The next chapter, “Mothershouse,” opens with an in-milieu “cautionary tale” before moving to the continued progress of Dutiful’s party through the Outislands. The disentanglement from Zylig is detailed, as is the ship–the Tusker–on which Dutiful and his company will sail to Elliania’s home. So is Thick’s resistance to boarding the Outislander ship, as well as Web’s assistance with him, and Fitz marvels at Web’s use of the Wit to calm and lead Thick. Web confers with him afterward, and Fitz attempts, not entirely successfully, to deflect the older man’s questions.
After, Fitz attempts to comfort Thick with the Skill, finding even less success, and is greeted in that magic by Nettle. She successfully helps Thick, and she notes Burrich’s strange behavior, from which Fitz realizes his foster-father has conferred at some length with the Fool. Burrich’s reported words strike Fitz, and he admits to Nettle that he bears the name Changer.
Following the Skilling and Thick being settled, Fitz attends to Swift, bidding him join in listening to Cockle’s songs and prompting a pleasantly polite exchange between himself and the minstrel. Cockle sings several songs of which Fitz approves, and Fitz listens as one of the Outisland crew sings, roughly, in return, declaiming a song about “the Black Man of Aslevjal.” Peottre tensely quashes further entertainment from the crew, and the journey proceeds. Web and Fitz confer about Thick as the Tusker approaches Wuislington, Elliania’s home, and puts in, received by the Narwhal Clan.
Formal greetings are exchanged, with Fitz becoming aware of ritual importance behind them, and Dutiful’s party begins to be billeted. Thick and Fitz are housed together, apart from others, and Fitz notes the reasons for and difficulties surrounding the arrangement. Web, bringing Swift, assists, and Fitz has time to mull over his situation before they return with provisions. Fitz is summoned to attend on Chade and Dutiful in the mothershouse, the central fortified dwelling of the women of the Narwhal Clan, and makes to report, along with Swift.
As I reread the chapter this time, the casual ableism at play strikes me. It’s come up in regards to Thick before; his very name, if it is his name, can be read as an instantiation of it, and I’ve called attention to it once or twice before. Fitz seems to be doing better at it at present, although I do still get the idea from him that it is only because he has access to Thick through the Skill–and even that, as I think on it, bespeaks some tokenism / disability superpower mentality. It’s an uncomfortable thing, to be sure, and I’m not sure how to regard it as I read right now–though I do keep in mind that a large part of Hobb’s verisimilitude is precisely in presenting characters who are flawed, who have bad ideas, and I well recall that what a character thinks and does is not necessarily a reflection of the author. Yes, writers can only write what they know, but one can observe a belief without sharing it, and the world provides no dearth of examples of wrongheaded beliefs.
More’s the pity.