Lord Gregor Vorbarra looked into his mirror and saw the face he hated.
A familiar pair of hazel eyes stared back at him; too familiar. There was no Barrayaran who could fail to recognize that face; no Barrayaran who could fail to hate it. Not for the first time, Gregor wished he could have looked more like his mother.
Gregor had been four when his father had returned from the disastrous invasion of Escobar and succeeded to the throne, amid rumors that he'd hastened the death of Emperor Ezar. Gregor remembered the funeral vaguely, remembered his father lighting the pyre while his mother stood pale and stiff by his side, looking as though she herself was close to death. The air had been thick with whispers even then, rumors of poisons and plots and mysterious disappearances in the dark.
When Gregor turned five, Serg had started the massacres. Gregor never knew about them until much later, but he remembered the night the riots had started. He had sat awake through that long night, watching from his window while Vorbarr Sultana burned, and Serg Vorbarra's civil war began. Gregor had been too young to understand the politics, but he had watched his father's anger grow day by day, watched the man lose even the semblance of control as district after district raised the rebellion's banner. And Serg had taken that anger out on the two most convenient targets he had.
When Gregor was six and a half, Count Vordarian finally persuaded his mother to escape the Residence with her son and join him. Their plans, whatever they might have been, failed. Vidal Vordarian died slowly in the Great Square; Gregor watched his mother die at his father's hands.
When he was seven, he had woken one night to find the Residence on fire, armsmen running around in panic and shouts coming from the Emperor's wing. Drou had gotten him to safety and next morning, had told him that his father was dead. Gregor had cried then, though not from grief.
Two days later, the rebels had beseiged Vorbarr Sultana.
Gregor had been safely inside the Residence with Drou standing guard, but the city outside had been chaos. Men were deserting and disappearing faster than anyone could count. A frenzied mob surrounded the Ministry of Political Education and tore it down brick by brick, dragging the Prime Minister out of his barricaded office and shooting him dead in the Great Square. The battle lasted twelve hours; then the Emperor's security commander, Simon Illyan, surrendered the Imperial Residence to the rebels without firing a shot.
That night, when it was all over and the last pockets of resistance broken, the leaders of the rebellion held their council of conquest in the dead Emperor's office. Gregor and Drou listened, concealed behind the wall where a passage led into the maze of tunnels beneath the Residence, as the victors of the war argued over the Emperor's son the way chess players would argue over an inconveniently placed pawn.
Someone – no, it had been Count Vorkosigan himself – had wanted to establish a regency. The idea had been promptly shot down by every man in the room.
"A child cannot unite the military behind him," Admiral Kanzian had said. "Whatever Serg's left of the military, that is. With the Cetagandans at our doors, we need… more than a Regent."
Count Vorhalas had been blunter. "I did not struggle against Serg for two years so that my children could do it again in twenty years' time," he had said. And then he had paused, and added, very quietly, "Sire."
That was when Admiral Count Vorkosigan had gotten angry.
Gregor didn't remember who had uttered the words, it would have been easier if the boy had died. But that was when Countess Vorkosigan had gotten really angry. She had been the one to insist on protecting the son of the man she'd murdered, whether from guilt or compassion, Gregor didn't know.
There had been those who had argued then, even against her, even with the shadow of Serg's head lying across the table. Those who had lost their families to Serg, to assassins in the night and bombs from the sky and the Ministry of Political Education's agents, who would have had Gregor's head to join his father's.
They spoke of him as if he was a ticking time bomb, counting down the years until he would turn into a homicidal monster like his father or else start another civil war to regain his lost inheritance. Probably both.
Five days after the formal end of Serg Vorbarra's Civil War, Serg's son had become the first person to kneel before the Council of Counts and swear oath to the Emperor Aral Vorkosigan.
When Gregor had sat at his father's side for Serg's accession to the Imperium, every man, woman and child had worn plain black for Ezar; two years later bright uniforms and silks and jewels had filled the gallery. The banners on the walls had been replaced, dark brown in place of black, the silver mountains and maple leaf emblazoned on all sides of the room.
The bloodshed had continued for months after the war ended. Grishnov's prisons were thrown open, the missing and the dead counted at last. Pockets of resistance remained as the Ministry's agents fled from justice and were hunted down. The list of executions went on and on.
Gregor had remained in the Residence, going from Crown Prince Gregor to Lord Gregor in the space of one day, being raised by his closest remaining relatives. The man who'd taken his throne and the woman who'd assassinated his father. He'd grown up playing with their children - Crown Prince Piotr Miles, his younger sister Princess Olivia, and little Prince Mark.
Not that ImpSec ever left the children alone with him, of course. Illyan wasn't that stupid. Gregor had heard the whispers. Who hadn't? Let the Emperor and Empress be sentimental Betan fools. Let them wait till the boy's old enough to make a bid for his father's throne.
He wished he could grab hold of the whisperers and shout at them to have sense, to see that there was nothing he wanted less than the curse they called the Imperium. The day Lord Gregor Vorbarra finally lost his senses, nobody would die, nobody would start a war, ImpSec would just quietly pick him up and put him in Betan therapy. Barrayar was safe from Lord Gregor.
"Let it go, boy," Emperor Aral had told him, on the one occasion Gregor had actually burst out at somebody. "Defending yourself will only make the talk worse. We know the truth."
Yes, Sire, Gregor thought bitterly. You have ImpSec watching even the movements of my eyes, twenty-six hours a day. Of course you know the truth.
Now he was seventeen and he had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life. The Academy, he knew, was out of the question. He hadn't even dared to ask the Emperor about it. There was no way anybody would be crazy enough to let Mad Serg's son near a charged weapon. Empress Cordelia had been dropping hints around him for the last few weeks, and Gregor knew it wouldn't be long before she gave up on hints and marched into his room with a pile of Betan university prospectuses.
He could see the sense of the idea, politically. His existence was an inconvenience for the Emperor, a living reminder that Aral Vorkosigan had taken the throne by usurpation and could be removed from it by the same. And he could see the sense of the idea personally. Vorbarra was hardly a popular name on Beta, but at least some people might not classify him as a psychopath on sight.
But Gregor didn't want Beta Colony. He wanted the Academy.
Not because he wanted to hold a charged weapon. He wouldn't trust himself with it either. But he was the last of the Vorbarra name, the last of the line of men who'd built and united and given their name to Barrayar. And the Vorbarra dynasty would die with Gregor, because no way was he ever going to risk having a family – and who would want to take that risk for him?
He was the only one left who could hope to undo some of Yuri and Serg's legacy, who could hope to bring some measure of honor back to their ancestors' name.