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Clever intros?  Yeah, I got nothin’.  I mean, what is there to say?  I’m posting summaries, quotes and comments from two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, from her Vorkosigan Saga–chapters Nine and Ten, this week.  I seem to be all out of that “further ado”, so here they are:

Chapter Nine

Count Vorkosigan’s armored groundcar sighed to the pavement under the east portico of the Imperial Residence. Martin looked nervously back over his shoulder toward the gates, and the gesturing guards clustered around them. “Are you sure that’s going to be all right, my lord?”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Miles, seated beside him in the drivers compartment. “They’ll have that little bit of wrought-iron straightened back up and repainted before I’m ready to be picked up again, I wager.”

Martin takes some hunting to find the controls to open the door.  Miles encourages him to take the car out while he’s with Gregor, somewhere with lots of room to practice, and to call Tsipis if he has any problems.  He warns Martin that the car is very heavy and has more momentum that it seems.  As Martin pulls out–the car being much less damaged than the gate–Miles wishes he’d had Martin practice the week before, but decides he’ll do better without his new employer in the back seat to kibitz.

Miles is escorted to Gregor’s private office, which is located in a newer portion of the palace–rebuilt after the fire started by Cordelia during the Pretendership, and generally filled with art by living artists, and no antiques.  After being announced, Miles sits and Gregor joins him.  They both agree that they wish Miles hadn’t done it, but they can’t undo it now.  Miles says that if he could magically undo anything, it might be Bothari’s death.  Gregor says that Miles was on the verge of great things; Miles says it was only a desk job at ImpSec, but Gregor says that he wants to get some people his own age in positions of power in his government, and Miles would have been the first.  Miles points out that they were mostly his age when they were appointed to their positions, they’ve just been there for a while.

Gregor asks Miles what he plans to do; Miles says he hasn’t decided yet, but he needs some time to get his head together.  Gregor requests that he stay away from the Dendarii.  He admits that they probably couldn’t stop Miles from getting to them if he really wanted to, but it would definitely be considered treason.  Miles says he wouldn’t do them any good with his seizures in any case.  He asks what will become of them, and Gregor says that will depend on Quinn.  Miles says Quinn will probably be savvy enough to want to keep the Empire’s retainer, and ImpSec should still be able to make use of them, if she can keep the same good record.  Miles says that if Quinn, who should be at the peak of her abilities, can’t manage the Dendarii, then he’s not the commander he thought.

Gregor acknowledges this, then changes the subject, cheering up visibly, and invites Miles to lunch.  Miles asks if he has to, and Gregor says he wants Miles’s opinion on somebody.  This reminds him to ask where Miles has told his parents yet, and they both admit they haven’t.  Gregor tells Miles to do so, and to get medical treatment as soon as he can.  As they are heading out to the garden for lunch, Miles apologizes to Gregor.  They find a table for four in the garden under an awning; Miles isn’t sure what this is in all about, until he sees Alys Vorpatril and Laisa Toscane.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Toscane,” Miles said, as greetings were exchanged all around. “We meet again. Is this your second trip to the Residence, then?”

“My fourth.” She smiled. “Gregor very kindly invited me to a luncheon meeting last week with Minister Racozy and some of his staff, where I had a chance to present some of my Trade Group’s views. And then there was a ceremonial reception for some retiring District officers, that was just fascinating.”

The conversation starts on Komarr, but veers off into Laisa and Gregor comparing their respective only-childhoods.  Miles has the impression that this is part of a dialogue between the two of them begun on one of the earlier visits.  Alys stays quiet, and Gregor digs information out of Laisa and she insists on tit-for-tat from him, making him surprisingly talkative.  After the dessert arrives, Gregor says he has a surprise for Laisa, and one of his liveried men brings a gorgeous white mare for Laisa to ride.  Laisa protests that she doesn’t know how, and Gregor insists that he’ll teach her; Miles notices that the horse is so placid as to be barely awake, so Laisa’s not likely to be in any danger.

Laisa made doubtful, fascinated, please-talk-me-into-it noises. Miles leaned over to Lady Alys and whispered, “Where did Gregor ever find that horse?”

“Three Districts away,” she murmured back. “It was flown in to the Residence’s stables yesterday. Gregor has been driving his domestic staff to distraction for four days, planning every detail of this luncheon.”

Gregor offers to boost her into the saddle, which they eventually manage, and Gregor leads the horse around the garden with Laisa on its back.  Miles asks Alys if she’s playing Baba to the couple, and Alys says it certainly seems that way.  She’s not quite sure when it happened.  Miles asks if Barrayar–or Komarr–is ready for a Komarran Empress.  Alys says it may be controversial, but the Centrists will like it, at least.  She says that, on balance, she approves.  She’s been trying to find a bride for Gregor for ten years, and to no avail.  He’s seen every tall, slim Vor beauty on the planet; Miles says he’s not surprised that didn’t work out, since Gregor is too afraid of inbreeding bring out his ancestors’ insanity, and he’s related to too many of the Vors for comfort.

“So . . . what does he see in Dr. Toscane, d’you think? Besides brains, beauty, a nice personality, a good sense of humor, social grace, wealth, and non-Vor genetics, that is?”

Alys vented a small, ladylike snort. “I think it’s even simpler and more fundamental than that, though I doubt Gregor is conscious of it. Not to imitate one of your mother’s annoying Betan-style instant psychoanalyses, but . . . Gregor’s mother was murdered when he was five years old.” Her red lips crimped briefly in old pain; Lady Alys had known Princess Kareen, back then. “Look at Dr. Toscane’s figure. It’s . . . maternal. Not a bone in sight anywhere. All that time I wasted herding tall, slender beauties past him, when I should have been rounding up short, plump beauties. I could cry.”

Gregor, Laisa and the horse pass by, talking animatedly.  Alys asks where Duv Galeni fits into this.  Miles says that they’re not exactly friends, but he knows something about it.  Alys says that, according to ImpSec, Duv and Laisa weren’t actually in an intimate relationship; Miles says he was courting her nonetheless, but has to admit they were in no formal relationship.  Miles says he doesn’t know what stage they were actually at, since he doesn’t know Galeni that well–he was very private and deliberate, which may have been working against him with Laisa.  Alys asks if Galeni is likely to be problematic if Laisa starts seeing Gregor, and Miles says he doesn’t know, but it will probably hurt him.  He apologizes mentally to Galeni.

“How can poor Galeni compete with the Emperor?”

She gave him a slightly pitying look. “If she loves Galeni . . . there’s no contest. If she doesn’t . . . then there’s no problem. Right?”

Gregor and Laisa return to the table; he helps Laisa dismount, and they wash their hands (though Miles is certain the horse would have already been thoroughly cleaned).  Alys reminds Gregor about an impending meeting, and Laisa apologizes for interfering with Gregor’s work.  Gregor demurs, but kisses her palm, leading to a grinning match between the two of them before Alys breaks it up, leading Laisa away.

Gregor asks Miles’s opinion of her, though he gushes his own praise of her, her trade presentation, her eyes, her beauty, with Miles unable to do more than agree, until finally Gregor calls him on it.  Gregor then admits to being terrified–not of rejection, but of the danger he may be putting her into because of who he is.  Miles reminds him that non-Imperial people die every day too, and Gregor seems to find this reassuring.  Miles asks about the impending meeting, but it’s nothing relevant to the Vorkosigans; he wonders if he should spread the word that this would be a good week to ask Gregor for anything, since he’ll undoubtedly be in a fantastic mood, but decides that it’s better kept secret.

Miles asks if Illyan has been informed of the possible interplanetary incident this relationship, not to say wedding, would be, and Gregor says that he’ll send Alys to brief him on it, when things seem more certain.  Miles says that Lady Alys may be his best possible ally in this.  Gregor says that a marriage like this could be a good sign of unity for the Emperor, and Miles says that the Komarrans might not all agree with that.

Gregor shook his head. “At the last . . . none of that matters. I’ve finally found something for me. Really for me, not for the Imperium, not even for the Emperor. Just for me.”

“Then grab it with both hands. And don’t let the bastards take it away from you.”

“Thank you,” Gregor breathed.

Miles takes his leave, hoping the car is still right-side up, and planning to avoid Duv Galeni for as long as he can.

Comments

I don’t care what anyone else says, I think that there’s something going on between Gregor and Laisa.  Also, I noticed that Gregor was going to send Lady Alys to liaise with Simon Illyan…

Seriously, though, you gotta feel for poor Gregor.  The responsibility on his shoulders, and on other parts of him, particularly when it comes to perpetuating the Vorbarra line, must be formidable, and while he may have gotten over his brief fling of rebellion (see: The Vor Game), he can’t help but dig in his heels a little bit.  He may not have been able to hold out for a love match forever, but he managed long enough, apparently.  And even then, even though he has a feeling that any relationship with Laisa is something “for him”, he can’t help but think of the implications–he can’t think of it just as dating some pretty girl, but as a prospective marriage, because everyone else is, too.  It’s hard to say whether Laisa is already considering marriage or not at this point, of course, but she definitely seems smitten, at least.

Finally: “annoying Betan-style instant psychoanalyses”.  Heh.  In case anyone, like me, is tempted to take Cordelia’s pronouncements as Divine Writ, or Authorial Writ.  This book is, as I may have mentioned before, Miles trying to prove wrong his mother’s assessment (which, admittedly, he may not have ever heard) that he can find a balance in his life without the “Little Admiral”.  Not without a few stumbles, of course, but he is, apparently, more resilient (and more sane?) than she seemed to think in Mirror Dance, at least.

Chapter Ten

It takes a few days, but Miles finally manages to convince Ivan to let him go to Vorkosigan District on his own, or at least without Ivan along.  Ivan makes him pledge his word not to do anything suicidal, and he enlists Martin as a spotter just in case.  Miles hopes that a few days in Vorkosigan Surleau will be good for him.

When they reach the district, Martin piloting the lightflyer, Miles asks him to take an indirect route, quartering the district, passing by Hassadar.  Martin is no great shakes as a lightflyer pilot, but, all in all, will be better than someone having a five-minute seizure.  They make a wide pass around the city of Hassadar, which doesn’t impress Vorbarr Sultana native Martin, even when Miles points out that Hassadar is more modern, since most of it was built after the Cetagandan Invasion, when the previous district capital was nuked.  Martin says that there’s not much else to the district, and tries to make a hillman joke, which Miles does not appreciate.  He reminds Martin that the hillmen were staunch fighters against the Cetagandan invaders.

The Vorkosigan’s District had subsequently lagged behind others in development because it was among the most war-torn on Barrayar.

Well . . . that had been a good excuse two generations ago, even one generation ago. But now?

The Imperium plucks us Vorkosigans from our District, and uses us up, and never replaces what it borrows. And then makes jokes about our impoverishment. Odd . . . he’d never thought of his family’s ardent service as a hidden tax on the District before.

Next, Miles directs Martin to fly over the radioactive wastelands, most of which were left to Miles personally by his grandfather.  They observe the odd plants there, and Miles says that someday, after he’s had children, he plans to put on a radiation suit and actually set foot down there.  Martin asks if anyone lives there, and Miles says it’s mostly bandits and other desperate folk, who aren’t planning on children anyway.  By the time he’s old (Martin guesses ten years, and Miles says more like fifty), it’ll start being usable again.  Miles points out the old capital, Vorkosigan Vashnoi, and wonders if it still glows in the dark.

Martin asks if he can go a little faster, see what the lightflyer can do, and Miles says he’s in no hurry.  He toys with the idea of showing Martin how to fly the Dendarii Gorge, the way he and Ivan used to, but decides he’s not up to that level of challenge anymore.

Ivan had started the game. Each cousin took a turn at the lightflyer’s controls on runs through the deep winding gorge till the other either tapped out, martial arts-fashion, by banging on the dash, or else lost their last meal. For a proper run one had to disable several of the lightflyer’s fail-safe circuits first, a trick Miles would just as soon Martin not learn about. Miles had pulled ahead of Ivan in the score early by the simple precaution of not eating first, till Ivan twigged to it and insisted they eat breakfast together, to assure fairness.

Miles won the final round by challenging Ivan to a night run. Ivan took the first turn, and brought them through alive, though he was white and sweating when they popped up over the last rim and leveled out.

Miles lined up for his run, and turned off the flyer’s lights. All credit to Ivan’s nerve, he didn’t break and claw, screaming, for the (disabled) emergency-eject button till he realized his cousin was also flying the speed-pattern through the gorge with his eyes closed.

Miles, of course, didn’t bother to mention he’d flown the identical pattern over sixty times in daylight during the prior three days, gradually darkening the canopy until fully opaqued.

They go to check on the Vorkosigan forests, which Miles thinks are probably about ten years away from selective harvesting of hardwoods.  He’s briefly alarmed at a plume of smoke, but it’s just some terraformers burning off native vegetation, so he gets Martin to waggle their wings at them.  Finally they head for Vorkosigan Surleau.  There are more cottages on the lakeshore, more boats on the lake, and more houses in the village.

Miles decides to visit the stables before going to the house.  Martin’s attention is caught by the teenaged village girl who looks after the horses, while Miles goes to visit his horse, Fat Ninny, who is definitely getting on in years.  He wonders if riding is safe for him, with his seizures, and concludes that short rides might be possible, with a spotter.  More possible than swimming, in any case; sailing might be okay, with a lifejacket and a lifeguard.

Miles has deliberately scheduled his visit to coincide with his thirtieth birthday, since he’s feeling antisocial and not up to well-wishers and party-throwers.  Nonetheless, Lady Alys calls to wish him well, and Miles tries to figure out how to hide from the impending comconsole calls.  He goes to visit Bothari’s grave, and General Piotr’s, but can’t come up with anything to say to them.

I’m talking to the wrong damned grave, is the problem, Miles decided abruptly. Ruthlessly, he turned and strode back to the house to wake up Martin, who would sleep till noon if allowed. He knew someplace he could go where the comconsole could not pursue him. And he desperately needed to talk to a certain small lady there.

Miles tells Martin to fly him to a place in the mountains called Silvy Vale, and points out the map coordinates for the cemetery he wants to visit.  Martin offers again to take the lightflyer faster, but Miles, now feeling a little daunted by the goal of his quest, proposes to teach Martin a little bit about mountain flying, which Martin says will at least be better than horseback riding.  Martin is duly impressed by Dendarii Gorge, though at much slower speeds than Ivan and Miles had done, but eventually Miles can delay no longer.

Martin asks what is in Silvy Vale, and Miles tells him about the infanticide case he judged up there years ago, and how he wants to talk to the victim, Raina Csurik.

Martin’s brows rose. “Do you, uh . . . talk to dead people a lot, m’lord?”

“Sometimes.”

Martin’s mouth crooked in an uncertain, we-hope-this-is-a-joke smile. “Do they ever talk back?”

“Sometimes . . . what, don’t you ever talk to dead people?”

“I don’t know any. Except you, m’lord,” Martin modified this slightly.

“I was only a would-be corpse.” Give yourself time, Martin. Your acquaintance will surely expand in time. Miles knew lots of dead people.

Even among the other dead people Miles knows, though, Raina Csurik is the biggest symbol of what he’s trying to do, and he thinks he’s started to lose touch with that, trying to play the Admiral Naismith game.  He knows exactly how he lost Naismith, but now he’s wondering how he lost Vorkosigan.

When they landed, he would tell Martin to take a walk, or go fly the lightflyer around some more. This was one conversation with the dead he didn’t want a witness to. He’d failed Gregor, yet faced him, failed his family, and would have to face them soon. But facing Raina . . . that was going to hurt like needle grenade fire.

Oh, Raina. Small lady. Please. What do I do now? He hunched away from Martin, very silent, his forehead leaning against the canopy, eyes closed, head aching.

He’s shocked when Martin says that the spot where Miles wanted him to land now seems to be underwater.  A hydroelectric dam has been installed, and flooded the valley.  Miles checks the map, which has no dam, and is only two years out of date.  He tells Martin to set down on the shore, and Martin eventually finds an open spot in the trees.  Miles gets out and peers into the water, wondering what happened to the cemetery and the dead of Silvy Vale.

Comments

I should really have done chapters Ten and Eleven together, because of that cliffhanger.  Well, not really a cliffhanger, but it doesn’t come to a neat ending.  Not up to a three-chapter week, and I’m already too far ahead to want to do a one-chapter week, so this is what you get.  We haven’t really seen Miles in Vorkosigan District since “The Mountains of Mourning”, which is, of course, the story of Raina Csurik’s death and Miles’s investigation of it.  Vorkosigan Surleau turned up in the two Cordelia books, of course, not to mention a fair chunk of the hill country in Barrayar, but Miles has been spending more time out in the galaxy.

It’s hard to say whether Miles is, at first, trying to reground himself in his notional home, or if he’s just trying to flee from contact.  The way he evades his brithday calls would seem to indicate the latter.  He’s out of his near-catatonic funk, but still nowhere near ready to deal with most of the people he knows.  Vorkosigan District is, at least, somewhere he knows, a place familiar from his childhood, with some pleasant memories attached, but things don’t stay the same.  The extra buildings around the lake are just the beginning–obviously Silvy Vale, which is a kind of emotional touchstone for him, is also changing.

I gotta say, while the scene with Simon Illyan firing Miles is quite affecting, I have a hard time getting through this chapter and the next one without welling up.  Raina Csurik’s story is just so sad, and touches Miles so deeply, that I can’t help but feel for them both.  And then Bujold cuts off the hard conversation I was anticipating by flodding the entire valley, and taking this sequence in a completely different direction…

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Next week we’ll find out what did happen to the Silvy Vale cemetery, and the rest of Silvy Vale.  Soon, the real plot will surface, once we’ve gotten a little farther into Miles’s recovery.  Obviously he can’t just shrug off a blow like this…but soon he’ll be given a impetus to put his inimitable talents to good use, which will be of great help, as well as a more exciting read for those of you who may be getting a little impatient with Miles moping.  …But I don’t think next week’s chapters get that far yet.  Come back anyway.

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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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