Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapters 15 and 16

In this segment of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the Dowager Lady Vorpatril is hosting a dinner party for her son’s in-laws who have just arrived from Earth. It’s been just over six months since this blog last discussed a dinner party. Lady Alys is much better at them than her nephew, but the evening is not without its dangers.

Ivan’s unscheduled morning meeting with Admiral Desplaines and an ImpSec agent has made it clear that Ivan’s personal life has a great many political implications. His in-laws—previously thought to be deceased—are a matter of significant concern to ImpSec. There is some question about whether Ivan should be relieved of duty until the situation is resolved. Ivan deploys his Vor-ish dignity to reject this calumny. It’s not entirely clear to me how ImpSec chooses to follow up. Did they involve themselves in the dinner party through any of the three ImpSec operatives who attended, or did they pursue other avenues of investigation? I suppose they could have done both.

Ivan hopes to speak with Tej before the party. They have a lot to talk about. But this is not to be. Literary romance absolutely requires piss-poor communication between the protagonists. Thus far, Ivan and Tej have exchanged all kinds of stories and reminiscences, and Captain Morozov has given Ivan a lot of assistance in that basic Barrayaran socio-political briefing Cordelia wished she’d had when she arrived. If they keep talking, and keep having sex, Ivan and Tej will have quadruplets by chapter 20. I know, she has a contraceptive implant. She’s had one for years. I don’t write the rules of romance. Somehow, something would have happened. To keep it from happening, something needs to keep Ivan and Tej apart. That something has been transported to a hotel in vehicles Ivan rented after paying bail for nine people.

Ivan and Tej can’t talk in the morning because they’re escorting most of the Arqua family to a hotel. They can’t talk during the day because Ivan is at work. They can’t talk in the evening because they’re going to a dinner party. If I were in their shoes I think I would have texted, but Ivan and Tej don’t have smartphones. I don’t know if comm links can support texting. It’s going to be a while before Ivan and Tej have another meaningful conversation.

The Arqua family made much of Ivan’s uselessness in the previous chapter. I think Ivan might have come off better if they had let him order takeout rather than going to dinner with Alys, but this works better for the plot.

Despite Alys’s careful preparation and her efforts to keep the conversation pleasant and inoffensive, there are some notable moments of drama in the evening. Moira Arqua (the former haut lady who is Udine’s mother) reminisces about the destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi. Her first husband lost a son at Vorkosigan Vashnoi, to friendly fire. But no one presents a genetically engineered bug, or points out that the dessert is bug barf. Alys has borrowed Ma Kosti from Vorkosigan House (Miles and his family are visiting Sergyar) to ensure that dinner is delicious, and in hindsight, the Arquas are making a deliberate effort to keep conversation light and innocuous. They’re just curious refugees, trying their best to understand their new surroundings. What could they possibly be plotting?

They start the evening with an effort to suggest that Grandmother has fond girlhood memories of Ladderbeck Close, the facility where she worked during the Occupation, and wishes to see it again. I assume that the odd, not particularly Barrayaran name is a literary reference of some sort—I have not been able to track it down. In a stunning coincidence, the site of Ladderbeck Close is now occupied by ImpSec HQ. What a crazy random happenstance!

Further efforts to appear guileless and innocent include Sophia Arqua trying to pump Ivan for information about Simon’s finances. Ivan casually declines to comment on his um-stepfather’s income. Sophia is about as subtle as a brick. Ivan fears something is afoot, but Illyan sequesters himself in his study with Shiv and his best brandy after dinner, and Ivan is left alone to entertain the ladies. Well, mostly alone. By is there too. Alys’s seating chart put By in a position that allowed him to hear everything, and absorb very little.

When Ivan and Tej finally do have a chance to talk, Tej doesn’t want to. She knows her family’s scheme to dig for buried treasure. She’s unwilling to tell Ivan about it unless he’s in. Ivan can’t be in a plot unless he knows what it is. Tej can’t tell Ivan the plot unless he’s in. But there IS, definitely, a plot, and Tej is involved in it. Shouldn’t she tell Ivan anyway? Ivan argues that she should, since they are married. Tej feels the question is more complex. Ivan works with classified information all day. He keeps secrets all the time, for what Tej thinks of as “his gang”—the Barrayaran Empire. Tej sees little practical difference between Ivan’s secrets and her own. If anything, the endangered status of House Cordonah makes Arqua family secrets more important. Plus, the Arquas have hostages to protect.

Ivan and Tej REALLY don’t want quadruplets, so the stifling of communication that results from this is probably for the best. But in the moment, the information causes Ivan serious concerns for Simon Illyan’s safety. What if Shiv Arqua is hustling him? He seems to have tried! Illyan mentions elephants to Tej as he says goodnight—she has no idea what he’s talking about, but I do. Men are motivated by many things. Illyan may still have a stable full of elephants, and he may yet yearn for an elephant of his own. For all the talk of his retirement, Illyan is curiously professionally active. At this moment, I’m not at all certain how he feels about that.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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