Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Shards of Honor, Chapter 4

I started writing this blog post last Saturday, with the intention of covering chapters four through six of Shards of Honor. I was thinking of those chapters as a tidy little section with Aral regaining command and proposing marriage, quickly followed by two mutinies and Cordelia’s rescue.

It turns out that’s neither tidy nor little. Which is why this blog post only deals with chapter four.

If you’d like to catch up on previous posts in the re-read, the index is here. At this time, the spoiler policy permits discussion of all books EXCEPT Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen. Discussion of any and all revelations from that book should be whited out.

SUMMARY

When we left them last week, Cordelia and Aral were preparing to approach the supply cache with Dubauer in tow. At the beginning of chapter 4, Aral spiffs himself up—he has Cordelia drain his wound, takes a stimulant from his field kit, and shaves , and then carefully scouts the supply cache. Aral introduces Cordelia to his crew—loyalists and mutineers—through his field scope. He says she’ll need to know when to keep her head down. Koudelka is trustworthy, Darobey is Radnov’s spy, Aral wants to charge Radnov with mutiny, and Gottyan is in charge. Aral sees this as a stroke of luck.

Cordelia and Aral return to their campsite to find Dubauer missing. A brief search fails to locate him. Aral points out that once he regains command, they can find Dubauer with heat scopes, and if he doesn’t regain command, all three of them die. Cordelia agrees to delay search and rescue.

Cordelia and Aral approach the Barryaran camp carefully, avoiding its sentries. Aral fears that the Barryaran presence indicates that something is wrong. With Cordelia hiding in the vegetation armed with her dying stunner, their only firearm, Aral confronts Gottyan. Their meeting does not go well. Gottyan was planning on calling for a court of inquiry into Aral’s death, but was also counting on being confirmed as the successor to Aral’s command. Aral’s survival is an impediment to his career advancement. Aral assures Gottyan that things are in the works—more ships, more opportunities. Gottyan dismisses this as “the usual rumors.” Gottyan explains that Bothari confessed to stunning Aral instead of killing him, and is in solitary confinement in the brig. Cordelia sees tears in Gottyan’s eyes, and concludes that this is grief for the friend he is about to murder, rather than the first case of Sergyaran hay-fever. She stuns him from her position of cover.

Leaving Gottyan tied up next to the path, Cordelia and Aral head north in search of a loyal sentry. They find Koudelka, who tells them about Aral’s funeral. Koudelka also provides the roster for the landing party. Aral gives orders to arrest the men he believes to be involved in Radnov’s mutiny. As they approach the cache, they encounter a group of men torturing Dubauer, who they captured in the woods. Aral helps Cordelia tend to him and reprimands his men for their mistreatment of a prisoner. Aral orders Koudelka to take Cordelia and Dubauer to get food, and goes back into the woods to have a chat with Gottyan.

Koudelka takes Cordelia and Dubauer into the cave where the supply cache is, for lack of a better word, cached. Cordelia notices that it’s enormous—a full-scale fleet depot. Yeoman Nilesa offers stew, and is pathetically grateful when Cordelia praises his cooking. Aral joins them after his conversation with Gottyan. Koudelka returns to inform Aral that some of the mutineers have escaped efforts to detain them. At this point, Aral’s painkiller/stimulant cocktail is wearing off. He orders the cavern sealed and the rest of the crew to return to the Barryaran ship. He’ll let the mutineers spend a few nights in the woods and pick them up later.

The transport to Aral’s ship is filled with young men speculating on their captain’s sex life. Cordelia ponders her next few months. She expects that Aral’s duties will keep him busy, and she won’t see much of him. She considers taking on the Barryarans as an anthropology project, or seeing her captivity as a vacation. Once on board the General Vorkraft, Cordelia and Koudelka take Dubauer to sickbay. Cordelia warns the surgeon about Aral’s condition, and watches what she suspects will be the beginning of an endless series of hospital days for Dubauer. Aral finally reports to sickbay and all-but collapses. As the surgeon examines Aral’s leg, Koudelka escorts Cordelia to her quarters.

COMMENTARY

Dubauer survived the 200-kilometer oatmeal-and-blue-cheese wilderness survival trek without hospital support, so I can’t imagine why he would need a hospital on a consistent basis going forward. He’s overdue for a diagnostic workup that reveals exactly what the nerve disruptor did to his brain, so his caretakers can determine what supports he will require and what therapies will be most constructive. I don’t think he’s going to be a Survey botanist again but there are a lot of options between constant hospitalization and Betan Survey crew. Cordelia is questioning whether she has made the best decisions for him; She may be a little more militarist than she cares to admit. Or maybe she’s just very tired.

The flight to the General Vorkraft begins the period in which absolutely everyone assumes Aral and Cordelia have been having tons of sex. Obviously, the last thing anyone would want to do is waste the precious calories obtained by forcing yourself to eat oatmeal and blue cheese dressing in an activity that exposes many delicate body parts to Sergyar’s impressive variety of radially symmetrical fauna that sting and suck your blood. If that risk didn’t kill the mood, Hexapeds would probably come and eat you. Plus, it’s not like it was a private hike. Dubauer was kind of a third wheel.

Prior to this reread, I had not realized how much of Shards Aral spends in an altered mental state. His ability to navigate the byzantine politics of the command structure and manage his strategy for regaining his command while higher than a kite is an interesting measure of his abilities. In later years, Miles will remark that fish don’t notice the water. At this point, Aral is not only failing to notice the water, he hasn’t realized that he’s a shark. His altered mental state may help explain why he allows Cordelia to see the cave. She doesn’t yet know that it’s part of the planning for the invasion of Escobar, but she can plainly see that the Barryarans are planning a major military operation. Aral knows his government better than I do, and possibly better than many of its high ranking officials, so perhaps he knows why Barryar would be willing to allow Cordelia to be debriefed by the Betan military. But the reasons are certainly very well-hidden.

Aral’s knowledge of upcoming military operations colors his conversations. It explains his comment to Gottyan about opportunities for promotion, and his agreement with Cordelia’s description of his crew as sacrificial animals. We haven’t yet met Bothari. Aral released him from solitary confinement before reporting to sick bay.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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