In the third chapter of Battle Magic, Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn meet with the Emperor of Yanjing. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Battle Magic.
Trigger Warning: For slavery.
THIS IS GOING TO BE UNBEARABLE. It’s clear that at any given moment, our friends and heroes could lose favor with Weishu all because they spoke wrong. Or looked at someone else. Or wore an article of clothing correctly. I know that’s not the ultimate reason that they flee Yanjing, but there’s still so much I don’t know about this story, and thus, I’m riddled with anxiety as I read this. This is certainly not the first story about characters trying to survive in a situation where they’re out of their element. It’s a common theme or archetype for Pierce, and I think you can find it in a lot of her work. But for these three characters, they’re not even trying to live in this place. They just need to manage well enough before moving on to the next place. You’d think that temporary promise would make this easier to bear, but NOPE. NOT AT ALL.
The meal that opens this chapter is just another sign of what’s to come. As Rosethorn points out, there are too many actions that can result in execution within this empire, and yet she still tries to get Parahan treated better than he currently is. I admire that a lot. I also recognize what a delicate balance Rosethorn must strike in her behavior. She’s not the type of person to get a servant or maid killed for doing what’s expected of them. Yet she can’t stand to see Parahan’s abysmal treatment by those around her. As we’ll see later, it only gets worse. How are they supposed to tolerate this kind of culture for any length of time?
For what it’s worth, all three of them do a commendable job of just that. I always forget that Rosethorn excels at acting all royal and respectable, and this particular situation called for it. The best part of it all? This:
“Of course they did,” Rosethorn told him. Her bearing was suddenly as haughty as that of any noblewoman. “As did the prince. Do you mean to delay us further?”
I will be her when I grow up, Evvy thought joyfully as the eunuch flinched and minced his way past them, through the round opening. I know I will have to work hard at it, but I want to be just like her.
OH, EVVY. You have no idea. You have no idea.
So, let’s discuss the trio’s meeting with Emperor Weishu. HAHAHA EVERYTHING HURTS ALL OF THE TIME. It’s really impressive to me that with just two chapters under my belt here, I’m able to be terrified of the emperor without question. I hung on his every word, desperately hoping that he would laugh instead of turn against those speaking to him. That’s a fair thing to be afraid of! You know why? Because this is how he treats Parahan:
Briar looked briefly to the right of the throne. There Parahan knelt at the foot of the dais. He had been given an addition to his wardrobe, and not one that Briar liked. One more chain was fastened to the big man’s gold collar. It led to the throne and looped around the emperor’s left wrist.
It’s so blatant, y’all. That’s what fucks me up about it. He doesn’t even care about hiding how he treats his “captives” because HE CAN DO WHATEVER HE WANTS. He parades Parahan about because it’s a sign of his power. Thus, I worried. I worried when he would choose to use that power. When he started questioning Rosethorn, I was concerned that he’d feel insulted by her own power. Of course, I shouldn’t have underestimated Rosethorn’s ability to be gracious and humble when she needs to be. The same goes for Briar, who hilariously portrays himself as a humble, non-violent mage who just wants to study plants. BARELY ANY OF THAT IS CORRECT, and I suspect that Briar’s sense of humor was what won the emperor over. I mean, given how deftly he answered Weishu’s HORRIFYING question about the army, it was clear that Briar would be fine.
Honestly, it was Evvy’s moment with the emperor that scared me the most. Would he throw Evvy’s past in her face? Would he be offended that Evvy was a “former” subject and had not sworn her loyalty to him? Would she make some minor mistake and get them all condemned? Look, I don’t care that he behaved like he was “the very picture of an indulgent uncle.” I DON’T TRUST HIM, NO ONE ELSE SHOULD TRUST HIM, THIS IS A DISASTER. But gods all bless Evvy, who lets her excitement over her stone magic charm the emperor. It’s brilliant to watch because I don’t think Evvy truly understands how clever she is for being… well, cute. Truthfully, she’s nervous as hell. But she relies on her strength here: talking about something she loves.
But I don’t want to ignore a very important emotional aspect to this scene: Evvy is downright terrified of offending Weishu, and that speaks volumes of him and this whole system.
So, what does this ending mean??? The commander of the royal armies arrives, and the Emelan trio are quickly rushed out of the palace. Briar still wants to be able to report something back to the God-King, but what if this is about him? Oh god, I recall something from The Will of the Empress about Yanjing attacking Gyongxe? But I can’t remember it entirely correctly, so I’m not comfortable stating anything as fact. What if this is the start of that? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?
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