Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts! All chapters of all books should be called this. Best chapter title ever.
Chapter 18: Bloody Swords
SUMMARY: The unofficial council comes to an end. Mara and Tecuma pool their honour guard to ensure extra security on returning to their apartments—and if this sends the message that the Acoma and the Anasati are friendlier than is actually true, that’s a useful piece of misinformation to have out there.
Arakasi sends word that threats have been overheard to some Lords who are enemies of the Lord of the Inrodaka. (For those of you following along at home, Inrodaka was the estate where Mara’s cho-ja queen was born, and the Lord was very unhappy about the results of her negotiations)
Mara sends word that if those Lords feel unsafe, they are welcome to shelter with her in the Acoma apartment.
Kevin has a knife at the ready, to defend Mara. When she points out that it is death for a slave to hold a weapon, he rolls his eyes and points out that it’s also death for a slave to have opinions, and she hasn’t executed him yet.
Yeah, Kevin has his moments.
In the middle of the night, Lord Zanwai bursts into their apartment, bleeding from the head. He is an elderly lord whose cousin, Decanto of the Clan Omechan, was launching a campaign to become Warlord. They were attacked by soldiers in unmarked black armour.
When Mara asks who could be behind the attacks, Lord Zanwai points out that Decanto has many cousins, and they all may well be scrabbling to take on the position vacated by their uncle Almecho (the recently deceased Warlord).
Lujan questions the wounded warrior who came with Zanwai, and they learn that many of the black armoured warriors are associated with the tongs, “clans without honour” who are outlaws and assassins.
Lord Zanwai thinks it is most likely that the tong assassins are in Tasaio’s employ, as it is a way of threatening violence without being seen to use Minwanabi troops. Mara agrees, knowing of at least one instance in the past when the Minwanabi were willing to hire assassins…
In the early hours of the morning, when they are all trying to sleep again, a battered and broken Arakasi arrives with a head wound. When he has been patched up and is able to speak, he shares news on the latest rounds of attacks and killings.
Supporters of Lord Keda and Tasaio have both been targets, as has Axancutar of the Omechan clan (another of those cousins of Almecho that Lord Zanwai was talking about).
Also, a delegation of Lords went to the Emperor to beg he send companies of Imperial Whites to protect the halls of the palace before he himself returns, and he refused on the grounds that he never authorised a council in the first place.
The next day, Tasaio of the Minwanabi is finally occupying his seat in the council hall, smirking and strutting at everyone. As Mara arrives, Lord Zanwai passes her a note to let her know she has two more votes thanks to Arakasi’s information, which she has spread to him and his supporters.
When Mara returns to the apartment for lunch she discovers that Arakasi has not been resting, but sending people out for further information. He has managed to gather a list of the Lords most likely to be attacked/assassinated by Tasaio’s men that night, including Lord Hoppara. Mara immediately sends messages to those Lords, letting them know.
By evening, Hoppara has brought his Xacatecas entourage to Mara’s apartment, as his own is too difficult to defend. There is still no word from the other targeted Lord, Iliando of the Bontura, who is known to be stubborn in the face of logic.
Arakasi returns only just ahead of the Bontura, having gone along to convince the Lord that his security was insufficient. Just as everyone is inside the Acoma apartment, the Hanoi tong attack with a battering ram.
A pitched battle is fought in the apartment, between House warriors, anonymous black-clad warriors, and assassins. Oh, and Kevin, who manages to get himself thoroughly armed and dangerous in defence of his mistress.
When the fighting is over, all three ruling Lords including Mara are bloodstained but alive. To their shock, they realise that many of their attackers bore metal swords, which are highly unusual in Tsurani culture—the handful of metal swords which exist are generally antique family heirlooms, as the art of making them has been lost.
Kevin, however, can identify the weapons as newly made and while the Tsurani around him are baffled, the origins are hardly a mystery to him: Obviously, these weapons come from his own world, where steel weapons are common. The style is Tsurani, though, which suggests that metal has been taken as the spoils of war and then remade here on this world.
One way or another, something dodgy is going on. If Tasaio has all this metal at his disposal then he must have been siphoning it off from the Imperial spoils of war for some time.
Lord Iliando is unhappy with Kevin talking so much and handling the swords, but everyone else smiles blandly and pretends they didn’t see anything. Mara steps in with diplomacy, presenting two each of the metal swords to Lord Hoppara and Lord Iliando for their aid in the battle.
Given the untold wealth represented by those swords, Lord Ilando is instantly convinced to look the other way too.
As they are cleaning up the mess, another attack comes—this time a spark of magic which turns into a relli (poisonous snake thing) and attacks Mara directly. One of her warriors is horribly killed in defending her from the monster, which Lujan dispatches.
So now the magicians are after her too. Wonderful.
COMMENTARY: This one’s about power and trust, basically. Mara is becoming far more of a figure-head, and while Tasaio is finally showing his face it’s clear that she has come a lot further than he expected.
Mara isn’t being stupid about strategy, but she’s employing a definite charitable tone to her battle decisions—Hoppara was an ally before this night’s attacks, but Lord Iliando was not. By bringing them both within her walls, she risked a lot, but has come out of this with staunch allies.
The trust that Mara’s people have in Kevin is also clear. There’s a lovely scene where Arakasi, hurt and damaged, goes off with Lujan to get patched up. When Lujan suggests borrowing Kevin and another soldier to help hold Arakasi down while he sets his arm etc., Arakasi requests “just Kevin.”
Awwww. The trust. The comradeship. The bromance.
Hoppara is also proving a very useful sort to have around, as he backs Mara and her people up no matter what and again, comes to Kevin’s defence quite firmly. This combination of respecting his father’s opinions about Mara and Kevin, and general common sense, is very appealing.
It’s all getting a bit worrying, though. How long can Mara keep up a good front in a palace with paper walls and a whole bunch of metal sworded maniacs out to kill her?
Better hope those votes are worth it. If Tasaio gets to be Warlord, Mara and all her many allies are going to be in deep, deep trouble.
But there’s still no credible alternative! Pretty sure no one’s going to let Mara nominate Kevin. Even though he would probably be awesome at the job.
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!