The Larkin Ledgers

Like an endless chain of half-built houses

Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part XII.i ASH AND EMBER

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“HOLLOW” didn’t have a title drop because it couldn’t. This chapter might not have one because of its powerful resonance with the opening and closing chapters of The Wise Man’s Fear. The phrase “Ash and Ember” is part of a choosing rhyme Bast performs in both. It’s also one of the first physical markers of ring composition in that book, which might be another good reason to slip it into this one.

A and E ChTi

The poem in chapter one, “Apple and Elderberry,” runs thus:

Maple. Maypole.
Catch and carry.
Ash and Ember.
Elderberry.

Woolen. Woman.
Moon at night.
Willow. Window.
Candlelight.

Barrel. Barley.
Stone and stave.
Wind and water—WMF 4

Bast’s using it to choose liquor bottles from the shelf behind the bar in the Waystone Inn. After “Elderberry” he selects a squat green bottle that contains something he finds too sour. He rejects it and selects a curving read bottle instead.  After “Candlelight” he lands on a clear bottle with a pale yellow liquor. Kote interrupts him before he can find a third or finish the third stanza. Apparently he was looking for elderberry.

There are a couple interesting connections here. The first, of course, is yet another bit of connective tissue between Bast and Auri. However, it’s more divergent than convergent. Bast’s “ash and ember” is more about forcing some sort of randomization into the fulfillment of his desire, the tiniest bit of excitement to relieve the boredom of life in Newarre.

Auri, on the other hand, as has been hinted at and as will become more and more overt, attempts to avoid projecting her desires onto the world. In this, we see a clear difference between the two. In “The Lightning Tree,” Bast remarks that Fae creatures are driven by their desire and is frankly confounded by the limitations of the mortals.

In chapter one hundred fifty-two, the rhyme reads:

Maple. Maypole.
Catch and carry.
Ash and Ember.
Elderberry.

Fallow farrow.
Ash and oak.
Bide and borrow.
Chimney smoke.

Barrel. Barley.
Stone and stave.
Wind and water.
Misbehave.WMF 992-3

This time, after “Elderberry,” Bast points two a narrow yellow bottle offered by one of the soldiers he hired to attack Kote. As luck would have it, this one contains the Elderberry liquor he had been looking for in the morning. After “smoke” he takes a burning branch from the fire. And after “Misbehave” the reader worries for the soldiers and Bast presumably exercises his dark will on them.

The focus on bottles in both scenes provides a loose connection to the bottles in Port, Mantle, The Twelve, and Clinks. Bottles have an important place in Auri’s world. There’s been some speculation that Kote’s lingering time with the bottles in the inn reflects his memory of her.

While “HOLLOW” and “THE ANGRY DARK” presented something of an interpretive challenge with regard to the ring composition of The Slow Regard of Silent Things, the chapters that follow illuminate both structural and narrative rings. So, the fifth day begins in much the same way the second day did.

THE SECOND DAY, Auri woke to silence in the perfect dark.

WHEN AURI WOKE on the fifth day, Foxen was quite recovered from his mood.

Laying in the dark, she wondered what the day would bring. Some days were trumpet-proud. They heralded like thunder. Some were courteous, careful as a lettered card upon a silver plate.

There must be some significant difference, though. The second day is obviously a turning day while the fifth is full of mystery. Whether this is conditional, something inherent to the day itself, or because, as noted in the previous chapter, things have changed, is unclear.

Was it a calling day? A sending day? A making day? A mending day?

In a single line we’re treated to more different kinds of days than actually appear in the novella. This is part of how Rothfuss’s worldbuilding works. In the first few chapters we get exhaustive descriptions of finding and turning days. It’s never laid out explicitly in a tiresome list: Auri does x, y, and z, on turning days. But we can infer and interpret how they usually go, what she likely does on such days. We can then use that rudimentary framework to speculate about calling, sending, making, and mending days.

By revealing more days than we actually experience, Auri’s milieu expands beyond the text. This work in particular is a small slice of her life within a portion of The Wise Man’s Fear, but there will be days, even days relatively soon, where her life has nothing to do with Kvothe. Moreover, calling days and mending days tie her, at least morphologically, to the broader Kingkiller Chronicle via calling names and the mysterious Menders.

The majority of the action in this chapter occurs in familiar places, but Taps, for fresh water, and Boundary, behind the door in Mantle, are introduced. From Taps, Auri replaces the water in her basin and performs her rinsing ritual.

There was no soap, of course. That was the very first of things that she would set to rights today. She was not vain enough to work her will against the world. But she could use the things the world had given her. Enough for soap. That was allowed. That was within her rights.

I like how this chapter immediately refers to the previous one and reflects on it. Her vanity, both literally and figuratively, has been put to rest. She’s learned, or relearned, a lesson about imposing her desires on the world and resolved to do things in what she knows are the proper ways. I think I took this differently the first time through. Auri might have appeared simply damaged and cowed. Now, however, it reads as depth. If she always remembered to do things properly and never faltered, she wouldn’t be human.

Rather than wallowing in or simply ignoring the problem of the soap as she did the day before, she takes positive action to resolve it. And she does so primarily with “the things the world had given her” in the paired chapter “A QUITE UNCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE.”

First, she lights her spirit lamp, combining Foxen’s illumination from before the central chapters with the light she used during them. As they mingle, the flame is able to add some warmth while Foxen softens the alarming shadows from before. And it’s able to propogate its fire.

Auri opened up the flue and set a careful fire with her newfound tanglewood. So fine and dry. All ash and elm and spry hawthorn.

The first of the things given her in the mirror chapter are put to use. The ash collected from the embers of these hardwoods will be used to filter water and make lye. Next time we’ll explore the longest meditation on saponification in modern fantasy.

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