Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! This week, Mara approaches the Anasati family as suitor, playing a dangerous game.
Chapter 4: Gambits
Tecuma, Lord of the Anasati, awaits the arrival of the upstart Acoma girl.
His advisor, Chumaka, is impressed at the presumption of Mara, to ask for a marriage with Jiro, Tecuma’s second son. Of course, it would be an excellent and powerful match for Mara, as it would mean she could expect Tecuma to deplete his resources in aiding her blood feud with the Minwanabi. But Jiro can do better—and while Tecuma has no love for the Minwanabi, he has reasons of his own to enjoy watching the Acoma family disappear.
After the five Great Families, only the Acoma are older than the Anasati. If one of the Five Great Families should fall, and the Acoma are already gone, then Tecuma would finally reach his life’s ambition, to see the Anasati join the Five Great Families.
Tecuma has three sons: his heir Halesko; his second son (and prime marriage meat) Jiro; and the sulky and unlovable Buntokapi. The advisor notes that it would be very smart of Mara to offer for Bunto, as they would be tempted to go for it, despite the fact that Tecuma still has more to lose from such an alliance than he does to gain.
Mara’s delay, it turns out, is because she is waiting outside the doors, having insisted that refreshment be brought for her entire retinue before they enter. The Anasati court, meanwhile, have been sweltering without refreshment as they await her arrival. Obviously she is testing Tecuma, hoping to anger him and gain advantage.
Tecuma is horrified to discover that Mara’s retinue includes fifty soldiers, despite Chumaka’s spies having assured him that the entire Acoma garrison was down to less than that. It turns out she actually brought a hundred and fifty with her, but the rest were obliged to wait outside the gates.
They have to assume from this that Mara has at least as many soldiers again guarding her own estates. Something has gone awry in their intelligence.
Mara finally enters the hall in the formal role of suitor, with musical accompaniment. She might be “slight,” but she is dressed in great finery, and her retinue is similarly impressive. As a Ruling Lady, she must go through this ritual personally, though her father would have done it on her behalf were he still alive.
To everyone’s astonishment, including (it seems) Mara’s advisor Nacoya, she proposes to Tecuma that she is seeking a husband, not a consort. The distinction is that a husband would share her rule, while a consort would not. She is offering to make Tecuma’s son a Lord of the Acoma, supposedly on the grounds that as an untried and uneducated girl, she can’t handle the pressure on her own.
This is a far more interesting offer than Tecuma expected to receive. While Chumaka protests there must be a trap here somewhere, Tecuma can see no disadvantage—in his mind, he and his descendants would control two families. His son Jiro silently agrees, liking the idea of having such power. Ambition wins out over everything.
Tecuma, Lord of the Anasati, consents to the marriage. At which point, Mara selects Buntokapi, the youngest son, as her husband.
To their horror, Chumaka and Tecuma see instantly what she has done—choosing a husband she thinks she can control. It is too late to refuse her.
At the betrothal feast, Nacoya and Mara’s other retainers are downcast—while surrendering her power to Buntokapi is a perfectly honourable move to have made, it is a blow to their pride that she admitted to such weakness.
Bunto, meanwhile, is a poor winner, enjoying too much wine at the feast and goading his brothers over his new rise in status. The spurned, resentful Jiro is now the latest in a long line of Mara’s enemies.
On their journey home, Mara makes it clear to Nacoya that she thinks Bunto is going to be exactly what they need—stupid and manageable. Nacoya realises that Mara is playing it all much closer to her chest now, not sharing all her plans and motivations as she grows in confidence.
Along the way, there is an altercation between two of Mara’s soldiers that reveals a larger problem—resentments and division between the ‘newcomers’ and ‘old guard’ since Lujan’s bandits took the Acoma green. Keyoke advises Mara she must hang the culprits and uses their secret signal to show her how important this moment is.
Mara orders the two men hanged and makes a speech about how all the soldiers of the Acoma are equal now, regardless of how long they have served her. Later, she weeps privately in Nacoya’s arms. She then discusses with Keyoke how to manage the men in future: they must promote long-serving men as well as newcomers, and break up any pre-existing cadres within the troops. Lujan is one of the men who will be promoted.
At the estate, they find more grey warriors waiting for them. Lujan vouches for them—the new group includes some soldiers but also many craftsmen. Mara decides to send Lujan on a mission to recruit more soldiers among the grey warrior bandits in the mountains, to increase her numbers further.
Among tonight’s new recruits are Lujan’s cousin Saric and a quiet man called Arakasi who served the fallen Lord of the Tuskai as his Spymaster. His original network of agents is still active, and he offers them to Mara on a plate.
Arakasi! He’s a favourite of mine.
Mara’s recycling policy when it comes to personnel is paying off in spades, even as the first cracks begin to show. So many good and useful people have simply been lost to the community, because of cultural tradition. The scene in the Anasati hall shows how important it is that she demonstrate strength, in order to survive.
But I should talk about the marriage plans first. Ugh, Bunto. He is most definitely not my favourite. Like Nacoya, I can’t quite see the brilliance in Mara’s plan here, and I really would like more assurance that she didn’t pluck this idea out of the air at random.
It’s one hell of a risk, to hand so much power to a stranger and allow herself to be categorised as merely a wife, so soon after taking on the role of Ruling Lady. It’s especially dangerous because Mara’s survival thus far has been based on her brilliant innovations and her way of cutting through red tape and tradition. How on earth is she going to continue in that fashion when she has to explain it all to a husband along the way?
I notice that her people are pretty stressed about the fact that she has handed ownership of ALL OF THEM to this complete stranger. The differentiation between Acoma servant and slave is looking a bit wobbly right now.
For the first time, most of the chapter is told through the eyes of characters other than Mara: first Tecuma who despises her and then Nacoya who loves her. Both are pretty much infuriated by and bemused by her decisions, even as they dig away at her motivations.
Tecuma is a particularly interesting character at this point, as he represents everything we have been told so far about the Ruling Lords of the Tsurani—he is guided by knowledge and experience but most of all ambition. In his case, it is the frustration of constantly being so close but so far from the next rung of status that affects all his decisions. So the position of the Anasati is basically like always coming sixth in Premier League football, yes? Hoping this is the year you might move up and compete for Champion’s League… and being disappointed every time.
It is from Tecuma, not Mara, that we learn that the Acoma are the oldest family besides the Five Great Families—while her thoughts have often dwelled on the history of her family, and how old it is, we have never got a sense from her that either she (or more tellingly her father Lord Sezu) have any particular investment in becoming a Great Family at the expense of another. The very idea, however, consumes Tecuma.
Mara is more concerned with survival first, and revenge against the Minwanabi second. Personal ambition beyond that is not especially a characteristic of hers—yet.
This layout of families also makes it clear that, had Jingu of the Minwanabi succeeded in destroying the Acoma the previous week, Tecuma would already be one spot closer to his goal. However, we are also told that of all the current Great Families, the Minwanabi is the one that Tecuma most wants to see wiped off the slate.
NOW IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT ARAKASI! Okay, we don’t have much to work with yet. But I am excited to see him. The spy network is going to change everything for Mara, and Arakasi is one hell of an asset. Once again, we are shown how terrible it is that the default for Tsurani culture is for people like this to disappear, rather than getting to pass their skills and knowledge on to a new master or mistress.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the fantasy author of the Creature Court trilogy and one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection “Love and Romanpunk.” She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day. Come and find her on Twitter!