Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 23: A Real Person

Welcome to my ridiculously detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 120-126 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. The timeline.

Argh! The Kindle chapters are numbered differently! This is really annoying and messes everything up.

So, in the Kindle, 120 is “Kindness” which is 118 in my ARC. This is going to drive me crazy. I’ll stick to the ARC numbers for now, which are at least consecutive, and list the kindle numbers in brackets but I may screw up and I apologize in advance. Can somebody who has the hardcover or the new trade paperback please check how the chapter numbering works there?


Chapter 120 (122) is “Leaving”

Kvothe wakes early and goes to Vashet’s house, taking everything important including the wax mommet. He snags a hair from Vashet. Vashet tells him Penthe has interceded for him and Carceret has interceded against him. Both have irritated her by meddling, but she respects Penthe more. She says Kvothe is a puzzle, but breaking a puzzle because you don’t understand it is leaving the Lethani. (This is a rare direct Tolkien reference, we can put it with “edro”.) She tells him to leave his bag and his lute but to bring the cloak because she can teach him to use it.

His training continues, including with the cloak. He becomes good enough to be nearly equal with Celuan. He sometimes speaks to Penthe, but he’s very cautious with Vashet and thinks twice before speaking. (This is probably really good for him, horrible as it must be to go through.)

Then Vashet comes and tells him he has his test tomorrow. He has almost forgotten the purpose of what he was doing. Vashet says it’s not because he’s ready but because he has been there long enough that people have started to notice him and some of them like him, and if they have to kill or mutilate him it’s better done “before more folk notice I’m a real person and not some faceless barbarian”.


Chapter 121 (123) is “The Spinning Leaf”

Of course it is. His special mindspace.

Kvothe doesn’t know what the test is. Vashet says Carceret has been praying for a storm, and he doesn’t understand why and doesn’t ask. Penthe hugs him. He and Vashet limber up. There are dozen people, gender unspecified, watching. Vashet explains that he has to go through the razor sharp leaves to the heart of the tree, where there are several things. He has to choose one. He asks about getting cut, and she’s reassuringly practical about places that are less awful. He asks about crawling, and she talks about dignity — and he realises it’s a test of many things. He says nerve and pride, and Vashet says behaviour. Some of the other watchers are heads of other schools. Vashet says they can’t overrule Shehyn, but signs “however”.

As he walks to the tree, it reminds him of the CTH tree for a second. He thinks of Celuan doing it and knows he can’t do it like that. He realises he has an audience, and there’s nowhere he’s more comfortable than on stage.

Kvothe’s thought process here is interesting:

When you’re alone it’s easy to be afraid. It’s easy to focus on what might be lurking in the dark at the bottom of the cellar steps. It’s easy to obsess on unproductive things, like the madness of stepping into a storm of spinning knives. When you’re alone it’s easy to sweat, panic, fall apart.

I wonder about this in the context of the frame. Kvothe’s audience there is the village, but also Bast, and also Chronicler. But we do see him alone, fighting the scrael, chopping wood and weeping for his family, not performing. I think we can take it that all the time he’s not alone he is performing. And alone, afraid? I wonder.

Anyway, he watches the leaves and his mind goes into Spinning Leaf and he sees the pattern and then the wind. He sees the name of the wind and he doesn’t command it to be still, that feels wrong. He follows what it is doing with the leaves and walks carefully and comfortably through them, moving the way Shehyn moves, perfectly. Then he gets in and sees what’s there — a sword, an arrow, a red shirt, a scroll cylinder, a gold bar, another sword, blue flowers, a half-penny, a whetstone, and his lute case. Seeing it crashes him out of Spinning Leaf and the name state. He realises all the things are traps. He sees a book, a spindle, and a stone. He can’t guess what he should choose. Then he wants to relieve himself, and the thought of pissing on the Latantha while they all watch makes him laugh. He gets the name of the wind back, and speaks it, and stills the wind. He walks out empty handed and deliberately cuts his palm.

He gestures “willing” to Shehyn and blood runs down from his palm, which signals Ciridae to the rest of us. And she nods.

I really like this chapter, I really like the description of knowing the name of the wind and the leaves and the tree and the comedy moment.


Chapter 122 (124) is “Of Names”

Self explanatory title, for once.

Vashet says he’s a “gaudy showboating bastard”. He brought back “silence and stillness” and offered to bleed for the school. She says he can fool them but not her, and “It’s like you stepped out of a storybook”. She accuses him of melodrama, and he says the Adem are also melodramatic. She takes him to somebody who will patch up his hand. Daeln, a man, but mentions that the apothecary is a friend of Carceret’s mother, so that’s 20:14 for anyone still counting.

Shehyn takes him and Vashet into her study, where he has not been before. There’s a picture of three birds in flight made of enamelled tile. He tells her his hand is fine but he has to keep it still for four days and he finds it hard to talk without gesturing with it. Shehyn asks if it is true that he made blood magic and called the lightning against the bandits. Vashet hadn’t known. Shehyn says he is powerful, and asks if he seeks the ketan to have power. He says he seeks it out of curiosity, and she says knowledge is a form of power. 

Then she says Tempi says there was a Rhinta there. How would Tempi know? Kvothe hadn’t known until the CTH told him. Kvothe doesn’t understand “rhinta” and asks if she means a demon, and she says there are no such things as demons. She says there are old bad things, and he says he has heard them called Chandrian. She agrees but says Rhinta is a better word. She asks if he has met them before. He admits it. This is literally the first time he has told anyone. She asks if he will meet them again. He says he will, and he will kill them. She asks if he’ll use the ketan for that, and he says he’ll use all things. She says that’s good, because his ketan is poor. Good for a barbarian and somebody who started so late, but poor overall. He says he wants to know more about the Rhinta. And it is what he really came for. She says she’ll consider it, and changes the subject, and astonishingly for Kvothe he lets it go. He really is visibly growing up!

She says he could be as good as Tempi if he trained for a year, which is not high praise as we’ve heard that Tempi is barely good enough. She says Vashet has been worried about his spirit, but then that everyone has shadows. They go to get him a name.

They go in silence up a hill, and Kvothe doesn’t ask what’s happening because it feels formal and ceremonial and significant. He compares asking to a groom asking what happens next half way through a wedding. They come to a cave-home where an old woman is writing. (21:14) This is Magwyn, and Shehyn says they have come for a name. Magwyn examines him, and she asks him to speak. He says “As you will, honoured shaper of names” and she asks if he is mocking her. If shaping and naming are different things as we have hypothesized, then calling her a shaper of names might me more mocking than it seems, because otherwise I can’t see anything that could be mockery.

He says her eyes were like Elodin’s, in that she looked at him as if he were a book she could read. This is explicitly saying that she’s a Namer, a Master Namer like Elodin.

He thinks she’s startled when her eyes meet his, and then she names him “Maedre”. Vashet has a hint of dismay in her voice as she repeats the name, but Shehyn cuffs her to make her silent. Kvothe laughs because it’s the same gesture Vashet makes to him. Magwyn asks if he’s laughing at the name, and he says he wouldn’t, names are important. She tells him to keep his name secret.

That night there’s a party in Penthe’s house, then he goes to see Vashet. She asks him how it feels to not be a barbarian. He says he didn’t convey to Shehyn how much he wants to know about the Rhinta, Vashet says she’ll mention it.

Then he and Vashet have a conversation about sex and jealousy, how barbarous jealousy is and so on, because Penthe has made a pass at Kvothe and he’s checking it’s OK. She says it’s intimate but not shameful and not exclusive. He asks about love and she laughs and says there’s a lot of difference between a penis and a heart. She says her poet-king was the same way.


Chapter 123 (125) is “Caesura”

The sword, of course.

In the morning he goes to the baths, hungover, and then Vashet and Shehyn catch him before breakfast and take him to a locked room full of swords. It’s the first locked door he has seen. Shehyn asks Vashet to choose a sword. Vashet tries to protest, but Shehyn insists. She makes him try various ones. Eventually she gives him one he likes and which makes the ketan seem easy. Vashet says it is the one for him and it might “offset his name” — as if the sword is lucky and the name unlucky, or something? Shehyn agrees, and Vashet is relieved.

Vashet says the sword is called Saicere, which he hears first as Caesura, the break in a line of verse. As he draws it, it says “saicere” and as he sheaths it, “caesura”.

Then Vashet teaches him how to care for his sword, including disassembly and reassembly — with a sword? Of what? Does anyone have any idea? Vashet is horrified when he asks what he should do if it breaks. The sword belongs to the school, and it must be sent back if he dies or can’t fight any more.

She takes him to Magwyn to learn the story, the atas, of his sword, the names of everyone who has held it. When Vashey tells Magwyn what sword he has, she says “I can’t say I’m surprised”. Then he memorizes lists of owners. There are more than thirty before Finol who was killed at the battle of Drossen Tor. He says “Caesura” and Magwyn tells him not to meddle with the name, and that Saicere means “to break, to catch, and to fly”. But Kvothe feels the name is Caesura, that it fits better. He thinks he’s a better namer than Magwyn.

There have been 236 owners. He estimates that at a lower bound that makes it more than two thousand years old.  He has to stay with Magwyn until he has it all learned.

First came Chael. Does “Chael” sound like an Adem name? What does it mean? If it’s pre Creation War, what language is it? How about Finol, which certainly seems to go better with “Lanre” and “Lyra” and “Selitos” than with “Shehyn” and “Magwyn” and “Vashet”?


Chapter 124 (126) is “The First Stone”

The next part of the test.

He spends three more days — four in total — learning the list of names from Magwyn. He says it’s a “laundry list” of names, which implies commercial laundries with lots of customers, which there must be in Tarbean and maybe even Imre, but how surprising. I’d have thought anyone would could afford laundries would have had enough servants to do it at home — in our world commercial laundries spread with the rise of the middle classes and the industrial revolution. I suppose in the Commonwealth? And we’ve talked before about the tech level being more advanced than one might expect — more nineteenth century than the Renaissance it at first appears.

Shehyn is surprised at how fast he has memorised the atas, and irritated that he has removed his bandage — he’ll have to have the stone trial even though Vashet is away. He doesn’t know what it is, or even that he’s supposed to bring his sword. Shehyn explains when he comes back after lunch that he has to recite the atas and then climb the hill, fighting people at the stones.

When he sees the hill, he sees a greystone at the top, “familiar as a friend”. Shehyn is by it. Penthe is at the third stone. Someone is selling roast chestnuts, and he thinks this is just a pageant for the locals. Then Tempi rushes up and warns him that Carceret is at the first stone, and that she’s enraged because Caesura was her mother’s sword.

He recites the atas. Then he takes his wooden duelling sword and goes up. Carceret puts her sword down scornfully. He puts his down. They fight and she is way better, but he manages to strike her twice. He says she is angrier than anyone he has ever seen, including Ambrose and Hemme and Denna and the Maer. Then she kicks him and he falls, and she has won but without disabling him as was her plan.


Chapter 125 (127) is “Anger”

Tempi is cross with him for putting his sword aside. Shehyn and Tempi start having a conversation about whether he was right. Penthe says she has stuff to put on his bruises and takes him away, then says she rarely wants to have people tell her why she has lost a fight — which is very kind and also perceptive. Penthe takes him through the woods to some flowers, because Vashet has said barbarians like flowers before sex. I laughed aloud the first time I read this.

They talk about stories people have told Penthe about barbarians — that they drink urine, never bathe, and are seven feet tall. Kvothe makes a joke back, asking if she doesn’t drink hers, and when she’s horrified laughs and she laughs with him. He says they tell stories about the Adem, and he tells her about the story that they don’t have sex to improve their ketan. She says she’d never have reached the third stone if that were true. She says they say it because no Adem would have sex with a barbarian. We know this isn’t true because of Vashet, but Kvothe asks why she brought him to the flowers. She says he’s Adem now, and then asks if he is diseased. Vashet asked the same thing. The Adem are clearly really horrified by STDs and sensible about avoiding them — Kvothe says 5% of people are infected, Penthe says absolutely no Adem are. And she says if she were to catch a disease she’d go to the Tahl to be cured, even if it took two years.

After they have sex, which is mercifully not described, they talk about what Penthe means by anger, which seems to be a kind of life force. She says men have anger in sex energy and give it to women and then feel sleepy, while women feel more energised.

This seems to me a really odd thing to state as a universal, and my experience does not match this.

She says anger is like wine, more isn’t better. They move to Penthe’s house where:

The moon was in the sky and had been watching us for some time through the window, though I doubt we showed her anything she hadn’t seen before.

This seems an odd way of putting it — I mean, yes, it’s a metaphor, but often in these books things that look like metaphors turn out otherwise. I think of our D theory, and Hespe’s story.

And then they have the man-mother conversation. Penthe thought it another silly story about barbarians. She’s absolutely sure that women ripen with children and sex has nothing to do with it. And I’m not at all sure she’s wrong, for the Adem anyway.

Then she says men are like empty branches, with no fruit or flower, and all they can offer the world is their anger.


Chapter 126 (128) is “Names”

This chapter begins “It was the day that I would either stay or leave” as if there was still doubt about it. Vashet is nervous and tells Kvothe not to use Saicere improperly. He asks what is improper, and she says cutting kindling and carrots are also uses for the tool that is the sword, not just fighting.

Vashet is proud that he put down his sword in the stone trial. Shehyn formally invited Kvothe to stay and train. He asks Vashet about man-mothers and she says she doesn’t believe in them but she doesn’t care if he does. He says there can be many opinions but only one truth, and she says she’ll worry about joy and the school and the Lethani and if there’s any time left over then think about truth.

He asks Vashet what his name means, and she says he shouldn’t talk about it. Then when he says he should know what it means, she says “Flame, thunder, broken tree”. He asks why she didn’t like it, and she refuses to comment.

They go to see Shehyn, and he says he cannot stay, he has an obligation to the Maer. He also thinks of D. Shehyn says he mustn’t hire himself as an Adem mercenary even though he has a sword and a name. He says Vashet has explained, he’ll send the sword back if killed, he won’t teach the ketan or wear the red. He asks if he can tell people he studied with them. She says he can, but not that he is one of them or equal to them. She says it serves their reputation — if he wins people will think that even a bit of Adem training made him good, and if he loses they’ll think well, he only had a bit.

Then she mentions the Rhinta. She says he can’t ask questions after, and he can’t speak of it until he has slept a thousand nights (about three years) and travelled a thousand miles. He agrees, and she tells the story.

She says there was a great pre-Adem empire full of songs of power. Since then “the land has broken and the sky changed”. There were seven cities and one city. The one city was Tariniel. There was an enemy who was not of the Lethani, and who moved like a worm in fruit. He poisoned seven others and six cities fell. One remembered the Lethani and the city did not fall, but its name is forgotten. (…But we think it was Tinue…) But there are names of the one and the six who followed him and they have been remembered:

Cyphus bears the blue flame.

Stercus is in thrall of iron.

Ferule chill and dark of eye.

Usnea lives in nothing but decay.

Grey Dalcenti never speaks.

Pale Alenta brings the blight.

Last there is the lord of seven:

Hated. Hopeless. Sleepless. Sane.

Alaxel bears the shadow’s hame.

Seven Rhinta, or Chandrian, seven signs. We’ve seen decay and blight and blue flame, and we know Cinder/Ferule/Ferula has black eyes and Alaxel/Haliax/Lanre has a shadow hood.

This fits better with Scarpi’s version of the Lanre story than with D’s. But it’s much more a “watch out for the Chandrian” story with real names, from people who routinely memorise lists of 236 names of owners of swords.

And we’ll stop there and go on from the interlude 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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