Welcome back to the Vorkosigan reread! This week, we finally reach the most essential point in Winterfair Gifts—Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding.
Last we heard, this wedding was planned for autumn. It was rescheduled because Ekaterin “wasn’t ready.” I’m not sure what that means in this context—busy with schoolwork? Unable to get a dress on that timeline? But Miles is a man of his word, and he wanted an outdoor wedding in Ekaterin’s Barrayaran garden, so Midwinter be damned, he’s filling in the bare spaces in the garden with ice sculptures, and m’lord and lady’s guests can shiver! At least, they can shiver for the length of the ceremony; The reception will be inside Vorkosigan House.
Ekaterin’s pre-wedding nerves were severe enough to camouflage the early symptoms of her poisoning. It’s not because she’s wary of marrying Miles; Taura reminds Miles that recruits facing their second combat mission suffered more than recruits facing their first. Miles has never been married before, but he is suffering from nerves too. From the early days of A Civil Campaign, Miles has made Ekaterin’s safety a priority. The effort to poison her to get to him suggests that his efforts have been insufficient. In the middle of the night before his wedding, Miles is completely out of his mind with a combination of relief that Ekaterin isn’t going to die in the middle of their wedding in her picturesque, artistically frozen Barrayaran garden, and anxiety that his enemies will get to her just a little bit later.
I have advantages Miles doesn’t—I’ve read the entire series plus repeated comments from Lois McMaster Bujold asserting that Miles will die at age 57, leaving Ekaterin once again a widow. I’m not looking forward to Miles’s demise, but no one is 57 today so I can enjoy this story without Miles’s worries hanging over my head. And there’s A WEDDING!
In most Barrayaran weddings, what I notice is a lot of groats. Miles’s wedding has a lot more to offer than groats. Ivan is Miles’s Second. Aral has put the fear of… well, Aral, into him to prevent any jokes. Nonetheless, he has managed to arrange a discreet ice sculpture of humping bunnies near the wedding site in the garden. Even Aral finds it funny. Ivan is wearing his House livery, which seems usual for Vor men on formal occasions. Miles is wearing his too. I don’t know what non-Vor Barrayaran men who haven’t served in the armed forces wear on formal occasions. I think it’s possible that they don’t know either. Illyan is not in uniform tonight, but he has Alys to tell him what to wear.
Miles’s parents kick off the festivities by making sure that Miles is appropriately drugged. Cordelia makes him take a sleeping pill the night before, and Aral slips him a double-dose of tranquilizers in the morning. I’m amazed that he can walk. Clearly, Cordelia and Aral know a lot more than I do about their options for pursuing a better Miles through chemistry. Once everyone has had their meds, General Allegre pops in for a pre-wedding intelligence briefing on recent events. Taura is in glorious attendance, eating snacks and offering bracing remarks. Ekaterin, finally free of both neurotoxins and wedding nerves, is also present. She’s not dressed for the wedding yet, but her hair has flowers braided into it. More importantly, her eyes indicate that she is wildly in love. She decides to wear the pearls—now carefully cleaned—as a gesture of defiance towards Miles’s enemies.
Martya is scheduled to stand as Ekaterin’s Second, in place of her sister, Kareen, who is away on Beta Colony. Kareen and Mark couldn’t make the travel time work with their school schedules. I miss them terribly, but honesty compels me to admit that I didn’t actually notice their absence until the third readthrough in one week. This story is pretty jam-packed, and it would be very different if Mark were here. He has sent his brother and new sister-in-law a gift certificate to the Orb as a wedding present. I feel like this is kind of an awkward gift—like getting a vibrator from your great-aunt. I might be too much of a prude to live on Beta Colony. Martya abdicates the Koudelka sisters’ role as Second to Taura at the last minute, in recognition of Taura’s role in saving Ekaterin’s life. Meanwhile, Pym frisks her date, Enrique, to make sure he isn’t carrying any unexpected gifts.
Miles had considered involving horses in the ceremony; At one point, he had a plan to bring Fat Ninny to Vorbarr Sultana. Somehow, this plan was deemed impractical. Lady Alys acts as Coach. Taura looks amazing. We’re getting Roic’s POV, so there’s not much in the way of description of what Ekaterin is wearing. Per Barrayaran tradition, there are plenty of groats. My favorite part of a Barrayaran wedding is when the Groom’s Second breaks the circle of groats to let the bride and groom out. Ivan does the honors here, of course, with the kind of panache you get when wearing a perfectly tailored blue-and-gold uniform. Once the happy couple has been set free, we get a tradition we’ve never seen before, the Armsmen’s Shout. I’m all for organized shouting.
Weddings are about relationships, and this one deals with a few. Aral establishes himself as an indulgent grandfather by giving Nikki a bag of fireworks. In a follow-up to an early moment in A Civil Campaign, Nikki meets Arde Mayhew and presses him for piloting stories. I hope their friendship grows over the years so that Arde can one day tell Nikki about Miles’s first adventure. Maybe not today. But we all need that story at some point. The Vorbrettens and the Vorrutyers are here—I presume things are going well for them even though we don’t get the details. Dono should be married to Olivia, and the Vorbrettens’ baby should be due in about 3 more months. Duv and Delia get a similar brief mention, along with acknowledgment that they are now married. Gregor and Laisa are in attendance as Count and Countess Vorbarra, since this is a relatively informal occasion. This allows Miles and Gregor to treat each other as foster brothers. In the gap between The Vor Game and Memory, it’s easy to forget how close Miles and Gregor are. And of course, in recognition of his heroism, Roic gets a reprieve from his six-months of night duty purgatory—time to spend with Taura, seizing brief life with both hands.
Miles and Ekaterin are going to spend a few days at Vorkosigan Surleau, first alone and then with their off-planet guests. Their galactic honeymoon will come later for them. For us, it comes next week, when we start Diplomatic Immunity.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.