Hi everyone! Just a head's up: This story is rated T for just about everything you could think of. Long story short, it's pretty dark. So consider yourself warned.
Also, my husband tells me the last three chapters are better than the first.
All rights belong to the incomparable Pat Rothfuss.
"Who s'at?" Sim asked loudly. He rolled his head off his arm, peering over the railing of the Eolian's highest balcony. I followed his gaze, pushing his half-empty glass to the other side of the table as I turned. I wasn't above a little scutten-drowned self-pity, but my pride was still stinging from our last bout of heavy drinking at the Eolian, and the hour it had taken to clean Sim's vomit off my shoes.
I watched Fela make her way up the winding staircase. She moved like a dancer, all carefully placed feet and rolling hips. I caught my eyes slipping down the V of her dress and glanced away hurriedly, shooting Sim a guilty look. But he was still looking past me, his brow furrowed in annoyance.
"What? It's just Fela."
"Behind her, you lush. In the cloak."
I thought it was a bit rich of Simmon to call me a lush. I'd come to play my lute. I would have left hours earlier, if not for Sim's stated desire to "drink like a Modegan diplomat." He'd gotten hard news earlier in the day and was looking to drown it in something as black as his mood. I assume it had something to do with his father, but I knew better than to ask. Wilem had already joined us for a game of corners and left, citing some foolish Cealdish belief that drinking on Mourning meant trouble for a span.
Perhaps the Eolian had more Cealdish patrons than I'd thought. Or perhaps there was a scent in the air, a subtle portent that warned away wiser men than me. For whatever reason, the music hall was uncannily silent that evening. The talented musicians had already performed, and those who hadn't yet earned their pipes weren't willing to pay a silver talent to play to an empty room.
Simmon poked me hard, snapping me out of my reverie, and pointed over my shoulder. I shot him a glare and turned back around, opening my mouth to tell him where he could stick his fingers.
My eye caught the dull whisper of a cloak dragging across the floor. A figure trailed behind Fela, tracking her movements. There was something familiar about the way it moved. Where had I seen … ?
The memory stopped me cold.
A man with a face obscured by shadows, wreathed in the light of a dying sun. The broken bodies of everyone I ever loved. An admonition. "Send him to the soft and painless blanket of his sleep."
Haliax. I panicked, seizing the handle of the dagger hidden in my pocket. Fortunately, my better judgment caught up with my scutten-slowed body just in time to stop me from flinging myself at Fela in a wildly misguided attempt to save her life again. Haliax in the Eolian? That had the makings of a comedy, not a tragedy.
Fela turned to the cloaked man and pointed in our direction. My fingers relaxed, and I slipped the dagger back into its sheath. He wasn't stalking her. She was leading him to us.
She slid up to the table and tousled Simmon's hair in greeting. His expression slackened as she leaned in, and I tried not to follow his gaze. "God's body," he murmured, swaying slightly in his seat as he admired the low cut of her dress.
Fela shot me an exasperated look. "I thought you were watching out for him."
I adopted a hurt expression. "Now, Fela, surely you aren't suggesting our friend Simmon lacks a sense of moderation? He has simply chosen this evening to undertake a voyage of self-discovery."
"A voyage of self-discovery," she repeated flatly.
"'To know himself, a man must know his limits.'" I quoted Teccam, spreading my arms wide in a seated version of the trouper's second voice of formal oration.
"Very funny. You know, it's your own fault if he—" The cloaked figure behind Fela coughed, and she jumped.
"Oh! Sorry." Fela ushered him forward. "Kvothe, this is Percival. He heard you singing earlier and asked me to introduce you."
I smiled tightly at the man's hood. "A name without a face makes for a poor introduction."
"Kvothe!" Fela scolded.
"Nothing personal," the man said. "An old injury. It puts people off."
His voice, like his halting step, tugged at my memory. "My apologies then. You liked the song?"
"It reminded me of home."
I waved my hand at the empty seat across the table. "And where is home?" I asked.
"Tarbean." He said it the way Waterside street children say it. Taw-bee-in.
Recognition crashed through me then, fear echoing in the hollow it left behind. I remembered his voice. His oily breath. The exploding pain of his forehead slamming into mine.
I remembered his screams as I set him on fire.