Mare remembers each of her brothers’ departures when they were conscripted. She remembers her mother and Gisa’s tears, and her father and her own silence. She also remembers red blood dripping onto Shade’s shirt from the poor ear-piercing job she did with the earrings Shade gave to her and Gisa. Mare’s memories fade to images of the Choke, where she has never been but where her father was injured in the war. She imagines her brothers there. Then her mind goes back to her worst memories: “Gisa’s hand, Kilorn’s conscription, Dad coming home half-dead.” Even events that happened before Mare was old enough to remember them flash before her eyes. Finally, she comes to and realizes she is in a cage, kneeling before Queen Elara.
It is not immediately clear whether Mare is remembering or dreaming. She seems to be experiencing the trope in which a character’s life flashes before her eyes when she is on the brink of death, except that instead of remembering fond moments, her memories of the people she loves are tied up in guilt, shame, fear, and other negative emotions. When Mare begins to see events that happened before she could have remembered them, it is clear that there is something more complicated going on. Mare awakes in an extremely dehumanized state, kneeling and in a cage, showing Queen Elara’s power at her expense.
Mare tells Queen Elara, “I’d bow, but I might fall over,” then immediately regrets her words because, “She’s the queen. She could just kill me. She could kill us all.” The queen reaches through the bars to touch Mare’s temple, demonstrating that she can increase Mare’s pain at will. The queen reminds Mare that despite her ability of electrocution, she has red blood, not silver. The queen reveals that she has been sorting through Mare’s memories and nightmares in order to understand her.
Mare’s initial instinct is to be defiant, which shows that she is more likely than she might think to get involved in rebellion against the unjust regime. Mare backtracks when she realizes how much power Elara has in the situation, but this realization is itself a recognition of how unjust the situation is. The queen is torturing Mare, but also sees Mare as a potential threat. Elara tries to curtail the threat by manipulating Mare’s mind and reinforcing the idea, which the reader now begins to see is a myth, that Mare’s biology makes her necessarily weak.
As Queen Elara toys with Mare by paralyzing her legs, Mare realizes that the queen is a “whisper.” Queen Elara tells Mare that she is only alive because hundreds of powerful and curious Silvers witnessed her display. Mare tries but fails to call up more lightning. She realizes that the red band is gone from her wrist and wonders what it means. “What am I?” she wonders.
During the “Feat” of chapter one, Mare saw that a whisper has the power to make an opponent commit suicide. Mare, who is unsure of her own identity in this moment, realizes that she is in extreme danger because she is up against an adversary who could make her do anything. Mare is not even sure that she can trust her own mind and body to be on her side.
The next time Mare wakes, a guard stands outside her cell, telling her to get dressed. Mare wonders why there is no red on the clothing she has been given. The guard turns out to be another magnetron, Evangeline’s cousin Lucas. He is calm and stoic, seemingly less severe than Evangeline. He leads Mare to the throne room, where the king, queen, and princes await. Mare refuses to kneel before them. The king glares at her but chuckles when Mare says she is not sorry that he can’t kill her.
Mare is likely interacting with more Silvers than she ever has in her life, at least one-on-one. She realizes that even among a family such as Evangeline’s, Silvers’ personalities can range as much as Reds’ do. Nonetheless, despite few personal interactions with them, she has reason to hate the king and queen. The king’s mocking reaction to Mare’s attempts at defiance show how little power Mare has here.
The king pulls out Mare’s identification card, on which her red blood was rubbed at birth. It contains all the information there is about her, including her mediocre school performance. The king cannot make sense of how such an unremarkable person could be an anomaly, both Red and Silver. He does not know what to do with her.
Mare here embodies a counterexample to the logic that governs the power structure of Norta. As she has shown, those with Red blood evidently can have some of the powers on which the Silvers base their claim to superiority. This revelation also demonstrates to Mare that she has more to discover about herself, and that she should not trust government documents to supply her with defining information. As is the case in many young adult novels, Mare’s role as a political player is thus also tied up in her personal coming of age and self-discovery.
Mare suggests that the king let her go. Queen Elara laughs, saying that the nobles will never forget “the little lightning girl” and alluding to but not naming a sinister idea for what to do with Mare. Cal becomes defensive and must be calmed by his brother. The king tells Mare that instead of killing her, they will pretend that she is no longer Mare Barrow of the Stilts but, rather, the daughter of Ethan Titanos, a Silver general killed when she was an infant. They will say that she was raised by a Red soldier and has only just discovered her identity as a Silver lady. She will marry Prince Maven. The king attempts to be dismissive, but Mare can tell that he is afraid of the Scarlet Guard when he says that she will finally have a purpose: placating the Reds with the promise of a rags-to-riches fairytale.
There is a two-way power dynamic going on in this scene. The royal family’s petty disagreements over what to do with Mare demonstrate that she is less a person to them than an inconvenience, or a pawn. Simultaneously, Mare sees that she has destabilized the king’s sense that he has absolute control over his realm. Mare still does not have the power to determine her own fate, but her existence is politicized against the stagnant power dynamic that has existed in Norta all her life. The king reacts by trying to use the same tactics he has always used: performatively placating the masses.
Mare thinks that the fairytale is more like a nightmare. She tries to plead silently with Cal to help her, but he shakes his head. The king makes it clear that Mare cannot refuse her fate, referring to her as “Lady Titanos.” Queen Elara tells Mare that she will live at the palace from now on, “as is the custom for royal brides,” and that she will be scheduled as Elara sees fit. “One false step,” she says, “one wrong word, and you will suffer for it.”
Mare has not only lost control over the direction of her life, but she is no longer allowed to use her own name or identity, under pain of death. Cal’s refusal to help Mare shows the extent to which a powerless person can live at the mercy of more powerful people who might choose to help them or not.
When Mare asks about her family, the king says he will give them an allowance to keep them quiet. Mare bargains for her brothers and Kilorn to be brought home from the war. The king agrees, but Mare thinks that, “It sounds less like a pardon and more like a death sentence.”
Mare reveals to the reader that she is a skilled negotiator, and that she is more likely to use her negotiating skills to help others than to help herself. The king’s assuredness that money will quiet Mare’s family shows that political power and wealth often beget one another.