Before Ekaterin had become Lady Vorkosigan, the Countess – Cordelia – had promised her that she was entitled to view Vorkosigan House as hers and subject it and the other family residences to any and all changes she saw fit. Aral’s health permitting, Miles’ parents both expected to spend many years on Sergyar yet. When Ekaterin had at last taken up the project, Miles had pointedly spread out his arms and turned about the garden she had designed, proclaimed his trust in her taste and left her almost completely to her own devices.
Ekaterin had spent weeks deliberating colours, thought long and hard as she had compared tones. She had chosen some and discounted others, picked them first for this room and then for that one, moved colour schemes around on her comconsole and on paper. She had sought inspiration in magazines and at friends’ houses, in memories of apartments she’d seen on Komarr, at the university and at the palace – all before she’d even begun thinking about furniture.
It had taken an eternity to get everything ready. Cordelia had promptly given her and Miles a few weeks without a parental visit to get used to living in the house after everything had been done. Today their respite was up, and so she and a Miles who’d been proudly strutting around the redecorated rooms had begun leading Cordelia and an Aral who’d been displaying a boyish enthusiasm for discovery to rival Nikki’s around the first floor.
Ekaterin had felt no apprehension about either of the sitting rooms, or the grand receiving rooms. She was far from nervous about the library.
It won’t be the end of the world, she thought. There’s nothing that says I can’t redecorate once more if necessary. Besides, she was certain she’d done the right thing.
A persistent part of her that was a remnant of Cat-Tien’s-wife and still scoffed at her decision making skills niggled in the back of her mind. What if not? it whispered as she let Aral precede her though the doorway.
Without looking she knew that Miles beside her was vibrating on his toes in what was probably the most restrained manner she had ever felt him do so. He could have positioned himself in front of her and hadn’t, and Ekaterin was glad of it. She had done nothing wrong – she didn’t need protection from the Count.
The notion that perhaps she’d all along been spinning much ado out of nothing and the man would simply breeze right on through to the library evaporated when Aral paused about two steps into the antechamber. His stillness as he looked about the room sent a frisson of fear down Ekaterin’s spine. When he turned enough that she could see his stony expression, she was glad he did her the courtesy of an honest reaction. She would have hated the pretense that nothing was wrong.
“Perhaps…not…green,” had been Miles’ only veto when the subject of wallpaper had come up.
“Why?” Ekaterin had asked.
Miles had told her.
Ekaterin half caught Cordelia walking around her son to fully enter the room, but all of her attention was on her father-in-law.
The antechamber’s shade of green was several shades lighter than the one used at the palace. It was the only green room in the house.
There was no way arguing around the fact that the Vorkosigans were powerful. Count Piotr had been, Count Aral had been and, while no longer Regent or Prime Minister, would be as long as he lived. Miles was. Barring political changes more drastic than pretenderships and Cetagandan occupation, Ekaterin’s own children and grandchildren would be.
Spacious the room might be, benches it might hold – there would never be held a secret conference in here, not when the same could be accomplished much more comfortably in any other room on this floor. If nothing else, servants and armsmen and children would be crossing the marble on their way to the staircase at all times, making the prospect of privacy near impossible.
Ekaterin had chosen a shade of green she liked, which, she was allowed to think, was a valid reason even if it paled behind the others. Even as Lady Vorkosigan there were limits to how much she could – and should, really – directly influence what politicians would think, what decisions they would make, what consequences those decisions would have.
The composition of a garden, she had learned, could elicit emotions – so why should not the same be true of a room, or the state of mind upon entering another room?
She tried to hold herself less rigid as Aral at last, at last, tore his gaze away from the antechamber décor and met her eyes.
“A warning,” he said.
“Yes,” she managed, earning a nod and a very small smile.
His gait lacked its earlier spring as he led their small procession toward the next door, but as Cordelia caught up to him and began murmuring in his ear, neither was there the weariness she had feared.
Ekaterin had no need to sag into her husband in relief, no reason to reassure herself that, while he knew better than to pat her arm, his face displayed love and pride. It was she who hugged him fiercely before straightening up. She had every reason to stand tall.