Vorkosigan's son has committed treason.
When the whispers had begun, Count Vorhalas hadn't much credited them. People were always accusing Vorkosigan and his ilk of something. Vorhalas had never imagined this. He had never imagined Vorkosigan's son in the Emperor's private chamber, confessing to treason.
And the Emperor wants to excuse it. The Emperor, raised by Aral Vorkosigan, wants to excuse it. The Emperor, who has spent the last year and a half becoming estranged from the Vorkosigans, wants to excuse it. The Emperor bids Vorhalas to consider that it's better for his servants to serve together rather than in opposition. But there's no enemy here, no one to serve as a distraction. Vordrozda's schemes had simply been politics; he'd wanted to kill Vorkosigan, not the Emperor.
The Emperor has chosen Vorhalas to be a witness to this confession. The Emperor could have had young Vorkosigan confess to the full Counts assembled, but he chose a private setting instead. Young Vorkosigan won't be repeating this in public, not if Vorkosigan has his way. If Vorkosigan has his way, this will be buried.
This, from the man who buried Carl. This, from the man who had no pity for someone else's son. Carl's mistake was nothing compared to young Vorkosigan's recklessness.
Vorhalas could lay the charge. He can feel the way the wind turns. Young Vorkosigan will be acquitted of the major charge. If Vorhalas lays the minor charge as well, young Vorkosigan will be quit of it as well. But that's no matter. He still must answer for it. He must answer for it to his peers.
Vorkosigan made his reputation on denying favors, starting with Carl. Vorkosigan, the hypocrite, has given all his favors to his own son. But it means he has nothing to trade. The Counts had owed him allegiance as the Regent, but he's not the Regent anymore. He's barely the Prime Minister after the last few months. Vorkosigan has nothing but his honor and his confessed traitor of a son. Well, Vorhalas has nothing but his honor, and no sons.
"No. I'm a man of honor. I will not be party to your conspiracy," Vorhalas says, looking at Vorkosigan on his knees before him. A mockery. Vorkosigan thinks he knows how to lose. Vorkosigan's lost nothing. He doesn't know how to bleed. He has a traitor for his son, but his son will survive. But Vorhalas won't let him survive without feeling it. Young Vorkosigan won't pay for his father's mistakes; he'll pay for his own. Vorkosigan wanted the law, did he? He'll have it.
"Your son committed treason, Vorkosigan. By his own word, he swore an army. He will answer for it. You won't bury this treason like you buried my son."
Vorkosigan stands smoothly, his face implacable. He gives Vorhalas a nod and then turns his back.
Vorhalas can't win this one. He knows that. Likely Vorkosigan knows that as well. It seems the only ones who don't are the Emperor, young Vorkosigan, and Vorvolk. But he can make Vorkosigan bleed. He can remind Vorkosigan of the oath they all swore to Ezar. Vorkosigan cannot simply allow his son to commit treason. The Emperor cannot simply allow Vorkosigan's son to commit treason. It would betray the Emperor as much as it would the very idea of justice. Vorkosigan swore to Ezar to raise Gregor and safeguard the Imperium for him. Vorkosigan had used that oath to dig his dagger into Vorhalas. Vorkosigan would not allow favors to friends to sway his judgment. In return, Vorhalas will not allow favors to sway the Emperor's judgment. Treason is a sickness, it's a rot. It has to be burned out.
Vorhalas won't win. He won't see Vorkosigan's son die for this. But he will see justice done. He will wound Vorkosigan. He will teach the son a lesson that the boy's father never taught him. It was a lesson Vorhalas had had to teach Carl, at the end. Sometimes what saves you is also what kills you. Vorhalas hadn't had the weight behind him to save Carl. Vorkosigan has that weight behind him now. Vorkosigan will save his son. But there will be a cost, and both father and son will pay it.
Vorhalas had been there along with all of his fellow Counts when Vorkosigan had sworn to Ezar to serve as Regent and then step away, when Vorkosigan had sworn to Gregor to serve him as Regent until his majority. Vorhalas has kept a keen-eyed look on Vorkosigan in the two years since. Vorkosigan had surrendered the Regency, yes, but he was still exerting the same power. Vorkosigan had sworn to give it up. The Emperor may have appointed Vorkosigan as Prime Minister, but everyone knew whose decision that had been.
The Counts can see that young Vorkosigan had no intention of usurpation. But they must know of the treason. They must know of the rot that Vorkosigan has allowed to grow inside his own house. Vorkosigan can exert himself and get his son acquitted of the lesser charge as well, but he will be seen to do it.
It could destroy him. It could force him to resign as Prime Minister. It could force the Regency to finally end. Vorkosigan had been weakened by Vordrozda but now, with the Emperor looking at him like a son should look at a father, Vorkosigan is positioned to never have to give up power. He could reign through Gregor another twenty years. That was not the oath Vorhalas had made to the Emperor, either to Ezar or to Gregor. It wasn't the oath he had made to the Regent. The Emperor would let himself be swayed by emotion and refuse to believe he had been betrayed by two friends, not one. Vorhalas cannot approve of any plan that will allow the Emperor to ignore that he has been betrayed twice this day, not once. The Emperor will lose the council of Count Vordrozda; if he will cling to that of the Vorkosigans, he must know who serves him.
If Vorkosigan saves his son, so be it. If the Emperor intervenes, so be it. Vorhalas has his duty to his honor, to justice, and to the Imperium. He will see it through. He lost one son to dueling and to Vorkosigan's damned hypocritical pride. He lost his other son that night as well. He had let Evon believe that his father could sway the Regent. Evon had been far more hot-headed than Carl had been and so Vorhalas had lost them both. Dueling and politics, no room for honor.
Vorkosigan wants this favor from him, wants nepotism, wants mercy. Vorkosigan had had none for him, had been convinced it was right. Vorhalas is simply returning that bitter favor. His sons had committed murder and treason. Vorkosigan's son is no less guilty. He'll live, when Carl and Evon won't. He'll be able to move on from this, when Carl and Evon hadn't. He'll be able to make a different life for himself, when Vorhalas had buried both his boys.
Young Vorkosigan dared to ask him how he'll look into Countess Vorkosigan's eyes. It will be perfectly easy. He'll look Countess Vorkosigan in the eye the same way Vorkosigan has been able to look Vorhalas's Countess in the eye these last hollow seventeen years. Some things are more important. Vorkosigan had used that argument on him when he'd begged for Carl; if it's good enough for the Regent, it surely must be good enough for the rest of them, Vorkosigan, you hypocrite. Seventeen years were not too long to wait to spit this back into Vorkosigan's face.
You can't kill our sons for less than this and then expect mercy when it's yours. Vorhalas could not be successful in killing Vorkosigan's son the way Vorkosigan had killed his -- legally, brutally -- but he can have a different kind of success. He can teach Vorkosigan the lesson that Vorkosigan taught him.
And Vorkosigan will not dare call this revenge. He knows better. This is merely justice, the same justice that Vorkosigan had cloaked himself in for sixteen years.
Vorhalas overhears the Emperor assuring young Vorkosigan that he'll have the Vorbarra vote for him on both charges. Vorhalas catches Vorkosigan's eye and holds it. Eat this, Aral, he thinks. Eat this shame. You have a traitor son, as I had. Live with it, Aral.
Vorkosigan looks away first.