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26 August 2009 @ 10:44 pm
Beautiful and Functional  

Title: Beautiful and Functional

Author: vkw10
Fandom: Vorkosigan
Characters: Drou, Laisa, Ekaterin, and the Professora.

Length: 1000 words
Rating: General
Classification: Missing scene, between the wedding in A Civil Campaign and Winterfair Gifts.

Acknowledgments: This isn’t the scene Lola McCrary suggested as a follow-up to “What Laisa Needs to Know”, but her suggestion inspired me.

Disclaimer: The characters and setting belong to Lois McMaster Bujold.
Summary:  Fashion and weaponry converge over the Residence tea tray.

Laisa turned the Vorfemme knife over, admiring its enamelled hilt. “Duv once mentioned a spy who concealed blades in her hair ornaments. I couldn’t imagine putting a weapon in my hair, but this knife is beautiful as well as functional. I wonder how those hair ornament blades were designed?”

“Hair ornaments that conceal blades? That could be very useful, Laisa. Less likely to be found and taken away from a hostage than a stunner,” remarked Drou. “You might even be able to leave them on your dressing table. Weapons within reach, but a man would never notice them.”

Ekaterin added, “Yes, they would be handy. Aunt Helen, do you think we could find pictures or even descriptions?” Ekaterin, Drou, and Laisa all looked at the Professora hopefully.

“Well, we can certainly try, my dear. A hair ornament might be easier to reach than my Vorfemme knife is, too. I’ll check the university library after my class tomorrow.” The Professora slipped her Vorfemme knife into the sheath below her skirt and picked up her teacup.


“Let’s go into my office where we can project the Professora’s pictures,” Laisa said after greeting Drou, Ekaterin, and the Professora.

“Your comconsole has a projector unit? I’ve thought of adding one so I can show garden designs to clients. But I’m not sure I’d use it enough to make it a good investment. Do you use yours often, Laisa?” Ekaterin asked.

“I use it constantly. I find it very helpful when discussing seating arrangements with Lady Alys because we can split the screen between the table plan and precedence rules. I’ll never understand all the rules as well as she does. And it’s helpful to project trade diagrams and revenue projections when Gregor and I are talking about policy proposals.” Laisa gestured the Professora to the comconsole, poured tea for her guests, then sank gracefully into an arm chair.

“Well, ladies, I found a great deal of information about accessories designed to conceal weapons. Let’s start with hair ornaments.” The Professora said, indicating the wall screen.

“But those aren’t hair ornaments, Professora,” protested Laisa. “They’re chopsticks. They’re sometimes used for eating in Asian restaurants on Komarr.”

“Exactly, Laisa,” beamed the Professora. “But chopsticks have also been used to secure hair in a knot. These chopsticks conceal a very narrow blade, see? Twist the end slightly and you have a four-inch blade. This is another variation, a dragon stick. See how the dragon appears to be hovering in her curls? It’s on a five-inch rod with a sharp point and razor edge.”

“Would that be effective?” Ekaterin asked doubtfully. “The blades are very narrow and not particularly long.”

Drou held her hands up, measuring the lenghth of the blades. “Yes, they could be deadly if you thrust them into the right spot. Thrust upwards, from here, at the right angle and you’d hit the heart. Or a hard thrust into the temple, ear, or eye could reach the brain. You’d have to wait until the person was off-guard, then get the right angle, but you could kill someone with these.”

“I can’t imagine anyone would ever be that off-guard with a hostage nearby,” commented Ekaterin.

“Vordarian was sleeping with Princess Kareen,” Drou said flatly. “What else did you find, Professora?”

“Rings, broaches, and lockets. The designs are rather heavy, but they all have compartments for concealing poison,” the Professora explained. “They were apparently used to poison food or drink.”

“Hmm, poison or possibly a sedative,” mused Drou. “Might be useful in a long-term hostage situation where the guards get lax.”

“And these belts?” asked Laisa.

“Most are simply belts. I found some descriptions of using a belt with a heavy buckle or metal studs to strike an enemy several rapid blows while staying out of range. This belt’s narrow chain can be used to choke someone from behind,” the Professora explained. “This belt  conceals two weapons, a length of razor wire is hidden between the layers and this decorative buckle is actually the hilt of a short knife.”

“A garotte,” murmured Drou. She looked across at Laisa and Ekaterin. “These are all stealth weapons. They won’t be particularly useful during an attack. But as a helpless female hostage, waiting for the right moment, they could help you overpower a guard long enough to reach an escape route or hiding place.”

Laisa’s pretty face looked grim, contemplating this possibility. “If we had them made, could you teach us how to use them, Drou?”

Drou nodded firmly. “Yes. I’ll need a couple of practice dummies, so you can learn the right angles for the blades, but ImpSec can provide them. But how will you get them made and obtain poisons? They’ll only be useful if no one knows about them.”

“The poisons are simple,” said Ekaterin. “Several poisons are made from common plants. I can make them myself. And there’s an old leather worker in the Dendarii Mountains who could make the belts. He refurbished Miles’ grandmother Countess Olivia’s saddle and makes Miles’ belts.”

Laisa added, “I’ll talk with Gregor and General Allegre about the jewellery. But once ImpSec finds us a jeweller, Ekaterin, will you work with him? I’d rather not have jewellery with a military feel and I’m afraid that’s what I’ll get from anyone approved by ImpSec.”

“Of course, Laisa. You’ll want at least a dozen designs, too, to work with different evening gowns and with daywear.” Ekaterin smiled suddenly, “You’ll start a fashion trend. We’ll need some designs without the concealed weapons for all the people who’ll commission pieces of their own.”

Laisa smiled and offered everyone another cup of tea.


“Goodness, Laisa, every other woman in the room is wearing chopsticks with her House seal,” exclaimed Countess Vorvolk. “I just heard Lady Vorpinski remark that you were so romantic, to have the Vorbarra seal and yours and Gregor’s initials worked into your hair pins and belt buckles. What a sweet idea!”

“Why, thank you, Eleanor. I enjoy wearing things that are both beautiful and functional,” Laisa said sweetly. “Now, tell me, is your daughter still enjoying her violin lessons?”


Phoenix.G.Fawkes: Lizzy in whitephoenixgfawkes on August 27th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
Wonderful fic. It's written in a light style that makes it even more chilling because of the near-nonchalance of these ladies while discussing lethal weapons and hostage situations. And the ending is just perfect, with just the right trace of irony.
vkw10vkw10 on August 27th, 2009 10:09 am (UTC)
Thank you! Laisa's adapting to Barrayar quite well, isn't she?
Phil, previously newjerseybadgernewjerseybadger on August 29th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
With a vengeance.
With a vengeance. She must have been brought into most of the inside history of Vordarian's Pretendership, and maybe of Yuri's reign.
L'Ignotalignota on August 27th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
Hee! I love the conspiracy of Vor women in this story. I've always wanted to have hairsticks with blades in them. I believe it would be against the law in my jurisdiction, though.

I wonder if modern Vor fashion involves hatpins? Those can also be impressively long and sharp.
vkw10vkw10 on August 27th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
Oh, good idea! The ladies would be happy to bring them into fashion.
Lolaidancewithlife on August 27th, 2009 06:14 am (UTC)
vkw10vkw10 on August 27th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
Thanks! And thank you for starting my imagination on other ways for Laisa to protect herself.
emma_in_oz: Wizard of Ozemma_in_oz on August 27th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)
Ha! Because they ROCK and no one notices it.
vkw10vkw10 on August 27th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
But the ladies are turning no one noticing into an advantage this time. Miles, by the way, is delighted at one more evidence that his wife is true Vor.
the_blue_fenixthe_blue_fenix on August 27th, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
It's ironic that Cordelia isn't there (probably on Sergyar.) She could give them chapter and verse on the uses of a chain belt.

Hair ornaments with metal in them would be awkwardly heavy, but I'm sure the Vor have access to lighter ceramics or other materials that hold just as much of an edge.
vkw10vkw10 on August 27th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, we're not talking about heavy steel ornaments. Light ceramics and modern alloys, definitely. The ornaments I've seen were used in the elaborate hairstyles of the past and often with wigs. But Laisa attends many formal occasions where an elaborate hairstyle would be appropriate. Even if she only wears them once a month, they become an unnoticeable weapon for her dressing table.

I missed an opportunity with Cordelia. That's a great idea; I'd love to read the letter Cordelia writes when she hears about the belts. Know anyone who'd like to write it?
capplorcapplor on August 28th, 2009 01:28 pm (UTC)
I've had some pretty heavy hair ornaments
At one point, a fellow at conventions was selling a hand-sized bat'letH that could be used (with a short wooden stick) to hold hair up. If your hair is long or thick enough, it will hold more weight than you might imagine.
vkw10vkw10 on August 29th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
Re: I've had some pretty heavy hair ornaments
Correct. When my hair was long enough to sit on, oh these many years ago, it held heavy ornaments nicely. Standard bobby pins are still useless, since my hair is thick; I always buy the large ones. But with modern materials, Laisa and Ekaterin probably went with something lighter.
Persephonepersephone_kore on August 29th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Re: I've had some pretty heavy hair ornaments
*nods* And you can actually get very light metal hair ornaments, for that matter. Granted, blade-and-sheath would be heavier, but there's at least one craftsman I know of who uses the lightness as a selling point for his metal hair stuff.
VorWombatwombathouse on August 27th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
excellent. Thank you!
vkw10vkw10 on August 28th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it!
fawatson: Cetagandafawatson on August 27th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
James Bond gadgets meet Barrayar!
vkw10vkw10 on August 28th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
I was thinking Catherine de Medici! Especially with the poison. But if you prefer Bond, perhaps we should introduce martinis to Barrayar, too.
shimotsukishimotsuki on August 28th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
Wonderful interactions among these strong determined women. I like the Professora in particular, going and doing some unusually applicable historical research!
vkw10vkw10 on August 28th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
The Professora is the best sort of academic. A student shows interest in history? Do a bit of research and help them learn more. I'm sure she also provided the ladies with some suggestions for further reading.
Book Addict: Vorkosiganbookaddict88 on August 28th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
Fashion and weaponry is such a great combination. Thanks for the story, I loved it!
vkw10vkw10 on August 28th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it!
Phil, previously newjerseybadgernewjerseybadger on August 29th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
1) A stunner grenade that looks like a blush compact?
2) Lady Alys needs to be here, doesn't she? Maybe she can be brought in later? Of course, as Simon's companion it's less likely that she'd be involved in _current_ Imperial politics, but on the other hand more likely that she'd be caught in the blast zone if someone with a grudge came looking for Simon.
vkw10vkw10 on August 30th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
Ooh, brilliant!

Yes, the accessories/weapons will spread to Lady Alys, Cordelia, Olivia Vorbrettan, Kareen, etc. And when Kareen shares idea with Mark, they'll all have to stomp him before he opens a new business selling them to the general public!
filkferengifilkferengi on September 1st, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
Nicely done! In character[s], & in directions not usually explored, ftw!
vkw10vkw10 on September 2nd, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it. Can't you see the look on the jeweller's face?
Initial Girl: dreamyinsatiable_nick on July 9th, 2010 05:35 am (UTC)
This is remarkably clever! Fits very nicely with the canon after the Vorfemme knife in Komarr.

Hope you have comment notifications on so you can see I've posted this :)