There is a simple explanation. Remember, a large part of a Hero or Superhero's power is supposed to be from his retinue; get too near an enemy and you both become simple humans. The boy put his Geas-derived powers in his Scean Dhu (or however it is spelled. Pronounced like "Ski un Do", sort of, it is a small bootknife worn in the gartar or socks of a formal Scot's attire), and then the Emperor got too close to the beardless boy.
I am picturing a scene much like Samson in the Philistine temple, here. The Household was defeated, Boldhome all but conquered, and Harsaltar brought in chains to the Imperial Presence to do a formal surrender, and no one notices the bit of jewelry on his pant leg until too late.
Real World equivalent would probably be in the aftermath of the Danish King Hralf Kraki's defeat by his brother-in-law. According to the version that I read (and Anderson is usually fairly accurate on these things) the victorious King asked if there was anyone left from Hralf's court, so that they could make peace. The only survivor was the cook, who was seated on the High Seat right by the new king. He then was able to kill the new king with a kitchen knife before his guards could intervene. (Was this the inspiration for or genesis of Beat-Pot, BTW?)
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