A Robin Hobb Rereading Series–Entry 5: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 5

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

The next chapter in Assassin’s Apprentice, “Loyalties,” also opens with an in-milieu commentary, this one discussing the Six Duchies’ practice of single-titled nobility. That is, in the milieu, no noble can hold more than one fief or demesne; there is no long list of titles attached to any single name. The commentary also notes the schism and unrest promoted by a queen who regretted her choice to wed the king in the years leading up to the events of the novel.

Image result for engraved silver knife
Something like this drives a point home.
Image from PicClick.com, used for commentary

The main body of the chapter relates the shape of Fitz’s early training with Chade, which supplemented the more public instruction he received from others at Buckkeep and did much to make him a pleasantly regarded figure in the castle. Specific tasks receive attention, including the temporary hobbling of a horse and the interception of a particular letter intended for Regal, Fitz’s half-uncle. Small defiances and arguments also get a bit of notice, and the tension between Fitz’s own ethics and the demands of his obedience are manifested.

Such tensions emerge most prominently in a test Chade sets before Fitz. Regular reports to Shrewd have reaffirmed Fitz’s loyalty to his king, and Chade bids him purloin a table knife from the king’s chambers. Fitz refuses and is dismissed sharply; it wounds him, and he nurses that hurt through his tasks in the coming days. He comes under Burrich’s attention and ministrations, and they begin to have an effect–but Chade’s nighttime appearance and apology do more. Shrewd’s own apology, admitting that he had ordered the test of Fitz’s loyalty, also helps, though it does provoke a display of burgeoning adolescent pique from Fitz as he sits with Chade that evening.

There is something decidedly Machiavellian about Shrewd in the chapter, which is not necessarily out of place for the character but does, perhaps, serve as a comment about the nature of kingship in the Six Duchies. Again, Shrewd hires Fitz rather than welcoming him as family at their first meeting, and the wariness implicit in that transaction does emerge again in the test to which Shrewd insists his bastard grandson be put. Nor is it imprudent to determine whether an assassin can be trusted, even one that comes from within the family–after all, consanguinity has not precluded Regal from considering killing Fitz already, and it is not to be wondered at that a bastard might begin to resent social onus.

Reading through the chapter again, I found myself struck by how frightening a figure Chade actually is. He moves more or less unseen and unknown throughout Buckkeep and is a dedicated assassin given free rein to explore many different avenues of inquiry. He is also committed to the idea of kingship and reconciled to his place as a servant of the king–whoever the king may actually be. As open as he seems to be with Fitz, it is clear that if a kill order came down–if, say, Regal got his way with things–Fitz would be dead. It seems a reinforcement of Fitz’s loneliness that his closest connection is with such a man; however strong the mentor/mentee relationship is and may become, the distance that is present seems set to remain in place, and there are things such a relationship cannot teach that Fitz may well need to know.

Again, I find myself reading affectively. I am not sure whether or not it helps.

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