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Another week.  Another post.  Another chapter.  The Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Books by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  One chapter.  Jewels dancing in the park.  Me, getting to the point, now.

Chapter Seventeen

When Ivan wakes up in the morning, he’s still wondering what’s going on between Simon Illyan and Shiv Arqua–whether one of them is trying to set the other one up for something.  Both of them doubtless figure that they’ll be able to outsmart the other, and Ivan is worried that Illyan may be the one ending up outsmarted.

At work, he receives a call from Captain Raudsepp at ImpSec, who informs him that they’d picked up some freelance bounty hunters on Komarr, whose goal had apparently been to kidnap Tej and Rish and deliver them to the Hegen Hub; they’d been about to board a ship for Vorbarr Sultana.  This does not reassure Ivan one bit, and Raudsepp wonders how many more of these bounty hunters there are likely to be, and if they’ll present a storage problem in the long term.  Ivan thinks that Miles would know how to deal with them, but he’s not sure that’s a good idea in the first place; out loud, he says that they’ll probably keep showing up as long as there’s a bounty.

Raudsepp asks if he knows when his in-laws are planning to leave; Ivan says their emergency visas last for thirteen days, but he’s not sure if they’ll be able to get an extension.  Raudsepp asks him to find out if they have other plans, because he’ll be happy enough to get them off-planet; Ivan points out that he is married to one of them, but Raudsepp doesn’t seem to think he’s serious about that, even though Ivan realizes he is.  Ivan wonders if Raudsepp has been briefed by or about Byerly yet, and wonders how much longer By’s vaunted cover is going to last; he tells Raudsepp to talk to Illyan about the Cordonahs, but Raudsepp seems of two minds about whether to rely on Illyan any more.

Tej and Rish arrive at their family’s makeshift home-base to find By just leaving with Jet; Tej herself is drafted as a driver by her mother, and Rish is snagged by Star.  Tej grabs some coffee with Amiri and asks what By and Jet are up to; Amiri says that one of them is always being detailed to hang around with By as a decoy.  He asks how they ended up with By, and Tej finds it difficult to explain.  Amiri says he’ll be happy to get back to Escobar, where’d he’d been ready to start on his postdoc, hoping to be shut of House Cordonah; he’s not eager to become the substitute heir, noting that Star and Pidge would be much better at it.  Tej says that neither of them is likely to give way to the other, though.

Amiri says that none of the younger Cordonahs had been told about the cache until after they arrived on the planet, which at least explained why they’d all had to come all the way to Barrayar.  Amiri is apparently intended to help dealing with any biologicals they find in the cache, and fence them out through the Duronas; he wonders if Lily Durona was in on the plan too.  Tej tells him about the cache being under the ImpSec building, and Amiri says that their father seems to have a plan for it.  He begs her to help this plan, or else his life is going to be ruined; Tej promises to try, reluctantly, wondering when someone’s going to worry about her life.  She’d been willing to jump off a balcony to preserve Amiri’s life, something that Ivan, at least, doesn’t seem to expect from her…

Ivan wakes the next morning to find Tej already up and about; she’d been evasive about what exactly she was doing, besides driving family members around Vorbarr Sultana.  He notices her having a conversation with a fellow in Barrayaran Russian, when he’d barely been able to notice he had an accent.

“I haven’t got all the District dialect variations sorted out yet, though.  Sixty-time-four plus South Continent.  I have to pick up more local geography.”

“Do you expect to?  Sort them all out?”

She shrugged.  “If I’m here long enough, they’ll sort themselves.”

“Tej…”  He wanted to follow up that ambiguous-sounding if I’m here long enough, but stuck to his first thought.  “How many languages do you speak?”

“I dunno.”  Her nose wrinkled.  “Since I came here–nine?”

She points out that good translator earbuds can handle hundreds, so this is really just a fun hobby for her.

Rish comes in to ask if she’s got the van and the speakers, and Tej says she does, and they get ready to go.  The Jewels are apparently going to do some dance practice in a park that Simon found for them, and Tej is handling the music.  Ivan, disturbed, calls his mother to find out more about this park, and she tells him that Simon had apparently suggested the park across the street from ImpSec, which wasn’t heavily used except by employees with Season Affective Disorder.  She doesn’t tell him anything more about what that might be going on with Simon and Shiv, exclaiming instead over Moira and Udine and how well-travelled they are; Ivan suggests she get Simon to take her travelling one of these days, but she’s a little dubious about him taking such a long trip.

Ivan is able to find a parking spot within reasonable walking distance of ImpSec, due to the proximity of Winterfair.

The security headquarters had an imposing façade, utterly windowless, with the wide stairs leading up to the front doors deliberately designed to be higher than most people could comfortably step.  The great bronze doors were, as far as Ivan knew, rarely opened–everyone with business here went around to the human-scale entrances on the sides or the back.  The stone face of the building was severely plain, except for a stylized bas-relief frieze of pained-looking creatures that Miles had once dubbed pressed gargoyles with entirely circled the edifice.

At the time of the reign of Mad Yuri, the gargoyles had possessed some political/artistic/propagandistic metaphorical meaning, which had once been explained to Ivan, but that he had promptly forgotten.  Ivan thought the poor things just looked constipated.  The people of Vorbarr Sultana, over time, had named them all, and endowed them with various personalities; there were running jokes about the conversations they had up there, frozen in their frieze, and some of them regularly appeared as editorial cartoon characters.  And in a short-lived children’s animated show, Ivan dimly remembered from his youth.

The building is surrounded by a wall with spikes on it, and two gates through it, and also protected by much more modern defenses.  The park across the street is bare of anything that might prevent concealment to an attacker, and so is fairly sunny.  Tej and several of her siblings and half-siblings are there, Tej trying to set up the sound system under Star’s direction, and Jet putting coloured pom-pom sticks into the ground at carefully determined spots.  Simon Illyan sits on a bench watching them, with an ImpSec major talking to him.  The music starts up and Jewels begin dancing, Jet doing a particularly impressive series of flips from one corner of the park to the other.

The major greets Ivan and asks him if he knows what’s going on; Ivan explains that the dance troupe has been separated and cooped up on spaceship for too long, and are celebrating their reunion.  Illyan notes that he never had time for dance, before his retirement, but Lady Alys has taken him out to performances several times since.  The major, deciding that if Illyan’s there it must be all right, leaves them to it; Illyan notes that that’s the fifth man to come out so far, in increasing order of rank.  Illyan remarks on the irony that the office for such a supposedly all-seeing organization doesn’t have any actual windows; Ivan supposes that they were considered a point of vulnerability.

Ivan asks how long before someone comes out with a high enough rank to actually ask Illyan what’s going on; Illyan says that most of those just happen to be out of the office today.  Ivan asks what’s going on, but Illyan just tells him to pay attention.  Ivan plucks up one of the pom-pom sticks to look at, and can’t figure out what to make of it before Star takes it away from him and puts it back; he’s pretty sure its colours have changed, though.  The dancers start up again, mostly a different routine, although Jet does a set of flips again.  Ivan wonders why one of the others doesn’t take a turn, and notes that Jet is the heaviest of them.  A third piece, accompanied by bells, a different range of pitches than the previous music, and Jet doing flips again, thumping the ground; Ivan suddenly realizes that they’re doing some sort of sonic mapping, and Illyan compliments him on his perspicacity.  He tells Ivan he’s wasted in Ops, but Ivan says he likes his job, and it’s much safer there.

Ivan asks why they’re trying to sonic-map what’s under the ground, when surely ImpSec knows what’s there already.  Illyan says that you’d think so, but the underlayer of old Vorbarr Sultana is more complicated that most people realize.  Ivan asks why nobody in ImpSec has picked up on what they’re doing, and Illyan says that the sticks are passive collectors, biologically based somehow.  Ivan asks Illyan if he’s in on it, and Illyan says he isn’t, not exactly; he says this isn’t any worse than the men who wander around the park with metal detectors sometimes.  He evades Ivan’s queries on what will happen if the Arquas actually find something.

As noon arrives, ImpSec employees begin to trickle out to eat their lunch, watching the Arquas curiously; Star gathers up the coloured rods and the others confer, before doing an energetic dance to a version of a traditional Barrayaran mazurka.  The gathered ImpSec men applaud when they’re done, and the dancers bow to them, and especially in Illyan’s direction; Illyan gets up to go.  Ivan asks if he’s brought this to General Allegre, or Gregor; Illyan says he hasn’t, and reminds Ivan that Gregor’s usual approach is to wait and see what happens.

Tej comes over to ask Illyan what he thought of the performance; Illyan tells Ivan to take her out to lunch, but Tej pleads chauffeuring duties and disappears with her family again.

Comments

It’s mentioned a few times that we’re getting close to Winterfair, but I don’t remember if there’s a particular Winterfair-oriented scene or not, a celebration at Lady Alys’s, or if it’s the backdrop for the entire climax.  ImpSec HQ can’t shut down that much for the holiday, but maybe there are fewer of the less-essential people about, and a lot of the others may be more concerned with security for the Winterfair Ball or something.

So Amiri’s into biology, genetics, medicine, whatever the Duronas are into; Pidge is a lawyer, and Star’s interests are more military?  Or do I have those two mixed up?  (I’ve already forgotten their real names.)  The Jewels don’t have much for independent personalities yet, apart from Rish, and possibly Jet.  And Tej doesn’t really seem to have a thing, unless it’s languages, I suppose, or the ability to drive on Barrayar, or at least so her family seems to think.  I envy Tej’s linguistic abilities, by the way; I’d love to be able to learn languages that quickly.  But, alas, I have a shortage of haut, or even ghem, blood.

I keep going back and forth on whether I should be calling him “Simon” or “Illyan”.  Perhaps, after this post, I should make it a habit to use “Simon” whenever he’s in a long scene with Ivan, to avoid the same-letter-name problem.  Hopefully I’m not confusing too many of you using different names for the same people (a.k.a. the “burly detective syndrome”).


Next week.  Another chapter.  Pretty sure, anyway.

 

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Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, or locked-in-a-metal-box-with-no-sunlight; it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that spot on your dial for the relentless and impenetrable charming and witty summarization and commentary on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is, in many ways, a saga about the Vorkosigans.  One of the ways in which it’s not a saga about the Vorkosigans is the way in which the book I’m in the middle of, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is about a Vorpatril instead of a Vorkosigan, but he’s a Vorpatril with close ties to the Vorkosigans, so I suppose that’s all right.  This week I trudge through Chapter Sixteen, which has one of those tedious dinner parties in it.

Chapter Sixteen

In the lift tube up to Mamere’s apartment, Tej tells Ivan that she hasn’t managed to tell them about Simon yet; Ivan wonders what they were talking about all that time, but it’s too late by now.  The doors open for them, and Tej steps forward to introduce her family to Alys and Simon Illyan, though she just refers to him as her “stepfather-in-law, Imperial Service, retired”.  The Baron, at least, seems startled by his name, but shakes his hand heartily and refers to his memory chip; Illyan tells that how it was removed upon his retirement.  On their way inside, Illyan confides to Ivan that he was touched at being referred to as a “stepfather”; it’s not that he really wants to be married to Lady Alys, but he’s getting tired of being introduced as an “um”.

Tej’s ancestors are reunited with her siblings, and Byerly as well, who Ivan notes always seems somewhat diffident around Illyan, though he twits Ivan about the sheer quantity of his new in-laws.  Illyan seems to be taking charge of Baron Shiv Arqua, Lady Alys of the Baronne Udine and her mother, both of them covertly watching the “youngsters”.  Ivan tries to figure out the dynamic among the Jewels and the Baron’s full children, which doesn’t seem to fit into the “acknowledged bastards” status they’d have on Barrayar.

He overhears part of the conversation between Illyan and Shiv, the Baron talking about how Prestene’s takeover must have been an inside job, that a trusted subordinate must have betrayed them.  Illyan commiserates, saying that’s how his memory chip was sabotaged, explaining that his retirement was forced by its removal, not the other way around.

The dining room is opened, and they are all seated, Ivan unfortunately separated from his wife, between Star and the Baroness; Ivan quickly discerns that Ma Kosti has been appropriated as cook for the evening.  Lady Alys begins by asking Lady Moira ghem Estif about her stay on Earth, Ivan being urged to volunteer comments on his own visit there, though of course leaving out the inappropriately exciting parts.  Lady Moira had apparently mostly spent her time there doing genetics work, rather than just being a retiree.

Star, who’s a bit tipsy, asks if her mother’s conception was planned by her Constellation, but Lady Moira says that ghem-haut breeding is not nearly as tightly controlled, in hopes of serendipity.  She was never romantically attached to her husband, but she was able to do a small part in helping replace the son that he lost–a story unfamiliar to most of those present.  Apparently the General’s son had a Barrayaran lover, and they were together in Vorkosigan Vashnoi when it was destroyed, though they didn’t find that out until after they’d already retreated to Komarr.  They’d stayed on Komarr because of the General’s acquisition of a number of voting shares, but Lady Moira herself had never become a citizen, and in fact still doesn’t have any citizenship of her own.

The conversation then breaks up into a female side (mostly concerned with various types of breeding technology) and a male side (more military-focused), with Ivan somewhat separated from the latter, as much as he wishes to hear the one-upmanship contest between Illyan and the Baron.  Dessert is Ma Kosti’s trademark maple bug-butter ambrosia, which Ivan declines to mention to anyone present.  Afterwards, Illyan invites Shiv into his study, a rare honour, accompanied by a rare Vorkosigan brandy; he shoos Ivan out, despite Ivan’s desire to work something out with his father-in-law.  Byerly asks after the two men shortly thereafter, and Ivan indicates the study; he asks By if he thinks that Shiv is trying to pull some hustle on Illyan.

By shrugged.  “Well, of course.  Arqua has to be hustling every possibility he sees, right about now.  Trying to get support for his House in exile, in the interest of making it not in exile.  It was less clear”–By hestitated–“why Simon seemed to be hustling him back.  Even more subtly, note.  Unless it was just habit, I suppose.”

“That’s a disturbing thought.  The two of them, hustling each other.”

“Yeah.  It was…rather like watching two women trying to make each other pregnant.”

Ivan asks By if Rish has outed him yet, and By admits he doesn’t know.  He hadn’t planned, when he revealed his real job to Rish, that the two of them should come to Barrayar.  He asks Ivan to find out, and Ivan complains that he hasn’t even had a chance to talk to his wife.  They are interrupted by Pidge joining them, complimenting Ivan on his mother’s hospitality, and also turning the topic to Simon Illyan, noting his non-Vor name and asking why he’s only a captain.  Ivan explains about how Illyan’s predecessor never took a rank about captain either, though the current head, Guy Allegre, was already a general before he was appointed.

Ivan notes that Illyan did rate a vice-admiral’s pay, though; Pidge asks how much that is, exactly, and Ivan declines to tell her.  She then asks about Illyan’s personal wealth, and is surprised when they don’t know; By notes that Illyan lived a fairly frugal lifestyle and didn’t seem to have any vices to fritter away his money on.  Ivan recalls to himself a revelation shared with Illyan when they were drunk a couple of years earlier.

Through a progression of subject that were soon a blur in Ivan’s mind, they had somehow got on to just what Illyan did and did not recall or miss from his memory chip, at which point Ivan had learned just where the largest and most arcane pornography collection on Barrayar had been secreted…

It’s not as if I acquired most of it on purpose, Illyan had protested.  But the damned chip didn’t allow me to delete anything, whether I picked it up inadvertently or in a moment of bad mood or bad judgement or bad company, and then I was stuck with it forever.  Or in the line of work, oh, God, those were the worst.  Do you have any idea how many truly appalling surveillance vids I had to review in forty years…?

There were some things, Ivan reflected, that no man should know about another, not even or perhaps especially his um-stepfather.

Pidge insists that Illyan’s career must have lent itself to some sort of “personal acquisition”, especially for a man as clever as him.  Ivan realizes that she has a point, but he still believes that Illyan didn’t have time for any vices; his passion was ImpSec, and his drug was adrenaline.  He has to admit, though, that he doesn’t know whether or not it bothers Illyan that Mamere is so much richer than him, whether he’s satisfied with his retirement pay.

Ivan doesn’t get a chance to talk with Tej before the party breaks up–Simon and Shiv emerging from the office at last, seeming to have come to some understanding, and Alys, Moira, and Udine having ascended to using each other’s first names.  Illyan expresses to Tej a certain admiration for her father and his turn for salesmanship.

Tej has been trying to avoid Ivan all evening, with her thoughts whirling around buried Cetagandan treasure, though she’s relieved that her father seems to have come off well enough in his initial meeting with Simon Illyan, despite her failing to brief him about Illyan earlier.  As they prepare for bed, she keeps chat to a minimum, and makes it clear she’s too exhausted for any bedplay.  Ivan gets up to ask Rish if she’s spilled the beans about Byerly yet; she says she hasn’t, except of course to her family.

Ivan asks Tej if she thinks her father is trying to suborn Illyan; she quarrels with his choice of words, insisting that “suborn” implies something treasonous or evil, and her father would never do that.  Ivan says that’s good, because anyway Illyan’s loyalty has been tested enough times that he wouldn’t fall for something like that anyway.  Ivan asks her what’s going on, and she tells him she can’t tell him until she knows whether he’s in it with the rest of them or not; privately she thinks that he’s likely to want to claim the whole treasure for Barrayar anyway.  Ivan says that married couples shouldn’t keep secrets; Tej says he keeps secrets from her all the time, as part of his job, and Ivan says that’s different.  Tej says that he does talk in his sleep sometimes, though.

“I talk in my sleep?  About classified…”

“It’s kind of hard to tell.”  Tej composed her mouth into Ivan Xav’s accent and cadences, and recited, “‘Don’t eat that avocado, Admiral, it’s gone blue.  The blue ones have shifty eyes.'”

Returning to the previous subject, Ivan says there’s no need to keep it from him if it’s benign; Tej, in her exhaustion, let’s slip that there’s a thing that they’re looking for, and Ivan realizes it must be something to help reclaim their House.  He doesn’t have a problem with that, but it concerns him that it’s something they’re looking for on Barrayar; Tej refuses to “play fast-penta” with him any more, though Ivan mentions that it’s actually a kind of party game, “Fast-penta or dare”.

“Barrayarans are strange.”

“Yes,” Ivan Xav agreed with a pensive sigh, then seemed to belatedly decide this might be considered a slur on his homeworld and revised it hastily, “No! Not as strange as Jacksonians, anyway.  Or Cetagandans.”

Tej says that it’s not just the House, it’s also Erik and Topaz, prisoners of Prestene, Erik maybe even unrevivably dead.  Ivan wonders that they want to try to retrieve them, then, if Topaz is just a Jewel, not really one of Shiv’s children at all, but Tej said that he never seemed to make that distinction with them, treating them all as his own.  Tej asks about Ivan’s own relationship with Illyan, and Ivan says that it happened so late in his life that he hardly knows how to think of his as any kind of father figure.  He stutters through a list of classified incidents that he can’t tell her about, before she gets annoyed and shuts him up.

Comments

What is it about the dinner party chapters that they never end up being as much fun as I think they should?  This isn’t as bad as the disastrous one in A Civil Campaign, though at least that one served as a solid transition point to advance the plot.  I guess this one does start the thing that goes on between Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, the nebulous thing that I’m not sure is ever precisely cleared up.  (Probably it is, I just can’t recall right now if it comes out at the end or not.)  And, as you can tell, it just doesn’t seem to be very quotable.

I also don’t recall if Lady Moira’s tale of her stepson’s death in Vorkosigan Vashnoi is relevant to anything, or just illustrative in some way.  It has enough space dedicated to it that it seems like it should be relevant.  Do we find out exactly who the stepson’s lover was, for instance?  Does it had something to do with the finding of the Cetagandan cache?  Something else I don’t remember.

I’m never quite sure how homophobic Barrayaran society is supposed to be.  We don’t get that many gay characters, and the societal expectations do tend to be highly heteronormative.  Aral did have his affair with Ges Vorrutyer, which Vordarian tries to use to disrupt his marriage, so one gets the impression that it is at least frowned upon.  (Not by Cordelia, of course.)  And then there’s Byerly Vorrutyer, too.  Maybe it’s just that queer-bashing is mostly pre-empted in lout society by mutie-bashing.  (Though maybe they consider it just another form of mutation…)

And, finally, at the end of the chapter we get the start of the real rift between Ivan and Tej.  Which I suppose is inevitable in your standard romance plotline–they have to have the misunderstanding so they can reconcile later.  And it does make sense in the context of the treasure-heist plot that is going to be taking over the second half of the book.  But it is, none the less, somewhat frustrating, and another part of why I don’t like this book as much.


I checked ahead, and there are twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, so probably no more than, say, ten weeks left in the book.  More than halfway, which is almost a little surprising.  But that means I’m on the downward slope, I suppose.  Another chapter next week, probably…

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Here are we, all gathered together!  For what purpose?  It is for the celebration of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that thing which is for the readings of the books of Lois McMaster Bujold, and her saga of the Vorkosigans!  You must be thinking, what is these books?  Well, there are books about the Vorkosigans, many such books, and I have read them all, more than once.  Except maybe for one or two, like the current one, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which doesn’t even have that many Vorkosigans in it, though Captain Ivan Xav Vorpatril, so he is called, is a good friend of Vorkosigans from many books.  So here he is, with his new wife, and her relatives, who don’t seem to like him so much, but meanwhile there is another plot starting, with a hidden Maguffin…

Chapter Fifteen

Ivan gets to work somewhat the worse for his shortage of sleep; a clerk at his desk notifies Desplains as soon as he arrives, and Desplains summons him right in.  Desplains has an ImpSec Captain named Raudsepp in his office, and does not seem happy about it; apparently Raudsepp wants to know if he knew, when he approved Ivan’s marriage, the exact nature of Lady Vorpatril’s relatives.  Ivan said that they all thought her family were dead at that point, and were very pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise.  He asks Raudsepp what his interest is, and Raudsepp says that he’d been in charge of Tej’s security, and everything was relatively quiet until the Baron and his family turned up out of nowhere.

Raudsepp’s brows tightened.  “My heatened memo to Galactic Affairs-Komarr crossed in the tightbeam stream with an urgent heads-up from Captain Morozov, warning us of the party’s impending arrival, so it’s good to know that they weren’t entirely asleep out there.  If the alert had arrived six hours ahead of the event instead of six house behind it, it might have helped.  Somewhat.  And so my routine physical security issue has turned into a completely unassessed political security issue.  As I expect my assessment to be requested very soon, it behooves me to make one.”

He asks Ivan why he signed them out of Customs, and Ivan said they looked tired and in need of some rest to recover from jump-lag and bureaucrats.  Ivan says they’re probably here to pick up Tej and Rish, and belatedly realizes that he’s not actually to happy about that prospect–for Tej, at least.  He says that Raudsepp must have the information from Customs and from Zumboti, but Raudsepp says that Ivan’s been involved in the affair for much longer.  Ivan is about to tell him about By, but decides that he needs to check on whether he should be doing that–By’s in Domestic Affairs, and a high-up undercover operative, and someone in Galactic Affairs might not be cleared to know about him.  Raudsepp gives him a comconsole card with instructions to report anything suspicious; Ivan isn’t sure about spying on his in-laws, but Raudsepp reminds him that he did swear responsibility for them.

As a Vor lord.  Not as a military officer.  Different chain of command.  Oh, crap, that sounded just like one of Miles’s arguments, didn’t it.  Ivan knew he was on thin ice if he’d started channeling his cousin.

Raudsepp goes on to recommend that, given Ivan’s high and sensitive position in Ops, under the circumstances he may want to consider taking some personal leave, for a “family emergency”.  Ivan reacts poorly to this slur on his loyalty, and Raudsepp throws the matter to Desplains, who temporizes and dismisses Raudsepp.  After the ImpSec officer leaves, Desplains asks Ivan if he thinks he’s been compromised; when Ivan says he’s not sure, Desplains says he might as well go back to work–after he’s called his mother, at least.  Called her back, that is.
Ivan hurries back to reclaim his desk and calls his mother right away, informing her that he’s had a busy night.  She and Illyan had received Morozov’s communiqué, forwarded by General Allegre, and then got a personal update from Byerly.  Ivan said he had his hands full, and tells her that Tej and Rish seem to be overjoyed to have their family back; his mother reminds him that he should know exactly how that feels from personal experience.

 The panic simmering at the back of his brain seeped out.  In a suddenly smaller voice, he said, “They, uh…seem to have come here with some idea of picking up Tej and Rish.  And taking them away.”

Mamere looked back at him.  “And how do you feel about that, Ivan?”

A rather long silence fell, before he managed, “Very strange.”

Lady Alys’s dark brows quirked.  “Well, that’s something, I suppose.”

She says she’ll have to invite them all to dinner to get acquainted; if they’re all tired right now, they should be awake and ready for food by evening.  She says she’ll send a car, and Ivan points out that it’ll need to be a large one, given the size of the group; she reminds him that she’s planned larger events on shorter notice.  She is including Byerly, too; Ivan asks her not to invite Miles, and she says he’s still on Sergyar in any case.

Ivan tells her about Raudsepp’s visit to his commander, and his concern over whether Domestic Affairs and Galactic Affairs are keeping things from each other.  Simon Illyan pokes his head in to encourage Ivan to talk to Guy Allegre and find out whether there’s a problem or not, though he also applauds Raudsepp for having the guys to face up to an Admiral in the first place.  Lady Alys agrees with Simon’s suggestion, and says she’ll invite Tej and Rish, and Christos will let him know what the plans are for transportation.

Reluctantly, Ivan calls Guy Allegre, who first tells him about a possible opening on the fast courier, then asks if his plans have changed in reference to recent events.  Ivan says that it’s all up in the air, and then tells him about the possible problem with Byerly and Raudsepp, and Illyan’s recommendation; Allegre agrees that Raudsepp should be briefed, and says that Vorrutyer may have been taking too much on lately.  He asks after Illyan, and Ivan says he’s been in good health, though hasn’t really found any new hobbies.  Allegre says that they haven’t been keeping in touch, which is commendable in that Illyan has been kibitzing him at all; his disability has been distancing him anyone who might think to put him to work, somewhat like Count Vorkosigan’s removal to Sergyar.  He even suggests Illyan consider visiting Sergyar at some point, before bidding Ivan farewell.

Rish takes the younger Arquas on a walking tour of the neighbourhood, while Tej goes to gather up her parents and grandmother; they both plan to brief the newcomers about Barrayar as much as possible.  Tej finds the grandmother and parents poring over a city map; her grandmother can’t find whatever it is she’s looking for.  The Baronne asks Tej about the early pickup they’d asked for, and Tej says that Christos will happily drive them through the older parts of the city, someplace he doesn’t get to visit very often despite having had to memorize it as part of his training.

Grandmama says she’s looking for a place called Ladderbeck Close, an old Vor mansion where she worked during the Cetagandan occupation (which Cetagandans call “The Ninth Satrapy”).  She explains to Tej that she was a trained geneticist, though apparently not good enough for the haut to keep, and assigned here as a lab assistant; the Star Crèche had been doing a genetic survey of the planet, interested in the results of the centuries of isolation on the planet’s inhabitants.  They had hoped to find some interesting new mutation, but they only found new diseases, and she muses that the planet should have stayed isolated for longer.  The laboratory was underneath the old mansion, and sealed with biohazard barriers; Tej isn’t clear on why that should have been necessary for a simple library, but apparently the haut Zaia had kept her usual supplies with her.  Their full records had been kept in an orbital facility which would have been sent to burn up in the atmosphere during the withdrawal.

The Baron changes the subject to Ivan, and his “handles”, what motivates him, and hence what they could use to manipulate him.  Tej admits ignorance–his mother is wealthy, and he seems to have all the money he needs, and he doesn’t seem to crave more than makes him personally comfortable.  He asks if Ivan has any business training, running large projects, and Tej says that he does work on military budgets; the Baron says he has a venture in mind which he’d like to keep within the family as much as possible, since his old contacts onworld are not as reliable as he’d hoped.

Tej isn’t sure she likes the sound of this, but it does seem to be perking him up, so she asks about it.  He says that is has to do with Grandmama’s former office, and the potential hidden wealth within; they need to keep the Barrayaran government from hearing about it first, or they’ll take it for themselves.  It includes not only the genetic records, but also a bunch of “trash” the ghem stuffed in at the last minute–records, art collections, gold coins, and who knows what else.  The Baronne said that they know nobody else has found it because of certain objects that would have surfaced by now if they’d been found.

The plan is simple–find the building and buy it if possible, or buy whatever’s built on top of it if it was demolished.  If they can’t buy it, they can try to tunnel in from a neighbouring lot.  Then they can take the contents offworld, preferably to Fell Station, to fence.  Grandmama had recalled the place while they were on Earth, and intends it for a belated wedding gift for her daughter and son-in-law.

“I came to you in nothing but my skin,” murmured the Baronne, with a fond look at her mate.  “And”–she plucked a trifle mournfully at her short fringe–“hair.”

“I remember that,” said her mate, with a fond look back.  “Vividly.  I had very little more myself, at the time.”

“Your wits, at least.”

“Making this cache into test and wedding gift in one, if Shiv can extract it,” said Grandmama.  “Does it occur to you two that you are running your courtship backward?”

They had planned to sneak onto Barrayar, but Tej’s high-profile marriage forced them to arrive more aboveboard, to resume their real identities before they’d managed to top up their war-chest.  Still, it made the whole plan seem more viable, and if this venture succeeds it may prove the key to reclaiming their House.  Assuming they can find Ladderbeck Close.

Ivan rides with his in-laws in his mother’s groundcar on their tour of the older areas of Vorbarr Sultana, starting with a spin past Vorhartung Castle, before they ventured into the caravanserai; Tej’s grandmother approves the improvement in the quality of the area.  Ivan tries to wrap his mind around the fact of this woman being alive when the oldest Barrayaran he knew who was in the Occupation, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, died eighteen years ago.  She peers around with more interest as they near the old edge of the city.

They pull over at a spot where, according to Christos, he had managed to find old references to Ladderbeck Close.  It had apparently gotten leveled during the resistance fighting, and then the property came into Emperor Yuri’s possession.

All three senior Arquas–well, two Arquas and one ghem Estif–were staring wide-eyed out the side of the canopy, craning their necks.

“What,” said the Baronne in a choked voice, “is that great ugly building?”

At least something in Old Vorbarr Sultana architecture had finally riveted their attention, even if it was one of the most notoriously awful buildings in town.  Ivan explained cheerfully, “It’s one of the works of Emperor Yuri Vorbarra’s megalomaniac architect, the infamous Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  He got up five major structures before he was stopped, they say.  Not to be confused with the current count of the same name, by the way.  Dono-the-Architect was as relative of Byerly’s, too, though not a direct ancestor, no doubt to By’s relief.  By can tell you more tales of him over dinner later.  That gigantic eyesore is Cockroach Central itself–and it’s called that by people who work there–ImpSec HQ.  Barrayaran Imperial Security Headquarters.”

A long silence fell in the back of the groundcar.

“I don’t suppose it’s for sale,” said Tej, in a strange, small voice.  “Or rent.”

Ivan laughed.  “Back when Simon Illyan ran it, he said he’d sell it for a Betan dollar, if only he could find a Betan with a dollar, and no taste.  And if only the Council of Counts would build him a new building, which they wouldn’t.  Mamere says he kept a holo of the Investigatif Federal building on Escobar–tall thing, all glass–on the wall of his inner office for a while, the way some men would keep pinups.”

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If the Tej-Ivan romantic plot is moving more slowly now–Ivan becoming more convinced that he doesn’t really want Tej to leave, but Tej mostly overwhelmed by her family and their desire to make use of him somehow–the other plot, the action-comedy-heist-hijinks plot, mostly starts now.  The sunken laboratory under the former Ladderbeck Close is now the Maguffin, the thing that Tej’s family wants, that they have to find and unearth in secret.  Which will, unfortunately, doubtless mostly lead to Tej keeping a bunch of secrets from Ivan, thus disrupting the romantic plotline.

Admittedly, the best part about this whole thing is that it turns out to be underneath ImpSec HQ.  Which, of course, they can’t just tunnel underneath.  It makes me think of some Martin Lawrence movie from a while ago where he hid some loot in someplace that turned into a police station while he was in jail.  So that might be a bit of a challenge to get into.  Maybe Ivan’s experience with certain subterranean areas of the building–like the Evidence Rooms–could help them, if they can convince him.  Or maybe they could convince him to join ImpSec and be their inside man?  Yeah, probably not.

Tej’s parents and grandmother don’t seem quite as objectionable as her siblings; perhaps it’s because they’re not all native Jacksonians.  Shiv Arqua may be, but he’s a little more quixotic than some of the others.  Anyway, I like them better.  Pidge and Star did not make a good first impression on me.  Maybe it’s more their dismissive attitude towards Tej, the way that they consider her selfish for doing anything for herself rather than for the House.  I suppose that’s not a uniquely Jacksonian attitude, if you substitute House with family or whatever other social construct.  But I guess I just find characters less likable when they’re not sympathetic to the main character’s goals, even if their behaviour is entirely consistent.


Another week, another chapter, another post, and next week, no doubt the same.  As our Jacksonian/Cetagandan plotters get to meet the former master of Cockroach Central, Simon Illyan himself…which should be interesting.  At the very least it shouldn’t be the most painful dinner party in the series–that one would be hard to top.  So, until then…

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Can you keep a secret?  It’s well known than three people can keep a secret, if two are dead, though perhaps this is less obvious than it seems, because sometimes secrets will come out anyway.  Even if all three are dead, because there is, after all, Google.  It’s no secret, then, that tonight I am posting another entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that special series of blog posts dedicated to review and appreciation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, featuring the exploits of a certain Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week we continue on into Chapter Fourteen of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, where Miles has only a small role, since we’re focusing on his cousin Ivan Vorpatril and his current, temporary(?) wife, Tej, whose Jacksonian family has unexpectedly turned up mostly alive…

Chapter Fourteen

As they are escorted into the waiting room, Ivan notes that the room is guarded, and they’ve been sequestered from other travelers; not yet officially detained, but that area isn’t too far away, which he refrains from mentioning to Tej and Rish.  Mahon, the Customs & Immigration officer, gets them past the guards, and Tej hurries towards her family; Mahon notes quietly to Ivan that the names these people were travelling under didn’t match any of the names that Tej referred to them by.  ImpSec Lieutenant Zumboti, who has accompanied them as well, loosens his stunner in its holster just in case.

Nobody in the room seems to unlimbering weapons; Tej’s father barely makes it to his feet before she tackle-hugs him, and Ivan has to turn away from the naked emotion on his face.  Rish somersaults to the feet of the Baronne before being raised up for a hug as well.  After that, the rest of the family mob closes in.  Ivan tries to identify Tej’s other family members; he picks out the sisters, Pidge and Star, both with red-brown skin, Pidge with matching hair and Star with dark hair.  The Jewels are mostly easier to identify, being colour-coded; the two young men left over turned out to be Amiri and Onyx.  Onyx’s skin is dark like the Baron’s, but patchy in places, apparently because of a disguise implanted on Escobar; Tej hugs olive-skinned Amiri, who rejoices over having found her alive, since they heard nothing about them for months.  Tej then bows to her Cetagandan grandmother, whose hair seems to have been cut alarmingly short.

Mahon asks Ivan if these are really all his relatives, and Ivan is forced to admit that they are, in fact, his in-laws.  He notes that not all of the family are there–Erik, Topaz and Ruby are missing.  He senses a certain edginess under their mood and wonders if it’s related to the missing family members.  Tej pulls Ivan over to introduce to her parents and grandmother.

In a voice gone breathless and shy, Tej said, “Dada, Baronne, Grandmother–this is my Barrayaran husband, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril.”  As if she had several other husbands of various planetary origins tucked away somewhere…?  “He’s not a lord of anything, though.”

None of them seem that happy to meet Ivan; the Baron said they’d heard of him from Lily Durona, but it didn’t make much sense.  Tej says that the wedding did get them out of trouble, and she’ll explain later.  Ivan, sensing that the Baron isn’t too happy with him, greets them politely, even remembering the proper address to a Cetagandan haut-lady.  He asks how he can help them, and the Baron says that they should find out.

He calls Pidge (a.k.a. Sophia Arqua) over and introduces her to Mahon as their lawyer; she admits that while she’s practiced law elsewhere, she’s not fully qualified for Barrayaran law, but she’s studied up on it quickly in the last couple of weeks.  She says the question seems to be whether they are representatives of House Cordonah, and thus due diplomatic courtesy, or Houseless refugees, and thus due assistance.  Mahon isn’t sure about this, but all Lieutenant Zumboti says is that he doesn’t see them as a threat to the Imperium, so it’s not really his place to interfere; Ivan thinks this is pretty disingenuous of him.  Mahon mutters about only having two hours left in his shift, but allows himself to be led off by Pidge to work things out.

The Baron asks about Rish’s companion, and Rish introduces Byerly to them as her “um, friend”; they’re none too sure about him either, being a Vor, and a natural birth, but Rish vouches for his friendliness.

Tej asks about the newsvids she saw, which claimed to have shown their bodies, but the Baronne said those were fakes, and ended up making it harder for the Prestenes to announce their escape.  Rish asks about the missing members; the Baronne says that Ruby is under Baron Fell’s protection, but Topaz is still hostage, and Erik is dead, and it’s unknown if he’s cryo-revivable or not.  Rish asked if they’d gotten out after Star’s group, but the Baronne said they were held hostage for weeks before their escape.  Tej asks about her grandmother’s hair, and Lady ghem Estif said she sold it, on Earth, at auction, for a considerable sum.

“That was a pretty amazing sacrifice, for a haut woman,” Ivan offered, this seeming a less fraught topic.  “I once met some of the ladies of the Star Crèche itself, on Eta Ceta, some years ago.  Their never-cut hair was a major status-marker.”

Lady ghem Estif’s expression went rather opaqie.  “It is long,” she stated, “since I left the Star Crèche.”  She hesitated, looking at Ivan more sharply.  “Do the Consorts speak with Outlanders, now?”

“It was a special, um, event.  What was your clan, that is, your haut constellation of origin, before you married the ghem general?”

“Rond.”  Lady ghem Estif delivered the flat monosyllable without emotion.  The Rond were one of the mid-grade Cetagandan Constellations, though that was like saying “one of the mid-grade billionaires”.  But she regarded Ivan with the faintest new spark of…less disapproval.  As though he might be trainable, with the right program of exercises and rewards.

Mahon returns with an offer that, if Ivan will pledge for them as a relative, he can take custody of them as asylum applicants, with a two-week limited visa while their case is reviewed.  He mentions with disapproval the obvious falsities of most of the identification they’d provided, but he does admit their mitigating circumstances; he does, at least, have forms for this contingency.  They will also have to post a bond, for all nine of them, with a potential group discount; Ivan, sensing he’s not going to get out of this on time for work, calls to let them know he’ll be late.  A mere three and a half hours later, the process is completed, Ivan has sworn to be responsible for a number of things he privately things he has no control over, with the Jacksonians watching the process in interest.  Then they leave the shuttleport in a rented ground-van into morning rush hour.

Ivan takes them to a hotel, a utilitarian place not far from Ivan’s apartment, then says he has to go to work; he leaves Tej with the admonition to “not let them do anything”, and she says they’d probably like to just sleep.  Rish manages to part with By as well, and a few minutes later picks a bug from under her collar, tells it “Nice try” and ditches it.  Their rooms all adjoin onto a central lounge, and after depositing their luggage they all sit down to listen to Tej and Rish’s tale.

None of them are that impressed by Tej’s marriage to Ivan, even as a ploy, critiquing it severely, saying she should have held out for more; her father isn’t pleased that she turned down to many suitors just to end up with a Barrayaran (though, she admits, he never tried to push her towards anyone she didn’t like).  The Baronne asks if she knew of his high-level connections, and Tej admits she didn’t know until afterwards.  The Baronne is very interested in his proximity to the throne (or, as Tej corrects her, “camp stool”), but Rish says that apparently Ivan’s claim is tenuous, and Tej’s grandmother discourages them from trying to pursue it.

“Still, he’s in their military,” said Star.  “He can’t be totally clueless, in a crunch.  Maybe we could use him in our Security.  Our new Security, when we set it up.”

“Or in Administration,” said Pidge.  “You say he’s a kind of secretary?”

“Or in Hospitality,” said Jet, with a snigger.  “How well does he strip?”

Tej glowered at him.

The Baronne dismisses his career as make-work to keep him out of trouble, though Tej insists that he works hard, and his boss says he has a talent for spotting hidden political stakes (or was it snakes?).  The Baronne wonders about the Deal that Desplains made to get this “princeling” in his charge, which must have been a social coup for him; she asks if Tej has thought of the best way to exploit her relationship with Ivan.

Tej tells her about the plan to smuggle them out to Escobar; Star says she’d prefer to take out the bounty hunters more directly, as she’d dealt with those that House Prestene had sicced on her.  Tej tries to explain the divorce matter which had delayed their departure; her father tells her not to worry about it when they leave, though if she prefers they could certainly kill Ivan for her, a suggestion that Tej hotly protests.  Star wonders why Ivan didn’t just let the hunters kill her, if he was so eager for a divorce; Tej feels helpless to explain it to them, though she tries to tell them that Barrayar is a more complicated world than they think, a sentiment that only her grandmother seems to agree with.

Star grumbles about having had to leave their weapons behind, and offers to go scrounge up a new arsenal, which Tej tries to discourage her from, mindful of Ivan’s admonition.  Rish notes that ImpSec is likely keeping watch on them, and can protect them more ably right now; the Baron agrees and encourages them all to get some sleep.  Tej and Rish bid her parents farewell again, making plans to get together for supper, before they head back to Ivan’s flat.

In the hallway, Pidge grumbles to them that this detour has been costly and time-consuming, and Tej isn’t doing her part in their efforts to retake the House; she should be making a genetic alliance for them.  Tej protests that her father would never make her do that, and Pidge says that they don’t have as many options any more, and she should just suck it up and do it anyway.  Tej bids her farewell uncomfortably; she was so happy just a little while ago to see her family again, but now she’s unhappy again.

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The ending of Chapter Thirteen made me keep reading halfway into this chapter, through the reunion with the family.  The second half of the chapter, though, I found somewhat unpleasant, and did not make me at all fond of any of Tej’s family, particular her sisters.  It’s also like, boom, here’s another ten-odd characters introduced all at once; we had some background on them before, admittedly, but now they’re all actually here, and of course they probably all want to talk (except Tej’s brother, who doesn’t seem to say much, nor do the Jewels), but that’s a nightmare for a reader.

I know that one can go through all sorts of personal changes, but fall back into the old patterns when you’re back with people who knew you before, because it’s easier that way.  Tej has become markedly less Jacksonian through her married life, mainly because she’s living in a much less Jacksonian place, a place where people are sometimes kind without expecting something in return, which is apparently an alien concept on Jackson’s Whole.  Which is probably why the purest Jacksonians are so intensely unlikeable.  Which must make Tej a bit of a white sheep in her family, the spoiled baby who didn’t have to learn the hard “truths” about the way the world works.  Her biggest ally right now seems to be her grandmother, the former haut who has a little more experience of non-Jacksonian worlds than the others, and she can’t be expected to be too sympathetic to the Barrayaran way of doing things.

By the end of the chapter I was heartily rooting for Tej to just go tell her family to stuff it and leave her on Barrayar.  She hasn’t reconciled herself to staying married to Ivan quite yet, but she’s certainly feeling distanced from her family; still, she’s just gotten them back, so she’s not ready to break ties with them.  Now she gets to be stuck between two worlds, growing more and more miserable due to her lack of actually telling either Ivan or her family what’s wrong.  Not sure if Rish is nearly as conflicted, probably just a little, since she was more Jacksonian than Tej in the first place; By is perhaps a little more Jacksonian than Ivan, so she’s not pulled quite so far off-center.


I’m sure I’ll do another chapter next week, no reason not to…and still not feeling the pull to go faster than that.  Don’t all reread blogs do that as time goes on?  I mean, Leigh Butler’s Read of Ice and Fire has certainly slowed down, right?  So it’s okay for me to do it too.  So, next week then.

 

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You’re driving, and it’s dark, and you’re on the edge of the city.  And you took a turn back there, you don’t know if it was the right turn, but you took the turn anyway, and you just kept going in that direction.  And eventually it starts to get light, and you see before a new post from the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, and everything is right with the world.  Because once again you can immerse yourself in Lois McMaster Bujold’s series of books about the Vorkosigans and their friends, in particular Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which we’re up to Chapter Thirteen of at this point, at which point the plot seems to take a left turn…

Chapter Thirteen

Back in Ivan’s apartment, Tej paces around the living room, fuming over how Count Falco ruined their plans, when she thought it was all arranged.  Ivan admits he may have made a mistake trying to deal with someone who knew his mother, when total strangers would probably have just rubber-stamped them.

Rish asks them if they have any chance of providing them with grounds for divorce, and they go down the list; she asks Ivan if he could pretend to have a mutation, and Ivan says if he did, it’d go on the public record and ruin his sex life forever.  She suggests adultery, but Tej says the only other man she knows on the planet is Byerly, and Rish vetoes him; Miles, Gregor and Illyan are just out of the question.  Tej suggests that Ivan sleep with Byerly, which Rish allows might be all right, but Ivan refuses categorically.  Tej suggests he look up an old girlfriend or something, but he laments that most of them are married, and he’s just not up to dealing with jealous husbands anymore.

Rish sat back.  “What else was there?  Oh yes, abuse.”

“I am not beating Tej.”  Ivan Xav glowered at Rish.  “You, I’m less and less sure about.”

Rish snickered.  “You couldn’t lay a hand on me if you tried, natural-boy.”

Ivan Xav sighed, avoiding conceding the point.  “Besides, it’d get me in so much trouble with so many people–after Mamere, Uncle Aral, and Aunt Cordelia–and Simon–there’d be Miles and Ekaterin and all the Koudelka girls lining up to deal with the remains–and their mother–and Gregor, and Desplains–God, there wouldn’t me enough left of me to carry to court in a bucket.  Hell, a teacup.”

Rish says that Tej could beat him up, and she protests she’d rather just kiss him.  Rish urges her to try, and she tries punching him in the stomach, a tiny poke that he barely feels; she says she really doesn’t want to, and anyway it would hurt her hand.  Rish then points out that desertion was one of the grounds for divorce, and they could solve that by just having Tej go offplanet and leave Ivan.  Ivan says that the problem with that is that there’s a certain number of years before they can declare the abandonment, and that’d leave him hanging, unable to remarry or even get betrothed.  Tej admits that would leave him in the lurch, though secretly the thought of him falling in love with someone else makes her unhappy; Ivan admits that it would spike his mother’s guns for a few years about urging him on other women, though it might still adversely affect his sex life.

With no better plan, they decide to sleep on it; Ivan reflects that while Miles is already trying to bull his way through problems, he himself prefers to just leave them in hopes that a solution will arise.  Rish points out that he will eventually die of old age, unless he crashes his car first.
For the next few days Ivan occupies himself at work during the days while Tej works on learning languages and cooking, and Rish goes out with Byerly at night; sometimes, unfortunately, he’s still there in the morning.  One morning By shares some gossip he’s heard from Tatya Vorbretten’s brother, Jon Vorkeres, to the effect that Lady Alys is upset that Ivan’s wife’s Cetagandan blood will keep his children out of the line of Imperial succession.  Ivan is cheered by this news, since he never wanted the throne anyways, and this way his children will be safer, though Byerly points out that children weren’t likely part of the plan anyway.

One afternoon, with no cooking lessons, Tej brings out some ankle-bells she’s acquired and encourages Rish to do some dance practice.  While they’re clearing furniture out of the way, she asks Rish about By, if there’s more to their relationship than sex.  Rish says he tends to hide what he’s really thinking, especially around his family, few of whom he can stand, his cousin Count Dono being a rare exception.  She notes that By pretends to be drunker than he is a lot of the time, to put people off their guard, but she’s noticed that when he’s really drunk his speech actually gets very precise.  Once, in such a state, he told her that the reason he left home was when his father started to believe a vicious rumour that he was molesting his sister; Tej speculates that this might be what motivates him to try discovering the truth behind the rumours as a profession.

Tej casually brings up the possibility of staying on Barrayar, if this whole divorce thing doesn’t work out.  Rish says it’s more interesting than she would have thought, but she doesn’t want to stay there forever; she misses her fellow Jewels.  As they start the dancing–Tej taking the simpler part, in the center and mostly keeping rhythm–Rish assures her that she won’t leave Tej behind there.

Ivan is returning home with dinner and encounters By in the lobby, so they head up together.  Ivan asks By if he thinks Rish is in love with him or anything, because he doesn’t want Rish to get all heartbroken if By gets reassigned; By assures him he’s on the case until they go to Escobar.  Ivan broaches the possibility that Rish might move in with him, and By is noncommittal about the idea.  Ivan says he could make Rish happy just by getting her off the coach, and By says that he doesn’t think Rish will ever be happy without the other Jewels.  He’s watched some recordings of their performances, and he thinks that there’s some kind of kinesthetic feedback going on between them that sustains their spirits.

“But Rish alone is…starving isn’t the word.  I don’t know what is.”  By had forgotten to be smarmy, as his eyes narrowed in memory and thought.

“So what’s the difference?”

By’s hand reached out and closed, as if trying to grasp something elusive.  “Rish with the Jewels looks like a woman with a beating heart.  Rish in exile looks like…a woman with a muscle in her chest that pumps blood.”

Ivan isn’t quite sure what By is on about, so drops the subject.  They arrive at the apartment to find the dance practice session in progress.  Ivan is struck by Tej’s beauty as she dances joyfully; Rish switches to doing showy cartwheels as she spots By, and Tej brings the music to a close.  Rish heads off to shower as Ivan dragoons By into helping move the furniture back into place.

All right, Ivan supposed he was slow.  He’d been told so often enough by his assorted relatives, colleagues, and so-called friends.  But it wasn’t until tripping over the ankle bells on the way back from the lav in the night, and wrapping himself around a warm, squirmy, sleeping Tej, that the thought crossed his mind like a bright, evasive–unhelpful–shooting star.

So…how does a fellow ask his own wife to marry him…?

Ivan awakens Tej at three in the morning after a call from a customs officer at the shuttleport.  Apparently some traveler, supposedly an Escobaran named Dr. Dolbraco Dax, who was detained because of some irregularities, informed them that “Madame Tejaswini Arqua Vorpatril” could identify him.  Tej leaps out of bed, exclaiming that that’s Amiri’s cover identity; Ivan points out that it could also be a clever and well-informed bounty hunter, though the shuttleport is a little bit well-guarded for a kidnap attempt.  Tej wonders how Amiri had found her, if it is actually him; Ivan says that it might have gotten to Lily Durona by way of Miles and Mark, though he wouldn’t put it past Mark to mess it up just to screw with him.  In any event, he’s alerted his ImpSec guards in case it is bounty hunters.

They drive hastily to the civilian shuttleport (eternally under construction, it seems), where Ivan’s military ID gets them through outer security and to the customs office; Byerly and Rish arrive at around the same time.  They have arranged for Tej to have a look through the monitors, where there are three men and six women in a waiting room.  Tej is elated to see not only her brother, but her parents, and “Star and Pidge and Em and Pearl”, and even her Cetagandan grandmother.  She yanks the custom man off his feet and demands to be taken to see them.

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The middle part of the chapter seems to be mostly concerned with Rish and Byerly’s burgeoning relationship, the sparks of honesty they are finding in each other, Rish finding out why By left home and By exploring Rish’s link with her Jewel-siblings.  This would be the B romance, I guess, though neither of them admits that there’s any love involved, not yet, at any rate.  If Rish is tied to the Jewels, then By is going to have to deal with them too, if he wants to stay in her life.

Tej’s reluctance to end the marriage and leave Barrayar is growing, especially since she’s not that eager to take any of the measures that might actually allow the divorce.  Admittedly, most of them wouldn’t be a great thing to do to a friend, let alone a lover, but she’s also growing more willing to stay on the planet.  Most people are making her fairly welcome, anyway, being solicitous of her welfare and wanting to help her fit in.  And now Ivan himself is beginning to think that staying with Tej might not be a bad thing after all.  I seem to recall that neither of them actually manages to communicate any of this to their spouse for some few chapters yet, though.

And then…well.  We’ve spent a dozen chapters now being pretty sure that while Tej has survived, and maybe a few of her siblings, most of her family, especially including her parents, are dead as a doornail, expired and gone to meet their maker, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisibule.  And then, at the end of this chapter, it’s like, surprise!  Your parents are totally alive!  And you don’t need to try to sneak off to Escobar after all, because everybody just came to visit you!  So this is the point where the plot takes a left turn, from being a story of the offworlder woman coming to love Barrayar, to…being what it becomes after this point.  Tej’s big tragedy is totally nullified (well, I think there may be still one or two of her relatives who died, but not as many as she thought), and I feel a little cheated as a result.  That’s my biggest problem with the book right there, I think, and why it will probably never be one of my favourites.


So, stay tuned next week for the beginning of the madcap caper plotline that begins not too long after Tej’s family arrives on Barrayar.  Guess I’ll see if it strikes me any better the second time through…

 

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I made up my mind, and I started writing; I typed until the blog post was done that day.  I made my way through an entire chapter, but where was I going without ever knowing the way?  Here I am, most of the way through the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, with only one more book (CryoBurn) before I’m caught up with the series, so unless Lois McMaster Bujold manages to come out with another one in the next…let’s see, fourteen more chapters in this book, one a week at my current pace…then one more book, probably about the same size…  Yeah, I don’t think the publishing industry moves that fast, even if she announces today that she’s finished another one.  Anyway, Chapter Thirteen awaits.

Chapter Twelve

Ivan’s birthday continues with a dinner out at a restaurant where Tej is surprised how mild a reaction the diners have to Rish’s appearance; Rish says that according to Byerly she goes so far beyond “mutation” to be in a completely different category…as long as she stays clear of proles.  Tej is also surprised that they are joining two others there, who Ivan introduces as Duv Galeni and his wife Delia.  After they order, Tej asks the two of them–Duv having a noticeably Komarran accent, to her ears–how they met Ivan.  Delia says she’s the daughter of Commodore Koudelka–the one who smuggled the baby Ivan out of the capital–and Ivan asks about her sisters, more potential female company for Tej.  Martya is with Enrique in Vorkosigan’s District, Olivia with Count Dono Vorrutyer, and Kareen on Escobar with Mark.  Galeni merely mentions that Ivan was assigned to him at the embassy on Earth while he was stationed there.

After some conversation about Rish and Tej’s travels and travails, Tej comes to the conclusion that Galeni’s another ImpSec man, which he admits, Delia adding that he’s even head of the Komarran Affairs division.  He and Ivan do seem to actually be friends, though, and Tej senses that Duv and Delia are judging whether she’s good enough for him.  She decides that’s sweet, and realizes that she doesn’t have any friends who would care about Ivan’s worthiness, except for her scattered family.  Duv and Delia are amused by the story of how Ivan and Tej ended up married, and Galeni mentions Ivan’s previous kidnapping on Earth, hidden in a pumping chamber and threatened with drowning.

“Is your claustrophobia better now?” Delia asked Ivan Xav, more in a tone of curiosity than concern.

Ivan Xav gritted his teeth.  “I do not have claustrophobia.  Thank you very much, Delia.  There’s nothing irrational about it…about me.”

“But Miles said–”

“I have an allergy to total strangers trying to kill me, is all.  One that Miles shares, I might point out.”

Delia points out that Miles almost seems to like it, and Ivan joins her in poking fun at Lord Auditor Coz.

After dinner, Galeni presents them with a book-disc, as a combination wedding and birthday present.  It turns out to be a new Barrayaran history, which Galeni modestly admits he contributed several chapters to, as history is one of his hobbies.  Ivan tells Tej that Galeni was an actual professor when he quit to join the Imperial Service; Galeni notes that at least his tendency to “scholastic prolixity” has mostly been eliminated by writing ImpSec reports.  Tej accepts the gift, though with private reservations because she’s not planning to stay on Barrayar for too much longer.  The Galenis leave promptly, having two young children at home, and Ivan expresses pity for Galeni’s domestic constraints, though he admits it probably suits him.

After they get home Tej asks Rish about Byerly.  Rish says that he’s interesting, which Tej considers faint praise.

“Byerly…I’ve never encountered anyone whose mouth and whose hands seemed to be telling two such different stories.  …  The mouth ripples on amusingly enough, though most of what comes out is camouflage and the rest is lies–not so much to me, though.  But the hands…  The hands are strangely shy, until suddenly they turn eloquent.  And then their candor could make you weep.  A woman might fall in love with the hands. Though only if the woman were nearly as foolish as my little even-sister–which, luckily, doesn’t seem to be possible.”

On the last day of Ivan’s leave, he tours them around Vorbarr Sultana, in the process of which he discovers that Tej and Rish can’t drive; it wasn’t necessary, or that advisable, on Jackson’s Whole, so they never learned.  Ivan responds by signing them up for driving lessons while he’s at work; the instructor cheerfully informs them that learning on Vorbarr Sultana will acquaint them with the worst traffic conditions the planet has to offer.  Rish begs off due to sensory overload, but Tej perseveres and earns herself a learner’s permit; she does wound one pillar on her first evening out, but Ivan assures her later that groundcars are packed with safety features so she shouldn’t worry too much, and anyway, this is just a rental.

They make it back otherwise unscathed, and Tej exults over her success; Ivan tells her about his own scariest driving experience, when his Uncle Aral showed him a few lightflyer tricks, mostly, Ivan thinks, to shake up his new security men.  He encourages her to go on to lightflyers once she’s mastered the groundcar, since there’s lots of places on the planet still where the roads are hardly adequate; unfortunately, Uncle Aral is too busy on Sergyar these days to give her the special course.  Next, upon finding out that neither Tej and Rish can cook worth much, he sends them to apprentice under Ma Kosti; she’s initially dubious of Rish, but Rish wins her over by demonstrating her discrimination of smell and taste.

Rish begins to complain about having to sleep on the couch, and Ivan encourages her to look for a small apartment in his building, or he could look for a larger one; Rish reminds him that they’ll be leaving soon, and points out that, if ImpSec could call them at any time, they should hurry up and get this quickie divorce.  Ivan says they’ll have to fly up to Vorpatril’s District when Count Falco is presiding in person, and he should be able to work it out for them; they shouldn’t even need a lawyer.  Rish points out that if he’s dispensing justice for a whole district, or even a sizable chunk of it, they may need to confirm that they can fit into his schedule.  Ivan finally gives and checks, only the discover that Count is booked up for months, and he’d rather not ask to be seen sooner as a favour, because Count Falco has a nasty habit of collecting on his favours.  He did get on the waiting list, though, in case there’s a cancellation sooner.

“Your protection won’t be withdrawn till you’re safe on Escobar, anyway, regardless of when we do this divorce deal.”

Rish nodded.  Tej felt…odd.

They were going to Escobar, in theory, to take up a new life under new identities.  Lady Vorpatril was certainly a new identity, enjoying a safety that didn’t rely on obscurity…  No.  Stick to the plan.  Without the plan, they had no anchor at all; it was the last lifeline her parents had thrown to her, as they went down with their House.

Ivan buys them their own copy of Great House, and invites Byerly over to play with them; he discovers that Morozov’s tactic works, as he learns a lot about Tej and Rish’s upbringing as they play.  He also learns the truth behind the “even-sister” and “odd-sister” that Tej and Rish call each other.  Tej says that the Jewels were mostly created based on the Baronne’s genome, and they ended up being interleaved with Tej’s full siblings, like even and odd numbers.  Ivan is somewhat flabbergasted by the realization that Rish is actually his sister-in-law.

Once Tej gets her actual driver’s license, Ivan encourages her to take other courses, noting that they have universities, colleges, and tech schools in Vorbarr Sultana; Tej is somewhat daunted by this, never having actually had to decide for herself what to learn.  Ivan says that might also be a way for her to meet new people, and tries to think of other women to introduce her too–Tatya Vorbretten or Tattie Vorsmythe, perhaps, or he could try asking his mother…  He’s interrupted by a call, and returns, a little unsettled, to tell her that they’ve got an opening at Count Falco’s court next week; Rish think it’ll be good to get that out of the way, but Tej is not nearly as eager anymore.

Taking the day off leaves them with a long weekend, so Ivan takes Tej out to the Vorpatril District, leaving Rish to spend some time with Byerly.  The district is on the northeastern coast, and in the wintry weather is fairly deserted, though Tej is not bothered by it, Jackson’s Whole being a fairly cold planet.  Ivan finds an inn near the summer resort town of Bonsanklar, where they spend a cozy day before having to head to New Evias, the district capital.

Ivan tries to clarify, for Tej, just who is supposed to be called “Lord” what.  In addition to the regular rules–Count VorX’s firstborn is Lord VorX, and the other children are Lord/Lady FirstName–Ivan notes that children of the younger siblings are just called “VorX”, no Lord or Lady, with Vor as an honorific, so By can properly just be called “Vorrutyer”.  But there are other VorX titles, like Ivan himself, who do inherit the title, and may have acquired it for a variety of reasons–Ivan’s grandfather married a princess, for instance.

“Those are the correct formal titles.  Then we come to casual conversation.  Falco, or Aral, would be Falco or Aral to their close friends and cronies, wives, and what-not.  But I’d never call ’em that; it would be Count Falco or Count Aral, sort of like Uncle Aral.  Informal but not so familiar or intimate, y’see?  And also useful when there are a bunch of people with the same last name in the conversation, to keep straight which is which.  So my mother gets called Lady Alys a lot, because there’s another Lady Vorpatril in town, Falcon’s daughter-in-law, as well as his Countess Vorpatril.  Er, and you, now.”

He advises Tej, who doesn’t know Falco, to call him “sir” or “Count Vorpatril”, and adds that they should stick to the formal usage while they’re in court.

They enter New Evias, the lightflyer’s piloting taken over by traffic control, which is pretty good but isn’t always good at gentle landings.  The Count’s court is in a musty pre-Isolation building, which satisfied Tej with its obvious authenticity.  They bump into the Count in the hall, and he greets them jovially; Ivan introduces Tej, who the Count says he’s already heard about from Alys.  Count Falco says his wife wants to hear about the wedding, and reminds them that a courtesy visit is in order next time they’re down in the capital; Ivan reminds him of the intentionally temporary nature of the marriage, and the Count acknowledges this before heading off for the courtroom.

After a brief wait, they are called into the chamber for the hearing.  The Count is attended by his clerk and a guard, with a female lawyer still clearing up from the previous case.  They are directed to sit at separate tables, with their respective counsels, but Ivan says they don’t need lawyers, and Tej says they’d rather sit together.  The clerk announces the case, stumbling over “Lady Vorpatril”, and the lawyer decides to stay and watch.  Ivan and Tej come forward hesitantly when summoned, while the clerk reads out the details of the case.

Count Falco asks them what grounds they have for dissolution of the marriage; Ivan states that the marriage was intended as temporary from the start.  Falco notes that they took a permanent oath, though, and has Ivan recite it to be certain; Tej asks what grounds there normally are for dissolution.  Falco asks if either of them has a hidden mutation; Tej says she was certified gene-clean at birth, Ivan says he’s fine, and Falco notes that the Vorbretten case set a predent for ignoring her Cetagandan heritage too, and in any case Ivan was aware of it.  Falco asks about adultery; Ivan protests there’s hardly been time, and they both deny any such thing took place.  Nonsupport?  Tej says that Ivan provides her with ample food, clothing, shelter, etc.  Abuse?  They both indignant deny beating the other, or restricting their freedom.

“So, we must cross of abuse, as well.  What about denial of marital rights?”

“Sir?” said Tej.  “What does that mean, in Barrayaran?”

Falco smiled.  “When was the last time you had sex?” he clarified.

“Oh!  This morning, sir.”  Tej thought for a moment, then volunteered, “It was really good.”

Two snickers sounded from the back of the room.  Ivan did not deign to turn his head.

Next Falco asks about “denial of children”; Ivan reiterates that this is a temporary marriage, though Tej notes that her mother sold eggs for capital when she was younger, and she herself could certainly provide some, which takes the Barrayarans in the room aback.  Falco says that he’s run out of reasons; Tej says that Ivan promised her a divorce, but Falco says that breach of promise applies to the promise to marry.  He asks if either of them has a financial claim, which they deny.

“Now, that is interesting.  And nearly unique, if I may say so.”  Falco sat back, sighing. At length, his tapping fingers stilled. He drew a breath.  “It is the ruling of this Count’s Court that the respondents, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril and Lady Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua Vorpatril, have no grounds for the dissolution of their respective, freely spoken marital oaths.  Your petition is denied.  Case closed.”

Ivan sputters that he can’t do that; Falco says that he does that every day, listen to petitions and make judgements, and there’s always something new under the sun.  He then adds some personal words, admonishing Ivan from “playing fast and loose” with solemn oaths in his jurisdiction; if they do acquire some grounds, they can try him again, but not until at least half a year has elapsed.  He shoos them out and reminds them that they owe him and the Countess a visit.  Ivan and Tej are gently ushered out in bewilderment.

The door closed on the babble, although it opened again in a moment to emit the lawyer, papers and files stacked in her arms.

She twisted around her stack and reached into her case to extract a card, which she handed to Ivan.  “My number, Captain.”

Ivan took it in numb fingers.  “Is this…if we want legal advice?”

“No, love, it’s for if you ever want a date.”  She trod away up the hall, laughing.

Comments

So I guess that the no-fault divorce is not enshrined in law on Barrayar, or at any event Count Falco doesn’t believe in it.  Is there some special temporary oath that Ivan could have used?  Probably not, Barrayar being what it was.  Why would Ivan think that this would work, then?  It also makes me wonder what precise grounds Ekaterin would have used in trying to divorce Tien; she could have used the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, but she probably wouldn’t have unless she was desperate, because of Nikki.  Nonsupport, with him taking her money and then losing it?  Psychological abuse?  Denial of children, or would that not work because they did have one?  I’m sure the Ekaterin who got up the nerve to leave him in the first place would have come up with some way to do it.

I was never clear on whether Duv Galeni and Miles were actually friends–in Memory, at least, they had some dicey moments–but I suppose it’s not out of the question that Ivan and Galeni got on somewhat better.  The dinner had more of those tellings-of-past-events, but it did elide the Ser Galen matter, a.k.a. Galeni’s actual involvement in the matters on Earth.  It does also sound like Martya is still with Enrique, though not necessarily married, the way Delia and Olivia are.

The Rish and Byerly thing definitely seems to be on.  Interesting that Rish can sense the hidden, sensitive By inside by watching his hands.  He’s got a lot of practice concealing his true self, possibly even from himself, through his years of undercover work, but Rish seems to be getting at the layer beneath.  Does he keep up his facade even when they’re alone, I wonder?  Or does he get to relax it just a little bit?  I can’t recall at the moment, but I wonder if his cover is going to hold up until the end of the book…


So the whole divorce thing didn’t come off…so what’s next for our still-married protagonists?  Will she run off to Escobar and abandon her husband, or stay and learn to love Barrayar?  What did happen to the rest of her family?  Tune in next week, for another chapter and stuff.

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Prepare yourself for the ultimate in science fiction reread blogs–the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  Thrill to the summarized action and choice quoted dialogue!  Exult in the thoughtful and insightful comments!  (Yuk.  Who writes this stuff?)  This week we surge another chapter into Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, getting all the way through Chapter Eleven, in which things are burned and people stay out far too late.

Chapter Eleven

They stay in for the entire day after the visit with Gregor, limiting explorations to the comconsole and ordering out for food.  Only the next day does Ivan discover that the women’s desire to stay in has more to do with a distaste for traveling in his two-seater groundcar, so he proposes renting a larger model.  They begin planning on some excursions around the city, but are interrupted by a door chime.

Ivan reassures the women that whoever made it up here will have been cleared, but he’s less than pleased to see that the visitor is Byerly Vorrutyer.  Reluctantly, and not without déjà vu, he lets Byerly in, though he says it’s not the best place to try to avoid Lady Alys.  By said that it’s already too late for that; he was arrested as soon as he got off the shuttle, mostly as a cover to take him to his debriefing.  He admits that he had spent the shuttle trip in the company of two of his co-agents, call girls from Vormercier’s party yacht, nothing much to do (besides writing reports) for eight days…

“What’s a call girl?” asked Tej, her brows crimping in puzzlement.

“Uh…” Ivan sought a translation.  “Like a Betan licensed practical sexuality therapist, only without the licensed and the therapy parts.”

Tej says it sounds like a risky profession, and By says that since they were also informers, he was anxious to get them out of danger in time.  He’s been officially cleared after his supposed interrogation, but left looking foolish, which is good for his cover.  Privately, he was commended and promoted for his efforts…and then demoted again for having gotten Ivan involved, which was the most annoying way they could have done that.
Tej asks how By had become a spy; By says some of them come in from the regular Imperial Service, and some of them recruited as civilian experts.  He himself was neither–he’d turned his hand to dissolution when he first arrived in the capital, and one of his fellow rogues turned out to be undercover ImpSec, who found By a useful helper until he decided to secretly recruit him.

Ivan asks what his mother said, and By says that she was mostly there to get his side of the events on Komarr.  He says they need to get their cover story for that event straight before they start telling too many uncleared people about it.  Mostly they can just take out the part about the Vormerciers, and cast it as a whirlwind romance turned into an impromptu wedding (with By as a spur-of-the-moment witness) because of the threat of deportation.  It’s probably too late to cover up Tej and Rish’s identities, so they can just pose as refugees of a Jacksonian palace coup, which will at explain them well enough to Barrayarans at large.  Tej points out the length of the list they’ve already told the real story, but Ivan assures her that none of them are likely to spill their secrets.

By then invites Rish out for a dinner date; he’s supposed to go out and say rude things about both ImpSec and Theo Vormercier, and he thinks that Rish’s appearance will help him be noticed while he does so.  It’ll also help them get used to her, and he can show her a side of Barrayar that stodgy old Ivan wouldn’t.  Rish accepts the invitation, and while Ivan is initially worried about letting her out of his site, the prospect of an evening alone with his wife is also appealing, so he only gives By a token warning.

Tej and Rish ask if By is bisexual, or what; Ivan says he has no idea.  Tej and Rish mention the various scents they’d smelled on him that first night on Komarr, which Rish think settle the issue firmly, implying he’d had a very busy two days at least.  Ivan doesn’t want to talk about it, and tells Rish that By will surely be keeping her under surveillance on their “date”; she doesn’t see a problem with this, and enlists Tej to help her pick out an outfit.  Ivan is left with the worrying notion that By might actually have been told to use Rish as bait…

They are back late that night, and Ivan waits up to let Rish back in, to Tej’s bemusement; the next night she is back even later, after another date to watch dancers, and the night after that she calls to let them know she won’t be back at all.  That is the night before Ivan’s birthday, which Tej has become intensely curious about.  They wake up and get dressed early, Ivan in his uniform, and drive to a nearby place; all Tej knows about what’s going to happen is something about burning a lock of hair for his dead father.

Municipal guardsmen are keeping people away from the spot, apparently, though Ivan is expected and welcome.  He points out the plaque as the spot where his father died, according to his mother–right before her eyes.  Christos arrives with Lady Alys and Simon Illyan shortly thereafter; Ivan’s mother wishes him a happy birthday, which Illyan notes is half of the traditional “three score and ten”.  Tej recalls what she’s heard about the so-called War of Vordarian’s Pretendership, which seems unreal when she thinks that she’s eaten pastries with Gregor, and that Padma Vorpatril’s death was barely a footnote.

Lady Alys welcomes Tej, who is self-conscious in the new knowledge that she actually _saw_ her husband being killed.  She tells Tej about the Barrayaran memorial service, noting it isn’t always performed this regularly.  Christos has set up a brazier, and Lady Alys fills it with scented wood and bark; she and Ivan add their previously-prepared hair clippings.

Lady Alys nodded to the plaque.  “This is where my husband was shot down by Vordarian’s security forces.  Nerve disruptors–poor Padma never had a chance.  I’ll never forget the smell…burning hair, among other things.  This ceremony always brings that back.”  She grimaced.  “Ivan was born not an hour later.”

“Where was his uterine replicator?” Tej asked.

Three faces turned toward hers; Lady Alys’s twisted in a wry humour.  She touched her stomach.  “Here, dear.”

Tej gasped in new and unexpected horror.  “You mean Ivan Xav was a body birth?”

Lady Alys assures her it was quite normal for Barrayar at the time, and Ivan was particularly large and two weeks late, which he protests was not his fault.  Her rescuers had taken her to an abandoned building to give birth, with Sergeant Bothari as midwife, and she had to bite on a dirty rag to keep from screaming out.  Ivan is older now than Padma was then, and Alys only as old as Tej herself; Tej suddenly realizes why Lady Alys is so welcoming to someone else who’s lost members of their family.  Illyan asks where he was at the time, and Lady Alys tells him he was smuggling out Admiral Kanzian.

Lady Alys asks Tej if she wishes to contribute some hair as well; surprised to be asked, she allows Lady Alys to clip off a lock of hair and add it.  Ivan lights the wood chips and they watch it burn; as the smell of burning hair grows pungent, Lady Alys tells the story, of how her husband panicked after she went into labour and insisted on going to find someone to help with the birth.  He was picked up by Vordarian’s men, fast-penta’ed and brought back to pick her up.  Alys says she always blamed him for his cowardice in fleeing from the birth, more than his bravery in attempting to fight back once she was taken.  Ivan changes the subject to how Koudelka got them out of the city in a grocery van.

Alys tells Tej she’d decided that, once Ivan was married, she’d leave the ceremony to him and his wife, because she feels like thirty-five years is enough mourning to do; and she’s tired of the memories and the emotions that go with them.  Ivan says he didn’t realize that; it was just something they did, every year, from when he was very young, and he’d looked forward to going to the nearby bakery after it was done.  The fire burns out, and Christos cleans up the remnants and stores the brazier away.

Alys invites them back to her flat for breakfast, which they accept.  On the drive Tej says that it must have been a morbid way to celebrate his birthday every year, and he says that they also tended to throw elaborate parties later in the day, until he became too old for them.  When he entered the Imperial Service Academy, it felt like the end of childhood, but he’s not sure how mature some of the new ensigns are these days.  What the ceremony did teach him was how unwise it was to get involved in politics, since it left him without a father.  His mother hadn’t brought up some of those details before, though, and he wonders why, if it was such a bad memory, she’d had the plaque intalled in the first place, and why she hadn’t stopped years ago.  Tej suggests that she may have just been waiting for the next generation to start.

Comments

I never did it myself, but I recall that, regularly, idiot junior high students would put some hair into a Bunsen burner because they’d heard that it stank.  And it did, every time.  (As did sulfur, ditto, so perhaps I got the two smells mixed up.)  So I’d imagine that they would want some scent added to the wood to try to offset it.  And I imagine it worked about as well as such things usually do.  I thought that nerve disrupters did their damage directly to nerve tissue, though, so I wouldn’t have thought they’d actually burn anyone’s hair, but maybe there’s some kind of induction heating effect or something.  Or maybe hair was burning for a different reason.

This chapter is another kind of story retelling, though, encapsulating a couple of chapters of Barrayar; though Tej of course is mostly ignorant of the events, it still gets repetitious to those of us who have read that book.  That is one of the problems of later books in the series, especially one that’s trying to keep the books independent–there’s so much to sum up.  I was noticing it already in Memory, but at least this book gets to skip a lot of the events which are only about Miles.  Still, Alys, Ivan and Illyan between them have a fair amount of history to recall.

The backstory of Byerly, on the other hand, is almost too little, but it does explain how he ended up working for ImpSec and how he manages to maintain his cover, by getting arrested and “interrogated”.  I’m not sure why bringing Ivan into things got him into such trouble, though; was it just Lady Alys throwing her weight around, or would any high Vor have been just as bad?  Ivan’s clearance level is pretty high, considering all the stuff Miles got him involved in (thinking again of Memory here), so I’d think it would be better than somebody who was less in the know.


Another week, another chapter.  Next week, another one?  No promises of two, unless I find myself with a lot of extra time or something.  Like if I suddenly gain the mutant ability to go without sleep, perhaps.  Until then, keep those books in the air!

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