Welcome to my excessively detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 56-60 of The Wise Man’s Fear but also contains extensive spoilers for the whole book and the whole of The Name of the Wind — these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books. These posts are full of spoilers please don’t venture beyond the cut unless you want them.
Abbreviations: NW = “The Name of the Wind.” WMF = “The Wise Man’s Fear.” D3 = Day Three, the forthcoming final volume. K = Kvothe or Kote when I can’t figure out what to call him and I’m feeling Kafkaesque. MT: Myr Tariniel. “D” = Denna
Chapter 56 is “Power”
An intriguing title. And the chapter starts with Alveron making a speech about power — inherent power and granted power. He says granted power has no limits. He and Kvothe engage in a Socratic dialogue on the subject. It’s very explicitly Socratic — Alveron picks the topic and Kvothe disputes, and it is peripatetic, they do it walking about the gardens, and the Maer really wants Kvothe to make good points and then agree. The topic is interesting — Alveron believes that granted power is stronger because it has no limits, Kvothe believes that inherent power is stronger because it can’t be taken away. (I wonder how that relates to his learned skills that he seems to be missing in the frame?)
They see selas flowers, and Kvothe thinks of D.
Alveron mentions Caudicus the physician clucking over him. He seems better, yet he poured yesterday’s medicine into the chamberpot — I was already suspicious of the medicine. Alveron says he’s always taking potions and sometimes gets a remission and then the illness comes back. Kvothe says he wishes he could help, and Alveron sees that this is genuine — and it is. It’s like Auri and the boys in the cellar in Tarbean. Kvothe is always inherently on the side of anyone who is helpless — and even though Alveron is very powerful, his helplessness against illness invokes Kvothe’s genuine empathy.
Several conversations of a similar sort followed. I could tell that the Maer was trying to get a feel for me.
So we’re given a sample conversation to get a feel for a process, but I’m sure that in that case there’s more to it and this power thing is significant.
Kvothe is courteous and they grow closer, but in a reserved way. Kvothe realises Alveron is lonely. He starts to think he was summoned just to be somebody to talk to. He’d be okay about this except that his lute is still in hock.
Members of the court come to visit, trying to glean information about him, and going away with nothing. All except “the exception proves the rule.”
Chapter 57 is “A Handful of Iron”
The iron rings, of course.
It begins with Bredon. Oh, Bredon! I have been fairly well convinced by all of you that Bredon is Master Ash. I don’t want him to be, but then if he was that’s just what you’d expect. Bredon is very mysterious.
He goes to meet Kvothe on Kvothe’s fourth day in Severen. This may be nicely calculated with Kvothe going insane with boredom. It’s impossible to guess how much Bredon knows about Kvothe. We don’t know who he’s in communication with. If he’s an Amyr, he could have heard a whole lot from Lorren, if Lorren is an Amyr. (The problem with secret conspiracies that may or may not exist is that they can be conveniently used as a theory to explain almost anything.)
Alveron has been sending for Kvothe at weird times of day to check if he’s available or if he gets irritated with this, and Kvothe has been courteously putting up with it. Annoying courtiers have been trying to find out who he is and he has been putting them off with folderol.
Bredon is described as:
an older man, a gentleman down to his bones. His clothes gave him away, certainly, but more important was the face that he wore his wealth with the comfortable indifference of someone born into it.
This fits the description of Master Ash from the Eolian, an older man, rich, patron type. Kvothe wears his clothes as a costume, and looks natural in them. Bredon just looks natural in them — but could they be a costume to him too?
Bredon has come himself, rather than sending a ring, and this is the first time we’ve heard of the ring custom. First, is the Department of Imaginary Geography paying attention? A piece of geographical information:
The custom in northern Vintas
so, Severen is in northern Vintas! (Frowns at map.) I wonder which side of that big lake it is? I wonder how far it is from Tinue? Renere is the capital, I wonder if Renere is where the king is and if that’s southern Vintas and they don’t have this custom? Severen’s on a river, I wonder if it’s one of those big rivers north of Renere and south of Tinue and heading for the Stormwal... (I just noticed something. On the map. Nothing to do with this chapter. All of the countries except Yll have capitals marked with a red circled dot. There are also three yellow-circles, Tarbean, one at the side of the road randomly, and one in the middle of the tinker’s pack. Any ideas what’s with that?)
was to send a servant ahead to request a meeting. The runner brought a note and a ring with the noble’s name inscribed. You sent a gold ring to requrest a meeting with a noble of higher rank than yourself, silver for someone of roughly the same rank, and iron for someone beneath you.
Threpe had explained this. Bredon ignores this and shows up. He announces himself. Like Kvothe, he hasn’t been officially introduced. He could be anyone, and he probably is. It’s interesting that Kvothe never asks anyone else about him. Not Caudicus, not Alveron or Stapes or a random noble come to gossip.
He asks if Kvothe knows how to play Tak, and when he finds he doesn’t, he introduces him to the game.
Bredon’s walking stick has a silver handle in the shape of a wolf’s head. (Kvothe says “carved” which is absolutely the wrong word for silver, and with all the work he’s done in the Fishery I’m surprised he’d make that mistake.) He’s either old enough to need a walking stick or he’s lame, or it’s an affectation. The silver head makes me think it’s an affectation. I’m lame myself, and while I have a stick with a horse’s head, I seldom use it because those things aren’t comfortable. And silver wouldn’t be comfortable — I’m not saying people don’t have them, I’m saying people who need a cane tend to make different choices, and the choices Bredon has made suggest it’s a fashion statement rather than a disability aid. He leans it against the window sill.
He’s “what I consider grandfather old.” His colours are “ash grey and dark charcoal.” (Have we ever heard what Ambrose’s colours are? Because the Baron Jakis theory of Bredon is also tempting. And he can be both. All these things. Baron Jakis and an Amyr and Master Ash. Or not.) He reminds Kvothe of an owl, with his white hair and beard.
Bredon asks to see Kvothe’s collection of rings. He says all the best gossipmongers have been, and Kvothe hasn’t given them anything so he’s doing well at being tightlipped. He tells Kvothe that the rings should be displayed so visitors can see them. Kvothe says there’s no status in iron. Bredon says on the contrary, it shows you have the attention of your betters.
Kvothe says he seems to be familiar with it. Bredon says he was something of a power when he was young but at present he has “no machinations to advance and that takes the spice from the manouverings.” It’s probably a lie... but who knows. He says the people who have come are magpies, and he is not, that he’s playing a longer more subtle game. He says he’s going to gain Kvothe’s favour and if Kvothe gains the Maer’s favour he’ll have a useful friend, and if not then at least he’ll have played Tak.
“I think I’m going to have quite a bit of fun playing with you.”
Kvothe likes Tak, which seems like Go. Bredon tells him fine points of the ring thing, about displaying them and wearing them. Then he gives Kvothe a gift of a set of rings of his own:
“Yours without obligation, let or lien. A freely given gift.”
That’s very strange. And as they are unknown to each other they are equals, with a silver ring to be exchanged.
I love all the ring stuff. It’s just the right sort of weird and complicated.
The days continue to pass. He summons Bredon and they play Tak, interrupted by Alveron summoning him, then Bredon asks if he’d like to play after supper. They always meet in Kvothe’s rooms. This means Bredon sees his rooms, but he doesn’t see Bredon’s, which might give him information about Bredon. Bredon’s silver ring joins the iron rings in the bowl, for everyone to see.
Kvothe responds to him and likes him. But there’s no prefiguring of any kind about him. No meta comment. He really could be anything.
Chapter 58 is “Courting”
What Alveron wanted him for, of course.
He isn’t called by Alveron for two days, he’s going mad with boredom, he doesn’t send a ring because he thinks his patience might be being tested. And there are only two days left to reclaim the lute. Then Stapes shows up and says the Maer will see Kvothe in his rooms.
Alveron’s in bed. He asks Kvothe how old he thinks he is. Kvothe says 51. He’s actually forty, pain and sickness has aged him. He says he means to take a wife, but it’s difficult to find the right person. It has to be a girl of the right status and she has to be young enough to produce an heir, and it can’t be one under the king’s control, or he’d lose power in negotiating. There’s only one possible girl, and she’s beautiful and clever and being courted by lots of men. He doesn’t want her to marry him for his position, he wants her to love him. Kvothe guesses that Alveron loves her.
The lady’s name is Meluan Lackless. Kvothe is to court her through letters and songs. Caudicus will tell him about the Lackless family. Alveron gives Kvothe a ring to show Caudicus, and tells him to fetch the medicine and ask Caudicus without letting him know why.
Up to this point, all we’ve heard of the Lackless family is the rhyme his mother chided him for, and the hidden “Netalia Lackless” in “Not tally a lot less.” So while I was connecting Meluan with the rhyme, I had no idea she was his aunt. And we haven’t yet heard about their box or their door.
Chapter 59 is “Purpose”
Kvothe doesn’t send a ring to Caudicus, he goes straight there on the Maer’s business. He knows from the rumourmill that Caudicus was Alveron’s arcanist and had been for a dozen years. He turns out to be a thin man with a long nose and dark hair in a robe. Caudicus says he doesn’t do love potions and starts to shut the door, Kvothe shows him Alveron’s ring.
The room looked like a small University contained in a single room. Lit with the familiar red glow of sympathy lamps, there were shelves of books, tables full of twisted glassware, and far in the back, half concealed by the curving wall of the tower, I thought I could see a small furnace or kiln.
It’s a wizard’s tower! Kvothe plays a dumb lordling, because he’s afraid Caudicus might be territorial if he knew he was an arcanist. I find this odd. I’d have thought it would have been better to take a neutral position where he could advance to the truth if Caudicus turned out to be nice. Because he could be somebody like Kilvin or Elxa Dal. He could be territorial, yes, but he could also be a potential friend and ally. By pretending to be a fool, he’s left no chance for friendship. Of course, the text is on his side and he turns out to be right in this case.
He asks for the medicine and he says he’s doing research into noble families to write a book about them. He asks about the Lacklesses, and Caudicus is surprised he doesn’t know about them.
They’ve fallen from what they once were, but they’re a treasure trove of stories.
The first thing he tells him, while making the potion, is:
“The Lackless family has an heirloom. Well, not an heirloom exactly, but an ancient thing that dates back to the beginning of their line.”
“On the oldest part of the Lackless lands, in the oldest part of their ancestral estate, there is a secret door. A door without a handle or hinges... there’s no way of opening it. It is locked, but at the same time, lockless. No one knows what’s on the other side.
Kvothe has no comment on this, either to Caudicus or to us. This is a door, not a box. And it’s very reminiscent of the four-plate door, even to being described in terms of what it lacks.
He takes the medicine back to Alveron, and announces to Stapes and his master that Caudicus is poisoning Alveron. This is a rare chapter end cliffhanger.
Chapter 60 is “Wisdom’s Tool”
Alveron says he’s on dangerous ground, but go on. He tells Alveron that he’s an Arcanist at the University, and that Threpe might not have mentioned it. Alveron asks ”which university“ which is interesting, in that there must be more. He says Threpe didn’t mention it because there was a stigma attached to such studies in the east:
the closest I could come to speaking the truth: that Vints are superstitious to the point of idiocy.
Alveron asks for proof, for Kvothe to do some magic, and Kvothe puts the lights out. Then he makes his silver ring shine, using the heat of his own body. This must look really really creepy! Kvothe opens the windows and lets sunlight in. Alveron says he’ll consider what Kvothe said. Kvothe keeps on past reason and courtesy — Alveron trusts Caudicus and he knows Caudicus is poisoning him. He’s being an Amyr without the t-shirt again. He describes symptoms Alveron hasn’t told him. He says it’s lead poisoning, with additional ophalum — denner. He says Caudicus could easily have killed Alveron but making him sick without killing him was harder.
He suggests testing it by feeding birds with the poison. Alveron asks Stapes to bring some, without telling him why. Kvothe says that the night will be really bad because of the withdrawal from the denner. He offers to make a potion that will help a bit. He says there are probably people who would be better at helping, but they’re all a thousand miles away. Kvothe’s bit of Medica training makes him better than anyone untrained. Stapes brings the birds. Alveron gives Kvothe a purse of money to buy ingredients for medicine.
Kvothe goes to Severen-low. He shakes off followers. He buys dinner and some tippling flasks and watches the end of a play. He then goes to an apothecary, buys some things, then asks about an impotence cure to throw Caudicus off the scent if he hears Kvothe was there. Then he gets his lute back at last.
There are three ways of going up and down the Sheer, stairs, an arcane freight lift, or a horse lift, patronized by the nobility. He goes up on that to keep up appearances. But he looks at the city as they go up. It has a stone wall, even now things are peaceful, and three guarded gates. When he gets off at the top, he sees D, going down. She runs to him and embraces him. He sees an old fading bruise on her cheek. She has to go down, but she tells him to find her on Tinnery street.
So D is in Severen-high when Bredon is. Yes, I shall try to keep track of this.
And we’ll start next time with 61.
In last week’s comments
Daedos suggests Bast might turn out to be a villain. And it’s true that we don’t know where he comes from and we do know that his agenda is different from Kvothe’s.
Artful Magpie builds on the silence theory by suggesting:
I just looked at the first and last sections of both NotW and WMF...the 3 silences parts. The third silence, the great silence, is in every instance described as being held inside two things: 1) objects and things that are part of the inn, such as the floor, the hearth, the clay cider jugs, the plaster walls, the locks and 2) perhaps more interestingly, the hands of the red-haired man.
The silence, the third silence, is in K’s hands. Given all the discussions we’ve had about ”good right hand“ and upon which hand Namers wear rings, and the ring without a name possibly being a ring of silence, and K’s proprioception, etc etc ad infinitum, the fact that the silence pervading the inn is always described as being in his hands becomes...interesting, non?
Brilliant. And the idea that it’s built into the inn might explain why he can fight the scrael outside — and why he carefully goes outside to do it — and why he can’t fight the skindancer and the soldiers inside. This makes perfect sense, and it’s an example of Rothfuss hiding something in plain sight, the way he does.
CPJ has a creepy thought: maybe Kvothe has become a Chandrian.
the idea that something has happened to Kvothe to make him Chandrian-like is interesting. Here’s a crazy idea. What if Kvothe in the frame story *is* Chandrian. He might have killed one of the Chandrian and then had Haliax decided to make Kvothe the replacement... if Haliax controls Chandrian with their names, this would help explain why Kvothe is hiding and seemingly trying to give himself a new name.
I don’t think I entirely buy that idea myself, but it’s weird enough to be fun to think about. Surely if Kvothe were Chandrian it’d be . . . damn. I was going to say that it’d be hinted at, but I’ve just realised, it *is* hinted at. In tNotW, Chronicler says something to that end, that some people think Kvothe is Chandrian, and it is dismissed or ignored in an odd way... what was the line? Ah. Here:
‘Some are even saying there is a new Chandrian. A fresh terror in the night. His hair is as red as the blood he spills.’
‘The important people know the difference,’ Kote said as if he were trying to convince himself, but his voice was weary and despairing, without conviction.
Hm. How about that. I wonder...?
What would his sign be then? We know that ’silence’ is a sign of one of the Chandrian, but perhaps for Kvothe, the inability to stand music, his own or other people’s? Music becomes tortuous to him, though he can hide it with effort, the way the other Chandrian can hide their signs?
That would cast the signs in a new light: they might be more tragic than they seem. What if they are things that the people loved, that have been taken away from them by Haliax-Lanre, or given up for power? The man who makes animals go crazy loved animals? Cinder loved summers and warm days? The silent man loved conversation? Whoever causes iron and wood to rot was a craftsman? The blight-bringer loved his or her gardens?
Or Kvothe isn’t Chandrian exactly, but like them, he gave up the thing most valuable to him to gain power, and it’s absence is the sign? (Though in that case, why blue fire?)
That is an odd little tangent to wander down. I’m not really convinced by it, but it’s an interesting idea...
I am not convinced by it either, but I’m intrigued. I also love and hate the idea about the signs — that would be such a horrible thing. Being immortal and being poison to the thing that is your passion is the worst curse I can think of.
I also wonder who those ”important people“ are. His friends? The Penitent King and the significant players whoever they are? Elodin and Kilvin?
Faek thinks he’s more Amyr-like:
Does Kvothe feel like the Ciridae on the vase? He’s done evil but for a good case. Most people might not understand the difference, but the ”important people" know
Are the Amyr the important people? Are the Fae? I’d really like to know who he’s thinking of.
There’s also lots of great discussion of Lord Greyfallow and of the swords Folly and Caesura.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.