Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts!
This week it’s all hot girls and damp silk, as Arakasi infiltrates a pleasure retreat, hurls some concubines, and overthinks his recent one night stand with a honey-haired courtesan.
Chapter 13: Twist
Summary: After living as a beggar for a month, Arakasi has now finally made his move—he’s dressed as one of the Hamoi Tong, sitting in a tree in the Obajan’s private garden of his “pleasure retreat.”
The garden, apparently, is protected by fifteen assassins.
If I were an assassin, I’d be pretty narked about having to do sentry duty at my boss’s house. It’s not exactly the same skillset. Assassins are more proactive than reactive—right?
I am, however, imagining this as a kind of Hairy McClairy lift-the-flaps book with assassins hidden inside every bush, tree and watering can, which makes the whole thing a lot more amusing.
Arakasi is somehow able to drop silently on to the ground and sneak his way towards the house without being noticed by any of those fifteen assassins. I’m pretty sure ONE old school fantasy castle guard would be able to spot a man walking, however quietly, across the lawn. But I forgot, he’s wearing a black hat, so he gets away with it.
Briefly taking a break in a ditch, Arakasi muses about his plans, including the new backup contingency which is that if he doesn’t report in by a certain time, a new Spy Master will be appointed. Wow, imagine getting that job. I can’t imagine there’s a lot of pre-training, considering the levels of secrecy that Arakasi is always preserving.
Also, despite having his mind ENTIRELY on the job and also on his loyalty to Mara, Arakasi can’t help thinking just a little bit about his recent sexytimes interlude with the beautiful golden-haired courtesan Kamlio. No, my apologies. Her hair is honey-gold, not just gold.
Because she is delicious.
To be fair, it’s taken a lot of hardcore spy work to locate this particular place, once he collected a clue from Kamlio. He’s been hiding in ditches (Arakasi spends a lot of time in ditches, they are his special safe space), dressed up as fruit sellers, and working through his usual range of disguises and merchant impersonations.
I mean, I kind of thought Kamlio just gave him the location but it’s nice that he feels that he’s contributing.
The important thing here is that the Obajan is famously secretive. So secretive that Lords have been killed for seeing his face. If this was a TV series, you just know that the Obajan would turn out to be played by somebody famous when he finally turned up – a really excellent guest star.
As Arakasi hides in the garden, he bides his time with assassin-watching. He even at one point sees the Obajan himself—a large man covered in very distinctive tattoos. Because that’s a good idea if you’re trying to keep your identity secret—make sure you are covered in permanent marks that mean you can never pretend to be someone else.
Arakasi waits all day and most of the night. He only makes his move—into another tree—a little before dawn, as the house servants are awakening. He has done well to calculate and memorise the routines of the assassin sentries in order to get this far (typical assassins—your bog standard guards would know better than to be remotely predictable, surely) but from this point on, he is flying blind. He has no information on the inside of the house, the routines of the staff, or more than a rough guess at the floor plan.
He doesn’t even know if there’s a security grate under the eaves of the roof—though luckily, there isn’t. Once inside, he hangs out in the crawl space beneath the roof for the entire day in order to gather that information about where everything is, and what everyone does.
Worth noting at this point that Arakasi has not slept in two days—he is accustomed to ignoring his bodily needs during missions, and has taken the Tsurani equivalent of caffeine pills to keep them at bay. Which is all well and good, but I’m pretty sure that student doctors think the same thing, and it doesn’t always work out for them…
He is located above the women’s quarters, on the hope that the Obajan will visit his concubines. This proves distracting, as the female voices set him thinking about Kamlio and her intelligent eyes and so on. Oh, Arakasi. This is what happens when you ignore your needs for so long—something was bound to snap! Who’d have thought it would be your libido?
Stuck for hours with nothing to do but think, Arakasi considers this new danger to his mission—killing the Obajan is one thing, but killing him and escaping alive is all but impossible. He would happily make that sacrifice for Mara (though we all know that Mara would prefer him to stay alive, actually, it’s not like he is easily replaceable) but thoughts of Kamlio make him want to live, and escape his fate.
To Arakasi’s dismay, when the Obajan does come to the women’s quarter to choose his companion for the evening, he picks Kamini: Kamlio’s sister.
Arakasi listens in to the Obajan’s grunting and waits for the moment of ultimate distraction before he smashes his way through the ceiling and attacks. He misses the killing blow the first time, but gets an artery with his knife on the second. The Obajan is only able to reach for defensive weapons once, sending three darts flying into the air, but Arakasi dodges them, hurling startled concubines every which way in his escape.
He hides for sometime in the house while the frankly useless assassin sentries pound around looking for him in the garden. The servants, realising that they are likely not going to survive whatever interrogation is put to them, panic and flee the house. In the chaos, Arakasi returns very calmly to reclaim his used weapons before going on the hunt for the Obajan’s secret diary of tong records.
Most of the girls were unhurt in the scuffle but one was wounded by the Obajan’s dart and because of narrative irony, it’s Kamini. Arakasi has something of a nervous breakdown looking at her dying body, because it turns out she is Kamlio’s identical twin.
This is not going to aid him in his courtship plans at all.
Arakasi is devastated and, momentarily forgetting his loyalty to Mara, holds Kamini in his arms as she dies.
He then finds the tong’s records and escapes, with only a single dart wound he is then able to treat.
Arakasi honestly didn’t expect to survive his mission, but now that he has, he is already having flashbacks and he realises his mistake: the concubines recognised that he knew Kamini and that means he has put Kamlio in danger too.
Having spent his whole life sensibly doing without romantic love, Arakasi’s now pretty sure that the angsty ache in his chest is about more than just wounds from the mission.
Well. Isn’t that inconvenient?
Commentary: At one point, the Obajan is described as being entwined in hot girls and damp silk. That basically sums up this chapter.
Oh, Arakasi, you are in LOVE. What a shame that 9/10ths of your relationship with Kamlio is entirely inside your own head.
For all my mockery of it, this is quite a tense chapter and I enjoyed the detail of Arakasi’s procedure in infiltrating the Obajan’s private home. Still, the chapter is about more than weapons, tactics and the hurling of warm courtesans as if it were an Olympic sport.
It’s about the feels.
I can’t help wondering how Arakasi’s overactive imagination occupied him on all those other missions where he had to spend weeks in ditches or crawl spaces. Did he count sheep (needra), compose lengthy elegiac poetry, or run through football statistics?
But no, this time around it’s all about the honey-haired courtesan (who, we now learn, has intelligent eyes and is totally more than just a babe) who managed to capture Arakasi’s heart with some great sex and a few soulful, possibly sarcastic looks in his direction.
I also love the bit where Arakasi remembers his past disinterest in romance, and how he assumed that whole Mara/Kevin thing was just because his employer let her squishy ladybrain turn a good lay into something needlessly emotional. (I am reminded of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing saying “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I would live til I were married…”)
Karma, thy name is Arakasi’s trouser region.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy’s latest piece of fiction is “Fake Geek Girl,” a novelette at the Australian Review of Fiction. Come and find her on Twitter or listen to her on Galactic Suburbia!