The next chapter, “The Hedge-Witch,” opens with a discussion of a hedge-witch and her magic’s efficacy before pivoting to Fitz and Hap moving through their summer together, Fitz considering apprenticing the boy in or near Buckkeep and denying that he postponed to avoid the pain of parting from him. He also mulls over the effects his most recent meeting with Starling has had on him, as well as on the passage of time’s effects on Nighteyes.
When Fitz, under his alias of Tom Badgerlock, and Hap visit a nearby market town, they meet a hedge-witch Hap had first met in Buckkeep: Jinna. Introductions are made and characters are described, and Fitz is distracted as Hap invites Jinna to stay with them when she passes that way. Fitz rehearses what he knows of hedge-witches as he observes Jinna peddle her wares until a neighboring farmer, Baylor, arrives. Baylor insinuates that Fitz or Nighteyes has taken some piglets he had had, and Fitz braces for a fight with the man, citing his traumas as impetus for his tendency towards violence; the attitude cows the man and intimidates many onlookers, and conversation swiftly shifts to perceived depredations of the Old Blood. The rest of the day passes uneventfully; Jinna sells much, while Fitz and Hap do not, and they fret over the apprenticeship fee to come.
Later, as they head home, Hap asks Fitz about his origins. Fitz is moved to sympathy, and they make their way to their cottage. Along the way, Nighteyes queries Fitz about the decision to send Hap to an apprenticeship and travel, regarding both ideas as foolhardy. At the cottage, Hap and Fitz confer about the apprenticeship fee, Hap offering to hire himself out to raise the money, and Fitz takes inordinate pride in the young man.
That night, Fitz dreams a Skill-dream, communing unknowingly with a young man at Buckkeep and with a cat. The latter attracts Nighteyes’s attention, and both settle back into sleep. The next day sees Hap strike out to raise money, and Fitz somewhat listlessly attends to domestic tasks, drawn to Skill and resisting it. A not-much-later evening sees Jinna call on him, availing herself of the offer of hospitality made at the market; she reports having met Hap on the road, and the two pass a convivial evening together. They confer about reading and education, disagreeing on some particulars but agreeing on several points.
The next morning sees Jinna and Fitz make a trade of goods. As they do, Jinna susses out that Fitz is of the Old Blood, and Fitz is convinced of the efficacy of Jinna’s hedge-magic as well as unsettled by her insights. But they part amicably with something of a promise to meet again.
Interestingly, while there’s some mention of other magics in the Six Duchies than the Skill and the Wit, there’s not much explication of them prior to the present chapter. Hobb doesn’t do as a number of other fantasy authors do and lay out a system of magic (I recall Lyndon Hardy for some reason), but I have to wonder if it’s not precisely in the elision of systemic detail that Hobb is able to achieve the verisimilitude for which she attests striving. Getting mired in details offers opportunities for getting the details wrong, or in running into contradictions with them–plot holes that annoy no few readers (among them me, when I notice them). Glossing minutiae avoids that problem, even if it does force the writer to strike a careful balance. Enough has to be depicted to be distinct, but not so much can be depicted as to run into the aforementioned problems. Hobb manages it well in the present chapter, which helped me read the book the first time–and has helped me reread it once again.