The Larkin Ledgers

Like an endless chain of half-built houses

Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part IX.ii – A QUITE UNCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE

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After her skeletal cosseting and laurel poking, Auri continues to explore the forest.  Eventually she comes across a creek she’s never seen before.  This adventure outside the Underthing clearly isn’t unique, but it’s certainly, as the chapter title suggests, uncommon.  She hasn’t mapped or memorized the surrounding area.

Finally she comes to a farmhouse. How far away from Haven and the University is this place?

On the back porch, near the door, there was a small table. A wooden plate covered with an overturned wooden bowl rested there. Beside it was a bowl of clay, covered with a glazed clay plate.

Auri lifted the wooden bowl and found a piece of fresh brown bread beneath. It held health and heart and hearth. A lovely thing, and full of invitation. She put it in her pocket.

She knew the other bowl held milk, but the plate that covered it faced up. It was not for her. She left it for the faeries.

It’s worth quoting that bit at length because there’s plenty going on. Interestingly, Felurian mentions bread for faeries but not milk.

“many of the darker sort would love to use you for their sport. what keeps these from moonlit trespass? iron, fire, mirror-glass. elm and ash and copper knives, solid-hearted farmer’s wives who know the rules of games we play and give us bread to keep away. but worst of all, my people dread the portion of our power we shed when we set foot on mortal earth.”WMF 671

While Kote singles out ash and rowan in The Wise Man’s Fear, the rhyme quoted in Part IX.i might be a concatenation of two separate traditions, both with specific purposes.  Ash and elm keep the fae at bay, while proper disposal of things demonic requires ash and rowan. Since demon and faen are more or less synonymous in The Four Corners, the distinction between the two traditions elided.

That sort of fictive drift might account for why it’s okay for Auri to swipe the bread but not the milk.  The farmer’s wife inhabiting the house probably left both out for the same purpose. Whether it was for faeries or simply because it was cooler outside is debatable.  However, Auri’s response is specific to the tradition mentioned by Felurian.  The part we don’t see, but can infer, is that the dinnerware is supposed to be placed upright.

As she approaches the barn, she confronts a massive guardian. “There was a strange dog there, all gristle and bay.” It’s a clever bit of wordplay since she acquires both bay (laurel fruit) and gristle (suet) in the chapter. Channeling Snow White and Crocodile Dundee she befriends it and renders it unconscious.

Auri scales the barn and enters through the hayloft.  She grooms a horse, feeds a goat, and ignores a cat.

Auri AQUPP Turnipspent some time there, looking over everything. The grindstone. The quern. The small, well-fitted churn. A bearskin stretched upon a rack to cure. It was a quite uncommon, pleasant place. Everything was tended to and loved. Nothing she could see was useless, lost, or wrong.

Well, nearly nothing. Even the tightest ship lets slip a little water. A single turnip had gone tumbling from its bin to lie abandoned on the floor. Auri put it in her gathersack.

The turnip was featured in another unpublished illustration.

Aside from the embedded chapter title, we get a better sense of what she’s up to with regards to mending.  She’s looking to make use of the useless, find the lost, and right the wrong. Admittedly, it’s unclear to the reader what the rules for her gathering are.

She finds an icebox where everything’s mostly in good order, but some enraged suet is apparently fair game, and she can trade a length of lace for some honeycomb.

Then Auri took the clean white cloth that had held the hollyberry earlier and rubbed it with some butter. Then she broke off a piece of sticky comb the size of her spread hand and wrapped it up as tidy as can be.

She would have loved to have some butter too, as hers was full of knives.

She literally just took some butter. I’m just saying.  Maybe the lace covered it, but the text does not, can not, acknowledge it.  And so Auri’s revealed to be imperfect.  Thieving.  It comes up in her soap in the paired chapter.

Distraught at being unable to justify more butter, she stows her acquisitions and exits the barn. She kisses the dreaming dog. She skips away but catches a farmer’s daughter watching from a window.

What had she seen? Foxen’s green light shining through the slats? Auri’s tiny shape, obscured by hair like thistlepuff, barefoot in the moonlight?

ACrystal Treeside from elm and hawthorn, thistle is one of the words (okay, parts of words) that only appears in this chapter pair. Counting on the missing bread and the eerie alchemical light from the barn to do most of the imaginative work, Auri slips into cavorting faerie drag and cartwheels about. She leaves the crystal from Wains in a knothole in case the spying girl decides to investigate her otherworldly encounter.

It was the perfect thing. This was the perfect place. True, she was no longer in the Underthing. But even so, this was so true it could not be denied.

Proud and pleased, Auri returns to the graveyard and snacks on pine nuts, bread, and honey.

She licked her fingers too, as if she were some tawdry thing, all wicked and unseemly.

Here she uses the subjunctive mood to excuse herself for theft and impersonation.  It’s also wordplay.  The lace she left is tawdry.  Wicked and unseemly score the narrative in too many places to explore here.  And it recalls, by contrast, Kvothe’s impression of her perfect propriety while dining.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part IX.ii – A QUITE UNCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE

  1. This chapter might give us the best window into Auri, as she’s outside of her comfort zone and has to interact with unexpected situations as opposed to falling back on the well worn paths she takes in the underthing.

    I read the milk slightly differently than you I think. You seem to be saying ‘Auri left the milk *because* it’s for the fairies” whereas I think he motivation for leaving it is because it’s not “right” for her and the fairies are just incidental.

    It’s the “useless” of her “useless, lost, or wrong” that is the most interesting to me here. I think we’re well acquainted with Auri anthropomorphizing and finding the right spots for lost things, and being bothered by things that are wrong or discordant. But useless? This feels new to me, and in fact is the only time the word appears in the whole book. What would make something “useless” to Auri?

  2. Thistle, you are right about Felurian only mentioning bread not milk, but it is worth noting that Dedan’s story about Felurian does mention women putting out both bread and milk.

    • Thanks for the reminder, unJon!

      “Cloven-hoofed pucks that dance when the moon is full. Dark things with long fingers that steal babes from cribs. Many’s the woman, old wife or new, who leaves out bread and milk at night. And many’s the man who makes well sure he builds his house with all his doors in a row.

      “Some might call these folk superstitious, but they know the truth. The safest thing is to avoid the Fae, but barring that, you want to keep in their good graces. (WMF 541-2)

      That’s wonderful, since it provides the bridge I was merely speculating.

  3. Marco,

    My sense of what “useless” means to Auri comes from the clue in the preceding sentence. Tended and loved things are not useless. These inanimate things therefore feel that they have a purpose, are wanted, and valued. Whether it’s a farm tool or a turnip, so long as someone is looking after the item, all is right with the world for Auri. She takes outright what has been neglected. She accepts offerings freely given. And she makes “fair” (by her lights) trades for anything she takes which is neither neglected nor offered.

    It’s interesting to watch Auri live by her code, even though it’s not spelled out for us. She doesn’t get a lot to eat. And she wants things she doesn’t feel she has a right to, even though *we* know that no one would miss them if she took them. And how does she upbraid herself? By calling herself greedy.

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