The following chapter, “An Ultimatum,” starts with Wintrow ushering Althea, Malta, Jek, and the Satrap belowdecks, bringing them food; he shortly excuses himself and overhears the Vivacia conferring with Kennit about heading north with the serpents. Kennit dickers for more time to conclude his arrangement with the Satrap and deliver him back to Jamaillia; the ship notes that the serpents have no time for that, and Kennit reluctantly accedes to the ship’s terms.
Wintrow returns to the cabin where the others wait in annoyance and reports the status of the ongoing negotiations. After a terse exchange, the Vestrits begin to swap stories of their travels. Events are glossed, and the group, sans the Satrap, determine to kill Kennit once the ship is made aware of who and what he truly is. Their further conversation is interrupted by the ship summoning the serpents, after which, with the Satrap sleeping, Malta relates her tale; reactions from the others are noted. Wintrow again goes out on deck to observe.
All the while, Kennit waits, watching the other ships and considering their likely actions and what he will do in response. The Vivacia reports the unrest and division among the serpents, as well as the threats they have issued, and Kennit orders what serpents will to attack the Jamaillian fleet as Wintrow joins him. They both note the diminished but still substantial capacities of the serpents as they go about their destructive work. After one of them is injured, the others rage against the Jamaillian fleet, and Kennit summons Etta back from the Marietta.
Aloft, Tintaglia continues to bear Reyn onward. She hears something and cries out; the serpents with the Vivacia hear the cry and turn towards it, as does the ship, and Malta notes that the dragon and Reyn are coming. After a brief pause, the group goes out on deck to see Kennit horrified as the dragon summons the serpents away; Tintaglia drops Reyn in the water as she withdraws, and the boat ferrying Etta to the Vivacia draws him up before he drowns.
The present chapter feels somewhat rushed as I read it again, with multiple narrative threads twining together in rapid succession. I suppose part of that is my own present feeling of haste; I have a lot going on at the moment, which should be no surprise. Part, though, likely stems from narrative necessity; the book is getting close to its end, and with it, the series. As such, things that will be wrapped up have to be wrapped up, and while it is the case that leaving things open-ended helps to foster the verisimilitude Hobb identifies as necessary to fantasy fiction–readers’ lives do not wrap up neatly, after all–there is an expectation that novels will close off at least some of the narrative lines they begin. There is some value in thwarting readerly expectations, to be sure, but there is only so far a work can go in doing so and have the author get more readership later on–and while art for the sake of art is a fine and noble thing, the lights have to stay on…