Clever intros? Yeah, I got nothin’. I mean, what is there to say? I’m posting summaries, quotes and comments from two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, from her Vorkosigan Saga–chapters Nine and Ten, this week. I seem to be all out of that “further ado”, so here they are:
Count Vorkosigan’s armored groundcar sighed to the pavement under the east portico of the Imperial Residence. Martin looked nervously back over his shoulder toward the gates, and the gesturing guards clustered around them. “Are you sure that’s going to be all right, my lord?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Miles, seated beside him in the drivers compartment. “They’ll have that little bit of wrought-iron straightened back up and repainted before I’m ready to be picked up again, I wager.”
Martin takes some hunting to find the controls to open the door. Miles encourages him to take the car out while he’s with Gregor, somewhere with lots of room to practice, and to call Tsipis if he has any problems. He warns Martin that the car is very heavy and has more momentum that it seems. As Martin pulls out–the car being much less damaged than the gate–Miles wishes he’d had Martin practice the week before, but decides he’ll do better without his new employer in the back seat to kibitz.
Miles is escorted to Gregor’s private office, which is located in a newer portion of the palace–rebuilt after the fire started by Cordelia during the Pretendership, and generally filled with art by living artists, and no antiques. After being announced, Miles sits and Gregor joins him. They both agree that they wish Miles hadn’t done it, but they can’t undo it now. Miles says that if he could magically undo anything, it might be Bothari’s death. Gregor says that Miles was on the verge of great things; Miles says it was only a desk job at ImpSec, but Gregor says that he wants to get some people his own age in positions of power in his government, and Miles would have been the first. Miles points out that they were mostly his age when they were appointed to their positions, they’ve just been there for a while.
Gregor asks Miles what he plans to do; Miles says he hasn’t decided yet, but he needs some time to get his head together. Gregor requests that he stay away from the Dendarii. He admits that they probably couldn’t stop Miles from getting to them if he really wanted to, but it would definitely be considered treason. Miles says he wouldn’t do them any good with his seizures in any case. He asks what will become of them, and Gregor says that will depend on Quinn. Miles says Quinn will probably be savvy enough to want to keep the Empire’s retainer, and ImpSec should still be able to make use of them, if she can keep the same good record. Miles says that if Quinn, who should be at the peak of her abilities, can’t manage the Dendarii, then he’s not the commander he thought.
Gregor acknowledges this, then changes the subject, cheering up visibly, and invites Miles to lunch. Miles asks if he has to, and Gregor says he wants Miles’s opinion on somebody. This reminds him to ask where Miles has told his parents yet, and they both admit they haven’t. Gregor tells Miles to do so, and to get medical treatment as soon as he can. As they are heading out to the garden for lunch, Miles apologizes to Gregor. They find a table for four in the garden under an awning; Miles isn’t sure what this is in all about, until he sees Alys Vorpatril and Laisa Toscane.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Toscane,” Miles said, as greetings were exchanged all around. “We meet again. Is this your second trip to the Residence, then?”
“My fourth.” She smiled. “Gregor very kindly invited me to a luncheon meeting last week with Minister Racozy and some of his staff, where I had a chance to present some of my Trade Group’s views. And then there was a ceremonial reception for some retiring District officers, that was just fascinating.”
The conversation starts on Komarr, but veers off into Laisa and Gregor comparing their respective only-childhoods. Miles has the impression that this is part of a dialogue between the two of them begun on one of the earlier visits. Alys stays quiet, and Gregor digs information out of Laisa and she insists on tit-for-tat from him, making him surprisingly talkative. After the dessert arrives, Gregor says he has a surprise for Laisa, and one of his liveried men brings a gorgeous white mare for Laisa to ride. Laisa protests that she doesn’t know how, and Gregor insists that he’ll teach her; Miles notices that the horse is so placid as to be barely awake, so Laisa’s not likely to be in any danger.
Laisa made doubtful, fascinated, please-talk-me-into-it noises. Miles leaned over to Lady Alys and whispered, “Where did Gregor ever find that horse?”
“Three Districts away,” she murmured back. “It was flown in to the Residence’s stables yesterday. Gregor has been driving his domestic staff to distraction for four days, planning every detail of this luncheon.”
Gregor offers to boost her into the saddle, which they eventually manage, and Gregor leads the horse around the garden with Laisa on its back. Miles asks Alys if she’s playing Baba to the couple, and Alys says it certainly seems that way. She’s not quite sure when it happened. Miles asks if Barrayar–or Komarr–is ready for a Komarran Empress. Alys says it may be controversial, but the Centrists will like it, at least. She says that, on balance, she approves. She’s been trying to find a bride for Gregor for ten years, and to no avail. He’s seen every tall, slim Vor beauty on the planet; Miles says he’s not surprised that didn’t work out, since Gregor is too afraid of inbreeding bring out his ancestors’ insanity, and he’s related to too many of the Vors for comfort.
“So . . . what does he see in Dr. Toscane, d’you think? Besides brains, beauty, a nice personality, a good sense of humor, social grace, wealth, and non-Vor genetics, that is?”
Alys vented a small, ladylike snort. “I think it’s even simpler and more fundamental than that, though I doubt Gregor is conscious of it. Not to imitate one of your mother’s annoying Betan-style instant psychoanalyses, but . . . Gregor’s mother was murdered when he was five years old.” Her red lips crimped briefly in old pain; Lady Alys had known Princess Kareen, back then. “Look at Dr. Toscane’s figure. It’s . . . maternal. Not a bone in sight anywhere. All that time I wasted herding tall, slender beauties past him, when I should have been rounding up short, plump beauties. I could cry.”
Gregor, Laisa and the horse pass by, talking animatedly. Alys asks where Duv Galeni fits into this. Miles says that they’re not exactly friends, but he knows something about it. Alys says that, according to ImpSec, Duv and Laisa weren’t actually in an intimate relationship; Miles says he was courting her nonetheless, but has to admit they were in no formal relationship. Miles says he doesn’t know what stage they were actually at, since he doesn’t know Galeni that well–he was very private and deliberate, which may have been working against him with Laisa. Alys asks if Galeni is likely to be problematic if Laisa starts seeing Gregor, and Miles says he doesn’t know, but it will probably hurt him. He apologizes mentally to Galeni.
“How can poor Galeni compete with the Emperor?”
She gave him a slightly pitying look. “If she loves Galeni . . . there’s no contest. If she doesn’t . . . then there’s no problem. Right?”
Gregor and Laisa return to the table; he helps Laisa dismount, and they wash their hands (though Miles is certain the horse would have already been thoroughly cleaned). Alys reminds Gregor about an impending meeting, and Laisa apologizes for interfering with Gregor’s work. Gregor demurs, but kisses her palm, leading to a grinning match between the two of them before Alys breaks it up, leading Laisa away.
Gregor asks Miles’s opinion of her, though he gushes his own praise of her, her trade presentation, her eyes, her beauty, with Miles unable to do more than agree, until finally Gregor calls him on it. Gregor then admits to being terrified–not of rejection, but of the danger he may be putting her into because of who he is. Miles reminds him that non-Imperial people die every day too, and Gregor seems to find this reassuring. Miles asks about the impending meeting, but it’s nothing relevant to the Vorkosigans; he wonders if he should spread the word that this would be a good week to ask Gregor for anything, since he’ll undoubtedly be in a fantastic mood, but decides that it’s better kept secret.
Miles asks if Illyan has been informed of the possible interplanetary incident this relationship, not to say wedding, would be, and Gregor says that he’ll send Alys to brief him on it, when things seem more certain. Miles says that Lady Alys may be his best possible ally in this. Gregor says that a marriage like this could be a good sign of unity for the Emperor, and Miles says that the Komarrans might not all agree with that.
Gregor shook his head. “At the last . . . none of that matters. I’ve finally found something for me. Really for me, not for the Imperium, not even for the Emperor. Just for me.”
“Then grab it with both hands. And don’t let the bastards take it away from you.”
“Thank you,” Gregor breathed.
Miles takes his leave, hoping the car is still right-side up, and planning to avoid Duv Galeni for as long as he can.
I don’t care what anyone else says, I think that there’s something going on between Gregor and Laisa. Also, I noticed that Gregor was going to send Lady Alys to liaise with Simon Illyan…
Seriously, though, you gotta feel for poor Gregor. The responsibility on his shoulders, and on other parts of him, particularly when it comes to perpetuating the Vorbarra line, must be formidable, and while he may have gotten over his brief fling of rebellion (see: The Vor Game), he can’t help but dig in his heels a little bit. He may not have been able to hold out for a love match forever, but he managed long enough, apparently. And even then, even though he has a feeling that any relationship with Laisa is something “for him”, he can’t help but think of the implications–he can’t think of it just as dating some pretty girl, but as a prospective marriage, because everyone else is, too. It’s hard to say whether Laisa is already considering marriage or not at this point, of course, but she definitely seems smitten, at least.
Finally: “annoying Betan-style instant psychoanalyses”. Heh. In case anyone, like me, is tempted to take Cordelia’s pronouncements as Divine Writ, or Authorial Writ. This book is, as I may have mentioned before, Miles trying to prove wrong his mother’s assessment (which, admittedly, he may not have ever heard) that he can find a balance in his life without the “Little Admiral”. Not without a few stumbles, of course, but he is, apparently, more resilient (and more sane?) than she seemed to think in Mirror Dance, at least.
It takes a few days, but Miles finally manages to convince Ivan to let him go to Vorkosigan District on his own, or at least without Ivan along. Ivan makes him pledge his word not to do anything suicidal, and he enlists Martin as a spotter just in case. Miles hopes that a few days in Vorkosigan Surleau will be good for him.
When they reach the district, Martin piloting the lightflyer, Miles asks him to take an indirect route, quartering the district, passing by Hassadar. Martin is no great shakes as a lightflyer pilot, but, all in all, will be better than someone having a five-minute seizure. They make a wide pass around the city of Hassadar, which doesn’t impress Vorbarr Sultana native Martin, even when Miles points out that Hassadar is more modern, since most of it was built after the Cetagandan Invasion, when the previous district capital was nuked. Martin says that there’s not much else to the district, and tries to make a hillman joke, which Miles does not appreciate. He reminds Martin that the hillmen were staunch fighters against the Cetagandan invaders.
The Vorkosigan’s District had subsequently lagged behind others in development because it was among the most war-torn on Barrayar.
Well . . . that had been a good excuse two generations ago, even one generation ago. But now?
The Imperium plucks us Vorkosigans from our District, and uses us up, and never replaces what it borrows. And then makes jokes about our impoverishment. Odd . . . he’d never thought of his family’s ardent service as a hidden tax on the District before.
Next, Miles directs Martin to fly over the radioactive wastelands, most of which were left to Miles personally by his grandfather. They observe the odd plants there, and Miles says that someday, after he’s had children, he plans to put on a radiation suit and actually set foot down there. Martin asks if anyone lives there, and Miles says it’s mostly bandits and other desperate folk, who aren’t planning on children anyway. By the time he’s old (Martin guesses ten years, and Miles says more like fifty), it’ll start being usable again. Miles points out the old capital, Vorkosigan Vashnoi, and wonders if it still glows in the dark.
Martin asks if he can go a little faster, see what the lightflyer can do, and Miles says he’s in no hurry. He toys with the idea of showing Martin how to fly the Dendarii Gorge, the way he and Ivan used to, but decides he’s not up to that level of challenge anymore.
Ivan had started the game. Each cousin took a turn at the lightflyer’s controls on runs through the deep winding gorge till the other either tapped out, martial arts-fashion, by banging on the dash, or else lost their last meal. For a proper run one had to disable several of the lightflyer’s fail-safe circuits first, a trick Miles would just as soon Martin not learn about. Miles had pulled ahead of Ivan in the score early by the simple precaution of not eating first, till Ivan twigged to it and insisted they eat breakfast together, to assure fairness.
Miles won the final round by challenging Ivan to a night run. Ivan took the first turn, and brought them through alive, though he was white and sweating when they popped up over the last rim and leveled out.
Miles lined up for his run, and turned off the flyer’s lights. All credit to Ivan’s nerve, he didn’t break and claw, screaming, for the (disabled) emergency-eject button till he realized his cousin was also flying the speed-pattern through the gorge with his eyes closed.
Miles, of course, didn’t bother to mention he’d flown the identical pattern over sixty times in daylight during the prior three days, gradually darkening the canopy until fully opaqued.
They go to check on the Vorkosigan forests, which Miles thinks are probably about ten years away from selective harvesting of hardwoods. He’s briefly alarmed at a plume of smoke, but it’s just some terraformers burning off native vegetation, so he gets Martin to waggle their wings at them. Finally they head for Vorkosigan Surleau. There are more cottages on the lakeshore, more boats on the lake, and more houses in the village.
Miles decides to visit the stables before going to the house. Martin’s attention is caught by the teenaged village girl who looks after the horses, while Miles goes to visit his horse, Fat Ninny, who is definitely getting on in years. He wonders if riding is safe for him, with his seizures, and concludes that short rides might be possible, with a spotter. More possible than swimming, in any case; sailing might be okay, with a lifejacket and a lifeguard.
Miles has deliberately scheduled his visit to coincide with his thirtieth birthday, since he’s feeling antisocial and not up to well-wishers and party-throwers. Nonetheless, Lady Alys calls to wish him well, and Miles tries to figure out how to hide from the impending comconsole calls. He goes to visit Bothari’s grave, and General Piotr’s, but can’t come up with anything to say to them.
I’m talking to the wrong damned grave, is the problem, Miles decided abruptly. Ruthlessly, he turned and strode back to the house to wake up Martin, who would sleep till noon if allowed. He knew someplace he could go where the comconsole could not pursue him. And he desperately needed to talk to a certain small lady there.
Miles tells Martin to fly him to a place in the mountains called Silvy Vale, and points out the map coordinates for the cemetery he wants to visit. Martin offers again to take the lightflyer faster, but Miles, now feeling a little daunted by the goal of his quest, proposes to teach Martin a little bit about mountain flying, which Martin says will at least be better than horseback riding. Martin is duly impressed by Dendarii Gorge, though at much slower speeds than Ivan and Miles had done, but eventually Miles can delay no longer.
Martin asks what is in Silvy Vale, and Miles tells him about the infanticide case he judged up there years ago, and how he wants to talk to the victim, Raina Csurik.
Martin’s brows rose. “Do you, uh . . . talk to dead people a lot, m’lord?”
Martin’s mouth crooked in an uncertain, we-hope-this-is-a-joke smile. “Do they ever talk back?”
“Sometimes . . . what, don’t you ever talk to dead people?”
“I don’t know any. Except you, m’lord,” Martin modified this slightly.
“I was only a would-be corpse.” Give yourself time, Martin. Your acquaintance will surely expand in time. Miles knew lots of dead people.
Even among the other dead people Miles knows, though, Raina Csurik is the biggest symbol of what he’s trying to do, and he thinks he’s started to lose touch with that, trying to play the Admiral Naismith game. He knows exactly how he lost Naismith, but now he’s wondering how he lost Vorkosigan.
When they landed, he would tell Martin to take a walk, or go fly the lightflyer around some more. This was one conversation with the dead he didn’t want a witness to. He’d failed Gregor, yet faced him, failed his family, and would have to face them soon. But facing Raina . . . that was going to hurt like needle grenade fire.
Oh, Raina. Small lady. Please. What do I do now? He hunched away from Martin, very silent, his forehead leaning against the canopy, eyes closed, head aching.
He’s shocked when Martin says that the spot where Miles wanted him to land now seems to be underwater. A hydroelectric dam has been installed, and flooded the valley. Miles checks the map, which has no dam, and is only two years out of date. He tells Martin to set down on the shore, and Martin eventually finds an open spot in the trees. Miles gets out and peers into the water, wondering what happened to the cemetery and the dead of Silvy Vale.
I should really have done chapters Ten and Eleven together, because of that cliffhanger. Well, not really a cliffhanger, but it doesn’t come to a neat ending. Not up to a three-chapter week, and I’m already too far ahead to want to do a one-chapter week, so this is what you get. We haven’t really seen Miles in Vorkosigan District since “The Mountains of Mourning”, which is, of course, the story of Raina Csurik’s death and Miles’s investigation of it. Vorkosigan Surleau turned up in the two Cordelia books, of course, not to mention a fair chunk of the hill country in Barrayar, but Miles has been spending more time out in the galaxy.
It’s hard to say whether Miles is, at first, trying to reground himself in his notional home, or if he’s just trying to flee from contact. The way he evades his brithday calls would seem to indicate the latter. He’s out of his near-catatonic funk, but still nowhere near ready to deal with most of the people he knows. Vorkosigan District is, at least, somewhere he knows, a place familiar from his childhood, with some pleasant memories attached, but things don’t stay the same. The extra buildings around the lake are just the beginning–obviously Silvy Vale, which is a kind of emotional touchstone for him, is also changing.
I gotta say, while the scene with Simon Illyan firing Miles is quite affecting, I have a hard time getting through this chapter and the next one without welling up. Raina Csurik’s story is just so sad, and touches Miles so deeply, that I can’t help but feel for them both. And then Bujold cuts off the hard conversation I was anticipating by flodding the entire valley, and taking this sequence in a completely different direction…
Next week we’ll find out what did happen to the Silvy Vale cemetery, and the rest of Silvy Vale. Soon, the real plot will surface, once we’ve gotten a little farther into Miles’s recovery. Obviously he can’t just shrug off a blow like this…but soon he’ll be given a impetus to put his inimitable talents to good use, which will be of great help, as well as a more exciting read for those of you who may be getting a little impatient with Miles moping. …But I don’t think next week’s chapters get that far yet. Come back anyway.