The next chapter, “Old Blood,” begins with a letter from Burrich to his counterpart in a lesser court, reporting on a particular charge of his. It pivots thence to Fitz, the Fool, and Nighteyes reaching Fitz’s cabin, exhausted by their efforts and wracked by the pain of Skilling. Nighteyes falls swiftly asleep; Fitz prepares doses of elfbark, availing himself of it before the preparations begin. As the two dose themselves with the plant, Fitz resumes his account of his and Nighteyes’s travels after the Mountain Kingdom, relating their experience with Black Rolf and Holly among the Old Blood community they had encountered previously.
The community is glossed, and Fitz emphasizes his difficulties in keeping hidden among them what he needed–still needs–to keep hidden about himself and his past. That Black Rolf and Holly know his identity, he realizes, but he also notes that they helped maintain his ruse with the others. Fitz and the Fool eat as the former continues to talk about his experiences. He notes that his utter ignorance of Old Blood ways and customs grated on Rolf, as well as disturbing many others in the community; Fitz also muses on Burrich’s passive use of the Wit to oversee his own use of it in his childhood. He continues relating his difficult acculturation to Old Blood ways as he rehearses what he learned from the experience.
Among the things he sees is a joined pair, Delayna and Parela, a Wit-bonded woman and deer. The woman had died and had attached herself to the deer, denying either of them a full life in an attempt to preserve herself. Fitz notes his unease with seeing such a thing and with having done such a thing himself, although he notes that he does not fully understand the choice to do such a thing. And he returns to his narration around the discomfort of that consideration.
Fitz notes that the Old Blood community knowing his identity, as seemed certain, was a threat to him, and he and Nighteyes moved on when they could. The depressing effects of the elfbark begin to be felt, and conversation continues into the night, with the Fool turning to self-doubt and lamentation.
Given the continuing reading of the Wit as metaphor for homosexuality, I have to wonder at parallels with gay culture, though I am far from an expert in that culture; I wonder only, knowing I do not know enough to be able to make any meaningful comment about those parallels. Given the specifically communicative nature of the Wit, I also find myself wondering at parallels with interactions with and among Deaf communities–although I know with them, too, I do not know enough to make any meaningful comments. I can only hope that those among my friends and readers who are members of or more closely aligned with those communities than I will help redeem my ignorance in such things.
I do know, though, that the addictive perils of the elfbark come up once again, and that matters do not seem to be eased with the addition of alcohol to the night’s libations. It’s the kind of thing I saw no few times while I was working at the substance abuse treatment center, people trying to use one drug to blunt the effects of another, itself taken despite its known peril and effects because it works to address pain endured in the process of keeping body and soul together. I recall feeling pity for Fitz before; knowing what I know now, I feel it more.