A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 46: Royal Assassin, Chapter 21

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Dark Days,” opens with a rumination on the political future of the Mountain Kingdom during the conflict between the Six Duchies and the Red Ships. It moves on to treat the continued tension surrounding Duke Brawndy of Bearns, whom Regal is slighting. Kettricken meets with him, showing him great honor and mollifying him substantially in doing so. But the slight from Regal remains.

Image from Prophets become Warriors, Dragons Hunt as Wolves on Tumblr, here
Image used for commentary

The slight is compounded when, days later, Brawndy is summoned to Shrewd’s chambers and afterwards departs with news of no forthcoming aid. Kettricken intercedes, acting on her own initiative and in her own prerogative to gift Brawndy with significant monetary aid. Fitz finds himself obliged to pay court to Brawndy’s daughter, Celerity, and he observes as the Bearns party makes its way away from Buckkeep.

After, Fitz calls on Shrewd. Following an awkward physical encounter, Fitz finds himself serving as a Skill-bridge between Shrewd and Verity. He is made aware again of Shrewd’s bodily condition, and he is privy to Shrewd’s messages to Verity–tidings which he vehemently denies. Verity seems to take his side and pleads to have Fitz tended against his exertions.

In the wake of those exertions, both Shrewd and Fitz are exhausted. Regal barges in and takes Shrewd in hand, bidding the Fool, who is customarily present with Shrewd, to tend to Fitz. The Fool does so, staying with Fitz for a while for their mutual safety. When the Fool leaves to retrieve medicine for Fitz, the Skilled Serene and Justin enter Fitz’s room with ill intent. They psychically assail him, and Nighteyes psychically leaps to his defense. The Fool’s arrival dissuades any further action, and Serene and Justin depart in anger, leaving Fitz to his pain.

There is much that can be said about Fitz’s construction as a liminal figure. He operates in several grey areas: as a royal bastard, as a sanctioned assassin, as an informal advisor, as someone who is and is not adept with multiple magics. His liminality in those respects, while allowing him more freedom of motion than many other characters might have, also serves as a set of in-milieu reasons to hold him in low regard. He can be read–and perhaps should be read–as problematizing many of the traditional aspects of fantasy literature. He does not only nuance the warrior-hero that pervades Tolkienian-tradition works (despite the primacy of Frodo and Samwise), but he calls into question the stability of such categories. Fitz is far from the only character to do so, of course; there are frustrations of archetypes even in such characters as Malory’s Arthur and the Classical Hercules. But fantasy literature tends to operate in terms of such types (with a few notable exceptions, as Shiloh Carroll and others discuss far more eloquently than I am apt to do), and having such a character as Fitz, who almost fulfills the demands of many types while conforming to none of them, remains, to my mind, a refreshing thing.

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