After bringing an injured Gisa home, Mare takes off running so that no one can find her, not even Kilorn. She goes to an inn on the northern road, where seasonal workers who follow the royal court are drinking. She steals from them every summer, and she decides to spend the night picking their pockets.
Mare’s desire to avoid people suggests that she feels she has let everyone down. She thinks she led Gisa to her hand injury, which will impact not only Gisa but also the rest of the family, because Gisa will no longer be able to sew for money. Mare has also failed to get the money to save Kilorn. The only way she knows to help those she loves is to steal more, even though she knows her mother would disapprove.
At the end of the night, one of the seasonal workers closes a hand on Mare’s wrist when she tries to get into his pocket. Mare registers his hand as strangely hot. When she admits to being a thief, he lets her go and gives her a silver coin worth a crown—more than any of her other earnings from the night. This mysterious person is only a couple years older than Mare. He tells her that she needs the coin more than he does. Mare is offended, but forces a cautious “thank you.”
Mare’s surprise shows that she is unaccustomed to generosity, because money is so tight for most of the people in the Stilts. Economic inequality thus has a detrimental effect on interpersonal relationships. The decision on the part of Mare’s target to give her the money she has tried to steal recalls the beginning of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, in which Jean Valjean is set on the path to moral reform after a bishop, who Valjean is caught robbing, tells the authorities that he gave the spoils to Valjean, and even gives Valjean additional riches. This pinpoints this moment as a possible turning point for Mare.
The person who has given Mare the coin introduces himself as Cal. He decides to walk her back to the village so that she can’t steal anymore. Mare finds Cal’s presence comforting, even though she should be scared of him. Cal realizes over the course of his conversation with Mare that she steals because there are no jobs and no ways to avoid conscription. Mare tells Cal that her sister has a job, before remembering that Gisa is not unemployed anymore. “Because of you,” she tells herself.
The conversation between Mare and Cal demonstrates that people in positions of privilege, like Cal, often do not realize all of the roadblocks between poverty and prosperity. Consequently, they often attribute inequality to laziness on the part of the poor instead of recognizing their own complicity in the problem. This passage also confirms that Mare feels responsible for Gisa’s injury and the financial straits it will mean for their family.
Cal asks if Mare was present for the riots; she ends up confessing all her pent-up shame, telling Cal all about her family. She spares only the details about Farley, the Scarlet Guard, and Kilorn. Cal gives Mare another silver coin. She accepts it but tells him, “There are worse lives to live. Don’t feel sorry for me.”
Mare is proud and does not want to be pitied by Cal. She does not want to be pitied by her family or friends either, which is why she confesses her feelings to a stranger rather than to someone she’s close to. Cal offers a friendly ear, and Mare does not have to feel like she is burdening him with her tortured feelings.
Outside her house, Mare runs into her father attempting to fix the utility box. Mare asks why he doesn’t just use the electricity ration papers she brought home. He feeds a paper into the box, which usually would turn the power back on, but nothing happens. Mare touches the electricity box, and it comes back to life.
Mare and her father have both been doing their utmost to make sure that their family has electricity, but the proper channels still do not work. It seems to be by ironic chance that Mare is able to bring back power by simply touching the electricity box after all the effort she has already exerted to acquire the electricity rations—but the moment also foreshadows Mare’s ability to produce electricity.
Mare and her father stand in silence. Mare reflects that they have both run from the house in which her mother is surely weeping over Gisa’s hand. Mare remembers remarks her father has made about the unfairness of the world, in which the Reds are “Red ants burning in the light of a Silver sun.” Mare’s father asks her not to tell her mother that he was out of the house, lest it give her hope.
Mare feels a certain connection to her father because they are both avoiding the people they feel they have hurt. Adversity thus both drives Mare and her family members apart and draws them together. Mare seems to have inherited her cynicism from her father, and this cynicism seems motivated by a desire to protect loved ones from what seems like inevitable disappointment.
Inside, Mare watches Gisa sleep, restless but holding her injured arm still. “Even in sleep, it hurts her,” Mare reflects. Mare pulls out Shade’s most recent letter from the box where she keeps all his letters. She fixates on the phrase, “Red as the dawn.” She realizes that Shade would never use such a phrase coincidentally. He must be part of the Scarlet Guard, and he tried to tell their family about the bombing weeks before Farley’s broadcast.
In some senses, Mare’s strongest sibling relationship seems not to be with her sister but rather with her absent brother, Shade. Mare must confront the fact that one of the things that draws her and Shade together is their sympathy with a political group that has committed at least one terrorist act.