The following chapter, “Partings,” begins with “cited” commentary on the Wit before moving to Fitz watching as Hap falls asleep at the fireside. Leaving Nighteyes with the boy, Fitz returns to his cottage, musing over his arrival at his present life from the Cleansing of Buck and the reintroduction of Starling into it amid assignations. He contemplates the looming finality of their relationship, as his own codes will not permit him to knowingly cuckold another. Starling does not take the news well, seeing rebuke–to some degree rightly–in it.
Starling also lets slip that she had known Chade had visited, and Fitz pieces together that she has been an informant for his old mentor for some years. She also lets slip that tensions between the Six Duchies at large and the Old Blood population within it are rising, with a partisan group among the latter–the Piebalds–presenting trouble. The story underlying the group’s name is explicated, and Starling notes that there is some suggestion that Fitz yet lives. She also relates more news and rumor concerning the Old Blood in the kingdom, as well as actions taken against them. Involvement in such matters by Kettricken and Chade is noted, too, just before the hurt between Starling and Fitz is reawakened. Hap ventures in at about that moment and receives the brunt of the minstrel’s tongue, and Fitz rather flatly sends Starling away. A sense of something new coming prickles Fitz as she departs.
That something else is coming is clear, of course, from it being only the third chapter of the novel. That so much of the chapter is taken up with explication doesn’t hurt that, either–and there’s some value in putting that explication in the mouth of a minstrel, a sort of traveling memorial in the Six Duchies; it makes sense for such a person to hold forth on events throughout an area. (I’ll note, too, that some of the commentary looks ahead to another of Hobb’s works; I’ll end up treating it in the reread, I’m pretty sure, if not for a long while.) So that much reads as authentic, organic, consonant with experience and observation; it’s a good thing.
Less good, although not dissimilar from events in the readerly world, is the continued treatment of the Wit magic as metaphor for homosexuality. Again, the metaphor will be substantially frustrated, and in the present series, but, as in the Farseer novels, the magic–an inborn quality–is still linked with depravity. It remains…uncomfortable, but my comments about discomfort continue to apply. And what is my discomfort reading against that of those who do suffer under such an onus? It’s something to keep in mind…