Drou crept along the tunnel and took the final turn that brought her almost to the street. Her hands shook as she straightened her hair, brushed them over her skirts, trying to look unremarkable and with her clothing in some semblance of order. The sack of currency Lady Vorkosigan had entrusted to Drou hung safely hidden in her skirts.
Drou took a deep, steadying breath. She listened carefully for a gap in the passersby, opened the grate, and stepped out onto the street. She fell quickly into step behind two women, hoping to avoid attention as a woman walking alone, although she was relieved to see that the streets were not only frequented by Vordarian’s men at this hour. The two women she followed were walking fast enough to be almost at a jog; everyone in the streets of Vorbarr Sultanan had been moving quickly and with anxious looks over their shoulders since Vordarian’s Pretendership had begun. Drou was close enough to hear them speaking quietly to each other, but she only strained to hear when their conversation turned to familiar subject matter.
“But did you hear? They said the Emperor—” the younger of the two women paused and then spat on the ground -- “that Vordarian was attacked and taken hostage, hasn’t been seen since.”
“Praised be,” the other breathed. “Is it the Lord Regent’s men?”
“No -- the strangest thing -- it was an Imperial guard and two women, one as tall as a man, they killed Vordarian’s personal guard, took Vordarian, and set fire to the Residence!”
Drou hunched her shoulders to lessen her height and tried to look as uninteresting and insignificant as possible.
“They say one of the women was Lady Vorkosigan!”
The older one scoffed. “Surely not -- Lord Vorkosigan would not send his wife --”
“But think -- who better to sneak in unnoticed than two women…”
“But women aren’t soldiers!”
“On Beta Colony, women can fight. They can do anything they want, I hear,” the younger one said, defiant. “And Lady Vorkosigan was a captain before she came here.”
“Perhaps,” the elder agreed grudgingly. “Well, child, let’s pray that it’s true. And if it is, whoever has done it, we and all of Barrayar owe them a debt, to free Vorbarr Sutana from reign of the pretender.”
Suddenly the immensity of it all hit Drou. Vordarian’s head in a plastic bag hoisted on Lady Vorkosigan’s shoulder, little Miles safe in his uterine replicator, and Lady Vorkosigan telling her that after today, Drou would be a hero worthy of any suiter (though there was only one that she wanted), that if they made it out of here alive, that everyone would know it was two women -- women! -- who had brought down the Pretendership and prevented all-out civil war.
Maybe Barraryar had shifted some tiny distance closer to Beta Colony today, to a world where women like Drou could be seen not as something meek, small, a ladies’ maid, or a nursemaid, but instead as she was in her heart: bodyguard, soldier, protector of the weak. A place for women in the Imperial Academy, a place in the Imperial Service like Drou’s brother and father. Some small movement was what their actions here had bought. Little by little, a changing Barraryar, a better Barraryar.
Perhaps someday great changes would come. But for now -- she crossed the street and continued on her way, to find transport home, to Kou, and to victory.