Helena Vogti Braud stared at her daughter in blank incomprehension. "But why would you want to work in the electronics factory in Hassadar? I know Sergyar is too rough and remote for your liking, but if you want to go back to Barrayar, Lord Miles has opened up Vorkosigan House in Vorbarr Sultana, and he'll be getting married. They'll need maids of all sorts—it would be the perfect time to start! The opportunities will be better than when I was your age. I had to start in the scullery and work my way up." She forced away a tinge of regret that the Count and Countess had been made Viceroys of Sergyar, and taken their whole household with them. It tore her heart to think of all the great houses closed up, and how were her daughters to get their proper start in life if there were no great houses to serve in?
"Yes, Mama, I know," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes in exasperation.
Helena's lips pursed. At that age, she wouldn't have dared show such disrespect to her mother!
"I don't want to go into service," Cordelia said. "The factory will pay me more, and I'll have a flat instead of just one of the upstairs rooms, and it'll be my place instead of someone else's!"
"Yes, but you'll meet all the wrong sorts of people," Helena said. "Greekies and hillmen and all sorts of rough folks. Who knows what will happen! If you get on at Vorkosigan House, you'll be with our people. People you've known all your life, who know the value of service. It will be safer, and think for your future, girl! I know Armsman Roic isn't to your taste, but you'd be with Armsmen and servants from the other great homes, and soldiers on duty in the capital. Even a few officers—these days, perhaps even a Vor! With the shortage of eligible Vor women, I'm sure some of them will think a well-brought up Armsman's daughter is just perfect." She shook her head. "You'll find no suitable marriage prospects on a factory floor, you mark my words."
"I'm not looking to get married," Cordelia said. "I'm only twenty-one!"
"You have a few years yet to save up your dowry," Helena said, "but you should still be looking. And meeting the right people. Otherwise, when you are ready, you'll not be able to!"
"Factory managers and supervisors make good money, better than a sergeant. Sometimes better than an officer," Cordelia said. "Even a Vor officer."
Helena's jaw dropped at the very idea of her daughter marrying a businessman. "You aren't serious," she said. "A factory manager, for an Armsman's daughter! Particularly now, when you might have an officer! I certainly never had a chance at an officer, but there are so few girls your age you very well might." This was her fault. She had assumed that on a newly settled planet like Sergyar, filled with Vorkosiganers, there would be no need to worry about her daughter. So she had thought herself free to throw herself into her work. An Armsman's wife traditionally assisted her lady in running the social, administrative, and legal details that fell in a Countesses sphere of responsibility. Being on a new planet instead of in the District was no reason to change that, especially given that a Vicereine's duties were greater and more wide-ranging than a Countess'. And things were so much less settled here, that it required more time and attention, time and attention that Helena would otherwise have spent with Cordelia. The late teens were such a trying age.
Cordelia sighed heavily, as if her mother's concern and affection were too heavy a burden to bear. "Mother, don't be such a snob. I'm sure some of them are perfectly fine boys!"
"That's as may be, but they're not our sort," Helena said, with indisputable logic.
"I don't know where I went wrong with her, really I don't," Helena said as she flipped to the next chapter on her reader. She sighed and set it down, rubbing her temples. Her headache, alas, was not only from her eldest daughter's obstreperousness. The manual she was reading was difficult, at best. Even leaving aside all the technical terms, it was written in Galactic Standard English, not the version spoken on Barrayar, and there were several distinct differences in grammar and vocabulary.
Ma Oborskaia pursed her lips. Her husband had the greatest seniority of any Armsman still in active service; he was not and had never been the commander, but his advice carried real weight in the Count's service, which meant that Ma Oborskaia's did as well. "Not your fault, Helena," she said. "You did right and proper by her. Children these days just don't understand. Too many offworld ideas, though I don't suppose we could have imported the medicine and technology and left the culture. They've had everything handed to them, never had to live through hard times as we did. Don't understand what's really important." She bowed her head back over her embroidery.
Helena watched the older woman with some envy; she'd rather be sewing than studying, herself. The wives of the Vorkosigan Armsmen gathered twice a week for study sessions, as the Countess—the Vicereine, as she was here on Sergyar—had organized. Ma Oborskaia came in support, as she herself was retired.
Countess Cordelia, in one of her Betan fits of egalitarianism, wanted what she called the best people for the job. Now, that was only right and proper, but Helena thought that the best people were those born and raised to the task such as herself and her fellow Armsmen's wives. Most of them were also the daughters of Armsmen and had grown up with mothers who'd done similar work. Like Helena herself, they'd gone into service and learned household management from the bottom up before marrying and transferring those skills from the scale of a household to that of a District, in their mistress' service. They knew how things worked. But the Countess was opening their proper jobs up to anyone who could pass the aptitude and skills test she'd devised. Which meant Helena and her companions had to work hard for those positions which should have been theirs by right. She sighed and reminded herself that it did mean that the work was done as well as it possibly could be, which was a credit to the Vorkosigan District. And, she had to admit, Sergyar was different enough biologically (and there was enough new technology) that things weren't quite the same as they were back home in the District.
"I'm sure it's just a phase, Helena," said Maria Yunter, giving her an encouraging smile over her own reader. "Give her time. She'll work in a factory for a few years and then decide it's time to go home to her own people. You'll see."
"I certainly hope so," said Alexandra Lisle. "What's the point of having daughters if they don't marry well?" Like many of the wives, including Helena, she had taken Countess Cordelia's advice about the coming shortage of women to heart as a young wife. Like Helena, she and her husband had one son to carry on the name and several daughters, a reverse of the general trend in society. Alexandra's eldest daughter Cordelia (named, as Helena's own Cordelia, after their mutual patroness) was two years younger than Helena's eldest daughter and much wilder. Helena gave Alexandra a sympathetic look, which the other returned with a sigh.
"Whatever happens, we're not going to solve it here and now," Celeste Aucoin said crossly. "Are we here to study, or gossip?"
Helena turned reluctantly back to her own reader. Just last month, Celeste had had a prole—a nobody with no connections, though admittedly a rather capable one—promoted above her, and nobody wanted to see that happen again. Cordelia would come around.