When Petya is not yet one year old, his mother kills herself with a plasma arc after a loud argument with his father. Petya is away with Cousin Padma at the time, playing with jumpship models and being lectured at about their finer points under Prince Xav's watchful eye.
Petya is rescued from an eleven-year-old's natural enthusiasm by an enraged Count Piotr. Petya is told later about how Prince Xav and Count Piotr had talked into the night, is told later about his father's duels, is told later about the months-long debates about what should be done with young Piotr with a dead mother and a father who is descending into drunken depravity with Uncle Ges.
At the time, Padma tells him that drinking is what adults do when they forget how to cry, and Petya practices crawling.
When Petya is six, Dad is made a Captain and Prince Xav dies. Petya wears his House blacks and stands by his father as Dad and Padma light the offering pyre as the only surviving grandchildren, and Petya sits on the floor in the yellow parlor and listens as the Emperor and Gran'da talk about the Cetagandan war and the night when Grandma was killed along with most of Prince Xav's family.
Petya knows about Yuri's civil war, that an Emperor ordered the deaths of his grandmother and uncle and aunt, and his dad was supposed to die that night, too, but it's then, sitting quietly and trying to be unnoticed, that he finds out that his father took the first cut out of an Emperor.
"It's not something I like to think about, Petya," his father answers when he asks, and ruffles his hair, distracted. "I hope I'm bequeathing you a better Barrayar," he says, and then leaves for ship duty when the mourning period is finished.
When Petya is nine, he hears rumors of his mother's infidelity. Two weeks later, he gets up the courage to corner his grandfather alone.
"Am I an acknowledged bastard?" he asks, doing his best not to rock back and forth on his feet when he says it, tries to stand up properly like the Vor should and look the enemy in the eye. Even if the enemy is your grandfather or your own genes or your dead mother's suicide.
"Nonsense," Count Piotr says. "I would never have allowed you my name if you were." And from his tone, that is all he will say on the subject.
Petya tries to take that as truth, but he wonders. He sends a message to his father, who responds with nothing but Petya's genetic scan, taken after birth, one of the first full genetic scans ever done on Barrayar.
Petya burns it up with incense at his mother's grave and doesn't tell anyone what it says. There's knowing he's excessively inbred, that he's his own third cousin, so closely related to himself that his name properly should have been Piotr Pierre, and even more than that, related to himself another half-dozen ways, but then there's seeing it written out. He's no mutie and he is Aral Vorkosigan's son, but his gene scan scares him in a way nothing else has. He wonders if he could get away with marrying a galactic like Prince Xav did. Except that Prince Xav was never supposed to be the father of Emperors, and Petya is supposed to father a Count Vorkosigan.
If you're supposed to father a Count Vorkosigan, Petya thinks, you can't just go around marrying anyone or picking up some Betan woman soldier and taking her home. You're supposed to do it properly, send the baba to a good and proper Vor family, and have good and proper Vor babies. You can't let sentiment cloud your judgment when it comes to dynastic inheritance. Things have to be done properly or not at all.
Petya starts to wonder if he can get away with not at all. But the Vorkosigan Countship ends in a point, at him. His duty lies in continuing it.
That year, Petya spends a long time worrying about bloodlines and studying his very carefully, wondering, worrying. There doesn't seem to be any choice available to him other than his grandfather's philosophy, and his grandfather had been the one to arrange his parents's marriage. And look how that had ended up, with Petya and maternal suicide.
His father says, when he comes back on leave and asks Petya what he thought, "Petya, by the time you're married, we'll have galactic medicine and gene cleaning technology. You don't have to worry about anything."
Petya wants to object that their access to galactic medicine relies on Komarr, and Komarr isn't trustworthy to keep letting Barrayarans through or keeping more Cetagandans out. But his father is only home for a short amount of time and, besides that, he's probably right. Petya's supposed to leave the worrying about this for other people. Adult people.
It occurs to him when his father is gone again on ship duty that his father had had the gene scan done before his mother died, before the rumors started, before it may ever have been necessary to prove to the Counts that Petya was legitimate. And that's when Count Piotr tells him about Ges Vorrutyer and about the duels.
Petya turns ten and knows his father is a murderer.
When Petya is fifteen, Prince Serg marries Kareen Vorinnis, second daughter of Count Vorinnis. Petya attends the wedding at Midsummer and spends the festivities contemplating historical parallels. Yuri, who killed most of his family, was born on Midsummer's Day. But considering historical parallels is futile. Petya was born the night of Winterfair; that doesn't make him Father Frost. And so Petya dances with the new Princess and keeps his damn fool mouth shut and smiles at Vor dragons who trill over him and talk about arranging his marriage when he's of age. He thinks fondly of school, less fondly of Yuri's genes and history, and keeps his damn mouth shut.
A year and change after the wedding, there is a ball to celebrate the birth of the Imperial heir and Petya sits with Kareen and gives his congratulations and moves on. He does not speak to Serg and Petya keeps his eye on Kareen all night, wondering what it means to be a mother, wondering if his mother looked like this when he was born.
In four years, Princess Kareen's son will become Emperor. In five years, her father will be driven into panic by not knowing her true allegiances or what her plans are and will make a dreadful, eventually fatal, mistake by failing to choose any side in the Pretendership War. He will be killed by a Vordarian loyalist in the final days, a slow death that will linger for months. Emperor Gregor will attend the funeral, flanked by Vorkosigans on all sides, and Petya will wonder what he would have thought at the Imperial wedding and birth, had he known what the future was going to bring.
When Petya is sixteen, his father murders a man and returns from Komarr and heads directly to a court-martial. Petya manages to see him briefly; a disgraced broken-back-to-Captain father is still the Conqueror of Komarr, and the preparatory academy went into collective paroxysms of glee when the conquest of Komarr was announced. Aral Vorkosigan's name has currency, and despite the political disgrace, Petya gets leave from school to visit his father during his house-arrest.
Petya's father has killed a man for making him into a liar and his grandfather seconds him an armsman for when he isn't safely at school.
"Damn Komarrans running about," Count Piotr grumbles, and at the Emperor's Birthday, Petya is introduced to a group of Komarran professors who are visiting Vorbarr Sultana University.
Petya is very aware of Esterhazy at his back and he makes polite conversation after he is introduced. Later, he will hear that his father is being called the Butcher, and all Petya can think of is that his father killed someone with his bare hands for making him eat his word as Vorkosigan.
Petya has listened to too many lectures to doubt what it means to be Vorkosigan. He knows it means risk in service, he knows it means a life in danger, he knows it means fealty and loyalty and responsibility.
He's not sure he could kill someone for making him a liar. Not bare-handed.
"That's hardly a weakness, boy," Captain Vorkosigan rumbles at him and pats him on the back. "Back to school with you now."
When Petya is seventeen, he heads off to the Imperial Service Academy and doesn't see his father for two years. The Academy gives time off for Winterfair only and Petya is secretly glad of it, because he's getting uncomfortably aware from his Vor classmates that being raised by your grandfather and sent off to preparatory schools starting at age twelve is something rare even among the Vor.
At the Academy, he sees more of his Vorrutyer relatives at one time than he ever has before and he realizes that he has more relatives than he knows what to do with. He doesn't think he wants to do anything with them, but that's unfair, it's hardly their fault.
Mad Uncle Yuri, Petya thinks and knows it's unfair of him, never decided to wipe out the Vorrutyers. They don't know how lucky they are. Petya's lived his entire life with the knowledge that he has a very small family. The concept that he has a huge one on the Vorrutyer side is new and not entirely welcome. He'd known it intellectually, of course; he's spent most of the last decade memorizing his family tree and he knows how many relatives he has, but there are five Vorrutyers at the Academy with him and two are teaching classes. Living with it every day is different from simply knowing it to be true.
He picks up Vorrutyer family gossip here and there and when he passes a tiny part of it back to his father, he gets a scathing response and Petya doesn't mention them again.
When Petya is nineteen, he is ordered out of class and into a cold, dark room where he is given a fast-penta allergy test and then interrogated by the Ministry of Political Education, and Petya doesn't dare ask why.
Petya sees Padma briefly and they talk around what happened and Petya sees Padma's scars, new and angry and red, and Padma tells him, relief clear in his voice, that he is grateful that it was only him who was hurt. They compare questions they can remember and Petya gratefully lets Padma change the subject to his newly betrothed, Lady Alys Vorinnis, and they talk about wedding preparations and stop talking about everything else.
His father looks strained in his brief messages and Uncle Ges pulls Petya to the side one day and pumps him for information on how his father is doing, with, thankfully, no fast-penta this time. Petya tells Padma about it, after, and Padma looks troubled and doesn't say anything to him about marriage, just tells him to be careful and never stop.
Petya doesn't remember his mother's death but the undercurrents here are fraught and remind him uncomfortably of things he doesn't consciously remember. He is as careful as he can be, trying to be unnoticed, and he feels his name like a target on his back.
Everyone knows that Lord Vorkosigan is picking fights with his Political Officers and the War Party and making himself as big a political target as possible. Petya exercises the line about serving officers playing politics when others ask him if he is obedient to his father in this as well, and wishes he could ask his father what the hell he thinks he's doing. He can't. He knows it's psychosomatic, but he can feel the fast-penta headache come on again, can hear that cold harsh voice asking him question after question and not believing any of his answers, whenever he thinks about trying, and so he doesn't.
Petya is tense for what seems like months constantly and his fellow cadets give him a wide berth. He's politically dangerous, more and more, it seems, each day, and Petya cultivates an air of distance from them. They let him and even his friends seem relieved.
To be a Vorkosigan right now is to be, rumor has it, nearly at war with the Prince. It's barely a step from there to treason and Petya spends that year being nervous and constantly wondering if he should message his father and demand either that he stop or that he explain himself. To be a Vorkosigan is to be in danger, and there is no path of safety that he can walk. His name won't save him from what another of his name is doing. Petya wishes he could publicly distance himself from his father for his own safety, but he thinks that would only make things worse. Then he could be a pawn to be used against his father, instead of a pawn to be hurt instead of his untouchable father.
He has choices and none of them are particularly appealing.
Petya does nothing and at Winterfair, when he turns twenty, he attends the Emperor's Ball and meets Lieutenant Illyan, the man assigned to spy on his father, and thinks: whatever this is, it is going to be horrible, and his father in the middle of it.
For the first time, Petya wonders what it would be like to die for treason for a conspiracy he doesn't even know anything about. Because if this takes his father down, it's going to kill him, too. That much, from the glint in Uncle Ges's eye that Winterfair, is clear.
When he hears of the disaster that is Escobar, when he is deployed to fight riots along with the rest of the cadets, Petya is ashamed to admit that he's glad that the worst seems to be over. Vorbarr Sultana is on fire, but the worst has to be over. He can breathe now.
His father returns from Escobar and tells him about Captain Cordelia Naismith by way of telling him that he is resigning his commission. Lord Vorkosigan seems relieved, but quiet. His eyes light up at the mention of Captain Naismith and Petya begins to prepare himself for the concept of a step-mother. In his less charitable moments, he wonders why his father couldn't have given him a step-mother when he was young, when he used to lie awake in bed, wishing he had one, or a real mother, or siblings, wishing he had a proper large Vor family instead of just Gran'da filling up Vorkosigan House with the power of his legacy.
And then Petya returns to class and receives no messages from his father at all. His grandfather, when he sends Petya word, says very little at great length. Petya tries not to let it worry him, but the last time his family had been this quiet, it had lasted a week until his grandfather had told him that his father had killed a political officer. Silence among Vorkosigans never bodes well.
Petya encounters Illyan during a training exercise and is very subtly debriefed on his father's mental state as Petya has seen it. Ten minutes into the conversation, Petya gets the impression that this is more than a background check, this is Negri's hand at work.
And then Illyan tells Petya about his father's suicide attempt, about the full extent of his drinking, and Petya remembers being very young and his grandfather blowing up at his father, ordering him to stop being a drunk and start being a father. Petya grimaces at the memory, at the thought of his father creating worse and worse accidents in hopes he will not walk away from them, and changes the subject as best he can.
Illyan, perhaps in a fit of sympathy, lets Petya steer the conversation to Illyan's childhood in the Vorloupulous's District. Petya practices his school-learned Greek at Illyan and Illyan responds by correcting his pronunciation. And then Illyan gives him a private comm-card to contact Negri should Admiral Vorkosigan ever show up at Vorkosigan House drunk beyond circumspection and babbling about anything.
Anything at all.
And the Ministry of Political Education may have been wiped off the face of Barrayar, but ImpSec is still the teeth in the smile. Illyan's smile is full of them as he bids Petya good day and orders him to let ImpSec know if his father says anything he shouldn't.
It is a very long year.
When Petya is twenty-one, he meets Cordelia Naismith.
He arrives at Vorkosigan House promptly, hoping he comes off well. He's taken great care with his appearance; he doesn't think his boots have ever been shinier. Petya hopes, very much, that he does not come off as a bloodthirsty barbarian, or whatever his father mentioned Captain Naismith had called all Barrayarans. His father had told Petya in confidence that Captain Naismith had met Uncle Ges, no details given or needed, and rumor says that she had been the one to kill him.
Petya hopes he comes off well, for the sake of his planet's reputation, if not his father's. And if not even that, then for the sake of his Vorrutyer relatives, and his own.
His father isn't in uniform, but he is accompanied by a woman who can only be Captain Naismith, so Petya salutes him anyway. From the look on Captain Naismith's face, that was the wrong decision.
"Da," he says, hoping to make up for his mistake and not sabotage his father's chances.
His father gives him a brief hug, then pulls back. "Cordelia, this is my son, Piotr. Petya, Cordelia Naismith."
Petya takes her proffered hand and shakes it. "Captain Naismith," he says genuinely. "My father has told me so much about you."
They go in to dinner. Petya notices the conspicuous absence of his grandfather and is informed that the Count has already met Captain Naismith. And given his approval? Petya assumes so, or he wouldn't be meeting her. Petya certainly approves. He's seen his father drunk and he knows the signs. His father isn't drunk. Petya likes Captain Naismith for that alone.
The food is straight from some Betan holovid. It's typical of that fare from what Petya can dredge up from his comparative cultures classes: no meat and few grains, but a lot of rice and greens, with a tendency towards milk products in dressings and side dishes. Petya supposes that if his father marries Captain Naismith, there is a lot of Betan food in his future. The food isn't bad; he can get used to it.
The conversation is very light. Petya learns that Captain Naismith has a brother and mother back on Beta Colony and that her father is dead. He discovers that she has, like his father, resigned her commission.
Unlike his father, of course, she is not currently widely rumored to become the regent for Prince Gregor. Lord Vorkosigan had spoken of it to Petya only briefly, to deny it categorically.
Padma, Petya thinks with a smile, is probably right in calling him Admiral See-No-Evil. But Petya, selfishly, hopes that his father can avoid the honor. For good reason.
"Do you hope for ship duty, like your father?" Captain Naismith asks.
"No, ma'am," Petya says. "Security."
Left unvoiced is if it would be allowed. If a Vorkosigan were regent, then there is no way a Vorkosigan heir would be permitted in Imperial Security. Not in this political climate, not with riots still, not with Escobar and the Ministry of War still very fresh in people's minds.
Other cadets are whispering their worries about another civil war, if the Emperor's regent either can't hold power well enough, or holds it too well. If his father ends up as Lord Regent, Petya can say goodbye to any hopes of a security career. It would be too politically dangerous, and Petya has learned all about political danger. If his father becomes regent, Petya is probably going to be shoved under a rock somewhere and told to keep quiet for sixteen years.
After the last few years he's had, he thinks, he would welcome some quiet.
He mentions none of this to Captain Naismith, but his father nods at him across the table. "Petya's been taking all security electives at the Academy. He gets very good grades."
An armsman enters the room and speaks quietly to Petya's father. Petya can see Illyan hovering behind the door and Lord Vorkosigan excuses himself for a moment to deal with whatever problem has come up.
Petya turns to Captain Naismith. She is looking at him with a rather strange look in her eye that Petya cannot decipher. Later, he will learn what all her Betan facial expressions mean. In hindsight, he knows this one means that she is assessing him and trying to pick him apart to see how he fits together, how he fits into his father's life, with the sharpness of someone immersed in Betan mental health attitudes since birth.
"Captain Naismith," Petya says, leaning forward. This is the best chance he will get for this. "If I may speak for my father for only a moment."
"By all means, please do," she encourages him.
"I don't know all that he has told you about my mother or myself," Petya begins, feeling like he's taking his life into his hands, "or what you have deduced from his career and the fact that he has an of-age son. I know from afar that it might look as if he abandoned me to be raised solely by my grandfather, or that he may have not cared for me as a father should due to the rumors of my mother's infidelity. I would like to testify to you, in confidence, the kind of man my father is, in hopes that I might ease any kind of doubts you may have been having about him in your courtship."
Petya pauses for breath. Captain Naismith gives him an encouraging 'go on' gesture.
"While my father was not often around," Petya continues, "I never doubted for a moment that he loved and cared for me. Our discussions may have been through a comconsole or delayed in replies for weeks, but that does not mean we did not have discussions or that he deferred the duty of fatherhood onto his father. If I may give only one example. When I was a child, I heard a rumor that my mother was unfaithful to my father and wondered if I was legitimate. I asked my grandfather, who gave me only a reassurance. And so I passed the question on to my father. I was hesitant to do so, I admit, not because I was scared that I might anger him, but because I knew that I might be disturbing him with unkind memories of my mother, and he himself has only spoken highly of her to me. And although he did later admit to me in person that she was unfaithful, that is the most slanderous remark he ever told me about her; I have, in my life, heard many worse about her from other sources. But in response to my question, my father sent me my gene scan.
"He knew me well enough to know that I didn't want comforting reassurances, I wanted data, and so that's what he gave me, more data than I knew what to do with and it took me several years to put it all into place in my own head, but that is no criticism of his act, only an admission of needing time to process certain facts of my existence. My father knew enough of me to know that I would consider the data all the reassurance I could ever want and, in fact, the only reassurance I would trust. My father knew me, Captain Naismith, and he knows me. He may not have spent my childhood with me in person, but I have no complaints at all about him as a father. I hope...I hope only that my existence, in view of his long naval career, has not caused you to think poorly of him."
Captain Naismith's lips quirk. "Rehearsed that, did you?" She waves away his protests. "That was very kindly said, Piotr."
"I just hope that him having a son doesn't negatively impact your view of him," Petya says, having completely run out of his prepared speech. That had been more brutal and more difficult than any report he had ever given or enduring any dressing-down he had received at the Academy. And with much more far-reaching consequences. "I have studied Betan views on Barrayarans and they aren't complimentary."
"Piotr," Captain Naismith asks, smiling at him, "would you like me to marry your father?"
"Oh, yes, please," Petya says eagerly. "I swear that it's not out of any kind of childish wishing for someone to replace my mother or to be her for me. You transform my father into the man I remember from before Komarr, you lift weights off his shoulders. I would be endlessly grateful to you if you would marry him. And, if it's not too forward, ma'am, I would like siblings."
Captain Naismith, from there, tells Petya about Betan attitudes to children and gives him a brief summary on Betan reproductive technology, and so when his father returns to the room with a short apology, Petya and Captain Naismith are discussing something other than the fact that the woman Aral Vorkosigan has chosen to be his second wife already knew about his first wife's infidelity.
A week afterwards, Captain Naismith and Admiral Vorkosigan elope. Petya attends as witness, stretching his social duties pass out until he only barely makes it back to the Academy before curfew. He explains nothing to the guard on duty.
It amuses him to think of everyone finding out about the marriage from the vital statistics bulletin instead of an announcement issued from Vorkosigan House or capital gossip or anyone actually being informed that there was a betrothal. Marriage announcement: Aral Xav Vorkosigan of the Vorkosigan's District to Cordelia Anne Naismith of Beta Colony. With no rank to alert anyone, Petya gives it a half a day to get all the way around the Academy and back rather than a couple hours at most.
When Petya is twenty-two, he is assigned to advanced course ImpSec training.
Three months later, he is pulled out of a training mission in the middle of the night and shipped back to the main campus, where he is abruptly ordered out of his security studies and transferred into diplomacy instead. He goes, still wearing his hazard gear, and is not surprised at all when, two days later, his father is publicly announced as Emperor Ezar's choice for his grandson's regent.
Thinking fond curses at Diplomat Prince Xav, First Ambassador To Beta Colony, Petya puts his head down and finishes his training in diplomacy. He's Vorkosigan. He serves. His father was broken down to Captain, even after conquering Komarr, and never said a word of complaint about it in Petya's hearing. Petya can take a career shift.
It's all a whirlwind of school and politics and required social duties and exams and Petya is graduating after the rest of his class, making up time he wasted pursing Imperial Security when he knew, he knew, his father would be Lord Regent and Petya would never be allowed anywhere near the Emperor's security.
Somewhere between an exam and his dinner, Petya is informed that the Emperor is dead. In later years, he will have to look up the date; it makes no impression on him at the time. It is only an hour and a half later that he realizes, to his surprise, that the Emperor is dead. The new Emperor is a child. There is a need for the Regency now.
Petya attends Ezar's funeral and makes oath to the new Emperor and on one inconspicuous, utterly unmemorable day, he sees his cousin Padma for the last time.
Later, when he shifts through painful, harried memories, he's never sure exactly when everything happens; he always needs a calendar, and occasionally a history text, to reconstruct it. It's always meshed together. There is the new Emperor and the end of his exams and being informed that his step-mother is pregnant and being briefed on new security measures and then there are bombings and assassination attempts and Petya almost longing for the days when he knew what the enemy looked like.
And then Evon Vorhalas tries to kill his father and Captain Lady Vorkosigan and succeeds in hurting Pierre Miles. Petya rushes from the Academy grounds to Vorkosigan House before finally ending up, panting, being lectured at by a concerned armsman, in ImpMil. His father makes a comment about putting diplomatic training to the test and tells him to keep General Piotr as far from Cordelia as possible.
Petya spends an unending amount of time hearing about soltoxin poison and House Vorkosigan and mutations. He very quickly memorizes Count Piotr's arguments from hearing endlessly about how his father already has an heir and so there's time for Lord and Lady Vorkosigan to try again, how House Vorkosigan does not need a mutant to enter the bloodline, how galactics and galactic medicine cannot guard the genome better than the right and proper ways. Petya hears his grandfather's voice raised in rage so often it haunts his dreams, echoing among nightmares of the Vorhalas brothers and of fast-penta, and Petya learns how to hide his flinch whenever Count Piotr starts on another rant about galactic perversions. But part of being a diplomat means being a distraction so ImpSec can get the real work done in the background. Petya considers this absolutely bizarre training, but it's apt and appropriate very bizarre training. He's playing Obedient Grandson and buying his father and his step-mother time to try to save his brother.
He's only just gotten used to the idea of a brother. And now his brother might never be born and is, from what Petya can tell, a very high level science experiment. Petya, in a fit of irrationality, wishes he'd gone to medical school instead of the Imperial Military Academy so at least he could understand half the words being thrown around in his hearing. Instead, he hunkers down and follows orders and tries to keep General Piotr from pulling his family apart. He's still getting used to having a real family. He would like to keep it.
The argument is still ongoing when Vordarian surprises everyone by making his move early. Petya, who officially has nowhere near the security clearance to know about the plot, has overheard more than he properly should have in the course of obeying his father in handling his grandfather, but if his father did not take that into consideration or think it a security concern, then Petya is not going to bring it to his attention. More knowledge is better. More knowledge is always better.
It feels as if the entire Regency is balanced on the edge of a blade and a gentle gust of wind will topple it over. Petya doesn't know details, his father is careful about that, but he's heard that something is about to happen. Negri had asked the Lord Regent for an Imperial order. Which means treason. High-born. A Count.
And then a smoking lightflyer arrives, the young Emperor strapped inside. Captain Negri dies in full view of four Vorkosigans and the Emperor he was sworn to serve and save. Few things in Petya's life have been as clearly delineated. One minute, they are not at war. The next minute, they are.
His father and grandfather turn to look at him almost as one. "Petya," Aral Vorkosigan says, "you have ImpSec training."
"Yes, my lord Regent," Petya says, because he isn't talking to his father or even Admiral Vorkosigan, he's talking to the Regent of Barrayar and being given secret orders.
And within an hour, they're gone. They leave comms behind and all energy weapons, and Petya takes a survival pack, stuffed carefully with gear and emergency supplies. And he grabs from his grandfather's old guerilla stores a standard issue dagger. His grandfather has taught him how to use it to kill his dinner. His instructors at the Academy have taught him how to use it to kill his enemies.
Petya fancies himself assigned to the Emperor's protection. He prefers this fiction to the reality that he's assigned as the Emperor's protection. The thought terrifies him. He has been ordered to keep the Emperor safe at any cost. They are to go into hiding among civilians and Petya knows his history backwards and forwards. He knows what any cost means. And he will pay that price gladly in exchange for even another minute of Gregor's life. Petya tells himself that if he didn't think he could do it, could stomach it, then he has just wasted years training to spend his life in Imperial Security, protecting his Emperor.
Their small group makes their way through to guerilla territory and the caches that General Piotr still has stashed in the mountains from the last two wars he fought in them. Petya knows this land from his childhood, he knows the Dendarii Mountains as well as anyone who doesn't live in them, but he is not a native of the hills and he is aware of this severe defect, he is aware of the gaps in his knowledge and the hundreds of ways it could prove deadly, and so from the first minute, he is weighing possibilities and risks. He cannot take as many risks as he could if he were two people, not one. He cannot let the Emperor out of his sight and Petya promises himself that first night that he will do what he can to make sure the Emperor does not watch him kill. Gregor is his Emperor, but a child, still. There are things he does not need to see. If he survives long enough, Gregor will witness what is done in his name. But for now, Petya hopes desperately, let him be a child. Let him be a child now and live long enough to grow to understand the responsibilities of command. Petya knows that it is inevitable, he will kill in his Emperor's name, but let it not be on his Emperor's conscience. Let it not haunt his dreams.
Not yet. Not yet. Petya weighs his dagger in his hand and lets it fly in practice, chanting to himself. Not yet. Not yet.
Armsman Esterhazy arrives after three days to confirm the intelligence situation and take the two witnesses back to rejoin the front. Petya stands at parade rest while Esterhazy makes a show of asking Gregor how he feels and if he knows where he is going. Gregor answers honestly, that he doesn't know, and Petya exchanges a look with Esterhazy.
"Into hiding," Petya prompts his Emperor. They aren't fighting a war against an enemy, they're fighting it for invisibility. And, right now, Petya's fighting a war against time. Time to show before witnesses that the Emperor was healthy when he left with Petya, that he was aware of what was going on. Time to prove before witnesses that this is not a kidnapping. And then time for the witnesses to leave and for Petya to find a place to camp for the night, far away from here, against the possibility of the witnesses being captured and interrogated.
Gregor repeats dutifully, "Into hiding."
"So witnessed," Sergeant Bothari says.
Captain Lady Vorkosigan has told Petya her opinions on this at length. Now, she simply repeats Bothari's witnessing and gives Petya a stern look that reminds him of one of his Vorrutyer aunts, down to the dangerous glint in her eye.
It isn't an ideal witnessing, but it's as close as they're going to get on such short notice: an armsman witness and a witness who is neither a blood relative nor involved in a liege relationship with Petya, the only adult being witnessed. It's all legal fiction anyway, Petya thinks uncharitably. If there is ever a situation where the witnesses would have to swear in court that Lord Piotr Vorkosigan did not kidnap the Emperor, they were all already dead because Vordarian had won. And some pedantic lawyer would probably throw it out anyway because Captain Lady Vorkosigan is sworn to the Emperor, as is Bothari through Count Piotr's oath. But damn the lawyers. If they all survive this, a formal and proper witnessing will have been politically expedient. If they don't, it's only wasted time, and they've already died.
"I'll keep him safe," Petya promises his step-mother. "Please give my obedience in this matter to my father." At her look, Petya says, trying for indifference and achieving only scared, "it is very likely that I will never see him again. Please let him know that I will obey his order and defend the Emperor with my life, if necessary."
His step-mother gives him a serious nod, and then reaches forward and hugs him. "I'll give your father your love," she promises him.
Petya and Gregor part ways from Esterhazy and the witnesses after only a few more drawn out minutes and Petya thinks a fond farewell to the illusion of trained, armed soldiers in their prime, fighting at his back and at his side in this war. If only. He has backup in the form of General Piotr's old guerilla forces, but they haven't fought a war since Yuri's death, and some not since the Cetagandans fled. At thirty years removed from their last war, they are certainly not the troops Petya would prefer to take to war. So it's a good thing I'm not taking them to war, Petya thinks.
This is not a war. This is going into hiding. It's being as invisible as possible while other people fight the war. He's been explaining it to Gregor as a game, a long drawn out game of hide and seek across a mountain range. And if you're caught, terrible things happen. Petya is still figuring out how to put that in terms that won't scare Gregor into running away from him, convinced Petya is going to hurt him.
He will kill for the Emperor's protection, but the point of this, he tells himself repeatedly, is to keep the Emperor safe, not kill the enemy.
Petya takes a deep breath and tells himself, this is for real now. The Emperor's life depends on him and he will not be the Vorkosigan who manages to lose an Emperor instead of create one.
In his nightmares, Petya imagines these mountains burning around him. His thoughts are full of Cetagandan atomics, even as he knows that comparison to be false. The historical parallel here is Yuri, not Dorca. Vordarian would not dare turn Hassadar into Vorkosigan Vashnoi. And even the Cetagandans failed at blowing up the Dendarii Mountains. Petya could not ask for better fortifications.
If anywhere on Barrayar is safe for the Emperor, it is here. That is a very cold comfort. It's certainly possible that nowhere on Barrayar is safe for the Emperor.
Days have never passed so slowly. Nights take even longer.
Petya curses himself for imagining siblings, for dreaming of brothers to divert attention away from him. The rain falls down on top of their make-shift shelter their fourth night alone and Petya thinks that the last thing the Imperium needs is more potential heirs to the throne, not until the child Emperor can secure his line. But that is looking too far to the future for a planet thrust into civil war. Petya tells himself to leave succession speculation until after his father has won, and certainly not for a night full of rain and thunder, with his Emperor shaking beneath an old camp blanket, whimpering for his mother.
Petya will not allow himself to speculate on what might happen if his father does not win. He has the Emperor and he will defend him to the death. But if he dies, Gregor dies, too. Petya knows this with a bone-chilling horror. At all cost, Gregor must survive. At all cost.
Petya remembers his grandfather's old stories and he risks visits to villages to round up old guerillas and they set old guerilla traps. These traps can kill a grown man with nothing but twigs and leaves and rocks, and after Petya relearns the knack of it from his childhood, he sits down with Gregor and teaches the boy how to make his own. He tells Gregor it's a rabbit trap and it will bring them dinner. Petya sets them where Vordarian's patrols might hit them, and in a fit of a guilty conscience which he knows even as he does it might endanger them all, scrawls old Resistance signals on cave walls and trees, marking and warning all who pass that this is a battlefield.
The traps work well and Petya is glad of them. He does not have the stomach for slitting throats with his dagger. He did it once; once was enough.
He abandons the Emperor only once. A convoy appears, too many men for hunting traps, and he cannot risk energy weapons. There are explosives in the old caches, enough for Petya to collapse a cave or trigger an avalanche. Petya puts the Emperor in a tree, watches him climb up and down twice to be sure he can, and orders him to stay there and be as silent as possible, and if Petya does not return by the time the sun has reached a certain point, get down and run to the village. All would be lost if Gregor did, but if Petya does not return by that time, all is already lost.
Petya makes it back as quickly as he can, and his hands smell like death as he helps Gregor down from the tree. And then there is a loud explosion and Gregor makes a terrified noise, a keen so horrible and so loud that Petya slams his hand down on Gregor's mouth, silencing him. Gregor quiets instantly and Petya holds him against his shoulder, rocking the boy back and forth, and Gregor cries silently.
Later, after dusk, they move camp and Petya is able to check on that dangerous trap. There is only rubble and blood. Petya does not know how many men he'd just killed. He never finds out.
Small patrols are easier to pick off. These mountains are dangerous even to the natives and he and the guerillas he dares to contact make sure the bodies are never found. This isn't the Cetagandan war. There is no benefit in leaving warnings. Vordarian's men already know themselves to be traitors marked for death.
The first patrol was the hardest to kill. Petya had vomited after and then taken great care to distract Gregor from it all. He'd recognized several of the men from the Academy, would have even considered one of them his friend.
He understands civil war. He understands it thoroughly.
Petya spends the whole of the war in the Dendarii Mountains and all the news he gets is fourth-hand and dismissed immediately for almost certainly being propaganda meant to convince the natives to give up the Emperor. They're loyal, but Petya has no illusions. Fast-penta will beat loyalty any time, day or night, and there are some, even among Old Piotr's faithful, who may decide loyalty to their families is more important. Petya tells no one his name who doesn't already know, encouraging them to think him an armsman's son if anyone at all, but some of the old guerilla soldiers nod to him and tell him that he resembles his grandfather and he thanks them for the compliment and then tries to get it out of his head before it can fester and turn to doubts.
At times, late at night when he's finally managed to get Gregor to get some rest, he's struck with the absurd historical parallels of it all, that he's the same age his namesake was when the Cetagandans invaded and General Piotr fought with these guerillas in these mountains against a threat to the throne and Barrayar. In comparison to the Cetagandans, Vordarian is a small threat to Barrayar, but an even greater threat to the throne.
And he's twice as old as his father was, fighting another civil war, although this time the Vorkosigans are on the side of the ruling Emperor instead of a fighting to overthrow him. Petya hugs Gregor close to his chest when the boy has a nightmare and considers his father throwing his heir in with the boy Emperor, wonders if his father had had these same fears as an eleven year old aide-de-camp, wonders if his father had sat up at night and worried if he would become Count Vorkosigan at so young an age, fighting desperately in the mountains. Bequeathing a better Barrayar, my ass, Petya thinks, and he waits. Civil wars must end eventually, and he's the only Vorkosigan who knows exactly where the Emperor is. The knowledge terrifies him. But his father the Lord Regent has given his word as Vorkosigan and Petya is sworn to both Emperor and Regent. He will keep his own word and he will keep his father's, in this and in everything.
When the news comes down of Vordarian's death, Petya does nothing. He's studied misinformation and propaganda at the Academy and he knows from his grandfather's stories how to win a civil war. And so Petya does nothing. And he waits.
When he sees a Vorkosigan armsman come through the mountains to fetch them, Petya readies his dagger, prepared to commit ultimate treason to one liege-sworn to his family. But Armsman Wrinn calls out a passphrase that could only have been given to him by Count Vorkosigan and approaches slowly, careful to show he carries no weapon. But Petya does not let go of the Emperor's hand until they arrive at Vorkosigan Surleau, until Count Vorkosigan takes the Emperor's other hand and gently orders Petya to stand down. It is then when Petya realizes he is still gripping the unsheathed dagger, still ready to kill in his Emperor's defense.
He drops the dagger. He watches it fall with a very detached thought: I should have cleaned it better.
Count Vorkosigan takes the Emperor on to the capital and Petya is given three days leave. Delivered in the mail during his absence was his commission. Petya had missed the ceremony.
It occurs to Petya that he can't remember the date. He knows he should feel alarmed at that. Instead, he takes a horse and rides to the lake, feeling more comfortable in the trees than he did in the greathouse. He feels too much like a target there. Too many people are looking at him. And they all know who he is.
Petya is given an extension on his leave. He probably has the armsmen to thank for that. It's very strange now, having bodyguards. He keeps opening his mouth to order them to look after the Emperor, not him, and then has to remind himself that the Emperor is in better hands than his.
His Emperor is safe now. He succeeded. His war is over.
When he returns to Vorbarr Sultana, Captain Illyan administers the fast-penta himself and debriefs him thoroughly. Petya nurtures a small hope of being assigned to ImpSec in spite of all the nasty political reasons why that would never be allowed. Instead, he is informed that he will be assigned to a diplomatic post far, far away. Illyan says without saying that Petya is ordered to keep his head down and avoid political scandals on pain of death. Or, beyond worse, another war.
Petya tries not to think about another war and prepares his written report for Illyan. During the debriefing, Illyan had been very concerned about his weapons. Two weeks after he had returned his Emperor to his grandfather, Petya realizes that Wrinn hadn't known if Petya was protecting the Emperor or holding him hostage, and had probably been prepared to shoot him if Petya hadn't stood down immediately when ordered. Petya tries to remember if Wrinn had had his stunner out or something far more lethal.
He can't remember. His actions had forced his grandfather's sworn liegeman to have to make a choice between his Emperor and his liege lord, and Petya can't remember if Wrinn had been ready to kill him.
Petya visits ImpMil and stares at the uterine replicator, thinking nothing in particular, while around him, doctors are trying to brief him on his brother's condition. Petya doesn't care about his brother's condition. He cares about his life. Please be born so I can finally stand down, Miles. He can't leave until his brother is born. His war won't be over until his brother is born. In the mountains, Petya had forgotten all about the soltoxin damage. His grandfather hadn't. His grandfather is still angry. There's a spreading peace on Barrayar, but it has yet to spread into Vorkosigan House.
"I watched your interrogations," his father says to him on one of the days when Petya is pacing a mountain range in the library. "Every minute of them."
There are better things for the Lord Regent to be doing with his time and Petya tells him that. His father shakes his head.
"At Escobar, I knew that if the retreat failed, I was leaving you defenseless and alone, with the Count as your only remaining protector. Even before, I knew my only hope of protecting you was to unflinchingly see it through. From the moment I watched that political officer's body fall to the floor, your safety and mine have been too tightly bound for me to cut the thread without cutting you loose for the jackals to feed on. But I didn't think they would hurt you before I had failed. I had hoped, it seems foolishly, that General Vorkosigan breathing over your shoulder would be protection enough from Serg and his cronies. I had hoped Escobar could buy your safety, but for all my efforts, I had already failed you even before we broke orbit."
"They didn't hurt me," Petya says, desperately, and presses the heel of his palm hard against his eye. "They hurt Padma. They didn't touch me. I'm Vor, it's my duty--"
His father places his hand on Petya's wrist and pulls it gently, firmly, away, and he forces Petya to look at him. "Hurt isn't only what they do to your body," Aral Vorkosigan says. "I know why you've been begging Illyan to let you have the allergy treatment. I watched it all, Petya. Have you?"
Petya sucks in a deep breath and the rest of the night is a blur of his father stroking his hair as he speaks to him softly about grief and about honor, and he wakes up with dried tears on his face. He doesn't feel better, but for the first time in months, he thinks one day, he will.
His orders come through. Ensign Vorkosigan is officially assigned to Earth.
It's none too soon. There are already whispers.
Petya is lying low at a bar frequented by proles and town clowns when he hears the slander for the first time himself, and not repeated to him by Illyan, demanding to know, under fast-penta, what Petya knew about it.
And Petya hears it whispered about how they used to call Piotr Vorkosigan the kingmaker and now they call his son the Lord Regent.
The whispers say, wait until the man who gave Ezar his crown gets a great-grandson. Wait until the Vorkosigan dynasty is sealed. And then that will be the end of it for young Gregor.
Another whisper says, you have to hand it to the Great Admiral. He's maneuvered himself perfectly.
The first voice says, and our children will bow to Vorkosigan's son.
Too many have recently died for treason for Petya to have any desire to track these rumors and whispers, to find out where the spread is coming from. It's ImpSec's problem. He has been very deliberately not assigned to ImpSec. And so this is not his concern. Lord Piotr Vorkosigan should not be listening to this. And Lord Piotr Vorkosigan should not be upset by this.
His Emperor is safe. His duty is finished. He has another duty now. He's learned the difference between talk and actions and this is talk. He's being sent off into exile before talk can turn to something much worse.
Petya turns twenty-three and Vorbarr Sultana rebuilds.
There are ceremonies upon ceremonies for the Lord Regent and Regent-Consort and they move into the Imperial Residence for security reasons, or so says the party line. Petya never adds the truth to it, that it is only partly for security reasons and more for the fact that Count Vorkosigan and Lord Vorkosigan are barely speaking to each other. The Vorkosigans put up a united front, if only in public, and if Petya tenses when he has meals with his grandfather and worries at night in the dark that his grandfather might decide to cut out his son and name Petya his heir instead, Petya doesn't say a word to anyone about it. The last four years have taught him a great deal and not the least of it is how to keep silent.
He hopes, desperately at times, that if he is just invisible enough, people will stop trying to kill him. Being far away on Earth will help.
Petya's orders are in limbo while the ceremonies settle, while Kou and Drou get married, while they mourn for Princess Kareen, while they wait for the birth of Petya's brother. Lady Alys vanishes one night to keep a vigil on her dying uncle in ImpMil and Petya sits up with baby Ivan in his rooms at Vorkosigan House, keeping a vigil of his own over Padma's son, waiting for dawn. He dares not sleep, not with Padma's son demanding his attention as weregild.
Petya survived the war.
"I used to dream, when I was a child," Petya says softly, twirling a finger gently through Ivan's hair. "I would have a son and I would name him Ivan, after Prince Ivan, Xav's son. He died, we found out, about eight minutes before my father's brother did, my uncle Stefan. Prince Ivan was knifed with a Vorbarra seal dagger. Yuri did it himself. He had a low taste for irony. A couple Vorbarra armsmen held proud Prince Ivan while Yuri stabbed him. They said, when the Resistance grabbed them, that Ivan had looked Yuri in the eye when he did it, but I think they were trying to beg mercy from Xav by making him believe his son had died better than he did, that Yuri hadn't made them blindfold Ivan first, to terrify him all the more. Xav was known as a progressive, but I don't know if he'd ever had mercy for traitors, especially oath-sworn armsmen who helped kill a prince.
"The Resistance got them before Ivan had been dead a year, during that terrible winter when my father got his scar and nearly starved to death. Ezar had them hung, later. Xav wanted to have them exposed, but there wasn't time. My father took his cut out of Yuri's stomach because of it, because of Ivan, I think. I don't think it was a conscious decision, but he had been hearing for two years that Xav's son had been disemboweled. It had to make an impression. And I thought, I thought that, being the next generation, it was my job to make things better. Da always told me we have to bequeath a better Barrayar. I thought I would name my son Ivan.
"I didn't think too hard about getting a son, or having a wife. The idea was mostly beyond me at the time, I didn't think too hard about the details. You were born in a room without doors, Lord Ivan, in the dirt. I didn't think about anything like that. Birth, death. Our family has had too much death. And not enough birth. We haven't been keeping up with replacement numbers, not even close.
"I just thought, I was about eight or so, that I could make things better, in my own way, by reusing a name and remembering someone I'd never actually met. I told Padma about this, confessed it to him one early morning when we went to Xav's grave to burn the offering. He said, we'll split it. He'll name his son Ivan. I'll name my son Stefan. And they'll play together and we'll rebuild Xav's family, in the only way we can.
"I'm your cousin, Piotr. Properly, Piotr Richars. My father lost a fight there. Xav's grandsons, not just the firstborns, were all given the name Xav as their second name. It was family pride, to mark them as being Xav's descendants, and also a warning to them, that they were Xav's descendants, scions of the junior Vorbarra line, and beware the senior line. My father, properly Aral Xav, wanted to maintain that custom and make Xav a tradition name for all his sons in the next generation. But he was warned that the Vorrutyers would consider that a serious insult to my mother's father, if I wasn't given a Vorrutyer name. And Gran'da, Count Piotr, would have been upset if I didn't carry his name. It would have fanned all the rumors that I was illegitimate. If I hadn't been given the heir's name, if they hadn't marked me by the paternal line, there would have been a huge scandal. Even more of a scandal than the one there actually was, after my mother's infidelity became common cruel gossip. And I couldn't be named Piotr Pierre, properly, because that's my grandfather's name. So I'm Piotr Richars.
"My uncle Ges once called me Richars Xav. My father's face went a pretty memorable color when he did that. He never did it again. It took me years to realize that Uncle Ges had just insinuated I was an acknowledged bastard. Uncle Ges had a lot to gain by it, I think. Leverage over my father, certainly. And it's a good insult, to give me one of the names the Vorrutyers wouldn't allow. It doesn't matter now, I suppose. Uncle Ges is dead.
"My father didn't even suggest the name honor for Miles, although Miles Xav does have a ring to it, I think. But maybe Gran'da would have objected to that as well. He said he's denying him Pierre, he probably could deny him Xav for the same reason. And for the other reason, too. Family continuance names, if it doesn't go to the firstborn, well, it's something of an insult to give it to the secondborn. I wouldn't have objected, but others might have objected for me. Easier to avoid the problem all together.
"The third son, whenever, if ever, he shows up, might get it. Third son names can be flexible without offending relatives. It's almost like Imperial names -- you aren't supposed to repeat them. The senior Vorbarra line thinks you're insulting previous generations if you reuse a Vorbarra Imperial name, like you're insinuating their only continuance is through the family tree, not through Barrayaran history as is right and proper for Emperors. We only get to keep Xav's name without offending anyone because it happened for the first time in Xav's lifetime and he allowed it. Xav approved of the custom, Gran'da says, because it was a politically convenient way of reminding stodgy fossils like my grandfather that Xav's children and grandchildren may be part-Betan, but they are descended from Dorca through Xav.
"Xav liked to make that point to Gran'da, according to Gran'da. Gran'da might be as traditional as traditional gets, the stodgiest Old Vor to still cast a vote in the Counts, and he may have thought Xav was a progressive degenerate, but Xav was his Prince. He took his oath in the forest, after the massacre, and then gave it back to him before they went to Ezar. But Gran'da did kneel to him, called him sire. And Xav said no. Xav said, we'll give it to Ezar, he's younger, he'll live longer. I don't know how long Xav had known his son was dead by that point. Maybe he didn't know yet. Maybe he was still waiting on news, hoping his son had escaped. What a nightmare it must have been for him, if it was. If he was waiting on word and then came Count Piotr, dragging my father along with him, telling Xav his daughter was dead. My father doesn't like to talk about that night. The first time I asked, he called it a blur. I understand what he means now.
"I didn't really know Xav. Your father did, very well. And he agreed with me and with my father. He agreed about keeping Xav in every generation and marking his descendants. We're descended from Xav's daughters, so we can't carry the name Vorbarra, but we can carry Xav down through the generations. To remind everyone else. And to remind ourselves. I don't think my father could have gotten away with marrying a Betan so soon after Escobar if he weren't Aral Xav, if he weren't already descended from the first ambassador to Beta Colony. It's a good reminder. We could use more of them, these days. Xav never took the throne, after all. He could have taken it from Yuri, but he gave it to Ezar. He chose someone he deemed a better choice ahead of his own ambition. Xav did that.
"So that's why you're Ivan Xav," Petya says to the sleeping baby. "And I don't know when Stefan Xav will show up. Maybe he never will. We'd decided to give the firstborn names to the second sons, but you won't have a brother. And Padma never had a brother who could have passed on his father's name to his son instead of him. He never had the chance. Your father was made an orphan when he was barely older than you are, just a few months. My mother was dead, too, by the time I was that age. We need to do better at living to see our children grown, I told Padma. I should have cut my tongue out before cursing us like that.
"Dad's remarried now, and even if Miles doesn't live to pass on our father's name, there will probably be more children, I think. Lady Vorkosigan said something before, back when she was Captain Naismith, about wanting more children than Beta would have let her have, and that's two. They'll certainly have a girl so my father can have a baby Olivia to remember his mother. There will be a firstborn Aral Vorkosigan, sometime. I don't know if I'll ever have children, but if I do, I'll keep my word to your father, Ivan Xav. I promise. My firstborn son will be Stefan. I'll save my father's name for the second.
"Or maybe I'll name the second one Padma instead. Maybe it would be a better death offering to him than hair and incense. It's normally saved for third sons, you know. Rebuilding history, reusing names of the ones who died childless, who never had grandchildren to return the names to the families. And Padma died childless, technically. You weren't born yet. And I mean no disrespect to you or your father or any children you might some day have, but we just came out of a war," Petya continues. "And I don't know if you're going to live to have a son. I hope so. I'll do what I can to make it so. But Padma deserves for his name to continue. So did Ivan and Stefan and Grandma and Aunt Catherine and everyone else who died in the massacre. We can't let Yuri win. We're still fighting the civil war, in our own way. But we can win. We have to."
Petya rubs his hands together and looks out the window. It is dawn.
He leaves for Earth barely a day after his brother is taken out of the uterine replicator and General Piotr follows through on the threat of refusing him his spare's name, this time before witnesses. Petya isn't entirely surprised, but he is surprised by how immense the explosion ends up being. In a way, he's glad he already has a coward's way out planned for him. Petya, unlike Miles, isn't going to have to live in the middle of the fall-out from Count Piotr following up on that hastily-made threat forbidding the Lord Regent from living on Vorkosigan property or using Vorkosigan funds, disowning him in all but fact. By the time it gets to Petya, the news will be, by practical necessity, out of date and, by security necessity, censored.
"Miles Naismith Vorkosigan," Petya murmurs to himself in the fast courier that's taking him far, far away from his family and from the Vorbarr Sultana society undercurrents who are whispering about treason and conspiracies and the Regent's heir supplanting an Emperor. "It has a ring to it."