The next chapter, “The Homecoming,” reflects briefly on the founding of Buckkeep before moving to gloss the progress made by Fitz, Burrich, and the stableboy Hands from the Mountain Kingdom back to Buckkeep. It is a wintry journey and slower than might be hoped, the more so because Fitz’s condition impedes their travel. Too, when they lay over in an inland town, Burrich and Hands hear much of the disgruntlement about the continuing threat of the Raiders and the appreciation the people seem to have for Regal; Burrich takes the opportunity to caution Fitz that his uncle still hates him and will have him killed if he can.
At length, Fitz and his party return to Buckkeep, where they are challenged by the gate guard. After a bit of banter, they are recognized and admitted, and Burrich has to caution Fitz again about returning to his subordinate place as a bastard princeling in a place where people care about such things. Fitz accedes to the wisdom, if with difficulty, as well as to the wisdom of allowing others to do for him what his condition prevents him from doing well. And after, when Fitz makes to report to King Shrewd and King-in-Waiting Verity, he is turned away by both and muses on the changes that have occurred while he was away and with the arrival of others before him.
The device of using rumors heard in passing through a town to gloss over events is a good one; exposition is often a difficult thing to do well, though it is also necessary, so any adept handling of it is good to see. But it is not as good as the depiction of the strange tensions of adolescence that Hobb depicts in Fitz; I am not so old that I do not recall the awkwardness of my own teenage years, though they were far less eventful for me than Fitz’s are for him, and I find myself reading affectively again as I sympathize utterly with a young man who, having had a taste of being something more, chafes at being returned to older, more constraining patterns. And I sympathize, too, with the desire to be open with someone, only to have that openness set aside–gently, perhaps, as Burrich does with Fitz, but still put aside. I have a person with whom I can be so open now, and I revel in it, but I recall not being able to do so. Again, though, it’s an affective reading, and something I ought to know better than to do.
Except that the idea that any would “know better” than to allow themselves to be moved by a character in a story is a strange one. To do the work of literary study, it is necessary to be able to remove reader from text to some degree, just as a physician must be able to look at the flesh of a patient as a thing apart from a person to some degree. Yet the physician who does not engage the patient’s humanity is decried, and rightly; no scholar, no practitioner, does well to separate the humane wholly. Acknowledging it is needed, yes, but ignoring it is certainly not.