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.
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.
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.
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.
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…