Orual enters the palace through the back and finds that the King is still away. She creeps to her room, realizing that she’s avoiding the Fox. She’s eating when he arrives and asks where she’s been. She tells him she was at the Mountain, but hides her wound from him, knowing he wouldn’t approve of her coercing Psyche the way she did. She accidentally reveals her anger with him for going to sleep rather than helping her plan Psyche’s rescue.
The fact that Orual finds herself hiding from the Fox indicates not only that she knows he wouldn’t approve of what she’s done, but also that she doesn’t feel she can defend her actions well. Strangely, Orual seems calmer than she has in a while, perhaps because she has succeeded in breaking apart Psyche’s relationship with the god, despite the consequences.
Orual tells the Fox only that a storm flooded the valley and she heard Psyche leaving Glome. Eventually he forces her to admit to her plan with the lamp. He is dismayed, saying that Psyche’s outlaw lover was sure to wake and punish her. Orual can’t see why she didn’t think of this, and wonders whether she actually believed Psyche’s lover was a criminal.
The Fox immediately finds a major flaw in Orual’s plan that she should have seen from the beginning if her beliefs and her motives were really what she told herself they were. Thus, she’s already forced to start questioning herself, just as the god’s punishment dictated.
The Fox asks how Orual convinced Psyche to go through with the plan. Orual knows that if she admits that she told Psyche that the Fox and Bardia agreed about her lover, the Fox will see it as a lie. It seemed different when she was talking to Psyche. Orual simply says she spoke with Psyche. The Fox can tell she has a secret, but he decides not to try to get it out of her, since that would only ruin their relationship. The Fox will love her no matter what. Orual thinks he’s much kinder than Psyche. She never tells Bardia what happened to Psyche.
Forced to see her actions through the Fox’s eyes, Orual begins to recognize that she wasn’t acting entirely rationally or truthfully in the valley. The Fox acts as a model of the kind of pure love Orual lacks when he says he won’t force Orual to tell her secret. He loves Orual too much to try to coerce her, whereas Orual thought her love for Psyche was reason enough to justify coercion.
That night, Orual decides to veil her face forever. When she was a child, she didn’t realize she was ugly. For a while after, she thought she could be prettier if she put enough effort into it. Finally, she decides that no one will see her face again.
Faces in this book act as representations of inner character, so Orual’s decision to hide her face indicates that she doesn’t want others to see her true self. Even if she doesn’t yet know her true self, she seems to recognize that it’s not any prettier than her face.
The King comes home a week later drunk and in a bad mood. A few days later, he sends for Orual and the Fox. He orders Orual to take off her veil, but she doesn’t fear him anymore after seeing the god. She feels powerful because she can see his face, but he can’t see hers. When he asks whether she’s opposing him, she admits that she is. He dismisses her defiance as women’s talk. From then on, Orual never submits to him again. She forces him to release herself and the Fox from the task of watching Redival, and he gives this job to Batta instead. Batta has grown close with the King, for she flatters him. She and Redival are friends one moment and enemies the next.
Orual’s ordeal in the valley has hardened her. She also finds that the veil gives her advantages besides not having to worry about her ugliness. Having lost everything that matters to her, Orual has nothing left to fear from her father. In standing up to him, she takes control of her own life and shows herself worthy of taking his place, though this is not yet on her mind. Batta, Redival, and the King all share a petty, cruel, selfish nature that Orual hates, probably because she also shares parts of it.
Orual waits for the gods to kill her, and she’s almost disappointed to find that she continues to live her same old life. She makes Psyche’s room look as it did in their happy days. When she finds a hymn to the god of the Mountain, she burns it to destroy that part of Psyche. She also burns the clothes that Psyche wore in the last year. Finally, she seals the door and decides she must never think about Psyche except the way she was in childhood. She doesn’t want to hear others speak of her.
Orual begins to recognize that continuing to live is a worse punishment than being struck down. In an attempt to deny recent events completely, Orual tries to modify her surroundings so that she can only remember the time in which she didn’t have to share Psyche’s love with anyone but the Fox, and she could be sure of her influence over her sister. She refuses to acknowledge that Psyche’s love for the god was an important part of her even before the sacrifice.
Orual often asks the Fox about science and politics, wanting concrete knowledge. She also continues her swordsmanship lessons with Bardia, and improves quickly. She wants to build her strength of mind and body in order to drive her feminine parts away. Sometimes at night, she gives in to her despair about Psyche and weeps, wondering where she is, but afterwards she becomes stony again. Bardia teaches her to ride a horse and begins to treat her like a man.
Orual’s desire for concrete knowledge denies the existence of the divine mysteries with which she’s had to struggle. Due to her ugliness, Orual was never treated as other women were, but now she consciously denies her femininity, as it is associated with emotion and empathy. Orual tries to change herself, but only to deny her crimes, not to remedy them.
After the Midwinter feast, the King slips on ice and injures his leg. He is carried to his bed in pain. His thigh is broken. When the Second Priest, Arnom, tries to set the leg, the King almost stabs him. Bardia and Orual have guards hold the King down, and he seems to fear Orual, screaming for her to be taken away. He develops a cough, and Batta keeps giving him too much wine. He seems to think Orual is someone else who tortures him.
The King’s fear of Orual seems to come from both his recognition of his own sins, (which have hurt her in many varied ways), and also from recognition of the cruelty in her that he fears will turn against him. It is even possible that he sees her as Ungit, as he will later come to her in a dream and reveal her face to be Ungit’s.
Three nights later, Arnom tells Orual, Bardia, and the Fox that the King will probably die. Orual thinks she’ll be driven out of Glome in the struggle for power. Arnom admits that the Priest of Ungit is also dying, and he himself will take his place unless the King forbids it. Bardia says that Ungit and the crown need to work together to avoid chaos in Glome, and he calls Orual the Queen, which the Fox quickly echoes. Arnom wishes she were married, since she can’t lead Glome’s army. Bardia, however, insists that she can.
Orual has never imagined herself as Queen, perhaps because the King always focused his efforts on having a son to inherit his throne. The passing of both the King and the Priest at the same time will bring on major changes in Glome. Orual’s denial of her femininity works to her advantage in this situation where society demands that a man take power. Though she’s not a man, she has the necessary traditionally male knowledge.
Arnom brings up the long conflict over the “Crumbles,” land claimed by both Ungit and the King. Orual has always thought Ungit should have it so the priests won’t have to take so many sacrifices from the people. Due to the King’s sickness, Orual claims the power to speak for him and gives the Crumbles to Ungit on the condition that Ungit’s guards come under the direction of the King’s guard. She knows that Arnom will accept because he needs the palace on his side. The Fox and Bardia congratulate her.
Orual negotiates her first diplomatic deal as Queen, demonstrating a natural ability to find a fair arrangement that benefits both sides. She also brings herself into closer association with Ungit and all that the goddess stands for. Orual essentially puts herself in charge of Ungit’s manpower, preventing the sort of dangerous face-offs that occurred between the King and the Priest.
Standing alone in the great hall, Orual feels very strange. Being Queen won’t lessen her sorrows, but it might help her push them away. She realizes her father will die, and suddenly feels incredibly free and glad. But then she thinks she hears a girl crying—a sound she’s always waiting to hear. She goes outside in pursuit of the noise and calls for Psyche, but soon she realizes that it was only the chains of the well swinging in the breeze. She then sees someone dive into some bushes, and when she investigates, a man’s voice tells her to take him to the King.
Orual doesn’t want to be Queen for the power it will give her, but for the distraction it will provide. The best rulers are often those who don’t particularly want to rule, and Orual makes no exception. But even as she thinks ruling will push away thoughts of Psyche, all of those thoughts become concentrated into the weeping sound of the chains in the well, which will haunt her from this day forth.