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Sisyphus finally pushes his boulder to the top of the mountain, only to have gravity yank it from his grasp and send it rolling down the other side.  In unrelated news, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where due to Christmas concerts and other such vagaries, this is going to be another single-chapter week, despite my best intentions.  So prepare yourself for another chapter from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in this case Chapter Seven of A Civil Campaign, where we get to see Mark Vorkosigan lead a field trip, and Ivan meet a friend at the spaceport and reluctantly make a call on their behalf.

Chapter Seven

Mark flies over Vorkosigan’s District in Miles’s lightflyer, enjoying the fine weather and the fact that the controls are at the right height, even if the seat’s a bit narrow.  He banks to show off the landscape better to Kareen and Ekaterin in the back seat, and Ekaterin does indeed admire the countryside aloud.  Enrique admits that he’d expected something more drab, concrete and marching soldiers in uniform.

“Economically unlikely for an entire planetary surface. Though uniforms, we do have,” Mark admitted.

“But once it gets up to several hundred different kinds, the effect isn’t so uniform anymore. And some of the colors are a little . . . unexpected.”

“Yes, I feel sorry for those Counts who ended up having to pick their House colors last,” Mark agreed. “I think the Vorkosigans must have fallen somewhere in the middle. I mean, brown and silver isn’t bad, but I can’t help feeling that the fellows with the blue and gold—or the black and silver—do have a sartorial edge.” He could fancy himself in black and silver, with Kareen all blond and tall on his arm.

“It could be worse,” Kareen put in cheerfully. “How do you think you’d look in a House cadet’s uniform of chartreuse and scarlet, like poor Vorharopulos, Mark?”

“Like a traffic signal in boots.”

Ekaterin tells Enrique that the South Continent area where she grew up was very flat, despite mountains just over the horizon, but she says it was very spacious, and had tremendous sunrises and sunsets.

Mark flies them over Hassadar, where they set down on top of the Count’s Residence, just off the city’s central square.  Tsipis is waiting there to greet them; he flies them in turn over to check out three possible sites for the facility–one of them a city warehouse, and the other two farms belonging to families who had emigrated to Sergyar.  All are owned by the Vorkosigans outright, and Tsipis says that Mark may be able to get Miles to forgo the rent; Mark isn’t sure about asking Miles for the favour, but he reminds himself that he is also a Vorkosigan.  He and Kareen discuss the possible choices, while Ekaterin shows Enrique some of the native plants.  At last they decide on the farm with the newer and more spacious outbuildings, and Tsipis takes them back to Hassadar for lunch.

The lunch spread is luxurious, and Mark suspects Miles had left instructions to that effect for Ekaterin’s benefit.  Later, while the others are inspecting the gardens, Tsipis asks Mark about Madame Vorsoisson; Miles has been holding forth about her, at length.  Mark says it’s hilarious, and yet also scary.  Tsipis agrees, saying that Miles was never afraid of physical pain, but emotional rejection can drive him crazy.  He relates an incident where, after one such rejection, Miles had a riding accident, riding a horse he’d been forbidden to ride, and they wondered how much of an accident it really was.

Tsipis says he’s surprised Miles is interested in a Barrayaran, rather than a galactic, and wonders if he’s setting himself up for a fall.  Mark says that Miles has a Plan, and asks Tsipis what he thinks of her; Tsipis declares Ekaterin honest, and a quick study, which is high praise from him, attractive enough, and well-qualified for the job of Countess.  He says it’s not before time, in any case, and hopes for the Count to have some grandchildren in his lifetime.

“You will keep an eye on things, won’t you?” Tsipis added.

“I don’t know what you think I could do. It’s not like I could make her fall in love with him. If I had that kind of power over women, I’d use it for myself!”

Tsipis smiled vaguely at the place Kareen had vacated, and back, speculatively, to Mark. “What, and here I was under the impression you had.”

He asks if Mark has seen any signs that Ekaterin returns Miles’s affection, and Mark says that she is very reserved.  He says he’ll ask Kareen, since girls often discuss these things among themselves.  Tsipis, who considers Kareen part of the family, asks assurances that Mark will treat her well, and Mark agrees fervently.  Even the Black Gang are behind him.  He’d be willing to follow Kareen around hoping for a crumb of her affection, but his therapist has admonished him from putting that kind of pressure on her.  Of course, his therapist likes Kareen, because everyone likes her, because she likes them; she has virtue to spare, and she’d do wonders in sales.  He can’t bear the idea of losing her.

Once the others return, Kareen chivvies them off to gather rocks for Ekaterin’s garden; Tsipis sends two burly young men with a van to follow them and do the actual lifting.  Mark heads them into the Dendarii mountains, to a vale still largely populated by native plantlife.  Ekaterin steps out and, looking out over the valley below them, exults in the feeling of spaciousness, which she says she normally doesn’t find in hill country.  She leads the young men to hunt for rocks, Enrique following after; Mark stays behind to cuddle with Kareen.

When Mark ventures a sexual suggestion into his cuddle, Kareen pulls away; she apologizes, and says that being back on Barrayar is making her feel less like her own person and more conscious how dependent on her family she really is.

He clutched her hand; that at least he might not let go of. “You want to be good. All right, I can understand that. But you have to be careful who you let define your good. My terrorist creators taught me that one, for damn sure.”

She clutched him back, at that feared memory, and managed a sympathetic grimace. She hesitated, and went on, “It’s the mutually exclusive definitions that are driving me crazy. I can’t be good for both places at the same time. I learned how to be a good girl on Beta Colony, and in its own way, it was just as hard as being a good girl here. And a lot scarier, sometimes. But . . . I felt like I was getting bigger inside, if you can see what I mean.”

Mark says she has to be sure to choose Kareen’s good, not Barrayar’s or Beta Colony’s; Kareen says she can’t even seem to find herself to ask what that would be.  She says she wants to stay on Beta Colony until she can become as strong a person as Countess Vorkosigan.  Mark hugs her reassuringly, hoping that when she finds herself, there’s still room for him in her life.

He changes the subject to Ekaterin, and asks Kareen if she seems to like Miles back.  She says she can’t tell; Ekaterin is working hard on his garden, but they’re still not on a first-name basis.  Mark says Tsipis wants some reassurance about Miles, and Kareen says she’d like to be friends with Ekaterin, since she doesn’t seem to have many friends, and she’s still very quiet about what happened to her on Komarr.  He asks if she’d be good for Miles, and Kareen asks if anyone’s thought about whether Miles would be good for her.

“Um . . . um . . . why not? Count’s heir. Well-to-do. An Imperial Auditor, for God’s sake. What more could a Vor desire?”

“I don’t know, Mark. It likely depends on the Vor. I do know I’d take you and every one of the Black Gang at their most obstreperous for a hundred years before I’d let myself get locked up for a week with Miles. He . . . takes you over.”

“Only if you let him.” But he warmed inside with the thought that she could really, truly prefer him to the glorious Miles, and suddenly felt less hungry.

“Do you have any idea what it takes to stop him? I still remember being kids, me and my sisters, visiting Lady Cordelia with Mama, and Miles told off to keep us occupied. Which was a really cruel thing to do to a fourteen-year-old boy, but what did I know? He decided the four of us should be an all-girl precision drill team, and made us march around in the back garden of Vorkosigan House, or in the ballroom when it was raining. I think I was four.” She frowned into the past. “What Miles needs is a woman who will tell him to go soak his head, or it’ll be a disaster. For her, not him.” After a moment, she added sapiently, “Though if for her, for him too, sooner or later.”

The young men return for their van and load up the rocks that Ekaterin had picked out.  Enrique returns, looking cheerful, if wet from falling in the creek, and carrying a huge bundle of Barrayaran plant samples.  They load back up in the lightflyer and Mark flies them back to Vorbarr Sultana.  They drop off Ekaterin and Kareen, and Mark and Enrique return to Vorkosigan House, where Ekaterin has promise to return the next day to help Enrique classify his samples.  Mark discovers that Ekaterin has also expressed interest in Enrique’s doctoral thesis, Toward Bacterial and Fungal Suite-Synthesis of Extra-cellular Energy Storage Compounds.  He decides it could use some spicing up, and keeps asking Mark for rhymes so he can rewrite the abstract as a sonnet.  Mark wonders if Enrique is now thinking that he has a chance to woo Ekaterin.  He resolves to move the business out of Vorkosigan House as soon as possible.

Ivan and By Vorrutyer wait in the Vorbarr Sultana shuttleport for the returning Lady Donna; Ivan has a bouquet, hoping to strike the right tone with her right off the bat, though By seems amused by it.  He’ll offer to carry her luggage, he decides, except perhaps for any uterine replicators she happens to have brought back from Beta with her.  At least, if she is trying the clone ploy, he won’t have to get involved in the political end of it.

By points out an approaching group of three men.  One of them Ivan recognizes as Szabo, one of the late Count Pierre’s armsmen, and there’s another Vorrutyer guardsman on the other side.

The man in the center Ivan had never seen before. He was an athletic-looking fellow of middle height, more lithe than muscular, though his shoulders filled his civilian tunic quite well. He was soberly dressed in black, with the barest pale gray piping making salute to the Barrayaran style of pseudo-military ornamentation in men’s wear. The subtle clothes set off his lean good looks: pale skin, thick dark brows, close-cropped black hair, and trim, glossy black beard and mustache. His step was energetic. His eyes were an electric brown, and seemed to dart all around as if seeing the place for the first time, and liking what they saw.

Ivan wonders who this is–a Betan paramour?  Count Pierre’s secret love child?  He does look like a Vorrutyer…  By says that they need no introduction, but Ivan says they do; the man introduces himself as Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  Ivan finally recognizes the eyes–as Lady Donna’s.  After all, on Beta Colony, if you can can afford it and convince them you’re an adult, you can get them to do anything you want…such as, in this case, a sex change.  Donna/Dono insists that he/she will be Count Vorrutyer, once he can get the Council of Counts on board.  He/she teases Ivan with the bouquet until Szabo asks him/her not to do that in public.  Dono promises to be good.  By suggests they continue the conversation in private, and directs them to the waiting groundcar; Ivan tries to excuse himself, but By and Dono insist that Ivan come with them.

Dono says he got rid of Lady Donna’s luggage on Beta Colony, living out of one suitcase like his armsmen do.  Ivan asked if the Armsmen are all in on it; Dono says that he and Szabo swore them all in after Pierre died, when they presented the plan.  Lady Donna had been running the District quite well, and none of them has the slightest affection for Richards.  Dono says that Richars had tried to rape her when she was twelve, and then drowned her new puppy, blaming it on her; only By had believed her then.  Szabo said that Richars has counted the District as his since Pierre started getting ill, and had been deliberately trying to erode his health since then.  He’d also sabotaged Pierre’s attempts at courtship, though they haven’t proven he actually caused the flyer wreck that killed one of them.  So the Armsmen all concluded that they wouldn’t last in Richars’s service.

Pierre had refused to make a will, not wanting to officially declare Richars, or any of Richars’s brothers or sons, as his heir.  He’d been holding out hope still for a son of his own up to the time of his death.  Ivan wonders if Dono can expect to be heir, since she wasn’t his brother at the time of his death; Dono says that without a sworn heir, his sex won’t matter until they appear before the Council of Counts itself, when he will demonstrably be Pierre’s brother.

Ivan asks what happened to Donna’s female parts; Dono says he dumped them back on Beta, not particularly feeling a need to go back, though he says he could always clone new organs if he ever wanted to.  Ivan asks where Dono’s male parts came from; Dono says the Y chromosome came from Pierre, and they used tissue samples from him to grow his male genitalia.  He admits most of his chromosomes are still XX; the full gene therapy would have taken too long, and risked ending up as some kind of odd chimera or mosaic, but his genitalia is all XY.  For the Council of Counts, though, he needs Ivan.

They pull into Vorrutyer House, an old, fortress-like house built with gun-slits at ground level by Count Pierre “Le Sanguinaire” Vorrutyer, trusted aide and enforcer to Emperor Dorca Vorbarra near the end of the Time of Isolation.  That Pierre was killed in the Cetagandan invasion, though one of his daughters married into the Vorkosigans, which is why Mark’s middle name was “Pierre”.  Dono leads them into the house, which seems to have been entirely abandoned since Count Pierre left for his District months ago.  Dono claims the Count’s old bedroom, though with fresh sheets, and tells Szabo to get the place cleaned up as soon as possible; Ivan recommends the cleaning firm the Vorkosigans use.

By tells them that Richars tried to take possession of the house twice; the first time, Dono’s Armsmen kept him out, and the second time, they had a legal order, which By was luckily able to trump.  Szabo critiques Dono’s sitting position, saying that rather than emulate By, he should go for a more dominating model, like Aral Vorkosigan.  Dono goes rooting in Pierre’s closet, saying that he shouldn’t be too far off fitting Pierre’s clothing, asking Szabo to get a tailor.  Dono begins undressing, and Ivan tries to excuse himself again, but Szabo insists he stay.

“Sit down, Ivan,” Lord Dono growled. His burning eyes suddenly crinkled, and he murmured, “For old time’s sake, if nothing else. You used to run into my bedroom to watch me undress, not out of it. Must I lock the door and make you play hunt the key again?”

Ivan opened his mouth, raised a furious admonishing finger in protest, thought better of it, and sank to a seat on the edge of the bed. You wouldn’t dare seemed suddenly a really unwise thing to say to the former Lady Donna Vorrutyer. He crossed his ankles, then hastily uncrossed them again and set his feet apart, then crossed them again, and twined his hands together in vast discomfort. “I don’t see what you need me for,” he said plaintively.

“So you can witness,” said Szabo.

“So you can testify,” said Dono.

Dono strips completely naked, and asks Ivan’s opinion.  Ivan reluctantly inspects Dono’s equipment, and admits that it looks normal; By agrees, but points out it’s a bit undersized as yet.  Dono says that he was in a rush, but the Betans insist it will finish growing in situ.  It hasn’t reached full sexual maturity yet, but he’s looking forward to it.  Ivan wonders how Dono’s going to learn sex from the other side, and Dono says that that’s one thing he’s not worried about; he taught Ivan, after all.

Ivan asks Dono if he’s let Gregor in on this yet; Dono says they hadn’t, figuring it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Ivan clutched his hair. “All right. You two—you three—dragged me up here because you claimed you wanted my help. I’m going to hand you a hint. Free.” He took a deep breath. “You can blindside me, and laugh your heads off if you want to. It won’t be the first time I’ve been the butt. You can blindside Richars with my good will. You can blindside the whole Council of Counts. Blindside my cousin Miles—please. I want to watch. But do not, if you value your chances, if you mean this to be anything other than a big, short joke, do not blindside Gregor.”

Byerly grimaced uncertainly; Dono, turning before the mirror, shot Ivan a penetrating look. “Go to him, you mean?”

“Yes. I can’t make you,” Ivan went on sternly, “but if you don’t, I categorically refuse to have anything more to do with you.”

“Gregor can kill it all with a word,” said Dono warily. “Before it even launches.”

“He can,” said Ivan, “but he won’t, without strong motivation. Don’t give him that motivation. Gregor does not like political surprises.”

“I thought Gregor was fairly easy-going,” said By, “for an emperor.”

“No,” said Ivan firmly. “He is not. He is merely rather quiet. It’s not the same thing at all. You don’t want to see what he’s like pissed.”

“What does he look like, pissed?” asked By curiously.

“Identical to what he looks like the rest of the time. That’s the scary part.”

Dono says that By was the one who’d brought Ivan in on this, because of his connections, so they should listen to Ivan’s advice on the matter.  He asks Ivan what they should do, and Ivan says they should arrange a meeting with Gregor before doing anything else, talking to anyone else.  He asks Dono if he ever slept with Gregor, and he confesses he did not.  Ivan says that if Gregor won’t approve it, then it’ll be over quickly, but if he does, then they’ll have a matchless silent backer.  Dono asks if Ivan can get them an appointment, as soon as possible, the next morning; Ivan mumbles that he’ll see what he can do.  With that, at last they let him go; Dono even send him home by groundcar, unfortunately depriving Ivan of the opportunity to get murdered on the way and get out of this affair for good.

Back in his apartment, Ivan mourns the loss of Lady Donna–the last thing Barrayar needs is another man, after all–though he supposes that maybe they can send the excess Vor males off to Beta to get reshaped the other way.  Reluctantly, he digs out his private contact-card and inserts it into his comconsole.  Gregor’s “gatekeeper” identifies Ivan immediately, and asks if he really meant to call this channel.

He is shortly put through to Gregor, with a blurry Laisa in the background straightening her clothing.  Gregor is initially annoyed to see that it’s Ivan, and not Miles, contacting him, and then asks why Ivan is contacting him.  Ivan tells him that “Lady Donna” is back onplanet, and Gregor needs to meet with “her” as soon as possible.  Gregor warns Ivan that he better not be just calling in some sexual favour; Ivan insists he wanted nothing to do with it, which intrigues the Emperor, and he fits them in at 11:00 the next morning, frowning in puzzlement.

Comments

Another talky chapter, and not from our two romantic principals.  Most of the plotlines get advanced a little–Mark and Kareen, Mark and Enrique, Ekaterin and the garden (if not, directly, Ekaterin and Miles), and then the Ivan and By and, apparently, Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  The little field trip to the Vorkosigan District doesn’t advance anything too far, but it does introduce Enrique to the list of potential Ekaterin suitors.  You know, Mark goes on about how everybody likes Kareen, and she likes everybody, and it seems like everyone likes Ekaterin, too.  They’re just a likable pair of women, I guess.

You know, if the only possible way to keep your scumbag rapist cousin from becoming a Count is to go off to another planet to get a sex change…then maybe there’s something wrong with your system.  And Barrayar is progressing in a lot of ways, but I don’t get a sense that sexual equality, in particular in the Countships, is that close to the offing.  Maybe they just need to take a few tips from the Cetagandans and seize power in their own sphere…  Yeah, I don’t know what that would mean either…though I recall Cordelia having some observations on women’s power back in Barrayar.  So maybe the Countships are, or should be, less relevant.

I love the whole bit with Ivan calling Gregor, though.  Nobody is taking him seriously–questioning whether he meant to make the call, questioning his motives for doing this…  Ivan’s got almost as much of a “town clown” reputation as By Vorrutyer, though I guess it’s more that his goals have been negative–to not get involved in politics, to not get stuck under his mother’s thumb–so it’s odd to see him actually trying to do something.  But this plotline here is why we were all cheering for Ivan to get his own book…

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I do almost wish I’d had time to do the next chapter too, since it follows on directly with the interview with Gregor, but alas, lack of time and gumption.  Next week, I promise, you will…get at least that chapter, if nothing else.  And after that is Christmas, which I may give myself off…though I should try to get another post or two in over the holidays regardless.  For this week, though, I am signing off.

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Scintillate, scintillate, globule aurific; fain would I fathom thy nature specific.  Sesquipedalian version of a child’s nursery rhyme?  Or a contrived introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  You decide.  In the meantime…um, well, here’s another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week I managed to cover two full chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, her SF/romance hybrid where her regular protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is joined by a capable supporting cast, including Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the woman he’s secretly (from her, at least) in love with…

Chapter Five

Ekaterin arrives at Vorkosigan House with a question for Miles, which she tells Pym isn’t urgent; Pym goes off to fetch him, though Ekaterin realizes that he may still be asleep.  She heads up to the library to wait for him, and is startled to find it occupied, by a man who she immediately realizes must be Miles’s clone-brother Mark; she notices the resemblances immediately, despite his barrier of flesh.  He doesn’t seem annoyed at her presence, and she introduces herself, calling herself Miles’s “landscape consultant”.

She says that they’re taking down an old maple tree, and wants to know what Miles wants with done with the remains.  Mark immediately says that if it’s “Earth-descended organic matter”, he’ll take anything of it that Miles doesn’t want, though he doesn’t say why, telling her that he doesn’t garden.

The decidedly disjointed conversation was interrupted by a booted tread, and Armsman Pym leaning around the doorframe to announce, “M’lord will be down in a few minutes, Madame Vorsoisson. He says, please don’t go away.” He added in a more confiding tone, “He had one of his seizures last night, so he’s a little slow this morning.”

“Oh, dear. And they give him such a headache. I shouldn’t trouble him till he’s had his painkillers and black coffee.” She turned for the door.

“No, no! Sit down, madame, sit, please. M’lord would be right upset with me if I botched his orders.” Pym, smiling anxiously, motioned her urgently toward a chair; reluctantly, she sat. “There now. Good. Don’t move.” He watched her a moment as if to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, then hurried off again. Lord Mark stared after him.

Mark says that he’d thought that Miles’s seizures were practically cured; Ekaterin says that they’re more “controlled”, and she’s seen one of them herself.  At Mark’s prodding, she says that it was on Komarr, during his recent Auditorial case.  She mentions the device he uses to trigger them, though she wonders if the one he’d just suffered had been manually triggered or if he’d waited too long, and says she heard it was from cryo-revival damage.  Mark tells her that Miles got killed trying to save Mark, and Ekaterin says she Miles hasn’t told her much of his prior career in impSec.

Miles emerges shortly thereafter, freshly washed and smartly dressed, but otherwise looking like death warmed over; Ekaterin tells him that he shouldn’t have gotten up.  Pym arrives with coffee and breakfast, and after taking a few sips, Miles regains language ability and greets Ekaterin properly.  He notes that she’s up early, and she forebears to contradict him; she says that she was eager to get started.  Her hired crew is out gathering up the sod and topsoil, and preparing to transplant the oak, and she asks him what to do with the maple.  Miles says they want it for firewood, and they have a pile to store it for household use and Winterfair bonfires.  Mark says he’ll take the leaves and clippings for Enrique’s project, and Miles says that’s up to their “eight thousand little friends”.

Ekaterin, deciding to stay a little longer so as not to have gotten Miles out of bed for nothing, says they should be able to start excavating tomorrow; she has secured all the necessary permits, and learned more than she wanted to about Vorbarr Sultana infrastructure in the process.  Miles agrees that it’s old and strange, and says she should ask Drou about the time she and Cordelia escaped through the sewers with Vordarian’s head.  He says the dinner party is scheduled for a week tomorrow, which works for her as well.

Miles says he just got back from a bizarre Auditorial errand Gregor sent him on, mostly because of his Betan background.  He tells Mark that their father had put in place legislation making it easier for ordinary Barrayarans to move from one district to another, changing their fealty to another Count; the result has been that people have been voting with their feet, and some Districts have been hemorrhaging population as a result.  The Vorkosigan District is holding steady, losing people to Vorbarr Sultana and Sergyar but gaining people with the up-to-date educational and medical facilities in Hassadar.  A certain Count Vormuir, however, has been losing steadily.

Ekaterin listens, entranced, as Miles outlines Vormuir’s novel solution to the problem.  He bought thirty uterine replicators and began to populate them.  With daughters, the oldest of which is two years old.  Count Vormuir himself is the father, but his wife will have none of the affair, and has moved out, refusing him conjugal visits under the threat of plasma arc.  The eggs have been surplus backups, which would otherwise have been discarded, from the District’s own replicator crèche, which Vormuir claims doesn’t violate any Barrayaran law.  By now he has 92 daughters, plus another batch of thirty in the replicators; Miles has ordered him not to start any more, which he wouldn’t be able to do for seven months anyway.

Mark says there should be a law against this, and Miles agrees, but they have to take some time and figure out what kind of law first, studying how other planets are dealing with it.  Even so, Vormuir won’t be affected by the new law.  There’s no rape involved, the children are well taken care of, they’re all his own daughters and so not legally slaves, and the eggs haven’t technically been stolen.  Ekaterin says that the girls should technically belong to their mothers, but Miles says that he’s not sure that applies if Vormuir never married any of them; in any event, he expects few of the mothers would want them, and if they did, they’d still be new population for Vormuir’s District.

Ekaterin’s brows drew down in thought. “By your account, Vormuir is much taken with economies, of scale and otherwise.” Only long after Nikki’s birth had she wondered if Tien had pushed for the old-fashioned way because it had seemed much cheaper. We won’t have to wait until we can afford it had been a potent argument, in her eager ears. Vormuir’s motivation seemed as much economic as genetic: ultimately, wealth for his District and therefore for him. This techno-harem was intended to become future taxpayers, along with the husbands he no doubt assumed they would draw in, to support him in his old age. “In effect, the girls are the Count’s acknowledged bastards. I’m sure I read somewhere . . . in the Time of Isolation, weren’t Imperial and count-palatine female bastards entitled to a dowry, from their high-born father? And it required some sort of Imperial permission . . . the dowry almost was the sign of legal acknowledgment. I’ll bet the Professora would know all the historical details, including the cases where the dowries had to be dragged out by force. Isn’t an Imperial permission effectively an Imperial order? Couldn’t Emperor Gregor set Count Vormuir’s dowries for the girls . . . high?”

“Oh.” Lord Vorkosigan sat back, his eyes widening with delight. “Ah.” An evil grin leaked between his lips. “Arbitrarily high, in fact. Oh . . . my.” He looked across at her. “Madame Vorsoisson, I believe you have hit on a possible solution. I will certainly pass the idea along as soon as I may.”

Ekaterin is gratified at his approval of her suggestion, and hopes she’s helped him feel better about his morning.  She checks the time, and exclaims that she needs to be outside to meet the tree-removal crew.  Pym and Miles escort her to the front door, and Miles encourages her to stop in again, telling Pym to show her where to put the maple wood.

Ekaterin glanced back over her shoulder. “He didn’t look very well this morning, Pym. You really shouldn’t have let him get out of bed.”

“Oh, I know it, ma’am,” Pym agreed morosely. “But what’s a mere Armsman to do? I haven’t the authority to countermand his orders. What he really needs, is looking after by someone who won’t stand his nonsense. A proper Lady Vorkosigan would do the trick. Not one of those shy, simpering ingenues all the young lords seem to be looking to these days, he’d just ride right over her. He needs a woman of experience, to stand up to him.” He smiled apologetically down at her.

“I suppose so,” sighed Ekaterin. She hadn’t really thought about the Vor mating scene from the Armsmen’s point of view. Was Pym hinting that his lord had such an ingenue in his eye, and his staff was worried it was some sort of mismatch?

Ekaterin gets to thinking about this possible ingenue, supposing that Miles will probably need to look to the younger generation for potential brides these days.  He’ll probably have to settle for an intellectual light-weight, and hope for one who won’t snub him for his physical defects.  She’s surprised to find herself indignant at the image of this idiot girl turning up her nose at Miles, and firmly turns herself back to the prospect of tree demolition.

Inside, Miles returns to the library, sitting down with care and resuming his breakfast.  He tells Mark he thought the conversation went well, and asks what they talked about before he arrived.  Mark says they discussed his seizures, and scolds Miles for not giving him all the information on them.  Miles says Mark couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and while Mark still blames himself, Miles says it was the Jacksonian sniper who did the damage, after all.
Miles asks what Mark thinks of Ekaterin, as a possible Lady Vorkosigan.

Mark blinked. “What?”

“What do you mean, what? She’s beautiful, she’s smart—dowries, ye gods, how perfect, Vormuir will split—she’s incredibly level-headed in emergencies. Calm, y’know? A lovely calm. I adore her calm. I could swim in it. Guts and wit, in one package.”

“I wasn’t questioning her fitness. That was a merely a random noise of surprise.”

“She’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece. She has a son, Nikki, almost ten. Cute kid. Wants to be a jump-pilot, and I think he has the determination to make it. Ekaterin wants to be a garden designer, but I think she could go on to be a terraformer. She’s a little too quiet, sometimes—she needs to build up her self-confidence.”

“Perhaps she was just waiting to get a word in edgewise,” Mark suggested.

Mark contemplates Ekaterin; he supposes that she might appeal to Miles, with his taste for “brainy brunettes”, though he himself preferred curvy blondes, like Kareen.  He’s glad he has Kareen, who’s making him more human just by being around him.  He tells himself that he can’t take her recent attack of nerves personally.  Killer whispers in his head that she’s probably found someone else, and he knows how to deal with problems like that; Mark shushes him.  Even if she had, her honesty would have led her to tell him about it already.  All Mark knows is that, if he had to choose, he’d rather have Kareen than oxygen.  He briefly considers talking to Miles on the issue, but he holds off, not sure that Miles wouldn’t lead the posse after Mark’s head.

Mark asks Miles if Ekaterin knows about Miles’s intentions; Miles says that it’s a tricky situation.  She’s recently widowed, and her husband died recently on Komarr, under circumstances that Miles can’t talk about, but was far too close to.  So she’s not ready to be courted, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the onslaught of Vor bachelors, or the non-Vor either.  Miles’s plan is to get in under her radar as a friend, and then make his move when the time is ripe.

“And, ah, when are you planning to spring this stunning surprise on her?” Mark asked, fascinated.

Miles stared at his boots. “I don’t know. I’ll recognize the tactical moment when I see it, I suppose. If my sense of timing hasn’t totally deserted me. Penetrate the perimeter, set the trip lines, plant the suggestion—strike. Total victory! Maybe.”

He asks Mark not to spill the beans, and Mark says he won’t interfere; as a parting shot, he asks if Miles should really be planning his romantic life in terms of war, and leaves while he’s still sputtering.

Comments

Mark is, of course, perfectly right, as I’ve been saying and will continue to say.  It does make perfect sense in Miles terms, but unfortunately Ekaterin is less likely to think of it that way.  Plus, for someone trying to keep a secret, he keeps telling people about it.  Trying to ask their opinions, shore up his insecurity, but increase the probability that someone’s going to spill the beans.  And then he’s planning this dinner party, which keeps looming up throughout the book, which is going to be bringing basically everyone who knows about Miles’s intentions–and Ekaterin–into the same room.

Admittedly, Miles does seem to have some support.  Pym seems to be entirely in favour of the prospect, even if his broad hints seem to sail right over Ekaterin’s head.  Her Aunt Vorthys has also seemed fairly approving.  Ekaterin must be wilfully keeping herself from contemplating the possibility at all.  After all, if she had to regard Miles as someone trying to lure her back into the prison of marriage, she’d have to stop associating with him.  Not that there aren’t worse things he could do, of course…

I’d forgotten how quickly Ekaterin disposed of the Lord Vormuir problem.  It is a cunning plan–now I’m picturing Vormuir played by Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder (although, in my head, he looks more like Stephen Fry’s Melchett)–sailing through loopholes in Barrayaran law, but Ekaterin manages to point out a way that that law can be bent back upon him.  She obviously has some familiarity with Vor law and custom, perhaps through her aunt if nothing else, and puts her finger on the correct spot.  The situation does, though, sound like some awful movie, though since most of those don’t have uterine replicators, they tend to involve someone sneaking their sperm into the actual fertilized eggs that the husbands think are theirs.

Mark and Miles do seem to be settling into a standard sibling-type relationship, which is not, as Miles is finding out, as much about always being there for each other as it is about friendly rivalry and one-upmanship.  Mark twits Miles about his campaign for Ekaterin, Miles complains about the butter bugs, etc.  You’d think he’d have figured from Ivan what family is about, and now, like it or not, he and Mark are developing the same way.  After all, more than most, Mark has a lot of sibling-rivalry issues, as his Betan therapist has doubtless spotted, since his “older brother” was literally held up to him as an example of the way to act.  It’s probably good if all he’s trying to do about it these days is score “last words” and conversational coups against him.

Chapter Six

Kareen is working in the lab when a woman comes in looking for Mark, introducing herself as “Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the garden designer”; she’s come to offer Mark more compost, having removed an entire row of bushes.  Kareen asks Enrique, who says that if it’s Earth-descended organic matter, and free, they would like to try some.  Ekaterin looks around at the lab, which Kareen congratulates herself is looking more scientific and appealing, and more organized.  Kareen has also been building housing units for the bugs, and cleaning out the guano, which luckily hasn’t been as bad as she’d feared.

Ekaterin asks what they need the plant matter for, and Kareen invites her to come in and see for herself.  She says she’s the Head Bug Wrangler–and also the only one, so far.

Kareen unlatched the steel-screen top of one of the bug hutches, reached in, and retrieved a single worker-bug. She was getting quite good at handling the little beasties without wanting to puke by now, as long as she didn’t look too closely at their pale pulsing abdomens. Kareen held out the bug to the gardener, and began a tolerably close copy of Mark’s Better Butter Bugs for a Brighter Barrayar sales talk.

Though Madame Vorsoisson’s eyebrows went up, she didn’t shriek, faint, or run away at her first sight of a butter bug. She followed Kareen’s explanation with interest, and was even willing to hold the bug and feed it a maple leaf. There was something very bonding about feeding live things, Kareen had to admit; she would have to keep that ploy in mind for future presentations.

Ekaterin is intrigued at the prospect of butter bugs that eat native foliage, and allows that she does have some practical experience with it.  She asks to see the bug manure, and is impressed with the quality of it as fertilizer, reinforced by Enrique’s contributions on its exact chemical composition.  She asks to borrow some, and encourages them to try to sell it.  Enrique said nobody had been interested in it on Escobar, and Ekaterin tells him that on Barrayar it’s harder to come by good quality fertilizer when trying to terraform the soil.  She tells Enrique about a time when the Counts and the Emperors would quarrel over the distribution of horse manure.

Enrique asks Ekaterin if she can show them around some of the native vegetation; Ekaterin says they really need a District agronomy officer, and Enrique points out that he didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Ekaterin says that Tsipis could help them out, and Kareen agrees.  Ekaterin says she’s been planning to go to the Dendarii Mountains to gather rocks to line the stream bed, and Kareen agrees that Miles is very fond of the mountains.

Mark arrives with a load of lab supplies, greeting Ekaterin and thanking her for the maple clippings.  Mark persuades her to try the bug butter, and she agrees to a small taste.  Kareen opens a container for her, telling Mark that they’re going to need more containers, the rate the bugs are producing it–and the rate that nobody else in the house is eating it.  Ekaterin tries a spoonful, pronounces it “interesting”. then offers some helpful suggestions, like flavouring and freezing it.

“Hm. D’you think that would work, Enrique?”

“Don’t see why not,” responded the scientist. “The colloidal viscosity doesn’t break down when exposed to subzero temperatures. It’s thermal acceleration which alters the protein microstructure and hence texture.”

“Gets kind of rubbery when you cook it,” Mark translated this. “We’re working on it, though.”

Mark asks Kareen if she wants to come to the District with him and scout out sites for the future facility–though they can’t settle on the name (between Borgos Research Park, Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises, and Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch).  Kareen mentions Ekaterin’s rocks, and showing Enrique the native flora, and suggests they all go down together; secretly she’s reluctant to spend time alone with Mark, even though that’s obviously what he’s angling for.  She arranges the trip for the day after tomorrow.

Miles dashes in then, saying that Armsman Jankowski only just told him that Ekaterin was here.  He says he hopes they haven’t fed her the “bug vomit” yet, but Ekaterin says stoutly that it’s not half bad, they just need to do some product development.  She picks up the fertilizer Kareen has packaged for her and says her farewells, until day after tomorrow; Miles escorts her out.  He returns a few minutes later complaining about their feeding “that stuff” to Ekaterin.  Mark says that Ekaterin, at least, has an open mind, and Enrique says that she seemed to understand him better than most people.

Miles asks what’s happening day after tomorrow, and Kareen tells him about the proposed trip to Vorkosigan District.  Miles protests that he had Ekaterin’s first tour of the District already planned out, and Mark, unsympathetic, says that they won’t be going too far afield, there’ll be plenty to show her later.  Miles tries to insist on going along, but Mark says he’s only got four seats, and he’d rather take Kareen than Miles.  Miles leaves, grumbling about Armsman Jankowski.

Kareen asks what his problem is, and Mark explains that Miles is in love with Ekaterin, which is why he hired her as a gardener after meeting her on Komarr, but he hasn’t told her yet.  Mark isn’t quite sure why, unless it’s sexual shyness; Kareen reminds him about Elli Quinn, and Mark postulates that most of Miles’s girlfriends have been more the forceful types, throwing themselves at him, and he doesn’t know how to actually court a woman who’s not.  Mark is filled with glee at the prospect of watching Miles fumble around, and Kareen tells him to be nice.

Enrique asks if Miles was really upset about Ekaterin feeding the bug butter, and Mark says not to worry about it.  Enrique says he’s got an idea to change Miles’s mind about the bugs, but will only say that it’s a secret.  Mark asks Kareen about it, but she has no idea either.  She suggests talking to Ma Kosti about the ice cream freezer, which Miles has probably gotten her one of.  Then she thinks of how Ma Kosti seems a little frustrated with how little cooking she really has to do, and how she likes Mark for his obvious enjoyment of food, and she grabs some bug butter tubs and runs to the kitchen.

Miles arrives at Vorbretten House–more modern than Vorkosigan House, because it had to be rebuilt after the Pretender’s War.  An armsman leads him inside, to where René Vorbretten is sitting in a darkened room.  He is nervous at the arrival of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but Miles assures him he’s not there on business.  René was worried that Miles had been sent with the news, but Miles assures him that the Council of Counts still can’t vote without him.  René says the “Ghembrettens'” social life has dwindled away to nothing.  Miles apologizes for not having come sooner, having been on Komarr.

Miles says the Progressive Counts will doubtless want to keep René around–a vote is a vote–but René says some seem to thinking that they don’t want to vote against his opponent, Sigur, and make an enemy of him, in case he wins.  The definite votes one way or the other balance out, leaving the undecideds to settle the matter, and most of them have been avoiding him.  Miles assures René that he has the Vorkosigan vote, no matter what damage Cetagandans might have done to his District.

They discuss the precedents–the horse heir, Lord Midnight (and other, less colourful cases), establishes that a Count’s successor doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but Sigur is claiming that René’s grandfather won his father’s approval fraudulently.  It would make a difference if they could prove that the father had known his heir wasn’t his true son, but they can’t find any evidence in the archives one way or the other.  Miles said that not everyone objected to the Cetagandan bastards, despite widespread customs of killing them and leaving the bodies around to shake up the invaders; Prince Xav himself objected to that practice.  René says they still have no proof, but then, neither does Sigur.

Counthoods generally come up only rarely, as old Counts die, so it’s odd to have two disputed seats at the same time.  Miles asks René if he knows what’s up with Donna Vorrutyer, but René hasn’t heard anything either.  He says he’s grateful that Miles has come to visit, at least; Miles points out that he’s five-eighths Betan, so he can’t think that a little offworlder blood makes anyone unfit.  René does speculate that Lady Donna’s trip to Beta Colony must have something to do with her objection, but he’s not sure what.  Miles guesses that she’s looking for some obscure evidence against her cousin Richars, but René doesn’t think it’s anything that simple.  Ivan might know, having dated her for a while, though René and Miles themselves missed out on that honour.

René says that Miles’s family has been fighting to integrate Miles’s clone Mark into the family; he speculates that Donna might be doing something similar with a clone of the late Pierre Vorrutyer, growing it on Beta Colony and planning to offer it as an alternative heir.  Miles says it might be possible, but he’s not sure if the Counts would accept it.  She was practically running the District anyway, though, so she might make a good guardian.  René mentions one Countess, back in a time of civil war, who had herself legally declared a male so she could inherit.  Miles wonders if there is a clone, whether Donna would want to gestate it in her own womb, which would make it harder to steal, or use a replicator, in which case Richars could end up in custody of it.  In any case, her three months–a generous amount of time, probably dating back to days of travel on horseback–are almost up.

Feminine laughter heralds the arrival of Olivia and Martya Koudelka, who had been out shopping with René’s wife Tatya, Olivia being an old schoolmate of Tatya’s.  They thank Miles for coming to cheer René up, then tell René that he can take them to a concert tomorrow night.  Tatya shows René an envelope from Countess Vorgarin, which she opens eagerly, only to be crushed when it turns to be an “un-invitation” to a baby naming-day party.  Martya and Olivia rip Countess Vorgarin’s character to shreds in absentia, but it doesn’t cheer Tatya up that much.

René notes that they haven’t received a wedding invitation from Gregor and Laisa yet; Miles points out that local invitations haven’t been sent out yet, not mentioning that which Vorbretten to invite is still a matter under discussion.  Wanting to lighten the mood, he invites the Vorbrettens to his upcoming dinner party.  René isn’t sure, but Olivia encourages him to come, saying that Miles is going to show off the lady he’s courting in secret–from her.

René’s brows went up. “You, Miles? I thought you were as confirmed a bachelor as your cousin Ivan. Married to your career.”

Miles grimaced furiously at Olivia, and twitched at René’s last words. “I had this little medical divorce from my career. Olivia, where did you ever get the idea that Madame Vorsoisson—she’s my landscape designer, you see, René, but she’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, I met her on Komarr, she’s just recently widowed and certainly not—not ready to be anybody’s lady-love. Lord Auditor Vorthys and the Professora will be there too, you see, a family party, nothing inappropriate for her.”

“For who?” asked Martya.

“Ekaterin,” escaped his mouth before he could stop it. All four lovely syllables.

Martya grinned unrepentantly at him. René and his wife looked at each other—Tatya’s dimple flashed, and René pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“Kareen said Lord Mark said you said,” Olivia said innocently. “Who was lying, then?”

Miles explains again that she’s in mourning, her husband just died, and he will declare himself in time, but he can’t yet, he has to wait…and he hates waiting.  When Tatya asks, Miles has to admit he doesn’t know anything about her feelings for him.  He grumbles about Mark spreading his secrets, but Martya says that she, Kareen, and her parents all heard it from different people–Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and Pym–so he’s not doing a good job of keeping it secret.  Trying to defuse the conversation, Tatya accepts Miles’s invitation.  René asks if Miles’s parents will be back from Sergyar yet, and Miles says probably not, but soon; this will be his own party, before the house fills up again.  He’s also concerned about orchestrating Ekaterin meeting his parents just right.

His social duty satisfied, Miles bids them farewell; Martya takes him up an the offer of a ride home.  Miles gives Pym a disgruntled look as they leave, not sure he likes that Pym is acquiring the valuable information he can get through gossip by trading Miles’s information to other people.  He restrains himself from more than glaring, or from berating Martya for twitting him about Ekaterin like that.

He asks how she thinks the Vorbrettens are holding up, and she says René thinks they’re going to lose, and they’re pretty shaken.  Since his father died in the Hegen Hub, he’s hated Cetagandans, so this revelation really unnerves him.  Their marriage is also a little unsteady–they haven’t followed through with their plan to start a family, and Tatya enjoys being a Countess…  Now her friends, apart from Olivia, are avoiding her, too.

“If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from off-worlders, dammit,” Miles growled in frustration. “What’s one-eighth? A tinge. Why should it disqualify one of the best people we have? Competence should count for something.”

Martya’s grin twisted. “If you want sympathy, you’ve come to the wrong store, Miles. If my da were a Count, it wouldn’t matter how competent I was, I still wouldn’t inherit. All the brilliance in the world wouldn’t matter a bit. If you’re just now finding out that this world is unjust, well, you’re behind the times.”

Miles grimaced. “It’s not news to me, Martya.” The car pulled up outside Commodore Koudelka’s townhouse. “But justice wasn’t my job, before.” And power isn’t nearly as all-powerful as it looks from the outside. He added, “But that’s probably the one issue I can’t help you on. I have the strongest personal reasons for not wanting to reintroduce inheritance through the female line into Barrayaran law. Like, my survival. I like my job very well. I don’t want Gregor’s.”

Comments

Ekaterin has now met Kareen and Enrique, and won them over too.  She likes the butter bug guano, she offers helpful suggestions for the bug butter itself, and she has useful information about the Barrayaran vegetation…she’s just an all-around useful person.  It’s so nice to see her blossoming in her new environment, sending out new shoots like that skellytum, no longer bonsai’d, one hopes.  Which is why it’s going to be so devastating for her to find out why Miles really hired her to do his garden…  I am reminded, too, that Enrique seems to fall for her a little bit, too, after this scene.  Plus he’s got his “secret plan” to make Miles like the butter bugs, which I recall turns out really, really, well.  Just like Miles’s dinner party.

I had almost forgotten this scene with Miles and the Vorbrettens, and two more of the Koudelkas–Martya and Olivia, who we barely see, if at all, before this book.  Even in this book I don’t remember much with Olivia, though of course Martya gets a role later on in the book.  Martya’s line near the end of the chapter is quite telling, though, especially given the speculation about Lady Donna’s visit to Beta Colony earlier in the scene.  It is true that, no matter in what other ways it’s improving, Barrayar is not much yet for feminism and women’s rights.

It makes me think of that article that went around the Net a while ago, about how life as a white male was like playing on the easiest setting, compared to life as a woman or a minority.  Does Miles, even with his physical issues, qualify for that?  If I was building him for a role-playing game, one of those where you can give your character disadvantages to get more “character points” to buy things, his social class and mental skills would more than offset his physical limitations.  Even he would have an easier time getting into the military than Elena, and an easier time becoming Count than Martya.  Even _Mark_ would have an easier time becoming Count, and he was a clone born offworld and raised by Komarran radicals.  He’s male, though, and that’s the important thing.  Anyway, this book, taking place so much on Barrayar, and featuring so many female characters, gets the most heavily into gender issues.  At the very least, I can look around at our world and say that at least we’re a little bit more progressive than Barrayar…right?  Aren’t we?


No promises of a two-chapter post next week, but it could happen.  May depend on chapter length as well as random circumstantial factors–weather, sleep, and other potential gumption traps.  Lady Donna should be showing up soon, and the visit to the Vorkosigan District…and the fateful dinner party is looming…  Oh, yeah, and Vormoncrief’s Baba may have arrived by now.  Should be fun, in any case, except for the winceworthy painful embarrassing bits…

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Good evening, denizens of the Internet (where it’s always evening somewhere), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  It is my continuing delight to lead you at a leisurely pace through the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends and family.  This week, the more-than-normally-leisurely pace continues, as I cover Chapter Four of A Civil Campaign, and…that’s it.  Shall we let’s?

Chapter Four

Ivan is just leaving the Ops building (after dropping off some wedding invitations for offworld delivery) when he is hailed by Alexi Vormoncrief.  He prepares another wedding-related mission as an excuse in case he needs to escape from Vormoncrief, a notorious bore, but he is curious to know how his plan is going.  Vormoncrief offers to buy Ivan a round, since he has something to celebrate, and Ivan decides to accept.  They go across the street to the usual Ops tavern, where Ivan spots By Vorrutyer; Vormoncrief invites By over as well.  To Ivan’s surprise, By accepts, and he wonders why By is cultivating Vormoncrief.  He greets By cautiously, since Miles isn’t there to draw By’s attention.

Vormoncrief offers condolence to By on the death of his cousin Pierre, Count Vorrutyer; By says it was definitely just plain heart failure.  Pierre died without issue, unfortunately, and the next in line is Richars Vorrutyer, another cousin, and one that By doesn’t approve of, though Vormoncrief, a staunch conservative, calls him “politically sound”.  By mention possible obstacles, which puzzles Ivan; apparently Pierre’s sister, Lady Donna Vorrutyer, has lodged a motion to block Richars’s accession, though she’s been on Beta Colony since before Pierre’s funeral.  Ivan has fond memories of Lady Donna, with whom he’d had a fling years ago, and thinks that he should get back in touch with her when she gets back to Barrayar…  By won’t tell them what her planned impediment is, though, but he wishes her luck with it.

Their drinks arrive, and Vormoncrief proposes a toast to matrimony, and announces he has sent the Baba.  He thanks Ivan for having introduced him to Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, and says that he managed to get her father’s name and address and sent a high-class go-between to send his formal proposal of marriage.  He admits that Ekaterin hasn’t actually accepted him yet, but he’s confident that the romance of the old-fashioned proposal will win her over, something that Zamori can’t match.  Ivan hadn’t invited Zamori, though, trying to limit Miles’s romantic rivals to clods like Vormoncrief, but apparently Vormoncrief spilled the beans, and Zamori is a more serious threat.

While Vormoncrief is away from the table, Ivan confesses his problem to By, that he was really just trying to twit Miles.  By says that he was there too, also because of Vormoncrief’s lack of discretion; he assures Ivan that he wasn’t wife-hunting, but he fancies that he intrigued Ekaterin a little bit…  Then he changes the subject and asks Ivan to help Lady Donna out with her case, since he has the ear of influential people.  Ivan thinks that By is overestimating his capabilities, but agrees to meet with her on her return, even if he isn’t sure what she hopes to accomplish by blocking Richars from the Countship.  Ivan makes his escape after Vormoncrief’s return.

How to avoid Miles? He couldn’t put in for transfer to some distant embassy till this damned wedding was over. That would be too late. Desertion was a possibility, he thought morosely—maybe he could go off and join the Kshatryan Foreign Legion. No, with all Miles’s galactic connections, there wasn’t a cranny of the wormhole nexus, no matter how obscure, sure to be safe from his wrath. And ingenuity. Ivan would have to trust to luck, Vormoncrief’s stultifying personality, and for Zamori—kidnapping? Assassination? Maybe introduce him to more women? Ah, yes! Not to Lady Donna, though. That one, Ivan proposed to keep for himself.

Lady Donna. She was no pubescent prole. Any husband who dared to trumpet in her presence risked being sliced off at the knees. Elegant, sophisticated, assured . . . a woman who knew what she wanted, and how to ask for it. A woman of his own class, who understood the game. A little older, yes, but with lifespans extending so much these days, what of that? Look at the Betans; Miles’s Betan grandmother, who must be ninety if she was a day, was reported to have a gentleman-friend of eighty. Why hadn’t he thought of Donna earlier?

Donna. Donna, Donna, Donna. Mmm. This was one meeting he wouldn’t miss for worlds.

Kareen swears that she hears Mark skipping before he enters the antechamber where Pym has had her waiting; she doesn’t think he looks healthy, with all that too-fast weight loss.  He grabs a footstool, climbs up, and they kiss vigorously.  She tells him that she walked over from their hours, and he invites her up to cool off in his room, with Grunt…  Kareen isn’t willing to consider it in Vorkosigan House, though, and the Koudelka house would be even worse.  Mark suggests a lightflyer, or a groundcar, or a rented room…Kareen still shakes her head.

Mark is alarmed, wondering if he’s done something wrong, if she wants him to gain the weight back…she says it’s just Barrayar, and her.  On Beta Colony everything seemed to clear, but on Barrayar, she hasn’t even been able to tell her family that she and Mark are together.  She can feel herself shrinking back into her old place, folding herself to fit into Barrayar’s expectations.  She wishes that Cordelia was there–as a Betan, it was easy to talk to her–because she can’t even talk to her own mother about it.

Mark decides that he can survive celibacy for a couple of months, but Kareen tells him that she probably won’t be able to afford to go back to Beta Colony.  She says she can’t get the scholarship again, and without that she won’t be able to afford it.  Mark says he still needs another year of schooling–and therapy–on Beta Colony, but he doesn’t know if he can handle it without her, even if he does come back to Barrayar afterwards.  They huddle for a moment, then Mark pulls back and says there’s still three months to see what will happen.

He invites her to see the butter bugs, while she’s there.  He tells her that Lilly Durona told him about Enrique, who was a genius, but in a bit of trouble.

“…Great biochemist, no financial sense. I bailed him out of jail, and helped him rescue his experimental stocks from the idiot creditors who’d confiscated ’em. You’d have laughed, to watch us blundering around in that raid on his lab. Come on, come see.”

As he towed her by the hand through the great house, Kareen asked dubiously, “Raid? On Escobar?”

“Maybe raid is the wrong word. It was entirely peaceful, miraculously enough. Burglary, perhaps. I actually got to dust off some of my old training, believe it or not.”

“It doesn’t sound very . . . legal.”

“No, but it was moral. They were Enrique’s bugs—he’d made ’em, after all. And he loves them like pets. He cried when one of his favorite queens died. It was very affecting, in a bizarre sort of way. If I hadn’t been wanting to strangle him at just that moment, I’d have been very moved.”

Mark leads her down to the laundry room where the lab is set up.  As soon as they arrive, Enrique protests that they need more light and heat, and furniture, and Kareen suggests they check the attic.  Mark introduces them, then fetches a butter bug to show her.  It does look repulsive, but she holds out her hand, and Mark puts the bug in it.  It is ugly, but not worse than some things she’d seen in xenozoology, and it doesn’t smell bad.  Mark and Enrique explain how they produce the bug butter.

Enrique says they need more food for the bugs, and pulls out a rose from a florist’s box; apparently he’d asked Miles how to get some Earth-style organic matter, and Miles had recomended them.  Mark says that it’s far too expensive to buy flowers just for the bugs, and says they should be able to get some much more cheaply from outside.  Enrique says he also needs a lab assistant, and information on Barrayaran biology; Mark says that Miles will know people at the university, and then he suggests that Kareen come work for them.  He tells Enrique she’s Betan-trained, which Enrique approves of, though he points out that they don’t have much money right now.  Mark elaborates that it’s not gone, just a little short and not very liquid right now.  Enrique suggests selling shares again, but Mark says not after last time–on Escobar Enrique had sold shares for several hundred percent of his company.

Mark takes Kareen aside and says that Enrique really needs a keeper, or a mother, to keep him from doing stupid things and wasting their money, and he knows he could trust Kareen.  But he says he would need to pay her in shares; Kareen isn’t sure that this is really going to make them any money, but Mark is confident, and says that he has a majority of the shares, and is working with Tsipis to make things all official.  He assures her that it’s the Lord Mark persona behind this plan, not one of the Black Gang.  He adds that the job will let her come to Vorkosigan House all the time, so they could see each other…  The bug in Kareen’s hand then vomits some bug butter into her palm, but she decides to accept anyway.

Comments

No Miles at all in this chapter, or Ekaterin either, just ivan and Kareen.  The other major plotline, with Donna Vorrutyer, is introduced–like I said, I tend to recall the Ivan and By scenes, mostly because of this plot.  It’s amusing to find that Lady Donna taught Ivan everything he needed to know about pleasing a woman, to survive the Lord Yenaro’s extreme-impotence drug treatment in Cetaganda.  Ivan’s reunion with her, of course, is not going to go quite as he might hope.  By, of course, knows exactly what Lady Donna is doing on Beta Colony, and I’m sure that, however serious he is about wanting Ivan’s help, he’s also enjoying the thought of what’ll happen when Ivan meets “Lady Donna” next…

When Kareen thinks about her money troubles, it doesn’t occur to her to ask Mark for money.  She must know that Mark’s net worth is substantial, and he could easily (under normal circumstances, at least) bankroll her, but I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t want to accept charity from him like that.  Her Barrayaran heritage would probably think of it as some kind of lien on her, like he’s trying to buy her favours, and her self-reliant nature wouldn’t take kindly to it either.  Of course, we find that Mark’s money’s a little tied up right now anyway, so he couldn’t even really offer.  So he’s really dependent on the success of the butter-bug scheme, which is resting on somewhat shaky foundations right now–Enrique’s unworldliness, Miles’s revulsion, and the somewhat questionable legal status of their departure from Escobar…


Another chapter next week…or two, perhaps?  Well, perhaps.  Traffic woes and weather have eased up, so my commute is no longer quite as mind-crushing, so we’ll see how I do on Chapter Five.  If I manage to get it done before Wednesday, for instance…

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The Sherriff’s Secret Police have just announced, in a press conference held on top of the hour hand of the invisible clock tower, that it is not illegal to read the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  In fact, it is forbidden to not read it.  Aren’t you lucky that another installment is making its way onto the Internet right now?  Welcome…to Vorbarr Sultana.  This week, buffeted by snow, stress, and endless commutes, I am cutting back to a single-chapter update, and cutbacks will continue until morale improves, or chapters get shorter.  Don’t be sad; at least you get Chapter Three, with three points of view, to keep you from the depths of despair…

Chapter Three

Ekaterin had sent her proposed garden designs to Miles, but he genuinely couldn’t decide between them, so he was able to plan another visit to the Vorthyses after all.  When Miles arrives, though, he discovers he’s not the only visitor by any means.  Ekaterin and her aunt are entertaining three male guests–one of them is an Ops major that Miles doesn’t recognize, but the others are Lieutenant Alexi Vormoncrief, also from Ops, and Byerly “By” Vorrutyer, a longtime town clown.  Madame Vorthys introduces the other man as Major Zamori, a former student who came over ostensibly to lend her a book; Vormoncrief was supposedly there to investigate whether he and Ekaterin were related, which they are, but only distantly.  By Vorrutyer neglected to provide an excuse.  Miles immediately spots Ivan’s hand in the appearance of two men from Ops.

Ekaterin is happy to see Miles, who greets the others; Zamori asks if Miles is there to see the Lord Auditor Vorthys, who apparently fled for a walk in the rain.  Miles says he has business with Madame Vorsoisson, but none of the men take the hint and leave.  Vormoncrief explains that they were having a family-tree discussion.

“Speaking of strange pedigrees, Alexi, Lord Vorkosigan and I were almost related much more closely,” Byerly remarked. “I feel quite a familial attachment to him.”

“Really?” said Vormoncrief, looking puzzled.

“Oh, yes. One of my aunts on the Vorrutyer side was once married to his father. So Aral Vorkosigan is actually some sort of virtual, if not virtuous, uncle to me. But she died young, alas—ruthlessly pruned from the tree—without bearing me a cousin to cut the future Miles out of his inheritance.” Byerly cocked a brow at Miles. “Was she fondly remembered, in your family dinner conversations?”

“We never much discussed the Vorrutyers,” said Miles.

“How odd. We never much discussed the Vorkosigans, either. Hardly at all, in fact. Such a resounding silence, one feels.”

Zamori asks about the Komarr accident, and Miles, who can’t tell them what really happened, repeats the official story of “pilot error”; he claims to suspect it was actually a suicide, but couldn’t find enough evidence to support it.  Vormoncrief asks what he thinks of the Komarran Empress-to-be; Miles recalls that Vormoncrief’s uncle is leader of the Conservative Party, who are dubious but not outright disapproving of Laisa.  Miles says that he likes her, and points out that Gregor marrying a Komarran means one more Barrayaran women for the rest of them.  In fact, he recommends Komarran women to the rest of them, too, claiming that there are many available rich heiresses to choose from.  By says that money isn’t everything, though, and Vormoncrief says that he prefers Barrayaran girls.

Ekaterin excuses herself to go get Miles’s data disks, and does not return; eventually Vormoncrief and Zamori give up waiting and make to leave, though Zamori has cannily promised to bring Nikki a book on jumpship designs.  Zamori leaves first; as Miles is preparing for his meeting with Ekaterin, he overhears By and Vormoncrief talking on the porch.  Vormoncrief is asking By if he thinks Miles is angling for Ekaterin himself; By points out that some women would settle for anything for the chance of becoming a Countess.  Vormoncrief says that Ivan would make a better heir, and laments that Miles had survived long enough to inherit.  He notices Ekaterin in the archway, and wonders what she’s heard, even as she notices him eavesdropping, again; By and Vormoncrief eventually move off into the rain.

Miles asks Ekaterin where the visitors came from; Ekaterin says Zamori has been visiting the Professora, and making friends with Nikki, which Miles realizes might be one way to her heart.  Miles surmises that By has turned to Vormoncrief as his latest victim to sponge off of, telling Ekaterin about By’s fecklessness and lack of resources, only afterwards revealing that he may have made By sound sympathetic.  Miles convinces her that they’re only there to vie for her hand, and she says she’d hoped her mourning would hold them off for longer.

Miles changes the subject back to the gardens, and they pore over her two proposed designs, the “backcountry” and “urban” gardens, one more naturalistic and one with concrete terraces and fountains.  Ekaterin deftly combines the two, adding water features to the backcountry garden, until Miles pronounces himself satisfied.  He tells her to go ahead and start hiring contractors to build it; she protests that she has no experience past the design phase, and he tells her to contact Tsipis, the Vorkosigans’ business manager, who will willingly help her out with the practical end of things.

Tsipis, carefully primed, answered the comconsole in his office in Hassadar himself, and Miles made the necessary introductions. The new acquaintance went well; Tsipis was elderly, long married, and genuinely interested in the project at hand. He drew Ekaterin almost instantly out of her wary shyness. By the time he’d finished his first lengthy conversation with her, she’d shifted from I can’t possibly mode to possession of a flow-chart checklist and a coherent plan which would, with luck, result in groundbreaking as early as the following week. Oh yes. This was going to do well. If there was one thing Tsipis appreciated, it was a quick study. Ekaterin was one of those show once people whom Miles, in his mercenary days, had found more precious than unexpected oxygen in the emergency reserve. And she didn’t even know she was unusual.

Ekaterin says she should almost be paying Miles for Tsipis’s guidance, and Miles, reminded about payment, pulls out a credit chit for her, payment for the design.  Ekaterin protests that the amount is too much, but Miles says that he checked around and averaged several other companies’ prices.  She protests that she’s an amateur, and was only combining standard design elements; Miles says she earns the money for knowing how to arrange them well.
Deciding to leave on a high note, Miles decides, on his way out, to invite her to the dinner party for the Koudelkas; Ekaterin is attracted by the thought of a family with four daughters, and Miles bypasses her other objections by inviting the Vorthyses as well, to make it more of a family event.  After that, he hopes maybe he’ll be able to lure her into joining him at some of his wedding-week events, and then…who knows?

After Miles leaves, Ekaterin apologizes to her aunt for the visitors, though, as her aunt points out, she didn’t invite any of them.  Ekaterin shows her the credit chit, and says she can pay them some rent now; her aunt protests, though allows that she could let Ekaterin buy some groceries, as long as she saves some money for her schooling as well.  Ekaterin agrees, exulting in the fact that she won’t need to ask her father for any money; mostly she doesn’t want him poking his nose into her life right now, since he disapproves of her not coming home to live with him, or with Tien’s mother, as a proper Vor widow should.  Her father had never been very daring at the best of times, and her mother had seemed stifled by him at times.

Vorthys and Nikki return from the bakery with ample replacements for the pastries that the visitors had decimated; Vorthys says he remembers the shortages from when their own daughters were being courted, and wishes he could discourage them with spotty food and chores.  Nikki asks if it’s true that those men want to marry her, and if so, which one she’ll pick; Ekaterin says she won’t pick any of them, though she is amused that Nikki prefers Major Zamori because “majors make more money”.

Her aunt asks if she should be discouraging the visitors, and Ekaterin says that at least she will be out of the house more, with the new garden.  She tries to keep herself from feeling sympathy for them, not wanting to get sucked into that death-spiral of marriage again.  She’s been enjoying her new freedom.  Her aunt points out that not all men are like Tien, but Ekaterin says she’s afraid of getting sucked into bad patterns again, and wonders if she’s to blame for not stopping Tien from getting worse over the years.

After a long moment of silence, the Professora asked curiously, “So what do you think of Miles Vorkosigan?”

“He’s all right. He doesn’t make me cringe.”

“I thought—back on Komarr—he seemed a bit interested in you himself.”

“Oh, that was just a joke,” Ekaterin said sturdily. Their joke had gone a little beyond the line, perhaps, but they had both been tired, and punchy at their release from those days and hours of fearsome strain . . . his flashing smile, and the brilliant eyes in his weary face, blazed in her memory. It had to have been a joke. Because if it weren’t a joke . . . she would have to run screaming. And she was much too tired to get up. “But it’s been nice to find someone genuinely interested in gardens.”

At Vorkosigan House, Lord Mark Vorkosigan is arriving in a hired groundcar with his companion, Dr. Enrique Borgos, followed by a freight van of equipment; they are greeted by Pym.  Enrique tells Mark that until seeing the house, he hadn’t really believed that Mark was a Barrayaran Lord.

Miles comes to meet them, looking better than the rumours had been painting him; Mark himself has been taking quick weight-loss drugs to try to get back down to the weight he was when last on Barrayar, and knows that he looks a little sallow as a result.  He passes it off as jump lag, though, and asks after Kareen, eager to get back together with her.  He introduces Enrique, an Escobaran entomologist, to Miles; Miles immediately becomes suspicious of the “Delicate” crate they’re carrying, which has air-holes covered with screens.  Mark asks if they can spare some room for Enrique, and Miles says there’s plenty of space; Mark says Enrique will want to set up a laboratory, too, and promises to explain everything to Miles once they’re unloaded.

By press-ganging the drivers, the van was unloaded quickly to the staging area of the black-and-white tiled entry hall. A moment of alarm occurred when Armsman Jankowski, tottering along under a load of what Mark knew to be hastily-packed laboratory glassware, stepped on a black-and-white kitten, well-camouflaged by the tiles. The outraged creature emitted an ear-splitting yowl, spat, and shot off between Enrique’s feet, nearly tripping the Escobaran, who was just then balancing the very expensive molecular analyzer. It was saved by a grab from Pym.

They’d almost been caught, during their midnight raid on the padlocked lab that had liberated the all-important notes and irreplaceable specimens, when Enrique had insisted on going back for the damned analyzer. Mark would have taken it as some sort of cosmic I-told-you-so if Enrique had dropped it now. I’ll buy you a whole new lab when we get to Barrayar, he’d kept trying to convince the Escobaran. Enrique had seemed to think Barrayar was still stuck in the Time of Isolation, and he wasn’t going to be able to obtain anything here more scientifically complex than an alembic, a still, and maybe a trepanning chisel.

Enrique’s first choice for laboratory was Ma Kosti’s kitchen, but he ends up settling for a laundry room in the basement; Mark expects that he’ll end up dragging in a coat and sleeping there.  Mark selects a bedroom for himself, and goes to try to sell Miles on his idea, which doesn’t seem quite as easy as it had before he’d learned how much help Enrique needed with anything besides his bugs; he gives Enrique strict instructions to keep his mouth shut.

They find Miles in the library, with a setting of hors d’oeuvres, which will be perfect for Mark to showcase his idea.  He unwraps a cube of a soft white substance which he describes as an “animal product”, unflavoured but very nutritious, and serves it to the three of them.  Miles pronounces it bland, but better than some military rations; Mark says that the selling point is that it can be made easily by anyone who has a supply of butter bugs.  Miles is taken aback by this news, and when Mark shows him one of the bugs, he declares it incredibly repulsive.

Inside the box, the thumb-sized worker butter bug scrabbled about on its six stubby legs, waved its antennae frantically, and tried to escape. Mark gently pushed its tiny claws back from the edges. It chittered its dull brown vestigial wing carapaces, and crouched to drag its white, soft, squishy-looking abdomen to the safety of one corner.

Miles leaned forward again, to peer in revolted fascination. “It looks like a cross between a cockroach, a termite, and a . . . and a . . . and a pustule.”

“We have to admit, its physical appearance is not its main selling point.”

Mark says that their main virtue is how efficiently they can convert any organic waste matter into “bug butter”, with symbiotic bacteria in their gut.  They can consume all sorts of low-grade plant matter, and the butter can be processed to add flavour.  Miles, though, is having trouble getting past the fact that he’s just eaten “bug vomit”, and rinses his mouth thoroughly with wine.  He then realizes that the crate they brought in must have been full of butter bugs, and, from Mark’s information, works out that they brought in eight thousand of them.  Mark reassures him that the workers are sterile, and the mature queens are immobile; then he brings out his big selling point–the fact that he’s pretty sure Enrique can produce bugs that can eat Barrayaran native vegetation.  They could eat the Barrayaran vegetation that currently backcountry farmers go to great trouble to get rid of, not to mention that their guano makes great fertilizer.

Miles begins to get more interested, though he also wonders why they’re not marketing this on Escobar instead.  Mark skims over that part, saying that they want to try to market some bug-butter products from regular Earth plant matter for now, to muster funds for getting the Barrayaran version working.

“Mark . . .” Miles frowned at the butter bug box, now sitting closed on the table. Tiny scratching noises arose from it. “It sounds logical, but I don’t know if logic is going to sell to the proles. Nobody will want to eat food that comes out of something that looks like that. Hell, they won’t want to eat anything it touches.”

“People eat honey,” argued Mark. “And that comes out of bugs.”

“Honeybees are . . . sort of cute. They’re furry, and they have those classy striped uniforms. And they’re armed with their stings, just like little swords, which makes people respect them.”

“Ah, I see—the insect version of the Vor class,” Mark murmured sweetly. He and Miles exchanged edged smiles.

Enrique said, in a bewildered tone, “So do you think if I put stings on my butter bugs, Barrayarans would like them better?”

Mark says the Vorkosigan House laboratory will be only temporary–he’ll look for something more permanent in Vorbarr Sultana or Hassadar, and Miles tells him to talk to Tsipis, though he’s unwilling to commit to investing in Mark’s idea.  The business talk subsides, and Enrique rambles on about the history of yeast, until Pym comes into collect the dishes.  Enrique seems interested in Pym’s livery, and Miles explains the Vorkosigan heraldry and selected episodes of the family history; Mark finds it encouraging that Enrique seems to be developing some social skills after all.  Afterwards, Enrique tells Mark he’s got a great idea for making his brother like the butter bugs; Mark is too distracted by thoughts of Kareen to pursue this further.

Comments

I always forget that it’s in Miles’s plotline that we first see Byerly Vorrutyer, because for the rest of the book he seems much more closely tied to Ivan’s POV.  He never seemed that serious a suitor for Ekaterin, but maybe that’s because my brain insists on painting him as gay.  I’m pretty sure he isn’t–or, at least, whatever he is, he is interested in women–but I can’t get over his foppishness, perhaps.  Oscar Wilde associations, perhaps.  Well, I gather that Barrayar might not be particularly friendly to openly gay people, so a gay man may want a camouflage wife in any case.  After all, Vordarian tried to sabotage Aral Vorkosigan’s marriage by outing him to his wife…  And, of course, there’s the late unlamented Ges Vorrutyer, from Shards of Honour, who was Aral’s lover.  At least By can’t be as bad as him.  (And by the way, I hate “By” as the name of a character.  Never give a character a name, or a nickname, which is a common two-letter word.  I keep reading it as the preposition and then having to go back.)

As far as the butter bugs go, I confess that I’m solidly on Miles’s side.  I am, to some degree, reconciled to the fact that insects exist, and probably need to exist to keep our ecosystems from collapsing.  But I would be happy if I never had to personally encounter one, ever again, in my life.  They creep me out, and I have proved my manhood several times by cringing and shuddering while my wife disposes of some harmless beetle that has ventured out into the open.  So it’s probably a good thing that Bujold introduced the bugs in Mark’s POV, because we first see them through the eyes of someone who doesn’t hate them on sight…

Ekaterin turns out to be in denial about Miles’s feelings for her, having convinced herself that he was only joking, somehow, at the end of the last book, when he told her that she could be next in line if she wanted to.  Miles is trying to play things casual and try not to spook her, while of course covertly pursuing his goals, which, of course, will not turn out well.  No battle plan survives contact with the enemy–but who is the “enemy” here?  Is there one?  Not yet…but there might be soon.


I guess the short chapters from the last couple of books have spoiled me, because these ones leave me panting and gasping (metaphorically) by the time they’re done.  Maybe once the currently-ridiculous commute times settle down, I’ll be more up to multiple-chapter weeks, but I wouldn’t count on it for a little while yet…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread–the reread blog devoted to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in case that wasn’t clear.  This week I finally get to start what is possibly my favourite book in the whole series (Memory being the other main contender)–A Civil Campaign.  Like Memory, it gains a lot of its stature by standing on the shoulders of the other books in the series, in particular its immediate predecessor, Komarr, but it also picks up plotlines from Mirror Dance and Memory, and just in general gains a lot by resonance with the rest of the series.  It’s principally a romance, the main plot being about the relationship between Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson, but it also covers a lot of other territory, including some very science-fictional issues about genes and identity.  It’s a lot of fun, so let’s get into it.

Chapter One

Pym is driving Miles to the Vorthyses’ residence to see Ekaterin; they try taking a shortcut through the university campus, which nearly leads to an accident.  Miles has a bouquet of flowers, which he hopes won’t be seen as too redundant.  Pym asks about this woman who seems to have captured Miles’s attention, and wonders what happened to Miss Captain Elli Quinn; Miles says that Miss Admiral Quinn made the right choice for her, and says he needs to find a woman who likes Barrayar and make her fall in love with him, rather than trying to do it the other way around.  At least this courtship promises to entertain his staff…

Lord Auditor Vorthys and his wife still live in the same three-story house they had before his Auditorial career, when they both taught, not wanting to try to move all of their books.  With their three children having left, they had plenty of room to offer to Ekaterin and Nikki when they needed a place to stay while Ekaterin went to classes at the university.  Miles is just as pleased that she is only a few kilometres from Vorkosigan House.  He tries to check his reflection before he enters; Pym assures him he looks fine.  Miles gathers his flowers, and a plastic flimsy, and rings the doorbell.

Professora Vorthys answers the door, commenting on Miles’s promptness; Miles asks if Ekaterin is in, starting to babble about traffic and the flowers.  He last saw Ekaterin at her husband’s funeral, where he barely got a chance to speak to her.  The Professora ushers him in, saying that she has been through a lot, with so few people she can talk to about it, but she seems to be holding up under the strain.  She shows Miles to a small back garden, where Ekaterin is sitting and reading, dressed primly in widow’s black.

She greets Miles happily enough, thanking him for the flowers; she says she’s been spending a lot of time outside since her return from Komarr.  She thanks him for coming to the funeral, and offers him and her aunt a seat; Aunt Vorthys, though, leaves the two of them alone.  Miles says he’s turned in his final reports, and now his time will be Gregor’s until after the wedding, since he’s Gregor’s Second.

“I’m sure you’ll do them with your usual flair.”

God, I hope not. “I don’t think flair is exactly what my Aunt Vorpatril—she’s in charge of all the Emperor’s wedding arrangements—would wish from me. More like, shut up and do what you’re told, Miles….”

Ekaterin says she had no trouble securing Nikki’s guardianship from Tien’s cousin, Vassily Vorsoisson.  She hasn’t had a chance to start her actual university courses yet, being too late for the summer semester, so she’s planning out her courses–mostly biology and chemistry, and some actual horticulture.  She hopes to find some paying work in the interim to ease the burden of living with her relatives.  Miles spots a red ceramic basin with a small Barrayaran plant on it, which he hazards a guess is from the remains of her old bonsai skellytum; Ekaterin confirms that it’s the surviving fragment from the old one.

Miles praises her talents for dealing with Barrayaran plants, and adds in praise for the garden designs he’d happened across on her comconsole back on Komarr.  Ekaterin demurs, saying they were nothing special, but Miles perseveres, saying he liked the idea of the garden made up of native Barrayaran plants.  He shows her the flimsy, which is a map of an empty lot next to Vorkosigan House, which ImpSec has forced them to keep fairly clear for security reasons.  It’s got a few trees and some gravel paths, and that’s about it.

“Now, I think,” he went on valiantly, “that it would be a splendid thing to install a Barrayaran garden—all native species—open to the public, in this space. A sort of gift from the Vorkosigan family to the city of Vorbarr Sultana. With running water, like in your design, and walks and benches and all those civilized things. And those discreet little name tags on all the plants, so more people could learn about the old ecology and all that.” There: art, public service, education—was there any bait he’d left off his hook? Oh yes, money. “It’s a happy chance that you’re looking for a summer job,” chance, hah, watch and see if I leave anything to chance, “because I think you’d be the ideal person to take this on. Design and oversee the installation of the thing. I could give you an unlimited, um, generous budget, and a salary, of course. You could hire workmen, bring in whatever you needed.”

And she would have to visit Vorkosigan House practically every day, and consult frequently with its resident lord. And by the time the shock of her husband’s death had worn away, and she was ready to put off her forbidding formal mourning garb, and every unattached Vor bachelor in the capital showed up on her doorstep, Miles could have a lock on her affections that would permit him to fend off the most glittering competition. It was too soon, wildly too soon, to suggest courtship to her crippled heart; he had that clear in his head, even if his own heart howled in frustration. But a straightforward business friendship just might get past her guard . . . .

Ekaterin protests that she doesn’t have the real skill to do this yet, and she might screw it up horribly; Miles says that it will be a learning experience, and she can always make changes to it over time.  She says she doesn’t want to waste his money, and Miles suggests that she come over to Vorkosigan House the next day and view the site herself.  She says she can be over at midday, when her aunt will be available to watch Nikki, and Miles endorses this plan.

Miles asks after Nikki himself; Ekaterin says he’s enjoying the room and the house, but starting to get a little bored without friends his own age.  She says that the gene therapy has worked completely, and he is at no risk of developing Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, which is a huge weight off her shoulders.  Nikki himself emerges, and he and Miles discuss the huge groundcar he arrived in, which Miles tells him was armoured, though it never actually got fired on.  Nikki’s socialization lasts long enough for him to get a few cookies and head back inside.  Miles thinks that he will need to keep Nikki in account in his campaign, perhaps winning him over by introducing him to a real jumpship pilot–a happily married one, so as not to introduce more competition.

He does wonder if there’s going to be more competition–he hadn’t expected Venier’s proposal, for instance, and the sex balance among the Vor in capital is still skewed heavily in the direction of males.  Miles asks Ekaterin if she’s had any callers, since even mourning garb won’t hold them all off for long, and she is very firm that she doesn’t need to try marriage a second time.  Miles tries to hide his dismay and come off as nonthreatening, and decides that he should withdraw before she begins to feel pressured.

Miles informs Pym that he’s got Ekaterin coming over for lunch the next day, and begins to go over plans for the meal.  He tells Pym they should clean up the house, then begins to wonder if he should try to put forth more of a helpless bachelor vibe inside; Pym says he thinks they should put their best foot forward.  Miles tells Pym to always be the driver for Ekaterin and/or Nikki; his seizures are under control, now, and he does sometimes drive and fly on his own, but never with passengers, and certainly never to risk anyone so important.

He asks Pym about his own courtship; Pym says he was working for ImpSec, doing security at Vorhartung Castle, and she was a clerk in the archives.  They each claim to have spotted the other first.  Pym had decided to leave the Service and find a more settled job, and Illyan had let him know that Count Vorkosigan had an Armsman position open, and that was that.

Before getting out of the car, Miles asks for a quiet word with Pym.  He doesn’t want Ekaterin to be gossiped about; Pym denies that he would anyway.  Miles also says that he’s not technically courting Ekaterin yet, since she’s been through a difficult time and he doesn’t want to scare her off, so he would appreciate them not spilling the beans before he’s ready to do something more open.  Pym assures him that he understands.

The next day, Ekaterin examines the space, coming up with a few ideas, proposing landscaping changes for water flow and asking him what kind of statement he wants the garden to make, aesthetic and political.  Miles protests he knows little of aesthetics, and Ekaterin asks if he wants it to be like a natural space, or more of a harmony between the natural and the human.  Miles says he’ll have to think about it, but is reassured that she thinks something can be done with the space.  There are two Earth trees which will have to be chopped down or moved, but all in all she finds it an extraordinary space for the middle of the city.  Miles says she can make up images of the contrasting designs for him to look at, and in the meantime invites her in for lunch.

“Vorkosigan House is about two hundred years old, now. It was built by my great-great-great grandfather, the seventh Count, in a moment of historically unusual family prosperity ended by, among other things, the building of Vorkosigan House,” Lord Vorkosigan told her cheerfully. “It replaced some decaying clan fortress down in the old Caravanserai area, and not before time, I gather.”

Miles seems a little surprised to find the door opened for them, with Armsman Pym and two other Ekaterin doesn’t know in attendance; Ekaterin is slightly daunted.  Miles introduces the other two armsmen–Roic and Jankowski–to her, before dismissing them.  He offers to give her a tour of the house, and she says she doesn’t want to put him to any trouble, but he insists, and she acquiesces.  He shows her through the library, whose vast array of print books entrances her, and into the well-maintained gardens, then into the garage.  She asks about his lightflyer, and then reprimands herself when his response reminds her that his seizures would keep him from flying much.  Then into the kitchen, to meet Ma Kosti, the cook, who encourages him to come over more often, since it’s dull cooking for just Miles.

They then head up to the second floor, where he shows her his current suite of rooms, formally Count Piotr’s, then offers to take her up to the attics.  Ekaterin, a little overwhelmed, asks if he grew up there, and Miles explains how he spent the first several years of his life at the Imperial Residence with Gregor.  When his father reconciled with Count Piotr, they moved back, claiming the third floor; Miles’s room was a small one, chosen to make it a poor target, but with a good view of the garden.  He admits he didn’t move down until after his medical discharge.  What Ekaterin thinks is a bathroom turns out to be a closet.

The closet was stuffed with uniforms—Lord Vorkosigan’s old military uniforms, she realized from the size of them, and the superior tailoring. He wouldn’t have been able to use standard-issue gear, after all. She recognized black fatigues, Imperial dress and undress greens, and the glittering brilliance of the formal parade red-and-blues. An array of boots stood guard along the floor from side to side. They’d all been put away clean, but the close concentrated aroma of him still permeated the warm dry air that puffed against her face like a caress. She inhaled, stunned by the military-masculine patchouli. It seemed to flow from her nose to her body directly, circumventing her brain. He stepped anxiously to her side, watching her face; the well-chosen scent he wore that she’d noticed in the cool air of his groundcar, a flattering spicy-citrus overlying clean male, was suddenly intensified by his proximity.

It was the first moment of spontaneous sensuality she’d felt since Tien’s death. Oh, since years before Tien’s death. It was embarrassing, yet oddly comforting too. Am I alive below the neck after all? She was abruptly aware that this was a bedroom.

Trying to regain her control, she pulls out an unfamiliar uniform, which Miles tells her is one of Admiral Naismith’s, of the Dendarii Free Mercenary fleet.  He tells her about how he began by pretending to be an Admiral, before ending up settling into the role in truth.  He swiftly changes into the uniform jacket, and she sees a visible change as he assumes the Naismith persona.

In a deadpan-perfect flat Betan accent that seemed never to have heard of the concept of the Vor caste, he said, “Aw, don’t let that dull dirt-sucking Barrayaran bring you down. Stick with me, lady, and I’ll show you the galaxy.” Ekaterin, startled, stepped back a pace.

When he tries to do up the jacket clasps, though, he discovers that he can’t do it up; he admits he hasn’t worn it in a year, and blames Ma Kosti.  Naismith’s days had been numbered anyway, he says; Ekaterin remembers seeing his needle-grenade scars back on Komarr, and deduces that Miles has pushed his body as far as he could on will alone, but in the end it wasn’t enough.  Miles suggests giving them to Nikki to play with, while they’d still fit him; Ekaterin thinks that that would be an awful idea for something obviously still so precious to him, and, attempting to deflect the offer, asks him if he’d go back.  Miles thinks it over, and says that it feels like a role he’s outgrown, though he does miss it terribly.

They resume the tour, covering his parents’ residence on the third floor briefly before returning to the second floor for lunch in a small parlour.  Ma Kosti brings out an exquisite luncheon for them.  Miles says that the house is still too empty and quiet, needing a little more life in it, though Ekaterin points out that his parents will doubtless be returning for the wedding.  Miles agrees, and then says he needs to warn her about Mark; Ekaterin had known he had a clone, but didn’t know the full story.  Miles brings her up to speed on how Mark was created by Komarran rebels, and forcibly made into Miles’s image, jeopardizing his sanity, but eventually brought into the family at the Countess’s urging.  Mark has been studying on Beta Colony, and Miles mentions Mark’s weight difference, trying to keep himself distinct from Miles.

A scrabble at the edge of the tablecloth made Ekaterin start; a determined-looking half-grown black-and-white kitten hauled itself up over the side, tiny claws like pitons, and made for Vorkosigan’s plate. He smiled absently, picked a couple of remaining shrimp from his salad, and deposited them before the little beast; it growled and purred through its enthusiastic chewing. “The gate guard’s cat keeps having these kittens,” he explained. “I admire their approach to life, but they do turn up . . .” He picked the large cover off the tray, and deposited it over the creature, trapping it. The undaunted purr resonated against the silver hemisphere like some small machine stripping its gears.

Miles offers her dessert from the revealed tray; Ekaterin is daunted by the exquisite confections, but agrees to take one, though she notes that Miles restrains himself, probably because of either Mark or the ill-fitting uniform.  As she is finishing her dessert, they hear voices, as Pym tries to deflect a visitor, but to no avail.  Miles introduces the newcomer, unwillingly, as his cousin Captain Ivan Vorpatril, who, though initially attracted by the Ma Kosti dessert, seems also interested by Ekaterin herself, who Pym had referred to as Miles’s “landscape designer”.

Lord Vorkosigan put in, “Ivan lives in an apartment. I believe there is a flowerpot on his balcony, but the last time I looked, its contents were dead.”

“It was winter, Miles.” A faint mewing from the silver dome at his elbow distracted him. He stared at the cover, curiously tilted it up on one side, said, “Ah. One of you,” and let it back down. He wandered around the table, spied the unused dessert plate, smiled beatifically, and helped himself to two of the pastries and the leftover fork at his cousin’s plate. Returning to the empty place opposite, he settled his spoils, dragged up a chair, and seated himself between Lord Vorkosigan and Ekaterin. He regarded the mews of protest rising in volume from the dome, sighed, retrieved the feline prisoner, and settled it on his lap atop the fine cloth napkin, occupying it with a liberal smear of cream on its paws and face.

Miles asks Ivan, in exasperation, why he’s there, and why his guards couldn’t keep him out.  Ivan says his mother has sent him with a long list of chores for Miles.  Miles tells Ekaterin, regretfully, that they’ll have to talk later, and apologizes for Ivan, though Ekaterin isn’t quite sure why.  Miles asks if she’ll take on the job, and she says she’ll show him the prospective designs, assuring him that she still has his various contact numbers.  He shows her into the groundcar that is to take her home.

Ivan reflects on how the kitten made an excellent prop, helping to soften Ekaterin’s gaze on him; he wonders where Miles found such an exquisite widow.  His last night’s date, a University student, had seemed to have potential, but she flew her own lightflyer, and almost managed to make Ivan himself queasy; at the restaurant, he discovered that he was being used to make her real boyfriend jealous, and he left them to it.  It’s just a sign of what’s happening to young Barrayaran girls these days.

Miles returns, complaining about Ivan’s timing, and Ivan baits him about Ekaterin.  Miles asks about the Vor lady that Ivan had had an arrangement with, and Ivan mourns that her compliant husband had ended up getting a job on Sergyar and taking her with him, reasserting his rights.  Ivan asks again about Ekaterin, and Miles changes to subject to the flimsy that Ivan had brought with him.  Ivan says it’s the agenda for the upcoming meeting with Gregor, Laisa and Lady Alys, and Miles’s presence is required, as the Second.  Miles asks why Ivan’s delivering it, and ivan complains that his superiors have actually seconded him to his own mother until the wedding’s over, so she’s now actually in his chain of command.  Miles, unsympathetic, says that Alys Vorpatril may be the most important person on the planet until Gregor and Laisa are safely hitched.  He also reminds Ivan that any heirs that the Imperial couple can cook up will be more of a safety margin between the two of them and the dreaded Imperium.

Sensing how lovestruck Miles is with Ekaterin, Ivan resolves to try to get some of his own back for all the witticisms that Miles has visited upon him over the years for his own romantic affairs.  He offers to provide Ekaterin with someone more cheerful than Miles, to show her around.  Miles says that she’s his, but Ivan quickly establishes that Miles can’t back that up with an engagement, or an understanding, and states that she’s fair game.  Miles says he plans to assert his claim when the time is right, and Ivan realizes that Miles even hopes to marry the woman; Miles says he’s never pretended to be uninterested in marriage, like Ivan.

After a long, chill silence, Miles said softly, “Are you challenging my ingenuity . . . Ivan?”

“Ah . . .” It didn’t take long to grope for the right answer. “No.”

“Good,” Miles breathed, settling back. “Good . . .” Another long and increasingly disturbing silence followed this, during which his cousin studied Ivan through narrowed eyes. At last, he seemed to come to some internal decision. “Ivan, I’m asking for your word as Vorpatril—just between you and me—that you will leave Ekaterin alone.”

Ivan’s brows flew up. “That’s a little pushy, isn’t it? I mean, doesn’t she get a vote?”

Miles’s nostrils flared. “You have no real interest in her.”

“How do you know? How do I know? I barely had a chance to say hello before you hustled her out.”

“I know you. For you, she’s interchangeable with the next ten women you chance to meet. Well, she’s not interchangeable for me. I propose a treaty. You can have all the rest of the women in the universe. I just want this one. I think that’s fair.”

Ivan points out that Miles isn’t in charge of the rest of the women in the universe, so he can’t give them to Ivan.  Ivan asks where he met her, anyway, and Miles says they met on Komarr.  Ivan fishes for details about the Komarr case, but Miles clams up.  He does mention the recent death of her husband, and Ivan jokes that it was clever of him to create his own widow like that.

All the latent amusement which had parried Ivan’s sallies till now was abruptly wiped from his cousin’s face. His back straightened as much as it could, and he leaned forward, his hands gripping his chair arms. His voice dropped to an arctic pitch. “I will thank you, Lord Vorpatril, to take care not to repeat that slander. Ever.”

Ivan’s stomach lurched in surprise. He had seen Miles come the Lord Auditor a couple of times now, but never before at him. The freezing gray eyes suddenly had all the expression of a pair of gun barrels. Ivan opened his mouth, then closed it, more carefully. What the hell was going on here? And how did someone so short manage to project that much menace? Years of practice, Ivan supposed. And conditioning.

Miles says that he can’t tell Ivan about the Komarr case–it’s “slit-your-own-throat-before-reading” level.  He tells Ivan that Etienne Vorsoisson’s death was a murder that he failed to prevent, but certainly did not cause; however, with the case being so classified, he wouldn’t be able to disprove any such accusations against him.  Ivan says that Gregor will know better, but Miles points out that most people see his relationship with Gregor as nepotistic.

Miles, who had fallen into a study of his half-boots, looked up again. “I know I have no right to demand a damned thing from you, Ivan. I still owe you for . . . for the events of last fall. And the dozen other times you saved my neck, or tried to. All I can do is ask. Please. I don’t get many chances, and this one matters the world to me.” A crooked smile.

Damn that smile. Was it Ivan’s fault, that he had been born undamaged while his cousin had been born crippled? No, blast it. It was bloody bungled politics that had wrecked him, and you’d think it would be a lesson to him, but no. Demonstrably, even sniper fire couldn’t stop the hyperactive little git. In between inspiring you to strangle him with your bare hands, he could make you proud enough to cry. At least, Ivan had taken care no one could see his face, when he’d watched from the Council floor as Miles had taken his Auditor’s oath with that terrifying intensity, before all the assembled panoply of Barrayar last Winterfair. So small, so wrecked, so obnoxious. So incandescent. Give the people a light, and they’ll follow it anywhere. Did Miles know how dangerous he was?

Ivan wonders if Miles realizes that he wouldn’t have a hope of stealing any woman that Miles really wanted.  He finally agrees to give Miles first shot at her, but that’s it, even, grudgingly, pledging his word as a Vorpatril.  The conversation lightens up then, but Ivan quickly excuses himself once it turns mostly into an enumeration of Ekaterin’s many virtues.  On his way out, he realizes that, once again, Miles has talked him into giving him his way.  Ivan decides that isn’t very fair, particularly since, for Miles’s own good, he should have to fight for her love, and give her a chance to choose now, rather than devastate him by changing her mind later.  With a little thought, he comes up with a scheme that will accomplish this while allowing him to keep his oath…

Comments

This is kind of a long chapter.  It felt that way when I was trying to summarize it–normally I can get the first chapter of the week done on Monday, but I ended up doing the Ivan POV on Tuesday…and then these comments on Wednesday.  I did a quick word count (since I have it in HTML from the CD that came with Cryoburn), and this chapter is over 14,000 words; the next one is closer to 8,000…and even that is longer than most of the chapters in Komarr, apparently.  So I guess this book is going to be a bit more work, because of longer chapters.  In fact, this chapter is over half as long as “Winterfair Gifts”.  It also looks like this book is 20 chapters (or 19 and an epilogue, at least), but if chapters are going to be this long then I might have to do a few singles just to keep from exhaustion.

This is not Bujold’s first book with multiple viewpoints, of course, but the previous ones–Komarr and Mirror Dance tended to alternate chapters between their POV characters, or at least approximate that, and there were only two.  This book has five POV characters–Miles, Ekaterin, Ivan, Kareen, and Mark, and three of them get scenes in this chapter.  It works very well–it’s a joy to see Ivan’s POV after so long of him being in the background, and it definitely whetted interest for him to get his own book, which of course he recently did.  I love the byplay with the kitten, because, you know, kitten!

Miles is approaching the challenge of courting Ekaterin like some kind of ImpSec covert ops mission, which is what’s going to get him in trouble, eventually.  He’s so convinced that he deserves to get her that he’s willing to do whatever he can, ignoring Ekaterin’s perfectly reasonable desire to just be left alone, and her gun-shyness about marriage.  Admittedly Ekaterin herself does show some flashes of appreciation for Miles, and that sensual moment in his uniform closet, but Miles is pushing a little too hard.  Madame Vorthys seems to know exactly what’s going on, and doesn’t seem to be taking any steps to discourage Miles, so I guess on some level she approves.

Chapter Two

Kareen Koudelka enters the orbital shuttle and prepares for the flight back down to Barrayar, returning from a year of schooling on Beta Colony.  She has mixed feelings about returning home, and makes a note to ask Miles how he felt after his own Beta experience.  Though he is an Imperial Auditor now, which she finds hard to picture.

Mark had expended considerable nervous wit at the news, before sending off a congratulatory message by tight-beam, but then, Mark had a Thing about Miles. Thing was not accepted psychoscientific terminology, she’d been informed by his twinkling therapist, but there was scarcely another term with the scope and flexibility to take in the whole complexity of the . . . Thing.

She checks her appearance, which hasn’t changed much, or has at least been restored to its original state.  She takes out her Betan earrings, not willing to gamble that her mother might have picked up the code from Countess Cordelia–hers say that she’s contraceptive-protected, but in a committed relationship and not looking for any other action.  She thinks that the earring code is like some other cultures’ conventions, like wedding rings, but Betans tend to be scrupulously honest about them, trying to avoid guessing games; she understands Cordelia better now, she thinks.

She watches out the window as the shuttle descends, exulting in all the water, so rare on Beta, and hurries off the shuttle when it lands.  Her family don’t disappoint her, her parents and all of her sisters there to welcome her with flowers and a big decorated sign, and a group hug.  Male passersby tend to be quite distracted by the Koudelka sisters, though Delia, at least, has finally gotten engaged, to Duv Galeni, and Kareen looks forward to hearing about that.  They head out to the big groundcar they borrowed from the Vorkosigans, complete with Armsman Pym as driver.

Olivia asks when Mark is coming; Kareen says he’s stopped off at Escobar for business.  He was planning to check on the Durona clinic, but he’s also planning to get some quick weight-loss drugs; Kareen isn’t sure that this is a good idea, but she’s learning when not to poke her nose into Mark’s body-control issues.  She’s been sitting in on Mark’s therapy sessions, and even participating a little bit.  Her relationship with Mark is complicated, involving trust, autonomy, patience, and confidentiality, and she doesn’t feel she can explain it easily to her family.  They pester her, asking if he’s her boyfriend or what; Olivia judges him a little creepy, and Kareen hides her indignance, thinking that with all the things that Mark has gone through, he’s done well not to be a twitching puddle.  But she suppresses the urge to tell them all about his coping mechanisms, knowing that they’re just wondering if he’s suitable prospective in-law.  Even her father, as he quells her sisters, asks if he should expect a go-between from the Vorkosigans, and Kareen says no, Mark not being quite ready for that step yet.

Olivia asks about Mark’s weight; Kareen had known that Cordelia’s mother was passing news to her daughter, but she hadn’t realized that the Countess was also passing it on to her own mother.  At least the news that she and Mark are lovers shouldn’t have made it back yet.  Kareen tries to explain how Mark’s made lots of progress in his therapy, and control of his own weight is important to him.

Kareen pictured herself gibbering, Well, he’s gotten completely over his torture-induced impotence, and been trained how to be a gentle and attentive lover. His therapist says she’s terribly proud of him, and Grunt is just ecstatic. Gorge would be a reasonable gourmand, if it weren’t for his being co-opted by Howl to meet Howl’s needs, and it was me who figured out that was what was really going on with the eating binges. Mark’s therapist congratulated me for my observation and insight, and loaded me down with catalogs for five different Betan therapist training programs, and told me she’d help me find scholarships if I was interested. She doesn’t quite know what to do about Killer yet, but Killer doesn’t bother me. I can’t deal with Howl. And that’s one year’s progress. And oh yes, through all this private stress and strain Mark maintained top standing in his high-powered finance school, does anybody care? “It’s pretty complicated to explain,” she managed at last.

She changes the subject to Delia’s fiancé and whether he knows Laisa Toscane.  Delia opines that she hopes Gregor will let Laisa work in economics instead of just P.R., and adds that they’ve already made it known that they plan to use uterine replicators for their children.  Kareen recalls and she and Olivia, the younger two sisters, were replicator-born, and often had to serve as living examples that it was harmless.  Delia says the Komarrans are still coming to terms with the marriage, and there’s going to be an entire second wedding on Komarr.  Until that’s over with, she and Duv won’t be getting married, since Duv, now in charge of Komarran Affairs, won’t be getting any leave whatsoever.

Later that evening, after the big dinner with family and friends, Kareen finally gets to talk to her parents privately.  She broaches the fact that she wants to return to Beta Colony for the next year’s school; her parents don’t seem enthusiastic, and she is a little irritated about that.  Her mother points out that her first year was a little eclectic, even though she did well, and the schools in Vorbarr Sultana’s District are less expensive.  Kareen doesn’t want to mention that Mark is the real reason she wants to return, and mentions scholarships that Mark’s therapist had talked about.
Her mother says that it was mostly Lady Cordelia’s scholarship that got Kareen to study offworld in the first place, but it’s going to another girl this year.  Kareen says she can work in the summer, and pleads with them to keep an open mind and try to find a solution.  Her father says that they’re already overextended, their beach house mortgaged and being rented out for most of the summer, and Drou teaching self-defense classes.  Kareen remembers the house, a wedding gift from Alys Vorpatril, and hopes they don’t have to sell it; she realizes that she can’t rely on her parents for assistance, and decides she’ll have to come up with something on her own.

Miles attends the planning meeting in the Imperial Residence with Ivan, Duv Galeni, Colonel Lord Vortala the Younger of ImpSec, as well as Gregor, Laisa, and Alys.  Miles’s thoughts drift to where he and Ekaterin might get married–Vorkosigan House might be too small for all the people he’ll want to witness it…will he have to hold it in Hassadar instead, or could he have it outdoors at Vorkosigan Surleau, perhaps?  Assuming he can manage to bring Ekaterin around by summer, of course; he won’t want to have to wait another year for it.

Laisa reaches a pages that causes her to exclaim in incredulity, which Miles was half expecting.  Lady Alys is trying to come up with as Proper an Imperial Wedding as she can, but the problem is that the most recent model is Emperor Ezar’s, in the middle of the war with the Cetagandans, and before that you have to go back to the Time of Isolation.  Laisa objects to the tradition of having the bride strip naked in front of all the guests; Gregor says it was, at the time, considered quite reasonable for both sets of in-laws to be able to check the bride and groom for any visible mutations.  The custom has mostly died out, and Miles says that he’d rather the Imperial Wedding not reinvigorate it; Ivan calls him a spoilsport.

Lady Alys says that she’s not proposing the exact custom, but something symbolically similar might help win over some of the conservatives.  Galeni suggests publishing gene scans.

Gregor grimaced, but then took his fiancée’s hand and gripped it, and smiled at her. “I’m sure Laisa’s would be just fine.”

“Well, of course it is,” she began. “My parents had it checked before I ever went into the uterine replicator—”

Gregor kissed her palm. “Yes, and I’ll bet you were a darling blastocyst.”

She grinned giddily at him. Alys smiled faintly, in brief indulgence. Ivan looked mildly nauseated. Colonel Vortala, ImpSec trained and with years of experience on the Vorbarr Sultana scene, managed to look pleasantly blank. Galeni, nearly as good, appeared only a little stiff.

Miles takes advantage of the brief interlude to mention Kareen’s return, and invite the whole clan over for supper sometime.  Gregor asks for other suggestions; Miles suggests letting the in-laws, and perhaps a few others, attend a physical given to the opposite member shortly before the wedding and pronounce themselves satisfied during the ceremony.  Alys, Gregor and Laisa agree that that will probably do.

Laisa asks who will be standing in loco parentis for Gregor; Gregor suggests his foster parents the Vorkosigans, but Miles points out that the Komarrans may be less than enthused about having the Butcher of Komarr “ogle their nekkid sacrificial maiden”.  He suggests his mother and Lady Alys instead, since guarding the genome has always been a traditionally female occupation, and this meets with universal approval.

After a few more items, Alys asks Gregor about the Vorbretten case; Gregor says he’s trying to stay uncommitted until the Council of Counts decide what they think about it.  Miles, puzzled, asks what they’re talking about; Lady Alys says it was a scandal that broke while he was offplanet.  René Vorbretten was a few years older than Miles, a promising soldier following in his father’s footsteps, who has taken up the Countship after his father’s death in the Hegen Hub.  Lady Alys said that René and his wife had gotten gene-scans done while preparing their first zygote for the uterine replicators.  It turned out that René was one-eighth Cetagandan; his great-grandmother had apparently had an affair with a Cetagandan ghem-lord, and his grandfather was the fruit of that union.  The information eventually leaked to Sigur Vorbretten, a relative who would inherit if René’s grandfather was pronounced illegitimate, and Sigur’s father-in-law, Count Vormoncrief, is pressing Sigur’s case before the Council of Counts.

Miles points out that a Count doesn’t have to be the prior Count’s son, quoting the case of Lord Midnight, the horse that a previous Count Vortala had pronounced his heir.  Lord Vortala says that Sigur’s side have pointed out that Lord Midnight’s confirmation as heir was later revoked, setting a precedent for disinheriting.  Sigur is after everything René inherited, but willing to settle for the Countship.  Lady Alys asks what will happen when the Counts are supposed to swear fealty to Laisa in the wedding; will Sigur or René, or both, have to do it?  Gregor enjoins Miles to look into the matter, and at the very least try to keep the two of them from coming to blows during the wedding.

Gregor asks when the Vorkosigans are returning from Sergyar; Miles says he’d have thought Cordelia would be there to help Lady Alys, but Alys says that Cordelia tends to think, these days, that the couple should elope.  They discuss fireworks, deciding to keep them limited in the days before the wedding, but Gregor promises to boost the display after the wedding from his own funds.

As the meeting ends, Alys give Miles a list of his meal schedule; as Gregor’s Second, he will get to attend some receptions in honour of the wedding that Gregor will be unable to attend–even Ivan will have to go to some.  Miles spots more than a dozen over the three days before the wedding, and protests that he’ll never be able to eat that much.  Then he decides that maybe he’ll be able to take Ekaterin to some of them, which cheers him up.  Ivan suggests that they send Mark to some of them too, since he’s apparently a good eater, but Lady Alys says Mark’s social position is still a little dubious to some, and he’s not quite stable enough for all public events.

“It was a joke,” Ivan muttered defensively. “How do you expect us to all get through this alive if we’re not allowed to have a sense of humor?”

“Exert yourself,” his mother advised him brutally.

On these daunting words, the meeting broke up.

Comments

Kareen is coming home from school break on Beta, which often means summer, though I suppose it’s hard to know what Betan seasons are like, such an arid planet with so much of the civilization underground…but I find it a little coincidental, if you think about it, for that to line up with Barrayar’s summer as well.  Unless the two planets have exactly the same orbital period, which is unlikely, their calendars won’t be in sync.  It’s just as likely for Midsummer on Barrayar to line up with whatever passes for winter on Beta Colony.  Or, I guess I should say, the equinoxes, or something in between.  Not a big deal, it just seems a little convenient for the author.

Mark is the only POV character for the book not to show up in these first two chapters, Miles getting a repeat instead.  (I’ll have to check and see who gets the most POV scenes–I suspect Miles and Ekaterin get the lion’s share, but I’m not sure how equal they are.)  We will find out soon enough, of course, what Mark’s business on Escobar was, and how much of it he brings back to Barrayar with him…

The Vorbretten plotline is one of the major subplots I remember from the book, the other one being introduced in Ivan’s POV a little later.  I don’t remember exactly how it’s resolved at this point, but I suppose there’s time for that.  I don’t think that Sigur really has much of a claim, really, but I’ve been playing Crusader Kings II on the computer recently, and you don’t really need much of a claim to be able to press it.  At least it just gets voted before the Council of Counts, rather than leading to an actual war…so I guess that’s progress.


The next two chapters look to be a little bit shorter in word count, and, in any event, this book is lots of fun to read, so I may encounter some of those difficulties stopping on time, like I had with Memory, but we’ll see if I can keep up with the pace.  Until next week, then…

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