The following chapter, “The Narcheska,” opens with an in-milieu discourse on social structures. It turns thence to a detailed description of the Narwhal mothershouse as Fitz and Swift are admitted. Those already in attendance are described in brief, and Fitz marks the absence of Elliania among them. An elderly woman, the Great Mother, is brought out and surveys matters before making several sharp remarks and showing the effects of age upon her. Elliania emerges at that point, taking charge of the situation and noting, after the Great Mother has been taken away, that she is newly come to menarche. Ritual greetings follow, commendations from the other Narwhal women.
Following that ceremony, another begins that reaffirms the betrothal of Elliania and Dutiful. Dutiful betrays some confusion through the Skill as the assembled Outislanders celebrate, and a feast is brought in as a formal presentation is done, and Fitz observes, starting somewhat as something of a shivaree takes Dutiful. Fitz surreptitiously pursues and finds the event in progress, centering on Elliania rather than on Dutiful, and she acquits herself admirably. In the wake of it, FItz and Chade confer through the Skill, Dutiful being somewhat addled by his own exchange with Elliania.
At length, celebrations wind down, and Fitz makes his way back to his quarters, conferring with Swift and Web along the way. As Fitz enters, he notes Riddle in attendance on Thick, as well as a “robber-rat,” which is described. Swift evidently attempts to form a Wit-bond with the creature, earning a rare rebuke from Web and a dismissal. Riddle’s following question allows for some explication, and Fitz finds himself ill at ease with what might have been.
The “robber-rat” in the chapter is part of why I argue for the North American sourcing of the Elderlings milieu. The description seems to me nothing so much as a raccoon, an animal of North America. It’s not the only piece of evidence, of course, but it is one that comes to mind, given the chapter.
More important is the warning occasioned by Swift’s incaution. The Elderlings corpus repeatedly inveighs against the Old Blood bonding too early or too deeply with their animal companions, Fitz remarking no few times that his co-being with Nighteyes was far more thorough than that experienced by other Wit-users. It occasioned problems for him in his youth, certainly, and continues to be a source of tension in such relationships with others of the Old Blood that he has. That Swift is warned away from it–but not away from the experience of the Wit itself–is perhaps a generational marker; he receives much the same instruction as Fitz in his youth, but his later teaching is done more thoroughly and with greater understanding. I would not presume to trace out social parallels, myself; I am concerned that my doing so would suffer from my own lack of embedded knowledge (and well studied as I may or may not be, there is a value to that embedded knowledge that no amount of book-learning can replace, even as no amount of direct experience with a thing can give the kind of perspective that outside study does; both are needed). But I think it would be a useful avenue of inquiry.