Can you keep a secret? It’s well known than three people can keep a secret, if two are dead, though perhaps this is less obvious than it seems, because sometimes secrets will come out anyway. Even if all three are dead, because there is, after all, Google. It’s no secret, then, that tonight I am posting another entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that special series of blog posts dedicated to review and appreciation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, featuring the exploits of a certain Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family. This week we continue on into Chapter Fourteen of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, where Miles has only a small role, since we’re focusing on his cousin Ivan Vorpatril and his current, temporary(?) wife, Tej, whose Jacksonian family has unexpectedly turned up mostly alive…
As they are escorted into the waiting room, Ivan notes that the room is guarded, and they’ve been sequestered from other travelers; not yet officially detained, but that area isn’t too far away, which he refrains from mentioning to Tej and Rish. Mahon, the Customs & Immigration officer, gets them past the guards, and Tej hurries towards her family; Mahon notes quietly to Ivan that the names these people were travelling under didn’t match any of the names that Tej referred to them by. ImpSec Lieutenant Zumboti, who has accompanied them as well, loosens his stunner in its holster just in case.
Nobody in the room seems to unlimbering weapons; Tej’s father barely makes it to his feet before she tackle-hugs him, and Ivan has to turn away from the naked emotion on his face. Rish somersaults to the feet of the Baronne before being raised up for a hug as well. After that, the rest of the family mob closes in. Ivan tries to identify Tej’s other family members; he picks out the sisters, Pidge and Star, both with red-brown skin, Pidge with matching hair and Star with dark hair. The Jewels are mostly easier to identify, being colour-coded; the two young men left over turned out to be Amiri and Onyx. Onyx’s skin is dark like the Baron’s, but patchy in places, apparently because of a disguise implanted on Escobar; Tej hugs olive-skinned Amiri, who rejoices over having found her alive, since they heard nothing about them for months. Tej then bows to her Cetagandan grandmother, whose hair seems to have been cut alarmingly short.
Mahon asks Ivan if these are really all his relatives, and Ivan is forced to admit that they are, in fact, his in-laws. He notes that not all of the family are there–Erik, Topaz and Ruby are missing. He senses a certain edginess under their mood and wonders if it’s related to the missing family members. Tej pulls Ivan over to introduce to her parents and grandmother.
In a voice gone breathless and shy, Tej said, “Dada, Baronne, Grandmother–this is my Barrayaran husband, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril.” As if she had several other husbands of various planetary origins tucked away somewhere…? “He’s not a lord of anything, though.”
None of them seem that happy to meet Ivan; the Baron said they’d heard of him from Lily Durona, but it didn’t make much sense. Tej says that the wedding did get them out of trouble, and she’ll explain later. Ivan, sensing that the Baron isn’t too happy with him, greets them politely, even remembering the proper address to a Cetagandan haut-lady. He asks how he can help them, and the Baron says that they should find out.
He calls Pidge (a.k.a. Sophia Arqua) over and introduces her to Mahon as their lawyer; she admits that while she’s practiced law elsewhere, she’s not fully qualified for Barrayaran law, but she’s studied up on it quickly in the last couple of weeks. She says the question seems to be whether they are representatives of House Cordonah, and thus due diplomatic courtesy, or Houseless refugees, and thus due assistance. Mahon isn’t sure about this, but all Lieutenant Zumboti says is that he doesn’t see them as a threat to the Imperium, so it’s not really his place to interfere; Ivan thinks this is pretty disingenuous of him. Mahon mutters about only having two hours left in his shift, but allows himself to be led off by Pidge to work things out.
The Baron asks about Rish’s companion, and Rish introduces Byerly to them as her “um, friend”; they’re none too sure about him either, being a Vor, and a natural birth, but Rish vouches for his friendliness.
Tej asks about the newsvids she saw, which claimed to have shown their bodies, but the Baronne said those were fakes, and ended up making it harder for the Prestenes to announce their escape. Rish asks about the missing members; the Baronne says that Ruby is under Baron Fell’s protection, but Topaz is still hostage, and Erik is dead, and it’s unknown if he’s cryo-revivable or not. Rish asked if they’d gotten out after Star’s group, but the Baronne said they were held hostage for weeks before their escape. Tej asks about her grandmother’s hair, and Lady ghem Estif said she sold it, on Earth, at auction, for a considerable sum.
“That was a pretty amazing sacrifice, for a haut woman,” Ivan offered, this seeming a less fraught topic. “I once met some of the ladies of the Star Crèche itself, on Eta Ceta, some years ago. Their never-cut hair was a major status-marker.”
Lady ghem Estif’s expression went rather opaqie. “It is long,” she stated, “since I left the Star Crèche.” She hesitated, looking at Ivan more sharply. “Do the Consorts speak with Outlanders, now?”
“It was a special, um, event. What was your clan, that is, your haut constellation of origin, before you married the ghem general?”
“Rond.” Lady ghem Estif delivered the flat monosyllable without emotion. The Rond were one of the mid-grade Cetagandan Constellations, though that was like saying “one of the mid-grade billionaires”. But she regarded Ivan with the faintest new spark of…less disapproval. As though he might be trainable, with the right program of exercises and rewards.
Mahon returns with an offer that, if Ivan will pledge for them as a relative, he can take custody of them as asylum applicants, with a two-week limited visa while their case is reviewed. He mentions with disapproval the obvious falsities of most of the identification they’d provided, but he does admit their mitigating circumstances; he does, at least, have forms for this contingency. They will also have to post a bond, for all nine of them, with a potential group discount; Ivan, sensing he’s not going to get out of this on time for work, calls to let them know he’ll be late. A mere three and a half hours later, the process is completed, Ivan has sworn to be responsible for a number of things he privately things he has no control over, with the Jacksonians watching the process in interest. Then they leave the shuttleport in a rented ground-van into morning rush hour.
Ivan takes them to a hotel, a utilitarian place not far from Ivan’s apartment, then says he has to go to work; he leaves Tej with the admonition to “not let them do anything”, and she says they’d probably like to just sleep. Rish manages to part with By as well, and a few minutes later picks a bug from under her collar, tells it “Nice try” and ditches it. Their rooms all adjoin onto a central lounge, and after depositing their luggage they all sit down to listen to Tej and Rish’s tale.
None of them are that impressed by Tej’s marriage to Ivan, even as a ploy, critiquing it severely, saying she should have held out for more; her father isn’t pleased that she turned down to many suitors just to end up with a Barrayaran (though, she admits, he never tried to push her towards anyone she didn’t like). The Baronne asks if she knew of his high-level connections, and Tej admits she didn’t know until afterwards. The Baronne is very interested in his proximity to the throne (or, as Tej corrects her, “camp stool”), but Rish says that apparently Ivan’s claim is tenuous, and Tej’s grandmother discourages them from trying to pursue it.
“Still, he’s in their military,” said Star. “He can’t be totally clueless, in a crunch. Maybe we could use him in our Security. Our new Security, when we set it up.”
“Or in Administration,” said Pidge. “You say he’s a kind of secretary?”
“Or in Hospitality,” said Jet, with a snigger. “How well does he strip?”
Tej glowered at him.
The Baronne dismisses his career as make-work to keep him out of trouble, though Tej insists that he works hard, and his boss says he has a talent for spotting hidden political stakes (or was it snakes?). The Baronne wonders about the Deal that Desplains made to get this “princeling” in his charge, which must have been a social coup for him; she asks if Tej has thought of the best way to exploit her relationship with Ivan.
Tej tells her about the plan to smuggle them out to Escobar; Star says she’d prefer to take out the bounty hunters more directly, as she’d dealt with those that House Prestene had sicced on her. Tej tries to explain the divorce matter which had delayed their departure; her father tells her not to worry about it when they leave, though if she prefers they could certainly kill Ivan for her, a suggestion that Tej hotly protests. Star wonders why Ivan didn’t just let the hunters kill her, if he was so eager for a divorce; Tej feels helpless to explain it to them, though she tries to tell them that Barrayar is a more complicated world than they think, a sentiment that only her grandmother seems to agree with.
Star grumbles about having had to leave their weapons behind, and offers to go scrounge up a new arsenal, which Tej tries to discourage her from, mindful of Ivan’s admonition. Rish notes that ImpSec is likely keeping watch on them, and can protect them more ably right now; the Baron agrees and encourages them all to get some sleep. Tej and Rish bid her parents farewell again, making plans to get together for supper, before they head back to Ivan’s flat.
In the hallway, Pidge grumbles to them that this detour has been costly and time-consuming, and Tej isn’t doing her part in their efforts to retake the House; she should be making a genetic alliance for them. Tej protests that her father would never make her do that, and Pidge says that they don’t have as many options any more, and she should just suck it up and do it anyway. Tej bids her farewell uncomfortably; she was so happy just a little while ago to see her family again, but now she’s unhappy again.
The ending of Chapter Thirteen made me keep reading halfway into this chapter, through the reunion with the family. The second half of the chapter, though, I found somewhat unpleasant, and did not make me at all fond of any of Tej’s family, particular her sisters. It’s also like, boom, here’s another ten-odd characters introduced all at once; we had some background on them before, admittedly, but now they’re all actually here, and of course they probably all want to talk (except Tej’s brother, who doesn’t seem to say much, nor do the Jewels), but that’s a nightmare for a reader.
I know that one can go through all sorts of personal changes, but fall back into the old patterns when you’re back with people who knew you before, because it’s easier that way. Tej has become markedly less Jacksonian through her married life, mainly because she’s living in a much less Jacksonian place, a place where people are sometimes kind without expecting something in return, which is apparently an alien concept on Jackson’s Whole. Which is probably why the purest Jacksonians are so intensely unlikeable. Which must make Tej a bit of a white sheep in her family, the spoiled baby who didn’t have to learn the hard “truths” about the way the world works. Her biggest ally right now seems to be her grandmother, the former haut who has a little more experience of non-Jacksonian worlds than the others, and she can’t be expected to be too sympathetic to the Barrayaran way of doing things.
By the end of the chapter I was heartily rooting for Tej to just go tell her family to stuff it and leave her on Barrayar. She hasn’t reconciled herself to staying married to Ivan quite yet, but she’s certainly feeling distanced from her family; still, she’s just gotten them back, so she’s not ready to break ties with them. Now she gets to be stuck between two worlds, growing more and more miserable due to her lack of actually telling either Ivan or her family what’s wrong. Not sure if Rish is nearly as conflicted, probably just a little, since she was more Jacksonian than Tej in the first place; By is perhaps a little more Jacksonian than Ivan, so she’s not pulled quite so far off-center.
I’m sure I’ll do another chapter next week, no reason not to…and still not feeling the pull to go faster than that. Don’t all reread blogs do that as time goes on? I mean, Leigh Butler’s Read of Ice and Fire has certainly slowed down, right? So it’s okay for me to do it too. So, next week then.