A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 315: Dragon Keeper, Front Matter

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Hobb opens the first volume of a new series–a tetralogy, in the case of the Rain Wilds Chronicles–with a cast of characters, grouping them as Keepers and Dragons, Bingtowners, the crew of the Tarman, and miscellaneous others. The text moves on to present a formal and informal message sent from Bingtown to Trehaug, discussing the agreement between the Traders and Tintaglia, before turning to a prologue that begins with the serpent Sisarqua starting to make the cocoon for her metamorphosis. Coached by Tintaglia, she joins other serpents in preparing to become dragons, however few they are.

The version I have–though my cover lacks some of the words…
Image from the Realm of the Elderlings wiki, used for commentary.

Tintaglia notes her fatigue, and the population imbalances at work among the surviving serpents is observed. The poor survival rate of the cocooning serpents is also attested. So are the changes from the ancient geography of the Realm of the Elderlings, as well as the struggles of the journey upriver to the cocooning grounds. And the serpent Sisarqua calls for aid, answered by one of the nascent Elderlings, and she falls into her hibernation as the Elderling and Tintaglia confer.

As with the Liveship Traders novels to which the novel is a direct sequel, Dragon Keeper lets readers know from the outset that it is dealing with nonhuman intelligences that will necessarily have different perspectives and practices. The prologue viscerally reinforces as much with the openly accepted cannibalism among dragons in their larval and adult forms, and, although Hobb does not shy away from…heavier materials in her other Elderlings works, the frank performance and acceptance of cannibalism before the book, proper, begins is…telling.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I read the Rain Wilds Chronicles; I purchased the books as they came into print and devoured them hungrily, but I have not much revisited them, if I have at all, in the years since. It’s not like the Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man novels that I’ve come back to time and again in my research, although I have the idea, certainly, that I should work to return to some of that earlier work with the latter Elderlings texts in mind. Perhaps rereading them will help me to do so…

I note with some approval the dramatis personæ that opens the current volume; it’s nice to know who’s in the work. And I note with some approval, too, the shift in the prefatory tack taken by the Farseer and Tawny Man novels; I appreciate having the outside in-milieu context for the piece, and the epistolary format adds a nice touch–not just the encyclopedic, but the personal, which helps the text start to come alive early on. I’ll look forward to re-reading the works!

I look forward to your support as I press ahead!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 314: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 37 and Epilogue

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The final chapter, “Ever After,” begins with commentary on a Skill-ritual that summons those with potential for that magic to study. It moves to document Fitz’s attempts at courting Molly again after many, many years. A correspondence between the two grows up, one that grows to encompass Molly’s children with Burrich, although his relationship with nettle remains strained.

The happy couple, years having passed
Image from The Randomness and the Fandomness, here, used for commentary

At length, the relationship begins to thaw between Fitz and Nettle, the two conferring about Farseer history and Fitz’s, and Fitz calls upon Molly not at the estate granted her in appreciation of Burrich (Withywoods, which had been the estate to which Chivalry had retired long before), but at Burrich’s own home. He is received stiffly there, though he soon finds himself more welcomed for his willingness to work and his familiarity with Burrich’s ways, and Fitz and Molly begin to find their way back to their old love.

Matters proceed for Fitz, with him calling on Molly at Burrich’s home, and Hap visiting Buckkeep along his itinerant minstrel’s life. Fitz visits Patience and Lacey, and when he visits Molly at her home again, the two reconsummate their love.

The brief epilogue describes Withywoods as Fitz glosses the continuation of his resumed relationship with Molly and events in the Six Duchies, at large. While he muses on having missed a final meeting with the Fool, he reflects with satisfaction on his life as it stands, ending with the comment that “I am content.”

I once remarked that the contentment which Fitz gets to have at the end of the present novel is as much as could be expected for him. Given his history, it’s quite an achievement; he does, in the end, find a life of peace and, if not ease, fulfilling work for himself, one that still allows him to be of service to his people but that does not keep trying to kill him and that does not oblige him to engage in underhanded works that are not the less useful–and perhaps needed–for their distastefulness. He gets to be as close to normal as it is possible for him to be, and it’s far from a bad thing to see–or to desire, truly.

With this, I’ve reached the end of rereading the texts about which I know most, having done my master’s thesis on them. (Indeed, I wonder if I ought to return to that thesis, tracing the Arthurian implications through the remainder of the corpus…) The remaining Elderlings materials, as well as the Soldier Son stuff, I’ve read less–once only, in several cases. It will be good to revisit the texts and to see what I recall–and what will be new to me once again.

As I move ahead into the next series, I could use your help to keep going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 313: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 36

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The penultimate chapter, “Harvest Fest,” begins with a reply from Kettricken to Bingtown about Tintaglia. It turns then to Fitz in a spyhole, observing and musing on festivities in progress, the Harvest Festival’s preliminaries. Among his observations are Hap’s performance and the conduct of Molly’s children, as well as the doings of his recent and earlier companions. And he grows somewhat maudlin as he watches others’ merriment.

The happy couple…
Image from Inky Thinking, here, used for commentary

Fitz determines to call on Molly and makes his way to the chambers where Lacey had noted she is quartered. She reluctantly admits him, and the two confer about Burrich and about how they will proceed in the wake of his death, the details of which Fitz relates. Fitz also accounts for his deeds and doings in the years since his death. And as Fitz makes to take his leave of Molly at her insistence, news comes that a ship from the Out Islands comes–bearing Elliania. Fitz finds himself swept up into the general assembly, shielded from easy view by Patience and Lacey, who come upon him amid the press of people eager to see what is going on. He therefore marks Elliania’s grand entrance and Dutiful’s enthusiastic response thereto, and through the Skill, Fitz prompts the Prince to action.

Celebrations commence, extending into the next days, which are marked with celebrations not only of the accelerated nuptials of Dutiful and Elliania, but the honoring of Burrich and the elevation of the Witted coterie. Fitz determines to call on Molly again and makes bold to do so, announcing himself openly to some consternation from Nettle and concern from Molly. The imminent arrival of Tintaglia and Icefyre forestalls further motion in that line, and arrangements for that arrival are swiftly concluded. The dragons alight and feast, their presence prompting Dutiful’s elevation to King-in-Waiting.

Festivities draw on for some time, until farewells become obligatory. New routines begin to emerge, with Fitz integrating more openly into Buckkeep life, and exploration of the Skill commences in earnest. Plans for the days to come are noted, as well.

I find myself feeling…hurried again as I read the present chapter, although I again note that the position of the present chapter in the novel and the trilogy conduce to hustling things along. And there are dangers in lingering too long on descriptions of festivals and the like. An old gift I received from my wife, Winkour’s The Traveling Curmudgeon, opines that “No one want to read about a halcyon voyage on glassy seas, a routine flight in first class aboard a half-empty 747, a glorious stay at a four-star hotel with sumptuous food and fabulous service. Comfort and luxury are forgettable” (viii); the comment speaks to prevailing disinterest in good times, and disinterest is anathema to a novel. Too, getting into the details of such things can easily provoke fandoms, which are far from always kind, as well as scholars, who are often even worse.

Yes, that’s my tongue in my cheek. Why do you ask?

Still, there are threads yet to tie off in the Tawny Man tapestry, and there are others to hang upon the walls yet. I continue to look forward to them.

If you could send support along, it’d be appreciated!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 312: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 35

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The following chapter, “Resumption,” opens with a brief verse before turning to Fitz’s return to Buckkeep–with difficulty. Fitz makes to transit through the Skill-pillars and finds himself adrift amid the void, where a comforting voice recognizes him and helps him to reintegrate himself with himself. The voice offers a warning and ejects him out into the world, where he slumbers until dawn.

Warps do weird work…
Image from the Legend of Zelda wiki, here, used for commentary.

Waking, Fitz finds himself ill and reaches out through the Skill to Thick, Dutiful, and Chade, who Skill out a series of questions to him and retrieve him back to Buckkeep with some aspersion. Fitz is treated for his seeming infirmities, and he slowly returns to life in Buckkeep. Amid that, he is summoned to a meeting of Dutiful’s Skill coterie, in which Nettle is markedly displeased with him, having been made aware of his true identity and relationship to her. Fitz reports his experiences to the coterie, which does not ease matters; afterward, Dutiful and he confer, Dutiful remarking on events with Nettle.

Following Dutiful’s remarks, Chade takes his turn with Fitz, reporting on the Fool’s arrival and departure during the time Fitz spent trapped between the Skill-pillars. He also notes Hap’s circumstances; Fitz’s foster-son has lost his apprenticeship and is spending time among performing folk. Chade additionally comments on the largely stabilized political situation in the Six Duchies that has resulted from Fitz’s decisions and the actions taken based upon them. Dealings with and among the Old Blood also receive attention.

Chade leaves Fitz, and Fitz considers the gifts the Fool has left for him. One is the poem with which the chapter begins. Another is a carved Skill-stone that contains memories of Fitz, the Fool, and Nighteyes together.

Nostalgic, Fitz stalks out through Buckkeep, where he encounters Starling. She notes Hap’s likely whereabouts and her own situation–happily pregnant despite earlier beliefs. They part amiably, and Fitz makes his way to the tavern Starling noted Hap frequents. The two confer about their deeds and doings, Hap noting that he is becoming a minstrel, endorsed by Starling and apprenticing to an older minstrel to learn the ways of that profession in detail. They talk, too, about Hap’s lapsed romantic interest, and they part again, Fitz returning to Buckkeep to call on Patience and Lacey. The three talk together for a time, and Lacey notes where Fitz can find Molly at last.

I note, among other things, the mention of Pecksies in the current chapter. It escapes me at the moment if they have been mentioned previously–but they are real within the Six Duchies, and I’ve written somewhat about them previously, in addition to other mention. At the appropriate time, I will return to them–clearly, since the rereading series will not only treat the Elderlings novels.

The current chapter does seem to display to me some of the problem I’ve noted in Hobb’s writing at other times: the tendency to rush at the end. Admittedly, the novel is in a denouement, with the major conflict resolved; the sweep of the epic within which the novel takes place is more or less done at this point in the text. (And, yes, I am using somewhat formal definition of an epic, here; there is an underlying grand heroic conflict that determines the fates of peoples rather than of people, which was also true in both the Farseer and Liveship Traders novels. Here, though, the focus is not on the epic hero so much as what would be a foil in a more traditional epic–not quite the Wiglaf to Dutiful’s Beowulf or the Merlin to his Arthur, but still…) It makes sense that things to be wrapped up would be wrapped up, and narrative constraints do tend to call for things to be wrapped up, unlike in life where many things simply end rather than resolving. Still, I feel…hurried along, and I’m not sure I like it.

Whether because of narrative sensibilities or once-again-over-affect, I want it to last a little longer.

Your kind support is greatly appreciated!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 311: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 34

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The next chamber, “Commitments,” opens with a brief in-milieu directive from an old Skillmaster before turning to Fitz considering the shift in his situation and preparing to return to the Fool and Prilkop on Aslevjal. He returns to the Witness Stones and contemplates them before passing through the Skill-pillars once again and making his way to the Fool. The two confer, exchanging news, and the Fool affirms a determination to absent himself from Fitz’s life. The risk of occasioning change is too great, and the Fool withdraws the marks of Skill-sharing from Fitz, leaving the two sundered and Fitz considering what has been given to him by those whom he has loved.

How the mighty have fallen…
Source should be visible in this.

In the wake of the loss, Fitz follows Chade’s bidding and makes to retrieve some of the purloined Skill-texts that the Pale Woman had had, aided by Prilkop. They find the corpse of the Pale Woman, and Prilkop notes that he and the Fool will return to their shared school–in Clerres–to address some concerns they have there. Prilkop also urges Fitz to remain with him for a short span before returning through the Skill-pillars, which urging Fitz, being called by Chade and Thick back to Buckkeep, politely refuses.

Some things present themselves as of interest in the present chapter. One of them is a bit of foreshadowing that I do not think will be a spoiler to point out (aside from the novel being nearly twenty years in print as I write this): Fitz refuses a polite warning from a knowledgeable figure, and that has never worked out well for him in the preceding texts. Never.

Another point is that the present chapter is, I believe, the first mention of Clerres, the center of power of the White Prophet religion. I offer some discussion of it here, in “Manifestations of Medieval Religion in Robin Hobb’s Elderlings Corpus,” and I have the idle thought that I might revisit the project at some future point, expanding the conference paper with quotations and, maybe, further analysis. It’s not like I was going to place it in a journal in any event, after all; I still do some of The Work, but I am decisively out of academe. Still, the name might well be a bit of sequel-planting for Hobb, which would not be out of line–but even if it is not, the detail is not a throwaway thing as much as it is an enrichment of the milieu. After all, people give names to places, and everybody’s from somewhere.

One more, before I close, is the discussion of responsibility and authority at work in the chapter. It does note receive much space, admittedly, but there is something of an undercurrent of the issue throughout the Six Duchies books. Much of the action in them, and certainly the bulk of the political intrigues, result from the abdication of FitzChivalry’s father, King-in-Waiting Chivalry Farseer, from that position and his self-removal from the line of succession to the throne of the Six Duchies. Would matters in the Red-Ship War have gone as they did, had Chivalry remained present in government? Certainly, Verity would not have done as he did…but I am not a fan-fiction writer, and certainly not in the Six Duchies. That way lies opprobrium, and I have faced enough such in my life already.

Send a little something my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 310: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 33

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The succeeding chapter, “Family,” opens with a brief and pointed message from Patience to Kettricken before picking up with Fitz and Nettle meeting in the flesh for the first time. Their exchange is strained and somewhat awkward, although they both recognize that they are acting poorly and restart their conversation–with both of them being somewhat overwhelmed by their emotions, Fitz at meeting his daughter and not being able to say as much, Nettle by grief for her father and upset at the change to her family and station. Fitz passes along Burrich’s message, and Nettle takes her leave.

Fatigued, Fitz falls asleep where he is. When he wakes, it is with Patience and Lacey present, and his appearance startles both women, so much so that Lacey passes out. Patience orders Fitz to assist her and Lacey to their rooms, and Fitz complies, barely getting the door shut behind them before Patience lights into him, demanding an account of his days and deeds since she had seen him buried. Only when Patience has finally fallen asleep does Fitz excuse himself and take a solid meal, purloining supplies to take back to Aslevjal for Prlikop and the Fool. He is sent aside by Chade’s Skilled command, though, and serves as relay between Fallstar and Kettricken as the former complains to the latter of Dutiful’s actions. Amid the task, he finds himself bidden advise Kettricken, and he does so–against Chade’s ideas. And he finds the older man ceding power to him at last.

The denouement continues in the present chapter, with Fitz belatedly “coming into his own,” although it is a partial and frustrated thing. Because he is not the true king, despite Chade’s epithet at the end of the chapter, and he is not the seniormost Farseer; that is, instead, Chade, even if Fitz was recognized as belonging to the family in a way Chade never was. So he is neither a public face for the throne nor the one most entitled to that throne, and he seems to be aware of as much, given his reluctance to assume power at this point in his life (with reference to an earlier instance of his doing the same). Again, though, Fitz’s story is not the traditionally heroic. It is, in some senses, much more as Tolkien’s legendarium operates; the traditionally heroic figure, Aragorn, is not the protagonist of the tale. And while Fitz is far removed from Frodo or Sam, he is just as far from the traditional heroic ideal as they are–closer in birth, perhaps, but far more willing to do what would never occur to either of those hobbits. But so much is to be expected from the protagonist of series that use the Tolkienian tradition even as they make decided efforts to move away from it…

Help me keep this going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 309: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 32

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The following chapter, “Through Stones,” opens with a passage from Chade’s writings about the Witness Stones and Skill-pillars before returning to Fitz’s attendance on the ill Fool and his messages through the Skill to Chade about the same. Fitz dithers about leaving his friend behind but is persuaded by Prilkop, Thick, and the Fool himself to depart in favor of the Fool’s continued convalescence and conference with Prilkop. Fitz offers to return swiftly, though Prilkop advises against rapid successive use of the Skill-pillars, and Fitz takes Thick to and through the Skill-pillar back to Buck and the Witness Stones.

Uh oh…
Image from Nettle’s page on the Realm of the Elderlings wiki, used for commentary

The trip through the Stones is unpleasant, but Fitz gets himself and Thick to Buckkeep, even so. He leaves Thick in the company of guards, and he makes his own way to the hidden chambers in which he and Chade long worked. Shortly thereafter, he heads to Kettricken’s chambers and reports to her before being asked to relay messages to Dutiful via the Skill. Fitz serves as a conduit between the Prince and his mother for a time, until he begins to be subsumed by the Skill and has to be forced away from the magic. After some time and recovery, Fitz is released and tends to himself briefly before being encountered by Nettle unexpectedly.

Or at least unexpectedly on his part; those who have read Hobb, or are rereading her, or who have followed along my rereading (thank you, by the way!) will know that Fitz gets to “enjoy” such things on an alarmingly regular basis. But though the encounter with Nettle must be a social shock, it is at least only that; for once, Fitz is not imperiled by a chance encounter, which is something of a relief.

If I read the novel with Freytag’s structure in mind, it seems to me that the present chapter is firmly in the denouement. Certainly, it feels as if the novel is working to resolve various plot threads before it concludes, the major actions of the plot being accomplished. (I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere, whether in this webspace or in some other place, that the story that would “normally” be told in the Realm of the Elderlings is not Fitz’s, but Verity’s in the Farseer novels and Dutiful’s in the Tawny Man. As I get further into the reread, we’ll see how much it holds–and there’s a lot of reread left: seven Elderlings novels, the Soldier Son trilogy, and various other short stories, novellas, and other pieces. I picked a hell of a project, right?) But I rather like that aspect of Hobb’s writing; it works to give the impression that her narrative world is not just what is shown in the main text, but is suggestive of a larger world outside the narrative readers get to see. That things do not all tie up neatly at once, but close off raggedly…we come back to it, as I recall–and as I believe will show up soon.

I’d really like it if you could send some support my way!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 308: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 31

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The next chapter, “Dragon’s Head,” begins with an excerpt from a minstrel’s account of events before turning to Fitz and the Fool returning to the Black Man, who marvels at the return of the latter from the dead. Thick makes a scattered report of what he has been told through the Skill, and reports are exchanged, in the flesh and through magical means. The difficulties in concluding the marriage arrangements between Dutiful and Elliania are rehearsed, as are their resolutions–which involved Icefyre shoving his head into the Narwhal mothershouse and touching it to the hearthstones therein.

Quite the fireplace decoration…
Dragon-head Drawing by kejig on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Fitz and the Fool confer about what was reported, and the Fool delights in connecting with Prilkop–the Black Man–whose experiences are both like and unlike his own. The Fool urges Fitz to return to his life and is surprised to have it affirmed that he will do so. And that night, Fitz connects with Nettle through the Skill, where the latter complains of the difficulties at court and makes her own report to the former, receiving his reports, in turn. Their conversation turns tense around the issue of Molly, but it ends amicably, and Fitz sleeps well in the knowledge that he will return home at last.

Were this the last chapter in the book, I’d not be worried. Even had I not read the book many times before, given what Hobb has shown throughout the Elderlings novels, and knowing how much text remains–nearly 100 pages in my copy–I would be worried. Fitz is in a good place, and that cannot be allowed to continue. And of course not; it is in seeing Fitz persevere against situations that are as often his own damned fault as not that so much of his attraction lies. It invites affective reading, which is something I ought not to do, given my training and experience–but it is how most people read, and I am far enough outside academe–more than ten years since my last degree, now, and some time since I had a college job–that I’m not really outside that “most.” Not so much anymore…

I could use your continued support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 307: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 30

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The following chapter, “Whole,” opens with a personal letter from Kettricken to Molly. It moves thence to Fitz and the Fool as the latter continues to convalesce from the trauma of resurrection, beginning to explore the uncertainty of having outlived his prophecies. Fitz continues to care for his friend as they confer about what the Fool should do, moving forward, and the Fool determines to leave the stone city where Fitz had brought them.

How apropos…
Take Back Your Memories by BlackTeaandBones on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

As the two prepare to depart, they confer further, talking of their history with Girl-on-a-Dragon as they come to her. The Fool explicates some of what he has learned of the carving–Realder’s Dragon–including parallels between those involved, and he notes his purpose for the Rooster Crown–a thing to be given in exchange for the return of that part of Fitz he had rashly put into the carving years ago. The exchange is made, the Fool taking that part of Fitz back from the dragon and returning it to Fitz with difficulty for them both.

Fitz suffers through the onrush of returned memories, returning to himself only slowly and spending the evening considering what he has regained. The next day, he and the Fool return to Aslevjal, where they survey what had been the Pale Woman’s facility and confer about the nature of the Skill as Fitz recognizes a way home.

The present chapter makes much of the contrast between youthful passion and settled stolidity. I find myself reading with affect yet again, considering my own unexciting nature as I come ever closer to my forties and the ways in which I used to be excited about things. But I have no repository into which I poured my youthful feelings, no stone cellar from which they may be withdrawn by a kiss–and so I will not need to feel again what I felt then, for which I am likely the better.

Let’s be honest. I’m the kind of person who does this, now, and I was not much more active in my youth than now. So much shows in the habits that kept my belly flabby when I did exercise, and I do not do as much of that now as previously–not by quite a bit. I am staid now, and I was then, more concerned with avoiding the consequences of failure than with enjoying the results of success and therefore reluctant to engage with anything. The tendency has left me more timorous than not, and the fatigue and ennui of years spent failing at my goals has not helped.

Fantasy fiction serves as escapism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I know I would not be fit to abscond from such confinement as constrains me; I am the architect of my own prison and my jailer, and the judge who spoke the lifelong sentence. There is no appeal in it.

It’d be great if you could lend me a hand!

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

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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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