Welcome back to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I summarize and comment on various works of Lois McMaster Bujold in her saga of the Vorkosigans. This week, I take you through two more chapters of Barrayar, by some reckonings the second book in the series. This isn’t exactly the “Good Parts” Version, since quite frankly they’re almost all good parts, or at least they are when you can read Ms. Bujold’s own prose as opposed to my own hamhanded synopses, where I often sacrifice well-crafted prose for whatever I can toss off quickly.
Now let’s get on with it! I mean it! (Anybody want a peanut?)
Hours later, they meet up with Kly and his horse, who says that he narrowly avoided getting taken at a house he was delivering mail to. Apparently Vordarian’s men are using fast-penta to interrogate everyone they can find in the hills. He’d sent his niece’s husband to try to fetch them, but found Vordarian’s men already at his house. He was encouraged, though, when they continued searching. He offers to put Gregor on his horse, but Bothari says Cordelia needs the rest more, and she discovers that he’s right. Bothari brings Kly up to date, and Kly particularly appreciates getting the soldiers lost in the cave; Bothari tells him that it was Cordelia’s idea, and Cordelia says she was just trying to use up some of Vordarian’s finite resources.
Kly takes them to his niece Sonia’s house, which he says has already been searched; Vordarian’s men aren’t done enough to recheck yet, and they’re still searching the lake as well. Bothari’s feet are in awful shape under his boots, and Cordelia and Gregor’s shoes are mostly destroyed. Exhausted, Cordelia lets herself be fed and put to bed.
The next morning, a ten-year-old boy appears leading Kly’s other horse; Kly says that the boy only knows that the mailman needs his remount, and Cordelia is horrified that they would have used fast-penta on him. Kly says that they’re desperate to find Gregor, that Vordarian’s whole coup can collapse if he doesn’t. Kly says he has to keep to his schedule, so that Count Piotr can contact him, and he warns them to stay inside and out of sight.
They spend four days with Sonia and her husband, doing very little. Cordelia has one bath, and regrets it because the couple, somewhat elderly themselves, have to haul and heat the wood themselves. The couple are laconic, so conversation amounts to little. Sonia brings in trickles of outside news, that Hassadar is mostly closed but a few manage to escape, that the lake search has been nearly abandoned, that most of Piotr’s armsmen’s hostages have escaped, and that for some reason Karla Hysopi was taken as well.
Cordelia froze. “Did they take the baby, too?”
“Baby? Donnia didn’t say about a baby. Grandchild, was it?”
Bothari was sitting by the window sharpening his knife on Sonia’s kitchen whetstone. His hand paused in mid-stroke. He looked up to meet Cordelia’s alarmed eyes. Beyond a tightening of his jaw his face did not change expression, yet the sudden increase of tension in his body made Cordelia’s stomach knot. He looked back down at what he was doing, and took a longer, firmer stroke that hissed along the whetstone like water on coals.
“Maybe . . . Kly will know something more, when he comes back,” Cordelia quavered.
“Belike,” said Sonia doubtfully.
When Kly does return, he brings Armsman Esterhazy with him, in hillman disguise. He tells them that Aral and Piotr want to keep Gregor in the mountains, since Vordarian is apparently beginning to think that Gregor isn’t there at all. They’ve also given up on finding Cordelia in the caves, and as soon as they finish finding all the lost soldiers, they’ll pull out. Kly tells Gregor that he’s going to pretend that Esterhazy is his father, and that he has a new name. Gregor is doubtful when he hears that Cordelia isn’t coming with him, but Kly tells him that there are goats, and he doesn’t complain further. Esterhazy and Gregor set out the next morning.
Cordelia said anxiously, “Take care of him, Armsman.”
Esterhazy gave her a driven look. “He’s my Emperor, Milady. He holds my oath.”
“He’s also a little boy, Armsman. Emperor is . . . a delusion you all have in your heads. Take care of the Emperor for Piotr, yes, but you take care of Gregor for me, eh?”
Esterhazy met her eyes. His voice softened. “My little boy is four, Milady.”
He did understand, then. Cordelia swallowed relief and grief.
Cordelia asks Kly, while Bothari is out of earshot, about Karla Hysopi. Kly tells her that they were looking for the baby, and took Mrs. Hysopi when she protested. He says that Esterhazy told Bothari the night before.
Three more days pass while Kly’s nephew leads Cordelia and Bothari through the mountains, until they reach a man with a rickety lightflyer loaded with maple syrup. He flies them to a market town, where he barters his syrup for supplies, and then trades Cordelia and Bothari to a groundtruck loaded with cabbages. Hours later the truck drops them off near a kilometer marker. Finally, in the night, a lightflyer comes down to pick them up, which proves to contain Kou and Drou. As they take off, Cordelia notices an escort of military flyers shadowing them.
Cordelia is happy to see them, though she quickly discerns that they have not yet resolved their personal issues. They tell her that the guard corporal was interrogated with fast-penta and confessed to sabotaging the comconsole, as well as passing information to Vordarian that made the sonic grenade attack possible, though he knew nothing about the soltoxin. Illyan hasn’t managed to get out the capital yet; Cordelia starts to tell them about Gregor, but Koudelka stops her and says that she’s not supposed to tell anyone except Aral and Piotr about him. She asks about the baby, and Drou says that they’ve heard nothing one way or the other; he hasn’t been listed on Vordarian’s lists of hostages.
According to Koudelka, the overall situation is that Vordarian has five Counts who are staunch supporters, and about thirty more who may be nothing more than his captives; most of the rest have reaffirmed their allegiance to the Regent. The space forces, who receive half their supplies from Vordarian’s shuttleports, have refused to commit one way or the other. He says that Aral’s opinion is that Vordarian lost the moment he let Gregor get away, but he still holds Princess Kareen.
They land at a military base, and are escorted to an underground bunker which makes Cordelia homesick for Beta Colony’s better-decorated tunnels. She is brought to Aral, and they embrace fiercely. He tells her to go to sickbay as soon as she can; Bothari wants to report in to the Count, but Aral says the Count is on a diplomatic mission and Bothari should report to him instead.
“Bothari was amazing,” Cordelia confided to Aral. “No—that’s unjust. Bothari was Bothari, and I shouldn’t have been amazed at all. We wouldn’t have made it without him.”
Aral nodded, smiling a little. “I thought he would do for you.”
“He did indeed.”
Aral asks if Cordelia has heard the situation, and she asks for more details. Aral says that the Vorpatrils have not yet been captured, but haven’t escaped either, so are probably also still hiding out in the capital. He says that they can get a lot of data from Vordarian’s side, but wonders if their own side is as porous, since everyone seems to have friends and family on the other side.
A man comes looking for Aral, bringing him a Colonel Gerould to report in. Aral sends Cordelia off with Drou to get whatever she needs. As she is leaving, she hears Aral berating the Colonel for tying a ribbon to his arm, to help distinguish their man from Vordarian’s; Aral says that Vordarian is the traitor and should be the one to use a different uniform.
At the infirmary, Cordelia has some difficulty making the doctor understand her situation, since they have no access to her medical records. She tries to explain the placental transfer operation, then gives up.
“I gave birth by surgical section. It did not go well.”
“I see. Five weeks post-partum.” He made a note. “And what is your present complaint?”
I don’t like Barrayar, I want to go home, my father-in-law wants to murder my baby, half my friends are running for their lives, and I can’t get ten minutes alone with my husband, whom you people are consuming before my eyes, my feet hurt, my head hurts, my soul hurts . . . it was all too complicated. The poor man just wanted something to put in his blank, not an essay. “Fatigue,” Cordelia managed at last.
“Ah.” He brightened, and entered this factoid on his report panel. “Post-partum fatigue. This is normal.” He looked up and regarded her earnestly. “Have you considered starting an exercise program, Lady Vorkosigan?”
So if “fast-penta” is a verb, what is its past tense? “fast-pentaed”? “fast-penta’d”? “fast-penta’ed”? Yeah, I don’t know either, so I tried to arrange my sentences not to include it. Doesn’t English have any other verbs ending in “a”, whose past tense is commonly use in writing? The only ones I could think of offhand were Spanish imports like “rhumba” and “samba”.
Anyway, Cordelia finally manages to return to civilization and familiar characters, and more importantly, find out more about what’s going on, so there’s that. Bujold went to enough effort that I am convinced that they legitimately managed to escape from Vordarian’s searchers without having to suspend my disbelief too far, I do admit. Though now I’m wondering about how well Esterhazy and Gregor’s masquerade is going to work if they do get…uh, if someone fast-pentas them. I guess they can hide somewhere they’ve already searched, but still…
Also, Vordarian did turn out to be behind at least the sonic grenade attack, if not necessarily the soltoxin. Was he just trying to frame the Cetagandans, or was this deliberate misinformation planted by a suborned ImpSec man? Or something in between, like laziness and a readiness to believe them the source of all sinister plots?
Apparently, in the last installment, I misidentified the cabin that they were staying at at the end there as Klyeuvi’s niece’s, which in fact it was Klyeuvi’s own shack. I apologize for the confusion, but at least nobody pointed it out. I’m going to leave it up for now, though, like my earlier goof about the identity of the guy who shot whatshisname with the nerve disrupter in the first chapters of Shards of Honour.
Another doctor without a name, but since his only role here is to be clueless comic relief, I guess that’s all right. (In the next chapter it turns out that one of Aral’s major motivations for sending Cordelia to the doctor was to get her cleared for sex. Heh.)
Over a rare dinner alone with her husband, Cordelia asks who exactly Vordarian’s troops are. Aral explains that most of them are soldiers whose commanding officers chose Vordarian’s side, who haven’t mustered the courage to desert their units, which their training makes them unlikely to do in any case. He says that it’s only treason if they lose anyway, and as long as he and Gregor remain alive, Vordarian cannot win. Cordelia asks why he doesn’t just bring Gregor out now, and Aral says he wants to woo more of Vordarian’s troops away from him first. Vordarian doesn’t seem to be making much progress, going for strategic military points rather than trying to win over the minds of the people. Aral wishes that he could have Kanzian, an experienced space commander who is still unaccounted for. He says he’s considered moving his base into space, one reason he wanted to hold the shuttleport, but he feels it could be interpreted as a retreat.
Cordelia asks about hostages, thinking about baby Miles; Aral says that Vorbarr Sultana itself is a type of hostage, since Vordarian could threaten to destroy it. They have discussed the possibility of rescue raids, but the time is not ripe, so they’d rather sacrifice them instead.
“Even Kareen?” All the hostages? Even the tiniest?
“Even Kareen. She is Vor. She understands.”
“The surest proof I am not Vor,” said Cordelia glumly. “I don’t understand any of this . . . stylized madness. I think you should all be in therapy, every last one of you.”
He smiled slightly. “Do you think Beta Colony could be persuaded to send us a battalion of psychiatrists as humanitarian aid? The one you had that last argument with, perhaps?”
Cordelia snorted. Well, Barrayaran history did have a sort of weird dramatic beauty, in the abstract, at a distance. A passion play. It was close-up that the stupidity of it all became more palpable, dissolving like a mosaic into meaningless squares.
Cordelia asks if they are taking hostages themselves, and Aral says they’re not; they need the moral high ground. Vordarian is neglecting the “plebes” in favour of the upper class, which is the wrong side, numerically. Both sides have sufficient raw power, but Aral has right and legitimacy on his side, which Vordarian is trying to undermine with rumours that Aral has disposed of Gregor to seek the throne himself. He admits that Vordarian could still win, if he gets his hands on Aral and Gregor, but it would likely lead to a long era of instability as people try to seize the throne and take petty revenges.
The next few days, Cordelia explores her new surroundings with Drou. Bothari spends much of his time exercising, having nothing to do until the Count returns, and having trouble sleeping as well. She tries to keep up with the news reports on the war, but finds them too depressing.
After three days, Illyan arrives with Kanzian. Cordelia goes to see the debriefing; Illyan has been hiding out in the capital much as Cordelia did in the mountains. Kanzian seems to be confident that he can talk around some of the space commanders, like Admiral Knollys, who’s been avoiding communications with Aral, once he points out how little chance Vordarian has.
Cordelia asks Illyan if he’s had any news of her baby, but he hasn’t. Illyan asks in turn about Negri’s death, which Aral confirms; he does say that Gregor is fine, but doesn’t tell Illyan where. Aral tells Illyan that after sickbay his job is to start taking apart ImpSec and putting it back together, as its new head. Captain Illyan is daunted by his new duties, but cannot refuse.
After that, the new arrivals at Tanery Base increase in pace, including Prime Minister Vortala, who escaped from Vordarian’s house arrest. One day Aral summons her to watch a vid that Vordarian has just broadcast, with Kanzian, Vortala, and other staffers present. It cuts between Vordarian and Princess Kareen, in the Imperial Residence, and the Council of Counts. The Lord Guardian is reading an obviously prepared statement, though subtly distancing himself from it, denouncing Aral for Gregor’s murder and appointing Vordarian as Regent and Prime Minister, though Vortala spots that he doesn’t have a quorum of the Counts.
Aral wants Cordelia to pay attention to Kareen, though, as Vordarian announces his engagement to the Princess; she remains calm and serene even when displaying the ring. Aral asks Cordelia if she can tell him anything about Kareen’s state of mind. Cordelia watches it again and says that she doesn’t look drugged or coerced; likely she is just trying to make the best of her situation.
Cordelia went on, “Vordarian’s been controlling her access to information, surely. She may even be convinced he’s winning. She’s a survivor; she’s survived Serg and Ezar, so far. Maybe she means to survive you and Vordarian both. Maybe the only revenge she thinks she’ll ever get is to live long enough to spit on all your graves.”
One of the staff officers muttered, “But she’s Vor. She should have defied him.”
Cordelia favored him with a glittery grin. “Oh, but you never know what any Barrayaran woman thinks by what she says in front of Barrayaran men. Honesty is not exactly rewarded, you know.”
The staffer gave her an unsettled look. Drou smiled sourly. Vorkosigan blew out his breath. Koudelka blinked.
Cordelia continues to wonder about Kareen later, pondering their similarities, as she turns Gregor’s shoe over in her hands. She is interrupted by a call from Major Sircoj, a duty officer at the entrance, who says a man who has a conditioned sensitivity to fast-penta, so they can’t interrogate him without killing him, has arrived asking to see her. Cordelia asks if he’s carrying a large metal object, but Sircoj says he has nothing except his clothes, and says his name is Vaagen. Cordelia says she will see him, though Sircoj protests that it’s not safe. She and Drou run down to the portal security, collecting herself before asking to see Major Sircoj. After some negotiation, Sircoj allows her to talk to Vaagen over the vid.
Cordelia is appalled at Vaagen’s condition, and demands that he get medical treatment; Sircoj says he must be cleared first. Cordelia sends Drou for Aral and gets Sircoj to put her through. Eventually someone brings Vaagen to a comconsole. Vaagen says that he and Henri were trying to keep the replicator safe, hiding out in ImpMil, and for a while nobody seemed to know they were there. The day before, though, Vordarian’s men came for the replicator, beating Henri to death when he tried to deny them.
“Then they ripped into the lab. Everything, all the treatment records. All Henri’s work on burns, gone. They didn’t have to do that. All gone for nothing!” His voice cracked, hoarse with fury.
“Did they . . . find the replicator? Dump it out?” She could see it; she had seen it over and over, spilling. . . .
“They found it, finally. But then they took it. And then let me go.” He shook his head from side to side.
“Took it,” she repeated stupidly. Why? What sense, to take the technology and not the techs? “And let you go. To run to us, I suppose. To give us the word.”
“You have it, Milady.”
“Where, do you suppose? Where did they take it?”
Vorkosigan’s voice spoke beside her. “The Imperial Residence, most likely. All the best hostages are being kept there. I’ll put Intelligence right on it.” He stood, feet planted, grey-faced. “It seems we’re not the only side turning up the pressure.”
Now the personal stakes for Cordelia are certainly up another notch. She’s been living in uncertainty, wondering whether or not Miles was safe, and now it’s been confirmed to her that he’s not. Up goes the tension again, after a chapter mostly spent defusing it (or diffusing it) by showing Aral’s side going up. I may have skipped over several references in the text to Aral warning that Vordarian will get more desperate as he begins to realize that he’s losing, so it’s not like this wasn’t foreshadowed. It certainly falls into Bujold’s normal do-the-worst-thing-you-can-to-your-characters methodology. And, also, her determination to keep her villains from being stupid.
I can’t decide if Bothari is still supposed to be without his meds at this point. Can he get more from the base pharmacy, or not? If they don’t have access to Cordelia’s medical records, I suppose they also don’t have Bothari’s, so maybe they can’t take his word for what his prescription is. Given his ambivalence towards the meds in the first place, I suppose he might not even have brought them up. So I suspect he’s off his meds and perhaps becoming less stable as a result. Not that, with Bothari, that’s necessarily a bad thing, if you know how to point him in the right direction when he loses it.
Down to the wire for another installment, but you get two chapters again, lucky you. Well, good night, see you next week, I’ll probably kill you in the morning.