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…
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.
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…