The succeeding chapter, “The Inn,” opens with a brief commentary on the gladiatorial King’s Circles that had arisen under Regal before turning to Fitz waking without pain from Skilling and communing with Nighteyes briefly. He returns to Golden and Laurel, and pursuit of the Prince continues. Fitz lapses in his charade with the Fool, chastising himself mentally for the failing, and they continue on until nightfall.
That night, they lodge in an inn, the Piebald Prince. Fitz muses with unease on the name of the place, and he watches as the party’s horses are billeted for the night. He rejoins Golden and Laurel for dinner, overindulging and occasioning comment from Golden about the effects of Smoke–a popular intoxicant–upon him; Fitz stumbles through the following hours uneasily. In the night, the Fool wakes him with concern, and Nighteyes realizes that the stone from which the inn is built is the same as in the dragon-quarry and on the Skill-road, with the same effects on Fitz as before, and Fitz makes his way outside to be away from it.
Once outside, he finds himself in communion with the Prince again, and the Fool sees to him again. They confer briefly, and Fitz moves off, called by Nighteyes to see the wrong he has found: a drawn-and-quartered man. Laurel soon joins them, and they confer, in turn; it is clear the Prince and his companions or abductors are on the move, fleeing the kind of execution of which the evidence remains hanging before them. They rejoin Golden, who is making a ruckus about bedbugs in his bedding as an excuse for the trio to ride out in haste. They note the risks, but they also note the dangers for delay.
I delight in the clear ties back to earlier parts of the Elderlings corpus; the nerd in me–and, let’s be honest, that’s more of me than not–enjoys having consistency across intellectual properties and within milieux. I like the call-backs and the continued consequences of things within the setting; it helps with the Tolkienian “internal consistency of reality” that promotes Coleridgean willingness to suspend disbelief, often already noted to be necessary for fiction generally and for speculative and fantastic fiction, in particular. Events matter within the text, and that’s good to see.
I appreciate, too and again, the imperfections of the characters. That Fitz and the Fool lapse in their performances as Badgerlock and Golden is a good touch, adding more authenticity to the narrative. Performative as many things are, there are roles and roles, and that the players imperfectly inhabit the newer roles rings of truth to me. It’s one of the things I’ve long appreciated about Hobb’s writing, that she does such things; her characters are not Mary Sues or Marty Stus, both of which too often appear.