Welcome to my ridiculously detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 71-75 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 71 is Interlude—The Thrice-Locked Chest
Obvious title for once.
This is an interlude without us being ripped from one world to the other. K raises his hand for a pause, after completing his story of the walk with D in the gardens. Yet it still feels like jolt to move from Severen to the Waystone. Rothfuss does these transitions very well, we’ve always got two sets of characters and the space of time, and we’re always negotiating the distance between them and he doesn’t want us to lose sight of that.
And K’s stopping for an interruption even so, he deals cards and then the others hear a step outside. Did K hear it with better than normal hearing, or does he have some magical way of sensing people coming?
Thinking about that, it may be that Kvothe always wanted to run an inn, and that he thought he had the skills for it and it would be a good way to lie low. But actually, it’s a terrible way to lie low, because an inn is open, it has to be. I used to help out in a bookstore (will work for books!) and I remember how trapped I was there when unpleasant customers came in. Kvothe, hiding, could have put wards around an ordinary house and only been disturbed occasionally. They seem to have plenty of money. If he’d said he was a farmer and pretended to farm he’d have been just as invisible and a lot less visited and wards set up to let him know people were coming would be actually useful. This choice implies that he wants visitors—and suggests potential game playing/trap laying. Bast has sent out lures to wake K up. But K is waiting to die, is he waiting to die in a specific way? He can’t actually want to die or he could have killed himself or let the scrael kill him, but a specific death, in the Waystone?
The mayor comes in, asks for “red Gremsby,” a wine K doesn’t have, and accepts another red wine instead. K goes completely into character, smiling ingratiatingly and wringing his hands obsequiously and all of that. Bast complains that he was winning, which makes me smile. They’ve clearly got a whole routine here. The mayor wants the scribe, and he wants privacy. So K and Bast go upstairs. K wonders why privacy, and Bast demonstrates his casual grasp of the local secrets by saying the mayor has two children by widow Creel. Bast says it’s been ages since they had lessons, and K suggests he reads Celum Tinture. (Did we decide if that was a chemical or alchemical text?) Bast says it’s boring and K suggests a puzzle lesson.
K asks how Bast would open the chest, and laughs when Bast calls it his “thrice-locked” chest. He says that as names go, it’s a little storybook. Bast says K made it, with three locks and fancy wood. So K made the chest—or had it made, the way he had the Folly board made and D had the lutecase made? He didn’t find it or get given it, he made it on purpose. And he did this with Bast, or in a time when Bast was there or is sure about. Did he do it in Newarre? Or on the way? As preparations for hiding, or before? If we knew where and when he’d got Bast we would know a lot. (Some days I am quite happy to wait for DT, but today is not one of those days!)
So he asks Bast how he’d open the chest, and asking for keys is the wrong answer. K says to assume he’s dead, and when Bast objects that this is grim, says that life is grim, a lesson Bast has clearly not learned in however long in Fae and however long with K and two years in Newarre.
Despite “life is grim,” K is in a good mood and puns “cracking this little chestnut” which really is pretty awful.
Bast says he doesn’t care for the wood—is it something Fae don’t like? And it has a copper lock and an iron one, and he says the iron one is unfair. K says things are usually unfair. There’s a lid but no hinges, and K says it took him a while to work out how to do that. So probably K did literally make it himself. Where, I wonder? In the Fishery? In Caudicus’s workshop? Right there in the Waystone? Maybe in the cellar, but not in the bedroom as he reminds Bast of the trouble they had getting it upstairs—which implies but does not confirm that he made it there.
Bast tries to do some magic to the copper lock which sounds like an entreaty. Then he knocks on the lid, and K asks what he’d do if something knocked back. K is not acting like somebody who can’t open the chest himself or someone who cares. Bast tries to lockpick the copper lock, can’t, and burns himself touching the iron one. He can’t pry it open. He tries and fails to tip it, and asks how much it weighs—K says over 400 pounds when it’s empty. That’s 180 kilos, good grief, no wonder they had trouble getting it upstairs!
He tries to hack it with a leaf-blade hatchet, and can’t—clearly sympathy. He says K does good work. Bast says roah doesn’t burn, so no use setting it on fire. He suggests melting the locks. K says he has taken precautions about that but it was good lateral thinking. Bast suggests acid, K says formic and muratic are useless, but maybe aqua regius, but the wood is thick and they don’t have much. Formic is formic, and wouldn’t do much. Muratic is hydrochloric, which one would expect would be effective against most wood. Aqua regia is mixed nitric and hydrochloric acid, which, yes, I would expect to work. These last two are old alchemical names for the acids, and they feel right in this world which modern chemical names wouldn’t.
Bast says he was thinking about the locks, not the wood, and K says he’s assuming they’re copper and iron all the way through, and you’d have to worry about the acid spilling and ruining whatever’s inside.
Bast gives up, and K reassures him that it was methodical and that he went about it “just as I would have.”
Then the mayor calls them, and Bast, in going, knocks one of K’s attempts at writing something off the table. When he goes to pick it up, K tells him “grimly” to leave it. K has been quite merry all through the lesson, so grimness now about this is a surprise.
Does this chapter give us a picture of the kind of way they spend their normal days? Working in the inn and having lessons like this between times? And if so, what is K teaching him? The scientific method? Because that isn’t magic, there isn’t any sympathy or attempts to charm it, except for maybe talking to the copper lock.
Chapter 72 is Horses.
This is what we’ve been calling “the Bechdel chapter.” But horses. It’s full of horses. The horse lifts. Not showing up panting like a horse. The different kinds of horses in a stable, as a comparison to whores.
We don’t have a closed parenthesis on the interlude—we’re straight from K closing the bedroom door to being in the story, nothing about how they settle themselves or how Chronicler took the break. As I am considering all the first person narration as unreliable, I am taking all the third person narration as reliable, so I assume nothing of note happened.
And “several days” have passed uneventfully in Kvothe’s story, in which he has written a song for Meluan at the Maer’s instigation called “Nothing But Roses,” knowing D would laugh when she heard it. He goes to look for her. He has money from selling—stealing and then selling—equipment from Caudicus’s lab and from gambling with nobles, so he takes the horse lifts.
He sees her walking purposefully and follows her, thinking she’d going to meet her patron. Severen Low, late at night, has street sellers with chestnuts and greasy meat pies, buskers, and mummers in a square. It’s Cendling night, which I assume is like Saturday. D turns into a less good part of town, which has taverns and beggars, and Kvothe starts to get nervous. Then she darts into an alley, and Kvothe climbs up onto the roof so he can see what she’s doing, which is initially hard to figure out.
There’s “a sliver of moon” overhead. We know it has a synodic period of 72 days, do we know what that does to waxing and waning?
D is rescuing a woman from an attacker in the alley. Kvothe is too high up to help. This is an exact parallel to the time he was on the roof in Tarbean and didn’t help a boy, and here he is, still on a roof, still not helping. D has a knife, and she threatens the attacker, who leaves.
D takes the girl to an inn, and K continues to follow and eavesdrop. He sits on the other side of a wooden partition from them and listens. This really is bad behaviour. Following her to discover the identity of her patron is just about acceptable. But this really is—he says he knows how she values her privacy! He could have done all sorts of things. Gone home. Walked up to them in the street back in the nicer part of town and said hi. Admitted the whole truth. But no, lurking and listening it is, along with bribing waitstaff to leave him in peace.
Incidentally, table service in a bar is a North American thing. It’s unheard of in Britain. It surprised me here, because this isn’t a restaurant—though I suppose the line between them is fairly thin.
Kvothe can hear D but not the girl, which I suppose means it isn’t really a Bechdel scene! Two women are having a conversation about something other than a man all right, but we only hear one half of it! D is talking to the girl in the tone Kvothe’s father used to talk to skittish animals. She finds out where the girl comes from, what her father does, why she left—but we don’t. We can fill in some of it from what D said “got handsy” and “the city wasn’t like you thought.” And “Meeting you is worse than looking in a mirror.” This strongly implies that D‘s story is something like this girl’s. “I know he said he loved you. They all say that.”
And then she says she hates the story where the prince saves the girl, because even if he did who would save her from the prince. “You’d be like a dog he found in the gutter. He’d own you.” This sounds like experience. And D gets her purse out, and the girl asks something which has to be why D is helping, to which she says someone helped her once and she’s made her own share of bad decisions.
D seems much more human here than she ever has with Kvothe. She also seems much more practical and sensible. She suggests options—the girl could become an apprentice cobbler, or go home, or train to be a better class whore. “The fanciest horse is still a horse. Sooner or later you’re going to get ridden.” D must be talking about her own way of life here. And this connects up to what Deoch said about her in NW. Because the girl says something, probably “what if you don’t want to” and D says “Then you leave. That’s the only way. You leave before it comes to that, quick and quiet in the night. But if you do, you burn your bridges. That’s the price you pay.”
And yes, we have how D does it. And D doesn’t give advice. She says the girl has to decide what she wants. And Kvothe sits there for a long time after they have left, but he doesn’t tell us what he was thinking, having overheard all that.
The last time he thought about D he thought he had nothing to offer her. He knows she doesn’t want to be in a cage. He’s getting by. They could be a team. He could at least ask her. But he doesn’t think of offering her an equal partnership.
Chapter 73 is Blood and Ink.
Blood that flows easier than ink when you’re stuck writing.
We begin with a philosophical conundrum from the Theophany, Teccam’s line about secrets, true knowledge actively concealed, secrets of the mouth and secrets of the heart. Kvothe says Teccam was right, a secret of the mouth is like a stone in your shoe and a secret of the heart is like a weight in your heart. Modern philosophers disdain Teccam, but Kvothe thinks he “understood the shape of the world.”
We’ve talked a little about Teccam, how often misquoted, how old. Have we considered that “shape” there and “shape of the world” need not be a metaphor? Especially if the world is the broken house or the crooked house? What shape is the world anyway? We don’t know.
And why are we talking about secrets like this now? Because he didn’t tell D the truth in what follows.
The next day, he met D after she sent him a note, and everything was different. She has her harp and is elegantly dressed and wants to play him a song she has written. Her patron says he wants her first song to be “something men will sing for a hundred years” which D takes as concern for her fame, rather than spreading propaganda.
Kvothe asks if she’d like Alveron for her patron, which he thinks he could manage. This is the first useful thing he has done for her, but it’s mistimed—she says she has a patron “one I managed to find on my own.” Kvothe says what a useful thing the patron’s name can be, and she says her patron gives her other things, he knows things she needs to know. And when Kvothe suggests looking into Ash to make sure he’s on the level she’s horrified and makes Kvothe promise not to do that. And he swears. He offers to do it on his “name and power” and she says he’s not Taborlin the Great. But I wonder if that’s how he has become Kote, maybe, breaking an oath on name and power and losing both. (But it wouldn’t stop him being about to fight.) He swears by his name and power, his good left hand, and the ever-moving moon. (Gosh, if the moon stopped moving?)
Kvothe asks if there are any new men in her life, and she says he sounds like Master Ash, who doesn’t think her suirors are good enough for her. He asks what Master Ash thinks of him, and she says she has never told him about Kvothe. (And Kvothe is the only one she has told about Master Ash, which is why she has made him swear.)
And we have another spontaneous eruption of rhyme “They come and go with little gain or loss. You are the gold beneath the windblown dross.” She says Kvothe is hers alone and she doesn’t intend to share him.
They stop in a clearing with a greystone, one of their favourite places. D plays her new song, which is of course about Lanre, and of course twisted from the version we know. Lanre is the hero, Selitos is the villain. We have no way of knowing which is correct. But if this is Master Ash’s version, I really don’t think he’s an Amyr—while I think Skarpi may be. This is a story that whitewashes Haliax. We know the Chandrian flee the Amyr. She says her patron is close to Alveron and Kvothe might have met him—Kvothe thinks of the zillions of nobles but not of Bredon.
Kvothe said he “couldn’t have been more stunned if she’d written a hymn praising the Duke of Gibea.” Well, no, because really Kvothe thinks the Duke of Gibea was justified and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote that hymn himself.
And Kvothe keeps saying the wrong thing because he’s shocked. What he doesn’t say is “The Chandrian will get you for singing the wrong kind of songs, just as they did my parents,” which you’d think would have come to mind, really! Instead he nitpicks the story. She says she’s been all over the world getting pieces, and he thinks it was the same thing his father did—but we never heard his father’s version!
And he says Lanre became one of the Chandrian and she laughs at him—though she didn’t when he mentioned them on the barrow.
And then they have a big fight, he nearly calls her a whore, she says he thinks he knows everything because he’s at the University, she braids her hair with Yllish knots, she accuses him of wanting to fix her life, he says she has made a mess of it, and she rejects help because he’s “just like all the rest” wanting to control her.
Then we’re back to distance:
I’m tempted to lie. To say I spoke these things in an uncontrollable rage. That I was overwhelmed with grief at the memory of my murdered family. To say I tasted plum and nutmeg. Then I would have had some excuse…
So I think that this secret kept, this turn away from telling D the truth is a crucial break point on which the awful thing for which Kvothe feels guilt in the frame rests. We haven’t had this much pulling away since he introduced D in the first place. This must be the point where they could have had an actual conversation and didn’t. This has to be really significant, and lead to D‘s betrayal of him and possibly her death.
In any case, he has no excuse and he cannot forgive himself. Kvothe owns his words, and stalks home. Hours later he decides to write to her explaining but can’t, and cuts himself trying, the blood flowing easier than ink.
Chapter 74 is Rumors
The rumours in the stories people have sent him, and the rumours of bandits too.
The next afternoon he feels awful “for all the obvious reasons.” Pride keeps him from visiting her—honestly, Kvothe, you are a moron sometimes. He sends a ring to Bredon and hears that he’s still away. So he reads the written down family scandals people have been sending him. We hear rumours about various nobles—Compte Banbride died of syphillis contracted from a stablehand. Lord Veston is a sweet eater. Baron Jakis tried to cover up stories of his daughter being discovered in a brothel but there are several versions around. Kvothe files it for future use against Ambrose. Netalia Lackless—”young Netalia Lackless” thus fitting my theory of ages—ran away with troupers, leaving Meluan the only heir after her parents disowned her. “That explained Meluan’s hatred of the Ruh.”
Kvothe must never have heard the name “Netalia” except in “Not tally a,” and Lackless only in that rhyme he picked up. He makes no connection with his parents. He doesn’t even wonder when this happened. I suppose young noble daughters running off with troupers could happen most years, but I bet not.
More rumours—the Duke of Cormissant flies into rages and beats people. The king and queen have orgies in the garden. Bredon:
was said to conduct pagan rituals in the secluded woods outside his northern estates. They were described with such extravagant and meticulous detail that I wondered if they weren’t copied directly from the pages of come old Aturan romances.
So Aturan romances are given to describing pagan rituals? The details might be interesting, since unlike Kvothe and presumably Chronicler and Bast, we haven’t read any Aturan romances and don’t even know what they mean by “pagan” other than presumably non-Tehlin. Could be to do with Fae, could not.
Then Alveron interrupts, announces that he has signed a formal troth with Meluan, and complains about trouble on the roads—taxcollectors being waylaid by bandits in the Eld. Alveron suspects magic and doesn’t want to send Dagon because he’s too unsubtle—and busy hunting Caudicus. This is very odd, because Kvothe would be better against Caudicus and Dagon against bandits, if magic is the issue. Anyway, Alveron asks for Kvothe’s help. Kvothe suggests arcane protection—an arrowcatch—and sending a small trusted group. He is astonished to find himself leading it. And really, he so isn’t qualified! Writing songs and loveletters, yes, leading groups against bandits, really not at all. What is Alveron thinking? Thinking he wants to be rid of him, no doubt.
They look at maps of the Eld:
a long stretch of the king’s road running through a piece of the Eld that had been old when Vintas was nothing more than a handful of squabbling sea kings.
Eighty miles, or four days hard walking away. Stapes gives him a new travelsack, how useful, and he packs as well as possible, some more practical clothes, some things from Caudicus’s lab, and he asks Stapes for some things which Stapes brings quickly. Alveron gives him 100 silver bits. And Stapes leads him out of the estate by a secret way and he realises he has been pressganged. He steals back his lute from where it is being mended.
He’s five miles north of Severen when it occurs to him that Alveron might have been less than truthful and realises that he was got out of the way on a wild goose chase.
Chapter 75 is The Players.
Not real players, the four people Alveron has sent with him into the Eld. In this chapter we are introduced to them.
They’re an odd lot. There’s Tempi, the Adem mercenary, then there’s Marten the tracker and the double team of Dedan and Hespe, in love with each other and not admitting it.
Tempi is pale skinned with light grey eyes and no expression. His clothes are red and very tight fitting. He has thin pale scars. He barely talks.
Dedan is a big blustery mercenary. Hespe’s a female mercenary. Marten is a huntsman and tracker, older and quieter. They’ve been a group for a while, and have scouted lands near Tinue for the Maer. And they don’t know what to make of Kvothe.
Then they meet a tinker, huzzah! And again, the tinker has everything that Kvothe needs including the things he doesn’t know he needs. He has a knife of Ramston steel. Kvothe says it’s brittle. The tinker says “the best knife you’ll ever have until it breaks”—like Kvothe’s alar? And it’s the only knife he has, so Kvothe has to buy it. He also buys salt and a tinderbox. The tinker offers him paper and ink, and he remembers he didn’t tell D he was leaving.
The tinker makes a trade of all this stuff and a tatty old blackish green cloak, for his burgundy cloak and an iron penny, a copper penny and a silver penny. And he agrees to deliver the letter to D‘s inn
And the tinker concludes by selling him candles.
We’ll leave it there and start from 76 next time.
I know I said I was going to do a post on Lackless theories, but I’ve decided to go on reading through for December and then do four more speculative summary posts for January, when I’m going to be away on a book tour. (That way I can do them all before I go and I won’t have to take the book.) At the moment that looks like Lacklesses, Ctheah, Kote, and Master Ash, unless anyone has any better ideas?
There have been brilliant comments in all of the last three weeks posts, far too many for me to summarize now.
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.