Roic knows you were staring at him.
Everyone has had the dream where you’re at work, or school if you’ve ever been to a school, or maybe somehow both, and there’s a test or an emergency, or a test that IS an emergency, and everyone is there and you aren’t wearing any pants.
Roic has lived that nightmare, with a side helping of bug butter, if you can use the term “side helping” to describe a quantity of bug butter that is coating a person’s entire body. It escaped most people’s notice in the moment, but his underwear and sidearm were on backwards. Roic regards the incident as an unfortunate and humiliating lapse in the standards due to his liege lord, and one that explains why he is still on what appears to be permanent night duty.
Winterfair Gifts is a novella set after A Civil Campaign. Although it is short, I will be discussing it in three blog posts—this one focuses on Roic and Taura. The others will deal with the mystery and the wedding. The story has that title because it is set at Winterfair, which I presume is half a Barrayaran year away from Midsummer. I’m not quite sure how long a Barrayaran year is, but Roic seems to have been on night duty, looking for an opportunity to redeem himself, for a very long time.
The story opens a few days before the wedding, when Roic opens the gates for Miles’s Dendarii friends. Elena and Baz have brought their daughter, little Cordelia. Something must have changed in Baz’s legal situation to allow him to make this visit. I’m so happy for him! Arde Mayhew is also here—we don’t see him in conversation with Cordelia, but I hope they reconnected.
The fourth Dendarii guest is Sergeant Taura. In the days before the wedding, Miles wants her to have what I think of as a Barrayaran Disney experience. He sends her shopping for clothes with Lady Alys, and has Roic act as her bodyguard to protect her from the anti-mutant prejudices that run rampant in Barrayaran society. She gets to nibble an endless stream of Ma Kosti hors d’oeuvres.
Taura has been on my mind for the last few weeks, not just because she’s the protagonist here, but because of what she represents. Bujold’s stories create a class—several classes—of children who are separated from their parents. Bujold’s stories deal with children who aren’t just removed from their biological progenitors, they were never directly connected to them in the first place. Some of these children, like Mark and the clones he tried to rescue in Mirror Dance, have parents in the legal or biological sense but have no relationship with them. Some of these children—the first generation of Quaddies, Taura, Terrence Cee—are separated from the entire notion of having clearly identifiable parents.
These children are the heroic. The Quaddies freed themselves from corporate ownership to create their own zero-G space commune. Mark saved Miles and has gone on to take on the clone industry in the only way that works on Jackson’s Whole. Terrence escaped to Athos with his sister’s ovarian cultures to stick it to the Cetagandans and start a new life with Ethan. Taura’s story has been marked from its beginnings by her determination to make her own choices.
These children are also incredibly vulnerable. Parents are people who stand up for children, and when children don’t have parents or are separated from them, it’s often because of a deliberate attempt to make sure no one stands up for them. The clones on Jackson’s whole were created to be sacrificed so that amoral rich people could try to stretch out their lives. Galen tortured Mark and denied him the right to an identity of his own. After years of psycho-social manipulation designed to make them into compliant slave-laborers, the Quaddies were reclassified as “post-fetal experimental tissue cultures” to enable their extermination. Terrence and his sister were hunted by assassins. Taura was subjected to medical experiments, watched all her siblings die, and then was sold into sex slavery. When she fought back, she was imprisoned and starved. If anyone but the Dendarii had been sent to retrieve the tissue samples implanted in her leg, she would have died at sixteen.
She didn’t die.
When Miles rescues someone, he doesn’t stop until they are really rescued. This is not the same as really safe. Taura has built a career as a bodyguard and a commando. She is not safe; She understands her own power, and she makes her own decisions. More people should get that chance.
Taura is dying now.
Longevity wasn’t a need for the super soldier project that created her. She dyes her hair to cover the grey. Dendarii’s fleet medics keep telling her she probably has a year. She lives her days one at a time and tries not to miss any chances. Barrayar offers some interesting chances. Roic is an interesting chance. He’s intrigued by her height, her strength, and her military experience. He’s also very Barrayaran; He delays the progress of their romance with a casual anti-mutant remark about butter bugs, and then spends days wishing he had come up with a better way to express his feelings. Fortunately, Roic and Taura have a mystery to help them through their struggles. Join me next week for an in-depth look at Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding gifts!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.