A chapter titled “The Wit and the Skill” follows. It opens with a musing on the place of minstrels in the Six Duchies. It then pivots to Fitz parting from the minstrel family after seeing them to an inn in a small town. After refusing another invitation to join them, Fitz heads off, reflexively noting the state of the town and the gossip to be heard in it. He also watches as a drunk is rebuked forcefully for speaking against the current regime.
As Fitz makes to leave, he is approached by another through the Wit, and he offers help to the man–Black Rolf. Fitz and Nighteyes accompany the Witted man and his own bear companion–Hilda–to Rolf’s home, which he shares with another Witted one–Holly–and her hawk, Sleet. The Witted ones–who express a preference for the term “Old Blood”–welcome them hospitably. They do, however, express concern tending toward disgust at Fitz and Nighteyes, not for their bond but for their youth in building it, and with Fitz’s gaps in memory and prior bondings. They set it aside as done in ignorance and invite Fitz and Nighteyes to stay and learn from them. They also note the current state of affairs to Fitz, cautioning him in his work to kill Regal. And they press him to teach them how the Wit may be used against the Skilled.
Fitz refuses each offer, not to Rolf’s pleasure. Rolf notes that Fitz will return, and Fitz realizes the truth of it as Rolf and Holly speed him on his way.
I am once again struck by the desire to read the novel against current circumstances; it has been something of a refrain in my comments in this reading series, I know, and it is a legitimate area of inquiry to ask what an earlier work continues to say. I am also struck again by the idea of the Wit as a metaphor for homosexuality, as a number of others have been (see here for examples), though I maintain that the metaphor breaks down in later parts of the Elderlings corpus. (It might be argued that the metaphor instantiates the queerness it represents in refusing to remain stable as the narrative progresses, though that is perhaps more metacritical than is necessarily good for me to pursue. I am no longer in academe, after all.)
Strangely, I am struck perhaps most by the names in the chapter, particularly that of the bear, Hilda. Hobb is typically deliberate with naming in the Six Duchies, favoring emblematic names that speak to the character of those who bear them. “Hilda” seems such an oddity in that regard; the resonances that seem to associate with the name, except perhaps for being of a certain size and physical power (though “Bertha” and others work just as well for those), do not seem to line up well. I am perhaps paying too much attention to so minor a character, but, though I am not an academic, I still think as I was trained to, and the out-of-place detail nags at me. A bit.