The next chapter, “Traders and Traitors,” begins with Ronica hiding and observing a hooded figure approach her door, her home having been ransacked by Chalcedeans and Bingtowners alike. She rehearses the events leading up to her present from her last appearance: the upset after the Summer Ball, her flight, fighting in the town and in the harbor. Following the fracas, in the brief interval in which Bingtown was free, she had made to flee with Rache for her old family farm, pausing only briefly to pay feeble respects to the slain Restart. Meanwhile, civil unrest had broken out, and neighbors had turned on one another in short order, even harassing Ronica and Rache as they fled. The depredations she saw along the way persuaded Ronica to return to her home, Rache accompanying her, and the two had settled in and hunkered down in an outbuilding, holding up as best they could.
The hooded figure is revealed to be Cerwin Trell when Ronica confronts him. He reports on public perception of the Vestrits, that they had turned traitors to Bingtown along with Restart, and he notes his own father’s increasing anger at the Vestrit family. Ronica notes that Malta had escaped Bingtown, and Cerwin reports on the current state of the city. It is still free, although supplies are running low, and there is still violence in the streets at night. Old and New Traders are at odds, with others caught between them, and no negotiations are ongoing. Ronica reassures him that his work to remain outside the fray is wise, and she asks if she would be well served to meet with Serilla, who is still working as the Satrap’s representative; Cerwin has no good answer. As he leaves, Ronica takes stock of her ruined home and moves forward.
In Restart’s home, Serilla is disturbed in her ruminations by Ronica’s arrival; she tries to put the older woman off as she rehearses her own tenuous situation, but can only delay for a short time. She realizes that a conspiracy against the Satrap had long been in place and that the rash actions of Bingtown Traders had hindered but not completely overturned it, but she is not ready for Ronica to confront her with her demands for adherence to local statute and protocol. When she calls for aid from other Traders, she finds them stymied in large part by the force of Ronica’s personality; she rebukes one of the Traders for Davad’s death, which he does not deny. Nor yet are her accusations regarding the injuries to her family denied, even as she argues against Serilla’s authority. At length, she makes her exit, and the other Traders take council from Serilla regarding how they will proceed. One of them, Roed Caern, is asked to return later; Serilla will send him after the Vestrits.
The present chapter includes quite a bit of explication, which makes sense for the early part of a novel–and more so given the relative gap in time between the presented characters’ previous appearances and the present ones. Put simply, there is a lot of catching up to do, as would be the case were the characters people being encountered again after several busy weeks away. (One of the few advantages of spreading a re-reading out as I am doing with this one is that it affords time between entries; reading serially is a different experience than reading in single sittings, as I well know and as I expect many of my readers–if you are many, as I hope you are–also know. The time offers greater similarity between the readers’ experience and the characters’, which, even if it is part of an affective reading, does help with immersion and verisimilitude. So there’s that.)
I am again put in mind of various independence movements in North America (the continent for reasons), where colonies rebel against colonial powers at some cost to themselves–and with no small amount of fractiousness within themselves, as well. Bingtown had not been a unified community leading up to the tumult at the Summer Ball, and the tension within it was bound to increase with the events of that evening–not only because it makes narrative sense that they do so, but also because people tend to exploit outside stresses to act in their own interests. Prevailing upset allows opportunity for realignment, after all, and why wouldn’t someone–especially someone heavily invested in a mercantile, transactional socioeconomic situation–take the chance to avail themselves of it?