Welcome back to the Servant of the Empire Reread!
This week we’ve got plotting, politics and trade routes on the brain, but Kevin has other ideas… and he’s one fashion parade away from finally getting Mara’s attention. Bring on the tunic and hose!
Summary: Tasaio of the Minwanabi is better at everything than his cousin. While Tasasio remains cool and patient under pressure, Desio is almost exploding with frustration as the Plan to destroy Mara comes together far too slowly for his liking.
Incomo calls a meeting to share the results of their recent piece of corporate espionage: their raid on the Acoma thyza wagons was a disaster as the Acoma obviously knew they were coming and placed extra warriors on each cart. Fifty Minwanabi raiders were killed in the fight.
What they do have out of this is information: they know now that all of the Acoma trade wagons have far more security on them than ever before, and there is a rumour that the Acoma are hiding an even more precious cargo beneath the ordinary goods in their wagons.
They also have confirmation as to where they might find the Acoma spies in the Minwanabi household.
Tasaio declares that his Grand Plan to defeat Mara will take two years to reach fruition. While Desio is disappointed it will take so long, he has to concede that Tasaio is right that the situation has changed. Mara has enough military support now that a direct attack upon her would not be the easy pickings that it might have a year or two ago.
What Tasaio does suggest is that the Minwanabi bribe the nomadic desert tribes to step up the raids against the border, where the Xacatecas are currently engaged in defensive action. His hope is that Mara will be drawn out of her comfort zone to assist her ally—and that she will either be killed, or at least prove to be enough of a disaster in the role that it will ruin the alliance between the Acoma and Xacatecas families.
He also plans to get rid of Keyoke, who is quite obviously Mara’s greatest military asset.
Incomo notes that they will need to buy many votes to get Mara assigned to the front; they spent a great deal of money in the past to get the Xacatecas there and to keep their resources busy for the last two years.
“What price the death of Mara of the Acoma?” replied Tasaio. He also assures Desio that they won’t be relying on luck to ensure Mara fails in her mission—there will be an agent on the ground to ensure the preferred outcome for the Minwanabi.
While Desio goes to enjoy a hot tub and some find ladies in celebration of… something, Incomo muses on how he is still totally on Team Tasaio and the two of them are going to be doing all the work.
Mara cuts flowers with Jican and smirks about her own cleverness—the needra meadow has flooded, and Jidu of the Tuscalora keeps begging for permission to transport his crops to market by boat, but their original deal only agreed to wagons through the (now flooded) meadow. Sucks to be Jidu right now.
Nacoya keeps pressing Mara to get herself a man, but however nice Hokanu is, Mara is still hesitant to take that step after her terrible experience with her first marriage. She cannot imagine sex with a man being anything other than a political bargaining chip.
She tells Jican that Kevin has been complaining about the lack of protection that their style of clothes offers when hunting, and so she is having some Midkemian clothes made up for him in slave colours. Including hose.
They also discuss their impending entry into the silk trade, and then Jican leaves Mara alone with her somber thoughts—about the family she misses, and her complicated /awkward feelings about Hokanu who has not been to visit again for sometime thanks to politics drawing the Shinzawai elsewhere.
Kevin barged into her solitude and she is startled by the odd attractiveness of his appearance, now in Midkemian clothes. He kisses her hand to show traditional Midkemian courtesy to a lady, and they end up dancing together and laughing. When they fall over, Kevin strips the thorns from one of her kekali blossoms (basically a blue rose) and puts it in her hair, while speaking of Midkemian courting traditions.
Mara pulls away from him, confused by her attraction to Kevin and the memories of Bunto that keep resurfacing when she has any lustful thoughts. Kevin is oddly gentle with her, and ends up holding her on his lap while she tells him of the abuse she suffered at Buntokapi’s hand.
Kevin makes it clear that in his culture, a man who beats his wife is nothing but a common criminal.
Mara is aroused by his declaration of how women should be treated by men, and has forgotten the recent shaking-by-the-throat incident between them. She orders him to show her about how well Midkemians treat their ladies, and they make love in the garden.
Later, Nacoya is pleased to see that Mara has finally figured out that sex can be an enjoyable experience. She then gives the daughter of her heart the most awkward sex talk ever, about how shagging slaves is a very good idea politically, because it means Mara is not surrendering power to anyone.
Embarrassed, Mara sends Nacoya away so she can take Kevin to bed—but her thoughts are sombre again, of the vow that Desio of the Minwanabi has made to the Red God, for the destruction of her family.
COMMENTARY: War, politics and sex—that basically sums these books up, and it’s all here in this chapter.
I would definitely find Kevin’s protestations about violence against women being bad if not for the fact that he physically attacked and threatened Mara only one chapter ago. However, I will admit that he is being a lot more respectful here which combined with the whole playful thing he’s got going makes it easier to see why she would fall into his arms. If anyone needs a relaxing hobby, it’s Mara of the Acoma.
The imbalance in their relationship is definitely highlighted by the fact that she orders him to have sex with her, though, mistress to slave. It’s kind of obvious however that Kevin doesn’t really think of himself as a slave, and therefore takes this as ‘ladies ordering me to do stuff is hot’ rather than ‘oh so I don’t have bodily autonomy then.’ Again, this is a big change from the previous chapter when it was clear he resented a woman having such power over him.
Oh, this romance. Never not going to be problematic.
Nacoya having Opinions about Mara’s sex life, both the lack of one and the attempt at one, is always kind of embarrassing but funny at the same time. It’s good that someone is talking about this stuff, really, and I can see that it’s totally Nacoya’s role to do that, but every time she does it I can’t help cringing. It’s basically her Grandma saying ‘condoms and lube are on the dresser, kids, have a nice time and be safe’ only without actual discussion of contraception etc. because it’s a fantasy novel by someone who isn’t Tamora Pierce.
Seriously, does anyone other than Tamora Pierce include discussions of contraception/protection in their fantasy fiction? Who else does it? I think we need a reading list!
Kevin demanding his own style of clothes is kind of hilarious. I like that the whole household is just used to the fact that he complains about everything, and gets his own way most of the time. Jican making the deadpan comment that he’ll probably complain about being too hot as soon as he puts on the hose made me smile.
Oh, Kevin. HOSE? I can understand wanting to import the whole trouser concept into the Tsurani culture, because if they get that silk harvest involved they could probably make a fortune. But I don’t see hose catching on with anyone in the middle of summer.
The Midkemian fashion report is brought to you by ‘all world-building requires analogues for coffee and roses.’
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!