Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts.
This one features several meetings of an admin variety, though the administrative issues of Tsurani are quite diverse and can include agenda items such as “start a war” and “assassinate the military leaders of my enemy” to “estate management,” “fence posts” and “booty call.”
That is probably the most accurate chapter description I have ever provided.
SUMMARY: Tasaio is being subtle. This is not good news for anyone.
The first part of the Minwanabi plan against the Acoma is about to go ahead with a planted rumour that they are about to attack Mara’s silk wagons. Tasaio and Desio discuss whether “bandits” (land troops) are enough for this attack, or if they need to throw in some “pirates” (naval troops) too.
Don’t worry, the subtlety part will arrive later. Any day now.
Their plan is to force Mara to pay too much attention to the caravan she thinks will be attacked, only to trap Keyoke and his forces in the foothills after they cross Tuscalora land. Desio adds a flourish of his own, that they should torture one of the known spies and taunt him with the fact that Keyoke is about to be trapped, then let him escape, in the hope that Lujan will run to the rescue and they can arrange to have him killed, too.
That would leave Mara with almost no military expertise on her side.
Tasaio is concerned that the new plan is “overbold” given that arranging a double ambush is tricky at the best of times, and Lujan will have a lot of men at his disposal. At what point does “set a second trap” become “warn enemy about the first trap and give them a decent chance to escape it”?
Desio puts his foot down, claiming that the risk is worth it. Tasaio rolls his eyes so hard he nearly sprains them, but concedes that Desio is the boss.
The whole point of subtlety, of course, was to make sure that Mara’s clan Hadonra didn’t get wind of the Minwanabi actively moving against Mara, because they would be honour bound (apparently, no sign of this up until now) to support her in the field. Desio, sadly, wouldn’t know subtlety if it did a little dance in front of him.
As usual, Tasaio and Incomo take a little private time after the meeting to bitch about their boss. It’s tough being smarter than the person who makes all the final decisions. Tasaio suspects that the double attack is going to be a disaster, and what’s worse, he can’t be around to supervise it personally…
Because this is only one arm of their movement against Mara. Tasaio is going to the front, to bribe silk raiders into attacking the Xacatecas in Dustari and make the situation bad enough out there that Mara of the Acoma will be pulled in to help.
That Clan loyalty thing is expected to go both ways, after all.
Mara is angry about Kevin. Mostly, she’s angry that in the two months since she sent him away from her bed, he has been an exemplary slave master, helping in the fields to keep his countrymen from rebellious behaviour while they do all the necessary tree-clearing for which they were purchased in the first place.
Obviously he must be punished.
Nacoya is unhappy that Mara is recalling Kevin, as she is well aware that Mara’s feelings for Kevin are a lot deeper than she is admitting. The suitors aren’t coming around as often any more, since the infamous Humiliation of Bruli, and even the lovely and patient Hokanu (sigh, Hokanu, he’s so dreamy) can’t be expected to wait forever for Mara to get her act together and allow herself to be properly courted.
Mara is too cranky to hear any of Nacoya’s advice, even the Very Important advice about contraception potions.
She then spends a very distracted afternoon waiting for the scribe she sent to bring Kevin to her, now she has finally decided to see him.
Funnily enough, Kevin’s not all that pleased with her, and verges on rudeness at his treatment. His good behaviour has been all about keeping his countrymen alive, not for love of her—and while Mara points out acidly that he has used his position to secure better food and conditions for his countrymen, he snaps back that it makes them better workers.
Mara has some constructive criticism for Kevin’s working relationship with his overseer, based on the spies she has had reporting back to her.
Mara reached out, picked up one of the slates scattered at her feet, and read: ‘The barbarian’s words to the overseer as follows: “Do that again and I’ll rip off your … balls, you lying son of a ditch monkey.” ’ Mara paused, sighed and added, ‘Whatever a “ditch monkey” is, my overseer took it as an insult.’
‘It was intended that way,’ Kevin interrupted.
Okay, sometimes I quite like Kevin. Don’t get too excited or anything.
Kevin goes on to point out that the overseer in question was a thief who had taken the shipment of clothes intended for the Midkemians and sold them for his own profit. Mara agrees with him, and has already disciplined the man.
They have a bit of a difference of opinion as to whether her surveillance of Kevin’s workplace counts as appropriate estate management, or creepy stalking. Opinions are divided on the matter.
Mara was actually intending to compliment Kevin on his work, but he dismisses her ‘pat on the head’ as unnecessary. Off balance, she tries to have a chat with him about fencing rails. YES REALLY. Oh Mara, you are so far off your game you should sit out for the season.
It turns out that Kevin was so furious when a merchant tried to sneaky rotting fence posts into their order that he had the man hung upside down over the river by one of his own poles, to “test” the merchandise. Needless to say, the merchant got dunked.
Mara’s problem is that the merchant belonged to a Guild, and both his and Mara’s honour were slighted by the matter. She had to pay compensation to his family because of it.
Kevin, who has obviously forgotten that in his old life as a nobleman he had a whole bunch of unearned privilege, goes off on a rant about Tsurani honour and how insane it is that they wrap themselves up in formality and artificial obligation, instead of judging people based on merit and past service. In the midst of all the shouting, he throws in a low blow about how it’s no wonder Mara’s brother and father were killed, thanks to all the lack of logical decision making in their society.
Apparently this was also an issue on the battlefield, as the Midkemians find it impossible to predict what the Tsurani will do because they don’t understand anything about them.
Mara is upset and confused and well aware that he’s probably at least partly right, but she manages to pull the argument to a screeching halt by crying a bit. At which point Kevin turns gentle and they actually talk about the issue that scared her in the first place—his blasphemous statements about her people and their gods.
They also admit that they have missed each other quite a lot. With kissing. And an immediate plan to have a sexy bath together.
Nothing has been resolved but hey, at least they’ll be less frustrated and also clean, right? A bath is an effective multi-tasking tool.
COMMENTARY: Yet another chapter in which we find Desio and Tasaio pre-plotting that same plot, which hasn’t yet come to fruition. Though at least there’s a twist this time—Desio thinks he’s being so smart, but is sabotaging himself by biting off more than he can chew.
Funnily enough, this scene completely illustrates Kevin’s later point, which is that the Tsurani caste system is all about family honour and obligation, and that means that very undeserving people often end up getting away with blatant incompetence because of who they are. Tasaio clearly is better qualified to make military decisions than Desio, but can’t overrule him.
Though again, Kevin belongs to the aristocracy, I’m not sure why he thinks he gets to throw stones here.
Speaking of Kevin, his saving grace as a character is not that he’s smoking hot (though obviously this is Mara’s main reason for keeping him) but that he’s a) very good at his job, and competence is extremely likeable and b) he brings the snark.
I found myself grinning about his antics while he’s been away from Mara, and obviously the reports made her soften a bit towards him too. He’s funny, he’s pragmatic, and he gets the job done.
It doesn’t hurt that Kevin’s talking to Mara as an equal now, and even their arguments feel less unbalanced. They are both conceding points to each other, and he’s not as aggressive or shaming towards her for her way of thinking.
If they can actually work as a team, it will be a hell of a team. If only there wasn’t that awkward slavery issue between them.
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!