Padma knows that Grandma and Grandda are both from planets that don't exist anymore. Isolation Barrayar was blown up by the Cetagandans and Grandma's Beta Colony is different now, Grandma says. When she takes Padma along on a visit, he sees what she means. She's a visitor there, like Padma is. It's like she's not from there, Padma tells Aral. It's like she's a tourist. That's because she is, Aral says. If she'd stayed, she'd still be from there. But she'd left, so she's from a place that still only exists in her memories.
Padma wonders if that's going to happen to him, too, when he gets older. Is it all going to go away? Is he going to be from a planet that doesn't exist?
"If we're lucky," Aral says grimly. "If we're very lucky."
If they're lucky, nobody has to be Emperor and Grandma says maybe they even get votes like on Beta Colony. If they're not lucky, Aral explains, they're in a lot of trouble. Or dead. There's always that. There's always dead. Aral wasn't ever supposed to be Lord Vorkosigan. Padma wasn't ever supposed to be raised by his grandparents. And Ezar Vorbarra was never meant to be Emperor of Barrayar. Little annoying Serg was never even meant to be born.
It's like the stories. You free a dragon and say you're going to keep control over it, but you won't be able to, and then it will eat you. Padma's always liked the dragon stories the best. The dragon's the Empire, he thinks. You can try to ride it, but eventually it will eat you. That's inevitable. That's how it ends. The trick is to sacrifice someone else to it and then run away very quickly.
Grandma laughs when he tells her that, then says he should never tell Grandda that.
Grandda says never tell Uncle Piotr.
Uncle Piotr promises him no one will ever eat him. Uncle Piotr always knows what he's thinking. It's very creepy. It's like he's a mutie sometimes. Maybe he's the one who calls the dragon from its cave and then gets crushed.
Aral thinks that's accurate, but warns him not to say that to Uncle Piotr. Padma already knew that. But Uncle Piotr tells the best stories. Grandma's stories are always about weird things and Grandda's stories are always too babyish. Uncle Piotr doesn't talk down to him. Grandma tells Uncle Piotr to stop trying to scare him, but Padma's not a baby. He knows a story's not going to hurt him. It's not like dragons.
Grandma thinks Padma is too young for everything, he thinks. Maybe he's even too young to be alive. Maybe. When Grandda was his age, he was following his da, Emperor Dorca, to wars. Grandda says that's not a good thing and Grandma says it's not healthy for the society or the individual. Padma doesn't see the point. It's easy for them to say that, they aren't him. They're his grandparents. They're supposed to protect him. Of course they think he's a baby. But Padma knows that age is age. If Grandda was old enough to be useful, then so is Padma. It stands to reason.
And they're always supposed to strive to be reasonable, right? Grandma always says so. And then Grandda agrees with her and then tells her, unfortunately, you're still on Barrayar, dear.
But, still. It stands to reason. And Padma is nothing if not reasonable.
"You're such a terror," Aral tells him. Aral is very approving. Padma preens. Aral's a terror, too, he says. And terrible.
They're both terrible. They weren't supposed to be like this. They were supposed to be other people. But Aral's Lord Vorkosigan and Padma's Prince Xav's ward, and little Serg is going to be Emperor. "On a sensible world and this is not a sensible world," Grandma always says. Padma agrees. On a sensible world, Aral would be Lord Aral and Padma would have parents and Emperor Ezar wouldn't be Emperor at all. But this isn't a sensible world, so they are. It's all very terrible.
Aral suggests that he not go around saying it's terrible that Emperor Ezar is the Emperor or that baby Serg will be one day. But Grandma does it!
"Grandma's Betan," Aral says.
So's Padma, sort of, and so's Aral, too, and Aral agrees.
"Exactly," Padma says. "If this were a sensible world, they shouldn't be Emperor and you shouldn't be Lord Vorkosigan. I'm Betan. I can say that."
"You probably shouldn't, though," Aral says. "There's nothing you or I can do to change it, so there's no point in arguing about it."
Aral tickles him until he smiles again. "We're not going to complain about things we can't change, okay? Because people might think we're going to try to change it, and we're not, even though maybe we wish we could, because we can't. I'm going to be Lord Vorkosigan until I'm Count Vorkosigan, and we can't change that, either, even though me and you and Da and everyone all wish I weren't. And that's how things are, Padma. How life is. It's not a stupid legend with a sleeping prince who'll return to save us all."
"But I like legends," Padma interrupts, worried. Grandma and Grandda gave him a stuffed dragon for his birthday. Padma sleeps with it. Its name is Ivan.
"But you know legends are just stories, right?" Aral asks and Padma nods tentatively. "Even the ones that are based on real things, like the ones about Grandda?"
Padma nods again, more sure about it this time. Grandda and Grandma had explained those. People like to tell stories about Grandda, lots of stories, because he's a hero and he saved the Empire a lot. But stories are boring if they sound like they're real. So they turn them into legends because it sounds better. Grandda didn't really sneak up on an entire battalion of Cetagandans by himself. He had an army with him, Grandda had explained. Plus your Uncle Piotr, so if anybody's the glory hound in this story, it's him. And the Emperor had been there, too. It had been a very big battle. It wasn't just Grandda beating the Cetagandans by himself. Because a person doesn't win a war, people do. One general doesn't win a war, soldiers do. Legends are what happens later because what really happened is boring. Grandda and Grandma are doing everything they can to make sure Padma's life is as boring as possible.
Padma tried to get Aral to help him stop that, but Aral refused. He wants Padma to have a boring life, too. It's a conspiracy. They don't care that he'll be bored. Grandda says he can have a hobby.
Padma's going to grow up to hunt dragons in the Dendarii Mountains, but he hasn't told anyone yet. They'd be upset. It'll be better to break it to them slowly.
Maybe when he's eleven.
That's old enough, right? When Aral was eleven, he went off to war. So that's plenty old enough. It stands to reason.
It's in forever, but.
He can wait.