Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! Finally a chapter in which almost nothing terrible happens. Phew.
Chapter 11: Renewal
Mara performs the ritual of mourning with her husband’s ashes—with notably mixed feelings as compared to when she did this for her father and brother. Her father-in-law arrives at the gates. While her soldiers prepare themselves to defend her if necessary, Mara goes out to Lord Tecuma’s litter and presents Ayaki to him; hardly the ideal circumstances for this ceremony.
Cold in her presence, Tecuma calls her a murderess and makes it clear to her that he knows she must have engineered for Bunto to make such a public insult to the Warlord and his father.
Something akin to respect coloured his manner for a brief instant. ‘I salute your brilliance in the Game of the Council, Mara of the Acoma’—then his voice turned flint-hard—‘But for this one bloody victory you shall pay in kind.’
Mara knows that Tecuma is grieving and angry. She will not, however, put up with his attempt to place a representative of his house in her household as Ayaki’s guardian. She asserts her status as mother of the next Lord of the Acoma—who are not and never will be vassals to the Anasati family. Tecuma released Buntokapi from all ties to his own family in order to become Lord of the Acoma, and Mara will not stand for him attempting to take power now.
Mara has inherited the rule of the Acoma from her husband, and will hold it until Ayaki turns twenty-five—and if she should die before that, he will rule as she does, vulnerable and underage. She points out the two things they have in common: caring for Ayaki and making things difficult for Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi.
Tecuma concedes that it is in his interest that Mara stays alive… for now. They part without violence.
Mara now turns her attention to the next dangerous problem in her life: Teani, Buntokapi’s concubine, whom she now knows to be a Minwanabi spy. Mara visits the town-house, with Papewaio and a disguised Arakasi among her honour guard. Teani greets her wearing robes more costly than any that Mara owns.
Mara lets Teani know that her services are no longer required by the Acoma, and insults her by suggesting the only useful role she could play is as a camp follower. She then dismisses Teani’s attempts to assert her value as a member of the household, letting her know that the town-house is to be cleared and sold.
Far from being pensioned off handsomely for her high-status position as mistress, or being granted another position on the Acoma estate, Teani is forced to leave with nothing but the gifts given to her by Buntokapi. She is enraged.
As they leave, Arakasi warns Mara that she has made an error—she believes it doesn’t matter whether someone tries to kill her for political rather than personal reasons, but the enemy who hates you is more likely to risk everything to cause you harm.
Teani travels away from Sulan-Q, returning to the Lord of the Minwanabi. Along the way, she meets a pot-seller who is revealed to be Chumaka, advisor of the Anasati. Teani has been a double agent all along. To her frustration, there is no planned vengeance against Mara despite her role in the death of Buntokapi.
Enraged at how her comfortable situation with Buntokapi has been destroyed, Teani intends to get her revenge against Mara no matter what—if she can’t do it in the name of the Anasati then she will turn to her other master, the Lord of the Minwanabi.
Chumaka is quite pleased at how all this has turned out—he had no particular fondness Buntokapi, and feels that Teani will be more use in the house of Minwanabi than in Sulan-Q. Ah, politics, he loves it.
Mara calls a board meeting of her advisors. The agenda includes such items as the ongoing expansion of their garrison, and how they can recover from the damage that Buntokapi did to their general finances. Arakasi notes that when Mara’s period of mourning ends, the marriage brokers from various households will start flocking in, and they will inevitably have Minwanabi spies among them. Mara promotes Nacoya to First Advisor, a position that has remained empty for some years, and everyone is delighted for the old nurse.
Sure enough, when the mourning period for Buntokapi comes to an end, Mara slips out of her red wardrobe and into a big pile of hopeful petitions from new suitors. Obviously she hasn’t got TOO bad a reputation as a black widow… Or would that be red widow in this context?
Bruli of the Kehotara (a Minwanabi vassal) is the first suitor they allow to formally present his petition—his family is too powerful for Mara to ignore or dismiss even though she would rather eat glass. At least they don’t have to worry about whether there will be Minwanabi agents in his retinue—because there obviously will.
Mara and Nacoya amuse themselves with the vain Bruli, who arrives in full warrior regalia—Mara plays the vapid socialite who cares more about fashion than war honours, and Nacoya gives the boy some elaborate, time-wasting advice on how to win her heart.
Meanwhile, there is a petition from Hokanu of the Shinzawai, whose family would be a powerful political alliance. MARRY HIM, MARA, HE’S LOVELY!
There are still a few financial loose ends left from Buntokapi’s reign—gambling debts, which Mara pays off without hesitation, but also a debt owed to him for his wrestling wins against the Lord of the Tuscalora. When they write to request the debt be paid, the Tuscalora send back such an insulting refusal that Mara reluctantly gears up the soldiers for a military response.
Here we go again.
Ah, bureaucracy! Mara’s life is slowly getting back to normal, with meetings and politics and accidentally declaring war on other families, that sort of thing. It’s a little jarring to realise how quickly she is expected to start dealing with the next husband, though there is a mourning period we get to skip over quickly.
Husband-free zone for a while at least, surely? Though of course there’s that damaging perception that a woman on her own is vulnerable…
Teani takes over a good chunk of this chapter with her stompy machinations. I find it interesting that the novel has told us repeatedly that most of the sex workers on this world are highly honoured, valued and respected, and yet the one time we get into the head of one, we get a pretty dark history of abuse, sexual perversion and cruelty. Is the narrative reverting casually the kinds of clichéd tropes that people expect to see in a woman who is a fantasy novel ‘concubine,’ or is this a deliberate subversion of what we are told versus what we are shown?
Teani, like Mara, is put in the position of having to kill a bunch of slaves for the sake of discretion—it’s really fascinating how little trust the Tsurani place upon their slaves considering the high expectations they have of those who are sworn voluntarily to their families, almost as if slavery is an unworkable system!
Mara may have been pretty morally reprehensible for what she did back in the Cho-ja hive, but at least she doesn’t get sexually excited by the prospect of the cold-blooded murder.
Oh, Teani. No one wants us to like you.
It’s odd and quite endearing to see Mara and Nacoya having fun with Bruli, despite the seriousness of the situation—in another reality these two women would be performing long cons up and down the country, scamming their way from place to place. Nice to see them working as a team for something other than dishonouring and murdering a person.
The whole Tsurani honour thing, though, I’m pretty much over at this point. I can see why Mara can’t let such a blatant insult go because it’s a test of her power and her reputation, but it’s just EXHAUSTING, this society of theirs. Can’t they all just agree to arm wrestle over points of honour instead of constantly armouring up?
The silk and the chocha might be nice, but I’m so glad I don’t live there.
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!