Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! This is one of the chapters of which I have the strongest memories from this book, both positive and negative… let’s unpeel the layers of that, shall we?
Trigger warnings for domestic abuse. Yeah, so there’s that.
Chapter 7: Wedding
Mara endures the long and complex formalities of her wedding ceremony to Buntokapi, third son of the House of Anasati. Included among the guests are the Warlord himself, attended by two Great Ones (magicians) and high-ranking representatives of all of the Five Great Families except for the Minwanabi, who are excused because of the blood feud. Representatives from all the houses are seated according to rank.
After acknowledging the long line of her ancestors, stretching back into recorded history, Mara watches as Buntokapi assumes the name of Lord of the Acoma. When they are pronounced man and wife, she realises that he has had more than a ceremonial ‘sip’ of wine before the ceremony—he is well and truly hammered.
By tradition, the groom does not bed the bride until the last of the tributes has been performed—each wedding guest provides an entertainment or musical act in honour of the wedding, beginning with the lowest ranking guests and reaching its finale a day or two later, with the final production provided by the Warlord himself.
Buntokapi retires for feasting and rest—no one expects the bride and groom or even most of their high-ranked guests to sit through all of the entertainments, and the early ones are often left unattended by all but the servants. Tradition only dictates that you watch those provided by guests of equal or higher rank, and for the Acoma those are not due to start until tomorrow afternoon. Mara, however, sits and pays attention to even the offerings from her lowest-ranked guests, through the heat of the day. Her husband rightly assumes she is doing this to avoid him.
However, Mara benefits from her patronage in other ways—the merchants and other low-ranking guests are honoured and flattered by her attention to their gifts, and this may mean valuable favours in the future.
Finally in the evening, Buntokapi comes to demand why his wife is staying in the hall when their important guests are feasting. Mara pretends innocent fascination with the entertainments, and he cannot criticise her devotion, so leaves her alone.
The second day, Mara does the same thing, determined that no entertainment should lack her attention and attendance—the Acoma needs all the goodwill she can inspire.
After the final performance in the late afternoon, a beautiful formal play enhanced by actual magic, Buntokapi finally comes to claim his bride.
In their paper-walled wedding chamber, after drinking ritual wine to honour their marriage, Buntokapi demands more. Mara goes to call a servant, and he hits her around the face for not personally obeying him. In the future, he says, when he tells her to do something, she will do it personally. He knows that everyone including his wife thinks of him as stupid, and he wants her to know the power he has over her.
Mara endures the rough handling of her husband as they consummate their marriage, and goes to sleep beside him knowing she has married an enemy.
The next day, Buntokapi makes it clear that he intends to humiliate Mara in their marriage. He controls what she does, when she is allowed to dress, and even makes her dance for him. She begins to fear that she has indeed underestimated his intelligence, and that he will not be as easily manipulated as she assumed.
As they leave the marriage hut, which is to be ritually burned, Mara’s honour guard see her bruised face. While they do not react in any obvious way, she can see the distress of Keyoke and Papewaio in particular. As the new Lord of the Acoma, Buntokapi is the one man they can never protect her from.
Miserable, and barred even from her study (which now belongs to her husband), Mara waits in her private garden for Nacoya to attend her. Finally, she is ready to hear any advice her old nurse has for her about understanding men. Nacoya agrees with Mara that the best plan is to conceive as quickly as possible, so that Buntokapi will no longer need to have sex with her, and she arranges for a midwife to share her knowledge with Mara.
Days and weeks pass. As summer passes its peak, Mara endures her husband, and learns techniques for managing the worst of his behaviour. The servants often discreetly water his wine at her request. She also, sadly, often has need of makeup to hide her bruises. She is shut out of the active business of ruling, which has been a blow to her sense of identity, though she has ways of making sure she knows what is going on at all times.
Most of all, Mara feels shame at the way her husband abuses the servants, and fails in his duties as Ruling Lord. She knows she has brought this on them all. Bunto might be clever in some ways, but certainly has no head for money matters. His favourite thing about his new position is playing with the troops as if they are his toy soldiers—running them back and forth on random drills, which means that Keyoke is constantly having to deal with his master’s whims as well as his actual job of protecting Acoma lands.
There are a few rays of hope. Mara has indeed conceived a child. When the cho-ja hive finally arrives, Buntokapi is pleased but insists their wealth and resources should be his to rule like everything else. Luckily, his distractions with the soldiers keep him from asserting his rights with the cho-ja, and he barely notices that his wife regularly takes tea in the cho-ja hive, “gossiping like women.”
Mara’s baby grows inside her, the heir to the Acoma.
This chapter is hard to read! The wedding ceremony detail is lovely and I remember so clearly the cleverness of Mara in watching all of the entertainments—playing politics even on her wedding day. But it’s gruelling to read through the unhappiness of her abusive marriage. If only she had been a bit less hasty in picking a husband! The brief mention of Hokanu of the Shinzawai had me all but jumping up and pointing—LOOK. You could have had a nice one!
An odd aspect of the wedding is the mention of the maidens who attend Mara in the ceremony—we are told they are daughters of other nearby houses and that they were Mara’s childhood friends, and yet we know nothing about them. Friends, you say? It would be really nice if Mara had friends! If ever anyone needed some women the same age around her to talk to, it’s Mara! Let’s hear more about these so-called friends…
I think it’s implied that her status as Ruling Lady has made it hard for her to socialise, or something, but it’s still a neglected detail. Especially that her marriage surely now opens up the possibility of paying calls with her peers? At least she has tea with the cho-ja queen to look forward to.
It’s clear that Nacoya saw all this coming, in any case. Even knowing how naive and innocent Mara is in these matters, and having read the book multiple times before, I’m finding it genuinely hard to accept that Mara had no inkling at all that giving complete ruling power to her husband wouldn’t backfire in this way.
I’m not saying she should have predicted the abuse, because no one sees that sort of thing coming, but it’s difficult to imagine what Mara’s intended endgame was, given that she deliberately chose to hand complete power of life or death over all her warriors, servants, and slaves to a man she believed to be stupid. How was that ever going to work out well?
Ahem. Leaving aside my continual frustration about Mara marrying Buntokapi—nearly 20 years since I first read these books and I’m still not over it—I do think it’s worth noting that the abuse and the distress of the relationship is not written in a gratuitous way. It’s quite a relief that there’s a time jump here, and that the focus is on Mara and Buntokapi’s activities separate from each other. The fewer scenes we have of the two of them in the same room together, the better!
(and, of course, it won’t be forever…)
Now let’s talk about the weather. This is has been an ongoing feature of the books, and I wanted to note it here because of the way it’s specifically used in this chapter—it’s rather nice, as an Australian, to read a fantasy world that had genuine hot weather, and shows the social ramifications of heat. Details like having to take your walk in the morning before the heat builds, and the regular need for refreshment and the changing of clothes, all make the society feel real and nuanced. The focus on heat and the middle of the day as an endurance event in this chapter (something we also saw a few chapters ago when Mara visited Lord Tecuma for the first time) was very effective, and it made me feel quite soothed and relieved to be told that summer is finally coming to an end. Which is basically something I feel in my real life, every year.
I also appreciate that we are shown the horrible inevitable effect of having such a formal society combined with hot weather—relief from the heat, like everything else in this world, becomes a class issue.
Thank goodness they have all those slaves to bring them refreshments, eh?
(We’ll be talking more about the slaves in due course, trust me on this one.)
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection Love and Romanpunk. Her latest fiction project is Musketeer Space, a gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers, published weekly as a web serial. Come and find her on Twitter!