It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to summarize another couple of chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread tonight! This week we cover Chapters Three and Four of The Warrior’s Apprentice, in which the plot doesn’t quite start yet, though some of the subplots begin nibbling at their threads.
Miles is awakened before dawn the next morning by a servant calling him “Lord Vorkosigan”. At first wondering why he’s being addressed by his father’s title, he suddenly realizes what must have happened. He goes down to the library to find his father and the family physician, who confirm that Count Piotr has died, peacefully in his sleep.
Miles’s own vision blurred, and he brushed the foolish water from his eyes with the back of his hand in a brusque, angry swipe. “God damn it,” he choked numbly. He had never felt smaller.
His father focused on him uncertainly. “I—” he began. “He’s been hanging by a thread for months, you know that . . .”
And I cut that thread yesterday, Miles thought miserably. I’m sorry. . . . But he said only, “Yes, sir.”
Piotr Vorkosigan’s funeral is a huge, three-day state affair. Miles is surprised to find so many of his grandfather’s contemporaries still alive, to disapprove of Miles and offer interminable stories of people long dead. After the interment, Vorkosigan House fills up with guests, family and the curious. Once Ivan Vorpatril arrives, fresh from passing his candidacy exams, Miles decides to hide out upstairs in hopes of avoiding him. He grabs some flowers and a bottle of wine and knocks on Elena’s door.
Miles knocked on the carved wood door. “Who’s there?” Elena’s voice floated through faintly. He tried the enamel-patterned knob, found it unlocked, and snaked a hand waving the flowers around the door. Her voice added, “Oh, come in, Miles.”
He bobbed around the door, lean in black, and grinned tentatively. She was sitting in an antique chair by her window. “How did you know it was me?” Miles asked.
“Well, it was either you or—nobody brings me flowers on their knees.” Her eye lingered a moment on the doorknob, unconsciously revealing the height scale used for her deduction.
Miles promptly dropped to his knees and quick-marched across the rug, to present his offering with a flourish. “Voila!” he cried, surprising a laugh from her. His legs protested this abuse by going into painful cramping spasms. “Ah . . .” He cleared his throat, and added in a much smaller voice, “Do you suppose you could help me up? These damn grav-crutches . . .”
Miles laments the small size of Elena’s room, but she says she likes it; it has a window on the street, and it’s larger than her father’s room. She examines the flowers, and asks Miles where he got them, admonishing him for stealing from his grandfather. Then she grows pensive, and when asked, she says that she never put flowers on her mother’s grave; when Miles suggests an impromptu expedition, she admits that she doesn’t even know where it is. She could never get an answer from her father, or even a clear answer to how she died. Miles comes up with a plan for locating her mother’s grave without having to ask anyone.
He grinned, swinging to his feet. “I’m not going to say. You’d go all wobbly on me, like that time we went spelunking down at Vorkosigan Surleau and found the old guerilla weapons cache. You’ll never get another chance in your life to drive one of those old tanks, you know.”
She made doubtful noises. Apparently her memory of the incident was vivid and awful, even though she had avoided being caught in the landslide. But she followed.
They go down to the library, and Miles tells the guard outside to “rattle the door” if somebody comes. Once inside, Elena says the guard will leap to the wrong conclusion, which Miles says is what he wants. Instead, he goes to the secure comconsole and starts it up; Koudelka had given him access during his studying, and Miles is gambling that he hadn’t taken it away yet, which it turns out he hasn’t. He starts with Bothari’s service record, back around the time Elena was born, just after he quit. He discovers Bothari’s medical discharge, which neither of them knew about, and finds out that the preceding year is sealed top-secret, flagged by Illyan himself.
He goes further back, finding that Bothari used to be Ges Vorrutyer’s batman, and seeing the bizarre punishment records from that period–heavy punishments for minor infractions, and nothing at all for more disturbing ones. His early career is clearer, full of commendations. Miles examines his recruitment record, and Elena asks if it has her grandparents’ names on it. Miles finds Bothari’s mother’s name, Marusia, but sees that father is listed as “unknown”; he lies and tells Elena that it’s Konstantine, like her father, because bastardy is still stigmatized on Barrayar. Another social wedge between him and Elena, Miles thinks.
Miles starts looking for her birth records instead, and has no luck until he tries ImpMil. He finds his own birth record, with Dr. Vaagen’s name on it, then a secret research project with Aral’s name on it beside Vaagen’s. He can’t get access to it, but it’s not flagged like Bothari’s record, so he tries one of Aral’s old access codes, which he’s pretty sure he knows most of, and finds out about the uterine replicators and how they came back from Escobar. They were sent to orphanages once they came back, and Miles concludes they are the children of men killed in combat. Elena asks where there mothers are, then. Then she sees that one of them has her own birthdate, and was released to Aral’s custody. In an effort to confirm the identity, Elena bares one foot and Miles scans it; it matches with the baby’s footprint. Elena wonders if this means she’s some kind of clone or genetic experiment, but Miles reassures her that it just means her mother died at Escobar. Miles jokes that this also makes her his sister, since they may have shared a replicator.
Just then, the door rattles. Miles shuts down the comconsole, and they take up “necking” position, kissing briefly before the door opens and the lights come on. Miles sees not only Koudelka, who he would expect, but also Aral and Bothari.
Captain Koudelka looked suffused, a slight upward curl escaping from one corner of his mouth as if from enormous inward pressure. He glanced sideways at his companions, and tamped it out. The Sergeant’s craggy face was icy. The Count was darkening rapidly.
Miles finally found something to do with all the air he’d taken in. “All right,” he said in a firm didactic tone, “Now, after ‘Grant me this boon,’ on the next line you say, ‘With all my heart; and much it joys me too, to see you are become so penitent.'” He glanced up most impenitently at his father. “Good evening, sir. Are we taking up your space? We can go practice elsewhere . . .”
“Yes, let’s,” Elena squeaked, picking up her cue with alacrity. She produced a rather inane smile for the three adults as Miles towed her safely past. Captain Koudelka returned the smile with all his heart. The Count somehow managed to smile at her and frown menacingly at Miles at the same time. The Sergeant’s frown was democratically universal. The duty guard’s smirk broadened to a muffled snicker as they fled down the hall.
Elena doesn’t think much of his invention, and when Miles protests that it was an orderly withdrawal, she points out that one of her stockings is hanging over his shoulder. Now, she says, she’ll get a lecture, and probably sent back to the country; she goes into her room, beginning to cry, and shuts the door. Miles says they’ll get it figured out, but she just tells him to go away.
I first read this book before the Cordelia books, though admittedly I don’t remember much of this part of the book sticking with me from that first readthrough. It’s a pity, because the unraveling of Bothari’s past is a major subplot. Considering that Shards of Honour did come out first, Bujold must have expected that a few people would know what Miles and Elena could have discovered, and may have breathed a sigh of relief when they didn’t find it. (Or disappointment, depending.)
I also tended to forget that Count Piotr died so early in this book. For some reason I always used to think that he died between this book and “The Mountains of Mourning”, or before Warriors Apprentice entirely.
I’m usually rooting for Miles to win Elena by this part, even when I know that she never falls for him. I don’t know if she feels anything more than sisterly affection for him at this point, which I can imagine would be highly frustrating to him.
Do we hear more details about the tank story later in the series? Or in this book, even? I can’t remember; I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.
Miles encounters his mother, who asks after Aral; Miles says he saw him with Koudelka and Bothari in the library. Cordelia says that Admiral Hessman and Count Vordrozda just arrived together, a bad pair to be plotting, and she wants to intercept Aral before he gets too drunk and too blunt. She says Vordrozda has been buttering up Gregor for months, and Miles hopes that Gregor has enough sense not to fall for it. She tells Miles that Alys Vorpatril is looking for Aral; in lieu of an actual father, Alys wants Aral to brace Ivan for “swiving” the servant girls. She laments that Barrayarans don’t have the Betan sense to “tie their children’s tubes” and let them loose to work things out on their own.
Miles goes in search of food to take up to his room for a strategic withdrawal, but is found by Ivan as he’s filling up a napkin. Ivan is dressed in his cadet’s uniform, with a bulge underneath proving to be a bottle of wine. Ivan asks Miles if they can retreat from the company, and while Miles includes Ivan in the company he’s like to retreat from, he agrees to take Ivan up to his room, if he brings another bottle.
Ivan tells Miles he saw him break his legs, and tells him he’s the lucky one, not having to start his training, having his time free to do with what he wants. Miles gulps down the wine, envying Ivan his lack of freedom. Ivan asks if Count Aral is likely to come up, and Miles allows that it might be possible.
Ivan swirled his wine in the bottom of his cup. “I’ve always had the feeling he doesn’t like me,” he added glumly.
“Oh, he doesn’t mind you,” said Miles, taking pity. “At least as you appear on his horizon at all. Although I think I was fourteen before I found out that Ivan wasn’t your middle name.” Miles cut himself off. That-idiot-Ivan was beginning a lifetime of Imperial service tomorrow. Lucky-Miles was emphatically not.
There is a knock on the door, which Miles says is probably his father; he tells Ivan that he’s supposed to salute superior officers, not hide from them. Aral enters and asks Miles how he made Elena cry, then notices Ivan, saying that he’d hoped to avoid running into him. Miles tells him that Ivan was commiserating with him about his injuries, which appeases his father slightly.
Count Vorkosigan sighed again, and addressed Ivan in a tone of gentle, rhetorical complaint. “Going on fifty years of military and political service, and what am I? A boogey-man, used to frighten boys into good behavior—like the Baba Yaga, who only eats the bad little children.” He spread his arms, and added sardonically, “Boo. Consider yourself chastized, and take yourself off. Go, boy.”
Aral tells Ivan to stop saluting him, since he’s not an officer yet, and is about to get after him for wearing his uniform when Ivan flees. It takes Aral a moment to remember his earlier point, then he tells Miles that he hopes Miles isn’t “trying Betan sexual philosophy” on Elena.
“Why not?” said Miles suddenly. Count Vorkosigan raised his eyebrows. “I mean,” Miles explained quickly, “why should she be so—so constrained? She gets duenna’d to death. She could be anything. She’s bright, and she’s, she’s good-looking, and she could break me in half—why shouldn’t she get a better education, for instance? The Sergeant isn’t planning any higher education for her at all. Everything he’s saved is for dowry. And he never lets her go anyplace. She’d get more out of travel—hell, she’d appreciate it a thousand times more than any other girl I know.” He paused, a little breathless.
Aral agrees with Miles, in principle, but says that Elena means the world to her father, and Aral and Cordelia owe Bothari a huge debt, more than they can ever repay. Miles wonders how they can owe him so much, and nothing to her. Aral also mentions that right now it is a delicate time, and he can’t afford to have any scandal, real or perceived, in his household. Miles muses briefly on his own uselessness, and wonders if he can do something for Elena, like help find her mother’s grave, likely on Escobar…and then he hits on a plan. He begins by asking after Grandmother Naismith, Cordelia’s mother, who lives on Beta Colony…and the most direct route to Beta Colony goes through Escobar.
Before he can bring it up, his father asks if he would consider a trip to Beta Colony to visit his grandmother. Miles says this is a great idea, and asks if he can bring Elena. She’ll be safe enough with her own father as chaperone. Aral isn’t sure that Bothari will agree to it if Miles asks him. Miles says that he’ll get his mother to ask instead, which Aral considers devious. Aral admits that the trip plan was actually Cordelia’s, but he agrees that having Miles offplanet for a little while might be a good idea. He turns to go, saying he has to deal with Vordrozda.
“Your work comes first, of course, sir. I understand that.”
Count Vorkosigan paused, and gave him a peculiar look. “Then you understand nothing. My work has been a blight on you from the very beginning. I’m sorry, sorry it made such a mess for you—”
Mess of you, thought Miles. Say what you really mean, damn it.
“—I never meant it to be so.” A nod, and he withdrew.
Apologizing to me again, thought Miles miserably. For me. He keeps telling me I’m all right—and then apologizing. Inconsistent, Father.
He shuffled back and forth across the room again, and his pain burst into speech. He flung his words against the deaf door, “I’ll make you take back that apology! I am all right, damn it! I’ll make you see it. I’ll stuff you so full of pride in me there’ll be no room left for your precious guilt! I swear by my word as Vorkosigan. I swear it, Father,” his voice fell to a whisper, “Grandfather. Somehow, I don’t know how . . .”
Count Vordrozda, along with the aforementioned Admiral Hessman…yes, this is the plot in the background, which his father is so concerned about. Miles himself is likely not paying as much attention to it as he could, more concerned with his own future, or lack thereof, and Elena. And that’s all the real hints we get until much closer to the end, as I recall. I still think that it’s perhaps not handled as confidently as Bujold could pull off in later books, but I’ll give her some leeway on this one. The main story of the book takes place off of Barrayar, so this part is still mostly prologue, and the bit at the end mostly epilogue. (Yes, I know there’s a real epilogue as well. What else would you call it? Framing story? Not quite that either…)
Our first real glimpse of the grown-up Ivan, last to appear of the three babies born in Cordelia’s Honour. Not promising, to start with, at least–not much more than a foil for Miles, a role he reprises in Cetaganda and Brothers In Arms; he doesn’t really come into his own until A Civil Campaign. I’m pretty I didn’t like him that much on the first read through the series, either, until much later.
It’s probably a bit unfair of Aral to chastise Miles as if he was just looking to have sleep with Elena and then dump her, like Ivan might have. Miles is perfectly earnest in his affection, and if she was willing, would likely marry her as quickly as he could. He’s not looking for an endless succession of sex partners, but his One True Love, and he thinks he’s found her already. It’s probably a good thing for her that she doesn’t buy into it, but it’s a little heartbreaking for Miles…
But anyway, after this the real plot of the book can finally start. First stop, a trip to Escobar, to look for Elena’s mother’s grave, and then yeah, maybe we’ll spend some time on Beta Colony too. Visiting Miles’s grandmother. Bo-ring. Doesn’t sound like much is going to happen there, is it?
Next week, Miles arrives on Beta Colony, for some reason, and the plot thickens. Come back next Tuesday for the next exciting installment!