"The physical evidence," Commander Vimes said doggedly, "or at least what I saw of it before ImpSec escorted my squad from the crime scene, was entirely inconsistent with two men killing each other in a duel. For one, they were fifty feet apart, and neither of them actually had any blood on their swords. Vorgustafson didn't even have his blades out - it looked to me like he'd been begging for his life."
"Captain Negri's report says otherwise," the Emperor of Barrayar said.
"Negri is a damned liar. It's not his jurisdiction, anyway. Neither victim is in the Counts."
He paused. Vorbarra twirled a pen between his fingers and said nothing.
"Of course," Vimes continued cheerfully, "the perp might be. But until I've proved that, the Municipal Guard has responsibility for the case. Sire."
"Negri's jurisdiction is what I say it is," the Emperor said, a warning in his voice.
"You gave me a job to keep the peace, Sire. It's not like proles kill each other with swords, there's clearly a murderous nob on the loose and he has to be dealt with. To match the two murderous nobs found dead at the scene."
"And do you intend to prosecute the dead ones too?" Vorbarra asked rhetorically, resting two fingers on his nose briefly. "Sometimes, Commander, I think you enjoy your work too much."
"Sire, the most interesting cases are always those that people don't want me to investigate."
The Emperor sighed quietly. "That is as may be." His eyes rose from the report on his desk to give Vimes an even stare. "It has come to my notice that you have been ruffling feathers among the High Vor, Commander."
"I consider it part of my duties to keep an eye on the doings of our native criminal class, sir."
"Yet surely the unfortunate suicide of Lady Vorkosigan was beyond your remit? Being clearly by her own hand."
"Well, if she offed herself, yes. But if, say, her butler murdered her, we'd need to arrest him," Vimes said reasonably. "And we can't know if that's the case until we fully investigate the crime."
"Still, you seem to have taken an exceptional interest in the death."
"Those butlers can be slippery fellows, sir."
The Emperor put his pen down. "A little more discretion would be advisable, Commander."
"Discretion is a Vor problem. I'm just a copper, sir."
Vorbarra studied him.
"Justice is a Vor problem too, Commander Vimes. Your duty is to carry out my justice to the best of your ability. That does not mean wasting your time harassing my closest allies."
"You told me it wouldn't be like this, Sire," Vimes said tightly. "When you asked me to run Yuri to ground for you and keep him penned up in that castle. You said we wouldn't have one law for the poor and no law for the Vor anymore."
"The Counts are their own law. They always have been."
"Yuri was his own law too," Vimes growled. "Sire, you told me to shut down dueling in the city, and I have. If you let one of them walk free because of who his father is, it'll start up all over again."
"I do not choose to finish the destruction of the Vorkosigan clan that Yuri started," Vorbarra said flatly.
"But that doesn't make it not a murder, Sire." Vimes crossed his arms. "Two murders. Three, actually."
"Commander, I do not advise crossing me on this. As far as you are concerned, no crime has been committed. Mercy may be given by my word, as well as death."
Vimes scowled. "There's a difference between a pardon and a cover-up."
"Half the men in my government have earned execution in one way or another. Their lives serve me better than their deaths do. As does yours. For now."
"I don't spend my free time cutting down helpless men and shooting Vor ladies in their bedrooms," Vimes said, showing his teeth.
"Not shooting, perhaps... and how is her ladyship these days?"
Vimes's face went suddenly stonelike. "Who?"
"It has not escaped ImpSec's attention that you have been spending a great deal of time with Lady Sybil Vorramkin lately."
"What does that have to do with anything!?"
"By the ancient traditions of our people, you too deserve death, Commander Vimes."
"We don't prosecute that." Vimes looked nettled and indignant. "Nobody's been done for that in sixty years!"
"The precedents remain, Commander. Myself and my Imperial predecessors have chosen mercy over death, but such conduct remains, to say the least, unlawful."
"It's not even a real crime!"
Vorbarra folded his hands behind his head. "A number of my liegepeople believe that the only important crimes are those against honor, and hold defending the integrity of the family and the chastity of women as their highest priorities. They too, are Barrayarans, and they, too, have a voice in our councils. By their standards, two deaths in duels are nothing, the death of an unfaithful wife is justice done, but the seduction of an Vor virgin by a man of no quality deserves every punishment the law might bring to bear."
"Yes," Vimes said, "but they're wrong."
Ezar Vorbarra smiled.
"As it happens, I agree. Still, I trust my point has been made." He looked Vimes in the eye. "There was a crime. I acknowledge it and I pardon the criminals. The pardons will be written out and go in their permanent Political Education files. This will not be made a public matter. I... request that you be content with this."
Not quite a command. He would have rebelled at a command. Vimes nodded slowly, still seething.
"If you wish a pardon on your own behalf... ?"
"No. I have nothing to be ashamed of."
"As you say. Do not get me wrong, Commander Vimes. The traditions of the Imperium have their place and purpose. To forget our history is to forget who we are."
"I've always thought history should stay in the past, where it belongs."
Vorbarra nearly laughed. "Also a good argument."
A long and thoughtful pause followed. Vimes shifted to his other foot uncomfortably.
"I am not sure you are aware, Commander, but I have recently been inquiring into the origins of the Municipal Guard."
"Don't you have better things to do with your time, Sire?"
Vorbarra sighed. "Do pay attention, Commander. To my great interest, the Imperial historians have turned up a narrative of its origins as the private guard of Count Vorbohn, back in the Time of Isolation. After my imperial ancestors seized the city from him and renamed it, a younger son of that line was allowed to continue as the titular head of police."
His thin smile reappeared. It was not a nice smile. "Further inquiries into that lineage revealed something astonishing. While Lord Vorbohn's legitimate line died out due to what appears to have been congenital traitorousness, several illegitimate lines of descent were discovered by my staff. Including, interestingly enough, yours. It has occurred to me that due to the increased visibility and role of the Municipal Guard, it might be appropriate to resurrect the hereditary title, and the duties and honors that traditionally have gone with with it."
Vimes looked at him in stark horror. "What...? No!"
"I have already consulted the relevant Vor authorities. The Counts approved your inheritance of the title in a closed session this morning, as part of the budget bill. Along with an increased staff for the Guard, financing for several new stations in the outskirts of the city, and another dartboard."
"You can't do that!"
"Feel free to consult the text of the decree and the genealogical report at your leisure."
He picked up the folder Vorbarra slid across the table, hand trembling with suppressed anger. He looked at the documents. He looked at the Emperor.
This is such bullshit, Vimes's stare said.
My documentation is impeccable, the Emperor's very faint smirk said in return.
"Of course," Vorbarra added, "it's not an empty title. As a free lord of the Vor, you shall have the customary rights that follow from that, as well as the lordly right to be tried by your peers in the Council of Counts. Though not, I think, to lay charges there..."
Vimes, who had looked up alertly, scowled. The Emperor consulted his notes. "In addition, you have the privilege of wearing a silver-studded sword belt with the Vorbarra arms on it... I am aware you do not own any swords, Commander. I will be gifting you a dueling pair out of my collection. You may also stable a pair of horses at the Imperial Stables free of charge."
"Don't own any horses," Vimes muttered.
"I've spoken with Lady Sybil about the acquisition of two well-mannered police horses for your department's use. She is very enthusiastic about the idea of a mounted patrol in the city. And of course you will have your own banner."
The remnants of his composure broke. "What the bloody hell would I do with a banner?"
"Customarily it would be flown at your estate or at Vorhartung Castle when you have official business there."
"I have an apartment. In the Caravanserai."
Vorbarra tsked. "While it appears that Lord Vortaine has current ownership of what was Lord Vorbohn the Younger's historic estate, the other rents and properties I will be devising on you will be sufficient to support a family in the customary style of a Vor lord."
"I don't have–" He stopped.
"Lady Sybil is a particular friend of mine, Commander. She has been much grieved that the disparity between your rank and hers has until now prevented a formal engagement."
There was no hint of humor in the Emperor's stare now. "I expect that you will do honorably by her. Lord Vorbohn."
"...yes, Sire," Vimes got out, somewhat weakly. The Emperor smiled and turned back to his work, and Vimes found himself dismissed. Saluting, he left, stunned and off-balance.
The realization hit him halfway down the hall, and his fist slammed into the plaster with a thud, startling a Residence servingwoman. He knew what they said of him, that he was the little yappy dog running ahead of Emperor Ezar's fine Vor steed, chasing the quarry to ground.
Lord Vorbohn. Not funny, Sire. Not funny at all.