The train crested the hill some time ago, and has been coasting downhill for a while; now it’s finally pulling into the station and coasting to a stop. That’s how it feels to do these last two chapters of Mirror Dance, my current novel in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, at any rate. Chapters Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three are our denouement, our heroes, Miles and Mark Vorkosigan, back on Barrayar and ready for the healing to begin.
In the library of Vorkosigan House, Miles surreptitiously studies his reflection, dressed in parade red-and-blues. The scars on his necks from his cryo-chamber prep are not quite concealed, but he hopes they’ll look innocuously medical. The uniform is still a little loose on him, though his mother and Mark have had some success in getting him more fleshed out. Mark joins him, dressed in new civilian clothes from Gregor’s tailor.
The colors honored Winterfair, sort of; a green so dark as to be almost black was trimmed with a red so dark as to be almost black. The effect was somewhere between festive and sinister, like a small, cheerful bomb.
Mark says he looks better, and Miles says the same of him; Mark says he’s settled on his final weight, which is why he’s invested in the wardrobe. He takes comfort in the idea that not even the most myopic of assassins could mistake him for Miles.
Cordelia joins them, visibly exulting in her two sons; she tells them the Count is still getting ready. She’s sworn to get him out of the party by midnight, though he will have to prove he hasn’t lost his strength, and will drive Prime Ministery Racozy crazy watching over his shoulder. She hopes to get them down to Hassadar soon. Miles predicts that he’ll dance twice, to prove he can, and after that he’ll want to sit down. Cordelia notes that Barrayar doesn’t know yet what to do with its men when they retire rather than dying in harness.
She mentions that Gregor has had the horrible idea of offering them the viceroyalty of Sergyar, since the current viceroy is pleading to come home. She calls it a thankless job, but Miles points out that she did discover the planet herself, and Cordelia begins to talk about the ecological problems, like the worm plague, and how they need a little Betan know-how…
Miles and Mark looked at each other. It wasn’t telepathy. But the thought that perhaps Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t the only over-energetic aging expert Gregor might be glad to export from his capital was surely being shared between them, right this second.
Mark’s brows drew down. “How soon might this be, ma’am?”
“Oh, not for at least a year.”
The Count appears, looking trim with his medical weight loss, good colour apart from his completely white hair, but Miles knows his stamina won’t last. In retrospect, his father’s near-death experience has scared Miles, demonstrating that he might not even be there when his father dies. Throwing dignity to the wind, he gives his father a hug, which embarrasses him slightly, but Count is also clearly revelling in his biological wealth.
The Countess attached herself to her husband’s arm. “Lead on, love. Vorkosigans Victorious.”
Vorkosigans Convalescent, was more like it, Miles reflected, following. But you should see what the other guys look like.
Simon Illyan is there to greet them at the Residence, which reassures Aral, who notes that there must be no major crises in progress. Illyan comes over to brief Aral, out of habit, and is embarrassed when Aral points out he should be talking to Racozy instead. Cordelia pulls Aral away, and Illyan turns his attention to Miles and Mark; Miles takes pains to appear healthy, so his return to duty in two months won’t be delayed further. After all, those convulsions have probably stopped by now.
Mark asks Illyan if his Winterfair gifts to the clones have arrived–just money, since he doesn’t know them well enough for more, but he decides it also gives them the gift of choice. The million marks he gave ImpSec were earmarked for the clones’ education and other needs, but the gifts are separate. He confides to Miles that it is better to give than to receive, to be “Father Frost”. He asks what they give Gregor, who has everything, and Miles says that traditionally they give him a large shipment of maple syrup; Aral is even worse, and Miles says sometimes you can’t pay back, you have to pay forward.
Miles feels the eyes on them as they enter the reception hall, and he thinks that Barrayar doesn’t know what’s going to hit it. He hopes he can teach Mark to care for Barrayar as he does, dangerous as that sometimes is, and looks forward to having Mark as a friend and ally. He reminds himself that now, on some level, he’s expendable, but he feels that Mark has done well, learning from his example.
Mark asks Miles about Lord Vorsmythe, an industrialist that Mark has been wanting to talk to, and asks Miles to introduce him. Mark intends to invest two-thirds of his money domestically on Barrayar, and rest galactic–Lilly Durona’s medical firm on Escobar, to be precise, to work on a medical solution for the longevity problem, though he’s willing to bet she’ll turn a profit as well. Miles performs the introduction, and Vorsmythe is surprised and delighted to have an actual interested audience in Mark. Miles leaves them to it and heads in the direction of Delia Koudelka.
So here is where we get the first mention of the viceroyalty of Sergyar, and the worm plague, for that matter. This may have been where I clued in, first time through, that Sergyar was the same planet from the beginning of Shards of Honour. It did have some interesting fauna, as I recall, though luckily we didn’t get to see the worm plague back then. It is an ideal position for Aral and Cordelia, as Gregor shrewdly noticed–Aral as viceroy of Komarr would probably be just a teensy tiny bit more fraught.
Miles is, indeed, falling into the thought patterns that Cordelia had predicted, in having some perhaps unrealistic expectations about his future relationship with Mark, “potential ally” and all that. Mark, of course, is looking forward more to keeping his brother down to earth and teasing him mercilessly. Also, he’s thinking very wishfully about the prognosis of his little seizure problem…and setting up a large chunk of the next book’s plot in the process. I’m sure that Bujold was, even now, thinking to herself “What’s the worst thing I can do to Miles next?”
Mark is also exercising his new identity–distinguishing himself physically from Miles in an unambiguous fashion. I’m not sure if the ability to pick a weight and maintain it effortlessly, presumably with pharmaceutical aid, is widespread on Barrayar or more of a galactic thing; I suspect more of the latter, or perhaps it’s one of those things that is only gradually making inroads. I suspect that Barrayar would make more out of keeping oneself naturally fit. Being fat then becomes a lifestyle choice, and presumably not a particularly popular one, but Mark has his reasons, of course.
Lady Vorsmythe eventually retrieves her husband from his fascinating discussion with Mark. Mark looks around to see if Miles is also overexerting himself. Miles has been surreptitiously using Mark to check for gaps in his memory, and Mark realizes how desperately frightened Miles is of having permanently lost some piece of his past. It bothers him to see Miles so unsure, and Mark hopes he’ll recover his obnoxious self-confidence soon. Mark has enough things he’d gladly forget. He’ll have to get Miles to show him around, get him to play the expert for a while; he’d rather let Miles’s ego recover a bit before doing his brotherly duty of cutting it down to size.
He finally spots Miles in the company of Delia Koudelka, and realizes that Kareen’s probably there too. He finds the Countess, and asks her if she talked to Kareen, and, if so, what she said. Cordelia says it was a long conversation, but it boiled down to Mark being an intelligent man who’d had some bad experiences, but she thought he’d be suitable for Kareen if he turned his mind to solving his problems. Mark wonders if she’s talking about Betan-style therapy, but he’s afraid any therapist’s notes would end up in ImpSec hands. Cordelia says she could make sure that didn’t happen, even if she couldn’t see the reports herself, and gives him her word on it.
She says she didn’t tell Kareen any sordid details, since she’s still a little young for that–still in school, and thus not ready for a long-term commitment. Mark says that he’s managed to acquire a whole new set of problems since then anyway, worse ones. Cordelia says that he seems much more relaxed to her since getting back from Jackson’s Whole.
“I don’t regret knowing myself, ma’am. I don’t even regret . . . being myself.” Me and the black gang. “But I do regret . . . being so far from Kareen. I believe I am a monster, of some sort. And in the play, Caliban does not marry Prospero’s daughter. In fact, he gets stomped for trying, as I recall.” Yes, how could he possibly explain Gorge and Grunt and Howl and Killer to someone like Kareen, without frightening or disgusting her? How could he ask her to feed his abnormal appetites, even in some dream or fantasy play? It was hopeless. Better not to try.
The Countess smiled wryly. “There are several things wrong with your analogy, Mark. In the first place, I can guarantee you are not subhuman, whatever you think you are. And Kareen is not superhuman, either. Though if you insist on treating her as a prize and not as a person, I can also guarantee you will run yourself into another kind of trouble.” Her raised brows punctuated the point. “I added, as condition to my blessing on your suit, the suggestion that she take the opportunity during her schooling on Beta Colony next year for some extra tutoring. A little Betan education in certain personal matters could go a long way, I think, to widening her perceptions enough to admit, um, complexities without choking. A certain liberality of view an eighteen-year-old simply cannot acquire on Barrayar.”
Mark says he’d thought of going to school on Beta Colony himself, for the benefit of future qualifications, and Cordelia approves of his plan. He still has to deal with the evening ahead, though. Cordelia says he should go ahead and dance with Kareen; this is not the play, and Prospero has more than one daughter. Kareen seems to find him interesting, at least, and young people are gifted with romance rather than prudence.
Walking across the hall to meet Kareen requires all his fortitude, but he is rewarded with enthusiasm on her part. She has saved a number of dances for him, and Mark has purposely learned the steps to a minuet for the purpose. They move onto the dance floor, Mark marvelling at the color coordination of her dress with his outfit until he realizes their mothers must have compared notes. Mark suppresses Grunt’s more lustful assessments of Kareen, and channels it into his dancing.
All true wealth is biological, the Count had said. Mark finally saw exactly what he meant. For all his million Betan dollars, he could not buy this, the light in Kareen’s eyes. Though it couldn’t hurt . . . what was that damned Earth bird or other, that built wildly elaborate nests to attract a mate?
Mark asks her, feigning nonchalance, what she thinks is most important in a man; she answers “Wit”. She turns the question back on him, and he answers “Trust”. He has a wonderful evening after that, making her laugh several times, eating enough to sate Gorge, dancing even with some of Kareen’s friends, but eventually his feet get tired and he retrieves a wilted Miles and Armsman Pym drives them home, the Count and Countess having already left.
Mark and his brother were alone in the compartment. Mark counted the number of people present. One, two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith. Lord Mark Vorkosigan and Gorge, Grunt, Howl, and Killer.
Admiral Naismith was a much classier creation, Mark thought with a silent sigh of envy. Miles could take the Admiral out to parties, introduce him to women, parade him in public almost anywhere but Barrayar itself. I suppose what my black gang lacks in savoir faire, we make up in numbers. . . .
Mark apologizes for getting Miles killed, and Miles said the drop mission was a mistake in the first place. Vasa Luigi hadn’t wanted to ransom Mark, though, probably already planning to sell him to Ryoval. Miles said it didn’t make much difference in the end, but Mark disagrees. They discuss future plans; Miles says that their parents will be going down to Hassadar, where it’s somewhat warmer, and Miles plans to divide his time between there and Vorbarr Sultana until ImpSec lets him back to work, and he invites Mark along. Mark accepts, and says that he’s thinking of taking a few courses in the college in Hassadar, as much to learn about how to deal with less than enlightened fellow students as for the actual education, though he yearns to know as much as he can.
The groundcar turned in at the gates of Vorkosigan House, and slowed. “Maybe I’ll get up early,” said Mark. “There’s a lot to do.”
Miles grinned sleepily, puddled down in his uniform. “Welcome to the beginning.”
And here we are at the end. Shorter chapters, mostly, but more of them, not to mention that gap in the middle, so it took longer than some of the other books. But it was worth it. Mark has had a great journey, from a bad counterfeit Admiral Naismith afraid of Barrayar to facing the planet on his own terms. Miles is really a secondary character in the book, his own challenges mostly against his own infirmity, attempting to overcome adversity to get back to where he was, rather than to conquer new ground. Don’t worry, he’ll have time for that soon enough.
You can’t help but cheer for Mark and Kareen–you want Mark to get the girl, though of course there’s more of it for Kareen than just being the prize. Which is probably a lot of the reason for their plotline in A Civil Campaign, which we’ll get to…well, not soon enough, but eventually, at least. At least Mark is not indoctrinated with the usual Vor dose of Barrayaran sexism, so he has less to get over in that respect than some of the people Kareen could have ended up with.
You know, I almost wish we could’ve seen Miles and Ivan’s reunion. I suppose it would have been underwhelming, since Ivan wouldn’t let on how relieved and happy he was for Miles to be back among the living without the influence of a lot of alcohol. But some mention, at least…
After this, my usual week off before I start on Memory. And, as I’ve said, it will be a little different doing this one, because I don’t have an electronic copy of this one like I have for all the others I’ve done so far, courtesy of that lovely CD that came with Cryoburn. In fact, Memory is one I still have in mass-market paperback, so it’ll be much harder to hold it open and type, so: fewer quotes, I expect. On balance Memory may be my favourite book in the series, though Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign are close runners. Let’s see if it holds up in the reread this time…