The Silent Nightingale
A Kvothe/Tempi story
Set between the end of Kvothe's story and before the telling of it to Chronicler.
The Adem looked at him with those intense eyes. Could that really be the same man he had known briefly in Vintas, and then on the road to Haert? Could the man who had called down lightening, and killed so many men like a puppeteer from a distance, be this? The window of the Waystone Inn was clear, perfect glass, his feet were silent on the boards outside, and he rested a hand on the sill, surprised to see how his hand trembled. So long. It had been so long. Kvothe was tall, and broad-shouldered now, his hair still burning like a midnight campfire, his eyes green and dangerous as the Sword Tree's leaves. A movement in a back corner of the taproom drew his quick, grey eyes, and he felt his heart sink as he watched the casual familiarity between the young, dark-haired man and his Kvothe.
He almost snorted. His left hand made a gesture, though there was no one there to read it. Kvothe had never been his. Not even when they had sat together between the trees, and he had tried to learn the strange, alluring, barbarian art of music from Kvothe, nor when he had had his quiet Ademic hands on Kvothe's hips, correcting his Ketan, movement by movement, motion by motion. And now? Did Kvothe belong to another? To this dark-haired, ageless looking boy? He was so full of sadness. He wore it like that strange cloak of his, it weighed down his strong shoulders, it dragged his mouth down at its subtle, sharp corners, and it filled the mercenary's heart to see it writ so clear on Kvothe's lovely face. How could the other man be so lively and unguardedly happy when Kvothe was so deeply sad?
The tall innkeeper patted the dark-haired man on the shoulder with a fond gesture as he passed him, heading for the bar and whisking away the bottle of dark blackberry or blackcurrant liquor on the table in front of the young man as he left. An indistinct shout of protest rose from him, and Kvothe gave a hollow laugh in response.
If I don't move now, never, he thought.
His hand moved to the door. His mercenary reds screamed his arrival in silent colour. The door opened with the smooth efficiency of a well-oiled hinge. Kvothe's green eyes flicked up, oddly vacant as an Adem's, but they blanched, actually losing colour, widening, going pale, and the bottle of liquor slipped from his fingers, fell, and shattered on the floor amidst the silence that the Adem's arrival had spawned.
"Reshi?" the young man sputtered, his big eyes flitting from the stranger to the innkeeper.
"Tempi?" Kvothe finally breathed, his lips and tongue sculpting the Adem's name out of thin air like a story book namer.
Tempi's left hand gestured formal fond respect, longing, aching, before he could stop it. "Kvothe," he said, his voice feeling strange after long disuse on the road.
Kvothe was standing there, stupid and blinking as if Vashet herself had struck him on the temple.
The Adem stepped into the room and found his feet gliding over the silent floorboards, and suddenly, his old friend was in his arms. Kvothe was tough, and his muscles blazed with a warmth that sparked something deep in Tempi's bones. "I have found you," he said stiffly. "Finally."
"How?" Kvothe breathed, bringing his arms up to embrace the slender mercenary.
"Much searching. Took many months," he croaked, his throat dry as though the Haert wind had blown over it for a month with no rain.
"Come and sit, and drink," Kvothe said, pulling back awkwardly. "Whisky and beer?"
"You don't forget," the Adem said earnestly. He had missed his chance to kiss Kvothe's hands, the peak of his forehead, and his mouth. Would it come round again like the moon in her sky?
"Never," Kvothe murmured.
Tempi caught a flicker of Kvothe's left hand as he turned. Desire? Regret? It was hard to tell with a barbarian who was out of practice and turning away from him. He'd been so bad to begin with too.
From behind the bar Kvothe gestured at a spare seat, and said, "Bast, this is my old friend, Tempi. He is of the Adem." He cleared the mess of the broken bottle up in no time, but the sweet smell of it still clung to the air like perfume long after he had sponged the spill away.
Bast's already huge eyes widened to saucer dimensions, and he gasped openly. Then he strode over to Tempi and held out his hand to shake it formally. "You must be very dear to my Reshi, if he has kept your name locked away in his heart all these years. Welcome."
Tempi felt a blush rush across his cheeks, down to his chest and up to his ears.
Bast continued. "My name is Bast. I am Kvothe's student in the arcane, and the history of the commonwealth. My name and honour to you."
He blinked, unsure how to react. "It is good to meet you, Bast, he finally said simply.
Kvothe laughed a deeper, more earthy laugh than Tempi remembered from Haert. Then again he had been very young back then. He brought the mercenary's drinks over and laid a hand on Tempi's soft red shirt, gripping his muscles with his quick fingers only briefly, but with a depth of feeling that shook Tempi deeply.
Grey eyes, pale and troubled as dawn on a windswept beach, watched Kvothe as he lowered himself into the seat beside Tempi and stretched in a study of feline grace. His ankle knocked Tempi's boot, but neither man reacted.
"Did you really come all the way to Nawarre to find me?" Kvothe asked Tempi.
"I did," he said, his voice deep. "I travelled to Imre, and to Tarbean, and many places. And I heard of a man who had done many brave and terrible things, with burning hair and a voice so terrible it…" he paused, uncertain of the words, "It splits men and rock and trees and sky in two…"
Kvothe's eyes darkened to a forest green and Bast shuffled uncomfortably. He brought his left hand up onto the table top and let his emotions show to Tempi as he said, "The people here know me as Kote. I am just an innkeeper. I have little past, and no future. I warn you not to speak of those things here." He paused, and sighed. Gentle, friendly, affectionate teasing, "Though you have always been a man of few words."
The clatter of boots on the boards outside made them jump, and Kote rose smoothly and gracefully as Penthe in a fight. Tempi felt a rush of blood leave his head and fill a different part of his anatomy. He cautioned himself to remember the barbarians' strangely squeamish attitudes towards sex, especially to sex between two men. Not that it was particularly common amongst the Adem either though.
An old man and a group of younger ones stamped in, and Tempi watched astonished as Kote produced beer, ale, wine, food for them with all the polite deference of a servant, but the dignity of a lord. Were it not for that flaming hair and the wildness lingering behind his eyes, he would not have known him.
Bast's calm eyes lingered uncomfortably long on Tempi's serene face, and he flicked his grey eyes back defiantly before dropping them to Bast's left hand on instinct. There was something otherworldly about him that made Tempi's instincts thrum, but he remained silent. Bast suddenly leapt to his feet as though struck by an idea, but he didn't move with the bumbling footsteps of a barbarian, though neither did he move with Ademic control and restraint. Tempi was distracted from his gait when he spoke jovially to Kote. The Adem heard the undertone in his voice though, like a strange harmonic that not everyone's ears can catch. "Reshi," he said cheerfully, "You've had a long day. Let me tend to our gests tonight –" he shot Cobb and Jake and the other lads a smile wide as the Centhe Sea, "– and there's another matter to worry about…"
Cobbs old eyes widened as he saw the Adem's red shirt, and sword slung by his side, and the others stared openly too. Tempi's insides squirmed, but he remained outwardly impassive as a bronze statue.
Kote sighed and said, "I suppose I'll have a word with him. Thank you, Bast."
Tempi felt his left hand twitch questioning as he caught the innkeeper's eyes for a heartbeat, but it made a new shape when Kote laid a soft hand on Bast's shoulder and squeezed past the elegant young man to get out from behind the bar. It wasn't like an Adem to get territorial over sex. But this was more than just an ache of nature. As he approached Tempi, a regretful expression plastered garishly across his handsome face, his left hand began to move, the sentiments over-wrought and rusty, stiff with long disuse, clumsy as a four-year-old.
Deception, falsehood, well-intentioned friendship. "Now," he said in a booming baritone that carried without being loud, "I'm sorry, but I can't let you stay the night –" quiet entreaty "– and I shall have to ask you to be on your way. The last thing we want here is trouble." Ashamed regret. Pleading. Subtle imploring. Patience.
"You want me to go?" Tempi asked flatly. Confusion.
Trust. Earnest. "It would be best," he said, shuffling his feet in what appeared to be apprehension. Then he leaned a little closer and hissed, "Go out of here, round the inn and into the forest. Wait for me there."
Tempi nodded once and finished his drink. "Thank you for your hospitality," he said, his increased fluency in Aturan clearly surprising Kvothe. Quiet acceptance. Understanding. Fervent trust.
Kote smiled gently and said, "And thank you for your understanding."
"I have a long road before me. Much work yet," Tempi said simply, and strode silently from the room without a backward glance.
"Was that really necessary, Kote?" Old Cobb growled. "I'd wager that Adem had some stories!"
"Doubtless he does," Kote said, heading for the back room. "But I heard there were some soldiers on the road, and they don't take kindly to the Adem mercenary types. I remember a sour fight that ended badly before…" he said vaguely, hand resting elegantly on the doorframe, one finger tapping a series of short dashes on the wood.
To everyone's eyes but Bast's there was no pattern to the tapping, only the nervous fretting of an innkeeper with something on his mind, but Bast nodded and said, "I understand," in a tone that carried the same message twice.
Kvothe moved through the garden at the back of the inn and opened the little gate which opened onto a wide, scrubby meadow. Pushing through the summer grasses, thick as mares' tails, he felt he'd never get there, like he was going backwards for all the effort he put in, and the dark trees were getting further away with each step. Finally he emerged, dark pants stained to the knee with evening dew, and found himself in the trees, their silent trunks standing sentinel. Nothing moved except the wind in the canopy, and it seemed to be whispering something to him, though he found the susurrating sounds distant, far off. He closed his leaf green eyes and listened, picturing moonlight on iron, the colour of Adem eyes. His lips parted and he spoke a word he had never heard before, and even his own ears failed to catch it.
Opening his eyes, he saw the dancing patterns of the wind like idle pen-strokes on a blank page, and behind the pattern was a sound. Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum, steady and sure, even, inviting.
"Kvothe," a voice said, and a dark figure stepped from behind a large oak. Tempi walked towards Kvothe with the calm quiet pacing of a panther at dusk, and stopped very close to Kvothe's face, his nose just a breath from Kvothe's own. "How do you know that name," he asked in a whisper soft as moonlight.
Kvothe blinked, and the still clarity faded to dark shadow. " 'That name'?" he asked, feeling a little lightheaded. It had been a very long time since he'd called a name.
"Yes," Tempi said, leaning towards him with the graceful certainty of a ship in a swell. He placed cool hands on Kvothe's smooth, angular jaw and breathed a soft kiss onto Kvothe's lips. "You spoke my true name," he said, hardly pulling back when it was finished.
All the tension and restraint Kote had spent so long building, polishing, maintaining, shattered in the blink of a leaf green eye trimmed with summer gold. "Oh Tempi," he hissed, his composure cracking. He went suddenly weak in his joints, his muscles no longer sufficient to keep his bones aligned.
"Come with me," the Adem murmured, one arm at Kvothe's elbow.
He drew the tall innkeeper away from the path which cut a swathe through the forest, thin and pale as bone, and to the bank beside a quietly whispering brook. Drawing him down to the soft moss beside the stream, Tempi said, "You are much changed, Kvothe."
"I have endured much, Tempi," came his breathless response.
"Shh," Tempi said. "Let us speak now without words. You always did say too much, too loudly."
Kvothe sat crosslegged, his breathing straining to keep steady and regular. "Tempi," he hissed.
Tempi swatted him on the temple from behind, playful and impish as a young child, and in that simple gesture he brought back the months in Ademre with Vashet, and the preceding month on the road before he had come to a fuller understanding of the strange and 'civilised' race of the Adem. "Shh," the Adem hissed. And then, settling himself behind Kvothe with his legs on either side of his back, he put both his steady, pale, endlessly expressive hands on Kvothe's iron shoulders and laid a reverent kiss on the tense muscles on the side of Kvothe's neck.
A violent shiver ran down Kvothe's entire body and every nerve jangled itself awake in a rush like lightning. He tried to twist round but as usual, the Adem had read his muscles like an open page and somehow prevented him from moving. It was a while before Kvothe realised Tempi held him in 'Prisoner in the Stocks'.
"No fair," Kvothe rumbled, a smile wide and unguarded in his throat, his words, his breath, and his back.
"You do not practise," Tempi said, seeming to scold him. "What would Vashet say if she knew how terrible you are now?"
"She would snort through that not-so-delicate nose of hers at me, and tell me I'm a bar-bear-ian," he said, emphasising the second syllable and drawing a sigh from Tempi, who held him closer.
"You have always been that," he said, the warmth of his fondness lightening his otherwise dull tone. He sat with his arms around Kvothe for a while and then laid his cheek on Kvothe's back. "Let go, Kvothe," he breathed. "You hold much inside. Not good. Let me take it from you. Let me take your anger."
"If I let it go, I don't know what will be left," he said. Frightened honesty.
"Sing me a song," Tempi said, his change of direction sudden as a gust of wind in a stone-walled city street. He felt Kvothe's spine seize up and corrode away all at once.
"But Tempi," Kvothe rasped, anguish lacing his voice, sharp as shattered glass, course as provincial clay in Tempi's porcelain ears. "I don't make music any more. I can't… I can't bear it."
"Let me bear it. You make it. I bear it," he said with the clarity of a child.
"It's not that simple, Tempi," Kvothe ground. "I… So much has happened…"
"Let it go," Tempi kissed the nape of Kvothe's neck, drawing aside the curtain of fiery hair to do it. "There is nothing but that which is now."
"You sound like Shehyn," Kvothe said. He sighed. And tentatively, began to hum. His voice vibrated against his ribs and into Tempi's chest and he laid his cheek back down over Kvothe's spine, pressing his ear down to listen better. The tune was lilting, and betrayed an iambic beat. Tempi kept quiet as Kvothe found the notes again and began an old song of unknown authorship. He'd heard him sing it once on an evening in the Eld when a melancholy mood had settled itself like a black cat around their group.
Soft wrought upon the summer dusk, a plain bird's ode rang clear,
The silken song rang piercing pure to one of deadened ear.
The man who heard let go his grief in that enchanted glade,
And weeping hard he bent his knee and knelt before his blade.
The nightingale sang on that eve while dusk drew close her cloak,
And while the spinning seasons wheeled, he slumped against the oak.
The stars began to blink and peer, and softly then the moon
With eyes wide pale and tears unshed she tried to grant her boon.
Soft beams bent down to kiss the man, and ease his aching chest,
But nothing could, or so it seemed, breach through that aching breast.
Too much the lonely man had lost, too hollow were his eyes.
They could not see the moon's soft light, his ears heard nought but lies.
The man who leaned against the tree had nothing left inside,
And so the bird began to sing a silver flowing tide.
The endless waves washed o'er the man until he felt his heart
Begin to beat, to pound, to break, beneath the small bird's art.
Persistent was that little bird, so sure and strong and sweet,
Lodged high and lofty way above, where light and leaf do meet,
With song as sharp as watered steel the little bird sang on,
Until his heavy heart felt light, and felt it could go on.
And still, they say, if you're alone, and aching to the bone,
When all inside has turned to ash, and heavy as a stone,
Deep in those high and endless woods, the nightingale sings on.
So go, and find your ears are clear, and all your sorrow gone.
When he had finished the two sat there beside the stream for a long silent moment. It seemed as though the entire forest, the countryside, and half the world was holding its breath. Kvothe eventually turned around and to his great surprise, he saw that silver tears were rolling down Tempi's smooth, sharp cheeks.
He twisted, surprised to find the Adem's grip was soft and weak as a fern, and he moved to kneel in the space between his thighs. "Tempi," he said. "Tempi?" the name becoming a question with a furrowing of the brow.
Tears rolled freely down his face and along his jaw, dripping from his chin onto his mercenary reds, darkening the fabric in spots to look like blood in the night between the trees. Tempi reached one hand to Kvothe's pale chin and held his forefinger lightly beneath it. "Music…" he began, but broke off, shaking his head. Profound grief. Pain. Exquisite pleasure.
"That's the first time I've made music in years," Kvothe said, his voice thick with raw motion. "You drew my song from me, Tempi," he said. He suddenly laughed and said, "My nightingale." And chuckling fondly, he leaned forward and tipped Tempi back into the moss, returning the kiss that Tempi's body had been aching for, every muscle craving, since he'd seen Kvothe through the window of the inn. "My silent nightingale," Kvothe repeated, pressing Tempi's shoulders down into the ground with insistent urgency in his strong, musician's hands.
Tempi reached up and tangled the fingers of his right hand in Kvothe's red hair, drawing him down and tasting him behind the salt tears on his lips. His left hand worked unseen shapes in the grass beside his thigh as their hips connected and he felt Kvothe's anger pressing hard against him. "Maedre, I found you," he said as Kvothe's lips quirked up into a devastating half smile.
"Kvothe," Kvothe said. "I am Kvothe."