The chapter that follows, “Hunting,” opens with Fitz musing on the different teaching styles of the then-last two Skill Masters at Buckkeep. It turns then to the morning after Fitz’s assignation with Molly, when he reports to Verity. Verity gifts Fitz with a sword and reminds him that he, himself, is still but a servant, chiding Fitz for not warding his mind as he had been taught.
Verity also tasks Fitz with refining further his control over the Skill, even as he works on exterminating the nearby Forged Ones. The exercise is something of a strain for Fitz, as he works to keep his mind focused on the needed tasks and not to dwell on other matters, particularly Molly and Nighteyes
While taken with his thoughts, Fitz hears a scream and moves to investigate. He finds Forged Ones fighting over a child they have taken, with one having begun to eat her before she dies in the hands of the others. Fitz falls into a rage and attacks, Nighteyes helping him. They prevail with difficulty, and Nighteyes departs moment before riders reach Fitz.
The riders try to make sense of events, and Burrich, who is among them, tends Fitz’s wounds–with clear questions that Fitz does not answer. As Fitz debriefs afterward, Verity ruminates on Fitz’s survival and tasks Burrich to teach him fighting with an axe. Burrich agrees, but he expresses reservations about sending Fitz to do more of the work he has been doing. Verity reminds Burrich that Fitz has little choice in the matter–that none of them do. Fitz surprises both by asserting his willingness to continue.
I’ve noted before that foresight is a dominant theme in the series, making foreshadowing a common device. Having read the books before, I note with some amusement the gesture towards such foreshadowing Hobb makes in Verity’s Skilled comments to Fitz about the child Verity’s mother had used to gather information. Without spoiling too much (insofar as a novel in print for decades as I write can be spoiled), I can note that something similar happens, and more than once, to Fitz–even as he, himself, was formerly positioned to be such an actor.
I’ve also noted that I tend to read Hobb affectively. The present chapter is not an exception to that. Having a daughter who is not much older than the child described…it was not an easy read this time around. (Not that it ever has been; I’ve long been more sentimental than it’s good for me to be, and it’s gotten me into trouble more than once.) I do not find fault with Hobb for refusing to indulge in what TV Tropes describes as “Improbable Infant Survival,” but that does not mean it was comfortable for me to read it. I’m not sure what all it says about me, and I’m not sure I’m eager to find out. I am, though, eager to read on.