The King offers the Priest of Ungit wine, but he’s under a vow not to eat or drink until he has delivered his message. The Priest reveals that he has met with representatives of the people in the house of Ungit to decide what they should say to the King. The King begins to show signs of anger. The Priest lists the people’s complaints, including the King’s own lack of sons. The King argues that Ungit should fix that problem, considering how many sacrifices he’s made to her.
The Priest shows his power in the kingdom, and the King clearly takes the council that the Priest organized as an implicit threat to the crown. The King seems to view human-god interactions as market transactions. If he pays Ungit enough sacrifices, he expects a return on his investment. This attitude requires the King to think of himself as being on Ungit’s level, not as a supplicant who can only hope for the goddess’s mercy.
Orual feels afraid of the Priest of Ungit, who now says that Ungit only gets angry for a reason, and when she does, something must be done to satisfy her. The Priest has served three generations of kings. Once, the King of Essur overthrew Glome because a man had committed incest. When the man was punished, Essur was driven out. Another time, a woman cursed the god of the Mountain, bringing floods. When she was punished, the floods subsided. Now Ungit is angrier than ever, and the secret council has decided that they have to find the Accursed to make things right. This means human sacrifice.
The Priest tells a history of the gods’ direct interaction with the mortal world. In these cases, the gods act as a justice system—when a mortal does something wrong, the gods punish the person. However, the gods’ justice is not really just, as they punish the entire kingdom for the sins of one person. This practice gives the society the responsibility of policing people’s personal lives. The group punishment and demand for human sacrifice make Ungit—or at least the man supposedly speaking for her—seem barbaric.
The King offers to give them the next thief captured, but the Priest of Ungit specifies that they must find the Accursed to die in the Great Offering. He reveals that the Brute, a monster, has been seen, although the King hasn’t heard this. The Priest mentions that he hears more than the King, and he has heard of humans taking the place of the gods. Orual immediately blames Redival. The King doesn’t believe that the Brute is real, but the Priest says that a shepherd on the Grey Mountain saw him in the light of a torch he was using to attack a lion.
This scene forces the reader to question in what type of fictional world Glome exists. Does this world include the supernatural (in which case the Priest could be telling the truth) or is the Priest mistaken or lying? The King’s disbelief indicates that the supernatural isn’t a normal element of everyday life. In any case, Orual’s fears about Psyche are coming true, and she’s sure that Redival has spoken to the Priest, even though anyone in Glome could have seen the worship of Psyche.
The Fox asks to speak and suggests that the shepherd simply saw the shadow of the lion. The Priest of Ungit brushes him off, replying that even if the Brute is a shadow, that doesn’t make him any less dangerous. If he comes into the city, the people will revolt and kill those in the palace.
The Priest is entirely comfortable with the mysteries of the gods. He’s sure that the Brute is real, and what form he takes is completely irrelevant. The Fox’s logic slides off this type of blind faith in an argument.
The King asks how to make the Great Offering. The Priest of Ungit explains that the victim is given to the Brute, who is either Ungit or Ungit’s son, or both. The victim is brought up the Grey Mountain and bound to the Holy Tree. The victim must be perfect, because he or she becomes the Brute’s spouse. The victim lies with the Brute, but is also devoured by him, perhaps at the same time. Thus, no average or lowly person can be the sacrifice.
The Priest continues to show his comfort with the ambiguous stories of the gods. Nothing in his account of the sacrifice is clear—who is the Brute, really? What actually happens to the victim? To the Priest, contradicting facts can exist simultaneously and be true despite their contradictions. This is the state of blindness in which the gods keep mortals, and against which Orual fights throughout Part I.
The Fox asks to speak again and argues that the Priest of Ungit’s words make no sense. The Priest is contradicting himself—the Accursed is supposed to be both the worst person and the best person. Orual doesn’t believe the Fox will help in this situation. In his exasperation, he has forgotten to find the most effective argument. The Priest replies that Greek logic won’t solve Glome’s problems. He calls the Fox a coward for letting himself be captured in battle rather than dying, and says that the gods will never speak clearly enough for Greeks to understand. Knowledge of the gods is always murky and never logical.
Orual perceives that the Fox’s argument won’t work against the Priest. To the Fox, logic orders the world; to the Priest, logic makes no difference when used against the gods’ endless mysteries, mysteries that are, by definition, beyond logic. The Priest sees this logic/mystery distinction as also a distinction between Greece and Glome. Understanding the gods means opening oneself to contradiction and partial knowledge, which the Greeks will never do.
The Fox seems hurt by the Priest of Ungit calling him a coward. Orual would like to kill the Priest and make the Fox king, but she can tell that the Priest’s argument is succeeding. The King asks what the next step is. The Priest says he has cast the holy lots, and they told him the Accursed was not among the common people, nor among the Elders, nor among the nobles. The King begins to get angry, and when the Priest says the Accursed is in the palace, he cries treason and calls for Bardia, the captain of the guards.
Orual’s desire to kill the Priest shows her similarity to her father, who will soon threaten to do just this. It also shows her willingness to take drastic action to protect those she loves. The Priest has used a fortune-telling device to discover the Accursed, further bringing supernatural elements into the equation. The King begins to think that the entire story is just a plot to have him killed so the Priest can take power.
The King orders Bardia to kill the temple guards waiting outside. Bardia is skeptical, and the Priest of Ungit tells the King that all of Glome is ready to fight, and even the palace guards won’t fight Ungit. The King reminds Bardia of a time he saved Bardia in battle, but Bardia says that if the King and the gods are in conflict, he won’t fight the gods. The King insults him and sends him away.
The King’s temper gets the better of him, and he resorts to violence. This ends up making him look even weaker, since his intention to kill the Priest’s guards fails with the Priest watching the entire exchange. Bardia shows his wise, contemplative nature and his healthy fear of the gods. This scene also demonstrates the people’s respect of Ungit.
When Bardia leaves, the King takes out his dagger and puts it to the Priest of Ungit’s ribs, threatening to kill him. Orual is impressed by the Priest’s calm. Not moving, he tells the King that, even if the King kills him, the Great Offering will still have to be made, because he is speaking Ungit’s will. In fact, he’ll haunt the King in death. The Fox has taught Orual that the Priest only works for his own power in the kingdom, but now she sees that he truly believes his words, and Orual herself believes that Ungit is against them.
This is a somewhat transformative moment for Orual. She’s always been torn between her native religion and the Fox’s logical teachings. Here, she can see the Priest’s complete faith in Ungit, and it convinces her. The Priest’s composure and confidence make a vivid contrast with the King’s desperate anger, and it only adds to the sense of the King’s powerlessness.
The King throws himself back to his chair. The Priest finally reveals that the lots said the King isn’t the Accursed, and Orual is ashamed to see the King’s relief. She thought he was fighting for Psyche, but, in fact, he has only been defending himself the whole time. The Priest proclaims that Psyche is the Accursed. The King pretends to be sad, but Orual can tell he doesn’t mean it. Orual weeps and begs at his feet, but he throws her away from him. He screams at her for being an interfering woman, saying he has enough to deal with already. Orual can’t move, but she hears the King and the Priest calmly planning how to keep Psyche prisoner until the sacrifice. Orual loses consciousness.
Orual always wants to sacrifice herself for those she loves, so the King’s relief at his own salvation seems completely despicable to her. It’s likely that he agrees more readily to give Psyche up because he initially thought he was the target. Orual’s love will show itself in a variety of ways throughout the book, but her need to fight for Psyche here is one of the purest, most selfless incarnations of it.