Welcome to my no moon left unturned reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 86-93 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
Chapter 86 is “The Broken Road”
The broken road, right.
They finished searching the north side and started on the south. They told stories every night, touching on:
Oren Velciter, Laniel Young-Again, Illien. Stories of helpful swineherds and lucky tinker’s sons. Stories of demons and faeries, of riddle games and barrow draugs.
Oren Velciter is alive, and told Chronicler his story. Pat has recently mentioned that he wrote a short about Laniel Young-Again, a middle aged women going off on adventures. Illien is the Edema Ruh poet, the person Kvothe thinks is the greatest who ever lived. We met a helpful swineherd near Borroril in NW.
The Edema Ruh know all the stories in the world, and I am Edema Ruh down to the center of my bones.
Unless he’s not—he’s only half Ruh to his own knowledge… but I guess his mother was a convert and that counts? In any case, if they know all the stories in the world, why not this one? And anyway, we know they don’t. Look at Arliden questing for the story of Lanre. They might want to know all the stories in the world—though why?—but it’s quite clear Kvothe is exaggerating here.
But he enjoyed the stories even though he knew them, they had new details, even though he knew their bones. A story he didn’t know was rare, and after twenty days he got one.
Hespe tells it. The story she told before was a romantic one, and this is anything but. It’s also a recitation, she has to go back to the beginning when she is interrupted. She says this is exactly how she heard it from her mother. We don’t know where Hespe comes from, or I don’t, but she’s a Vint.
It begins with a strange boy named Jax who fell in love with the moon.
We later, from Felurian, hear that name as Iax. Shalter and others have pointed out that Iax, Jax, and Jakis are similar, and perhaps Ambrose is a descendant of Jax as Kvothe is of the Lackless.
In Hespe’s story, Jax was always strange, and he lived in an old house at the end of a broken road, later a “alone in a broken house at the end of a broken road”.
We’ve speculated about the broken house being the Underthing, or being the 4C world, or being Fae.
One day a tinker came to Jax’s house and asks for a drink, which Jax gives him, water in a cracked clay mug. Jax proposes a trade—if the tinker has anything in his pack that will make him happy, he’ll trade it for his broken house, and if not the tinker will give Jax
the packs off your back, the stick in your hand, and the hat off your head.
One of the tinker’s things is a book of secrets, another is a meteorite.
Jax tries on a pair of glasses and can see the stars and the moon, and he thinks the only moon would make him happy. The tinker can’t give him the moon, so he takes all the tinker’s things—including the hat, which the tinker asks to keep. Jax replies rudely.
Then Jax goes off with the three packs and leaves the tinker to mend the broken house. We’ve wondered whether what the tinkers are doing, going about with things people need, might be a kind of mending the 4C world, a kind of tikkun olam.
Dedan interrupts when Hespe said Jax wandered searching, to try to pick a fight with Kvothe about what a waste of time their job is. Tension builds and Tempi breaks it with a consciously naive question about hairy balls, which makes everyone laugh.
Chapter 87 is “The Lethani”
Tempi and Kvothe go into Crosson for supplies, trading words. They hear a sound in the woods and think it’s bandits, but it’s only deer.
Crosson has a general goods store, a post station that’s also a farrier and a church that’s also a brewery. Unusual combination, that last! It makes me wonder about the brewery that couldn’t have been a better trap for Ben, if brewing is something the Tehlin church are involved with. (Also Bredon beer?) The inn is called the “Laughing Moon” which is a good name. Kvothe has brought his lute because he’s desperate to play. The inn is crowded with unemployed caravan guards “a fight waiting to happen”.
One comes to the table and picks a fight with Tempi, who finds the talking of picking the fight irritating. Tempi tels Kvothe “Watch my back” and Kvothe thinks he’s being idiomatic instead of literal—to see how straight Tempi’s back is. Kvothe gets out his knife. Tempi flattens three mercenaries without breaking a sweat, and then frowns at Kvothe’s knife.
On the way home, Tempi speaks of the Lethani. He asks what Kvothe knows about it.
It is a secret thing that makes the Adem strong.
If you know the Lethani, you cannot lose a fight.
Tempi agrees, but when Kvothe gets on to burning up words, Tempi says that’s mad. He says they train to be fast, train to fight. He says the Lethani is a type of knowing, and that Kvothe needs it, but only women can teach it and not to barbarians. Then he explains “The Lethani is doing right things.” It’s the right way and knowing the right way. Right action—not like Kvothe’s knife. He gives the example of a tinker, you have to be polite, kind, help them, only one right thing to do, the Lethani. Knowing and then doing. Kvothe doesn’t understand, and Tempi says that’s good.
The Lethani comes over as very Zen here.
Chapter 88 is “Listening”
It’s impressive how Rothfuss manages to write about them being bored and squabbling without making it boring to read. They have dinner, and Hespe tells the rest of her story.
Jax had no trouble following the moon because in those days the moon was always full.
I’m still overwhelmed by this.
Jax walks for years, in love with the moon. He passes through Tinue, and then he keeps going east towards the mountains.
It says the road passes through Tinue as all roads do, but the Great Stone Road doesn’t! So anyway, he goes up into the Stormwal, and up there he meets a hermit in a cave, who we have speculated may be Teccam, but who in any case is a Re’lar, a listener, who found the cave while chasing the wind. The old man refuses to give his name, because if Jax had
even just a piece of my name, you’d have all manner of power over me.
Now he’s clearly a namer, as opposed to a shaper. He’s also clearly in the same tradition as Elodin and Kvothe. The old man offers to teach Jax to listen, which would take a couple of years to get the knack of it. Jax says he wants to catch the moon, the old man says he wants to meet her, and asks what Jax has to offer her. The things he has are in the third pack, which he hasn’t been able to open. The old man persuades the knot to open by being polite to it.
The pack contains a bent piece of wood, a stone flute, and a small iron box. (Iron, not wood or roah or copper. Iron.)
The bent piece of wood is a folding house, the flute summons birds, and the box is empty.
I’m amazed you can’t hear it yourself. It’s the emptiest thing I’ve ever heard. It echoes. It’s meant for keeping things inside.
Jax leaves, and unfolds the folding house, but it doesn’t fit together properly. I feel quite sure that this is Fae, the constructed world. Jax goes to the topmost tower and plays the flute to lure the moon, and the moon comes down, and for the first time he feels a breath of joy. They talk, then she says she must go, but she’ll come back. He asks her to stay, but she won’t. Then he says he has given her three things, a song, a home, and his heart, and asks for three things in return. First is a handclasp, which she gives, saying “One hand clasps another”—or in other words that this is mutual. Then a kiss, which is the same, “One mouth tastes another”. She thinks the third thing will be something that starts “One body…” and is eager, but instead he asks for her name. She gives her name as Ludis, and he catches a piece of it in the iron box. So she has to stay, but she comes and goes, and this is the just so story of why the moon waxes and wanes.
At the end of the story, Dedan is impressed with Hespe and says she should teach it to her daughters because it’s a great story. Then they start squabbling again, and then it starts to rain.
There is no comment by Kvothe on the story, either in the story or in the frame, only on the teller and not the tale.
Chapter 89 is “Losing the Light”
It’s raining, it drips, Marten catches a cold, they stop having stories and the bread is wet. Dedan buys drink instead of food and comes back to camp very loudly. Kvothe’s boots leak. He comes back to camp and the fire is out, Dedan is spoiling for a fight, and Kvothe threatens him with magic. Tempi comes back and breaks the tension. He has killed two men a mile away and an hour ago. There’s an hour or so of daylight left. He orders Dedan and Hespe to stay and goes with Marten and Tempi to see if he can find the bandit camp and make a plan. Kvothe takes a pinch of ash as a link to the fire.
Chapter 90 is “To Sing a Song About”
Kvothe examines the bodies, and Tempi makes him ask permission first. Marten finds their trail. They follow it, then find they’re being followed, they lay an ambush—but of course it’s Dedan and Hespe, and they have put the fire out. They all want to attack the bandits tonight, and Kvothe makes them agree they will at least follow orders. They creep up to the camp. It’s the middle of a thunderstorm. They see a sentry and Marten shoots him through the heart—”a shot to sing a song about” but Marten says it’s luck.
Chapter 91 is “Flame, Thunder, Broken Tree”
Which we have been told, way back in the boast in NW, is the meaning of his name Maedre, but I for one had completely forgotten it.
The bandit camp is below them with a stream and an oak tree. There are enough tents for between ten and thirty bandits. There are mysterious poles set up. Marten goes back to tell Dedan and Hespe to go back for now, Kvothe and Tempi stay to try to get a better count. Tempi thinks they should kill some and tell Alveron where the rest are and come back with reinforcements. Marten comes back panicking, he can’t find the others. Then Dedan blunders into the bandit camp at the other side. The bandits set up planks against the poles, making it a proper encampment, almost a fortress. The bandits start firing arrows towards Dedan’s position.
Kvothe takes the dead sentry and uses it as a link with his live bandit friends, stabbing the sentry and wounding the live bandits. The bandits, unsurprisingly, start to panic—it really must be horrible being wounded by a weapon you can’t see, and seeing your companions suddenly bleeding from the eye or whatever. Ick. The corpse is a great link, but Kvothe is using the heat of his body to power the sympathy, because it is all he has.
The leader comes out, and Kvothe is reminded of something and he is “terribly familiar”. This is Cinder, of course, but my guess when first reading was Caudicus. Marten shoots him, and he calmly pulls out the arrow and points out their position to his bandits.
Marten swears “Great Tehlu overroll me with your wings.” Good one.
Kvothe is in Heart of Stone and doesn’t react similarly. He asks Tempi to bring him the dead sentry’s bow, and then he breaks the string and five bow strings down in the camp. But Kvothe has binder’s chills—think how well we have been set up to entirely understand what’s going on here, in Elxa Dal’s classes. None of this is anything real, but we know it really well by now. Kvothe goes out of Heart of Stone and stabs the sentry’s body until his knife snaps. (Ramston steel…) Marten keeps praying, and Kvothe is getting chilled and will die of hypothermia if he doesn’t warm up soon.
Kvothe has an idea. He makes Marten shoot the tree. Cinder can hear Marten praying, and it disturbs him, he doesn’t attack though Kvothe thinks he is going to. Is Tehlu one of the things Haliax keeps Cinder safe from? Is Tehlu one of the Sithe? Marten prays calling on the angels: Perial, Ordalm, Andan… Cinder looks up to search the sky—which is what the Chandrian all do before they disappear at the camp. Marten shoots the tree, Kvothe calls lightning to it, thinking the slippage will kill him, but he’s dying anyway. He binds the arrows, makes a spark, says “As above, so below”, a joke only someone from the University could hope to understand. He passes out.
This is similar to the incident at Trebon with the draccus—we’ve been set up over a long time with the magic so we understand it, and then it’s a very dramatic scene that is ultimately leading nowhere. Hespe’s story is leading somewhere. Tempi’s hand gestures are. This, as far as we know so far, is just an action scene.
Or does Tehlu help? Is it Tehlu’s name that scares Cinder away?
Chapter 92 is “Taborlin the Great”
It’s one of the shortest chapters in the book, less than a page.
Kvothe is warm and dry and in the dark, and he overhears Marten telling Dedan not to cross him, that Kvothe did it, he killed them all, and called the lightning, like God himself—and Kvothe thinks no, like Taborlin the Great, and falls asleep again.
Chapter 93 is “Mercenaries All”
This is the chapter that concludes the Eld adventure, so I may as well go on and do it here.
Kvothe sleeps for fourteen hours warm and dry and wakes up fine, which surprises his companions. Hespe has an arrow in her leg, Dedan has a cut on his shoulder, Marten has a bruise, and Kvothe has some scrapes. Tempi is unhurt.
They burn the dead bandits, except for the one Kvothe mutilated, over which he builds a cairn and then throws up.
The lightning struck the oak over and over, which is a lot from one galvanic binding, even in a storm. Maybe Tehlu really was trying to get Cinder?
They get their stuff and Kvothe plays his lute all day, which is therapeutic. Tempi listens.
The leader has disappeared—Marten mutters about demons, and is substantially correct, as it’s Cinder.
They find a box, Hespe and Marten try to pick the lock. Kvothe hits the top and says “Edro” like Taborlin and it opens. He is as surprised as they are…
Inside is a map, and lots of looted cash—500 talents worth of gold. Kvothe gives them all a gold piece each for being honest.
Kvothe takes a sword, and Tempi says he doesn’t know how to use it. Kvothe admits it, and asks Tempi to teach him. Tempi asks if Kvothe will teach him the lute. They agree to do this.
Then everyone scavenges from the camp. Kvothe gets a new knife and a razor.
This may seem a little ghoulish, but it is simply the way of the world. Looters become looted, while time and tide make us mercenaries all.
This is the end of the chapter, and it’s an interesting note to end on—mercenaries all, the cycle of looting like the cycle of life.
And we’ll start from 94 and Felurian 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.