Welcome to my wildly detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 138-143 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 ted in WMF, none of them really came up explicitly in NW. The first is the Amtheories. The re-read index. The map. The timeline. Imaginary Linguistics.
Chapter 138 (140) is Just Rewards
I’m used to hearing that phrase as “just desserts” is “just rewards” a normal alternative?
Kvothe gets a packet from the Maer early in the morning containing several letters. The first one says that the Maer would have forgiven Kvothe’s blood but becuase Meluan can’t stand him, could Kvothe return his ring and leave Severen at his “earliest convenience”. He doesn’t even say please, but at least he is polite. At this point Kvothe opens the door and checks for guards, and sees that they are there. He says “just checking” which made me chortle.
The rest of the stuff is a pardon for killing the false troupe, a letter of credit paying his tuition at the University, and a writ allowing him to travel play and perform in the Maer’s lands. Not patronage, but not nothing either. Kvothe says it’s an “odd compromise”. Then a runner comes with a pale wood ring from Meluan, and Kvothe notices the runner and the guards pointedly paying attention to it, and of course he has no idea what it means. He sends a ring for Bredon.
From Bredon’s point of view, whatever his intentions beyond beautiful games, could this be the kind of thing he wanted out of befriending Kvothe? To be in his confidence so that he could be asked for on this kind of occasion? I mean Kvothe shows him Meluan and the Maer’s letters, he directly hands them to this guy who has been friendly but who he doesn’t know anything about beyond his name and his Tak skill.
Bredon assumes (or pretends to assume) the guards are an honour, but when he sees the ring he goes grey and hopes Kvothe got it from an old fashioned farmer. He swears by “Lord and Lady” which combines interestingly with “pagan frolics” and definitely doesn’t sound Tehlin. I think Bredon comes over here as genuinely shocked. The ring means Meluan doesn’t regard Kvothe as a human being. He wears it. Bredon says it’s better that the Maer has dismissed him or he would have been a peppercorn ground in a mortar between the two of them.
Kvothe gives Bredon his ring back, and Bredon takes it “with a defeated sigh” and leaves, assuring Kvothe that “these things shouldn’t blow over” and he shouldn’t wear the ring. Kvothe goes to see Stapes, escorted of course by the guards. Stapes also says he shouldn’t wear the wooden ring. Stapes accepts his gold ring back, but tells Kvothe to keep the bone one because it lies outside his duty to the Maer and is between the two of them.
Then there’s an odd gap, because the next line is “I ate a late supper alone in my rooms” when he’d been dressing when he got the package and chatting to Bredon and Stapes can’t have taken more than a couple of hours at the absolute outside. What did he do in that time and why didn’t he tell us?
He keeps re-reading the Maer’s letter and not finding anything nice in it. He counts his money and has slightly less than eight talents.
Eight talents, a pardon, a pleyer’s writ, and my tuition paid at the University. It was not an inconsiderable reward.
But he feels shorted because:
I had saved Alveron from a poisoning, uncovered a traitor in his court, won him a wife, and rid his roads of more dangerous folk than I cared to count.
The bandits in the Eld as well as the bandits in the false troupe to be sure. I think Kvothe has a good point here. We don’t entirely know how it’s supposed to work, but the Maer was offering him titles and land before.
So Kvothe has no patron, and worse, no help with the Amyr issue. He considers his rooms. Interestingly, he uses the word “nicks” for stealing Caudicus’s books, which is the word used by the false troupers for stealing, which the Ruh aren’t supposed to do. (I haven’t heard anyone talking about “nicking” anything since I left school.) Then he tips the rings into a small sack and takes two of the outfits from the wardrobe. (These have been given to him so it isn’t stealing.) He puts on Caesura and his shaed, which reminds him his time hasn’t been wasted but they have nothing to do with the Maer. Then he locks the door and climbs out of the window, relocking it from outside to avoid humiliation and to puzzle them.
Safely in Severen-Low, he finds a “greasy bookbinder” to whom he sells the stack of slanderous stories the nobility had sent him about each other, for publication as a book. Kvothe gets an advance of six reels—anyone keeping up on the exchange rate here? Anyway, he burns the contract. I think this implausible and unrealistic event reflects the ease Rothfuss had in getting published and would not have been written by anyone else who has ever tried to sell a book, even a non-fiction scandal book. Still, the thought of it is funny. After that he sold Caudicus’s books except one, and the clothes, and found a ship for Junpui.
He spends the evening failing to find D, then goes to a brothel and donates the sack of rings to the sex workers after buying them drinks and playing music. This is an odd and pointless revenge, especially as the silver ones are surely negotiable.
He ends up looking out over Severen from a public garden on the edge of the Sheer. A dockman says a noble can piss on the whole city from there, and Kvothe says the ones he has met can piss a lot further than that.
It’s odd that Kvothe really does think himself the equal of anyone. This isn’t bad writing or anachronism, because the other characters really don’t—they know their place or work on changing it, mostly. But Kvothe doesn’t expect to be treated the way he has been and doesn’t think he’s lucky to be walking away with his tuition paid.
Chapter 139 (141) is A Journey to Return
This is a very short chapter in which Kvothe goes home to the University very quickly. The sailors had heard about him visiting Felurian, so his name really must be on that story. Interesting that the Maer hadn’t heard it. He tells them about the Adem and throws their best wrestler, and they are nore friendly thereafter. They teach him sea stories and the names of stars. They try to teach him knots, and here we have one of those lines that may mean a lot more than it says:
They tried to teach me sailor’s knots, but I didn’t have a knack for it, though I proved to be a dab hand at untying them.
When we read “knack” here, what do we read? That Kvothe did have an actual magical knack like those sevens, for untying knots, for opening, for unravelling? Or is it just a joke, like the “wimmen, sorry, women”.
I’m absolutely sure that one of the things Kvothe does in D3 and one of the reasons he is hiding and guilty and all of that is because he opened something that he should have left closed. Whether it’s the Lackless box or the doors of stone or the moon or fae or what I don’t know, but I do feel absolutely sure that he opened something. The way he is consistently guilty about this sets up an expectation.
He says the voyage eased the bitterness he felt at his ill treatment from the Maer and Meluan.
I wonder if he knows in frame-time that Meluan is his aunt. I wonder if she knows.
Chapter 140 (142) is Home
The ship takes him to Tarbean, and he goes upstream on a billow boat bound for Anilin and gets off two days later at Imre.
This is the first time Kvothe had ever enjoyed the feeling of coming home after a journey, because he’d never had anything like a fixed home before. He feels it when he crosses the bridge and sees the Archives. He had been gone for three quarters of a year, which feels both longer and shorter as he comes back.
He goes to see Sim, who swears in a very Tehlin way “Blackened body of God, you’re alive!” Threpe had assumed Kvothe was dead when shipwrecked and told everyone. You’d thought Threpe might have had a letter from the Maer thanking him for Kvothe since, but clearly not. And of course Kvothe hadn’t written to anyone. Poor Sim had the news broken to him by Ambrose, who had apparently heard it in the Eolian. Ambrose told Sim just before admissions, and Sim was “half convinced he’d arranged to sink your ship”. I wonder about that late crewman we saw on the bridge. Wil also took it hard and went home for a term. Sim is Re’lar. And he’s going out with Fela, and he’s worried about Kvothe coming back in that context, and Kvothe says he wouldn’t get in the way of that.
And it’s the last day of Admissions. Before going though, Kvothe visits the Bursar and shows him the Maer’s note of credit, which covers any amount of tuition. They negotiate a deal. Outside again, waiting, he buys a meat pie and a mug of hot cider—the last time he did this was when he was drugged, because he’s never been able to afford this sort of casual extravagance before.
In Admissions, Kilvin demands he visit the Fishery, everyone except Elodin is surprised he is alive. Lorren asks
a surprisingly easy question about the Mender heresies
What are the Mender heresies? Does it have to do with Menda? Or does it have to do with mending broken houses at the end of broken roads? Kvothe doesn’t tell us. Why might Lorren be interesed in Kvothe’s views on them? I feel as if this is another trick question like the moon ones. Kvothe says he had to think for a long moment before answering Arwyl’s question about lacillium. Kvothe directly insults Hemme and is fined for it, and then he’s assigned a tuition of twenty-four talents, at which he pretends to be embarrassed. Afterwards he presents Alveron’s letter of credit and gets “my agreed upon cut” half of everything over ten talents—and as he is paid he wonders if anyone has ever been paid so well for insolence and ignorance.
He goes to Ankers, where Anker fortunately hasn’t heard of his death. He gets his room back, and his stuff that he left in it. He goes to the Eolian and hangs out with Deoch and Stanchion. Late that night he climbs onto Mains and sees Auri “staring up at the moon”. She’s excited to see him and show him a family of hedgehogs. She says she has missed him, and he says he doesn’t ever plan on going away again, which seems like a very rash thing to think.
Chapter 141 (143) is Bloodless
The arrowcatch device has caught on and earned Kvothe a lot of money—22 talents. Kilvin called it “bloodless” after Kvothe when they thought he was dead, named by Elodin, to Kilvin’s grumbles. We learn this from Basil, the water-to-acid chap.
He goes to Imre and fails to find D, and does find Devi, who has assumed him dead and is stunned to see him. Devi was sure Ambrose had done it because they’d set fire to his rooms and she has been feeling guilty for helping. Useful information on Ambrose:
his father’s barony is called the Pirate Isles
and don’t I just wish I knew where it was on the map or if it’s Junpai or what?
Kvothe is trying to do the half flirtatious wit matching he has always done with Devi but she’s too upset. He takes her for lunch in an inn where she recovers. Kvothe doesn’t at all seem to take in that both Devi and Sim, neither of them stupid, see the shipwreck as an attempt on his life by Ambrose. He doesn’t even consider to dismiss it, even though he does think the attack in the alley was an attack by Ambrose. It’s as if by surviving through pure chance and a floating lute case proves it wasn’t.
He tries to pay Devi back and she tries not to take it, and he finally figures out that it isn’t money she wants but people owing her favours. He gives her Celum Tincture, though he still knows no alchemy, and this must have changed between his giving the book to her and his giving it to Bast. She returns to him Rhetoric and Logic and his talent pipes and D‘s ring and the thirf’s lamp.
Chapter 142 (144) is Sword and Shaed
The real things he gained on his trip, neither of them planned.
And he’s summarising the winter term. He has money for the first time, he can have his clothes laundered—look, professional laundries so unusual at this tech level. He can afford even luxuries like coffee or chocolate—look, trade with the tropics, so unusual at this tech level…
He hides Caesura in the Underthing, since he can’t wear it and his room isn’t safe.
He wears the shaed, because he can change and disguise it and people don’t really notice how odd it is, even when it moves on its own. Elodin is the only one to recognise it and asks “How did you come to be enshaedn?” Elodin thinks it’s old magic, Kvothe tells him it’s new, Elodin takes him to a pub for the whole story. Elodin believes him and is especially interested in the fight when he called the wind. When Kvothe says he called it again in Ademre, Elodin makes the Adem gesture of “amazed respect”. He says he went chasing the wind and caught it. He puts his mind into spinning leaf at Elodin’s request, and they agree he could call the wind if he needed it but not just for the sake of it. Elodin says he must have called Felurian’s name itself in the fight, which he hadn’t realised. He asks why it’s different from the wind, then answers himself “The complexity” which makes Elodin happy. Elodin is acting like a sensible person, not like a loon, for once.
Kvothe says he was
free to study more broadly than ever before. I continued my usual classes in sympathy, medicine and artificing, then added chemistry, herbology, and comparative female anatomy.
I don’t know, I took that as a joke but someone pointed out it could be a real class and it could be about man mothers, and it’s just like Rothfuss to hide things in plain sight that way. Have to wait and see. (Is it D3 yet?) Then he tries to investigate Yllish and finds a room ib the archive of Yllish knots. He can’t read the knots without the language, and there are no classes in Yllish and nobody knows it—Yll has been reduced to a tiny kingdom, subdued by Atur. Then the Master Linguist, the Chancellor, offers to teach Kvothe. He turns out to be witty and gentle as a teacher, and we know Kvothe is good at languages and figuring things out. Kvothe also studies naming with Elodin, which goes more smoothly now he understands the method.
Threpe throws a party for Kvothe, and Kvothe gets new clothes in green and grey of Lord Greyfallow’s colours—again, why does he never try to contact Lord Greyfallow? Threpe thinks the Maer has been generous, because Kvothe can’t tell him half of what he did for him—the poisoning I suppose. Why can’t he tell him? I suppose because the Maer could cancel the credit note?
And we’ll go on from there next time.
Last week, John Point argued for the Lethani as a form of kinaesthetic naming, which is very interesting:
Anyway, I think that’s more or less what Ademic fighting and the Lethani are all about. By following the Lethani and learning the Ademic arts, you learn to kinesthetically Name an action, and it becomes so. A movement becomes a break lion. (or any of the other grips/positions/forms that the Adem teach). A step becomes a perfect step. Etc.
This especially applies to the problem of Kvothe forgetting how to fight:
Under this theory, what happened to Kvothe to cause him to lose his magic (whether he changed his name, locked part of it in the thrice-locked chest, or something else) also applies to his physical “naming” ability. It’s the same type of magic as regular Naming, but it’s a different way of expressing it.
I took it as he had forgotten to maintain his Kote identity. This would imply that the skills are still there—he is doing something semi-active to keep them not at hand. This could be something like when he broke his mind into pieces and hid something from one half. There are possibly multiple things going on to supress Kvothe’s various skills. Maybe most (or all) of our guesses are right. His name is altered, his hands are cursed, his mind is blocked, the Inn is blocking him and something dear is locked in the box.
and Beren takes that further:
When Kvothe makes use of his Alar, he describes it as splitting his mind into several pieces. Well, what if he were to find a way to trap his ‘mind’ outside of himself. And what if he were terrified of what would happen if all of the parts of himself were to be reunited and he were to be ‘himself’ again. It raises an interesting mental exercise—given the existence of magic, and the need to trap himself, how would he do it? Well, he would need to split different pieces of his consciousness off from himself, and then he would need to seperate the pieces in such a way that they were inaccessible to himself, no matter how he tried. The only way to do this would be to lock the knowledge of how to access those pieces within one of the pieces. I see his tasks as:
1) Make a box that only he (or his hands) can open
2) Split away the piece of the knowledge of how to make the box (and therefore how to reverse-engineer it without the key)
3) Split away a portion of his name that gives him power.
4) Split away the piece of him that knows how to use his power to unlock his name.
5) Curse his hands to be unable to open the box.
6) Lock a piece in the box, another piece somewhere else (in the ‘name’ of the Inn?) etc.
7) . . . profit?
Anyway, I’m sure I missed something, or split a task that can be combined, but my point is that it seems like a task that one could split up, then perform in a certain order where each piece is dependant on the next, and the final piece invalidates the ability to perform the first link in the chain of events that would be required to unlock everything in reverse order. I’m not even certain I’m making sense, but I am starting to see it as a logic puzzle that I could solve if only I were smart enough (and knew all of the pieces, obviously.
But Ryanreich thinks it doesn’t have to be that hard from his own experience:
I have definitely forgotten how to do math from a field that I never practice. I always forget how to play the piano well in the months between visits to my mother, where our piano is. It’s the same loss: I remember how to do all the individual parts of playing the piano, but I am clumsy at putting them together. And I don’t forget what math is, just what are the tricks and strategies that make it work. I can easily pick them up again given a few days and something to work on.
If you were ever expert in anything, you will always have the skill, but you will also always need practice to be able to perform it.
Also see last week for discussion about problematic feminist readings and GBrell being brilliant about feminism and female roles in the books. I’m really glad we can have a discussion like this calmly.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula nominated Among Others. 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.