Good evening, denizens of the Internet (where it’s always evening somewhere), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. It is my continuing delight to lead you at a leisurely pace through the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends and family. This week, the more-than-normally-leisurely pace continues, as I cover Chapter Four of A Civil Campaign, and…that’s it. Shall we let’s?
Ivan is just leaving the Ops building (after dropping off some wedding invitations for offworld delivery) when he is hailed by Alexi Vormoncrief. He prepares another wedding-related mission as an excuse in case he needs to escape from Vormoncrief, a notorious bore, but he is curious to know how his plan is going. Vormoncrief offers to buy Ivan a round, since he has something to celebrate, and Ivan decides to accept. They go across the street to the usual Ops tavern, where Ivan spots By Vorrutyer; Vormoncrief invites By over as well. To Ivan’s surprise, By accepts, and he wonders why By is cultivating Vormoncrief. He greets By cautiously, since Miles isn’t there to draw By’s attention.
Vormoncrief offers condolence to By on the death of his cousin Pierre, Count Vorrutyer; By says it was definitely just plain heart failure. Pierre died without issue, unfortunately, and the next in line is Richars Vorrutyer, another cousin, and one that By doesn’t approve of, though Vormoncrief, a staunch conservative, calls him “politically sound”. By mention possible obstacles, which puzzles Ivan; apparently Pierre’s sister, Lady Donna Vorrutyer, has lodged a motion to block Richars’s accession, though she’s been on Beta Colony since before Pierre’s funeral. Ivan has fond memories of Lady Donna, with whom he’d had a fling years ago, and thinks that he should get back in touch with her when she gets back to Barrayar… By won’t tell them what her planned impediment is, though, but he wishes her luck with it.
Their drinks arrive, and Vormoncrief proposes a toast to matrimony, and announces he has sent the Baba. He thanks Ivan for having introduced him to Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, and says that he managed to get her father’s name and address and sent a high-class go-between to send his formal proposal of marriage. He admits that Ekaterin hasn’t actually accepted him yet, but he’s confident that the romance of the old-fashioned proposal will win her over, something that Zamori can’t match. Ivan hadn’t invited Zamori, though, trying to limit Miles’s romantic rivals to clods like Vormoncrief, but apparently Vormoncrief spilled the beans, and Zamori is a more serious threat.
While Vormoncrief is away from the table, Ivan confesses his problem to By, that he was really just trying to twit Miles. By says that he was there too, also because of Vormoncrief’s lack of discretion; he assures Ivan that he wasn’t wife-hunting, but he fancies that he intrigued Ekaterin a little bit… Then he changes the subject and asks Ivan to help Lady Donna out with her case, since he has the ear of influential people. Ivan thinks that By is overestimating his capabilities, but agrees to meet with her on her return, even if he isn’t sure what she hopes to accomplish by blocking Richars from the Countship. Ivan makes his escape after Vormoncrief’s return.
How to avoid Miles? He couldn’t put in for transfer to some distant embassy till this damned wedding was over. That would be too late. Desertion was a possibility, he thought morosely—maybe he could go off and join the Kshatryan Foreign Legion. No, with all Miles’s galactic connections, there wasn’t a cranny of the wormhole nexus, no matter how obscure, sure to be safe from his wrath. And ingenuity. Ivan would have to trust to luck, Vormoncrief’s stultifying personality, and for Zamori—kidnapping? Assassination? Maybe introduce him to more women? Ah, yes! Not to Lady Donna, though. That one, Ivan proposed to keep for himself.
Lady Donna. She was no pubescent prole. Any husband who dared to trumpet in her presence risked being sliced off at the knees. Elegant, sophisticated, assured . . . a woman who knew what she wanted, and how to ask for it. A woman of his own class, who understood the game. A little older, yes, but with lifespans extending so much these days, what of that? Look at the Betans; Miles’s Betan grandmother, who must be ninety if she was a day, was reported to have a gentleman-friend of eighty. Why hadn’t he thought of Donna earlier?
Donna. Donna, Donna, Donna. Mmm. This was one meeting he wouldn’t miss for worlds.
Kareen swears that she hears Mark skipping before he enters the antechamber where Pym has had her waiting; she doesn’t think he looks healthy, with all that too-fast weight loss. He grabs a footstool, climbs up, and they kiss vigorously. She tells him that she walked over from their hours, and he invites her up to cool off in his room, with Grunt… Kareen isn’t willing to consider it in Vorkosigan House, though, and the Koudelka house would be even worse. Mark suggests a lightflyer, or a groundcar, or a rented room…Kareen still shakes her head.
Mark is alarmed, wondering if he’s done something wrong, if she wants him to gain the weight back…she says it’s just Barrayar, and her. On Beta Colony everything seemed to clear, but on Barrayar, she hasn’t even been able to tell her family that she and Mark are together. She can feel herself shrinking back into her old place, folding herself to fit into Barrayar’s expectations. She wishes that Cordelia was there–as a Betan, it was easy to talk to her–because she can’t even talk to her own mother about it.
Mark decides that he can survive celibacy for a couple of months, but Kareen tells him that she probably won’t be able to afford to go back to Beta Colony. She says she can’t get the scholarship again, and without that she won’t be able to afford it. Mark says he still needs another year of schooling–and therapy–on Beta Colony, but he doesn’t know if he can handle it without her, even if he does come back to Barrayar afterwards. They huddle for a moment, then Mark pulls back and says there’s still three months to see what will happen.
He invites her to see the butter bugs, while she’s there. He tells her that Lilly Durona told him about Enrique, who was a genius, but in a bit of trouble.
“…Great biochemist, no financial sense. I bailed him out of jail, and helped him rescue his experimental stocks from the idiot creditors who’d confiscated ’em. You’d have laughed, to watch us blundering around in that raid on his lab. Come on, come see.”
As he towed her by the hand through the great house, Kareen asked dubiously, “Raid? On Escobar?”
“Maybe raid is the wrong word. It was entirely peaceful, miraculously enough. Burglary, perhaps. I actually got to dust off some of my old training, believe it or not.”
“It doesn’t sound very . . . legal.”
“No, but it was moral. They were Enrique’s bugs—he’d made ’em, after all. And he loves them like pets. He cried when one of his favorite queens died. It was very affecting, in a bizarre sort of way. If I hadn’t been wanting to strangle him at just that moment, I’d have been very moved.”
Mark leads her down to the laundry room where the lab is set up. As soon as they arrive, Enrique protests that they need more light and heat, and furniture, and Kareen suggests they check the attic. Mark introduces them, then fetches a butter bug to show her. It does look repulsive, but she holds out her hand, and Mark puts the bug in it. It is ugly, but not worse than some things she’d seen in xenozoology, and it doesn’t smell bad. Mark and Enrique explain how they produce the bug butter.
Enrique says they need more food for the bugs, and pulls out a rose from a florist’s box; apparently he’d asked Miles how to get some Earth-style organic matter, and Miles had recomended them. Mark says that it’s far too expensive to buy flowers just for the bugs, and says they should be able to get some much more cheaply from outside. Enrique says he also needs a lab assistant, and information on Barrayaran biology; Mark says that Miles will know people at the university, and then he suggests that Kareen come work for them. He tells Enrique she’s Betan-trained, which Enrique approves of, though he points out that they don’t have much money right now. Mark elaborates that it’s not gone, just a little short and not very liquid right now. Enrique suggests selling shares again, but Mark says not after last time–on Escobar Enrique had sold shares for several hundred percent of his company.
Mark takes Kareen aside and says that Enrique really needs a keeper, or a mother, to keep him from doing stupid things and wasting their money, and he knows he could trust Kareen. But he says he would need to pay her in shares; Kareen isn’t sure that this is really going to make them any money, but Mark is confident, and says that he has a majority of the shares, and is working with Tsipis to make things all official. He assures her that it’s the Lord Mark persona behind this plan, not one of the Black Gang. He adds that the job will let her come to Vorkosigan House all the time, so they could see each other… The bug in Kareen’s hand then vomits some bug butter into her palm, but she decides to accept anyway.
No Miles at all in this chapter, or Ekaterin either, just ivan and Kareen. The other major plotline, with Donna Vorrutyer, is introduced–like I said, I tend to recall the Ivan and By scenes, mostly because of this plot. It’s amusing to find that Lady Donna taught Ivan everything he needed to know about pleasing a woman, to survive the Lord Yenaro’s extreme-impotence drug treatment in Cetaganda. Ivan’s reunion with her, of course, is not going to go quite as he might hope. By, of course, knows exactly what Lady Donna is doing on Beta Colony, and I’m sure that, however serious he is about wanting Ivan’s help, he’s also enjoying the thought of what’ll happen when Ivan meets “Lady Donna” next…
When Kareen thinks about her money troubles, it doesn’t occur to her to ask Mark for money. She must know that Mark’s net worth is substantial, and he could easily (under normal circumstances, at least) bankroll her, but I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t want to accept charity from him like that. Her Barrayaran heritage would probably think of it as some kind of lien on her, like he’s trying to buy her favours, and her self-reliant nature wouldn’t take kindly to it either. Of course, we find that Mark’s money’s a little tied up right now anyway, so he couldn’t even really offer. So he’s really dependent on the success of the butter-bug scheme, which is resting on somewhat shaky foundations right now–Enrique’s unworldliness, Miles’s revulsion, and the somewhat questionable legal status of their departure from Escobar…
Another chapter next week…or two, perhaps? Well, perhaps. Traffic woes and weather have eased up, so my commute is no longer quite as mind-crushing, so we’ll see how I do on Chapter Five. If I manage to get it done before Wednesday, for instance…