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Ekaterin Vorsoisson is a character in Lois McMaster Bujold's science fiction series, the Vorkosigan Saga. Her character is first introduced with the Vorsoisson surname, though it changes to Vorkosigan when she marries Miles.
Ekaterin was born to a comparatively low branch of a Vor family, the Vorvaynes. Her mother was the sister of Dr. Vorthys, who later became an Imperial Auditor, one of eight men holding the extremely prestigious job of being an expert troubleshooter and investigator for the Emperor.
As Dr. Vorthys points out in the novel Komarr, sometimes the low Vor are more passionate about the tradition of Vor than the "High Vor", the true aristocracy. Thus, Ekaterin grew up believing in the need to live up to her word, which left her with few options when her marriage went bad, as she was trapped with no honorable Vor way to escape. She also developed a hard shell around herself, thanks to the torments of her older brothers. The fact that she has three older brothers is itself an artifact of the changes in Barrayaran society, as the newly introduced technology allowing parents to choose the sex of their children collided with the long-standing cultural preference for male children.
Ekaterin's mother died of disease when Ekaterin was a teenager. When her father later desired to remarry, he encouraged an arranged marriage between Ekaterin and Etienne Vorsoisson, in order to tidy up family affairs. Ekaterin, who was 20 at the time, accepted Etienne, who was ten years older, and the couple seemed initially happy. Although she genuinely loved him, she also saw the marriage as her part in the "Vor pageant".
Madame Ekaterin Vorsoisson
In marrying Etienne Vorsoisson her name changed. Etienne's branch of the Vorsoissons were still low Vor, and thus she did not gain the title Lady. There are Vorsoissons among the high Vor, as related in the novel Mirror Dance. When experiencing marital trouble with her unstable husband, Ekaterin reminds herself of the historical Countess Vorvayne, who followed her treasonous husband into death by starvation, staging a hunger strike alongside him while he was chained up in public to die. Thus she sees it as her duty to stand by her own ignoble husband.
The marriage became troubled, providing a major plot element in the book Komarr. They have a child, Nikolai, who is 9 years old when introduced in the novel Komarr. Unlike most contemporary couples, they (at the insistence of Etienne) gestated Nikolai the natural way, instead of using a "uterine replicator", a piece of galactic technology which had been available for some time. Ekaterin gave into Etienne's pressure based partly on youthful bravado, partly on Vor snobbery, but it has the effect of concealing the fact that Etienne has a genetic disorder. The discovery was only made after Nikolai's birth, when they found evidence of the condition in Etienne's dead brother's papers.
Etienne "Tien" Vorsoisson was Ekaterin's first husband and the father of her son, Nikolai. Despite his advantages as a member of the Vor, Etienne was a failure at most things. In his ten-year stint in the Army, he never rose above the low rank of lieutenant. His subsequent employment was characterized by movement from one administrative position to another, which he blamed on the incompetence of others. To make matters worse, he found that he carried the stigma of a genetic disease, "Vorzohn's Dystrophy", which would have killed his brother had he not killed himself in an air crash designed to look accidental. Although the disease was treatable, Etienne refused to seek treatment on Barrayar, or let his son be treated, taking a position instead on the planet Komarr in order to build funds to get treated outside the Barrayaran Empire and be spared the humiliation of being known to have a genetic disease, which is highly stigmatized on Barrayar. However, he bet most of his money, along with some loans and bribes, on a "merchant adventure" that went disastrously wrong. By the time of his death he faced financial ruin and possible prosecution. According to the author herself writing on a mailing list in 1999, Etienne's behavior fit the pattern of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Etienne died during the novel Komarr, in an accident caused partially by his own fecklessness. During the investigation of Tien's death and his part in a mysterious conspiracy, Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan realizes that he has fallen in love with Ekaterin, having previously ignored his nascent feelings while she was still Tien's wife.
Ekaterin, for her part, had made up her mind to walk away from Tien, her marriage and her son, because of her husband's psychological abuse. In her words, she had "come to the end of myself". Having been ground down to nothing, she had nothing but her own honor to sustain her, and in leaving Tien she abandoned even that. It is at this point that Tien's death threw her life into confusion, but also offered her a way out with honor.
Drawn by accident into the lair of the conspirators, she found enough courage and ingenuity to ruin their plot. In this she returned to her own vision of herself as a Vor, being willing to sacrifice everything, including her own life, to defend Barrayar. This in turn convinced Miles Vorkosigan that she was indeed the woman for him.
Lady Ekaterin Vorkosigan
Returning to Barrayar, Ekaterin goes to live in the Vorthys household in Vorbarr Sultana. She enters the traditional "year of mourning" for her husband, with the hidden desire never to remarry. Miles Vorkosigan, however, is determined to woo her while not letting her know that he is wooing her. Meanwhile, his mischievous cousin Ivan Vorpatril causes other single Vor males to call on her to annoy Miles. The result is a social disaster of epic proportions, recounted in the novel A Civil Campaign. Dealing with the fallout from this, complicated by insidious Barrayaran dynastic politics, leads Ekaterin to discover Miles's true feelings, and eventually to her proposing to him in front of the entire Council of Counts.
She thus becomes, in full, Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson Vorkosigan. As such, she plays a significant role in the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In the next novel in the series, Cryoburn, she plays a minor but important role "off-screen," dealing with the four children she and Miles have: twins Helen Natalia and Aral Alexander, and daughters Lizzie (the namesake of her paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Naismith) and Taurie (the namesake of Sgt. Taura) and caring for the inhabitants of the Vorkosigan lands while the rest of her new family is off-world.