Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! This week, Bruli’s seduction doesn’t work out quite the way he hopes, and Arakasi really needs a smart phone. Actually, Bruli’s life would have been much improved if he also had a smart phone. Sadly, there are no smart phones on Kelewan.
Chapter 13: Seduction
Summary: Mara’s courtship of Bruli of the Kehotara has been going on for some time. They have shared several dinners, she has flirted with him, and Nacoya has given him ridiculous amounts of advice as to how to impress the Ruling Ladies, which mostly is about conspicuous wealth and glamour. Arakasi always attends these dinners as a servant, because Bruli’s apparently mindless conversation often includes some significant gems of information, which the Spymaster can add to his portfolio.
In the heat of the evening, Mara lures Bruli to bathe with her, and then at the height of his desire and anticipation of seducing her, is “conveniently” called away to attend to a matter of business with her hadonra. She leaves her prettiest handmaiden, Misa, to entertain Bruli in her absence. Aroused by his time with Mara, Bruli is nevertheless happy to accept her “gift” as a substitute.
On his next visit, accompanied by an even more expensive and extravagant retinue of entertainers than before, Bruli is surprised to find Mara dressed more formally than her customary ‘almost nothing.’ She pretends to be heartbroken at him betraying her with Misa.
Confused, Bruli demands an explanation of Nacoya who plays along, telling him that her mistress had obviously sought to test his love with Misa—and she points out to him that while male hosts might have provided slaves for his pleasure in the past, women think differently about such things. She advises him to return home, send away his concubines, and try to prove himself worthy of Mara’s love through gifts.
Arakasi, meanwhile, has been digging. He now knows which of Bruli’s retinue are Minwanabi agents and has dealt with them fatally. He also believes that Bruli’s expenses for the courtship have reached critical mass and are likely to be discovered by his father’s hadonra very soon.
Meanwhile, the Blue Wheel Party has ordered their Force Commanders to all retreat from the war with Midkemia through the Rift. This will mean more pressure on the remaining allies of the Warlord, including the Minwanabi and Anasati.
After many days and many more gifts, word of Bruli’s extravagance finally reaches his old man’s ears. While this was expected, Arakasi is unsettled because he does not know how it happened and suspects a third enemy agent in the Kehotara retinue, where he has only discovered two.
Arakasi intercepts all correspondence from Bruli’s father, and Mara delays deliberately before sending the first of these angry missives along to the young man. He arrives in haste, desperate to procure Mara’s promise of a betrothal—this is now the only way he can save face with his family after spending so much money. She offers him hospitality and then, belatedly, allows the second of his father’s furious messages to reach him.
Over supper, Bruli confesses to Mara about his overspending, and she shows sympathy to him, but is not willing to commit to returning some of the gifts until tomorrow.
She also makes sure she has an honour guard watching over her bedroom that night. As suspected, the third spy among the Kehotara retinue makes his move, attempting to assassinate Mara, but is prevented from reaching her by Papewaio and Lujan. They pursue the assassin, but he has received permission from his employer to kill himself by the blade if necessary, and so gives himself an honourable death.
Over breakfast, a stressed and miserable Bruli begs Mara to help him out of his financial bind. She, however, is no longer of a mind to go easy on him. The assassin’s head is served to him (actually literally) on a platter.
Bruli confesses then that the agent was put there by his father’s master, Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi. When Mara accuses him of likewise representing the Minwanabi in his presence here, he requests a warrior’s death. She refuses, and he attempts to stab himself, but Mara prevents that too.
She sends him back to his father, tail between his legs, to explain how his alliance with the Minwanabi came so close to destroying their House. Bitterly, Bruli acknowledges that he has been outplayed, and that her cleverness has placed him in the position of betraying his father.
Not wanting to drive the young man to suicide (having learned a lesson about taking pleasure in bringing down her enemies from Buntokapi), Mara speaks to him kindly, and promises to return most of his costly gifts if he grants her two promises—1) that if he (a younger son) ever becomes Lord of the Kehotara, he will break with tradition and not swear vassalage to the Minwanabi and 2) should this occur, at some time in the future, he will owe Mara a favour.
Bruli agrees to this, choosing life (with a little humiliation) over death. He gloats, though, that there she has won nothing, as he is never likely to inherit.
At which point, Mara hands over the last piece of correspondence she intercepted between his father and himself, noting that the assassin’s presence justifies her having read it first.
And that is how Bruli learns that his older brother died in action on the barbarian world, leaving him his father’s eldest heir.
Shivering now from anger, Bruli regarded the woman he had once been fool enough to love. ‘My father is a robust man with many years before him, Acoma bitch! I gave you my promise, but you shall never live long enough to see the keeping of it.’
Keyoke stiffened, prepared to reach for his sword, but Mara responded only with soul-weary regret. ‘Never doubt I shall survive to exact my price. Think on that as you take back the gifts you sent. Only leave me the songbird, for it will remind me of a young man who loved me too well to be wise.’
Her sincerity roused memories now soured and painful. Cheeks burning from the intensity of his warring emotions, Bruli said, ‘I take my leave of you. The next time we meet, the Red God grant that I view your dead body.’
As Bruli leaves, Nacoya cautions Mara on her treatment of Bruli, as there is no enemy more dangerous than one whose love has turned to hate.
Pushing her thoughts of Bruli aside, Mara turns her attention to the next piece of deadly correspondence. She has been invited to the Warlord Almecho’s birthday party, which is to be hosted by none other than Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi.
No Acoma has set foot on the Minwanabi lands for generations—but she cannot afford to offend the Warlord at this time of great political unrest.
Mara, you MUST go to the ball…
Commentary: So Nacoya’s first instinct is to tell Mara how badly she fumbled the Bruli thing despite the fact that until the final manoeuvre, this was ALL HER IDEA, not Mara’s. How did she think this was all going to be resolved without Bruli getting upset? It was Nacoya who pushed Mara to make him actually fall in love with her, and now she’s being all judgy about it. Not cool, Nacoya.
This is the second time that Mara has pulled off an extraordinary piece of strategy, in the (mostly) full knowledge of her advisors, only for one of them to then turn around and tell her off for making a dangerous enemy. We’re not playing tennis here! I get that they are warning her about hubris, but surely the time to warn her about hurting the feelings of her enemy is while you are making the plan, not once it has been completed.
In any case, the cruel twist at the end of this particular game with Bruli wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s hard not to be impressed by how Mara makes the most of the new information. I also recall that the ‘promise me a favour some time in the future’ thing becomes an ongoing pattern in her future years, and pays off beautifully someday. Interesting that it is popped in here as an impulse rather than a pre-planned strategy.
Despite railing against the warnings from her advisors, I do appreciate that Mara has learned a lesson from how she felt after Buntokapi’s death, and that she is determined not to lose her empathy or humanity even when risking everything at life-and-death game of politics she is playing.
She wanted to beat Bruli and neutralise the threat that he or his father placed in her household under the guise of their courtship; but she was also not willing to let Bruli die unnecessarily. I think it’s also an important point that she was aware that too great a humiliation might lead him to choose suicide, and that wouldn’t be a good outcome for any of them.
Mara certainly wasn’t obliged to give the gifts back, which would have left Bruli in a far more precarious position, and if it had gone far enough that he had to kill himself for honour reasons, the Kehotara would have lost another heir in as many days.
And it’s a good thing that she earned all these brownie points, really, because the whole thing of using her handmaiden as a lure to trap Bruli into insulting her was pretty gross. Though I note she hesitated over this one, letting Nacoya reassure her that there was consent on Misa’s part. (though ’Misa likes men’ isn’t exactly enthusiastic consent…) It’s a bit more sensitive than Mara was being back when she was throwing her handmaidens at Buntokapi like mice to a pet python.
I enjoyed the fun little scene of Lujan and Papewaio being bros together in Mara’s room while guarding Mara’s sleep. The friendship and loyalty between the men who service the Acoma is one of the more likeable aspects of these novels.
Arakasi meanwhile has to make himself absent for a while because of his elaborate security system which means he has to turn up to certain pre-arranged times and places regularly so that his spy network doesn’t assume he’s dead and pass themselves on to a replacement. It seems… a slightly unwieldy system, but I won’t complain too much because ‘Arakasi making things needlessly complicated in the name of pre-industrial espionage techniques’ is another really likeable part of the Empire series.
Oh, what that man could have accomplished with a smartphone and Facebook. It’s enough to make you weep.
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!