A chapter titled “Tradeford” follows, opening with notes about the status of the continued fight against the Red-Ship Raiders–including the fall of Brawndy of Bearns. It moves to a disheveled Fitz making his disreputable-looking way into a nearby town. As he takes in the local gossip–and a meal provided through a local lord’s general largesse–he learns of the “King’s Circle” and the “King’s Justice,” gladiatorial trial-by-combat spectacles that have taken the popular imagination.
A pair of locals makes to challenge Fitz, and he almost rises to that challenge, but is stopped by a voice in his head–Verity’s or his own. Moving off, he finds an inn and avails himself of it. Bathing reveals to him the extent of his travels, and shaving shows him a face unfamiliar to him. But when he makes to sleep, he finds himself restless with worry about his task, and when he does sleep, he dreams of the fall of Brawndy of Bearns and the continued valor of his daughters, Faith and Celerity. Verity again rebukes him through the Skill, and Fitz awakes.
The next morning, Fitz again avails himself of elfbark and prepares to move on to Tradeford from the small town. The small effects of the drug and the depression that follows its use attract his attention, bespeaking his addiction. And as he leaves the town, he sees recently built–and still-occupied–devices of torment and execution, and he thinks of Chade.
Soon enough, Fitz comes to Tradeford and marvels at it. In a short time, he is able to get a bit of work, and he listens to gossip while he does the work, noting the lack of talk of the Red Ships and reference to Regal by his mother’s name of Mountwell. He also learns more about the King’s Circle and is disgusted by it. And he learns about Tradeford Hall, the now-royal palace, which he surveys, marveling again at the splendor on display. The disjunction between easy life inland and his own upbringing shocks him–and he realizes what will come if Buckkeep falls.
Two things come to mind most forcefully for me as I reread the present chapter. One is the trial-by-combat concept and its problems; Jacqueline Stuhmiller writes of such things in another area of inquiry, and even if Fitz himself accepts the utility of what might generously be called alternative forms of justice, the nature of trial-by-combat as spectacle is dangerous even in his mind. But the notion of such a thing looms large in the chapter, hence the selected illustration above, and I am once again hard-pressed not to comment on the novel’s intersection with current events (I write this in mid-January 2020).
The other is the final passage in the chapter, in which Fitz juxtaposes the grandeur of Tradeford with the sullen, obstinate strength of Buckkeep. There is a bit of jingoism to be found in the comment, even if it is accurate, and even if it is mollified by Fitz’s longing for the kinds of nice things he sees, his assertion that a ruler having such things for the people ennobles the people. As with many other things in the series, there’s a lot to unpack, more than the present task admits of handling; it may well be another thing to which I return someday…