Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Barrayar, Chapters 3-4

We’re on Barrayar, so “life goes on” means someone tries to end you. In chapters 3 and 4 of Barrayar, Ezar’s death begins Aral’s regency, with some of the consequences Ezar worked so hard to guard against.

If you’d like to catch up on previous posts in the reread, 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.


Chapter 3 opens with the joint council session, which Cordelia attends with Lord Padma Xav Vorpatril, one of Aral’s staff and also his only surviving cousin, and with Drou. The session confirms Aral as Regent. In chapter 4, Emperor Ezar dies. Cordelia adapts to life as the Regent-consort and tries to understand Barrayaran culture.


The joint session combines the Council of Ministers and the Council of Counts. The Ministers wear purple and black. Except for those counts on active military duty, the Counts wear red and silver. I bet that looks great. In later books, they will all wear their personal liveries, and Miles will comment on the colors. Princess Kareen wears the Vorbarra House colors—black and silver, which sound like Victorian mourning updated just a smidge. Miles will later comment that the Vorbarras got really good colors. This is a great example of their versatility. Gregor wears a tiny little red-and-blue parade uniform. Steggie is not in attendance. I’m obsessed with Steggie this week. I assume he’s not fond of formal occasions, on account of the lack of cream cakes. But more seriously, Steggie represents Gregor’s inner life, and the glimpses we have had of that have been rare and intriguing. Emperor Ezar, also in parade uniform, is present via holovid so that anyone who votes no has to look at him while doing it. He’s not looking so good.

Padma Vorpatril is an interesting source of information about Aral’s younger days, having served under him during his first captaincy. Aral has always been political, but he was more conservative in his youth. His tolerance for alcohol is pathetically limited, and he spent a lot of time with Ges Vorrutyer in the “bad period” after his first wife died. Padma changes the subject quickly, despite having brought it up himself. I’m reminded that this was published in the early 90s, and Aral’s bisexuality was more scandalous then. It’s hard for me to tell if we were supposed to be shocked when Vordarian finally addresses the issue of Aral’s sexual orientation head on at the Emperor’s birthday or if we were supposed to have clearly known well before that point. Padma also points out Aral’s penchant for iambic pentameter, which Miles will come to share. The vote goes heavily for Aral—70 yeas with 5 abstaining. Even Vordarian votes in his favor. Cordelia thinks this is a promising sign. Padma points out that the Emperor demanded it.

The Vorhalas boys sit in front of Cordelia and Padma and deliver a lot of delicious gossip about Aral’s reputation. Cordelia enjoys this until they insult Koudelka and make Drou upset. Then she tells them off. Cordelia says Aral loves Koudelka as a son. Commander Vorhalas, nicer than his brother, asks if insulting the Lieutenant would result in him being sent to Kyril Island. These are very interesting comments, considering what’s going to happen to Aral’s son. When the ceremonies break for lunch, Aral introduces Cordelia to Count Vorhalas, whose brother she saw (through the bathroom door) at Escobar, and she’s officially introduced to her seat-mates, who now seem a little sheepish. When Koudelka drops all of his stuff, young Commander Vorhalas helps him pick it up. He explains, “I was almost hit by disruptor fire myself once. Scared the hell out of me. You are an example to us all.” And on that lovely note of courtesy and understanding, they part ways, not to encounter each other again until horrible tragedy strikes everyone involved. More than once.

The Emperor dies two weeks later. Emperor Gregor is present at his grandfather’s deathbed, supported by his mother but, once again, not his stegosaurus. I don’t mind Gregor being there to watch his grandfather die peacefully. Cordelia describes it as a gruesome scene; I think it’s merely morbid. It’s not bloody, or loud. There’s no uncertainty involved. The small group that has assembled places their hands between Gregor’s and pledges fealty. It’s very feudal. Captain Negri cries, briefly, in a way that does not infringe upon his manly dignity. Cordelia only knows because she’s standing next to him. The number of people who know about Serg’s assassination has now been reduced by 20%.

Over the next few days, all the counts and ministers pledge their fealty to Gregor, whose mom enforces hourly rest breaks. I hope he gets to spend them with Steggie and some cream cakes. Aral works long hours,. Cordelia gestates. Barrayar offers much more scope for biological reproduction that Beta Colony did. Barrayar is underpopulated, and the combination of the terraforming of its southern continent and the opening of Sergyar to settlement offers a lot of economic opportunity. Cordelia contemplates having six children. That’s a nice number. I can imagine her thinking about that for the next forty years. Cordelia is only mildly concerned about possible pregnancy complications because she’s constantly surrounded by guards who can summon medical assistance. She briefly imagines Bothari as a midwife. There’s so much foreshadowing here, I can’t see out of my left eye. Cordelia contemplates going home to Beta Colony for the birth, but decides she can’t because she tried to drown a psychiatrist in her fish tank that one time. She can handle Barrayar, with Aral by her side. Alas, this is one of Barrayar’s better days. Barrayar is about to dip into the darker parts of the cycle of abuse that are part of its annual orbit.

Chapter four is a light-hearted vignette about having guards everywhere. Guards are young and energetic! They have weekly hand-to-hand combat tournaments where Imperial Security spar with the Vorkosigan armsmen and Cordelia and Aral encourage Drou’s killer instincts. This is a nice showcase of two things we already know: Barrayar is mad crazy sexist, and Drou has a crush on Koudelka. In a post-tournament private discussion, Cordelia points out that Koudelka is rude to Drou at every opportunity. Aral points out that neither of them knows how the surgical repairs affecting Kou’s sexual functioning went. Kou and Drou could populate all of Sergyar with any cells they have on hand. I’m sure they could find ways to make each other happy, even if all the parts don’t work. Cordelia is totally with me on this. But this isn’t Beta Colony, and Kou doesn’t want to have a frank chat with Cordelia about creative alternatives. It’s a sensitive issue. Anyway, thanks again to Cordelia’s crew for accidentally enabling the mutineers who shot Koudelka with the filthiest weapon anyone has ever used as a sidearm. Barrayar gets a big chunk of the blame here, too. The Barrayaran military has stunners that make people unconscious, and plasma arcs that set things on fire. The only reason Barrayaran troops need anything more is so they can shoot people without lighting their ships on fire if they get boarded, but Cordelia is the only nerve disruptor victim we know to be shot on a ship. In the last chapter, Aral pointed out that servicemen who have been medically discharged have a very high suicide rate, so I guess cultural biases are helping contain the costs of rehabilitation.

Balancing that sobering thought is Cordelia’s attempt to write out the rules of Barrayaran culture. Bujold only tells us about the list and doesn’t actually show it to us, so it’s a permanent inside joke between Aral and Cordelia and we never get to know for sure.

Wasn’t that pleasant? Aren’t you enjoying this fish-out-of-water romance with notes of light political intrigue? GOTCHA SUCKAS, cause right now is when someone takes a potshot at Aral’s groundcar with a sonic grenade. They miss. Aral and Kou are OK. Until, you know, next time.

Next week, Gregor has a birthday and Cordelia and Kareen talk about politics.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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