"The Mountains of Mourning", written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published in 1989 by Baen Books in the collection Borders of Infinity, is a novella of the Vorkosigan Saga set chronologically between between The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game. It was first published in Analog in May 1989 and has also been collected in Young Miles, and Dreamweaver's Dilemma.
"The Mountains of Mourning" won the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novellas, came in fourth place for a Locus Award for Best Novella, came in third place for an Analytical Laboratory (Analog Reader's poll), and won an SF Chronicles Award for best Novella, all in 1990.
- "He stood, and dusted his knees, in the silence and the sunlight. So what had he expected? Applause? Why was he here, in the final analysis? Dancing out a dead man's dreams—who did his Service really serve? Grandfather? Himself? Pale Emperor Gregor? Who cared?"
- ―Miles at his grandfather's grave[src]
Miles Vorkosigan had just graduated from the Imperial Service Academy on Barrayar. All that work for three years, and what was it really for? He'd wanted to satisfy/please his grandfather, Piotr Vorkosigan, but the old man was dead for some years; his satisfaction was moot at this point.
Meanwhile, a Dendarii hill-woman named Harra Csurik arrived at his home in Vorkosigan Surleau; she wanted justice for a murder that the local authorities seemed unwilling to handle. Miles sent her up to his father, Aral Vorkosigan, for help; Miles figured that she might need a ride to the District Magistrate.
As matters turned out, his father had different ideas. The murder was an old-fashioned infanticide for mutation, and the time had come and past to eradicate this custom. Miles would make a perfect message. So it was that Miles, Harra, Dr. Dea, and the new Vorkosigan Armsman Pym rode on horseback into the mountains for three days to a tiny hamlet named Silvy Vale to judge this murder.
Miles found as much lack of cooperation as Harra had found; the Village Speaker, Serg Karal, clearly knew it was a murder, clearly knew who did it, and clearly didn't want the story to come out. The reason for his unhelpfulness became clear when the identity of the murderer was discovered – Harra's own mother, who had done the same to two of her own children years before.
Executing a mad old woman did not appeal to Miles, or to Pym, or to Harra. But failing to punish this crime, for which anything less than death seemed inadequate, was not much more appealing. After some thought, Miles came up with a solution. He called a meeting of the entire village, described the crime, and sentenced her to a form of banishment – she was to be treated as if she were already dead; she could own nothing and must depend upon the charity of her daughter even for the clothing on her back. He further declared that when her time to die came, she was not to have a burning; she would die unremembered.
Miles then arranged for Harra and her husband Lem Csurik to go to Hassadar for a time, where Harra could learn to be a teacher and bring knowledge and skills to the people of Silvy Vale. As for Miles, he now had a purpose in serving Barrayar – he would serve as Raina Csurik's knight, wearing her favor upon his sleeve as the knights of old.
- "Peace to you, small lady, he thought to Raina. You've won a twisted poor modern knight, to wear your favor on his sleeve. But it's a twisted poor world we were both born into, that rejects us without mercy and ejects us without consultation. At least I won't just tilt at windmills for you. I'll send in sappers to mine the twirling suckers, and blast them into the sky...
He knew who he served now. And why he could not quit. And why he must not fail."
- ―Miles on the way back home[src]
Behind the scenes
- One source of "literary roots" to this tale is Dorothy Sayers's writings about writing in The Mind of the Maker.
- The river of roses was taken from a real-life experience with wild roses seen in Ohio.