The subsequent chapter, “Choices,” opens with a short piece about the White Prophet and Catalyst before resuming narration with the retrieval of Dutiful. The Prince queries Lord Golden about Badgerlock and avers his lack of desire to return to Buckkeep. He tries to act upon it, but Badgerlock restrains him swiftly and decisively; the Prince pleads to return to his beloved. Badgerlock denies him, and Golden plies him more gently. They learn of the Prince’s intentions; he knows himself to be possessed of the Wit and seeks to remove himself from leadership in the interest of preserving the Six Duchies. Badgerlock rebukes him, and Nighteyes’s arrival occasions an outburst from the Prince.
Fitz and Nighteyes confer about the matter as Fitz makes to prepare camp, the strangeness of the woman Dutiful regards being seemingly absent coming up again. Fitz presses the matter with Dutiful, infuriating him with his crudeness and leaving openings for Golden to press more subtly. Nighteyes makes snide comments in the Wit as Dutiful shows himself to be an infatuated young man.
After, Fitz and the Fool tend their horses, conferring about Dutiful as they do and as Nighteyes watches over the youth. Fitz takes up watch, from which he is later summoned by Nighteyes; Dutiful is out of his body, and Fitz follows him through the Skill. With the combination of that and his Wit, he realizes that Dutiful is dangerously entwined with his bond-beast, a cat–and that the cat is interpenetrated with the psyche of a woman, one who approaches with companions in anger. Nighteyes realizes that the woman is in the cat, and Fitz breaks off the magical connections, pain blooming inside him. The party prepares to flee again, under extreme duress, and they proceed raggedly until they can flee no further. There, they make a stand as they can, their backs to a Skill-pillar upon the barrows they had passed before. Surrounded, they are assailed, and Fitz drags Dutiful through the Skill-pillar to an uncertain destination, leaving the Fool and Nighteyes behind.
I once again find I cannot help but read affectively, this time with more than my usual sympathy for Fitz. I’m not much older now than he is in the text; I also deal with teenagers on a regular basis, being a high school teacher, and I find myself confronted just as much by the naivete of their infatuations–and chagrined by my recollections of my own. Admittedly, I’m not in danger of my life that I am aware of at any given time, nor am I possessed of strange magics that blend uncomfortably within me, although I do have a predilection for stimulant use to accentuate what powers of mind I do possess. (They are not as many or as extensive as once they were; age works upon all who survive to see it.) Even so, I’m used to dealing with teenage shenanigans, and I find it trying at times; I can only guess how one less schooled to such things feels in having to deal with them.
It’s not a comforting thought.