Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts.
Mara marches home in victory, but it’s a confusing time for the men in her life: Kevin feels his loyalties are divided, while Desio bonds with a new pal over wanting Mara dead and her family destroyed.
If this was a Friends episode, it would be The One With the Mankilling Dogs.
Chapter 13: Realignment
Is it me, or do half of these chapter titles sound like management speak? Realignment could mean anything!
Summary: So Desio’s not happy. Understatement of the year. After two years of set up and stalemate, as recently as a month ago it all looked like Tasaio was going to pull off his elaborate plan.
Instead, they have a thoroughly comprehensive military failure on their hands. Not only has Mara of the Acoma not been beaten in battle, but she and Lord Chipino of the Xacatecas walked away with the first ever treaty signed between Tsuranuanni and the Tsubar desert men.
Desio has changed a lot in the last two years—far from the young drunkard with an eye for the ladies, these days he has been training with the soldiers and learning warcraft, so he at least looks the part of a military leader. Right now, though, he looks like a military leader throwing a tantrum.
He is certain that Mara, now she is victorious and strong in allies, will be coming for him next. It’s what he would do, after all…
Incomo, Desio’s First Advisor, can offer only one piece of intelligence that might be useful against Mara—correspondence from Bruli of the Kehotara (remember poor spurned Bruli?) who apparently has some useful gossip to share and it looking for a no strings attached alliance with the Minwanabi.
Desio considers Bruli’s offer, while writing up the order to banish Tasaio to a distant outpost for his failure. Incomo, quietly aware that Tasaio is still the heir, does his best to frame the order diplomatically and to let Tasaio know that, should circumstances be different, he will be his man.
Meanwhile, Mara returns to her beloved estate with great fanfare, and is reunited with her nearest and dearest: her son Ayaki, who has grown so much in her absence; Nacoya, whose age is showing; and Keyoke who holds his head up high and has mastered walking with a crutch since the amputation of his leg.
While Mara parties hard with her household, Kevin is allowed a rare night off to visit his countrymen—though to be honest, he’d much rather take his mistress to bed, as domestic privacy has been something of an issue for them on the long voyage home.
Kevin is welcome at first among the other Midkemians, but it’s pretty clear that things have gone badly for them. With Mara gone, Jican has ditched all of the previously-negotiated special treatment such as extra rations. Patrick, a good friend of Kevin and the spokesman for the group, describes the deaths of several of their countrymen with great bitterness, noting the lack of medical support for slaves. He also reveals that some of them have escaped, and the rest are planning to do the same.
Kevin is genuinely shocked at their plan to run off and live as bandits, effectively, Grey Warrior style (the Grey Warriors themselves will not take them in, though they may be able to trade with them). He tries to convince them that life as outlaws in a land they are unfamiliar with will be far harsher than living here… until he realises that he’s basically defending slavery as a lifetyle.
Patrick points out the bleeding obvious—that while Kevin’s life as a body slave is mostly silks, three square meals and Mara’s warm bed, the rest of them are being worked to death without pay or holiday. There’s a reason that freedom—even a rough, harsh freedom—looks a lot more appealing to them than to him.
The only reason they have waited so long is because, once they heard of Mara’s military victory, they knew Kevin was coming back, and he’s their leader. But with him or without him, they’re not going to wait much longer.
Patrick makes it clear that while he still loves Kevin like a brother, he will kill him if he tries to stop them—the rest of the Midkemian slaves are determined to die themselves rather than live like this much longer.
Over at House Minwanabi, an unexpected guest has arrived—Jiro of the Anasati. This makes absolutely no sense, especially as he has turned up with a minimum escort, and Desio is pretty sure they’re supposed to be sworn enemies these days, now that Jiro’s dad is grandfather to Mara of the Acoma’s little boy.
But Jiro has brought presents for Desio: a couple of rough, vicious hunting dogs that make Desio’s heart go pitter-pat with joy. He does so love killing things.
From this point on, they are basically bros for life.
Over dinner, Jiro makes it very clear that he and his older brother are completely supporting of all of Lord Tecuma’s orders—including the current one, to protect Ayaki at all costs. But he also admits that they all hate Mara, and that while they are currently forced to make decisions that align with Acoma interests, that’s only a temporary arrangement.
He doesn’t go so far as to say that it’s cool with him if Desio wants to ensure an “accident” for Ayaki, but does let him know that Mara’s death would be pretty damned convenient for everyone, and the Anasati would be more than happy to take Ayaki in themselves and rename him, as a compromise to Desio’s oath about wiping the whole Acoma family off the face of the map.
Also strongly implied but never said aloud: if the kid should get hurt in the crossfire, well, Jiro and his brother won’t be nearly as cross about it as Lord Tecuma will.
Now all that politics is out of the way, Jiro and Desio seal their new bond with some hunting of slaves. The new dogs are called the Mankillers, guess what they do? Desio names them Slayer and Slaughter, because he’s a subtle sort of fellow.
Incomo, alarmed by the sight of his blood-spattered, totally-turned-on-by-violence master after the hunt, does not sleep very well. He basically mutters “how is this my life?” and listens to emo music while rocking slightly.
Commentary: Oh, Kevin. This chapter is one of the strongest memories I have of this character, and I honestly thought it came a lot earlier in the story. It’s fascinating the way that he has changed so much from being an active and angry advocate for his countrymen to Mara, and is now trying to defend her and her people to Patrick and other others.
His loyalties and his perspective have shifted so much in the time away from the estate, thanks to his status as Mara’s lover and his feelings for her, but also the friendships and respect he shares with many other Tsurani. He and Lujan are mates now, while Keyoke and Ayaki feel like family to him.
More importantly, his own issues about the inequality between he and Mara have been largely resolved thanks to the way that his military decisions were appreciated after the final battle (and, presumably, the fact that Mara didn’t kill him even after finding out he was an officer).
Thanks to the travel and the campaign in Dustari, Kevin has not spoken to his Midkemian friends in two years, and it’s a shock to him to realise, for instance, that they call the Tsurani rude names and that they don’t feel especially grateful for being “looked after.”
Yep, those silk sheets have definitely got to him.
It is a bit of a surprise to me that we never got much of a response to Kevin’s revelation about the whole “aristocrat” thing. While Mara is a lot more understanding of the differences between his people and her own these days, I would have expected a bit more of her reaction to the whole thing. Does she treat him with more respect now that she knows? Or does it make no difference to her at all?
In other news, Jiro and Desio’s blood-soaked afternoon tea party is ridiculously cute. I hope they’ll be pen pals.
Slayer & Slaughter ate some needra today, and also several postmen, it was awesome, enclosed is some lumps of meat, possibly from the postmen, they’ll go great on the BBQ with some marinade.
Here’s a pic of me up to my knees in blood, it’s like I have red boots on, ROFL.
Your BFF forever,
But what’s going on with Bruli? Does he want to join Jiro and Desio as founding members of the We Hate Mara Society? Will there be pins and possibly a newsletter? Tune in next week to find out!
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!