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Posts Tagged ‘Vorvayne’

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.

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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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Hello, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where again the Muse of Witty Blog Post Openings has forsaken me for the night.  (Tries to come up with a clever name for such a muse–Scalziope? Nah…)  Anyway, for those who are arriving in the middle, this is where I go through the chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s outstandingly awesome Vorkosigan Saga, reread them, summarize them, and then try to make erudite-sounding comments on them.  (If you are arriving in the middle, and you haven’t actually read Bujold’s books, then for heaven’s sake go and do that.  What are you waiting for?)  This week I cover two more chapters (which would seem more heroic if I didn’t do it so often, but some weeks it feels heroic), Chapter Fifteen and Chapter Sixteen, of A Civil Campaign, in which Nikki has an important chat with Miles’s friend Gregor, Ekaterin isn’t particularly happy to receive a visit from some relatives, and Cordelia tries to straighten out the Koudelkas with the aid of some old furniture.

Chapter Fifteen

Lord Auditor Vorthys bids farewell to his wife, while Ekaterin and Nikki wait; after he accompanies them to the palace, he’s heading directly to Komarr to work on some matters to do with the earlier investigation.  She had been unprepared, last night, for when he told her that Miles’s friend with authority to talk about the matter was actually Emperor Gregor himself, who could understand Nikki’s loss of a father because of what happened to Prince Serg in the ill-fated Escobar invasion.  She’s almost glad she hadn’t known before, or she probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.

They drive off in the groundcar–which Ekaterin now realizes is heavily armoured, and driven by an ImpSec chauffeur, because her uncle also moves in those rarefied levels.  Uncle Vorthys reassures Nikki that he’ll be fine, and Gregor is a good fellow; he reassures Ekaterin as well.  It’s not long before they’re at the Imperial Residence, where they are swiftly admitted and led through to the north wing.

Uncle Vorthys seemed indifferent to the museum-quality décor; he’d trod this corridor dozens of times to deliver his personal reports to the ruler of three worlds. Miles had lived here till he was six, he’d said. Had he been oppressed by the somber weight of this history, or had he regarded it all as his personal play set? One guess.

They are ushered into a large office where Miles and the Emperor are waiting for them.  Miles cuts off what he was saying as Ekaterin and the others enter, and greets them stiffly.  The Professor presents his relatives, and Gregor greets Ekaterin with a firm handshake, and Nikki the same, apologizing for the circumstances of the meeting, and hoping that they will have happier ones later.  Ekaterin notes that Gregor seems to look at and really see her, which is both heartening and unnerving.  Gregor invites them to sit down, and they do, Ekaterin and Nikki across him, Vorthys between them, Miles off to one side, seemingly at ease, though Ekaterin somehow guesses he’s more tense than he seems.

Gregor tells Nikki that Miles asked him to talk to Nikki about the rumours surrounding his father’s death.  Vorthys grumbled that if it hadn’t been for those “gabbling fools” talking about it, they wouldn’t have had to drag him into it at all.  Gregor starts out with a caution–Vorthys, by dint of his job, has a high level of security monitoring, and an alert caused by an unauthorized intruder could bring ImpSec there in less than two minutes.  Ekaterin mutters about Vormoncrief, and Gregor says that he was, unfortunately, a known visitor.  He tells Nikki that, after this conversation, he will himself be monitored more closely by ImpSec–not much different than what would happen in the Vorthys household, or Lord Vorkosigan’s.  Any travel onplanet or off would have to be cleared with security, and he will have to go to a more exclusive school.  They will, of course, be more protected from casual criminals, which means any that they do encounter are likely to be much more professional and dangerous.

Ekaterin caught her breath. “Miles didn’t mention that part.”

“I daresay Miles didn’t even think about it. He’s lived under exactly this sort of security screen most of his life. Does a fish think about water?”

Ekaterin darted a glance at Miles. He had a very odd look on his face, as though he’d just bounced off a force wall he hadn’t known was there.

“Off-planet travel.” Nikki seized on the one item in this intimidating list of importance to him. “But . . . I want to be a jump pilot.”

“By the time you are old enough to study for a jump pilot, I expect the situation will have changed,” said Gregor. “This applies mainly to the next few years. Do you still want to go on?”

They wait for Nikki’s response; he says he wants to know.  Gregor says that his questions will be answered, but warns him that he will leave with more questions, and these ones they will be unable to answer for him, for his own safety.  Finally he asks Nikki to swear, by his name’s word, to hold this conversation in confidence.  Nikki, earnestly, swears the oath, he and Ekaterin both mesmerized by Gregor’s quiet intensity.

Gregor starts with the plain explanation of his father’s death.  He tells Nikki that Miles and Tien met some thieves at the experiment station, who stunned the two men and chained them up outside the station.  The thieves didn’t know that Tien’s reservoirs were low, and so didn’t intend his death–it was an accident, manslaughter, not murder.  Nikki says that, then, Miles couldn’t share his breath mask because they were tied up; Miles confirms this, showing how far apart they were, and revealing the scars on his wrists.

Gregor says there’s more, and Ekaterin silently pleads with him to stop here.  His mother wouldn’t tell Nikki this, he says, but his father had been taking bribes from the thieves.  He’d wanted to become an Imperial Witness, which is why they’d gone out there; the thieves had been angry at his betrayal, which is why they’d chained them up, leaving data proving his guilt taped to his back.  They’d called Ekaterin to pick them up, but too late.  Gregor says that there’s other things about the thieves which make all of this a state secret, and tells Nikki the official cover story, which is that the two men got separated and Miles didn’t find Tien until after he’d suffocated.

“If anyone thinks Lord Vorkosigan had something to do with your da’s death, we are not going to argue with them. You may state that it’s not true and that you don’t wish to discuss it. But don’t let yourself be drawn into disputes.”

“But . . .” said Nikki, “but that’s not fair!”

“It’s hard,” said Gregor, “but it’s necessary. Fair has nothing to do with it. To spare you the hardest part, your mama and uncle and Lord Vorkosigan told you the cover story, and not the real one. I can’t say they were wrong to do so.”

His eye and Miles’s caught each other in a steady gaze; Miles’s eyebrows inched up in a quizzical look, to which Gregor returned a tiny ironic nod. The Emperor’s lips thinned in something that was not quite a smile.

Gregor says the thieves are in prison, and jsutice has been done.  If Tien had been alive, he’d be in prison now too, but death cancels all debts.  Ekaterin thinks that this a hard thing to tell Nikki, to destroy his father’s honour in his eyes, but then thinks that it could be worse, if he’d known how cowardly and venal Tien had been, scrambling to escape the consequences of his choices.  But it doesn’t change the fact that he lost his father.

Nikki asks Miles what his two mistakes were.  Miles said he’d neglected to call his security backup when he left the dome, and then he was a second too late in drawing his stunner.  Nikki examines Miles’s wrists again, asks him about his own breath-mask, then sits back.  Gregor asks him if he has any more questions, and Nikki shakes his head.  Gregor then goes to his desk and gives Nikki a code card, which he says will give him access to talk to Gregor if he’s available, in case he has further questions or needs to talk the matter over.

Before the others can get up, Miles says that he’d offered Gregor his resignation, but Gregor had refused it.  Vorthys is surprised, but Miles said that he’d always thought Imperial Auditors should appear honest above all else.  Gregor says that that’s just an ideal–he inherited a couple of “shifty old sticks” from his grandfather, and he doesn’t think that Dorca the Just’s were any better, given the type of people they’d have to be able to stand up to.  Gregor says that if his Counts and Ministers see fit to deal with Miles’s supposed crimes, they’re welcome to, but he won’t do their work for them.  Miles is gratified at the support, but makes one last try, asking if Gregor thinks that he will still want Miles to stand in his wedding circle.  Gregor says that he’ll be there if “General Alys” says he will, and otherwise he won’t get out of his duties that easily–and tells Miles to refer anyone who objects to Lady Alys herself.

Miles could not quite keep the malicious smile off his lips, though he tried valiantly. Fairly valiantly. Some. “I would pay money to watch.” His smile faded again. “But it’s going to keep coming up as long as—”

“Miles.” Gregor’s raised hand interrupted him. His eyes were alight with something between amusement and exasperation. “You have, in-house, possibly the greatest living source of Barrayaran political expertise in this century. Your father’s been dealing with uglier Party in-fighting than this, with and without weapons, since before you were born. Go tell him your troubles. Tell him I said to give you that lecture on honor versus reputation he gave me that time. In fact . . . tell him I request and require it.” His hand-wave, as he rose from his armchair, put an emphatic end to the topic. Everyone rustled to their feet.

Gregor shakes Ekaterin’s hand again, and says that he looks forward to seeing her again when he is less busy.  He says that though they can’t give her more public recognition, he is well aware of the great debt the Imperium owes to her, and says she “may draw upon it at need and at will”.  Ekaterin is taken aback, but thanks him for taking time for them, and Nikki awkwardly follows suit.  Vorthys stays behind to talk to Gregor, and Miles offers to escort them out.  On the way out, Ekaterin says that that was more than she had expected; Miles says he agrees, but he trusts Gregor’s judgement more than anyone else’s.  Gregor also doesn’t think about the water he swims in, and endures great pressures on a daily basis; he overestimates others, and they, in turn, try not to disappoint them.  Nikki says he’s just glad that the Emperor told him the truth.

Back at Vorkosigan House, Miles goes in search of his father, finding him in the library.  He tells his father about the meeting with Gregor; they discuss whether Gregor was right to tell Nikki so much.  Miles admits that anyone questioning Nikki would likely already know as much as him, and the rest is still closely held.  He says he’d thought that Gregor would know, because of his own experiences with learning the truth about Prince Serg, how much to tell about his father’s crimes.  Aral agrees that Prince Serg was a criminal and a madman, and talks about the “lucky shot” that spared Barrayar from him ever becoming Emperor; he’s glad to hear about Gregor’s good judgement about Tien, considering how badly they muffed it with Gregor himself.

“I think he handled Nikki . . . well. At any rate, Nikki won’t experience that sort of late shock to his world. Of course, compared to Serg, Tien wasn’t much worse than foolish and venal. But it was hard to watch. No nine-year-old should have to deal with something this vile, this close to his heart. What will it make him?”

“Eventually . . . ten,” the Count said. “You do what you have to do. You grow or go under. You have to believe he will grow.”

Miles drummed his fingers on the sofa’s padded arm. “Gregor’s subtlety is still dawning on me. By admitting Tien’s peculation, he’s pulled Nikki to the inside with us. Nikki too now has a vested interest in maintaining the cover story, to protect his late da’s reputation. Strange. Which is what brings me to you, by the way. Gregor asks—requests and requires, no less!—you give me the lecture you gave him on honor versus reputation. It must have been memorable.”

Aral, pleased that it stuck with Gregor–you never know if it’s going to, he says–describes it as less of a speech and more of a useful distinction.  “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”  The problem comes when the two are not the same.  Miles says that, apart from a few impure thoughts about Ekaterin, and regrets over ineptitude on his part, his honour is fairly clear, so the problem is mostly in the realm of reputation, which feels like he’s being nibbled at by rats.  Aral tells him that it’s worse–soul-destroying–when it’s the other way around, when your reputation soars while your honour lies in pieces.  By comparison, this is mere annoyance, and he offers Miles some consolation.

“First, this too shall pass. Despite the undoubted charms of sex, murder, conspiracy, and more sex, people will eventually grow bored with the tale, and some other poor fellow will make some other ghastly public mistake, and their attention will go haring off after the new game.”

What sex?” Miles muttered in exasperation. “There hasn’t been any sex. Dammit. Or this would all seem a great deal more worthwhile. I haven’t even gotten to kiss the woman yet!”

Aral adds that, after this, no lesser charge will raise eyebrows, so he’ll be able to get away with a lot more, if he wants to.  Also, you can’t control what other people think anyway, so it’s futile to try with every stranger on the street.  He should decide whose opinions matter, and concentrate on those; Miles immediately lists Ekaterin, Nikki, Gregor, and that’s it.  Aral protests at being excluded from the list; Miles says that they’re not sinned against, so he’s not as much in need of their forgiveness.  Aral says that, in the political arena of Vorbarr Sultana, Miles might find an reputation for ruthlessness useful; Miles asks if his father has found the “Butcher of Komarr” sobriquet useful, and Aral admits he made use of it from time to time, since he paid enough for it.  Illyan, he says, has also made use of the reputation he inherited from Captain Negri, and Miles agrees that he can be unnerving, and not just because of Negri’s ghost.

Miles protests that the worst part is that his enemies think him so incompetent that he wouldn’t have done a better job of murder than that.  Aral asks if he ever had to do anything of the sort for ImpSec, and Miles admits that there was one mission, which he doesn’t want to talk about, though more complicated than a simple assassination.  He frets that his father is telling him the same as Galeni, that he just has to suck it up; Aral says he should worry about his honour, not his reputation, and outlast his enemies.

Miles asks about how his father dealt with things like this in his own past, and Aral recalls the way he was suspected of having killed his first wife for infidelity, the faint memory of which, he admits, may not be helping Miles any.  She had killed herself, but after a gigantic blowup between the two of them–he’d been twenty-two, and hadn’t dealt with it very well.  He admits that it was possible his own father had arranged her death, but he never asked.  He dealt with it somewhat poorly, by diving deeper into depravity, trying to outdo the stories, until he became sick of himself and shaped up.  Miles says the strategy doesn’t appeal to him, he has too much to lose.

“So, ah . . . when are we going to be permitted to meet this woman who has had such an invigorating effect on you? Her and her Nikki. Perhaps you might invite them to dinner here soon?”

Miles cringed. “Not . . . not another dinner. Not soon.”

“My glimpse of her was so frustratingly brief. What little I could see was very attractive, I thought. Not too thin. She squished well, bouncing off me.” Count Vorkosigan grinned briefly, at this memory. Miles’s father shared an archaic Barrayaran ideal of feminine beauty that included the capacity to survive minor famines; Miles admitted a susceptibility to that style himself. “Reasonably athletic, too. Clearly, she could outrun you. I would therefore suggest blandishments, rather than direct pursuit, next time.”

“I’ve been trying,” sighed Miles.

The Count regarded his son, half amused, half serious. “This parade of females of yours is very confusing to your mother and me, you know. We can’t tell whether we’re supposed to start bonding to them, or not.”

What parade?” said Miles indignantly. “I brought home one galactic girlfriend. One. It wasn’t my fault things didn’t work out.”

Aral mentions the ones from Illyan’s reports, and Miles is temporarily speechless, not having realized that Illyan had been quite so thorough in those reports.  He says he has told Ekaterin about them all, at least, out of sheer honesty.

“Honesty is the only way with anyone, when you’ll be so close as to be living inside each other’s skins. So . . . is this Ekaterin another passing fancy?” The Count hesitated, his eyes crinkling. “Or is she the one who will love my son forever and fiercely—hold his household and estates with integrity—stand beside him through danger, and dearth, and death—and guide my grandchildren’s hands when they light my funeral offering?”

Miles paused in momentary admiration of his father’s ability to deliver lines like that. It put him in mind of the way a combat drop shuttle delivered pinpoint incendiaries. “That would be . . . that would be Column B, sir. All of the above.” He swallowed. “I hope. If I don’t fumble it again.”

“So when do we get to meet her?” the Count repeated reasonably.

Miles puts him off again, for a little while.  Aral doesn’t pursue the matter, just notes that it’s lucky for Miles that he met Ekaterin when he was old enough to know what he wanted; Miles agrees heartily.

Comments

The scene with Gregor is one of my favourites, but then Gregor is usually good for a good scene.  Well, maybe not in the middle of The Vor Game, when he’s being a little petulant, wrestling with the Prince Serg thing, but by the end of that he’s much worthier.  Obviously Gregor has gotten past it now.  But I note that even in the conversation between Miles and Aral, Aral doesn’t own up to the fact that he helped engineer Prince Serg’s death in the Escobar invasion.  That is still an explosive secret, too closely held to leak out.  Who ever knew that one?  Aral, Cordelia, Illyan…anyone else surviving?

I believe that we haven’t actually seen the story of this assassination that Miles pulled off for ImpSec.  With the Dendarii, one presumes.  Any inkling, even, of what that might be?  It doesn’t sound like it quite fits with Jackson’s Whole, either.  Oh, well, I guess we never did get the whole story on how Miles got his arms broken between Brothers in Arms and the Borders of Infinity framing story.

When was the last time we had a father-son conversation with Aral and Miles?  Closest would be at the end of The Vor Game, I guess, though I think Illyan and/or Gregor were there too?  Too lazy to look it up.  Anyway, it’s a good talk, lots of practical advice being exchanged, and, unlike the earlier ones, they’re talking more like equals now.

Chapter Sixteen

Ekaterin is trying to make up a resumé that hides her near-total lack of experience, unwilling to include Miles as a reference, for a job with a nearby plant nursery.  She is interrupted by the doorchime, and has a momentary vision of being kidnapped by enemy spies, but her visitors turn out to be her brother Hugo Vorvayne, and Tien’s cousin Vassily Vorsoisson, who she’d only met before at Tien’s funeral, when he’d officially signed over Nikki’s guardianship to her.  She invites them inside and offers them refreshments, which they decline.

At the serious expression on Hugo’s face, she asks if everything’s all right with them, or her father; Hugo says that it’s her who’s the source of concern right now.  He asks if her uncle is there; Ekaterin says he’s gone to Komarr and won’t be back until closer to Gregor’s wedding (absent-mindedly using his name, before she remembers to use his title instead).  They discuss the wedding briefly, Hugo saying that Rosalie and her friends have gone crazy about it.

Vassily asks after Nikki, who Ekaterin says is off watching a regatta on the river with a friend.  Vassily says that they’ve come because of some disturbing information about her and Lord Auditor Vorkosigan; Ekaterin realizes that the rumour has penetrated outside of the capital.  He adds that he came to Hugo, and Rosalie seemed to corroborate the story; that it’s “common knowledge” among the Vor that Miles sabotaged Tien’s breath mask on Komarr.  Ekaterin immediately responds that that’s just a lie made up by Miles’s political opponents, and they won’t be able to charge him with it, but Vassily interprets this as a statement about Miles’s political invulnerability due to his powerful connections.

Hugo says that they also heard that Miles attempted to force Ekaterin to marry him; Ekaterin admits that he did ask, very awkwardly, and is also forced to admit that she didn’t technically refuse him.  Ekaterin asks where this information came from, and Vassily said it was “a friend”.  Ekaterin can’t imagine any of her friends doing this, though.  She admits that she finds Miles attractive, which the men, who saw him at Tien’s funeral, find incomprehensible.

“Kat,” said Hugo in a disconcerted tone, “the man’s a mutie. He barely comes up to your shoulder. He’s distinctly hunched—I don’t know why that wasn’t surgically corrected. He’s just odd.”

“Oh, he’s had dozens of surgeries. His original damage was far, far more severe. You can still see these faint old scars running all over his body from the corrections.”

Hugo stared at her. “All over his body?”

“Um. I assume so. As much of it as I’ve seen, anyway.” She stopped her tongue barely short of adding, The top half. A perfectly unnecessary vision of Miles entirely naked, gift-wrapped in sheets and blankets in bed, and her with him, slowly exploring his intricacies all the way down, distracted her imagination momentarily. She blinked it away, hoping her eyes weren’t crossing. “You have to concede, he has a good face. His eyes are . . . very alive.”

Hugo says that he and her family are there to help, if she’s in some kind of trouble with Miles, like blackmail or something.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks that their uncle, the Lord Auditor, would be helpless to protect her.  Hugo says that Uncle Vorthys and his wife are a little unworldly, and Ekaterin points out that her aunt is an expert on bloody political history, and her uncle’s discipline includes intimate knowledge of sabotage, not a particularly unworldly topic.  They tell her that the capital seems to be full of unsavoury and dubious characters, including a woman in a man’s body; Ekaterin admits to having actually met Lord Dono, and dismays her visitors by listing his potential virtues as a Count.

Hugo tells her he’s concerned with her safety, and with Nikki’s, in the environment of the capital; Ekaterin thinks that having overcome armed terrorists, her definition of “safe” may be a little broader than his.  He says she needs to be married, mistress of a good Vor household, solid, honest and loyal; Ekaterin asks if he’s sure she should have a house, rather than a planet, and accuses his goals of lacking scope.  She realizes that her horizons have grown much wider than her brother’s.

Hugo said, “Damn, Kat. I thought that part of the letter was twaddle at first, but this mutie lord has turned your head around in some strange way.”

“And if it’s true . . . he has frightening allies,” said Vassily. “The letter claimed that Vorkosigan had Simon Illyan himself riding point for him, herding you into his trap.” His lips twisted dubiously. “That was the part that most made me wonder if I was being made a game of, to tell you the truth.”

“I’ve met Simon,” Ekaterin conceded. “I found him rather . . . sweet.”

A dazed silence greeted this declaration.

Ekaterin suddenly puzzles out who had sent them this letter, and realizes it must have been Alexi Vormoncrief.  She tells Vassily that Vormoncrief is mostly just upset because Ekaterin refused his own proposal.  Hugo says that he certainly wouldn’t force her to marry Vormoncrief, but he seemed genuinely concerned for her, and in love; Ekaterin says Vormoncrief didn’t even see her, just an available Vor widow, and he might not have noticed were she replaced by a straw woman.

Vassily says that he’s not concerned with Ekaterin and her marriage prospects; he’s more concerned with Nikki’s safety.  Ekaterin recalls that Vassily has, ludicrously, the power to take Nikki away from her at a whim, and she would have to prove him an actively incompetent guardian to regain her son; Vassily may be a bachelor, but an unobjectionable one, and she wouldn’t have a chance.  Ekaterin points out that Nikki would be a burden to him, and Vassily says that Tien’s mother could easily look after him as well.

She asks Vassily to define precisely what kind of lifestyle will be satisfactory for his wishes, so she knows what she should be trying to do.  Vassily says that, obviously, betrothal to Miles is out of the question; Ekaterin repeats that the case against Miles is pure slander, and asks Vassily if he thinks she’s “lying, or just stupid” before reining in her temper.  Vassily has a horrible power over her, with his ability to take Nikki away, and she reminds herself to try not to push him that far.

She chose her words with utmost caution. “So what do you mean by straightened out?”

Hugo and Vassily looked at each other uncertainly. Vassily ventured, “I beg your pardon?”

“I cannot know if I have toed your line unless you show me where you’ve drawn it.”

Hugo protested, “That’s not very kindly put, Kat. We have your interests at heart.”

“You don’t even know what my interests are.” Not true, Vassily had his thumb right down on the most mortal one. Nikki. Eat rage, woman. She had used to be expert at swallowing herself, during her marriage. Somehow she’d lost the taste for it.

Vassily asks that Nikki not be exposed to unsavoury characters; Ekaterin says she’ll be happy to keep him away from Alexi Vormoncrief, but Vassily insists he means Miles, who has been accused of murdering his cousin Tien.  Ekaterin asks how, if Miles is never officially charged with this murder, Vassily could be satisfied that he’s not guilty of it; Vassily can’t answer, and decides to defer to Hugo on how best to keep his sister in check.  Hugo flatly tells her to keep away from Miles until the rumour is settled.  Ekaterin, not wanting to have Nikki’s life uprooted again, insists that they specify exactly how this would be “settled”.  Hugo says she should at least avoid him for a while…Ekaterin eventually pins him down to “until the end of her mourning year”; when they agree to it, she wishes she’d tried for Winterfair instead.  She insists that she will have to deliver this news to him in person, which they eventually agree to.

With this settled, they fall into uncomfortable silence, Ekaterin resolved not to offer them hospitality if she can avoid it, and they soon take the hint and mumble about having to go.  She curls up by herself, wishing her aunt were there to vent to.  She does give Hugo some small credit for not being swayed by the prospect of his sister becoming a Countess.  She draws a disquieting parallel in her mind with a toy that Nikki never seemed to want until she tried to give it away; is she only so upset about Miles because she’s being forbidden to see him?  She does have to see him sometime to tell him about the interdict, but she wants to put it off, if she can, because after that she might not get to see him for a long time…

Cordelia sends a luxurious groundcar to fetch Kareen and her parents, and her father is still muttering about how this is a bad idea, how the Countess will have their heads twisted around before they know it.  Drou says she hopes things will be arranged sensibly, which Kareen heartily agrees with; Kou grumbles that “sensible” is one of her words.  Drou says she wants to mend things with the Vorkosigans; Kou says he just doesn’t like the idea of a “fat, weird, half-mad clone” with Kareen.  Kareen manages to keep her mouth shut.

At Vorkosigan House, Pym escorts them to the library.  Furniture has been rearranged; Cordelia has a large, throne-like chair, with armchairs on either side, one for Kareen, and one already occupied by Mark.  Across from Cordelia is an old, shabby couch that Kareen recognizes from hide-and-seek games in the attic; the Countess insists that Kou and Drou sit there.  Kou accuses her of fighting dirty, but Drou stops him from leaving, and Cordelia outright orders him to sit, in what Kareen realizes must be her Ship’s Captain voice.

A long silence followed. Kareen could hear the old-fashioned mechanical clock ticking on the wall in the antechamber next door. Mark gave her a beseeching stare, Do you know what the hell is going on here? She returned it in kind, No, don’t you?

Her father rearranged the position of his swordstick three times, dropped it on the carpet, and finally scooted it back toward himself with the heel of his boot and left it there. She could see the muscle jump in his jaw as he gritted his teeth. Her mother crossed and uncrossed her legs, frowned, stared down the room out the glass doors, and then back at her hands twisting in her lap. They looked like nothing so much as two guilty teenagers caught . . . hm. Like two guilty teenagers caught screwing on the living room couch, actually. Clues seemed to float soundlessly down like feathers, in Kareen’s mind, falling all around. You don’t suppose . . .

“But Cordelia,” Mama burst out suddenly, for all the world as though continuing aloud a conversation just now going on telepathically, “we want our children to do better than we did. To not make the same mistakes!”

Ooh. Ooh. Oooh! Check, and did she ever want the story behind this one . . . ! Her father had underestimated the Countess, Kareen realized. That hadn’t taken any more than three minutes.

Cordelia says that, in her opinion, Kareen is doing much better, and hasn’t made any mistakes at all, that she’s noticed.  Kou calls Mark a mistake, and Cordelia says they’ll get to him later.  She says that Kareen is doing much better than they were at that age, partly because of the bright future they’d won for her.  She then has Kareen tell her parents about getting her contraceptive implant on Beta Colony, and her hymen cut, and then being introduced to sex by a Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist (a hermaphrodite, as it turned out); Cordelia contrasts this with awkward, uninformed fumble in the dark, and Kareen says that Barrayar’s approach seems awful.  Cordelia reminds her that both cultures are trying to solve the basic problem of making sure that children will be cared for.  Beta handles it by regulating female reproductive systems; Barrayar, which couldn’t, had to regulate the entire woman.

Kou grumbles that they should never have sent Kareen to Beta; Cordelia reminds him that Kareen’s trip to Beta was planned before meeting Mark, and reminds them that she might have ended up with a Betan native (of whatever gender).  If she ends up with Mark, at least they’ll both have ties to Barrayar, and be likely to visit more frequently, which Drou finds a compelling argument.  Kou says he wants Kareen to be safe, well, happy and financially secure.  Cordelia says that the first few are things that it’s almost impossible to give your children, no matter how you try.  Then she asks Kou what he thinks Mark’s financial situation is.

Da shook his head. “I thought he was broke. I assumed the family made him an allowance, like any other Vor scion. And that he ran through it—like any other Vor scion.”

“I’m not broke,” Mark objected strenuously. “It’s a temporary cash-flow problem. When I budgeted for this period, I wasn’t expecting to be starting up a new business in the middle of it.”

“In other words, you’re broke,” said Da.

“Actually,” Tante Cordelia said, “Mark is completely self-supporting. He made his first million on Jackson’s Whole.”

She explains how Mark is busily investing his money in a number of schemes, some of them less speculative than others, some of which she supports herself.  Mark explains how he’s paying Kareen in _shares_ so he won’t have to withdraw money and lose all that interest…  He says he’d willingly pay a dowry for Kareen if that’s what’s expected; Kareen says that he’s got it the wrong way around, and anyway she doesn’t want to be bought like a Jacksonian slave.  Kou stoutly claims that he doesn’t care about the money, whether in marks or Betan dollars–he wants what’s best for his daughter.

Cordelia asks what exactly he wants from Mark, then–should he offer to marry Kareen?  Kou would probably be happier if Mark were to just go away, but he stops short of actually saying it.  Mark says he will, if she wants to, but he didn’t think she did; Kareen says she doesn’t, since she’s still trying to find out who she is, and still growing as a person.  Cordelia asks if she thinks marriage wil stop that, and Kareen says that the stories always seem to end with marriage, and she doesn’t want an ending.  Her parents try to reassure her that marriage isn’t really like that, though they sound a little uncertain themselves.

Mark reiterates that he’ll do whatever Kareen wants, whether that be to marry her, or not, or go away (which she emphatically does not want), or whatever.  Cordelia asks Kareen if betrothal will do, but she says that’s giving an oath which locks you into marriage anyway, and she takes her oaths seriously.  Cordelia asks Kareen what she wants.  She struggles to put it into words, and finally declares that she wants an option on Mark.  Her parents aren’t certain about this, if it’s some weird offplanet custom, but Kareen says she just made it up.

Cordelia asks her to specify the terms of the option.  Mark willingly agrees for it to be a mutual option, and Kareen wants a year for her to see what happens between them, with nobody else interfering.  Kou expresses concern about whether Mark is safe for his daughter to be around.  Cordelia agrees that Mark has been through some Betan therapy, but paints him, to Koudelka, as a soldier, conscripted young and unwillingly, who has been fighting his own wars, and needs time to heal; this gets through to Kou at last.

“Kou, I wouldn’t have encouraged this relationship if I thought it was unsafe for either of our children.”

He looked back. “You? I know you! You trust beyond reason.”

She met his eyes steadily. “Yes. It’s how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall.”

He pursed his lips, unhappily, and toed his swordstick a little. He had no reply for this one. But a funny little smile turned Mama’s mouth, as she watched him.

Cordelia declares the matter settled with the option, until next year, when they can re-evaluate and consider an extension.  Kou isn’t pleased that the two of them will be “carrying on”, but Drou reminds him of their own carrying on, which they mostly felt safe doing because their relatives lived outside the city.  One by one, they all agree, Kou most reluctantly, with a “codicil” that he’ll hunt Mark down if Mark hurts his daughter.  Kareen can sense Mark’s Black Gang exulting inside his head; she pulls out her Betan earrings and puts them on, as a declaration of herself.

Comments

Obviously one of the scenes in this chapter is more pleasant than the other–can you guess which?  Yes, that’s right–now that Mark has marshaled Cordelia to his side, his and Kareen’s problems–with her parents, at least–are dealt with handily.  Mostly what Cordelia has to do is make them realize how hypocritical they’re being, given their own history.  The point about Mark’s finances is also well taken–I guess that Kou just leapt from the fact that Mark didn’t seem to have any _real_ money to throw around to him probably being broke.  But it took Cordelia recasting Mark as a wounded soldier to really get Kou starting to come over to his side, since of course Kou himself required a fair bit of healing after his own wars.  Anyway, this scene ties up Kareen‘s plotline, pretty much, though not Mark’s, quite, because there are still issues with butter bugs to come…

Ekaterin’s scene, on the other hand, is much less pleasant.  Her brother, and Tien’s cousin, are still fairly provincial Vor–maybe not quite Conservatives, but probably more on that side than the Progressives, considering the sources they consider authoritative for the rumours about Miles.  It would be funnier if it weren’t for that little thing about Vassily Vorsoisson being able to rescind her guardianship of Nikki.  (I believe I mentioned, probably in the last book, how ludicrous a rule that is, for a man’s cousin to have more rights to the man’s son than his own wife does.  But I guess that’s Barrayar for you.)  So she has to, unfortunately, take them at least a little seriously, though I’m sure even they could tell that she was doing it quite reluctantly.  (Just noticed the parallel–Ekaterin and Kareen both negotiating with unwilling relatives to keep from losing a loved one…  The difference being that Kareen’s parents are, in the end, swayed by logic.)

I was beginning to think, before Ekaterin did, that the very fact of being told she had to stay away from Miles was making her appreciate him more.  But I don’t really think it’s as much that she only wants him more the more she’s told she can’t have him, though.  It’s more that she’s starting to contrast “what life would be like with him” with “what life would be like without him” the more she experiences the latter and is deprived of the former.

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Not that many chapters left, just five, I think, so, with any luck, three more weeks.  We must be getting close to the climax now.  Which I think I recall fairely well, with the Council of Counts vote and the events leading up to, and during, it.  Should be a hoot.

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