The following chapter, “Smugglers,” opens with a brief comment about minstrels’ social status in the Six Duchies before moving to Starling’s return to her lodgings, where Fitz has elected to spend the night. Fitz soon absents himself, bathing and taking stock of his situation. It is not to his liking, but he recognizes he has no choice in the matter.
Returning to Starling, Fitz allows her to reshape his hair and beard in the interest of making him less immediately recognizable by members of his former caravan in the town. He is pleased with the result, and he accompanies Starling as she makes for the smugglers. She tells Fitz that they will be accompanying a group of pilgrims who had been delayed in reaching the Mountain Kingdom by Regal’s embargoes.
At length, they reach the smugglers and begin to dicker over the terms of their passage. They eventually strike a deal, and Fitz and Starling overnight at the smuggler’s house. They share a bed but no intimacy, and Fitz soon finds himself dreaming of Molly. He sees her invite Burrich into her home more fully–and he sees a wolf running alone across the fields.
It is interesting to note in the present chapter ways in which Fitz’s upbringing continues to hamper him when he is removed from the social circles of that upbringing. Some of that hampering is to be expected, of course; few do well in situations for which they are unprepared, and moving through different social groups generally brings a person into situations for which they are unprepared. My own experience bears it out; I was raised as a working-class Central Texan (with some caveats, to be sure), so I had several culture shocks when I moved for graduate school and a couple of times afterward. Now that I’m back in the Hill Country, I find myself operating in different social circles than my parents, and I am not always at ease in them. I misstep repeatedly, just as Fitz does in dealing with the smugglers–for which Starling rebukes him, if quietly.
It is another instance of me reading affectively, another instance of me reading in ways my training in graduate school would scorn, I admit. I should be looking at the chapter through one theoretical lens or another, even if so simple a lens as that of reception studies, which I employ elsewhere. There are political commentaries to be found in the chapter, certainly, and any number of other analyses could be done, I’m certain. I might even still have the necessary equipment to conduct some of them. But as I am further and further removed from the search for tenure-track work, as I am further and further away from the classroom, I find such readings less and less compelling. This is not to say they are not of value; they are, illuminating texts in ways that do not appear to causal discourse and revealing things about writers and readers and the contexts in which they are enmeshed that can be used to effect. That they are, though, does not mean I am the person to perform them–and I may never have been, despite my earlier work to that end.