The chapter that follows, “An Independent Woman,” begins with Serilla considering the weather as Bingtown approaches winter. She muses on the changes she had seen in Bingtown while touring it the day before, grousing about her thwarted dreams and fretting about her future prospects; the Satrap remains absent, and the ministers and hangers-on who had plied him earlier remain in place in Jamaillia–in power. She seizes upon the idea of uncovering the part of the plot against him that centers in Bingtown as a means to retain and secure her own safety and stability in the wake of the depredations done to her by the Satrap and others.
Serilla is distracted from her reverie by the announcement of Ronica Vestrit, and Serilla muses for a time on the situation that has led to Ronica sheltering under what had been Restart’s roof. It has eased her surveillance of and control over her, but it has also left her subject to the older woman’s harangue–the which continues when Ronica enters with a ledger in hand. A tense exchange ensues, and Ronica reviews what she knows of Serilla; Serilla gets the worse of the exchange, and Ronica leaves her, considering whether to linger in a position to overhear news from Roed Caern.
Said news comes from the Rain Wilds, Serilla realizing the importance of the message before it is delivered. When she opens it, she receives the news that the Satrap has gone missing from Trehaug in the wake of the earthquake; Caern advises her to do nothing at present, and she realizes she is slipping into his power.
Ronica is unable to glean any of the news, and she returns to her chambers, where Rache continues to work. Roncia stresses to Rache that she is free to leave, owing her nothing; Rache replies that the Vestrits are the only ones who have shown her kindness in Bingtown. She also notes news, reporting to Ronica about the state of the town and identifying Sparse Kelter as a man of some interest. Ronica notes that she will continue to do what she can to ensure that Bingtown survives as itself and that her family has a place to which to return. They confer further, and Ronica has to be reminded of the current and former slave population–the Tattooed–in Bingtown in her plans. Rache explicates the distributed system among the Tattooed, which Amber had helped set up, and notes Amber’s assertion of being a prophet.
Later, Ronica reports to the Traders’ Concourse, the condition of which is detailed. She sets about cleaning and lighting the hall, following an old tradition, and she is soon joined by other Traders, who join in the same work. It has a salutary effect as Ronica reflects on Bingtown’s history, but Ronica is dismayed that the meeting waits to convene until Serilla arrives. When the Companion does, she does so ostentatiously and imperiously, and she is taken aback when the Council presents a plan upon which she had not been consulted. Citing precedent, the Council pushes a moratorium on confiscation and eviction, as well as increasing civic duty-time. Serilla tries to regain control of the situation, of her situation, and does not succeed; Grag Tenira manages to convene a panel to investigate Restart’s death.
Ronica considers Serilla and muses upon her suddenly altered situation as the Traders’ meeting proceeds and concludes. She confers with Grag as the latter offers her a ride home and affirms his belief in the Vestrits’ loyalty to Bingtown amid wry jests regarding his suit for Althea’s hand.
The chapter does offer some attention to the enslaved population in Bingtown, which is not always the case, and the reminder that Ronica evidently needs to recall them has some…uncomfortable overtones. But that’s always part of the problem, of course, that those in power or recently dispossessed of it tend to overlook or ignore those without, especially the most abject among them. Such matters are more prominent now than when the novel was released, of course, even though they were certainly present at the time, but I reread as I am now, remembering little of who I was then except that I was a little shit who thought himself far better than he was. I like to think I have improved; I hope I have, at least. And that Ronica has the decency to be ashamed of her oversight when she is reminded of it is a hopeful sign; the habits of a lifetime are not easily set aside, but they can be set aside, with attention and care–and more of us can afford to pay such a price than do.