Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Warrior’s Apprentice, Chapter 21 and Epilogue

Miles arrives at Vorhartung Castle for his trial, and Ivan helpfully reminds him that he has to get out of the lightflyer now that he’s there. This week, he’s fighting for his life, and also auditioning for Barrayar’s next historical vid drama for children. Just like Vorthalia the Bold!

This is the LAST WEEK in the re-read of The Warrior’s Apprentice. Next week, we embark upon The Vor Game, which raises questions about when we get to talk about Jole. As stated, the reread spoiler embargo expires with the next book. I’m not yet certain whether that means “the very second we start reading it” or “when we actually meet Jole.” The final decision is, of course, mine, but I welcome input on this issue should the comments wander in that direction.


Miles arrives at his trial feeling distinctly less than heroic—he suddenly has sympathy for Baz’s fears. Inside the Council session, his father is maintaining a cool casual pose while while Admiral Hessman speculates about a treasonous father-son plot that accounts for Ivan’s disappearance, Miles’s behavior, and 275,000 missing Barrayaran marks. Miles counters with accusations of murder and sabotage against Hessman and Count Vordroza. There’s some yelling, and Hessman lobs some additional accusations at Vordroza and then Vordroza pulls a needler out of his robes. Ivan hits him first, but the rest of the counts join in tackling him.

Gregor has the next move. He calls a recess to examine Miles’s testimony, with Counts Vorvolk and Vorhalas in attendance. Henri Vorvolk is a cadet at the Imperial Military Academy, and one of Gregor’s personal friends. Vorhalas is the father of the boy Aral had executed for duelling, and of the boy’s brother, who fired the soltoxin grenade through the window. Aral fills Miles in on the local news—Illyan is in prison—and Miles tells his story, with some strategic omissions regarding Prince Serg. Miles and Aral both assure Gregor of their loyalty. Miles is not guilty of treason. Vorhalas threatens to charge Miles with violating Vorloupulous’s law. He makes Aral beg for his son’s life, which Aral does without hesitation. Aral and Gregor decide the best way to keep Miles out of trouble is to send him to the Imperial Military Academy. The Dendarii are to be incorporated into ImpSec. Miles goes home and buries Bothari.

In the Epilogue, Miles goes through free-fall training with his fellow cadets. He does just fine.


Previous discussion on the trial sequence has dealt extensively with the intricacies of the Barrayaran legal system, but at this level, it’s not that complex. There’s maneuvering for power, and negotiations and compromises, but basically everything turns on the Emperor’s word. Under Aral’s influence Barrayar is becoming more enlightened, but not less totalitarian. The Council of Counts votes to find Miles innocent in part because they were persuaded to and in part because they were Required.

I’m not unmoved by the workings of the Council of Counts, but I am more interested in the family dynamics at play here. Aral is now serving as Prime Minister, but he has been Regent until a fairly recent date. That put him in the role of father figure to Gregor. We have also seen him serve as a father figure to Ivan. It’s hard to have an impartial examination of evidence in a room with so many people who see Aral as Dad. Vorhalas has also been called in, and he serves as counter-dad, as well as representing his personal interest in perfect justice. I’m not sure what Vorvolk is doing there. He doesn’t have much to say. He is very impressed with Miles, who finally lives up to his childhood vid hero by not only making himself the hero of his own tale, but getting to tell that tale to an attentive audience.

Miles has thought a lot about his father over the course of this book. His lunch with Tung was a notable example, his relationship with Bothari a more subtle one. In his final conversation with Elena Visconti, Miles describes Bothari as “a father’s hand, held over me in protection all my life.” In that case, Miles describes himself as Bothari’s son while also acknowledging that Bothari was his father’s agent. Miles has lived through some very painful crises in the father-son relationship by proxy in the course of this story. Bothari’s death taught Miles to understand his father’s fears of loss. But if Miles is the apprentice to Bothari’s warrior, he’s also the apprentice to his father, who is, at this point in his career, a warrior of a different kind.

The battle Aral is fighting at this point is not just for his son’s survival, but the battle for Gregor’s independence and good judgment as Emperor, and the battle against Barrayaran brutality. In my heart, I believe that Aral Vorkosigan is a well-prepared politician. I believe that he has rehearsed his confrontation with Vorhalas a thousand times. He was never at peace with his decision to execute Lord Carl, and I don’t think it was hard for him to go to his knees, or to plead for Miles’s life. In the moment, he didn’t have to think about it.

The penalty Miles is facing for high treason is death by public starvation. If Miles was found guilty, this sentence would be carried out in the Great Square in Vorbarr Sultana. This is a horrible, brutal sentence, reflecting a culture with some horrible, brutal roots. I also think there are practical considerations that the Barrayaran criminal justice system may not have considered. There is no vote that the Council of Counts could take that would make Miles Vorkosigan die quietly. He proved that already, back when he threw himself off the wall—his dream of military service was too much of himself to give up, and he wished it into existence. I don’t know what Miles could cajole out of the dirt and stones of the Great Square, but I don’t think Barrayar is prepared for it. That specific sentence would have tormented Aral as well. I can imagine few forces with greater destructive power than Aral and Miles on joint maneuvers.

The Epilogue proves, once again, that having brittle bones is only an obstacle in the Imperial Military Academy admissions process, and not an actual impediment to space-fighting. Miles’s bionic stomach has cured his motion sickness, and he is a free-fall survival drill machine. He didn’t spend a ton of time in free fall while he was with the Dendarii, so this is all about that bionic chip and his flair for creative problem-solving. The most challenging problem Miles faces at this point is Barrayaran class tensions. Miles’s personal efforts in this story have been very impressive—he deserves to be in the Imperial Military Academy—but he’s there only because he’s Vor. His class privilege is very real. Miles realizes that he needs to work with it if he’s going to work well with other officers. Here, he invites Cadet Kostolitz to go knife shopping with him at a place he knows—“a hole in the wall.” I assume he’s talking about Siegling’s, which has the wall Miles’s mother put a hole in. I’m a little skeptical about how well that will work, but it’s a thoughtful effort.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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