The Queen first goes to Phars. Because they harvest later there, the party sees everything happening that just finished in Glome. They stay in Trunia’s palace and the Queen notices that Redival (now his wife) has become fat and ugly. Trunia ignores Redival but gets on well with the Queen. His second son, Daaran, will inherit the throne when the Queen dies. She knows she could love him, but she refuses to make herself vulnerable in that way again.
The repetition of the harvest as they travel through Phars indicates that this trip will take the Queen back in time in a more major way, as well. The Queen, who has always been jealous of beauty, finds that it decays over time, at least in the cases of both Redival and Ansit. Part of the Queen’s burying of Orual seems to be a conscious denial of her ability to love, which she does in order to save herself from pain.
When they leave Phars, they pass through mountains to enter Essur. The Queen and her companions become good friends and enjoy their travels together through the beautiful land. They spend three nights with the King of Essur. Both he and his wife act deferentially to the Queen.
This part of the trip is reminiscent of Orual’s journey with Bardia to find Psyche on the Mountain. In both, she is happy, relishes the landscape, and feels an enjoyable connection to her companions. In fact, Bardia’s son is even with her now, which strengthens the parallel.
The Queen planned to go home after this, but she hears of a hot spring nearby and decides to visit. It’s an autumn day, and the Queen promises herself that she’ll start resting more when she returns home, and that she will let Bardia rest too. They’ve done enough. The party finds a good camping place near the spring. Sitting alone in the forest, the Queen hears a temple bell. She walks towards the sound and finds a small white temple with Greek columns.
As Orual previously found Psyche near a stream, she will now find her in a different form near another body of water. Just as the Queen begins to feel more contented with herself and less inclined to work herself into distraction, she will be faced with a new reminder of her past that won’t allow her this peace of mind. This is part of the gods’ punishment.
Inside the temple, it’s very quiet, cool, and clean. The altar holds a wooden statue of a woman with a black veil over her face. The Queen likes this much better than the house of Ungit. A priest appears and asks for an offering, which the Queen gives, inquiring as to the name of the goddess. The priest says she is called Istra. This is a common name, so the Queen doesn’t react. The priest of Istra explains that she is a young goddess who used to be a mortal. The Queen pays him to tell the story.
At first, the Queen likes this Greek-style temple. Though the goddess in this temple is essentially Psyche, the veil on the statue also connects her to Orual. This suggests that they are in some way one, as the god commanded they would be. The priest makes the interaction a commercial transaction, establishing the sense of false religion that permeates the scene.
The priest of Istra tells the story as though he has often repeated it, and the Queen realizes that he’s telling the story of her own life and Psyche’s. A goddess was jealous of Istra’s beauty and forced her to be sacrificed on a mountain, and the goddess’s son took her to his palace, where he came to her only in darkness. The priest claims that the god couldn’t show his face because his mother would be angry with him for marrying her enemy, which the Queen thinks is silly.
The Queen’s life has been turned into a myth. However, the priest seems to simplify the story, first by suggesting that the god’s concealment of his face was in order to avoid Ungit’s anger. The Queen sees his concealment as the trickery of the gods, a riddle intended to lead her onto a false and destructive path and divide her from Psyche.
The Queen is glad she’s only hearing this story now, since she’s not as disturbed by it as she would have been in the past. She asks how the priest of Istra came to hear this story, but he’s confused and says only that it’s the sacred story of the goddess. As he continues telling it, the Queen suddenly becomes angry. He has the story wrong, she says, when he claims that both of the sisters went to visit Istra and saw her palace.
While the Queen obviously knows the story comes from real life, the priest sees it as just a story. This is ironic, since, as a religious man, he’s expected to believe in the truth of his religion. His story’s inclusion of Redival takes away from the Queen’s sense of her superior love for Psyche, and the visibility of the palace ruins her justification for her destructive actions.
The Queen thinks the gods have mangled her story to spite her. There’s no other way a human would have learned of the palace’s existence. The gods have revealed part of the truth to a mortal, but have hidden the most important part—the fact that they made Orual guess whether or not the palace was real. In the world of the story, the gods present themselves clearly instead of asking humans to figure out what’s true. In that kind of world, Orual would not have blundered. It seems entirely unfair to tell the story as though Orual could see the palace. But she knows that the story will be spread in this form, which makes her doubt the truth of other sacred stories.
Though the Queen has not argued with the gods in many years, this false story rekindles her anger against them. She believes that the story shows a world in which all of the gods’ faults are erased, and Orual’s faults become unjustifiable. The Queen objects to the story making it seem that she could see the palace; however, the fact remains that she did see the palace, if only briefly. She still doesn’t want to acknowledge this truth because she knows it works against her.
The Queen asks the priest of Istra why the sisters wanted to get Istra away from the god if they had seen the palace. He replies that they were jealous of all that she had. In that moment, the Queen decides to write this complaint against the gods. For years she has kept away from the gods, almost believing they didn’t exist. But now she knows the gods are still against her, and they know all and have unending strength. She must write the truth and make a case against them.
Though the story certainly isn’t entirely true, it does reveal aspects of the truth that the Queen has denied. She is most scandalized by the priest’s suggestion that she was jealous of Psyche, and yet it will become clear that jealousy did partly motivate her. The story forces the Queen to confront herself in a way she doesn’t want to, so she heaps all the blame on the gods and refuses to examine any possible truth it could reveal.
The Queen is disgusted that the gods would use such a debasing lie by saying that she was jealous of Psyche. The priest speaks of Istra weeping, and the Queen can almost hear it. He says that Istra wanders and the goddess forces her to complete many seemingly impossible tasks; when she finishes them all, the goddess will let her go, and Istra will become a goddess herself. This corresponds in the temple with the removal of the black veil from her statue.
The force with which the Queen opposes the accusation of jealousy suggests that it hits on something true that she really doesn’t want to acknowledge. The removal of the veil occurs at the moment Psyche becomes a goddess, suggesting that when the Queen can remove her veil, or come to recognize her faults truly, she might also reach a divine state.
The Queen asks when Istra’s veil will be removed. The priest of Istra says they do it every spring, but the Queen wants to know whether Istra has become a goddess yet in real life. The priest doesn’t understand, and tells of the rituals for different seasons. The Queen suggests that the sisters in the story might tell a different tale, and he says that jealous people always do.
Again, the Queen and the priest speak on different levels of reality. The priest insists that the entire worship of Istra is only symbolic. Ironically, the Queen believes more fully than he in the gods’ activity. The priest unconsciously points out that Orual’s perspective on the story might be influenced by her emotions, and thus it is not an objective truth.
The Queen leaves the temple to find that the sun has set. She hides her emotions from her companions. The next day, though, she realizes that she can’t be happy until she writes her case against the gods. As they travel back to Glome, she hardly notices what goes on around them. Instead, she remembers every detail of her own story, freeing “Orual” from that place deep inside her. She feels sorrow, but always more indignation. She must write quickly, she thinks, before the gods can stop her. She urges her companions to ride farther each day, and wakes them early in the mornings. She becomes silent, and they wonder what’s wrong.
Any peace that the Queen had found within herself has evaporated with this reminder of the injustices of the past. She feels driven to prove how unfairly the gods have treated her. The old self she has buried begins to emerge, making itself available for examination, though she must first become that old self again before she will gain any perspective on it. She feels all the emotions she has repressed for years.
When the Queen gets home, few issues have arisen in her absence. She hears that Bardia is ill in bed, but Arnom tells her it isn’t serious. She doesn’t fear for him because she knows how his wife fusses over him.
Though the Queen loves Bardia, her continuing jealousy and resentment of his wife wins out over her love, keeping her from acting on her care for him.
Finally, she writes her book. Now she asks the reader to judge between her and the gods. They gave her only Psyche to love, and then took her away. Furthermore, they forced her to be responsible for Psyche’s fate and wouldn’t reveal what her true situation was. When Orual guessed wrong, the gods punished her through Psyche. On top of this, they started a story in which Orual purposefully hurt Psyche out of jealousy.
The Queen has set out her complaint against the gods, and the reader now has the whole story from which to judge. Was Orual at fault, or were the gods? She thinks that the gods forced her to make important decisions without giving her adequate information, and then treated her unfairly when she made an understandable mistake.
The Queen thinks the gods are unfair. They won’t leave humans alone, but they also won’t guide humans plainly. Instead, they give hints that people can never see clearly or understand, which is torture. Thus, gods harm humans more than anything else. The Queen welcomes their response to her accusation, but she thinks they might just punish her. However, if they do this, everyone will know they have no answer.
The Queen’s main complaint against the gods is their mystery. She resents the fact that they keep themselves always hidden, yet won’t let humans live their own lives. She doesn’t think they’ll have any good answer to her complaint, and, to avoid admitting their faults, they’ll just strike her down. Orual herself, however, is the one who will have to admit her faults.