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…
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.
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…
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.
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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