Interesting observations about the appearances of the valise throughout “S.”
S. “Remembers” the Valise
He pounces on the few images that come to mind—a black sheep on a green hillside; a trout on a hook, dripping and jerking and flopping; a cold, dark room with a valise on the floor at its center; a coop full of burbling, pacing pigeons; a wall of fog rushing down a dark street. (p40)
Before the valise ever makes its first appearance, S. has a vague memory of it after being shanghaied. He is in his little room on the ship. grasping to remember his identity. The five memories, if arranged in the form of a quincunx, would have the snapshot of the valise in its center.
Stenfalk’s Valise Makes its First Appearance
Stenfalk reaches up to the dais and drags a small, worn-looking valise toward himself. S. notices Ostrero and Pfeifer exchanging a look of uncertainty as Stenfalk unbuckles and opens it. Out from the valise comes a rumpled and stained shirt, which Stenfalk hands to S. (p85)
The valise is resting on the dais – the same dais where S. first noticed Stenfalk and Corbeau, shoulder to shoulder, attempting to keep the crowd calm (p95-96). S. comments that this scene is an unexpected intimacy. The first thing to come out of the valise is a rumpled and stained shirt, which Stenfalk provides to S. Stenfalk also removes a well-worn gray suit jacket and hands it to S. Stenfalk’s friends act surprised, but he responds You don’t let a man catch his death of cold. No matter who he is or isn’t.
Later, as Corbeau and S. find themselves pinned down by the brown coats, Corbeau remembers that the S. symbol is on Stenfalk’s valise.
Stenfalk’s Valise Contains Supplies for their Wilderness Flight
On p127-130, our five friends S., Stenfalk, Corbeau, Ostrero, and Pfeifer are preparing to make a secret run through the forest to the city of G– to escape those who believe the bombing of B– was their fault. Stenfalk takes his turn slipping out of Zapadi’s house, and walks away. S. watches him through the shutters, and has a sense as he does so that he is missing something in the scene that he ought to notice. It is only later, as S. leaves, that we discover that what he failed to notice was the two S. symbols cut into the scrollwork on the shutters. S. notices the symbols while he is holding hands with Corbeau.
For some reason it is important that we see the valise literally encased in two mirror images of the symbol S.
Stenfalk’s Valise Sits in His Lap as He Sits Under a White Oak
On p138, the five friends meet again in the forest. We spot Stenfalk sitting under a white oak with the valise in his lap. This is an important clue. Notice in the marginalia on p139, Jen circles the word fox and comments that Fox is the guide and maker of paths in “White Oak.”
Jen is referring to the White Oak Chronicles – children’s stories written by Straka candidate Torsten Ekstrom. (See the list of Straka candidates on the EOTVOS wheel site). In addition, the name Ekstrom means Oak (Ek) River (strom).
Stenfalk is now clearly identified with Torsten Ekstrom. Does this tell us something about Stenfalk’s valise?
Stenfalk’s Valise Highlighted at the Moment the Black Vine Makes its First Appearance
On p154, Stenfalk is seized by a coughing fit and the others begin to notice that something is wrong with the air and the water. Stenalk is white-knuckling the handle of the valise. We find out later that this is their first encounter with the Black Vine – the mysterious and deadly weapon of Vevoda formed from substance that he mines from the earth.
Stenfalk’s Valise is Left at the Base of the Limestone Wall
On p163, Stenfalk and S. are the last two to make the ascent up the limestone wall to escape Vevoda’s detectives. S. says I’ll carry the valise when we go up. Instead, though, we discover later that S. forgets the valise while concentrating on helping Stenfalk make the difficult climb and in the exciting news that a cave has been discovered.
The valise sits at the base of the limestone wall, and surely will be seen by the detectives. Or will it?
S. Remembers that He Left the Valise at the Base of the Limestone Wall
On p170-172, we see S. awake in the cave to realize that he left the valise outside in plain sight. Though he is mortified by his mistake, he is also groggy from his long flight and slips back into sleep. In the morning, when he awakes, Stenfalk is gone and S. believes it is so that he can retrieve the valise. When the group looks outside, the detectives are talking with Stenfalk. S. notices, surprisingly, that neither Stenfalk nor the detectives appear to have the valise.
Corbeau Remembers that the S. Symbol was on Stenfalk’s Valise
Of the five fleeing friends, only two remain – Corbeau and S. These two are now pinned down at the end of a long tunnel that leads to an opening high above the crashing waves of the ocean. S. has just seen the S. symbol painted on the cave walls (p191). He sees this symbol while holding Corbeau in his arms. S. points out the symbol to Corbeau and asks if she has seen it. She thinks it is familiar, but cannot quite place it. The pair then run along a S-curve in the tunnel (p194) and arrive and the opening. It is here that Corbeau remembers that the symbol was on Stenfalk’s valise.
Just before Corbeau announces her memory, S. realizes that they cannot attempt their escape down what appears to be a makeshift stairway cut into the rock face. To try would be to plunge. It’s that simple (p195). This resonates with S.’s thoughts after they slam into the water. The way out was down. Is down.
There is a big clue here. This also aligns with FXC’s handwritten letter to Eric and Jen, the insert between p416-417. Her final words are…
It is my fondest wish
that this note finds you both
happy, healthy, and falling.
S. Receives the Valise from Abdim in El H–
The entire purpose of the chapter A Sleeping Dog appears to be a journey to El H– so that S. can get his valise.
The details surrounding this acquisition are so filled with interesting connections that there is an entirely separate post devoted to it: Whatever the Case May Be – Part 1, which includes a connection to a mysterious tweet by Doug Dorst.
One interesting detail is that S. believes the valise may very well be Stenfalk’s, but he isn’t sure.
Someone Attempts to Kill S. and Steal the Valise
On p253-256, we see that S.’s guide, Osfour, has been killed by a sniper. Another assassin attacks S., sending the valise spinning and its contents spilling into the street. Just before S. succumbs, he manages to fight back and actually kill his attacker – using his poison pen for the first time. Someone else appears, gathers up the contents of the valise, and hands it back to S (p256). S. notices long hair hidden beneath the checheya. He later comes to the conclusion that this was Sola (p257).
Sola ensured that S. made it out of El H– with the valise.
S. Contemplates the Contents of the Valise
In the Chapter The Obsidian Island, between pages 260-274, S. examines the contents of the valise. He comes to the conclusion – based on the 57 pictures of men and women loyal to Vevoda that exist alongside apparent poisons, darts, instructions, and a pen with a sharpened nib – that his job is to be an assassin. It is important to note that nowhere is S. told what to do – he concludes that this is what he is being forced to do.
S. Uses the Valise to Become an Assassin
During the entire chapter Interlude: Toccata and Fugue in Real Time, we see that S. goes through a repeated pattern. He writes in the orlop, hears Maelstrom’s whistle that soon they will reach land, descends into his cabin to plot the next killing, removes the stitches from his mouth, takes his valise and disembarks to take another life (p306-307).
It is worth noting that this entire chapter takes approximately 23 years of S’s life. The first assassination (of Agent #4) takes place on June 28, 1914. The last, of Agent #2, takes place no earlier than 1937 – the first year Cord 810’s were manufactured.
S. Takes the Valise to the Territory to Kill the Governor
S. meets Waqar and Anca, and the valise is stowed beneath the fishing net of their small boat (p335). Later, S. himself must hide beneath the net, struggling to keep the valise from jutting into his bad hip (p336). Then he disembarks on the wooded shoreline far below the Governor’s mansion with the valise (p351-352). He takes what he needs, and then hides the valise in the hollowed trunk of a dying possomwood (p353). We do not see the valise again until Sola gives it back in The Winter City.
The possumwood tree is also called Monkey No Climb because of the sharp spikes that jut out of the bark.
It is very interesting that S. stows his valise in Monkey No Climb at the very moment he is attempting to Follow the Monkey.
S. Gets the Valise Back in The Winter City – at the Home of Arquimedes De Sobreiro
After a sojourn of unknown length in The Winter City, Sola finds S. and invites him to come to flat on the ninth floor. S. discovers a plaque on the sidewalk below that Sobreiro fell and died from this building (p387). After meeting Sola on the 9th floor, he discovers that Sobreiro lived and died here. S. even hears voices that may be Sobreiro’s final words and scream as he falls (p388).
While talking with Sola in the empty flat, S. watches her go to the closet door, open it, and retrieve his valise. S. then realizes that Sola really was in The Territory, and that she must have removed the valise from the possumwood (p392).
S. then clutches the valise as he “walks on water” over the ice and back to the ship. A question of trust. Or faith. (p392-393)
S. Takes the Valise to Assassinate Vevoda and His Associates – But Doesn’t
In the final chapter, a crew member of the ship helps lash the valise to S.’s back with ropes in preparation for the long ascent through the dry well to Vevoda’s chateau (p415-416). As they climb, S. thinks to himself that he should have checked the valise’s contents more carefully. Sola hears his thoughts and the discussion turns towards S.’s faith in Sola – his trust in her. It is here, as S. and Sola and the valise are all touching each other as they climb, that Sola says something important…
Listen. We are we, and we have been we for a long, long time. And in that way, I am you. (p419)
Our last glimpse of the valise is on p434. S. has just come to a conclusion: he has a choice in the act he is about to commit. He makes the choice not to kill the evil with poison, but to expose it with truth. He carefully selects the potion Avis veritatis (which means “bird of truth”) and ensures that the crowd of a thousand people all get a healthy dose – including Vevoda’s heir. The truth spoken in his speech earns him a bullet from someone in the crowd – probably an Agent.
We never see the valise again. We don’t need to. S. It’s purpose has been fulfilled.
The final appearance of the valise shows S. making a choice that goes against the implications of the people, things, and circumstances around him. It is no coincidence that the first appearance of the valise does the same – when Stenfalk goes against the paranoia and anger of his friends and gives S. a shirt and jacket to protect him from the cold.
Does the valise represent choice? That we all have the ability to treat others with kindness and truth rather than evil and harm – even when the evil is so great that it seems to warrant it? I think it just might.