Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Barrayar’ Category

I said that I wasn’t sure if I’d post on Tuesday or Thursday, so here I am posting on Wednesday instead (at least in some time zones).  I was actually almost ready to post yesterday, thanks to my wife’s netbook, but I was on vacation with my family, and we spent far too much of the day tramping around Stanley Park, and I was bushed, so I only managed to finish the Chapter Eight summary.  Here comes the rest of it right now.

Chapter Seven

One morning, Aral asks a serving man, one of his father’s, to fetch Koudelka.  The man tells him that Koudelka is in the hospital, according to Illyan’s guard commander, having gotten beaten up the night before, and they’re waiting for a full report from Illyan.  Aral angrily summons the guard commander and asks to be informed in the future if any of his staff are injured; the guard commander replies that they found out about it quite late at night, and by the time they had, Koudelka and Bothari, who was also involved, were already at the hospital and out of danger, so they decided to let Aral sleep.

Aral asks for more details of the incident.  The guard commander says that Koudelka and Bothari went out for some “entertainment” at a rundown part of the capital called the caravanserai, a place where Bothari regularly goes when he has the chance.

Cordelia asks for a description, and is appalled to learn that these people have no electricity, and are thus deprived of comconsoles, which is unheard of on Beta Colony, as is poverty, for the most part.  She is also upset to learn how cheap life is there, and argues with Count Piotr over how many potential geniuses they’re missing out on, an argument which Cordelia abandons after inadvertently implying that Vor ancestry contained a number of bastards (which seems obvious to her, and she can’t figure out how it offends everyone).

The guard commander returns to his story, and says that the two men were set upon by a gang of toughs, who beat them up, though four of them were killed.  He is less sure of the precise injuries, but it sounds like Bothari had a broken arm, a concussion, and other injuries, while Koudelka had both legs broken and a number of shock burns; the assailants apparently discovered that Koudelka’s artificial nerves reacted oddly to the application of a shock stick.

Illyan’s report later adds more details.  Koudelka “wanted to get laid”, and enlisted Bothari to help him.  They went to Bothari’s favourite place, but Koudelka was apparently unable to perform, and Bothari waited longer and got drunker than usual; after an argument over cost, they left.  Illyan says that his men had used fast-penta to interrogate everyone at the brothel, and found nothing suspicious.  Bothari took a wrong turn and got them lost, and they were stalked by about a dozen men, who managed to get Bothari’s stunner away before he’d taken out more than three of them.  Koudelka had only his sword-stick, and once he revealed the blade they took him for a Vor, and things got ugly; they broke his legs and started on the shock-stick.

Illyan notes that his own agent was late to catch up to them, because Koudelka had tickets for a musical performance and apparently changed his mind at the last minute.  The agent eventually tracked them down to the caravanserai, but disappeared.  It took hours for anyone to realize that Koudelka was missing, but when they did they immediately sent out patrols, and found the gang members before they got too far with Koudelka.  Illyan also notes that while Koudelka and Bothari accounted for three of the deaths, a fourth was an allergic reaction to fast-penta, which is sometimes natural but also often implanted in secret agents to keep them from being interrogated.

Illyan says that he doesn’t know why Koudelka had the idea in the first place, and it makes him suspicious; Cordelia offers to clear his mind, off the record.  She says he’s in love with somebody, and obviously wanted to see if he could still perform sexually before he went any further.

Bothari returns to Vorkosigan House after a few days, still in a cast and quite taciturn about the night’s events, and Drou is obviously worried about Koudelka’s continued absence; Cordelia wonders what garbled version of the story she has heard.  It’s a month before Koudelka is back, and he deflects queries about what happened as well.

Aral seems to be busy a lot of the time, and quite worried about something, and Cordelia starts to worry for his safety again.  She wonders if she’d be able to cope with Barrayar without him, and begins to miss the dry climate of Beta Colony as the weather turns rainy.

One wet afternoon she is reading quietly in the library when Koudelka comes in.  Not noticing her, he picks up his swordstick, exposes the blade, and then puts it to his neck.  Then he notices her there and he pulls the blade away, embarrassed.  They commiserate, Koudelka about the scorn and pity that seems to be all he has to look forward to, and Cordelia about the danger that Aral is in, and the impending childbirth.

Cordelia went still, suddenly face-to-face with her tightly suppressed fears. “I don’t trust your doctors,” she admitted shakily.

He smiled in deep irony. “I can’t blame you.”

A laugh puffed from her, and she hugged him back, around the chest, and raised her hand to wipe away the tiny drops of blood from the side of his neck. “When you love someone, it’s like your skin covers theirs. Every hurt is doubled. And I do love you so, Kou. I wish you’d let me help you.”

“Therapy, Cordelia?” Vorkosigan’s voice was cold, and cut like a stinging spray of rattling hail. She looked up, surprised, to see him standing before them, his face frozen as his voice. “I realize you have a great deal of Betan . . . expertise, in such matters, but I beg you will leave the project to someone else.”

Aral glares at Koudelka and leaves; Cordelia says that he didn’t mean it, and Koudelka says that he sure isn’t a threat to anyone’s marriage in his condition, and says he has work to do, leaving Cordelia infuriated at Barrayaran men.  Drou appears, and Cordelia lashes out at her for not being able to manage her own love life.  She then goes in search of her husband.

When she finds him, she takes him to task for his remark; Aral asks how he was supposed to react, finding her “cuddling” with Koudelka, and tells her to think about what anyone else would have thought, what stories might have gotten out to give ammunition to his political enemies.

“How the devil did we get onto your damned politics? I’m talking about a friend. I doubt you could have come up with a more wounding remark if you’d funded a study project. That was foul, Aral! What’s the matter with you, anyway?”

Aral admits that the job is getting to him, but Cordelia warns him that Koudelka’s on the verge of suicide.  Despite what happened with his wife, he needs to trust Cordelia not to be like her.

Cordelia asks if he can talk about his work problems.  Aral says that they might be on the verge of another war; Cetaganda had been hoping to take advantage of a period of chaos after Ezar’s death, but Aral didn’t oblige, so they seem to have been trying to take him out.  Either way, they will probably be probing in force at several disputed warp points.

Worse than that, though, Count Vorhalas approached him in private.  One of his sons, Lord Carl, got into a drunken fight, which unfortunately involved two decorative swords and kitchen knives, and ended up with his opponent stabbed in the abdomen and bleeding to death.  This legally makes it a murder committed as part of a duel, which is still a capital crime.  Vorhalas asked for leniency, but Aral is afraid to take that step even for a friend, even when he should have been executed for dueling himself decades ago, because it will become a slippery slope away from the justice-for-everyone that Emperor Ezar had been so committed to.  Cordelia urges him to do what he thinks right, though she is dismayed that that points him toward executing Carl Vorhalas.

Comments

The Koudelka and Bothari story is almost funny in places, but also sad and horrific, so maybe I’m just twisted.  Koudelka’s torment is brutal to see, but hopefully he’ll be able to get past it soon.  (If only I knew what was going to happen next!  Oh, wait, I do.)  The Carl Vorhalas story seems like the flipside of it, somehow–the man who wants to die and the man who’s going to die because of an awful mistake.  And I do see Aral’s point about having to uphold the laws as they’re written, without personal exemptions for friends and their families, but don’t they have lawyers on Barrayar?  Couldn’t someone make some kind of defense that it’s not really a duel, just to draw things out, or to at least push for a reform of the law?  Does Barrayar really have that poor of a legal system?  I guess that we don’t see any sign of lawyers in “The Mountains of Mourning”, but I don’t recall seeing many others in the series, not even in Komarr, apart from the Imperial Auditors.  I’ll have to pay attention.

What did happen to Illyan’s missing man, anyway?  I don’t remember if that becomes an important plot point later, or the guy who died from fast-penta.  I also don’t remember if the Cetagandans were really to blame for the attack, but maybe they do get involved somehow in later events, even though I don’t recall it that way.

Chapter Eight

Three weeks later, Aral attends Carl Vorhalas’s public execution; Cordelia asks him if he has to go, and he says it’s not strictly mandatory, but he still has to go.  He notes that he still thinks that it’s more civilized than Betan therapy for criminals, destroying you a little at a time instead of all at once.  He says it’s to be beheading, which is supposed to be painless, though when Cordelia presses, he admits that they really don’t know.

After he returns from the execution, he sits in silence for a long time, before telling Cordelia how Carl had tried to be brave, but his mother broke him down, and the executioner did a bad job of it, requiring three cuts.

“It lacked nothing for perfect hideousness. His mother cursed me, too. Until Evon and Count Vorhalas took her away.” The dead-expressioned voice escaped him then. “Oh, Cordelia! It can’t have been the right decision! And yet . . . and yet . . . no other one was possible. Was it?”

He came to her then, and held her in silence. He seemed very close to weeping, and it almost frightened her more that he did not.

After that he regains his self-possession and goes on about his work, but he lies awake that night, and Cordelia couldn’t think of the words to comfort him.  He speaks once, to wonder why this death, more than the others he holds himself responsible for, affects him like this, arresting his momentum when he needs to keep going forward.

Later that night Cordelia is awakened to a breaking of glass, and inhales an acrid gas.  Aral awakens then and recognizes the gas as soltoxin, telling Cordelia not to breathe.  He puts a pillow over her face and drags her out of the room just as she begins to vomit.  He begins barking orders to men nearby, telling them to get Illyan, and get the antidote from the Imperial Residence, which will be closer than ImpMil.

Soon Aral and Cordelia are showering in cool water, Aral urging her to keep washing, including her mouth if possible.  He recognized the odour of soltoxin, a poison gas, strictly controlled by the military; Cordelia says the nausea seems to be passing, but Aral says that it works slowly, eating away at soft tissues like the lungs if they don’t get the antidote.  Cordelia asks if it will affect the baby, and Aral admits he doesn’t know.

One of the guards reports that they’ve contacted the Imperial Residence.  Cordelia asks after Drou, and is told that she and Koudelka, who were together at the time, went after the assailant, even though Drou was supposed to check on Cordelia first.  They seem to have caught somebody, though.

They emerge when the doctor from the Residence arrives to set up the antidote.  He stops when he sees that Cordelia is pregnant, but Aral tells him to give her the antidote.  Cordelia breathes in the gas, which she finds almost as nauseating as the soltoxin, until the doctor says she’s had enough, before Aral takes his own dose.

Cordelia asks what the soltoxin will do to the baby, and the doctor says that nobody knows what happens without the antidote.  Cordelia notices the doctor’s look of pity and Aral’s pain and anger, and asks what the treatment does.  The doctor is reluctant to say, but Aral forces him, so he tells Cordelia that the antidote destroys bone development; it won’t affect her much, but it will the fetus.

She opened her eyes to Vorkosigan, and they stared at each other.

“The look on your face . . .” he whispered. “It’s not . . . Weep. Rage! Do something!” His voice rose to hoarseness. “Hate me at least!”

“I can’t,” she whispered back, “feel anything yet. Tomorrow, maybe.” Every breath was fire.

Aral gets dressed and says that at least he can see what it was that Kou and Drou had caught.  He tells Cordelia to stay behind but she refuses, and says that he won’t murder anyone in front of her; Aral isn’t so sure.

The entry hall is crowded with guards and medics; one of the guards lies on the floor with blood by his head, a medic attending him.  Illyan is just arriving, and says he’s thankful that Aral is all right; Aral just growls.  The prisoner is surrounded by guards; Drou stands nearby in a nightgown, holding a crossbow, obviously used to launch the soltoxin grenade, and Koudelka is in a uniform and bedroom slippers.  Koudelka is saying that he’d have had the man if Drou hadn’t interfered, but Drou says that it seemed that Koudelka was flat on the ground, before they are shushed at Aral’s approach.

The prisoner is in black military fatigues, which surprises Aral; Illyan cautions him uneasily that they need him alive to interrogate.  When they see his face, though, it turns out to be Evon Vorhalas, who lashes out at Aral for having his brother “cold-bloodedly” killed.

There was a long silence, then Vorkosigan leaned close to him, one arm extended past his head for support against the wall. He whispered hoarsely, “You missed me, Evon.”

Vorhalas spat in his face, spittle bloody from his injured mouth. Vorkosigan made no move to wipe it away. “You missed my wife,” he went on in a slow soft cadence. “But you got my son. Did you dream of sweet revenge? You have it. Look at her eyes, Evon. A man could drown in those sea-grey eyes. I’ll be looking at them every day for the rest of my life. So eat vengeance, Evon. Drink it. Fondle it. Wrap it round you in the night watch. It’s all yours. I will it all to you. For myself, I’ve gorged it to the gagging point, and have lost my stomach for it.”

Cordelia finds that she can’t hate Evon Vorhalas, since she can see exactly what brought him to his current state.  She tells Evon that Aral didn’t enjoy it, and wondered what he expected; Evon said that he expected a little human mercy.  Just before Aral and Cordelia leave for ImpMil, and Evon is taken away by Illyan’s men, Cordelia asks if Evon intended that particular effect when he used soltoxin.  Evon said he just grabbed something that was available, and, he thought, obscure enough that they wouldn’t find the antidote in time.  Aral says that he remembered the smell instantly, from the Karian mutiny, back when he was no older than Evon, and luckily the antidote was at the Imperial Residence instead of ImpMil.

Evon admits he hadn’t intended to catch her, didn’t even know that she would be in danger.  He certainly didn’t intend harm to the baby, he says, breaking down and weeping.  Aral is moved, but tells Illyan to send him a full report and takes Cordelia to the hospital.

At ImpMil they are separated, but soon given rooms across the hall from each other in the V.I.P. wing.  Cordelia can still feel the baby moving inside her.  Aral comes to visit, and they talk briefly, the doctors having warned them that their vocal cords are still in danger until the last of the soltoxin is cleared out.  After they do, she is left alone with an uneaten breakfast until a group of doctors enter her room–her own physician, the one from the Resident who had administered the antidote, and a Captain Vaagen who is introduced as an expert in military poisons.

They tell Cordelia that they should schedule the abortion promptly, since it’s already almost too late for it.  Cordelia asks if there is any hope, and two of them say that there is none, but Captain Vaagen brings up a calcium experiment that he read about; the other two try to shush him, asking him not to give her false hope.

Her world turned right-side-up again in a second, as she looked at the face of the man with ideas. She knew the type; half-right, half-cocked, half-successful, flitting from one monomania to another like a bee pollinating flowers, gathering little fruit but leaving seeds behind. She was nothing to him, personally, but the raw material for a monograph. The risks she took did not appall his imagination, she was not a person but a disease state. She smiled upon him, slowly, wildly, knowing him then for her ally in the enemy camp.

“How do you do, Dr. Vaagen? How would you like to write the paper of a lifetime?”

The other two doctors try to dissuade her, saying that the results have been grotesque, and even Vaagen admits the results are far from guaranteed, and may result in a “jellyfish”.  He also says that the mothers may suffer from the treatment, and Cordelia asks if it can be done in vitro instead, using the uterine replicators; Vaagen says it has possibilities, and he is acquainted with Dr. Henri.  Her doctor protests that Vaagen is only a biochemist, not a doctor, and Cordelia says that he can help Vaagen do the transfer to the replicator.

Her doctor refuses, saying that they can try again in a few months, assuming that there is no testicular scarring on Aral’s part; Cordelia says that she’s not even sure Aral will be alive in a few months.  Her doctor still refuses to do the operation, so she fires him and puts Vaagen in charge of the case.  Cordelia’s former doctor warns him that there is still the Regent himself to deal with.

 “You shall have an institute, if you can bring this off. You tell him,” she jerked her head in the direction of the hall, toward Aral’s room, “I said so.”

Comments

Yet more nameless doctors!  What does Bujold have against naming doctors?  Or is it just obstructive ones who don’t look at their patients as people that she has issues with?  Still.

This chapter’s events are among the most crucial in the entire series, because they determine a major part of the life of Miles Vorkosigan, the bone disorder that plagues him his whole life.  Of course, if Aral and Cordelia had never met, or hadn’t survived to marry, then that would have also been significant, but given that, this is probably the next most important factor.  Ms. Bujold has been quoted as saying that given the nature of Barrayar, the crippling of Aral’s son is about the worst thing that could happen to him, and so, as an author, she was obligated to do it.  Well, not obligated, but it seemed a logical step.  Didn’t Cordelia say at the end of Shards of Honour that great challenges were a great gift?  So.

And yet they don’t really follow logically from the earlier plot.  Evon Vorhalas admits that his choice of weapon was mostly by chance, and the “duel” that led to his brother Carl’s death was the worst sort of bad luck, too.  At no point does it seem like an outlandish coincidence, but it’s not tied to the rest of the plot, Vordarian or the Cetagandans or anything else that may be bubbling under the surface.  It’s just random chance, an act of God, bad luck.  And yet, somehow, Cordelia would probably admit that just living on Barrayar, with one of the most powerful men on the planet, the chances of something of the sort happening, if not this exact thing, are far too high to be neglected, so it still feels inevitable.


This coming weekend will also be busy, so it is once again possible that I’ll be a little late, or just do one chapter, or something, but I will try to at least keep to Wednesday next week, if not Tuesday, and hopefully by the week after that I can be back on track, as my schedule settles down.  Stranger things have happened.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Did you know that this is the third installment of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Barrayar, in my reread of the entire Vorkosigan series? Weren’t you expecting that? Don’t I post an installment of this every Tuesday? Couldn’t you just go on and read for yourself as I summarize and comment on Chapters Five and Six of Barrayar? Why don’t you read along in your own copy, too?

Chapter Five

The Emperor’s Birthday is celebrated in Vorbarr Sultana with partying, parades, and fireworks. Because of Ezar’s death, this will actually be the second Emperor’s Birthday celebration that year. Cordelia and Aral go to the social event of the year, the birthday dinner at the Imperial Residence. Lady Vorpatril has taken Cordelia under her wing and set her up with the most proper and stylish maternity wear for the event.

As they muster for the event, including Aral, Koudelka, Drou, and Count Piotr, Cordelia realizes that she and Aral are going in separate cars, because of the risk of attack. She and Drou end up going with Count Piotr. She notices that the Count has an embroidered silk bag, which he tells her is full of gold coins, as a present for the Emperor. She’s a little doubtful that Gregor will think much of that as a present, so Piotr explains that this is really an elaborate ritual whereby the Counts (a term which, on Barrayar, is actually descended from the term “accountant”) pretend to give their annual taxes to the Emperor as a gift. The gold is symbolic, most of the money transfer happening electronically. With the new Birthday, they are, of course, getting taxed a second time.

Cordelia rejoins Aral once they arrive at the palace, and he leads her into a daunting crowd of Vor nobility.

They circulated, exchanging greetings, making courtesies. Why can’t these people wear nametags? Cordelia thought hopelessly. As usual, everyone but her seemed to know everyone else. She pictured herself opening a conversation, Hey you, Vor-guy—. She clutched Aral more firmly, and tried to look mysterious and exotic rather than tongue-tied and mislaid.

They find Gregor, up past his bedtime, and the ceremony with the gold coins; Vidal Vordarian is presenting his coins, and takes a moment to chat familiarly with Princess Kareen. When Gregor sees Drou with them, he says something to his mother, and soon Drou is persuaded to attend the Emperor, replaced with another unobstrusive guard.

Shortly thereafter, they run across the Vorpatrils, and Cordelia stays with them after Aral is called off for some urgent duties. Padma Vorpatril is somewhat drunk, and wanders off in search of more while Alys Vorpatril plans Cordelia’s Winterfair outfit. After a visit to the lavatory, Alys meets up with another friend, and Cordelia drifts away, observing the social dance. She thinks to herself that on Beta Colony this whole event would be being recorded on cameras for live broadcast.

Her reverie is interrupted by Commander Count Vordarian. He asks after the child, which Cordelia tells him will be a boy. Vordarian says that he’d have thought they’d try for a girl first, to try to cement Aral’s power by marrying their daughter to Gregor. Vordarian doesn’t seem convinced that Aral hadn’t thought of the Regency back when the child was conceived, or that he might not have wanted that much power in the first place. He asks about the attack the other day, and Cordelia says they still don’t know who did it.

He paused, watching Aral, watching her watch Aral. One corner of his mouth crooked up, then the quirk vanished in a thoughtful pursing of his lips. “He’s bisexual, you know.” He took a delicate sip of his wine.

“Was bisexual,” she corrected absently, looking fondly across the room. “Now he’s monogamous.”

Vordarian choked, sputtering. Cordelia watched him with concern, wondering if she ought to pat him on the back or something, but he regained his breath and balance. “He told you that?” he wheezed in astonishment.

Cordelia says that it was actually Vorrutyer who told her, and talks about how Vorrutyer was almost a tragic figure, still obsessed with Aral after all those years, but maybe Aral could have saved him if they’d stayed together. Vordarian says that their relationship was a “great secret scandal” at the time, which strikes Cordelia as an oxymoron. Suddenly she realizes that Vordarian had been expecting his revelation about Aral’s sexuality to be more of a surprise, and a blow, to Cordelia and her marriage, and it was meant as an attack. Their conversation turns more edged, Vordarian warning her about how Aral’s first wife died, some say because of her adulteries.

All pretense of cordiality had evaporated from their exchange. Cordelia had a bad sense of all control escaping with it. She leaned forward, and lowered her voice. “Do you know why Vorrutyer died?”

He couldn’t help it; he tilted toward her, drawn in. “No . . .”

“He tried to hurt Aral through me. I found that . . . annoying. I wish you would cease trying to annoy me, Count Vordarian, I’m afraid you might succeed.” Her voice fell further, almost to a whisper. “You should fear it, too.”

His initial patronizing tone had certainly given way to wariness. He made a smooth, openhanded gesture that seemed to symbolize a bow of farewell, and backed away. “Milady.” The glance over his shoulder as he moved off was thoroughly spooked.

She wonders what he had been trying to accomplish, whether a Barrayaran wife would have had a different response–not Alys or Kareen, she thinks. His near-miss makes her think of the other near-miss, with the sonic grenade. Aral appears to lead her in for dinner, where they sit with Gregor, Kareen, Piotr, Vortala, the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle and his wife, Koudelka, and, by Gregor’s insistence, Drou. Gregor seems to miss Drou, and negotiates for her to come to the palace once a week for “judo lessons”. Cordelia sits between Vortala and the Speaker, trying to conceal her reaction to the fact that their food is actual meat from animals–in this case an actual cow brought in whole–not grown in vats like on Beta Colony.

After dessert and a few formal toasts, Gregor goes off to bed, and Kareen invites Cordelia and Drou along. Drou helps Gregor get ready for bed, and Cordelia and Kareen relax in another room. Kareen says that the party will go on until dawn, though all but the most serious drinkers are likely to retire earlier. Cordelia wonders why they don’t import a less lethal drug than alcohol, then asks if Vordarian is one of the drinkers. Kareen says not; Cordelia wondered if that would have explained his earlier behaviour. She asks Kareen about Vordarian.

Kareen said judiciously, “He’s rich . . . proud . . . He was loyal to Ezar during Serg’s late machinations against his father. Loyal to the Imperium, to the Vor class. There are four major manufacturing cities in Vordarian’s District, plus military bases, supply depots, the biggest military shuttleport. . . . Vidal’s is certainly the most economically important area on Barrayar today. The war barely touched the Vordarians’ District; it’s one of the few the Cetagandans pulled out of by treaty. We sited our first space bases there because we took over facilities the Cetagandans had built and abandoned, and a good deal of economic development followed from that.”

“That’s . . . interesting,” said Cordelia, “but I was wondering about the man personally. His, ah, likes and dislikes, for example. Do you like him?”

“At one time,” said Kareen slowly, “I wondered if Vidal might be powerful enough to protect me from Serg. After Ezar died. As Ezar grew more ill, I was thinking, I had better look to my own defense. Nothing appeared to be happening, and no one told me anything.”

“If Serg had become emperor, how could a mere count have protected you?” asked Cordelia.

“He would have had to become . . . more. Vidal had ambition, if it were properly encouraged—and patriotism, God knows if Serg had lived he might have destroyed Barrayar—Vidal might have saved us all. But Ezar promised I’d have nothing to fear, and Ezar delivered. Serg died before Ezar and . . . and I have been trying to let things cool, with Vidal, since.”

Kareen says that she couldn’t consider marrying Vordarian now, since that would give him too much power for someone who would be at odds with the Regent. She says that she can’t disentangle herself from the Imperium now, certainly not to live a normal life. At least, she says, Negri didn’t find any evidence that Vordarian had any sexual perversions.

Drou returns from putting Gregor to bed, and shortly thereafter a messenger comes to summon Kareen to officially open the dancing with Aral. Cordelia watches them doing a dance that involves mirroring the others’ actions, and after that dance Aral offers to teach her if they can find a private place. As they are looking for one, Aral suddenly shushes her, and Cordelia realizes that Drou is trying to teach the dance to Koudelka, mostly ending up with his arms around her. Drou encourages him to keep trying, and Aral and Cordelia move to leave them their privacy, which unfortunately is punctured by a drunken Vor who comes to vomit off their balcony. They leave the party shortly thereafter, Koudelka complaining privately to Cordelia that he wishes women came with instruction manuals.

The next day, Cordelia asks Illyan if Vordarian is on his short list or his long list; she urges Illyan to move him to the short list.

Comments

The whole “asking if they’ve found out who it was yet” does seem like a criminal kind of thing to do, doesn’t it? Oh, it could just be simple curiosity, but under the circumstances I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out that it was Vordarian behind that attack. The whole misfired marriage-sabotage is kind of an amusing scene, and I do like Cordelia’s little threat at the end. Though of course she doesn’t have any intention of following through on it, particularly. Why doesn’t she even consider mentioning it to Aral, though? Just doesn’t want to worry him? She tells Illyan soon enough. Plus the whole thing with Princess Kareen seems like another red flag coming up. Maybe it’s just hindsight in action. The implication of possible collaboration with, or at least appeasement of, the Cetagandans (about which we don’t know much by this point in the series, by the way) is also interesting. And the main military spaceport is in his territory? Better and better.

A little more Kou-and-Drou progress (he’s actually referred to as “Kou” once or twice, though I’ll continue to use Koudelka, since it’s easier to type than Droushnakovi). The “bag of gold” is another nice bit of worldbuilding detail, too, though I’m not sure I buy the whole “accountant” -> “Count” thing, it seems a little too cute to me.

Chapter Six

Cordelia flies down to Vorkosigan Surleau for a day in the country, accompanied by Dr. Henri, who thanks Cordelia for the invitation. He is intimidated by the prospect of meeting Count Piotr, though, but Cordelia encourages him to turn the subject to horses, or the wars he’d fought in (against the Cetagandans, and to help bring Ezar Vorbarra to power) and he’ll do fine. Drou is also along, and Bothari is piloting; he takes the lightflyer to a village near the lake for their first stop.

Bothari takes them to Mistress Hysopi’s house, where she is looking after his infant daughter Elena. Dr. Henri goes to examine Elena, and he discusses her with Mistress Hysopi, while Bothari stalks carefully around the room and Cordelia watches attentively, thinking that she will have a baby of her own soon. Dr. Henri seems to be amazed at how normal Elena is, despite her having come out of a uterine replicator. Cordelia points out that she came out of a replicator herself, and assures Dr. Henri that she’s certified free of genetic defects.

Dr. Henri says that they need this technology; when the replicators had first arrived, he hadn’t know what to do with them, but now he’s a convert and even looking into spinoff technologies. He goes on about them at great length, encouraged when Cordelia tells him that her mother works in the medical equipment field back on Beta Colony. Going back through the village, Cordelia introduces Dr. Henri to two of the women, wives of Count Piotr’s armsmen. Some of them live in the village and some in the capital, depending on taste; one armsman actually has a wife in each place.

Drou takes Cordelia aside and asks how Bothari came to have a baby.

“I’ll tell you the truth.” Just not all of it. “Little Elena is the daughter of Bothari and a young Escobaran officer named Elena Visconti. Bothari . . . loved her . . . very much. But after the war, she would not return with him to Barrayar. The child was conceived, er . . . Barrayaran-style, then transferred to the replicator when they parted. There were some similar cases. The replicators were all sent to Imp Mil, which was interested in learning more about the technology. Bothari was in . . . medical therapy, for quite a long time, after the war. But when he got out, and she got out, he took custody of her.”

“Did the others take their babies, too?”

“Most of the other fathers were dead by then. The children went to the Imperial Service orphanage.” There. The official version, all right and tight.

Cordelia asks Drou is Bothari bothers her. Drou says that he is ugly, and she’s not sure he should be trusted with a child, though Cordelia assures her that she and Aral are keeping an eye on him, and so far he’s doing well. Drou says that Bothari takes a lot of sick days, where he doesn’t even leave his room, and his commander thinks he’s malingering. Cordelia promises to have a word with the commander, and asks Drou not to ask him about the Escobar war, since it’s a painful topic for him.

They arrive at Vorkosigan Surleau for the luncheon, where Cordelia thanks Count Piotr for his hospitality. The Count says that the house is really more Cordelia’s than it is his, and he almost worries that she hasn’t tried to redecorate Vorkosigan House or anything, as if she’s afraid to commit herself to Barrayar. Cordelia says diffidently that she would like to have a lift tube, to make getting around the house easier, and Count Piotr swallows his exceptions and tells her to go ahead and do it. Henri takes Cordelia’s advice and engages the Count in conversation about horses, particularly the new foal, which came from a frozen embryo they’d imported from Earth.

When the Count takes Henri off to the stables, Bothari asks Cordelia if she has time for a private conversation. Cordelia leaves Drou behind and takes a walk with him until they sit down in the family graveyard. Bothari says that the problem is Escobar, and the therapy he received about it. They gave him drugs to suppress the memories, but they’re still there; he just gets headaches when he tries to remember it. If he was a hero at Escobar, then why won’t they let him remember, and if not, why did they make him a Count’s armsman at all?

He says there are four pictures he remembers.

“One—the least-bad one—it was an argument. Prince Serg was there, and Admiral Vorrutyer, Lord Vorkosigan, and Admiral Rulf Vorhalas. And I was there. Except I didn’t have any clothes on.”

“Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”

“No. I’m not sure. Admiral Vorrutyer said . . . something very insulting, to Lord Vorkosigan. He had Lord Vorkosigan backed up against the wall. Prince Serg laughed. Then Vorrutyer kissed him, full on the mouth, and Vorhalas tried to knock Vorrutyer’s head off, but Lord Vorkosigan wouldn’t let him. And I don’t remember after that.”

He remembers two about the Escobaran woman Elena–one where she was his wife, except as he says it he realizes that she wasn’t really his wife. Cordelia tells her that part of Vorrutyer and Serg’s torture was forcing Bothari to rape her and get her pregnant. The final image is of Cordelia, naked, on Vorrutyer’s bed…he asks if he raped her, and Cordelia swiftly assures him that he didn’t, wondering if the blood pressure building up to give him his headaches is likely to give him a stroke. Bothari says he’s wanted to ask her about this ever since she arrived on Barrayar, and Cordelia says he shouldn’t have waited so long.

Bothari goes off to vomit in the bushes, and returns, looking only a little better. He says that he’s still a rapist, even if he didn’t rape Cordelia, and he says that killing is even better than sex that way. He wonders that Cordelia isn’t afraid of him that way, and asks her for a bargain.

“You tell me . . . when it’s all right. To kill. And then I’ll know.”

“I can’t—look, suppose I’m not there? When that sort of thing lands on you, there’s not usually time to stop and analyze. You have to be allowed self-defense, but you also have to be able to discern when you’re really being attacked.” She sat up, eyes widening in sudden insight. “That’s why your uniform is so important to you, isn’t it? It tells you when it’s all right. When you can’t tell yourself. All those rigid routines you keep to, they’re to tell you you’re all right, on track.”

“Yes. I’m sworn to the defense of House Vorkosigan, now. So that’s all right.” He nodded, apparently reassured. By what, for God’s sake?

“You’re asking me to be your conscience. Make your judgments for you. But you are a whole man. I’ve seen you make right choices, under the most absolute stress.”

Bothari says that he can’t remember them, and she says that she and Aral can, and they both owe him for it.

Comments

This chapter starts off so innocuously, but gets very intense towards the end. I’m not sure if this is meant to be consistent with Bothari’s statement near the end of Shards of Honour about how he tries to keep some of his memories from Escobar, if Bujold is just clarifying or if she’s retconning a little bit to change things around. After all, Bothari did tell her something about it then. The added detail is good, though, and having Bothari agonize over his nature and what he might have done in his past, trying to outsource his conscience to Cordelia because he doesn’t trust his own, adds a lot of depth to the character.

Cordelia’s sanitized story for Drou shows how she’s trying to cover up Bothari’s past, to keep it from staining his future, but it does have nasty repercussions in the next book. And hey, this doctor gets an actual name!

The bit with the Count and his imported embryo is also interesting, with the implications for the new technology making its way into Barrayaran society. They’re still a little unsure about using it for humans, but using it for horses is sort of starting them down the slope… The repercussions of the uterine replicator and other biotechnology are still being felt in A Civil Campaign, which is one reason why the Vorkosigan series doesn’t fit comfortable into space opera or military SF. Generally, those two subgenres don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the implications of the new technology that the author may introduce, except maybe in the narrowest “arms race” kind of sense.


I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be able to post the next installment on Tuesday or not; it might get pushed back to Thursday.  In any case, the next two chapters are very significant ones for the course of, oh, let’s say the entire series, so I’ll try to get them to you on a timely basis.  Can you wait until then?

Read Full Post »

Welcome back to The Further Adventures of Nick Vordanger, Barrayar’s only detective.  This week: Nick Danger stumbles endlessly on through…Chapters Three and Four of Barrayar.  Wherein I seem to be having as much trouble typing “Barrayar” as I ever did with “Droushnakovi”.  And it’s not actually endless, even though the book is still increasing the tension somewhat slowly; compared to Shards of Honour, the pace is noticeably slower.  (Or is it?  At this point in Shards, weren’t they still tramping around in alien wilderness?)  However, there is unarmed combat, assassination attempts, prejudice, and voting.

But let’s just get on with it, you say?  On with it I shall get.

Chapter Three

The next day Captain Lord Padma Vorpatril escorts Cordelia to the Joint Council session.  Padma is Aral’s cousin, on his mother’s side, one of Aral’s few living relatives besides Count Piotr, and used to serve under Aral.  Cordelia, Padma and Drou sit in the gallery overlooking the Council chamber, surrounded by a ring of empty seats; Gregor and Kareen are present as well, and Emperor Ezar watches over comlink, in his military uniform with his life-support concealed.  Cordelia asks Padma about Aral’s past; Padma says that Aral used to be as conservative as his father, but started to “go strange” by the time he reached Captain.  Padma wasn’t surprised that he accepted the Regency, that he was never fooled by Aral’s avowed attention to retire.

The Count and Ministers vote almost unanimously to accept Aral as Regent, even Vordarian voting yes, with only five dissenters.  When Cordelia comments on it, Padma said that the Emperor had let it be known that he wanted unanimity.  Those who voted no are the open opposition, which he says aren’t the ones to worry about; the ones who voted yes unwillingly are the more dangerous ones.

Two men arrive late, brothers, one a commander and the other a well-dressed civilian, and perforce sit in front of Cordelia.  After locating their father, they begin gossiping about Aral, the inheritance tax measure he’s pushing through, his “Betan frill”, and what exactly happened with Vorrutyer, which amuses Cordelia, until they start in on Koudelka and talk about how he should have just killed himself rather than end up a cripple, which Padma is oblivious to, but makes Drou uncomfortable as well.  Cordelia leans forward, apologizing for eavesdropping, but berates them for their insensitive comments about Koudelka.  The brothers are put off by her comments, and Cordelia stops Padma from letting them know exactly who she is.  The Commander apologizes for his comments, assuming that Koudelka is a relative, though Cordelia denies it.  Cordelia warns him not to let such talk reach Aral’s ears, since it would pain him greatly.

As the session breaks for lunch, Padma takes Cordelia and Drou to meet with Aral, who is in company with his father and a man who is introduced as Count Vorhalas, brother of the Admiral Vorhalas who died with Prince Serg.  Aral says they are shortly due at a lunch with Kareen and Gregor, but Vorhalas wanted to introduce his sons.  The sons soon arrive, and turn out to be the brothers from the gallery, Commander Evon and his brother Lord Carl Vorhalas.

“But you’ve met,” said Vorkosigan. “I saw you talking in the gallery. What did you find to discuss so animatedly, Cordelia?”

“Oh . . . geology. Zoology. Courtesy. Much on courtesy. We had quite a wide-ranging discussion. We each of us taught the other something, I think.” She smiled, and did not flick an eyelid.

Commander Evon Vorhalas, looking rather ill, said, “Yes. I’ve . . . had a lesson I’ll never forget, Milady.”

Aral proceeds to introduce Koudelka as well.

Koudelka, loaded with plastic flimsys, disks, the baton of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces that had just been presented to Vorkosigan as Regent-elect, and his own stick, and uncertain whether to shake hands or salute, managed to drop them all and do neither. There was a general scramble to retrieve the load, and Koudelka went red, bending awkwardly after it. Droushnakovi and he put a hand on his stick at the same time.

“I don’t need your help, miss,” Koudelka snarled at her in a low voice, and she recoiled to go stand rigidly behind Cordelia.

Commander Vorhalas’s aid is accepted more graciously, and he admits to Koudelka that nerve disruptors scare the hell out of him, and says Koudelka is an example to them all.  Cordelia tells Commander Evon that he’s likely to go far in his career.

Two weeks later, Emperor Ezar breathes his last, having spent the last week of his life in a coma.  Cordelia and Aral are present, as well as a number of others, including Kareen and Gregor.  After Ezar’s death, those present swear fealty to Gregor as the new Emperor of Barrayar.

Cordelia too was guided by Vorkosigan to kneel before the boy. The prince—Emperor—had his mother’s hair, but hazel eyes like Ezar and Serg, and Cordelia found herself wondering how much of his father, or his grandfather, was latent in him, its expression waiting on the power that would come with age. Do you bear curses in your chromosomes, child? she wondered as her hands were placed between his. Cursed or blessed, regardless, she gave him her oath. The words seemed to cut her last tie to Beta Colony; it parted with a ping! audible only to her.

I am a Barrayaran now. It had been a long strange journey, that began with a view of a pair of boots in the mud, and ended in these clean child’s hands. Do you know I helped kill your father, boy? Will you ever know? Pray not. She wondered if it was delicacy or oversight, that she had never been required to give oath to Ezar Vorbarra.

There follows five days of funeral ceremonies, though apparently Prince Serg’s had run for two whole weeks.  Now that Ezar is dead, only four people living know the truth about Serg’s death; the official position is that he died a war hero.  Gregor has no coronation as such, but he and Aral receive personal oaths from a number of important personages, and Cordelia begins to see how the Barrayaran government works, “pretended” into existence.

Aral begins to work long hours, which Cordelia tells herself will begin to get shorter as he gets the hang of his new job.  Cordelia herself is mostly busy with the important task of “gestating”.  It begins to sink in on her that, unlike Beta with its population control and strict reproductive licensing, she can have as large a family as she wants, now, though she considers whether or not to use the uterine replicator technology.  There’s plenty of territory to expand into–terraforming a second continent, and the prospect of colonizing the recently discovered planet Sergyar.

She meets Padma’s wife, Lady Alys Vorpatril, also pregnant, and they compare notes; Cordelia concludes that she’s getting off easy in comparison.  Still, she feels a vague unease about giving birth on Barrayar, and briefly considers going home to Beta for the birth, but considering she’s still probably a wanted criminal there, it doesn’t seem that likely.

Comments

I was trying to figure out who the people were who knew the secret of Prince Serg.  Cordelia and Aral, certainly.  Definitely Negri.  Ezar’s dead, so he’s specifically excluded.  Vortala didn’t know, and neither did Illyan.  Bothari?  Kareen?  The nameless surgeon on Aral’s ship?  Doesn’t seem right, but nobody else is coming to mind.

This chapter contains the first mention of Sergyar, and it seems obvious given the earler mentions that it’s probably named after Prince Serg.  And yet it’s never commented on.  It was also several books, as I recall, before I realized that Sergyar is the then-unnamed planet in Shards of Honour, where Aral and Cordelia first met, where the supply cache for the Escobar invasion was located, etc.  Shouldn’t one or the other of them be thinking of the cosmic irony, which they can never tell anyone else, about the planet being named for the man whose death it was a part of?  It bothers me a little bit.  I don’t think we’ve had an actual scene set on Sergyar since Shards, though it is mentioned from time to time.

I keep forgetting exactly how the Vorhalases are introduced, though as soon as they are, I remember, more or less, the role they play in the book’s plot.

One term that Bujold keeps using throughout the series, which I never really got used to, was “plastic flimsy”.  In context, it seems like, well, a sheet of paper, except made of plastic.  Why would it be made of plastic, though?  Barrayar is, as Cordelia keeps noticing, a planet where wood is common enough to be used for the walls of entire rooms.  For a Betan, that’s a lot, so maybe in absolute terms it’s not, but still, Barrayarans shouldn’t feel a need to replace simple and easy-to-produce paper with plastic, should they?  It can’t be for greater durability, either, because they’re still called “flimsies”.  So unless they’re “smart paper” or something similar, I admit to being a bit baffled.  I guess I’ll have to watch for further mentions to see if this is clarified.

Chapter Four

With the Count in residence at Vorkosigan House for a while, they soon start up weekly unarmed combat competitions between the Count’s men and Illyan’s security men, with Koudelka as referee and Cordelia, Count Piotr, Drou, and occasionally Aral as spectators.

One afternoon, Cordelia asks Drou why she doesn’t participate as well, since ostensibly the competition is to keep everyone in fighting trim.  Drou says that she wasn’t invited, though she patently wants to participate; Cordelia tells Drou that she can be Cordelia’s team, and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can take it up with Aral, who she soon persuades to support her.

He climbed back to his feet, and went to enter Droushnakovi on Koudelka’s list for the lists. Cordelia could not hear what they said to each other, across the garden, but supplied her own dialogue from gesture and expression, murmuring, “Aral: Cordelia wants Drou to play. Kou: Aw! Who wants gurls? Aral: Tough. Kou: They mess everything up, and besides, they cry a lot. Sergeant Bothari will squash her—hm, I do hope that’s what that gesture means, otherwise you’re getting obscene, Kou—wipe that smirk off your face, Vorkosigan—Aral: The little woman insists. You know how henpecked I am. Kou: Oh, all right. Phooey. Transaction complete: the rest is up to you, Drou.”

The Count joins them, and complains about Cordelia’s “Betan innovations”.

“You’ll be wanting women in the Service, next,” complained Piotr. “Where will it end? That’s what I’d like to know.”

“What’s wrong with women in the Service?” Cordelia asked, baiting him a little.

“It’s unmilitary,” snapped the old man.

” ‘Military’ is whatever wins the war, I should think.” She smiled blandly. A small friendly warning pinch from Vorkosigan restrained her from rubbing in the point any harder.

In her first match, Drou wins the first point mostly through surprise, and then loses the second.  After a longer contest, she puts her opponent in a choke hold, where he seems more willing to go unconscious than admit defeat.  After, Cordelia and Aral advise her not to restrain her killer instincts.  In her next combat, her opponent takes his first point after goosing her.  Cordelia is outraged, and Aral admits that it’s not forbidden, but…  He calls Drou over, and advises her to deal with this insult to her, and her lady, by not leaving her opponent conscious.  She proceeds to take out her opponent in the second round with three swift blows.

In the semifinal round, though, Drou comes up against Bothari, who has been winning his matches handily and efficiently.  Cordelia worries if this is a good idea, given Bothari’s history, but Aral thinks that the training ring will constrain him sufficiently.  In their first match, Koudelka accidentally sets off his sword-stick, and Drou takes advantage of it to take Bothari down, but Koudelka won’t give her the point because of the distraction.  Cordelia complains to Aral, who thinks that Koudelka might be a little bit jealous of Drou’s progress.  Bothari proceeds to take the next two points from Drou, and then defeat the other finalist.

Soon after, Koudelka comes over to ask Aral if he wants to do a demonstration bout with Bothari, for those men who haven’t seen the two of them fight.  Aral lets himself be convinced, despite protesting that he’s out of shape.

The two men faced off in the arena and bowed formally. Koudelka backed hastily out of the way. The raucous good humor died away among the watchers, as the icy cold and concentrated stillness of the two players drew all eyes. They began to circle, lightly, then met in a blur. Cordelia did not quite see what happened, but when they parted Vorkosigan was spitting blood from a lacerated mouth, and Bothari was hunched over his belly.

In the next contact Bothari landed a kick to Vorkosigan’s back that echoed off the garden walls and propelled him completely out of the arena, to land rolling and running back in spite of disrupted breathing. The men in whose protection the Regent’s life was supposed to lie began to look worriedly at one another. At the next grappling Vorkosigan underwent a vicious fall, with Bothari landing atop him instantly for a follow-up choke. Cordelia thought she could see his ribs bend from the knees on his chest. A couple of the guards started forward, but Koudelka waved them back, and Vorkosigan, face dark and suffused, tapped out.

Aral agrees to go on, and this time he manages to throw Bothari and put him in an armlock, and Bothari is the one to tap out.  The third pass results in Aral in the armlock, and when he tries to escape, Bothari dislocates his elbow.  Aral taps out again, and at his request, Bothari puts the joint back in place.

Afterwards, while rubbing Aral down, she brings up the Koudelka/Drou problem.  She says that Drou is unfailingly courteous, and almost certainly in love with him, and Koudelka treats her shabbily.  Aral points out that Koudelka’s injuries may have affected his sexual performance, and he might be scared to try it.  Aral says that Koudelka doesn’t seem to dislike her, but he envies her.

She tries to puzzle out how Barrayar’s double standard of sexual behaviour works.  As a Betan, she’d thought the thing a logical impossibility, but now she realizes that the problem is that information on the subject is not freely disseminated.  She tries writing out the list of rules she’s deduced, which amuses Aral, and they spend some time breaking the rules with each other.

One autumn evening, she is watching the sunset from the roof of Vorkosigan House, musing on the imminence of “snow”, and the interesting things one can do with above-ground architecture.  She is disturbed by a distant sound, like a sonic grenade, and the guards on the roof are soon urging her inside, though she refuses to go until Drou comes to drag her in.  Soon she discovers that someone has taken a shot at Aral’s car, and he’s being brought to the house.  Cordelia takes comfort in the fact that the car is still drivable, at least.

When the car arrives, security guards swarm around it; Aral and Koudelka emerge, the latter with a bloodied face, and both of them mostly deaf.  The sonic grenade had hit the street in front of them, leaving a large crater, but the driver had managed to swerve around it.  Illyan arrives with a doctor and takes them inside.  Koudelka wonders how they’d known their route, which they vary daily; Illyan wonders if it was inside information, and Aral says he was probably just watching one of their likely routes.  Illyan said it was likely an lone man, with old, faulty ordnance, which Cordelia does not find reassuring.

“He only needed one shot. If he’d managed a direct hit on that sealed car, Aral’d have been emulsified. Your forensic team would be trying right now to sort out which molecules were his and which were Kou’s.”

Droushnakovi turned faintly green; Vorkosigan’s saturnine look was now firmly back in place.

“You want me to give you a precise resonance reflection amplitude calculation for that sealed passenger cabin, Simon?” Cordelia went on hotly. “Whoever chose that weapon was a competent military tech—if, fortunately, a poorish shot.” She bit back further words, recognizing, even if no one else did, the suppressed hysteria driving the speed of her speech.

Later that evening Cordelia asks Illyan who would want to kill Aral.

He ticked them off on his fingers. “The Cetagandans, always. They had counted on political chaos here, following Ezar’s death. They’re not above prodding it along. An assassination is cheap interference, compared to an invasion fleet. The Komarrans, for old revenge or new revolt. Some there still call the Admiral the Butcher of Komarr—”

Cordelia, knowing the whole story behind that loathed sobriquet, winced.

“The anti-Vor, because my lord Regent is too conservative for their tastes. The military right, who fear he is too progressive for theirs. Leftover members of Prince Serg and Vorrutyer’s old war party. Former operatives of the now-suppressed Ministry of Political Education, though I doubt one of them would have missed. Negri’s department used to train them. Some disgruntled Vor who thinks he came out short in the recent power-shift. Any lunatic with access to weapons and a desire for instant fame as a big-game hunter—shall I go on?”

Cordelia tries to keep her fear under control, understanding now why Barrayarans are so paranoid, and wonders when the next attempt will be.

Comments

The overall plot of the book, of course, deals with Cordelia and Aral, but Kou and Drou now definitely have their own subplot.  My wife informs me that the secondary-character romance is a staple of romantic fiction, though I’m sure it turns up in other places as well.  After all, the Cordelia-Aral romance is pretty much resolved.  Their plot for this book is still building, and I can pinpoint the exact moment when it goes up to the next level…and that is not yet.  The sonic grenade is only the opening salvo, so to speak, and I can’t quite remember at this point how it ties into the overall plot.

The rest of the chapter mostly focuses on Cordelia learning more about Barrayaran culture, and contrasting it with Betan.  Sometimes I think that Barrayaran culture is more comprehensible to us than Betan, but perhaps we’re really more in the middle.  Or perhaps the “liberals” are more Betan and the “conservatives” are more Barrayaran, so it depends on your part of the political spectrum.  What does it say, then, that the Barrayarans are the most central to the series?  I guess they do spend a lot of time on other planets, but almost all of my favourite scenes in the series are set on Barrayar.  I suppose one of the main axes of progress in the series is the liberalization of Barrayar, whereas the conservatization of Beta Colony wouldn’t be as fun to read about, were it to happen.  So that makes Bujold a somewhat left-wing writer, but one with a certain amount of sympathy and understanding for the right as well.  Kind of like Aaron Sorkin on “The West Wing”, who did like to, every once in a while, throw in a perfectly intelligent and articulate person who just happened to be a Republican.  (And who still felt like a token.)


And that’s it for another week.  Once again I whipped this up on Sunday and Monday (and a bit of Tuesday); I need to stop doing that, or I’ll keep putting it off to Sunday every week, and one week I won’t be able to pull it together in time.  We’ll see how that works out for me.  Just took a brief look forward, and it looks like Chapter Ten is the signpost I’m looking for, where the tension really ramps up, though there’s plenty to happen in between.  Until next time…

Read Full Post »

Greetings and felicitations, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Today we start on the second book chronologically (if far from the first published) in the series, Barrayar.  Lois McMaster Bujold had a bit of a habit of naming books for planets, or at least political units (Cetaganda and Komarr), but she didn’t go overboard with it, at least.  This book was one of her award-winners, too, Hugo and Locus Awards as Wikipedia tells me, and it definitely deserved it, because it’s a great book.  But don’t just take my word for it–reread it with me!

Chapter One

It is the day after Aral accepted the Regency.  Cordelia, looking out a window in Vorkosigan House, sees a groundcar pull up and Simon Illyan get out.  Sergeant Bothari comes into the room and tells her that it’s time to go, and she follows him out of the room.

She must learn her way around this great pile of a residence as soon as possible. Embarrassing, to be lost in one’s own home, and have to ask some passing guard or servant to de-tangle one. In the middle of the night, wearing only a towel. I used to be a jumpship navigator. Really. If she could handle five dimensions upside, surely she ought to be able to manage a mere three downside.

On the ground floor they find Koudelka waiting.  Cordelia asks after Aral and is told that he is in the library with Illyan, checking on the location for the new secured comconsole.  They emerge shortly thereafter, and Cordelia, Aral, Koudelka and Illyan head out to the groundcar.  The day’s plan is for an audience with Prince Gregor and his mother, Princess Kareen, as well as meeting with Captain Negri.  After that, says Aral, they start setting up the Regency; he’s not sure what old protocol they’ll drag out for the first one in 120 years.

As the armored groundcar pulls away, Cordelia asks about her own duties.  Aral tells her that it’s mostly ceremonies and public-relations work; at Cordelia’s appalled reaction, he says that she can do as much or as little of that as she wishes, particularly now that she’s pregnant.  He says that he would particularly like her to be a liaison with Gregor and Kareen, to help ensure that Gregor doesn’t end up turning out like his father, the late Prince Serg.  He also says that, as a foreigner and a war hero, Cordelia can help unite both the pro-galactic and pro-military factions.  Aral says that he doesn’t want to just gut the opposition parties, either.

“What I want . . . what I want is to find some way of pulling the best men, from every class and language group and party, into the Emperor’s service. The Vor have simply too small a pool of talent. Make the government more like the military at its best, with ability promoted regardless of background. Emperor Ezar tried to do something like that, by strengthening the Ministries at the expense of the Counts, but it swung too far. The Counts are eviscerated and the Ministries are corrupt. There must be some way to strike a balance.”

Cordelia notes the gesture of trust the Emperor placed in Aral by appointing him Regent, but Aral brings her attention to the fact that Captain Negri is still attached to the Princess’s household.  Negri still reports to Aral, but if Aral decides to go for the throne himself, Negri doubtless has orders to dispose of him.  Cordelia assures him that she doesn’t want to be Empress.

As they enter the palace grounds, Illyan says he wishes Aral would reconsider living at Vorkosigan House and move into the Imperial Residence instead, which would make security much easier.  Aral says he prefers Vorkosigan House, especially now that his father the Count spends most of him time at the country estate, Vorkosigan Surleau.  Illyan lists off the security drawbacks of Vorkosigan House, and says that it’ll take at least six full-time patrols to cover them.  Aral asks if he has the men, and Illyan admits he does.  Aral says he will stay at Vorkosigan House, which will serve the purpose of making it seem less likely he’ll pull a palace coup.

And here they were at the very palace in question. As an architectural pile, the Imperial Residence made Vorkosigan House look small. Sprawling wings rose two to four stories high, accented with sporadic towers. Additions of different ages crisscrossed each other to create both vast and intimate courts, some justly proportioned, some rather accidental-looking. The east façade was of the most uniform style, heavy with stone carving. The north side was more cut-up, interlocking with elaborate formal gardens. The west was the oldest, the south the newest construction.

They climb a set of stairs, Koudelka painfully aware that he’s slowing the rest of them down with his awkward pace.  Cordelia wonders why they don’t even have a lift tube.  They meet with Captain Negri, who is with a blonde woman in civilian dress that he introduces merely as “Miss Droushnakovi”.  When Cordelia asks her for more details, Droushnakovi says that she’s a “Servant of the Inner Chamber”, but really a “Bodyguard, Class One” assigned to the Princess.

In the next room they are introduced to the Princess, and to Prince Gregor (who has a talking robotic stegosaurus toy).  Aral formally kneels in front of Gregor and introduces himself, trying to explain what he will be doing as Regent.

“That means I will do your grandfather’s job until you are old enough to do it yourself, when you turn twenty. The next sixteen years. I will look after you and your mother in your grandfather’s place, and see that you get the education and training to do a good job, like your grandfather did. Good government.”

Did the kid even know yet what a government was? Vorkosigan had been careful not to say, in your father’s place, Cordelia noted dryly. Careful not to mention Crown Prince Serg at all. Serg was well on his way to being disappeared from Barrayaran history, it seemed, as thoroughly as he had been vaporized in orbital battle.

Cordelia is impressed by the parental potential that Aral shows with the young heir.  Once Aral is done, Negri asks if he can come down to Ops, and begins to list several issues that need his attention.  Kareen invites Cordelia to stay and visit, and the men go off with Negri; Kareen said that she had hoped to be alone with Cordelia, as Gregor returns to his play.
Droushnakovi asks about Koudelka, and Cordelia explains about the nerve damage and the inadequate repairs done on Barrayar.  Droushnakovi asks if it was in the Escobar war, and Cordelia admits that it was sort of at the beginning of the war.  Kareen asks “Drou” to take Gregor to lunch, and once they are alone, Kareen kisses Cordelia’s hand.

“I swore,” said Kareen thickly, “that I would kiss the hand that slew Ges Vorrutyer. Thank you. Thank you.” Her voice was breathy, earnest, tear-caught, grateful emotion naked in her face. She sat up, her face growing reserved again, and nodded. “Thank you. Bless you.”

“Uh . . .” Cordelia rubbed at the kissed spot. “Um . . . I . . . this honor belongs to another, Milady. I was present, when Admiral Vorrutyer’s throat was cut, but it was not by my hand.”

Kareen thinks at first that it was Aral, but Cordelia says that it was Bothari, which surprises Kareen.  She had thought that Bothari was Vorrutyer’s creature, but Cordelia tells her how he chose to be otherwise.  She takes a chance and mentions Prince Serg, asking if Vorrutyer was responsible for corrupting him; Kareen says that they were like-minded, maybe from the start.  She said that Emperor Ezar protected her from her husband after she became pregnant, and Cordelia hopes that Aral will do as well.

Kareen then orders them tea, and Drou and Gregor return.  Kareen asks her what she thinks of her new home.

Cordelia thought it over. “The country place, south at Vorkosigan Surleau, is just beautiful. That wonderful lake—it’s bigger than any open body of water on the whole of Beta Colony, yet Aral just takes it for granted. Your planet is beautiful beyond measure.” Your planet. Not my planet? In a free-association test, “home” still triggered “Beta Colony” in Cordelia’s mind. Yet she could have rested in Vorkosigan’s arms by the lake forever.

She says that Vorkosigan House is a bit of an all-male barracks when the Count is in residence, not like the mixed barracks on Beta.  Drou likes the sound of men and women both getting to serve in the military, and Cordelia agrees, missing the sister officers that she was used to “back home” on Beta.

That night, after they return home, Illyan brings Droushnakovi to Vorkosigan House, telling Cordelia she’s been assigned to her personal security.

Later, Droushnakovi handed Cordelia a sealed note, on thick cream paper. Brows rising, Cordelia broke it open. The handwriting was small and neat, the signature legible and without flourishes.

With my compliments, it read. She will suit you well. Kareen.

Comments

From now on I will try to refer to her exclusively as “Drou”, as the author does increasingly from now on, as I recall.  Mostly for the sake of my fingers, which don’t seem to be able to produce “Droushnakovi” correctly on the first try.  (Not that I’m afraid of longish, foreignish names in general.  Djugashvili.  Ramachandran.  Brahmaputra.  Targaryen.  Rustaveli.  But some of them are just harder to type than others.)

Our first sight of the princess (not mentioned in Shards, I don’t think), and the young heir.  I elided most of the recap of the plot of the previous book, since I know you already know what happened there.  And boy, I think that talking robot stegosaurus would be a hot seller.  Like a dinosaur Furby…except better, one hopes, since I was never that impressed with Furby.

And also, the first time when Drou meets Koudelka, even if they don’t actually manage to talk to each other yet or anything.  There does seem to be a certain amount of interest, at least on Drou’s side.

Chapter Two

Aral is gone when Cordelia wakes up the next day, so she decides to go shopping, with Drou’s help, for something that had occurred to her watching Koudelka the day before.  Drou is waiting right outside her room, and Cordelia thinks that Drou needs a uniform or livery, since her dress doesn’t flatter her that much.  She asks Drou how she got into her line of work, and Drou said that her father and three brothers were in the military, and her brothers used to sneak her into their classes.  She was all-Barrayar women’s judo champion twice, and after that Negri approached her about a job, since Princess Kareen had been asking for female guards, and there she got some weapon training as well.

Cordelia asks Drou to accompany her on a shopping trip, and Drou struggles to hide her disappointment, until Cordelia says she’s looking for a sword-stick for Koudelka.  Drou says she knows just the place, where the Vors buy weapons for their liveried men–non-Vors are not allowed to own their own weapons.

One of Aral’s guards drives them to the shop, Drou watching the crowds alertly.  They arrive at a place called simply “Siegling’s” on a quiet street, and go inside; Cordelia notices the wood paneling in the store, which is common on Barrayar but would cost a fortune on Beta.  The clerk approaches them somewhat condescendingly, and the first sword-stick he brings out is elaborately carved and flashy.  Drou isn’t sure about the quality of the blade, though, and when Cordelia tries it out, stabbing it into the wall, she is easily able to snap it.

“Madam,” said the clerk stiffly, “I must insist the damaged merchandise be paid for.”

Cordelia, thoroughly irritated, said, “Very well. Send the bill to my husband. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, Vorkosigan House. While you’re about it you can explain why you tried to pass off sleaze on his wife—Yeoman.” This last was a guess, based on his age and walk, but she could tell from his eyes she’d struck home.

He goes into the back to fetch them another, much heavier; the spring that releases the cane does so with some force, making it almost a weapon in its own right.  She stabs it into the wall again, but the clerk assures her she won’t be able to break it.  Sure enough, it resists her attempts, and Drou calls it “worthy”; they buy it.  The women browse the other weapons briefly, but Cordelia decides she doesn’t really want a weapon, and Drou admits that Sieglings’ are pretty, but Negri’s are better.

Aral and Koudelka return for dinner that night, having spent the day trying to convince various Counts to approve Aral for the Regency.  Cordelia unwraps the swordstick and presents it to Koudelka; he is initially a little annoyed to be given a walking stick, but once he takes it he senses there’s more to it.  He launches the cane accidentally at the window, luckily not breaking it, and is pleased by the blade.  However, he returns it, crestfallen, informing her that he can’t own weapons, not being Vor.

Vorkosigan raised an eyebrow. “May I see that, Cordelia?” He looked it over, unsheathing it more cautiously. “Hm. Am I right in guessing I paid for this?”

“Well, you will, I suppose, when the bill arrives. Although I don’t think you should pay for the one I broke. I might as well take it back, though.”

“I see.” He smiled a little. “Lieutenant Koudelka, as your commanding officer and a vassal secundus to Ezar Vorbarra, I am officially issuing you this weapon of mine, to carry in the service of the Emperor, long may he rule.” The unavoidable irony of the formal phrase tightened his mouth, but he shook off the blackness, and handed the stick back to Koudelka, who bloomed again.

“Thank you, sir!”

Cordelia just shook her head. “I don’t believe I’ll ever understand this place.”

After supper Cordelia and Aral go to read, Aral on reports from Negri and Cordelia on child-care books.  They are occasionally interrupted by loud thwacks from the library, where Koudelka is ostensibly putting the day’s notes in order.  Cordelia worries that her gift has distracted him, but Aral assures her that he’ll settle down soon enough.  Barrayar is hard on those who can’t keep up, and Aral tells her that the deformed and crippled often don’t survive long; Ensign Dubauer would have been euthanized.  Koudelka will have a difficult path ahead of him.

“What about problems like Bothari’s?”

“It depends. He was a usable madman. For the unusable . . .” he trailed off, staring at his boots.

Cordelia felt cold. “I keep thinking I’m beginning to adjust to this place. Then I go around another corner and run headlong into something like that.”

“It’s only been eighty years since Barrayar made contact with the wider galactic civilization again. It wasn’t just technology we lost, in the Time of Isolation. That we put back on again quickly, like a borrowed coat. But underneath it . . . we’re still pretty damned naked in places. In forty-four years, I’ve only begun to see how naked.”

Vortala had a couple more voters to convince, and that evening he brings them over; they disappear into the library with Aral.  Aral’s father, Count Piotr, shows up shortly thereafter, since he’ll be casting his own vote the next day as well.  Cordelia comments that at least Aral’s assured of one vote, but Piotr says that his son is getting too “radical”, and he’s lucky to get his father’s vote.  Soon the Count turns the topic to the baby, since he’s passionately interested in the continuation of his family line.

Cordelia remembers the day she’d confirmed the pregnancy and told Aral it would be a boy, out at Vorkosigan Surleau.  Aral said that the Count would be ecstatic, since he’d almost given up on Aral ever having any children, and he wouldn’t even care if their mother is a Betan.  Cordelia asked about names, and Aral said that, by tradition, the firstborn son is named after his grandfathers, so he will be Piotr Miles.  After a brief tickling match, Cordelia waved to Negri’s watchers, wondering if she should invite them to lunch, and Aral told her that they wouldn’t be allowed.

After the Count has supper, they are walking through the foyer when they hear raised voices in the library, and soon a man stalks out.  He greets the Count, and the Count greets him as “Vordarian”.

Vordarian’s lips were tight, his hands clenching in unconscious rhythm with his jaw. “Mark my words,” he ground out, “you, and I, and every other man of worth on Barrayar will live to regret tomorrow.”

Piotr pursed his lips, wariness in the crow’s-feet corners of his eyes. “My son will not betray his class, Vordarian.”

“You blind yourself.”

Aral and Vortala emerge after Vordarian leaves, Vortala saying that they can live without Vordarian’s vote.  Aral explains that Commodore Count Vidal Vordarian is of a very conservative stripe, unable to imagine any change as an improvement, and Vortala adds that he was a potential candidate for the Regency, having spent some time cultivating Princess Kareen.

Comments

The flashback scene in this chapter doesn’t quite fit, somehow.  It reads like an outtake from the previous book, in some ways, and perhaps it was, for all I know.  Except for the complete lack of mention anywhere at the end of Shards of Honour that Cordelia was pregnant, which makes me think that it was really a retcon, backfilling Cordelia’s pregnancy so that it will be on the right schedule for the events of this book.  I can’t quite convince myself that she knew, for instance, that Cordelia was pregnant in the last chapter of Shards, because in the whole discussion of whether Aral should accept the Regency, Cordelia never brings it up or even thinks about it.  The closest they come is Aral mentioning that he now has a future and something to lose.  Oh, well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  I’ve started to become more sensitized, as I reread certain series over and over, to things that are first mentioned in later books, and wondering if the author had them in mind all the time or just thought of them as he or she was writing this one.

Apart from that, the Siegling’s scene is great, and the sword-stick in general.  Vordarian (who was mentioned, at least, in Shards, as a potential Regent) also appears, with a little bit of mustache-twirling…I can’t help but picture Lucius Malfoy telling Harry Potter he might come to “the same sticky end” as his parents.  (Dun dun dun!)  At the moment he and his political views are a bit of a caricature.  I suppose you could say that Cordelia has a bit of a pro-liberal bias, especially compared to the rest of Barrayar, though I suppose on Beta Colony she might be considered a moderate, so our perception of him might be a bit skewed–I tend to notice that liberals and conservatives can’t really see each other a lot of the time except as caricatures and straw men.


I almost took a week off before starting Barrayar, mostly because I was falling behind, but luckily I managed to pull this together in the last couple of days.  Summer heat and mosquitos seems to be wreaking havoc with my sleep schedule, which combined with “work stuff” seems to be depriving me of energy to work on much in the evenings.  I anticipated this would be a challenge, though, and I’m curious to see how much I can push myself before I start to slack off.

Until next week, then, with any luck…

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts