The succeeding chapter, “Elfbark,” opens with a brief passage from an in-milieu herbal that reinforces the addictive nature of the plant. It turns then to Fitz reporting to Dutiful and Chade after a night of poor sleep, reporting the Fool’s suppositions about Civil’s erstwhile fiancée. They purpose to set up Skill-communication with Nettle at Buckkeep, and, after a tense exchange, Fitz excuses himself from his prince and his mentor.
Fitz sees to Thick and learns from him that bad dreams were broadly afoot the previous evening, such as even Nettle could not address. Fitz considers it as camp is struck and the journey up Aslevjal continues. Talk with the Fool commences, soon turning to the Elderlings and such of their nature as the Fool has been able to uncover and determine. Progress up Aslevjal is slow and tiresome, wearing on Thick, and at length, he lashes out through the Skill at Fitz. Fitz walls himself off from the Skill and realizes in short order that the magic is being used against not only him, but the whole party; Thick comes to the same realization shortly afterward. The two reach an accord and join the rest at length.
Fitz and Thick are summoned to attend on Dutiful and Chade, and Fitz reports as he is able, warning of the Skill being deployed against them. They are interrupted by Peottre arriving, offering cakes laced with elfbark–which herb Fitz is aware of too late to help himself, though he prevents Thick from taking any, and he gives a coded warning to Chade. Chade heeds it, joining Fitz in preventing Thick from eating any of the drug, and he dismissed Fitz, intimating that he should try to purge himself.
Fitz makes the attempt, with little success, and he finds his way to the Fool for aid. The Fool takes him in and is taken aback at the effects of the elfbark upon him: “It’s never affected you that way before.” The effects are detailed, including pulling at his hair and lip–and the melancholy that sets in on elfbark users begins to take hold of Fitz, to the Fool’s chagrin.
This is not the first chapter in an Elderlings novel to bear the title “Elfbark,” clearly, though Hobb can be forgiven for recycling a title more than two hundred chapters later. I can imagine that comparing the two chapters directly might make for an interesting short work–alas, that I have not Marvell’s world enough and time! I do, however, note the greater attention to the drug’s immediate effects in the present chapter than I recall being the case previously, and I am reminded of particular experience in my work at the substance use treatment center. Again, Hobb does well at putting forth the verisimilitude with the mundane she cites as necessary for effective fantasy–and I am glad of it, even if I am a bit uncomfortable at the reminder of things I have seen.