beatrice_otter: All true wealth is biological (Wealth)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter
Title: The Princess in the Tower
Author: beatrice_otter
Fandom: Vorkosigan series
Characters: Yuri Vorbarra's Sister, Xav Vorbarra, Ezar Vorbarra, Piotr Vorkosigan
Written for: ExtraPenguin's prompt in the 2013 Bujold Ficathon.
Summary: Princess Nadezhda's civil war

On AO3

Nadya stared out the window, embroidery forgotten in her lap. From her window, she could see a bluebird in a tree in the garden, one of the flock the Komarrans had given her brother. Not much, as an apology for letting the Cetagandans through. Its mouth was open. Maybe it was crying. She couldn't hear it. The force screen that blocked attacks from her brother's enemies—her brother's many enemies—blocked sound, too.

It probably wasn't the same one the Cetagandans had used to lock her in when she was their "guest" all that time. Probably. She told herself this frequently. But she also knew how much of the Cetagandan left-behind equipment her brother had turned to his own use, lacking any better option. In any case, it kept attackers out and herself in, and if she (probably) wouldn't have thrown herself out of the window headlong onto the cobblestones below, she would have liked to be able to hear the bird.

Lady Vortalon coughed discreetly, and Nadya turned, to see her lady-in-waiting making meaningful glances at the material in her lap. Obediently, Nadya picked it up and resumed her stitches. It was easier than protesting. She liked embroidery well enough, both looking at it and doing it, but it was terribly pointless. The Cetagandans and the Komarrans had both brought in machines that could do the same work quicker and better than Nadya herself.

It was a perfect metaphor for her life, actually, pretty and pointless. But she was not permitted to do anything because she was known to be delicate, and anyway, she was the last remaining Vorbarra princess, and it was a point of pride that (unlike most Barrayarans, unlike most Vor) her family could afford for her to do nothing—especially as by this point it was obvious she would never marry. So she sat in a castle tower in a remote corner of the Vorbarra District, and embroidered, and every so often her brother Yuri came to visit.

She'd thought about stabbing him once, but she wasn't allowed knives, and Yuri's men turned the tower upside down for anything that might be used as a weapon, in fear that one of her attendants might try something.

Funny, that even after he'd murdered their sister and cousins and nieces and nephews out of fear they might kill him, he'd never once considered Nadya might. She was too fragile, too weak, too … overwrought by her captivity to do anything drastic. They were probably right.

She looked out the window again. The bird was gone, now.

Lady Vortalon shook her awake in the night, candle in hand instead of lighting the lights. "Princess Nadezhda," she said in an urgent whisper, "rebel troops are fast approaching. If we leave now, we may be able to slip out unobserved and escape!"

Nadya lay there thinking that over. It explained the candle, she supposed; trying to make it look like the castle was being caught unawares.

"Get up, hurry!" Lady Vortalon said, forgetting their ranks enough to grab her arm and yank her up. Lady Vortalon was strong, much stronger than Nadya was, but then, she was allowed out to ride every day the weather was fine. Nadya was denied such exercise for her own good.

Lady Vortalon dragged her towards the door. "I have to get dressed," Nadya said. "It's cold outside." It wasn't winter, but it soon would be, and the tower was kept very warm.

Lady Vortalon grabbed a robe and coat. "Put these on."

"Will we be riding or walking?" Nadya asked, holding them.

"Now, your Highness, we haven't time!"

"But I need to know what shoes to wear," Nadya pointed out. "And I can't ride in this."

Lady Vortalon practically hissed like a cat at the realization that no, the elaborate and impractical nightgown befitting a princess was certainly not going to work for a desperate escape. She flung open the wardrobe doors, grabbed a riding habit Nadya hadn't worn in years, and started yanking the nightgown off her.

It would have gone much faster if Nadya had helped.

By the time she was dressed and Lady Vortalon was towing her down the stairs, Armsman Roche met them, shaking his head. "Princess Nadezhda," he said, giving her a slight bow before ignoring her and turning to Lady Vortalon as he always did. "I'm afraid it's too late, milady, they've found the entrance to the tunnel and are guarding it."

Lady Vortalon sent Nadya a poisonous glare before turning to Roche and discussing the defense of the keep. It wasn't a very long discussion; while the old castle would have held out very well fifty years ago in the days of horse cavalry, the best force screens in the world couldn't make it impregnable against a modern, galactic-class strike team, which they were now facing.

At last, Lady Vortalon and Nadya went down to the modern panic room set into the old dungeon. It was nicely furnished, just like every prison Nadya had been kept in. Lady Vortalon wouldn't let her go back to sleep, so they sat there listening to the battle outside … and eventually, to the sounds of the victors trying to break in. She supposed she should feel afraid.

"Your brother should have sent troops to relieve us by now," Lady Vortalon said. "He promised he would not leave us unprotected."

Nadya shrugged; what of it? He'd also promised to be Xav's grandson Marcel's godfather, and look how that had turned out.

Lady Vortalon pulled two nerve disruptors out and handed one to Nadya. "They shall not take us quietly, at least."

Nadya looked at the weapon; it was the first time she'd held anything longer-range than a knife. She thought about putting it down, but then Lady Vortalon could pick it up again. On further reflection, she sat on it.

"What are you doing?" asked Lady Vortalon, dividing her attention between Nadya and the door. "I know you are in one of your moods, but we must defend ourselves from our enemies!"

Nadya leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes.

"Princess Nadezhda, your mother would be disappointed in you now," Lady Vortalon said. She would know better than Nadya did; she had attended Empress Celeste all through the Occupation, while Nadya had been penned up by the Cetagandans. "And your brother will be angry when he hears! Our enemies are at the door!"

"Not my enemies," Nadya said quietly. And even if they were, they would only kill her.

Lady Vortalon gave a cry of fury and turned to face her completely. That was when the door finally gave, and the first thing through was a wide-angle stun bolt

She awoke in a room she didn't know, with a woman she didn't recognize. Another cell, by the look of it, though less opulent than her last one, as befit an army on the move. "Your Highness," said the woman, dipping into a curtsey. "I will inform the Emperor that you are awake. He will wish to see you as soon as you are able."

"Which emperor?" Nadya asked, although she knew already. The bottle on the table gave the answer; Yuri would never have provided her antidepressents. But Xav would.

"Emperor Ezar, your Highness," the woman said.

"Ezar?" Nadya frowned as the woman left. Ezar? He was some sort of distant cousin, she knew; he was part of the clan, but he'd risen more on his military acumen than his blood connections. She'd met him a few times, when she had to attend public events, but he'd never been part of the family circle. Strange that he was Emperor instead of Xav, and she understood from Yuri's ranting that Xav was still alive and with the rebels. Perhaps her information was out of date, and Xav, too, was dead. Or perhaps Yuri's words had been even farther from reality than they'd sounded.

She picked up the bottle and studied it. It was the right one, in the right dose, and only the family circle knew that Xav's wife Chieko had been quietly supplying her with Betan psychiatric medicine, let alone which one and what the dosage was. She swallowed a pill and wished it were magic that would work immediately. But it would take days to reach full effectiveness, though she should feel the effects within a matter of hours.

The riding dress was creased from however long she'd been in it, and Ezar wanted to see her, so she slowly took it off. But she was so tired, still, and besides, her gowns were difficult to put on without a maid's help, so she lay back down on the bed.

Eventually—Nadya didn't know how long, though she hadn't been asleep—the woman came back. "Princess Nadezhda? Are you ready to see the—oh. Oh."

"I didn't know what to wear," Nadya said. The woman went over to the wardrobe in the corner and threw it open, revealing all of Nadya's clothing that had been in the tower with her.

"Well, it's afternoon, just about tea-time," the woman said. "So how about this one?" She picked out one of Nadya's more formal day-dresses, with Vorbarra embroidery around the waist and hem and forearms.

"Very well," Nadya said, and let herself be dressed and led to meet her newest captor.

"Xav!" she said, heart leaping. He wasn't dead after all! She cried as they embraced, happier than she'd been in a long while. It was such a relief to feel something.

"It is good to see you well, Nadya," he said, holding her hand tightly in his. Someone cleared his throat, and Nadya looked past him to see Piotr and Ezar.

"Nadya, you know Piotr, of course," Xav said, turning to present her. Nadya gave her brother's son-in-law a chilly nod. Piotr Vorkosigan had cornered her several times, early in their acquaintance, to remind her that many others had suffered far worse than she had at the Cetagandans' hands, and so she should pull herself together and get over it and do her duty to the family. The fourth—and last—time, she had been trying to see if she was recovered enough to do without the antidepressants, and had made her second suicide attempt. Piotr had been forbidden to speak to her, after that, though they couldn't entirely avoid one another at family functions.

"And I believe you also know Emperor Ezar, though he has grown in rank since last you met," Xav continued.

"Princess Nadezhda," Ezar said with a bow.

"Your Highness," Nadya said curtseying to him. "May I ask why him and not you?" she said, turning back to Xav.

"I wouldn't put Chieko aside," Xav said.

"Oh," Nadya said. Chieko, Xav's Betan wife who had helped run Barrayar the weapons and tools they'd needed to free themselves, at great personal risk. Chieko, the galactic that people whispered about behind her back, ignoring all they owed her. Chieko, who had tried to get permission for Nadya to go offworld for her depression to be cured, and who had gotten her galactic anti-depressants when that wasn't possible. Chieko, the kindest woman Nadya knew. Of course Xav wouldn't give her up, she was the best thing left in the world. And it was infuriating that he should have been asked to.

"And there is the manner of His Highnesses' parentage," Piotr said. As Xav's son-in-law, he could come out and say it without offense.

"He was legitimated," Nadya said, though she knew that wasn't universally accepted now that their father wasn't around to enforce it. Legitimation of a bastard was only supposed to be possible when neither of the parents were committing adultery in the child's production, and Dorca had still been married to Empress Vanessa, Yuri's mother, when Xav was born. But Dorca had been Emperor, and Dorca had proclaimed Xav legitimate, and Nadya had always thought that if you didn't want Emperors to be able to make their own rules you should go to Beta and have done with it.

"Nevertheless," Piotr said with a shrug.

"So." Nadya pursed her lips. "All hail Emperor Ezar." She curtseyed again, a little more deeply this time. "I thank you for the rescue."

"You are most welcome," Ezar said, "though it wasn't only because Xav wanted his sister safe."

Nadya wasn't that naïve. The quality of troops and equipment used, that deep into Yuri's territories? No, that wasn't done for sentiment. "What do you want of me?"

"I need a Vorbarra bride," Ezar said, "and there aren't many left."

Nadya blinked, surprised. She supposed that, as a Vorbarra princess, she should have expected it, but there had always been the understanding that she was too fragile for marriage. But Xav and Piotr knew that, and presumably so did Ezar—it was a secret, which meant people whispered about it instead of shouted. "I'm too old," Nadya pointed out. "I don't have many childbearing years left."

Xav shrugged. "Betan medicine can help with that, although we'll have to be discreet."

"No uterine replicators, then?" Nadya asked. When Chieko had started helping her with her moods, after her first suicide attempt, Nadya had gone through a period of fascination with galactic medicine. If she had been allowed, she would have become a doctor. But she was not allowed, and after time the interest faded.

"Too galactic," Xav said.

Nadya nodded. "I don't object to you, Your Highness," she said, careful how she addressed him because she had not yet taken oath to him—and might be taking a very different oath, instead of the liege-oaths she had sworn Yuri and their father before him. "But I have no wish to be Empress." On the other hand, would Mad Empress Nadezhda be worse than Mad Princess Nadezhda? Probably not. And they might actually give her something to do with her time besides stare out the window and embroider pointless things.

"We can find someone else to act as political hostess," Xav said. "You could live a quiet life in the District, for the most part—perhaps even run it as Countess Vorbarra, if you feel up to it—and only appear for a few events at Court per year."

"And I only want to bear one son," she said.

Ezar shook his head. "I need an heir and a spare."

Nadya crossed her arms. "With modern medicine and no Cetagandans, if there is peace here one son should be plenty," she said, secure in the knowledge that no matter how convenient it was politically, Xav would never force her to marry anyone she didn't want to … and that Ezar couldn't rule without Xav behind him as Dorca's favored son. "Besides, we've all seen what havoc familial strife and jealousy can bring. One son will be fine."

Ezar hesitated, eyes narrowed, studying her. "Fine," he said at last. "One son. Serg." They shook hands on it and she was helped into a chair as the tea was brought in and the serious negotiations began.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-21 01:26 pm (UTC)
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (Default)
From: [personal profile] genarti
Oh, ow. My heart. This is beautifully done, and exactly as messed up as a Barrayar fic of this era and social class ought to be.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-22 05:31 pm (UTC)
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (Default)
From: [personal profile] genarti
Ha, well, I sure didn't notice! I'm not a diligent enough fan to have details of the vaguer/screwier bits of timeline at my fingertips. Even if it counts as a slight AU where the ages and sibling relationships were slightly different, handwave handwave, I think it works excellently.


beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)

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