Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread; in this installment I finish off Barrayar with what turns out to be a single fairly short epilogue.
I’ve known for a while (ever since I discovered that the last “chapter” in Cordelia’s Honour was actually the author’s Afterword) that there were an odd number of chapters, and since I was generally doing two chapters a week, I’d after have to do three chapters in one week (which I confess I didn’t see myself doing) or one week with only one chapter. I kept that in reserve, in case there was a week when I was going to be just too swamped or listless to do that second chapter. But there wasn’t, so here it comes at the end of the book…and, apparently in a week where I’m swamped and/or listless, so that works out okay.
It is still quite short, though, but here it is.
Five years later, in Vorkosigan Surleau, Cordelia is searching frantically for Miles, who has gone missing. Not finding him inside the house, she heads outside, where Aral says he’s not near the house. Cordelia says he’s probably with Elena; they could be down at the lake, despite being specifically forbidden to swim without an adult, but Aral says they spent three hours doing that earlier, and surely they’re tired by now. Cordelia had been waiting for Miles to finally learn to walk, but now he’s hyperactive; Aral thinks it’s five years of pent-up motion. At least he’s stopped chattering so much, and taking things apart.
Up the hill, Bothari is looking in the stables. They are trying again to reconcile with Count Piotr, now that Miles is finally walking.
“He was civil, last night at dinner,” said Aral, judiciously hopeful.
“I was civil, last night at dinner,” Cordelia shrugged. “He as much as accused me of starving your son into dwarfism. Can I help it if the kid would rather play with his food than eat it? I just don’t know about stepping up the growth hormone, Vaagen’s so uncertain about its effect on bone friability.”
A crooked smile stole over Aral’s face. “I did think the dialogue with the peas marching to surround the bread-roll and demand surrender was rather ingenious. You could almost picture them as little soldiers in Imperial greens.”
Bothari emerges to say that he’s found Elena in the hayloft; Miles isn’t with her, but she says he’s somewhere nearby. Miles had said something earlier about looking at the animals… Cordelia was hoping that if Miles showed interest in them, Count Piotr might actually start talking to his grandson. Count Piotr himself appears then, and offers to show them his new filly. Cordelia is just accepting, on Miles’s behalf, when she sees Bothari looking past her, and turns to see Miles on the back of Count Piotr’s gigantic imported stallion. While Miles exults in his newfound height and speed, Bothari dithers over trying to stun the horse, and it runs around the corner of the stable. The adults follow, and they find Miles on the ground, holding his left arm in pain, while the horse grazes nearby.
“You see, Sergeant?” Miles panted. “I can ride, I can.”
Piotr, on his way toward his horse, paused and looked down.
“I didn’t mean to say you weren’t able,” said the sergeant in a driven tone. “I meant you didn’t have permission.”
Miles confirms that the arm is broken, again, and Bothari expertly splints it with an inflatable plastic sleeve. Miles admires the horse, and Count Piotr’s attention is caught when Miles refers to it as “the springiest”. Miles says he’d like to ride and go fast, and Piotr says he’s not very good at it; Miles instantly asks the Count to teach him. The Count agrees, if his mother gives permission; Cordelia is torn.
Risk, or security? In the few months since Miles had at last acquired a full range of motion, she’d run on panicked overdrive, trying to save him from physical harm; he’d spent the same time near-frantically trying to escape her supervision. Much more of this struggle, and either she’d be insane, or he would.
If she could not keep him safe, perhaps the next best thing was to teach him competence at living dangerously. He was almost undrownable already. His big grey eyes were radiating a desperate, silent plea at her, Let me, let me, let me . . . with enough transmission energy to burn through steel. I would fight the world for you, but I’m damned if I can figure out how to save you from yourself. Go for it, kid.
She agrees, if Bothari can accompany him. Miles asks if he can have his own horse, and is eventually negotiated down to a pony, though Piotr says he can have a horse if he earns it. Miles asks if he can start now, and Piotr admits that they start on a lunge line, where he isn’t even allowed to use his arms…
“Want to lay a side-bet, who’s leading who on that lunge line by the end of the week?” Aral murmured in her ear.
“No contest. I must say, the months Miles spent immobilized in that dreadful spinal brace did teach him how to do charm. The most efficient long-term way to control those about you, and thus exert your will. I’m glad he didn’t decide to perfect whining as a strategy. He’s the most willful little monster I’ve ever encountered, but he makes you not notice.”
“I don’t think the Count has a chance,” Aral agreed.
She smiled at the vision, then glanced at him more seriously. “When my father was home on leave one time from the Betan Astronomical Survey, we made model gliders together. Two things were required to get them to fly. First we had to give them a running start. Then we had to let them go.” She sighed. “Learning just when to let go was the hardest part.”
Miles’s character comes across pretty clearly in this bit, though I’m not quite sure what its purpose is aside from that, except perhaps to establish the reconciliation with Count Piotr that is evident at the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice. Maybe just to show Cordelia’s “Finding Nemo” moment where she decides that she doesn’t have to overprotect her son anymore, which is a coda to this story of, as Bujold herself says, motherhood.
Is this the end of Cordelia’s story? Well, it’s the end of her protagonism, at least. (Protagony?) The vast majority of what we see from here on is from Miles’s own point of view, up until Komarr, I suppose, where Bujold decides to experiment with multiple-POV, which we’ve had for every story since except Diplomatic Immunity (which reverts to all-Miles) and “Winterfair Gifts”, which is single-character but not Miles-POV. Don’t worry, Miles is, in general, more fun that Cordelia, I’ve found, or at least more volatile–his highs are higher, his lows dip lower.
So I’ll take a week off, in which I probably won’t end up preparing myself for the beginning of Young Miles/The Warrior’s Apprentice, because I’m a procrastinator that way. In those two weeks we’ll move forward about a dozen years in time from this epilogue, so it’ll only seem to pass quickly. Until then, please keep yourself in the fashion to which you are accustomed.