I SAW ELXA DAL RAISE a hand in greeting from across the courtyard. “Kvothe!” He smiled warmly. “The very fellow I was hoping to see! Could I borrow a moment of your time?”
“Of course,” I said. While I liked Master Dal, we hadn’t had much contact together outside the lecture hall. “Could I buy you a drink, or a bite of lunch? I’ve been meaning to thank you more properly for speaking on my behalf at the trial, but I’ve been busy. . . .”
“As have I,” Dal said. “I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you for days, but time keeps getting away from me.” He looked around. “I wouldn’t turn down a bit of lunch, but I should probably forego the drink. I have admissions to oversee in less than an hour.”
We stepped into the White Hart. I’d barely even seen the inside of the place, as it was far too rich for the likes of me.
Elxa Dal was recognizable in his dark master’s robes, and the host fawned a bit as he led the two of us to a private table. Dal seemed perfectly at his ease as he took a seat, but I was increasingly nervous. I couldn’t imagine why the Master Sympathist would seek me out for a conversation.
“What can I bring you?” asked the tall, thin man as soon as we were in our chairs. “Drinks? A selection of cheeses? We have a delightful lemoned trout as well.”
“The trout and cheeses would do nicely,” Dal said.
The host turned to me. “And yourself?”
“I’ll try the trout as well,” I said.
“Wonderful,” he said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. “And to drink?”
“Cider,” I said.
“Do you have any Fallows red?” Dal asked hesitantly.
“We do,” said the host. “And it’s a lovely year, too, if I do say so myself.”
“I’ll have a cup,” Dal said, glancing at me. “One cup shouldn’t alter my judgment too badly.”
The host hurried away, leaving me alone at the table with Elxa Dal. It felt odd sitting across the table from him. I shifted nervously in my seat.
“So how are things with you?” Dal asked conversationally.
“Passing fair,” I said.“It was a good term with the exception of . . .” I made a gesture toward Imre.
Dal gave a humorless chuckle. “That was a brush with the old days, wasn’t it?” He shook his head. “Consortation with Demons. Good lord.”
The host returned with our drinks and left without a word.
Master Dal picked up his wide clay cup and held it in the air. “To not getting burned alive by superstitious folk,” he said.
I smiled despite my discomfiture and raised my wooden mug. “A fine tradition.”
We both drank, Dal sighing appreciatively at the wine.
Dal looked at me across the table. “So tell me,” he said. “Have you ever considered what you’re going to do with yourself when you’re done here? After you have your guilder, I mean.”
“I haven’t thought of it that much,” I admitted honestly. “It seems such a long way off.”
“At the rate you’re rising through the ranks it might not be so long at that. Already a Re’lar at . . . how old are you again?”
“Seventeen,” I lied smoothly. I was sensitive about my age. Many students were nearly twenty before they enrolled in the University, let alone joined the Arcanum.
“Seventeen,” Dal mused softly. “It’s so easy to forget that. You carry yourself so tall.” His eyes got a faraway look in them. “Lord and lady, I was a mess at seventeen. My studies, trying to sort out my place in the world. Women . . .” He shook his head slowly. “It gets better, you know. Give it three or four years and everything settles down a bit.”
He raised his clay cup to me briefly before taking another drink. “Not that you seem to be having much trouble. Re’lar at seventeen. Quite a mark of distinction.”
I flushed a bit, not knowing what to say.
The host returned and began laying dishes on the table. A small board with an array of different sliced cheeses. A bowl with small, toasted pieces of bread. A bowl of strawberry preserves. A bowl of blueberry jam. A small dish of shelled walnuts.
Dal picked up a small piece of bread and a slice of crumbling white cheese. “You’re quite the sympathist,” he said. “There are any number of opportunities out there for a person as skilled as yourself.”
I spread a bit of strawberry across a piece of cheese and toast, then put it into my mouth to give myself time to think. Was Dal implying he wanted me to focus more on my study of sympathy? Was he implying he wanted to sponsor me to El’the?
Elodin had sponsored my elevation to Re’lar, but I knew these things changed. Masters occasionally fought over particularly promising students. Mola, for example, had been a scriv before Arwyl stole her away into the Medica.
“I do enjoy my study of sympathy quite a bit,” I said carefully.
“That’s abundantly clear,” Dal said with a smile. “Some of your classmates wish you enjoyed it a little less, I can assure you of that.” He ate another piece of cheese, then continued, “That said, it is possible to overdo it. Didn’t Teccam say ‘Too much study harms the student?’ ”
“Ertram the Wiser, actually.” I said. It had been in one of the books Master Lorren had set aside for Re’lar to study this term.
“It’s true at any rate,” he said. “You might want to consider taking a term off to relax a bit. Travel a little, get some sun.” He took another drink. “It’s not good to see one of the Edema Ruh without a tan.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. The thought of taking a holiday from the University had never occurred to me. Where would I possibly go?
The host arrived with plates of fish, steaming and smelling of lemon and butter. For a while both of us concentrated on our food. I was glad for an excuse not to talk. Why would Dal compliment me on my studies, then encourage me to leave?
After a while Elxa Dal gave a contented sigh and pushed back his plate. “Let me tell you a little story,” he said. “A story I like to call ‘The Ignorant Edema.’ ”
I looked up at that, slowly chewing my mouthful of fish. I kept my expression carefully composed.
He arched an eyebrow, as if waiting to see if I had anything to say.
When I didn’t, he continued. “Once there was a learned arcanist. He knew all of sympathy and sygaldry and alchemy. He had ten dozen names tucked neatly into his head, spoke eight languages, and had exemplary penmanship. Really, the only thing that kept him from being a master was poor timing and a certain lack of social grace.”
Dal took a sip of wine. “So this fellow went chasing the wind for a while, hoping to find his fortune out in the wide world. And while he was on the road to Tinuë, he came to a lake he needed to cross.”
Dal smiled broadly. “Luckily, there was an Edema boatman who offered to ferry him to the other side. The arcanist, seeing the trip would take several hours, tried to start a conversation.
“ ‘What do you think,’ he asked the boatman, ‘about Teccam’s theory of energy as an elemental substance rather than a material property?’
“The boatman replied he’d never thought on it at all.What’s more, he had no plans to.
“ ‘Surely your education included Teccam’s Theophany? ’ the arcanist asked.
“ ‘I never had what you might call an education, y’honor,’ the boatman said. ‘And I wouldn’t know this Teccam of yours if he showed up selling needles to m’wife.’
“Curious, the arcanist asked a few questions and the Edema admitted he didn’t know who Feltemi Reis was, or what a gearwin did. The arcanist continued for a long hour, first out of curiosity, then with dismay. The final straw came when he discovered the boatman couldn’t even read or write.
“ ‘Really sir,’ the arcanist said, appalled. ‘It is every man’s job to improve himself. A man without the benefits of education is hardly more than an animal.’ ”
Dal grinned. “Well, as you can guess, the conversation didn’t go very far after that. They rode for the next hour in a tense silence, but just as the far shore was coming into sight a storm blew up. Waves started to lash the little boat, making the timbers creak and groan.
“The Edema took a hard look at the clouds and said, ‘It’ll be true bad in five minutes, then sommat worse afore it clears. This boat of mine won’t hold together through it all. We’re gonnta have to swim the last little bit.’ And with this the ferryman takes off his shirt and begins to tie it around his waist.
“ ‘But I don’t know how to swim,’ says the arcanist.”
Dal drank off the last of his wine, turned the cup upside down, and set it firmly on the tabletop. There was a moment of expectant silence as he watched me, a vaguely self-satisfied expression on his face.
“Not a bad story,” I admitted. “The Ruh’s accent was a little over the top.”
Dal bent at the waist in a quick, mocking bow. “I will take it under consideration,” he said, then raised one finger and gave me a conspiratorial look. “Not only is my story designed to delight and entertain, but there is a kernel of truth hidden within, where only the cleverest student might find it.” His expression turned mysterious. “All the truth in the world is held in stories, you know.”
* * *
Later that evening, I related the encounter to my friends while playing cards at Anker’s.
“He’s giving you a hint, thickwit,” Manet said irritably. The cards had been against us all night, and we were five hands behind. “You just refuse to hear it.”
“He’s hinting I should leave off studying sympathy for a term?” I asked.
“No,” Manet snapped. “He’s telling you what I’ve told you twice already. You’re a king-high idiot if you go through admissions this term.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
Manet set his cards down with profound calm. “Kvothe. You’re a clever boy, but you have a world of trouble listening to things you don’t want to hear.” He looked left then right at Wilem and Simmon. “Can you try telling him?”
“Take a term off,” Wilem said without looking up from his cards. Then added, “Thickwit.”
“You really have to,” Sim said earnestly. “Everyone’s still talking about the trial. It’s all anyone is talking about.”
“The trial?” I laughed. “That was more than a span ago. They’re talking about how I was found completely innocent. Exonerated in the eyes of the iron law and merciful Tehlu himself.”
Manet snorted loudly, lowering his cards. “It would have been better if you’d been guilty in a quiet way, rather than be innocent so loud.” He looked at me. “Do you know how long it’s been since an arcanist was brought up on charges of Consortation?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Neither do I,” he said. “Which means it’s been a long, long while. You’re innocent. Lovely for you. But the trial has given the University a great shining black eye. It’s reminded folk that while you might not deserve burning, some arcanists might.” He shook his head. “You can be certain the masters are uniformly wet-cat-mad about that.”
“Some students aren’t too pleased either,” Wil added darkly.
“It isn’t my fault there was a trial!” I protested, then backed up a bit. “Not entirely. Ambrose stirred this up. He was backstage during the whole thing, laughing up his sleeve.”
“Even so,” Wil said. “Ambrose is sensible enough to avoid admissions this term.”
“What?” I asked, surprised. “He’s not going through admissions?”
“He is not,” Wilem said. “He left for home two days ago.”
“But there was nothing to connect him to the trial,” I said. “Why would he leave?”
“Because the masters are not idiots,” Manet said. “The two of you have been snapping at each other like mad dogs since you first met.” He tapped his lips thoughtfully, his expression full of exaggerated innocence. “Say, that reminds me. Whatever were you doing at the Golden Pony the night Ambrose’s room caught fire?”
“Playing cards,” I said.
“Of course you were,” Manet said, his tone thick with sarcasm. “The two of you have been throwing rocks at each other for a full year, and one of them has finally hit the hornet’s nest. The only sensible thing to do is run off to a safe distance and wait ’til the buzzing stops.”
Simmon cleared his throat timidly. “I hate to join the chorus,” he said apologetically. “But rumor has gotten around you were seen having lunch with Sleat.” He grimaced. “And Fela told me she’d heard you were . . . um . . . courting Devi.”
“You know that’s not true about Devi,” I said. “I’ve just been visiting her in order to keep the peace. She was half an inch away from wanting to eat my liver for a while there. And I only had one conversation with Sleat. It was barely fifteen minutes long.”
“Devi?” Manet exclaimed with dismay. “Devi and Sleat? One expelled and the other the next best thing?” He threw down his cards. “Why would you be seen with those people? Why am I even being seen with you?”
“Oh come now.” I looked back and forth between Wil and Sim. “It’s that bad?”
Wilem set down his cards. “I predict,” he said calmly, “that if you go through admissions, you will receive a tuition of at least thirty-five talents.” He looked back and forth between Sim and Manet. “I will wager a full gold mark to this effect. Does anyone care to take my bet?”
Neither of them took him up on his offer.
I felt a desperate sinking in my stomach. “But this can’t ...” I said. “This . . .”
Sim put his cards down as well, the grim expression out of place on his friendly face. “Kvothe,” he said formally. “I am telling you three times. Take a term away.”
* * *
Eventually I realized my friends were telling me the truth. Unfortunately, this left me entirely at loose ends. I had no exams to study for, and starting another project in the Fishery would be nothing but foolishness. Even the thought of searching the Archives for information on the Chandrian or the Amyr had little appeal. I had searched so long and found so little.
I toyed with the idea of searching elsewhere. There are other libraries, of course. Every noble house has at least a modest collection containing household accounts and histories of their lands and family. Most churches had extensive records going back hundreds of years, detailing trials, marriages, and dispositions. The same was true of any sizable city. The Amyr couldn’t have destroyed every trace of their existence.
The research itself wouldn’t be the hard part.The hard part would be gaining access to the libraries in the first place. I could hardly show up in Renere dressed in rags and road dust, asking to thumb through the palace archives.
This was another instance in which a patron would have been invaluable. A patron could write me a letter of introduction that would open all manner of doors for me. What’s more, with a patron’s backing, I could make a decent living for myself as I traveled. Many small towns wouldn’t even let you play at the local inn without a writ of patronage.
The University had been the center of my life for a solid year. Now, confronted with the necessity of leaving, I was utterly at sea, with no idea of what I could do with myself.