That causes another problem. As an official diplomatic event, the queen is supposed to attend, but Lee absolutely refuses. She wants Paula to fill that role. She doesn't understand that it's socially unacceptable for the concubine to take over the queen's duties unless the queen publically announces her permission. Since they are inviting guests from countries all across the continent, that public announcement must take place in front of everyone there at the ball. If she won't do that, all the blame will fall on Paula for being "uppity" and presuming more than is her due.
All the women--Sharmian, Latina, and even Rosamond--will boycott the ball, thus forcing their respective men not to attend, unless Lee makes at least a brief appearance. That in itself wouldn't be enough to sway her, but seeing the way her stubbornness is reducing Paula to tears, she is forced to give in. Her revenge is that she insists Nashias and Even must dance at the ball, and Shera has to dress up as a young noblewoman (knowing it will result in the poor boy fending off countless persistent, hopeful suitors).
After the queen stuns all the guests (particularly those who know her best) with her beauty, grace, and genteel manner, she turns the role of hostess over to Paula and sneaks out to be herself again. She meets up with Letitia out on a balcony and learns that Earl Farott has sent more assassins as backup. Letitia tried to tell them how strong an opponent the queen is, but they don't believe him. Most think Letty's skills must be rusty if he can't take care of a little eighteen-year-old girl. He decides that if they won't heed his warnings, they deserve whatever they get.
At the ball, Even runs into a pair of old friends of his from when he used to be a pirate. They're at the party because the husband of the couple is the governor of the island country Kiltansas that rules the waters south of Delfinia. Woll knows that the forces from Skenia will have to get to Delfinia by sea, so he's trying to gain Kiltansas as an ally. So far they have refused, claiming they don't want to have anything to do with squabbles among the land-dwelling people. They're shocked to discover that Even is a good friend of Delfinia's king, and that Woll doesn't want to arrest them for their pirating history.
Rosamond accepts that Jil won't return to being Jordan Berringer. She asks that he at least take the ruby ring that Jordan's mother had wanted him to have. Jil agrees reluctantly, than minutes later gives it to a Tau girl named Abby--the girl whose mother had tried to get Even as a son-in-law. Abby hadn't wanted Even because she was already in love with Jil, not caring that he's thirty years older than she is. She refuses the ring, assuming it holds no special meaning, until Jil proposes to her.
Yet another surprise is that Alanna, whose family has moved to Coral, knew Vantser when he was a boy. He had been working for her husband's family (as a cover) at the time his village was destroyed. When that left him in a state of shock, wanting to kill himself yet unable to go through with it, Alanna took care of him and insisted that he mustn't die. She considers it a happy coincidence to see him at the party.
The other assassins are not pleased at having such a loose end left hanging. Though Letty advises them against it, three of them decide to finish her off. They prepare false identities and gain entrance to her house. Shera tries to protect Alanna, but can't handle all three at once and winds up held pinned. Lee arrives and kills two of them, so furious that she beheads one by chewing completely through his neck. Alanna witnesses the scene, though afterward she is persuaded that it was all a dream. The assassins finally realize that Letty had been telling the truth.
That night a storm springs up, trapping Nashias during a visit to Latina's house. They talk late into the night, and Latina asks him about his memories of his wife. He reveals that, just before she died, she wanted him to make love to her. He granted her request, though he couldn't bring himself to be attracted to her wasted body. He awoke the next morning to find she had passed away during the night, still clinging to him. That had been his first time with a woman. Though Latina knows she should bid him good night and leave him alone, instead she locks the door and offers to give him a better memory.
Baluro meets the troubled Nashias the next day and hears the whole story. Alarm bells ring in his head when Nashias reports that Latina left his room in the night, her servants declaring her unavailable in the morning. Baluro drags his friend to the castle, where Latina is in the middle of asking the king's permission to leave the country. She's afraid that if she marries Nashias, he will die like her previous two husbands, and she can't bear to be left alone like that again. She feels her only option is to run away.
Meanwhile, General Dora is having a serious discussion with Even. The young noble who was supposed to have been Sharmian's match went and eloped with a peasant girl. Sharmian herself has decided she won't marry anyone but Even. Dora has revised his opinion of the bandit over the years, coming to respect his sense of loyalty and willingness to fight to protect what he values. He offers to take Even as his son-in-law and heir. However, Even turns down the deal on the principle that he doesn't want to be made an earl just for marrying a girl he likes, because it would inevitably look as if he only cares about her money. He doesn't want an estate or title that he didn't earn personally.
Sharmian makes up her mind to be bold and proposition him directly. While Woll, Lee, and her father eavesdrop, she says that she will become her father's heir herself, following Rosamond's example. She won't force any titles or wealth on Even. She will simply be an earl married to a bandit. Woll barges in and announces them engaged. Sharmian is like a little sister to him, and he's thrilled to have her matched with his best friend. He threatens that if Even is such a scumbag that he'd turn her down after she did something so brave, he'll use his authority as king to order Even executed.
A two-hour argument with Latina gets poor Nashias nowhere. Baluro takes over and gets to the root of the problem. Latina had wanted to suicide after the death of her second husband, but she was too scared to go through with it. She's not willing to face the same pain of losing a spouse and living the rest of her life alone. Baluro promises that if her fears come true, if Nashias dies before she does, then he'll come and kill her himself. He promptly turns the floor back to Nashias and heads directly to Alanna to organize the wedding.
In the far north, a group of hardy men from Skenia set out in small boats to cross the Sea of Death to reach Delfinia.