The succeeding chapter, “The Betrothal,” opens with a brief in-milieu commentary on the use of herbs and intoxicants in Skill training before pivoting to Fitz and the Fool altering Badgerlock’s clothing to permit him to carry some assassin’s equipment. They confer about their situation and reminisce about Buckkeep as it had been in their shared youth, and they make their way to the feast hall where Dutiful’s betrothal to Elliania will be celebrated.
Arriving, Badgerlock takes stock of the current situation of the Great Hall, marking entrances and behaviors as minor nobles flock to Lord Golden and some of the Outisland delegation arrives; he also glosses more of the Outisland sociopolitical system. He also assesses the nobles who cluster around Lord Golden, marking how the latter handles them–until Kettricken and Dutiful make their entrance, and all attention turns to them. The Queen and Prince are followed by the Narcheska and her party, all described along the way. Several of the Dukes follow in turn, then Outislander and other Six Duchies nobles–including Starling and her husband, Lord Fisher.
Badgerlock continues his survey and assessment of the guests, marking Civil Bresinga’s location and starting as Lady Patience arrives and is seated. He is also startled as Dutiful reaches out to him via magic, blending Skill and Wit, and again as he notes the presence of Rosemary, who had occasioned harm in years past. He marks how conversations flow as dinner begins and proceeds, and he attends carefully to the reactions of the assembled nobles as the Prince and Narcheska are betrothed–and as the Outislanders ply their own customs.
Festivities continue, as do the assessments, and Dutiful and Elliania acquit themselves well. Lord Golden plies his hangers-on, and intoxicants emerge through the proceedings. At length, Golden begs leave to depart, and he and Badgerlock make their exit. In their chambers, they exchange news, thinking fondly of Patience as they discuss her. Fitz retires, mulling over what he has to do–and there is much he has to do–and, in his dreams, he communes with his daughter through the Skill.
A couple things stand out to me as I reread the chapter again. One of them is Fitz’s comment about resenting the changes to Buckkeep from the days of his youth; he notes that his resentment comes in part from the erasure of his own history–and in part because the changes, which have largely left him behind, prompt him to “feel stodgy and old.” It’s something with which I have some familiarity, affectively reading as I do; I’ve had occasion to go back to places where I’d been before in years longer ago than I care to consider closely, and the differences between then and before, good as they in most cases are, remind me of the passed years and the missed opportunities in the long-ago thens I once had. I know what I have been, what I am still, and so I read as I read.
Another thing that stands out is the overt sexual attention Badgerlock receives from one of the lords flocking to Golden. Again, with earlier Elderlings novels, the case could be made that the Wit stands as a metaphor for homosexuality; again, the present series makes the homosexuality explicit, and I find it…difficult to accept as a metaphor what is openly stated. Perhaps the issue is that the concept has grown past the metaphor, with the homosexuality needing no more obfuscation and the Wit itself having moved beyond the need to be a stand-in for some other thing, taking on its own narrative force rather than serving as an allegory for something else. How much that might parallel other allegorical readings, I am not sure, but I find it a matter of some interest; perhaps I will remember the passing fancy long enough to actually look into it, now and again.