Forsooth, and hearken unto me! Let it be known that this day, or mayhap truly this night, shall be brought forth upon the face of the Internet a posting in that ongoing chronicle known to all and sundry as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread! The wondrous author known as Lois McMaster Bujold has spun a dazzling tale of the saga of the Vorkosigans, and, oft, their fellows as well. The tome to which I am currently dedicating my efforts is known by the name of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, and indeed concerns itself with the mighty adventures of the fearles Captain Ivan Vorpatril, cousin of famed hero Miles Vorkosigan, and this night we reach, at last, the sixth chapter of this stirring tale, wherein the alliance of the title is brought to a swift an unexpected start…
Tej leans over the edge of the balcony watching for Ivan Xav’s return; several initially-promising green-uniformed prospects have failed to pan out. Rish says she’s making her nervous, and Tej says Ivan should be bringing dinner; Rish says that her parents should, apparently, have told her suitors to bring food rather than House connections. Tej said she was never particularly interested in business alliances, and the discussions they brought which tended to dominate family meals; she recalls her sister Mercedes Sofia Esperanza Juana Paloma but called “Pidge” after the translation of “Paloma”, and wonders if she got out okay. She knows Erik, her oldest brother, didn’t get out, but her middle brother Amiri is likely still safe, having already gotten out.
She finally spots Ivan Xav, heavily-laden, who comes up in a few minutes with bags of groceries as well as take-out food from a Barrayaran Greekie restaurant nearby. He explains to them about the assorted colonists from pre-Isolation Barrayar, the smallest group of which was the Greejs; they’ve interbred quite well, but some of them keep stubbornly to their languages. He also got more instant groats, and when Tej asks about them he demonstrates mixing them with boiling water; Tej isn’t that impressed with them, but assumes they’re some sort of comfort food. Ivan explains that they generally have things added to them, and adds that they’re sometimes dyed different colours and used for weddings.
Ivan seems more relaxed this evening, for some reason, ruefully lamenting how the shortness of the Komarr night makes it hard to sample much of the nightlife and still have time to recover for the next day. He tells them that his cousin Miles–his only cousin on his father’s side, though he has a few more distant ones on his mother’s–had told him about something that they might be interested in, and he brings up a video of a performance of the Minchenko Ballet Company from Quaddiespace. Rish recalls seeing Baron Fell’s quaddie musician once, but she didn’t know about their dancing…Rish and Tej watch the performance in fascination; Tej sits next to Ivan, who puts his arm around her, and she snuggles up to him, remembering watching shows with her father.
After the show ends, Rish asks how much longer Ivan will be on Komarr; Ivan says he’s been there for about seven days, and normally these trips are about ten days… He’s pretty sure that By’s business will be done sooner, though, since things seemed to be moving on that end. Rish says that they only have a few more days in his safe house, then, and Ivan admits it; he offers to perhaps book it another week for them, or see if By comes up with another arrangement. He also suggests that they make a deal with ImpSec, to share information with them in exchange for help. Tej is not eager, saying she knows that dealing with somebody more powerful generally ends up in getting screwed, and ImpSec has no reason to treat them well; they might decide to trade them to House Cordonah’s new owners, for instance. Ivan protests that ImpSec tends to be pretty honourable, but Rish says their first job is to protest their own Empire’s interests, and Ivan can’t gainsay it.
Tej puts Ivan off with a promise to think about it; after he leaves the room, Rish asks if she’s really considering it or just wants to put him off guard until they can run, and Tej says she doesn’t know if they have another way out. They could always rob his wallet and head for another dome, one with an offplanet shuttleport, but she’s not eager for another furtive escape; Rish says they’re out of good choices, now they just have to pick the least bad one. She chides Tej for snuggling with Ivan, and Tej retorts that Rish seems a little too interested in Byerly.
The sun is not quite up, and Ivan is almost dressed for work, when the apartment buzzer sounds, and keeps sounding, as if someone were leaning on it. Ivan checks the security vid and it’s an unusually edgy-looking Byerly, despite the oddly late/early hour; he lets By in, who immediately tells him that they have a problem as he heads down the hallway to wake up Rish and Tej. The women rouse quickly, and Ivan finds Tej delightfully rumpled despite her cheerlessness.
By tells them that Theo Vormercier hit upon the clever idea of reporting Tej and Rish to Komarran Immigration as illegal aliens, hoping to get the authorities to find them so he can take care of them once they’re in custody. Ivan’s name is already linked to them courtesy of Dome Security, with whom Immigration shares a database. Ivan says he’ll just be at work, so they can talk to him there, but By says that these people have the authority to issue warrants, so it won’t stop them from searching his apartment while he’s gone, and there’s nowhere for the women to hide. Tej says they’ll have to get away immediately, and By starts to tell them he has a plan, to Ivan’s relief; he doesn’t want to lose touch with Tej just yet.
Just then, the door buzzer goes off again; Ivan checks the vid, and this time it turns out to be the dome cops Fano and Sulmona. By says they can’t be associated with Immigration, so they must have some other reason to be there; Ivan asks, and Fano says they have a warrant for his arrest for kidnapping. They’d found vids of him escorting “Nanja” into a bubble car after she disappeared from her apartment, and she hasn’t been seen since; Fano, personally, suspects the charge is actually murder. Ivan is flabbergasted, and they retreat to the living room for a short conference.
Ivan says that he should be able to clear this matter up simply by letting them in, showing them Tej, and convincing them that she’s there of her own free will. By says they won’t believe she’s not under coercion unless they take her away from him; Tej says that House Prestene’s people will be able to get her, and their only way out is “the balcony”. Just then, Ivan’s wristcom sounds, with Admiral Desplains’s ringtone; when Ivan perforce answers is, Desplains bellows at him, furious that Ivan tried to hide the ImpSec report until he found out about the felony charge against him. Ivan says that he can explain, but he can’t talk right now, as the cops have started pounding on the door, so, against his better judgement, he signs off on the Admiral and refuses to answer it when the tone sounds again.
Ivan suggests they block the door, to buy time, so they drag the furniture into the front hallway; the dome cops seem to have been joined by another group, probably the Immigration people, which seems to have delayed them slightly while they figure out whose jurisdiction takes precedence. The building manager is also there with a key; By uses his stunner to short out the lock before he can open it, and Ivan protests that now they’re trapped inside.
Tej swung around, stared deeply into Ivan’s eyes, gasped, “I’m so sorry it has to end this way, Ivan Xav. I know you tried,” and flung her arms around him. Ivan found himself holding what would, under other circumstances, be an absolutely delightful bundle of warm, soft woman. He opened her mouth to her frantic kiss nonetheless, and his arms wrapped her in turn, snugly and securely. He wasn’t sure what was happening here, but O god don’t let it stop…
Tej pulls away and tells Rish it’s time; they head for the balcony, though By moves to block them, stunner at the ready. Ivan asks what they’re doing, and Rish says they’re going over the edge, and Ivan soon realizes that they’re planning to kill themselves; he protests that the dome cops will think that he pushed them over, but Rish asks if he has a better plan. Ivan tosses his buzzing wristcom into the fridge as the forces outside begin pounding on the apartment door in earnest and Rish and By point their stunners at each other, and spots something on the kitchen counter that gives him an idea. He grabs the economy-size box of instant groats and heads back to the living room.
“This’ll do the job!”
“You’re going to throw cereal at them?” asked Rish, perplexed.
“Or shall we all sit down and have a hearty Barrayaran breakfast together while the police break in?” asked By, in an all-too-similar tone. But both stunners drooped.
Shrugging off the sarcasms, and dear God hadn’t he had enough practice at that in his life, Ivan drew a long breath. “Tej. Will you marry me?”
“What?” she said. It wasn’t a thrilled sort of what? either, that ought to greet such a proposal, more of a have-you-lost-your-mind? what.
Ivan insists that, in Barrayaran law, his wife would instantly be a Barrayaran subject, which would keep Immigration from having any grounds to take her, and should help settle the dome cops too. He begins making a circle of groats as Tej protests that surely they’ll need to leave the apartment to register it first, and Ivan says that Barrayaran couples marry themselves, and it takes effect as soon as they say their oaths; most people elaborate it a bit, but that’s what the ceremony boils down to, and it’s still binding. By admits that Ivan’s telling the truth; Ivan says he can get them back to Barrayar with his military allowance, and once they’re there she’ll be free to divorce him any time she wants, once she had a better course of action. They’ll need a Count’s permission to do it, but Count Falco Vorpatril is an old friend of his mother’s, so it shouldn’t be any trouble. Tej says she doesn’t know the oaths, but Ivan says he’s been to enough High Vor weddings to have them memorized by now.
Tej glanced toward the balcony. Toward him. Toward the balcony. Toward him. Why is this a hard choice?
“You can’t tell me you’d rather jump off a twenty-story building and smash in your skull than marry me,” Ivan went on desperately. “I am not a fate worse than death, dammit! Or at least not worse than that death, good God!”
Tej asks what about Rish, since he obviously can’t marry both of them; Ivan glances to By for help, but Rish says no before he can even ask the question. Ivan says he’ll hire her as a lady’s maid or something, so she’ll be properly employed, and they should be able to make that work with Immigration too. Rish asks who’ll protect them from ImpSec, and Ivan promises that he can take care of that; he can call in some favours, or find people who can, like perhaps his mother’s “gentleman friend”…though maybe only as a last resort. By says that he doesn’t want to be anywhere nearby when Ivan tells his mother about this…but he agrees that it should work, at least in the short term, though the long term terrifies him.
“And after what you just did,” Ivan went on to Tej, disregarding By’s last comment, “you can’t convince me that you’d rather kiss the pavement than kiss me.” My mouth is still tingling. “Not that you’ll have to kiss me, if you don’t want to. Totally up to you, what happens after, I hope that goes without saying.”
Rish tells Tej they’re out of time for the other options, they might as well try it, and she accepts, if dubiously; she steps into the circle of groats with Ivan, with By and Rish as witnesses (By says he won’t be able to look away). Ivan then starts his oath, fumbling a little bit at the beginning, and having to ask for Tej’s name again, but he gets it right without even fumbling over the “ghem” part, and then coaches Tej through her own oaths.
“And that’s it!” said Ivan. “We now pronounce each other spouse and spouse, before these witnesses, and I get to kiss you. Again. For the first time. Because before, you kissed me, right?” He locked himself to her lips, rolling his eyes as By stepped forward and swept a break through the groat barrier with his shoe. They swung out of the circle together, Byerly stretched his neck and pecked her on the cheek in passing, and six irate, swearing Komarrans stumbled over each other out of Ivan’s hallway and advanced upon them, stunners at the ready.
Ivan drew a wad of cash from his wallet, thrust it into the startled Rish’s hand, and added, “You’re hired. Officially.”
And, as a uniformed woman reached out to seize Tej, who shrank away, Ivan continued in a forceful bellow modeled directly on Count Falco: “Unhand Lady Vorpatril!”
I’m informed by those who should know that the marriage of convenience is an old standby of romance literature, particularly of the historical variety, with two near-strangers bound together by law and having to come to terms with each other…and eventually falling in love, of course. Not sure how plausible it is, but not being a strong believer in the “everyone has only one Soulmate somewhere in the world with whom they can fall in True Love” theory, I’m willing to buy that it may happen from time to time. Even on first hearing the title I was pretty sure that this book would include Ivan falling in love and/or getting married, and by this point I was pretty sure it would be with Tej. I can’t recall if I was expecting the rushed affair from this chapter, but I suspect I wasn’t too surprised.
I was half expecting a By/Rish wedding too, but I guess neither of them was quite ready for that, and the “employment” scam will probably work well enough. Rish isn’t as big a target as Tej anyway, so not at as much risk, perhaps. They do seem to have a certain attraction, but both being more reserved (well, reserving his inner self, at least, in By’s case) were less likely to want to leap into something like that.
It’s true that Ivan does have a few favours he can call in by this point if he needs to get ImpSec off his (and Tej and Rish’s back). Maybe he’s reluctant to call on Simon Illyan himself–retired, but not without a fair bit of clout in ImpSec quarters still–but Miles definitely owes him a thing or two, he’s on Gregor’s shortlist, he certainly earned a favour from Count Dono Vorrutyer, and even Countess Vorkosigan would be a potential ally (if, perhaps, far afield on Sergyar). And his mother, too, I suppose, though that’s doubtless also someone he’s reluctant to call on. She, of course, is going to be somewhat taken aback by his sudden marriage, to an offworlder (a part-Cetagandan Jacksonian, no less!), and quite frankly I can’t even recall how she does react. I guess we’ll find out.
Ivan also provides Tej with the guarantee that he won’t be forcing her to accede to his “matrimonial rights”. I’m still not clear how unbalanced your standard Barrayaran marriage is, or was, with regards to the rights of a wife. Things like custody rights seemed to have archaic, man-centered rules–witness the custody issues with Nikki Vorsoisson–but it didn’t seem like a husband had a legal right to sex from his wife whether she was willing or not. I’m reminded of the Count who with the dozens of daughters from A Civil Campaign, whose wife certainly wasn’t shy about forbidding him the bedroom. Anyway, it’s good of Ivan to think of that right away, and make it clear right off the bat. Admittedly, he’s said before that he’s confident enough in his abilities that he makes it a point never to force himself on an unwilling woman, so it may not be enlightenment as much as just self-confidence. But I don’t recall him ever getting angry for being spurned or anything, so I guess he’s just a nice guy that way.
So that was fun, wasn’t it? And after that…what happens next? Is Ivan in trouble with his boss? Are the Vormerciers and Prestenes still lurking out there? Will Ivan really be able to keep ImpSec off their backs? And is the rest of Tej’s family quite as dead and gone as she thinks? I can’t promise we’ll find that all out in the next chapter, but hopefully some of it, at least… Next week, same Vor-time, same Vor-channel!