Manga Read Along: Red River Vol. 6 – An Independent Woman

I am moving right along on these recaps. I’ve realized at 28 volumes, Red River is a very long series and I need a way for everyone following along to keep up in case they are just joining me or missed a post. For that reason I’ve created this master list of all my Manga Read Along posts in one handy place here.

When we last left off, Yuri accepted Prince Mattiwaza’s devil’s bargain to live in his seraglio as his concubine. As one of his servants leads her to her chambers, she tells Yuri that she is his 29th kept woman, one for almost every day of the month. Between them, the women of the seraglio have over 200 servants. Yuri expresses dismay at this but the twins tell her that Mattiwaza’s harem is nothing unusual for a man of his rank.  In fact, Kail is outside the norm in that he has neither wife nor concubine before Yuri.

This exchange brings home how much of an every girl Yuri is in many respects. To make her relatable, outside of the fact that she is a natural leader, she is rather colorless. She feels somehow disconnected from the world and it is easy to forget that she came from the future. This is the first time that she has ever really experienced something approaching culture shock. She’s taken exception to the violence of the past, but she’s never had to confront other things that might strike her odd. She hasn’t even expressed dismay at things like lack of running water or gave any indication that she has trouble coping without modern conveniences. In all other regards to life in the late bronze age, she has just seemed to accept it. Even the family and boyfriend that were present in the first chapter seem distant and forgotten. I would even go so far as to say that this story could have easily been rewritten to cast Yuri as a peasant girl who got wrapped up in royal intrigues and the story would only change minimally.

The servant tells her that Mattiwaza doesn’t have a legal wife and is resistant to marrying. She warns Yuri that while she will have free run of the seraglio, she must stay away from a chamber that the prince sealed off. Mattiwaza has killed eight women who tried to enter in the room. Yuri immediately goes exploring the seraglio and bumps into Princess Nadia, Mattiwaza’s favored concubine. Nadia asserts her authority and bullies Yuri for being of low birth (Nadia is a Babylonian princess) and talks about her appearance (again!) like she is some hag. Yuri thinks she looks familiar but doesn’t make the connection to Queen Nakia immediately.

Urhi plots with Nadia to come up with a pretext to get Yuri killed. They create a fake message where Kail promises to rescue her which they pass to her through a chain of servants. The meeting place for this fake rescue is, of course, the forbidden chamber where the prince will catch and kill her for breaking his rules. Nadia tattles and Mattiwaza comes barreling into the room with his sword drawn. He finds Yuri trying on the dress of the room’s previous occupant – his sister Tatukia. They have a passing resemblance to each other and Mattiwaza finds himself unable to behead her despite Nadia’s goading.

Yuri and twins realize that Nadia is Nakia’s sister and that the message must have come from her. Mattiwaza, who thought it odd that Nadia knew someone was entering the chamber in the dead of night, turns his sword on his consort. She wails that she wanted to get Ishtar out of the way because she is afraid of being replaced in the prince’s affection. Such as it is. Nadia was apparently supposed to become his official wife but he never married her because of his obsession with Tatukia.

Tatukia is his sister! Yes, it went there. He had a romantic relationship with his sister, going so far as to try to prevent her from marrying the pharaoh of Egypt. I know that back in the day before people knew about genetics and the perils of inbreeding, they thought there was something magical in royal bloodlines. To preserve those divine qualities, there was lots of incestuous marriages among ancient royal families. But still if Chie Shinohara made Kail this forward thinking progressive to make him likeable, she didn’t have to get that historically accurate with Mattiwaza!

Mattiwaza is about to kill Nadia, but Yuri intervenes and begs for her life. The prince agrees to let his consort live but he scolds Yuri for walking into such an obvious trap. He is taken aback that after she’s shown such cunning, that a mere mention of Prince Kail seems to cloud all her judgement. He doesn’t find Yuri beautiful, but he notices she has a strange charisma about her that attracts him.

Yuri decides not to escape the seraglio. She and the twins agree that they need to help Kail from within enemy territory so that they can aid him when he lays siege to the city. She gets permission to go out into the city and check on the Hittite soldiers who were taken captive with her during the battle of Malatia. She wants to visit them and keep their spirits up so they can be useful when the time comes to act against Mattiwaza. Yuri confirms that while they are doing hard labor in the slave mines, they are being cared for. During the inspection, Yuri comes across an injured laborer who is begging not to go to a rest house for wounded workers and slaves.

Yuri, not understanding his desperation, decided to check out this rest house. What she finds in a squalid hovel where the sick and injured go to die of filth and neglect. Being sent there is a death sentence. Yuri is furious that people are living in such conditions and goes on a cleaning rampage, roping anyone from palace guards to village women into helping her with the sick people. Her reputation only grows because her compassion and her praises reach Mattiwaza’s ears. He is forced to admit that she is an ideal leader and he understands why she won Kail’s love. Mattiwaza thinks that in time power will corrupt her because he is cynical and his beloved Tatukia became a tyrant after she rose to power in the Egyptian court.

Meanwhile, Kail is crushing Mittani defenses, doing in four months what should have taken more than a year. Iron is the secret of his victory. With the Hatti smiths hard at work, the Hittites can fit three men in a chariot – one to drive, one to attack and one to defend.The path to the capital is open and he presses hard to rescue Yuri and return her to Hattusa before the deadline to send her home. Yuri listens to word of Kail’s progress with bated breath and when Mattiwaza leaves the city to confront his army, she decides that the time is right to act. Yuri returns to the rest house, hoping to use the good will she’s cultivated to get a message out to Kail. She finds that Zannanza has entered the rest house by posing a prisoner of war so he can smuggle her out of the city.

Yuri rejects his offer to get her out of Mitanni custody. She says that she is willing to risk being trapped in the past another year if she can help Kail win the war. Zannanza is sent back to tell Kail that the city is lightly guarded and that if he comes before the prince’s return, she will open the gates to him with the help of the captured Hittite soldiers.

Kail’s army distracts Mattiwaza while Zannanza’s forces infiltrate Wassuganni with Yuri’s help. The capital falls. Mattiwaza comes roaring back to the palace. He’s knows he’s been had and the only hope for his kingdom is help his father, the Mitanni king, escape capture so they can regroup at a later time. Yuri, who can freely enter and leave the palace, goes to distract Mattiwaza and keep him and king in palace just long enough for Kail to reach the city. But she must leave Hittite custody and go into the enemy’s den alone and defenseless.

Yuri’s plan backfires. Mattiwaza tells his consorts that they are on their own and free to take whatever they can carry from the seraglio to support themselves. But he grabs Yuri and decides to take her with him into exile. Yuri fights him off. Just as the heralds come to warn Mattiwaza that Kail and his uncle, the Gal Meshedi or highest ranking military commander in the Hittite empire, have entered the city, Yuri jumps onto the back of her horse. She races through the burning city and is able to get one glimpse of Kail through the smoky haze. Before they can be reunited, Mattiwaza lassos her with his whip and takes her prisoner. Using her as a hostage, Kail lets Mattiwaza and his father flee the capital in exchange for Yuri’s life.

The Gal Meshedi is furious with his newphew. He believes the soldiers will revolt now that Kail has put their work in jeopardy, but the soldiers lay down arms without being commanded. They believe that Yuri is their goddess without doubt and put her safety over a decisive victory.

The Mitanni still have Yuri but the Hittites are energized from capturing Wassuganni and determined to rescue her. Ilbani tells Kail that after seeing her in action and how beloved she is by the people that he recommends that Kail take her wife after her rescue. Kail wants to, quite badly, but his promise to return Yuri home takes priority over his feelings. Four months pass. Kail follows the Mitanni to their new stronghold and enters into a siege, but he is keenly aware that time is running out. He has five days at most to break the siege and get her back to Hattusa.

Inside the city, the siege is taking its toll on the Mitanni. Food is scarce and Mattiwaza knows that the city will fall. The prince is close to breaking as well. He is normally a very collected man, his cruelty all the more frightening because it comes from a place of dead calm instead of anger. He decides to get revenge on Kail in the only way available. Sigh. By raping Yuri.

She fights back when he pounces on her, but Mattizawa has a strange herb that he burns. The smoke makes Yuri too weak to struggle. Outside, Kail gets an unexpected opportunity to break the siege when Nadia arrives in the camp. She begs Kail to let her join her prince inside the city. Kail allows it and wraps up in a woman’s cloak to disguise himself as one of her attendants. The volume ends on that cliffhanger.

This is another really good volume with a lot of striking artwork and clever schemes. Since the focus is on Yuri and her struggle to survive instead of her relationship with Kail, this section kind of reminds of the bodice rippers of old. While there is a torn bodice, people often forget that the heroines in those old romances were spit-fires that went on sweeping adventures in exotic locales while juggling a couple of suitors. The work of Bertrice Small comes to mind. I think her iconic heroine Skye O’Malley went through about four husbands and twice as many boyfriends in the first of the two novels that focused on her adventures across Ireland and North Africa. Although between Red River and some of the utter insanity that went on in the Sky O’Malley series, Red River is more grounded in reality even though sorcery and time travel exist in its world.

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