The next chapter, “A Change of Heart,” opens with Wintrow weathering the aggravated defiance of the liveship Vivacia. The ship has focused its attentions on Kennit, who has focused his on Etta, drawing the envious attention of and provoking pride in all aboard. Wintrow rehearses recent events, marking the ways in which Kennit continues to assess him. He also notes the revelation of Etta’s illiteracy and finds himself tasked with teaching Etta to read. Lessons are set to begin but are interrupted by the sight of a slaveship and the ensuing pursuit.
The Vivacia springs to the pursuit with a will, nearly subsuming Wintrow in her bloodlust. The Marietta joins her to take the slaver, and one of the crew of the slaver–the cook–attempts to bargain for his life with information about the hidden treasure of Igrot the Bold. Kennit takes charge of that particular situation, directing his own crew to see about cementing their hold on the ship and the disposition of the now-freed slaves. Kennit dispatches the cook, asserting repeatedly that Igrot’s crew had had no survivors, before ordering dispositions and scuttling the taken slaver.
Elsewhere, Althea meets with Grag Tenira, who seems to be comfortable in temporary exile. Althea’s path to him is noted, as are the concerns some have about her travel thither. Developments concerning Grag are also discussed; he is a wanted man with a substantial price on his head. Despite his need to depart soon, he states his love for Althea, and he asks her if she will marry him; she demurs, citing the need to reclaim the Vivacia before she can make any other major decisions. He acknowledges her choice and affirms that he will wait for her. The matter of Brashen Trell comes up between them, occasioning painful discussion that bespeaks a certain disregard by Grag for Althea’s agency. It dashes any thought she had had of a life with him, and she takes her leave.
The last passage is perhaps the most interesting. Until this point, Grag has been presented as a “good” character, and even with his failure to recognize Althea as being valid outside his understanding of gender roles, he comes across as more a benighted character than a “bad” one (such as Althea’s brother-in-law). And it is not out of line for him to want to find happiness on his own terms; the problem is that he expects Althea to defer to his views and his understandings, rather than that they will both have to accommodate each other’s. That, and the comment that because Brashen is a man, he is responsible and therefore to blame for Althea’s sexual expression, rather than Althea being in possession of her faculties and able to make her own decisions about sharing herself in such a way. As much a “good” guy as Grag might be–and “good guy Grag” does evoke some memes, even if likely unintentionally, but I read from who and what I am and where and when I have been–he suggests some problems inherent in even the “best” iterations of such systems as emerge from and reinforce strict gender dynamics. Saga Bokne has more to say on the matter, of course, and Goran Katavić’s work addresses similar concerns elsewhere in Hobb; Julia Hallgren Sanderson’s work also illuminates, and I would be happy to hear of others.