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.
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.
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!