The next chapter, “Homecoming,” opens with Althea making her way back to the Vestrit estate in Bingtown. She considers her surroundings and the changes in herself as she proceeds, noting the evidence of neglect of the grounds and its disjunction from the in-progress celebration denoted by noise and carriages. As she remains in disguise as Athel, she is greeted politely but coolly as she enters at the back of the house, and she observes the preparatory goings-on as she eats under that disguise and pieces together some picture of events.
At length, the celebration having ended, Althea is taken to Ronica. The older woman recognizes her daughter instantly and initially upbraids her for having worried her before embracing her tearfully. She briefs Althea on events that have transpired since her abrupt departure. Althea notes her objections and delivers the message she carries from the Teniras. Ronica notes her own objections, and Althea makes to return with her reply to the Teniras.
As she makes her way back to the docks, noting the changes and increased apprehensiveness in Bingtown, she encounters Amber, who enlists her aid in carrying as a cover for conversation. Each notes to the other the need to confer in greater detail than present haste allows. Amber disguises herself as a diseased slave to accompany Althea down to the docks as she listens to Althea’s tale; Althea hopes the woodcarver can help repair the Ophelia, but she will need to clear the idea with the ship’s captain.
When they arrive at the ship, Amber presents herself with celerity. The Tenira’s leap at the chance to see their ship repaired, and the Ophelia herself delights in the opportunity. There is some exchange between Amber and the Teniras as she begins working on the ship, and Althea is asked for her report; delivering it, she notes her own sadness at how events have progressed, as do her interlocutors.
The present chapter notes and discusses the omnipresence of servants in the households of the wealthy and remarks upon how it might be leveraged. It is a point of correspondence with real life, of course; even for those unable to afford servants, as such, service industry workers are everywhere, and my own experience as such a person reminds me that, yes, they listen to damned near everything. The pizza delivery person notes what’s on the television when you open your door; the package handler sees where the parcel’s from and where it’s going. It is a peculiar source of power, one that can be employed to no small effect, and one that offers the potential for significant upset–another point made in the more politically charged novels of the Liveship Traders series.
More and more, as I reread the series, I am struck by how fertile a field it is for cultivating theory-informed readings. There’s a lot to do–but that is one of the marks of better writing, that it offers and sustains multiple interpretations.