The next chapter, “Guards and Bonds,” opens with a brief rumination on the differences between lived experience and careful study. It moves on to track the night after Fitz leaves Molly’s chamber and the following day, when he calls upon Patience once again. He is somewhat surprised to hear her warn him against court intrigues–and moved at her sincerity in doing so, when it is not to her advantage or even, seemingly, in her interest. Fitz is also shown a bit of his folly by Lacey, who pointedly demonstrates that she is not only a lady’s attendant.
After he leaves Patience, Fitz calls on Kettricken. He finds that she is absent, and he goes in search of her. The search leads him out to the stables, where he is informed that Burrich is at work on a funeral pyre for his old hound, Vixen. He is also informed that Kettricken has left Buckkeep afoot, and Fitz moves to pursue her. When he overtakes her, she expresses a desire to attend on Verity and a dissatisfaction that he seems uninterested in her. She also marks the wolf cub that Fitz has been tending, though she does not connect it to him.
Fitz is able to persuade Kettricken to return to Buckkeep for the time, conversing through the Wit with the wolf cub along the way. Molly marks their return, and Fitz goes off to pay his respects to Vixen before gathering meat and bones to take to the cub. They play together for a time, and Fitz feels himself slipping into their bond. When he breaks the connection, it is only with regret, and he is reluctant as he returns to Buckkeep.
Much of the chapter focuses on depicting women, from Patience’s assertions about the historically strong Farseer queens to Patience and Lacey to Kettricken. To my mind, Hobb makes a point of subverting the kinds of typing that pervades Tolkienian-tradition fantasy literature in the depictions; none of the women seem to adhere to one trope or another, even if Patience lampshades her in-milieu presentation. Rather, they come off as having the kinds of contradictory motivations and behaviors that people, rather than caricatures, do. Patience is flighty, yes, but evidently more capable and aware than she is commonly credited. Lacey seems demure but is clearly a threat. Kettricken is strong and noble in many ways, although she is clearly affected by her interpersonal relationships. Given how many other novels, and more popular, have so much trouble depicting women, it is a pleasure to see one that does not. To see it come from twenty years ago (as of this writing), when so many pieces of contemporary fiction–and all too many people who are all too real–still cannot do better than they do…whether it should be read as praise for Hobb or a lamentation of the state of the world is not yet clear to me.