The following chapter, “Through Stones,” opens with a passage from Chade’s writings about the Witness Stones and Skill-pillars before returning to Fitz’s attendance on the ill Fool and his messages through the Skill to Chade about the same. Fitz dithers about leaving his friend behind but is persuaded by Prilkop, Thick, and the Fool himself to depart in favor of the Fool’s continued convalescence and conference with Prilkop. Fitz offers to return swiftly, though Prilkop advises against rapid successive use of the Skill-pillars, and Fitz takes Thick to and through the Skill-pillar back to Buck and the Witness Stones.
The trip through the Stones is unpleasant, but Fitz gets himself and Thick to Buckkeep, even so. He leaves Thick in the company of guards, and he makes his own way to the hidden chambers in which he and Chade long worked. Shortly thereafter, he heads to Kettricken’s chambers and reports to her before being asked to relay messages to Dutiful via the Skill. Fitz serves as a conduit between the Prince and his mother for a time, until he begins to be subsumed by the Skill and has to be forced away from the magic. After some time and recovery, Fitz is released and tends to himself briefly before being encountered by Nettle unexpectedly.
Or at least unexpectedly on his part; those who have read Hobb, or are rereading her, or who have followed along my rereading (thank you, by the way!) will know that Fitz gets to “enjoy” such things on an alarmingly regular basis. But though the encounter with Nettle must be a social shock, it is at least only that; for once, Fitz is not imperiled by a chance encounter, which is something of a relief.
If I read the novel with Freytag’s structure in mind, it seems to me that the present chapter is firmly in the denouement. Certainly, it feels as if the novel is working to resolve various plot threads before it concludes, the major actions of the plot being accomplished. (I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere, whether in this webspace or in some other place, that the story that would “normally” be told in the Realm of the Elderlings is not Fitz’s, but Verity’s in the Farseer novels and Dutiful’s in the Tawny Man. As I get further into the reread, we’ll see how much it holds–and there’s a lot of reread left: seven Elderlings novels, the Soldier Son trilogy, and various other short stories, novellas, and other pieces. I picked a hell of a project, right?) But I rather like that aspect of Hobb’s writing; it works to give the impression that her narrative world is not just what is shown in the main text, but is suggestive of a larger world outside the narrative readers get to see. That things do not all tie up neatly at once, but close off raggedly…we come back to it, as I recall–and as I believe will show up soon.