This week, Ivan and Tej appreciate each other aesthetically in the Admiral’s suite on Desplaines’s courier. That’s not the point though—Tej has been focused on what she is escaping from, and now she’s confronting what she is escaping to. Chapter 8 is sprinkled with little reminders of who Tej is and where she comes from; She has the Cetagandan ear, and the the genetically engineered facility with languages. She’s been carefully trained to be charming—those Betan instructors her parents imported to teach their children? They were instructors in the erotic arts. Ivan is a wilder specimen and came by his social strategies by way of experiment. His first lover was an older teenager who worked in Lord Piotr’s stables. Tej and Ivan seem to be pleased with each other as lovers. I’m happy for them, but their pleasure is a lower priority than Tej and Rish’s escape.
Rish is an uncomfortable chaperone. If she was still in contact with the Baronne, or any higher-ranking members of the Arqua family, she might have to argue against Tej’s marriage to Ivan—and Rish might prefer that. The working assumption is that the rest of the family is dead, except for one brother working in the medical field on Escobar, so the lines of authority to which Rish might have been answerable are gone. Rish is a free agent, and she has to figure out how to look after her very conspicuous self while also offering support to Tej, for whom she seems to feel a sense of both responsibility and genuine affection. Really exactly like the older sister she is.
Chapter 8 is a five-day interlude between the dangers of Komarr and the as-yet-uncertain dangers of Barrayar. One of those dangers is Ivan’s mother. I feel bad saying that, because I have a mother and I am one. I am not dangerous at all. I just have a lot of valuable thoughts about things like making time to write college application essays. But from the other end, I took a horde of children out to pick a Christmas tree for my mother today, and I felt a little sheepish about telling her that we didn’t go to the tree farm she usually patronizes. And she’s not dangerous either! Ivan’s tactics with his mother involve limiting information. I would say that his limits are excessive, but I’ve met his cousin Miles. When pressed to do so by his commanding officer, Ivan sends his mother a two-sentence note containing no information at all. He’s going to explain everything! Why ruin a perfectly good explanation by giving it away in an explanatory note?
There is an answer to this question is in Chapter 9, and it’s something like “because then you have to deliver the explanation in person.” Ivan was planning to avoid that too, but Alys has resources—informants in ImpSec, and a direct line to Ivan’s commanding officer. Also, she owns the building Ivan lives in. Dinner with Alys is Not Optional.
Dinner with Alys is also dinner with Illyan, who has read reports from Morozov and Desplaines. ImpSec is certainly keeping Illyan well-informed in his retirement. Alys sets the stage for the interrogation by offering Tej her condolences for the loss of her entire family. She then focuses her time and attention on roasting Ivan. She’s very good at it.
We have all misjudged Lady Alys. We knew she was Gregor’s social secretary. We knew she was an arbiter of fashion. We knew that she cares deeply about her son, and wants only the best for him. We knew she had significant real estate holdings. But there are things about her we didn’t know, like why she wants Ivan to be married. It’s not just about tradition, or engineering some kind of uber-Vor biological alliance, or, I don’t know, having grandchildren. She’s eager to be the Dowager Lady Vorpatril. She’s going to talk more about what her husband’s death has meant to her in later chapters, and I will talk more about it then. But right now, it seems as though expanding her family lifts a weight from Alys’s shoulders, even in this very complicated situation. She’s opposed to the planned divorce. For now, she settles for pointing out that no marriages should be severed until plans for the future are made.
Plans for the future are available! Between the reports and dinner-table conversation with Tej and Rish, Illyan figures out everything, including where they were trying to go, and who they were hoping to go to—the brother they had chosen to hide from ImpSec. Tej’s education did not include nearly enough counter-intelligence measures for her current situation. Ivan asks Illyan to arrange transport. Illyan refuses—he and Ivan know the same go-to men. Of course they do. They both have the Emperor’s personal phone number. If Ivan needs favors from the various ImpStitutions, Illyan thinks he should ask for them himself. He’s telling Ivan to adult. Ivan is seeking a middle path between being an ambitious, career-driven military officer—a path whose risks must have been apparent to him even in the most idiotic phase of his youth, which was around the time a superior officer destroyed an entire jumpship and its crew in an effort to kill Ivan and his cousin—and avoiding all entanglements, puzzles and complications.
Complications can’t always be avoided, especially if you’re Rish. She is very much in the middle of deciding what to do next, and pursuing her passion for dance seems to be out of the question. Even if she changed her skin color, audiences would be able to identify her by style. Also, she’s being very polite about having to sleep on Ivan’s couch.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.