The previous nights had been dreadful. Thunder, lightning, and thick rain together played a symphony of chaos and violence on people's ears. The very next days showed the marks of it: mud, houses without roofs, dead people, and more news about accidents.
But it was a big city, so it would soon receive solutions. In past times, nights such as the previous one would have meant horror, hunger, and wet clothes for Kvothe. But now, it all was in the past.
Walking on the wet floor and feeling the humidity getting on his hair, the boy persistently directed his path towards the tavern. It was a well-known place in that city, held as a sanctuary of high arts and performances of quality, visited by nobility and rich merchants. Kvothe had heard of its name before, during better times, and decided to give it a try: a pretty waitress told him the previous day that The Green Oak would receive aspiring artists during Hepten. Inscriptions were on Feochen and such was his aim: to reach the tavern and announce his intentions to take part in the contest.
Playing the lute and singing was in his very nature. He was a Ruh to the core. After leaving the Maer Court and travelling on his own, Kvothe missed public performances. Stopping by a town in his path back to the University for a few days wouldn't be bad. Having the name of his group, the Edema Ruh defamed twice had absolutely nothing to do with it. First by the soon to be the wife of his previous employer, second by a group of bandits. It wasn't as if Kvothe was trying to give the Ruh positive reputation as some sort of cathartic action, absolutely not.
But, Kvothe also missed the stage. People watching, the smell of wood, alcoholic beverages, and colognes ascending through the air as he sang.
Because Kvothe loved music.
He would sing about travels, wet earth, fire, and ashes. Kvothe would tell people about the sparks of metal, screams and violence. But he would also tell them about love, about being unrequited, about contemplating a beautiful feeling but knowing theirs just weren't the proper times and conditions.
Kvothe would play, too. His melodies encompassed distinct things: the sound of leaves, whispers of the wind, and sensations that a woman's pleasure brought upon him, although, he was still learning about the previous two.
The Green Oak received him with a dark and warm entrance. Two men stood in front of him: one was a blond-haired bard who behaved with expressive mannerisms, the other was a tall man with white hair. There was something otherworldly about him but Kvothe decided to not concern himself about the matter. He used to live among mercenaries and knew when to not ask questions.
And so, he waited patiently. The pair was odd: they bickered when it came to giving their names and the place where they came from. There was a long sword hanging from the back of the man with white hair and Kvothe couldn't help to wonder: could he be bodyguarding a member of the low nobility?
Eventually, they left the place. Kvothe kept a respectful distance but heard things: ''Cirilla'' and ''travel''. The man with white hair gave him an odd look when they passed by his side. His eyes were yellow and the boy felt slightly tense but gave them a courteous head nod.
Finally, he met the eyes of the inquisitive host. Of middle-age, inky hair, and with a pretty goatee beard. The kind of appearance that would make women's eyes shine. The man looked suspiciously at his cloak but Kvothe ignored it. The boy introduced himself and explained his reasons for wanting to perform at the establishment. He was a master actor and soon got his name written on the list.
Then, it was only a matter of waiting. He was alone in a city and spent the afternoon getting information for his next trip, one that would bring him close to The University. He inquired about merchant caravans, the price of local horses, the state of the roads, and everything a conscious traveller would wonder about.
A single thing happened during the night. Kvothe was singing at a public square when for a brief moment, the boy would have sworn he saw the familiar profile of a man with blond hair in the company of two women. But people were getting close to watch his performance and the figures soon faded, so, he switched his mind to melodies and voice: folk songs and a few popular ballads to please his growing and improvised public. People would toss coins and a few bills to his lute case and Kvothe couldn't reject them. He didn't have money difficulties anymore, but old fears die hard and more important: depending on the person, they could take it as impoliteness.
Ladies gave him significant looks, others blushed. Men weren't excepted either, those who held interests that went beyond his performance were even less than women, but winked at Kvothe the moment he would address at their direction. The public reunited around him was diverse, elder and young, richly outfitted and poor.
By the time his acting was over, the audience gave him thunderous applause. He felt an oddly cathartic satisfaction and repeated his name and group of origin, too. Kvothe, Of The Edena Ruh for the public. Then a small reverence and things were over.
A group of fellow artists and bohemians met him, and a conversation ensued. To his surprise, the blond bard was among them, in the company of two ladies. Comments about local news, commentaries on events from other places and gossip, to which the blond bard listened to attentively. It was hard to precise his age, somewhere between his late twenties and early thirties, judging from his looks. He had a strange accent Kvothe had never heard before. Jaskier was his name and recalled their early meeting at The Green Oak. He was wearing a pompous chemise with dandelions and birds embroidered on it.
There weren't signals of his tall companion on sight.
It was decided they all would go to a local pub and so, Kvothe spent his afternoon drinking and exchanging news. Jaskier ellegantly avoided all inquiries about where he came from and seemed oddly interested in the place and time they were at. All questions were theatrically answered, everyone laughed and stopped pushing the matter of his identity.
It wasn't hard for Kvothe to pin a spy. Even if he behaved like an odd one and his questions sounded weird, like those of a person who ignored the basic names of the world they lived in. However, it soon got drowned by alcohol, jokes, flirting and, naturally, music.
Jaskier had taken out his lute, a beautiful instrument that made Kvothe gasp at its sight. Both ladies who accompanied him giggled. One was a mature redheaded beauty, the other, a young freckled girl with vivacious curves.
He played a song that left everybody laughing. The Fishmonger's Daughter, it was called. Raunchy lyrics and a cheerful melody. The mood for the night soon was boosted and it didn't take long to have most of the customers singing together. Between alcohol, spirited jokes and spontaneous conversations, Kvothe soon found himself in the company of a pretty cealdic girl with olive skin and dark brown hair. And, before he knew what he was doing, his lute was out of the case and everybody was loudly singing Tinker Tanner.
Soon it became late-night and Kvothe found himself in comfortable company with Jaskier.
''I hope to see your repertoire at the Green Oak, Kvothe'' he had said ''I have high expectations of you. It's good to see young lads such as you prospering''
Jaskier talked with fake condescension in his tone of voice. Kvothe answered with a witty remark.
Artists were artists, after all.
Kvothe enjoyed a friendly rivalry. He paid some of the drinks and noted Jaskier never dealt with money. The elegant red-haired lady paid most of the time. Kvothe eventually had some ideas, but it was nothing new about the world.
Both men joked and played music together until the elder of Jaskier's companions touched his shoulder and purred a few words in his ear. He laughed and answered something in her ear, who blushed and gave the blond man a… very suggestive smile. Jaskier excused himself and a complicit silent arose between both men.
He left in the company of both ladies and people made dirty commentaries at them. But their minds were covered with wine, beer and liquor. So was Kvothe, who found himself having a passionate encounter in the arms of the pretty cealdic girl. Rose was her name, she moved there a couple of years ago when her mother remarried and, most important, both mother and husband were out of the town.
They silently entered the house and Kvothe had to remain silent when he left the very next morning, for fear of awakening the servants. Rose had assured him no one would speak too much, as she was the one who managed the place when her parents were gone. Well-covered by the shaed, Kvothe moved under the pink and orange colour of the sky under the protection of trees with yellow and brown leaves. Autumn was the only witness to his return to the Inn he was staying at, on the way of early workers, city guards and women carrying baskets who loudly announced their warm bread.
He spent most of the day asleep. It was the afternoon when he woke up, chatted with the innkeeper and went out in order to finish arrangements for his next trip. Autumn would soon end and Kvothe knew he couldn't fool around anymore. The performance at The Green Oak would be the end of his visit to that city.
Visiting an apothecary in order to provide himself with herbs and products necessary was when Kvothe first heard a rumour. It came to him again at a music store while searching strings for his lute. Two men were searching for a young woman. Pale hair, green eyes and a scar on her face. It didn't sound very friendly. One was tall and had yellow eyes.
Kvothe went on, minding his own business. He spent the night calmly practising and preparing a concoction for his voice. A pretty orange cat kept by the Inn had made herself a place in his bed and lazily studied him. Vocal cords were delicate and he wanted to be on top form for the next day.
For it was Hepten.
By the next afternoon, he already had prepared his own musical repertoire for that night. It was of well-known songs, complicated stories and folk ones, mixed with his own personal compositions. Kvothe was really curious about the songs performed by Jaskier, but kept his questions to himself. With some luck and the assistance of a good dose of alcohol he perhaps could learn interesting things that night.
The jewel of the night would be the Lay of Saviel Traliard. A tragic story developed in the strings of a complex and beautiful melody that demanded his concentration and hard labour.
And so, the twilight came and Kvothe found himself at The Green Oak.
To his displeasure, Jaskier was in the company of the tall man of white hair. Kvothe felt wary of him but the man didn't pay Kvothe much attention outside of a polite greeting. He was in the company of a pretty young woman. She had delicate factions but were twisted by the presence of a scar below her right eye. It extended to her ear.
But Kvothe knew better than to ask.
Jaskier was using a ridiculous tunic with buttercups embroidered and gave him a warm and histrionic greeting.
All artists would perform following the order of their inscriptions. Kvothe found himself sharing a table with people he met on Feochen.
The first was a trio of women with angelic voices. Some songs were of religious nature, others were ballads. For the end, they performed the Lay of Sir Saviel Traliard too, to Kvothe's disappointment, but it was to be expected on such events. Every artist has their own repertoire and the purpose of the night was to show it.
Sir Saviel's part was interpreted by a plump singer with a beautiful contralto voice. Aloine's verses were sung by the youngest of the trio, while the third lady accompanied them with a harp. She was the eldest, too.
Tears were falling from Kvothe's face by the end of the song. The pub thundered in applause and ovations. They deserved it. Cheers and congratulations meet the ladies when they came from the state.
The next artist was a poet, but there was no way to make much of an impression after being overshadowed. He was followed by a violinist, a duo of a man and a woman, and a choral group. Soon, came Jaskier's turn.
The man definitely had experience with the public. He introduced himself as a minstrel from a faraway place and invited them to listen to his story, the tale of The Witcher. It was about a bard who got lost with some odd magical mercenary who would get rid of supernatural threats in exchange of coins. It must have been a folk song from another place because Kvothe knew people as such would have gotten burnt at the stake not many years ago.
The songs became less cheerful as he sang and played the lute. Kvothe was fascinated, some were melodies he never had heard before. Other weres well-known, he even played Tinker Tanner and the public sang too. By the time The Fishmonger's Daughter came, people roared with laughter. Her Sweet Kiss gave him memories of Felurian and a strange yearning for Denna. She had been his muse too. The surprising meeting with her on Tarbean had been a breath of fresh air for his spirit.
The public thundered in applause for Jaskier.
A waiter went to Kvothe's table and told him it was his turn, now. He congratulated Jaskier on his way to the stage, but the bard was too busy surrounded by admirers. Both the tall man with white hair and the girl were silent.
Kvothe was introduced to the public and whispers flowed. It seemed his fame had reached that city, too. The Bloodless. The One Who Called The Thunder. The Arcanist.
The boy played with the spectators and settled for the ambience. He told them he was an Edema Ruh, too, and was there to entertain.
An so, notes flowed from his strings as Kvothe found himself again in the Fae Realm, in the clamour of battle and in stories of love with an ample spectrum of results. He played Home Westward Wind and Tintatatornin and the public appreciated it. A nude formed on his throat at the thought of his parents, but the adrenaline he felt kept it under control. Kvothe allowed bittersweet feelings to travel down his arms and reach the dancing fingers.
And he decided to allow himself an indulgence.
The first notes of the Lay of Sir Saviel Trallad flowed from his lute and it took a while, but the public gave surprised exclamations. His arrangement was different for the lute, passionate and stronger on fast parts, subtle and melancholic on slow ones. For people to immerse themselves in different parts of the story and experiment the development of such a love story.
A déja vu took over him as he reached Aloine's part. And again, as it had happened before, he got help by a woman of the public. But unlike the first time, he already knew the voice of the singer: the girl with the angelic soprano voice from the first trio who performed there. His whole act was saved.
Thunderous applause received him, too. The last song was a slow one, about intimacy, love and fear. It was the tale of a poor boy who loved a girl but couldn't offer much to her. It was bitter, too.
It wasn't good to provide too much negativity to the public, but that night, they liked it. That night, the general mood seemed melancholic. The melody ended with cheerful notes, but Kvothe knew the following performer would have a big sack on his back.
But it didn't matter to him. Kvothe wasn't one for mood swings and yet, his mood had drastically changed.
He was warmly received by the strangers around him. Jaskier was there, too. Both men congratulated one another and shared drinks.
The night went on and before Kvothe knew it, the tall man of white hair and the girl of ashen hair were silently seated by their side. His mood didn't improve and Kvothe suddenly found himself wanting to be alone.
''Boy, may I ask a question?''
''Geralt, how surprising of you to want to initiate conversation''
Jaskier was visibly drunk.
Alcohol makes feelings flow.
Kvothe answered with a nod of his head.
''Where did you got the cloak from?''
Geralt made a gesture towards Kvothe's shaed. It was dark in the pub and a feeling of alarm made a place for itself in Kvothe's chest. He would have sworn something was moving below the man's shirt.
The girl with ashen hair was looking at him, too.
''That's a private matter, gentlemen… '' he made a gracious reverence ''...and lady''
''C'mon, Geralt'' interrupted Jaskier ''The night is young and so are we''
He immediately addressed Kvothe
''Boy, I need to hear about that song. The one about Sir Savient Something. The verses were wonderful. I was poetry itself, I bet without music it sounds as good''
Kvothe felt a slight irritation.
He could have told them about Illien, the great Edema Ruh luthier and composer. He could have shared his own lore about the ballad's history in exchange for information concerning Jaskier's own novel music.
It was easy to see the trio wasn't natural to those places. An intuition grew inside Kvothe. He had travelled to other realms, too.
In the middle of the alcoholic mist, he felt wary.
''You don't sound nor look like a bad person'' Said Geralt.
He looked awkward. It happened to most men of few words.
''We only were curious''
It was the first time the girl spoke.
Both Geralt and her carried swords with them. Kvothe had Caesura, too.
''C'mon, you two'' Jaskier slurred his swords ''This fella and I, as fellow lovers of arts, must have a proper conversation tonight. About music, about stories and about poetry. Don't you think, boy?''
It was plainly obvious he wasn't bothering to read the atmosphere. Because Kvothe was sure of one thing: Jaskier was no idiot.
But the mood was bad already.
''Poetry is not my thing'' He said ''Words without music don't make sense''
Jaskier looked disappointed.
''Words that rhyme together make the music itself. Phonetics are both for communication and pleasure, Kvothe''
''It's empty without an instrument that accompanies them'' Kvothe felt in a bad mood ''A false song, that's what they are. Poetry lacks a soul…''
Jaskier interrupted him, looking annoyed. The smell of liquor splashed itself on Kvothe's face as the blond bard talked.
''No, no, no. Poetry flows from the soul and it's universal. I am disappointed that an interpreter of your calibre can have such an opinion. What is the Trivium for?''
People were looking at them now.
''But of course, Kvothe! We are minstrels. We tell stories for people, we teach and entertain. And sometimes, poetry if the simplest and most concise way of singing. Poetry can be a song for itself''
''But music is what makes people's hearts move'' Irritation was flowing outside of him ''sound both companies and makes things different. It illuminates, highlights…''
But Jaskier interrupted him
''I, as a Master of The Seven Liberal Arts, can tell…''
''Seven Liberal Arts?''
Kvothe's mouth reacted before his brain.
Tension grew in the table.
Something was wrong.
''Of course, Kvothe. The Liberal Arts taught at Oxenfurt, the best university of the world''
''Shut up, Jaskier'' Growled Geralt
People started to stare at them.
''Well, I can't be surprised about a lad who improvised on the way of his acting… you were lucky to be helped by fair Penelope''
Kvothe didn't like to be called a child. Condescension was one of the worst ways to treat him.
It ignited a flame in his heart.
Let alone criticize his performance. He had worked hard for it.
Next, two things happened.
First, the girl softly slapped the bard's head and Geralt exclaimed ''For fucks sake, Jaskier, don't you see he is a child?''
Second, a sturdy waiter came to the table and kindly asked them if there was any problem. A subtle warning permeated his voice.
Kvothe knew better and excused himself. He paid for the drinks and left the place immediately.
The path back at the Inn felt dark and uncomfortable. The air was wet and it made his hair get frizz and face moistened. Or were those his tears? The environment smelled of rain and it matched his internal storm.
Kvothe spent the rest of the night inside his room of the Inn.
Music. Songs. Laughter. His parents and the other members of his troupe by night, illuminated by a hearth under rustling leaves and the quiet murmurs of trees in the middle of nowhere.
Memories he didn't want to think about. Why did he play those songs, of all the melodies he knew?
He would leave the place by noon but it didn't console him. The orange cat kept by the lady who owned the place entered through the window and stared at him with amber eyes.
Dark yellow hues, fixed as if she saw something in him.
Kvothe opened the dormitory's door and left it out. Then he turned at the window and closed it too. It was raining outside, cold rain that brought winter promises.
Music became his companion in loneliness.
Because that was how he felt.
The next day was Caen. The seventh day of the week.
He was awoken by the landlady. Local guards waited for him outside.
They asked questions. There was a search going on: two men and a young girl whose descriptions matched Kvothe's previous company. The guards were sturdy men with rough manners and didn't want to give him their motives concerning the search. Witnesses claimed to have seen them on Kvothe's company and they wanted to take the boy to the station for interrogation.
He didn't want to lose his place at the caravan for that noon and, surprisingly, was saved by the locals on their way there.
When public opinion is on your favour, that's how things work.
It didn't take long for guards to know about Kvothe's small discussion with the bard of the trio and his indignant exit from The Green Oak. Things changed, too, once they slowly matched pieces. Red hair, green eyes. Suddenly, all town knew about Kvothe's performance at The Green Oak. And other things about him, too.
In return, Kvothe got to learn curious news: the trio had left the place in the middle of thunderous rain and no one saw them again. If they left footprints, the rain would have erased them already. Rumours spread like wildfire: assassins, spies, ghosts, magicians.
Something shady was going on, but that's none of his business, Kvothe decided.
And so, the boy left the town.
He managed to reach the leader of a travelling caravan on time but was told they wouldn't leave until the roads were good. Rain, mud and scared horses wasn't something desired.
A discussion soon followed and Kvothe felt inwardly thankful for not having paid a big sum of money.
He wanted to leave that town soon.
So, he found a new horse and a confused stable boy claimed the stranger of white hair had left it. Roach was its name.
If the need to change horses arose, Kvothe knew he would get good money for it.
And so, he was ready. The shaed's hood above his head to cover his red hair, lute on its case and sword by his side.
Autumn accompanied them as they reached the outskirts of the town. Diverse tonalities of brown, orange and yellow displayed themselves for the background as they walked. Soon, the boy found himself on muddy roads, but he knew better of dark woods and rain.
Wind and leaves followed their path.
- I originally posted this story on my fanfiction.net account. It was my first story in Englisn
- The story takes place during the latter half of The Wise's Man Fear, as Kvothe returns to The University after his adventures.
- Two things to remember: Jaskier's hair is blond in The Witcher books. And Geralt always names his horses 'Roach'
Merci pour la lecture!