you ask of him. And more important, he knows Chronicler can’t control you if you have your name hidden away somewhere safe. The high king’s name is written in a book of glass, hidden in a box of copper. And that box is locked away in a great iron chest where nobody can touch it.”

There was a moment’s pause as everyone considered this. Then Old Cob began nodding thoughtfully. “That last bit tickled my memory,” he said slowly. “I seem to remember a story about this Chronicler fellow going to look for a magic fruit. Whoever ate the fruit would suddenly know the names of all things, and he’d have powers like Taborlin the Great.”

The innkeeper rubbed his chin, nodding slowly. “I think I heard that one too,” he said. “But it was a long time ago, and I can’t say as I remember all the details. . . .”

“Ah well,” Old Cob said as he drank the last of his beer and knocked down his mug. “Nothing to be ’shamed of, Kote. Some folk are good at remembering and some ain’t. You make a fine pie, but we all know who the storyteller is around here.”

Old Cob climbed stiffly down off his stool and motioned to Graham and Jake. “Come on then, we can walk together as far as Byres’ place. I’ll tell you two all about it. Now this Chronicler, he’s tall and pale, and thin as a rail, with hair as black as ink—”

The door of the Waystone Inn banged closed.

“What in God’s name was that all about?” Chronicler demanded.

Kvothe looked sideways at Chronicler. He smiled a small, sharp smile. “How does it feel,” he asked, “knowing people out there are telling stories about you?”

“They’re not telling stories about me!” Chronicler said. “They’re just a bunch of nonsense.”

“Not nonsense,” Kvothe said, seeming a little bit offended. “It might not be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonsense.” He looked at Bast. “I liked the paper sword.”

Bast beamed. “The king’s task was a nice touch, Reshi. I don’t know about the Faerie blood though.”

“Demon blood would have been too sinister,” Kvothe said. “He needed a twist.”

“At least I won’t have to hear him tell it,” Chronicler said sullenly, prodding a bit of potato with his spoon.

Kvothe looked up, then chuckled darkly. “You don’t understand, do you? A fresh story like that on a harvest day? They’ll be at it like a child with a new toy. Old Cob will talk about Chronicler to a dozen people while they’re bucking hay and drinking water in the shade. Tonight at Shep’s wake, folk from ten towns will hear about the Lord of Stories. It will spread like a fire in a field.”

Chronicler looked back and forth between the two of them, his expression vaguely horrified. “Why?”

“It’s a gift,” Kvothe said.

“You think I want this?” Chronicler said incredulously. “Fame?”

“Not fame,” Kvothe said grimly. “Perspective. You go rummaging around in other people’s lives. You hear rumors and go digging for the painful truth beneath the lovely lies. You believe you have a right to these things. But you don’t.” He looked hard at the scribe. “When someone tells you a piece of their life, they’re giving you a gift, not granting you your due.”

Kvothe wiped his hands on the clean linen cloth. “I’m giving you my story with all the grubby truths intact. All my mistakes and idiocies laid out naked in the light. If I decide to pass over some small piece because it bores me, I’m well within my rights. I won’t be goaded into changing my mind by some farmer’s tale. I’m not an idiot.”

Chronicler looked down at his soup. “It was a little heavy-handed, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” Kvothe said.

Chronicler looked up with a sigh and gave a small, embarrassed smile. “Well. You can’t blame me for trying.”

“I can, actually,” Kvothe said. “But I believe I’ve made my point. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for any trouble that might cause you.” He gestured to the door and the departed farmers. “I might have overreacted a bit. I’ve never responded well to manipulation.”

Kvothe stepped out from behind the bar, heading to the table near the hearth. “Come on now, both of you. The trial itself was tedious business. But it had important repercussions.”

 


Date: 2015-02-03; view: 962


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