Gems

Another of the sparkling jewels
Nestled in the limestone hills
Buried among oak and cedar and mesquite
Seeks to shine in the summer sunlight
And when it is polished to its best
It gleams brightly

Image from the Texas Memorial Museum, used for commentary.

Such precious stones that emerge
Are noted for being blue
And for being prized by where they’re from
And their surroundings
Even as there is a thirst for rubies and garnets
Now
And for things that look too much like them

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Still Another Rumination on Memorial Day

I have commented about this day’s observances once or twice before, I think. I am not moving this year, nor am I preparing to move, as was the case last year. I am moved, perhaps, but for a different reason and a far worse one.

Image from the district’s “School Spirit & History” page, used for commentary.

It remains right and proper that those who have died in honorable, upright service be remembered and honored. That what they died to defend suffers such as has happened–again, and again, and again, in Uvalde as in too many other places across too many years–is far, far less so. And it is hard for the reverence due the victorious dead to be given against the grief due those slain unjustly.

Let us make our world one worth the sacrifices made, one where such grief need not be felt again.

For this Memorial Day, please donate to the folks in Uvalde, Texas, who have their own memorials to erect. Send checks payable to the Robb School Memorial Fund to FSB of Uvalde, 200 E Nopal, Uvalde, TX 78801, or donate via Zelle at robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 305: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 28

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series
here.


The following chapter, “Catalyst,” begins with a note about wizardwood before turning to Fitz’s efforts to reenter the Pale Woman’s domain. He finds a path inward, if with some difficulty, and makes his way through the labyrinthine facility. Among others, he finds the flayed skin of the Fool’s back, and he swoons; when he comes to, he leaves the marred skin behind, although he takes the piece of the Rooster Crown he finds.

Here it is.
TeodoraLaessa’s Fitz and The Fool on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Pressing on, Fitz finds scrolls and records that had been sold away from Buckkeep, musing on it but leaving it behind as he continues to search for the Fool. He finds one of his erstwhile companions along the way and makes a pyre for him, and then he finds the Fool, dead among filth. Fitz attempts to Skill into the body to bring it back to life, but even with the help of the whole Skill coterie, he cannot do so. Chade and Dutiful offer such comfort as they can, little enough in the wake of the Fool’s death and the announcement to him of Burrich’s.

Fitz closes off Skill contact and recovers the Fool’s body, mulling over where to bear it when interrupted by the maimed Pale Woman. She taunts him, seeking to provoke him into killing her, and he refuses; she attempts to negotiate with him, and he walks away.

Wandering, he comes to a room with a map detailing the geographical extent of the Realm of the Elderlings and marking Skill-pillars. Another room contains a Skill-pillar, and Fitz takes the Fool through it to a plaza in a ruined city. There, he lays the Fool out and tends to the body, repairing the broken Rooster Crown and inserting the wizardwood feathers into it. Before placing it on the Fool’s head, Fitz hesitates, placing the crown upon his own head in an attempt to change what has happened.

I note with some interest the exchange of names mentioned by the Pale Woman as a custom of the Fool’s native people. The significance of the custom is noted explicitly, if in mockery, as the Pale Woman asks Fitz “Did you ever call [the Fool] by your name, to show hum that he was as dear to you as your own life?” It joins the comments about hair-cutting as mourning that appear at intervals in the novels treating the Six Duchies to increase the verisimilitude of the milieu; such small things pepper lived experience, and having them appear in fiction adds richness to the fictional worlds in which they appear. And in the case of Hobb’s Fool, the recollection of how many times the character called Fitz “Beloved” becomes all the more poignant…

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Another in a List Too Long to Bear

None of the children were mine
All of the children were mine
All of them are all of ours
And we have failed them all
We have failed them all
We
Have
Failed
Them
All

Image from here, used for commentary

After the events in Uvalde, Texas, of 24 May 2022, help is needed at the schools and in the broader community. Please look up Uvalde CISD for more information–and please work so that we do not fail our children again.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 304: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 27

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series
here.


The succeeding chapter, “Doors,” opens with an in-milieu spy’s report before returning to the retrieval of Dutiful’s party and those they have recovered from Aslevjal. Those aboard celebrate the return and recovery, but Fitz lays out his purpose to Swift; he means to return to the Pale Woman’s domain to cremate the Fool and to confirm the death of the Pale Woman. He affirms as much to Dutiful when the Prince speaks with him as the rest board, adding that his return as himself will occasion problems in the Six Duchies.

The man of the hour…
Leanna Crossan‘s depiction of the Black Man, used for commentary

Unbeknownst to either Prince or Fitz, Thick remains behind on Aslevjal with Fitz. His emergence startles Fitz, though his cleverness in remaining behind and easy acceptance of Fitz’s intent prevent the latter from sinking into depression. Thick also reports on Nettle’s status in Buckkeep, which displeases Fitz; she is not in a situation he would choose for her.

In the morning, Fitz sets out to find a way into the Pale Woman’s holdings, Thick trailing him. Progress in that line takes some days, and Fitz grows closer to Thick. In his sleep, Fitz communes with Nettle through the Skill, and in the morning, he wakes to find signs that the Black Man has been present. Pressing on, Fitz and Thick find their way to the home of said Black Man, who welcomes them in warmly and offers cryptic advice to Fitz. He also notes that he was once a White Prophet, relating some of his history on Aslevjal to Fitz as he sends him on to recover the Fool.

If I think about narrative structure, I am not certain how to regard the present chapter. I suppose this might be the beginning of what Freytag would call the denouement, what my musician self is inclined to call not a coda (that’s the epilogue), but another movement. Themes long heard in the work are being woven together, even if the main line of the melody is something other than what is being presented now. Something like a shift to another mode or a pivot into a minor key or a blues pattern begins to emerge…I think. After all, I wasn’t able to make it as a band director; my education in that line is truncated, so I might well have it all wrong.

If you like it, rather than put a ring on it, put some cha-ching on it!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 303: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 26

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series
here.


The next chapter, “Healings,” begins with in-milieu commentary by Fedwren regarding Chalcedean slave tattooing and manumission. It pivots to Fitz musing on what the battle recently ended has left behind it as the combatants attend to themselves and he, himself, begins to take in the death of the Fool as he makes his way to Burrich. As Fitz reaches the man who raised him, Burrich dismisses the rest–including Swift–and lays out his final intent to Fitz; he bids his erstwhile ward take care of his family and wed Molly at long last. Swift is summoned back, and the rest move to comfort Burrich in his final pains as best they can as they strike camp and return to the shore of Aslevjal.

You’ve come a long way, baby…
Image is from Tess Fowler on Tumblr and is used for commentary.

Fitz assesses the losses and confers with the guard captain that had accompanied Dutiful. They laugh bitterly together, and Fitz sees to Thick, who has been billeted with the captain. More conference follows, and, in the morning, Fitz asks if the Skill coterie can attempt to heal Burrich. The attempt is made, and it does not succeed, but the energies that are marshaled to that effect are directed by Thick into the other injured. Those efforts succeed, and Thick is acclaimed by all who witness.

Reports are exchanged afterward, Fitz learning much of what had transpired on the island under the tyranny of the Pale Woman. Fitz and Swift also confer at length, largely about Burrich, as their descent to the shore proceeds. More reports follow, chiefly from Riddle, and the party reaches the shore to await retrieval. And on the shore, Fitz guides a slow healing of the Narcheska, directing the Skill of others to remove the tattoos that had been inflicted upon her by the Pale Woman, completing it just as the ships arrive to bear the party away.

It strikes me as of interest that the chapter leads in with tattooing as a marker of enforced servitude. That the Fool and Elliania are both tattooed and compelled does not escape me; that they are both tattooed with the forms of dragons to mark their compulsion–as is Wintrow, even if it was not widely known at the time–does not, either. (Admittedly, the motif is somewhat frustrated in the milieu by Patience’s tattooing, although that case might well be understood as a divergence of cultural practice and Patience’s own repeatedly attested eccentricities.) The practice and its emergence in several places within the milieu would seem to link that milieu more firmly to itself, which is a good thing from a worldbuilding standpoint; one of the things that mars a text is when the world it depicts does not work the same way consistently, while seeing things kept in place serves to bolster the narrative quality of a fantasy world.

Help me move into the summer in style!

About a Band Concert

I haven’t made anything resembling a secret about having been a bandsman, about having thought that I would be a band director when I grew up, about still being involved in playing saxophone and in promoting wind band music. Last night, as I write this, I had the opportunity to play again, joining a pair of other alumni of my high school for a short set at the school’s final concert of the school year.

An irregular trio for the Spring 2022 Tivy Alumni Band performance
Left to right: Daniel Elliott on trombone, me on bari sax, and Paul Bennight on alto sax
Photo by Paul Bennight

Doing so offered me the opportunity to try out some skills that I once had more fully but that I have not had much chance to practice recently–or not as much as I would like. Owing to the unusual nature of the group–a pair of saxes and a trombone–I was obliged to re-score parts and to compose a new piece, things I’d done in the years when I was trying to become a band director but not a whole lot since then. And I needed to play my horn again.

In the event, it was a good experience. Using old skills to decent effect is enjoyable. More so, though, was being welcomed in by the current band director and the students; people seemed to be happy to see me and to hear what I had to say and play. The audience seemed to appreciate the performance, too, as well as a few comments I had the opportunity to make.

For many students, band is one of the better high school experiences, if not the best one. (It was for me.) For many, too, the spring concert is the last chance they will have to play their instruments; many who enjoyed them will put them down and not pick them up again. The work I’ve done with the alumni thus far, and that it looks like I will get to keep doing, serves me, certainly, but it also serves to offer the students–current ones, former ones, and future ones–a place where they are welcome.

You can’t go home, kids, but you can always come home. I’ll do all I can to keep the light on for you.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 302: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 25

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series
here.


The following chapter, “Dragons,” begins with brief in-milieu commentary regarding the depredations of Kebal Rawbread on his own people before turning to the ongoing conflict on Aslevjal, which is joined by Tintaglia. Icefyre struggles to go aloft, and Rawbread, as a dragon, heeds the Pale Woman’s instructions to focus his attentions on a single dragon, attacking Tintaglia. Fitz urges flight for Dutiful and his party, and Dutiful spies the returning Elliania and Peottre–and her mother and sister, Forged. Dutiful rushes to aid them, bringing Fitz into melee–which the others of their party soon find thrust upon them as the Pale Woman’s forces attack.

Brave youth…
Swift and Rawbread, based on Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Fate, chapter 25, from perplexingly’s Tumblr, used for commentary

The melee continues, with Tintaglia falling and Rawbread advancing upon her, goaded on by the Pale Woman. Burrich and Swift interpose themselves between the two, Burrich attempting to attend to the dragon, Swift standing guard with bow and arrows. Burrich moves to defend his son, assailing Rawbread with a massive outpouring of the Wit and being struck down in return. Swift looses a wizardwood arrow at Rawbread, killing him, and those who had been Forged into the dragon that yet live begin to be restored. Reunions begin, and the dragons begin a mating flight. Fitz realizes that the Fool might yet live, but he is called away to Burrich’s side for his final moments.

I admit to beginning to tear up as I reread the chapter this time, whether from relief at so much of the narrative tension easing or in sadness at once again seeing a character I’ve read over decades take his deathblow in the service of fatherhood. And it occurs to me, now or again, that one of the glories of a book is that it allows engagement across years, that the characters and their thoughts and words and deeds are on the page every time the book is opened, that they can be lingered over again and again, a cologne that never fades; but one of the things that is part of that, too, is that their sorrows afflict the heart again and again, a stink in the nose that, once first encountered, remains a wisp in the cologne ever afterwards.

Clearly, I put on the cologne again and again, breathing deeply of it and sighing in pleasure. Sometimes, though, that little bit of lingering stink chokes me, and my eyes water from it. But it is good to feel, sadness no less than joy, even if it is for ink upon a page only.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 301: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 24

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series
here.


The subsequent chapter, “Tintaglia’s Command,” opens with an in-milieu story about the enchantment of dragons before turning to Fitz returning to Dutiful and his company, where he is upbraided for his choice to preserve and even awaken Icefyre. In his upset at the event, Chade lets slip that Fitz is himself, rather than Tom Badgerlock, and questions are threatened but delayed. Reports of events are exchanged, and work to free the dragon begins–spurred on by the titular draconic demand. Dutiful assesses the power of the command upon his mind, but most of the rest of his company rush to free Icefyre.

Bang.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Chade takes charge of the excavation efforts, leaving Fitz to consider the consequences of his actions for the Fool, as well as to confer with Burrich. The latter reveals his intentions, having thought mostly to assuage his daughter’s fears but having been wrapped up in events. The absence of Peottre and Elliania is marked, and conference about the ramifications thereof undertaken. And Fitz and Burrich confer privately as it all goes on, easing many of the long pains between them; Burrich’s relation of the underpinnings of his personal hate of the Wit are detailed.

Preparations are completed, and Chade and Fitz make to place the blasting powder, Fitz and Burrich still conferring about events. Fitz lights the charges, and after a misfire, explosions begin to go off in earnest. Icefyre panics in the tumult, and Tintaglia rages as Dutiful’s group reassembles, injured from the concussions and debris. More efforts to free Icefyre get underway, and Web presses Burrich towards reconciliation with Swift. A final charge explodes, and Icefyre emerges, emaciated, into the free air.

Fitz is forced to reassess his place in the world, faced with a greater predator, and his considerations are disrupted by the revelation that the Pale Woman’s ice-hold is crumbling under the strain of the explosions and the dragon’s struggles. And to make matters worse, the Pale Woman’s stone dragon emerges, ravening and raging, and attacks.

There is a lot going on in the chapter–fittingly enough, given its location in the book and in the series; it’s time for things to begin wrapping up. Of interest to me as I reread this time is the expression of generational trauma surrounding Burrich in regards to the Wit. His animus against the magic he himself possesses is attested throughout both the present series and the Farseer novels, beginning early on, and it can be explained as Burrich aligning firmly with a prevailing attitude in the Six Duchies. The present chapter makes it more personal for him, though, with the story of his family’s enslavement and the note that it came about “Because the man who should have made his primary bond to his wife instead chose a horse over her and his children” (408); it becomes much harder to condemn Burrich for his attitudes in that light, although it does not necessarily excuse him in his perpetration of that trauma on Fitz and on Swift.

Fitz has long internalized that trauma and Burrich’s reaction thereto, while Swift seems to resist it as social changes occur in the Six Duchies–and the changing attitude does lend itself to interpreting the Wit, again, as a metaphor for homosexuality in the United States, even as the direct presentation of homosexuality in the novels tends to undermine the metaphor. (I continue to contend that reference doesn’t work with what is actually present.) As I’ve noted at several points earlier in this series, though, others do far better at attesting and explaining so much than I; even absent that, though, the chapter points to a lot of work that needs doing, because we all carry the burdens of our pasts and the pasts of those around us.

Help me keep doing this?

Lapsing Lazuli

There are a few bluebonnets still standing
The showers having ended
But they are withering away in the ruddy sunlight
And too few think to mourn their passing
As other blooms supplant them
Matching the fading lights

Photo by Hannah Giles on Pexels.com

The time will come that
The azure will be missed
All its coolness and beauty subsumed by
An arterial flood some claim to want but
By which they will be drained and left
Where flowers would normally be spread
With no blooms left to give them
And nobody left to offer them

It is no small thing not to mourn what is not yet gone
But the end of which is easily seen
And it is a larger thing to sow the seeds that
The spreading blue can come again
Knowing that the land will crack and gasp and burn before it happens

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