The next chapter, “Patience,” opens with an in-milieu reflective musing on the Red-Ship raiders before moving into Fitz’s continued encounters with Patience–during which he is ignorant of her identity. In one of them, he is intoxicated although not fully drunk when she finds him; in the next, the next morning, she quizzes him over his learning and finds his responses unsatisfactory.
Burrich returns from a trip and has Fitz report events to him. That, and a tour of the stables, reveals to Burrich that Patience is present, and he relates an anecdote detailing Patience’s eccentricities. He also remarks to Fitz that he does poorly to try to conceal his follies, and adds with some aspersion that Fitz has a talent for attracting attention he should not.
Chade rebukes Fitz similarly later on. The older man then waxes eloquent about Patience’s character and the strange match between her and Chivalry Farseer. He also notes that Patience has sued Shrewd to ensure Fitz’s appropriate education, which Chade sees as a mixed blessing. It does gain them the chance to have Fitz learn the Skill, the ancestral Farseer magic. It had been forbidden to Chade because of his own bastardy, and Fitz guesses–wrongly–that Chade is Shrewd’s son. He is, in fact, Shrewd’s brother.
Fitz’s prospective teacher, Galen, is discussed; reports do not paint a good picture of him. And Fitz lets slip that he talks with the Fool at times before receiving warnings from Chade that Galen hates Fitz utterly, and that Chade cannot see where the instruction in the Skill will take place.
As I read the chapter again, noting a passage wherein Fitz considers the Skill against the Wit in what Burrich had told him, I find myself considering the juxtaposition of the two Hobb sets up. While it is certainly the case that what is reported is not the same as what is, even within Hobb’s texts, there is something to be said about asserting that Wit and Skill are antithetical. There is some sense in it, admittedly; what the novel has shown of the Wit to the present chapter is that it is an innate thing, much as the ability to respond rapidly and with aplomb usually called “wit” is, and the implication that the Skill takes no small amount of training to deploy corresponds there, as well.
The thing is, though, that wit relies for its effectiveness on the respondent having a large base of knowledge from which to draw, both to see connections and from which to formulate responses. Similarly, skill requires a fundamental facility with the thing to be trained. Neither is wholly independent of the other, in the end (and more about the entanglements emerge later in the Elderlings novels). So that dichotomy is frustrated, even from the beginning.
Too, there is the issue of the Wit as metaphor for homosexuality. Again, I think it breaks down as the novels progress, but I begin to see some breakdown even here. If the Skill is the opposite of the Wit, if what is trained is the opposite of what is innate, well, then, what is the opposite of homosexuality? The obvious answer would be heterosexuality, but that does not appear to be quite as constructed as the metaphor would position it as being. A better answer might be asexuality, though I do not believe that to be any more constructed than homo- or heterosexuality is. (Or less, to be fair.) Perhaps celibacy, though that is also…frustrated (if the pun may be forgiven). It’s something to be considered–if the metaphor is to be maintained. It may well not be, though.