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Posts Tagged ‘Pym’

It may feel like Kyril Island out there for a lot of us, but there is still hope, and warmth, as long as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues.  This week I managed to pull off another two-chapter post from Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, so there’s that.  So huddle around your computers, or smartphones, or whatever you may be using to read this, and remember that, on Barrayar, it’s summer, and it’s warm…at least in Vorbarr Sultana.

Chapter Eleven

Kareen and Martya peer at the front of the Vorthyses’ house, trying to figure out if there’s anyone there, when Nikki bursts out the front door and greets them.  They tell him they’ve come to talk to his mother, and he tells them she’s in the garden out back.  Kareen and her sister head through the house to the back yard, where Ekaterin is weeding busily; Kareen thinks it looks therapeutic.  She looks up and greets then, and Kareen admires the garden; Ekaterin says she’d started it back when she was a student, and her aunt has tried to keep it up.

They sit down in chairs on the deck, politely refusing Ekaterin’s offer of tea, because she knew that Ekaterin would have to go prepare it herself.  Guardedly, Kareen asks if she’s heard anything from Vorkosigan house; Ekaterin says she hasn’t.  Kareen is surprised that Miles hasn’t already starting trying to spin-doctor the dinner-party disaster; she says she’s actually worried about Mark, because she hasn’t heard a thing from him.  Ekaterin says she hasn’t heard, and Kareen says that she’s forbidden to visit or talk to anyone at Vorkosigan House; her parent made her swear, and then even stuck her with Martya as a snitch, which Martya herself isn’t happy about either.

Kareen complains that her parents seem to be trying to stop her from growing up; Ekaterin says that she does sympathize with the parental desire to keep your children safe.  Martya says that Kareen isn’t helping, the way she’s been carrying on.

“There’s something to that in both directions,” said Ekaterin mildly. “Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting like a child than to be treated like one. It’s so infuriating. It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Kareen eagerly. “You understand! So—how did you make them stop?”

“You can’t make them—whoever your particular them is—do anything, really,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.” Ekaterin looked up from her lap where her hands had been absently rubbing at the yard dirt smeared on them, and remembered to smile. Kareen felt an odd chill. It wasn’t just her reserve that made Ekaterin daunting, sometimes. The woman went down and down, like a well to the middle of the world. Kareen bet even Miles couldn’t shift her around at his will and whim.

Kareen says it’s like they’re asking her to choose between her family and her lover, and she doesn’t see why she can’t have both.  Mark somewhat over-romanticizes families, so he’d be heartbroken if she gave them up for him.  She says that if she was a real adult, she’d have an income, and enough money to leave home.  That’s why she’s taking part in the butter bug scheme, which she thinks will be huge, once it gets off the ground, and even Tsipis agrees that the idea is sound.  Her parents think she was just fooling around with Mark over at Vorkosigan House, but she was working, and her shares are there, and she doesn’t even know what’s going on!

Martya asks Ekaterin if she’s heard from Dr. Borgos, because she feels sorry for him; Ekaterin says she hasn’t.  Kareen is still mad at Enrique, though, for spilling the beans about her and Mark.  Martya says she missed a bet there–she could have been dropping awful hints about what she could have been doing on Beta Colony, and when their parents found out what she had been doing, they’d have been grateful it was only her and Mark.  Kareen, who had done more than that, holds her tongue.  Martya says that any normal person would be hard put to cope with Miles and Mark on a daily basis.

“You think Enrique is normal?” said Kareen to her sister, wrinkling her nose.

“Well . . . at least he’s a change from the sort of Lieutenant Lord Vor-I’m-God’s-Gift-to-Women we usually meet in Vorbarr Sultana. He doesn’t back you into a corner and gab on endlessly about military history and ordnance. He backs you into a corner and gabs on endlessly about biology, instead. Who knows? He might be good husband material.”

“Yeah, if his wife didn’t mind dressing up as a butter bug to lure him to bed,” said Kareen tartly. She made antennae of her fingers, and wriggled them at Martya.

Martya snickered, but said, “I think he’s the sort who needs a managing wife, so he can work fourteen hours a day in his lab.”

Kareen snorted. “She’d better seize control immediately. Yeah, Enrique has biotech ideas the way Zap the Cat has kittens, but it’s a near-certainty that whatever profit he gets from them, he’ll lose.”

Ekaterin wishes she had that kind of time to work, and Martya says that she’s like Enrique too–better suited for R&D than being a housewife.  Ekaterin asks if that means she needs a wife, rather than a husband, and Kareen suggests she try Beta Colony.

The conversation peters out for a time, until Martya brings up the ugliness of the butter bugs–except for the Vorkosigan ones, which actually looked nice.  Kareen said she hadn’t known Enrique could do that to the bugs; Ekaterin says she should have seen it, since it’s really just the microbes in the bugs’ gut that do the work, the rest of the bug just being vehicles for them.  Enrique just slapped together a bunch of bug genes to be functional, without caring what they look like.

Kareen says, slowly, that Ekaterin knows about aesthetics, always looking well put together despite her doubtless limited budget, having what Lady Alys calls “unerring taste”.  She says that Mark is good at deals, Miles is good at strategy and persuasion, and she’s not sure what she’s good at, but Ekaterin is good at beauty.  She asks Ekaterin to come up with a way to make butter bugs pretty–to redesign them, not worrying about the actual genetics, to look more appealing.  Ekaterin is dubious, but she says she could come up with a few ideas, trying to use colours found in nature, trying not to mess with the functional parts of the bug.  Kareen says they could hire her to produce a glorious butter bug; Ekaterin says they don’t need to pay her, and Kareen tells her never to say that, because people don’t value what they don’t pay for.  Though she’ll still have to accept pay in shares, like Ma Kosti did.

Ekaterin says she can produce some preliminary designs in a day or two, but she’ll need to meet with Mark and Enrique as well.  Obviously they can’t meet at Vorkosigan House, so Kareen asks if they can meet at the Vorthyses’ instead.  Ekaterin says that she won’t want to go behind the Koudelkas’ back, but if they allow it, for business purposes, she’ll go along with it.  Kareen says that Ekaterin could meet with Mark and Enrique without her, but she’d prefer to be there, and Ekaterin agrees.  Martya protests that she’ll be forced to duenna again, and Kareen says she’d be happy enough if Martya could convince their parents she wasn’t necessary.

They are interrupted by the arrival of Armsman Pym, who is discussing having Nikki come over to his own flat to play with his son.  Ekaterin sinks back into reserve at Pym’s arrival, and she sends Nikki back inside and greets Pym neutrally.  Pym greets Ekaterin politely, and is surprised to find the Koudelka sisters there.  Kareen wonders if she’s allowed to talk to Pym, or not…  Pym produces an envelope addressed to Madame Vorkosigan and sealed with the Vorkosigan arms.  He says that Miles has sent her this letter, and apologizes it took so long, which Pym adds is because of the drains.  Ekaterin takes the envelope cautiously, and Pym turns and excuses himself.

Kareen shrieks at Pym to tell her anything about what’s going on over at Vorkosigan House.  Martya objects, and Kareen asks her to ask him.  Martya agrees, reluctantly, and then asks Pym about the drains.  Kareen says she doesn’t care about the drains, and Martya says that she gets to talk to him, so she gets to decide on the topic.

Pym’s brows rose as he took this in, and his eyes glinted briefly. A sort of pious innocence informed his voice. “I’m most sorry to hear that, Miss Kareen. I trust the Commodore will see his way clear to lift our quarantine very soon. Now, m’lord told me I was not to hang about and distress Madame Vorsoisson with any ham-handed attempts at making things up to her, nor pester her by offering to wait for a reply, nor annoy her by watching her read his note. Very nearly his exact words, those. He never ordered me not to talk with you young ladies, however, not anticipating that you would be here.”

“Ah,” said Martya, in a voice dripping with, in Kareen’s view, unsavory delight. “So you can talk to me and Kareen, but not to Ekaterin. And Kareen can talk to Ekaterin and me—”

“Not that I’d want to talk to you,” Kareen muttered.

“—but not to you. That makes me the only person here who can talk to everybody. How . . . nice. Do tell me about the drains, dear Pym. Don’t tell me they backed up again.”

Pym obliges, telling her that Dr. Borgos, with an excess of bug butter accumulating in Kareen’s absence, ended up dumping two days’ worth of bug butter down the drain…  In the pipes it underwent a chemical reaction which caused it to solidify, and block the main drain, which caused an immediate crisis.  Miles, informing them all of his “rich military experience with drains”, led Pym and Armsman Roic down into the sub-basement to address the issue.  They could hardly refuse to follow him, especially given how much higher the effluent was on Miles than on them.  Miles dealt with the problem quickly, and the household rejoiced, but everyone got a slow start, including Pym, hence the delay in delivery of the letter.

Martya asks what happened to Enrique (as Kareen bounces in impatience), and Pym said that he himself had proposed hanging him upside down in the drains, but Cordelia settled for giving him an education talk about what should, and shouldn’t, go into the drains.

The story now over, Kareen pester Martya more to ask about Mark, and Pym waits patiently until Martya finally capitulates.  Pym starts to talk about Lord Mark’s dangerous overeating, then changes to a more general appraisal of “depression”, but Kareen can tell that Gorge and Howl have probably gotten loose.  Mark has been keeping busy helping Enrique with the bug recovery, and unsure how to proceed otherwise, not knowing how things were in the Koudelka household, but Pym will make sure he knows how things stand.  Kareen is reminded that Pym is former ImpSec and no stranger to deducing facts on scant evidence, so she is confident that Mark will in fact learn what’s going on.

Martya glanced sideways at Ekaterin, and added somewhat daringly, “And so how’s the skinny one?”

Pym hesitated, followed her glance, and finally replied, “I’m afraid the drain crisis brightened his life only temporarily.”

He sketched a bow at all three ladies, leaving them to construe the stygian blackness of a soul that could find fifty kilos of bug butter in the main drain an improvement in his gloomy world.

Pym bids them farewell, seeks assurances that Nikki will be allowed to visit Arthur, and takes his leave.  Martya shakes her head in amazement at how the Vorkosigans can get such people; Kareen says that Pym came courtesy of Simon Illyan himself, which Martya calls cheating.  Ekaterin’s hand keeps straying to where she has stored the envelope, and Kareen decides she probably won’t read it with them there, so she says goodbye as well, reminding her about the butter bug redesign.  Ekaterin promises to have something for them tomorrow.

After they leave, they bump into Pym waiting by his car, who asks if she read it yet.  Martya says no, not in front of them, and Pym is disappointed.  Martya asks how Miles really is, and Pym says he seems starved for action, lacking something to do, which is a frightening state for him to be in.  Kareen expects that most of the household is really hoping to get Miles laid, so that he’ll settle down and stop driving them crazy.  Pym offers them a ride, which they decline, and they part ways.

Ekaterin sits back down at the table in the garden and takes out the envelope to examine.  Sturdy, expensive paper, with the Vorkosigan seal indented by hand and smeared with reddish pigment.  She opens it and begins to read.

Dear Madame Vorsoisson, it began. I am sorry.

This is the eleventh draft of this letter. They’ve all started with those three words, even the horrible version in rhyme, so I guess they stay.

Her mind hiccuped to a stop. For a moment, all she could wonder was who emptied his wastebasket, and if they could be bribed. Pym, probably, and likely not. She shook the vision from her head, and read on.

I tried to be the thief of you, to ambush and take prisoner what I thought I could never earn or be given. You were not a ship to be hijacked, but I couldn’t think of any other plan but subterfuge and surprise. Though not as much of a surprise as what happened at dinner. The revolution started prematurely because the idiot conspirator blew up his secret ammo dump and lit the sky with his intentions. Sometimes those accidents end in new nations, but more often they end badly, in hangings and beheadings. And people running into the night. I can’t be sorry I asked you to marry me, because that was the one true part in all the smoke and rubble, but I’m sick as hell I asked you so badly.

Even though I’d kept my counsel from you, I should at least have done you the courtesy to keep it from others as well, till you’d had the year of grace and rest you’d asked for. But I became terrified you’d choose another first.

Ekaterin wonders who he thought she’d choose–Vormoncrief was impossible, Byerly Vorrutyer wasn’t serious, Zamori was kind but dull, and she quails at the thought of Enrique.

Miles goes on to admit he used the garden as a ploy to be near her, which he is now ashamed of.  He says it drove him crazy to see her constrained to tiny steps, when she could be running, so he also wanted to give her the chance to grow, even though he know it would be a conflict of interest.

I love you. But I lust after and covet so much more than your body. I wanted to possess the power of your eyes, the way they see form and beauty that isn’t even there yet and draw it up out of nothing into the solid world. I wanted to own the honor of your heart, unbowed in the vilest horrors of those bleak hours on Komarr. I wanted your courage and your will, your caution and serenity. I wanted, I suppose, your soul, and that was too much to want.

She put the letter down, shaken. After a few deep breaths, she took it up again.

I wanted to give you a victory. But by their essential nature triumphs can’t be given. They must be taken, and the worse the odds and the fiercer the resistance, the greater the honor. Victories can’t be gifts.

But gifts can be victories, can’t they. It’s what you said. The garden could have been your gift, a dowry of talent, skill, and vision.

I know it’s too late now, but I just wanted to say, it would have been a victory most worthy of our House.

Ekaterin takes a few moments to regain control of herself, and then rereads the letter again, and again.  She’s glad that it doesn’t seem to expect a reply, because she doesn’t feel up to one.  It’s more than honest, it’s soul-baring.  She wipes her eyes, then examines the seal again.  Traditionally, the red pigment used for the seal was blood, but generally one uses a special pigment stick instead, which these days come in a variety of colours for various purposes.  Miles’s pigment smear was traditional red-brown–because, she realizes, it is blood.  She doesn’t even think he was trying to be melodramatic about it, just methodical and proper, and he probably even owns a dagger with the seal in the hilt–a collector’s piece these days for most people, but he probably uses it just as a tool.

She wonders about his reference to ship hijacking, and makes a mental note to twit him sometime about excessive honesty being a bad idea for a former covert agent.  She reads over his declaration of love a few more times, until the letters start to blur.  Reading the letter again, she notices something missing from it–any kind of plea for forgiveness, or reconciliation, or even seeing her again.  Is he too arrogant to beg for forgiveness, or does he think he has no chance of receiving it?  Or both at once?  She remembers how the cycle went with Tien after an argument, and how she often short-circuited it, leaping right to forgiveness, because she couldn’t bear the coldness of in-between.  Had she missed something important?

What does she do now?  How does she go forward?  She can’t go back, she knows, and she doesn’t want to, to try to shrink and fit back into her old self.  Does she have to answer Miles’s question?  She wants a middle ground between yes and no.

Comments

I tried to summarize Miles’s letter, but in the end I couldn’t do much, and hopefully the copyright police won’t get after me.  It is a magnificent piece of abject, quite well done, not holding back.  The ball does seem, in many ways, back in Ekaterin’s court. She has to decide how to respond to it–where ignoring Miles for the rest of their lives is certainly one of the potential choices, but I get the feeling that she’s not leaning that way.  She has plenty of feelings to work through, many of which have been lurking in the back of her head, but which she’s been firmly suppressing, like the ones that arose when she thought Miles had sent the baba…  She can no longer convince herself he’s not serious, in any event.

It’s interesting how she dismisses the ones that Miles consider his most serious competitors–Zamori and Enrique–out of hand.  Zamori is dull, Enrique she doesn’t even really give a reason for, but considers him absurd.  Most tellingly, Lord Dono doesn’t even show up on her list, but then I guess he never really actually wooed her, even as much as Enrique.

And speaking of Enrique, this is where Martya first seems to start seriously considering him.  Not really a romantic interest, as far as I can tell, but a “potential wife” interest, if that makes sense.  Martya isn’t a particularly romantic sort, it seems, so she’s willing to consider marriage as more a practical matter.  The scene with Martya being the only one allowed to talk to everyone was somewhat amusing, given her contrariness, though Pym’s deadpan delivery of Miles’s drain-cleaning story is also noteworthy.  Kareen’s realization that Ekaterin should be the one to redesign the butter bugs is also a great moment.  (So what is her talent, then?  Does she have one?  Sounds like a question I should asking about a Xanth character or something.)

Chapter Twelve

Ivan is getting ready for work in the morning when his apartment door-chime rings, to his surprise.  He opens the door to reveal By Vorrutyer, and then is unable to close it fast enough before By gets his foot in.  By is apparently up late, rather than early, and tells Ivan he needs to talk to him about Miles.  Ivan considers various techniques for dislodging By’s foot, saying that he doesn’t want to hear about Miles any more than he wants to hear about Dono.  Ivan says to go tell Miles himself, and By says he’d rather not, but he’s very interested in what Miles does with his vote.  Ivan says that the vote is technically Count Aral’s, who is now back in Vorbarr Sultana; By says that it’s well known that 90% of the time the Count leaves his son in charge of the proxy.

By asks if Ivan has some coffee, and when he says no, asks him to make some; Ivan is unmoved, but so is By.  He asks Ivan again about Miles, and Ivan says that after the debacle at the dinner party, he’s avoiding Miles; Aunt Cordelia can take care of him.  By says that what Miles did was a horrible faux pas, but, in Dono’s judgement, still fixable…but soon it won’t be any more.  Ivan, curiosity finally whetted, and against his better judgement, finally relents and lets By in.

By says that last night he was at a private dinner at the Vormoncriefs’, hosted by Count Boriz and his nephew Alexi.  Richars Vorrutyer, alarmed at Dono’s return, came into town to court Boriz’s vote.  Also present were Count Vormuir, and Boriz’s son-in-law, Sigur Vorbretten.  Richars quickly won Boriz over with promises to vote Conservative once he won his Countship.  Ivan asks what By was doing there, and By says that he’s convinced Richars that he’s spying on Dono for him, oblivious of the fact that By is actually working against him.

Vormuir brought up Miles’s judgement against him, and then they groused about the cost of the Komarran solar mirror repairs, which of course also came back to Miles.  Alexi mentioned the refusal of his proposal to Ekaterin, and then Sigur Vorbretten told them a garbled version of the dinner party story, including Ekaterin’s fleeing from Miles’s proposal; Ivan wonders how that story has even started making the rounds, but By points out that there were nineteen people there, not including servants and Armsmen, so somebody was bound to have mentioned it.  The Conservative crew chewed over these facts, and finally came up with a Theory to explain them…which evolved into a full-blown Slander.

“Oh, shit,” whispered Ivan.

By gave him a sharp look. “You anticipate me? Goodness, Ivan. What unexpected depths. You can imagine the conversation; I had to sit through it. Alexi piping about the damned mutant daring to court the Vor lady. Vormuir opining it was bloody convenient, say what, the husband killed in some supposed-accident in the middle of Vorkosigan’s case. Sigur saying, But there weren’t any charges, Count Boriz eyeing him like the pitiful waif he is and rumbling, There wouldn’t be—the Vorkosigans have had ImpSec under their thumb for thirty years, the only question is whether was it collusion between the wife and Vorkosigan? Alexi leaping to the defense of his lady-love—the man just does not take a hint—and declaring her innocent, unsuspecting till Vorkosigan’s crude proposal finally tipped his hand. Her storming out was Proof! Proof!—actually, he said it three times, but he was pretty drunk by then—that she, at least, now realized Miles had cleverly made away with her beloved spouse to clear his way to her, and she ought to know, she was there. And he bet she would be willing to reconsider his own proposal now! Since Alexi is a known twit, his seniors were not altogether convinced by his arguments, but willing to give the widow the benefit of the doubt for the sake of family solidarity. And so on.”

Ivan asks why By didn’t stop them, and By says he didn’t want to blow his cover, and in any case he had little hope of diverting their momentum.  Ivan says Miles will deal handily with them if they try to bring charges, and By agrees, but says that he won’t be able to do much about rumour and whisper.  By says that the five rumourmongers are still sleeping it off, so Miles may be able to get on top of damage control if he’s alerted early enough.  Ivan says that it sounds more like a matter for ImpSec, recalling Miles’s earlier statements on the Komarr matter, and By isn’t sure that ImpSec will be able to do much about it.

Ivan checks the time and says he has to leave for work now.  By accedes, asking if Ivan can get him a wedding invitation; Ivan tells him to ask Dono, if he manages to win his Countship.  Ivan tries to figure out how to tell Miles about it, and, picturing the reception if he delivers the news in person, decides to call him on the comconsole instead.  He gets the answering program, and leaves a message for Miles to call him back, promising himself to try to follow up later.

Mark and Enrique arrive at the Vorthys house for the meeting, and Ekaterin lets them inside, telling them that Kareen and Martya are already there.  Mark greets her fervently, and Kareen says she’s now allowed to talk to Mark, but only about business.  Martya is there as a duenna again, which she says is a little bit late–she would have been more use on Beta Colony.

Enrique asks them if they knew that Mark’s mother was a Betan Survey captain, and he’s amazed that they’re not more impressed about it; Mark has been hearing about this for two days now.  Enrique says he gave her his dissertation to read.

Kareen, her eyes widening, asked, “Did she understand it?”

“Of course she did. She was a Betan Survey commander, for God’s sake! Do you have any idea how those people are chosen, what they do? If I’d completed my postgraduate work with honors, instead of all that stupid misunderstanding with the arrest, I could have hoped, only hoped, to put in an application, and even then I wouldn’t have had a prayer of beating out all the Betan candidates, if it weren’t for their off-worlder quotas holding open some places specifically for non-Betans.” Enrique was breathless with the passion of this speech. “She said she would recommend my work to the attention of the Viceroy. And she said my sonnet was very ingenious. I composed a sestina in her honor in my head while I was catching bugs, but I haven’t had time to get it down yet. Survey captain!”

“It’s . . . not what Tante Cordelia is most famous for, on Barrayar,” Martya offered after a moment.

“The woman is wasted here. All the women are wasted here.” Enrique subsided grumpily. Martya turned half-around, and gave him an odd raised-brows look.

Kareen asks about the bug roundup, and Enrique says they’ve found most of them, but the queen is still missing.
Ekaterin thanks Enrique for sending her the butter bug model, which was a big help, and then proceeds to her presentation.  She starts with a enlarged projection of the standard butter bug, and says that she’s just run off four quick variations.  The first that she shows them is just pure, shiny black, elongated to hide the abdomen, which impresses them all; the second is mostly black, but with rounded wing carapaces covered in rainbow stripes, which Martya declares to be pretty.  The next one, Ekaterin says, she was trying to play with the possibilities.  It looks almost like a rose bud, leaf-green and red, carapaces like petals, even little thorns on the bug’s legs.  Kareen loves it, and Enrique is a little startled, but admits it could be done.  Ekaterin admits that it would be more practical for bugs that weren’t roaming freely, since the petals would be awkward, and get damaged or catch on things.  She says she had thought they might decorate the bugs differently for different sets of microbes, which Enrique thinks is a good idea.  Then she shows the last image.

This bug’s legs and body parts were a deep, glimmering blue. The carapace halves flared and then swept back in a teardrop shape. Their center was a brilliant yellow, shading immediately to a deep red-orange, then to light flame blue, then dark flame blue edged with flickering iridescence. The abdomen, barely visible, was a rich dark red. The creature looked like a flame, like a torch in the dusk, like a jewel cast from a crown. Four people leaned forward so far they nearly fell off their chairs. Martya’s hand reached out. Ekaterin smiled demurely.

“Wow, wow, wow,” husked Kareen. “Now that is a glorious bug!”

“I believe that was what you ordered, yes,” murmured Ekaterin.

Ekaterin shows the bug in motion, too, and suggests that Enrique find a way to make them glow in the dark.  Enrique says that it should be possible, and it would make them easier to find, but it would reduce their butter production due to the energy costs; Mark suggests thinking of it as an advertising budget.  He says they should have a shareholder’s vote to decide which one they should use.  Enrique points out they should take the advice of their aesthetics consultant as well; Ekaterin says she did the aesthetics, but she has only a vague idea how easily they could be produced, and the more striking designs may take longer.  Kareen asserts that time is of the essence–they need to get the product launched and making money so the business can get off the ground.

Mark likes the black one, Kareen the flowery one, and Enrique the glorious one; when he says that it would be faster than the flowery one, Kareen switches her vote.  Mark says that he still has 51% of the shares, before realizing that giving shares to Kareen and Ma Kosti have deprived him of his majority.  Kareen insists that Ekaterin get paid in shares, too, despite her protest that it wasn’t that hard.  Mark complies reluctantly, quickly processing and printing out a share receipt for Ekaterin.

Mark says that they need to be going, to try to finish the bug-hunt and get everything back on track.  He asks Kareen if her parents are willing to relent enough to let her come back to work; Kareen grimaces, and Martya explains that they’re having a hard time with it.  Their father is having a hard enough time coping with Delia getting married, Kareen, Mark, Beta Colony and the Orb are not something he’s equipped to deal with.  On the other hand, Martya points out that she is not forbidden to go to Vorkosigan House…  She says she might be willing to consider it, for a few shares of her own, and Mark thinks this would be a great idea, even if she doesn’t like him personally.  He puts it to Enrique, still absorbed with the glorious bug, and eventually gets him to agree that Martya would be fine.  As they’re preparing to leave, Mark asks Kareen how long she think it’ll take to resolve this mess with her family.

“It’s resolved already.” Her expression was disturbingly fey. “I’m done arguing, though I’m not sure they realize it yet. I’ve had it. While I’m still living in my parents’ house, I’ll continue to hold myself honor-bound to obey their rules, however ludicrous. The moment I’ve figured out how to be somewhere else without compromising my long-range goals, I’ll walk away. Forever, if need be.” Her mouth was grim and determined. “I don’t expect to be there much longer.”

“Oh,” said Mark. He wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, or meant to do, but it sounded . . . ominous. It terrified him to think that he might be the cause of her losing her family. It had taken him a lifetime, and dire effort, to win such a place of his own. The Commodore’s clan had looked to be such a golden refuge, to him . . . “It’s . . . a lonely place to be. On the outside like that.”

She shrugged. “So be it.”

On the way out, Mark asks Ekaterin if she wants him to take a message back to Vorkosigan House.  She touches her bolero over her heart, where Mark deduces the letter is being stored, and says that she accepts his apology, but she can’t answer his question.  They leave the house, Kareen heading determinedly off in one direction as the others head back to Vorkosigan House.

Miles has been waiting for Mark’s return, and immediately asks him if he saw Ekaterin, and if she had read his letter.  Mark reminds Miles that he had been sternly admonished not to ask her about it.

Impatiently, Miles waved this off. “Directly. You know I meant not to ask directly. I just wondered if you could tell . . . anything.”

“If I could tell what a woman was thinking just by looking at her, would I look like this?” Mark made a sweeping gesture at his face, and glowered.

“How the hell would I know? I can’t tell what you’re thinking just because you look surly. You usually look surly.”

Mark says that he does have a message from Kareen, which gets Miles excited; he says that she accepts his apology, and congratulates him on having been forgiven.  Miles asks if there’s anything else–whether he’d be permitted or forbidden to visit, or anything.  Mark says that she said she couldn’t answer his question, and that’s all.  Miles withdraws to try to figure out what this says.  Not no, but not yes–maybe another last chance, maybe back to square one.

How should he approach matters this time around?  Not poetry, that’s for sure–his attempts at rhyming were execrable, and if by fluke he produced something worthwhile, he doesn’t want to get her hopes up.  No more false pretenses, he decides.  But hope has reappeared in his life.  He wonders how he might go about becoming her friend, what kind of thing she would like to do…

Pym announces the arrival of a visitor–Lord Richars Vorrutyer, who asks to be called “Lord Vorrutyer”.  Miles is not pleased with his arrival, and asks if he needs an Imperial Auditor for something.  Richars says he wanted to talk to the Count about Lady Donna’s suit, but the Count sent him to Miles.  Miles’s father has decided that his visit to Barrayar is a vacation from Viceroying, not a return to Counting, and is leaving Miles in charge of the vote.  Miles pointedly does not ask for refreshments, not wanting to encourage Richars to linger.

Richars commiserates with Miles on the presence of his “fat clone”, which doesn’t endear him to Miles, and he pushes Richars to get to the point.  Richars wants to talk about Lady Donna, and the mockery she is making of the Vorrutyer name.  Miles says that he’s pretty sure that Beta Colony would have done a good job on Lord Dono.  Richars thinks it’s absurd–nobody would want to marry a woman-turned-man, and so she wouldn’t be able to sire an heir; Miles says it’s not inconceivable, and in any case not every Count produced a true heir.  Richars begins speculating on Ivan’s relationship with her.

“He used to screw her, you know. So did half the men in Vorbarr Sultana.”

“I’d heard . . . something.” Go away, Richars. I don’t want to deal with your smarmy notion of wit right now.

“I wonder if he still . . . well! I’d never have thought Ivan Vorpatril climbed into that side of the bunk, but live and learn!”

“Um, Richars . . . you have a consistency problem, here,” Miles felt compelled to point out. “You cannot logically imply my cousin Ivan is a homosexual for screwing Dono, not that I think he is doing so, unless you simultaneously grant Dono is actually male. In which case, his suit for the Vorrutyer Countship holds.”

Richars dismisses that issue, and tries appealing to Miles’s Vor loyalty–he says that Lady Donna’s crass “prank” strikes at Vor power itself, regardless of political stripe.  Miles is noncommittal, but he admits to himself that he might need to make this decision based on something more than the fact that Dono amuses him more than Richars does.  Richars asks about a vote-trade; Miles says he is interested in the soletta repairs, but he thinks Gregor has the votes for that one well in hand.  He brings up René Vorbretten; Richars is sorry for the poor fellow, but since he’s Cetagandan, he obviously can’t be a Count.  Richars has already promised his vote on that matter to Sigur Vorbretten and Count Vormoncrief, nothing to be done there.

Richars laments the delay in his confirmation caused by Lady Donna’s sick joke.  Miles says that Lord Dono must be deathly serious about the issue to have essentially killed “Lady Donna”, and thus might do a good job to warrant the high price paid.  Richars begins to realize that Miles is actually considering voting for Dono, and asks him to think of what his grandfather would think.  Miles says that Lord Dono is sufficiently charming to win friends on his own merits, but Richars dismisses her as a lunatic.  He asks Miles his own opinion of her, and Miles said he had other concerns; Richars says he’d heard all about it.

Richars takes this as an opportunity to bring up the topic of Miles’s failed proposal to Ekaterin (who he calls “Alexi’s widow”).  He deplores Miles’s failure to spring his trap properly, and calls it “a leetle obvious”.  Miles shifts into neutral ImpSec mode and replies noncommittally.  Richars mentions Ekaterin’s husband’s “convenient” death, and how she must have figured out the truth behind it now.  Miles says it was a breath mask accident, and Richars says that those could be easy to arrange.  Miles parries with the accusations about Pierre’s fiancée’s death, but Richars points out he was cleared of those charges.  Miles hasn’t been cleared of anything yet, but of course nobody would be fool enough to try to bring him down.

Miles knows that any such charges would be quashed, rather than bring up the classified Komarr affair, but it would do little for his and Ekaterin’s reputations.  Richars says that it would be a great benefit for Miles if charges were to not get laid.

“Come on, Vorkosigan. We’re both as Old Vor as it’s possible to be. It’s stupid of us to be brangling when we should both be on the same side. Our interests march together. It’s a tradition. Don’t pretend your father and grandfather weren’t top party horse-traders.”

“My grandfather . . . learned his political science from the Cetagandans. Mad Emperor Yuri offered him postgraduate instruction after that. My grandfather schooled my father.” And both of them schooled me. This is the only warning you will receive, Richars. “By the time I knew Piotr, Vorbarr Sultana party politics were just an amusing pastime to him, to entertain him in his old age.”

Miles asks, just to be clear, if Richars is asking him to vote against Dono in return for not pressing a murder charge on him.  He points out that someone else might always make such an accusation, and he’s also not sure that the story of his dinner party has reached that wide of an audience yet.  Inside, though, he’s frantically wondering how the story got out, and how far it has spread.

Then he smiles and thanks Richars for settling his mind on how he’s going to vote on the Vorrutyer Countship.  Richars takes this to mean that he’s succeeded.  Miles considers that bribing an Imperial Auditor is treason, but he’s being a Count’s Deputy right now, so it doesn’t seem fair.  Besides, he’s beginning to want to crush Richars himself.  He smiles, shakes Richars’s hand, and bids him farewell.

Once Richars leaves, Miles snarls and hurls his grandfather’s dagger into the doorframe.  Once he’s calmed down, he goes to his comconsole, disregards another message from Ivan asking him to call, and calls Guy Allegre at ImpSec.  He tells Allegre about the gossip about his role in Tien’s death, adding that he was, actually, attempting to woo his widow.  Allegre says that he’s heard about that last bit already.  Miles adds that Richars is trying to blackmail him into voting against Dono–and failing, though he doesn’t know it yet–but he needs to know if this is entirely fabrication, or if there’s an actual leak.  Allegre says they don’t think it’s a leak, but he encourages Miles to do nothing to call attention to what really happened on Komarr.  Miles says he plans to call Ekaterin and give her a heads-up on the matter, but Allegre asks him to hold off until they’ve run a check on her, in case she’s been careless enough to give something away.

ImpSec had never been happy to have Ekaterin, an oath-free civilian not under their control in any way, standing in the heart of the hottest secret of the year, or maybe the century. Despite the fact that she’d personally hand-delivered it to them, the ingrates. “She is not careless. She is in fact extremely careful.”

“In your observation.”

“In my professional observation.”

Allegre gave him a placating nod. “Yes, m’lord. We would be pleased to prove that. You don’t, after all, want ImpSec to be . . . confused.”

Miles blew out his breath in dry appreciation of this last dead-pan remark. “Yeah, yeah,” he conceded.

Miles reluctantly agrees to wait to hear from ImpSec before telling Ekaterin about it, hoping that, reclusive as she is, she won’t encounter it as common gossip.  Then he reconsiders his conversation with Richars, and realizes that he may have mishandled it–Richars was more of a bully, and he might have backed down if Miles had stood up to him.  Now he may end up with a permanent enemy on the Council, and he may force Richars to follow through and press the charges.  He doesn’t want to do that to Ekaterin, drag her through the ending of her marriage all over again, however truncated.  Best result, then would be for him to push for Dono to win the Countship.

He calls Vorrutyer House, and to his surprise finds the call answered by Olivia Koudelka, who fetches Dono directly.  Miles assures Dono that he has the support of the Vorkosigans, explaining that a visit from Richars helped sway him.  He invites Dono to join him and René Vorbretten at Vorkosigan House to strategize, and it is organized for two days hence.

After that, he considers calling Ekaterin, but can’t make himself do it.  If he calls her and doesn’t mention this tangle, he’ll be lying by omission, but he promised Allegre he wouldn’t talk about it.  He wishes now that he’d let her have her year of mourning without interference, until Tien’s death could be forgotten, and he could have courted her openly.  But he’d pushed it too far, not to mention telling everyone in the capital about it.

I want a time machine, so’s I can go back and shoot myself.

He had to admit, the whole extended scenario lent itself beautifully to political disinformation. In his covert ops days, he’d fallen with chortles of joy on lesser slips by his enemies. If he were ambushing himself, he’d regard it as a godsend.

You did ambush yourself, you idiot.

The one good thing about Richars’s scenario is that it paints Ekaterin as entirely innocent, so if he stays away from her, then perhaps he can keep it that way.  But how long can he make himself do that?  Will it takes years before the rumour fades entirely?  How could love have produced such a tangle?

Ivan appears then, and asks Miles why he never called him back.  Miles apologizes, saying he’d been busy, and tells Ivan he’s been blindsided by Richars Vorrutyer.  Ivan says that if Miles had called him, he wouldn’t have been blindsided, because By Vorrutyer had told him that morning.  He’s not sure why, if By was just trying to stir up trouble, or playing some sneaky game, or what.

Miles asks Ivan to quash the rumour if he encounters it, but Ivan said that as Miles’s cousin, he has no credibility on the matter, and he doesn’t know anything anyway.  Ivan says that he doesn’t have to help Miles, it’s not his job, and he’s busy working for his mother anyway.

Miles sat back, and regarded Ivan for a long moment. “You’re right,” he said at last. “I have abused your loyalty too many times. I’m sorry. Never mind.”

Ivan, caught with a mouthful of wine, stared at him in shock, his brows drawing down. He finally managed to swallow. “What do you mean, never mind?”

“I mean, never mind. There’s no reason to draw you into this ugly mess, and every reason not to.” Miles doubted there’d be much honor for Ivan to win in his vicinity this time, not even the sort that sparked so briefly before being buried forever in ImpSec files. Besides, he couldn’t think offhand of anything Ivan could do for him.

“No need? Never mind? What are you up to?”

Miles tells Ivan sincerely that there’s nothing he can do to help Miles, but Ivan seems suspicious that Miles is trying to pull something on him.  He leaves, indignantly muttering about Miles claiming he can’t help.

Comments

Long chapter…  The best part is the scene with Ekaterin’s butter bugs, where she demonstrates the knack for aesthetics that Kareen had seen in her.  More of the budding Martya and Enrique relationship.  Kareen definitely seems to be on the edge–she’s almost had it with her family, or at least her parents, getting into the “waiting until I can leave home” phase.  I seem to recall how her plotline resolves, but I can’t remember the exact path it takes to get there.  And Olivia is over at Dono Vorrutyer’s house!  What the heck is up with that?

Then we have the beginning of the vicious rumour plotline.  Various Conservative scumbags (alas, we are given little chance to paint them otherwise, though we only really get to see Richars condemn himself with what comes out of his mouth) concoct a story of half-truths that Miles can’t just come out and deny.  Richars attempts to use it to blackmail Miles.  It will likely backfire on both of them, but Miles prepares to live with that to spare Ekaterin.  Definitely seems like a lose-lose situation, no way to get out of it…but it does put Miles firmly on Dono’s side, at least.

The last scene there is from Miles’s POV, and it does seem like he’s not deliberately trying to convince Ivan to help him using reverse psychology…but I’m afraid that is just what he’s done.  Because obviously trying to keep Ivan uninvolved is just part of Miles’s plan, isn’t it?  Well, that’ll teach him to try to keep Ivan from helping him…


Definitely longer chapters in this book, hoo boy.  Not sure if I can keep two chapters for long, without seriously denting my other pastimes, but we’ll see.  Does Diplomatic Immunity have shorter chapters, perhaps?  It’s more actiony and less talky, as I recall, so I guess I can hope…

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Scintillate, scintillate, globule aurific; fain would I fathom thy nature specific.  Sesquipedalian version of a child’s nursery rhyme?  Or a contrived introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  You decide.  In the meantime…um, well, here’s another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week I managed to cover two full chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, her SF/romance hybrid where her regular protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is joined by a capable supporting cast, including Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the woman he’s secretly (from her, at least) in love with…

Chapter Five

Ekaterin arrives at Vorkosigan House with a question for Miles, which she tells Pym isn’t urgent; Pym goes off to fetch him, though Ekaterin realizes that he may still be asleep.  She heads up to the library to wait for him, and is startled to find it occupied, by a man who she immediately realizes must be Miles’s clone-brother Mark; she notices the resemblances immediately, despite his barrier of flesh.  He doesn’t seem annoyed at her presence, and she introduces herself, calling herself Miles’s “landscape consultant”.

She says that they’re taking down an old maple tree, and wants to know what Miles wants with done with the remains.  Mark immediately says that if it’s “Earth-descended organic matter”, he’ll take anything of it that Miles doesn’t want, though he doesn’t say why, telling her that he doesn’t garden.

The decidedly disjointed conversation was interrupted by a booted tread, and Armsman Pym leaning around the doorframe to announce, “M’lord will be down in a few minutes, Madame Vorsoisson. He says, please don’t go away.” He added in a more confiding tone, “He had one of his seizures last night, so he’s a little slow this morning.”

“Oh, dear. And they give him such a headache. I shouldn’t trouble him till he’s had his painkillers and black coffee.” She turned for the door.

“No, no! Sit down, madame, sit, please. M’lord would be right upset with me if I botched his orders.” Pym, smiling anxiously, motioned her urgently toward a chair; reluctantly, she sat. “There now. Good. Don’t move.” He watched her a moment as if to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, then hurried off again. Lord Mark stared after him.

Mark says that he’d thought that Miles’s seizures were practically cured; Ekaterin says that they’re more “controlled”, and she’s seen one of them herself.  At Mark’s prodding, she says that it was on Komarr, during his recent Auditorial case.  She mentions the device he uses to trigger them, though she wonders if the one he’d just suffered had been manually triggered or if he’d waited too long, and says she heard it was from cryo-revival damage.  Mark tells her that Miles got killed trying to save Mark, and Ekaterin says she Miles hasn’t told her much of his prior career in impSec.

Miles emerges shortly thereafter, freshly washed and smartly dressed, but otherwise looking like death warmed over; Ekaterin tells him that he shouldn’t have gotten up.  Pym arrives with coffee and breakfast, and after taking a few sips, Miles regains language ability and greets Ekaterin properly.  He notes that she’s up early, and she forebears to contradict him; she says that she was eager to get started.  Her hired crew is out gathering up the sod and topsoil, and preparing to transplant the oak, and she asks him what to do with the maple.  Miles says they want it for firewood, and they have a pile to store it for household use and Winterfair bonfires.  Mark says he’ll take the leaves and clippings for Enrique’s project, and Miles says that’s up to their “eight thousand little friends”.

Ekaterin, deciding to stay a little longer so as not to have gotten Miles out of bed for nothing, says they should be able to start excavating tomorrow; she has secured all the necessary permits, and learned more than she wanted to about Vorbarr Sultana infrastructure in the process.  Miles agrees that it’s old and strange, and says she should ask Drou about the time she and Cordelia escaped through the sewers with Vordarian’s head.  He says the dinner party is scheduled for a week tomorrow, which works for her as well.

Miles says he just got back from a bizarre Auditorial errand Gregor sent him on, mostly because of his Betan background.  He tells Mark that their father had put in place legislation making it easier for ordinary Barrayarans to move from one district to another, changing their fealty to another Count; the result has been that people have been voting with their feet, and some Districts have been hemorrhaging population as a result.  The Vorkosigan District is holding steady, losing people to Vorbarr Sultana and Sergyar but gaining people with the up-to-date educational and medical facilities in Hassadar.  A certain Count Vormuir, however, has been losing steadily.

Ekaterin listens, entranced, as Miles outlines Vormuir’s novel solution to the problem.  He bought thirty uterine replicators and began to populate them.  With daughters, the oldest of which is two years old.  Count Vormuir himself is the father, but his wife will have none of the affair, and has moved out, refusing him conjugal visits under the threat of plasma arc.  The eggs have been surplus backups, which would otherwise have been discarded, from the District’s own replicator crèche, which Vormuir claims doesn’t violate any Barrayaran law.  By now he has 92 daughters, plus another batch of thirty in the replicators; Miles has ordered him not to start any more, which he wouldn’t be able to do for seven months anyway.

Mark says there should be a law against this, and Miles agrees, but they have to take some time and figure out what kind of law first, studying how other planets are dealing with it.  Even so, Vormuir won’t be affected by the new law.  There’s no rape involved, the children are well taken care of, they’re all his own daughters and so not legally slaves, and the eggs haven’t technically been stolen.  Ekaterin says that the girls should technically belong to their mothers, but Miles says that he’s not sure that applies if Vormuir never married any of them; in any event, he expects few of the mothers would want them, and if they did, they’d still be new population for Vormuir’s District.

Ekaterin’s brows drew down in thought. “By your account, Vormuir is much taken with economies, of scale and otherwise.” Only long after Nikki’s birth had she wondered if Tien had pushed for the old-fashioned way because it had seemed much cheaper. We won’t have to wait until we can afford it had been a potent argument, in her eager ears. Vormuir’s motivation seemed as much economic as genetic: ultimately, wealth for his District and therefore for him. This techno-harem was intended to become future taxpayers, along with the husbands he no doubt assumed they would draw in, to support him in his old age. “In effect, the girls are the Count’s acknowledged bastards. I’m sure I read somewhere . . . in the Time of Isolation, weren’t Imperial and count-palatine female bastards entitled to a dowry, from their high-born father? And it required some sort of Imperial permission . . . the dowry almost was the sign of legal acknowledgment. I’ll bet the Professora would know all the historical details, including the cases where the dowries had to be dragged out by force. Isn’t an Imperial permission effectively an Imperial order? Couldn’t Emperor Gregor set Count Vormuir’s dowries for the girls . . . high?”

“Oh.” Lord Vorkosigan sat back, his eyes widening with delight. “Ah.” An evil grin leaked between his lips. “Arbitrarily high, in fact. Oh . . . my.” He looked across at her. “Madame Vorsoisson, I believe you have hit on a possible solution. I will certainly pass the idea along as soon as I may.”

Ekaterin is gratified at his approval of her suggestion, and hopes she’s helped him feel better about his morning.  She checks the time, and exclaims that she needs to be outside to meet the tree-removal crew.  Pym and Miles escort her to the front door, and Miles encourages her to stop in again, telling Pym to show her where to put the maple wood.

Ekaterin glanced back over her shoulder. “He didn’t look very well this morning, Pym. You really shouldn’t have let him get out of bed.”

“Oh, I know it, ma’am,” Pym agreed morosely. “But what’s a mere Armsman to do? I haven’t the authority to countermand his orders. What he really needs, is looking after by someone who won’t stand his nonsense. A proper Lady Vorkosigan would do the trick. Not one of those shy, simpering ingenues all the young lords seem to be looking to these days, he’d just ride right over her. He needs a woman of experience, to stand up to him.” He smiled apologetically down at her.

“I suppose so,” sighed Ekaterin. She hadn’t really thought about the Vor mating scene from the Armsmen’s point of view. Was Pym hinting that his lord had such an ingenue in his eye, and his staff was worried it was some sort of mismatch?

Ekaterin gets to thinking about this possible ingenue, supposing that Miles will probably need to look to the younger generation for potential brides these days.  He’ll probably have to settle for an intellectual light-weight, and hope for one who won’t snub him for his physical defects.  She’s surprised to find herself indignant at the image of this idiot girl turning up her nose at Miles, and firmly turns herself back to the prospect of tree demolition.

Inside, Miles returns to the library, sitting down with care and resuming his breakfast.  He tells Mark he thought the conversation went well, and asks what they talked about before he arrived.  Mark says they discussed his seizures, and scolds Miles for not giving him all the information on them.  Miles says Mark couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and while Mark still blames himself, Miles says it was the Jacksonian sniper who did the damage, after all.
Miles asks what Mark thinks of Ekaterin, as a possible Lady Vorkosigan.

Mark blinked. “What?”

“What do you mean, what? She’s beautiful, she’s smart—dowries, ye gods, how perfect, Vormuir will split—she’s incredibly level-headed in emergencies. Calm, y’know? A lovely calm. I adore her calm. I could swim in it. Guts and wit, in one package.”

“I wasn’t questioning her fitness. That was a merely a random noise of surprise.”

“She’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece. She has a son, Nikki, almost ten. Cute kid. Wants to be a jump-pilot, and I think he has the determination to make it. Ekaterin wants to be a garden designer, but I think she could go on to be a terraformer. She’s a little too quiet, sometimes—she needs to build up her self-confidence.”

“Perhaps she was just waiting to get a word in edgewise,” Mark suggested.

Mark contemplates Ekaterin; he supposes that she might appeal to Miles, with his taste for “brainy brunettes”, though he himself preferred curvy blondes, like Kareen.  He’s glad he has Kareen, who’s making him more human just by being around him.  He tells himself that he can’t take her recent attack of nerves personally.  Killer whispers in his head that she’s probably found someone else, and he knows how to deal with problems like that; Mark shushes him.  Even if she had, her honesty would have led her to tell him about it already.  All Mark knows is that, if he had to choose, he’d rather have Kareen than oxygen.  He briefly considers talking to Miles on the issue, but he holds off, not sure that Miles wouldn’t lead the posse after Mark’s head.

Mark asks Miles if Ekaterin knows about Miles’s intentions; Miles says that it’s a tricky situation.  She’s recently widowed, and her husband died recently on Komarr, under circumstances that Miles can’t talk about, but was far too close to.  So she’s not ready to be courted, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the onslaught of Vor bachelors, or the non-Vor either.  Miles’s plan is to get in under her radar as a friend, and then make his move when the time is ripe.

“And, ah, when are you planning to spring this stunning surprise on her?” Mark asked, fascinated.

Miles stared at his boots. “I don’t know. I’ll recognize the tactical moment when I see it, I suppose. If my sense of timing hasn’t totally deserted me. Penetrate the perimeter, set the trip lines, plant the suggestion—strike. Total victory! Maybe.”

He asks Mark not to spill the beans, and Mark says he won’t interfere; as a parting shot, he asks if Miles should really be planning his romantic life in terms of war, and leaves while he’s still sputtering.

Comments

Mark is, of course, perfectly right, as I’ve been saying and will continue to say.  It does make perfect sense in Miles terms, but unfortunately Ekaterin is less likely to think of it that way.  Plus, for someone trying to keep a secret, he keeps telling people about it.  Trying to ask their opinions, shore up his insecurity, but increase the probability that someone’s going to spill the beans.  And then he’s planning this dinner party, which keeps looming up throughout the book, which is going to be bringing basically everyone who knows about Miles’s intentions–and Ekaterin–into the same room.

Admittedly, Miles does seem to have some support.  Pym seems to be entirely in favour of the prospect, even if his broad hints seem to sail right over Ekaterin’s head.  Her Aunt Vorthys has also seemed fairly approving.  Ekaterin must be wilfully keeping herself from contemplating the possibility at all.  After all, if she had to regard Miles as someone trying to lure her back into the prison of marriage, she’d have to stop associating with him.  Not that there aren’t worse things he could do, of course…

I’d forgotten how quickly Ekaterin disposed of the Lord Vormuir problem.  It is a cunning plan–now I’m picturing Vormuir played by Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder (although, in my head, he looks more like Stephen Fry’s Melchett)–sailing through loopholes in Barrayaran law, but Ekaterin manages to point out a way that that law can be bent back upon him.  She obviously has some familiarity with Vor law and custom, perhaps through her aunt if nothing else, and puts her finger on the correct spot.  The situation does, though, sound like some awful movie, though since most of those don’t have uterine replicators, they tend to involve someone sneaking their sperm into the actual fertilized eggs that the husbands think are theirs.

Mark and Miles do seem to be settling into a standard sibling-type relationship, which is not, as Miles is finding out, as much about always being there for each other as it is about friendly rivalry and one-upmanship.  Mark twits Miles about his campaign for Ekaterin, Miles complains about the butter bugs, etc.  You’d think he’d have figured from Ivan what family is about, and now, like it or not, he and Mark are developing the same way.  After all, more than most, Mark has a lot of sibling-rivalry issues, as his Betan therapist has doubtless spotted, since his “older brother” was literally held up to him as an example of the way to act.  It’s probably good if all he’s trying to do about it these days is score “last words” and conversational coups against him.

Chapter Six

Kareen is working in the lab when a woman comes in looking for Mark, introducing herself as “Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the garden designer”; she’s come to offer Mark more compost, having removed an entire row of bushes.  Kareen asks Enrique, who says that if it’s Earth-descended organic matter, and free, they would like to try some.  Ekaterin looks around at the lab, which Kareen congratulates herself is looking more scientific and appealing, and more organized.  Kareen has also been building housing units for the bugs, and cleaning out the guano, which luckily hasn’t been as bad as she’d feared.

Ekaterin asks what they need the plant matter for, and Kareen invites her to come in and see for herself.  She says she’s the Head Bug Wrangler–and also the only one, so far.

Kareen unlatched the steel-screen top of one of the bug hutches, reached in, and retrieved a single worker-bug. She was getting quite good at handling the little beasties without wanting to puke by now, as long as she didn’t look too closely at their pale pulsing abdomens. Kareen held out the bug to the gardener, and began a tolerably close copy of Mark’s Better Butter Bugs for a Brighter Barrayar sales talk.

Though Madame Vorsoisson’s eyebrows went up, she didn’t shriek, faint, or run away at her first sight of a butter bug. She followed Kareen’s explanation with interest, and was even willing to hold the bug and feed it a maple leaf. There was something very bonding about feeding live things, Kareen had to admit; she would have to keep that ploy in mind for future presentations.

Ekaterin is intrigued at the prospect of butter bugs that eat native foliage, and allows that she does have some practical experience with it.  She asks to see the bug manure, and is impressed with the quality of it as fertilizer, reinforced by Enrique’s contributions on its exact chemical composition.  She asks to borrow some, and encourages them to try to sell it.  Enrique said nobody had been interested in it on Escobar, and Ekaterin tells him that on Barrayar it’s harder to come by good quality fertilizer when trying to terraform the soil.  She tells Enrique about a time when the Counts and the Emperors would quarrel over the distribution of horse manure.

Enrique asks Ekaterin if she can show them around some of the native vegetation; Ekaterin says they really need a District agronomy officer, and Enrique points out that he didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Ekaterin says that Tsipis could help them out, and Kareen agrees.  Ekaterin says she’s been planning to go to the Dendarii Mountains to gather rocks to line the stream bed, and Kareen agrees that Miles is very fond of the mountains.

Mark arrives with a load of lab supplies, greeting Ekaterin and thanking her for the maple clippings.  Mark persuades her to try the bug butter, and she agrees to a small taste.  Kareen opens a container for her, telling Mark that they’re going to need more containers, the rate the bugs are producing it–and the rate that nobody else in the house is eating it.  Ekaterin tries a spoonful, pronounces it “interesting”. then offers some helpful suggestions, like flavouring and freezing it.

“Hm. D’you think that would work, Enrique?”

“Don’t see why not,” responded the scientist. “The colloidal viscosity doesn’t break down when exposed to subzero temperatures. It’s thermal acceleration which alters the protein microstructure and hence texture.”

“Gets kind of rubbery when you cook it,” Mark translated this. “We’re working on it, though.”

Mark asks Kareen if she wants to come to the District with him and scout out sites for the future facility–though they can’t settle on the name (between Borgos Research Park, Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises, and Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch).  Kareen mentions Ekaterin’s rocks, and showing Enrique the native flora, and suggests they all go down together; secretly she’s reluctant to spend time alone with Mark, even though that’s obviously what he’s angling for.  She arranges the trip for the day after tomorrow.

Miles dashes in then, saying that Armsman Jankowski only just told him that Ekaterin was here.  He says he hopes they haven’t fed her the “bug vomit” yet, but Ekaterin says stoutly that it’s not half bad, they just need to do some product development.  She picks up the fertilizer Kareen has packaged for her and says her farewells, until day after tomorrow; Miles escorts her out.  He returns a few minutes later complaining about their feeding “that stuff” to Ekaterin.  Mark says that Ekaterin, at least, has an open mind, and Enrique says that she seemed to understand him better than most people.

Miles asks what’s happening day after tomorrow, and Kareen tells him about the proposed trip to Vorkosigan District.  Miles protests that he had Ekaterin’s first tour of the District already planned out, and Mark, unsympathetic, says that they won’t be going too far afield, there’ll be plenty to show her later.  Miles tries to insist on going along, but Mark says he’s only got four seats, and he’d rather take Kareen than Miles.  Miles leaves, grumbling about Armsman Jankowski.

Kareen asks what his problem is, and Mark explains that Miles is in love with Ekaterin, which is why he hired her as a gardener after meeting her on Komarr, but he hasn’t told her yet.  Mark isn’t quite sure why, unless it’s sexual shyness; Kareen reminds him about Elli Quinn, and Mark postulates that most of Miles’s girlfriends have been more the forceful types, throwing themselves at him, and he doesn’t know how to actually court a woman who’s not.  Mark is filled with glee at the prospect of watching Miles fumble around, and Kareen tells him to be nice.

Enrique asks if Miles was really upset about Ekaterin feeding the bug butter, and Mark says not to worry about it.  Enrique says he’s got an idea to change Miles’s mind about the bugs, but will only say that it’s a secret.  Mark asks Kareen about it, but she has no idea either.  She suggests talking to Ma Kosti about the ice cream freezer, which Miles has probably gotten her one of.  Then she thinks of how Ma Kosti seems a little frustrated with how little cooking she really has to do, and how she likes Mark for his obvious enjoyment of food, and she grabs some bug butter tubs and runs to the kitchen.

Miles arrives at Vorbretten House–more modern than Vorkosigan House, because it had to be rebuilt after the Pretender’s War.  An armsman leads him inside, to where René Vorbretten is sitting in a darkened room.  He is nervous at the arrival of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but Miles assures him he’s not there on business.  René was worried that Miles had been sent with the news, but Miles assures him that the Council of Counts still can’t vote without him.  René says the “Ghembrettens'” social life has dwindled away to nothing.  Miles apologizes for not having come sooner, having been on Komarr.

Miles says the Progressive Counts will doubtless want to keep René around–a vote is a vote–but René says some seem to thinking that they don’t want to vote against his opponent, Sigur, and make an enemy of him, in case he wins.  The definite votes one way or the other balance out, leaving the undecideds to settle the matter, and most of them have been avoiding him.  Miles assures René that he has the Vorkosigan vote, no matter what damage Cetagandans might have done to his District.

They discuss the precedents–the horse heir, Lord Midnight (and other, less colourful cases), establishes that a Count’s successor doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but Sigur is claiming that René’s grandfather won his father’s approval fraudulently.  It would make a difference if they could prove that the father had known his heir wasn’t his true son, but they can’t find any evidence in the archives one way or the other.  Miles said that not everyone objected to the Cetagandan bastards, despite widespread customs of killing them and leaving the bodies around to shake up the invaders; Prince Xav himself objected to that practice.  René says they still have no proof, but then, neither does Sigur.

Counthoods generally come up only rarely, as old Counts die, so it’s odd to have two disputed seats at the same time.  Miles asks René if he knows what’s up with Donna Vorrutyer, but René hasn’t heard anything either.  He says he’s grateful that Miles has come to visit, at least; Miles points out that he’s five-eighths Betan, so he can’t think that a little offworlder blood makes anyone unfit.  René does speculate that Lady Donna’s trip to Beta Colony must have something to do with her objection, but he’s not sure what.  Miles guesses that she’s looking for some obscure evidence against her cousin Richars, but René doesn’t think it’s anything that simple.  Ivan might know, having dated her for a while, though René and Miles themselves missed out on that honour.

René says that Miles’s family has been fighting to integrate Miles’s clone Mark into the family; he speculates that Donna might be doing something similar with a clone of the late Pierre Vorrutyer, growing it on Beta Colony and planning to offer it as an alternative heir.  Miles says it might be possible, but he’s not sure if the Counts would accept it.  She was practically running the District anyway, though, so she might make a good guardian.  René mentions one Countess, back in a time of civil war, who had herself legally declared a male so she could inherit.  Miles wonders if there is a clone, whether Donna would want to gestate it in her own womb, which would make it harder to steal, or use a replicator, in which case Richars could end up in custody of it.  In any case, her three months–a generous amount of time, probably dating back to days of travel on horseback–are almost up.

Feminine laughter heralds the arrival of Olivia and Martya Koudelka, who had been out shopping with René’s wife Tatya, Olivia being an old schoolmate of Tatya’s.  They thank Miles for coming to cheer René up, then tell René that he can take them to a concert tomorrow night.  Tatya shows René an envelope from Countess Vorgarin, which she opens eagerly, only to be crushed when it turns to be an “un-invitation” to a baby naming-day party.  Martya and Olivia rip Countess Vorgarin’s character to shreds in absentia, but it doesn’t cheer Tatya up that much.

René notes that they haven’t received a wedding invitation from Gregor and Laisa yet; Miles points out that local invitations haven’t been sent out yet, not mentioning that which Vorbretten to invite is still a matter under discussion.  Wanting to lighten the mood, he invites the Vorbrettens to his upcoming dinner party.  René isn’t sure, but Olivia encourages him to come, saying that Miles is going to show off the lady he’s courting in secret–from her.

René’s brows went up. “You, Miles? I thought you were as confirmed a bachelor as your cousin Ivan. Married to your career.”

Miles grimaced furiously at Olivia, and twitched at René’s last words. “I had this little medical divorce from my career. Olivia, where did you ever get the idea that Madame Vorsoisson—she’s my landscape designer, you see, René, but she’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, I met her on Komarr, she’s just recently widowed and certainly not—not ready to be anybody’s lady-love. Lord Auditor Vorthys and the Professora will be there too, you see, a family party, nothing inappropriate for her.”

“For who?” asked Martya.

“Ekaterin,” escaped his mouth before he could stop it. All four lovely syllables.

Martya grinned unrepentantly at him. René and his wife looked at each other—Tatya’s dimple flashed, and René pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“Kareen said Lord Mark said you said,” Olivia said innocently. “Who was lying, then?”

Miles explains again that she’s in mourning, her husband just died, and he will declare himself in time, but he can’t yet, he has to wait…and he hates waiting.  When Tatya asks, Miles has to admit he doesn’t know anything about her feelings for him.  He grumbles about Mark spreading his secrets, but Martya says that she, Kareen, and her parents all heard it from different people–Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and Pym–so he’s not doing a good job of keeping it secret.  Trying to defuse the conversation, Tatya accepts Miles’s invitation.  René asks if Miles’s parents will be back from Sergyar yet, and Miles says probably not, but soon; this will be his own party, before the house fills up again.  He’s also concerned about orchestrating Ekaterin meeting his parents just right.

His social duty satisfied, Miles bids them farewell; Martya takes him up an the offer of a ride home.  Miles gives Pym a disgruntled look as they leave, not sure he likes that Pym is acquiring the valuable information he can get through gossip by trading Miles’s information to other people.  He restrains himself from more than glaring, or from berating Martya for twitting him about Ekaterin like that.

He asks how she thinks the Vorbrettens are holding up, and she says René thinks they’re going to lose, and they’re pretty shaken.  Since his father died in the Hegen Hub, he’s hated Cetagandans, so this revelation really unnerves him.  Their marriage is also a little unsteady–they haven’t followed through with their plan to start a family, and Tatya enjoys being a Countess…  Now her friends, apart from Olivia, are avoiding her, too.

“If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from off-worlders, dammit,” Miles growled in frustration. “What’s one-eighth? A tinge. Why should it disqualify one of the best people we have? Competence should count for something.”

Martya’s grin twisted. “If you want sympathy, you’ve come to the wrong store, Miles. If my da were a Count, it wouldn’t matter how competent I was, I still wouldn’t inherit. All the brilliance in the world wouldn’t matter a bit. If you’re just now finding out that this world is unjust, well, you’re behind the times.”

Miles grimaced. “It’s not news to me, Martya.” The car pulled up outside Commodore Koudelka’s townhouse. “But justice wasn’t my job, before.” And power isn’t nearly as all-powerful as it looks from the outside. He added, “But that’s probably the one issue I can’t help you on. I have the strongest personal reasons for not wanting to reintroduce inheritance through the female line into Barrayaran law. Like, my survival. I like my job very well. I don’t want Gregor’s.”

Comments

Ekaterin has now met Kareen and Enrique, and won them over too.  She likes the butter bug guano, she offers helpful suggestions for the bug butter itself, and she has useful information about the Barrayaran vegetation…she’s just an all-around useful person.  It’s so nice to see her blossoming in her new environment, sending out new shoots like that skellytum, no longer bonsai’d, one hopes.  Which is why it’s going to be so devastating for her to find out why Miles really hired her to do his garden…  I am reminded, too, that Enrique seems to fall for her a little bit, too, after this scene.  Plus he’s got his “secret plan” to make Miles like the butter bugs, which I recall turns out really, really, well.  Just like Miles’s dinner party.

I had almost forgotten this scene with Miles and the Vorbrettens, and two more of the Koudelkas–Martya and Olivia, who we barely see, if at all, before this book.  Even in this book I don’t remember much with Olivia, though of course Martya gets a role later on in the book.  Martya’s line near the end of the chapter is quite telling, though, especially given the speculation about Lady Donna’s visit to Beta Colony earlier in the scene.  It is true that, no matter in what other ways it’s improving, Barrayar is not much yet for feminism and women’s rights.

It makes me think of that article that went around the Net a while ago, about how life as a white male was like playing on the easiest setting, compared to life as a woman or a minority.  Does Miles, even with his physical issues, qualify for that?  If I was building him for a role-playing game, one of those where you can give your character disadvantages to get more “character points” to buy things, his social class and mental skills would more than offset his physical limitations.  Even he would have an easier time getting into the military than Elena, and an easier time becoming Count than Martya.  Even _Mark_ would have an easier time becoming Count, and he was a clone born offworld and raised by Komarran radicals.  He’s male, though, and that’s the important thing.  Anyway, this book, taking place so much on Barrayar, and featuring so many female characters, gets the most heavily into gender issues.  At the very least, I can look around at our world and say that at least we’re a little bit more progressive than Barrayar…right?  Aren’t we?


No promises of a two-chapter post next week, but it could happen.  May depend on chapter length as well as random circumstantial factors–weather, sleep, and other potential gumption traps.  Lady Donna should be showing up soon, and the visit to the Vorkosigan District…and the fateful dinner party is looming…  Oh, yeah, and Vormoncrief’s Baba may have arrived by now.  Should be fun, in any case, except for the winceworthy painful embarrassing bits…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein the works in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga are summarized and commented upon piece by piece, a couple of chapters or so at a time.  This week I will complete my treatment of her novella “The Mountains of Mourning”, which fits chronologically in between The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game and so is included in the omnibus volume Young Miles in between those two novels.  It’s a sort of murder mystery, and other things besides, and is science-fictional mostly because it takes place on another planet and features a few pieces of futuristic technology, but it’s a good story.  It also doesn’t have any chapter breaks, so here I pick up after last post’s arbtirary stopping point about halfway through.

The Mountains of Mourning, cont.

As Miles, Pym and Dea sit on Speaker Karal’s porch, the inhabitants of Silvy Vale begin to come by, starting with women, bringing dishes of food, which Ma Karal set back of her own, and offers of assistance, which she refused politely.  After nervously greeting Miles, they sent their children to play in the woods, though some came back to peek at Miles.  He tolerated their curiosity, until young Zed Karal tells a friend that Miles is there to kill Lem Csurik.

Miles summons Zed over, and he comes warily.  Miles asks Zed to repeat what he’d said, and then says it’s a dangerous lie.  He says he’s looking for the person who killed Raina Csurik, who may not be Lem.  Zed protests that Harra thinks it’s Lem, but Miles says she could be mistaken; his truth drugs, though, will allow him to be sure, and keep him from executing the wrong person.  Miles continues to ask Zed why Lem would want to kill the baby, and Zed says that she’s “only a mutie”.  Miles tries to think of how to get across to Zed that that attitude is wrong; finally he asks Zed if he’s proud that his father served the Emperor

Miles forged on. “Well, these practices—mutie-killing—shame the Emperor, when he stands for Barrayar before the galaxy. I’ve been out there. I know. They call us all savages, for the crimes of a few. It shames the Count my father before his peers, and Silvy Vale before the District. A soldier gets honor by killing an armed enemy, not a baby. This matter touches my honor as a Vorkosigan, Zed. Besides,” Miles’s lips drew back on a mirthless grin, and he leaned forward intently in his chair—Zed recoiled as much as he dared—”you will all be astonished at what only a mutie can do. That I have sworn on my grandfather’s grave.”

He then dismisses Zed, obviously cowed, to go play.  Dr. Dea says that the hillfolk are ignorant; Miles counters that they are his hill-folk, and alleviating their ignorance is his responsibility.  “Don’t kill your babies” isn’t 5-space math, they should be able to understand it.  Dr. Dea protests that it’s not fair to ask them to feed “marginal” people when they have to slittle, but Miles points out that they are no longer on the verge of famine every winter, and conditions will continue to improve.  He suddenly notices Ma Karal standing nearby, having been listening in, probably since he called Zed over; they exchange a nod of acknowledgement.

Speaker Karal and Alex return by suppertime, leaving some men still searching, but Karal opines that Lem is hiding in the scrublands.  Miles asks if he’d risk contacting some relative, and Karal says they’d have a hard choice, what to do with their fugitive kin.  Miles thinks of the contrast between Lem’s prior condition, reasonably successful by Silvy Vale standards, and his current ones, on the run with his baby dead and his wife thinking him the murderer.  Would he linger near Silvy Vale, or decide there was nothing left for him?  He wonders if he should call in the Hassadar police force, but that wouldn’t be much better than having arrived in an aircar in the first place.  Miles realizes his father wants him to be conspicuously clever.  He tells Karal to call off the search for the night.

After supper, men begin to drift in, some bring musical instruments, and somehow the gathering segues into a party.  Miles tries to appreciate the music, but his mood is frequently broken by the hillfolk being visibly anxious that he not disapprove, though one song about lost love makes him yearn for Elena.  At one point he sees a group of young girls making much of Fat Ninny, and later Speaker Karal brings Ma Csurik, Lem’s mother, to see him.  After an awkward silence, she tells Miles that she’s sure Lem didn’t kill the baby, that they never did that in their family.  Miles tells her that he should come in then, and let Miles clear his name; he reiterates strongly that he won’t execute Lem unless he convicts himself under fast-penta.  One of Lem’s brothers tells her to come away, that the “mutie lord” has obviously come for a killing.  Before the end of the evening, Ma Mattulich, Harra’s mother, comes to see Miles as well; she appraises him silently, and Miles tries to reassure her that there will be justice.  She tells him that it’s too late for justice.

By midnight, the party winds down, the hillfolk disperse, and they begin to bed down, Karal’s boys in the tent and Pym, Miles and Dea in the loft.  Miles ponders his strategy, wonders if he should be trying to go faster, or if he would just bog down.  Late at night, he awakens to see a glow outside in the inght.  He wakes up Pym and tells him to bring his stunner.  They look out at the yard to see a torch burning on top of Miles’s tent, which is thankfully quite fireproof.  Pym goes out to scan the surroundings as Speaker Karal wakes up, returning to report nobody within a kilometer; they douse the torch and awaken the boys in the tent, who are quite excited at the attempted assassination until their mother forces them to sleep inside.  Karal apologizes on behalf of his community for the outrage.

Miles attempts to go back to sleep, and is on the verge of giving up when he hears a shrill squeal of pain from Fat Ninny.  As they run to help, Ninny kicks Pym in the chest; while trying to calm the horse down, Miles finds its neck all bloody, and calls for the doctor, who comes to look at the damage and then returns with his medkit.

“I took tests,” Dea complained sotto voce as he worked. “I beat out twenty-six other applicants, for the honor of becoming the Prime Minister’s personal physician. I have practiced the procedures of seventy separate possible medical emergencies, from coronary thrombosis to attempted assassination. Nobody—nobody—told me my duties would include sewing up a damned horse’s neck in the middle of the night in the middle of a howling wilderness. . . .”  But he kept working as he complained, so Miles didn’t quash him, but kept gently petting Ninny’s nose, and hypnotically rubbing the hidden pattern of his muscles, to soothe and still him. At last Ninny relaxed enough to rest his slobbery chin on Miles’s shoulder.

“Do horses get anesthetics?” asked Dea plaintively, holding his medical stunner as if not sure just what to do with it.

“This one does,” said Miles stoutly. “You treat him just like a person, Dea. This is the last animal that the Count my grandfather personally trained. He named him. I watched him get born. We trained him together. Grandfather had me pick him up and hold him every day for a week after he was foaled, till he got too big. Horses are creatures of habit, Grandfather said, and take first impressions to heart. Forever after Ninny thought I was bigger than he was.”

Pym and Karal inspect the ground around the horse-lines, but don’t find anything.  Ma Karal watches Dea repack his medkit, and Miles realizes that she has just seen more done for a horse than she’s seen done for many people.  Pym goes inside to get his chest taped, and Miles stays on sentry duty on the porch with a stunner, wondering if now was the time to call in the troops, with his bodyguard hurt and two attacks already.

He sees movement in the bush and leaves the porch to go stalking it.  He finds a lean young man looking up at the cabin for several minutes before he pulls an apple out of his pocket and begins to eat it.  The noise attracts Fat Ninny, and the man gives Ninny half the apple, only then noticing the dressing on the horse’s neck with surprise.  Then he turns and sees Miles, who addresses him as Lem Csurik.

Lem asks him if he keeps his word; he says he didn’t kill Raina, and he wants to confess, but he’s heard that under fast-penta you can’t hold anything back.  He offers to submit to the interrogation, but only if Miles swears on his honour not to ask him about anything else.  He says he doesn’t know who killed his daughter, but he has suspicions.  Miles muses that it would be nice to solve the case by deduction rather than using truth drugs, and gives Lem his word.  He leads Lem to the cabin, introduces him to the surprised inhabitants, and tells Dea to get out the fast-penta.

Dr. Dea muttered under his breath to Miles as he got out the hypospray. “How’d you do that?”

Miles’s hand brushed his pocket. He pulled out a sugar cube and held it up, and grinned through the C of his thumb and finger. Dea snorted, but pursed his lips with reluctant respect.

Dea gives Lem the injection, and after he relaxes, Miles begins the questioning, with easy questions first, according to his training.  Under his guidance, Lem tells them that he returned to the cabin about midmorning, finding Harra gone and the baby asleep, but soon the baby started crying, wanting milk.  He says that he didn’t even touch the baby, but went down the path looking for Harra, then headed for his sister’s.  Miles asks if he met anyone on the path, and Lem says he did, and then Miles tells Dea to administer the counteragent before Lem can tell them who it was.  Once the fast-penta has worn off, Dea asks Lem who he met on the path, but Lem doesn’t answer.  Miles says he already knows, that it was Harra’s murderer, and he asks the Karals to witness that Lem didn’t tell him.

Miles sends people out to gather the witnesses.  Ma Csurik is first, with two of her sons, relieved to see her son, though not happy that he had to take that “poison drug”.  Miles tells her that far from being poison, it saved his life, then asks which of her sons threw the torch on his tent.  The Csurik boys clumsily deny it while making it clear that they did.  Miles says they should apologize to Zed and his brothers, and warns them that it could be treated as a case of attempted assassination on a Count’s heir, though the boy, Dono, protests that he didn’t think it’d kill him, just frighten him.  Miles holds the treason charge, but tells Dono that Speaker Karal and his parents will have to keep an eye on his behaviour.  He tells Pym that he doesn’t think the Csuriks were behind the attack on the horse, though.

Next to arrive is Harra.  Miles tells her that Lem is innocent, but she protests that she knows he’d been there, that he’d taken his tools with him.  Miles says that Raina was still crying when Lem left, but that Harra was focusing so hard on Lem so she wouldn’t think too hard about other suspects.  He asks Dr. Dea to prepare another dose of fast-penta, but doesn’t tell him who to administer it too.  He asks Dea and Pym if they’ve figured it out yet, but neither has.

“I suppose it’s because neither of you ever met my grandfather,” Miles decided. “He died just about a year before you entered my father’s service, Pym. He was born at the very end of the Time of Isolation, and lived through every wrenching change this century has dealt to Barrayar. He was called the last of the Old Vor, but really, he was the first of the new. He changed with the times, from the tactics of horse cavalry to that of flyer squadrons, from swords to atomics, and he changed _successfully_. Our present freedom from the Cetagandan occupation is a measure of how fiercely he could adapt, then throw it all away and adapt again. At the end of his life he was called a conservative, only because so much of Barrayar had streamed past him in the direction he had led, prodded, pushed, and pointed all his life.

“He changed, and adapted, and bent with the wind of the times. Then, in his age—for my father was his youngest and sole surviving son, and did not himself marry till middle-age—in his age, he was hit with me. And he had to change again. And he couldn’t.

He tells them how his grandfather had urged his parents to have Miles aborted, and the rift that it had created between them, though to some extent he’s just killing time until the last visitor arrives.  More footsteps approach the cabin, and Miles tells Dea to fast-penta the next person to come through the door.  He does, administering the shot to Ma Mattulich.  She is outraged, but the drug overtakes her quickly, though not quickly enough to conceal her anguish.  Lem tells Miles that he hadn’t dreamed that she shouldn’t be left alone with the baby; Harra has gone white.

Miles begins the interrogation, more difficult than Lem’s, leading her gradually to when Raina was born.  She says she wasn’t there until it was too late, after people had already seen the babe with her dirty mutation.  Jean, the midwife, wouldn’t leave Ma Mattulich alone with the baby, and she didn’t want to do the deed in front of Harra either.  Harra had been her only clean baby; two others had been stillborn, and the other two she’d killed herself, with her own mother watching to be sure she did it right, but now she realizes that Harra had the poison in her too, must have gotten it from her father…  The others in the room are frozen as she rambles on, Harra and the younger ones horrified, the older ones ashamed.  Miles asks if she had murdered two other babies as well.

“Murdered?” said Ma Mattulich. “No! I cut them out. I had to. I had to do the right thing.” Her chin lifted proudly, then drooped. “Killed my babies, to please, to please . . . I don’t know who. And now you call me a murderer? Damn you! What use is your justice to me now? I needed it then—where were you then?” Suddenly, shockingly, she burst into tears, which wavered almost instantly into rage. “If mine must die then so must hers! Why should she get off so soft? Spoiled her . . . I tried my best, I did my best, it’s not fair. . . .”

Miles asks why she broke Raina’s neck rather than any other method, and she said it was to hide the truth from Harra.  Miles comments that she wasn’t the only one; Lem says he didn’t want to be the one to say, and Speaker Karal says he wanted to save her grief.  Miles says they all have underestimated Harra’s strength, and they exchange nods of acknowledgement.  When Miles asks Ma Mattulich, she admits the attack on the horse too, since she couldn’t get at Miles himself, the mutie lord, the ultimate slap in the fact after all her suffering.  Miles pronounces the mystery solved, but has to deliberate over the administration of justice.

He takes a walk to visit Raina’s grave, and asks her what he should do.  He ponders Barrayaran law, how the intent of the law was so often valued over the letter, the judgement of the man on the spot over any precedent.  What would be gained by killing an old woman?  Should he sacrifice the needs of Silvy Vale’s people in the service of making a political statement?  Speaker Karal comes to speak with him, and Miles admits his dilemma, though he says that the truth was still better than Karal’s attempt to gloss the matter over.  He wishes he could make a difference, and Karal points out the differences between Harra and her mother, or even the harridan that was her grandmother.  And if the village gets onto the worldwide network, then the future will come rushing in.  And Miles himself has been an example, an inspiration, a sign of what can be accomplished.

“I think,” said Karal, “Barrayar needs you. To go on being just what you are.”

“Barrayar will eat me, if it can.”

“Yes,” said Karal, his eyes on the horizon, “so it will.” His gaze fell to the graves at his feet. “But it swallows us all in the end, doesn’t it? You will outlive the old ones.”

“Or in the beginning.” Miles pointed down. “Don’t tell me who I’m going to outlive. Tell Raina.”

Miles once more presides from Karal’s porch, with everyone they could manage to find assembled in the Speaker’s yard.  He summarizes the charges against Ma Mattulich, and says that they will be announced in every corner of Silvy Vale.  He announces that she has earned a sentence of death, but he suspends the sentence indefinitely; instead, she will be legally dead, with all her possessions actually owned by Harra, in her daughter’s care as if an invalid, and never left alone with any other child.  Finally, she will die without any sacrifice on her grave.

Afterwards, he makes a proposition to the Csuriks.  He offers to find Harra a scholarship to attend a teaching college in Hassadar, and tells Lem that if he’s a carpenter, there’s plenty of construction work in the city as well.  They are both interested, but worried about leaving Silvy Vale.  Miles says that the condition of the offer is that they will have to return.  He will provide a small comm unit that they can use for picking up educational broadcasts, which won’t cost him much more than that new lightflyer he’d been planning to buy…  Miles suggests that when they set up the school, they can name it after Raina, which finally manages to bring Harra to tears.  He adds that he’ll send up a temporary teacher until Harra is ready to take over.

Harra scrubbed her eyes, and looked up—not very far up—at him. “You went to the Imperial Academy.”

“I did.” His chin jerked up.

“Then I,” she said shakily, “can manage . . . Hassadar Teacher’s College.” The name was awkward in her mouth. At first. “At any rate—I’ll try, m’lord.”

The next day an aircar arrives to take Dr. Dea, Pym, and two of the horses back home, and leaves Armsman Esterhazy behind to ride back with Miles.  That night they camp by the river of roses, and Miles contemplates giving more than just a lightflyer’s worth of money to Silvy Vale…but he doesn’t have enough for every little village, and after all of the training the District’s tax money has bought for him, he should do something more with it.  He remembers how, after he swore fealty to the Emperor, he pictured defending the Emperor and Barrayar through blazing battle…but now Barrayar has a different symbol in his mind.

Peace to you, small lady, he thought to Raina. You’ve won a twisted poor modern knight, to wear your favor on his sleeve. But it’s a twisted poor world we were both born into, that rejects us without mercy and ejects us without consultation. At least I won’t just tilt at windmills for you. I’ll send in sappers to mine the twirling suckers, and blast them into the sky. . . .

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*sniff* again.  Powerful story, emotionally, though on some levels hardly anything happens.  Miles rides into a rural community, investigates a half-condoned infanticide, survives a couple of half-hearted attempts on his life, dispenses justice, and helps out a young couple in need.  But Miles changes as a result of his experiences, from trying to satisfy his grandfather to trying to be worthy of Raina Csurik, from coveting glory and a new lightflyer to feeling his duty to his people, even the smallest.  Silvy Vale itself is changed by his visit, the judgement called against the ancient custom of killing deformed babies, the counterexample and inspiration of Miles himself.

As far as the mystery goes…well, I was never any good at mysteries.  I tend to come up with a random guess and then count myself lucky if I guess right.  I’m still not quite sure how Miles becomes so certain of the killer–something about how Lem wouldn’t tell?  How Harra was so focused in her husband as the only suspect?  It’s only the surface plot, though, in many ways.

Whenever I read this I wonder at the concept of the Barrayaran legal system, so at odds with our modern concept–the spirit of the law vs. the letter.  The whole problem with following “the spirit” is that it does rely on one person’s individual judgement, and so it only works if there exists the concept of such a person whose judgement is incorruptible and bound by honour.  It’s a far cry from “checks and balances”, and, as Cordelia often says, it’s inconceivable for it to work.  Obviously there are corrupt folk, like Vordarian, Vordrozda, etc., but if you can manage to get a good and honourable person at the top, it could just work…  Like any autocracy, it works as long as the autocrat is trustworthy.  Which I suppose is why they have to overthrow them once in a while, as they did with mad Yuri.

Of course, with the wonderdrug that is fast-penta, at least there is less guesswork involved.  Admittedly, fast-penta’s shortcomings are added later, the induced allergies, and Miles’s own idiosyncratic reaction, first seen in Brothers In Arms, but in general it’s a good source of justice, because if you can question someone with it, then you can trust everything they say to be the truth.  And the Barrayaran justice system is, surely, a little looser with, say, requiring warrants, given the powers granted to ImpSec and Imperial Auditors (to be introduced much later).

Interesting to think that while Barrayarans are thought of throughout the galaxy as madmen, obsessed with honour (and killing their deformed children), they would doubtless think of those with more elaborate justice systems as treacherous, honourless bastards who can’t trust each other and so have to place so many safeguards between each other.

One other thing that I never realized–I always assumed that “The Mountains of Mourning” was just a reference to a place name.  But it’s the Dendarii Mountains where the story takes place, isn’t it?  It’s a title that is never referred to in the story, though I guess that what it is talking about is all of the children that they had to kill, and how they mourned them…  I think I liked it better as a place name.  (Okay, I admit it, I’m not always crazy about her titles…)


That’s it for the interlude that was “The Mountains of Mourning”.  Next week it’s back into novels, with The Vor Game.  Until then, live your life with honour and don’t spend all your money on new lightflyters.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I devote my attentions to the novels and stories of Lois McMaster Bujold’s science-fictional saga of Miles Vorkosigan and company.

After having covered three novels, I pass now onto one of her novellas, “The Mountains of Mourning”, which is set after The Warrior’s Apprentice but before The Vor Game chronologically–quite close to the latter, in fact; ten days, according to the text.  Of course, Ms. Bujold wrote the series in a bit of a scattered order, so, for instance, the Miles novel Brothers In Arms, much later chronologically, came out before it, and there were two or three other novellas between that and The Vor Game itself.  Nonetheless, although I had seen her books around, and even roomed with a guy who had a copy of The Warrior’s Apprentice which I never read, “The Mountains of Morning” was the first Vorkosigan story I ever read, back when I was actually in the habit of buying SF magazines when I found them and then taking them home and reading them.  I had little idea who this guy was, but I did learn a lot about him in reading this…and then still didn’t read any other Bujold for years.  It forms an interesting contrast to the space opera of The Warrior’s Apprentice, nearer in spirit perhaps to parts of Barrayar with its close attention to the poorer folk of the Vorkosigan District, and was a definite sign, in retrospect, that there was more to the series than first met the eye…

The Mountains of Mourning

Miles is climbing back up from the lake at Vorkosigan Surleau when he hears a woman weeping.  She is trying to plead her case to the gate guard, who asks her to go to the village magistrate instead.  She says the magistrate won’t be back for weeks, and she’s already walked for four days.  She offers a pitiful bribe, but the guard, seeing Miles, refuses it.  Miles asks what’s going on, examining the woman as he approaches; she is young, with an obvious hillfolk accent, simply dressed and barefoot, breasts full but leaking milk with no baby in sight.

The guard tries to shoo the woman off, but she insists that it’s her right to see the Count, her father having been in the service.  She says she has a murder to report, and her village Speaker refuses to do anything about it.  Miles points out that she does have a right to appeal, to the magistrate or to the Count.  He authorizes the guard to admit her, and accompanies her up the path after the gates are open.

“Do you serve Count Vorkosigan, little man?” she asked cautiously.

Miles thought about that one a moment. “Yes,” he answered finally. The answer was, after all, true on every level of meaning but the one she’d asked it. He quelled the temptation to tell her he was the court jester. From the look of her, this one’s troubles were much worse than his own.

By the time they reach the residence, the woman is feeling less sure of herself, nervously asking Miles on how to behave around the Count; Miles just tells her to “stand up straight and speak the truth”.  At the entrance to the residence, he learns that the Count and Countess at breakfast, and hands his guest over to Armsman Pym, Bothari’s replacement, so she can join them.

Miles changes into his new Ensign’s uniform, and gathers a few items–a copy of his commission documents, his transcripts, his cadet’s insignia, and a brazier.  He takes them into the cemetery and sets up the brazier on his grandfather Piotr’s grave, burning the papers and cloth and a lock of his hair.

“So, Grandfather,” he purred at last. “And here we are after all. Satisfied now?”

All the chaos of the graduation ceremonies behind, all the mad efforts of the last three years, all the pain, came to this point; but the grave did not speak, did not say, Well done; you can stop now. The ashes spelled out no messages, there were no visions to be had in the rising smoke. The brazier burned down all too quickly. Not enough stuff in it, perhaps.

He stood, and dusted his knees, in the silence and the sunlight. So what had he expected? Applause? Why was he here, in the final analysis? Dancing out a dead man’s dreams—who did his Service really serve? Grandfather? Himself? Pale Emperor Gregor? Who cared?

“Well, old man,” he whispered, then shouted: “ARE YOU SATISFIED YET?” The echoes rang from the stones.

Pym clears his throat behind Miles, and informs him blandly that his father wishes him to attend.  Miles tells him not to touch the brazier, he’ll clean it up later.

As Miles heads over to the pavilion where his parents are eating, he thinks that he might go sailing on the lake in the afternoon.  He has ten days of leave, and he planned to go to Vorbarr Sultana with Ivan and buy himself a lightflyer.  He hopes for ship duty, but he resists asking his father to make sure of it.  Aral and Cordelia are sitting in the pavilion with the hillwoman, who looks upon Miles with a new understanding.

Count Vorkosigan spoke to the woman. “That is my son. If I send him as my Voice, would that satisfy you?”

“Oh,” she breathed, her wide mouth drawing back in a weird, fierce grin, the most expression Miles had yet seen on her face, “yes, my lord.”

The Count says hers is a most interesting case, and he can see why Miles sent her up.  Miles admits ignorance of her case, and the Count says it’s an infanticide case.  Miles realizes then where the missing baby is, and comments that it’s unusual for it to be reported.  The woman, Harra Csurik, says that her baby’s only deformity was “cat’s mouth”, which Cordelia recognizes as harelip and cleft palate, not even the type of mutation the infanticide customs were designed to combat.  Harra says she was going to take her baby to the hospital in Hassadar, but her husband, Lem, killed the baby first.

The Count says that if it is reported as a murder, they will treat it as one, and send a message throughout the District.  Though Miles pleads a lack of qualification, the Count thinks that sending Miles himself, deformed as he is, is also part of the message.

Harra is certain that her husband killed the baby, since her crying kept him awake, but he’d left the house for the night.  Harra had found the baby asleep in the morning, and went picking berries.  Later, when she went to feed the baby, Harra found her dead, with no mark, as if she’d been smothered.  The Speaker said she must have overlain the baby, even though she slept in a cradle Lem had made her, and wouldn’t take her complaint.

Cordelia takes Harra to wash, reluctantly, before sending her home, and the Count says that Miles should take Dr. Dea as medical examiner, and in case he suffers any accidents with his brittle bones, as well as an armsman as bodyguard and, possibly, executioner.  Miles proposes arriving in the aircar, a couple of hours’ flight, to get it over with quickly, but the Count vetoes that.  Miles protests that after days of tramping on foot, he’ll present a less than impressive figure, which the Count agrees to, but he has another idea.

So Miles, Armsman Pym, Dr. Dea, and Harra set off on horseback instead.  Miles’s own horse, Fat Ninny, is one he’s had since childhood.  Dr. Dea, a city man, is having more trouble with his horse; he falls off and then starts to chase after the horse, who easily canters out of reach.  Miles says he’ll have no look trying to outrun the horse, and warns Harra not to let her horse get away either.  Miles gets down off of Fat Ninny and digs in his pockets for sugar, giving some to Fat Ninny.  Dea’s mare wanders closer, interested, and Miles calmly takes her reins as she eats the sugar.

“No fair,” wheezed Dea, trudging up. “You had sugar in your pockets.”

“Of course I had sugar in my pockets. It’s called foresight and planning. The trick of handling horses isn’t to be faster than the horse, or stronger than the horse. That pits your weakness against his strengths. The trick is to be smarter than the horse. That pits your strength against his weakness, eh?”

Noting that Harra seems to be wavering in her determination as they head towards her home, Miles distracts her by asking about her family.  Her father was in the District Militia, but died during Vordarian’s Pretendership, leaving just her and her mother.  Miles is relieved at her lack of big strapping brothers to deal with, but she also tells him that her husband Lem has four brothers, which makes Miles more nervous.  When Miles had asked his father about that kind of situation, the Count had merely told him that he should have the cooperation of the Speaker and deputies, or else he should figure out how to obtain it.

She asks about Miles’s family, and Miles says that surely she knows he has no siblings.  She tells him some of the things she has heard about him, how his mutations spring from radiation, or a venereal disease from his parents, or off-worlder genes, but most agree that it was due to poisoning by the Count’s enemies, which Miles agrees with.  She goes into more outlandish rumours, about him having no legs, or being nothing more than a brain in a jar, and he realizes that she’s testing him, trying to reassure herself that he’s suitable and sufficient to her needs.

The woodland, fruit of many generations of terraforming forestry, opened out suddenly on a vale of brown native scrub. Down the middle of it, through some accident of soil chemistry, ran a half-kilometer-wide swathe of green and pink—feral roses, Miles realized with astonishment as they rode nearer. Earth roses. The track dove into the fragrant mass of them and vanished.

They hack through the roses, Miles thinking about the carefully planned terraforming of Barrayar by the original colonists, disrupted by the collapse of the warp point and the stranded settlers’ needs to survive.  Many native species were wiped out, but Miles thinks that the fittest of both worlds have found a new balance.

They camp overnight, then move on into areas Miles is less familiar with.  The next day they stop short of sunset, not wanting to arrive at Harra’s village in the dark, unannounced.  In the morning Miles puts on his dress uniform, and Pym unfurls the Count’s banner.  At midmorning, they arrive at the Speaker’s cabin, on the edge of a sugar maple grove.

Harra calls for the Speaker, Karal, who emerges talking about how worried they were at her disappearance, before stopping at the sight of her companions.  She tells Karal she took her case to the Count.

“Oh, girl,” Karal breathed regretfully, “that was a stupid thing to do. . . .” His head lowered and swayed, as he stared uneasily at the riders. He was a balding man of maybe sixty, leathery and worn, and his left arm ended in a stump. Another veteran.

“Speaker Serg Karal?” began Miles sternly. “I am the Voice of Count Vorkosigan. I am charged to investigate the crime Spoken by Harra Csurik before the Count’s court, namely the murder of her infant daughter Raina. As Speaker of Silvy Vale, you are requested and required to assist me in all matters pertaining to the Count’s justice.”

Karal asks Miles who he is, and Miles introduces himself as Lord Miles Vorkosigan, son of the Count.  Miles dismounts, Karal taking in his height, and asks to water their horses, which Karal sees to with the aid of his son Zed.  Karal invites them in and busies himself making tea.  Miles says they want to swiftly be about the investigation; Karal protests that the baby likely died a natural death, with no markings, and Miles comments on how often babies die “natural” deaths in the District.

“I begin to see,” Miles let his tone go ice cool, “why Harra Csurik found it necessary to walk four days to get an unbiased hearing. ‘You think.’ ‘You believe.’ ‘Who knows what?’ Not you, it appears. I hear speculation—accusation—innuendo—assertion. I came for facts, Speaker Karal. The Count’s justice doesn’t turn on guesses. It doesn’t have to. This isn’t the Time of Isolation. Not even in the back-beyond.

“My investigation of the facts will begin now. No judgment will be—rushed into, before the facts are complete. Confirmation of Lem Csurik’s guilt or innocence will come from his own mouth, under fast-penta, administered by Dr. Dea before two witnesses—yourself and a deputy of your choice. Simple, clean, and quick.”

He commands Karal to bring him Lem Csurik for questioning.  Karal says that most of the villagers will see fast-penta as nothing short of magic, and distrust it, and Miles says that Speaker Karal will have to reassure them, then.  The Speaker puts on his old uniform and prepares to go out, stopping to tell Miles that in all his time as Speaker nobody has had to take their justice even as far as the magistrate.  Miles counters that justice is for everyone in Silvy Vale, even those sickly, weak, and unable to speak for themselves.  Pym joins Karal, stunner at the ready.

Miles looks around the cabin, finding evidence of more children, and a radio set for picking up transmissions from Hassadar.  He wonders how far ahead the District would be if it hadn’t been for the nuclear destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi during the Cetagandan War.  Dr. Dea asks if he should break out the fast-penta, but Miles says that he doubts Lem Csurik will be brought in so easily, and says the autopsy kit will likely be needed first.  Indeed, though Karal and Pym return with another man, it is the Speaker’s deputy Alex, not Lem Csurik, who has eluded them.

Miles then proposes to go dig up Raina’s body for the autopsy.  Karal is reluctant, not wanting to disturb the dead, then pointing out that Lem is technically the next of kin, and they need his permission.  Miles just tells him to be careful the grave they dig is not his own.

Alex digs up the small crate with Raina’s body, upon which Pym and Alex find an excuse to be farther away.  Dr. Dea unwraps the body and begins his examination, Miles watching and Harra furtively retrieving the cloths for rewrapping.  Dea quickly determines that the baby’s neck was broken and then put back into place, which means it could not have been accidental; no great strength would even have been required.  He also says that even an experienced layman should have been able to discover this.  Karal admits that he suspected, but he thought that more grief would have come from making a fuss, that his duties were to the living.

“So are mine, Speaker Karal. As, for example, my duty to the next small Imperial subject in mortal danger from those who should be his or her protectors, for the grave fault of being,” Miles flashed an edged smile, “physically different. In Count Vorkosigan’s view this is not just a case. This is a test case, fulcrum of a thousand cases. Fuss . . .” He hissed the sibilant; Harra rocked to the rhythm of his voice, “you haven’t begun to see fuss yet.”

Dea restores Raina’s body, Harra wraps her back up, and Alex reburies her in the crate.  Harra cuts off a lock of her hair to burn as offering, and Miles expresses his regreat that he has nothing to contribute.  Harra is surprised he would even think to offer.

Peace to you, small lady, after our rude invasions. I will give you a better sacrifice, I swear by my word as Vorkosigan. And the smoke of that burning will rise and be seen from one end of these mountains to the other.

After sending Karal and Alex away to find Lem Csurik, Miles offers Harra a ride to her house on Fat Ninny.  Pym surreptitiously scans the bushes on the way.  At the house, they find signs of recent male habitation, which Harra absently begins to straighten up.  Miles gets Harra to show them where she picks her berries, and times how long it takes to get an idea how long the murderer would have had; he also notes that you couldn’t hear someone calling from the house.  He is frustrated to note that both method and opportunity are wide open, leaving only motive.

They leave Harra in her home, where she insists on staying despite the chance of Lem returning, wanting to be alone for a while.  Pym suggests they rouse the village to beat the bushes for Lem.  When Karal had taken him looking for Lem before, they found people who had been hunting for Harra already returning, Lem’s relatives among them.  Miles thinks that Karal knows more than he’s letting on; Pym suggests using fast-penta on him, but Miles says that that results in a loss of dignity that he’d rather avoid inflicting on the Speaker.

“I have facts. Physical facts. A great big pile of—meaningless, useless facts.” Miles brooded. “If I have to fast-penta every back-beyonder in Silvy Vale to get to the bottom of this, I will. But it’s not an elegant solution.”

“It’s not an elegant problem, m’lord,” said Pym dryly.

Speaker Karal’s wife is home and frantically preparing for her guests when Miles and Pym return.  She is indignant at Dr. Dea’s suggestion that her guests sleep in their tent and spurn her hospitality.  Dr. Dea suggests that they at least eat their packaged food, but Miles says they should be able to share the common pot safely enough.  Karal’s younges tson serves them tea, and asks if Miles will be sleeping in his bed.  Miles suggests they sleep in his tent, since they’re being put out anyway, and the boy runs off excitedly to pass on the news.

Miles makes himself comfortable, and Dr. Dea wonders if they’re knocking off for the day already.  Miles points out that either Lem Csurik is guilty, and there’s a possibility they’ll have to call in reinforcements to deal with his relatives, or he’s innocent, and there’s still a murderer.  He reminds Dea that running after something isn’t always the best way to catch it, and his duty is not merely to solve the crime, but to be seen as what he is–a “mutie”, a lord’s son, and a man.

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“The Mountains of Mourning” doesn’t have chapters, though it does have a number of scene breaks.  This isn’t a particularly exciting place to stop, but it’s an oddly-paced story, with little in the way of physical excitement, so I decided to just pick somewhere about halfway through, since it’s much longer than any two chapters…

It is, in many ways, a murder mystery.  I don’t read a lot of straight mystery, but I’m sure someone out there has written a mystery set in a backwoods setting, which this would probably resemble.  The SF touches are fairly subtle–the tradition of infanticide, the legacy of generations of mutations brought on by radiation exposure.

I was going to say “after the destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi”, but then I realized that that was back in Count Piotr’s time, and the tradition was long-settled by that time.  There’s a part I didn’t quote, where Cordelia talks about the Barrayarans’ ancestors “pilgrimage through the Fire”.  While it does sound like some kind of journey through a radioactive zone, it may be merely metaphorical, since the problems probably didn’t start until after the first wormhole disappeared.  So maybe even the radiation was not responsible, as much as a desire to keep the gene pool from straying too far afield…?

I find it interesting that the story starts with Miles trying to decide whether or not he’s appeased his grandfather’s spirit–how literally I don’t know, since I don’t think that Miles seriously believes in ghosts or anything, but he has a sense of obligation to his ancestors nonetheless–and throughout the course of the story he takes on a new duty, that to the slain infant Raina Csurik.  For Count Piotr, Miles tried his hardest to make his peace with the ways of Barrayar of the past–the horses, the military, the service of the Emperor, the responsibilities of the Vor.  But for Raina, Miles has to try to bring the future to Barrayar, to allow it to shed the customs of its past that no longer make sense as Barrayar slowly assimilates the technology and knowledge of the greater galactic community.  One of the best scenes in Memory, for instance, is when Miles, with so much stripped away from him, makes a return pilgrimage to Raina’s grave.


We’ll wrap up the story next week, and then after that head on to The Vor Game, which is not my favourite of the series, but more on that later.  Until then…

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