Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
This is the big Magicians vs. Mara showdown! Naturally, it mostly involves people making political speeches in rooms…
Chapter 32: Emperor
SUMMARY: Imagine a sea of Black Robes/Great Ones/Magicians of the Assembly standing in the doorway with their jaws dropped open.
Careful, you can catch flies like that!
They burst into the imperial hall expecting to find the Houses of Acoma and Shinzawai caught in an act of flagrant treason. Instead, all there is to see is wall to wall Imperial Whites.
The Magicians have just burst in on a carefully-staged social event. If nothing else, they have to admire the work that the party-planning committee put into this.
It’s clear that something mighty and majestic has been going on—the hall is full of High Priests in their best finery, and they all appear satisfied with Mara’s presence here.
Just in case the Great Ones hadn’t figured it out from context, the imperial heralds give another shout out to their new child-Emperor and his Empress.
As the priests bow in homage to the imperial couple, the more pragmatic members of the Assembly—Fumita, Shimone, Hochopepa, basically—hurry to do the same. A few still resist the reality of Mara’s win.
When they protest, though, demanding to know the logic behind the boy’s promotion, the priests calmly detail Justin’s right to the imperial throne—his lineage from Ichindar via the adoption of his mother, Servant of the Empire, and his recent marriage to Jehilia.
Since the door is hanging open behind the Great Ones, some more uninvited guests appear—including some traditionalist Lords. One of them loudly complains that this choice of Emperor was not ratified by the High Council.
Akani, one of the many Magicians who know when they’re beaten, reminds the gathering that the High Council was disbanded by the previous Emperor, and never reconvened. The High Priests agree, making it clear that they believe all the essential formalities have been observed.
It’s water-tight. Don’t be hating.
The Great One Motecha, concedes Justin’s legitimacy, but declares that Mara is guilty of flouting their edicts, so must not survive to be the boy’s regent.
Mara stands her ground as she comes under attack, and is defended by… her cho-ja mages, of course!
The Magicians are horrified by this turn of events—but the cho-ja mages announce that the Assembly broke the original treaty with their recent attack on a cho-ja hive, leaving all the cho-ja in the Empire completely free to do whatever the heck they want.
The imperial hall descends into outrage and threats once again… but Mara has more to say.
Well aware that the cho-ja mages are exhausted and drained from the siege, she supports their bluff that they can protect her for as long as necessary. Confident in their “protection,” calls Hochopepa and the rest of them out for their terrible behaviour—notably, for the destruction of the hive, for the attack on her caravan, and for the atrocities they have concealed, including the regular murder of Tsurani women who show signs of magic.
Akani is the peacemaker of the Assembly, when even the previously-moderate Hochopepa is furious at Mara for her transgressions. But while his speech about fairness and the value of cultural exchange is very nice, it’s actually the cho-ja mages who diffuse the situation…
By brainwashing the entire Assembly.
Oh, I’m sorry, “giving the gift of peace” which erases the anger of the human magicians, making the whole situation a lot less fraught and noisy.
*Side-eyes the cho-ja mages who we thought were entirely out of mojo*
As it turns out, even under the magical happy time spell, the Magicians still want to execute Mara for her crimes. They’re just expressing themselves more politely about it.
Mara accepts her fate (again) and treats them all to another rousing speech.
“I have undertaken to change traditions that have shackled us into stagnation. I have seen cruelty, injustice, and the profligate waste of worthy lives. For this have I set myself up as a midwife to a rebirth, without which we as a people will die.” No one interrupted while she drew breath. “You all know of the enemies I have defeated. They have varied in their cunning from base to brilliant.”
She looked from face to face, seeing her appeal touch some of those before her. Motecha and many others simply listened. “Our Ruling Lords craved power for honor, for prestige, for the enjoyment of themselves, with no thought for the suffering of subjects under their sway. Our noble families and clans play the Game of the Council for stakes that spill blood to no purpose! To kill me in the name of justice, before my son has achieved manhood and can rule without guidance from a regent, would be to condemn the Nations to stagnation and ruin again. Our Empire will fall, for our flaws. That is the price of my death, Great Ones. That is the epitaph your justice will write on our future. That is the cost our people must pay for your privilege of acting outside the law!”
It’s that final line which seals Mara’s death sentence—referring to the Assembly’s freedom and power as a privilege rather than a right. As everyone watches in horror, Mara is attacked in a blaze of green magic… and survives.
The only explanation at this point is that the gods are on her side.
After this, we get a fairly anti-climactic discussion in which the Magicians, having accepted that the gods won’t let them kill Mara, demand that she be kept from the regency.
Mara disagrees, stating publicly that if Justin rules under her regency, then change is coming, and they had better stand aside—from now on, the Assembly will be forced to work within the law, rather than holding themselves separate.
The priests agree, offering testimony towards the past murders of magical girls. The cho-ja mages offer to teach any women found with power—going to the Assembly will be a choice from now on, not compulsory.
Speaking of choice, Mara draws a knife and makes a simple offer to the Great Ones—either stand aside and let her advice Justin as she sees fit, or she will commit ritual suicide to expiate her own sins in the breaking of the cho-ja edict. If the latter, Justin will abdicate peacefully… but the Assembly themselves must take on the responsibility of ruling the Empire, instead of throwing thunderbolts from afar as their whim takes them.
Bearing in mind, of course, that it’s hard to run an Empire as all powerful, unquestioned figures of authority when everyone knows you just got beat (by a girl) by an ordinary human.
“Those are your choices, Great One. Either administrate this Empire, or cease interfering with those of us who must.”
Faced with the possibility of a future full of paperwork and stress ulcers, the Assembly of Magicians concede to Mara’s terms, and leave her to it.
With that over, they can all get on with celebrating the new Emperor. Party on!
COMMENTARY: There’s a lot going on in this chapter. It’s highly satisfying to see Mara telling off the Magicians and challenging the privilege they have taken for granted for too long. It’s also a bit overwhelming to have a scene that relies on the distinction between so many Great Ones and I had a lot of trouble remembering who was who—Fumita and Hochopepa are long established, of course, and we’ve had scenes with Shimone and others recently, plus good old Tapek The Asshole, but Akani, Sevean and Motecha are suddenly given far more prominence than the narrative has allowed them before.
But never mind the ever-expanding cast of thousands, let’s talk about the magical roofie situation! The cho-ja mages cast a spell of reasonableness which surely is the only reason this day didn’t end in a bloodbath. But weren’t they out of power? And what’s the ethical line, here?
At least the Magicians didn’t all agree to Mara’s terms straight away, which would have been creepy—but it’s still pretty creepy! Did you experience a mood change at any time in the last week? Are you sure it wasn’t a cho-ja making you feel that way?
In any case, the real star of the show is Mara’s ability to make up kickass political speeches on the fly. She does magnificently, even down to her gratuitous bluff about ending her own life.
But… how did she arrange that whole miracle business? Was it another staged effect, or… are the gods really with her? I liked the way that they pointed out that she was pious and properly observant of religion, but this is Mara. I keep looking for the workings behind the scenes, to see how she pulled off this one.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian SF & fantasy author, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. Tansy recently completed a serialised novel, Musketeer Space, available to read for free on her blog, and her latest piece of published short fiction is “Fake Geek Girl” at the Review of Australian Fiction. She writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia or the Verity! podcast.