A rudderless leader-ship

Berra — Leadership 01



On the way to the Blue Tree Clan, Serala, Varanis and Berra talk about leadership and practice. After [[[s01:session-26|Session 26]]], on the way to the Blue Tree Clanlands.


On the afternoon of the day after the party leaves Boldhome, Varanis rides up beside Serala. “I was talking to Mellia the other day,” she begins. “She had an interesting idea based on a conversation with you, I think. She suggested that you, Berra, and I might want to talk tactics and maybe train together too. As a way to help us work more cohesively.” She continues, “I think I’d really like that. I don’t know enough about how either of you fight to work effectively with you.”

Serala turns her head towards Varanis. “I definitely have a lot to learn from Berra.” she agrees, with perhaps an edge of teasing in her tones. “But of course, as your ‘followers’, we would need to defer to you in all matters, I take it?” Someone told her about Kallyr’s phrasing then. Luckily, she seems more amused than anything. “Berra and I have had similar conversations before, yes. As I look to her to lead in our skirmishes, she needed to know what she had to work with, indeed.” Chilled out, relaxed, Pag walking along in almost a nonchalant lope. Who’d have thought horses could learn to do that?

Berra, up ahead and oblivious, continues to sit on her horse slightly better than a sack that has been propped up. She’s looking at the scenery.

Varanis’ cheeks pinken slightly at the reference to her followers. “I did not anticipate Kallyr’s welcome,” she admits with some chagrin. “I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.” She looks up ahead at Berra. “Should we catch up to see if she’s interested?”

Serala can’t help it, “Luckily, I could care less what the Prince of Sartar thinks of me. I did what was right with her gift, and now we will hunt more Lunars.” Ah, such a simple world. “And yes, we should catch up.” She tightens her legs on Pag, leaning forward slightly, and that is all the information Pag needs to move into an easy canter, drawing up on the Humakti.

Doqeia follows Pag easily. Varanis slightly less so, but it seems to work out.

The Humakti looks around, drawn from her attempt to go in a straight line without thinking, at the hoofbeats behind. She manages a slow, lazy grin. “Hail.” Even her voice is relaxed.

Varanis greets Berra with a smile, and then repeats what she said to Serala only a few moments before.

Serala doesn’t interject anything at this point, simply waiting for a Berra response first.

“It’s a good idea,” says Berra, like nobody has suggested it before. “The question is how and what. The answer, or the ideal answer as I know it, I can tell you – but I want to know what you think.” She’s looking mostly at Varanis, but gives Serala a nod and a smile that are either greeting or a signal to close in and destroy the enemy. Probably a greeting, to be honest.

“I’d like to hear about how you fight, alone and with others,” Varanis replies instantly. “But, I’d also like to practice with you both. We can practice fighting against each other, but also with each other to see how we can move together and how our styles compliment or interfere, so that we can learn to adapt. And well, I’m sure that we have skills we can share too.” Her expression is lit up with eagerness, making her look almost childish. “Serala, you mentionned wanting to share skills back when we were in Boldhome. This is one way we can do that. And, well, it would be fun too, don’t you think?”

The grazelander is smiling, but also, apparently, planning on letting Berra speak first, as she has an ideal answer. She merely notes, “Are you sure your armour is up to it? You might be hammering dints out of it for seasons..”

“Your cousin can help me,” Varanis replies with the all the presumption of a noble woman.

“The question to me is not about sparring – although if you both care to attack me at once I’ll see what I can do – but who gives orders and how, in what is essentially two groups with different skill sets.” So apparently she has pride too, although she’s hanging the boast out there as an amusing one, only half true.

Serala snorts, “Berra, there’s a reason that I look to you to lead in battle. And it’s not only because I’ve seen you fight!” She inclines her head though, “It is perilously easy to assume everyone works in the way you expect. But embracing the differences is crucial to any battle plan.”

“I’d be more inclined to set up a dust battle, and take stone infantry to it,” says Berra. “In between bouts of admiring Serala’s horsewomanship and command of the bow.”

Varanis nods, slightly less eagerly. “When we stop for the night, perhaps?”

“Over the next weeks, certainly. But we should talk about who commands what, and the difficulties.” She gives Serala a glance, and a sigh. “I hate to admit this, but on … for how much knowledge we have, Serala is better at commanding a battle than I am. I think I’m better at ordering a skirmish, but I’m loud, and Serala’s always on a horse, and I’m usually nearer to the front, so it happened that way. But we two are pretty good, both of us.”

Varanis looks thoughtful. “I see,” she says. For a short while, she stares at Doqeia’s ears in silence. Finally, she takes a deep breath and nods agreement. “Based on what I’ve seen in you Berra, I can accept your guidance on this.”

Berra gives Varanis a look that clearly says she’s proud of someone who can say that.

Serala wrinkles her nose. “I would rather defer to you in the heat of battle. But yes, I know how to plan a battle and campaign. Berra, your experiences and mine differ. Just as I’m sure Varanis has different knowledge again.”

“Yes. And as… what’s the word? Strathegus? General? That’s Serala. I make decisions quickly, and communicate them loudly. So… let me set out what I know of the situation. I met Rajar accidentally. I followed him up a hill in Whitewall, and we fought the Undead there, and that’s how well he makes decisions. So after that, I met other people too. The first time I fought with Serala was the next day in Whitewall, and I was a Humakti, and there were Undead. A Sword of Humakt made me make the decisions. And from that, I found that Rajar was a good shock troop, and Serala can put out the eye of an egret with her bow, and Mellia will literally dive through a battle line to save somebody. And for a while, that was it. We had Vestra – handy with an axe in a pinch – and Nala and Tiwr joined us. But essentially, that’s a simple problem of persuading the Storm Bull not to charge until it’s time for him to charge. He trusts me with that. I think he’d trust most of us, but he can be hard to handle. That’s really one group of people. And it might be worth in any battle separating out into two command lines.”

Varanis listens intently. “That doesn’t leave us much in the second line,” she observes.

“Well, yes. Dormal’s there, but that is a problem. Xenofos is not a warrior. You are, but I don’t know about….” Berra looks around for the new addition. “Serala’s cousin… Kervi…. I forgot his name, I’m sorry. So we can decide what goes where and how and who, but we need to take into account that at any time, Rajar’s answer may be a scream and a charge.”

“Finarvi.” Serala replies. “Trained like most of us, light cavalry and archery. He tends to be better in second line though. We need him to help pick up the pieces, after. Rajar is… of the direct approach!”

“I would hesitate to say he is of that approach. He’s leading it, frothing. I like being behind him – it’s comforting and I’m not in front. Finarvi. I can remember that. So we could split along lines. I like Xenofos – he can probably stay behind me pretty well, or let me go forward. It all depends on how official we want to make things, and what happens if people shout in battle. We’re not a Regiment, or even a Clade, so we either have to sort that out completely, or be aware of who’s going to respond to who.” Not to ‘whom’. Berra doesn’t do educated grammar.

Varanis listens to Berra’s descriptions, then adds, “I’m handy with sword and shield, I’m reasonably fast, and as you already know, I’m pretty good at going up. I have some training in leading troops, but as I’ve already told you both, it’s mostly theoretical, given what happened to my first and last command.” She struggles to stay expressionless as she comes to the end of her short list of skills.

“Mhm. And you can write, and you can present our findings in public, and you’re a Vingan face, so you get given responsibility. Those are things you don’t get to under-estimate. You can communicate in a way that can’t be overheard, and so can Xenofos. You can get into places we can’t. Not just by jumping, but also by being invited.”

That little ‘Mhm’ from Berra always comes with some argument attached. It’s an agreement, with the word ‘but’ in it, and it’s one of her most obvious vocal habits.

Varanis shrugs. “Those things are just….” she searches for the words, then continues, “they are just things. There’s no glory in having people treat you as special to curry favour with your Grandmother. I want to be heroic, not just look it.” Ah the aspirations of the young.

“Mm. So I just told you things I admire there. You’re about to find out how true it is, but do you realise how rare it is that you and Xenofos can talk to each other, and I can carry the message, and not know it? That he can find things and you make decisions on them, and you never have to meet? It’s not a glorious battlefield – but if you’re after glory, then I know places you can die.” Berra grins to the last, and jerks her chin North-West. “Snakepipe Hollow…” Her gaze tracks further West, less Northerly. “The Upland Marsh…”

Varanis follows Berra’s gaze. “There is that, I suppose.” She sighs in frustration. “I was comfortable in Nochet, but I was trapped. Now I am free, uncomfortable, and unsure of what to do. One minute, I feel like everything is laid out before me, and the next I’m lost again. I don’t like this.” She shakes her head. “Enough. What do you propose?”

“Yes. That’s called life.” Berra doesn’t sound particularly sympathetic, but there’s a big wink to go with her words. “I’d propose that we treat our party as approximately two groups. The mobile smash squad, and the behind, soft, squashy squad. Giving commands to people who will get killed in the front line is no good anyhow, except if the command is ‘stay back’. But if most people respond when I yell, and Serala can shout in a way that I can hear, in case I’m wrong, that covers most things. I’ll still effectively be fighting with the same group I am used to, but you’ll be part of it – you just get to join in, and listen to Serala as well. You don’t have to think of it as taking orders. And I use Xenofos to make sure we know where enemies are – probably supporting Serala, but maybe me. I think that covers most situations.”

“I’m as good at finding the enemy as he is,” Varanis says defensively. She catches herself and thinks again. “Your ideas are sound though,” she admits.

Berra waits for a bit, and is obviously trying to work out how to put things. “I’m probably better than Xenofos at spotting enemies,” she says, “In particular at knowing when and how to look for them. But that does not mean I should waste my magic on it. Nor should you – by declaring him to be a second line warrior or a flanker, we give him a good chance of surviving, but we also use him right, and leave us free. Oh, speaking of magic… Serala, the Catseye spell… can others get it? It’s really useful. Or if you don’t know, is there a way we can find out? Who might tell us?”

“What is the Catseye spell?” Varanis asks curiously.

Serala shakes her head. “Yelmalio… or Elmal.. followers can understand it. Whether it can be taught beyond that, or within another Temple,I don’t know. But I can ask.”. She answers Varanis simply, “What it sounds like. I can see in the dark… Like a cat.”

“Better than a cat, because she can talk. It means people trying to sneak up in the darkness are not in fact in the darkness, which is sort of funny.” Berra gives Serala a ‘happy’ gesture with a thumb. “Please do ask. It’s a big, big advantage.”

“Serala Shadowcat,” Varanis says smiling. “That would be a useful skill to have!”

“Mm. So I think that largely covers what I have been thinking about tactical situations. Situations for generals, Serala and I can handle – but that brings us to questions of Orlanth, and the Lightbringers, and the Ring. I don’t think there are enough people here to be advisors to Orlanth, which is – in times other than this – how I’d feel comfortable taking orders on where to go. Nobody has hired me right now, and I’m here because I was ordered, but at some point there will be decisions to be made about higher command. They should be left for now, though – we’re here and that’s enough.”

Varanis nods, accepting Berra’s assessment of the situation for now. “I still think it’s important that we train together too. Your words are good and have given me things to think about. But, they won’t teach me to fight beside you in the same way that practice will. I already know the folly of relying too heavily on words.”

“Yes. And tonight would be a good start, but I didn’t bring any wasters, so we’ll have to grab some wood. I can make them. I’d like to time how many arrows Serala can shoot over us while we run in.”

Varanis smiles broadly at this.