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Posts Tagged ‘Cordelia’

Generally things are numbered up, instead of down, because most of the time you don’t know how many things there are going to be, in total.  You would feel foolish to start with Chapter Fifty of your book and end on Chapter Three, or reach Chapter One and still have chapters to go.  And yet, this is the end of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, so it feels a little bit like we’ve reached Zero in the countdown…or, as we always did as kids, “Blastoff!” or “Ready or not, here I come!”  The last novel to date, CryoBurn, has reached its end, with the sucker-punch of revealing the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan, and all that’s left is the Aftermaths.

Aftermaths

The last five hundred words, or so, of CryoBurn of course require special treatment.  After the bombshell of the last three words of Chapter Twenty, the author decided, quite wisely, not to leave us hanging; however, probably also not wanting to overshadow the rest of the book, she confined herself to five hundred-word “drabbles”.  Quite frankly, I feel that she failed in not overshadowing the rest of the book, because these last 503 words pack more of a punch than the rest of the book put together, IMHO.  It’s like the spearpoint effect, except that these spearpoints are all tipped with scalpels.  Probably laser-scalpels.

Also, because of their extreme brevity, I’m tempted to just quote them wholesale, but I probably shouldn’t.  I was reading about somebody who got sued for lifting one brief passage from Gerald Ford’s biography of Nixon–and lost, because that one passage was the most important one in the book.  So I won’t just quote them, except perhaps for the best bits; in fact I’m not sure it’ll work to just summarize them, because they’re so short that it’d really just be paraphrasing them entirely.  In other words, bear with me here, I’m not sure what I’m doing.

First, we get Mark’s immediate reaction to Miles’s reaction to the news; he’s reminded of the time he shot “a man” with a nerve disrupter, and saw the life drain from the eyes.  Later he realizes that he did see a death, the death of “Lord Vorkosigan”.  I find it interesting that nowhere in that passage does he seem to consider that the man he shot was, surely, Ser Galen, his own father-figure at the time.  I feel like there’s something there–Miles reacting to the death of his father like Mark’s own “father” when he died.  Perhaps it’s more significant that he thinks of Count Aral Vorkosigan as “their” father, in a way that may have seemed inconceivable at the time of Mirror Dance

Second, we get Count Miles Vorkosigan, now on a fast courier to Sergyar, swearing at his reflection and snarling at Roic, asking why they’re in such a hurry now that there’s nothing to be done.  Roic tells him that Cordelia is waiting for them on Sergyar, though he stumbles over calling her “the Countess” or the “Dowager Countess” before settling on “your mother”.  This is, quite frankly, the slightest of the drabbles–I get more of an impression of Miles’s state of mind from Ivan’s piece, later, quite frankly.  But then, I feel like we know Miles the best, after all this time, so I feel that I have a pretty good idea what’s going on inside his head in the first place.

And speaking of inside his head, he says “I feel like my brain’s been pulled out, and there’s nothing in my skull but loose wires waving from my spinal cord.”  This feel uncomfortably reminiscent of the loose wires pulled from the brain of the pilot on Auson’s ship, back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles’s first kill (via Bothari, but I’m sure Miles still counts it as such)

Third, we get Cordelia; she was the one who’d found him, two hours dead of a brain aneurysm on a warm afternoon.  Miles is asking her why she didn’t cryoprep him anyway, in case technology was one day advanced enough to revive him, but she said he wouldn’t have wanted to live as a vegetable.  She thinks privately to herself that his memories themselves were almost as much of a horror, and then apologizes to Ensign Dubauer.

It does feel like a turnabout, after she kept Aral from euthanising Dubauer way back in Shards of Honour, to have made another choice for Aral himself, although it is in accordance with Aral’s expressed wishes on the subject.  Is she sorry for the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to try preserving as much of Aral as she did of Dubauer?  Or is she retrospectively wishing she had let Dubauer die rather than trying to keep his body alive?

Also, the thought that his memories were so much of a horror that death would be preferable; was it really that bad?  Okay, from the period of Mad Yuri’s War and the death of so much of his family, to the violent end of his first marriage, his travels with Ges Vorrutyer…and then his betrayal of Prince Serg and sacrifice of so much of his honour in the name of Emperor Ezar, Gregor and the Imperium, there was a lot of bad stuff in there.  And his feud with his father over Miles.  But was there nothing in the last few decades of his life that outweighed that?  Gaining another son, and grandchildren, seeing Miles grow up and achieve so much, seeing Gregor grow up and achieve so much…nothing worthwhile?  Okay, perhaps Cordelia knew him best, perhaps nothing could dent his ongoing torment of his shattered honour, but…somehow I just don’t see it.  Who shaves the barber?

Fourth, we get Ivan.  Not sure if Tej was a gleam in the author’s eye at this point, but certainly there’s no mention of a wife, or any children of their own.  But Ivan himself is not really the focus of this scene.  He watches Miles go up to present the eulogy, almost deciding to toss away the carefully-prepared speech and do the whole thing off the cuff instead.  But instead he sees his children, calms down, and reads the speech after all.  And Ivan “wonders what the old Miles would have said”.

The whole scene is from Ivan’s POV, and I’m not sure why; perhaps just that we’d already done Miles, and we wanted to see that Ivan was there.  The last thought, about the old Miles, is perhaps a little unkind.  Would it have been better for Miles to babble away about his father in front of all those people?  Perhaps Ivan isn’t thinking it would have been better for the “old Miles” to have taken over, but he’s just curious.  He’s a little wary of his cousin, perhaps, after all this time, and may very well have been avoiding him a little; Lady Alys is mentioned (later) as being in charge of the arrangements, of course, so perhaps there hasn’t been the opportunity.  Ivan’s been on Ylla for a few years by now, hasn’t seen much of his cousin in a while, maybe misses the old familiar Miles who would order him to use his initiative.  But this is also the Ivan who dealt with Miles after getting fired from ImpSec, the one who ruthlessly subjected him to an ice-water bath to pull his head out of his ass; he probably just wants to pull Miles out of himself again, in case he’s shuttering up his grief.  But maybe he doesn’t have the freedom to do that anymore, as father and as Count.

Fifth, and last, we get Gregor, at the interment at Vorkosigan Surleau.  And here I will quote a bit.

The grave was double but only one side dug; the earth waited like a bridal bed. The pallbearers were six: Ivan, Illyan, and Koudelka, of course; Duv Galeni for Komarr; Admiral Jole for Sergyar. And one other.

Lady Alys tells the Emperor that he should be one of the mourners, but Gregor tells her that it’s his turn to carry Aral Vorkosigan now, for a change, and she gives way.

I gather that the “chief mourners” are Miles and Cordelia, perhaps Mark, as the immediate family.  Ivan, as nephew (well, first cousin once removed, really), must be far enough away to be spared for pallbearing.  Illyan and Koudelka make sense as his longtime subordinates and friends, and one presumes that he was well acquainted with Jole after all spending several years on Sergyar.  (How long was that?  Ten years, from _Memory_ to _CryoBurn_?)  Or, actually, looking it up in the Companion, it turns out that there was a Jole who was Aral’s aide-de-camp in _The Vor Game_, likely the same guy; possibly even the same Gentleman Jole from the forthcoming book?  And Galeni?  Is he just there as a token Komarran?  It doesn’t seem like he could have had a particularly close relationship with Count Aral Vorkosigan, especially since he didn’t achieve prominence in ImpSec until after the events of _Memory_…but they had to have one Komarran in there, or else risk whispers about how none of them wanted to carry The Butcher’s coffin, so I guess Galeni was the best bet.

Did Alys had another choice for sixth, that Gregor displaced?  Not sure who that would be…another of the Counts, or an Admiral or General?  Miles and Mark are out; not only are they likely “chief mourners”, but, well, height matters…  Not Mrs. Koudelka, surely; that would be indecorous.  Would Armsmen count?  Was it Pym or somebody who was being replaced?

Also, “bridal bed”?  Shudder.

And so the series ends, at least for now, with the passing of one of its earliest characters.  Like Taura, there’s only so long you can put off killing off a character whose health has been at risk for several books now…


It’s been four years, to the month, at least, since I started this reread.  As you may have gathered, the last two books have been more burdensome, and it’ll be a bit of a relief to be done.  (I’ve made promises to try to do some actual writing with the time that I’ve been devoting to the blog entries, but we’ll see how well I do at that.)  Will I return when Gentleman Jole comes out?  Perhaps, but no promises.  I have no plans to take the blog down right away or anything, but this may be my last post here ever, so…farewell, loyal readers.

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It’s been a long time coming, and it may have seemed like it would never get here, what with glaciers and drifting continents overtaking it on all sides.  But this week’s installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread finally brings us to the end of Captain’s Vorpatril Alliance, that Lois McMaster Bujold novel which, unlike so many others in the Vorkosigan Saga, doesn’t concern itself directly with Miles Vorkosigan, or even his mother, but instead focuses on perennial sideman Ivan Vorpatril, given a perhaps uncomfortable spotlight for once.  This week I cover the last chapter and the epilogue, as the denouement denoues itself nicely.

Chapter Twenty-Five

With Gregor’s decisions made, things start to move very quickly.  The Cordonahs are, officially, being deported, which isn’t the most prestigious way to be leaving the planet, but since they do want to leave, they accept it.  Lady Alys throws them an excellent farewell luncheon, and then they are escorted to go pack, except for Lady Moira, who is dragged off for a hasty debrief by Duv Galeni; he laments that two hours was not nearly enough for a century’s worth of information, so he plans to send an analyst and one of Professora Vorthys’s history students along with them for the beginning of their trip in the hope of gleaning more information.  A lot of the documents they found are still classified; they’re declassifying as many of them as they can, but there are some facts about the old ghem-junta that, even after a hundred years, they may not want to get out.  Even the declassified ones will be enough to make a number of historians’ careers, though, and the history textbooks may need to be heavily revised.

Vormercier’s yacht will be supplied with a military crew to take them to Komarr, mostly to ensure that they arrive there and not somewhere else; afterwards they can hire their own commercial crew.  Amiri is apparently still planning to go back to Escobar, and a government courier vessel from Komarr will be expediting him there, after which any potential bounty hunters will be problems for Mark and the Duronas.

Tej goes to speak with her mother, who’s busy packing; Lady Alys courteously leaves them alone.  The Baronne asks Tej if she’s packed, and Tej says that she’s going to stay with her husband; Udine reassures her that she doesn’t have to, their earlier insistence that she stay with her husband just being a ploy to keep her safe.  Tej says that she’s already made up her mind, and when her mother objects that it was too quickly, she asks how long it took her to decide she wanted Shiv.  The Baronne then invites her to at least ride along with them for a while, perhaps to Pol; Tej, not sold on the image of being stuffed into a ship with her family, and Byerly, says she’d rather just say her goodbyes here.

The Baronne allows that at least she’ll be safe; they’ll be heading to Fell Station with their war chest, a bare hundred million Betan dollars, which after all the deductions is barely five percent of their find.  Tej assures her mother that they will be able to make do with such reduced resources.  The Baronne asks what she sees in Ivan, and she finds it hard to explain–it’s what he sees in her, and how restful his approach to life is, his waiting-and-seeing.

Later, Ivan and Tej have time for a chat with Rish and Byerly, who tells them how Ser Imola has been swiftly dealt with, not much fight left in him.  By laments having to flee the planet so swiftly, having to pick and choose from his apartment like it’s on fire, leaving strangers to pack things up; apparently his new cover is that he was conspiring with the Arquas and is fleeing with them to keep from getting arrested.

“I’m sure you’ll do well,” Tej tried to reassure him.

“It’s bloody _Jackson’s Whole_.  Where enemies are killed and eaten.”

“We do not!” said Rish indignantly.

Byerly waved this away.  “I speak, of course, metaphorically.”  Though he looked as if he weren’t entirely sure.

“Well, if you get in over your head, just try channeling your great-great-grandfather Bloody Pierre,” advised Ivan Xav.  He added after a moment.  “Or your great-great-grandmother.  For you, either one.”

By cast a sneer at him.

Ivan tells Tej that one of the few people Pierre was supposed to have been afraid of was his wife; By reminds Ivan that Vorrutyer history is notoriously unreliable, and belatedly congratulates Ivan on winning Tej’s affections.

Luxurious groundcars appear to drive them to the shuttleport, thanks to Lady Alys; a pair of men in Vorbarra livery appear with two boxes of the Ninth Satrapy gold coins, as a personal gift from Gregor, which Shiv points out wryly is also precisely 5% of them.  He tells them convey to Gregor that “Baron and Baronne Cordonah are as pleased to accept his memento as he is to bestow it”.  The rest of the money will be transferred digitally later, less this advance.

The Baron comes to say farewell to Tej, commenting on the Barrayaran tradition of “giving away” the bride, though Ivan tells him that they also have been known to have elaborate marriage contracts.  Shiv reiterates the invitation for Tej to join them for a few jumps, and she reiterates her refusal; he tells her she’ll be welcome back at home anytime, and she refrains from pointing out that they don’t have their home back yet.

“Look at it this way, Dada.  You’re coming away from Barrayar with everyone’s freedom, a ride, and a war chest.  Not to mention the covert alliance with The Gregor.  I can’t imagine any House heir alive who could match that bride-price, right now.  It’s princely, more literally than anyone here quite lets on.”  Barrayarans!  “And do you think that you’d have had any of it if I hadn’t married Ivan Xav?”

Shiv shakes Ivan’s hand, and gives him a father’s warning that he better take good care of his daughter; Ivan assures him he will.  After they’ve departed, Ivan asks if offering to kill people was a traditional Jacksonian expression of affection.  Tej reminds him of the story she’d read about his Aunt Cordelia’s gift of Vordarian’s severed head, and Ivan says he’s a more modern Barrayaran than that.

Their meeting the next morning with The Gregor was very short.

“Ylla?” said Ivan Xav in a confounded voice.  “Where the hell is Ylla?”

Comments

You know, it would be a bit easier sometimes if Jacksonian Houses behaved a little more like actual families.  By which I mean–House Cordonah was run by the Arquas.  Shouldn’t that make is House Arqua?  Or shouldn’t their family name be Cordonah?  I realize that we have lots of cases where that doesn’t happen, but those are like when you have an actual political entity, like a country.  You can change from one dynasty to another and not have to rename the country.  But I never got the impression that Jacksonian Houses were tied to geographical areas.  They seemed to have divided the planet on more economic lines, staking out their territory based on their business rather than the land they occupy.  I could be wrong, I suppose, but that’s the impression I always got.  So I guess it’s more like a business trademark, where you don’t want to change the name of your company because your customers would get confused if it was House Stauber trying to sell their weapons rather than House Fell.  But I just want to know–can I call the Arquas Cordonahs, or not?

It’s a nice short chapter to tie off the book, except it really doesn’t.  The Arquas (or Cordonahs) are being hustled off the planet quite quickly, and Tej isn’t really doing her utmost to spend every last second of that time with them, because she’s really looking forward to not being oppressed by their presence.  I mean, she’s happy they’re alive, but she’ll be happier when they’re alive somewhere else, now that she’s found an alternative family in good old Ivan Xav.

So it falls to the epilogue to really resolve matters, to show us the direction things moved in over a slightly longer span of time.  And also to tell us something about this Ylla place.

Epilogue

Ivan is posted as Senior Military Attaché to the Barrayaran consulate on Ylla, though there turns out not to be any other military attachés for him to be senior to, or anyone at all besides the consul, who is somewhat dispirited.  They arrive on the city where the consulate is located during its dreary winter, with Tej heartily jumpsick.  Ivan, used to the much more hectic workflow of Vorbarr Sultana, is able to whip the consulate into shape without much effort, and quickly discovers that it doesn’t really need to be in the capital, as long as it’s near a shuttleport and the comconsole net.  So he moves the entire consulate to someplace much nicer on an equatorial island, hires a clerk, and gets his work down to an average of three mornings a week.  Ylla’s oceans are, unfortunately, unpleasant to swim in, between the irritants in the water and the carnivorous native lifeforms, but they’re nice enough to look at.

A batch of mail arrives one sunny afternoon, and Ivan brings it out to where Tej is sunbathing; his morning’s work is done, where he’s been working on his first annual performance review, toning down the consul’s overly-positive remarks to something less likely to get him transferred to somewhere less salubrious.  Gregor had said that it would probably be at least two years before things blew over enough for him to come home, and they’d also had only a day to pack for their galactic exile.

Ivan’s packet includes a birthday greeting (for his 36th) from Admiral Desplains, who doesn’t seem to be as fond of Ivan’s replacement, but implies that he doesn’t expect Ivan to return to his old post, either.  Tej says that Rish writes that they’re working on repairs to Cordonah Station, Topaz has replacement legs so the Jewels can perform again (they’d been amputated as punishment for helping Tej’s parents escape from Prestene captivity), and Erik has been pronounce cryo-revivable, but there are complications.  Apparently Erik was actually House Prestene’s inside man, so they’re keeping him on ice for a while, mostly as a threat to keep Star and Pidge from fighting too much over the succession; once they’re better entrenched, then maybe they’ll bring him back in a more subordinate position.  Tej notes that she’s happy to be out of family politics.

Rish doesn’t mention anything about Byerly, but Ivan has a letter from him, sent around the same time.  He tends to be a little overly verbose, but Ivan happens upon a mention of the brooch which Lady Moira had picked up in the vault; apparently it actually contained the genetic samples of the Barrayaran population from the Ninth Satrapy.  Ivan isn’t sure what the Barrayarans would make of that, especially since many of their ancestors would be clonable from those samples.  He reads further, and discovers that Lady Moira had offered to sell them back to the Star Crèche, for ten million Betan dollars; a Star Crèche envoy came all the way to Jackson’s Whole to make the pickup, and when she was there, Lady Moira ceremoniously destroyed the brooch, apparently as payback for being culled from the haut a century earlier.

Lady Alys had written to Tej, telling her about the galactic tour they’d been on–also heavily encouraged by Gregor, with Laisa’s help–and have now returned from, without too many unfortunate incidents.  Ivan recalls his last conversation with Gregor, about what had gotten into Illyan.

“I think he was bored, Gregor.”

“Bored!” Gregor jerked to a halt, taken aback.  “I thought he was exhausted.”

“Right after the chip breakdown, sure.”  Profoundly so.  “For a while, everyone–even Mamere and Simon himself–assumed he was some fragile convalescent.  But…quietly–he does everything quietly–he’s grown better.”

“I thank your mother for that, yes.”

Yeah, really.  Ivan shied from trying to imagine the biography of a post-chip-Simon minus Alys, but it might have been a much shorter tale.  “He’s fine when she’s with him.  But she’s been going off to the Residence a lot, lately, leaving him to his own devices.  And then Shiv came along and pushed all his old buttons, and, well, here we all are.”

Ivan suggested that Gregor find some kind of occupation for him in future, not as heavy or full-time as his previous job, but something to give him some variety.  Tej continues that they have dedicated the new ImpSec building, with Illyan cutting the ribbon, though refusing the honour of having it actually named after him; the building is not built near the old site, but somewhere with fewer holes under it.  Next letter is from Aunt Cordelia to Ivan; Tej had met them during their stopover on Sergyar on the way offplanet, and Simon and Alys had stopped there on their way back.  What his mother hadn’t mentioned, though, was their visit to the Orb on Beta Colony.

“They signed up for some sort of one-week deluxe instructional course.  That doesn’t sound too… Role-playing?  Because Mamere thought it might be easy for Simon to get into on account of having done covert ops in his youth.  And the first day was pretty rocky, but once she persuaded Simon to stop treating the mandatory psychological interest survey as a hostile interrogation, things smoothed out…and…”

Mercifully, Cordelia changes the subject at that point to their sailing expedition on the less-toxic seas of Sergyar.  Tej suggests they stop at the Orb when they go back, though of course she doesn’t need any sexual instruction herself.  Ivan asks about the “survey” that had troubled Illyan, and Tej describes it as a sort of brain scan done while they show you images, to determine what kinds of things you like, but also a way of finding potential problem customers.  Of course, this being Beta Colony, those problem customers are still allowed in, just supervised differently; some of them are just disturbed by the things lurking in their brain.

Finally, there is a letter from Miles; he writes that the old ImpSec building was purchased by a Barrayaran investor who turned out to be Mark Vorkosigan, who has not only managed to get the building raised up to its previous level again, but now plans to reopen it as a hotel/restaurant/nightclub, which Miles heartily disapproves of.  He also mentions their decanting another infant, Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan; as Tej looks at the baby pictures, he contemplates how he’s somehow become an uncle, through no fault of his own, and compares it gingerly to the prospect of eventual fatherhood.  Tej, apparently thinking on similar lines, points out neutrally that one wouldn’t want to drag a uterine replicator, or an infant, through all those wormhole jumps back to Barrayar.

Ivan muses on how he’s four years away from being a twenty-years man, which, he explains to Tej, is when a Barrayaran soldier either takes early retirement or re-ups with an eye to command rank.  Tej asks which he’d prefer, and Ivan says he’s not as keen for high rank as he may have been when he was younger; the consul has suggested he move into the diplomatic corps, which is not an uncommon career path, though it would involve more travel.  Tej decides it might not be so bad, to suffer through wormhole jumps once in a while, if it keeps them from having to spend too much time with their families; Ivan points out that her linguistic talents would certainly come in handy.

In all, in truth, it was a problem for another day, Ivan decided.  When life and chance handed you an afternoon as idyllic as this one promised to be, it seemed profoundly ungrateful not to pay attention.

Ivan ran a toe up Tej’s shin, and began attending.

Comments

So Ivan and Tej got kicked offplanet for a temporary exile, the way his mother and Illyan did, though apparently for a little longer.  Ivan does, at least, get to get some advantage out of his penchant for laziness, at least in the sense that he’s willing to put in a little hard work to make his life easier in the long run.  And the rest is just like the thing where they tell you what happened to the characters after the events of the movie, to some extent.

Illyan and Alys went off for a while, did the Orb thing, and went back home.  Mark bought the old ImpSec HQ with nefarious commercial purposes in mind, while they built a new one somewhere else.  Miles and Ekaterin had another baby.  And Ivan contemplates his future, now that he’s been jolted out of his prior career track; would he have been thinking about it so much if he’d still been sorting snakes for Admiral Desplains (and still single)?

I should probably do some kind of summation of the book.  I was dissatisfied with it my first time through, and my reread hasn’t altered my views all that much.  I rarely managed to maintain a two-chapter-per-week pace, which I managed much better in A Civil Campaign, for heaven’s sake, where the chapters were huge, and mostly that was because I wasn’t that interested.  The book starts off a little slow, picks up for the wedding, slows down when we go back to Barrayar as Tej meets familiar characters and gets presented with recaps of earlier events, and then sinks into a morass of Jacksonian relatives.  Ivan gets lost by the wayside for chapters at a time, until finally he joins them in the vault and actual excitement happens.  The pace still seems jerky, the Arquas and Ser Imola getting brought in too abruptly, the Vormerciers vanishing just as suddenly, the romance progressing and then stopping dead before eventually resuming.

Ivan is just not the same kind of protagonist as Miles, or even Cordelia.  He is reluctant to act, and generally shies away from the plot in most of the books we see him in, unless dragged into it by Byerly or Miles, or kidnapped as a hostage or something.  He’s not a total incompetent in a crisis, but he tries much harder to avoid them, or situations where a crisis might even potentially arise.  So he doesn’t get involved until he has no choice, and it takes a little too long to get him to that point.  While Ivan’s stellar showing in A Civil Campaign made me think that a book with him as the star would be a great idea, in practice it felt more like Dr. Watson getting his own story, or Xander Harris, or some superhero sidekick, or something.


 

Next, of course, is CryoBurn, after my usual week off.  Which I also didn’t like that much, despite its actually having Miles as a protagonist, and maybe I’ll figure that one out too.

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Hello, future readers!  I am sending you this message from the past–a time capsule of sorts, if you will–because prior commitments, also made in the past, will make it impossible, or at least inconvenient, to publish this manually at my usual time, which is to say “as close to my personal deadline as I can possibly manage”.  Soon enough I will catch up with this future, but right now this “past me” writing this.  So let “past me” welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold, and specifically those comprising the saga involving Vorkosigans, are dealt with in a certain amount of detail.  This week I deal with the final chapter and epilogue of Diplomatic Immunity, in which certain people continue to survive, receive recognition for their efforts, and execute an alarming transition in their perceived place in the universe.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar place.  There’s no tubes in his nose, and only vague memories of the desperate flight of his convoy, and the messages they heard about the escalating tensions between the two empires.  Ekaterin is bending over his bed, oddly enough, and with no medical mask or anything.  He sits up on one elbow and sees a room filled with obviously Cetagandan decor, including plants and a seascape out the window–almost certainly a simulated one, because he’s pretty sure he’s still on a spaceship.  Miles remembers the horrifying story they’d heard, of a batch of a thousand empty Star Crèche replicators found near Vorbarr Sultana, and asks urgently if they managed to head off the war yet.

Ekaterin pushes him back down on the bed and assures him that the urgent matters have been taken care of–mostly by her, even though strictly speaking Admiral Vorpatril shouldn’t have listened to her.  She kept insisting that Pel and Benin be given Miles’s messages, and once Benin was on the case matters got cleared up quickly.  Benin discovered that the ba had been quietly smuggling those replicators out a few at a time as part of its backup plan.  The Cetagandans have declared the affair an internal matter, and tensions are easing.  She says that without Pel’s name–and “Vorkosigan”–she probably wouldn’t have gotten through.

Miles says that last thing he remembers was four days out from Quaddiespace, and being very cold; Ekaterin says that the blood filter was barely keeping up with the infection, and his metabolism was losing energy.  In desperation, they put Bel and Miles into cold stasis, which put the parasites into hibernation, so they weren’t forced to resort to actual cryofreeze, to Miles’s relief.  She says they’ve been in orbit around Rho Ceta for about a day; Miles can tell she hasn’t been sleeping well.

Ekaterin says that Pel brought in a woman who seems to have cleared all of the parasites out of his system, and Bel’s; right now they’re on Pel’s own Star Crèche ship.  There was some unpleasantness about the Cetagandans refusal to let Roic, Clogston, or any of the Barrayaran men on board the ship, but they eventually settled for allowing Ekaterin and Nicol on.  Miles asks if Gupta was also cleared of any remnants of parasites–he hadn’t been that keen on getting back into Cetagandan hands, but Miles had convinced him of it–and Ekaterin says he’s been treated as well.  In fact, the Cetagandans are intensely interested in how he survived the bioweapon in the first place, but the Barrayarans still have him in their possession for the nonce.

He hesitated, and cleared his throat. “Um . . . I also seem to remember recording some messages. To my parents. And Mark and Ivan. And to little Aral and Helen. I hope you didn’t . . . you didn’t send them off already, did you?”

“I set them aside.”

“Oh, good. I’m afraid I wasn’t very coherent by then.”

“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “But they were very moving, I thought.”

“I put it off too long, I guess. You can erase them now.”

“Never,” she said, quite firmly.

“But I was babbling.”

“Nevertheless, I’m going to save them.” She stroked his hair, and her smile twisted. “Perhaps they can be recycled someday. After all . . . next time, you might not have time.”

Pel enters with another haut woman, undoubtedly her friend who had cured them of the parasites–no force bubbles, so obviously they consider themselves effectively in the heart of the Star Crèche itself.  She greets him and says she was surprised to meet him again, though it was not unwelcome; she assures him that the fetuses in the replicators have been checked and seem to be in good health.

Ekaterin asks Pel’s physician companion about the possible long-term effects of the infection, and she says she there will be some micro-scarring, which may lead to circulatory problems later in life; Miles wonders how this will interact with his existing seizure disorder.  Bel apparently suffered even more severe damage, and its muscles may be permanently damaged, so she recommends it stay in a low-gravity environment as much as possible, which it turns out won’t be that hard.  Miles vows to himself to get Bel a medical discharge from ImpSec and pension.

The physician leaves, and Pel says that Benin would like to talk to Miles; Miles agrees wholeheartedly, and asks about what happened to the ba.  Pel says that the ba has been returned to the Star Crèche, and they’re grateful for Benin’s assistance in dealing with any of its collaborators; Miles senses she doesn’t want to say much more about the ba, but he’s not ready to drop the subject yet.  He asks about the ba’s kidnapping of the child-ship, and Pel admits that the ba seemed to have been planning this for a long time, and poisoned the rest of the ship’s inhabitants before sending it into the sun–which she at least concedes as a fitting funeral pyre.

Miles asks about the bioweapons the ba was carrying; Pel tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a suitable topic, but Miles persists, saying that they will need assurances that there will be no further contagions on the Idris or Graf Station, and Pel finally grudgingly admits that the rest of the consort’s “supplies” were destroyed by their keeper before the ba could get its hands on them.  Miles suspects that that “keeper” might have been Pel’s physician’s counterpart on the Rho Cetan ship, and files this information away for later.

Pel also refuses to answer Miles’s questions on the ba’s motives, so he happily supplies her with his own theory–that this ba, a genetic sibling of Emperor Fletchir Giaja, was probably involved in the Dowager Empress’s earlier scheme, and saw this as some sort of continuation of the project.  Pel calls this close enough, and informs them that, the Emperor being pleased with them, they will be given the unprecedented honour of being present at the upcoming ceremony when the child-ship delivers the fetuses to the planet.  Miles says he’d rather just understand what was really going on in the ba’s head.

“Bear with me. I don’t think I’ve quite got it, yet. I suspect the haut—and the ba—are not so post-human yet as to be beyond self-deception, all the more subtle for their subtlety. I saw the ba’s face, when I destroyed that freezer case of genetic samples in front of it. Something shattered. Some last, desperate . . . something.” He had slain men’s bodies, and bore the mark, and knew it. He did not think he’d ever before slain a soul, yet left the body breathing, bereft and accusing. I have to understand this.

Pel was clearly not pleased to go on, but she understood the depth of a debt that could not be paid off with such trivialities as medals and ceremonies. “The ba, it seems,” she said slowly, “desired more than Lisbet’s vision. It planned a new empire—with itself as both emperor and empress. It stole the haut children of Rho Ceta not just as a core population for its planned new society, but as . . . mates. Consorts. Aspiring to even more than Fletchir Giaja’s genetic place, which, while part of the goal of haut, does not imagine itself the whole. Hubris,” she sighed. “Madness.”

“In other words,” breathed Miles, “the ba wanted children. In the only way it could . . . conceive.”

Pel admits that the Dowager Empress made a pet of the ba, treated it almost as a child, perhaps unwisely.  Miles can imagine the ba’s thinking, then, wondering why it doesn’t get everything that its half-sibling the Emperor does, coveting it…  Miles asks about the ba’s name, and Pel says that as punishment for its crime, its name will be forgotten and stricken from records.

The next morning, before local dawn, they are brought down to the surface of Rho Ceta in a lift van, to a grassy amphitheatre on a slope across from the planet’s capital city, filled with mourning-white haut-lady bubbles, and less-visible haut men.  Miles contemplates ghem-General Benin, in the van with them, and thinks that Benin’s recent experiences must have been immeasurably more stressful than Miles’s own, with the child-ship’s inexplicable disppearance, and the tantalizing clues leading to Komarr and Barrayar…  He had gladly answered Benin’s questions, but held firm on refusing to give up Gupta to the Cetagandans, and apparently his current esteem on Rho Ceta is enough to earn that much for him.

Nevertheless, Miles wondered where to drop Guppy when this was all over. Housing him in a Barrayaran jail was a useless expense to the Imperium. Turning him loose back on Jackson’s Whole was an invitation for him to return to his old haunts, and employment—no benefit to the neighbors, and a temptation to Cetagandan vengeance. He could think of one other nicely distant place to deposit a person of such speckled background and erratic talents, but was it fair to do that to Admiral Quinn . . . ? Bel had laughed, evilly, at the suggestion, till it had to stop to breathe.

Miles is helped into a floater, his strength not quite up to standing for very long yet, and he wants to husband it for the ceremony proper; Bel, not in any better shape, is in his own floater, accompanied by Nicol.  Benin leads them all up to meet the current Rho Cetan governor–a Degtiar, not one of the ones Miles had met at the Dowager Empress’s funeral–who greets them with a startlingly deep bow and offer of his household’s service.  After a brief conversation with Benin, the shuttle from the child-ship drops down to the amphitheatre, landing not too far from Miles and the others; the waiting Cetagandan haut quiet in anticipation.

Ekaterin and Roic help Miles out of his floater and he stands on his own for the ceremony.  The shuttle opens to disgorge a translucent, empty haut-bubble, in honour of the murdered Consort, followed by more bubbles, lead by Pel.  She stops in front of Benin and enjoins him to convey the Emperor’s thanks to the outlander guests.  Benin gives a thankfully subdued Bel Thorne a prized honour, Warrant of the Celestial House, and the same to Ekaterin.

“My Lord Vorkosigan,” Benin spoke.

Miles stepped forward a trifle apprehensively.

“My Imperial Master, the Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja, reminds me that true delicacy in the giving of gifts considers the tastes of the recipient. He therefore charges me only to convey to you his personal thanks, in his own Breath and Voice.”

First prize, the Cetagandan Order of Merit, and what an embarrassment that medal had been, a decade ago. Second prize, two Cetagandan Orders of Merit? Evidently not. Miles breathed a sigh of relief, only slightly tinged with regret. “Tell your Imperial Master from me that he is entirely welcome.”

“My Imperial Mistress, the Empress the haut Rian Degtiar, Handmaiden of the Star Crèche, also charged me to convey to you her own thanks, in her own Breath and Voice.”

Miles bowed perceptibly lower. “I am at her service in this.”

Pel moves forward and announces to Miles that the Star Crèche is “calling him up”–requesting a sample to be added to the haut gene-banks.  He’s sure that they probably already have a sample of his material from his previous visit–and his current one–but the formal addition is a great honour.  Pel takes a blood sample with skilled fingers, and ritually adds it to a freezer case.  Miles tells Pel that his talents are probably not genetic, but she shushes him gently.

Next the replicators themselves are offloaded by ghem-women and ba servitors, and haut men come forward to accept their new offspring, which Miles knows may will have been engendered without their participation, or probably even their consent; the Governor himself is among them.  The men take the replicators to their haut-mothers, whose bubbles change from white to any of a riotous assortment of colours.  The children will be delivered to their caretakers, and may never meet their parents again.  Miles wonders about these children’s eventual fates, and wonders if, in the future, one of them will turn into Barrayar’s greatest enemy, and the thought unsettles him.  The ceremony over, Miles says that it’s time to go home.

Comments

And so it proves that the ba’s plot was, in some ways, an offshoot of the plot of Cetaganda, the Dowager Empress’s plan to disperse the haut gene bank, although twisted by a somewhat deranged mind.  The ba was apparently pampered and indulged by the Empress, which they seem to regard as the only excuse for its behaviour, which implies they normally keep a much tighter rein on them.  And yet, they use them as prototypes for the haut genome–what do they expect, as the genetic sibling of someone thought suitable of being the Emperor himself?

Good to see Benin and Pel again; Benin must be in essentially the same position as Simon Illyan was, head of security for the Star Crèche vs. head of ImpSec…  And yet, he seems to get along well with Miles, or at least they understand each other well.  And Pel is certainly one of the more daring of the haut-ladies, and understands Miles well enough to accede to his wishes to fill in the gaps in his understanding of the case.  Even though she doubtless realizes that ImpSec will get their hands on all of this information.  Or maybe not; Rian seemed a little unworldly when she talked to Miles in Cetaganda, but then I suppose Pel is older and wiser.

Miles gets yet another layer of health problems here, because that was totally something he needed.  After all, all he had up to now was all that bone fragility from before he was born, and then the aftereffects of his death and cryorevival, including the seizures.  Oh, and I suppose there were those bleeding stomach ulcers, and his weird fast-penta reaction, but those are hardly worth mentioning.  And now he’s got “micro-scarring” in his muscles and blood vessels.  I can’t remember if that ever comes up as a concern in CryoBurn, but I guess I’ll find out in a few months…

Epilogue

They return to Komarr with Bel and Nicol, where Bel is given its final ImpSec debrief.  Miles comes along to try to make sure the herm doesn’t tire itself out unduly, but ends up being dragged off by Ekaterin when his stamina fails first.  Afterwards, Miles invites them, not for the first time, down to see Vorkosigan House, and experience Ma Kosti’s cooking.  Roic is patrolling in a hyperalert state, and Miles makes a mental note that Roic deserves a vacation when they get home.  Nicol says she’d prefer to go somewhere where she’s not going to need armsmen to protect her from the locals, and Ekaterin points out that they’re tired, homesick, and Bel needs to get home and relax.

Bel tells Miles to stick to less dangerous work from now on, since it doubts he’s going to get a third chance.  Miles says that he’s likely to have lots of tedious work at home to keep him busy, like his last job, coming up with new bio-law for Barrayar.  He asks Bel to keep an eye on Corbeau, and Nicol says that she’d heard from Garnet Five that he’s not doing too bad so far; Bel says that they can come visit Quaddiespace again sometime.  They bid Bel and Nicol farewell, and then are drawn to the Kestrel, to take them home, with birth-clocks ticking madly in their heads.  Gregor has invited them to a reception upon their return, but they’ve also heard that the doctors can’t keep their children in the replicators much longer, so first things first.

Miles gets in some practice with a cane instead of a floater during the trip back from Komarr, and his strength is returning slightly, but he’s still not at full strength when they arrive back at Vorkosigan House; he contemplates getting a sword-cane like Koudelka’s.  They enter to be greeted by Cordelia, Aral and Nikki; Miles is disconcerted to find himself looking up into Nikki’s face.  Cordelia relays messages from Beta Colony–Mark’s, awkward but heartfelt, as well as her mother’s.  Ekaterin’s brother Will Vorvayne is recording everything on video.  Aral congratulates Ekaterin on her diplomatic work, and says they can likely find a job for her if she wants, but she says she’s going to have enough work on her hands soon enough.  They wash up quickly and then head to the nursery.

With the addition of the birth team—an obstetrician, two medtechs, and a bio-mechanic—the small chamber overlooking the back garden was as full as it could hold. It seemed as public a birth as those poor monarchs’ wives in the old histories had ever endured, except that Ekaterin had the advantage of being upright, dressed, and dignified. All of the cheerful excitement, none of the blood or pain or fear. Miles decided that he approved.

Miles asks how they do this, and Cordelia says they can just each lift one latch, like they did with him.  They do so on both replicators, Ekaterin luminous with joy, and the obstetrician goes to work.  He takes Aral Alexander out first, and Miles holds his breath until he hears Aral’s first cry, tearing up; Cordelia has to fight to keep her hands to her sides, and Will Vorvayne jockeys around trying take his videos until his sister firmly tells him to stay back.  Ekaterin takes baby Aral while the obstetrician extracts baby Helen; Miles tries to absorb the existence and reality of this tiny baby, the little person which is now his.  Ekaterin hands the baby to Miles, who decides he should sit down first.  Helen Natalia cries much louder than her brother when she comes out.

With two babies to go around, all the people lined up to hold them would have their chances soon enough, Miles decided, accepting Helen Natalia, still making noise, from her grinning mother. They could wait a few more moments. He stared at the two bundles more than filling his lap in a kind of cosmic amazement.

“We did it,” he muttered to Ekaterin, now perching on the chair arm. “Why didn’t anybody stop us? Why aren’t there more regulations about this sort of thing? What fool in their right mind would put me in charge of a baby? Two babies?”

Her brows drew together in quizzical sympathy. “Don’t feel bad. I’m sitting here thinking that eleven years suddenly seems longer that I realized. I don’t remember anything about babies.”

“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you. Like, um, like flying a lightflyer.”

He had been the end point of human evolution. At this moment he abruptly felt more like a missing link. I thought I knew everything. Surely I knew nothing. How had his own life become such a surprise to him, so utterly rearranged? His brain had whirled with a thousand plans for these tiny lives, visions of the future both hopeful and dire, funny and fearful. For a moment, it seemed to come to a full stop. I have no idea who these two people are going to be.

Comments

Tradition holds that a TV series jumps the shark when they add new babies to the plot.  I’m not convinced that’s always true, though I can see some of the logic behind it.  Still, it’s a logical development in many people’s lives–committed relationship to marriage to parenthood is still a dominant sequence of events in Western culture, even if it’s not nearly as universal as it used to be.  It does often signal a transition in life from adventure, having fun, staying out till all hours, going out to movies whenever you want, and feeling the freedom to take stupid risks, in favour of being responsible.  Or maybe that’s just me.

I certainly empathize with Miles’s realization of his change of viewpoint in the last paragraph that I quoted there.  Sometimes parenthood is also a signal that a character is going to move back into the wings, to let their offspring take center stage.  As far as jumping the shark goes…well, I haven’t liked the last three Vorkosigan books as much as I did the four or five before that, but I don’t think I’d blame the babies for that.  Would it help to revitalize the series if we moved further forward, to let Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia, and their siblings, become main characters?  Maybe there’s too much soft-heartedness there.

So much of Miles’s storyline was driven by the awful things that happened before his birth, and with Bujold’s stated maxim of doing the worst possible thing to her characters, it may be that the only way to make his children interesting characters would be to do awful things to Miles himself, or Ekaterin, or Barrayar.  Would I want to read a book where half of the character we’d met on Barrayar get killed off by Cetagandans, or Jacksonians, or Cavilo?  Probably not.  Or one of the children could get kidnapped, and then they have to find him or her…  I don’t know.  I don’t have a good idea where the series should go next, and maybe there aren’t a lot of good stories left to tell about the Vorkosigans that aren’t either insanely dull or horribly painful.  So I’ll trust the author to keep trying, or not, as she wants, and try to judge each book on its own merits.


And on that note, let’s wrap up Diplomatic Immunity.  Not my favourite, though definitely exciting at points, and tying together all sorts of interesting threads from Cetaganda, “Labyrinth”, Mirror Dance, Falling Free, and most of the books in the series, really.  My usual week off, and then I’ll start on Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the first book in the reread that I’ve only read once, so far.  I think I’m going to take it a chapter at a time, at least to start, for a number of reasons, not least of which being that this is another one I only have a print copy of, so I’ll have to hand-type quotes or something, and hold the book open with one hand or weight down the pages…it just seems like it’ll be more work.  I’ll have to see how that turns out…

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As Canada continues to shiver in the grips of winter, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, through the thaumaturgical principles of Sympathy, I can help to dispel the cold by means of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  After all, this week I am wrapping up the novella “Winterfair Gifts”, wherein Miles Vorkosigan gets married, in the middle of winter…and so, after that, it’s got to get warmer, right?  If only thaumaturgy wasn’t complete bunk.  (Well, I suppose if it wasn’t, then science would be out the window, and I like science, and besides, not everyone would use it for the pure purposes that I would.)  This week, as I mentioned, brings the last installment, as Roic and Taura alert Barrayaran Imperial Security about the peculiar contamination Taura found on one of the wedding presents…

Winterfair Gifts, Part 3

Roic debates waiting for Pym’s return, but decides that he is a Vorkosigan armsman, and senior on the scene, so he contacts ImpSec HQ as soon as possible.  Within half an hour, an ImpSec captain has arrived to take their statements and other evidence; Roic tries to be a clear and straightforward witness, though he does elide his initial suspicions of Taura.  He takes care to emphasize their doubts that Elli Quinn actually sent the gift, and the captain duly takes the cat blanket as evidence, as well as the pearls and any associated packaging; he’s done and gone before another half hour has passed.  Roic asks Taura if she wants to go get some sleep, but she says she wouldn’t be able to.  They settle down to wait.

“Quiet around here at night,” she said after a moment.

She was speaking to him again. Please, don’t stop. “Yeah. I sort of like it, though.”

“Oh, you too? The night watch is a philosophical kind of time. Its own world. Nothing moving out there but maybe people being born or people dying, necessity, and us.”

“Eh, and the bad night people we’re put on watch against.”

He asks her about Quinn, and she tells him how Quinn was “original equipment” with the Dendarii, and they’ve been through a lot over ten years together.  He expresses sympathy with her for her earlier dilemma, likening it to finding out his liege lord was conspiring against the Emperor, or trying to kill the Empress.  She says that as soon as she thought of it she couldn’t enjoy the party, as much as Miles wanted her to, and had to come back home.  She asks Roic what he would do, and he admits it’s a puzzle, but the Count has always said that there’s a “higher honour”, so they shouldn’t obey unthinkingly. Taura says that must be where Miles gets it from, and Roic quotes Mark as saying that integrity is a disease you can only catch from someone else who has it.  Roic says that he hopes he’d have the courage to turn on his lord if he had to.

He’s trying to bring himself to actually take Taura’s hand when he’s notified that the Vorkosigans and their party are returning from the Residence.  Pym, in attendance on the Countess, asks Roic absently if there’s anything to report, but his attention is caught when Roic tells him seriously that there is.  Once he has Pym alone, he gives him a summary of the night’s events; Pym isn’t certain there’s anything wrong, because he’d checked the necklace himself–though he didn’t touch it himself–but he allows that Roic was right to act on the suspicion, and ImpSec can handle the work.  Taura is a little disappointed by Pym’s reaction, but Roic says that’s probably the best they can hope for based on the little evidence they have.

Taura asks if she can stay with Roic until they hear back, and Roic agrees; he takes her down to the kitchen for refueling, guessing correctly that she’s running low on fuel again.  As they finish up, Pym comes to find them, looking almost sick as he tells them that ImpSec in fact found a designer Jacksonian neurotoxin on the pearls, designed to be activated by body heat and enough to kill anyone who wore it for as little as half an hour.  Roic says that Madame Vorsoisson had them on for about five minutes, and asks if she’s in danger; Pym says ImpSec is dispatching an expert to check her for symptoms, but says that she would be dead by now if the poison was going to kill her.  He thanks Roic again, several times, and says he’s going to brief Lord Vorkosigan on the situation.

Taura notes that the Jackson’s Whole origin doesn’t prove much, since they’ll sell to anyone, but Miles did make some enemies there as Admiral Naismith; by now that cover identity was pretty much blown.  She yawns, impressively, and Roic is struck not only by how tired she must be, but how lonely, in such a strange place.  He asks her if she could sleep, if he promises to wake her up if there’s any news; she says she could give it a try.

He escorted her to her door, past m’lord’s dark and empty suite. When he clasped her hand briefly, she clasped back. He swallowed, for courage.

“Dirty pearls, eh?” he said, still holding her hand. “Y’know . . . I don’t know about any other Barrayarans . . . but I think your genetic modifications are beautiful.”

Her lips curved up, he hoped not altogether bleakly. “You are getting better.”

When she let go and turned in, a claw trailing lightly over the skin of his palm made his body shudder in involuntary, sensual surprise. He stared at the closing door, and swallowed a perfectly foolish urge to call her back. Or follow her inside . . . he was still on duty, he reminded himself.

It’s close to dawn when M’lord returns to the house, looking more ghastly and strung-out than Roic has ever seen him, even after the disastrous dinner party.  He thanks Roic effusively, and tells him that Madame Vorsoisson was feeling better after the ImpSec doctor left; he castigates himself for having missed the signs of poisoning, from the necklace he’d put on her himself, which is like metaphor for this whole wedding.  Both of them had thought it was just her nerves, which he says can’t be a good sign.  He says there won’t be any long-term effects, luckily.  Roic is about to bring up the crying fit he’d witnessed before the pearls arrived, but thinks better of it.  Roic tells him that ImpSec has already come to check all of the other gifts, just in case, and hopes to have them back by afternoon.

He asks M’lord if he thinks Elli Quinn could have done it, and M’lord says it’s impossible–she’d beat Miles up personally if she was that mad at him; in any case, he’d broken up with Quinn months before even meeting Ekaterin, so jealousy doesn’t make sense.  Actually, he points out that it’s odd for the attempted poisoner to use Quinn’s name at all, because she’s linked to Admiral Naismith rather than Lord Vorkosigan, and hopes that that will give ImpSec a lead to use.

M’lord thanks Roic profusely for saving this wedding, and thus saving the whole future of the Vorkosigan house.  Roic admits that it was Taura who found the initial evidence, and Miles blesses her, saying he should kiss her all over.

Roic was beginning to think that line about the barbed wire choke chain wasn’t such a joke after all. All this frenetic tension was, if not precisely infectious, starting to get on what was left of his nerves. He remarked dryly, in Pym-like periods, “I was given to understand you already had, m’lord.”

M’lord jerked to a halt again. “Who told you that?”

Under the circumstances, Roic decided not to mention Madame Vorsoisson. “Taura.”

“Eh, maybe it’s the women’s secret code. I don’t have the key, though. You’re on your own there, boy.” He snorted a trifle hysterically. “But if you ever do win an invitation from her, beware—it’s like being mugged in a dark alley by a goddess. You’re not the same man, after. Not to mention critical feminine body parts on a scale you can actually find, and as for the fangs, there’s no thrill quite like—”

They are interrupted then by the Countess, somewhat to Roic’s embarrassment, though he reminds himself that the Vicereine is Betan, after all.  Miles begins telling her all about the poisoning, and threatening the culprit with dismemberment, before the Countess cuts him off, saying she’s been kept fully apprised, and recommending that he get some sleep so he’s not a total loss at his own wedding.  Miles insists he has to check everything first.

“The garden is fine. Everything is fine. As you have just discovered in Armsman Roic, here, your staff is more than competent.” She started down the stairs, a distinctly steely look in her eye. “It’s either a sleeptimer or a sledgehammer for you, son. I am not handing you off to your blameless bride in the state you’re in, or the worse one it’ll be if you don’t get some real sleep before this afternoon. It’s not fair to her.”

“Nothing about this marriage is fair to her,” m’lord muttered, bleak. “She was afraid it would be the nightmare of her old marriage all over again. No! It’s going to be a completely different nightmare—much worse . How can I ask her to step into my line of fire if—”

“As I recall, she asked you. I was there, remember. Stop gibbering.” The Countess took his arm, and began more-or-less frog-marching him upstairs. Roic made a mental note of her technique, for future reference. She glanced over her shoulder and gave Roic a reassuring, if rather unexpected, wink.

Roic goes to get some sleep himself, since he will also need to be rested for the afternoon’s events.  He’s woken up early by Armsman Jankowski though, summoned to a briefing in M’lord’s suite, right away, so he doesn’t stop to shave or do more than put on last night’s clothes.  He arrives to find M’lord waiting with Taura and Ivan Vorpatril, his cousin and Second; he recalls how a stern warning from the Count had suppressed Ivan’s mischievous nature, and Roic was betting, literally, on it lasting quite a while.  They are joined by General Allegre of ImpSec and the Count, and then the Countess and Ekaterin.

Allegre gives M’lord back the pearls, which he says have been thoroughly cleaned and pronounced safe; M’lord asks who precisely he has to think for this thoughtful gift.  Allegre says that the packaging shows that it came from Barrayar itself–not Escobar as the forged stamps claimed–but the pearls were of Earth origin, which helped to narrow it down.  The purchase has been traced to Lord Vorbataille, but they followed it further back to Vorbataille’s Jacksonian consultant, a man named Luca Tarpan, who they have also apprehended.  M’lord doesn’t recognize the name, but Allegre says he’s linked to the Bharaputrans; M’lord says that explains how he knew about both Quinn and Lord Vorkosigan, but isn’t sure that explains the vicious attack.  Allegre says it was just an attempt to sow confusion, ideally to cover their escape, but Vorbataille was already in custody by that point.  He apologizes for not having turned up this scheme in Vorbataille’s fast-penta interrogation; M’lord says pointedly they’d have found out about it in about an hour, and Allegre agrees, and proffers an apology to Madame Vorsoisson and the Vorkosigans.

He looked up at Roic and Taura, sitting side by side on the sofa opposite. “Fortunately, ImpSec was not your last line of defense.”

“Indeed,” rumbled the Count, who had seated himself on a straight chair turned backwards, arms comfortably crossed over its back, listening intently but without comment till now. Countess Vorkosigan stood by his side; her hand touched his shoulder, and he caught it under his own thicker one.

Allegre said, “Illyan once told me that half the secret of House Vorkosigan’s preeminence in Barrayaran history was the quality of the people it drew to its service. I’m glad to see this continues to hold true. Armsman Roic, Sergeant Taura—ImpSec salutes you with more gratitude than I can rightly express.” He did so, in a sober gesture altogether free of his sporadic irony.

Roic isn’t sure if he’s supposed to say something in response to that, like when he had to give a speech after the incident in Hassadar.  Conversation moves on, though, M’lord asking Madame Vorsoisson that that was her last warning.  He says he’ll have the pearls destroyed, but Madame Vorsoisson insists that she will wear them after all, as a defiance to their enemies.  The Countess reminds them that they still have to get dressed for the wedding, and ushers them out; Roic tells her that M’lord seems to be looking better, and she confides to him that they’d slipped him a double dose of tranquilizers, which seems to have calmed him down sufficiently.

Taura tells Roic that she hadn’t been sure Ekaterin was a match for Miles, but now she sees that Ekaterin has this “Vor” thing, which Elli never could understand, deep in her bones; Roic agrees.  She asks what he’s doing later, and he says that he has night duty all week…and probably for the rest of her stay on the planet.  He then dashes off to get changed.

By the time Roic makes his way downstairs to take his place next to Pym, guests are starting to arrive.  Already present had been Lady Alys and Simon Illyan, the Bothari-Jeseks, Mayhew and Nikki, and some Vorvaynes who hadn’t been able to fit in the Vorthyses’ house.  Duv and Delia Galeni arrive with the Vorbrettens and Vorrutyers, then the Koudelkas; Martya is standing in for her sister Kareen as Ekaterin’s Second.  Mark and Kareen were unable to attend because of their classes and the travel time, but Mark had sent a gift certificate for a Betan vacation as his wedding present, to encourage them to visit.  Martya heads upstairs while Dr. Borgos is searched for any contraband bugs, but she comes back downstairs sooner than Roic would have expected.  The rest of the Vorvaynes arrive, and Nikki proudly shows off his new jump-pilot friend Arde to his cousins, convincing him to hold forth with exciting war stories.

Finally, Gregor and Laisa show up, in attendance as Count and Countess Vorbarra so as not to outrank the Vorkosigans, and to grant them more social freedom.  Shortly thereafter, all hundred and twenty guests head back outside for the ceremony proper.

The air was cold but not bitter, and thankfully windless, the sky a deepening clear blue, the slanting afternoon sun liquid gold. It turned the snowy garden into as gilded, glittering, spectacular and utterly unique a showplace as m’lord’s heart could ever have desired. The flowers and ribbons were concentrated around the central place where the vows were to be, complementing the wild brilliance of the ice and snow and light.

Although Roic was fairly sure that the two realistically-detailed ice rabbits humping under a discreet bush were not part of the decorations m’lord had ordered . . . they did not pass unnoticed, as the first person to observe them immediately pointed them out to everyone within earshot. Ivan Vorpatril averted his gaze from the cheerfully obscene artwork—the rabbits were grinning—a look of innocence on his face. The Count’s menacing glower at him was alas undercut by an escaping snicker, which became a guffaw when the Countess whispered something in his ear.

In the center of the garden, on a circle of brick decorated with the Vorkosigan crest, are the circles of groats, and the groom’s party take their places.  Roic, with the armsmen, is concerned not to see Taura among the guests anywhere.  The bride’s party make their way out on foot, Miles having been dissuaded from fetching his bride out on horseback in Old Vor style; Lady Alys is in the lead, followed by Ekaterin on her father’s arm, still defiantly wearing her pearls.  Roic’s gaze is immediately caught by Taura, walking in the procession as the bride’s Second, and he spots Martya Koudelka with the rest of the guests, watching Taura almost smugly.

Taura’s dress was everything that Lady Alys had promised. Champagne-colored velvet exactly matched her eyes, which seemed to spring to a brilliant prominence in her face. The jacket sleeves and long swinging skirt were decorated on their margins with black cord shaped into winding patterns. Champagne-colored orchids coiled in her bound-back hair. Roic thought he’d never seen anything so stunningly sophisticated in his life.

Everyone took their places. M’lord and m’lady-to-be stepped into the inner circle, hands gripping hands like two lovers drowning. The bride looked not so much radiant as incandescent; the groom looked gobsmacked. Lord Ivan and Taura were handed the two little bags of groats with which to close the circle, then stood back to their star points between Count and Countess Vorkosigan and Vorvayne and his wife. Lady Alys read out the vows, and m’lord and m’lady-to . . . m’lady repeated their responses, her voice clear, his only cracking once. The kiss was managed with remarkable grace, m’lady somehow bending her knee in a curtsey-like motion so m’lord didn’t have to stretch unduly. It suggested thought and practice. Lots of practice.

Ivan opens up the groat circle and collects his kiss from the bride as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan make their way out, past the row of armsmen, saluting with their sword, Pym leading the Armsmen’s Shout; Taura follows on Ivan’s arm, followed by the rest of the guests.  Pym looks like he wants to faint in sheer relief at how perfectly the ceremony came off.

The main dining room of the house seats ninety-six, with the overflow in an adjacent room joined by an archway.  Roic is on duty, not serving at table, but to deal with any emergencies or miscellaneous guest needs; Taura is sitting at the head table between Ivan and Gregor, glowing from the attention, and Roic wishes he was in their place.

Martya Koudelka comes up and greets him, noting how wonderful Taura looks; she explains how she heard the story of what happened last night, and Ekaterin asked her to let Taura take her place.  She was happy enough to do it, since it meant she wouldn’t have to sit with Ivan; Ekaterin said it was one honour she could bestow of herself.  She gives Roic a kiss on the cheek for his own part in the night’s events, for saving them from having to live with a really crazy Miles Vorkosigan.

At the dance afterwards, Taura sits out, commenting to Roic as he passes by that she doesn’t know any of the dances anyway.  Roic says he can’t dance, being on duty and all, but also admits he doesn’t know them either.

On the sixth number, m’lady danced past Roic with her eldest brother Hugo.

“Splendid necklace, Kat. From your spouse, is it?”

“No, actually. From one of his . . . business associates.”

“Expensive!”

“Yes.” M’lady’s faint smile made the hairs stir on Roic’s arms. “I expect it to cost him everything he has.”

Before the evening is too advanced, the bridal couple make their escape via aircar to their Vorkosigan Surleau honeymoon retreat.  The rest of the guests will mostly stay in the capital for a few more days, though the galactic guests will make their way down to Vorkosigan Surleau as well–Elena in particular, to burn a death-offering for her father.  Armsman Jankowski is flying the aircar; Pym, who would normally be doing it, informs Roic that he’s shuffled the duty schedule.  Pym himself, who apparently feels he hasn’t been getting the blame he deserves for letting the pearls slip past, is punishing himself with the night shift, and giving Roic, at m’lady’s request, the week off with double pay, as soon as the Vorbarras leave.  The sendoff is capped with fireworks, both official and unofficial; the latter batch, discreetly supplied by the Count, are administered by Arde Mayhew and, mostly, Taura.

The party winds down slowly, sleepy children being carried off, the Vorbarras and their discreet ImpSec servants leaving, and the younger generation taking over the dance floor with more energetic music while their remaining elders head off to quieter rooms for wine and conversation.  Roic happens upon Taura going through a platter of treats in a side room, and asks if she’d had a good time; she says it was wonderful, and enthuses about her visit to Barrayar.  Roic reminds himself he’s off-duty and sits down with her.

She’s there for ten more days, he realizes, which doesn’t seem like it would be enough time to spend with her.  He asks her if she thought of staying there, finding a place for herself; she says she already has a place, and Roic asks if she’s sure being a mercenary is much of a future.  After a moment, she tells him how her genetic modifications include a shortened lifespan; she says that the doctors tell her that she only has a year left, but she adds that they’ve been saying that for several years already, and the lifespan of a soldier is uncertain anyway.

“Part of me wishes the medics would get it settled. Part of me says, the hell with it. Every day is a gift. Me, I rip open the package and wolf it down on the spot.”

He looked up at her in wonder. His grip tightened, as though she might be pulled from him as they sat, right now, if he didn’t hold hard enough. He leaned over, reached across and picked off the fragile petal, touched it to his lips. He took a deep, scared breath. “Can you teach me how to do that?”

Her fantastic gold eyes widened. “Why, Roic! I think that’s the most delicately-worded proposition I’ve ever received. S’ beautiful.” An uncertain pause. “Um, that was a proposition, wasn’t it? I’m not always sure I parlay Barrayaran.”

Desperately terrified now, he blurted in what he imagined to be merc-speak, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am!”

This won an immense fanged smile— not in a version he’d ever seen before. It made him, too, want to fall over backwards, though preferably not into a snow bank. He glanced around. The softly-lit room was littered with abandoned plates and wineglasses, detritus of pleasure and good company. Low voices chatted idly in the next chamber. Somewhere in another room, softened by the distance, a clock was chiming the hour. Roic declined to count the beats.

They floated in a bubble of fleeting time, live heat in the heart of a bitter winter. He leaned forward, raised his face, slid his hand around her warm neck, drew her face down to his. It wasn’t hard. Their lips brushed, locked.

Several minutes later, in a shaken, hushed voice, he breathed, ” . . . wow . . .”

Several minutes after that , they went upstairs, hand in hand.

Comments

Once they’ve settled on notifying ImpSec, most the “action” the occurs after that is offscreen.  ImpSec gathers information and then manages to identify and chase down the culprits.  Who are, perhaps unsurprisingly, related to the Auditor case that Miles has just been working on, which can now be seen to be a sort of Chekov’s Gun–if they weren’t important to the plot, why had they been brought up earlier?  Sort of like the offhand mention near the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice of the conspirators who show up at the end.  There is some tension–first, about whether Taura’s guess is correct, and then, about what’s going to happen to Ekaterin–and then, I suppose, on whether this is going to quash the wedding entirely.  But Ekaterin reaffirms her dedication to life with Miles, however risky it will be, and all is well again.

Duv and Delia are already married by this point, apparently, having managed to sneak their wedding in between Gregor’s and Miles’s, and Martya and Enrique still seem to be together, too.  And the reference to “the Vorrutyers” makes me wonder if Dono and Olivia are already wed, too.  Or maybe that was supposed to be Dono and Byerly…probably not, since I’m not convinced that By was invited.  Maybe he was; on some level, perhaps, Miles and Ekaterin may owe their getting together to him.  After all, without By’s efforts, would Richars have ended up provoking Ekaterin into proposing?  Well, that’s a little questionable, though.  I’m inclined to think that Roic would have made some comment about By’s presence, so perhaps he wasn’t there after all.  Or maybe the author just didn’t want to reintroduce him…

The romance plotline winds up after the wedding; Roic and Taura were already mostly reconciled after his earlier gaffe about mutations, after joining forces over the pearls, so all it takes is for him to actually have an opportunity to seize.  Pym’s guilt provides him the opportunity, and then he actually takes it.  I’m always surprised that Roic doesn’t find out about Taura’s reduced life expectancy until right at the end there, but I guess it’s not something that she necessarily advertises.  I confess that I’m not convinced that the resolution of the plot is going to be true love or anything, but a certain amount of seizing of the moment, at least, perhaps a ten-day fling.  (Is that a week, on Barrayar, to coincide with Roic’s vacation?  I can’t remember.)  Roic and Taura’s long-term relationship prospects are about as good as Miles and Elli’s were, for about the same reasons…but they can have something, if not a life together.

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And now, having wrapped up “Winterfair Gifts”, and Miles In Love, I will once again be taking a week off before heading into Diplomatic Immunity.  I may have mentioned that we’re out of the Vorkosigan stories that I love, and into the ones that I like somewhat, or are okay.  Of course, Diplomatic Immunity is the only one I’ve read more than once, so maybe I’ll like the others better on reread, but who knows.  In any case, I might as well keep going…after my week off, of course.

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As snow, accustomed or unaccustomed, blankets much of North America, we must turn to indoor pursuits to keep us warm and entertained.  So let’s…read a story set in the middle of winter?  Well, at least it’s mostly indoors…  I am, of course, referring to Lois McMaster Bujold’s novella “Winterfair Gifts”, a somewhat interstitial story which actually depicts the wedding strongly implied by the ending of A Civil Campaign…which, of course, ended with a completely different wedding.  The novella originally appeared in the anthology Irresistible Forces, dedicated to science fiction and fantasy romance tales (later reprinted, of course, in the omnibus Miles in Love, as were the two previous novels), and as such is a romance…though not, this time, starring Miles Vorkosigan, despite the fact that it’s his wedding we’re here to see…

Winterfair Gifts (Part 1)

After notification by the gate guard, Armsman Roic drops the house shields and prepares to admit Lord Vorkosigan and his guests.  He checks that his uniform is spotless, flashing back, as he does so, to the horrible humiliation when Lord Vorkosigan had arrived with other guests, to find Roic clad only in briefs and bug butter.  He’s afraid that Lord Vorkosigan thinks he’s an idiot, and castigates himself for not having blocked the Escobarans’ incursion in the first place, even though he hadn’t been on duty at the time.

The groundcar arrives, and Armsman Pym emerges, glancing inside as if to assure himself that there won’t be a repeat of the previous drama for M’Lord’s Important Off-World Wedding Guests.  Pym has also seemed to treat him like an idiot since the bug-butter incident.  Roic stands to attention as Lord Vorkosigan enters with his guests, and Roic identifies them to himself.  The couple with the baby are the Bothari-Jeseks, and Pym has informed Roic that Elena Bothari-Jesek has full rights to the house, as the daughter of a former Armsman.  The man with the jump pilot implants must be the Betan, Arde Mayhew.  The other one…

The hulking figure unfolded from the groundcar and stood up, and up. Pym, who was almost as tall as Roic, did not come quite up to its shoulder. It shook out the swirling folds of a gray and white greatcoat of military cut, and threw back its head. The light from overhead caught the face and gleamed off . . . were those fangs, hooked over the out-slung lower jaw?

Sergeant Taura was the name that went with it, by process of elimination. One of m’lord’s old military buddies, Pym had given Roic to understand, and—don’t be fooled by the rank—of some particular importance (if rather mysterious, as was everything connected with Lord Miles Vorkosigan’s late career in Imperial Security.) Pym was former ImpSec himself. Roic was not, as he was reminded, oh, three times a day on average.

Sergeant Taura enters with the rest, and Roic is startled to discover, after the removal of the greatcoat, that Taura is female.  Lord Vorkosigan asks Roic about his parents, and Roic informs him that they have arrived home from their earlier engagement.  Miles tells Elena that he’ll have to take her and Baby Cordelia up to meet her namesake right away, or else.  He tasks Roic with showing Mayhew and Taura to their rooms, and says they’ll all meet up in the library later.  Roic manages to ask Taura if he can carry her bag, and she acquiesces; he carries it up the stairs for her, though it’s much heavier than he’d expected.  Mayhew, tired and jump-lagged, goes to his room first, and Roic shows Taura to hers.

Taura asks if Winterfair weddings are a custom, and Roic explains it’s mostly because Madame Vorsoisson is a student, between semesters–though a widow, not a young student.  He asks her if Mayhew likes children, since Nikki Vorsoisson is mad for jump pilots; Taura admits that she’s not sure, since the fleet doesn’t encounter that many, and Roic makes a mental note to make sure Nikki doesn’t meet up with a rebuff.  Taura muses that it makes sense for Miles to wed a Vor woman, though she’s not sure what that means, precisely; she asks Roic to explain Vor to her, but he has difficulty articulating it.

“Now that Barrayar has modernized, isn’t a hereditary aristocracy resented by the rest of your classes?”

“But they’re our Vor.”

“Says the Barrayaran. Hm. So, you can criticize them, but heaven help any outsider who dares to?”

“Yes,” he said, relieved that she seemed to have grasped it despite his stumbling tongue.

She asks Roic if this Madame Vorsoisson loves Miles, and Roic assures her that she does, though privately he wonders at her dark and pensive mood of late.  Taura asks if he’s served Lord Vorkosigan long, and Roic says he’s been there about a year, brought up from the Hassadar Municipal Guard when a vacancy came open.  He asks her the same question, and she says she’s served Miles all her life–all her real life, at least–and asserts that he’s a great man.  Roic isn’t sure of that, but Count Vorkosigan certainly is, of course.  He likes Lord Vorkosigan well enough, and sympathizes with the challenges he’s faced because of his…birth injuries.  He tells her the way to the library, says she doesn’t need to dress formally, and takes his leave.

He makes a security circuit of the house, and then returns to the library, where Taura and Mayhew are examining the wedding gifts that have arrived so far–each of them unwrapped, checked by Pym, and rewrapped before the bride and groom even get to see them.  Some of them have been unwrapped again, and Mayhew and Taura look for their own, and Elli Quinn’s–who is not attending.  Taura holds up Elli’s gift–a bioengineered cat blanket–and they speculate on whether it’s the same one that Miles once gave to Elli, or if it’s a new one, and what message she’s trying to send by it; Taura tells Mayhew not to say anything of this to the bride, or else.

Lord Vorkosigan pokes his head out of the library and says that Elena is feeding the baby, and they’ll be down in a little while; he tells Taura to come in and try his cook’s hors d’oeuvres.  As M’Lord looks up at Taura, Roic is suddenly struck that regular women are, to M’Lord, the same proportion as Taura is to Roic.  As Taura heads in, Lord Vorkosigan tells Roic that, tomorrow, he’ll be escorting Taura to Alys Vorpatril’s modiste in the Old Town to get her a proper lady’s wardrobe.  Roic is daunted with the prospect of being in the formidable Lady Alys’s presence, and asks how he managed it; M’Lord says that she relishes and challenge, and hopes that she’ll be able to convince Taura to wear something other than the wholly unsuitable colour pink, which she clings to because it’s supposed to be non-threatening.

He tells Roic to be sure to endorse whatever Lady Alys picks, and also to be sure to try and safeguard Taura from any insult or snub that might make her uncomfortable, as much as possible.  He’d be there himself, but he won’t have time this close to the wedding.  Roic asks after Lady Vorsoisson, thinking of a crying jag he’d come across in a back corridor; M’Lord says she’s under a lot of stress, which he’s trying to minimize, and Roic wonders if he knows too.

M’lord brightened. “Anyway, I want Sergeant Taura to have a great time on her visit to Barrayar, a fabulous Winterfair season. It’s probably the only chance she’ll ever have to see the place. I want her to look back on this week like, like . . . dammit, I want her to feel like Cinderella magicked off to the ball. She’s earned it, God knows. Midnight tolls too damned soon.”

Roic tried to wrap his mind around the concept of Lord Vorkosigan as the enormous woman’s fairy godfather. “So . . . who’s t’ handsome prince?”

M’lord’s smile went crooked; something almost like pain sounded in his indrawn breath. “Ah. Yes. That would be the central problem, now. Wouldn’t it.”

Lady Vorpatril’s modiste is identified by only a single plaque reading Estelle, and Roic is a little daunted as he leads Taura up the stairs.  They enter a room that looks like nothing more than a Vor lady’s drawing room; Lady Vorpatril is already there with another woman, and turn to greet Taura and Roic as they enter; they seem to take Taura in stride, obviously having been pre-warned, but aren’t quite so equable about her pink pantsuit.  Roic not being sure how to do the introductions, Lady Alys takes matters into her own hands and greets Taura warmly; Taura, a little shyly, says she hadn’t known what to expect–someone older and not so beautiful, perhaps.

“I’m very happy to have a chance to visit Miles’s—Lord Vorkosigan’s homeworld,” Taura told them. “Although when he invited me to come for the Winterfair Season, I wasn’t sure if it was hunting or social, and whether I should pack weapons or dresses.”

Lady Vorpatril’s smile sharpened. “Dresses are weapons, my dear, in sufficiently skilled hands. Permit us to introduce you to the rest of our ordnance team.” She gestured toward a door at the far end of the room, through which presumably lay more utilitarian work rooms, full of laser scanners and design consoles and bolts of exotic fabrics and expert seamstresses. Or magic wands, for all Roic knew.

Roic asks, in mild panic, what he should do, and Lady Alys just tells him to wait.  Not daring to sit on the furniture, he keeps standing, in a position he can maintain for hours if necessary.  Lady Alys returns shortly with Taura’s pink outfit, and gives them to Roic with instructions to see them hidden, or burned, so that they won’t fall into Taura’s hands again.  She dismisses him and tells him to come back in about four hours; ornamental as he is, there’s no need for him to clutter up the reception room.  When he returns, he has to wait for a little longer before Lady Alys emerges, watching carefully for his reaction.

A stunning vision in hunter green stepped through behind her.

Oh, it was still Taura, certainly, but . . . the skin that had been sallow and dull against the pink was now revealed as a glowing ivory. The green jacket fit very trimly about the waist. Above, her pale shoulders and long neck seemed to bloom from a white linen collar; below, the jacket skirt skimmed out briefly around the upper hips. A narrow skirt continued the long green fall to her firm calves. Wide linen cuffs decorated with subtle white braid made her hands look, if not small, well-proportioned. The pink nail polish was gone, replaced by a dark mahogany shade. The heavy braid hanging down her back had been transformed into a mysteriously knotted arrangement, clinging close to her head and set off with a green . . . hat? feather? anyway, a neat little accent tilted to the other side. The odd shape of her face seemed suddenly artistic and sophisticated rather than distorted.

“Ye-es,” said Lady Vorpatril. “That will do.”

Roic closed his mouth.

Taura asks how she’s supposed to bodyguard anyone in an outfit like this; Lady Alys says that men will be lining up to deal with annoying people, which Roic enthusiastically agrees with.  Taura asks if it’s effective, and Roic agrees that it’s terrifying; this dampens Taura’s enthusiasm, and she complains that she already terrifies people, and asks if she shouldn’t wear the pink after all…  Lady Alys desperately tries to persuade her that that’s for younger girls, and she herself would never wear pink bows…  Taura will just have to settle for braver men, she says; Taura says she already knew that, but hoped that fewer of them would be put off.  Although the one she wants is already taken, she says, and Roic wonders what giant of a man she’s referring to.

Lady Alys then takes them to an exclusive tea room, at least partly to refuel Taura’s metabolism, but also for Lady Alys to brief her on proper conduct and manners; Taura absorbs the instruction with fair ease, before Roic’s eyes.  Roic is used as a practice gentleman in some examples, bringing him in for some correction himself, but he reassures himself that next to Taura he’s almost invisible.

During Lady Alys’s brief absence, Taura says that she’s obviously very good at what she does, as Miles’s people generally are.  Just then, a woman passes by the table with a small child, who points out Taura to her mother; Taura tries a reassuring smile, but the child screams in fear, and her mother swiftly takes her out of the tea room.  Taura’s mood seems utterly deflated, and Roic castigates himself for not having dealt with the incident, which was exactly the kind of thing Lord Vorkosigan had tasked him to do.  Lady Alys returns and tries to reassure Taura, but Taura starts to withdraw into herself and try to hide her mouth.  Roic wishes he was back in Hassadar.

He feels much the worse for wear when he arrives back at Vorkosigan House with Lady Alys and Taura, carrying an armload of parcels (and that only a part of what they had bought at Estelle’s).  M’lord calls them in to the library, where he introduces Taura to Madame Vorsoisson, who greets the large galactic woman with aplomb despite her visible fatigue.  M’lord compliments Taura’s new outfit and hairdo, though Taura points out that she does use dye to hide the gray.  Voices from the hall turn out to be Pym admitting Simon Illyan, who takes Lady Alys’s arm and tells Taura he’s glad to actually meet her at last.

Illyan tells Miles that ImpSec has arrested Lord Vorbataille as he was trying to sneak off the planet, and Miles is relieved to hear it, having hoped to get the case closed before Winterfair.  Taura asks for details, and M’lord explains that Lord Vorbataille, heir to a Countship, had gotten in deep with a Jacksonian smuggling ring; the Jacksonians have been dealt with, but Vorbataille was still at large until now.  M’lord expects that the Lord will either be given the chance for a proper suicide, or else merely executed.  The Emperor had, after the hijacking of the Princess Olivia, and the deaths of its passengers, been especially fervent in his desire to see them all brought to justice.  Roic wishes to himself that he’d been able to take part in the case, but Pym has had him on night duty for weeks and weeks.

To change the subject, M’lord encourages Madame Vorsoisson to open her next gift, another one from Elli Quinn, according to the card.  It turns out to be a triple-strand pearl choker, all the way from Earth; she puts it on just for a moment, but takes them off after a brief look in the mirror, saying that they’ll go better with her wedding outfit, and Lady Alys heartily agrees.  M’lord seems relieved to hear this, but Taura frowns.  M’lord says he needs to speak to Illyan, and Lady Alys takes Taura off to freshen up; Madame Vorsoisson says that Nikki is monopolizing Arde Mayhew, and heads off to rescue the pilot.

Roic asks Madame Vorsoisson if she knows how old Sergeant Taura is; she says Taura is twenty-six.  Roic wonders why she had gray hairs, if she’s bioengineered and all, and Madame Vorsoisson says it’s not hers to say.  She can tell him that Miles rescued her a super-soldier project on Jackson’s Whole, and adds that she’s become a valued operative and occasional lover.  Roic is surprised that she seems fine with that, and she says that it was before her time, and now that she’s met Taura, she thinks Miles was bragging a little when he told her of it.  Madame Vorsoisson refuses to comment on Roic’s incredulous queries on the logistics of it, apart from saying that “a height differential matters much less when two people are lying down”.

Only an hour later, Roic is asked to bring the ground-car around, to take Madame Vorsoisson back home; she seems to be feeling poorly, but she insists it’s just a headache, no fever.  M’lord hesitantly suggests that it might just be nerves; Madame Vorsoisson isn’t sure.  M’lord apologizes if the pressures of the wedding are getting too great, and says he’ll call it off if she wants him to.  She says she needs to get home in case she get seriously ill, and Roic takes her arm; M’lord says he’ll send Nikki home later as Roic helps her into the groundcar, where she sits with her head cradled in her hands.

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This novella is such an odd duck for the Vorkosigan stories.  Roic as a viewpoint character, a plot as much concerned with the developing relationship between him and Taura as it is with the mystery of Ekaterin’s sudden illness…  Actually, in some ways I think of it was more of a novelette than a novella–a long short story, rather than a short novel.  The scene and timeframe are fairly compressed, the action somewhat more slight–I don’t think there’s really a physical confrontation at all, for instance.  “The Mountains of Mourning” might be on a similar scale, i suppose, as opposed to the more robust adventure of “Labyrinth” or “The Borders of Infinity”.  The “Weatherman” novella, drawn from the beginning of The Vor Game, might be even closer.

At this point we’d barely seen Roic, just as one of the new Armsmen from A Civil Campaign, and the one who got himself into the biggest mess (literally) at the end.  (I’m reminded of how Pym is “the new Armsman” back in “Mountains of Mourning”, which I suppose is a few years ago by now…)  It’s nice to see him with a little different background, a Hassadar police officer rather than retired ImpSec or other military service, though he is still a little awkward among the nobility.  I read this story somewhat after Diplomatic Immunity, where we see a little more of Roic, though not POV there either.

One of the struggles in doing things from Roic’s POV, for me, is trying to call the characters what he would call them.  So, not just using “Miles” or “Ekaterin”, but “Lord Vorkosigan” (thankfully, usually abbreviated to “M’lord”) and “Madame Vorsoisson”.  I confess I’m usually not nearly that scrupulous–even from Miles’s POV, I’ll usually just call his parents “Aral” and “Cordelia”, but I’ll try to keep it up for Roic’s story here.


I confess I may be a bit lazy in splitting the story up into three parts, as I am, but I found the long chapters of A Civil Campaign somewhat wearying, at times, and I’m happy enough to pull back a little.  I mean, some of those chapters were over 10,000 words–almost half the length of this novella–so maybe I could do it in one installment, but I’d wear myself out.  So I’ll pace myself more this time, and split it–at scene breaks, at least–into rough thirds.  Until next week, then…

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Urg.  Is it time already?  Okay, okay.  So.  Lois McMaster Bujold, Vorkosigan Saga, reread.  A Civil Campaign, a couple more chapters.  Miles Vorkosigan, his brother Mark, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, Kareen Koudelka, and Ivan Vorpatril.  This week, the last full chapters plus an Epilogue–not a usual thing for a Bujold book, as I recall.  So, anyway, yeah, let’s do it.

Chapter Nineteen

In less than four minutes, two ImpSec officers have arrived at the Vorthys household; Ekaterin considers pointing out Gregor had promised them two minutes, but decides that would be rude.  Vassily and Hugo are shocked at their arrival, wondering who exactly Nikki called.  One of the ImpSec men, who Professora Vorthys recognizes as Captain Sphaleros, says he’d been given to understand that there was an altercation, and he’s instructed to detain all of them–except for Aunt Vorthys, of course, whose presence is merely earnestly requested.  Hugo and Vassily identify themselves, and insist there must be some mistake, but Sphaleros says he has his orders.  He knocks on the bathroom door and identifies himself to Nikki, who emerges.  The Professora agrees to come along, and Sphaleros and his sergeant escort them to the front door (with a brief delay to find Nikki’s shoes).  Sphaleros clarifies that they’re not being arrested, just detained for questioning, but will tell them little more than that.

Outside, the ImpSec officers escort them to a black aircar parked on the sidewalk, which takes off once they’re all inside, flying at high speed and low altitude to Vorhartung Castle.  Ekaterin spots the Counts’ banners, and after a brief search locates the Vorkosigan sigil, the silver leaf-and-mountain on brown.  They land outside, to be escorted in by a familiar man in Gregor’s livery.  He leads them to a small conference room, where he directs them to stand behind chairs (except the Professora, who is allowed to sit).

“Where are we?” Ekaterin whispered to her aunt.

“I’ve never actually been in this room before, but I believe we are directly behind the Emperor’s dais in the Counts’ Chamber,” she whispered back.

“He said,” Nikki mumbled in a faintly guilty tone, “that this all sounded too complicated for him to sort out over the comconsole.”

Who said that, Nikki?” asked Hugo nervously.

Gregor enters, to Hugo and Vassily’s shock, and dismisses Sphaleros; he sits at the head of the table and asks the others to sit as well.  He apologizes for bringing them in so peremptorily, but he can’t get away from the proceedings just yet.  Then he asks why Nikki claims he was being kidnapped away from his mother.  Vassily eventually manages to stammer out what Alexi Vormoncrief had told him, and admits he was the one to suggest Vassily take Nikki out of the city.  Gregor asks his man to make a note to do something with Vormoncrief to put him somewhere less troublesome.  He then tells Vassily that it’s a full-time ImpSec job separating truth from rumour, and says that he’s been informed that the rumour against Miles is not founded in actual events on Komarr, but on the schemes of a group of disgruntled men trying to bring him low for their political advantage.

Gregor let Vassily and Hugo digest this for a moment, and continued, “Your panic is premature. Even I don’t know which way today’s vote is going to fall out. But you may rest assured, Lieutenant, that my hand is held in protection over your relatives. No harm will be permitted to befall the members of Lord Auditor Vorthys’s household. Your concern is laudable but not necessary.” His voice grew a shade cooler. “Your gullibility is less laudable. Correct it, please.”

“Yes, Sire,” squeaked Vassily. He was bug-eyed by now. Nikki grinned shyly at Gregor. Gregor acknowledged him with nothing so broad as a wink, merely a slight widening of his eyes. Nikki hunkered down in satisfaction in his chair.

Another ImpSec officer knocks on the door and is admitted, speaking to Gregor briefly; Gregor tells him to bring “him” directly there.  He smiles at his guests, and says he is about to be rather busy, so he will release them to the visitor’s gallery, and any further concerns will have to be addressed later.  He pauses to murmur to Vassily that Ekaterin has his full confidence, to Hugo and Vassily’s astonishment.

On their way out they pass by a scruffy-looking Byerly Vorrutyer, who greets Ekaterin ironically; Ekaterin, maliciously, introduces him as one of her suitors, hoping to make Miles look better by contrast.  They are led out to the gallery, where Gregor’s Armsman forcibly ousts a group of young gentlemen from the front row; Hugo and Vassily remain daunted by their surroundings.  Ekaterin’s gaze roves across the floor, until she finds Miles, who hasn’t seen her yet; she knows she’s not allowed to just call down from the gallery.  She pleased to see that he seems at ease among the Counts and their representatives.

He’s talking to René Vorbretten, who calls Miles’s attention to her; he looks up, somewhat concerned at her company, but Ekaterin tries to give him a reassuring gesture.  Richars Vorrutyer catches this interchange and also spots Ekaterin; she frowns back at him, annoyed that he’s already dressing as if he were Count.  Gregor still seems to be closeted with Byerly, and Dono doesn’t seem to have arrived yet…

But then he does, dressed more properly, as heir rather than Count, but with a pronounced limp, accompanied by Ivan Vorpatril and four other Counts.  Ekaterin asks Lady Vorthys to identify them for her–they are Falco Vorpatril, Count Vorfolse, Count Vorhalas, and one of Vorhalas’s Conservative compatriots, Count Vorkalloner.  Ivan seems very pleased with himself, though Miles doesn’t seem quite sure what to make of Dono’s company.

Miles begins to berate Ivan, but Ivan tells him he’s saved his ass again; Miles asks what he brought the other Counts in for, and Ivan tells him to watch.  Sure enough, as they file past Boriz Vormoncrief’s desk, Richars tries to greet them effusively, but the four Conservative Counts breeze past him with nothing more than a frown from Vorkalloner.  A second attempt is met with a reprimand from Falco Vorpatril for not having been good enough to not get caught in his unethical ploy, and another from Vorfolse castigating him for trying to use his premises for it.  After that, Ivan relents and tells Miles and René what happened.

Miles wonders if they’ll be able to pin anything on Richars, though, who’s usually so careful to distance himself from his pawns, but Ivan said that Richars’s right-hand man, Byerly Vorrutyer, has turned Imperial Witness, and is confessing to setting the whole thing up.  Though moving it to Vorfolse’s hadn’t been his idea–he’d planned the attack for Vorsmythe’s instead.  Miles is surprised that By was working for Richars after all, but Ivan said he’d always been suspicious of him.

Gregor emerges as the Conservative foursome are bending the ear of Count Vormoncrief, and the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle gently ejects Ivan, who heads up to the gallery.  Dono asserts his right to sit on the bench with Richars, and tells Richars that the municipal guardsmen will be waiting to arrest him after the vote.  Richars hisses back that they won’t be able to touch him when he’s Count, and Miles’s allies will all have turned on him soon enough.  As he leaves the chamber, Ivan suddenly remembers that the usual reward for a job well done is…a harder job, and has to control a sudden impulse to flee.

In Vorkosigan House, Kareen and Martya fling their bug butter tubs at the Escobarans; some of these, being from a cheaper batch, burst on impact, showering the men, and the corridor, with bug butter.  Muno is driven to release Enrique and start flinging some tubs from their end of the hallway back at them; Enrique crawls back towards the lab.  Just then, Armsman Roic, still in his underwear, appears at the other end of the hallway, promising vengeance on whoever had had him woken up.  Gustioz attempts to flee, and Roic reflexively pins him to the floor; Muno begins dragging Enrique back down the hallway, forcing Martya and Kareen to grab his arms in a tug-of-war.  The struggle is inconclusive until Kareen kicks Muno’s wrist to loosen his group, and the three of them manage to lock themselves in the lab.  Kareen, at Martya’s urging, places a comconsole call to Mark.

Miles glances up at the gallery, to where Ivan secures himself a seat next to Ekaterin.  He’s still not sure why Hugo and Vassily are there with them, whether they’re still hassling Ekaterin about her son.  Olivia Koudelka shows up and sits in the back row.  Why are Ekaterin and her party there at all, and why had a Vorbarra armsman escorted them to their seat?

The Lord Guardian calls the session to order, and Count Vormoncrief comes up to present his plea to make Sigur Count Vorbretten; Miles notes that he makes no reference to Richars’s case, which he hopes means a rift between the former allies.  The Lord Guardian calls on René to respond, and René, as planned, yields to Lord Dono.  Dono comes forward and makes his case for the Countship, referring to the medical evidence and affidavits of gender that they had all already been presented with.  He then carries on to tell the story of how he was attacked in the street in an attempt forestall this vote, and how sworn testimony has tied this attack to his cousin Richars.

“Government by thugs in the Bloody Centuries gave Barrayar many colorful historical incidents, suitable for high drama. I don’t think it’s a drama we wish to return to in real life. I stand before you ready and willing to serve my Emperor, the Imperium, my District, and its people. I also stand for the rule of law.” He gave a grave nod toward Count Vorhalas, who nodded back. “Gentlemen, over to you.” Dono stood down.

Years ago—before Miles was born—one of Count Vorhalas’s sons had been executed for dueling. The Count had chosen not to raise his banner in rebellion over it, and had made it clear ever since that he expected like loyalty to the law from his peers. It was a kind of moral suasion with sharp teeth; nobody dared oppose Vorhalas on ethical issues. If the Conservative Party had a backbone that kept it standing upright, it was old Vorhalas. And Dono, it appeared, had just put Vorhalas in his back pocket. Or Richars had put him there for him . . . Miles hissed through his teeth in suppressed excitement. Good pitch, Dono, good, good. Superb.

Miles spots more new arrivals in the gallery–his parents, fresh from their formal breakfast, who end up seated in the row behind Ekaterin and the Professora.  Ivan greets them, but Ekaterin is riveted to the vote below, where Richars is getting up to make his rebuttal.  Richars describes himself as the logical successor to Count Pierre, and dismisses “Lord Dono” as an invention of his overwrought cousin, and a sign of the kind of galactic corruption that they need to keep out of Barrayar–including Miles in that corruption by gesture.  Not getting the kind of approval he’d hoped for, he dares Lady Donna to bring her charges against him as Count, through her “stalking horse”, Miles–then going on to mention the crimes that Miles is “accused” of.

Miles pounces on the point, mentioning that he is only slandered, not accused.  Count Vorhalas adds that he’d be happy to lay the charge against Richars himself.  The Lord Guardian restores order, and Richars continues, though clearly thrown.  He motions to Ekaterin, talking about Miles’s audacity in acting so unashamed when his victim’s wife is looking down at him.  Ekaterin pales at being drawn into the affair, and Miles stiffens in outrage, but reminds himself he can’t just leap across the chamber to throttle Richars.

Ekaterin, in cold fury, tells Richars that he is mistaken, and not for the first time; Richars asks her why, then, she fled from Miles’s proposal.  She parries further verbal sallies from Richars until they are interrupted.

The Lord Guardian banged his spear. “Interjections from the gallery are not permitted,” he began, staring up at her.

Behind Ekaterin, the Viceroy of Sergyar stared down at the Lord Guardian, tapped his index finger suggestively against the side of his nose, and made a small two-fingered sweeping gesture taking in Richars below: No; let him hang himself. Ivan, glancing over his shoulder, grinned abruptly and swiveled back. The Lord Guardian’s eyes flicked to Gregor, whose face bore only the faintest smile and little other cue. The Lord Guardian continued more weakly, “But direct questions from the Speaker’s Circle may be answered.”

Richars’s questions had been more rhetorical, for effect, than direct, Miles judged. Assuming Ekaterin would be safely silenced by her position in the gallery, he hadn’t expected to have to deal with direct answers. The look on Richars’s face made Miles think of a man tormenting a leopardess suddenly discovering that the creature had no leash. Which way would she pounce? Miles held his breath.

Ekaterin leaned forward, gripping the railing with her knuckles going pale. “Let’s finish this. Lord Vorkosigan!”

Miles jerked in his seat, taken by surprise. “Madame?” He made a little half-bow gesture. “Yours to command . . .”

“Good. Will you marry me?”

A kind of roaring, like the sea, filled Miles’s head; for a moment, there were only two people in this chamber, not two hundred. If this was a ploy to impress his colleagues with his innocence, would it work? Who cares? Seize the moment! Seize the woman! Don’t let her get away again! One side of his lip curled up, then the other; then a broad grin took over his face. He tilted toward her. “Why, yes, madame. Certainly. Now?”

She tells him they’ll discuss that later, and that they should finish this business first; she present a gaping Richars with that evidence.  Gregor is amused, Nikki is excited, and the gallery in general breaks up in amusement, Miles’s parents not excluded.  Richars finishes weakly and incoherently, and the Lord Guardian calls for the vote.  Gregor passes, in case his vote is needed later.  Miles is so distracted–mostly doodling “Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorkosigan”–that he misses his turn to vote and has to be prompted by René, much to everyone’s continued amusement.  Lord Dono wins with a narrow majority, but with many of Richars’s supporters abstaining, and Gregor not needing to vote either.  Richars desperately calls for an appeal, which Gregor denies, and Richars is escorted out into the arms of the police.

Miles exults at how Richars had done himself in, though of course with the help of Ivan and Olivia, and…Byerly, he supposes, though there’s still something about that affair that doesn’t quite add up.  Perhaps, later, he’ll take the case as Imperial Auditor and question Byerly himself…  Dono formally assumes the Countship, thanking his colleagues, and returns the vote to René.  Miles, glancing up at the gallery, happens to catch his parents’ first actual introduction to Ekaterin and Lady Vorthys, which catches Ekaterin quite off guard, but she eventually rallies and introduces her relatives as well.  Cordelia and Lady Vorthys seem to almost know each other already, which makes Miles wonder…

René comes forward and makes his case, drawing Miles’s attention back to the floor.  Gregor passes again, and René, with Dono’s support, manages to just reach his majority without requiring the Emperor’s vote either.  Count Vormoncrief’s appeal is also denied, and Sigur Vorbretten seems somewhat relieved to have lost; they greet René as gracious losers, and the Lord Guardian calls the session closed.  Miles restrains himself from dashing up to the gallery, assuring himself that his parents will make sure Ekaterin makes her way down to him safely, and spends some time dealing, somewhat automatically, with the congratulations and other remarks of the various Counts in the chamber.

At last, he heard his father call his name. Miles’s head snapped around; such was the Viceroy’s aura that the crowd seemed to melt away between them. Ekaterin peered shyly into the mob of uniformed men from between her formidable outriders. Miles strode over to her, and gripped her hands painfully hard, searching her face, Is it true, is it real?

She grinned back, idiotically, beautifully, Yes, oh, yes.

“You want a leg up?” Ivan offered him.

“Shut up, Ivan,” Miles said over his shoulder. He glanced around at the nearest bench. “D’you mind?” he whispered to her.

“I believe it is customary . . .”

His grin broadened, and he jumped up on it, wrapped her in his arms, and gave her a blatantly possessive kiss. She embraced him back, just as hard, shaking a little.

“Mine to me. Yes,” she whispered fiercely in his ear.

Count Vormuir rushes into the chamber suddenly, crying out that he’s too late.  Ivan asks Dono how he did that, and Dono disclaims responsibility, though he suspects that the Countess may have staged a well-timed reconciliation with her husband…with the aid of a powerful Betan aphrodisiac.

Nikki confronts Miles, asking him to be sure he makes his mamma happy, which Miles gravely agrees to.  Miles turns to Hugo and Vassily and invites them for lunch at Vorkosigan House so they can straighten some matters out, which they accept, somewhat overwhelmed.  The Lord Guardian comes over to tell them at Gregor has asked for Miles and Ekaterin’s company, for an Auditorial task, and Miles obliges.  Gregor asks Ekaterin if her domestic affairs have been settled, and she says that they should be fine now.  He congratulates the two of them, and then gives Miles an official document to relay to Count Vormuir.

Miles glances at the document, then takes it over to Vormuir, telling him the Emperor has agreed to grant him guardianship of his daughters; Vormuir says it’s about time.  Miles leads Ekaterin and his lunch guests out of the hall, summoning Pym with his car; they pause just in time to hear Vormuir howl about having to pay dowries for all 118 of his daughters…

Back at Vorkosigan House, Mark confronts Roic about the Escobaran trespassers; Roic says they do seem to have a proper warrant, which Gustioz obliges by showing him, bug butter-spattered as it is.  Mark talks to Kareen and the others in the lab, and they unbarricade and open the somewhat battered door.  He rushes to check on Kareen, also bug-butter spattered, and wishes he had her alone to experiment more with the amatory properties of bug butter…but first there’s these Escobarans to deal with.

Mark tells them that he thought he had the right to take Enrique when he paid his bail, and Gustioz says that Escobar doesn’t have slavery; Mark admits that he’s more used to Jacksonian law.  Mark racks his brain for some way to keep Enrique with him…he asks Gustioz to stay and meet his mother, who he’s sure can find some way to deal with this, but Gustioz declines.  Mark realizes they’re gently ushering them all towards the front door of the house, and Enrique looks to be on the verge of becoming tug-of-war rope between Muno and Martya again.  In the entry hall, Mark digs in his heels and refuses to let Enrique go; Gustioz says he’ll find a way to charge Mark as well, no matter who his relatives are.  The argument escalates, and Mark begins to feel the Killer persona beginning to emerge.

The front doors swing open, revealing Miles, in his full livery, and a party of others–including Ekaterin, and some others that Mark doesn’t recognize.

“Who is that?” whispered Gustioz uneasily. And there just wasn’t any question which who he referred to.

Kareen snapped back under her breath, “Lord Miles Vorkosigan. Imperial Auditor Lord Vorkosigan! Now you’ve done it!”

Miles’s gaze traveled slowly over the assembled multitude: Mark, Kareen and Martya, the stranger-Escobarans, Enrique—he winced a little—and up and down the considerable length of Armsman Roic. After a long, long moment, Miles’s teeth unclenched.

“Armsman Roic, you appear to be out of uniform.”

Roic stood to attention, and swallowed. “I’m . . . I was off-duty. M’lord.”

Miles first introduces them all to Vassily and Hugo, with an undertone of hoping that things aren’t as bad as they look.  He asks what’s going on, which breaks the dam, as everyone begins talking at once.  Miles, somehow, manages to glean enough information from this barrage and then halts it, asking if the Escobarans really want to take Enrique away to lock him up.  Gustioz presents him with the warrants, and Miles takes them to a table to look them over.  Mark suddenly notices that Miles and Ekaterin’s relationship seems to have suddenly improved since the last time he saw them, and Miles seems to be unaccountably happy over something.

Miles leafs through the pages, stuck together as many of them are, noting that everything seems to be in order, even all eighteen of the jump-point permissions…  He pauses to ask Mark if it’s true that Ekaterin, and Ma Kosti, and the others, are all getting paid in shares of the bug-butter business…  Miles then turns to Gustioz and says that while everything he has seems to be in order, he is missing a most crucial permission.  Vorkosigan House, he says, is legally part of Vorkosigan’s District, not Vorbarr Sultana itself, and so, therefore, Gustioz needs permission from Count Vorkosigan’s Voice before he can take Enrique from the premises.

Gustioz was trembling. “And where,” he said hoarsely, “can I find the nearest Vorkosigan’s District Count’s Voice?”

“The nearest?” said Miles cheerily. “Why, that would be me.”

The Parole Officer stared at him for a long moment. He swallowed. “Very good, sir,” he said humbly, his voice cracking. “May I please have an order of extradition for Dr. Enrique Borgos from, the, the Count’s Voice?”

Miles looked across at Mark. Mark stared back, his lips twisting. You son of a bitch, you’re enjoying every second of this . . . .

Miles vented a long, rather regretful sigh—the entire audience swayed with it—and said briskly, “No. Your application is denied. Pym, please escort these gentlemen off my premises, then inform Ma Kosti that we will be sitting, um,” his gaze swept the entry hall, “ten for lunch, as soon as possible. Fortunately, she likes a challenge.”

As Pym is escorting them out, Gustioz screams that Enrique will have to leave the house sometime; Miles says they’ll use the Count’s official aircar.  Ekaterin offers to show the lab to her relatives, but at Kareen’s hasty warning she changes this to the interesting historical aspects of the library instead, leaving her aunt to take them and Nikki off while she stays with Miles.  Enrique thanks Miles for his rescue; Miles forestalls any enthusiastic gestures, and Martya leads Enrique off to start cleaning upthe lab.

Mark thanks Miles for his support, knowing how he feels about the butter bugs, and Miles gruffly says he doesn’t want to lose his cook.  Mark asks if the house is really Vorkosigan District soil, and Miles just tells him to look it up.  He asks them not to spring any more surprises to disturb his future in-laws, and Kareen congratulates him.  He says she asked him, and points out to Ekaterin his helpful demonstration on how one should respond to a marriage proposal.  They head off to the library; as Mark and Kareen are heading upstairs to wash the bug butter off of her, they spot the Vorkosigan-livery queen bug scurrying out of sight again, and decide not to mention it to Miles.

Comments

It’s always dicey trying to remember exactly what I thought the first time I read the book, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t predict Ekaterin derailing Richars’s accusation by proposing to Miles right there in the chamber.  It is a great moment–though, arguably, not as great as Nikki calling ImpSec on Vassily Vorsoisson, and Gregor calling them in to settle the whole matter.  That is a scene I look forward to for the entire book, let me tell you.  And Ivan’s coup in winning over Vorhalas and the others for Lord Dono’s side…  Well, this is the final chapter, so all of the major conflicts have to be settled, don’t they?  Even Enrique’s…

Mark and Kareen’s romantic plot was already tied up, of course, so I almost forget that there’s still something to come with their having to keep Enrique from being extradited.  I’m not entirely sure that I buy it when Mark claims he thought paying Enrique’s bail meant he could take him with him when he left the planet, though.  He spent enough time studying the Barrayaran legal system, at least, as part of his learning to play Lord Vorkosigan, that he must realize that the Jacksonian model isn’t the only one…though I guess I don’t know if Barrayar has a “bail” system…  Or maybe it would have come up in his business courses on Beta Colony?  Well, anyway, Miles manages to finess him out of that one, at least.  I don’t recall seeing Enrique in later books, but one supposes that he gets to live a happy life on Barrayar, in Vorkosigan’s District, though one wonders if there’s Escobaran bail bondsmen lurking around from time to time trying to see if they can snatch him up.  If Escobar has a statue of limitations, too, though, then they’d have to give up after a few years.  (And now I’m picturing Gustioz like Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies, going insane from his inability to collar Enrique…and eventually starting his own plot to close the wormhole to Barrayar or something…)

Epilogue

From Miles’s point of view, the two weeks to the Imperial wedding sped past, though he suspected that Gregor and Laisa were running on a skewed relativistic time-distortion in which time went slower but one aged faster. He manufactured appropriate sympathetic noises whenever he encountered Gregor, agreeing that this social ordeal was a terrible burden, but, truly, one that everyone must bear, a commonality of the human condition, chin up, soldier on. Inside his own head, a continuous counterpoint ran in little popping bubbles, Look! I’m engaged! Isn’t she pretty? She asked me. She’s smart, too. She’s going to marry me. Mine, mine, all mine. I’m engaged! To be married! To this woman! an effervescence that emerged, he trusted, only as a cool, suave smile.

He manages to spend some time with Ekaterin and her family, eating dinner together at the Vorthyses and Vorkosigan House, before the pre-wedding social calendar truly descends.  Ekaterin limits the number of social events she attends with him, probably, Kareen opines, because she doesn’t want to show up her limited wardrobe.  At one such event, their departure is obstructed by a drunken Lord Vormurtos, one of Richars’s supporters, who comments snidely about how being a Vorkosigan apparently means you can get away with murder.

Ekaterin stiffened unhappily. Miles hesitated a fractional moment, considering responses: explanation, outrage, protest? Argument in a hallway with a half-potted fool? No. I am Aral Vorkosigan’s son, after all. Instead, he stared up unblinkingly, and breathed, “So if you truly believe that, why are you standing in my way?

Vormurtos’s inebriated sneer drained away, to be replaced by a belated wariness. With an effort at insouciance that he did not quite bring off, he unfolded himself, and opened his hand to wave the couple past. When Miles bared his teeth in an edged smile, he backed up an extra and involuntary step. Miles shifted Ekaterin to his other side and strode past without looking back.

Ekaterin glanced over her shoulder once, as they made their way down the corridor. In a tone of dispassionate observation, she murmured, “He’s melted. You know, your sense of humor is going to get you into deep trouble someday.”

“Belike,” Miles sighed.

The wedding itself is an intricate operation that Miles is heartily glad he’s not in charge of.  Due to space limitations, and luckily thanks to good weather, the ceremony is held outside on a large parade ground.  At breakfast Gregor announces his plan to escape after dinner, drowning his pursuers in a lake of wine; nobody except the couple themselves, and their ImpSec guards, know where they’re spending the wedding night.

The ceremony starts with Gregor, mounted on a glossy black steed, leading a white horse to the Komarran delegation, where Miles formally calls for the bride to be brought out, after which she is deployed carefully onto the white horse, and led back by her father to the circle of coloured groats.  Miles is in the inner circle, with the parents and Laisa’s Second; he has little to do but watch the exchange of vows, and watch his father actually cry, whether out of the ambient sentimentality or sheer political relief he can’t tell.  Once the vows are done, Miles opens up the circle of groats and lets the new married couple out…then, after being the first to wish them well, he makes his way to seek out Ekaterin.

At the reception, each District has erected an outdoor kiosk to offer their own particular food and drink; the Vorkosigans are mostly donating wine, but Mark and Kareen have also set up a bug-butter “maple ambrosia” kiosk, with a few Glorious Bugs on display.  When Ivan, Miles and Ekaterin arrive, Kareen tells them that everyone loves the Glorious Bugs, and they’ve had to lock them up to keep women from stealing them to wear as hair ornaments.  Kareen offers some to Ivan, who comments on its kick; Kareen says it’s got maple mead in it, and Ivan is shocked that Ma Kosti has made something so great out of such disgusting ingredients.

Mark says that he’s made a deal with Lord Vorsmythe to solve their cash-flow problem, and offers to redeem Ekaterin’s shares at twice face value; Ekaterin is about to accept, but Kareen advises her to hold onto them instead, and use them as collateral if she needs to convert them into cash at some point.  In the meantime, she can hold onto them as the stock price skyrockets, and maybe use them  to finance Nikki’s jump pilot training…Kareen herself plans to use them to finance her return to Beta Colony.  Ekaterin agrees with Kareen’s idea, and Mark grumbles about the loss of his stock majority.  Kareen congratulates Ma Kosti about the idea of using the maple mead to win Miles over, since he actually likes it; Ma Kosti says that it’s actually Miles’s meadery, back in the mountains, that’s supplying the mead in the first place, which was his idea.

Mark returns to Kareen the groats from the wedding circle that he’d been keeping for her, and asks what they’re for; Kareen says they’re just a souvenir, to be kept and passed down.  Miles adds that their numbers will mysteriously multiply over time, and Mark speculates that one could take the real weddings groats, mix them in with other ones, and make a tidy profit by selling them as “genuine”, and not even be lying.

Miles greets Kou and Drou, who are passing by, but seeming a little subdued; Drou says that Olivia has just announced her engagement…to Dono Vorrutyer, which will take some getting used to.  She and Delia are now fighting over who gets married first, and Kou winces over his poor beleaguered wedding budget.

Commodore Koudelka edged closer to Mark, and lowered his voice. “Mark, I, ah . . . feel I owe you an apology. Didn’t mean to be so stiff-necked about it all.”

“That’s all right, sir,” said Mark, surprised and touched.

The Commodore added, “So, you’re going back to Beta in the fall—good. No need to be in a rush to settle things at your age, after all.”

“That’s what we thought, sir.” Mark hesitated. “I know I’m not very good at family yet. But I mean to learn how.”

The Commodore gave him a little nod, and a crooked smile. “You’re doing fine, son. Just keep on.”

Kareen’s hand squeezed his. Mark cleared his suddenly inexplicably tight throat, and considered the novel thought that not only could you have a family, you might even have more than one. A wealth of relations . . . “Thank you, sir. I’ll try.”

Olivia and Dono arrive to try the ambrosia and accept congratulations; Olivia says that the Vorbrettens have started their first child, a boy, in a uterine replicator, a topic which draws the women together in interested consultation.  Ivan complains that now he’s losing old girlfriends two at a time.  Kou, still wrestling with the idea, muses that Dono is old enough to be Olivia’s father–or mother–and he’d expected his daughters to marry military officers.  There’s Duv Galeni, at least, he supposes, and Martya’s still possible…but Mark spots Martya with Enrique and privately thinks perhaps not.  Martya will be overseeing the business when he and Kareen return to Beta, and spending a lot of time with Enrique…  He muses to himself that the four girls may end up, between them, splitting the world of accomplishment between them–military, economic, political, and scientific.  He makes a note to maybe send Kou and Drou on a trip to the Orb for Winterfair, if he can afford it…allowing them to visit their daughter as well, to make the offer more irresistible.

Ivan, who has spotted an oddly unincarcerated Byerly Vorrutyer wandering the reception, waits until By is finished chatting with Dono before joining him.  He asks Byerly why he isn’t in jail, and By points out he’s turned Imperial Witness; Dono has forgiven him, since it was Richars’s plan in the first place, and Richars is the one who got arrested.  Ivan asks if they can talk somewhere more private, and leads a reluctant By into a sheltered nook (where they evict a young ensign and his girl).  Ivan begins to grill By ruthlessly, asking why he’s at the reception, and what was really going on when Dono was attacked.  By claims that Dono got him in, which Ivan doubts, saying that he knows By is lying, but can’t tell about what.

By says that he had helped set up the attack, but he’d also scheduled a squad of guards to intercept the attack–but only at Vorsmythe House, which is why he was thrown when the action was at Vorfolse’s instead.  His intention was to stampede public support to Dono, and he left Dono in the dark to make his reactions more authentic.  He thanks Ivan for, along with Olivia, saving his plan.  Ivan asks if Gregor ordered all this, and By said he tried very hard to keep Imperial Security out of it, since they wouldn’t have had a plan with nearly the same political flair.  He’d already talked to Miles about it, who had critiqued By’s plan, pointing out its flaws.

Ivan was almost lured into sympathetic agreement. But not quite. He pursed his lips. “So, By . . . who’s your blind drop?”

By blinked at him. “My what?”

“Every deep cover informer has a blind drop. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen tripping in and out of ImpSec HQ by the very men you might, perhaps, be ratting on tomorrow. How long have you had this job, By?”

“What job?”

Ivan sat silent, and frowned. Humorlessly.

By sighed. “About eight years.”

It all fits now, with By actually working for ImpSec; his shenanigans on Dono’s behalf have left him somewhat eclipsed, but Ivan is sure he’ll recover.  Somewhere, in the bowels of ImpSec, someone is surely in charge of Byerly Vorrutyer, and Ivan hopes to make their acquaintance sometime.  The identity of the blind drop nags him, though, since he feels it should be somebody he knows; By says he should surely be able to guess.  Ivan reasons that it has to be someone in high Vor society, but not somebody By is closely tied to…hidden in plain sight.  By refuses to tell, but gives a little bow to Lady Alys and Simon Illyan as they pass by, and Lady Alys nods back…

Miles returns to Ekaterin’s side after a brief absence, and chuckles wickedly; he tells her that he’s just found out where Alexi Vormoncrief’s next posting is–laundry officer, Kyril Island.  He explains the situation there to reassure her that it’s truly a suitable punishment.  They walk about the reception, and Miles asks if she wants a large wedding.  Primed by his mother, she says that she’d be happy to have one…if he can wait until her mourning year is over; Miles agrees that a quiet wedding, sooner, would be better, and suggests Vorkosigan Surleau, or perhaps her own garden outside Vorkosigan House.

Ekaterin spots the Cetagandan delegation, which includes an actual haut-lady from the capital, as well as the governor of Rho Ceta.  The haut-lady and her ghem-general companion come over to speak to them, and Miles greets haut Pel and ghem-general Benin.  Pel actually fades her bubble briefly, so Ekaterin can catch a glimpse of the woman inside; Miles introduces Ekaterin to them.  Benin congratulates him, and then expresses Emperor Giaja’s personal condolences on the death of his friend Admiral Naismith, and trusts that he will remain dead; Miles replies that he trusts that his resurrection will not be necessary.  After the Cetagandans leave, Miles says that he apparently retired the Naismith identity just in time, since the Cetagandans seem to have figured it out.  Ekaterin wonders briefly what would have happened if they’d met when they were younger, before she was with Tien…and decides that they would probably have passed right by each other, being on different trajectories.

And she could not unwish Nikki, or all that she had learned, not even realizing she was learning, during her dark eclipse. Roots grow deep in the dark.

She could only have arrived here by the path she’d taken, and here, with Miles, this Miles, seemed a very good place to be indeed. If I am his consolation, he is most surely mine as well. She acknowledged her years lost, but there was nothing in that decade she needed to circle back for, not even regret; Nikki, and the learning, traveled with her. Time to move on.

Comments

This kind of story is supposed to end with a wedding, isn’t it?  Well, it’s not the main characters, but they have an engagement, at least, and the other relationships seem to be moving in promising directions.  Order is restored, all is right with the world, the villains have gotten their comeuppance.  In this case, I suppose the villains would be Richars Vorrutyer and Alexi Vormoncrief.  Sigur Vorbretten seemed to repent, at the last–I’m not sure if he was really the power behind that scheme, or if it was Boriz Vormoncrief, but he doesn’t seem to have lost more than any other member of his party.

I suppose that Ekaterin is right that she and Miles probably wouldn’t have hit it off had they met when they were younger…but I seem to recall that her general conclusion turned up in one of those books of logical fallacies that I’ve been reading these days.  People tend to, in general, conclude that their current life is practically the best of all possible worlds.  Fewer people than one would expect would change anything substantial about their lives, because most people can think of something about their life that they wouldn’t want to give up.  I remember a story from OnSpec magazine some years ago called “The Other Rat”, that Google tells me was written by David Barr Kirtley, about a man who could rewind time whenever he wanted to…but once he had children of his own, he couldn’t bear the thought of taking their lives away from them, so stopped using his ability.  There’s also Ken Grimwood’s novel Replay, where a man is forced to rewind his life several times and restart it from his younger days, and ends up taking quite different choices.  So much of what happens in the world is contingent, that I think that most choices would end up being just fine for everyone who makes them…but it’s hard to avoid attachment to what we have now.

I was completely surprised by the reveal of Byerly Vorrutyer’s role with ImpSec the first time around, and maybe even the second.  I wasn’t sure what to make of the guy, really, especially given that we’re given so few positive portrayals of Vorrutyers in the series.  I guess Lord Dono is okay, too, but by Barrayaran standards, going offplanet to get a sex change operation is a wee bit extreme.  Well, we get to see By return in Ivan’s book, which was good.

Overall Comments

I found myself reading ahead in this book less than I did in Memory, and, perhaps because of the longer chapters, I found it tougher going, to keep up with my standard two-chapter-a-week pace.  I don’t think I enjoyed it as much, reading it at the slower pace, perhaps because it takes longer to get past the less fun parts in the middle and back into the upswing.  But it does still have more than its share of Moments of Awesome–it’s just that, because of traditional book pacing, they tend to cluster towards the end.  Ah, well.  Oh, and I confess my sympathies are largely with Miles, in that butter bugs would probably give me the willies.


Next week off, and then back for “Winterfair Gifts”.  Which I tend to think of as shorter than the other novellas, but I’m not sure if it is.  I’ll have to do some word-count calculations to decide how many weeks to stretch it over, but at this point I’ll probably err on the longer side.  And after that it’ll be Diplomatic Immunity, which will be the last one I’ve actually read more than once.  Also, A Civil Campaign was the last of my “favourite” Vorkosigan books, so it feels like I’m on the downward slope here.  Maybe the newer ones will hold up better on reread, but I guess we’ll have to see…

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Hello, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where again the Muse of Witty Blog Post Openings has forsaken me for the night.  (Tries to come up with a clever name for such a muse–Scalziope? Nah…)  Anyway, for those who are arriving in the middle, this is where I go through the chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s outstandingly awesome Vorkosigan Saga, reread them, summarize them, and then try to make erudite-sounding comments on them.  (If you are arriving in the middle, and you haven’t actually read Bujold’s books, then for heaven’s sake go and do that.  What are you waiting for?)  This week I cover two more chapters (which would seem more heroic if I didn’t do it so often, but some weeks it feels heroic), Chapter Fifteen and Chapter Sixteen, of A Civil Campaign, in which Nikki has an important chat with Miles’s friend Gregor, Ekaterin isn’t particularly happy to receive a visit from some relatives, and Cordelia tries to straighten out the Koudelkas with the aid of some old furniture.

Chapter Fifteen

Lord Auditor Vorthys bids farewell to his wife, while Ekaterin and Nikki wait; after he accompanies them to the palace, he’s heading directly to Komarr to work on some matters to do with the earlier investigation.  She had been unprepared, last night, for when he told her that Miles’s friend with authority to talk about the matter was actually Emperor Gregor himself, who could understand Nikki’s loss of a father because of what happened to Prince Serg in the ill-fated Escobar invasion.  She’s almost glad she hadn’t known before, or she probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.

They drive off in the groundcar–which Ekaterin now realizes is heavily armoured, and driven by an ImpSec chauffeur, because her uncle also moves in those rarefied levels.  Uncle Vorthys reassures Nikki that he’ll be fine, and Gregor is a good fellow; he reassures Ekaterin as well.  It’s not long before they’re at the Imperial Residence, where they are swiftly admitted and led through to the north wing.

Uncle Vorthys seemed indifferent to the museum-quality décor; he’d trod this corridor dozens of times to deliver his personal reports to the ruler of three worlds. Miles had lived here till he was six, he’d said. Had he been oppressed by the somber weight of this history, or had he regarded it all as his personal play set? One guess.

They are ushered into a large office where Miles and the Emperor are waiting for them.  Miles cuts off what he was saying as Ekaterin and the others enter, and greets them stiffly.  The Professor presents his relatives, and Gregor greets Ekaterin with a firm handshake, and Nikki the same, apologizing for the circumstances of the meeting, and hoping that they will have happier ones later.  Ekaterin notes that Gregor seems to look at and really see her, which is both heartening and unnerving.  Gregor invites them to sit down, and they do, Ekaterin and Nikki across him, Vorthys between them, Miles off to one side, seemingly at ease, though Ekaterin somehow guesses he’s more tense than he seems.

Gregor tells Nikki that Miles asked him to talk to Nikki about the rumours surrounding his father’s death.  Vorthys grumbled that if it hadn’t been for those “gabbling fools” talking about it, they wouldn’t have had to drag him into it at all.  Gregor starts out with a caution–Vorthys, by dint of his job, has a high level of security monitoring, and an alert caused by an unauthorized intruder could bring ImpSec there in less than two minutes.  Ekaterin mutters about Vormoncrief, and Gregor says that he was, unfortunately, a known visitor.  He tells Nikki that, after this conversation, he will himself be monitored more closely by ImpSec–not much different than what would happen in the Vorthys household, or Lord Vorkosigan’s.  Any travel onplanet or off would have to be cleared with security, and he will have to go to a more exclusive school.  They will, of course, be more protected from casual criminals, which means any that they do encounter are likely to be much more professional and dangerous.

Ekaterin caught her breath. “Miles didn’t mention that part.”

“I daresay Miles didn’t even think about it. He’s lived under exactly this sort of security screen most of his life. Does a fish think about water?”

Ekaterin darted a glance at Miles. He had a very odd look on his face, as though he’d just bounced off a force wall he hadn’t known was there.

“Off-planet travel.” Nikki seized on the one item in this intimidating list of importance to him. “But . . . I want to be a jump pilot.”

“By the time you are old enough to study for a jump pilot, I expect the situation will have changed,” said Gregor. “This applies mainly to the next few years. Do you still want to go on?”

They wait for Nikki’s response; he says he wants to know.  Gregor says that his questions will be answered, but warns him that he will leave with more questions, and these ones they will be unable to answer for him, for his own safety.  Finally he asks Nikki to swear, by his name’s word, to hold this conversation in confidence.  Nikki, earnestly, swears the oath, he and Ekaterin both mesmerized by Gregor’s quiet intensity.

Gregor starts with the plain explanation of his father’s death.  He tells Nikki that Miles and Tien met some thieves at the experiment station, who stunned the two men and chained them up outside the station.  The thieves didn’t know that Tien’s reservoirs were low, and so didn’t intend his death–it was an accident, manslaughter, not murder.  Nikki says that, then, Miles couldn’t share his breath mask because they were tied up; Miles confirms this, showing how far apart they were, and revealing the scars on his wrists.

Gregor says there’s more, and Ekaterin silently pleads with him to stop here.  His mother wouldn’t tell Nikki this, he says, but his father had been taking bribes from the thieves.  He’d wanted to become an Imperial Witness, which is why they’d gone out there; the thieves had been angry at his betrayal, which is why they’d chained them up, leaving data proving his guilt taped to his back.  They’d called Ekaterin to pick them up, but too late.  Gregor says that there’s other things about the thieves which make all of this a state secret, and tells Nikki the official cover story, which is that the two men got separated and Miles didn’t find Tien until after he’d suffocated.

“If anyone thinks Lord Vorkosigan had something to do with your da’s death, we are not going to argue with them. You may state that it’s not true and that you don’t wish to discuss it. But don’t let yourself be drawn into disputes.”

“But . . .” said Nikki, “but that’s not fair!”

“It’s hard,” said Gregor, “but it’s necessary. Fair has nothing to do with it. To spare you the hardest part, your mama and uncle and Lord Vorkosigan told you the cover story, and not the real one. I can’t say they were wrong to do so.”

His eye and Miles’s caught each other in a steady gaze; Miles’s eyebrows inched up in a quizzical look, to which Gregor returned a tiny ironic nod. The Emperor’s lips thinned in something that was not quite a smile.

Gregor says the thieves are in prison, and jsutice has been done.  If Tien had been alive, he’d be in prison now too, but death cancels all debts.  Ekaterin thinks that this a hard thing to tell Nikki, to destroy his father’s honour in his eyes, but then thinks that it could be worse, if he’d known how cowardly and venal Tien had been, scrambling to escape the consequences of his choices.  But it doesn’t change the fact that he lost his father.

Nikki asks Miles what his two mistakes were.  Miles said he’d neglected to call his security backup when he left the dome, and then he was a second too late in drawing his stunner.  Nikki examines Miles’s wrists again, asks him about his own breath-mask, then sits back.  Gregor asks him if he has any more questions, and Nikki shakes his head.  Gregor then goes to his desk and gives Nikki a code card, which he says will give him access to talk to Gregor if he’s available, in case he has further questions or needs to talk the matter over.

Before the others can get up, Miles says that he’d offered Gregor his resignation, but Gregor had refused it.  Vorthys is surprised, but Miles said that he’d always thought Imperial Auditors should appear honest above all else.  Gregor says that that’s just an ideal–he inherited a couple of “shifty old sticks” from his grandfather, and he doesn’t think that Dorca the Just’s were any better, given the type of people they’d have to be able to stand up to.  Gregor says that if his Counts and Ministers see fit to deal with Miles’s supposed crimes, they’re welcome to, but he won’t do their work for them.  Miles is gratified at the support, but makes one last try, asking if Gregor thinks that he will still want Miles to stand in his wedding circle.  Gregor says that he’ll be there if “General Alys” says he will, and otherwise he won’t get out of his duties that easily–and tells Miles to refer anyone who objects to Lady Alys herself.

Miles could not quite keep the malicious smile off his lips, though he tried valiantly. Fairly valiantly. Some. “I would pay money to watch.” His smile faded again. “But it’s going to keep coming up as long as—”

“Miles.” Gregor’s raised hand interrupted him. His eyes were alight with something between amusement and exasperation. “You have, in-house, possibly the greatest living source of Barrayaran political expertise in this century. Your father’s been dealing with uglier Party in-fighting than this, with and without weapons, since before you were born. Go tell him your troubles. Tell him I said to give you that lecture on honor versus reputation he gave me that time. In fact . . . tell him I request and require it.” His hand-wave, as he rose from his armchair, put an emphatic end to the topic. Everyone rustled to their feet.

Gregor shakes Ekaterin’s hand again, and says that he looks forward to seeing her again when he is less busy.  He says that though they can’t give her more public recognition, he is well aware of the great debt the Imperium owes to her, and says she “may draw upon it at need and at will”.  Ekaterin is taken aback, but thanks him for taking time for them, and Nikki awkwardly follows suit.  Vorthys stays behind to talk to Gregor, and Miles offers to escort them out.  On the way out, Ekaterin says that that was more than she had expected; Miles says he agrees, but he trusts Gregor’s judgement more than anyone else’s.  Gregor also doesn’t think about the water he swims in, and endures great pressures on a daily basis; he overestimates others, and they, in turn, try not to disappoint them.  Nikki says he’s just glad that the Emperor told him the truth.

Back at Vorkosigan House, Miles goes in search of his father, finding him in the library.  He tells his father about the meeting with Gregor; they discuss whether Gregor was right to tell Nikki so much.  Miles admits that anyone questioning Nikki would likely already know as much as him, and the rest is still closely held.  He says he’d thought that Gregor would know, because of his own experiences with learning the truth about Prince Serg, how much to tell about his father’s crimes.  Aral agrees that Prince Serg was a criminal and a madman, and talks about the “lucky shot” that spared Barrayar from him ever becoming Emperor; he’s glad to hear about Gregor’s good judgement about Tien, considering how badly they muffed it with Gregor himself.

“I think he handled Nikki . . . well. At any rate, Nikki won’t experience that sort of late shock to his world. Of course, compared to Serg, Tien wasn’t much worse than foolish and venal. But it was hard to watch. No nine-year-old should have to deal with something this vile, this close to his heart. What will it make him?”

“Eventually . . . ten,” the Count said. “You do what you have to do. You grow or go under. You have to believe he will grow.”

Miles drummed his fingers on the sofa’s padded arm. “Gregor’s subtlety is still dawning on me. By admitting Tien’s peculation, he’s pulled Nikki to the inside with us. Nikki too now has a vested interest in maintaining the cover story, to protect his late da’s reputation. Strange. Which is what brings me to you, by the way. Gregor asks—requests and requires, no less!—you give me the lecture you gave him on honor versus reputation. It must have been memorable.”

Aral, pleased that it stuck with Gregor–you never know if it’s going to, he says–describes it as less of a speech and more of a useful distinction.  “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”  The problem comes when the two are not the same.  Miles says that, apart from a few impure thoughts about Ekaterin, and regrets over ineptitude on his part, his honour is fairly clear, so the problem is mostly in the realm of reputation, which feels like he’s being nibbled at by rats.  Aral tells him that it’s worse–soul-destroying–when it’s the other way around, when your reputation soars while your honour lies in pieces.  By comparison, this is mere annoyance, and he offers Miles some consolation.

“First, this too shall pass. Despite the undoubted charms of sex, murder, conspiracy, and more sex, people will eventually grow bored with the tale, and some other poor fellow will make some other ghastly public mistake, and their attention will go haring off after the new game.”

What sex?” Miles muttered in exasperation. “There hasn’t been any sex. Dammit. Or this would all seem a great deal more worthwhile. I haven’t even gotten to kiss the woman yet!”

Aral adds that, after this, no lesser charge will raise eyebrows, so he’ll be able to get away with a lot more, if he wants to.  Also, you can’t control what other people think anyway, so it’s futile to try with every stranger on the street.  He should decide whose opinions matter, and concentrate on those; Miles immediately lists Ekaterin, Nikki, Gregor, and that’s it.  Aral protests at being excluded from the list; Miles says that they’re not sinned against, so he’s not as much in need of their forgiveness.  Aral says that, in the political arena of Vorbarr Sultana, Miles might find an reputation for ruthlessness useful; Miles asks if his father has found the “Butcher of Komarr” sobriquet useful, and Aral admits he made use of it from time to time, since he paid enough for it.  Illyan, he says, has also made use of the reputation he inherited from Captain Negri, and Miles agrees that he can be unnerving, and not just because of Negri’s ghost.

Miles protests that the worst part is that his enemies think him so incompetent that he wouldn’t have done a better job of murder than that.  Aral asks if he ever had to do anything of the sort for ImpSec, and Miles admits that there was one mission, which he doesn’t want to talk about, though more complicated than a simple assassination.  He frets that his father is telling him the same as Galeni, that he just has to suck it up; Aral says he should worry about his honour, not his reputation, and outlast his enemies.

Miles asks about how his father dealt with things like this in his own past, and Aral recalls the way he was suspected of having killed his first wife for infidelity, the faint memory of which, he admits, may not be helping Miles any.  She had killed herself, but after a gigantic blowup between the two of them–he’d been twenty-two, and hadn’t dealt with it very well.  He admits that it was possible his own father had arranged her death, but he never asked.  He dealt with it somewhat poorly, by diving deeper into depravity, trying to outdo the stories, until he became sick of himself and shaped up.  Miles says the strategy doesn’t appeal to him, he has too much to lose.

“So, ah . . . when are we going to be permitted to meet this woman who has had such an invigorating effect on you? Her and her Nikki. Perhaps you might invite them to dinner here soon?”

Miles cringed. “Not . . . not another dinner. Not soon.”

“My glimpse of her was so frustratingly brief. What little I could see was very attractive, I thought. Not too thin. She squished well, bouncing off me.” Count Vorkosigan grinned briefly, at this memory. Miles’s father shared an archaic Barrayaran ideal of feminine beauty that included the capacity to survive minor famines; Miles admitted a susceptibility to that style himself. “Reasonably athletic, too. Clearly, she could outrun you. I would therefore suggest blandishments, rather than direct pursuit, next time.”

“I’ve been trying,” sighed Miles.

The Count regarded his son, half amused, half serious. “This parade of females of yours is very confusing to your mother and me, you know. We can’t tell whether we’re supposed to start bonding to them, or not.”

What parade?” said Miles indignantly. “I brought home one galactic girlfriend. One. It wasn’t my fault things didn’t work out.”

Aral mentions the ones from Illyan’s reports, and Miles is temporarily speechless, not having realized that Illyan had been quite so thorough in those reports.  He says he has told Ekaterin about them all, at least, out of sheer honesty.

“Honesty is the only way with anyone, when you’ll be so close as to be living inside each other’s skins. So . . . is this Ekaterin another passing fancy?” The Count hesitated, his eyes crinkling. “Or is she the one who will love my son forever and fiercely—hold his household and estates with integrity—stand beside him through danger, and dearth, and death—and guide my grandchildren’s hands when they light my funeral offering?”

Miles paused in momentary admiration of his father’s ability to deliver lines like that. It put him in mind of the way a combat drop shuttle delivered pinpoint incendiaries. “That would be . . . that would be Column B, sir. All of the above.” He swallowed. “I hope. If I don’t fumble it again.”

“So when do we get to meet her?” the Count repeated reasonably.

Miles puts him off again, for a little while.  Aral doesn’t pursue the matter, just notes that it’s lucky for Miles that he met Ekaterin when he was old enough to know what he wanted; Miles agrees heartily.

Comments

The scene with Gregor is one of my favourites, but then Gregor is usually good for a good scene.  Well, maybe not in the middle of The Vor Game, when he’s being a little petulant, wrestling with the Prince Serg thing, but by the end of that he’s much worthier.  Obviously Gregor has gotten past it now.  But I note that even in the conversation between Miles and Aral, Aral doesn’t own up to the fact that he helped engineer Prince Serg’s death in the Escobar invasion.  That is still an explosive secret, too closely held to leak out.  Who ever knew that one?  Aral, Cordelia, Illyan…anyone else surviving?

I believe that we haven’t actually seen the story of this assassination that Miles pulled off for ImpSec.  With the Dendarii, one presumes.  Any inkling, even, of what that might be?  It doesn’t sound like it quite fits with Jackson’s Whole, either.  Oh, well, I guess we never did get the whole story on how Miles got his arms broken between Brothers in Arms and the Borders of Infinity framing story.

When was the last time we had a father-son conversation with Aral and Miles?  Closest would be at the end of The Vor Game, I guess, though I think Illyan and/or Gregor were there too?  Too lazy to look it up.  Anyway, it’s a good talk, lots of practical advice being exchanged, and, unlike the earlier ones, they’re talking more like equals now.

Chapter Sixteen

Ekaterin is trying to make up a resumé that hides her near-total lack of experience, unwilling to include Miles as a reference, for a job with a nearby plant nursery.  She is interrupted by the doorchime, and has a momentary vision of being kidnapped by enemy spies, but her visitors turn out to be her brother Hugo Vorvayne, and Tien’s cousin Vassily Vorsoisson, who she’d only met before at Tien’s funeral, when he’d officially signed over Nikki’s guardianship to her.  She invites them inside and offers them refreshments, which they decline.

At the serious expression on Hugo’s face, she asks if everything’s all right with them, or her father; Hugo says that it’s her who’s the source of concern right now.  He asks if her uncle is there; Ekaterin says he’s gone to Komarr and won’t be back until closer to Gregor’s wedding (absent-mindedly using his name, before she remembers to use his title instead).  They discuss the wedding briefly, Hugo saying that Rosalie and her friends have gone crazy about it.

Vassily asks after Nikki, who Ekaterin says is off watching a regatta on the river with a friend.  Vassily says that they’ve come because of some disturbing information about her and Lord Auditor Vorkosigan; Ekaterin realizes that the rumour has penetrated outside of the capital.  He adds that he came to Hugo, and Rosalie seemed to corroborate the story; that it’s “common knowledge” among the Vor that Miles sabotaged Tien’s breath mask on Komarr.  Ekaterin immediately responds that that’s just a lie made up by Miles’s political opponents, and they won’t be able to charge him with it, but Vassily interprets this as a statement about Miles’s political invulnerability due to his powerful connections.

Hugo says that they also heard that Miles attempted to force Ekaterin to marry him; Ekaterin admits that he did ask, very awkwardly, and is also forced to admit that she didn’t technically refuse him.  Ekaterin asks where this information came from, and Vassily said it was “a friend”.  Ekaterin can’t imagine any of her friends doing this, though.  She admits that she finds Miles attractive, which the men, who saw him at Tien’s funeral, find incomprehensible.

“Kat,” said Hugo in a disconcerted tone, “the man’s a mutie. He barely comes up to your shoulder. He’s distinctly hunched—I don’t know why that wasn’t surgically corrected. He’s just odd.”

“Oh, he’s had dozens of surgeries. His original damage was far, far more severe. You can still see these faint old scars running all over his body from the corrections.”

Hugo stared at her. “All over his body?”

“Um. I assume so. As much of it as I’ve seen, anyway.” She stopped her tongue barely short of adding, The top half. A perfectly unnecessary vision of Miles entirely naked, gift-wrapped in sheets and blankets in bed, and her with him, slowly exploring his intricacies all the way down, distracted her imagination momentarily. She blinked it away, hoping her eyes weren’t crossing. “You have to concede, he has a good face. His eyes are . . . very alive.”

Hugo says that he and her family are there to help, if she’s in some kind of trouble with Miles, like blackmail or something.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks that their uncle, the Lord Auditor, would be helpless to protect her.  Hugo says that Uncle Vorthys and his wife are a little unworldly, and Ekaterin points out that her aunt is an expert on bloody political history, and her uncle’s discipline includes intimate knowledge of sabotage, not a particularly unworldly topic.  They tell her that the capital seems to be full of unsavoury and dubious characters, including a woman in a man’s body; Ekaterin admits to having actually met Lord Dono, and dismays her visitors by listing his potential virtues as a Count.

Hugo tells her he’s concerned with her safety, and with Nikki’s, in the environment of the capital; Ekaterin thinks that having overcome armed terrorists, her definition of “safe” may be a little broader than his.  He says she needs to be married, mistress of a good Vor household, solid, honest and loyal; Ekaterin asks if he’s sure she should have a house, rather than a planet, and accuses his goals of lacking scope.  She realizes that her horizons have grown much wider than her brother’s.

Hugo said, “Damn, Kat. I thought that part of the letter was twaddle at first, but this mutie lord has turned your head around in some strange way.”

“And if it’s true . . . he has frightening allies,” said Vassily. “The letter claimed that Vorkosigan had Simon Illyan himself riding point for him, herding you into his trap.” His lips twisted dubiously. “That was the part that most made me wonder if I was being made a game of, to tell you the truth.”

“I’ve met Simon,” Ekaterin conceded. “I found him rather . . . sweet.”

A dazed silence greeted this declaration.

Ekaterin suddenly puzzles out who had sent them this letter, and realizes it must have been Alexi Vormoncrief.  She tells Vassily that Vormoncrief is mostly just upset because Ekaterin refused his own proposal.  Hugo says that he certainly wouldn’t force her to marry Vormoncrief, but he seemed genuinely concerned for her, and in love; Ekaterin says Vormoncrief didn’t even see her, just an available Vor widow, and he might not have noticed were she replaced by a straw woman.

Vassily says that he’s not concerned with Ekaterin and her marriage prospects; he’s more concerned with Nikki’s safety.  Ekaterin recalls that Vassily has, ludicrously, the power to take Nikki away from her at a whim, and she would have to prove him an actively incompetent guardian to regain her son; Vassily may be a bachelor, but an unobjectionable one, and she wouldn’t have a chance.  Ekaterin points out that Nikki would be a burden to him, and Vassily says that Tien’s mother could easily look after him as well.

She asks Vassily to define precisely what kind of lifestyle will be satisfactory for his wishes, so she knows what she should be trying to do.  Vassily says that, obviously, betrothal to Miles is out of the question; Ekaterin repeats that the case against Miles is pure slander, and asks Vassily if he thinks she’s “lying, or just stupid” before reining in her temper.  Vassily has a horrible power over her, with his ability to take Nikki away, and she reminds herself to try not to push him that far.

She chose her words with utmost caution. “So what do you mean by straightened out?”

Hugo and Vassily looked at each other uncertainly. Vassily ventured, “I beg your pardon?”

“I cannot know if I have toed your line unless you show me where you’ve drawn it.”

Hugo protested, “That’s not very kindly put, Kat. We have your interests at heart.”

“You don’t even know what my interests are.” Not true, Vassily had his thumb right down on the most mortal one. Nikki. Eat rage, woman. She had used to be expert at swallowing herself, during her marriage. Somehow she’d lost the taste for it.

Vassily asks that Nikki not be exposed to unsavoury characters; Ekaterin says she’ll be happy to keep him away from Alexi Vormoncrief, but Vassily insists he means Miles, who has been accused of murdering his cousin Tien.  Ekaterin asks how, if Miles is never officially charged with this murder, Vassily could be satisfied that he’s not guilty of it; Vassily can’t answer, and decides to defer to Hugo on how best to keep his sister in check.  Hugo flatly tells her to keep away from Miles until the rumour is settled.  Ekaterin, not wanting to have Nikki’s life uprooted again, insists that they specify exactly how this would be “settled”.  Hugo says she should at least avoid him for a while…Ekaterin eventually pins him down to “until the end of her mourning year”; when they agree to it, she wishes she’d tried for Winterfair instead.  She insists that she will have to deliver this news to him in person, which they eventually agree to.

With this settled, they fall into uncomfortable silence, Ekaterin resolved not to offer them hospitality if she can avoid it, and they soon take the hint and mumble about having to go.  She curls up by herself, wishing her aunt were there to vent to.  She does give Hugo some small credit for not being swayed by the prospect of his sister becoming a Countess.  She draws a disquieting parallel in her mind with a toy that Nikki never seemed to want until she tried to give it away; is she only so upset about Miles because she’s being forbidden to see him?  She does have to see him sometime to tell him about the interdict, but she wants to put it off, if she can, because after that she might not get to see him for a long time…

Cordelia sends a luxurious groundcar to fetch Kareen and her parents, and her father is still muttering about how this is a bad idea, how the Countess will have their heads twisted around before they know it.  Drou says she hopes things will be arranged sensibly, which Kareen heartily agrees with; Kou grumbles that “sensible” is one of her words.  Drou says she wants to mend things with the Vorkosigans; Kou says he just doesn’t like the idea of a “fat, weird, half-mad clone” with Kareen.  Kareen manages to keep her mouth shut.

At Vorkosigan House, Pym escorts them to the library.  Furniture has been rearranged; Cordelia has a large, throne-like chair, with armchairs on either side, one for Kareen, and one already occupied by Mark.  Across from Cordelia is an old, shabby couch that Kareen recognizes from hide-and-seek games in the attic; the Countess insists that Kou and Drou sit there.  Kou accuses her of fighting dirty, but Drou stops him from leaving, and Cordelia outright orders him to sit, in what Kareen realizes must be her Ship’s Captain voice.

A long silence followed. Kareen could hear the old-fashioned mechanical clock ticking on the wall in the antechamber next door. Mark gave her a beseeching stare, Do you know what the hell is going on here? She returned it in kind, No, don’t you?

Her father rearranged the position of his swordstick three times, dropped it on the carpet, and finally scooted it back toward himself with the heel of his boot and left it there. She could see the muscle jump in his jaw as he gritted his teeth. Her mother crossed and uncrossed her legs, frowned, stared down the room out the glass doors, and then back at her hands twisting in her lap. They looked like nothing so much as two guilty teenagers caught . . . hm. Like two guilty teenagers caught screwing on the living room couch, actually. Clues seemed to float soundlessly down like feathers, in Kareen’s mind, falling all around. You don’t suppose . . .

“But Cordelia,” Mama burst out suddenly, for all the world as though continuing aloud a conversation just now going on telepathically, “we want our children to do better than we did. To not make the same mistakes!”

Ooh. Ooh. Oooh! Check, and did she ever want the story behind this one . . . ! Her father had underestimated the Countess, Kareen realized. That hadn’t taken any more than three minutes.

Cordelia says that, in her opinion, Kareen is doing much better, and hasn’t made any mistakes at all, that she’s noticed.  Kou calls Mark a mistake, and Cordelia says they’ll get to him later.  She says that Kareen is doing much better than they were at that age, partly because of the bright future they’d won for her.  She then has Kareen tell her parents about getting her contraceptive implant on Beta Colony, and her hymen cut, and then being introduced to sex by a Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist (a hermaphrodite, as it turned out); Cordelia contrasts this with awkward, uninformed fumble in the dark, and Kareen says that Barrayar’s approach seems awful.  Cordelia reminds her that both cultures are trying to solve the basic problem of making sure that children will be cared for.  Beta handles it by regulating female reproductive systems; Barrayar, which couldn’t, had to regulate the entire woman.

Kou grumbles that they should never have sent Kareen to Beta; Cordelia reminds him that Kareen’s trip to Beta was planned before meeting Mark, and reminds them that she might have ended up with a Betan native (of whatever gender).  If she ends up with Mark, at least they’ll both have ties to Barrayar, and be likely to visit more frequently, which Drou finds a compelling argument.  Kou says he wants Kareen to be safe, well, happy and financially secure.  Cordelia says that the first few are things that it’s almost impossible to give your children, no matter how you try.  Then she asks Kou what he thinks Mark’s financial situation is.

Da shook his head. “I thought he was broke. I assumed the family made him an allowance, like any other Vor scion. And that he ran through it—like any other Vor scion.”

“I’m not broke,” Mark objected strenuously. “It’s a temporary cash-flow problem. When I budgeted for this period, I wasn’t expecting to be starting up a new business in the middle of it.”

“In other words, you’re broke,” said Da.

“Actually,” Tante Cordelia said, “Mark is completely self-supporting. He made his first million on Jackson’s Whole.”

She explains how Mark is busily investing his money in a number of schemes, some of them less speculative than others, some of which she supports herself.  Mark explains how he’s paying Kareen in _shares_ so he won’t have to withdraw money and lose all that interest…  He says he’d willingly pay a dowry for Kareen if that’s what’s expected; Kareen says that he’s got it the wrong way around, and anyway she doesn’t want to be bought like a Jacksonian slave.  Kou stoutly claims that he doesn’t care about the money, whether in marks or Betan dollars–he wants what’s best for his daughter.

Cordelia asks what exactly he wants from Mark, then–should he offer to marry Kareen?  Kou would probably be happier if Mark were to just go away, but he stops short of actually saying it.  Mark says he will, if she wants to, but he didn’t think she did; Kareen says she doesn’t, since she’s still trying to find out who she is, and still growing as a person.  Cordelia asks if she thinks marriage wil stop that, and Kareen says that the stories always seem to end with marriage, and she doesn’t want an ending.  Her parents try to reassure her that marriage isn’t really like that, though they sound a little uncertain themselves.

Mark reiterates that he’ll do whatever Kareen wants, whether that be to marry her, or not, or go away (which she emphatically does not want), or whatever.  Cordelia asks Kareen if betrothal will do, but she says that’s giving an oath which locks you into marriage anyway, and she takes her oaths seriously.  Cordelia asks Kareen what she wants.  She struggles to put it into words, and finally declares that she wants an option on Mark.  Her parents aren’t certain about this, if it’s some weird offplanet custom, but Kareen says she just made it up.

Cordelia asks her to specify the terms of the option.  Mark willingly agrees for it to be a mutual option, and Kareen wants a year for her to see what happens between them, with nobody else interfering.  Kou expresses concern about whether Mark is safe for his daughter to be around.  Cordelia agrees that Mark has been through some Betan therapy, but paints him, to Koudelka, as a soldier, conscripted young and unwillingly, who has been fighting his own wars, and needs time to heal; this gets through to Kou at last.

“Kou, I wouldn’t have encouraged this relationship if I thought it was unsafe for either of our children.”

He looked back. “You? I know you! You trust beyond reason.”

She met his eyes steadily. “Yes. It’s how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall.”

He pursed his lips, unhappily, and toed his swordstick a little. He had no reply for this one. But a funny little smile turned Mama’s mouth, as she watched him.

Cordelia declares the matter settled with the option, until next year, when they can re-evaluate and consider an extension.  Kou isn’t pleased that the two of them will be “carrying on”, but Drou reminds him of their own carrying on, which they mostly felt safe doing because their relatives lived outside the city.  One by one, they all agree, Kou most reluctantly, with a “codicil” that he’ll hunt Mark down if Mark hurts his daughter.  Kareen can sense Mark’s Black Gang exulting inside his head; she pulls out her Betan earrings and puts them on, as a declaration of herself.

Comments

Obviously one of the scenes in this chapter is more pleasant than the other–can you guess which?  Yes, that’s right–now that Mark has marshaled Cordelia to his side, his and Kareen’s problems–with her parents, at least–are dealt with handily.  Mostly what Cordelia has to do is make them realize how hypocritical they’re being, given their own history.  The point about Mark’s finances is also well taken–I guess that Kou just leapt from the fact that Mark didn’t seem to have any _real_ money to throw around to him probably being broke.  But it took Cordelia recasting Mark as a wounded soldier to really get Kou starting to come over to his side, since of course Kou himself required a fair bit of healing after his own wars.  Anyway, this scene ties up Kareen‘s plotline, pretty much, though not Mark’s, quite, because there are still issues with butter bugs to come…

Ekaterin’s scene, on the other hand, is much less pleasant.  Her brother, and Tien’s cousin, are still fairly provincial Vor–maybe not quite Conservatives, but probably more on that side than the Progressives, considering the sources they consider authoritative for the rumours about Miles.  It would be funnier if it weren’t for that little thing about Vassily Vorsoisson being able to rescind her guardianship of Nikki.  (I believe I mentioned, probably in the last book, how ludicrous a rule that is, for a man’s cousin to have more rights to the man’s son than his own wife does.  But I guess that’s Barrayar for you.)  So she has to, unfortunately, take them at least a little seriously, though I’m sure even they could tell that she was doing it quite reluctantly.  (Just noticed the parallel–Ekaterin and Kareen both negotiating with unwilling relatives to keep from losing a loved one…  The difference being that Kareen’s parents are, in the end, swayed by logic.)

I was beginning to think, before Ekaterin did, that the very fact of being told she had to stay away from Miles was making her appreciate him more.  But I don’t really think it’s as much that she only wants him more the more she’s told she can’t have him, though.  It’s more that she’s starting to contrast “what life would be like with him” with “what life would be like without him” the more she experiences the latter and is deprived of the former.

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Not that many chapters left, just five, I think, so, with any luck, three more weeks.  We must be getting close to the climax now.  Which I think I recall fairely well, with the Council of Counts vote and the events leading up to, and during, it.  Should be a hoot.

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