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Ekatherine Smolyanina, Anna Hodosh

Translated by E.Medvedev

The true story of the Maiden of the Lake

"As the tale went, the town of Vorkosigan Surleau, on the Long Lake, had been besieged by the forces of Hazelbright. Loyal vassals of the absent Count, a Vor officer and his sister, had held out till the last. On the verge of the final assault, the Maiden of the Lake had offered up her pale throat to her brother's sword rather than fall to the ravages of the enemy troops. The very next morning, the siege was unexpected ly lifted by the subterfuge of her betrothed - one of their Auditor Vorkosigan's distant ancestors, come to think of it, the latterly famous General Count Selig of that name - who sent the enemy hurriedly marching away to meet the false rumor of another attack. But it was, of course, too late for the Maiden of the Lake."


It's well known that fish bites best at dawn, and if you are planning to catch a sizable trout, you'll have to forget about the good night's sleep. That was the reason Miles woke Ivan up two hours after midnight, patiently and without a trace of sympathy waited for the first batch of sleepy whining of his cousin to finish, and finally, jumping with anticipation, told him to shut up and quit behaving like a wimp. After all, they were supposed to join the Imperial Academy this autumn, and any sergeant they'd get won't be gently shaking their shoulders in the morning - he'll yell "Wake up!" instead. Fifteen minutes later, lighting their way with flashlights, the three people troop left for the lake. Miles with a spinning rod went first, followed by sleepy Ivan with a backpack, and armsman Esterhazi completed the column, burdened by the large bag of snacks and a supply of local-brewed beer. Miles made the little troop walk no less than a mile before he ordered them to stop, and Ivan practically fell down on the grass, wet with the morning mildew. It was a strangely gloomy July, warm, but unusually moist, and mists were swirling over the waters of the Long Lake, obscuring the shore, mysteriously streaming around the trunks of old maple trees and the rare patches of wiry bushes. It was quiet and the low clouds on the east were already a little lighter than the inky black sky, but night was, definitely, still in effect, and fish weren't even thinking of waking up yet.

A deep and quiet sound, resembling a sad, low moan, followed by a muffled splash of water, disturbed the people, and the trees by the water rustled unsettlingly. Ivan said "Oh!" in surprise. Miles pricked up his ears and listened. A tense silence followed while the three fishermen tried to figure out the source of the sound. A couple of minutes later, when nothing else happened, Miles directed Ivan and Esterhazi to set up camp and left towards the water for reconnaissance. Soon he was back and declared that it was a false alarm - the sounds were definitely of natural, that is, as of yet undetermined origin.

- Maybe it's the ghost of the poor Maiden of the Lake - Ivan ventured a joke, breathing a little heavily after having set up the tent, properly fastened to the stakes in the ground now. - Maybe her restless spirit still flies somewhere around here, over the water? The castle ruins should be nearby, no? Were it day now, we'd be able to see it clearly, unless, of course, we trounced straight though to Hassadar because of your enlightened leadership. - he added with a hint of sarcasm.

After a little discussion it was decided to rest and eat some sandwiches while waiting for a signal to attack... that is, for dawn.

- I wonder, gentlemen, if you know the details of this famous legend about the lady who was General Selig's fiancee? - asked Esterhazi with a thin smile while Miles and Ivan were enthusiastically chewing on on their chunks of spicy, fresh and tasty cardamom bread.

Ivan, gulping down the rest of his sandwich and washing it down with the coffee from a thermos bottle, prepared by Count Piotr's youngest armsman, immediately responded, - I do, and boy, are they interesting! In fact, everything happened quite differently. History did a backflip, and your ancestors, Miles, did a lot to tidy the story up - because, as one of my mother's acquaintances told me, it was totally the other way around.

Miles smiled ironically, and teasing his cousin, murmured, stretching the words out, - Oh, please, pray tell us this mysterious story! After all, they're my ancestors and I'd much rather know...

Ivan, not noticing the irony, merrily went on with his jabbering, lest he be interrupted at the most interesting moment, as this usually happened.

- Okay, here's the deal. In the beginning, it really was like the story goes - at least, the story the naive kids tend to hear. There was a lady, and her fiancee, Vorkosigan, and the neighbor which did lay siege to the castle. But the trick is, - Ivan smiled viciously and took another sip of coffee - that the lady was not that excited over marrying him. Remembering your ancestral portraits, - he nodded in Miles direction, - the future Count and General was definitely not posessed of angelic beauty. The aforementioned lady was reportedly head over heels over the said neighbor, was secretly engaged to him, and anxious to fall into his arms. But now she had a fiancee, her liege lord to boot, and her brother was rushing her wedding... To cut the long story short, when it was obvious that her man won't take the castle by siege, and when the news came that Vorkosigan is days away with a huge army, she told everything to her brother. In love, she said, and deeply so, and even a little pregnant, and the child definitely's not Vorkosigan's... The brother was naturally furious, and figuring he has several sisters but only one honor, executed her on the spot. So in fact, the little ballad they teach in schools now isn't wrong at all - "A Vor's honor is his loyalty, a maiden's honor is her purity."

- Wheee.... - the slightly dazed Miles responded. He did not expect a story like that and couldn't even find a nice acidic retort for Ivan.

- Allow me to disagree, sir! - said Esterhazi, smiling. - I'm afraid you were unwillingly misinformed. I'm from around these parts and know lots of local stories and legends. The story of Maiden of the Lake is one of the most romantic and curious ones, and if you will allow me, lord Miles, I'll retell you what I heard from my father and grandfather.

Miles nodded, and Esterhazi lazily started on his story, since the eastern side of the sky was still rather dark, and the people's faces were almost invisible between the dark tree trunks.

- This, gentlemen, is how this legend is remembered in the local tradition, between people who have been swearing fealty to Vorkosigans since the old times. Lord Selig's young fiancee, a daughter and sister of a Vor, was a very pretty and noble lady, however, the upcoming wedding did not promise her any joy - her heart was with a dashing youth, her father's armsman. Naturally, this wasn't a smart move, however, the handsome lad faithfully served her family, she knew him since childhood, he was her loyal protector and bodyguard. Yea, the husband-to-be was definitely not the hero of the girl's dreams! So when Lord Vorkosigan, as befits a decent gentleman, visited his fiancee, the lady decided to rely on his nobility, and confided in him, admitting her love for another. Truth be told, the young lord was more interested in a military career than an arranged marriage then, so the feelings - or rather, lack thereof - were mutual. This was no easy puzzle - how to disarm the situation without damaging the honor of both parties. If he were to refuse the bride, this would mean disgracing the poor lady forever, and the-Count-his-father would not allow it either. But cunning Lord Vorkosigan found a way, and a very original one at that. He conspired with the lady's brother and with his consent staged a fake siege of the castle - these were dangerous times and it was easy to do. Soon the rumor came about that the lady committed suicide, fearing for her honor, and the next day the mercenaries sieging the castle vanished without a trace, leaving her honor unblemished forever. People say that she lived many years since, with her husband the armsman, in love and happiness, somewhere in the Dendarii mountains, and bore him about ten kids.

The morning twilight was fading away, and the first rays of the sun were parting the thick curtain of clouds, already almost transparent and glittering with ethereal gold. Miles, who spent most of the time listening to Esterhazi's romantic tale with his eyes closed and a sweet smile on his face, suddenly jerked up, energetically and fretfully stomping a foot down. He clearly didn't want to leave this discussion without sticking his own last word in. Jumpily walking around and rocking back and forth, he started his own story, in a deliberately condescending voice.

- This story happened a long time ago and spawned a lot of legends, but our family knows the true set of events. I must admit, I had to cajole grandfather into talking about it for a long time before he revealed everything to me... and.. - Miles hesitated, - ...actually, he told it to me as an example, or a moral, he was trying to explain the importance of not falling for the intuitively simplest solution immediately. He also said that... - Miles smiled sneakily, - that this familial disposition to improvisation may one day prove to be a grave error.

- And so, gentlemen, here is the true story of the Maiden of the Lake. - Miles continued pretentiously, - The village on the shore of the Long Lake, which belonged to a certain Vor once, was temptingly close to the border of our lands then, even though formally it belonged to Hazelbright District. And Lord - note, still not a Count - Selig Vorkosigan, being good friends with the aforementioned Vor, talked him into swearing fealty to Vorkosigans - tempting him with something or other, I imagine. The Vor swore his oath, but that was the unlucky moment when Count Vorvin, the lawful ruler of Hazelbright, arrived with his troops, ready to seize the rebel village. And Selig had to rebuff Vorvin's legitimate demands and logically explain what caused this land to suddenly go under his rule, since a military resolution of this situation was very much not in his interest then. So Selig, with the typical cunning he was known for, declared that they were his as... - Miles made a scenic pause, - dowry, given by that Vor with his sister! Selig did not really have time to think it over, since Vorvin arrived unexpectedly and Selig had to improvise. Count Vorvin did not take the response kindly, but still, grumbling, he left. And Lord Selig happily went to his new vassal to announce that he took care of the problem, and that he's marrying his sister now. But the only thing the Vor could respond to that was a confused, "What sister? I never had a sister... just two younger brothers..."

November 2001