The next chapter, “The River Road,” opens with a brief statement about the economic importance of the Buck River. It moves thence to Fitz waking from a drunken stupor at Nighteyes’s insistence. Hung over, he makes more preparations for departure; upon returning from getting water, he finds Forged Ones in the small hut where he had been staying.
Melee ensues as the Forged Ones attack Fitz–“Dreams too loud!” says one of him–and Fitz panics, fleeing as soon as he is able. The change from previous behavior gives Nighteyes concern, and Fitz mulls over the difference, trying to convince himself that he acted wisely and not from fear.
It is only much later, and coaxed by Nighteyes, that Fitz approaches the hut again. After nervously gathering–again–provisions, Fitz and Nighteyes set out. It becomes a pattern that they travel by night, resting by day, though the lingering effects of repeated trauma make Fitz less able to sleep than is ideal. And Fitz sorrows over the visible effects of the depredations the Six Duchies have suffered.
They come to a town, which Fitz investigates over Nighteyes’s objections. When assessing his available resources, Fitz, realizes he has lost the pin Shrewd had given him as a marker of his service; it was taken by a Forged One Fitz had killed as he fled. He resolves to keep the earring he had from Patience, that had been Burrich’s, and proceeds into the town. Therein, he finds food and news–the former better than the latter–and the company of a minstrel family that sympathizes with him over his evident ill-treatment. Reluctantly, Fitz agrees to fall in with them; he and Nighteyes both know that it is a bad thing for him to do.
The chapter is not the introduction of minstrels to the Farseer novels; they are mentioned before. But it is an early indication of the minstrels’ social function in the Six Duchies, not only as bearers of news (as in the medieval life Hobb’s Six Duchies evokes to some degree–with my usual caveat), but also as witnesses. As emerges later in the corpus, a minstrel’s sworn testimony is authoritative in Six Duchies legal proceedings. For Fitz to fall in with a group of them foreshadows their importance to come–and the Elderlings corpus as a whole makes much of predestination and glimpsing the future.
Also foreshadowed is that Fitz’s sloppiness will cause problems for him. He notes his errors with the minstrel group, and that much self-awareness might well help him as he proceeds. If he has already been so lackadaisical, though, the question has to arise of what else he has missed–and what others have seen. For it was noted to him that others watch, and even in the present chapter, it is remarked that there are informants about…