Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 21: A Deep Well

Welcome to my over-analytical reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 109-113 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 theories. The re-read index. The map.


Chapter 109 is “A Liar and a Thief”

What Carceret accuses Kvothe of being—and she’s kind of right, he is stealing their knowledge for his own purposes and lying about understanding the Lethani. I don’t mean to be hard on him, but what is he bringing them, in return for what he’s getting? He doesn’t even sing for his supper or pay tuition. We’re getting this story from him, with his own justifications and rationalisations, and assumptions, and there’s a tendency to think that of course this is OK, he’s our friend. But after all the talk about how he pays for his courses and accommodation and food at the University, I find it odd the way he takes it so for granted here. The mercenaries pay 80% of their earnings to the school, but he’s not going to do that.

Shehyn and Kvothe return to the school, where Tempi is very nervous and makes the same gestures he made when he thought they were heading into an ambush. Shehyn sends a boy (7:6) to fetch Carceret, who we have seen before. Three people pass while Kvothe is waiting, gender indeterminate. Then he goes in and is questioned regarding the Lethani. He’s not doing well until he goes into Spinning Leaf. The oddest of the exchanges is:

“How do you follow the Lethani?”

“How do you follow the moon?”

Kvothe realises this is either very clever or very stupid. It certainly has huge implications. Carceret wants Kvothe destroyed and Tempi cut away. Shehyn thinks the world would be better if more were of the Lethani, and says she will give him to Vashet. (8:6). Carceret refers to Vashet as “the Hammer.” Carceret is angry, and while Shehyn speaks to Tempi makes disgusted gestures at Kvothe, who makes a rude one in return.

Then a bell rings, and Tempi takes Kvothe for lunch. It’s quieter and has better food than Mess at the University.

There were more women than I’d expected, and more young children.

This isn’t evidence of anything, because what did he expect? The ten percent at the University?

Shehyn eats with everyone else, to Kvothe’s surprise. He’s the only redhead in the room, everyone else is sandy with only a few darker or grey. After dinner, Tempi takes him to a room which has his lute and his pack, and says he will have another teacher. Kvothe hugs him and then goes to sleep.


Chapter 110 is “The Hammer”

Vashet, of course.

Kvothe meets her in a tiny park, and notices that she wears her sword slung on her back. She speaks Aturan, she’s ten years older than him—in her late twenties—and she has pale skin and sandy hair and grey eyes like all Adem. She says she will be his teacher, and he says he was happy with Tempi. She says his happiness isn’t the point, and Tempi is barely competent to fight and not at all to teach, and not terribly bright.

He asks why she is called “the Hammer” and she pronounces her name with three cadences, the hammer, the clay, the spinning wheel. She says she is that which shapes and sharpens or destroys, and only that which can bend can teach. She sends him to get a piece of wood. He comes back with a willow rod, and she uses it to hit him. She says they will meet after lunch with another stick and she will try to teach him the same lesson:

I do not think well of you. You are a barbarian. You are not clever. You are not welcome. You do not belong here. You are a thief of our secrets. Your presence is an embarrassment and a complication this school does not need.

She says this is the only lesson she has to teach him, and when he learns it he will leave and never return. He asks what would happen to Tempi if he left, and she strikes his face and says that everyone would know Tempi was wrong.

He returns to the school for lunch, and feels very alone and unwelcome, but at least the food was good. Carceret comes and torments him, and he says quietly but so that everyone can hear that she speaks as a dog barks. He notes that it’s tricky insulting somebody from another culture, but he based it on things he had heard Tempi say.

Then he takes a training sword to Vashet, and shows her his scars, explaining that pain didn’t stop him learning at the University and it won’t stop him now, and just stands there.


Chapter 111 is “Barbarian Tongue”

She swings the sword but doesn’t hit him. She tells him to put his shirt back on. She swears “shit and onions” which is new and kind of funny. She asks how he knew she wasn’t going to crack his skull. He said he thought it through, and Shehyn could have had him killed more easily, so it was either an initiation or a test of resolve. She says she’s never had a student offer himself for a beating, and he says this was nothing, once he jumped off a roof. (And he really did!)

Then they talk. She says she grew up speaking Aturan, and she spent four years as bodyguard for “a poet in the Small Kingdoms who also happened to be a king.” And she says there are dozens of schools teaching different Ketans, and this one teaches the Latantha, one of the oldest. He explains he’s faking the Lethani with Spinning Leaf, and she says he is stealing the answers from himself—from his sleeping mind? She talks about the Lethani and it really sounds like the Tao. She talks about things you can know but not explain, and gives the example of love. She says that Spinning Leaf is like “a Ketan for your mind.”

She teaches him better Ademic, saying his hand gestures are awful. He realises that a well spoken sentence in Aturan is like a straight line, and one in Ademic like a spiderweb.

He goes to supper, watching hands. After supper, Vashet smears salve on his welts, and asks him to show her his Ketan. He’s awful, of course. She says he could be worse if he was missing a leg… Then she looks at his body and says he has good hands. She asks what he does, and he explains he’s a musician, and she tells him he’s a whore. She explains that emotion in a voice is private and intimate, and singing is something a mother might do with a child or lovers together in private—never a musician to a whole room for money. Kvothe manages to understand, and asks how they get news without troupers. Vashet says they welcome peddlars and tinkers, and people bring news home with them. Also, musicians travel with screens and perform to families, which consoles Kvothe.

Vashet tells him to keep his musicianship to himself, as he has enough to overcome without that. Oh dear.


Chapter 112 is “His Sharp and Single Arrow”

He hides his lute and studies with Vashet. He asks about the Chandrian, and she asks what that has to do with what he is learning and refuses to answer.

After a few days he asks what is the purpose of her teaching him, if Tempi was wrong. She explains that if he became part of the school, Tempi wouldn’t have been wrong. She asks who fights for the good of others and he replies “an Amyr” which she notes as an interesting choice. She says being a mercenary is a proud choice for an Adem, not like in the Aturan culture. She explains that there is a test he can pass to enter the school, when he is ready, which he isn’t yet.

They go to see Shehyn and watch her performing the Ketan slowly. Then she tells him the story of Aethe and the beginning of the Adem, in Aturan because his Ademic isn’t yet entirely up to it.

Aethe (8:7) was brilliant with a bow, and started to teach. He killed challengers with a single arrow in a duel. He had an argument with Rethe (9:7), his best student. They had a duel. She sat on the ground and he shot her, and she wrote four lines of poetry in her own blood. She lived for three days and dictated none and ninety stories and he wrote them down, and those tales were the beginning of understanding the Lethani. After that, he taught the bow and the Lethani.

Shehyn invites them to watch her fight the next day. Vashet says he should be honoured. But he thinks about what Kilvin would do if he’d taught somebody else the secrets of sygaldry, and worries about Tempi and himself. Vashet says he wouldn’t be killed, but he’d be lamed and have two of his fingers removed. He becomes nauseous and almost faints at the thought.

He wanders about aimlessly, and almost stumbles over a couple making love in a grove. He tries not to think about his hands being maimed to the point where he’s unconsciously humming “Leave the town, Tinker.” He can’t eat or sleep and tries to think about how to run away. He tries to play the lute silently, he wraps himself in his shaed, he thinks about Wil and Sim and Auri and Devi and Fela. Then he thinks about his family and the Chandrian and killing Cinder. He thinks of Denna and the CTH and gets to sleep thinking about her.

He knew they might kill him. The thought of maiming his hands freaks him out a lot more.

And we think something has happened to them, between then and now.


Chapter 113 is “Storm and Stone”

How Shehyn and Penthe are when they fight.

He wakes knowing his only way to survive is to succeed.

Then there’s a consideration of Haert. He talks about towns, ones where luxuries are available and ones that just scrape by, where a second pig is wealth. (Newarre would be in that category.) But Haert isn’t like that, though he thought it was at first. They have glass windows and iron stoves. (In our world, C.18 tech.) They have wooden floors and thick dyed wool rugs. They have beeswax candles or good oil lamps or even sympathy lamps. They are quietly wealthy, but he had missed it because they do not display.

Vashet tells him a story—that the Adem were upheaved from their rightful home for forgotten reasons and wandered endlessly until they settled on the windy mountains which nobody else wanted. So they sold their fierceness, and brought back the money.

Kvothe says immediately that his people are wanderers too. Some people have suggested a relationship between “Adem” and “Edema” and thought that the opposite reactions to music could be significant.

They go to watch Shehyn fight. Kvothe has learned enough to be able to tell the tone of the people even though they are nearly silent. Vashet says the mercenaries send back eighty percent to their schools. She says the same would be true for Kvothe if he “stood a fiddler’s chance” of wearing the red. She describes their economy:

For years the school feeds and clothes you. It gives you a place to sleep. It gives you your sword, your training. After thsi investment, the mercenary supports the school. The school supports the village. The village produces children who hope to someday take the red.

If there’s a huge external demand for Adem mercenaries, that really ought to work. And she says he has potentially stolen their major export—as we already heard from Dedan, the Adem get five times as much as an ordinary fighter, and that’s because they’re that much better.

Two boys fight. (9:9). Vashet says generally women are better fighters. The next who have gender mentioned are one of each (10:10). Then two women. (12:10). A man challenges Vashet and she refuses. (12:11). Then he fights another woman. (13:11). Then Shehyn fights Penthe (14:11). Kvothe assumes that when Penthe wins she will be the new head of the school, and Vashet laughs and explains that this would make no sense. “A leader is not a muscle. A leader is a mind.” Shehyn asks Kvothe why she was struck at the end, and Kvothe says it was because she misplaced her left heel slightly, and Shehyn says “Good.”

That night, Vashet comes to sit with him at dinner. He asks if he can spar with somebody at his own level, and she says she’ll find somebody.


Last Week’s Comments, Totally New Speculations!

In last week’s comments, you completely outdid yourselves. It didn’t start well, with everyone disagreeing with me about the total agony of being in love, even after I clarified what I meant. I guess I just think of “love” as a more serious thing than the rest of you. Moving swiftly on, however, John Point suggests:

the Lackless box contains the stone that Selitos used to “poke out his eye.” In NotW, it is first described as a piece of mountain glass (when Selitos first picks it up), then several times as a stone. He then pierces his eye, and binds Haliax “by my blood.”

… in WMF, when he examines the Lackless box, he first thinks that the box contains something metallic, but then revises his guess to something “glass, or perhaps stone.”

What if the stone that Selitos used to remove his eye (and then allowed him to bind and curse Haliax), is contained in the box? Since the box appears to contain copper in the wood, it may contain naming/shaping/other magic. The continued existence of the stone (with Selitos’ blood) could perhaps prevent Haliax et al. from breaking their curse. Perhaps the Lacklesses are descended from Selitos? That could explain the various rock/blood/etc. references.

I think this is potentially brilliant, and it isn’t something we’ve thought of before.

Greyfalconway expands on this:

The rock/glass in the box that Selitos used to stab his eye/bind Haliax could be a mommet of Haliax, or maybe just what Selitos used his strong naming/sympathy mix to make his link and bind him with, and he needed his blood/eye yuck as a strong link enhancement. This throws me into wild directions of Selitos possibly inventing sympathy off of a form of scientific pinning-down of naming

That makes perfect sense to me.

Then Thistlepong picked up this and ran with it, suggesting that Selitos is the CTH—and actually substantiated it.

Selitos was a pretty important figure in the Creation War, and he’s the subject of Skarpi’s story: “a man who lost his eye and gained a better sight.”

But before he lost his eye he already had amazingly wonderful sight, as good or better than anyone else:

Just by looking at a thing Selitos could see its hidden name and understand it. In those days there were many who could do such things, but Selitos was the most powerful namer of anyone alive in that age.


Such was the power of his sight that he could read the hearts of men like heavy-lettered books.

So having better sight, might mean becoming the CTH who can see everything to come.

I have another potential piece of evidence too—Nina says the Ciridae on the jar was the worst of all of them, and Bast says there isn’t anything worse than the CTH. And what the CTH is doing meddling could well be “for the greater good,” who cares about the collateral damage. We really don’t know the CTH’s plan. Also, the Amyr in the Aturan Empire were suppressed for being too over the top in pursuit of their goals, the same thing could be true of the immortal Amyr.

And as Thistlepong says, Selitos could be Hespe’s “hermit in the mountains” just as well as Teccam, because she’s telling a folktale and there could have been conflation. He wasn’t a hermit, but MT was in the mountains.

and John Point again:

There is a chance—just a chance, but an interesting speculation—that Selitos is still alive, and perhaps is the Ctheah, as thistlepong argued @33. If that’s the case, Selitos’ blood on the stone becomes even more important—the stone (and blood) is trapped in the Rhinna-wood box, and the Ctheah is trapped in the Rhinna tree. If true, is it a coincidence? I doubt it strongly. Once again, this could be very germaine to the story, and would provide really intriguing plot details.


Wow I didn’t make that connection but that would be a really great fit, Selitos being the Ctheah would add a bit to the ‘there were never any human Amyr’ and Selitos having his blood on the stone/glass inside a box made from the tree that the Ctheah is bound to is a really great smartly done binding and twist, since we’ve been set up so well to understand every part of the process that would be involved and the magic making it happen.

Also it would add alot to whatever the badness Kvothe has done, if Kvothe opens the box and releases the stone with the Ctheahs blood, the Ctheah would be released from the tree and could roam and wreak havoc on the land, and we’ve already been set up by Bast discussing how theres nothing worse than the Ctheah.

This is the kind of smart stuff it seems like PR would do, considering the lackless rhyme and everything else, this makes alot of twisty but totally plausable sense, and we’ve been set up for it so well.

But I don’t think this can be what has happened, because of the way K reacts to Bast freaking out about the CTH. He says he’s faced worse things. And if this was what had happened, if letting the CTH go was the disaster, then Bast would surely have known about it?

K is waiting to die, but what is Bast waiting for?

I am absolutely sure than in D3, in the told story, Kvothe will open something he should have left locked, and maybe all sorts of things, the Lackless Box, the Four Plate door. And I’m fairly sure that he’ll open the Thrice Locked Box in the frame, and it will Pandora-like contain if not a happy ending at least hope.

Thistlepong, with a provocative thought about the Lanre story:

Kvothe heard exactly one story about Selitos and Myr Tariniel. Denna claims to have been all over the world piecing the narrative together. If anything, that suggests she put more effort into her version.

We’ve been assuming that Skarpi is a good guy because he woke Kvothe in Tarbean, but it doesn’t necessarily follow. Which naturally leads to Skarpi’s friend Chronicler. And Wiggum has an interesting thought about Chronicler:

First, there is the nature of the Kingkiller Chronicle itself. It’s a story all about stories. It’s also a fantasy story that’s literally a story about, and a deconstruction of, the nature of fantasy. And what is Chronicler? He’s not a fantasist, and he’s not a storyteller. He’s a biographer.

He is literally the guy who destroys myths and “writes” the truth. Chronicler “creates” the truth. We have, as readers, accepted as fact that there are no dragons in this story. At first, this makes sense, because dragons are a silly and impossible idea. But then when we look at the nature of the 4c world, which is perhaps, as it transpires, one of the most fantastical worlds ever written…

Why the hell DOESN’T it have dragons?

It doesn’t have dragons because one man proved, in writing, that dragons don’t exist. That dragons are actually a slightly rubbish creature called a Draccus.

And so, we surmise, Lanre never actually fought a dragon because dragons only exist in stories. Even though it sounds an awful lot like Lanre fought a thing that sounds like a proper dragon.

But then we get a comment from Denna about a kind of magic that involves making things true by writing them down. Hmmm.

Did dragons really never exist, or did Chronicler make them not exist by writing it down? It’s almost the first thing we hear about Chronicler – he wrote The Mating Habbits of the Common Draccus and proved dragons don’t exist.

And here he is, writing down the “true” story of Kvothe. And as he writes it down in his cipher, Kvothe seemingly gets less and less magical.

But … the only parts of Kvothe’s story (and note that it’s a story as he tells it and NOT a biography) that could be corroborated are the parts that he skips over. Note also that Kvothe is only ever “rubbish” when Chronicler is around. And the one time that Chronicler was phyisically “there” for Kvothe being Kvothe was when he was … unaccountably … rendered unconscious through misfortune, and Kvothe really NEEDED to be himself or die.

And remember the story of Sceop? It is important that the Amyr lives to do what he must, even if it means those around him must die. Which saddens the Amyr, but is what must be.

K feels guilt at the deaths in the Waystone that “he could have prevented”.

Is Kvothe just ensuring that nothing “factual” about him gets written down? And is he acting out the repercussions of having given factual information about himself to Chronicler?

He goes on to suggest:

Is the implication of all this that Kvothe is, in fact, an unreliable narrator because he’s a hell of a lot better than he’s claiming to be?

we also have no idea who the hell Devan Lochees really is, either.

And another thing, Chronicler didn’t want to give his name, way back at the beginning. He said they could call him Chronicler, and he said he said that because he was used to it, but… he could have been lying, couldn’t he?

We’ve talked about Chronicler before, but this suggestion about the draccus unmagicing is absolutely new. And it fits.

David C suggests that maybe Kvothe telling his story and insisting on three days is a way of keeping Chronicler there instead of being somewhere else.

it is worth examining Chronicler’s agenda. I believe that the flip-side is also important. I read K as having decided to tell his story in part specifically because it keeps Chronicler anchored at the Waystone Inn for three days.

And it wouldn’t even have to be to stop him. It could be to protect him. (This would fit with Kvothe offering to let the smith’s boy sit in on the story.)

And check out the whole comment thread for much more. It’s just on fire!

John Point, David C, and Wiggum are hereby promoted to E’lir in the Department of Imaginary Sympathy.

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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