The following chapter, “Gifts,” begins with Amber sitting on the beach outside Bingtown, conversing with the Paragon. She gifts him a necklace of carved wooden figures–they are too large to be called beads–and their conversation ranges into uncomfortable places for them both.
In the Vestrit home, Ronica and Keffria confer about staffing and finances. The former is trimmed almost to nothing; the latter are strained, and payments are coming due, though the Vivacia is expected again soon, which will help matters. Talk turns to politics and the threat of war with Jamaillia, as well as to the arrangements with the Rain Wild Traders. The possibility of Malta marrying into the Rain Wilds is noted and discussed, as well, and Keffria questions her late father’s decision not to trade in Rain Wild goods. Ronica offers some answers–some she knows, and some she has reasoned out over time and with attention.
Their conversation is interrupted by a sudden, strange noise. They find Malta awake, despite the late hour; she claims to have been restless and up to make chamomile tea. The three venture into the Vestrit kitchen, where a strange box addressed to Malta has appeared. They take the box–a magical item sent as a courting gift–in for consideration of how to refuse it, despite Malta’s protestations. They also begin to puzzle out how the item, which requires keying to an individual, could have become so; Malta weeps at being pressed.
Her weeping is ultimately insincere; Malta pilfers the item from her mother’s safekeeping a scant few hours later. Opening the box, she finds herself pulled into a strange and intimate dream with its sender. Their courtship has begun.
Of note as I reread the chapter is the comparison between the possible marriage of Malta to the Rain Wild Traders and chattel slavery. I can understand the comparison being made; it is an issue of a person being used as a unit of economic exchange, making that person a commodity more than an individual. Given the marriage of Keffria, who makes the comparison, the idea that Malta marrying out would be one of sending her into a subordinate position is one that makes sense; it strengthens the comparison. So, too, does Ronica’s stated distaste for such arrangements, and it is not a mark in her favor that she supports them even so.
That things are similar does not mean they equate, however, even if Malta herself has ideas about courtship that tend towards the idea of the courted as property (as well as calling to mind romance novels once again). That said, it is something to consider, both within the novel and outside it.