Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 22: When Words Fail Us

Welcome to my over-analytical reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 114-119 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.

Why did I not realise that the much anticipated paperback release was a trade paperback weighing 1.2 kilos?

Also, an out of sequence thought about Felurian. I wonder what “sweet poet” is in the Fae language, if it might be “dulator”?


Chapter 114 is Height

“Height” refers to Vashet’s observation that all women are the same height lying down, but with men it depends on their natural gifts, heh.

Some time has passed—Vashet shares occasional meals with him, they fight, his language use improves so he can exchange brief pleasantries with others. They work on the sword, on Ademic, and on hand to hand. And then Kvothe gets turned on by Vashet’s scent, and she has a practical unembarrassed reaction—she asks him if he wants to have sex with her or if he’d rather take care of it himself. He’s extremely embarrassed, she’s just not, she says he’s embarrassed because he’s a barbarian. I find this encounter charming and funny, and laughed aloud when she said “Even if you could keep your mind away from that it would doubtless throw your balance off”.

It’s worth contrasting with Felurian. In both encounters the females are older and more experienced, but with Felurian the sex is all described in terms of coy flirtation and romantic adoration, and here with Vashet  it’s all sweaty practicality. This is obviously deliberate artistry and done this way on purpose, to be a contrast. Rothfuss isn’t pulling this stuff out of his id. It’s all there for a reason.

Afterwards, Vashet is exactly the same—to her it’s the same as if they’d shared a meal. She isn’t flirtatious or tender. She’s going with her cultural norms and Kvothe is disconcerted but does his best to figure it out.


Chapter 115 is Barbarian Cunning

What Vashet says Kvothe has.

This chapter starts “the days passed quickly” and again, time is passing and Kvothe is summarising. He’s learning stuff, he’s having sex with Vashet and she doesn’t think it’s a big deal or want to waste a lot of time with it. When she’s busy he watches students spar, or practices alone. He explores Haert and finds is bigger than he thought. There are baths with either a hot spring or great plumbing—he doesn’t know which. He goes late at night or early in the morning to avoid being caught staring at breasts and scars. He finds a smithy and an apothecary and a tailor where he buys some new clothes. He watches the Latantha and:

At times it seemed the branches wrote against the sky, spelling the name of the wind.

I don’t know how significant this is, considering what he does later, whether it’s metaphorical or a real gain in understanding naming.

Then Vashet finds him a sparring partner—a ten year old girl called Celean (17:11) who can beat him every time. And he does learn a lot from it, however humiliating he finds it. She’s completely croggled at the idea that women do not fight where Kvothe comes from.


Chapter 116 is Iron Worth Striking

The title isn’t explained in the chapter, but it’s clearly a reference back to when he arrived and the Adem assessment of him.

Again, time is passing quickly and we’re at “the better part of a month”—and these are of course 72 day months. His Ademic is improving so that he sounds like a child, not an imbicile. He’s proud of finally beating Celean—but even so he’s mocking himself about it with a verse. Then he watches Celean dancing under the razor sharp leaves of the sword tree, using Ketan moves to do it. When she does it, she makes a “single perfect cartwheel” from which I think we can assume that all Adem do single perfect steps. Then Vashet turns up and reproaches her—Kvothe can’t hear what she says but says:

It was the same scolding any child receives. Stay out of the neighbour’s garden. Don’t tease the Bentons’ sheep. Don’t play tag among the thousand spinning knives of toue people’s sacred tree.

Kvothe does not know that this is part of the ritual, but Celean and Vashet do, and we are being set up for knowing it’s a difficult but possible thing. Twice she has to skip back and once, she has to crawl out, but a ten year old Adem can do it four out of seven times.

Training with Vashet she demonstrates how completely helpless he is against her and that she could really hurt him, to make him understand the purpose of what they are doing—control, not hurting people. Kvothe still wants to win—even when he thinks his opponent is unworthy, as with Celean, and even when the point of what he’s doing is really not about winning. He just profoundly does not get it.


Chapter 117 is Hands

So important to Kvothe.

Vashet arranges for him to talk to people who can teach him things—an old man silkspinner who tells stories that make no sense to Kvothe, twin sister candlemakers who teach him dances, a woodcutter who talks about cutting wood. (19:12) Then he spends a morning with “two fingers” (19:13) Naden the cook, who has a crippled right hand. He helps cook and serve lunch, and Carceret makes a scene refusing food from him. Naden tells him that Vashet thinks Kvothe is too afraid for his hands, and that while he misses his hand it was better to risk it and lose it than be afraid.

Celean teaches him that opponents will go for the groin. Vashet makes him practice while nauseated from the blow, and again he asks to use the sword because he wants to win, again demonstrating his lack of comprehension of the Lethani. She hits him three times on the face.


Chapter 118 is Kindness

Penthe in coming to talk to him.

He goes to the dining room in a terrible mood and lots of pain, and Penthe comes to eat with him. She asks to speak Aturan for her to practice, and to practice facial gestures instead of hand gestures. She says she can read the faces of her close family, but worries about reading strangers. He says he misses having expressions and he has nobody there to be close to. She says he must have angered Vashet for her to mark him for everyone to see, and he realises for the first time that she has done that—not just punishment, a public message. Penthe continues to be kind to him. She teases him to write a poem about her smile—in Ademic. He does. She smiles, and he says that the smile of a young woman is the best thing in the world. Then she makes a poem for him in which she calls him a dancing bear.

Afterwards he doesn’t know if they were flirting but he is much more cheerful. He goes to see Vashet, and she says she can’t trust anything he says because he knows she is angry and he is afraid. She says he had a gentleness which is why she taught him, but she now thinks the gentleness was a mask and the hard dark thing underneath is the real Kvothe. She says she’ll think about it overnight and let him know in the morning.

He spends the afternoon buying and stealing tools—wax, a sharp shard of metal, hot water from the baths for a link. It’s as if he wants to demonstrate that yes, he is hard and ruthless and just as dangerous as Vashet thinks he is. He says:

What other option did I have, now that words had failed me?

What do any of us have when words fail us?

Well it seems to me that we have deeds? And what deeds come to Kvothe’s mind as a first resort—malfeasance? But to be fair, it is in self defense—she really could kill him. And running away might not work.


Chapter 119 is When Words Fail

These are very short chapters and that would be a terrible place to stop, so let’s have one more.

Kvothe goes to Vashet’s house emptyhanded in the night. He gestures for her to come outside. He knows she’s curious. She follows him. It’s a clear night with:

a piece of moon to light our way

(And where are the other pieces? Lighting Felurian?)

They walk for a mile in silence to a grove with a jumble of stones that would keep noise from the town. In the moonlight he drapes his shaed between them over a tree branch and then sits down and plays his heart out on the lute. He plays “The Village Smithy” “Violet Bide” and “Home Westward Wind” which reminds him of his mother and makes him cry. We already know “Violet Bide” is a sad song. Then he plays:

the wordless music that moves through the secret places of my heart

His Name? It’s also a sad song. He says this is what he is.

And we’ll stop there and go on 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.


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