I T WAS AN HOUR’S work to drive the wagons into a thick piece of forest and hide them. I destroyed their Edema markings and unhitched the horses. There was only one saddle, so I loaded the other two horses with food and whatever other portable valuables I could find.
When I returned with the horses, Krin and Ellie were waiting for me. More precisely, Krin was waiting. Ellie was merely standing nearby, her expression vacant, her eyes empty.
“Do you know how to ride?” I asked Krin.
She nodded and I handed her the reins to the saddled horse. She got one foot in the stirrup and stopped, shaking her head. She brought her foot back down slowly. “I’ll walk.”
“Do you think Ellie would stay on a horse?”
Krin looked over to where the blonde girl was standing. One of the horses nuzzled her curiously and got no response. “Probably. But I don’t think it would be good for her. After . . .”
I nodded in understanding. “We’ll all walk then.”
* * *
“What is the heart of the Lethani?” I asked Vashet.
“Success and right action.”
“Which is the more important, success or rightness?”
“They are the same. If you act rightly success follows.”
“But others may succeed by doing wrong things,” I pointed out.
“Wrong things never lead to success,” Vashet said firmly. “If a man acts wrongly and succeeds, that is not the way. Without the Lethani there is no true success.”
Sir? A voice called. “Sir? ”
My eyes focused on Krin. Her hair was windblown, her young face tired. She looked at me timidly. “Sir? It’s getting dark.”
I looked around and saw twilight creeping in from the east. I was bone weary and had fallen into a walking doze after we had stopped for lunch at midday.
“Just call me Kvothe, Krin. Thanks for jogging my elbow. My mind was somewhere else.”
Krin gathered wood and started a fire. I unsaddled the horses, then fed and rubbed them down. I took a few minutes to set up the tent, too. Normally I don’t bother with such things, but there had been room for it on the horses, and I guessed the girls weren’t used to sleeping out of doors.
After I finished with the tent, I realized I’d only brought one extra blanket from the troupe’s supplies. There would be a chill tonight too, if I was any judge of such things.
“Dinner’s ready,” I heard Krin call. I tossed my blanket and the spare one into the tent and headed back to where she was finishing up. She’d done a good job with what was available. Potato soup with bacon and toasted bread. There was a green summer squash nestled into the coals as well.
Ellie worried me. She had been the same all day, walking listlessly, never speaking or responding to anything Krin or I said to her. Her eyes would follow things, but there was no thought behind them. Krin and I had discovered the hard way that if left to herself she would stop walking, or wander off the road if something caught her eye.
Krin handed me a bowl and spoon as I sat down. “It smells good.” I complimented her.
She half-smiled and dished a second bowl for herself. She started to fill a third bowl, then hesitated, realizing Ellie couldn’t feed herself.
“Would you like some soup, Ellie?” I asked in normal tones. “It smells good.”
She sat blankly by the fire, staring into nothing.
“Do you want to share mine?” I asked as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I moved closer to her and blew on a spoonful to cool it. “Here you go.”
Ellie ate it mechanically, turning her head slightly in my direction, toward the spoon. Her eyes reflected the dancing patterns of the fire. They were like the windows of an empty house.
I blew on another spoonful and held it out to the blonde girl. She opened her mouth only when the spoon touched her lips. I moved my head, trying to see past the dancing firelight in her eyes, desperately hoping to see something behind them. Anything.
“I bet you’re an Ell, aren’t you?” I said conversationally. I looked at Krin. “Short for Ellie?”
Krin shrugged helplessly. “We weren’t friends, really. She’s just Ellie Anwater. The mayor’s daughter.”
“It sure was a long walk today,” I continued speaking in the same easy tone. “How do your feet feel, Krin?”
Krin continued to watch me with her serious dark eyes. “A little sore.”
“Mine too. I can’t wait to get my shoes off. Are your feet sore, Ell?”
No response. I fed her another bite.
“It was pretty hot too. It should cool off tonight, though. Good sleeping weather. Won’t that be nice, Ell?”
No response. Krin continued to watch me from the other side of the fire. I took a bite of soup for myself. “This is truly fine, Krin,” I said earnestly, then turned back to the vacant girl. “It’s a good thing we have Krin to cook for us, Ell. Everything I cook tastes like horseshit.”
On her side of the fire, Krin tried to laugh with a mouthful of soup with predictable results. I thought I saw a flicker in Ell’s eyes. “If I had some horse apples I could make us a horse apple pie for dessert,” I offered. “I could make some tonight if you want . . .” I trailed off, making it a question.
Ell gave the slightest frown, a small wrinkle creased her forehead.
“You’re probably right,” I said. “It wouldn’t be very good. Would you like more soup instead?”
The barest nod. I gave her a spoonful.
“It’s a little salty, though. You probably want some water.”
Another nod. I handed her the waterskin and she lifted it to her own lips. She drank for a long, long minute. She was probably parched from our long walk today. I would have to watch her more closely tomorrow to make sure she drank enough.
“Would you like a drink, Krin?”
“Yes please,” Krin said, her eyes fixed on Ell’s face.
Moving automatically, Ell held the waterskin out toward Krin, holding it directly over the fire with the shoulder strap dragging in the coals. Krin grabbed it quickly, then added a belated, “Thank you, Ell.”
I kept the slow stream of conversation going through the whole meal. Ell fed herself toward the end of it, and though her eyes were clearer, it was as if she were looking at the world through a sheet of frosted glass, seeing but not seeing. Still, it was an improvement.
After she ate two bowls of soup and half a loaf of bread, her eyes began to bob closed. “Would you like to go to sleep, Ell?” I asked.
A more definite nod.
“Should I carry you to the tent?”
Her eyes snapped open at this and she shook her head firmly.
“Maybe Krin would help you get ready for bed if you asked her.”
Ell turned to look in Krin’s direction. Her mouth moved in a vague way. Krin darted a glance at me and I nodded.
“Let’s go and get tucked in then,” Krin said, sounding every bit the older sister. She came over and took Ell’s hand, helping her to her feet. As they went into the tent, I finished off the soup and ate a piece of bread that had been too badly burnt for either of the girls.
Before too long Krin came back to the fire. “Is she sleeping?” I asked.
“Before she hit the pillow. Do you think she will be all right?”
She was in deep shock. Her mind had stepped through the doors of madness to protect itself from what was happening. “It’s probably just a matter of time,” I said tiredly, hoping it was the truth. “The young heal quickly.” I chuckled humorlessly as I realized she was probably only about a year younger than me. I felt every year twice tonight, some of them three times.
Despite the fact that I felt covered in lead, I forced myself to my feet and helped Krin clean the dishes. I sensed her growing unease as we finished cleaning up and repicketing the horses to a fresh piece of grazing. The tension grew worse as we approached the tent. I stopped and held the flap open for her. “I’ll sleep out here tonight.”
Her relief was tangible. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. She slipped inside, and I let the flap fall closed behind her. Her head poked back out almost immediately, followed by a hand holding a blanket.
I shook my head. “You’ll need them both. There’ll be a chill tonight.” I pulled my shaed around me and lay directly in front of the tent. I didn’t want Ell wandering out during the night and getting lost or hurt.
“Won’t you be cold?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. I was tired enough to sleep on a running horse. I was tired enough to sleep under a running horse.
Krin ducked her head back into the tent. Soon I heard her nestling into the blankets. Then everything was quiet.
I remembered the startled look on Otto’s face as I cut his throat. I heard Alleg struggle weakly and curse me as I dragged him back to the wagons. I remembered the blood. The way it had felt against my hands. The thickness of it.
I had never killed anyone like that before. Not coldly, not close up. I remembered how warm their blood had been. I remembered the way Kete had cried as I stalked her through the woods. “It was them or me!” she had screamed hysterically. “I didn’t have a choice. It was them or me!”
I lay awake a long while. When I finally slept, the dreams were worse.