Author's Name: Carrot
Author web site: (http://codenamecarrot.livejournal.com/)
Main character: Alys Vorpatril
Spoilers: A Civil Campaign (if you squint really, really hard)
Summary: Lady Alys does not commit faux pas.
Author's Notes: based on the prompt "There's no trust / No faith, no honesty in men." From the Matrithon back in Sept 2009. I think it's new to here. Enjoy.
Lady Alys Vorpatril was horrified when she opened the box. Not with the craftsmanship; the loops of gold was so finely wrought that it could have come out of a molecular synthesizer, nor with the provenance; Athan's was one of the finest jewelers in the city. Still, they were … inappropriate.
She smiled thinly at Cordelia, knowing that further reprimand would mean acknowledging what the earrings meant. Which would mean admitting she'd understood what Cordelia was trying to say at the ball for the Emperor's Birthday. Although how anybody could miss it after she danced with the Nuevo Brazilian Ambassador was a mystery.
"They're lovely," Alys said, moving the polished wooden box into her handbag. She poured more tea for both of them as they watched the boys play in the new snow blanketing the residence grounds.
Ivan and Miles were engaged in an elaborate battle involving several embankments of snow, no less than four armsmen, and rules she was sure Miles was changing on the spot. Gregor, tall and solemn on his first Winterfair from the academy was watching the younger two warily. His involvement was only uncovered when Ivan careened too close, and instead of retreating, the boy-emperor deftly shoved a handful of packed snow down his collar. Alys felt herself stiffen - how dare he… to someone so much smaller - when she was interrupted a peal of laughter.
"Good." Cordelia said, surveying a snow fight that had grown into a two-on-one melee with the younger tow handling themselves admirably against their much taller (and more coordinated) adversary. "I've been afraid that the academy was getting to him. All of those men; their talk of honor & duty, and no notion of peace or family or fun to weigh it against is a terrible thing to teach children.
"Speaking of," and she turned her attention back to Alys, her focus implacable, "are you heading to university when the term starts?"
"Not this term. Perhaps when Ivan enters the Academy."
University. Once she'd dreamed of it, though truth be told it was more of a princess-trapped-in-a-tower sort of way (the time-of-isolation buildings at the university in Vorbarr Sultana are still stunning) than a dissecting-cats-in-the-name-of-science sort of way.
But her father put his foot down, insisting that higher education would be wasted on her. Trust me, he'd said, you're so beautiful you'll never need it. Besides, if she went her older brother Lev would be too busy chaperoning her to focus on his studies. Fat lot of good it him in the end; gunned down by the Cetagandans.
* * *
Home, with Ivan in bed, Lady Alys puts the earrings away in the chest of drawers that holds all of her jewelry. Can't throw them away, they're gifts. She tells herself she'll forget about them.
* * *
More often than she'd ever admit, Alys thinks that Cordelia has it right: Barrayar eats it's own. When she first considered fleeing to Beta Colony the idea was so outré that she immediately banished it.
The second time she considered fleeing she'd gotten as far as figuring out how to get to the shuttleport without alerting anyone when it hits… who'd look after Ivan?
When he enters academy, her house is too silent. Brushing out her hair the night after she packed him off, she actually put on the earrings that Cordeila had given her. She had the scissors she used to trim her bangs in one hand - what was the point of wearing the earrings if no-one could see them - when the com rang. She'd let Ivan pack his own uniforms and he'd forgotten socks and underwear.
It's only then that it hits her: what would she do? She has no job, no experience, no diploma to put before immigration. Who besides Barrayar would take her? Here a pretty face, impeccable fashion sense and the Vor- in front of her family's name put her within a hands-throw of the throne. Elsewhere this madness might be exposed for what it is.
Lady Alys suffered during the pretendership. She has seen how the other half lives, and though she is generous with her charity, she has no interest in joining them.
"Padma!" He ignores her, peering out the dingy window. "I'll be fine. My mother was fine. Don't go… "
"You need a doctor. You should have a doctor. A hospital." He's talking as much to himself as her, and she clenches her and around the windowsill as another contraction hits.
"I do not." Alys tried to be firm. "I will fine. We will get through this, just stay with me."
"Trust me" he said. Which was no reassurance at all when he was gunned down by the pretender's assassins.
All of Barrayar knows that Lady Vorpatril is the Emperor's baba. Cordelia is pushing for her to go to university again - why can't she see how busy Alys is. She has to attend every ball, every dinner of importance. Invitations need to be issued to the right people, and blood tests preformed with no-one the wiser. The seating arrangement needs to acknowledge the current feud between the Vorsissions and the Vorsmyths but can't condone it. The piano in the main ballroom needs to be repaired -- properly this time, and…
And one day the check shows up in the mail. She didn't ask for it, and goodness knows that Gregor never would have thought of it.
Alys almost calls Cordelia over it. Instead she storms (well, bustles) into Imperial Secuirty Headquarters a very matronly ball of fury and demands to see Captain Illyan.
"Why?" she asks.
"Because I trust you with his life."
Alys tells herself it was an accident: a new maid, the day-after-winterfair-hangover, a frantic Madame Vorvolk on the comconsole looking for her cousins, but in her heart she knows better.
Ivan was on Earth. The house was too quiet, and so she went into his office the morning after winterfair to talk about the ball, Gayla Vorbohn, and her gatecrashers. And while nothing untoward happened, she found herself receiving a most unexpected, and unexpectedly beautiful, smile from Illyan.
When Alys returns home she catches a glance at herself in the hatstand's mirror. Her head is up, her chin strong, and her coiffed hair perfectly frames the earrings.
I have suffered. I am ready for a relationship. No games.