Welcome to my ridiculously detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 133-137 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, 4C = Four Corners, CTH — that thing I can’t spell!
Useful links: The Sleeping Under the Wagon post, in which there are lots of ted in WMF, none of them really came up explicitly in NW. The first is the Amtheories. The re-read index. The map. The timeline. Imaginary Linguistics.
And first, a philosophical thought.
We’ve had three philosophies or ways of living contrasted in WMF, none of them really came up explicitly in NW. The first is the Amyr doing things “for the greater good”. The second is Bredon’s “beautiful game”. The third is the Lethani, right action.
Kvothe acting on instinct always seems to go with the Amyr way — hang the means, the end justifies them. But he also always seems to believe he knows what is right — and when he puts his mind into Spinning Leaf and lets his sleeping mind/subconscious answer, he gets good answers about the Lethani. As for the beautiful game, all means no end, he isn’t interested when he’s away from the Tak board and Bredon.
Chapter 133 (135) is Homecoming
An ironic title in a way, because it reminds us that homecoming just isn’t an option for Kvothe. But he’s taking Krin and Ellie home to Levinshir.
Levinshir isn’t a big town, two or three hundred people. That’s barely big enough to be a town even by medieval standards. Kvothe hoped to get the girls home unnoticed, but a woman notices them and a large number of women rush out and cluster around the girls, which Kvothe hopes will help them. Their men stand around. He sends a boy for the mayor (Ellie’s father) and another to ride the roan to Krin’s farm.
The men are suspicious of Kvothe and suspect him of being one of the men who took the girls — they say his eyes look Ruh, which Thistlepong pointed out last week is interesting, as he says elsewhere that he got his eyes from his mother, who was a Lackless and a Ruh by choice. You wouldn’t expect an “immigrant” to have a physical characteristic that’s recognisable.
The men keep on being suspicious until Krin explains Kvothe saved them and then turns on the men asking why they didn’t save them. The men explain they tried and the bandits won, wounding several of them. Then Krin says if they were proper men like Kvothe, they’d have rescued them, and Jason, clearly stung, says it wouldn’t have been necessary except for the girls actuing like Ruh whores, and Kvothe breaks his arm and curses him without an instant thought or consideration. It’s really hard to see this as a good thing to do, even in defence of girls who have been raped, even considering that Kvothe either was or was not raped himself. It’s the kind of thing people do, but it isn’t a sensible impulse, and the Adem have given him the skills. The fact that the mayor gives him a ha’penny for it and Gran agrees doesn’t really help me feel happy with this. Jason was provoked by an insult (from Krin) and was insulting back, it was all words until Kvothe broke bones.
I think there’s no question that this arm breaking isn’t of the Lethani. It resembles what Vashet does to him to teach him about “control”, and does he have control of himself here? He does not.
Jason apologises. Ellie’s father shows up. Kvothe addresses the reader in an aside to explain that you have two kinds of mayor, the useless ones who wring their hands a lot and the hardworking ones, and this is the latter kind. Nevertheless, Kvothe makes a mess of explaining the situation — the troupers weren’t Ruh, he is, he rescued them... and Ellie says “Don’t say anything to make him angry”. She has just seen him break her boyfriend’s arm, not to mention kill all the troupers. Krin tells them he killed them. The mayor decides on reflection that this is a good thing.
What strikes me as strange here is that Kvothe’s timing is so bad on telling what happened, as again later with the Maer. Normally he’s very good at telling stories and putting things over, but with this incident he really isn’t. Guilt?
Kvothe goes with Jason to see Gran, the local healer, who turns out to be an excellent healer and a good psychologist too. She explains about arrowroot not working. She says he did the right thing. He cries. She gives him brandy and says that what he did is like being a doctor and making the hard choice to cut off a rotting leg to save the patient. This episode is definitely cathartic for Kvothe, and I’m glad to see he is still guilty whatever he said about Alleg. And Gran is probably right in the difficult moral calculus that is this episode.
Kvothe says goodbye to Krin, who again reminds him of D. He asks the mayor to lock him up for the authorities to investigate, so apparently there is a system by which this could be done even in Vintas, even here. The mayor tells him to leave now while nobody is looking.
Presumably if he had had a trial, with the girls there, he’s have been cleared of wrongdoing, whereas as it is he has it hanging over him. OK, he recently had one trial for malfeasance — that can’t be all that long ago in time measured as days passing and not counting time in Fae.
Anyway, he leaves, And he leaves his horse for Bill, the guy with the broken leg, who had his horse shot under him pursuing the bandits — and here Kvothe is being remarkably unselfish. Then he says goodbye to the mayor with “Remember it was bandits whio took them and one of the Edema Ruh who brought them back.” That’s what’s important to him, the good name of his people.
Chapter 134 (136) is Interlude: Close to Forgetting
K, close to forgetting who he is... yes, well. Who is he, eh?
K pauses the story at a natural pause. It has grown dark and he lights the lamps. Chronicler asks why people haven’t come for dinner. K says it’s because of Shep’s funeral. He says Bast should go and take a bottle of brand. K offers Bast pretty girls dancing. Bast goes just for half an hour while K makes dinner. K says to Chronicler after he has gone that Bast was getting too caught up in the story and needed a break for perspective.
Let’s consider that for a moment, A break for perspective, After that incident at Levinshir? Hmm. Bast? Not K, not Chronicler, Bast? Do we feel we need one?
Then Chronicler asks for a clean cloth and K gets some wood alcohol. K offers ink, Chronicler says he can grind more ink and K says he has Aruean ink, which surprises Chronicler. It might surprise me if I knew what it was.
Then Chronicler asks K an “unofficial” question about his description of Caesura not matching the “Folly” sword on the wall. K laughs, really laughs, “a warm rich laugh”. So I think whatever there is about this sword exchange it isn’t a tragedy. And then he says this isn’t “Kaysera the poet-killer”. He doesn’t say “Caesura”. But he smiles again when he says it. K says what fun is it telling a story if nobody’s listening, and he’s glad Chronicler is paying attention. He seems happy and eager as he asks about dinner — cold mutton and sharp cheese and tomatoes and olives. He says Bast would have eaten the olives if he knew they had them. He hums as he prepares the food — hums! It really does seem as if telling the story is doing what Bast says he wants and making K into Kvothe again.
But what is the other difference here? Bast isn’t there. We’ve suggested the Evil Chronicler theory, but have we considered the Gaolor Bast theory? Anyone think it would be productive to really think about Bast, and separate out what we’ve seen him do and what he has said?
Bast and his motivations then come into even more question as the two soldiers come in out of the storm, because we know now Bast sent them. They ask if K can break a gold royal. When he says he can, they demand his purse. K offers it to them and K hits one in the jaw as he takes it. The beginning of the fight goes just as one would expect from what we’ve heard of Kvothe training with the Adem, he’s using the soldiers’ strength against them. It changes when the big man jerks his hand out of K’s grip. K “looks startled” and starts to get beaten up. This doesn’t read like K’s choice to me. It is his hand that fails him. He tries to break away, his “eyes half-focused and dull with confusion”, he tries break lion and it doesn’t work. They beat K up and kick him on the floor.
The soldier asks him who he thinks he is, and K laughs, from the floor “as if the red-haired man had heard a joke that only he could understand”. When he sits up after they’ve gone, he says “I forgot who I was there for a minute.” This is why I think K has changed his name. Even at that this confuses me. I can believe forgetting magic, losing it, but physical skills?
When Bast comes back, K says he and Chronicler got into a fight about the proper use of the subjunctive. Bast believes this, clearly, because Chronicler backs away from him and tells him the truth about the soldiers. It’s amazing K can joke about it when he needs stitches and has been kicked. Bast asks if they were possessed like the one the night before, and when K explains he says “Why did you let them do this?” K says yes, two ordinary soldiers did this, and Bast looks panicked. We, of course, know now that he has set them up, and that’s why he’s reacting this way, but even for that this is excessive. K says “Quit expecting me to be something I’m not!” He asks Bast “God’s mother, why can’t you just leave me alone!” Then he apologises and says he’s in pain. But he was joking... hmm.
Bast says he killed five scrael, what was different, K says he chose the time and place for that carefully — and he doesn’t say so, but it wasn’t in the Inn, for our Inn & silence theory. Bast blames K’s losing on the wounds from the scrael. K starts to say something and then sighs and lets Bast go on believing this. K says he has four broken ribs, a loose tooth and he needs stitches on his scalp, but they should just have dinner. He says he should thank them for reminding him of something he was close to forgetting. He does not say what. Is it that he is no longer Kvothe, despite the story? Or something we cannot know yet? Damn I want D3 already!
Bast goes to get medical supplies and K and Chronicler actually start arguing about the subjunctive, which I think is hilarious.
Bast does something weird with milk and blood and healing. It doesn’t resemble any magic we have seen. K says he shouldn’t, and Bast says he didn’t ask for his opinion. He tells K he is an idiot. Then he tells Chronicler to bring the food and K to tell the story, he commands them “Entertain me!” with blood visible on his teeth from what he has just done.
This piece of Interlude is one of the oddest, and I’m not sure of what to make of it. I think the only solid fact we have here is that Folly isn’t Caesura, everything else is problematic and doesn’t bear much examination.
Chapter 135 (137) is Questions
So, the last episode in WMF. Straight back into the story. And the questions that drive people.
Kvothe knows he’s guilty of offences against the Iron Law and that everyone in Levinshir knows his name and description, so he makes good time back to Severen to explain to the Maer. He walked for two days and then caught a coach heading south. Three days later he got back to the Maer’s estate and sent a ring to Stapes, who shows up even before Kvothe can wash. Stapes tells him he has missed the wedding of the Maer and Meluan. Stapes also says the matter of Caudicus was tended to properly, which is unexpectedly brisk for something of that significance. They caught him my setting fire to the place, it cost Dagon an eye, and now it’s over. But who sent him and why — nothing. I’m not sure whether that is really over, and I suspect not.
Stapes says the Maer wants to see him in the garden in ten minutes, Kvothe says he’s smelly and needs a bath first, and will see him in an hour, this of course leads to him hanging around indefinitely waiting for the Maer to summon him again. He sends the lockbox with Stapes. Bredon comes over and tells him the cream of the gossip — the Prince Regent of Vintas has been killed in a duel, bringing Ambrose a little nearer to the throne. Bredon says Kvothe’s playing is much improved.
Eventually, the Maer sends for him. He reproves him for being armed. Kvothe says in Renere everyone goes armed, the Maer says it’s not a good custom and Kvothe shouldn’t do it again. They have a ritual conversation about trivialities and flowers. Then the Maer says everyone has a question that drives them, and Kvothe agrees. The Maer asks what Kvothe’s is, and again Kvothe doesn’t ask about the Chandrian but about the Amyr, just as with the CTH. The Maer says he loved stories about the Amyr and espectally Atreyon, which is a bit bloody for Kvothe, who likes Sir Savien. Then they talk about the disappearance not of the Amyr but of all the information about them, and Kvothe asks for his help investigating this, anf the Maer says he’d like to know too and invites Kvothe to his rooms in the evening.
Chapter 136 (138) is Notes
Notes following from Questions to be sure, but actually message type notes.
Kvothe has five hours free, he goes to Severen Low to look for D and doesn’t find her, to nobody’s surprise. The innkeeper says she left a note, but when he gets it it is his own note of apology which he sent by the tinker and which she never received.
He goes to Alveron, who asks for the truth about the bandits and finds it hard to believe — 27 bandits and a fortified camp defeasted by five. But he does believe it when Kvothe confirms it. Then Meluan arrives, bringing a question.
The bandits seem like a long time ago to me, so much had happened in between.
Chapter 137 (139) is Lockless
Meluan comes in with two boys carrying a wooden chest. He calls her “my lady” not knowing her title and she says that’s fine, they don’t need formalities. The chest weighed ten stone, which is around 140 pounds or 65 kilos, which is a lot. Meluan thanks him for his part in bringing them together. She says she’s only showing him the puzzle because the Maer vouches for him. He swears by his hand (again!) not to reveal anything about it.
In the chest is a box, and in the box another box about the size of a thick book. At first the wood seems smooth as polished stone, but then Kvothe realises the sides are carved subtly and readably only by fingers. Meluan says he’s like a boy with a present, Alveron says he has a mind like an iron hammer. Something shifts inside the box. Kvothe says it feels like a box and like something that wants to be opened. He asks how, they say they don’t know, and they don’t know what is inside.
The wood is like roah but with a red grain. They ask him what he guesses, and he guesses that it’s an heirloom and about three thousand years old. Neither of them can feel the carving. Kvothe suggests it might be an Yllish story knot, but he can’t read it. He guesses what’s inside is metal, then amends it to glass or stone. (We have surmised that it might be the mountain glass with which Selitos put out his eye, along with his blood for summoning etc. Do we have any other guesses? A key for the Four Plate door? Her husband’s rocks?) Alveron says it must be something precious, and Kvothe says or maybe something dangerous — precious or dangerous and something that can’t be destroyed. The child’s skipping rhyme is in his head, and mine too, both of them.
Then the Maer dismisses him, but he asks to bring up another matter — the dead troupe, and very clumsily handled, in front of Meluan who he knows hates Edema Ruh, but he insists on clarifying everything more than it needs. The Maer is horrified he killed them even knowing they were rapists, because the Maer is horrified at him taking the law into his own hands. He says Kvothe’s honesty is like a felling axe when he adds that not all of them were men. Then Kvothe gets pushed and admits he is Ruh, and Meluan walks out. And he makes everything worse by saying that a trouper’s tongue has got her into bed more quickly than her sister — which really is the worst possible thing he could have said. The Maer dismisses him.
And we’ll go on from there next week.
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.