For days, the Queen ponders the gods’ signs, wondering if the gods sometimes merge with humans the way they do with each other. She finds comfort in the words of Socrates, who speaks of dying skillfully and fearing the invisible. She decides she must practice philosophy in Socrates’ way, by being calm and stoic, in order to rid herself of Ungit’s influence. Although she tries, she always finds herself reverting to her negative emotions, and she thinks she won’t be able to change her soul any more than she was able to change her ugly face. Orual thinks that the gods won’t love anyone unless they have a naturally beautiful soul. Ugly people, in mind or body, are doomed from birth.
At this point, the Queen knows that she has acted in awful ways in the past and she needs to somehow become a better person. To do this, she tries to follow the teachings of the Fox and Greek philosophy, but she doesn’t feel any fundamental change in herself. As usual in this novel, Orual’s face is equated with her inner character, and since it has always been impossible for her to make herself more physically beautiful, she feels she has the same issue with her soul. By this view, a person’s destiny is essentially determined at their birth.
Soon the Queen has another vision. In this one, she’s standing on the bank of a river. On the other side, she sees a flock of giant sheep with golden fleece. She wants to steal a bit of their fleece, thinking it will give her beauty. But when she crosses the river, the sheep trample her in their joy. She realizes that the Divine Nature hurts humans without malice, but simply by existing. When she gets to her feet, she sees a woman leisurely picking the wool out of a hedge, out of danger from the sheep.
Though the Queen doesn’t yet know it, she dreams of the second task that Psyche has to complete as her punishment. In this case, Orual helps by distracting the sheep so that Psyche can get the wool from the bushes. Orual also learns humbleness here, as she realizes that she isn’t even important enough for the gods to purposefully try to hurt her. Instead, the very existence of the gods’ strength and beauty puts humans in danger.
Orual doesn’t think she’ll ever rid herself of Ungit. She continues going about her duties, making very fair judgments when she presides in court, but not caring about any of it. Her only comfort is that she loved Psyche well, and the gods are at fault in that quarter. To revel in this, she goes to the garden to reread her own account of her relationship with Psyche.
Orual decides what is just for her people when they have disagreements or commit crimes, but she can’t see what is just in the conflict between herself and the gods. Though she has gained some recognition of her past mistakes, she still thinks that she acted well towards Psyche—in fact, this was her greatest crime.
Before she can begin, Orual has another vision. She’s walking through a desert, carrying a bowl that she must fill with water from the afterlife because Ungit has ordered her to. Eventually she comes to the base of some rocky mountains. She realizes that they’re covered in snakes and scorpions, and she knows she has to cross the mountains to reach the water.
This is Psyche’s third task of her punishment. The desert could be seen as Orual’s life, as she has never known how to nurture any of her relationships in a way that would have allowed them to grow into something life-giving.
A giant eagle wheels down from the sky, clearly from the gods. When Orual gives her name, he says he’s not there to help her, but he asks what she’s carrying. She realizes it’s her book, not a bowl like she thought. The eagle announces her arrival and tells her to follow him to the court of the gods to give her complaint. A crowd of human-like figures emerges from the mountains and push her into a hole in the mountain. It seems she has been expected.
Though Orual doesn’t realize it, the eagle intends to help Psyche get the water. Orual wrote her book as a plea for justice, but she never expected that the gods would actually give her a hearing. Just as Orual hears the complaints of her people, she now comes to court as a subject of the gods to accuse them of ruining her life.
Eventually Orual finds herself standing in darkness on a platform in a gigantic cave. She sees millions of ghosts standing all around her. A veiled judge commands her veil to be removed, and tells her to read her complaint aloud. But the book she holds isn’t the book she wrote. She wants to protest, but instead she opens it to find strange, cruel handwriting inside, and begins to read against her will.
The fact that the judge is veiled suggests that the judge might be herself. Above all, she’s the one who needs to be able to assess her own actions. Orual must read her complaint without her veil on, meaning that her true self will be revealed. The handwriting matches with the strange, cruel story she begins to read, but both show a truer version of herself than she has ever recognized.
Orual says the gods will claim that she should know that the real gods aren’t like Ungit, because she saw a real god. She would have preferred if they were like Ungit; she would have preferred if Psyche had been eaten. It’s worse that the gods stole Psyche from Orual. Their beauty lures the best mortals to them with no regard for those left behind. Humans would rather have their loved ones destroyed by the gods than have them kept alive but taken away from the human realm.
This account of Orual’s life gives voice to the unconscious motivations that she has always denied. It becomes clear that she was jealous of the gods, and would prefer if Psyche had died rather than leaving Orual for a god. She resents the gods’ beauty, but can’t deny that beauty. Lewis, a convert himself, may be speaking to the difficulty that people feel when their loved ones become religious and devote themselves to worship.
Orual knows the gods will say she had enough signs that Psyche’s palace was real, but she didn’t want to acknowledge it. They’ll say she was jealous of Psyche—that Orual was angry because she raised Psyche, and then Psyche became practically a goddess without Orual’s approval. The very existence of the gods ruins human lives. There’s no reason Orual should have been happy for Psyche’s happiness if it meant she couldn’t have Psyche by her side. Psyche belonged to Orual, and the gods stole her.
Orual finally admits all of her selfish motives. She wanted to be able to control Psyche, and she wanted Psyche to admire her, but instead Psyche became better than Orual and left her behind for the gods. Orual even admits that, on some level, she knew that Psyche’s palace was real. This has been one of her main complaints, as she constantly insisted that the gods refused to make it clear to her.
The judge stops Orual’s speech, and she realizes she has been reading the book over and over. Her own voice sounds strange to her, and she realizes that it’s her real voice. After a long silence, the judge asks whether Orual is satisfied, and she says she is.
For the first time, Orual recognizes the truth and speaks from a true part of herself, meaning that she has never before heard the real voice that represents the essence of her being. Orual now sees that she has no reasonable complaint against the gods.