The next chapter in Assassin’s Apprentice, “Covenant,” continues the pattern of opening with a passage from an in-milieu reference text before musing on the reestablishment of normal patterns. Fitz glosses over his integration into the daily childhood life of Buckkeep and its town, noting his reluctance to let Burrich know more of them and commenting on relationships with members of his family and people about the castle. Regal and his mother were to be avoided. Verity was distant but kind when remembered the boy. A few friends were to be sought, and several others were annoyances or dangers.
Perhaps the most important, though, was the beginnings of his arrangement with his natural grandfather, Shrewd, King of the Six Duchies and father to Chivalry, Verity, and Regal. Shrewd makes him an object lesson for Regal, openly declaring his intent to use his bastard grandson for the benefit of the kingdom–and specifically in those ways a legitimate prince could not be used. He also swears the boy to his service, young as he is, and smilingly indulges what he hears as a petty exhalation from Regal.
At length, Fitz returns to Burrich, where he learns that the pattern of his life will be changing yet again. He will no longer be a relatively free boy at play, but will instead be put to training at the King’s behest and ultimately, for his service. Fitz is upset by the changes, and Burrich offers him some small comfort.
Fitz then glosses over the forms of change in his life, touching on the various forms of instruction in which he must now engage. He learns a bit more of what is nosed about the castle about himself, his family, and Burrich. He begins to study combat, and he is given his own room, which is described in some detail and compared to his previous lodgings in the stables with Burrich as he finds his way to sleep.
Some things stand out in the chapter:
- The focus on the way in which Shrewd claims Fitz is of interest. He makes a point of hiring Fitz’s service–he says to him “You need not eat any man’s leavings….If any man or woman ever seeks to turn you against me by offering you more than I do, then come to me, and tell me the offer, and I shall meet it. You will never find me a stingy man, nor be able to cite ill use as a reason for treason against me,” situating his loyalty in terms of economics rather than consanguinity–rather than on accepting him as a member of his family or commanding it as his due. (Indeed, Fitz comments on it, that Shrewd “could have declared himself [Fitz’s] grandfather and had for the asking what he instead chose to buy.”) And he does so after making a point to Regal that Fitz’s heritage is both clear and something that makes him particularly useful. It has to be wondered if the terms are a misreading on Shrewd’s part of Fitz’s character or a reminder to the young Fitz, who seems neither to need it nor to understand it in the moment, of his status as an outsider–or perhaps part of a performance for Regal and any others who might be observing that the boy is marked as of use but not necessarily beloved.
- The chapter is the first introduction of the Fool, whose presence suffuses the main line of the Realm of the Elderlings novels. The character receives attention that is denied to many others in the narrative, marking importance, but that importance is left to be imagined at present. Several of the works in the Fedwren Project focus on the Fool, and what they say about the character is more erudite and eloquent than can necessarily be reported here, but this is where the character begins in the narrative, so it is worth attention.
- The chapter also introduces the connection between the Six Duchies and the Elderlings, which becomes an important point in the narrative. Buried amid a flood of other details, it escapes notice at first, but it is a common point of reference in many of the succeeding novels. It is a sign of Hobb’s attention to narrative detail and a commendation of her writerly craft that the image is presented without being made obtrusive, there where readers can find it but not so overtly that it smites them with its presence. More writers could stand such subtlety.