Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Barrayar, Chapters 11-13

At the end of last week’s post, Negri was dead on the lawn beside the lightflyer. Two Impsec men were performing CPR. Gregor was in Drou’s arms. Drou was accused of sabotaging the comconsole, and is consequently about to be arrested. Miles is gestating in the Imperial Military hospital in Vorbarr Sultana. Kareen is with Vordarian in the Palace. Cordelia is heading into the woods. Aral is going to Hassadar. Armsman Esterhazy is going to get the horses. Welcome to the the War of Vordarian’s Pretendership. Chapters 11-13 of Barrayar deal with the Backcountry Campaign—the effort to keep Emperor Gregor out of Vidal Vordarian’s hands.

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.


Aral and Piotr’s argument is tabled by unspoken agreement as they carry out their crisis plan. The timing of the coup was a surprise, but Vidal’s plotting was not—Aral had been planning to oversee his arrest that night. Aral assigns Bothari to Cordelia, ordering I’m to obey her voice as his own. Piotr, Bothari, Cordelia and Gregor fly away in Negri’s light flyer, and meet Esterhazy a short distance from the house. Piotr launches the light flyer and Negri’s corpse into the deepest section of the lake. They continue their flight from Vordarian’s forces on horseback. Aral heads for Tanery Base Shuttleport. Meanwhile, Vordarian’s forces take the Vorkosigan armsmen’s families hostage, including Bothari’s daughter Elena, and conduct fast penta interrogations of most of the population of the hill country. Once Gregor is safely hidden at an undisclosed location, Cordelia and Bothari join Aral at the shuttleport.


I really like horses. Seeing them here cheers me up. Like Gregor! Piotr hasn’t picked horses for his means of transport into the mountains purely because he likes them; the effort to hide the emperor requires an untraceable means of transport that will allow Gregor and his escort to appear unremarkable to thermal scanners, and horses are an unremarkable mode of transport in the Barrayaran back country. Piotr’s armsmen have cavalry training, and Gregor is tiny enough to be carried by another rider. Cordelia is really the sole obstacle to the efficiency of this plan. Her horse, Rose, is a paragon of sweetness and stamina, which is helpful but difficult to appreciate when you’re recovering from a traumatic c-section and have never been on a horse before. Although he has put aside the argument over Miles for now, Piotr is clearly nursing a True Vor grudge. The other accouterments of the True Vor are also on display here—the military experience, and the network of guerrilla operatives throughout the District. Vorishness feels very real in this section.

Cordelia grits her teeth through the horse trek (and keeps her incision closed using good thoughts and fairy dust, as far as I can tell), and then applies herself to tactics. Her ingenuity draws a division of Vordarian’s troops into a wild goose chase through an empty cave. This is reminiscent of her work in the General Vorkraft mutiny, and I like to think that Aral was able to spot it as her work even before they were reunited.

Kareen’s work is harder to spot. Gregor is able to give Cordelia a child’s eye view of events in the capital prior to his escape. There was a battle between Vorbarra liveried men and “soldiers,” who told Kareen and Gregor to come with them. Negri led a small force to stop the soldiers from taking Kareen and Gregor in an aircar. A soldier grabbed Gregor from Kareen, who grabbed back. This is when Gregor lost one of his shoes. Captain Negri shot the soldier who had Gregor. Negri took Gregor, and the soldiers took Kareen.

My last impression of Kareen was that her efforts to let things cool with Vordarian did not seem terribly effective. I don’t know if Vidal ever did, or ever will, truly care for Kareen, but he certainly does care for the idea of himself as “something more.” He would like to save Barrayar from tyranny. Serg’s death is not really a problem for him—Vidal was not in on the true meaning of the Escobar War, and while he might have understood Kareen’s fears, I don’t think he understood Ezar’s. All Vidal needs to support his ambitions is a new tyrant. It’s not an inaccurate label for Aral. Vidal might even believe his own propaganda that he’s acting on Gregor and Kareen’s behalf.

But what is Kareen doing? At the Emperor’s Birthday, Kareen claimed she had no interest in power. She only wanted to survive. I believe that she was being sincere; Kareen would only move against Aral if she thought he was a threat to her and Gregor’s survival. I also thought Serg was the last corpse at the end of “Aftermaths”—I can be wrong. Before Ezar died, Kareen felt safe enough to send Drou to Cordelia. Drou’s knowledge of the palace and her close relationship with Kareen and Gregor would have been too valuable for Kareen to give up, and far too valuable give to Kareen’s enemies, if Kareen was planning a palace coup at that point. Drou’s weekly return to give Gregor judo lessons shows that Drou continues to be closely connected to the Vorbarra family. I suppose they could plot against Aral’s regency for an hour or so surrounding those sessions. But Drou is spending most of her time with Cordelia now. It seems unlikely that Kareen would exploit her son in this way in return for a once a week scheduled meeting with a co-conspirator who is otherwise under the constant surveillance of a woman who Kareen must consider an enemy, if Kareen was directly involved in Vordarian’s plot. And Kareen was under Negri’s surveillance herself. Negri’s mission was to protect Gregor, and he had an obvious interest in stopping Vordarian’s coup. If Kareen had been involved, the process of gathering evidence against Vordarian would have been much simpler for Negri.

The question of where Kareen’s loyalties lie is sufficiently troubling to occupy Aral, Drou and Cordelia in later portions of the book, and I’m not done with the question either. It’s possible that Kareen saw Aral as a threat. It’s possible that Negri had some evidence against Kareen that he had not shared with Aral, for reasons of his own. I continue to think that, at most, Kareen gave Vidal her conditional approval for his actions, and he planned and initiated the coup without her input. We will be circling back to this point.

Gregor will also address his own role—“A soldier grabbed me, and Mama grabbed me back, and that’s what happened to my shoe. It came off in her hand. I should have… fastened it tighter in the morning.” Barrayar makes its survivors think in shoulds and ellipses. Aral should have grabbed the carving knife, taken his first cut from Yuri’s throat, been executed for dueling in his youth, and slept in a separate bedroom. Cordelia should have insisted on the uterine replicator. Miles will have his own collection later. Gregor is understandably traumatized here. But he uses a horse to court Laisa in Memory rather than a robot stegosaurus—I take this as a sign of his eventual recovery.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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