Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts. We’re still in the desert, and it’s still a trap.
Chapter 12 Snares
Summary: The desert tribes attack the forces of the Xacatecas (with supporting cho-ja). Tasaio of the Minwanabi is standing by with his own back up troops (TOLD YOU IT WAS A TRAP) but does not immediately send them in to battle—as he promised the desert tribes that he would.
His Strike Leader is trying hard not to be judgy about this, because Tasaio gets cranky when he thinks people are judging him.
The desert tribes are an easy mark, and the Xacatecas troops stroll in to finish them off and scare them silly.
Mara and Lujan, with their own troops, watch the battle from a distance. To their horror, they see several companies of armoured troops emerge from hiding—and these are not the tribal raiders at all, but trained Tsurani warriors. They do not wear colours, but they all guess that the forces are here on behalf of Tasaio (and by extension, Desio) of the Minwanabi. Mara scurries to send in her own reinforcements, as the Xacatecas are now outnumbered 2 to 1.
Kevin stops her, and she is furious at him, because this is an infraction she cannot ignore—she might have to execute him for it. Kevin insists that she listens, pointing out the strategy that he believes the Minwanabi are using. He has seen this specific technique used before in battle (when the Minwanabi fought his own people), and if Mara sends her soldiers in they will be wiped out.
When she asks why she should believe him, he confesses his big secret to her: he was an officer and a commander of his father’s troops in the field.
Mara takes this in, but even knowing the situation is a trap, she cannot afford to hold back her forces. It would be dishonourable, and they would lose Lord Chipino.
Kevin has an alternative suggestion, though—they should send in a small company to aid Lord Chipino, then very quickly take the rest of their troops around to where he believes the Minwanabi’s extra ‘spring the trap’ soldiers are waiting, and shoot them a lot with arrows.
Lujan points out the obvious flaw in Kevin’s plan: only the cho-ja could move fast enough for that plan to work. Kevin then explains his brilliant idea and they all think he’s deranged.
Tasaio is furious that Mara still does not attack. Out on the hardpan, the Xacatecas soldiers are surrounded but dig in defensively, awaiting back up. When it finally comes, it is only a half company of Acoma soldiers, which confuses everyone.
Meanwhile, Lujan is learning to ride a cho-ja. He finds the experience awkward and embarrassing, but the cho-ja in question, Mox’l, is entirely unfazed and offers advice on how to hold on securely, and avoid having his legs accidentally slashed by the cho-ja’s bladed forelimb.
The Acoma troops, all riding on the backs of cho-ja, get to the foothills far more swiftly than they ever could have on the march. A runner of their enemy is ahead of them, and Lujan chooses to let him go, to report on their movements and put terror into the heart of the Minwanabi.
Tasaio learns the truth—that Mara’s forces have surprised his own hidden troops in the foothills and are fighting furiously. They have also brought up archer support, which endangers his own position.
Mara herself is largely undefended, waiting out the battle in a covered litter, with only a single soldier as her honour guard. Tasaio makes a break for her, determined to finish her off regardless of what happens on the battlefield. He and a patrol approach at a run, and the honour guard (who happens to have red hair, for those playing along at home) appears to be frightened, calling to his lady and then running for it like a coward.
Tasaio laughs and draws back the litter curtains only to discover that he has been tricked—there is nothing but perfumed cushions inside. He is furious at the trick, and arrows begin falling all around them. They can also see glimpses of armour and what sounds like cho-ja, which suggests they are surrounded.
To Tasaio’s mortification, he is going to have to retreat from the position or risk being killed. He’s not supposed to be here, and while he would be happy to trade his life for that of Mara of the Acoma, his family’s honour would suffer for his presence. This is the first time he has ever actually been forced to flee in the middle of a battle.
After the retreat, his Strike Leader reveals that he wasn’t surrounded at all, up near the litter—it was a trick mostly involving spare helmets on poles. Tasio promptly kills the Strike Leader for telling him this, and promotes someone new to his position.
Back on the salt pan, Tasaio thinks he can at least win against Chipino and his still beleaguered Xacatecas force (with Acoma reinforcements). He then gets the news about what Mara’s troops have been up to in the valley foothills, and the damage done to his remaining companies.
Not long after, Tasaio discovers why the messenger was so frantic about cho-ja. An Acoma force emerges from the valley, men mounted on the backs of cho-ja warriors, refreshed and speedy.
Tasaio’s warriors on the salt pan are over-heated and exhausted, and they lose heart at this point, while the Xacatecas-Acoma men are greatly inspired by the sight of these reinforcements and fight even harder.
After his defeat, Tasaio realises that he has lost everything. There are no forces remaining to sweep in and wipe the floor with the Xacatecas and Acoma. His entire Dustari plan has been one big failure.
Meanwhile, in the victory tents, Mara presents Lord Chipino with the man of the hour: Kevin. Not only did the Midkemian slave provide the tactics that won the day, but he also did the one thing no Tsurani soldier could ever bring himself to do: he faked cowardice, to spring a trap on Tasaio.
Lord Chipino is curious as to how Kevin managed to do such a thing, and Mara does her best to explain it as ‘hey them Midkemians, what are you gonna do’—Kevin sort of helps by pointing out the different cultural attitudes towards humour, and Chipino finds it easier to understand as a prank rather than a deliberate loss of honour.
(Does anyone else now think that Chipino and his wife courted each other via prank war? Head canon accepted!)
Chipino’s gratitude is mighty, and when he offers Mara a boon, she is as humble as possible, requesting his vote in the Great Council at some unspecified time in the future. He agrees, but you just know he’s going to send her something pretty too.
Actually, he does—he orders a glamorous suit of armour for Kevin (which as a slave he would never be allowed to wear) as a reward for his own contribution to the day’s victory.
The next morning, the Chiefs of the Seven Tribes of Dustari’s desert arrive with a solemn declaration of blood enmity against Tasaio of the Minwanabi—and a request for an alliance between themselves and the ‘tribes’ of the Xacatecas and the Acoma.
They all agree, spitting water in to the sand to seal the promise. The conflict is over, and that means they can all finally go home.
Commentary: I think it’s a sign of what a genuinely good person Lujan is that he is so uncomfortable with treating Mox’l—who he sees as an equal peer—as a steed, to the point that he won’t let him kneel to make mounting him easier.
That his main thought is that he doesn’t think the Tsurani soldiers would be nearly as cool as the cho-ja about this whole riding business if the situation was reversed is also interesting. He immediately starts rethinking the concept of Tsurani honour, something he has had to do quite a lot since Mara saved him from the life of a Grey Warrior.
And speaking of Tsurani honour—Kevin, what have you done! It’s kind of fascinating that he and Mara have been together now for what, nearly two years, and it took until now for him to reveal the truth of his origins. It wasn’t an accidental slip, either, which shows how smart and careful he has had to be. Yes, the culture clash has helped a lot with his deception, and being able to distract Mara with his mighty kissing skills probably didn’t hurt, but seriously.
I’m surprised that there isn’t more immediate fallout from Kevin’s startling revelation, but it certainly doesn’t seem (yet) to be a deal breaker between himself and Mara. On the other hand, they haven’t really had a chance to talk it out seriously.
Chipino continues to be kind of adorable. It’s nice that Mara has acquired a new father/grandfather figure especially given that she has been at war without Keyoke at her side for so very long now. I like how much he mentions his wife, and her importance to him, and that he makes a genuine attempt to understand all the Kevin confusion. There aren’t many Tsurani lords who would reward a slave in that situation, instead of taking offence at his impertinence.
Speaking of adorable, while it’s not a shocker that Kevin is the only one to have an overt emotional reaction to the fact that they can all finally go home, it’s rather lovely that his outspoken joy is on Mara’s behalf—that she can finally get back to Ayaki, whom she has missed so badly.
Oh, he’s so gone on her.
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!