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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.

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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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Wednesday night already?  I was just in the middle of a dream…  I was chatting with Vorkosigans by a crystal-blue Dendarii stream.  Anyway, it must be time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Once again I have managed to cover two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, the science fiction political romance set on Miles Vorkosigan’s home planet of character, and featuring a stellar cast of heroes, villains, and the occasional oblivious dunderhead.  This week I cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, in which the vicious rumour about Miles and his beloved Ekaterin’s husband’s death begins to gather steam…

Chapter Thirteen

Ekaterin sits in her aunt’s garden, trying to concentrate on looking at a list of short-term job openings–though most of them have nothing to do with botany–but her minds keeps wandering to butter bugs, to replanning her aunt’s garden, to the Barrayaran garden.  When her aunt announces a visitor, Ekaterin is surprised, and daunted, to see that it is Simon Illyan.  He asks if he can have a private word with her.  Aunt Vorthys notes that she’s about to leave for class, and Nikki is playing on her comconsole, and Ekaterin says she thinks she’ll be fine.

Illyan begins by apologizing for his thoughtless comment at the dinner party.  Ekaterin asks if Miles sent him, and Illyan says that he is “an ambassador entirely without portfolio”.  Ekaterin says, bitterly, that she and him were apparently the only two there who didn’t know that Miles was courting her, and it was more Miles’s fault than his.

He traced a finger over the tabletop in a crosshatch pattern. “You know—speaking of ambassadors—I began by thinking I ought to come to you and put in a good word for Miles in the romance department. I figured I owed it to him, for having put my foot down in the middle of things that way. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I have truly no idea what kind of a husband he would make. I hardly dare recommend him to you. He was a terrible subordinate.”

Her brows flew up in surprise. “I’d thought his ImpSec career was successful.”

Illyan shrugged. “His ImpSec missions were consistently successful, frequently beyond my wildest dreams. Or nightmares . . . . He seemed to regard any order worth obeying as worth exceeding. If I could have installed one control device on him, it would have been a rheostat. Power him down a turn or two . . . maybe I could have made him last longer.” Illyan gazed thoughtfully out over the garden, but Ekaterin didn’t think the garden was what he was seeing, in his mind’s eye. “Do you know all those old folk tales where the count tries to get rid of his only daughter’s unsuitable suitor by giving him three impossible tasks?”

“Yes . . .”

“Don’t ever try that with Miles. Just . . . don’t.”

Ekaterin is forced to smile at that, and Illyan, encouraged, adds that Miles has always been a quick learner, and she would doubtless be surprised–pleasantly or otherwise–if she gave him a second chance.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks Miles is a great man, like his father and grandfather; Illyan says he is, but in an entirely different way.

Illyan’s words reminded her strangely of her Uncle Vorthys’s evaluation of Miles, back when they’d first met on Komarr. So if a genius thought Miles was a genius, and a great man thought he was a great man . . . maybe she ought to get him vetted by a really good husband.

Ekaterin can hear Nikki inside, talking to a man, whose voice she can’t make out; perhaps her uncle home early.  Illyan goes on to say that he always thought Miles had a remarkable talent for personnel, either recruiting them or nurturing their talents.  So if he picks Ekaterin as a Lady Vorkosigan, she would doubtless do well as one, though she might suffer a startling lack of control over her life as a result.  Ekaterin notes that she had picked out a life for herself once, but it wasn’t this one.  Illyan agrees, noting that his carefully planned career was derailed by being assigned to ImpSec, and then by ending up in charge of it in the middle of a war.  And now, here he is, retired, and with Lady Alys.  Ekaterin ponders Miles’s assortment of friends, wonderful, distinguished, and devoted, and contrasts this with Tien’s apparently inability to collect them at all, which she had perforce come to share.

Nikki suddenly cries out in protest, and Ekaterin excuses herself to go in and investigate.  She is surprised to find Alexi Vormoncrief in the parlour, having backed Nikki into a corner, bending over him and interrogating him about the bandages on Miles’s wrists after his father’s death.  Nikki says he doesn’t know much, though Vormoncrief quizzes him ruthlessly about what kind of wounds they might be–burns, blisters, slashes…whether he had any other marks on him, like from a fight of some kind…  Ekaterin interrupts him sharply, asking what he’s doing there.  Vormoncrief says he had come to talk to Ekaterin, but he took the opportunity to ask Nikki a few questions first.

Nikki says that Vormoncrief claims that Miles killed his father.  Vormoncrief says that the secret is out, being whispered all over town, though nobody is doing anything about it.  It’s clear enough to him, though, two men going out into the Komarran wilderness and one coming back, with suspicious injuries.  Obviously Ekaterin herself had not realized, of course, until Miles blew his cover with his marriage proposal…  Ekaterin, of course, knows that Vormoncrief’s accusations are impossible, she herself knew much better, but security considerations keep her from mustering more than a feeble contradiction.  Vormoncrief says that obviously Miles was never questioned under fast-penta, as ex-ImpSec; Ekaterin says that she was, so Vormoncrief is glad to accept that she is innocent of complicity.

Vormoncrief says he understands her predicament–unable to take action against the powerful Lord Vorkosigan, for fear of reprisal–but he offers her the assistance of his own powerful friends, to bring the “mutie lord” to justice.  Ekaterin tries to dodge around him, to rescue a sobbing Nikki, but Vormoncrief tries to take her in his arms; she hits him in the nose and he grabs her to keep her from doing it again.

Her sputtering found words at last, shrieked at the top of her voice: “Let go of me, you blithering twit!

He stared at her in astonishment. Just as she gathered her balance to find out if that knee-to-the-groin thing worked any better than that blow-to-the-nose one, Illyan’s voice interrupted from the archway behind her, deadly dry.

“The lady asked you to unhand her, Lieutenant. She shouldn’t have to ask twice. Or . . . once.”

Vormoncrief takes a moment to recognize Illyan, but when he does, he releases Ekaterin, and sputters briefly before greeting Illyan, half-saluting him before trying to deal with his bloody nose.  Ekaterin grabs up Nikki, then berates Vormoncrief roundly for coming in uninvited and haranguing her son.  Illyan asks, icily, what he was doing there…which seems to him to be offering violence to a member of the family of an Imperial Auditor, in the Auditor’s own home, but in their absence.  Illyan asks after Vormoncrief’s commanding officer, and after a few sputtered protests, Vormoncrief gives him the name; Illyan makes some audio notes, then says that his superior will be hearing from Guy Allegre.  Vormoncrief makes one last plea for Ekaterin to let him help; she tells him that he “lies vilely”, and tells him never to come back.  He leaves, with an infuriating air of confusion, as though he can’t understand what he did wrong.

Illyan says he came in around the mention of fast-penta, and apologies for eavesdropping; Ekaterin thanks him for getting rid of Vormoncrief.  Illyan says it was mostly habit, since he’s no longer in the chain of command.  Ekaterin asks Nikki what happened before she arrived, and he says that Vormoncrief came in right after Aunt Vorthys left, and began asking questions about what had happened when Miles was on Komarr, if he was ever alone with Ekaterin, if he’d ever done something with breath masks…  He asks if Miles really did something to his father’s breath mask, and Ekaterin says he couldn’t have, but doesn’t know if she can tell him more.

She tells Nikki that they made it up, mostly because of the way she had turned down a proposal from Miles at the dinner party.  Nikki, who hadn’t known this part, is initially baffled that she would refuse, and then recalls what she told him about Miles lying to her.  Ekaterin tries to reassure him that the accusations against Miles are lies, but she’s stymied by the lack of facts she can share.  She and Miles had previously agreed that if Nikki started to have too many questions about his father’s death, she should bring him to Miles to talk to…but this is no longer as simple as that seemed then.

Illyan says he hadn’t heard this bit of slander before, which seems highly political to him, but this seems to have arisen since the dinner party.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles has heard yet, and Illyan says nobody may have wanted to tell him yet.  Ekaterin blames herself for storming out of the party like that, before realizing that Illyan blames himself for that.  She says she needs to talk to Miles, and Illyan offers her a ride to Vorkosigan House.  She ends up bringing Nikki along, hoping that there will be someone, out of the crowd at Vorkosigan House, who will be able to look after him for a little while.

As they pass the bare Barrayaran garden, she spots a small figure sitting there, and tells Illyan to stop.  Ekaterin climbs out, telling Illyan to “hang Vormoncrief”, and brings Nikki down into the garden.  She notes that the soil isn’t going to last long if nobody gets the plants put on top of it.  Miles is sitting next to the skellytum with an empty pitcher, staring forlornly down at it; he is elated, briefly, to see Ekaterin, before restraining himself to courtesy.  He greets them warily; Ekaterin begins by criticizing his method for watering the skellytum, asking if he’d bothered to read the instructions she’d sent him.  She sees that his sleeves are rolled up, exposing the scars on his wrists that Vormoncrief had accused him of hiding.

Miles and Ekaterin try to collect their various wits, and he asks what she really came for.  She asks if he’d heard about this accusation, and he says he had, but ImpSec had wanted him to not tell her yet.  Now that she’s come to him about it, though, he considers this ban suspended, and invites her inside to discuss this.

He leads them inside, to his parlour, and asks how they found out about it.  She and Nikki give an account of Vormoncrief’s visit, which Miles attends to gravely, though he has to restrain an appreciative smile at the description of her giving Vormoncrief a bloody nose.  When they’re done, Miles says that he’s not as free to talk to Nikki as he’d like, because of the horrible perception of “conflict of interest”.  At least he’s bearing the brunt of the accusations, rather than Ekaterin; he suggests they avoid each other to avoid the risk of her getting tainted.

“But that would make you look worse,” said Ekaterin. “It would make it look as if I believed Alexi’s lies.”

“The alternative would make it look as if we had somehow colluded in Tien’s death. I don’t see how to win this one. I do see how to cut the damage in half.”

Ekaterin frowned deeply. And leave you standing there to be pelted with this garbage all alone? After a moment she said, “Your proposed solution is unacceptable. Find another.”

His eyes rose searchingly to her face. “As you wish . . .”

Nikki asks what they’re talking about, and Miles tries to explain to him, delicately, how the fact that he was trying to court Nikki’s mother complicates the issue.  If she keeps seeing him, then people will say they were working together, and if she stops, then people will say it’s because she found out Miles did kill her husband.  Ekaterin says that she doesn’t care what “ignorant idiots” think, but she does care what Nikki thinks.

Miles asks Nikki what he does think.  Nikki eventually says that he’s not afraid of Miles, but he knows that ImpSec people can “do anything and make it look like anything”.  Miles admits that there is some truth in that–he can come up with several scenarios where he had caused Tien’s death that still accounted for what Ekaterin found, such as if he had had a hidden accomplice.  He admits that ten years in ImpSec have left his brain working in certain ways.  He tells Nikki that he did not kill Nikki’s father, that he died because he didn’t check his breath mask, and Miles made mistakes which kept him from being able to save him.  He now feels responsible for making sure that Tien’s family is taken care of.  Ekaterin thinks that Tien wasn’t nearly as concerned for his own family, but that mostly Nikki had been unaware of a lot of his father’s flaws.

Nikki’s lips were tight, and his eyes a little blurry, as he digested Miles’s blunt words. “But,” he began, and stalled.

“You must be starting to think of a lot of questions,” Miles said in a tone of mild encouragement. “What are some of them? Or even just one or two of them?”

Nikki looked down, then up. “But—but—why didn’t he check his breath mask?” He hesitated, then went on in a rush, “Why couldn’t you share yours? What were your two mistakes? What did you lie to Mama about that got her so mad? Why couldn’t you save him? How did your wrists get all chewed up?” Nikki took a deep breath, gave Miles an utterly daunted look, and almost wailed, “Am I supposed to kill you like Captain Vortalon?”

Miles had been following this spate with close attention, but at this last he looked taken aback. “Excuse me. Who?”

Ekaterin, flummoxed, supplied in an undervoice, “Captain Vortalon is Nikki’s favorite holovid hero. He’s a jump pilot who has galactic adventures with Prince Xav, smuggling arms to the Resistance during the Cetagandan invasion. There was a whole long sequence about him chasing down some collaborators who’d ambushed his da—Lord Vortalon—and avenging his death on them one by one.”

Ekaterin says, defensively, the program was supposed to educational, because of the historical background.  Miles reminisces about his own obsession with Lord Vorthalia the Bold, though once he looked up the real historical figure he found out he was less heroic and legendary than the stories made out.  He says that at least she didn’t let him watch Hamlet.  In an aside, he tells Nikki that he shouldn’t try revenging his father on Miles until he’s at least old enough to shave.

“So in the play, Prince Hamlet comes home for his father’s funeral, to find that his mother has married his uncle.”

Nikki’s eyes widened. “She married her brother?”

“No, no! It’s not that racy a play. His other uncle, his da’s brother.”

“Oh. That’s all right, then.”

“You’d think so, but Hamlet gets a tip-off that his old man was murdered by the uncle. Unfortunately, he can’t tell if his informant is telling truth or lies. So he spends the next five acts blundering around getting nearly the whole cast killed while he dithers.”

“That was stupid,” said Nikki scornfully, uncoiling altogether. “Why didn’t he just use fast-penta?”

“Hadn’t been invented yet, alas. Or it would have been a much shorter play.”

Nikki asks about Vormoncrief’s assertion that Miles couldn’t use fast-penta; Miles tells Nikki about his weird reaction to the drug which makes it less than useful on him, and also adds that the security issues mean that he couldn’t be questioned like that publicly anyway.  Nikki also mentions that Vormoncrief had called Miles “mutie lord”, and notes that he’s a “mutie” himself, from his Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.  He asks Miles if that bothers him, and Miles says it used to, but it doesn’t any more.  He encourages Nikki to tell Vormoncrief that he’s a “mutie” if he comes back, to make him not want to marry Ekaterin.  Ekaterin marvels at the use of humour and irony to thus defuse frightening subjects like that.

Miles says that he can’t tell Nikki everything–not because of his age, but because of the security considerations.  But he says he wants to set up an appointment with a friend of his, who also lost his father like Nikki when he was young, and who can decide better what they can tell Nikki.  Nikki agrees, reluctantly; Ekaterin wonders who this person is, probably some ImpSec bigwig.  Until then, he gives Nikki some tips on what to do if someone else tries to talk to him about it.  Not punching them in the nose, as Nikki suggests, but just tell them it isn’t true and refuse to say any more, and refer them to his mother or aunt or uncle if they persist.

They then repair to the kitchen for a snack, and Nikki goes to inspect the new batch of kittens, leaving Miles and Ekaterin to have a more private discussion.  Miles remains mum on who his mysterious friend is, though he says he trusts his judgement; Ekaterin asks Miles to tell him about Nikki’s natural reserve around strangers.  Nikki returns, much calmed by the food and the kittens, and Ekaterin reflects that Illyan was right that she should go see Miles.

Ekaterin says that they should go home, since the hasty note she’d left for her aunt had explained little of what had happened; Miles immediately volunteers Pym to drive them–not trying to encourage her to linger, Ekaterin notes.  On the way home, Nikki asks why she had refused Miles’s proposal; she tells him how he’d lied to her about the garden, trying to explain it to him in terms of his own dream of being a jump pilot so he can begin to understand how painful it was.

“So . . . d’you like him? Or not?”

Like was surely not an adequate word for this hash of delight and anger and longing, this profound respect laced with profound irritation, all floating on a dark pool of old pain. The past and the future, at war in her head. “I don’t know. Some of the time I do, yes, very much.”

Another long pause. “Are you in love with him?”

What Nikki knew of adult love, he’d mostly garnered off the holovid. Part of her mind readily translated this question as code for, Which way are you going to jump, and what will happen to me? And yet . . . he could not share or even imagine the complexity of her romantic hopes and fears, but he certainly knew how such stories were supposed to Come Out Right.

“I don’t know. Some of the time. I think.”

He favored her with his Big People Are Crazy look. In all, she could only agree.

Comments

We’ve seen a lot of Simon Illyan in these books–well, often we only see him at the beginning and/or at the end, but he did get a fair role in Memory at least, even if most of it was as victim–but this chapter contains what may be his Crowning Moment of Awesome, as he cows and routs Vormoncrief with little more than his presence and reputation.  It’s true that he has no official rank anymore, but I don’t doubt that Guy Allegre will take him quite seriously when he reports on Vormoncrief, who will likely have severe trouble working in the Imperial Service again.  Maybe there’s an opening for a meteorologist on Kyril Island…

Miles, having gotten over himself, is singularly helpful with Nikki, trying to bring matters into his ken, to a level he can comprehend, without being too condescending.  But this, of course, is mostly the setup for the wonderful scene which, alas, does not occur in the next chapter, but in the one after that.  (Which is, in itself, in addition to its own virtues, the setup for a couple of truly wonderful scenes later in the book.)

And now that Ekaterin is starting to get over Miles’s betrayal of her, his abject apology having damped out a lot of her initial outrage, we can tell that she is far from over him.  She defends him sturdily against Vormoncrief’s accusations, she goes to see him without too much persuasion being required, she appreciates his skills in deftly handling Nikki’s fear and confusion, and, in the end, she has to admit she may be in love with him, “some of the time”.  So there’s some hope yet, I guess…

Chapter Fourteen

Miles is in the library reading over the last two centuries’ worth of contested successions when Duv Galeni shows up.  He says he’s bringing ImpSec’s report on the rumours about Tien’s death; Allegre has assigned him to look into it, given that he already knows about what happened on Komarr, not to mention being at the fateful dinner party.  Miles grumbles that the report would have been more useful a day ago, before Vormoncrief’s visit to the Vorthys house; Galeni agrees, but says that Allegre is on top of it.  He does complain that this has been added on top of all of his other work, which was already taking up his spare time since becoming head of Komarran Affairs.

The good news is that there is no evidence that any classified aspects of the Komarr case have actually leaked out.  Galeni says there are several versions of the story out there already; in most of them Miles was working alone, but in others he was aided by corrupt ImpSec personnel.  Miles posits, and Galeni confirms, that there were no leaks from the Vorthys household.  Miles asks what ImpSec is doing about it, and Galeni says not much–they don’t want to seem too interested in the story, to make others curious, and he also admits that it does provide a plausible cover story to explain Tien’s death…

Miles is upset that ImpSec is going to leave him looking like the bad guy, but he reluctantly agrees to go along with it for the sake of the coverup–though he draws the line at actually admitting any guilt in Tien’s death.  He asks if ImpSec will get involved if someone formally accuses him in the Council of Counts; Galeni asks if anyone is planning to, and Miles says that Richars Vorrutyer has promised to, though he will have to actually become Count first, and Miles plans to try blocking him.

Galeni eyed him dubiously. “Well . . . if you really intend to project innocence, you need to do a more convincing job. You . . . twitch.”

Miles . . . twitched. “There’s guilt and there’s guilt. I am not guilty of willful murder. I am guilty of screwing up. Now, I’m not alone—this one took a full committee. Headed by that fool Vorsoisson himself. If only he’d—dammit, every time you step off the downside shuttle into a Komarran dome they sit you down and make you watch that vid on breath mask procedures. He’d been living there nearly a year. He’d been told.” He fell silent a moment. “Not that I didn’t know better than to go out-dome without informing my contacts.”

Galeni changes the subject to ask if Miles knows what Mark’s intentions are with respect to Kareen.  He says he was okay with Mark escaping on Earth, and even with coming to Barrayar and being accepted by Miles’s family.  But he’s having trouble dealing with Mark as a prospective brother-in-law.  Miles points out that, since Galeni’s father was responsible for having Mark made, there’s a case to be made that Mark is already Galeni’s foster brother; surely it’ll be easier to just call him a brother-in-law, because having an in-law you can’t stand is a more common experience.  He adds that Galeni’s children could have an Uncle Mark, which leads him to thinking of acquiring a host of Vorvayne in-laws if he marries Ekaterin.

Do you think they’ll marry?” asked Galeni seriously.

“I . . . am not certain what cultural format their bonding will ultimately take. I am certain you could not pry Mark away from Kareen with a crowbar. And while Kareen has good reasons to take it slowly, I don’t think any of the Koudelkas know how to betray a trust.”

That won a little eyebrow-flick from Galeni, and the slight mellowing that any reminder of Delia invariably produced in him.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to resign yourself to Mark as a permanent fixture,” Miles concluded.

“Eh,” said Galeni. It was hard to tell if this sound represented resignation, or stomach cramp.

Mark bumps into his mother in the entry foyer, who asks if he’s going out; Mark says he’s going out on a business meeting, and was look for Pym to get him a driver for the family groundcar.  A couple of the Armsmen’s children pass by, butter-bug hunting; Mark says that Martya had the idea of setting the children to looking for the bugs, with a bounty for each one retrieved.  They should have them all caught soon, as long as none of them think of freeing the already-caught ones.

Cordelia asks if he’s heard about this rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Mark says he’s been busy in the lab.  She says Illyan and Alys told her about it last night at a dinner party, and several others asked about it later.  Mark says he never heard anything good about Tien Vorsoisson, and wouldn’t think any the less of Miles if he’d done it, but all he’s gathered is that Miles blames himself for carelessness.

Miles emerges then with Duv Galeni; Galeni greets Cordelia, and, warily Mark, on his way out.  Cordelia then complains that she discovered recently that she missed meeting Ekaterin during her visit the day before; Miles points out, reasonably, that they were gone until midnight, and it wasn’t a social call in any case.  Cordelia agrees, but asks when they might be permitted the actually meet the woman; Miles says things are delicate right now.

“Delicate,” echoed the Countess. “Isn’t that a distinct improvement over a life in ruins with vomiting?”

A brief hopeful look glimmered in his eye, but he shook his head. “Just now, it’s pretty hard to say.”

She says she has heard about the rumour, but wonders why she had to hear it from Illyan instead of him.  Miles said he’d been waiting on ImpSec confirmation, which is what brought Galeni.  He tells her that it seems to just be a vicious rumour concocted by the Conservatives, so far, and he’s about to hold a planning session with Dono Vorrutyer and René Vorbretten to deal with it; Cordelia approves of his bringing in allies.

She suggests inviting Ekaterin and Kareen over, jut to tea, and Miles insists not yet.  Mark asks if Kareen’s parents would even let her come, if they’d even accept an invitation.  Cordelia says that Kou and Drou should be avoiding her, after their performance at the dinner party.

“I miss her,” said Mark, his hand clenching helplessly along his trouser seam. “I need her. We’re supposed to start presenting bug butter products to potential major accounts in a few days. I was counting on having Kareen along. I . . . I can’t do sales very well. I’ve tried. The people I pitch to all seem to end up huddled on the far end of the room with lots of furniture between us. And Martya is too . . . forthright. But Kareen is brilliant. She could sell anything to anyone. Especially Barrayaran men. They sort of lie down and roll over, waving their paws in the air and wagging their tails—it’s just amazing. And, and . . . I can stay calm, when she’s with me, no matter how much other people irritate me. Oh, I want her back . . .” These last words escaped him in a muffled wail.

Miles looked at his mother, and at Mark, and shook his head in bemused exasperation. “You’re not making proper use of your Barrayaran resources, Mark. Here you have, in-house, the most high-powered potential Baba on the planet, and you haven’t even brought her into play!”

“But . . . what could she do? Under the circumstances?”

“To Kou and Drou? I hate to think.” Miles rubbed his chin. “Butter, meet laser-beam. Laser-beam, butter. Oops.”

His mother smiled, but then crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully around the great library.

“But, ma’am . . .” Mark stammered, “could you? Would you? I didn’t presume to ask, after all the things . . . people said to one another that night, but I’m getting desperate.” Desperately desperate.

“I didn’t presume to intrude, without a direct invitation,” the Countess told him. She waited, favoring him with a bright, expectant smile.

Mark thought it over. His mouth shaped the unfamiliar word twice, for practice, before he licked his lips, took a breath, and launched it into unsupported air. “Help . . . ?

Cordelia agrees readily, now that’s he’s actually asked her, and says what they need is to all sit down–her, Mark, Kareen, Kou and Drou–and talk it all over.  Mark is dubious about what they’ll say, and if they would even come, but Cordelia tells him to leave all that to her.

Pym announces Count Vorbretten’s arrival, and Miles tells Pym to send him up to his suite.  Mark asks Pym to provide him a driver, and Cordelia tells him to come talk to her when he gets back.  Mark asks her hopefully if she may even want to invest in his company, and she says they’ll talk.

Ivan arrives as Mark is leaving, and finds Miles closeted with René Vorbretten.  He says his mother sent him with a note for Miles, and he took the chance to escape.  René says he thought that Ivan’s job sounded cushy, but Ivan tells him that the Vor women he’s been working with are mostly the “old battle-axe” type.  He complains about having 23 commanders, an inversion of the proper chain of command.  Dono Vorrutyer arrives then, to Ivan’s dismay, with By and Szabo.

Miles opens the note from Lady Alys, and begins to read it out; it’s full of intelligence about prospective votes in the Council of Counts.  She assures them that Count Vorsmythe will vote for René, and maybe for Dono with a little persuasion; Count Vorville apparently remembers René’s father fondly; and Countess Vorpinski (whose husband, Dono says, was an old flame of hers) quite approves of Dono’s transformation, and a visit assuring her of its permanence might be looked on favourably.

According to Lady Vortugalov, the Count, her father-in-law, is unlikely to have his vote swayed, but she’s rescheduled the birth of the Count’s first grandson to conflict with the day of the vote; in addition, in exchange for a wedding invitation, the Count’s voting deputy’s wife may arrange for her husband to be delayed to the vote as well.  Alys tells them that Vorhalas and Vortaine aren’t worth trying for, but Vortaine’s neighbour Vorvolynkin, normally a stout Conservative, seems likely to be persuaded to vote contrarily just to annoy Count Vortaine.  Miles skips over an allusion to the scurrilous rumour about Tien, and concludes that Count Vorinnis will also vote for René and Dono.  She adds, in a postscript, that her office is eager to see this matter settled to that invitations can be sent out properly, and as such encourages them to make use of Ivan for any little errands.  Ivan protests that Miles is making that up, but Miles shows him the postscript.

“Richars Vorrutyer sat right there,” said Miles, pointing to René’s chair, “and informed me that Lady Alys held no vote in Council. The fact that she has spent more years in the Vorbarr Sultana political scene than all of us here put together seemed to escape him. Too bad.” His smile broadened.

Pym arrives with coffee and snacks, which Ivan and By position themselves to take advantage of, though Ivan wishes he had wine or beer instead; Miles says that he’d always noticed that that’s what his grandfather would bring in when working with his allies, and when entertaining adversaries he brought in the alcohol.

Miles moves on to his hand-written agenda for the meeting.  René and Dono’s votes are scheduled back-to-back, René’s first; Miles tells him to yield to Dono, because if he wins his vote, he’ll just keep his seat, but Dono’s win will mean an extra vote for his own suit, rather than leaving the Vorrutyer seat empty for that vote.  By says that as far as he knows, their opponents don’t know that René and Dono are working together, so they won’t be expecting the switch.  Ivan isn’t sure about By’s allegiance, but Dono insists that he’s trustworthy.

Miles gets out a set of transparent overlays for the Council chamber, giving one each to Dono and René, asking them to fill in the votes they’re confident of, either way.  When they’re done, they can overlay them and see what Counts they’ll need to work on–the ones whose votes aren’t settled yet, or who are voting differently on the two issues, and who thus might be swayed.  René said he’d always tried to do this in his head, and Miles said that once you get into more votes in the same session, it’s much easier to use this method.  They fill them out–with a few contributions from By–and then start working out who they will need to tag-team.  Ivan glances at the overlays and says that neither of them seem to have a majority of thirty-one yet; Miles, who seems to be in “forward-momentum” mode, says that they’re working on it.

Miles notes that Count Falco Vorpatril himself is marked as undecided, and assigns him to Ivan.  Ivan protests that Falco has never liked him much, calling him “the despair of right-thinking Vorpatrils”; Miles says that Falco seems amused by him.  He tells Ivan to take Dono in to see him, and talk up René while they’re there.

I knew it would come to this, sooner or later. “I’d have had to swallow chaff enough if I’d presented Lady Donna to him as a fiancée. He’s never had the time of day for Vorrutyers generally. Presenting Lord Dono to him as a future colleague . . .” Ivan shuddered, and stared at the bearded man, who stared back with a peculiar lift to his lip.

“Fiancée, Ivan?” inquired Dono. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Well, and I’ve missed my chance now, haven’t I?” Ivan said grumpily.

“Yes, now and any time these past five years while I was cooling my heels down in the District. I was there. Where were you?” Dono dismissed Ivan’s plaint with a jerk of his chin; the tiny flash of bitterness in his brown eyes made Ivan squirm inside. Dono saw his discomfort, and smiled slowly, and rather evilly. “Indeed, Ivan, clearly this entire episode is all your fault, for being so slow off the mark.”

Dono points out that there will be a Count Vorrutyer either way, and he is well-qualified to point out the flaws of Richars.  Ivan protests that he shouldn’t even be involved in this, as a serving officer, and reminds Miles that he should remember to burn Alys’s letter as soon as he can, since it would be incendiary if it were to get out.  He says that he’s more than done his duty, bringing Dono to the dinner party in the first place, and he refuses to do any more.  He waits for whatever tactic Miles will drag out to get him to cooperate, but instead Miles just moves on to the next point.

“I said no!” Ivan cried desperately.

Miles glanced up at him in faint surprise. “I heard you. Very well: you’re off the hook. I shall ask nothing further of you. You can relax.”

Ivan sat back in profound relief.

Not, he assured himself, profound disappointment. And most certainly not profound alarm. But . . . but . . . but . . . the obnoxious little git_ needs _me, to pull his nuts out of the fire . . .

Miles then warns them all to be on the lookout for dirty tricks on the part of their opponents, since of course they won’t stoop to that level themselves.  (Ivan asks about the shenanigans with Lady Vortugalov and the replicator, and Miles says primly that it’s not them doing it…)  Their armsmen should be prepared, their vehicles inspected regularly, and they should make sure they have alternate routes to Vorhartung Castle for the day of the vote, just in case.

Miles asks By how their opponents are feeling about the race.  By says they don’t seem to even realize that it’s a race yet, that Dono and René might be starting to catch up.  René asks how they’ll react when they realize what’s going on; By says that Count Vormoncrief will be philosophical about it–it’s Richars who’s the loose cannon here, if he gets desperate.

“Well, keep us informed if anything changes in that quarter,” said Miles.

Byerly made a little salute of spreading his hand over his heart. “I live to serve.”

Miles raised his eyes and gave By a penetrating look; Ivan wondered if this sardonic cooption of the old ImpSec tag-line perhaps did not sit too well with one who’d laid down so much blood and bone in Imperial service. He cringed in anticipation of the exchange if Miles sought to censure By for this minor witticism, but to Ivan’s relief Miles let it pass. After a few more minutes spent apportioning target Counts, the meeting broke up.

Comments

This isn’t a chapter I particularly remembered–the scene with Miles and Galeni serves a couple of purposes, both of them fairly minor, but it is nice to see him for something more in-depth than his dinner-party appearance.  I can’t remember if it was established before now that he had actually made it to Head of Komarran Affairs, as was suggested back in Memory.

Cordelia does, as always, brighten up any scene she’s in.  She does, apparently, make an effort not to meddle in her family’s affairs where she’s not wanted, so she’s willing to leave Ekaterin to Miles, even though I do think that Ekaterin would love meeting the Countess.  Well, actually, she’d probably be highly daunted to meet the Vicereine of Sergyar, especially considering how they (just barely) first met on her flight from the dinner party.  But I’m sure she would enjoy it nonetheless.  I love the scene where Mark begins to realize that he can ask her for help…and then manages to bring himself to do so.  Coming from Jackson’s Whole as he did (and without any help from Ser Galen), he has trouble figuring out just what family obligations entail, but when he’s desperate, he’ll try anything…  It’s alluded to here, too, that Cordelia may be one of the few people who genuinely likes Mark.  Well, Kareen too, I suppose, but Cordelia, as a Betan, embraces him as a son quite eagerly.

The strategy session is kind of fun, too, especially Lady Alys’s contributions.  Richars Vorrutyer seems to underestimate and dismiss her, the way that Lucas Haroche did in Memory–it’s like a kind of sympatheticness test for our characters, how much they realize about Lady Alys’s true influence in Vorbarr Sultana.  I don’t recall if Falco Vorpatril had come up before, the actual Count; it seems a little weird to me that Ivan’s branch of the Vorpatrils, as close as they are to the Imperium, aren’t that close to the actual Count Vorpatril.  Also–once again, Ivan is let off the hook after he protests, and once again it bothers him; and By Vorrutyer is almost suspiciously helpful and well-informed.  Is Miles beginning to suspect him at this point?


Having already read a bit ahead, I can confidently say that two of my favourite scenes in the book are coming up in the next couple of chapters.  And other scenes as well, I’m sure, but there’s definitely something to look forward to next week, when the Vorkosigan Saga Reread returns…

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Happy New Year (for those of you following the Gregorian calendar, anyway), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  This is the start of the fourth calendar year of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s exquisite Vorkosigan Saga, following Miles Vorkosigan and his friends, family and confederates through their adventures.  As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (for me, at least), I manage to persevere and to pull off two whole chapters this time–one of them a fairly unpleasant one, at that, as Miles’s dinner party turns into an unmitigated disaster.  Please join me for Chapters Nine and Ten of A Civil Campaign, if you dare…

Chapter Nine

Miles considers a number of potential outfits for the dinner party, rejecting his House and Imperial uniforms–briefly considering his Dendarii uniform, but afraid what Ivan and Illyan will say about it–before going back to his first choice, one of his normal gray Imperial Auditor suits.  Pym approves his choice, and Miles gets dressed, inspecting himself in the mirror and resisting the urge to pluck out gray hairs.

He goes the recheck the arrangements in the dining room, where he has carefully planned the seating so that Ekaterin is next to Miles, Kareen next to Mark, and Ivan in the middle far from either of them.  Lady Donna should be able to occupy all of Ivan’s attention anyway.  Miles recalls Ivan’s affair with Lady Donna, which he’d watched enviously, and Lady Alys had been quite disapproving of.  Of course, these days Lady Donna would still be able to have a child, no matter her age; he wonders if Lady Alys and Illyan are planning to have one, and makes a note to suggest it to Ivan at some appropriate moment–like when his mouth is full.  And on some other night.

Mark wanders in, dressed in black, and considers the place cards; Miles sternly warns him to leave them alone, and Mark asks if he can at least move Duv and Delia  farther away from him.  Miles says he needs to keep René Vorbretten next to Lady Alys, as a favour, and tells Mark he needs to be prepared to deal with Duv as part of the family, if he’s serious about Kareen.  Mark says that Duv must have mixed feelings about him.  Miles wonders how serious Mark really is about Kareen, and decides he should ask the Countess.

Pym announces the arrival of Alys and Illyan; Alys inspects the place settings, pronouncing a qualified approval but noting that the sexes aren’t matched–nine men and ten women–before going to talk with Ma Kosti.  Miles greets Illyan and asks if Alys has explained about Ekaterin to him.

“Yes, and Ivan had a few comments as well. Something on the theme of fellows who fall into the muck-hole and return with the gold ring.”

“I haven’t got to the gold ring part yet,” said Miles ruefully. “But that’s certainly my plan. I’m looking forward to you all meeting her.”

“She’s the one, is she?”

“I hope so.”

Illyan’s smile sharpened at Miles’s fervent tone. “Good luck, son.”

“Thanks. Oh, one word of warning. She’s still in her mourning year, you see. Did Alys or Ivan explain—”

He is interrupted by the announcement of the Koudelkas’ arrival, and goes to greet them in the library, Mark following him closely.  Armsman Roic brings out hors d’oeuvres and drinks, Mark talks to Kareen’s parents, and Illyan and Alys join them shortly thereafter.  Miles listens for the door, disappointed by the arrival of the Vorbrettens.  The next arrivals prove to be the Vorthyses and Ekaterin at last, and Miles eagerly goes to welcome them himself.

Ekaterin is wearing the Barrayar pendant he’d given her, and taking off garden gloves; she announces she’s just planted the first Barrayaran plan in his garden.  Miles says he’ll have to go see it later, and offers her his arm.  He escorts her to the library, where she is somewhat anxious, but he introduces her to the Vorbrettens, then to Alys and Illyan; she seems somewhat nervous at meeting the legendary former ImpSec head, but Illyan puts her at her ease, and seems to approve of her.

Enrique arrives, done up quite respectably, and shyly asks Ekaterin if she read his dissertation.  Ekaterin says most of it went over her head, and comments on the abstract being done in verse; Enrique says he’s sure she got most of it.  Miles notices that they’re using first names with each other, and that Ekaterin reacted to a compliment on her intelligence the way she never would on her appearance; he suddenly realizes that Enrique may be another rival for her affections.

Miles almost misses the announcement of Ivan and his guest, before realizing the Pym had said “Lord Dono” Vorrutyer…  He wonders why Ivan has pulled this last-minute substitution on him, and who this fellow is; mid-handshake the penny drops, and he smoothly asks if Lord Dono has been to Beta Colony.  As he introduces Dono to Ekaterin his mind begins to work through the implications of Dono’s change–obviously he hadn’t cloned Pierre after all.  Dono asks to discuss it with Miles at more length; Miles says that as an Imperial Auditor he has to remain neutral, but he recommends Dono talk to René Vorbretten, who also has a pending suit, as well as Professora Vorthys, who specializes in Barryaran political history, and Lady Alys and Simon Illyan.  Dono thanks him appreciatively and moves on.

Miles snags Ivan and asks if Gregor knows about Dono yet.  Ivan says he made sure of that right away, and Miles correctly guesses Gregor’s intent to “see what happens”.  Ekaterin asks what that was all about, and why Miles seems amused; Miles takes her aside and brings her up to speed on the Lady Donna/Lord Dono situation.  Miles admits he was caught off-guard, but in retrospect it makes an absurd sort of sense; Ekaterin objects mildly to the term ‘absurd’, and drifts towards where Dono is now surrounded with the Koudelka women.

Ivan returns to Miles, who twits him about his taste in dates; Ivan tells him how By Vorrutyer set him up.  Duv, Koudelka and Professor Vorthys join them; the women begin laughing, glancing at the men in amusement.  Miles decides that now is the time to serve dinner, to break this up before it gets too out of hand.  As they are leaving the library, though, Miles sees Mark and Ivan emerging from the dining room, where it emerges they have been reshuffling the carefully-ordered place settings.

All his carefully rehearsed conversational gambits were for people now on the other end of the table. Seating was utterly randomized—no, not randomized, he realized. Reprioritized. Ivan’s goal had clearly been to get Lord Dono as far away from himself as possible; Ivan now was taking his chair at the far end of the table by Mark, while Lord Dono seated himself in the place Miles had intended for René Vorbretten. Duv, Drou, and Kou had somehow all migrated Miles-ward, farther from Mark. Mark still kept Kareen at his right hand, but Ekaterin had been bumped down the other side of the table, beyond Illyan, who was still on Miles’s immediate left. It seemed no one had quite dared touch Illyan’s card. Miles would now have to speak across Illyan to converse with her, no sotto voce remarks possible.

Aunt Alys, looking a little confused, seated herself at Miles’s honored right, directly across from Illyan. She’d clearly noticed the switches, but failed Miles’s last hope of help by saying nothing, merely letting her eyebrows flick up. Duv Galeni found his future mother-in-law Drou between himself and Delia. Illyan glanced at the cards and seated Ekaterin between himself and Duv, and the accompli was fait.

Miles kept smiling; Mark, ten places distant, was too far away to catch the I-will-get-you-for-this-later edge to it.

After that, the dinner itself proceeds well enough; Ekaterin seems unconcerned with her ImpSec neighbours.  The menu seems a bit odd, though–a creamy soup, a creamy salad dressing, an aromatic herb spread for the bread…  Miles realizes that the meal is full of bug butter, and so does Ekaterin, though she determinedly pretends nothing is wrong.  Miles decides not to warn off his guests, though he avoids it himself.

Enrique gets up and taps on his glass to make an announcement.  He thanks Vorkosigan House for its hospitality, and says that he has a gift to give them in return, which fills Miles with dread.  Enrique takes out a box and sets it down next to Miles; the ImpSec men tense up, prepared for the worst.  He opens it, and it proves to contain three butter bugs, but changed; their carapaces are now adorned with a perfect replica of the Vorkosigan crest in brown and silver.  At Lord Dono’s puzzlement, Enrique explains the butter bugs, and how the bug butter they produce has been the basis for the food they’ve been eating.  He also says that the design was added genetically, and should breed true.  Pym seems quite distressed that the insignia he wears so proudly is now decorating repulsive insects; Miles tells him quietly that it wasn’t intended as an insult.

Miles tries his hardest to control his response; Ekaterin’s opinion is paramount, and from what he recalls of Tien, the man was probably given to displays of vicious temper.  He takes a deep breath and compliments Enrique’s talent, asking him to put the “girls” away for now; Ekaterin breaths a sigh of relief.  Enrique returns to his seat and happily tells his neighbours, the Vorbrettens, all about the bugs, but the rest of the conversation has ground to a halt.  Miles sends Pym to the kitchen for the next course, but asking him to check it for bug butter first.  What emerges is poached salmon garnished with lemon slices, instead of the buttery sauce that was doubtless meant to accompany it.

Ekaterin, trying to break the ice, asks Duv, as a Komarran in ImpSec, about his family’s opinion of his career; Duv, initially taken aback, merely replies that his new family approves of it.  Ekaterin picks up that she’s committed a faux pas, but doesn’t know what it is.  Koudelka changes the subject to the Komarran soletta repairs, which seems like a safer subject.  Before the conversation can get going again, though, everyone hears Enrique talking loudly to Kareen about how, with butter bug profits, she’ll surely be able to go back to the Orb of Unearthly Delights back on Beta Colony–again–with Mark.  Commodore Koudelka, obviously aware of the Orb’s reputation as a pleasure dome where almost everything was available for the asking, spews his mouthful of wine across the table and begins to choke.

Kou got just enough breath back to gasp at Mark, “You took my daughter to the Orb?”

Kareen, utterly panicked, blurted, “It was part of his therapy!”

Mark, panicked worse, added in desperate exculpation, “We got a Clinic discount . . .”

Galeni freezes at the news that Mark may be a prospective brother-in-law, and Koudelka begins to hyperventilate; Drou, who had gotten up to help her husband, deliberately sits back down, with a glare that conveys that they will discuss this later.  Lady Alys tries gamely to resume the soletta conversation, only to be interrupted by the arrival of a pair of kittens in the dining room, one of them carrying a Vorkosigan-liveried bug in its mouth.  Enrique tries to rescue it–too late–and Miles begins to wonder how the kitten managed to get hold of a butter bug, if they were all secured…  He asks Enrique and Mark, and Enrique, caught by a sudden thought, suddenly excuses himself and dashes away; Mark follows, and so does Miles, hastily instructing Lady Alys to take over as host.

In the laboratory, he finds Enrique kneeling by a butter bug house, its lid knocked askew, and only one brown-and-silver bug therein.  Enrique says the cats must have knocked it over–most of the bugs have escaped, close to two hundred.  Miles contemplates all the places a butter bug can hide, and says that at least they should all be neuter workers, since the queens can’t move.

“Um,” said Enrique.

Miles chose his words carefully. “You assured me the queens couldn’t move.”

Mature queens can’t move, that’s true,” Enrique explained, climbing to his feet again, and shaking his head. “Immature queens, however, can scuttle like lightning.”

Miles thought it through; it took only a split-second. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs all over Vorbarr Sultana.

There was an ImpSec trick, which involved grabbing a man by the collar and giving it a little half-twist, and doing a thing with the knuckles; applied correctly, it cut off both blood circulation and breath. Miles was absently pleased to see that he hadn’t lost his touch, despite his new civilian vocation. He drew Enrique’s darkening face down toward his own.

He gives Enrique an ultimatum–to get all the bugs back, including their queen, by six hours before his parents are due to return home, because after that he’s going to call in professional exterminators.  At Ekaterin’s shocked exclamation, he involuntarily releases Enrique’s collar, but Kareen steps forward to berate the Escobaran for mentioning the Orb.  Ekaterin assures Enrique that Miles can be reasonable, and offers to stay and help him hunt.  Miles, arrested by this unwelcome image, grudgingly agrees that, after dinner, they should all help look for the bugs, including the armsmen.

Mark offers to stay and help Enrique, but Kareen says that she refuses to deal with her parents and sisters all by herself.  Miles asks what Mark was doing, taking a young Barrayaran lady to the Orb in the first place.  Kareen calls Miles a hypocrite, since his grandmother said he’d been there several times; Miles insists that it was all for intelligence-gathering purposes.  He cuts off further argument by saying they should return to dinner, before Ma Kosti gets annoyed with them, and this shuts them up.

They return to the table, Pym serves more wine, and conversation is more-or-less successfully directed to the topic of the Emperor’s wedding, though Mark and Koudelka mostly just eye each other warily.  Ekaterin seems subdued, except for laughing at a few of Dono’s jokes.  After the main course, also bug-butter-free, the dessert proves to be a frozen creamy concoction; Pym tells Miles that Ma Kosti was already upset about her sauces, and refused to budge on the dessert.  Miles resolutely takes a spoonful, and is somewhat annoyed to find that it’s incredibly delicious; Ekaterin and Kareen seem especially delighted about this.

Miles has just finished a rousing anecdote about acquiring his District’s wedding gift–a life-size maple-sugar sculpture of a guerrilla–and is preparing to ask her a leading question about her garden, when Illyan innocently asks Ekaterin about how long Miles has been courting her.  Half the people at the table wince; Olivia says, confused, that she’d thought they weren’t supposed to talk about that yet.  Miles sees that Ekaterin’s face is freezing into stone; in a last-ditch effort, he asks her to marry him.

Ekaterin made no response at all, at first. For a moment, it seemed as though she had not even heard his words, and Miles almost yielded to a suicidal impulse to repeat himself more loudly. Aunt Alys buried her face in her hands. Miles could feel his breathless grin grow sickly, and slide down his face. No, no. What I should have said—what I meant to say was . . . please pass the bug butter? Too late . . .

She visibly unlocked her throat, and spoke. Her words fell from her lips like ice chips, singly and shattering. “How strange. And here I thought you were interested in gardens. Or so you told me.”

You lied to me hung in the air between them, unspoken, thunderously loud.

So yell. Scream. Throw something. Stomp on me all up and down, it’ll be all right, it’ll hurt good—I can deal with that—

Instead, she gets up from the table, bids farewell to her aunt, and walks quickly out of the room.  Miles follows her, catching her up in the entry hall, saying they need to talk.  Ekaterin agrees, then tells him she resigns as his landscape designer, though she will pass on her designs for whoever he picks to finish her garden–if a garden was what he wanted in the first place.  Miles says that he wanted the garden and to spend time with her, but he couldn’t tell her all of that, because she wasn’t close to being healed from Tien’s treatment of her.  Ekaterin flinches at the truth of that, but excoriates him for playing on her vanity.

“Not vanity,” he protested. “Skill, pride, drive—anyone could see you just needed scope, opportunity—”

“You are used to getting your own way, aren’t you, Lord Vorkosigan. Any way you can.” Now her voice was horribly dispassionate. “Trapping me in front of everyone like that.”

“That was an accident. Illyan didn’t get the word, see, and—”

“Unlike everyone else? You’re worse than Vormoncrief! I might just as well have accepted his offer!”

“Huh? What did Alexi—I mean, no, but, but—whatever you want, I want to give it to you, Ekaterin. Whatever you need. Whatever it is.”

“You can’t give me my own soul.” She stared, not at him, but inward, on what vista he could not imagine. “The garden could have been my gift. You took that away too.”

Miles wants to follow up this last statement, but a large groundcar is pulling up outside, and Ekaterin takes advantage of this distraction to insist that Pym let her out.  As Ekaterin turns to flee, she bumps directly into the early-returned Count Aral Vorkosigan.  He and Cordelia express concern at the young lady’s distress, assure her that they will call a cab for her directly, and ask Miles what is going on.  Miles says his dinner party is just breaking up; he tries to introduce Ekaterin to her, but is interrupted by Ekaterin’s abrupt retreat from the house.  The Koudelkas soon follow suit, insisting that Kareen come home with them, and stay out of Vorkosigan House, despite Kareen’s insistence that she works there; Mark tries to insist it’s his fault.

Commodore Koudelka’s eye fell on the returnees as the rolling altercation piled up in the hallway. “Ha—Aral!” he snarled. “Do you realize what your son has been up to?”

The Count blinked. “Which one?” he asked mildly.

The chance of the light caught Mark’s face, as he heard this off-hand affirmation of his identity. Even in the chaos of his hopes pinwheeling to destruction, Miles was glad to have seen the brief awed look that passed over those fat-distorted features. Oh, Brother. Yeah. This is why men follow this man—

Olivia is allowed to leave with the Vorbrettens instead, who try to sneak out quietly; Lord Dono makes a point of complimenting Miles on his interesting dinner party.  Enrique wanders into the entry hall, with some kind of unpleasantly-scented lure on a stick, searching for his bugs.

“Pym!” The Countess spotted a new victim, and her voice went a little dangerous. “I seconded you to look after Miles. Would you care to explain this scene?”

There was a thoughtful pause. In a voice of simple honesty, Pym replied, “No, Milady.”

“Ask Mark,” Miles said callously. “He’ll explain everything.” Head down, he started for the stairs.

Comments

Hoo boy, that was an ordeal.  It’s painful to read.  As I said before, when I first read the book, I was looking forward to this scene, getting all these characters together in one room–it would be a lot of fun.  Like one of those Emperor’s Birthday or Winterfair scenes from other books–which often had their share of unpleasantness, but nothing like the meltdown that happens here.  I guess that didn’t fit in with the plot, though.  Enrique and Illyan between them manage to say just the wrong things, bringing Miles and Kareen’s secrets to light–Kareen about the exact nature of her relationship with Mark, and Miles’s singularly unsecret campaign for Ekaterin’s heart.  In hindsight, of course, it’s inevitable, because in both cases the secrets have been shared so widely that almost everyone but the person/people that they were supposed to be secret from knew about them.

It’s almost a little off, that even Miles is judgemental about Mark and Kareen having a sexual relationship, or maybe it’s just that the Orb is taking it too far.  He should know that Mark hasn’t internalized a true Barrayaran value system–his upbringing by Ser Galen probably included a fair chunk of it, but I’m sure it didn’t thoroughly take.  The Koudelkas, of course, aren’t true Vor, but they probably wish they were, on some level, and prefer to emulate the true Vor value system as much as possible–like Bothari, everything has to be right for their girls.  It’s more than a little hypocritical for both of them, but as I recall we get to that a little later.

At some point in this chapter Miles thinks to himself that he was no good at poetry (apart from limericks), being much better at planning combat drop missions.  This obviously shows, because his campaign for Ekaterin is like one of those combat drop missions, where he tries to plan every detail, getting potential rivals out of the way (and sharing too much vital intelligence on the way), and then suddenly everything goes pear-shaped, just like Mark’s clone-rescue on Jackson’s Whole back in Mirror Dance.  Or, if I may venture into an entirely different mythos, like Phil Connors’s calculated attempts to woo Rita, over and over, in “Groundhog Day”.

At least this is the low point.  Miles and Mark’s love lives are as screwed up as they can get–but now Countess Cordelia is there, and she can help them untangle themselves.  Yes, I know, sometimes it seems a little pat, having her as the fix-it person, but right now it’s a positive relief…

Chapter Ten

Countess Cordelia wakes Mark up the next afternoon, bringing him tea, but not food.  Mark had sought refuge in Gorge and Howl last night after fleeing the party, eating his way through several tubs of bug butter.  Cordelia says that Miles sought his refuge, more traditionally, in wine, and they shouldn’t expect to see him again before evening.  Mark’s last memory of the party were Koudelka calling Mark’s grandmother a “Betan pimp” and Kareen refusing to ride home with “uncultured Barrayaran savages”.

Cordelia says she had a most enlightening conversation with the Vorthyses, particularly the Professora, who she wished she’d known earlier.  Simon Illyan was quite distraught at spilling the beans; he’d apparently thought that he’d forgotten something important that Miles had told him.  The Countess is annoyed at Miles for setting Illyan up like that, and also for not passing on more information about Ekaterin in his brief missives.  She had also had a talk with Enrique; she says his work seems sound, and she promised to keep Miles from killing his bugs.  They found a couple in their bedroom that morning, one of which got squished by accident, but neither of them was the queen.

She tells Mark she feels some responsibility for Kareen, being perfectly aware of what choices she would have available to her on Beta Colony.  She adds that she would be perfectly happy to have Kareen as a daughter-in-law, and that she trusts Mark’s intentions to be honorable.  Mark says he doesn’t think that the Koudelkas would be that keen to see him in the family.

“You are a Vorkosigan.”

“A clone. An imitation. A cheap Jacksonian knock-off.” And crazy to boot.

“A bloody expensive Jacksonian knock-off.”

Cordelia says she’s more than happy to help him and Kareen, if they can only tell her what it is they want.  Mark, cautious about what problems he aims his mother at, says that he wants what Kareen wants, but that seems to have gotten confused since their return to Barrayar.  He tells her that Kareen wants time to be herself, and Barrayar seems to be trying to push her into a box–even “wife” would be a box, here.  She asks what his own goals are, and if they’ve changed with his time on Beta.  Mark says his therapy has made progress, and it’s encouraged him; economics school was helpful, and he’s gotten some good ideas about what to do to make the Jackson’s Whole clone-body replacements less desirable, including some potential life-extension treatments the Duronas have come up with.

He’s pumping money into the Durona Group, but he wants enough to maintain financial independence as well, and so he’s looking into his “agribusiness” venture on Barrayar.  Cordelia notes that they could come in handy on Sergyar too, though she admits that they should remove the Vorkosigan crest before pitching them seriously to Aral.  Mark says that it’ll all come to nothing if he and Kareen can’t get back to Beta Colony.  He’d probably be able to pay her way back, but he doesn’t think that would be a good idea, putting her in his debt like that.  Cordelia finds that interesting, but points out that if they both give each other everything, then it evens out.

The Countess finished her tea and put down her cup, “Well. I don’t wish to invade your privacy. But do remember, you’re allowed to ask for help. It’s part of what families are all about.”

“I owe you too much already, milady.”

Her smile tilted. “Mark, you don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.”

“I’m not sure that seems fair.”

“The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted—but rather, vastly enriched.”

Mark asks if she can help Miles; she says that’s more difficult, because she doesn’t know about the Ekaterin side of the equation.  She’s of the opinion that he dug his own hole, he’ll have to dig his way out.

After she leaves, Mark tries calling the Koudelka household on the comconsole, preparing various conversational gambits for whoever may answer, but it turns out they’ve blocked him entirely.

Ekaterin has somewhat of a hangover the day after the dinner party as well–with Pym topping up her wineglass, she was sure she’d drunk several times her usual two-glass limit.  At least it had given her the courage to run out.
She’s prepared all the notes on the Barrayaran garden, but she hesitates on the final act of sending it to Miles and closing off that chapter of her life entirely.  She ponders the model of Barrayar that Miles had given her, remembering the shopping trip on Komarr with its watery climax, and the way he’d awarded it to her in the transfer station.  She convinces herself that it was really an award, not a gift, because if it was a gift she should never have accepted it, and therefore she earned it, and doesn’t have to get rid of it.

She’d almost gone back to the garden and taken her skellytum rootling back out, but she’d been afraid of running afoul of Vorkosigan House security, who would likely have been quite embarrassed.  Miles didn’t care about it, in any case–after all, he hadn’t gone out to look at it, had he?  She’d carried it around long enough, it had survived enough mishaps and moves, and now she was done with it–she would leave it to its fate in the garden.  Though she does add an appendix about its requirements to the garden instructions.

Nikki thumps into the room, making her wince; she’s glad she hadn’t brought him along to the dinner party, where she might have been trapped, unable to retreat with him complaining about not having finished his dessert.  He asks if she’d settled on when she could go out to Vorkosigan Surleau and ride Miles’s horse, a topic which had come up during one of his visits to Vorkosigan House.  Miles had generously allowed Nikki to visit the house sometimes when Ekaterin had to bring him to work, playing with Armsman Pym’s son, and sometimes Armsman Roic, eating Ma Kosti’s food, even helping Kareen in the lab, and had made this offhand invitation at the end of one such day.  Now she wonders how calculated this invitation had been.

She tries to put Nikki off by telling him they can’t impose on him, and suggests they try somewhere closer if he wants to ride horses.  Nikki says that Miles offered to let him try flying his lightflyer on the way down, too; Ekaterin says he’s too young, but Nikki says that Miles first flew when he was younger than that.  He presses her to ask Lord Vorkosigan next time she goes to work, and finally she has to tell him that she quit her position.  When Nikki asks her why, she says it was an ethical issue.

“What? What issue?” His voice was laced with confusion and disbelief. He twisted himself around the other way.

“I found he’d . . . lied to me about something.” He promised he’d never lie to me. He’d feigned that he was very interested in gardens. He’d arranged her life by subterfuge—and then told everyone else in Vorbarr Sultana. He’d pretended he didn’t love her. He’d as much as promised he’d never ask her to marry him. He’d lied. Try explaining that to a nine-year-old boy. Or to any other rational human being of any age or gender, her honesty added bitterly. Am I insane yet? Anyway, Miles hadn’t actually said he wasn’t in love with her, he’d just . . . implied it. Avoided saying much on the subject at all, in fact. Prevarication by misdirection.

“Oh,” said Nikki, eyes wide, daunted at last.

Aunt Vorthys ushers Nikki out of the room, telling him his mother has a hangover, which is a concept he has some trouble getting his mind around.  She returns a while later with water and painkillers, which Ekaterin takes dutifully.  She says, mournfully, that it must have been the Count and Countess Vorkosigan last night, that she had bumped into and fled past.  Her aunt agrees, and says she had quite a nice conversation with them.  Ekaterin says they must think she’s a lunatic, the way she ran out like that.  But she can’t believe what Miles did to her, either.

Her aunt says that she didn’t have much choice but to run out–otherwise, she’d have had to answer Miles’s question.  Ekaterin is confused–wasn’t her departure answer enough?

“He knew it was a mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, I daresay, at least judging from that ghastly expression on his face. You could see everything just drain right out of it. Extraordinary. But I can’t help wondering, dear—if you’d wanted to say no, why didn’t you? It was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

“I . . . I . . .” Ekaterin tried to collect her wits, which seemed to be scattering like sheep. “It wouldn’t have been . . . polite.”

After a thoughtful pause, her aunt murmured, “You might have said, `No, thank you.’ ”

Ekaterin rubbed her numb face. “Aunt Vorthys,” she sighed, “I love you dearly. But please go away now.”

She does realize, after her aunt leaves, that she was right–she hadn’t actually answered the question, and she hadn’t realized it.  She recognizes her feeling, heartsickness, all too familiar from her rows with Tien, the cold feeling after the argument broke down.  She doesn’t want to return to that state again.  She’s not sure who she is anymore, where her home could be.  She has felt moments of deep calm in Miles’s presence, and also extreme exasperation.  But she doesn’t trust her own judgement anymore.

She considers adding a note to the garden plans, but decides that just sending them will be message enough, and sends them without further ado, then goes to lie down.

After a day of sulking in his bed, Miles emerges in the evening, and enters the library to find his parents there.  He mumbles a greeting to them, and after a moment asks them about their trip home; his mother says it was quite uneventful, at least until their arrival.  She says they missed him at mealtimes that day; Miles says he spent a lot of time throwing up, which wouldn’t have been much fun.

The Countess added astringently, “Are you done with that now?”

“Yeh. It didn’t help.” Miles slumped a little further, and stretched his legs out before him. “A life in ruins with vomiting is still a life in ruins.”

“Mm,” said the Count in a judicious tone, “though it does make it easy to be a recluse. If you’re repulsive enough, people spontaneously avoid you.”

The Count asks Miles if he has any Auditing to do; Miles says no, fortunately for them.  Aral says that Alys gave them a heavily editorialized account of the dinner party, and says she hopes he wouldn’t have retreated from a losing battle the way he did last night.  Cordelia says that a woman running screaming from Miles’s marriage proposal isn’t a good sign, but from what she heard Miles didn’t leave her much choice.  She asks Miles how bad Ekaterin’s prior marriage was; Miles says that from what he could tell, Tien Vorsoisson played so many head games with his wife that she must have been half-convinced she was crazy, a type that Cordelia says she recognizes well.

He admits he panicked when Illyan spilled the beans, never wanting to ambush her like that.  He starts to explain his brilliant plan, to use her interest in gardens to keep her in proximity to him by hiring her to put one in the lot next door.

“Is that what that crater is,” said his father. “In the dark, from the groundcar, it looked as though someone tried to shell Vorkosigan House and missed, and I’d wondered why no one had reported it to us.”

“It is not a crater. It’s a sunken garden. There’s just . . . just no plants in it yet.”

“It has a very nice shape, Miles,” his mother said soothingly. “I went out and walked through it this afternoon. The little stream is very pretty indeed. It reminds me of the mountains.”

“That was the idea,” said Miles, primly ignoring his father’s mutter of . . . after a Cetagandan bombing raid on a guerilla position . . .

Miles suddenly remembers the skellytum Ekaterin said she’d planted, and panic briefly over what might have happened to it, before deciding it was just another reason she was mad at him.  Cordelia paraphrases his plan as trying to keep a destitute widow from other romantic opportunities by manipulating her purse strings, which Miles considers an uncharitable description.  He can’t believe she’d just quit working on the garden after all the time she’d devoted to it.

Cordelia reminds him of an incident from his youth, where he’d won a game of cross-ball against Armsman Esterhazy, his first win ever, only to find out later that Esterhazy had lost on purpose.  He’d been furious, and never forgiven the insult; Cordelia says that Esterhazy had done it to cheer him up, but Miles said it stole his victory from him, and poisoned any later victory he happened to achieve.  His mother lets this sink in for a few seconds.

The light dawned. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, the intensity of the glare hurt his head.

“Oh. Noooo,” groaned Miles, muffled into the cushion he jammed over his face. “I did that to her?”

His remorseless parent let him stew in it, a silence sharper-edged than words.

I did that to her . . .” he moaned, pitifully.

He realizes what she’d meant about the garden being her gift…he’d just been hoping they were finally getting into the real matter, so they could have a real argument…so that, as his father supplies, he could win.  Aral says you can’t win that war except by surrendering.  Miles said he tried to surrender; his mother points out that she wasn’t lowering herself to Miles’s level, and hopes that sometime they can actually properly meet this woman.  Miles says she sent the garden plans to him, no message or anything, and asks what he should do now.  Cordelia asks if she’s going to actually listen to his advice, because otherwise she won’t give it; Miles swallows his anger and humbly says that he’s listening.

Cordelia says he owes Ekaterin an apology.  He says Ekaterin won’t even talk to him, and she admits that he can’t go over to the Vorthys house in person, or even make a live comconsole call, without being too invasive.  She suggests he write a short note of apology, as abject as he can manage.  Handwritten, if he can make it legible, without having a secretary do it.

Miles says he doesn’t even have a secretary, since his workload hasn’t required it yet; Aral says that he can’t wish Miles had more problems to solve, and after all, solving the Komarr soletta problem should have earned him some time off.  Cordelia wonders what Ekaterin earned for her own contribution, and Miles grumbles that she should have earned the gratitude of the Empire, except that the whole thing has been classified.  She was heroic, she didn’t fold under the pressure, she did what she had to–and she doesn’t get the recognition for it.  Cordelia points out that everyone has some pressure they’ll fold under, it’s just not the same kind of pressure for everyone.

Miles heads out to water the skellytum, which takes him some time to find, and wonders if it’s hardy enough to survive out here.  He ponders what his life will be like when the skellytum is full-grown again–reclusive bachelor, or proud paterfamilias?  He heads back inside, determined to nail this damned “abject” if it kills him.

Comments

Professora Vorthys seems to be a wise woman too, someone who Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan gets along with instantly, with perhaps not quite the same uncanny insight, but good enough for a second-stringer, anyway.  (Do we ever find out her first name?  I can’t recall.)  I do think that Ekaterin has a point–fleeing indecorously from a marriage proposal should, probably, be considered a “no”, but I suppose that her aunt also has a point, in that Ekaterin has avoided actually saying anything one way or the other.

Cordelia’s shrewd comparison of Miles’s hiring of Ekaterin being like an adult intentionally losing a game to a child hits right to the heart of the problem with Miles’s plan.  The garden was never, really, Miles’s primary goal–that was, always, the conquest of Ekaterin’s heart.  He wasn’t planning to _lie_ to her, exactly, about anything, except perhaps his reasons for spending time with her.  Though he was also trying to present his best features to her, but that might be considered normal to someone one is dating, or courting.  Is it acceptable for an employer-employee relationship?  Perhaps–everyone wants to come off well, don’t they?  Admittedly, back on Komarr they had already gotten past that stage, to some extent–Ekaterin saw him in the throes of a seizure, she saw him chained up outside the Waste Heat Station, she saw him soaking wet in the pond.  So Miles was getting off track, trying to backpedal in his treatment of her, because he was beginning to see her a precious treasure to be won, rather than just a person that he was beginning to rely on.  Not someone it was important to tell only the truth, but someone whose inconvenient emotional baggage was an obstacle that needed to be worked around.  So, between Cordelia explicitly pointing out his mistake, and Ekaterin implicitly letting him know that he was way off base, Miles has been thrown off of that track.  Maybe he can start thinking of her as a person again…

As for Mark…he did, indeed, have some reservations about just offering to spring for Kareen’s schooling.  In some ways it would be the right thing to do, but it would only convey the proper message if they were both on the same page, relationship-wise.  And it can’t really be used to put them on the same page.  I’ve seen some real-world relationships where two people date, then live together, well enough, but then one of them has to move to another city for work…  If they both make the move together, then it seems that either they get engaged shortly thereafter, or they break up.  It’s a bit of a crucible for a relationship, it seems, and, with Kareen’s uncertainty about things since their return to Barrayar, Mark doesn’t know if it’ll work out for them any more.  Maybe Kareen is overreacting to the idea of being put in the “wife” box, which is doubtless one that means different things on Barrayar than it does on Beta Colony, and probably a little, or large, bit different for every culture everywhere; after all, she hasn’t even had Ekaterin’s bad experience to make her gun-shy, and I don’t see any evidence that she’s even heard Ekaterin’s horror stories about Tien.  But being back on Barrayar seems to be making her think of things in Barrayaran ways, even if on some level she may know that Mark doesn’t have that same level of indoctrination.  I confess, Kareen is the POV character I have the most trouble sympathizing with here, but maybe that’s because I can see inside Mark’s head and know how he feels about her.  Maybe Kareen knows that too, or maybe she doesn’t, and maybe I’m just being an ignorant straight white male here, but I keep feeling like she’s blowing everything out of proportion.  Except that she seems to have been bang-on about her parents’ reactions, of course…


Two chapters, hurrah!  Maybe things will pick up after this, and I can speed things up a little.  You can hope, anyway.  I’m not going to go so far as to make it a Resolution or anything, to do two chapters a week, but it could happen.  As long as they’re not too long…

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Sometimes good things come to those who wait…and sometimes they even appear early, without you have to wait quite as long after all, like this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover what may be one of the best chapters in this book, or maybe even the entire series…and the one before it, too.

Why early?  Well, it’s like this…one of the great things about having moved the weekly Reread posts to Wednesdays is that, after inevitably done absolutely nothing on it for the entire weekend, I can do one chapter on Monday, take a night off, then do the other chapter on Wednesday.  Whereas before I’d have to do Monday and Tuesday, two nights straight, which felt like more work somehow.  But what do I do when I have plans on Wednesday night?  Like this week?  That’s right, Monday and Tuesday.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Although I am wishing I hadn’t already squandered my single chapter…

Chapter Twenty-Four

Miles gives Gregor an update before the party, which makes them both late.  As they arrive, Gregor admonishes Miles to not appear too grim, or people will wonder what’s wrong; Miles echoes the sentiment, and manages to improve Gregor’s mood by reminding him of Laisa.  They find Laisa with Cordelia and Alys; once Gregor and Laisa are reunited, Cordelia urges Alys to go off and enjoy herself with Simon Illyan.  Gregor notes Illyan’s improvement with approval, which Cordelia credits to Alys as much as Miles.  Miles notices something different about Illyan’s clothing–apparently Alys has finally gotten him to go a tailor.
Miles spots Ivan, who’s squiring Martya Koudelka, but Ivan keeps being distracted by Delia, who’s sitting cozily on a couch hobnobbing with Duv Galeni.  Martya mutters that she’ll be glad when Delia finally picks someone, and she can stop living off her sister’s castoffs.  Miles asks Martya how long Duv & Delia has been going on, and she says Delia told her Duv was going to be the one a month ago.

“Um . . . and when did old Duv find out?”

“Delia’s working on it. Some fellows you have to hit with a brick to get their attention. Some you have to hit with a big brick.”

The dancing starts, and the couples head off to the ballroom; Miles manages a few dances with ladies who don’t mind his height, none of them available, then retreats to be a wallflower.  Ivan joins him briefly, and they see Illyan dance past with Lady Alys, astounding both of them with his skill.

A wisp of hair escaped Lady Alys’s elaborate beflowered coiffure, and she brushed it back from her forehead. The image of her en deshabille at breakfast burst in Miles’s memory, and he had the sudden sensation of being hit with a big brick. He choked on his own wine.

Good God. Illyan’s sleeping with my aunt.

Ivan asks him if he’s all right, and Miles says he’s fine, deciding he’ll let Ivan figure this one out by himself.  He heads for the buffet, where he encounters Galeni.  He mentions that he had been going to ask Delia; Galeni says that he had first checked whether Delia thought Miles was serious about her.  Miles asks Galeni if he’s serious, and Galeni says, “Deathly.”  She has the background, the connections, the brains, and the beauty.  Miles offers to put in a good word with Delia’s father, Commodore Koudelka, and Galeni asks Miles politely to not try to do him any more favours.  He’s learned from his earlier mistakes, and plans to propose to Delia on the ride home.

Miles heads back into the ballroom, leaning against the wall and going over the case in his head, until he realizes he’s starting to glower, and snags a dance with Laisa.  While mirror-dancing with her, he sees Galeni being accosted by an ImpSec colonel and two guards.  He moves to keep them out of Laisa’s view; Galeni seems quite angry, and Delia looks worried.  Then the colonel grabs Galeni’s arm, and when Galeni pulls free, one of the guards pulls out a stunner.  Miles excuses himself hastily from Laisa, telling her to go see Gregor, and goes to investigate.

Miles asks the colonel what’s going on, and the colonel tells him that Haroche has ordered Galeni’s arrest, and removing him immediately from the Imperial Residence.  Miles assures Galeni he has nothing to do with this, and wonders if it can be related to his case.  Martya and Ivan come over, and the guards begin to get more nervous; the colonel says that Haroche is on his way over, and Miles advises Galeni to go quietly.  Galeni asks Ivan to get Delia home, before she does anything foolish, and accompanies the guards down the corridor.

Around the corner, they throw Galeni against the wall and start frisking him; Miles forestalls Galeni’s response by admonishing them and telling them to treat him like a fellow officer.  Miles asks what the real charge is, and the colonel tells him it’s treason, which flabbergasts Miles and Galeni.  Miles tells Galeni to go along, and he’ll clear it all up with Haroche; Galeni accedes.
Miles returns to find Gregor, Laisa, Delia and Cordelia gathered to try to find out what’s going on.  Miles says he should have been informed, but all he knows is that ImpSec has arrest Galeni, though he doesn’t mention the charge in Laisa and Delia’s presence.  Haroche himself arrives then, and Gregor asks him to explain himself.  Haroche says he’s only just found out about a possible security risk in one of the guests in the Imperial Residence, and it was his first priority to assure the Emperor’s safety.

“Oh.” Gregor turned to Countess Vorkosigan, and made a vague frustrated gesture at Delia and Laisa. “Cordelia, would you . . . ?”

Countess Vorkosigan smiled very dryly. “Come, ladies. The gentlemen need to go talk.”

“But I want to know what’s going on!” protested Laisa.

“We can get it later. I’ll explain the system to you. It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work. Which, come to think of it, could also sum up a great many other Vor customs. In the meantime, we need to keep the show going out there” — she nodded toward the reception rooms — “and repair what damages we can from this, ah” — a sharp glance at Haroche, which should have made him wince — “unfortunate exercise in caution.”

Haroche, Miles and Gregor move to Gregor’s office; Haroche says he has copies of the report for both of them.  Haroche leads them to the main point of the security report, where they found that the retina scan on Miles’s faked visit was an older copy, from before his cryo-revival, which made some perceptible changes.  It could only have been done physically on the actual machine itself.  The changes to the admittance log, though, were done over the network, through Guy Allegre’s comconsole, and it originated from Galeni’s machine.

Miles points out that Galeni’s machine doesn’t mean the man himself; Haroche says that they can’t fast-penta Galeni, so they may have to settle for circumstantial evidence.  He reminds Miles that Galeni’s father was involved with the original Komarran plot, and Miles’s own clone-brother killed Galeni’s father.  He also mentions the resentment from Miles’s recent interference in Galeni’s courting of Laisa, quoting Galeni’s exact description of Miles on his first call.  Miles says it was to his face, not to his back, and asks how Haroche got that message; Haroche admits that the public Vorkosigan House comconsoles have been routinely monitored for decades.

Miles insists that he can’t believe in Galeni’s guilt, that he’d through away all his hard work like that.  Haroche encourages him to look over the reports, saying he’s not happy to find disloyalty among ImpSec personnel.  Haroche leaves, and Miles heads home as well, not wanting to have to answer questions right now.  In the groundcar, he is struck with another seizure, and comes to to find a panicked Martin leaning over him, and blood in his mouth from bitten tongue and lip.  He tells Martin to take him home, since he’s going to need some time to recover and then to look over the report before he can be of any help to Galeni.  The doctors are right–the seizures being triggered by stress will make him unfit for any sort of active duty.

Comments

So now the Duv and Delia relationship is established, as well as the Alys and Simon Illyan one–at least Miles has figured them out, even if Ivan is still a little slow on the uptake.  Not sure why Simon and Alys are being so coy about theirs, but I guess they’re worried about people’s reactions…particularly Ivan’s, I’d imagine.  I don’t think Duv and Delia are a Great Romance or anything, but they seem to have compatible goals, at least, so they’ll make a good partnership.

So Duv Galeni was the traitor all the time, eh?  Who’d have thought it?  I guess he just snapped or something.  …Yeah, I didn’t buy it either.  Don’t worry, next chapter will lead us to the real culprit.

Also…liked Martya’s “big brick” reference…followed by the big brick hitting Miles when he finally figures out what’s going on with Alys and Simon.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles wakes up the next morning with a postseizure hangover, and wonders if the symptoms are getting worse as time goes on, or if it’s just that the rest of his life is improving.  He spends the morning going over Haroche’s report, whose data is scanty but almost more convincing because of it.  He finds little to help Galeni, who’s being held at ImpSec “on suspicion”, a disturbingly indefinite state.  He does go to ImpSec to meet with Dr. Weddell, who is anxious to go home; he confirms that the sample the exact same prokaryote used against Illyan.  Now he also knows that it was never intended to be swallowed; it was packaged into sporelike capsules designed to be dispersed into the air and dissolve on moist mucous membranes.  They would only briefly be visible into the air, and would be odourless, but would hang around in the air for several minutes.

Haroche calls and asks Miles to stop in, and Miles releases Weddell to go home.  He tells Haroche he hasn’t changed his mind, and gives him a copy of Weddell’s report.  Haroche says that of the other Komarran Affairs analysts, two had no knowledge of the sample, and the other two had no perceptible motivation.  Miles points out it’s still circumstantial, and Haroche agrees; he asks if it’s possible Miles could somehow elicit a confession from Galeni, and Miles says he still doubts Galeni is guilty.  Haroche says it will then inevitably have to proceed to a court-martial.  Miles says he doesn’t want some military court guessing about the verdict; he wants to keep looking for other possible culprits.  Haroche protests that that amounts to a witch-hunt, tearing ImpSec apart.

“If you have nothing more concrete to offer, I’m ready to lay the charges and let the court-martial sort it out.”

You can lay the charges, but I’ll not light the fuse. . . “I could decline to close my Auditor’s case.”

“If the court-martial convicts, you’ll have to close it, my lord.”

No, I won’t. The realization made him blink. He could keep his Auditor’s inquiry open forever if he so chose, and there wasn’t a damned thing Haroche could do about it. No wonder Haroche was being so exquisitely polite today. Miles could even veto the court-martial. . . .

But he realizes that the greatest qualification for being an Auditor must be probity, so he should refrain from mucking around too much with his powers.  Haroche recognizes Miles’s reluctance, and offers to downgrade the charge from treason to assaulting a superior officer–a short prison term and a dishonourable discharge rather than the death sentence.  Miles still isn’t sure, since this will wreck Galeni’s future career, not to mention not doing Komarran relations any good.

Haroche then changes the subject, saying that he had another reason for calling Miles up.  He’s been looking at Miles’s medical records, and thinks the controller-seizure device treatment sounds promising.  He tells Miles how he’s been impressed at how he worked with Illyan over the years, and the records he’s been reading about Miles’s career, and he thinks Miles’s discharge was a mistake.  He’d like to work with the Dendarii Mercenaries again, and rather than work with an offworlder like Elli Quinn, he’d prefer to reinstate Miles.

He had to swallow, in order to breathe. “Everything . . . to be as it was before? Take up where I left off?” The Dendarii . . . Admiral Naismith . . .

“Not exactly where you left off, no. By my calculations you were about two years overdue for your promotion to captain, for one thing. But I think you and I could be a team just as you and Illyan were.” A small twinkle lit Haroche’s eye. “You will perhaps forgive me my touch of ambition if I say, maybe even better? I’d be proud to have you on board, Vorkosigan.”

Miles sat stunned. For a moment, all he could think, idiotically, was I’m sure glad I had that seizure last night, or I’d be rolling on this carpet again right now. “I . . . I . . .” His hands were shaking, his head exploding with joy. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’d . . . have to close this case first. Give Gregor back his choke-chain. But then . . . sure!” His injured lip split again as it stretched, painfully, into an unstoppable grin. He sucked salt blood from it.

“Yes,” said Haroche patiently, “that’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”

Miles, despite the joyous visions in his mind, is suddenly uncertain, and he asks Haroche for some time to think about it.  Haroche agrees, but asks him not to take too long, since he already has a potential mission in mind.  He heads back to Vorkosigan House, somehow feeling like he’s retreating, and ends up fleeing to the small room on the fourth floor.  He realizes that he was kidding himself about how much he’d gotten over the loss of Admiral Naismith.  The Naismith part of him wants to accept the offer, to be reunited with Elli and Taura and the others, but the other part of him whispers that the price seems to be sacrificing Galeni, and letting Haroche get back to running ImpSec without Auditorial interference.

What if Galeni’s really guilty?  Can he really doubt his own character judgement that much?  He remembers the jump-pilot that he’d ordered Bothari to interrogate, back at the beginning of Naismith’s career, and who’d ended up dying; does he need to sacrifice another life now to go back to the Dendarii?  He suddenly remembers Haroche’s expression after he made the offer, and realizes that Haroche knew exactly what he was doing–he was, essentially, offering Miles a bribe.  He begins to realize how much he’s been underestimating Haroche, despite the knowledge that Illyan had appointed him to such a high ImpSec post.  Haroche must have felt sure that Miles would bite, especially with the captaincy thrown in.

Haroche certainly had no trouble figuring out where my on-switch was located. But Haroche was a loyal weasel, Miles would swear, loyal to Gregor and the Imperium, a true brother in arms. If money meant anything to the man, Miles had seen no hint of it. His passion was his ImpSec service, like Illyan himself, like Miles too. The work he had taken over from Illyan.

Miles’s breath stopped; for a moment, he felt as frozen as any cryo-corpse.

No. The work Haroche had taken away from Illyan.

Oh.

He suddenly realizes the motive, to get Illyan out of the picture, was just to allow Haroche to move into his job.  Haroche could easily have planted all of the evidence in the computer systems–who better?  Despite his conviction, though, he has no proof.  He could just accuse him out of the blue, but if he tipped his hand too soon, Haroche doubtless had other resources to marshall to get him out of the picture.  Even if he refused Haroche’s bribe, that might be enough to make him suspicious.  So he could take the bribe, and bide his time…but, he realizes, Haroche is probably not as enamoured of Admiral Naismith as he pretends, and he would be just waiting for the opportunity to bump Miles off untraceably.

His mother knocks on the door, and she and Illyan ask if he’s all right, because they’d heard him thumping around, and wondered if he was having a seizure.

He fought to keep his words even. “Just . . . wrestling with temptation.”

Illyan’s voice came back, amused. “Who’s winning?”

Miles’s eye followed the cracks in the plaster, overhead. His voice came out high and light, on a sigh: “I think . . . I’m going for the best two falls out of three.”

Even if he could trust Haroche, he thinks after they’ve left him alone, Haroche has only tempered his offer for Miles Naismith–he doesn’t know Lord Vorkosigan, which isn’t surprising since Miles hardly does, either.  Miles realizes he’s sick of trying to figure out what Haroche expects him to do.  What else can he do, though?

Who are you, boy?

. . . Who are you who asks?

On the thought a blessed silence came, an empty clarity. He took it at first for utter desolation, but desolation was a kind of free fall, perpetual and without ground below. This was stillness: balanced, solid, weirdly serene. No momentum to it at all, forward or backwards or sideways.

I am who I choose to be. I always have been what I chose . . . though not always what I pleased.

He lingers in his newfound serenity, choosing to be himself, and Haroche’s spectre dwindles.  He realizes that Haroche is likely to balk at actually having him killed, just yet, because that would draw the wrong kind of attention.  Galeni, on the other hand, is at high risk of a staged Vorish suicide, a supposed confession of guilt.

As soon as Haroche knew Miles knew, it would be a race against time. And all Miles had was a trail of mirrors and smoke.

Smoke.

Air filters.

Miles’s eyes widened.

Comments

This is the chapter.  This.

The detective realizes who the criminal is…but has no proof.  Nonetheless, he can now construct the entire chain of events, and everything fits together.  In case there was any doubt that at least one plotline in the book is a mystery–not quite a murder, but close to–that should be gone by now.

And yet, integrated with this scene is Miles wrestling with his own identity.  He realizes that he’s no longer the person that Haroche is trying to bribe, the one at the beginning of the book, who would have leapt at the chance to be reinstated.  Admiral Naismith is not completely gone, but he’s losing ground to Lord Vorkosigan, who can’t sacrifice a probably-innocent man, Duv Galeni, even to regain his heart’s desire.  So that’s Miles’s advantage, that Haroche doesn’t have his measure anymore, because he doesn’t realize how Miles has changed.  Of course, if Miles had been more willing to throw Galeni to the wolves, I’d be willing to bet that Haroche wouldn’t even have broached the subject of reinstatement…he only needed it as the bribe.

Miles’s epiphany, or revelation, or satori, or whatever he does, seems to hinge on a realization that he doesn’t have to choose to be a particular thing, and then try to shoehorn himself into it.  Which is good, because he’s rarely done that.  Was it just since the cryo-revival, when he had to try harder to be Admiral Naismith because it was slipping away from him?  Well, I’m sure he’ll fall back into that trap from time to time, because unless you live on a mountaintop somewhere you keep having to deal with a world that wants to put you in a box.

Sounds like a perfect qualification to being an Imperial Auditor, doesn’t it?


Tune in next week for…the Final Confrontation!  Good vs. Evil!  And something about air filters!

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