The next chapter, “Starling,” begins with an encyclopedia-like description of the minstrel before moving into Fitz musing over her keeping Hap away and his own laziness in attending to the upkeep and maintenance of his humble home. When they return, he notes the changes to them and to himself, contrasting them and considering that he needs to see to Hap’s apprenticeship and training. Fitz greets the pair warmly, and Starling returns the warmth, but Hap is standoffish and goes aside; Nighteyes accompanies him as Fitz sees to Starling.
As Starling settles in, she and Fitz confer about his return to Buckkeep, and she marks the changes in him before waxing eloquent on the virtues of urban life and privations of rural; Fitz finds himself musing on might-have-beens, and their talk continues over dinner as Nighteyes reports Hap is well out in the field. Fitz and Starling have sex, and, in the night, Fitz makes his way to where Hap is camping for the night. He stokes the fire and wakes the youth, learning what has him out of sorts; Starling is married, and not to Fitz, and Hap thinks the disjunction between what he has been taught and what he has learned makes a mockery of him. Fitz and Hap confer about the revelation and return to accord, Hap moving on to relate his experience in Buckkeep.
One incident stands out, one in which Hap watched a woman be stoned to death for being possessed of the Wit, the magic that allows communion with animals. Fitz is stunned into silence as Hap continues, relating fears of another war coming. Conversation resumes, and Fitz considers next steps he must take, and he and Nighteyes confer about what they will do together. The wolf notes approaching changes, “like a bigger predator coming into our hunting territory.”
The present chapter and the previous do a fair amount of what early portions of a novel are “supposed” to do; they offer exposition, setting up information about the milieu and major characters within that milieu. In the case of the present series, itself a sequel, there is also the burden of glossing events in the previous series, allowing the present one to stand alone–although it is certainly enriched by reading the earlier novels. (Or consulting a handy rereading guide, perhaps?)
Of particular note is the focus on the opprobrium under which the Wit magic operates. I’ve noted, following others, that the Wit serves as a metaphor for homosexuality (here, here, here, and here, if not elsewhere), and, considering the publication of the novel in the early 2000s, persecution of homosexual people was still a concern. (It remains one even as I write this, although less emphatic of one, for which I am grateful.) As I consider it now, it gets…less comfortable; I’ve heard any number of people argue that permitting homosexual relationships will lead to bestiality, and the Wit trends in that direction, so that the metaphorical connection is…squicky. (This leaves aside furries, of course, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) Admittedly, the metaphor breaks down–in the present series, no less–but still…
Uncomfortable re/reading isn’t bad reading, though. We should have to reconsider things over time. Even if we remain with earlier conclusions, we’re the better off for it.