The next chapter, “Trepidation,” begins with an in-milieu vignette regarding the White Prophet Hoquin before glossing more of Fitz’s preparations for travel. He reviews the information he has about the itinerary he faces, which will include a visit to the port city of Zylig, where the Hetgurd–“a loose alliance of Outislander headmen”–sits, before a call in at Wuislington on Mayle and thence to Aslevjal. Fitz also frets about those who will remain when he is away. And he is disturbed from his reverie by the quiet, unexpected entrance of the Fool.
Fitz and the Fool talk together, Fitz noting his concerns for Hap and the two finding themselves at ease with one another until Fitz recalls his plan to keep the Fool from taking ship for Aslevjal. Their talk turns to performativity, the Fool noting that he is not merely one thing, but that each role he plays is simply a revelation of a part of himself. The subject to the Fool’s impending death is treated, as well, and Fitz rails against it as the Fool lays out his bequests.
After the conversation with the Fool, Fitz gives his lesson to Swift, the boy once again nearly belligerent about his magic. The lessons go awkwardly, as does Fitz’s self-castigation afterward. And he finds himself calling on the Fool again, summoning him to the Skill lesson with Dutiful, Thick, and Chade. He finds him drunk and maudlin, but he drags him along through the secret passages anyway, surprising his students with the visitor’s presence. But the Fool is welcomed in and joins the practice as best he can–which is not much, in the event, until the Fool applies his Skill-silvered fingers to where they had touched Fitz before. Fitz is rocked by the experience, and Chade dismisses most from the lesson to confer with Fitz and the Fool. The talk does not go well, with Chade and the Fool exchanging sharp words about the need for dragons in the world.
The Fool makes his courtesies and departs, and Chade rails about him to Fitz in his absence. For his part, Fitz, observes that he has hardly been consulted about the choice the Fool and Chade seem set to have him make and makes his own exit, back to the hidden workroom. There, he finds a gift from the Fool, and it gives him pause.
The bit about the Fool’s roles being parts of himself put on display brings to mind Whitman’s Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself. / (I am large. I contain multitudes.)” I’ve noted before, several times, that others write of performativity in Hobb’s Elderlings novels more eloquently than I can; as before, I recommend the sources on it in the Fedwren Project. But, thinking about it, the Fool’s assertion makes sense. I am not quite the same in person as I am online, after all, and even online, I show different parts of myself to different communities in which I participate. Similarly, I do not show to my daughter the same parts of myself that I show to my mother, nor to my mother all the same parts I show my daughter, and I show neither of them so much of myself as I do my wife. And that is as it should be. The Fool simply does it…more. But that is part of the purpose of fantasy fiction (and other forms, to be fair), to enhance things to as to show them more fully and allow their deeper exploration.
And there is always more to know.