The dawn after her encounter with Vandara, a messenger arrives at Kira’s cott and tells her to come to the Council of Guardians in the late morning. The Council resides in a huge, impressive building that was built before the “Ruin,” an apocalyptic event no occurred so long ago that memory of it exists only in a song that’s performed for the village at an annual Gathering. The person whose only job is to sing this song, the Singer, prepares for his duties by resting and drinking special oils for his voice. The Ruin Song is long; it describes the rise and fall of many civilizations, culminating in cracks in the earth, poisonous fumes, and collapsing buildings. The villagers are required to listen to it. The Council Edifice is one of the only things that survived the Ruin. It contains several stained glass windows, and while some of its rooms are dark and shadowy, it’s still far more impressive than the sheds and cottages in the village.
Lowry begins this chapter with lots of information about the village’s society. In a community characterized by its lack of compassion and lack of structure, the yearly Gathering seems to be the only thing that everyone can agree to respect. While Kira doesn’t know much about the Singer, she clearly respects him for his difficult training and skillful performances. While we don’t yet understand why the Ruin Song is performed, it befits a cold, cruel society to celebrate Ruin, rather than growth or hope. We also get some understanding of the mysterious Council of Guardians. The building Lowry describes seems like a church, based on its stained glass windows. It’s perhaps appropriate that a religious building, one of the few kinds of buildings that are respected in every culture, has survived for centuries.
Kira arrives at the Council Edifice at the proper time. She hears men arguing, and knows that they’ll be presiding over her meeting. Using a cane because of her lame leg, she walks slowly through the halls of the Edifice. As she walks, she remembers her mother telling her that she should take pride in her pain, since it makes her stronger than those who’ve never felt such pain. For her meeting with the Council she has combed and braided her hair and washed her body in the river.
It’s important to note that men, not women, preside over Kira’s meeting—women aren’t given many opportunities to preside over anything in the village. Kira’s thought on pain and strength confirm everything we’ve noticed about her in the first few chapters: she’s strong, and knows how to adapt to new situations, however hopeless they appear.
Kira comes to a large door. She knocks and a door guard lets her in, announcing her as “the accused orphan girl Kira.” Inside, Kira finds a huge chamber. She’s been here a few times before for the Gathering, always noting a mysterious object made of two sticks connected to form a cross. In the past, she’s heard, this object was rumored to hold great power. Even now, people bow to it in respect. She presses her hands together and nods to the object. The guardians nod, and Kira relaxes a little.
Clearly, the two crossed sticks are meant to suggest a crucifix. The irony is that the meaning of the crucifix—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and the mercy and compassion that stands at the heart of Christian tradition.—has been forgotten in the village. Thus, the villagers are bowing to an object they don’t understand. This is a profound metaphor for the way their society works; they obey the Council and respect it, but seem not to understand why.
There is another knock at the door, and the door guard announces Vandara, “the accuser.” Kira notes with some pleasure that Vandara hasn’t cleaned herself for the Council. Kira thinks that she’s won herself a small amount of respect by cleaning herself that morning. Vandara bows before the object, and the guardians nod. Kira is worried that she didn’t bow, and thinks that she’ll have to find a way to bow during the meeting.
Kira is perceptive enough to be conscious of her own appearance, and the appearances of others. This shows that she thinks like an artist—she’s always thinking about how appearances influence an audience. She’s also clever enough to know to respect the council, even if she doesn’t remember to do so right away. Ultimately, it will become important that Kira doesn’t have the same respect for the Council that the other villagers have.
An old, white-haired guardian with a four-syllable name begins the meeting. Kira immediately tells him that she wants to rebuild her cott and live her life. The white-haired guardian ignores this remark and asks Vandara to speak. Kira thinks that he is following the protocol for meetings. She also notes the books on the guardians’ tables, and remembers how she’s always wanted to learn how read, even though women aren’t allowed to do so. A guardian addresses the white-haired man as “Chief guardian,” and names the accused and the accuser. Kira stands up straight when she hears her name. She’s almost as tall as Vandara, though Vandara is older and stronger.
Again, Kira doesn’t obey the formalities of the court proceeding. It’s here that we learn that women aren’t allowed to read in the society of Gathering Blue, another clear indication of the society’s sexism. Even if she doesn’t know how to read, Kira wants to learn—this suggests that she’s ambitious, and hasn’t yet learned to accept her inferior position in the village.
The chief guardian directs Vandara to begin. Vandara says that Kira should have been taken to the Field of the Living when she was born, because she was lame and fatherless. Kira thinks to herself that she was allowed to survive because she was strong and her eyes were bright. Vandara continues that the village has tolerated Kira’s presence, even though Kira has contributed nothing of value to the village: she can’t plant, tend to domestic animals, and she eats a lot. Kira thinks that everything Vandara has said is true. Vandara argues that Kira was only allowed to stay because her grandfather was the chief guardian; now there’s a wiser and more powerful chief. Kira wonders if Vandara’s flattery will work, but also notes that the chief guardian’s expression hasn’t changed at all. Vandara adds that Kira’s mother may have spread disease, and concludes that Kira should be sent into the wild.
Kira has a hard time defending herself because she doesn’t have a clear alternative to the village’s rules in mind. To us, it’s obvious why Kira should be allowed to live: because she’s a child and a human being, and therefore deserves to be taken care of. Kira has no sense of this, because she’s lived in the village all her life. It’s also important to note that Vandara attempts to influence her audience using flattery, but seems to fail—she’s not as skillful as gauging her audience’s reaction as Kira is.
After Vandara finishes her argument, the chief guardian looks to the eleven other guardians. He tells Kira that she isn’t required to defend herself, since she’s only a two-syllable girl. Kira instantly replies that she wants to defend herself; but the chief guardian signals her to be silent. He tells Kira to think carefully: she can defend herself or allow the guardians to appoint one of themselves to defend her. At first, Kira thinks that the guardians won’t be able to defend her, since they don’t know how she showed signs of strength as a baby. In her pocket, she feels a small square of cloth she wove long ago, and how she came to be a great weaver without any training. Nevertheless, she decides that she doesn’t know what to say. She decides to let one of the guardians defend her, and the chief guardian appoints a guardian named Jamison.
Even after the trial is well under way, Kira doesn’t entirely understand the rules of the courtroom—for instance, she speaks when it isn’t her turn to speak. In part this is because Kira is a child, but it’s also because she hasn’t yet been conditioned to respect authority without understanding it. Thus, it wouldn’t be fair to say that Vandara is cleverer or wiser than Kira—Vandara blindly accepts the Council’s authority, and Kira does not. It’s in this section that we first see Kira touching her cloth. This cloth, which she made, often seems like an extension of Kira herself—it tells her how to feel, and what to do.