You can't fight a war properly if the government is conducting its own war against its generals, and Xav reminds himself of that sternly as he glares at Piotr Vorkosigan. The Emperor has declared Vorkosigan a general, no matter that Vorkosigan barely completed his military apprenticeship before the Cetagandans invaded. And Vorkosigan fights like a butcher, killing anyone in his path without remorse, seemingly without consequence.
But reports have been filtering back from the Dendarii Mountains and every one of them has made Xav wonder if Barrayar is actually worth saving if these are her saviors. Piotr the Bloody, they're calling him, like that's some kind of compliment.
Yuri says that Xav's spent too long with those degenerates on Beta Colony and maybe he's right, but Xav likes to think that he would have balked at killing babies even before the Betans came, before he met Jacqueline, before he had his own children.
And it's not mutants Vorkosigan's killing, these babies are healthy. Even Dendarii hillmen should consider that an abomination.
"They're Cetagandan bastards," Vorkosigan spits. "We just didn't get there in time to cut them out before they were born."
Xav sees red and fights hard to get himself under control and not strike Vorkosigan down where he stands. "You throw out your Emperor's honor like water onto the ground," he growls. "I've been smuggling you these weapons to use against the enemy, not your own side."
"We're not wasting bombs on them," Vorkosigan scoffs. "The old ways are best."
"I can't believe you're a Count," Prince Xav tells him. "You sound like a hill-bred goatfucker."
"Eight generations of them," Vorkosigan says, sounding proud of it. "The Emperor ordered me to hold my District against all invaders. He never said a word to me about how I was supposed to do that, outnumbered and outgunned and out-everything-else. We don't get reinforcements. We barely get supplies. The only news we get is from your underground. If you want to critique my methods, your highness, go ahead. Just spend a year in the dirt like I have before you start. The old guerilla ways are the only advantage we have against those bastards."
"The devil can rationalize any sin if you give him enough time," Xav retorts.
Vorkosigan gives him a wolfish grin. "I'm the devil now? Nice bit of flattery, best I've heard since my capital blew up and took my wife with it. Where were you then? Where was your judgment on me then, my lord? Cetagandan atomics melted her body, with my child not yet born inside her, and you berate me for killing their children, too?"
"You make me sick, Vorkosigan," Xav says. "Worse, you make me feel honorless. You're my father's liegeman, but I wonder at your oath's word to him, since I don't think you have any understanding of obedience to his will. My father has never condoned this, will never condone this."
"The only order I've gotten from Dorca," Vorkosigan says, "is to draw up an army and defend my District."
"Then I'm giving an order in his Voice, my lord Count. Stop this. Stop this immediately. And apologize to the mothers, if you left any of them alive." Xav highly doubts that, but he's open to Vorkosigan giving him a pleasant surprise.
Vorkosigan looks mutinous. "And then what do you give me in exchange? What weapon do you give me for the fight now?"
"You'll get what you always get," Xav tells him. "Which is a share of what I'm giving everyone, divided by need, at my discretion and at my father's order. Be content."
"It's not enough," Vorkosigan says.
"It's what you're getting, this side of a court-martial," Xav says. "Don't make me put you up on charges, Vorkosigan. I'll have my father execute you. Do you think your District will long survive your death?"
"If my District falls, so does Barrayar," Vorkosigan says, and Xav privately agrees with him -- he knows the strategic situation, he's seen all the reports, he knows how close they are to losing this war -- but if they can win without losing their honor entirely on the field of battle, then Xav will fight to the death to keep his family's honor and his word to Jacqueline that Barrayar is changing, that it's a place where they can bring their children, that it's a home she could be proud to call her own.
"If I were a religious man," Xav sighs, "I would call you a punishment for the crimes of my youth, fighting my father's wars. I served as a child when we broke the armies of the Counts, Vorkosigan, and if you think I'm going to allow you to turn that victory into Betan sand over your damn pride, you are much mistaken."
"My army is sworn to Dorca," Vorkosigan says. "The old wars are over, we're fighting the new ones now. It's pitting horse cavalry against atomics and you're cursing me as dishonorable."
"I wish I could curse you," Xav says, "with having only mutants for sons, with your line ending in what you yourself despise. But I'm going to curse you instead with responsibility."
"I'm responsible to the Emperor for my District," Vorkosigan says. "You can't curse me with what I already have."
"A different sort of responsibility," Xav says. "As a general, to prove to me that you are actually one, and not some damn hill boy playing games with explosives. I'm giving you my cousin Ezar as your military apprentice as your punishment. And you," he orders, "will teach him to be an honorable soldier and leader of men. You will safeguard his honor like your Emperor's. And in turn, he will watch you and he will report to me. And if you get him killed, you better be damn well able to give your word on your wife's grave that he died with honor."
"You're cursing me with reinforcements?" Vorkosigan says wonderingly. "Very well, my liege. I accept."