It’s been a long time coming, and it may have seemed like it would never get here, what with glaciers and drifting continents overtaking it on all sides. But this week’s installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread finally brings us to the end of Captain’s Vorpatril Alliance, that Lois McMaster Bujold novel which, unlike so many others in the Vorkosigan Saga, doesn’t concern itself directly with Miles Vorkosigan, or even his mother, but instead focuses on perennial sideman Ivan Vorpatril, given a perhaps uncomfortable spotlight for once. This week I cover the last chapter and the epilogue, as the denouement denoues itself nicely.
With Gregor’s decisions made, things start to move very quickly. The Cordonahs are, officially, being deported, which isn’t the most prestigious way to be leaving the planet, but since they do want to leave, they accept it. Lady Alys throws them an excellent farewell luncheon, and then they are escorted to go pack, except for Lady Moira, who is dragged off for a hasty debrief by Duv Galeni; he laments that two hours was not nearly enough for a century’s worth of information, so he plans to send an analyst and one of Professora Vorthys’s history students along with them for the beginning of their trip in the hope of gleaning more information. A lot of the documents they found are still classified; they’re declassifying as many of them as they can, but there are some facts about the old ghem-junta that, even after a hundred years, they may not want to get out. Even the declassified ones will be enough to make a number of historians’ careers, though, and the history textbooks may need to be heavily revised.
Vormercier’s yacht will be supplied with a military crew to take them to Komarr, mostly to ensure that they arrive there and not somewhere else; afterwards they can hire their own commercial crew. Amiri is apparently still planning to go back to Escobar, and a government courier vessel from Komarr will be expediting him there, after which any potential bounty hunters will be problems for Mark and the Duronas.
Tej goes to speak with her mother, who’s busy packing; Lady Alys courteously leaves them alone. The Baronne asks Tej if she’s packed, and Tej says that she’s going to stay with her husband; Udine reassures her that she doesn’t have to, their earlier insistence that she stay with her husband just being a ploy to keep her safe. Tej says that she’s already made up her mind, and when her mother objects that it was too quickly, she asks how long it took her to decide she wanted Shiv. The Baronne then invites her to at least ride along with them for a while, perhaps to Pol; Tej, not sold on the image of being stuffed into a ship with her family, and Byerly, says she’d rather just say her goodbyes here.
The Baronne allows that at least she’ll be safe; they’ll be heading to Fell Station with their war chest, a bare hundred million Betan dollars, which after all the deductions is barely five percent of their find. Tej assures her mother that they will be able to make do with such reduced resources. The Baronne asks what she sees in Ivan, and she finds it hard to explain–it’s what he sees in her, and how restful his approach to life is, his waiting-and-seeing.
Later, Ivan and Tej have time for a chat with Rish and Byerly, who tells them how Ser Imola has been swiftly dealt with, not much fight left in him. By laments having to flee the planet so swiftly, having to pick and choose from his apartment like it’s on fire, leaving strangers to pack things up; apparently his new cover is that he was conspiring with the Arquas and is fleeing with them to keep from getting arrested.
“I’m sure you’ll do well,” Tej tried to reassure him.
“It’s bloody _Jackson’s Whole_. Where enemies are killed and eaten.”
“We do not!” said Rish indignantly.
Byerly waved this away. “I speak, of course, metaphorically.” Though he looked as if he weren’t entirely sure.
“Well, if you get in over your head, just try channeling your great-great-grandfather Bloody Pierre,” advised Ivan Xav. He added after a moment. “Or your great-great-grandmother. For you, either one.”
By cast a sneer at him.
Ivan tells Tej that one of the few people Pierre was supposed to have been afraid of was his wife; By reminds Ivan that Vorrutyer history is notoriously unreliable, and belatedly congratulates Ivan on winning Tej’s affections.
Luxurious groundcars appear to drive them to the shuttleport, thanks to Lady Alys; a pair of men in Vorbarra livery appear with two boxes of the Ninth Satrapy gold coins, as a personal gift from Gregor, which Shiv points out wryly is also precisely 5% of them. He tells them convey to Gregor that “Baron and Baronne Cordonah are as pleased to accept his memento as he is to bestow it”. The rest of the money will be transferred digitally later, less this advance.
The Baron comes to say farewell to Tej, commenting on the Barrayaran tradition of “giving away” the bride, though Ivan tells him that they also have been known to have elaborate marriage contracts. Shiv reiterates the invitation for Tej to join them for a few jumps, and she reiterates her refusal; he tells her she’ll be welcome back at home anytime, and she refrains from pointing out that they don’t have their home back yet.
“Look at it this way, Dada. You’re coming away from Barrayar with everyone’s freedom, a ride, and a war chest. Not to mention the covert alliance with The Gregor. I can’t imagine any House heir alive who could match that bride-price, right now. It’s princely, more literally than anyone here quite lets on.” Barrayarans! “And do you think that you’d have had any of it if I hadn’t married Ivan Xav?”
Shiv shakes Ivan’s hand, and gives him a father’s warning that he better take good care of his daughter; Ivan assures him he will. After they’ve departed, Ivan asks if offering to kill people was a traditional Jacksonian expression of affection. Tej reminds him of the story she’d read about his Aunt Cordelia’s gift of Vordarian’s severed head, and Ivan says he’s a more modern Barrayaran than that.
Their meeting the next morning with The Gregor was very short.
“Ylla?” said Ivan Xav in a confounded voice. “Where the hell is Ylla?”
You know, it would be a bit easier sometimes if Jacksonian Houses behaved a little more like actual families. By which I mean–House Cordonah was run by the Arquas. Shouldn’t that make is House Arqua? Or shouldn’t their family name be Cordonah? I realize that we have lots of cases where that doesn’t happen, but those are like when you have an actual political entity, like a country. You can change from one dynasty to another and not have to rename the country. But I never got the impression that Jacksonian Houses were tied to geographical areas. They seemed to have divided the planet on more economic lines, staking out their territory based on their business rather than the land they occupy. I could be wrong, I suppose, but that’s the impression I always got. So I guess it’s more like a business trademark, where you don’t want to change the name of your company because your customers would get confused if it was House Stauber trying to sell their weapons rather than House Fell. But I just want to know–can I call the Arquas Cordonahs, or not?
It’s a nice short chapter to tie off the book, except it really doesn’t. The Arquas (or Cordonahs) are being hustled off the planet quite quickly, and Tej isn’t really doing her utmost to spend every last second of that time with them, because she’s really looking forward to not being oppressed by their presence. I mean, she’s happy they’re alive, but she’ll be happier when they’re alive somewhere else, now that she’s found an alternative family in good old Ivan Xav.
So it falls to the epilogue to really resolve matters, to show us the direction things moved in over a slightly longer span of time. And also to tell us something about this Ylla place.
Ivan is posted as Senior Military Attaché to the Barrayaran consulate on Ylla, though there turns out not to be any other military attachés for him to be senior to, or anyone at all besides the consul, who is somewhat dispirited. They arrive on the city where the consulate is located during its dreary winter, with Tej heartily jumpsick. Ivan, used to the much more hectic workflow of Vorbarr Sultana, is able to whip the consulate into shape without much effort, and quickly discovers that it doesn’t really need to be in the capital, as long as it’s near a shuttleport and the comconsole net. So he moves the entire consulate to someplace much nicer on an equatorial island, hires a clerk, and gets his work down to an average of three mornings a week. Ylla’s oceans are, unfortunately, unpleasant to swim in, between the irritants in the water and the carnivorous native lifeforms, but they’re nice enough to look at.
A batch of mail arrives one sunny afternoon, and Ivan brings it out to where Tej is sunbathing; his morning’s work is done, where he’s been working on his first annual performance review, toning down the consul’s overly-positive remarks to something less likely to get him transferred to somewhere less salubrious. Gregor had said that it would probably be at least two years before things blew over enough for him to come home, and they’d also had only a day to pack for their galactic exile.
Ivan’s packet includes a birthday greeting (for his 36th) from Admiral Desplains, who doesn’t seem to be as fond of Ivan’s replacement, but implies that he doesn’t expect Ivan to return to his old post, either. Tej says that Rish writes that they’re working on repairs to Cordonah Station, Topaz has replacement legs so the Jewels can perform again (they’d been amputated as punishment for helping Tej’s parents escape from Prestene captivity), and Erik has been pronounce cryo-revivable, but there are complications. Apparently Erik was actually House Prestene’s inside man, so they’re keeping him on ice for a while, mostly as a threat to keep Star and Pidge from fighting too much over the succession; once they’re better entrenched, then maybe they’ll bring him back in a more subordinate position. Tej notes that she’s happy to be out of family politics.
Rish doesn’t mention anything about Byerly, but Ivan has a letter from him, sent around the same time. He tends to be a little overly verbose, but Ivan happens upon a mention of the brooch which Lady Moira had picked up in the vault; apparently it actually contained the genetic samples of the Barrayaran population from the Ninth Satrapy. Ivan isn’t sure what the Barrayarans would make of that, especially since many of their ancestors would be clonable from those samples. He reads further, and discovers that Lady Moira had offered to sell them back to the Star Crèche, for ten million Betan dollars; a Star Crèche envoy came all the way to Jackson’s Whole to make the pickup, and when she was there, Lady Moira ceremoniously destroyed the brooch, apparently as payback for being culled from the haut a century earlier.
Lady Alys had written to Tej, telling her about the galactic tour they’d been on–also heavily encouraged by Gregor, with Laisa’s help–and have now returned from, without too many unfortunate incidents. Ivan recalls his last conversation with Gregor, about what had gotten into Illyan.
“I think he was bored, Gregor.”
“Bored!” Gregor jerked to a halt, taken aback. “I thought he was exhausted.”
“Right after the chip breakdown, sure.” Profoundly so. “For a while, everyone–even Mamere and Simon himself–assumed he was some fragile convalescent. But…quietly–he does everything quietly–he’s grown better.”
“I thank your mother for that, yes.”
Yeah, really. Ivan shied from trying to imagine the biography of a post-chip-Simon minus Alys, but it might have been a much shorter tale. “He’s fine when she’s with him. But she’s been going off to the Residence a lot, lately, leaving him to his own devices. And then Shiv came along and pushed all his old buttons, and, well, here we all are.”
Ivan suggested that Gregor find some kind of occupation for him in future, not as heavy or full-time as his previous job, but something to give him some variety. Tej continues that they have dedicated the new ImpSec building, with Illyan cutting the ribbon, though refusing the honour of having it actually named after him; the building is not built near the old site, but somewhere with fewer holes under it. Next letter is from Aunt Cordelia to Ivan; Tej had met them during their stopover on Sergyar on the way offplanet, and Simon and Alys had stopped there on their way back. What his mother hadn’t mentioned, though, was their visit to the Orb on Beta Colony.
“They signed up for some sort of one-week deluxe instructional course. That doesn’t sound too… Role-playing? Because Mamere thought it might be easy for Simon to get into on account of having done covert ops in his youth. And the first day was pretty rocky, but once she persuaded Simon to stop treating the mandatory psychological interest survey as a hostile interrogation, things smoothed out…and…”
Mercifully, Cordelia changes the subject at that point to their sailing expedition on the less-toxic seas of Sergyar. Tej suggests they stop at the Orb when they go back, though of course she doesn’t need any sexual instruction herself. Ivan asks about the “survey” that had troubled Illyan, and Tej describes it as a sort of brain scan done while they show you images, to determine what kinds of things you like, but also a way of finding potential problem customers. Of course, this being Beta Colony, those problem customers are still allowed in, just supervised differently; some of them are just disturbed by the things lurking in their brain.
Finally, there is a letter from Miles; he writes that the old ImpSec building was purchased by a Barrayaran investor who turned out to be Mark Vorkosigan, who has not only managed to get the building raised up to its previous level again, but now plans to reopen it as a hotel/restaurant/nightclub, which Miles heartily disapproves of. He also mentions their decanting another infant, Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan; as Tej looks at the baby pictures, he contemplates how he’s somehow become an uncle, through no fault of his own, and compares it gingerly to the prospect of eventual fatherhood. Tej, apparently thinking on similar lines, points out neutrally that one wouldn’t want to drag a uterine replicator, or an infant, through all those wormhole jumps back to Barrayar.
Ivan muses on how he’s four years away from being a twenty-years man, which, he explains to Tej, is when a Barrayaran soldier either takes early retirement or re-ups with an eye to command rank. Tej asks which he’d prefer, and Ivan says he’s not as keen for high rank as he may have been when he was younger; the consul has suggested he move into the diplomatic corps, which is not an uncommon career path, though it would involve more travel. Tej decides it might not be so bad, to suffer through wormhole jumps once in a while, if it keeps them from having to spend too much time with their families; Ivan points out that her linguistic talents would certainly come in handy.
In all, in truth, it was a problem for another day, Ivan decided. When life and chance handed you an afternoon as idyllic as this one promised to be, it seemed profoundly ungrateful not to pay attention.
Ivan ran a toe up Tej’s shin, and began attending.
So Ivan and Tej got kicked offplanet for a temporary exile, the way his mother and Illyan did, though apparently for a little longer. Ivan does, at least, get to get some advantage out of his penchant for laziness, at least in the sense that he’s willing to put in a little hard work to make his life easier in the long run. And the rest is just like the thing where they tell you what happened to the characters after the events of the movie, to some extent.
Illyan and Alys went off for a while, did the Orb thing, and went back home. Mark bought the old ImpSec HQ with nefarious commercial purposes in mind, while they built a new one somewhere else. Miles and Ekaterin had another baby. And Ivan contemplates his future, now that he’s been jolted out of his prior career track; would he have been thinking about it so much if he’d still been sorting snakes for Admiral Desplains (and still single)?
I should probably do some kind of summation of the book. I was dissatisfied with it my first time through, and my reread hasn’t altered my views all that much. I rarely managed to maintain a two-chapter-per-week pace, which I managed much better in A Civil Campaign, for heaven’s sake, where the chapters were huge, and mostly that was because I wasn’t that interested. The book starts off a little slow, picks up for the wedding, slows down when we go back to Barrayar as Tej meets familiar characters and gets presented with recaps of earlier events, and then sinks into a morass of Jacksonian relatives. Ivan gets lost by the wayside for chapters at a time, until finally he joins them in the vault and actual excitement happens. The pace still seems jerky, the Arquas and Ser Imola getting brought in too abruptly, the Vormerciers vanishing just as suddenly, the romance progressing and then stopping dead before eventually resuming.
Ivan is just not the same kind of protagonist as Miles, or even Cordelia. He is reluctant to act, and generally shies away from the plot in most of the books we see him in, unless dragged into it by Byerly or Miles, or kidnapped as a hostage or something. He’s not a total incompetent in a crisis, but he tries much harder to avoid them, or situations where a crisis might even potentially arise. So he doesn’t get involved until he has no choice, and it takes a little too long to get him to that point. While Ivan’s stellar showing in A Civil Campaign made me think that a book with him as the star would be a great idea, in practice it felt more like Dr. Watson getting his own story, or Xander Harris, or some superhero sidekick, or something.
Next, of course, is CryoBurn, after my usual week off. Which I also didn’t like that much, despite its actually having Miles as a protagonist, and maybe I’ll figure that one out too.