Berra — Tower In Nochet 03
1626, Sea Season, Harmony week, Fireday
Following on from the events in the Tower, Berra prays. Varanis comes to say thank you and a conversation about leadership ensues. From Session 23 (The Hole of the Moon) to Session 24 (North, Miss Tesmacher. North!).
Berra left the group saying something about prayers, and maybe her ward, and now she is in a corridor intersection in the back of the Palazzo, out of the way. Her spear, her scabbard, and her sword Wind Tooth have been used to fence off three of the arms, and the fourth has a wall at the end, so she is inside a rough cross. Within that she lies on her front, toes pointed and arms out wide, muttering quietly something that has the short rhythms of poetry. It’s in Heortling, but clear enough.
“…beside cooling corpses, spirits sending
Palace protector sleeps sound. Hail, Humakt!”
Every line has some form of embedded double meaning. In fact, every couplet of words does, and so do most of the combinations. Then Berra lies quietly, just breathing, for a moment.
Varanis has been wandering the halls, having cleaned up quickly. Serzeen is not yet ready to join her to meet with Grandmother and Varanis is bad at waiting, even after all these years.
She stops a short distance away, having heard Berra’s words, but not wanting to disturb the Humakti at prayer. Now she stands, hesitating.
Berra repeats the poem, slightly more clearly, each word ennunciated now in the direction of Wind Tooth.
“Hearth Holder, death dealer, grim god
Hear her, loyal living, moon moved
Returned retort, defeated double, vanquishing victorious
Blooded beside cooling corpses, spirits sending
Palace protector sleeps sound. Hail, Humakt!”
She gives one one last, deep breath, and then looks up with a grin. “I can reach my sword from here, you know?” She does, up above her head, hand grasping at the hilt without looking for it, and rolls to her feet with the grace of a shadowcat.
The whole prayer, to one standing listening, is a balance of words, boasts, and humility.
Varanis smiles at her briefly. “I don’t doubt it. I can’t imagine you without Wind Tooth close to hand.”
Berra picks up her scabbard by bending to it, and buckles it on when it holds the blade snug once more. “Hello. How are you feeling?”
“I …” Varanis starts then stops. She takes a deep breath and starts again. “I owe you thanks. I made poor choices today and was no kind of leader. If you hadn’t been decisive on the ground, things may have come out very differently.” Her words are rushed and tinged with shame.
Berra blinks. “No… you left to go fight with Orlanth, his way. You made one mistake, which was not to make sure people knew who was in charge – but you left Serzeen down there. Earth was on the ground, Air was in the air. There’s nothing wrong with that.” She comes closer to give Varanis a wry grin. “It’s always hard.”
“That mistake was a crucial one. Without a clear chain of command things could have gone very badly. If you weren’t the kind of woman you are, things could have gone very badly. That is why I owe you thanks.” She tries to match Berra’s grin, but doesn’t quite manage it. “Serzeen would have stepped in, had you not. But, she doesn’t know you or the others and didn’t have time to learn your strengths. She’d have been working in the dark. My actions left her at a disadvantage.”
“Yes. But we were already a fighting group. I think you knew that.” Berra shrugs, and steps back, towards her spear. She keeps looking at Varanis, though. “So… this is a hard lesson, and one I am still learning. Being in charge does not mean being in command. I’m Humakti. You’re Vingan. Someone like me is often a battle captain to someone like you, because Humakt is a champion and the leader of the war-thanes. So look for people like me, or others, and let them do the thinking if you don’t know how to. Or ask, and then order.” She picks up the spear by hooking her foot under it and flipping it up into the air for a catch.
Varanis looks thoughtful. “You know, I was trained to lead. When I joined the Vingans, Grandmother made it clear that she expected that of me. At the siege and later at the ford I was too young and not ready, but I fought well and was recognized for it. I had my first command under Argrath, as part of the army he led to the tear down the New Lunar Temple.” She looks down and her expression is more vulnerable than she’s shown to anyone in a long time. “Things didn’t go well for us…” A hesitation. “This was the first time I’ve accepted command since.”
Berra comes closer now. “Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes it’s not. But I think you might need to make a decision about how to be a warrior, and a leader. Tell me – does your Grandmother lead alone, or does she have advisors?”
“Advisors, of course.”
“Mhm. So… does she take the weight of it alone, or on many shoulders?”
“The decisions are hers, though the advice is theirs.” Varanis thinks on the question further. “She has a responsibility to listen, but ultimately the decisions and consequences of those decisions fall on her shoulders. In a way, she bears the weight alone, but they help ease that burden in different ways.”
“Yes. And you’re standing here telling me that things that did not happen are your fault.” Berra taps her left shoulder with her spear head. “I’m short, but I’m here. I’ve done this before, and … when you don’t have a simple battle in front of you, it’s a lot harder. When you have to make the decisions for everyone, someone is often hurt or killed. And I don’t think it gets easier as you get older and command more. Humakt loads on me what I can bear, not what I have already borne.”
Varanis rolls her shoulders back and takes a deep breath. “We are lucky that no one was killed. When I saw Rajar…. I’ve seen Storm Bulls in battle before, but it was different this time, maybe because he was Rajar and not just a Storm Bull.” She almost laughs. “It’s like he’s a real person.”
“No, he was berserk. In a confined space. He was THE Storm Bull.”
Varanis nods. “Berra,” she says, serious again, “if you had led this, what would you have done?”
“Oooh. Well.” Berra considers. “First of all, that is a good question. I try to ask everyone after every battle. But in this case, I know a bit of what I did, so… the best thing I did was have Xenofos make sure I knew where enemies were. That is when I took charge – I did not really need to be, but that was when I decided I should. Making sure that everyone knew where the enemies were was good. I should have made fighting teams. Rajar with someone. Serala and usually Nala are a horse team… If the god is on me, I can fight alongside anyone. But if it had been me, I would not have been Orlanthi, so I would have kept people together. Sent teams out to look for the danger I could find. I should have known what Serzeen could do, so I’d have used her, not Rajar, to start on the door. I’d have sent Koraki and Lanasha in through the roof. Even with two of them, he’s a Wind Lord. He’s good, even if he’s pretending you should treat him as an initiate. What you did was not far off, but you didn’t make a solid use of magic, I think. I’ve drilled in this sort of thing, though. Batta… The Battalion used to expect it.”
Varanis listens thoughtfully. “If we are to work together again, you should know that Vinga has not seen fit to make me strong in Rune Magic and it is sometimes a blind spot for me.” She smiles ruefully before continuing, “and when the Goddess’ hand is on me, I tend towards more acrobatics than I probably ought to…. I will think on everything you have said, Berra. You offer wise words.”
Berra looks hard at Varanis. “You’re not strong yet. I don’t know exactly how it works for you, but I have found that as I strengthen my connection to Humakt, I am comforted by the thought I can do his work better, that I can make a difference. But you have a decision to make, I think.” She draws her finger over the truth rune on her cheek, and then draws it again in the air.
Varanis nods and then takes a deep breath. She straightens her shoulders, schooling her expression once again into that of the proud Saiciae noblewoman. “I need to find Serzeen, so we can report to Grandmother. Depending on Grandmother’s mood, she may wish to meet with you and the others too.” She turns to walk away, then stops and looks over her shoulder at Berra a moment. “Thank you,” she says, the words filled with sincerity.
Berra looks slightly puzzled. “Humakt,” she says, tapping her chest. She points to Varanis. “Orlanth. No thanks necessary. Just the chance to do things right.”
Varanis nods. “As you say. But you are more generous than others I have known, so you bear my thanks nonetheless.”