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Laisa Toscane has grown up a daughter of one of those families on Komarr. As such, she has been under the public eye since long before she became an adult, long before she could call herself Dr. Toscane, and long before she became Empress Laisa.

What she faces nowadays is different, though.

The least important aspect of it is the insane amount of a focus on the way she wears her hair, her make-up, jewelry, hats, shoes and, most of all, gowns – commented on by every scribbler who gets so much as a glimpse of her. The cincher comes with the select reporters that ImpSec actually lets through and who ask her all kinds of questions. It’s perhaps even more harrowing now that they have learned that yes, she has a brain.

She’d always been confident giving statements to KoSol-1. For the first months in Vorbarr Sultana, she has to fight the continuous urge to check with Gregor before she opens her mouth – Gregor, who trusts her instincts and thus seems perfectly content to let her take whatever stance she wants.

Before, an unsolicitous response from her had had the potential to throw a negative light on the Toscane’s business empire, but such a slip, while inconvenient, would have been comparatively easy for Uncle Calvin’s public relations department to fix. Now, despite the policy of gentle censorship, everything she says has the potential to throw not only the fragile rapprochement between Komarr and Barrayar, but Gregor’s entire Imperium out of balance.

This realization never fails to drive home the near inconceivable honor it is that this man – this man who had since early childhood held what Lady Cordelia had once called the most abhorrent position on Barrayar - had met a stranger and, introduced by a brother he trusted or not, had had the courage to let her in.

In an attempt to minimize the risk, Laisa the Empress discusses Gregor’s policies with as many trustworthy people she can find. Aside from Gregor himself and two dear childhood friends she secures invaluable input from the Koudelka sisters, from Marie Vorvolk, from Miles whenever he can stay focused long enough, from Ekaterin and, as always, Duv.

Bolstered thusly, she not only makes statements to the press. As wife to the Emperor she takes direct influence on state matters by sifting through intel from all over the Nexus and flesh out Gregor’s view with her perspective. It is something Lady Alys and Ekaterin’s Aunt Professora Vorthys had given her to understand previous Empresses have often done in private. Laisa, grateful for everything Lady Cordelia has done to force the Vor to allow for unconventional high-ranking women, does it openly.

She is Laisa the daughter-niece, Laisa the friend, Laisa the lover, Laisa the soon-to-be-mother. She is Laisa who ghostwrote Aunt Tulsa’s all-time favorite advertisement slogan when she was fifteen, Laisa who invariably falls ill whenever she first boards a ship. Laisa who is Dr. Toscane.

Laisa the Empress.

And if the face she shows the public is one she has built on being herself as much as possible, that is both a private victory and, she has found, the best defense.

 

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