“I don’t like telling,” she said softly, her voice thick with tears. Of all the awful things I’d been part of these last couple days, this was unquestionably the worst of it.WMF 197
I’m not a hundred percent sure about this, but my guess is that what Auri doesn’t like telling is her past. After Kvothe asks her what should be an entirely quotidian question, “how do you know about the Ciridae?” she disappears. In the narrative of The Kingkiller Chronicle, the Amyr are more or less common knowledge. Everybody has something to say about them and while it’s fascinating to a home schooled orphan just this side of abject destitution, for folks like Simmon and Threpe it’s just part of being educated or even generally knowledgeable.
“Loud noises too. Even a loud laugh. And you can’t ask her anything resembling a personal question. She’ll just run if you do.”WMF 106
There are places in the text where the suggestion is that any question at all might be dangerous, it’s personal questions Kvothe warns Elodin about. So my running theory here is that memory is a trigger for Auri. Who she was before she squirreled herself away in the Underthing remains, but remembering comes with a price. It has the benefit of being on theme from almost the start of The Name of the Wind and being demonstrable in The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
Her duty done , Auri tended to the brush and headed back to Tenance. She pressed her ear against the door. Listened. She heard a faint . . . No. Nothing. She held her breath and listened. Nothing.
She’s just completed a fairly complex plumbing repair. It looked easy precisely because she knew what she was doing. She selected exactly the right tools, tracked down the leak and then the valve, and patiently performed the necessary steps in the correct order. For a short period, Auri was a hypercompetent alchemist reflecting on her education and the art. Finished, she slips into abject paranoia.
“Some of the compounds we use,” I said. “They’ll go straight through your skin and kill you in eighteen slow ways.” I thought back to the day my tenten glass had cracked in the Fishery. Of the single drop of transporting agent that had landed on my shirt. It was only a tiny drop, barely larger than the head of a nail. I was so certain it hadn’t touched my skin. “I hope that’s not it. But I don’t know what else it might be.”WMF 185
There’s a chance the tenaculum itself wasn’t factored properly, that some of it touched her skin or simply the long lingering smell had disastrous side effects. And yet she was so certain of the craft involved in its manufacture. She could be suffering infection from the rusty scratch on her back, fevered and delirious. Throughout the story, it’s hard to rule that out. She could be hungry, but, meager though the meal was, she’s eaten recently.
I think the extended period of determined lucidity had the same effect internally as questions about her past have externally. Something’s been wrong since she brought the gear into Mantle, and it comes to a head when she returns to Tenance. She replaces the bottle and the brush, leaving no trace of her presence. Well, except for te tenaculum on the brush, which would be difficult to rinse off.
She stepped the way the water moves within a gentle wave. Never mind the motion, the water stays unchanged. That was the proper way of things.
This was another spot that pulled me out. It’s a powerful, perfect image for what he’s trying to convey. But it kind of jumps out in the mechanical maintenance scene. It’s there to provide a juxtaposition from one step to the next. She’s utterly in control, attuned to the secret turnings of the world one moment and just as utterly out of true the next.
She closes the door to Tenance and checks the latch. Something’s out of true. The doorway to liminal space between one existence and the next is a great place for this to happen. Doors and door frames are more meaningful when they’re not level, plumb, and true. But it’s not the door, or the air that’s increasingly hard to breath that’s all wrong. It’s Auri herself.
She checks the latch four times in total before succumbing to her panic.
Something was wrong. She tried, but she could simply not unclench. She could not catch her breath. The stones beneath her feet were nothing like her stones. She needed to get somewhere safe.
Auri is undone. Having prevented the nightmare of invasion, the pent up terror it represented catches up to her and she dashes headlong back toward home. And gets lost.
I was surprised that she could. From Kvothe’s perspective she’s an expert, a guide in an unfathomable wilderness. But this is the second time she’s taken wrong turns and and wandered. In a way, the Underthing is an externalization of her cracked mind. She can get lost and slowly find her way back home.
Slowly. She finds herself “out of place” in Scaperling, amid the rot and grit and leering walls. And here we find a seamless integration of what a look entails with the world out of true. The walls are gazing sideways at Auri suspicious, almost as though they disapprove of her actions. She repaired the pipe, resumed her former life, for herself. She’s retreating to the safety of Mantle for herself. Not because there was, or is, any danger.
She was dizzy and askant and slant.
It’s not the walls of Scaperling that leer. It’s her out of true, out of place, spinning out of control. She collapses to the floor, filthy, skinned, and breathless, and collects herself. Eventually she makes her way home.
She washes her face. She washes her hands and feet. She basks in the comfort of her personal space, safe for awhile longer from discovery. She ventures out to Van, where she finds herself, her mirror, everything, once again in its proper place.