My first (and maybe last) venture into the world of 'The Kingkiller Chronicles'. Dedicated to Patrick Rothfuss, because he is an excellent storyteller.
"You see, there's a fundamental connection between seeming and being. Every Fae child knows this, but you mortals never seem to see. We understand how dangerous a mask can be – we all become what we pretend to be."
Dead Man's Rope
The Fae do not fear their notion of silence, for it happens to be the same as nonexistence – nonexistence being impossible to experience, and therefore, to resent.
To Bast, though, there is more to that word than the mere absence of being; silence is something profoundly deep, openly horrifying and subtly meaningful.
The silence of mortals is almost physical; almost alive itself.
Bast came to think of it as a deep well, dark and deaf and damply cold. When he ducks his head inside it, his mind echoes with delusive earfuls of thought, indiscernible shards of faith in no-one-knows-what, unrecognizable springs of emotion… and often (too often), those sharp shadows in people's heart and core that their manners and customs would never allow to express.
This curious and elaborate sort of perception, of course, is something Bast has long worked (and still works) on; not in the way people goggle their eyes to convince the spectacle-maker that they are able to see the tiniest marks on the whiteboard, but more like the way one learns to ride bareback, or perhaps to read and write. It is a sort of work an educated man might call Sisyphean, and a wise man might call pesky.
Yet at the end, as it seems, it is worth it.
(Sometimes, Bast finds it amusing).
His first experience with what petty mortals call silence had been the cease of otherwise consistently present, exceedingly shrill and powerful noises – such as a quarrel of drunkards or a farm-wagon jolting down the street. Only later did he notice that there was more about it all: much later, when his Reshi said something about a silent heart. At that point, Bast had to accept that certain primitive languages (and therefore, mindsets) needed physical notions to define the abstract, to grasp the intangible; and consequently, he had to learn what a metaphor was. All that labour added another, vast layer to the Aturan term of silence he was already familiar with.
It also brought an odd sense of numbness, that of being stuck in one single motion for eternity.
(Repeating the same thing, reviving the same moment over and over: that, also, is an element of silence to Bast now).
(The first layer of silence had seemed simply bizarre to him; this second one is outright stressing).
As weeks of observation slowly became months, Bast came to understand that the first two layers were but the tiniest shards of surface in an ocean.
Beneath that surface, he knows now, lies eternity; beneath that surface expands an unmerciful, graspless void.
Beneath that surface echoes the silence of his Reshi.
That sort of silence scratches him like iron. It is cold, it smells, it claws on his being, it burns his mind and soul. Unbearable.
That sort of silence is the token of his own helplessness; an endless remainder of how small and fragile he truly is.
That sort of silence… he'd been hoping to break it for a very long time.
And the cost –
The stubborn silence of the Waystone follows Bast down the dirt road and up the hill, over the burberry bushes, through the parklands and under the Lightning Tree.
A tense sort of silence it is, one that has a cold grasp. It lingers deep within the sigh of the trees as they present their lithe courtesies to the wind. It crackles within the wheels of the rickety cart that rolls down the road. It howls, whispers and sings.
A haunting sort of silence it is; and unmercifully, it follows him all day and all eve, wherever he goes.
Bast meets no one that day: no men, no women, no children. He feels like a scarecrow for mortals.
It is the silence he blames.
The sun has already gone to sleep behind the hills, and Bast shivers in the evening breeze.
(Or is it the silence of his Reshi that has finally found its way inside him?)
(Can silence be this cold?)
He then hears a low, distant rumble of thunder echoing from the endless skies, and grits his teeth against the change in the air.
(He is being foolish, again. Foolish and furious).
(It is only a storm).
The concept of storms is one Bast is already familiar with; and he welcomes it with the ease of one who would greet Death itself like a faithful friend. There is no reason for Bast not to welcome storm - this old enemy - like an honoured guest, veiling their distant feuds with a cloak of chattering singsong. So there he goes again, prancing and dancing; and one who sees over glamour and hears over twittering may sing along to the tact of clattering hooves,
Holy crumbs -
Here it comes!
Ash and elm -
Quick, a helm'!
Hush, be merry,
Helps you tonight
His voice rings so bright and proud against that awful, rising wind and the hungry rumble of Tehlu's belly that Bast feels almost like himself again.
Here and there, scattered holly berries follow his way as he runs down the dirt road. True red. Red as blood, as lust, as flickering flames.
The town grows no hollies.
There is a slow, withering heartbeat oozing through the walls in the Waystone, and Bast hears it from afar. He halts.
Yesterday, the beating of that drum had also been slow, but steady. It was getting stronger, it truly was. After years, years of hard and sometimes fruitless labour, it was getting better.
He should not have left!
Reshi is fragile like a doll, or like a piece of ancient furniture. One cannot just grab the former, play with it, then leave it behind, lying around like some dirty sheet. One cannot just push the latter through to the other side of the room without leaving a dark mark on the floor.
Bast has been selfish and careless. No, worse: he's been stupid! He should not have left.
Reshi is a fairly dangerous manling, and as he fades, part of him grows even more erratic.
Glammourie has always held Bast's careful attention, as the subtlest, the most delicate, the most amusing art he knows. Its rules are simple and strict but the implications vast and various, leaving more than enough space for that particular shard of Bast's personality he calls wandering creativity, and Reshi labels as blind insanity. He takes wild delight in the art of seeming, silencing his true soul and nature.
Sometimes, the Fae in him is silent as the shadows of the dead, thin and insubstantial as the last puffs of morning fog on a sunny spring day, fragile and ephemeral like circles on the water. Those times, he looks at his hands, his knees, his feet, the rise and fall of his bare chest. He watches the course of blood underneath ivory skin, he wonders at the way his muscles tighten and loosen as he raises an arm in a greeting unlooked-for; and what he sees are toys. Tools. Instruments of his mind's desire. Bastas, son of Remmen in the form of a human: a form tattered with leather rings and unconditional service. Yet even if he had hooves or scales or feather wings, the heart that pumps the blood through that borrowed body, the mind that pulls the strings, the grinning master of puppets would still remain Bastas, son of Remmen, Prince of Twilight and the Telwyth Mael, and one of the Fae.
That is the essential of glammourie. And Reshi, hard, seasoned, experienced and foolish as he is, tends to forget that. Reshi is no more an innkeeper than Bast a human being; yet his act is so thoroughly deep, so capturing, so authentically natural than everyone instantly falls for it. Including sometimes Bast.
Including Reshi himself.
It must have something to do with him being Ruh, Bast often thinks. He cannot claim to entirely understand what being Ruh means, but he did notice several curious things in Reshi's behaviour. How picking up roles, attitudes and personalities comes as easily to him as breathing. How he makes a habit of keeping an eye on people, storing their words and facial expressions only to use them later in an appropriate situation, pulling on the most spectacular act the world has ever seen; and uses all that only to converse about the weather when someone interrupts their lesson. Uses all that only to negotiate the price of ink or salt a bit downwards when a tinker passes by.
Bast has an increasing feeling that being Ruh means to master the art of something between glammourie and grammarie. Until the curtains roll, Reshi becomes the role he plays. He embraces it, he understands it, he believes it. He could give himself a name for every role he has ever played, so smitten he is with them. His roles are not just a veil, a costume, a well-built mask made of shaed. Reshi is his roles; and for every role he plays, he gives up a shard of him.
The role of innkeeper is the one he's been playing for what seems like ages, and Bast is now wary of it, as a horrible suspicion roots in him.
What if Kote is no role, but a name?
Bast shivers; and he has to know.
The rumble of thunder rises to a mighty roar that would put lions to shame, and a heavy curtain of rain is lowered upon the scarce streets of Newarre. Bast runs through the empty courtyard and shuts the door behind himself with a soft curse. His clothes and cloak cling to him in a tangled, wet mess, and his hair is flying in every direction. The last of the holly berries roll out of his pockets in a bright red disarray, and Bast curses louder.
"Beg your pardon?" Calls Reshi's voice from the taproom. "I did not catch that last one."
"I said we were having a particularly wonderful and productive day!" Bast gives a toothy grin, which freezes upon his face in a most un-Faelike manner as the thunder roars again.
"Does that mean that you've advanced in your studies of the Celum Tinture?"
Bast thinks over his possibilities.
"You could say that."
"I could say I stole the moon from the skies. I could say I gave a new name to the ever-changing wind. I could say I was a king or a king's whore – and it still would not be true," Reshi says gently as he appears in the doorstep.
Bast did take the Celum Tinture with him that day. He even lifted the heavy, dust-smelling cover and looked at the scarce pictures while he was waiting under the Lightning Tree. No one showed up, though, and his patience grew thin; and that was when he –
Iron and bile!
He left that book beneath the tree; under the wide, merciless skies, entirely exposed to Tehlu's wrath. He is not stupid. He is worse…
"…you could definitely say that, Reshi," Bast repeats with the unwavering confidence that pervades his whole glamour. "The Celum Tinture and I are starting to establish a rich and fruitful relationship."
(This is the very first time he feels the slightest spark of care towards the book, after all).
Reshi raises an eyebrow, as if he knew.
"I guess you beat me this time, then. My day has not been particularly productive."
"I get you didn't advance with your memoir, then?"
"Not a single page," Reshi says, and he sounds frighteningly like Kote. When he says 'page', though, his voice has a strange, hard edge to it; one that reminds Bast of someone else, someone who would be quite welcome in Kote's stead.
"But you have arranged the tables and chairs, Reshi," says Bast with a flicker of guilt, betraying nothing of his perceptions. "Washed up. Opened the shutters. And baked bread, if I smell it well. And are you making one of those apple pies again?"
"Several," Reshi says. "But they're not ready yet. Not even for you."
Bast shrugs easily, and lays hands upon the bread instead. Reshi turns his back on him now; he's kneeling in front of the hearth, trying to light a fire. He lingers for an unusually long time; the flames flicker, then die out again and again. A thin band of smoke rises up towards the ceiling and Bast smells –
"Reshi?" He doesn't recognise his own voice as he steps closer. "What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to gather us a little warmth," says Kote heartily, and holds the edges of the parchment into the last of the small, flickering flames with dry efficiency. "This storm may grow bigger than you think."
"But Reshi," Bast furrows his brows. "Parchment is an expensive thing."
"Not when it is already wasted, my dearest apprentice," Kote declares in a ringing voice.
"But why would it be was– "
And suddenly, Bast sees it. The thin, delicate letters dancing up and down to the edges of the leather; words and sentences and paragraphs, subtly tangled like sticky spider-webs.
And he feels it. The acrid smell of burning memories and thoughts.
(Some say that men and Fae are more alike than storytellers think. According to these accounts, both have the sleeping and the waking mind; and Tehlu save mortals when the floodgates of a faeling's sleeping mind open!)
(It happens thus that Kote the innkeeper finds himself thrown hard against the bar, with a pair of shapely Faen knees in his stomach, and a set of long, delicate ivory fingers gripping his throat in a most forward and unpleasant manner).
There is a low, feral growl rumbling in Bast's throat, and it sings a nice duet with the newly striking thunder.
"What was the use of working long, long hours if you're just going to throw it all away?" He demands. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I was about to ask the same thing," Kote chokes against the palm of the hand around his neck.
"Then listen to my answer very carefully, manling," Bast hisses, his eyes two disturbing seas of blue flame. "I'm making you remember, lest you fade promptly into the woodwork as if you've never existed. I'm waking you. It is my duty. Our duty, to finally become what we truly are."
"The last time I checked," Kote chokes, a bit more loudly this time, "it was my job to do the teaching."
His eyes are getting darker, and the chill of the outside wind suddenly seems to find its way to Bast's very bones as it slides down the chimney. Kote must feel it as well, because he puts a firm, dismissing hand upon Bast's, and loosens its grip around his throat with a spared, but fluid motion.
"We should really get that fire going."
"Reshi!" Bast almost spits the word, and Kote turns around, his gaze utterly empty and jovial.
"What now!" Bast echoes in a voice unlike his own. "I tell you what! You can't just go on chattering and muttering about as if nothing had happened! I was talking to you. Seriously!"
"You were overstepping yourself," Kote brushes through the counter with a wet cloth. "Quite by accident. Happened to me several times in my life as well. But surely, you know better than to try that again."
"If hammering a bit of sense into your head means overstepping myself, Reshi, then I'll do it willingly, as many times as you require," Bast says matter-of-factly. The term seems almost heroic to him, like reaching further than his arms would allow by the means of some unknown magic.
Kote says nothing, and Bast takes the course of action.
"Your memoir is not for feeding the flames, Reshi," he says chidingly, and he gathers the scattered pages into a small pile, placing them ceremoniously upon the counter. "Not even if there is a bath, or an apple pie at stake. Now, the storm is raging outside and I don't like that; you know I don't like that. I will help with anything around the house if you tell me a story. The sequel of these pages will do. And then…"
"I understand that you've been trying to help," Kote says slowly, precisely articulating every word. "But I'm done with memoirs, Bast. I shall not continue this idiocy."
"But Reshi…" Something holds his anger back. "Reshi, why?"
Clearly, Kote is speaking against his will.
"It does more harm than good," he manages. "Things are getting… all tangled up. Kvothe is no more, Bast. There is no use of exhuming a dead man; we'll find nothing but rotting flesh and bones."
"But Reshi, you are not dead."
"My name is Kote. Kvothe. Is. Dead. No more prying. No more pleading. No more threatening," the innkeeper says, his eyes darker than the midnight sky. His otherwise plainly jovial voice has an edge of steel to it, and Bast is suddenly very aware of the hard lines along his face.
It is not Kote he faces, but someone else entirely. It is the shape of his purpose, the shadow of his desire. His Reshi – the way he was, the way he should be. A slightly angry Reshi, at that – but such a Reshi is still better than nothing at all.
"Say whatever you want," shrugs Bast nonchalantly, and picks up the pile of parchment that smells thoroughly of smoke. "I shall not give up on you, Reshi. And if I ever find you burning pages of your memoir again, then I…" He lets his voice trail off, giving the innkeeper a dark look.
Reshi's eyes are two angry green flames, and Bast is hit by a flood of deep uneasiness.
"Answer my question, faeling!" Reshi's voice roars along with the thunder outside. "Then what? Do you think you can as much as touch me? My powers may dwindle, they may have died out like flames in the wind, but I am not afraid of you, nor do I answer to you in any way! Who do you think you are? It is I who own you down to the marrow of your bones, I who know you inside and outside, as you swore, as you claimed. Try to lay a hand on me again and you'll regret it!"
"Now that's the spirit, Reshi!" Bast says enthusiastically, glamour concealing the slight tremor of his entire being. "See, Kvothe is not buried half as deep as I'd suspected."
Reshi collapses upon a chair, his face hidden in his hands. Suddenly, he is a perfect image of sadness and despair. It is a striking act, and Bast watches intently what might come out of it. But when Reshi looks at him and speaks, his voice is earnest, his eyes hollow.
"Stop it, Bast," The voice that once called the ever-changing wind is reduced to a pleading whisper. "Stop it. Please. I can't bear it."
"Stop what, Reshi?" Bast is so taken aback he has no time to bite back the question.
"This – " Kote's vaguely gesturing hand comprises the counter, the inn, the forgotten apple-pies blackening in the oven… Newarre… Commonwealth… the entire world. "It is too much. I can't bear it any longer. I can't bear you."
"Reshi," Bast raises an eyebrow. "You could eat me for breakfast if you wanted. You proved that seconds ago."
"It was an act," Kote makes a dismissive gesture with his hand. "A piece of blatant theatre, nothing else. You should really learn to see through these things, faeling."
"Then teach me!" Bast grits his teeth. "Teach me something real, other than making me bend over boring books!"
"I've been trying to teach you as far and as well as I could. But I believe that time is coming to its end."
"So now will you actually do it instead of trying?"
There is endless sadness and remorse in Kote's eyes as he shakes his head. Bast raises his brows, heroically fighting the low, sinking feeling that settles in his guts.
"This is over, Bast. We're only wasting our time. You don't belong with me, I don't belong with you."
"You promised – " Bast chokes frantically, but Kote raises his hand, and the motion carries unusual authority for an innkeeper.
"Don't hold onto something that gnaws on you endlessly, Bast. We're used to each other now, and our parting will be difficult without any doubt, but it must be done."
"I swore – " Bast snaps, more forcefully this time.
"Unconditional service, I know," Kote smiles ruefully. "And I hereby free you of it."
And he pulls out the ring from his pocket. The leather ring. Bast feels like part of his soul is laid bare as Reshi puts his long fingers on it, gives it a last fond look and a lingering caress.
And he tears it apart.
A million footsteps, this left foot drags behind my right
But I keep walking, from daybreak 'til the falling night
And as days turn into weeks and years
And years turn into lifetimes
I just keep walking, like I've been walking for a thousand years
Walk away in emptiness, walk away in sorrow,
Walk away from yesterday, walk away tomorrow,
Walk away in anger, walk away in pain
Walk away from life itself, walk into the rain
All this wandering has led me to this place
Inside the well of my memory, sweet rain of forgiveness
I'm just hanging here in space
(from Sting's 'Dead Man's Rope')