The next chapter, “The Quarry,” opens with notes about old tales from the Mountain Kingdom that depict ancient creatures of power. It moves on to skip several days, until Fitz’s party reaches the quarry of the title; the remains of the work once done therein stand as ruined cyclopean altars to masons long dead. They begin to make camp as Kettricken despairs of finding Verity, and Nighteyes finds a corpse. Investigation reveals it is one of Regal’s coterie, Carrod, killed through the Skill–but still in the quarry.
The party begins to search out the quarry more thoroughly, finding partly-completed carvings of dragons. They also find Verity at last, and Kettricken has to be held back from rushing to him and immolating herself in the embrace of his power. Verity is haggard and distracted, and Kettricken flees from him under the weight of her own emotions; Nighteyes follows her. The Fool sets about setting up camp, enlisting Starling to help; Fitz confers with Verity as best he can, getting little information from his king but giving him a lengthy and detailed report in his turn.
Conversation makes clear that Verity is focused on carving his dragon, to the exclusion of eating and sleeping. Kettle and Fitz prevail upon Verity to take a short break from the task and attend to himself for Kettricken. And as the traveling party confers during the preparations, Kettle makes clear the scope of Verity’s still-incomplete achievement, as well as the likely threat to it that Carrod had posed as he died.
The idea of the call of the Skill as addiction seems to push itself forward as I read the chapter once again; Verity’s sleepless fixation on his task and the vagueness of mind that accompany it align with what I see from some of the people I help serve in my day-job, at least. And, as I write this entry in the midst of the coronavirus (I and mine are well as I write this, thank you, though my wife and I both count as working “essential services,” so we are not able to stay at home, really), I cannot help but see a parallel to current circumstances. Many people are fixated on the novel coronavirus, not without cause, and such has affected my sleep and eating, as well as others’. Nor am I immune to vagueness in the present situation, as I am probably making clearer than I ought as I write this entry.
It is, of course, not entirely appropriate to read the text against today when it was written more than twenty years ago, now. It cannot be responding to what had not yet then happened. But it is not entirely inappropriate, either; one of the values of any work of art is that it does speak beyond the circumstances of its own composition. And if it is the case that I am the target audience for such a text now as I likely was then, that does not mean I do poorly to hear what it says now, even against a different background noise.