Welcome to my extremely detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 127-132 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.
The Department of Imaginary Linguistics have got a word list up—well done Jhirrad and Shalter, this is really excellent.
Chapter 127 (129) is Interlude—Din of Whispering
The sound of lots of people talking about the Chandrian.
We left our hero in Heart hearing Sheyhn reciting the names of the Chandrian, and we’re jerked back into the frame now by Bast yelling “Reshi!” and actually lifting his hands as if to put them to K’s mouth to stop him. This tells us several things, first that the Chandrian are still out there and summonable, that therefore whatever Kvothe did that broke things didn’t get rid of them, that Bast knows about them, and that Bast is afraid of them. Bast and K then have an exchange where K asks who taught him name lroe, as if implying that he did himself (so it must have been part of what he’s been teaching him, no?) but Bast says all Fae children know not to speak these things aloud, because some things can tell when and where their names are spoken.
K then says there’s small harm in saying a name once, and elaborates on the Adem rule of a thousand miles and a thousand days. Chronicler asks if this is real, and K says it is and this would definitely seem to connect to what happened the Kvothe’s troupe. K says once is like one footstep not making a trail. But K has said Cinder’s true name twice now as part of this story—Ferula when Haliax is talking, and Ferule now. This might meant hat Cinder is dead (killed an angel?) or it might mean that Cinder might show up in D3.
Chronicler asks if they could show up because he’s been talking about them, K says not without names. But then he says that
With all the hell that’s breaking loose in the world these days you can believe people are telling old stories more often.
Does this imply that the hell that’s breaking loose is connected with the Chandrian? I mean, so that people know that? I’m assuming it is actually connected because I’m assuming that the story K is telling is connected. Bast tells him to be careful, K says he has been careful for years, and it might be useful sometime for them to be written down—definitely implying long term continued presence and thread of Chandrian—and that if what Bast says about the CTH then everything will end badly no matter what. Bast looks at Chronicler for support, and Chronicler says apparently out of nowhere that he only knows the name of iron and that Master Namer said he was a waste of time.
In the scenario we discussed where Chronicler is more than he seems and has an agenda, and possibly K is playing a beautiful game by telling the story, this appeal would be very significant. They are looking at him for an opinion on the CTH, ending badly, and speaking the names of the Chandrian, and he’s not giving it—he’s changing the subject to his lack of prowess at naming, and they have a conversation about how rude Elodin was to him. Well, the “Master Namer”, Elodin doesn’t get name checked here. We also have no idea when this happened. K says it’s a pity they were never at University at the same time. Chronicler says it’s true that he was a papery little scriv. K asks what has changed. Chronicler says he had his eyes opened. K asks how, exactly, and Chronicler is visibly surprised. He says he left in a snit and learned more in a month on the road than in University. K quotes Teccam on walking until not one person knows your name.
So Chronicler has comprehensively changed the subject, and we never get back to it. And I wonder what K was really asking, with that “exactly”. If he was opening a door to Chronicler saying “Since I got my Amyr t-shirt” or something of that nature, which Chronicler slid away from. Or they could just be chatting about the benefits of chasing the wind, who knows.
Chapter 128 (130) is Wine and Water
The Edema Ruh hospitality custom, of course.
We’re back in the story, and on Kvothe leaving Haert. He has been there “less than two months” for anyone keeping track of time—44 day months. He’s sad to leave, surprised at how far he has put roots down, says goodbye to everyone, but is glad to be on the road towards Alveron and his well deserved reward, and D and a belated apology.
Five days later he was “on the edge of the map” in Eastern Vintas. We had zero description of this landscape last time, and we’re skipping over it again now. Gah.
Then he finds what appears to be an Edema Ruh troupe, which would be the first ones he had seen since his own were killed. They look right, and they stop being suspicious of him as soon as they see his lute case, and they know the water and wine custom, but they turn out to be brigands in disguise, with stolen girls kept as sex slaves.
This chapter begins one of the most difficult episodes in the book. K tells us what he does, but not why until afterwards, so it comes to a surprise to us. Also, you’d think that killing a troupe, however false, would be more difficult after seeing his own troupe killed. Now of course, he sees them as a travesty and as harmful to his real people. But even so, what he does is at best vigilante justice and at worst unnecessarily cruel. It’s easy to read it and go along with it, and he certainly rescues the girls and takes them home. But I think it’s worth thinking through all the implications of the way he acts here.
I’ve been thinking about those people who think I’m too hard on Kvothe. It’s not that I don’t like him, and it’s not that I’m not beguiled by his storytelling and his confiding tone. I can see how easy it is to slide along with that. But here in particular because of the way Rothfuss shapes this story, with Kvothe’s self recrimination and examination at the end of all of it, I think we’re being deliberately asked what kind of a hero he is—as well as a hero who fails, he’s a hero who has hard choices and doesn’t always do the right thing. The author isn’t necessarily on his side in the way that we are used to in fantasy. I mean it’s an awful situation, two prisoners, vastly outnumbered, and in the middle of nowhere and out of reach of actual law—and if he left them to get help they’d have moved on before he came back. What could he do? Aral Vorkosigan says to Miles in The Vor Game that what he did was a right thing to do, maybe not the right thing, but the thing he could do in that moment. This is how I feel about most of what Kvothe does here.
There’s a lot in this chapter of Kvothe saying one thing and meaning another. When he poisons the stew he says “Anyone who doesn’t enjoy this fine stew is hardly one of the Ruh” and so on.
Chapter 129 (131) is Black by Moonlight
As soon as he’s in his tent with the two girls, he gives them a counter-toxin to the poison he put in the stew and the ale. Ellie is in shock and drinks it and sleeps, Krin is distrustful but takes it anyway. She reminds him of D.
There’s a solid crescent of moon. He kills all of them, one of them stabs him, it’s all very messy. He has a gut wound and is a long way from civilization. (He might as well wish for the moon as the Medica.)
We have at this point had absolutely no explanation for the massacre.
Chapter 130 (132) is The Broken Circle
The belly wound turns out to be shallow. Krin wakes up and sees him hammering horseshoes to brand the dead with the broken circle. He tells her what he’s doing—when the Ruh go bad they are killed and branded with the broken circle. It’s rare because it’s rarely needed. Alleg isn’t dead and he admits he was a guard with some real Ruh, they were killed, the brigands got the wagons and he told them the customs. This made it “ten times worse.” He has made oatmeal, but neither he nor Krin wants to eat.
These are short shocking chapters.
Chapter 131 (133) is Dreams
Kvothe hides the wagons in the forest, removes the Ruh markings and loads up the horses with valuables. They walk and lead the horses.
Kvothe goes into a waking dream about talking to Vashet about the Lethani—specifically about doing the wrong thing and succeeding.
Krin makes dinner while he sets up a tent. They coax Ellie to eat. She’s in deep shock—through the doors of madness in Kvothe’s terminology. They sleep in the tent, he sleeps outside. He has awful dreams. He has never before killed people up close and coldly.
Chapter 132 (134) is The Road to Levinshir
Of course it isn’t on the map. Severen isn’t even on the map. Why would you expect anything to be on the map?
They go slowly towards Levinshir. The horses are a pain. Ellie is a pain. Kvothe feels guilty about leaving Alleg a waterskin, which will keep him alive and in agony longer. He says it’s the most terrible thing he’d ever done. In his dreams, he kills his own troupe. He wonders what Vashet would think about what he had done. Then he wakes from a nightmare to find Ellie having a nightmare about what happened, and he says he tried to think of worse things he could have done to them and never felt guilty again. “Sometimes I think of Alleg and smile.”
I feel that it isn’t necessary to get revenge on bad people by being as bad as they are, and that he’s really going too far here.
When they get back, they realise that their parents will be furious and nobody will want to marry them because they have been raped. Ellie says she hates men. Kvothe can only say that he’s a man and they’re not all like that.
And we’ll stop there and continue with them getting to Levinshir and then Kvothe getting back to Severen 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.