Did you know that this is the third installment of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Barrayar, in my reread of the entire Vorkosigan series? Weren’t you expecting that? Don’t I post an installment of this every Tuesday? Couldn’t you just go on and read for yourself as I summarize and comment on Chapters Five and Six of Barrayar? Why don’t you read along in your own copy, too?
The Emperor’s Birthday is celebrated in Vorbarr Sultana with partying, parades, and fireworks. Because of Ezar’s death, this will actually be the second Emperor’s Birthday celebration that year. Cordelia and Aral go to the social event of the year, the birthday dinner at the Imperial Residence. Lady Vorpatril has taken Cordelia under her wing and set her up with the most proper and stylish maternity wear for the event.
As they muster for the event, including Aral, Koudelka, Drou, and Count Piotr, Cordelia realizes that she and Aral are going in separate cars, because of the risk of attack. She and Drou end up going with Count Piotr. She notices that the Count has an embroidered silk bag, which he tells her is full of gold coins, as a present for the Emperor. She’s a little doubtful that Gregor will think much of that as a present, so Piotr explains that this is really an elaborate ritual whereby the Counts (a term which, on Barrayar, is actually descended from the term “accountant”) pretend to give their annual taxes to the Emperor as a gift. The gold is symbolic, most of the money transfer happening electronically. With the new Birthday, they are, of course, getting taxed a second time.
Cordelia rejoins Aral once they arrive at the palace, and he leads her into a daunting crowd of Vor nobility.
They circulated, exchanging greetings, making courtesies. Why can’t these people wear nametags? Cordelia thought hopelessly. As usual, everyone but her seemed to know everyone else. She pictured herself opening a conversation, Hey you, Vor-guy—. She clutched Aral more firmly, and tried to look mysterious and exotic rather than tongue-tied and mislaid.
They find Gregor, up past his bedtime, and the ceremony with the gold coins; Vidal Vordarian is presenting his coins, and takes a moment to chat familiarly with Princess Kareen. When Gregor sees Drou with them, he says something to his mother, and soon Drou is persuaded to attend the Emperor, replaced with another unobstrusive guard.
Shortly thereafter, they run across the Vorpatrils, and Cordelia stays with them after Aral is called off for some urgent duties. Padma Vorpatril is somewhat drunk, and wanders off in search of more while Alys Vorpatril plans Cordelia’s Winterfair outfit. After a visit to the lavatory, Alys meets up with another friend, and Cordelia drifts away, observing the social dance. She thinks to herself that on Beta Colony this whole event would be being recorded on cameras for live broadcast.
Her reverie is interrupted by Commander Count Vordarian. He asks after the child, which Cordelia tells him will be a boy. Vordarian says that he’d have thought they’d try for a girl first, to try to cement Aral’s power by marrying their daughter to Gregor. Vordarian doesn’t seem convinced that Aral hadn’t thought of the Regency back when the child was conceived, or that he might not have wanted that much power in the first place. He asks about the attack the other day, and Cordelia says they still don’t know who did it.
He paused, watching Aral, watching her watch Aral. One corner of his mouth crooked up, then the quirk vanished in a thoughtful pursing of his lips. “He’s bisexual, you know.” He took a delicate sip of his wine.
“Was bisexual,” she corrected absently, looking fondly across the room. “Now he’s monogamous.”
Vordarian choked, sputtering. Cordelia watched him with concern, wondering if she ought to pat him on the back or something, but he regained his breath and balance. “He told you that?” he wheezed in astonishment.
Cordelia says that it was actually Vorrutyer who told her, and talks about how Vorrutyer was almost a tragic figure, still obsessed with Aral after all those years, but maybe Aral could have saved him if they’d stayed together. Vordarian says that their relationship was a “great secret scandal” at the time, which strikes Cordelia as an oxymoron. Suddenly she realizes that Vordarian had been expecting his revelation about Aral’s sexuality to be more of a surprise, and a blow, to Cordelia and her marriage, and it was meant as an attack. Their conversation turns more edged, Vordarian warning her about how Aral’s first wife died, some say because of her adulteries.
All pretense of cordiality had evaporated from their exchange. Cordelia had a bad sense of all control escaping with it. She leaned forward, and lowered her voice. “Do you know why Vorrutyer died?”
He couldn’t help it; he tilted toward her, drawn in. “No . . .”
“He tried to hurt Aral through me. I found that . . . annoying. I wish you would cease trying to annoy me, Count Vordarian, I’m afraid you might succeed.” Her voice fell further, almost to a whisper. “You should fear it, too.”
His initial patronizing tone had certainly given way to wariness. He made a smooth, openhanded gesture that seemed to symbolize a bow of farewell, and backed away. “Milady.” The glance over his shoulder as he moved off was thoroughly spooked.
She wonders what he had been trying to accomplish, whether a Barrayaran wife would have had a different response–not Alys or Kareen, she thinks. His near-miss makes her think of the other near-miss, with the sonic grenade. Aral appears to lead her in for dinner, where they sit with Gregor, Kareen, Piotr, Vortala, the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle and his wife, Koudelka, and, by Gregor’s insistence, Drou. Gregor seems to miss Drou, and negotiates for her to come to the palace once a week for “judo lessons”. Cordelia sits between Vortala and the Speaker, trying to conceal her reaction to the fact that their food is actual meat from animals–in this case an actual cow brought in whole–not grown in vats like on Beta Colony.
After dessert and a few formal toasts, Gregor goes off to bed, and Kareen invites Cordelia and Drou along. Drou helps Gregor get ready for bed, and Cordelia and Kareen relax in another room. Kareen says that the party will go on until dawn, though all but the most serious drinkers are likely to retire earlier. Cordelia wonders why they don’t import a less lethal drug than alcohol, then asks if Vordarian is one of the drinkers. Kareen says not; Cordelia wondered if that would have explained his earlier behaviour. She asks Kareen about Vordarian.
Kareen said judiciously, “He’s rich . . . proud . . . He was loyal to Ezar during Serg’s late machinations against his father. Loyal to the Imperium, to the Vor class. There are four major manufacturing cities in Vordarian’s District, plus military bases, supply depots, the biggest military shuttleport. . . . Vidal’s is certainly the most economically important area on Barrayar today. The war barely touched the Vordarians’ District; it’s one of the few the Cetagandans pulled out of by treaty. We sited our first space bases there because we took over facilities the Cetagandans had built and abandoned, and a good deal of economic development followed from that.”
“That’s . . . interesting,” said Cordelia, “but I was wondering about the man personally. His, ah, likes and dislikes, for example. Do you like him?”
“At one time,” said Kareen slowly, “I wondered if Vidal might be powerful enough to protect me from Serg. After Ezar died. As Ezar grew more ill, I was thinking, I had better look to my own defense. Nothing appeared to be happening, and no one told me anything.”
“If Serg had become emperor, how could a mere count have protected you?” asked Cordelia.
“He would have had to become . . . more. Vidal had ambition, if it were properly encouraged—and patriotism, God knows if Serg had lived he might have destroyed Barrayar—Vidal might have saved us all. But Ezar promised I’d have nothing to fear, and Ezar delivered. Serg died before Ezar and . . . and I have been trying to let things cool, with Vidal, since.”
Kareen says that she couldn’t consider marrying Vordarian now, since that would give him too much power for someone who would be at odds with the Regent. She says that she can’t disentangle herself from the Imperium now, certainly not to live a normal life. At least, she says, Negri didn’t find any evidence that Vordarian had any sexual perversions.
Drou returns from putting Gregor to bed, and shortly thereafter a messenger comes to summon Kareen to officially open the dancing with Aral. Cordelia watches them doing a dance that involves mirroring the others’ actions, and after that dance Aral offers to teach her if they can find a private place. As they are looking for one, Aral suddenly shushes her, and Cordelia realizes that Drou is trying to teach the dance to Koudelka, mostly ending up with his arms around her. Drou encourages him to keep trying, and Aral and Cordelia move to leave them their privacy, which unfortunately is punctured by a drunken Vor who comes to vomit off their balcony. They leave the party shortly thereafter, Koudelka complaining privately to Cordelia that he wishes women came with instruction manuals.
The next day, Cordelia asks Illyan if Vordarian is on his short list or his long list; she urges Illyan to move him to the short list.
The whole “asking if they’ve found out who it was yet” does seem like a criminal kind of thing to do, doesn’t it? Oh, it could just be simple curiosity, but under the circumstances I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out that it was Vordarian behind that attack. The whole misfired marriage-sabotage is kind of an amusing scene, and I do like Cordelia’s little threat at the end. Though of course she doesn’t have any intention of following through on it, particularly. Why doesn’t she even consider mentioning it to Aral, though? Just doesn’t want to worry him? She tells Illyan soon enough. Plus the whole thing with Princess Kareen seems like another red flag coming up. Maybe it’s just hindsight in action. The implication of possible collaboration with, or at least appeasement of, the Cetagandans (about which we don’t know much by this point in the series, by the way) is also interesting. And the main military spaceport is in his territory? Better and better.
A little more Kou-and-Drou progress (he’s actually referred to as “Kou” once or twice, though I’ll continue to use Koudelka, since it’s easier to type than Droushnakovi). The “bag of gold” is another nice bit of worldbuilding detail, too, though I’m not sure I buy the whole “accountant” -> “Count” thing, it seems a little too cute to me.
Cordelia flies down to Vorkosigan Surleau for a day in the country, accompanied by Dr. Henri, who thanks Cordelia for the invitation. He is intimidated by the prospect of meeting Count Piotr, though, but Cordelia encourages him to turn the subject to horses, or the wars he’d fought in (against the Cetagandans, and to help bring Ezar Vorbarra to power) and he’ll do fine. Drou is also along, and Bothari is piloting; he takes the lightflyer to a village near the lake for their first stop.
Bothari takes them to Mistress Hysopi’s house, where she is looking after his infant daughter Elena. Dr. Henri goes to examine Elena, and he discusses her with Mistress Hysopi, while Bothari stalks carefully around the room and Cordelia watches attentively, thinking that she will have a baby of her own soon. Dr. Henri seems to be amazed at how normal Elena is, despite her having come out of a uterine replicator. Cordelia points out that she came out of a replicator herself, and assures Dr. Henri that she’s certified free of genetic defects.
Dr. Henri says that they need this technology; when the replicators had first arrived, he hadn’t know what to do with them, but now he’s a convert and even looking into spinoff technologies. He goes on about them at great length, encouraged when Cordelia tells him that her mother works in the medical equipment field back on Beta Colony. Going back through the village, Cordelia introduces Dr. Henri to two of the women, wives of Count Piotr’s armsmen. Some of them live in the village and some in the capital, depending on taste; one armsman actually has a wife in each place.
Drou takes Cordelia aside and asks how Bothari came to have a baby.
“I’ll tell you the truth.” Just not all of it. “Little Elena is the daughter of Bothari and a young Escobaran officer named Elena Visconti. Bothari . . . loved her . . . very much. But after the war, she would not return with him to Barrayar. The child was conceived, er . . . Barrayaran-style, then transferred to the replicator when they parted. There were some similar cases. The replicators were all sent to Imp Mil, which was interested in learning more about the technology. Bothari was in . . . medical therapy, for quite a long time, after the war. But when he got out, and she got out, he took custody of her.”
“Did the others take their babies, too?”
“Most of the other fathers were dead by then. The children went to the Imperial Service orphanage.” There. The official version, all right and tight.
Cordelia asks Drou is Bothari bothers her. Drou says that he is ugly, and she’s not sure he should be trusted with a child, though Cordelia assures her that she and Aral are keeping an eye on him, and so far he’s doing well. Drou says that Bothari takes a lot of sick days, where he doesn’t even leave his room, and his commander thinks he’s malingering. Cordelia promises to have a word with the commander, and asks Drou not to ask him about the Escobar war, since it’s a painful topic for him.
They arrive at Vorkosigan Surleau for the luncheon, where Cordelia thanks Count Piotr for his hospitality. The Count says that the house is really more Cordelia’s than it is his, and he almost worries that she hasn’t tried to redecorate Vorkosigan House or anything, as if she’s afraid to commit herself to Barrayar. Cordelia says diffidently that she would like to have a lift tube, to make getting around the house easier, and Count Piotr swallows his exceptions and tells her to go ahead and do it. Henri takes Cordelia’s advice and engages the Count in conversation about horses, particularly the new foal, which came from a frozen embryo they’d imported from Earth.
When the Count takes Henri off to the stables, Bothari asks Cordelia if she has time for a private conversation. Cordelia leaves Drou behind and takes a walk with him until they sit down in the family graveyard. Bothari says that the problem is Escobar, and the therapy he received about it. They gave him drugs to suppress the memories, but they’re still there; he just gets headaches when he tries to remember it. If he was a hero at Escobar, then why won’t they let him remember, and if not, why did they make him a Count’s armsman at all?
He says there are four pictures he remembers.
“One—the least-bad one—it was an argument. Prince Serg was there, and Admiral Vorrutyer, Lord Vorkosigan, and Admiral Rulf Vorhalas. And I was there. Except I didn’t have any clothes on.”
“Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”
“No. I’m not sure. Admiral Vorrutyer said . . . something very insulting, to Lord Vorkosigan. He had Lord Vorkosigan backed up against the wall. Prince Serg laughed. Then Vorrutyer kissed him, full on the mouth, and Vorhalas tried to knock Vorrutyer’s head off, but Lord Vorkosigan wouldn’t let him. And I don’t remember after that.”
He remembers two about the Escobaran woman Elena–one where she was his wife, except as he says it he realizes that she wasn’t really his wife. Cordelia tells her that part of Vorrutyer and Serg’s torture was forcing Bothari to rape her and get her pregnant. The final image is of Cordelia, naked, on Vorrutyer’s bed…he asks if he raped her, and Cordelia swiftly assures him that he didn’t, wondering if the blood pressure building up to give him his headaches is likely to give him a stroke. Bothari says he’s wanted to ask her about this ever since she arrived on Barrayar, and Cordelia says he shouldn’t have waited so long.
Bothari goes off to vomit in the bushes, and returns, looking only a little better. He says that he’s still a rapist, even if he didn’t rape Cordelia, and he says that killing is even better than sex that way. He wonders that Cordelia isn’t afraid of him that way, and asks her for a bargain.
“You tell me . . . when it’s all right. To kill. And then I’ll know.”
“I can’t—look, suppose I’m not there? When that sort of thing lands on you, there’s not usually time to stop and analyze. You have to be allowed self-defense, but you also have to be able to discern when you’re really being attacked.” She sat up, eyes widening in sudden insight. “That’s why your uniform is so important to you, isn’t it? It tells you when it’s all right. When you can’t tell yourself. All those rigid routines you keep to, they’re to tell you you’re all right, on track.”
“Yes. I’m sworn to the defense of House Vorkosigan, now. So that’s all right.” He nodded, apparently reassured. By what, for God’s sake?
“You’re asking me to be your conscience. Make your judgments for you. But you are a whole man. I’ve seen you make right choices, under the most absolute stress.”
Bothari says that he can’t remember them, and she says that she and Aral can, and they both owe him for it.
This chapter starts off so innocuously, but gets very intense towards the end. I’m not sure if this is meant to be consistent with Bothari’s statement near the end of Shards of Honour about how he tries to keep some of his memories from Escobar, if Bujold is just clarifying or if she’s retconning a little bit to change things around. After all, Bothari did tell her something about it then. The added detail is good, though, and having Bothari agonize over his nature and what he might have done in his past, trying to outsource his conscience to Cordelia because he doesn’t trust his own, adds a lot of depth to the character.
Cordelia’s sanitized story for Drou shows how she’s trying to cover up Bothari’s past, to keep it from staining his future, but it does have nasty repercussions in the next book. And hey, this doctor gets an actual name!
The bit with the Count and his imported embryo is also interesting, with the implications for the new technology making its way into Barrayaran society. They’re still a little unsure about using it for humans, but using it for horses is sort of starting them down the slope… The repercussions of the uterine replicator and other biotechnology are still being felt in A Civil Campaign, which is one reason why the Vorkosigan series doesn’t fit comfortable into space opera or military SF. Generally, those two subgenres don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the implications of the new technology that the author may introduce, except maybe in the narrowest “arms race” kind of sense.
I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be able to post the next installment on Tuesday or not; it might get pushed back to Thursday. In any case, the next two chapters are very significant ones for the course of, oh, let’s say the entire series, so I’ll try to get them to you on a timely basis. Can you wait until then?