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Captain Lord Ivan Vorpatril, also known as "That Idiot Ivan" or "Ivan, You Idiot" (a likely reference to Ivan the Fool, common hero of Russian folk tales), is a fictional character in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. He is Miles Vorkosigan's second cousin, foil, burden, workhorse, and until Miles has children, his formal heir. He is everything Miles is not - tall, handsome, and athletic. He waltzed into the military academy and waltzed right back out into one plum posting after another. He inhabits any uniform - even the Dendarii's - like a second skin.
Prior to Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan had last been seen as a Captain in the Barrayaran military, but detached to serve as aide to his mother, Alys Vorpatril, in the planning for the upcoming Imperial wedding. Although not an heir to a Countship, Ivan is addressed as "Lord Vorpatril," rather than "Lord Ivan" or just "Vorpatril," presumably because of his descent from an Imperial daughter, though he provides much amusement for Count Falco Vorpatril, Ivan's distant uncle. Ivan tends to act simple—not dumb, but not especially bright either—but has stated that looking too smart is a bad idea if you are a potential heir to the Empire, a position whose risks and responsibilities he heartily seeks to avoid. Until Emperor Gregor had children, he was the third in line to the throne after Count Aral Vorkosigan and Miles. An imperfect character, it is established in Young Miles that he routinely attempted to sexually assault Miles's first love interest, Elena Bothari, when they were both teenagers. Her improved confidence and physical fighting skills, when she becomes a mercenary, seem to make him abruptly change his behavior towards her.
Ivan owes his life to his aunt, Cordelia Vorkosigan, who rescued newborn Ivan and his mother Lady Alys from assassins who killed his father, Padma Vorpatril, during Vordarian's Pretendership. As close cousins, he and Miles were brought up together, and Ivan is older by only a few months. Ivan probably understands Miles better than any other person his age, except possibly for Emperor Gregor. He provides muscle and speed that Miles lacks, and is frequently the go-between for other characters who deal with Miles. He often complains that he is Miles's "donkey," but follows where Miles leads; this is equal parts knowing that Miles is right, and acceptance of his family responsibility. In return, Miles trusts Ivan more than he trusts almost anyone else: when Ivan first called himself Miles's donkey, Miles answered "I don't know what I'll be asking you to carry, but it could be high explosives...I need a donkey I can trust."
Ivan's association with Miles has on occasion proven hazardous to his well-being and even to his life. In the very first Miles Vorkosigan novel, The Warrior's Apprentice, he was dispatched on a mission to locate Miles, whose interstellar shenanigans were interpreted as treason on Barrayar, and bring him home to face charges. However the ship he was sent on had been sabotaged as part of a plot against Miles' father, and he only escaped death by missing its departure from Beta Colony due to his usual fascination with the local women. During the events of Brothers in Arms, he was captured and held hostage by Mark Vorkosigan and his Komarran handlers in order to draw Miles into a trap. Miles sprang the trap and saved Ivan from a grisly end, which left Ivan less than enamoured with Mark for a while afterward and with a lingering aversion to cold, dark, enclosed places.
During the events of A Civil Campaign, Ivan was drawn into the struggle occurring between Lady Donna Vorrutyer (who has had Betan gender-change surgery to become Lord Dono in order to inherit her brother's estate) and her less-than-savory cousin Richars (who would otherwise inherit). Rudely surprised by former lover Donna's transformation to Dono, Ivan finds himself enmeshed in the plans to have Dono affirmed by the Council of Counts. This culminates in his assisting in the thwarting of a direct attempt to reverse the Betan surgery with far more crude field surgery. In the event, Ivan manages to finally get one up on Miles by turning his usual "Ivan, you idiot!" back on itself and proving himself to have significantly aided Dono's case as well as Miles' related one.
In this and other books, Ivan shows himself to be physically competent and possessed of a keen sense of judgment about people. However, despite his apparent showiness, he is perennially modest about such useful talents, which often leads people to underestimate him.
As he ages into his thirties, Ivan discovers both a sense of responsibility and a sense of loss. His mantras throughout life have been "It's not my fault" and "I want nothing to do with it." Despite the trials his cousin Miles has inflicted on him over the years, he finds himself shocked and dismayed when Miles, in trouble over his relationship with Ekaterin Vorsoisson, repeatedly refuses his help. Later Ivan's reaction to the attack on Dono is revulsion at the nature of the attack even though he was blindsided by Dono's sex change. As he says "I don't agree with what you did, but what they tried was just...wrong." Having helped abort the attack, he uses his political connections to bring Dono's cousin to justice. His reward for this is a nod and a rare smile from Emperor Gregor, and the sudden realization that, in Miles' words, the reward for a job well done is usually a harder job. This seems especially likely as Miles, for many reasons, is becoming much less available for such jobs.
Ivan also realizes that he is losing the attraction he once held for young vivacious Vorbarr Sultana debutantes. While recovering from having been strung along by one, just to get her boyfriend to pay more attention to her, he is hit hard by Lady Donna's sex change, especially since he was thinking about renewing their old relationship. Having already been turned down by two of the Koudelka girls, and facing a shortage of eligible partners due to Vor parents selecting for male children in his generation, he realizes that the life of a carefree bachelor may become that of a lonely bachelor.
This realization sets the path for the story line in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, a book with Ivan as the lead character. Ivan's chivalrous side has him coming to the rescue of an expatriate daughter of House Cordonah, a Jackson's Whole ruling House Major. Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua (otherwise known as Tej) is also the granddaughter, on her mother's side, of a Cetagandan ghem general and his haut wife. Tej is trying to escape warring parties who are believed to have killed her parents and are intent on taking over House Cordonah and capturing her, but her hiding place on Komarr is discovered. Ivan, on Komarr as aide-de-camp to General Desplains, marries her in a hurried, impulsive ceremony to make her a Barrayan citizen, which puts her under the considerable protection he can call to bear. They plan to divorce as soon as she is safe. To remove her out of harm's way, he takes her and her companion, Rish, to Barrayar, where they discover that obtaining a divorce is not as easy as he originally thought. More complications ensue when the fleeing remnants of House Cordonah appear on Barrayar with a mission to recover something buried. The disastrous results of the mission, and Ivan's part in it, result in Ivan and Tej, now firmly committed to each other, being exiled for a few years to the Barrayaran consulate on the planet Ylla. There Ivan's very real bureaucratic skills quickly make him indispensable, and the couple have ample time and opportunity to enjoy each other's company.
Lady Alys is the mother of Ivan Vorpatril and aunt to the series' main character, Miles Vorkosigan. Her slain husband was Aral Vorkosigan's first cousin Padma Vorpatril, both descendants of Xav Vorbarra, and both the only survivors in their generation of the assassinations by Mad Emperor Yuri of all potential heirs to the Emperor's throne. During the War of the Vordarian Pretendership, the pregnant Lady Alys, along with Lord Padma, were targeted for assassination because of Padma's Vorbarra bloodlines, which would make both her husband and her unborn child potential rival claimants for the throne. Her husband was killed, and Alys was forced to take refuge in a seedy district of the capital city, Vorbarr Sultana, called the "caravanserai" where she gave birth to Ivan while in hiding. Every year thereafter, in the early morning of the anniversary of his death and Ivan's birthday, she and Ivan go and offer a burn offering, Barrayan-style, at the place where Padma died. When Ivan marries, Lady Alys reveals that she spent a long time angry at her husband for abandoning her while she was in labor after she begged him not to leave, and then getting caught by warring factions and getting killed. Eventually she decides that, after 35 years, perhaps she has mourned long enough.
Lady Alys is considered High Vor, through her marriage with Padma Vorpatril and his proximity to the Barrayan throne. During the later novels, she serves as Emperor Gregor's official hostess, as the emperor has no sisters, wife, or mother. This duty ends when Gregor marries, but due to her intimate knowledge of the workings of the Barrayan social scene, she stays on as Social Secretary to the Imperial Residence and is currently serving as Empress Laisa's first assistant. In this capacity, she spearheaded the organization of the Emperor's wedding to Laisa Toscane, which included the duty of serving as 'baba' (or go-between) to Laisa's Komarran parents, in effect acting as Gregor's emissary to formally request their permission for the marriage.
Later it is learned that not only is she dating former ImpSec Chief Simon Illyan, but she is also a blind drop for an ImpSec covert operative responsible for aristocratic affairs. It later becomes apparent that Simon spends a great deal of time at Alys' penthouse, where he has his own room and study, but continues to keep his own modest apartment as a decoy.
Lady Alys is regarded as a sophisticated, stylish woman, with long dark hair and large attractive eyes. She noted for her good manners and impeccable taste, as well as her formidable organizational abilities. Throughout the series, she is noted as providing sartorial advice to many of the female characters, including custom designing the stunning wedding gown of Ludmilla Droushnakovi (later Koudelka), and essentially being the newlywed Lady Cordelia Vorkosigan's stylist.