A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 21: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 21

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

The next chapter, “Princes,” opens with only a brief comment on the virtues of a particular herb. It moves thence to Rurisk breaking in upon Fitz in pleasant surprise that he yet lives. He lays out that Kettricken had thought to poison him before he could poison Rurisk, and that any attempted assassination plot against him now would be fruitless. Rurisk gives Fitz a message to take to Shrewd before collecting himself and Kettricken and departing.

Carry Me, Phyllanthus amarus, in an image from Wikimedia Commons, used for commentary

Fitz rests before attending more of the ceremonies marking the nuptials and the diplomacy attendant upon them. Amid them, Rurisk takes Fitz aside to show him the pride of his hunting dogs, and Fitz recognizes Nosy. Fitz make the time to speak to Burrich about the matter, laying out some of the old strain between them, but there is little reconciliation.

That night, Fitz is summoned by Regal. His uncle, drunk, demands a report on the progress towards killing Rurisk; Fitz demurs, and Regal voices discontent that things are not moving more swiftly. He commands Fitz to return to him on the next day, when he will be provided what he needs.

The herb named in the blurb at the beginning of the chapter, carryme, evokes the Phyllanthus amarus. There is some scholarship treating the herb, as witness this and this, among others. Medicinal properties and uses (including pain management) are ascribed to it, as are potentially damaging effects, which would seem to align with the introductory blurb, at least generally. And that is in keeping with Hobb’s stated desire for verisimilitude, though an interesting quirk does arise.

I’ve made the argument that Hobb’s Six Duchies echo the North American pre-invasion more neatly than the European medieval, and I’ve used the flora and fauna described in the Realm of the Elderlings as parts of that argument. Raccoons, for example, come in. The thing is, the Phyllanthus amarus is, so far as I can tell, native to southern Asia–though I will readily admit my investigation into it has been limited. (This is a volunteer project, after all; I cannot afford to spend too much time on it.) And it seems to prefer tropical and subtropical climates rather than the colder weathers of the Mountain Kingdom.

The plant’s presence in the narrative illustrates the dangers of looking for too much in the way of real-world correspondence in fantasy fiction–or any fiction, really. It is fiction because it does not have to be true in the sense of giving a factually accurate report of places and events. It often is true in other senses, usually revelatory of some kind of inner reality or guiding principle, but that truth takes teasing out of the sort that many abjure, being accustomed to having others do the work of thinking for them.

Do please help me keep doing this kind of work.

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