The chapter that follows,”The Trial,” opens with a description of a coming-of-age ceremony in which Fitz participates. It then shifts to Fitz conferring with Burrich about the upcoming Skill trial, which he is certain to fail due to Galen’s animus; Burrich offers some small comfort, and Fitz tends his animals before sleeping in his bed once again.
The next day sees Fitz report for his trial. He is taken out away from Buckkeep and left near Forge. Fitz immediately grows nervous, and he spends the day waiting apprehensively for either an attack or for the message from Galen he knows will not come. When he falls asleep and dreams, he dreams of an attack upon him and Burrich; he wakes, realizing it was a sending from Smithy through the Wit, and he immediately begins to make his way back to Buckkeep.
As he does so, he tries to puzzle out the attack. His ruminations distract him, and he comes under attack by Forged Ones. He manages to fight his way clear of them, fleeing and, at length, succumbing to exhaustion. When he wakes from it, he resumes his progress toward Buckkeep, finding Red-Ship Raiders making use of Forge for resupply. After tense minutes of hiding, he makes his slow way away, resuming again his return to Buckkeep–and finding himself beset by Forged Ones again.
As the Forged Ones face him, Fitz feels Smithy die through their Wit-connection. In despair and rage, he kills his attackers brutally, dumping their bodies into the sea. Drained, he returns to Buckkeep and immediately calls on Burrich. They have a falling-out over Fitz’s continued use of the Wit, and Fitz falls into a depressed, mechanical routine as Galen’s coterie begins its work. He pushes those in his life away from him, and loses track of Molly until he believes it is too late to resume his relationship with her.
The opening interlude attracts some attention from me. The ceremony described in it–“detailed” would be an overstatement–marks a rite of passage, certainly, and much is made in fiction, generally, and fantasy fiction, particularly, of rites of passage. Such rites generally do receive more overt narrative attention than the Man Ceremony does, though, and I do not recall that the thing pops up elsewhere in the Realm of the Elderlings corpus. (I could be wrong in my failure to recollect, though; getting older hasn’t helped my retention.) But what is revealed in the throwaway passage is an interesting view of masculinity as performed in the Six Duchies, and I have to wonder at its contrasts with what was going on during the writing as well as with what is going on as I read the passage again. I’m not up on the kind of gender construction/performance theory that such explication would need to rely upon, so I’ll not speak to it here–save to note that accepting a choice not to kill and not to offer food to others therefore would not necessarily play well in my part of the world, or a number of others.
As I think on it, I wonder about the rites of passage I’ve gone through. There’ve been enough of them; if nothing else, I’ve been graduated more times than most people, so there’s that. The one at the end of high school marked an ostensible passage into adulthood, but offering entry into one particular community or another…not so much. I am a member of no elite brotherhood, no pseudo-secret society that may or may not stretch back decades or centuries. (Or am I? Muwahahaha!) And I wonder sometimes what it would be like to be so. But it is an idle musing, of little moment.