The following chapter, “Gambit,” opens with a brief rumination of older-in-milieu codes of conduct. It pivots into a gloss of some time, during which Buckkeep slides into winter and Fitz attends to his then-few assigned duties. He also moons after Molly, for which Burrich gently chides him. The older man offers what seems some useful advice, but he is stricken when Fitz relates the way in which Patience cautioned him against pursuing Molly.
Fitz takes Burrich’s advice and amends his behavior. He also finds himself being drawn more and more closely to the wolf cub he had rescued as he works to rehabilitate him. And he finds himself growing closer to Kettricken, who is effectively alone at what remains, for her, a foreign court whose customs are opaque to her. As he converses with her, overly boldly, Fitz realizes that he has been manipulated by Chade into becoming her de facto adviser, a role he continues to ply among also calling on Patience daily.
Fitz also finds himself summoned to Shrewd, and he encounters Regal as he answers the summons. After a tense exchange, Regal moves on, and Fitz attends on his king. He finds the King’s chambers strangely secluded and Shrewd himself somewhat addled–until the new chamber servant, Wallace, leaves. After he does, Shrewd tasks Fitz with a mission to a northern Duchy, Bearns, where there are rumors of budding unrest and rebellion surrounding a self-styled Virago.
As he departs from his king, Fitz encounters Serene, alongside whom he had studied the Skill. She had succeeded Galen, and she had taken on his hatred of Fitz. The encounter worries him as he prepares for and heads off to his errand.
In the end, the errand runs smoothly. Fitz provokes a challenge from Virago he needs not fight; his more clandestine training ensures that she presents the symptoms associated with oathbreaking, and she flees. The Duke and his daughter offer strange familiarity that leaves Fitz entirely uneasy.
Early in the chapter, Burrich makes a comment, with “bitterness in his voice,” regarding being unwed and, to his knowledge, childless. The comment and its delivery suggest that the homoerotic overtones between him and Chivalry (previously noted here, here, and here) may not sound as clearly as the earlier novel had implied–which would reflect continued conceptual development as Hobb continued work on the series. Or it could imply that the relationship, being one along uneven power dynamics, was more coercive than the earlier novel implied, which has an entirely different set of resonances.
The gloss on the events of Fitz’s mission to Bearns is perhaps more telling. His target’s name is telling; the Six Duchies tend towards emblematic names, and “Virago” fits in the archaic sense of “woman who does manly, heroic deeds” and the more common current sense of “unpleasant and ill-tempered woman.” (And it might be argued that many traditionally masculinized virtues are unpleasant and of ill temper, as well.) She evidently thinks herself more the former and shows herself more the latter. Fitz’s handling of the situation is remarkably good; he not only eliminates Virago, but he does so in a way that leaves her unable to be a rallying point for further action, shaming her without lifting his blade. He is, ultimately, good at his job, and if he were to confine himself to doing that job, things might be otherwise than they turn out. But that’s material for later parts of the write-up.