The seventh chapter in Assassin’s Apprentice, “An Assignment,” presents commentaries about the death of Regal’s mother, Queen Desire, from what seems to have been a drug overdose. It moves on to note the mourning rituals enacted in the wake of Chivalry’s death, focusing on haircutting and noting the extreme removals Burrich inflicts on Fitz–appropriate to mourning a father–and himself–more fit to a crowned king, despite Chivalry’s abdication. The extent of Burrich’s emotional investment in Chivalry is clear.
In the weeks and months following Chivalry’s death, Chade summons Fitz several times. Fitz asks about his father and his circumstances, and Chade agrees that the death is suspicious–as well as noting both that Fitz is far from safe and that he judges his father overly harshly. Fitz’s regular life continues among the summonses, and he notes the increasing frequency of raids from the Out Islands before learning that he is to be sent as part of a diplomatic envoy to one of the Six Duchies experiencing many such raids. Burrich instructs him rapidly, and Fitz encounters the Fool unexpectedly; the Fool delivers a prophecy to the boy:
Fitz fixes feist’s fits. Fat suffices. It’s a message, I believe. A calling for a significant act. As you are the only one I know who endures being called Fitz, I believe it’s for you. As for what it means, how should I know? I’m a fool, not an interpreter of dreams. Good day.
Later, Chade informs Fitz his presence in the envoy is a cover for his first assignment as an assassin–potentially. Fitz is to assess the situation and, if disloyalty on the part of the local duke underlies the increase in raiding, he is to eliminate the duke–without allowing any of the others to be any the wiser. Fitz asks Chade about his own entry into the assassin’s profession–and Chade offers some answers, but not many.
Some thoughts emerge as I reread–and some, I think I have not thought before, though I have to wonder if I am bringing up things I’ve read without realizing I’m doing so. I’ve read a lot of criticism of Hobb’s writing, so it’s possible I’m recapitulating it; if I am, it’s unintentional.
- Burrich is described in the novel as having been Chivalry’s man, committed to him to a degree exceeding the normal loyalty one might expect from those in service. (It’s a relationship that might well be likened to that between Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings.) Later novels explicate the relationship to some extent, though those novels also make a point of noting how little is ever made clear to Fitz–and thus to the reader–about life before Fitz’s arrival. (It is possible to read into that a comment about our own partial knowledge; what can we really know of the past other than pieces of it?) Given the metaphor for homosexuality already presented in the novel, though, as well as the decided homoeroticism that emerges in the later novels (and that no small amount of fanart depicts), that Burrich and Chivalry were more than servant and lord is a tantalizing prospect.
- While this is not the first appearance of the Fool in the narrative, it is the first of the Fool’s predictions to come up in the text. It does seem to indicate that the concept of the Fool–what the Fool actually is–is not entirely clear at present; the Fool’s comment about not being an interpreter of dreams is at odds with later information, suggesting the concept changes during composition–or that the Fool does.
- Fitz notes at the end of the chapter that he is thirteen as he takes on the first assignment. This is, of course, horrible to current sensibilities; sending children to wage war is atrocious, and assassination is less savory work than open war. At the same time, it sets up something of a precedent in the series; he is sent in part because, as a child, he would not be expected to be an assassin, and that lack of suspicion of a child returns in force later in the series. Seems there’s quite a bit of groundwork laid here for what comes afterwards…