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Archive for December, 2011

If all you wanted for Christmas (or something other than Christmas) was the final installment of The Warrior’s Apprentice on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, then you’re in luck this year, because here it is.  This week we shall cover the final chapter plus the epilogue, as some plot threads and character arcs get tied off, some of them predating this book entirely.  Also, Ms. Bujold (that’s Lois McMaster Bujold, the author of the series, in case I haven’t mentioned) makes me well up not once but twice.

Chapter Twenty-One

Miles and Ivan fly over Vorbarr Sultana in a lightflyer, approaching Vorhartung Castle.  Ivan notes that all the Counts seem to be present, judging by the banners he can see, including the Emperor’s.  Miles notes the security men with their guns trained on the flyer, and carefully sets it down outside the castle walls.

“Y’know,” said Ivan thoughtfully. “We’re going to look a pair of damn fools busting in there if it turns out they’re all having a debate on water rights or something.”

“That thought has crossed my mind,” Miles admitted. “It was a calculated risk, landing in secret. Well, we’ve both been fools before. There won’t be anything new or startling in it.”

Miles begins to feel a paralyzing funk, and has a glimmer of what Baz Jesek felt before he deserted.  Ivan chivvies him until he gets out of the lightflyer, and they head up to the castle.  Miles introduces himself to some guards and says the Emperor has summoned him; they are skeptical until one of them recognizes him.  As they are escorted in, Miles can hear Count Vordrozda speaking inside the chamber; one of the guards tells him this has been going on for a week, and they are into the final summing-up.  Miles hears Admiral Hessman’s voice too, which is odd in a hearing sealed to the Counts alone.

“. . . If our illustrious Prime Minister knew nothing of this plot, then let him produce this ‘missing’ nephew,” Vordrozda’s voice was heavy with sarcasm. “He says he cannot. And why not? I submit it is because Lord Vorpatril was dispatched with a secret message. What message? Obviously, some variation of ‘Fly for your life—all is revealed!’ I ask you—is it reasonable that a plot of this magnitude could have been advanced so far by a son with no knowledge by his father? Where did those missing 275,000 marks, whose fate he so adamantly refuses to disclose, go but to secretly finance the operation? These repeated requests for delays are simply smokescreen. If Lord Vorkosigan is so innocent, why is he not here?” Vordrozda paused dramatically.

Ivan tugged Miles’s sleeve. “Come on. You’ll never get a better straight line than that if you wait all day.”

Miles enters the room, seeing Vordrozda in the speaker’s circle, Hessman on the witness bench, and the Emperor and many others in their service uniforms.  Miles is conscious of the drabness of his own outfit in comparison.  Miles asks Vordrozda and Hessman to answer their own question.  He watches for his father’s reaction, conscious of how old his father looks; Aral sees Ivan and is startled into asking where he’s been.  Ivan says Hessman had sent him to look for Miles, but that wasn’t what he’d really wanted.  Miles tells the assembled Counts that his invitation to attend got lost, as Ivan can attest; Gregor looks askance at Vordrozda, and Aral smiles in sudden enlightenment.

Vordrozda seems to be annoyed with Hessman, and Miles realizes he must capitalize quickly on the rift before it closes up.  He accuses Hessman of sabotaging Dimir’s ship and attempting to murder Ivan along with the others.  Vordrozda says the charges belong in military court, and Miles points out that then Hessman would have to face them alone, without his co-conspirator Vordrozda.  He asks Hessman whether he thinks Vordrozda would really substantiate any claims that Hessman’s actions were at Vordrozda’s order.  As Miles badgers Vordrozda about his connection with Hessman, Hessman stands up and admits that Vordrozda had first talked to him about Miles back at Winterfair.

Vordrozda yells at Hessman to shut up, pulling out a needler pistol from his robes and aiming it at Hessman before realizing what he’d done by pulling a weapon in the presence of the Emperor.  Dozens of military men from among the Counts instantly move to take down Vordrozda and protect the Emperor, Ivan first among them.

After Vordrozda and Hessman are arrested and led out of the chamber, Miles faces the Emperor.  The Emperor declares an hour recess to examine new testimony, summoning Aral and Miles as well as Lord Vorhalas and Lord Vorvolk for witnesses.  Henri Vorvolk is a personal friend of Gregor’s, but Lord Vorhalas is a longtime enemy of Aral’s, ever since Aral had to execute his sons, one of them for the soltoxin attack that crippled Miles in the womb.  Miles wonders if Vorhalas was connected to the conspiracy to destroy him, in revenge, but decides that Vorhalas has more honour than that in his antagonism.

Aral asks Miles what happened, telling him that Illyan is in prison as part of the conspiracy, so his reports haven’t been getting through.  Gregor points out that the question is whether Illyan served Aral or the Emperor.  Aral asserts that all who serve him serve the Emperor through him, and Illyan has served faithfully all this time.

Miles tells the story in full, starting with his meeting with Arde Mayhew, deciding after a brief hesitation to include Baz Jesek’s name as well.  The only thing he does omit is Elena Visconti’s story of Prince Serg’s depravities.  As he is winding down, he remembers the antacid he needs to drink, and has some, offering his father a swig when he asks (which he accepts).  Ivan supports the parts of Miles’s story that he witnessed himself, and Miles explains his plan to surprise his accusers by arriving in secret.  Gregor seems unhappy at the revelations about Vordrozda, his new advisor.  He asks Miles why he raised the Dendarii, if not for treasonous purposes.

“My liege.” Miles lowered his voice. “When we played together in the Imperial Residence in the winters, when did I ever demand any part except that of Vorthalia the loyal? You know me—how could you doubt? The Dendarii Mercenaries were an accident. I didn’t plan them—they just happened, in the course of scrambling from crisis to crisis. I only wanted to serve Barrayar, as my father before me. When I couldn’t serve Barrayar, I wanted—I wanted to serve something. To—” he raised his eyes to his father’s, driven to a painful honesty, “to make my life an offering fit to lay at his feet.” He shrugged. “Screwed up again.”

“Clay, boy.” Count Vorkosigan’s voice was hoarse but clear. “Only clay. Not fit to receive so golden a sacrifice.” His voice cracked.

Gregor says he is unhappy to have come so close to dispensing injustice, and asks the witnesses if they are satisfied that the charges of treason are unproven.  Vorvolk agrees, and so does Vorhalas, but he also asks about the original charge of violating Vorloupulous’s Law.  Vorvolk asks who would dare bring such a charge, and Aral says that a man devoted to justice, with nothing to lose, might do so.  Vorhalas asks Aral to beg for his son’s life, and Aral does so on his knees with no compunctions; Vorhalas throws his begging back in his face.

Miles points out to Vorhalas that he would have to face Cordelia with the same accusation.  Vorhalas asks if she can’t understand the desire for vengeance, looking at what happened to her son.

“Mother,” said Miles, “calls it my great gift. Tests are a gift, she says, and great tests are a great gift. Of course,” he added thoughtfully, “it’s widely agreed my mother is a bit strange . . .” He trapped Vorhalas’s gaze direct. “What do you propose to do with your gift, Count Vorhalas?”

Vorhalas, somewhat deflated, grumbles that he’s not a saint, and Gregor points out that it does him no good if his loyal servants are at odds.  Vorhalas subsides, waving Aral away, and asks what they are to do about the Dendarii Mercenaries.  Gregor asks Miles if they’re likely to go away on their own, but Miles says that they seemed rather to be thriving.  Gregor ponders, noting that he doesn’t dare change Vorloupulous’s Law, wondering if he can change the context like Miles did to break his blockade.

Miles suggests that the Emperor take the Dendarii for his own, declare them a Crown Troop, if only as a legal fiction, and privately, so that the Dendarii don’t know who they are currently working for.  He adds that they could be added to Illyan’s Imperial Security, since a mercenary fleet would probably prove quite useful to them somehow.  They agree that this is an eminently suitable solution, Vorhalas grudgingly, though he asks what they should do with Miles.  Aral agrees that Miles should be kept in line, perhaps in some sort of discipline, perhaps in the Imperial Service Academy, much to Miles’s shock and delight.  Aral asks Miles if he can go back to being a student, and a subordinate, after promoting himself to Admiral.

Count Vorhalas raised skeptical brows. “What sort of ensign do you think he will make, Admiral Vorkosigan?”

“I think he will make a terrible ensign,” said Count Vorkosigan frankly. “But if he can avoid being strangled by his harried superiors for—er—excessive initiative, I think he might be a fine General Staff officer someday.”

Two days later, Miles is acquitted of all charges, not least because Gregor, who as Count Vorbarra had a vote but usually abstained, voted for the acquittal.  Only Vorhalas abstained.

Later, at Vorkosigan Surleau, Miles digs Bothari’s grave himself, with a shovel, his hands soon bleeding.  His mother points out that it would be quicker with a plasma arc, but Miles quotes Bothari that “Blood washes away sin”.  She says no more, watching as he finishes digging, lowers the float pallet with the coffin, and fills the grave in.  He prepares the bowl for the burnt sacrifices, including Elena Visconti’s hair and his own; Cordelia supplies some of hers and Aral’s.

“I’m afraid I made a most improper Baba,” he whispered in apology. “I never meant to mock you. But Baz loves her, he’ll take good care of her . . . My word was too easy to give, too hard to keep. But there. There.” He added flakes of aromatic bark. “You shall lie warm here, watching the long lake change its faces, winter to spring, summer to fall. No armies march here, and even the deepest midnights aren’t wholly dark. Surely God won’t overlook you, in such a spot as this. There will be grace and forgiveness enough, old dog, even for you.” He lit the offering. “I pray you will spare me a drink from that cup, when it overflows for you.”

Comments

Two highly moving moments, the ceremony at the end, of course, but also Aral’s “feet of clay” line.  *sniff*

Miles’s entrance into the Counts’ Chamber is almost Matlockian, the sudden arrival of the witnesses with new evidence, stampeding one of the bad guys into a confession…  But it does ring true.  If Hessman hadn’t turned on Vordrozda, then Vordrozda would have had nothing to gain (except keeping his honour) by substantiating anything Hessman accused him of.  So if you buy that Vordrozda is willing to compromise his honour to save his own skin, and Hessman buys it, and Hessman is sure that Ivan’s testimony will convict him, then he has nothing to gain by keeping his mouth shut.  Of course, Vordrozda condemned himself by pulling out his gun, which was an appalling loss of control on his part, so I guess you’d have to buy that Miles had rattled him enough to forget where he was, and to be desperate enough to want to kill his co-conspirator.  On the other hand, if Hessman had been provoked into drawing a weapon, then maybe Vordrozda could have taken him out without as much suspicion.  Except for the whole “carrying weapons into the presence of the Emperor” thing.  Why had Vordrozda taken that risk?  Was he allowed, as a Count, as long as he didn’t draw it?  Not sure if that’s quite clear.  If he wasn’t allowed, then why did he do it?

The scene with Vorhalas was a fair resolution of the plot thread left over from Barrayar.  Obviously Vorhalas would have been an implacable foe of Aral’s after the executions of his sons, but if he was honourable, he’d have to wait for an opportunity to take advantage of, rather than making his own.  I suppose that Vordrozda did the same, but less scrupulously, presumably once he’d heard about Miles’s adventures, but he had been actively pumping Hessman for intelligence on Miles’s activities.  Vorhalas wouldn’t push on the false treason charge, but was happy enough to want to use Vorloupulous’s Law (boy, am I tired of typing that–I think I’ve been misspelling it, too) to engineer Miles’s death and bring the same kind of pain to Aral.  He could withstand Aral’s pleading, as Aral had done his own, but Miles and Gregor wore him down.

Epilogue

The emergency docking drill was called in the middle of the night cycle, naturally. He’d probably have timed it that way himself, Miles thought, as he scrambled through the corridors of the orbital weapons platform with his fellow cadets. This four-week stint of orbital and free-fall training was due to end tomorrow for his group, and the instructors hadn’t pulled anything nasty for at least four days. Not for him the galloping anticipation of upcoming leave planetside that had formed the bulk of the conversation in the officer’s mess last night. He had sat quietly, meditating on all the marvelous possibilities for a grand finale.

His partner for the drill is Kostolitz, who comments disdainfully on Miles’s knife.  Miles contemplates how to deal with Kostolitz and his class-consciousness, something he’ll have to deal with throughout his career.  Kostolitz wears a green armband, which the instructors use to designate someone who they judge would have been injured in a real-life situation; yellow armbands indicate death in the same way.  Ivan has two greens and a yellow, and another cadet has give yellows, but Miles himself has no armbands at all.  Some cadets want to team with him as a good luck charm, but others avoid him as they realize the instructors are beginning to target him.  Miles happily anticipates something sneaky on the part of the instructors in this drill.

Miles and Kostolitz begin inspecting the shuttle, each taking a side.  Kostolitz hastily counts the breath-masks, while Miles carefully examines a first-aid kit, finishing more slowly.  Miles pretends to have lost his light-pen, and when the instructor takes out his, Miles spots three breath masks in his pocket.  The two cadets take their seats and Kostolitz begins piloting the shuttle to its designated position.

A sudden loud noise announces the challenge of a coolant leak spilling gas into the cabin.  Kostolitz dives for the breath masks, but Miles takes the controls instead and sets the shuttle to spinning, leaving the heavier coolant gas to pool against the aft bulkhead.  Kostolitz rejects one breath mask, clearly out of oxygen, then another, as Miles heads for the first-aid kit instead.  As Kostolitz realizes that the masks are all exhausted, Miles takes some IV tubing from the kit, splices them together with his knife and surgical tape, then attaches it to the emergency oxygen canister.  The instructor takes one breathing tube, and Kostolitz returns to take another.  Miles left himself the only long section of the tube, so the other two are forced to sit at the control panel while he goes to turn the emergency shutoff valve.

The panel door on which he rested his weight gave way with a sudden crack, and he swung out over the evilly heaving green gas. The oxygen tube ripped from his mouth and flapped around wildly. He was saved from yelping only by the fact that he was holding his breath. The instructor, forward, lurched futilely, tied to his air supply. But by the time he’d fumbled his pocket open, Miles had swallowed, achieved a more secure grip on the wall, and recovered his tube in a heart-stopping grab. Try again. He turned the valve, hard, and the hissing from the hole in the wall a meter astern of him faded to an elfin moan, then stopped.

Miles returns to his seat as the fans clear the last of the coolant gas and Kostolitz pilots the shuttle back to dock.  The chief instructor is waiting with two yellow armbands, and is disappointed and intrigued when the instructor from the shuttle indicates they won’t be needed.  Kostolitz comments the knife was handy, and Miles says they can be more useful than a plasma arc when you’re surrounded by inflammable gas.  Seeing an opportunity, Miles tells Kostolitz about a place where he can buy a good quality blade, and offers to take him there when they’re back planetside.

Comments

Miles is already becoming a target for his superiors, as they try to catch him up.  As they will realize, you can’t catch him out, apparently, on anything requiring any sort of problem-solving skill–only his body, or his sense of honour, will betray him.  Is it implausible for him to be so incredibly capable?  Well, of course he has his physical limitations–being barely able to reach the shuttle foot-controls, for instance–but apparently his mind is so highly developed that he more than compensates for it.  Of course, having established this fact, Bujold has to keep him from just brute-thinking his way out of every situation…that may have been one of the problems with Cryoburn, actually.

Having closed off so many other character arcs in the book, Bujold also decided to return to Kostolitz in the epilogue.  It could have been any other cadet, of course, even Ivan, perhaps, but adding Kostolitz gives him a chance to deal with someone less sympathetic to him.  Of course, Miles himself doesn’t have much of a problem with class consciousness, but of course he has to get along with others who may.

Closing Comments

All in all, a pretty good book, much different in mood, overall, from the two Cordelia books.  That’s only to be expected, because Cordelia and Miles are very different characters.  While Miles does have his dark moments, he tends to solve his problems by thinking and talking at them, so he’s very bipolar that way.  His adventure is more outlandish and fun, overall, with plenty of humour and wit.

The biggest problem with the story is that its two pieces don’t fit as well together as they could.  The return to Barrayar at the end feels a little bit forced and rushed.  The foreshadowing of Vorloupulous’s Law sticks out a bit, and the fact that Miles doesn’t think of it until near the end is fairly implausible.  I can see that Bujold didn’t want to sever Miles’s ties to Barrayar just yet, but somehow she snaps him back a bit fast.  If she’d had the leeway for extra word count that today’s thicker books allow, would the transitions have been less abrupt?  Perhaps, but it’s hard to second-guess these things, no matter how we try.

From the afterword in the Young Miles omnibus, I discovered that the title was supposed to be a reference to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, except…as a mercenary instead of a wizard?  So it’s about how Miles’s attempts to fix matters leads them to ballooning further and further out of control.  I guess that makes sense, but I’m still not comfortable with it, because I still want to know, who’s he apprenticed to?  I’ve never been that keen on The Vor Game as a title either…Shards of Honour is good, the planet titles are okay…I suppose Mirror Dance would be my favourite title that way, because it matches the book on so many levels.


After the Christmas break, I’ll return with “The Mountains of Mourning”.  Since it doesn’t have chapter breaks, I still haven’t decided if I’ll do it all at once, or if I’ll have to subdivide it some other way.  (Makes me glad I’m not doing a reread of Mr. Terry “I don’t believe in chapter breaks” Pratchett…)  So I’ll see you all back here on January 3rd, 2012, for the next bit of Miles Vorkosigan’s career.

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Coming to you a little earlier than usual this week (because I have tickets to see Prince tonight) is another episode of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which, for the uninitiated, is a reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, following the exploits of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, for the most part.  In Part 10 of the reread of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first proper book of Miles’s adventures, I will be covering chapters Nineteen and Twenty of the book, which takes us almost to the end.

In honour of the occasion, I was going to try to work a whole bunch of Prince song titles into this introduction, but I decided not to go crazy, kill any doves, or incite controversy, so you’re on your own there.

Chapter Nineteen

Miles finds Elena and Baz in the Triumph‘s mess hall and tells them he’s reconsidered, and offers them his blessing on their marriage.  While Elena is initially dubious, Miles promises to follow the forms, with a little ingenuity.  First he takes the role of Baz’s liege-lord, and Baz, taking his cue, asks for his permission to wed.  Miles then takes the role of the Baba, hobbling over to Elena as an arthritic old woman, and play-acting an exchange between Baz’s liege-lord (Miles) and Elena’s ward (also Miles).  Baz and even Elena are duly amused as Miles performs the pantomime, until he finishes, collapses into a chair and pronounces them betrothed.

He suggests that they get married right away, if they can, because he wants to be at the wedding and he’s leaving the next day.  Baz and Elena are shocked; Miles tells them only that he needs to deal with Calhoun, and see Bothari buried.  Baz protests that Miles is needed to run the Dendarii, and Miles promptly appoints Baz the commander, Elena his executive officer and apprentice, and Tung as their chief of staff.  He convinces Baz that he’s capable of doing it, and is deliberately vague on when he will be back.  As a last instruction, he tells Baz to leave Tau Verde and find a better contract, somewhere away from Barrayar.

Next, he seeks out Elena Visconti.  Visconti is resistant to the idea of getting to know Elena, but Miles says that this will be her last opportunity, since soon the short-contract Dendarii will be let off at Dalton Station to make their own way home.  Miles says that surely Elena is innocent of Bothari’s sins, but Visconti says that she brings back the nightmares.  Miles offers to pay her to do some acting, for Elena’s benefit, to give her some good memories; Visconti is repulsed, but admits that Miles does seem to care for Elena, even if she’s with Baz instead.

Miles begins to tell Visconti how Bothari had dreamed of her, making her a wife in his head, which she finds even more disturbing.  Miles gets down on his knee and begs for her forgiveness, in Bothari’s name, for at least a death-offering.

“What do you want from me? What’s a death-offering?”

“Something of yourself, that you burn, for the peace of the soul of the dead. Sometimes you burn it for friends or relatives, sometimes for the souls of slain enemies, so they don’t come back to haunt you. A lock of hair would do.” He ran his hand over a short gap in his own crown. “That wedge represents twenty-two dead Pelians last month.”

Visconti gives in and cuts off a small lock of her hair, which Miles wraps up in a cloth.  He promises not to bother her again, but Visconti tells him that he’ll likely bother her for some time.

Next up is Arde Mayhew; Miles tells him that they are selling the RG-132 for an in-system freighter, and he’ll split the price with Mayhew.  He asks Mayhew about his plans, gently diverting him from coming back to Barrayar as his armsman.  Mayhew doesn’t think much of retraining as a shuttle pilot or tech, being that close to ships without piloting them.  Miles points out that there may still be some unaccounted-for RG-132 freighters out there, possibly with intact Necklin Rods, and he promises that he will authorize Baz to acquire them if they are found.  He inspires Mayhew with the idea of the quest.

“That’s the spirit! Forward momentum.”

Mayhew snorted. “Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday.” He paused, beginning to grin. “On the way down, you’ll convince ’em all they can fly.” He stuck his fists in his armpits, and waggled his elbows. “Lead on, my lord. I’m flapping as hard as I can.”

The next day, the departing passengers assemble in the docking bay.  Bothari’s coffin is loaded onto the fast courier, a loan from the Felicians, to the puzzlement of General Halify.  Ivan appears, a little unsteady, remarking favourably on the previous night’s wedding party.  To Ivan’s disappointment, the only woman accompanying them is Elli Quinn, nearly faceless, her head covered with unmarked skin except for mouth, nose-holes, and ear-holes.  Miles has a flask of stomach medicine which he promises the doctor to drink from regularly.

Miles’s hopes to leave quietly are dashed when Elena and Baz appear; Elena thanks him for a gift she never expected to receive–herself.  As Elena releases him from a farewell hug, the crowd of Dendarii come to watch the departure has grown too large to be ignored.  After calls for “Naismith”, he is hoisted on Baz and Elena’s shoulders to make a speech.

“As you can see, I am high because you all have raised me up,” he began, pitching his voice to carry to the last and least. A gratified chuckle ran through them. “You have raised me up on your courage, tenacity, obedience, and other soldierly virtues,” that was it, stroke them, they were eating it up—although surely he owed as much to their confusion, bad-tempered rivalry, greed, ambition, indolence, and gullibility—pass on, pass on—”I can do no less than to raise you up in return. I hereby revoke your provisional status, and declare you a permanent arm of the Dendarii Mercenaries.”

He informs them that Commodore Baz Jesek will be in command, and will not desert them.  As they set Miles down, Baz asks him which Barrayaran house he serves.  Surprised that Elena hasn’t told him already, Miles tells him the livery is brown and silver; Baz is stunned as he works it out in his head.  The last thing he sees before boarding the shuttle is Elena Visconti heading to her daughter’s side.

Ivan express his envy at Miles’s treatment; Miles says he’d like it better if his name were really Naismith.  Ivan continues to try complimenting Miles on what he’s achieved, but Miles says he didn’t want the fleet, and he hates Ivan to think he was “playing soldiers”, wasting days doing nothing while Aral was being ganged up on back on Barrayar.  Ivan asks what he’s going to do when they get home, and Miles says he’s still thinking.

Comments

I guess one reason to send Miles back to Barrayar is to give him the chance to cut loose from the Dendarii, and cut them loose from him.  He grants Baz his independence, makes his peace with Elena marrying Baz, tries to reunite Elena with her mother, and tries to give Mayhew hope again.  If he’d stayed there, he might have been able to put off doing these things, but his deadline, upon learning of his father’s danger, gives him the impetus to clear them all away.

I was tempted to quote more of the Miles baba scene, but you’re just going to have to get your own copy.  I always get it mixed up with Cordelia’s baba scene in Barrayar, and I always remember it being longer than it really is, but it’s still pretty funny.  Miles has the classic “class clown” instincts, to defuse tense situations with humour, or try to, and is less afraid of personal humiliation than many other fates.

In the departure scene, Miles refers to Baz and Elena as “Commodore Jesek” and “Commander Jesek”, and then comments on how confusing that is.  I wonder if that’s why, in later books, Elena is always referred to as “Elena Bothari-Jesek”.  Or did she change her mind for other reasons–for example, coming to terms with her father’s name.  I could see a desire to leave it behind her being part of her desire to marry Baz, but as time goes by she must be able to look past Bothari’s monstrous past and remember the father he was to her.  Same with Visconti, who seems to be at least slightly reconciled to her daughter in later books.  The central issue, of course, is redemption–what kind of crime is too great to be expiated, and what kind of expiation is great enough for a horrific crime?  Miles, as one of the greatest beneficiaries of Bothari’s penance (as well as Aral and Cordelia, of course) is better placed than many to see both sides of the man.

Ivan’s role in this chapter is mostly to be insensitive, to serve as a contrast to Miles’s conscientious and sympathetic nature.  Bit of a pity, but I guess he acts more like a teenager than Miles does, especially given his upbringing, trying to rebel against his mother and her future plans for him.  It takes him a while longer to come into his own, sadly.

Chapter Twenty

Back on Beta Colony, Miles is disguised as a pilot as they approach his grandmother’s underground apartment building.  HIs real identity would have entangled him with both the Betan legal system and the Barrayaran embassy, so he’d rather remain incognito.  Guiding Elli Quinn by voice, he is startled to see Tav Calhoun lying in wait in the lift tube.

Calhoun grabs Miles and asks what happened to his ship; Miles tells him about the damage to the Necklin rods, but offers him the money to pay it off.

 Calhoun’s hold did not slacken. “I wouldn’t touch your money with a hand-tractor!” he growled. “I’ve been given the royal run-around, lied to, followed, had my comconsole tapped, had Barrayaran agents questioning my employees, my girlfriend, her wife—I found out about that damned worthless hot land, by the way, you little mutant—I want blood. You’re going to therapy, because I’m calling Security right now!”

Calhoun heads for the comconsole to log Miles’s citizen’s arrest, as Miles asks Ivan for help.  Calhoun easily dodges Miles, but Elli Quinn trips him up and then throws him across the foyer and puts him in an armlock.  Ivan takes over the hold, asking Elli admiringly how she did that, and Elli mumbles that she used to practice fighting blindfolded.  They drag Calhoun to a janitor’s closet on the second floor, tie him up with wire, and stuff money in his clothing to pay off the ship.

Ivan scratched his head. “Y’know, there’s something backwards about this. . . .”

Calhoun was rolling his eyes and moaning urgently. Miles ungagged him for a moment.

“—plus ten percent!” Calhoun panted.

Grandmother Naismith greets Miles in relief that Captain Dimir had found him.  Miles introduces Elli Quinn as an offworlder in need of help, and Mrs. Naismith expresses willingness to help another of her grandson’s “strays”.  She asks why Miles didn’t go to the embassy first, and where Bothari and Elena are.  Miles tells her that Bothari died and Elena stayed behind, and that because of Barrayaran politics he doesn’t want to approach the embassy just yet.

Mrs. Naismith tells them that the charge against Miles has been changed from Vorloupolous’s Law to treason, attempting to usurp the throne.  She adds that Aral has apparently been trying to goad Vordrozda to the greater charge, which Miles realizes is clever, since he’s not guilty of that one.  Miles says he really only needs to show up to disprove it, though Ivan points out that Vordrozda probably has enough votes sewn up regardless of any evidence.  Miles says he thinks that Ivan is the key to it, especially since Hessman and Vordrozda think Ivan’s dead, though Miles doesn’t quite know how yet.  He says that after the betrayal of Dimir, he doesn’t trust the embassy staff either.

“Miles, your mind is crookeder than your bac—I mean—anyway, are you sure you’re not catching Bothari’s disease?” said Ivan. “You’re making me feel like I’ve got a bull’s-eye painted on my back.”

Miles grinned, feeling bizarrely exhilarated. “Wakes you up, doesn’t it?” It seemed to him he could hear the gates of reason clicking over in his own brain, cascading faster and faster. His voice took on a faraway tone. “You know, if you’re trying to take a roomful of people by surprise, it’s a lot easier to hit your targets if you don’t yell going through the door.”

They dump out the rest of the money they brought, paying Mrs. Naismith back for her investment and appointing her to distribute the rest of the necessary reimbursements.  After giving her the money to pay for Elli’s new face, he has a little left over.

Ivan snickered. “By God, Miles, you’ve made a profit. I think you’re the first Vorkosigan to do so in five generations. Must be that bad Betan blood.”

Miles tells Ivan how his father gave away 275,000 Barrayaran marks when he left the regency, just to avoid having made any money out of the office; they secretly gave most of it to charity.

As they leave, Miles tells his grandmother to wait a day before contacting the Barrayaran Embassy, and also to perhaps check on the closet where they tied up Calhoun.  At the last minute, Miles presses the leftover money into Elli’s hand as a combat bonus.

Comments

A brief chapter, tying up some loose ends from Beta Colony, the highlight of course being the forcible repayment of Tav Calhoun.  There’s very little not to like about that scene, unless of course somehow Calhoun has managed to earn your sympathy.  I also like the unexpected reapparance of the “don’t yell going through the door” rule, one of those things that makes me cackle with glee at the backward reference.  Speaking of which, the 275,000 marks is a bit of a forward reference, since it comes up in the next chapter as well…

Elli Quinn doesn’t get the longest shrift this book–apart from her questions in the meeting back on Auson’s ship, what she mostly manages to do is get her face burned off.  So it’s nice to see her competence in this chapter, under admittedly awful conditions, though also against an admittedly low-caliber opponent.  (Though apparently better than Ivan…)  That’s about the only clue to her prominence in later books, though her starring role in Ethan of Athos is a much bigger indication, especially since Ethan was the next book she wrote…


The big finale to go–okay, I guess it is still a climax–and the epilogue, and that’s it.  Should be worth coming back for…

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This is Part 9, being the ninth part of The Warrior’s Apprentice in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This part, the ninth, of the Apprentice of the Warrior, contains two chapters, those chapters being the Seventeenth and Eighteen Chapters, which number two in the counting thereof.  The author of this book, this saga, but not this post, Lois McMaster Bujold, wrote the book about a Warrior who supposedly had an Apprentice.  I’m going to tell you about them here–not the warrior or his apprentice, since I really have no firm idea who those people are in the context of this book, but the chapters.  Numbered 17 and 18.  In the book.  Which is in the saga.  I hope that’s all clear now.

Chapter Seventeen

Miles drifts in and out of consciousness, visited by Tung and Elena, calling for Bothari, then going into delirium.  Later he would discover that he had an allergic reaction to the sedative.

When he awakens, he sees Ivan Vorpatril by his bedside with Elena, and is disappointed by his new hallucination.  Elena tells him that he should be okay in a couple of weeks; the surgeon did the operation mostly via his throat, including installing a chip on his vagus nerve to keep his stomach from hurting.  Miles is skeptical at her claim that he almost bled to death from his bleeding ulcer, but he swears it’s true.  When Miles founds that he’s been out of three days, he panics over the raid, but Elena tells him everything went fine, and says he should talk to Ivan without the Dendarii around.

He asks Ivan what he’s doing there; Ivan says he’s looking for Miles.  He was with a group sent out with a Captain Dimir of ImpSec, who left a day ahead of him in a fast courier, and he’s surprised that Dimir hasn’t contacted Miles by now.  Ivan got left behind after an assignation with a Betan girl, and hitched a ride with a merchant vessel that dropped him off at the refinery.

Miles asks Ivan to start at the beginning.  Ivan tells him there was a big flap, first that he’d been kidnapped by a deserter, but Cordelia and her mother put that to rest.  After that, information from the military spy in Tau Verde stirred up a lot of people in Vorkosigan House, ImpSec, the Imperial Residence, and the Council of Counts; Ivan wasn’t quite sure why, though there was a rumour about Miles building up his own mercenary fleet, which at the time he’d dismissed.  Miles asks if Ivan ran into Calhoun, and Ivan says he told him Miles was probably in Kshatriya, as far away as he could think of.  Miles says they might as well wait for Dimir, and asks Ivan to keep his mouth shut about Miles’s real identity, then send Elena to fetch Baz.

“Sorry to hear about old Bothari,” Ivan offered when she’d left. “Who’d have thought he could do himself in cleaning weapons after all these years? Still, there’s a bright side—you’ve finally got a chance to make time with Elena, without him breathing down your neck. So it’s not a dead loss.”

Miles exhaled carefully, faint with rage and reminded grief. He does not know, he told himself. He cannot know. . . . “Ivan, one of these days somebody is going to pull out a weapon and plug you, and you’re going to die in bewilderment, crying, ‘What did I say? What did I say?'”

“What did I say?” asked Ivan indignantly.

Baz and Elena return, along with Tung and Auson, and Baz gives Miles some plastic flimsies, transcripts of the conversations between Oser and the Pelians.  Ivan is confused–he knew they were messing with Oser’s payroll, but surely they could just repay?  Miles explains that Baz and his team actually sent Oser an eightfold overpayment, nicely calculated to be too much for the Pelians to let slide, but not enough that Oser would feel obligated to return it.  Auson adds that four Oseran captain-owners have taken their ships and left the system, apparently not planning to return.

Miles congratulates Elena on her successful battle, which had been crucial to the plan.  Tung said that it was the worst boarding battle he’d ever seen, and Elena admits privately to Miles that she didn’t know that it wasn’t supposed to be that bad.  Tung admits that it would have been worse if Elena hadn’t refused to give up, since they wouldn’t have gotten anything for their losses.

Thorne bursts in, excited, telling them at Oser and his fleet have arrived at the refinery, and he’s asking permission to dock his flagship–Tung wonders who’s guarding the wormhole, then?  Miles springs out of bed and calls for his uniform.

Miles meets with Oser in the docking bay; Oser has brought five captains with him, three piloting Oser’s ships and two who own their own.

“Since the day you entered Tau Verde local space, I’ve felt your presence. In the Felicians, in the tactical situation turning under me, in the faces of my own men—” [Oser’s] glance passed over Tung, who smiled sweetly, “even in the Pelians. We have been grappling in the dark, we two, at a distance, long enough.”

Miles briefly wonders if the man is challenging him, but instead Oser says that rather than prolonging the agony, he wants to know if the Dendarii are still looking for recruits; Miles realizes that Oser is surrendering.  Miles leads Oser to a private room to work out the details.

Comments

The reappearance of That-idiot-Ivan is a little unexpected.  Up to this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that Miles was going to eventually cut his ties to Barrayar, and it would be a mere footnote to his career as Admiral of the Dendarii.  But I suppose that Miles’s proposal to Elena shows that he still thinks of Barrayar as home, and even the name of his fleet hearkens back to it.  Elena, of course, doesn’t want to look back, and her opinion of Ivan is not the best, but her recent victory in battle has boosted her confidence enough to point he’s nothing more than an annoyance.

One thing I’ve never quite gotten accustomed to in the books is “plastic flimsies”.  This is, I suppose, a replacement for paper.  Barrayar, having all that wood that Cordelia drooled over, probably wouldn’t need them that much, but I guess on less pastoral planets (like Beta Colony), or on a spaceship, it’d be easier to make sheets out of plastic.  I suppose you could even write on them, given proper implements (Sharpies?), or if they had a texture to absorb ink, and of course your comconsoles could print on them.  Maybe it’s just the name that bothers me–too reminiscent of “floppies”, which would have dated the book horribly if she’d used it.  It’s like naming something based on its worst quality, though I guess it really just implies that they had earlier plastic sheets which were more rigid and probably annoyed everybody when they wouldn’t bend…

Not sure what the vagus nerve thing is really intended to do–the ulcer has been stopped, but surely not noticing the pain would just mean that he wouldn’t notice if it came back.  I notice that while a few years ago it was declared that ulcers were caused by bacteria, full stop, now people are wavering and wondering whether stress might help the bacteria get a foothold in the first place…  I think in some later book it was implied that the vagus nerve thing actually helped with zero-gravity nausea, so it’s doubly confusing.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles surveys the Dendarii fleet, nineteen ships, and close to 3000 personnel, and tries to convince himself that they are his.  The details of Oser’s surrender, though, were more complex than that.  Many of the ships are partly owned by various creditors, including banks on Jackson’s Whole, whose economy was largely based on things illegal everywhere else.  The Ariel and the Triumph, Miles had captured in battle, but Auson had been in debt to Luigi Bharaputra’s company on Jackson’s Whole, who are supposedly sending an investigator.  Furthermore, their contract with Felice, ample for 200, is now insufficient for fifteen times as many, and growing as more recruits turn up from insystem and out.  Some people are even talking of starting up the blockade again, for Felice this time, which Miles thinks is a bad idea.

He hears Elena and Baz approaching, discussing whether to ask Miles about something.  They approach Miles and Baz says that, since Bothari’s death, Miles is now Elena’s guardian, and he asks for Elena’s hand in marriage, as well as asking Miles, as his liege-lord, for permission to marry.  Miles controls his initial flash of jealous rage and spells out the difficulties.  He had sworn to Bothari to marry Elena to a proper Barrayaran officer; Baz points out, dismayed, that as an oathsworn armsman he is surely the equivalent, and Miles tries to backpedal, while Elena asks furiously how he can owe Bothari anything, monster that he was.  Baz tells Elena that maybe they should ask later, and Elena asks him to move off to she can talk to Miles alone.
She tells Miles that she wants a fresh start, away from Barrayar, and Miles tells her how much she means Barrayar to him.

“If Barrayar were my right arm, I’d take a plasma arc and burn it off. Your father and mother knew what he was all the time, and yet they sheltered him. What are they, then?”

“The Sergeant was doing all right—doing well, even, until . . . You were to be his expiation, don’t you see it—”

“What, a sacrifice for his sins? Am I to form myself into the pattern of a perfect Barrayaran maiden like trying to work a magic spell for absolution? I could spend my whole life working out that ritual and not come to the end of it, damn it!”

“Not the sacrifice,” he tried to tell her. “The altar, perhaps.”

Miles says she belongs with him, because they both carry Bothari in them, and it will colour the way both of them see the world.  Elena tells Miles he makes her ill, and stalks off.

Ivan enters then, keeping a careful berth around Elena, and asks Miles if there’s any news about Dimir and the fast courier.  It’s been two weeks, and it bothers both of them that it hasn’t turned up.  Miles wonders if they were suddenly ordered elsewhere, and reassures Ivan that at least he managed to successfully find Miles, which was his original mission.  Ivan admires the fleet, and Miles asks if he wants to join.

Ivan chuckled. “No, thanks. I have no desire to diet for the Emperor. Vorloupulous’s law, y’know.”

They both realize, at the same time, that Miles could be considered in violation of the law against private armies for having raised the Dendarii.  Ivan tries to reassure him that, as mercenaries, they surely don’t count, except for Baz and Mayhew, his sworn armsmen.  He asks curiously about who Baz is, and Miles manages not to mention him being a deserter, wondering if there is really any chance of obtain a pardon for Baz when he returns home.

Considering Ivan, Miles begins to wonder out loud why Ivan was sent on the mission in the first place, as a cadet still in training.  Ivan says that Admiral Hessman gave him the orders in person, in the middle of the night; Miles points out that Hessman is in Procurement, not Security or Intelligence.  He tells Ivan that Hessman is working with Count Vordrozda, which Aral deplores, and also under suspicion of peculation of funds, which Aral wanted to get Illyan to investigate.  Miles also reminds Ivan that he is technically Miles’s heir; Ivan says he hopes he never inherits, not being fond of the Vorkosigan hillfolk.

Miles tries to work out the lines of descent in his head.  Ivan’s heir is Lord Vortaine, but according to Ivan, Vortaine’s on his last legs.  Vortaine only having a daughter to inherit, his titles would go to Count Vordrozda.

Ivan tells Miles that Dimir was getting orders just as he left with his pass, and describes them to Miles.

“It was the damnedest packet. In the first place, it was delivered by an Imperial Household courier in full livery. Lessee, four data discs, one green for Intelligence, two red for Security, one blue for Operations. And the parchment, of course.”

Miles points out that there are very few orders sent out on parchment:  “Imperial edicts, the originals of the official edicts from the Council of Counts and from the Council of Ministers, and certain orders from the Council of Counts to their own members.”  Miles suddenly tells Ivan that he knows what colour the ribbon on the parchment was–black, for an arrest on a capital charge, Miles’s for violation of Vorloupolous’s Law.  He surmises that Dimir’s ship was probably sabotaged, Necklin Rods warped so it would disappear in hyperspace, a fate that Ivan narrowly missed.  Hessman, and whoever else is behind the plot, wanted the parchment to get “accidentally” lost, so that Miles wouldn’t show up to defend himself.  The conviction would break Aral, forcing to either lose his morale as he watched his son die of exposure, or become an outlaw himself in rescuing Miles.  The parchment would mean that they had brought Gregor into the plot somehow.

Ivan wonders why Vordrozda would be helping Hessman.  Hessman would obviously benefit from Miles’s father, who had him under investigation, being taken out of the picture, but what about Vordrozda?  Miles says that Vordrozda has only Ivan–scheduled to be lost in hyperspace–and Vortaine–not long for the world either–between him and Miles’s inheritance.  He also points out that, if the Salic law against inheritance through the female line was put aside, Aral would be Gregor’s heir.  With Aral and Miles out of the way too, that would pass to Vordrozda.

Ivan says that Miles is being too paranoid, but Miles tells him to consider how he was bundled off by Hessman in the middle of the night, nobody else knowing where he was, no messages from Aral, Cordelia, or Illyan, and then ask whether he’d drink a glass of wine given to him by Hessman with his own hands.  Ivan reluctantly agrees that he wouldn’t.

Comments

Whoo, that’s a tangled plot to unravel.  I’ve never been quite at ease with this part of the book, frankly.  Like I said, up until Ivan’s arrival we could easily have followed Miles, like Elena, as they left Barrayar far behind.  Now the author is dragging him back, but by means of plot threads which we haven’t seen since Chapter Four, with Admiral Hessman and Count Vordrozda.  It is nice, I suppose, for some of the facts dropped way back then to show up again, but I can’t help but think that Bujold would have done it more skillfully if she were writing this book now.  Then again, I have this kind of reaction to a lot of revealed convoluted plots in books, so maybe I’m just wondering what a political intrigue plot is doing in my space opera.

The fact that Miles had never clued in that he might be violating Vorloupolous’s Law (man, I’m tired of typing that name) also kind of bothered me, even on my first read through.  Again, it’s introduced a long way back, when Miles was recruiting Baz, and explained to the handy know-nothing Betan who happened to be nearby, and then Miles never considers it when he begins claiming to be commander of a mercenary fleet.  Bothari never mentioned it again, either, and even when Miles found out that there was a Barrayaran spy in the Oseran fleet reporting on his activities, even when he sent him an order with the freakin’ Vorkosigan Seal on it, it never occurred to him that he was in trouble.  Well, I guess that’s one of the things that makes him seem realistically a teenager, his failure to realize when he’s getting into trouble.  Okay, I suppose he does know he’s getting into trouble, but he’s only worried about the immediate problems, not about any rules he may happen to have broken along the way.

I wonder about the prohibition on inheritance through the female line being called “Salic”.  It’s a bit of an obscure cultural reference, which I confess I was only aware of because of a solitaire game named “Salic Law” which excluded the queens.  It’s bad enough that some medieval Europeans brought it up to try to squeeze other medieval Europeans out of the line of succession, but it strains my credulity for the Barrayarans to have preserved the term, through their Time of Isolation.  Maybe I should just be considering them to be using an equivalent Barrayaran term (Vorsalic?), but it still jars.  Yes, I know, the Time of Isolation doesn’t imply that everybody forgot everything about their history, but surely they had other considerations…  No, wait, I get it.  Somebody tried to dig it up to prevent somebody else inheriting on Barrayar, looking for historical precedents from feudal times on Earth…  Still, stretching it.

I don’t quite remember if this chapter was the first mention of Jackson’s Whole, but I suspect it was, and it contained an intriguing amount of information.  We don’t get to see it until “Labyrinth”, and then of course Mirror Dance.  I don’t remember if anything much comes out of Auson’s ship being mortgaged to House Bharaputra, though.


Three more chapters, plus the epilogue.  The Dendarii plot is almost wrapped up, so we can go finish the Barrayar plot.  This is one of the few books where the Barrayar scenes are not my favourites, sadly, but it’s still early days…
Tune in next week for more…

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