Chapter II

by Khasidi

The characters here are under copyright (c) by Lois MacMasters Bujold and are taken from her many Vorkosigan novels.
The story is my own invention. It and all other elements not borrowed from Ms. Bujold are copyright (c) 2005 by Khasidi Katugraha

Idiot's Delight is a long story that I am working on using characters from Lois MacMasters Bujold's Vorkosigan series. If you find this interesting, read her books, they're great! Most of the characters here are hers and I hope that I will not offend anyone, most especially Ms. Bujold, by taking liberties with them. My feeling is that her books are so good that there is little I could do to damage them. Gay characters have cropped up from time to time in the Vorkosigan books, but I have always been a bit frustrated with them. Part of the reason I want to write this is to introduce three-dimensional gay characters who are not sadists. (Sorry Lois, but your gay characters, with the exception of evil sadists like Ges Vorutyer, Galen, and Baron Ryoval, have all been a little flat. Ethan was fine as a character, but he was pretty sexless.)

There is no sex, yet, just the forces of attraction/repulsion. In fact, I don't think there will be any sex for quite a while yet. After all, Ivan still thinks he is completely straight and the hermaphrodite hasn't even made an appearance, much less the wolf-lady. Besides, I have to work up to it. I don't want to write bad erotica. I think that has been covered pretty thoroughly by others. But good erotica! That is a real challenge, and one I am still not sure I am up to yet. This is the first story I have written and I would love to hear any comments you have, especially if you are already a fan of the Vorkosigan series. If you have criticisms, I would also like to read those; but I am sensitive (goes with the territory) and cry easily, so please be nice. I'll try to keep the spelling and grammar in order, but I am not very good at proof reading my own writing. If anyone wants to trade stories for proof reading I would be happy to do that.


Chapter II

Athos creation myth

This is a "Winter Story." These stories are told only during the ten days before and after the winter solstace on Athos. They are told only at night in the dark. No lights are allowed to burn while these stories are told. They are not written or recorded on any electronic device that we have been able to discover. This telling is done from memory by Artu Semling.

In the beginning there was nothing, not earth nor star nor sea nor air nor space. There was no before and there was no after, for time did not pass. There was nothing.

Nothing divided itself into two parts and a space there was between the two parts; And the part on the right began to turn to the right and the part on the left began to turn to the left.

And the light shone on the part on the right, but on the left part there was darkness.

And the part on the right was called male and the part on the right was called female. And the right part was blessed but the left was accursed.

And God was the light and stood in the light yet he saw the darkness and was sorrowful. And God said, I will sow light in the darkness so that the curse may be lifted.

Then God became hard and stood forth and a fountain of light sprayed forth from His penis, and these were the multitude of stars that forming galaxies uncounted.

But the darkness rejected the light and knew it not. And the darkness bled black blood, and where that blood fell the light died, And where that blood stood it burned black holes of Original Nothing through the space that God had made, and a stench went up through all the heavens.

But God the Father healed the wounds of heaven and of the black holes did he make highways by joining holes one onto another that his children might pass through infinite distance, passing into nothing indeed, but passing out again without change or harm. And He gathered the darkness into masses that he set in motion around the stars. And the curse of the sinister became God's blessing instead.

And God created him a child of light but the darkness created her own child. And these two came together. And the child of darkness said to the child of light, I am greater than thee and my god is greater than thy god. For see where I stand, the light cannot pass and my shadow falls upon the land. And the child of darkness said, look out onto this land. All was made by my Mother and nothing can be made except by my Mother and without my Mother everything will return to dust.

And then the child of Darkness said, look I will show thee. Give me your seed and I will make of it a child. And he of the light did give of his seed but when she of the darkness had that seed she did kill him and eat the child of the Light. And with his seed did she make the trees and the fishes, the plants and the animals and she did make the people..

But the God the Father came onto her and said, Where is my son? And she said, He went away. I know not whither.

And God said, Woman, thou liest, for thou hast eaten the light and brought forth darkness. Accurst shalt thou be and accurst shall be the fruit of thy womb. And yet, even so, the Light cannot be hidden. Half of they children shall be of the Dark and half shall be of the Light. And the half that is of the Light I shall keep unto myself.

God the Father be our guide!

Chapter III

In which Ivan decides to take a vacation and finds a cheap fare.

"Well, Ivan, you're looking a little the worse for wear." commented Byerly Vorrutyer, depositing his coat on the back of the unoccupied chair at the small bistro table over which Ivan Vorpatril huddled. Ivan had chosen a table squashed behind a support column in an out-of-the-way cellar cafŽ precisely so that he wouldn't have to meet anybody that he knew. But the Vorrutyers all seemed to have a magnetic sense that guided them to misery like a ship's compass pointing towards the pole.

Ivan shifted uncomfortably under Byerly's scrutiny. "Not in the mood, By" he growled. "Why don't you go find something else to entertain you? Pull the wings off some flies or douse a cat in brandy and light it on fire."

After leaving the reception the night before, Ivan had not, after all, gone home, at least not immediately. Instead, he had headed off to an inn where he thought he might be able to meet a willing girl and get a room. And there were girls there and rooms too, he supposed; but somehow none of the girls looked very jolly even though he was drunk. He thought that the problem might be, not that he was drunk, but that he was not drunk enough. He set about to rectify the problem immediately. But somehow, this time alcohol wasn't having the effect of making he girls prettier. In fact, the more he drank, the uglier the girls became. It was confusing. And not only the girls, but the other patrons, the bouncer, and the bartender as well. Really, the bartender was inexcusably ugly and Ivan didn't see why he should be asked to look at him. He thought he ought to mention it; and he did. But the bartender didn't appear to have heard what he said so Ivan repeated himself a little louder, "I said, you're an ugly brute! Didn't you hear me?"

Later, he regained consciousness, finding himself lying in a pile of something that smelled terrible. His ribs hurt and his stomach hurt and his left eye hurt and also seemed to be swollen shut. Ivan sat up gingerly. The ground seemed to rise up underneath him and then drop him down. He wondered if sitting up had been a mistake. Then he threw up. Yes, definitely a mistake. He had vomited all over his trousers. They appeared to be a total loss.

Somewhat later he had managed to get to his feet. The ground appeared to be steadier, so he set his course, as well as he could, towards his much-despised flat. Fortunately, no one accosted him on his way home. In fact, quite the opposite, everybody he passed seemed intent on maintaining as much distance from him as they could. He sneaked into his flat, hoping that no one had seen him

His suit was a mess. It was an expensive one, too. Ivan had ordered it especially for the Emperor's wedding. He thought that it might not be a total loss but it was so revolting that he didn't want to let it touch anything in the flat. He resolved that problem by getting into the shower fully dressed. When the worst of the filth had been rinsed off his clothes, he felt he could put them on the floor without fear of contamination. So he then stripped down and got back under the hot water. Later the hot water had suddenly run out and he had awoken cursing under the sudden blast of icy water. After that, he must have gotten into his bed because the next thing he could remember was waking up there. He wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep, but his bladder was screaming. When he got out of bed his headache crashed into full alert. He made it to the bathroom and let out a stream of urine that seemed to last for a very long time. Washing down several analgesic tablets with two large glasses of water, he surveyed his face in the mirror with distaste. His eye was swollen almost shut and had developed a glorious purplish black bruise that traveled down his cheek and back to his left temple. His right eye also looked incredibly dissipated It was rimmed with red and decorated with a scattering of fiery little veins. His skin had taken on an unhealthy grayish tone. He looked old and dissipated.

After he had navigated his way to the kitchen he managed to make a pot of black coffee. As he drank it, fragments from the previous evening's events began to creep out from his mental fog like revolting creatures in a fetid marsh poking bulbous eyes from beneath rotting logs in the toxic ooze of his memory.

What had gotten into him? He'd been feeling jealous of Miles and Gregor for getting married. Why? Ivan, himself, had never wanted to get married. He had always been happy to play the field -- though, truth to tell, the field itself seemed to be growing smaller and smaller lately. This was the indirect result of the introduction of uterine replicator technology some thirty-five years before. The Barrayaran preference for boy children over girls had combined with the imported Betan technology with the unintended result that Ivan and Miles's generation had a pronounced skew in the balance of men to women. It wasn't an illusion: the field was growing smaller. As more and more women of their generation married, the competition for those remaining became more intense.

But something else about the situation bothered Ivan. He had always been pretty free and easy with his girlfriends -- "love `em and leave `em," That was his philosophy! Or so he'd always thought. Why, then, did the fact that Miles and Gregor had just gotten married to two very nice women leave him feeling so abandoned and lonely?

"Fuck it!" Ivan thought, "I'm not going to think about it! If there aren't' enough women here, I'll go some place else where there are more of `em."

Then he had popped a couple more painkillers and swallowed them down with the last of his coffee. "Yeah, that's it! Why should I let myself get stuck on a provincial backwater like Barrayar? There's other planets and other opportunities! What I need is to broaden my horizons, get some new experiences under my belt. Like that place on Beta Colony, The Orb. I'd like to try that out. Oh yeah."

The Orb was supposed to be really wild. Anything and everything imaginable went on there. Well, actually, Ivan had already pretty much tried everything that he could imagine, except for things that involved pain or animals or something weird like that, but he had an unarticulated idea that on other planets hitherto unimagined vistas of sensual pleasure would open up. Besides, it would be a change and a change was just what Ivan needed.

He also needed some breakfast. The painkillers and coffee were beginning to take effect and he felt that he ought to put something in his stomach to settle it down. So, breakfast.

Ivan looked at his watch and amended that to "lunch," or perhaps "tea." No, he hated tea -- but something -- a mid-afternoon snack with a glass of wine might do the trick. Anyway, he was already sick of looking at the four walls of his apartment and wanted to get out and about.

Finding a place to eat was a challenge. Normal restaurants had stopped serving lunch and wouldn't be open for dinner until much later. Besides, he didn't want to go anyplace where he would be recognized. He wasn't sure why, he justÉdidn't. His instinct at this point was to lay low, to curl up and lick his wounds. A small sign at a set of steps leading down to a subterranian restaurant read "Spotted Dick" and listed a series of Greek dishes as the day's specials. There were windows on either side of the door, but the interior was dim and Ivan couldn't see much. "Perfect!" he thought to himself.

The interior was dim after the mid-afernoon sunlight and Ivan found himself a table nestled in behind a large supporting arch. He navigated his athletic frame into the chair and settled in. In the small space he felt cosy and protected. But now here was Byerly and his choice didn't seem all that perfect any more. Somehow "protected" had transformed into "trapped."

"I don't do flies." Byerly remarked. "You can't tell if they are suffering or just buzzing around on reflexes. But enough about my hobbies, you're looking very twitchy this afternoon. Perhaps a bit too much to drink, hmm? And what did you do to your eye? If it was a bed post, it must have been an awfully big one."

"By, what are you doing here?" Ivan growled.

"Well, a better question would be, what are you< doing here? Not exactly your venue I wouldn't have thought. Although one never does know for sureÉ"

Why, Ivan wondered, did everything always seem to mean something else when one talked to Byerly? And it always seemed to mean something that was perfectly obvious to Byerly, but not to Ivan. And why wouldn't By leave him alone to be miserable in peace?

"By," he said, "Why can't you just leave me alone to be miserable in peace?" Damn! He'd done it again. These things just kept coming out of his mouth.

Surprisingly, Byerly looked nonplussed for just a moment; then he said, kind of surprisingly, Ivan thought, "Well, but Ivan, I saw you going down the steps into this, no doubt, picturesque taverna and I thought you might not perfectly understand what sort of place you were entering. I came to lend, as you might say, support should you find yourself outgunned."

"Support?" Ivan snorted. "I just wanted some lunch. Why the hell would I need supÉ" Ivan looked at the waitress who was eyeing their table to see if they were ready to order. Something strange about her. Then it penetrated his still slightly unfocussed brain. There was something strange aboutÉhim.

Byerly sat back with his usual sardonic smile. "Yes, well, I am sure you would have noticed sooner or later even without me to point it out to you. However, it may not yet have come to your attention that there are at least three patrons who have been eyeing your so splendid physique and are no doubt wondering how to secure an introduction. I would guess that they are also wondering if it is safe to approach someone with an eye that looks like yours. I imagine that the fellow at the table by the window is rather hoping that it isn't. I am here to protect you from unwelcome advances, Ivan. What did you think?"

The waitress interrupted them to take their order. Ivan's appetite had unexpectedly vanished, but he thought that he probably ought to eat something. He certainly wasn't going to give Byerly the satisfaction of watching him turn tail. "Retsina andÉ" Ivan ran a quick eye over the menu, "Uh, spanakopita andÉOh, no, just bring a large plate of appetizers. What do you want, By? It's on me." Ivan had never been really comfortable with Byerly, but as a host Ivan would have offered Pierre la Sanguinerre a drink.

"Why thank you, Ivan" Byerly responded. "I'll just have a glass of wine -- uh, notretsina -- and maybe, if you don't mind, I'll just pick at some of your appetizers?"

Silence fell. Byerly seemed quite happy to sit without saying anything. Ivan, however, was less sanguine. Now that he had become aware of what kind of place it was, the signs seemed to be all over. How could he have not guessed when the place was called Spotted Dick? He remembered snickering over that particular dessert when he and Miles were boys. And, looking around, he could see that there were no women -- unless you counted the waitress but sheÉheÉ oh hell! Lord Dono was bad enough! What was this? Like some kind of virus that was spreading? Ivan became more and more uncomfortable while Byerly sat unmoving, like the statue of some perverse deity, an enigmatic smile playing about his lips.

When the food came, Ivan found that he was hungrier than he had supposed and the food was surprisingly good, little specialties that paid tribute to the tenacity Greek culture still exhibited. Byerly, too, ate a surprising amount. He seemed to have no inhibitions about reaching across the table and spearing whatever he wanted off of Ivan's plate. Ivan couldn't wait to get away from Barrayar.

"I can't wait to get away from Barrayar," said Ivan.

"Really?" asked Byerly. "Are you going away? Where are you going? Is it work or just for fun?"

God, there I go again, Ivan thought. What is it with me that I just spout off like this?

"Oh," he mumbled, "Just for fun, y'know. All the eligible girls seem to be getting married off. Things are a little flat. Anyway, after all the time I have put in assigned to my mother for Gregor and Laisa's two weddings, I have quite a lot of leave saved up. I was thinking I might go off to Escobar and Beta Colony. I was there once when I was eighteen, but I didn't see much. I have a hankering to visit The Orb, y'know." There, let Byerly top that with some cynical remark!

And, of course, Byerly did. "The Orb? But Ivan, you can hardly sit still in this rather mild rendez vous for homosexual men in Vorbarr Sultana. You are aware, I presume, that Beta Colony is one of the -- how shall I put this? -- one of the most open minded societies in the galaxy. Do you think you will be quite comfortable in that environment?"

Trust Byerly to find a way to ruin the only plan Ivan had been able to come up with that would give him a reason for getting out of town. Well, he'd be damned if he would let By one-up him on this. "Yes, of course I know that, By. But, as you say, they are very open minded on Beta Colony, and I suspect there is even space for a man who likes women."

"Oh, no doubt." Byerly responded cheerfully. "They see all kinds there. As it happens, I am going that way myself. Or anyway, as far as Escobar."

"You? I thought you were assigned to Domestic Affairs? Or are you taking a break, too?"

Byerly sighed. "Yes, well, I am. Or I was. I should say that I was assigned to domestic affairs and, when I return, I probably will be again, but my current assignment is off planet and takes domesticity just a little farther than I generally like to venture."

Ivan raised his eyebrows, inviting some kind of explanation for this remark which seemed obscure even for one of Byerly's circumlocutions.

"I am not situated very comfortably at the moment, if you must know." Byerly went on. "The demotion to IS-8 has meant that I will not be able to meet certain financial obligations that I undertook when my prospects seemed somewhat better. BeingÉawayÉwould perhaps be a wise move on my part at the moment. Too, I am hoping that all of my prospects will have improved ifÉthat is when I return. "

Ivan grinned in spite of himself. "Ah yes, money. I myself have moderately good prospects, but they depend on m'mother passing away, y'know; and, even though she can be a bit of a tartar, I don't wish forÉWell, you see what I am trying to say."

"Yes, perfectly" By responded. "All in all, though, I think you have been more fortunate in your relations than I have been in mine -- with the possible exception of Dono."

There was a strain of homicidal insanity that manifested itself in certain Vor families. This, coupled with a culture that glorified military excess, had resulted in the catastrophic reigns of Pierre la Sanguinerre and mad Emperor Yuri. These traits had been strong in some Vorrutyer family members, though the lust for power tinged with sadism that characterized Byerly's cousin Richars was a mere shadow of the excesses of earlier generations. "Yes" Ivan conceded, "Given a choice between my relations and yours, I guess I have a lot to be thankful for."

"Ivan," said Byerly, changing the subject, "You have been quite close with your cousin Miles. Do you have any information you could share about an independent organization calling itself The Dendarii Mercenaries?"

Ivan choked on the sip of the resinated wine he was taking. The stuff really did taste a bit too much like turpentine. "What? I beg your pardon. It always takes me at least one glass of this stuff before I get used to it again."

"Yes, I vaguely recall having tasted it once. I am not much interested in penitential rites so I haven't tried it since. But about the Dendarii?"

Ivan could see that he wasn't going to get out of this so he asked, "What do you know about them already?"

"Well, just that they are a small outfit and that your cousin, Miles, seems to have, or to have had, some connection to them over the years. I am supposed to meet their Admiral, one Elli Quinn, at Komarr in a few weeks time and hitch a ride to Escobar. Unlike you and our peripatetic cousin, I never aspired to a military career and so have not had the opportunities you have had to venture off-planet before now. I had always imagined some kind of vacation cruise, you know, and I am just the faintest bit apprehensive about what passage on a mercenary vessel may entail."

"Elli Quinn, eh?" Ivan giggled in spite of himself. "Well, you're in for an interesting experience. Wouldn't really care for it myself. She doesn't like me and she's an expert in martial arts. All of the martial arts as far as I can tell. I called her an onion once by mistake and she has never forgiven me. At the moment, however, she is one of the most beautiful women you are ever likely to meet. Not -- not an onion. I think Miles and her had something going once. Miles may be short, but he's brave! Braver than me, anyway. But most of the Dendarii are men. They're okay guys, mostly; though, like any military group, you have to watch your back a bit, but they mostly stay out of trouble. You won't get entertainment like on a cruise ship, but it shouldn't be too exciting just from Komarr to Escobar. The Dendarii used to always be in a mess; but I am not sure that wasn't just the Miles effect. Somehow they always muddled through, though. I imagine things are a lot calmer now that Miles is tied up on Barrayar. I don't know that you need to worry about hitching a ride with them."

"Mostly men. Yes, ah, I see." Byerly, whose nerve and savoir faire in any social situation -- not to mention his sheer gall -- were legendary, seemed to be surprisingly apprehensive about his upcoming journey to Escobar. Did his voice seem just a little strained? Then he said in a somewhat brighter voice, "I say, Ivan, since you're going in the same direction, why don't you ride along? You could catch up with your Dendarii chums and maybe make it up to the Quinn woman?"

"Are you crazy? She may be beautiful, but I'd probably have more luck making up to Baba Yaga! Besides, Miles would kill me. We have an agreement. We don't compete for women."

"Well, alright, but think of the money you would save! The trip to Beta Colony must be quite a few thousand marks?"

"Yeah, your right about that," said Ivan glumly. I haven't really checked out prices yet. I only had the idea this morning and, I have to say, my mind isn't probably functioning at its best after last night. It's entirely possible that I just won't be able to afford to go."

"Yes, but if you came along with me, it ought to be quite a bit less expensive. And then, you know, we will be coming back at some point. Or so I trust." Byerly added this last in a somewhat dubious tone of voice.

"Well, I don't know, By. I like to keep a low profile. I mean it's not that Elli Quinn is going to take me apart or anything. But it might be uncomfortable. It's not like I have any good reason to go, really." Ivan's depression was settling in again. Actually, why did he want to go to Beta Colony? He'd be all alone there, too; and he might just as well be miserable here as there. He eyed the last stuffed grape leaf on his plate and wondered if he should eat it.

"Well, fine. Go off to your flat and be depressed!" said Byerly, nastily skewering the grapeleaf from under Ivan's nose. "But what are you going to do with yourself? Your gang has all gone off and started other lives of their own, eh? Elena, Miles, Gregor, Dono, the Koudelka girls, they've all paired off. And none of them paired off with you! You can't trail after Miles anymore, he's married! Well, welcome to my world. I know what it's like. I never had the advantage of being part of a gang, either in school or after. Except for Donna, who's ten years older than I, I have coped with my life alone." Ivan had never heard Byerly on this kind of tear before. "I know you think I am hard and vicious, and maybe I am, but I haven't had an such an easy time! I am not comfortable joining up with some mercenary army of military men with no friend to back me up. I know what can happen. It's happened before andÉShit!"

Ivan was astonished. Byerly didn't swear. He didn't get excited. But, if Ivan wasn't mistaken, there were tears forming in his eyes.

"I apologize, Ivan" Byerly said, with an obvious effort. "We aren't really friends and I have been imposing on you. If you decide to go to Beta Colony, I hope you have a lovely time." He glanced at his watch. "Ah, it is later than I thought. I must rush." Byerly picked up his coat and, turning his face away from Ivan, walked quickly toward the door.

Ivan sat for a moment, astonished. Then he leapt to his feet. "No, Byerly, uh, waitÉ"

Byerly turned, his look cool and ironic, one hand on the handle of the door, the other holding the coat that he had tossed across his shoulder. Already he had recovered his composure. He looked every inch the man of fashion, the town clown, the fop. The taverna had been filling up while they ate and any number of pairs of interested eyes gazed at the unfolding drama. "Stop, Byerly, waitÉ" He didn't know what he wanted to say; but it was clear he couldn't leave things this way.

"Yes, Ivan?"

There seemed to be too much furniture in the nook where Ivan's table lay. His leg seemed to be inextricably tangled in the tablecloth. He gave it a jerk and his plate, his glass, and the last of the bottle of retsina crashed to the stone floor. Every eye in the restaurant was on him as he stood there towering above the wreckage with his black eye and said, "All right! I'll come with you to Escobar!"

He grabbed Byerly by the arm hustled him through the door followed by the faint sound of applause.

When they got to the street, Byerly was laughing. "What a dramatic escape, Ivan." he said. "But you know I believe one usually pays for ones meal -- in this particular taverna, anyway."

Ivan looked thunderstruck. "I can't go back in there!" he squawked.

"Never mind. I'll do it. I think my social skills will be adequet."