Cordelia Naismith

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Cordelia Naismith is the name of two fictional characters by Lois McMaster Bujold. One is the titular character from a Victorian era Sherlock Holmes short story entitled "Adventures of the Lady on the Embankment" included in her anthology Dreamweaver's Dilemma. The other is from the science fiction series the Vorkosigan Saga.

"Lady On the Embankment" character[edit]

Cordelia Naismith awakens as an amnesiac on a river embankment, wet and naked. Scotland Yard calls in Sherlock Holmes to help piece together her story and history.

Vorkosigan Saga character[edit]

Cordelia Naismith, who first appears in the novel Shards of Honor, is a citizen of Beta Colony, and was a member of the Betan Astronomical Survey, which was converted into the Betan Expeditionary Force during wartime.

The homeworld of the Vorkosigan Saga Cordelia Naismith first appears in the short story entitled "Dreamweaver's Dilemma" which is also included in the Dreamweaver's Dilemma anthology that contains "The Adventures of the Lady on the Embankment".

Early years[edit]

Cordelia was the commander of a vessel in the Betan Astronomical Survey, exploring jump-points and newly discovered planets in the Nexus, a job requiring advanced mathematical and scientific knowledge and no small degree of daring, as well as interpersonal skills, as her crew was composed of non-military civilian scientists that Cordelia often considered "a group of prima-donnas and cry-babies." Brought up with Beta Colony's liberal and anti-militarist values, she despised the military mindset. On a survey mission on the newly discovered world that would later be named Sergyar, she was captured by the controversial Admiral Aral Vorkosigan of the Barrayaran Imperial Military Service, scorned by galactic society at large as the "Butcher of Komarr". They spent an arduous period on the planet's surface together, and during that time, they fell in love. However, given their positions on opposing sides of a military struggle, they did not act upon their feelings, though Aral asked her to marry him.

The Escobar War[edit]

Aral and Cordelia crossed paths again a short time later during the war precipitated by Barrayar's abortive attempt to invade Escobar, into which Beta Colony was brought as an ally of Escobar. Cordelia received a promotion to captain and was transferred into the Betan Expeditionary Force (the Betan military). She was captured along with her crew after she successfully broke the Barrayaran blockade, allowing vital military supplies and weapons to reach the Escobarans, which were instrumental in turning back the invading Barrayaran forces.

During her time as a military prisoner she was brought to the attention of Ges Vorruyter, a high-ranking commander of the Barrayaran forces and a notable sadist and pervert who enjoyed tormenting and raping female captives. She was spared a violent rape at the directives of Vorruyter when Sergeant Bothari rejected his orders and killed him by slicing his throat because Bothari knew that Cordelia was important to Aral Vorkosigan. Later, upon the conclusion of the war, many of her compatriots and allies believed that she was the heroine who slew Vorruyter, earning her a brief status as a heroic celebrity on Beta Colony.

However, her favorable opinion of Aral Vorkosigan, protestations of his honor and integrity and later her profession of love for him, quickly earned her the suspicions of her government, which believed that she had been psychologically conditioned and brainwashed to serve as a Barrayaran deep-cover mole, using the cover of a faked love affair as a means to transmit intelligence to Barrayar. After several attempts by her Betan superiors at remedying this non-existent psychological tampering, including being drugged against her will, and being told that her mental state would prevent her from resuming her command, Cordelia fled to Barrayar and became Aral's wife, and thus Lady Cordelia Vorkosigan, only to learn that the retired soldier she thought she was marrying was to be pressed into government service as the new Regent of Barrayar upon the death of the elderly and gravely ill Emperor Ezar Vorbarra. Upon her husband's appointment, she was to be titled Regent-Consort.

As Lady Vorkosigan and Regent-Consort[edit]

Upon the death of Emperor Ezar, a period of political instability ensued, replete with assassination attempts on both Cordelia and her husband, the new Regent. While pregnant, Cordelia was present at a soltoxin poison-gas attack on her husband by political terrorists. While both Cordelia and Aral were given the antidote, the teratogenic antidote would have disastrous effects on her unborn child. Aral Vorkosigan was rendered infertile by the poison. Cordelia was moved to attempt to save her fetus, despite any damage he had sustained in the attack, by placing him in a uterine replicator, a new technology on Barrayar at the time.

While the uterine replicator was safely ensconced in the imperial capital city, the political instability flared into full scale insurrection when Count Vidal Vordarian and his conservative Vor allies mounted a coup d'etat and seized the Imperial Residence in the hopes of apprehending both the child-Emperor Gregor and his mother Princess Kareen, whom Vordarian hoped to marry and use to seize the throne. The ensuing civil war became known as the War of Vordarian's Pretendership, in which Gregor was rescued from the palace by loyalists and Princess Kareen was killed. Count Vordarian was also killed and beheaded during an attempt by Cordelia and her allies (Sgt. Bothari and Ludmilla "Drou" Droushnakovi) to break into the Imperial Residence to rescue her gestating fetus, as the uterine replicator would have failed due to neglect under Vordarian.

Cordelia become known as the 'woman who executed Vidal Vordarian' after presenting his severed head to her husband, several of his staff, and several of Vordarian's partisans who were present negotiating a settlement, thus bringing the insurrection to an end. This incident earned her no small degree of awe and respect from the military-minded Vor caste, all the more unique due to her being a woman.

In addition to Aral's role as Regent, and Cordelia's affiliated social position as Regent-Consort, Aral and Cordelia were appointed the distinct status of being the legal guardians of the child-emperor Gregor, and Cordelia was given essentially a guiding role over his formative years and education, placing the Betan in an enormously powerful position to mold the emperor's political and social attitudes and thus affect Barrayar's future as a whole. The full repercussion of her new role went almost entirely unnoticed by the Council of Counts and the more conservative elements of Barrayaran society.

The chief initial reason that Cordelia did not have any more children was not due to the inability to procreate (with Betan medicine, functioning cells were all that were required to reproduce), but because any healthy children would weaken Miles' stature (and endanger his life) in his family due to his deformity. Barrayar had suffered great damage due to nuclear war, and non-viable mutations in children were common and universally met with euthanasia during its less enlightened past. Miles' grandfather, Piotr, himself almost euthanized Miles. Mark Pierre and Miles' acceptance by conservative Barrayar as Aral's heir, as well as Miles' healthy children, born at the end of Diplomatic Immunity, made Cordelia's desire for more children moot.

Mother of Miles and Mark Vorkosigan[edit]

As a result of the soltoxin antidote given to her, her child, Miles Vorkosigan, suffered severe physical deformities which were partially ameliorated by additional treatment received in the uterine replicator; her father-in-law, Count Piotr Vorkosigan refused to allow the deformed child to use his name. Instead, he was named Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, after Cordelia's own father.

Cordelia and Aral intentionally had only one child, their son Miles. They later discovered that a clone of their son Miles, named Mark Vorkosigan, had been created without their knowledge. While his legal status as a Vorkosigan is questionable on Barrayar, Cordelia unquestionably accepts him as her son. She endorses him openly to the rest of Barrayaran society, buffers his culture shock to Barrayar, buys him a ship to use to find Miles and even helps his love life by acting as a go-between for him, his girlfriend Kareen Koudelka and Kareen's parents.

As Countess Vorkosigan and Vicereine of Sergyar[edit]

Upon Count Piotr's death, she became Countess Vorkosigan. Later, after Emperor Gregor achieved his majority, Aral was named Viceroy of Sergyar. Cordelia became Vicereine Countess Vorkosigan, being appointed co-leader of the planet, rather than the title being merely one of courtesy as the spouse of a viceroy. Their new positions required them to move to Sergyar to assume its governance and settlement.

When her husband died from an aneurysm on Sergyar, she made the decision to not have him cryoprepped and frozen since over two hours had passed and any chance of reviving him would have been as a mental vegetable at best.

Three years after Aral's death Cordelia prepares to return to Barrayar.

Ideology and policies[edit]

Cordelia maintains an independent and assertive front, being a full partner to Aral. This is a bit disconcerting to Barrayaran society, where women are just barely beginning to look beyond being wives and mothers. Because she is known as a Betan emigrant, her unique status as a female military hero is/was vaguely ignored by Vor society, partially due to her conscious decision to be apolitical and remain out of the spotlight, initially bending her energies to rearing both her own son (Miles) and Gregor.

She heartily encourages imports of civilized thinking and goods that allows more freedom and independence for the people of Barrayar. As Countess Vorkosigan, she was the architect of a large-scale scholarship program, making galactic standard educations in medicine and science available to Barrayaran students with promise, and not just to those born Vor.

Cordelia is also opposed to natural childbirth, even more than Betans (who still sometimes practice it as an option), due to the soltoxin attack that nearly robbed her of her first child. She is aiding the new generation of Barrayaran women of the upper- and middle-classes in the use of uterine replicators; she believes that alone is radically changing Barrayaran culture from within.

Personal appearance and style[edit]

Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan is a tall woman with roan-red hair leavened with gray, which she wears parted in the center and long in the back (in her youth, her hair was a coppery red) and 'sea grey' eyes. Although not accounted a great beauty, with her face having a nose a bit too bold, and a jawline a bit too strong, she is nonetheless an attractive woman. She wears what would be deemed appropriate wear for a Vor-class matron, long flowing skirts and tailored bolero style jackets, but will slip into her Betan Astronomical Survey fatigues in private for comfort and nostalgia.

Early in her marriage and new to her status as Lady Vorkosigan, she relied upon Lady Alys Vorpatril's expertise in Barrayaran fashions and etiquette, as to not socially embarrass her husband to his political foes.


  • Lois McMaster Bujold, Shards of Honor.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, Barrayar.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, The Warrior's Apprentice.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, Dreamweaver's Dilemma.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.