The chapter that follows, “Smithy,” opens with a compiled assessment of Patience’s character before shifting to her attempting to instruct Fitz. The efforts go oddly, and Fitz is struck by the visual cacophony of her chambers, but recently occupied. Patience suddenly gives Fitz a puppy, to which he takes an instant liking and by which he is distracted as she continues to quiz him about himself.
Patience dismisses Fitz for the day, and Fitz mulls over what to do with the dog, encountering the Fool along the way. The two confer, first about the dog’s name–which will be Smithy–then about Patience and Chade before the Fool absents himself. Fitz considers Smithy more closely, then, and resumes his lessons. Patience’s attendant, Lacey, urges him to do something to please her, and Fitz ends up painting pictures of Smithy that take her aback. She continues to quiz him, though, and remains dissatisfied with his answers. She realizes, too, how much like his father Fitz is, and is taken with sorrow at his loss.
I am not certain I know what to say about the chapter. It does a fair bit to explain the character of Patience, certainly, but I find the character difficult to understand. That is perhaps my positions of privilege at work, though; I have not suffered what she is reported to have suffered, and my still-too-affective reading sympathizes with her even as it does not allow me to empathize with her. I do take some comfort, though, in the fact that the narrating Fitz is as confused by her behavior as I am, though it is not much; if I am not more perceptive and insightful than an adolescent, being far beyond my own adolescence, I have other problems altogether.
The confusion brings up the issue of engagement, though. I press on with reading because I know it has rewards, even with writing that’s not as good as Hobb’s. I know that many don’t, though, and that encountering confusion in the writing turns people away from it. I’ve had enough students make the comment to me that I cannot help but believe it. My response to them, as it is in many circumstances besides, is that if there is no challenge, there is no reason to improve. That I am challenged, even now, by understanding a character, that tells me I still have room to improve. I have places still to grow, even in what I am supposed to be able to do well. (And, with three degrees in English and years of teaching college English, I ought to be able to read pretty well, right?) Instead of letting that be a rebuke to me, and I could let it be a rebuke to me, I see it as a hopeful sign. There is more for me in what I have long loved, there is more for me to find, and searching for it makes me a better person.
It’s not the only thing, either.