This is a phrase
found in the book Wheels Within Wheels
, by F. Paul Wilson
. It was used by the Vanek
: half human
, half alien
creatures who live on the planet Jebinose
According to legend, there was a Vanek philosopher who had the entire universe figured out: it was an intricate system of wheels within wheels within wheels, and so on. It was very fatalistic, and this philosopher came to see the reply, "Wheels within wheels, Bendreth" as an adequate response for any question, and a witty comment to inject into a conversation as well. "Bendreth" is a Vanek word meaning, roughly, "Sir or Madam", and the Vanek use it a lot. It's part of their all purpose answer.
Back in the days when the Vanek were a pretty barbaric bunch, the king invited this eminent philosopher to a banquet, during which he said his favorite phrase literally hundreds of times. At length the king became so annoyed that he took the philosopher's bowl and hit the philosopher over the head with it, killing him. In honor of this, Vanek beg on the streets as part of their religion, using bowls that have been broken and glued back together again.
The Vanek still consider this phrase to be an answer to most questions, and they say it often. Fortunately they don't say it often enough to incite any more bowl-based violence toward them.