Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Expeditionary Force of the cosmopolitan, highly enlightened planet Beta, has experienced a singularly eventful first command. She and her team—a scientific survey—have managed to stumble upon a war zone, where she has been taken captive by the fearsome Captain Aral Vorkosigan. Vorkosigan is from Barrayar, a planet with a reputation for backwards attitudes and occasional outright barbarism, and he is known throughout the galaxy as the Butcher of Komarr for having (allegedly) perpetrated some particularly vile war crimes. Cordelia quickly realizes, however, that Aral is in a somewhat delicate and complicated position with respect to his own troops, and as they trudge across the countryside en route to a hidden supply cache, she begins to suspect—correctly, as she will learn—that certain aspects of his legend may be, let us say, overblown.
One night at the campfire, they start to talk. Aral has been injured, and Cordelia is worried about both Aral and a gravely wounded member of her team whom they are bringing with them (against Aral’s better judgment). They’re both surprised at what they learn.