Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Shards of Honor, Chapter 6

Last week, Aral proposed and while I think he meant it, I believe his intentions were complex and not entirely romantic. This week, everyone mutinies!

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.



Cordelia sits in her quarters, reading about Barryar. She is interrupted by two of her crew. From her ship, the Rene Magritte. In disguise. Their story: They ran when ordered, but looked up the General Vorkraft and discovered that Vorkosigan was in command. The crew then took a vote, and decided to attempt Cordelia’s rescue rather than leaving her in the hands of the Butcher of Komarr. They returned to the planet to look for her (with a ship that cannot be allowed to fall into Barryaran hands—it has a projector of some sort and I think I know what it does). They had hoped she had managed to lay low in the woods, but instead they found Radnov and Darobey, the conspirators Vorkosigan left behind to think in chapter four about what they’d done. Radnov and Darobey were very excited to meet up with the Betans, and found a way to make all of their plans work. They attacked the search party Vorkosigan sent to find them, stole their uniforms and their shuttle, and snuck aboard the General Vorkraft, where all the alarm klaxons are currently not a drill. They have a two hour window to find Cordelia and Dubauer and get the heck out of Dodge. Cordelia stashes her crewmen in her quarters and goes to find Aral. He’s on the bridge, busy with his own mutiny.

Aral’s mutineers are demanding the surrender of the General Vorkraft’s commanders. The Radnov-Darobey crew has gained control of life support, and is threatening to shut it off. Bothari is on the scene doing important mutiny-resisting things, like shooting out the loudspeakers on the bridge with his plasma arc. Aral is working on plans and contingencies with his officers. He sends an engineer off to attempt something clever, and then plans to rush the door. Vorkalloner objects to Aral’s plan to be first through the door, on the grounds that it means almost certain death. Aral stares Vorkalloner down, but then agrees that Bothari has earned the right to go first. Aral and Cordelia speak as he leaves the bridge. Aral says he won’t make that walk on the beach this summer. Cordelia withdraws her parole. Aral shares his end of life wishes—if he is incapacitated, he would like Cordelia to slit his throat for him. He suggests she stay in her quarters until this is over.

Cordelia returns to quarters, sends her boys to get Dubauer, and goes to settle a debt of honor, a phrase that, in this context, means stunning all the mutineers and talking Koudelka’s friend Tafas into destroying the General Vorkraft’s weapons control system. In the process, she is wounded by a glancing nerve disruptor blow to the thigh. After one last look at Vorkosigan, still planning to face certain death by charging the mutineers through a doorway, she heads for the shuttle that will take her back to her ship (which has been hiding behind the sun). Cordelia’s crew tells her that Koudelka was seriously injured when the shuttle was captured. Cordelia thanks her crew and asks for a moment alone.



There’s no romance here—it’s ALL space opera.

Betan votes will be the subject of insulting comments from characters throughout this series. I believe this is the only time a Betan vote is actually taken. I see Cordelia’s point about the need to protect the Rene Magritte and its equipment. However, in these circumstances, escape is a much more certain means of return than the diplomatic process Cordelia and Aral have been discussing. Their conversation is not a reliable indicator of their beliefs—How much in advance did Aral know about the mutiny? When did he find out that he was missing a search party? Was it, possibly, CHAPTER FIVE?

On the opposite side of the cultural coin from the Betan vote, we have Aral’s order of battle. As Vorkalloner points out, the first men through the door are as good as dead. Aral is embracing the warrior value of living each day as though he was already dead, while conceding that Bothari is living ever-so-slightly deader. This is an interesting echo of the sacrificial lamb conversation Cordelia and Aral had in the shuttle back in chapter four. If Bothari dies, he can’t answer any questions about Aral’s proposal. If Aral also dies, Cordelia is the only surviving witness to his attempt at sabotage. And the Betan embassy has just come to find her.

Aral and Cordelia’s conversation on the bridge has always struck me as a little clunky. My reinterpretation of the proposal last week calls for reconsideration of this too. Aral’s comment about the beach is a statement of regret, and sets the tone for the conversation he and Cordelia are having; Content must appear to be purely emotional. Aral has shared much more with Cordelia than his officers can be permitted to know. Cordelia’s withdrawal of her parole is an announcement that she is leaving. Observers could interpret this to mean that she will now fight to defend herself. It could also mean that she will oppose Aral, but he doesn’t take it that way. Instead, he asks her to kill him, in the unlikely event that Radnov and Darobey’s crew start the job but don’t finish it, and then are willing to let Cordelia near Aral with a sharp object. This sequence of events seems highly improbable. It makes sense that a soldier would talk about his death before a battle. But on the deeper level created by the context of Aral and Cordelia’s earlier conversation, Aral is saying that he knows the risks he has taken by giving Cordelia information to reveal, and he is willing to die to stop the invasion. If Aral is going to die by Cordelia’s hand, someone is going to have to take drastic action.

Vorkosigan planned to be first through the door/first to die until Bothari claimed to have earned the right, but Cordelia takes it from both of them—making herself the sacrificial lamb of the day. For a navigator and non-combatant, Cordelia is surprisingly good at stunning mutineers. She usually doesn’t think of herself as a soldier, but once again, I think she’s more of a militarist than she is willing to admit. She surprises herself in the engine room, but she must have learned tactics somewhere. I don’t think Miles has any idea that his mother ever did this. We know Cordelia and Aral don’t tell their son everything; It’s probably to Cordelia’s advantage to have Miles underestimate her. Surprise isn’t just an advantage in engine rooms.

I know what happened to Koudelka, but I’m upset every time I read the news of his injury. We never find out what he did during the rest of the mutiny.


Tune in next week for the war! The invasion of Escobar runs from chapter seven through chapter ten. My plan for next week is to get through chapter eight. I’m cautiously optimistic!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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