This week, Mark, Kareen, Ekaterin, and Enrique visit the Vorkosigans’ District to look at possible new facilities for their butter bug enterprise. They also collect some rocks for Miles’s garden and some samples of Barrayaran native vegetation for Enrique, and have lunch with Tsipis. To his great dismay, Miles was excluded from this trip because there wasn’t room for him in the lightflyer. He seems to have taken a hand in the arrangements for lunch at the Count’s Residence in Hassadar. In other news, Mark and Kareen still aren’t having sex. They would both love to, but she doesn’t feel independent enough to flaunt Barrayar’s rules while living on the planet. She’s a very honest person—not the sort of person who feels comfortable leading a double life. Mark has led a double life before at several notable points in the past, and I don’t think he was comfortable with it either. He’s frustrated with Kareen’s decisions, but he keeps that to himself and respects her boundaries.
Mark also sort of respects Enrique’s efforts to rewrite the abstract of his thesis in sonnet form. This is the book that taught me that mucopolysaccharide is made of trochees (although you can use it in iambic meter if you put an odd number of syllables in front of it). Following an afternoon talking about plants and butter bug guts, Enrique is also harboring romantic longings for Ekaterin. I don’t know what it is about her—the conservative Vor mourning garb, her repeated announcement that she’s waiting out her mourning year, her diplomacy and quiet intelligence—she brings all the boys to the yard. This is why Vormoncrief has proposed to her father. In the opening of chapter eight, we learn about the Vorvane family’s reaction to this from Ekaterin’s sister-in-law, Rosalie, who has arrived in the capital to present Alexei’s proposal.
Rosalie reviews personal connections, financial standing, and career prospects before she gets down to brass tacks with the suitor’s name, so her presentation goes well until Ekaterin realizes that she’s not talking about Miles Vorkosigan. In fairness to the text, Ekaterin had some moments of ambivalence about the possibility that Miles sent the Baba. It brought the validity of her work on the garden into question, and raised concerns about falling back into another marriage trap. Alexei does not give rise to such ambivalence. Ekaterin has no interest in marrying him. At all. Rosalie presses his case by pointing to Ekaterin’s age (hardly relevant in these days of improved health care and assisted reproduction) and Nikki’s putative need for a father (I think his uncle might be an adequate male role model). Ekaterin gives herself away by admitting she thought Rosalie was talking about Miles, and the Profesora makes some revealing faces and suggests to that Ekaterin can do better than Vormoncrief. Rosalie offers to protect Ekaterin from “the mutie lord,” personally if her husband isn’t up to the task. Anti-mutant prejudice is absolutely not an effective appeal to Ekaterin, and it is certainly keeping Rosalie from noticing the writing on the wall. Ekaterin reflects on her feelings for Miles in the shower before going to work—she is far from indifferent to him. The question remaining about their relationship is not whether Ekaterin has sufficient interest to pursue Miles; She does. The question is the one Mark asked Tsipis at lunch in Hassadar—will Miles will be good for Ekaterin?
The opposite half of these two chapters deals with Lady Donna’s return from Beta Colony. Ivan was looking forward to this opportunity to revive their romance and restore his poor bruised ego. He’s been kept in the dark on the motion of impediment to Richars’s succession to the Vorrutyer’s District. Following Pierre’s death, Donna legged it for Beta Colony to get sex change surgery. Lady Donna is gone, long live Lord Dono. The late count died without an heir of the body, and Dono is his brother. This is a closer relationship that Richars claims as Pierre’s cousin. Dono’s reasons to object to Richars’s inheritance include suspicion that Richars has been involved in several crimes, although there has not been sufficient evidence to bring charges. Richars sexually assaulted Donna when she was twelve, and then drowned her puppy. No action was taken at the time, and Dono isn’t trying to press those charges now. It’s simply part of the case against Richars that is Dono’s to tell. Richars is a horrible person, and becoming Count of the Vorrutyer’s District would put more power in the hands of a horrible person until his death. This is one of the shortcomings of male primogeniture.
Dono’s plan to take the Countship for himself skirts around the problems of creating a clone or a son to inherit from Pierre. Dono is clearly an adult, and does not require a legal guardian. He would never put himself in Richars’s control. He has been involved in the work of managing the District for the last five years, so he’s familiar with ongoing projects. His resume is impeccable. The question is whether the Counts will accept him. Ivan, it turns out, has been lured along to witness the existence of Dono’s all-important male organ and to offer political advice. Ivan has long asserted that he is no one in Barrayaran politics, but he does kind of know some people. For example, he knows Gregor and how much Gregor hates being surprised. Ivan has a hard time wrapping his head around the situation, I think mostly because it’s so different from what he had in mind when he went to the shuttleport with a carefully selected flower arrangement, but he arranges a meeting with Gregor. Dono wants a public debate, a public vote, and his Emperor’s neutrality. He asserts that dealing with his case will force the counts to rationalize their traditional laws. Gregor agrees to stand out of Dono’s way and see what happens. Ivan agrees to take Dono to Miles’s dinner party as the very last favor he is going to do for Dono ever.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.