Last week, Cordelia was captured, which turned out to be bad luck for Admiral Vorrutyer. She’s free now, and Aral has come charging through the door. This week, we’re looking at chapters 8 through 10. Cordelia and Aral crowd into his quarters with a mostly unconscious Bothari and talk about their problems.
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 or about that book should be whited out.
Aral charges into Vorrutyer’s quarters, plasma arc at the ready and puppy-faced Simon Illyan in tow. Illyan’s presence puts a damper on Aral and Cordelia’s reunion, as does the presence of Bothari, who is in a bad state, and Vorrutyer, who is deceased. They decamp to Aral’s quarters, across the hall, and then Aral and Illyan dash off to raise the alarm about Vorrutyer’s death, triggering a ship-wide search for Cordelia and Bothari. When Aral and Illyan return, Aral is confined to quarters on the Prince’s orders on suspicion of conspiring with Bothari. Illyan’s eidetic memory chip compels Aral and Cordelia to be circumspect in their conversation.
Chapter 9 opens with Cordelia and Bothari hiding in the bathroom while Aral discusses the upcoming attack on Escobar with the Prince and Admiral Vorhalas. The Prince is planning to personally lead his men. Aral protests. The Prince feels he has a point to prove; he storms off to invade Escobar. Vorhalas promises to sign Aral’s formal protest and then leaves to join the Prince. Aral is still confined to quarters. Bothari has now been sedated for so long that he’s stopped breathing. A combination of CPR and more drugs saves his life, and then Aral has to type up the fastest formal protest ever. They wait for dispatches from the front lines. When they finally come, they reveal that, although Escobar’s forces had been retreating, they are now returning fire with astonishing power. The Barryaran forces are overwhelmed. A call from the Tactics Room reveals that the Prince’s ship has been destroyed. With the Prince and Vorhalas dead, Aral is now in command of the fleet. He orders the flagship closer to the wormhole to cut communications lag, and calls for a full retreat. Aral explains plasma mirrors to his commanders, and claims he got the information from Cordelia by questioning her while she slept. Illyan congratulates him; Cordelia is furious. Aral heads to the tactics room to bring his soldiers home.
In chapter 10, Illyan removes Bothari from the room, leaving Cordelia alone. This gives her time to think, and to realize that Aral must have been lying about interrogating her. She realizes that Aral’s discussion of men in green silk rooms, while they waited, revealed the Emperor’s plot to destroy his enemies—including his own son.
Cordelia does not have another chance to talk with Aral before Illyan moves her to the brig. She briefly has a cellmate—a beautiful young woman who is removed by the ship’s surgeon. Cordelia is confined alone for a few days while the ship is hit by enemy fire and then jumps through a wormhole. Illyan returns to escort her to the shuttle that will transfer her to the POW camp on the still-unnamed planet where she and Aral first met. Illyan tells her that Aral is fine, that the war is over, and that the wormhole has been blocked with fire ships.
In the POW camp, Cordelia informs her fellow prisoners that the war is over. Her pilot, Parnell, begins spreading the rumor that Cordelia killed Vorrutyer, causing the collapse of the Barryaran advance. Cordelia looks forward to going home.
When Bujold decides to go dark, she does not pull her punches.
I miss the days when Bothari shot from the hip. His current levels of torment are devoid of purpose and meaning. Being close to God—2/10, do not recommend.
I’m excited to see Illyan here, in Aral’s back pocket. Technically, Illyan is a member of the Emperor’s personal security staff, here performing the role of monitoring Aral in order to limit further morbidity and mortality among Ministry of Political Education staff. I know I’m going to grow to love him and his eidetic memory chip, but he does not make a good first impression. Illyan kept Aral from intervening when Vorrutyer was torturing another woman a month ago. She’s in Bothari’s quarters; we’ll hear more about her soon. To be fair, killing Vorrutyer too early might have interfered with Aral’s ability to carry out the rest of his orders. Illyan also leaves Cordelia to sedate Bothari on her own, which leads to Bothari breaking two of Cordelia’s ribs. Again, in fairness, Illyan was alerting the command staff to Vorrutyer’s death at the time, and helping Cordelia wrestle Bothari might have left him with injuries that were hard to explain. Illyan congratulates Aral for his interrogation of Cordelia, which is alleged to have taken place while she was sleeping and to have involved interrogation drugs obtained from the ship’s surgeon. It’s a lie, but Illyan is a recording device not a polygraph machine. Finally, Illyan delivers Cordelia to a cell in the brig, where she is left in solitary confinement for several days. And, in the interests of being completely fair to Illyan, there is some evidence that he was extremely busy. Aral doesn’t drop by, either. I’ve had more time to get to know Aral; I’m blaming Illyan. I want to slap his adorable puppy face.
We don’t get to see Aral and Cordelia alone together very often, and in fact, they aren’t alone here. Bothari’s sedation offers a level of almost-privacy that allows them to be more forthcoming with each other than they have been since they compared youthful relationship mistakes. Nonetheless, these are not auspicious circumstances. Our heroes have found each other very far from home. They dream of home. In their most romantic moment, Aral asks Cordelia if she would consider marrying a Judo instructor.
Since they last met, Aral has been charged with treason. The charges remain in legal limbo. Cordelia does not discuss her role in alerting Escobar and its allies to the coming invasion. They sit together and talk about politics as they watch the tactical reports from the front. The invasion’s inevitable failure is largely due to Aral’s own actions, and that inevitability made it uniquely suitable to the Emperor’s purposes as well. That’s why the Barryaran fleet is in Escobaran space with no information about plasma mirrors. Aral is waiting for all his friends to die because of the tragic intersection of his Emperor’s efforts to prevent future tragedy with his own.
Tune in next week for chapters 11 and 12—Cordelia’s chaotic time in solitary confinement becomes a metaphor for her struggle to return home.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.