Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapter 6

Chapter six opens with Tej hanging over the balcony. The balcony is at the center of Tej and Rish’s emergency backup plan, but on this occasion, Tej is using it to spot Ivan. Let the record show that there is no question about whether or not Tej is smitten with Ivan. She is deeply smitten.

Rish is all but glued to the wall, urging Tej to come away from the railing. Rish is a cynical realist, smitten with no one. Yes, she found Byerly attractive last night, but that could happen to anyone.

What is Ivan doing? He’s picking up takeout and hitting the grocery store. He returns home bearing Barrayaran Greekie food and a box of groats.

This chapter is a series of escalating incidents involving groats.

Incident 1 — The Groat-versation

Ivan gets the groat train rolling with a short educational presentation on the culinary and cultural importance of groats. He also says some things about Barrayaran language groups and people who have moved to Komarr, married, and started restaurants, but since he serves groats in the demonstration portion of the lecture, I infer that these are peripheral to the main point. Ivan suggests eating your groats with maple syrup—I don’t mind the Ted Talk on groats, and I wouldn’t mind a historical retrospective on the Barrayaran maple sugar industry either. Ivan also suggests groats with butter and/or cheese, or having them cold with mint and tomatoes. Groats are, of course, available on Earth. I have never tried them, and Tej’s reaction doesn’t make me think I should seek them out—she decides that the reason Barrayarans use groats in their wedding ceremonies is that they are the food whose sacrifice is least likely to be regretted.

Whoa there! Now we’re talking about weddings?

Of course we are.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is the third book in a romance trilogy. We had unrequited love in Komarr, followed by complicated, bureaucratic love in A Civil Campaign, with an interjectory novella to tie up the loose ends in “Winterfair Gifts.” Now it’s time for the book where the plucky, stalwart friend finally finds love just like his cousins before him. Per the conventions of the genre, this will be more complicated, difficult love than Miles’s and Gregor’s and Ivan will fall much, much faster. You can tell the relationship will be complicated because they get married in chapter 6. If they were going to have a straightforward happily-ever-after, they would have had to put their wedding off until later in the book.

Tej has gotten into the habit of calling Ivan, “Ivan Xav.”

It’s super-cute.

In the post-groat hours of the evening, Ivan, Tej, and Rish watch a video of Quaddie dancing. Tej and Ivan Xav snuggle on the couch. Rish is really interested in the dancing, which I hope keeps her from feeling like a third wheel. Byerly does not put in an appearance, which makes this one of the more relaxing evenings of Ivan’s sojourn on Komarr.

I noted, but mostly neglected Ivan’s snake classification system in last week’s blog post. Admiral Desplaines has noted/will note that Ivan has an unerring instinct for touchy political situations. Ivan sorts issues into poisonous snakes, non-poisonous snakes, and non-snakes. I would love to know if there is such a thing as a poisonous non-snake, because if there is, I can graph the whole system on an X- and Y-axis, and I would find that deeply satisfying. Ivan uses a number of tools to sort snakes. Why does he tolerate Byerly? Because By is a useful tool for monitoring snakes.

By arrives at the door shortly before Dome Security and Komarran immigration authorities. Ivan is being accused of kidnapping and murder. Tej is being threatened with arrest, and Admiral Desplaines is on Ivan’s wristcom demanding explanations and asserting that Ivan’s conversation with Dome Security has been mis-classified as a garden snake. What Ivan has here is a handful of poisonous snakes. It’s By’s fault—Byerly is a snake-charmer, not a snake-proof fence.

Incident 2 — The Groat-pocalypse

In a display of quick thinking that should, but probably doesn’t, make the Imperial Military Academy proud, Ivan throws his bleating wrist-com in the refrigerator and grabs the box of groats. By is briefly puzzled by this—apparently the first thing By thinks of when someone brandishes a box of instant groats is breakfast. By wasn’t present for the Groat-versation. Ivan marks out a wedding circle in groats and proposes to Tej, offering himself as an alternative to the twenty-story plunge off his balcony. It’s actually a hard sell. Nonetheless, Tej makes her decision in time to repeat the words—because their word is their bond, and they need to be able to carry out decisions quickly in remote and inconveniently-located emergencies, Barrayarans marry themselves—before the assorted assembled security forces get through the door.

I like to do weddings properly. The bride is wearing loose Komarran trousers and the shirt she slept in. The groom is wearing military uniform. Neither is completely dress—Tej isn’t wearing a bra and Ivan isn’t wearing shoes. Due to the exigent circumstances, Ivan acts as Coach. Ivan proclaims that he is kissing the bride for the first time; They have kissed before, but she kissed him. By breaks the circle to let them out, and he and Rish are the official witnesses to the ceremony. The groats on the floor provide physical evidence. I’m so amused by the vision of Byerly explaining this to Dome Security—“I witnessed their marriage, which has just taken place. Look, groats!” At least I assume it was something like that; Bujold has not honored us with the actual dialogue. Tej is now a Barrayaran subject, and Ivan has hired Rish to be her lady’s maid.

The marriage makes Tej an instant Barrayaran subject, no further questions asked. But apparently Ivan also has the ability to extend protections to employees who are not Barrayaran subjects. Why are these sufficient to protect Rish from refoulement, but not Tej? In fairness to Ivan Xav’s problem-solving skills, as a military officer, he has the right to transport his dependents and a wife and her maid certainly sound more like compelling dependents than a pair of personal secretaries.

In his first husbandly act, Ivan bellows “Unhand Lady Vorpatril!” He is, in this moment, modeling himself on Count Falco, the guy who actually holds the Vorpatril lands and their vote in the Council of Counts. He’s also a crucial part of Ivan’s plan to divorce Tej and her plan to divorce him—Ivan has been very open about his intentions. Tej has been relatively open about hers given that she’s hiding the existence of what she believes to be her only surviving brother.

And now, Ivan is late for work. Join me next week when he proves his value to the Imperial Military and Tej and Rish deal with ImpSec.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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