“Master Elodin,” I asked slowly. “What would you think of someone who kept changing their own name?”
“What?” He sat up suddenly, his eyes wild and panicked. “What have you done?”
His reaction startled me, and I held up my hands defensively. “Nothing!” I insisted. “It’s not me. It’s a girl I know.”
Elodin’s face grew ashen. “Fela?” he said. “Oh no. No. She wouldn’t do something like that. She’s too smart for that.” It sounded as if he were desperately trying to convince himself.
“ I’m not talking about Fela,” I said. “I’m talking about a young girl I know. Every time I turn around she’s picked another name for herself.”
“Oh,” Elodin said, relaxing. He leaned back against the tree, laughing softly. “Calling names,” he said with tangible relief. “God’s bones, boy, I thought . . .” He broke off, shaking his head.
“You thought what?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said dismissively.
-The Wise Man's Fear, p. 977-978
Chapter One: A Solicitor Comes to Tea
In his many days as a Chronicler of stories, Devan Lochees had met several individuals who did not wish to be storied. Some could be persuaded, others threatened, still others refused and swore to take their secrets to the grave.
And then there was one who agreed to tell his story on the sole condition that he be permitted to draw a smiling face on his ass and tell the story through that medium: one Master Namer by the name of Elodin. That was two days ago. The Chronicler didn’t know whether he should take the mad gleam in Elodin’s eye to mean that he was joking or dead serious, but on the off chance he was joking he decided to pay the Master Namer a visit.
Devan Lochees came to an old oak door riddled with scratches and wear. The top portion bore a crooked sign that hadn’t been there during his first visit two days prior, proclaiming in elegant cursive: “Solicitors fuck off.”
The Chronicler knocked on the door, unsure which face the Master Namer would present. At once, there was a cacophony of noise from inside, as though someone had thrown a glass bottle at a cat, missed, and instead knocked over a tower of kitchen pots. It was followed by the sound of an obviously irate Master Elodin.
The Chronicler cleared his throat. “If you please, Master Namer—”
Elodin’s sing-songy, falsetto reply was muffled through the door. “Not listening!”
The Chronicler sighed. Irritating one’s subject was never a good way to start the story. But Master Elodin’s eccentricity left him little choice. He rapped on Elodin’s door, tapping out a relentless beat that made it clear he did not intend to leave.
There was a shuffle of bare feet on stone floor, followed by a series of heavy mechanical clicks. “Grahhh. I thought I told you to leave me alone,” Elodin cried from behind the door. “What part of bugger off was unclear? Get the hell out of here, or I swear…I swear by the coarsest curly hairs of your father’s—” The door swung open.
On their first meeting, the Chronicler had gotten only a glimpse of the man behind the door: a pair of dark eyes, green and deep in shadow, that peered out through the crack in the door, the rest of the man pressed against the door’s inside to slam it shut at a moment’s notice. Now the Chronicler could see the man in full.
He had wild brown hair with waves like the sea—all peaks and curls that stood up every which way, as though he’d been running headlong into the wind. If the tiny, pollen-gold flowers dotting his head were any indication, he had been.
As the Chronicler studied him, Elodin stared back, dazed and blinking as though he’d emerged from a darkened room to find himself in the noonday sun. His aura of bewilderment was only increased by the jumble of his clothing; he stood barefoot in the doorway, with an enormous fluffy blanket that might once have been dyed blue thrown about his shoulders like an ermine cape. He wore no shirt, but there was something like a waistcoat peeking out beneath the blanket, and loose trousers held up by a belt that was several times smaller than the trousers’ oversized waist could really accommodate.
The Master Namer spoke abruptly. “Your face is not nearly as punchable as it was when last you visited. Did you get someone else to punch it for you?”
“Pity. Someone ought to do it, but I’m really in no condition for fisticuffs this morning. Perhaps next week?”
“I’m not here for fisticuffs,” said the Chronicler, annoyed. “I’m here to hear your story.”
“Eh,” said Elodin, yawning broadly. He made to shut the door.
The Chronicler stuck his foot out.
Elodin scowled. “These doors were made for slamming, I hope you realize that.”
“Perhaps you can break my toes and then we’ll talk?”
Elodin made a face, then scoffed. “You’re worse than one of my recent students,” he said. “The one who jumped off a roof to impress me.”
“Now that’s a story I’d be glad to hear another time… but not the one I’m hoping for right now.”
Master Namer hummed by way of reply—still disgruntled, but he was wearing down, the Chronicler could hear it. He could see it in the Master’s eyes. They had lost their manic sheen, no longer flitting about the room or staring vacantly at one spot for too long. They were studying him, but not as before. Before it was the study of a wild creature on encountering a human in the clearing: curious, animal, and uncomprehending. The expression Master Elodin wore now was one of pure comprehension. He had the eyes of a man who understood everything perfectly if too well.
All at once, his defensive posture evaporated and his face became neutral. “I make no promises,” he said, swinging the door wide open. Then he turned around and made himself busy gathering fixings for tea. The Chronicler followed him in and shut the door.
As Elodin bustled through the main room, in and out of a small side chamber containing a stove and kettle, the Chronicler looked around the office. At first glance it was utter chaos. Every flat surface in the room—including those which had once been flat but had gotten lopsided somewhere along the way—was covered in books and strewn papers, some of them so old the Chronicler wondered how many full-fledged arcanists were still waiting to get marks back on assignments lost to the abyss of Elodin’s desk.
Elodin returned a few minutes later with the tea. He gestured to a low round table with two chairs. As the Chronicler sat down, Elodin unceremoniously shoved all the papers and knick-knacks on the table to an ottoman nearby, before settling himself into the opposite chair. He set the tray down in the middle of the table.
“So,” he said.
“So,” the Chronicler replied slowly.
“I take it you have something,” Elodin said.
“You have something,” Elodin repeated. “You wouldn’t come all the way out here just to hear the ramblings of a mad teacher on the basis of whispered rumors.”
“Well, I suppose I—” the Chronicler started awkwardly.
Elodin cut him off with a curt shake of his head. He poured himself a cup of tea. “No,” he said firmly. “I think there is more than rumor to this. Tales of the University rarely make it more than a few miles out of Imre—at least not in any recognizable form. By the time they reach the rest of the Commonwealth they might as well be faerie stories.” He took a sip of his still-steaming tea, slurping to cool it down. The Chronicler noticed he’d put nothing in it. Elodin waved a hand, continuing. “Not that there’s anything wrong with faerie stories, mind you,” he said. “Some have more truth than the accounts of our esteemed historians.” He pulled a face at the word. “Still—you get my drift. Stories that leave the University are generally horseshit. What makes you think tales of the crazy Master Namer who routinely runs naked through the streets and once tried to woo a dead salmon by singing ‘Tinker Tanner’ are any different?”
The Chronicler paused for a moment, debating with himself whether he ought to play his hand so soon. There was nothing else for it. With some reluctance, he pulled his cloak off the back of his chair and reached into a hidden pocket that lay flat against his shoulder blades when worn. His hands shook as he drew the parcel out of his pocket. In his peripheral vision, he saw Elodin craning over the table, perched on the edge of his seat, his long fingers wrapped around the underside of his chair like a child trying to keep himself from fidgeting.
The Chronicler put the parcel down on the table between them. His fingers trembling, he unwrapped the bits of twine and opened up the paper, letting the pieces fall open to reveal a small, leather-bound journal. Alongside the journal was a long, thin rope of finely braided cords, each strand a subtle gradation of color that blended into the next. The gradient was interrupted periodically by a brightly colored thread, a brilliant flash of color like the glint of opals in the light, before its brilliance faded back into the thick of the intertwining strands.
After a few seconds of silence, Elodin asked quietly: “Where did you get these?”
“They’re from the Archives.” At Elodin’s shocked expression, the Chronicler went on. “I spoke with Master Lorren first. He granted me permission to remove them for study. Truthfully, I’m not sure whether they ought to have been there in the first place. The two are obviously written by two different people. The journal is more objective – a simple recounting of what happened on the journey, observations... A log, more or less. The knots, on the other hand…”
“You’ve read them? Not just the journal – the knots?”
The Chronicler nodded. “I didn’t read them in their entirety. Certain sections of the story are…well it seemed intrusive to pry. But I read enough to glean your involvement.”
Elodin nodded, but his eyes were far away. His fingertips roamed unconsciously over the string of knots, as one of the Adem or contemplative Tehlins might hold prayer beads.
“Where were they keeping them?” he asked. “More important, how did you come to hear about it?"
“Faerie stories and rumor.” The Chronicler’s smile broadened. “I’d heard the most astonishing tales from townsfolk abroad—bits and pieces, each too strange to be true. Together, they formed a picture just a little bit too messy to be pure fiction. That’s how you know the true ones, see. The falsehoods always wrap up neatly with a bow. Real life is rarely so clean—especially when magic and heroics are concerned.
“I’d heard enough of the stories start here that I knew it must have been a student of the University. I came back to ask around. Only problem was, apart from your mad antics you’ve more or less kept your head down. Nobody had a first-hand account of what happened when you were younger. I turned to Master Lorren for help. He had them tucked away for safekeeping. He lent me the journal and knots on a temporary basis.” He had the decency to look apologetic. “I’m not sure they were really his to give—if anything they should have fallen to your collection.”
“Hm.” Elodin eyed him thoughtfully. After a long moment of silence, he changed tack abruptly. “Are you going to have any tea?”
“What? Oh, yes. Thank you.” The Chronicler poured himself a cup – one with plenty of milk and sugar. “So,” he said. He stopped briefly to take a sip. “I have two sides of the story. I can leave it at that or…” He paused for effect. “I can get your side of the story as well. A fair representation of what happened.”
“Hm,” Elodin said again, vaguer this time. He seemed to be waiting for something—not eagerly, but with immense if oddly detached curiosity, as though he were making observations of an alchemical experiment.
The Chronicler waited for him to say more. When nothing was forthcoming, he pressed further. “Well?” he asked. “What do you think?”
Elodin rolled his lips in to press between his teeth, his mouth forming a thin, lipless line. They were thus when he started to speak, words muffled by the strange shape of his mouth. “I think…” he said slowly. “I think you should have more tea.”
Chronicler blinked once. Twice. All at once the dizziness set in. Like an annoying sound or a loose thread in his clothing, he hadn’t noticed it at first. But now that he had it was overwhelming. He felt his temples turn leaden with the pressure of being deep underwater. The room spun. He managed to creak out a soft “oh dear,” and then the floor rose up to meet him. Everything tilted and turned to black.