“Count Vorkosigan, sir?”
For a moment, Aral is merely annoyed at the interruption: his experiment is at a delicate stage, an interruption could ruin it, but then he hears the words.
His notepad falls to the ground, and he nearly goes with it, but Markos has grabbed his arm, and Aral leans into it, gasping until he can find the air to say: “My father?”
“I’m sorry, my lord Count,” says Armsman Joliffe, “There was an explosion.”
My Lord Count, but he is not “My Lord Count”, he can’t be—
“He’s dead,” Aral says, to be sure, and Joliffe nods.
Helen is green and queasy by the time they arrive at ImpMil, and not just because Uncle Ivan broke every traffic law getting her in from the Academy. The guards let her through, up to the waiting room for the theatre where Taura is under anaesthetic.
Not Father. Father will never need an anaesthetic again. Father will never need anything again, will never wake her in the middle of the night, never tell her a story about the Dendarii.
Her mother is sitting there, hands clenched around each other, and Helen stumbles across the room, and collapses into her embrace.
Elizabeth holds it in, until Nikki arrives back from Komarr. Taurie’s in surgery again, having her skull pieced back together once more, and Aral has gone to make oath to the Emperor, to appear at the Emergency Session.
A Count of Barrayar, a former Lord Auditor, has been murdered. There will be blood, for this.
Elizabeth doesn’t care. She has spent the last week being good, and strong, and she wants to climb into her big brother’s lap, and get a promise that everything will get better.
She knows that it won’t, but she does so want to think so.
Taura doesn’t need anyone to tell her, when she wakes. She remembers it, clear as anything, the way her father’s blood splattered over her as the sky rolled beneath her, flames above her, and she slid into the dark.
She was more than a foot taller than him. He still tried to get between her and the explosion.
It’s the only thing she does remember. She can’t even remember why she was in the ground car with him, she tells everyone so.
(That’s a lie. Guard your honour, let your reputation care for itself. And outlive the bastards. That’s hers.)
Pavlos stands between Grandmamma and Taurie, at his Father’s funeral, and holds tight to Taurie’s hand, while Aral says things that sound like he’s in a play, and Uncle Gregor says how good Father was, what a good man.
If he was so very great, so very good, Pavlos wonders why people wanted to kill him. He wonders why they succeeded. The world isn’t meant to work like that. It’s not like that on the vids, not at all. Nothing is like on the vids. Father is dead, and Taurie is hurt, and Pavlos doesn’t know how to fix anything.