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Ghem-Colonel Tyr Alait was not quite asleep. Julia stretched out languidly in the bed beside him, sinking almost into sleep herself. It wasn't enough to feign sleep, for this, and caring for babies had taught her how to drowse, almost asleep but ready to move if they began to wake. Alait had been a courteous lover, in the Cetagandan style, but she felt no regret. Every time he'd touched her, she'd felt blood and corpses beneath his hands. He'd ordered the destruction of the village of Eagle Glen after they killed one of his patrols and refused to give up the culprits, and had personally led the Cetagandan bombers to slaughter every inhabitant of the valley in reprisals. She'd stalked and hunted him after that, slowly and carefully as any guerrilla, inviting him to parties, talking and flirting shyly with him, leading him in, listening to him talk about his earnest wish to end the cycle of violence. "We have so much to share with each other, our peoples will both benefit so much from a true alliance," he'd said, his beautifully sculpted face smiling at her, and she'd known that was her cue to invite him to her bed.

His legs twitched as he began to sink into full sleep, his breathing slowing and deepening. The part of Julia that was awake listened and waited. When she was satisfied that he was deeply asleep, she rolled over in bed. Her hand reached for the nightstand, finding the little jewelled box that looked like it could hold nothing more dangerous than a sharp brooch, opening the lid one-handed and removing the slender razor-edged knife. She'd never done this before, but she knew how. When she'd been fifteen, she'd been there when her cousin Irene gave birth to a baby with no arms, and had watched Irene wield her knife with a terrible face. This couldn't possibly be as hard as that had been.

There were some thick folded towels on the nightstand as well. Julia took them in her other hand, then slid across the bed. Alait was snoring, just a little. Julia watched him by moonlight, her gaze locking on the slow pulsing veins on his neck. When she was sure she knew where to cut, she moved rapidly, not giving herself time to think, and sliced through both veins.

Blood spurted, his eyes opened, his body jerked. Julia clapped down on his neck with the towels to avoid making too much mess, and waited. He twitched again, much like he had as he'd fallen asleep, and then went still, his eyes fixing. Blood soaked through the towels, its sharp metallic scent overwhelming.

Julia had thrown up after Irene killed her mutant baby, but she didn't throw up this time. Instead, she got out of bed and wiped the knife on the bloody towels. Her hand was steady, though something was shaking in her stomach and her head felt light. There was a lot more blood from a man then there had been from a newborn baby. She'd known, intellectually, to expect that, but she hadn't been prepared for what it would look like. They would have to burn the sheets and the pillow too, a distant part of her mind thought, but hopefully the mattress would be saved.

She walked barefoot to the servant's door and opened it. Her maid Lizbet was standing there along with two Resistance men.

"It's done," Julia said quietly. Lizbet looked at her, then silently took a robe and put it over her shoulders, and Julia realised she was shivering uncontrollably.

The Resistance men came in and took Alait's body from the bed, sliding him out from under the sheets. Julia watched. The people of Eagle Glen were avenged, and the Cetas had lost yet another of their more energetic field commanders. The Resistance men were planning to throw the body in the river, well weighted down, and even if the commander of the Ceta garrison here came and questioned her, it would only be a formality. His flirtation with Lorelei Vorbretten was rapidly becoming something more serious, and Lorelei was one of Julia's dearest friends.

She relaxed a little once the body was gone, and she and Lizbet stripped off the sheets and collected every scrap of bloodstained fabric from the room, and Lizbet bundled them into a sack.

"Your gown, my lady," Lizbet said, and Julia looked down at herself, and saw that there was blood splattered across the white of her nightgown. She pulled it off shakily.

"I must bathe," she said, and Lizbet nodded.

They had modern plumbing here, a galactic innovation that Julia had welcomed eagerly, and she was able to stand under a warm shower and scrub herself until the smell of blood was gone, and the feel of Alait's hands on her gone too, and only the sweet herbs of the soap remained. When she returned to her bedroom, Lizbet had laid out a clean nightgown for her, the bed had been remade and every trace of what had happened was gone. Except from her mind.

She looked at the bed, and took a breath. She had to lie back down there and go to sleep tonight. She could almost see Alait still lying there. She closed her mouth tightly and told herself not to be a fool. Soldiers slept in worse places, the poor slept in worse places, it was warm and dry and clean and soft, and it was her bed. And tomorrow the Count would be home, and they would both sleep here, and it would be better if she got over this silly uneasiness before he returned. She would tell him, of course, and he would accept it--what choice did he have? what choice did any of them have?--but the calmer she was the easier it would be.

She pulled the sheets back in a quick jerk, extinguished the candle and lay down. A wave of shivering went over her, and she curled into a ball and wept for three breaths, then controlled herself and forced her limbs out straight, lying in bed exactly the way she always did, consciously relaxing each muscle. She couldn't quite stop the fluttery quiver in her stomach, nor rid her mouth of the sour taste of her fear. She closed her eyes anyway.

Women were fragile, delicate, helpless, or so she'd been told in her girlhood, before the Cetagandans came. War was the business of men, it was for women to tend their households. But now, with the enemy in every valley and town, their terrible galactic weapons trained on all Barrayar, every household was a battleground and war was the business of anyone who could hold a weapon. And anything could be a weapon. Even a girlish silk dress, even a woman's marriage bed, even a mother's knife. Those were the weapons she had, and she would use them all to free Barrayar.