Kelsea is back at the castle and busy copying books with Father Tyler, the nice old priest from the middle of the book. Evil Arlen Thorne is still running around, by the way, but Kelsea assumes that Mace will take care of him somehow, and anyway it won’t happen now because this is the last chapter of the book, thank God. Father Tyler tells her that the Tearling equivalent of the Pope is dying and that some nasty type is stepping up to take over, presumably to be the villain in the next book. Kelsea asks what this new baddie is like, but plot exposition is cut off by the Mace, who tells her to come out to the castle balcony.
Masses of people have gathered below because they want to hear her speak. Something else is waiting for her down there, as well.
After a moment, however, she noticed an odd treelike figure that poked high above the crowd. “My eyes are terrible. What is that?”
“That, Lady, is a head on a pike,” replied Wellmer.
“Your uncle’s, Lady. I went down there just to make sure. The pike is hung with a placard that says ‘A gift for the Tear Queen, compliments of the Fetch.’ ”
A severed head, the gift every girl wants.
Despite the gruesome nature of the offering, Kelsea smiled. […] Wellmer continued. “The pike’s buried deep, so the crowd can’t get at it unless they brought shovels. The head is in immaculate condition, Lady; someone’s treated it with a fixative so it won’t rot.”
“Useful lawn ornament,” Mace remarked.
Kelsea looked over the edge again, certain that the Fetch was down there now. He would have delivered the gift himself, hiding in plain sight. She wished she could see him, tell him that their bargain had borne even better fruit than he could have imagined.
Oh, it’s a treated severed head. How sweet. (Also, lawn ornament jokes have somehow survived into the postapocalyptic landscape. Maybe it’s time for another apocalypse, to get things right.)
Anyway, now that we’ve gotten past the trinket-giving, we can get to that mass of people (note how important it is that they don’t knock down the severed head, I suppose their avenging themselves upon their oppressor would spoil the exclusivity of our necro-romance.) They’re cheering and happy, and they want Kelsea to speak to them from the balcony, as her mother used to do.
Kelsea steps out onto the balcony, and announces that she is going to rename herself after her foster parents. Then she steps back inside. And that’s that.
All right, then. I imagine that the people below are grateful and proud that Kelsea has stopped the slave shipments. I imagine that they also are scared about the consequences and are looking to Kelsea for reassurance. What will happen next? Will they be safe? Will they have freedom? How can they fight for their new queen and hero?
And how does Kelsea answer? She tells the crowd that she’s going to rename herself after a pair of people that nobody else has ever heard of. We readers know that Carlin and Barty were decent-ish people, but there’s no indication that either of them were known to the public in any way, and even if they were nobody’s seen them in 19 years. Why on earth would anyone care about Kelsea’s new name? Aren’t there more important issues to address, like the end of bondage and the threat of all-consuming war?
But the crowd bursts into song, because this is at heart a narcissistic princess fantasy and the people exist only to boost Kelsea’s ego. Kelsea is quite gratified and has a vision spanning time and space and such and it’s not at all as interesting as that sounds, and she’s finally happy she’s queen and the book is over.