Catch up on the previous installments of the in-depth Red River read along you might have missed by clicking here to go to the archive. I’ve collected all the links in one convenient place for anyone just joining the party. As always, I’m talking about these old manga volumes in detail so spoilers ahead.
In the last volume, Queen Nakia’s henchman slaughtered the caravan taking Prince Zannanaza to meet his promised bride in Egypt. They flee into the desert thinking that they will be rich men when they report back to Hattusa that they killed both the prince and Yuri. However, Yuri, despite taking an arrow to the back, still clings to life. Unable to speak or move, she watches helplessly as the sands slowly shift and bury her and Zannanza. She laments his death as it takes with him all hope of lasting peace between the Hittites and Egyptians. Aslan, Yuri’s scarily intelligent horse, is badly injured but gets to his feet and gets Yuri onto his back. Together, they brave the harsh desert.
At the Egyptian border, the delegation expecting Prince Zannanza’s party gets increasingly restless as he continues to be a no-show. The ministers are angry that the Hittites have insulted them by trying to back out of the betrothal, but Ramses, the military officer assigned to safe-guard the party, couldn’t be happier. He has no desire to see a foreign prince as pharaoh and has ambitions to claim the throne for himself. Tired of waiting, Ramses rides off into the desert looking to make a booty call on some hot Bedouin women camped nearby.
In just six pages this man comes across as completely insufferable. And oh baby, he is just getting started! Ramses is that guy. That freaking guy. The one that has no redeeming value and if society worked properly would be exiled to a desert island. This is the first volume he and Yuri cross paths and you will wish it was the last. For some reason Shinohara keeps bringing him back every two to three volumes and over the course of the series he tries to rape Yuri multiple times. Even though Yuri doesn’t want anything to do with him, Shinohara still never quite can seem to commit to accepting that Ramses is a villain. Late in the series, there is even an arc that attempts to redeem him and make him seem like a credible suitor for our heroine’s affections. Just thinking about some of the stuff he’s going to do later makes me cringe.
I do not like this guy. At all.
Nakia’s assassin rides into Hattusa, pretending to be injured and lies that the caravan was attacked by the Egyptians. He is the only survivor and presents an Egyptian arrow to the king as evidence. The fletching is different than Hittites arrows. The king cries out for war with Egypt over their treachery. Kail tries to keep a level head even though he’s just been given news that his brother and lover are dead. He’s instantly suspicious that only one man survived to tell the tale and demands an investigation. He heads for the border.
Out in the desert, Yuri and Aslan are at the end of their strength. The horse collapses just as Ramses rides by. She begs him to help her and tells him that she is a survivor of the prince’s party. Ramses just laughs, taking delight in the Hittite prince’s death, and rides on. Yuri follows him to a nearby oasis and pulls his own sword on him while he’s drinking from the lake. She attempts to threaten him into taking her back to Hattusa but he easily knocks her down. She clings to his leg and warns him that she’ll haunt him if he lets her die. After that, she finally collapses but Ramses is intrigued by her grit.
Yuri wakes up as Ramses tries to remove her clothes. He wants to cut the arrow out of her back before her skin knits around the shaft, but she refuses. This is only the time that his motives for tearing off her clothes are benign. As they talk as they ride through the desert, Yuri reveals that she is the woman the Hittites believe is the goddess Ishtar. Ramses, who has heard the tales about her even in Egypt, can’t believe that she is the goddess as Ishtar is rumored to be very beautiful. They run across some nomads that say that the Hittites and Egyptians are holding talks in a nearby city and war seems to be immanent.
Negotiations between the two countries quickly break down. The Hittites confirm that the prince is dead and demand justice for his murder. The Egyptians deny culpability and are outraged they are being accused in the first place. Even Kail, usually very measured and collected, can barely control his building rage and grief. Just before it comes to blows, Ramses and Yuri ride in.
Yuri falls into Kail’s arms and tells the crowd that the Egyptians are innocent of wrong doing. She points out the man, a Hittite soldier, who is true murderer. Nakia tries to discredit Yuri by claiming she’s gone mad from sun-stroke but Yuri has hard evidence to prove the attacker was fellow Hittite. Yuri tells Nakia to have the arrow cut from her back and challenges her that the fletching will reveal the truth.
Ramses realizes that Yuri is a cunning woman. The thought she was just being difficult when he declined to let him remove the arrow but now he sees that she was making sure that no one could say she tempered with the evidence. Reluctantly, Kail cuts the arrow free from Yuri’s flesh. It’s a painful operation and Kail has her bite into his shoulder so her teeth don’t break.
When the arrow comes out, so does the truth. It is fletched in the Hittite style. The assassin tries to run and but Urhi kills him before he can be arrested. Yuri laments that while they halted the war, Nakia was one step ahead and managed erase any evidence leading back to her as the mastermind.
An insight occurred to me in this scene. Nakia is Cercei Lannister. They were both political pawns their family forced into a loveless marriage. They both crave personal power and seek revenge against their husbands. While they both justify their actions as being done to safe-guard and elevate their children to the throne, that lie they tell themselves is eventually stripped bare to reveal the self-interest underneath. To top it off, they are as ruthless as a cobra.
After watching Yuri in action, Ramses is smitten and decides he wants her as his own. Kail comes over to give his gratitude to the soldier who aided his princess. This is scene is just so well drawn you can see both men sizing each other up and hear the note of challenge and smugness in Ramses’s voice even though you are just reading a dialogue bubble.
Yuri collapses and stays asleep for several days. When she finally wakes up, the sisters tell her that the matter of Zannanza’s murder is officially closed. Kail comes to her bedchamber and tells her that he won’t let the gods of the underworld take her from him. They celebrate their reunion with kissy face.
Just as things quiet down, a plague sweeps through Hattusa and many people lose their lives. Kail’s father, the king, falls ills. It’s called the Seven Fever because any who catch it are fated to die within seven days of the symptoms appearing. Kail wants to see his sick father but is turned away to keep him from contracting it. Nakia can’t run away from her husband fast enough and hides in her palace. For once she is innocent of wrong-doing. With the king on his death bed, Kail becomes the acting head of state to keep some semblance of order and normalcy within the government.
An Egyptian delegation arrives and Kail receives them. Ramses is among the emissaries and he has a box full of gifts for Yuri. She questions why he is giving her riches when she is a mere concubine, but Ramses, in his insensitive fashion, informs her that she has influence over Prince Kail. Since he will likely end up as king (the crown prince is so worthless that no one balks at Kail taking charge), making a friend of his mistress is a savvy political move. Ramses distracts the sisters by offering them gifts as well and when their back is turned, he surprises Yuri with a kiss.
Later, Yuri discusses the politics of succession with Ilbani. He says that Arnuwanda, the crown prince, is a sickly man with little political acumen. While Kail could still be named king if Arunuwanda chooses him as his successor since he has no children of his own, Nakia will lobby hard for him to pick Juda, her son. She’ll remain a dangerous political opponent. As Tawanana, her authority is separate from the king’s and she will hold that key position until her death. Ilbani warns Yuri that if Kail loses the bid to become the next crown prince, he and all of his allies will be assassinated. Yuri didn’t realize that the stakes would be so high but Kail overhears the conversation and assures her that he will protect her.
Just as Kail is trying to coax some sugar from Yuri, his attendant Kikuri brings the news that the king has passed away. Kail leans on Yuri for brief moment of comfort while he grieves but he quickly suppresses his sorrow and goes to the palace. After viewing his father’s body, he goes to talk with his brother who is freaking out over the prospect of becoming king. Arnuwanda is a weak man and knows it. Kail wins some brownie points by reassuring his brother that he will aid him.
Arnuwanda is crowned post haste and, as expected, the battle for the position of crown prince comes down to Kail and Juda. To shore up support for Juda’s candidacy, Nakia opens several rest houses throughout the empire to help poor people who’ve fallen ill due to the plague. Ramses has been coming to visit Yuri a lot and she is finally tired of dealing with his sexual harassment. She tells the sisters to kick him out immediately if he comes back.
Kail gets a little bit jealous that Ramses has obviously been putting the moves on her and notes that Yuri wears the jewel from Mattiwaza’s headpiece as a necklace. She says that she only keeps it because it is momento of the prince’s feelings from his sisters and therefore a shame to get rid of it. It has no great meaning to her personally. To quell his jealousy, Yuri takes him to her chambers and shows him that she still has the cuneiform table with a heart on it. It is her greatest treasure. Kail tries to get romantic and offers to have jewels with hearts on them sent to her every day. Yuri senses he’s trying to distract her from something.
Yuri wants to investigate and soon learns that Nakia has opened up rest houses from Kikuri. The prince was trying to conceal the Queen’s activities so Yuri wouldn’t be tempted to go out into the city’s plague ridden slums. Yuri is fine with Nakia’s actions since they are still helping the poor and sick even if done for self-serving reasons, but Kail and Kikuri were hiding another rumor from Yuri. Ramses sneaks into the palace and spills the beans. A woman claiming to be Ishtar has appeared in another part of the empire.
Yuri won’t stand for the imposture as she uses her status as concubine to get bribes from local officials. She is also very mean and selfish. Yuri fears that if her reputation tanks so will Kail’s chances of being crown prince. Kail is distraught when he learns that Yuri has gone out on her own to confront the imposture. Ramses treats it like a test to see just how savvy Yuri is.
Yuri heads to Katapa, a city hit especially hard by the plague. Dead bodies rot in the sun as vultures circle overhead. From questioning the locals she learns how grateful they are to Nakia and how badly the fake Ishtar oppresses them. She holds grand parades every day and rides through the town, flaunting her comforts to the suffering populace. Her guards force everyone to bow before her. When the procession comes by, Yuri tries to flag the fake Ishtar down but a soldier knocks her down with the blunt end of his spear. As soon as they pass by, the common folk openly display their contempt and resentment toward her and tell Yuri that they despise Kail for loving such a vile woman. After getting a look at the faker, Yuri realizes that she can’t outright accuse her of being an imposture because fake Ishtar looks more princess-like than Yuri.
She’s ejected multiple times when she tries to get into the mayor’s mansion but manages to slip in after being hired as a servant. Inside the mansion, Yuri discovers that Urhi is behind the fake. He encourages the fake Ishtar to throw her weight around and promises that the prince will take her as his concubine should he ever lay eyes on her. At the nightly banquet, the fake Ishtar suggests that they have the slaves fight each other for their entertainment. That is the last straw and Yuri confronts the imposture.
She accuses her of being a fake but it goes about as well as Yuri originally thought it would. Yuri gets smacked around and arrested. The volume ends as the mayor tries to force an apology out of Yuri. While Yuri was able to display her cleverness in the first half of the volume, the story that begins in the second half seems to hinge on her making some very dubious tactical moves. I can understand her losing her temper with the vain, conceited imposture, but there was really no good reason for her to head out into danger alone