Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts! This one’s going to be emotional. Damn those repressed Tsurani. Pack hankies!
Chapter 2: Confrontation
SUMMARY: Can we please refrain from murdering any more children in this chapter? Kthnxbye.
Jiro plays shah, which is chess. I’m hoping that this is the authors telling us through symbolism that as far as being Mara’s nemesis goes, he is more about calm strategy and less about the bloodsports and human sacrifice. Because seriously, I can’t take another Desio or Tasaio.
Jiro’s opponent for this particular match is his First Advisor Chumaka, and the scene is used to tell us several important things about their respective characters: Chumaka is the superior player, able not only to anticipate his master’s moves based on his current emotional state, but also to multitask: He sifts through the day’s correspondence in between moves.
As for Jiro himself, he is well aware of Chumaka’s superiority at the game, but trying hard not to throw a tantrum about it, because he doesn’t want to be THAT GUY. Which frankly shows a greater sense of self awareness than most Tsurani men.
Sadly, this is the only bright spot on the horizon, because Jiro’s thoughts are mostly consumed with Mara: his hatred and resentment of her for choosing his younger brother Buntokapi over him. That he is still so chewed up over this—and not the all-important fact that Mara also orchestrated Bunto’s death—tells us all we need to know about Jiro.
Chumaka wishes Jiro would get over it. So do we, Chumaka. So do we.
Today’s post brings some interesting news—of the assassination attempt on Mara, and the death of Ayaki, Jiro’s nephew.
Needless to say, Jiro is not personally saddened by this loss. Rather, he is a little too excited that the one thing holding him back from avenging himself against Mara is finally no longer an issue.
Chumaka’s theory is that the Hamoi Tong themselves might have attempted the assassination, either in service to the recently deceased Lord of the Minwanabi, or for their own reasons. It’s an interesting theory.
However, Jiro is so enthused by the strategic benefit of Ayaki’s death, that he has missed the crucial detail that Mara is likely to blame him for the boy’s death. Relentlessly optimistic, he plans to attend Ayaki’s funeral as the doting, grieving uncle.
On the new Acoma estate, Hokanu wakes early after a troubled night with his wife’s terrible, grief-stricken dreams. Today is the day of Ayaki’s funeral. Walking the grounds at dawn, he discovers former Minwanabi, now Acoma, servants Incomo and Irrilandi behaving suspiciously.
To his surprise, he discovers them praying, giving thanks for their lives and their opportunity to serve the Acoma—a ritual they perform every morning since Mara allowed them to live beyond the death of their master Tasaio.
Hokanu also discovers that these men—and many others of Mara’s household—are concerned at how she has been incapacitated by grief. Mara’s status as Servant of the Empire means she will be under greater scrutiny than ever before.
More than anyone else, it is Hokanu’s duty to help Mara show traditional Tsurani restraint in mourning. It’s going to be a long, hard day.
The funeral is a massive performance, and Hokanu guides his numb wife through all the correct formalities, including greeting the Emperor and the many high-ranked guests. Mara drifts through the interminable rituals as if in a deep fog, and struggles to remain stoic in the face of her son’s cremation.
Finally she is delivered to the natami grove, which only she and the special gardener can enter, as Hokanu is not formally an Acoma by blood or adoption.
Here, in the privacy at the sacred pool, Mara is able to give way to her grief and anger, rending at her clothes and tearing at her own hair in an expression of her emotional state.
Mara finally comes back to herself, feeling clearer than she has in some time, and returns to her guests. She only has one shoe and is covered with scratches and ash, but she is prepared to do her duty as host.
Unfortunately, the first person she sees as she steps out of the sacred grove is Jiro of the Anasati, being smug. With an inhuman screech, she physically attacks him, in front of everyone. Jiro rallies quickly despite the shock, announcing that the alliance between their families is dead, and he has the right to demand blood in recompense for the insult.
The description of overwhelming grief and dealing with the funeral of a child is quite brutal in this chapter. It doesn’t help that it’s a massive chapter, nearly forty pages long.
Daughter of the Empire started with death and grieving too, but the emotional depth in this chapter is far beyond what we experienced there.
These books have always given us the perspective of the villains or the people who work for them, but often all that has offered is a different view of the same events and information. This time around, we have explicitly been told that Jiro of the Anasati is innocent in the death of Ayaki, while Mara is convinced otherwise.
Of course, we’ve also learned that Jiro is a colossal asshole about Ayaki’s death, so it’s not like Mara is entirely wrong in her anger at him.
Still, it’s interesting that we are so far ahead of Mara and Hokanu in the information game.
Jiro is most definitely being set up as this book’s Big Bad despite his lack of murderous tendencies towards his nephew. It’s interesting that he was almost non-existent in Book 2, there as a pending threat but not as an active character. This is also true for Chumaka, who was one of our important secondary point of view characters in Book 1.
I will admit that I can’t always remember the different between Incomo and Chumaka, they are basically the same character type: intelligent Advisors who are unfortunately hampered with less intelligent masters. But I do enjoy Chumaka’s voice, and the trope of long-suffering advisor to a bad man which is used to such an extent in this whole trilogy.
My ears pricked up at the game of “shah,” a.k.a. chess.
Chess is one of those things that is apparently so culturally embedded in our psyche that most fantasy writers find a way to include it, either on its own or an otherworldly equivalent. (The other thing this happens most often with is coffee; Diana Wynne Jones once wrote a great short story looking at the way that caffeine-addict writers always put their hot drink of choice into their stories even if they have to come up with an alien name for it.)
Apparently the strategy game of shah is exactly the same as what the Midkemians call chess, down to the rules and the pieces. Which seems… a touch unlikely. Also it misses the excellent comic potential of having them find out a conflict in their respective rules halfway through the game. “I’m sorry, what exactly is a lizard-Spock gambit, and why are my bishops suddenly floating a metre off the—WHY IS THE BOARD ON FIRE?”
Still, chess is used in this instance to let us know that Chumaka is better at thinking and strategy than Jiro. The question is, would he win a game against Mara, once she’s back to her usual sharp self?
And should he be updating his resume for the inevitable fall of Anasati once Mara turns her angry attention to the House she blames for the death of her firstborn?
Only time will tell.
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!