Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Warrior’s Apprentice, Chapters 13-15

This section of The Warrior’s Apprentice winds steadily closer to the day when the mercs don’t get paid. He knows that financial destruction is looming on the horizon, but Miles seems to be covered in glory. Miles captures a Pelian ship (it goes with the refinery!) and finally sees something resembling combat. It’s hard to say without a direct encounter with the enemy, but Miles seems competent in his debut as a space marine. ONCE AGAIN, I assert that the Imperial Military Academy’s admissions criteria are screening out talented applicants (a category that includes both Miles and Elena). Miles’s success inspires the Felicians to hire him to break the Oseran blockade AND to promise to pay him in galactic currency once they get some. I’m such a sucker for fictional hyperinflation. I’m mentioning it now because the rest of this blog post has bigger fish to fry.

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.

Trigger warnings—this section deals with the treatment of prisoners at Escobar

SUMMARY

Elena Visconti kills Bothari.

COMMENTARY

Another brutally short summary, and one that is only fair in that it is sharply focused on the most significant event in this section. A great deal more happens in these chapters as Bujold maneuvers the chess pieces into position for the most significant death in Miles’s life so far. Elena Visconti was recruited by the Dendarii after they took over the refinery. She’s an accountant—money is a big theme in this book. Miles noticed the physical resemblance between her and Elena Bothari, and checked her service record. Miles invited Elena Visconti to his quarters on the evening that she shot Bothari.

Miles thought the loss of his grandfather was huge—and it was, we see Miles clinging to his grandfather’s memory through the knife he carries with him—but Bothari’s death is exponentially more significant. Bothari has not been a parent to Miles; He has not carried parental responsibility. He has been a bodyguard, and the relationship between a boy and his bodyguard is complex. Bothari saved Miles’s life three times, once from Miles himself. Bothari has stood by Miles’s side his whole life, but never in his way. Miles doesn’t need Bothari’s permission, and he doesn’t rely on Bothari’s support. He’s just always been certain that Bothari would be there. At one point in this section, Miles reminds himself that he hasn’t requested the Sergeant’s nocturnal presence on the grounds that there were monsters in his closet since he was four. And when Miles was four, I imagine that Bothari bedded down on Miles’s floor for the weeks and months until that phase passed, because he was a good bodyguard. If Miles has been the warrior’s apprentice, Bothari has been the warrior. He is the giant on whose shoulders Miles stood, in a very literal sense. If you choose to see Elena as the apprentice, Bothari has been her warrior too, teaching her the skills she has been fearlessly applying since she left her home planet, although his approach to parenthood is a heavy weight.

Whatever else Bothari was, he wasn’t a good man. He was a broken man, whose life and psyche defied repair. This book highlights his neuroses rather than his more severe psychological problems. Elena Visconti’s accusations before she shoots him are reminiscent of the conversation Bothari had with Cordelia at Vorkosigan Surleau, where they agreed that he was no less a rapist for not having raped her. Elena spells out details of her torture that were only implied before: Prince Serg liked pregnant victims, Vorrutyer liked to watch, Bothari was their tool. More information leads to more questions. In Shards of Honor, we saw Elena being escorted out of her cell in the brig on Aral’s flagship. When Cordelia encountered her later, Elena had no memory of her torture. After that, Joan Sprague told Cordelia that Elena had been tortured and had her memory altered to cover it up. The uterine replicators are delivered to Aral’s office between Cordelia’s last conversation with Elena Visconti and her discussion with Sprague. How did the placental transfer line up with Elena’s memory modifications and their later reversal? Did she consent herself, or was that done for her, the way Cordelia’s mother consented to drug therapy? Elena says she had heard the fetuses were used for experiments. Is she shocked to find she has a daughter, or just shocked to find herself staring that daughter in the face?

Miles instantly knows that Bothari’s death was suicide. Bothari was cleaning weapons when Elena came into the room, and he had a fully charged plasma arc in his hand. Bothari has been so many things to so many people—a good soldier to Aral, a hero to Cordelia, a good bodyguard to Miles—and in his last moments he is what Elena Visconti sees. His death is a good vengeance. Miles steals it from her by claiming the incident as an accident. I suppose his lie saved a lot of paperwork.

Once you know it’s there, Bothari’s death is the focus of the action. Miles’s relationship with Bothari is one major focus of this section. Bothari makes Miles promise to return his body to Barrayar, to be buried at Cordelia’s feet. Miles never really wonders about Bothari’s strange relationship with Miles’s mother; He’s been too busy with the mystery of Elena’s mother to take time for his own. We will later find that Miles and Bothari have both overlooked some of the Countess’s plans.

Elena Bothari is coming into her own throughout this section. She’s always been mature for her years, and she’s always been much more independent of her father than Miles is. She spent far less time with him than Miles did. This might have been to her benefit, but if Bothari’s presence was detrimental to development, Cordelia and Aral would never have tolerated it. At this point, Elena is like a human Swiss Army knife; She stands in for her father as Miles’s bodyguard, she acts as his executive assistant, and she teaches unarmed combat classes. I don’t know how she found the time to be nuzzling Baz Jesek. Miles has to pry Bothari off Baz by threatening to injure himself in a futile attempt to use physical force. This is also the section where Miles introduces Elena to the tactics he is trying to teach himself. Miles muses on the injustice of Ivan being deeply engaged in training for which Elena would never be considered, in case you had forgotten about Barrayaran sexism.

Miles captured Captain Tung in the section we covered last week, and here they have lunch. Tung is another potential warrior, if you’re looking for candidates, and Miles needs all the instruction he can get. Their conversation is overtly focused on tactics, but the subtext is about fathers and sons. Tung shows Miles how his father looks to an outsider. Tung has followed Aral’s career since Komarr, where Tung was a young mercenary fighting on the Komarran side. Miles and Tung’s discussion of the Escobar War is an interesting contrast to Elena Visconti’s description. Miles knows his father doesn’t like to talk about it. Tung sees it as a defensive counterpart to the offensive brilliance Aral displayed at Komarr (Tung does not mention the massacre). Elena Visconti will describe it as a personal hell created by the Barrayaran high command’s unchecked power. I don’t think she would be surprised if she learned the truth. At the conclusion of their lunch, Tung and Miles offer each other jobs.

Tung reads Miles as a junior officer in over his head, but with a flair for human resources. Miles is indeed over his head. When the Felicians finally pay him, it’s in millifenigs—the most ominously-named currency on any world I’ve ever heard of. Miles considers building a fort with his pay, or papering the walls of Vorkosigan House. He sets a guard on it anyway; His forces don’t know the exchange rate. Tung will later speculate that the millifenigs make an eye-catching toilet paper, when he comes back to accept Miles’s job offer. Admiral Oser has made some severe strategic errors in the care and handling of the Captain.

Miles is flailing to find a way to get himself, Elena, his surviving armsmen, and Elli Quinn out of the war zone and back to Beta Colony. He does not know how he will pay for Elli’s reconstructive surgery, or the RG freighter, now stranded in Tau Verde space for the indefinite future. He suspects his financial problems are becoming inescapable. He briefly considers resorting to parental help. I think this would be fun to see—Aral would almost definitely have to send Cordelia, who would look for clever, almost-surgical solutions to the military problems at hand. Miles would be humiliated, but Elena Bothari and I would probably have a real good time.

Bothari’s death steals some of Miles’s forward momentum. We open next week with Miles staring at a coffin that will never lie at Cordelia’s feet.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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