them was surely damnation. Even Piotr knew that. Aral held the door open for them.

Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history. Have a birth; have two. Have a name. Miles means “soldier,” but don’t let the power of suggestion overwhelm you. Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. Have a title, wealth, power, and all the hatred and envy they will draw. Have your body ripped apart and re- arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn’t going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.


Vorkosigan Surleau—Five Years Later

“Dammit, Vaagen,” Cordelia panted under her breath. “You never told me the little bugger was going to be hyperactive.”

She galloped down the end stairs, through the kitchen, and out onto the terrace at the end of the rambling stone residence. Her gaze swept the lawn, probed the trees, and scanned the long lake sparkling in the summer sun. No movement.

Aral, dressed in old uniform trousers and a faded print shirt, came around the house, saw her, and opened his hands in a no-luck gesture. “He’s not out here.”

“He’s not inside. Down, or up, d’you think? Where’s little Elena? I bet they’re together. I forbade him to go down to the lake without an adult, but I don’t know… .”

“Surely not the lake,” said Aral. “They swam all morning. I was exhausted just watching them. In the fifteen minutes I timed it, he climbed the dock and jumped back in nineteen times. Multiply that by three hours.”

“Up, then,” decided Cordelia. They turned and trudged together up the hill on the gravel path lined with native, Earth-import, and exotic shrubbery and flowers. “And to think,” Cordelia wheezed, “I prayed for the day he would walk.”

“It’s five years pent-up motion all let loose at once,” Aral analyzed. “In a way, it’s reassuring that all that frustration didn’t turn in on itself and become despair. For a time, I was afraid it might.”

“Yes. Have you noticed, since the last operation, that the endless chatter’s dried up? At first I was glad, but do you suppose he’s going to go mute? I didn’t even know that refrigeration unit was supposed to come apart. A mute engineer.”

“I think the, er, verbal and mechanical aptitudes will come into balance eventually. If he survives.”

“There’s all of us adults, and one of him. We ought to be able to keep up. Why do I feel like he has us outnumbered and surrounded?” She crested the hill. Piotr’s stable complex lay in the shallow valley below, half a dozen red-painted wood and stone buildings, fenced paddocks, pastures planted to bright green Earth grasses. She saw horses, but no children. Bothari was ahead of them, though, just exiting one building and entering another. His bellow carried up to them, thinned by distance. “Lord Miles?”

“Oh, dear, I hope he’s not bothering Piotr’s horses,” said Cordelia. “Do you really think this reconciliation attempt will work, this time? Just because Miles is finally walking?”

“He was civil, last night at dinner,” said Aral, judiciously hopeful.

“I was civil, last night at dinner,” Cordelia shrugged. “He as much as accused me of starving your son into dwarfism. Can I help it if the kid would rather play with his food than eat it? I just don’t know about stepping up the growth hormone, Vaagen’s so uncertain about its effect on bone friability.”

A crooked smile stole over Aral’s face. “I did think the dialogue with the peas marching to surround the bread-roll and demand surrender was rather ingenious. You could almost picture them as little soldiers in Imperial greens.”

“Yes, and you were no help, laughing instead of terrorizing him into eating like a proper Da.”

“I did not laugh.”

“Your eyes were laughing. He knew it, too. Twisting you round his thumb.”

The warm organic scent of horses and their inevitable by-products permeated the air as they approached the buildings. Bothari re-appeared, saw them, and waved an apologetic hand. “I just saw Elena. I told her to get down out of that loft. She said Lord Miles wasn’t up there, but he’s around here somewhere. Sorry, Milady, when he talked about looking at the animals, I didn’t realize he meant immediately. I’m sure I’ll find him in just a moment.”

“I was hoping Piotr would offer a tour,” Cordelia sighed.

“I thought you didn’t like horses,” said Aral.

“I loathe them. But I thought it might get the old man talking to him, like a human being, instead of over him like a potted plant. And Miles was so excited about the stupid beasts. I don’t like to linger here, though. This place is so … Piotr.” Archaic, dangerous, and you have to watch your step.

Speak of the devil. Piotr himself emerged from the old stone tack storage shed, coiling a web rope. “Hah. There you are,” he said neutrally. He joined them sociably enough, though. “I don’t suppose you would like to see the new filly.”

His tone was so flat, she couldn’t tell if he wanted her to say yes, or no. But she seized the opportunity. “I’m sure Miles would.”


She turned to Bothari. “Why don’t you go get—” But Bothari was staring past her, his lips rippling in dismay. She wheeled.

One of Piotr’s most enormous horses, quite naked of bridle, saddle, halter, or any other handle to grab, was trotting out of the barn. Clinging to its mane like a burr was a dark-haired, dwarfish little boy. Miles’s sharp features shone with a mixture of exaltation and terror. Cordelia nearly fainted.

“My imported stallion!” yelped Piotr in horror.

In pure reflex, Bothari snatched his stunner from its holster. He then stood paralyzed with the uncertainty of what to shoot and where. If the horse went down and rolled on its little rider—

“Look, Sergeant!” Miles’s thin voice called eagerly. “I’m taller than you!”

Bothari started to run toward him. The horse, spooked, wheeled away and broke into a canter.

“—and I can run faster, too!” The words were whipped away in the bounding motion of the gait. The horse shied out of sight around the stable.

The four adults pelted after. Cordelia heard no other cry, but when they turned the corner Miles was lying on the ground, and the horse had stopped further on and lowered its head to nibble at the grass. It snorted in hostility when it saw them, raised its head, danced from foot to foot, then snatched a few more bites.

Cordelia fell to her knees beside Miles, who was already sitting up and waving her away. He was pale, and his right hand clutched his left arm in an all-too-familiar signal of pain.

“You see, Sergeant?” Miles panted. “I can ride, I can.”

Piotr, on his way toward his horse, paused and looked down.

“I didn’t mean to say you weren’t able” said the sergeant in a driven tone. “I meant you didn’t have permission.”


“Did you break it?” Bothari nodded to the arm.

“Yeah,” the boy sighed. There were tears of pain in his eyes, but his teeth set against any quaver entering his voice.

The sergeant grumbled, and rolled up Miles’s sleeve, and palpated the forearm. Miles hissed. “Yep.” Bothari

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