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Archive for the ‘A Civil Campaign’ Category

Urg.  Is it time already?  Okay, okay.  So.  Lois McMaster Bujold, Vorkosigan Saga, reread.  A Civil Campaign, a couple more chapters.  Miles Vorkosigan, his brother Mark, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, Kareen Koudelka, and Ivan Vorpatril.  This week, the last full chapters plus an Epilogue–not a usual thing for a Bujold book, as I recall.  So, anyway, yeah, let’s do it.

Chapter Nineteen

In less than four minutes, two ImpSec officers have arrived at the Vorthys household; Ekaterin considers pointing out Gregor had promised them two minutes, but decides that would be rude.  Vassily and Hugo are shocked at their arrival, wondering who exactly Nikki called.  One of the ImpSec men, who Professora Vorthys recognizes as Captain Sphaleros, says he’d been given to understand that there was an altercation, and he’s instructed to detain all of them–except for Aunt Vorthys, of course, whose presence is merely earnestly requested.  Hugo and Vassily identify themselves, and insist there must be some mistake, but Sphaleros says he has his orders.  He knocks on the bathroom door and identifies himself to Nikki, who emerges.  The Professora agrees to come along, and Sphaleros and his sergeant escort them to the front door (with a brief delay to find Nikki’s shoes).  Sphaleros clarifies that they’re not being arrested, just detained for questioning, but will tell them little more than that.

Outside, the ImpSec officers escort them to a black aircar parked on the sidewalk, which takes off once they’re all inside, flying at high speed and low altitude to Vorhartung Castle.  Ekaterin spots the Counts’ banners, and after a brief search locates the Vorkosigan sigil, the silver leaf-and-mountain on brown.  They land outside, to be escorted in by a familiar man in Gregor’s livery.  He leads them to a small conference room, where he directs them to stand behind chairs (except the Professora, who is allowed to sit).

“Where are we?” Ekaterin whispered to her aunt.

“I’ve never actually been in this room before, but I believe we are directly behind the Emperor’s dais in the Counts’ Chamber,” she whispered back.

“He said,” Nikki mumbled in a faintly guilty tone, “that this all sounded too complicated for him to sort out over the comconsole.”

Who said that, Nikki?” asked Hugo nervously.

Gregor enters, to Hugo and Vassily’s shock, and dismisses Sphaleros; he sits at the head of the table and asks the others to sit as well.  He apologizes for bringing them in so peremptorily, but he can’t get away from the proceedings just yet.  Then he asks why Nikki claims he was being kidnapped away from his mother.  Vassily eventually manages to stammer out what Alexi Vormoncrief had told him, and admits he was the one to suggest Vassily take Nikki out of the city.  Gregor asks his man to make a note to do something with Vormoncrief to put him somewhere less troublesome.  He then tells Vassily that it’s a full-time ImpSec job separating truth from rumour, and says that he’s been informed that the rumour against Miles is not founded in actual events on Komarr, but on the schemes of a group of disgruntled men trying to bring him low for their political advantage.

Gregor let Vassily and Hugo digest this for a moment, and continued, “Your panic is premature. Even I don’t know which way today’s vote is going to fall out. But you may rest assured, Lieutenant, that my hand is held in protection over your relatives. No harm will be permitted to befall the members of Lord Auditor Vorthys’s household. Your concern is laudable but not necessary.” His voice grew a shade cooler. “Your gullibility is less laudable. Correct it, please.”

“Yes, Sire,” squeaked Vassily. He was bug-eyed by now. Nikki grinned shyly at Gregor. Gregor acknowledged him with nothing so broad as a wink, merely a slight widening of his eyes. Nikki hunkered down in satisfaction in his chair.

Another ImpSec officer knocks on the door and is admitted, speaking to Gregor briefly; Gregor tells him to bring “him” directly there.  He smiles at his guests, and says he is about to be rather busy, so he will release them to the visitor’s gallery, and any further concerns will have to be addressed later.  He pauses to murmur to Vassily that Ekaterin has his full confidence, to Hugo and Vassily’s astonishment.

On their way out they pass by a scruffy-looking Byerly Vorrutyer, who greets Ekaterin ironically; Ekaterin, maliciously, introduces him as one of her suitors, hoping to make Miles look better by contrast.  They are led out to the gallery, where Gregor’s Armsman forcibly ousts a group of young gentlemen from the front row; Hugo and Vassily remain daunted by their surroundings.  Ekaterin’s gaze roves across the floor, until she finds Miles, who hasn’t seen her yet; she knows she’s not allowed to just call down from the gallery.  She pleased to see that he seems at ease among the Counts and their representatives.

He’s talking to René Vorbretten, who calls Miles’s attention to her; he looks up, somewhat concerned at her company, but Ekaterin tries to give him a reassuring gesture.  Richars Vorrutyer catches this interchange and also spots Ekaterin; she frowns back at him, annoyed that he’s already dressing as if he were Count.  Gregor still seems to be closeted with Byerly, and Dono doesn’t seem to have arrived yet…

But then he does, dressed more properly, as heir rather than Count, but with a pronounced limp, accompanied by Ivan Vorpatril and four other Counts.  Ekaterin asks Lady Vorthys to identify them for her–they are Falco Vorpatril, Count Vorfolse, Count Vorhalas, and one of Vorhalas’s Conservative compatriots, Count Vorkalloner.  Ivan seems very pleased with himself, though Miles doesn’t seem quite sure what to make of Dono’s company.

Miles begins to berate Ivan, but Ivan tells him he’s saved his ass again; Miles asks what he brought the other Counts in for, and Ivan tells him to watch.  Sure enough, as they file past Boriz Vormoncrief’s desk, Richars tries to greet them effusively, but the four Conservative Counts breeze past him with nothing more than a frown from Vorkalloner.  A second attempt is met with a reprimand from Falco Vorpatril for not having been good enough to not get caught in his unethical ploy, and another from Vorfolse castigating him for trying to use his premises for it.  After that, Ivan relents and tells Miles and René what happened.

Miles wonders if they’ll be able to pin anything on Richars, though, who’s usually so careful to distance himself from his pawns, but Ivan said that Richars’s right-hand man, Byerly Vorrutyer, has turned Imperial Witness, and is confessing to setting the whole thing up.  Though moving it to Vorfolse’s hadn’t been his idea–he’d planned the attack for Vorsmythe’s instead.  Miles is surprised that By was working for Richars after all, but Ivan said he’d always been suspicious of him.

Gregor emerges as the Conservative foursome are bending the ear of Count Vormoncrief, and the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle gently ejects Ivan, who heads up to the gallery.  Dono asserts his right to sit on the bench with Richars, and tells Richars that the municipal guardsmen will be waiting to arrest him after the vote.  Richars hisses back that they won’t be able to touch him when he’s Count, and Miles’s allies will all have turned on him soon enough.  As he leaves the chamber, Ivan suddenly remembers that the usual reward for a job well done is…a harder job, and has to control a sudden impulse to flee.

In Vorkosigan House, Kareen and Martya fling their bug butter tubs at the Escobarans; some of these, being from a cheaper batch, burst on impact, showering the men, and the corridor, with bug butter.  Muno is driven to release Enrique and start flinging some tubs from their end of the hallway back at them; Enrique crawls back towards the lab.  Just then, Armsman Roic, still in his underwear, appears at the other end of the hallway, promising vengeance on whoever had had him woken up.  Gustioz attempts to flee, and Roic reflexively pins him to the floor; Muno begins dragging Enrique back down the hallway, forcing Martya and Kareen to grab his arms in a tug-of-war.  The struggle is inconclusive until Kareen kicks Muno’s wrist to loosen his group, and the three of them manage to lock themselves in the lab.  Kareen, at Martya’s urging, places a comconsole call to Mark.

Miles glances up at the gallery, to where Ivan secures himself a seat next to Ekaterin.  He’s still not sure why Hugo and Vassily are there with them, whether they’re still hassling Ekaterin about her son.  Olivia Koudelka shows up and sits in the back row.  Why are Ekaterin and her party there at all, and why had a Vorbarra armsman escorted them to their seat?

The Lord Guardian calls the session to order, and Count Vormoncrief comes up to present his plea to make Sigur Count Vorbretten; Miles notes that he makes no reference to Richars’s case, which he hopes means a rift between the former allies.  The Lord Guardian calls on René to respond, and René, as planned, yields to Lord Dono.  Dono comes forward and makes his case for the Countship, referring to the medical evidence and affidavits of gender that they had all already been presented with.  He then carries on to tell the story of how he was attacked in the street in an attempt forestall this vote, and how sworn testimony has tied this attack to his cousin Richars.

“Government by thugs in the Bloody Centuries gave Barrayar many colorful historical incidents, suitable for high drama. I don’t think it’s a drama we wish to return to in real life. I stand before you ready and willing to serve my Emperor, the Imperium, my District, and its people. I also stand for the rule of law.” He gave a grave nod toward Count Vorhalas, who nodded back. “Gentlemen, over to you.” Dono stood down.

Years ago—before Miles was born—one of Count Vorhalas’s sons had been executed for dueling. The Count had chosen not to raise his banner in rebellion over it, and had made it clear ever since that he expected like loyalty to the law from his peers. It was a kind of moral suasion with sharp teeth; nobody dared oppose Vorhalas on ethical issues. If the Conservative Party had a backbone that kept it standing upright, it was old Vorhalas. And Dono, it appeared, had just put Vorhalas in his back pocket. Or Richars had put him there for him . . . Miles hissed through his teeth in suppressed excitement. Good pitch, Dono, good, good. Superb.

Miles spots more new arrivals in the gallery–his parents, fresh from their formal breakfast, who end up seated in the row behind Ekaterin and the Professora.  Ivan greets them, but Ekaterin is riveted to the vote below, where Richars is getting up to make his rebuttal.  Richars describes himself as the logical successor to Count Pierre, and dismisses “Lord Dono” as an invention of his overwrought cousin, and a sign of the kind of galactic corruption that they need to keep out of Barrayar–including Miles in that corruption by gesture.  Not getting the kind of approval he’d hoped for, he dares Lady Donna to bring her charges against him as Count, through her “stalking horse”, Miles–then going on to mention the crimes that Miles is “accused” of.

Miles pounces on the point, mentioning that he is only slandered, not accused.  Count Vorhalas adds that he’d be happy to lay the charge against Richars himself.  The Lord Guardian restores order, and Richars continues, though clearly thrown.  He motions to Ekaterin, talking about Miles’s audacity in acting so unashamed when his victim’s wife is looking down at him.  Ekaterin pales at being drawn into the affair, and Miles stiffens in outrage, but reminds himself he can’t just leap across the chamber to throttle Richars.

Ekaterin, in cold fury, tells Richars that he is mistaken, and not for the first time; Richars asks her why, then, she fled from Miles’s proposal.  She parries further verbal sallies from Richars until they are interrupted.

The Lord Guardian banged his spear. “Interjections from the gallery are not permitted,” he began, staring up at her.

Behind Ekaterin, the Viceroy of Sergyar stared down at the Lord Guardian, tapped his index finger suggestively against the side of his nose, and made a small two-fingered sweeping gesture taking in Richars below: No; let him hang himself. Ivan, glancing over his shoulder, grinned abruptly and swiveled back. The Lord Guardian’s eyes flicked to Gregor, whose face bore only the faintest smile and little other cue. The Lord Guardian continued more weakly, “But direct questions from the Speaker’s Circle may be answered.”

Richars’s questions had been more rhetorical, for effect, than direct, Miles judged. Assuming Ekaterin would be safely silenced by her position in the gallery, he hadn’t expected to have to deal with direct answers. The look on Richars’s face made Miles think of a man tormenting a leopardess suddenly discovering that the creature had no leash. Which way would she pounce? Miles held his breath.

Ekaterin leaned forward, gripping the railing with her knuckles going pale. “Let’s finish this. Lord Vorkosigan!”

Miles jerked in his seat, taken by surprise. “Madame?” He made a little half-bow gesture. “Yours to command . . .”

“Good. Will you marry me?”

A kind of roaring, like the sea, filled Miles’s head; for a moment, there were only two people in this chamber, not two hundred. If this was a ploy to impress his colleagues with his innocence, would it work? Who cares? Seize the moment! Seize the woman! Don’t let her get away again! One side of his lip curled up, then the other; then a broad grin took over his face. He tilted toward her. “Why, yes, madame. Certainly. Now?”

She tells him they’ll discuss that later, and that they should finish this business first; she present a gaping Richars with that evidence.  Gregor is amused, Nikki is excited, and the gallery in general breaks up in amusement, Miles’s parents not excluded.  Richars finishes weakly and incoherently, and the Lord Guardian calls for the vote.  Gregor passes, in case his vote is needed later.  Miles is so distracted–mostly doodling “Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorkosigan”–that he misses his turn to vote and has to be prompted by René, much to everyone’s continued amusement.  Lord Dono wins with a narrow majority, but with many of Richars’s supporters abstaining, and Gregor not needing to vote either.  Richars desperately calls for an appeal, which Gregor denies, and Richars is escorted out into the arms of the police.

Miles exults at how Richars had done himself in, though of course with the help of Ivan and Olivia, and…Byerly, he supposes, though there’s still something about that affair that doesn’t quite add up.  Perhaps, later, he’ll take the case as Imperial Auditor and question Byerly himself…  Dono formally assumes the Countship, thanking his colleagues, and returns the vote to René.  Miles, glancing up at the gallery, happens to catch his parents’ first actual introduction to Ekaterin and Lady Vorthys, which catches Ekaterin quite off guard, but she eventually rallies and introduces her relatives as well.  Cordelia and Lady Vorthys seem to almost know each other already, which makes Miles wonder…

René comes forward and makes his case, drawing Miles’s attention back to the floor.  Gregor passes again, and René, with Dono’s support, manages to just reach his majority without requiring the Emperor’s vote either.  Count Vormoncrief’s appeal is also denied, and Sigur Vorbretten seems somewhat relieved to have lost; they greet René as gracious losers, and the Lord Guardian calls the session closed.  Miles restrains himself from dashing up to the gallery, assuring himself that his parents will make sure Ekaterin makes her way down to him safely, and spends some time dealing, somewhat automatically, with the congratulations and other remarks of the various Counts in the chamber.

At last, he heard his father call his name. Miles’s head snapped around; such was the Viceroy’s aura that the crowd seemed to melt away between them. Ekaterin peered shyly into the mob of uniformed men from between her formidable outriders. Miles strode over to her, and gripped her hands painfully hard, searching her face, Is it true, is it real?

She grinned back, idiotically, beautifully, Yes, oh, yes.

“You want a leg up?” Ivan offered him.

“Shut up, Ivan,” Miles said over his shoulder. He glanced around at the nearest bench. “D’you mind?” he whispered to her.

“I believe it is customary . . .”

His grin broadened, and he jumped up on it, wrapped her in his arms, and gave her a blatantly possessive kiss. She embraced him back, just as hard, shaking a little.

“Mine to me. Yes,” she whispered fiercely in his ear.

Count Vormuir rushes into the chamber suddenly, crying out that he’s too late.  Ivan asks Dono how he did that, and Dono disclaims responsibility, though he suspects that the Countess may have staged a well-timed reconciliation with her husband…with the aid of a powerful Betan aphrodisiac.

Nikki confronts Miles, asking him to be sure he makes his mamma happy, which Miles gravely agrees to.  Miles turns to Hugo and Vassily and invites them for lunch at Vorkosigan House so they can straighten some matters out, which they accept, somewhat overwhelmed.  The Lord Guardian comes over to tell them at Gregor has asked for Miles and Ekaterin’s company, for an Auditorial task, and Miles obliges.  Gregor asks Ekaterin if her domestic affairs have been settled, and she says that they should be fine now.  He congratulates the two of them, and then gives Miles an official document to relay to Count Vormuir.

Miles glances at the document, then takes it over to Vormuir, telling him the Emperor has agreed to grant him guardianship of his daughters; Vormuir says it’s about time.  Miles leads Ekaterin and his lunch guests out of the hall, summoning Pym with his car; they pause just in time to hear Vormuir howl about having to pay dowries for all 118 of his daughters…

Back at Vorkosigan House, Mark confronts Roic about the Escobaran trespassers; Roic says they do seem to have a proper warrant, which Gustioz obliges by showing him, bug butter-spattered as it is.  Mark talks to Kareen and the others in the lab, and they unbarricade and open the somewhat battered door.  He rushes to check on Kareen, also bug-butter spattered, and wishes he had her alone to experiment more with the amatory properties of bug butter…but first there’s these Escobarans to deal with.

Mark tells them that he thought he had the right to take Enrique when he paid his bail, and Gustioz says that Escobar doesn’t have slavery; Mark admits that he’s more used to Jacksonian law.  Mark racks his brain for some way to keep Enrique with him…he asks Gustioz to stay and meet his mother, who he’s sure can find some way to deal with this, but Gustioz declines.  Mark realizes they’re gently ushering them all towards the front door of the house, and Enrique looks to be on the verge of becoming tug-of-war rope between Muno and Martya again.  In the entry hall, Mark digs in his heels and refuses to let Enrique go; Gustioz says he’ll find a way to charge Mark as well, no matter who his relatives are.  The argument escalates, and Mark begins to feel the Killer persona beginning to emerge.

The front doors swing open, revealing Miles, in his full livery, and a party of others–including Ekaterin, and some others that Mark doesn’t recognize.

“Who is that?” whispered Gustioz uneasily. And there just wasn’t any question which who he referred to.

Kareen snapped back under her breath, “Lord Miles Vorkosigan. Imperial Auditor Lord Vorkosigan! Now you’ve done it!”

Miles’s gaze traveled slowly over the assembled multitude: Mark, Kareen and Martya, the stranger-Escobarans, Enrique—he winced a little—and up and down the considerable length of Armsman Roic. After a long, long moment, Miles’s teeth unclenched.

“Armsman Roic, you appear to be out of uniform.”

Roic stood to attention, and swallowed. “I’m . . . I was off-duty. M’lord.”

Miles first introduces them all to Vassily and Hugo, with an undertone of hoping that things aren’t as bad as they look.  He asks what’s going on, which breaks the dam, as everyone begins talking at once.  Miles, somehow, manages to glean enough information from this barrage and then halts it, asking if the Escobarans really want to take Enrique away to lock him up.  Gustioz presents him with the warrants, and Miles takes them to a table to look them over.  Mark suddenly notices that Miles and Ekaterin’s relationship seems to have suddenly improved since the last time he saw them, and Miles seems to be unaccountably happy over something.

Miles leafs through the pages, stuck together as many of them are, noting that everything seems to be in order, even all eighteen of the jump-point permissions…  He pauses to ask Mark if it’s true that Ekaterin, and Ma Kosti, and the others, are all getting paid in shares of the bug-butter business…  Miles then turns to Gustioz and says that while everything he has seems to be in order, he is missing a most crucial permission.  Vorkosigan House, he says, is legally part of Vorkosigan’s District, not Vorbarr Sultana itself, and so, therefore, Gustioz needs permission from Count Vorkosigan’s Voice before he can take Enrique from the premises.

Gustioz was trembling. “And where,” he said hoarsely, “can I find the nearest Vorkosigan’s District Count’s Voice?”

“The nearest?” said Miles cheerily. “Why, that would be me.”

The Parole Officer stared at him for a long moment. He swallowed. “Very good, sir,” he said humbly, his voice cracking. “May I please have an order of extradition for Dr. Enrique Borgos from, the, the Count’s Voice?”

Miles looked across at Mark. Mark stared back, his lips twisting. You son of a bitch, you’re enjoying every second of this . . . .

Miles vented a long, rather regretful sigh—the entire audience swayed with it—and said briskly, “No. Your application is denied. Pym, please escort these gentlemen off my premises, then inform Ma Kosti that we will be sitting, um,” his gaze swept the entry hall, “ten for lunch, as soon as possible. Fortunately, she likes a challenge.”

As Pym is escorting them out, Gustioz screams that Enrique will have to leave the house sometime; Miles says they’ll use the Count’s official aircar.  Ekaterin offers to show the lab to her relatives, but at Kareen’s hasty warning she changes this to the interesting historical aspects of the library instead, leaving her aunt to take them and Nikki off while she stays with Miles.  Enrique thanks Miles for his rescue; Miles forestalls any enthusiastic gestures, and Martya leads Enrique off to start cleaning upthe lab.

Mark thanks Miles for his support, knowing how he feels about the butter bugs, and Miles gruffly says he doesn’t want to lose his cook.  Mark asks if the house is really Vorkosigan District soil, and Miles just tells him to look it up.  He asks them not to spring any more surprises to disturb his future in-laws, and Kareen congratulates him.  He says she asked him, and points out to Ekaterin his helpful demonstration on how one should respond to a marriage proposal.  They head off to the library; as Mark and Kareen are heading upstairs to wash the bug butter off of her, they spot the Vorkosigan-livery queen bug scurrying out of sight again, and decide not to mention it to Miles.

Comments

It’s always dicey trying to remember exactly what I thought the first time I read the book, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t predict Ekaterin derailing Richars’s accusation by proposing to Miles right there in the chamber.  It is a great moment–though, arguably, not as great as Nikki calling ImpSec on Vassily Vorsoisson, and Gregor calling them in to settle the whole matter.  That is a scene I look forward to for the entire book, let me tell you.  And Ivan’s coup in winning over Vorhalas and the others for Lord Dono’s side…  Well, this is the final chapter, so all of the major conflicts have to be settled, don’t they?  Even Enrique’s…

Mark and Kareen’s romantic plot was already tied up, of course, so I almost forget that there’s still something to come with their having to keep Enrique from being extradited.  I’m not entirely sure that I buy it when Mark claims he thought paying Enrique’s bail meant he could take him with him when he left the planet, though.  He spent enough time studying the Barrayaran legal system, at least, as part of his learning to play Lord Vorkosigan, that he must realize that the Jacksonian model isn’t the only one…though I guess I don’t know if Barrayar has a “bail” system…  Or maybe it would have come up in his business courses on Beta Colony?  Well, anyway, Miles manages to finess him out of that one, at least.  I don’t recall seeing Enrique in later books, but one supposes that he gets to live a happy life on Barrayar, in Vorkosigan’s District, though one wonders if there’s Escobaran bail bondsmen lurking around from time to time trying to see if they can snatch him up.  If Escobar has a statue of limitations, too, though, then they’d have to give up after a few years.  (And now I’m picturing Gustioz like Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies, going insane from his inability to collar Enrique…and eventually starting his own plot to close the wormhole to Barrayar or something…)

Epilogue

From Miles’s point of view, the two weeks to the Imperial wedding sped past, though he suspected that Gregor and Laisa were running on a skewed relativistic time-distortion in which time went slower but one aged faster. He manufactured appropriate sympathetic noises whenever he encountered Gregor, agreeing that this social ordeal was a terrible burden, but, truly, one that everyone must bear, a commonality of the human condition, chin up, soldier on. Inside his own head, a continuous counterpoint ran in little popping bubbles, Look! I’m engaged! Isn’t she pretty? She asked me. She’s smart, too. She’s going to marry me. Mine, mine, all mine. I’m engaged! To be married! To this woman! an effervescence that emerged, he trusted, only as a cool, suave smile.

He manages to spend some time with Ekaterin and her family, eating dinner together at the Vorthyses and Vorkosigan House, before the pre-wedding social calendar truly descends.  Ekaterin limits the number of social events she attends with him, probably, Kareen opines, because she doesn’t want to show up her limited wardrobe.  At one such event, their departure is obstructed by a drunken Lord Vormurtos, one of Richars’s supporters, who comments snidely about how being a Vorkosigan apparently means you can get away with murder.

Ekaterin stiffened unhappily. Miles hesitated a fractional moment, considering responses: explanation, outrage, protest? Argument in a hallway with a half-potted fool? No. I am Aral Vorkosigan’s son, after all. Instead, he stared up unblinkingly, and breathed, “So if you truly believe that, why are you standing in my way?

Vormurtos’s inebriated sneer drained away, to be replaced by a belated wariness. With an effort at insouciance that he did not quite bring off, he unfolded himself, and opened his hand to wave the couple past. When Miles bared his teeth in an edged smile, he backed up an extra and involuntary step. Miles shifted Ekaterin to his other side and strode past without looking back.

Ekaterin glanced over her shoulder once, as they made their way down the corridor. In a tone of dispassionate observation, she murmured, “He’s melted. You know, your sense of humor is going to get you into deep trouble someday.”

“Belike,” Miles sighed.

The wedding itself is an intricate operation that Miles is heartily glad he’s not in charge of.  Due to space limitations, and luckily thanks to good weather, the ceremony is held outside on a large parade ground.  At breakfast Gregor announces his plan to escape after dinner, drowning his pursuers in a lake of wine; nobody except the couple themselves, and their ImpSec guards, know where they’re spending the wedding night.

The ceremony starts with Gregor, mounted on a glossy black steed, leading a white horse to the Komarran delegation, where Miles formally calls for the bride to be brought out, after which she is deployed carefully onto the white horse, and led back by her father to the circle of coloured groats.  Miles is in the inner circle, with the parents and Laisa’s Second; he has little to do but watch the exchange of vows, and watch his father actually cry, whether out of the ambient sentimentality or sheer political relief he can’t tell.  Once the vows are done, Miles opens up the circle of groats and lets the new married couple out…then, after being the first to wish them well, he makes his way to seek out Ekaterin.

At the reception, each District has erected an outdoor kiosk to offer their own particular food and drink; the Vorkosigans are mostly donating wine, but Mark and Kareen have also set up a bug-butter “maple ambrosia” kiosk, with a few Glorious Bugs on display.  When Ivan, Miles and Ekaterin arrive, Kareen tells them that everyone loves the Glorious Bugs, and they’ve had to lock them up to keep women from stealing them to wear as hair ornaments.  Kareen offers some to Ivan, who comments on its kick; Kareen says it’s got maple mead in it, and Ivan is shocked that Ma Kosti has made something so great out of such disgusting ingredients.

Mark says that he’s made a deal with Lord Vorsmythe to solve their cash-flow problem, and offers to redeem Ekaterin’s shares at twice face value; Ekaterin is about to accept, but Kareen advises her to hold onto them instead, and use them as collateral if she needs to convert them into cash at some point.  In the meantime, she can hold onto them as the stock price skyrockets, and maybe use them  to finance Nikki’s jump pilot training…Kareen herself plans to use them to finance her return to Beta Colony.  Ekaterin agrees with Kareen’s idea, and Mark grumbles about the loss of his stock majority.  Kareen congratulates Ma Kosti about the idea of using the maple mead to win Miles over, since he actually likes it; Ma Kosti says that it’s actually Miles’s meadery, back in the mountains, that’s supplying the mead in the first place, which was his idea.

Mark returns to Kareen the groats from the wedding circle that he’d been keeping for her, and asks what they’re for; Kareen says they’re just a souvenir, to be kept and passed down.  Miles adds that their numbers will mysteriously multiply over time, and Mark speculates that one could take the real weddings groats, mix them in with other ones, and make a tidy profit by selling them as “genuine”, and not even be lying.

Miles greets Kou and Drou, who are passing by, but seeming a little subdued; Drou says that Olivia has just announced her engagement…to Dono Vorrutyer, which will take some getting used to.  She and Delia are now fighting over who gets married first, and Kou winces over his poor beleaguered wedding budget.

Commodore Koudelka edged closer to Mark, and lowered his voice. “Mark, I, ah . . . feel I owe you an apology. Didn’t mean to be so stiff-necked about it all.”

“That’s all right, sir,” said Mark, surprised and touched.

The Commodore added, “So, you’re going back to Beta in the fall—good. No need to be in a rush to settle things at your age, after all.”

“That’s what we thought, sir.” Mark hesitated. “I know I’m not very good at family yet. But I mean to learn how.”

The Commodore gave him a little nod, and a crooked smile. “You’re doing fine, son. Just keep on.”

Kareen’s hand squeezed his. Mark cleared his suddenly inexplicably tight throat, and considered the novel thought that not only could you have a family, you might even have more than one. A wealth of relations . . . “Thank you, sir. I’ll try.”

Olivia and Dono arrive to try the ambrosia and accept congratulations; Olivia says that the Vorbrettens have started their first child, a boy, in a uterine replicator, a topic which draws the women together in interested consultation.  Ivan complains that now he’s losing old girlfriends two at a time.  Kou, still wrestling with the idea, muses that Dono is old enough to be Olivia’s father–or mother–and he’d expected his daughters to marry military officers.  There’s Duv Galeni, at least, he supposes, and Martya’s still possible…but Mark spots Martya with Enrique and privately thinks perhaps not.  Martya will be overseeing the business when he and Kareen return to Beta, and spending a lot of time with Enrique…  He muses to himself that the four girls may end up, between them, splitting the world of accomplishment between them–military, economic, political, and scientific.  He makes a note to maybe send Kou and Drou on a trip to the Orb for Winterfair, if he can afford it…allowing them to visit their daughter as well, to make the offer more irresistible.

Ivan, who has spotted an oddly unincarcerated Byerly Vorrutyer wandering the reception, waits until By is finished chatting with Dono before joining him.  He asks Byerly why he isn’t in jail, and By points out he’s turned Imperial Witness; Dono has forgiven him, since it was Richars’s plan in the first place, and Richars is the one who got arrested.  Ivan asks if they can talk somewhere more private, and leads a reluctant By into a sheltered nook (where they evict a young ensign and his girl).  Ivan begins to grill By ruthlessly, asking why he’s at the reception, and what was really going on when Dono was attacked.  By claims that Dono got him in, which Ivan doubts, saying that he knows By is lying, but can’t tell about what.

By says that he had helped set up the attack, but he’d also scheduled a squad of guards to intercept the attack–but only at Vorsmythe House, which is why he was thrown when the action was at Vorfolse’s instead.  His intention was to stampede public support to Dono, and he left Dono in the dark to make his reactions more authentic.  He thanks Ivan for, along with Olivia, saving his plan.  Ivan asks if Gregor ordered all this, and By said he tried very hard to keep Imperial Security out of it, since they wouldn’t have had a plan with nearly the same political flair.  He’d already talked to Miles about it, who had critiqued By’s plan, pointing out its flaws.

Ivan was almost lured into sympathetic agreement. But not quite. He pursed his lips. “So, By . . . who’s your blind drop?”

By blinked at him. “My what?”

“Every deep cover informer has a blind drop. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen tripping in and out of ImpSec HQ by the very men you might, perhaps, be ratting on tomorrow. How long have you had this job, By?”

“What job?”

Ivan sat silent, and frowned. Humorlessly.

By sighed. “About eight years.”

It all fits now, with By actually working for ImpSec; his shenanigans on Dono’s behalf have left him somewhat eclipsed, but Ivan is sure he’ll recover.  Somewhere, in the bowels of ImpSec, someone is surely in charge of Byerly Vorrutyer, and Ivan hopes to make their acquaintance sometime.  The identity of the blind drop nags him, though, since he feels it should be somebody he knows; By says he should surely be able to guess.  Ivan reasons that it has to be someone in high Vor society, but not somebody By is closely tied to…hidden in plain sight.  By refuses to tell, but gives a little bow to Lady Alys and Simon Illyan as they pass by, and Lady Alys nods back…

Miles returns to Ekaterin’s side after a brief absence, and chuckles wickedly; he tells her that he’s just found out where Alexi Vormoncrief’s next posting is–laundry officer, Kyril Island.  He explains the situation there to reassure her that it’s truly a suitable punishment.  They walk about the reception, and Miles asks if she wants a large wedding.  Primed by his mother, she says that she’d be happy to have one…if he can wait until her mourning year is over; Miles agrees that a quiet wedding, sooner, would be better, and suggests Vorkosigan Surleau, or perhaps her own garden outside Vorkosigan House.

Ekaterin spots the Cetagandan delegation, which includes an actual haut-lady from the capital, as well as the governor of Rho Ceta.  The haut-lady and her ghem-general companion come over to speak to them, and Miles greets haut Pel and ghem-general Benin.  Pel actually fades her bubble briefly, so Ekaterin can catch a glimpse of the woman inside; Miles introduces Ekaterin to them.  Benin congratulates him, and then expresses Emperor Giaja’s personal condolences on the death of his friend Admiral Naismith, and trusts that he will remain dead; Miles replies that he trusts that his resurrection will not be necessary.  After the Cetagandans leave, Miles says that he apparently retired the Naismith identity just in time, since the Cetagandans seem to have figured it out.  Ekaterin wonders briefly what would have happened if they’d met when they were younger, before she was with Tien…and decides that they would probably have passed right by each other, being on different trajectories.

And she could not unwish Nikki, or all that she had learned, not even realizing she was learning, during her dark eclipse. Roots grow deep in the dark.

She could only have arrived here by the path she’d taken, and here, with Miles, this Miles, seemed a very good place to be indeed. If I am his consolation, he is most surely mine as well. She acknowledged her years lost, but there was nothing in that decade she needed to circle back for, not even regret; Nikki, and the learning, traveled with her. Time to move on.

Comments

This kind of story is supposed to end with a wedding, isn’t it?  Well, it’s not the main characters, but they have an engagement, at least, and the other relationships seem to be moving in promising directions.  Order is restored, all is right with the world, the villains have gotten their comeuppance.  In this case, I suppose the villains would be Richars Vorrutyer and Alexi Vormoncrief.  Sigur Vorbretten seemed to repent, at the last–I’m not sure if he was really the power behind that scheme, or if it was Boriz Vormoncrief, but he doesn’t seem to have lost more than any other member of his party.

I suppose that Ekaterin is right that she and Miles probably wouldn’t have hit it off had they met when they were younger…but I seem to recall that her general conclusion turned up in one of those books of logical fallacies that I’ve been reading these days.  People tend to, in general, conclude that their current life is practically the best of all possible worlds.  Fewer people than one would expect would change anything substantial about their lives, because most people can think of something about their life that they wouldn’t want to give up.  I remember a story from OnSpec magazine some years ago called “The Other Rat”, that Google tells me was written by David Barr Kirtley, about a man who could rewind time whenever he wanted to…but once he had children of his own, he couldn’t bear the thought of taking their lives away from them, so stopped using his ability.  There’s also Ken Grimwood’s novel Replay, where a man is forced to rewind his life several times and restart it from his younger days, and ends up taking quite different choices.  So much of what happens in the world is contingent, that I think that most choices would end up being just fine for everyone who makes them…but it’s hard to avoid attachment to what we have now.

I was completely surprised by the reveal of Byerly Vorrutyer’s role with ImpSec the first time around, and maybe even the second.  I wasn’t sure what to make of the guy, really, especially given that we’re given so few positive portrayals of Vorrutyers in the series.  I guess Lord Dono is okay, too, but by Barrayaran standards, going offplanet to get a sex change operation is a wee bit extreme.  Well, we get to see By return in Ivan’s book, which was good.

Overall Comments

I found myself reading ahead in this book less than I did in Memory, and, perhaps because of the longer chapters, I found it tougher going, to keep up with my standard two-chapter-a-week pace.  I don’t think I enjoyed it as much, reading it at the slower pace, perhaps because it takes longer to get past the less fun parts in the middle and back into the upswing.  But it does still have more than its share of Moments of Awesome–it’s just that, because of traditional book pacing, they tend to cluster towards the end.  Ah, well.  Oh, and I confess my sympathies are largely with Miles, in that butter bugs would probably give me the willies.


Next week off, and then back for “Winterfair Gifts”.  Which I tend to think of as shorter than the other novellas, but I’m not sure if it is.  I’ll have to do some word-count calculations to decide how many weeks to stretch it over, but at this point I’ll probably err on the longer side.  And after that it’ll be Diplomatic Immunity, which will be the last one I’ve actually read more than once.  Also, A Civil Campaign was the last of my “favourite” Vorkosigan books, so it feels like I’m on the downward slope here.  Maybe the newer ones will hold up better on reread, but I guess we’ll have to see…

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Welcome back, one mo’ time, to the good ol’, down-home, fresh-baked, fat-free, low-cholesterol Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s always a pleasure to see so many bright and smiling faces comin’ by here to see what I’ve managed to whip up out of nothin’ more than a couple of chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, as we find out what the rascally Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends, have been up to this week.  And speakin’ of this week, that’s right now!  So why don’t you set yourself down and dig in to a helping of Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen of A Civil Campaign, where things actually get kinda physically excitin’ for our heroes…

Chapter Seventeen

Pym admits Ekaterin to Vorkosigan House; he pages Miles, who says he’s up in the attic of the north wing, and tells Pym to send Ekaterin up, he has something she’d like to see.  He escorts her to the lift tube and up to the fifth floor, into an enormous attic.  Some of the attic contents are the usual–shabby furniture, empty picture frames, and other detritus–but past then it gets into old weapons, horse gear, and uniforms.

Miles is digging through a few tunks of flimsies, apparently sorting them; Ekaterin says he wasn’t exaggerating when he told her the attics were worth seeing.  Miles says that when Duv Galeni came up here, he turned back into a history professor, gibbering over how little of this was catalogued.  Ekaterin lets him ramble on, unwilling to destroy his mood with her news.  He shows her a bag of what he says are Cetagandan scalps–given to his grandfather, he says, by his guerrillas, so of course he couldn’t just dispose of them.  Ekaterin asks what they could possible do with them; Miles muses that Gregor could send them back to the Cetagandans, with elaborate apologies, as a subtle diplomatic insult.

Then he gets out what he really wanted to show her–an old lady’s saddle, which he said originally belonged to General Piotr’s wife, Olivia Vorbarra Vorkosigan.  He said the riding tradition has kind of lapsed in their family–his parents weren’t that interested, and he hasn’t time himself in years; Ekaterin says she rode as a child, a pony that her great-aunt kept, but not much since.  Miles says he’s thinking of reconditioning the saddle and putting it back into use, but Ekaterin protests that it should be in a museum.

“Ah—I had this same argument with Duv. It wasn’t just hand-made, it was custom-made, especially for the Princess. Probably a gift from my grandfather. Imagine the fellow, not just a worker but an artist, selecting the leather, piecing and stitching and carving. I picture him hand-rubbing in the oil, thinking of his work used by his Countess, envied and admired by her friends, being part of this—this whole work of art that was her life.” His finger traced the leaves around the initials.

Her guess of its value kept ratcheting up in time to his words. “For heaven’s sake get it appraised first!”

“Why? To loan to a museum? Don’t need to set a price on my grandmother for that. To sell to some collector to hoard like money? Let him hoard money, that’s all that sort wants anyway. The only collector who’d be worthy of it would be someone who was personally obsessed with the Princess-and-Countess, one of those men who fall hopelessly in love across time. No. I owe it to its maker to put it to its proper use, the use he intended.”

The weary straitened housewife in her—Tien’s pinchmark spouse—was horrified. The secret soul of her rang like a bell in resonance to Miles’s words. Yes. That was how it should be. This saddle belonged under a fine lady, not under a glass cover. Gardens were meant to be seen, smelled, walked through, grubbed in. A hundred objective measurements didn’t sum the worth of a garden; only the delight of its users did that. Only the use made it mean something. How had Miles learned that? For this alone I could love you . . .

He says he should get back into riding, for exercise if nothing else, and invites her to join him.  Ekaterin says she can’t, and ruthlessly, before he can try to persuade her, before she loses her will entirely, tells him the story of her family visit.  She expresses her exasperation at how they wouldn’t listen to her, taking Alexi Vormoncrief’s word over her own, along with their own perceptions of the “decadence” of the capital.  She said she had to go along, or lose custody of Nikki.  It occurred to her later to wonder if ImpSec would step in rather than let Vassily take Nikki away, but Miles said that they’d probably think Nikki safer on a military base in any case.  If they did do anything to stop it, they’d probably do it in a way that just enhanced the murder “cover story”.

Ekaterin wonders if somebody convinced Alexi to send the letter, hoping to have just that result.  Miles suggests that it would be better if her uncle could deal with the issue inside the family, but he’s not due back until the wedding, assuming that his technical matters on Komarr don’t take too long.  Miles says that if it does come to court, it’ll be in Vorbretten’s District, and he can try to get René to help, assuming he’s still Count at that point; Ekaterin says she’d rather avoid it entirely.  Miles reassures her that, after the Council of Counts vote in two days, the slander should die down with its political motivation…or so he hopes.

“I shouldn’t have suggested putting you in quarantine till my mourning year was over. I should have tried Vassily on Winterfair first. I thought of that too late. But I can’t risk Nikki, I just can’t. Not when we’ve come so far, survived so much.”

“Sh, now. I think your instincts are right. My grandfather had an old cavalry saying: `You should get over heavy ground as lightly as you can.’ We’ll just lie low for a little while here so as not to rile poor Vassily. And when your uncle gets back, he’ll straighten the fellow out.” He glanced up at her, sideways. “Or, of course, you could simply not see me for a year, eh?”

“I should dislike that exceedingly,” she admitted.

“Ah.” One corner of his mouth curled up. After a little pause, he said, “Well, we can’t have that, then.”

“But Miles, I gave my word. I didn’t want to, but I did.”

“Stampeded into it. A tactical retreat is not a bad response to a surprise assault, you know. First you survive. Then you choose your own ground. Then you counterattack.”

Ekaterin fights an urge to give in to his physical closeness.  Miles admits he’d forgotten about Vassily on his list of people whose opinions mattered.  He explains to her what his father said about reputation and honour.  Ekaterin talks about how she became an oathbreaker, inside, after she made the decision to leave Tien, but she still has to go on somehow; most people, even her aunt, tell her that it was okay because Tien was an ass.  Miles says he knows exactly how she feels, though.

“In my experience,” he said, “the trouble with oaths of the form, death before dishonor, is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn. It’s a survivor’s problem, this one.”

“Yes,” she agreed quietly. He knows. He knows it all, right down to that bitter muck of regret at the bottom of the soul’s well. How does he know?

He tells her the truth about his discharge from ImpSec, for falsifying reports, rather than for medical reasons.  He’d been so desperate to hold onto Admiral Naismith, and he’d gotten into a habit of “lie now, fix it later”.  Which didn’t work with his seizures, and it didn’t work with her either.  Ekaterin gives him a single squeeze, and agrees with him about the difficulty of overcoming old habits.  Miles tells her then how he killed his grandfather, failing out of his entrance exams.

“Of course,” she said dryly, “you were the cause. It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with his being nearly a hundred years old.”

“Yeah, sure, I know.” Miles shrugged, and gave her a sharp look up from under his dark brows. “The same way you know Tien’s death was an accident.”

“Miles,” she said, after a long, thoughtful pause, “are you trying to one-up my dead?”

Taken aback, his lips began to form an indignant denial, which weakened to an, “Oh.” He gently thumped his forehead on her shoulder as if beating his head against a wall. When he spoke again, his ragging tone did not quite muffle real anguish. “How can you stand me? I can’t even stand me!”

I think that was the true confession. We are surely come to the end of one another.

Ekaterin notes that she has, as Kareen would say, a “Thing” about oaths.  She asks how, forsworn as he was, he could bring himself to take oath again, as an Imperial Auditor.  Miles says that his honour came with a reset button, and she is startled into laughter, which feels like it’s bringing light into her soul.  He tells her that a wise woman told him once “You just go on”, which in his opinion is what all the rest of the advice boils down to.

He’s taken her hand in his, and she is almost overwhelmed by his physical proximity, but she is determined not to start any physical intimacy with him, when she’s supposed to be giving him up.  Deliberately pulling a little apart, she asks him if he thinks Alexi’s ploy is a trap.  Miles tells her about what happened with Richars, how he’d attempted to blackmail Miles into going along, and instead Miles threw all his weight behind Dono.  As a result, if Richars does become Count, he’ll be obliged to follow through on his threat to press charges, although he may wait until after the Imperial wedding.  If it does go to court, Richars will probably be unable to prove anything, but Miles won’t be able to produce proof on his side either–but before the charge is eventually dismissed, things could get ugly, for Ekaterin as well as himself.

Miles notes that another way to avert the problem would be to not vote against Richars–maybe even abstaining wouldn’t be enough, he might have to actively vote for Richars.  He admits that Gregor and ImpSec have not asked him to do that, but he thought he’d offer it to her; after some thought, she says they’d both have to reset their honour after that one.  Miles says it doesn’t look like Dono has enough votes, just so she knows; she says she’s satisfied that he has Miles’s.

Ekaterin asks him the last time he used his seizure stimulator, and Miles admits it’s been a while.  Ekaterin sternly admonishes him to use it that night, so he doesn’t get struck down in the middle of the vote, and he humbly accedes.  He offers her a ride home, and ends up accompanying her; they keep scrupulously to small talk.

Ivan is serving at a reception for Komarran guests at Vorhartung Castle, squiring around Laisa’s aunt.  It’s meant as a celebration of the soletta array repairs as much as for the arrival of Laisa’s guests.  Once he manages to get rid of Aunt Anna, he manages to withdraw.  He bumps into Cassia Vorgorov, recently engaged to Count Vortashpula’s heir; Count Falco Vorpatril, nearby, twits Ivan about having missed his chance yet again, since Cassia apparently used to have a crush on him.  Ivan asserts that he chooses to play the field, and bows politely to Count Vorhalas, who is wooing the notoriously fence-sitting Count Vorpatril’s vote.

Miles arrives, looking a little tired, and, to Ivan’s relief, doesn’t seem to be seeking volunteers for some hare-brained scheme.  He greets the two Counts; Falco asks if he’s going to the reception at Vorsmyth House, and Miles says he’ll be with Gregor’s party…unless they want to discuss Lord Dono’s suit again.  Falco says the Progressives will just have to give up on that one, and be satisfied with the soletta repairs bill.  Miles says he can’t wait for this vote to be over, before departing.

Vorhalas notes that Miles’s looks unwell; Falco says it’s probably due to his old troubles, but Ivan says it’s probably due to his more recent injuries on duty–one of his seizures, he expects.  Vorhalas asks about the rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Ivan stoutly denies it, and Falco says that Lady Alys did as well.  Vorhalas will only say that he supposes they’ll never know the truth.  Ivan is getting a bit annoyed at all the people asking him, and wonders if Miles is getting as bad, or if more people are asking Ivan because they don’t want to bother him about it.  Falco invites Vorhalas back to Vorpatril House to talk about a potential project, and Vorhalas agrees.

Ivan spots Olivia Koudelka, and consider that while Delia, Kareen and Martya have rejected him, there’s still one who hasn’t.  He starts to chat her up, trying to figure out if she’s with someone; she does seem happy to see someone, but all Ivan sees are Lord Dono and Countess Vormuir, who seem to be sharing a private joke.  Olivia says they’re heading for Vorsmythe House, and Ivan proposes to come along; Olivia offers him a ride, which he accepts.  Lord Dono joins them, proving to be the one offering the ride, which Ivan doesn’t particularly like, but he’s forced to live with it.  Byerly Vorrutyer stops by, refusing the offer of a ride to Vorsmythe’s, but asking for one home from there.
Dono says he’s talked to several of the Counts, but few of them were helpful.  Vorhalas and Vorpatril hadn’t listened to his pitch, and Vorfolse hadn’t even answered his door.  The vote tally is running close, but Dono says it’s still short.  Olivia and By reassure him, and By says that something might still happen.

Ivan ends up sitting between two Armsmen in Dono’s car, with Olivia next to Dono and Szabo.  On the way to Vorsmythe House, Donno suddenly decides to give Vorfolse one more try first.  Vorfolse’s family has had horrible luck in the last century, making bad choices like collaborating with the Cetagandans, and siding with Vordarian during the Pretendership; as a result, they’re quite impoverished, and Vorfolse lives in a small apartment, renting Vorfolse House to an ambitious, rich merchant.  The current Count Vorfolse, as a result, refuses to commit to much of anything, which, Ivan supposes, at least means he’s not a certain vote for Richars…

There’s no parking available for the groundcar, so Dono’s driver drops them off, Ivan perforce getting out too when Olivia does.  Szabo sets up a couple of Armsmen as a guard, and the rest of them enter the building lobby.  Dono buzz Vorfolse’s apartment, and at least gets a response this time.  Dono introduces himself and his companions, and asks to talk about the vote.  Vorfolse refuses, saying that Vorrutyers are all crazy, and he doesn’t care which of them is Count.  Dono points out that if the vote falls short, it’ll have to be redone, and that will doubtless be inconvenient for Vorfolse, and that Richars would also be much less “restful” as a count.  Olivia puts in her own word, and Vorfolse notes that the Vorkosigans must be supporting it, and Miles seems to be very unrestful just now.  He refuses to commit to a vote, but Dono thanks him, noting as they leave that that’s better than some of the responses he’s gotten.  He also gives Vorfolse credit for, at least, not milking his District for funds to support a more lavish lifestyle.

Outside, the car is nowhere to be found; Olivia wonders if somebody else wanted to come in, forcing the driver to leave and come back.  Just then, Ivan hears a familiar sound, as Szabo drops to a stunner beam.  Ivan ducks behind a pillar, Olivia and Dono ducking another way, as the two other Armsmen with him also drop to stunners.  Ivan peers into the darkness, trying to spot their enemies, and wishing he had a stunner of his own.  He overhears two men talking about a third, and tries to make his way out of his refuge before they come after him.  It must be a kidnapping, he thinks, or they wouldn’t be using stunners.

He catches a glimpse of Olivia, and hears a thunk as she takes out an enemy; he is reminded that her mother used to be a bodyguard.  Dono makes a break for it, and the enemies go after him, grabbing him and dragging him towards a liftvan; Ivan manages to snatch one of the felled Armsmen’s stunners.  They want to “do the job” on Dono and dump him as soon as they can, if they can take out the girl and “the big officer”.  Ivan, watching, can’t tell what they’re going to do, but it’s not a kidnapping…  One man bends over Dono with a vibra knife, and Ivan, taking a chance, stuns one of the others and sends the others fleeing behind the van, leaving Dono on the pavement.

Olivia stuns the other two and emerges from cover; they to go to check on Dono.  Olivia exclaims to find him soaked in blood, but Dono says they only cut his leg.  She improvises a bandage torn from her party dress to try to stop the bleeding, while Ivan drags their stunned foes into a heap.

Olivia now had Dono half sitting up, his head cradled between her breasts as she anxiously stroked his dark hair. Dono was pale and shaking, his breathing disrupted.

“Take a punch in the solar plexus, did you?” Ivan inquired.

“No. Further down,” Dono wheezed. “Ivan . . . do you remember, whenever one of you fellows got kicked in the nuts and went over, doing sports or whatever, how I laughed? I’m sorry. I never knew. I’m sorry . . .”

The bleeding seems to be slowing.  Ivan finds a bottle of liquid bandage nearby, and says that they must have been trying to undo Dono’s sex change operation, hoping to disqualify him before the vote.  Without anesthetic, but with the intention of leaving him alive.  Dono says it’s probably Richars.  Ivan says that however he feels about what Dono did, this is just wrong.  Dono says he hasn’t even used his new genitalia yet, wanting to be a “virgin” on his wedding night.  Ivan goes to check on the others–the one Olivia downed doesn’t look to be in good shape, but Szabo and the others seem like they’ll be okay.  He goes down the street and finds Dono’s groundcar, the driver stunned; he backs it carefully up to where Dono and Olivia are.

He asks Dono if he recognizes any of the goons, which he doesn’t.  Ivan and Olivia load them into their own van, and Dono’s Armsmen into the groundcar.  Olivia and Dono take the groundcar, and Ivan the lift van; Ivan tells them to head for Vorpatril House.

Comments

Not much to say about the Miles and Ekaterin scene, except that the increased honesty between them does seem to be drawing them together.  As well as shared adversity, placing them back to back against a common enemy, as it were.

Ivan the oblivious once again fails to clue in that the girl he’s latched onto is not into him at all.  We don’t get nearly as much screen time with Olivia as we do with her sisters, but it’s apparent that she’s become attached to Dono already.  Still, it’s lucky for Dono that Ivan came along–without him, it would have ended up just Olivia against Dono’s assailants.  It took me a second to recognize Ivan when the thugs were referring to “that big officer”–I guess Ivan is supposed to kind of big, at that.

The book, being mostly about relationships and such, is a little short on actual action scenes, but near the end, they start to show up a bit.  The attempted assault on Dono is probably the biggest one, but the next chapter has a couple more, as I recall…

Chapter Eighteen

Miles arrives early at the Counts’ Chamber, but finds René Vorbretten is there even before him.  René is not optimistic, saying that they’re close, but don’t have quite enough votes.  Miles tries to reassure him, telling him that anyone could change their mind at the last minute, but René points out that that works both ways.  Miles wishes for a little more redundancy in future, and almost wishes for a good honest shootout.  Miles says he thinks he secured Vorgarin’s vote for René, if not necessarily for Dono.  René said that Dono never showed up at Vorsmythe’s; Byerly had been looking for him, and eventually left to try to find him.  Miles wonders if Dono had been assassinated, but reassures himself that he would have heard by now, if so.

As more people start to arrive, René asks what they’ll do if Dono doesn’t show up.  Miles assures him that the Conservatives will also want to wait for all their Counts to show up, and since some of them will be delayed indefinitely, they’ll be forced to filibuster as long as they can, though Miles will willingly stretch it out too, if he needs to.  Miles hopes that Dono is not just reverting to Lady Donna’s habit of arriving fashionable late.  Eventually he calls Pym and asks him to try to find Dono, and do anything he can to help get him to the vote on time.  Richars shows up, dressed as Count Vorrutyer already, and pays Miles a visit.

“They say,” Richars growled to him in an undervoice, not concealing rage quite so well, Miles fancied, “that an honest politician is one who stays bought. It seems you don’t qualify, Vorkosigan.”

“You should choose your enemies more wisely,” Miles breathed back.

Richars grunted. “So should you. I don’t bluff. As you’ll find out before this day is over.” He stalked away to confer with the group of men now clustered around Vormoncrief’s desk.

More Counts arrive, and Miles makes a few last-minute visits to canvass for Dono and René again.  Gregor arrives with a minute to spare, and the session officially begins.  As Miles had predicted, Conservative Counts start exercising their two-minute speaking rights, drawing it out as long as they can get away with; everyone starts settling in for a long wait.

Ekaterin is dismayed to answer her door and find Vassily and Hugo there again.  She stops herself from protesting that she’s been following their rules, and merely asks what they want.  They ask to come in, on an urgent matter, and, grudgingly, Ekaterin lets them in.  Vassily tells her that he wants to get Nikki out of the capital as soon as possible.  He says it’s nothing to do with what Ekaterin has or hasn’t done, but he has new information, this time confirmed by Lord Richars Vorrutyer himself.  Once Richars is voted in as Count, he’ll lay a murder charge against Miles, and then, he predicts, the capital will doubtless erupt into open fighting.  Aunt Vorthys and Nikki come in to see what’s going on, greeting the visitors uncertainly.

Hugo gave her a respectful nod of greeting, and continued heavily, “I have to agree with Ekaterin, but it only supports Vassily’s worries. I can’t imagine what has possessed Vorrutyer to make such a move while Aral Vorkosigan himself is in town. You’d think he’d at least have the sense wait till the Viceroy returned to Sergyar before attacking his heir.”

“Aral Vorkosigan!” cried Ekaterin. “Do you really think Gregor will blithely accept this assault on one of his chosen Voices? Not to mention look forgivingly on someone trying to start a huge public scandal two weeks before his wedding . . . ! Richars isn’t a fool, he’s mad.” Or acting in some kind of blind panic, but what did Richars have to be panicked about?

Vassily reminds her what happened during Vordarian’s Pretendership, and says he wants to get Nikki safe before it’s impossible to leave Vorbarr Sultana.  Ekaterin tries to convince him that even during the Pretendership it wasn’t that violent everywhere, but Vassily insists they have to go, and urges Ekaterin and Madame Vorthys to evacuate as well, especially since Ekaterin has already drawn Miles’s attention.  Ekaterin says that he’s making a big deal over nothing–Richars might not even win the Countship–but they can’t conceive that Dono’s suit could possibly succeed, and in any case Vassily is unwilling to risk it.

Nikki tries to reassure his relatives that Miles didn’t kill Tien, but Vassily says that there’s no way to know for sure, and Nikki is obviously unsure how much of what the Emperor told him he’s allowed to share.  Ekaterin says that ImpSec is surely on top of any activity in the capital, this close to the wedding, and will stop any unrest before it starts.

Vassily tells Nikki to get his things and get ready to go.  Nikki looks to his mother, and she decides that she has no obligation to make things any easier for Vassily, so she says nothing.

Vassily reached for Nikki’s hand. Nikki dodged around Ekaterin, and cried, “Mama, I don’t have to go, do I? I was supposed to go to Arthur’s tonight! I don’t want to go with Vassily!” His voice was edged with sharp distress.

Vassily inhaled, and attempted to recover his balance and his dignity. “Madame, control your child!”

She stared at him for a long moment. “Why, Vassily,” she said at last, her voice silky, “I thought you were revoking my authority over Nikki. You certainly don’t seem to trust my judgment for his safety and well-being. How shall I control him, then?”

Aunt Vorthys, catching the nuance, winced; Hugo, father of three, also got it. She had just given Nikki tacit permission to go to his limit. Bachelor Vassily missed the curve.

Vassily tells Nikki they have to catch the train, and threatens to carry him; Nikki says that he’ll scream, and tell everyone this man isn’t his father, and is kidnapping him.  Vassily tries to grab Nikki, but he dodges out of the way.  Hugo tries to convince Nikki to come with him and visit his cousins instead; Nikki hesitates, but Vassily makes another try then, grabbing Nikki’s arm.  Nikki yells out in pretended pain and Vassily relaxes his grip, allowing Nikki to make his way up the stairs.  He shouts back at them that he doesn’t want to go, and they’ll be sorry they made his mama unhappy.

Vassily chases him up the stairs, Hugo following more slowly.  Nikki locks himself in his uncle’s study and Vassily tells at him to open the door.  He asks Ekaterin for help, and Ekaterin says that the only man she ever knew who could talk Nikki out of a locked room doesn’t happen to be there.  Hugo suggests waiting for him to get hungry, but Madame Vorthys says Nikki knows where his uncle keeps his store of cookies.  Ekaterin refuses to let Vassily break down the door, or help him take apart the hinges, and neither she nor her aunt point out that there is a back door through a bathroom off the next room.

“I hear two voices. Who in the world could he be calling on the comconsole?” asked Vassily, in a dismissive tone that didn’t invite an answer.

Suddenly, Ekaterin thought she knew. Her breath caught. “Oh,” she said faintly, “dear.” Aunt Vorthys stared at her.

For a hysterical moment, Ekaterin considered dashing around and diving through the alternate doors, to shut down the comconsole before it was too late. But the echo of a laughing voice drifted through her mind . . . Let’s see what happens.

Yes. Let’s.

Back at the Council of Counts, Miles waits while more Conservatives drone on.  Gregor’s Armsman comes out and speaks to the Emperor; Gregor them summons the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle to have a quick word, and then disappears behind the dais.  Miles wonders what’s going on, but supposes that Gregor just needs a bathroom break.  He calls Pym again, who tells him that Lord Dono had only arrived at Vorrutyer House about an hour ago, but Captain Vorpatril is escorting him to the vote as they speak.

Gregor returns after a couple of minutes, and gives Miles an odd, exasperated look, before returning to impassively watching the speakers.  Miles checks for missing Counts–Vortugalov, as Lady Alys had promised, but also Counts Vormuir, Vorpatril, Vorfolse, and Vorhalas.  Most or all of those were expected to be Conservative votes, so Miles wouldn’t miss them much.

In Vorkosigan House, Enrique is inventorying the returned Vorkosigan butter bugs, and announces that only nine are missing, which is acceptable, especially since the queen had been returned by Jankowski’s daughter the night before.  He takes the queen out and offers to let Martya pet her; the queen hisses in what Enrique insists is a sound of happiness.

Privately, Kareen thought any man whose idea of a good time was to feed, pet, and care for a creature that mainly responded to his worship with hostile noises was going to get along great with Martya.

Kareen is trying to figure out what to call their various proposed butter bug food products.  The house is very quiet, most of its inhabitants either with Miles, or with his parents at a political breakfast.  Even Ma Kosti has gone with Mark to look at a prospective packaging plant.  Kareen had spent his first night at Vorkosigan House with Mark, and everyone was perfectly civilized about it, and she’s quite happy about that.

A maidservant knocks on the door, telling them that they have visitors.  Two rumpled-looking men in Escobaran suits–one of them quite large–enter and greet Enrique, delighted to have finally found him.  The thin man, Parole Officer Oscar Gustioz, tells Enrique he’s under arrest for fraud, grand theft, and bond jumping.  Enrique protests that they can’t arrest him on Barrayar, and Gustioz brandishes a file folder, showing him all of the manifold permissions he has managed to get signed, including for all eighteen intervening jump points, which has taken him a month to get.  He tells Enrique to pack one bag, because he means to be offplanet within the hour.

Kareen says, in confusion, that they paid Enrique’s bond, but Gustioz explains that that didn’t mean that they could take him offplanet with them.  Martya asks why they’re not arrest Mark, and Gustioz said he’d love to, but he has diplomatic immunity, and merely mentioning the name ‘Vorkosigan’ results in stonewalling from every bureaucrat he encountered.  Kareen protests that they can’t just take Enrique away, they need him for their new company–it’ll all collapse without his genius.  Gustioz, unconcerned, says he can and will, and he hopes that he goes to jail on Escobar for a very long time. He though it would only take a couple of weeks, and it’s been two months instead…  It even took him forty minutes to get past the ImpSec guard at the gate, showing him every page.

Martya asks if any of the Armsmen are around, but Pym and Jankowski are out, and Roic was on night shift, and is still asleep.  She sends the maid to wake him up anyway and get him down here.  Gustioz tells the big man, Muno, to grab Enrique; Martya grabs him too, in a tug of war.  Kareen trips Muno with a meter stick, and as he falls he knocks the Barrayaran butter bugs loose again.

The stainless steel box flipped into the air. One-hundred-ninety-two astonished brown-and-silver butter bugs were launched in a vast chittering madly fluttering trajectory out over the lab. Since butter bugs had the aerodynamic capacity of tiny bricks, they rained down upon the struggling humans, and crunch-squished underfoot. The hutch clanged to the floor, along with Muno. Gustioz, attempting to shield himself from this unexpected air assault, lost his grip on his folder; colorfully-stamped documents joined butter bugs in fluttering flight. Enrique howled like a man possessed. Muno just screamed, frantically batted bugs off himself, and tried to climb up on the lab stool.

“Now see what you’ve done!” Kareen yelled at the Escobaran officers. “Vandalism! Assault! Destruction of property! Destruction of a Vor lord’s property, on Barrayar itself! Are you in trouble now!”

Martya tells the Escobarans that the bugs are poisonous, though Enrique spoils her ploy by hotly denying it.  Muno grabs Enrique again, more successfully this time, and he and Gustioz drag him out of the lab, not even giving him time to pack his one bag.  Kareen and Martya, desperate to keep them from getting away, notice the teetering stacks of bug butter tubs, grab one each, and prepare to fling them.

Comments

More action scenes!  Vassily Vorsoisson chasing Nikki around the house!  Escobaran bail bondsmen managing, against insurmountable odds, to track down Enrique, with all of the necessary paperwork in hand, and then fending off his outraged Barrayaran defenders!  It’s all very exciting, and after all these pages of, well, much less action, it’s a delightful change.  In fact, Miles, who aches to doing something more active than sitting and waiting in the Council of Counts, is the one who’s left sitting on his hands.  Probably because, after what happened to Vorwhatsisname at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice, bringing a weapon into the council chamber, nobody wants to try that again.

The intercutting between Miles and Ekaterin is quite well done, because, by this point, you should have enough information to guess just who Nikki might be calling for help on that comconsole, and seeing Gregor duck into his private chamber is just confirmation for it.  Actually, Miles is not only sitting on his hands, he’s also out of the loop.  He doesn’t know what’s going on with Ekaterin and Nikki, he doesn’t know what’s going on with Enrique and the Escobarans, and he doesn’t even really know what’s going on with Ivan and Lord Dono.  I guess he’s adjusted to his new sedentary life as an Imperial Auditor, not having to rush about and do things all the time; he can just let other people do things for him now.  Well, no, it’s more just an artifact of this book’s ensemble cast, giving them all something to do–but it is true that Miles has been less active than usual this book.  Next book should more than make up for it, I’d think.


Looks like I miscounted last time, or rather was misled by looking at the table of contents for Miles In Love rather than A Civil Campaign itself, which of course has “Winterfair Gifts” wedged in at the end.  So, rather than there being three more chapters after this, there is, in fact, only one more chapter and an epilogue.  So, one more week to finish this book off!  I haven’t decided if I’ll take a week before and after “Winterfair Gifts”, but I wouldn’t rule it out at this point.

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Hello, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where again the Muse of Witty Blog Post Openings has forsaken me for the night.  (Tries to come up with a clever name for such a muse–Scalziope? Nah…)  Anyway, for those who are arriving in the middle, this is where I go through the chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s outstandingly awesome Vorkosigan Saga, reread them, summarize them, and then try to make erudite-sounding comments on them.  (If you are arriving in the middle, and you haven’t actually read Bujold’s books, then for heaven’s sake go and do that.  What are you waiting for?)  This week I cover two more chapters (which would seem more heroic if I didn’t do it so often, but some weeks it feels heroic), Chapter Fifteen and Chapter Sixteen, of A Civil Campaign, in which Nikki has an important chat with Miles’s friend Gregor, Ekaterin isn’t particularly happy to receive a visit from some relatives, and Cordelia tries to straighten out the Koudelkas with the aid of some old furniture.

Chapter Fifteen

Lord Auditor Vorthys bids farewell to his wife, while Ekaterin and Nikki wait; after he accompanies them to the palace, he’s heading directly to Komarr to work on some matters to do with the earlier investigation.  She had been unprepared, last night, for when he told her that Miles’s friend with authority to talk about the matter was actually Emperor Gregor himself, who could understand Nikki’s loss of a father because of what happened to Prince Serg in the ill-fated Escobar invasion.  She’s almost glad she hadn’t known before, or she probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.

They drive off in the groundcar–which Ekaterin now realizes is heavily armoured, and driven by an ImpSec chauffeur, because her uncle also moves in those rarefied levels.  Uncle Vorthys reassures Nikki that he’ll be fine, and Gregor is a good fellow; he reassures Ekaterin as well.  It’s not long before they’re at the Imperial Residence, where they are swiftly admitted and led through to the north wing.

Uncle Vorthys seemed indifferent to the museum-quality décor; he’d trod this corridor dozens of times to deliver his personal reports to the ruler of three worlds. Miles had lived here till he was six, he’d said. Had he been oppressed by the somber weight of this history, or had he regarded it all as his personal play set? One guess.

They are ushered into a large office where Miles and the Emperor are waiting for them.  Miles cuts off what he was saying as Ekaterin and the others enter, and greets them stiffly.  The Professor presents his relatives, and Gregor greets Ekaterin with a firm handshake, and Nikki the same, apologizing for the circumstances of the meeting, and hoping that they will have happier ones later.  Ekaterin notes that Gregor seems to look at and really see her, which is both heartening and unnerving.  Gregor invites them to sit down, and they do, Ekaterin and Nikki across him, Vorthys between them, Miles off to one side, seemingly at ease, though Ekaterin somehow guesses he’s more tense than he seems.

Gregor tells Nikki that Miles asked him to talk to Nikki about the rumours surrounding his father’s death.  Vorthys grumbled that if it hadn’t been for those “gabbling fools” talking about it, they wouldn’t have had to drag him into it at all.  Gregor starts out with a caution–Vorthys, by dint of his job, has a high level of security monitoring, and an alert caused by an unauthorized intruder could bring ImpSec there in less than two minutes.  Ekaterin mutters about Vormoncrief, and Gregor says that he was, unfortunately, a known visitor.  He tells Nikki that, after this conversation, he will himself be monitored more closely by ImpSec–not much different than what would happen in the Vorthys household, or Lord Vorkosigan’s.  Any travel onplanet or off would have to be cleared with security, and he will have to go to a more exclusive school.  They will, of course, be more protected from casual criminals, which means any that they do encounter are likely to be much more professional and dangerous.

Ekaterin caught her breath. “Miles didn’t mention that part.”

“I daresay Miles didn’t even think about it. He’s lived under exactly this sort of security screen most of his life. Does a fish think about water?”

Ekaterin darted a glance at Miles. He had a very odd look on his face, as though he’d just bounced off a force wall he hadn’t known was there.

“Off-planet travel.” Nikki seized on the one item in this intimidating list of importance to him. “But . . . I want to be a jump pilot.”

“By the time you are old enough to study for a jump pilot, I expect the situation will have changed,” said Gregor. “This applies mainly to the next few years. Do you still want to go on?”

They wait for Nikki’s response; he says he wants to know.  Gregor says that his questions will be answered, but warns him that he will leave with more questions, and these ones they will be unable to answer for him, for his own safety.  Finally he asks Nikki to swear, by his name’s word, to hold this conversation in confidence.  Nikki, earnestly, swears the oath, he and Ekaterin both mesmerized by Gregor’s quiet intensity.

Gregor starts with the plain explanation of his father’s death.  He tells Nikki that Miles and Tien met some thieves at the experiment station, who stunned the two men and chained them up outside the station.  The thieves didn’t know that Tien’s reservoirs were low, and so didn’t intend his death–it was an accident, manslaughter, not murder.  Nikki says that, then, Miles couldn’t share his breath mask because they were tied up; Miles confirms this, showing how far apart they were, and revealing the scars on his wrists.

Gregor says there’s more, and Ekaterin silently pleads with him to stop here.  His mother wouldn’t tell Nikki this, he says, but his father had been taking bribes from the thieves.  He’d wanted to become an Imperial Witness, which is why they’d gone out there; the thieves had been angry at his betrayal, which is why they’d chained them up, leaving data proving his guilt taped to his back.  They’d called Ekaterin to pick them up, but too late.  Gregor says that there’s other things about the thieves which make all of this a state secret, and tells Nikki the official cover story, which is that the two men got separated and Miles didn’t find Tien until after he’d suffocated.

“If anyone thinks Lord Vorkosigan had something to do with your da’s death, we are not going to argue with them. You may state that it’s not true and that you don’t wish to discuss it. But don’t let yourself be drawn into disputes.”

“But . . .” said Nikki, “but that’s not fair!”

“It’s hard,” said Gregor, “but it’s necessary. Fair has nothing to do with it. To spare you the hardest part, your mama and uncle and Lord Vorkosigan told you the cover story, and not the real one. I can’t say they were wrong to do so.”

His eye and Miles’s caught each other in a steady gaze; Miles’s eyebrows inched up in a quizzical look, to which Gregor returned a tiny ironic nod. The Emperor’s lips thinned in something that was not quite a smile.

Gregor says the thieves are in prison, and jsutice has been done.  If Tien had been alive, he’d be in prison now too, but death cancels all debts.  Ekaterin thinks that this a hard thing to tell Nikki, to destroy his father’s honour in his eyes, but then thinks that it could be worse, if he’d known how cowardly and venal Tien had been, scrambling to escape the consequences of his choices.  But it doesn’t change the fact that he lost his father.

Nikki asks Miles what his two mistakes were.  Miles said he’d neglected to call his security backup when he left the dome, and then he was a second too late in drawing his stunner.  Nikki examines Miles’s wrists again, asks him about his own breath-mask, then sits back.  Gregor asks him if he has any more questions, and Nikki shakes his head.  Gregor then goes to his desk and gives Nikki a code card, which he says will give him access to talk to Gregor if he’s available, in case he has further questions or needs to talk the matter over.

Before the others can get up, Miles says that he’d offered Gregor his resignation, but Gregor had refused it.  Vorthys is surprised, but Miles said that he’d always thought Imperial Auditors should appear honest above all else.  Gregor says that that’s just an ideal–he inherited a couple of “shifty old sticks” from his grandfather, and he doesn’t think that Dorca the Just’s were any better, given the type of people they’d have to be able to stand up to.  Gregor says that if his Counts and Ministers see fit to deal with Miles’s supposed crimes, they’re welcome to, but he won’t do their work for them.  Miles is gratified at the support, but makes one last try, asking if Gregor thinks that he will still want Miles to stand in his wedding circle.  Gregor says that he’ll be there if “General Alys” says he will, and otherwise he won’t get out of his duties that easily–and tells Miles to refer anyone who objects to Lady Alys herself.

Miles could not quite keep the malicious smile off his lips, though he tried valiantly. Fairly valiantly. Some. “I would pay money to watch.” His smile faded again. “But it’s going to keep coming up as long as—”

“Miles.” Gregor’s raised hand interrupted him. His eyes were alight with something between amusement and exasperation. “You have, in-house, possibly the greatest living source of Barrayaran political expertise in this century. Your father’s been dealing with uglier Party in-fighting than this, with and without weapons, since before you were born. Go tell him your troubles. Tell him I said to give you that lecture on honor versus reputation he gave me that time. In fact . . . tell him I request and require it.” His hand-wave, as he rose from his armchair, put an emphatic end to the topic. Everyone rustled to their feet.

Gregor shakes Ekaterin’s hand again, and says that he looks forward to seeing her again when he is less busy.  He says that though they can’t give her more public recognition, he is well aware of the great debt the Imperium owes to her, and says she “may draw upon it at need and at will”.  Ekaterin is taken aback, but thanks him for taking time for them, and Nikki awkwardly follows suit.  Vorthys stays behind to talk to Gregor, and Miles offers to escort them out.  On the way out, Ekaterin says that that was more than she had expected; Miles says he agrees, but he trusts Gregor’s judgement more than anyone else’s.  Gregor also doesn’t think about the water he swims in, and endures great pressures on a daily basis; he overestimates others, and they, in turn, try not to disappoint them.  Nikki says he’s just glad that the Emperor told him the truth.

Back at Vorkosigan House, Miles goes in search of his father, finding him in the library.  He tells his father about the meeting with Gregor; they discuss whether Gregor was right to tell Nikki so much.  Miles admits that anyone questioning Nikki would likely already know as much as him, and the rest is still closely held.  He says he’d thought that Gregor would know, because of his own experiences with learning the truth about Prince Serg, how much to tell about his father’s crimes.  Aral agrees that Prince Serg was a criminal and a madman, and talks about the “lucky shot” that spared Barrayar from him ever becoming Emperor; he’s glad to hear about Gregor’s good judgement about Tien, considering how badly they muffed it with Gregor himself.

“I think he handled Nikki . . . well. At any rate, Nikki won’t experience that sort of late shock to his world. Of course, compared to Serg, Tien wasn’t much worse than foolish and venal. But it was hard to watch. No nine-year-old should have to deal with something this vile, this close to his heart. What will it make him?”

“Eventually . . . ten,” the Count said. “You do what you have to do. You grow or go under. You have to believe he will grow.”

Miles drummed his fingers on the sofa’s padded arm. “Gregor’s subtlety is still dawning on me. By admitting Tien’s peculation, he’s pulled Nikki to the inside with us. Nikki too now has a vested interest in maintaining the cover story, to protect his late da’s reputation. Strange. Which is what brings me to you, by the way. Gregor asks—requests and requires, no less!—you give me the lecture you gave him on honor versus reputation. It must have been memorable.”

Aral, pleased that it stuck with Gregor–you never know if it’s going to, he says–describes it as less of a speech and more of a useful distinction.  “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”  The problem comes when the two are not the same.  Miles says that, apart from a few impure thoughts about Ekaterin, and regrets over ineptitude on his part, his honour is fairly clear, so the problem is mostly in the realm of reputation, which feels like he’s being nibbled at by rats.  Aral tells him that it’s worse–soul-destroying–when it’s the other way around, when your reputation soars while your honour lies in pieces.  By comparison, this is mere annoyance, and he offers Miles some consolation.

“First, this too shall pass. Despite the undoubted charms of sex, murder, conspiracy, and more sex, people will eventually grow bored with the tale, and some other poor fellow will make some other ghastly public mistake, and their attention will go haring off after the new game.”

What sex?” Miles muttered in exasperation. “There hasn’t been any sex. Dammit. Or this would all seem a great deal more worthwhile. I haven’t even gotten to kiss the woman yet!”

Aral adds that, after this, no lesser charge will raise eyebrows, so he’ll be able to get away with a lot more, if he wants to.  Also, you can’t control what other people think anyway, so it’s futile to try with every stranger on the street.  He should decide whose opinions matter, and concentrate on those; Miles immediately lists Ekaterin, Nikki, Gregor, and that’s it.  Aral protests at being excluded from the list; Miles says that they’re not sinned against, so he’s not as much in need of their forgiveness.  Aral says that, in the political arena of Vorbarr Sultana, Miles might find an reputation for ruthlessness useful; Miles asks if his father has found the “Butcher of Komarr” sobriquet useful, and Aral admits he made use of it from time to time, since he paid enough for it.  Illyan, he says, has also made use of the reputation he inherited from Captain Negri, and Miles agrees that he can be unnerving, and not just because of Negri’s ghost.

Miles protests that the worst part is that his enemies think him so incompetent that he wouldn’t have done a better job of murder than that.  Aral asks if he ever had to do anything of the sort for ImpSec, and Miles admits that there was one mission, which he doesn’t want to talk about, though more complicated than a simple assassination.  He frets that his father is telling him the same as Galeni, that he just has to suck it up; Aral says he should worry about his honour, not his reputation, and outlast his enemies.

Miles asks about how his father dealt with things like this in his own past, and Aral recalls the way he was suspected of having killed his first wife for infidelity, the faint memory of which, he admits, may not be helping Miles any.  She had killed herself, but after a gigantic blowup between the two of them–he’d been twenty-two, and hadn’t dealt with it very well.  He admits that it was possible his own father had arranged her death, but he never asked.  He dealt with it somewhat poorly, by diving deeper into depravity, trying to outdo the stories, until he became sick of himself and shaped up.  Miles says the strategy doesn’t appeal to him, he has too much to lose.

“So, ah . . . when are we going to be permitted to meet this woman who has had such an invigorating effect on you? Her and her Nikki. Perhaps you might invite them to dinner here soon?”

Miles cringed. “Not . . . not another dinner. Not soon.”

“My glimpse of her was so frustratingly brief. What little I could see was very attractive, I thought. Not too thin. She squished well, bouncing off me.” Count Vorkosigan grinned briefly, at this memory. Miles’s father shared an archaic Barrayaran ideal of feminine beauty that included the capacity to survive minor famines; Miles admitted a susceptibility to that style himself. “Reasonably athletic, too. Clearly, she could outrun you. I would therefore suggest blandishments, rather than direct pursuit, next time.”

“I’ve been trying,” sighed Miles.

The Count regarded his son, half amused, half serious. “This parade of females of yours is very confusing to your mother and me, you know. We can’t tell whether we’re supposed to start bonding to them, or not.”

What parade?” said Miles indignantly. “I brought home one galactic girlfriend. One. It wasn’t my fault things didn’t work out.”

Aral mentions the ones from Illyan’s reports, and Miles is temporarily speechless, not having realized that Illyan had been quite so thorough in those reports.  He says he has told Ekaterin about them all, at least, out of sheer honesty.

“Honesty is the only way with anyone, when you’ll be so close as to be living inside each other’s skins. So . . . is this Ekaterin another passing fancy?” The Count hesitated, his eyes crinkling. “Or is she the one who will love my son forever and fiercely—hold his household and estates with integrity—stand beside him through danger, and dearth, and death—and guide my grandchildren’s hands when they light my funeral offering?”

Miles paused in momentary admiration of his father’s ability to deliver lines like that. It put him in mind of the way a combat drop shuttle delivered pinpoint incendiaries. “That would be . . . that would be Column B, sir. All of the above.” He swallowed. “I hope. If I don’t fumble it again.”

“So when do we get to meet her?” the Count repeated reasonably.

Miles puts him off again, for a little while.  Aral doesn’t pursue the matter, just notes that it’s lucky for Miles that he met Ekaterin when he was old enough to know what he wanted; Miles agrees heartily.

Comments

The scene with Gregor is one of my favourites, but then Gregor is usually good for a good scene.  Well, maybe not in the middle of The Vor Game, when he’s being a little petulant, wrestling with the Prince Serg thing, but by the end of that he’s much worthier.  Obviously Gregor has gotten past it now.  But I note that even in the conversation between Miles and Aral, Aral doesn’t own up to the fact that he helped engineer Prince Serg’s death in the Escobar invasion.  That is still an explosive secret, too closely held to leak out.  Who ever knew that one?  Aral, Cordelia, Illyan…anyone else surviving?

I believe that we haven’t actually seen the story of this assassination that Miles pulled off for ImpSec.  With the Dendarii, one presumes.  Any inkling, even, of what that might be?  It doesn’t sound like it quite fits with Jackson’s Whole, either.  Oh, well, I guess we never did get the whole story on how Miles got his arms broken between Brothers in Arms and the Borders of Infinity framing story.

When was the last time we had a father-son conversation with Aral and Miles?  Closest would be at the end of The Vor Game, I guess, though I think Illyan and/or Gregor were there too?  Too lazy to look it up.  Anyway, it’s a good talk, lots of practical advice being exchanged, and, unlike the earlier ones, they’re talking more like equals now.

Chapter Sixteen

Ekaterin is trying to make up a resumé that hides her near-total lack of experience, unwilling to include Miles as a reference, for a job with a nearby plant nursery.  She is interrupted by the doorchime, and has a momentary vision of being kidnapped by enemy spies, but her visitors turn out to be her brother Hugo Vorvayne, and Tien’s cousin Vassily Vorsoisson, who she’d only met before at Tien’s funeral, when he’d officially signed over Nikki’s guardianship to her.  She invites them inside and offers them refreshments, which they decline.

At the serious expression on Hugo’s face, she asks if everything’s all right with them, or her father; Hugo says that it’s her who’s the source of concern right now.  He asks if her uncle is there; Ekaterin says he’s gone to Komarr and won’t be back until closer to Gregor’s wedding (absent-mindedly using his name, before she remembers to use his title instead).  They discuss the wedding briefly, Hugo saying that Rosalie and her friends have gone crazy about it.

Vassily asks after Nikki, who Ekaterin says is off watching a regatta on the river with a friend.  Vassily says that they’ve come because of some disturbing information about her and Lord Auditor Vorkosigan; Ekaterin realizes that the rumour has penetrated outside of the capital.  He adds that he came to Hugo, and Rosalie seemed to corroborate the story; that it’s “common knowledge” among the Vor that Miles sabotaged Tien’s breath mask on Komarr.  Ekaterin immediately responds that that’s just a lie made up by Miles’s political opponents, and they won’t be able to charge him with it, but Vassily interprets this as a statement about Miles’s political invulnerability due to his powerful connections.

Hugo says that they also heard that Miles attempted to force Ekaterin to marry him; Ekaterin admits that he did ask, very awkwardly, and is also forced to admit that she didn’t technically refuse him.  Ekaterin asks where this information came from, and Vassily said it was “a friend”.  Ekaterin can’t imagine any of her friends doing this, though.  She admits that she finds Miles attractive, which the men, who saw him at Tien’s funeral, find incomprehensible.

“Kat,” said Hugo in a disconcerted tone, “the man’s a mutie. He barely comes up to your shoulder. He’s distinctly hunched—I don’t know why that wasn’t surgically corrected. He’s just odd.”

“Oh, he’s had dozens of surgeries. His original damage was far, far more severe. You can still see these faint old scars running all over his body from the corrections.”

Hugo stared at her. “All over his body?”

“Um. I assume so. As much of it as I’ve seen, anyway.” She stopped her tongue barely short of adding, The top half. A perfectly unnecessary vision of Miles entirely naked, gift-wrapped in sheets and blankets in bed, and her with him, slowly exploring his intricacies all the way down, distracted her imagination momentarily. She blinked it away, hoping her eyes weren’t crossing. “You have to concede, he has a good face. His eyes are . . . very alive.”

Hugo says that he and her family are there to help, if she’s in some kind of trouble with Miles, like blackmail or something.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks that their uncle, the Lord Auditor, would be helpless to protect her.  Hugo says that Uncle Vorthys and his wife are a little unworldly, and Ekaterin points out that her aunt is an expert on bloody political history, and her uncle’s discipline includes intimate knowledge of sabotage, not a particularly unworldly topic.  They tell her that the capital seems to be full of unsavoury and dubious characters, including a woman in a man’s body; Ekaterin admits to having actually met Lord Dono, and dismays her visitors by listing his potential virtues as a Count.

Hugo tells her he’s concerned with her safety, and with Nikki’s, in the environment of the capital; Ekaterin thinks that having overcome armed terrorists, her definition of “safe” may be a little broader than his.  He says she needs to be married, mistress of a good Vor household, solid, honest and loyal; Ekaterin asks if he’s sure she should have a house, rather than a planet, and accuses his goals of lacking scope.  She realizes that her horizons have grown much wider than her brother’s.

Hugo said, “Damn, Kat. I thought that part of the letter was twaddle at first, but this mutie lord has turned your head around in some strange way.”

“And if it’s true . . . he has frightening allies,” said Vassily. “The letter claimed that Vorkosigan had Simon Illyan himself riding point for him, herding you into his trap.” His lips twisted dubiously. “That was the part that most made me wonder if I was being made a game of, to tell you the truth.”

“I’ve met Simon,” Ekaterin conceded. “I found him rather . . . sweet.”

A dazed silence greeted this declaration.

Ekaterin suddenly puzzles out who had sent them this letter, and realizes it must have been Alexi Vormoncrief.  She tells Vassily that Vormoncrief is mostly just upset because Ekaterin refused his own proposal.  Hugo says that he certainly wouldn’t force her to marry Vormoncrief, but he seemed genuinely concerned for her, and in love; Ekaterin says Vormoncrief didn’t even see her, just an available Vor widow, and he might not have noticed were she replaced by a straw woman.

Vassily says that he’s not concerned with Ekaterin and her marriage prospects; he’s more concerned with Nikki’s safety.  Ekaterin recalls that Vassily has, ludicrously, the power to take Nikki away from her at a whim, and she would have to prove him an actively incompetent guardian to regain her son; Vassily may be a bachelor, but an unobjectionable one, and she wouldn’t have a chance.  Ekaterin points out that Nikki would be a burden to him, and Vassily says that Tien’s mother could easily look after him as well.

She asks Vassily to define precisely what kind of lifestyle will be satisfactory for his wishes, so she knows what she should be trying to do.  Vassily says that, obviously, betrothal to Miles is out of the question; Ekaterin repeats that the case against Miles is pure slander, and asks Vassily if he thinks she’s “lying, or just stupid” before reining in her temper.  Vassily has a horrible power over her, with his ability to take Nikki away, and she reminds herself to try not to push him that far.

She chose her words with utmost caution. “So what do you mean by straightened out?”

Hugo and Vassily looked at each other uncertainly. Vassily ventured, “I beg your pardon?”

“I cannot know if I have toed your line unless you show me where you’ve drawn it.”

Hugo protested, “That’s not very kindly put, Kat. We have your interests at heart.”

“You don’t even know what my interests are.” Not true, Vassily had his thumb right down on the most mortal one. Nikki. Eat rage, woman. She had used to be expert at swallowing herself, during her marriage. Somehow she’d lost the taste for it.

Vassily asks that Nikki not be exposed to unsavoury characters; Ekaterin says she’ll be happy to keep him away from Alexi Vormoncrief, but Vassily insists he means Miles, who has been accused of murdering his cousin Tien.  Ekaterin asks how, if Miles is never officially charged with this murder, Vassily could be satisfied that he’s not guilty of it; Vassily can’t answer, and decides to defer to Hugo on how best to keep his sister in check.  Hugo flatly tells her to keep away from Miles until the rumour is settled.  Ekaterin, not wanting to have Nikki’s life uprooted again, insists that they specify exactly how this would be “settled”.  Hugo says she should at least avoid him for a while…Ekaterin eventually pins him down to “until the end of her mourning year”; when they agree to it, she wishes she’d tried for Winterfair instead.  She insists that she will have to deliver this news to him in person, which they eventually agree to.

With this settled, they fall into uncomfortable silence, Ekaterin resolved not to offer them hospitality if she can avoid it, and they soon take the hint and mumble about having to go.  She curls up by herself, wishing her aunt were there to vent to.  She does give Hugo some small credit for not being swayed by the prospect of his sister becoming a Countess.  She draws a disquieting parallel in her mind with a toy that Nikki never seemed to want until she tried to give it away; is she only so upset about Miles because she’s being forbidden to see him?  She does have to see him sometime to tell him about the interdict, but she wants to put it off, if she can, because after that she might not get to see him for a long time…

Cordelia sends a luxurious groundcar to fetch Kareen and her parents, and her father is still muttering about how this is a bad idea, how the Countess will have their heads twisted around before they know it.  Drou says she hopes things will be arranged sensibly, which Kareen heartily agrees with; Kou grumbles that “sensible” is one of her words.  Drou says she wants to mend things with the Vorkosigans; Kou says he just doesn’t like the idea of a “fat, weird, half-mad clone” with Kareen.  Kareen manages to keep her mouth shut.

At Vorkosigan House, Pym escorts them to the library.  Furniture has been rearranged; Cordelia has a large, throne-like chair, with armchairs on either side, one for Kareen, and one already occupied by Mark.  Across from Cordelia is an old, shabby couch that Kareen recognizes from hide-and-seek games in the attic; the Countess insists that Kou and Drou sit there.  Kou accuses her of fighting dirty, but Drou stops him from leaving, and Cordelia outright orders him to sit, in what Kareen realizes must be her Ship’s Captain voice.

A long silence followed. Kareen could hear the old-fashioned mechanical clock ticking on the wall in the antechamber next door. Mark gave her a beseeching stare, Do you know what the hell is going on here? She returned it in kind, No, don’t you?

Her father rearranged the position of his swordstick three times, dropped it on the carpet, and finally scooted it back toward himself with the heel of his boot and left it there. She could see the muscle jump in his jaw as he gritted his teeth. Her mother crossed and uncrossed her legs, frowned, stared down the room out the glass doors, and then back at her hands twisting in her lap. They looked like nothing so much as two guilty teenagers caught . . . hm. Like two guilty teenagers caught screwing on the living room couch, actually. Clues seemed to float soundlessly down like feathers, in Kareen’s mind, falling all around. You don’t suppose . . .

“But Cordelia,” Mama burst out suddenly, for all the world as though continuing aloud a conversation just now going on telepathically, “we want our children to do better than we did. To not make the same mistakes!”

Ooh. Ooh. Oooh! Check, and did she ever want the story behind this one . . . ! Her father had underestimated the Countess, Kareen realized. That hadn’t taken any more than three minutes.

Cordelia says that, in her opinion, Kareen is doing much better, and hasn’t made any mistakes at all, that she’s noticed.  Kou calls Mark a mistake, and Cordelia says they’ll get to him later.  She says that Kareen is doing much better than they were at that age, partly because of the bright future they’d won for her.  She then has Kareen tell her parents about getting her contraceptive implant on Beta Colony, and her hymen cut, and then being introduced to sex by a Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist (a hermaphrodite, as it turned out); Cordelia contrasts this with awkward, uninformed fumble in the dark, and Kareen says that Barrayar’s approach seems awful.  Cordelia reminds her that both cultures are trying to solve the basic problem of making sure that children will be cared for.  Beta handles it by regulating female reproductive systems; Barrayar, which couldn’t, had to regulate the entire woman.

Kou grumbles that they should never have sent Kareen to Beta; Cordelia reminds him that Kareen’s trip to Beta was planned before meeting Mark, and reminds them that she might have ended up with a Betan native (of whatever gender).  If she ends up with Mark, at least they’ll both have ties to Barrayar, and be likely to visit more frequently, which Drou finds a compelling argument.  Kou says he wants Kareen to be safe, well, happy and financially secure.  Cordelia says that the first few are things that it’s almost impossible to give your children, no matter how you try.  Then she asks Kou what he thinks Mark’s financial situation is.

Da shook his head. “I thought he was broke. I assumed the family made him an allowance, like any other Vor scion. And that he ran through it—like any other Vor scion.”

“I’m not broke,” Mark objected strenuously. “It’s a temporary cash-flow problem. When I budgeted for this period, I wasn’t expecting to be starting up a new business in the middle of it.”

“In other words, you’re broke,” said Da.

“Actually,” Tante Cordelia said, “Mark is completely self-supporting. He made his first million on Jackson’s Whole.”

She explains how Mark is busily investing his money in a number of schemes, some of them less speculative than others, some of which she supports herself.  Mark explains how he’s paying Kareen in _shares_ so he won’t have to withdraw money and lose all that interest…  He says he’d willingly pay a dowry for Kareen if that’s what’s expected; Kareen says that he’s got it the wrong way around, and anyway she doesn’t want to be bought like a Jacksonian slave.  Kou stoutly claims that he doesn’t care about the money, whether in marks or Betan dollars–he wants what’s best for his daughter.

Cordelia asks what exactly he wants from Mark, then–should he offer to marry Kareen?  Kou would probably be happier if Mark were to just go away, but he stops short of actually saying it.  Mark says he will, if she wants to, but he didn’t think she did; Kareen says she doesn’t, since she’s still trying to find out who she is, and still growing as a person.  Cordelia asks if she thinks marriage wil stop that, and Kareen says that the stories always seem to end with marriage, and she doesn’t want an ending.  Her parents try to reassure her that marriage isn’t really like that, though they sound a little uncertain themselves.

Mark reiterates that he’ll do whatever Kareen wants, whether that be to marry her, or not, or go away (which she emphatically does not want), or whatever.  Cordelia asks Kareen if betrothal will do, but she says that’s giving an oath which locks you into marriage anyway, and she takes her oaths seriously.  Cordelia asks Kareen what she wants.  She struggles to put it into words, and finally declares that she wants an option on Mark.  Her parents aren’t certain about this, if it’s some weird offplanet custom, but Kareen says she just made it up.

Cordelia asks her to specify the terms of the option.  Mark willingly agrees for it to be a mutual option, and Kareen wants a year for her to see what happens between them, with nobody else interfering.  Kou expresses concern about whether Mark is safe for his daughter to be around.  Cordelia agrees that Mark has been through some Betan therapy, but paints him, to Koudelka, as a soldier, conscripted young and unwillingly, who has been fighting his own wars, and needs time to heal; this gets through to Kou at last.

“Kou, I wouldn’t have encouraged this relationship if I thought it was unsafe for either of our children.”

He looked back. “You? I know you! You trust beyond reason.”

She met his eyes steadily. “Yes. It’s how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall.”

He pursed his lips, unhappily, and toed his swordstick a little. He had no reply for this one. But a funny little smile turned Mama’s mouth, as she watched him.

Cordelia declares the matter settled with the option, until next year, when they can re-evaluate and consider an extension.  Kou isn’t pleased that the two of them will be “carrying on”, but Drou reminds him of their own carrying on, which they mostly felt safe doing because their relatives lived outside the city.  One by one, they all agree, Kou most reluctantly, with a “codicil” that he’ll hunt Mark down if Mark hurts his daughter.  Kareen can sense Mark’s Black Gang exulting inside his head; she pulls out her Betan earrings and puts them on, as a declaration of herself.

Comments

Obviously one of the scenes in this chapter is more pleasant than the other–can you guess which?  Yes, that’s right–now that Mark has marshaled Cordelia to his side, his and Kareen’s problems–with her parents, at least–are dealt with handily.  Mostly what Cordelia has to do is make them realize how hypocritical they’re being, given their own history.  The point about Mark’s finances is also well taken–I guess that Kou just leapt from the fact that Mark didn’t seem to have any _real_ money to throw around to him probably being broke.  But it took Cordelia recasting Mark as a wounded soldier to really get Kou starting to come over to his side, since of course Kou himself required a fair bit of healing after his own wars.  Anyway, this scene ties up Kareen‘s plotline, pretty much, though not Mark’s, quite, because there are still issues with butter bugs to come…

Ekaterin’s scene, on the other hand, is much less pleasant.  Her brother, and Tien’s cousin, are still fairly provincial Vor–maybe not quite Conservatives, but probably more on that side than the Progressives, considering the sources they consider authoritative for the rumours about Miles.  It would be funnier if it weren’t for that little thing about Vassily Vorsoisson being able to rescind her guardianship of Nikki.  (I believe I mentioned, probably in the last book, how ludicrous a rule that is, for a man’s cousin to have more rights to the man’s son than his own wife does.  But I guess that’s Barrayar for you.)  So she has to, unfortunately, take them at least a little seriously, though I’m sure even they could tell that she was doing it quite reluctantly.  (Just noticed the parallel–Ekaterin and Kareen both negotiating with unwilling relatives to keep from losing a loved one…  The difference being that Kareen’s parents are, in the end, swayed by logic.)

I was beginning to think, before Ekaterin did, that the very fact of being told she had to stay away from Miles was making her appreciate him more.  But I don’t really think it’s as much that she only wants him more the more she’s told she can’t have him, though.  It’s more that she’s starting to contrast “what life would be like with him” with “what life would be like without him” the more she experiences the latter and is deprived of the former.

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Not that many chapters left, just five, I think, so, with any luck, three more weeks.  We must be getting close to the climax now.  Which I think I recall fairely well, with the Council of Counts vote and the events leading up to, and during, it.  Should be a hoot.

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Wednesday night already?  I was just in the middle of a dream…  I was chatting with Vorkosigans by a crystal-blue Dendarii stream.  Anyway, it must be time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Once again I have managed to cover two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, the science fiction political romance set on Miles Vorkosigan’s home planet of character, and featuring a stellar cast of heroes, villains, and the occasional oblivious dunderhead.  This week I cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, in which the vicious rumour about Miles and his beloved Ekaterin’s husband’s death begins to gather steam…

Chapter Thirteen

Ekaterin sits in her aunt’s garden, trying to concentrate on looking at a list of short-term job openings–though most of them have nothing to do with botany–but her minds keeps wandering to butter bugs, to replanning her aunt’s garden, to the Barrayaran garden.  When her aunt announces a visitor, Ekaterin is surprised, and daunted, to see that it is Simon Illyan.  He asks if he can have a private word with her.  Aunt Vorthys notes that she’s about to leave for class, and Nikki is playing on her comconsole, and Ekaterin says she thinks she’ll be fine.

Illyan begins by apologizing for his thoughtless comment at the dinner party.  Ekaterin asks if Miles sent him, and Illyan says that he is “an ambassador entirely without portfolio”.  Ekaterin says, bitterly, that she and him were apparently the only two there who didn’t know that Miles was courting her, and it was more Miles’s fault than his.

He traced a finger over the tabletop in a crosshatch pattern. “You know—speaking of ambassadors—I began by thinking I ought to come to you and put in a good word for Miles in the romance department. I figured I owed it to him, for having put my foot down in the middle of things that way. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I have truly no idea what kind of a husband he would make. I hardly dare recommend him to you. He was a terrible subordinate.”

Her brows flew up in surprise. “I’d thought his ImpSec career was successful.”

Illyan shrugged. “His ImpSec missions were consistently successful, frequently beyond my wildest dreams. Or nightmares . . . . He seemed to regard any order worth obeying as worth exceeding. If I could have installed one control device on him, it would have been a rheostat. Power him down a turn or two . . . maybe I could have made him last longer.” Illyan gazed thoughtfully out over the garden, but Ekaterin didn’t think the garden was what he was seeing, in his mind’s eye. “Do you know all those old folk tales where the count tries to get rid of his only daughter’s unsuitable suitor by giving him three impossible tasks?”

“Yes . . .”

“Don’t ever try that with Miles. Just . . . don’t.”

Ekaterin is forced to smile at that, and Illyan, encouraged, adds that Miles has always been a quick learner, and she would doubtless be surprised–pleasantly or otherwise–if she gave him a second chance.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks Miles is a great man, like his father and grandfather; Illyan says he is, but in an entirely different way.

Illyan’s words reminded her strangely of her Uncle Vorthys’s evaluation of Miles, back when they’d first met on Komarr. So if a genius thought Miles was a genius, and a great man thought he was a great man . . . maybe she ought to get him vetted by a really good husband.

Ekaterin can hear Nikki inside, talking to a man, whose voice she can’t make out; perhaps her uncle home early.  Illyan goes on to say that he always thought Miles had a remarkable talent for personnel, either recruiting them or nurturing their talents.  So if he picks Ekaterin as a Lady Vorkosigan, she would doubtless do well as one, though she might suffer a startling lack of control over her life as a result.  Ekaterin notes that she had picked out a life for herself once, but it wasn’t this one.  Illyan agrees, noting that his carefully planned career was derailed by being assigned to ImpSec, and then by ending up in charge of it in the middle of a war.  And now, here he is, retired, and with Lady Alys.  Ekaterin ponders Miles’s assortment of friends, wonderful, distinguished, and devoted, and contrasts this with Tien’s apparently inability to collect them at all, which she had perforce come to share.

Nikki suddenly cries out in protest, and Ekaterin excuses herself to go in and investigate.  She is surprised to find Alexi Vormoncrief in the parlour, having backed Nikki into a corner, bending over him and interrogating him about the bandages on Miles’s wrists after his father’s death.  Nikki says he doesn’t know much, though Vormoncrief quizzes him ruthlessly about what kind of wounds they might be–burns, blisters, slashes…whether he had any other marks on him, like from a fight of some kind…  Ekaterin interrupts him sharply, asking what he’s doing there.  Vormoncrief says he had come to talk to Ekaterin, but he took the opportunity to ask Nikki a few questions first.

Nikki says that Vormoncrief claims that Miles killed his father.  Vormoncrief says that the secret is out, being whispered all over town, though nobody is doing anything about it.  It’s clear enough to him, though, two men going out into the Komarran wilderness and one coming back, with suspicious injuries.  Obviously Ekaterin herself had not realized, of course, until Miles blew his cover with his marriage proposal…  Ekaterin, of course, knows that Vormoncrief’s accusations are impossible, she herself knew much better, but security considerations keep her from mustering more than a feeble contradiction.  Vormoncrief says that obviously Miles was never questioned under fast-penta, as ex-ImpSec; Ekaterin says that she was, so Vormoncrief is glad to accept that she is innocent of complicity.

Vormoncrief says he understands her predicament–unable to take action against the powerful Lord Vorkosigan, for fear of reprisal–but he offers her the assistance of his own powerful friends, to bring the “mutie lord” to justice.  Ekaterin tries to dodge around him, to rescue a sobbing Nikki, but Vormoncrief tries to take her in his arms; she hits him in the nose and he grabs her to keep her from doing it again.

Her sputtering found words at last, shrieked at the top of her voice: “Let go of me, you blithering twit!

He stared at her in astonishment. Just as she gathered her balance to find out if that knee-to-the-groin thing worked any better than that blow-to-the-nose one, Illyan’s voice interrupted from the archway behind her, deadly dry.

“The lady asked you to unhand her, Lieutenant. She shouldn’t have to ask twice. Or . . . once.”

Vormoncrief takes a moment to recognize Illyan, but when he does, he releases Ekaterin, and sputters briefly before greeting Illyan, half-saluting him before trying to deal with his bloody nose.  Ekaterin grabs up Nikki, then berates Vormoncrief roundly for coming in uninvited and haranguing her son.  Illyan asks, icily, what he was doing there…which seems to him to be offering violence to a member of the family of an Imperial Auditor, in the Auditor’s own home, but in their absence.  Illyan asks after Vormoncrief’s commanding officer, and after a few sputtered protests, Vormoncrief gives him the name; Illyan makes some audio notes, then says that his superior will be hearing from Guy Allegre.  Vormoncrief makes one last plea for Ekaterin to let him help; she tells him that he “lies vilely”, and tells him never to come back.  He leaves, with an infuriating air of confusion, as though he can’t understand what he did wrong.

Illyan says he came in around the mention of fast-penta, and apologies for eavesdropping; Ekaterin thanks him for getting rid of Vormoncrief.  Illyan says it was mostly habit, since he’s no longer in the chain of command.  Ekaterin asks Nikki what happened before she arrived, and he says that Vormoncrief came in right after Aunt Vorthys left, and began asking questions about what had happened when Miles was on Komarr, if he was ever alone with Ekaterin, if he’d ever done something with breath masks…  He asks if Miles really did something to his father’s breath mask, and Ekaterin says he couldn’t have, but doesn’t know if she can tell him more.

She tells Nikki that they made it up, mostly because of the way she had turned down a proposal from Miles at the dinner party.  Nikki, who hadn’t known this part, is initially baffled that she would refuse, and then recalls what she told him about Miles lying to her.  Ekaterin tries to reassure him that the accusations against Miles are lies, but she’s stymied by the lack of facts she can share.  She and Miles had previously agreed that if Nikki started to have too many questions about his father’s death, she should bring him to Miles to talk to…but this is no longer as simple as that seemed then.

Illyan says he hadn’t heard this bit of slander before, which seems highly political to him, but this seems to have arisen since the dinner party.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles has heard yet, and Illyan says nobody may have wanted to tell him yet.  Ekaterin blames herself for storming out of the party like that, before realizing that Illyan blames himself for that.  She says she needs to talk to Miles, and Illyan offers her a ride to Vorkosigan House.  She ends up bringing Nikki along, hoping that there will be someone, out of the crowd at Vorkosigan House, who will be able to look after him for a little while.

As they pass the bare Barrayaran garden, she spots a small figure sitting there, and tells Illyan to stop.  Ekaterin climbs out, telling Illyan to “hang Vormoncrief”, and brings Nikki down into the garden.  She notes that the soil isn’t going to last long if nobody gets the plants put on top of it.  Miles is sitting next to the skellytum with an empty pitcher, staring forlornly down at it; he is elated, briefly, to see Ekaterin, before restraining himself to courtesy.  He greets them warily; Ekaterin begins by criticizing his method for watering the skellytum, asking if he’d bothered to read the instructions she’d sent him.  She sees that his sleeves are rolled up, exposing the scars on his wrists that Vormoncrief had accused him of hiding.

Miles and Ekaterin try to collect their various wits, and he asks what she really came for.  She asks if he’d heard about this accusation, and he says he had, but ImpSec had wanted him to not tell her yet.  Now that she’s come to him about it, though, he considers this ban suspended, and invites her inside to discuss this.

He leads them inside, to his parlour, and asks how they found out about it.  She and Nikki give an account of Vormoncrief’s visit, which Miles attends to gravely, though he has to restrain an appreciative smile at the description of her giving Vormoncrief a bloody nose.  When they’re done, Miles says that he’s not as free to talk to Nikki as he’d like, because of the horrible perception of “conflict of interest”.  At least he’s bearing the brunt of the accusations, rather than Ekaterin; he suggests they avoid each other to avoid the risk of her getting tainted.

“But that would make you look worse,” said Ekaterin. “It would make it look as if I believed Alexi’s lies.”

“The alternative would make it look as if we had somehow colluded in Tien’s death. I don’t see how to win this one. I do see how to cut the damage in half.”

Ekaterin frowned deeply. And leave you standing there to be pelted with this garbage all alone? After a moment she said, “Your proposed solution is unacceptable. Find another.”

His eyes rose searchingly to her face. “As you wish . . .”

Nikki asks what they’re talking about, and Miles tries to explain to him, delicately, how the fact that he was trying to court Nikki’s mother complicates the issue.  If she keeps seeing him, then people will say they were working together, and if she stops, then people will say it’s because she found out Miles did kill her husband.  Ekaterin says that she doesn’t care what “ignorant idiots” think, but she does care what Nikki thinks.

Miles asks Nikki what he does think.  Nikki eventually says that he’s not afraid of Miles, but he knows that ImpSec people can “do anything and make it look like anything”.  Miles admits that there is some truth in that–he can come up with several scenarios where he had caused Tien’s death that still accounted for what Ekaterin found, such as if he had had a hidden accomplice.  He admits that ten years in ImpSec have left his brain working in certain ways.  He tells Nikki that he did not kill Nikki’s father, that he died because he didn’t check his breath mask, and Miles made mistakes which kept him from being able to save him.  He now feels responsible for making sure that Tien’s family is taken care of.  Ekaterin thinks that Tien wasn’t nearly as concerned for his own family, but that mostly Nikki had been unaware of a lot of his father’s flaws.

Nikki’s lips were tight, and his eyes a little blurry, as he digested Miles’s blunt words. “But,” he began, and stalled.

“You must be starting to think of a lot of questions,” Miles said in a tone of mild encouragement. “What are some of them? Or even just one or two of them?”

Nikki looked down, then up. “But—but—why didn’t he check his breath mask?” He hesitated, then went on in a rush, “Why couldn’t you share yours? What were your two mistakes? What did you lie to Mama about that got her so mad? Why couldn’t you save him? How did your wrists get all chewed up?” Nikki took a deep breath, gave Miles an utterly daunted look, and almost wailed, “Am I supposed to kill you like Captain Vortalon?”

Miles had been following this spate with close attention, but at this last he looked taken aback. “Excuse me. Who?”

Ekaterin, flummoxed, supplied in an undervoice, “Captain Vortalon is Nikki’s favorite holovid hero. He’s a jump pilot who has galactic adventures with Prince Xav, smuggling arms to the Resistance during the Cetagandan invasion. There was a whole long sequence about him chasing down some collaborators who’d ambushed his da—Lord Vortalon—and avenging his death on them one by one.”

Ekaterin says, defensively, the program was supposed to educational, because of the historical background.  Miles reminisces about his own obsession with Lord Vorthalia the Bold, though once he looked up the real historical figure he found out he was less heroic and legendary than the stories made out.  He says that at least she didn’t let him watch Hamlet.  In an aside, he tells Nikki that he shouldn’t try revenging his father on Miles until he’s at least old enough to shave.

“So in the play, Prince Hamlet comes home for his father’s funeral, to find that his mother has married his uncle.”

Nikki’s eyes widened. “She married her brother?”

“No, no! It’s not that racy a play. His other uncle, his da’s brother.”

“Oh. That’s all right, then.”

“You’d think so, but Hamlet gets a tip-off that his old man was murdered by the uncle. Unfortunately, he can’t tell if his informant is telling truth or lies. So he spends the next five acts blundering around getting nearly the whole cast killed while he dithers.”

“That was stupid,” said Nikki scornfully, uncoiling altogether. “Why didn’t he just use fast-penta?”

“Hadn’t been invented yet, alas. Or it would have been a much shorter play.”

Nikki asks about Vormoncrief’s assertion that Miles couldn’t use fast-penta; Miles tells Nikki about his weird reaction to the drug which makes it less than useful on him, and also adds that the security issues mean that he couldn’t be questioned like that publicly anyway.  Nikki also mentions that Vormoncrief had called Miles “mutie lord”, and notes that he’s a “mutie” himself, from his Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.  He asks Miles if that bothers him, and Miles says it used to, but it doesn’t any more.  He encourages Nikki to tell Vormoncrief that he’s a “mutie” if he comes back, to make him not want to marry Ekaterin.  Ekaterin marvels at the use of humour and irony to thus defuse frightening subjects like that.

Miles says that he can’t tell Nikki everything–not because of his age, but because of the security considerations.  But he says he wants to set up an appointment with a friend of his, who also lost his father like Nikki when he was young, and who can decide better what they can tell Nikki.  Nikki agrees, reluctantly; Ekaterin wonders who this person is, probably some ImpSec bigwig.  Until then, he gives Nikki some tips on what to do if someone else tries to talk to him about it.  Not punching them in the nose, as Nikki suggests, but just tell them it isn’t true and refuse to say any more, and refer them to his mother or aunt or uncle if they persist.

They then repair to the kitchen for a snack, and Nikki goes to inspect the new batch of kittens, leaving Miles and Ekaterin to have a more private discussion.  Miles remains mum on who his mysterious friend is, though he says he trusts his judgement; Ekaterin asks Miles to tell him about Nikki’s natural reserve around strangers.  Nikki returns, much calmed by the food and the kittens, and Ekaterin reflects that Illyan was right that she should go see Miles.

Ekaterin says that they should go home, since the hasty note she’d left for her aunt had explained little of what had happened; Miles immediately volunteers Pym to drive them–not trying to encourage her to linger, Ekaterin notes.  On the way home, Nikki asks why she had refused Miles’s proposal; she tells him how he’d lied to her about the garden, trying to explain it to him in terms of his own dream of being a jump pilot so he can begin to understand how painful it was.

“So . . . d’you like him? Or not?”

Like was surely not an adequate word for this hash of delight and anger and longing, this profound respect laced with profound irritation, all floating on a dark pool of old pain. The past and the future, at war in her head. “I don’t know. Some of the time I do, yes, very much.”

Another long pause. “Are you in love with him?”

What Nikki knew of adult love, he’d mostly garnered off the holovid. Part of her mind readily translated this question as code for, Which way are you going to jump, and what will happen to me? And yet . . . he could not share or even imagine the complexity of her romantic hopes and fears, but he certainly knew how such stories were supposed to Come Out Right.

“I don’t know. Some of the time. I think.”

He favored her with his Big People Are Crazy look. In all, she could only agree.

Comments

We’ve seen a lot of Simon Illyan in these books–well, often we only see him at the beginning and/or at the end, but he did get a fair role in Memory at least, even if most of it was as victim–but this chapter contains what may be his Crowning Moment of Awesome, as he cows and routs Vormoncrief with little more than his presence and reputation.  It’s true that he has no official rank anymore, but I don’t doubt that Guy Allegre will take him quite seriously when he reports on Vormoncrief, who will likely have severe trouble working in the Imperial Service again.  Maybe there’s an opening for a meteorologist on Kyril Island…

Miles, having gotten over himself, is singularly helpful with Nikki, trying to bring matters into his ken, to a level he can comprehend, without being too condescending.  But this, of course, is mostly the setup for the wonderful scene which, alas, does not occur in the next chapter, but in the one after that.  (Which is, in itself, in addition to its own virtues, the setup for a couple of truly wonderful scenes later in the book.)

And now that Ekaterin is starting to get over Miles’s betrayal of her, his abject apology having damped out a lot of her initial outrage, we can tell that she is far from over him.  She defends him sturdily against Vormoncrief’s accusations, she goes to see him without too much persuasion being required, she appreciates his skills in deftly handling Nikki’s fear and confusion, and, in the end, she has to admit she may be in love with him, “some of the time”.  So there’s some hope yet, I guess…

Chapter Fourteen

Miles is in the library reading over the last two centuries’ worth of contested successions when Duv Galeni shows up.  He says he’s bringing ImpSec’s report on the rumours about Tien’s death; Allegre has assigned him to look into it, given that he already knows about what happened on Komarr, not to mention being at the fateful dinner party.  Miles grumbles that the report would have been more useful a day ago, before Vormoncrief’s visit to the Vorthys house; Galeni agrees, but says that Allegre is on top of it.  He does complain that this has been added on top of all of his other work, which was already taking up his spare time since becoming head of Komarran Affairs.

The good news is that there is no evidence that any classified aspects of the Komarr case have actually leaked out.  Galeni says there are several versions of the story out there already; in most of them Miles was working alone, but in others he was aided by corrupt ImpSec personnel.  Miles posits, and Galeni confirms, that there were no leaks from the Vorthys household.  Miles asks what ImpSec is doing about it, and Galeni says not much–they don’t want to seem too interested in the story, to make others curious, and he also admits that it does provide a plausible cover story to explain Tien’s death…

Miles is upset that ImpSec is going to leave him looking like the bad guy, but he reluctantly agrees to go along with it for the sake of the coverup–though he draws the line at actually admitting any guilt in Tien’s death.  He asks if ImpSec will get involved if someone formally accuses him in the Council of Counts; Galeni asks if anyone is planning to, and Miles says that Richars Vorrutyer has promised to, though he will have to actually become Count first, and Miles plans to try blocking him.

Galeni eyed him dubiously. “Well . . . if you really intend to project innocence, you need to do a more convincing job. You . . . twitch.”

Miles . . . twitched. “There’s guilt and there’s guilt. I am not guilty of willful murder. I am guilty of screwing up. Now, I’m not alone—this one took a full committee. Headed by that fool Vorsoisson himself. If only he’d—dammit, every time you step off the downside shuttle into a Komarran dome they sit you down and make you watch that vid on breath mask procedures. He’d been living there nearly a year. He’d been told.” He fell silent a moment. “Not that I didn’t know better than to go out-dome without informing my contacts.”

Galeni changes the subject to ask if Miles knows what Mark’s intentions are with respect to Kareen.  He says he was okay with Mark escaping on Earth, and even with coming to Barrayar and being accepted by Miles’s family.  But he’s having trouble dealing with Mark as a prospective brother-in-law.  Miles points out that, since Galeni’s father was responsible for having Mark made, there’s a case to be made that Mark is already Galeni’s foster brother; surely it’ll be easier to just call him a brother-in-law, because having an in-law you can’t stand is a more common experience.  He adds that Galeni’s children could have an Uncle Mark, which leads him to thinking of acquiring a host of Vorvayne in-laws if he marries Ekaterin.

Do you think they’ll marry?” asked Galeni seriously.

“I . . . am not certain what cultural format their bonding will ultimately take. I am certain you could not pry Mark away from Kareen with a crowbar. And while Kareen has good reasons to take it slowly, I don’t think any of the Koudelkas know how to betray a trust.”

That won a little eyebrow-flick from Galeni, and the slight mellowing that any reminder of Delia invariably produced in him.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to resign yourself to Mark as a permanent fixture,” Miles concluded.

“Eh,” said Galeni. It was hard to tell if this sound represented resignation, or stomach cramp.

Mark bumps into his mother in the entry foyer, who asks if he’s going out; Mark says he’s going out on a business meeting, and was look for Pym to get him a driver for the family groundcar.  A couple of the Armsmen’s children pass by, butter-bug hunting; Mark says that Martya had the idea of setting the children to looking for the bugs, with a bounty for each one retrieved.  They should have them all caught soon, as long as none of them think of freeing the already-caught ones.

Cordelia asks if he’s heard about this rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Mark says he’s been busy in the lab.  She says Illyan and Alys told her about it last night at a dinner party, and several others asked about it later.  Mark says he never heard anything good about Tien Vorsoisson, and wouldn’t think any the less of Miles if he’d done it, but all he’s gathered is that Miles blames himself for carelessness.

Miles emerges then with Duv Galeni; Galeni greets Cordelia, and, warily Mark, on his way out.  Cordelia then complains that she discovered recently that she missed meeting Ekaterin during her visit the day before; Miles points out, reasonably, that they were gone until midnight, and it wasn’t a social call in any case.  Cordelia agrees, but asks when they might be permitted the actually meet the woman; Miles says things are delicate right now.

“Delicate,” echoed the Countess. “Isn’t that a distinct improvement over a life in ruins with vomiting?”

A brief hopeful look glimmered in his eye, but he shook his head. “Just now, it’s pretty hard to say.”

She says she has heard about the rumour, but wonders why she had to hear it from Illyan instead of him.  Miles said he’d been waiting on ImpSec confirmation, which is what brought Galeni.  He tells her that it seems to just be a vicious rumour concocted by the Conservatives, so far, and he’s about to hold a planning session with Dono Vorrutyer and René Vorbretten to deal with it; Cordelia approves of his bringing in allies.

She suggests inviting Ekaterin and Kareen over, jut to tea, and Miles insists not yet.  Mark asks if Kareen’s parents would even let her come, if they’d even accept an invitation.  Cordelia says that Kou and Drou should be avoiding her, after their performance at the dinner party.

“I miss her,” said Mark, his hand clenching helplessly along his trouser seam. “I need her. We’re supposed to start presenting bug butter products to potential major accounts in a few days. I was counting on having Kareen along. I . . . I can’t do sales very well. I’ve tried. The people I pitch to all seem to end up huddled on the far end of the room with lots of furniture between us. And Martya is too . . . forthright. But Kareen is brilliant. She could sell anything to anyone. Especially Barrayaran men. They sort of lie down and roll over, waving their paws in the air and wagging their tails—it’s just amazing. And, and . . . I can stay calm, when she’s with me, no matter how much other people irritate me. Oh, I want her back . . .” These last words escaped him in a muffled wail.

Miles looked at his mother, and at Mark, and shook his head in bemused exasperation. “You’re not making proper use of your Barrayaran resources, Mark. Here you have, in-house, the most high-powered potential Baba on the planet, and you haven’t even brought her into play!”

“But . . . what could she do? Under the circumstances?”

“To Kou and Drou? I hate to think.” Miles rubbed his chin. “Butter, meet laser-beam. Laser-beam, butter. Oops.”

His mother smiled, but then crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully around the great library.

“But, ma’am . . .” Mark stammered, “could you? Would you? I didn’t presume to ask, after all the things . . . people said to one another that night, but I’m getting desperate.” Desperately desperate.

“I didn’t presume to intrude, without a direct invitation,” the Countess told him. She waited, favoring him with a bright, expectant smile.

Mark thought it over. His mouth shaped the unfamiliar word twice, for practice, before he licked his lips, took a breath, and launched it into unsupported air. “Help . . . ?

Cordelia agrees readily, now that’s he’s actually asked her, and says what they need is to all sit down–her, Mark, Kareen, Kou and Drou–and talk it all over.  Mark is dubious about what they’ll say, and if they would even come, but Cordelia tells him to leave all that to her.

Pym announces Count Vorbretten’s arrival, and Miles tells Pym to send him up to his suite.  Mark asks Pym to provide him a driver, and Cordelia tells him to come talk to her when he gets back.  Mark asks her hopefully if she may even want to invest in his company, and she says they’ll talk.

Ivan arrives as Mark is leaving, and finds Miles closeted with René Vorbretten.  He says his mother sent him with a note for Miles, and he took the chance to escape.  René says he thought that Ivan’s job sounded cushy, but Ivan tells him that the Vor women he’s been working with are mostly the “old battle-axe” type.  He complains about having 23 commanders, an inversion of the proper chain of command.  Dono Vorrutyer arrives then, to Ivan’s dismay, with By and Szabo.

Miles opens the note from Lady Alys, and begins to read it out; it’s full of intelligence about prospective votes in the Council of Counts.  She assures them that Count Vorsmythe will vote for René, and maybe for Dono with a little persuasion; Count Vorville apparently remembers René’s father fondly; and Countess Vorpinski (whose husband, Dono says, was an old flame of hers) quite approves of Dono’s transformation, and a visit assuring her of its permanence might be looked on favourably.

According to Lady Vortugalov, the Count, her father-in-law, is unlikely to have his vote swayed, but she’s rescheduled the birth of the Count’s first grandson to conflict with the day of the vote; in addition, in exchange for a wedding invitation, the Count’s voting deputy’s wife may arrange for her husband to be delayed to the vote as well.  Alys tells them that Vorhalas and Vortaine aren’t worth trying for, but Vortaine’s neighbour Vorvolynkin, normally a stout Conservative, seems likely to be persuaded to vote contrarily just to annoy Count Vortaine.  Miles skips over an allusion to the scurrilous rumour about Tien, and concludes that Count Vorinnis will also vote for René and Dono.  She adds, in a postscript, that her office is eager to see this matter settled to that invitations can be sent out properly, and as such encourages them to make use of Ivan for any little errands.  Ivan protests that Miles is making that up, but Miles shows him the postscript.

“Richars Vorrutyer sat right there,” said Miles, pointing to René’s chair, “and informed me that Lady Alys held no vote in Council. The fact that she has spent more years in the Vorbarr Sultana political scene than all of us here put together seemed to escape him. Too bad.” His smile broadened.

Pym arrives with coffee and snacks, which Ivan and By position themselves to take advantage of, though Ivan wishes he had wine or beer instead; Miles says that he’d always noticed that that’s what his grandfather would bring in when working with his allies, and when entertaining adversaries he brought in the alcohol.

Miles moves on to his hand-written agenda for the meeting.  René and Dono’s votes are scheduled back-to-back, René’s first; Miles tells him to yield to Dono, because if he wins his vote, he’ll just keep his seat, but Dono’s win will mean an extra vote for his own suit, rather than leaving the Vorrutyer seat empty for that vote.  By says that as far as he knows, their opponents don’t know that René and Dono are working together, so they won’t be expecting the switch.  Ivan isn’t sure about By’s allegiance, but Dono insists that he’s trustworthy.

Miles gets out a set of transparent overlays for the Council chamber, giving one each to Dono and René, asking them to fill in the votes they’re confident of, either way.  When they’re done, they can overlay them and see what Counts they’ll need to work on–the ones whose votes aren’t settled yet, or who are voting differently on the two issues, and who thus might be swayed.  René said he’d always tried to do this in his head, and Miles said that once you get into more votes in the same session, it’s much easier to use this method.  They fill them out–with a few contributions from By–and then start working out who they will need to tag-team.  Ivan glances at the overlays and says that neither of them seem to have a majority of thirty-one yet; Miles, who seems to be in “forward-momentum” mode, says that they’re working on it.

Miles notes that Count Falco Vorpatril himself is marked as undecided, and assigns him to Ivan.  Ivan protests that Falco has never liked him much, calling him “the despair of right-thinking Vorpatrils”; Miles says that Falco seems amused by him.  He tells Ivan to take Dono in to see him, and talk up René while they’re there.

I knew it would come to this, sooner or later. “I’d have had to swallow chaff enough if I’d presented Lady Donna to him as a fiancée. He’s never had the time of day for Vorrutyers generally. Presenting Lord Dono to him as a future colleague . . .” Ivan shuddered, and stared at the bearded man, who stared back with a peculiar lift to his lip.

“Fiancée, Ivan?” inquired Dono. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Well, and I’ve missed my chance now, haven’t I?” Ivan said grumpily.

“Yes, now and any time these past five years while I was cooling my heels down in the District. I was there. Where were you?” Dono dismissed Ivan’s plaint with a jerk of his chin; the tiny flash of bitterness in his brown eyes made Ivan squirm inside. Dono saw his discomfort, and smiled slowly, and rather evilly. “Indeed, Ivan, clearly this entire episode is all your fault, for being so slow off the mark.”

Dono points out that there will be a Count Vorrutyer either way, and he is well-qualified to point out the flaws of Richars.  Ivan protests that he shouldn’t even be involved in this, as a serving officer, and reminds Miles that he should remember to burn Alys’s letter as soon as he can, since it would be incendiary if it were to get out.  He says that he’s more than done his duty, bringing Dono to the dinner party in the first place, and he refuses to do any more.  He waits for whatever tactic Miles will drag out to get him to cooperate, but instead Miles just moves on to the next point.

“I said no!” Ivan cried desperately.

Miles glanced up at him in faint surprise. “I heard you. Very well: you’re off the hook. I shall ask nothing further of you. You can relax.”

Ivan sat back in profound relief.

Not, he assured himself, profound disappointment. And most certainly not profound alarm. But . . . but . . . but . . . the obnoxious little git_ needs _me, to pull his nuts out of the fire . . .

Miles then warns them all to be on the lookout for dirty tricks on the part of their opponents, since of course they won’t stoop to that level themselves.  (Ivan asks about the shenanigans with Lady Vortugalov and the replicator, and Miles says primly that it’s not them doing it…)  Their armsmen should be prepared, their vehicles inspected regularly, and they should make sure they have alternate routes to Vorhartung Castle for the day of the vote, just in case.

Miles asks By how their opponents are feeling about the race.  By says they don’t seem to even realize that it’s a race yet, that Dono and René might be starting to catch up.  René asks how they’ll react when they realize what’s going on; By says that Count Vormoncrief will be philosophical about it–it’s Richars who’s the loose cannon here, if he gets desperate.

“Well, keep us informed if anything changes in that quarter,” said Miles.

Byerly made a little salute of spreading his hand over his heart. “I live to serve.”

Miles raised his eyes and gave By a penetrating look; Ivan wondered if this sardonic cooption of the old ImpSec tag-line perhaps did not sit too well with one who’d laid down so much blood and bone in Imperial service. He cringed in anticipation of the exchange if Miles sought to censure By for this minor witticism, but to Ivan’s relief Miles let it pass. After a few more minutes spent apportioning target Counts, the meeting broke up.

Comments

This isn’t a chapter I particularly remembered–the scene with Miles and Galeni serves a couple of purposes, both of them fairly minor, but it is nice to see him for something more in-depth than his dinner-party appearance.  I can’t remember if it was established before now that he had actually made it to Head of Komarran Affairs, as was suggested back in Memory.

Cordelia does, as always, brighten up any scene she’s in.  She does, apparently, make an effort not to meddle in her family’s affairs where she’s not wanted, so she’s willing to leave Ekaterin to Miles, even though I do think that Ekaterin would love meeting the Countess.  Well, actually, she’d probably be highly daunted to meet the Vicereine of Sergyar, especially considering how they (just barely) first met on her flight from the dinner party.  But I’m sure she would enjoy it nonetheless.  I love the scene where Mark begins to realize that he can ask her for help…and then manages to bring himself to do so.  Coming from Jackson’s Whole as he did (and without any help from Ser Galen), he has trouble figuring out just what family obligations entail, but when he’s desperate, he’ll try anything…  It’s alluded to here, too, that Cordelia may be one of the few people who genuinely likes Mark.  Well, Kareen too, I suppose, but Cordelia, as a Betan, embraces him as a son quite eagerly.

The strategy session is kind of fun, too, especially Lady Alys’s contributions.  Richars Vorrutyer seems to underestimate and dismiss her, the way that Lucas Haroche did in Memory–it’s like a kind of sympatheticness test for our characters, how much they realize about Lady Alys’s true influence in Vorbarr Sultana.  I don’t recall if Falco Vorpatril had come up before, the actual Count; it seems a little weird to me that Ivan’s branch of the Vorpatrils, as close as they are to the Imperium, aren’t that close to the actual Count Vorpatril.  Also–once again, Ivan is let off the hook after he protests, and once again it bothers him; and By Vorrutyer is almost suspiciously helpful and well-informed.  Is Miles beginning to suspect him at this point?


Having already read a bit ahead, I can confidently say that two of my favourite scenes in the book are coming up in the next couple of chapters.  And other scenes as well, I’m sure, but there’s definitely something to look forward to next week, when the Vorkosigan Saga Reread returns…

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It may feel like Kyril Island out there for a lot of us, but there is still hope, and warmth, as long as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues.  This week I managed to pull off another two-chapter post from Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, so there’s that.  So huddle around your computers, or smartphones, or whatever you may be using to read this, and remember that, on Barrayar, it’s summer, and it’s warm…at least in Vorbarr Sultana.

Chapter Eleven

Kareen and Martya peer at the front of the Vorthyses’ house, trying to figure out if there’s anyone there, when Nikki bursts out the front door and greets them.  They tell him they’ve come to talk to his mother, and he tells them she’s in the garden out back.  Kareen and her sister head through the house to the back yard, where Ekaterin is weeding busily; Kareen thinks it looks therapeutic.  She looks up and greets then, and Kareen admires the garden; Ekaterin says she’d started it back when she was a student, and her aunt has tried to keep it up.

They sit down in chairs on the deck, politely refusing Ekaterin’s offer of tea, because she knew that Ekaterin would have to go prepare it herself.  Guardedly, Kareen asks if she’s heard anything from Vorkosigan house; Ekaterin says she hasn’t.  Kareen is surprised that Miles hasn’t already starting trying to spin-doctor the dinner-party disaster; she says she’s actually worried about Mark, because she hasn’t heard a thing from him.  Ekaterin says she hasn’t heard, and Kareen says that she’s forbidden to visit or talk to anyone at Vorkosigan House; her parent made her swear, and then even stuck her with Martya as a snitch, which Martya herself isn’t happy about either.

Kareen complains that her parents seem to be trying to stop her from growing up; Ekaterin says that she does sympathize with the parental desire to keep your children safe.  Martya says that Kareen isn’t helping, the way she’s been carrying on.

“There’s something to that in both directions,” said Ekaterin mildly. “Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting like a child than to be treated like one. It’s so infuriating. It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Kareen eagerly. “You understand! So—how did you make them stop?”

“You can’t make them—whoever your particular them is—do anything, really,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.” Ekaterin looked up from her lap where her hands had been absently rubbing at the yard dirt smeared on them, and remembered to smile. Kareen felt an odd chill. It wasn’t just her reserve that made Ekaterin daunting, sometimes. The woman went down and down, like a well to the middle of the world. Kareen bet even Miles couldn’t shift her around at his will and whim.

Kareen says it’s like they’re asking her to choose between her family and her lover, and she doesn’t see why she can’t have both.  Mark somewhat over-romanticizes families, so he’d be heartbroken if she gave them up for him.  She says that if she was a real adult, she’d have an income, and enough money to leave home.  That’s why she’s taking part in the butter bug scheme, which she thinks will be huge, once it gets off the ground, and even Tsipis agrees that the idea is sound.  Her parents think she was just fooling around with Mark over at Vorkosigan House, but she was working, and her shares are there, and she doesn’t even know what’s going on!

Martya asks Ekaterin if she’s heard from Dr. Borgos, because she feels sorry for him; Ekaterin says she hasn’t.  Kareen is still mad at Enrique, though, for spilling the beans about her and Mark.  Martya says she missed a bet there–she could have been dropping awful hints about what she could have been doing on Beta Colony, and when their parents found out what she had been doing, they’d have been grateful it was only her and Mark.  Kareen, who had done more than that, holds her tongue.  Martya says that any normal person would be hard put to cope with Miles and Mark on a daily basis.

“You think Enrique is normal?” said Kareen to her sister, wrinkling her nose.

“Well . . . at least he’s a change from the sort of Lieutenant Lord Vor-I’m-God’s-Gift-to-Women we usually meet in Vorbarr Sultana. He doesn’t back you into a corner and gab on endlessly about military history and ordnance. He backs you into a corner and gabs on endlessly about biology, instead. Who knows? He might be good husband material.”

“Yeah, if his wife didn’t mind dressing up as a butter bug to lure him to bed,” said Kareen tartly. She made antennae of her fingers, and wriggled them at Martya.

Martya snickered, but said, “I think he’s the sort who needs a managing wife, so he can work fourteen hours a day in his lab.”

Kareen snorted. “She’d better seize control immediately. Yeah, Enrique has biotech ideas the way Zap the Cat has kittens, but it’s a near-certainty that whatever profit he gets from them, he’ll lose.”

Ekaterin wishes she had that kind of time to work, and Martya says that she’s like Enrique too–better suited for R&D than being a housewife.  Ekaterin asks if that means she needs a wife, rather than a husband, and Kareen suggests she try Beta Colony.

The conversation peters out for a time, until Martya brings up the ugliness of the butter bugs–except for the Vorkosigan ones, which actually looked nice.  Kareen said she hadn’t known Enrique could do that to the bugs; Ekaterin says she should have seen it, since it’s really just the microbes in the bugs’ gut that do the work, the rest of the bug just being vehicles for them.  Enrique just slapped together a bunch of bug genes to be functional, without caring what they look like.

Kareen says, slowly, that Ekaterin knows about aesthetics, always looking well put together despite her doubtless limited budget, having what Lady Alys calls “unerring taste”.  She says that Mark is good at deals, Miles is good at strategy and persuasion, and she’s not sure what she’s good at, but Ekaterin is good at beauty.  She asks Ekaterin to come up with a way to make butter bugs pretty–to redesign them, not worrying about the actual genetics, to look more appealing.  Ekaterin is dubious, but she says she could come up with a few ideas, trying to use colours found in nature, trying not to mess with the functional parts of the bug.  Kareen says they could hire her to produce a glorious butter bug; Ekaterin says they don’t need to pay her, and Kareen tells her never to say that, because people don’t value what they don’t pay for.  Though she’ll still have to accept pay in shares, like Ma Kosti did.

Ekaterin says she can produce some preliminary designs in a day or two, but she’ll need to meet with Mark and Enrique as well.  Obviously they can’t meet at Vorkosigan House, so Kareen asks if they can meet at the Vorthyses’ instead.  Ekaterin says that she won’t want to go behind the Koudelkas’ back, but if they allow it, for business purposes, she’ll go along with it.  Kareen says that Ekaterin could meet with Mark and Enrique without her, but she’d prefer to be there, and Ekaterin agrees.  Martya protests that she’ll be forced to duenna again, and Kareen says she’d be happy enough if Martya could convince their parents she wasn’t necessary.

They are interrupted by the arrival of Armsman Pym, who is discussing having Nikki come over to his own flat to play with his son.  Ekaterin sinks back into reserve at Pym’s arrival, and she sends Nikki back inside and greets Pym neutrally.  Pym greets Ekaterin politely, and is surprised to find the Koudelka sisters there.  Kareen wonders if she’s allowed to talk to Pym, or not…  Pym produces an envelope addressed to Madame Vorkosigan and sealed with the Vorkosigan arms.  He says that Miles has sent her this letter, and apologizes it took so long, which Pym adds is because of the drains.  Ekaterin takes the envelope cautiously, and Pym turns and excuses himself.

Kareen shrieks at Pym to tell her anything about what’s going on over at Vorkosigan House.  Martya objects, and Kareen asks her to ask him.  Martya agrees, reluctantly, and then asks Pym about the drains.  Kareen says she doesn’t care about the drains, and Martya says that she gets to talk to him, so she gets to decide on the topic.

Pym’s brows rose as he took this in, and his eyes glinted briefly. A sort of pious innocence informed his voice. “I’m most sorry to hear that, Miss Kareen. I trust the Commodore will see his way clear to lift our quarantine very soon. Now, m’lord told me I was not to hang about and distress Madame Vorsoisson with any ham-handed attempts at making things up to her, nor pester her by offering to wait for a reply, nor annoy her by watching her read his note. Very nearly his exact words, those. He never ordered me not to talk with you young ladies, however, not anticipating that you would be here.”

“Ah,” said Martya, in a voice dripping with, in Kareen’s view, unsavory delight. “So you can talk to me and Kareen, but not to Ekaterin. And Kareen can talk to Ekaterin and me—”

“Not that I’d want to talk to you,” Kareen muttered.

“—but not to you. That makes me the only person here who can talk to everybody. How . . . nice. Do tell me about the drains, dear Pym. Don’t tell me they backed up again.”

Pym obliges, telling her that Dr. Borgos, with an excess of bug butter accumulating in Kareen’s absence, ended up dumping two days’ worth of bug butter down the drain…  In the pipes it underwent a chemical reaction which caused it to solidify, and block the main drain, which caused an immediate crisis.  Miles, informing them all of his “rich military experience with drains”, led Pym and Armsman Roic down into the sub-basement to address the issue.  They could hardly refuse to follow him, especially given how much higher the effluent was on Miles than on them.  Miles dealt with the problem quickly, and the household rejoiced, but everyone got a slow start, including Pym, hence the delay in delivery of the letter.

Martya asks what happened to Enrique (as Kareen bounces in impatience), and Pym said that he himself had proposed hanging him upside down in the drains, but Cordelia settled for giving him an education talk about what should, and shouldn’t, go into the drains.

The story now over, Kareen pester Martya more to ask about Mark, and Pym waits patiently until Martya finally capitulates.  Pym starts to talk about Lord Mark’s dangerous overeating, then changes to a more general appraisal of “depression”, but Kareen can tell that Gorge and Howl have probably gotten loose.  Mark has been keeping busy helping Enrique with the bug recovery, and unsure how to proceed otherwise, not knowing how things were in the Koudelka household, but Pym will make sure he knows how things stand.  Kareen is reminded that Pym is former ImpSec and no stranger to deducing facts on scant evidence, so she is confident that Mark will in fact learn what’s going on.

Martya glanced sideways at Ekaterin, and added somewhat daringly, “And so how’s the skinny one?”

Pym hesitated, followed her glance, and finally replied, “I’m afraid the drain crisis brightened his life only temporarily.”

He sketched a bow at all three ladies, leaving them to construe the stygian blackness of a soul that could find fifty kilos of bug butter in the main drain an improvement in his gloomy world.

Pym bids them farewell, seeks assurances that Nikki will be allowed to visit Arthur, and takes his leave.  Martya shakes her head in amazement at how the Vorkosigans can get such people; Kareen says that Pym came courtesy of Simon Illyan himself, which Martya calls cheating.  Ekaterin’s hand keeps straying to where she has stored the envelope, and Kareen decides she probably won’t read it with them there, so she says goodbye as well, reminding her about the butter bug redesign.  Ekaterin promises to have something for them tomorrow.

After they leave, they bump into Pym waiting by his car, who asks if she read it yet.  Martya says no, not in front of them, and Pym is disappointed.  Martya asks how Miles really is, and Pym says he seems starved for action, lacking something to do, which is a frightening state for him to be in.  Kareen expects that most of the household is really hoping to get Miles laid, so that he’ll settle down and stop driving them crazy.  Pym offers them a ride, which they decline, and they part ways.

Ekaterin sits back down at the table in the garden and takes out the envelope to examine.  Sturdy, expensive paper, with the Vorkosigan seal indented by hand and smeared with reddish pigment.  She opens it and begins to read.

Dear Madame Vorsoisson, it began. I am sorry.

This is the eleventh draft of this letter. They’ve all started with those three words, even the horrible version in rhyme, so I guess they stay.

Her mind hiccuped to a stop. For a moment, all she could wonder was who emptied his wastebasket, and if they could be bribed. Pym, probably, and likely not. She shook the vision from her head, and read on.

I tried to be the thief of you, to ambush and take prisoner what I thought I could never earn or be given. You were not a ship to be hijacked, but I couldn’t think of any other plan but subterfuge and surprise. Though not as much of a surprise as what happened at dinner. The revolution started prematurely because the idiot conspirator blew up his secret ammo dump and lit the sky with his intentions. Sometimes those accidents end in new nations, but more often they end badly, in hangings and beheadings. And people running into the night. I can’t be sorry I asked you to marry me, because that was the one true part in all the smoke and rubble, but I’m sick as hell I asked you so badly.

Even though I’d kept my counsel from you, I should at least have done you the courtesy to keep it from others as well, till you’d had the year of grace and rest you’d asked for. But I became terrified you’d choose another first.

Ekaterin wonders who he thought she’d choose–Vormoncrief was impossible, Byerly Vorrutyer wasn’t serious, Zamori was kind but dull, and she quails at the thought of Enrique.

Miles goes on to admit he used the garden as a ploy to be near her, which he is now ashamed of.  He says it drove him crazy to see her constrained to tiny steps, when she could be running, so he also wanted to give her the chance to grow, even though he know it would be a conflict of interest.

I love you. But I lust after and covet so much more than your body. I wanted to possess the power of your eyes, the way they see form and beauty that isn’t even there yet and draw it up out of nothing into the solid world. I wanted to own the honor of your heart, unbowed in the vilest horrors of those bleak hours on Komarr. I wanted your courage and your will, your caution and serenity. I wanted, I suppose, your soul, and that was too much to want.

She put the letter down, shaken. After a few deep breaths, she took it up again.

I wanted to give you a victory. But by their essential nature triumphs can’t be given. They must be taken, and the worse the odds and the fiercer the resistance, the greater the honor. Victories can’t be gifts.

But gifts can be victories, can’t they. It’s what you said. The garden could have been your gift, a dowry of talent, skill, and vision.

I know it’s too late now, but I just wanted to say, it would have been a victory most worthy of our House.

Ekaterin takes a few moments to regain control of herself, and then rereads the letter again, and again.  She’s glad that it doesn’t seem to expect a reply, because she doesn’t feel up to one.  It’s more than honest, it’s soul-baring.  She wipes her eyes, then examines the seal again.  Traditionally, the red pigment used for the seal was blood, but generally one uses a special pigment stick instead, which these days come in a variety of colours for various purposes.  Miles’s pigment smear was traditional red-brown–because, she realizes, it is blood.  She doesn’t even think he was trying to be melodramatic about it, just methodical and proper, and he probably even owns a dagger with the seal in the hilt–a collector’s piece these days for most people, but he probably uses it just as a tool.

She wonders about his reference to ship hijacking, and makes a mental note to twit him sometime about excessive honesty being a bad idea for a former covert agent.  She reads over his declaration of love a few more times, until the letters start to blur.  Reading the letter again, she notices something missing from it–any kind of plea for forgiveness, or reconciliation, or even seeing her again.  Is he too arrogant to beg for forgiveness, or does he think he has no chance of receiving it?  Or both at once?  She remembers how the cycle went with Tien after an argument, and how she often short-circuited it, leaping right to forgiveness, because she couldn’t bear the coldness of in-between.  Had she missed something important?

What does she do now?  How does she go forward?  She can’t go back, she knows, and she doesn’t want to, to try to shrink and fit back into her old self.  Does she have to answer Miles’s question?  She wants a middle ground between yes and no.

Comments

I tried to summarize Miles’s letter, but in the end I couldn’t do much, and hopefully the copyright police won’t get after me.  It is a magnificent piece of abject, quite well done, not holding back.  The ball does seem, in many ways, back in Ekaterin’s court. She has to decide how to respond to it–where ignoring Miles for the rest of their lives is certainly one of the potential choices, but I get the feeling that she’s not leaning that way.  She has plenty of feelings to work through, many of which have been lurking in the back of her head, but which she’s been firmly suppressing, like the ones that arose when she thought Miles had sent the baba…  She can no longer convince herself he’s not serious, in any event.

It’s interesting how she dismisses the ones that Miles consider his most serious competitors–Zamori and Enrique–out of hand.  Zamori is dull, Enrique she doesn’t even really give a reason for, but considers him absurd.  Most tellingly, Lord Dono doesn’t even show up on her list, but then I guess he never really actually wooed her, even as much as Enrique.

And speaking of Enrique, this is where Martya first seems to start seriously considering him.  Not really a romantic interest, as far as I can tell, but a “potential wife” interest, if that makes sense.  Martya isn’t a particularly romantic sort, it seems, so she’s willing to consider marriage as more a practical matter.  The scene with Martya being the only one allowed to talk to everyone was somewhat amusing, given her contrariness, though Pym’s deadpan delivery of Miles’s drain-cleaning story is also noteworthy.  Kareen’s realization that Ekaterin should be the one to redesign the butter bugs is also a great moment.  (So what is her talent, then?  Does she have one?  Sounds like a question I should asking about a Xanth character or something.)

Chapter Twelve

Ivan is getting ready for work in the morning when his apartment door-chime rings, to his surprise.  He opens the door to reveal By Vorrutyer, and then is unable to close it fast enough before By gets his foot in.  By is apparently up late, rather than early, and tells Ivan he needs to talk to him about Miles.  Ivan considers various techniques for dislodging By’s foot, saying that he doesn’t want to hear about Miles any more than he wants to hear about Dono.  Ivan says to go tell Miles himself, and By says he’d rather not, but he’s very interested in what Miles does with his vote.  Ivan says that the vote is technically Count Aral’s, who is now back in Vorbarr Sultana; By says that it’s well known that 90% of the time the Count leaves his son in charge of the proxy.

By asks if Ivan has some coffee, and when he says no, asks him to make some; Ivan is unmoved, but so is By.  He asks Ivan again about Miles, and Ivan says that after the debacle at the dinner party, he’s avoiding Miles; Aunt Cordelia can take care of him.  By says that what Miles did was a horrible faux pas, but, in Dono’s judgement, still fixable…but soon it won’t be any more.  Ivan, curiosity finally whetted, and against his better judgement, finally relents and lets By in.

By says that last night he was at a private dinner at the Vormoncriefs’, hosted by Count Boriz and his nephew Alexi.  Richars Vorrutyer, alarmed at Dono’s return, came into town to court Boriz’s vote.  Also present were Count Vormuir, and Boriz’s son-in-law, Sigur Vorbretten.  Richars quickly won Boriz over with promises to vote Conservative once he won his Countship.  Ivan asks what By was doing there, and By says that he’s convinced Richars that he’s spying on Dono for him, oblivious of the fact that By is actually working against him.

Vormuir brought up Miles’s judgement against him, and then they groused about the cost of the Komarran solar mirror repairs, which of course also came back to Miles.  Alexi mentioned the refusal of his proposal to Ekaterin, and then Sigur Vorbretten told them a garbled version of the dinner party story, including Ekaterin’s fleeing from Miles’s proposal; Ivan wonders how that story has even started making the rounds, but By points out that there were nineteen people there, not including servants and Armsmen, so somebody was bound to have mentioned it.  The Conservative crew chewed over these facts, and finally came up with a Theory to explain them…which evolved into a full-blown Slander.

“Oh, shit,” whispered Ivan.

By gave him a sharp look. “You anticipate me? Goodness, Ivan. What unexpected depths. You can imagine the conversation; I had to sit through it. Alexi piping about the damned mutant daring to court the Vor lady. Vormuir opining it was bloody convenient, say what, the husband killed in some supposed-accident in the middle of Vorkosigan’s case. Sigur saying, But there weren’t any charges, Count Boriz eyeing him like the pitiful waif he is and rumbling, There wouldn’t be—the Vorkosigans have had ImpSec under their thumb for thirty years, the only question is whether was it collusion between the wife and Vorkosigan? Alexi leaping to the defense of his lady-love—the man just does not take a hint—and declaring her innocent, unsuspecting till Vorkosigan’s crude proposal finally tipped his hand. Her storming out was Proof! Proof!—actually, he said it three times, but he was pretty drunk by then—that she, at least, now realized Miles had cleverly made away with her beloved spouse to clear his way to her, and she ought to know, she was there. And he bet she would be willing to reconsider his own proposal now! Since Alexi is a known twit, his seniors were not altogether convinced by his arguments, but willing to give the widow the benefit of the doubt for the sake of family solidarity. And so on.”

Ivan asks why By didn’t stop them, and By says he didn’t want to blow his cover, and in any case he had little hope of diverting their momentum.  Ivan says Miles will deal handily with them if they try to bring charges, and By agrees, but says that he won’t be able to do much about rumour and whisper.  By says that the five rumourmongers are still sleeping it off, so Miles may be able to get on top of damage control if he’s alerted early enough.  Ivan says that it sounds more like a matter for ImpSec, recalling Miles’s earlier statements on the Komarr matter, and By isn’t sure that ImpSec will be able to do much about it.

Ivan checks the time and says he has to leave for work now.  By accedes, asking if Ivan can get him a wedding invitation; Ivan tells him to ask Dono, if he manages to win his Countship.  Ivan tries to figure out how to tell Miles about it, and, picturing the reception if he delivers the news in person, decides to call him on the comconsole instead.  He gets the answering program, and leaves a message for Miles to call him back, promising himself to try to follow up later.

Mark and Enrique arrive at the Vorthys house for the meeting, and Ekaterin lets them inside, telling them that Kareen and Martya are already there.  Mark greets her fervently, and Kareen says she’s now allowed to talk to Mark, but only about business.  Martya is there as a duenna again, which she says is a little bit late–she would have been more use on Beta Colony.

Enrique asks them if they knew that Mark’s mother was a Betan Survey captain, and he’s amazed that they’re not more impressed about it; Mark has been hearing about this for two days now.  Enrique says he gave her his dissertation to read.

Kareen, her eyes widening, asked, “Did she understand it?”

“Of course she did. She was a Betan Survey commander, for God’s sake! Do you have any idea how those people are chosen, what they do? If I’d completed my postgraduate work with honors, instead of all that stupid misunderstanding with the arrest, I could have hoped, only hoped, to put in an application, and even then I wouldn’t have had a prayer of beating out all the Betan candidates, if it weren’t for their off-worlder quotas holding open some places specifically for non-Betans.” Enrique was breathless with the passion of this speech. “She said she would recommend my work to the attention of the Viceroy. And she said my sonnet was very ingenious. I composed a sestina in her honor in my head while I was catching bugs, but I haven’t had time to get it down yet. Survey captain!”

“It’s . . . not what Tante Cordelia is most famous for, on Barrayar,” Martya offered after a moment.

“The woman is wasted here. All the women are wasted here.” Enrique subsided grumpily. Martya turned half-around, and gave him an odd raised-brows look.

Kareen asks about the bug roundup, and Enrique says they’ve found most of them, but the queen is still missing.
Ekaterin thanks Enrique for sending her the butter bug model, which was a big help, and then proceeds to her presentation.  She starts with a enlarged projection of the standard butter bug, and says that she’s just run off four quick variations.  The first that she shows them is just pure, shiny black, elongated to hide the abdomen, which impresses them all; the second is mostly black, but with rounded wing carapaces covered in rainbow stripes, which Martya declares to be pretty.  The next one, Ekaterin says, she was trying to play with the possibilities.  It looks almost like a rose bud, leaf-green and red, carapaces like petals, even little thorns on the bug’s legs.  Kareen loves it, and Enrique is a little startled, but admits it could be done.  Ekaterin admits that it would be more practical for bugs that weren’t roaming freely, since the petals would be awkward, and get damaged or catch on things.  She says she had thought they might decorate the bugs differently for different sets of microbes, which Enrique thinks is a good idea.  Then she shows the last image.

This bug’s legs and body parts were a deep, glimmering blue. The carapace halves flared and then swept back in a teardrop shape. Their center was a brilliant yellow, shading immediately to a deep red-orange, then to light flame blue, then dark flame blue edged with flickering iridescence. The abdomen, barely visible, was a rich dark red. The creature looked like a flame, like a torch in the dusk, like a jewel cast from a crown. Four people leaned forward so far they nearly fell off their chairs. Martya’s hand reached out. Ekaterin smiled demurely.

“Wow, wow, wow,” husked Kareen. “Now that is a glorious bug!”

“I believe that was what you ordered, yes,” murmured Ekaterin.

Ekaterin shows the bug in motion, too, and suggests that Enrique find a way to make them glow in the dark.  Enrique says that it should be possible, and it would make them easier to find, but it would reduce their butter production due to the energy costs; Mark suggests thinking of it as an advertising budget.  He says they should have a shareholder’s vote to decide which one they should use.  Enrique points out they should take the advice of their aesthetics consultant as well; Ekaterin says she did the aesthetics, but she has only a vague idea how easily they could be produced, and the more striking designs may take longer.  Kareen asserts that time is of the essence–they need to get the product launched and making money so the business can get off the ground.

Mark likes the black one, Kareen the flowery one, and Enrique the glorious one; when he says that it would be faster than the flowery one, Kareen switches her vote.  Mark says that he still has 51% of the shares, before realizing that giving shares to Kareen and Ma Kosti have deprived him of his majority.  Kareen insists that Ekaterin get paid in shares, too, despite her protest that it wasn’t that hard.  Mark complies reluctantly, quickly processing and printing out a share receipt for Ekaterin.

Mark says that they need to be going, to try to finish the bug-hunt and get everything back on track.  He asks Kareen if her parents are willing to relent enough to let her come back to work; Kareen grimaces, and Martya explains that they’re having a hard time with it.  Their father is having a hard enough time coping with Delia getting married, Kareen, Mark, Beta Colony and the Orb are not something he’s equipped to deal with.  On the other hand, Martya points out that she is not forbidden to go to Vorkosigan House…  She says she might be willing to consider it, for a few shares of her own, and Mark thinks this would be a great idea, even if she doesn’t like him personally.  He puts it to Enrique, still absorbed with the glorious bug, and eventually gets him to agree that Martya would be fine.  As they’re preparing to leave, Mark asks Kareen how long she think it’ll take to resolve this mess with her family.

“It’s resolved already.” Her expression was disturbingly fey. “I’m done arguing, though I’m not sure they realize it yet. I’ve had it. While I’m still living in my parents’ house, I’ll continue to hold myself honor-bound to obey their rules, however ludicrous. The moment I’ve figured out how to be somewhere else without compromising my long-range goals, I’ll walk away. Forever, if need be.” Her mouth was grim and determined. “I don’t expect to be there much longer.”

“Oh,” said Mark. He wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, or meant to do, but it sounded . . . ominous. It terrified him to think that he might be the cause of her losing her family. It had taken him a lifetime, and dire effort, to win such a place of his own. The Commodore’s clan had looked to be such a golden refuge, to him . . . “It’s . . . a lonely place to be. On the outside like that.”

She shrugged. “So be it.”

On the way out, Mark asks Ekaterin if she wants him to take a message back to Vorkosigan House.  She touches her bolero over her heart, where Mark deduces the letter is being stored, and says that she accepts his apology, but she can’t answer his question.  They leave the house, Kareen heading determinedly off in one direction as the others head back to Vorkosigan House.

Miles has been waiting for Mark’s return, and immediately asks him if he saw Ekaterin, and if she had read his letter.  Mark reminds Miles that he had been sternly admonished not to ask her about it.

Impatiently, Miles waved this off. “Directly. You know I meant not to ask directly. I just wondered if you could tell . . . anything.”

“If I could tell what a woman was thinking just by looking at her, would I look like this?” Mark made a sweeping gesture at his face, and glowered.

“How the hell would I know? I can’t tell what you’re thinking just because you look surly. You usually look surly.”

Mark says that he does have a message from Kareen, which gets Miles excited; he says that she accepts his apology, and congratulates him on having been forgiven.  Miles asks if there’s anything else–whether he’d be permitted or forbidden to visit, or anything.  Mark says that she said she couldn’t answer his question, and that’s all.  Miles withdraws to try to figure out what this says.  Not no, but not yes–maybe another last chance, maybe back to square one.

How should he approach matters this time around?  Not poetry, that’s for sure–his attempts at rhyming were execrable, and if by fluke he produced something worthwhile, he doesn’t want to get her hopes up.  No more false pretenses, he decides.  But hope has reappeared in his life.  He wonders how he might go about becoming her friend, what kind of thing she would like to do…

Pym announces the arrival of a visitor–Lord Richars Vorrutyer, who asks to be called “Lord Vorrutyer”.  Miles is not pleased with his arrival, and asks if he needs an Imperial Auditor for something.  Richars says he wanted to talk to the Count about Lady Donna’s suit, but the Count sent him to Miles.  Miles’s father has decided that his visit to Barrayar is a vacation from Viceroying, not a return to Counting, and is leaving Miles in charge of the vote.  Miles pointedly does not ask for refreshments, not wanting to encourage Richars to linger.

Richars commiserates with Miles on the presence of his “fat clone”, which doesn’t endear him to Miles, and he pushes Richars to get to the point.  Richars wants to talk about Lady Donna, and the mockery she is making of the Vorrutyer name.  Miles says that he’s pretty sure that Beta Colony would have done a good job on Lord Dono.  Richars thinks it’s absurd–nobody would want to marry a woman-turned-man, and so she wouldn’t be able to sire an heir; Miles says it’s not inconceivable, and in any case not every Count produced a true heir.  Richars begins speculating on Ivan’s relationship with her.

“He used to screw her, you know. So did half the men in Vorbarr Sultana.”

“I’d heard . . . something.” Go away, Richars. I don’t want to deal with your smarmy notion of wit right now.

“I wonder if he still . . . well! I’d never have thought Ivan Vorpatril climbed into that side of the bunk, but live and learn!”

“Um, Richars . . . you have a consistency problem, here,” Miles felt compelled to point out. “You cannot logically imply my cousin Ivan is a homosexual for screwing Dono, not that I think he is doing so, unless you simultaneously grant Dono is actually male. In which case, his suit for the Vorrutyer Countship holds.”

Richars dismisses that issue, and tries appealing to Miles’s Vor loyalty–he says that Lady Donna’s crass “prank” strikes at Vor power itself, regardless of political stripe.  Miles is noncommittal, but he admits to himself that he might need to make this decision based on something more than the fact that Dono amuses him more than Richars does.  Richars asks about a vote-trade; Miles says he is interested in the soletta repairs, but he thinks Gregor has the votes for that one well in hand.  He brings up René Vorbretten; Richars is sorry for the poor fellow, but since he’s Cetagandan, he obviously can’t be a Count.  Richars has already promised his vote on that matter to Sigur Vorbretten and Count Vormoncrief, nothing to be done there.

Richars laments the delay in his confirmation caused by Lady Donna’s sick joke.  Miles says that Lord Dono must be deathly serious about the issue to have essentially killed “Lady Donna”, and thus might do a good job to warrant the high price paid.  Richars begins to realize that Miles is actually considering voting for Dono, and asks him to think of what his grandfather would think.  Miles says that Lord Dono is sufficiently charming to win friends on his own merits, but Richars dismisses her as a lunatic.  He asks Miles his own opinion of her, and Miles said he had other concerns; Richars says he’d heard all about it.

Richars takes this as an opportunity to bring up the topic of Miles’s failed proposal to Ekaterin (who he calls “Alexi’s widow”).  He deplores Miles’s failure to spring his trap properly, and calls it “a leetle obvious”.  Miles shifts into neutral ImpSec mode and replies noncommittally.  Richars mentions Ekaterin’s husband’s “convenient” death, and how she must have figured out the truth behind it now.  Miles says it was a breath mask accident, and Richars says that those could be easy to arrange.  Miles parries with the accusations about Pierre’s fiancée’s death, but Richars points out he was cleared of those charges.  Miles hasn’t been cleared of anything yet, but of course nobody would be fool enough to try to bring him down.

Miles knows that any such charges would be quashed, rather than bring up the classified Komarr affair, but it would do little for his and Ekaterin’s reputations.  Richars says that it would be a great benefit for Miles if charges were to not get laid.

“Come on, Vorkosigan. We’re both as Old Vor as it’s possible to be. It’s stupid of us to be brangling when we should both be on the same side. Our interests march together. It’s a tradition. Don’t pretend your father and grandfather weren’t top party horse-traders.”

“My grandfather . . . learned his political science from the Cetagandans. Mad Emperor Yuri offered him postgraduate instruction after that. My grandfather schooled my father.” And both of them schooled me. This is the only warning you will receive, Richars. “By the time I knew Piotr, Vorbarr Sultana party politics were just an amusing pastime to him, to entertain him in his old age.”

Miles asks, just to be clear, if Richars is asking him to vote against Dono in return for not pressing a murder charge on him.  He points out that someone else might always make such an accusation, and he’s also not sure that the story of his dinner party has reached that wide of an audience yet.  Inside, though, he’s frantically wondering how the story got out, and how far it has spread.

Then he smiles and thanks Richars for settling his mind on how he’s going to vote on the Vorrutyer Countship.  Richars takes this to mean that he’s succeeded.  Miles considers that bribing an Imperial Auditor is treason, but he’s being a Count’s Deputy right now, so it doesn’t seem fair.  Besides, he’s beginning to want to crush Richars himself.  He smiles, shakes Richars’s hand, and bids him farewell.

Once Richars leaves, Miles snarls and hurls his grandfather’s dagger into the doorframe.  Once he’s calmed down, he goes to his comconsole, disregards another message from Ivan asking him to call, and calls Guy Allegre at ImpSec.  He tells Allegre about the gossip about his role in Tien’s death, adding that he was, actually, attempting to woo his widow.  Allegre says that he’s heard about that last bit already.  Miles adds that Richars is trying to blackmail him into voting against Dono–and failing, though he doesn’t know it yet–but he needs to know if this is entirely fabrication, or if there’s an actual leak.  Allegre says they don’t think it’s a leak, but he encourages Miles to do nothing to call attention to what really happened on Komarr.  Miles says he plans to call Ekaterin and give her a heads-up on the matter, but Allegre asks him to hold off until they’ve run a check on her, in case she’s been careless enough to give something away.

ImpSec had never been happy to have Ekaterin, an oath-free civilian not under their control in any way, standing in the heart of the hottest secret of the year, or maybe the century. Despite the fact that she’d personally hand-delivered it to them, the ingrates. “She is not careless. She is in fact extremely careful.”

“In your observation.”

“In my professional observation.”

Allegre gave him a placating nod. “Yes, m’lord. We would be pleased to prove that. You don’t, after all, want ImpSec to be . . . confused.”

Miles blew out his breath in dry appreciation of this last dead-pan remark. “Yeah, yeah,” he conceded.

Miles reluctantly agrees to wait to hear from ImpSec before telling Ekaterin about it, hoping that, reclusive as she is, she won’t encounter it as common gossip.  Then he reconsiders his conversation with Richars, and realizes that he may have mishandled it–Richars was more of a bully, and he might have backed down if Miles had stood up to him.  Now he may end up with a permanent enemy on the Council, and he may force Richars to follow through and press the charges.  He doesn’t want to do that to Ekaterin, drag her through the ending of her marriage all over again, however truncated.  Best result, then would be for him to push for Dono to win the Countship.

He calls Vorrutyer House, and to his surprise finds the call answered by Olivia Koudelka, who fetches Dono directly.  Miles assures Dono that he has the support of the Vorkosigans, explaining that a visit from Richars helped sway him.  He invites Dono to join him and René Vorbretten at Vorkosigan House to strategize, and it is organized for two days hence.

After that, he considers calling Ekaterin, but can’t make himself do it.  If he calls her and doesn’t mention this tangle, he’ll be lying by omission, but he promised Allegre he wouldn’t talk about it.  He wishes now that he’d let her have her year of mourning without interference, until Tien’s death could be forgotten, and he could have courted her openly.  But he’d pushed it too far, not to mention telling everyone in the capital about it.

I want a time machine, so’s I can go back and shoot myself.

He had to admit, the whole extended scenario lent itself beautifully to political disinformation. In his covert ops days, he’d fallen with chortles of joy on lesser slips by his enemies. If he were ambushing himself, he’d regard it as a godsend.

You did ambush yourself, you idiot.

The one good thing about Richars’s scenario is that it paints Ekaterin as entirely innocent, so if he stays away from her, then perhaps he can keep it that way.  But how long can he make himself do that?  Will it takes years before the rumour fades entirely?  How could love have produced such a tangle?

Ivan appears then, and asks Miles why he never called him back.  Miles apologizes, saying he’d been busy, and tells Ivan he’s been blindsided by Richars Vorrutyer.  Ivan says that if Miles had called him, he wouldn’t have been blindsided, because By Vorrutyer had told him that morning.  He’s not sure why, if By was just trying to stir up trouble, or playing some sneaky game, or what.

Miles asks Ivan to quash the rumour if he encounters it, but Ivan said that as Miles’s cousin, he has no credibility on the matter, and he doesn’t know anything anyway.  Ivan says that he doesn’t have to help Miles, it’s not his job, and he’s busy working for his mother anyway.

Miles sat back, and regarded Ivan for a long moment. “You’re right,” he said at last. “I have abused your loyalty too many times. I’m sorry. Never mind.”

Ivan, caught with a mouthful of wine, stared at him in shock, his brows drawing down. He finally managed to swallow. “What do you mean, never mind?”

“I mean, never mind. There’s no reason to draw you into this ugly mess, and every reason not to.” Miles doubted there’d be much honor for Ivan to win in his vicinity this time, not even the sort that sparked so briefly before being buried forever in ImpSec files. Besides, he couldn’t think offhand of anything Ivan could do for him.

“No need? Never mind? What are you up to?”

Miles tells Ivan sincerely that there’s nothing he can do to help Miles, but Ivan seems suspicious that Miles is trying to pull something on him.  He leaves, indignantly muttering about Miles claiming he can’t help.

Comments

Long chapter…  The best part is the scene with Ekaterin’s butter bugs, where she demonstrates the knack for aesthetics that Kareen had seen in her.  More of the budding Martya and Enrique relationship.  Kareen definitely seems to be on the edge–she’s almost had it with her family, or at least her parents, getting into the “waiting until I can leave home” phase.  I seem to recall how her plotline resolves, but I can’t remember the exact path it takes to get there.  And Olivia is over at Dono Vorrutyer’s house!  What the heck is up with that?

Then we have the beginning of the vicious rumour plotline.  Various Conservative scumbags (alas, we are given little chance to paint them otherwise, though we only really get to see Richars condemn himself with what comes out of his mouth) concoct a story of half-truths that Miles can’t just come out and deny.  Richars attempts to use it to blackmail Miles.  It will likely backfire on both of them, but Miles prepares to live with that to spare Ekaterin.  Definitely seems like a lose-lose situation, no way to get out of it…but it does put Miles firmly on Dono’s side, at least.

The last scene there is from Miles’s POV, and it does seem like he’s not deliberately trying to convince Ivan to help him using reverse psychology…but I’m afraid that is just what he’s done.  Because obviously trying to keep Ivan uninvolved is just part of Miles’s plan, isn’t it?  Well, that’ll teach him to try to keep Ivan from helping him…


Definitely longer chapters in this book, hoo boy.  Not sure if I can keep two chapters for long, without seriously denting my other pastimes, but we’ll see.  Does Diplomatic Immunity have shorter chapters, perhaps?  It’s more actiony and less talky, as I recall, so I guess I can hope…

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Happy New Year (for those of you following the Gregorian calendar, anyway), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  This is the start of the fourth calendar year of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s exquisite Vorkosigan Saga, following Miles Vorkosigan and his friends, family and confederates through their adventures.  As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (for me, at least), I manage to persevere and to pull off two whole chapters this time–one of them a fairly unpleasant one, at that, as Miles’s dinner party turns into an unmitigated disaster.  Please join me for Chapters Nine and Ten of A Civil Campaign, if you dare…

Chapter Nine

Miles considers a number of potential outfits for the dinner party, rejecting his House and Imperial uniforms–briefly considering his Dendarii uniform, but afraid what Ivan and Illyan will say about it–before going back to his first choice, one of his normal gray Imperial Auditor suits.  Pym approves his choice, and Miles gets dressed, inspecting himself in the mirror and resisting the urge to pluck out gray hairs.

He goes the recheck the arrangements in the dining room, where he has carefully planned the seating so that Ekaterin is next to Miles, Kareen next to Mark, and Ivan in the middle far from either of them.  Lady Donna should be able to occupy all of Ivan’s attention anyway.  Miles recalls Ivan’s affair with Lady Donna, which he’d watched enviously, and Lady Alys had been quite disapproving of.  Of course, these days Lady Donna would still be able to have a child, no matter her age; he wonders if Lady Alys and Illyan are planning to have one, and makes a note to suggest it to Ivan at some appropriate moment–like when his mouth is full.  And on some other night.

Mark wanders in, dressed in black, and considers the place cards; Miles sternly warns him to leave them alone, and Mark asks if he can at least move Duv and Delia  farther away from him.  Miles says he needs to keep René Vorbretten next to Lady Alys, as a favour, and tells Mark he needs to be prepared to deal with Duv as part of the family, if he’s serious about Kareen.  Mark says that Duv must have mixed feelings about him.  Miles wonders how serious Mark really is about Kareen, and decides he should ask the Countess.

Pym announces the arrival of Alys and Illyan; Alys inspects the place settings, pronouncing a qualified approval but noting that the sexes aren’t matched–nine men and ten women–before going to talk with Ma Kosti.  Miles greets Illyan and asks if Alys has explained about Ekaterin to him.

“Yes, and Ivan had a few comments as well. Something on the theme of fellows who fall into the muck-hole and return with the gold ring.”

“I haven’t got to the gold ring part yet,” said Miles ruefully. “But that’s certainly my plan. I’m looking forward to you all meeting her.”

“She’s the one, is she?”

“I hope so.”

Illyan’s smile sharpened at Miles’s fervent tone. “Good luck, son.”

“Thanks. Oh, one word of warning. She’s still in her mourning year, you see. Did Alys or Ivan explain—”

He is interrupted by the announcement of the Koudelkas’ arrival, and goes to greet them in the library, Mark following him closely.  Armsman Roic brings out hors d’oeuvres and drinks, Mark talks to Kareen’s parents, and Illyan and Alys join them shortly thereafter.  Miles listens for the door, disappointed by the arrival of the Vorbrettens.  The next arrivals prove to be the Vorthyses and Ekaterin at last, and Miles eagerly goes to welcome them himself.

Ekaterin is wearing the Barrayar pendant he’d given her, and taking off garden gloves; she announces she’s just planted the first Barrayaran plan in his garden.  Miles says he’ll have to go see it later, and offers her his arm.  He escorts her to the library, where she is somewhat anxious, but he introduces her to the Vorbrettens, then to Alys and Illyan; she seems somewhat nervous at meeting the legendary former ImpSec head, but Illyan puts her at her ease, and seems to approve of her.

Enrique arrives, done up quite respectably, and shyly asks Ekaterin if she read his dissertation.  Ekaterin says most of it went over her head, and comments on the abstract being done in verse; Enrique says he’s sure she got most of it.  Miles notices that they’re using first names with each other, and that Ekaterin reacted to a compliment on her intelligence the way she never would on her appearance; he suddenly realizes that Enrique may be another rival for her affections.

Miles almost misses the announcement of Ivan and his guest, before realizing the Pym had said “Lord Dono” Vorrutyer…  He wonders why Ivan has pulled this last-minute substitution on him, and who this fellow is; mid-handshake the penny drops, and he smoothly asks if Lord Dono has been to Beta Colony.  As he introduces Dono to Ekaterin his mind begins to work through the implications of Dono’s change–obviously he hadn’t cloned Pierre after all.  Dono asks to discuss it with Miles at more length; Miles says that as an Imperial Auditor he has to remain neutral, but he recommends Dono talk to René Vorbretten, who also has a pending suit, as well as Professora Vorthys, who specializes in Barryaran political history, and Lady Alys and Simon Illyan.  Dono thanks him appreciatively and moves on.

Miles snags Ivan and asks if Gregor knows about Dono yet.  Ivan says he made sure of that right away, and Miles correctly guesses Gregor’s intent to “see what happens”.  Ekaterin asks what that was all about, and why Miles seems amused; Miles takes her aside and brings her up to speed on the Lady Donna/Lord Dono situation.  Miles admits he was caught off-guard, but in retrospect it makes an absurd sort of sense; Ekaterin objects mildly to the term ‘absurd’, and drifts towards where Dono is now surrounded with the Koudelka women.

Ivan returns to Miles, who twits him about his taste in dates; Ivan tells him how By Vorrutyer set him up.  Duv, Koudelka and Professor Vorthys join them; the women begin laughing, glancing at the men in amusement.  Miles decides that now is the time to serve dinner, to break this up before it gets too out of hand.  As they are leaving the library, though, Miles sees Mark and Ivan emerging from the dining room, where it emerges they have been reshuffling the carefully-ordered place settings.

All his carefully rehearsed conversational gambits were for people now on the other end of the table. Seating was utterly randomized—no, not randomized, he realized. Reprioritized. Ivan’s goal had clearly been to get Lord Dono as far away from himself as possible; Ivan now was taking his chair at the far end of the table by Mark, while Lord Dono seated himself in the place Miles had intended for René Vorbretten. Duv, Drou, and Kou had somehow all migrated Miles-ward, farther from Mark. Mark still kept Kareen at his right hand, but Ekaterin had been bumped down the other side of the table, beyond Illyan, who was still on Miles’s immediate left. It seemed no one had quite dared touch Illyan’s card. Miles would now have to speak across Illyan to converse with her, no sotto voce remarks possible.

Aunt Alys, looking a little confused, seated herself at Miles’s honored right, directly across from Illyan. She’d clearly noticed the switches, but failed Miles’s last hope of help by saying nothing, merely letting her eyebrows flick up. Duv Galeni found his future mother-in-law Drou between himself and Delia. Illyan glanced at the cards and seated Ekaterin between himself and Duv, and the accompli was fait.

Miles kept smiling; Mark, ten places distant, was too far away to catch the I-will-get-you-for-this-later edge to it.

After that, the dinner itself proceeds well enough; Ekaterin seems unconcerned with her ImpSec neighbours.  The menu seems a bit odd, though–a creamy soup, a creamy salad dressing, an aromatic herb spread for the bread…  Miles realizes that the meal is full of bug butter, and so does Ekaterin, though she determinedly pretends nothing is wrong.  Miles decides not to warn off his guests, though he avoids it himself.

Enrique gets up and taps on his glass to make an announcement.  He thanks Vorkosigan House for its hospitality, and says that he has a gift to give them in return, which fills Miles with dread.  Enrique takes out a box and sets it down next to Miles; the ImpSec men tense up, prepared for the worst.  He opens it, and it proves to contain three butter bugs, but changed; their carapaces are now adorned with a perfect replica of the Vorkosigan crest in brown and silver.  At Lord Dono’s puzzlement, Enrique explains the butter bugs, and how the bug butter they produce has been the basis for the food they’ve been eating.  He also says that the design was added genetically, and should breed true.  Pym seems quite distressed that the insignia he wears so proudly is now decorating repulsive insects; Miles tells him quietly that it wasn’t intended as an insult.

Miles tries his hardest to control his response; Ekaterin’s opinion is paramount, and from what he recalls of Tien, the man was probably given to displays of vicious temper.  He takes a deep breath and compliments Enrique’s talent, asking him to put the “girls” away for now; Ekaterin breaths a sigh of relief.  Enrique returns to his seat and happily tells his neighbours, the Vorbrettens, all about the bugs, but the rest of the conversation has ground to a halt.  Miles sends Pym to the kitchen for the next course, but asking him to check it for bug butter first.  What emerges is poached salmon garnished with lemon slices, instead of the buttery sauce that was doubtless meant to accompany it.

Ekaterin, trying to break the ice, asks Duv, as a Komarran in ImpSec, about his family’s opinion of his career; Duv, initially taken aback, merely replies that his new family approves of it.  Ekaterin picks up that she’s committed a faux pas, but doesn’t know what it is.  Koudelka changes the subject to the Komarran soletta repairs, which seems like a safer subject.  Before the conversation can get going again, though, everyone hears Enrique talking loudly to Kareen about how, with butter bug profits, she’ll surely be able to go back to the Orb of Unearthly Delights back on Beta Colony–again–with Mark.  Commodore Koudelka, obviously aware of the Orb’s reputation as a pleasure dome where almost everything was available for the asking, spews his mouthful of wine across the table and begins to choke.

Kou got just enough breath back to gasp at Mark, “You took my daughter to the Orb?”

Kareen, utterly panicked, blurted, “It was part of his therapy!”

Mark, panicked worse, added in desperate exculpation, “We got a Clinic discount . . .”

Galeni freezes at the news that Mark may be a prospective brother-in-law, and Koudelka begins to hyperventilate; Drou, who had gotten up to help her husband, deliberately sits back down, with a glare that conveys that they will discuss this later.  Lady Alys tries gamely to resume the soletta conversation, only to be interrupted by the arrival of a pair of kittens in the dining room, one of them carrying a Vorkosigan-liveried bug in its mouth.  Enrique tries to rescue it–too late–and Miles begins to wonder how the kitten managed to get hold of a butter bug, if they were all secured…  He asks Enrique and Mark, and Enrique, caught by a sudden thought, suddenly excuses himself and dashes away; Mark follows, and so does Miles, hastily instructing Lady Alys to take over as host.

In the laboratory, he finds Enrique kneeling by a butter bug house, its lid knocked askew, and only one brown-and-silver bug therein.  Enrique says the cats must have knocked it over–most of the bugs have escaped, close to two hundred.  Miles contemplates all the places a butter bug can hide, and says that at least they should all be neuter workers, since the queens can’t move.

“Um,” said Enrique.

Miles chose his words carefully. “You assured me the queens couldn’t move.”

Mature queens can’t move, that’s true,” Enrique explained, climbing to his feet again, and shaking his head. “Immature queens, however, can scuttle like lightning.”

Miles thought it through; it took only a split-second. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs all over Vorbarr Sultana.

There was an ImpSec trick, which involved grabbing a man by the collar and giving it a little half-twist, and doing a thing with the knuckles; applied correctly, it cut off both blood circulation and breath. Miles was absently pleased to see that he hadn’t lost his touch, despite his new civilian vocation. He drew Enrique’s darkening face down toward his own.

He gives Enrique an ultimatum–to get all the bugs back, including their queen, by six hours before his parents are due to return home, because after that he’s going to call in professional exterminators.  At Ekaterin’s shocked exclamation, he involuntarily releases Enrique’s collar, but Kareen steps forward to berate the Escobaran for mentioning the Orb.  Ekaterin assures Enrique that Miles can be reasonable, and offers to stay and help him hunt.  Miles, arrested by this unwelcome image, grudgingly agrees that, after dinner, they should all help look for the bugs, including the armsmen.

Mark offers to stay and help Enrique, but Kareen says that she refuses to deal with her parents and sisters all by herself.  Miles asks what Mark was doing, taking a young Barrayaran lady to the Orb in the first place.  Kareen calls Miles a hypocrite, since his grandmother said he’d been there several times; Miles insists that it was all for intelligence-gathering purposes.  He cuts off further argument by saying they should return to dinner, before Ma Kosti gets annoyed with them, and this shuts them up.

They return to the table, Pym serves more wine, and conversation is more-or-less successfully directed to the topic of the Emperor’s wedding, though Mark and Koudelka mostly just eye each other warily.  Ekaterin seems subdued, except for laughing at a few of Dono’s jokes.  After the main course, also bug-butter-free, the dessert proves to be a frozen creamy concoction; Pym tells Miles that Ma Kosti was already upset about her sauces, and refused to budge on the dessert.  Miles resolutely takes a spoonful, and is somewhat annoyed to find that it’s incredibly delicious; Ekaterin and Kareen seem especially delighted about this.

Miles has just finished a rousing anecdote about acquiring his District’s wedding gift–a life-size maple-sugar sculpture of a guerrilla–and is preparing to ask her a leading question about her garden, when Illyan innocently asks Ekaterin about how long Miles has been courting her.  Half the people at the table wince; Olivia says, confused, that she’d thought they weren’t supposed to talk about that yet.  Miles sees that Ekaterin’s face is freezing into stone; in a last-ditch effort, he asks her to marry him.

Ekaterin made no response at all, at first. For a moment, it seemed as though she had not even heard his words, and Miles almost yielded to a suicidal impulse to repeat himself more loudly. Aunt Alys buried her face in her hands. Miles could feel his breathless grin grow sickly, and slide down his face. No, no. What I should have said—what I meant to say was . . . please pass the bug butter? Too late . . .

She visibly unlocked her throat, and spoke. Her words fell from her lips like ice chips, singly and shattering. “How strange. And here I thought you were interested in gardens. Or so you told me.”

You lied to me hung in the air between them, unspoken, thunderously loud.

So yell. Scream. Throw something. Stomp on me all up and down, it’ll be all right, it’ll hurt good—I can deal with that—

Instead, she gets up from the table, bids farewell to her aunt, and walks quickly out of the room.  Miles follows her, catching her up in the entry hall, saying they need to talk.  Ekaterin agrees, then tells him she resigns as his landscape designer, though she will pass on her designs for whoever he picks to finish her garden–if a garden was what he wanted in the first place.  Miles says that he wanted the garden and to spend time with her, but he couldn’t tell her all of that, because she wasn’t close to being healed from Tien’s treatment of her.  Ekaterin flinches at the truth of that, but excoriates him for playing on her vanity.

“Not vanity,” he protested. “Skill, pride, drive—anyone could see you just needed scope, opportunity—”

“You are used to getting your own way, aren’t you, Lord Vorkosigan. Any way you can.” Now her voice was horribly dispassionate. “Trapping me in front of everyone like that.”

“That was an accident. Illyan didn’t get the word, see, and—”

“Unlike everyone else? You’re worse than Vormoncrief! I might just as well have accepted his offer!”

“Huh? What did Alexi—I mean, no, but, but—whatever you want, I want to give it to you, Ekaterin. Whatever you need. Whatever it is.”

“You can’t give me my own soul.” She stared, not at him, but inward, on what vista he could not imagine. “The garden could have been my gift. You took that away too.”

Miles wants to follow up this last statement, but a large groundcar is pulling up outside, and Ekaterin takes advantage of this distraction to insist that Pym let her out.  As Ekaterin turns to flee, she bumps directly into the early-returned Count Aral Vorkosigan.  He and Cordelia express concern at the young lady’s distress, assure her that they will call a cab for her directly, and ask Miles what is going on.  Miles says his dinner party is just breaking up; he tries to introduce Ekaterin to her, but is interrupted by Ekaterin’s abrupt retreat from the house.  The Koudelkas soon follow suit, insisting that Kareen come home with them, and stay out of Vorkosigan House, despite Kareen’s insistence that she works there; Mark tries to insist it’s his fault.

Commodore Koudelka’s eye fell on the returnees as the rolling altercation piled up in the hallway. “Ha—Aral!” he snarled. “Do you realize what your son has been up to?”

The Count blinked. “Which one?” he asked mildly.

The chance of the light caught Mark’s face, as he heard this off-hand affirmation of his identity. Even in the chaos of his hopes pinwheeling to destruction, Miles was glad to have seen the brief awed look that passed over those fat-distorted features. Oh, Brother. Yeah. This is why men follow this man—

Olivia is allowed to leave with the Vorbrettens instead, who try to sneak out quietly; Lord Dono makes a point of complimenting Miles on his interesting dinner party.  Enrique wanders into the entry hall, with some kind of unpleasantly-scented lure on a stick, searching for his bugs.

“Pym!” The Countess spotted a new victim, and her voice went a little dangerous. “I seconded you to look after Miles. Would you care to explain this scene?”

There was a thoughtful pause. In a voice of simple honesty, Pym replied, “No, Milady.”

“Ask Mark,” Miles said callously. “He’ll explain everything.” Head down, he started for the stairs.

Comments

Hoo boy, that was an ordeal.  It’s painful to read.  As I said before, when I first read the book, I was looking forward to this scene, getting all these characters together in one room–it would be a lot of fun.  Like one of those Emperor’s Birthday or Winterfair scenes from other books–which often had their share of unpleasantness, but nothing like the meltdown that happens here.  I guess that didn’t fit in with the plot, though.  Enrique and Illyan between them manage to say just the wrong things, bringing Miles and Kareen’s secrets to light–Kareen about the exact nature of her relationship with Mark, and Miles’s singularly unsecret campaign for Ekaterin’s heart.  In hindsight, of course, it’s inevitable, because in both cases the secrets have been shared so widely that almost everyone but the person/people that they were supposed to be secret from knew about them.

It’s almost a little off, that even Miles is judgemental about Mark and Kareen having a sexual relationship, or maybe it’s just that the Orb is taking it too far.  He should know that Mark hasn’t internalized a true Barrayaran value system–his upbringing by Ser Galen probably included a fair chunk of it, but I’m sure it didn’t thoroughly take.  The Koudelkas, of course, aren’t true Vor, but they probably wish they were, on some level, and prefer to emulate the true Vor value system as much as possible–like Bothari, everything has to be right for their girls.  It’s more than a little hypocritical for both of them, but as I recall we get to that a little later.

At some point in this chapter Miles thinks to himself that he was no good at poetry (apart from limericks), being much better at planning combat drop missions.  This obviously shows, because his campaign for Ekaterin is like one of those combat drop missions, where he tries to plan every detail, getting potential rivals out of the way (and sharing too much vital intelligence on the way), and then suddenly everything goes pear-shaped, just like Mark’s clone-rescue on Jackson’s Whole back in Mirror Dance.  Or, if I may venture into an entirely different mythos, like Phil Connors’s calculated attempts to woo Rita, over and over, in “Groundhog Day”.

At least this is the low point.  Miles and Mark’s love lives are as screwed up as they can get–but now Countess Cordelia is there, and she can help them untangle themselves.  Yes, I know, sometimes it seems a little pat, having her as the fix-it person, but right now it’s a positive relief…

Chapter Ten

Countess Cordelia wakes Mark up the next afternoon, bringing him tea, but not food.  Mark had sought refuge in Gorge and Howl last night after fleeing the party, eating his way through several tubs of bug butter.  Cordelia says that Miles sought his refuge, more traditionally, in wine, and they shouldn’t expect to see him again before evening.  Mark’s last memory of the party were Koudelka calling Mark’s grandmother a “Betan pimp” and Kareen refusing to ride home with “uncultured Barrayaran savages”.

Cordelia says she had a most enlightening conversation with the Vorthyses, particularly the Professora, who she wished she’d known earlier.  Simon Illyan was quite distraught at spilling the beans; he’d apparently thought that he’d forgotten something important that Miles had told him.  The Countess is annoyed at Miles for setting Illyan up like that, and also for not passing on more information about Ekaterin in his brief missives.  She had also had a talk with Enrique; she says his work seems sound, and she promised to keep Miles from killing his bugs.  They found a couple in their bedroom that morning, one of which got squished by accident, but neither of them was the queen.

She tells Mark she feels some responsibility for Kareen, being perfectly aware of what choices she would have available to her on Beta Colony.  She adds that she would be perfectly happy to have Kareen as a daughter-in-law, and that she trusts Mark’s intentions to be honorable.  Mark says he doesn’t think that the Koudelkas would be that keen to see him in the family.

“You are a Vorkosigan.”

“A clone. An imitation. A cheap Jacksonian knock-off.” And crazy to boot.

“A bloody expensive Jacksonian knock-off.”

Cordelia says she’s more than happy to help him and Kareen, if they can only tell her what it is they want.  Mark, cautious about what problems he aims his mother at, says that he wants what Kareen wants, but that seems to have gotten confused since their return to Barrayar.  He tells her that Kareen wants time to be herself, and Barrayar seems to be trying to push her into a box–even “wife” would be a box, here.  She asks what his own goals are, and if they’ve changed with his time on Beta.  Mark says his therapy has made progress, and it’s encouraged him; economics school was helpful, and he’s gotten some good ideas about what to do to make the Jackson’s Whole clone-body replacements less desirable, including some potential life-extension treatments the Duronas have come up with.

He’s pumping money into the Durona Group, but he wants enough to maintain financial independence as well, and so he’s looking into his “agribusiness” venture on Barrayar.  Cordelia notes that they could come in handy on Sergyar too, though she admits that they should remove the Vorkosigan crest before pitching them seriously to Aral.  Mark says that it’ll all come to nothing if he and Kareen can’t get back to Beta Colony.  He’d probably be able to pay her way back, but he doesn’t think that would be a good idea, putting her in his debt like that.  Cordelia finds that interesting, but points out that if they both give each other everything, then it evens out.

The Countess finished her tea and put down her cup, “Well. I don’t wish to invade your privacy. But do remember, you’re allowed to ask for help. It’s part of what families are all about.”

“I owe you too much already, milady.”

Her smile tilted. “Mark, you don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.”

“I’m not sure that seems fair.”

“The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted—but rather, vastly enriched.”

Mark asks if she can help Miles; she says that’s more difficult, because she doesn’t know about the Ekaterin side of the equation.  She’s of the opinion that he dug his own hole, he’ll have to dig his way out.

After she leaves, Mark tries calling the Koudelka household on the comconsole, preparing various conversational gambits for whoever may answer, but it turns out they’ve blocked him entirely.

Ekaterin has somewhat of a hangover the day after the dinner party as well–with Pym topping up her wineglass, she was sure she’d drunk several times her usual two-glass limit.  At least it had given her the courage to run out.
She’s prepared all the notes on the Barrayaran garden, but she hesitates on the final act of sending it to Miles and closing off that chapter of her life entirely.  She ponders the model of Barrayar that Miles had given her, remembering the shopping trip on Komarr with its watery climax, and the way he’d awarded it to her in the transfer station.  She convinces herself that it was really an award, not a gift, because if it was a gift she should never have accepted it, and therefore she earned it, and doesn’t have to get rid of it.

She’d almost gone back to the garden and taken her skellytum rootling back out, but she’d been afraid of running afoul of Vorkosigan House security, who would likely have been quite embarrassed.  Miles didn’t care about it, in any case–after all, he hadn’t gone out to look at it, had he?  She’d carried it around long enough, it had survived enough mishaps and moves, and now she was done with it–she would leave it to its fate in the garden.  Though she does add an appendix about its requirements to the garden instructions.

Nikki thumps into the room, making her wince; she’s glad she hadn’t brought him along to the dinner party, where she might have been trapped, unable to retreat with him complaining about not having finished his dessert.  He asks if she’d settled on when she could go out to Vorkosigan Surleau and ride Miles’s horse, a topic which had come up during one of his visits to Vorkosigan House.  Miles had generously allowed Nikki to visit the house sometimes when Ekaterin had to bring him to work, playing with Armsman Pym’s son, and sometimes Armsman Roic, eating Ma Kosti’s food, even helping Kareen in the lab, and had made this offhand invitation at the end of one such day.  Now she wonders how calculated this invitation had been.

She tries to put Nikki off by telling him they can’t impose on him, and suggests they try somewhere closer if he wants to ride horses.  Nikki says that Miles offered to let him try flying his lightflyer on the way down, too; Ekaterin says he’s too young, but Nikki says that Miles first flew when he was younger than that.  He presses her to ask Lord Vorkosigan next time she goes to work, and finally she has to tell him that she quit her position.  When Nikki asks her why, she says it was an ethical issue.

“What? What issue?” His voice was laced with confusion and disbelief. He twisted himself around the other way.

“I found he’d . . . lied to me about something.” He promised he’d never lie to me. He’d feigned that he was very interested in gardens. He’d arranged her life by subterfuge—and then told everyone else in Vorbarr Sultana. He’d pretended he didn’t love her. He’d as much as promised he’d never ask her to marry him. He’d lied. Try explaining that to a nine-year-old boy. Or to any other rational human being of any age or gender, her honesty added bitterly. Am I insane yet? Anyway, Miles hadn’t actually said he wasn’t in love with her, he’d just . . . implied it. Avoided saying much on the subject at all, in fact. Prevarication by misdirection.

“Oh,” said Nikki, eyes wide, daunted at last.

Aunt Vorthys ushers Nikki out of the room, telling him his mother has a hangover, which is a concept he has some trouble getting his mind around.  She returns a while later with water and painkillers, which Ekaterin takes dutifully.  She says, mournfully, that it must have been the Count and Countess Vorkosigan last night, that she had bumped into and fled past.  Her aunt agrees, and says she had quite a nice conversation with them.  Ekaterin says they must think she’s a lunatic, the way she ran out like that.  But she can’t believe what Miles did to her, either.

Her aunt says that she didn’t have much choice but to run out–otherwise, she’d have had to answer Miles’s question.  Ekaterin is confused–wasn’t her departure answer enough?

“He knew it was a mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, I daresay, at least judging from that ghastly expression on his face. You could see everything just drain right out of it. Extraordinary. But I can’t help wondering, dear—if you’d wanted to say no, why didn’t you? It was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

“I . . . I . . .” Ekaterin tried to collect her wits, which seemed to be scattering like sheep. “It wouldn’t have been . . . polite.”

After a thoughtful pause, her aunt murmured, “You might have said, `No, thank you.’ ”

Ekaterin rubbed her numb face. “Aunt Vorthys,” she sighed, “I love you dearly. But please go away now.”

She does realize, after her aunt leaves, that she was right–she hadn’t actually answered the question, and she hadn’t realized it.  She recognizes her feeling, heartsickness, all too familiar from her rows with Tien, the cold feeling after the argument broke down.  She doesn’t want to return to that state again.  She’s not sure who she is anymore, where her home could be.  She has felt moments of deep calm in Miles’s presence, and also extreme exasperation.  But she doesn’t trust her own judgement anymore.

She considers adding a note to the garden plans, but decides that just sending them will be message enough, and sends them without further ado, then goes to lie down.

After a day of sulking in his bed, Miles emerges in the evening, and enters the library to find his parents there.  He mumbles a greeting to them, and after a moment asks them about their trip home; his mother says it was quite uneventful, at least until their arrival.  She says they missed him at mealtimes that day; Miles says he spent a lot of time throwing up, which wouldn’t have been much fun.

The Countess added astringently, “Are you done with that now?”

“Yeh. It didn’t help.” Miles slumped a little further, and stretched his legs out before him. “A life in ruins with vomiting is still a life in ruins.”

“Mm,” said the Count in a judicious tone, “though it does make it easy to be a recluse. If you’re repulsive enough, people spontaneously avoid you.”

The Count asks Miles if he has any Auditing to do; Miles says no, fortunately for them.  Aral says that Alys gave them a heavily editorialized account of the dinner party, and says she hopes he wouldn’t have retreated from a losing battle the way he did last night.  Cordelia says that a woman running screaming from Miles’s marriage proposal isn’t a good sign, but from what she heard Miles didn’t leave her much choice.  She asks Miles how bad Ekaterin’s prior marriage was; Miles says that from what he could tell, Tien Vorsoisson played so many head games with his wife that she must have been half-convinced she was crazy, a type that Cordelia says she recognizes well.

He admits he panicked when Illyan spilled the beans, never wanting to ambush her like that.  He starts to explain his brilliant plan, to use her interest in gardens to keep her in proximity to him by hiring her to put one in the lot next door.

“Is that what that crater is,” said his father. “In the dark, from the groundcar, it looked as though someone tried to shell Vorkosigan House and missed, and I’d wondered why no one had reported it to us.”

“It is not a crater. It’s a sunken garden. There’s just . . . just no plants in it yet.”

“It has a very nice shape, Miles,” his mother said soothingly. “I went out and walked through it this afternoon. The little stream is very pretty indeed. It reminds me of the mountains.”

“That was the idea,” said Miles, primly ignoring his father’s mutter of . . . after a Cetagandan bombing raid on a guerilla position . . .

Miles suddenly remembers the skellytum Ekaterin said she’d planted, and panic briefly over what might have happened to it, before deciding it was just another reason she was mad at him.  Cordelia paraphrases his plan as trying to keep a destitute widow from other romantic opportunities by manipulating her purse strings, which Miles considers an uncharitable description.  He can’t believe she’d just quit working on the garden after all the time she’d devoted to it.

Cordelia reminds him of an incident from his youth, where he’d won a game of cross-ball against Armsman Esterhazy, his first win ever, only to find out later that Esterhazy had lost on purpose.  He’d been furious, and never forgiven the insult; Cordelia says that Esterhazy had done it to cheer him up, but Miles said it stole his victory from him, and poisoned any later victory he happened to achieve.  His mother lets this sink in for a few seconds.

The light dawned. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, the intensity of the glare hurt his head.

“Oh. Noooo,” groaned Miles, muffled into the cushion he jammed over his face. “I did that to her?”

His remorseless parent let him stew in it, a silence sharper-edged than words.

I did that to her . . .” he moaned, pitifully.

He realizes what she’d meant about the garden being her gift…he’d just been hoping they were finally getting into the real matter, so they could have a real argument…so that, as his father supplies, he could win.  Aral says you can’t win that war except by surrendering.  Miles said he tried to surrender; his mother points out that she wasn’t lowering herself to Miles’s level, and hopes that sometime they can actually properly meet this woman.  Miles says she sent the garden plans to him, no message or anything, and asks what he should do now.  Cordelia asks if she’s going to actually listen to his advice, because otherwise she won’t give it; Miles swallows his anger and humbly says that he’s listening.

Cordelia says he owes Ekaterin an apology.  He says Ekaterin won’t even talk to him, and she admits that he can’t go over to the Vorthys house in person, or even make a live comconsole call, without being too invasive.  She suggests he write a short note of apology, as abject as he can manage.  Handwritten, if he can make it legible, without having a secretary do it.

Miles says he doesn’t even have a secretary, since his workload hasn’t required it yet; Aral says that he can’t wish Miles had more problems to solve, and after all, solving the Komarr soletta problem should have earned him some time off.  Cordelia wonders what Ekaterin earned for her own contribution, and Miles grumbles that she should have earned the gratitude of the Empire, except that the whole thing has been classified.  She was heroic, she didn’t fold under the pressure, she did what she had to–and she doesn’t get the recognition for it.  Cordelia points out that everyone has some pressure they’ll fold under, it’s just not the same kind of pressure for everyone.

Miles heads out to water the skellytum, which takes him some time to find, and wonders if it’s hardy enough to survive out here.  He ponders what his life will be like when the skellytum is full-grown again–reclusive bachelor, or proud paterfamilias?  He heads back inside, determined to nail this damned “abject” if it kills him.

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Professora Vorthys seems to be a wise woman too, someone who Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan gets along with instantly, with perhaps not quite the same uncanny insight, but good enough for a second-stringer, anyway.  (Do we ever find out her first name?  I can’t recall.)  I do think that Ekaterin has a point–fleeing indecorously from a marriage proposal should, probably, be considered a “no”, but I suppose that her aunt also has a point, in that Ekaterin has avoided actually saying anything one way or the other.

Cordelia’s shrewd comparison of Miles’s hiring of Ekaterin being like an adult intentionally losing a game to a child hits right to the heart of the problem with Miles’s plan.  The garden was never, really, Miles’s primary goal–that was, always, the conquest of Ekaterin’s heart.  He wasn’t planning to _lie_ to her, exactly, about anything, except perhaps his reasons for spending time with her.  Though he was also trying to present his best features to her, but that might be considered normal to someone one is dating, or courting.  Is it acceptable for an employer-employee relationship?  Perhaps–everyone wants to come off well, don’t they?  Admittedly, back on Komarr they had already gotten past that stage, to some extent–Ekaterin saw him in the throes of a seizure, she saw him chained up outside the Waste Heat Station, she saw him soaking wet in the pond.  So Miles was getting off track, trying to backpedal in his treatment of her, because he was beginning to see her a precious treasure to be won, rather than just a person that he was beginning to rely on.  Not someone it was important to tell only the truth, but someone whose inconvenient emotional baggage was an obstacle that needed to be worked around.  So, between Cordelia explicitly pointing out his mistake, and Ekaterin implicitly letting him know that he was way off base, Miles has been thrown off of that track.  Maybe he can start thinking of her as a person again…

As for Mark…he did, indeed, have some reservations about just offering to spring for Kareen’s schooling.  In some ways it would be the right thing to do, but it would only convey the proper message if they were both on the same page, relationship-wise.  And it can’t really be used to put them on the same page.  I’ve seen some real-world relationships where two people date, then live together, well enough, but then one of them has to move to another city for work…  If they both make the move together, then it seems that either they get engaged shortly thereafter, or they break up.  It’s a bit of a crucible for a relationship, it seems, and, with Kareen’s uncertainty about things since their return to Barrayar, Mark doesn’t know if it’ll work out for them any more.  Maybe Kareen is overreacting to the idea of being put in the “wife” box, which is doubtless one that means different things on Barrayar than it does on Beta Colony, and probably a little, or large, bit different for every culture everywhere; after all, she hasn’t even had Ekaterin’s bad experience to make her gun-shy, and I don’t see any evidence that she’s even heard Ekaterin’s horror stories about Tien.  But being back on Barrayar seems to be making her think of things in Barrayaran ways, even if on some level she may know that Mark doesn’t have that same level of indoctrination.  I confess, Kareen is the POV character I have the most trouble sympathizing with here, but maybe that’s because I can see inside Mark’s head and know how he feels about her.  Maybe Kareen knows that too, or maybe she doesn’t, and maybe I’m just being an ignorant straight white male here, but I keep feeling like she’s blowing everything out of proportion.  Except that she seems to have been bang-on about her parents’ reactions, of course…


Two chapters, hurrah!  Maybe things will pick up after this, and I can speed things up a little.  You can hope, anyway.  I’m not going to go so far as to make it a Resolution or anything, to do two chapters a week, but it could happen.  As long as they’re not too long…

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Do you think I should change that tagline at the top?  “A few chapters at a time”?  I never really managed more than two, and now that I seem to be down to one, it’s even less fitting…  Maybe I should use “pages” instead of “chapters”, or “scenes”…  Oh, well.  Anyway, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the premier reread for the works of Lois McMaster Bujold from her Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we cover another chapter of A Civil Campaign, her romantic science fiction novel set entirely on the planet of Barrayar, as a proposal is received and rejected, and another one is allowed to proceed.

Chapter Eight

Ekaterin goes over the Barrayaran garden, trying to determine what the various odours will be throughout the seasons, and making changes accordingly.  Her uncle and Nikki are not up yet, so she has a little while yet to concentrate on these aesthetic considerations before things get noisy again, though only a couple of hours before she has to be at the garden site to supervise the crew starting to get the “creek” set up.  Then she can put her Dendarii rocks into it and tune the water flow around them.  She’s already put up walls and terraces to block up city noise, quite satisfactorily.

By tonight, the bones of the thing would be complete. Tomorrow, the flesh, in the form of trucked-in, unterraformed native soils from remote corners of the Vorkosigan’s District, would arrive. And tomorrow evening before Lord Vorkosigan’s dinner party, just for promise, she would put the first plant into the soil: a certain spare rootling from an ancient South Continent skellytum tree. It would be fifteen years or more before it would grow to fill the space allotted for it, but what of that? Vorkosigans had held this ground for two hundred years. Chances were good Vorkosigans would still be there to see it in its maturity. Continuity. With continuity like that, you could grow a real garden. Or a real family . . .

The front door chimes, and Ekaterin realizes that she’s only in pajamas.  She’s prepared to duck upstairs in case it’s a formal visitor, but then she recognizes the voice as her sister-in-law Rosalie Vorvayne.  Rosalie greets her, sending her daughter Edie to play with Nikki, and says she has to talk with Ekaterin.  She says she’s taken the monorail up from Vordarian’s District, where Ekaterin’s brother Hugo has a civil service post; Aunt Vorthys offers her breakfast, and Rosalie settles for tea.  After updating them on her family’s news, Rosalie says she’s really there for Ekaterin; Ekaterin can’t imagine why.

Rosalie stretches it out for a little while, before saying that Ekaterin’s father received a visitor–a Baba, bringing a marriage offer from a proper Vor gentleman in Vorbarr Sultana.  They decided that someone should be dispatched to bring Ekaterin the good news in person.

A Vor gentleman from the capital, old-fashioned and highly conscious of etiquette, Da bowled over, who else could it be but—Ekaterin’s heart seemed to stop, then explode. Lord Vorkosigan? Miles, you rat, how could you do this without asking me first! Her lips parted in a dizzying mixture of fury and elation.

The arrogant little—! But . . . he to pick her, to be his Lady Vorkosigan, chatelaine of that magnificent house and of his ancestral District—there was so much to be done in that beautiful District, so daunting and exciting—and Miles himself, oh, my. That fascinating scarred short body, that burning intensity, to come to her bed? His hands had touched her perhaps twice; they might as well have left scorch marks on her skin, so clearly did her body remember those brief pressures. She had not, had not dared, let herself think about him in that way, but now her carnal consciousness of him wrenched loose from its careful suppression and soared. Those humorous gray eyes, that alert, mobile, kissable mouth with its extraordinary range of expression . . . could be hers, all hers. But how dare he ambush her like this, in front of all her relatives?

Rosalie says she seems to be pleased, and not entirely surprised; Ekaterin agrees that she isn’t, completely, though privately thinks that she hadn’t dared to believe it, because it would ruin everything.  Rosalie mentions that he has good career prospects and family connections, which Ekaterin says is, if anything, an understatement; not as rich as some families, but well enough.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles sending the Baba to her father instead of asking her directly was shyness, or arrogance…  Then she realizes that this may mean he’d only asked her to do his garden to stay close to her, instead of actually admiring her work or wanting the garden at all.  She knows she’s vulnerable to flattery like that, and wonders if she’s falling into another trap…

She’s barely listening to Rosalie, until she asks Ekaterin how she wants to convey her acceptance to Lieutenant Vormoncrief.  Ekaterin realizes, in dismay, that it was Alexi Vormoncrief that Rosalie’s been talking about all this time, and even says out loud that she’d thought the proposal was from Miles Vorkosigan.  Rosalie is puzzled for a moment, and then realizes she’s talking about that odd, grotesque little Imperial Auditor who came to Tien’s funeral.  Ekaterin is relieved to think that Miles hasn’t been courting her after all, and Rosalie points out that the family would never match her with a mutie, no matter how rich.  Unless, of course, Ekaterin really wants to be a Countess, in which case they can use a uterine replicator and have the children gene-cleaned, but Rosalie doesn’t think Ekaterin is that desperate.

“No,” Ekaterin agreed hollowly. Just desperately distracted. She was furious with the man; why should the notion of never ever having to have any physical contact with him make her suddenly want to burst into tears? Wait, no—if Vorkosigan wasn’t the man who’d sent the Baba, her whole case against him, which had bloomed so violently in her mind just now, collapsed like a house of cards. He was innocent. She was crazy, or headed that way fast.

Ekaterin firmly rejects Vormoncrief’s suit, calling him a “twittering idiot” and asking her aunt to back her up; Aunt Vorthys says that Ekaterin has lots of time yet, and can surely do better.  Rosalie wonders how they’ll break the news to Vormoncrief, and Ekaterin points out that that’s the Baba’s job.  Rosalie says that Ekaterin knows her own mind, but urges her not to be too picky, or wait too long, or she’ll end up living in her relatives’ attics.

Ekaterin excuses herself to get dressed; Rosalie said she’d hoped to spend the day shopping with Ekaterin, and they still can, even if not for wedding clothes.  Ekaterin, thinking of shopping with Miles, refuses, but she relents and agrees to have lunch with them.  She tells Rosalie about the garden she’s working on for Miles, and Rosalie asks if Miles has been acting improperly, offering her husband’s help, or her own, if necessary; Ekaterin says she’ll keep it in mind, privately vowing to keep her as far away from Miles as possible.

In the shower–a cold one–she wrestles with her physical attraction to Miles.  She wonders if her tastes are becoming too strange, but she refuses to outright suppress her libido, since she doesn’t have Tien to worry about any more.  She’s not sure why Miles seems to like her, but she resolves to keep things businesslike, and not spend too much time with him after she finished the garden.  Turning the heat back up, she wonders if she can make him a dream lover; it’s somewhat reprehensible, but she doesn’t find the prospect of Miles doing the same with her to be too horrifying.  She considers actually taking a lover, but wonders how she could dare, and doesn’t want to risk getting sucked into another bog like her marriage to Tien.  She turns down the temperature again, telling herself sternly that Miles is not Tien, and he only wants her to make a garden.  She tells herself these thoughts are crazy, and hopes it’s just a spike in her hormones.

She might not even see him that day, or at least not have to talk to him before the dinner party, which promises to be crowded enough that there will be plenty of other people to talk to.  She should be able to handle it by then.

Ivan is working in his mother’s office at the Imperial Residence, full of Vor women–but mostly middle-aged ones, alas, and luckily he hadn’t had any bad relationships with any of their daughters…  Dono and By Vorrutyer stop in to visit with him before their audience with the Emperor, escorted by Gregor’s major-domo.  Dono asks after Ivan’s mother, but she’s out dealing with florists; Dono says he will have to meet with her, but Ivan privately hopes he’s not around when that happens.

“Ready, gentlemen?” said the major-domo.

“Good luck, Dono,” said Ivan, and prepared to retreat.

“Yes,” said By, “good luck. I’ll just stay here and chat with Ivan till you’re done, shall I?”

“My list,” said the major-domo, “has all of you on it. Vorrutyer, Lord Vorrutyer, Lord Vorpatril, Armsman Szabo.”

“Oh, that’s an error,” said Ivan helpfully. “Only Lord Dono actually needs to see Gregor.” By nodded confirmation.

“The list,” said the major-domo, “is in the Emperor’s own hand. This way, please.”

The major-domo doesn’t seem surprised by Lord Dono’s identity, so Ivan surmises that Gregor is already up to speed on that issue, alas.  He leads the group down to Gregor’s office and Gregor summons them inside.  Lord Dono thanks him for seeing them on short notice; Gregor gives By an odd look, and asks them to be seated, even Armsman Szabo.

Gregor asks whose idea the scheme was; Dono says it was his, adding that his brother had expressed many times, in hearing of the household, how little he wanted Richars to inherit, and so he’s carrying out Pierre’s posthumous will.  Gregor asks what help he secured for himself before he left, and Dono said he brought Pierre’s Armsmen into the scheme–not taking their Armsmans’ oaths himself, which would be a serious crime, but just their personal word.  Apart from them, he’d only informed Byerly, and, of necessity, his lawyer.  By was to keep an eye on Richars while Dono was offplanet and out of commission.  Gregor compliments By on his loyalty and discretion; By said that it seemed to be a personal matter.

Dono asks if ImpSec had passed on his medical files from Beta Colony yet, and Gregor says they had; Dono said he had told the Betans not to give them to ImpSec, but he had no doubt that, even after Simon Illyan’s retirement, ImpSec was up to the challenge.  He asks Gregor to note that he is a fully functional male, capable of carrying on the line, and claims the right to the Countship of Vorrutyer’s District, with the stated approval of the prior Count; he also asserts the proof of his skill in running the District for Pierre.  Gregor asks if he’s bringing any other charges against Richars; Dono says they don’t have enough proof in the one serious matter, the lightflyer accident, and Gregor says that ImpSec agrees.  Dono says he won’t be pushing for Richars to be declared unfit, merely for he himself to be seen as more fit.  He hopes for votes from Richars’s enemies, if no one else, but notes that he would plan to join the Progressive party–unlike the Vorrutyers’ traditional stance–which Gregor approves of.

Gregor says that he doesn’t have much leverage with the Council of Counts right now, since he’s trying to convince them to fund the Komarran soletta repairs; Dono says all he expects of Gregor is to let the case proceed, with a public debate and vote.  Gregor says he’s not keen on the precedent that Dono is trying to set; Dono points out that anyone could have done it for some time now, but he expects that it won’t become that popular, except in extreme cases like his.  He adds that it’s time that the Counts realized they have to take galactic technology into account in their legal system.

Gregor looked Lord Dono over, and pressed his hand to the bridge of his nose, briefly. After a moment he said ironically, “And will you be wanting a wedding invitation too?”

Dono’s brows flicked up. “If I am Count Vorrutyer by then, my attendance will be both my right and my duty. If I’m not—well, then.” After a slight silence, he added wistfully, “Though I always did like a good wedding. I had three. Two were disasters. It’s so much nicer to watch, saying over and over to yourself, It’s not me! It’s not me! One can be happy all day afterward on that alone.”

Gregor said dryly, “Perhaps your next one will be different.”

Dono’s chin lifted. “Almost certainly, Sire.”

Gregor is quiet for a minute, then asks Dono what it’s like.  Dono says that his energy and libido are up, and he feels better than he did ten years ago.  Also, starting on Komarr, and most noticeably on Barrayar itself, he gets more personal space and faster responses from others.  Gregor asks if he’s likely to change back, if this doesn’t work, and Dono says he’s enjoying being top of the food chain.  Eventually–and to Ivan’s dismay–Gregor says “Let’s see what happens,” and dismisses them.

By said that went better than he had expected, explaining that he was feeling out of his depth.  Dono thanks Ivan for his help, but Ivan denies having really done anything.  In fact, Gregor hadn’t even asked him anything at the meeting.
Dono asks again after Ivan’s mother; Ivan says she’s very, very busy at work, but Dono says he’d rather see her in a more social setting.  Ivan mentions the dinner party, explaining that he had been intending to bring Lady Donna as his guest; Dono says that he accepts.  Ivan protests that this will mess up Miles’s seating arrangements, though Dono says he doubts that, with all the Koudelka sisters attending.  Ivan explains that the real purpose is to introduce people to his gardener, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who he seems to have fallen in love with.

Ivan mentions that the Vorbrettens will be there, and Dono is interested in René as an in with the Progressives, though Ivan tells him that since the Cetagandan connection came up he hasn’t been very popular.  Dono dismisses this, and says they definitely need to compare notes.  Ivan isn’t sure that Miles will be too happy with him for bringing Dono to the party…but supposes that Dono might make a nice target to protect Ivan from Miles’s wrath on other matters, like Vormoncrief and Zamori.  Not to mention that Miles would undoubtedly also make a great resource, in Lord Dono’s eyes, so maybe they’ll take care of each other and Ivan will be able to get out from between them.  Pretending reluctance, he agrees to take Lord Dono to the party.

Comments

I often think of the scene with Rosalie conveying the marriage proposal–and Ekaterin immediately leaping to the conclusion that it’s from Miles–to be almost the first time that she begins to seriously consider Miles.  There were a few moments before, I suppose–the flirtation at the end of Komarr, and the surge of sensuality that struck her at the odour of his closet–but she’s mostly been denying them.  She does have seriously mixed feelings at the prospect of a proposal from Miles, though, not least because she begins to see his actual plan, to hire her for the garden at least partly as a pretext.  So if Miles had actually been sending a proposal, the thought that he’d been deceiving her might have led her to refuse him.  But now, both the concept of Miles as a suitor, and the idea that the garden plan is a subterfuge on his part, are in her mind.

The shower scene is quite interesting, as she wrestles with her sexuality.  In Komarr we already knew that her sexual fantasies were getting a bit weird, mostly out of a desire to deal with her growing repulsion for Tien; does this, in any way, explain her physical interest in Miles?  I mean, not all women find him repulsive, but many (like Rosalie) seem to, though admittedly not all of those have actually met him.  Nonetheless, she doesn’t seem to conceive that Miles may also feel attracted to her–though that may just be because she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about the possible garden scam.  She does briefly consider taking a lover–it’s not clear if she’s considering Miles for the role or not, but she doesn’t have any other immediate prospects, so probably–but she’s still too gun-shy to risk even the chance of relinquishing her heart and getting trapped again.  So she determines to keep it inside, though she reserves the right to perhaps incorporate Miles into her personal fantasies from here on.

I don’t normally get too explicit with the spoilers here, especially with things are intentionally being kept as surprises, but I do want to discuss the implications of the the Vorrutyers’ meeting with Gregor in the light of the fact that Byerly Vorrutyer is later revealed to actually be working for ImpSec.  Obviously he’s the pipeline for Gregor being informed about what happened to Lady Donna…but when?  In this scene, I’m getting the impression that he may have actually kept that little fact to himself, until his hand was forced by Ivan scheduling the meeting with Gregor.  Gregor and By’s interactions in the meeting imply that Gregor is aware that By is working for ImpSec, and is asking him to account for his unwonted closed-mouthedness on the matter.  And By claims it was “a personal matter”.  I’m not sure that Gregor buys that one; some family loyalty is laudable, I suppose, but an ImpSec agent shouldn’t let that sway him.  After all, what if Dono/Donna were plotting against the Emperor?  Would By have forebore to mention that?  Of course, I guess that By’s loyalty is a little more selective, since he’s all too willing to betray Richars, so maybe the Emperor (and By’s boss–who is in charge of Domestic Affairs at ImpSec these days?) will judge things to have turned out okay.


No blog next Wednesday, but hopefully one sometime between than and New Year’s.  It is, of course, time for the dinner party.  The infamous dinner party.  I still remember, first time through, how much I was looking forward to it, all these characters getting together in one place.  Such interesting conversations and meetings we would have!  Yeah, I still remember that.  But now, I know better.  Sometime before the end of the year, then, with any luck…

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