Bard from the Inn

Berra — Bard From Clearwine 03

????, Sea Season


1626, Sea Season. Berra and Varanis talk about the [[[berra:bard-from-clearwine-02|visit from Torograi, who has just left]]]. [[[s01:session-30|Session 30]]] Spoilers for Varanis’ inner thoughts.


Varanis watches Berra and Torograi, and sips at her wine thoughtfully.

It is a short conversation, and the Berra comes back to the table, looks at the wine, and carefully takes a sip of beer instead. She looks close to exhausted suddenly, as if the politeness was wearing on her hard.

“Thank you. I blundered badly more than once by not knowing what was right.” Varanis’ says soberly.

“I should have warned you better. There was a lot I forgot to say. I didn’t expect him to ambush me so.” Berra puts her arms onto the table and flops her spine, sagging.

“Which is not an excuse,” comes blurrily from where her face is pressed against the table.

“He’s a wily one. We both should have realized he’d give us little warning. You ok? Do you want something to eat?” Varanis sounds concerned.

One hand is still holding her beer. Berra says, “Anything but sausage.” Trauma has abraded her sense of humour.

Varanis chokes off laughter, then orders stew and bread for them both. It is delivered quickly. Chunks of beef and vegetables in a hearty sauce, and smelling of herbs.

Berra sits up to stare at the meat-based meal, and then remembers who is buying, and smiles. “Thank you. So. He was nothing but polite all day, very interesting in hearing of my battles including those that you were in but not only those, and helped me to find the best merchants. I have just been polite to someone trying to charm me for several hours. I had a few things to say, but the… well, mostly to say that went well, but also, I don’t understand why the armour came down to you.”

Once more it seems Berra has forgotten how to eat, although this might be because she is maintaining a sword-subtle grip on her beer cup, and has not yet worked out where her spoon is.

While Berra is talking, the Vingan takes a mouthful of stew and sighs appreciatively. In the lull, she nudges the other woman’s spoon in her direction. “Do I need to remind you why to eat again? This is lovely.”

Berra says, “No,” but pulls out her belt knife and cuts a bit of meat delicately against the side of her bowl. “Hah. Yes. I think he’s taken a good veg stew and added the meat later for you. Wants to keep your custom. I don’t think this sauce has really penetrated.” Then she starts digging in, the knife left casually on the table within easy reach. “Ang you’re righk. It iv good.” Mouth halfway full, food tucked into her cheeks, Berra is eating like a peasant again.

“What confuses me is how the armour came to me, as much as why,” Varanis says quietly after a moment. “If my grandmother really was the sister or daughter of Tarkalor, then how did the armour go from her to the other Berra, and then to me?”

She sighs. “I’m finding Sartarite kinship terms difficult too. Daughter or sister?” She shakes her head in frustration. “I wish my Heortling was better.”

“Yes. I think Torograi was right. They were trying the Heroquest again. But maybe when that failed, it was returned to the correct family line?” Berra eats impressively fast for such a small person. “Distaff-relative. Would also work for mother but I think we can rule that out.”

Varanis stared thoughtfully into her stew, not really seeing it. “I think I need to ask Grandmother about it one day. But it might be easier to start with my grandparents. Grandfather might know something.” She pokes absently at the food. “Mind you, they were there the day Grandmother Saiciae gave me the armour and they didn’t say anything then or later.”

“This is impolite and you should not copy me.” Berra lifts up her bowl to help scoop food into her mouth with her spoon. Over it, she watches Varanis, thoughtfully.

Varanis blinks at Berra, looks at her stew, and takes a spoonful. “I was just thinking,” she says after a moment.

“There was a lot that I was never told. I’m trying to understand why.”

“Did you ask them directly then, or did they just not say anything? At a guess, that was them disapproving. You could also write to or go to her, to ask.” She thumbs a bit of sauce off her chin, and takes a chug of beer.

“I think… Grandmother may have been waiting to see if and when it became politically useful to reveal the connection. At a guess, she decided to chance it now, but in a way that gives her plausible deniability. But my grandparents may have been avoiding the subject. Mirava didn’t approve of her son marrying my mother. And if the stories I heard were true, she and Berra didn’t really get along. Grandfather… well, I think he admired her. But he loves grandmother Mirava and tries not to cross her too often.” She speaks of her grandfather fondly.

Berra nods. “So. Let’s talk about Torograi, and what will have happened since we last saw him, and then today. It’s probably nothing important, but we should go through it anyway, because he lives in a powerful household, and he is a Hero-Bard.” She holds up her bowl to the innkeeper for more. “And you think more about the armour and tell me about anything else at the end.” Finishing her beer as the innkeeper’s girl hurries over seems to put some alertness back into her.

Varanis nods, her mouth full of stew. Her eyes follow the serving girl briefly, but then snap back to Berra.

The serving girl makes an unlikely spy, but she does cut a nice figure in her dress.

Berra looks tired, and like she is concentrating, but the exhaustion of having met Torograi is ebbing out of her.

“I don’t know what the relationship is between bards and their … lords here.” Varanis stumbles over the word a bit. It’s clearly not the one she would use in an Esrolian context. “Will he have spoken to Leika about coming to meet us? Will he report to her now?”

“Almost certainly. And before that, she will have called him to talk about Berra Colymar. I don’t think he’s geased not to tell the secrets of a Quest. Bards – as far as I know – will take bindings on their tongues to release their greater magic. So he can’t refuse to tell a story, for example, and he can’t refuse a contest of song in peacetime. I don’t know any more of his. But in return he can sing sweeter than birds, and his voice can carry a message for miles? I think? Maybe that’s him. I think that’s him. But yes. He’ll have talked to the Queen, probably the next day. He’ll talk to her again now, and that’s not a problem. He’s a word-carrier.” Berra stops talking to let food be delivered back to the table. This bowl has just as much meat in, and she smiles, and accepts that and the beer.

Varanis is once again staring thoughtfully into her food. After a moment, she takes another bite. “This is really good,” she murmurs after she swallows the mouthful. “I shouldn’t worry about their conversations then.” She winces slightly. “Will he tell her about my lack of courtesy?”

Berra tears up a lump of her bread to drop it into her stew, drowning the innocent victim-pieces by poking them downwards with her spoon. “Not got to that part yet. It wasn’t bad, anyhow. It’s only discourteous if he leaves. Oh. I know he knows what’s going on in the palace, whether he reports or not. That’s why I asked about tasting the wine. Did you see his face?”

“Yes. I wondered about that. You haven’t exactly been tasting my wine regularly.”

“I am not going to say I seeded that two days ago. I didn’t. But we use the assets we have, not the assets we want. He knew. How, I don’t know. It could be palace gossip, and it could be he was told on purpose.” Berra is perking up more as the beer takes effect.

“You know… nobody has made an attempt on my life since we came to Sartar. Or, indeed, in months. I wonder if the threat has passed.” Varanis refocusses on Berra’s words. “It was a rather grave insult to the Queen, Berra. I’d be more surprised if there was anyone who hadn’t heard.” There is no censure in her voice. It’s simply a statement of fact.

“Well, yes – but it was smoothed over. Still, let us work as if you are right. No new information. And yesterday, not a word from him. Today he talked to me first, so I can recite what happened or you can ask questions.” The rate of eating has slowed down, but not by a lot.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened, and if I have questions after, I can ask.”

Berra nods, and takes a while to think, still putting her cup to her lips every now and then. “I wanted to buy cloth and Ice Wine for Yehna, and toys for Haran, and a decent knife for Dostiarag. I set off shortly before Yelmrule, after sleeping most of the morning. I saw nobody watching me leave, but I was not looking. I walked to a market our host here recommended for a Tooth-ring with rattles on for Haran. I stopped on the way as I could smell a Redsmith, so I bought the knife as well.” She remembers her own on the table and checks its placement.

“At the market, I had wandered a while, leaving nobody richer behind me, until I saw someone who had what I wanted. There were a dozen cloth stalls!” Then she grins. “So not Nochet. Don’t say a word, my dear. Torograi was there, but I thought it was a coincidence. We greeted each other in politeness, and I turned from him with kind words on both sides. As I said what I wanted, the loom-wife gave me prices. I was happy with them – I have money and should share it. But then I heard Torograi’s voice, asking if he too could bargain, for I was known to him, and his Heortling better than mine. Which is true, but shocked me.”

“So we did – he did – and I paid about …. uh, take a coin from every six and that is how much he saved me. But at least I had already bought the knife. But as I had the notion of going to the herb-husbands then, I told him so. He offered to accompany me and I could not refuse. He asked if, as we were walking together, I would tell him of my deeds, for he had heard of my sagas.”

“Well, then I could not refuse, but I gave him all the battle reports I could recall. I can’t tell sagas like a bard but I can tell battles like a skirmish scout. And again he helped with my purchases, and suggested we go back to the inn. By then I was pretty sure he meant to already, but if I had dodged him he would have been here before. I think he knew I knew that.” More stew, a bit more beer, some thinking.

“We talked of many things. He made a polite pass at me. I turned him down as politely as I could. He told me a little of the history of some of the buildings and places in Clearwine, without making them into stories, and so we returned here.”

Towards the end of her cup of beer now, Berra is still considering, and holds up her left hand to be sure she will not be interrupted. “I think he was filling in the time with words, to keep me occupied, and make sure he got back here, or that I could not set off from him at any place where I would beat him back. I think. And that’s about all I remember unprompted.”

Her hand – held up for silence and then forgotten briefly as Berra talked – goes down. She looks tired again, by the act of recall and consideration of facts.

“So, you think he’d have found his way here if you dodged him, but he exerted effort to stay with you anyway? That would suggest that he felt it best to come here with you.” Varanis looks at Berra speculatively. “Do you think that’s because he had hopes for time with you? It may have no relevance to my interactions with him, but speak more to what he wants from you.”

“No. I think he wanted to arrive politely, but if I had left, it would be to warn you, by that stage. He knows I won’t lie with him, and I gave him all the stories I could. I… maybe he thought… I don’t know. He could not realistically leave me to get to you, but if I left him, he could. I did spend a lot of the time talking, but that was mostly of my deeds, not of you or your forebears. I felt it best to say what I could rather than have him say what else I should be saying. His kindness put me into a position where I should be doing that, I felt.”

Then Berra adds, “Erm, he did have hopes of time with me – but we covered that. But at the start at least he did, but we spent it together.”

Lots. Of. Buts.

“What did he say as he was leaving now, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Berra considers, and then sighs. “Well, that was to be covered later, but you should know. He told me that I had been noticed in the palace, and I said I would not object to that, as long as any punishment would fall on me. Then he asked if I had done it on purpose, and I think he got nothing from me that he could use. I asked him what he meant, and looked puzzled, and that was polite enough, even if he was unsure what to believe, and then he left my Lady’s Hostelry, and I closed the palisade gate behind him, and he was no longer guesting.”

“When he said noticed it was light. It wasn’t really a warning.”

“Be wary. I saw the way he watched you, and I don’t think he has given up all hopes where you are concerned. I don’t think he would try to trick you, but…” She shrugs. “I don’t know him. He reminds me of someone I met in the lead up to Pennel Ford. All smiles and teeth and sweet words, but determined in the face of resistance. You’ll have noticed that my flirtation with him was met with flirtation in response, but no indication of real interest. He likes a challenge, I think.”

“Well, I’ll be leaving soon, and he knows the price in court for touching without consent. I wouldn’t much care who he was, if he tried that.” Berra shrugs easily. “So. Any more?”

Now she is no longer talking, Berra goes back to work on the stew, and fills up her beer cup from the water pitcher. This and a lot of exercise would be how she keeps her stocky, muscular figure.

“Did I understand correctly that the armour is meant to bear magic? The cuirass is a replacement, of course, but if the greaves and vambraces are the originals…” Her words trail off, then she shakes her head. “There’s no magic in them now. Maybe we are mistaken. Maybe they only look like Berra Colymar’s armour.”

Berra looks careful. “As I understand, you’d have to undergo that Heroquest to make them work, but yes. I think so. Maybe you could make it happen without the Quest, too, or make it to make the Quest easier. If you want to find out about the armour we need Dangmar Thane, or … you know, we have the armour. And we have an introduction to Lhankor Mhy. Xenofos could arrange to see the history of the items. If we knew when we were looking for, he could find a Sage who could see it.”

That is apparently a new thought to Berra.

“We could start with the two battles – Grizzly Peak and Boldhome. But we should also look for Dangmar Thane. Xenofos has made it clear that he plans to stay close, so we can count on his assistance,” Varanis adds.

“If Torograi does not know where he is… what did he say – not in the city to my knowledge. So maybe he does know but will not tell. So… Torograi might know where he is, or believe he does. Or Dangmar was sent out of the city so he could say that. But now we’re thinking and we should cover the rest. I came here, and the bard came in. And you were not rude – I was being formal, and I had not covered that sufficiently. He knew that you didn’t know the formalities. It could have been a … a more simple meeting. But I took a guess that he would like to be flattered. I hope I was right.”

Varanis locks on to the first bit. “Why would Dangmar be sent away? And why would Torograi, or Leika, not want me to speak with him?” As an after thought, she adds, “I think you read him accurately. He seemed very impressed by you.” There’s an odd note in the Vingan’s voice in the final words.

Special Insight: There’s a tiny bit of jealousy there, but also probably some discomfort about feeling jealous. Varanis isn’t even sure if she’s jealous because he was more interested in Berra or because Berra is more worthy of being interested in. And she hates that she’s feeling like this.

“He’d heard of me,” says Berra, looking at Varanis with a faintly surprised expression. “I think that means he might have heard of all of us. I mean, our sagas and songs are popular. Nothing we do will stay secret for long, Varanis. I think he wants to know about us all. But… you’re famous in Esrolia. I’ve been here for longer. By now, he’ll probably know a lot about all of us that went to Kero Fin.”

Varanis flinches at Berra’s words. They hit close to home. “Dangmar,” she says firmly. “Do you think they might be trying to prevent me from speaking to him?”

Berra says, “I didn’t mean it in a bad way – just that he hasn’t yet had time to learn your stories. Nobody in Nochet who hasn’t met me knows me either.” And then she falls silent, probably thinking about the next thing.

“Let it go. I don’t need either of us dwelling on my own childishness, thank you. It’s fine. It was a momentary thing.” There is a slight edge to the words now.

“I might be doing Torograi a big misfavour. If I did not know who was in the city, I would probably answer that way. He might be geased not to lie, or not to lie to a host, and I just don’t know. He probably wouldn’t want to say, if he was. If so, I’d say that you having the information isn’t a problem, but they might… well, if that was me, up at the Palace, I’d be thinking about when to let you know what.”

Varanis grimaces in frustration. “I’d like to seek him out, and I know how I’d do it in Nochet, but I don’t have any contacts here.”

“Well, how would you do it in Nochet?”

“I would go to the people I know, who have connections to his family. So that discrete inquiries could be made. In Nochet, it’s all about who you know and who owes you a favour.”

“And somehow, we managed to not find out about his family, or his Clan. Just Colymar – which might mean he’s of the Royal Clan, which could help. However, I think I need to sleep. Any more questions for each other?”

Varanis shakes her head. “Sleep. I’ll just finish my wine and get some sleep too.”

It’s a tired, but slightly heavier, fuller, Humakti who hauls herself to her feet, gestures to the innkeeper’s girl that she can clear up, and puts away her knife. The spoon gets dumped into the bowl to be taken away too, and Berra traipses over to the end of the room, where her bedroll is packed up. A yawn big enough to be heard breaks from her, and she stretches out her shoulders like she is about to wrestle.

Varanis stares into her cup, lost in thought.