Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 12: A Beautiful Game

Welcome to my ridiculously detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 61—65 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

Useful links: The Sleeping Under the Wagon post, in which there are lots of theories. The re-read index. The map.

Chapter 61 is “Deadnettle”

Deadnettle is the poison seller in a play called Three Pennies for Wishing who takes advantage of sick people to his own benefit. Kvothe is afraid of being taken for someone like him. Note how clever this is—not only do we not have this character, we don’t have a stock character of an evil doctor. But Rothfuss sets it up beautifully so that they do and it’s perfectly plausible, and it’s all setting up for what happens next. It’s giving himself and Kvothe and us a shorthand way of thinking about this complex issue. Lovely.

Kvothe comes back and Alveron says Caudicus has visited and sent more medicine but he hadn’t taken it. Kvothe has a real problem here, the problem doctors have with powerful patients—he has to get Alveron to obey him if he’s to recover, but Alveron isn’t used to taking orders and Kvothe doesn’t want to be hated. Who has the inherent power now? Also, Kvothe needs Alveron to believe him and not Caudicus, who he has known and trusted for a lot longer. And why is Caudicus poisoning him? We still only have theories.

The first thing is cod liver oil—one of the best medicines ever, but so icky. Alveron sensibly refuses to drink it, saying he’ll throw up, and Kvothe makes him anti-nausea tea. Alveron refuses the cod liver oil with “remember who you are speaking to” and Kvothe says he’s speaking to a sick man who won’t take his medicine. When he still refuses, Kvothe glugs it—ugh. My stomach curdles in sympathy. “Pride is always a better weapon against the nobility than reason.”

He offers to return the ring and Alveron tells him to keep it for now. He leaves Alveron with the tea and tells him to keep drinking the cod liver oil. Alveron falls asleep. Stapes looks at Kvothe with hatred as he leaves. Kvothe frets that if Alveron dies he’ll be blamed and he’ll look like Deadnettle—and audiences cheer when Deadnettle is pilloried. He then throws up the cod liver oil out of a convenient window.


Chapter 62 is “Crisis”

Alveron’s health, of course, but also the continued Deadnettle issue.

Kvothe goes down to Severen-Low and has breakfast then buys more cod liver oil. He looks for D and doesn’t find her (surprise!) and goes back up. He plays Tak with Bredon while waiting for Alveron to send for him. Bredon tells him a story about how Alveron put a bandit in an iron gibbet at the gate. “It was like something out of a play.” Does Bredon know about Kvothe’s background?

Kvothe indirectly asks about Caudicus’s status, and Bredon indirectly explains stuff about the ring thing—well, not so much indirectly as with plausible deniability. Bredon must know that Kvothe is a foreigner at this point. And Kvothe gives away a potentially huge thing:

“My mother once told me she knew a man who owed fealty to himself.” I said. “Owed himself a share of his own taxes every year, and if he were ever threatened there were treaties in place demanding that he provide himself with prompt and loyal military support.”

It seems like a little joke, but a) how would his mother know somebody like that unless she was noble, and b) how many people like that could there be, and who would know them, and could Bredon work out who Kvothe’s mother is from that?

When you think about it, it’s hilarious that Kvothe’s pretending to be a noble when he really is the illegitimate son of a noble. Also, his father didn’t follow noble customs and everyone was OK with it, but Netalia insisted on teaching them to Kvothe so that he knew them if he needed them. And he’s using them.

Bredon uses Stapes as an example:

Technically he ranks no higher than a cook. But he owns substantial lands. He has money. And he’s the Maer’s manservant. Everyone knows he has Alveron’s ear. … there’s nothing in his bowl but gold.

And Stapes was important enough to be in Threpe’s briefing.

Bredon leaves, Kvothe fusses with his lute, then he thinks Alveron must be dead… and then Alveron calls for him. Stapes is even more angry. Alveron has been really ill. Selas flowers have been brought in to cover the smells. Alveron looks:

almost angelic. A rectangle of sunlight washed over him, lending his skin a frail translucency and making his disarrayed hair shine like a silver crown around his head.

It’s not necessarily foreshadowing, but it might be. Alveron’s a proud man, but I can see him being a Penitent King and out penitenting everybody.

Alveron says he feels better than he has in several days and says he has passed the crisis. He says the sipquicks are doing well. Kvothe is “stunned” that Alveron still doesn’t believe him. It’s still very much a crisis.

Kvothe visits Caudicus to get the medicine and pump him about the Lacklesses. He can’t think what motive Caudicus has. His books are chemical, alchemical, historical and natural history. Kvothe suddenly thinks:

If Caudicus was a serious scholar and even half as superstitious as a native Vint, he might know something about the Chandrian.

He does not think “Can I trust him?” because he ought to know that he can’t! He just out and asks. Caudicus reacts as if Kvothe was a child:

“That’s hardly mythology … One could barely even stoop to calling it folklore … It’s superstitious bunk, and I don’t waste my time with it. No serious scholar would.”

This is precicely the reaction he’s had to these kinds of enquiries before, but he’s disappointed. I think what we can take from this, apart from “Kvothe doesn’t think before he speaks” which we already knew, is that Caudicus isn’t working with or for the Chandrian. We know Cinder is around—up in the Eld, but Caudicus isn’t part of the same plot. He’d not laugh and waggle his fingers unhesitatingly.

Caudicus then tells him things about the Lacklesses. Can we trust this? Why would Caudicus lie? OTOH, why would be poison Alveron. I think we need a certain amount of lector emptor here as always.

He says the name Lackless is new, only six hundred years old, and the family are really really old.

Pieces of what are now Vintas, Modeg, and a large portion of the Small Kingdoms were all Lackless lands at one point.

That doesn’t make it easy to find the oldest part where their door was. But the bit they have left is in Vintas, so maybe that’s it. Hmm.

Baseless crazy speculation—if as GBrell has proved, Newarre is in Vintas, maybe the Waystone is where that door is, maybe it’s in the cellar or something, maybe Kvothe is there hiding but also looking after it. All the thoughts in the last couple of weeks about the Waystone and Kvothe’s hands have made me think maybe he’s not in the middle of nowhere hiding just to be out of sight, maybe it’s a really significant location and ground that he has carefully chosen to wait to die, at a specific time when something happens or something finds him.

Anyway, Loeclos became Lockless became Lackless, there was some falling out that splintered the family. In Atur they became Lack-key, and “lackey” comes from that. (I love these fake etymology, like Vintas/vintage and now this.) In the south Laclith—like the Laclith who taught Kvothe woodcraft. And Kaepkaen in Modeg.

This has to be true because he offers Kvothe a book with it written down, and Kvothe takes it. Good. We can trust that this isn’t Caudicus making it up at least.

Caudicus offers him stories about other families.

I wintered with the Jakis family not long ago. The Baron is a widower you know. Quite wealthy and somewhat eccentric.

Does that sound like Bredon or what? (And so Ambrose’s mother is dead. That probably explains why he’s so awful.)

Kvothe watches him make the medicine. He knows it isn’t alchemy because it isn’t like what Sim does. He thinks it’s like following a recipe. Caudicus gossips while he does it. There’s no hesitation or nervousness. He wonders if Caudicus might be a fake and poisoning by accident, because the bowl is lead. But Kvothe asks to feel his “amulet” and it’s a genuine guilder and Caudicus knows what he’s doing.

He takes the medicine back, the birds seem fine, Alveron is keeping his options open.


Chapter 63 is “The Golden Cage”

He’s trapped in his room waiting for a summons again. He plays Tak with Bredon. He is deluged by people wanting to tell him other people’s stories, and he encourages them to write it down for him.

The next day, Alveron’s reading “Fyoren’s Claim of Kings in the original Eld Vintic.” A poem or a law book? He ignores Kvothe as Kvothe makes tea and checks the birds, which again seem to be fine, then asks Kvothe to drink the tea, which he does.

Then he goes to Caudicus, who again leaves him alone with the rings. Kvothe doesn’t notice the tray with his own rings—which is odd until Kvothe realises that the laudanum in the tea has made him groggy. Caudicus is more suspicious and asks him to pass the acid, which Kvothe does. Of course, if Kvothe were what he pretended to be, Alveron would be much sicker and Kvothe wouldn’t know what acid was. He tries to cover with arrogance, but Caudicus is still suspicious. He poisons the flits.

In the night he goes out of the window and explores the gardens, in case he has to escape. He sees sympathy lamps in Caudicus’s tower. He looks in and sees Caudicus talking to somebody, but can’t see who, and can’t hear. Then he sees Stapes, and jumps to the conclusion that Stapes must be in cahoots with Caudicus.


Chapter 64 is “Flight”

Another clever title, both hope of escape and the birds.

We have a quote from the book, and even though Kvothe tosses it aside impatiently, we wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t significant.

the Lacklesses have been especially ripe with misfortune. Some from without: assassination, invasion, peasant revolt, and theft. More telling is misfortune that comes from within: how can a family thrive when the eldest heir forsakes all family duty? Small wonder they are often called the “Luckless” by their detractors.

It seems a testament to the strength of their blood that they have survived so much for so long. Indeed, if not for the burning of Caluptena, we might possess records tracing the Lackless family back far enough for them to rival the royal line of Modeg in its antiquity…

Several things. It’s tempting to consider the “eldest heir” as referring to Netalia, but we don’t know when this book was written or how many times this has happened. The list of external things seem to be reasonably commonplace for a noble family over a long time—one could say the same of the Russian royal family, or the Hapsburgs. Assassination is the least common. “The strength of their blood” is a commonplace way of putting it, but I bet it has significance in terms of “the son who brings the blood.”

Kvothe thinks that reading this kind of thing about her family won’t help him woo Meluan for Alveron, and I have to agree. But this is the least of his worries, as he’s trapped in his rooms and out of favour. Kvothe wins some money playing cards with Viscount Guermen, one of the idiotic courtiers.

I’m suddenly having odd whiplash, because I was thinking about real history and how rare assassination was. Are we supposed to see this as like Versailles, where the king forces the nobles to be there instead of at home on their estates? Medieval courts were never like this. Or is it a Medieval/Renaissance court and these people are here temporarily because they want something?

Kvothe decides to give up waiting and finds a guard at his door. The guard says he’s there to accompany Kvothe if he leaves his room. He’s in sapphire and blue, Alveron’s livery.

Kvothe escapes through the window, goes down and finds D is staying in the thirteenth inn he tries. He finds her less than an hour later—he’s really having a lucky day! She’s watching a streetcorner production of Three Pennies for Wishing, the Deadnettle play. They hang out and she makes him happy by being with her. He wishes he had her ring, and he can’t tell her about it either. He says he’s taking a vacation from the university—people really must do holidays here in the modern way.

D says she sent three letters, but of course he only got one. She has her formal patronage, from Master Ash, and she still can’t tell Kvothe who he is. She unravels the braid in her hair while they’re talking. She says he’s very generous and everyone has secrets.

“I’d say he’s either paranoid or tangled up in dangerous business.”

“I don’t know why you’re carrying such a grudge against him.”

I couldn’t believe she could say that. “Denna, he beat you senseless.”

She went very still. “No.” Her hand went to the fading bruise on her cheek. “No he didn’t. I told you, I fell when I was out riding.”

Kvothe of course had meant the time in Trebon, but this is exactly the way somebody reacts when they’re trying to cover up—so I think we can take it that he caused that bruise and the horse is a lie. She’s exactly like a victim of domestic violence in denial. And when Kvothe says he’d stick a knife into Master Ash, D gives him a look

all sweet fondness and mingled pity. It was the sort of look you give a puppy when it growls, thinking itself terribly fierce.

Now the other times I read this I was thinking of Master Ash as Cinder, and this seemed to make perfect sense. But Bredon? Kvothe’s younger and fitter and I’d guess he could stab him, even pre-Adem. She asks not to argue about it. She says he’s a surprisingly good dancer, and that she’s doing research into old genealogies and histories. This seems like an odd thing for a singer to do for a patron, but Kvothe doesn’t seem surprised. He’s helping her write songs. This doesn’t fit with the explanation we got back in the Eolian of how patrons work… but we have seen Threpe help Kvothe write the Jackass song.

D‘s side hurts, but she won’t see a doctor. Kvothe offers to treat it, she refuses to let him “play doctor” and see her out of her clothes. Maybe she’s forgotten than stream in Trebon?

He goes back to Severen-High, which doesn’t seem very sensible. He has two guards outside his door, so he guesses his escape was noticed. He has a date with D for the next day, so he’s happy. Stapes has given the orders to the guards. Kvothe marches off to Alveron. “If I couldn’t have the Maer’s good will, I would at least have my freedom and the ability to see Denna whenever I wished.” He doesn’t think about that gibbet until he sees Alveron and how angry he is. Then he realises he’s misjudged, and that he is completely helpless and Alveron has all the power. But fortunately, Stapes shows up, hiding a dead bird.

Stapes says he’ll soon swap in another bird. Kvothe asks how many he has replaced—four or five a day. He isn’t malicious, he thought the birds were giving their lives for Alveron—which they actually were when you think about it! He’s been getting new ones. And so Kvothe is back in favour.

Alveron sends Dagon, his guard commander, to arrest Caudicus. Kvothe suggests taking precautions because he’s an arcanist. Alveron says iron chains, a gag, and cut off his thumbs. This makes Kvothe gag—especially delivered casually like that. Any threat to hands!

Another bird dies, and Stapes calls it a “calanthis” which is the Eld Vintic for them, and also the name of the royal house of Vintas. Alveron calls him “curiously blind in places” for not knowing that.

Then soldiers burst in and secure the rooms, on Dagon’s orders, Caudicus wasn’t there and a malignant spirit came out and killed one guard. They wonder how Caudicus knew, and Kvothe tastes the poison from yesterday and finds it sweet—so Caudicus suspected and knew Alveron would ask about a change, and when there wasn’t one, he knew.

Alveron says he’d give Kvothe lands and a title except that he needs to keep the news of the poisoning secret. He says he owes Kvothe a great debt. Kvothe instantly thinks he can help with the Amyr thing, but he knows it isn’t the proper time to ask. Stapes, however, gives him a ring, a silver ring and a white  ring, which he doesn’t understand at all. He goes back to his rooms “dizzy with my sudden fortune.”


Chapter 65 is “A Beautiful Game”

Alveron gives him nicer rooms, but they’re further from the kitchens. Bredon comes to them for Tak—he still hasn’t been to Bredon’s rooms. He still doesn’t know who Bredon is. Incidentally, this means the rings must have personal names, not titles. Just “Kvothe” and “Bredon” and “Alveron”—I wonder about Stapes?

Bredon admires the rings and laughs. The silver ring “tells quite a story.” But the white one is “something else again.” Kvothe admits he doesn’t have a clue. Bredon says it’s odd he doesn’t know about it. Horn shows lasting enmity. Bone indicates a profound and lasting debt. They are not given lightly. And it shouldn’t be displayed.

They play Tak and Kvothe loses narrowly. He says he’s getting the hang of it, and Bredon says he isn’t and flattens him—three times. The first time he’s beaten like a piece of paper ripped in half. The second time like a mouse at the mercy of an owl or a puppy fighting a wolf, and the third time like a butcher boning a chicken.

Kvothe says Bredon has been going easy on him. Bredon says that’s not the point, that the point isn’t winning or losing but playing a beautiful game.

“No one wins a dance.”

“Why would I want to win anything other than a beautiful game?”

And we’ll stop there and go on from 66 next time.

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.


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