Mon
Jul 28 2014 11:00am

Rereading the Empire Trilogy: Daughter of the Empire, Part 10

Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! This week, Mara goes to war over a gambling debt, and then faces a very different kind of warfare back at home...

Chapter 12: Risks

SUMMARY:

Mara approaches Lord Jidu of the Tuscalora over the insult her offered her, and his unpaid gambling debt to her late husband. Lord Jidu is a wealthy lord thanks to his thriving chocha-la crops, and should be able to pay her family what he owes. Unsurprisingly, he now patronises her and dismisses her concerns as unimportant because she is female—gambling debts are matters of honour between men, and she shouldn’t bother her silly little head about them.

Mara’s substantial military escort suggests otherwise. But it is Lord Jidu who makes the first move for them to fight over the matter. Mara takes an arrow to the arm in the skirmish. She pulls herself to her feet with the help of a fallen warrior’s sword, and realises that their own signal archer whose job it was to summon reinforcements has been dispatched—so Mara, her hands slick with blood, draws the bow and attempts to shoot the necessary arrow to let Lujan know they are under attack. She does it with the assistance of one of her men, then collapses into his arms.

Lord Jidu is smug in the superiority of his forces—right up to the point that the Acoma troops set fire to his choca-la bushes, then stand in the way to prevent his own men fighting the fire.

Jidu calls for auxiliary forces, but is still stuck between a rock and a hard place—his choice is to prevent his own financial ruin, or to destroy Mara and the Acoma. He chooses the survival of his own House, and calls off the attack.

The Acoma forces will consider a truce only if Lord Jidu offers formal apology and concedes Mara’s honour—indeed, if he does this, they swear to aid him in saving the crops. Thoroughly defeated, he agrees to this, inwardly spitting about Mara’s brilliant and terrible tactics.

Papewaio rouses Mara and brings her from her litter to speak to the other Lord. She agrees to a ceasefire and negotiations, but warns Jidu that her men will be standing by with torches in case he proves untrustworthy.

Once the fires are out, Lord Jidu tries to argue his point, that the tradition of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ means he and Bunto never pushed for debts between them to be settled right away. He insists that he cannot pay yet because so much rides on the choca-la harvest, three months away.

Finally, he admits the truth—he could pay most of the debt before the harvest comes in but that would mean he could not expand next year’s planting as he had hoped—and knowing this, Buntokapi had agreed to a favourable repayment system with interest, beginning after the harvest. He offers Mara the same deal.

With several of her soldiers lying dead because Jidu and his hadonra ignored her original query, Mara is furious at his attempt to haggle, and is of no mind to be generous with the Lord of the Tuscalora now that he is finally being straight with her.

However, he does have something that she wants—a small strip of land between her northern and southern needra fields, which has been of little value before now, but will be useful for the cho-ja settlement. Mara is willing to cancel the debt for this land and all rights associated with it, as long as Lord Jidu swears not to move against the Acoma for the term of his life.

The matter is agreed.

Papewaio speaks to Mara as they leave—his mistress is exhausted and miserable despite winning the day. Even now, she is thinking of the political ramifications of her moves, and well aware that the gully that will now be Lord Jidu’s only access to the Imperial Highway is vulnerable to floods.

Lord Jidu will have to pay the Acoma a toll for access to the market with his choca-la during these times, or risk the produce being damaged by mould. Mara is determined to charge more than he will be able to pay. His vow not to move against her family means his only choice will be to submit as her vassal.

After visiting the cho-ja queen for conversation and balms to ease her wounded shoulder, Mara returns home to find her latest suitor back on her doorstep. Bruli of the Kehotara has come a-wooing.

Though she is tired, sore and cranky, Mara submits to Nacoya’s plan which involves sexy lounging robes and fluttering eyelashes. Nacoya is determined that Bruli must be motivated by more than his father’s wish that they marry and that means rolling out the rarely-seen Mara the Flirt.

Mara feels more than a little ridiculous, but allows Nacoya and the maids to tart her up so she can practice her seductive arts. Over the course of the afternoon of experimenting on Bruli with flirtation and discreet flashes of her cleavage, she hones her skills of manipulating men with their own desires, then finally sends Bruli away to return in two days.

After which she takes a hot bath, because she feels grubby.

COMMENTARY:

Does Mara’s brain ever stop strategising? The matter of the Tuscalora and the chocha-la is interesting because it shows the uphill battle that Mara is fighting as Ruling Lady of the Acoma. No matter what the actual rules are about the power she wields as a woman in a traditionally male position, the men of her own class are constantly working to cheat her out of her status, assuming she is not going to fight them as another Ruling Lord would.

Respect, dudes.

Once again Mara has pulled a left-of-centre manoeuvre, hitting her opponent in the hip pocket instead of relying purely on force to win the day—but of course, that’s still a necessary strategy because she is lower in military numbers than she would like.

I found myself briefly confused in the scene where she is trying to call for reinforcements—we are told that the Acoma man who helps her is one of the former Grey Warriors who would not have honour or the ability to save her life if she hadn’t rescued him, and yet he isn’t named or identified.

Still, I always enjoy watching Mara negotiate with men who have deserved her harshest treatment.

The whole Bruli business at the end feels jarring after all the bloodshed, but it shows that a busy Ruling Lady’s work is never done. Mara for once is letting Nacoya take the lead, and it looks like the new First Advisor is using this as a training situation for Mara, about the bedroom tricks that many women traditionally use in their culture to make up for their lack of status and power.

Mara refused to listen when Nacoya tried to get her to learn all this seduction and sex-is-power business back before her wedding, and she still isn’t overly keen—it’s certainly clear that she’s going along with this only as another tactical advantage.

Sadly I don’t think that toying with Bruli’s affections is going to go any way towards repairing Mara’s uncomfortable baggage around sex and attraction after her awful marriage—and her bitter thoughts about Teani make it pretty clear that she feels these ‘womanly arts’ are shameful and disgusting.

Not that seducing and flirting to manipulate others, and thinking that’s the most valuable and necessary skill for women to have, is in any way healthy for a person or a society. But Mara’s discomfort comes out as barely-veiled disdain for other women, which I don’t especially enjoy.

As with most of Mara’s miseries, I take comfort in the fact that this is another thing she is (hopefully) going to grow beyond, in the future.

But yes, the whole ‘toy with Bruli’ stuff is less funny than I remembered, largely because Mara is finding the experience so unpleasant.


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!

10 comments
Grainne McGuire
1. helen79
Thanks Tansy. It's been good revisiting these books.

I have nothing much to say except that the idea of taking advantage of a widow happens even in so-called equal societies.
alreadymadwithbruli
2. alreadymadwithbruli
I'd forgotten what Bruli's angle was, but he doesn't look like he might be a better pick than Bunto.
Tansy Rayner Roberts
3. TansyRR
1) Good point, helen79! A single lady in possession of her own house = magnet for jerks.
alreadymadwithbruli
4. Lyanna Mormont
@3 It is a truth universally acknowledged.

Hi! I'm another one who read this trilogy lo these many years ago, and found it considerably better than the books either author produced on their own. (IMO, Feist lacks the depth I prefer, while Wurts tends to get bogged down.) Together, they seemed to find a good balance. Sadly, I don't have the books on hand to re-read along, but the recaps do bring back lots of memories. I had a deep love for Keyoke, and the cho-ja queen fascinated me.

I'll be following this!
Sara H
5. LadyBelaine
This chapter was one of my favorites because of the way that Mara whipsaws her, er, for back of a better term, ruling persona - one second she is this teeny-tiny warrior queen and then she quickly has to slip into Mara Sex Kitten seductress-mode, taking pains to disguise her wound's bandage with sequins and feathers or something.

There is a reference somewhere to some other ruling lady (Isani? Her colors are purple and yellow) who uses "feminine wiles" to control her house (think a Tsuruani Joan Holloway), as opposed to Mara who just barges right in and does what she thinks a man would do in the same position, just wearing her face powder and complex kimonos.

I do wonder, though - Mara is a very savvy thinker and ruthless poltician, and really, REALLY knows how to pull people's levers - did she learn that at her father's knee? Was he indulgent and let her witness his decision making, or is she just a machiavellian savant?

(Heh, I almost said Daes Dae'mar - Mara of the Acoma would devour the Cairhienin)
Brian R
6. Mayhem
Ahh, the great Lady Isashani of the Xacatecas, who we encounter in the next book. She is emphatically the power behind her husband, and he is not afraid to let people know it, but she's considered so delightful that no one objects either. She's the classic eastern Dragon Lady archetype.
My favourite bit about her is that thanks to her husband having issues keeping his trousers zipped, she is basically untouchable - she has this vast selection of legitimate and illegitimate children available to acknowledge at a moments notice and send out into the world at large to do her bidding while she remains safe in the estates. It's the complete opposite of Mara's situation.
alreadymadwithbruli
7. The Lord Drongo
@3. TansyRR

"A single lady in possession of her own house = magnet for jerks."

That's a unique interpretation of:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."

Who is the jerk in Pride and Prejudice? I've forgotten.
Maiane Bakroeva
8. Isilel
I wonder, though - wouldn't any young new lord have been tested in the ways similar to how Mara was tested by Jidu? I somehow don't see him meekly paying even if she was a guy.
He may have explained his true reasons somewhat sooner, of course, but realistically speaking, any new lord, particularly one coming into power young and somewhat unexpectedly would have been pushed, just to see how much one could get away with. It seems that Jidu was able to get away with a lot with Bunto, after all. Not that Mara wasn't subjected to blunter testing due to being a woman, of course.

Also, is she collapsing again?!! I love Mara's depiction in general, but come on, she is not one of those fashionably frail 19th century society women constantly strangled by their corsets! This is unintentionally funny and makes it look like yea, only truly extraordinary women are fit to rule, because we have all that endless bodily weakness to overcome and are liable to faint at a drop of a hat. Also funny how giving birth, which would have been infinitely more stressful and painful, got glossed over.

Very clever way of dealing with Jidu, though, with an eye to eventually subjugating him. That's vintage Mara, heh.
"Womanly wiles" could prove helpful too, of course, since they might allow her to get what she wants more unobtrusively, without putting men's dander up... But maybe that's not what she really wants, in the end.

Also, Mara did want to become an equivalent of a nun rather than marry, so it is not surprising that she would find learning said wiles distasteful. It seems that she had some issues with her role in that society even before she inhertited Acoma, though the story never explores them, IIRC.
alreadymadwithbruli
9. LadyIsashani
Lord Drongo,

"Who is the jerk in Pride and Prejudice? I've forgotten."

Mr. Collins, obviously ;->
alreadymadwithbruli
10. BonneyKate
Just a quick comment to say how much I am enjoying this reread. So much so that I missed it last week. (That's not a complaint - I'm sure real life intervened in some inconvenient way.)

I'm not much of a commenter, more of a lurker, Tansy. But I wanted you to know your work on this is very much appreciated.

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