A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 85: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 26

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The following chapter, “Signposts,” opens with comments about relative valuation before moving into the party’s continued travels. Kettricken notes to Fitz that the way will become harder and may force him onto the road; he replies that he can but go forward. Fitz continues to ponder the stone-game puzzle Kettle had put before him, and Starling continues to press Fitz for details about the Fool before asserting the belief that the Fool is a woman enamored of him.

A scene like this is near, perhaps Robin Hobb by Billou343 on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary

Fitz rejects the idea. He also finds himself forced back to the road by a sudden shift in the terrain; Nighteyes helps anchor him in himself, noting some of the distinctions between wild and domesticated animals. Kettle then starts to accompany Fitz, and she sets him to considering the seeming nursery rhyme she had recited at an earlier camp. He realizes that it discusses Skilled ones, and Kettle offers little more before returning to stone-game puzzles. It makes for a slow march through the rest of the day–until Fitz makes to follow a road he sees but that no longer exists, and the rest of the party must save him from himself again.

Kettle frets in the discussion that follows, but the Fool, acting the part of the White Prophet, offers some words of comfort. Kettle allows Fitz to indulge his habit for elfbark, though not nearly so much as he would prepare for himself. As he takes the drug, Kettricken solicits his opinion regarding Verity’s likely course; Kettricken purposes to split the group to search for him, but Fitz persuades her otherwise, aided by Nighteyes. Verity reaches out to him with the Skill, and Fitz once again comforts Kettricken before he is distracted by the call of the Skill once again.

Once again, I found myself having trouble reading and keeping straight in my mind what all happens in the chapter–my earlier comments about such seem still to apply here. And it occurs to me as I think about what I have just read again that there might be some comment to be found in the chapter about the perils of making too close a return to a past that is not a person’s own. Such a comment suggests itself to me, given my training as a medievalist; the whole of the work such folks do is in approaching a past to which we might be heirs but which is not our own. There is always a threat of becoming too lost in the work, as old tropes of absent-minded professors and the partial home lives of many, many scholars can attest. Even now, even after I have left off academe almost entirely, I feel a pull when I do look back into scholarship, and I know that I may still find myself stepping off into space when it seems to me a road still stretches before me–though I trust that there will be hands to pull me back from it.

Too, there is something to be found in Kettle’s grudging permission for Fitz to take a small bit of elfbark. Allowing someone who is addicted to a substance to partake of that substance is a perilous thing; relapses happen, and there is always peril in making chemical modifications to a body. At the same time, there are effects of withdrawal that sometimes make such needed. I have seen clients come into the treatment center where I work who could not simply stop drinking; doing so would kill them. And there are concerns, too, usually associated with painkillers in the real world, that dosing as (should be) prescribed is fine–but the medicines lend themselves to dangerous overindulgence. How much can be taken from the text about such matters is unclear, but there is clearly something there to consider…

If you’ve liked getting this stuff, please help me keep doing it.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 84: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 25

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Strategy,” begins with what seems a nursery rhyme before turning to continued efforts to keep Fitz centered and attentive. The efforts are not entirely successful, and they seem less so because Fitz uses the Wit. That the road they travel is to blame is clear, and that it is a strange and powerful road is also clear. Strangely, amid the discussion of Fitz’s situation, the Fool and Starling arrive at some rapproachement. Nighteyes brings meat with him when he returns, which also helps.

An interesting thing, this.
kettles stone game by AlexBerkley on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

With bellies full and needing to keep Fitz focused, the party takes turns singing and reciting through the evening. Kettle dislikes Fitz’s selection and seems to aim hers at him, though he does not understand why. Kettricken confesses her feelings of failure, and Fitz begins to learn a strange game under Kettle’s tutelage. Kettle avers that it is a game from Buck, though Fitz does not know it. She sets a puzzle in it for Fitz that he takes to sleep with him; Nighteyes gives him the answer to the puzzle, equating the puzzle to a hunting pack.

When Fitz presents the solution, Kettle is surprised at it. She asks him after his Wit-bond with Nighteyes. Starling and the Fool comment after Fitz answers, and the party slowly breaks camp. Fitz is bidden walk, accompanied, beside the road rather than upon it; the Fool goes with him, taking the opportunity to confer about Kettle and try to puzzle her out. That afternoon, Starling succeeds the Fool and inquires about the Fool’s history–particularly the romantic history. That evening, Kettle puts Fitz to another puzzle; he does not come to an answer before joining Nighteyes in a nighttime romp and sleeping deeply until morning.

The stone game Kettle presents to Fitz is a point of particular interest, not only in the chapter (where it occupies a fair bit of the text, as well as of the narrating protagonist’s attention), but also in terms of worldbuilding. All fiction depends for its effectiveness on what Coleridge calls the “willing suspension of disbelief,” the audience’s gracious acceptance that, within the fictional milieu presented, the actions presented can happen as they are shown and should happen as they are shown. In “On Fairy-stories,” Tolkien can be paraphrased as asserting that the willingness to suspend disbelief is aided by the closer correspondence of the fictional world to that of the audience; Hobb herself reaffirms such an opinion, noting in “5000 Words about Myself” that “I think the best way to convince a reader that I know what I’m talking about when I recount the habits of dragons is to know what I’m talking about when I recount the details of raising chickens or putting a roof on a house.” And while it is the case that the rules of the stone-game are glossed over in the text, the mere presence of that game is itself a detail enhancing the text’s verisimilitude.

It does so in that it points out the presence of recreational activities among the people of the Six Duchies. Admittedly, Hobb motions to such things earlier in the series; there are scenes of drinking and various kinds of gambling, as well as the depravities of Regal’s gladiatorial contests. But having someone take a table game along on an expedition into mountains bespeaks an attachment to such things that does not often feature in Tolkienian-tradition fantasy literature; it is difficult to imagine hobbits carrying dice or cards with them as they traipse about Endor, for example. But people in the real world often do so, perhaps more easily in the era of smartphones than previously, but not without earlier parallels.

Too, the stone-game is a valorization of play, more generally. More than anything else the traveling party has available to it, the game serves to keep Fitz grounded in the real and present, rather than being swept away by the magic that surrounds them. It may seem somewhat paradoxical to have a game–inherently a distraction from immediate concerns–serve as an anchor in the real, but there are no few who note the utility of play to daily life and work. (This bit comes to mind. There are others.) And maybe more folks could stand to have a little more enjoyment of such things.

Help end the drought of March and flood my coffers?

A Rumination on Tolkien

I do not often write in this webspace–or, indeed, many others–on Tolkien. Though I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings early on in my life, and though I have read a fair bit of the supplementary materials and criticism (not least in support of my abortive academic efforts, such as this), I know better than to call myself an expert on the matter. I am happy to contribute from time to time, happy to be of some help, but more than that generally exceeds me.

Not something I want to approach, even on this anniversary of their fall
The Gates of Barad Dur by CurtissShaffer on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

From time to time, however, I do feel obliged to comment, and commemorations of events suggest themselves as such times. And it remains true that a lot of what I do has its basis in Tolkien. The Fedwren Project (which I know I need to update) has its origins in an annotated bibliography I did on Tolkien scholarship early in my graduate study; it was through that project that I became convinced I could do annotative work such as I have done for the New Chaucer Society. The Tales after Tolkien Society is particularly overt in its grounding in Middle-earth, I think, and if its focus is generally on appropriations of the medieval, it does not seldom turn to medievalism for its references–and that often means going back to or through Tolkien.

None of that means I ignore the problems that are in the texts (and about which I make some comment to Luke Shelton in a piece linked above) or in the person who wrote them. Tolkien is one of many problematic writers–even Hobb, about whom I do most, has issues with which I take issue–and it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the areas in which he–they all–we all–can do better. I know I do not do enough to address them, either, and I do wonder at times if I ought to stop entirely, to divest myself of my copies of the relevant texts and expunge overt and intentionally covert references to them from my writing and speech moving forward. I know it would be an impossible overreaction, given the perniciousness of flaw and wrongness in the world–but there are many ways in which I remain far less than I ought to be.

For all those problems, though, there is much to commend. At one level, Tolkien has gotten a lot of people to read a lot of words from a lot of pages, and getting people to read is good, in the aggregate. His works have also shown people or reaffirmed to them that it is okay to do “weird” things, to step outside of expectation, at least a bit–and that, too, is good in the aggregate. And they seem to have become canon or to have moved toward that status, insofar as such a thing can be anymore, and in forming the basis of a system of commonly understood reference, they serve to bring together people who might otherwise not have interacted–not always pleasantly, to be certain, but often well and usefully and joyfully, and that is far from without merit.

One post to rule them all, one post to find them, one post to get your coins and in my pockets bind them, perhaps?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 83: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 24

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “The Skill Road,” begins with a brief musing on the source of magic before turning to the slow progress of Kettricken’s party as it tries to reach Verity. Despite a lack of sign, they press on until Nighteyes reports a road to Fitz through the Wit. Nighteyes mislikes the road, and Fitz finds himself strangely reluctant to step upon it; there is something clearly uncanny about it.

Forest Road Winter View Background
Something like this, perhaps?
Forest Road Winter Wallpaper from Wallpaper Stream, here, and used for commentary

When Fitz does take to the road, despite Nighteyes’s warnings, he finds himself drifting amid the Skill, proceeding slowly enough for the elderly Kettle to keep up with him. She tries to retain his attention, not entirely successfully, and she objects strenuously when the party thinks to make camp in the long-abandoned path. The objection is heeded, and the group camps off of the road–but the road continues to command Fitz’s attention, distracting him even from his bond with Nighteyes. It is evidently made with the Skill, and it tells upon Fitz more than upon all the rest of the party.

Conversation reveals that Kettle knows more than she tells, and the party adjusts its routine as a storm encompasses them. The Skill continues to encompass Fitz, and he sees visions of those he loves–focusing on Molly and Burrich most. Verity intercedes with him, then, forcing him back to himself and leaving him despondent.

I admit to having a bit of trouble reading the chapter as I reread it for this write-up. I found my own attention drifting away from the page. Whether that is a result of overly affective reading or outside concerns producing distractions is not clear–but the confusion I felt could well mark a bit of particularly good writing amid the consistently fine work in the novel. Fitz is distracted, and it is Fitz’s perspective that drives the novel, so leading the reader into the same kind of confusion that besets Fitz as he confronts, unexpectedly, something made of and seething with the power with which he has struggled for some time is a good move to make.

That has been one of the things I have prized about Hobb’s writing since I began reading it some decades ago, now. (It remains strange to me to be able to say such a thing honestly. I guess I am not yet quite as old as I often feel.) I have been able to lose myself in Hobb’s writing no few times, and, even now, I can be swept up in it as surely as if it were a Skill-road. I may not make the kind of open reference to it that I do to Tolkien or Asimov or Roddenberry’s work, largely because I know it is not as widely known and so not as useful as a means to get a point across, but that does not mean I do not value it, now no less than before.

Help me recover from taking my daughter on her first Spring Break trip?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 82: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 23

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “The Mountains,” opens with a gloss of the legended early history of the Mountain Kingdom. It moves thence to Fitz’s account of how Kettricken supplied her intended expedition to find Verity–or his fate. Starling will accompany them; Chade will not, but must return to Buck. He leaves gifts for his sullen former pupil, about which Fitz complains somewhat when the Fool presents them; the Fool forces Fitz to consider Chade’s perspective on things, as well.

Perhaps this is when they confer…
drawing 17 from Fitz and the Fool coloring book by AlexBerkley on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

The Fool also offhandedly notes an intent to accompany Fitz, despite the cold and peril. Kettle is more pointed in her assertion that she will also go along. But they are rushed to depart by news of a messenger from Regal that has asked for a goodwill gesture to deescalate hostilities: the return of the fugitive Fitz. And they depart in that haste, taking the already-packed supplies, but themselves and no others; Starling catches up slightly after, somewhat angry, but quickly silenced by Kettricken’s terse manner. When Nighteyes rejoins them somewhat later, he notes that Kettle is following, slowly but in high dudgeon; when, at length, she arrives, she and Kettricken quickly arrive at what seems a prickly understanding.

They proceed thus for several days until Kettricken queries Fitz about Verity’s likely earlier actions. When she asks him to reach out to Verity through the Skill, he refuses, citing the danger posed by Regal’s Skilled servants and their abilities. He also notes their likely earlier interference in the defense of the Six Duchies, which rouses cold ire in Kettricken. And he feels the powerful pull of the Skill upon him, more than is normal for him.

I have argued before that the Realm of the Elderlings, despite clear parallels to the Tolkienian-tradition fantasy milieu of an analogue to the Western Europe of the High Middle Ages, reads better as derived from North America. Part of the argument has to do with the fauna described in the region. The present chapter amends that conclusion somewhat; the Realm of the Elderlings borrows from the Americas more generally, though the emphasis remains on the Pacific Northwest for reasons I elaborate on in Fantasy and Science Fiction Medievalisms.

The amendment comes in the form of the jeppas, the beasts of burden Kettricken determines to employ despite Fitz’s objections. They are described as like “long-necked goats with paws instead of hooves,” a description that brings to mind the llama. Domesticated animals used primarily to haul some loads up the steep slopes of the Andes, yielding hair and, at need, meat, they seem to be a solid parallel to the jeppas–something that ties the milieu more to the Western Hemisphere than the Eastern, even if they are somewhat displaced even within that analogy. Still, it is a bit more a remove from the Tolkienian tradition, a bit more an association with not-as-commonly-depicted-in-fantasy places, and that is and remains good to see.

Imaginings should be broad.

Help me show nice things to my daughter on her first Spring Break trip?

In Still Another Response to Eric Weiskott

On 21 February 2020, Eric Weiskott’s “tyrannical curriculum” appeared on his website. In the piece, Weiskott opines about the integration of teaching and research and the ways in which curricular structures and research demands combine to focus scholars’ attentions. Such focus skews research and understanding of individual works and the contexts from which those works arise, limiting prevailing knowledge of how things have been. He remarks on the ways in which his own privileged position within academe, as tenured faculty at an elite institution, allows him some limited circumvention of such constraints, but Weiskott also notes that the constraints still obtain in academe, generally, hindering no few potential endeavors. He motions towards some small way to alter circumstances, but he concludes with the idea that a lack of care by those outside medieval studies all but guarantees that such alterations will not take hold.

File:Geoffrey Chaucer (17th century).jpg
The unintended tyrant?
Anonymous Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, British Poet and Comptroller of Customs (circa 1340 -1400), which I am told is public domain and is used here for commentary

I’ve written in response to Weiskott before (here, here, and here), and I continue to respect and appreciate the man’s work. His students are lucky to have him, and his peers are, too. And I am generally in agreement with what he puts in the present blog piece. I have been shaped by curricular standards, certainly, as have been the students I have had in my classes–though I did make efforts, when I taught classes that would admit of them, to cross at least the periodical boundaries Weiskott mentions. My own work with the Tales after Tolkien Society being what it is, I could hardly do otherwise than to make the attempt.

I find that the discussion in which Weiskott participates through the article–if perhaps not overtly–is one worth having, pointing out that curricular decisions are always political ones. Propping up the Greatest of Geoffreys as a standard-reference author, or holding up Shakespeare or Milton as the other members of a putative holy trinity of English-language literature, or including Beowulf or Malory among a somewhat broader pantheon, or any such thing serves to indicate to people that “the educated” know those things–and, because they receive institutional support, they should know those things. It is a vision of what a populace should be, and embodiment of that vision is used as a stand-in for personal value (or at least as a veneer for the “real” personal value of how much money a person has or makes). And it is a vision that is imposed on people by others, not always others whom they choose; it is a vision that reflects ideologies that are themselves shaped by similar, earlier influences on the people who hold them.

There is some value in a canon, certainly. Having a common body of reference eases understanding and comprehensibility; having access to the reference helps people get the joke, and the world can damn well use more laughter. But having a common body of reference is also necessarily exclusionary; there is only so much that can be included, because we do not, as Marvell reminds us, have world enough and time to do it all. What gets kept out matters as much as what gets kept in, and those who have been excluded are likely to continue to be so as long as the conditions towards which Weiskott gestures remain in place. And I think Weiskott is correct to be pessimistic about the prospect of things opening up.

I’d like to keep doing this. Please help me do it.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 81: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 22

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

The next chapter, “Departure,” opens with a description of Chade that paints him as something of a folk-hero emerging from the Red-Ship Wars. It moves to a particularly embarrassing episode for Fitz, one in which he learns more about why he had been considered dead by those who had known him best. Fitz is also warned about Kettricken, whom he is set to face the next day.

No, she doesn’t seem happy…
Kettricken by GerdElise on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary.

In the night, Fitz dreams strange dreams, in which he joins Verity. Fitz is taken aback by the appearance of his king, and he watches in horror as Verity plunges his arms into a flow of magic power. Verity uses Fitz to pull himself back from the power, and he pleads once again for Fitz to come to him, to aid him against those who oppose him. The dream sends him into a seizure, for which he is treated by those around him with elfbark.

Fitz rises the next morning and bathes. In the wake of the dream, his anger is gone, and he struggles to comprehend what transpired. When he returns to the Fool’s hut to dress for his audience with Kettricken, the Fool informs him that his identity is not widely known in Jhaampe, and he voices curiosity about Kettle. The two proceed to call upon Kettricken, and the Fool finds a place quickly; FItz is made to wait, growing markedly uncomfortable.

When, at length, Fitz is asked to speak, it is sharply and without affection. He reports events from before his imprisonment, moving forward, describing his deeds and misdeeds along the way. Kettricken informs him of her purpose to summon Molly and his child to Jhaampe to preserve the Farseer lineage; Fitz objects, noting Verity’s life and the possibility of another child coming from them, but Kettricken is not satisfied with the report. Fitz notes, too, that he will seek Verity, regardless; he is compelled to that end.

In the description of the Skill-river Fitz sees through Verity, Hobb makes a compelling case for the utter incomprehensibility of magic. I know that one of the things Hobb takes pains to do in her fiction is to make the fantastical elements emerge organically from a solidly realized milieu, so it makes sense that the utter strangeness of a source of magical power, something that has no real analogue in the readers’ world, would need some attention and focus. There is a strong thread of such attention in fantastic fiction; Lovecraftian works, with their impossible geometries, are perhaps the most prominent examples, but they are not the only ones. Hobb does better than Lovecraft, however, acknowledging the incomprehensibility of it while not relying overmuch on less accessible vocabulary; “otherness” generally seems more at home in literary theory than in fantasy fiction, but it is at least not the repeated squamous eldritch. So there is that.

Help me take my daughter on her first Spring Break trip?


A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 80: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 21

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Confrontations,” opens with a brief musing on diplomacy. It transitions to Fitz’s convalescence amid the Fool having to handle those who seek to approach him as a sort of religious figure–and Starling, whom he rebuffs adroitly.

It’s a chilling image…
The White Prophet by Michelle Tolo (Manweri) on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

Amid the disjointed conversations, Fitz learns that Kettricken knows of his daughter and is moving towards legitimizing her as a Farseer heir. Fitz lies to the Fool to disclaim the child in the interest of preserving her from the internecine politics of the family. He determines to see Chade and Kettricken, though with regrets.

Fitz dreams strangely and wakes at least once to see Kettle watching him. He wakes later at Starling’s intrusion, and he learns that Starling has seen Kettricken and told her of Fitz’s child. Fitz’s lie to the Fool comes unraveled, but following the implications of the unraveling is interrupted by the entrance of Kettricken in anger. Chade enters also, and is overjoyed to see Fitz alive. Fitz has to challenge him over the child, however, and Chade replies as he must. Nighteyes inserts himself and offers through the Wit to kill the lot of them, and Fitz, overwhelmed, confesses his compulsion to go to Verity. All save the Fool, whose house it is, leave.

After more odd dreaming, Fitz wakes under the Fool’s care again. They talk together, not entirely comfortably in the wake of Fitz’s lie. Fitz apologizes as best he can, and the Fool lays out what he knows and has reasoned out of the situation. The Fool also lays out some of his prophetic powers reasonably plainly.

The next day sees Fitz suffer having the arrowhead removed from his back. His convalescence continues, perforce, and slowly; he uses it as an excuse to delay doing what he knows he must. He also reconciles with the Fool, as well as handling visits from Starling and Kettle; during a visit form Starling, he learns a fair bit about Chade’s activities. Thoughts of what will come beset him, and it is clear he is not yet recovered.

As I reread the chapter, I find myself amused by the way in which the Fool lampshades existence within a world governed by fate–and a world in which prophecy is possible is one that is thus governed. The wry humor in the Fool turning to puppet-making seems in line with the Fool’s literary antecedents, certainly, and something that fan-artists such as Michelle Tolo, above, take advantage of in their depictions of the Fool. It is an easy enough image to access and understand, that of being puppets on strings, even if it begs the question of who pulls those strings. (Hobb’s treatment of religion in the Elderlings corpus is something about which I spoke at the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies; I imagine I’ll be working on that paper a bit more as I move further through the reread–and, indeed, working on the conference paper helped spur the project.)

Another note, though: Chade’s cruelty. I have noted before the unsettling expectation of loyalty to an oath that passes beyond death. To have it reaffirmed and reinforced…it is not a comfortable thought.

Now, as ever, I can use your support.

A Bit More on Leaving Academe

I‘ve made it clear, I think, that I’m out of academe at this point almost entirely. (This and this are perhaps the easiest examples. They are not the only ones.) I have given up working at the front of the classroom (note this, this, and this), and I have sharply tapered off the tutoring work I was doing as yet another supplement to my income. I do remain engaged in some low-level scholarship and commentary, as evidenced here and present in the papers I still present at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. There are one or two things I am told are in process, that are going to find publication at some indeterminate point, but all of that is comparatively minor stuff. I do not have a book in press, and I do not have an academic one in draft. Nor yet am I likely to have such anytime soon, if ever again.

Journal and Pen
This is the kind of writing I do most now. I think. Maybe.

I know this, I have stated it openly and repeatedly on multiple platforms. Yet many of those same platforms have begun in recent weeks (as of this writing, which is happening well before its publication) to show me ads about teaching products and practices, to offer me connections to people who are still engaged in the academic world–far more than did while I was doing such things as drafting classroom reports and commenting directly on others’ remarks about classroom concerns and practices. And I am confused by this (as well as mildly annoyed, I must admit).

Part of me wants to think that, because the body of writing I have done online thus far focuses in large part on what happened in and around my classrooms, that the advertising algorithms that continue to infiltrate life are picking up my work and sending materials my way as a result–though why I am getting them more now than when I was in the work confuses me. If the ads are improving their reach, they are demonstrating less understanding; “not” and “no” are hardly hard words to find or interpret.

The same concern applies if it is simply a matter of my writing having broader audiences now than previously (and I would be happy to find it so!); missing the negative is a problem in language as much as in mathematics. And if it is because I continue to associate with academics online…yes, I think the same concern still applies.

I have to wonder, though, if my online presence provoking more materials about education reflects some part of my psyche of which I am aware and against which I struggle. I did spend a damned lot of time and am spending a damned lot of money (thank you, student loans) learning (badly, in the event) how to be a teacher; I spent no few years working at making the classroom my profession. I have realized I was wrong to do so, that I do not belong at the front of the room and that I was damaged or warped or perverted (and not in the ways I think might be fun) by being in the seats in it, but I am not immune to the sunk cost fallacy. Part of me still thinks about returning to the work, even though I know, I know it would be a bad idea.

If the algorithms are responding to that…I think I have to worry. And I think I may not be alone.

Care to support my ongoing efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 79: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 20

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The following chapter, “Jhaampe,” opens with a description of the titular city, one familiar from earlier. It passes after to Fitz proceeding deliriously under Nighteyes’s guidance to a dimly glimpsed figure who takes him.

I was wondering when we’d get here…
Awakening by Atrika on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

Fitz wakes intermittently as the figure who took him and others tend to his injuries, which range to frostbite in addition to the arrow wound and overall fatigue and ill treatment. As Fitz assesses himself and returns to his senses, he asks about his situation. He recognizes the Fool as he slips back out of and into consciousness, and the two exchange tidings as best they are able at the time. Among those tidings is that the child Kettricken had carried when she fled Buckkeep was stillborn, and she has mourned Verity as dead, but the Fool notes that Fitz’s emergence has provided new hope to him. Chade has been at work, as has Patience, but matters remain grim, and there has been no sign of Starling or of Kettle that the Fool knows of.

Fitz asks the Fool not to report his survival to Kettricken or Chade. The Fool reluctantly agrees, and the two begin to fall back into their old amity and ease, despite the pain.

In the chapter, the Fool makes one of his wryer comments about Fitz in response to being addressed as a revered figure: “‘Holy one?’ There was bitter humor in [the Fool’s] voice. ‘If you would speak of holes, you should speak of him, not me. Here, look at his back.'” There is a part of me, one steeped in the humorous writings of the past, one that looks for sometimes-subtle bits of wordplay such as this, that wonders if the previous chapter’s action, hunting and shooting Fitz, was plotted out for no other purpose than to make the pun in the Fool’s comment. Hobb borrows from Asimov throughout the series, as noted here, and Asimov several times wrote pieces specifically to put puns across–such stories as “About Nothing,” “Death of a Foy,” and “Sure Thing” in The Winds of Change and Other Stories come to mind as examples–so it is not outside the realm of possibility that another such borrowing has taken place in the present chapter. Whether intended or not, it does seem a useful setup for such a joke.

More broadly, I’ve argued that Hobb borrows freely from fools in Shakespeare in informing her own Fool, and the kind of word-play evidenced by the Fool in the present example is decidedly present in Shakespeare, both from “fools” and from other jokesters. Mercutio’s comment that calling on him the day after he is stabbed will find him “a grave man” is but one easily accessed example, while no few of Benedick’s remarks in Much Ado about Nothing are of similar sort, and even Othello‘s Iago expounds similarly. It may seem a strange thing to have the kind of pun at work that is at work in the chapter, but if it is strange, it is a strangeness with no small precedent.

Don’t joke around; send a little my way!