"Winterfair Gifts", written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published by New American Library in February 2004 as part of the short story collection Irresistible Forces, is a novella in the universe of the Vorkosigan Saga. It has also been collected as part of the Miles in Love omnibus. Chronologically, it follows A Civil Campaign and is followed by Diplomatic Immunity. Blackstone Audio published an audio version in 2008, read by Grover Gardner.
"Winterfair Gifts" was nominated for the Hugo Award for best Novella and took second place for a Sapphire Award for short fiction in 2005. It was also named the 2005 Fictionwise eBook of the Year.
Plot Summary[edit | edit source]
The tale is told from the point of view of Armsman Roic. When Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson scheduled their wedding for Winterfair, they chose to have an outdoor ceremony in their new garden, complete with ice sculptures and frosted icicles on the trees. Invited guests included Elena Bothari-Jesek, her husband Baz, Arde Mayhew, and Sergeant Taura, a huge genetically-engineered super-soldier. On the side, Miles was finishing up the work for one of his investigations – a Lord Vorbataille had been heavily involved with Jacksonian smugglers and ended up mixed up with the hijacking of at least one ship, the Princess Olivia. He had been arrested, but what of his Jacksonian co-conspirators?
- "So, it was a lady sergeant. Galactics had those; m'lord's mother had been a famous Betan officer in her day. But this one's a bloody giant mutant lady sergeant was a thought Roic suppressed more firmly. Such backcountry prejudices had no place in this household. Though she was clearly bioengineered, had to be."
- ―Roic's first impression of Taura[src]
Armsman Roic, the youngest and most junior of the Vorkosigan armsmen, normally served night watch for the household. However, with the press of needs for the upcoming wedding, he received the task of watching over Taura – in particular, he was to keep the locals from giving her trouble on account of her apparent mutieness. This proved difficult: On their first journey into Vorbarr Sultana – to a modiste to replace Taura's wardrobe with more suitable items – a restaurant break turned traumatic when Taura's appearance badly frightened a small child and her mother.
Over the several days before the wedding, Roic found himself growing attracted to Taura; difficulties followed as he learned (the hard way) to question his own anti-mutie prejudices. Several incidents showed him just how unthinking he was in these matters.
- "Despite himself, he smiled a little. 'I guess so. I dunno if m'lord's forgiven me, but I'm right sure Pym hasn't.' He sighed. 'If you see one of those damned vomit bugs still around, squash it on sight. Hideous bioengineered mutant things, kill 'em all before they multiply.'"
- ―Roic learns what not to say to a bio-engineered mutant[src]
On the day before the wedding, Miles and Ekaterin looked over their presents. Two of them were from Admiral Elli Quinn – a fancy and expensive black cat blanket and a lovely necklace of pearls from Earth. By evening, Ekaterin was seriously ill. That night, while Roic was doing night-guard duty, Taura sneaked over to the wedding present table. Roic followed and saw her steal the pearl necklace. The two of them talked; as it turned out, she was deeply troubled – the pearls appeared strangely dirty to her genetically-enhanced vision and Ekaterin's illness had fallen suspiciously close to when she touched the gift. So, she wanted to check them out. But the thought that Elli would do such a thing to Miles was repugnant to her; she also wanted her suspicions not to be true. Thus, her plan was to check them out secretly. Roic talked her into going to ImpSec with her concerns instead; they showed up, collected all the presents, and began investigating.
- "Slowly, not dropping her intent, searching gaze from his face, she drew the cloth from her pocket. She shook it gently, spilling the pearls back into their velvet box. She held the box out. "What do you see?"
Roic frowned. 'Pearls. Pretty. White and shiny.'
She shook her head. 'I have a host of genetic modifications. Hideous bioengineered mutant or no—'
He flinched, his mouth opening and shutting.
'—among other things I can see slightly farther into the ultraviolet, and quite a bit farther into the infrared, than a normal person. I see dirty pearls. Strangely dirty pearls. And that's not what I usually see when I look at pearls. And then Miles's bride touched them, and an hour later was so sick she could hardly stand up.'"
- ―Dirty pearls[src]
Sure enough, Ekaterin had fallen ill because she had been in contact with a potent nerve toxin that had been painted onto the pearls. ImpSec successfully tracked the Jacksonian connection through the purchase of the necklace and arrested Luca Tarpan, the originator of the plot.
- "Dirty pearls, eh?" he said, still holding her hand. "Y'know . . . I don't know about any other Barrayarans . . . but I think your genetic modifications are beautiful."
Her lips curved up, he hoped not altogether bleakly. "You are getting better."
- ―Roic repairs his error[src]
Miles and Ekaterin were married the following day, with Taura standing as the Bride's second. That night Roic and Taura began a romantic relationship.
Tidbits[edit | edit source]
It is possible that the very happy ice bunnies' positions correspond to Cordelia's "Number Nine" observation about Barrayaran Society's various taboos.