It may feel like Kyril Island out there for a lot of us, but there is still hope, and warmth, as long as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues. This week I managed to pull off another two-chapter post from Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, so there’s that. So huddle around your computers, or smartphones, or whatever you may be using to read this, and remember that, on Barrayar, it’s summer, and it’s warm…at least in Vorbarr Sultana.
Kareen and Martya peer at the front of the Vorthyses’ house, trying to figure out if there’s anyone there, when Nikki bursts out the front door and greets them. They tell him they’ve come to talk to his mother, and he tells them she’s in the garden out back. Kareen and her sister head through the house to the back yard, where Ekaterin is weeding busily; Kareen thinks it looks therapeutic. She looks up and greets then, and Kareen admires the garden; Ekaterin says she’d started it back when she was a student, and her aunt has tried to keep it up.
They sit down in chairs on the deck, politely refusing Ekaterin’s offer of tea, because she knew that Ekaterin would have to go prepare it herself. Guardedly, Kareen asks if she’s heard anything from Vorkosigan house; Ekaterin says she hasn’t. Kareen is surprised that Miles hasn’t already starting trying to spin-doctor the dinner-party disaster; she says she’s actually worried about Mark, because she hasn’t heard a thing from him. Ekaterin says she hasn’t heard, and Kareen says that she’s forbidden to visit or talk to anyone at Vorkosigan House; her parent made her swear, and then even stuck her with Martya as a snitch, which Martya herself isn’t happy about either.
Kareen complains that her parents seem to be trying to stop her from growing up; Ekaterin says that she does sympathize with the parental desire to keep your children safe. Martya says that Kareen isn’t helping, the way she’s been carrying on.
“There’s something to that in both directions,” said Ekaterin mildly. “Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting like a child than to be treated like one. It’s so infuriating. It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap.”
“Yes, exactly,” said Kareen eagerly. “You understand! So—how did you make them stop?”
“You can’t make them—whoever your particular them is—do anything, really,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.” Ekaterin looked up from her lap where her hands had been absently rubbing at the yard dirt smeared on them, and remembered to smile. Kareen felt an odd chill. It wasn’t just her reserve that made Ekaterin daunting, sometimes. The woman went down and down, like a well to the middle of the world. Kareen bet even Miles couldn’t shift her around at his will and whim.
Kareen says it’s like they’re asking her to choose between her family and her lover, and she doesn’t see why she can’t have both. Mark somewhat over-romanticizes families, so he’d be heartbroken if she gave them up for him. She says that if she was a real adult, she’d have an income, and enough money to leave home. That’s why she’s taking part in the butter bug scheme, which she thinks will be huge, once it gets off the ground, and even Tsipis agrees that the idea is sound. Her parents think she was just fooling around with Mark over at Vorkosigan House, but she was working, and her shares are there, and she doesn’t even know what’s going on!
Martya asks Ekaterin if she’s heard from Dr. Borgos, because she feels sorry for him; Ekaterin says she hasn’t. Kareen is still mad at Enrique, though, for spilling the beans about her and Mark. Martya says she missed a bet there–she could have been dropping awful hints about what she could have been doing on Beta Colony, and when their parents found out what she had been doing, they’d have been grateful it was only her and Mark. Kareen, who had done more than that, holds her tongue. Martya says that any normal person would be hard put to cope with Miles and Mark on a daily basis.
“You think Enrique is normal?” said Kareen to her sister, wrinkling her nose.
“Well . . . at least he’s a change from the sort of Lieutenant Lord Vor-I’m-God’s-Gift-to-Women we usually meet in Vorbarr Sultana. He doesn’t back you into a corner and gab on endlessly about military history and ordnance. He backs you into a corner and gabs on endlessly about biology, instead. Who knows? He might be good husband material.”
“Yeah, if his wife didn’t mind dressing up as a butter bug to lure him to bed,” said Kareen tartly. She made antennae of her fingers, and wriggled them at Martya.
Martya snickered, but said, “I think he’s the sort who needs a managing wife, so he can work fourteen hours a day in his lab.”
Kareen snorted. “She’d better seize control immediately. Yeah, Enrique has biotech ideas the way Zap the Cat has kittens, but it’s a near-certainty that whatever profit he gets from them, he’ll lose.”
Ekaterin wishes she had that kind of time to work, and Martya says that she’s like Enrique too–better suited for R&D than being a housewife. Ekaterin asks if that means she needs a wife, rather than a husband, and Kareen suggests she try Beta Colony.
The conversation peters out for a time, until Martya brings up the ugliness of the butter bugs–except for the Vorkosigan ones, which actually looked nice. Kareen said she hadn’t known Enrique could do that to the bugs; Ekaterin says she should have seen it, since it’s really just the microbes in the bugs’ gut that do the work, the rest of the bug just being vehicles for them. Enrique just slapped together a bunch of bug genes to be functional, without caring what they look like.
Kareen says, slowly, that Ekaterin knows about aesthetics, always looking well put together despite her doubtless limited budget, having what Lady Alys calls “unerring taste”. She says that Mark is good at deals, Miles is good at strategy and persuasion, and she’s not sure what she’s good at, but Ekaterin is good at beauty. She asks Ekaterin to come up with a way to make butter bugs pretty–to redesign them, not worrying about the actual genetics, to look more appealing. Ekaterin is dubious, but she says she could come up with a few ideas, trying to use colours found in nature, trying not to mess with the functional parts of the bug. Kareen says they could hire her to produce a glorious butter bug; Ekaterin says they don’t need to pay her, and Kareen tells her never to say that, because people don’t value what they don’t pay for. Though she’ll still have to accept pay in shares, like Ma Kosti did.
Ekaterin says she can produce some preliminary designs in a day or two, but she’ll need to meet with Mark and Enrique as well. Obviously they can’t meet at Vorkosigan House, so Kareen asks if they can meet at the Vorthyses’ instead. Ekaterin says that she won’t want to go behind the Koudelkas’ back, but if they allow it, for business purposes, she’ll go along with it. Kareen says that Ekaterin could meet with Mark and Enrique without her, but she’d prefer to be there, and Ekaterin agrees. Martya protests that she’ll be forced to duenna again, and Kareen says she’d be happy enough if Martya could convince their parents she wasn’t necessary.
They are interrupted by the arrival of Armsman Pym, who is discussing having Nikki come over to his own flat to play with his son. Ekaterin sinks back into reserve at Pym’s arrival, and she sends Nikki back inside and greets Pym neutrally. Pym greets Ekaterin politely, and is surprised to find the Koudelka sisters there. Kareen wonders if she’s allowed to talk to Pym, or not… Pym produces an envelope addressed to Madame Vorkosigan and sealed with the Vorkosigan arms. He says that Miles has sent her this letter, and apologizes it took so long, which Pym adds is because of the drains. Ekaterin takes the envelope cautiously, and Pym turns and excuses himself.
Kareen shrieks at Pym to tell her anything about what’s going on over at Vorkosigan House. Martya objects, and Kareen asks her to ask him. Martya agrees, reluctantly, and then asks Pym about the drains. Kareen says she doesn’t care about the drains, and Martya says that she gets to talk to him, so she gets to decide on the topic.
Pym’s brows rose as he took this in, and his eyes glinted briefly. A sort of pious innocence informed his voice. “I’m most sorry to hear that, Miss Kareen. I trust the Commodore will see his way clear to lift our quarantine very soon. Now, m’lord told me I was not to hang about and distress Madame Vorsoisson with any ham-handed attempts at making things up to her, nor pester her by offering to wait for a reply, nor annoy her by watching her read his note. Very nearly his exact words, those. He never ordered me not to talk with you young ladies, however, not anticipating that you would be here.”
“Ah,” said Martya, in a voice dripping with, in Kareen’s view, unsavory delight. “So you can talk to me and Kareen, but not to Ekaterin. And Kareen can talk to Ekaterin and me—”
“Not that I’d want to talk to you,” Kareen muttered.
“—but not to you. That makes me the only person here who can talk to everybody. How . . . nice. Do tell me about the drains, dear Pym. Don’t tell me they backed up again.”
Pym obliges, telling her that Dr. Borgos, with an excess of bug butter accumulating in Kareen’s absence, ended up dumping two days’ worth of bug butter down the drain… In the pipes it underwent a chemical reaction which caused it to solidify, and block the main drain, which caused an immediate crisis. Miles, informing them all of his “rich military experience with drains”, led Pym and Armsman Roic down into the sub-basement to address the issue. They could hardly refuse to follow him, especially given how much higher the effluent was on Miles than on them. Miles dealt with the problem quickly, and the household rejoiced, but everyone got a slow start, including Pym, hence the delay in delivery of the letter.
Martya asks what happened to Enrique (as Kareen bounces in impatience), and Pym said that he himself had proposed hanging him upside down in the drains, but Cordelia settled for giving him an education talk about what should, and shouldn’t, go into the drains.
The story now over, Kareen pester Martya more to ask about Mark, and Pym waits patiently until Martya finally capitulates. Pym starts to talk about Lord Mark’s dangerous overeating, then changes to a more general appraisal of “depression”, but Kareen can tell that Gorge and Howl have probably gotten loose. Mark has been keeping busy helping Enrique with the bug recovery, and unsure how to proceed otherwise, not knowing how things were in the Koudelka household, but Pym will make sure he knows how things stand. Kareen is reminded that Pym is former ImpSec and no stranger to deducing facts on scant evidence, so she is confident that Mark will in fact learn what’s going on.
Martya glanced sideways at Ekaterin, and added somewhat daringly, “And so how’s the skinny one?”
Pym hesitated, followed her glance, and finally replied, “I’m afraid the drain crisis brightened his life only temporarily.”
He sketched a bow at all three ladies, leaving them to construe the stygian blackness of a soul that could find fifty kilos of bug butter in the main drain an improvement in his gloomy world.
Pym bids them farewell, seeks assurances that Nikki will be allowed to visit Arthur, and takes his leave. Martya shakes her head in amazement at how the Vorkosigans can get such people; Kareen says that Pym came courtesy of Simon Illyan himself, which Martya calls cheating. Ekaterin’s hand keeps straying to where she has stored the envelope, and Kareen decides she probably won’t read it with them there, so she says goodbye as well, reminding her about the butter bug redesign. Ekaterin promises to have something for them tomorrow.
After they leave, they bump into Pym waiting by his car, who asks if she read it yet. Martya says no, not in front of them, and Pym is disappointed. Martya asks how Miles really is, and Pym says he seems starved for action, lacking something to do, which is a frightening state for him to be in. Kareen expects that most of the household is really hoping to get Miles laid, so that he’ll settle down and stop driving them crazy. Pym offers them a ride, which they decline, and they part ways.
Ekaterin sits back down at the table in the garden and takes out the envelope to examine. Sturdy, expensive paper, with the Vorkosigan seal indented by hand and smeared with reddish pigment. She opens it and begins to read.
Dear Madame Vorsoisson, it began. I am sorry.
This is the eleventh draft of this letter. They’ve all started with those three words, even the horrible version in rhyme, so I guess they stay.
Her mind hiccuped to a stop. For a moment, all she could wonder was who emptied his wastebasket, and if they could be bribed. Pym, probably, and likely not. She shook the vision from her head, and read on.
I tried to be the thief of you, to ambush and take prisoner what I thought I could never earn or be given. You were not a ship to be hijacked, but I couldn’t think of any other plan but subterfuge and surprise. Though not as much of a surprise as what happened at dinner. The revolution started prematurely because the idiot conspirator blew up his secret ammo dump and lit the sky with his intentions. Sometimes those accidents end in new nations, but more often they end badly, in hangings and beheadings. And people running into the night. I can’t be sorry I asked you to marry me, because that was the one true part in all the smoke and rubble, but I’m sick as hell I asked you so badly.
Even though I’d kept my counsel from you, I should at least have done you the courtesy to keep it from others as well, till you’d had the year of grace and rest you’d asked for. But I became terrified you’d choose another first.
Ekaterin wonders who he thought she’d choose–Vormoncrief was impossible, Byerly Vorrutyer wasn’t serious, Zamori was kind but dull, and she quails at the thought of Enrique.
Miles goes on to admit he used the garden as a ploy to be near her, which he is now ashamed of. He says it drove him crazy to see her constrained to tiny steps, when she could be running, so he also wanted to give her the chance to grow, even though he know it would be a conflict of interest.
I love you. But I lust after and covet so much more than your body. I wanted to possess the power of your eyes, the way they see form and beauty that isn’t even there yet and draw it up out of nothing into the solid world. I wanted to own the honor of your heart, unbowed in the vilest horrors of those bleak hours on Komarr. I wanted your courage and your will, your caution and serenity. I wanted, I suppose, your soul, and that was too much to want.
She put the letter down, shaken. After a few deep breaths, she took it up again.
I wanted to give you a victory. But by their essential nature triumphs can’t be given. They must be taken, and the worse the odds and the fiercer the resistance, the greater the honor. Victories can’t be gifts.
But gifts can be victories, can’t they. It’s what you said. The garden could have been your gift, a dowry of talent, skill, and vision.
I know it’s too late now, but I just wanted to say, it would have been a victory most worthy of our House.
Ekaterin takes a few moments to regain control of herself, and then rereads the letter again, and again. She’s glad that it doesn’t seem to expect a reply, because she doesn’t feel up to one. It’s more than honest, it’s soul-baring. She wipes her eyes, then examines the seal again. Traditionally, the red pigment used for the seal was blood, but generally one uses a special pigment stick instead, which these days come in a variety of colours for various purposes. Miles’s pigment smear was traditional red-brown–because, she realizes, it is blood. She doesn’t even think he was trying to be melodramatic about it, just methodical and proper, and he probably even owns a dagger with the seal in the hilt–a collector’s piece these days for most people, but he probably uses it just as a tool.
She wonders about his reference to ship hijacking, and makes a mental note to twit him sometime about excessive honesty being a bad idea for a former covert agent. She reads over his declaration of love a few more times, until the letters start to blur. Reading the letter again, she notices something missing from it–any kind of plea for forgiveness, or reconciliation, or even seeing her again. Is he too arrogant to beg for forgiveness, or does he think he has no chance of receiving it? Or both at once? She remembers how the cycle went with Tien after an argument, and how she often short-circuited it, leaping right to forgiveness, because she couldn’t bear the coldness of in-between. Had she missed something important?
What does she do now? How does she go forward? She can’t go back, she knows, and she doesn’t want to, to try to shrink and fit back into her old self. Does she have to answer Miles’s question? She wants a middle ground between yes and no.
I tried to summarize Miles’s letter, but in the end I couldn’t do much, and hopefully the copyright police won’t get after me. It is a magnificent piece of abject, quite well done, not holding back. The ball does seem, in many ways, back in Ekaterin’s court. She has to decide how to respond to it–where ignoring Miles for the rest of their lives is certainly one of the potential choices, but I get the feeling that she’s not leaning that way. She has plenty of feelings to work through, many of which have been lurking in the back of her head, but which she’s been firmly suppressing, like the ones that arose when she thought Miles had sent the baba… She can no longer convince herself he’s not serious, in any event.
It’s interesting how she dismisses the ones that Miles consider his most serious competitors–Zamori and Enrique–out of hand. Zamori is dull, Enrique she doesn’t even really give a reason for, but considers him absurd. Most tellingly, Lord Dono doesn’t even show up on her list, but then I guess he never really actually wooed her, even as much as Enrique.
And speaking of Enrique, this is where Martya first seems to start seriously considering him. Not really a romantic interest, as far as I can tell, but a “potential wife” interest, if that makes sense. Martya isn’t a particularly romantic sort, it seems, so she’s willing to consider marriage as more a practical matter. The scene with Martya being the only one allowed to talk to everyone was somewhat amusing, given her contrariness, though Pym’s deadpan delivery of Miles’s drain-cleaning story is also noteworthy. Kareen’s realization that Ekaterin should be the one to redesign the butter bugs is also a great moment. (So what is her talent, then? Does she have one? Sounds like a question I should asking about a Xanth character or something.)
Ivan is getting ready for work in the morning when his apartment door-chime rings, to his surprise. He opens the door to reveal By Vorrutyer, and then is unable to close it fast enough before By gets his foot in. By is apparently up late, rather than early, and tells Ivan he needs to talk to him about Miles. Ivan considers various techniques for dislodging By’s foot, saying that he doesn’t want to hear about Miles any more than he wants to hear about Dono. Ivan says to go tell Miles himself, and By says he’d rather not, but he’s very interested in what Miles does with his vote. Ivan says that the vote is technically Count Aral’s, who is now back in Vorbarr Sultana; By says that it’s well known that 90% of the time the Count leaves his son in charge of the proxy.
By asks if Ivan has some coffee, and when he says no, asks him to make some; Ivan is unmoved, but so is By. He asks Ivan again about Miles, and Ivan says that after the debacle at the dinner party, he’s avoiding Miles; Aunt Cordelia can take care of him. By says that what Miles did was a horrible faux pas, but, in Dono’s judgement, still fixable…but soon it won’t be any more. Ivan, curiosity finally whetted, and against his better judgement, finally relents and lets By in.
By says that last night he was at a private dinner at the Vormoncriefs’, hosted by Count Boriz and his nephew Alexi. Richars Vorrutyer, alarmed at Dono’s return, came into town to court Boriz’s vote. Also present were Count Vormuir, and Boriz’s son-in-law, Sigur Vorbretten. Richars quickly won Boriz over with promises to vote Conservative once he won his Countship. Ivan asks what By was doing there, and By says that he’s convinced Richars that he’s spying on Dono for him, oblivious of the fact that By is actually working against him.
Vormuir brought up Miles’s judgement against him, and then they groused about the cost of the Komarran solar mirror repairs, which of course also came back to Miles. Alexi mentioned the refusal of his proposal to Ekaterin, and then Sigur Vorbretten told them a garbled version of the dinner party story, including Ekaterin’s fleeing from Miles’s proposal; Ivan wonders how that story has even started making the rounds, but By points out that there were nineteen people there, not including servants and Armsmen, so somebody was bound to have mentioned it. The Conservative crew chewed over these facts, and finally came up with a Theory to explain them…which evolved into a full-blown Slander.
“Oh, shit,” whispered Ivan.
By gave him a sharp look. “You anticipate me? Goodness, Ivan. What unexpected depths. You can imagine the conversation; I had to sit through it. Alexi piping about the damned mutant daring to court the Vor lady. Vormuir opining it was bloody convenient, say what, the husband killed in some supposed-accident in the middle of Vorkosigan’s case. Sigur saying, But there weren’t any charges, Count Boriz eyeing him like the pitiful waif he is and rumbling, There wouldn’t be—the Vorkosigans have had ImpSec under their thumb for thirty years, the only question is whether was it collusion between the wife and Vorkosigan? Alexi leaping to the defense of his lady-love—the man just does not take a hint—and declaring her innocent, unsuspecting till Vorkosigan’s crude proposal finally tipped his hand. Her storming out was Proof! Proof!—actually, he said it three times, but he was pretty drunk by then—that she, at least, now realized Miles had cleverly made away with her beloved spouse to clear his way to her, and she ought to know, she was there. And he bet she would be willing to reconsider his own proposal now! Since Alexi is a known twit, his seniors were not altogether convinced by his arguments, but willing to give the widow the benefit of the doubt for the sake of family solidarity. And so on.”
Ivan asks why By didn’t stop them, and By says he didn’t want to blow his cover, and in any case he had little hope of diverting their momentum. Ivan says Miles will deal handily with them if they try to bring charges, and By agrees, but says that he won’t be able to do much about rumour and whisper. By says that the five rumourmongers are still sleeping it off, so Miles may be able to get on top of damage control if he’s alerted early enough. Ivan says that it sounds more like a matter for ImpSec, recalling Miles’s earlier statements on the Komarr matter, and By isn’t sure that ImpSec will be able to do much about it.
Ivan checks the time and says he has to leave for work now. By accedes, asking if Ivan can get him a wedding invitation; Ivan tells him to ask Dono, if he manages to win his Countship. Ivan tries to figure out how to tell Miles about it, and, picturing the reception if he delivers the news in person, decides to call him on the comconsole instead. He gets the answering program, and leaves a message for Miles to call him back, promising himself to try to follow up later.
Mark and Enrique arrive at the Vorthys house for the meeting, and Ekaterin lets them inside, telling them that Kareen and Martya are already there. Mark greets her fervently, and Kareen says she’s now allowed to talk to Mark, but only about business. Martya is there as a duenna again, which she says is a little bit late–she would have been more use on Beta Colony.
Enrique asks them if they knew that Mark’s mother was a Betan Survey captain, and he’s amazed that they’re not more impressed about it; Mark has been hearing about this for two days now. Enrique says he gave her his dissertation to read.
Kareen, her eyes widening, asked, “Did she understand it?”
“Of course she did. She was a Betan Survey commander, for God’s sake! Do you have any idea how those people are chosen, what they do? If I’d completed my postgraduate work with honors, instead of all that stupid misunderstanding with the arrest, I could have hoped, only hoped, to put in an application, and even then I wouldn’t have had a prayer of beating out all the Betan candidates, if it weren’t for their off-worlder quotas holding open some places specifically for non-Betans.” Enrique was breathless with the passion of this speech. “She said she would recommend my work to the attention of the Viceroy. And she said my sonnet was very ingenious. I composed a sestina in her honor in my head while I was catching bugs, but I haven’t had time to get it down yet. Survey captain!”
“It’s . . . not what Tante Cordelia is most famous for, on Barrayar,” Martya offered after a moment.
“The woman is wasted here. All the women are wasted here.” Enrique subsided grumpily. Martya turned half-around, and gave him an odd raised-brows look.
Kareen asks about the bug roundup, and Enrique says they’ve found most of them, but the queen is still missing.
Ekaterin thanks Enrique for sending her the butter bug model, which was a big help, and then proceeds to her presentation. She starts with a enlarged projection of the standard butter bug, and says that she’s just run off four quick variations. The first that she shows them is just pure, shiny black, elongated to hide the abdomen, which impresses them all; the second is mostly black, but with rounded wing carapaces covered in rainbow stripes, which Martya declares to be pretty. The next one, Ekaterin says, she was trying to play with the possibilities. It looks almost like a rose bud, leaf-green and red, carapaces like petals, even little thorns on the bug’s legs. Kareen loves it, and Enrique is a little startled, but admits it could be done. Ekaterin admits that it would be more practical for bugs that weren’t roaming freely, since the petals would be awkward, and get damaged or catch on things. She says she had thought they might decorate the bugs differently for different sets of microbes, which Enrique thinks is a good idea. Then she shows the last image.
This bug’s legs and body parts were a deep, glimmering blue. The carapace halves flared and then swept back in a teardrop shape. Their center was a brilliant yellow, shading immediately to a deep red-orange, then to light flame blue, then dark flame blue edged with flickering iridescence. The abdomen, barely visible, was a rich dark red. The creature looked like a flame, like a torch in the dusk, like a jewel cast from a crown. Four people leaned forward so far they nearly fell off their chairs. Martya’s hand reached out. Ekaterin smiled demurely.
“Wow, wow, wow,” husked Kareen. “Now that is a glorious bug!”
“I believe that was what you ordered, yes,” murmured Ekaterin.
Ekaterin shows the bug in motion, too, and suggests that Enrique find a way to make them glow in the dark. Enrique says that it should be possible, and it would make them easier to find, but it would reduce their butter production due to the energy costs; Mark suggests thinking of it as an advertising budget. He says they should have a shareholder’s vote to decide which one they should use. Enrique points out they should take the advice of their aesthetics consultant as well; Ekaterin says she did the aesthetics, but she has only a vague idea how easily they could be produced, and the more striking designs may take longer. Kareen asserts that time is of the essence–they need to get the product launched and making money so the business can get off the ground.
Mark likes the black one, Kareen the flowery one, and Enrique the glorious one; when he says that it would be faster than the flowery one, Kareen switches her vote. Mark says that he still has 51% of the shares, before realizing that giving shares to Kareen and Ma Kosti have deprived him of his majority. Kareen insists that Ekaterin get paid in shares, too, despite her protest that it wasn’t that hard. Mark complies reluctantly, quickly processing and printing out a share receipt for Ekaterin.
Mark says that they need to be going, to try to finish the bug-hunt and get everything back on track. He asks Kareen if her parents are willing to relent enough to let her come back to work; Kareen grimaces, and Martya explains that they’re having a hard time with it. Their father is having a hard enough time coping with Delia getting married, Kareen, Mark, Beta Colony and the Orb are not something he’s equipped to deal with. On the other hand, Martya points out that she is not forbidden to go to Vorkosigan House… She says she might be willing to consider it, for a few shares of her own, and Mark thinks this would be a great idea, even if she doesn’t like him personally. He puts it to Enrique, still absorbed with the glorious bug, and eventually gets him to agree that Martya would be fine. As they’re preparing to leave, Mark asks Kareen how long she think it’ll take to resolve this mess with her family.
“It’s resolved already.” Her expression was disturbingly fey. “I’m done arguing, though I’m not sure they realize it yet. I’ve had it. While I’m still living in my parents’ house, I’ll continue to hold myself honor-bound to obey their rules, however ludicrous. The moment I’ve figured out how to be somewhere else without compromising my long-range goals, I’ll walk away. Forever, if need be.” Her mouth was grim and determined. “I don’t expect to be there much longer.”
“Oh,” said Mark. He wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, or meant to do, but it sounded . . . ominous. It terrified him to think that he might be the cause of her losing her family. It had taken him a lifetime, and dire effort, to win such a place of his own. The Commodore’s clan had looked to be such a golden refuge, to him . . . “It’s . . . a lonely place to be. On the outside like that.”
She shrugged. “So be it.”
On the way out, Mark asks Ekaterin if she wants him to take a message back to Vorkosigan House. She touches her bolero over her heart, where Mark deduces the letter is being stored, and says that she accepts his apology, but she can’t answer his question. They leave the house, Kareen heading determinedly off in one direction as the others head back to Vorkosigan House.
Miles has been waiting for Mark’s return, and immediately asks him if he saw Ekaterin, and if she had read his letter. Mark reminds Miles that he had been sternly admonished not to ask her about it.
Impatiently, Miles waved this off. “Directly. You know I meant not to ask directly. I just wondered if you could tell . . . anything.”
“If I could tell what a woman was thinking just by looking at her, would I look like this?” Mark made a sweeping gesture at his face, and glowered.
“How the hell would I know? I can’t tell what you’re thinking just because you look surly. You usually look surly.”
Mark says that he does have a message from Kareen, which gets Miles excited; he says that she accepts his apology, and congratulates him on having been forgiven. Miles asks if there’s anything else–whether he’d be permitted or forbidden to visit, or anything. Mark says that she said she couldn’t answer his question, and that’s all. Miles withdraws to try to figure out what this says. Not no, but not yes–maybe another last chance, maybe back to square one.
How should he approach matters this time around? Not poetry, that’s for sure–his attempts at rhyming were execrable, and if by fluke he produced something worthwhile, he doesn’t want to get her hopes up. No more false pretenses, he decides. But hope has reappeared in his life. He wonders how he might go about becoming her friend, what kind of thing she would like to do…
Pym announces the arrival of a visitor–Lord Richars Vorrutyer, who asks to be called “Lord Vorrutyer”. Miles is not pleased with his arrival, and asks if he needs an Imperial Auditor for something. Richars says he wanted to talk to the Count about Lady Donna’s suit, but the Count sent him to Miles. Miles’s father has decided that his visit to Barrayar is a vacation from Viceroying, not a return to Counting, and is leaving Miles in charge of the vote. Miles pointedly does not ask for refreshments, not wanting to encourage Richars to linger.
Richars commiserates with Miles on the presence of his “fat clone”, which doesn’t endear him to Miles, and he pushes Richars to get to the point. Richars wants to talk about Lady Donna, and the mockery she is making of the Vorrutyer name. Miles says that he’s pretty sure that Beta Colony would have done a good job on Lord Dono. Richars thinks it’s absurd–nobody would want to marry a woman-turned-man, and so she wouldn’t be able to sire an heir; Miles says it’s not inconceivable, and in any case not every Count produced a true heir. Richars begins speculating on Ivan’s relationship with her.
“He used to screw her, you know. So did half the men in Vorbarr Sultana.”
“I’d heard . . . something.” Go away, Richars. I don’t want to deal with your smarmy notion of wit right now.
“I wonder if he still . . . well! I’d never have thought Ivan Vorpatril climbed into that side of the bunk, but live and learn!”
“Um, Richars . . . you have a consistency problem, here,” Miles felt compelled to point out. “You cannot logically imply my cousin Ivan is a homosexual for screwing Dono, not that I think he is doing so, unless you simultaneously grant Dono is actually male. In which case, his suit for the Vorrutyer Countship holds.”
Richars dismisses that issue, and tries appealing to Miles’s Vor loyalty–he says that Lady Donna’s crass “prank” strikes at Vor power itself, regardless of political stripe. Miles is noncommittal, but he admits to himself that he might need to make this decision based on something more than the fact that Dono amuses him more than Richars does. Richars asks about a vote-trade; Miles says he is interested in the soletta repairs, but he thinks Gregor has the votes for that one well in hand. He brings up René Vorbretten; Richars is sorry for the poor fellow, but since he’s Cetagandan, he obviously can’t be a Count. Richars has already promised his vote on that matter to Sigur Vorbretten and Count Vormoncrief, nothing to be done there.
Richars laments the delay in his confirmation caused by Lady Donna’s sick joke. Miles says that Lord Dono must be deathly serious about the issue to have essentially killed “Lady Donna”, and thus might do a good job to warrant the high price paid. Richars begins to realize that Miles is actually considering voting for Dono, and asks him to think of what his grandfather would think. Miles says that Lord Dono is sufficiently charming to win friends on his own merits, but Richars dismisses her as a lunatic. He asks Miles his own opinion of her, and Miles said he had other concerns; Richars says he’d heard all about it.
Richars takes this as an opportunity to bring up the topic of Miles’s failed proposal to Ekaterin (who he calls “Alexi’s widow”). He deplores Miles’s failure to spring his trap properly, and calls it “a leetle obvious”. Miles shifts into neutral ImpSec mode and replies noncommittally. Richars mentions Ekaterin’s husband’s “convenient” death, and how she must have figured out the truth behind it now. Miles says it was a breath mask accident, and Richars says that those could be easy to arrange. Miles parries with the accusations about Pierre’s fiancée’s death, but Richars points out he was cleared of those charges. Miles hasn’t been cleared of anything yet, but of course nobody would be fool enough to try to bring him down.
Miles knows that any such charges would be quashed, rather than bring up the classified Komarr affair, but it would do little for his and Ekaterin’s reputations. Richars says that it would be a great benefit for Miles if charges were to not get laid.
“Come on, Vorkosigan. We’re both as Old Vor as it’s possible to be. It’s stupid of us to be brangling when we should both be on the same side. Our interests march together. It’s a tradition. Don’t pretend your father and grandfather weren’t top party horse-traders.”
“My grandfather . . . learned his political science from the Cetagandans. Mad Emperor Yuri offered him postgraduate instruction after that. My grandfather schooled my father.” And both of them schooled me. This is the only warning you will receive, Richars. “By the time I knew Piotr, Vorbarr Sultana party politics were just an amusing pastime to him, to entertain him in his old age.”
Miles asks, just to be clear, if Richars is asking him to vote against Dono in return for not pressing a murder charge on him. He points out that someone else might always make such an accusation, and he’s also not sure that the story of his dinner party has reached that wide of an audience yet. Inside, though, he’s frantically wondering how the story got out, and how far it has spread.
Then he smiles and thanks Richars for settling his mind on how he’s going to vote on the Vorrutyer Countship. Richars takes this to mean that he’s succeeded. Miles considers that bribing an Imperial Auditor is treason, but he’s being a Count’s Deputy right now, so it doesn’t seem fair. Besides, he’s beginning to want to crush Richars himself. He smiles, shakes Richars’s hand, and bids him farewell.
Once Richars leaves, Miles snarls and hurls his grandfather’s dagger into the doorframe. Once he’s calmed down, he goes to his comconsole, disregards another message from Ivan asking him to call, and calls Guy Allegre at ImpSec. He tells Allegre about the gossip about his role in Tien’s death, adding that he was, actually, attempting to woo his widow. Allegre says that he’s heard about that last bit already. Miles adds that Richars is trying to blackmail him into voting against Dono–and failing, though he doesn’t know it yet–but he needs to know if this is entirely fabrication, or if there’s an actual leak. Allegre says they don’t think it’s a leak, but he encourages Miles to do nothing to call attention to what really happened on Komarr. Miles says he plans to call Ekaterin and give her a heads-up on the matter, but Allegre asks him to hold off until they’ve run a check on her, in case she’s been careless enough to give something away.
ImpSec had never been happy to have Ekaterin, an oath-free civilian not under their control in any way, standing in the heart of the hottest secret of the year, or maybe the century. Despite the fact that she’d personally hand-delivered it to them, the ingrates. “She is not careless. She is in fact extremely careful.”
“In your observation.”
“In my professional observation.”
Allegre gave him a placating nod. “Yes, m’lord. We would be pleased to prove that. You don’t, after all, want ImpSec to be . . . confused.”
Miles blew out his breath in dry appreciation of this last dead-pan remark. “Yeah, yeah,” he conceded.
Miles reluctantly agrees to wait to hear from ImpSec before telling Ekaterin about it, hoping that, reclusive as she is, she won’t encounter it as common gossip. Then he reconsiders his conversation with Richars, and realizes that he may have mishandled it–Richars was more of a bully, and he might have backed down if Miles had stood up to him. Now he may end up with a permanent enemy on the Council, and he may force Richars to follow through and press the charges. He doesn’t want to do that to Ekaterin, drag her through the ending of her marriage all over again, however truncated. Best result, then would be for him to push for Dono to win the Countship.
He calls Vorrutyer House, and to his surprise finds the call answered by Olivia Koudelka, who fetches Dono directly. Miles assures Dono that he has the support of the Vorkosigans, explaining that a visit from Richars helped sway him. He invites Dono to join him and René Vorbretten at Vorkosigan House to strategize, and it is organized for two days hence.
After that, he considers calling Ekaterin, but can’t make himself do it. If he calls her and doesn’t mention this tangle, he’ll be lying by omission, but he promised Allegre he wouldn’t talk about it. He wishes now that he’d let her have her year of mourning without interference, until Tien’s death could be forgotten, and he could have courted her openly. But he’d pushed it too far, not to mention telling everyone in the capital about it.
I want a time machine, so’s I can go back and shoot myself.
He had to admit, the whole extended scenario lent itself beautifully to political disinformation. In his covert ops days, he’d fallen with chortles of joy on lesser slips by his enemies. If he were ambushing himself, he’d regard it as a godsend.
You did ambush yourself, you idiot.
The one good thing about Richars’s scenario is that it paints Ekaterin as entirely innocent, so if he stays away from her, then perhaps he can keep it that way. But how long can he make himself do that? Will it takes years before the rumour fades entirely? How could love have produced such a tangle?
Ivan appears then, and asks Miles why he never called him back. Miles apologizes, saying he’d been busy, and tells Ivan he’s been blindsided by Richars Vorrutyer. Ivan says that if Miles had called him, he wouldn’t have been blindsided, because By Vorrutyer had told him that morning. He’s not sure why, if By was just trying to stir up trouble, or playing some sneaky game, or what.
Miles asks Ivan to quash the rumour if he encounters it, but Ivan said that as Miles’s cousin, he has no credibility on the matter, and he doesn’t know anything anyway. Ivan says that he doesn’t have to help Miles, it’s not his job, and he’s busy working for his mother anyway.
Miles sat back, and regarded Ivan for a long moment. “You’re right,” he said at last. “I have abused your loyalty too many times. I’m sorry. Never mind.”
Ivan, caught with a mouthful of wine, stared at him in shock, his brows drawing down. He finally managed to swallow. “What do you mean, never mind?”
“I mean, never mind. There’s no reason to draw you into this ugly mess, and every reason not to.” Miles doubted there’d be much honor for Ivan to win in his vicinity this time, not even the sort that sparked so briefly before being buried forever in ImpSec files. Besides, he couldn’t think offhand of anything Ivan could do for him.
“No need? Never mind? What are you up to?”
Miles tells Ivan sincerely that there’s nothing he can do to help Miles, but Ivan seems suspicious that Miles is trying to pull something on him. He leaves, indignantly muttering about Miles claiming he can’t help.
Long chapter… The best part is the scene with Ekaterin’s butter bugs, where she demonstrates the knack for aesthetics that Kareen had seen in her. More of the budding Martya and Enrique relationship. Kareen definitely seems to be on the edge–she’s almost had it with her family, or at least her parents, getting into the “waiting until I can leave home” phase. I seem to recall how her plotline resolves, but I can’t remember the exact path it takes to get there. And Olivia is over at Dono Vorrutyer’s house! What the heck is up with that?
Then we have the beginning of the vicious rumour plotline. Various Conservative scumbags (alas, we are given little chance to paint them otherwise, though we only really get to see Richars condemn himself with what comes out of his mouth) concoct a story of half-truths that Miles can’t just come out and deny. Richars attempts to use it to blackmail Miles. It will likely backfire on both of them, but Miles prepares to live with that to spare Ekaterin. Definitely seems like a lose-lose situation, no way to get out of it…but it does put Miles firmly on Dono’s side, at least.
The last scene there is from Miles’s POV, and it does seem like he’s not deliberately trying to convince Ivan to help him using reverse psychology…but I’m afraid that is just what he’s done. Because obviously trying to keep Ivan uninvolved is just part of Miles’s plan, isn’t it? Well, that’ll teach him to try to keep Ivan from helping him…
Definitely longer chapters in this book, hoo boy. Not sure if I can keep two chapters for long, without seriously denting my other pastimes, but we’ll see. Does Diplomatic Immunity have shorter chapters, perhaps? It’s more actiony and less talky, as I recall, so I guess I can hope…