The war has been going on for most of the past century. It started over land and the questions of which Silvers got to control what land, but it is always Red bodies on the line at the warfront. In school, Mare and her peers have been taught that they are lucky to live in Norta, “a nation made great by our technology and power.” The word “lucky” makes Mare angry. She has always imagined that she will end up in the army, but the thought of Kilorn there is too much for her to handle. She resolves to find a way for both of them to escape conscription. Mare is used to operating within the black market for smuggled goods; she decides that it ought to work just as well for people.
The Silvers might think of the war as an abstract political conflict, and because few people were alive when the war started, they also might see it as something that is out of their hands and at the mercy of history. Mare, on the other hand, is keenly aware of how the conflict ripples out over the lives and the very bodies of the Reds. Mare is resistant to the nationalist propaganda she has been fed in school; the nation may be great for Silvers, but it is only great for them because of the labor and sacrifice of the Reds. In this way the book offers a critique of unchecked capitalism and colonialism—a ruling class is kept wealthy and comfortable through the labor and competition of a large working class.
Will Whistle is an old man with many footholds in the black market. Mare goes to him when she has stolen goods that she can’t sell to regular shopkeepers. He has never before declined one of her offers, but he does now. When Mare insists, he introduces her to a woman scarcely older than Mare, who is too fair to be from the Stilts and who is clearly an outlaw. This woman, named Farley, says that “The Scarlet Guard” accepts the task of smuggling Mare and Kilorn out of the reach of conscription for the price of one thousand crowns each.
It is Mare’s lawbreaking that has allowed her to build the small safety net she has in the Stilts, further demonstrating that the government does not have Mare’s best interests at heart. It is significant that Farley appears to be around Mare’s age: this might be the first time Mare sees someone similar to her who is wielding power within an organized effort to resist the oppressive regime. What’s more, Farley seems to be paid handsomely for her leadership.
Two thousand crowns is enough money to feed Mare’s family for years, and Mare will have to come up with it by the day after tomorrow. Mare feels she has no other choice, however. As she accepts the impossible terms, Mare notices that Farley smells like gunpowder.
Mare’s acceptance of Farley’s impossible terms demonstrates both Mare’s desperation and her determination to beat the odds that are stacked against her and her loved ones. When she notices that Farley smells like gunpowder, she shows that she is willing to choke down her aversion to the kind of violence demonstrated at the Feats if it means she can keep Kilorn safe.
When Mare tells Kilorn about the deal she has made, he gracefully accepts that there is no way he and Mare can come up with the money. He hopes that she can save up to avoid her own conscription in a year. Mare does not give up on Kilorn so easily. Back at home, she lies awake thinking of how the decorative stockings Gisa embroiders must be worth the fortune she and Kilorn need. Mare shakes Gisa awake. She mentions Kilorn, and Gisa blushes and giggles. She sobers immediately, however, when Mare tells her that Kilorn is going to be conscripted. Mare says that she has found a way to get him out of it, but that she needs Gisa’s help. Gisa immediately agrees.
Kilorn’s resignation to conscription is far more realistic than Mare’s determination to find the payment for the Scarlet Guard, underscoring Mare’s remarkably strong will and resourcefulness when it comes to her loved ones’ safety. Gisa’s immediate agreement to help Mare save Kilorn betrays Gisa’s crush on Kilorn, but it also shows that she implicitly trusts Mare to keep her safe and to do what is right.
The next day, Mare accompanies Gisa into Summerton. Mare marvels at how upright everyone walks and how slowly they move, children delighting in spectacles and Silvers showing off their powers by levitating apples and making flowers grow instantaneously. The palace and the walls around the city are made of a special kind of diamond. When Gisa makes a derisive comment about the Silvers’ luxurious lifestyle, it hits Mare that for all her jealousy of her employable sister, Gisa has not had the opportunity to make friends in school the way Mare has.
This seems to be one of the first times Mare sees the luxury of Silver life up close. Before, she has always thought of Summerton as a space to which Gisa has access and she does not. Now that she is in the space next to Gisa, she realizes that physical access to Summerton does not necessarily mean that Gisa participates in Silver lifestyle. In fact, Gisa seems alienated from both the Silvers and the Reds because of her apprenticeship. Postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha calls this kind of alienation “mimicry.” By trying to assimilate with the colonist culture (the Silvers), the colonized individual (Gisa) distances herself from her community of origin (the Reds) at the same time as all her differences from the colonist culture come into sharper focus.
A security officer asks Gisa and Mare for identification. Gisa says that Mare is helping her today with her apprenticeship. Each of them is shackled with a red band around the wrist, and the guard sends them on their way. As Gisa enters her mistress's shop, Mare repeats to herself, “ten miles to home.”
The shackles the guard places on Mare and Gisa demonstrate the extent to which the Silvers control the Reds: the Silvers reserve the right to seize the Reds’ bodies any time they wish. The Silvers’ need to shackle Red visitors also shows that the Silvers do not trust Reds to remain docile without continuous reinforcement of the power differential.