Chapter 18 opens on Miles pacing the floor in the Council of Counts, waiting for Dono to arrive. This close to the climax of the A Civil Campaign, Bujold is doling out tiny chunks of action to prolong the suspense. Everything happening all at once is how life works. Everything being known all at once is how fiction works. We, as readers, know that Ivan has taken Dono et al to Vorpatril House, and that the vote on Dono’s countship, and on Rene Vorbretten’s, is taking place in the Council of Counts this morning. Miles only has some of this information. Fun fact: sessions in the Council of Counts start when it’s time, rather than when there is a quorum present. Or possibly, Counts endeavor to arrive on time so that there will be a quorum assembled at the appointed hour, but I can hardly believe that of Barrayar—this is science fiction, not high fantasy.
And suddenly, we’re back in the kitchen at the Vorthys residence, where Hugo and Vassily have returned like bad fairies. This morning, Alexei Vormoncrief has told them to expect the second coming of Vordarian’s Pretendership in the aftermath of the day’s Council vote. They need to rush Nikolai out of Vorbarr Sultana before the blood hits the walls. As an afterthought, they offer to take Ekaterin and her aunt along too. Hugo and Vassily are quite confident that Dono will lose his vote, and Richars will then charge Miles with Tien’s murder, and that the logical consequence of all of that is someone murdering Nikki. Nikki knows that Miles didn’t murder Tien. He knows quite a bit more about Tien than Hugo and Vassily do, and he’s suddenly not sure if he can simply tell his uncles that he had a chat with Emperor Gregor who told him the truth, and this is not what they think it is. Nikki is in a tight spot, and he’s nine.
In the US, separating a parent from a child is considered the civil equivalent of the death penalty. Until very recently, it has been incredibly difficult to do and even more difficult to maintain. Barrayaran law considers the bonds between a child and a parent of the opposite sex to be legally irrelevant. I don’t know how they’ve managed to get away with that for so long. In this case, Nikki thwarts Barrayar’s system of guardianship by being nine. He pitches a fit. It’s not even a particularly terrible fit. Bachelor Vassily is particularly terrible with children, destroying a moment when Nikki could have been persuaded to visit his uncle and cousins with a useless grab. What then, Vassily? You’re going to drag him all the way to the South Continent by the arm? Nikki locks himself in his Uncle Vorthys’s study and makes a call on the comconsole.
Gregor disappears briefly from the dias in the Council Chamber, but comes back.
Enrique and Martya are counting recovered Vorkosigan bugs in the lab when they’re interrupted by Escobaran law enforcement, which is here to arrest Enrique for skipping bail. Mark’s diplomatic immunity is working well—the Escoabarans can’t arrest him for anything, but they have been pursuing the warrant for Enrique’s arrest in the face of significant frustration. Parole Officer Gustioz thought he was going mad until he became reconciled to his despair. Sargeant Muno thinks the medications helped, too. I would read the Gustioz and Muno novel. I think it might be a lot like Blackadder. The butter bug enterprise relies on Enrique. Mark knows business, Kareen knows sales, Ma Kosti knows product development, and Ekaterin knows design, but only Enrique knows the delicate balance of the microbes in a butter bug’s gut. Things get heated. Containers of bug butter are thrown.
Back at the Vorthys household, ImpSec has arrived to detain all present. Why ImpSec? Because Gregor sent them. Why not send the Municipal Guard? Because Gregor commands ImpSec directly, and custody of Nikolai Vorsoisson is not a matter for the municipal authorities who have no information about Nikki’s father’s murder or about Nikki’s personal security needs. Contacting municipal authorities, explaining the matter, and detailing their resources for this would take longer and create more security issues than sending an ImpSec detail to do the job, even though it’s not particularly ImpSec-ish in nature.
The family crisis relocates to the chamber behind the Imperial dias in the Council chamber. Under questioning, Vassily admits to Gregor that the entire caper was Alexi Vormoncrief’s idea. Gregor resolves to find Lt. Vormoncrief a post where he may be less involved in political concerns. Gregor is probably doing Vormoncrief a huge favor—the kid could clearly use some distance from his Vorrutyer relatives. Gregor also urges Vassily to adjust his personal gullibility, which does seem like it must create significant obstacles to normal functioning in Vassily’s everyday life. I can’t imagine how he got through basic training. Gregor also decrees that Nikki may find the day’s council session educational. Ekaterin, Vassily, Hugo, and Professora Vorthys accompany Nikki to the spectators’ gallery. They pass By Vorrutyer on their way out.
With Nikki safely ensconced in the gallery, Dono finally makes his dramatic entrance. He is accompanied by Counts Vorpatril, Vorfolse, Vorhallas and Vorkalloner, all staunch conservatives. Were there an award for dramatic use of the cut direct in a science fiction novel, this scene would win it. They all ignore Richars. Debate begins in earnest.
Aaand we’re back at Vorkosigan House, where Roic has been hit by friendly fire and is now dripping with bug butter. Enrique’s defenders head into the lab and try to call for help.
Back in the Council of Counts, Rene yields his time to Dono who makes a brief argument for his succession to the Vorrutyer Countship, accompanied by information about his assault and Richars’s effort to take the decision out of the Counts’ hands. Aral, Cordelia and Ivan have now joined the crowd in the gallery. Everyone’s there! So many witnesses! In desperation, Richars brings up his accusation against Miles. Ekaterin is right there! Richars wants to talk about what she must have known and what she must have recently figured out. Ekaterin wants to put an end to this business. She proposes to Miles, and he accepts.
I’m of two minds about this. It’s gorgeous and romantic and somehow both impulsive and in perfect comportment with Ekaterin’s growth as a person and the evolution of the relationship between her and Miles. It is the Peter/Harriet proposal, inverted at last with Ekaterin taking what is hers and accepting what Miles can give her—like Harriet asking Peter to buy Talboys for her, and if you haven’t read Busmans’ Honeymoon yet, I really don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life or what you expect to get out of this book. Gaudy Night is also very good, and will never NOT be relevant. The gorgeous thing about those books is the way they bring two people together without changing the things that are essential to either one. That’s what’s happening here too. Ekaterin and Miles can finally be together because neither of them is asking for any kind of sacrifice or alteration from the other—those things are not proof of devotion. They come together as themselves, and accept the opportunities and the challenges that brings. They aren’t falling into the roles defined by the relationship, they’re defining those roles for themselves.
But while this is gorgeous and romantic and sexy as hell, it also makes no sense. I can’t see a reason why Ekaterin being engaged to Miles changes anything in re the conflict with Richars. Miles didn’t need to be engaged to fight against a murder charge. Ekaterin proposing to him doesn’t prove that Miles is not guilty. And as Richars just said “proof is where you find it”—Ekaterin proposing to Miles won’t mean anything to Richars unless he decides it does. BUT WHO CARES? Miles and Ekaterin are going to get married! I’ve wanted them to do that since Komarr! All the votes go their way! Dono gets the countship! Rene gets the countship! Richars gets arrested! Vormuir gets an Imperial decree ordering him to pay dowries for all of his daughters!
Mark has finally returned from his business meeting to find that Escobaran authorities are trying to abscond with his scientist. I’m taking Mark’s side here—we could parse the legalities, but that’s how Mark sees it. Miles arrives home for lunch with his future in-laws in tow to find his front hall a chaotic mess. This scene brings Miles full circle and lets him play the Little Admiral like he did when he was seventeen. He mutters at the paperwork, then declares Vorkosigan House an embassy and refuses to extradite Enrique. That could be true, but as Miles knows, it’s more important that Muno and Gustioz believe it. Miles probably could call in an Imperial favor to prevent Enrique’s extradition, but that would take time and Miles needs to protect Ma Kosti’s investment portfolio. Miles tells Pym to tell Ma Kosti they will be seating ten for lunch. The Escobarans leave empty-handed—they don’t even get a sandwich.
Next week: Gregor finally gets married!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.