The next chapter, “Convocation,” begins with an excerpt from an in-milieu fairy tale before turning to the emergence of spring at Buckkeep, Fitz glossing his experiences in advance of the planned meeting with the Old Blood delegation. From his position in the Queen’s Guard, he watches with some interest as plans shift, to the disapproval of both the Guard commander–Marshcroft–and Chade, and Laurel assumes a position among the departing company.
The group rides out and is met on the road by the Old Blood delegation, who confront them before they arrive at the agreed-upon location out of an abundance of caution. Kettricken surprises all again when she offers to leave Dutiful in the care of the Old Blood while she hosts their embassy; through the Skill, Dutiful notes that he had been unaware of the arrangement, though he understands it. He eschews guards other than Laurel despite protests, and he Skills to Fitz to let him know that he is not to pursue, either. Emissaries are exchanged, the Old Blood presenting Web, who serves as as much of a leader as they have. And Web makes a point of talking to Fitz, to his unease, as the Queen and her entourage return to Buckkeep.
The arrival of the party, sans Dutiful, at Buckkeep occasions concern and tumult. Web continues to attend more closely to Fitz than comforts him as the Old Blood embassy is billeted. When, at last, he is able to excuse himself, he keeps an ear on gossip and reports as he eats among the other guards; afterward, he navigates the hidden corridors to Chade’s secret chambers and the Queen’s council room. Fitz arrives to find an argument between Kettricken and Chade in progress. Kettricken gets the better of it and gives Fitz his assignment. He attends to it, spying on the Old Blood delegation, at which Chade joins him at length. They learn of some agitators among the delegation–Boyo and Silvereye–and Skilled conversation with Dutiful notes that he is being treated decently.
After, as Fitz makes for the guardroom for a late meal as Badgerlock, Web runs into and accompanies him. Conversation moves from strained to spirited and engaged as Web plies the guard for tales. Fitz muses that his presence seems to be doing the diplomatic efforts good.
I’ve noted elsewhere the interesting social structures at work in the Elderlings novels. The Six Duchies operate in many respects as a stereotypical “feudal” court, following common patterns of structure and intrigue (per my thesis). The Outislands follow another, more nuanced social structure (per this chapter), and the Mountain Kingdom follows yet another (noted here and elsewhere). I’m not alone in making such observations–obviously, really. With the description of Web in the present chapter as someone who is not a ruler, but an advising counselor, I find myself wondering if the Old Blood in the Six Duchies and the Mountain Kingdom operate along similar social rules. I’d have to do a dedicated rereading to be certain–and the gloss that I’m doing presently is not the kind of targeted investigation I mean–but there are some evocative parallels. Web’s status is one, while Kettricken’s Wittedness (noted here and elsewhere) is another; there are clearly Old Blood in the Mountain Kingdom, among others. Again, it’s a tantalizing implication, one that might be worth following up on–later.