Miles watches from the floor as Benin’s squad arrest Naru, Kety and his retainers. Kety pauses on the way out to congratulate “Lord Vorpatril” on his victory, confusing Ivan, but Miles decides it’s not worth it trying to correct him. Ivan and Vorreedi come over to check on Miles; upon discovering Miles is only suffering from the shock-stick, Ivan hoists him to his feet and helps keep him upright.
Colonel Vorreedi looked him up and down. “I’ll let the ambassador do the protesting about that.” Vorreedi’s distant expression suggested he thought privately that the fellow with the shock-stick had stopped too soon. “Vorob’yev is going to need all the ammunition he can get. You have created the most extraordinary public incident of his career, I suspect.”
“Oh, Colonel,” sighed Miles. “I predict there’s going to b-be nothing p-public ’bout this incident. Wait ‘n see.”
Vorreedi tells Miles that Ivan has explained everything, and he’s still assimilating it. Ivan complains about how Miles left him there and went off with no backup, and Miles explains that Ivan was his backup, and quite capably, too. After Ivan awoke, Rian managed to get him in touch with Benin–who strolls over to join the conversation–and clue him in on what was happening. Benin adds that he was already aware of odd occurrences around the Star Crèche, and so had orbital squads ready; Ivan says there’s three battle cruisers around Kety’s ship. Ghem-General Chilian has been detained, not arrested, for questioning about his wife’s activities. Miles glances over to where Pel and Nadina seem to be arranging for the float-chair with the Great Key locked inside to be conveyed directly to the Star Crèche.
Vorreedi asks Miles why he kept the incident secret, even from his own side. Miles says that by the time he discovered the significance of the Great Key, it was too late. He admits that he didn’t want to have the investigation taken away from him–he wanted to prove that he wasn’t just a cripple with a cushy job, but was actually capable.
Ghem-Colonel Benin slowly deciphered this outpouring. “You wanted to be a hero?”
“So badly you didn’t even care for which side?” Vorreedi added in some dismay.
Miles points out that he did do Barrayar a good turn in defusing Kety’s plot, even if his own personal survival had still been in jeopardy when the rescuers showed up. Ivan says he should just sign up for Cetagandan Security then; Miles points out that he wasn’t serving Cetaganda as much as the haut, which Benin admits is a valid point. Benin tells Miles that, nevertheless, Emperor Fletchir Giaja demands that Benin bring Miles to him immediately. Ivan and Vorreedi may join him, as long as they remain quiet unless authorized to speak. As they leave the room, Nadina and Pel murmur their approval of Benin, and agree that they should do something for him. Miles notices that Benin seems ever so slightly smug about having been able to arrest his superior officer.
Miles ventured, “By the way, if I didn’t say it before, congratulations on cracking your very tricky murder case, General Benin.”
Benin blinked. “Colonel Benin,” he corrected.
“That’s what you think.”
Miles, Ivan and Vorreedi are escorted to a small, enclosed building in the Celestial Garden that even Vorreedi is not familiar with. They cool their heels in an antechamber for an hour, attended by ghem guards and thus unwilling to talk too openly, after Benin goes off with Pel and Nadina. When they are admitted into the next room, where they are forced to stand, they find Yenaro there as well, with his own attendant, looking like he hasn’t had a chance to change his clothes since they last saw him, and barely willing to acknowledge their presence. Benin arrives, dismissing the rest of the guards, followed by Nadina, Pel and Rian, in float-chairs but unshielded, and then Emperor Fletchir Giaja himself.
Emperors per se did not unnerve Miles, though Yenaro swayed on his feet as though he were about to faint, and even Benin moved with the most rigid formality. Emperor Gregor had been raised along with Miles practically as his foster-brother; somewhere in the back of Miles’s mind the term emperor was coupled with such identifiers as somebody to play hide-and-seek with. In this context those hidden assumptions could be a psychosocial land mine. Eight planets, and older than my father, Miles reminded himself, trying to inculcate a proper deference to the illusion of power Imperial panoply sought to create. One chair at the head of the room rose from the floor to receive what Gregor would have sardonically dubbed The Imperial Ass. Miles bit his lip.
Miles restrains his impulse to babble and waits for the Emperor’s questions. The Emperor asks him to explain his role in the affair; Miles says he was intended to be sacrificial lamb, but refused it. When the Giaja wants elaboration, Miles glances at Rian for authorization, then tells the whole tale, conveniently also confessing to Vorreedi at the same time. Miles says that after Ba Lura’s death he was in the position of having to prove a negative, that the Barrayarans had done nothing to the Great Key, so he had to find the real Key. It was also clear he couldn’t trust Cetagandan Security, with the possible exception of Benin, who looked like he was also being set up as a sacrifice. He compliments Benin on finding Yenaro before Kety did; Benin says that Yenaro and his carpet did a lot to support Ivan’s story. Miles adds that Rian also refused her role, of accuser, by being willing to listening to Miles’s story and help him discover the truth, and says she was well-chosen as Handmaiden.
“That is hardly for you to judge, Barrayaran,” drawled the haut Fletchir Giaja, whether in amusement, or dangerously, Miles’s ear could not quite tell.
“Excuse me, but I didn’t exactly volunteer for this mission. I was suckered into it. My judgments have brought us all here, one way or another.”
Giaja looked faintly surprised, even a little nonplused, as if he’d never before had one of his gentle hints thrown back in his face.
The Emperor asks Miles about his encounters with Yenaro, and Miles describes them in detail; even Vorreedi is taken aback by the story of the asterzine carpet bomb. Miles says that Yenaro was as much of an intended victim as Miles himself, and doesn’t have the nerve to be an actual traitor, which Yenaro doesn’t gainsay; he confirms Miles’s story when asked. After a pause, Giaja instructs Benin to take Ivan and Vorreedi out and leave Miles and the three haut women.
When the others have left, the three haut women’s aspect changes from meek to confrontational as they move into a circle around the Emperor. Pel notes Miles swaying on his feet and tells Giaja to provide him with a seat; the Emperor complies. Giaja then tells the haut women that he hopes they see now why the Emperor is to be the only interface between the haut and the Empire, so that the haut-genome is insulated from the political affairs of the Empire. Ghem, such as Naru, don’t fully comprehend the purposes of the haut. Rian says that it was Kety’s treason that shook her faith in the haut the most, and now she thinks they might not be ready for the next step, the “winnowing and reaping” of competition.
Giaja says that the haut still have plenty of space to expand, into the realms of the servitor classes, before they need to expand into new territory. The others agree that the Constellations haven’t been breeding as much as they should, trying to keep their economic positions, and should perhaps be forced to cross-breed more. Miles pipes up an opinion about how they should be trying to do better than natural selection; he is stared into silence, and wonders why he has been allowed to witness this conversation at all.
Rian says she will convey Giaja’s veto to the Consorts, but the diversity issue, and the bottleneck of the single Key, need to be dealt with sooner than later. Giaja asks whose idea it was to spill the Great Key’s contents all over the system, and Pel fingers Miles, who points out that he was hoping to salvage as much of the Key as he could, whether they survived or not.
“The best strategies run on rails like that,” Miles pointed out. “Live or die, you make your goal.” He shut up, as Fletchir Giaja’s stare hinted that perhaps outlander barbarians had better not make comments that could be construed as a slur on his late mother’s abilities, even when those abilities had been pitted against him.
Miles asks what will happen to the conspirators. Naru will be executed; Kety will be offered retirement due to “ill health”, or else suicide. The other governors will not be punished, but will find it difficult to obtain good posts in the future. Vio will also be offered a choice between serving in the Garden as a ba, or else suicide, which they suspect she would prefer. As for Rian and Miles himself, the Emperor says he will think further.
Benin returns to escort Miles back to his Barrayaran companions, and tells Vorreedi that while they can’t control what the Barrayarans report to their superiors, the Emperor hopes strongly that it won’t become “social gossip”. The Barrayarans give their sworn words, which satisfied Benin. In the embassy aircar, Miles wishes they could just go home, but there is one final day of the funeral ceremony, and he should see it through to the end. Vorreedi has only one more question for him.
“What did you think you were doing, Vorkosigan?”
“I stopped the Cetagandan Empire from breaking up into eight aggressively expanding units. I derailed plans for a war by some of them with Barrayar. I survived an assassination attempt, and helped catch three high-ranking traitors. Admittedly, they weren’t our traitors, but still. Oh. And I solved a murder. That’s enough for one trip, I hope.”
Vorreedi then asks Miles if he’s really a special agent; Miles decides he’s not on the need-to-know list, and says that at least he succeeded like one…
Miles tries to be impressed by the Cetagandan Emperor, but, as he says, his upbringing is against him. Despite everything else, he was raised in an Imperial Palace, and while he wants to prove himself outside of that context, he can’t help but feel that the powerful are people just like everyone else. Even the haut can’t daunt him for long. It’s amusing how irrepressible he is.
For some reason I remembered the scene between Fletchir Giaja and the haut women as having more than just the three of them, but I suppose the three of them are enough in this case. We don’t need all nine to be escorted in. Obviously Giaja is used to haut women, so even three of them isn’t enough to daunt him, since he is freakin’ Emperor, after all, and one presumes the pinnacle of haut development to date. Also, he does have veto power of them, when they bother to consult him, at least.
The bit about the haut expanding into the space currently occupied by servitors was interesting. Does that mean that their goal is to have the entire population of the Cetagandan Empire made up of haut? I can see that being a hard sell, since it will result in a steady decline in the overall grandeur of the haut. Or maybe there will still be ba to do all the actual dirty work, and if they still want ghem to do things like fight and demonstrate the value of various genes in an arena of competition… They do plan things for the long term, though, even being as long-lived as they are.
Also amused to hear him paraphrasing Cavilo’s advice about making sure all paths lead to victory, however unimpressed Fletchir Giaja is with it…
Ivan wakes Miles up the next morning, but Miles doesn’t want to get out of bed. Ivan says it’s just his “post-mission sulks”, and comments on how attractive the shock-stick mark on the side of his face is. While he forces Miles to get up, Ivan tells him that Benin is coming to pick him up so he can arrive an hour early for the cremation ceremony. Miles racks his brain as to what the Cetagandans could have planned for him while Ivan helps him prepare. Miles wonders if they want to arrest or kill him, and Ivan helpfully points out that they could easily give him some kind of untraceable poison or disease that would kill him months later.
In the lobby they find Mia Maz, who tells them that Vorob’yev will be down soon. Miles is puzzled at her presence until she tells him that Vorob’yev asked her to marry him and she accepted. Miles thinks that will solve the embassy’s female staff problem, at least. She asks Miles about his mother and how she found Barrayaran society; Miles says that egalitarians seem to do fine when they end up as aristocrats.
Just as Vorob’yev appears, Benin arrives, sure enough, with the insignina of Ghem-General. Vorob’yev asks what’s going on, and Benin says that the Emperor wishes Miles’s presence, but he will be returned. Vorob’yev reluctantly accedes to the request, and Miles is led out to a large, non-military groundcar.
“May I ask what all this is about, ghem-General?” Miles inquired in turn.
Benin’s expression was almost . . . crocodilian. “I am instructed that explanations must wait until you arrive at the Celestial Garden. It will take only a few minutes of your time, nothing more. I first thought that you would like it, but upon mature reflection, I think you will hate it. Either way, you deserve it.”
“Take care your growing reputation for subtlety doesn’t go to your head, ghem-General,” Miles growled. Benin merely smiled.
Miles is brought to a small audience chamber where Fletchir Giaja sits, in his elaborate mourning robes, with three haut-bubbles in attendance. A ba servitor brings a box to Benin, who hands it to the Emperor.
“Do you know what this is, Lord Vorkosigan?” Giaja asked.
Miles eyed the medallion of the Order of Merit on its colored ribbon, glittering on a bed of velvet. “Yes, sir. It is a lead weight, suitable for sinking small enemies. Are you going to sew me into a silk sack with it, before you throw me overboard?”
Giaja glanced up at Benin, who responded with a Didn’t I tell you so? shrug.
“Bend your neck, Lord Vorkosigan,” Giaja instructed him firmly. “Unaccustomed as you may be to doing so.”
He does, and Giaja puts the medal on him. Miles tells the Emperor that he refuses the honour, but the Emperor says that he doesn’t, because of his “passion for recognition”, much like that of a ghem-lord. Better than being likened to a ba, Miles decides, haut science projects that they are. He says he won’t be able to wear it at home, and the Emperor says that’s fine, as long as he keeps quiet about how he earned it, apart from classified military reports. Miles reluctantly agrees, beginning to wonder if these private chats arranged with the Emperor are designed to plant suspicions about him in Barrayaran minds.
Giaja summons him to walk on his left hand, but Miles turns to the haut-bubbles and asks to speak to lady Rian one last time. Giaja allows it, leaving at his stately pace with one of the haut-bubbles, leaving two others behind. One disappears to reveal Rian.
She floated closer, and raised one fine hand to touch his left cheek. It was the first time they had touched. But if she asked, Does it hurt?, he swore he’d bite her.
Rian was not a fool. “I have taken much from you,” she spoke quietly, “and given nothing.”
“It’s the haut way, is it not?” Miles said bitterly.
“It is the only way I know.”
She removes a coil of hair from her sleeve and presents it as a gift, the only thing she could think of. Miles thinks to himself that her hair is one of the few things she truly owns. He asks her what it symbolizes, and she admits she’s not sure. He says he’ll keep it for memory, and asks if she’ll remember him. She says that there is no danger she’ll forget him anytime soon, as he shall soon see.
Miles emerges in Giaja’s train into a dell with the Dowager Empress’s force-sphere-enclosed bier at the centre, surrounded by ghem, haut and delegates. The Emperor strides right down the centre, past the consorts and remaining governors, Miles extremely conspicuous in his house blacks and Order of Merit, with his visibly bruised face. The Emperor is probably sending some message to his governors, Miles decides, by granting him this place of honour. The Barrayarans certainly seem to be confused and suspicious when they see him. He spots Lord Yenaro, who seems by his garb to have been granted a position at the Celestial Garden–the absolute lowest, but still an honour, intended to keep him in line.
As they arrive at the centre, Miles becomes aware of hunger and grogginess, and tries to distract himself by calculating the total cost of all of the funeral ceremonies. A force-bubbled Rian and her ba approach, proffering the Empress’s regalia, including the recovered Great Key, to the Emperor. While Miles is wondering who will end up as empress, Giaja calls Rian back and Miles soon realizes that Rian herself is going to be the new Empress. Miles isn’t certain how he feels about it, even though he has no idea what kind of actual relationship she and Giaja will actually have, apart from mingling their genomes to produce new Imperial children. She must have known before the ceremony, and she hadn’t seemed unhappy at the prospect.
Giaja gives the orders, and the force-bubble with the Dowager Empress inside begins to glow with increasing brightness as the contents are incinerated. Then a hole opens in the force-bubble above them, and another hole in the bier, and white fire shoots up into the sky. The bubbles close again, the force-dome brightens, and the smaller bubble vanishes without even a mark on the grass. The Emperor changes out of his white mourning robe into something more colourful, and the procession winds its way back out of the dell. Giaja bids farewell to Miles and hopes they don’t meet again soon.
Ghem-General Benin, at Miles’s elbow, almost cracked an expression. Laughing? “Come, Lord Vorkosigan. I will escort you back to your delegation. Having given your ambassador my personal word to return you, I must personally—redeem it, as you Barrayarans say. A curious turn of phrase. Do you use it in the sense of a soul in a religion, or an object in a lottery?”
“Mm . . . more in a medical sense. As in the temporary donation of a vital organ.” Hearts and promises, all redeemed here today.
The Barrayarans are waiting for float-cars to take them to another buffet meal, but Miles implores Ivan to leave right away, especially when Ivan points out that all the ghem-ladies will be there. Vorreedi asks Miles what that was all about, and Miles says it’s “high irony” on the part of the Emperor. Mia Maz exclaims what a great honour it is, but Vorob’yev says that most Barrayarans will be highly dubious about it. Miles asks if it can be a military secret; Ivan points out that thousands of people just saw it, and Miles says it’s Ivan’s fault for not bringing him enough coffee to properly wake him up.
Vorreedi’s brows twitched. “Yes . . .” he said. “What did you and the Cetagandans talk about last night, after Lord Vorpatril and I were excluded?”
“Nothing. They never asked me anything more.” Miles grinned blackly. “That’s the beauty of it, of course. Let’s see you prove a negative, Colonel. Just try. I want to watch.”
Back on the courier ship, Miles chews on a ration bar, while Ivan ceremoniously and mournfully disposes of the ghem-lady invitations that had been waiting for him at the embassy, asking why Miles is eating such bland food, wondering if his stomach is acting up again. Ivan’s gaze falls on the Order of Merit and he offers to dispose of it too, but Miles snatches it away; Ivan says that proves it does mean something to him, and Miles says he bloody well earned it. He mourns the fact that, if he ever gets into an actual military command, nobody will know about his actual experience, and he’ll have a hell of a time getting their respect.
Miles reflects that the haut-women may have had an easier time conquering Barrayar than the ghem-lords ever did. Ivan wonders how much longer the haut-lords will actually be human, and Miles asks in return how long the haut-lords will still consider_them_ human. Miles says that the Cetagandans will remain dangerous until they actually reach their goal, whatever it is, with the ghem kept around to provide variation, like wild seeds kept around just in case even when you have a monoculture. The best bet is to keep punishing the ghem for their expansionism, and maybe they’ll give up.
Keeping one eye out for sudden moves from his cousin, Miles re-hung his medallion.
“You going to wear that? I dare you.”
“No. Not unless I have a need to be really obnoxious sometime.”
“Ivan.” Miles let his voice grow unexpectedly chill. “Why should the haut Fletchir Giaja decide he needed to be polite to me? Do you really think this is just for my father’s sake?” He ticked the medallion and set it spinning, and locked eyes with his cousin. “It’s not a trivial trinket. Think again about all the things this means. Bribery, sabotage, and real respect, all in one strange packet . . . we’re not done with each other yet, Giaja and I.”
A bit of an ominous line at the end, there…well, not quite at the end, but still. Let me just reveal that there hasn’t really been that much more between Miles and Fletchir Giaja. Miles has intersected with Cetagandans a few more times, but only indirectly (as in Ethan of Athos) or non-adversarially (as in Diplomatic Immunity). So the next book doesn’t really contain the next phase of Miles’s cat-and-mouse game with the Emperor of Cetaganda. Though (if you consider Memory, the next book written) it does contain the scene where he needs to be “really obnoxious”… Can’t wait until we get there, but there’s still another four books or so until then, so you’ll just have to be patient (or, as always, read ahead on your own).
The actual last line is “Miles settled back with slitted eyes, and watched the shining circle spin like planets.” It keeps making me think that the beginning of the first chapter should have been a sentence that mirrored it, something about watching planets spin like shining circles, except, you know, probably better. I guess she decided to go for some nice banter between Ivan and Miles instead. Can’t fault that.
Miles’s last scene with Rian is fairly touching, especially her gift of hair. We already know how special their hair is, from the scene with Nadina refusing to let them cut it. Did Rian actually cut out a lock of hair, or did she just pull out a few strands? Perhaps they were caught in her comb that morning or something. Assuming they haven’t bred for hair that doesn’t need to be combed, or have split ends, or even come out except on purpose. (And now I’m picturing Rapunzel as a haut-lady. Wonder if that’s a popular folk-tale in Cetaganda?) (And do you say “in Cetaganda”? You can’t say “on Cetaganda”, since it’s not an actual planet, but is “the Cetagandan Empire” the same as “Cetaganda”? I suppose it must be, but it still sounds wrong to me.)
Mia Maz is one of those people that should have turned up at some point on Barrayar, unless Vorob’yev has just never come home at the same time as Miles. Did he not, say, warrant an invitation to Gregor’s wedding in A Civil Campaign? I realize that we can’t always bring back every single character in later books, but a surprise once in a while could be nice. Ah, well. For all I know, she and Vorob’yev split up three years later, or Vorob’yev got assassinated or something.
I promised I’d do this, didn’t I? Okay, what was it that I wanted to say again? (“Take notes”? What’s that?)
Well, obviously the book takes a nice deep look into Cetagandan culture, or, as I’ve said over and over again, haut culture. In other books, it was just the ghem military we saw; here we see a little more ghem, the young dissolute idlers, but we see a lot of haut, or least of the women. Bujold is no stranger to in-depth cultural examinations–the Cordelia books are really showing the view of an outside on Barrayar, for instance, and of course we get to see the quaddies both in Falling Free and later in Diplomatic Immunity–but this book manages to be both that and a murder mystery.
After the last couple of books with the Dendarii, having Miles in his Barrayaran role, and with Ivan as his foil, shakes things up a bit. Again, taking things in publication order, it’s really Brothers In Arms that’s the first real Ivan-and-Miles-Show, but this is a worthy companion to that one. And this book was written between Mirror Dance and Memory, both containing large doses of character development on Barrayar, so it’s kind of a departure from those as well. Anyway, Ivan works well as a counterweight, holding back Miles’s exuberance and impulsiveness, or at least trying to, and pointing out the possible flaws in any plan. And yet, in a pinch, he will come through–he led the rescue effort in this book, didn’t he? (I also can’t forget him tackling Vordrozda at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice.) Also, he makes a good decoy/damsel in distress. Gregor had this sort of role in The Vor Game, actually, but less cautious and more fey…
I’m still amazed at Vorreedi and Vorob’yev’s forbearance. Perhaps it’s that Miles and Ivan were actually sort of visiting diplomats, there not because of their military rank but because of their bloodlines, so they weren’t technically under the command of anyone at the embassy…or were they? Maybe I’m just remembering the idiot on Earth in Brothers In Arms, who I recall as being much less accommodating.
That’s all I can come up with for now, so next I get a week off, and then it’s on to Ethan of Athos, the first book to not actually contain any Vorkosigans. But it does have Elli Quinn in it (who you may remember from The Warrior’s Apprentice), plus definite plot links to Cetaganda itself, so I decided to include it this time. The one-year anniversary of this blog will come during the two-week interval, by the way, so that’s something, I suppose. Until then, keep on reading! Forward momentum!