Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread–the reread blog devoted to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in case that wasn’t clear. This week I finally get to start what is possibly my favourite book in the whole series (Memory being the other main contender)–A Civil Campaign. Like Memory, it gains a lot of its stature by standing on the shoulders of the other books in the series, in particular its immediate predecessor, Komarr, but it also picks up plotlines from Mirror Dance and Memory, and just in general gains a lot by resonance with the rest of the series. It’s principally a romance, the main plot being about the relationship between Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson, but it also covers a lot of other territory, including some very science-fictional issues about genes and identity. It’s a lot of fun, so let’s get into it.
Pym is driving Miles to the Vorthyses’ residence to see Ekaterin; they try taking a shortcut through the university campus, which nearly leads to an accident. Miles has a bouquet of flowers, which he hopes won’t be seen as too redundant. Pym asks about this woman who seems to have captured Miles’s attention, and wonders what happened to Miss Captain Elli Quinn; Miles says that Miss Admiral Quinn made the right choice for her, and says he needs to find a woman who likes Barrayar and make her fall in love with him, rather than trying to do it the other way around. At least this courtship promises to entertain his staff…
Lord Auditor Vorthys and his wife still live in the same three-story house they had before his Auditorial career, when they both taught, not wanting to try to move all of their books. With their three children having left, they had plenty of room to offer to Ekaterin and Nikki when they needed a place to stay while Ekaterin went to classes at the university. Miles is just as pleased that she is only a few kilometres from Vorkosigan House. He tries to check his reflection before he enters; Pym assures him he looks fine. Miles gathers his flowers, and a plastic flimsy, and rings the doorbell.
Professora Vorthys answers the door, commenting on Miles’s promptness; Miles asks if Ekaterin is in, starting to babble about traffic and the flowers. He last saw Ekaterin at her husband’s funeral, where he barely got a chance to speak to her. The Professora ushers him in, saying that she has been through a lot, with so few people she can talk to about it, but she seems to be holding up under the strain. She shows Miles to a small back garden, where Ekaterin is sitting and reading, dressed primly in widow’s black.
She greets Miles happily enough, thanking him for the flowers; she says she’s been spending a lot of time outside since her return from Komarr. She thanks him for coming to the funeral, and offers him and her aunt a seat; Aunt Vorthys, though, leaves the two of them alone. Miles says he’s turned in his final reports, and now his time will be Gregor’s until after the wedding, since he’s Gregor’s Second.
“I’m sure you’ll do them with your usual flair.”
God, I hope not. “I don’t think flair is exactly what my Aunt Vorpatril—she’s in charge of all the Emperor’s wedding arrangements—would wish from me. More like, shut up and do what you’re told, Miles….”
Ekaterin says she had no trouble securing Nikki’s guardianship from Tien’s cousin, Vassily Vorsoisson. She hasn’t had a chance to start her actual university courses yet, being too late for the summer semester, so she’s planning out her courses–mostly biology and chemistry, and some actual horticulture. She hopes to find some paying work in the interim to ease the burden of living with her relatives. Miles spots a red ceramic basin with a small Barrayaran plant on it, which he hazards a guess is from the remains of her old bonsai skellytum; Ekaterin confirms that it’s the surviving fragment from the old one.
Miles praises her talents for dealing with Barrayaran plants, and adds in praise for the garden designs he’d happened across on her comconsole back on Komarr. Ekaterin demurs, saying they were nothing special, but Miles perseveres, saying he liked the idea of the garden made up of native Barrayaran plants. He shows her the flimsy, which is a map of an empty lot next to Vorkosigan House, which ImpSec has forced them to keep fairly clear for security reasons. It’s got a few trees and some gravel paths, and that’s about it.
“Now, I think,” he went on valiantly, “that it would be a splendid thing to install a Barrayaran garden—all native species—open to the public, in this space. A sort of gift from the Vorkosigan family to the city of Vorbarr Sultana. With running water, like in your design, and walks and benches and all those civilized things. And those discreet little name tags on all the plants, so more people could learn about the old ecology and all that.” There: art, public service, education—was there any bait he’d left off his hook? Oh yes, money. “It’s a happy chance that you’re looking for a summer job,” chance, hah, watch and see if I leave anything to chance, “because I think you’d be the ideal person to take this on. Design and oversee the installation of the thing. I could give you an unlimited, um, generous budget, and a salary, of course. You could hire workmen, bring in whatever you needed.”
And she would have to visit Vorkosigan House practically every day, and consult frequently with its resident lord. And by the time the shock of her husband’s death had worn away, and she was ready to put off her forbidding formal mourning garb, and every unattached Vor bachelor in the capital showed up on her doorstep, Miles could have a lock on her affections that would permit him to fend off the most glittering competition. It was too soon, wildly too soon, to suggest courtship to her crippled heart; he had that clear in his head, even if his own heart howled in frustration. But a straightforward business friendship just might get past her guard . . . .
Ekaterin protests that she doesn’t have the real skill to do this yet, and she might screw it up horribly; Miles says that it will be a learning experience, and she can always make changes to it over time. She says she doesn’t want to waste his money, and Miles suggests that she come over to Vorkosigan House the next day and view the site herself. She says she can be over at midday, when her aunt will be available to watch Nikki, and Miles endorses this plan.
Miles asks after Nikki himself; Ekaterin says he’s enjoying the room and the house, but starting to get a little bored without friends his own age. She says that the gene therapy has worked completely, and he is at no risk of developing Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, which is a huge weight off her shoulders. Nikki himself emerges, and he and Miles discuss the huge groundcar he arrived in, which Miles tells him was armoured, though it never actually got fired on. Nikki’s socialization lasts long enough for him to get a few cookies and head back inside. Miles thinks that he will need to keep Nikki in account in his campaign, perhaps winning him over by introducing him to a real jumpship pilot–a happily married one, so as not to introduce more competition.
He does wonder if there’s going to be more competition–he hadn’t expected Venier’s proposal, for instance, and the sex balance among the Vor in capital is still skewed heavily in the direction of males. Miles asks Ekaterin if she’s had any callers, since even mourning garb won’t hold them all off for long, and she is very firm that she doesn’t need to try marriage a second time. Miles tries to hide his dismay and come off as nonthreatening, and decides that he should withdraw before she begins to feel pressured.
Miles informs Pym that he’s got Ekaterin coming over for lunch the next day, and begins to go over plans for the meal. He tells Pym they should clean up the house, then begins to wonder if he should try to put forth more of a helpless bachelor vibe inside; Pym says he thinks they should put their best foot forward. Miles tells Pym to always be the driver for Ekaterin and/or Nikki; his seizures are under control, now, and he does sometimes drive and fly on his own, but never with passengers, and certainly never to risk anyone so important.
He asks Pym about his own courtship; Pym says he was working for ImpSec, doing security at Vorhartung Castle, and she was a clerk in the archives. They each claim to have spotted the other first. Pym had decided to leave the Service and find a more settled job, and Illyan had let him know that Count Vorkosigan had an Armsman position open, and that was that.
Before getting out of the car, Miles asks for a quiet word with Pym. He doesn’t want Ekaterin to be gossiped about; Pym denies that he would anyway. Miles also says that he’s not technically courting Ekaterin yet, since she’s been through a difficult time and he doesn’t want to scare her off, so he would appreciate them not spilling the beans before he’s ready to do something more open. Pym assures him that he understands.
The next day, Ekaterin examines the space, coming up with a few ideas, proposing landscaping changes for water flow and asking him what kind of statement he wants the garden to make, aesthetic and political. Miles protests he knows little of aesthetics, and Ekaterin asks if he wants it to be like a natural space, or more of a harmony between the natural and the human. Miles says he’ll have to think about it, but is reassured that she thinks something can be done with the space. There are two Earth trees which will have to be chopped down or moved, but all in all she finds it an extraordinary space for the middle of the city. Miles says she can make up images of the contrasting designs for him to look at, and in the meantime invites her in for lunch.
“Vorkosigan House is about two hundred years old, now. It was built by my great-great-great grandfather, the seventh Count, in a moment of historically unusual family prosperity ended by, among other things, the building of Vorkosigan House,” Lord Vorkosigan told her cheerfully. “It replaced some decaying clan fortress down in the old Caravanserai area, and not before time, I gather.”
Miles seems a little surprised to find the door opened for them, with Armsman Pym and two other Ekaterin doesn’t know in attendance; Ekaterin is slightly daunted. Miles introduces the other two armsmen–Roic and Jankowski–to her, before dismissing them. He offers to give her a tour of the house, and she says she doesn’t want to put him to any trouble, but he insists, and she acquiesces. He shows her through the library, whose vast array of print books entrances her, and into the well-maintained gardens, then into the garage. She asks about his lightflyer, and then reprimands herself when his response reminds her that his seizures would keep him from flying much. Then into the kitchen, to meet Ma Kosti, the cook, who encourages him to come over more often, since it’s dull cooking for just Miles.
They then head up to the second floor, where he shows her his current suite of rooms, formally Count Piotr’s, then offers to take her up to the attics. Ekaterin, a little overwhelmed, asks if he grew up there, and Miles explains how he spent the first several years of his life at the Imperial Residence with Gregor. When his father reconciled with Count Piotr, they moved back, claiming the third floor; Miles’s room was a small one, chosen to make it a poor target, but with a good view of the garden. He admits he didn’t move down until after his medical discharge. What Ekaterin thinks is a bathroom turns out to be a closet.
The closet was stuffed with uniforms—Lord Vorkosigan’s old military uniforms, she realized from the size of them, and the superior tailoring. He wouldn’t have been able to use standard-issue gear, after all. She recognized black fatigues, Imperial dress and undress greens, and the glittering brilliance of the formal parade red-and-blues. An array of boots stood guard along the floor from side to side. They’d all been put away clean, but the close concentrated aroma of him still permeated the warm dry air that puffed against her face like a caress. She inhaled, stunned by the military-masculine patchouli. It seemed to flow from her nose to her body directly, circumventing her brain. He stepped anxiously to her side, watching her face; the well-chosen scent he wore that she’d noticed in the cool air of his groundcar, a flattering spicy-citrus overlying clean male, was suddenly intensified by his proximity.
It was the first moment of spontaneous sensuality she’d felt since Tien’s death. Oh, since years before Tien’s death. It was embarrassing, yet oddly comforting too. Am I alive below the neck after all? She was abruptly aware that this was a bedroom.
Trying to regain her control, she pulls out an unfamiliar uniform, which Miles tells her is one of Admiral Naismith’s, of the Dendarii Free Mercenary fleet. He tells her about how he began by pretending to be an Admiral, before ending up settling into the role in truth. He swiftly changes into the uniform jacket, and she sees a visible change as he assumes the Naismith persona.
In a deadpan-perfect flat Betan accent that seemed never to have heard of the concept of the Vor caste, he said, “Aw, don’t let that dull dirt-sucking Barrayaran bring you down. Stick with me, lady, and I’ll show you the galaxy.” Ekaterin, startled, stepped back a pace.
When he tries to do up the jacket clasps, though, he discovers that he can’t do it up; he admits he hasn’t worn it in a year, and blames Ma Kosti. Naismith’s days had been numbered anyway, he says; Ekaterin remembers seeing his needle-grenade scars back on Komarr, and deduces that Miles has pushed his body as far as he could on will alone, but in the end it wasn’t enough. Miles suggests giving them to Nikki to play with, while they’d still fit him; Ekaterin thinks that that would be an awful idea for something obviously still so precious to him, and, attempting to deflect the offer, asks him if he’d go back. Miles thinks it over, and says that it feels like a role he’s outgrown, though he does miss it terribly.
They resume the tour, covering his parents’ residence on the third floor briefly before returning to the second floor for lunch in a small parlour. Ma Kosti brings out an exquisite luncheon for them. Miles says that the house is still too empty and quiet, needing a little more life in it, though Ekaterin points out that his parents will doubtless be returning for the wedding. Miles agrees, and then says he needs to warn her about Mark; Ekaterin had known he had a clone, but didn’t know the full story. Miles brings her up to speed on how Mark was created by Komarran rebels, and forcibly made into Miles’s image, jeopardizing his sanity, but eventually brought into the family at the Countess’s urging. Mark has been studying on Beta Colony, and Miles mentions Mark’s weight difference, trying to keep himself distinct from Miles.
A scrabble at the edge of the tablecloth made Ekaterin start; a determined-looking half-grown black-and-white kitten hauled itself up over the side, tiny claws like pitons, and made for Vorkosigan’s plate. He smiled absently, picked a couple of remaining shrimp from his salad, and deposited them before the little beast; it growled and purred through its enthusiastic chewing. “The gate guard’s cat keeps having these kittens,” he explained. “I admire their approach to life, but they do turn up . . .” He picked the large cover off the tray, and deposited it over the creature, trapping it. The undaunted purr resonated against the silver hemisphere like some small machine stripping its gears.
Miles offers her dessert from the revealed tray; Ekaterin is daunted by the exquisite confections, but agrees to take one, though she notes that Miles restrains himself, probably because of either Mark or the ill-fitting uniform. As she is finishing her dessert, they hear voices, as Pym tries to deflect a visitor, but to no avail. Miles introduces the newcomer, unwillingly, as his cousin Captain Ivan Vorpatril, who, though initially attracted by the Ma Kosti dessert, seems also interested by Ekaterin herself, who Pym had referred to as Miles’s “landscape designer”.
Lord Vorkosigan put in, “Ivan lives in an apartment. I believe there is a flowerpot on his balcony, but the last time I looked, its contents were dead.”
“It was winter, Miles.” A faint mewing from the silver dome at his elbow distracted him. He stared at the cover, curiously tilted it up on one side, said, “Ah. One of you,” and let it back down. He wandered around the table, spied the unused dessert plate, smiled beatifically, and helped himself to two of the pastries and the leftover fork at his cousin’s plate. Returning to the empty place opposite, he settled his spoils, dragged up a chair, and seated himself between Lord Vorkosigan and Ekaterin. He regarded the mews of protest rising in volume from the dome, sighed, retrieved the feline prisoner, and settled it on his lap atop the fine cloth napkin, occupying it with a liberal smear of cream on its paws and face.
Miles asks Ivan, in exasperation, why he’s there, and why his guards couldn’t keep him out. Ivan says his mother has sent him with a long list of chores for Miles. Miles tells Ekaterin, regretfully, that they’ll have to talk later, and apologizes for Ivan, though Ekaterin isn’t quite sure why. Miles asks if she’ll take on the job, and she says she’ll show him the prospective designs, assuring him that she still has his various contact numbers. He shows her into the groundcar that is to take her home.
Ivan reflects on how the kitten made an excellent prop, helping to soften Ekaterin’s gaze on him; he wonders where Miles found such an exquisite widow. His last night’s date, a University student, had seemed to have potential, but she flew her own lightflyer, and almost managed to make Ivan himself queasy; at the restaurant, he discovered that he was being used to make her real boyfriend jealous, and he left them to it. It’s just a sign of what’s happening to young Barrayaran girls these days.
Miles returns, complaining about Ivan’s timing, and Ivan baits him about Ekaterin. Miles asks about the Vor lady that Ivan had had an arrangement with, and Ivan mourns that her compliant husband had ended up getting a job on Sergyar and taking her with him, reasserting his rights. Ivan asks again about Ekaterin, and Miles changes to subject to the flimsy that Ivan had brought with him. Ivan says it’s the agenda for the upcoming meeting with Gregor, Laisa and Lady Alys, and Miles’s presence is required, as the Second. Miles asks why Ivan’s delivering it, and ivan complains that his superiors have actually seconded him to his own mother until the wedding’s over, so she’s now actually in his chain of command. Miles, unsympathetic, says that Alys Vorpatril may be the most important person on the planet until Gregor and Laisa are safely hitched. He also reminds Ivan that any heirs that the Imperial couple can cook up will be more of a safety margin between the two of them and the dreaded Imperium.
Sensing how lovestruck Miles is with Ekaterin, Ivan resolves to try to get some of his own back for all the witticisms that Miles has visited upon him over the years for his own romantic affairs. He offers to provide Ekaterin with someone more cheerful than Miles, to show her around. Miles says that she’s his, but Ivan quickly establishes that Miles can’t back that up with an engagement, or an understanding, and states that she’s fair game. Miles says he plans to assert his claim when the time is right, and Ivan realizes that Miles even hopes to marry the woman; Miles says he’s never pretended to be uninterested in marriage, like Ivan.
After a long, chill silence, Miles said softly, “Are you challenging my ingenuity . . . Ivan?”
“Ah . . .” It didn’t take long to grope for the right answer. “No.”
“Good,” Miles breathed, settling back. “Good . . .” Another long and increasingly disturbing silence followed this, during which his cousin studied Ivan through narrowed eyes. At last, he seemed to come to some internal decision. “Ivan, I’m asking for your word as Vorpatril—just between you and me—that you will leave Ekaterin alone.”
Ivan’s brows flew up. “That’s a little pushy, isn’t it? I mean, doesn’t she get a vote?”
Miles’s nostrils flared. “You have no real interest in her.”
“How do you know? How do I know? I barely had a chance to say hello before you hustled her out.”
“I know you. For you, she’s interchangeable with the next ten women you chance to meet. Well, she’s not interchangeable for me. I propose a treaty. You can have all the rest of the women in the universe. I just want this one. I think that’s fair.”
Ivan points out that Miles isn’t in charge of the rest of the women in the universe, so he can’t give them to Ivan. Ivan asks where he met her, anyway, and Miles says they met on Komarr. Ivan fishes for details about the Komarr case, but Miles clams up. He does mention the recent death of her husband, and Ivan jokes that it was clever of him to create his own widow like that.
All the latent amusement which had parried Ivan’s sallies till now was abruptly wiped from his cousin’s face. His back straightened as much as it could, and he leaned forward, his hands gripping his chair arms. His voice dropped to an arctic pitch. “I will thank you, Lord Vorpatril, to take care not to repeat that slander. Ever.”
Ivan’s stomach lurched in surprise. He had seen Miles come the Lord Auditor a couple of times now, but never before at him. The freezing gray eyes suddenly had all the expression of a pair of gun barrels. Ivan opened his mouth, then closed it, more carefully. What the hell was going on here? And how did someone so short manage to project that much menace? Years of practice, Ivan supposed. And conditioning.
Miles says that he can’t tell Ivan about the Komarr case–it’s “slit-your-own-throat-before-reading” level. He tells Ivan that Etienne Vorsoisson’s death was a murder that he failed to prevent, but certainly did not cause; however, with the case being so classified, he wouldn’t be able to disprove any such accusations against him. Ivan says that Gregor will know better, but Miles points out that most people see his relationship with Gregor as nepotistic.
Miles, who had fallen into a study of his half-boots, looked up again. “I know I have no right to demand a damned thing from you, Ivan. I still owe you for . . . for the events of last fall. And the dozen other times you saved my neck, or tried to. All I can do is ask. Please. I don’t get many chances, and this one matters the world to me.” A crooked smile.
Damn that smile. Was it Ivan’s fault, that he had been born undamaged while his cousin had been born crippled? No, blast it. It was bloody bungled politics that had wrecked him, and you’d think it would be a lesson to him, but no. Demonstrably, even sniper fire couldn’t stop the hyperactive little git. In between inspiring you to strangle him with your bare hands, he could make you proud enough to cry. At least, Ivan had taken care no one could see his face, when he’d watched from the Council floor as Miles had taken his Auditor’s oath with that terrifying intensity, before all the assembled panoply of Barrayar last Winterfair. So small, so wrecked, so obnoxious. So incandescent. Give the people a light, and they’ll follow it anywhere. Did Miles know how dangerous he was?
Ivan wonders if Miles realizes that he wouldn’t have a hope of stealing any woman that Miles really wanted. He finally agrees to give Miles first shot at her, but that’s it, even, grudgingly, pledging his word as a Vorpatril. The conversation lightens up then, but Ivan quickly excuses himself once it turns mostly into an enumeration of Ekaterin’s many virtues. On his way out, he realizes that, once again, Miles has talked him into giving him his way. Ivan decides that isn’t very fair, particularly since, for Miles’s own good, he should have to fight for her love, and give her a chance to choose now, rather than devastate him by changing her mind later. With a little thought, he comes up with a scheme that will accomplish this while allowing him to keep his oath…
This is kind of a long chapter. It felt that way when I was trying to summarize it–normally I can get the first chapter of the week done on Monday, but I ended up doing the Ivan POV on Tuesday…and then these comments on Wednesday. I did a quick word count (since I have it in HTML from the CD that came with Cryoburn), and this chapter is over 14,000 words; the next one is closer to 8,000…and even that is longer than most of the chapters in Komarr, apparently. So I guess this book is going to be a bit more work, because of longer chapters. In fact, this chapter is over half as long as “Winterfair Gifts”. It also looks like this book is 20 chapters (or 19 and an epilogue, at least), but if chapters are going to be this long then I might have to do a few singles just to keep from exhaustion.
This is not Bujold’s first book with multiple viewpoints, of course, but the previous ones–Komarr and Mirror Dance tended to alternate chapters between their POV characters, or at least approximate that, and there were only two. This book has five POV characters–Miles, Ekaterin, Ivan, Kareen, and Mark, and three of them get scenes in this chapter. It works very well–it’s a joy to see Ivan’s POV after so long of him being in the background, and it definitely whetted interest for him to get his own book, which of course he recently did. I love the byplay with the kitten, because, you know, kitten!
Miles is approaching the challenge of courting Ekaterin like some kind of ImpSec covert ops mission, which is what’s going to get him in trouble, eventually. He’s so convinced that he deserves to get her that he’s willing to do whatever he can, ignoring Ekaterin’s perfectly reasonable desire to just be left alone, and her gun-shyness about marriage. Admittedly Ekaterin herself does show some flashes of appreciation for Miles, and that sensual moment in his uniform closet, but Miles is pushing a little too hard. Madame Vorthys seems to know exactly what’s going on, and doesn’t seem to be taking any steps to discourage Miles, so I guess on some level she approves.
Kareen Koudelka enters the orbital shuttle and prepares for the flight back down to Barrayar, returning from a year of schooling on Beta Colony. She has mixed feelings about returning home, and makes a note to ask Miles how he felt after his own Beta experience. Though he is an Imperial Auditor now, which she finds hard to picture.
Mark had expended considerable nervous wit at the news, before sending off a congratulatory message by tight-beam, but then, Mark had a Thing about Miles. Thing was not accepted psychoscientific terminology, she’d been informed by his twinkling therapist, but there was scarcely another term with the scope and flexibility to take in the whole complexity of the . . . Thing.
She checks her appearance, which hasn’t changed much, or has at least been restored to its original state. She takes out her Betan earrings, not willing to gamble that her mother might have picked up the code from Countess Cordelia–hers say that she’s contraceptive-protected, but in a committed relationship and not looking for any other action. She thinks that the earring code is like some other cultures’ conventions, like wedding rings, but Betans tend to be scrupulously honest about them, trying to avoid guessing games; she understands Cordelia better now, she thinks.
She watches out the window as the shuttle descends, exulting in all the water, so rare on Beta, and hurries off the shuttle when it lands. Her family don’t disappoint her, her parents and all of her sisters there to welcome her with flowers and a big decorated sign, and a group hug. Male passersby tend to be quite distracted by the Koudelka sisters, though Delia, at least, has finally gotten engaged, to Duv Galeni, and Kareen looks forward to hearing about that. They head out to the big groundcar they borrowed from the Vorkosigans, complete with Armsman Pym as driver.
Olivia asks when Mark is coming; Kareen says he’s stopped off at Escobar for business. He was planning to check on the Durona clinic, but he’s also planning to get some quick weight-loss drugs; Kareen isn’t sure that this is a good idea, but she’s learning when not to poke her nose into Mark’s body-control issues. She’s been sitting in on Mark’s therapy sessions, and even participating a little bit. Her relationship with Mark is complicated, involving trust, autonomy, patience, and confidentiality, and she doesn’t feel she can explain it easily to her family. They pester her, asking if he’s her boyfriend or what; Olivia judges him a little creepy, and Kareen hides her indignance, thinking that with all the things that Mark has gone through, he’s done well not to be a twitching puddle. But she suppresses the urge to tell them all about his coping mechanisms, knowing that they’re just wondering if he’s suitable prospective in-law. Even her father, as he quells her sisters, asks if he should expect a go-between from the Vorkosigans, and Kareen says no, Mark not being quite ready for that step yet.
Olivia asks about Mark’s weight; Kareen had known that Cordelia’s mother was passing news to her daughter, but she hadn’t realized that the Countess was also passing it on to her own mother. At least the news that she and Mark are lovers shouldn’t have made it back yet. Kareen tries to explain how Mark’s made lots of progress in his therapy, and control of his own weight is important to him.
Kareen pictured herself gibbering, Well, he’s gotten completely over his torture-induced impotence, and been trained how to be a gentle and attentive lover. His therapist says she’s terribly proud of him, and Grunt is just ecstatic. Gorge would be a reasonable gourmand, if it weren’t for his being co-opted by Howl to meet Howl’s needs, and it was me who figured out that was what was really going on with the eating binges. Mark’s therapist congratulated me for my observation and insight, and loaded me down with catalogs for five different Betan therapist training programs, and told me she’d help me find scholarships if I was interested. She doesn’t quite know what to do about Killer yet, but Killer doesn’t bother me. I can’t deal with Howl. And that’s one year’s progress. And oh yes, through all this private stress and strain Mark maintained top standing in his high-powered finance school, does anybody care? “It’s pretty complicated to explain,” she managed at last.
She changes the subject to Delia’s fiancé and whether he knows Laisa Toscane. Delia opines that she hopes Gregor will let Laisa work in economics instead of just P.R., and adds that they’ve already made it known that they plan to use uterine replicators for their children. Kareen recalls and she and Olivia, the younger two sisters, were replicator-born, and often had to serve as living examples that it was harmless. Delia says the Komarrans are still coming to terms with the marriage, and there’s going to be an entire second wedding on Komarr. Until that’s over with, she and Duv won’t be getting married, since Duv, now in charge of Komarran Affairs, won’t be getting any leave whatsoever.
Later that evening, after the big dinner with family and friends, Kareen finally gets to talk to her parents privately. She broaches the fact that she wants to return to Beta Colony for the next year’s school; her parents don’t seem enthusiastic, and she is a little irritated about that. Her mother points out that her first year was a little eclectic, even though she did well, and the schools in Vorbarr Sultana’s District are less expensive. Kareen doesn’t want to mention that Mark is the real reason she wants to return, and mentions scholarships that Mark’s therapist had talked about.
Her mother says that it was mostly Lady Cordelia’s scholarship that got Kareen to study offworld in the first place, but it’s going to another girl this year. Kareen says she can work in the summer, and pleads with them to keep an open mind and try to find a solution. Her father says that they’re already overextended, their beach house mortgaged and being rented out for most of the summer, and Drou teaching self-defense classes. Kareen remembers the house, a wedding gift from Alys Vorpatril, and hopes they don’t have to sell it; she realizes that she can’t rely on her parents for assistance, and decides she’ll have to come up with something on her own.
Miles attends the planning meeting in the Imperial Residence with Ivan, Duv Galeni, Colonel Lord Vortala the Younger of ImpSec, as well as Gregor, Laisa, and Alys. Miles’s thoughts drift to where he and Ekaterin might get married–Vorkosigan House might be too small for all the people he’ll want to witness it…will he have to hold it in Hassadar instead, or could he have it outdoors at Vorkosigan Surleau, perhaps? Assuming he can manage to bring Ekaterin around by summer, of course; he won’t want to have to wait another year for it.
Laisa reaches a pages that causes her to exclaim in incredulity, which Miles was half expecting. Lady Alys is trying to come up with as Proper an Imperial Wedding as she can, but the problem is that the most recent model is Emperor Ezar’s, in the middle of the war with the Cetagandans, and before that you have to go back to the Time of Isolation. Laisa objects to the tradition of having the bride strip naked in front of all the guests; Gregor says it was, at the time, considered quite reasonable for both sets of in-laws to be able to check the bride and groom for any visible mutations. The custom has mostly died out, and Miles says that he’d rather the Imperial Wedding not reinvigorate it; Ivan calls him a spoilsport.
Lady Alys says that she’s not proposing the exact custom, but something symbolically similar might help win over some of the conservatives. Galeni suggests publishing gene scans.
Gregor grimaced, but then took his fiancée’s hand and gripped it, and smiled at her. “I’m sure Laisa’s would be just fine.”
“Well, of course it is,” she began. “My parents had it checked before I ever went into the uterine replicator—”
Gregor kissed her palm. “Yes, and I’ll bet you were a darling blastocyst.”
She grinned giddily at him. Alys smiled faintly, in brief indulgence. Ivan looked mildly nauseated. Colonel Vortala, ImpSec trained and with years of experience on the Vorbarr Sultana scene, managed to look pleasantly blank. Galeni, nearly as good, appeared only a little stiff.
Miles takes advantage of the brief interlude to mention Kareen’s return, and invite the whole clan over for supper sometime. Gregor asks for other suggestions; Miles suggests letting the in-laws, and perhaps a few others, attend a physical given to the opposite member shortly before the wedding and pronounce themselves satisfied during the ceremony. Alys, Gregor and Laisa agree that that will probably do.
Laisa asks who will be standing in loco parentis for Gregor; Gregor suggests his foster parents the Vorkosigans, but Miles points out that the Komarrans may be less than enthused about having the Butcher of Komarr “ogle their nekkid sacrificial maiden”. He suggests his mother and Lady Alys instead, since guarding the genome has always been a traditionally female occupation, and this meets with universal approval.
After a few more items, Alys asks Gregor about the Vorbretten case; Gregor says he’s trying to stay uncommitted until the Council of Counts decide what they think about it. Miles, puzzled, asks what they’re talking about; Lady Alys says it was a scandal that broke while he was offplanet. René Vorbretten was a few years older than Miles, a promising soldier following in his father’s footsteps, who has taken up the Countship after his father’s death in the Hegen Hub. Lady Alys said that René and his wife had gotten gene-scans done while preparing their first zygote for the uterine replicators. It turned out that René was one-eighth Cetagandan; his great-grandmother had apparently had an affair with a Cetagandan ghem-lord, and his grandfather was the fruit of that union. The information eventually leaked to Sigur Vorbretten, a relative who would inherit if René’s grandfather was pronounced illegitimate, and Sigur’s father-in-law, Count Vormoncrief, is pressing Sigur’s case before the Council of Counts.
Miles points out that a Count doesn’t have to be the prior Count’s son, quoting the case of Lord Midnight, the horse that a previous Count Vortala had pronounced his heir. Lord Vortala says that Sigur’s side have pointed out that Lord Midnight’s confirmation as heir was later revoked, setting a precedent for disinheriting. Sigur is after everything René inherited, but willing to settle for the Countship. Lady Alys asks what will happen when the Counts are supposed to swear fealty to Laisa in the wedding; will Sigur or René, or both, have to do it? Gregor enjoins Miles to look into the matter, and at the very least try to keep the two of them from coming to blows during the wedding.
Gregor asks when the Vorkosigans are returning from Sergyar; Miles says he’d have thought Cordelia would be there to help Lady Alys, but Alys says that Cordelia tends to think, these days, that the couple should elope. They discuss fireworks, deciding to keep them limited in the days before the wedding, but Gregor promises to boost the display after the wedding from his own funds.
As the meeting ends, Alys give Miles a list of his meal schedule; as Gregor’s Second, he will get to attend some receptions in honour of the wedding that Gregor will be unable to attend–even Ivan will have to go to some. Miles spots more than a dozen over the three days before the wedding, and protests that he’ll never be able to eat that much. Then he decides that maybe he’ll be able to take Ekaterin to some of them, which cheers him up. Ivan suggests that they send Mark to some of them too, since he’s apparently a good eater, but Lady Alys says Mark’s social position is still a little dubious to some, and he’s not quite stable enough for all public events.
“It was a joke,” Ivan muttered defensively. “How do you expect us to all get through this alive if we’re not allowed to have a sense of humor?”
“Exert yourself,” his mother advised him brutally.
On these daunting words, the meeting broke up.
Kareen is coming home from school break on Beta, which often means summer, though I suppose it’s hard to know what Betan seasons are like, such an arid planet with so much of the civilization underground…but I find it a little coincidental, if you think about it, for that to line up with Barrayar’s summer as well. Unless the two planets have exactly the same orbital period, which is unlikely, their calendars won’t be in sync. It’s just as likely for Midsummer on Barrayar to line up with whatever passes for winter on Beta Colony. Or, I guess I should say, the equinoxes, or something in between. Not a big deal, it just seems a little convenient for the author.
Mark is the only POV character for the book not to show up in these first two chapters, Miles getting a repeat instead. (I’ll have to check and see who gets the most POV scenes–I suspect Miles and Ekaterin get the lion’s share, but I’m not sure how equal they are.) We will find out soon enough, of course, what Mark’s business on Escobar was, and how much of it he brings back to Barrayar with him…
The Vorbretten plotline is one of the major subplots I remember from the book, the other one being introduced in Ivan’s POV a little later. I don’t remember exactly how it’s resolved at this point, but I suppose there’s time for that. I don’t think that Sigur really has much of a claim, really, but I’ve been playing Crusader Kings II on the computer recently, and you don’t really need much of a claim to be able to press it. At least it just gets voted before the Council of Counts, rather than leading to an actual war…so I guess that’s progress.
The next two chapters look to be a little bit shorter in word count, and, in any event, this book is lots of fun to read, so I may encounter some of those difficulties stopping on time, like I had with Memory, but we’ll see if I can keep up with the pace. Until next week, then…