He had a presence which, by ignoring his elusive physical peculiarities himself, defied the observer to dare comment. But the little lord had had all his life to adjust to his condition. Not like the hideous surprise Tien had found among his late brother's papers, and subsequently confirmed for himself and Nikolai through carefully secret testing. You can get tested anonymously, she had argued. But I can't get treated anonymously, he had countered.
Since coming to Komarr, she'd been so close to defying custom, law, and her lord-and-husband's orders, and unilaterally taking his son and heir for treatment. Would the Komarran doctors know a Vor mother was not her son's legal guardian? Maybe she could pretend the genetic defect had come from her, not from Tien? But the geneticists, if they were any good, would surely figure out the truth.
After a while, she said elliptically, "A Vor man's first loyalty is supposed to be to his Emperor, but a Vor woman's first loyalty is supposed to be to her husband."
"Historically and legally, that's so." His voice was amused, or bemused, as he turned again to watch her. "This was not always to her disadvantage. When he was executed for treason, she was presumed to be only following orders, and got off. Actually, I wonder if the underlying practical reason was that an underpopulated world just couldn't spare her labor."
"Haven't you ever found that oddly asymmetrical?"
"But simpler for her. Most women usually only had one husband at a time, but the Vor were all too frequently presented with a choice of emperors, and where was your loyalty then? Bad guesses could be lethal. Though when my grandfather General Piotr-and his army-abandoned Mad Emperor Yuri for Emperor Ezar, it was lethal for Yuri. Good for Barrayar, though."
She sipped again. From where she sat, he was silhouetted against the darkening dome, shadowed, enigmatic. "Indeed. Is your passion politics, then?"
"God, no! I don't think so."
"Only in passing." He hesitated. "It used to be the military."
"Used to be?"
"Used to be," he repeated firmly.
It was his turn to not answer. He stared down at his glass, tilting it to make the last of the wine swirl about. He finally said, "In Barrayaran political theory, it all connects. The ordinary subjects are loyal to their Counts, the Counts are loyal to the Emperor, and the Emperor, presumably, is loyal to the whole Imperium, the body of the Empire in the form of all its, er, bodies. Here I find it grows a trifle abstract for my taste; how can he be answerable to all, yet not answerable to each? And so we arrive back at square one." He drained his glass. "How do we be true to one another?"
I don't know anymore. . . .
Silence fell, as they both watched the last glint of mirror slip behind the hills. A pale glow in the sky still haloed its passing for a minute or two longer.
"Well. I'm afraid I'm getting rather drunk." He did not seem that drunk to her, but he rolled his glass between his hands and pushed off from the balcony rail against which he'd been leaning. "Goodnight, Madame Vorsoisson."
"Goodnight, Lord Vorkosigan. Sleep well."
He carried his glass in with him and vanished into the darkened apartment.
Copyright Lois McMaster Bujold 1998. All rights reserved. Published with the permission of the publisher - Baen.
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