Tzain and Zélie dash across the floating city of Ilorin. Tzain scolds Zélie for leaving their Baba alone while she practiced sparring. Feeling urgent and guilty, Zélie races across a string of boats in the floating market, only to see Baba thrashing in the water far beyond the floating city. Unable to do magic, she feels powerless. Tzain dives into the water and pulls Baba up just in time.
By practicing fighting with the staff, Zélie was perhaps strengthening to defend herself and her family. Yet those efforts seemed to come at the cost of protecting her father more immediately.
Baba says that he was trying to go out fishing to make money for the recently increased taxes, but he ended up nearly drowning. Ever since the raid, when his wife was killed and he was severely beaten, Baba has been weak and confused, sometimes blacking out. Baba says the guards threatened to force Zélie into the stocks, or forced hard labor, if he could not pay the taxes. Feeling scared and helpless, Zélie remembers Mama’s death. To make matters worse, Baba says that he lost the boat in his panic, so the family has no way to fish and make more money.
The social inequality the maji experiences is compounded by the economic inequality the monarchy inflicts upon them. By levying high taxes against them, Saran keeps the maji trapped in economic distress, while he uses the stocks to exploit their labor. The memory of violence also serves as an ongoing source of pain and fear for Zélie and her family, reinforcing the monarchy’s power.
Zélie feels responsible for all of this misfortune because of her identity as a divîner. In a last-ditch effort to raise money for the taxes, Zélie says she will take a valuable sailfish to a market in Lagos. Because it is dangerous for a divîner to go alone, Tzain says he will go with her. They saddle up Nailah, a huge lion-like creature with horns behind her ears.
Through his policies, Saran has effectively linked the maji with a sense of shame, which Zélie feels powerfully.