Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! Prepare for emotional whiplash with this one as we bid farewell to a beloved friend, and follow Mara to the edge of that very dangerous cliff she has been skirting around for some time. Politics, murder, blackmail, tea, and a collapsible balcony.
What could possibly go wrong?
Chapter 16: Funeral
Summary: Mara attends the funeral of her loyal warrior Papewaio. She is surrounded by a temporary honour guard of Imperial Whites (who are not nearly the same as Imperial Stormtroopers, honestly, but you’re never going to get that image out of your mind now). Nacoya has begged off the ceremony, claiming smoke inhalation, and is quietly resting in the suite of the Warlord himself, safe.
The funeral is attended by many of the party guests, none of whom actually believe the official fiction that the killer was a thief attempting to steal jewellery from the wife of Lord Jingu.
Unfortunately, there is no proof that Lord Jingu has broken the sacred oath of guest-right, and so Mara must stay quiet. The uncertainty in the air means that no one in the crowd feels safe.
Only the Warlord is enjoying himself. Almecho stands beside Lord Jingu, sharing jokes and witty banter, which puts Lord Jingu in the deeply uncomfortable position of having to be polite to the Warlord despite the inappropriateness of his humour. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone in this room is silently calling him a murderer. Awkward!
Mara recites the accomplishments of Papewaio’s life and career, and all pay him tribute. Her honour guard of 49 Acoma warriors are in attendance and she must pick one to join her back at the house after the funeral: she is going to choose Arakasi, because right now, information may be the only thing that keeps her alive.
Let’s hope he’s been practicing with the sword, too.
They can finally speak together while Papewaio’s funeral bier burns. Arakasi seems pleased that Mara has left Nacoya behind, presuming this is to lull everyone into a false sense of security so that Mara can escape on her own. Mara refuses—Papewaio was sacrifice enough.
Arakasi now agrees that she would almost certainly have doomed herself if she tried (make up your mind, Arakasi!). He has been dicing and drinking with the Minwanabi soldiers, and has learned that many of their men are waiting at the borders of the estate dressed as pirates and thieves so as to attack (without consequence to their master) any guest that leaves early.
Mara is relying on his hatred of the Minwanabi being equal to hers. Arakasi reveals a new piece of information: Teani is an Anasati agent. They also know that she has a lover among the guards, and it’s not hard to guess who it is.
After the funeral, the informal gatherings of Lords and servants gives Arakasi full rein to stretch his spying skills and he returns to Mara with confirmation that Shimizu the First Strike Leader is indeed Teani’s lover.
Given her allegiance to the Anasati, Teani is the only one of Lord Jingu’s servants who would not die to protect him. Mara wants to send a message to Teani but Arakasi warns against it—he does not think they can rely on Teani being loyal to the Anasati either.
On the other hand, he doesn’t have a better plan.
Later that night, Teani tells Shimizu that Mara of the Acoma is out to kill her. Mara has sent her a note inviting her to her chambers to collect some jewellery that Buntokapi supposedly left her as an inheritance. Teani is certain that there are no jewels because Buntokapi set her up nicely before he returned to the estate to die.
Teani plays on Shimizu’s desire for her, demanding that he join her that evening to protect her from Mara. She plans secretly to make it look like Mara has attacked her, so she can force Shimizu to kill the Lady of the Acoma.
In her new quarters, Mara cynically observes the balcony that is quite obviously set up so that anyone who steps on it will meet with a fatal accident.
It’s not paranoia when someone really is out to get you.
Teani arrives, with Shimizu as her honour guard. Nacoya makes tea. At first, Teani refuses to drink in Mara’s presence, claiming not to be that stupid.
Mara shows amusement at this caution, given Teani’s history of accepting Acoma hospitality. They politely both leave aside the fiction about an inheritance of jewels. Very quietly, Mara states that she knows Shimizu killed Papewaio the night before, forfeiting the surety of the Minwanabi.
Teani, relaxing a little in the face of this honest exchange, crumbles spice bark into her tea and drinks it. Papewaio cannot return from the dead to give evidence on the matter.
Mara speaks gently, making sure not to give Shimizu any excuse to treat her as a physical threat, but lets them know she has evidence that Teani is an Anasati agent. If both of them do not tell the truth about the death of Papewaio, Mara will expose Teani and she will die as a traitor by the rope.
Terrified, Teani tries to goad Shimizu into killing Mara for her “lies”, but after drawing his sword, he still hesitates and wants Lord Jingu to make the decision. Shimizu leaves, and Arakasi follows him out into the corridor to stop him. There is the sound of a fight.
Teani loses her cool and attacks Mara with a knife.
As the concubine twisted the weapon free, Mara recovered her breath.
‘Shimizu, help! For your master’s honour!’ She rolled again, the flash of the blade a hair’s breadth from her groin.
Teani uttered a furious curse and slashed at her enemy’s throat.
Mara blocked with a wrestler’s move, but only for a moment. The concubine was larger than she, and anger lent her strength. Sliding, twisting, struggling for her life upon the floor, Mara managed a desperate cry to Nacoya. ‘Get help. If I die in front of witnesses, Jingu is ruined and Ayaki will survive!’
Shimizu, finally realising what is going on, grabs Teani. Her actions have confirmed that she is an Anasati agent, as she obviously cares little for the honour or safety of Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi.
In her fury, Teani attacks him too, and he hurls her away from him, on to the balcony. Which breaks, of course, sending her to her death on the tiles below.
In the shocked aftermath, Shimizu demands Mara’s proof that Teani was an Anasati spy. She admits they have no written evidence. It was a bluff.
The two of them are alone together. Mara demands to know what happened to her honour guard, afraid that she has also now lost Arakasi. Shimizu steps closer, telling her she has no further need of an honour guard. He can kill her now, and claim he was doing so to protect Teani.
As he grabs her, Papewaio’s sword swings up and clubs him around the head, knocking him unconscious. Arakasi is there, wounded but alive.
Shaking with relief, Mara tells Arakasi he is the only Acoma officer who cannot tell the difference between the edge and the flat of the blade. But she’ll keep him.
Lord Jingu, Desio, and everyone else turn up to witness the scene. Jingu is furious about the death of Teani. Mara tells the crowd that Teani attacked her and Shimizu was forced to defend Mara for the sake of his master’s honour.
Jingu declares—both to Mara and then to the Warlord—that sadly the truth of the night will never be known because the only witnesses are Mara’s servants, who will obviously tell a different story to his own servant Shimizu.
The Warlord Almecho begs to differ. His friends the black-robed magicians can sort out exactly who is telling the truth and who is lying.
Lord Jingu’s smile falls off his face.
Commentary: So I think what the novel is saying at this point is that no one can get the Warlord a birthday present better than the one he just gave himself.
I’m still sad about Papewaio, but very much enjoying the way that politics, swordplay and psychology have all collided in one big messy party to provide Mara with a very satisfactory form of vengeance.
The authors are very mean for making it look like Arakasi had been killed off-page. I don’t think any of us are emotionally ready to lose Arakasi, so soon after Papewaio.
Teani’s role in all this is fascinating. She is everyone’s fatal flaw (except, in the end, Mara’s) because of how erratic and unpredictable she is by the standards of Tsurani society. (If you look at her outside the standards of Tsurani society, however, she is completely predictable in every way, as she is consistently self destructive and has a one track mind when it comes to her vengeance)
In many ways, Teani is a reflection of Mara. Both of them are women who have been dealt a bad hand, and both have rebelled against the restrictions and rules of Tsurani tradition. Where Mara has employed subtlety in her work, bending the rules or at least breaking them behind closed curtains, Teani is doing everything short of filming her indiscretions and uploading them to YouTube.
It’s a shame that Teani is so wildly irrational, because without any real insight into her motivations she comes across as a fairly generic Crazy Broken Girl character. If she was willing to go to such lengths to destroy Mara, on such slender motivation, then how did she not become unravelled years ago?
I suspect my biggest problem with her as a credible character is that it’s hard to imagine anyone getting so worked up about losing Buntokapi. If we had seen more of their relationship in any sympathetic light, perhaps…
But really, I don’t mind. Because Lord Jingu is a jerk, and he was all smug about showing Teani off to Mara, and he deserves what’s coming to him. If it took a crazy concubine and a balcony to make that happen, I am subscribing to this newsletter.
Also, Arakasi fighting with the wrong side of the sword is hilarious. More of this please. (And yes, I know that he knocked Shimizu unconscious deliberately. Still.)
I miss Papewaio. This is not okay. But watching what happens to Lord Jingu next might make me feel a tiny bit better.
A tiny bit.
Assuming he doesn’t get off on a technicality.
I DON’T REMEMBER HOW THIS BOOK ENDS!
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!