The next chapter, “The Liveship Ophelia,” opens with Althea coming off watch to confer with the figurehead of the titular ship. The latter chides Althea for longing after things that cannot be corrected and presses her about Grag Tenira, for whom she is standing in as mate. The ship also teases Althea about Brashen, and Althea excuses herself to call on Grag. When she does, she is reminded of her father, painfully, and the two confer about Althea’s situation with the Vivacia.
Grag also notes some of Brashen’s history, being old enough to remember more of it than Althea does. His reports of Brashen’s earlier dissolution leave Althea pondering, and Grag comments that her behavior is atypical of the women of her status in Bingtown anymore. Their talk turns toward his attraction to and appreciation for her, although he maintains a level head as they talk. Althea recognizes that, while she likes the man, she would not marry him.
Their discussion is interrupted by a summons to the deck. Chalcedean mercenaries are demanding to be allowed to board the Ophelia to inspect her; the captain refuses. The galley begins boarding action, and the liveship herself responds decisively; her crew scrambles to defend her, as well, but there is little need. Though she sustains injury, she inflicts far more on the mercenary galley as she makes her escape.
A couple of interesting points occur as I reread the chapter. One is the narrative turn at work; the escalation between the Ophelia and the Chalcedeans who are supposedly in the employ of the Satrap to which Bingtown owes at least nominal loyalty signals a sharp increase of antagonism in the colonial relationship at work between the Traders and Jamaillia. It would seem to mark the rising action on Freytag’s Pyramid, at least for one of the narrative threads at work in the series; there are more, of course.
Another point returns to the feminist critique that can be seen at work in the series. Much is made in the present chapter of the divergence between former and current expectations of Bingtown femininity, with the current the clearly inferior. And it is not only on the part of Althea, either; Grag expresses dissatisfaction with the current gender roles, although he still frames his perspective in the sense of the traditional gender roles presumed to be at work among the readership. While he clearly does not devalue the typically feminine sphere as so often happens, he still clearly regards it as a separate space–and seems to expect that Althea would conform to it, despite her earlier assertion of her sailcraft instead of her domesticity. So that remains an issue…