Twenty-eight Silver Talents! Fees were never openly discussed in more than a general sense, but twenty-eight talents was absurd. My purse contained little more than one and that would scarcely see me in board and lodging through the break.
A black despondency fell upon me as I left the hall and I found my feet leading me away from the University and over the river towards Imre. I don’t know what I hoped and certainly didn’t find it there. Denna was no where to be found for company and I didn’t even seriously consider approaching (money lender girl) to discuss my dilemma. Since returning from Trebon I had paid back my debts in full but knew that she would never agree to lend the full 28 talents. Even if she had I would have no way to repay even the interest on an amount that size. I returned to the University near dusk as frustrated and anxious as when I had set out hours before. I had a project at the Fishery that would earn me a little when finished and sleep was far from my thoughts so I went there.
This late in the evening the Fishery was still bustling as students worked on their personal projects late into the night. The east end still showed the after effects of the fire caused by the bone-tar spill. Much of the roof was still missing and scaffold covered almost the entirety of the end of the building. The soot blackened stone had been carefully scrubbed but the stink of damp ashes still haunted the air. Repair work was progressing rapidly but it would be many months before I could work again at my usual bench. In the interim Master Kilvin had found me space sharing a bench with another R’elar named Milar, a likeable young artificer with erratic work hours and a wicked sense of humour.
The project occupying me was a tricky one – a wealthy landowner was convinced that there were sizable deposits of tin in the hills around his farms. He had had a geologist prospect the area but the results had proved inconclusive; tin there for certain but the location of the main vein was undetermined and there was still the question of the size of the deposit. This gentleman had offered a generous reward to Master Kilvin for a definitive answer one way or the other.
The device he had thought up in response was both elegant and brilliant. With a sample of the ore a simple dowsing finder needle could be built to guide a user towards seams. In itself this required sophisticated sygaldry and a deft hand to assemble; Master Kilvin had allocated this element of the project to me. However, the real value of the device was to be its ability to determine the size of the deposit based on the strength of the dowsing signal; Master Kilvin was working on this angle of the project personally. If successful then not only would Master Kilvin be able to claim the reward but he would have also invented a valuable new device for the Fishery to make and sell.
In return for my assistance building the finder needle Master Kilvin had offered me two full talents, a sizable sum given my impoverished state; however I was beginning to regret accepting. The job had been fraught with unforeseen difficulties and the advanced sygaldry involved on such a delicate object had taken many hours to perfect. I had begun to suspect that sticking to simple sympathy lamps I could have earned my two talents more quickly. Never-the-less I had pressed on and, provided the final case assembly went well, I expected to be finished this evening.
When I arrived my work space was quiet though cluttered. Milar was obviously out, although the debris from his latest project was littered over his end of our shared space, and there was a small island of calm around my workspace despite the buzz of the Fishery. I steadied myself for the task in hand and carefully thought through all that I intended to do. Until the case was sealed the finder needle was exceptionally vulnerable both to physical damage and contamination. The needle itself was a fine sliver of star-iron alloy – a hard but brittle metal nearly impossible to work due to its fragility. Once installed on its spindle, the needle had to be carefully tuned to a sample, which could be practically anything. This involved installing the sample in a second hermetically sealed chamber beneath the spindle. Any contamination to the chamber, or of the sample itself, would lead to at best an inaccurate finder or at worst non-functioning one.
Tonight I intended to seal the finder needle beneath the twice-toughened glass face and prepare the chamber in the base of the finder to take the sample of ore.
The work totally absorbed me; my training in sympathy fell into place and the job of holding my mind in the correct state for sygaldry pushed more personal concerns aside. I can’t be sure how long I held myself in that state for, it was certainly longer than an hour, but when I surfaced I became aware of Master Kilvin standing quietly beside me. His presence unnerved me a little, especially when I realised he must have been standing there, observing, for some time.
‘That was a neat job, lad,’ he said, stepping forward. ‘Little wasted effort and a first class finish. I’m curious though, why did you use goth instead of amn there?’ Master Kilvin gestured at some runes I had marked into the sample chamber.
‘amn would hold the sample more securely,’ I agreed ‘but goth should interfere less with the sympathy connection between the it and the needle. This way should be more accurate.’
‘Well thought out, Kvothe, although I think in practice there would be little difference.’
The silence drew out as we both considered the device in front of us. When sealed it would be a flattened orb about the size of a large cooking apple, the case was a burnished bronze, turned down to a smooth and comfortable finish on my small bench lathe. With a sample in place it would probably weigh in at about three pounds and, even now, felt reassuringly heavy when held. It held promise and my thoughts raced on.
‘Master,’ I tentatively began ‘you know my predicament. I have no means to pay 28 talents in just a few weeks time. The small amount I can earn working here sustains me well enough to live but little more.’
‘I know all that well enough Kvothe, but I’m surprised to hear you speak of it so directly. I’m in your debt for your quick thinking during the fire, but you must know I cannot interfere once the fees have been set.’
‘I wouldn’t bring it up at all Master, but for the fact that I begin to see a solution that might benefit all of us.’ I paused and crossed to the small safe under then bench where I currently stored my more valuable materials. ‘Do you recognise this?’ I asked, handing over a heavy object.
Kilvin turned it in his palms, examined it closely under the bench lamp, and hefted its weight experimentally. ‘By its weight I’d say it has to be made of metal, probably iron, but the shape and markings resemble scales? I have seen organic-iron bones before but I can’t envisage iron being useful for a fish! Where did you get hold of it?’
I recounted briefly my encounter with the enraged draccus in Trebon, although not my part in its demise and my suppositions about the iron from local rocks being gradually absorbed by skin, scale, and bones.
‘How much might a substantial sample, many times this, be worth to the Fishery?’ I asked, ‘Because I believe I can find substantially more.’
‘You are thinking about the finder aren’t you? Using your single scale as a sample? I hate to be a bearer of bad news, Kvothe, but the draccus you would be tuning it to is dead, burned, and buried by your own admission. Also, that piece is a commission, paid for by the client. It would be wrong to remove it from the Fishery.’
‘I still believe I could get something useful from it. At the very worst I might return disappointed and a little travel weary. The Finder itself is next to unbreakable, you saw the runes I used assembling it.’ I tried not to let my excitement show too visibly, lest Kilvin begin to think me unhinged. However; as we were talking ideas were blossoming inside my head. It would work, and could even work amazingly well if luck was on my side.
Kilvin was obviously thinking deeply, his eyes still locked on the scale turning between his raw, scared hands. ‘Organic-iron… incredible stuff.’ He mulled it over, ‘when alloyed with titanium it forms a hardwearing metal, when forged it makes blades that hold the sharpest edge. Oh, I could find a use or two for it, lad. It’s just a shame you can’t use the finder.’ His eyes sparkled as he glanced up at me, and a mischievous quirk touched his lips. ‘Oh, how long did you say you would be visiting your parents for this break?’
We were playing a game now and life on the streets forces you to be quick on the uptake. ‘My aunt, actually. No more than two weeks, hopefully a little less.’
‘Well, make sure you lock that Finder up somewhere safe while you’re gone, we can continue with the project when you return.’ And with that he nodded and returned his attention to the rest of his domain.
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