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It's a matriarch's right and privilege, according to Barrayar high society, to inspect and pass judgment on the women their sons choose to court. Cordelia thinks it's a load of bunk, of course. Her boys (and you better believe she considers Mark one of hers) deserve to make their own decisions in love as well as life, and she's not going to stand in their way any more than she would have nagged them while they were single.

Ultimately, though, both turned out to have a damned good taste in partners. Kareen and Ekaterin are women she feels privileged to know in their own right, regardless of who they may be romantically connected to.

Which is good, because dragging Kareen over to Sergyar requires a lot less strategic maneuvering than a similar attempt with Mark. Drou gets motherly dibs on most of her vacations, but not this one. This one's reserved for sightseeing, swapping Betan novels and shocking conservative diplomats speechless.

Tonight, however, Kareen is quiet, like she wants to ask Cordelia something but isn't sure how to start. Cordelia has the basic tact to wait instead of prompting. Like babies, questions take their own time coming out into the world.

"I was named for Crown Princess Vorbarra, right?" Kareen says. "And you knew her, when she was alive?"

Cordelia nods. She can tell Kareen is schooling herself, trying not to look too curious. "What was she like?"

The question confuses Cordelia for a split second. Surely, Drou would have told her… But no, it makes sense that she hasn't. No bodyguard likes to talk about the charge she'd failed. And the only image historians painted of that other Kareen was that of a fragile woman, easily manipulated by those around her. She can see how someone like Kareen might be ambivalent about being named after someone like that.

But historians aren't always right. In fact, Cordelia can personally testify that they're full of shit, more often than not. "She was in a pretty bad situation and scared," Cordelia says, her voice measured, "but she tried to make the best of it." Even if the flirtation with Vordarian had backfired in her face, placing the man as a buffer between herself and Serg, who was certifiable, had not been a bad decision at the time. "During the coup, she'd been told that Gregor was dead. Everyone pretty much assumed she broke right there.

"He was alive, of course – and unusually well-behaved for a child his age. I told her as much, when we snuck into the palace."

Kareen quirked a smile at her. This part she'd definitely heard about.

"And when I told her," Cordelia continued. "When I told her… it was like a single, smouldering coal had lit up into a conflagration. She wasn't broken at all, just distraught and mad as all hell. You should have seen her. She just grabbed a sword and tried to stab the hell out of Vordarian with it. Who knows, she might have succeeded, if one of Vordarian's guards hadn't shot her down."

"And then you cut off Vordarian's head and stuffed it in a sack?" Kareen looks sad and guilty, before finally settling on calm and determined. "Good."

"And don't you forget it. Not that you would." Cordelia mock-sniffs. "You kids today are so preoccupied with the gory bits."

Kareen rolls her eyes at her. "Thanks," she says, and Cordelia smiles. It's not quite laying an old friend to rest, but someone who could have been a friend, perhaps, to a rest she could certainly use.

"You're welcome."