Kelsea wakes up from days’ worth of magic exhaustion-induced sleep. After she passed out, her soldiers were able to wrap up the battle and free the slaves. They’re suitably impressed by her stormcalling abilities.
Kelsea’s black army uniform was streaked and stained with mud, and her hair was undoubtedly a mess, but they didn’t seem to care about that.
Oh my goodness, are we not freaking out about clothes and hair for once? Thank you, book Jesus!
They stood waiting, and after a moment Kelsea realized they weren’t waiting for orders from Mace. They were waiting for her.
Yes, finally Kelsea has some authority! Granted, it’s only through the power of magic but at least it’s there.
There’s some post-battle business to take care of. The Mace has sent most of the freed slaves back to their villages. A few were sent back to the capital in care of a guard to spread the good word about Kelsea.
“I sent [the guard] back to New London, Lady, with several women who looked like they could use a shopping trip in the big city.”
Yeah, I’m sure that the first thing that these traumatized women want to do is go shopping. Also, why doesn’t Arlen Thorne attack these women so they can’t spread propaganda against him? They only have one guard with them, after all. Go for it, you evil bastard!
Kelsea has to deal with Javel, who didn’t try to run from Kelsea’s guards. He’s super ready to die, but Kelsea lets him live as she remembers him hacking at the bars of the slave cages. But wait! There’s another traitor in their midst!
It turns out that Mhurn—the guard who sassed Lady Andrews—was also the guard who was letting all those assassins get at Kelsea. He was addicted to opium, and someone was supplying him with the stuff. Well, not quite opium.
“Not just opium, Lady,” Coryn remarked from the campfire. “High-grade morphiate. Someone took a lot of care to cook this stuff. We found needles as well.”
Wait a minute, they don’t even have enough iron for swords in this kingdom, and hardly anyone can read or write, but somehow the resources and knowledge exist to create hypodermic needles? What the fuck? I mean, two pages ago we were talking about a man who fell sick with a mysterious “lung complaint” and now we’re suddenly discussing 20th-century medical paraphernalia. Goddamn it, book, get your medical history straight!
“Coryn, do you know how to inject him with that stuff?”
“I’ve injected men with antibiotics before, Lady, but I know little of morphia.”
Oh, now there are antibiotics, too?
Kelsea proves that she’s a badass, executing Mhurn by slashing his throat. He’s cool with it, what with only becoming a traitor so that he could ride the dragon. That sounds suitably fantasy-ish, doesn’t it? OK, that’s just dorky.
On the way back to the capital, Kelsea and crew catch up with one of the supposedly ninja-like yet actually remarkably incompetent Caden assassins. The Caden don’t marry, but some of them have children with village women, and it looks like Thorn managed to snatch one of those children up in his raid. The Caden is grateful to Kelsea for saving his child and pledges to do her a favor in future. That’s nice. It won’t be in this book, because we’re almost done. Hooray!
But not quite yet. The Mace and Kelsea have a conversation in which the Mace offers to resign for having so royally fucked up his oversight of the Queen’s Guard. Kelsea refuses the resignation, upon which the Mace tells Kelsea that Barty and Carlin—remember them?—are dead. They took poison right after Kelsea left her cottage all those many chapters ago. As the Mace explains, Kelsea could be blackmailed by anyone who bothered to threaten her former guardians. All right, so far this scene is sad, but it’s surprisingly rational for Queen of the Tearling.
Then the Mace tells the story of how he first brought infant Kelsea to the cottage. Barty and Carlin both loved Kelsea at first sight, but…
“Barty said, ‘Let me hold her.’ So the Lady Glynn handed you to him and then—I’ll never forget, Lady—she said, ‘From now on, it will be you…the love must come from you.’
“Barty looked as baffled as I was, until she explained. ‘This is our great work, Barty. Children need love, but they also need stiffening, and you’ll be no help with that. Give her whatever she wants, and she’ll turn into her mother. She has to hate one of us, at least a little, so that she can walk out the door and not look back.’ ”
Uh… love doesn’t necessarily mean giving someone everything they want. And if Kelsea hated Carlin, wouldn’t there be a good chance that Kelsea would reject Carlin’s teachings? After all, Carlin will have to give Kelsea up to the great wide world when Kelsea is at the very age when she’ll want to rebel against authority—and the only authority she’ll have known til then is Carlin. Giving Kelsea the wire-monkey momma treatment isn’t going to solve anything. As far as I can tell, Carlin is just being a bitch, but in the narrative this decision is treated like some sort of great, wise sacrifice.
Oh, man. Am I missing some psychological detail here that would make this flashback make sense? At least the chapter is over.