Spoilers! Spoilers! Oh my stars and garters, there are spoilers! And you can see past read along commentaries here.
This is the uncomfortable volume that I’ve been dreading revisiting since I started this feature. I remember thinking ‘what the hell’ when I originally read it but now my reaction is ‘WHAT THE HELL!’ If the other volumes were like a spritzing of some celebrity’s branded perfume, this one is like taking a blast of a skunk’s backside to the face.
It’s placement in the series seems rather discordant considering that in a mere two volumes Yuri has to make one of her most pivotal decisions in the entire story: does she return to the future or does she remain in the past and commit herself to the Hittite Empire for the long haul? It should be no surprise which way she goes as the series still has fourteen volumes to fill up, but Kail’s actions in this volume should have made it a far more conflicted decision than it was.
Strangely enough, this is the volume where the ‘explicit content’ warning started appearing on the covers and the volumes came shrink-wrapped. As if they were porn or something even though the back still carried the Older Teen rating. The artwork is not more explicit than it was in the prior books even though we will soon be treated to the mid-series sex scene that always cropped up in epic shojo fantasy manga. Just the odd bewbs and the occasional butt. I have no idea what brought this change on except for a lower tolerance towards sexier titles as Viz seemed to start shying away from the racier content. Another of Viz’s shojo titles, Celestial Legend Ceres, had a sex scene at the half way marker that was far more graphic than anything Red River ever threw it its audience (I always describe it as about pornographic as you can get without showing genitals) and it never got a content warning or the shrinkwrap treatment. But on the other hand, Ceres began its English serialization several years earlier back when manga was $15.99 per volume and the trim size was huge. Being a shorter series at 14 volumes, it also ended its run quicker and perhaps missed any concerns that manga might be corrupting our precious youth.
So back to volume 12. Yuri, Kail and their subordinates have Urhi cornered and arrest seems imminent. Yuri, still shocked from the news of Ursula’s death, is intent on forcing Urhi to confess to murdering the king and clearing her friend’s good name. She begs him to surrender and give up Nakia as his queen has abandoned him and left him to face punishment alone. Urhi remains defiant, willing to protect Nakia to the end.
He draws Kail into a swordfight, but it becomes apparent that Urhi is too injured to put up much resistance. Rather than be arrested, he dives into the raging river below. The current is so swift that everyone assumes he fell to his death. It will shock absolutely no one that he survives. Yuri snaps at Kail when he mentions that it’s a pity that they couldn’t capture Nakia’s underling. Kash tries to console Yuri by telling her that Ursula was at peace with her decision because she knew that Yuri would grieve for her. However, Yuri still can’t accept what happened.
With Yuri’s name cleared and Kail vindicated, the Senate votes to approve Kail’s ascension to the throne once he returns to Hattusa. Nakia, beaten back this time, doesn’t bother with blocking the coronation. The news is greeted with joy as Kail is well loved by the Hittites, but Yuri’s mood remains dark. When the sisters start making plans for her dress for the event, she declines to attend. Things have been cold between her and Kail ever since Ursula’s death. Her servant’s demise is only part of her reluctance to associate herself with Kail publicly. Yuri also wants to start putting emotional distance between herself and the new king as she still intends to return home in the spring. The sisters and Ilbani press her to put on a dress and go to the coronation up to the very last minute. She remains steadfast in her refusal.
Right before the ceremony, Kail convenes the Senate and makes a humble speech where he appoints Juda as the mayor of a frontier city. Nakia fumes to be separated from another valuable pawn. When Hadi tells him that Yuri will not see him take the crown her is disappointed but understands that her forthright personality will never accept the side of him that can make cold blooded political calculations. The high priest places the crown of the Hittites on his brow as the crowd cheers. When the people realize Ishtar isn’t there, they start chanting for her to come out. The noise reaches all the way to Kail’s palace. Yuri finally relents.
She attends not as a princess garbed in silks but as Ishtar, wearing a soldier’s cloak and sword. Kail understands the symbolism. While she will continue to support him politically, romantically they are done. She kneels before the new king, kisses the hem of his mantle and swears fealty until it is time to return to her own time. The art in this sequence is stunning.
Kail soon finds himself inundated in marriage proposals as foreign princesses and noble Hittite women set their eye upon the empty throne reserved for his queen. As the last king died without an heir, the pressure is fierce for him to settle down and take at least one legal wife or a new concubine. The lack of children has made some people question Yuri’s fertility. Kail tries to punt on this issue. Things aren’t any better between him and Yuri and with them now in the enormous palace of the king. With a seraglio large enough to house hundreds of concubines the vast empty space makes it easier to avoid one another. The chamberlain even demands that they maintain separate bedrooms in anticipation of the day Kail fills the seraglio. On the outside, Yuri projects that she is fine with their lives becoming less entangled, but on the inside she is suffering but believes this is the only day to keep her departure from Hattusa or Kail’s eventual marriage from crushing her completely.
Kail, also outwardly calm about all this, is having a difficult time of it too. One night as he drinks wine alone in his chambers, he reflects that Yuri has been with him for three years. Three years for loving a woman that he knows he must let go. He has a daydream of trying to embrace Yuri only to have her disappear from his arms like a popped soap bubble. Suddenly wanting to see her, he heads to her bedchamber in the middle of the night.
She’s sleeping within and Kail gets into bed with her. He kisses her and Yuri startles awake to find the king half undressed and pinning her to the mattress. She doesn’t react to this well and her struggles and entreats for him to back off, but it only seems to make Kail more determined to screw her. Yuri flails and cries but he outright refuses to stop. She notes that this is rather unlike him as he’s always honored her refusals beforehand and that he’s acting more like Ramses than himself.
At this point, I kept hoping against hope that Nakia had drugged him as she did with Prince Zannanza. That there was black mind control water in the wine or the scent of the flowering trees that Kail commented on really had a drugging effect on him. But no, we aren’t that lucky. This is all Kail. He’s in full control of his faculties and he’s beyond caring that he is betraying Yuri in the worst way possible. She fell for him because she could trust him not to hurt her, but not tonight. He’s got a boner and that takes priority over her feelings. The feelings of a woman who’s endured sexual assault three time. He’s attempted rapist number four.
Reading this is like a kick to the stomach. Kail is supposed to be the hero. It was established that for all his faults, he was a kind person that respected Yuri’s boundaries. Now he’s acting like a villain, all good will pissed away. I would not blame anyone who put this series down right at this moment and never gave it a second chance. I don’t know what Shinohara was thinking when she came up with this idea.
And it gets worse. Yuri’s shrieks rouse the sisters and the other chambermaids. They know Yuri is in distress but they are also aware that the king is with her. Interfering would be breaking the law as the king may do as he pleases with his women. Kail tells her the same thing to get her to calm down but it has the opposite effect. “I rule this country. I am the king. I can have anything I want and what I want is you!”
So much to unpack in this line. So much to hate about it. The power difference between them has never been greater. He is king and she is his just a concubine. He has full control over her by force of law, both as a man over his woman and a king over his subject and he is fully prepared to use that against her. This scene makes me mad when I reflect the interactions between Yuri and Queen Nakia and later Queen Nefertiti. Both of them make the point that men have complete control over women and that Yuri is fool for putting faith in Kail. He can make promises to her but he doesn’t have to keep them. Worse, there is absolutely nothing Yuri can do to stop him when she realizes that she’s been played for a fool. Her fate is rests solely on Kail’s benevolence and her station is subject to his whim. Part of the reason they both seek political power is to establish control over their fates, but their ambition is used as proof of their bitterness and villainy.
It reminds me of a similar plot point made in one of my favorite TV shows, the 2010 Starz series Spartacus. In the final season, a similar dynamic is explored between season villain Marcus Crassus, richest man in Rome tasked with putting down Spartacus’s rebellion, and his slave Kore. At the beginning of the season, Crassus gives every impression of being in love with Kore by treating her as if she is on par with his own legal wife. Romantically and sexually, he prefers Kore. However, when Crassus’ son starts abusing her, she decides to try to escape rather than test if her master’s love for her is greater than that of his own son. Crassus takes it badly and when he recaptures her it’s like kindly Dr. Jekyll transforming into cruel Mr. Hyde. He punishes her and has her crucified, all love forgotten because she spurned him once. The main point is that true love can’t really exist when one party has complete control over the other. However, Red River ultimately decides that this power imbalance is alright. Yuri will be okay because Kail really loves her. Nakia and Nefertiti had problems because they just weren’t lovable enough so no need to think too hard about patriarchy.
Back to this rage scream of a scene, Hadi finally breaks down while listening to Yuri’s screams for help and bursts into the chamber. She pleads with Kail to let Yuri go. At first he tells her to mind her own business, but he notices Yuri’s tears and freezes. Yuri jumps out of bed and Hadi wraps her in a blanket to lead her away. Yuri, badly rattled, stays with the sisters. Ilbani comes to lecture the king that what he did was really shitty.
Breakfast in the morning is really awkward, full of those uncomfortable silences in which unspoken accusations just seem to hang in the air like a particularly rancid fart. The sisters try to patch things up by encouraging Yuri to ask Kail for a gift. (At least it’s the sisters trying to smooth over bad behavior with bribes and not Kail) But it backfires when Yuri asks, as her gift, for Kail to send her back to the future on the first day of spring. Kail agrees. He knows he’s done bad.
Shortly afterwards, Urhi re-emerges. He’s alive and he’s teamed up with a small country called Arzawa. He leads a success raid on a border city and once more the Hittites prepare for war. Then Egypt launches an attack on the other side of the empire. Kail suspects there are spies in the palace, passing information to the enemies, and the first order of business to capture them.
A couple of maids try to win Yuri’s favor by getting her drunk and flattering her. She plays their game and when they ply her for information, she says that the king leaves documents with information about fortifications in her room. She and sisters later catch them red handed when they break in in the middle of the night. Later the spies are found poisoned in their prison cell and that they had a connection to Nakia, as they served her when she was a mere royal concubine. Kail increases the number of men watching her palace in the hopes he can finally prove that she’s acting against the empire. Yuri tries to follow an Egyptian man riding away from Nakia’s palace but when she catches him, he commits suicide before she can question him.
Since Nakia is feeding information to both enemies, Kail decides that he must divide his army. If he attacks one side but not the other, Nakia will only tell the other enemy to redouble their efforts on the undefended end of the empire. Kail will lead the attack against the Egyptians, and Yuri volunteers to attack Arzawa. Kail thinks it’s a bad idea since there is only six months until the morning star rises in the sky again and the campaign might cause her get stuck in Hattusa for another year. Yuri is adamant that she help him win the war, even if it means that she will never see him again before it is time to return home.
Kail relents as he knows she has the respect of his troops. He orders his most senior advisors and generals to accompany Yuri. On the day they ride out for their respective fronts, Yuri and Kail say their final farewells. Kail tells her that he has arranged for his sister, a high priestess, to send Yuri back. She kisses him one last time, the whole attempted rape thing conveniently forgotten in the run up to war. Kail gives her his headband as a token to remember him by. Yuri orders the troops to march for Arzawa, looking like a boss instead of a woman whose heart is breaking.
This volume is a rage scream. Shinohara introduced an element that should have necessitated some deep soul searching to overcome. Kail actions were nothing short of a complete and total betrayal of Yuri’s trust and yet it is swept up under the rug so we don’t have to dwell on how uncomfortable the aftermath is. Yuri’s love never wavers when this should have given her some pause. After all, a man she trusted completely abused the faith she had in him. For a smart person, she sure can be incredibly stupid. And Kail… I don’t think I can look at him the same way. He barely appears in the next volume and that is probably for the best. I need some time apart so that I might forget my rage!