The Larkin Ledgers

Like an endless chain of half-built houses

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

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It was just as Master Mandrag always said: nine tenths of chemistry was waiting.

The last time she remembered Mandrag she was sealing the pipe in Rubric. That time we didn’t get a direct quote and this time we do. We can expect to see more details, not just her using and appreciating alchemical creations but perhaps making something of her own. And that’s exactly where the text is going.

Last time wan’t exactly free of consequence, though. Even a relatively minor moment of clarity came with acute paranoia and subtle hallucinations. So we should also expect a proportional backlash.

While she’s waiting for her fire, she traipses off to Tree to gather supplies, including the lump of suet she nicked from the barn in the mirror chapter “A QUITE UBCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE.” She also grabs the bowl of nutmegs.

A and E Nutmegs

So strange and rare. So full of faraway. She picked one up and ran her fingertips along its tippled skin.

Out here in the extratextual world, nutmeg was available from only a single island until the nineteenth century. Given the roughly Renaissance setting of The Kingkiller Chronicle, a similar if not identical situation on Temerant probably accounts for the rarity and distance desc.  The choice of “tippled” to describe the outer skin of the seeds is interesting. Casual dictionary delving reveals two definitions, neither of which is really textural.

The first is related to alcohol and its consumption. For a general class of potential intoxicants, this could wit some stretching apply to nutmeg, which can produce myristicin. The other describes a device for overturning freight cars. Again, with a stretch, knowing what’s coming in the text, there’s some reverberation with the end of the chapter. But it’s an odd turn of phrase no matter how one conceives it. And yet it, if you’ve handled nutmeg pits, it seems to saound reasonable.

She retrieves a mortar and pestle from Darkhouse and some other items from Clinks and Tenners. She sets the suet to render and cooks the acorns, also gathered in the paired chapter. After eating them, she grinds the nutmegs in the mortar.

NMortar & Pestleate Taylor created several drawings of the mortar that didn’t make it into the book.  He and Pat were wary of showing too much of Auri, which is why so many of the images feature just her arms or legs. They previewed one such during their Worldbuilders hangout.

Ultimately this one was just too busy. Auri, the mortar, the bowl, the clay cup, the linen sack and the sticks, a bottle, the pot. Two pieces of it survived to become the starker, closer images in the published version.

When she was finished grinding, Auri pulled the copper pot of melted suet off the fire. She stirred. She sieved the dottle off till there was nothing left but hot, sharp tallow.

Dottle is another strange choice of words. There are impurities that separate and rise when rendering that need to be skimmed off. However, dottle appears to refer specifically to “unburned and partially burned tobacco in the bowl of a pipe.” So I’m either not looking in the right place or this is another sidelong glance at intoxicants foreshadowing her upcoming ethnobotanical experience.

She brought the bottle of Esther’s and set it near the fireplace with her tools.

This is Pat reiterating and indulging in the Esther/ester pun from the previous chapter. Esther’s esters will provide the selas scent for her soap. She tries to bring the laurel fruit from her excursion outside since it’s required by the structure of the story, but it won’t fit. For whatever mysterious reason, the Auri won’t be bathing in laurels. Those are for someone else.

It exasperated her, but she knew better than to force the world to bend to her desire.

Oddly enough, she’ll do exactly that with the laurels later. She’ll bend the world just a little for someone else. Like the hair-splitting that allowed her the faerie bread but not the milk, a little reality warping is sometimes justifiable. Just not for herself.

As she gets into the processes, Rothfuss begins to play a bit with the words.  Birch and Ash “make a medley without melding or meddling,” much like the silences in the Prologues and Epilogues of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. Counterpoints, each existing alone but acting together. Hawthorn is sufficiently apetalous to make her blush. The nutmegs are “a cipher and a mystery.”

They’re a code to be unlocked. Hence the unusual descriptors. The mystery is essential to period appropriate alchemical texts, which buried their practices in allegory and code to throw off both persecution and easy proliferation. It’s a sort of metacommentary on the text. That it’s about a seed is doubly funny.

Anyway, having skimmed the tallow she finds it full of rage. Without, forgiving another pun, “laurel to keep it at bay” she needs to draw the animus out. We finally see some hands on alchemy as she takes the pot to a shaft of moonlight in tumbrel and absorbs the anger with a bead of beeswax.

 

A and E Wax

As neat a factoring as ever hand of man had managed.

Kvothe is surrounded by alchemists. His best friend, his creditor, his nemesis, and his companionable sewer urchin are all evoking principles and factoring around him and he knows nothing about it. For someone who prides himself on his own cleverness, he’s leaving himself at a distinct disadvantage.

She takes the copper pot to Tree to cool and extracts a clean white disc. Then she puts the wax bead with all the factored fury in a jar. And she places it on a high shelf in Boundary, breaching the door that’s not for her with neither warning nor comment.

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2 thoughts on “Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part XII.ii ASH AND EMBER

  1. I don’t get the references about hawthorne or the nutmegs. Could you kindly explain them as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever.

  2. The Hawthorn section:

    “Ash and elm and hawthorn. They made a medley without melding or meddling. The ash was proud but not unseemly. The elm was graceful but not inappropriately apetalous, especially for her.
    And the hawthorn . . . well. Auri blushed a bit at that. Suffice to say that apetalous or no, she was still a healthy young lady, and there was such a thing as too much decorum.”

    Apetalous means without petals and some hawthorns don’t have petals. I think that this is getting to the “nekkidness” in other places in the text. Auri seems to be thinking that the flower being without petals is a tad scandalous on their parts. For Hawthorn, she is willing to accept this bareness as it falls within her bounds of decorum.

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