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I have tasted defeat before, thought Miles to himself. Bile and gall and the grainy bitter dust-in-the-teeth taste of defeat, I have tasted and spat and sometimes, had to swallow. But this! He sipped politely from the silver bowl of a monogrammed Vorkosigan spoon. Defeat is the taste of cream-of-asparagus soup. At their host's signal, his six guests dipped into their own soupbowls. The Professor Lord Auditor Vorthys sat to his right, and the lovely Professora on his left. Her lips still curled in a smile as she sipped soup. Ivan, at her left, was being as entertaining as usual. At Ivan's side, Aunt Alys beamed fondly across the table at Simon Illyan, who beamed back. Strange to see how such intense lights had mellowed. Between Simon and Vorthys, Ivan's latest flame, some ImpSec civilian analyst. Marya Pandro-- something. And across from Miles, at the end of the table, an empty chair. Anguish! Rage! Vile and bitter disappointment. It had been one of his most masterful plans, too. A week's notice to Ma Kosti that "we might have a little formal dinner next weekend sometime..." An exclusive Friday night ticket to a holo-show about wormhole physics at the University Planetarium. A hint to Lady Alys, an invitation to Vorthys, (and family... oh God, and family.) with a gift of the ticket for their youngest. A directive to Ivan lowered the average age at table to something more comfortable, and his trap was set. Then Friday morning his prey entangled herself in her own snare of redrash creepers. She'd rescued the kitten, though. Turns out Zinc's fur protected him. Bare human skin was not so lucky. This evening Miles' "date" was lying in bed, (don't think about that bed, boy) slathered in calomoid gel and wearing oven mitts to keep from scratching. I might have volunteered to go scratch her... he thought. "So, Marya," Lady Alys began. "You haven't met Simon at work?" Ivan's girl had obviously been keeping an extra centimeter's distance from the recently retired ImpSec's chief. "Captain Illyan's office was several levels higher than mine, milady." Truly, Miles thought. Literally and figuratively true, and at very worst, merely understated. "And, I've only been working at there a short time." Marya glanced interestedly into her soup. She stirred it. She was quiet. Simon graciously filled the silence. "Civilian analysts are a new idea for us ... for ImpSec. I think the most senior of you has been in position only three years." "The most senior was hired last Winterfair," Professora Vorthys chimed in. "When old Doctor Nyberg retired from University over Vorandropov's tenure fight, your ImpSec recruiters hired him on the spot." "Ben Nyberg," Marya agreed. "I'd studied econ from him, and his work led to our current project." "Ah, Project Goldfish!" Miles said. "Ivan, there have to be at least TWO stories behind that name you haven't told me yet." "And I'm not going to," Ivan growled. "Even Auditors don't have 'need-to-know' on this." Simon chuckled. "Miles, how you learn names of things even I don't hear... you really shouldn't push it. And announcing it like that, even here, is good reason for not telling you more." Vorthys had finished his soup, as usual the first to do so. Having a moment with
he thought. Well. Pick a topic that lets me get to know Marya." Her spoon clattered to the saucer. "Tell me who else you knew at University. helpfully. how important they were to Lady Alys or to me. Miles clattered his own spoon into a saucer. now they were interrupting each other. tonight?" Vorthys interrupted his wife and demonstrating the value of an equal opportunity marriage." Alys interrupted Simon. "Frankly. "Activities". when women were so unwelcome in the 'men's' classes. "Yes." Uh-oh. Ivan. "fruit-filled --" "Lady-like behavior requires such strength." Now lines creased Marya's brow. And I never saw how girl's choir practice helped. "Marya didn't. Little fish-shaped things. His mind raced for suitable segue. A wisp of dark curl escaped the mass of her hair and hovered by her left eye." She brushed at her hair. he joined the conversation. here. Part of my syllabus was to set a good example by nibbling cookies and balancing a teacup on my knee when the girls met ladies such as yourself. performing under pressure. setting up the shift. he agreed with Marya. how many female Vor twins of that age range could there be? Who spoke French? His aunt's talents were wasted on what. a network --" "For those wired into the system." Marya put in. like Miles here." the Professora interrupted. Miles thought. She wouldn't be so challenged if the girl had said." Oh." Miles agreed. Ivan beat him to it. Miles boggled. were frivolities. "Those sipping. "But in this case. For example. I still have some sorority ties there." "That fight hasn't changed much. after six hours an evening teaching algebra and French Grammar to wild twin Vor-ettes--. A good Auditor. well. To Alys. now." The excellent family mind. Anything. It was asparagus poisoning. He silently praised his fellow Auditors' grace to heaven. Had he been interrupted since he'd been appointed Auditor? Of course. "I'm part of the shop. "We will NOT let you men talk shop all evening. "I think we must have met. An unsuitable one. dear. why do you say 'two' stories?" "No!" Miles' aunt jumped in. let's talk shop. "I haven't had those --" "Tea is not about enjoyment. after all. Whether it ." She smiled at the girl. Miles supposed." "The Vorbouchards!" Alys recognized. "Tea is a venue. "True enough. "Activities. "I was the tutor. she said. " Marya offered. As are men. and not very interesting anyway." Marya chided. Professora.no food before him. For those who have have to pour --" "The idea of the sorority was no one was too good to pour --" "Not that anyone is so good or otherwise --" "Will we have fish. he's right. You were the governess. perhaps we have met. Heavens. signalling a footman to clear bowls.. "Little yellow pastries. Miles was almost proud." "Yellow fish-shaped cookies?" Simon chimed in. "Miles' cook." "The sororities do sometimes seem frivolous.. It was a contagion." "You mustn't assume. an Auditor's wife probably interrupted an Auditor all the time. I mean. "But that's secret. A faint crease had appeared between his aunt's brows. somewhat predatorially. "Teenagers naturally are too lazy to enjoy it." "Mother!" Ivan complained. ought to figure it out without being told. here. Miles thought. I'm afraid I was much too busy during school for most of the social frivolities. too." Alys countered. makes the most excellent cookies." the Professora said. milady. "But perhaps it's not obvious. I had trouble enough studying. Miles thought. not everyone...
" Alys sniffed. ignoring the logistic advantages of starting the fastest last. Professora Vorthys allowed the footman to serve her as he finished with the pasta. Miles had once watched his cook stretch the dough. quaffing a foamy one at that little tavern down from cockroach central. in a tone implying no one else should have ever been. at last." A point of rapprochement." Marya offered. "I've been trout fishing with my Father. The evening was cursed. for instance. nestled in a transparent sauce flecked with a dozen colors of herbs. destruction. "Your cook has put Vorkosigan House back on the social radar. fresh and cooked over a woodfire.. I've had rather broad hints from at least three young women wondering if I could get them invited in here. sadly. "I don't pay her enough to be this good. He wasn't fazed. Ivan's shirttails pulled partway loose from their tuck into his trousers." Ivan said. "I warned you about shoptalk. She smiled. "For my father. Miles. earning a severe motherly look.. "Fortunately. Strands of pasta. The sticky ball became thousands of infinitesimal strands in less than a minute." "I don't believe I've ever been in there. What was it with the interruptions tonight? Miles wondered in irritation. "I think there's trout. Miles.. next dinner. do shut up about goldfish." Alys said." Marya agreed. doubling and doubling and pulling and re-doubling and pulling again. "Oh quite." "An excuse for beer." Oh.." Miles agreed. Miles wondered if he should flout convention and honor the Professora with place." Her curl was loose again.. As has your enduring bachelor status. and more regularly. seating himself properly again. leaning back into the Professora to do so. why --" "Marvelous. anyway. Miles noted his bottom shirt button was undone. Three cut-shell combs retained the intricacies of her hair. extends to seat twenty-eight. no. dislodging another jet black curl from her center comb.. "I'd expected a rice course. As much as I adore intimate little family dinners like this. "You've turned that women into the best cook in the city. There was some telekinetic component to the talent.arose from wisdom or appetite. "One of the first things I learned to love about you. He eyed his tablemate appraisingly." I'd rather you'd heard three hints from one young women. Miles hoped. "Twenty-eight? But how would we be able to talk?" . Ivan was making a big production of taking his own serving from the footman's hands. Marya startled. "I've only lately learned to appreciate the sport." Simon said. evidently. "Pasta!" Vorthys cried in delight. Miles thought. He'd tried it. I rather like beer. Miles poured and sipped the next wine. "We have certain responsibilites to host more formal occasions. but this looks marvelous. "This table." The footman had served from the host's right. Miles. "Brainstorming still. I'm afraid. "But? If you know that." Defeat." Ivan interrupted. His stickyball broke into two lumpish wads and left dough stuck to every finger. too. fine as fiberoptics. "They're wonderful. And I know where Cordelia has stashed the chairs." his aunt scolded. Contact with Ivan had the same effect on her it did on most women. marvelous. either." Marya shook her head fractionally. doom. first. Before he leaned forward. "Have you?" Simon asked. he was sure. in my opinion. golden as the groats from which it originated. No goldfish. then passed the carafe along the table. after work.. "And it's such a waste." Oh. If there could ever be a next dinner." she circled a dismissive pinky over the gathering." Lady Alys said. The center one was slightly off-center.
A comb.Lady Vorpatril's chin elevated a degree. Miles had to admit. and wonderful circulation. sharp-looking thing. Next weekend. Ivan finished his wine. matching combs are all cut from one large shell." Dammit. hitching. no doubt. separate shells. in this brief lull. Alys's eyebrows couldn't be more perfectly arched." The formality level was rising as fast at the temperature was dropping. Miles thought." Lady Alys twisted her gaze from a point in space and aimed it. at Ivan. A cut-shell comb. isn't it? From a fresh water fish or an ocean fish?" Maybe he could swing it. Long practice. "They're difficult to match. that's right." She turned to Alys and spoke confidingly. Miles told himself. dear." Professora Vorthys murmured. then raised in salute. then with Lord Vorthys until dessert. well. Again. And you would refrain from footling with my son under the table across from you. Miles thought.. then winced as he set down the glass. Simon and Marya. "I'd wanted another of these." Ivan wasn't the least bit embarrassed. Ivan. "I'll take you there. "Ah. He set it on the tablecloth to examine." "Yes. as well. and extracted an offending object. who seemed to be considering her husband with unconcealed affection. Ivan twitched. Wonder why she can't keep her hair straight? "Nevermind my mother. cut from smaller." Alys responded. Miles noticed. Except for the Professora. She'll have to wait. The stock assortment must be remarkable. A small. and I'm pretty sure I can find it again. "Poor Miles. where you were able to select such a beautiful. "It's almost impossible to add to an existing set." Marya said." The girl's ivory cheeks bloomed. smoothly. I found a place in the old caravanserai. naturally. "They're so hard to find. "You would chat with Simon through the meat course. But Simon seemed to be redder than usual. for. Since he'd shifted around to take his second course he seemed uncomfortable in his seat." Miles seemed to sense some sort of discorporate sabers disengaged. inexpensive and so closely matching gift. He'd finished his pasta a close second behind Vorthys and was patiently waiting for Miles to get the meal moving on. you know." "You made no note of the name. of course?" "Of course. "Oh. He hooked his thumb under his waistband and ran it around. and over the heads of. Ivan.. I'm not sure how long." Ivan met the challenge gamely." Ivan countered. "That's why I'm so lucky these are the cheaper sort." he said in satisfaction. "You should make notes of such things." "I'm sure it depends on how much time you have to look. as Lord Vorkosigan suggests. squarish. It was marvelous. as Ivan and his mother backed away from the exchange. Freshwater mussels. Ivan could start the conversation down a new line. She has good color. Right between his excellent eyes. "It's shell. Be careful what you hope for. "I've been lost . she'd never have noticed." Lady Alys informed a spot just between. at least. what a surprise. then at his mother. then. now. Ivan's landed a healthy one. to judge from how Ivan's neck tensed to meet that gaze. if you're free. Once he's finished his pasta he'll notice her toes. "With no one across the table to be footled. He'd nearly done it before. "You must tell me. but Captain Vorpatril has an excellent eye for such detail. with a smile. He shoveled a bite of pasta. Ivan looked at the comb. then at Marya. his own circulation was probabably on display.. His guests seemed to be engrossed in the dish." Simon advised." Marya told Professor Vorthys. smoothing. Miles hoped. "Typically.. "If she hadn't been footling Simon alongside you there.
Was that why Marya was so startled? Surely everyone was used to this new form of manners by now. Miles?" Ivan asked." Marya said." "It's so much better now than it was. "The merest bit of maple sweetness. "I think we've established the standard Kosti maintains." After two courses? Miles wondered." Miles glanced down at Simon. "and it's not that funny. no sense of tradition--" "I taste smoke. "Ivan you can't! The Emperor --" .yes. Elena still has a month's wait. a deal? I'll tell my goldfish story if you'll tell yours. interrupt? I do believe in asparagus poisoning." Alys said." Ivan put in. "Honestly! I have never seen such inattention among the catering contractors. Miles." Professora Vorthys said. tell that story about your Armsman Jesek. the Pandroupous family operated? Surely the table talk itself hadn't established THAT high a confidence. Or had that reputation the Professora mentioned penetrated to the non-Vor circles in which the -. When had Pandroupous heard the name?. Ivan and I were stationed together briefly in Old London." "Oh. "But speaking of old places. I do. "The wedding is the most important event at Vorhartung since Ezar's funeral." Simon answered. I do. "If the headcount of the guestlist keeps changing those incompetent caterers will ruin things for certain. Lord Vorkosigan?" Miles gaped at her. The signs aren't always intact. and then--" "Tell your goldfish story. I've been wondering. "Cooking on Beta Colony. "No shop talk!" Alys snapped. finally." "You mean they might not come?" his aunt said. and good friends." "Are we ready for fish?" Miles asked. Maybe he and Simon HAD caught these trout. "They'd have had to have been frozen some while. Pandroupous? -. "When I was a student we felt quite daring to go in at all. while Miles was still getting over his shock.. "Anyone would think you were trying to butt in and run the show. And these upstarts push into a service contract with no experience. Alys. Fresh." "Miles.. A tutor of decorum both interrupting AND commenting directly on the food before them? "Ah." He wiped his lips with a linen napkin and Miles thought he heard Illyan mutter. "I bet these are as fresh as possible for a city dinner. how is Elena. "It's nothing to do with Miles' job." Marya said. as the footmen served fish to her plate. And half his guests were gazing at him in puzzlement. either.. and signaled the footman without waiting for reply. though." He turned to the Professora to fill in. had you counting --" "Did you and Simon catch these trout. No doubt. His mind spun. Ivan. Kosti's standards were exemplary. why Duv Galeni. I'm not quite--" "I don't think there's a smoky taste. lately. "They were liegefolk of mine until recently.what was it. Miles?" Alys added. Miles opened the next carafe of wine and poured.. "Well somebody should. right now." Simon murmured. if they make it to the wedding. "A higher standard than the staff at Vorhartung.down there again recently. "Ivan. "I think I know this story. "Has she had her baby yet?" The rapid changes of subject were making his eyes water. again." Ivan interrupted." But it was certainly a lot safer than some of the previous conversational landmines he'd seen set off. back on Earth." Simon said. and that's with a map." Marya nearly exploded." "One would think. He tasted his own. "Were these trout cooked over a wood fire after all. Remember Ivan? Now there were some warrens. "The Jeseks are fine." Lady Alys sniffed." Vorthys countered. perhaps." "Mother!" Ivan complained. "You might meet Baz. back then.
if we swap old stories. and some rare beans Miles instantly forgot the name of. that his guests were all finished with trout and hastily signaled for vegetables. perhaps belatedly. "He learned about allergies from Miles here. and." "Some of us might not want to hear either story. you swear to this deal by your word as Vorkosigan. I'll pester you just like always. "I've read that some off-worlders are allergic to prize. and the two of them--" "Mother.decided to put the information to use. Ivan found the taste of prize a bit too much. actually. until his wineglass was refilled. Vorthys."The Earth goldfish. But Simon was generally overruled." his mother confided to Marya. and Miles proceded to recount his youthful adventures in recruiting an Armsman. rhapsodied over his portion of tiny glazed carrots. He stood. "When Ivan was about five. all garnished with sliced prize. miraculously. Deal?" His cousin considered. without anyone interrupting anyone else. Professora Vorthys wondered how long Baz had managed in the undocumented economy. especially since it started with a civilian economics professor and a low-level ImpSec analyst. Hmm. and further." Simon groused. is it a deal?" When had Ivan been assigned to Jacksons Whole? Miles reviewed the terms quickly and decided. You tell me. (hopping down slightly from the heavily cushioned chair that put him at eye-level with his companions) put a theatrical hand to his chest and intoned. "But we'll want the full story. How could Ivan be so suspicious? What had Miles ever done to deserve this? "One. Careful. And three. An unwittingly extravagant Armsman who cooked 100 Mark goldfish over 1000 Mark fires. "Afterwards. will you quit prying into current projects? Your interests and Operations' and even Gregor's are NOT interchangable. "If I do. I suppose. please!" "-." He grinned again and pointed at his surprised cousin." Miles returned the speculation. you tell your story first.." Ivan jumped in.." .. "I swear by my word as Vorkosigan I will keep my promise to Ivan and honor the conditions he specifies for both him and Ms Pandroupous. "I still won't tell you. So he and Miles tried to persuade me that Ivan had developed an allergy. Ivan stalled as the guests were served. An eyeliner. if he'd been tasked to purchase replacements. you'd pester me over something else anyhow.. Ivan stirred his together. "Deal. No warning. but it helped wash a bit of that asparagus taste away. Miles noticed. A small victory. and stole a brush from my vanity to paint his face with. no questions about my projects for a full week. of course. "Ivan. And if it wasn't this." Miles hiked back into his chair. oblivious to etiquette." He flashed a grin. They simply died. No one-liners. is this really--" Simon interrupted. darling." Ivan gulped. Prize was one of the very few native Barrayaran roots that were tasty to the human palate. I promise I won't ask either you or Marya another question about your current project for the rest of the evening. Miles wondered if he could keep a bargain that inhibited him from asking more. The conversation proceded for minutes without embarrassment." He hesitated. boy! Don't celebrate your victories until. Marya asked how goldfish tasted." "Well the boys didn't know that. So Project Goldfish affected Gregor directly? That was fascinating." "Aunt Alys. Two. They decided Ivan would break out into spots. crisp peas. He eyed his cousin speculatively.
the textures. He'd known he'd done when he did it but he'd really done it. "The scents. I'm never going to have another conversation without a Vorthys present. I believe. the only way to get the count was in person. "I've known men like that. Very subtle. What a saintly couple. too. Dammit. Her shoulders shook. not. She giggled without excessive jiggling. too. Miles?" Simon asked." Miles interrupted. He hoped he hadn't restarted the trend. Ivan's story progressed famously. "I think Miles must have done the painting. and/or body temperature. or other features of interest to Vorpatrils. I presume. Miles thought." Simon said. as the footman served her. Miles was minded of a small dog protecting a . And that always left two undocumented for whatever roaming around he'd ordered. Interrupting himself with abrupt silence. Ivan?" Professora Vorthys prompted. too?" Vorthys asked. "He knew all along how many goldfish the embassy had paid for. "You were lucky. Once begun. "But not with the craving that men do--" "Early is certainly better than never--" "Now." Vorthys said. I nearly couldn't.Marya began to giggle. Miles wondered what his own nose was tuned to. "So then they went. and counted wives." He broke off. If I can swing it. No one would ever finish a sentence at this dinner again. Miles guessed. texture. Oh my. "Six. He sniffed surreptitiously to determine what his nose would tell him. "Actually. really. Ivan. The man vanished with his salver towards the kitchen and the Professora stomped on the remaining bits of shattered etiquette by remarking." "Clones. Miles approved. Could his cousin's taste in women finally be improving? "Your goldfish story. The conversation came to a halt as the guests debated about how to interrupt that." She smiled across the table." Marya suggested. on the go as it were. I'd actually begun to wonder if there were more that I hadn't yet met. it turned out. "Any one of those vegetables alone would be--" "Women go through a variety-seeking phase. Green ones. Ivan told how his report that the shah's four permits were distributed in use among six identical wives had been nearly discounted entirely. Miles wondered how much practice that took. Or one of their kin. "and you have a wonderful footman. I'm not sure even I could have noticed a difference." Ivan shrugged. Beautiful and identical." Professora Vorthys agreed. if differently attuned. "Are we ready?" he asked." Alys declared. stopped. "I'd hoped--" "I'd smelled venison when we came in. Not surreptitiously enough. with a very few. He gestured for the next course. With all electronic surveillance gear washed in the noise from scores of privacy generators. "He'd collected his set from all over Earth. Ivan made his accurate count seem more like good luck than careful observation." Vorthys gestured at Lady Alys place. until Galeni's test. you'd promised you--" "What will the meat be. but he wasn't sure anybody could tell them apart. Miles thought." "Maybe the shah just craved subtle variety. and/or the texture of skin. The Vorthys nose was as keen as Ivan's. "It does smell wonderful. Mother. he'd done it. temperature. he thought. have no particular scent. It was venison." Goldfish. If they had been. Not weather." Lady Alys growled." his wife said. carefully painted dots here and there on Ivan's face. now I'm doing it. But it turned out the shah never went anywhere without all of them. Marya was unperturbed by the revelation that her new beau could distinguish women by their scent." The girl dipped her head and hastily put a napkin to her mouth. since he had finished his own serving. well enough to count. "Consistancy--" "Except at table. "Is-. Turns out on a planet of nine billion --" "There were clones on Earth. Not women. he'd learned that early enough. "And if they settle for consistancy too early--" Marya jumped on that." "He's mine. the--" "Variety is vastly overrated.
I would even have some of my people train yours." "There's Pym. red . Simon rarely did "bland" anymore . Miles followed little of it. Miles." Miles began. too. He must be drawing some conclusionsof his own. Miles decided one more interruption this evening wouldn't kill anyone. he thought. but a couple--" "Yes. You ought to think about Armsmen of your own. General agreement led to clearing another layer of china from the table. Again they cancelled each other out. very funny." his mother dismissed. your own footmen." Two University professors describing the work of a third. "in layman's terms" as they put it. "We'd mentioned Doctor Nyberg earlier. Ivan babbled something about someplace called Kashira VI and Marya asked if rot affected the other fish. Good. "Salad?" he asked. before continuing on to another subtlety of the multiplier effect. was much tougher chewing than Kosti's excellently aged and marinated venison. Apparently Marya had tuned her "impassive" shield specifically to repel embarrassment from High Vor Ladies and had already used most of her energy in that duel." Alys said." Ivan chirped. "Miles." "It turned out that there were twenty-two goldfish. "Besides. "Aside from his cook. "He's coordinating all the security men. Miles. Hmm. Miles wondered. Alys continued to press Miles. Ivan and Simon are a bland and bored pair Alys and Marya are not pulling hair. "Sounds fascinating. Ivan was well practiced at "bored". Miles needs staff of his own. There seemed little reserve left to protect professional confidence. Alys made little ha noises of agreement with various technical points indicating the societal value of servant-dense holdings." "The shah was from off-Earth. stricken. though." Professora Vorthys added. "The embassary had ordered two dozen. Marya wanted to distract this line of conversation. infinitely expressive face. A fluid. Your personal security is important.you had a batman throughout your Service. offering a lot of institutional memory to the team. "ack!" As if someone had footled her shin rather forcibly. if you would staff this building properly. a valet -. "There should be a secretary to arrange your correspondence. and Ivan thought that Marya's distraction would focus Miles attention to it. I believe the only reason he invites me to these soiree's is to attach to my serving men. Pym is Aral's.large bone. or angry responses across a certain ImpSec Economic Analyst's face. Ivan.. Frankly. Now I know what my nose is tuned to. Miles could easily see why Ivan was so engrossed. I smell a secret. though he noted with great interest certain points that drew pained." Simon offered. chambermen --" Ivan and Marya tried again." "And it's good for the economy. just as Marya opened her mouth. Miles has completely neglected staff. Ivan seemed bored with the whole discussion. " -the other two reportedly had fin-rot --" They both stopped. switching topics. Vorthys drew breath. The Vorthys are well fed and despite a rash. Tell me all about it. wasn't--?" Marya asked. then said. Nyberg was now an ImpSec consultant. have you heard of his work on the multipier effect regarding Vor and Vassalage?" "Not really. Miles noted Simon blandly making his own observations." "Armsmen are not serving men. "She's right. confused. just as Ivan said. why did they bother? Simon stepped into the momentary silence and advised. They'd come more than halfway through the dinner so far. Hmm. A cross-check. too.. didn't you? A permanent driver.
(what was that figure?) seven additional Marks in the local economy. and I. But I have promised my people certain things. Expect." "They'd better not.." "Craters and barndoors and ulcerous bleeding holes in my gut. "Now. "WhatEVER." the Professora agreed." Vorthys said.arms if appropriate. I think Alys' exchanges are more binding. And I've been present when Counts make oath to the Emperor." "Lady Vorpatril is exceptional." "Now. training. haven't you?" "To the Emperor and to the Imperium.." Vorthys continued. then." "But not for me." "Barrayaran women traditionally have neither taken nor made oath. urban area." "And provides a check against inflation." Ivan said." "Which. Miles mentally shook his brain to clear the doggeral." "If you mean a knee bent before me and hands between mine. You can't. with all the competitive pulls for manpower. equipment.Poor Miles has not killed himself from despair. insofar as they don't conflict with my Count's orders or interests. when Miles was sworn to obey Simon. say. "because your costs are costs in kind rather than in cash. Cooperation. is exactly the most economical course. as well. Mother. even liege staff. above the regular multipliers. "Anybody I've brought into my service who left chasing some rainbow would be standing awfully wet awfully damn quick. beyond the marriage oath. in a modern. "Nyberg's work showed." "Which Nyberg showed. Marya. schooling for the envassaled dependents." Vorthys said. "-." Vorthys added." Simon spoke. "I've been present when Alys does her new servant orientation. "is a significant cultural driver of the liege-oath system. "I'm Vor. all in all you'd nearly double your wage cost here. in Gregor's interests. generally. Which raises District revenues. "If liege employment is good for the economy why should't I." Alys said." the Professora agreed. It's simply cheaper for him to keep staff. "No. from the Count's perspective. swear in some retainers? We could afford it. Captain Vorpatril to his Ops commander." Miles asked the Professora. "So much the worse for the women and the oaths. or a series of other." Miles said." "That's a bit different. here. and I'm sworn to obey his lawful orders. but no . and they have agreed. employments. "The low population density. "Why would you even trust us with THAT oath if we can't be trusted with less?" Simon turned to his left. "Let's use my father and me for examples. "You're right. "But not to any immediate authority. THEN. dear. It's an oath that opens and offers me loopholes I wouldn't have if he weren't Vor. "You haven't sworn any of these people. though." Alys objected." Alys glowered. he has most of the House Vorkosigan staff with him on Sergyar. the costs to you of livery." The Professora waved aside distinctions. Not like. far from it. it's all very much like the Time of Isolation. you've taken loyalty oaths as condition of employment with ImpSec. Frankly. and he's Vor." "That would make it a stipend-cost." Ivan sighed. he had no such loopholes. "She shouldn't be. Now. Now. the rural areas. that every Mark you pour into the urbanized vassal system generates over." Marya agreed. "But. than it would be for you. for instance." his wife countered. Where does that stuff come from? "Tell me if I have this straight. and the people employed are disinclined to go chasing after other. you pay a higher wage to begin with. It was cheaper for the old Counts to swear in vassals than pay salaries." Miles complained." Vorthys added. fealty gelt--" "On top of your legal retirement contribution.
His secrecy regarding the Dendarii was old habit by now. Instead of choosing an established firm.. being bland again." Miles nearly agreed. And he should oath swear each and every one!" Marya looked stricken. "That must be unique. "I sent direct. "We don't do much entertaining but Drescher catering has worked out well for us.. he's already got Armsmen among--" "One. "You're trying to change the subject." Alys concluded victoriously. "Your Armsman is from Beta Colony?" Marya asked. Two desserts for you! "Drescher didn't win the bid. swallowed his bite. it's surprising how much bad luck they have receiving orders." Simon muttered. and asked the question the ImpSec . If you impugn my mother and me you'd best be ready to duel. "He can't. written orders that he should come here. Miles looked away and elaborated for Ivan. if he continued talking he'd never finish his salad. "And he's missing in action this month." "How--?" Marya began. nor an alliance among them. "When Alys starts talking shop it's nearly as bad as when you do. Miles felt sympathy. who can also afford it. "Certainly not. Miles thought. he was sure. and drew breath to start in on exactly the lecture Miles hoped to hear.." Miles allowed himself the luxury of a moment's peevishness.loopholes. After his one bite. somehow. "But I want to hear. picked up a wine glass and sipped.. Miles himself nearly choked." Simon muttered. He waved Marya's concern away and gestured for Miles to continue." Ivan said. Why can't they handle the castle too?" Blessed woman." the Professora insisted. Wine was leaking from the man's nostrils and he seemed to be having some sort of minor fit. lately. the icy cold greens and the sword-sharp lemon-and-vinegar dressing had been crying for more attention. He'd taken to muttering a lot. "When you consider the best communication gear in the Nexus is Betan. Miles looked at him darkly." Betrayed! Simon had recovered from wine exhalation and cut off the inquiry Miles had expected him to help pursue. as expected. If sprouts were as fluid as wine his own nose would be leaking." Miles interrupted." his aunt said. "And it would raise our household expenses. Smooth. "should hire on retainers and aides and a full score of armsmen." "Why can't I just hire caterers." Miles mentally rejected this suggestion on the spot. Tell us about him. then hesitated. "Nor Burbidge. "In principle. "Don't get me started. may I?" Miles asked. Whatever Ivan's girl suggested was a distraction from Ivan's secret. and he seems to have taken a notion to come by the longest possible way around. Too smooth. "Aunt Alys." Professora Vorthys said. "Quinn says the message got garbled during transmission and Arde may have misunderstood. nor Cearly. "So in principle I could swear in retainers." A strangled noise from Miles' far right made him look back at Simon. uh." Alys practically snarled." Vorthys agreed. but would benefit the economy near University. "She's right. which is getting Vorkosigan House properly staffed. Miles. Again. if nothing else." "And Miles. Ivan beat him to it. "I mean. for instance. Besides. As part of his obligated service to the Imperium. the Imperium is depending on a jumped-up consortium of third-string hopefuls who've pooled their funds to buy entry into a game they simply are not ready to play." Alys said." "Sounds familiar." Simon jumped in. like Gregor?" Miles asked. and Simon. then stopped himself and double checked Ivan's expression.
here. and now I see that it is. If Gregor's wedding depends on the low bidder. but bulling into this young woman's first major inquiry might be a violation of honor she could never forgive. From working with Ivan I had assumed it must be so." "Please. was he trying to impress? Ripping secrets away from Ivan was one thing." Marya added. "As am I. "It's boring. Who. now? Can we just drop it?" He dropped a salad fork into his plate with a clatter. proper equipment. livery is expensive. "Really. you haven't been listening." he offered. it's too trivial even for ImpSec. But please. After this wonderful salad. of course. But what more? "Ivan's right." The former defended Barrayar's organizations with offhanded confidence. after all? "You and your cousin are not boys sparring for attention anymore. An audio-visual aid for emphasis. is still scrambling with the simplist problems. it's tedious review of civilian personnel files. caterers and oath sworn servants. Is Ops in the habit of wasting Captains so. Vorthys chuckled. "I beg your pardon?" Vorthys asked. "How can you tell they're buying business?" "Miles. The conversation proceeded literally behind Marya's back. Miles. Lord Vorkosigan." Simon agreed." The dratted girl locked gazes with him. It was almost convincing." his aunt said. "Miles.. Miles lost. Miles waited for the bell to peal. Miles assumed. "Training is expensive. leaning back to look at Simon. are you?" the . torn between the embarrassment of proving Simon right versus the need to extract detail about security. "It doesn't really seem to be our kind of case. it might be more of challenge to guess what kind of fruit we're having. aren't we Miles?" He fixed his erstwhile subordinate with a familiar glower. "He's now only one breath away from asking the same of you. Miles wrestled with himself briefly. it's faintly ridiculous. Let the Service handle things. and it's mine. Miles thought. cousin? There had to was sure. That almost doesn't hurt anymore. I'm primed for more citrus. "You have just blown the lid off my Imperial Secret.. Yakovitch." Marya said." the infuriating man ironically bowed forward to Miles. "I'm sure that won't be necessary. A hazard of wrestling oneself. Slanderously.." Vorthys looked at Miles in surprise. But. as I hereby refuse. He must be out-of-practice." "Well. but it's necessary. first hand experience. Are you satisfied. Miles. How did Gregor's catering problems touch his own interests." Vorthys agreed.analyst would not. "Miles." Alys declared. after all. I would. be more. it takes years to grow into this level of business. would be about three breaths away from inveigling me to interrogate Marya about ImpSec's background checks on these caterers. "Ivan's Project Goldfish is to investigate the caterers!" the Professora exclaimed in delight. "That would seem to be an interesting line of question. Miles head of ImpSec "At this point." Some distant bell in the depths of Miles' memory resonated to the sound of that name. and the empty chair in his peripheral vision seemed to mockingly endorse her plea. This new corporate bunch. then leaned back to Vorthys. catching up and informing anyone else at table who might not have figured it out. let us do our jobs. I'm the only one here you need trouble yourself to impress. Everyone else knows your genius from former. there's some shortsighted cost-watcher looking for us over his shoulder. It didn't. "Though we seem to be in the middle of one even so. if I could order an Audit into this mess. I think we Auditors must be doing our job too well.. His word is pledged against him asking either Marya or Ivan directly." Ivan said disgustedly.
She was silent a moment. and listen seriously to my answers." At that. "Shall we continue. A blossom. dear. "Fruit. when you were served.girl pressed. Miles is beginning to see there are forms of service besides his precious armies and navies. but did not say. "Now that you've watched. she declared. magically appeared before Miles. he will have to direct his questions to me.but I would never presume to speak with her voice. "Thanks to you. and Miles felt his nerve shrivel. This is. "I thought so. was the footman gloved or barehanded?" He hadn't noticed. She's too insistant. He sounds like my Grandfather. I could speak until I'm blue in the face and you would pay absolutely no attention. I believe." Her smile broadened. questions that no one here will ask for him." Miles thought. And he has questions to ask. Lady Alys sniffed. acknowledged leader of polite society on Barrayar. Miles knew. He couldn't ask about teleporting." Ivan suggested." She turned the smile towards Miles. "You had no qualm about speaking with mine. The cheese crumbled at his touch. would you like to guess whether it was charged?" Lady Alys had been listening to his stories whether he'd reciprocated or not." he began. "Aunt Alys?" he asked. just now. could he? He hadn't seen much. "Watch this. Miles?" his aunt interrupted his thoughts. it . "No peeking!" Surely a serving man wouldn't want to leave fingerprints on the clear crystal of the fruit plate. There's something here I should be seeing. I intend to enjoy it. "I think he had--" "No guessing! If I were holding a plasma arc to your head. seemed still to be considering the implications of official intrusion into her purview. Then." "I have?" the 'dear' asked. has changed all that. But would he risk food staining white cloth gloves? Miles ventured." Alys granted the girl a smile. "-." Simon muttered. boy. petals constructed of miniature grapefruit sections." his aunt continued. But dear Marya. at my own dinner. what questions do you have. I've looked down the business end of less frightening nerve disruptors. Had he started wearing them? Were was he? Miles eyes darted. "Yes.. Miles thought. "Would my mother advise me to grow up and leave this to the professionals?" The Dowager Vorpatril." Miles blinked as salad plates began disappearing in deft hands. but his mother knuckled him swiftly in the sternum. he guessed. Miles had noticed gloves folded into the man's belt earlier. Questions he has promised not to ask you. more imperiously than the Emperor. Now ordinarily. "Uh. a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. here. Tell me. "I can only speak for myself. I love your mother as much as my own sisters --" "More than Aunt Agnes. Ivan might have spoken. "If Miles continues his little inquiry. he thought. "Now. with yellow cheese stamens and pistils and mottled green cheese leaves." "And I have not seen either you or my son display any signs of increasing maturity since you both sprouted chin hair. Miles. How had Kosti built it? How had it been delivered without damage? A telekinetic cook deserves a teleporting footmen. Miles?" "You've earned this.. in a last desperate effort to derail conversation from its destined ends.
I could only lead the horse to water. dear?" Having Miles targeted at the downrange end of the conversation had improved the girl's spirits enormously. "I will walk up and attach tags to their ears. "Perfectly. Lady Alys. "Miles. "Was the form correct." Alys groused. are missing it. "These privates issuing orders." Miles had it. where someone in private's insignia issued instructions and captains leapt to obey. "That's important. "I don't remember. "I didn't notice. Aunt Alys. "And if you encounted a company of soldiers. They do each others's duties. Miles did not tell her. "Instead of a serving captain. "No matter how they're mis-attired. indeed. some had pistols without holsters. I'm describing a bowl of goldfish.appeared. all looking alike. where some were barefooted. darling." "Mother!" Ivan complained." Simon listed." "The livery is the key isn't it?" Miles persisted. "Lady Alys. Aunt Alys?" Miles asked.and others that should have whatever. He knew. embassy postings." Marya broke in. "He's had the complete course. "How is proper uniform important to your beloved soldiers?" his aunt countered. Is THAT how incompetent they are?" Is that HOW they are incompetent? he wondered. Aunt Alys." "And not by the livery. and are rarely part of the traditional tasks." She turned to Simon and declared. "Thank you. there are simply four interchangeable servants identically dressed. if you can do something about them. what would you do?" I have recruited such for my Dendarii. 2-D images as in person?" She glanced at Miles and filled in." his aunt answered. uniform." "Funerals. "Could you identify them?" "Dear. "I doubt you ever learned. His aunt eyed him speculatively. how can you describe service you haven't even seen so much better than the service you just have seen here tonight?" Goldfish." Miles admitted. obligingly. "Would you send a man on a mission without boots? Or with boots but no training about when to wear them. She sniffed. "The people coming and going." "So." she looked at Miles. state dinners. They do things that may or may not be necessary just then. or holsters without pistols. some of them have extra gloves or aprons or whatever." "I'm sure I can tell good servants from poor ones. Miles discerned a smirk leaking through Marya's correctly demure smile. now. interrupting his aunt's comment about the other end of the horse before he or Simon discovered which of them she meant. should he have been gloved or barehanded?" No help for it. Miles. and shook his head. besides --instead of standing in place and doing a particular job. and when to sneak along in stockings?" Miles was relatively sure there were no Service Uniform Regs regarding stocking-footed sneaking. Can you identify them as well by flat. "Is this a valid analogy? You've seen such among the Yakovitch teams?" As Lady Alys nodded Marya went on more excitedly. "Marya did. I think I have a question or two of my own now. but--" "Photographs. Miles. "We couldn't conceal holo-gear but did manage to get flats." Miles put in. he thought. The uniforms are literally that. calculatingly." he admitted. " -. Lady Alys." his aunt stated. "And because they're . a table chef. a server and a busman." "How is it important. given that the footmen served properly. but he took his aunt's point. each with distinct accouterments. "You ought to have taken care of his training. then pressed on. each is always in motion. that they shouldn't--" " 'Whatever'." Alys assured her.
If they could get pictures. "Except. to be inside the castle. He circled the footman.. with Miles unable to ask appreciative questions. or Escobar. much less classifying them? He pulls the information out of thin air whenever he wants it. "Profit to a Jacksonian House. by the way. the man was invisible." Well. or would be discovered. pacing and lecturing and ignoring Ivan. this is brilliant. they couldn't get cameras into Gregor's bedroom?" Marya and Ivan looked pained. don't they? Or just extra." He paced back toward the table. the company sometimes puts five or six people onto a four man team. And in that warren of nooks and crannies there's noplace for Marya to hide holo gear? No safe place. after all. for more than one day." He whirled as the shock overtook him. I know. why hasn't ImpSec stopped them?" "Operations has arrests scheduled for next Thursday. That wasn't a question. If Marya and Aunt Alys can also identify the leadership." The little bell that still resonated in the back of Miles' mind finally chimed. "To give up on the Yakovitch staff this late in the wedding planning could ruin the event just as thouroughly. But. surely his cousin wouldn't want to gloat. Oops." Simon warned. even given free run of the castle?" Vorthys asked. "Don't answer that. Miles relaxed. "Easier to get holos of important people far away from the ceremony.. again. by someone ELSE hiding holo gear." Miles hopped out of his chair. floating servants moving between tables and rooms. and decides he must be okay. "They hardly need bombs. how?" Pacing off again.the ceremonies themselves! Offworld News Services. It's all okay. don't they.new. A guard looks at the camera. So what would they want from inside the castle?" He nearly tripped over Alys' footman. "ImpSec will give everyone who may be involved a chance to betray themselves on camera. To the Professora. He could smell it. . again. right now. or whatever. The wedding would be big news for the tabloid press on Beta Colony.the catering corporation was set up and funded by operatives out of Jacksons Whole." Professora Vorthys asked. and not very good at their jobs. and sees a man in caterer's livery." Damn that oath. Guards look at the locators." Ivan turned to Simon in disgust." Alys said. "Jackons Whole has no military interests in us." He dismissed Miles's analysis. "If they wanted to plant bombs or some such surely there are easier ways. he did trust ImpSec. "You have merely been a pest. It would drive him crazy. " I was brilliant to figure out who was extra and what they were up to." "Marya was brilliant to figure it out the caterers would go broke doing this mission. Ivan?" Miles said." "Stop that." "But what can anyone have accomplished." his aunt commanded. Damn. There was still something missing. he explained.. Ivan?" Oops. "Oh.. Good. He wasn't sure that was admiration.. didn't they." Ivan looked pained with Miles rather than proud of his civilian colleague. "Don't answer that! I didn't ask. The man's hands were bare. "You may not paint another stroke of the Vorhartung picture until--" "But Security originally issued four permits. Except for the extra people. to make up for it. How had he served the fruit? Miles was nearly overcome with tempatation to go find an etiquette or protocol book on the spot and do research. It's the shah's wives all over again. "But if the caterers are somehow violating castle security. "Jack's Son -." he said. Separately. Marya looked at him wide eyed. and all the personnel tracking transponders show all the caterers are right where they're supposed to be. He paced towards the wall again. or keys. "God. "Why do the rest of us even bother writing damned reports. together -. running loose. per room or table. or even the Samzidat on Komarr. The good places to hide holo gear were either already taken. and wouldn't risk offending us seriously on anyone's behalf. "Yakovitch.. Important people." "We really shouldn't be discussing this. so much the better. So.
and flame. Miles crossed back towards the table. Well. the flashier the table chefs would become. (And a well-mannered guest was not supposed to watch. given the circumstances. "I've only seen it three times. But surely such a creamy. one all-purpose footman. "." She shook her head. it's under control. "You and Mother have butted into this situation. but believe me.And do some serious remedial training. as they performed to impress each other. the master cook would stage or pre-position the nearly-ready food at a small workstation. Time. Miles did understand something of the logistics of large parties.He heard Marya murmuring to Vorthys. fluffy confection . and literally blown a dessert to bits. with luck she'd never try it on him again." Months. balanced on his left arm. "Sweets?" He made a point of watching. On one memorable occasion. as he cleared with his right. He realized in the huge rooms of Vorhartung Castle. I've only known him a few months.. she wasn't calm exactly. The footman cleared the crystal fruit plates with bare hands." She grimaced like a drill sergeant. Alys says it's already too late to change caterers. How long before they started sending up little exploding "mushroom clouds" from various saute' pans and juggling the blades between them? He blinked. a chef a few tables from Miles' had overdone the brandy in a flambe'. for a table chef to complete. flashing blades. (Miles supposed Alys would tell him the technical term for this cooking unit. But then. would they? The man arranged the empties on a silver salver. If nothing leaks out. and the more risky the shows became. at least." "Calm down. "Drescher?" Lady Alys was still boggling a bit. He'd been so entranced by his own vision of Vorloupulous's cooks he'd missed the footman again! Served last. Miles was suddenly struck with the comical image of Vorloupulous's Army of 2000 cooks. if he'd dare ask) nearby the table. at events where several table chefs were working different tables with sight of one another. "Does he get like this often?" Vorthys murmured back. Miles realized he had displayed an unexpected ideosyncratic reaction to his aunt's nerve-shrivler. fingerprints wouldn't matter on plates headed straight for the dishwasher. and she was a bit stunned by the backlash. The more chefs. each armed with a brandy bottle and a huge pastry knife. For small parties such as this. So how had the replacement caterer's question been resolved? He pulled himself up into his chair. And ImpSec was delaying the arrests? "How long would the best caterer need to take over the wedding." Ivan begged. the more competitive. It could be scary to watch. his portion of chocolate cherry cheesecake had arrived on his remaining china plate without him noticing the hands wielding the serving utensils. And.. "They'd want a month longer than they have. But a good table chef was as much entertainer as cook. Whew. despite his aunt's despair." Miles looked at his cousin. and studied Marya as well. Miles had seen competitions spring up among them. She. this time... but it might be better to leave the Yakovitch staff in place. Miles. these political concerns are all very interesting. A bad table chef could ruin the best cook's work. the food needn't travel all the way from the kitchen. They'd NEED at least a fortnight more. Ivan did seem pretty calm. Like any good logisitician. a busman would be clearing in synchronization with another servingman bringing in the next course. "Miles. or at least to be seen watching. but didn't seem worried in Lady Alys's direction. well. putting on a display of flying food. For larger parties. Aunt Alys?" Miles asked. And. now.) The better mannered the guests.
? Oh." Vorthys complained. except -"Has there ever been a woman Imperial Auditor before?" Miles butted in to the table talk.. Safe. which had been going on while he was oblivious. Her eyes tilted up to examine a vision that hovered over Vorthys' head. boy. They don't serve fats and they don't serve starch. Vorloupulous' cooks are on the march. Well. these days. then. hurrah. Miles picked up a fork. Not. naturally. If I was *Ivan* that's what I'd recommend to Gregor. Vorthys was practically quivering. Miles realized. they just need cadre. "It's a good precedent. "The charge. Vorthys wiped creme from his lip and considered the question seriously. hurrah." "Nobody could manage that on Susan Vorhalas. I'd give her a free hand." Vorthys said. So My Cook's." Lady Alys declared. If I were Gregor." What was he smirking abou-." Ivan agreed. Just lots of slices of red rare meats No one goes unserved when Vorloupulous hosts a meal. If anyone was offended he'd blame the asparagus. "That nickname was not quite fair. When the recruiter's a Vorpatril. He knew this. just in case he hadn't already thought of it.wasn't served up by gloved hands? Miles smiled at his guests. Agnes Vorvayne. "Just the once. just as she's asked. and throw Ivan into the deal for continuity to Security and his experience as an Auditor's Donkey. "Her victim's interviews offered very good evidence about which captain had allowed the rapes before her tortures extracted--" "There's precedent. Stick to the problem. some of Dorca the Just's troops were accused of a particularly vicious series of gang rapes in the old Vorhalas District. hurrah. And a Auditor could command help from anyone. and the Professora picked up the theme. hurrah! They don't serve fruits and they don't serve sweets. I'd want Alys to just orchestrate the whole operation. hurrah. If I was *me* that's what I'd recommend. Miles. threatened alliances with the other Counts. hurrah. whatever the subject had been. waiting for Miles to twitch sufficiently that he might take it as a signal to begin." Miles interrupted. Tension lines evaporated from her brow and a smile distinctly unreminiscent of ." "Dorca-the-Just's Agnes-the-Vicious. he'd changed it. "If Gregor ever asks me --" she stopped. Miles was only begining to remember. including an attack on the Count's Daughter. "It's a precedent that has discouraged a repetition. He froze with a bite halfway to his lips. I'd have thought you'd know the story. Ohmigawd. Since ImpSec's arrests there's no chiefs left. and a *Master* chef to point out the way.." Miles shook his head. hurrah. but the lyrics shifted: The Yakovitch chefs are quite bereft. The Barrayaran children's folk song rang thru his mind.. hurrah. And he began to wonder if that was the same line of the Vorvaynes. Professora Vorthys continued. I'd appoint her Ninth Auditor for the purpose. as Ninth Auditor to hear the women's tales first hand and report. So Dorca appointed a Vorhalas kinswomen. "Aunt Agnes is named for her. The manpower's there." Marya said. "Early in the struggles for Unification..
" Miles said frantically. Etiquette and economics in alliance. hurrah." Professora Vorthys said. "We can clean up and keep the Yakovitch livery. The Vorhalas inheritance fight. Miles realized." Miles admitted. That's it. Gregor could point to the economic benefits of staffing the castle correctly. And it would be good thing for the Imperium. Miles recognized a face enlightened by the radiance of a brilliant solution. "It's a lot more conversation than I expected to hear tonight. He'd have to speak to his tailor." Miles hastened to remind everyone.. Was no more private livery Hurrah." Alys said firmly. Oh drat. Hurrah. But nobody'd better get in their way. With a sucessful modern precedent confirming the old. "I hope the recipes are already recorded--" Alys would definitely make the history books. Hurrah. if her list is that far she's probably already got Kosti pegged. They'll commandeer talent by hire and draft And if they want 'em. "But the recommendations are forever. "I wonder if she's ever trained anyone." Miles said. She stabbed at her cheesecake. "And the Ninth Auditor's commission is temporary. say." Marya demured. at least not for long." Simon countered. The highest level appointment. As Ivan had pointed out. No one goes unserved when Vorloupulous hosts a meal. hurrah. "If Lady Alys were Auditor--" "There are limits on an Auditor's powers." Alys went on. "Dorca's example isn't good enough?" Ivan asked." he said." he was told. Or perhaps find a good seamstress." Lady Alys mused aloud. His mind whirled as he tried to think of some. Miles relaxed. Being the last to pick up in this company put her only about a half second behind. "Actually. The Vorpatril team will save the day. had sworn in an Armswoman--" "Everyone would assume she was a concubine. "It's too bad there's not a more modern precedent for swearing women to office." Simon attempted to warn her. He wouldn't be alone. that's IT. "Not hardly hard enough. Not brilliance. He took a big bite of cheesecake to catch up. This was even more of an advance than when Mark swore in Elena as leige-"woman". Hurrah. "The third thing will be to ferret out the miserable little bean counter who decided Vorhartung Castle couldn't afford permanent serving staff.." Ivan said. "You're right. "I did try to warn you. Folksong kept bouncing off the inside of Miles' skull Now Emperor Dorca's grand decree. hurrah. But Imperial interests and those of House Vorkosigan are not interchangable. for exactly the kind of thing even the old Vor acknowledged as a "women's" issue. But then. And my cook's not safe when the Vorpatrils plan a meal. hurrah. not an ops-planning session. So Vorloupulous sent his soldier's home But his cooks make sure he won't feel alone. spraying a few crumbs. for instance. that sounds like it might be a good idea. but speed and brute force were all that he needed. "This is conversation. "The liege oath system disguises a multitude of . there'd be be very few posts where a woman could not be at least considered.either nerve disruptors or sabers softened her lips. "Not recent. they'll steal your staff. Miles saw. "But if a Count." Miles understood who Alys meant.
"I'm sure you are. "This entire conversation is to be strictly forgotten. Though Kosti had been handling the food budget..sins. I'll look it up.. she may want to move on. "If she'll have me. It was good for the Imperium. footman. Even IF you're all full of HORSESHIT about what the operation is. Several seconds passed as Simon's forceful advice was digested. A liegeman confidential secretary was assumed to be a secretary. How did Nyberg address that question?" he asked Professora Vorthys. His guest boggled a bit. I'd advise against repeating any part of tonight's talk outside this room. As I recall. chamberman. it was no stranger a bit of trivia than had come up before in the evening's conversation. "Captain Illyan?" Professora Vorthys asked. as the question refered back to conversation from several courses back. is in full swing. along with dessert. Miles. "My niece was supposed to come with us tonight. Does your prohibition against speaking of tonight's. He assumed that if ambiguity existed. No one was impressed. But she insisted I also bring back any good stories we might have heard. "Miles! You cannot hog that woman's talent during this crisis!" "It's after the crisis I'm worried about. Miles thought. "Chamberlain. She wrenched her gaze from heaven. He couldn't even protect Kosti until after the arrests. "Nevermind. keeping track of Castle Vorhartung's funds is not a problem. in fact. Miles here offered to send over a tray. aside from Armsman?" Miles pressed. "For all I know." "Miles." Lady Alys beatific glow dimmed behind thunderclouds of thwarted plans. even second-hand. but to wash and return--" The Service Logistics Corps ought to study his aunt's mind." Bile and gall and the grainy bitter dust-in-the-teeth taste of defeat. anyhow. "Well. "Once you got her.. "Nuts?" Miles asked.. "Higher. But. in my view. your timing is terrible. when they became cooks?" Miles asked. higher order obligations prevailed. what oath applies?" Vorthys jumped in." Alys groused. for instance. He'd been sure someone would know. is a major risk to that operation. who is affected." Miles answered." Miles temporized. "You'll swear a woman directly as vassal?" Marya asked. an economist's justification." Alys answered. ANY conspicuous changes to routine among any kitchen related activity. given multiple duties. ." Simon said. Kosti and I will exchange oaths and go shopping for livery." Ivan answered. He'd been brilliant tonight." Perfect. threatening Vorthys with his fork. And tomorrow morning. and when she wasn't able. He did duty as driver. "And what is the highest liege oath. Miles thought. his analysis took the liege relationships at face value. speculations include her?" "I'm afraid so. The cook's budget. "What oath did the Vorloupulous Armsmen make. He closed his eyes in despair. who was helping me awhile back. absently. "You'll spend the next few days in ceremony and outfitting with the woman when I need her for planning--" "For the next few days. Everyone was mad at him." Thirty years' authority over Imperial Security was sufficientl to silence the immediate conversation's progress. You all seem to be ignoring that an Imperial Operation. Nyberg was making the strongest possible case for his 'multiplier' analysis. and Alys would be hovering to jump in first. But 'chamberlain' was a bit much. The real risk is in scullery. "Considering how thoroughly the project has been examined on the basis of the name alone." Simon insisted. Silence. led by Captain Vorpatril here. His guests looked at him as if he were odd. Slanders about Vorvolk notwithstanding. would you give her back?" He saw the question strike home. leveled a charged finger at Miles. We haven't time to procure more dishes. Well. and what Gregor will do next. and re-knit her brows. ah. for nothing. "You know how academics are." "But say I had sworn in young Martin Kosti.
com) For the original text of Vorloupulous' Cooks see the filk archive. © 1998 by Jeff Melcher (Pouncer@aol. He pinched up a bite and crunched.When he opened them.. Nuts. a small bowl had appeared at his place. The evening was a complete waste. morosely.co. Delivered by gloved or ungloved hands? He still didn't know.co..uk Last updated: December 2nd 2001 .uk All comments or queries about this Web page to: webmaster@dendarii. Current version by Michael Bernardi. mike@dendarii. He certainly was.