Miles looked around the table and tried not to grind his teeth too obviously. Ohhh Gregor, Emperor or not you’re going to pay for this. Somehow.
The reward for a job well done was supposed to be a harder job. Surely heading off a new Cetagandan war while still on your honeymoon should be rewarded with something more inspiring than a COMMITTEE? He was chairing the committee, but still… Miles tried yet again to silence the tiny voice that suggested that Miles being kept busy on this committee was Ekaterin’s reward. After all, she was the one who’d spent nearly two days as the sole point of balance stopping the Nexus from sliding into an unwanted, catastrophic war. He still felt awe at the thought of it, his wonderful Ekaterin facing down the whole Cetagandan Empire. Successfully. And saving two empires, along with most of the nexus around them. Each time he remembered that terrifying, horrific near-death time he couldn’t stop smiling at the image of his wonderful wife – wife! HIS WIFE! – being so amazing. And she was HIS!
But still – a committee? After all that?
And what a committee. Miles gazed around the table again. All male – no surprise there. Mostly military, with a couple of politicians just in case the military weren’t frustrating enough. No difference to most other official policy committees. Experienced men, of course. Centuries of experience. Past the millennia, in total. Several millennia. Not even Barrayaran committees usually had an average age that calculated out close to three figures. Miles checked them out again – he had time, several of them still hadn’t reached the table, and most of those who had were still carefully manoeuvring to sit down. Two who’d already achieved that goal were nodding off to sleep. Some of these men had served with his grandfather. As junior officers, true, but still, it was bad enough still being called Aral’s boy – this time he was Piotr’s grandson.
Miles sighed, and called up the meeting agenda on the comconsole in front of him. He made sure that the other screens around the table were showing the large-print version for his fellow committeemen. Most of them were seated and awake, that probably constituted a quorum. Besides, if he waited too long they might not make it to the end of the meeting.
“Now, gentlemen –“ Slight pause while auditory aids were turned on, tapped, turned up louder and inserted in some very disturbingly hairy ears – “I call this meeting to order. As you all know –“ assuming they hadn’t forgotten already “– the Emperor – Gregor – “ just in case they forgot that Ezar was gone “– has decided to recognise the importance of the horse in Barrayaran history. With a statue. In the Main Square.”
There was a chorus of grunts which Miles chose to interpret as agreement. Plus a couple of snores and a few other noises that he was trying hard not to identify.
Miles spared a few less than loyal thoughts about his emperor. “You’re just the man for this, Miles….” was a phrase that he was starting to dislike intensely. This time it accompanied Gregor’s determination to “…improve the civic amenities of Vorbarr Sultana”. Miles had suggested that a few carefully-laid fires would improve certain parts of the city, a plan enthusiastically seconded by Ivan. But even that support hadn’t made Miles rethink his suggestions, and the enthusiasm of the pair of them for some creative ignition had seemed to worry Impsec.
What it all came down to, when Gregor had quelled his cousins’ enthusiasm for arson, was that he wanted to improve the Main Square. Specifically, he wanted to remove the posts where Vor traitors were traditionally chained to endure their slow, agonising and humiliating deaths. The posts had barely been used in Gregor’s rein but they still remained, a constant reminder of the good (and bad) old days. Gregor and Laisa were actively encouraging more galactic contact, and had actually started to attract a small but growing tourist trade. Vids of ‘Auntie Maude in front of those execution stakes – you won’t believe how they kill prisoners there…’ wasn’t exactly how they wanted to present Barrayar to the Nexus.
So the posts had to be removed. But that would unleash a howl of complaint from the conservative parties in the Council of Counts (even though those parties had supplied most of the traitors in Gregor’s rein. But logic wasn’t a feature of the CoC at any time, as Miles had pointed out helpfully.) So, instead of just removing the posts Gregor was going to put something in their place, something that would please the conservatives. A statue.
A statue acknowledging the importance of the horse in Barrayaran history.
Just getting that far had taken months, and now Gregor had dropped the whole thing in Miles’s lap, along with the doddering committee who represented age and wisdom. Rather more of one than the other, as Miles had also mentioned. Several times.
He sighed and stared at the screen. “Well, gentlemen, all we have to do is decide on the details of the statue.”
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. The hard work was already done – deciding on a statue, and the horse theme. All Miles had to do, Gregor had assured him, was to guide the committee through the process of deciding a few details about the statue. How hard could that be?
It was time to be decisive. “Well, gentlemen, we need a horse statue. Bronze, life sized, a horse. In the centre of the square. Are we all agreed?”
A growing rumble indicated that no, agreement was a long way off.
And indeed it was.
The question of bronze or marble took three weeks to decide. They were almost done when one voice was raised in favour of timber – Miles was tempted to beat him briskly with a chair. Finally he had to invoke Gregor’s authority to force the decision – a bronze statue, made from metal mined on the Southern Continent, and standing on marble plinth made from stone quarried in the Vorbarra District. Done.
Then they started to decide on the sculptor. Several of the most popular suggestions were regretfully ruled ineligible by reason of being dead. For decades, in some cases. Finally Miles collected a selection of small sample works from leading Barrayaran sculptors, lined them up down the table and held a vote. The winner turned out to be a Komarran woman, which caused several spirited arguments, a recount and a minor heart attack. Miles started to consider thinning the ranks of the committee with a few more medical emergencies. His reports to Gregor were decidedly whiny, he could understand why an animal caught in a trap would chew off its own leg to escape. Miles was ready to chew off any body part he could reach if it would save him from ‘….in my day…’ repeated ad nauseam.
His armsmen had started to stand guard outside the door rather than inside the room. He called them all a bunch of shameless cowards, but they still pushed him into the meeting chamber each morning and then briskly marched out and closed the doors firmly.
The question of the size of the statue was settled incredibly quickly by committee standards, in a mere week. By now Miles was hoping that he was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and not just the gleam of reflected light from Lord Vorkalekourinos’s bald head.
Finally the hard work was done, it was plain sailing ahead.
All that remained was the subject of the statue.
And at that point plain sailing hit a reef and sank with all hands.
“A horse. We’re doing a statue of a horse, so we just… get a horse, let the sculptor scan it and program the moulds, and hey presto – statue. Yes?” Miles gazed around hopefully.
“…Now, there was the early days, when they used horses for ploughing. Marvellous on the farms, horses are…”
“…amazing how they survived the hard years at the beginning …”
“…magnificent cavalry charges in those days…”
“…good eating on a horse, too, during the war…”
“… is it lunch time now?”
Ploughs were considered. Five different kinds of ploughs. And carts, wagons and tip-drays. Miles thought that a team of horses pulling a wagon, all life-sized, would fill the square nicely. But that wasn’t heroic enough.
“How about Dorca leading a cavalry charge? That’s heroic.” Miles was hopeful. Although Gregor might feel that the blood and gore of a cavalry charge wasn’t much of a step up from the execution posts. “Or what about Polo? A nice non-gory use of horses.”
There was a stir halfway down the table, “Ahhh Polo. I remember your grandfather Piotr playing polo. Wonderful player, had a real feel for the swing of the mallet. Marvellous aim. Fielded a team every year in the Barrayaran championships, and made the finals more often than not.”
Miles wriggled in the increasingly uncomfortable chair, “Pity all that had to stop for the Cetagandan invasion.”
Several of the nearest committee-men, the ones who were still awake and could hear him, stared in surprise, “Oh no, we didn’t stop for the war. One must maintain standards, you know. It wasn’t easy, but the games went on, we just had to adjust the rules a little.”
“Adjust how?” Miles was interested despite himself.
“Well…” the speaker leaned back comfortably, “Play was suspended if the enemy was firing at us. Bad for the horses, don’cha know. We could replace players if anyone was shot during the game.
Usually we played on a non-standard field, back in those mountains of his. No level playing fields for us, but that just added to the challenge. If you fell off a cliff the team could substitute another player until you climbed back up. Players could leave the match to go and fight, without taking a penalty. Weapons were worn during the match, but you weren’t supposed to use them. Not on each other, anyway. And we renamed the ball ‘the Cetagandan’s head’. “
“Because we’d use a Cetagandan’s head. Didn’t bounce too well, but on a sloping field that’s an advantage. Piotr always had a steady supply. That fancy face paint looked quite interesting as the head bounced around. Added a cheerful touch of colour. We always gave the heads back afterwards, of course. It was the polite thing to do.”
At that point Miles quietly crossed Polo off the suggestion list. Somehow he didn’t think it would do much for struggling Barrayar-Cetaganda diplomatic relations to erect a proud statue of his grandfather taking a shot at some Ghem-general’s bouncing head. Although it might be popular with the tourists. But Gregor would probably kill him. Or glare at him, which was just as bad.
“Perhaps something more positive?” Miles winced at the manic desperation in his voice.
“Well, the emperor did escape from the Pretender on horseback, didn’t he? How about a statue of that? Your mother looked after him, didn’t she?”
Miles had a sudden vision of a statue in the main square of Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan on horseback, cradling the young emperor.
His mother would kill him for sure. Twice. With extreme prejudice.
“Uh, but she’s Betan – I think we need to keep it all Barrayaran.” He knew he was babbling, but desperation does strange things to a man.
“Good point – how about one of the armsmen? That’s as Barrayaran as you can get.”
The image in his mind flickered and changed, now it was Bothari holding the emperor. For some reason the image showed Bothari in his full formal House uniform, proudly displaying the Vorkosigan crest.
Oh yes, that’d go down well – a constant reminder of Vorkosigan influence over the Emperor. His father would kill him. And make more noise about it than Gregor and his mother put together.
“It may not be … um… a suitable way to show the emperor.”
“Hmmm…. The emperor riding on his own, then?”
Unrealistic, although Miles was past caring about that. But Gregor would kill him all over again. The last thing he needed was an image of himself as a cute infant planted in front of the Counts every day - most of the older ones considered that at thirty-seven the emperor was still a callow youth anyway.
“Pity, it’s a fine moment in our history. Heroic horses and all, too.”
Miles had a headache. He wondered if he was due for a seizure soon – for the first time in his life he hoped so.
The meeting went on. And on. As did the happy reminiscences about the good old days, most of which involved widespread famine, war, invasion, disaster… it was truly amazing that anyone had survived, horse or human.
After a lifetime, which in objective time was another three weeks, they finally settled on a horse-related subject that summed up the usefulness of the horse to Barrayar, in a positive non-Vorkosigan way that included no bloodshed or randomly detached body parts. Miles thanked the committee and summoned the waiting horde of assistants, attendants and resuscitation teams to escort his fellow committee-members out, then reeled off to make his report to Gregor.
Just three months later he stood beside Gregor as the new statue was unveiled. Miles had a horrible feeling that Gregor wanted him within reach, just in case.
But, luckily for Miles, the statue found instant favour with everyone. Soon the trickle of Nexus tourists, and a constant stream of proud Barrayarans, were lining up to have their vids taken beside the statue.
Gregor nodded, “It was a good choice.”
Miles wondered what memories Gregor was seeing. He nodded, “Thank you Sire. And for my next Auditorial assignment, can I just do something easy like stop another Cetagandan war? Please? “
Gregor smothered a grin and led the way back to the waiting cars. He glanced back once more at the statue, a huge improvement on the execution posts, and a nice acknowledgement of Barrayar’s past, in several ways.
He couldn’t see the name plate on the statue at this distance, but he knew it was gleaming in the sunlight. Showing a proud and admirable Barrayaran with the horse that had carried him so faithfully, for so long. The wording on the name plate was the one thing that Gregor had insisted upon; once the subject was chosen he knew just what he wanted it to say. There was a short history of the rider, and his full name. But in large letters was the name that Gregor remembered so well….
Kly the Mail.