Elara leaves Mare. Mare goes through some doors at the end of the hall, which lead down a flight of stairs into a huge room with nobles from all the Silver houses. King Tiberias and Elara stand elevated above the others. Cal and Maven are there too, and it strikes Mare that Maven is not as good as Cal at hiding his emotions.
Everything about the room Mare is led into is performative. The king and queen are positioned physically above the others, posturing their superiority. The maintenance of power in the court depends on spectacle and performance. Maven’s inability to hide his emotions thus registers as a weakness, but it also humanizes Maven: he is a person as well as a prince.
The king and queen announce that following the incident at Queenstrial, they have discovered Mare’s (fabricated) long lost parentage. They announce her engagement to Maven, and Mare realizes that the other girls from Queenstrial are envious of her. Evangeline looks livid. Maven, unhappy also, steps forward and proposes formally to Mare. She thinks briefly of the life she might have had: “Conscription. Survival. Green-eyed children with my quick feet and Kilorn’s last name.” She resigns herself to that future’s impossibility and accepts the proposal.
This is the first time Mare has explicitly alluded to the fact that she has been envisioning a future in which she is married to Kilorn. Her forced betrothal to Maven thus represents not only a future she does not want but also the death of the future she has imagined. Mare feels isolated in her grief over this change of plans because if she stays in character as a Silver princess, she must show delight at how lucky she is to have won Maven’s hand.
Next Cal steps forward and, as expected, proposes to Evangeline, who accepts. It strikes Mare that Cal seems to truly believe that he will be a good king, “or die trying.” Evangeline seems smug. She continues smiling as she surreptitiously grasps Mare’s arm, digging her fingers into it just short of breaking the skin and spilling Mare’s red blood. Evangeline threatens to kill Mare, who she calls, “little lightning girl,” if Mare gets in her way. Mare keeps her composure.
Mare has already noted that Cal is good at hiding his emotions. He seems to be so good at performing his role that he has fooled even himself into thinking that the monarchy as-is is good for the kingdom. It may be that Cal wants to be a good king, but he does not seem to realize that the kingdom itself is designed to be unjust and hierarchical. Evangeline reminds Mare that no matter how well she performs her role as a Silver princess, hiding her true identity is not entirely up to her. Even a little spilled blood could be the death of her.
The king announces that the two marriages will stabilize the kingdom in the face of the Scarlet Guard, which represents “a dangerous turn for our Red brothers.” Although the Silvers scoff at the word “brothers,” Mare can tell that the king is concealing real fear. She hates herself as, along with the rest of the crowd, she choruses back to the king, “Strength and power.”
The Silvers are disgusted by the notion that the Reds are analogous to them as citizens, but the king’s fear shows that he, for one, understands that the kingdom’s mistreatment of the Reds invited the terrorist attack. His choice to double down on the unjust elevation of Silvers over Reds, even using a Red girl as a pawn in his marriage plot, is analogous to the way many real-world tyrannical leaders try to maintain power.
During the feast, Mare cannot enjoy her food because she is thinking about her family. She worries, after her one-day transformation from thief to princess, how much more she will change. Next to her, Maven switches out Mare’s drink for water, telling her she will thank him later. He apologizes for his attitude earlier and explains that usually, younger princes are allowed to choose their wives. He supposes he is getting a taste of Cal’s life. Mare tells Maven that she feels sorry for neither of them because they have everything. Still, as Mare watches Maven stare at his older brother, laughing with their father, she begins to pity him. She reminds herself that Maven is a burner, and, “I’m a Red girl in a sea of Silvers, and I can’t afford to feel sorry for anyone, least of all the son of a snake.”
Mare is determined to maintain her convictions about the unfair distribution of wealth in the kingdom, but she nevertheless cannot help but identify with Maven because he, too, is losing control over his life. She also identifies with his jealousy of his brother because of her own jealousy of Gisa. Mare reminds herself that this identification is dangerous because if she starts trusting Silvers, she could easily lose track of herself and her commitment to her family and friends. Mare fears that she will forget her Red background due to the imperative to act like a Silver.