Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts!
Chapter 23: Sortie
I kind of hope at some point we’re going to get a chapter simply titled ‘Stuff’.
Having said that, this one looks like it’s going to be pretty light on with events, and then it smacks you in the face with—well, let’s put it this way, ‘sortie’ is definitely an understatement.
Summary: Another nice long time jump, with the rainy season coming and going in the space of a sentence. Nothing much changes for House Acoma during this time: the silk trade continues to flourish, Mara continues to avoid the subject of marriage, and the Emperor continues his edict against High Council meetings.
A marriage proposal unexpectedly arrives from Lord Xaltepo of the Hanqu, an obscure chocha-la and spice trading family. Mara’s advisers are cautious about it because they know so little about the family—and Arakasi arrives to inform them all that Tasaio knows about this offer and has taken a particular interest in trying to find out whether (and where) Mara will meet publicly with the Hanqu to discuss their offer.
Mara is not as suspicious as everyone else, and takes their concerns too lightly, as she is sick of everyone being paranoid all the time.
It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you, Mara!
Weeks later, when Mara sets off in an official caravan to attend the meeting, everyone is concerned that she is heading straight into a trap—and indeed, she is promptly ambushed in a hail of arrows. Only Kevin’s quick response keeps her safe: he exchanges her clothes for less fancy ones so she can escape unharmed, and defends her with the sword no one expects him to be able to use because he is a slave.
Back home on the Acoma estate, nine-year-old Ayaki is throwing a tantrum at Nacoya (because she is trying to dress him in robes with buttons that he claims are orange and thus aligned with the Minwanabi—kid has a point about this one) when an anonymous assassin attacks them, determined to kill the Acoma heir by dishonourable strangulation.
Nacoya, desperate to save Ayaki’s honour and possibly his life too, throws herself at the assassin and is stabbed to death.
The Acoma guards get to them in time to slay the assassin, and Jican pulls Ayaki out from under a pile of murdered nursemaids to safety.
In the field, the attack against Mara’s party turns brutal long after it is obvious that they are outmatched. Kevin is wounded and only barely manages to hang on before reinforcements arrive: it turns out that Keyoke, concerned about the blatant trap they were walking into, sent Lujan and a bunch of soldiers after them. Good call, Keyoke.
When Mara awakes from her—I don’t know, battle swoon—it is to discover that Lujan has rescued her, and Kevin is badly hurt—among other things, his hand may never be the same again. As Lujan laments the fact that Kevin is a slave and can not receive proper honour for his brave actions, Mara is devastated, knowing that she has kept Kevin with her too long. He deserves more than slavery, and she cannot give him back his old life without losing him forever.
On the journey home, Mara considers all her errors in this matter. She knows now that she not only disregarded good advice from her people, and warnings that Arakasi’s network might possibly be compromised, but she has also figured out that the only reason Keyoke did not argue with her like the others was so he could avoid a direct orders not to send back up.
Also, the Minwanabi never attack just once when they can do it from many sides. So where is the other attack going to come from? Little does Mara know, it has already happened.
On their way back, another patrol comes directly from the Acoma estate with word of the attack upon Ayaki, and the death of Nacoya. Mara is stunned with grief and guilt. When she finally reaches home, she throws herself into Keyoke’s arms and weeps.
She spends half of her first night home cradling her sleeping son, who suffered a cut to the neck during the attack, and the other half sitting vigil with Nacoya’s body. She promises the old woman that she will bury her remains with the Acoma natami as one of the family, and thanks the mother of her heart for protecting Mara’s beloved son.
“Her honour is dust if she’s dead!”
Oh Kevin, sweetie, you still don’t get the Tsurani at all. Still, the writing is on the wall that he may not need to put up with all this culture clashing much longer. I am really surprised that none of Mara’s enemies have thus far cottoned on to the fact that she has a slave who keeps picking up a sword in her defence, given how many witnesses there must have been by now, and surely it would be a good way to publicly embarrass her!
I’m also getting a little tired of Mara’s tunnel vision about how terrible it is that this one man she loves is also a slave and can never rise beyond this in her culture, when she has a whole bunch of other slaves that she never even thinks twice about. It’s not ONLY morally wrong because Kevin’s your boyfriend, Mara!
This is a surprisingly heavy chapter, with the fighting and the violence coming on top of a whole lot of gentle discussion about this mythical Lord and his imaginary marriage proposal. Poor old Nacoya, though frankly after a whole book of hearing about how Mara’s First Advisor is ageing rapidly and getting ill, etc., it’s pretty awesome that when she did go out it was in a blaze of glory, and by that blade they keep telling us is so honourable.
Obviously Nacoya was some kind of Black Widow figure in her youth, which is why she was able to fight the assassin off Ayaki…
It does seem strange that Mara should have been so careless of herself, out of what seemed to be mere politeness. There was nothing especially alluring about this particular marriage proposal to bring her out into the open as it did, and all of Mara’s previous marriage proposals were settled in her own home or that of the potential groom. So why exactly was she so keen to ride out for no particular reason? I don’t get it.
Still, Nacoya’s prediction about the dangerous spotlight Mara drew upon herself by taking on the position of Clan Warchief has definitely been proved right. Sadly, so did Nacoya’s prediction that she was going to need a successor really soon. She is going to be a hard act for young Saric to follow, wily old lady that she was.
On the bright side, Mara’s new First Advisor probably won’t be quite so pushy when it comes to discussing her sex life. So there’s that.
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!