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Posts Tagged ‘Vorthys’

Vorkosigan takes the faceoff…he gets the puck away from Vordarian, passes it to Bothari…Bothari takes it across the blue line, skates past Vorrutyer, passes it back to Vorkosigan…Vorkosigan shoots…he scores!  Okay, yes, it’s been a little hockey-crazy in Canada this past week or so, and even if I didn’t get up at 5:00 to watch the final game, it makes a nice intro, doesn’t it?  (Why don’t they play hockey on Barrayar, anyway?  What sports do they play?)  Anyway, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, my tribute to the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, as we continue through her novella “Winterfair Gifts”, watching the events surrounding Miles Vorkosigan’s long-awaited wedding, through the eyes of his junior Armsman, Roic.

Winterfair Gifts (Part 2)

At dawn the next morning, Roic is called down to accompany one of Lord Vorkosigan’s guests for morning exercise; it turns out to be Taura, dressed in gray ship knits.  She smiles to see him, trying to hide her mouth, but Roic says she doesn’t have to.

Her fangs glinted. “I hope they didn’t drag you out of bed. Miles said his people just used the sidewalk around this block for their running track, since it was about a kilometer. I don’t think I can go astray.”

Roic intercepted a Look from Pym. Roic hadn’t been called out to keep m’lord’s galactic guest from getting lost; he was there to deal with any altercations that might result from startled Vorbarr Sultana drivers crashing their vehicles onto the sidewalk or each other at the sight of her.

“No problem,” said Roic promptly. “We usually use the ballroom for a sort of gymnasium, in weather like this, but it’s being all decorated for the reception. So I’m behind on my fitness training for the month. It’ll be a nice change to do my laps with someone who’s not so much older, um, that is, so much shorter than me.” He sneaked a glance at Pym.

Pym’s wintry smile promised retribution for that dig as he coded open the doors for them. “Enjoy yourselves, children.”

Roic regrets his teasing as Taura’s effortless loping leaves him wheezing and struggling to keep up.  After half a dozen laps, they slow down, and Roic suggests a detour through the garden to cool down.  Taura is struck by the beauty of the icy garden, and points out some men preparing for the wedding, some unpacking ice sculptures, others artistically spraying the vegetation to create icicles.  Roic says they’re having the wedding outdoors, to Taura’s surprise, but he says that M’lord is adamant on having the wedding in Ekaterin’s garden, no matter the temperature, even if all they will actually do outside is say their vows.

Taura says she’s looking forward to the wedding, including the intricate Barrayaran outfit Lady Alys picked out for her; she’s decided it’s a type of uniform, but she can’t tell if she’s “a recruit or a spy”.  There’s so much to learn about Barrayaran society, she says, and envies Roic having grown up with it.  Roic says he actually grew up working-class in Hassadar, and ended up becoming a street guard when he was eighteen, a job that he explains deals with everything from traffic jams and upset people to stolen property and rowdy drunks.

Then, one day, a crazy began shooting up the city square at rush hour with an auto-needler, and Roic disarmed him–even though he was off-duty at the time, and unarmed.  He tries to downplay it, saying that he must have been crazy to do it, and Taura must have seen worse than that in her work; Taura says that she wasn’t that keen on going up against needlers herself.  As a result of the incident, he ended up coming to Pym’s attention, and getting recruited as an Armsman, even though he thinks he fit in better in Hassadar.  Taura says that Miles always liked having large backup, like her, to loom at people.  She also demonstrates a more threatening version of her smile, which causes a passing workman to fall into a snowbank; Taura saves his ice sculpture and Roic helps him up.  If that doesn’t work, she continues, she could always pick them up and hold them at arm’s length until they subsided, or of course just stun them.

Roic says that, with her strength, she could always find work as a fire-fighter; his brother is one, in Hassadar, and that kind of muscle would be useful.  Taura thanks him for the suggestion, but says she’s happy as a mercenary, seeing new planets.

“How many have you seen?”

“I think I’ve lost count. I used to know. Dozens. How many have you seen?”

“Just t’ one,” he admitted. “Though hanging around m’lord, this one keeps getting wider till I’m almost dizzy. More complicated. Does that make sense?”

She threw back her head and laughed. “That’s our Miles. Admiral Quinn always said she’d follow him halfway to hell just to find out what happened next.”

Roic is surprised to hear that Admiral Quinn is female; Taura says she is, and worked her way up, too, though not through sexual favours.  Though she lets slip that she was another one of Miles’s lovers, which shocks Roic; she tells him how, with the uncertain life of a mercenary, you take what you can, when you can.  It was Miles’s injuries and discharge from ImpSec that separated them–when he could no longer be the Admiral, and she refused to come to Barrayar for him.

“Elli Quinn’s got no one but herself to blame for any chances she threw away. Though some people are born with more chances to waste than others, I’ll admit. I say, grab the ones you’re issued, run with them, and don’t look back.”

“Something might be gaining on you?”

“I know perfectly well what’s gaining on me.” Her grin flashed, oddly tilted this time. “Anyway . . . Quinn might be more beautiful, but I was always taller.” She gave a satisfied nod.

She says that Miles must surely be satisfied with Roic’s height, and his broad shoulders are a recruiter’s dream.  Roic says that M’lord, and Pym, must think he’s an idiot and a screwup; he admits, when Taura asks, that nobody actually died, but explains about how, in trying to keep Lord Mark’s biologist from being extradited, he ended up in the front foyer, mostly naked and covered in bug butter, when M’lord brought his new fiancée home, with her relatives…

He sighed. “If you see one of those damned vomit bugs still around, squash it on sight. Hideous bioengineered mutant things, kill ’em all before they multiply.”

Her laughter stopped cold.

Roic re-ran his last sentence in his head, and made the unpleasant discovery that one could do far worse things to oneself with words than with dubious food products, or possibly even with needlers. He hardly dared look up to see her face. He forced his eyes right.

Taura’s face has gone blank, and Roic restrains himself from trying to cover up his gaffe; she just says it’s cold and she wants to go back in.

Roic sleeps all day, trying to get back onto night shift, though he regrets missing getting to see what Madame Vorsoisson’s staid relatives would make of M’lord and his odd friends, especially Taura.  When he gets up, Ma Kosti’s kitchen is in a frenzy preparing for the next day’s wedding, though that night, at least, she was off the hook because all the guests were at the Winterfair Ball at the Imperial Residence.  Roic is thus surprised to see M’lord and Taura returning before midnight.  As they enter, Taura is saying that she feels okay, just tired and a little jump-lagged, and is more concerned about Madame Vorsoisson.

M’lord paused on the steps, three up, and leaned on the banister to speak face to face with Taura, who was watching him in concern. “She wasn’t sure even last week about attending the Emperor’s bonfire tonight, though I thought it would be a valuable distraction. She insisted she was all right when I talked to her earlier. But her Aunt Helen says she’s all to pieces, hiding in her room and crying. This is just not like her. I thought she was tough as anything. Oh, God, Taura. I think I’ve screwed up this whole wedding thing so badly . . . I rushed her into it, and now it’s all coming apart. I can’t imagine how bad the stress must be to make her physically ill.”

“Slow down, dammit, Miles. Look. You said her first marriage was dire, yes?”

“Not bruises and black eyes bad, no. Draining the blood of your spirit out drop by drop for years bad, maybe. I only saw the very end of it. It was pretty gruesome by then.”

“Words can cut worse than knives. The wounds take longer to heal, too.”

She didn’t look at Roic. Roic didn’t look back.

M’lord wonders if he should go see her or not, or if that’s bad luck.  Taura reminds him of pre-combat jitters, and how it can be worse the second time than it is the first time.  She says she saw how Ekaterin looks at Miles, and swears that he’s not the problem–it’s more likely the first husband’s fault.  She encourages him to go be with her and be himself.  M’lord decides she’s probably right, and tells Roic to get a car to bring him over to the Vorthyses’ house while he changes out of his holiday finery.

Roic asks Taura what’s going on, and she says that Ekaterin’s aunt said that she seems to be having some sort of breakdown or something.  She asks Roic if he knows of any pharmaceutical labs that would be open, and Roic, baffled, asks if she’s sick too, because he can always call in the family’s physician; nothing much commercial is going to open on the holiday, except hospital emergency rooms, which will probably be busy.  Taura says she’s not sick herself, she was just wondering, because of something she thought of earlier…  She heads upstairs, and Roic goes off to get M’lord a car, thinking that Taura was, at least, talking to him like normal, so maybe he hadn’t blown it entirely…

Professora Vorthys lets them in; when M’lord asks, she admits he hadn’t told Ekaterin he was coming, but she encourages him to go up and just be with her.  Roic waits in the hall–reflecting that he’d never seen a bad crime scene in a house like this one, rife with books–until the Professora comes back down.  Roic asks if Madame Vorsoisson was sick, and the Professora says she has been, mostly a bad headache, though she’d claimed to be doing better this morning.  She did, at least, agree to see Lord Vorkosigan; the Professora relays his orders for Roic to go back home and wait for him.

When Roic arrives back at Vorkosigan House, nobody else has returned from the Imperial Residence yet.  The house is quiet, which is the best part of night shift, in Roic’s opinion.  He checks the security monitors, then makes a physical pass through the house.  In the entry hall, he hears a creak in the library; he sneaks as quietly as he can over to the doorway and peers inside.  Inside he sees Taura bending over the gifts, and is shocked to see her wrapping up the triple strand of pearls in cloth and pocketing them.

But I liked her. I really liked her. Only now, in this moment of hideous revelation, did he realize just how much he’d come to . . . to admire her in their brief time together. Brief, but so damned awkward. She was really beautiful in her own unique way, if only you looked at her right. For a moment it had seemed as though far suns and strange adventures had beckoned to him from her gold eyes; just possibly, more intimate and exotic adventures than a shy backcountry boy from Hassadar had ever dared to imagine. If only he were a braver man. A handsome prince. Not a fool. But Cinderella was a thief, and the fairytale was gone suddenly sour.

Sick dismay flooded him, as he imagined the altercation, the shame, the wounded friendship and shattered trust that must follow this discovery—he almost turned away. He didn’t know the value of the pearls, but even if it were a city’s ransom he was certain m’lord would trade them in a heartbeat for the ease of spirit he’d had with his old followers.

Knowing they’ll be missed in the morning anyway, Roic turns on the light; Taura, startled, whirls around, and relaxes when she sees it’s him.  Roic tells her to put the pearls back, and she grimaces and tenses up again.  She says she doesn’t dare put them back, but she promises to bring them back tomorrow.  Roic, confused, says it’d need to go through a security check, and Taura asks what kind of checks have already been run on it.  Roic says everything is scanned for explosives and electronics, and the comestibles checked for biologicals and chemicals.  Taura says she wasn’t stealing it, just…borrowing it; Roic asks her to give them to him, and Taura says he mustn’t touch it.  He asks why not, and she asks him how he feels about Miles; Roic tries to explain how he is a Vorkosigan armsman, and how he’s sword to serve his liege lord.  Taura asks then if he could keep a secret from his liege lord that would hurt him, even if he asked…  Roic temporizes, and says she needs to trust him for him to trust her.

She takes the pearls back out and asks him what he sees.  He says he sees pearls, white and shiny; she says she may be a “hideous bioengineered mutant”, but among her modifications is an enhanced visual spectrum, and to her, the pearls look different, like they’re dirty.  And, an hour after Ekaterin put them on for a few minutes, she became so ill she could barely stand.  Roic is shaken when he realizes she’s right, and he says they’ll have to be checked out.  Taura says the problem is that this is Elli Quinn’s gift, and she and Miles had loved each other strongly; if Quinn sent them, then knowing that would wound Miles deeply.  Roic says it was the bride they were meant to kill, or maybe they were only meant as a prank, to make her sick; Taura says that she wouldn’t bet on that, considering how bad Ekaterin is after only a short contact.  Roic says that Taura is the one who knows Elli Quinn, and asks if she thinks this is something Quinn would do.  Taura says maybe, if she was angry enough; Roic says that if she didn’t do it, they should clear her name, and if she did, she doesn’t deserve them to protect it, and waits, tensely, for her response.

Taura says that sometimes people do rash things that they later regret; that’s why she’d wanted to check them in secret, hoping she was wrong.  Roic says that ImpSec can check the gift, everything about it, and find out who’s really behind it…then hunt them down without mercy.  Taura says that they might do that to Quinn, if they decide she’s responsible, and if they’re mistaken…

“ImpSec is competent.”

“Roic, I’m an ImpSec employee. I can absolutely guarantee you, they are not infallible.”

He ran his gaze down the crowded table. “Look. There’s that other wedding gift.” He pointed to the folds of shimmering black blanket, still piled in their box. The room was so quiet, he could hear the live fur’s gentle rumble from here. “Why would she send two? It even came with a dirty limerick, hand-written on a card.” Not presently on display, true. “Madame Vorsoisson laughed out loud when m’lord read it to her.”

A reluctant smile twitched her mouth for a moment. “Oh, that’s Quinn, all right.”

“If that’s truly Quinn, then this”—he pointed at the pearls—”can’t be. Eh? Trust me. Trust your own judgment.”

Comments

There are two plotlines in the story–one the romance plotline with Roic and Taura, and one the mystery plotline with the pearls.  Which is one more than you’d tend to get in a true short story, of course.  The mystery–well, it’s not a murder, as they usually tend to be (except in kids’ books, I suppose), just an attempted murder; those would tend to be easier to solve if the intended victim saw their attacker, so to make it a real mystery you have to make the attack a subtle one, such as this attempted poisoning.  And the romance–well, it doesn’t feel like a romance, to me, at least; I’m not a real authority, not having read more than a handful, but the modern ones that I’ve read tend to have a stronger physical attraction, and in this story it’s fairly subdued.

But some would say that the true definition of romance would be that the emotional relationship between the main characters is at the heart of the story.  It doesn’t start with a magnetic attraction between the two of them, but their relationship does evolve.  Roic is worldly enough that he doesn’t react with unthinking revulsion and hatred at Taura’s blatant mutations, but he still has to overcome his first impressions to see the woman inside the super-soldier.  Taura herself mostly just sees Roic as one of Miles’s many hired hands, but they get thrown together in a few situations–at Estelle’s, at the tea shop, and then doing the run around the block, where a careless comment damages her opinion of him, but perhaps also makes her have to try to assess her own feelings about him, the way that Ekaterin did after Miles’s dinner party.

Which brings us to the central scene of the story–Roic discovering Taura with the pearls.  First it wounds his opinion of her, to think of her as a thief.  He still gives her the benefit of the doubt, which gives her the opportunity to explain her suspicions…which leads into the mystery.  Now he just has to convince her that she can’t keep this to herself, just because the pearls have Elli Quinn’s name on them.  I remember being surprised, at first, that Quinn wasn’t at the wedding, whether she just couldn’t deal with watching Miles marry someone else, but it didn’t quite seem like her.  Anyway, here’s where Roic and Taura begin to trust each other, both of their initial images of the other having been damaged, and maybe the top layer of the social facade peeled away.

Is this the climax of the story?  Obviously it’s not quite over yet, and I’m not sure if the rest of the story is nothing more than denouement, but I can’t think of any other real turning points that come after this, so maybe it is…  Oh, and by the way, apparently Ekaterin’s Aunt Vorthys’s first name is “Helen”.  Don’t think we knew that before…


I’m really taking it easy here, strolling through “Winterfair Gifts” at a leisurely pace, so there’s still one more week, and then I’m sure I’ll take yet another week off.  Then into Diplomatic Immunity…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Until next week, then…

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

Chapter Nineteen

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

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

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

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

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

Who said that, Nikki?” asked Hugo nervously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good. Will you marry me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I believe it is customary . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

“Belike,” Miles sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By blinked at him. “My what?”

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

“What job?”

Ivan sat silent, and frowned. Humorlessly.

By sighed. “About eight years.”

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Overall Comments

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


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

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Welcome back, one mo’ time, to the good ol’, down-home, fresh-baked, fat-free, low-cholesterol Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s always a pleasure to see so many bright and smiling faces comin’ by here to see what I’ve managed to whip up out of nothin’ more than a couple of chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, as we find out what the rascally Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends, have been up to this week.  And speakin’ of this week, that’s right now!  So why don’t you set yourself down and dig in to a helping of Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen of A Civil Campaign, where things actually get kinda physically excitin’ for our heroes…

Chapter Seventeen

Pym admits Ekaterin to Vorkosigan House; he pages Miles, who says he’s up in the attic of the north wing, and tells Pym to send Ekaterin up, he has something she’d like to see.  He escorts her to the lift tube and up to the fifth floor, into an enormous attic.  Some of the attic contents are the usual–shabby furniture, empty picture frames, and other detritus–but past then it gets into old weapons, horse gear, and uniforms.

Miles is digging through a few tunks of flimsies, apparently sorting them; Ekaterin says he wasn’t exaggerating when he told her the attics were worth seeing.  Miles says that when Duv Galeni came up here, he turned back into a history professor, gibbering over how little of this was catalogued.  Ekaterin lets him ramble on, unwilling to destroy his mood with her news.  He shows her a bag of what he says are Cetagandan scalps–given to his grandfather, he says, by his guerrillas, so of course he couldn’t just dispose of them.  Ekaterin asks what they could possible do with them; Miles muses that Gregor could send them back to the Cetagandans, with elaborate apologies, as a subtle diplomatic insult.

Then he gets out what he really wanted to show her–an old lady’s saddle, which he said originally belonged to General Piotr’s wife, Olivia Vorbarra Vorkosigan.  He said the riding tradition has kind of lapsed in their family–his parents weren’t that interested, and he hasn’t time himself in years; Ekaterin says she rode as a child, a pony that her great-aunt kept, but not much since.  Miles says he’s thinking of reconditioning the saddle and putting it back into use, but Ekaterin protests that it should be in a museum.

“Ah—I had this same argument with Duv. It wasn’t just hand-made, it was custom-made, especially for the Princess. Probably a gift from my grandfather. Imagine the fellow, not just a worker but an artist, selecting the leather, piecing and stitching and carving. I picture him hand-rubbing in the oil, thinking of his work used by his Countess, envied and admired by her friends, being part of this—this whole work of art that was her life.” His finger traced the leaves around the initials.

Her guess of its value kept ratcheting up in time to his words. “For heaven’s sake get it appraised first!”

“Why? To loan to a museum? Don’t need to set a price on my grandmother for that. To sell to some collector to hoard like money? Let him hoard money, that’s all that sort wants anyway. The only collector who’d be worthy of it would be someone who was personally obsessed with the Princess-and-Countess, one of those men who fall hopelessly in love across time. No. I owe it to its maker to put it to its proper use, the use he intended.”

The weary straitened housewife in her—Tien’s pinchmark spouse—was horrified. The secret soul of her rang like a bell in resonance to Miles’s words. Yes. That was how it should be. This saddle belonged under a fine lady, not under a glass cover. Gardens were meant to be seen, smelled, walked through, grubbed in. A hundred objective measurements didn’t sum the worth of a garden; only the delight of its users did that. Only the use made it mean something. How had Miles learned that? For this alone I could love you . . .

He says he should get back into riding, for exercise if nothing else, and invites her to join him.  Ekaterin says she can’t, and ruthlessly, before he can try to persuade her, before she loses her will entirely, tells him the story of her family visit.  She expresses her exasperation at how they wouldn’t listen to her, taking Alexi Vormoncrief’s word over her own, along with their own perceptions of the “decadence” of the capital.  She said she had to go along, or lose custody of Nikki.  It occurred to her later to wonder if ImpSec would step in rather than let Vassily take Nikki away, but Miles said that they’d probably think Nikki safer on a military base in any case.  If they did do anything to stop it, they’d probably do it in a way that just enhanced the murder “cover story”.

Ekaterin wonders if somebody convinced Alexi to send the letter, hoping to have just that result.  Miles suggests that it would be better if her uncle could deal with the issue inside the family, but he’s not due back until the wedding, assuming that his technical matters on Komarr don’t take too long.  Miles says that if it does come to court, it’ll be in Vorbretten’s District, and he can try to get René to help, assuming he’s still Count at that point; Ekaterin says she’d rather avoid it entirely.  Miles reassures her that, after the Council of Counts vote in two days, the slander should die down with its political motivation…or so he hopes.

“I shouldn’t have suggested putting you in quarantine till my mourning year was over. I should have tried Vassily on Winterfair first. I thought of that too late. But I can’t risk Nikki, I just can’t. Not when we’ve come so far, survived so much.”

“Sh, now. I think your instincts are right. My grandfather had an old cavalry saying: `You should get over heavy ground as lightly as you can.’ We’ll just lie low for a little while here so as not to rile poor Vassily. And when your uncle gets back, he’ll straighten the fellow out.” He glanced up at her, sideways. “Or, of course, you could simply not see me for a year, eh?”

“I should dislike that exceedingly,” she admitted.

“Ah.” One corner of his mouth curled up. After a little pause, he said, “Well, we can’t have that, then.”

“But Miles, I gave my word. I didn’t want to, but I did.”

“Stampeded into it. A tactical retreat is not a bad response to a surprise assault, you know. First you survive. Then you choose your own ground. Then you counterattack.”

Ekaterin fights an urge to give in to his physical closeness.  Miles admits he’d forgotten about Vassily on his list of people whose opinions mattered.  He explains to her what his father said about reputation and honour.  Ekaterin talks about how she became an oathbreaker, inside, after she made the decision to leave Tien, but she still has to go on somehow; most people, even her aunt, tell her that it was okay because Tien was an ass.  Miles says he knows exactly how she feels, though.

“In my experience,” he said, “the trouble with oaths of the form, death before dishonor, is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn. It’s a survivor’s problem, this one.”

“Yes,” she agreed quietly. He knows. He knows it all, right down to that bitter muck of regret at the bottom of the soul’s well. How does he know?

He tells her the truth about his discharge from ImpSec, for falsifying reports, rather than for medical reasons.  He’d been so desperate to hold onto Admiral Naismith, and he’d gotten into a habit of “lie now, fix it later”.  Which didn’t work with his seizures, and it didn’t work with her either.  Ekaterin gives him a single squeeze, and agrees with him about the difficulty of overcoming old habits.  Miles tells her then how he killed his grandfather, failing out of his entrance exams.

“Of course,” she said dryly, “you were the cause. It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with his being nearly a hundred years old.”

“Yeah, sure, I know.” Miles shrugged, and gave her a sharp look up from under his dark brows. “The same way you know Tien’s death was an accident.”

“Miles,” she said, after a long, thoughtful pause, “are you trying to one-up my dead?”

Taken aback, his lips began to form an indignant denial, which weakened to an, “Oh.” He gently thumped his forehead on her shoulder as if beating his head against a wall. When he spoke again, his ragging tone did not quite muffle real anguish. “How can you stand me? I can’t even stand me!”

I think that was the true confession. We are surely come to the end of one another.

Ekaterin notes that she has, as Kareen would say, a “Thing” about oaths.  She asks how, forsworn as he was, he could bring himself to take oath again, as an Imperial Auditor.  Miles says that his honour came with a reset button, and she is startled into laughter, which feels like it’s bringing light into her soul.  He tells her that a wise woman told him once “You just go on”, which in his opinion is what all the rest of the advice boils down to.

He’s taken her hand in his, and she is almost overwhelmed by his physical proximity, but she is determined not to start any physical intimacy with him, when she’s supposed to be giving him up.  Deliberately pulling a little apart, she asks him if he thinks Alexi’s ploy is a trap.  Miles tells her about what happened with Richars, how he’d attempted to blackmail Miles into going along, and instead Miles threw all his weight behind Dono.  As a result, if Richars does become Count, he’ll be obliged to follow through on his threat to press charges, although he may wait until after the Imperial wedding.  If it does go to court, Richars will probably be unable to prove anything, but Miles won’t be able to produce proof on his side either–but before the charge is eventually dismissed, things could get ugly, for Ekaterin as well as himself.

Miles notes that another way to avert the problem would be to not vote against Richars–maybe even abstaining wouldn’t be enough, he might have to actively vote for Richars.  He admits that Gregor and ImpSec have not asked him to do that, but he thought he’d offer it to her; after some thought, she says they’d both have to reset their honour after that one.  Miles says it doesn’t look like Dono has enough votes, just so she knows; she says she’s satisfied that he has Miles’s.

Ekaterin asks him the last time he used his seizure stimulator, and Miles admits it’s been a while.  Ekaterin sternly admonishes him to use it that night, so he doesn’t get struck down in the middle of the vote, and he humbly accedes.  He offers her a ride home, and ends up accompanying her; they keep scrupulously to small talk.

Ivan is serving at a reception for Komarran guests at Vorhartung Castle, squiring around Laisa’s aunt.  It’s meant as a celebration of the soletta array repairs as much as for the arrival of Laisa’s guests.  Once he manages to get rid of Aunt Anna, he manages to withdraw.  He bumps into Cassia Vorgorov, recently engaged to Count Vortashpula’s heir; Count Falco Vorpatril, nearby, twits Ivan about having missed his chance yet again, since Cassia apparently used to have a crush on him.  Ivan asserts that he chooses to play the field, and bows politely to Count Vorhalas, who is wooing the notoriously fence-sitting Count Vorpatril’s vote.

Miles arrives, looking a little tired, and, to Ivan’s relief, doesn’t seem to be seeking volunteers for some hare-brained scheme.  He greets the two Counts; Falco asks if he’s going to the reception at Vorsmyth House, and Miles says he’ll be with Gregor’s party…unless they want to discuss Lord Dono’s suit again.  Falco says the Progressives will just have to give up on that one, and be satisfied with the soletta repairs bill.  Miles says he can’t wait for this vote to be over, before departing.

Vorhalas notes that Miles’s looks unwell; Falco says it’s probably due to his old troubles, but Ivan says it’s probably due to his more recent injuries on duty–one of his seizures, he expects.  Vorhalas asks about the rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Ivan stoutly denies it, and Falco says that Lady Alys did as well.  Vorhalas will only say that he supposes they’ll never know the truth.  Ivan is getting a bit annoyed at all the people asking him, and wonders if Miles is getting as bad, or if more people are asking Ivan because they don’t want to bother him about it.  Falco invites Vorhalas back to Vorpatril House to talk about a potential project, and Vorhalas agrees.

Ivan spots Olivia Koudelka, and consider that while Delia, Kareen and Martya have rejected him, there’s still one who hasn’t.  He starts to chat her up, trying to figure out if she’s with someone; she does seem happy to see someone, but all Ivan sees are Lord Dono and Countess Vormuir, who seem to be sharing a private joke.  Olivia says they’re heading for Vorsmythe House, and Ivan proposes to come along; Olivia offers him a ride, which he accepts.  Lord Dono joins them, proving to be the one offering the ride, which Ivan doesn’t particularly like, but he’s forced to live with it.  Byerly Vorrutyer stops by, refusing the offer of a ride to Vorsmythe’s, but asking for one home from there.
Dono says he’s talked to several of the Counts, but few of them were helpful.  Vorhalas and Vorpatril hadn’t listened to his pitch, and Vorfolse hadn’t even answered his door.  The vote tally is running close, but Dono says it’s still short.  Olivia and By reassure him, and By says that something might still happen.

Ivan ends up sitting between two Armsmen in Dono’s car, with Olivia next to Dono and Szabo.  On the way to Vorsmythe House, Donno suddenly decides to give Vorfolse one more try first.  Vorfolse’s family has had horrible luck in the last century, making bad choices like collaborating with the Cetagandans, and siding with Vordarian during the Pretendership; as a result, they’re quite impoverished, and Vorfolse lives in a small apartment, renting Vorfolse House to an ambitious, rich merchant.  The current Count Vorfolse, as a result, refuses to commit to much of anything, which, Ivan supposes, at least means he’s not a certain vote for Richars…

There’s no parking available for the groundcar, so Dono’s driver drops them off, Ivan perforce getting out too when Olivia does.  Szabo sets up a couple of Armsmen as a guard, and the rest of them enter the building lobby.  Dono buzz Vorfolse’s apartment, and at least gets a response this time.  Dono introduces himself and his companions, and asks to talk about the vote.  Vorfolse refuses, saying that Vorrutyers are all crazy, and he doesn’t care which of them is Count.  Dono points out that if the vote falls short, it’ll have to be redone, and that will doubtless be inconvenient for Vorfolse, and that Richars would also be much less “restful” as a count.  Olivia puts in her own word, and Vorfolse notes that the Vorkosigans must be supporting it, and Miles seems to be very unrestful just now.  He refuses to commit to a vote, but Dono thanks him, noting as they leave that that’s better than some of the responses he’s gotten.  He also gives Vorfolse credit for, at least, not milking his District for funds to support a more lavish lifestyle.

Outside, the car is nowhere to be found; Olivia wonders if somebody else wanted to come in, forcing the driver to leave and come back.  Just then, Ivan hears a familiar sound, as Szabo drops to a stunner beam.  Ivan ducks behind a pillar, Olivia and Dono ducking another way, as the two other Armsmen with him also drop to stunners.  Ivan peers into the darkness, trying to spot their enemies, and wishing he had a stunner of his own.  He overhears two men talking about a third, and tries to make his way out of his refuge before they come after him.  It must be a kidnapping, he thinks, or they wouldn’t be using stunners.

He catches a glimpse of Olivia, and hears a thunk as she takes out an enemy; he is reminded that her mother used to be a bodyguard.  Dono makes a break for it, and the enemies go after him, grabbing him and dragging him towards a liftvan; Ivan manages to snatch one of the felled Armsmen’s stunners.  They want to “do the job” on Dono and dump him as soon as they can, if they can take out the girl and “the big officer”.  Ivan, watching, can’t tell what they’re going to do, but it’s not a kidnapping…  One man bends over Dono with a vibra knife, and Ivan, taking a chance, stuns one of the others and sends the others fleeing behind the van, leaving Dono on the pavement.

Olivia stuns the other two and emerges from cover; they to go to check on Dono.  Olivia exclaims to find him soaked in blood, but Dono says they only cut his leg.  She improvises a bandage torn from her party dress to try to stop the bleeding, while Ivan drags their stunned foes into a heap.

Olivia now had Dono half sitting up, his head cradled between her breasts as she anxiously stroked his dark hair. Dono was pale and shaking, his breathing disrupted.

“Take a punch in the solar plexus, did you?” Ivan inquired.

“No. Further down,” Dono wheezed. “Ivan . . . do you remember, whenever one of you fellows got kicked in the nuts and went over, doing sports or whatever, how I laughed? I’m sorry. I never knew. I’m sorry . . .”

The bleeding seems to be slowing.  Ivan finds a bottle of liquid bandage nearby, and says that they must have been trying to undo Dono’s sex change operation, hoping to disqualify him before the vote.  Without anesthetic, but with the intention of leaving him alive.  Dono says it’s probably Richars.  Ivan says that however he feels about what Dono did, this is just wrong.  Dono says he hasn’t even used his new genitalia yet, wanting to be a “virgin” on his wedding night.  Ivan goes to check on the others–the one Olivia downed doesn’t look to be in good shape, but Szabo and the others seem like they’ll be okay.  He goes down the street and finds Dono’s groundcar, the driver stunned; he backs it carefully up to where Dono and Olivia are.

He asks Dono if he recognizes any of the goons, which he doesn’t.  Ivan and Olivia load them into their own van, and Dono’s Armsmen into the groundcar.  Olivia and Dono take the groundcar, and Ivan the lift van; Ivan tells them to head for Vorpatril House.

Comments

Not much to say about the Miles and Ekaterin scene, except that the increased honesty between them does seem to be drawing them together.  As well as shared adversity, placing them back to back against a common enemy, as it were.

Ivan the oblivious once again fails to clue in that the girl he’s latched onto is not into him at all.  We don’t get nearly as much screen time with Olivia as we do with her sisters, but it’s apparent that she’s become attached to Dono already.  Still, it’s lucky for Dono that Ivan came along–without him, it would have ended up just Olivia against Dono’s assailants.  It took me a second to recognize Ivan when the thugs were referring to “that big officer”–I guess Ivan is supposed to kind of big, at that.

The book, being mostly about relationships and such, is a little short on actual action scenes, but near the end, they start to show up a bit.  The attempted assault on Dono is probably the biggest one, but the next chapter has a couple more, as I recall…

Chapter Eighteen

Miles arrives early at the Counts’ Chamber, but finds René Vorbretten is there even before him.  René is not optimistic, saying that they’re close, but don’t have quite enough votes.  Miles tries to reassure him, telling him that anyone could change their mind at the last minute, but René points out that that works both ways.  Miles wishes for a little more redundancy in future, and almost wishes for a good honest shootout.  Miles says he thinks he secured Vorgarin’s vote for René, if not necessarily for Dono.  René said that Dono never showed up at Vorsmythe’s; Byerly had been looking for him, and eventually left to try to find him.  Miles wonders if Dono had been assassinated, but reassures himself that he would have heard by now, if so.

As more people start to arrive, René asks what they’ll do if Dono doesn’t show up.  Miles assures him that the Conservatives will also want to wait for all their Counts to show up, and since some of them will be delayed indefinitely, they’ll be forced to filibuster as long as they can, though Miles will willingly stretch it out too, if he needs to.  Miles hopes that Dono is not just reverting to Lady Donna’s habit of arriving fashionable late.  Eventually he calls Pym and asks him to try to find Dono, and do anything he can to help get him to the vote on time.  Richars shows up, dressed as Count Vorrutyer already, and pays Miles a visit.

“They say,” Richars growled to him in an undervoice, not concealing rage quite so well, Miles fancied, “that an honest politician is one who stays bought. It seems you don’t qualify, Vorkosigan.”

“You should choose your enemies more wisely,” Miles breathed back.

Richars grunted. “So should you. I don’t bluff. As you’ll find out before this day is over.” He stalked away to confer with the group of men now clustered around Vormoncrief’s desk.

More Counts arrive, and Miles makes a few last-minute visits to canvass for Dono and René again.  Gregor arrives with a minute to spare, and the session officially begins.  As Miles had predicted, Conservative Counts start exercising their two-minute speaking rights, drawing it out as long as they can get away with; everyone starts settling in for a long wait.

Ekaterin is dismayed to answer her door and find Vassily and Hugo there again.  She stops herself from protesting that she’s been following their rules, and merely asks what they want.  They ask to come in, on an urgent matter, and, grudgingly, Ekaterin lets them in.  Vassily tells her that he wants to get Nikki out of the capital as soon as possible.  He says it’s nothing to do with what Ekaterin has or hasn’t done, but he has new information, this time confirmed by Lord Richars Vorrutyer himself.  Once Richars is voted in as Count, he’ll lay a murder charge against Miles, and then, he predicts, the capital will doubtless erupt into open fighting.  Aunt Vorthys and Nikki come in to see what’s going on, greeting the visitors uncertainly.

Hugo gave her a respectful nod of greeting, and continued heavily, “I have to agree with Ekaterin, but it only supports Vassily’s worries. I can’t imagine what has possessed Vorrutyer to make such a move while Aral Vorkosigan himself is in town. You’d think he’d at least have the sense wait till the Viceroy returned to Sergyar before attacking his heir.”

“Aral Vorkosigan!” cried Ekaterin. “Do you really think Gregor will blithely accept this assault on one of his chosen Voices? Not to mention look forgivingly on someone trying to start a huge public scandal two weeks before his wedding . . . ! Richars isn’t a fool, he’s mad.” Or acting in some kind of blind panic, but what did Richars have to be panicked about?

Vassily reminds her what happened during Vordarian’s Pretendership, and says he wants to get Nikki safe before it’s impossible to leave Vorbarr Sultana.  Ekaterin tries to convince him that even during the Pretendership it wasn’t that violent everywhere, but Vassily insists they have to go, and urges Ekaterin and Madame Vorthys to evacuate as well, especially since Ekaterin has already drawn Miles’s attention.  Ekaterin says that he’s making a big deal over nothing–Richars might not even win the Countship–but they can’t conceive that Dono’s suit could possibly succeed, and in any case Vassily is unwilling to risk it.

Nikki tries to reassure his relatives that Miles didn’t kill Tien, but Vassily says that there’s no way to know for sure, and Nikki is obviously unsure how much of what the Emperor told him he’s allowed to share.  Ekaterin says that ImpSec is surely on top of any activity in the capital, this close to the wedding, and will stop any unrest before it starts.

Vassily tells Nikki to get his things and get ready to go.  Nikki looks to his mother, and she decides that she has no obligation to make things any easier for Vassily, so she says nothing.

Vassily reached for Nikki’s hand. Nikki dodged around Ekaterin, and cried, “Mama, I don’t have to go, do I? I was supposed to go to Arthur’s tonight! I don’t want to go with Vassily!” His voice was edged with sharp distress.

Vassily inhaled, and attempted to recover his balance and his dignity. “Madame, control your child!”

She stared at him for a long moment. “Why, Vassily,” she said at last, her voice silky, “I thought you were revoking my authority over Nikki. You certainly don’t seem to trust my judgment for his safety and well-being. How shall I control him, then?”

Aunt Vorthys, catching the nuance, winced; Hugo, father of three, also got it. She had just given Nikki tacit permission to go to his limit. Bachelor Vassily missed the curve.

Vassily tells Nikki they have to catch the train, and threatens to carry him; Nikki says that he’ll scream, and tell everyone this man isn’t his father, and is kidnapping him.  Vassily tries to grab Nikki, but he dodges out of the way.  Hugo tries to convince Nikki to come with him and visit his cousins instead; Nikki hesitates, but Vassily makes another try then, grabbing Nikki’s arm.  Nikki yells out in pretended pain and Vassily relaxes his grip, allowing Nikki to make his way up the stairs.  He shouts back at them that he doesn’t want to go, and they’ll be sorry they made his mama unhappy.

Vassily chases him up the stairs, Hugo following more slowly.  Nikki locks himself in his uncle’s study and Vassily tells at him to open the door.  He asks Ekaterin for help, and Ekaterin says that the only man she ever knew who could talk Nikki out of a locked room doesn’t happen to be there.  Hugo suggests waiting for him to get hungry, but Madame Vorthys says Nikki knows where his uncle keeps his store of cookies.  Ekaterin refuses to let Vassily break down the door, or help him take apart the hinges, and neither she nor her aunt point out that there is a back door through a bathroom off the next room.

“I hear two voices. Who in the world could he be calling on the comconsole?” asked Vassily, in a dismissive tone that didn’t invite an answer.

Suddenly, Ekaterin thought she knew. Her breath caught. “Oh,” she said faintly, “dear.” Aunt Vorthys stared at her.

For a hysterical moment, Ekaterin considered dashing around and diving through the alternate doors, to shut down the comconsole before it was too late. But the echo of a laughing voice drifted through her mind . . . Let’s see what happens.

Yes. Let’s.

Back at the Council of Counts, Miles waits while more Conservatives drone on.  Gregor’s Armsman comes out and speaks to the Emperor; Gregor them summons the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle to have a quick word, and then disappears behind the dais.  Miles wonders what’s going on, but supposes that Gregor just needs a bathroom break.  He calls Pym again, who tells him that Lord Dono had only arrived at Vorrutyer House about an hour ago, but Captain Vorpatril is escorting him to the vote as they speak.

Gregor returns after a couple of minutes, and gives Miles an odd, exasperated look, before returning to impassively watching the speakers.  Miles checks for missing Counts–Vortugalov, as Lady Alys had promised, but also Counts Vormuir, Vorpatril, Vorfolse, and Vorhalas.  Most or all of those were expected to be Conservative votes, so Miles wouldn’t miss them much.

In Vorkosigan House, Enrique is inventorying the returned Vorkosigan butter bugs, and announces that only nine are missing, which is acceptable, especially since the queen had been returned by Jankowski’s daughter the night before.  He takes the queen out and offers to let Martya pet her; the queen hisses in what Enrique insists is a sound of happiness.

Privately, Kareen thought any man whose idea of a good time was to feed, pet, and care for a creature that mainly responded to his worship with hostile noises was going to get along great with Martya.

Kareen is trying to figure out what to call their various proposed butter bug food products.  The house is very quiet, most of its inhabitants either with Miles, or with his parents at a political breakfast.  Even Ma Kosti has gone with Mark to look at a prospective packaging plant.  Kareen had spent his first night at Vorkosigan House with Mark, and everyone was perfectly civilized about it, and she’s quite happy about that.

A maidservant knocks on the door, telling them that they have visitors.  Two rumpled-looking men in Escobaran suits–one of them quite large–enter and greet Enrique, delighted to have finally found him.  The thin man, Parole Officer Oscar Gustioz, tells Enrique he’s under arrest for fraud, grand theft, and bond jumping.  Enrique protests that they can’t arrest him on Barrayar, and Gustioz brandishes a file folder, showing him all of the manifold permissions he has managed to get signed, including for all eighteen intervening jump points, which has taken him a month to get.  He tells Enrique to pack one bag, because he means to be offplanet within the hour.

Kareen says, in confusion, that they paid Enrique’s bond, but Gustioz explains that that didn’t mean that they could take him offplanet with them.  Martya asks why they’re not arrest Mark, and Gustioz said he’d love to, but he has diplomatic immunity, and merely mentioning the name ‘Vorkosigan’ results in stonewalling from every bureaucrat he encountered.  Kareen protests that they can’t just take Enrique away, they need him for their new company–it’ll all collapse without his genius.  Gustioz, unconcerned, says he can and will, and he hopes that he goes to jail on Escobar for a very long time. He though it would only take a couple of weeks, and it’s been two months instead…  It even took him forty minutes to get past the ImpSec guard at the gate, showing him every page.

Martya asks if any of the Armsmen are around, but Pym and Jankowski are out, and Roic was on night shift, and is still asleep.  She sends the maid to wake him up anyway and get him down here.  Gustioz tells the big man, Muno, to grab Enrique; Martya grabs him too, in a tug of war.  Kareen trips Muno with a meter stick, and as he falls he knocks the Barrayaran butter bugs loose again.

The stainless steel box flipped into the air. One-hundred-ninety-two astonished brown-and-silver butter bugs were launched in a vast chittering madly fluttering trajectory out over the lab. Since butter bugs had the aerodynamic capacity of tiny bricks, they rained down upon the struggling humans, and crunch-squished underfoot. The hutch clanged to the floor, along with Muno. Gustioz, attempting to shield himself from this unexpected air assault, lost his grip on his folder; colorfully-stamped documents joined butter bugs in fluttering flight. Enrique howled like a man possessed. Muno just screamed, frantically batted bugs off himself, and tried to climb up on the lab stool.

“Now see what you’ve done!” Kareen yelled at the Escobaran officers. “Vandalism! Assault! Destruction of property! Destruction of a Vor lord’s property, on Barrayar itself! Are you in trouble now!”

Martya tells the Escobarans that the bugs are poisonous, though Enrique spoils her ploy by hotly denying it.  Muno grabs Enrique again, more successfully this time, and he and Gustioz drag him out of the lab, not even giving him time to pack his one bag.  Kareen and Martya, desperate to keep them from getting away, notice the teetering stacks of bug butter tubs, grab one each, and prepare to fling them.

Comments

More action scenes!  Vassily Vorsoisson chasing Nikki around the house!  Escobaran bail bondsmen managing, against insurmountable odds, to track down Enrique, with all of the necessary paperwork in hand, and then fending off his outraged Barrayaran defenders!  It’s all very exciting, and after all these pages of, well, much less action, it’s a delightful change.  In fact, Miles, who aches to doing something more active than sitting and waiting in the Council of Counts, is the one who’s left sitting on his hands.  Probably because, after what happened to Vorwhatsisname at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice, bringing a weapon into the council chamber, nobody wants to try that again.

The intercutting between Miles and Ekaterin is quite well done, because, by this point, you should have enough information to guess just who Nikki might be calling for help on that comconsole, and seeing Gregor duck into his private chamber is just confirmation for it.  Actually, Miles is not only sitting on his hands, he’s also out of the loop.  He doesn’t know what’s going on with Ekaterin and Nikki, he doesn’t know what’s going on with Enrique and the Escobarans, and he doesn’t even really know what’s going on with Ivan and Lord Dono.  I guess he’s adjusted to his new sedentary life as an Imperial Auditor, not having to rush about and do things all the time; he can just let other people do things for him now.  Well, no, it’s more just an artifact of this book’s ensemble cast, giving them all something to do–but it is true that Miles has been less active than usual this book.  Next book should more than make up for it, I’d think.


Looks like I miscounted last time, or rather was misled by looking at the table of contents for Miles In Love rather than A Civil Campaign itself, which of course has “Winterfair Gifts” wedged in at the end.  So, rather than there being three more chapters after this, there is, in fact, only one more chapter and an epilogue.  So, one more week to finish this book off!  I haven’t decided if I’ll take a week before and after “Winterfair Gifts”, but I wouldn’t rule it out at this point.

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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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Do you think I should change that tagline at the top?  “A few chapters at a time”?  I never really managed more than two, and now that I seem to be down to one, it’s even less fitting…  Maybe I should use “pages” instead of “chapters”, or “scenes”…  Oh, well.  Anyway, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the premier reread for the works of Lois McMaster Bujold from her Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we cover another chapter of A Civil Campaign, her romantic science fiction novel set entirely on the planet of Barrayar, as a proposal is received and rejected, and another one is allowed to proceed.

Chapter Eight

Ekaterin goes over the Barrayaran garden, trying to determine what the various odours will be throughout the seasons, and making changes accordingly.  Her uncle and Nikki are not up yet, so she has a little while yet to concentrate on these aesthetic considerations before things get noisy again, though only a couple of hours before she has to be at the garden site to supervise the crew starting to get the “creek” set up.  Then she can put her Dendarii rocks into it and tune the water flow around them.  She’s already put up walls and terraces to block up city noise, quite satisfactorily.

By tonight, the bones of the thing would be complete. Tomorrow, the flesh, in the form of trucked-in, unterraformed native soils from remote corners of the Vorkosigan’s District, would arrive. And tomorrow evening before Lord Vorkosigan’s dinner party, just for promise, she would put the first plant into the soil: a certain spare rootling from an ancient South Continent skellytum tree. It would be fifteen years or more before it would grow to fill the space allotted for it, but what of that? Vorkosigans had held this ground for two hundred years. Chances were good Vorkosigans would still be there to see it in its maturity. Continuity. With continuity like that, you could grow a real garden. Or a real family . . .

The front door chimes, and Ekaterin realizes that she’s only in pajamas.  She’s prepared to duck upstairs in case it’s a formal visitor, but then she recognizes the voice as her sister-in-law Rosalie Vorvayne.  Rosalie greets her, sending her daughter Edie to play with Nikki, and says she has to talk with Ekaterin.  She says she’s taken the monorail up from Vordarian’s District, where Ekaterin’s brother Hugo has a civil service post; Aunt Vorthys offers her breakfast, and Rosalie settles for tea.  After updating them on her family’s news, Rosalie says she’s really there for Ekaterin; Ekaterin can’t imagine why.

Rosalie stretches it out for a little while, before saying that Ekaterin’s father received a visitor–a Baba, bringing a marriage offer from a proper Vor gentleman in Vorbarr Sultana.  They decided that someone should be dispatched to bring Ekaterin the good news in person.

A Vor gentleman from the capital, old-fashioned and highly conscious of etiquette, Da bowled over, who else could it be but—Ekaterin’s heart seemed to stop, then explode. Lord Vorkosigan? Miles, you rat, how could you do this without asking me first! Her lips parted in a dizzying mixture of fury and elation.

The arrogant little—! But . . . he to pick her, to be his Lady Vorkosigan, chatelaine of that magnificent house and of his ancestral District—there was so much to be done in that beautiful District, so daunting and exciting—and Miles himself, oh, my. That fascinating scarred short body, that burning intensity, to come to her bed? His hands had touched her perhaps twice; they might as well have left scorch marks on her skin, so clearly did her body remember those brief pressures. She had not, had not dared, let herself think about him in that way, but now her carnal consciousness of him wrenched loose from its careful suppression and soared. Those humorous gray eyes, that alert, mobile, kissable mouth with its extraordinary range of expression . . . could be hers, all hers. But how dare he ambush her like this, in front of all her relatives?

Rosalie says she seems to be pleased, and not entirely surprised; Ekaterin agrees that she isn’t, completely, though privately thinks that she hadn’t dared to believe it, because it would ruin everything.  Rosalie mentions that he has good career prospects and family connections, which Ekaterin says is, if anything, an understatement; not as rich as some families, but well enough.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles sending the Baba to her father instead of asking her directly was shyness, or arrogance…  Then she realizes that this may mean he’d only asked her to do his garden to stay close to her, instead of actually admiring her work or wanting the garden at all.  She knows she’s vulnerable to flattery like that, and wonders if she’s falling into another trap…

She’s barely listening to Rosalie, until she asks Ekaterin how she wants to convey her acceptance to Lieutenant Vormoncrief.  Ekaterin realizes, in dismay, that it was Alexi Vormoncrief that Rosalie’s been talking about all this time, and even says out loud that she’d thought the proposal was from Miles Vorkosigan.  Rosalie is puzzled for a moment, and then realizes she’s talking about that odd, grotesque little Imperial Auditor who came to Tien’s funeral.  Ekaterin is relieved to think that Miles hasn’t been courting her after all, and Rosalie points out that the family would never match her with a mutie, no matter how rich.  Unless, of course, Ekaterin really wants to be a Countess, in which case they can use a uterine replicator and have the children gene-cleaned, but Rosalie doesn’t think Ekaterin is that desperate.

“No,” Ekaterin agreed hollowly. Just desperately distracted. She was furious with the man; why should the notion of never ever having to have any physical contact with him make her suddenly want to burst into tears? Wait, no—if Vorkosigan wasn’t the man who’d sent the Baba, her whole case against him, which had bloomed so violently in her mind just now, collapsed like a house of cards. He was innocent. She was crazy, or headed that way fast.

Ekaterin firmly rejects Vormoncrief’s suit, calling him a “twittering idiot” and asking her aunt to back her up; Aunt Vorthys says that Ekaterin has lots of time yet, and can surely do better.  Rosalie wonders how they’ll break the news to Vormoncrief, and Ekaterin points out that that’s the Baba’s job.  Rosalie says that Ekaterin knows her own mind, but urges her not to be too picky, or wait too long, or she’ll end up living in her relatives’ attics.

Ekaterin excuses herself to get dressed; Rosalie said she’d hoped to spend the day shopping with Ekaterin, and they still can, even if not for wedding clothes.  Ekaterin, thinking of shopping with Miles, refuses, but she relents and agrees to have lunch with them.  She tells Rosalie about the garden she’s working on for Miles, and Rosalie asks if Miles has been acting improperly, offering her husband’s help, or her own, if necessary; Ekaterin says she’ll keep it in mind, privately vowing to keep her as far away from Miles as possible.

In the shower–a cold one–she wrestles with her physical attraction to Miles.  She wonders if her tastes are becoming too strange, but she refuses to outright suppress her libido, since she doesn’t have Tien to worry about any more.  She’s not sure why Miles seems to like her, but she resolves to keep things businesslike, and not spend too much time with him after she finished the garden.  Turning the heat back up, she wonders if she can make him a dream lover; it’s somewhat reprehensible, but she doesn’t find the prospect of Miles doing the same with her to be too horrifying.  She considers actually taking a lover, but wonders how she could dare, and doesn’t want to risk getting sucked into another bog like her marriage to Tien.  She turns down the temperature again, telling herself sternly that Miles is not Tien, and he only wants her to make a garden.  She tells herself these thoughts are crazy, and hopes it’s just a spike in her hormones.

She might not even see him that day, or at least not have to talk to him before the dinner party, which promises to be crowded enough that there will be plenty of other people to talk to.  She should be able to handle it by then.

Ivan is working in his mother’s office at the Imperial Residence, full of Vor women–but mostly middle-aged ones, alas, and luckily he hadn’t had any bad relationships with any of their daughters…  Dono and By Vorrutyer stop in to visit with him before their audience with the Emperor, escorted by Gregor’s major-domo.  Dono asks after Ivan’s mother, but she’s out dealing with florists; Dono says he will have to meet with her, but Ivan privately hopes he’s not around when that happens.

“Ready, gentlemen?” said the major-domo.

“Good luck, Dono,” said Ivan, and prepared to retreat.

“Yes,” said By, “good luck. I’ll just stay here and chat with Ivan till you’re done, shall I?”

“My list,” said the major-domo, “has all of you on it. Vorrutyer, Lord Vorrutyer, Lord Vorpatril, Armsman Szabo.”

“Oh, that’s an error,” said Ivan helpfully. “Only Lord Dono actually needs to see Gregor.” By nodded confirmation.

“The list,” said the major-domo, “is in the Emperor’s own hand. This way, please.”

The major-domo doesn’t seem surprised by Lord Dono’s identity, so Ivan surmises that Gregor is already up to speed on that issue, alas.  He leads the group down to Gregor’s office and Gregor summons them inside.  Lord Dono thanks him for seeing them on short notice; Gregor gives By an odd look, and asks them to be seated, even Armsman Szabo.

Gregor asks whose idea the scheme was; Dono says it was his, adding that his brother had expressed many times, in hearing of the household, how little he wanted Richars to inherit, and so he’s carrying out Pierre’s posthumous will.  Gregor asks what help he secured for himself before he left, and Dono said he brought Pierre’s Armsmen into the scheme–not taking their Armsmans’ oaths himself, which would be a serious crime, but just their personal word.  Apart from them, he’d only informed Byerly, and, of necessity, his lawyer.  By was to keep an eye on Richars while Dono was offplanet and out of commission.  Gregor compliments By on his loyalty and discretion; By said that it seemed to be a personal matter.

Dono asks if ImpSec had passed on his medical files from Beta Colony yet, and Gregor says they had; Dono said he had told the Betans not to give them to ImpSec, but he had no doubt that, even after Simon Illyan’s retirement, ImpSec was up to the challenge.  He asks Gregor to note that he is a fully functional male, capable of carrying on the line, and claims the right to the Countship of Vorrutyer’s District, with the stated approval of the prior Count; he also asserts the proof of his skill in running the District for Pierre.  Gregor asks if he’s bringing any other charges against Richars; Dono says they don’t have enough proof in the one serious matter, the lightflyer accident, and Gregor says that ImpSec agrees.  Dono says he won’t be pushing for Richars to be declared unfit, merely for he himself to be seen as more fit.  He hopes for votes from Richars’s enemies, if no one else, but notes that he would plan to join the Progressive party–unlike the Vorrutyers’ traditional stance–which Gregor approves of.

Gregor says that he doesn’t have much leverage with the Council of Counts right now, since he’s trying to convince them to fund the Komarran soletta repairs; Dono says all he expects of Gregor is to let the case proceed, with a public debate and vote.  Gregor says he’s not keen on the precedent that Dono is trying to set; Dono points out that anyone could have done it for some time now, but he expects that it won’t become that popular, except in extreme cases like his.  He adds that it’s time that the Counts realized they have to take galactic technology into account in their legal system.

Gregor looked Lord Dono over, and pressed his hand to the bridge of his nose, briefly. After a moment he said ironically, “And will you be wanting a wedding invitation too?”

Dono’s brows flicked up. “If I am Count Vorrutyer by then, my attendance will be both my right and my duty. If I’m not—well, then.” After a slight silence, he added wistfully, “Though I always did like a good wedding. I had three. Two were disasters. It’s so much nicer to watch, saying over and over to yourself, It’s not me! It’s not me! One can be happy all day afterward on that alone.”

Gregor said dryly, “Perhaps your next one will be different.”

Dono’s chin lifted. “Almost certainly, Sire.”

Gregor is quiet for a minute, then asks Dono what it’s like.  Dono says that his energy and libido are up, and he feels better than he did ten years ago.  Also, starting on Komarr, and most noticeably on Barrayar itself, he gets more personal space and faster responses from others.  Gregor asks if he’s likely to change back, if this doesn’t work, and Dono says he’s enjoying being top of the food chain.  Eventually–and to Ivan’s dismay–Gregor says “Let’s see what happens,” and dismisses them.

By said that went better than he had expected, explaining that he was feeling out of his depth.  Dono thanks Ivan for his help, but Ivan denies having really done anything.  In fact, Gregor hadn’t even asked him anything at the meeting.
Dono asks again after Ivan’s mother; Ivan says she’s very, very busy at work, but Dono says he’d rather see her in a more social setting.  Ivan mentions the dinner party, explaining that he had been intending to bring Lady Donna as his guest; Dono says that he accepts.  Ivan protests that this will mess up Miles’s seating arrangements, though Dono says he doubts that, with all the Koudelka sisters attending.  Ivan explains that the real purpose is to introduce people to his gardener, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who he seems to have fallen in love with.

Ivan mentions that the Vorbrettens will be there, and Dono is interested in René as an in with the Progressives, though Ivan tells him that since the Cetagandan connection came up he hasn’t been very popular.  Dono dismisses this, and says they definitely need to compare notes.  Ivan isn’t sure that Miles will be too happy with him for bringing Dono to the party…but supposes that Dono might make a nice target to protect Ivan from Miles’s wrath on other matters, like Vormoncrief and Zamori.  Not to mention that Miles would undoubtedly also make a great resource, in Lord Dono’s eyes, so maybe they’ll take care of each other and Ivan will be able to get out from between them.  Pretending reluctance, he agrees to take Lord Dono to the party.

Comments

I often think of the scene with Rosalie conveying the marriage proposal–and Ekaterin immediately leaping to the conclusion that it’s from Miles–to be almost the first time that she begins to seriously consider Miles.  There were a few moments before, I suppose–the flirtation at the end of Komarr, and the surge of sensuality that struck her at the odour of his closet–but she’s mostly been denying them.  She does have seriously mixed feelings at the prospect of a proposal from Miles, though, not least because she begins to see his actual plan, to hire her for the garden at least partly as a pretext.  So if Miles had actually been sending a proposal, the thought that he’d been deceiving her might have led her to refuse him.  But now, both the concept of Miles as a suitor, and the idea that the garden plan is a subterfuge on his part, are in her mind.

The shower scene is quite interesting, as she wrestles with her sexuality.  In Komarr we already knew that her sexual fantasies were getting a bit weird, mostly out of a desire to deal with her growing repulsion for Tien; does this, in any way, explain her physical interest in Miles?  I mean, not all women find him repulsive, but many (like Rosalie) seem to, though admittedly not all of those have actually met him.  Nonetheless, she doesn’t seem to conceive that Miles may also feel attracted to her–though that may just be because she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about the possible garden scam.  She does briefly consider taking a lover–it’s not clear if she’s considering Miles for the role or not, but she doesn’t have any other immediate prospects, so probably–but she’s still too gun-shy to risk even the chance of relinquishing her heart and getting trapped again.  So she determines to keep it inside, though she reserves the right to perhaps incorporate Miles into her personal fantasies from here on.

I don’t normally get too explicit with the spoilers here, especially with things are intentionally being kept as surprises, but I do want to discuss the implications of the the Vorrutyers’ meeting with Gregor in the light of the fact that Byerly Vorrutyer is later revealed to actually be working for ImpSec.  Obviously he’s the pipeline for Gregor being informed about what happened to Lady Donna…but when?  In this scene, I’m getting the impression that he may have actually kept that little fact to himself, until his hand was forced by Ivan scheduling the meeting with Gregor.  Gregor and By’s interactions in the meeting imply that Gregor is aware that By is working for ImpSec, and is asking him to account for his unwonted closed-mouthedness on the matter.  And By claims it was “a personal matter”.  I’m not sure that Gregor buys that one; some family loyalty is laudable, I suppose, but an ImpSec agent shouldn’t let that sway him.  After all, what if Dono/Donna were plotting against the Emperor?  Would By have forebore to mention that?  Of course, I guess that By’s loyalty is a little more selective, since he’s all too willing to betray Richars, so maybe the Emperor (and By’s boss–who is in charge of Domestic Affairs at ImpSec these days?) will judge things to have turned out okay.


No blog next Wednesday, but hopefully one sometime between than and New Year’s.  It is, of course, time for the dinner party.  The infamous dinner party.  I still remember, first time through, how much I was looking forward to it, all these characters getting together in one place.  Such interesting conversations and meetings we would have!  Yeah, I still remember that.  But now, I know better.  Sometime before the end of the year, then, with any luck…

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The Sherriff’s Secret Police have just announced, in a press conference held on top of the hour hand of the invisible clock tower, that it is not illegal to read the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  In fact, it is forbidden to not read it.  Aren’t you lucky that another installment is making its way onto the Internet right now?  Welcome…to Vorbarr Sultana.  This week, buffeted by snow, stress, and endless commutes, I am cutting back to a single-chapter update, and cutbacks will continue until morale improves, or chapters get shorter.  Don’t be sad; at least you get Chapter Three, with three points of view, to keep you from the depths of despair…

Chapter Three

Ekaterin had sent her proposed garden designs to Miles, but he genuinely couldn’t decide between them, so he was able to plan another visit to the Vorthyses after all.  When Miles arrives, though, he discovers he’s not the only visitor by any means.  Ekaterin and her aunt are entertaining three male guests–one of them is an Ops major that Miles doesn’t recognize, but the others are Lieutenant Alexi Vormoncrief, also from Ops, and Byerly “By” Vorrutyer, a longtime town clown.  Madame Vorthys introduces the other man as Major Zamori, a former student who came over ostensibly to lend her a book; Vormoncrief was supposedly there to investigate whether he and Ekaterin were related, which they are, but only distantly.  By Vorrutyer neglected to provide an excuse.  Miles immediately spots Ivan’s hand in the appearance of two men from Ops.

Ekaterin is happy to see Miles, who greets the others; Zamori asks if Miles is there to see the Lord Auditor Vorthys, who apparently fled for a walk in the rain.  Miles says he has business with Madame Vorsoisson, but none of the men take the hint and leave.  Vormoncrief explains that they were having a family-tree discussion.

“Speaking of strange pedigrees, Alexi, Lord Vorkosigan and I were almost related much more closely,” Byerly remarked. “I feel quite a familial attachment to him.”

“Really?” said Vormoncrief, looking puzzled.

“Oh, yes. One of my aunts on the Vorrutyer side was once married to his father. So Aral Vorkosigan is actually some sort of virtual, if not virtuous, uncle to me. But she died young, alas—ruthlessly pruned from the tree—without bearing me a cousin to cut the future Miles out of his inheritance.” Byerly cocked a brow at Miles. “Was she fondly remembered, in your family dinner conversations?”

“We never much discussed the Vorrutyers,” said Miles.

“How odd. We never much discussed the Vorkosigans, either. Hardly at all, in fact. Such a resounding silence, one feels.”

Zamori asks about the Komarr accident, and Miles, who can’t tell them what really happened, repeats the official story of “pilot error”; he claims to suspect it was actually a suicide, but couldn’t find enough evidence to support it.  Vormoncrief asks what he thinks of the Komarran Empress-to-be; Miles recalls that Vormoncrief’s uncle is leader of the Conservative Party, who are dubious but not outright disapproving of Laisa.  Miles says that he likes her, and points out that Gregor marrying a Komarran means one more Barrayaran women for the rest of them.  In fact, he recommends Komarran women to the rest of them, too, claiming that there are many available rich heiresses to choose from.  By says that money isn’t everything, though, and Vormoncrief says that he prefers Barrayaran girls.

Ekaterin excuses herself to go get Miles’s data disks, and does not return; eventually Vormoncrief and Zamori give up waiting and make to leave, though Zamori has cannily promised to bring Nikki a book on jumpship designs.  Zamori leaves first; as Miles is preparing for his meeting with Ekaterin, he overhears By and Vormoncrief talking on the porch.  Vormoncrief is asking By if he thinks Miles is angling for Ekaterin himself; By points out that some women would settle for anything for the chance of becoming a Countess.  Vormoncrief says that Ivan would make a better heir, and laments that Miles had survived long enough to inherit.  He notices Ekaterin in the archway, and wonders what she’s heard, even as she notices him eavesdropping, again; By and Vormoncrief eventually move off into the rain.

Miles asks Ekaterin where the visitors came from; Ekaterin says Zamori has been visiting the Professora, and making friends with Nikki, which Miles realizes might be one way to her heart.  Miles surmises that By has turned to Vormoncrief as his latest victim to sponge off of, telling Ekaterin about By’s fecklessness and lack of resources, only afterwards revealing that he may have made By sound sympathetic.  Miles convinces her that they’re only there to vie for her hand, and she says she’d hoped her mourning would hold them off for longer.

Miles changes the subject back to the gardens, and they pore over her two proposed designs, the “backcountry” and “urban” gardens, one more naturalistic and one with concrete terraces and fountains.  Ekaterin deftly combines the two, adding water features to the backcountry garden, until Miles pronounces himself satisfied.  He tells her to go ahead and start hiring contractors to build it; she protests that she has no experience past the design phase, and he tells her to contact Tsipis, the Vorkosigans’ business manager, who will willingly help her out with the practical end of things.

Tsipis, carefully primed, answered the comconsole in his office in Hassadar himself, and Miles made the necessary introductions. The new acquaintance went well; Tsipis was elderly, long married, and genuinely interested in the project at hand. He drew Ekaterin almost instantly out of her wary shyness. By the time he’d finished his first lengthy conversation with her, she’d shifted from I can’t possibly mode to possession of a flow-chart checklist and a coherent plan which would, with luck, result in groundbreaking as early as the following week. Oh yes. This was going to do well. If there was one thing Tsipis appreciated, it was a quick study. Ekaterin was one of those show once people whom Miles, in his mercenary days, had found more precious than unexpected oxygen in the emergency reserve. And she didn’t even know she was unusual.

Ekaterin says she should almost be paying Miles for Tsipis’s guidance, and Miles, reminded about payment, pulls out a credit chit for her, payment for the design.  Ekaterin protests that the amount is too much, but Miles says that he checked around and averaged several other companies’ prices.  She protests that she’s an amateur, and was only combining standard design elements; Miles says she earns the money for knowing how to arrange them well.
Deciding to leave on a high note, Miles decides, on his way out, to invite her to the dinner party for the Koudelkas; Ekaterin is attracted by the thought of a family with four daughters, and Miles bypasses her other objections by inviting the Vorthyses as well, to make it more of a family event.  After that, he hopes maybe he’ll be able to lure her into joining him at some of his wedding-week events, and then…who knows?

After Miles leaves, Ekaterin apologizes to her aunt for the visitors, though, as her aunt points out, she didn’t invite any of them.  Ekaterin shows her the credit chit, and says she can pay them some rent now; her aunt protests, though allows that she could let Ekaterin buy some groceries, as long as she saves some money for her schooling as well.  Ekaterin agrees, exulting in the fact that she won’t need to ask her father for any money; mostly she doesn’t want him poking his nose into her life right now, since he disapproves of her not coming home to live with him, or with Tien’s mother, as a proper Vor widow should.  Her father had never been very daring at the best of times, and her mother had seemed stifled by him at times.

Vorthys and Nikki return from the bakery with ample replacements for the pastries that the visitors had decimated; Vorthys says he remembers the shortages from when their own daughters were being courted, and wishes he could discourage them with spotty food and chores.  Nikki asks if it’s true that those men want to marry her, and if so, which one she’ll pick; Ekaterin says she won’t pick any of them, though she is amused that Nikki prefers Major Zamori because “majors make more money”.

Her aunt asks if she should be discouraging the visitors, and Ekaterin says that at least she will be out of the house more, with the new garden.  She tries to keep herself from feeling sympathy for them, not wanting to get sucked into that death-spiral of marriage again.  She’s been enjoying her new freedom.  Her aunt points out that not all men are like Tien, but Ekaterin says she’s afraid of getting sucked into bad patterns again, and wonders if she’s to blame for not stopping Tien from getting worse over the years.

After a long moment of silence, the Professora asked curiously, “So what do you think of Miles Vorkosigan?”

“He’s all right. He doesn’t make me cringe.”

“I thought—back on Komarr—he seemed a bit interested in you himself.”

“Oh, that was just a joke,” Ekaterin said sturdily. Their joke had gone a little beyond the line, perhaps, but they had both been tired, and punchy at their release from those days and hours of fearsome strain . . . his flashing smile, and the brilliant eyes in his weary face, blazed in her memory. It had to have been a joke. Because if it weren’t a joke . . . she would have to run screaming. And she was much too tired to get up. “But it’s been nice to find someone genuinely interested in gardens.”

At Vorkosigan House, Lord Mark Vorkosigan is arriving in a hired groundcar with his companion, Dr. Enrique Borgos, followed by a freight van of equipment; they are greeted by Pym.  Enrique tells Mark that until seeing the house, he hadn’t really believed that Mark was a Barrayaran Lord.

Miles comes to meet them, looking better than the rumours had been painting him; Mark himself has been taking quick weight-loss drugs to try to get back down to the weight he was when last on Barrayar, and knows that he looks a little sallow as a result.  He passes it off as jump lag, though, and asks after Kareen, eager to get back together with her.  He introduces Enrique, an Escobaran entomologist, to Miles; Miles immediately becomes suspicious of the “Delicate” crate they’re carrying, which has air-holes covered with screens.  Mark asks if they can spare some room for Enrique, and Miles says there’s plenty of space; Mark says Enrique will want to set up a laboratory, too, and promises to explain everything to Miles once they’re unloaded.

By press-ganging the drivers, the van was unloaded quickly to the staging area of the black-and-white tiled entry hall. A moment of alarm occurred when Armsman Jankowski, tottering along under a load of what Mark knew to be hastily-packed laboratory glassware, stepped on a black-and-white kitten, well-camouflaged by the tiles. The outraged creature emitted an ear-splitting yowl, spat, and shot off between Enrique’s feet, nearly tripping the Escobaran, who was just then balancing the very expensive molecular analyzer. It was saved by a grab from Pym.

They’d almost been caught, during their midnight raid on the padlocked lab that had liberated the all-important notes and irreplaceable specimens, when Enrique had insisted on going back for the damned analyzer. Mark would have taken it as some sort of cosmic I-told-you-so if Enrique had dropped it now. I’ll buy you a whole new lab when we get to Barrayar, he’d kept trying to convince the Escobaran. Enrique had seemed to think Barrayar was still stuck in the Time of Isolation, and he wasn’t going to be able to obtain anything here more scientifically complex than an alembic, a still, and maybe a trepanning chisel.

Enrique’s first choice for laboratory was Ma Kosti’s kitchen, but he ends up settling for a laundry room in the basement; Mark expects that he’ll end up dragging in a coat and sleeping there.  Mark selects a bedroom for himself, and goes to try to sell Miles on his idea, which doesn’t seem quite as easy as it had before he’d learned how much help Enrique needed with anything besides his bugs; he gives Enrique strict instructions to keep his mouth shut.

They find Miles in the library, with a setting of hors d’oeuvres, which will be perfect for Mark to showcase his idea.  He unwraps a cube of a soft white substance which he describes as an “animal product”, unflavoured but very nutritious, and serves it to the three of them.  Miles pronounces it bland, but better than some military rations; Mark says that the selling point is that it can be made easily by anyone who has a supply of butter bugs.  Miles is taken aback by this news, and when Mark shows him one of the bugs, he declares it incredibly repulsive.

Inside the box, the thumb-sized worker butter bug scrabbled about on its six stubby legs, waved its antennae frantically, and tried to escape. Mark gently pushed its tiny claws back from the edges. It chittered its dull brown vestigial wing carapaces, and crouched to drag its white, soft, squishy-looking abdomen to the safety of one corner.

Miles leaned forward again, to peer in revolted fascination. “It looks like a cross between a cockroach, a termite, and a . . . and a . . . and a pustule.”

“We have to admit, its physical appearance is not its main selling point.”

Mark says that their main virtue is how efficiently they can convert any organic waste matter into “bug butter”, with symbiotic bacteria in their gut.  They can consume all sorts of low-grade plant matter, and the butter can be processed to add flavour.  Miles, though, is having trouble getting past the fact that he’s just eaten “bug vomit”, and rinses his mouth thoroughly with wine.  He then realizes that the crate they brought in must have been full of butter bugs, and, from Mark’s information, works out that they brought in eight thousand of them.  Mark reassures him that the workers are sterile, and the mature queens are immobile; then he brings out his big selling point–the fact that he’s pretty sure Enrique can produce bugs that can eat Barrayaran native vegetation.  They could eat the Barrayaran vegetation that currently backcountry farmers go to great trouble to get rid of, not to mention that their guano makes great fertilizer.

Miles begins to get more interested, though he also wonders why they’re not marketing this on Escobar instead.  Mark skims over that part, saying that they want to try to market some bug-butter products from regular Earth plant matter for now, to muster funds for getting the Barrayaran version working.

“Mark . . .” Miles frowned at the butter bug box, now sitting closed on the table. Tiny scratching noises arose from it. “It sounds logical, but I don’t know if logic is going to sell to the proles. Nobody will want to eat food that comes out of something that looks like that. Hell, they won’t want to eat anything it touches.”

“People eat honey,” argued Mark. “And that comes out of bugs.”

“Honeybees are . . . sort of cute. They’re furry, and they have those classy striped uniforms. And they’re armed with their stings, just like little swords, which makes people respect them.”

“Ah, I see—the insect version of the Vor class,” Mark murmured sweetly. He and Miles exchanged edged smiles.

Enrique said, in a bewildered tone, “So do you think if I put stings on my butter bugs, Barrayarans would like them better?”

Mark says the Vorkosigan House laboratory will be only temporary–he’ll look for something more permanent in Vorbarr Sultana or Hassadar, and Miles tells him to talk to Tsipis, though he’s unwilling to commit to investing in Mark’s idea.  The business talk subsides, and Enrique rambles on about the history of yeast, until Pym comes into collect the dishes.  Enrique seems interested in Pym’s livery, and Miles explains the Vorkosigan heraldry and selected episodes of the family history; Mark finds it encouraging that Enrique seems to be developing some social skills after all.  Afterwards, Enrique tells Mark he’s got a great idea for making his brother like the butter bugs; Mark is too distracted by thoughts of Kareen to pursue this further.

Comments

I always forget that it’s in Miles’s plotline that we first see Byerly Vorrutyer, because for the rest of the book he seems much more closely tied to Ivan’s POV.  He never seemed that serious a suitor for Ekaterin, but maybe that’s because my brain insists on painting him as gay.  I’m pretty sure he isn’t–or, at least, whatever he is, he is interested in women–but I can’t get over his foppishness, perhaps.  Oscar Wilde associations, perhaps.  Well, I gather that Barrayar might not be particularly friendly to openly gay people, so a gay man may want a camouflage wife in any case.  After all, Vordarian tried to sabotage Aral Vorkosigan’s marriage by outing him to his wife…  And, of course, there’s the late unlamented Ges Vorrutyer, from Shards of Honour, who was Aral’s lover.  At least By can’t be as bad as him.  (And by the way, I hate “By” as the name of a character.  Never give a character a name, or a nickname, which is a common two-letter word.  I keep reading it as the preposition and then having to go back.)

As far as the butter bugs go, I confess that I’m solidly on Miles’s side.  I am, to some degree, reconciled to the fact that insects exist, and probably need to exist to keep our ecosystems from collapsing.  But I would be happy if I never had to personally encounter one, ever again, in my life.  They creep me out, and I have proved my manhood several times by cringing and shuddering while my wife disposes of some harmless beetle that has ventured out into the open.  So it’s probably a good thing that Bujold introduced the bugs in Mark’s POV, because we first see them through the eyes of someone who doesn’t hate them on sight…

Ekaterin turns out to be in denial about Miles’s feelings for her, having convinced herself that he was only joking, somehow, at the end of the last book, when he told her that she could be next in line if she wanted to.  Miles is trying to play things casual and try not to spook her, while of course covertly pursuing his goals, which, of course, will not turn out well.  No battle plan survives contact with the enemy–but who is the “enemy” here?  Is there one?  Not yet…but there might be soon.


I guess the short chapters from the last couple of books have spoiled me, because these ones leave me panting and gasping (metaphorically) by the time they’re done.  Maybe once the currently-ridiculous commute times settle down, I’ll be more up to multiple-chapter weeks, but I wouldn’t count on it for a little while yet…

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Even in the darkest moments, there is always a light.  Perhaps the light of a web browser window on a computer screen, beckoning you with bright white vertical strip surrounded by stars, emblazoned with the words of an entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Maybe, just maybe, kind of like this one.  This week, we cover the last two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Komarr, wherein rescues are effected and denouements are unknotted…and the groundwork laid for the next book’s plot.

Chapter Twenty

Miles is on the courier ship up to the station when he finds out from ImpSec Captain Vorgier that the Komarrans have Ekaterin and Madame Vorthys hostage, which makes the rest of the trip an agony for him.  When he finally arrives, Vorgier tells him that they’re ready to storm the Southport bay, and they believe they’ll be able to get an emergency seal in place to keep the women from asphyxiating.  Miles says that the engineers are likely smart enough to rig an explosive in the airlock as a backup, and the hostages are not expendable.

Vorgier stiffened. “My Lord Auditor. I appreciate your concern, but I believe this will be most quickly and effectively concluded as a military operation. Civilian authority can help best by staying out of the way and letting the professionals do their job.”

The ImpSec deck had dealt him two men in a row of exceptional competence, Tuomonen and Gibbs; why, oh why, couldn’t good things come in threes? They were supposed to, dammit. “This is my operation, Captain, and I will answer personally to the Emperor for every detail of it. I spent the last ten years as an ImpSec galactic agent and I’ve dealt with more damned _situations_ than anyone else on Simon Illyan’s roster and I know just exactly how fucked-up a professional operation can get.” He tapped his chest. “So climb down off your Vor horse and brief me properly.”

Vorgier backs down and takes Miles to the local ImpSec HQ.  At Miles’s request, they’ve cut most of the power lines into the bay, and Vorgier reports no unusual power draws, though he notes they do have a freighter docked there.  Miles isn’t sure why they haven’t used their wormhole device yet, whether Soudha has figured out its flaw, or if they’re just not finished yet.  Vorthys and Riva have said that, likely as not, turning the wormhole device off after it’s activated will destroy the station with gravitational backlash, but news of the hostage situation cut short their calculations as Vorthys headed up to the station as well.

Station Security officer Husavi is evacuating the station, citing a bomb scare, and notes that not only is there less than 100% cooperation, there’s also a shotage of ships to evacuate people.  Miles says that if necessary they’ll take people to the military station, though the commander is less than enthused at the prospect of an influx of random civilians.

In Vorgier’s “operations centre”, he proceeds to pitch his assault plan to Miles; Miles has to admit it’s no worse than some of the ones he tried in his youth, and realizes this is like he’s been cursed (by Illyan, likely) with subordinates just like him.  He keeps getting distracted by memories of Ekaterin’s interrupted comm message, and the image of the two women being bundled into the airlock before they cut the camera feed.  Miles finally says that he’ll leave Vorgier’s plan as a backup, but first he wants to try negotiation.

“These are Komarran terrorists. Madmen—you can’t negotiate with them!”

The late Baron Ryoval had been a madman. The late Ser Galen had been a madman, without question. And the late General Metzov hadn’t exactly been rowing with both oars in the water, either, come to think of it. Miles had to admit, there had been a definite negative trend to all those negotiations. “I’m not without experience in the problem, Vorgier. But I don’t think Dr. Soudha is a madman. He’s not even a mad scientist. He’s merely a very upset engineer. These Komarrans may in fact be the most sensible revolutionaries I’ve ever met.”

He tries to clear his mind of images of Ekaterin suffering from claustrophobia in the airlock, and orders a call put through to Soudha.  He takes the call in a featureless room, trying to obscure his location; Soudha, when he answers, is clearly in the control booth Ekaterin had made her call from.  The other conspirators–Foscol, Cappell, and Madame Radovas–are visible as well, making a Komarran voting quorum.  Soudha spots from the lack of lag that he’s not on-planet; Miles says that he managed to survive, unlike Tien Vorsoisson, which disquiets Lena Foscol.

Soudha says that all he wants to hear is that their demands for a jumpship to neutral territory have been met.  Instead, Miles says that they found their device’s plans at Bollen Design, and between Vorthys, Dr. Riva, and Dr. Yuell, they’ve managed to work out its function.  He tells them how it won’t collapse the wormhole as much as it will turn it into an gravity-pulse generator, which is what killed Radovas and Marie Trogir (whose body has latterly been found, and which news seems to distress Cappell).  So if they try to use the pulse, they’ll destroy the station, and themselves, but Barrayar will still be there, so it will have been for nothing.  Foscol accuses him of lying, but Soudha thinks it would explain what happened before.

Miles adds that their families, and the other Waste Heat personnel, have been picked up by ImpSec, and warns them not to try playing the hostage game.  Foscol is still defiant, but Miles asks her what she thinks they still have to gain, apart from killing innocent people.  Cappell says they don’t want to put their weapon into Barrayaran hands; Miles says that it’s already there, and mentions the tantalizing hints that they could also use it to draw power from the wormhole.  However, Miles does not intend to let them get away, in case there is something to the wormhole collapsing theory after all.  And the Vor women are, as Vor, prepared to sacrifice their lives if necessary.  He’s not sure he believes it himself, unwilling to let Ekaterin slip out of his grasp, but he tries to keep this from showing on his face.

He says they will be headed for Barrayaran prison, but he adds, in an effort to sound encouraging, that prison is not death, and that pardons and amnesties happen.  Foscol says it doesn’t sound like much of an offer, but Miles says that this would mean not charges pressed for the deaths of the soletta and oreship crew, or Tien.

Good. Go on. The more time he burned, the better, and they were tracking his arguments; as long as he could keep Soudha from cutting the com, he was making some twisty sort of progress. “You bitch endlessly about Barrayaran tyranny, but somehow I don’t think you folks took a vote of all Komarran planetary shareholders, before you attempted to seal—or steal—their future. And if you could have, I don’t think you would have dared. Twenty years ago, even fifteen years ago, maybe you could have counted on majority support. By ten years ago, it was already too late. Would your fellows really want to close off their nearest market now, and lose all that trade? Lose all their relatives who’ve moved to Barrayar, and their half-Barrayaran grandchildren? Your trade fleets have found their Barrayaran military escorts bloody useful often enough. Who are the true tyrants here—the blundering Barrayarans who seek, however awkwardly, to include Komarr in their future, or the Komarran intellectual elitists who seek to exclude all but themselves from it?” He took a deep breath to control the unexpected anger which had boiled up with his words, aware he was teetering on the edge with these people. Watch it, watch it. “So all that remains for us is to try and salvage as many lives as possible from the wreckage.”

Madame Radovas asks how he’l guarantee their lives, and Miles says it’ll be on his order as an Imperial Auditor, which can only be overruled by the Emperor himself, and Miles will risk his career on it, which doesn’t reassure Foscol that much.  He offers his word on it; Cappell says he doesn’t think much of a Vorkosigan’s word.

Miles leaned forward into the vid pickup. “My word is all that stands between you and ImpSec’s aspiring heroes coming through your walls. They don’t need the corridors, you know. My word went down on my Auditor’s oath, which holds me at this moment unblinking to a duty I find more horrific than you can know. I only have one name’s oath. It cannot be true to Gregor if it is false to you. But if there’s one thing my father’s heartbreaking experience at Solstice taught, it’s that I’d better not put my word down on events I do not control. If you surrender quietly, I can control what happens. If ImpSec has to detain you by force, it will be up to chance, chaos, and the reflexes of some overexcited young men with guns and gallant visions of thwarting mad Komarran terrorists.”

Miles says that if he has to unleash ImpSec, the results won’t be his doing, but they’ll be his responsibility–he’ll be in charge, but not in control.  Foscol asks after the jumpship, and Miles admits that there won’t be a jumpship.  Foscol asks which of the hostages they should space, and Miles asks which one of them they want to watch the other one being killed, and if they really want to cross the line to murderer, no better than the Barrayaran murderers they claim to oppose.

Soudha and Foscol argue over whether to space Ekaterin or not, hinting that she may have done something to hurt them, and Soudha ends up calling a vote–surrender, or calling Miles’s bluff.  Miles wishes he could keep them talking for longer, pushing them for surrender instead of suicide, and isn’t sure he’s done enough.  Lena Foscol votes against surrender, as does Cappell, who doesn’t want Marie Trogir to have died for nothing.  Soudha votes to give up, leaving only Madame Radovas, whose vote will be tie-breaking.  She says that even if they escape somehow, they’ll always be looking over their shoulder for ImpSec, and she’s tired of being afraid.  She asks Soudha if he believes the device wouldn’t work, and he says he does.  Miles, encouraged, asks why her vote is the tie-breaker; she says that her husband had come up with the idea, and had the largest share, which she inherited.  She tells him she remembers how Miles had stood up for her widows’ rights, and votes to surrender.  Foscol and Cappell are unhappy, but they appear willing go along with the decision.

Soudha asks what’s next, and Miles outlines plans for gradually standing down, starting with him defusing Vorgier’s pending assault, and Soudha disarming any booby-traps, unlocking the doors, and preparing to be arrested.  Soudha signs off, and Miles organizes a squad armed with medical gear and stunners only.

He restrains himself from marching in at the head of the squad, coming up behind; the Komarrans are sitting quietly waiting for them, as the techs spread out to check for any remaining booby-traps.  Miles instantly spots the wreckage of the wormhole device, which cheers him considerably; Soudha tell him it was Ekaterin who wrecked it.

“Remarkable.” The source of several oddly tilted responses on the Komarrans’ part to his recent negotiations began at last to come clear to Miles. “Um . . . how?”

All three Komarrans tried to answer him at once, with a medley of blame-casting which included a lot of phrases like, If Madame Radovas hadn’t let her out, If you hadn’t let Radovas let her out, How was I supposed to know? The old lady looked sick to me. Still does, If you hadn’t put the remote down right in front of her, If you hadn’t left the damned control booth, If you had just moved faster, If you had run for the float cradle and cut the power, So why didn’t you think of that, huh? by which Miles slowly pieced together the most glorious mental picture he’d had all day. All year. For quite a long time, actually.

I’m in love. I’m in love. I just thought I was in love, before. Now I really am. I must, I must, I must have this woman! Mine, mine, mine. Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson Vorkosigan, yes! She’d left nothing here for ImpSec and all the Emperor’s Auditors to do but sweep up the bits. He wanted to roll on the floor and howl with joy, which would be most undiplomatic of him, under the circumstances. He kept his face neutral, and very straight. Somehow, he didn’t think the Komarrans appreciated the exquisite delight of it all.

Soudha also mentions her earlier attempt to summon security, and how they’d welded her into the airlock rather than risk a third accident.  Miles asks if there are booby-traps in the airlock, and Soudha says there’s a bomb on the outside, but opening from the inside will be safe.  After they cut off the bar welded over the door, Miles hesitates to open it, wondering aloud if Soudha is playing a canny game to strike a last-minute revenge, maybe trying to incite another Solstice Massacre.  In the end, though, he sends the Komarran prisoners away and then has the ImpSec techs open the door.

Miles extends his arms to Ekaterin, but she merely stalks past him muttering that it’s about time.  Instead, he asks after Madame Vorthys’s health and tells her there’s a float pallet waiting for her; she’s quickly ensconced thereon with a short of synergine.  Miles says that Professor Vorthys will be there soon, and will probably meet them at the infirmary.  They head out in that direction; Ekaterin tells Miles she knew it must be “our side”, or else it would have been the outer doors that opened.  Miles appreciates her continued steadiness, as gratifying as it would have been for her to be swooning with gratitude.  He tells her about the defective device, and, when she’s discouraged that she went to all that work to destroy it, he tries to reassure her by saying that she saved thousands of lives anyway.  He proposes that they give her a medal, except that this whole case will have to be ultra-top-secret classified; she asks what she’d do with such a useless thing.

He thought bemusedly of the contents a certain drawer at home in Vorkosigan House. “Frame it? Use it as a paperweight? Dust it?”

“Just what I always wanted. More clutter.”

He grinned at her; she smiled back at last, clearly beginning to come off her adrenaline jag, and without breaking down, either. She drew breath and started forward again, and he kept pace. She had met the enemy, mastered her moment, hung three hours on death’s doorstep, all that, and she’d emerged still on her feet and snarling. Oversocialized, hah. Oh, yeah, Da, I want this one.

As they arrive at the infirmary, she asks how he managed to get rid of the Komarrans.  He said he used persuasion, mostly hinging on convincing them that he was willing to sacrifice the hostages.  Ekaterin says that of course he would have sacrificed them, rather than let them throw Barrayar back into the Time of Isolation; he pronounces her true Vor.

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So both Miles and Soudha were bluffing there, sort of.  Soudha was bluffing about the device, though I suppose he didn’t actually threaten to try using it at any point; I’m not sure if he was bluffing about the airlock, though Foscol probably wasn’t.  Though if they had welded a bar over the airlock, how would they space just one of the women, and not both?  Surely they’d need to open the inner door to bring one of them out, or something, which sounds a little risky, given their wariness of Ekaterin.  And Miles wasn’t really bluffing about sacrificing the women, except that he might have chickened out rather than risk Ekaterin.  That would have given him another few books’ worth of emotional issues, if he’d had to kill her to stop the terrorists.  But Bujold was finally softening on him, I guess.  Or maybe just giving him enough rope to screw up his love life himself.

By the way, a quick text search shows that this is only the second time that Miles has used the word “fuck” in the books so far…and the first time was merely repeating someone else, back in “Borders of Infinity”.  So he’s not quite as oversocialized as Ekaterin–“shit” turns up quite a few more times–but it still takes him a while to get to that level of profanity.  Probably appropriate, for someone who thrives on the power of language, to use its strongest words judiciously.

According to the oft-quoted maxim–Aral’s, I think?–“a weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind”.  In that sense, Miles’s tongue–or, I suppose, tongue-brain-lungs-mouth combination–is his most effective weapon.  This has been clear as far back as Warrior’s Apprentice, if not earlier; Oser, having fallen victim to it once, was the only one to become wary of it, in The Vor Game, and for good reason.  In this chapter, he wields it mercilessly, and does, indeed, succeed in making his enemies change their minds.  And that’s why he always should have been in charge.

Chapter Twenty-One

Ekaterin is escorted to her hostel room to pick up her luggage, and view with bemusement the urgent message Miles had left her to flee the station.  She contrasts that Miles with the genial Miles who had bowed her out of the airlock and wonders which one is real, or both.  Back in the infirmary, she waits up with her aunt until Uncle Vorthys arrives, and gruffly admonishes his wife not to spoil his plans to die first.  Madame Vorthys is beginning to look better, and Ekaterin lets her tell the story of their captivity.  She thinks of her aunt and uncle, married forty years and still terrified of losing each other, and wishes she could ever have known such a thing, but she doubts she ever will.

After her uncle leaves to talk to Miles, she lies down herself; a medtech gives her a sedative, and against her expectations it puts her right to sleep.  She sleeps late, and lolls around quietly chatting with her aunt until Miles arrives with a huge bouquet of flowers.

“Wherever did you find such gorgeous flowers on a space station?” Ekaterin asked, astonished.

“In a shop. It’s a Komarran space station. They’ll sell you anything. Well, not anything—that would be Jackson’s Whole. But it stands to reason, with all the people meeting and greeting and parting through here, that there would be a market niche for this sort of thing. They grow them right here on the station, you know, along with all their truck garden vegetables. Why do they call them truck gardens, I wonder? I don’t think they ever grew trucks in them, even back on Old Earth.” He dragged over a chair and sat down near her, at the foot of the Professora’s bed. “I believe that dark red fuzzy thing is a Barrayaran plant, by the way. It made me break out in hives when I touched it.”

Madame Vorthys asks how they’re going to get them home, and Miles suggests offhandedly that they give the flowers to the medtechs when they leave.  When Ekaterin protests that they must be expensive, Miles says that they’re cheap–not like failed combat-drop missions or weapon-control systems.  He suggests Ekaterin visit the station’s hydroponics; she wonders if she’ll have time, then realizes that she’s not even late to pick up Nikki yet.  They missed their original return trip, but they’ll be going down with Vorthys in his fast courier, after he assesses the debris in the loading bay.  Ekaterin apologizes for the mess, but Miles insists that it was a beautiful mess.

Vorthys will be staying on Komarr for a while to study the device in secret, since the whole affair is being kept top-secret; Miles gets to go back to Barrayar to report to the Emperor in person.  Tuomonen sent up his luggage, including his seizure stimulator; Miles notes that, unfortunately, Tuomonen is going to get blamed for not spotting the conspiracy in Serifosa, while that idiot Vorgier gets a commendation.  He says that if Tuomonen does lose his job or find it at a standstill, he’ll offer him a position as an Auditor’s assistant.

He tells Ekaterin that, because the case is going beyond classified, there will be limits on what she can tell Nikki about it, for the time being.  For now Tien’s death will have to remain a breath mask accident.  She will not, though, have to testify in court, because there will be no public prosecutions.  He hopes that someday the restrictions can be eased.  She asks if she’ll need to repay Tien’s debts; Miles says that it’s Foscol who really owes it.

“Something is owed,” she said gravely.

“Tien settled his debt with his life. He’s quits with the Imperium, I assure you. In the Emperor’s Voice, if necessary.”

She took this in. Death did wipe out debt. It just didn’t erase the memory of pain; time was still required for that healing. Your time is your own, now. That felt strange. She could take all the time she wanted, or needed. Riches beyond dreams. She nodded. “All right.”

Miles asks her to contact him when they get to Vorbarr Sultana, receiving reassurances from Maame Vorthys that Ekaterin and Nikki will be staying with them.  He then proceeds to give her every possible means of contacting him, at any of his residences, through Master Tsipis, even a drop at the Imperial Residence.  Madame Vorthys asks if he hasn’t forgotten a few, and he blushes, but he adds that he’d like to show Ekaterin some of the vegetation in his District sometime.  She asks about the Komarran terraforming, and he says the money embezzled in Serifosa was just a drop in the bucket, compared to the soletta repairs.

He brightened. “I had this great idea about that. I’m going to pitch it to Gregor that we should declare the soletta repair—and enlargement—as a wedding present, from Gregor to Laisa and from Barrayar to Komarr. I’m going to recommend its size be nearly doubled, adding the six new panels the Komarrans have been begging for since forever. I think this mischance can be turned into an absolute propaganda coup, with the right timing. We’ll shove the appropriation through the Council of Counts and Ministers quickly, before Midsummer, while everyone in Vorbarr Sultana is still sentimentally wound up for the Imperial Wedding.”

She clapped her hands in enthusiasm, then paused in doubt. “Will that work? I didn’t think the crusty old Council of Counts was susceptible to what Tien used to call romantic drivel.”

“Oh,” he said airily, “I’m sure they are. I’m a cadet member of the Counts myself—we’re only human, after all. Besides, we can point out that every time a Komarran looks up—well, half the time— they’ll see this Barrayaran gift hanging overhead, and know what it’s doing to create their future. The power of suggestion and all that. It could save us the expense of putting down the next Komarran conspiracy.”

After a guarded look at Madame Vorthys, Miles takes out another package–the tiny model of Barrayar from the jeweler’s shop, on a gold chain–and presents it to Ekaterin, in lieu of a medal, as the “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan Award For Making His Job Easier”.  If she hadn’t destroyed their device, he says, he’d never have been able to convince them to surrender, and the station would almost certainly have been destroyed.  She’s not sure whether it’s proper to accept it or not, but she thanks him, though she reminds him about the drop into the pond from that day as well.  She asks if he planned it, and he says it was just serendipity, but most people can’t tell the difference between that and careful planning.  He says that she’s the first woman he’s been able to literally give Barrayar to.

Her eyes crinkled. “Have you had a great many girlfriends?” If he hadn’t, she’d have to dismiss her whole gender as congenital idiots. The man could charm snakes from their holes, nine-year-olds from locked bathrooms, and Komarran terrorists from their bunkers. Why weren’t females following him around in herds? Could no Barrayaran woman see past his surface, or their own cocked-up noses?

Under her interrogation, he lists them off–his “hopeless first love”, Elena; “this and that”–Elli Quinn, raised from trainee to Admiral, and Taura, freed from slavery on Jackson’s Whole and now Master Sergeant with Elli’s mercenary fleet; Rowan, also freed from Jackson’s Whole and now working at a clinic on Escobar.  Ekaterin is impressed with how they all seem to have come out much the better after their relationships with Miles, most unlike hers with Tien.  He notes glumly that none of them would come to live on Barrayar with him.  She asks about an “unrequired mad crush” he mentioned, and he tells her about Rian…currently Empress of Cetaganda.

She rested her chin in her hand, and regarded him; her brows quirked in quizzical delight. “Lord Vorkosigan. Can I take a number and get in line?”

Whatever it was he’d been expecting her to say, it wasn’t that; he was so taken aback he nearly fell off his chair. Wait, she hadn’t meant it to come out sounding quite like— His smile stuck in the on position, but decidedly sideways.

“The next number up,” he breathed, “is `one.’ ”

It was her turn to be taken aback; her eyes fell, scorched by the blaze in his. He had lured her into levity. His fault, for being so . . . luring. She stared wildly around the room, groping for some suitably neutral remark with which to retrieve her reserve. It was a space station: there was no weather. My, the vacuum is hard out today . . . . Not that, either. She gazed beseechingly at Aunt Vorthys. Vorkosigan observed her involuntary recoil, and his smile acquired a sort of stuffed apologetic quality; he too looked cautiously to the Professora.

Madame Vorthys turns the conversation back to the more neutral topic of Miles’s trip home, which turns out to be on another ImpSec fast courier; he bids them a hasty farewell, after seeking assurance that he’d be seeing them again on Vorbarr Sultana.  After he leaves, Madame Vorthys notes that Miles is “nice, but short”; Ekaterin replies that he’s just “concentrated”.  Then she changes the subject and says they should ask about that hydroponics tour…

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So Miles claims that he hadn’t planned to give that last Barrayar pendant to Ekaterin.  I guess he may be telling the truth about just having gotten another one on impulse to give to somebody, whoever he wanted to “give the world” to, and he hadn’t actually fallen in love with Ekaterin yet, or at least hadn’t realized it if he had.  I could see Ekaterin, with her limited resources, being a little embarrassed, and even offended, by Miles throwing his money around, buying flowers and expensive techno-jewelry, and then giving them to her, but she seems to accept it, at least.

This is really the most romantic chapter of the book, as Ekaterin drags out the details–well, at least the overview–of Miles’s love life.  She’s mostly fascinated by how he seems to have left them better than he found them, which may be why she makes that provocative comment about getting in line; he can’t help but take that a little more seriously than she meant it, in his current smitten state of mind.  Madame Vorthys seems thoroughly bemused by the whole thing, and it’s hard to figure out what exactly she’s thinking–does she approve of Miles?  Disapprove?  Ekaterin had already expressed how it would be a positive relief to be in mourning for a year, and thus off-limits; does her aunt disagree?  In any case, Ekaterin doesn’t seem to take Miles’s invitation as seriously as he’s offering it…poor Miles.  So, since nothing is actually resolved in the romantic plot here, Bujold was hopefully setting up that plot for the next book, which, luckily she delivered on.

Overall…I still can’t warm to Komarr as much as I did for the last couple of Miles books, or for A Civil Campaign.  I’m not sure why, still.  To some extent, the plot didn’t gel for me–the whole soletta investigation from the first few chapters seems to be just ignored when the whole embezzlement/Waste Heat thing comes up, and while they turn out to be related, there doesn’t seem to be any reason that they should be–it’s just luck on Miles’s part, frankly, that he happens to come to Serifosa because Vorthys wants to visit his niece.  Ekaterin’s character growth is a powerful arc, but unfortunately it comes with a lot of Tien, who is probably a less appealing character than most of Bujold’s actual villains.  Okay, maybe not, but, as my friend Ann Marston is fond of saying, “I never liked him and I’m glad he’s dead.”  And yet, that death also seems a little pat–how convenient, that this appealing woman in a loveless marriage, on the verge of leaving, doesn’t have to actually get a divorce, because her husband dies of a combination of enemy action and his own stupidity.  And a lucky break for Miles, too.  So that’s two major plot points that don’t seem to ring true for me.  Still a decent book, up there with Cetaganda, say, or maybe The Vor Game, but I don’t reread it as eagerly as some of the others in the series.  I didn’t find myself reading ahead without meaning to, like I did with Memory, and expect to with A Civil Campaign.  But…at least the chapters tended to be fairly short.

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My traditional week off is coming up–fortunately, perhaps, as I have actual things on my calendar next week–but I suspect it won’t take me that long to read the first two (or more) chapters of A Civil Campaign.  As I’ve been hinting heavily, this is one of my favourite books of the series, not least because we’re back on Barrayar, where all the best characters seem to live, not to mention that the plot is so delightful, and in some odd ways it makes a nice bookend to Memory.  But two weeks…well, that’s enough time for you to (re)read the book yourself, if you so desire…

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