The following chapter, “Bingtown,” opens with the Paragon considering the sleeping form of Amber and the circumstances leading up to her sleeping aboard. The relationship between the two retains some tension, although they do seem to be growing closer together. And the ship wakes her from a dream she reports having repeatedly and explicates to the Paragon. When she notes dragons, and having seen dragons in the Six Duchies, the ship rebukes her, denying that what she saw were dragons. The following conversation grows heated, and Amber uncovers information in the ship’s ranting.
Elsewhere, the Ophelia approaches Bingtown, and Althea finds herself unable to sleep. She confers with the liveship, interrupted by the approach of Grag Tenira and the ship’s captain. The last lays out his suspicions and concerns about affairs in Bingtown; he anticipates trouble from the encounter with Chalcedean mercenaries, and he arranges to have Althea in a position to get away from the ship if Bingtown authorities attempt to seize her.
After, Grag asks Althea about their earlier conversation. Her replies are frank and honest, not unkind but not comfortable. After an interlude, however, she agrees to consider his suit for her hand.
When the Ophelia makes port in Bingtown, Althea has resumed her guise as Athel and muses amid the work about the home port and returning to it. She marks the presence of a Chalcedean galley in the harbor and looks on as the captain badgers the tax officials. Dispute over patrols and surcharges ensues, and Althea, directed, reports as much to Grag. The captain tells her to take the tale to the town and to set aside her personal strife in the interest of Bingtown unity. After a moment, she agrees.
The conversation between Althea and Grag reinforces one of the issues brought up earlier in the Liveship Traders novels: marriage as economic contract. Unlike the earlier example, the principals in the potential union approach the topic with relatively level heads, both understanding the issues involved not only for themselves, but for their families. It is a much more sober thing than what goes on between Malta and Reyn, certainly, and it highlights another point of concern: heteronormative assumptions at play. The topic of who will leave their family’s liveship in favor of the other’s is broached, and though no resolution is expected or offered, it is clear that Tenira had never considered that he would be the one to leave his family’s ship. He assumes Althea will leave hers, joining him, rather than the other way around–and even if such an arrangement did occur, it seems to defy equal partnership that there was an initial assumption at all.
“It’s always been this way” is not, in itself, a reason to keep doing something, after all.