Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
It’s spy(master) vs spy(master) again this week, as Chumaka and Arakasi continue to take turns thwarting each other’s dastardly plans.
Chapter 16: Countermoves
SUMMARY: Chumaka, first advisor to the Lord of the Anasati, is playing shãh [the game that isn’t chess, just as chocha-la is not cocoa] with his master Jiro while delighting in the fact that his beloved nemesis, the unknown Spy Master of the Acoma, has activated his network again and is on the move.
He has not yet come to terms with the fact that he is Wile E. Coyote in this scenario, and Arakasi (or rather, the anonymous Spy Master of his dreams) is the Roadrunner. Beep beep!
Jiro is extremely cranky to learn that Mara knows about his super secret siege engine plan, despite the fact that he has kept it from even his closest allies, and that the engines are being built in the super super secret charcoal burners’ sheds in the forests north of Ontoset.
Worst of all, Mara has known about this for ages, and Chumaka has known Mara knows it for almost as long. He is only letting Jiro know about the breach in security now, on the grounds that “I tell you, always, when the timing is to your advantage.”
Oh, Chumaka. It’s one thing to keep your master in the dark and treat him like a child, but you’re not supposed to let him know that’s what you’re doing!
Mara has sent men to infiltrate the Anasati workers and, using a technique gleaned from the master toymaker in her employ, intends them to sabotage the machines so discreetly that the Anasati would not know about it until the machines came to misfire.
Jiro of course would have just killed the spies which is why Chumaka didn’t tell him before—he has far more complex plans afoot! Now they will not only prevent the siege machines from being tampered with, they will make sure Mara does not suspect that the machines are still working until it’s too late.
Speaking of complex plans, Jiro is also working towards the assassination of the Emperor Ichindar, Light of Heaven, with the whole army business as a backup plan for dealing with the Emperor’s supporters afterwards. He can’t openly start a civil war without the Magicians cracking down on him, so he has to be subtle about it. Oh dear. Subtlety is not really Jiro’s strong point, to date.
Chumaka is horrified to learn that the Obajan of the Hamoi Tong has been assassinated in his own pleasure harem—not only did the professional responsible for the stabbing escape, but the other members of the tong are now masterless, scattered to the winds as Grey Warriors.
Oh, and no one knows what has happened to the tong’s records, which would implicate numerous Great Families (especially the Anasati!) in a whole bunch of horrible murders.
This looks bad.
We now shift to the Holy City, where Arakasi is gardening. Okay, he’s waiting for a discreet rendezvous with one of the imperial archivists, but in the meantime he’s so committed to his gardening disguise that he is actually doing genuine work in a beautiful private garden owned by a retired imperial officer with dodgy cataracts. He’s got the wheelbarrow out and everything.
While waiting and gardening, Arakasi also finds time for a brief flail about how falling for Kamlio has ruined him for spy work by turning him into a real person with feelings. Damn it, feelings! He can’t even rake some leaves without getting soppy about it.
Still, Arakasi has been playing an elaborate game of kiss-chase with Chumaka (see you thought I was going to say shãh there but I went for the more obvious metaphor) by sending all manner of fake spies to fake-infiltrate the archive, only to then genuinely infiltrate the archive by encouraging an actual scribe to become a spy on his behalf.
He’s also brought the priests of the Red God and secret coded messages into it. This is hardcore serious spy business!
After several hours of gardening and dreamy thoughts about what career options might be open to a former Spy Master, Arakasi is horrified when two Great Ones teleport into the garden. Still playing the humble grass-trimmer, he throws himself to the ground in obeisance and is promptly ignored.
The Great Ones are waiting for Arakasi’s messenger, the poor scribe with a satchel full of purloined scrolls.
At this point, Arakasi’s only chance of protecting his mission is to murder his own messenger, but he hesitates for a second too long (that’s probably Kamlio’s fault too) so the kid notices a deadly knife gleaming behind the wheelbarrow and runs for it.
The Great Ones, assuming he has defied them, give chase and one of them—Tapek—is so incensed that he, well, basically thunder-and-lightning explodes the scribe on the spot. Which, as his companion points out with a long-suffering air, is a lousy way to get information out of a person.
They then turn to Arakasi, or as they know him, cringing gardener No. 12, and demand to know if he knows who the scribe is. Naturally, they reinforce their question with a whole bunch of Magical Truth Power Activate.
Arakasi doesn’t know the scribe’s name and thus is able to truthfully say so. Believing himself to be on the point of death, he thinks of Kamlio… and this saves his life, because the Great Ones read his thoughts and think it’s hilarious that in his final moments he’s dreaming of this courtesan he don’t think will ever love him.
Ha, in your face, Arakasi, your soppy feelings actually proved super useful this time!
The Great Ones decide that a guilty man would have been thinking of his master or escape, so Arakasi must be innocent, and leave him in the garden while they wander off.
Shocked to his core by the near miss, Arakasi silently confesses to Mara that he is, as previously suspected, completely useless to her now.
COMMENTARY: I am loving that the authors are about as enchanted as I am by the whole Chumaka-Arakasi battle of the brains, to the point that they are devoting whole chapters to their conflict now. Nemesis Bros Forever!
Jiro continues to be the smartest employer that Chumaka has ever had, but that is saying so little that it’s not even funny. Come and work for Mara, Chumaka! The benefits are excellent.
I do think it’s a bit odd that the Hamoi Tong apparently works like one of the Families in that the death of the leader destroys the whole group. If this is true, why on earth would the Obajan have killed his only son regardless of mission failure, back with all that chocolate business? Was that really his only son? What kind of reasonable assassin business doesn’t allow for the possibility of the leader being killed and replaced?
Oh actually I might have answered my own question there, as it would be quite tricky to get anything done if the assassins were constantly trying to off their boss. But still. It seems ill thought out, as business models go. Some sort of chosen heir system would seem to be in order. I know that no one ever dies of natural causes in Tsurani culture, but what if the Obajan had died of a heart attack in his pleasure harem?
I suspect it’s actually the loss of the book that caused the scattering of the Tong, because as Arakasi revealed in a previous chapter, it’s basically their natami, but I’m not sure if that’s made explicit?
Arakasi dreaming of being a gardener is an enjoyable new aspect of the Arakasi Has Joined Humanity And He Hates All the Squishy Feelings saga. He would be bored in a day if he had to actually be a gardener, but it’s cute he thinks it’s an option. It would have been a lot less distracting if Mara had actually told him what job she wanted him for next so he could relax and get on with his job knowing that he will be the Head Advisor of Dastardly Plotting or Headmaster of the Acoma School for Spies, or whatever, once his retirement kicks in.
Is it too late to petition Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurtz to totally write a sequel series in which Arakasi and Mara are running the Acoma School for Spies?
Anyway, I do feel he took the wrong message from this particular adventure—a spy’s worst nightmare must be having a Magician rifle through his thoughts, and Arakasi got away with it because of (not despite!) all his dreamy Kamlio fantasies.
And of course the big question is—how did the Magicians know to look there? Did Chumaka dob Arakasi in? Has the Coyote finally defeated the Roadrunner? I can’t wait to find out because, as with many plotlines in this re-read, I can’t for the life of me remember what happens next!
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, and she also writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter, sign up for her Author Newsletter, or listen to her on Galactic Suburbia!