A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 54: Royal Assassin, Chapter 29

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

A chapter titled “Escapes and Captures” follows, opening with commentary about the historical basis for the tensions between the Coastal and Inland Duchies. It moves to gloss over the lead-up to the ceremony in which Regal is invested as King-in-Waiting. Rumors of ill portents surround the event and penetrate it as Regal crowns himself as the heir apparent to the Six Duchies’ throne.

In the wake of the formalities, Fitz realizes that the Coastal Dukes do not fear Regal as they ought to do. He makes as hasty an exit as he can from the following revelry and sets about the next phase of his plan, feeling the weight of his folly as he does so. Stealing into Shrewd’s chambers, he looks on as Kettricken, the Fool, Rosemary, and a hated attendant try to make a bit of cheer in the room without success. The attendant is dismissed, and Kettricken and Rosemary exit, leaving the Fool and Fitz to spirit Shrewd away. The old king refuses to go, however, and uses Fitz to Skill to Verity one last time.

The effort kills Shrewd, and Fitz learns that the other Skilled ones–Serene and Justin–had been leeching power from Shrewd. A clamor rises, and Fitz urges the arrived Chade to take the Fool and flee. Fitz then goes about foolish, burning revenge. While he kills Serene and Justin, he is taken in the following melee.

The present chapter refers back to comments made in previous chapters about Fitz’s self-destructive tendencies; Fitz himself asks “Did I taunt self-destruction, or did I desire it?” as he sets about his revenge for Shrewd. Given the references to Galen in the chapter and the demonstrated lingering effects of Galen’s work upon Fitz, I have to wonder if the self-destructive tendencies are themselves the ongoing work of Galen’s machinations, if they are the echoes of a Skill-suggestion or command that Fitz die. It is not the only explanation for them, of course; Fitz is an adolescent who has suffered repeated traumas and who has indulged in or been subjected to mood-altering chemicals on no few occasions, so a fair bit of recklessness is to be expected. But the idea that Galen has had a lingering effect on him fits with Fitz.

As I continue to work through the re-read–and I am surprised to realize I’ve got more than half a hundred entries in it so far, with a lot of reading left to do again–I find myself wondering about the fan communities whose edges I glimpse as I look for images to use to accompany my commentary. I wonder how much of what I see has been seen by others already and where such sayings are, if they are. I have tried to compile scholarly and related works on Hobb, of course, but I do not pretend that I have a comprehensive list, and I know better than to think that the scholarly world is the sum of insightful treatments of the Elderlings corpus. I am aware of my not-“fan” status and of the dangers fandom can present (as noted), and I wonder what I miss because of it.

I continue to thank you for your support.


A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 53: Royal Assassin, Chapter 28

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

A chapter titled “Treasons and Traitors” follows, opening with a note regarding the children of Shrewd and Desire. It moves to follow Fitz’s continued plotting to spirit Shrewd and Kettricken from Buckkeep; he confers with Burrich, not entirely comfortably. He moves then to confer with Nighteyes; man and wolf both chide him for thanking them for what they perceive as their duty.

al-norton:“Be careful in a Buckkeep castle! They say, the witted basterd still walks the halls… ”
Be Careful in Buckkeep Castle from Realm of the Elderlings on Tumblr, here; image used for commentary

Fitz moves next to Kettricken, and, after she manages to achieve privacy for them, he relays what he can of what she is to do. After, he finds himself wandering in thought, and he arrives in Verity’s chambers. Reminiscing about the man, he inadvertently makes Skill contact with him, and they confer through that medium until Verity grows aware of an interloper and breaks off the connection. Fitz soon confronts said interloper, Justin, who is joined by Serene; they depart, and Fitz continues his errands.

Fitz is distracted from them by a summons from Duke Brawndy of Bearns. Answering it, he finds himself the focus of something of a plot. Brawndy, speaking for his counterparts in Shoaks and Rippon Duchies, purposes to put Fitz forward as a regent for the child Kettricken bears. Fitz steps slightly aside from that purpose, and Branwdy offers him his fealty. He also asks Fitz to accept Celerity’s betrothal, and Fitz nearly accepts, but demurs in favor of resolving the present conflict first.

Later, Chade presses Fitz for information about the plot, clearly in high dudgeon. He reminds his protege of their rightful place and backs away from earlier concerns about Regal’s kingship, then sets aside that line of conversation in favor of returning to their plot to spirit Shrewd and Kettricken away. It is an unhappy conversation, one without much hope.

The name of Shrewd’s second wife, Queen Desire, is not newly announced in the chapter, but as I reread it this time, I was struck by the comment being offered by way of her name. I’ve noted (here, here, here, and here), as have others, that the Six Duchies tends towards emblematic names, particularly among its royal and noble houses. Given that, Desire reads as being something of an allegory of her name, the more so with the reminder at the head of the chapter that she was routinely intoxicated, and not always on alcohol, and in conjunction with the earlier notes of Desire’s…amorousness (here, for example). She is clearly given to indulging her name, and was presumably able to instill her name in others–such as Shrewd. Given how matters fall out from that relationship–it seems not to have been happy, and the fruit of it, Regal, is hardly the most pleasant of fellows–it is possible to read into the Six Duchies’ monarchy the comment that succumbing to desire or putting the enactment of desire above other concerns is the unmaking of the shrewd, as well as much else.

It is a lesson many could still stand to learn.

The holidays continue their inexorable approach; can you help me out?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 52: Royal Assassin, Chapter 27

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

The next chapter, “Conspiracies,” opens with a series of what read as folk sayings before moving into plans to present Kettricken as having had a miscarriage in the hope of creating a sufficient distraction to allow Chade to have a private audience with Shrewd. Kettricken but begrudgingly goes along with the plan, finding the situation distasteful.

I Never Meant to Break Your Heart by Jessica “Sieskja” Albert on DeviantArt,
image used for commentary

After tumult from Kettricken summons Regal away, Fitz presents a fatal distraction to the guard left on Shrewd’s door, allowing Chade time to meet with his king. Fitz then goes about the castle, looking as nonchalant as he can manage, and taking in the gossip. It indicates to him that Chade has been at work around Buckkeep. And he encounters Molly as he goes about; she rebukes him and declares her intent to go elsewhere to protect someone she loves more than him.

After being staggered by Molly’s break with him, Fitz calls on Burrich; the Fool is with him. They confer about events, and Burrich and the Fool offer their sympathies for Fitz’s broken heart. They all incur rebuke from Lacey, who arrives to have them help dispose of the signs of the feigned miscarriage and to note to Fitz that there are axemen trying to break down Shrewd’s door. The Fool is scandalized, but Fitz allays his concerns.

The group of conspirators disperses, and Fitz calls on Nighteyes. They spend a bit of time together, happily. After, Fitz returns to Buckkeep, taking in more gossip before returning to his rooms and finding Serene waiting for him. A tense exchange follows, after which, Fitz is summoned to Kettricken. They two have an oblique conversation about next steps to take–which Fitz carries to Chade when he reports to his summons, in turn. They purpose to move swiftly to evacuate Chade and Kettricken from Buckkeep, and Chade begins to exhibit a strange merriment at plotting how he will enact the escape.

The rush towards the end of the novel continues in the present chapter, as might be expected, and it is coupled with in-milieu urgency by the need of the various characters to effect their plans before Regal can take certain people–Shrewd and Kettricken, particularly–more fully into his power, both through not having other oversight and through assuming more formal, titular authority.

As I think on it now, though, I have to wonder why those involved–notably Chade and Fitz–do not take more overt action against Regal. They obviously fear Regal is acting against Shrewd–Fitz far more so than Chade, admittedly, but even Chade is acting as if Regal is a threat. They know Regal is a traitor to his father. Why neither of them takes steps to eliminate the problem he presents is not clear; Fitz might, admittedly, be restrained by obedience to Chade and a promise effectively extorted from him by Shrewd, though those justifications scan weakly. Chade, however, is not in such a position; his reluctance to act seems strange in context, now. And things will grow yet more odd…

The holidays are coming; can you help me out?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 51: Royal Assassin, Chapter 26

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

The next chapter, “Skilling,” opens with a rumination by Chade about the dichotomy between the Forged Ones and the Skilled. It moves to Fitz and Burrich forcing their way into Shrewd’s chambers, where Kettricken and the Fool attend the elderly king. The Fool tries to dissuade them, unsuccessfully; Shrewd rouses himself and bids Fitz make himself available to Skill through to reach Verity.

It does seem the kind of thing that could be used to hide another…
Image from Paleotechnics, here, used for commentary

In the event, Fitz uses Shrewd to Skill, rather than the intended other way around, and they reach Verity briefly before Shrewd falters and Regal interrupts them. The Fool manages to calm matters, and Burrich manages to extricate Fitz from the room before Regal can vent his anger upon him. And after, Burrich chides Fitz for his austerity and self-destructive tendencies–and notes that Regal is soon to be named King-in-Waiting. He also reports that Molly has visited, and that he has relayed Fitz’s words.

After Burrich leaves, Fitz thinks to call on Molly. He is dissuaded after Nighteyes makes him aware that Will is trailing him; Fitz returns to his rooms, from whence Chade summons him. Chade rebukes Fitz’s rashness of the evening. He also intimates that his regular hiding place may be compromised and reiterates to Fitz that Regal must think himself secure. Fitz makes to engage in the formal mourning expected of him after the (false) report of Verity’s death.

The following days are troublesome for Fitz, full of tumult with Regal’s impending elevation. The Skilled ones with whom Fitz had trained and who came to hate him hound him. Patience and Lacey find themselves largely despoiled, as well, and confused that Shrewd has not stopped the egress of goods and supplies. They also let slip that Kettricken took a fall; Fitz speeds off to tend to her, but is assured by her ladies that there has not been a miscarriage. Fitz follows up and finds the trap that had been set for Kettricken, a greased step.

The Fool meets Fitz there, having been beaten again. He reports on Regal’s most recent machinations with Shrewd. He also implores to be taken with Shrewd if and when the king is spirited away.

A lot seems to be happening in the chapter–fittingly enough, since it is near the end of the novel, and things have to be wrapped up for the novel to stand alone. It might be argued, of course, that as a member of a series, Royal Assassin need not be a complete narrative in itself; it emerges from and feeds into other works, so not all of its narrative threads need be tied off. And even were it a stand-alone project, it need not tie off every loose end; leaving some things unresolved helps to create the “inner consistency of reality” about which Tolkien writes, the correspondence to the observed world of the reader–and we never know the whole of another’s story.

Even so, for a given work to be satisfying, it does have to offer some closure. The present chapter points toward that closure, certainly, and ominously. For cause, as will soon become clear.

Told you I’d be back. Send a little help my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 50: Royal Assassin, Chapter 25

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

The next chapter, “Buckkeep,” opens with a brief note on the inland town of Tradeford. It moves thence to the return trip from Neatbay, during which Nighteyes is noticed by some in the contingent. Burrich warns Fitz against the occurrence and rebukes both wolf and man sharply. That night, Fitz dreams of Molly.

Farseer-Separation by HitomiTatsuyo on DeviantArt; image used for commentary

Along the way, the contingent is greeted by messengers from Buckkeep. They deliver a missive that Verity is dead, and they return to the castle solemnly. In the ensuing fuss, Fitz learns that the news of Kettricken’s pregnancy has spread, and he and Burrich confer about the possibility that the news is a forgery by Regal. Implications follow, chilling Fitz. Burrich bids him confer with Shrewd and offer to Skill with him; Fitz attempts to demur, but relents.

As Fitz goes about the castle after, he learns that Regal’s takeover is more or less complete; Shrewd is written off as effectively a dotard, with Regal seen as governing in his stead and name.

Later, Fitz is visited by the Fool, who echoes Fitz’s conceit that Verity is not dead and presses him not to kill Shrewd. Fitz is aghast at the comment, but he again follows the implications and recognizes that he cannot stand aside as the Fool asks him to do.

A feast follows that evening, highlighting Regal’s mastery of political theater and Kettricken’s honesty. Regal uses it to undercut Kettricken further and to announce a transfer of the Six Duchies’ seat of power to Tradeford. A chance comment from an addled Shrewd confirms that Kettricken will accompany them, and it appears entirely that Regal has his desires ready to hand.

I am not able at this point not to read the text in light of current circumstances, somewhat anachronistic as such a reading must be. I cannot but read Regal as grossly misogynistic and exhibiting unfettered, unchecked privilege in his manipulations of the court and his treatment of both Shrewd and Kettricken. It points to the kind of thing I’ve discussed about Regal elsewhere, and if it is the case that none of the royals are exactly “good,” some of them at least try to be so, and most have a sense of obligation to their nations as a whole–while Regal seems either not to or, at best (and entirely unlikely), a much more restricted sense of who his nation is than his brothers and kin.

Surely, surely there are more parallels to a spoiled manchild scheming his way to power so that he can get his way, taking credit for others’ work, and mocking those who actually do the work as somehow fools than what is going on in the world even now. Surely, too, there are other parallels to the hangers-on who cling to such schemers in the hopes of finding some fortune before they, too, are cast aside as being no longer of use. And surely, there is some resolution in this world as in the narrative Hobb writes…

With the approaching holidays, any support is appreciated.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 49: Royal Assassin, Chapter 24

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

The Farseer Trilogy Book 1: Assassin's Apprentice - Chade
An image of the Pocked Man from John Howe, used for commentary

The next chapter, “Neatbay,” begins with a reminder of the Six Duchies figure of the Pocked Man. It moves swiftly to a gloss of events through more of the winter, and Fitz finds himself decidedly isolated and in foul humor. Burrich fares little better. Buckkeep follows in kind, its provisions sent to the Inland Duchies while the Coastal Duchies languish.

Fitz seeks to drown his sorrows in bad brandy one night–a night Chade sees fit to summon him to aid nearby Neatbay. Fitz rushes off to summon official assistance, and while it goes well with Kettricken, it goes less well with Shrewd, who still struggles against ailment and enforced intoxication. Fitz is able to deliver his message, but Regal soon intervenes and orders him bundled out. Kettricken intercedes in turn, and Shrewd finally manages to assert himself and order Neatbay defended; Kettricken makes to join the efforts, bringing Fitz along. There is some dispute at the gate about Fitz leaving Buckkeep, but he is released to go.

The issue of Fitz’s Wit-bond with Nighteyes arises again as Fitz and Burrich ride to accompany Kettricken. It takes them two days to reach Neatbay, and when they do, they find the town besieged but still defended, and they move to besiege the besiegers. An uncomfortable wait ensues, broken by a nighttime raid from the Red-Ships crews that have invaded. Fitz falls again into a savage berserker state, from which he only emerges fully long after the battle has ended. He debriefs with Burrich after the battle, and they note the oddity of the Raiders’ deployment. In the end, though, the action was a success, even if there is still a sense of foreboding about things.

The present chapter makes much of calling back to an early incident in the previous novel, and the characters involved–Lady Grace and Fitz–seem to reminisce comfortably about it and about the changes to their lives that followed. It is good to see that ideas are carried forward in works, that the changes characters make in the lives of others within the milieu are not elided or ignored–and that the changes that happen away from the “main” action of the plot carry forward as much as do those in the main line of action. Having such helps enrich the narrative world, making it more compelling because it comes across as more authentic.

As to the scare-quotes about the “main” action, while it is the case that the narrative of the Farseer novels focuses on Fitz and his doings, there is a sense that what would traditionally be the focal action is elsewhere–namely, with Verity, who pursues a quest to invoke the aid of ancients that is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Eärendil and his mission to Valinor. Like that antecedent, though, Verity’s mission is largely known in glimpses rather than in detail, which is an interesting bit of Tolkienian tradition to pass forward.

I could use help to keep doing this.


A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 48: Royal Assassin, Chapter 23

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

The next chapter, “Threats,” opens with a gloss of the declining state of Bearns Duchy and the Six Duchies, generally, following Brawndy’s visit to Buckkeep. It moves to Fitz seeing to Burrich’s billeting amid the too-empty stables. When Fitz checks up on Burrich later, he finds Molly tending to him–with some annoyance, as he has been drinking–at Patience’s request.

Image result for medieval guard post
It’s easy to imagine this kind of thing being a barrier.
Image from Susan Solo, here, used for commentary

After Molly leaves, Fitz and Burrich confer about the present states of their affairs. Burrich purposes to guard Kettricken’s door against the news that she is with child; Fitz resists for a bit, but relents and secures Kettricken’s permission for it. When he makes to return to his chambers after, he finds Serene and Justin, Skill-users who revile him, emerging from it. Fitz confronts them, forcing them to back down from him, but he realizes they are looking for Chade.

Fitz purposes to head to Buckkeep Town afterwards, but he is stopped at the gate by guards who have been ordered to deny him passage. They continue to do so when Molly comes back up the road, exhausted and frightened, but others gather her in. She tells Fitz of her assault, and he realizes that the warnings he has been given about her are entirely accurate. When he proposes separation to help keep her safe, she reacts angrily, pushing him away and berating him for a coward before she stalks off.

Early in the chapter, the issue of Molly’s abuse at the hands of her drunkard father is brought to attention again. In my current position, I work at a substance abuse treatment center, and the substance we most commonly have reported as a problem is, in fact, alcohol. (Marijuana and methamphetamine are the next in order, if you’re curious.) No few of the clients we see come in are referred to us because they have, in their drunkenness, struck their loved ones, or driven on the rural Texas roads that lace across the Hill Country–dangerous at times on their own, and more so when drink is added to them. I have seen the lingering problems of such drunkenness in scores of people, and I am somewhat taken aback by Burrich’s reaction to Fitz’s revelation of Molly’s history.

Burrich is not presented as a genteel man, to be sure; there is a rough brusqueness about him throughout the novels. But he is also generally presented as a good person, solid and reliable. For him to be so dismissive of Molly’s reactions towards him in the chapter strikes me as odd. Burrich does seem, though, to embody a traditional Western masculinity that may be good in the main but clearly has toxic elements to it; his “resolution” with Galen in Assassin’s Apprentice is but one example, while his denial of how his actions could reinscribe trauma is another. Of course, one of the virtues of Hobb’s writing is exactly that she presents flawed, nuanced characters, and it is always useful to remember that even a good person can be yet better.

Since I’m shutting things down, I could use your support here.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 47: Royal Assassin, Chapter 22

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

The chapter that follows, “Burrich,” opens with a brief note on Lady Patience, the former Queen-in-Waiting of the Six Duchies. It moves thence to Fitz waking somewhat confusedly in bed with Molly; they evidently had a tryst, of which Fitz remembers nothing. Molly departs his chambers, and Fitz responds thereafter to a summons from Chade.

Commande - Lady Patience pour FlorenceIl va encore me falloir quelques essaies avant de maitriser correctement les peaux foncées à l’aquarelle, elle a l’air bien blanche quand même. Merci pour cette commande, j’aime beaucoup ce personnage et la...
Commande – Lady Patience pour Florence by Aadorah on Tumblr.com
Image used for commentary

Fitz reports in detail to Chade and, with the older man’s premission, voices his suspicions of Regal’s plotting. Chade accepts the explanation as a possibility and affirms that he will work from his own resources to confirm or deny the explanation. He also voices concern that his secrecy is not as secure as once it was.

In the coming days, Fitz is wary, particularly of the Skilled ones Serene, Justin, and Will. And on one day, he is summoned in haste to the stables. Burrich has returned, injured and thinking that messages have gone before him. They have not arrived, and he has Fitz help him to report to Shrewd. The Fool greets them and, seeing Burrich’s condition, moves to assist. At length, Burrich is admitted to Shrewd’s chambers and reports of the difficulties that faced Verity’s party along their path, including a curiously well-disciplined and -equipped group of bandits that focused their attentions on Verity near Blue Lake.

Shrewd dismissed Burrich, who is taken aback by his king’s condition, and Fitz takes Burrich to his own room to tend to him. He goes out in search of medicines, leading him to Patience. She quizzes Fitz as she makes ready to tend to Burrich herself. Burrich rouses during her ministrations and argues with her, but relents and accepts her care. Kettricken arrives and lends her own supplies to the efforts, the specifics revealing that she is pregnant–and Fitz begins to worry for the child yet unborn.

I once again find it hard not to reread the text against the current political climate, I really do. But even if I am successful in not doing so, Hanlon’s Razor comes to mind as a factor in the current chapter, one which Chade appears to prefer as an explanation and that Fitz rejects. Said Razor is the warning against attributing to malice what stupidity can easily explain; that is, if someone could be ignorant or a jerk, that person is probably ignorant. It is an ultimately optimistic explanation of things, assuming that people will be good if they but know what the good is.

Experience and a quick glance at the world suggest that such an assumption is a dangerous one. While some might argue that making any assumption is fraught, and there is merit in such an argument, it is also the case that an assumption always has to be made about how a given person will re/act–and that it always is so, even if tacitly. And when a person has demonstrated a tendency towards being venial or malevolent, it is far safer to assume that the person will continue to do so than that they will not.

I remain thankful for what you give.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 46: Royal Assassin, Chapter 21

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

The next chapter, “Dark Days,” opens with a rumination on the political future of the Mountain Kingdom during the conflict between the Six Duchies and the Red Ships. It moves on to treat the continued tension surrounding Duke Brawndy of Bearns, whom Regal is slighting. Kettricken meets with him, showing him great honor and mollifying him substantially in doing so. But the slight from Regal remains.

Image from Prophets become Warriors, Dragons Hunt as Wolves on Tumblr, here
Image used for commentary

The slight is compounded when, days later, Brawndy is summoned to Shrewd’s chambers and afterwards departs with news of no forthcoming aid. Kettricken intercedes, acting on her own initiative and in her own prerogative to gift Brawndy with significant monetary aid. Fitz finds himself obliged to pay court to Brawndy’s daughter, Celerity, and he observes as the Bearns party makes its way away from Buckkeep.

After, Fitz calls on Shrewd. Following an awkward physical encounter, Fitz finds himself serving as a Skill-bridge between Shrewd and Verity. He is made aware again of Shrewd’s bodily condition, and he is privy to Shrewd’s messages to Verity–tidings which he vehemently denies. Verity seems to take his side and pleads to have Fitz tended against his exertions.

In the wake of those exertions, both Shrewd and Fitz are exhausted. Regal barges in and takes Shrewd in hand, bidding the Fool, who is customarily present with Shrewd, to tend to Fitz. The Fool does so, staying with Fitz for a while for their mutual safety. When the Fool leaves to retrieve medicine for Fitz, the Skilled Serene and Justin enter Fitz’s room with ill intent. They psychically assail him, and Nighteyes psychically leaps to his defense. The Fool’s arrival dissuades any further action, and Serene and Justin depart in anger, leaving Fitz to his pain.

There is much that can be said about Fitz’s construction as a liminal figure. He operates in several grey areas: as a royal bastard, as a sanctioned assassin, as an informal advisor, as someone who is and is not adept with multiple magics. His liminality in those respects, while allowing him more freedom of motion than many other characters might have, also serves as a set of in-milieu reasons to hold him in low regard. He can be read–and perhaps should be read–as problematizing many of the traditional aspects of fantasy literature. He does not only nuance the warrior-hero that pervades Tolkienian-tradition works (despite the primacy of Frodo and Samwise), but he calls into question the stability of such categories. Fitz is far from the only character to do so, of course; there are frustrations of archetypes even in such characters as Malory’s Arthur and the Classical Hercules. But fantasy literature tends to operate in terms of such types (with a few notable exceptions, as Shiloh Carroll and others discuss far more eloquently than I am apt to do), and having such a character as Fitz, who almost fulfills the demands of many types while conforming to none of them, remains, to my mind, a refreshing thing.

Your ongoing support is kindly appreciated.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 45: Royal Assassin, Chapter 20

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

The next chapter, “Mishaps,” opens with accounts of the hardening of attitudes and Chade’s findings on an expedition to the Outislands. It moves to Fitz calling on Shrewd; the latter has the Fool serve tea that contains an addictive herb, upon which the Fool comments acerbically. Regal soon inserts himself into the meeting, taking the chance to upbraid Fitz with his manufactured financial crisis. As Shrewd slips into addled delirium, Regal intensifies the personal attack on Fitz, taunting him to physical assault; Fitz stops himself and excuses himself from Shrewd’s presence, beginning an anxious wait for a summons from Chade.

Fool by FloorSteinz on DeviantArt, image used for commentary

When the summons comes, Fitz answers it with many questions for his mentor. They are uncomfortable questions, and Chade’s replies to trust in the system and the wisdom of the nation’s leadership do not satisfy. Nor yet does the revelation that Chade has been providing certain chemicals to Shrewd for reasons that he refuses to discuss. Nor still does the line of reasoning to which Chade leads Fitz, that the Red-Ship Raiders want only to instill terror, that Verity’s mission to the Elderlings is their only hope.

Fitz’s narrative resumes days later, when Duke Branwdy of Bearns arrives at Buckkeep. He describes his experience of the necessary festivities to welcome the duke and his entourage, as well as the calculated slights offered them by Regal. Too, he has some contact with Celerity that makes him uncomfortable.

After the welcoming dinner, Fitz retires to his chambers, where the Fool awaits him with a sensitive question. Fitz turns to strike the Fool in his anger, only to see that the Fool has already been battered–by Regal’s thugs. As a chastened Fitz makes to tend the Fool’s injuries, he asks why the Fool asks after whether he has fathered a child; the Fool explains as he is able, which is not necessarily clear to Fitz. He also warns Fitz that attempts on Kettricken are likely before making his exit.

After the Fool leaves, Fitz calls on Molly. He asks her if she is with child, and she denies it–but quizzes him on what he would do if she had affirmed being pregnant. Fitz has no good answer and stammers through a poor one. Molly rebukes him for it, using Patience and Burrich as an example of what she means; Patience hates Burrich, she reveals, because she had loved and been spurned by Burrich in favor of his sworn service. The revelation gives Fitz pause and more to consider than he had thought before.

The strangeness of gender norms and expectations comes to mind in reading the present chapter. Fitz is, admittedly, not in a position to have much of a sense of family, given his circumstances, but even so, the dichotomy between his perception of service’s demands and Molly’s protestations about family are striking. There is more to untangle in them that I can give space to here–but there is always another venue for such discussions.

Molly’s protestations line up reasonably neatly with things I have spent a perhaps unfortunate amount of time considering, given my own history trying and failing to make a career of academe. I am recovering now, but earlier in my life, I spent a lot of time trying to be something…other than I am, thinking it somehow of paramount importance that I do. I fear I much neglected my family in making the attempt. Even now, when I give my time to outside concerns in the community, I worry that I am misspending my time. I like to think that I am doing some good in the world, I am told that I am, and I know that my daughter needs to have an example of a parent who tries, at least, to work to the betterment of the community. But I also know that the time I spend on such things is time I am not with my wife and daughter, whom I profess to love; how much love do I show them, being away? At least when I am secluded off, working on some freelance project or another, I am contributing to the support of the household, but when I work with the local PTO or band boosters, I cannot claim such a thing.

It is never an easy calculus to figure out, and my skills at math are less than they perhaps ought to be. But, as Chade points out in the chapter, “Thinking is not always…comforting. It is always good, but not always comforting.” And I have much on which to think.

It’s my birthday, precious. Send me a gift?