A chapter titled “Dilemmas” follows, opening with Fitz recounting a dream of the Fool and returning swiftly to Fitz puzzling out how he can resolve the situation in which he has found himself. He turns to his cousin, August, prevailing upon him to send through the Skill to Shrewd for direction. August reluctantly accedes, or appears to, but Fitz is left with no clearer sense of what to do.
The ceremonies that bind Kettricken to Verity continue through the day. Amid them, Fitz observes August and Regal, and he determines that they discuss his own mission, which gives him unease. It has not lifted by the time he reports to Regal’s chambers as he had been bidden. Regal does not speak with him directly, but has his attendant provide Fitz directions and materials before sending him on his way.
Fitz, somewhat addled by chemicals, proceeds. He confers briefly with Kettricken, then goes to Rurisk, laying out what he knows of the continuing plot against him. Kettricken arrives in time to see Regal’s own plot come out; he has arranged for Rurisk to be poisoned independently, with Fitz poised to take the blame for it. In the ensuing fracas, Fitz kills an assailant but is taken, himself.
Fitz wakes to find Regal gloating over him. He soon passes into a drugged delirium in which he hears voices conferring through the Skill and becomes aware through the Wit of Nosy’s grief at Rurisk’s death. The old hound helps Fitz out of his bindings, and Burrich, following the Wit that he admits being able to sense, helps Fitz leave his captivity.
One thing that the chapter does well, among the many things that Hobb’s writing generally does well, is convey the notion of the narrative world existing outside the main narrative. Fitz becomes aware that there are plots involving him that he does not know about, and their presentation makes clear that they have been long in the making. It has a strangely decentering effect on Fitz. The narrative of the novel is recounted from his perspective, informed by commentaries appearing at the beginning of each chapter, so it makes sense that it focuses on him, but the present chapter makes clear that Fitz is far from the only actor in the milieu–and far from the most effective, in the present circumstance.
Tolkienian-tradition fantasy fiction usually focuses on characters who are themselves the most important people within their milieu. Frodo and Aragorn are the key figures at the end of Tolkien’s Third Age; Rand al’Thor is, in effect, the messiah of his own world; Ged becomes the de facto ruler of Earthsea, at least for a time. FitzChivalry Farseer, though, at least in the present novel, is but one piece among many in play on the board, and, in the present chapter, he seems to have been played badly.