Gregor’s mind is a warren of dark and twisty passages these days – well, it has been for years, actually – but he can feel them becoming more and more intricate with every minute that he lies here in his bed in the Residence, staring into the darkness, unable to sleep. He feels utterly alone right now, though he knows the palace is teeming with servants and security guards at any point during the night or day. Still – none of them are people he can even remotely consider talking to about his doubts, his fears, about his suspicions. They don’t, they’re not allowed to see him for who he is, they’re only able to see him for what he is – they see the office, the title … not him, the man. The boy. Never him.
He supposes that he could call Henri Vorvolk, if he gets really desperate – Henri would be bewildered, sure, but willing to indulge him, willing to talk. Maybe even be able to see past all the political tangles that everyone is discussing during the day, to the private heart of the matter. But Gregor doesn’t want to do that, he doesn’t want to share that with Henri. Henri would be no good at helping to solve this particular tangle, and Gregor does not believe that just pouring his thoughts out on someone would really do him enough good to risk it. No, he cannot appear weak in front of Henri, not even in front of Henri. Not in this.
Victor Vordrozda is another possibility, of course, though not one Gregor seriously considers for any length of time. Oh, he has no doubt that Victor would not mind being woken up for questions like these at all, but even as Gregor becomes more and more convinced that Victor has the right of the whole matter, is someone he can trust, can share the man behind the Emperor with, he cannot yet bring himself to confiding these private doubts to him. He might, in time – he will be needing new advisors after all, and even an Emperor needs friends – but for now the friendship still feels too new to him, not yet ready to be burdened with questions and discussions such as these. No, better to let their relationship remain politically intimate for now, more private confessions could come later.
No, Gregor discovers with an unsurprised sigh, the only people that he would really like to call are precisely the people he cannot, for obvious reasons, call. The people he always trusted the most are the people that are now plotting against him. It’s a terribly bitter truth to face, and it almost makes Gregor gag.
Instead, he rolls over and tries again, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep. The thoughts keep racing through his mind, and he does not like where they’re going any better now than he did when he first had to start thinking them, for all their bitter familiarity and well-worn shapes.
It’s a lonely thing to discover, Gregor finds, that there is literally no-one left whom he can talk to, that he has to doubt everyone whom he trusted unfailingly for so long. But the facts speak for themselves, no matter how much he wants to ignore them, to re-interpret them, to have mistaken them. The facts are facts, the reports do not lie, not this time … and Miles is out there, somewhere, amassing an army, and no one is being straight with him about it … no one, and especially no one of the people he would expect to always be straight with him, first and foremost.
Still, what can he do? He feels like he is this grey mouse of doubtful heritage, trying to eke out his own standing in the shadows of tall and glorious giants, and he’s failing miserably. He was so eager to take over rulership of the Empire, mere months ago. Afraid, yes. Terrified, certainly. But also eager to prove himself worthy of the trust placed in him, the faith of the people around him, of the examples he had been given. He’d felt – inspired.
Now all he feels is tired and betrayed. But Victor is right – who would not prefer glorious, brave, brilliant and steadfast Aral Vorkosigan, mastermind behind the victory of the Third Cetagandan War, faithful steward of the Imperium during one of its most turbulent times, whose sheer entry into a room makes men fall silent and look at him with awe, who projects an aura of such determination and strength of resolve that it has everyone respect him … how could anyone not prefer such an outstanding man to a lanky twenty year old kid, unproven and untried, who still fumbles most of his security briefings, and who has to clear his throat to get people to pay attention to him at said security briefings, because everyone’s eyes are still trained on the former Regent … if out of sheer habit, as said former Regent assures him … but still, it has been months, and they all still do it, day after day. They look at Gregor out of duty, and at Aral out of respect.
And, Gregor thinks bitterly, they are right to do it. Aral always has the answers … answers that Gregor never does. Gregor is a miserable failure at being Emperor, and he knows it. And they all know it, too. And are acting upon it? For the good of the Empire?
He doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to think that Aral and Cordelia and Miles and Ivan and Alys and Simon and … everyone, everyone he has relied on for so long … are turning their backs on him so conclusively.
But still, as Victor ask him, day after day – what is in those reports that Simon brings to the Prime Minister, what are they discussing in those conferences that Gregor has no part in? And where, where, is Miles? Why has he not come home, to prove the suspicions wrong?
Or why has he not at least gotten in touch with Gregor in some way? They have grown up together, and Miles has always been resourceful – during the years of playing together in the Palace they have come up with at least half a dozen secret codes between themselves, with words that say one thing but mean something entirely different, with notes Vorthalia the Bold could send to his endangered Emperor through enemy lines … so even if Miles for some reason can not speak to him plainly and openly right now, why has there been no covert note, no ingenuous yet meaningful signal?
Gregor is sure that there hasn’t been one … he’s been watching too closely to have missed one, watching first in hope and then in ever-growing despair and bitterness. There’s been nothing. Cordelia has not been re-arranging the potted plants in his office unobtrusively (not that she has come by to see him recently), Alys has not been telling him any stories about Ivan’s choices of color in his clothing, his armsman has been bringing him the same breakfast for weeks, the fountain has been spraying water in its usual patterns, the Betan news have not suddenly taken an interest in horticultural developments … nothing. There’s been … nothing.
Gregor would put it down to such signals being difficult to arrange at a distance, but he unfortunately knows for certain that Miles is crafty enough that such a complete failure of assurances (which could still be false, of course, but Gregor has been willing to take his chances there) can not simply be due to an inability to arrange them on Miles’s part. No, their absence can only be explained as one of two things – that Miles is dead (which Gregor knows to not be the case), or that Miles is not playing a deeper game than even Victor supposes or Aral and Simon know of or are part to. Gregor cannot express how much he wishes that he was.
But he’s not, and so it must all be true … Miles is amassing an army and they are planning to topple Gregor from the throne, and all for the good of the Imperium.
If you’ve eliminated all other possibilities what remains, however unlikely, must be the truth … among the things Gregor knows for certain are these: Miles is out there, with a military fleet of his own. Aral Vorkosigan is a better man than he, himself, can ever hope to be. Miles has been summoned to the Council to face the charges laid against him, but has not shown up. And Aral Vorkosigan has always, always, been loyal … to the Imperium. For the good of the Imperium … .
What Gregor fears most is the conclusions to which these facts lead him. Still, he is the Emperor, and he will fulfill his imperial duties to the best of his abilities, no matter how personally unpleasant they might be, or how much they might break his heart. He will sentence traitors to death, and show a serene face as he does so. He will cry later, when no one can see him. He has learned this harsh duty from Aral.
And, Gregor thinks, as long as he does it in private, it might be permissible to cry beforehand, as well. It had better be, because he does not think he has a choice in the matter.
-- The End --