I suppose this one will need a content warning.
The chapter that follows, “Stones,” opens with a short passage about torture before moving into the continued pursuit of the Prince by Fitz, the Fool, and Laurel. They find the trail of the Prince and his company, as well as the site of an ambush of their pursuers; Fitz is not much affected by the carnage, though Laurel is, and, after an assessment of the changed circumstances, they press on. Coming to a barrowfield, they note some of the deeper histories and legends of the area before they press on.
A warning from Nighteyes indicates that the party is pursued, and they hasten forward, narrowly avoiding being taken unawares in ambush. A short fracas ensues, with Fitz taking captive the archer who had lay in wait for them. He is not gentle with the young archer as he pushes his party to shelter for the evening. While there, Fitz begins to question the youth, letting him stew as he reconnoiters. Once he returns, he resigns himself to the course that seems clear before him, and he begins to torture the youth into providing information about the Prince’s whereabouts and his company. Laurel’s pleas and the Fool’s fail to dissuade him; only the emergence of Nighteyes gets through to Fitz, and at the wolf’s insistence, he leaves off. But he also becomes sharply aware of the wolf’s fading life, seeking to steady his companion only to be rebuffed just as the archer attempts escape. The youth is soon restrained, harshly, even as he rants about the plan to free Dutiful from bondage. Fitz attempts to correct him and is soon brought to rest by the wolf’s insistence.
There is a bit of Hobb’s Tolkienian roots in the scenes that Fitz, the Fool, and Laurel pass in pursuit of the Prince. The barrowfield they encounter, with the stories of spirits rising from the graves to prey upon the living, calls to mind the Barrow-Downs and the Barrow-Wights. It is no surprise, of course; Hobb herself attests to her early engagement with Tolkien, and, writing in the genre she does, she can hardly not engage with his works (even if, as I’ve argued, there are other sources more powerfully at work in her work). Nor is it necessarily a surprise that she works with a trope about which I’ve written elsewhere: the empty countryside of the medievalist kingdom. Even if an expectation is tacit, it is felt and often met–and there is an expectation that medievalist areas are sparsely populated, especially in the wake of a plague within a couple of generations (the Blood Plague referenced in several of the Elderlings novels) and of a rampaging war scarcely a decade gone.
Following a trend is not blameworthy in itself, of course, but it does provoke some interest. What gets carried forward, and what functions that carry-forward serves, are well worth interrogation and investigation.
I suppose I ought to comment about the near-torture, as well. I am not sure, however, what to say about it. I am not sure at all.