A Robin Hobb Rereading Series–Entry 8: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 8

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

The next chapter, “Lady Thyme,” opens with a musing on geography before describing the outset of Verity’s expedition to Rippon. The marching order and the general tedium of the trip receive comment before Fitz begins to opine on his particular vexation: being made to attend on the heavily veiled and eminently cantankerous Lady Thyme. One of the other workers on the expedition relates the common understanding of Lady Thyme, namely that working for her is markedly undesirable; she proves the point as the journey continues across five days.

The lady’s not nearly so pleasant.
Image by Greenmars – Own work,
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26179639

At length, the expedition arrives in Rippon, and Fitz deposits Lady Thyme where she desires to lodge before rejoining Verity. Fitz’s uncle has him attend briefly to his dog, which he does by his Wit as much as anything else, then has him dress for the reception to come. Fitz is surprised by being taken in in such a way, but bathes and dresses as instructed.

At the appropriate time, Fitz accompanies Verity to the reception dinner. He marks the regard in which others seem to hold Verity (it is mixed), and assesses Kelvar swiftly–particularly as his new wife, Grace, joins him. He puts his various training to use at the dinner, observing the mighty carefully while keeping politely abreast of the surrounding conversations.

After the reception, Verity takes Fitz’s report of his observations. Fitz adds his summary of the situation: Kelvar is trying to compensate for the infirmities of age by taking a young wife and showering her with gifts. Verity bristles at the thought of soft-pedaling around Kelvar, purposing to order him to his duty. After being dismissed, Fitz muses on the inadequacy of that response and begins to contemplate responses as he falls asleep.

As I reread the chapter, I cannot help but think that it comments on the failures of direct solutions. The chapter ends with Fitz’s conclusion that simply ordering a task done will not ensure it is done well, that people have to be made to feel worthwhile to do work that is worthwhile. Some people can be trusted to act out of a sense of duty and to do their work well because of that duty, but more are more selfish than that and will not exert themselves without feeling some stake in the matter. Part of effective leadership, then, lies in helping others realize that they have a stake in doing what needs to be done. Verity acknowledges that Chivalry had realized it; Fitz himself understands it. That a refined politeness and its bastard both enact what simple truth struggles to do does point to etiquette as lies–but effective ones.

The last reminds that Hobb makes much of the significance of names in the Six Duchies, giving many characters emblematic names. That significance receives in-milieu comment; indeed, in the present chapter, Verity remarks that “Shrewd [his father] is called, and shrewd he is,” pointing to the name as characterization in a way that bespeaks his own name as his prominent quality. It is telling, then, that Lady Thyme, about whom more is revealed in following chapters, is named as she is. Though she is unpleasant to those who work for her, the flowering herb of her name is one that connotes courage and strength, if Catherine Boeckmann’s 2018 contribution to the Old Farmer’s Almanac is to be believed. The herb is also associated with purification and carries medicinal properties. Knowing this, the name becomes either a joke or a bit of foreshadowing; Hobb’s writing makes the latter more likely than the former.

Help me tend my gardens?


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