Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts! This week, it’s CSI: Tsuranuanni, with Detective Arakasi and Detective Shinzawai on the case.
Spoiler: the assassins did it.
Chapter 7: Culprit
Oh come now, Feist and Wurts, you know you wanted to call this chapter ‘Near Death by Chocolate.’
SUMMARY: Arakasi, disguised as a trader, intercepts an Acoma runner who has been sent to fetch a priest of Hantukama to save Mara who is bleeding badly after a stillbirth. Horrified, Arakasi takes off for the Acoma estate at a run.
At Mara’s bedside, Hokanu is devastated by the death of their baby and Mara’s own precarious health. Guilty for brushing aside her concerns (on the grounds he saw her as basically immortal and steel-plated) he pledges to release Justin to her as the Acoma heir.
Arakasi shares his suspicions with Hokanu that this is more than an unfortunate occurrence. He’s been investigating—Mara’s poison taster has fallen into a coma which suggests a slow acting poison.
That gives them a short amount of time to save the day. Arakasi has already arranged for a priestess of Lashima to provide a poultice to stop Mara’s bleeding—now he disguises himself as another priest to track down the “Midkemian” chocolate merchant and his retinue. To his surprise (and chagrin), Hokanu insists on coming with him, as there is nothing useful he can do by his lady’s side.
Hokanu wants them to travel quickly to Kentosani by horse but Arakasi is loathe to risk his priest’s disguise by acting out of character. Since they cannot credibly be priest and acolyte while riding a fancy horse, he decides he must be Hokanu’s prisoner—a disgraced priest, bound to the saddle.
‘But your word is sufficient. I will not see you bound.’
‘You will,’ said Arakasi, faintly smiling. ‘Unless you want to stop six times every league to pick me up out of the dust. Master, I have tried every guise in this Empire, and more than a few that are foreign, but I sure as the gods love perversity never tried straddling a beast. The prospect terrifies me.’
The ride to Kentosani is stressful for them both. Arakasi believes that the merchant will have left an obvious trail in the cosmopolitan city. He admits that he is glad Hokanu is with him, because for the first time in his life he is tempted to be reckless. Having his beloved mistress’ husband along means he will not take quite as many stupid risks as he might on his own—though he will not hesitate to sacrifice Hokanu for Mara, a sentiment that Hokanu heartily agrees with.
(If this were a David Eddings novel, someone would roll their eyes and say “Men” round about now)
Since they’re having a bro moment, Arakasi decides to trust Hokanu with the highly privileged information that he was once a Grey Warrior like Lujan and the others—that he was previously sworn to the Lord of the Tuscai. But his loyalty for Mara and the Acoma goes far beyond his relationship with his original master—he he devoted to her and deeply invested in the success of House Acoma.
Once in the city, they leave the horses at an inn and take on different personas—now Arakasi is a master priest and Hokanu his acolyte. Hokanu finds their trip through the city back streets enlightening, as he gets some insight as to how Arakasi’s mind (and indeed his network of spies) works.
Arakasi summons a leather-worker, Chimichi, by way of an emergency code, and learns from him that the Tsurani spice-seller who dressed as a Midkemian is dead in a warehouse along with his retinue—a footpad got hold of the gold chain and attempted to sell the links.
Time to check out the bodies, because Arakasi knows how to show his boss a good time in the big city.
At the warehouse, Chimichi starts a riot outside to keep them from being interrupted, whileArakasi learns many things about the so-called spice seller: he and his men were strangled, he was a member of the Hamoi Tong, and while this whole situation doesn’t feel like something Jiro of the Anasati would have set in motion, they were meant to believe that he did.
They find the poison vial that killed the assassin, and Arakasi explains that the green glass indicates an antidote—so the spice-seller drank the same poison as Mara deliberately to throw off suspicion, then met death instead of salvation from the hand of someone he trusted.
This poison will not help them, but the maker’s mark on the vial will—it is an apothecary that Arakasi knows. Now all they have to do is avoid Chimichi’s riot and question the apothecary. The game is afoot, my dear Hokanu!
COMMENTARY: Another chapter that is mostly about major events in Mara’s life through the eyes of the men who love her rather than Mara herself.
Having said that, the Hokanu-Arakasi bromance road trip is pretty awesome, and I have no complaints. Everything about their interaction is great—and I particularly enjoy that Hokanu is careful not to stretch their master-servant relationship beyond the honorary. He is well aware that it is only convention that allows him any power over Arakasi, who serves his wife’s family and not his own. So Hokanu has the courtesy to beg rather than throw orders around, when imposing himself on Arakasi’s mission.
It is possibly the most polite bromance road trip in the history of pop culture.
‘You’re lying,’ the Shinzawai accused, affection in his tone robbing the words of insult. ‘You have ice water for blood, and if you weren’t so inept with a sword you would have made a formidable commander of armies.’
‘Fetch out some rope,’ Arakasi replied succinctly. ‘I am going to instruct you how sailors make knots, Master Hokanu. And for both of our sakes, I hope you will tie them tightly.’
The detective work is fun, even if it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know from the previous chapter (the curse of the multi-POV perspective). A bit of fantasy/historical CSI is always entertaining, though, and with the clock ticking it’s good to know that the Acoma-Shinzawai boys are on the case.
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. She is also the co-editor of Cranky Ladies of History (Fablecroft). Come and find her on Twitter!