Here’s the thing: I love Barrayar.
It’s a hideous horrible clump of dirt orbiting a sun somewhere a bunch of wormhole jumps and several centuries away. Its culture is godawful and masochistic. It is dismissive of women, callous to men, and completely horrible to anyone who doesn’t fit into its limited collection of Proper Barrayaran molds. It’s overdue for a Marxist revolution, but thus far its streets have run red with blood on several notable occasions without any substantial changes to its intolerable injustices. I don’t know why anyone puts up with it.
I am tired. I sprained an ankle falling off a horse a month ago, and when I went back to the barn today to ride for the first time since then, a horse stomped on my toes. I had to buddy tape three of them so I could walk the dog. I’m giving the toenails a 25% chance of survival. And I forgot it was Thursday (which it is—as I write this, it is Thursday); I thought I was done with this week, which has been full of reminders that I am a frail mortal who can’t stop the world from going to hell in a handbasket. I feel pathetic and whiny. I don’t know why anyone puts up with me, either.
Objectively speaking, Barrayar’s several flavors of awfulness are many degrees of magnitude worse than my own. Barrayar, however, comes through in the clinch. Last week, Miles got fired. This week, he goes home, gets a bottle of brandy and his grandfather’s knife, and lies on the floor for a day and a half. And then Barrayar helps him up.
Catatonia is a really bad sign. The severity of this episode reflects how horrible Barrayar has been to Miles. His life has been built around the old lie; He spent his entire childhood ardent for the desperate glory of being allowed to try to be a soldier. The first act of his adult life was to fabricate his military career from thin air by creating Naismith and turning the Oserans into the Dendarii. Twice. He could run to the Dendarii now. He doesn’t. This is partly because he can’t get off the floor, let alone the planet. I think, very deep down, Miles knows that Naismith’s time is over. Indeed, as I said a few blog posts back, I think Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan is trying to kill Admiral Naismith. He just doesn’t know what to do next.
Friends don’t let friends lie on their floors forever. The gate guard reports that Miles entered Vorkosigan House and has not left, so Illyan sends Galeni, who he construes as Miles’s friend because of their experiences together on Earth. Galeni gets Ivan, who he construes as having a family right to enter Vorkosigan House. Geleni seems skeptical about the friend thing, but I think if he didn’t see himself that he could have asked the Municipal Guard to do a welfare check, and not called Ivan. They dump Miles in a tub of ice. Ivan makes Miles shower and takes him out to eat. Except for the ice, this is basic mental health first aid. Ivan seems to have prior experience with Miles’s particular presentation. Ivan moves in to supervise further forward progress in Miles’s recovery—he demands that Miles take basic care of himself and hire staff.
Miles needs money. He calls his business manager, Tsipis. Tsipis sets him up an account with 85,000 Barrayaran marks and offers a briefing on the Vorkosigan Family financial holdings. I want a Tsipis.
Memory begins the trend in which the Vorkosigan Saga offers us amazing descriptions of food. Miles’s gate guard’s lunch is an thoughtfully curated collage of culinary delight that lays bare the pathetic and casual inadequacy of what I refer to as my work lunches, packed in what I refer to as my bento box, in a manner that I consider fancy. That’s all a lie. Corporal Kosti’s lunch is the only true lunch. I want creamy soup and fancy sandwiches with the crusts cut off. My cat deserves lettuce-wrapped meat-based sandwich paste. I think we all do, really. Corporal Kosti also has a brother, Martin, who can drive. I want a driver. Neither Martin or his well-fed brother ask further questions when Miles says he was medically discharged from the service. It makes sense to them and interrogating Miles is none of their business. Not interrogating people about their career-ending medical problems is a pretty low bar, but basic human decency is not a high standard.
Kosti’s lunch was lovingly created by his mother, who is bored at home. Miles had been planning to hire staff then discharge them once Ivan went away. Ma Kosti makes Ivan seriously consider never going away. I’d like to think she also gets in the way of Miles’s plan to fire everyone. Martin, who is preparing for the Service Academy entrance exams, is an obvious temp but Ma Kosti is forever.
Lady Alys interrupts Miles’s little domestic idyll to summon him to a meeting with Gregor, followed by an intimate luncheon at the palace. She delivers her condolences on the death of his career in the process, “it must be a great disappointment to you after all your efforts.” While I think Miles is right that this is a shockingly short number of words for the death of an alter ego Miles lived and loved in for the better part of a decade, at least she didn’t say “Everyone told you so.” The meeting is for Miles to apologize to Gregor, which he does. Lunch is to demonstrate Gregor’s ongoing trust in Miles by introducing him to Gregor’s feelings for Laisa Toscane. I don’t actually know that I want lunch at the palace when Ma Kosti is standing by at Vorkosigan House, but I am deeply attached to the non-food aspects of this lunch.
Laisa Toscane is very serious business for Alys, who is the only adult in Gregor’s life attending to the issue of how he’s going to produce an heir to the Imperial Campstool. Aral’s first marriage was arranged, and I imagine Serg’s marriage to Kareen was arranged as well—it seems like the kind of thing Ezar would have done. As Regent, Aral was building a better, brighter Barrayar, and I can see how arranging a marriage for Gregor didn’t really fit into that (despite what everyone would have thought if Miles had been a girl). I would think even he might have encouraged Gregor to think about marriage early, to assuage concerns and alleviate conflicts surrounding his succession. Apparently if Aral did that, he didn’t press the point. Alys has worked very hard on this, to no avail. Laisa is very beautiful, very bright, and, Alys speculates, maternally curvy. Who am I to second-guess Alys? There may be something in that, but I think Gregor maybe also needs a woman who likes Barrayaran fairy dust. He’s the living source of the fairy dust, and while he needs someone for Gregor-the-Man, his work will be easier if that someone admires the things he stands for too.
On this occasion, Gregor is expressing his feelings through lunch and a pony ride. There are cream cakes! Gregor has always liked cream cakes, since the very first time we met him and his stuffed toy, Steggie. Where is Steggie? I like Steggie. I like cream cakes. I like Gregor’s extremely pretty grey horse. Like Miles, I would happily eat my lunch off the horse’s hindquarters. I notice it didn’t step on Laisa’s foot. Gregor gives Laisa a leg up and a ride and a hug, and then, OMG I nearly swooned, a kiss on the palm of her hand. ON THE PALM. I need a cream cake.
My toes would very much like Ivan’s extra fifty kilos of ice.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.