Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts! This is the one where we vote Ruling Lords off the island. With swords and polite conversation! Yar!
SUMMARY: The night of bloody swords is not yet over. The Acoma apartment is attacked four more times during the night by soldiers in anonymous black armour. The fighting is relentless, with little time to pause or rest in between the waves of violence.
Mara and the two Lords who are her guests are all still alive, but they have lost many men. Those who are fighting are at the absolute end of their strength. Blood and dead bodies lie all around the apartment, and still the attackers come.
Kevin is desperate and exhausted, after fighting all night to keep his mistress safe. They have lost hope, but still cling on. Just as they are close to being overwhelmed by yet another assault, a trumpet heralds the arrival of the Emperor and the Imperial Whites in the palace.
With Imperial troops in the corridors, order is restored. Mara is summoned to an official council the next day along with all the other Ruling Lords.
Let’s hope she gets a chance to have a shower first.
After hours of primping, scrubbing, and hardcore body disposal, the House of Acoma are ready to show their face in public. When a glammed-up Mara arrives at the council chamber, however, she is prevented from entering as council members are only allowed one warrior each.
She decides to send Lujan back to rest, keeping Arakasi with her, but arguing for Kevin to remain as her body slave. She knows that if things get desperate, Kevin can fight with Arakasi’s sword—but otherwise, she needs counsel more than protection today.
Also, Lujan needs a nap like you wouldn’t believe.
The council chambers are somewhat depleted. Five Lords from the Omechan clan are missing, and it is clear which one has made it to the top—the former Warlord’s nephew Axantucar is now the Lord of the Oaxatucan.
Axantucar and Tasaio are clearly the two primary candidates for Warlord now. Their immediate supporters make this clear, approaching them to acknowledge their votes, while those who are officially undecided, including Mara, hang back.
Arakasi and Kevin expect Mara to throw her support behind Axantucar immediately, but instead she goes to speak with Hoppara of the Xacatecas. Arakasi is sure this is a ploy, given Hoppara’s age, but many follow Mara’s lead, including Hoppara in their ritual of quiet greetings. Some voters go back and forth between candidates, others return multiple times to emphasise their support.
It’s so handy having Kevin here which means all the locals have to explain the customs to him!
Mara visits Hoppara three times. The votes are now roughly even between the three candidates but only three quarters or so of the Lords have declared an interest. It’s anyone’s game.
As evening draws in, Mara and Hoppara rise and take all their support over to Axantucar.
Furious, Tasaio announces that Axantucar is the clear choice for new Warlord. Kevin is confused by this uncharacteristically classy move on Tasaio’s part, but Mara explains that it’s tradition for the losing candidate to do so.
The Tsurani are so mean to each other.
Arakasi explains more of what is going on as Axantucar takes the white and gold robes of the Warlord. It’s pretty clear that the man spent a large portion of his inheritance on taking out many Lords including members of his own clan. Arakasi is also certain that he was responsible for the black armoured warriors, given that Minwanabi was using the tongs.
Yes, this is the man they’ve just put in charge of everything. But… better someone who wanted to murder Mara because she was an unpredictable force than someone who wants to murder her because he hates her guts.
Now that the official politics is over, Mara and her household return to their town house for a while. Her social status has been greatly affected by her role in choosing the new Warlord, and this means lots of friendly visitors.
Finally, Arakasi brings word that Tasaio and his household have returned to the Minwanabi estate which means it’s as safe as it ever can be for Mara to return home too. Arakasi apologises for not foreseeing the fast rise to power of Axantucar but Mara refuses to let him feel guilty about it. His work saved five Lords during the night of bloody swords, including herself.
There is something unsettled about Kevin, who has been brooding a lot over the last few days, but Mara doesn’t work too hard to find out what the problem is. She’s relaxing for the first time in far too long, as they boat their way home. They are greeted at the other end of the river journey by Keyoke and many of her Acoma troops and household staff, which makes Mara feel all weepy and sentimental.
They camp out before the final leg home, and Keyoke finds himself looking at Kevin differently now that he knows how well the barbarian slave defended Mara with a sword.
Elsewhere in the Empire, Tasaio’s homecoming involves rather more blood and concubines than Mara’s. He commits to upholding Desio’s vow to Turakamu, the Red God, to destroy the Acoma.
Incomo is figuring out how he needs to treat Tasaio differently to Desio. Desio was a micro-manager who obsessed over every detail and was never willing to relinquish control. Tasaio, on the other hand, expects his servants to anticipate his needs exactly.
Tasaio summons his two regular concubines—one has two children, while the other has recently announced her pregnancy. After carefully inspecting the children for flaws, he orders the death of the pregnant concubine and then announces his marriage to the children’s mother pretty much in the same breath. He declares the children legitimate, and his heirs.
Just to make it clear that Tasaio is a complete bastard, we see him kiss the condemned concubine and praise her bed skills before she is murdered. He then orders himself a couple of virgin slave girls to attend him in his bath.
Incomo’s heart is broken at this point. He had such high hopes for Tasaio, and here he is serving another monster.
Later, he is summoned to Tasaio’s bath only to find his master smoking a tateesha pipe, basically stoned, and wanting to discuss strategy for the latest round of the Kill Mara Dead campaign. Tasaio adds Axantucar to the list of enemies he wants to destroy, because he’s never been short on ambition. They still have two Acoma spies in their household, and Tasaio demands one of them be promoted and kept near him so he can have extra fun planting false information for Mara.
Oh and Incomo has to organise a wedding feast with less than a day’s notice, no pressure, but it has to be totally perfect.
Four weeks after Mara’s return home to her estate, Arakasi arrives with news. He reports the promotion of the spy in the Minwanabi household, which has raised his suspicions. Also, Lord Tecuma of the Anasati is ill, not gravely at this point, but Arakasi believes that the old man has lost interest in life since the death of his eldest son when the Rift closed.
When Kevin and Ayaki return from hunting, Mara is a little disturbed to realise that Buntokapi’s hunting skills have passed to his son. Kevin is still carrying a shadow with him, but he makes an effort to be cheerful around Ayaki and herself.
COMMENTARY: Oh Incomo, it’s totally time to work on your resume.
No, wait, you can’t ever leave your job without dying first. Wow. Human resources suck on this planet.
I am sad for Incomo that for all his excitement about serving an intelligent master instead of the usual line of sexed-up, blood-drenched Minwanabi brutes, he gets—well, more of the same only this one is intelligent AS WELL, which means nothing is going to get past him.
The story of the cruelty meted out to loyal Minwanabi servants is balanced out by Kevin’s ongoing depression about his own slavery. The depiction of servitude is far more nuanced now than it was in the first book, with the message clear that no one can win in this system.
Being permanently in servitude to a kind mistress that you love may be a much better life than being permanently in servitude to a cruel master who would abuse the power he holds over you, but that doesn’t make it okay. And I’m so glad that the books are making it clear how not okay it was, because we started out with a lot of romanticisation of socialised slavery.
The fact that Kevin’s point of view is being used more and more helps with this, and basically any POV not involving Mara. Also, it’s fascinating to see how much Mara’s perspective on the world has opened up and changed, not only because of Kevin but because of her experiences. She’s far more of a pleasure to spend time with now, with that devious political brain of hers.
I love the selection of the Warlord routine, largely because I’d forgotten how it turned out, but also because it was set up so nicely with the previous chapters about how the Council works. The subtle voting system involving personal promises made face to face came across really effectively.
Also, am I wrong, but did Mara get out of this situation without formally using all those votes she’s been banking up from various supporters? INTERESTING.
I adore that Hoppara has turned into such a Mara sidekick so quickly. He is Robin to her Batman. I look forward to them cooking up more crazy hustles together in future. Possibly also capers and hijinks.
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!