I think this post may contain spoilers for all the books in the series. My apologies if it does. As I said before, I just can’t do the kind of in-depth analysis I want to without a few spoilers.
Like QoA, there is only one myth in The King of Attolia. Unlike QoA, the relationship between the story and the main plot is not apparent; is, in fact, almost deliberately UNapparent to the point of being somewhat frustrating. At the same time, it’s the story which is most integrated with the main text, as Gen is constantly interrupting and disrupting the telling.
The myth is the story of Klimun and Gerosthenes, and it’s told to Gen (and, more incidentally, Costis, from whose point of view we’re seeing this) by Phresine. Phresine, in case you were wondering, is awesome, as everyone at Sounis agrees.
Before the story even starts, Gen interrupts to stipulate that he is “not appearing in this drama.” He doesn’t want to “hear the story about the wayward, self-indulgent boy who learns the error of his ways and grows up to be a model of decorum and never cuts anybody’s head off for spite.” As Phresine tells the story, though, he reacts as if it means something to him, something important which Costis does not understand and, therefore, we do not either. Unlike the myth of Horreon and Hespira, the meaning of the story of Klimun and Gerosthenes is hidden.
There are things we can say about it, however. Remember the thread of the moon’s promises? It reappears here, except that the moon is not giving false promises. She extracts one from Klimun and then holds him to it. Rather than being a symbol for lying and fickleness, she enforces honesty. There’s an interesting connection, which I haven’t quite worked out all the way, with Gen. He’s a liar, but he’s also an honest liar. As Eddis tells Attolia, “I sometimes believe his lies are the truth, but I have never mistaken his truth for a lie.”
Part of this story is about the weight of honesty. Klimun has promised to tell no lies while the moon shines, and this promise binds him, affecting his decisions, his behavior, and his reputation. So does his position as king. So Klimun is bound, as Gen feels he is, by position, by promises.
Except that Klimun is not really bound. Even when he forgets his promise, he is saved by Gerosthenes, his former slave and friend. He himself might be bound, but his friend is free to act. Because of the nature of their relationship, Gerosthenes can hit his king over the head with an amphora without fear of Klimun’s anger. I think what Phresine’s story suggests is that we’re saved by those around us, that in part we’re judged by who our friends are and how we have treated them. If we have inspired loyalty and trust in others, then we can rely on them to remember our promises for us. There’s also the fact that true friendship breaks the bonds of king and slave, or king and guard (or even king and court musician/fop/former rival).
It’s interesting to note that that this is not an Eddisian myth. It comes from Kathodicia, which apparently is a region in Attolia. Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first time we’ve had a non-Eddisian myth (the others may have been told by the magus, but they weren’t directly Sounisian stories). I don’t have a theory about this, but I did notice it.
The other thread that gets picked up is the power of choice. Gerosthenes could have chosen to leave Klimun and go home, but instead he chooses to stay and serve him. The difference between the voluntary and involuntary servitudes is the defining factor in whether he is truly a slave or not. That choice frees him to make other choices, like hitting Klimun with the amphora.
I think I’ve almost talked myself into making some kind of sense out of this myth, which has always been the most puzzling. I’d still love to hear thoughts or suggestions, though!