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.
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.
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.
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.
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…