It is almost time for the annual Gathering, and everyone is preparing for it: the weaving shed has been closed, people are quieter, and some even bathe. Thomas is polishing the Singer’s staff with thick oils. Matt has not returned from his quest to find blue, even though he’s been gone for many days. Kira touches her cloth, hoping for consolation, but she feels none. Sometimes, she hears Jo chanting repetitively downstairs. Occasionally, Kira hears Jo singing a high, beautiful melody, as if she’s been allowed a moment of freedom.
In this opening section, Lowry sets the scene for the next few chapters. There will be no more expository sections about art or the village—we’re moving toward a climax. Lowry builds further suspense when she writes that Kira’s cloth isn’t telling her anything. The cloth has previously helped Kira see the future, but now—just when it seems like something big is going to happen—the cloth tells her nothing.
At night, Kira visits Jo. Jo no longer asks for her mother, but she holds Kira. Jo tells Kira that the Gathering is soon; when Jo becomes Singer, she says, she’ll be allowed to create her own songs.
Kira takes on the responsibilities of a mother. This contrasts markedly with the cold, cruel “parenthood” the Council and Jamison provide.
In the days leading up to the Gathering, Kira completes the robe. Jamison visits her and inspects the robe, and says she’s done an excellent job. He’s particularly impressed with her weaving in a section of the robe that depicts tall buildings surrounded by fire and explosions. Kira tells him that she found this section difficult to repair, since she has no understanding of large buildings, and hasn’t paid attention to the Ruin Song. In response, Jamison says that Kira shouldn’t be expected to listen to all of the Song. He tells Kira about how the Singer prepares for his performances: he begins studying the Ruin Song when he’s a tyke, and rehearses it all year. While the Song is always the same, the Singer may emphasize different parts each year. He lives in his own quarters of the Edifice. As she listens to Jamison, Kira thinks about Jo, but doesn’t say anything.
Jamison’s conversation with Kira reveals a few important things. First, it suggests that Jamison himself is most attracted to the sections of the robe that depict decay and death—he says that these are the sections where Kira has done the best work, but really, Kira’s work in these sections seems no better than her work anywhere else. Second, Jamison suggests that the Singer—a mysterious presence in the novel so far—is as much of a prisoner as Jo. (Cleary, Kira makes this connection, too.) Finally, the fact that the Singer may emphasize different parts of the song suggests a way for Kira to reinterpret the robe without actually altering it: she can emphasize different parts of the robe—the sections depicting peace, instead of those that depict death.
Jamison looks at another section of the robe, and recites the portion of the Ruin Song that corresponds to it. He explains to Kira that the verses of the Song refer to places that have been destroyed in the past. He then tells Kira that after this year’s Gathering, she’ll begin dyeing threads again. Kira, distressed at the thought of doing the same repairs year after year, asks Jamison what he means. Jamison explains that she’ll begin embroidering the empty section of the robe: the future. Even though Jamison has mentioned this task before, Kira is surprised—she thought she would wait until she was much older before she began. Jamison tells Kira that the guardians have waited a long time for her.
Jamison’s advice to Kira suggests that Kira is growing up even faster than we realized: she’s already ready to begin work on the robe. It’s unclear what sort of work she’ll be asked to do on it, but it’s clear that she herself will have little to no say in the matter. It’s also in this section that we begin to understand how powerful Kira really is: even though it’s the Council that’s allowed Kira to live among them, Kira is the one with the power to depict the future.