Feb 17 2011 10:00am
Please enjoy this excerpt from DAW Books, “Interesting Fact” from The Wise Man’s Fear, the feverishly anticipated second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles series by Patrick Rothfuss. The novel hits the shelves on March 1st.
ELODIN STRODE INTO THE lecture hall almost an hour late. His clothes were covered in grass stains, and there were dried leaves tangled in his hair. He was grinning.
Today there were only six of us waiting for him. Jarret hadn’t shown up for the last two classes. Given the scathing comments he’d made before disappearing, I doubted he’d be coming back.
“Now!” Elodin shouted without preamble. “Tell me things!”
This was his newest way to waste our time. At the beginning of every lecture he demanded an interesting fact he had never heard before. Of course, Elodin himself was the sole arbiter of what was interesting, and if the first fact you provided didn’t measure up, or if he already knew it, he would demand another, and another, until you finally came up with something that amused him.
He pointed at Brean. “Go!”
“Spiders can breathe underwater,” she said promptly.
Elodin nodded. “Good.” He looked at Fenton.
“There’s a river south of Vintas that flows the wrong way,” Fenton said. “It’s a saltwater river that runs inland from the Centhe sea.”
Elodin shook his head. “Already know about that.”
Fenton looked down at a piece of paper. “Emperor Ventoran once passed a law—”
“Boring,” Elodin interjected, cutting him off.
“If you drink more than two quarts of seawater you’ll throw up?” Fenton asked.
Elodin worked his mouth speculatively, as if he were trying to get a piece of gristle out of his teeth. Then he gave a satisfied nod. “That’s a good one.” He pointed to Uresh.
“You can divide infinity an infinite number of times, and the resulting pieces will still be infinitely large,” Uresh said in his odd Lenatti accent. “But if you divide a non-infinite number an infinite number of times the resulting pieces are non-infinitely small. Since they are non-infinitely small, but there are an infinite number of them, if you add them back together, their sum is infinite. This implies any number is, in fact, infinite.”
“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause. He leveled a serious finger at the Lenatti man. “Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.” He turned to look at Inyssa.
“The Yllish people never developed a written language,” she said.
“Not true,” Elodin said. “They used a system of woven knots.” He made a complex motion with his hands, as if braiding something. “And they were doing it long before we started scratching pictograms on the skins of sheep.”
“I didn’t say they lacked recorded language,” Inyssa muttered. “I said written language.”
Elodin managed to convey his vast boredom in a simple shrug.
Inyssa frowned at him. “Fine. There’s a type of dog in Sceria that gives birth through a vestigial penis,” she said.
“Wow,” Elodin said. “Okay. Yeah.” He pointed to Fela.
“Eighty years back the Medica discovered how to remove cataracts from eyes,” Fela said.
“I already know that,” Elodin said, waving his hand dismissively.
“Let me finish,” Fela said. “When they figured out how to do this, it meant they could restore sight to people who had never been able to see before. These people hadn’t gone blind, they had been born blind.”
Elodin cocked his head curiously.
Fela continued. “After they could see, they were shown objects. A ball, a cube, and a pyramid all sitting on a table.” Fela made the shapes with her hands as she spoke. “Then the physickers asked them which one of the three objects was round.”
Fela paused for effect, looking at all of us. “They couldn’t tell just by looking at them. They needed to touch them first. Only after they touched the ball did they realize it was the round one.”
Elodin threw his head back and laughed delightedly. “Really?” he asked her.
“Fela wins the prize!” Elodin shouted, throwing up his hands. He reached into his pocket and brought out something brown and oblong, pressing it into her hands.
She looked at it curiously. It was a milkweed pod.
“Kvothe hasn’t gone yet,” Brean said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Elodin said in an offhand way. “Kvothe is crap at Interesting Fact.”
I scowled as loudly as I could.
“Fine,” Elodin said. “Tell me what you have.”
“The Adem mercenaries have a secret art called the Lethani,” I said. “It is the key to what makes them such fierce warriors.”
Elodin cocked his head to one side. “Really?” he asked. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” I said flippantly, hoping to irritate him. “Like I said, it’s secret.”
Elodin seemed to consider this for a moment, then shook his head. “No. Interesting, but not a fact. It’s like saying the Cealdish moneylenders have a secret art called Financia that makes them such fierce bankers. There’s no substance to it.” He looked at me again, expectantly.
I tried to think of something else, but I couldn’t. My head was full of faerie tales and dead-ended research into the Chandrian.
“See?” Elodin said to Brean. “He’s crap.”
“I just don’t know why we’re wasting our time with this,” I snapped.
“Do you have better things to do?” Elodin asked.
“Yes!” I exploded angrily. “I have a thousand more important things to do! Like learning about the name of the wind!”
Elodin held up a finger, attempting to strike a sage pose and failing because of the leaves in his hair. “Small facts lead to great knowing,” he intoned. “Just as small names lead to large names.”
He clapped his hands and rubbed them together eagerly. “Right! Fela! Open your prize and we can give Kvothe the lesson he so greatly desires.”
Fela cracked the dry husk of the milkweed pod. The white fluff of the floating seeds spilled out into her hands.
Master Namer motioned for her to toss it into the air. Fela threw it, and everyone watched the mass of white fluff sail toward the high ceiling of the lecture hall, then fall back heavily to the ground.
“Goddammit,” Elodin said. He stalked over to the bundle of seeds, picked it up, and waved it around vigorously until the air was full of gently floating puffs of milkweed seed.
Then Elodin started to chase the seeds wildly around the room, trying to snatch them out of the air with his hands. He clambered over chairs, ran across the lecturer’s dais, and jumped onto the table at the front of the room.
All the while he grabbed at the seeds. At first he did it one-handed, like you’d catch a ball. But he met with no success, and so he started clapping at them, the way you’d swat a fly. When this didn’t work either, he tried to catch them with both hands, the way a child might cup a firefly out of the air.
But he couldn’t get hold of one. The more he chased, the more frantic he became, the faster he ran, the wilder he grabbed. This went on for a full minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Ten.
It might have gone on for the entire class period, but eventually he tripped over a chair and tumbled painfully to the stone floor, tearing open the leg of his pants and bloodying his knee.
Clutching his leg, he sat on the ground and let loose with a string of angry cursing the like of which I had never heard in my entire life. He shouted and snarled and spat. He moved through at least eight languages, and even when I couldn’t understand the words he used, the sound of it made my gut clench and the hair on my arms stand up. He said things that made me sweat. He said things that made me sick. He said things I didn’t know it was possible to say.
I expect this might have continued, but while drawing an angry breath, he sucked one of the floating milkweed seeds into his mouth and began to cough and choke violently.
Eventually he spat out the seed, caught his breath, got to his feet, and limped out of the lecture hall without saying another word.
This was not a particularly odd day’s class under Master Elodin.
The Wise Man’s Fear copyright © Patrick Rothfuss 2011