Often the most important part of a day takes up the least time, Orual says. It takes very long to prepare for Orual’s battle with Argan, even though the battle itself is short. Orual wants the Fox to come well-dressed, but he doesn’t like the clothes of Glome. Then Bardia wants Orual to remove her veil for the fight so that it doesn’t hinder her vision, but she refuses. Eventually she has her servant, Poobi, sew her a hood with eye holes. It makes her look like a ghost, so hopefully it will frighten Argan. All of them, including Trunia, set out on horseback. Trunia asks where the champion is, but Orual makes him wait to find out.
Orual’s veil has quickly become an integral part of her. For her purposes today, it gives her power and inspires fear, as she wants to spook Argan. In making her look like a ghost, the hood both suggests supernatural powers and seems to invoke the ghost of her old self that she is slowly strangling. The attempts to find good clothes make it seem as though the group is on their way to a celebration, not a duel to the death.
Nobles wait at the palace gate to accompany the party. Orual thinks of Psyche going this way to heal the people and then to be sacrificed. She wonders if she is becoming Psyche by also being an offering to the gods. Now she can only think of maintaining a show of bravery. The nobles around her think she’ll lose the battle, but the commoners are celebrating in the streets. They don’t actually care about Orual; they’re excited for the free entertainment.
Orual imagines herself following in Psyche’s footsteps both literally and metaphorically. Both women go willingly to their possible death, supported in their journeys by the people, and their survival has a deep effect on the future of Glome. Even before she fights, Orual has already drummed up support for her rule in Glome.
Once at the appointed place, Arnom must sacrifice a bull. Argan sits with his men on the other end of the field. Orual finds it strange that one of them will soon kill the other. Both of them eat a bit of the bull and take oaths. The preparations seem endless. Finally all is ready, and the Fox is very distressed. Trunia is shocked when Orual reveals herself as the champion. She and Argan start to fight.
The fact that Arnom prepares for the battle with a sacrifice to Ungit suggests that she, or the gods in general, will preside over the duel and decide who the rightful winner is. Orual may think that the gods will cause her death here, but, in fact, her punishment must be extended far longer.
Argan doesn’t begin to respect Orual until she skins his hand with her sword. She isn’t afraid anymore because the fight seems just like her practice bouts with Bardia. Before long, she knows he won’t kill her, but she worries she won’t kill him either. If it lasts too long, his strength might tire her out. Then she sees his face change, and she doesn’t understand why; it’s the look of someone who knows he’s about to die. When he makes a mistake, she cuts his leg where it will never stop bleeding.
Orual was afraid that her courage would fail her, but, in fact, she finds that she feels confident in her ability to win the duel. Though Orual has considered killing Psyche, Redival, her father, and herself, Argan ends up being the first person she kills, and it’s an honorable killing. The ease with which she does it suggests that killing comes almost naturally to her.
Everyone runs to Argan, but he can’t be saved. Orual suddenly feels weak and different, perhaps the way women feel when they lose their virginity. Bardia and the Fox run to congratulate her, and she weeps. She has to talk to everyone and do many things and she wishes for peace and quiet. She mounts her horse and takes Trunia’s hand. They face the soldiers from Phars and ask whether they have any doubts about who will be the next king of Phars. Some gallop away, but most declare allegiance to Trunia.
Orual will never lose her virginity due to the effects of her ugliness, but her embrace of masculinity means that she goes through a male version of this rite of passage, affirming her masculine strength over her femininity. Orual comes out triumphant both personally and diplomatically, having gained the respect of her people and the friendship of a neighboring kingdom.
Bardia tells Orual she must have a feast for the important nobles. They don’t have much food, but they’ll make do. She immediately must act the woman’s part again, arranging for guests. On the ride back to the palace, Trunia begs her to let him see her face, and, as this kind of attention is so unknown to her, she enjoys it immensely. Everything seems wonderful, but she also knows that the gods always do this before they ruin things.
Orual proves that she can move fluidly between genders. Her success at a masculine rite of passage leads into her playing the conventional woman, absorbed in domestic concerns and navigating the flirtations of a man. This is one of the happiest moments of her life, basking in the love and attention of so many people. Yet the gods’ form of justice means it can’t last.
When they reach the palace, a slave girl whispers to Bardia, and he worriedly tells Orual that he must go home because his wife is giving birth. Orual wants to be angry, but instead she gives him a fine ring to offer to Ungit for his wife’s sake. Orual behind thinks bitterly that she is nothing more than Bardia’s work—his real life lies with his family.
The gods’ punishment comes, in part, as a reminder to Orual that Bardia cares more about his wife and family than about her. However, Orual is learning to control her passions, so she gives him a gift. Ironically, the gift is an offering to the goddess not only of fertility, but also of jealousy.
The banquet that night is the only one Orual sits all the way through. In future, she only comes in briefly to give a speech, which creates a useful impression of her. At this banquet, she is the only woman. Most of her feels she shouldn’t be there, but the queenly part of her feels like both a warrior and a woman alluring to Trunia.
Orual’s discussion of this banquet as one of many gives the impression that she will rule for many years and learn to navigate her image, using the gods’ tactic of remaining mysterious to maintain power. For Orual, being Queen means she can recognize and unite her masculine and feminine sides.
After the banquet, Orual thinks how disgusting men are. They got drunk and ate with no manners at all. She wonders if Bardia acts that way, which brings on loneliness for both him and Psyche. She wishes she could have married Bardia and had Psyche as their daughter. She discovers that if she drinks enough, her grief seems noble. She revels in her sorrows. When she goes to bed, she thinks she hears a girl crying, but tells herself it’s only the chains in the well. She must not investigate because she is a great Queen and a brave warrior. She has her servant Poobi shut the window, contemplates how she could have killed the King, and decides that the Queen will kill Orual.
Orual finally admits that she’s in love with Bardia, finding that even with all of the attention on her, she still needs the love of the two people she truly adores. As she decides to entirely bury her old self in favor of her new Queen persona, she must deny once and for all her lost love for Psyche and the pain that she caused Psyche. She does so by refusing to pay attention to the sound of the chains, even though this could be the one time that it isn’t the chains. Orual will be no more.