Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
So Mara won the war and the argument and just about everything else—to the victor, the spoils. Or rather, to the victor, the exciting rewards you get to present to your friends. Surprises for everyone, especially Hokanu (poor, sweet Hokanu).
Chapter 33: Imperial Council
SUMMARY: Now that the war and the politics are done, Mara finally has time to reconnect with her family—especially her baby daugher, Kazuma, who has grown into a toddler while she was away.
Hokanu tells Mara how Justin came to him for advice on the wedding night, and he assured their son that he wasn’t expected to perform his husbandly duty with Jehilia until at least one of them came of age… which is 25, in their culture. So plenty of time to keep pushing each other into fishponds in the mean time!
Mara and Hokanu share a peaceful, loving night together, as husband and wife. In the early hours, Hokanu raises the dangerous topic of their heirs, and admits to Mara that with Justin irrevocably tied to the imperial line now, he has released Kasuma to be heir of the Acoma instead of the Shinzawai.
Hurt and enraged, Mara is furious at him for making this decision—and leaving the Shinzawai heirless—without her input. But of course, Hokanu is always thinking several levels ahead. His family has not been as gutted as Mara’s—he still has cousins and other distant family if necessary. Mara, on the other hand, has no one but her daughter, and who better to train Kasuma for her future as a Ruling Lady?
It’s clear that Hokanu loves and has great pride in his daughter, and Mara regrets ever believing otherwise. But for once in her life, she has been overruled.
Mara is devastated by his sacrifice—even now, Hokanu will take no concubine to realise his dream of fathering a boy to be his heir, because he loves and respects his wife too much.
The next day, the new Light of Heaven calls his inaugural council. Justin confirms that the Lord of the Keda will be his Imperial Chancellor.
Mara, still red-eyed and exhausted from her early morning ritual mourning those she lost in the war—Keyoke, Saric and Incomo among others—joins her son for the ceremony. Various members of the court are chosen as ministers, or dismissed from the Emperor’s sight, based largely on the advice of a shadowy man sitting close to Justin and offering him quiet advice. (Guess who!)
When the Ruling Lords come forward to pledge their allegiance, Justin declares that all blood feuds and enmities are to be abolished, with the Ruling Lords not allowed to fight each other.
(Ahem, that sounds a lot like that whole Assembly edict that Mara resented so much, and caused more trouble than it prevented, but okay.)
Lujan, to his utter shock, is called forward to be honoured for his loyal service to the Acoma and to the Empire. Justin and Mara, both grinning all over their faces, declare that he is to be a Lord in his own right, founding House Lujan. Mara offers him 500 warriors to start him off, including (if they are willing to serve) the men who originally swore fealty to him when they were grey warriors together. She also invites him to join Clan Hadama alongside the Acoma.
Lujan is overwhelmed by the honour, and accepts. He chooses grey and green as his house colours, to commemorate his past as a grey warrior, and as a servant to the Acoma.
Mara smiled in pleasure at the tribute. “Now be off!” she whispered to her gallant former officer. “Keep the promise you made me swear to keep to you in Chakaha. Marry a fine woman, get children, and live to a white old age!”
Arakasi is pleased to see Lujan offered so much, and mildly alarmed when Justin promises/threatens that his time will come shortly. Uh-oh.
The next presentation is much less fun. Hokanu is called before the Light of Heaven—and the lords and other dignitaries in attendance assume he is about to receive some kind of fancy honour. Instead, Justin informs his stepfather that Mara has petitioned for divorce, on the grounds that Hokanu and the Shinzawai are now heirless after he relinquished Kasuma to the Acoma, and Mara is officially barren.
Most awkward divorce ever! Really, Mara, in front of everyone?
Broken-hearted, but understanding the need to protect the Empire and their son by keeping House Shinzawai strong, Hokanu does not protest the decision.
All the witnesses are impressed at the sacrifice made by both Mara and Hokanu, parting for the good of the nation despite their deep love for each other. It’s all VERY Tsurani.
After that Justin calls his mother forward and formally presents her with the regency of the Empire until his 25th birthday. He also gives her a new title—and I know this one’s going to be a shock to you—Mistress of the Empire.
Later, Lord Keda is summoned to a private meeting with the Emperor and his mother Mara, who introduce him to the Acoma’s—now the Empire’s—greatest secret, Arakasi the Spy Master.
Or rather, former Spy Master, because he no longer feels up to the task. On a possibly (or totally not) unrelated note, Arakasi promptly calls in a prisoner—Chumaka, former advisor to Lord Jiro of the Anasati, to beg for his life.
Arakasi gives a passionate speech about how dangerous his former enemy is, and warns Justin not to pardon Chumaka and let him loose. He must either swear the man to his service or have him executed.
Justin passes the decision on to Mara who, aware of Chumaka’s involvement in Jiro’s campaign against her, and especially the poisoning incident which robbed her of a beloved child and future children, asks Chumaka to explain himself.
Chumaka, who apparently doesn’t have the survival skills of a bull-ant, makes a passionate speech about his love for the Great Game, insisting that none of his decisions were personal. He was in it for the win, because Team Mara (with a major shoutout to his nemesis bro Arakasi) was the most glorious opponent he could ever have matched himself against.
Mara and Arakasi are weirdly impressed by Chumaka’s gamer mentality and utter lack of moral centre. They make him the best job offer he could possibly receive: to run Arakasi’s spy network, on behalf of the Emperor.
You guys, I’m pretty sure we just witnessed the formation of the most unstoppable evil Empire of all time… woo!
After clearing out Keda and Chumaka, Mara turns her attentions to Arakasi, offering him the rather less stressful (and better dressed) position of Imperial First Advisor. (Justin is a bit crestfallen at this, realising that he will never get away with anything ever again).
Arakasi accepts, and Mara gives him the night off to attend to his ongoing courtship of Kamlio (who is running rings around him, having finally discovered her self worth). Arakasi suggests Mara give Kamlio’s service over to Lady Isashani, on the grounds that the sharper Kamlio becomes at deviousness and manipulation (political and social), the more equal their eventual marriage will be.
Arakasi is nothing if not self-aware.
In a final interlude before their new lives begin, Hokanu and Mara have a private moment in the imperial gardens, to bid farewell to their marriage. They are met there by Fumita, who is finally allowed to acknowledge his paternity of Hokanu now that the new rules of the Assembly are in place—and he brings Mara the decision of the other Great Ones, that they will abide by the laws of the Empire instead of considering themselves above them.
All’s well that ends well!
(But wait, we’re not quite done yet)
COMMENTARY: So many feelings, you guys. So. Many. Feelings. This is like the medal ceremony at the end of Star Wars times a zillion. We get emotional nods to those who have died over the course of the story—not only Keyoke and the other recent dead, but good old Papewaio as well.
Lujan will get to found a family, with greater status than he ever imagined possible! (His story had a profound effect on me as a teenager, to the point that I totally chose grey and green as my colours when I was in the SCA, many moons ago)
Arakasi and Kamlio are totally going to make it, but slowly and with a lot of work to get to a place where they can be equals! I am glad that this storyline has been wrapped up in a way that is hopeful and respectful, but doesn’t gloss over the problems they will still have to deal with along the way. Having said that, I would watch a sitcom based on their romance like crazy.
Arakasi’s not going to end his life dead in a ditch! He has a real job where he can use his brain and doesn’t need to disguise himself as a dirt merchant! As with Lujan, it’s rather delightful to see that some of Mara’s closest supporters get to live good lives rather than die in service.
Chumaka and Arakasi are now obviously going to be BFFs, instead of Nemesis Bros! They will meet for tea every Wednesday and have chess matches and oh IT IS SO GLORIOUS AND NOTHING HURTS.
I kind of love that Chumaka’s utter heartlessness is what gets him the job—as Mara says, Arakasi had not yet found his heart, which made him too vulnerable to continue with the job when he had his mid-life crisis, but Chumaka has already found a suitable life-work balance because he’s totally in love with his job!
Is Chumaka one of the first examples of an obsessive gamer in epic fantasy?
Awwwww Hokanu, you might have guessed that getting to make a decision on Mara’s behalf one time would come back to bite you. Of all the people to get the bittersweet happy ending, of course it was going to be Hokanu.
(Though I’ve got to say, in a culture that allows for adoption, with a character who had such a wonderful, irreplaceable relationship with his adopted father, the story has to strain credulity quite a lot here to get to a place where Hokanu and Mara’s divorce is anything other than clearing the decks for a certain red-haired barbarian sometime in the future)
The Magicians are sorted too, though again, credulity strained because really, it only took a day for them to reach this resolution? Come on, you know it would have been like three years of Parliament Question Time style “debating” before they even decided whether to consider Mara’s ultimatum.
Hmm, so what’s left to tie up next week? Anyone? Anyone? Any plot threads still hanging?
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.