A chapter titled “Elfbark” follows. It begins with a brief comment about one of the White Prophets’ prophecies before turning to Fitz and Kettricken plotting out their next steps. Fitz and Nighteyes share a pleasant exchange before the party sets out, as do Fitz and the Fool.
As the party proceeds, Kettle accompanies Fitz, helping him keep his focus as they move towards the Skill road. That night, Fitz, the Fool, and Nighteyes go out to hunt. While they do, Nighteyes scents one of Regal’s coterie, Burl. The wolf moves to eliminate him as Burl works to Skill against Fitz. Nighteyes drives Burl off as Fitz is assailed through the magic; they make their way back to the party, where the Fool is still in the grip of the Skill. Fitz recalls him from it, finding a bond between them through the magic, and Kettle prepares more elfbark for the Fool to drink in the hope its Skill-dampening effect would protect him from further assault through the Skill for a time.
Kettricken demands explanations, which Kettle provides. She mulls over their situation afterward, and the Fool begins to make strangely lewd comments. Kettle presses on with the elfbark treatment, learning of Fitz’s long use of the substance–and of Verity’s. In the wake of the information, Kettle offers more to Fitz, citing its quelling effects; he considers taking it, but decides against doing so, and he immediately begins to suffer for the choice.
There might be something of a joke to be found in Kettle concerning herself so much with brewing in the present chapter. Less humorous, but more important for future work, is the mention that use of the Skill becomes almost intuitive; it is a small comment, but it is one that serves to vitiate complaints about deus ex machina that might be brought up.
Too, there is motion towards Fitz’s seeming addiction to elfbark (earlier noted here). Kettle’s commentary about the substance’s effects–and its uses–bring to mind the “go pills” reported as being given to operatives in the field, as well as far less savory experiments done ostensibly in the name of freedom. As with a number of addictive substances, the potential application for the Fool–in measure and as a response to a specific circumstance, including an addictive magic that lies outside control or experience–rings true. And there is something to be said in Fitz’s favor that he rejects indulging his seeming addiction, as well as that he immediately begins to feel effects associated with that rejection.
There may be more that could have been done to demonstrate the effects of the seeming addiction on Fitz. And I have to wonder about game-based treatment for addiction. But the fact that it is treated at all, that there is any verisimilitude in it, is another of the many points in favor of Hobb’s writing.