The next chapter, “The Black Man,” opens with a comment about Skill use from a recent Skillmaster before turning to Fitz sleeping dreamlessly and waking to consider approaching Web before he checks in on Thick and assesses his situation. He also reconnoiters more, learning from the Hetgurd delegation that an offering was not accepted, about which they are concerned. Fitz considers matters as he attends to Thick, and he notes with some interest the arrival of the Narcheska on the island, the reception for whom is detailed.
Argument ensues among the Out Islanders, leading to a formal request from the Hetgurd delegation that Elliania withdraw her challenge to Dutiful; she refuses, with clear regret. The refusal is noted formally, with claims made against future loss and accepted as valid. Fitz takes the opportunity to ask the Fool about arrival on the island, only to be told “I flew”; a brief discussion about self-determination follows before the Fool walks away. Web takes his place, and Fitz and Web confer briefly. Arrangements to continue the expedition follow, and Fitz has to chivvy Thick along with the rest of the group. Notably, the Fool strikes camp swiftly and alone, and he prompts caution from most, interest from Swift and Cockle, and ire from Civil. Fitz takes note of the attitudes on display.
Peottre outlines the challenges that face the party’s trek to the dragon, Icefyre, remarking that those who follow him should step where he steps due to the unstable and uncertain nature of glacial ice. They head out, Thick going slowly due to stature and illness and over-deliberate care with his steps. Fitz, accompanying him, chafes at the slow pace, and Chade Skills to him about the Fool and about the Narcheska, whom he notes “weeps as she walks.” Thick disrupts the Skilling, and Fitz, agitated, moves ahead. He realizes, however, that Thick is moving in time with the music that swells within him, and he tries to comfort Thick as he realizes they are being left behind. Fitz also sees a shadowy figure that he recognizes as not belonging to Dutiful’s expedition, and he Skills a report thereof. Responses to it prompt Thick along with more haste.
After Fitz and Thick arrive at the expedition’s camp, Fitz settles Thick in and notes several absences: the Fool, and Peottre and Elliania. Fitz and Chade confer quietly about the Skill and its perils for them, and Fitz notes that Thick offers them a way to contact Buckkeep. He is in contact through the Skill with Nettle, who is at the court, and Chade offers a gentle rebuke to a still-stubborn apprentice.
I am in mind of Njals Saga once again with the pseudo-legal forms used to comment on Elliania’s challenge and her insistence upon it. I am in mind, too, of the ways in which the journey up Aslevjal parallels the earlier travel along the Skill-road away from Jhaampe, towards the stone quarry, back in Assassin’s Quest. Both Fitz and the Fool had been on that journey, during which Kettle accompanied the group, albeit at a slower pace than the rest of the party; in the present chapter, the Fool keeps his own company, while Fitz seems to take the place of Kettle in the arrangement. How deliberate the parallel is, I cannot say; intent is a tricky question at best. But the intent matters less than the effect, in any event, and I am once again taken by the work to connect the novels to one another; it is something I appreciate, and greatly.