Chapter 27 has Serious Plot Business in it, and chapter 28 sets up the next phase of Miles’s life. This section also has Winterfair, a litter of kittens, a snowstorm, and the Emperor’s betrothal ceremony.
This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Non-spoiler comments should also be relevant to the discussion at hand. Like Earth, Barrayar and other places in the galactic nexus live out sets of cultural practices that range from beautiful to genocidal. Regardless of what may be commonplace as a cultural practice in any place at any time, comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.
As much as I’m dying to get to the second set of things, even I have to admit that Gregor’s prison-cell interrogation of Haroche is amazing. Illyan’s comment about not being able to remember Haroche’s accomplishments is a devastating rebuke for Haroche’s attack. I’ve been on the record as a huge fan of Emperor Gregor since his starring role in The Vor Game (if not earlier—I think my affection for five-year-old Gregor in Barrayar was both obvious and easy to understand). In this scene, Gregor wins the prize for Most Effective Application of the Cut Direct by a Political Leader in a Mid-Size Multi-Planetary Empire. It’s the second-best cut direct in literature, just after the one in Max Beerbohm’s “Enoch Soames.”
I also feel compelled to acknowledge Miles’s meeting with the rest of the Imperial Auditors. Vorhovis does most of the talking. Vorthys is present, but a bit in the background. Up to this point, these two have been the younger Auditors and they’re excited to have someone young and spry to take on the dirty work traditionally assigned to the junior Auditor. In the grand scheme of lives and careers, thirty years does not seem like a long time to take in finding one’s way. Miles has always looked older than he is, and his journey has been so extraordinary that it has been easy to mistake it for the destination. Miles gets his captain’s tabs along with an Auditor’s chain. I’m so pleased for him.
ONWARD! THIS BOOK HAS KITTENS!
In the manner of all unspayed outdoor cats, Zap the Cat has gotten herself pregnant, and then had some babies on Miles’s boots. Which boots? The very boots he needs to wear to the Emperor’s Betrothal! They’re brown. There are six kittens. Zap graciously suffers Countess Cordelia to hold them. I strongly recommend that animal control in Vorbarr Sultana consider a trap-neuter-release program. Unless they really need a lot of feral cats for some reason. Perhaps they want to murder all the birds that (I presume) their ancestors carefully imported from Earth. Or perhaps Barrayar is like Athos in that its early colonists only brought chickens. That’s entirely possible—Bujold doesn’t always tell us all the details. As far as I can tell, no one on Barrayar has ever seen a dog, but they all seem comfortable referring to dogs metaphorically, even Bothari who didn’t have the benefit of a classical education.
Gregor and Laisa’s betrothal ceremony has been scheduled to coincide with Winterfair. This means the weather is horrible and Aral arrives at the last minute, going straight to the Palace from orbit. Miles’s account of the ceremony focuses on the reading of the Admonishments, which is his part, as Gregor’s second. Laisa is wearing Komarran styles in Barrayaran seasonal colors. Bujold’s brief description—“jacket and trousers”—could refer to almost anything. She could be dressed like Kate Middleton at a polo match, or like Chairman Mao. Miles is wearing his house uniform, including the boots (now clean).
I’m surprised that a ceremony of this significance didn’t require rehearsals, and that Laisa seems not to have been fully apprised of the contents of the Admonishments in advance. Some editing has taken place—Miles notes subtle rewording to remove any suggestion that the duty to produce heirs requires the use of the bride’s own personal womb. I would think Laisa should have had a hand in it. Miles also points out that the traditional exchange of gifts no longer involves a blunted scalpel from the bride’s mother. I’m thrilled to hear it, but also a little underwhelmed by the impacts of Barrayaran progressivism.
Laisa has to rely on reassuring hand signals from Cordelia. Ivan has also sought reassurance from Cordelia lately, although he was not pleased with the results. Ivan has just discovered that his mother and Illyan are an item, and he hasn’t yet realized that this is yet another sign of his mother’s impeccable taste. He’s appalled by their vacation plans. I don’t know what Ivan has against fruit on little sticks. Miles offers him a kitten. Illyan, meanwhile, has been acquiring the accouterments of adult civilian life—he’s found an apartment. With her typical tact and grace, Cordelia has given him a map and a digital voice recorder. Memory predates the invention of smartphones.
When Illyan moves, Miles moves as well. He takes over his grandfather’s suite on the second floor of Vorkosigan House, and plans to use the rest of the second floor as his personal household even when his parents are in residence. I’m glad to see Miles decide that he can take over his grandfather’s space—in Vorkosigan House and on Barrayar—while being fully himself.
Next week—Miles breaks the news to Elli.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.