The next chapter, “The Quest,” opens with a brief passage on the powers and perils of the Skill before moving into Burrich’s preparations to leave Fitz behind. Burrich leaves, and Fitz considers his next actions.
He confers with Nighteyes, who surveys the cabin where Fitz had been living with Burrich as he returned to humanity, and he considers the wolf. The wolf naps, and Fitz assesses his situation for the start of the journey. Over the following days, he makes preparations for his own departure, and the two linger near the cabin as Fitz convalesces a bit further amid his preparations.
After a traumatic dream, Fitz realizes that he has completely lost his sense of time; weeks have passed that he had thought days, and he understands the truth of Burrich’s fears for him. He does what he can to return from it and renews himself to his purpose against Regal, if with some misgivings as other ideas come to him. Considering some of them leads him to Skill to Verity; he makes contact and affirms that he will join Verity after he concludes an errand. In the wake of it, he reflects on the Six Duchies and his former life in the kingdom.
I am struck as I read the chapter again by how Fitz seems to waffle in his decision, realizing in part that the words Burrich and Chade had spoken to him had merit, realizing in part that he is bound to Verity through a kinship incompletely concluded but that is compelling, even so. He seems ever to vacillate between certainty and doubt, and I once again find myself reading with affect; I doubt myself often, possibly more than I do not, and I am not in nearly so straitened a set of circumstances as those in which Fitz finds himself. No, I have a regular job with regular duties and common expectations, things I have repeatedly addressed before–but I still doubt myself and my abilities. So I sympathize with a character who similarly doubts his strong intent.
I think also that the waffling humanizes Fitz, moving him away from being the kind of archetypal hero commonly perceived as being at work in fantasy literature (though I will note that Tolkien’s Aragorn expresses doubt, as does his Frodo; others can speak more to the matter than I, and more eloquently). For someone who has been uprooted–much less metaphorically than most who self-describe thus–it is only sensible that there would be doubt as to what to do now. Conversely, someone who focused utterly on the one thing would make for a more difficult read for many readers, or would come off to many readers as far less enfleshed a character than Hobb has given readers to expect. It might line up more neatly with best-selling popular novels, but I do not think it would make for as engaging a read. Certainly, it has not for me.