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Known to all simply as "Bothari", he is the product of the Caravanserai, the notorious slum district of Vorbarr Sultana, the capital city of Barrayar. He never knew his father. His mother was a midwife and prostitute. Bothari's personality is variously described as fragmented, insane, or chameleon-like. While a child, his mother repeatedly sold him to customers until he was old enough and large enough to fight back. His deep psychological scars and trauma can surface with the right stimulus, converting him from a cool-headed warrior to a sexual psychopath in an instant. He is described as very tall, with a hatchet-like facial profile and a rumbling bass voice, which he uses sparingly. He has to take medications constantly to control the violent urges and hallucinations that bubble up from within his mind.
The one environment in which he has shown himself able to exist in a reasonably functional capacity is the military, where he was a superbly effective foot-soldier. At some point during his military career, he came to the attention of the sadistic, perverted Ges Vorrutyer, who used him to fulfill his personal sadistic sexual fantasies, especially with captured prisoners of war. Compelled to exist in this environment, Bothari's personality crumbled even further, but under the stolid command of Vorrutyer's sometime lover and later foe, Aral Vorkosigan, he was able to pull himself back together to a certain extent. Completely loyal to Vorkosigan, he retained his fealty even when Vorrutyer began using him again, so when Vorrutyer directed him to rape Cordelia Naismith, formerly Vorkosigan's prisoner and someone Vorkosigan had told him to protect, he first refused to do it, and then when Vorrutyer attempted to do the deed himself, killed Vorrutyer instead.
After this incident, he left the military and became a Vorkosigan Armsman, one of 20 personal bodyguards allowed to a Count of Barrayar. He also acquired a daughter, Elena, who was one of a group of children who had been the product of rape of Escobarans by Barrayarans during the failed invasion. Escobar sent these children, as fetuses in uterine replicators, to their Barrayaran fathers. Elena's mother had been one of the prisoners Bothari had abused, for weeks, at the direction of Ges Vorrutyer. Elena was placed in the care of one of the women in a village near the Vorkosigan country estate, Vorkosigan Surleau. Growing up, she became Miles Vorkosigan's playmate, first love, and, eventually, subordinate, in his mercenary fleet. During her childhood, Bothari saved every spare coin for her dowry, so she would make a good marriage when grown.
When Cordelia married into the family, Bothari transferred his deepest loyalty to her, accompanying her on her mission to rescue her still-developing son Miles from the Imperial Residence while it was under the control of the rebel Count Vordarian. His knowledge of the ways of the Caravanserai enabled them to hide close to the Residence while Vordarian's troops were hunting for aristocrats to hold hostage. He was instrumental in rescuing the pregnant Lady Alys Vorpatril, and thanks to the midwifing skills he learned from his mother, he delivered Miles' cousin Ivan Vorpatril while they were hiding from Vordarian's soldiers.
Sending Alys, Ivan and the young Lieutenant "Kou" Koudelka to make their way back to the loyalist base, he went with Cordelia and former Imperial bodyguard Ludmilla "Drou" Droushnakovi to penetrate the Palace using its secret escape routes. There, at Cordelia's command, he executed Vordarian, decapitating him with a single stroke of a fine sword blade. Unfortunately the psychological effects of this incapacitated him for a while, almost preventing their escape with the uterine replicator containing Miles, the object of their quest. Since the Residence was burning at the time, thanks to Bothari's own efforts with a plasma arc weapon, their pursuers were distracted and the group was able to escape.
With the birth of Miles Vorkosigan, Bothari became Miles' bodyguard, servant, mentor and something of a surrogate father, even though Aral Vorkosigan, while busy as Regent, made time to be with Miles every day. His duties ranged from driving Miles to school, and later to the Military Academy, to searching him for the concealed weapons Miles would attempt to take with him to deal with those who tormented him for being a "mutie" or mutant, a terrible accusation on Barrayar.
Pulled along with the now grown Elena and everybody else when Miles adopted the persona of Admiral Miles Naismith, talking his way into the command of a mercenary fleet, he was killed by Elena's mother, who Miles had inadvertently hired to be one of his mercenaries, as revenge for the torture and rape he had done to her under Ges Vorrutyer's direction. Ironically, in the mentally deranged state he was in at the time of the rape, he had convinced himself they were in love, so his final words to her as she killed him were "Lady, you are still beautiful."
The final word on Bothari belongs to Aral Vorkosigan. According to him, Bothari was what people wanted him to be. Vorrutyer wanted him for a torturer, and he was one. Vorkosigan himself wanted him as a loyal subordinate, and he was one. Cordelia, however, saw him as a hero, her personal knight errant. That is what he became, thanks to her, becoming a better man than he ever hoped to be.
Elena is Konstantin's out-of-wedlock daughter, the product of a rape he was compelled to commit by his commander during the failed Escobar Invasion. Her biological/genetic mother's name is Elena Visconti. Miles was in love with Elena Bothari when they were growing up, but she did not return the feelings. Elena Bothari eventually married Baz Jesek, formerly of Barrayar, and the couple became leaders in the Dendarii Mercenaries. At one point prior to her retirement, she was Captain of the Peregrine, one of the main ships in the Fleet.
In the New York Review of Science Fiction - October 1998 (Number 122), Bothari is summarized as follows:
In Shards of Honor this "'very complex man with a very limited range of expression, who's had some very bad experiences'" (54) enters as the villain's partly willing tool, a potentially psychopathic torturer, rapist and possibly serial killer. He actually mutates two stock figures from film and fiction, the tough, bullying sergeant of films like Platoon (1986) and Heartbreak Ridge (1986), and the uncomplicatedly evil villain, the monster, found in horror/ thrillers by writers like Dean Koontz. But where Koontz can only glance toward humanising such a figure, Bujold shapes her monster as a fellow-victim, before, in the scene where he is supposed to rape Cordelia, her own pity makes him her rescuer.(...) It is in Barrayar (1991)(...)that Bothari expands into the equally rare double of a characterisation of 'high' literary subtlety, based on formulaic elements and slotting neatly into a space opera's linear, suspenseful frame.— Sylvia Kelso, Loud Achievements: Lois McMaster Bujold's Science Fiction