Welcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire! This week, the birthday party from hell continues with an impromptu Elvis impersonation (you can argue that’s not what the Warlord is doing, but I won’t ever believe you) and a whole lot of snark as Mara faces off against her greatest enemy.
Chapter 15: Arrival
Summary: Almecho the Warlord finally arrives at his own birthday party, with a literal fanfare of music, accompanied by two dark-robed Great Ones (magicians). The Great Ones put a bit of a dampener on the festivities, as they make everyone extremely nervous.
The representatives of each House line up in traditional order—based on rank—to pay their respects to the Warlord. Unlike weddings, birthdays start with the most important people, so Mara does not have long to wait.
The Warlord is in a very sarcastic mood.
‘Lady Mara, what an unexpected delight. I’m pleased to see you bear as much personal courage as your father—to walk into this nest of relli.’ Still holding her hand, and stroking it in a patronizing display of attention, he turned to Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi. His host stood biting back his anger, as distressed by the last remark as was Mara. “Jingu, you’re not planning to spoil my birthday celebration with bloodshed, are you?”
The Warlord goes on to openly tell Mara—with Jingu RIGHT THERE—that he will only be angry with Jingu if he doesn’t “observe the proper form” in killing her. Oh, and there’s a betting pool on whether she gets out of this scenario alive. Nice one, Warlord.
Mara struggles to maintain her composure as she realises that her life and death situation is a massive joke to the Warlord—a splendid distraction as part of the Game of the Council, but a game nonetheless. He seems to be looking forward to seeing how (not ‘whether’) Jingu will get around the complicated traditions of hospitality to slit her throat.
Mara is saved from further awkwardness by the really quite lovely Lord of the Shinzawai, who is standing behind her to greet the Warlord next, and distracts them all by pointing out his handsome and entirely marriageable second son, Hokanu.
(MARRY HIM, MARA!)
It was a risky gesture that could have backfired badly, but the Lord of the Shinzawai gets away with it, and both he, Hokanu and Mara move on after a few pleasantries.
Still a little stunned by the Warlord’s behaviour, Mara appreciates the fleeting expression of sympathy she sees upon the Lord of the Shinzawai’s face. Considering that most people here have been enjoying her various humiliations far too much, it’s a rare and rather nice sight.
Hokanu, meanwhile, totally checks Mara out, though she can’t do much more than smile at him without letting the Minwanabi think that she and the Shinzawai have a pact against him.
Oh, it’s all so complicated.
Nacoya insists that they have to cut their losses and run, given the extreme lack of allies in their corner, and that the Warlord is openly mocking the Acoma’s chances.
Mara points out that running is not an option, not only because of honour and stiff upper lip and all that, but mostly because of the extreme military resources between here and the border. They’d never make it out alive if they tried to flee.
Also, it would shame her ancestors.
Across the room, Hokanu of the Shinzawai continues to be very impressed with Mara.
As the party continues, Lord Jingo’s son Desio of the Minwanabi makes a brief announcement: due to unforeseen water pirates, they have raised the chain to close the prayer gate, cutting off all water access to and from the estate. For the convenience and protection of his guests, of course.
Oh, and any boats attempting to leave will be burned. So anyone who needs to leave early should inform their hosts.
Mara and Papewaio exchange meaningful glances at each other, communicating via eyebrows how many different kinds of screwed they are. She receives an unexpectedly kind word from one of her peers: Lord Pataki of the Sida tells her that while she is in obvious danger from the Minwanabi, no other family is going to move against her at the party. So that’s nice?
Mara and her retinue retire for the evening as soon as it is polite to do so. The Lord of the Ekamchi, who has been giving her nasty little digs all night, meets her at the doorway to get in a last bit of snark before she can leave.
Papewaio, who has had enough at this point, physically picks the Lord up and moves him aside so his mistress can pass. As the Lord splutters that laying hands on his body without permission is worthy of a death sentence, Papewaio lifts his helmet to show the man that he already wears the black rag of shame.
Yeah. You’ve just been Papewaio’d.
Horrified that his only option is to ignore the insult or to allow Papewaio an undeserved, honourable death by the sword, the Lord of the Ekamchi goes off spluttering.
That night, the women sleep with all the lanterns blazing so that anyone approaching them will show up as a shadow against the paper walls.
They are awoken to the sound of a struggle. Mara moves quickly to the ‘emergency corner’ designated by Papewaio in his briefing. Nacoya swings lanterns around, setting the place on fire, because she’s awesome like that. Papewaio fights with the assassin, slowed only slightly by the dagger sticking into him and a lack of oxygen from being strangled. Nevertheless, he breaks the assassin’s neck.
At which point, Shimizu, Force Leader of the Minwanabi, sticks his sword directly through Papewaio’s heart.
Shimizu makes to attack Mara too, but she reminds him that if he murders her in the presence of witnesses, it will mean the death of his master. Considering how many people are running back and forth in response to Nacoya’s cries of ‘Fire!’ he takes her point, and lies with a straight face that he assisted her bodyguard in dispatching the thief.
Shimizu escorts Mara and Nacoya out of the building before it collapses entirely—but Mara insists that he carry the body of Papewaio with them.
In shock, but thinking quickly, Mara goes through an elaborate piece of theatre with Lord Jingu where they both agree that it’s very tragic that her bodyguard died thanks to a thief, and Lord Jingu agrees to give Papewaio a proper funeral with all the trimmings. Lord Almecho, who is highly entertained by all this, pledges 10 of his own imperial whites to provide an honour guard for the fallen hero.
Mara is sad.
Commentary: Noooooooo! Don’t leave me, Papewaio!
I remembered that he was the first of Mara’s boys to die, and had a pretty good idea it would be towards the end of this book (we’re pretty close to the end of Daughter!), but this still feels far too soon.
For a stoic warrior who rarely said much of anything, Papewaio was a highly lovable character, and served as the human side of how the elaborate Tsurani societal rules affect the servants and warriors of a House. I loved that in this last chapter, he got to flash the black rag of shame as a badge of honour one more time, and how that rag has been so important to his progression through the whole novel. The fact that he was able to openly insult a Lord who had been driving them all crazy all evening was incredibly satisfying.
And of course, Papewaio got his death by the sword, which is exactly what he wanted, but DEEPLY DISTRESSING AND NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HAVING HIM BE ALIVE.
This chapter makes me type in all caps. I can’t help it, I’m distressed. And also wanting to kick things, because their frustrating society means Mara has to pretend she’s only mildly bothered by her bodyguard being murdered by her enemy.
It probably doesn’t help that in my head canon, Papewaio has been secretly in love with Mara all this time.
Who’s going to tell Keyoke? He’s going to be gutted.
Also, with Papewaio dead, the only named character left in Mara’s entourage is Arakasi, and he can’t defend his way out of a paper bag.
I know I said it already, but Worst. Birthday. Party. Ever.
Apart from Papewaio, this is entirely Almecho’s chapter. The Warlord walks into the room like a pop star backed up by his entourage, the magicians in black. I like to imagine a kind of Eurovision-themed soundtrack to his arrival. Either that, or picture him dressed like Elvis in white for this whole chapter. It adds a certain… something.
While I do appreciate sarcasm in a military leader, Almecho’s snarky, amused response to Mara’s genuinely distressing situation makes me want to set fire to his shiny white robes. He’s having way too much fun! My only consolation is that his behaviour is also driving Lord Jingu nuts.
I am very upset about Papewaio. Excuse me while I hug a pillow and think sad thoughts for the rest of the week.
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!