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Archive for August, 2014

You’re driving, and it’s dark, and you’re on the edge of the city.  And you took a turn back there, you don’t know if it was the right turn, but you took the turn anyway, and you just kept going in that direction.  And eventually it starts to get light, and you see before a new post from the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, and everything is right with the world.  Because once again you can immerse yourself in Lois McMaster Bujold’s series of books about the Vorkosigans and their friends, in particular Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which we’re up to Chapter Thirteen of at this point, at which point the plot seems to take a left turn…

Chapter Thirteen

Back in Ivan’s apartment, Tej paces around the living room, fuming over how Count Falco ruined their plans, when she thought it was all arranged.  Ivan admits he may have made a mistake trying to deal with someone who knew his mother, when total strangers would probably have just rubber-stamped them.

Rish asks them if they have any chance of providing them with grounds for divorce, and they go down the list; she asks Ivan if he could pretend to have a mutation, and Ivan says if he did, it’d go on the public record and ruin his sex life forever.  She suggests adultery, but Tej says the only other man she knows on the planet is Byerly, and Rish vetoes him; Miles, Gregor and Illyan are just out of the question.  Tej suggests that Ivan sleep with Byerly, which Rish allows might be all right, but Ivan refuses categorically.  Tej suggests he look up an old girlfriend or something, but he laments that most of them are married, and he’s just not up to dealing with jealous husbands anymore.

Rish sat back.  “What else was there?  Oh yes, abuse.”

“I am not beating Tej.”  Ivan Xav glowered at Rish.  “You, I’m less and less sure about.”

Rish snickered.  “You couldn’t lay a hand on me if you tried, natural-boy.”

Ivan Xav sighed, avoiding conceding the point.  “Besides, it’d get me in so much trouble with so many people–after Mamere, Uncle Aral, and Aunt Cordelia–and Simon–there’d be Miles and Ekaterin and all the Koudelka girls lining up to deal with the remains–and their mother–and Gregor, and Desplains–God, there wouldn’t me enough left of me to carry to court in a bucket.  Hell, a teacup.”

Rish says that Tej could beat him up, and she protests she’d rather just kiss him.  Rish urges her to try, and she tries punching him in the stomach, a tiny poke that he barely feels; she says she really doesn’t want to, and anyway it would hurt her hand.  Rish then points out that desertion was one of the grounds for divorce, and they could solve that by just having Tej go offplanet and leave Ivan.  Ivan says that the problem with that is that there’s a certain number of years before they can declare the abandonment, and that’d leave him hanging, unable to remarry or even get betrothed.  Tej admits that would leave him in the lurch, though secretly the thought of him falling in love with someone else makes her unhappy; Ivan admits that it would spike his mother’s guns for a few years about urging him on other women, though it might still adversely affect his sex life.

With no better plan, they decide to sleep on it; Ivan reflects that while Miles is already trying to bull his way through problems, he himself prefers to just leave them in hopes that a solution will arise.  Rish points out that he will eventually die of old age, unless he crashes his car first.
For the next few days Ivan occupies himself at work during the days while Tej works on learning languages and cooking, and Rish goes out with Byerly at night; sometimes, unfortunately, he’s still there in the morning.  One morning By shares some gossip he’s heard from Tatya Vorbretten’s brother, Jon Vorkeres, to the effect that Lady Alys is upset that Ivan’s wife’s Cetagandan blood will keep his children out of the line of Imperial succession.  Ivan is cheered by this news, since he never wanted the throne anyways, and this way his children will be safer, though Byerly points out that children weren’t likely part of the plan anyway.

One afternoon, with no cooking lessons, Tej brings out some ankle-bells she’s acquired and encourages Rish to do some dance practice.  While they’re clearing furniture out of the way, she asks Rish about By, if there’s more to their relationship than sex.  Rish says he tends to hide what he’s really thinking, especially around his family, few of whom he can stand, his cousin Count Dono being a rare exception.  She notes that By pretends to be drunker than he is a lot of the time, to put people off their guard, but she’s noticed that when he’s really drunk his speech actually gets very precise.  Once, in such a state, he told her that the reason he left home was when his father started to believe a vicious rumour that he was molesting his sister; Tej speculates that this might be what motivates him to try discovering the truth behind the rumours as a profession.

Tej casually brings up the possibility of staying on Barrayar, if this whole divorce thing doesn’t work out.  Rish says it’s more interesting than she would have thought, but she doesn’t want to stay there forever; she misses her fellow Jewels.  As they start the dancing–Tej taking the simpler part, in the center and mostly keeping rhythm–Rish assures her that she won’t leave Tej behind there.

Ivan is returning home with dinner and encounters By in the lobby, so they head up together.  Ivan asks By if he thinks Rish is in love with him or anything, because he doesn’t want Rish to get all heartbroken if By gets reassigned; By assures him he’s on the case until they go to Escobar.  Ivan broaches the possibility that Rish might move in with him, and By is noncommittal about the idea.  Ivan says he could make Rish happy just by getting her off the coach, and By says that he doesn’t think Rish will ever be happy without the other Jewels.  He’s watched some recordings of their performances, and he thinks that there’s some kind of kinesthetic feedback going on between them that sustains their spirits.

“But Rish alone is…starving isn’t the word.  I don’t know what is.”  By had forgotten to be smarmy, as his eyes narrowed in memory and thought.

“So what’s the difference?”

By’s hand reached out and closed, as if trying to grasp something elusive.  “Rish with the Jewels looks like a woman with a beating heart.  Rish in exile looks like…a woman with a muscle in her chest that pumps blood.”

Ivan isn’t quite sure what By is on about, so drops the subject.  They arrive at the apartment to find the dance practice session in progress.  Ivan is struck by Tej’s beauty as she dances joyfully; Rish switches to doing showy cartwheels as she spots By, and Tej brings the music to a close.  Rish heads off to shower as Ivan dragoons By into helping move the furniture back into place.

All right, Ivan supposed he was slow.  He’d been told so often enough by his assorted relatives, colleagues, and so-called friends.  But it wasn’t until tripping over the ankle bells on the way back from the lav in the night, and wrapping himself around a warm, squirmy, sleeping Tej, that the thought crossed his mind like a bright, evasive–unhelpful–shooting star.

So…how does a fellow ask his own wife to marry him…?

Ivan awakens Tej at three in the morning after a call from a customs officer at the shuttleport.  Apparently some traveler, supposedly an Escobaran named Dr. Dolbraco Dax, who was detained because of some irregularities, informed them that “Madame Tejaswini Arqua Vorpatril” could identify him.  Tej leaps out of bed, exclaiming that that’s Amiri’s cover identity; Ivan points out that it could also be a clever and well-informed bounty hunter, though the shuttleport is a little bit well-guarded for a kidnap attempt.  Tej wonders how Amiri had found her, if it is actually him; Ivan says that it might have gotten to Lily Durona by way of Miles and Mark, though he wouldn’t put it past Mark to mess it up just to screw with him.  In any event, he’s alerted his ImpSec guards in case it is bounty hunters.

They drive hastily to the civilian shuttleport (eternally under construction, it seems), where Ivan’s military ID gets them through outer security and to the customs office; Byerly and Rish arrive at around the same time.  They have arranged for Tej to have a look through the monitors, where there are three men and six women in a waiting room.  Tej is elated to see not only her brother, but her parents, and “Star and Pidge and Em and Pearl”, and even her Cetagandan grandmother.  She yanks the custom man off his feet and demands to be taken to see them.

Comments

The middle part of the chapter seems to be mostly concerned with Rish and Byerly’s burgeoning relationship, the sparks of honesty they are finding in each other, Rish finding out why By left home and By exploring Rish’s link with her Jewel-siblings.  This would be the B romance, I guess, though neither of them admits that there’s any love involved, not yet, at any rate.  If Rish is tied to the Jewels, then By is going to have to deal with them too, if he wants to stay in her life.

Tej’s reluctance to end the marriage and leave Barrayar is growing, especially since she’s not that eager to take any of the measures that might actually allow the divorce.  Admittedly, most of them wouldn’t be a great thing to do to a friend, let alone a lover, but she’s also growing more willing to stay on the planet.  Most people are making her fairly welcome, anyway, being solicitous of her welfare and wanting to help her fit in.  And now Ivan himself is beginning to think that staying with Tej might not be a bad thing after all.  I seem to recall that neither of them actually manages to communicate any of this to their spouse for some few chapters yet, though.

And then…well.  We’ve spent a dozen chapters now being pretty sure that while Tej has survived, and maybe a few of her siblings, most of her family, especially including her parents, are dead as a doornail, expired and gone to meet their maker, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisibule.  And then, at the end of this chapter, it’s like, surprise!  Your parents are totally alive!  And you don’t need to try to sneak off to Escobar after all, because everybody just came to visit you!  So this is the point where the plot takes a left turn, from being a story of the offworlder woman coming to love Barrayar, to…being what it becomes after this point.  Tej’s big tragedy is totally nullified (well, I think there may be still one or two of her relatives who died, but not as many as she thought), and I feel a little cheated as a result.  That’s my biggest problem with the book right there, I think, and why it will probably never be one of my favourites.


So, stay tuned next week for the beginning of the madcap caper plotline that begins not too long after Tej’s family arrives on Barrayar.  Guess I’ll see if it strikes me any better the second time through…

 

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I made up my mind, and I started writing; I typed until the blog post was done that day.  I made my way through an entire chapter, but where was I going without ever knowing the way?  Here I am, most of the way through the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, with only one more book (CryoBurn) before I’m caught up with the series, so unless Lois McMaster Bujold manages to come out with another one in the next…let’s see, fourteen more chapters in this book, one a week at my current pace…then one more book, probably about the same size…  Yeah, I don’t think the publishing industry moves that fast, even if she announces today that she’s finished another one.  Anyway, Chapter Thirteen awaits.

Chapter Twelve

Ivan’s birthday continues with a dinner out at a restaurant where Tej is surprised how mild a reaction the diners have to Rish’s appearance; Rish says that according to Byerly she goes so far beyond “mutation” to be in a completely different category…as long as she stays clear of proles.  Tej is also surprised that they are joining two others there, who Ivan introduces as Duv Galeni and his wife Delia.  After they order, Tej asks the two of them–Duv having a noticeably Komarran accent, to her ears–how they met Ivan.  Delia says she’s the daughter of Commodore Koudelka–the one who smuggled the baby Ivan out of the capital–and Ivan asks about her sisters, more potential female company for Tej.  Martya is with Enrique in Vorkosigan’s District, Olivia with Count Dono Vorrutyer, and Kareen on Escobar with Mark.  Galeni merely mentions that Ivan was assigned to him at the embassy on Earth while he was stationed there.

After some conversation about Rish and Tej’s travels and travails, Tej comes to the conclusion that Galeni’s another ImpSec man, which he admits, Delia adding that he’s even head of the Komarran Affairs division.  He and Ivan do seem to actually be friends, though, and Tej senses that Duv and Delia are judging whether she’s good enough for him.  She decides that’s sweet, and realizes that she doesn’t have any friends who would care about Ivan’s worthiness, except for her scattered family.  Duv and Delia are amused by the story of how Ivan and Tej ended up married, and Galeni mentions Ivan’s previous kidnapping on Earth, hidden in a pumping chamber and threatened with drowning.

“Is your claustrophobia better now?” Delia asked Ivan Xav, more in a tone of curiosity than concern.

Ivan Xav gritted his teeth.  “I do not have claustrophobia.  Thank you very much, Delia.  There’s nothing irrational about it…about me.”

“But Miles said–”

“I have an allergy to total strangers trying to kill me, is all.  One that Miles shares, I might point out.”

Delia points out that Miles almost seems to like it, and Ivan joins her in poking fun at Lord Auditor Coz.

After dinner, Galeni presents them with a book-disc, as a combination wedding and birthday present.  It turns out to be a new Barrayaran history, which Galeni modestly admits he contributed several chapters to, as history is one of his hobbies.  Ivan tells Tej that Galeni was an actual professor when he quit to join the Imperial Service; Galeni notes that at least his tendency to “scholastic prolixity” has mostly been eliminated by writing ImpSec reports.  Tej accepts the gift, though with private reservations because she’s not planning to stay on Barrayar for too much longer.  The Galenis leave promptly, having two young children at home, and Ivan expresses pity for Galeni’s domestic constraints, though he admits it probably suits him.

After they get home Tej asks Rish about Byerly.  Rish says that he’s interesting, which Tej considers faint praise.

“Byerly…I’ve never encountered anyone whose mouth and whose hands seemed to be telling two such different stories.  …  The mouth ripples on amusingly enough, though most of what comes out is camouflage and the rest is lies–not so much to me, though.  But the hands…  The hands are strangely shy, until suddenly they turn eloquent.  And then their candor could make you weep.  A woman might fall in love with the hands. Though only if the woman were nearly as foolish as my little even-sister–which, luckily, doesn’t seem to be possible.”

On the last day of Ivan’s leave, he tours them around Vorbarr Sultana, in the process of which he discovers that Tej and Rish can’t drive; it wasn’t necessary, or that advisable, on Jackson’s Whole, so they never learned.  Ivan responds by signing them up for driving lessons while he’s at work; the instructor cheerfully informs them that learning on Vorbarr Sultana will acquaint them with the worst traffic conditions the planet has to offer.  Rish begs off due to sensory overload, but Tej perseveres and earns herself a learner’s permit; she does wound one pillar on her first evening out, but Ivan assures her later that groundcars are packed with safety features so she shouldn’t worry too much, and anyway, this is just a rental.

They make it back otherwise unscathed, and Tej exults over her success; Ivan tells her about his own scariest driving experience, when his Uncle Aral showed him a few lightflyer tricks, mostly, Ivan thinks, to shake up his new security men.  He encourages her to go on to lightflyers once she’s mastered the groundcar, since there’s lots of places on the planet still where the roads are hardly adequate; unfortunately, Uncle Aral is too busy on Sergyar these days to give her the special course.  Next, upon finding out that neither Tej and Rish can cook worth much, he sends them to apprentice under Ma Kosti; she’s initially dubious of Rish, but Rish wins her over by demonstrating her discrimination of smell and taste.

Rish begins to complain about having to sleep on the couch, and Ivan encourages her to look for a small apartment in his building, or he could look for a larger one; Rish reminds him that they’ll be leaving soon, and points out that, if ImpSec could call them at any time, they should hurry up and get this quickie divorce.  Ivan says they’ll have to fly up to Vorpatril’s District when Count Falco is presiding in person, and he should be able to work it out for them; they shouldn’t even need a lawyer.  Rish points out that if he’s dispensing justice for a whole district, or even a sizable chunk of it, they may need to confirm that they can fit into his schedule.  Ivan finally gives and checks, only the discover that Count is booked up for months, and he’d rather not ask to be seen sooner as a favour, because Count Falco has a nasty habit of collecting on his favours.  He did get on the waiting list, though, in case there’s a cancellation sooner.

“Your protection won’t be withdrawn till you’re safe on Escobar, anyway, regardless of when we do this divorce deal.”

Rish nodded.  Tej felt…odd.

They were going to Escobar, in theory, to take up a new life under new identities.  Lady Vorpatril was certainly a new identity, enjoying a safety that didn’t rely on obscurity…  No.  Stick to the plan.  Without the plan, they had no anchor at all; it was the last lifeline her parents had thrown to her, as they went down with their House.

Ivan buys them their own copy of Great House, and invites Byerly over to play with them; he discovers that Morozov’s tactic works, as he learns a lot about Tej and Rish’s upbringing as they play.  He also learns the truth behind the “even-sister” and “odd-sister” that Tej and Rish call each other.  Tej says that the Jewels were mostly created based on the Baronne’s genome, and they ended up being interleaved with Tej’s full siblings, like even and odd numbers.  Ivan is somewhat flabbergasted by the realization that Rish is actually his sister-in-law.

Once Tej gets her actual driver’s license, Ivan encourages her to take other courses, noting that they have universities, colleges, and tech schools in Vorbarr Sultana; Tej is somewhat daunted by this, never having actually had to decide for herself what to learn.  Ivan says that might also be a way for her to meet new people, and tries to think of other women to introduce her too–Tatya Vorbretten or Tattie Vorsmythe, perhaps, or he could try asking his mother…  He’s interrupted by a call, and returns, a little unsettled, to tell her that they’ve got an opening at Count Falco’s court next week; Rish think it’ll be good to get that out of the way, but Tej is not nearly as eager anymore.

Taking the day off leaves them with a long weekend, so Ivan takes Tej out to the Vorpatril District, leaving Rish to spend some time with Byerly.  The district is on the northeastern coast, and in the wintry weather is fairly deserted, though Tej is not bothered by it, Jackson’s Whole being a fairly cold planet.  Ivan finds an inn near the summer resort town of Bonsanklar, where they spend a cozy day before having to head to New Evias, the district capital.

Ivan tries to clarify, for Tej, just who is supposed to be called “Lord” what.  In addition to the regular rules–Count VorX’s firstborn is Lord VorX, and the other children are Lord/Lady FirstName–Ivan notes that children of the younger siblings are just called “VorX”, no Lord or Lady, with Vor as an honorific, so By can properly just be called “Vorrutyer”.  But there are other VorX titles, like Ivan himself, who do inherit the title, and may have acquired it for a variety of reasons–Ivan’s grandfather married a princess, for instance.

“Those are the correct formal titles.  Then we come to casual conversation.  Falco, or Aral, would be Falco or Aral to their close friends and cronies, wives, and what-not.  But I’d never call ’em that; it would be Count Falco or Count Aral, sort of like Uncle Aral.  Informal but not so familiar or intimate, y’see?  And also useful when there are a bunch of people with the same last name in the conversation, to keep straight which is which.  So my mother gets called Lady Alys a lot, because there’s another Lady Vorpatril in town, Falcon’s daughter-in-law, as well as his Countess Vorpatril.  Er, and you, now.”

He advises Tej, who doesn’t know Falco, to call him “sir” or “Count Vorpatril”, and adds that they should stick to the formal usage while they’re in court.

They enter New Evias, the lightflyer’s piloting taken over by traffic control, which is pretty good but isn’t always good at gentle landings.  The Count’s court is in a musty pre-Isolation building, which satisfied Tej with its obvious authenticity.  They bump into the Count in the hall, and he greets them jovially; Ivan introduces Tej, who the Count says he’s already heard about from Alys.  Count Falco says his wife wants to hear about the wedding, and reminds them that a courtesy visit is in order next time they’re down in the capital; Ivan reminds him of the intentionally temporary nature of the marriage, and the Count acknowledges this before heading off for the courtroom.

After a brief wait, they are called into the chamber for the hearing.  The Count is attended by his clerk and a guard, with a female lawyer still clearing up from the previous case.  They are directed to sit at separate tables, with their respective counsels, but Ivan says they don’t need lawyers, and Tej says they’d rather sit together.  The clerk announces the case, stumbling over “Lady Vorpatril”, and the lawyer decides to stay and watch.  Ivan and Tej come forward hesitantly when summoned, while the clerk reads out the details of the case.

Count Falco asks them what grounds they have for dissolution of the marriage; Ivan states that the marriage was intended as temporary from the start.  Falco notes that they took a permanent oath, though, and has Ivan recite it to be certain; Tej asks what grounds there normally are for dissolution.  Falco asks if either of them has a hidden mutation; Tej says she was certified gene-clean at birth, Ivan says he’s fine, and Falco notes that the Vorbretten case set a predent for ignoring her Cetagandan heritage too, and in any case Ivan was aware of it.  Falco asks about adultery; Ivan protests there’s hardly been time, and they both deny any such thing took place.  Nonsupport?  Tej says that Ivan provides her with ample food, clothing, shelter, etc.  Abuse?  They both indignant deny beating the other, or restricting their freedom.

“So, we must cross of abuse, as well.  What about denial of marital rights?”

“Sir?” said Tej.  “What does that mean, in Barrayaran?”

Falco smiled.  “When was the last time you had sex?” he clarified.

“Oh!  This morning, sir.”  Tej thought for a moment, then volunteered, “It was really good.”

Two snickers sounded from the back of the room.  Ivan did not deign to turn his head.

Next Falco asks about “denial of children”; Ivan reiterates that this is a temporary marriage, though Tej notes that her mother sold eggs for capital when she was younger, and she herself could certainly provide some, which takes the Barrayarans in the room aback.  Falco says that he’s run out of reasons; Tej says that Ivan promised her a divorce, but Falco says that breach of promise applies to the promise to marry.  He asks if either of them has a financial claim, which they deny.

“Now, that is interesting.  And nearly unique, if I may say so.”  Falco sat back, sighing. At length, his tapping fingers stilled. He drew a breath.  “It is the ruling of this Count’s Court that the respondents, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril and Lady Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua Vorpatril, have no grounds for the dissolution of their respective, freely spoken marital oaths.  Your petition is denied.  Case closed.”

Ivan sputters that he can’t do that; Falco says that he does that every day, listen to petitions and make judgements, and there’s always something new under the sun.  He then adds some personal words, admonishing Ivan from “playing fast and loose” with solemn oaths in his jurisdiction; if they do acquire some grounds, they can try him again, but not until at least half a year has elapsed.  He shoos them out and reminds them that they owe him and the Countess a visit.  Ivan and Tej are gently ushered out in bewilderment.

The door closed on the babble, although it opened again in a moment to emit the lawyer, papers and files stacked in her arms.

She twisted around her stack and reached into her case to extract a card, which she handed to Ivan.  “My number, Captain.”

Ivan took it in numb fingers.  “Is this…if we want legal advice?”

“No, love, it’s for if you ever want a date.”  She trod away up the hall, laughing.

Comments

So I guess that the no-fault divorce is not enshrined in law on Barrayar, or at any event Count Falco doesn’t believe in it.  Is there some special temporary oath that Ivan could have used?  Probably not, Barrayar being what it was.  Why would Ivan think that this would work, then?  It also makes me wonder what precise grounds Ekaterin would have used in trying to divorce Tien; she could have used the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, but she probably wouldn’t have unless she was desperate, because of Nikki.  Nonsupport, with him taking her money and then losing it?  Psychological abuse?  Denial of children, or would that not work because they did have one?  I’m sure the Ekaterin who got up the nerve to leave him in the first place would have come up with some way to do it.

I was never clear on whether Duv Galeni and Miles were actually friends–in Memory, at least, they had some dicey moments–but I suppose it’s not out of the question that Ivan and Galeni got on somewhat better.  The dinner had more of those tellings-of-past-events, but it did elide the Ser Galen matter, a.k.a. Galeni’s actual involvement in the matters on Earth.  It does also sound like Martya is still with Enrique, though not necessarily married, the way Delia and Olivia are.

The Rish and Byerly thing definitely seems to be on.  Interesting that Rish can sense the hidden, sensitive By inside by watching his hands.  He’s got a lot of practice concealing his true self, possibly even from himself, through his years of undercover work, but Rish seems to be getting at the layer beneath.  Does he keep up his facade even when they’re alone, I wonder?  Or does he get to relax it just a little bit?  I can’t recall at the moment, but I wonder if his cover is going to hold up until the end of the book…


So the whole divorce thing didn’t come off…so what’s next for our still-married protagonists?  Will she run off to Escobar and abandon her husband, or stay and learn to love Barrayar?  What did happen to the rest of her family?  Tune in next week, for another chapter and stuff.

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Prepare yourself for the ultimate in science fiction reread blogs–the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  Thrill to the summarized action and choice quoted dialogue!  Exult in the thoughtful and insightful comments!  (Yuk.  Who writes this stuff?)  This week we surge another chapter into Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, getting all the way through Chapter Eleven, in which things are burned and people stay out far too late.

Chapter Eleven

They stay in for the entire day after the visit with Gregor, limiting explorations to the comconsole and ordering out for food.  Only the next day does Ivan discover that the women’s desire to stay in has more to do with a distaste for traveling in his two-seater groundcar, so he proposes renting a larger model.  They begin planning on some excursions around the city, but are interrupted by a door chime.

Ivan reassures the women that whoever made it up here will have been cleared, but he’s less than pleased to see that the visitor is Byerly Vorrutyer.  Reluctantly, and not without déjà vu, he lets Byerly in, though he says it’s not the best place to try to avoid Lady Alys.  By said that it’s already too late for that; he was arrested as soon as he got off the shuttle, mostly as a cover to take him to his debriefing.  He admits that he had spent the shuttle trip in the company of two of his co-agents, call girls from Vormercier’s party yacht, nothing much to do (besides writing reports) for eight days…

“What’s a call girl?” asked Tej, her brows crimping in puzzlement.

“Uh…” Ivan sought a translation.  “Like a Betan licensed practical sexuality therapist, only without the licensed and the therapy parts.”

Tej says it sounds like a risky profession, and By says that since they were also informers, he was anxious to get them out of danger in time.  He’s been officially cleared after his supposed interrogation, but left looking foolish, which is good for his cover.  Privately, he was commended and promoted for his efforts…and then demoted again for having gotten Ivan involved, which was the most annoying way they could have done that.
Tej asks how By had become a spy; By says some of them come in from the regular Imperial Service, and some of them recruited as civilian experts.  He himself was neither–he’d turned his hand to dissolution when he first arrived in the capital, and one of his fellow rogues turned out to be undercover ImpSec, who found By a useful helper until he decided to secretly recruit him.

Ivan asks what his mother said, and By says that she was mostly there to get his side of the events on Komarr.  He says they need to get their cover story for that event straight before they start telling too many uncleared people about it.  Mostly they can just take out the part about the Vormerciers, and cast it as a whirlwind romance turned into an impromptu wedding (with By as a spur-of-the-moment witness) because of the threat of deportation.  It’s probably too late to cover up Tej and Rish’s identities, so they can just pose as refugees of a Jacksonian palace coup, which will at explain them well enough to Barrayarans at large.  Tej points out the length of the list they’ve already told the real story, but Ivan assures her that none of them are likely to spill their secrets.

By then invites Rish out for a dinner date; he’s supposed to go out and say rude things about both ImpSec and Theo Vormercier, and he thinks that Rish’s appearance will help him be noticed while he does so.  It’ll also help them get used to her, and he can show her a side of Barrayar that stodgy old Ivan wouldn’t.  Rish accepts the invitation, and while Ivan is initially worried about letting her out of his site, the prospect of an evening alone with his wife is also appealing, so he only gives By a token warning.

Tej and Rish ask if By is bisexual, or what; Ivan says he has no idea.  Tej and Rish mention the various scents they’d smelled on him that first night on Komarr, which Rish think settle the issue firmly, implying he’d had a very busy two days at least.  Ivan doesn’t want to talk about it, and tells Rish that By will surely be keeping her under surveillance on their “date”; she doesn’t see a problem with this, and enlists Tej to help her pick out an outfit.  Ivan is left with the worrying notion that By might actually have been told to use Rish as bait…

They are back late that night, and Ivan waits up to let Rish back in, to Tej’s bemusement; the next night she is back even later, after another date to watch dancers, and the night after that she calls to let them know she won’t be back at all.  That is the night before Ivan’s birthday, which Tej has become intensely curious about.  They wake up and get dressed early, Ivan in his uniform, and drive to a nearby place; all Tej knows about what’s going to happen is something about burning a lock of hair for his dead father.

Municipal guardsmen are keeping people away from the spot, apparently, though Ivan is expected and welcome.  He points out the plaque as the spot where his father died, according to his mother–right before her eyes.  Christos arrives with Lady Alys and Simon Illyan shortly thereafter; Ivan’s mother wishes him a happy birthday, which Illyan notes is half of the traditional “three score and ten”.  Tej recalls what she’s heard about the so-called War of Vordarian’s Pretendership, which seems unreal when she thinks that she’s eaten pastries with Gregor, and that Padma Vorpatril’s death was barely a footnote.

Lady Alys welcomes Tej, who is self-conscious in the new knowledge that she actually _saw_ her husband being killed.  She tells Tej about the Barrayaran memorial service, noting it isn’t always performed this regularly.  Christos has set up a brazier, and Lady Alys fills it with scented wood and bark; she and Ivan add their previously-prepared hair clippings.

Lady Alys nodded to the plaque.  “This is where my husband was shot down by Vordarian’s security forces.  Nerve disruptors–poor Padma never had a chance.  I’ll never forget the smell…burning hair, among other things.  This ceremony always brings that back.”  She grimaced.  “Ivan was born not an hour later.”

“Where was his uterine replicator?” Tej asked.

Three faces turned toward hers; Lady Alys’s twisted in a wry humour.  She touched her stomach.  “Here, dear.”

Tej gasped in new and unexpected horror.  “You mean Ivan Xav was a body birth?”

Lady Alys assures her it was quite normal for Barrayar at the time, and Ivan was particularly large and two weeks late, which he protests was not his fault.  Her rescuers had taken her to an abandoned building to give birth, with Sergeant Bothari as midwife, and she had to bite on a dirty rag to keep from screaming out.  Ivan is older now than Padma was then, and Alys only as old as Tej herself; Tej suddenly realizes why Lady Alys is so welcoming to someone else who’s lost members of their family.  Illyan asks where he was at the time, and Lady Alys tells him he was smuggling out Admiral Kanzian.

Lady Alys asks Tej if she wishes to contribute some hair as well; surprised to be asked, she allows Lady Alys to clip off a lock of hair and add it.  Ivan lights the wood chips and they watch it burn; as the smell of burning hair grows pungent, Lady Alys tells the story, of how her husband panicked after she went into labour and insisted on going to find someone to help with the birth.  He was picked up by Vordarian’s men, fast-penta’ed and brought back to pick her up.  Alys says she always blamed him for his cowardice in fleeing from the birth, more than his bravery in attempting to fight back once she was taken.  Ivan changes the subject to how Koudelka got them out of the city in a grocery van.

Alys tells Tej she’d decided that, once Ivan was married, she’d leave the ceremony to him and his wife, because she feels like thirty-five years is enough mourning to do; and she’s tired of the memories and the emotions that go with them.  Ivan says he didn’t realize that; it was just something they did, every year, from when he was very young, and he’d looked forward to going to the nearby bakery after it was done.  The fire burns out, and Christos cleans up the remnants and stores the brazier away.

Alys invites them back to her flat for breakfast, which they accept.  On the drive Tej says that it must have been a morbid way to celebrate his birthday every year, and he says that they also tended to throw elaborate parties later in the day, until he became too old for them.  When he entered the Imperial Service Academy, it felt like the end of childhood, but he’s not sure how mature some of the new ensigns are these days.  What the ceremony did teach him was how unwise it was to get involved in politics, since it left him without a father.  His mother hadn’t brought up some of those details before, though, and he wonders why, if it was such a bad memory, she’d had the plaque intalled in the first place, and why she hadn’t stopped years ago.  Tej suggests that she may have just been waiting for the next generation to start.

Comments

I never did it myself, but I recall that, regularly, idiot junior high students would put some hair into a Bunsen burner because they’d heard that it stank.  And it did, every time.  (As did sulfur, ditto, so perhaps I got the two smells mixed up.)  So I’d imagine that they would want some scent added to the wood to try to offset it.  And I imagine it worked about as well as such things usually do.  I thought that nerve disrupters did their damage directly to nerve tissue, though, so I wouldn’t have thought they’d actually burn anyone’s hair, but maybe there’s some kind of induction heating effect or something.  Or maybe hair was burning for a different reason.

This chapter is another kind of story retelling, though, encapsulating a couple of chapters of Barrayar; though Tej of course is mostly ignorant of the events, it still gets repetitious to those of us who have read that book.  That is one of the problems of later books in the series, especially one that’s trying to keep the books independent–there’s so much to sum up.  I was noticing it already in Memory, but at least this book gets to skip a lot of the events which are only about Miles.  Still, Alys, Ivan and Illyan between them have a fair amount of history to recall.

The backstory of Byerly, on the other hand, is almost too little, but it does explain how he ended up working for ImpSec and how he manages to maintain his cover, by getting arrested and “interrogated”.  I’m not sure why bringing Ivan into things got him into such trouble, though; was it just Lady Alys throwing her weight around, or would any high Vor have been just as bad?  Ivan’s clearance level is pretty high, considering all the stuff Miles got him involved in (thinking again of Memory here), so I’d think it would be better than somebody who was less in the know.


Another week, another chapter.  Next week, another one?  No promises of two, unless I find myself with a lot of extra time or something.  Like if I suddenly gain the mutant ability to go without sleep, perhaps.  Until then, keep those books in the air!

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So I’m rereading this series, the Vorkosigan Saga?  By Lois McMaster Bujold?  And I’m also, like, writing down the stuff that happens, and then saying things that it makes me think about?  So I’m all the way up to, like, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which doesn’t even really have much for Vorkosigans in it, except in this chapter, which is, like, Chapter Ten, so here it is?

Chapter Ten

Ivan manages to overcome his wife’s distraction in bed that night, and discovers that his experience with bleary-eyed admirals also helps him deal with Tej in the morning.  His mother calls to inform him that she’s having the women out to shop for clothing; Rish expresses concern for safety, but Ivan assures her that his mother gets the best ImpSec guards, mostly as a tribute to Illyan.  Christos and Alys’s personal dresser escorts the women out, promising to teach them Barrayar’s “clothing dialect”.  Ivan is just as happy to be staying at home, where he can merely approve of everything they buy, rather than trying to figure out what they want him to say about outfits they’re trying on.  Left to himself, Ivan starts on his backlog of personal mail, but after half an hour he’s interrupted by a call from Miles.

“Sorry for the interruption”–Miles did not look in the least sorry–“but I must not be behindhand in conveying my thanks for the extremely thoughtful gift you forwarded from Komarr.  Ekaterin actually wondered if she should put flowers in it, next time you came over, but I suggested target practice.  Or passing it along to the twins, which might be an ever faster way to dispose of it.  At which point the light dawned, and she looked very relieved.”

“Hey, it took me half an hour to find that vase!” said Ivan in mock indignation.

“Hidden in the back of the store, was it, lest it frighten away customers?”

Miles also congratulates him on his marriage; he heard about it very quickly, after Alys called him about the rumours coming in.  Ivan says it was an accident, and invites him to read the ImpSec report if he wants all the details.  Miles invites them all over to Vorkosigan House for a Ma Kosti tea; Ivan protests this blatant bribery, and Miles says he’s off to Sergyar soon, and doesn’t want to miss meeting her.  When Ivan is still reluctant, Miles says they are “requested and required” to attend, and Ivan realizes that it’s really Gregor who wants to meet them.

Tej is not best pleased to be heading over to meet the Barrayaran Emperor (and not just because Ivan’s sports car requires Rish to sit on her lap).  Ivan keeps not proving to be as much of a “nobody” as he claimed, and as a result she feels like it’s becoming much harder to hide.  And then there’s the Imperial Auditor, who apparently has the power to execute her if he wants to…  They’re well-dressed for it, at least, having acquired a selection of “casual” Barrayaran clothing, and impressed Lady Alys’s dresser with her colour sense, besides; now Tej wonders if Alys had been forewarned about this little social engagement.

Ivan manages to drive with something approaching caution, and soon they arrive at the walled-in house, where they are admitted after a brief scan.  Ivan helps them out of the car and they are admitted into the huge four-storey house, once the modern force-screen is lowered.  Rish is transfixed by the intricate mosaic on the floor of the entry hall, an almost lifelike depiction of a garden, murmuring to herself at how she could dance on a floor like this.

A call of “Ware escapee!” heralds the arrival of a naked toddler (much to Ivan’s dismay) with an arresting, diminutive figure limping in pursuit.  The toddler stops in wonderment at the sight of Rish, and Ivan reluctantly grabs the child, Sasha, and hands him back to the short man, who reports the capture via his wristcom; a more normal-sized woman appears and collects Sasha, and Ivan introduces them as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan.  Ekaterin welcomes them and tells them about their impending trip to Sergyar–taking the twins, and her son Nikki, to visit the Count and Countess.

Ekaterin heads back up the stairs with Sasha while Miles takes the others to the library, where another man is waiting for them; Ivan greets him as “Sire”, but Gregor says he’s in Count Vorbarra mode right now, to save on hassle.  He welcomes Tej and Rish to Barrayar, in a way that reminds Tej of Ekaterin welcoming them to her house, and they all sit down.  There is a fire on the hearth, which Tej has to remind herself isn’t dangerous here.

Gregor asks about how they met, and the full story comes out–including Rish stunning Ivan, which wasn’t in the ImpSec report.  Miles gets more and more amused, behind his hand, as Tej and Ivan tell the story.  Tej brings up the proposed plan to smuggle them to Escobar on a courier vessel, as she has realized that Gregor is likely one of the people who could make this happen.  He says he might be able to do something for them, and asks where they might be able to meet her brother.  Tej says that Amiri never wanted to get into the house business, and convinced his parents to let him go study on Escobar under an assumed name; she was supposed to meet him if the worst happened, and her sisters were to go to Earth to meet up their Cetagandan grandmother, which is the first Ivan knows that the widow ghem Estif is still alive.  Tej says she’s about 130 years old, but still limber, though her hair has all gone silver.

Ekaterin enters with the formal tea, which is ample and delectable, mostly due, she says, to the effect the Emperor’s presence has in inspiring Ma Kosti; Miles warns Gregor not to try to steal her away.  Miles says that Tej’s grandmother must have been close to his own grandfather’s age, and was actually there for the Cetagandan invasion; he suggests that Tej should talk to the Vorbrettens, and explains the Cetagandan-heritage connection.  Gregor notes that Miles is part Betan, and Ivan as well, because of their Betan great-grandmother.

Miles, returning to the subject of Escobar, asks if the medical clinic Amiri is at wouldn’t happen to be the Durona Group.  Tej and Rish are shocked that they know this already, but Miles says that he was already acquainted with them, and his clone-brother Mark helped get them off Jackson’s Whole.  Tej admits that the Cordonahs had an informal understanding with House Fell, the Duronas’ former home.  Miles says that the family connection to the Durona Group may mean that their identities will have to be protected more carefully if Ivan and Tej go there.  Rish notes suspiciously that Miles knows a lot about Jackson’s Whole, and he admits to having visited there several times in his pre-Auditor career…as a courier, of course.  ImpSec also keeps an eye on the Jacksonian Houses that man the jump points, particularly Fell and Prestene, the latter being the one closest to the Cetagandan Empire.

Tej asks Gregor again about the ride to Escobar, and he says he’ll mention it to Allegre and let him work out the details with Ivan, but he says it won’t override other ImpSec business.  He adds that Ivan’s security detail is aware of the increased risks, and Miles says that it’ll be easier to keep them from being blindsided if Tej and Rish don’t keep secrets from them.  Tej isn’t happy to be putting these strangers at risk by her presence, haunted by the death of her bodyguard on Fell Station, but she supposes that everyone has to suffer the protection of strangers, to some extent.

One of Gregor’s guards alerts him to another upcoming appointment, and Gregor bids farewell to Ivan, Tej and Rish, though he asks Miles to stay for a few words.  Ekaterin escorts them out, and in the entry hall Rish asks her about the mosaic; she says that Miles had encouraged her to make some changes to the house, and his mother had some bad associations to the old tile floor.  This type of mosaic is, she says, a South Continent specialty, and Miles helped her secure the services of a famous artist Ekaterin had always admired.  Ivan noted that pieces of the old floor ended up being sold for a good price as souvenirs.

[Ekaterin] turned to Tej.  “Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan is very close friends with Ivan’s mother, you know.  Cordelia has frequently mentioned to me how much she treasured having a woman friend, when she first came to Barrayar as a bride and a stranger, to show her how to go on here–all those things the men didn’t know.  At least there’s no war on, this time.  Perhaps when Miles and I get back from Sergyar, we can visit again…?”

A heartbreakingly kind offer, Tej thought.  She smiled, but shook her head.  “We don’t expect to be here that long.”

Tej realizes that her initial eagerness to leave Barrayar has been replaced by an inexplicable reluctance, which she admonishes herself to try to shrug off.

Comments

Another retelling of the initial incidents with Tej and Ivan’s meeting, and not particularly summarized in the book, so that Miles and Ivan can have some amusing exchanges…which I didn’t include here.  Since Gregor and Miles surely already knew most of it…what was the point of that?  Are we supposed to focus on the fact that the story seems more amusing now than it did at the time?  Or just enjoy the witty banter?

This whole chapter almost feels like an effort to shoehorn Miles into the book.  It’s true that Miles and Ekaterin would want to meet Tej, and I suppose it’s understandable that Gregor would as well, but somehow this scene doesn’t seem to justify its existence, or at least its length.  The don’t-steal-Ma-Kosti joke is dragged out again.  It all seems a little…precious, somehow.

This book takes place about seven years after _Mirror Dance_, by the end of which the Durona Group has relocated to Escobar.  So I guess that Tej’s brother can’t have been there longer than that.  Is Amiri the only non-Durona-clone person there?  Surely not, or else he’d stick out like a sore thumb.  It seems like a little bit of convenient coincidence, anyway.  I suppose there might be some advantage to sending him offplanet to someplace that will at least be slightly familiar, to live among Jacksonians, and more-or-less known quantities, but by the same token it might make it a more obvious place to look for him.  I hadn’t remembered this little factoid from the first read, but I wasn’t surprised when it turned up, because it seemed almost too obvious.  After all, why invent another Escobaran medical clinic when there was one already there?


Another busy weekend coming up for me, which means definitely only one chapter next week; let’s hope it’s more exciting than this one.  Looks like it’s got Ivan’s birthday party in it, so that should be good.  And will contain more recap for our new characters.  But that’ll be next week, so till then…

 

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