Welcome back to the reread of Servant of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts! This is the final chapter but, never fear, we’ll be on to Mistress of the Empire next week.
Thanks to all the readers who have been enjoying the journey back to ’80s epic fantasy with me so far, and especially to the commenters who pop by to add the conversation every week.
This is the chapter that the Hokanu Fan Club (of which I am secretary and president) have been waiting for. Sorry, Kevin. We swoon for Hokanu.
Chapter 27: Beginnings
SUMMARY: The last chapter felt very much like a final one, bringing two volumes worth of plot to a definitive close. What is there left for us to be concerned with?
Oooh, kissing maybe.
Mara and Hokanu discuss the possibility of marrying each other, as his father hopes that they will. Mara proposes a more equal relationship than the one they originally considered, with both of them leaving their family estates in the hands of factors, in order to live and raise their family in the lavish estate formerly owned by the Minwanabi.
Hokanu is willing to enter into a marriage under those conditions—his main concern is that Mara’s status as Servant of the Empire means that he is greatly outranked, though she assured him that they would live as man and woman in equality.
Before he can agree formally, however, she informs him of her one month pregnancy and the circumstances under which it came about. She will only marry Hokanu if he promised to acknowledge her baby as legitimate—this one’s a dealbreaker.
To her surprise, Hokanu reacts to her revelation with kindness and generosity. He knows enough of the Midkemians and of Mara (and, by reputation, Kevin himself) to assume that the baby’s father was an honourable man, and he promises to love both children—Ayaki and the unborn child—as his own.
He reminds a shocked Mara that he was raised in a loving adoptive household himself. She is overwhelmed with gratitude that the gods brought this man to her at this time. They agree to marry.
A little while later, Mara and her close retinue of advisors including Keyoke, Lujan and Saric, transport the Acoma natami to their new home, the highly defensible former Minwanabi estate. Mara speaks with the priest of Turankamu the Red God of Death about the consecration of the land, and the removal of the prayer gate that Desio set up (but never completed) to honour his vow.
Hochopepa, one of the Great Ones who accompanied Tasaio here from the Assembly to commit ritual suicide, greets Mara and takes her to the bodies of the Minwanabi family before teleporting away. Mara is grieved particularly by the bodies of the children, whom she had hoped to save, but Tasaio slit their throats personally.
Incomo, Tasaio’s tired and beaten-down old advisor, informs Mara that while Tasaio sent out the call for all of his blood relatives to kill themselves straight away, he himself waited until only an hour previously, once he heard she had arrived. He wanted Mara to feel especially guilty about the deaths of the children, whom he would rather personally murder than see raised in the Acoma family.
Mara is devastated, and Incomo goes down on his knees to her, begging for an honourable death, as he is now her slave.
This is the point where Mara stops being sad and starts getting angry. She hands Incomo over to Saric to train up as his assistant, but lets Saric know that he would do well to listen to the advice of this old man, given that he gave counsel to the Minwanabi for so many years.
Incomo has something of a panic attack about this, not prepared at all to deal with Mara’s crazy modern ways of doing things and Saric is greatly sympathetic:
“When you’ve reconciled yourself to death, a new life is something of a shock, yes?”
Once the ritual farewell to Tasaio from his soldiers and servants is complete, Mara announces to the entire Minwanabi household that they have a choice—to leave as Grey Warriors, or to stay and serve her with their lives.
Lujan and Keyoke then launch into their old comedy routine, picking out family connections to the soldiers before them, however distant, to justify allowing them to live and serve the Acoma.
The first soldier to swear fealty to the Acoma natami is Irrilandi, former Force Commander of the Minwanabi, and Keyoke’s cousin many times removed.
Next Mara attends the family natami grove, taking her own natami to replace that of the Minwanabi. Since it’s a day for breaking all the customs, she chooses not to bury the Minwanabi natami, but gives it to a gardener to place in a shrine elsewhere on the property, with all due reverence to the Minwanabi ancestors and name.
As Mara returns to the house where the entire Minwanabi army have elected to serve her rather than die an honourable death or starve in the mountains, she sees a sign of the gods’ approval of what she has done: flocks of shatra birds, the symbol of the Acoma family, descend upon the nearby lake.
So far, being Servant of the Empire is pretty great.
COMMENTARY: As I noted last week, the end of this book is all about closure. You could walk away right now and feel like you’ve consumed a whole story—and this chapter only adds to that feeling, especially as it ends in a new natami grove as the very first chapter of Daughter of the Empire began with Mara attending a similar grove after the death of her father and brother.
Commenters mentioned that this was envisioned as a duology originally, but shifted to a trilogy when they realised how many consequences would eventuate from Mara’s rise to power. And hooray for that, because consequences are fascinating. It does explain why all the ends are being tied up here, though.
It’s not surprising that Mara is continuing her tradition of preserving the human resources of lost families with this estate (and its servants) of her greatest enemy, but it’s always fun to watch everyone else being surprised by not being dead.
I’m particularly glad to see Incomo welcomed into the Acoma fold, as his intelligence and humour come across so clearly in his point of view scenes, and I am SO READY for him to have a boss who isn’t likely to feed him to the crocodiles at a moment’s notice.
Considering that Mara has lost some of her best people in this book, it’s great to see her taking on some people with genuine skills and life experience that will strengthen her; not only Incomo but Irrilandi too.
But of course, this chapter is all about Hokanu for me. Have I mentioned how much I love Hokanu? I feel that I have. It’s sad for him that Mara will never entirely be able to give her heart to him because she’s just broken up with her beloved Kevin, but he’s being pretty awesome here, as far as non-romantic potential husbands go.
He has certainly learned from his prior experience where he came to Mara assuming that her family would play second fiddle to his own—here, he knows that she expects them both to serve their family honour equally, and the compromise of both of them living on the Minwanabi estate is an interesting one.
(Though, of course, it’s a compromise that works in Mara’s favour as she is the one taking on the Minwanabi estate as her own new Acoma residence)
Since they first started flirting with the idea of an alliance, Hokanu and Mara’s power balance has shifted several times. He first came to her with plenty to offer, but only as a second son; when he later proposed to her as first son and heir of his family, his own increased status created as many problems as it solved.
Now, Mara is much higher than he in the Tsurani pecking order again, but her pregnancy means that he also has something valuable and irreplaceable to offer as the husband of the Servant of the Empire.
As someone who was reading fantasy fiction in the 80’s and got very tired very quickly of many of the traits given to supposedly sexy and awesome male characters, can I say how much I love the respect that Hokanu shows here, not only to Mara as an individual, but to her previous relationship? When he kisses her to seal the betrothal, he senses her discomfort and backs off, because she’s just said goodbye to the love of her life, and he’s willing to give her the time she needs to move past that. Respect is sexy!
I feel at this point that Hokanu isn’t being compared to Kevin (who was the outlier of all outliers) but certainly is being compared to Buntokapi, Mara’s awful first husband. Mara is certainly expecting anger and jealousy from him, even knowing that Hokanu is pretty awesome, and her surprise at him being so reasonable is a bit heartbreaking. I wonder if she was half hoping he’d be a dick about it so she wouldn’t have to go through with a marriage after all? But of course, she is in desperate need of a husband right now, and Hokanu is hands down the most suitable candidate.
I feels like these two crazy kids have the best possible chance of happiness that an arranged marriage between two ruling families in a time of great civil unrest could possibly hope for.
But only Book 3 will tell…
Join me next week when we begin the third volume of the Empire trilogy: Mistress of the Empire!
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!