Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts!
This week’s chapter is surprisingly untraumatic. I know, right? It’s like a lovely holiday from the grief, torture and murder.
Chapter 10: Interval
SUMMARY: Two months later, Mara is still physically weak, which is driving her up the wall. After all the work she did to slide Frasai of the Tonmargu into the position of Imperial Overlord, it now turns out that he’s unwell and possibly going senile. His authority is definitely beginning to crumble.
Mara needs to be in the Holy City, fixing this, and she’s still stuck at home.
Hokanu, meanwhile, is doing his best not to convey how adorable he finds his fierce, angry control freak of a wife. But seriously, she is adorable. She’s certain that the whole Empire will crumble if she’s not able to attend council, and she’s possibly not wrong.
Meantime, Lady Isashani (mother of Lord Hoppara, widow of the late great Lord Chipino of the Xacatecas) has arrived for tea, which at least gives Mara the opportunity to fret about her hair instead of everything else that’s going wrong in the world.
On the other hand—hooray, Lady Isashani is here, which means important intrigue is afoot and Mara can play the Great Game without leaving home!
She insists that Hokanu join them, because his pretty face is sure to win Isashani over. Hokanu earns extra husband points by not protesting the fact that he is being used as arm candy. I imagine he’s used to it.
Lady Isashani has many reasons to be here—not least because she wants some evidence that Mara is eating properly and returning to good health—but she also has to inform her that Jiro of the Anasati has been making overtures to Wenaseti, her late husband’s eldest bastard son. Wenaseti is loyal to his half-brother Hoppara, and rebuffed Jiro, but still…
Isashani also admits that her family have suffered several assassination attempts.
With Hokanu, the women also discuss the lack of matchmaking opportunities in the Capital—many young men are only taking concubines instead of wives, in the hopes of being considered worthy of marrying one of Ichindar’s daughters. Sadly, the Emperor has produced no sons. The unmarried noble women of the Capital are getting extremely frustrated with this situation!
Isashani’s visit has galvanised Mara, who displays more active spirit than she has in months. She is keen to meet with Arakasi and invites Hokanu to join her—to his surprise, Saric and Incomo are not included in the invitation.
Mara intends to ask Arakasi to break into the Hamoi Tong headquarters and steal their records, and she knows that her advisors would not approve of such a move. She, however, is sick of being held hostage by the societal fear of the tongs. Having lost two sons to the assassins, she does not want Isashani to go through the same experience.
Hokanu is concerned that Mara is paying too much attention to the Tong rather than their employers, and even more concerned that she is prepared to risk Arakasi’s life for such a dangerous mission.
Mara’s meeting with Arakasi brings further bad news—not only has he failed to discover who employed the Hamoi Tong to attack Mara and Hokanu, but it turns out there have been more assassination attempts against Lord Hoppara than even Lady Isashani is aware of. Arakasi’s agent in their household kitchens has foiled several more attacks by being ‘clumsy’ around tainted food.
Arakasi, who has been hitting a brick wall in his machinations against his annoyingly competent ‘Nemesis Bro’ Chumaka in the Anasati household, is almost relieved to get a new mission—even though it is against deadly assassins.
Six-year-old Justin, who has been entertaining himself by ambushing and “killing” the elderly advisor for war Keyoke all day, now does the same to Arakasi in a darkened corridor. Arakasi tricks the boy into returning quietly to bed, and reflects on how like his father he is—all brash barbarian impulses, red hair and a quick temper.
Arakasi takes a bath to rid himself of his most recent disguise, and considers his plans for infiltrating the Hamoi Tong and bringing down the Obajan—truly one of the most dangerous men in the Tsurani empire.
Piece of cake, right?
COMMENTARY: This chapter is a welcome break in all the doom, gloom and near-fatal woundings of recent weeks! There is much adorableness to be had.
Isashani! We’ve met her several times before, but mostly in times of great stress and for the most part we’ve been told more about her than we have seen her in action. Here, she is in her element, motherly and controlling and elegant, not to mention mind like a steel trap.
Mara needs more women like this in her life!
Continuing the adorable, we have the household’s relationship with Justin the ginger ninja, a feisty kid who takes delight in war games. We haven’t seen much of Keyoke in a while, so hearing about his ambush game with the kid is a whole bunch of awwww.
And as if there wasn’t enough awwww in our lives, we get Arakasi: dangerous, sneaky and ruthless, turn into a complete sap once Justin ambushes him. Cuddles, teasing advice and oh yes, he blackmails the kid into returning to bed on pain of reporting him to his nurses. Arakasi plays hardball!
We’ve seen a lot about how the loss of their children has affected Mara and Hokanu, but it’s important to also consider the impact of those losses on the household, who take such pride in their family and are sworn to protect them.
Justin symbolises what they have lost, as well as what they are fighting for.
A few mentions of Kevin here—Mara, at once point, teases herself out of dark thoughts by recalling what he would have said if he saw her throwing a strop about having to use a cane. And Arakasi is practically awash in nostalgia for his barbarian friend, whom he sees much of in the wriggling, pouting and slightly violent six-year-old boy he is sworn to protect.
Don’t think I missed the part either where Arakasi and Chumaka are still out-nemesising each other so effectively that Arakasi needs to take a break from the stress. Oh, how you suffer in having an enemy who is equal to your intelligence!
(Probably next week everyone will die or something, but this chapter was very pleasant, so hooray)
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!